Gertrude talks back

by Margaret Atwood

I always thought it was a mistake, calling you Hamlet. I mean, what kind of  name is that for a young boy?  It was your father's idea. Nothing would do but that you had to be called after him?  Selfish. The other kids at school used to tease the life out of you. The nicknames! And those terrible jokes about pork. 
I wanted to call you George. 
I am not wringing my hands. I'm drying my nails. 
Darling, please stop fidgeting with my mirror. That'll be the third one you've broken. 
Yes, I've seen those pictures, thank you very much. 
I know your father was handsomer than Claudius. High brow, aquiline nose and so on, looked great in uniform. But handsome isn't everything, especially in a man, and far be it from me to speak ill of the dead, but I think it’s about time I pointed out to you that your dad just wasn't a whole lot of fun. Noble. Sure, I grant you.  But Claudius, well, he likes a drink now and then. He appreciates a decent meal. He enjoys a laugh, know what I mean? You don't always have to be tiptoeing around because of some holier-than-thou principle or something. 
By the way, darling, I wish you wouldn't call your stepdad the bloat king. He does have a slight weight problem, and it hurts his feelings. 
The rank sweat of what?  My bed is certainly not enseamed, whatever that might be! A nasty sty, indeed! Not that it's any of your business, but I change those sheets twice a week, which is more than you do, judging from that student slum pigpen in Wittenberg. I'll certainly never visit you there again without prior warning! I see that laundry of yours when you bring it home, and not often enough either, by a long shot! Only when you run out of black socks. 
And let me tell you, everyone sweats at a time like that, as you'd find out if you ever gave it a try. A real girlfriend would do you a heap of good. Not like that pasty-faced what's-her-name, all trussed up like a prizes turkey in those touch-me-not corsets of hers. If you ask me, there's something off about that girl. Borderline. Any little shock could push her right over the edge. 
Go get yourself someone more down-to-earth. Have a nice roll in the hay. Then you can talk to me about nasty sties. 
No darling, I am not mad at you. But I must say you're an awful prig sometimes. Just like your Dad. The Flesh, he'd say. You'd think it was dog dirt. You can excuse that in a young person, they are always so intolerant, but in someone his age it was getting, well, very hard to live with and that's the understatement of the year. 
Some days I think it would have been better for both of us if you hadn't been an only child. But you realize who you have to thank for that. You have no idea what I used to put up with. And every time I felt like a little, you know, just to warm up my aging bones, it was like I'd suggested murder. 
Oh!  You think what? You think Claudius murdered your Dad? Well, no wonder you've been so rude to him at the dinner table! 
If I'd known that, I could have put you straight in no time flat. 
It wasn't Claudius, darling. 
It was me.

 

 

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