Gregory Dally – Void of Souls

Gregory Dally
Void of Souls

Tagline
Some disasters leave humanity in a shadow so vast that it obscures the tragedy.

Characters
1918:
HARRY         New Zealander. He has an air of thoughtful containment and melancholy.
LIAM             Australian. A reformed wild man, uncultured but loyal.
TORVALD    Norwegian. A precise thinker and a reliable friend.

Current era:
AURELIA    Irish pathologist. She has the manner of someone used to commanding attention.

Costuming and Staging
The men are in period attire consistent with a cold environment—heavy trousers, duffel coats, boots. Aurelia is in modern sub-zero clothing.
      The performance space has a bisection: the left is the present; the right is late 1918. The men remain shy of the left; Aurelia never crosses over either.
      There is an optional visual effect: the Aurora Borealis.

HARRY and TORVALD emerge. Harry is staggering about, arms folded, coughing profusely.
LIAM enters. Torvald and Liam observe Harry anxiously. Torvald starts guiding Harry towards the front.

LIAM    Harry, cobber, let’s get you some whiskey, eh? Medicinal tonic. There’s a bar on the island.

Harry stumbles away from Torvald’s guidance and Liam’s advance.

HARRY    Better keep your distance.

LIAM    Careful on the ice. You’ll slide into the drink.

TORVALD    (Whispering) It might be a good idea to keep him away from other passengers.

Liam joins Torvald in steering Harry again, towards the front.

LIAM    I think you’re right, Torvald. If he’s got that lurgy they had in Frisco, it’s best to keep him off the ship, isolate him on shore.

TORVALD    I’ll call the captain. He’ll probably get him a bed in a cottage.

LIAM    Harry! Easy. The jetty’s not steady.

Liam draws Harry with him, away from Torvald. Harry collapses near the front. Torvald and Liam sit on opposing sides of him.

TORVALD    Harry, how are you?

HARRY    Not too bloody good, mate.

LIAM    Hell. You look like…

Now supine, Harry shakes his head. His friends share an apprehensive glance.

HARRY    (Upper class accent) Fresh fields, eh, chaps? Tally ho. The Promised Land. (Laughing, coughing viscerally.) This is it—the end.

LIAM    (Suppressed alarm) They did say this was the end of the world, eh.

HARRY    So this is how Captain Cook felt–in Hawaii. (Exhales.) Minus the heat.

LIAM    Minus, alright. Minus ten. (Sniggers.) And you thought Garston was cold. (Pause.) Cook in Hawaii, huh? It’s not that dire, is it?

HARRY    (Laughs, splutters) Hey, Liam.

Harry gestures Liam to approach. The Australian shuffles near.

HARRY    (Confidentially) D’you remember your, um, declaration of solidarity?

LIAM    You’ve lost me.

HARRY    What you said on the journey, that time I whipped your arse at quoits–that we’re like brothers now, like the real Anzacs down in Europe, the ones who didn’t have fallen arches or other excuses like us. (Pause.) You should probably think again about your promise—you know, that you’d die for me.

LIAM    (Quietly) Oh, Haz. You don’t wanna joke like that.

HARRY    I’m out of jokes. The rations are gone.

TORVALD    I think he means it.

LIAM    Come on, Harry. Who’s gonna excavate all that ore now, eh? You came all this way to get it, you silly bugger. You’ve gotta be tough, that’s all.

HARRY    Tough, huh? My Maori buddy Jack always said that. ‘Kia kaha, Harry. Stay strong.’ Easy advice. (Laughing) Not that it helped his mates, all carking it one by one out there in the sticks in Taranaki.

TORVALD    Sticks?

HARRY    Country, Tor. The countryside. In their maraes.

Harry inclines himself away from the others. Choking and coughing, he scrunches desperately into an embryonic position. Concerned, Torvald and Liam chat inaudibly.

AURELIA ENTERS, carrying a book and a steaming mug. Placing the mug down, she addresses the audience as though they are her colleagues. She can sit on the edge of the space or stand.

TORVALD STANDS AND EXITS. Throughout Aurelia’s monologue, the other men are in a silent parallel to her modern era. Harry is breathing heavily, ailing; Liam embraces him comfortingly. Eventually TORVALD RETURNS with a blanket, drapes this around Harry and sits next to them. Liam is distraught, Torvald stoic. Aurelia holds up the book. She is subdued, but determined.

AURELIA    Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Got it in Seattle on the flight up. One of the few novels about the flu. (Laughs.) Man, I really am a virus hound–even in my spare time. I’ve got the bug, ha ha. If you’ve never heard of this book, fair enough. You haven’t heard of any items of fiction about Spanish Lady, have you? For some reason, not many people sat at their keyboards and started out like, ‘Flu killed all my friends.’ There’s minimal homage out there for twenty or forty million—whatever total you accept. In our research for this expedition, some references cited eighty million. (Pause.) And where are the Ground Zero memorials for the Lady’s fatalities? Oh, there are some. Longyearbyen, Boston, Alaska, the Fort Riley Monument in Kansas, where the epidemic might’ve started. There aren’t pilgrimages to them, though, are there? (Recalling.) ‘The most lethal pandemic ever.’ The single most deadly incidence of a virus. One of the plagues killed more, yes, the one-hundred-and-fifty-year one, but the Spanish Flu caused its attrition in a year or less. (Pause.) And apart from our vocation, who even spares it a thought? (Sneering) You’d think everyone should be into it, not just pathologists. (Pause.) You try to stay detached. They’re just subjects, not people, yada yada. There’s something about these ones, though–so pristine after all this time. (Raises her mug.) Salut, permafrost, an ally to our profession—and to the world, if the tissue samples we glean here yield a preventative or cure. (Smiles.) It’s impossible to understand why such a scale of horror hasn’t osmosed into the global consciousness more than it has. Covid’s given it cameos in the news. Yay, the pandemic. (Snorts.) It’s like no one wants to know about it. ‘Bring out your dead’ was almost a romantic slogan by comparison. (She looks right, through the adjacent tableau of travellers.) Where’s the romance for these wallflowers, the inhabitants of that illustrious little boneyard over there, our extractions? (She waves the novel.) Pale Rider is a measly epitaph for so many losses. (Pause.) The plagues, Dub Dub One and Two, AIDS—you name the calamity, there’s a buttload of fiction to eulogize it. (Laughs.) And then there’s this unexpressed vacuum that these poor sods fell into, and countless others globally. It’s like the rest of us have left them void of souls. They’ve been deleted from our minds, God help us. That’s quite a trick. Los Desaparecidos. They’re the out-of-mind experience for humanity. (Quietly) You know how you dislike someone just because they remind you of aspects of yourself that you despise? (Laughs.) You’re thinking, ‘What’s Aurelia on about now?’ (Pauses, sighs.) I reckon those forgotten tens of millions are like that. A curtain’s been raised against them, for fear of even recognizing something so…so insufferable. Maybe we comprehend evil in ourselves—or our human enemies—but can’t take the reality of such ruin from the invisible inside us. (Pause.) But plagues and AIDS and Covid were inside us, you say? (Chortles.) Plagues? Everyone blamed evil spirits and bearded ladies, then fleas and pets. AIDS? Monkey phobia, homophobia. Covid had the amplification of modern media. The flu? That’s sort of just us, to the standard logic. (Pause.) The original microscopic massacre—a tragedy too insidious for us to glorify.

As the men’s scene reactivates, AURELIA EXITS reverently, taking her book and mug. Harry sobs. Leaning away from the audience, he splutters uncontrollably, seemingly vomiting. He gazes abstractedly past his friends.

HARRY    I’d left all this behind. All those bodies slung across Hagley Park, my brother somewhere in that festering heap. Standing there, (Snorts.) I couldn’t help thinking about us playing tiggy with mates, and how he always got caught. Me? Never. (Pause.) I thought I’d escaped it.

LIAM    You made it here. You’ll make it through.

HARRY    Look at them, our lucky fellow passengers.

TORVALD    (Sympathetically.) The captain should be here soon, and the doctor.

HARRY    Oh, look at your face, Tor. You know you are looking at your deaths in mine, you and Liam. You know that this (Pointing at himself.) is your future.

Leaning away again, he makes a rasping, guttural cough.

TORVALD    Oh, Harry. Soon you’ll have no blood left.

LIAM    Is there nothing we can do to help him?

Torvald is looking at the area into which Harry is coughing.

TORVALD    It’s no good, Liam. The blood is coming from his lungs. (Yelping.) Herregud! The snow!

LIAM    What’s that stuff? Torvald, hold his head up so he doesn’t choke. Let’s get that crap out of his mouth.

Torvald obliges. Liam is facing away and Harry is partly obscured. Liam appears to be clearing Harry’s mouth.

HARRY    (Deliriously.) This is my halo, yes? (Laughs.) Liam, I’ve got a holy glow in the snow—a nice red halo.

Harry shrieks, an uninhibited outlet of grief. Liam and Torvald scoop Harry up. Carrying him, THEY EXIT.

Optional visual effect: a suggestion of the Aurora Borealis; kinetic, psychedelic tones. This can last until the finish.

AURELIA RETURNS, carrying some flowers and a sheet of paper that has text on it. She stands facing the audience and conducts a self-styled memorial. Sometimes dropping flowers, she refers to the sheet only cursorily during an eloquent address.

AURELIA    God bless these people we study. Unlike many unrecorded ones, at least they have the dignity of identities, the integrity of names. (Reading) Royle, Henry—brackets, Harry. Jolly, Stella. (Pause.) Armitage, Liam. (Pause.) Stigsen, Torvald.

She bows her head devoutly. TORVALD ENTERS coughing and stands near the front. He has a Bible and flowers. He stifles his coughing and delivers a tremulous eulogy. To him, the audience are other mourners in 1918. His composure is fragile; his strained English has an impassioned elegance.

Aurelia stays in a venerating pose, observing a period of silence.

TORVALD    This is…How would Liam say it?…a shitty little place. If we stand here much longer, we will freeze to statues, as still as him and the others.

Torvald almost seems to regard the modern day scientist for a moment, then readdresses the audience. As he continues, Aurelia looks up. Softly, restrained, she hums ‘Danny Boy.’ This is a consonance to Liam’s conclusion. As his requiem finishes, she might sing several lines.

TORVALD:    I could never forget that awful complexion they had, the colour of extinction–a strong purple, like lavenders. (Pause.) I’m sorry, Harry, Liam, that we can’t give you anything better than terrible crosses of wood to value your terrible deaths, your wonderful lives. You and these other unfortunates from the ship and this island deserve much more. But, dear ones, your deaths were so huge, we had to use dynamite to bury you! (Laughs.) It’s a pity you missed the explosions, Liam. You loved a good…How’d you say?…scrap, a fight. We had to fight to get you all under this cold, hard ice which has no life in it but yours. It freezes the earth and it holds you all, young always. (Coughs, places the Bible down, starts throwing flowers.) Liam predicted that the Aurora would appear by this time of our arrival. Heavenly colours fill the sky to honour our friends, to farewell them. (Pause.) In the end, we can offer them only flowers…and our love, which soon may vanish too. Harry would call me insincere if I speak of a God, (Snorting) as he put it, a godforsaken God. So I’ll just say,…you take with you the grace you brought to this world. I think he would accept that.

Aurelia’s humming or singing diminishes.

OUT

Lynda Sexson – A Bestiary in Three Acts

A Bestiary in Three Acts
by Lynda Sexson

Act One: Kindly Pry Clams on Finely Grained Sand

 
 
 
                            Clams, even clams, love the moon, swelling and shrinking by

                            lunatic tides.

 
He told her he loved her by all available, ephemeral means: sand, sex, song.
 

She made notes on the impossibility of love in an old, water-stained bank ledger.
 
“What shall we do? What shall we do?” she asked.

 
She put on her red dress.
 
They ran as the outgoing tide seized their ankles and ran as the incoming tide swept their
 
knees. The bivalves stayed put, their blowholes punctuating footprint sentences and
 
squirting exclamations.
 
                            A clam’s life is spelled out in its shell, just like tree rings tell of 
 
                            lean years and fat. But clams do not read the books that bind them.
 
                            They filter
, she wrote in her ledger.
 
“Happy as a clam,” he said; “a clam is happy at high tide.”
 
“Pathetic fallacy,” she said, and the clams clicked their approval like castanets.
 
A clam is headless. No nose, no eyes, for love is blind. He called her cell. A clam has no
 
ears. Love is deaf.
 
 
And when the stars came out he asked, “Would you climb under this blanket?”
 
 
She took off her red dress and opened her slippery thoughts, sighing like a wave, longing
 
to leave.
 
The clams, attuned to the tides, considered voyages. Packed up in their own steamer
 
trunks, they made their way to the best part of traveling, which is not the getting up and
 
going, but being pulled and rebuffed by a force that the sea calls love.
 
“We fit together like love,” he said.
 
The waves whispered over the clams:
 
 Some are ruffled.

 
Some are razored.
 
Some are hermaphrodites.
 
Some are steamers.
 
Some are chowder.

 
And some are blue.
 
As restless tides churned beneath the moon in its last aspect, she put on her red dress.
 
“Travelling will not find love lying in wait,” he said. “Don’t leave.”
 

Clams have a saying, heartless as a human.
 
Clams live alone, snug in their own two halves. A man clam seeds the ocean; a woman
 
clam spawns in the sea. No love lost between them, not in all the orgasmic deep. And
 
though foamy sperm might meet briny egg and couple into a clam, that clam will come to
 
rest, to say that travelling is for infants. And love is for the sea.
 
She was the sort that was, as Aristotle reasoned, cool and damp. She was clammy.
 

He was the sort that was, as Hamlet dreamed, bounded in a shell. He was clammed up.
 
“We are the same species, yet we are only superficially plausible: specious,” she said, “as
 
clammy is to clammed up is to blue. Linnaeus has work to do.”
 
She stepped into her heels so high he said she looked hatchet-footed, pelecypod.
 
She left.
 
                            She wrote in her ledger.
 
                            Absorbing methane, the oceans will dissolve the shells of the clams.
 
                            They have nowhere to go as we all go down.

 
A clam is like a forsaken lover sandcastling the shore.
 
 

*

 
 

Act Two: Lashes to Ashes, Lust to Dust

 
 
 
 
Her old ledger’s embossed letters led her to a bank on the historical register. She took a
 
job that offered benefits and bonuses: a Christmas savings bond and a presidential coin
 
for the New Year.
 
She sorted cash in her till, rolled coins from piggy banks, and gave away calendars with
 
auspicious days she’d already circled.
 
From behind her scrolled grille she classified her depositors as predators, scavengers,
 
parasites. She was keen to identify another category.
 
Her boss watched from his mahogany desk surrounded by a cast bronze railing. He
 
cornered her in the vault when she was switching her New Year dollar for a Seated
 
Liberty.
 
He hunted her after bankers’ hours, getting down on one knee, pledging to love her
 
wholly and solely.
 
“You’ll adapt from predator to parasite? Better to go for my throat than to sip upon me
 
drop by drop.”
 
“You will love me too,” he said.

 
“Even a banker desires a symbiont,” she said.
 
                            Linnaeus considered legs, eggs, and cryptogamae;
 
                            relocated the whale, fish to mammal; abolished vermes.
 
                            But his taxonomy only had room for reproduction,
 
                            nothing for love.

 
The banker stole a kiss as she transferred mining stock into her own name.
 
“We might be commensals,” she said, “oblivious, inflicting no harm.”
 
He heard complaints: as she conducted transactions she might say trombones instead of
 
76, or a big fat hen instead of ten, or for god so loved the world in place of 316. She
 
counted out Washingtons folded into mushroom clouds. She learned how to fold a spider.
 
She took home banded stacks of twenties to practice.
 
She freely dispensed information alongside withdrawals. “Eyelash bears. Order:
 
arachnida. Same as spiders,” she said, handing over an eight-legged, origamied twenty.
 
“Right before our eyes. In our lashes. Semi-transparent and microscopic. Burrowing and
 
hungry. I am a teller, I tell. They look like greedy popes in the Eighth Circle, their heads
 
in holes, their tails sticking up. They are mites, going by the name of Fat Worm of the
 
Follicles: Demodex folliculorum.”
 
She added zeros in the computer and slipped money into her blouse.
 
                            As the planet heats up, creatures will perish
 
                            outside their thermal niche.
 
She bookmarked her ledger with a Ben.
 
She waited cheerfully for robbers.
 
But before masked men showed up, she was fired.
 
After firing her, the banker took her to a great seafood restaurant. She turned her face
 
away from the clams.
 
He had read up. He tendered his new knowledge: “Like the best of pets, never defecating.
 
Their penises are strategically tucked between their first and second leg. In a week the
 
babies are babes and the old ones are corpses, decomposing in the blink of an eyelash.”
 
She said, “Lashes to ashes, lust to dust.”
 
He began to cry.
 
“When you weep, do the bears drown?” she asked.
 
A piggy bank was as likely to be slotted into Systema naturae as love was to be
 
embezzled from a bank.
 

**

 
 
 

Act Three: This Thornbush, My Thornbush

 
 
 
                            The echidna will dream, but only if it’s not too cold.
 
                            When it’s warm enough for milk to curdle?
 
                            When it’s hot enough to fry a sidewalk egg?

 
 
She wrote along the saltwater stains in her ledger.
 
Her flight was delayed. Again.
 
                            In cool weather the nocturnal echidna goes forth in the daytime,
 
                            though its dreams hatch in heat.
 
                            Humans once claimed that the echidna, unlike other mammals,
 
                            did not dream, but rearranged its furniture all night.

 
She scribbled and fidgeted in the tiny, duct-taped airport.
 
                            Climate change changes the planet;
 
                            dreams will ignite like wadded paper.

 
A man staked her out, bailed her, and opened his briefcase to show off a portable bar. He
 
offered to make her a drink with Orange Crush from the vending machine.
 
She ignored him.
 
                            Storms will find our dreams like keys on a kite.
 
He tried again: “You here for the opals and boomerangs, ay?”
 
She said she had come for the echidna.
 
“Roasted one once,” he said; “she was of a delicate flavor.”
 
He read that somewhere. Although eager to eat a solitary little animal, he could read.
 
She’d have the drink. Just the Orange Crush, none of the stuff in the briefcase.
 
At last she wedged in among passengers.
 
                            Even our neurons are spiny.
 
The man boarded, his flying bar sacrificed to security. He removed the person in the next
 
seat, saying she was his fiancée.
 
She pretended to sleep.
 
                            Between dreaming and loving is probably only a degree or two.
 
                            So many dreams are bad, why expect more from love?

 
She’d return to the man she left on the other side of the globe. She’d return to arrange her
 
bookshelf of things with spines, except for books:
 
hedgehog,
 
pincushion,
 
prickly pear,
 
pufferfish,
 
thistle,
 
St Sebastian,
 
porcupine,
 
pineapple,

 
pinecone,

 
hairbrush,
 

thornapple,
 

echidna.
 

The plane landed; she scurried for a taxi to her hotel.
 
                            Like the man in the moon, the echidna is cursed to carry
 
                            a bundle of sticks on his back forever.

 
                            A hedgehog might desire a hairbrush.

 
                            Morphology is love’s at-first-sight fallacy.
 
                            Because Linnaeus could not account for variation,
 
                            there’s no slot for love.

 
The echidna disorders the Mammalia column, disrupting the definition. Men echidnas
 
form love trains. Ms Echidna chooses one from the lineup and lays a reptilian egg.
 
Tucking her puggle into her pocket until it grows too bristly, she abandons it to venture
 
alone, to feed at a termite cathedral, to burrow quickly at the sound of dogs or scent of
 
cat.
 
She called down to the lobby to report the broken window, shards on the carpet.
 
“It’s not going to rain now, is it?” said the desk clerk. “You won’t get cold; your bloke’s
 
on his way up.”
 
“You can’t give a stranger my room number.”
 
“Says you’re his fiancée.”
 
She slipped out the side entrance and went to the airport to book a flight across the
 
Pacific.
 
She would go back to her old love to live like a bramble by the sea.
 

***

Irving Greenfield – Bobby Lee

Bobby Lee
by Irving Greenfield

Act 1 scenes ii through iv

In the opening scene, General Robert E. Lee, who is dead and who was also the leader of the Confederate Army of America during the American Civil War, describes his upbringing as a Southern plantation owner, raised primarily by his mother and three aunts. He tells how he attended West Point, where he met many of the men he would later fight with and against. He describes his marriage to a sickly wife, whom he respected, and how he, “a simple country boy,” became the leader of Confederate Army.

ACT 1, scene ii

SETTING: same as the previous one, except there is now a sash and a sword in addition to the Confederate officer’s coat and campaign hat.

AT THE RISE: LEE steps out of the darkness at the rear of the stage, puts on his coat and hat and faces the audience.

LEE: With a few words my life was changed. I was fifty-six years old. I held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and I had just been ordered to give it up.

(beat)
Whatever emotions I felt, I held in check as I had always done since childhood. But I can tell you they were powerful. Perhaps the most powerful feeling that took hold was not anger, as you might think,  but one of loss; tremendous overwhelming loss. And yes, betrayal. So intense were those feelings that I almost stumbled when I left General Scott’s office. I had served my country all of my adult life, and now . . .

(beat)
I did not immediately return to Arlington. Instead, I rode along the bank of the Potomac. I needed to be alone. I could not let Mary or my children see my grief.

(paces back and forth)
When I finally felt in absolute control of my emotions, I returned home. And that night at dinner, I told Mary what had happened. She did not as why General Scott had asked for my resignation. For several moments she remained silent; then she said, “What is God’s will, is God’s will. We will put our trust in him.”

(beat)
At that moment, I did not know whether my self-control would shatter; fragment, the way glass does when it is struck with a hammer, or whether I would laugh insanely? But neither of those things happened. Mary and I shared a profound religious belief. It was part of the glue that held us together. It took the place of – –

(stops and faces the audience)
I wanted my pain assuaged by the softness of her womanliness. But that was not going to happen. She came to me, took hold of my hand and kneeling beside, she began to pray. I bowed my head, knelt next to her and joined her in prayer.

(beat)
I tended my resignation on April twelfth, eighteen sixty-one to Mister Simon Cameron, the Secretary of War, the day before Virginia seceded from the Union. But in my letter to General Scott, I wrote, “Save in defense of my native state, I shall never draw my sword.”

(chuckles with satisfaction)
But I did not remain a civilian very long. In May I was appointed Commander of the Confederate Army and given the rank of Brigadier General. Shortly after I took command, I renamed the army The Army of Northern Virginia. My rank and the army’s name remained the same through out the war. By accepting the post, I immediately committed treason. The enormous weight of that word rested heavily on my shoulders. Had I become another Lucifer? I took time to reread John Milton’s “PARADISE LOST,” and found myself wondering if we – – the Confederacy – – was about to wage “impious war” and like Lucifer, would be cast into hell? I did not believe “it was better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

(beat)
During the next four years, I would know hell many, many, many times. The physical hell of battle and the terrible personal torment of doubt.

(begins to pace again, stops and faces the audience)
In retrospect, there were only two battles that mattered. And I lost both.

(beat)
Gettysburg was the first. That lasted for four scorching July days in eighteen sixty-three. The second lasted for almost two years – – until I surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia on April ninth, eighteen sixty-five.

(moves behind the table and sits)
Gettysburg . . . Gettysburg . . . Gettysburg . . . I can repeat the name a hundred times, even ten thousand times. And each time would be an incantation to undo what I had done. But that will never happen. It will always be. I had not just blundered; I had blundered badly.

(beat)
After it, I went to Richmond and offered my resignation to President Davis, but he would not accept it.

(beat)
Those of you who have read about the battle know that I did not choose to fight there. It happened. I did not know where General Mead’s forces were. By the time I found out, It was too late. He had moved his men into position. Oddly, my army was to the north of his.

(beat)
It is not my intention to recapitulate the battle. Much was been written about it, and no doubt much more will be written about it. But from my perspective – – the now that I exist in – – there were two major factors that contributed to my defeat. The Union took and held two positions on the left of Cemetery Ridge: Big Round Top and Little Round Top. From them the Union troops could fire into the ranks of the men who were trying to gain the ridge.

(beat)
Even with enfilading fire from those positions, some of Picket’s men were able to reach the guns on the ridge and were killed in ferocious hand to hand fighting.

(beat)
Pickett’s charge was my last hope of rescuing my original plan, which was either to capture Washington or surround it, and thereby force the Union to come to terms. At the time, I saw it as the only viable way of achieving my end. I had not counted on the ferocity of the Union’s response, although I had encountered that ferocity in various battles that preceded Gettysburg.

(beat)
General Longstreet was the only one of my Commanders who counseled against the attack. He reminded me of mu assault on Chest Mountain, which is in now what is known as West Virginia; and a similar attack I ordered on Malvern Hill during the Peninsular Campaign. But assaults failed. I answered Longstreet that I had not forgotten either event; and that I was fully aware of the consequences both good and bad of the action I proposed. But all of the other Commanders were in accord with my view. I also believed in the will of my men to win over insuperable odds.

(beat)
If I felt that I lacked anything or anyone, it was General Jackson. He was the most aggressive of any of my Commanders until he was wounded by one of his own men at Chancellorsville and died six days later. And, yes; I considered him my strong right arm.

(beat)
The previous day’s fighting at Gettysburgh in the Wheat Field was so fierce that the water in the stream running through it turned red from the blood of those men who were trying to cross it. The battle seesawed. The advantage passed to us, then back to the Union Forces. And again back to us. It went that way through the long hot afternoon. But as the shadows lengthened Mead’s men gained the ground and held it. We were forced to fall back.

(beat)
All that stood between me and my goal was the Union Army’s position on Cemetery Ridge. If we could gain it and hold it, General Mead would have to pull his army back toward Washington, and I would follow in hot pursuit. Victory was still within my grasp, or so I believed.

(moves toward the other chair, and looks at the uniform for several moments before he speaks)
I did not know at the time that the Confederacy had suffered a stunning defeat at Vicksburg, and that the Union and gained control of the entire length of the Mississippi from St Louis to New Orleans.

(beat)
Oh yes, I knew that General Grant was in Command of the Union forces at Vicksburgh, but in truth I believed that General Johnston would out maneuver him.

(walks slowly to the center of the stage, clears his throat)
I ordered General Pickett to move forward and take the Union position. The distance between Pickett’s men and ridge was about eight hundred yards, about half a mile sloping gently upwards until it became very steep, indeed, near the top.

(beat, then in a stage whisper)
It was surprisingly quiet. Just the sounds of thousands of men moving, their footfalls. I do remember hearing any small arms fire. Traveler, my mount,  was oddly nervous and I had to steady him down.

(beat, in a normal voice)
Pickett’s men walked very slowly, almost strolled. Then, a few began to lope. By the time they were half way up to the ridge, they began to run and yell.

(with excitement)
Traveler pawed the ground and snorted.

(with even more excitement)
The men, now, were three quarters of the way to the top. I allowed myself to think that General Mead, like so many of the Union Commanders I had faced, turned tail and pulled back.

(beat)
Almost as quickly as thoughts of a bloodless victory entered my head, the Union guns blazed out their deadly fire. The first volley tore apart the ranks of the running men.Volley after volley smashed into Pickett’s men. The rifle fire from the Big and Little Round Tops was just as deadly.

(yelling)
I wanted to shout, Fall back . . . Fall back . . . Fall back! But I remained silent.

(beat)
Slowly, I realized the Mead must have reinforced his position during the night; and that he had more stomach for a fight than I previously believed he had.

(beat)
Again and again the Union guns fired. The dark angel of death hovered over that slope, and like a demented farmer harvested his crop. The dead and the dying, like so many grotesques, were scattered everywhere.

(beat)
Suddenly through the pall of smoke, I saw our flag raised above the ridge. Others saw it too, and a huge shout rose from those who watched the carnage. But almost as soon as we saw it, the flag vanished.

(beat)
Pickett’s men could do no more. They turned and fled the field.

(beat, the with sadness)
I rode out to meet them. I went alone. Over and over again  to those who stopped to look at me, I said, “I am sorry . . . I am sorry.” An old timer with a gray beard and fierce blue eyes stopped and looked up at me. “You done hurt us bad, General. Done hurt us bad.” And then he ran with the others.

(beat)
In their eyes, I read their feelings of betrayal. They had trusted me, and I had violated their trust for my own purpose. My words were scarce comfort to their pain. In less than an hour, half of Pickett’s division had been killed or wounded. I wanted to weep, but I could not show my pain. I lowered my head and rode back to our lines.

(beat)
That night it rained. I ordered the Army of Northern Virginia to retreat. Mercifully, General Mead did not pursue us. Had he, the war would have been over. My men were too exhausted to fight. We had been badly mauled, and now we were going back to Virginia to lick our wounds.

(removes his coat and hat and walks back into the darkness at the rear of the stage).

 

ACT 1, scene iii

SETTING: Same as the previous one.

AT THE RISE: LEE repeats his previous actions.

 

LEE: So, now you know something about what happened at Gettysburg. And yes, I purposefully left out left out important details because, though they were important, they were details. For that matter, any battle or any war is made up of those details. And they are at their best boring and at their worst very boring. Only the outcome of any battle counts. The outcome of Gettysburg counted more than all the battles that preceded  it; it was the death knell for the Confederacy but no one south of the Mason-Dixon Line heard it ring.

(beat)
For a short while, I returned to Arlington to rest. I was exhausted physically, and what you folks now call psychologically.  With or without Mary,  I prayed a lot hoping that the good Lord would give me guidance. I believed our cause was just. But nothing Divine came; I was left to my own devices. That is to say, I started on a particular road and would follow it to its end. Perhaps that I did not receive any answer from the Almighty was in itself an answer, a test of my faith and fortitude.

(beat)
As I already told you, I wanted to resign and turn my Command over to another general. But President Davis would have none of it. I went to him immediately after the battle, even before I returned to Arlington. And he ordered me to rebuild the Army of Northern Virginia, to make it into the formidable fighting force that it had been. Its role would be to stop the Army of the Potomac from moving south.

(moves toward the chair with the Union uniform on it and stands in front of it.)
While I was in Arlington, I received word from President Davis that General Ulysses S. Grant was given command of The Army of the Potomac. Mead had been removed for not pursuing and destroying my army. Had the situation been reversed, I would have done exactly what he did.

(beat)
But over the next two years, I would face the only man who would have followed me to hell if that was what it would have taken to destroy my army.

(moves back to the table and sits on its edge in its center)
Understand my feelings. I had lost a major engagement. He had won an important victory. My army had to be rebuilt. His was fresh and waiting for him. I could not even refer to him by his name. When I spoke about him, I would use the euphemism that man. I did the same when I spoke about the Union Forces. I referred to them as those people.

(beat)
It was, I admit, petty. But I ached in a way that I had never ached before. Ulysses was the son of a tanner, a man of no breeding. And yet he not only distinguished himself on the battlefield, he was made my adversary.

(with anger)
It was an insult.

(double beat, then calmer in a moderate voice)
Still, I saw in us a reflection, albeit a distorted one, of Hector and the wily Ulysses; especially during the siege of Richmond. Perhaps I should have surrendered then, as soon as the siege began. But – – But I thought I would be able to get terms.

(beat)
No. That is not true. I knew that General Grant would not stop until the Confederacy was totally destroyed. And the truth is, I came to want nothing less than its total destruction because I knew out of that destruction, we who fought would live and become the myth we are. And those who won would become less than they were. At least we would have that.

(beat)

I was confident that I could fight that man to a draw, who rose from anonymity to become my adversary. I did not realize that everything in his life, all of his failures, had prepared him for what he was about to undertake.

(removes his coat and hat and moves into the darkness at the rear of the stage).

 

ACT 1, scene iv

SETTING: Same as the previous one.

AT THE RISE: LEE repeats his previous actions before facing the audience.

 

LEE: General Grant set his army in motion. I put mine in what we called the Mule-Tree, but the Union newspapers referred to it as the Wilderness. It was a piece of worthless real estate, overgrown with bushes and – – I suspected that Grant would seek me out, and that is what he did. I had every advantage: my men knew the area, and my supply lines were short. I baited the trap and he took the bait.

(beat)
The fighting was savage. My men held. The union forces kept coming. His army suffered appalling casualties. I believed he would break off and pull his army back to Washington. But he did not; he continued to fight.

(beat)
My own losses were extremely heavy. Some units lost more than half their strength.

(beat, then with fierce anger)
He bled me. I thought I had baited a trap, and he had obliged me by sending his troops into it. But he fought his own battle; not the one I expected him to fight, not there; not anywhere.

(beat)
In an attempt to attack him on his left flank, I ordered my army to break off contact, and began my movement east.

(beat)
He turned his army east and met me at Spotsylvania.

(beat)
And so it was, battle after battle. Up north he was called a Butcher by his enemies in the northern press. But he kept pressing me; fighting in a way that horrified me. His losses were always high, but mine were higher. he could replace the men he lost; I could not. Like Moloch, he feasted on the blood of my men.

(beat)

Tens of thousands of men were killed and wounded. At the Battle of Cold Harbor, I thought I might have stopped him, at least for a short time. His losses were so high that after the war he wrote that he regretted the launching of the assault on June the third . . . I took no satisfaction in that when I was told about it or when I read it. At the time it occurred, I was in a fury. An impotent rage against that man, as I referred to him, consumed me.

(beat)
After a day of hard fighting, the space between the two armies was littered with the dead, the dying and the wounded from both sides. Under a flag of truce, he sent emissaries to ask me if I would allow Union corpsmen to gather their wounded and ours and minister to them.

(beat, then with sarcasm)
A generous offer you might say from one who was labeled The Butcher.

(beat, then vehemently)
Not so. Not so. Rather, it was an enormous insult, a slap in my face. Had I agreed, I would have admitted that I had neither the men nor the facilities to care for my own wounded.

(beat)
That was the hidden text.

(beat)
I refused the offer. By morning most of them were dead; and those who were still alive would soon die as the heat of the day became more intense.

(beat)
Do I regret my actions? No. I acted as any gentleman of honor would have acted. I would not accept charity from someone less than myself.

(double beat)
I expected Grant to make another frontal assault against Richmond. That would have been in keeping with his hammer-like attacks. But he moved his army south. And by the time I realized his intentions, it was too late; he had out flanked me and besieged Petersburg.

(beat)
On April the second, eighteen sixty-five, I was forced to leave the city to the mercy of that man and his army.

(moves to the center of the stage)
By this time, the other one of Satan’s minions, General William Techumsa Sherman had completed his infamous march to the sea and joined forces with Grant’s army. Later, I learned the entire operation was Grant’s plan; that he had personally chosen Sherman to command the other army because they shared the same views about the nature of war.

(beat)
They made their own rules. And yes, God help us, war would never again be the same. Honor, civility and gentlemanliness would not matter . . . Sherman burned the city of Atlanta; and in his march to the sea destroyed everything for fifty miles on either side of line of march. That was what Grant wanted his lieutenant to do. That was total war. And now the two were joined.

(beat)
My last assault, foolhardy as it was, was against Fort Steadman; a fortified height much like Cheat Mountain.

(beat)
Again I was reminded about what had happened at Cheat Mountain, Malvirn Hill and, yes, Gettysburgh by various commanders.

(beat)
The attack failed.

(beat)
On April ninth, under a flag of truce, I sent my delegates to ask General Grant for terms.

(the lights go down as LEE moves back into the darkness at the rear of the stage)

Irene Hoge Smith — Dear Mama

Dear Mama, a performance piece
by Irene Hoge Smith

Setting: An empty stage with a lectern in the middle at which the speaker stands

Hello. I’m Irene. I live near Washington DC where, in my day job, I’m a psychotherapist.

I had a difficult relationship with my mother.

In the therapy world this is not entirely unheard of. I understand this may be true in the writing world also.

I am working on a memoir that has to do with my mother and that fraught relationship. Here’s the backstory: She left when I was thirteen years old. My sisters and I ended up in Washington with our father; our mother went to California, picked up her poetry career, and for several years lived with, and had a child with, the beat poet, Charles Bukowski.

In the therapy business we call this a narcissistic injury.

It left me with a bad attitude about poets and poetry, which I am trying to overcome.

The passage of time, therapy of my own, and working on the memoir have helped me move beyond the viewpoint of an outraged child to understand and explain my mother more completely, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to do that. But it is hard work, and there have been setbacks. This piece, written a couple of years before my mother died, is what we might call an “epistolary rant.”

Etiquette Question

Dear Miss Manners,

I have encountered a touchy social situation in which I feel the need for guidance. Of course I always respond in a timely manner to invitations, but seem to be having some difficulty doing so in this particular case.

My mother is a poet of some minor renown in another state.

We are not, as you might say, close.

She left the family when I was a child to pick up her life as a poet. She moved in with another, somewhat better known, poet whom I will call, for purposes of anonymity, Barfly.

She herself has recently written a lovely book of poems that are a fascinating memoir of her entire life, from her very earliest memories until the present day (except for a period of about fifteen years which I have heard her call “that long dry spell” or “pretty much the whole time I was with your father.”).

I have received an announcement of her book launch party, with a personal note from the author expressing the hope that I might attend.

Dear Mama,

I am touched, although a bit surprised, that you would like me to attend your book launch party. I have read with interest the autobiographical prose poems in your new collection, Grandma Stories, and I am fascinated to observe that there does not seem to be ONE SINGLE WORD ABOUT ME OR PATTY OR SALLY OR RUTHIE!. . . .

       Crumple page, drop to lectern

Dear FrancEyE,

It is certainly an admirable accomplishment to have produced, at 85, another book of poems—and such a personal book, too. Anyone who really wants to get to know you will find this a treasure trove of insight into the inner workings of your . . . mind?

       Crumple page, drop to lectern

TO: Frances Dean Smith /aka FrancEyE
FR: Irene Hoge Smith
RE: Project Proposal

Thank you for providing the galleys of your upcoming book, Grandma Stories. What a touching and compelling account of a truly fascinating life! I feel there is one area in which a fine book might be made even better, and that has to do with the period you omit, roughly 1946 to 1960. Understanding that you were not, in the truest sense, present for that period of your life, I’d like to propose that those of us who were might take a stab at filling in the “missing poems.” We have some suggested topics and titles for individual poems, to follow.

1. After the War (You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet)
2. Sacrifice of the Firstborn
3. Infidelities – A Series
4. Houses (Where Do We Live Now?)
5. Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair (along with the kids)
6. The Wasteland

Please let us know what you think. We’re very excited about this project. It’s sure to be a great, great read ESPECIALLY FOR YOU, YOU NUTCASE !!! ….

       Crumple page, drop to lectern

Dear Mama,

Words fail me.

Love,

Irene

Jim Dalglish – The Black Eye, A One Act Play

The Black Eye, A One Act Play
by Jim Dalglish

DRAMATIS PERSONAE
NARRATOR, a large, powerful man in his mid-forties to late fifties.
YOUNG MAN, a dangerous-looking man in his early twenties

SETTING Boston suburb, tonight, 2:20 a.m.

SCENIC ELEMENTS Bare stage with the exception of three chairs that suggest the driver’s seat, passenger seat, and rear seat of a car. The driving wheel, car door, etc. should be mimed by the actors.

(Lights up.)

Narrator: (Addressing audience:) For the most part, I’m going to tell you the story. I’m going to tell you exactly what happened, exactly how I felt, and exactly what you should think. It’s easier that way and you won’t have to work so hard. Neither will I. I guess I’m lazy. Just like you.

(He crosses to group of three chairs. [Car] He sits on downstage left chair. [Driver’s seat)]

I’m driving my car. You choose the make, model, and colour. 2:30 in the morning. I’ve just wasted three-and-a-half hours in a leather bar. Three-and-a-half hours of standing half-naked in a smoky room wearing leather bands around both my arms and an orange hanky hanging out of my back pocket . . . little signs that say I’ve done it all before and would do it all again… with the right guy.

But there was no right guy at the bar that night. So I’m driving home alone.

I’m tired. And I’ve got a sour taste in my mouth. Stale nicotine from second hand smoke. My ears are still ringing from the beat of the goddamn deep-house disco shit they play loud enough to drown out any awkward small talk. I’m paying enough attention to the road, but there’s only so much you can do when some drunk stumbles off a curb right in front of you. I break. In time. The guy sprawls out over my hood.

(Young Man enters. Crosses to space in front of chairs. Speaks to “Friend” sprawled across “car hood”.)

Young Man: Hey, you miserable drunken fuck. Get off the car, man. Get off the fucking hood.

Narrator: You’ll have to imagine the drunk guy. He’s just an innocent bystander. The story is about something else.

Young Man: Drunken fuck. What’d I tell you, huh? What’d I tell you? Can’t even stand up.

Narrator: He isn’t hurt. But when his buddy helps him up, I don’t drive off. Hit and run is just what I need on my record. (To Young Man) He okay?

Young Man: Not feeling a thing. (Re-considering:) Hey! You know what time the last city bus leaves for German Town? We’ve been standing here an hour.

Narrator: They stop at twelve.

Young Man: Shit! The fuck’s so drunk he can’t fucking walk! We’ll fucking be here all fucking night!

Narrator: He’s in his early twenties. Dark. Lean. Has a hot ass, big blow job lips, and blue bad-boy eyes. (To Young Man) Need a lift?

Young Man: You going that way?

Narrator: I can.

Young Man: Sure. Hey, asshole. Get in the front.

(Young Man mimes placing “Friend” on front passenger seat [chair stage right] and sits in the bag seat [chair behind others.])

Narrator: Fat drunk gets in. Says “hey” and bad boy gets in back. I drive. Looks like you two had fun tonight.

Young Man: Shit.

Narrator: Where you go?

Young Man: Flanagans. Been there?

Narrator: Not my kind of place.

Young Man: Yeah?

Narrator: Yeah.

Young Man: They got that Karioke thing there on Saturday night.

Narrator: The drunk starts singing “Born in the USA.”

Young Man: Hey, shut up, man! Dude doesn’t want to listen to that shit.

Narrator: I look into the rearview mirror. Bad boy’s staring at me with those big blue bad boy eyes.

Young Man: Where you been tonight?

Narrator: Ramrod.

Young Man: In Boston?

Narrator: Heard of it?

Young Man: No.

Narrator: (To audience) That was a lie.

Young Man: Boston. Long way to go on a cold winter night.

Narrator: Sometimes it has what I’m looking for.

Young Man: Yeah?

Narrator: Yeah.

Young Man: Like what?

Narrator: He’s a little shit. I’m on to him. If I felt like it, I could freak him out. Tell him that I go there because I get a kick out of the fisting videos they play, or because picking up there takes the guesswork out of cruising, like going to a grocery store with all the fruit tagged and labeled – arm band right side, bottom. Left, top. Blue hanky, blow job. Red, fucking. Black, bondage. Yellow, piss. Orange, anything you can think of. I could explain that I go to that bar because I can get a quick hand job just standing there in the middle of the floor and no one would say a word. I could tell him I need that place because I’m a kinky perv. That because an average of two tricks a week for twenty years adds up to about two thousand men and once you’ve had a good five hundred the novelty of holding hands starts to wear out and it gets a little harder to get your nut in any old fashioned kind of way, unless of course you have a taste for vanilla, which I don’t. I could tell him that everything gets old fast . . . fades with time . . . French, Greek, TT, bondage, discipline . . . that every few hundred tricks you have to trade up to the next thrill. That you need to because every perv pales over time. Everything except for that basic ache of desire . . . that untamable flame that still burns as hot as it did when I was fourteen. I could tell him that’s why I was in that bar that night. Because that flame . . . that demon flame was burning white hot in my soul. (To Young Man:) Sometimes that bar has just what I’m looking for.

Young Man: Like what?

Narrator: Whatever I want.

Young Man: Doesn’t look like you got it tonight.

Narrator: Where are we heading?

Young Man: Keep going. I’ll tell you when.

Narrator: I’m driving on a peninsula that juts out into the harbor. German Town. One thin artery connects it to the mainland. Mostly projects filled with Irish rednecks and Vietnamese immigrants. The projects were a mistake in the fifties when they were built. Most of them are boarded up now. The streets are empty. I look over at the friend curled up in the corner of the passenger seat. Looks like he made quite a night of it.

Young Man: Asshole. He’s my cousin. It’s his twenty-first birthday. I showed him how to get drunk legit. Left next corner.

(Narrator mimes turning left.)

Narrator: He’s still working the rearview mirror. I look up right into his eyes. Little shit. But something’s going on here. Yeah. Ok. Ok, buddy. How long can I stare before we veer off the road. We play chicken with the rearview mirror until he looks away. I win. We drive another block and fat boy starts having the heaves.

Young Man: Shit!

Narrator: I pull over.

(Narrator gets out of “car,” crosses around to “passenger seat,” and mimes opening the door.)

I open the door in time to grab his head and aim the first stream of puke into the gutter.

Young Man: Geez, man!

Narrator: Fat boy’s so gone he can’t even hold his head up. (To “Friend:) You done? I use my orange hanky to wipe the puke from his mouth. He moans as I get him back into the car.

(Narrator closes “car door” and gets back into the “car.”)

Young Man: Sorry about that.

Narrator: It’s okay.

Young Man: Stupid fuck. Can’t even hold a six pack.

Narrator: You grow up out here?

Young Man: Yeah, but I escaped. I’m just back for a few weeks.

Narrator: Between jobs?

(Young Man doesn’t answer.)

He’s working the rearview again. Those beautiful blue eyes. This is where it happens . . . every time. This is how you know. This is how it’s done. It only works with a man. To another man. It’s a dare. It’s a come on. It’s a warning. He’s calling me out. He’s doing it instinctually. Like it was handed down from dinosaurs or something. It’s part of his DNA. It’s a threat. It’s a glimpse into the lair of the hidden demon. It’s a cry out for love on a cold lonely winter night. It’s what I live for.

Young Man (Sarcastically:) Nice leather pants.

Narrator: (Returning sarcasm:) You like those, huh?

Young Man: Oh, yeah.

Narrator: Yeah. I thought so.

Young Man: You’re a tough guy, aren’t you.

Narrator: Oh, yeah.

Young Man: Pull over.

Narrator: I pull over in front of one of the more inhabitable projects.

(Young Man gets out of “car,” opens “passenger door.”)

Young Man: Come on fuck-for-brains. This is your stop.

Narrator: He can’t get Fat Boy out of the car.

(Narrator exits “car,” crosses around to “passenger door.”)

(To “Friend:”) Okay, buddy. This is what you’re going to do. When you get inside, go to the john, kneel in front of the bowl, and shove your finger down your throat until you puke. Puke until your gut is empty. Then you’re going to go to bed and lay on your side . . . not on your back but on your side. Got that? Don’t give me that shit. You know why you’re going to do that? Because I had a buddy once who got fucked up just like you. He went home alone, passed out, puked, and choked on it. I carried his coffin into the church three days later. You don’t want to make your buddy do that, do you? Good boy.

(Narrator mimes pulling “Friend” out of “car.”)

I pull him out of the car. Bad boy props him up.

(Young Man mimes helping “Friend” off the stage.)

Young Man: (To Narrator:) Can you . . . Wait up . . . for a second?

Narrator: Fat boy’s walking now. He staggers up the steps.

(Young Man exits.)

Young Man: (Voice from offstage:) See you tomorrow. . . . Because I’m crashing with a friend. . . . I know my stuff’s here, asshole. . . . I know. . . . Just fucking get in there, you fucking drunk. What’re you, my mother?

(Young Man re-enters.)

Narrator: He struts back. But I see through that shit. He can’t meet my eye and I can tell his heart is racing faster than a thoroughbred in the home stretch. He knows he shouldn’t, but something . . . not his mind . . . is telling him to get back into my car. Something way down deep inside some part of him he’s tried like hell to hide all his life.

(To Young Man) So . . . where?

Young Man: A friend’s.

Narrator: Where?

Young Man: Down the road.

Narrator: Yeah?

Young Man: Yeah.

Narrator: Get in.

(Young Man sits in “passenger seat.” Narrator crosses around to “driver seat.” He sits.)

We drive.

(Silence.)

It was easier for him in the backseat. He could do anything he wanted behind my back. Now he’s within reach and he doesn’t like it. He knows he has to say something.

Young Man: He’s not such a bad guy. For a stupid fat fuck.

Narrator: He doesn’t know what to do with his hands. But I do.

Young Man: Is that true . . . about your friend?

Narrator: Yeah.

Young Man: That sucks.

Narrator: Yeah.

Young Man: Right.

(Narrator mimes turning right. Silence.)

Narrator: I let the silence ride. Sweat starts to bead on his eyebrows. And his breathing is shallow and quick.

Young Man: You got a girlfriend?

Narrator: Why would I have a girlfriend? He won’t look me in the eye now. That thing inside him is starting to emerge.

Young Man: You’re queer. Right?

Narrator: Yeah.

Young Man: Not my scene. But it’s cool. It’s cool. It’s cool.

Narrator: Yeah.

Young Man: Right.

(Narrator mimes turning right.)

Narrator: He’s never done this before. Maybe another guy when he was twelve or thirteen . . . but that was just kid stuff and it doesn’t count. This is different. He’s a man now. He’s supposed to be in control of this kind of shit. Why did he get back into the car? I know why. And he knows I’m on to him. But he’s lost . . . in his own back yard. And he’s scared shitless. He has every reason to be.

Young Man: Things weren’t working out for me where I was. That’s why I came back.

Narrator: Sorry to hear that.

Young Man: I needed a change. But look at this place. Fuck.

Narrator: If I jump on this . . . it’ll be over. This one’s a dead end. I know how to handle trade. I know how to lay a hot straight boy. You got to wait things out. Wait for that demon to emerge on its own. It wants to come out. Get close . . . warm up to the fire, but it doesn’t want to singe its fur.

Young Man: I need . . . a change. You ever need a change? Just throw everything away. Start again? You ever do that?

Narrator: Read his mind. It’s saying “What the fuck am I doing? Where the hell am I going?” His mind is turning in circles. He needs it. He wants it. From a man. But it disgusts him. It’s hideous. Repulsive. Terrifying. Beautiful. Sublime. Around in circles.

Young Man: Right.

(Narrator mimes turning right.)

Narrator: We’re driving in circles.

Young Man: I need . . . a change.

Narrator: Look at him. His eyes flash between confusion, anger, lust, and terror. He’s feeling it all and it is all real. So real. Because that’s what it’s like. What it’s like to strip yourself to the core and rip the terror out of your soul and offer it up to the demon. And that’s why it’s so terrifying. Because it is so REAL. It’s him. He’s seeing himself for the first time. Look at him. Nothing on this earth is more beautiful.

Young Man: Right.

(Narrator mimes turning right.)

Narrator: I stop. We’re at the end of the road. A cul-de-sac at the end of the peninsula. The lights of Boston are burning bright across the bay.

Young Man: Do you think . . . do you find me . . . do you think I’m . . . would you. . . ?

Narrator: Yeah, buddy. You’re a hot fuck. You’re the kind of a man . . . a real stud . . . that any queer would drool over. You’re the real thing. Is that what you want me to say?

Young Man: If you saw me . . . walking down the street . . . if you talked to me. Would you think I was queer?

Narrator: I know what I’m supposed to say. I should scoff and look at him like his football couch in Junior High and say, “No way, man. You’re a guy . . . a regular guy . . . just like all the rest. You’re not a fag. Don’t worry about it.” You say that to trade and it puts them at ease. You see, if you don’t call them a fag, they’ll let you suck their dicks. If you work a little harder, they’ll suck you off. Rim them and if you’re lucky they’ll beg you to fuck the shit out of them. That’s how you play it. Those are the rules. So I turn to him and I say . . . Yeah. I’d know. In a second. You can’t fool me, buddy. You’re a fucking queer.

(Young Man’s face goes blank.)

Why did I do it? I want him to be different. I want him to know that those feelings . . . that what he is . . . what goes to the very core of his existence is undeniably real. I want him to look at that demon in the face.

Young Man: Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Narrator: He gets out of the car.

(Young Man starts pacing furiously.)

Young Man: Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

Narrator: Come on. You can do it, buddy. Stare it back. It’s there. In your face. Go on. Take it. Take it. It’s who you are!

Young Man: Fuck! Fuck!!!!!

(Young Man charges “car.” Mimes opening driver side door. Punches Narrator in the face. Narrator stands. Grabs the front of Young Man’s jacket. Lifts him off ground. Pulls him close. Young Man struggles, but can not escape.)

Fucking faggot!

Narrator: Stupid little shit. Do the world a favor, buddy, and figure it out.

(Narrator pushes Young Man to the ground.)

He fell to the curb.

Young Man: Fuck.

(Young man sits on stage with head in hands. Narrator gets back in “car.”)

Narrator: I peeled out. I could see him in my rearview mirror. Sitting on the pavement. His head in his hands. The last thing I saw as I drove off. Into the night. Alone.

(Young man exits. Narrator stands from chair. Crosses to front of stage.)

A black eye greeted me in the bathroom mirror the next morning. The black eye that he gave me with that one, powerful punch to the face. A beautiful black eye. It’s been a week. Since that night. A week of driving through German Town in the wee hours of the night. Circling those roads we circled that night. Looking for him.

But he’s not there. I park the car. Where I last saw him. And I stare across the harbour at the glittering lights of Boston. And I wait. For him. For my beautiful bad boy with those beautiful blue bad-boy eyes.

Why?

Because a part of me thinks I was wrong. What I said to him . . . about doing the world a favor. A part of me doesn’t want him to figure it out. Not without me. I want to be there. Because the thrill doesn’t last long.

Because you become too familiar with that demon too quickly. And what was once vital and real . . . what once actually meant something . . . real contact. . . that terrifying act of surrendering to another man…. the joy to consume and be consumed by another human. It doesn’t last long. Then it’s over. And the only way you can get it back is the rare chance to feed off it from a young lost street punk afraid of his own shadow. Pathetic. Isn’t it?

He’s out there somewhere. I just don’t know where to find him. All I have left is a black eye. A bruise around my eye that he gave me. And soon that will fade too. Just disappear. And I’ll have nothing.

Again.

(Lights out. End of play.)

Neil Hughes – Act III from Flaw, A Play in Five Acts

Act III from Flaw, A Play in Five Acts
by Neil Hughes

DRAMATIS PERSONAE of Act III
ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
SOLOMON WISE, Liberal Democrat Prime Minister
JOHN HUTCHINSON, a Liberal Democrat Lord
JOHNSON, Solomon’s Parliamentary private secretary
SMITHERS, an architect
ZIGI, Solomon’s wife
DOREEN, a London East End prostitute
MAGGIE, another East End woman
HANS, Zigi’s father
ROBERT, a Londoner
JO, a Londoner

Background to Act III: Solomon Wise, Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats for ten years, opens the new parliament building in his district whilst his marriage to Zigi, his German émigré wife, begins to falter and political dissent begins to strengthen.

Act III, Scene i

Westminster. The opening of the new Parliament building.

SOLOMON, SMITHERS, JOHNSON, ARCHBISHOP, LEADER OF OPP. (CONSERVATIVE) and LABOUR LEADER (LL).

ARCH: [Stepping forward.] And now O great God, Father of the Universe, we give you our thanks, because you, in your greatness, have remembered your people in their wretched humbleness. We give thanks for your tender mercy towards your people. We listened, you instructed. And now—this great extension to our seat of government we see today completed—ready to be opened for the better good of the public and to the glory of Your Name, and for Your servants, our members of Parliament. Let us pray:

Father of all, we know that we are all weak and small creatures only in your sight. Keep us humble and keep us close to the true purposes of Your Word, but give us grace to man these your organs of government which You have given to us for your very own worth—capably and with the deference that becomes people who have submitted and bowed their allegiance to your divine will. And we ask particularly that You will bless Solomon, our Prime Minister, in all the tasks that lie before him, and keep him in the wisdom of your divine government and your holy ways, for we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

ALL: [With varying degrees of confidence.] Amen.

ARCH: And now let us say together part of the litany of the Holy Name of Jesus [Gestures to audience also; others respond about half a dozen times, ‘Lord have mercy’.]

Amen.

And now the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, Amen.

[Goes to Solomon.] Thank you. [Others relax and talk among themselves.]

SOLOMON: My privilege. Our privilege. “Lord of the Universe”—I like that.

ARCH: I try to make the liturgy interesting.

SOLOMON: Yes, and it’s very representative of what we believe about God. The unity of the church.

ARCH: Care, though, lest we treat God too much as an object—taken-for-granted. He is our Heavenly Father, our “Divine Lawmaker,” if you like.

SOLOMON: Yes.

ARCH: I must go and — have a wash. I’m stifling hot in this outfit, you know.

SOLOMON: Thank you, again, my Lord. We’ll see you shortly.

ARCH: Indeed. Certainly. [SMITHERS and JOHNSON come forward, one each side of SOLOMON.]

SMITH: A lovely service, don’t you think? [Pause.] Here some people have perhaps a living example that we still have some religion in all of our hearts. Don’t you think?

SOLOMON: [JOHNSON?] Well, the banquet is being served in the refectory now. Shall we go?

SOLOMON: Yes—Mr. Smithers—Clive. [Exit JOHNSON.]

SMITH: Yes?

SOLOMON: Do you have any religious leanings yourself?

SMITH: Yes, I’m a practicing Anglican, myself.

SOLOMON: So what did you think of all this?

SMITH: A little artificial; pleasing, but a little artificial.

SOLOMON: You must tell me why you think that. I’d be interested to know.

SMITH: Oh, it’s of no great importance. I thought—

SOLOMON: I’d like to hear, though.

SMITH: [As they exeunt.] I’m somewhat more Low Church than the Archbishop. A little more evangelical. [After they exit.] “Lord of the Universe,” for example—I don’t like that phrase; makes me think of Islam, or something like that.

SOLOMON: Well, we have to be broad-minded. Don’t you think?

SMITH: Even when we’re Christians?

Act III, Scene ii

SOLOMON and ZIGI.

SOLOMON: I assure you that it’s always worth having a go at something first before it becomes too much of a challenge. It saves a lot of problems afterwards.

ZIGI: What about the things that are too much of a challenge?

SOLOMON: Well, there are always going to be challenges—the fewer the better, perhaps. Yet I suppose challenges, that we do have to and which we can overcome successfully, do tend to make us better people. They have to be faced.

ZIGI: And so, what about all these people today? What are you going to do?

SOLOMON: I’m not absolutely certain, to tell you the truth. I’m lucky in that I’ve seen them all before—but I’m not sure what’s been happening in the meantime.

ZIGI: They will want to see you. You must see them all.

SOLOMON: Of course.

ZIGI: So I’ll wait for you here, shall I?

SOLOMON: All right. I’ll see you later. [Kisses her.] These people who come to beg for understanding—why don’t they put their own lives in order first? I can only pray for them and then try to sort out their needs and their situations. I’m not a superman. [Exit ZIGI.]

Enter JOHNSON with DOREEN and MAGGIE, arguing.

JOHNSON: Two ladies to see you, Solomon.

DOREEN: ‘Ere listen — it’s ’er — she’s after me property again. This time she wants me to give ’er everything, me ’ouse an’ all.

MAGGIE: Ah, shut your trap, baggage.

SOLOMON: Well, ladies, please—

MAGGIE: No, I don’t—

DOREEN: ’Ey, and listen—don’t come round my way with that whinin’ dog of yours any more and those two whinin’ kids, and the cat that goes through the rubbish at night. Starved like a skeleton, she must be and the dog and the kids, for that matter.

MAGGIE: Oh, F.O.!

SOLOMON: [interrupting] Well, ladies! [Slight pause.] Now, who’s first? —ladies!

MAGGIE: [to DOREEN] I can decide what ’appens to me own bloody kids, can’t I?

DOREEN: Stop shouting! Christ’s sake! You’re like a hyena! Yap, yap yap—all yer ever do is “Yap, yap, yap!” Shut up!

Mr. Wise, I ‘ope you don’t mind us comin’ to you again an’ talkin’ to yer, but this cock-sucking woman, as I was saying, ’as tried to get ’er own young ones sold off to gypsies to beg, yeh—now she’s put our own ’ouses on tick to the council; both of them, yeh; to Hackney council!

SOLOMON: I see; and whose are the houses?

DOREEN: Well, we’re temporary residents, at the moment, like. It’s a kind of half-way house abode, you know, so to speak, in Dalston Lane. Sheltered, like—

SOLOMON: Sheltered from what?

MAGGIE: Fuck all!

DOREEN: Ain’t no business of ’er’s what I do with my property and my lifestyle. Me life’s me own.

SOLOMON: [Racking brains.] You mean you’re squatting?

DOREEN: Well, if that’s the way you want to put it, yeh. [Slight pause.] She wants to give our ’ouses back to the council —

MAGGIE: So do you, y’old bitch—

SOLOMON: Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Who do the houses belong to, anyway?

DOREEN: [To MAGGIE.] There now, answer that, if you can, you madam!

MAGGIE: Excuse me—if we’re there—no-one—and that includes Hackney council’s — got any right to move us —

SOLOMON: Yes, but who do the houses belong to — ?

DOREEN: Anyway, I think we’re made our point quite clear — If that’s all right with you, Mr. Wise.

MAGGIE: Yeh. [They both begin to bolt.]

DOREEN: We’ll ’ave to get going.

SOLOMON: Yes, but as you’re squatters you do have legal rights—

DOREEN: That’s what they tell us, but we don’t want no social workers snoopin’ round.

MAGGIE: No. Yet, I suppose, as the houses are the council’s, we’ve got no chance, anyway.

SOLOMON: I’ll still help if I can.

DOREEN: I thought you were bloody going to! [Pause; they turn and exeunt, slamming the door.]

SOLOMON: I did something wrong there. What was it? Maybe I don’t keep my own constituency, which is like my own house, in order, after all. [Pause.] I’ve still got division in the party, too, since John Adrian left and joined the Tories. It would be nice to see John Hutchinson again. I wonder what he’s doing now. Perhaps he could tell me where I’m going wrong. [Pause; sits.] He always seemed close to the public eye. Close to God, you might say. Holy! He always seemed very lively, too.

Act III, Scene iii

ZIGI and HANS

HANS: But what is the real problem? Surely you can tell me—I am your father.

ZIGI: I don’t know. I think there are always problems with him, but I don’t know how to talk about them.

HANS: And the job? That’s going all right, isn’t it? [Silence.] He seems to be running the country satisfactorily. I know that’s not everything, but—

ZIGI: Ja! But that is no sign that he loves and cares for me. And the job—that is all right. Sometimes I think he has no love.

HANS: I will ask him why he has made it possible for you to think like this.

ZIGI: No, no—don’t stir up trouble where it is not necessary. I’m glad you care—let’s leave it at that.

HANS: You told me not long ago you did love him a great deal. Is that not true now?

ZIGI: Then, I was a young girl. Now, I am a bit more cautious. That wasn’t recently, anyway. Let’s not worry about it. Let’s go and have some tea.

HANS: I hear he’s produced a book also. What do you think about that, this book, if I can ask?

ZIGI: I haven’t read it. I’ve only read a few of the separate pages he passed over to me and — I didn’t understand much.

HANS: Is it theology he’s written?

ZIGI: I think so, yes—theology and philosophy.

HANS: And what is the subject of this book?

ZIGI: Many different subjects. In fact, I don’t ever think I will understand them all. How to be wise, how to be honest, how to be obedient, and so on.

HANS: He’s wise already. [Laughs.] But—that’s something every man and every woman must learn for himself.—And can he dare to be so bold? Also, then we must wait to see what he has to say about it himself.

[They are about to exeunt.
Enter
SOLOMON downstage. He is dressed impeccably.]

SOLOMON: Wait. No, wait a minute.

ZIGI: We thought you were going to meet us in the dining room.

SOLOMON: Well, I’ve decided to meet you here.

HANS: So we eat now?

SOLOMON: Yes, yes—let’s go through. Did you want to ask me anything about my book, Hans?

HANS: No—we thought maybe you would tell us something about it over lunch.

[Pause.]

SOLOMON: Certainly. [All three go to exit.] How much has Zigi told you?

HANS: Not very much.

SOLOMON: [As they exeunt.] That surprises me, because the other day she was very interested in leafing through the pages. She said she thought some parts of it were quite good, when I asked her.

ZIGI: Come! We must eat.

Act III, Scene iv

SOLOMON and HUTCHINSON. In the garden of Chequers.

SOLOMON:            You see, the lilac that’ll soon come up too. Then in these borders we’ve got chrysanthemums, pansies, a rose here and there—laburnum, of course—plots of bright colour. To keep the place looking nice right through the summer. What do you think?

HU: I remember it when David was Prime Minister: by golly he looked after it well.

SOLOMON: They keep the grounds impeccable. Michael’s quite the expert gardener. [Slight pause.] Well, what do you think about the election? You’re keeping very quiet. It’s not that long off, is it?

HU: Is it? I haven’t quite kept an exact record.

SOLOMON: We do have to make some plans, provisional though they may be. I thought I might call you in to speak something about it.

HU: Mm. And is the party all prepared for the event, do you think?

SOLOMON: I think we will be, by then. I’ve had some ideas for publicity, too. Tell me what you think.

HU: Go on.

SOLOMON: You remember that Miss South-East person from the TV?—I think perhaps you won’t. It’s just that I thought perhaps she might be interested in helping to lead our campaign. She said on the TV when she was interviewed—that she was very interested in theology and she also said, actually, that she’d be very fascinated in getting to know me, the Prime Minister. Well, I thought I’d let you know what I think—let me know your opinion—maybe we should bring her into the campaign in some way. She is a notable status symbol, after all. Millions of people know—or think they know—who she is.

HU: Yeh — how much do you know about her background? She’s probably a soft Tory. Where does she live—Basildon?

SOLOMON: I don’t even know what party she supports or where she lives. But perhaps we can find such things out. She’s only one string in the bow, in any case.

HU: We’ll see. Here’s somebody coming.

[Enter JOHNSON.]

JOHNSON: [To SOLOMON.] Sir, there’s a deputation at the gate to see you. I don’t know how they knew you were here.

SOLOMON: Who are they—from?

JOHNSON: “Feminism Now.” Some of them obviously aren’t wearing any bras, either.

SOLOMON: And others are very flat-chested, no doubt? They’re the ones who want to be allowed to be called ‘Mister’ and to own their husbands’ property as well as their own. I can see them for a few minutes, if that’s what they want. How many are there of them?

JOHNSON: About six.

SOLOMON: [To HUTCHINSON.] Looks as if I spoke too soon. Die-hard feminists here to see me. Sorry about that.

HU: You could ask them if any of them would like to be Liberal Democrat status symbols in the coming election.

SOLOMON: Ha, ha! You always were a wit, weren’t you? Excuse me a moment. [Has turned to exit.]

HU: Solomon, wait — one minute. You’re going to give women a say in the country, aren’t you?

SOLOMON: Yes, why shouldn’t I?

HU: No, nothing much, really — I’ll tell you later about something. [Exeunt SOLOMON and JOHNSON; & HUTCHINSON partly himself. Pause.] Interesting fellow. He hates women, virtually all women, I’d say, and yet he wants one to be his campaign generalissimo. Mm—nice roses—might not be around to use them in the spring.

Act III, Scene v

[Enter ROBERT and JO.]

ROBERT: If you ask me, it’s agoraphobia.

JO: She always keeps so much to herself, doesn’t she? Maybe it is—nerves. Maybe he is—getting on top of her.

ROBERT: I’m sure they’ve split up. She spent all day, one day last week, locked in her office—I think it was Tuesday. They said she wouldn’t answer the phone and wouldn’t let anyone in.

JO: So I heard. Maybe you’re right. I haven’t seen him round here for a while, that’s true.

ROBERT: Here she comes now.

[Exeunt ROBERT and JO. Enter ZIGI.]

ZIGI: But he’s a wide patron of the arts, and especially the theatre. And yet it’s weeks since I’ve seen him in here. I wonder why that can be? I do hope it’s not just because of me—we have our small arguments.

This is the book. I’ve been reading it.

One thing they always say about my husband is that he’s a clever man. I wonder if it’s true or not? Let’s see what he’s written here—

“I searched for wisdom day in, day out, but I did not find it.”

Mm.

“Everything is a waste of time. The rich have all the power and they exploit the poor always. They always exploit the poor. But who is better off in the eyes of God?”

Hm. He’s wise but he doesn’t know that what we think is always refracted and altered by what happens to us. He always thinks in isolation; he’s got no common consciousness, even though he works among the people, he’s too self-incriminating and self-aware. I don’t want to read any more of his books. [Puts book down.] They make me feel as though there’s a mode of thinking in this life that I’ve missed out on, somehow. All right, I set out to be wise in a way, too, but what about just dealing with the day-to-day problems as they arise, and learning wisdom that way? Why does he have such a false idea of what wisdom is? I suppose it’s not much point thinking any more about this just at the moment. But what about God? Where does God come in? Is God an entity who really needs to be worshipped? Or is He just an experience, a sensation, in Solomon’s mind which needs to be dealt with? Oh, I believe in God, too—but not in the same way he does. Something perhaps Freud or Jung would know more about. Are you there, God? What do you think? Do you want me to talk to you?

Ah, I must think in more practical terms. Solomon will be what he will be. There is a kind of fate in this world which none of us can do very much either to encourage or to block. Well, I must do my best only to love him.

— INTERVAL —