Lightning Flashes of Memory
by Andrea Jacobsen
Archie's hands were almost numb, having been smashed together
His head was swimming from the bright lights and unbelievable noise of the
place. My god, the noise was so loud he thought his eardrums would burst. It
seemed as though the entire world were engulfed in the clamour; it could
become no louder.
But then the curtain rose once more and there stood Kitty Cobham,
spotlight illuminating her Egyptian-clad figure and Kennedy swore the
applause truly would "bring down the house". One could feel the very air
reverberating with it. And though his hands burned like the Devil's own, he
clapped even harder.
The palms were still throbbing as he made his way backstage
a half hour
later. The din back there, in that place of greasepaint and false lives, was
nearly on par with that of the raucous house. But lud love him, how he loved it.
"Hey there, make way!" a female voice shouted from
Archie's left. A lithe
arm snaked its way about his waist and Archie found himself pressed against
a woman's half-naked body. It was, unsurprisingly, Kitty, delighting in the
flush she brought to his boyish cheeks, though they both knew it was all in
innocent play. "It is the captain of the auditorium, Archie-kins Kennedy!!!"
"Kitty, don't call-" he was instantly cut-off, something
that occurred on a
regular basis with Kitty.
"Come now, come, move your arses out o'the way!"
A number of chorus girls
shuffled along a bench, the nearest nearly getting crushed as Archie was
unceremoniously sat down. "So, how was the show?"
It was said with an air of indifference, yet Archie was cognizant
silent expectation now filling the dressing room. The change in sound was
almost deafening in its suddenness and he swallowed to assure himself that
he hadn't in fact gone deaf. He knew that his opinion would carry more
weight than any nose-in-the-air London critic. And he knew that tonight
there would be no disappointment.
"It was wonderful." A relieved sigh made the rounds
as people settled to
hear the rest of their true opening night review. "Kitty, you were superb;
you had the couple next to me in tears - not that "he" of the "He and She"
would ever admit to it!"
"Ah, but did I have your tears, mon ami?"
"Miss Cobham, you know I cry at anything."
"Well then," her voice was brimming with mock-pain
- though Archie missed
the "mock" bit.
"No, I didn't mean it that way. I simply-" He caught
himself as the smirks
formed on the faces about him. "Oh, I see, ha ha. Moving right along, if I
may?" Kitty nodded like the queen she had just finished playing. "Matthew,
wondrous job with Antony, though I would suggest a longer skirt."
"Truly?" Matthew Barnes looked a little sheepish,
glancing down at his
Roman Centurion regalia.
"Yes, if only for the health and well-being of the ladies in the front row.
Every time you stepped on stage they began fanning themselves like mad! I
thought this one lady - a very upstanding woman - was going to have the
"Enough about our well-endowed Antony," interrupted
Kitty, "there are other
who wished to be spoken of by-est thou. Pray, continue!"
Archie did as he was commanded and an hour later, his voice
finished to loud cheers and numerous offers of "a free drink". He accepted
the first, but not the latter, wishing to remain clear-headed for his exams
the following day.
"You have studied enough, have you?" He and Kitty
were now alone in her
dressing room; he sitting in an armchair as she undressed behind her screen.
"You shall pass?"
"Yes, though I have no bloody idea what good it shall
do me. When does one
ever need to know tangents in the everyday world?"
"If you were to ever go to sea-"
"Ha!" Archie laughed with sharp derision." I,
a sailor? Oh you are a
"Am I?" Now robed in a light dress of muslin and
lace, Katherine Cobham sat
on the arm of the chair." I dare say you would be dashing in a captain's
"Ah yes, Captain Archibald Kennedy, third son of Lord
Kennedy of Oxford." A
tone of bitterness had crept into Archie's usual gaiety. "I can see it all
"You don't give yourself enough credit, Mr. Kennedy."
"I give myself the same amount as my father gives me."
Kitty's movements were slow and gentle. Her hand lay lightly
neck, so gently that he did not sense it coming and the light touch caused
him to jump, so intent was he on the darker parts of his soul.
"Shhh-" The hushing was that of a mother to her child
and slowly all the
bitterness crept from him back into it's hiding place. She guided his head
to her shoulder, still massaging his rigid muscles. The tears may have
surprised the one who's eyes they filled, but they were anything but a
surprise to Miss Cobham.
"I'm not useless, I'm not!" The words were spoken
with false conviction,
and through them could be felt the need for reassurance of their truth. "It
was not my fault that I was born as a third son or that I do not possess the
natural leadership of Gerold and Biron."
"Do not compare yourself to those ruffians!"
"Why not?" said Kennedy fiercely," everyone else does, do they not?"
"My mother is dead!"
There was a moment of tense silence before Kitty responded,
"Yes, but she
loved you." She tried to draw Archie to her, but like a petulant child he
pushed her away. His feet carried him into a troubled pacing. "Archie, she
loved the arts, just as you do. It was she who brought you here as a babe in
"And ruined me as a man!"
"Archibald Kennedy, how dare you say something like that
tongue-lashing ended abruptly as she saw the fresh tears in her young
friend's already red eyes. "Oh honey, who said that to you? Come on, you can
"Father," he hissed, wiping wildly at the tears that
so betrayed him. He
weeps like a woman' his father had said again and again as his mother
consoled him after yet another lost fight. If he weeps like one, he should
have been one!' Though his mother had tried to reassure him that there was
nothing wrong with emotions, Kennedy had internalized every snide comment,
every slight. And, of course, it hadn't just been his father - no, his
brothers joined in the one-sided fray as well. Their constant derision drove
him away from their "manly" pursuits, though he could ride and game as well
as either of them.
Instead he spent time with his younger sister, Auriar, who
He would admit that her unremitting adoration was a balm on his often frayed
nerves. As was their singing- Perhaps as a sign of his mother's own
intuition, Auriar's name meant "gentle singing" and that was what she did.
Archie himself had been blessed with a beautiful singing voice which even
his father could not take from him nor tarnish his talent. Not a guest who
came to visit at his father's estates would leave until they had he and
As if she could read his thoughts, Kitty interrupted his reverie:
"Your father is a stuck-up aristocrat who cannot see the
world past the end
of his counting table." She had succeeded in getting Archie seated once more
and now handed him her hair brush. "He hates you because he cannot
understand you. That is his loss and no matter what his bloody account books
say he is the poorer for it."
"No, I'm the poorer for it." He snorted at the irony.
Gently and with a
deft hand he pulled the brush through Kitty's long brown locks. "Unless it
has to do with my studies or immediate needs, I see not a penny from him."
"Then why not get a job?"
"Yes, that thing that defines the working class?"
"Father believes it would be below my station."
"Below your what?" Kitty turned and gaped. "Hun,
there is no station below
"Kitty, I am not a slave."
"Oh yes you are!" She spoke over and above his weak
protestations. "He says
what you are to do, to study, what you are to become and where you may spend
your time and his money. Sounds like a right ruddy serfdom to me."
"Don't be unkind."
"And why not, I ask you? Has your father ever been kind
to you since you
were out of nappies? Hell, " she did not hesitate to swear, unlike most
women and truth be told, Archie found it refreshing," he could not even
allow you to use your god given talent because it was not what he considered
"upper class". Your mother certainly never believed that theatre and the
arts were below her." A sudden glint came into Kitty's eyes and she grasped
Archie's knee. "I've got it!"
"Got what?" Archie was truly lost.
"You will work here!"
"At the theatre."
"So you can have some freedom."
"But nothin', it shall be perfect!"
"Do not Kitty' me, young man!" The hairbrush, which
had changed hands, was
brought down smartly across Archie's knuckles. "I shall speak with the
management tomorrow. I have been in need of an assistant for some time now,
and I can't think of anyone better than you."
"I said no buts!!" Kitty laid one finger across Archie's
lips and then
broke out laughing at his dumbfounded expression. "Good lord, it's not as
though I'm asking you to work in a bordello. Just a plain honest theatre,
which I do believe you hate leaving every night." Archie managed a nod.
"Then everything is set. You finish your exams tomorrow and then come around
to my apartments; we'll draft a letter to your father explaining that you
wish to stay over the holidays as one of your teachers requires your aid."
"Erm, that's all fine and well ma'am, except it's a lie.
And one that my
father could easily find out about."
"Not at all." Kitty smiled, "I am on very good
terms with your French
professor, who adores the theatre and me. He will be a very willing cog in
our plans to set you at liberty."
"You are too kind." despite of the doubt gnawing
at his innards, Archie
felt a touch of excitement. It was like watching her on stage, where she
made you believe she was truly losing her mind as Lady Macbeth, or her
country as Cleopatra. He was actually starting to have faith in her words,
her plans- his future.
"Kind? No, I am being rather selfish, to be honest. I'll
miss you if you go
back to that bloody big estate of yours." Having hung up everything that
could be hung, Kitty ushered Archie to the stage door and out. "Walk an old
maid home, good sir?"
"T'would be my pleasure, Madame."