I met Porphyria in October 2012. I was destined to kill her again and again and again. Porphyria and I were portraying Robert Browning’s poem Porphyria’s Lover at Ushers Ferry, Cedar Rapids faux historic site, for their Halloween Ushers Scary haunted village extravaganza. I had memorized Browning’s four-hundred word poem assuming that I would recite my Browning sans props, but the event organizer had a better plan. She presented me with Olivia, a lovely, live lady to represent my warm, freshly killed murder victim.
Arriving well before the Ushers Scary festivities would begin, we actors milled about as we were given instructions concerning where, when and how we would be performing. There was much buzz among many of the actors about the spirits in the air that night, conversations which I assumed were for good fun centering around our Halloween performance, and Olivia participated heartily in the spirit filled speculations.
The event organizer took us to our designated area, a dark, chilly, late Eighteenth Century house with nothing but a gaslight to illuminate and small fire in the potbelly for warmth and left. Olivia removed her trench-coat and revealed her costume, with its eye-catching waist cinching, bosom lifting corset. Looking lovely and seductive Olivia and I were left alone in the chilly house to await Halloween revelers. A chilly house and Olivia’s scanty costume called for gallantry on my part and we wisely added the warmth of human cuddling to the meager BTU’s provided by the wood-burner.
I decided to tease. “You know, it’s awfully cold in here,” I said, my arm draped around Porphyria’s naked shoulder, her long raven locks cascading down my chest.
“It is,” Porphyria replied, her Irish accent beautifully trilling in my ear, “and I should probably let you know that I’m a nymphomaniac.”
Boom! My arm immediately shoots into the air and a foot of distance appears between us in half an eye-blink. “Why, nnno,” stutter I, “I didn’t know that.”
“And I believe you know my ex-husband?” she asks, mentioning him by name.
Know him? We killed one another in an Ushers Ferry Theatre production of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Aria da Capo three years earlier and had since played together a hand-full of times! This was the infamous home-wrecking wench? Gasp!
“Yes,” I reply, regaining some composure, “I did my first post high school play with him. He may have mentioned you.”
‘May have mentioned you,’ is perhaps the greatest understatement I have uttered. Gossip, speaking about others who are not present, is considered sinful by most Christians, and malicious gossip, speaking cruelly about one who is not present, is considered in bad taste by most civilized people (though everyone gossips at some point and many of us occasionally drift into malicious land.)
I have listened while her Ex expounded on the trials and tribulations of Olivia’s divorce inducing extra-curriculars, her recent return from the Land of Lughnasa and reinsertion of herself into the lives of their three children and his new wife while cast-mates, cluck, cluck, clucked in head shaking affirmation as they accepted one person’s perspective without hearing from absent Olivia.
For three years I have heard tales of Olivia and here I sit alone in a dark room, side by side with the scantily clad, infamous coquettish Colette of gossip’s reign. I begin again. “Hi,” I say, extending my hand, “Tony Kneel. Pleasure to make your acquaintance. So, you’re the famous Olivia, huh?”
“Yes, I am,” Olivia’s lilt sounds in my ear, her lips close enough to enable her sweet breath to tickle, “the pleasure is mine. Don’t worry about the nympho thing; you’re safe. At least for tonight,” she adds, an admonishing half-smile raising the right side of her face.
“Good. I think,” I add with a wink, replacing my arm about my living-doll, dead-woman, human prop. We talk shop and come to a good understanding of how we will perform together and then begin discussing faith, spirituality, creativity and the difficulties involved with long-term relationships, self-fulfillment and myriad other topics. Ushers Scary is a guided tour and in between groups of Halloween observers we break character, I go back to being Tony while Olivia goes from dead Porphyria to live Olivia. We pack a lot of interpersonal on our first date- er, performance!
Midnight nears and Ushers Scary ends. Other players that know Olivia from her pre-divorce, pre-fleeing back to Ireland, pre-return to the USA where she can rightly regain her mothering status to her three sons days discuss the spirits in the air. I still think they’re fooling. I am wrong.
Olivia and friends believe in auras, in psychic’s powers, ESP, primal energy, crystals, talisman, phantasms and Sangre de Cristo, all make-believe myths, potions and self-deceptions to me. None of these differences in belief matter to me.
I have long held that the world is filled with nothing but fools and idiots, people who believe in things that are simply not rational; and when I say filled that is exactly what I mean. Every single one of us believes in things that are patently false and I absolutely wear that crown of ignominy. I most assuredly do not have to agree with other people’s delusions in order to love them any more than I insist that they must believe in mine.
The night ends, I make my goodnights and return home. I am given nearly three years to play with and learn about Olivia, to get to know and love her, before Jean and I leave Iowa and make our way to Florida where I flounder without a stage in the wastelands of hanging chads and the infamous Florida Man of media fame.