“What a piece of work is man.”
Ruiz stood draped in purple robes. The spotlight shone down, the theatre otherwise coated in black. He was wracked with Hamlet’s madness, profound pain etched in his face as though he had been visited by the devil himself. Ruiz was putting it on by the bucketloads, and the audience was lapping it up.
“How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving, how express and admirable!”
He moved to his Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, looking into their eyes and seeing their souls reflected in their dull, uninterested pupils. These men were not artists. These men did not deserve their names.
“In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a GOD!”
Ruiz flung his robes open, strobe lights flashing across the stage. He looked upon his entranced and enraptured audience, gazing and gobsmacked by his display. He was entertaining them. He, Ruiz, at this moment, this instant, was all they lived for.
“The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!”
He was all they knew. He lived inside their minds at this very moment. They were not seeing him as he truly was, no, they were seeing him as he should be, as he wanted to be seen, as what he wanted to be, and indeed, he thought, what he truly was. The sane man faking madness, in a world of madmen faking sanity. Here, world, is Ruiz Duchamp, the original Hamlet.
“And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”
The lights went dark, the spotlight descended, and Ruiz was alone in the universe.
“To me, to me, to me… what is this quintessence of dust? No… no. Man delights not me.”
Ruiz looked out into the void and the void stared back with infinite apathy.
“Man delights not me. No, nor woman either, though by your demeanour you seem to think so.”
And then the light returned, and Hamlet had his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the play went on and, as we all know, they all lived happily ever after.
Ruiz rubbed the grit from his eyes. He had fallen asleep in the middle of the gallery. During the middle of the day. For several hours. While standing up. Again.
“Mister Ruiz Duchamp?”
“Yeah, that’s me, that’s me. Sorry, not so good with faces, who are you?”
“I’m the mailman. Package for you. Going to have to sign for it.”
“Right, right, right…”
Ruiz groggily scribbled a half-hearted X on the offered pad.
“You want us to bring it in for you, Mister Duchamp?”
“Sure, if it’s not too much trouble. Just, uh, take it in through there, the cordoned off bit. Careful not to touch anything, it’s a bit dangerous at the moment. You know, ‘renovations’, heh.”
“No problem, Mister Duchamp. The boys’ll be around in a bit.”
Ruiz looked at the digital watch on his right wrist. It was 3:45 pm.
Ruiz looked at the analogue watch on his left wrist. It was 3:45 pm.
Ruiz looked at the pocket watch in the painting in front of him. It was melting onto a tree branch, and had likely not been wound for some time. Ruiz knew not to trust readings from surrealistic timepieces, and pouted at the piece. That said, however, it was still 3:45 pm.
Ruiz walked past the reception, out the door, three doors down the street, entered his favourite coffee shop, and asked for a double-strength espresso, which he then used to down his daily caffeine pills, multivitamins, and antidepressants.
And then, Ruiz finally woke up.
“Shit! Carol, what’s today?”
The stunned barista looked at the mad artist in front of her.
“Okay, good, never mind then. I was worried it was Thursday or something.”
“You feeling okay, Ruiz?”
“Yeah, it’s just been… hectic, you know? I’ve been busy.”
“Poor dear. Sit down, tell me about it.”
Ruiz took a stool close to the counter. Carol smoothed her apron before sitting across from him.
“I decided to wage war on a pack of ravenous artists who regurgitate uninteresting and frankly monotonous garbage by mailing out abrasive and genuinely disagreeable materials to their households, after which one of their contingent decided to metaphorically but without the metaphor defect to the other side, without realising that his not defecting was an integral part of the ‘BIG PLAN’ that I had in store for all of them and so his defection kind of screwed with my intended course of action however after having stayed awake for all of yesterday, all of last night, and a middling portion of this morning I’ve managed to rewrite the script and hopefully I’ll be able to get them dancing to my tune before the ‘BIG EXHIBITION’ which is on Friday so by then I should be back on track to present my ultimate work to the ultimate critic, or should I say The Critic, with both of the words capitalised, if there were an easy way to express such a thing in speaking words, whereupon he’ll be so profoundly thrilled that he’ll quit forever and go back to being a Nobody, with that word also capitalised in a clever and subtle little joke I’m insisting on playing through to the end.”
“So much for act one, at least. At this point I’m kind of winging it.”
“You know, every time you walk in here and down your pills, I wonder what the hell is actually in them.”
“Dreams and art, Carol. Dreams and art. Another… let’s make it three espressos for the road.”
Carol tended to the machines and, after a short interval, passed Ruiz three more cups of his second favourite beverage. He left the shop and had finished all three by the time he returned to the gallery. He waved his way past the receptionists and moved past his cordons into the poorly illuminated room. The delivery men had placed the big, brown box right in the centre of his workplace, coincidentally allowing a lone shaft of sunlight to illuminate it like the gift from the heavens that it was. Ruiz reached for his yellow circular sawblade and sliced through the packaging, flipping the box open and letting it drop to the floor. And there, Ruiz thought, was the centrepiece he had been looking for.
It was the electric chair.
It was not just any electric chair, it was THE electric chair, Old Sparky, first used in the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in 1891 to execute four prisoners, the chair elevated in a specially-constructed room known only as the DEATH HOUSE, a veritable prison-within-a-prison. If he was going to use an electric chair, he’d be damned if it wasn’t this one. Ruiz rubbed his hand against the wooden frame, moved around, and sat in the seat where so many people had felt the cold embrace of death.
He started to squeal like a schoolgirl.
The Director was busy. This was not particularly odd. At any given time, she was organising the production of at least three plays, a movie or two, and innumerable side projects, some of which might even see the light of day. She had, in her youth, been an actress herself, before a sprained ankle had robbed her of the stage. Instead, she had turned to Directing, where she could still act condescendingly to everyone around her, and instead of being berated, was expected to do so as part of her job. She was currently arguing with her lead, Gonzalo, King of Trinculo, about his unjustified stage fright.
“Look, Tim, it’s opening night. You’ve rehearsed a thousand times, you know all your lines, and honestly, if I knew you were just going to lock up like this, I wouldn’t have given you the part. Now you’re going to drink this bottle of water, slap yourself a few times, pick yourself up by the bootstraps and get on my damn stage in ten. Got it?”
“Got it, boss. Got it. Woo. Okay. Alright.”
If anything, The Director knew how to control her players. An aide ran to her side.
“Ma’am, I don’t mean to alarm you, but… the audience is here. Packed theatre. We need to get going soon.”
“Alright, alright. Make sure Mary’s gone through makeup, we’re counting down, people!”
The Director clapped her hands, walking briskly past the garishly bright setpieces. She moved around the corner, and was suddenly facing Ruiz Duchamp.
“Hello, Director. I’m here to see your big opening.”
The Director wasted no time with a retort, pulling a blade from her pocket and stabbing towards him in an instant. Ruiz grabbed the knife and twisted it from her grip, neatly slicing across his fingers. He jumped backwards and applied pressure with his other hand.
“That was very, very rude. I’m just here to say hello.”
“Get out of here, Duchamp. This is my show.”
“Is it your show? I don’t think you wrote it.”
“Get out of here, Duchamp.”
“The lost and rediscovered classic. ‘The Hanged King’s Tragedy’.”
“GET OUT OF HERE, DUCHAMP.”
“You know what this does, right?”
The Director faltered.
“You… you are aware of what this does, aren’t you?”
“What what does?”
“The play, the play! Can’t you see it?”
“You’re spouting nonsense. Get out of here.”
“Sandra, please, listen to me. The play isn’t what you think it is, it’s going to-”
“GET OUT OF HERE!”
Ruiz stood, staring at his old classmate. Her face was coated in the palest makeup, purple eyeshadow matching with purple lipstick. She wore her makeup like an old woman, wore the clothes of an old woman, hobbled around like an old woman, and had the obstinacy of the same. Such brilliance, such spark, yet sadly squandered in a lifetime of following others’ stage directions. He could see in her eyes that nothing he could say would change her mind.
“Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. You want me out, I’m out.”
He kicked the bloodied knife across the ground towards her.
“Keep that with you, at least. You’ll be needing it later.”
Ruiz turned and walked out the back door, glowing green EXIT sign humming above him as the lights dimmed. The Director turned around, shaking doubt from her mind. She had a show to put on.
“Get it together! Live in five, look alive, people!”
The Director was tired. She slowly regained consciousness in her cell. She had been bound by the arms and legs and propped up against a stone wall. She had absolutely no idea what was going on.
“Rise and shine, sweetheart. Rise and shine.”
A gritty voice croaked at her through a wooden door. There was a brief clattering of keys, and it swung open, revealing Agent Green carrying a wooden stool. He walked in front of her, placed the stool down, and sat on it with a thud.
“Back with us again, Miss Paulson?”
The Director remained silent.
“Sorry, I think we might have gotten off on the wrong foot. Though, admittedly, the last time we were face to face you tried to drive a stick into my eyeball, so really, I think any foot here is probably the wrong one.”
The Director remained silent.
“Sandra Paulson, were you or were you not the one who organised last night’s production of ‘The Hanged King’s Tragedy’?”
The Director flinched. Ruiz had been right.
“I want my lawyer.”
“Oh, sure, no problem. Here’s a phone, here’s some buttons to press, and then you jump through the damn wires and you’re out of here in an instant. No, Miss Paulson, you do not get a lawyer here. You know exactly who I’m with, you know exactly what your position is, and the only thing I want from you, Miss Paulson, is for you to rot in this cell for the rest of your natural days.”
The Director remained silent.
“Good. Now, Miss Paulson, I am going to ask you a few-”
“I didn’t know.”
“What was that, Miss Paulson?”
“I DIDN’T FUCKING KNOW! That fucking manuscript, I don’t know who fucking sent it to me, I didn’t check it, I just thought, shit, this looks pretty good! Some proper classic shit right here, I’d just finished Titus Andronicus, so I thought to hell with it! I Google it and it all seems fine, it all looks above board! I DIDN’T FUCKING KNOW!”
Agent Green remained silent.
“That grinning bastard Ruiz, he must have done it, he sent it to me and then he came in and he rubbed it right in my fucking face! That fuck-fucking piece of fucking shitstain fuck! FUCK!”
Agent Green remained silent.
“Fuck… fuck. All those people. Tim had fucking stage fright, I was egging him on, I… I…”
Sandra’s tears smeared black mascara stains down her face. Agent Green pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and inhaled deeply.
“Miss Paulson, even if I were to believe that outburst – and, honestly, I don’t – you have given me absolutely nothing to go on. You have, however, given me a name I have seen before. Miss Paulson, I am going to ask you this question once, and you are going to give me every irrelevant detail, every tiny little scrap of information you have, and then I am going to pass you over to my associates.”
Green exhaled a lungful of smoke into The Director’s sobbing face.
“Miss Paulson, tell me about Ruiz Duchamp.”