NOTES FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT:
I once read that New Mexico had abolished the death penalty, but that the repeals do not apply retroactively, leaving inmates currently sentenced on death row. This play was inspired by my imagining how those inmates must feel, knowing they are the last unlucky few to be executed.
When the script feels fast, it should go fast. When the script feels slow, especially in the pauses and towards the end, it should be slow.
It should take its time.
MAGGIE- 40 something teacher.
Auditorium at a school.
A microphone on a stage.
MAGGIE, a proper woman in her forties dressed plainly comes up to the microphone. She looks around the room a moment to gauge the audience. Then she begins.
Hi. I wrote a statement and if it’s alright I’d like to read it before you all vote. A beat. She takes out a piece of paper, clears her throat and starts to read.
First off I’d like to thank the Saint Robert School parent teacher association for allowing me to speak. I would also like to thank you parents who have sacrificed your evening to participate in tonight’s vote.
I assume most of you know who I am by now, but for those who don’t, my name is Margaret Smith, or as my students refer to me, “Miss S”. For the past seven years I’ve taught the second grade here at Saint Roberts Elementary School and I’d like to take a moment to tell you about my methods as an educator. Beyond adhering to the curriculum requirements mandated by the state I strive to get my students to be mindful of the world around them. I want them not just to be successful inside the classroom, but outside of it as well. To do this I, on occasion, have my class read books which aim to teach fundamental life lessons. Last week we read such a book. “Skippy goes to the Vet.”
Jack 30-40, male, tall, overweight artist with tattoos
Miranda (Jack’s ex-wife) 30-40, female, dark haired, pretty and strong
Jack’s mother (played by same actress cast as Miranda)
Magda 25-30, female, beautiful and voluptuous, Polish
Irv (Magda’s husband) 50-60, male, grey haired business man
Lupe 25-50, female, housekeeper, Hispanic
A MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
A short play
By Adam Seidel
A bare stage. A man, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, stands in front of a microphone.
My fellow Americans. Tonight I would like to talk to you about the rumors which have been recently swirling around the media. These rumors concern an alleged comet, which according to television pundits, fringe scientists and conspiracy theorists alike, will strike the Western Hemisphere of our planet later this week resulting in as they put it, “complete and total destruction of the world as we know it.” (Beat.) I before you today, as your elected leader, to tell you that this is simply not true. (Pause.) There is no such comet and our world is certainly not in danger of extinction. My fellow Americans, in times such as these, we must think objectively and not fall victim to figments of the human imagination. Our ability to imagine is what makes us great. Imagination is the tool of progress, the beacon of hope in times of darkness. But imagination can also be our greatest foe, persuading us to give into fears predicated on the fictions of Hollywood. Tonight I ask that you refrain from giving into fear, but instead turn to sound logic. (Beat.) Again, I repeat, there is no comet and we are under no imminent… (Pause.) I’m sorry. I can’t do this.
Cast of Characters
FRANCES RACHEL ORNSTEIN (FRANNY): Mid-late 20s, pretty enough, yet slightly insecure. A sous chef.
JENKS HEDGEPATH: Mid-late 20s, Franny’s fiancé. Well-built, gym-sculpted physique on a slender frame, classic good looks with a good head of hair. Knows how to pronounce words like “coif.” Venture capitalist.
VERA: Mid-late 20s, Franny’s assistant, attractive, great sense of humor, buoyant, the sort of person overlooked in high school who everyone cannot get over how great she looks at a high school reunion.
CHUCK (or DAVE): Mid-late 20s, rugged lumberjack physique. White ethnic. Also knows how to pronounce “coif,” but wouldn’t be caught dead saying it. Has perpetual two days’ growth of beard. Should look good in a flannel shirt. Ponytail optional. Plumber or furniture restorer.
R.S.: Acerbic sense of humor. Small of physical stature but with commanding sense of self.
PHELPS: WASP with a basic no-nonsense integrity. Dry sense of humor.
Setting: A bedroom. Diffused morning light through window blinds shines upon a queen-sized bed that is adorned with attractive blankets, pillows, and a duvet cover. To the right of the bed on a nightstand is a digital alarm clock, its digits frozen in time.
Man With a Wig
(An older man is sitting on a chair in a long bathrobe. He is holding a woman’s wig in one hand, looking at it and touching it with the other hand. Every so often he gets up and walks downstage, closer to the audience)
She’s dead a year ago. Tomorrow. We met in high school – a year before we graduated. Junior year. We didn’t ever fight a lot. Not anything loud. Little things – like the color of the house. Maybe it was just a room. Colors matter. They make you feel something inside. Mostly it was white. The house. Clean. Bright. Safe. But you get a feeling with a color. She wanted blue. The child’s room. I wanted it yellow. Soft. Like a flower. My friend Billy had a tie like that. When we were young, growing up. In school. We used to do everything together, me and Billy. My father didn’t like it. The tie. That’s no color for a man, he said. He didn’t like Billy too much. When I told Anne – that’s my wife – she understood. She had some friends like that, too. One had red hair. One had brown. I used to see them together. But they didn’t seem to want me around. So we painted the room blue. My daughter’s room. I wasn’t going to fight about it. And we painted the parlor yellow. Soft. Like a flower.
I don’t think my father knew. When he’d visit, he didn’t say anything. Maybe he forgot about the tie when I married Anne. Maybe the child changed everything. You stand there on the porch, and it’s a nice house. With a garden. And flowers. And you have a granddaughter. And the house is mostly white. So you don’t think about a yellow tie and a yellow parlor.
We just had the one child. It seemed enough. One child. There was work. And there was church. And then we each had our friends and things to do. Like the garden. Anne took care of the vegetables. Tomatoes and squash. Lettuce and cucumbers and peas. I was the one for the flowers. Lilacs. And Sweet Williams. Lots of them. And even roses, though the weather was hard. And sometimes, just when a bush was full and set right and you figured you could count on it, winter would come and blight it and it wouldn’t bloom at all. It would just sit there in the spring, all brown and black and stunted, with just the thickened stem and thorns.
That’s a lot how it was. She had her life and I had mine. Thirty-five years. That’s how long we were married. I wanted Billy to be my best man, but my father would have none of it. He said, I’m paying for the wedding and I don’t want none of that here. Then Billy went off and joined the Navy and he got to go around the world and he never came back. And I bought that house. And we had a child. And I started working at the mill. First on the saws. Then the planers. And then out in the yard. I liked that best. Being outside. Even in the cold. You got teamwork there. Sorting. Loading. Unloading. Poling the wood. Like a lumberjack. One of the guys did that for a while. Lumberjack. Big guy. Big arms. Big hands. Had this finger missing. Ring finger. Said a buddy piked him when they were out on the river breaking up a jam. Always wore those red and black lumberman jackets. Except for summer. Then he’d wear these sweatshirts with the arms cut off. We had good times out there. Working the lifts together. Some Fridays we’d go bowling. You couldn’t tell how he’d do, what with that finger missing. Sometimes he’d get it right and you’d be thinking a 300. Other times, he’d spin the ball so hard it’d run out of the gutter into the other lane. A couple of the other guys thought it had more to do with the whiskey. He used to carry this flask with him. Out in the yard even. Nip the cold, he used to say. Nip the cold. Awful stuff. I had a few pulls on it myself. Times it got twenty below. Bad stuff. Take the chrome off a bumper. But then the mill got bought out and the new foreman got it in for him and he got fired for being drunk. And the new guys were all four-wheeler types and lady chasers, and it was just a job to them till they got something else or got some girl with child and had to get married or get out of town.
Thirty-five years. What’s the Bible say? Three score and ten? So, that’s a lot of years, those thirty-five, half of what the Bible gives you. And a daughter. She lives out west. Went off to college. Moved away. Has a whole life out there. Full of sun. The stuff you do in the sun. Around here, they just shake their heads. Say the Lord will get them for what they do. Maybe it’s the winter. The dark and cold. The snow and ice. Thick and brittle, both. Maybe it gets into your soul so that you turn your back on the bright things. Make them the devil’s things.
I think we both knew early on. Never said anything about it, though. Never talked about it head on. Maybe slantwise. Maybe with a look. I think we both just knew and made our peace with it. She had her Ladies of this or the Ladies of that. You know, sewing groups or charity groups or daughters of the revolution. Stuff like that. I’d get jealous sometimes. Seeing them at work, all together like that. Doing stuff and laughing. I seen em holding hands, hugging each other. Kissing each other even. Easy in their skin, if you know what I mean.
With me, it was different. You can have buddies as a man, but you’ve got to watch what you say. They’ll laugh, all right, but not always with you. You bring in a flower to give someone or brighten up the place and they’ll be: So, who you trying to impress? And does your wife know? And stuff like that. So you drink and you tell jokes and turn your back on all the rest. If I were to say to them, the guys I worked with or drank with or hunted with, if I were to say to them that we did what we did out of duty, out of making it seem right, and that after that we didn’t do it any more, not even when we had too much to drink. And that it was all right, for the both of us. That we could still be together and still love each other, what do you think they would say?
The time we got the twin beds. That was maybe the worst. Went out of town to get them. Brought them home at night. Took the big one down to the basement. Got all damp and moldy down there. Then when we had company we’d slide the twins together so it looked like one of those queen-sized beds. Kept the old covers and sheets. That was about as direct as it got. Couldn’t really go slant-wise into that. But we never talked much about it. I think she was the one who first wanted it. Said something about it. But I’d been thinking about it, too. Just didn’t have the guts to say. But it was nothing mean. Nothing fierce. I used to kick a lot from being on my feet all day. But it just made things easier. Getting up and down. Getting up early. Coming in late. Wearing what you wanted.
You know, you can love someone in a lot of ways. Thirty-five years. Thirty-five years of being there. Being faithful. Leaving space. Good space. Not cold or icy. Like when you plant well. And everything’s got room enough to grow. To be. Without crowding. Without interfering. Knowing, but letting it be. Making do without meanness or regret. I waited a month before I did it. (holds up the wig) I had to go on the internet. But I waited a month because it seemed wrong to rush right into it. I knew she’d do the same for me.
I can’t tell you how many times I rehearsed for it. Tried on this. Tried on that. Shaved this. Shaved that. It made me realize all my wife had to go through every day. I don’t know how she did it. How any woman does it. Then, I’d get to the door and I’d just freeze, my hand right on the knob. Maybe like a prisoner when they open the cell after a long time. Like forty years.
But I’m gonna do it this time. I made a promise to myself. To my wife. If you love somebody good enough, long enough, you let them be who they are. Dying shouldn’t change that. Should it?
(Stands up. Opens the bathrobe, revealing he is dressed in a skirt and blouse.)
I know my wife’s dead. I know that Billy’s dead. (puts on the wig, adjusts it and then his skirt) But I don’t have to be.
And Clouds Made of Bones
A play in one act
AND CLOUDS MADE OF BONES was originally produced by Firehouse Theatre, at Boston Theater Marathon XII, with Jeney Richards and Dan Krstyen.
Click here to read Clouds Made of Bones by William Orem.
William Orem's first collection of stories, Zombi, You My Love, won the GLCA New Writers Award, formerly given to Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, Richard Ford and Alice Munro. His second collection, Across the River, won the Texas Review Novella Prize. His first novel, Killer of Crying Deer, won the Eric Hoffer Award. Poems and short stories of his have appeared in over 100 literary journals, and he has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in both genres. His short plays have been performed around the country.
Currently he is a Senior Writer-in-Residence at Emerson College. Details at williamorem.com.
Click here to read Sojourn No More, a short play by Eric Duhon.