Henri is twelve, exactly twelve, as twelve as he can be. Five months ago he was four-foot-nine and now he’s five-foot-three. A beautiful muscular lad with curly brown hair, his mother German, his father French, Henri plays accordion, piano, and guitar, all of them quite well, and he sings beautifully, too. He loves to draw and write and work in the garden, his reading of late Geology and Irish short stories.
An outstanding soccer player and brilliant with a Frisbee, Henri thinks it would be wonderful to be a wildlife biologist like their neighbor and teacher Michael, though he often feels destined to be a playwright actor musician. Still other times there’s nothing he would rather be than a farmer who gives accordion lessons and has the occasional show of drawings at the Fletcher Gallery in town. And then there is his keen interest in cooking and architecture.
He is standing some fifty feet from the farmhouse at Ziggurat Farm, two miles inland from the remote northern California coastal burg of Mercy. His five fellow homeschoolers await him in the farmhouse along with various parents and teachers and friends enjoying a brief intermission from monologues and scenes and music the homeschoolers (and sometimes teachers and parents and friends) perform every third Friday of the month, this being March 22, the afternoon cool and cloudy.
Henri is scheduled to open the second act with an original accordion tune and a monologue of his own creation, a speech he work-shopped extensively with his Drama teacher Lisa, his writing teachers Nathan and Daisy, and his schoolmates Arturo, Vivienne, Larry, Alma, and Irenia, as well as his parents Andrea and Marcel. Thus many of the people in the audience have already heard some version of the speech, though no one save Henri has heard exactly the version he is about to recite.
The monologue sprang from an assignment to create a speech based on something from Shakespeare, and Henri decided to use the famous To be or not to be soliloquy from Hamlet as his spark.
“To not die or to not not die,” says Henri, reciting the opening of his speech, his use of not not a sure laugh getter. “That is a tangle of knots. If no one stays when supper’s over, who will scrub the pots?”
He’s waiting for someone to come out of the farmhouse and tell him intermission is at end, and as he waits he thinks of Joseph Richardson who moved back to England with his wife Constance two years ago, and how Joseph would have loved these third Friday shows and no doubt would have performed at them, too, had he not moved away. Joseph was an inspired reciter of Shakespeare as well as being the children’s art teacher before he passed the baton to Delilah, who also teaches them music and math. Oh how I miss Joseph! thinks Henri, who always felt profoundly appreciated by Joseph, and vice-versa.
“And what of girls becoming women, and boys becoming men?” says Henri, continuing his monologue. “Where went the child I used to be? I’m else than I was then.”
Which lines make him think of Irenia who is fourteen and the eldest of the Ziggurat Farm homeschoolers, a gorgeous five-foot-nine and the premiere object of Henri’s desire, sexual arousal a new and disconcerting sensation for him.
Arturo, Henri’s best friend, is madly in love with Irenia, too, and speaks to Henri of his love for her almost every day. Arturo is thirteen and five-foot-eight, and lives in the farmhouse with his younger sister Vivienne and their parents Lisa and Philip.
Henri wouldn’t think of competing with Arturo for Irenia’s affection, and is therefore resigned to Arturo and Irenia becoming sweethearts, though they are not yet so entwined; and to complicate matters further, just yesterday Henri felt Irenia gazing at him and when he met her gaze it was clear as day she loves him.
“Those tiny seeds my mother planted now are sprawling vines,” says Henri, going on with his speech. “The grapes we trod a year ago are now my father’s wines.”
Now Irenia comes out of the farmhouse, her face more beautiful to Henri than anything in the world, her long black hair in a braid, her lovely white blouse given shape by her budding breasts, her long gray skirt revealing hips she had not a year ago, this her costume for a scene with Arturo to follow Henri’s soliloquy; Irenia playing Kate to Arturo’s Petruchio in the famous “I say it is the moon” scene from The Taming of the Shrew.
Assuming Irenia’s emergence means intermission is over, Henri starts for the farmhouse as Irenia runs to meet him.
“I want to give you a good luck kiss,” she says quietly with her subtle Russian accent.
And before Henri can reply, she kisses him, their lips slightly parted—a blissful communion ended too soon by an extra-large Mercedes van rumbling down the drive and parking near the barn.
“Who could this be?” asks Irenia, taking Henri’s hand.
“I would guess Raul,” says Henri, worried Arturo might come out and see them holding hands. “Only he’s already here and his van is not so big.”
Now a short woman with auburn hair and a tall man with longish gray hair get out of the van—the very British Richardsons returned from jolly olde England.
“Joseph!” shouts Henri, letting go of Irenia’s hand and rushing to greet his beloved friends. “Constance.”
“Oh call me Connie, dear boy,” says Constance, hugging Henri.
“Henri!” says Joseph, opening his arms. “Look at you a young man now.”
Following the joyful hullabaloo of everyone in the farmhouse greeting the Richardsons—their arrival wholly unexpected—Joseph and Constance take seats in the audience and Henri opens Act Two by playing a melancholy barcarole as preface to his soliloquy.
Setting his accordion aside, he tells his poem—words freighted with new meaning now that he and Irenia have kissed.
To not die or to not not die, that is a tangle of knots.
If no one stays when supper’s over, who will scrub the pots?
And what of girls becoming women, and boys becoming men?
Where went the child I used to be? I’m else than I was then.
Those tiny seeds my mother planted now are sprawling vines.
Those grapes we trod a year ago are now my father’s wines.
Time speeds on despite my wish to linger in my youth.
Some grand design beyond my wit propounds another truth.
I dread the day I have to choose the thing I mostly do.
I’d rather stay a clever boy and linger here with you.
The choice, I fear, is hardly mine, the die was cast at birth.
The only thing I’m certain of is being here on earth.
So let us not concern ourselves with whether we should be,
but rather love each minute as a precious entity.