Sever themselves and madly sweep the sky

"Hit me again." Maria thumped her glass on the table so hard the empty bottles clinked and almost fell.

"Don't you think you have had enough?" Nahum took the half-full Macallan bottle out of Maria's hand. Maria grasped for it but Nahum stood up and put it on top of the cupboard.

"You don't understand," she moaned, letting her head fall to her arms. "I can cope with the usual insanity around here. Ellen's always a bitch; Geoffrey's always crazy; actors are always assholes. But the interns, and that Emily." Her voice trailed off, and Nahum patted her hair awkwardly.

"She is young," he said soothingly.

"She's the devil," wailed Maria. "And it's not just her, either. I found Anna crying behind the fax machine this morning. Her interns apparently left used, well, used --" She tilted up her head, peered blearily at Nahum, and edited what she'd been about to say. "They left their, um, garbage on a pile of programs. And it leaked."

"Oh dear," said Nahum. After a moment, he handed the bottle back.

"What's that sound?" asked Maria, a glass and a half later. "It sounds like yelling."

Nahum put down his root beer. "It does." He got up and grabbed a broom. "I had better go check it out. Wait here," he said. Maria waved a hand lackadaisically at him as he slipped out the door, holding the broom like a club.

A minute later he returned.

"Well, mighty warrior," Maria slurred. "What was it? Ghosts?"

"No," said Nahum. He leaned the broom neatly back against the wall. "It was just Geoffrey. He is talking to himself again."

"Geoffrey's here?" Maria looked like she was making a manful attempt to sober up at the news.

"He is at a lake, but he is here." He waved a hand at her and picked up his root beer again. "And possibly, given how he is dressed, he is also skiing on a mountaintop somewhere. Don't worry, it would make no sense even if you were sober."

"I am totally sober," Maria said. Nahum cocked his head. "I am!" she insisted. He didn't say anything. "Fine," she said. "I'm not sober. But I'm much too sober to cope with my crazy artistic director, or his bitch of a leading lady, or those potheads who've invaded my theater. So hit me again."

This time Nahum didn't stop her. In fact, he looked as if he would appreciate something stronger than A&W, himself.

"Geoffrey, what are you doing?"

At the sound of Ellen's voice, Geoffrey froze in the hallway. He made a surreal tableau: poised over the broom, a floppy hat tugged over one eyebrow, eyes huge in his face.

"He's curling," said Darren, coming up behind her.

Ellen turned around with a look of confusion usually reserved for CRA agents asking her to explain why bath salts were a business expense. "Curling?"

Darren raised an eyebrow, and responded in his most supercilious voice. "Yes, Ellen, I said curling. It's an athletic pastime, originally from Scotland, common in Canada. You may have heard of it."

"Yes, I know what curling is," Ellen snapped. "It's a sport, and I don't see why you think I should recognize a sport. I'm an actress. Why does everyone have such a hard time remembering that life is different for actresses? I shouldn't have to remember about TJX forms, or whatever they were, or filing deadlines, and I certainly shouldn't have to be able to recognize sports. I'm sorry I don't recognize my artistic director skidding down the hallway in his stocking feet while sweeping the floor as curling. Or hockey or football, for that matter."

Darren just shrugged artistically.

Ellen continued without pause. "But more importantly, why is Geoffrey doing it? And for that matter," she said, eyeing Darren with sudden suspicion, "why do you recognize curling? You're an artist, too. Well, a director, anyway. Sorry."

"Who take the ruffian billows by the top, / Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them / With deafening clamour in the slippery clouds, / That, with the hurly, death itself awakes?" Darren murmured.

Geoffrey's voice was soft when he spoke. "Because he used to curl." A pause. "We both did."

"What?" She spun back to glare at Geoffrey again. If he'd just told her that he once was an American senator or an actor in a sitcom, she couldn't have sounded more shocked.

"Just a pick-up league in college," Darren said, without his usual note of sardonic disdain. "Mostly just a bunch of guys messing around on the ice."

"Any of us who couldn't learn to skate well enough to play hockey," Geoffrey said.

"Or anyone afraid to mess up his pretty face," said Darren.

"Hey, we can't all be lucky enough to be born beautiful." Instead of the expression of wary irritation Geoffrey usually wore when arguing with Darren, he was... smiling? He still leaned over the broom, but his posture had changed subtly; he looked cocky instead of terrified, and he grinned at Darren with that glowing look of happiness usually reserved for Ellen. The wide, dimpled smile transformed his face and made him look oh so innocent. "Do you blame me for wanting to protect my most important asset?"

"You think your face is your most important asset?" asked Darren. "I suppose if you count the mouth as part of the face --"

Geoffrey cut him off, laughing. "Lies! Vicious lies, spread by a jealous R.A.!"

"And a jealous director, and a jealous skip, and a jealous librarian..."

Ellen turned away from Geoffrey's happy, open expression, but Darren's face wasn't much of an improvement. He was looking at Geoffrey as if, well, as if Geoffrey weren't something he'd just scraped off the bottom of his shoe, and she wasn't sure if he'd ever done that before. "What are you both talking about?" she asked. "None of this makes any sense. Nothing makes any sense anymore. I'm standing in a hallway with a couple of directors and they're talking about sports instead of theatre. Directors are supposed to talk about theater. Or drinking. Or sex. But not sports."

Darren just ignored her, grinning over her shoulder until suddenly he smirked and looked at the floor. Ellen turned back around to see a hallway empty of anything but a broom leaning against the wall.

"You!" She turned back to Darren and poked him in the chest, meaning to make her feelings clear about accomplices who provided distractions enabling Geoffrey to escape from her, as if he needed to escape from her, as if that were even a reasonable thing to suggest -- but the laughing Darren of a moment before was gone. Slowly, she withdrew her hand from the prissy and familiar bastard who'd reappeared in Darren's body. "Just... just go to hell."

Right. That was the scraped-off-the-bottom-of-his-shoe look. Ellen sighed in defeat as Darren walked away.

"Sorry," she called after him. "Sorry," she said, quietly.

When Anna came out of the bathroom, she almost tripped over Ellen.

"Ellen?" she asked. "Are you ... sweeping the floor?"

"No!" said Ellen. She hurriedly leaned the broom against the wall, and it immediately tipped over and clattered to the floor. "I mean yes. Maybe. Why does it matter?" She picked up the broom again and leaned against the wall in exactly the same place. This time it slid slowly at first, then faster, then once again clattered loudly to the floor. "I can sweep if I want to."

"Of course you can," said Anna. She knelt and picked up the broom, then opened a door next to the ladies' room to reveal a broom closet. "You're welcome to sweep," she continued, hanging the broom up on an empty hook beside a mop and a dustpan. "I'm just surprised, that's all." She rubbed her sleeve across her eyes and shut the closet door.

"There's nothing wrong with me. Just because I'm a heavily-indebted actress doesn't mean I'm not competent at --" She broke off at Anna's sniffle. Anna's hands were folded neatly before her, and she looked the picture of attention, but her eyes were red-rimmed and her face blotchy. "Have you been cr-- Is something-- Anna, are you okay?"

Anna's fingers clenched convulsively. "I'm fine, why do you ask?" she answered, too quickly. She sniffled again.

"Well that's good-- Are you sure?"

Anna nodded briskly. "Yes, I'm fine. I'm fine. Thank you for asking," she said, but Ellen ignored her and kept speaking.

"Is it Richard? Is Richard making you cry? That fucking fucker. First he won't agree to come and talk to my auditor, and then he makes you cry."

"No, no. Ellen, no," Anna said. She kept repeating herself until Ellen finally stopped talking. "It wasn't Richard. I mean, Richard didn't make me cry. Nobody made me cry, I'm fine." And with that she broke down sobbing.

"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," said Ellen, as Anna slid down the door of the broom closet and crouched in a heap on the floor, covering her face with her hands and weeping loudly. "It's your romance, right. I forgot, I'm a horrible person. That fucker. Oh my God. Anna, I'm so sorry." She leaned over and patted Anna's shoulder gingerly. "Oh my God. What can I do? Tell me what to do."

"It's nothing, I'm fine," wailed Anna. Ellen patted her shoulder again, looking desperately down the corridor in the hopes of finding Geoffrey, Maria, somebody. Slowly, Anna quieted to gulping breaths, little sobbing whimpers. "Really, I'm fine," she said, hiccuping over the words.

Ellen spoke tentatively. "Do you want to wash your face? That makes me feel better when I've been-- When I'm fine, I mean, it makes me feel better when I'm fine. Like you are, because you're fine."

Anna wiped her face on her cardigan and nodded without meeting Ellen's eyes. Ellen reached down a hand and Anna grasped it with her own damp one and hauled herself awkwardly to her feet. "Yes, I think I'll do that," she said, looking anywhere but at Ellen: the floor, the broom closet door, the buttons on her cardigan. "That will help. My -- my face is dirty."

Ellen nodded silently. Anna's face was so red and swollen it looked like she was recovering from an attack of the measles.

"Thank you," said Anna again, and then she looked into Ellen's eyes, still gripping her hand. "Thank you," she said again, and squeezed Ellen's fingers. Then she let go and hurried into the bathroom.

"That fucker," said Ellen, over the sound of running water, and then she hurried quickly down the corridor, away from the bathroom.

Nahum leaned against a pile of black-and-white costume cages in the supply room, idly rolling a broom handle back and forth between his fingers and thumb. The detritus of Geoffrey's sojourn on the couch was finally gone. The cracker crumbs were swept up, the costume racks were back where they belonged, and the overripe smell of unwashed bathrobe was dissipating.

"It was a good play," he said to the empty room. "It was a very good play." He laid the broom down on the couch and walked out, turning off the lights and saying in his best theatrical voice, "not a mouse / Shall disturb this hallow'd house."

"I am sent with broom before, / To sweep the dust behind the door," said a voice behind him, unheard in the dark and empty room. Oliver sat translucent upon the couch, cradling the broomhead in his lap.