St. Paul the Delicious

St. Paul the Delicious

A play in one act

The characters:

Max

Paul

Wisp/Hither

Isidor

Atlas

SCENE ONE

Room, surrounded by black curtains. The walls look like dark caverns rather than walls, so the room appears both claustrophobic and uncomfortably large at the same time. The room is dark, penetrated by a few dusty beams which come from soft blue spotlights slung across the ceiling. The floor is cluttered with cardboard boxes, tables and chairs that are huddled together like penguins. On each of the tables are rows upon rows of saltshakers. MAX, a harried young man, is tensely adjusting a nun-shaped saltshaker. One spotlight rests on him. As Max works, PAUL wanders in from stage right, seeming to appear from nowhere. He walks noiselessly, causing occasional ripples in the spotlights, and Max does not notice him as he approaches Max’s table.

 

PAUL: (After watching Max for a few moments, endearingly) Caught you, hm?

Max jumps, surprised that he is no longer alone with his precious salt shakers. He breathes a sputtering sigh to steady himself. Paul chuckles, somewhat flirtatiously.

 

MAX :( Glares at Paul.) I thought you might have been them. Lord, Paul, I’ve told you not to do that.

 

PAUL: (Glancing upwards) He wasn’t involved.

Max grunts and starts to polish a blushing milkmaid. He clutches the polishing cloth a little too hard and he scrubs a little too thoroughly. Paul settles into the chair across from Max and watches him with a glimmer of amusement dancing behind his long beard. He nods every so often, in a matter of fact way, as if agreeing with a politician holding a press conference in his head. Max studies the milkmaid as he polishes, squinting. Eventually he looks up at Paul, noticing that the old man is still watching, quiet and smiling; rarely blinking.

 

 

MAX: What do you want this time? (Flatness lines his voice.)

                Paul’s smile deepens.

 

PAUL: (Quietly.) Nothing, Max. Just enjoying your company.

 

MAX: You know you creep me the fuck out.

Paul’s face explodes into wrinkles.

 

PAUL: I know.

Max seizes the nearest saltshaker, which happens to be a lighthouse, and wields it at Paul. Paul’s eyes widen momentarily, the mirth wiped from his face like raspberry jam.

 

MAX: That’s right. And I can do it again.

Paul stares at him for a second, then resumes his chuckling. Max is unnerved by this sudden shift, and he grips the saltshaker tighter.

Is it them?

Paul says nothing, but heaves himself up from his chair and begins to pace around the stage, weaving between the stacks of boxes and the tables. He walks in and out of the spotlights. The light strokes across him briefly before snapping back to its original rays. As he passes by one of the tables close to the wall, he plucks up a saltshaker and examines it. He sniffs the saltshaker – it is a British phone booth – gives it a cautious lick, and puts it into a pocket of his white blazer. Max takes all this in from his original place at the front of the stage.

Well? I’ve figured out that they’re coming today. They left me signs. They left me signs, and then you showed up.

Paul turns to him, one hand on his pocket.

 

PAUL: They tell me nothing. I’m as much a victim here as you.

He then proceeds to stuff two more saltshakers (one crystal, one dog-shaped) into his pockets.

 

MAX: I get so tired of you doing that.

Max relinquishes his hold on the lighthouse and slumps down into the lawn chair by his table. Paul ignores Max’s comment, and instead pats his pockets with a serene burp. He makes his way through the tables to join Max once again. He folds himself into the chair opposite Max’s, and fixes his eyes on Max’s hands, which are resting on the table, twitchily stroking the lighthouse.

So what do we do now?

He avoids Paul’s cobwebby gaze.

PAUL: (With a tic of his usual smirk) ‘We’? I’ll be out of here soon. Just when I’m done getting my bearings.

Paul takes his eyes off Max’s hands and instead focuses on his sandal-clad foot, flexing to the side underneath the table. His foot is an arthritis-knotted, veiny, pale, horrible sight, one that would make Sir Lancelot blanch. Max has seen it all too many times to be affected by the vague whiff of fungus or the coating of green that surrounds each warped toenail.

 

MAX: (Irritably) Put that away. 

Paul makes a motion to take something else out, but Max grabs the lighthouse hard to show Paul he means business. Paul lets his arm fall limply into his lap.

 

PAUL: Very well.

He goes back to staring at Max’s hands, which have relaxed once more.

 

MAX: We wait.

Max begins to jiggle his knee, as is his habit when he becomes anxious. He is as brittle and nervous as a rabbit during hunting season, but not a clever rabbit like the one on the television; he is a dumb rabbit, stricken by fear into loosening his bowels onto dead leaves. His breathing begins to get less stable.

 

PAUL: (Harshly) You always do this. You never learn.

 

MAX: They never stop.

He jiggles with even more urgency. After a while, his energy becomes so much that he has to stand up and start moving around the room. He almost trips over a couple of the moth-worn cardboard boxes stacked haphazardly across his path. He pounds on the hollow cardboard, the tapping of his fingers sounding like the rain he can never hear from the confines of the room. Paul, unseen by the audience, also begins to tap his fingers. A sudden noise makes Max jerk back towards Paul, who has begun to cough. Paul’s cough is painful, deathly, and hacking. He uses his beard as a handkerchief. Max looks on in disgust.

When Paul finally finishes, Max remains looking at the older man. Paul is a strange looking fellow, clad in a hideous assortment of clothing that seem to have been pulled together from all corners of  past centuries: in addition to his white blazer, he wears a stained pink tie – hot pink, a pastel blue shirt, and lime green shorts that are much too tight. The sandals are a crowning touch, and are complemented only by his yarmulke. Next to Paul, Max almost looks and feels normal in the jeans and t-shirt that have served him well for the past few years.

A ticking noise sounds from somewhere outside the room. It is halfway between the noise of a clock and the noise of a bomb, but neither Max nor Paul takes any notice of it. It is merely counting down the days they have to live, second by second, until they are no more, and the clock will tick on past the stars.

 

MAX: So what did they make you the patron saint of, anyway?

 

PAUL :( Shrugs) I’m Saint Paul the Delicious. I can be the patron saint of whatever the fuck I want.

 

MAX: Was it prostitution?

                Paul shrugs again, but his smile has crept through the hairs of his beard.

You’re disgusting.

Paul, unable to contain his own brand of smug satisfaction, struts towards where he supposes the exit to be, having fulfilled his resting and irritating responsibilities. When he reaches where he supposes the exit to be, however, he discovers that there is not an exit there at all; there is merely a patch of wall that looks just like all the rest of the patches of wall that line the room. Paul kicks the wall, in the vain hope that the force will dislodge a doorknob that has been hiding behind the plaster all this time, giggling away about how clever it is. Paul has no such luck.

Max looks on from his table, unmoving except for his eyes as they follow Paul to the opposite side of the room, where he tries another section of wall. This continues for a while until Max realizes that Paul was not going to give up on his own accord; he is far too stupid for that.

Look. (His voice echoes against the ticking noise.) There is no way out.

 

PAUL: (Scratching his beard) There was a way in.

 

MAX: (A tremor ripples through his tone like a bolt of lightning.)

It’s only for them now.

 

PAUL: I’m not a victim. You are.

 

MAX: But you just said you were as much a victim as I am.

 

PAUL: Who says you’re a victim?

 

MAX: Who says you’re not?

 

PAUL: I’m not.

 

MAX: (Indulging himself in a dark smile) You are now, amigo.

Paul sucks in his cheeks and skirts the perimeter of the room once more; kicking every inch of the wall he can with his unattractive sandaled feet. As he walks, the ticking noise grows louder. Now Max begins to take notice of it; his jiggling, which has slackened, now quickens. Paul remains oblivious.

They’ll be here soon. You might as well stop trying.

Paul’s eyes seem to shrink underneath his knotted brow.

 

PAUL: Not on your ass.

 

MAX: What about your ass?

 

PAUL: Just yours.

 

MAX: What my ass have to do with anything?

There is a silence. The ticking is constant, drops of water in a bucket full of holes. Max looks at his hands.

 

MAX: You are a victim, Paul. Just as much as I am.

Paul stares at the wall in front of him. Max bows his head, which hangs crooked at the end of his skinny neck.

 

The doors are closed. They’re locked. (He pauses and swallows.) There are no doors.

Paul says nothing, but picks up a saltshaker from the nearest table. He casts a furtive glance at the back of Max’s head; seeing that it is still down, he slips the saltshaker into his pocket with the others. His eyes are crinkled bottle caps lodged deep in his brow. He chuckles to himself, a hoarse cough of a laugh.

 

MAX: (Tonelessly) What is it.

 

PAUL: (Staring at a sweaty spot on Max’s back.) Nothing, my boy. Nothing but that it will all happen again. Every night.

 

MAX: You’re a dick, Paul.

 

PAUL: I’m a dick who knows what he’s saying.

Max shoots out of his chair, sending Paul stumbling into the wall and upsetting a stack of folding chairs. Max’s stare is wild and blind, twitching about the room.

(With uncharacteristic weariness) What did you do now?

Max gasps for air, darting breaths puffing into the stale, stuffy atmosphere. The ticking has stopped. Paul looks bewildered for a moment, and then realizes: His forehead crumples into pleats.

 

PAUL: Oh. …. Oh.

He is no longer chuckling, eyebrow-raising, or smirking; the wrinkles on his face betray no mirth. The time has come to be serious. He looks up.

You don’t notice it until it stops… You don’t notice anything until it stops.

 

MAX: (Hissing) Don’t talk, you idiot.

PAUL glares at him.

Just be quiet until… (He falls silent)

They both remain quiet for a few moments, ears pricked for the return of the ticking sound, which staunchly refuses to come back. The two men are not reassured. After a while, Max begins to relax slightly. Paul reaches for his pants, but a warning look from Max halts him. Max sits down.

Okay… That might have been a false alarm.

 

PAUL: Can I talk now, your Majesty?

 

MAX: You act like you’re not in danger here.

 

PAUL: Well, I’m not.

 

MAX: How can you be so sure?

                Paul reflects a moment, unsure.

Exactly.

 

PAUL: (With sudden violence) Have you ever died?

 

MAX: You know I haven’t.

 

PAUL: (Proudly) I have.

 

MAX: (Feigning interest) Oh, really?

 

PAUL: (He does not catch on to Max’s lack of enthusiasm) Oh yeah. Quite a few times, actually. Makes all the ladies go crazy.

                Max’s attention has drifted; he says nothing. Paul looks at him expectantly. When Max fails to reply, he tries a different tack.

Drives the men wild too.

                Max does not respond.

They’re all over me, up there. One day you’ll see just how much they love me, and you’ll see all the places you’ve gone wrong.

Max, who has been paying only the vaguest of attentions to Paul’s rambling, looks at him.

 

MAX: I won’t be going anywhere, you insufferable boor.

 

PAUL: (Airily) Shame.

 

MAX: You haven’t gotten stuck here before.

 

PAUL: No.

 

MAX: What do you think it means?

 

PAUL: It doesn’t mean anything. They probably forgot I was here; it’s an easy enough mistake to make.

 

MAX: You know they don’t make mistakes. I think they want you here.

 

PAUL: Tosh. They wouldn’t want me here. Not for longer than I’m usually here, anyway.

 

MAX: But now you’re a victim.

 

PAUL: (Shouting) I’m NOT.

 

MAX: (Not in the least put off.) Oh but you are, and you’ll see soon enough.

Paul angrily upturns his chair and sends it to the floor. Max looks at him. Paul, suddenly sheepish, places his chair back the way it should be and sits down.

You’re such a child.

 

PAUL: I’m older than you’ll ever be.

 

MAX: Not for long.

 

PAUL: (Continuing his defense) Then they don’t make mistakes… But I’m still here. There has to be a reason.

 

MAX: It’s not the reason you want.

Paul takes the crystal saltshaker from his pocket and begins to shake it. A generous amount of salt falls to the ground, and Paul keeps shaking. Max, tired, watches.

 

PAUL: (With some finality) There.

 

MAX: There what?

 

PAUL: There.

 

MAX: It’s salt.

 

PAUL: Was it a mistake?

 

MAX: That’s irrelevant.

 

PAUL: Was it a mistake?

 

MAX: You poured it there, jackass.

 

PAUL: So it wasn’t a mistake.

 

MAX: (Exasperated) No, it wasn’t, but it was useless.

 

PAUL: It wasn’t a mistake.

 

MAX: What the hell point are you trying to make?

Paul looks at the salt.

 

PAUL: I’ve forgotten now.

 

MAX: (After a silence) There was no point. It was useless, just like you.

 

PAUL: I’m here. I must have a use.

 

MAX: It’s hard to think you weren’t a mistake.

 

PAUL: (Coldly) You were a mistake.

 

MAX: Not for them.

WISP enters, stage left, from a place Paul has not kicked and neither party has noticed existed. Wisp is a man in a bland gray suit with a tattered black tie. He wears an expressionless white mask; on his hands are white gloves. His black oxford shoes shine like slugs with spit and polish. When he walks, he does not move his arms. He seems to slide rather than walk, and his trousers whisper something sinister. Neither Max nor Paul recognizes Wisp’s entrance. Wisp stands in the background, making no movement.

 

PAUL: How long do we have to wait?

 

MAX: They keep me waiting for as long as they want me to.

 

PAUL: When do they come?

 

MAX: (Eyeing the mess of salt on the ground.) Clean that up.

 

PAUL: When?

 

MAX: Clean.

 

PAUL: (Casually) I love you, you know.

 

MAX: Clean.

 

PAUL: Every time I say that…

 

MAX: It’s because you’re bored. Now clean.

 

PAUL: (Angrily) You have no right.

Max reaches for the lighthouse again.

Fine, fine. And I am bored, no thanks to you.

                Paul makes a motion to bend down and clean up, but he does

nothing. Instead, he leans over the table unnaturally close to MAX’S face.

 

MAX: Your breath stinks.

 

PAUL: That never stopped you before.

Max, suddenly furious, picks up a saltshaker and hurls it at the ground, producing a satisfying shattering noise. Paul shoots back into his seat, a pleading whimper in his eyes.

 

MAX: (With dangerous, measured quietness.) You will never do that again.

Wisp takes a step forward. Paul cowers.

Max dashes another saltshaker to the ground. He stands there, trembling.

I am reaching the end. And what I hate most is that it’s just the fucking beginning. (On this last word, he lets loose a third saltshaker.)

                Wisp is not timid; he takes a second step forward, toward Max.

(Vehemence singeing his voice) Of all the people they could have stuck me with, it had to be you. Who could get under my skin? Oh, Paul the Fucking Delicious. Patron saint of everything useless in the world.

Paul says nothing, silenced by the saltshaker explosions. Salt is now littering the stage. Wisp takes one more step. Max almost seems to hear it, but assumes Paul made the noise. He does not turn to look at Paul.

I didn’t ask you.

 

PAUL: I didn’t say anything.

 

MAX: (Ignoring his answer) Just wait. They’ll come, and you’ll know why.

 

PAUL: (Timidly) Should I clean?

Then, Wisp raises one arm, mechanically. As if someone has turned a switch, Max spirals down from his intensity. Paul straightens up in his chair. Wisp turns around and exits, stage left, from where he entered. Again, Max and Paul take no notice, but they both look slightly dazed.

 

MAX: (Weakly) I haven’t had breakfast in years.

 

PAUL: (With a short, barking laugh) No one remembers breakfast anymore.

 

MAX: I don’t remember having it when I had it.

 

PAUL: No one remembers anything anymore.

They lapse into silence, not caring to recover the thread of any earlier conversation. The spotlights go out.

 

END OF SCENE ONE

 

 

SCENE TWO

Just one spotlight comes on; it sleeps on Max. The room is the same as before, but Max and Paul have switched seats. The salt is still on the floor, as are the shattered pieces of salt shakers. They rest dreamlike and forgotten. Paul has dozed off; his tie is undone. Max is staring at the wall across from him, not alert but still awake. He is unable to sleep.

 

MAX: (Starting to sing, roughly, slowly, slightly off-key)

                ‘Hide and seek, says the Wind

in the shade of the woods;

Hide and seek, says the Cloud

Star on to star

Hide and seek, say I,

To myself…’

 

He stops, clearly thinking better of his attempts to sing. He closes his eyes, tired of being awake for so long.

The spotlight goes off.

 

END OF SCENE TWO

 

 

SCENE THREE

All the original spotlights re-ignite. The scene is the same as before, but Paul is awake. The two of them sit, looking at each other, neither particularly focused.

 

MAX: Soon enough now will be history. All this will be the past, but we won’t be part of the future.

 

PAUL: Speak for yourself.

 

MAX: (Calmly) You won’t. Not after tonight. Or… not after …this.

 

PAUL: You can’t separate days anymore, can you?

 

MAX: No. For all I know, it could have been weeks since you came. But that’s the point: it’s like time doesn’t exist. History is nothing to us anyway, and the future never happens. We just know we won’t be in it.

 

PAUL: Well, I will. And the present is filled with stuff I’m missing.

 

MAX: Women?

 

PAUL: Women.

 

MAX: You’re so narrow.

 

PAUL: But I get a lot of sex.

 

MAX: That’s a lie and you know it. You’re repulsive. Wherever you come from, there are no women there for you.

 

PAUL: Some women are for everyone.

 

MAX: Not you.

Paul scratches his beard.

 

PAUL: I found food in here once.

Max says nothing.

Just here. In my beard.

Max remains impassive.

You should have more sex.

Max looks at him pointedly.

Oh. (Beat) So when do we get out of here?

 

MAX: We don’t.

 

PAUL: You don’t. I do.

 

MAX: You don’t. I don’t. We don’t.

 

PAUL: I’m not you. I’m not a victim. I’m leaving.

 

MAX:(With a sinister false cheerfulness) Oh, why didn’t you say so? Fine, fine. Why don’t you just try the door?

 

PAUL: (Not catching on) The door.

 

MAX: (Still smiling, or not) The door.

 

PAUL: There is no door.

 

MAX: (Dropping his act.) Of course there’s no door, you imbecile.

 

PAUL: Then how do I get out?

 

MAX: (Snapping) How many times do I have to tell you? You don’t!

 

PAUL: (Not flustered) You’ll see. I will.

Max rolls his eyes, but stops pressing the point.

                Hither enters. He wears a similar suit to Wisp’s, but instead of a black tie, his is gray. On his head, a white gas mask. He too is wearing white gloves and black shoes. He enters stage right, again, at a place Paul has not kicked and neither Paul nor Max has noticed. As with Wisp, Max and Paul are not aware of his entrance. Hither is not bothered by this, and he stands where he comes in.

Do you remember?

 

MAX: (Annoyed) Do I remember what?

 

PAUL: Before you were here.

 

MAX: No. I’ve always been here.

 

PAUL: You haven’t.

 

MAX: I think I’d know.

 

PAUL: I can prove it.

 

MAX: (Unimpressed.) Can you?

Paul picks up a saltshaker from the table. It’s in the shape of a blob-like figure with its hands raised. With a significant look, he hands it to Max. Max accepts it and studies it, turning it around in his hands. He squints at the base of the salt shaker.

 

PAUL: (Pleased with himself) Well?

 

MAX: Well what?

 

PAUL: Well look.

 

MAX: I’m looking.

 

PAUL: What do you see?

 

MAX: What am I supposed to see?

 

PAUL: It’s breathing.

 

MAX: (Staring hard at the salt shaker.) No it isn’t.

Hither, from his place by the curtain, raises his hand in the same way that Wisp did, as if jerked by a string. Max suddenly drops the saltshaker onto the table, startled. Paul grins. Hither drops his hand.

My God…

 

PAUL: You were saying?

 

MAX: (His voice strained) It breathed.

 

PAUL: You breathed too, once.

Max is silent.

We all did. Once.

Max hesitantly picks up the saltshaker again.

 

MAX: It isn’t alive, is it?

 

PAUL: You’re not alive, are you?

 

MAX: Are you?

 

PAUL: I was.

 

MAX: Was I?

 

PAUL: You were.

 

MAX: How do you remember?

 

PAUL: I don’t.

 

MAX: Neither do I.

Hither exits the way he entered. The second he leaves, the ticking noise starts up again. From a large stack of boxes backstage left emerges ISIDOR. He stumbles into the rest of the room with the air of one vaguely disoriented.

 

ISIDOR: The traffic was a bitch.

 

PAUL: Where did you come from?

 

ISIDOR: I was here.

He wears a tattered pea coat, from which he extracts a pack of cigarettes. He fumbles with opening the package and pulling out a smoke. He puts it into his mouth, pats his pockets, and realizes that he doesn’t have a match. He looks imploringly at Max and Paul, but they shake their heads. He sucks for a moment on his cigarette, then takes it out and exhales deeply.

Have you ever thought about pulling the plug, Max?

 

MAX: On what?

 

ISIDOR: You know… you.

 

MAX: I what?

 

PAUL: You ever wanted to off yourself?

The question takes Max by surprise, but he answers immediately.

 

MAX: No.

 

ISIDOR: Really?

 

MAX: No.

 

PAUL: (Trying to get this straight) No…you have.

 

MAX: I have.

 

ISIDOR: (Begins to put his cigarette back into his mouth for another draw on nothing, but he hesitates a moment) Why haven’t you done it?

 

MAX: I didn’t.

 

ISIDOR: Why not?

 

MAX: I couldn’t.

 

ISIDOR: What was stopping you?

 

MAX: Killing myself.

 

PAUL: If you had more sex-

He is interrupted by a very hostile look from Max and a bemused smirk from Isidor.

 

MAX: It’s a better question to ask why you’ve come here, Isidor.

 

ISIDOR: Ah, quite right. I haven’t introduced myself.

 

MAX: We know you.

 

ISIDOR: Do you?

 

PAUL: You’ve been here before.

 

ISIDOR: Have I?

MAX: You have. And you weren’t very helpful then, either.

 

ISIDOR: (Starts to lean against a table, but his weight makes the table unstable. He jolts up and tries to regain the suaveness he was trying to present.) I’m not here to be helpful, my dear.

 

MAX: That’s not what they said.

 

ISIDOR: (Contemptuously) You don’t even know what they say.

 

MAX: Paul told me.

 

PAUL: (Looking guiltily from Max to Isidor to Max again) Perhaps.

 

ISIDOR: Perhaps nothing, you fool.

 

PAUL: Why does no one appreciate me?

 

MAX AND ISIDOR: There’s nothing to appreciate.

 

PAUL AND MAX: Why did you talk at the same time?

 

ISIDOR AND PAUL: Bored.

 

MAX AND ISIDOR AND PAUL: Waiting.

 

MAX: That was dull.

Hither pokes his head out from behind his curtain; no one sees.

 

Spotlights off.

END OF SCENE THREE

 

SCENE FOUR

 

ISIDOR:(Looking at the ceiling) What do you see when you look up?

 

MAX: (Looks up, as if there would be anything different since the last time he checked) Ceiling.

 

PAUL: Ha. He made you look.

 

ISIDOR: It was an honest question.

 

MAX: Why would you ask?

 

ISIDOR: I was trying to figure out the last time I saw the sky.

 

MAX: But you aren’t here all the time.

 

PAUL: Yeah, where are you the rest of the time?

 

ISIDOR: (Studying his nails) A box.

 

PAUL: Cardboard or plastic?

 

MAX: Paul.

 

ISIDOR: A box.

 

MAX: This is a box.

 

ISIDOR: Box to box.

 

PAUL: Glamorous.

 

MAX: We can’t change our clothes either.

 

ISIDOR: Consequences.

 

PAUL: Consequences of what?

 

ISIDOR: Being alive.

 

MAX: (Snorts in disbelief) If that’s what you want to call it.

 

ISIDOR: (After taking a long drag from his cigarette.) I’m not sure if it is.  

 

MAX: We’re not qualified to say.

 

PAUL: I am.

 

ISIDOR: Shove your qualification up your –

 

MAX: (Cutting him off) Assuming we can choose.

 

PAUL: I can see the sky.

 

ISIDOR: Here?

 

MAX: Never here.

 

PAUL: Want to hear a story?

 

ISIDOR: Is it about sex?

 

PAUL: No.

 

MAX: Are you sure?

 

PAUL: No.

 

MAX: No?

 

PAUL: Yes.

 

ISIDOR: (With a sigh and a tap of his cigarette.) Tell it anyway.

 

PAUL: I’ve forgotten it now. (Beat)

 

ISIDOR: I have a story.

 

PAUL: Tell it.

 

ISIDOR: Stories aren’t for telling.

 

MAX: Pauls’ aren’t.

 

PAUL: Is it about sex?

 

ISIDOR: Depends on how you look at it.

 

MAX: Okay, let’s hear it.

 

ISIDOR: (He takes his feet off his chair and places them squarely on the floor. He assumes a paternal, knowing manner, holding his cigarette like a pipe. Max and Paul become small and eager children, flopping onto the floor by Isidor’s feet. He begins.) Once upon a time… (He pauses, thoughtfully) There was a man with a throat full of blood. (He considers this.) And a boat.  There was also a boat. (He falls silent, puffing on his cigarette and looking into the distance. Max and Paul drop the children’s faces, look at each other.)

 

PAUL: Is that it? (Isidor doesn’t answer.) Is that all there was?

 

ISIDOR: It’s a parable.

 

MAX: An allegory?

 

ISIDOR: A parable. Take that to heart, will you.

 

MAX: What heart?

 

PAUL: The one in your throat full of blood.

 

MAX: (Dryly) Very wise.

 

PAUL: I like my beard.

 

ISIDOR: I don’t.

 

MAX: That settles that, then.

 

ISIDOR: Chapter one: A life held at ransom.

 

PAUL: Chapter two: A ransom worth nothing.

 

MAX: Chapter three: A life worth nothing.

 

ISIDOR: Very wise.

 

PAUL: I was there.

 

MAX: Very wise.

 

END OF SCENE FOUR

SCENE FIVE

 

Paul and Isidor are playing a makeshift game of checkers with the salt shakers. Max looks on with steepled fingers, unfocused.

 

PAUL: King me.

 

ISIDOR: I will do no such thing.

 

PAUL: Go on.

 

ISIDOR: You don’t deserve it. (To Max, amiably.) Are you less lonely now?

Max jerks back to the present.

 

MAX: I don’t get lonely.

 

PAUL: Of course you do. That’s why you’re so glad I’m here.

 

MAX: I’m outraged that you’re here.

 

PAUL: You love it.

 

MAX: I really don’t.

 

ISIDOR: I do.

 

PAUL: I don’t care.

 

ISIDOR: Then I don’t.

 

PAUL: I don’t care.

 

ISIDOR: I don’t.

 

PAUL: (to Max) You do.

 

MAX: Do what?

 

PAUL: I don’t know.

 

ISIDOR: You’re incapable of logical thought.

 

MAX: Incapable of thought, period.

 

ISIDOR: Incapable, period.

 

PAUL: King me already.

 

ISIDOR: No.

 

PAUL: Are we still playing?

 

ISIDOR: No.

 

PAUL: Oh. (They sit in silence for a moment. Paul reaches for his pants.)

 

MAX: (Sharply.) No.

 

PAUL: Then what am I supposed to do?

 

MAX:                                                    together                                 ISIDOR:

Wait.                                                                                                                      Shut up.

 

PAUL: Oh. (Pause.) What about after you die?

 

MAX: After we die.

 

ISIDOR: We’re not dying.

 

MAX: We are.

 

ISIDOR: Eventually.

 

PAUL: Not at all.

 

ISIDOR: Like two men standing by a dead tree.

 

MAX: Doing what?

 

ISIDOR: It’s none of your business.

 

MAX: They all die.

 

PAUL: Not I.

 

ISIDOR: Could you be any more explicit?

 

PAUL AND MAX, at once: Yes.

 

MAX: At least we’re self-conscious.

 

PAUL: Speak for yourself.

 

ISIDOR: True.

 

PAUL: Nothing’s true.

 

ISIDOR: Hegel.

 

MAX: Kant.

 

ISIDOR: I can’t.

 

PAUL: I can.

 

MAX: Get a life.

 

PAUL: I don’t need to. I’ve already got yours.

 

MAX: Speak for yourself.

 

PAUL: I am.

 

ISIDOR: This is exhausting.

 

PAUL: Is it day yet?

 

MAX: I can’t tell.

 

PAUL: Night?

 

MAX: Always.

 

ISIDOR: Or never, depending.

 

MAX: Depending.

 

PAUL: I wonder what Jesus would say.

 

MAX: He’d have the good sense not to be here at all.

 

ISIDOR: He’d offer constructive criticism.

 

PAUL: Of what?

 

ISIDOR: Us.

 

MAX: No, just Paul.

 

ISIDOR: Then he wouldn’t waste time on the ‘constructive’ part.

 

MAX: How tired do I have to get?

 

PAUL: Before what?

 

MAX: Release.

 

ISIDOR: (To Paul.) You walked into that one.

 

PAUL: (Suddenly fidgety) Truth or dare?

 

ISIDOR: Who?

 

PAUL: You.

 

ISIDOR: Truth.

 

PAUL: (Takes a moment, slowly.) Do you think –

 

ISIDOR: (Interrupting) No. Next.

 

PAUL: I didn’t finish.

 

ISIDOR: I don’t think. Next.

 

PAUL: But –

 

ISIDOR: (Breaking in, to Max.) Truth or dare? (Max looks at him, unimpressed.)

 

MAX: Are you two teenage girls? Is that it?

 

ISIDOR: Truth or dare… or a lie.

 

PAUL: Lie or dare.

 

ISIDOR: Truth or lie.

 

PAUL: Nothing’s true.

 

MAX: You’ve done this bit. Move on.

 

ISIDOR: Lie. You can lie to yourself, or you can lie to us.

 

PAUL: Or both.

 

ISIDOR: Preferably both.

 

MAX: I’m not going to lie to myself.

 

PAUL: Cheating.

 

MAX: Is not.

 

ISIDOR: Then we’ll count that one.

 

PAUL: Fine. My turn.

 

ISIDOR: No. I didn’t get to go. Your turn.

 

PAUL: My turn.

 

MAX: Lie.

 

ISIDOR: Strike three.

 

PAUL: Damn.

 

ISIDOR: Continue.

 

END OF SCENE FIVE

 

SCENE SIX

 

PAUL: Multiple choice question. Am I a) incredibly clever, b) incredibly attractive or, c) all of the above?

 

ISIDOR: (Pounding table like it’s a buzzer competition) Trick question! None of the above.

 

MAX: Plus d) incredibly annoying, and e) incredibly dense.

 

PAUL: I don’t need you guys to appreciate me.

 

ISIDOR: Just as well, because we don’t.

 

MAX: The answer to any question is also violence.

 

ISIDOR: Clearly. Especially on Paul.

 

PAUL: Can we get back on topic?

 

ISIDOR: What topic?

 

MAX: There has never been a topic.

 

ISIDOR: I think there might have been, once.

 

PAUL: There sure as hell isn’t now.

 

MAX: There could be.

 

ISIDOR: But who needs a topic? Relevance is for the weak.

 

PAUL: I know! I’ll have a monologue.

 

ISIDOR: Oh God no. (Glances up briefly) Sorry, hon. Max, you do one.

 

MAX: Very well. (He stands up and clears his throat. He clasps his hands, licks his lips, and begins.) When I was – (he stops, scans the room) I can’t do this.

 

ISIDOR: Oh, come on. It’s just some continuous speaking. We’ve been doing it for a while now, except this time it’s all up to you.

 

MAX: I’m not used to anything being up to me.

 

PAUL: (Raising his hand eagerly) Symbolism! Called it!

 

ISIDOR: That isn’t symbolism, you moron. It’s an extension of theme.

 

MAX: Somewhat.

 

ISIDOR: Carry on.

Max collects himself and tries again.

 

MAX: Lastly, we begin here, where I’ve been for the past eternity or so. An eon is an approximation. Thirdly, this room is a privation of a) life, or b) cucumber sandwiches. Reincorporation of multiple choice, checkpoint passed. Organized nonsense abounds in a lecture about torment. Commentary, checkpoint significant, expressed. Take two.

 

ISIDOR: (Taking on the air of a journalist) Sir, is it true that this is hell? (Silence. Ticking.)

 

MAX: Next question.

 

PAUL: Sir, are you single?

 

MAX: Yes, this is hell. (He plops back down in his seat. Isidor looks down and sighs. Paul strokes his beard.)

 

PAUL: This isn’t much of a game, is it?

 

MAX: This isn’t a game at all.

 

ISIDOR: Well, that’s a matter of opinion. Considering their perspective…

 

PAUL: Fair enough.

 

MAX: No, the key is that it isn’t fair. It’s their game, their rules, our necks.

 

PAUL: I’m bored.

 

MAX: Isidor, you do one.

 

ISIDOR: A monologue?

 

MAX: Yes.

 

ISIDOR: If you’d like…. Let’s see… (He stands up, straightens his coat, removes his cigarette.) Okay, I’ve got one: I like tea. It’s because my only memory is tea. I remember the heat, the smooth brownnesss of it. And saucers. Who the hell decided that would be – of course, I haven’t had tea since being in the box. It is cardboard, by the way. Well. No tea there. I don’t remember the situation surrounding the tea. There could have been biscuits, there could have been blood. Broken glass, screaming, and/or sexual intercourse. I just remember the smell – reassuring. Not like it tasted wonderful, just… it’s what I remember.

 

PAUL: I think you’re lying.

 

ISIDOR: Spot on. (He leans back in his seat.) Truth or dare?

 

PAUL: Dare.

 

MAX: I dare you to get out of here.

 

PAUL: Truth.

 

MAX: Admit you know you can’t get out now. (Isidor straightens up. Paul stiffens.)

 

PAUL: Yes. Bear in mind, I could be lying. Done.

 

MAX: Truth or dare?

 

ISIDOR: Truth.

 

MAX: Who is your mother?

 

ISIDOR: I don’t have one.

 

PAUL: Makes sense. (To Max.) Have you ever woken up on the wrong side of sleep?

 

MAX: This is the wrong side of sleep.

 

ISIDOR: I propose a motion to declare this purgatory, not hell.

 

MAX: Seconded.

 

ISIDOR: Motion carried.

 

PAUL: I object.

 

ISIDOR: Objection rejected. Be less stupid next time.

 

PAUL: Yes, Your Honour. Anyone up for drunken singing?

 

MAX: Meeting adjourned.

 

END OF SCENE SIX

 

SCENE SEVEN

Max, Paul, and Isidor are seated around the table. Isidor has his feet up, leaning back, sucking on his unlit cigarette. Max is twirling a saltshaker. Paul is picking at his teeth with his pinky finger. He withdraws his finger, squints at it, and shudders.

 

PAUL: What’s your greatest fear?

 

MAX: That you’re not gone yet. (With theatrical surprise) And it looks like you’re not.

 

PAUL: Fuck off.

 

MAX: Would if I could.

 

PAUL: Izzy.

 

ISIDOR: Don’t call me that.

 

PAUL: You?

 

ISIDOR: Plaid.

 

PAUL: Plaid.

 

ISIDOR: Yes. (Taps imaginary ash from the tip of his cigarette) Can’t stand it. Also salmon.

 

MAX: The fish?

 

ISIDOR: The color.

 

PAUL: Salmon.

 

MAX: You’re afraid of a color?

 

PAUL: You’re pathetic.

 

ISIDOR: You’re pathetic.

 

MAX: We all are. And we’re all stuck.

 

PAUL: I’m scared of pineapple.

 

ISIDOR: And you’re calling me pathetic.

 

MAX: What about pineapple?

 

PAUL: The smell.

 

MAX: Why the hell?

 

PAUL: (With a shrug) Makes me nervous.

 

MAX: Can this end?

 

ISIDOR: (Suddenly appearing to transform into a blind old man) “Use your head, can’t you, use your head, you’re on earth, there’s no cure for that!”

 

MAX: What?

 

ISIDOR: (Snapping out of blind old man mode) Beckett.

 

PAUL: Gesundheit. (Max sneezes) You’re welcome.

 

ISIDOR: Who brought the drugs?

 

MAX: We don’t have any drugs.

 

PAUL: Speak for yourself.

 

MAX: You have drugs?

 

PAUL: Sure.

 

ISIDOR: You do?

 

PAUL: ‘Course not.

 

ISIDOR: None at all?

 

PAUL: All in here. (He pats his stomach.)

 

ISIDOR: Asshole.

 

PAUL: Gesundheit.

 

ISIDOR: Oh will you stop that.

 

MAX: (Shouts) Cut!

Paul and Isidor freeze. At the same time, the ticking stops.

Really? (Silence. Max gets up hesitantly, circles the table, and waves his hand in front of Isidor’s face.) Really. (Silence)

                ATLAS emerges from backstage right. He wears a suit and sneakers.

 

ATLAS: You want this to stop?

Max turns around to face the inevitable, silent.

Yeah, I’m here.

 

MAX: (Quietly) What are you going to do? (Though he knows the answer)

Atlas says nothing. Max crumples in pain.

Why are they here? (Nods to Paul and Isidor)

 

ATLAS: We thought you could use some company.

 

MAX: Liar. (He is hit with a second wave of pain)

 

ATLAS: We’re getting rid of them with you.

 

MAX: Impossible.

 

ATLAS: Why?

 

MAX: You’d come too.

 

ATLAS: (Almost conversationally) You’d think so.

 

MAX: Because that is what would happen.

 

ATLAS: I’ll have to prove it to you. Any last words?

 

MAX: It’s not possible.

 

ATLAS: You’ll leave the world with that?

 

MAX: I won’t leave at all.

 

ATLAS: But you’re the one who wants to leave.

 

MAX: Not like this.

 

ATLAS: You do.

 

MAX: It won’t happen.

 

ATLAS: Wanna bet?

 

MAX: (Glances over at Paul and Isidor.) Can you at least bring them back?

 

ATLAS: (Vaguely amused smirk) So you want them now? (Max glares at him) Scared? Well aren’t you sweet.

 

MAX: (Relenting) Please.

 

ATLAS: Too late. (He winks. Max pulls a gun from his pocket. He brings it to his head.)

 

MAX: (His voice wavers) I couldn’t do it.

 

ATLAS: Pity.

 

Max pulls the trigger. Gunshot.

 

Blackout. 

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My grandmother is special because…

My grandmother is special because she entertains in her room, on average, six men a day. So that’s six times three hundred fifty – we’re taking off some days for holidays here – and you get about two thousand men. That is a lot of testosterone going in and out of those French doors. Though, again, we’ve got to count that some guys are coming back for seconds, maybe thirds, maybe regular customers. Fine, but even if you take off a whole thousand, you get a thousand left, and that is still a load of guys. And one guy out of that load was my grandfather.

There were eleven guys out of that thousand or so who produced a kid. Well, they produced something before Nan had ‘em ripped out. Five of the kids came out natural, and one of the kids was my dad. The others were my Uncle Bett, Aunt Leeah, Auntie Chuck, and Arnie.  My dad was called Granger, and his dad was some bum or another. Nan never figured out which one he was in the end. It’s not like any of ‘em within a week would’ve owned up to a little brat on the doorstep.

So anyway, old Grange grew up and married my mom, Lottie, who was working in a hotel. Dad stayed there for a night or two, and then he just kept coming back to see Lottie. Mom was a receptionist, so it wasn’t like she’d seen the state of his room every time he left. If she had, maybe she wouldn’t have married him. Dad had some issues with pills and stuff, and he got violent on occasion, so a torn curtain or a sheet wadded into the toilet bowl weren’t the most unusual of consequences. But he covered the hotel bills quietly, and Mom never learned. Dad only ever told me when he was drunk, and when he was, he told me about fifty times per evening.

So Lottie and Grange got married after they found out my older brother Danny was on the way. Found a nice little apartment, moved in, and times were good enough, Dad more or less off his pills since he started seeing Mom. Danny came along, and he was always a bit off; he wobbled a lot, liked to stick things in his mouth, and that kept going until he was twenty and finally got himself killed by a train. A few years after Danny came Tom, who got bored real easily but was always nice to me. I was a year after Tom, and we were good enough friends as well as being brother and sister. After me came Daph, but that was after Dad died. We never knew whose she was either. Daph was a nice girl; still is.

Daph married a mechanic, you know. They live out in Kentucky somewhere and I see them once every year on Thanksgiving. Not that they’ve got much to be thankful for, since they have a few little kids packed into that ratty trailer they live in, and the kids aren’t all that bright. Daph was never all that bright. Tom was bright, but Daph never quite got it. Danny, well, obviously not. He took forever to learn how to count his own toes, and then once he learned how to do that, it was impossible to get him to do anything else.

When Danny died nothing really interesting happened. There was a funeral of course, but it wasn’t that great. I had to do the eulogy, which is dumb because I never really knew him. I was away for school for most of the time; Mom and Dad mainly wanted to get rid of me and Tom and Daph. Danny never had the chance. They were too poor when there was enough time for him to get off to school. You’d think a few years wouldn’t make much of a difference but apparently it did. Danny was alone most of the time, and when he wasn’t alone he was with Mrs. Gardener, and who even knows what he was doing the rest of the time. He didn’t even really get a job until he was nineteen, and only then that was hauling around lumber. Don’t understand how he got the job, though, seeing as he was such a skinny little kid, but I guess he might have beefed up some muscle. Or maybe he had a desk job, though I can’t imagine anyone would have trusted him with paper. I don’t know. Maybe he just got people coffee. Seems more his speed.

Now, Tom. He’s almost died a lot of times. More times than Danny, and that’s saying something. Daph never almost died, and maybe that’s why she’s so boring now. Tom, when he was a kid, almost drowned at the beach a lot, but that doesn’t compare to the time he got shot. See, he was in Mexico, doing something for his job. He does some international business stuff – I don’t know; I’ve never really asked him. And he was walking down the street when this drug lord guy shot him. I’m not sure how the thing works with drug lords down there, but there are enough of them that they’re wandering the streets with guns shooting people. Apparently he looked like some guy who owed them money, which doesn’t make sense to me, because Tom doesn’t look much like a Mexican. He’s got a light sort of brown hair like I do, and he’s got these eyes that crackle with blue when you look at them too hard. I guess he’s kind of handsome. He’s had a few wives, so probably.

Tom’s first wife was Stacy, and she was a complete airhead. That’s probably why Tom ditched her, and I don’t blame him. Stacy sat around eating ice cream all day, and I don’t know why she wasn’t fat. She was skinny and we all hated her for it. Whenever I’d go over to their place she was always kicking up in front of the tv and she’d be watching Jerry Springer talking about some guy who’d had sex with his wife’s piano teacher. And she’d be eating ice cream. She’d wait for a while even though she knew I was at the door and I’d ring the doorbell like crazy and it was like she was just waiting for me to get tired and leave. I never did, though, and eventually she’d come get the door. She’d show up in her little fluffy bathrobe and her slippers and she’d comment on the weather. And obviously I wouldn’t be interested, because I’d come to see Tom and not to talk about the weather or whatever, but she’d just keep going, and I’d have to wait and listen to her. It was stupid. She was stupid. Tom made a stupid decision when he took that cow up to the altar, but we’re all entitled to a few mistakes in life, I guess.

It’s not like I’ve never made stupid mistakes. I myself have been married twice, though that’s never stopped me from having good judgement in other things. I just don’t seem to understand how relationships work. Or maybe the people I’d had them with didn’t understand either. There was a woman and there was a man. I didn’t like the woman as much as I liked the man, which is just as well, considering I’m pretty sure I’m straight. The woman was a bit of a mix-up, if I’m going to say that, because she was. The whole marriage was. I thought I loved her for about six months, but then that turned out to be going down the toilet along with everything else. Her name was Dorothea, which should have tipped me off in the first place that it wasn’t going to work out. Sure, we had some good times, and the beginning was all right, but I’m not going to pretend it was perfect, because it obviously wasn’t. Anyway, she left me for some guy called Derrick who wore pink bikini briefs when he went swimming, so that should tell you a little bit about both of them.

Then the guy I married turned out a bit better. I made sure he didn’t wear pink bikini briefs, which was a pretty good idea on my part, and the marriage lasted for two years, which was a year and six months longer than the first one. He was called Joseph, though he changed his name to Joe –legally, he changed it to Joe – when he started raising the bonsai trees in the middle of our living room. That, of course, was when I had to go. He was a bit of a green nut, meaning he basically breathed hemp. I didn’t like his friends because they all had beards and smelled like BO. Obviously, this was later. Before, when things were going all right, he wore suits, and all his friends wore suits, and it was fine. And then he started doing the socks with sandals thing and I decided I had to call it quits with him and with all his precious little “buddies”, as he’d call the trees.

Yeah, it’s been an interesting run for me in terms of relationships. And those were just the marriages. I’ve had three girlfriends before and two boyfriends, and one who I really wasn’t sure would fall into either category. So I’ve played both sides and every angle of the card table, and I can’t say I’ve been that impressed anywhere; I’ve yet to find my King or Queen of hearts. The happiest I ever was in a relationship was with a guy called Francis I’d met back in college. He was into politics, and he was pretty good at it too. And then he ran for student council and everyone adored him and that’s when he dumped me for Sheila, who always had too much make-up on and referred to everyone as ‘sweetie’. It kind of makes me sad that he thought this was a step up.

I can’t be too terrible if I’ve had relationships before, but there’s got to be something wrong with me if none of them have ever held. It’s too bad, really, considering how I’m getting on in years and don’t really have an interesting job. I should really find something to devote my life to, you know. I have a few things I like and a few things I love but I don’t think I could make much money off them. Of course I couldn’t. I’ve tried, believe me. As it is, I’m stuck in a stupid job showing houses to people. But don’t think for a second that I’m a real estate agent; it doesn’t really mean anything other than I give tours to people when they want them. I’m not a real agent; there are other people who do the actual work. I just kind of do what needs doing around the office, which mostly equates to the type of work that Danny would be doing if he was in the same position. But I’d like to flatter myself when I think that Danny wouldn’t have gotten this far. Well, technically he hasn’t, considering he’s dead, so he can’t, but…

Anyway. I need some meaning in my life, and it can’t just be something I find on the back of a cereal box. You know, they always have the people on those things going for bike rides in the sunset or whatever and smiling gray-haired old ladies pretending to have the time of their lives because they had a big bowl of bran that morning. If bran gives them meaning, that’s great for them, but it’s not going to cut it for me. It just won’t. I need something more than a healthy active lifestyle, though I’m not saying a couple trips to the gym wouldn’t help me out a bit. I’m not quite Stacy-level for fitness when it comes down to it, but bran isn’t going to help me with anything. It’s not that I don’t like bran; it’s that- …

I read in the papers the other day about these guys who stole some garbage trucks. That was it. They’d just stolen garbage trucks and they were arrested along the highway outside Denver and I was thinking, wow. What kind of a crime is that if you’re caught outside Denver in a garbage truck. So I got to thinking about what could have made them steal some garbage trucks. Maybe, I don’t know, maybe one of them lost an engagement ring in a bag of trash somewhere and they wanted to find it before it went into a landfill. But that seems kind of stupid considering there’s – well, there’s got to be a better solution for that, right? So maybe one of them was deranged and thought the garbage trucks were the key to some Rapture thing. You never know what the whackjobs on the streets are thinking when they’re holding up the signs saying we’ve got only a few more weeks left and then kapow, there goes the world and everything in it. Garbage trucks could have been the answer. Yeah, well.  So I don’t know what that was all about. Maybe they were just bored.

This garbage truck story, this extreme of boredom or psychopathy or whatever it was – this story is something I’ll never understand. And that’s okay, considering there are lots of things I’ll never understand. But this has got to be one of the big ones. Except, hell, this is a big one and it’s only about a few garbage trucks outside Denver. If this is big, then the massive ones are pretty insanely huge. Things like the universe and …. whatever’s outside of that. And I’ll never understand any of those things either.  I’m no better off than Danny in that respect… even though I’m …well, I’m not dead yet.

And I guess that’s a good enough place to start.

Stored Like Fat

There she was; her smile glistening at me from across the hallway, shining like the slime of slugs salted long ago. Oh, how my heart wrenches to think of her standing in her perfect… beauty, as it were. She emitted a cloud of perfumed delicacy, a talcum powder purity, a duck covered in the sensuously lumpy gravy that is muliebrity.

I stared at her, my eyes agleam, and basked in the glow of her there-ness. Bernadette, my Bernadette! Would that you had chosen me…

Alack, for as I basked and she smiled, I did not realize how soon all would be lost. But I digress. Visualize, as it were, if you will, the scene of us in a school corridor- she smiling and I basking. Her skin was like buttered toast, as warm and soft as a breadbasket’s bosom, and as she gazed, my heart glowed with the heat of a particularly promiscuous barbeque.

And then! Oh, and then, dear reader/children, as it were! – she opened her mouth- her lusciously, puffily, seductively existent mouth- to speak! Her voice was a choir of demented angels, each and every trying to outdo the glory of representing her own blessèd voice!

But a hush came over me, then, as I clung to the syllables that waddled dutifully from her squishy lips.

“Hey, Todd.”

I squealed inwardly; delight staining my cheeks red with passion. I could scarce but gather my faculties to reply. I willed the words to form behind my trembling tonsils. But- But, dear readers! I realized, as suddenly as the crack of an old man’s spine, that my name was not Todd, nor had it ever been Todd, nor, I daresay, would it ever be Todd. I turned my ego-bruised head to my left, where another girl stood- a weasel at the picnic.

Todd. Todd was a female… And then it struck me- struck me like a basket of particularly vile fish sticks whacking a newborn ocelot- this weasel was one Miss Bertha Todd, Bernadette’s “BFF.” She stood there smugly, that barbaric excuse for a scholar; mocking my un-slaked lust for the attention of my ivory chess piece, Bernadette.

My heart was wrung, a dishwater disappointment pulsing from my kitchen sponge soul; bitter suds of lasagna plates past filling my eyes with tears of unused ragout. I know how thou art wounded, thou glorious, untouched meat sauce! For that was to be my fate. My face, abused ground beef set into my Adonis features, sweaty tomatoes twinkling the dreams of lonely fortune. Weep for me! Cry oniony tears of noble sympathy for my unbleached porcelain grimace of pain; my stifled agony squeezing forth from that foul Twinkie of existence!

For all my misery was to amount to nothing in the muddy brown eyes of Bertha Todd.

 

“Aye”

The scene is a dock. A sunset wavers in the background, lancing off the water like a burn. A wrinkled old FISHERMAN is caught in the silhouette of a passing cloud. {Figure that one out, lighting director.} He is speaking to a young gentleman named STEPHEN, who is wearing a very smart pair of boots.

FISHERMAN:

(clearly continuing a story; picking his nose with one of the shriveled claws he calls fingers) They say the house belongs to a madman. Only sits around, face to the wall, muttering words that start with ‘e’. Aye, no one knows-

STEPHEN:

(interrupting) Wait. ‘E’ and ‘i’, or just ‘e’?

FISHERMAN:

Aye, ‘e’.

STEPHEN:

But I –

FISHERMAN:

Aye.

STEPHEN:

(giving up at this point.) Indeed. Now where in this village might I find some decent lodging?

FISHERMAN:

Oh, ye’d be wanting to visit the Fish and Pipe. They’ve got rooms that could serve yer purpose well, and a hot bed and soft meal to boot.

STEPHEN:

I already have boots. (sticks out his leg to demonstrate)

 

FISHERMAN: (staring out to the sea) Aye…

STEPHEN:

(a little hurt that his handsomely-attired leg is being ignored) Er…what’s out there?

FISHERMAN:

(mumbling to himself) There be a storm brewin’. (proceeds to hack for rather a long time into a  splotchy, once-white handkerchief.)

 

STEPHEN: 

(glances absently at the sea before looking back rather wistfully at his leg.)

I’d rather prefer some coffee to be brewing.

FISHERMAN:

Coffee rots yer lungs, young lady.

STEPHEN:

Pardon?

FISHERMAN:

I said coffee’ll give you the plague.

STEPHEN:

Excuse me?

FISHERMAN:

Aye, boy, I live offa cabbage and oranges, and that’s been good enough fer me all these years. A few pipes ain’t never hurt, neither. (falls pretty to a second round of hacking)

 

STEPHEN:

‘Young lady’?

FISHERMAN:

(finished coughing, gazes out to sea once more) Aye, she were, m’lad.

STEPHEN:

(attempts once more to follow his companion’s view, but finds nothing of note.)

Yes indeed, that’s quite a storm brewing.

FISHERMAN:

She were.

STEPHEN:

(trying to regain conversation) Storms tend to make things quite wet, if I’m not mistaken.

FISHERMAN:

Nay.

STEPHEN:

Neigh?

FISHERMAN:

Nay.

STEPHEN:

‘Nay’ I am not mistaken, or ‘nay’ storms don’t make things wet?

FISHERMAN:

Aye.

STEPHEN:

Eh?

FISHERMAN:

Nay, ‘aye.’

STEPHEN:

Not I?

FISHERMAN:

Nay, ‘eh.’

STEPHEN:

Oh good Lord.

FISHERMAN is silently looking at the sky. STEPHEN fidgets.

STEPHEN:

 I’ll just head off to that Duck and Pip you were telling me about. (begins to walk away, but then) – I say, you’ve not yet told me where it– (turns around)

 

The FISHERMAN is busy jumping off the edge of the dock.

STEPHEN watches him do this, rubbing his nose absently, before it finally occurs to him that maybe his assistance is required.

By this time, though, the fisherman is through the water and it’s too late for Stephen to help while both parties are still dry.

STEPHEN reluctantly ambles over to the edge of the dock and looks into the sea.

STEPHEN:

How rude. No sign of him anywhere. (stands there a moment) Perhaps I should deliver a eulogy. (he takes a few paces back and forth across the dock, thinking) Very well… (stares very hard at a seagull that has perched itself at a dock post) I suppose you shall listen to it, sir. (clears his throat and begins) I did not know this fellow for very long, but the few minutes I spent speaking to him were among the dullest of my life – …

No, I don’t suppose that’s any good. What about this one?

I did not know this fellow for very long, but the few minutes I spent speaking to him culminated in his death. (glances at water) Presumably.

And presumably, he now rests under these white-capped waves, entangled in some sort of biology, perhaps already consumed by a serpent. You, sir! Wake up. (watches as the seagull flies away) Well, I suppose that will have to serve.

Twilight has already begun to gather around the edges of the day, crinkling up the wears and affairs of the sun; putting them to rest in the hills. STEPHEN squints in the direction of the village.

 

STEPHEN:

My, I wish I were already at the Goose and Stone – or whatever that place is called – with my hot bed and soft meal to boot… (sudden gasp) This air mustn’t be doing any good for my poor boots. Oh, delicate leather so violated by this frigid, saline perdition!

(glares at water) Now if you’ll excuse me, sir, I’ve had a long day and I’m prepared to be done with it already. You’ve not been helping me accomplish my goal. I still have no idea where your Chicken and Boulder is, and I would very much appreciate it if I never had to deliver a eulogy again. Yours was most agonizing.

There is the sound of bubbles.

I’m sure. (peers into the water) Ah, a dead fish. Lovely pelt. (glances between the dead fish’s scales and his own boots, back and forth a few times) Lovely pelt… (sneezes)

Bless me, I’m perishing in this weather. I had better get to that Granite Crane before my poor nostrils and boots turn to petrol. (sneezes again) Bless me.

            A seagull cries from overhead.

 

STEPHEN:

Oh, shut up. You’ve no idea.

Seagull swoops down and makes off with the fish.

 

(calling after it) Lovely pelt! (he looks once more into the water, but seeing nothing significant, begins to make his way down the dock opposite the water) Very rude indeed.

(more in a murmur to himself) I suppose this path shall spit me into the village eventually. The Oyster and Pip oughtn’t to take very long to locate.

STEPHEN’s esteemed boots fire echoes above the slow roar and slap of the ocean. The seagull has fallen silent, doubtless shying from the moody sea. But Stephen does not notice the lack of sound, and neither does the FISHERMAN. The fisherman is dead, after all, and this tends to make hearing difficult.

And Stephen… well… he is Stephen.

STEPHEN:

(sneezes for a third time) Bless me. (reaches down and pats one of his boots)

You too.