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Midsummer, Again

Lee Upton


It was that day again, the day when he’d have to terrify the actors. Actors! These particular actors weren’t even legitimate actors. They had no training, no technique. 

Puck couldn’t help sneering. He sneered every time the actors came out to rehearse in the woods. A shaft of light sugared the trees, and the quarry made shirring noises when the wind flew past. 

The actors were too clumsy and slow to have made much progress. Not quite yet—not yet would Puck be needed to sort out anything for fussy, bossy Oberon. Of course the actors would still be badgering one another. Puck still had time to dawdle before he needed to return to make sure his mischief was set into motion. And so Puck wandered farther and farther away from the woodland and into the village, the silly human village where he could find his way into one of the houses and relax as a woman, disappointingly human, was reading a book, the same book she’d read, apparently, night after night for her child kept demanding the same words over and over.

Oh how Puck understood the woman’s ordeal. The boredom, the love and the boredom, and here she was facing the hard cardboard pages again the same way each year at midsummer Puck relived the night of Titania’s abasement and humiliation—the price she paid for her love of one mortal boy. 

 Puck drooped against the woman’s shoulder, near where her child leaned, and the woman straightened herself and shook her hair as if the new weight only required her to spread the bedding closer.

I am a bunny, the woman said, her voice high and strange. Funny, she didn’t look like a bunny. The child stared into the page, repeating his mother’s words. I am a bunny.

  Little boy, aren’t you miserable already by now? Hearing the same story again and again? Worse than immortals: human children and their hunger for repetition. 

I am a bunny, the woman said. Why did the woman and her son still want to be what they weren’t? Puck stared at each page the mother turned. He tilted his head to see what he could of the cover. It was clear that the book wasn’t even made by the mother but by other mortals. Someone was responsible for the book and it wasn’t even the mother. Well, that he could understand—how the words you have to speak might not be your own.

Bunny in the rain under a toadstool. The bunny’s paws gripping the toadstool’s trunk.

The bunny in red overalls and yellow shirt, his black-rimmed ears with their deep interiors, his white whiskers stirring. The leaves fell around him and he punched the air with his paws. 

The mother and her little boy only want to be bunnies? That’s all? That’s enough? The mother and the little boy? Bunnies? 

 It was midsummer and the pattern was not, if Puck could help it, always exactly the same. Someday the most obedient will make the right mistake that unravels the plans of the most arrogant. 

 First, he only has to be a little late. Slow the entire thing down, make a break in the sequence, pop deeper into the mortal world to execute a little extra mischief. And then out. And if you have your own magic you want to use it—your secret magic you’ve been honing all these years, unknown to Oberon.

No one but Puck could know. 

He managed his trick and then he was gone—instantly, pulling his feet from the muddy mortal world with a sucking sound, “puck,” “puck,” “puck.”


The man was an actor. Nothing full-time. Ambitious in the best sense. Wanted to play all parts, any part. And yet he was humble. And easy-going with the little ones, charming them.

Actors—their special form of intelligence. Almost an intelligence aligned to magic but more animalistic. And he certainly was animalistic, with his ears sticking out and his immense jaw. It’s the camera that contours, adds the right shadows. Many actors are unusually delicate boned, skeletal nearly. 

She was glad he wasn’t delicate. No, he was someone you could lean against to hear breath rumbling in his chest. Something instinctual about him. Peaceful, un-defensive. Not what you generally find in actors who are adept at humor. Those actors tend to be neurotic, jumpy, easily offended. Their nerves extend from their bodies like pain-seeking antennae. He was the rare sort—not brooding, but goofily pleased, awed by beauty, appreciative of kindness. He did whatever she asked, but then who wouldn’t? Except for jealous Oberon. The thin-skinned tyrant Oberon.

She stroked the face mooning toward hers, patted the broad chest, his absurd laugh peeling back the thick rubbery cabbage-like leaves of her life and letting in starlight.

The weather had been so crazy. Tides that ran backward. Islands of floating seaweed tangled with the cargo of tires, bicycles, pumps, carburetors, an entire bicycle in a floating wooden box marked Fragile. The sky turning a medicinal purplish black. The corn rotting, the fields flooded, the forests puddle socketed, the perfume of the jasmine rancid. 

Until the actor lay next to her, his hands warming her, his damp breath warming her more. And his charm—no arguments, no competition, no posse of lackeys. His innocent face astonished. As if he believed he woke inside a dream. And yet it was almost as if were accustomed to dreams. He didn’t question happiness or good luck, only stretched his long legs, his self-deprecating jokes making her laugh. 

Had Oberon ever said anything that made her laugh? No, it was all storms, all jealousy and rages, all tricks to break her allegiance to anyone but himself. Jealous Oberon.

Why would Oberon want the little orphaned boy? Was it only because Titania loved the child? And so Oberon must sweep what she loved from her sight and raise that boy in the ranks to obey him. All of his followers held her in disdain, and the boy would be trained likewise. 

And then to humiliate her. Of all ways to humiliate her, Oberon chose love, as if love were the greatest humiliation of all.

But wasn’t that Oberon’s mistake? The actor wasn’t vile. Not at all. His name: Nick.

I’ve been sent a mule and I will love mulishly, Titania whispered into Nick Bottom’s ear. If an actor, a tradesman, a generous weaver, an innocent mortal arrives in my bower don’t expect me to be untainted by love. Don’t expect me not to yearn to hear again such a nuzzling voice. 

Rot the corn. Let the cows go un-milked. Oberon can arrive on his plow horse, can drink my wine and insult the feelings of children and the memory of the dead, but give me an actor who will play all the parts, a pliable mind, a light heart, and I will love quicker than mushrooms rear up in a fen. 

I’ll light the torches and visit human rooms all over again, but don’t expect me to forget I have loved. I have loved in the light of glowworms and on a bed mottled with lichen.

It’s Oberon who blights the apricots, dewberries, the figs. Who’s the prima donna after all? Can you imagine I won’t have my revenge, won’t cut out the horse from under Oberon, won’t from now on prefer the actor in any play we attend? There are more consequences than Oberon ever dreamed of. 

Did Oberon think he drugged me? I knew from the start. I prefer a ticklish man who happily teases Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mustardseed, Moth. And does not suck up fogs with his fantasies of mermaids and dolphins. 

I won’t ever take my place easily again with a demi-god—no, never again—not after I’ve been to bed with a comedian.


You have to make mistakes, but some are worse than others. Wasn’t Puck meant to make mistakes? But this was the worst one yet. 

The mayhem. Dogs sniffing through the woods and the white vans pulling up to the house and the police cars and the shrieking and the knotted, furious, horrified faces. 

Of course suspicion fell on the husband first, although he had an alibi. He had been rehearsing with other amateur actors in the woods, everyone swore by it, and the security camera by the lodge caught him at it. Suspicion then fell on one of the men who repaired the family’s roof a month ago. The man had been seen staring at the mother and her little boy. So the questions started, and the repairman was called in by the police. Hours of questioning. The man lived with his father—his father half-blind and in a wheelchair. The father’s health weakening by the minute. Next thing, the father was on the news crying. 

Puck hadn’t meant to cause more problems than usual. No, he only had wanted to let the woman and her son become what they wanted to be. He hadn’t thought about coyotes or foxes either. Apparently it’s not simple to take a human child and hide the child and the child’s mother without causing awful upset. At least Puck wasn’t like Oberon who would have played a game, would have swept a child into his herd. It was confusing for Puck, all of it. For name me a world—mortal or immortal, human or demigod, that doesn’t sacrifice its children?

Puck swung through the forest. He crept under fallen logs, he batted shrubs, he dredged through streams. He climbed rock piles. He searched, frantic and despairing, until he found, at long last, the mother and boy, both nestled tight in the hollow of a tree. He almost missed them, at first thinking he’d spotted a clump of old leaves. 

The mother and her child would wake the next morning back in their human forms, covered in bits of moss. The child blinking, not shivering. The mother standing on strong legs, both she and her child confused and in the next instant returned to their home.  

Forgetfulness sprinkled over the city, over the town, over the house, over the police station and the news station. Whenever Puck squeezed love from a flower he also squeezed forgetfulness. Never one without the other. Everything would be all right now. It took so much forgetfulness, but forgetfulness was eternal in the mortal world. 

Puck never told Oberon. There was a lot Oberon didn’t know. 

Afterwards, might after night, Puck went again to the mortal woman’s home, nestled with the woman and her child, and listened to the book being read. Soon enough it helped him to sleep, to drift away in dreams. 

Whenever she again read the book to her child the woman would endure the strangest sensations, as if she must be reading not a child’s book but a history book. The history that was left out of all books. She’d endure as well the aching sensation of something precious having been lost.

 In Puck’s dreams it rained and he lived inside that book for children—I Am a Bunny— where he was sheltered under a toadstool’s wide head, under the grey gills of the toadstool until the sun came out and he was chased by frogs, and dandelion seeds blew at his face. When the snow began to fall he hung his shirt on a hook inside the hollow of a tree and slept, far away from the world where immortals played their games that never changed their own world, never made a difference, although their world ran alongside the world of the mother and her child, those two who had once been rabbits hunched in fur. 

Puck envied them, the mother and her child. He even envied their forgetfulness. Maybe someday he’d give them all their memories back—the dew of midsummer, the rustling of drenched leaves, the crisp underside of lilies, the sound of braying beyond the birches, and the smooth hollow of the tree as polished as the inside of a walnut shell. 

And somewhere that taskmaster Oberon, Puck’s eternal enemy, slowly, after centuries, was having the gloss worn off him.

Once a year when night held the dews of summer, the bad actors rehearse, and a woman falls in love with an abomination…and a mother and her son believe they are only dreaming when they are in fact covered with fur, moving through a forest, away from the night terrors, the unknown world of rituals and mischief where what was stolen was never returned. 

And each summer Puck comes to make his mistakes, to ensure the wrong lovers fall in love, to shake from the shrubs whatever he could shake, and then to reverse any mistakes he made. Or so he wants to believe. He will give the world the finest hallucinogens in a glen and he will wet eyelids with laughter. What are mistakes, after all, when one world can fold, again and again, into the next, when the mortal world is a mucky sucking fen where the bee fumbles? 

And Titania, every year she watches a little boy snatched from her arms. And every year she leaves her senses, kicking the best fool out of her bed.


Lee Upton’s most recent book is a collection of poetry, The Day Every Day Is (Saturnalia 2023). Her comic novel—Tabitha, Get Up—will appear in May 2024.


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