This is a piece I wrote from the perspective of Ophelia in Williams Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Ophelia means a lot to me, both as a writer and a person, and I sincerely hope I got her right in a world that I feel is so intent on getting her wrong.
Once upon a life and a thousand dreams ago my father told me stories about women in the water. Some with tails like tuna fish and others like sharks and some with no tails at all but rather two legs, a rock and a voice so sweet sailors would crash the ships into the shore because of it.
But my favourite was always that of the girls who could shift their skin to that of a seal. Their flesh and bone would melt melt melt away at water’s touch until nothing was left but a sleek seal skin. Some call it the most unholy of baptisms. The idea that someone could change shape so swift and smooth could be nothing but a sin in their eyes.
Then again most things are to the likes of them. Sin in love and sin in life and sin in death; a person could weigh their life in sin and still find it heavier than Atlas’ load. Too heavy for song even so they blame it on the flowers instead.
They blame it on the apple blossoms for they grow into temptation. So the gardeners must cut cut cut down their apple trees. Apples do not grow in the noble State of Denmark. I wish they would. Perhaps if Atlas’ weighed his load in apple blossoms he would not find it so heavy. And perhaps instead of songs I could sing out apple blossoms until my bones caved in and turned to dusk and I would flutter and fade into a thousand pink blossoms.
Weightless and unchained.
I am suddenly weary in my bones. In my minds eye I see them crumbling crumbling until I go tumbling, tumbling, tumbing down.
There’s wetness on my skin now. I can feel it creeping in and up, a cold moldy residue I cannot quite seem to shake. And…
I do not yet know if I want to.
The thought of the decision causes my whole form to stiffen. To be or not to be. That is the question I cannot seem to answer. I cannot I cannot
I can see myself before them.
Like an anchor I am sinking down. That is assuming down is down and not up but who’s to say? The sky is nothing but ripples now.
Oh my vision is rolling, but they still remain. Two faces of two men twice lost and never to be found except by Hyponis’ clemency. And even then the picture is distorted. I am reaching up and through them. Their skin and bones melt into the water and the air and both and neither like something from a dream.
And who’s to say this is not that? Not but a sweet nightmare I’ll wake from. Yes yes that’s it. I need do nothing but wake myself up from this uncanny vividness.
I should have prayed harder. Perhaps then God would not send such foulness to prey upon me. Foul and cold and damp and creeping up up up. I feel it lapping against my throat like an unwanted lover’s hungry kiss.
He kissed me once. It was hungry and left a redness on my skin. Red like Columbine flowers. Passion so bold Father noticed. The other he. And he would not stand for it. Would not condone so he plucked out my petals one by one tell I was naked and unwanted as a babe with leprosy. And he who planted Columbine’s along my neck never came back to plant again.
I dip my neck down to at the thought it and find myself sinking again. Perhaps the wetness can water any seeds he might have left and I will flower once more. Perhaps my flowers will come back.
Perhaps I could go back.
Back to dreams of reality and a reality of dreams that could not quiet be. And a name, distorted by it all.
The words are strangled and desperate and somehow connected to me.
Back to the name.
Back to every weight it carries.
The name is mine. It belongs to me and yet I cannot claim it for my head is spinning again. I hear a hundred thousand verses of it and with it a hundred thousand versions of myself.
And again those two men, both of whom I know I loved fiercely, saying my name.
They are standing parallel on two sides of a river. On either bank stands one of them and one of me. Ophelia the daughter and Ophelia the lover.
But who am I? Who is me? Who is Ophelia? Is she obedient? Is she clever? Is she a fool? Does she run to or from lovers touch? Does she dirty his image as his daughter? Who is she? Who is she?
I know not and I do not want to know. I scream and find the dampness rushing into me. It settle heavy and sickeningly sweet in my lungs. Sweeter than air to be sure. Far more soothing with its heavy, gentle touch.
The dampness has lost its coldness now. I am burrowing deeper and deeper into it as though settling under layers of blankets in bedding.
And suddenly I am at rest against the bottom. I open my eyes and see ripples of stars overhead. Stars free of both of them and that wicked chain Ophelia. Free and clear and blank.
Oh I would sing for joy if my voice would but work. Instead its lost in dampness and swept far far away. I do not fight to cling to it. I have not the strength.
Instead my mind toddles back to times of another bed, one much different than this one.
And in that bed stories of women in the water; women who were skin-changers.
I have a sudden desire to join their numbers. To shred my skin layer by layer until I am naught but smooth seal and skin turned to apple blossoms. Perhaps then I could swim away and out to saltier waters. I could leave my human skin, my human Ophelia, behind and become something more.
But the sweetness in my lungs makes it too heavy to fight or think or reach for ripples in the sky or deep earthiness of the ground. Instead I allow myself to just be unmade by it all.
I know when I open my eyes again, I’ll have finally found my seal skin.