Thebes, Revisited

/ /

At sunset on the farm, they sit waiting before a cedar plank, stage for the play. For weeks neighbors had chatted about the sign

tacked to an elm: GREEK THEATER. SUNDAY. FREE. They watched actors decamp in the shore town and look over the grounds that overlook

the bay’s whitecaps, whipped by a threatening storm. Onstage the cast will wear masks shaped in clay, the gaping eye-holes and downturned mouths

for tragedy. The crowd, too, is masked as fever rages in a nearby town. This town is clean, so far. Then suddenly,

ancient Thebes. Look, where the bay runs shallow, an oracle foretells danger — no, it’s a cormorant, poised on a rock,

spreading out its slick black wings to dry as bearded swamp reeds dance in a muted chorus. A blue-masked woman, baby on her back,

her man unfolding a striped picnic blanket, says that for five years, she’s seen the play and likes the speech about the king’s ancestors

(her own, she adds, are Mulfords, early settlers). Now it begins. The postal clerk as Oedipus saunters onstage, lofty for the lifts

inside his boots, his mask-face deepening the mystery of fate: My children, tell me why you are here. The farmhand playing Priest

replies: plague rages, cattle die, crops fail. The bayman, robed as Creon, ruler of Thebes, has an answer: Banish the old king’s murderer

and all will be well. Corruption kills.. In the audience, a man stands up, staggers and falls, his face red with the fever.

Villagers look down and step aside. An outsider. The fever happens there, not here. Get him out. Send him away.

Their voices rankle. “Did you see his face?” “He’s from the bad town.” ………………………..“Late-night bars.” …………………………………………..“Loose women.” A child pulls out his phone and calls for help

as men lug the sick stranger to the road. Doc Slade, local M.D., waits for an ambulance while others return to watch the ending:

Oedipus, blind, departs. The plague is lifted. Someone sighs, “It couldn’t happen now.” People hoist folding chairs and turn to leave,

muttering how calm the waters are now that a northwest wind passed over us — a good omen for tomorrow’s catch.