He died four nights a week and twice on Saturdays at a theater in the French Quarter. The production was an experimental one, which in this case meant that his “Alas poor Yorick!” rang out as he was suspended over the stage by a wire harness. A bow and quiver lay just in front of the first row of seats. Audience members could shoot rubber-pointed arrows at him while he harangued Ophelia, stabbed tapestries, and soliloquized into madness or something resembling it. The crew had been directed to leave the arrows where they fell so that by the time Fortinbras claimed the crown, the stage looked like a boneyard. “HamletAir” was the fever dream of the director, a zealous interpreter of script, a man who considered himself the human vessel through which the “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” line would be writ large for the undeserving New Orleans public.
The flying Hamlet now sat opposite the ghost tour leader, who had come directly after her last shift. “Villain Hookers, Killer Madams, and Bad NOLA Bitches” was always booked full one week out, sometimes two. A drama school graduate, her tours were 90 hermetic minutes of near-poetic language describing the reigns of terror of the most violent women in the city’s history. Equally growing was her social media following. This was largely due to her rowdy re-enactments of scenes from the violent histories of her tours, where she did things like use cucumbers for daggers and towels for a nun’s veil.
The flying Hamlet and the ghost tour leader were at a new seafood place, like a Japanese-seafood fusion place, he told her. He’d had to make the reservation weeks ago. The restaurant was operated by a very handsome chef who hosted a televised cooking competition and recently had a six-episode show made about him, heavy on sonorous voiceover and shots of onions in chiaroscuro.
Their argument had begun during appetizers. This is where the argument often began, escalating quickly through the main course and flagging after the check was brought. The flying Hamlet would ask the ghost tour leader to move in with him. The ghost tour leader would then provide him with her latest reasoning as to why this would not work logistically, emotionally, mentally, financially, location-wise, pet-wise, and career-wise, at which point the flying Hamlet would usually counter with some barely concealed dig at her career.
“I made rent just fine last month, actually,” the ghost tour leader now said. “I’m the third-highest ranked ghost tour on Yelp in the entire city. You know this.”
“Shakespeare wishes he had good reviews on Yelp, am I right?”
“No need to be snarky.” She reached for the bruise on his neck, and he flinched. Two nights earlier, an audience member seemed to have taken one look at a Danish prince soaring through the air and thought, This just got personal. “You’d let them shoot arrows at your little Hamlet if it gave you the leading role.”
“My craft is—”
“Your craft. You named your tour Villain Hookers. Even I know you should call them sex workers.”
“I know you’re upset I won’t move in with you, but the fact that I’m emotionally downsizing isn’t—”
“Emotionally downsizing? This isn’t a home renovation show.”
She gripped her knife, leaned forward, and hissed, “There was a man at my 8:00 who panted after me like a puppy while his girlfriend looked like she wanted to kill me and you know how all that talk of murder gets people whipped up so you should be happy I’m even alive right now.”
“And how are we enjoying our meal tonight?”
Both of them craned their necks up to see the handsome chef, the streaming service star. He seemed to be making rounds of the floor, visiting each table. His wide beam of high-wattage joviality was nearly blinding.
“Are you all comin’ in from out of town?” he asked. His eyes narrowed slightly. “What happened to your neck?”
The flying Hamlet’s gaze darted to the ghost tour leader. She looked back at him. Each seemed to intuit what the other was about to do.
“Do you like Shakespeare? I perform five days a week in an experimental production over at—” Hamlet said, right as the ghost tour leader said, “Let me get you my card. I’d love for you to come check out my tours; they’re the best in the city.”
“You ever shot an arrow before?”
“I’m on Instagram too—”
Their overlapping voices had the chef’s face springing into a look of mild daze and bemusement. “Uh—” he began.
The server approached. “Here’s the check whenever you’re ready,” she told them.
Her words seemed to unzip the agitated momentum that had been building, cooled the brûlée which the flying Hamlet and ghost tour leader were hurtling towards. Time to get off the carnival ride.
The celebrity chef moved on to the next table, the server moved her attention elsewhere, and the slip of a check she’d left at their table was as white as the stricken face of a corpse.
Cover art: “The Spectacle” by Amy Wellman Edwards