by Cece Lu
[the CURTAINS open. Only the NARRATOR, OPHELIA, knows how this story ends.]
OPHELIA, narrating, because in her story HAMLET got the soliloquies: this summer is ours for the taking.
[the AUDIENCE gasps.]
OPHELIA: The sun is hot in the sky, some overripe fruit waiting to burst …
[the play begins.]
… and that’s summer, cradled in the palms of my hands; something’s going to happen. I can feel it like a storm on the horizon—you know the feeling, when the air is heavy with potential and the clouds are thick in the sky—and thus, the scene is set. Summer, 2022. Enter the players. This summer is ours for the taking.
I want to crack this summer open like an egg. It’s yolk-yellow, somewhere back there. I can feel it. I’m all potential energy, something moving and moving and moving until an outside force stops me in my tracks. I am abundant, I am beautiful, I am strong. I punch my reflection in the mirror until something inside me breaks alongside the glass.
I promise. I’m a liar, and I’m a fucking liar, but I think this holds some grain of truth. I told someone that I wanted to fall in love this summer, but I think it was a lie, or some performative version of a truth that renders it—it being the statement—truthless. Here are some truths: oh, no, my phone makes me sad. No, everything makes you sad. Everything is overcast and dreary until mania and melodrama and brilliant oversaturation, and then I’m the king of the world, and then it all falls down, a whirlpool like petal-stained bathwater swirling down a drain. I love and I hate everything in equal measure, with equal viciousness. People don’t believe me when I call myself vicious until I bare my teeth.
Summer, 2022. The scene is set, enter the players.
What was it that I’ve been repeating for weeks, a hum in the back of my head like the playlists I’ll make up and sing to myself as I drive? Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Summer is the most tragic season, and winter is the most beautiful.
Summer is the most tragic season, and I can feel it in my bones that this summer is going to implode. There has been unrelenting pressure all year, and it’s ready to burst. It’s going to; strawberries and roses and peaches beneath this brutal high desert sun. Summer is the most tragic season, this summer is ours for the taking, and as thus, the scene is set. I am a liar, but those are truths.
I can cast myself as the center of a tragedy. I can be a lover and a villain and everyone’s favorite side character, a manic pixie dream girl but only that, only a dream, not the muse but the somebody but the poet longs to be the poem longs to be a muse, too, despite it all.
I can be everyone’s favorite character but my own. I can be everything but the protagonist. I will burn bright and burn hot and spiral into madness and die somewhere beautiful. There will be flowers. There will be a reason.
I am a liability and I am a mirrorball. The scene is set. Hamlet got seven soliloquies; why can’t I? Why does my narrative have to revolve around the people in my life and not just me? I have gravity. I will not succumb to theirs. I am a daughter and a sister and a lover, and most importantly, a ghost.
What was it that I wrote last summer? A morbid longing for the macabre, like summer roses living and dying beneath the brutal desert sun. A premonition and a promise; isn’t that all poetry ever is?
I don’t yet know if this summer is going to be a tragedy, but I know that it’ll be tragic. This entire year has been a prelude to something, I swear it. The scene is set, and now the curtains are opening, and we don’t yet know what this production entails.
I want to eat the world raw.
It’s funny. I’ve started almost every sentence with I, the most selfish letter, the most selfish word, but I can promise—I know that I lie, I know that I’m a liar, stop looking at me like that—that for all my manic pixie dream girl-ness, I’m the side character in my own story. I, I, I, desperately trying to reclaim my narrative as my own. HELLO, I scrawl on the fogged-up shower door, hot water hot air hot skin. I am melting from my wings. IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE MY BODY.
Gifted, tortured, second-best. Second best haunts me, even though I shine as brightly as a star and insist, despite it all, that the people I love are made of some kind of stardust that I’ll never get to be. They’re stardust, and I’m an echo. When you draw an egg on white paper, you don’t draw the egg itself; you draw the shadows, the shades, the echoes of what the egg should be. I’m what’s left—defined by everything but myself.
In my dreams, I am never the main character. Did you know that? I sometimes feel like an inactive participator in my own life, subject to the whims and whimsy of the better brighter smarter more tragic protagonist whose life I reside in. Maybe I am my own main character, but I don’t know it yet.
Hello written even more frantically on the bathroom mirror, tears in my eyes and my cut-off hair in the porcelain basin of the sink. We rot thinking about nothing, so drown in a claw-foot bathtub brimming with flowers. Die beautifully, die dramatically. You always had a flair for the theater.
I fell in love with a girl who won’t ever love me back. Maybe this summer I’ll fall in love with myself, or find another girl who makes my skin feel a little more like skin. But she made me feel like myself, made the finite joy of this planal existence feel infinite, made everything a little brighter and better and richer, maybe, more vivid. She had brown eyes like honey. I would have fallen in love with her in every universe. I know that for certain.
What do I want? I want to eat the world raw.
I exhale, and the dust that the tail end of spring kicked up settles. Dust motes and her honey eyes and one of my close friends leaving for the other side of the country in August—yes, a finishing point. That’s where summer will conclude. A paint palette and an unfinished novel and jasmine flowers and a roll of undeveloped film. Summer is finite. We have to make it last forever.
What is forever and what is finite? The line between those two things will blur. It’s a red string of fate, perhaps, or maybe it’s a noose around my neck. God, I’m so obsessed with forever. Why do you crave immortality? Is it not enough to exist, devastatingly present, in the moment?
Immortality or a creation myth? I am a girl, and therefore I am selfish. I want them both. I want it all.
I can be everything but the protagonist. Did I ever want to be the protagonist? Were my aspirations of greatness and grandeur and a hand to hold too much, too much for this second-place friend, close but never the favorite? I destroy things, you know, when I feel too much. I scorch everything I touch.
What a poetic way to die, drowning.
Summer has always been like a list of new year’s resolutions. I will fall in love, I will delude myself into thinking that I’m pretty, I will get my nose out of my books and my eyes off my phone and be who I want to be, a saturated sky of an athlete and an artist and a sister.
See? I’m not the protagonist. I’m sister-daughter-friend-lover-failure. Self is too much. On principle, I, like summer, am intense and tragic and devastating. On principle, I, like summer, burn so brightly that I burn away, burn everyone I touch. Self contains too much power. The world conspires to take it away.
That’s why summer ends. That’s why it’s going to implode. Who’s going to be caught in the crossfire? There will be guilty kiss-swollen mouths and racking sobs in the middle of the night. There will be starlight and playlists and blankets on grass, tennis rackets and condensation on the sides of water bottles and hugs touch intimacy. I think intimacy contains too much power, too. I’ve never been allowed it.
The scene is set, I will crow at the sky. Bring it on, you motherfucker!
(It ends in Trader Joe’s flowers and a claw-foot tub.)
By the end of the summer, something will happen. My Achilles heel is that I care too much, Sisyphus and Icarus bottled up in a teenage girl, you walk in mythology because you want a creation myth of your own.
Maybe this summer will be. It rots with the idea of it.
There’s this feeling in my chest that I can’t explain, but it’s expanding in my rib cage and threatening to burst. That’s summer. It sneaked up on us, and now we’re waiting in its slavering maw. It stinks of promise, of potential. It’s rancid with it.
(When my chest does explode, what will be left in the meat and sun-bleached bones of my ribs? A riot of flowers, a tangling of ivy. Leave me out to decompose, and let the forest and the wildflowers reclaim my starless bones.)
Maybe I have been playing God this whole time. I’ve been writing this potential summer as beautiful.
I don’t think it will be.
With summer comes heat, we’re baking in our skins on the tennis court, all this potential wasted and gone to rot because we rot alone and in our rooms daydreaming of a when. I touch something and I scorch it. Summer is when everything is going to happen. Summer is when nothing does. This town will always haunt me. I want to haunt it. Blurry Polaroids like an art show exhibit. I think I’d like my memories of this summer to be one of those.
A museum. A mausoleum. They’re one and the same.
What can I even call this? Nostalgic euphoria for something that is yet to come, yet to transpire?
This summer is of the drowning variety, is a tennis court that holds the aftermath of a celebration, is the taste of the idea of a kiss on my tongue. I’m playing God, this girl with a god complex, because I want and the luxury of want had been taken away by survival, and now I survived and now I’m free to want again.
And I, like this impending summer storm, am bloodthirsty.
Summer will close in on us like a bruised sky and a thunderstorm. The scene is set, the players waiting in the wings.
We don’t know yet what will transpire. But this summer hangs above our heads like a guillotine. This summer will end with drowning. That’s our certainty. Fire and water, push and pull, inevitability. Can you shake the feeling that this was all inevitable? I can’t. This was bound to happen, all of it, everything that happens from this moment on.
Why, why must she die? She was everything but the protagonist. She was a lover and she was a villain and she was a victim. The people surrounding her gave her every role but herself, so she killed that self because she couldn’t exist with it for any longer. How she must have hated herself, Ophelia. How she must have loved herself, to let herself die so prettily.
The storm broils. The curtains open.
And the narrator, a girl playing God, she says something like this:
OPHELIA: this summer is ours for the taking.
[the AUDIENCE gasps.]
OPHELIA: the sun is hot in the sky, some overripe fruit waiting to burst …
[the play begins.]
[only OPHELIA knows that this ends in tragedy.]
Cece Lu (she/they) is a mixed-race and lesbian writer and poet, currently in her senior year of high school. Drawn to art, music, psychology, and the beauty of humanity, she can be found yearning about kitchens, romanticizing oranges, and daydreaming about publishing her debut novel.