Bohemian Rhapsody

Cousin Shelley

  Audrey rounded the corner, glad to finally be so close to home, though dreading all the stairs to get up to her flat. Her feet positively throbbed in those dreadful shoes--she shouldn't have let herself be charmed by that salesman with the nice shoulders--and her bag was heavy with four unproduced plays and scads of notes. She'd taken to carrying the plays just in case she ran into someone wealthy with an interest in the arts. Never knew who you might see in this city--couldn't hurt to be prepared.

A passed-out drunk blocked her path, and to go around him meant treading through puddles from the earlier rain, and to go back to avoid the water meant to walk all the way back down the block and her feet were not up for that. She cursed the oily salesman with the nice smile, and decided to carefully step over the man. Just as she was at full straddle he rose up onto all fours, shaking his head, and then straightened, causing Audrey to first sit on his back much like a jockey and then slide down and land unceremoniously on her bottom.

"Oh! You. . . you. . . " She was prepared to hop up and give him a piece of her mind, but a man came running from up the street, shouting, "Sowwy, sowwy!" He grabbed her hand and jerked her to her feet. "I beg your pardon, mons--mons--madame, forgive him."

She could smell the liquor wafting off the man, whom she looked down on. Not because she was judgmental--she certainly was not, in any sense of the word--but because he was a full two heads shorter than she. Then she looked at the much larger man who'd given her an unexpected ride. "Why can't you pass out in a cheap hotel room or a brothel somewhere instead of on the street, for goodness' sake, you could have hurt me, or someone else."

The short man spoke quickly. "I am in deep wegwet, my lady, but he didn't actually pass out here, at least not for the weasons you think. My fwiend is narcoleptic, and while I was waiting for him to wouse, I became bored and wandered up the road. I'm sowwy I did not see you until I heard you howwer, or I could have warned you about his tendency to wake suddenly, for no appawent weason." He tipped his hat to her. "Awow me to intwoduce myself. I am Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, at your service."

She looked from one man to the other, then brushed off her backside and shook his hand. "I'm Audrey Crouteaux. Playwright. No harm done, I suppose. I will say he startled--"

Audrey was stunned as a man running by grabbed her bag, obviously thinking to get away with an unsuspecting lady's cash. But she held on, "my plays!" and nearly jerked him off his feet. Neither would let go--Audrey gritted her teeth and pulled, and the man pulled harder in a frantic tug of war. Henri tried to come to her rescue, but the young ruffian pushed him down easily. Henri's friend shoved the would-be thief, finally making him release his hold on Audrey's bag, and told him to "get out of here, go!"

Audrey clutched her bag to her chest and watched as the young troublemaker swung his fist at Henri's friend, who easily blocked it, and swung back. But before his fist could make contact he crumpled to the ground. Sound asleep.

The young hoodlum smirked, spit and made as if to kick the sleeping man. Henri rushed forward to try to protect his friend, and Audrey finally found her voice. "Help, help, oh someone help, please! Masher. . . rogue!" She dropped her bag and dove for him, punched him in the eye, and shouted at his back as he ran away: "Brute!"

Henri smiled as he picked up Audrey's bag and handed it to her. "That will teach him to mess with a wady." He regarded his sleeping friend. "When he gets excited. . . . He was doing the tango in a musical and the wady put her leg on his shoulder." He made a flipping motion with his hand. "Down he went. Diswocated her hip. He hasn't had a job since."

Audrey cocked her head. "He's a performer?"

"Yes! An I am an artist. And our two good friends--"

"An artist! Can you design a set?"

"It's my specialty." He smiled and seemed to stand a little taller.

"What about your two friends? Are they performers, too?"

"In a sense, in a sense. One is a musical genius, and one. . . excels at making things expwode."

"Explode. . . explode. . ." Audrey squinted her eyes and tapped her chin, and then her eyes went wide with excitement. "If the young, sensitive, Swiss poet accidentally blows up one of his goats. . . oh, that would be the perfect motivation for all his emotional soul-searching in the third act! Can I meet these friends of yours? I'd like to arrange a rehearsal schedule, if you're willing." She pointed at the sleeping man. "Do you think he can yodel?"

June, 2005