The Ballad of Miranda Levine

8 Nov

(Just a quick character sketch I did awhile back that never really turned into anything bigger.  It was based, a bit, on the Miranda alluded to in the Decemberist songs “Leslie Anne Levine” and “We Both Go Down Together.”

Also, for the purposes of this story…er, Levine totally rhymes with ‘eyes.’  Uh.  Yeah.  Mhmm.)

The sailors in the tavern corner have sonorous voices, deep as the foghorns of clippers setting sail for South Australia. They linger on her skin like harbor fog. Come here, sweet, the men always say, hands on her petticoats. Come here, we’ve got a little song for you, don’t we?

She clamps her lips together, shoves a scrim of filthy hair into her face.

O wake her, o shake her, o shake that girl with the blue eyes –

Fingers ring her birdlike wrists.

O Johnny’s come to Bluegate Fields, come to Miranda Levine.

Once she lived above a theater made of bricks the color of rouge paint. Her father, magnificent in his frock coat and thicket of a mustache, balanced accounts while roaring lines from Faustus. Young actresses wore their hair in lustrous coils and tinted their lips so bright it hurt to look.

She remembers a book with hundreds of pages, a book full of plays. When it stormed, their fluttering finch of a servant would read to her from the play about her namesake. Miranda the sorcerer’s daughter, Miranda the island girl with sea eyes and a heart of gold.

How beauteous mankind is, that faraway ocean pearl of a girl would say. O, brave new world, that has such people in’t!

But it has been ten years since an audience filled the worn velvet seats. The brick theater has burned to the ground with the company inside it, dashing any hope of a Ferdinand into the filthy harbor water. And so Miranda has wandered the street, growing furtively, a soft-eyed thing caught in the cobblestone cracks. There has been no Prospero to push aside Caliban.

The city is not kind to those who slip into its undertow.

She endures, this sixteen-year-old Miranda with a thick waist, now nothing more than a tattooed tavern girl from the Surrey slums. Sailors with choleric eyes and laudanum breath pluck at her, chanting until their voices blend together like the boy-choirs of Southwark churches.

O wake her, o shake her, o shake that girl with the blue eyes, they say.

O Johnny took a tumble, a tumble with little Miranda Levine.

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2 Responses to “The Ballad of Miranda Levine”

  1. briandrush November 9, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Wonderful as always. I love the way you twist the language into unexpected paths that open stuck windows in the brain: “Sailors with choleric eyes and laudanum breath pluck at her, chanting until their voices blend together like the boy-choirs of Southwark churches.”

    Now I ask myself, where could this story go? Right now, we have a pregnant 16-year-old girl stuck working as a tavern helper and likely destined for a life of prostitution. But that’s too grim and too predictable for a good story. How about:

    1) She falls in with a gang of criminals and she and her little daughter take part in confidence scams until she is caught by the authorities and sentenced to hang. Then:

    a) her sentence is commuted to transportation to America, her child is placed in a foster home, and she rest of the story is Miranda’s long struggle to get her back;

    b) the sentence is carried out, and the rest of the story is about the daughter’s struggles with her own fate;

    c) (much less believable but fun) she is sprung from jail by a revolutionary movement led by an 18th (19th?) century Robin Hood.

    2) To relieve the tedious horror of her life, she begins writing poetry and then moves on to writing plays, and discovers a talent. After many terrible struggles and hardships go by in her life, someone buys and rebuilds the old theatre and she takes her hand-written manuscripts to the new developer (a side story describing how this wretched slattern gets an audience) and he is enchanted and puts on one of her plays, which becomes a huge success. The rest of the story being how she handles this and what it turns her into, and what happens when the opportunistic Johnny tries to come back into her life.

    Other possibilities could also be posed. What do you think?

    • elizabethballou November 10, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

      Very glad you liked it! And I really appreciate you taking the time to outline some possible roads this story could grow into taking. I enjoy both of them, although I think the second one provides more of an opportunity for my style, personally. It’s implied in the songs that both Miranda and her daughter die during childbirth, then haunt the ravine where they died for eternity. But that’s a little, er, depressing. Although stories told from the POV of ghosts are always fun, I think.

      I didn’t much consider going further with this story before you commented, but now I think I may, just to see how Miranda’s character develops. Thanks, as always, for the feedback and inspiration!

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