Literature

A Dramatic Tale

Act 1 Scene 1

Early morning. A provincial railway platform. The place is falling into disrepair: graffiti; defunct vending machines; a boarded-up café. A Man, probably in his late thirties, walks along the edge of the platform. Intermittently he stops and, stooping, sifts through the gravel chips on the tracks. Mostly he flings the things he finds across the tracks, but occasionally he finds something he appears to like. He picks up a cigarette butt and twists off the end, pocketing the rest. The noise of an approaching train is heard. The Man pauses and looks at the sky. The sun is coming up. It looks like it will be a beautiful day. The sound grows louder. The Man waits and, as the train comes into view, observes it curiously for a few seconds. As it pulls into the station he removes himself to a bench and begins to empty the contents of his pocket into his lap. Carefully choosing four or five cigarette butts, he stuffs the rest back into his pocket. From another pocket he pulls a worn folded piece of A4 paper and places it in his lap. With hands that shake, perhaps in anticipation, he tears each cigarette butt open, pouring the last remnants of tobacco onto the paper. He becomes engrossed in his occupation. The train arrives and departs. Nobody boards; almost a Woman alights. She has a large rucksack. She looks up and down the platform, spying the Man and observing him. She approaches. He remains absorbed in his task. She stops before the exit, staring at him, as he struggles to perform the task he has set himself. He does not look up.

 

Girl: What are you doing with yourself?

The man starts, dropping the piece of paper from his lap and spilling the accumulated tobacco. He yelps, but does not look up.

Man: Still not looking up. Shaking his head. No no no no no no no.

The Girl laughs cheerfully. The Man bends and picks up the paper carefully, gathering any remaining wisps of tobacco. He empties his pockets, selects his cigarette butts, and begins the whole process again. His hands shake more and more violently. He is spilling more tobacco onto his lap/the bench than onto the paper. The Girl takes a camera/phone from her pocket. She begins to film him. The paper slips from his lap again. He yelps. Perhaps stamps his feet. Maybe he picks up the paper again, screws it furiously into a ball, and throws it across the platform. He presses his eyes and, leaning back on the bench, utterly exhausted, his head thrown skywards, sighs deeply, sonorously. The girl stops filming and, dropping her rucksack, sits beside him.

Girl: Watch!

The Man sits forward obediently. The girl replays her footage, giggling. The Man’s face relaxes as he watches himself. His cries are heard coming from the camera/phone. He begins to laugh too.

Man: Remarkable, remarkable, remarkable.

The girl throws her arms around his middle, embracing him tightly. He looks at her, hesitantly, surprised; yields, rubs her back. She sits up suddenly. Her face is wet with tears.

Girl: Well, shall we go?

Man: I suppose so.

They remain seated, looking at one another.

Girl: Well?

Man: Where?

Girl: I have a friend lives nearby. Looks at the sky. She’ll be waking up now.

Man: Who is she?

Girl: She has whole shelves of dentures. I think you’ll like her! Besides, she’s expecting you.

They leave.

 

Scene 2

 

A street. It is still early. Coffee shops are beginning to open for those who move with unseeing eyes to various offices. Road workers are arriving at their destinations, and those who have been awake all night are going to sleep. The Man and the girl walk along the street. It is a terrace of large town houses: small walled gardens and bay windows. She holds his hand, leading him as if he were blind. He walks immediately behind her. You couldn’t say he looks reluctant, or afraid, exactly, but there is something, somewhere between vague obstinacy and intense self-consciousness, which holds him.

Man: Where are we?

Girl: Stopping. Here we are. She opens a black painted wrought iron gate that scrapes the cracked slabs of concrete paving the way to the door. She’ll be having her breakfast by now.

The garden is overgrown with dead and dying ostentations plants. Perhaps ferns, palms, magnolias, a banana tree, bamboos etc. All in the long grass.

Man: Wait a minute. Before they reach the door, the Man stops, still holding the Girl’s hand. She is compelled to turn and face him. Whose house is this?

Girl: A great friend of mine! Come on, you lily-livered boy, come! She turns again, still holding the Man’s hand, but he refuses to move and she is forced around once more. Crossly. Look! You can come or not as you like but she will be expecting me and I don’t want to miss the toast, she drops his hand, so I’m going.

Man: Toast?

Girl: Stacks! And tea!

Man: Hm.

Girl: Come on, I’ve told her all about you!

Man: Hm!

Girl: Ha! Brightening Come on.

The temptation of toast appears to be too strong for him. He acquiesces and follows her to the door. She rings the doorbell. After some moments the door slowly opens. An old Woman with cropped grey hair peers around the door.

 

Woman: Oh, it’s you. I was beginning to wonder whether you would come. Not acknowledging the Man. You’re late, eyeing the Man skeptically, and you’ve brought your pauses, as if selecting the right words little friend.

Girl: I said I would! Is there any toast left?

Woman: It’s like cardboard by now I should think. She opens the door and turns, her slippers shuffling along the floor. Shut the door behind you.

Act 2 Scene 1

 

The house is dark despite the brightening day. It is in disarray. There are old newspapers everywhere, with half-completed crossword puzzles, sets of china, hundreds of photographs lie in and out of frames on all the surfaces, nativity figurines and figurines of soldiers, some model fishing boats and stacks of jigsaw puzzles: oddments abound. Everything is covered in a thick layer of dust. Nothing is gilt and there are no mirrors. The fireplaces are large with marble mantelpieces. They would once have held impressive open fires, but now they are all replaced with inconsequential gas burners. Underfoot: threadbare carpet. On the walls: faded floral wallpaper. Visibility is poor. It becomes clear that this is because the whole house is filled with a haze of years of cigarette smoke. The Woman, in shuffling slippers, leads them to a downstairs kitchen, with linoleum floors in guise of slates, electric hobs, a round wooden table, also strewn with newspapers, which has obviously recently been vacated: there is a half smoked, licorice paper cigarette, cocked in the ashtray, weeping smoke, which is sometimes caught in the weak glow of the single tubular light bulb. There is a full tin of perfectly rolled licorice roll-ups. A half-drunk cup of tea sits beside the ashtray, on a coaster, and an open newspaper beside that, open at the crossword, a biro on top, as well as a piece of buttered toast with a single, perfectly shaped, bite taken out of it.

 

Woman: Resuming her seat. To the girl. There’s more toast on the side. Make yourself and your friend a cup of tea.

Girl: Busying herself with the toast and tea. To the Man. Don’t worry, she’s always like this.

 

The Woman ignores her. The Man smiles warily.

Woman: To the Man. A site for sore eyes you are!

He shifts uneasily from foot to foot. He must be approaching forty, with a scraggy beard, weather-beaten features, nicotine-stained teeth and torn clothes, which cling and hang from his wiry body in irregular strips, but he responds with the air of a poorly behaved schoolboy.

 

Man: Yes.

 

Woman: Well sit down, sit down. He sits obediently. She relights her cigarette. So who, looking at her crossword puzzle, are you?

Man: Nobody.

Woman: Incorrect. Try again.

Man: What?

Woman: Try again.

Man: Irrelevant.

Woman: Sipping her tea. Another word for ‘forsaken’, eight letters. Try again.

Man: Damned.

Woman: Eight letters.

Man: Which question am I answering?

Woman: Brusquely. The question! The question!

Man: Screwing up his face in concentration. Deserted.

Woman: No no no no no no no.

Man: Becoming agitated. I don’t know!

Woman: Neither do I, neither do I. Stubbing out her cigarette. We’re not getting anywhere like this, nowhere! Throws down her pen and cackles. Why did you come here?

Man: The girl brought me.

Girl: Taking teabags from the cups. Giggling, from the other side of the kitchen. Who are you calling ‘the girl’? Ungrateful boy!

Woman: Smiling. And why did you come?

Man: Removing his hat and smoothing his cropped hair. I had no other appointments.

Woman: Again cackles. Ha! I’m sure!

Man: Oh?

The Girl brings three cups of tea to the table, places them down carefully, and fetches a plate of toast and a glass vase half filled with water. She places the toast before the Man and the vase before herself. Sitting down, she pulls from her rucksack a miraculously pristine bunch of chrysanthemums, which, after removing the elastic band, she delicately places in the vase.

 

Girl: There! She dives back into her bag and withdraws a carrier bag, which she unwraps, revealing several bottles of what appear to be prescription drugs. She places these before the Woman. Your pills, my dove.

Woman: Delicious! Thank you, my cherub. She takes a fresh cigarette from her tin and, as she lights it, notices the way the Man is watching her, greedily. Nudging the tin towards him. If you would like to, take one.

The Man gratefully takes the tin, selects a cigarette, scrutinizes it, perhaps sniffs it, relishing its existence, and finally places it between his chapped lips and lights the tip. He breathes in deeply and exhales, shuddering with what appears to be a kind of relief. The Woman eyes him suspiciously.

 

Man: After a pause. Thanks.

 

Woman: No one, no one…and all ostentatious absurdity too. Some say savouring the word gratuitous. Man looks confused. We are objects of scorn, but it doesn’t mean, you must remember, when the laughter stops ringing, it is not all true. Fear begets scorn and so on and so on until dark.

Man: Hesitantly. I came because I had no other appointments.

Woman: Well. Places half-smoked cigarette into the ashtray. Lining up her bottles of pills before her, rotating them so the labels face her, rearranging the order of the bottles, and, from left to right, opening the bottles, selecting one pill from each, and placing each single pill in front of the bottle from which it came. Do you love her? Gesturing suddenly towards the girl.

 

Girl: You know I only have love for you!

Man: What?

Woman: Slowly Do you love her? Pointing with her whole arm at the girl.

 

Man: Mildly surprised. I haven’t the time.

Woman: O?

Man: You have no notion of the labour required to build an empire…

Girl: Smirking. And you?

Man: Angrily. My vigilance is unceasing.

Girl: Giggling. You think I don’t see you sitting in the station watching the night women with your eyes? O I see the way you walk and you walk, and sometimes I follow you into town, pauses thoughtfully, and sometimes I watch as your breath stains the bookkeepers’ windows, suddenly stern and it’s always the same cowardice lights your eyes…smirking darkly, I see you see the others.

Man: Shaking his head. You see nothing, like everybody else. Forever pacing that filthy platform, hunting for the things that are lost or discarded, and knowing that my own life is more closely related to the rubbish than to the lives of those who possessed it…each day, each second is interminable, as one long visible cry of pain, stretching before and after. And the only way to rebuild! Relights his cigarette. Smiling. I have nothing with which to avert my eyes, and you, while you jump off the train, sweet from your heated house, you watch me like a possum…what can you know of my work?

Woman: Rolling her eyes. Alright alright alright then now then then now! Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge etc. etc.? You sound like a stuck record you two, like a married couple already!

Girl: To the Woman, stung. My love, you’re hurting me!

Woman: Many are the temptations of this world.

Man: Falling on the toast, like a dog whose owner has taken his eye off him. If you’re lucky!

Woman: Selecting the first pill, from before the bottle on the left of the line-up. Psoriasis for starters. Let’s start again with, considers, with the beginning. We accumulated for no real reason, but that’s no reason not to enjoy ourselves. Do you love her or not?

Man: Relenting. I suppose so.

Girl: Distressed, to the Woman. Look what you are doing to me! Tears at her hair ridiculously. And what if I don’t like him?

Woman: Delighted. Now we’re making some progress! The ceremony will begin shortly, no doubt, but, before that, some drinks. We rest in hope. To the girl. My darling, there’s some gin in the cupboard. The girl obediently stands and makes her way to the cupboard. The Woman sighs. I was adored once too.

Man: Through a mouthful of toast. Gin?

Girl: Returning to the table with a bottle of gin and three glasses. I know! Gin, tobacco, tea and toast! We are well provided for here, we are well provided for indeed! Pauses, childlike. Perhaps smiling everything will be ok after all!

Woman: Yes yes yes everything will be fine. Pouring three full glasses of gin. Everything. Emptying the last drips, the bottle upside down. Thing. Will. Be. Fine! Ha!

There is a lengthy pause. They sit in silence, each drinking their glass of gin, for perhaps thirty seconds.

 

Girl: Suddenly solemn. I think I would like to make a speech, a speech. The Man and Woman listen attentively. A speech neither long nor short, nor fleet nor lento; a speech neither tardy nor too soon…a speech. A speech with words and a breaking heart. Too much? I feel when the future in the instant is too much, and I feel it now. Too much. My friends, dear friends, while I lay waiting for the sleep which did not come, and I lay unsleeping listening to the not inconsequential drunken snores of my slob dad escaping the next room, it seemed to me I could see my life unfolding from out those fitful snores, as deft as a swallow, and deadly lay itself in lights on the farther wall. Stands, elaborately erect. Turns and begins to pace the room before continuing. The end came soon of school, in spite of the miraculous facility of time to assume a murderous density in certain lessons, whose names I will not mention here, smiling coyly now. The end came soon, and I went to college, and I read all the wrong books, and I worried about the wrong things, and I met there a boy with a beautiful smile and a crescent moon earing who smoked roll-up cigarettes. Nods appreciatively to the Man and Woman. I felt the thrill of desire and conquest, discovery and sudden closeness; I felt the intensity and accident and the agony of first love. We used each other up and, for all I learned, we grew, in the fragility of those years, into strangers. The thing lingered on until I left for university and he, who I knew shared my curiosity of other caresses, ended the thing, and still I mourned. For a boy I no longer loved or knew in any meaningful way I mourned, as I would never again permit. I achieved varying degrees of success with the consumption of drugs and of alcohol. I quickly learned to manipulate my mind according to my desires but, unlike some of my more unfortunate friends, I became mistrustful of an altered consciousness, as a kind of puritanical determination to face the given product of my sense sensations, the fissures of the material world, like my mother, or the lack thereof, called reality, lead me to indulge less and less frequently. I got a job in an office made of glass. I was amiable with my colleagues who were amiable with me. I knew less and less my function. Time passed, with the help of the anesthesia of routine, in years. I knew men, and I married one, and I wondered if it was right, but a man I married, and he was not unhandsome. He did not smoke or wear an earing. Time moved again in years, and I became afraid. I began to feel the need of a child, to make me believe in my own existence, for which, of course, I was punished, and then there was a man who wore an eyepatch and sat alone at a bar. I had fought with my husband again for the future, and I was drinking in the hope of finding some silence. I laughed at the man with the eyepatch, who had a beer and a whiskey placed before him, which he did not touch. He told me that I could join him if I so wished, and I did, and for the first time in years I laughed. When I left in the morning to return to my husband the man no longer seemed to need his eyepatch, and I was more alone than I had been since childhood, since I lay listening to the drunken snores of my father in the next room, snoring like a stuck pig. Slumps back into her seat, exhausted and proudly.

 

Man: Amused. And what’ll we descry from that while we’re about it?

Woman: Appears to have fallen asleep. Starts and jumps up, giving an ovation. Perhaps whistles. Very good! Very good! There is still so much that has to be judged, and so little time, solemnly, perhaps shaking her head and smacking her lips so little time.

Man: Thoughtfully Although…we are all of us dispossessed, have trembled between the woodland and the rock?

Woman: Yes.

Man: O yes.

Woman: O yes.

Girl: Not me!

Man: What?

Girl: Smirking I’m not dispossessed. Far from it!

Woman: Sadly My darling.

Girl: Nope!

Man: You are dispossessed.

Girl: Grinning. Am not! I am possessed of a father.

Man: Christ.

Girl: I am possessed of a father! Trying not to laugh I am possessed of all kinds of things even until the end of the day, when I am possessed of another dream. I am possessed of a miraculous computer, which is possessed of the internet, which is possessed of me. And I am possessed of all manner of faculties on there. I am possessed of a father and true it’s a real waste of flesh, but I am possessed of a father. And soon I will be possessed of another man, who will be possessed of his work, which will be possessed of a society without grace, which is possessed of a world without grace, of which I am possessed.

Woman: By. By.

Man: Are you leaving?

Woman: You mean ‘by’.

Girl: So you see, I possess my possessors.

Woman: We’ve all hungered for a little acclaim.

Man: Perhaps too young.

Woman: Perhaps.

Girl: Excuse me!

Woman: Raising her glass. Cheers!

All together: Cheers!

They touch glasses and all drink their gin, sitting silently for some moments.

 

Man: I’ve been doing some serious thinking lately, ladies. You know, I think we had better not get married.

Woman: Oh it’s far too late for that.

Girl: Roguishly, flush. Are you going to jilt me, sweet beast?

Man: Pensively. I’ve had a revelation. People ought to get married only when they are very old. Preferably on the day they are going to die.

Girl: A likely excuse.

Man: On account of the comedies.

Woman: What comedies?

Girl: Divine?

Man: In the comedies, divine or infernal, the wedding takes place at the end. If weddings ever take place somewhere in the middle, you will be in for a drama, and if, God forbid, the wedding takes place at the beginning, well, you know you’ll soon bear witness to a tragedy. C.f. life.

Girl: He makes a good point. And to save time and expenses we could have weddings and funerals at the same time, or rather, weddings that blend seamlessly into funerals, with everyone dressed in fabulous black satin dresses and tresses bound up with silver silver is deathly so ghostly isn’t it somehow? And ‘Till death do us part’ would be less of a daunting commitment too, smiling, not that anyone bothers too much about that, and the honeymoon would be plentiful and the newlywed couple oared off into the darkness by a sinister gondolier.

Woman: Angrily. Don’t be fantastical! Stupid children. It is far too late to simply say that the wedding arranged will no longer take place. The preparations have begun. Speeches have been made. If I knew anyone else, I would have sent out invitations. The priest is on his way. There will be no alighting.

Girl: The priest?

Man: What priest?

Woman: Father Pater.

Man: Who’s Pater?

Woman: All ours I reckon.

Girl: That’s the last thing I need.

Woman: I have some words of wisdom for you children, before you are married. Believe it or not I was once married myself, pauses, as if for applause, God rest his hooves. Now, you might have heard from the wireless radio or from the television, or from one of our interactive websites, that marriage can be emphatically trying. This is true. However, there are certain coping mechanisms, which can be employed to make it more bearable, almost pause again, pleasurable. For instance, sometimes I would urge to start the day. Smirking. Sometimes, I would urge just to start the day. It’s a great way to start the day. Trying very difficult to keep from laughing. Cathartic. I would have my drink of drink and then the thought of leaving the house, pause and getting in the car, longer pause, with my husband, and doing it all again, would make me urge. Cracking up. Wipes here eyes. And then I would feel a glimmer relief and I could begin again. The vistas of marriage. Fond, fond memories!

Girl: O my dear one.

Man: Where is our liberty? Are we not workers of freedom?

Woman: Where is Father Pater?

Girl: Brightening I’m glad he’s coming actually, I have a question for him.

Woman: For whom?

Girl: Pater.

Woman: Angrily That’s Father to you child!

Girl: Stung. Don’t be cross!

Man: What do you want to ask him? Is there any more gin?

Girl: No.

Woman: Lighting another cigarette, she offers the tin again to the Man, who takes one gratefully. No, but there might be some Navy Rum in the back somewhere.

Man: Hopefully, lighting his cigarette. That’ll do.

Girl: Earnestly. What ought I to wear to Judgment Day? Will it be a Sunday? It sounds like a Sunday. Should I wear a blood red dress, cut low perhaps? Or my pink kitten pattern pajamas?

Woman: It depends who wins the current war.

Man: Man made God in his own image.

Girl: I guess he’ll prefer a low cut dress. Still, I’d like to ask Father Pater all the same, he might have special informers, mightn’t he?

A resounding knock at the door is heard.

 

Woman: Excitedly. Brilliant! Brilliant! That’ll be him! That’ll be him!

 

The Man and the girl start. Look at one another. The Woman hurries off to answer the door.

Man: We should never have come here.

 

Girl: Yes.

Act 2 Scene 3

Enter Woman and Father Pater. He is dressed in pillar box-red briefs, green wellington boots, a billowing ancient war trench coat, a clerical collar, and nothing else. His coat billows open as he walks, exhibiting a fat hairy guts and full Womanly breasts, with large nipples, between which an ostentatious golden crucifix dangles hypnotically. He sports a pair of dark NHS glasses and a perished trilby hat perched awry atop his cropped white pate.

 

Woman: Proudly, with schoolgirlish glee, as if revealing something magnificent at ‘show and tell’ Father Pater!

Man and Girl give a standing ovation.

 

FP: Solemnly. Her lovely eyes bent low, they say. Nevertheless, the lovely lovely victuals behooved their hungry looks. Shaking his head. Nevertheless, the incendiary ones of the world will come, and, pause. Head bowed, coming and going, belong…

Girl and Man sit down slowly. The Man is clearly incredulous, and can find no words.

 

Girl: Disappointed, accusatory, to the Woman. You didn’t mention that he was a buffoon of the first order.

Woman: Shocked. A buffoon! He’s glowing a radical new mind.

FP: Booming. To the room in general. We have all of us misplaced our souls. Suddenly tender. To have no peace in the grave, is that not sad? Trembling And because of the badness of this time that doesn’t believe in its own existence, and because of the tiny tiny things, and the wayward media and highlighted hair, welling up, childlike I have been waiting for time to solidify, congeal or unfold before me, or return to the reality of childhood…

Girl: Crossly, to the Woman I thought he came to bind us in holy matrimony?

Man: Where did you say the rum was?

Woman: Shall we reach a crescendo?

Man: The rum?

Woman: Distractedly, looking at Father Pater. In the corner cupboard.

The Man goes to look for the rum, sidestepping FP warily.

Girl: Doubtfully. Father Pater?

FP: Unhearing. These prayers for the healing of pain, these lamentations. And so draws the world around himself emphatically wraps the world around himself, and covering himself in it, to hide myself from it. The primrose way to everlasting bonfire perhaps perhaps salvation and yet pauses, frowning I’ve never won a Nobel Prize of any substance. Machiavellian. Yet.

Girl: Loudly. Father Pater!

FP: You know, yesterday, as the sun was rising on our little town once more, and the haze was burning off once more, and as I sat watching from my window once more, with my knees brought up to my chin once more, once more, I thought to myself pause, thoughtfully how like to a cat I must look, smiling, perched there at the window at dawn I thought, and then I thought of the look of a cat, and what a cat must see…and what does a cat see? Grandiloquent The pupil shrunk to a thumbnail slit, it watches the world, apart from it! Have you seen the way a cat observes, not observes, pauses, finding the word, detests, the world? That feline insolence! But it is more than insolence, it is not even as if the world were there to be preyed upon, it is as if the world were there to be victimized solely for entertainment. Chortling. Lustrous. And how like to a cat I must have looked!

Girl: Shouting. Pater!

FP: Eh?

Girl: What ought I to wear to Judgment Day?

FP: Judgment Day?

Girl: Judgment Day.

FP: Judgment Day, Judgment Day. Pauses, pensive. Eyes suddenly bright, he recites. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, pauses, struggling, him that sat on it pause, from whose pause whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found pauses again, brow furrowed, was found, brightening again, no place for them. More confidently And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of pauses of slowly of struggling again. Triumphant of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their

Girl: Their?

FP: Where?

Girl: According to their what?

FP: What what?

Girl: Exasperated Father!

FP: My child.

Girl: What should I wear on the most awesome of days? I have ordered a pair of baby blue dungarees already for a party, coyly which match my eyes.

FP: That’ll do as well as anything.

Girl: Or my pink polo?

FP: Dress and undress thy soule; mark the decay.

Girl: Losing her temper. I’ve had enough of this loon!

Man: Returning with the bottle of rum and a tumbler. Hear hear!

Woman: Watch your mouth girl!

FP: Sighing. No no, she’s quite right, quite right.

Woman: Obsequiously. Father, dear father. You remember I called you about conducting a ceremony?

FP: Thoughtfully. Yes I suppose you did. Will it be a wedding or a funeral for you today, my child?

Woman: Let’s start with a wedding.

FP: Gleefully. Fantastic! Fantastic! My second favourite.

Man: Indolent, with a large cup of rum. And which is your favourite?

FP: Absently, eyeing the rum. What’s that?

Man: Frustrated. Which is your favourite?

Girl: Curiosity peaked. Yes, which Father?

FP: I couldn’t say! Really mustn’t. That’s like asking God if he has a favourite child: rude! Crossly. Impertinent.

Man: Incredulous. To the Woman. This Man?

Woman: I think he means your favourite ceremony, Father.

FP: O ceremony! Ceremony yes. Yes of course, yes. Ceremony ceremony. You know, as time goes on I find it harder and harder to tell one holds out left hand from another, holds out right hand, smiling serenely.

 

Girl begins to laugh hysterically. Man not amused.

Man: I see.

 

Woman: Returning to topic. Just a wedding for now Father, I think. Just a wedding. I cherish a wish to see these two sweeping gesture, incorporating the Man, who is filling another glass of rum, and the girl, who is wiping her laughing eyes, children married, before it’s too late, for them and for me, and for all of us.

FP: Yes.

Woman: And I have a venue in mind.

FP: Yes.

Girl: You do?

FP: Gesturing knowingly and obviously, but as if secretly, towards the Girl and the Man. I see that time is of the essence.

Man: From behind his rum bottle. A venue?

Woman: The venue is well booked, I should think.

Girl: O where could it be? Is it perhaps the London Palladium, so as to accommodate our copious guests? Or Kensington’s lush Palace? or green Blackheath? or beneath the great watery dome of St. Paul’s? or perhaps euphoric, the bohemian Pavilion at Brighton’s pebbled shore?

Man: Mockingly. And who’ll pay for that do you suppose? My empire’s shrunk in recent years, practically, on account of the current economic climate, to a soodling thread.

Woman: Munificent. No no no and no! Chicken Paradise on the Lincoln Road, Peterborough.

FP: Slapping his forehead. Of course, of course. And for the wake?

Girl: You mean the reception?

Woman: I have something very special planned for that! I hear the pattery of little feet already. Never managed to have any myself, welling up despite the best efforts of his hooves.

FP: My child

Man: To the girl. You’ll be chucking for a glass of rum.

 

Girl: Gramercy.

Pours her a generous measure of rum.

Man: Smiling. Who do you think you are, Charles de Gaulle?

Woman: Jumping up. Right. We should leave now, before it gets dark.

All rise to leave, except Girl, who remains dogmatically seated, with a face like Judith beheading Holofernes. They approach the door, when the Woman notices the Girl. Turns, approaches her.

 

Woman: What’s the matter, my dove?

Girl: Taciturn. I’m not coming. You go on without me.

Man: Tenacious. If she’s not going, neither am I. Sits down beside the girl. I’m not entirely convinced that Father Pater – pardon me Father, FP performs a gesture of humility – is qualified to dress himself, let alone conduct a wedding ceremony.

FP: Beaming. You might be surprised to know that you aren’t the first person to have said that.

Girl: It’s not Father Pater that I’m afraid of. To the Woman. It’s you.

Woman: Shocked. Me?

Girl: Becoming angry. Yes you!

Woman: Tenderly My love, I don’t understand.

Girl: I don’t know you.

Woman: What in Jehovah’s name can you mean?

Girl: I’ve been watching you today with my eyes. I’ve been watching your eyes with my eyes.

Woman: And what have you seen?

Girl: Expressions I have not known or thought to see there: carelessness. Complacency. Such uncharacteristic gracelessness and pride. Tarnished. You’re all I have, and you give me so freely to this man, knowing I will do anything you ask of me. And how sickeningly you fawn over this cream-faced loon – excuse that, Father.

The Man sniggers.

 

FP: Placid. Not at all, not at all!

Woman: Slumping beside the Girl. O my dear one.

Girl: What are you seeking?

Woman: An escape from this isolation.

Girl: Shaking. And you use me up.

Woman: Beginning to cry. My intentions were not all misplaced, but what I thought I thought to do for you, I’ve done for myself. I see it now. O forgive me, my love! My greatest fear is for you to become as I have become, sweeping gesture incorporating her full body, but in order to prevent it I have sought to realize the life I have lost in yours.

 

Trembling, the Woman reaches for a cigarette. The Girl does not respond for some time.

 

Girl: Look at all of this. This lunatic. This wastrel. This wedding. Was it all distraction? Have you been so long alone?

Father Pater is standing idly by the door still, looking around vacant and amiably. Perhaps twiddles his thumbs.

 

Man: Indignant. Entrepreneur.

Woman: Shaking her heard. No no no no no. I am your creature. Bows her head into the Girl’s lap. Muffled, through tears, I am your creature.

Girl: Grabbing her by the back of her hair, raising her head, which remains limp. We’ll see.

FP: Meekly. Shall we go on now, along to the zoo, and attend to the frolicking of the penguins? It’s marvelous to see those characters and a great honour and privilege to witness their aquatic transformations. Twiddling his crucifix. Blithely. There’s a squabbling group of elderly gentlemen stumbling along to the poolside and then, following a happy fall – O felix culpa! – a miraculous rebirth into the life aquatic, where they dart and feint with celestial grace.

Man: Father?

Father: Yes, child?

Man: Shut up.

Father: Serenely. Right ho.

Man: Well this has been a pleasure, draining another glass of rum, but I really best be leaving. Who knows what treats the tracks will have cast up in my absence? Someone else might beat me to them, move in on my patch, my empire. Tenderly. Perhaps let’s get married next time?

Girl: She has started to stroke the hair of the Woman, whose head remains slumped, face down in her lap. Perhaps.

Man rises and, pinching and lighting another cigarette from the tin on the table, makes his way to the exit.

 

FP: Coming out of his reverie. What’s that?

Man: I’m leaving Father. I’m glad to have met you, but I can’t say it’s something I wish to repeat again imminently.

FP: Desperately. But you can’t leave!

Man: What?

FP: Screaming. You can’t leave!

Man: Unnerved. What are you talking about?

FP: But we were so close! Who will prick the distended?

Man: Close to what?

FP: What could only be described as a serious incident.

Woman: Muffled, from the Girl’s lap. In the dun of pall.

FP: Weeping. Exactly, exactly.

Woman: It’s over, Father. The world will have to wait its saving.

Man: With a wedding?

Girl: Snorting with laughter. We had a political assassination to attend to at the wake.

Man: Which you knew about?

Girl: I knew everything, looking at the Woman, except this.

FP: And a luscious prayer and an explosive fête.

Man: Better not, now.

FP: We’ll take stock.

Man: Buy stocks.

Girl: Laughing. Grow crops!

The Man smiles endearingly, shaking his head.

 

Man: Well, God keep you all and to all a goodnight.

Girl: Goodnight.

Woman: Still in her lap. Goodnight.

 

FP: Wait. I’ll come with you. You know, I remember when they assassinated the Archduke, Ferdinand I mean. Come to think of it, where were you on the 28th June 1914? You look a bit like Princip, browed like him, now you mention it. See, the motorcade came rolling on and they all balked like a pack of rotten onions, The Man turns, as they are leaving, and looks intently at the Girl, who holds his gaze, until a wrong turn off the Appel Quay. His words become faint as they leave. Everyone says it happened as if in slow motion, and he caught her in the guts and him in the neck and the blood which bloomed on the plumes of her dress gave birth to floods. Do you know the way to the zoo from here? Never been myself, but they say it all takes place, as if in slow motion…

Fade out. The Girl and Woman sit silently, the Woman’s head remains in her lap, the Girl’s hand on the nape of her neck.

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