Incapable of Her Own Distress

Submitted into Contest #143 in response to: Write about a character who loves cloud gazing. ... view prompt

42 comments

Speculative

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

There is something liberating about losing the love of your life. 

Compounded with all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, it makes the choice to lose one’s mind easier—not to mention the choice of losing one’s life. 

I guess that answers the question whether to be or not to be. 

If I were still speaking to you, I’d let you know. 

O your mother! Gertrude is so lyrical about my death, letting everyone know my surprising demise at the end of Act Four. She didn’t need to be so glib—no one makes it out of Act Five alive—except for Horatio, but sidekicks generally have a low mortality rate.

What’s ironic is how your mother makes it sound like my death is an accident. But two hundred years from now, John Everett Millais paints the scene accurately enough. One doesn’t just drown while reclining in a shallow, babbling brook, singing among the crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples. It was a logical end after losing you, my father, my mind, and my voice. 

What do women do when they no longer have a say in their own affairs?

Incapable of my own distress, indeed.

Also two hundred years from now, Emily Dickinson will finally write what I feel: “The heart wants what it wants, or else it does not care.” After everything I have been through in your cold creepy castle in Denmark? I simply don’t care. 

I don’t care about maintaining propriety and societal conventions any longer. My silent subjugation to my brother and father is at an end. My dating out of my social class wasn’t an issue until my family made it one. Just because my father worked for your father? Just because I’m not a pure blood noble, according to some arbitrary hereditary and patrilineal system? In about two hundred years, Friedrich Engels will have a lot to say about contemporary Marxist views on the family structure. Or stick around and watch free market capitalism burn the aristocracy to the ground. Then let’s see who’s concerned if a prince marries the help. 

I don’t care about the hypocritical priest who is overly concerned about my doubtful death. Does he really want my corpse to rot in unsanctified ground until the last trumpet? Definitely what Christ would do. I laugh when the priest quibbles with my brother about my dead body being draped in virginal garlands. Of course I’m not a virgin. Did you not hear my father read your secret love letters in front of your mother, stepfather, and the whole court? No one calls his girlfriend his “soul’s idol” without good reason—and you and I had plenty of reasons. 

I don’t care about you and my brother jumping into my open grave to stage an epic “Grief Off.” If this wasn’t the forerunner of toxic masculinity, then to quote Sonnet 116: Shakespeare has never writ, nor no man has ever loved. You and Laertes—drama queens! Laertes holds my water soaked corpse, saying 40,000 brothers couldn’t have loved me more. You vow to drink vinegar and eat a crocodile (?) to prove your love for me. If I were still alive, I would say, “Boys, I don’t think this funeral is about me anymore…”

Frankly, I’ve had enough time to reflect, and Maya Angelou is right: “When people show you who they are the first time—believe them.” In hindsight, you exhibited so many red flags that I am probably a certified vexillologist by now. Agreed, you were going through a rough patch—having your father die murdered, seeing ghosts, having your college friends spy on you for money, working out your Oedipal complex with your mom, determining if your stepfather was innocent, and, of course, losing me. 

But just after the play was the thing, it became abundantly clear that your stepfather killed your father. Claudius all but confessed in front of the entire theater audience! Surely you should have taken this evidence to the authorities rather than preparing to kill Claudius yourself and tangling with your mother over your train wreck of a relationship. 

Instead? You humiliate my father who was just doing his job. 

“The queen would speak with you.” 

That’s his job, Hamlet. Relaying messages. 

“Do you see yonder cloud…” You tease him. 

But I heard you, Hamlet. You were toying with him, trying to get him to agree that a cloud you spied looked like a camel. When my father eventually agrees, you say no—it looks more like a weasel. When my father agrees the cloud looks more like a weasel, you change your mind again—no, a whale!—making my father look foolish. 

Camel. Weasel. Whale. 

Humps. All humps. In four hundred years, the Black Eyed Peas will have a lot to say about humps, but you have a point about the subjective nature of looking at clouds. In essence, they can be anything one chooses them to be. 

Like whether the ghost you see is an angel from God or a demon from hell. 

Like whether your college friends are visiting you because they enjoy your company or like spying on you. 

Like whether your mother was attracted to your uncle—now your stepfather—while your father was still alive. 

Camel. Weasel. Whale. 

I watch the clouds myself, divining their shapes, while I drown in the brook. Hamlet, I do see a camel. In central Asia, the camel symbolizes being conceited, which you are. How could you not be? You’re the Prince of Denmark, adored by your father King Hamlet, over-mothered and beloved by Queen Gertrude, and fawned over by a fleet of sycophants. God’s bodkins, man—you commandeered a whole acting troupe to act out a play you wrote on the spot! I still wonder if your cruel words in Act 3 were true or if your declarations of love were more true? From your antic disposition, I believe your noble mind was overthrown, but my mind and heart are torn, cleft in twain.

Maybe not a camel. Indeed, a weasel. The Irish believe the weasel symbolizes fickleness and falsehood, which begs the question: Did you change your mind about me or had you lied about your love from the very beginning? I would have given you all I had regardless; it would just be nice to know at what point I was deceived. 

My clothes are weighted down, dragging me into the shallows. I’m singing snatches of songs—some holy, some bawdy—while I see the sky, bluer than ever. The cloud is neither camel nor weasel. Indeed, it’s a whale, the bearer of the cosmos, the symbol of earth’s foundation. Its body looks like two arcs welded together, the upper and lower worlds, the Heaven and the Earth. 

I am now a part of both, Hamlet, shuffled off this mortal coil, concerned with things of another realm.

And Hamlet, whether you loved me or not is irrelevant at this point. I chose to love you and I choose to love you—because there is something liberating about loving the love of your life. 


April 24, 2022 19:46

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42 comments

Russell Norman
11:29 Apr 25, 2022

Regular listeners to Deidra on Read Lots Write Lots podcast will know the meaning of life, the universe, everything, can be explained by Hamlet. ;) Great story Deidra!

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Deidra Lovegren
13:13 Apr 25, 2022

You misspelled "recherché" :)

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Swan Anderson
13:46 May 04, 2022

Hi Deidra, Thanks for following me, which led me right back to you. I love your Ophelia's funny and badass takedown of men and their "toxic masculinity." I think Will would thoroughly approve!

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L. Maddison
05:56 May 04, 2022

Well, you have actually channelled Ophelia’s ghost here. Which is kind of like witchcraft, except that’s a different play, right?

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Deidra Lovegren
11:08 May 04, 2022

I think a Hamlet/Macbeth mashup has just been ordered. I'll see what I can do :) Any chance we can get you on the podcast, L? Lots of fun :) https://www.readlotswritelots.com/previous/

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L. Maddison
15:47 May 05, 2022

The podcast is great, intriguing to hear the ‘real’ voices of some of the writers on here. I’ll be in touch when I’ve wrestled the imposter anxiety 😂

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Deidra Lovegren
16:06 May 05, 2022

You are a wonderful writer. If you want to record your stories for posterity, Russell and I made a quiet little place on the internet for that: https://bluemarblestorytellers.com/ Any one can submit. Just a writer and their work. No music. No sound effects. :)

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L.M. Lydon
17:24 May 02, 2022

This was so much fun to read. I particularly liked the " She didn’t need to be so glib—no one makes it out of Act Five alive—except for Horatio, but sidekicks generally have a low mortality rate" line. It was a fun, winding path through different social/thought patterns to show a growing, changing self-concept for the character.

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Deidra Lovegren
17:32 May 02, 2022

Always glad to meet another Hamlet aficionado...this was a ridiculously esoteric bit of fluff. :)

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Jay Mc Kenzie
16:04 May 02, 2022

I love love love the modern references to an old story! Beautiful. I love how your narrative voice varies so much from story to story and each one so assured.

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Deidra Lovegren
17:02 May 02, 2022

I'll need to apologize to Emily Dickinson for lumping her in with Fergie...glad to hear you are on the mend!

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Jay Mc Kenzie
19:57 May 02, 2022

Hah! I bet she'd love it.

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Faith Ogedegbe
11:37 May 02, 2022

I love your story, Deidra. More wins ahead.

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Deidra Lovegren
17:00 May 02, 2022

Not with this dog biscuit. Heavy. Ponderous. Pretentious. Not my best work :( I do love Ophelia, though :)

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Charlie Murphy
19:25 May 01, 2022

So, a ghost from a long time ago acknowledges Black Eye Peas and other current things? I like it.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:38 May 01, 2022

I think it was the Bard who first wrote: Whatcha gon' do with all that junk All that junk inside your trunk?

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Charlie Murphy
01:27 May 02, 2022

Oh Anyway, great job! Can you read my new story, Lumberjack Camp?

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Deidra Lovegren
11:28 May 02, 2022

Absolutely :)

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Dana Washington
04:12 May 01, 2022

Wow! Another great one Deidre! I’m just sorry that I missed out following you sooner but as I am not one for vain sorrowful apologies; nor foolishness, I think I will just continue to catch up with you on your podcasts and here. But you have never disappointed me yet and that’s something I treasure are your works.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:41 May 01, 2022

Thanks for your kind comments, Dana! Look forward to your kudos and moral support in this lonely occupation we find ourselves in. Thanks the dopamine blast :)

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Michael Regan
20:29 Apr 29, 2022

I loved the reference to Millais' Ophelia, it is one of my favourite paintings. Even without the Hamlet reference it is a powerful painting. Had to look up the reference to the Black Eyed Peas - not my cup of tea.

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Deidra Lovegren
20:44 Apr 29, 2022

Agreed on both Millais’ work of art and Fergie’s horrible pop song. Just having fun with the time/space continuum ❤️

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Michał Przywara
20:45 Apr 28, 2022

Fantastic opening line! Then it creeps into Shakespeare, which is clever, though not unusual. Then it leans *heavily* into Shakespeare, and I'm starting to wonder if this is a theme. Then it hits me. Ophelia. (Although I'll admit I had to google her name, as it's been a while since I've gone through Hamlet.) I like this piece. I have a soft spot for dead people reflecting on their lives after the fact, and this opens a brilliant door of possibilities. If there's a hell, I can picture The Bard holding court there for an endless line of h...

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Deidra Lovegren
23:06 Apr 28, 2022

I am going to start paying you to explain my stories to me since you do a far better job. Insightful, poignant, and helpful. I appreciate your thoughtful comments more than you know. So.... Any chance we can get you on the "Read Lots Write Lots" podcast? https://www.readlotswritelots.com/previous/ You'll see some of Reedsy royalty here. Or maybe you'd like to read one of your stories for Blue Marble Storytellers? https://bluemarblestorytellers.com/podcast-2/ Drop me a gmail if you are interested: lovegren.deidra@gmail.com

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Deidra Lovegren
23:11 Apr 28, 2022

"Canterbury Tales of Grievance" -- Ok, the only text I love more than Hamlet is the Canterbury Tales... And this comment of yours has definitely inspired a future short story. A mashup of Chaucer and Dante's Inferno? OooooooOOoooo.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:14 Apr 28, 2022

Incidentally, here's another good website where all the cool kids hang out: https://www.globesoup.net/ 8 of us Reedsy writers won something on the Challenge #5 (fun) https://www.globesoup.net/7-day-story-writing-challenge-5-winner

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Daniel R. Hayes
05:44 Apr 28, 2022

Once again, another amazing piece. I thought it worked perfectly with the prompt and I'm honestly astounded at how you keep putting out great stories for us to read. What a great treat it would be to sail the oceans of thought running through your mind with no ports or anchors to slow the journey! Keep up the great work because I know you will :)

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Deidra Lovegren
23:45 Apr 28, 2022

Mr. Hayes, I'm blushing. My mind is more like Splash Mountain, but definitely unmoored most of the time. If you'd ever like to collaborate on a comedic horror piece, I'm your girl. :)

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Daniel R. Hayes
05:37 Apr 29, 2022

Your stories are awesome and keep me coming back along with many others!! I actually just posted my first non-horror story in a long time about an alien becoming best friends with a trash can. I know... only in my mind could I write a story out of that idea... lol :)

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Deidra Lovegren
07:23 Apr 29, 2022

Oh I love it — 👽❤️🗑 Reading it now

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Ryan Moore
19:20 Apr 27, 2022

cool story!

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Deidra Lovegren
23:21 Apr 27, 2022

cool comment!

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Niveditha S
06:33 Apr 27, 2022

Amazing Deidra! Totally moved me

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Deidra Lovegren
11:08 Apr 27, 2022

An Ophelia fan! YES This particular story was written just for the few of us. :)

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Cindy Strube
19:59 Apr 25, 2022

Clever, witty, and - if indeed it is entirely self indulgent, I’m glad! I oftentimes write what amuses ME, and if someone else can appreciate it, that’s great. If not, oh well!😉

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Deidra Lovegren
20:00 Apr 25, 2022

Exactly. They aren't the boss of us. Who cares if it's unreadable? I quote Emily Dickinson and The Black Eyed Peas. That in itself is a victory.

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Shea West
02:03 Apr 25, 2022

I don't feel entirely smart enough or well-read enough of Shakespeare to know all of the connections. So my comment is likely not very helpful. But you did make me want to know more about Shakespeare! Again, not very helpful! But I loved the wit within the story!

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Deidra Lovegren
08:19 Apr 25, 2022

That is a very elegant “This sucks” comment and I love you for it ❤️. I wanted to challenge myself and write Ophelia a la “The Lovely Bones” — speaking to Hamlet from the Beyond. Granted, this is a very esoteric bit of writing, probably just for 12th grade English teachers who’ve had to teach Hamlet like a bazillion times to apathetic high school students. But I love Ophelia and I wanted to channel her thoughts here on a lovely Sunday afternoon. Totally self indulgent 😎

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Shea West
13:13 Apr 25, 2022

Oh, not at all. I didn't think it sucked one bit. I genuinely don't know shit about fuck (Ruth from Ozark) about Shakespeare 🙈.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:00 Apr 25, 2022

Ruth is coming on our roadtrip with us.

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Shea West
18:06 Apr 25, 2022

I sure as shit hope so!

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Ben Connolly
22:04 May 05, 2022

This was an utter joy to read! Super well-paced, snappy and insightful. I would definitely peg this as the winner of the week

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