Macbeth Dies at the End

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

If you bourgie hipster-yuppies ever wondered where we went when you replaced our abandoned factories and crack houses with brewpubs and loft apartments, then I’ll tell you. We never left the Pearl. Sure, we moved to Parkrose and Cully and Beaverton, but we haunt nightly the establishments that were around before you were here to label them “Pearletariat” and “divey.”

But I didn’t sneak past my parents’ bedroom at midnight to discuss rent control or Free People or how farmer’s markets are just so Portland. What’s done is done. My topic tonight is much older than that or you or even this grand, sopping City of Roses. I’m here to find out the answer to a question audiences have been coming back after intermission for since 1600: How does Macbeth end?

It won’t take long for you to figure this out, so let’s remove the means that makes us strangers; I’m not an “A” student. I don’t care what all those buttons do on my calculator, and I don’t care what the toes of a frog look like. I cheat and lie my way through high school. What’s fair is foul and what’s foul is fair. And yeah I do the Sparknote thing. It got me through The Great Gatsby (he dies at the end), The Awakening (she dies at the end), Of Mice and Men (he dies at the end), and 1984 (didn’t finish the summary, but I’m guessing he dies at the end). But, hell, if Macbeth has survived four centuries of war and censorship and drama geeks botching the lead, I should at least give Ole Willy two more hours of my time. Which wouldn’t be bad if I could keep my eyes open. Coach has us doing two-a-days, and I need caffeine and a cast of societal misfits to keep me awake through the final two acts. So here I am.

Coffee Time’s always the same, loveable circus that has served as my midnight community college study buddies since I first started sneaking out Sophomore year: the maniacal barista who won’t take your lip, your special requests, or your credit card (if your purchase is under $5); the macho comic book artist who calls the suicide hotline every fifteen minutes to ask questions you could easily find the answer to on Wikipedia; the comic book artist’s biggest fan, a gossipy, chubby Asian woman who nightly tries to win affection by clipping up magazines into grotesque collages of farm animals; the mom-jean-wearing dancer at the Vegan strip club who rolls her dying pug around in a baby carriage and feeds it banana bread. The main activity in the shop comes from the group of chess players that have a tournament every night from eight until close. This group includes four men all with daggers in their smiles. Two are slobs who gave up on the job hunt years ago; then there’s a lawyer – the only other black dude in the shop – and the man they call the King. The latter has Tourettes and a mullet, wears the same shirt every day (“All three voices in my head think you’re an idiot”), and scares the shit out of the non-regulars by going on absurd boisterous rants about kitchen appliances and pest control. They call him the King because that’s his last name, but also because he takes home the construction paper chess-champ crown almost every night and wears it in the shop the following day. And, yes, like every other piece of paper in the shop, the crown is covered in farm animal collages.

Before you think I’m making fun of these folks, you should know that I need these night urchins. This group has helped me and my C-minus brain breeze through high school. Their collective knowledge has answered every homework question I’ve ever had. Whenever I get stuck, a few times per night usually, I just yell out, “Who the hell knows geometry?” and someone usually comes and does the problem for me. That’s how I found out the stripper is Hispanic (I passed Spanish II without knowing a word of Spanish) and that the collage artist can label every country in Europe. Plus, if no one knows the answer, then the comic book artist knows a guy on the hotline he’s happy to ask for me. He’s got him on speed dial.

But tonight he’s not going to make that call, and I’m not going to yell out asking for help. I’ve got two and a half hours before this place closes, and I’m gonna finish by then. So, what happens to Macbeth?

Let me catch you up. Basically there are these three crazy witches that tell Macbeth he’s going to be king. So Macbeth tells his wife and they have the king over for dinner. The wife convinces Macbeth to kill the king, so he does and frames the servants and then kills them. This effectively makes him king, but then things start to get weird. He and his wife start seeing ghosts and hallucinating, and I think people start to notice how crazy they are being because Macbeth goes back to the crazy witches for some guidance. They say something about some nobleman called Macduff that I didn’t catch but, yeah, that’s about it.

Alright. Got my coffee. Got my seat. It’s the one in the corner, all the characters in view. Act 4. Here goes.

First Witch

Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.

Second Witch

Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.

Third Witch

Harpier cries 'Tis time, 'tis time.

First Witch

Round about the cauldron go;

In the poison'd entrails throw.

Toad, that under cold stone

Days and nights has thirty-one

Swelter'd venom sleeping got,

Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.


Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

The sound of shattering of glass and the barista yells a string of profanity. She scampers to the back and returns with a broom and dustpan. The King departs the chess table and saunters over to the counter.

“Everything alright there, little lady?”

She stops and stares at him from her crouched position. “Don’t call me little lady. And, yes,” she fires back.

“Just be careful there.” His paper crown dips lower on his forehead as he crouches over her, arms akimbo.

I keep reading.

Second Witch

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the cauldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,

Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.


Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Another curse escapes the barrista. She’s bleeding, and looks back up at the King. “You’re going to lose tonight, you know? You can’t win every night.”

He hands her some napkins. “What makes you say that?”

She wraps the napkins around her finger, and she looks up at him dead in the eyes as she stands up.

“Why are you so surprised?” she replies, then turns, and disappears in the back.

“Can you believe her?” the King asks the hipster in the booth closest to the accident.

The hipster continues typing for a moment, then looks up. “Believe what?” he asks nonchalantly.

This hipster is really the only regular who has never helped me. He shows up each night wrapped in a keffiyeh he never takes off, orders a tea he never drinks, and works on his laptop without looking up. He didn’t even look up the time the junkie stood next to him, stretching his arms up to the billowy ceiling, grabbing for his stash. Even the King watched, but that hipster just kept typing away, shifting his eyes back and forth across the screen like he was watching a tennis match. I wouldn’t mind, except you know this dude’s a whiz kid and could probably do calculus blindfolded. He’s an amalgamation of every nerd I’ve ever met or seen in a 1980s chick flick. Skinny and pale with thick glasses and bad allergies, his head so full of thoughts he can’t hold it up straight. A part of me feels a little sorry for him. He’s so lost in his thoughts that he doesn’t notice the passion play of crazies surrounding him. You can get wireless at your house. Why does he even come here?

But, again, I’m not here to find the answer to that question. I’m here to figure out what happens to Macbeth.

The next hour is a blur, interrupted only by a couple shouts of “Checkmate!” from the crew of wretched souls winnowing their way to the exciting conclusion. While this is going on around me, Macbeth does some seriously screwed up stuff. He orders a bunch of people to be killed, including Macduff’s family. I think they escape, but I’m too tired to reread that section. I need to refuel.

Two a.m. is the witching hour at Coffee Time, and each night it is marked by the cheers of the chess players. Tonight the lawyer has defeated slob number two to take on the King in the final match, which begins promptly at 2:30. The barista kicks us out at eight minutes ‘til three (the clocks at Coffee Time run eight minutes fast in the evening and twenty-three minutes slow in the mornings), so everyone gets up for their last cup of the night. And since we’re all sleep deprived and overcaffeinated to begin with, things really start to get strange. Only the regulars are left at this point, and, with the exception of the hipster, we’re all waiting in line for our next cup. The barrista is yelling at the machines. The collage artist chitchats nervously with her love about tonight’s masterpiece, a rooster for her niece. She’s rubbing the glue from her hands furiously. All the while, the comic artist ignores her and gazes at the stripper, who’s feeding her pug small bits of banana bread and chatting to it as though it were a baby.

I’m just as jittery as the rest. I got a double shot in this one, and I want to yell. I want attention. I want to know what happens to Macbeth.


I have two nights watched with you, but can perceive

no truth in your report. When was it she last walked?


Since his majesty went into the field, I have seen

her rise from her bed, throw her night-gown upon

her, unlock her closet, take forth paper, fold it,

write upon't, read it, afterwards seal it, and again

return to bed; yet all this while in a most fast sleep.


A great perturbation in nature, to receive at once

the benefit of sleep, and do the effects of

watching! In this slumbery agitation, besides her

walking and other actual performances, what, at any

time, have you heard her say?

In line, the lawyer interrupts the collage artist, “I’m throwing my towel in early tonight. Who wants my spot? How about you?” She’s still rubbing her hands.

“I’m afraid the pieces will stick to my fingers.” She laughs and looks at her hands. “Out damned glue! Who would have thought one jar would have so much glue!” She laughs again and looks over at the comic artist, now on the phone, asking the hotline volunteer where Dunsinane Hill is. The lawyer passes him.


This disease is beyond my practise: yet I have known

those which have walked in their sleep who have died

holily in their beds.

The lawyer asks the stripper next. “You want in?”

“I’m afraid Mr. Duncan wouldn’t have me leave his side, would you, Mr. Duncan? Would you?” She kneels down and lets the pug lick her face.


Foul whisperings are abroad: unnatural deeds

Do breed unnatural troubles: infected minds

To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets:

More needs she the divine than the physician.

God, God forgive us all! Look after her;

Remove from her the means of all annoyance,

And still keep eyes upon her. So, good night:

My mind she has mated, and amazed my sight.

I think, but dare not speak.

The lawyer approaches me, “You want in?”

“I’m trying to find out what happens to Macbeth,” I reply, half hoping he’ll give me the answer.

“Is that the one with the black man falling for the white chick?”

“I don’t think so – At least, I don’t think he’s black.”

“I don’t remember what happened in that one anyway. He probably died in the end. They always do.”


Not so sick, my lord,

As she is troubled with thick coming fancies,

That keep her from her rest.

His last stop is the hipster.

“You want in?”

“In?” the hipster replies, not looking up.

“Do you want to play chess? I’ve gotta take off early tonight.” The hipster shifts his eyes to the chess table. Everyone in the line is staring at him, anticipating a polite rejection from the milquetoast.



Therein the patient

Must minister to himself.

“Are you headed to bed?” the King asks.

“Directly,” replies the lawyer. “I’m sure this young man will fight you bravely.” The lawyer grabs his trench coat and exits.

The hipster closes his laptop and walks to the chair opposite the King. He sits, the King stares. They start.

I look down at the pages. “What happens to Macbeth?” I whisper.


I have almost forgot the taste of fears;

The time has been, my senses would have cool'd

To hear a night-shriek; and my fell of hair

Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir

As life were in't: I have supp'd full with horrors;

Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts

Cannot once start me.

A yell from the slobs erupts.

“What happened?” the barrista yells from across the room.

“She’s dead. The noob killed the King’s Queen,” says the slob.

She cackles. “See? What I tell you?”

The collage artist gets up to watch. The comic artist follows. I look to the stripper.

“What happens to Macbeth?” I ask her. She shrugs and turns to her pet.

“I’ll ask Mr. Duncan. Do you know what happens to Macbeth, Mr. Duncan?”

No answer.


She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

I glance at my watch. It’s 2:39, and I have thirteen minutes. My legs are shaking, my hands are sweating. The hipster moves his rook. The collage artist rubs her hands. The barista chats with the cappuccino machine that she’s cleaning. The stripper and her pug join the chess audience. The King watches his bishop fall.

“What happens to Macbeth?” I ask the barista.

She keeps grabbing at something on the counter, as if trying to crush a fly. “It was right in front of me a second ago.”


“What was?”

“My knife – What was your question?”

I give her a puzzled look. Then repeat my question.

He makes Tamara eat her children. Hell if I care.”


They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly,

But, bear-like, I must fight the course. What's he

That was not born of woman? Such a one

Am I to fear, or none.

The stripper holds her hands to her mouth. Her gasp escapes with the rest. The King places his opponent’s queen off the battlefield. What’s done cannot be undone. It’s 2:47.

“You’ve got five minutes to get the hell out!” screams the barista.

The crowd doesn’t move. I use this as another opportunity to ask.

“Hey could any of you tell me what happens to Macbeth?” I’m met with silence.

The collage artist rubs her hands slowly. The comic squeezes his phone. The King stares at his king. The hipster stares at his rook. The only sound is the barista groping around for her knife.


I will not yield,

To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet,

And to be baited with the rabble's curse.

The hipster places his fingers on the rook.

The stripper stops petting the pug. The collage artist ceases rubbing her hands. The comic drops his phone. The barista holds the knife up, gazing at her reflection in the shiny dagger. She looks to the clock. She opens her mouth, but I stand up on the table before she can say anything. I scream; I scream as loud as I can, “What happens to Macbeth? WHAT HAPPENS TO MACBETH!”

My face is flushed. A drop of sweat falls from my feverish forehead. The room is still.

The hipster moves his rook. He looks at me. The audience follows his gaze to me. He says, “Macbeth dies at the end. Macduff kills him.” He then turns to the King. “Checkmate.”

The audience erupts in a violent boom.

The night ends like all others. The barista yells at us until we’re all out, with the collage artist being the last one collecting her scraps. I stuff my book in my back pocket and walk out as the barista places the knife in the drawer.

Macbeth dies at the end, but so do we in our own way. The difference between us and Macbeth is that we don’t care about good and evil in Coffee Time. Heroin won’t even get the hipster to look up from his computer, and we laugh at the prank calls to the suicide hotline. We’re just a bunch of soulless silhouettes of our daytime selves in there, amoral shells of humans driven by our needs for caffeine and attention and table space. We walk in, play our role, and walk out; no one hears from each other until we surface for the next midnight session.

The King once told me that everything in life happens twice, first as tragedy then as farce. I see the tragedy in life – the addiction, the poverty, the illness. But I see the farce, too – the dumbest of farces – told by whoever is dumb enough to tell it, whether that may be me or Mr. Duncan or the green copper Portlandia herself, clutching her trident while stooping down to scoop us up so we too can see the farce, to save us from the tragedy, the sound, the fury, the insignificance, the grey and rain.

Across the street, I turn around and stare back at Coffee Time as though I’m Macbeth looking Macduff in the eye, ready to whisper the final words. The barista closes the curtains, turns off the lights, shuts the door, and turns the key.