Contest #53 winner 🏆

The Play's the Thing

Submitted for Contest #53 in response to: Write a story about another day in a heatwave. ... view prompt

302 comments

Submitted on 08/02/2020

Categories: Funny Romance

It is ungodly hot and Hamlet should shut up. 

“You cannot call it love, for at your age the heyday in the blood is tame, it’s humble, and waits upon the judgment,” overenunciates one of the actors while wildly gesticulating with a plastic human skull. The skull does not normally appear until Act 5, and Hamlet certainly is not waving it at his mother while lecturing her on how to control her sexual desires. 

The community theater auditions are going poorly. 

“Next!” 

“You may want to pay close attention to this next one,” warns Bob, handing me yet another acting resume. It’s so humid inside the moldy theater that the paper curls. 

Bob and I are old friends, finding ourselves surprisingly single at 60. How he convinces me to help him stage Hamlet in the middle of the hottest July on record chiefly results from my utter boredom. Retirement is turning out to be stupefying, as there are only so many crossword puzzles one can do. 

“Why am I looking at this actress more closely than the others? It says here she’s almost 50 years old, Bob, and she’s auditioning for Ophelia?”

“She owns five KFC franchises,” Bob states flatly. 

“So Ophelia is going to drown in hydrogenated soybean oil?”

“She can finance a large part of this operation. The city only contributes so much, and I’m not good at fundraising. Do you want to shake down some car dealerships to support the arts?” 

“Ugh,” I concede and peruse her resume more thoroughly. “C’mon, Bob. She played Annie in her 40's. It’s a half-lived life for us. Are you sure the KFC Queen is right for this production? How about we start a GoFundMe page instead?”

“How about you look at our mature Ophelia . . .” Bob pleads.

“Fine,” I sulk. 


I hear her footsteps before I see her. These are not the tentative taps of a poor, dutiful Ophelia, but long purposeful strides of a King of Denmark. She is tall with unruly hair, dark brown eyes ferociously gazing up at Bob and me as if we were auditioning for her. 

“I have rehearsed Act 3 Scene 1, immediately after Hamlet’s fourth soliloquy,” she states boldly.

“Fourth—?” I’m flipping papers for no reason. She’s gorgeous

“After To be or not to be . . .” She waits for us, suffering fools gladly. “I will need one of you to read Hamlet’s part.”

“I will do it.” I immediately volunteer while sweat pools under my armpits. I would kill Bob if he offers otherwise. I want her to talk with me. 

“Ready?” she inquires with an arched eyebrow. O, that I might kiss that eyebrow!

“I am absolutely ready.” I almost choke on my own unintentional irony. Bob audibly snickers, and I hate him for knowing me so well.

She pauses, collecting all the kinetic energy in the auditorium. 

“My lord, I have love-tokens of yours to return to you. I pray you now receive them,” she laments, suddenly a broken-hearted young maiden. Her transformation blinds me. I literally cannot find my place on the script. Bob is threatening to laugh uproariously at my besotted state, but, gratefully, he controls himself enough to point out my line.

“No, not I. I never gave you anything!” I half stand, calling out to her from behind a table in the audience.

“My honoured lord, you know right well you did. And with them, words of so sweet breath composed as made the things more rich.” She eloquently articulates each luxurious syllable. I sit down because I don’t trust my knees anymore.

“Are you virtuous?” I reply. Please say no.

“My lord?”

“Are you fair?” My god, you are so fair. She grows more beautiful the longer I look at her. I cannot stop looking at her. 

“What means your lordship?”

“That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty. I did love you once,” I proclaim, probably more ardently than the script calls for. Bob looks over at me pointedly. I punch him under the table. 

“Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.” Ophelia is all vulnerability now, eyes wider than one can imagine, exposing the depths of her trusting soul to the love of her life. Due to the heat, her eyeliner has smudged, giving her a heartbreakingly desperate look. 

The next lines are cruel, and I read them poorly because they are not true. “You should have not believed me. I loved you not.” 

Broken, the actress appears as if physically in pain. In a quiet, dejected voice, she simply says, “I was the more deceived.” 

I want to run onto the stage and comfort her. Instead, as Hamlet, I rip out my own heart by uttering the words, “Get thee to a nunnery.”

Bob stands to applaud while she formally bows, smiling from ear to ear. As she gathers her things, I am paralyzed, not trusting my voice or my body language to give away the fact that I’m hopelessly in love with a 50-year-old Ophelia who sells fried chicken. 

To my delight and disbelief, I watch her make her way up the aisle towards us. 

“So how are the auditions coming along?” She fishes.

“Very good. Lots of talent in this town,” Bob offers in his genial, noncommittal way. 

“Well, not that much talent,” I add lamely. “But not you, though. You were excellent. What I mean is that you definitely have talent. You are talented.” Kill me.

She looks at us both skeptically.

“Well, let me know at your earliest convenience. If I get the part, I’ll have to hire another store manager or two.” She turns on her heels to leave, but not before flashing a dazzling smile. 

“They say the owl was a baker’s daughter!” I shout one of Ophelia’s nonsensical ramblings after her, just to get her to stay a bit longer.

“We know what we are, but know not what we may be,” she replies and my heart nearly bursts. 


After the auditions, Bob and I walk out into the early evening air, still stifling hot, causing beads of sweat to trickle down our faces.

“I think we have a solid final cast list,” he says, tiredly. He dabs his face with his tie. 

“Hamlet is a little weak,” I caution him, but it would be hard to find an equal to Ophelia’s commanding stage presence. And her eyes.

“Do you want to grab dinner?” he asks. 

“No, I have other plans,” I smile at Bob.

“Are these plans original or extra crispy?” 

I place my hands over my heart, “Do not take tenders for true pay, which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly.”

“That’s what you’re going with? Chicken tender puns?” Bob rolls his eyes.

“You’ll tender me a fool,” I say, blowing Bob a stage kiss. And then I do what Hamlet should have done. 

I walk to my car, determined to find the fair Ophelia at one of five KFC restaurants. 


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302 comments

Zilla Babbitt
16:22 Aug 14, 2020

Quirky and compelling! This story is so unique, not unlike a Kurt Vonnegut story that I love. You never state the protagonist's gender, which is a bit confusing, but over all this is brilliant. Deserved win!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:41 Aug 14, 2020

Thanks for your comment! I left the gender neutral for a reason. People can conjure up what they wish. :)

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India Moon
09:09 Aug 15, 2020

YES YES YES. Love that this is gender-neutral! I was totally imagining one woman being blown away by another. But whatever the gender, this is a funny, heart-warming and supremely well-written story! Thank you for this. When you have the time, please check out my two recent submissions The Reunion and The Apartment. Would love your thoughts on them, THANK YOU!

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Deidra Lovegren
09:45 Aug 15, 2020

I am on it. ❤️ Reading you now!

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Deidra Lovegren
18:28 Aug 15, 2020

Huge fan, Zilla Babbit! Thanks for your comments :)

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Zilla Babbitt
19:26 Aug 15, 2020

Hey, no problem! I really enjoyed this one and the Latin-titled one that was shortlisted. Both made me laugh :)

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Deidra Lovegren
19:33 Aug 15, 2020

The Latin-titled one translates to M-----F------. Samuel L. Jackson would be proud.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:35 Aug 15, 2020

If you are super bored, "Can't Get Enough Of What You Don't Need" cracks me up because it's every stupid conversation I've had with my three sons aged 18-22. UGH.....

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Zilla Babbitt
17:47 Aug 16, 2020

Haha! Made me laugh. I'll give it a read one of these days. Thanks :)

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Deborah Groom
23:20 Aug 14, 2020

This story was so unexpected and fabulous. You absolutely flipped the expected stereotype of the 50 year old woman. The way the protagonist was so besotted was a delight. You are a gem.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:31 Aug 14, 2020

We 50 year old women are incredibly hot.🔥

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Jn Park
03:29 Aug 15, 2020

Oh, I'm so glad that this won! I hope many more people would see this amazing story ASAP. I liked the humours in this story, and the broken stereotype (yay!) about 50-year-old woman. KFC and Ophelia isn't a perfect match itself but it is simply fantastic together in this story. I liked the part where the protagonist is overwhelmed by the talent of the woman. I was confused if he was just wondered by Ophelia's beauty or if he really fancies that woman, but that part really made the story unique and beautiful. You're amazing writer. Can't ...

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Deidra Lovegren
07:58 Aug 15, 2020

Thanks for your amazing comments ❤️ You have restored my soul ✨

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Cee Rani
02:48 Aug 15, 2020

A very quirky, believable story. The characters felt real especially because of their dialogue. A deserved win 👏🏽

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Deidra Lovegren
08:00 Aug 15, 2020

Thanks 🙏🏻

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Marilyn David
05:57 Aug 15, 2020

I switched my thoughts on the gender of the character twice but settled on male towards the end. Well written keeping us guessing.

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Deidra Lovegren
07:50 Aug 15, 2020

Choose your own adventure 😀

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India Moon
09:10 Aug 15, 2020

WOMAN ALL THE WAY. :D Also, that opening line is SUCH a great image and hook. Ok, I'm going to go read this whole thing again.

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Deidra Lovegren
09:44 Aug 15, 2020

How great is India 🌝 Moon? Loving you like crazy over here!!

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Jacob Flematti
02:13 Aug 15, 2020

Definitely understandable why it won. Short little story, makes me think flash fiction, with good wit and humor. Great job and congratulations.

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Deidra Lovegren
08:01 Aug 15, 2020

I appreciate the ❤️ Thanks for the encouragement ✨

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Laura Clark
21:46 Aug 14, 2020

Ahhh! I’m so happy you won! Your last story was so good that I’m not surprised that you went on to bigger and better things. I loved this one as well and think that it’s a deserved win. The humour in it was deftly managed and I really, really liked that you didn’t specify the gender. It’s a great way of allowing the reader to project onto the character. Given that you ate a cheesecake to celebrate a previous shortlisting, how are you going to celebrate the win? I feel like you have to top cheesecake somehow. Congrats again!

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Deidra Lovegren
21:47 Aug 14, 2020

I'm going to top the cheesecake with another cheesecake -- and then get right back to writing :) LOVE YOU LAURA

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Laura Clark
21:50 Aug 14, 2020

DOUBLE CHEESECAKE FOR THE WIN (literally). LOVE YOU TOO! Winner, winner, cheesecake dinner.

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Stafford Morgan
08:05 Sep 14, 2020

This was fantastic. I was riveted from start to finish. And I love that you kept the narrator's gender ambiguous.

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Deidra Lovegren
09:31 Sep 14, 2020

Thank you! ❤️

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Niveeidha P
12:34 Aug 16, 2020

So unique! I love how you didn't state the gender, it made me feel like one of those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books as I kept on changing my mind...I eventually settled on a woman though... :)

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Deidra Lovegren
13:18 Aug 16, 2020

You do you. 🌹 All the world’s a stage! Thanks for commenting YAY

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Niveeidha P
21:54 Aug 16, 2020

Thank you! No problem :)

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Thom Brodkin
13:51 Aug 15, 2020

Deidra has no idea what she is doing most of the time? “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” You are setting the bar way to high for those of us who really don’t know what we’re doing. 😀 In all seriousness this was a great read. It was a great idea presented greatly. Any story that can include Shakespeare and KFC seamlessly is a winner in my book. Are you a fan of Shakespeare? I have to think you are to blend the scene so masterfully. I hope you are, I’m not sure why but I do. Keep doing what you are doing, contrary to your bio y...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:57 Aug 15, 2020

I'm an English teacher so Big Willy is my homeboy. (Yes, that is ancient slang and cringe-worthy.) I'd love to read your stuff, Thom.

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Thom Brodkin
17:04 Aug 15, 2020

I took a class on Shakespeare in college. We were deep in a discussion about Othello and our instructor was doing his best to help us to discern all the hidden thoughts and ideas Shakespeare was trying to convey. At that moment I couldn't help but wonder if BS himself was in the chair next to me if he would have leaned over and whispered, "Oh, that's what I meant." :-)

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Deidra Lovegren
17:12 Aug 15, 2020

Most English teachers love to babble on about absolute horseshit, especially phallic and yonic imagery. I prefer the malleability of the works; let readers decide what the text means for themselves. Reader response theory, if we are being technical. There is something to formalist criticism as well -- just letting the work be. Shit, now I'm sounding pedantic. DAMN.

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J.l. Schuhle
19:12 Aug 14, 2020

This made me smile so much! So cute,sweet, intelligent and beautifully written. Very funny and easy to read while having depth. I feel like you said so much with so little. Puns were amazing. I have nothing negative to say!- congrats on winning!

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Deidra Lovegren
19:25 Aug 14, 2020

Thanks, Jessica! Everyone (should) love Hamlet :)

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Nandan Prasad
12:03 Aug 09, 2020

Amazing story! I really enjoyed reading it. Well-done!

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Deidra Lovegren
20:56 Aug 13, 2020

Thanks for your kind comment!

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Nandan Prasad
04:05 Aug 15, 2020

I had a feeling this would be shortlisted, and I was rooting for it to win. Well-done and congratulations!

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Deidra Lovegren
07:55 Aug 15, 2020

I was totally surprised 😲

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Nandan Prasad
01:30 Aug 14, 2020

No problem. Would you mind checking out my story ‘Number Theory’ if it’s not too much trouble? Thanks and good luck!

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K v Chidambaram
23:26 Aug 08, 2020

Nice. Reminded of the numerous beautiful lines of Hamlet like, I loved Ophelia, forty thousand brothers with all their love cannot make up my sum and To be or not to be that is the question ? Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune. Best Wishes. Chidambaram K.V.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:48 Aug 08, 2020

I'm firmly convinced that all the answers to any question reside somewhere in Hamlet.

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K v Chidambaram
16:23 Aug 12, 2020

i also read your story of praying and find mention of Dido and Aeneas and lot of Latin. Hope you have read works of Christopher Marlowe - Dido Queen of Carthage. I am a great fan of Christopher Marlowe and planning to do my PhD on something related to him. Best Wishes.

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Deidra Lovegren
16:38 Aug 12, 2020

Christopher Marlowe is a hero of mine! Good luck with your thesis and let me know when it's published :)

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K v Chidambaram
16:42 Aug 12, 2020

Thanks. Sure I will. Have you submitted for Contest 54. If so wish you all the best. Awaiting result of Contest 53. Your comments on my article/stories will be highly appreciated. Regards Chidambaram

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05:29 Sep 08, 2020

NICE STORY LOVED IT WHERE DO U GET THESE IDEAS

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Deidra Lovegren
06:25 Sep 08, 2020

Living a looooong life

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05:52 Sep 09, 2020

hahaha how old are you

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Sampada Sharma
05:07 Sep 05, 2020

I LOVEDDDD THIS ONE!! Funny and so so unique. You had me at Hamlet. Totally deserved the win!

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Deidra Lovegren
07:28 Sep 05, 2020

Hamlet always classes things up ❤️

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Laura Everly
18:28 Aug 30, 2020

Great story love the use of Hamlet and the desire in this short story nice job

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Deidra Lovegren
19:40 Aug 30, 2020

Hamlet always classes things up.

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Mark D
17:33 Aug 30, 2020

Oh that was fantastic! I was a theatre major in school and a big fan of Shakespeare. This was so good.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:39 Aug 30, 2020

YAY Mark. Thanks for the authenticity check. I was totally winging it. :)

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Des Feller
20:09 Aug 28, 2020

Deidra! Honey! That was amazing! I just Augh!

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Deidra Lovegren
21:43 Aug 28, 2020

Same ❤️

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Jane Andrews
22:11 Aug 27, 2020

Absolutely love this one - partly because I'm a Shakespeare nerd and studied Hamlet and partly because it's so witty and compelling (just like your Almost Last Supper story). Also, well done on the effortless gender neutrality. (I've only pulled it off once, in my own entry for the same category, entitled 'Heat'.) I think this painted a wonderful portrait of an older person completely losing their head over a slightly younger older person - and as someone who fits neatly between the two age brackets, I appreciate a story that acknowledges th...

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Deidra Lovegren
22:52 Aug 27, 2020

The heart wants what it wants. :)

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Jane Andrews
23:15 Aug 27, 2020

😊

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Angelina Maria
15:34 Aug 27, 2020

Great story Deidra!!!!!!

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Deidra Lovegren
18:14 Aug 27, 2020

Woooo Hoooo Glad it was a fun read. :)

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Angelina Maria
05:55 Aug 28, 2020

Yup

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