Skulls

A woman holds a human skull in her hands. She sits with a group of students in a circle of tables. She alternates which hand holds the skull, playfully moving it between the two like a tennis ball, even spinning it in the air at one point like a ball. She catches it. She hands the stage prop around for us to examine. The color is too bright. The skull looks too light. There are no imperfections.  There is a piece of plastic bound to the back of the skull. The jaw opens and closes, there is a click. This is not a real skull. But it is a skull. It’s a sunny day. She is writing something about skulls. She has been criticized.

The skull comes to a young man, he sits near the end of the circle. A person in the class appears particularly preoccupied by the presence. One could say bothered. She sits next to the young man. He watches her in his periphery as he fiddles with the skull. She recoils when he makes the jaw pop. He wants to tell her that it’s okay, that it won’t bite. But class isn’t the place to sooth someone’s irrational feelings. He hands the skull to her.

When she receives the skull her hands moves up, she anticipated it being heavier. She anticipated it to feel like her skull, without the muscles and blood and veins and brains. Like hers, but lighter. But it isn’t a real skull. It’s just a skull. She comes around to the notion of holding a prop skull. A smile escapes at one point; she may even be enjoying herself. The young man had anticipated that she wouldn’t even want to hold it, and would yield her turn with the skull. So much for what one anticipates.

The first woman tells the class about a Polish pianist who wanted his own skull to be used in Hamlet. The class is shocked. The young man finds it interesting. Who cares what happens to your skull when you’re dead? Isn’t this man living the dream? To continue living once one has died? Anyway, there were complications. It wasn’t so simple as to whether or not they could use the skull. The question of the audience arose. Does one tell the audience that it is a real human skull? And not just a skull? But that wasn’t the primary concern. They didn’t want to detract publicity away from the guy from Dr. Who. Please fill out the following questionnaire:

There are two productions of the Royal Shakespeare Company next door to each other. One stands there with one’s hypothetical date, after having consumed a hypothetical romantic dinner. Both productions are of Hamlet.  Does one:

1) Attend the performance of Hamlet starring the actor from Dr. Who who has received unanimously positive critical reviews or does one

2) Attend the performance of Hamlet that utilizes the actor from Dr. Who as well as a 25-year-old real human skull that has been sitting in a box until now, until tonight, when it will be held by another real human being, and it is a secret kept from the audience, except for one, obviously and lastly

3) How can one tell the difference?

Thank you for the interest in our questionnaire.

One sits down. One’s date goes to the bathroom. One’s date returns and sits down next to one. The curtain comes up. The gravedigger scene arrives. There is a skull. There is also potentially a real human skull.  The scene passes. The play continues on. It ends. Both audiences are uniformly convinced that theirs is the one with the real human skull. And not just a skull.

The second woman in class is still the holding the skull. She is nearly done examining it. She has safely concluded for herself that it isn’t a real human skull. It’s just a skull.

The first woman from class speaks up. She has been lying to us. It isn’t just a skull. It is actually a real human skull. And we have all been touching it. Real human remains.  People start screaming. People hurl indignant insults, and claim personal vendettas against the first woman. One woman flips over a table and sets it on fire punching her chest and screaming with her throat clicking. Lawsuits are promised. Limbs will be mutilated. Some people calm down. The first woman begins to speak again. She has been lying to us again. It isn’t a real human skull. It’s just a skull. People look confused. People look indignant. People still seem upset. Most seemed relieved. The woman who started the fire politely puts it out. She hopes nobody reports her. The young man and the second woman are still sitting next to each other, examining the skull, hardly noticing the carnival. Because it’s not a real human skull. It’s just a skull.

We know what we believe. And we believe what we know.

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