This is an excerpt from ...

Book 2

Note that, like the The Canterbury Tales, this novel is a "frame tale" in which stories are embedded within stories which are, themselves, embedded. This version of Shakespear's play is four levels deep.

Jake's Best Seller
A Novel by John Peter


Here, Jake has just discovered that Jennifer is paying for her college education by writing romance novels, and she is rewriting a collection of classic love stories. After Jake read her a section from his work-in-progress, she reluctantly agrees to reciprocate ...

... "Writing isn't all serious business and following the rules. You're doing the same thing, aren't you, parodying the pulp romances. Writing is work, but it's also fun. Aren't you enjoying your little game with the bra busters?"

Jennifer laughed. "The term is 'bodice buster,' and yes, I'm having fun with my writing."

"Good. Now let me see your stuff."

"Well ..." she hesitated. "Promise you won't laugh."

Jennifer went upstairs to get her work and returned a few minutes later.

"Remember now, like yours, this is a first draft," she warned. "I haven't advanced far enough into the Sampson and Delilah story to show it to you, so I brought something else."

"Oh, what have you got?"

"It's the first section of Love Retold. Now remember, you promised not to laugh."

Jake just divided the remainder of the hot chocolate between their cups and settled back in his chair.

Jennifer smiled, then began to read.

"It is nearly evening, and the long, purple shadows of the many-storied buildings are rapidly lengthening along the narrow, dirty, rat-scurried streets of Venice. Candles are being set in the fly-stained windows of the not very reputable 'Ye Golden Codde Inne.' Two men are standing in the shadows of the doorway.

'Gergory, on my word we'll not carry coals,' the thinner of the two says, punctuating his sentence with a loud burp, then an odoriferous fart.

'No,' the other agrees with a foul, toothless grin, 'for then we should be colliers.'

The first man frowns at Gregory's attempt at wit. 'I mean, an we be in choler we'll draw,' he says, jabbing the fat man's rotund belly with a long, thin, dirty finger.

'Ah,' Gregory says with exaggerated slowness, 'while you live draw your neck out of collar.'

'I strike quickly, being moved.' The thin man brandishes his heavy, rust encrusted sword and stumbles forward, falling face first into the muddy street.

Gregory, helping his companion rise, says: 'but thou art not quickly moved to strike,' then hitches up his pantaloons, which, because of his girth, are reluctant to stay in place.

'A dog of the house of Montague moves me,' Sampson says with beer and garlicky breath directed at Gregory's red, bulbous nose.

Gregory turns his face away and fans the air in front of him with his hand. Sneering at his companion, he says: 'to move is to stir and to be valiant is to stand; therefore if thou art moved thou runnest away.'

'A dog of that house shall move me to stand,' he shouts, brandishing his sword above his head and stumbling backwards, crashing into the dark, solid oak door of the inn. Sliding down the ancient, splintery door, he mumbles: 'I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montangue's.'

The upper half of the door flies open and a harried-looking, buxom girl looks out, staring first at Gregory, then at his companion slumped against the door sill. Gregory throws up his hands in disgust and resignation. The wench, with a look of consummate disgust of her own, slams shut the upper door.

Again Gregory sets his drunken companion on his feet. 'That shows thee a weak slave, for the weakness goes to the wall.'

''Tis true,' Sampson agrees, leaning heavily against Gregory's shoulder for support and speaking confidentially to his ear, 'and therefore women, being the weaker vessel, are ever thrust to the wall.' He releases Gregory's shoulder and grabs the thin trunk of an unlit lamppost. Clutching the wooden pillar with one hand and raising a mud- splattered finger of the other hand, he concludes; 'therefore I will push Montangue's men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall.'

Gregory stands with his hands on his prodigiously padded hips, his puffy, ruddy upper arms held almost horizontal, and admonishes: 'the quarrel is between our masters,' and in a thoughtful, quieter, resigned afterthought, he adds: 'and us their men.'

''Tis all one. I will show myself a tyrant,' Sampson shouts to the black, unimpressed lamppost. 'When I have fought with the men I will be civil to the maids; I will cut off their heads.'

'The heads of the maids?' Gregory asks incredulously.

'Ay, the heads of the maids,' he pokes the uncomprehending lamppost in its diminutive belly, 'or their maidenheads. Take it in what sense thou wilt.'

Gregory shakes his head in disgust, his jellied jowls quivering with each oscillation. 'They must take it in sense that feel it."

The thin man lurches to the wall and, with fumbling fingers, unbuttons the codpiece of his pantaloons, one button flying loose to be forever lost in the slimy mud. He stands, splattering his water on wall, path, shoes, and socks. Over his shoulder he speaks to the waifish lamppost: 'Me they shall feel while I am able to stand, and 'tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh.'

Gregory, standing well back from the spray, says: ''Tis well thou are not fish; if thou hadst been poor-John ...' Gregory stops speaking and pears into the gathering gloom at two forms that are coming down the soggy path, daintily sidestepping the mosquito-breeding pools of water. 'Draw thy tool!' he hisses at his still dribbling companion. 'Here comes of the house of Montangue.'

Sampson picks up his rusty sword from the ground, and, holding a dirty, ill-used tool in each hand, says: 'my naked weapon is out. Quarrel, I will back thee.'"

"Stop! Stop! Enough!" Jake protested as he burst into laughter.

When he controlled his mirth a minute later, Jennifer said, "I'm sorry you found it so ridiculous."

"You've done this to the whole play?"

She nodded her head up and down.

"Ridiculous? Are you kidding? I love it. It's great, but I think that I'll only be able to take it in small doses."

"Oh," she said in her small voice.

"The love scenes too?"

"Yes. This is all pretty mild compared to the purpleness of the love scenes. The Juliet at the balcony scene just gushes with descriptive adjectives," Jennifer admitted.

End excerpt

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