A Faire Daye
Liza woke to the thick heavy patter of rain. She sighed and opened her eyes. The rain possessed a quality of isolation, that, in spite of thin tent walls, separated her from all the other campers as easily as if they each had slept in motel rooms. She rolled over on her air mattress and wondered, not for the first time, why she didn’t just spend the money on a room. It would certainly be drier. And cooler. And quieter. And safer, for that matter. Last night’s storm had been wild enough to send even the most stout-hearted to the nearby truck stop for protection. The fear of losing one’s tent in a gale or getting caught in a tornado in this stretch of the Illinois-Wisconsin border was not far-fetched, and not far from anyone’s mind during a bad thunderstorm. As usual, though, Liza had stuck it out in her tent through the fury, and finally had fallen asleep when the storm died down.
She looked at her clock. It was nearly seven and time to get up. She remained where she was, though, listening to the sound of the privy doors opening and slamming to. It wasn’t long before she heard the heavy port-a-potty truck trundling down the rutted muddy path to stop near the privies and suck out the accumulated sewage from the day before. As they were hosed down with disinfectant, Liza rolled out of bed, brushed her teeth and pulled on her green stockings and blue bloomers. The truck rumbled out of the tent city toward the other privies that dotted the paths behind merchants’ stalls throughout the site.
Liza laced on her soft leather shoes and emerged from her tent. The maze of tents was disorienting in the early morning haze and a grey dampness had settled over the grounds. She high-stepped her way through wet, knee-high grass and weeds. One privy was already occupied, but the second was still free, and she entered, locking the door behind her. Being the first to use a fresh privy was a small victory in a long day of hard, hot work.
Back at her tent, Liza pulled off her T-shirt and slipped on her ankle-length, white-cotton chemise. She wrapped the long dangling laces haphazardly about her wrists and tucked them in, then slipped on a full red skirt over head, pulling it down to her waist. Then a blue one on top of that, crossing the open front seam of her chemise together like a robe, and securing it closed beneath the elastic waistbands of her skirts. She sat on the edge of her air mattress and chewed on a stale bagel before stuffing her pouch with jerky to share with her music partner, April, later on. They would pick out some bread from the baker, and score a handful cheese cubes and a bowl of soup from the Dirty Duck to complete their mid-day meal.
Reaching up, Liza pulled and braided her tumbled brown hair until it was nice and tidy. At seven-thirty, she stood, belted her instruments and tankard to her waist, carefully unwinding the ribbons and strings where they had gotten tangled with the fan that also hung from the leather belt. She gathered her corset, bodice and hat into her basket, grabbed her green cloak and stepped out of the tent again, zipping it closed behind her. She was ready for morning meeting.
It had stopped raining, but clouds still loomed. Others had emerged from their tents, too, disheveled and sleep-weary, to stand in line at the privy. Someone brushed his teeth and spat out the door-flap of his tent. Crossing through the door between tent city and the main part of the site, Court members milled about in various states of dress, exposing the framework of elaborate, hand-made costumes. Corsets, hoops, and bum rolls, doublets, slops, and hosiery littered the benches around the Nobles’ Glade, hems trailing indiscriminately through the mud. Liza skirted her way around the quiet mayhem, nodding good morning to those she was acquainted with. The scent of sweet incense reached her as she marched up a muddy hill and passed a merchant’s booth.
She was early, and unhooked her tankard for an iced cappuccino. She sat on a bench in her customary place, at the back where the other musicians had gathered, and sipped complacently at the chilled coffee, never minding the dampness that seeped through her layers of clothing. April arrived and they spoke quietly until John, another musician, came to lace her up. Liza stood and slipped off her belt, and John ran the laces through her crude-but-effective corset. She couldn’t help thinking of herself as a horse saddling up for a ride.
John tugged and pulled at the laces from behind until her breasts pushed upward, leaving the front of her torso flat. Rather hippy and buxom, Liza enjoyed this feeling of flatness, running her hands up and down the hard front of her corset. It made her feel streamlined and well-contained. She slipped her arms through the arm holes of her blue bodice, trimmed with black and red ribbon, and a black velvet peplum around the waist. John quickly laced that up, too, the black ribbons criss-crossing down her back.
As morning meeting began, she held her hands out to him, and one by one, he wound the ribbons of her chemise around her wrists, two to each hand, tying the cuffs closed. Liza pulled open the front of her chemise and tied the neck closed, exposing the top of her chest in an inverted vee.
She laughed with the others as their director made actors and musicians dance and sing for their lost items recovered. A hat. A pennywhistle. Various character props. A leather tankard. Liza fingered her own battered, pewter tankard, marveling that it had never been lost. She had many times left it beneath a tree, or beside a bench at a set, and rushed back to find it still waiting for her, untouched. She’d had it for several years, now, since her first season there, and would be heartbroken were she ever to lose it.
When the meeting was over she rose and wandered with April up the hill toward the front gate. The wind had picked up, making the late-summer morning almost chill, and Liza draped her cloak over her shoulders. They walked slowly, the smell of new-simmered garlic mushrooms drifted on the air. Wind chimes rang their solitary song in the breeze. A young woman prepared a soap and water mixture, to make long looping bubbles in the air with a large, round hoop. In the distance, toward the west, the clouds had darkened to a blue-grey, and thunder muttered overhead. Liza and April walked down the other side of the hill laughing softly, their heads bent together, sharing their hopes for the day. They reached the bottom of the hill and stood with the other musicians, joined in their own meeting. They discussed set changes, introduced a visiting duo who played guitar and hurdy gurdy, and chose who would lead that evening’s closing revel.
The music director ushered them all into place. Actors and variety players stood on their marks. Jinx the giant puppet hove into view before the gate, and the tall man on stilts tottered nearby. The dancers gathered in a circle and waited. Liza peeked at her watch through the tiny slit in her cuff. She and Julie pulled out their recorders and tuned to each other. From the ramparts of the gate, the master of ceremonies shouted, “Let the revels begin!”
Liza riffed the introduction of a dance tune and the others joined in. The dancers danced. The great heavy doors of the gate creaked inward. Patrons flooded through, defying the weather, and mingled among Jinx and the stilted man. The Puritans, all in black, harassed their quarry in Elizabethan dialect. They watched the dancers and tapped their feet to the music, and as Liza and the other musicians played, rain began to drum through the leaves of the tree they stood beneath. Liza exchanged her ebony soprano recorder for her reliable, plastic wood-grained Yamaha. Others protected their wooden instruments with cloaks.
When the flow of patrons had thinned, the musicians and dancers broke apart. Liza and April straggled up the hill to their first set of the day. The Puritans called out behind them, “Temptresses!” and Liza smiled and waved in return. The rain fell harder, and they trudged through the mud and worn grass to entertain those who had come to be entertained.
©2003 Cristina Van Dyck
word count: 1,428