Denmark 1926. The world is on a powder keg, the old world is in conflict with the new, still recovering from World War I. Jazz and flappers. Cocktails and parties. In this tumultuous time, the king of Denmark is found dead… but his spirit is not at rest.
Uses of this World is the tale of the people around the events of Hamlet, from the soldiers to the royal family. Each is tied to the outcomes around the crown. And the country, as well as the world, is waiting to see what happens next.
Chapter 5: Things Rank
Prince Hamlet was awake again.
How long had he been asleep? And what did he remember?
It took a minute.
He remembered starting to drink the absinthe the night before. When he would drink it with Horatio, it was always in sips, but alone and without companions he took on the entire bottle. When he began he hoped for the madness and visions that others claimed they would receive. And Hamlet hoped in his visions to see his father, alive, brilliant and with that sense of safety only a loved child would understand.
No visions came, only a headache and some memory loss.
There was the morning assembly. Hamlet peeked an eye open and glanced around. He was in the portrait gallery. He closed his eyes again and searched through the messy remains of his memory. Was there a crowd? His finger traced along the chair arm he was resting against. He knew that too. He was asleep on the throne.
It was all a blur, flickering lights and images, like broken reels of a film spliced together all wrong, little bits of memory returning.
He remembered Ophelia bowing (her dress concealing too much), his uncle (his father now, that is what he called himself this morning) stroking that ridiculous long and thin black mustache of his. Hamlet wasn’t certain, but he might have been named the heir to the throne. Well, he was used to playing that part.
What was that smell?
Prince Hamlet took another whiff…. And then leaned over to check his black coat.
It was him.
It smelled a little of stale alcohol and vomit. A small voice in the back of his mind began to scold himself for this, but the voice was quickly drowned out by a louder one. That was the voice that had been crying and screaming since his return to Denmark.
How did all of this happen?
Hamlet would never admit it aloud, but his father wasn’t too much a surprise. He had always lived his life to the fullest, as if the Gods didn’t call upon the same rules for rulers as they do for peasants. He was always daring, trying each new adventure. He was the first to leap the fence on a horse, the first to try a new meal or drink, and each brave exploit was done with his booming laugh along. When Hamlet left Denmark for the rest of the continent (first to continue his studies in the college in Wittenberg, and then to study life itself), he would hear stories about his father everywhere. If even a portion of those stories were true, his father’s taste for adventure also worked its way into the bedroom. Hamlet didn’t even want to guess how many women he had slept with, before and after the arrival of his queen.
For Hamlet though, even with all the questionable evidence before him, he was still his father. The man who would hold his hand when he was timid, read to him each night, played with him on the beach, and always took a moment to say how proud he was of his fair-headed little boy.
That was then.
Now the kingdom seemed to be working hard to forget the king. Even Hamlet’s own mother seemed to be in on the act, marrying his uncle. She was certainly playing her role well, the prince thought bitterly.
This is not how any of this was supposed to happen. It was all wrong. No, it was more than wrong! It was as if the very fates were turned on their heads, mocked and ridiculed.
Hamlet almost envied his father for being dead.
Hamlet opened one of his eyes again, this time the other one. He raised up his left hand in front of himself, and squinted at it. It came in and out of focus; the paleness of the skin, the slight hair on the knuckles. It was almost as if his mind was willing himself back into reality, into the story. Was the hand even really there? He reached over with his other hand to pinch the skin. It was then he began to mumble to himself, “O that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew.”
It was real, he felt the pinch. He stretched his long frame over the throne and sat up. He rested his heavy head in his hands, feeling the pounding and booming headache. “Or that the everlasting had not fixed his canon against self-slaughter.”
He reached into his pocket and found his flask. It still smelled of American Whiskey (a now empty present from Horatio). Not a drop. Suddenly, he was overcome with the unfairness of everything, and threw the flask away from himself. He screamed. “O God, God!”
God did not reply.
No one did. Just his voice echoing in the emptiness of the great room.
Hamlet rubbed his eyes. “How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world.”
That thought stirred another thought which lead him to a third that lay at the bottom of a dark passage.
Here? In the portrait gallery? On the very throne?
Hamlet liked the poetry of the idea and reached into another pocket, pulling out his black and German-made luger pistol. He played with it between his fingers. “Fie, on’t, ah fie. ‘tis and unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely.”
The pistol was actually a gift from his father before he went to college. His father explained that after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that led to the start of the last war, royalty had to be prepared for anything. The pistol was a bit of added protection. The king even practiced with the prince on the grounds, preparing for the worst. Would his father be upset to know that he never carried the gun with him, keeping it in a locked box in with his undergarments and socks? Probably, but Hamlet never believed that was what the world had in store for him. His end was not going to be with a bullet.
Of course, Hamlet never thought his father would end up like this as well. First, dead in a garden with the weeds and now a memory, and growing a more distant one by the moment. “That it should come to this… but two months dead…”
There were the tears that were always so close. He was crying over a gun; Hamlet would have mocked himself for that months ago. Guns in his opinion, were grotesque, manufactured death, something to be beaten, burned and destroyed, not cherished.
Only the ignorant and stupid cherish a weapon.
But for Hamlet, now any memory of his father brought the tears on. They always felt greater for he felt he shared them alone. And with the gun, Hamlet remembered the touch of his father’s hand on his shoulder that day when they practiced, leaning over so close that he could feel his breath, as he prepared him for the kickback of the discharge. That day he fired again and again and again.
Hamlet shook his head, stuffed his gun almost angrily in his pocket and pulled himself to his feet. He wobbled, just a little. He gripped the throne and then regained his balance. He looked around the room and focused on what he wanted most. He staggered over to the portrait of his father and family, the way it should have been still.
There was his father, coldly and strongly, looking at him from the very throne Hamlet just lurched out of. “So excellent a king, that was to this Hyperion to a satry.” His uncle standing behind him and the throne. He didn’t have the mustache then. To the right of the throne in the painting, was his mother, her hand on his father’s, standing proudly. “So loving to my Mother that he might not beteem the winds of Heaven visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth, must I remember?”
Hamlet began to taste vomit.
He tottered back from the wall, and bent over. He took deep breathes, doing his best to keep his control. He pointed up at the painting, and this time said loudly as if he was a lawyer speaking at a trial with a rapt jury in attendance. “Why, she would hang on him as if increase of appetite had ground by what it fed on, and yet within a month- Let me not think on it.”
The time of it was slipping from Hamlet, but he didn’t care. Month? Two months? How long was it? He had found his anger and that felt like home now. He wiped the spit from around his mouth with his coat. “Frailty, thy name is woman,” he said with all of the disgust he could muster.
He swung his arms around, again addressing his invisible jury. “A little month, or ere those shoes were old with which she followed my poor father’s body, like Niobe, all tears.” He walked away from her image and then turned again. “Why she, even she, O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourned longer, married with my uncle.”
His uncle. No, he was more than that now.
There was the devil he didn’t want to think on. The seed at the heart of the diseased fruit. Hamlet walked forward to the old painting and surprisingly had enough liquid in his mouth still to spit, smacking the appearance of his once-loved relative. “My father’s brother but no more like my father than I to Hercules.”
He had to look away.
He needed to sit. He needed to breath. He needed to drink. He needed to die. He needed to live.
Hamlet noticed his flask in the corner of the room. He began to walk over to it. “Within a month, ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears had left the flushing in her galled eyes, she married.”
He stopped. He had passed the easel with its unfinished painting. There was not that much there, mostly a sketch, but the faces were the most recognizable. His uncle (with his mustache), his mother in her assigned station again, and Hamlet… but in the painting he was not being sketched in his black, but in his royal attire. Like his father could be erased, so could Hamlet’s mourning. His eyes focused again on his mother. “O most wicked speed to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets. It is not, nor it cannot come to good.” And then his eyes traced up to his own face, an expression of peace and strength he did not feel, and could not imagine feeling again. More than an opposite, a reflection from a moving river, an image blurred by waves. “But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue.”
The tears were beginning again, but were stopped by the sound of a loud door slamming open. Hamlet wiped his nose and eyes with the back of his hand.
A voice shouted to him from across the room. “Hail to your lordship.”
“I am glad to see you well,” Hamlet instinctively responded.
He stopped. He knew that accent! It could not be. Hamlet turned to the door and three blurry figures were there walking to him. He squinted. The one in the middle he knew. Hamlet ran up to his friend, gripping his shoulders in his hands as if he couldn’t believe he was real, a delayed figment from the absinthe. “Horatio! Or do I forget myself.”
Horatio smiled and with almost a wink added the joke that they only shared. “The same, my lord and your poor servant ever.”
Hamlet let go of him, and it felt like he took his first real breath of air since returning to Denmark. “Sir, my good friend, I’ll change that name with you. And what make you from Wittenberg, Horatio?”
Then Hamlet remembered that there were others there as well. The older soldier he knew too, the one with the famous grunt. One of his father’s favorites. He reached over to shake his hand. “Marcellus.”
The old soldier did not smile, but he did shake his hand. “My good lord.”
That old voice was like something from another time, a sound of the past returned. “I am very glad to see you.”
The other soldier, the younger one, Hamlet didn’t know. And based on how nervous he seemed to be in front of the prince, he had not been this close to him before either. “Good even, sir.”
The soldier didn’t reply but shook his hand. It was sweaty, but Hamlet didn’t care (he did wipe his hand quickly on his coat though), turning back to his returned friend. “But what, in faith, make you from Wittenberg?”
“A truant disposition, good my lord,” The American answered with that smile Hamlet knew so well. It had been at the start and end of many a wild evening.
Hamlet let out a laugh like a bark, as if he had forgotten how to laugh. “I would not hear your enemy say so, nor shall you do my ear that violence, to make it truster of your own report against yourself. I know you are no truant.” That was true. When Horatio was enrolled in school, he would be the best student in the class. But that was when he was in school.
The prince continued, “But what is your affair in Elsinore? We’ll teach you to drink deep ere you depart.” Another joke between the two.
Drink, saying the word reminded Hamlet of his flask. He left the group to walk over and pick it up from the corner. Horatio spoke after him as he moved quickly. “My lord, I came to see your father’s funeral.”
Hamlet picked up the flask. He slowly stood back up and turned to the three. There were no surprises for Hamlet when it came to Horatio, and the dreams of writing lodged in his soul. Hamlet had not seen a paper in weeks but he was smart enough to know that the world was outside those gates and waiting, waiting, waiting. “I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow student. I think it was to see my mother’s wedding.”
Horatio blushed at that. It was a small lie certainly, but it was still caught. “Indeed, my lord, it followed hard upon.”
Hamlet gripped the flask tightly. “Thrift, thrift, Horatio. The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables. Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven or ever I had seen that day, Horatio.”
The grief was coming back. His emotions were like a tide, rising and falling. He began to open the flask, but stopped, remembering that it was empty. He traced his fingers against the name emblazoned on it. The name he shared with his father.
Control. Control. No more tears.
Hamlet looked up. He was still feeling so very out of sorts. What did he say this morning? He said something at the assembly, didn’t he? Did he spit on a painting? The world was always turning, but he felt it in his stomach now and his brain seemed to sway as well. “My father- methinks I see my father.”
“Where, my lord?” Horatio asked nervously. He walked over to his friend.
Hamlet put the flask in his pocket, the same one that contained his pistol and they banged against each other. Hamlet gave a slight smirk, something to hide the truth of the sorrow. “In my mind’s eye, Horatio.”
“I saw him once; he was a goodly king.”
“He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”
“My lord,” Horatio’s voice was timid, having none of its usual strength, “I think… I think I saw him yesternight.”
Maybe it was the drink still in his system. Did he miss a change in the conversation? This wasn’t making sense to Hamlet. “Saw? Who?”
“My lord, the king… your father.”
Hamlet’s knees felt weak at that, his body breaking under him. He sat down on the floor. “The king? My father?”
Horatio stood over him, his voice racing, as if not fast enough to give the news. It was all too much for the prince to keep up with. “Season your admiration for awhile with an attent ear, till I may deliver, upon the witness of these gentlemen (he pointed back to the soldiers there) this marvel to you.”
Hamlet didn’t know what to say or how to react. This was unlike Horatio, so very unlike. And what was the look on his face? It wasn’t fear, but something more. “For God’s love, let me hear.”
Horatio waved the others forward. Three men looking down at the prince, and Hamlet feeling like a child with the vision of it. Horatio spoke in a whisper, but one of great importance. “Two nights together had these gentlemen, Marcellus and Bernardo, on their watch, in the dead vast and middle of the night, been thus encountered. A figure like your father, armed at point exactly, cap-a-pie appears before them. Thrice he walked by their oppressed and fear-surprised eyes, within his truncheon’s length; whilst they, distilled almost to jelly with the act of fear, stand dumb and speak not to him. This to me in dreadful secrecy impart they did; and I with them the third night kept the watch; where, as they had delivered, both in time, form of the thing, each word made true and good, the apparition comes.”
Horatio got down on one knee. He took Hamlet’s hand, and the prince was shocked at how cold it was. “I knew your father; these hands are not more like.”
And with those words, that touch, the world shifted. None of the men felt a cold breeze in the air, but they felt it under the skin, permeating in their bones, seeping into the blood. It was as if just a finger of death’s hand reached in and lightly grazed past their souls. This was a conversation, a thought, not for the living.
“Did you…,” Hamlet tried to begin, but his voice had lost all of its strength. He tried again. “Did you not speak to it?”
Horatio gave only the quickest of nods. “My lord, I did; but answer made it none: yet once methought it lifted up its head and did address itself to motion, like as it would speak.”
There are few people in this world, lost and living, that Hamlet trusted like Horatio. They were there for each other in good times and bad. For years they had owned the world as only the young, powerful and beautiful can. There was nothing to be gained for lying to Hamlet, and only amazement at sharing.
“’Tis very strange,” Hamlet mumbled. His mind was beginning to race. Other possibilities…
Horatio pulled Hamlet to his feet. They were so close, from a distance it would have looked like an embrace. “As I do live, my honored lord, ’tis true; and we did think it writ down in our duty to let you know of it.”
Hamlet buttoned up his coat, but it did not help the icy cold dread he was feeling. “Indeed, indeed, sirs, but this troubles me.” He looked from Horatio to the two soldiers, the old and the young. “Hold you the watch tonight?”
The two soldiers answered in unison: “We do, my lord.”
He stuffed his hands in his pockets. There was that loaded pistol there again. Whatever he would find, he would take it with him. Ghosts are one thing, an attempt at his life seemed more reasonable. A trick, a quiet corner, and a bold move. So if this was something more than a ghost, he would be ready. Yet, they were able to trick Horatio if that was what it was. Maybe… “I will watch to-night. Perchance ’twill walk again.”
“I warrant it will,” Horatio replied.
Hamlet looked away from Horatio, and the portrait of his old family again caught his eye. There was his father again. Was he looking at him? Could he truly be walking the ground in death? “If it assume my noble father’s person, I’ll speak to it, though hell itself should gape and bid me hold my peace.” And with that, Hamlet felt more clearheaded, more himself. He always felt better with a plan in mind. Logic was a safe place for him. He was not considering the truth though that ghosts hold no place in logic.
He pointed to the soldiers and then to Horatio. “I pray you all, if you have hitherto concealed this sight, let it be tenable in your silence still; and whatsoever else shall hap to-night, give it an understanding, but no tongue. I will requite your loves. So, fare you well.”
“Our duty to your honor,” They each said with a bow (even Horatio, who never bowed for Hamlet before).
“Your loves, as mine to you. Farewell.”
The three left, moving back to the great doors. Hamlet didn’t watch the departure, already walking over to the painting again. “My father’s spirit in arms. All is not well.”
He took out the pistol and the flask. Horatio was so certain, and so were the soldiers. They were scared. It was late morning, and their faces were still so very pale. “I doubt some foul play.” A simple assassination plan was falling away, and the ghost was rising in his mind. Only one would return to the pocket. The flask fell to the ground at his feet with a clang.
Hamlet checked the pistol, counting the bullets. “Would the night were come. Till then sit still, my soul.” He put it back in his pocket. He needed to go the library to research this, and maybe get some food as well for strength. Night was close, and getting closer. He had to be ready. “Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth overwhelm them, to men’s eyes.”
There was a chance he might see his father again…
Absinthe did not bring his father, but his friend did. Hamlet wished for this, now he would have to deal with the wish being granted. There could be a price here. Hamlet left the room, leaving the empty flask on the ground, finding there a quiet resting place with his past.
Permanent Spring Showers was published by 5 Prince Books. You can find out more about my novel as well as my other books (including A Jane Austen Daydream and My Problem With Doors) and grab a copy via my author page on Amazon.com here.