by Beth Sherman
Greetings, Professor Faherty. Just wanted to reply to your inquiry about my dissertation chapter. You ask why it’s “late,” considering three years have passed since my orals, two since my funding ran out. I had fully expected to have something to show you by now. I keep trying to figure out what to say about Ophelia’s lovesickness and how it relates to the patriarchal society of Hamlet. Pulling thoughts from my brain with a vacuum hose and attempting to capture them as sentences. But before I can pin them to the screen, they zigzag and duck. What remains is the blinking cursor that blurts no no no with each pulse. Like a faulty metronome. Or a warning. I can’t make it stop. Last week, I punched the screen and accidentally fractured three fingers (emergency room bill is attached, which I can’t pay because I’m no longer covered under the program’s insurance). Plus, I got in a car accident (see attached repair bill) driving the shattered monitor to Best Buy and when I got back with a loaner screen (receipt attached) it was too noisy outside. I have to keep all the windows shut in order to concentrate though the flies creep in anyway. One, named Laertes, died on the sill, and keeps me company while I pretend to write.
I force myself to sit in front of the screen, Professor. I don’t even get up to go to the bathroom or re-heat my coffee. My ex says I have no time for him (see attached text). My mother keeps leaving worried messages on my phone (sound recordings attached), but she doesn’t understand. My friends post Tik Toks (attached as JPGs) of haul videos and beach vacations, trivia contests at dive bars. Cursors don’t bother them, Professor. They’re oblivious to the vagaries of critical thinking.
I tried copying someone else’s dissertation, just to feel the keys moving under my fingertips. This is not illegal (see the college’s attached guidelines on plagiarism) because that diss is on “Inherited Bias and the Bronte Myth: how Censorship and Editing Excluded Anne Bronte from the Canon,” which is clearly not what I’m not writing about. I also watched 19 Hamlet movies for inspiration (see YouTube links), but all I learned is that Kenneth Branagh looks weird with a mustache.
Here's what I wrote yesterday: Are we sure that Ophelia really drowned? It took three hours to craft that sentence. Then a neighbor rang the bell, demanding I cut the grass and remove all the broken bottles from my lawn (see attached pic of neighbor’s surprised face). Amazon delivered the fly strips I ordered (package tracking attached). Someone called from the bank, claiming I’d bounced three checks (accompanying letter attached). You can imagine how these disturbances would disrupt the writing flow.
But back to Ophelia. Hamlet’s mother claims Ophelia wove a wreath of flowers, which she was attempting to hang on the branches of a willow “when down her weedy trophies and herself fell in the weeping brook (see attached quotation from the Norton Critical edition).” Doesn’t sound plausible to me. The reader never views her slender body plummeting though there’s a famous painting by Millais, where she looks like she’s floating (image attached) with her red hair ablaze, very pre-Raphaelite and sexual. She looks peaceful, Professor Faherty, peaceful and happy. Maybe she just needs a rest. Maybe she realizes Hamlet’s too much of a dreamer and his mother is a pain and she floats down that brook until it merges with the sea and she can finally stop trying. Do you see where I'm headed with this? What if all this time, Ophelia never was a victim, never got ditched. The love sickness? A cover story. Madness? More of the same. What if she’s still with us, her silver dress ablaze with jewels, clutching poppies and loosestrife, her lips on the edge of speech?
Beth Sherman has an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her fiction has been published in Portland Review, Bright Flash Literary Review, 100 Word Story, Fictive Dreams, Switch, Sou’wester and elsewhere. She is also a Pushcart nominee, a Best of the Net finalist, and has written five mystery novels.