Navy silhouettes adorned the snowy porcelain of the tea kettle; a rooster standing on a dog standing on a bull. The kettle itself sat on a tray that sat on a table cloth that someone had draped over a coffee table that naturally sat on a rug that covered the hardwood planks of the floor. On one side of the table was a loveseat. And on the other were two wing-tipped chairs. The chairs were empty, but an old man, skin stretched thin over his skull and hair slicked back, took up half the loveseat. He crossed his legs at the knee in a manner that some might call womanly, but he was not womanly at all. He was masculine; all leather and bone and perseverance. His liver-spotted hand lifted the porcelain lid away from the kettle, allowing a humid weather front to rise and escape. He watched it go. He could have stopped it if he wanted to, but he didn’t want to. He pulled at the string draped over the kettle’s edge, the bag at the other end moved, and he watched shades of brown twist and turn into new ways of being. He watched the future take shape in the space he allowed. His name was Pat Riley. He was always pulling strings. Always brewing. Always sifting. And now he waited for the other three members of his book club to arrive.
They showed up at a quarter to three; all three wearing three-piece tweed suits and thick-rimmed glasses.
Outside the quaint beach cabin the temperature was hot and humid. Nevertheless, inside Riley had set a fire in the cabin’s stone hearth. After all, he was a man who lived in heat. And yet, all three members of his book club began to perspire before even taking their seats: LeBron next to him on the loveseat, Bosh in one of the chairs, and Wade in the other. For a second, just as he sat down, the left side of LeBron’s face quivered like he might be having a stroke, or perhaps it was nothing but a slight cramp after a long night of reading. Riley said nothing, but turned the tray on the coffee table at an angle to make LeBron’s reaching the pitcher of water a more natural maneuver.
“Welcome, gentlemen,” said the book club’s leader, his fingertips pressed together as if to cage a canary. “Shall we begin?”
“Well, I enjoyed the book—was it a book? It seemed more like a play or a drama with all the dialogue, monologues, and soliloquys.”
“Well, I’m glad you recognized the difference in mediums—it was indeed a play, LeBron.”
“Yeah, well, I enjoyed it. I rooted for Hamlet.”
“You know I thought you might,” said Riley.
“I thought Claudius was a punk.”
“I was fine with Polonius getting stabbed. I feel a modern day equivalent might be a member of the media getting what they deserve from a celebrity.”
“ I just didn’t like that Hamlet had to die too. Why couldn’t he and Laertes be best bros and run Denmark together?”
“I’m intrigued that you looked for resolution rather than conflict.”
“Actually,” LeBron felt moved to open the floodgates of his reactionary reading, “come to think of it why couldn’t those two and Fortinbras all just bond over being fatherless and run all of Scandinavia from Denmark to Norway. Shakespeare’s alright, but the people in his plots are too petty. ”
Riley nodded his approval and turned to the other gentlemen in the room. “So now that LeBron’s shared his thoughts on this month’s text, what do you two think?”
Bosh looked towards Wade in what appeared to be an initial act of deferment, but Wade said nothing. Instead, he turned away from Bosh and stared coldly at Riley.
“Yes, Wade?” asked the man who had prepared the tea and stoked the fire.
Wade did not respond, but moved his hands into a position mirroring Riley’s in the shape of a cage.
Riley turned back to Bosh: “Chris, why don’t you tell us a bit about what you thought then.”
“Sure,” said Bosh, not noticing the tension in the room, “although I’m a bit perplexed. Did you or LeBron say we read Hamlet this month? I’m only asking because I read this. . . .” He held up a thin paperback titled Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. “I’m sorry if I read the wrong book, but I thought we were all reading this book. . . .” He raised his copy of Tom Stoppard’s play in the air again. Riley didn’t respond. He only grinned as Bosh continued,”In my version Hamlet doesn’t really seem to be that big of a deal. I thought Guil and Ros were intriguing though.”
“Did they seem heroic?” asked Riley, still grinning.
“Hmmmm. . . . In a way they did. I think anytime someone resigns him or herself to a particular role or a particular role’s fate that takes courage.”
“Should they have known better? Did they diminish themselves?”
“I’m not sure I understand the question?” asked Bosh, looking worried that there was some hole in his understanding of the play’s plot. “Should I have read Hamlet first? I would have, you know.”
“It’s fine, Chris, really it is–“
“Is it though? ‘Cause I didn’t read either of those books,” complained Wade. “I didn’t even read a play. I read a whole novel, which seems like I had to do a whole lot more reading than either of them.”
“With great talent—“
But Wade wasn’t hearing Riley’s explanation. A book club reading different books was not his idea of fun. “Is this Updike book—“ He had to double check the cover in order to state the title. “–Gertrude and Claudius a prequel or a sequel to whatever play LeBron read?”
Riley looked over at LeBron, whose face appeared to be suffering another stroke, or perhaps a cramp. “Is everything alright, LeBron?”
“Yeah, I just need some—“ LeBron reached for a pitcher of water, but his arm went stiff as a board and fell to his waist. “—nothing. I’m fine.”
“He needs water! It’s gotta be over two hundred degrees in this Hell you call a home!” Wade swung the water pitcher in LeBron’s direction—dousing him with its contents.
LeBron, spitting and twitching, said, “Thanks, Wade, but you missed my glass.”
“That reminds me,” said Bosh, “are Ros and Guil dead at the end of the play or are they dead for the play’s entirety?”
“Damnit, Chris!” yelled Wade. “ Can’t you see that we don’t know? We’re reading different stories! ”
“Yeah, but I liked mine,” said Bosh.
LeBron continued to twitch, his muscles suspended between the act of leaving and being poisoned. Bosh looked ready to follow anyone’s lead, his hands now making a cage, too, by coming together at their fingertips. Wade brooded in murderous contemplation, as he paced back and forth in front of the fire. And, meanwhile, unnoticed by anyone, Riley poured four cups of tea, emptying a spoonful of sugar in each one. He then lifted his own serving to his lips with one hand on the teacup’s handle and the other supporting the saucer: “I think today was very productive. Shall we meet again next month? You don’t have to answer now, but as you think about it, perhaps I should recite the story of Amleth from Saxo Grammaticus.”
LeBron writhed in his seat, looking like he might start foaming at the mouth.
“Please do,” said Bosh, his hands still meeting at the tips of his talons.
Sweating more than ever, Wade shifted his weight beside the fire.
And Riley began: “Horwendil, King of Denmark, married, Gurutha, the daughter of Rorik, and she bore him a son, whom they named Amleth. Horwendil’s good fortune stung his brother Feng with jealousy, so that the latter resolved to waylay his brother, thus showing that goodness is not safe even from those of a man’s house. And behold when a chance came to murder him—“
“Actually,” LeBron interrupted, “I’m tired of stories about murder and betrayal—what else can we read?” He looked much more himself as his body grew quiet and Wade handed him a glass of water.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to anyone in the room, Riley rotated the tray.