Shakespeare's Dark Lady
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"And yet this time remov'd was summer's time,
The teeming Autumn big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widowed wombs after their lord's decease."

Sonnets, 97
William Shakespeare

Amelia looked up as Daniel threw his jacket across the armchair by the fire, which he approached with outstretched hands to shake off the cold outside.

"How's it coming?" she asked him.


He picked up a bundle of pages beside her computer and read the title: The Hermetic Tradition in Elizabethan Literature. "You'll fly through if your viva examiners are as impressed as I am. I can see it now. . . . . two old farts in gowns and caps in the Schools drooling over the delicious lubricious Mrs. Bosworth. Truly you cannot fail."

"Stop teasing," she said. "You know that editor from Oxford University Press I told you I met at the dinner party on Tuesday, Bill Arden? Well he rang this afternoon and wants to talk about turning this into a book. What do you think?"

"That must be the umpteenth dinner party I've missed while you have all the fun turning on those crusty old dons."

"Elizabeth Chambers thinks my thesis is fine, and she's not exactly crusty."

"I thought she said you were losing interest in Shakespeare, and put it down to being pregnant. Has she ever been pregnant?"

"Not exactly."

"There you are, then. She's in no position to judge ."

"At least she's fighting on my side, which is more than I can say for Nancy. Not only did she attack my lecture in that paper she published, she's apparently taken to reminding everybody that I've not published anything to prove my case. So the sooner I get something into the Shakespeare Quarterly the better. Not that Nancy will believe even then that Penelope was the Dark Lady--not a hundred percent, anyway. . ."

"I have to say, I'm still not totally convinced either. Not a hundred percent, anyway."

She came and sat on the arm of the leather chair. "So now you're an expert?"

He couldn't see her face, but he heard the sharp tone and knew she had expected, from him, total belief in her theory now that she'd fully developed it. "Certainly no expert," he said, "though I have done quite a bit of reading since you got me going on the subject. Just a bit of a skeptic."

"Then you might be interested to know that I did a Web search today for every instance where Shakespeare uses the word 'rich'-over a hundred of them, as it turns out. There are hypertext links so you can click on any reference and see it in context in the plays and sonnets. What showed up was that in the plays, 'rich' simply means rich, in all but a few instances. But in the sonnets, where it shows up far more frequently, the allusion is nearly always a quibble on Penelope Rich's name."

"I suppose you mean why should the sonnets refer to her again and again unless this relationship was. . .. . . how did you put it? Very personal?"

"Certainly Shakespeare seems obsessed with her . . ..As with love."

Did obsession and love-real love, not infatuation--go together? He'd grown so used to her walking into his mind--as if it were a flat she had the keys to--that he was only mildly surprised at her next question.

"What is obsession but love taken to pathological lengths?"

Show me a woman in love and I'll show you a whore, he thought. That was Byron, wasn't it? He stopped himself from voicing the thought. His Black Jenny fantasies he kept to himself, for those very private moments.

"Sometimes, not always," he said. "You've said I'm obsessed with my search for the vaccine."

"I said you were obsessed with your search, but at the moment I was thinking of the search for your mother. I rather think your two obsessions, in a sense, are one and the same."

He sighed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Ave Maria," she said.

He jumped up, tumbling her into the overstuffed chair in the process. "That wasn't kind." He stood towering over her. "What about your obsession with Shakespeare?"

"It's over. Now we're only in love."

"I had noticed," he said. "Even heard rumors on the faculty grapevine. Since Lawrence died."

"Leave Lawrence out of this," she snapped.

"All right. Leaving out Lawrence, I'm glad your relationship with the Bard no longer qualifies as obsession. Leaves me one less man in your life to compete with."

In mid-November they got Philip Joblove's agreement to carry out an antenatal screening. No amniocentesis was necessary. Daniel isolated a cluster of fetal cells from Amelia's blood, set up a culture to clone more of these cells for later tests, then had his pathologist analyze their baby's DNA. The technique had been developed by an Australian group under the direction of George Glover, an acquaintance of Daniel's in the Biochemistry Department.

An hour after he got the results, he put his key in the door to the flat only to have it jerked open by Amelia. She had to have been waiting on the other side.

"Tell me, tell me!"

"You got it, angel. It's a boy."

She gave him the best bear hug she could manage with a pregnant belly, then stood back and twinkled up at him. "So," she said. "William is finally official."

Rarely in his life had he walked as much as he did on those mild evenings that were so clear and starlit. He walked for miles after the final shift in the lab was over, coming home in the small hours long after Amelia had gone to bed. His research was suddenly galloping forward, thanks to the wide range of samples from California. Apart from Bruce Hazard at St. Stephen's Hospital in London there were bullish noises from a group seriously in the running at George Washington University, not to mention another at Westminster Hospital.

Walking home up the Banbury Road in the small hours of a Sunday night, high on the Prozac which he was using more and more, the way some of his colleagues used amphetamines to keep going, he became aware of footsteps behind him.

Janey, are you there?

The pavement shines in the rain each time you pass under a street lamp.

You stop. So do the footsteps.

You walk on.

Closer now.

Don't look back. The childhood game forbids you to turn around.

The footsteps have almost reached you.

Janey, don't leave me now.

This time there is no Janey to leave you.You run as fast as you can until you are safely inside the flat. Amelia stirs without waking as, still breathless, you get into bed.

During the week Daniel tore himself away from the lab whenever he could to spend time with Amelia, returning after dinner to make up the lost time. On weekends they saw almost nothing of each other. She went to Berkshire to visit his family; he pushed himself doubly hard in the lab. He knew Amelia noticed how gaunt and twitchy he was, though she never said anything lest it discourage him. He knew she felt guilty about not working more on her thesis and was trying hard to discipline herself, making time each day for a spell in the Bod. Three hours a week were allocated to tough antenatal classes in Somerville with other pregnant students.

The end of November signaled the beginning of the holiday season and the traditional round of North Oxford hospitality. Since Daniel's work made socializing as a couple impossible, Amelia often went out anyway, alone. For Christmas they'd penciled in four days for her at his parents and one for him.

He felt bad about it, though not bad enough to cut down his hours at the lab. Now and again he remembered the way Lucy used to cradle his head between her breasts when he was feeling low. Hadn't she been his other self once, at least for a little while? But she'd never fed him inwardly the way Amelia could.

There were times when he made love to Amelia and fantasized that Black Jenny was back. Yet he never asked her to be Black Jenny again. He knew that wouldn't work.

Amelia seemed more stable now. Less and less the playmate with balls who maddened and delighted him, who drove him to distraction then brought him back with a smile.

On one of the rare days when he came home for lunch, the phone rang just as he opened a cold beer. Amelia picked it up.

"Who was that?" he said when she finished the brief call.

"Back in a minute. Got to write a phone number down before I forget it."

"Here." He handed her his pen and the telephone pad. "Who was it?"

"Just Marcus."

"I see you're wearing that bracelet he gave you."

"I often wear it."

"As if I hadn't noticed. When do you not wear it?"

"Don't be silly. I only wear it because I like it."

He didn't say it, but from then on he occasionally picked up the extension receiver when she took a call. He knew he was behaving badly, even irrationally, but he seemed powerless to stop himself. His relentless work schedule didn't help.

One afternoon he came into the Faustian world of the Bod and crept up behind her in the Upper Reading Room, where she was engrossed in a sixteenth?century folio almost too big for the reading stand where it was propped.

"What are you doing here?" she said when he grabbed her from behind.

"Just checking to see you're all right, angel."

"You don't need to check up on me. I'm fine here."

"I just wanted to make sure nobody was bothering you."

"Daniel, the only one bothering me is you. What's wrong with you?"

"Oh, I'm just worried, that's all. It's pregnancy, I guess. Or maybe that curse thing of Shakespeare's. I just can't get it out of my thoughts lately."

Idiotic, of course. Pregnant, she was healthier than she'd probably ever been at any point in her life. And if anyone had anything to worry about where the curse was concerned, it was him.

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