Queen of Hearts – Revised

As soon as I posted up part one of The Queen of Hearts I had a crisis of confidence about the POV and the tense in which is was written. Tonight I used my hour of writing races to rework the tense and the POV. For those who read the original over the weekend, I’d love some feed back and some idea of which one works better.

– – –

The wolf whistles and the applause reach a crescendo and the heavy velvet curtain falls, the golden tassles brushing the boards. I wait a moment, take a few steps back from the curtain and walk off into the wings.

“Do you want to take another curtain call?” Louis is new and all the stage hands eye him with a mixture of curiosity and contempt.

Every fiber of my being screams to be back out there soaking up the adoration, but I shake my head as best I can in the elaborate headdress. Sergio, the old stage manager knew the score. Stars take three curtain calls. Divas more. I’ve never forgotten which side of vanity I want to reside on.

A diminutive woman walks into the wings, hands lost in enthusiastic clapping which segues into excited signing.

You were so beautiful Miss Varla. Bravo! Bravo!

My hands easily form the signs I need to assure Luisa, my dresser and friend, it is all thanks to her. Luisa doesn’t just sew incredible costumes and ensure I look stunning every night, she keeps me grounded. Every night when I look at her fussing over me I know it could easily have been me. One pedestrian and one car. Two lapses of concentration. A career destroyed in the split-second screech of tyres.

Is Vin here? I sign

Luisa shakes her head. My joie-de-vive drains out through my diamante-encrusted dancing shoes and into the ancient boards.

Come! Come! Luisa motions. There is much celebrating to be done. No mooning over Vin Tefnel.

Luisa doesn’t wait for a response, walking behind me, detaching the elaborate feathered train from the sequined bodysuit, giving me a very gentle push towards the back stage entrance.

The scent of evening jasmine hits me the moment the wonky door of my dressing-room opens.

“Oh Luisa.” The words gush out and are lost to Luisa as I rush to admire the huge bunch of tigerlillies dramatically framed by the light-studded mirror. “He remembered.” I recklessly plung my face deep into the large genetically-engineered petals, remember Vin’s excitement the first time his friend successfully bound the perfume of jasmine to the large orange flowers.

He always remembers, why do you doubt him so? Luisa signs the same retort each opening night, always caught out the corner of my eye, before she berates me

You will stain your face with the pollen. Luisa’s hand fly emphatically through the air infront of her.

I flick my fingers off opposite shoulders: I don’t care.

As I do so I catch sight of the creamy envelope attached to the flowers and pull the note out.

We did it babe. One million hits. The server held this time.


I squeal and thrust the card at Luisa, clapping my hands in delight. It had been a long hard road but we’ve done it. Years it’s taken us to find a niche for our brand of uncompromising, political burlesque, moving men from wanting just tits and long legs, to appreciating political satire and fine art. And now we’re no longer contained to one packed theatre a night, with a matinee on Saturday and Sunday. I twirl around once and then twice. The freedom!

Minsky will love it, knowing he could charge more for the privilege of attending a live show. He’ll recoup a thousand times over the cost of installing the shower in my dressing-room. And for the first time Vin and I will have an independent income. The theatre owners will grovelling to us. Finally!

Luisa puts her right hand in her left and gives the two a hearty shake: Congratulations. I smile and before I can to drink in the perfume of Vin’s flowers Luisa’s maneuvers me into a chair and is stripping away my burlesque regalia–tiny fingers moving with speed and precision to remove the red and green feathered diamante headdress, the wig beneath and the thick layer of stage make up from my face. Before the tiredness has time to settle in my muscles, I’m out of the chair and Luisa is carefully removing the skin-tight lycra and passing me a silk robe.

Are you sure you don’t want me to stay? Luisa signs

I shake my head, needing to be alone between the show and the party. And tonight I want to take special care to look good for Vin.

Enjy the after party.

Please come but she shakes her head. I pinch my chin between my first three fingers and pull them back: Thanks.

Luisa takes the same three fingers snaps them together, mirrors my sign and then points to me: No! Thank You.

I nod and disappear around the corner of the shower cubicle, before my emotions catch up with me. Tonight belongs to the ring of champagne flutes saluting success, not tears.

After a moment of rustling, the sound of the dressing-room door closing echoes around the room and I’m alone. I sigh, shrug my tired body from the robe and turn the taps on, waiting for the hot water to come through. Above the whine of the water and the thumping of the pipes I hear the dressing-room door close again. Knowing it is pointless to yell out to Luisa, who is always leaving something behind at the end of the night, I step around the cubicle wall to find the dressing room empty.

A large iron bird cage sits has replaced Vin’s flowers.

“Vin?” I call out.

He always jokes it is only a matter of time, given my penchant for feathers and the passionate devotion of my followers that someone would gift me with a real, live bird. After all, within days of our adaptation of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes every man seemed to be learning the ancient art of origami.

The cage has no card or any other form of identifying keep-sake.

I trhow my robe on and run barefoot out into the chaos of the post-show backstage area, bustling with stage hands and other technicians, rather than performers of hanger-ons. The reverie from the theatre and the bar beyond is audible. Minsky’s cash register will be ringing for hours yet.

“Did you see someone come back stage with a parrot?” I ask everyone who passes, but they all shake their heads and hurry on. Opening night is the only night they’re invited to the after party and they’re keen to get in as many free drinks as they can.

“A parrot you say Miss Varla,” Louis chuckles when I find him fussing over paperwork in his tiny office. “Can’t say I’ve seen anyone wandering around with a parrot. Mr Minsky was pretty darn clear on barring jerks from backstage. He hired a couple of thugs to man the door tonight. Sorry.”

Stream rolls out of my dressing room door when I open it.

“Shit!” Luisa would have a fit if she knew I’d doused the entire room, including all the costumes, like this.

I wave clear a path through white eddies and turn the taps off, throwing open the tiny window which is the only form of ventilation in the room.

When I walk out of the cubicle, the bird cage is still there –  a  red and green parrot staring at me.

“What the hell am I going to do with you?” I remember only too well all the potted plants I’ve killed.

The bird tilts its head.

The Queen of Hearts is coming.

She get in closer.

“Did you say something?”

It swaps sides, and looks at me from its right shoulder, never releasing me from the stare.

The Queen of Hearts is coming.

I step back, certain the bird said something. But heard is the wrong word. The words seem to just formm with astonishing clarity, in my head.

The Queen of Hearts is coming.

“OK, this is not funny.” I spin around, my mind battling against the logic of it and rip aside the costumes neatly hanging on the rack, looking for Vin. This is another of his practical jokes. But I’m alone.

The tigerlily is still drinking as I poke it through the bars of the cage and into the parrot.  It ruffled its feathers.

The Queen of Hearts is coming.

“You can turn the damn remote control bird off, Vin. You’re freakin’ me out.”

Vin doesn’t appear so I open the cage and seize the bird. Outside the cage I turn it over once and then twice, pulling the wings out, looking for the on/off switch as it lashes out at me with claws and beak, drawing blood but I refuse to submit. Finally it shits on me, molten crap splashing onto my cheek. My fingers release. Colourful wings open and cut through the steam, carrying the damn bird to the top of the cubicle wall. I look up through the swirls, using my forearm to wipe away the shit.

The Queen of Hearts is coming. You have been warned.

8 thoughts on “Queen of Hearts – Revised

  1. Thanks guys. I occurred to me this morning that one of the pieces of advice writers get is to read their stories out. I never do, but Friday with my fledgling forays into audioboo I recorded the first part (as much as I could in 5 mins) and just hated it.

    I think that confirmed the POV really wasn’t working – it sounded clunky and too far removed. I like to get up close and personal with my characters and for this one… it was just too far away. The other aspect which cropped up… part of what this story is about – revolves around the mental stability of this character. Is she really experiencing what she’s seeing and hearing… or is she becoming unhinged about life. And I think this will play out far better from the first person and the action will hit the reader harder with the present tense.


  2. The first person POV is definitely stronger. This is a better version of the story, IMHO.

    I was still a bit confused by the sign language, though. The narrator (Varla) signs out a question, which made me think she is deaf, but then she speaks out loud when she sees the flowers. Her companion (Luisa) is capable of responding to the spoken comment about him remembering the flowers; if that’s the case, why does Varla need to sign to her at all?

    If Luisa reads lips, then Varla wouldn’t speak with her face buried in the flowers.

    Forgive my picking at the details here, but one of my sisters is deaf, so I’m pretty familiar with the logistics of signing vs. lip reading vs. full speech interpretation.


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