When I was young, they set up a theater in the woods outside my house. I don’t know who they were or where they came from. Friends of my father, perhaps. He was always bringing home strays—poets, artists, milliners, cabinetmakers, bee keepers, and on one memorable occasion a pair of aeronauts.
My mother was often less than pleased. She had believed, not unreasonably, that she was marrying into a life of wealth and leisure. No one had mentioned anything about the parade of strange characters who would claim so much of her husband’s attention.
For my part, I gave little thought to the oddities. They had been a part of my life since birth and, in truth, some had been far more interesting than others. The milliner for instance had been a fussy little man with well-oiled hair and oozing manners, who possessed only one topic of conversation—hats. I once spent a stifling hour in his company learning far more than I had ever wanted or needed to know about the difference between a bowler and a homburg hat, and the relative uses of ostrich feathers.
The actors were different, though. They arrived slowly in twos and threes, trickling in from across the globe with tall tales and engaging, watchful smiles.
They took to me, or perhaps I took to them. I would listen to their stories for hours, and watch as they bantered and rehearsed their lines, but they never told me their names, and something dark and unknowable lurked beneath their teasing and laughter. It still gives me chills.
My father had written a play for them. A tragedy in nine parts. But no one wanted to produce it. It was the great failure of his life. He spent many years trudging from theater company to theater company, offering increasingly exorbitant amounts of money, but one by one they turned him down.
Too long. Too strange. Too dark.
My father should have listened.
He should never have built the theater in the wood.