The Golden Hour

It’s the last day of camp.

In years past, this would have been when I was listening to my iPod and looking out the window as my parents’ car pulled out of the Acting Manitou driveway. I would keep my eyes fixed on the blond wood of the cabins for as long as possible before the trees got in the way and our Prius sped down the Maine highway. Then I would sink down into the car seat and feel hot tears rolling down my face.

Not this year.

The last car with the last camper is pulling out of the driveway now. She’s probably crying. Olivia; she was in my cabin this session. She gave me a big hug before she got in the car with her mom and dad. She wasn’t crying then—she was smiling, that bubbling smile she has, the one that makes it hard to believe that this girl with rollicking corkscrew curls and sparkling eyes was the same young woman who stood on stage last night and broke under the lights as she spoke about a young man she had never met.

Three years ago, Olivia and I were in a show together on that same stage. The Scottish play, as the superstitious would call it; Macbeth. She played Witch #6; I was Lady M. She had that smile when we were campers together; she hugged me after our final performance. Today she hugged me and told me I was the best counselor she’d ever had.

It’s the last day of camp, and I’m still here.

I’m sitting in the gazebo at the edge of the great lawn. From here you can see everything, all of campus: the theater at the top of the hill, the wood-paneled studios, the mini amphitheater, and, along the road, the cabins, each named after a different playwright: Wilder, Beckett, Vogel, Wasserstein, Albee. Across the lawn, big boulders mark the edge of the amphitheater that slopes to the stage.

“It’s so empty,” Lauren sighs. She shrugs and smiles, hugs the other counselors who, like me, still sit in the gazebo, and walks away to finish packing.

The studios are quiet; the cabin porches no longer swarm with eager adolescents running lines or singing musical-theater songs or (heaven forbid!) flirting with their summer crushes. It smells like dew and dust, sunscreen, wood. The gentle sweep of the hill is motionless. In the next few hours we’ll scour each of these silent buildings with paper towels and Clorox wipes; in these few minutes, the laughter and motion and voices are still fading, hanging in the air.

But camp isn’t empty. Even now, with the sunlight beginning to streak gold across the slant of the silent rooftops, camp isn’t empty.

I get up and walk across the lawn. I’m not following Lauren. Instead, I approach the boulders. From here, a hand trailing across the gray stone, I can look down at the amphitheater. Simple rows of split logs, a wooden deck. This amphitheater isn’t empty, either. They wait at the bottom of the hill, Macbeth and his lady.

We bickered constantly, Macbeth and I. I teased him because he was a ginger and got sunburned easily; he teased me because I was a nerd and got offended easily. We ran lines. The amphitheater deck wasn’t built yet; it was just sand. We got sand between our toes.

Joe Varca, who was our director, made us stay back one day after rehearsal. It was so hot there in the amphitheater. The sand was burning and sweat ran down our faces. “Run the scene again,” he said. We did. “No!” he said. “They’re in love with each other.” He hit the script with his finger. “They’re in love with each other! That’s what this play is about! Not killing, not death or blood, it’s a romance.” Okay, we shrugged. We ran the scene again.

“Give him love eyes!” Joe Varca shouted. “I need to see your love eyes!”

We ran the scene with the whole cast. I pretended not to notice when he flirted with Witch #2. When it was too much not to notice, I pretended not to care.

I’ve reached the bottom of the hill. I step onto the wooden deck. It feels strange beneath my feet; it’s been here for two years, but the last year I was a camper, it was still sand. I wonder if the sand is still under here, somewhere beneath these wooden planks. And as I stand here, she’s standing here too:

No more o’ that, my lord, no more o’ that.

“Why is she saying this?” Joe Varca asks me. He’s kept me back after rehearsal again. I can feel the sun beating down against the sand of the stage, against my face. I’ve been dreading this scene. It doesn’t make sense. I read the lines. Hell is murky!—Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard?

“She’s crazy?” I suggest.

“What about time, what about time?” Joe presses me. “She’s in different times. She’s traveling through time…”

The thane of Fife had a wife… I sit on that split-log bench and go through every line of the famous monologue, from the first damned spot to the last. Why, then, ’tis time to do’t. Some from before, when he loved her. Wash your hands. After, when he did not. Look not so pale. Give me your hand. She was traveling through time. She was traveling through love.

No more o’ that, my lord, no more o’ that.

“Why is she saying this?” he asks again.

When I can’t answer, he asks, more forcefully, “When is she saying this?”

When?

“When she wants him to stop,” I say.

“Stop what?”

“Stop hurting. When she wants him to stop hurting.”

“Hurting whom?”

“Just… hurting. She wants him to stop hurting.”

He squints in the sun. “Yes,” he says, almost surprised.

I stand at the edge of the amphitheater and breathe in. The golden hour is upon us—that time of day when the sun gazes with its own love eyes.

Give me your hand, she said. Give me your hand. But he didn’t, and she pretended not to care.

As I walk out of the amphitheater, I feel her gaze. I want to hug her and tell her it will all be okay, that the next year when she returns, the lights will feel different: they will be blue and silver, they will be moonlight against a balcony, and she will call a rose by any other name. She will have such practiced love eyes that she can pretend to love Romeo even when it’s not him that the love eyes are for—it’s Sweeney Todd, sitting in the audience, watching her with love eyes of his own. He will tease her about all of her stage kisses. She will tease him about all of his misspoken Sondheim lyrics. And they’ll sit on a bench—the one I’m coming up to, by the edge of the dining pavilion—and talk about spirit animals and Harry Potter as the sun glows golden in the afternoon blush of the sky.

It’s the last day of camp.

I guess I looked for her this year. Somehow, without thinking of it, as campers piled out of the buses and vans, I searched for her in the crowd—a tall, thin girl with glasses who seemed a little out of place. I wanted to find her and smile and say, “Welcome! Welcome to camp! Welcome to your life! Welcome to your light!”

I didn’t find her. I found Olivia, and Emma and Maya and Madison and Fiona and all of my other campers who hugged me and drove away with their parents. But not Lucy.

There were times this year when I forgot about this place. I forgot that I had ever existed outside of college. In the whirlwind of new faces, some part of me decided that everything I’d done before arriving on campus wasn’t worth remembering. And then I walked into a studio here, on my first day as a counselor, and saw a picture on the wall. It was Juliet languishing in her mother’s arms, eyes open just a sliver, and it was me.

Here I am. I stand in the studio, in the bar of egg-yolk light that rests on the warm wood-paneled floor, and I look up at Juliet, and at myself.

From the other side of the studio, Sweeney Todd glares at her from his own picture frame. He’s holding the razor wrong, as usual. She teases him. She knows they will hold hands one day; she knows his love eyes. I look at her and I want to say nothing, nothing about his lips or his touch or his arms, nothing that will break this moment for her, this moment before. I want to say nothing about after. Nothing about how it will end, when for her, in her fragment of light and time, it has hardly begun.

I stand in the empty studio and let the light slip across my toes.

I want to call it the golden hour, but perhaps it is more amber. It is the amber time when moments gather in beads, when you can feel your face and its golden lines, the warm breeze on your collarbones, when you are aware of your eyes being open because your eyelashes brush against the sky in little slivers of bronze. The light makes everything move slower, or even stop altogether, holding many times in the heartbeat of one place.

It is the last day of camp.

I walk out of the studio and feel the sun on my face, and I begin to climb my hill.

 

Lucy Fleming is from Princeton, NJ, but she pronounces the word “zebra” wrong, even when she sings. Sometimes she believes in fate, other times in fireflies. Send her an email at lucy.fleming@yale.edu.

Comments are closed.