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Open Features: Two For The Road - Part 2

Betty McKay concludes the theatrical tale which she began last week.

Surprisingly they both slept soundly. Alice woke first, to the clamour of birdsong. She slipped out of bed and looked out of the window. It was a golden September morning, a glorious day. She filled the kettle. "Would you like coffee, Fran?"

Fran sat up and rubbed her eyes. "Yes, please. Did that really happen last night?" she asked. "It all seems like a bad dream. One thing though, I'm not telling Bob, or at least not until I see him. What Bob doesn't know, he won't worry about."

Eight-thirty saw them outside the office, where a pretty girl with long dark hair was unlocking the door. She smiled and said, "You're all ready to go then. Was everything OK?"

"Yes," replied Fran. "Is your brother up at the house?"

The girl smiled: "Oh no, he's gone. He left at first light. He doesn't live here. Actually John was very naughty; we weren't supposed to open until the end of the week. We haven't even got the telephones installed yet. But he said you both looked so charming when you arrived, he hadn't the heart to turn you away, so he opened up one of the cabins a couple of days early."

Surprised, Alice said: "Well that was real kind of him. Yes everything was fine; couldn't have been better."

The girl laughed. "Yes, that's John. Full of surprises."

"You bet!" muttered Fran.

A quick telephone call to Bob and then they were off. Considering it was a Monday morning, the traffic was light. On the road to Stratford they talked over the events of the night before. Alice looked at Fran, "Well, at least that explained the no phone situation. What did you make of his sister?"

Fran looked at her. "Charming, I thought she looked very attractive and the last person on earth to be mixed up in a murder situation - let alone being called a whore. Let's forget it, Alice. I'm longing to show you Stratford-on-Avon. We only have three days and there is so much to see before we head back to London. Bob says we must get to the theatre this time or he'll disown the pair of us."

Stratford looked perfect in the autumn sunshine, and after lunch they walked to the theatre. They managed to get tickets for a special one-off preview matinee of 'Hamlet', featuring a new young actor in the title role. Then Fran introduced Alice to the rural delights of Stratford.

Next afternoon Fran, looking at her sister wearing soft apricot shantung dress, thought how relaxed and happy she looked. "That's a lovely dress, Alice. Is it new? Alice turned, and though she smiled, her eyes suddenly misted with unshed tears. "Have I said something wrong honey? You look great; you look beautiful in it."

"No, you haven't said anything wrong, Fran. I suddenly remembered the only time I ever wore this dress was when Tom took me to the Bernstein concert at Idlewild. It was our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary, and the next day the specialist gave Tom the results of his tests." She sat down abruptly on the bed. "Fran there's never a day goes by that I don't think of Tom. I know Michelle misses him too, but she makes me feel so guilty. Tom never intended me to go on mourning him in the manner she expects."

Thank God she's said it, thought Fran, Bob was right. I'm glad I kept my big mouth shut; she'd never have forgiven me for saying it. She put her arms around Alice and held her close. "I know that, Alice. Tom loved you so much; all he ever wanted was that you should be happy. Michelle is very young; she loves you and is a little over-protective, that's all. Tom left you well provided for. He knew that you would have a whole new life ahead of you."

"I guess I know that too, Fran." Alice gazed at her and suddenly smiled her eyes shining. "This is the best time I've had in years and I wouldn't have missed a minute of it. This break has made me realise there's a big wide world out there and nothing wrong in being happy and enjoying myself." She drew a deep breath and stood up.

"Come on, Fran. We can't sit around here all day chewing the fat. Let's get this show on the road, kiddo, Shakespeare's ready and waiting."

They arrived a few minutes late and slipped quietly into their seats as the lights went down. "We'll get a programme later," whispered Fran.

The opening scene went well, with all the actors in good voice and included a particularly dramatic performance by the ghost. When the curtain rose onto an empty stage for Scene Two, there was the muted sound of drum and tabor. Then the figures of the King, Gertrude the Queen, and Prince Hamlet entered, followed by courtiers and attendants.

All the characters were richly and colourfully garbed - only Hamlet, clad in black doublet and hose, stood out starkly from the rest of the players. Set apart, the tall slender figure dominated the stage.

Fran and Alice recognised him immediately. Involuntarily, Fran gasped so sharply, "It's Norman Bates," that the couple sitting immediately in front of them turned and glared at the two women sitting transfixed, gazing at the young actor. Then, with a shudder of sheer delight, they held hands and settled into the superb performance.

When, later in the scene alone upon the stage, he commenced his first long soliloquy: "Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt.." They thrilled at his voice.

As it was a preview, there was no interval. The applause at the end of the performance seemed to go on forever. They came out into the foyer, bemused and elated, when Alice heard someone call her name. She turned with difficulty in the jostling throng of theatre-goers and saw, half a head taller than the people around him, Don McCrae. He gestured the two women to wait for him outside.

"I hoped you'd be here. If you hold on for a couple of minutes while the crowd clears, I'll take you both backstage to meet John. He's the student I told you about," he said with a smile. "I think you'll agree we've all witnessed a theatrical tour de force today. I'm very proud of him."

Later backstage, in his crowded dressing room, John Duncan's eyes lit up in surprise when he saw Alice and Fran accompanying his friend. "Well, I didn't realise my two American ladies would be here today. Did Janet tell you what a hard time she gave me, but I couldn't have turned the pair of you out into the night. You both looked so woebegone."

They didn't feel then that they knew him well enough to confess that they had stood quaking in the darkened hallway of his home, listening to him rehearsing Hamlet's soliloquy from Act Two, Scene Two, and mistaken it for the real thing.

Fran told him much later - on the day Alice married Don. Michelle, bursting with maternal pride, watched as her two small daughters acted as flower attendants at their grandmother's wedding.

As Bob said later to Fran, "Well, I guess true love will always find a way."

Delighted, she took his hand, kissed him and said, "Oh Bob, you really are an old romantic after all. Why the bard couldn't have put it better himself."

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