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THE FOURTH STORY - ELEANOR BALL



It’s sort of like a no-buy year, except it’s no-dating-people-who-like-Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare, it’s just that the last one turned out so bad.


“I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to get to know you better,” they said. We were sitting on their dorm’s hard blue couches, watching each other over a stained coffee table. They cradled the mug of hot tea they’d prepared themself, looking down at their chapped hands. “But I think I would enjoy our relationship more if we pursued it as friends.”


It was two years after we became friends, two weeks after we started dating, and two minutes after I told them I wanted to share our relationship with my parents when I saw them over break.



This story’s been simmering for some time. I’ve written four versions of it, each vastly different from the last. This Google Doc is a mile long. I think I had to write my way through this last year in order to get myself to a place where I can see the truth and say it. The truth: I still love them, but not in the way of a lover. I love them in the way you love everyone—just because they’re someone. This story is me starting up my own mouth again, winding up a broken toy, turning on my banged-up Mazda and begging the sputtering engine to settle.



They asked me once, “If I make you a playlist of music other than that emo stuff, would you listen to it?”


This happened during Much Ado About Nothing auditions, when they asked me what my favorite love song was. I said that at the moment, I really liked “The Last of the Real Ones” by Fall Out Boy.


They scrunched up their nose. “That’s not a love song.”


I looked them in the eye. “‘I am a collapsing star with tunnel vision, but only for you.’”


They rolled their eyes. “I guess.”



I’ve been thinking a lot about Act V, Scene iv of Much Ado About Nothing. This is where Beatrice says “I would not deny you, but by this good day, I / yield upon great persuasion, and partly to save your / life, for I was told you were in a consumption,” and Benedick replies, “Peace! I will stop your mouth.” This is where the editors write [They kiss] because Shakespeare doesn’t. As a general rule, his stage directions were implied by the text, not explicitly written. This is where Beatrice doesn’t speak for the rest of the play.



They told me once, “I think we’re also too wise to woo peaceably.” Maybe I’m just getting old, but I think peace is underrated.



Songs I loved from the playlist they sent me: “Fred Astaire” by Jukebox the Ghost, “Fireworks” by Mitski, “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen, “It’s Always Sunny With You” by {Parentheses}, “Fvck Somebody” by The Wrecks.


Songs they loved from the playlist I sent them:



They told me once, “I think you would like this,” and handed me a copy of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford. I said, “You’ve read it?” They said, “No. It just made me think of you.”

Then, “Because it’s an old play.”



I’ve been thinking a lot about Act V, Scene iv of Much Ado About Nothing. This is where, in earlier texts of the play, Beatrice says “I would not deny you, but by this good day, I / yield upon great persuasion, and partly to save your / life, for I was told you were in a consumption,” and Leonato replies, “Peace! I will stop your mouth.” As a general rule, Shakespeare’s stage directions were implied by the text, not explicitly written. So, given Beatrice and Leonato’s familial relationship, how is Leonato implied to be stopping Beatrice’s mouth? I doubt it’s with a kiss. This is where Beatrice doesn’t speak for the rest of the play.



They told me just after dumping me, “But I would still like to do your birthday dinner. You know, as friends.” They paused. “Would that be weird?”


I thought about the night out they had been actively planning for us just two days prior: Dinner and a show for my birthday and what would have been our one-month anniversary. I considered the expensive Merchant of Venice tickets they had already bought and the upscale dinner reservations they had gone to the trouble to make. I looked at them twisting their nail-bitten fingers, tea sitting cold on the table in front of them.


“I don’t think that would be weird,” I said. They relaxed, nodding along with me.


A few days later, when I tearfully told three friends from elementary school about the breakup, my best friend Belle was especially affronted by this part. “They should have just given you the tickets,” she said, jamming her fork into her eggs.


I frowned. I hadn’t considered this at all. “I’m sure it’ll be fun,” I said eventually. “We were friends for two years before dating, you know.”


“Are you still?” she replied.



“I’m so relieved we can still be friends,” they told me on the Metro back to campus.


“I’m happy about that, too,” I said. Dinner had tasted amazing, and we’d talked non-stop about The Merchant of Venice all the way home. As far as birthday celebrations went, it was very fun, and as far as almost-but-not-quite dates went, it wasn’t awkward at all.


“I really like hanging out with you,” they said. “Let’s do something next week.”



“I think the problem was that I didn’t take enough initiative,” I told Hayley the next day over a birthday FaceTime. I was sprawled across what had been her half of the room folding laundry; she was sitting cross-legged in her London study abroad housing doing the same.


“Did they say that?” Hayley demanded, shaking out a jumpsuit.


“Well, not in those words, but I just think—”


“Then why do you think that?”


“—well, on our last date, they got kind of irritated when I said ‘Oh, it’s up to you,’ when they asked if I wanted to stop walking to eat, and they were like, ‘Eleanor, what do YOU want?’ So I think I should be the one to text about the next time we hang out, especially since they planned our last . . . outing.”


“They dumped you and really still want to hang out?” Hayley hurled a pair of socks off-camera.


“We both do.”


She sighed. “Okay.”



March 29, 2022


Hey, just wondering if you wanted to do Tonic

Trivia on Monday if you’re not too busy with Much

Ado? Just lmk!


April 4, 2022


errrrr sorry, i’ve been slammed with much ado and

senior project stuff, i just don’t have the time rn.

No worries!



April 10, 2022


CONGRATULATIONS!!! You directed a show! You

did it! That’s so amazing and I’m so happy for you.

You did so much for this show and it all turned out

so great.

Also, now that Much Ado is over, just wondering if

you wanted to watch more Critical Role? I have

D&D Weds and Sat nights but other than that I’m

pretty free in the evenings. Just let me know what

would work for you or if you had something else in

mind!

thank you :D i’m really proud of the show, and cast

and tech for working so hard. and proud of myself

for learning light and sound design XD


May 1, 2022


hey when are you leaving dc?

Evening of the 5th.


May 3, 2022


oh my gosh that’s tonight.

ahhh wanted to see if we could hang out before you

leave but i have to study for latin tonight.

Today is the 3rd.

whoopsie.

lmao.

If you’re available tomorrow or Friday, I’m

free any time before like 5pm! We just could

do a quick study session and coffee at

Starbucks?

my latin final is tomorrow morning :/



I’ve accepted that I could write forty versions of this story and never fully capture the whole semester or the two weeks we dated. Nevertheless, I won’t feel right if I let you leave with the feeling that I’m totally in the right and they’re totally in the wrong. It’s true that what you’re reading is my story, but there are also forty versions of the story from their perspective. I can’t tell you what they are—but I can tell you what I liked about them.

  1. The way they looked in suits;

  2. The fact that they drove a pick-up truck;

  3. Their encyclopedic knowledge about cider, dead languages, and everything else they cared about;

  4. How we could chat books, and they even lent me their mom’s copy of Magic’s Pawn, one of their childhood favorites, so I could read it;

  5. How they were so giddy when we officially started dating, they told everyone they ran into that day, even classmates they’d barely spoken to before;

  6. When they knitted me a winter hat after realizing I didn’t have one;

  7. How bashful they were about our first kiss (just as much as I was);

  8. How frankly they shared about their past, their values, their worries, and their future hopes;

  9. How deeply they cared about every one of the actors in their production of Much Ado;

  10. How ready they were to introduce me to their best friends, their family, and the rest of their life.


Perhaps you’re looking for the corresponding list. What did they like about me? I don’t really know, but I don’t need to know. All I need to know is what comes next—and I do. I know where I’m going for graduate school, I know all the lyrics to “The Last of the Real Ones,” and I know the fifth story I will write, which will not be about this. I’ve been thinking a lot about Act I, scene i of Much Ado About Nothing, where Beatrice says “A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.” In the fifth story, I’ll take myself outside and howl at the moon. Therefore, play music, sound and solemn hymn—we’ll have dancing afterward.



"This is a deep revision of the first piece I ever submitted to a lit mag! It was originally a poem formatted like the semi-disjointed musings you might have in your Notes app called “notes to self: 3/19.” After a form rejection that devastated me in the moment (but, in hindsight, was completely valid), I shelved the poem for a long time. When I tried to resurrect it a couple of months ago for another mag’s themed sub call, I quickly realized the central problem: it wasn’t supposed to be a poem at all, but a CNF piece. Although this piece has had a long journey, I know it was the right one. In order for me to tell the right story about what happened, I had to be able to write from a perspective that was loving and measured, while still factual--rather than being purely wounded and retaliatory." -- notes from the artist

 

ELEANOR BALL is a queer writer from Des Moines, Iowa. Her work is featured or forthcoming in The B'K, Bullshit Lit, Vagabond City Lit, Write or Die, and elsewhere.

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Miembro desconocido
18 jul 2023

omg eleanor not to be crazy but this is ale please email me at my school email so i can catch up with you i dont have groupme anymore also don't worry i didnt read this bc i know how personal things we submit to magazines can be.

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