Normal Love

Emmy straddles Hugo and pulls the head of his costume off. As the silver-painted tube slips from his sweat drenched face, she wondered how he’d even pretended he could breathe in it. The audience, for the most, are throwing novel projectiles. An open bottle of ink has just struck Emmy between the shoulder blades splashing almost refreshingly onto her nape and down her back. Poor Hugo is coming round and is mortified. He’d witnessed and experienced much worse in the Great War, but by somehow having the public dismissing his non-language poem in his giant silver tubes had rotted his faith in his fellow man. As he’d recited his poem, he could only hear his own breath inside his mask.

“Emmy”

“Huugo”

“Please roll me towards the exit.”

“But that’s where it gets worse.”

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Emmy, as well as Hugo, is nonplussed. This was not supposed to end that way; they have rehearsed extensively and made sure that nothing in that performance was in the least bit offensive. This, however, is a tough crowd, an ‘anti-crowd’ as Emmy says – tougher than most they had dealt with.

“Should we thank them?” Hugo asks, dodging what looked like a steel pipe.

“No, no, no,” Emmy says. Her tousled hair seems much more disheveled with lights beaming viciously from behind.

“Blasphemy!” someone from the crowd shouts. “Loyalists!” someone else joins. “Get back here!”

Hugo has no choice but to return to his spot. He wrestles his way out of Emmy’s weak grip and resumes his place. This time, however, he decides to use words, so he forgoes the mask. Hugo takes a large gulp of air like liquid.

“Here goes,” he mutters.

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“Oh for a muse the choir
Who would ascend the brightest heathen to mention”

Emmy, who had quietly exited stage left to avoid the bombardment of rotton vegetables, gave Hugo a thumbs up and careful smile.

“A kingdom with a stage, princes that pack monarchies in swelling seas”

Hugo had memorised the ancient poem as a child. Even if the audience didn’t want to listen to tradition, he would give it to them. Tradition was important to Hugo, he had after all fought in the war to defend such things. The next bit would insult the audience event further - it names people from the past and not in a critical light either.

“Then should the warring Larry, like myself, upon an ass riding the poor man Mars, and with his feels, leashed and bound, should famine, sword and fire crouch to be employed”.

Truth be told, Hugo had little idea what the poem meant. He had decided with Emmy that the finale of their show would a recitation of a poem from a long dead author. His writings and memorials had long been lost. At one point before the war, this writer, whose name is now all but forgotten, was well known and respected but as is the case with modernity, society moved on and removed him.

Hugo was relying solely on human memory.

“The flat chested spirits have dared to build a scaffold to bring forth a great object”

As a kid Hugo had always thought this line was about women and so he mimed a very well endowed chest. This did not go well with the audience. Boos and hisses rose in volume, calls of “traitor”, “conservative” and “loyalist” became clearer through the cacophony of shuffling. Soon items were once again flying through the air.

Emmy’s mock-assuring smile had faded and seeing that the only outcome was a knocked-out Hugo, decided to cut the act short.

The curtain came down as Hugo continued his lines and just like the battle of Agincourt, which Hugo had yet to mention, Hugo’s failure of a show faded into history.

Only it didn’t, not immediately. Hugo’s chrome costume, the spaceman pipework so dissonant with the classical poetry he recited, and Emmy’s boldly amateurish staging accessed a chord in the public consciousness that had long slumbered, unstruck. Though their show ran one single, interrupted night, an inferno of debate was to follow it, culminating in riots which destroyed their city’s small theater district. It was unclear why, but the performance evoked violent emotions in all people made aware of it, even those who were four or five degrees removed from the witnesses. Rage or reverence, tensions ran high.

Eventually, a couple of illegal recordings surfaced, in the style of sneakily filmed movie premieres, complete with silhouettes, cellular vibrations, and audience clamor. These recordings were fragmentary, though the final scene, and Emmy’s poignant interventions, were captured in full. These stoked the fires of awe and anger, and were widely shared among global networks of loyalists and revolutionaries.

Additionally, though it was obviously the product of another age, nobody could source the haunting poem which was recited, and the videos were likewise cherished and analyzed by classicists, seeking the origins of the words and postulating on the identity of their author.

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The specter of that performance haunted their every step. Art had become so exclusive to the ideology of the time, ever so adjusted, ever so interchangeable, that staging a performance that dated back to more than half a century was virulently rejected, if not made virtually illegal. It was not Hugo’s fault; that much he knew. Nevertheless, to say that Emmy used him as an instrument to realize a dream (the chimera of stardom) would be very unfair and far from the truth. For Emmy resolved to step into the business only when Hugo conveyed his interest in slipping under the limelight, which she thought was too odd for a coincidence. The utter terror and denigrating disappointment she held against herself, then, was even more amplified and saturated when the crowd lost their cheer with Hugo.

The New World Observer, a renowned and much celebrated liberal news agency, did not spare them their review. Harsh as it was, they made excellent points about the change of collective attitude towards art. “In an era where what has been severely censored is now laid out for public consumption,” A.F., a venerated post-revolution art pundit who only went by their initials, wrote, “the new age of art is reaching such an unprecedented apogee that many art-emulating neophytes (more specifically those who harbor loyalist beliefs) find it hard to appeal to the nouveaux consommateurs. In other words, ‘Normal Love’ ought never to have been performed. It is as critical a sin as heresy was in pre-revolutionary days.”

Once that piece was released to the public, together with the recordings, Emmy and Hugo drowned in the outpour of hate and threats they received a week after word was dispersed by wind and media. It was all too manageable at first, yet a mysterious box sent by post was the tipping point Emmy had been waiting for to happen. “This will not do,” Emmy told Hugo as they threw the box out of their small studio apartment designated by the government. “What do you mean,” Hugo asked, his eyes wide in apprehension. “We’re leaving,” Emmy said. “Where to?” But Hugo knew what the answer was.

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Emmy and Hugo disguise themselves as empty suits. They sit in the cinema and throw ink bombs at the screen all day until they get wrestled out by the police. They are laughing. If they don’t do something now, in the distant future, Hugo will only be remembered for fainting inside that daft costume in his debut performance at The Cabaret Voltaire. And Emmy - ten times his equal - poor Emmy, won’t be remembered at all.

They will do anything - anything - to fuck the future that is no longer theirs.

Hugo wonders what Jake is up to.

Jake was Hugo’s old roommate at drama school. While Hugo was never very good at memorizing classical texts, Jake excelled. For some reason, Jake never found it difficult to understand texts from a long bygone time. He spoke the old forms of English so fluently, one wouldn’t be surprised if they were to find out that Jake was a time traveller.

Truth be told, Jake did on one occasion tell Hugo he was a time traveller, but Hugo paid no heed to that ridiculous claim.

“How can you be a time traveller, Jake? If you were, you’d - I don’t know - travel into the future or something”

“I am in the future” replied Jake without any sarcasm in his voice.

“Thou art a dumbass if thou believe me not!”

A few months later, Jake disappeared. There was a note left in their dorm room alongside an old quill. Emmy and Hugo would get together soon after and she’d take Jake’s side of the room; unofficially of course, in case the school found out. It was a strict school. Men and women couldn’t be in the same room in case one turned out to be trans, that would be a public relations disaster - “school breaks safe space policy by allowing cis and trans individuals together”. The school would not be declared a loyalist to the old ways.

“You’re a dumbass” Emmy would say often “but I like you”.

Now thinking back, perhaps Jake could have been a time traveller.

“Hey Emmy” said Hugo while the couple ran with their suitcases “Do you think Jake would’ve known the correct lines?”

Emmy and Hugo strut around, arm in arm, suitcase by suitcase, flicking their angry ink at things they do not like. They do not like the statues that litter the boulevards, they do not like the City Hall, they do not like the billboards. They are squirting like startled squids at all the hateful things.

Jake appears by the tax office.

“I’m here to stop you before you get to the police station.”

“Jake! We are using corrective ink. They deserve our inky razzmatazz!” Emmy shouts joyfully.

“No, I will take you to where your razzmatazz will be needed. And you’ll have bullets instead of ink.”

“There is no where that has bullets that doesn’t also need ink,” Hugo points out the same time that Emmy, who is the ornery of the two and also the most dreamy and idealistic, declares, “The police station is where we will have our bullets.”

But Jake, who is a time traveler and well-versed with Emmies and Hugoes past and present, knows just what to do in face of their defiance. From his pocket, he whips out a single strip of foil with the same chrome sheen of Hugo’s costume and waves it about in such a beatific spiraling pattern that Emmy cannot look away. All across its surface are inscriptions, stage directions.

“Come with me!” Jake spins on his heels and starts down the street with a jaunty little spring to his step. He does not need to look back; he is sure they will follow.

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Stage left
Stage right
Backstage

Alleyway

“New prop” said Jake as they picked up a pistol behind a bin.

“How the fuck…Never mind” said a surprised Hugo. Jake handed the gun to Hugo with a wink.

Around the alcove
Back on stage from stage left

“Don’t worry, fellow travellers” said Jake. No one was worried, Jake did not say that to hide his own fear. The fear was to be coming. Emmy heard sirens.

“At the next block, duck, take three steps to the side and then Hugo, please enjoy trying out your new prop” instructed the director.

In exactly half a block, Emmy heard voices. “The cops!” She cried.

“Remember the stage directions?”

They ducked, they swerved, side stage, stand up. Take out prop. Look straight at audience. Fire.

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