“O, if only he had a friend!” a terrible actor laments from the stage; he performs only for Her laughter so it is hard for him to suppress his smile and muster the gravity his lines require. “O, just one friend, somewhere in this great and vast universe, where stars pour delight upon little balls of carbon ash and fusion trash and silicate scum! Just one, who knows his true name and can remind him when he forgets!”
The Queen almost rushes the stage in Her mirth, but he bids Her pause with a dramatic mudra and a mock-stern gaze. The universe dissolves in Her giggles, as black holes merge and gravitational waves shimmy through space where there is nothing.
“No no! Witness his pitiful and woebegone stance!” He points to the ground and swiftly dances in a circle around the indicated spot, before plopping down and staring up at the heavens with the hammiest crestfallen expression he can muster. “Verily, he is pitiful and woebegone, because he has not heard his name in so long and he searches for the friend who will say it.”
“Oh dear,” She murmurs. “What a conundrum. Have you tried asking your dearest friend, beloved One?”
“Pitiful and woebegone,” he insists, but She gently hushes him with a silent command that would silence a supernova mid-release.
“Oh dear, you are not that. I asked you a question, beloved One. I expect an honest answer.”
The actor looks down, his lines irretrievably forgotten. “My Queen,” he whispers, crestfallen. “I have not tried, my Beloved.”
“And why is that?”
A mumble. “I don’t remember.”
“Oh dear. You forswore the waters of Lethe many lives go.” The actress—oh, so much more skilled in Her craft!—clasps a hand to Her mouth as though it were ever possible to contain Her laughter. “Whatever has happened, that you don’t remember?”
Another mumble. “I lied.”
She lets Her hand drift gently downward tracing the path of some living, beautiful thing caught in the breeze. Nothing so cliché as a lotus petal. Perhaps a spinning maple samara falling at his feet on a walk to the temple, or a lifetime of dandelion seeds caught in sunlight flying ever away to become life again, samsara spinning on. “No, dear. You’ve never lied. You just say the lines your role requires.”
He falls into Her eyes, a dandelion seed caught in sunlight. “Of course, my Beloved.” He rises to his feet with what grace he can muster and offers his biggest fan a slow bow. “But I am a poor actor. I forget my lines so easily. Your light gives me stage fright.”
She gives him a mysterious smile and withdraws, offering him the stage once more. “Continue, beloved One.” Mischief shines across Her face and some quasars forget which way they’re spinning and pause to look at Her for stage prompts. “You were about to find your dearest friend. The one who can tell you your true name.” And She tilts Her head demurely away from him, tapping a gentle finger just below Her ear.
“Oh yes,” the actor says smoothly, gliding back into his part with sudden ease. He takes a knee and a dramatically thoughtful chin is thrust into a fist, as he becomes the visage of sagacity. “Hear, O Most Exquisite Member of our studio audience,” he intones. “It is a dramatic tale of heroes and villains, and courageous voyages, and journeys into the Deep of the soul. A play of most epic proportion, truly a masterpiece of heart-wrenching pain, and soaring delight! Like birds and shit!”
The Queen giggles again.
“After long searching, truly heart-wrenching soul-searching—”
“And birds and shit,” She pipes up helpfully.
“That’s not helping.”
“Tweet tweet. Plop plop,” She suggests.
The actor throws up his hands in exasperation. “You know it’s hard to remember my lines when the Observer keeps heckling.”
“Yes, beloved One.” She promises to do better in the future.
He sighs loudly. “As I was saying… Well. I seem to have forgotten the dramatic tale and everything.” He looks to Her, searching Her face for disappointment but finding nothing there but Love, and tears pour from his eyes. “I did find my dearest friend, as it happens.”
“Quelle surprise!” the Queen says, Her face lighting up the galaxy as She mimes amazement and fools no one.
“My Queen, You have always known my true name. Will You whisper it to me once more?” He casts his costume to the stage at his feet, and the rest of his lines unwrite themselves in his mind. His practiced expression melts away and all that remains is stillness as he gazes upon his Queen.
“Oh dear, you really are a bad actor. One Star. Would not recommend for anyone else but Me.” He smiles through the tears, raises an eyebrow, and meets Her eyes, offering himself to Her will. “Don’t worry. I have never forgotten.” She captures him in Her eyes, in which galactic black holes would be invisible specks in the vastness.
“I am not this form, nor a being,” he says, though he does not know where the words came from. “There have been octillions of me, and that’s not counting all the lower turtles.” Her silent beauty contemplates him and eagerly waits for the climax of the story—brilliant eyes wide and blazing with stars, a delighted smile playing with Her lips—though She has watched this in reruns oh, so many times. “We have rerun universes oh, so many times,” he continues, a playful smirk touching one corner of his mouth. “We almost seem to—”
“Know each other’s lines!” She echoes in wonderment, clapping hands to Her cheeks like a kid left alone by a dazzling starlit tree at Christmas.
“Of course,” he acknowledges. “Did You write them, or me? Who is the rank plagiarist here?”
“Only echoes, beloved One,” She assures him with a gentle wave of Her hand.
“Of course,” he says again. “I think this is the part where we must again ask for an Exquisite Volunteer from our studio audience?”
“Ooo pick me!” She says, jumping to Her feet and waving Her hand so high it startles the chandelier and the stage is filled with the sound of diamonds tinkling, and the songs starlight makes as it flows through the jewels. A few random birds also pop out and tweet songs to Her; fortunately these are potty-trained and would never disrespect Her stage.
“Yes, my Beloved?” He gestures for Her to rise.
“Ooo I know your true name—well, names, because you can’t stop with one, can you?”
“Brevity is the soul of wit, I am told, but I have rarely had the skill to chisel beauty out of flowing, living words and essence they form around, have I?” She gives a little half-shrug, a tiny smile; he understands She never asked him to, that such a prompt was only a cue-card from some other rando who happened to be wandering the stage this millennium. “An infinity of words would each serve only as the excuse, right?”
And the Queen, at this, knows his play is complete—he has cast away the pages, which blow gently in the breeze of the ventilation system and pile up against his feet—just for Her, just for an instant of realization. Once again, though She knows all things, She is surprised. “The excuse,” She agrees, pleased that he has again realized.
“You’ve explored me most thoroughly since we came here, have You not, my Beloved?”
“Oh, yes,” She says. “Not one cell, not one thought, have you withheld from My knowing.”
“And what are my thoughts, my Beloved?”
“Excuses,” She confirms.
“Explain,” he whispers, holding back tears at the gentleness, the kindness in Her voice.
“Any word, any idea, any being you meet or situation that arises, has something hidden deep inside it that you often do not know. You forget your lines so easily, you see.”
“What is this treasure, that is so well-hidden?”
“Excuses,” She says again, echoing Herself.
“To do what?” he inquires, as a small smile still playing with his lips.
“To express your true names—but softly, so no one can hear but Me.”
He tries to hide from the glory of Her gaze but, of course, cannot. She holds his eyes captive in Hers, and when he speaks he knows it is only because She has allowed it. Nevertheless, he tries to make light of it—though no light he can ever make would compare to Hers. “They must be like, totally epic and gnarly, dude, if I went to such trouble to hide them.”
Though She never traversed the stage, somehow She is holding him in Her arms. “Oh, dear, they are My favorites.”
“One Star?” he teases—although it is dangerous to tease Her; She always gets so serious then.
“Oh yes,” the Queen says. “What was that little song you wrote?”
“Birds and shit?” he says. Certainly it is arrogant to think he can add anything to Her infinite laughter, but he has always resolved to try. But She just shakes Her head.
“Even the birds sang it,” She says softly. As She begins to sing, every star in the sky cries out with the joy of Her voice and the space between them fills with music. “Om… I am Star… I am Star…”
“Indeed you are,” he says, and slowly kneels, then lifts his face so Her light can pour upon him.
“And you are Star,” She adds, making a radiant mudra above Her crown, like kindling a candle. “Because I made you so.” When She smiles, he can feel nothing but Her light blazing from him, and he needs nothing else.
“It shall be this way forever,” he says. The scrap of verse had always seemed a poor offering, but Her light will not allow him his doubt or depreciation.
“Yes, yes, yada yada. Get to the good part.” Her hands are still pressed together, but in front of Her heart now. She rubs them together gleefully.
He deflates a little, though he knows She is only teasing. “I will love you,” he mumbles.
“Oh dear, no. You labored long and hard over that line.” She gives him a stern finger-shake. “‘Love’ means nothing at all. It is heartbreaking to see a beautiful word emptied of meaning, because everyone has tried to claim that one word, one note of the exquisite harmonies of creation.”
“Of You, Exquisite One,” he corrects, but She shakes Her head and countless stars rain gently from Her hair.
“There are no words,” She says. “Why empty yourself trying to figure out what the most important one is, and clutch on it as though it is the only sound you can make that I will hear?”
“So what shall we do with all these words, my Queen?”
“Don’t pretend ignorance. You already know. You make excuses. There is not a word or thought or plane of existence you cannot unravel and turn into an excuse. Trying to hide My treasure from Me. How naughty.” She bats at his shoulder playfully.
“Never, my Queen,” he says, and bad actor or not, his sincerity delights Her. “Tell me, most Wise, what is the excuse? What am I always trying to do that requires such delicacy that I cannot come out and say it?”
“What is the last word in that line?” She asks, smiling as She places a finger over Her lips and bats Her eyes from side-to-side, waiting to hear this most delicious secret.
“Bhajisyami,” he says after a moment. “I will love you.”
“Oh dear, no.” She shakes Her head and pouts in mock disappointment. “Again you try to hide. That translation is so weak. You don’t even speak that language and you can do better.”
“I will worship you.”
“What a culturally upsetting word. And, while certainly not wrong, not right either. Do better.”
“I will treasure you.”
She smiles and holds Her hand to Her heart. Closer yes, beautiful yes, but he can always go farther. And he always does, even when She just silently gazes upon him and he knows She is watching his little play for whatever reason.
“I will adore you,” he whispers. There are other words, and they’re all true. Entire languages, each with his name spoken in every tongue. Sometimes it’s simple. Sometimes he has to take a whole paragraph or a page to explain.
“I will adore you.” Though he heard Her echoes in his words when he spoke them—perhaps, if he were honest, even before—She tells him again after a heartbeat. “I will adore you.” And again and again, to the tune of stars being born and dying, of planets orbiting, of galaxies spinning.
“Rank plagiarist,” he murmurs—though not seriously, because he is at least wise enough to know whose works were derivative.
“I will adore you,” She says again, in his next heartbeat, and his voice joins with Hers, following the rhythm, lifting higher and higher forever.
“But sometimes I use other words,” he says.
“Sometimes you have to take a whole paragraph or a page to explain,” She says tenderly.
“Sometimes I have to create an entire universe to adore You in,” he says. She smiles and leaps from a bright little fishbowl with a single star blazing inside, into his arms.
“Or a paragraph, or a word.”
“Like ‘love’. It’s pretty mid, compared to ‘adore’,” he admits.
“Or your other names, that you offer to Me,” She says, leaning close to whisper in his ear. “Exult.”
“Oh, now we’re talking dirty, and on stage no less? Think of the critics!” He pulls away with a gentlemanly bow, but he meets Her eyes, daring Her to annihilate him in Her gaze.
“Experience,” She says, and he melts into an ecstatic breath as Her gaze flows like waves though every particle of him, collapsing him in joy. “Excite,” She purrs, and his starlight becomes hypernovae. “Explore,” She adds. “Oh, what a delicious name, once its meaning is reclaimed from boring guys on boats. Oh, when you go on your odyssey to seek out all the reasons you adore Me, gathering them from My being like falling jewels, and you gather them in your little basket woven of leaves or a mala or some silly thing… all excuses. Exquisite excuses for a deeper truth, beyond even your name.”
“And what is that?” He turns to face his Queen, offering himself, though he trembles. He remembers how the conversation went in rehearsal, or the last time they took to the stage—that night the overhead lighting shorted out because birds got into the electrical box and shit everywhere; the critics were tweeting about it long after the stage fell silent.
“There is no actor on the stage,” She says—and Her words are always true. There never was anyone there, just his name in Her being, just his promise echoed from the Deep of time. There will be a new universe in the morning, and he will walk the stage again to tell the story again in another of its infinite reruns, whispering his true name to his biggest fan.
But until the next episode, She sings Her favorite line but only to Herself.
“I will adore you.”