JENNY HAD IT COMING (Peter Jakobsen ©)
A play in two acts
(A disparate group of thirty / forty-somethings)
ACT ONE[Scene One: A dingy, untidy hospital waiting-room is set some degrees off centre-stage. It contains several seats, a low coffee table with magazines, a broken clock on the wall. A lavatory door and vending machine stand as sentries at the back. A Thomas Cole print, “Desolation”, (or similar, perhaps something apocalyptic by John Martin) is prominent on the wall, along with the inevitable public health notices. Swinging doors give onto the waiting room from a darkened (or low-lit) annexe or corridor that is illuminated for Scene Two.
Harold and Alicia sit; Sid paces.
Harold is forty-something, rather a shambles, in jumper and brown corduroy pants. He can be vague and at times, uncommonly sharp. Alicia is a senior middling public servant, also in her forties, dressed for business in dark skirt and jacket; coloured blouse. She is grave and slightly frightened. Sid is in his thirties and dresses younger: jeans, Tee Shirt, dark coat over that. He projects as though he might organize labour, or host a show on public radio.]
HAROLD: [Looking about.]
These places have worse security than schools.
ALICIA: What’s to steal?
HAROLD: [Having considered:]
The sticky stuff on the walls.
ALICIA: Huh?[Harold nods as if to point.]
HAROLD: The disinfectant stuff in bottles. The “Essence of Florence Nightingale” hanging from the wall.
ALICIA: That’s free, Harold. No need to swipe it.
HAROLD: I mean that no one is ever around to supervise.[Sid stops pacing; looks at Harold.]
ALICIA: What do you mean?
HAROLD: Well, no one’s around, there’s no information; no explanations, nothing.
ALICIA: Probably not.
HAROLD: No empathy, even.
ALICIA: Their job is with the sick.
SID: You reckon?
SID: Why aren’t they here, then?
SID: Ministering to us?
ALICIA: You’re sitting pretty. You’re in the pink!
SID: Here, whence Hope has fled?
ALICIA: [To Harold:]
You’ve set him off. Well done.
SID: They also bleed, who sit and wait.[Doors swing open; Enter Seth. Late thirties, in a casual jacket and slacks, quiet shirt, no tie. He’s either a beard or a shadow. Seth could be a journalist on a financial newspaper.]
SETH: The train came in, thank God. What time is it?[Alicia, to Seth:]
ALICIA: We don’t know anything.
SETH: How long ago…?
ALICIA: A couple of hours, maybe.
SETH: And no word?
HAROLD: You could fire cannon down the corridor.
SID: It’s like a little ghost town.
SETH: Yeah, it is quiet.
HAROLD: As a tomb.
SETH: The – uh – the smell stands guard I suppose.
SID: That smell is Samael.
SETH: What?[Sid does not respond.]
HAROLD: Passages going nowhere.
HAROLD: Empty miles, and not a happy face along them.
SID: A kindly face.
HAROLD: There was a man walking around earlier, a patient, and he pissed in a waste-paper basket.
HAROLD: And some woman would not stop screaming.
ALICIA: Can we..?
HAROLD: They gave me the wrong code to the door, downstairs, and I didn’t know it was wrong because I followed two old ladies through the door, on the third floor, they were probably going to see that woman. Perhaps they made her scream.
HAROLD: So once I worked out that I was in the wrong place, I tried to leave but then of course, the code didn’t work.
SID: Of course.
HAROLD: Trapped, and no way out. No exit.
SETH: You were in the “Hotel California.”
HAROLD: And no one was about, naturally, the little bell didn’t even ring, and the lift was right in front of me – on the other side of the locked, coded door.
HAROLD: And I wasn’t going to ask the screaming woman for directions, obviously and the two old ladies weren’t about.
SETH: They were looking for a waste-paper basket…
HAROLD: They looked like volunteers, the ones who sell cups of tea and give out useless information…
SID: It’s catching.
HAROLD: So I wandered into a staff lift that said ‘Staff Only.’
ALICIA: Why not?
HAROLD: And immediately got stuck because that needs its own code or key, or whatever. So, having vaguely resented being sent on a wild goose chase, I now was trapped in a lift.
SID: And on your own at that.
HAROLD: With no sign anyone would come along anytime soon.
ALICIA: You had your mobile?
HAROLD: Out of charge, naturally.
SID: Ah, another first world dilemma.
HAROLD: I pressed the alarm again and again. Eventually, someone must have sent me up to the staff floor.
SID: Where you got a lecture.
HAROLD: Where I got a lecture. And then they tried the door for me and said ‘this is not the right code’. Well, duh…
HAROLD: They sent me downstairs again. At reception, they were so amused. “Oh the capital ‘E’ should be a hash, you know.” As if I should know. Merrily they corrected me. As if I had got it wrong. Not them.
SID: Never them.
SETH: Allow them their simple pleasures Harold.[Harold, to Seth:]
HAROLD: Seth, I was pretty angry. I thought of saying to them, you know, I’ve got a friend here whose health is in your hands, you know? So we’re a little anxious that your attention to detail is not as up to snuff as it ought to be.
ALICIA: Their core concerns are not you or me.
SID: Well, I went to the lower ground floor by mistake and there was this open area, full of files and bits of paper scattered everywhere. Paper splashed everywhere, bleeding out of files into other files, and I asked a passing porter or somebody, ‘What is this?’ and he made a face and said ‘The “Records Room” is what it is.’
SETH: Temporary, I suppose.
SID: Not according to this guy.
SETH: It’s a shambles, a compassionate shambles I guess but you’re right you know it ought to be better…
SID: He said they’d put in a fancy digital system but it didn’t work, so, and everyone wanted to check medical files, but they were all stored in boxes presumably, here, there and everywhere, so…they made ‘The Records Room’.
SETH: It ought to be organised, it could be a little more…human.
SID: You mean humane?
ALICIA: I remember when they pulled the plug on my Dad at this place. He didn’t even get a room, he was in some nurses’ bay and they were all having a Christmas drink while he shut down.
ALICIA: They killed him.
ALICIA: They didn’t let him die, they killed him. They pulled the plug right in front of us, explaining that he had ‘passed’; it was just the machine keeping breath going in and out. Right in front of us, they did it. Nicely – but matter-of-fact.
SID: With red raw hands.
ALICIA: I remember hearing a cork pop at the same time he stopped breathing, exactly the same time.
SID: The exact same time?
ALICIA: It sounded like a cork popping. Like it was in the distance.
SETH: Out of the blue distance.
HAROLD: People are big leaky goon bags, aren’t they? When they empty out you know the party’s over.
ALICIA: I don’t like the analogy Harold. You need to simmer down and just…get it together. We’re all in a bit of shock with poor Jenny but seriously, you’re not helping.[Raymond enters through double doors. He is in his early to mid-forties; the eldest of the gathered friends. He is dressed in a grey suit and crisp white shirt, no tie but a kerchief peers out of his coat pocket. Raymond is not necessarily serious but supine, and formidable in a dire sort of way. He has an exterior both bland yet intimidating, a clone concocted from the blood of Edmund in Lear and Lodovico in The White Devil.]
SETH: How is she?
RAYMOND: Not great.
SID: I’m going in to see her.
RAYMOND: I wouldn’t. I really wouldn’t.[Harold, Alicia & Sid virtually together:]
HAROLD: Didn’t you…?
ALICIA: Is she up to…?
SID: Did you talk to her.
RAYMOND: She’s in a coma; her face is one massive wound.
ALICIA: Can we see her.
RAYMOND: She’s hooked up to a bunch of tubes and the nurse kicked me out.
SETH: Are they going to do anything?
SID: Ray, you didn’t even talk to her?
SETH: She’s in a coma Sid!
SID: Let’s go.
ALICIA: Are they going to do anything?
HAROLD: Let’s go.[Seth, Harold and Alicia depart, via the swinging doors. Sid and Raymond stand, facing each other.]
SID: Happy now?
RAYMOND: Look –
SID: I mean things are working out nicely…
RAYMOND: For God’s sake.
SID: Wrapped up into a tidy bundle, popped in the post, set and forgot.
RAYMOND: There’s really no point in talking when you’re like this.
SID: Like what?
SID: Like her then?
SID: And upset and concerned –
RAYMOND: And wilfully obtuse.
SID: [Gesturing at the wall hand disinfectant]
You can wash your hands with that.
RAYMOND: Excuse me?
SID: I don’t think I will. Knock yourself out, Pontius…
RAYMOND: This is futile –
SID: Scrub out the skull while you’re at it.
RAYMOND: I know that you are upset –
SID: Very perceptive of you, talking about human emotions and all –
RAYMOND: Sid –
SID: Did you have a policy to cover this? You know, I hope you’ve got a policy to cover this!
SID: Because, you know, there’s a fair bit of damage to make good and I know you’ll be concerned about that, Slick –[Raymond exits abruptly; Sid calls after him:]
You’ll want to get onto that right away![He sits and picks up a FR, says aloud:]
Oh look here Ray, a copy of the Financial Review, how timely and convenient, let’s see, where are the articles on human capital…[He reads aloud to a pretend audience:]
“Six ways to enhance human resources.”
Sorted![He tables the magazine and rests in silence, rubbing his jaw. Eventually, Alicia pokes her head in.]
ALICIA: Coming? What did you say to Ray?
SID: I’ll wait here, I think.[Alicia enters fully and stands.]
ALICIA: Two questions too much of a challenge?[Sid stands slowly.]
SID: We had a discussion about moral responsibility.
ALICIA: Well, fine.
SID: Well, shit. He treats us like marionettes and when he cuts the string, back in the box we go!
ALICIA: What d’ya mean?
SID: Well, he’s left Jenny with a bad case of puppet-mouth hasn’t he?
ALICIA: Why, what did he do?
SID: Oh come on.
ALICIA: Why is blame so important for you? Does that give you some sort of control, Sydney? There on the high ground?
SID: Excuse me? I didn’t quite catch that, could you say it again, a little louder so I can hear you down there?
ALICIA: You’ve been pacing and smouldering for a solid hour.
SID: The compassionate are unfashionable, I know. Sorry.
ALICIA: Unlike the sanctimonious.
SID: Look, can I have a little stretching room to be upset in my own way? Can I dissolve here in silence?
ALICIA: Of course you can, you poor petal! Yes, but who is actually really hurting in this case?[Sid snaps:]
SID: Actually, really, why don’t you tell me? Fill me in, Alicia.[Gesturing towards the doors.]
Someone isn’t hurting at all, is she? I imagine someone is in a whole other dimension, a warm and fuzzy, floating towards the light feeling, yeah? A sort of pampered, fussed-over, hot and cold running liquid-lunch type of hurt, a now-she-belongs-to-the-ages Wikipedia-entry-style freedom from pain…[Harold enters and stands near the other two, as if to invite them to leave. Alicia replies as if for his benefit.]
ALICIA: We’re all sorry, you know? Blowing off steam, barging in on her, how will that help? I mean, how does that help her?
SID: Gee sister, I’m doing the best I can.
HAROLD: Most of us are here to help. And you’re no help unless you can just, well, suck it up…
SID: Okay you princesses, how about you all suck off and I’ll stay here and stand guard?[Some glowering ensues.]
HAROLD: Later, vader.[Harold and Alicia leave. Sid sits down, takes out cigarettes, thinks better of it and replaces the pack; takes out his phone and searches a few numbers but makes no calls.] [He stands and sings.]
SID: “Oh baby, oh why…”[He speaks aloud, to no-one:]
“I’m afraid I have some sad, some tragic news. Won’t you sit down?[He sits.]
Would you like a cup of tea? A ginger snap? That’s fine.[He stands and wanders in front of vending machine, idly pushes a few buttons.]
Well now, this news. I’ll just come right out and say it. Er…”[He breaks off, sits down, head in hands, and has a little self-conscious weep.] [Penelope enters, in a pale blue dressing gown. She is late forties, at least, but has doomed-child-like qualities. She moves towards the vending machine, and stops; turning to Sid:]
PENELOPE: You wouldn’t have a smoke?
PENELOPE: I could use one.[Pause.]
PENELOPE: Just one little nicotine bon-bon.[Further pause.]
Waiting for the doc?
SID: Not really.
PENELOPE: Waiting for something to happen.[Sid is quietly agitated.]
SID: For Godot, yeah.
PENELOPE: Got a light?[Sid fails to respond.]
So you’re the watch?
SID: I suppose. Well – you know you can’t set a watch by anything around here.[Penelope looks at the products offered in the vending machine.]
PENELOPE: They’re cagey. Cagier than lawyers. Everything’s ‘maybe’.
PENELOPE: Doctors. Nurses. Terrified to confess ignorance.[Sid rubs an eye to wipe away some sleep.]
PENELOPE: ‘Maybe when we stop inducing a coma, he’ll snap out of the actual coma…maybe a double dose of Endone will stop him axing the kitchen table…’
SID: Uh huh.
PENELOPE: When they don’t know shit.
SID: [Quietly exasperated, beside himself:]
I guess –
PENELOPE: [Warming to her theme:]
‘Maybe a different treatment will have an effect…maybe the remission will last longer than expected…’…you know?
SID: Yeah. Are you – staying here?
PENELOPE: For my sins.
PENELOPE: Well, I feel like a used car that came into the shop with some clunking under the hood and now they’re saying I need a whole new transmission.
SID: That’s no…
PENELOPE: And then, when they put that in, they find the motor’s stuffed.
SID: That’s tough.
PENELOPE: And when they tinkered with that for a few days, it seems that the wiring got screwed up, so the new transmission is worse than the old one…[Sid clears his throat.]
…and it’s harder to start.
SID: But you can’t ‘turn it on and off.’
PENELOPE: But exactly. So they blame you. And come up with another solution, when you just want them to stop.[There is here a substantial and significant break in conversation and change of subject.]
SID: My friend is in trouble because she didn’t know when to stop.
SID: [He mutters something unintelligible. He thinks better of that and speaks up:]
Life all got a bit too much for her I think, so it became a ‘to be or not to be’ question. And some of her friends – some of my friends – might have been too supportive of her – the wrong way.
PENELOPE: Stuff happens.
SID: She – her – her enthusiasm for things, it is, was one of the things that kept us all together, you know? She made us happy, or at least her focus blew our unhappiness away. All heart. Very positive. Very, very positive, very sure and certain about things.
SID: I wouldn’t say that.
PENELOPE: She’s your girlfriend?
SID: Oh no. No, no, not at all.[The type of long pause that puts paid to most conversations.]
She’s a good friend to the whole group of us.[He reaches inside his coat and thinks better of it.]
PENELOPE: What’s that line? ‘Not always right but never in doubt’?[Sid’s expression suggests he may or may not be considering this.]
Don’t take this personally, but there’s a whole code based around this stuff. An obituary might refer to someone as ‘popular’, ‘didn’t suffer fools gladly’, ‘a confirmed bachelor’, ‘a free spirit’, ‘loved a laugh’, ‘taken suddenly’, and you can bet your bottom dollar there’s truth there, perhaps, but not the whole truth, or, rather, the truth covered by something that’s not a lie perhaps, but nonetheless obscures the truth somehow, and fools us. And incidentally, that is why we are required to swear to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.[Seth enters.]
SETH: Walked them to a rank.
PENELOPE: Do you have a cig?
SETH: [Looks at Sid, then back.]
Sorry, don’t smoke. I don’t think you can here anyway.
PENELOPE: Why not?
SETH: [To Sid:]
I don’t know if there’s much point in waiting tonight.
SID: Not much point in going either.
SETH: Get some sleep; they’ll know more in the morning.
SID: I’d really like to know some more now, like what happened.
SETH: Raymond spoke to the cop.
SID: No use talking to Raymond.
SETH: So talk to the cop.
PENELOPE: My name’s Penelope.
PENELOPE: Ever seen someone dead?[Seth ignores her; looking at Sid:]
SETH: Sid? Let’s talk to the cop.[Sid addresses Penelope:]
SID: I haven’t. I never have.
PENELOPE: They are bigger than life. Giants. First time you really look at them.
PENELOPE: Giant statues. They are now more important than ever, of course, so you peer at them like a graven image, some huge idol in a foreign temple.
SID: I thought they’d be smaller.
PENELOPE: Not at all. They’ve joined the winners. And you’ve never seen a skull doing anything but grinning, have you?
SETH: Bigger than life, eh?
SID: Life all gone though, if it ever came.[Seth sighs.]
PENELOPE: Great ghostly exhibits; pale and…smooth.
PENELOPE: They’re just more impressive.
SETH: How’s that?
SID: Untouchable I reckon. No worries now. No duties or responsibilities. No one can get at them.
SETH: No chores, all done. That line from…um…
PENELOPE: All you have to do is lie there, while they make you-up…
SID: Outlining the higher purpose.
PENELOPE: As you swelter sweetly, under hot lights…
…silent eyes following nothing around the room…
Dead as shit.
SID: There’s a fey quality, isn’t there, to the Great Majority?
SETH: Why do they call it the ‘Great Majority’?
SID: A hundred billion gone; ten billion left.
PENELOPE: Life longer; less left behind…
SETH: Sounds like a re-cycling problem –
SID: Less in prospect; less for more.
PENELOPE: More or less.
SETH: Sid, let’s give them some space. It’s a bit claustrophobic in here. I feel like one of those silly gifts downstairs wrapped in cellophane.[Sid paces in a little circle.]
SID: [To Penelope:]
They say ghosts are the gatherers.
PENELOPE: For loose ends, miscarriages of justice, unfinished business, yeah.
SID: Unfinished thoughts and promises, bills and letters to our betters.
PENELOPE: Great big lists…
SETH: [Purposely cutting-in:]
Of things we never do.[Seth guides Sid from the room. On the way out, Sid takes the pack of cigarettes out of his coat pocket and leaves it on the magazine table, near Penelope.
Penelope picks it up and puts a cigarette in her mouth, feels in the pockets of her gown and produces a large lighter, prepares to light-up with relish. Fadeout.]
[Scene Two: an adjoining hospital corridor, or anteroom. Seth and Sid.]
SETH: Are they here still?
SID: Hovering probably; looming.
SETH: You know if Ray’s still about?
SID: [He shrugs.]
No one wants to be the first to go home.
SID: Where the heart is. No, nobody’s going there.
SETH: Well, did your friend explain anything?
SID: He said something along the lines of ‘accidents will happen’.
SETH: Huh. Original.[Pause.]
SID: She’d hate all this wouldn’t she? Jenny never liked to wait. Wait and hope. What was that song…
SETH: She would sing ‘Que Sera, shit let’s have a Party’.
SID: But it would have to be a Party of Hope, a themed celebration; a pagan ritual you know, grief mixed with laughter, cocktails with tears. And she’d have a point.
SETH: There always had to be a point.[Pause again.]
SETH: Who’s Samuel, by the way?
SID: Samael. The Angel of Death.[Seth chews this gnostic wisdom over.]
SETH: Well, nothing is getting accomplished here.
SID: [Jamming his hand in his pockets:]
Except natural healing.
SETH: So leave it –
SID: Or natural disintegration.
SETH: With artificial sweeteners to help it along.[Pause. Seth looks keenly at Sid:]
SETH: The thing I hate most of all, the one thing I can’t stand, is the offer of useless help, unwanted help, you know? I always feel as if it’s fishing for gratitude, a form of self-aggrandizement. Not earned.
SID: Oh boy.
SETH: It’s so needlessly, mindlessly aggressive; senile almost!
SETH: You know what I mean?[Further pause – Seth persists.]
Like a puppet-show of emotion.
SID: A ‘glass booth of emotion’.
SETH: It’s like a bystander hand-wringing for public consumption. It’s a kind of thing…a display.[He uses quotation-mark hands:]
They call it “virtue-signalling.”
SID: Yes, well, thanks Seth.
SETH: No, I just –
SID: Yeah, yeah.
SETH: A general point – is all.
SID: Well I know now where I stand. With my friends.
SETH: I hope so.
SID: I don’t need help from you guys…
SID: And you all won’t be needing any from me. No more crying ‘wolf,’ right?
SID: Don’t swim too far beyond the flags when I’m around –
SETH: I was just saying –
SID: – And I’m just responding. I’m – what I’m trying to establish is whether anyone else around here gives a shit that our best friend is dying in there.[Pause]
Harold’s complaining about the lifts, Alicia’s wringing her hands and wondering about her in-tray, and as for Ray –
SETH: He wouldn’t sweat in a schvitz.
SID: Look, if my sleeve is bloody from wearing my pump all over it, I guess that’s my problem. I mean, sorry if I got too emotional for you all. My-
SETH: You, Sid?
SID: Fuck off.[Seth sniggers. Sid starts to move about restlessly, lightly kicking the doors leading to the waiting room, eventually ceasing this and slowing to a full stop. Seth leans against a wall, occasionally glancing at Sid.]
SETH: Any-hoo, what about this cop?
SID: His name’s Lionel Rose.
SETH: You are kidding.
SETH: Really. Well, the name rings a bell.
SID: Lionel hasn’t been in the ring for a while. This chap’s fit, though.
SETH: I thought cops all lived on burgers and chips?
SID: It seems not. The black SS uniforms must help them look trim. I asked Lionel how rough his job was, what with all the…crap you have to go through. He told me he loved it. Wouldn’t choose to do anything else. Loved it.
SETH: The moral clarity of it.
SID: Guess so.[They are now doing a routine:]
SETH: The chases, the guns, the power.
SID: The drugs.
SETH: The blood and guts…
SID: The paperwork.
SETH: The cheeseburgers and chips –
SID: The casual violence.
SETH: Crowd control…
SID: Moving people along –
SETH: The high-speed car chases…
SID: …that are ‘called-off’…
SETH: …sixty seconds before the crash.
SID: More paperwork.
SETH: And nothing’s clear as yet?
SID: Well you know how they are; ask a question, you’re a suspect…
SETH: Look them in the eye, and you’re a challenge.
SID: After all, what do we care?
SETH: What do you care?
SETH: People cark it every day…
SID: Just get out of our way…
SETH: We have difficult, important work…
SID: Not like civilians…We are legend.
SETH: Gatekeepers. Guardians.
SID: We’re never baffled.[Pause.] [He fishes in pocket; produces paper and unfolds it.]
He did give me Jenny’s email. Well, he let me have a redacted copy. Apparently they aren’t even supposed to do that.[He scans it.]
“…I’m sorry this has to happen. I have been limbering up for this for a while, and like the song, getting away with it for almost as long. No shame, but on the other hand, unbearable remorse. No feeling, but unendurable pressure is bearing down on me.”
SETH: Someone must have been in an absolute tailspin to write that.
SID: Even if she were, would she write that?
SETH: It’s out of character.
SID: Just a tad. “Sorry?”
SETH: From someone who never begged a single pardon, ever.
SID: [He reads further.]
“I am so low, so lacking in confidence that I am girt by walls which touch at the top and form their own roof. I can’t break out, I can’t go on. I’m sick of hurting people, using people, disappointing people and making a pest of myself.”
So why are we wondering about this? When no one accepts it?
SID: No one we think we know.[Pause.]
Anyone can send an email.
SETH: The whole thing is…ambivalent. That’s my point, Sid, this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with anything – at all!
SID: Mere morbid bragging? Just a parlour game you think?
SETH: Look, it’s possible. I know she was prone to depression, but not, you know, clinical.
SID: Writing a playlist for the funeral? And her condition a mere coincidence? Or forces in her control?
SETH: In her control till they were loosed from her.[Seth takes the note and reads it for himself.]
SID: I wonder what friend Raymond has to say about this.
SETH: No, you don’t.
SID: Well, wouldn’t he?
SETH: Look, just because they were thick as thieves…
SID: That’s what you call it, is it?[Seth sighs, and hands the note back to Sid.]
SID: [He overreacts.]
I see.[He reads on.]
“I find I cannot trust myself to be what you want, and I don’t seem able to switch off, to imagine anything other than hell within, failure all around, a hard and rocky road ahead, with the only easy way leading out, out to a point of no return.”
SETH: In other words, it’s our fault, and we can all grimly eat dirt at the after-life party…
SID: Wake. Called a wake.[He pockets the piece of paper.]
Bury me in the middle of the country, in the middle of nowhere, a cemetery in tiny town, where they never bring up the bodies.[Harold enters.]
SID: No taxis? No Uber?
HAROLD: Ally went to the Café.
SID: The Felo-de-se.
SETH: How is she holding up?
HAROLD: I texted you to join us.
SID: My phone’s out of gas.[He produces and checks his phone.]
No, just switched off, I think.[He turns it on.]
I think I’ll hang around here.
HAROLD: Well, why don’t you go get her? She needs some cheering up.
SETH: Yeah.[Seth and Sid exit.] [Harold wanders through the doors to the inner waiting room from Scene One, approaches the vending machine, inserts coins, presses a button, and peers in vain for a product to be dispensed. He speaks aloud, addressing the aether:]
HAROLD: So once again someone strays near the shade.[Harold promenades about the room during his peroration. He presents throughout the soliloquy as if he were quoting from several sources.]
An awfully big shadow.
In dappled sunlight her close friends watch her fading from view and search for reasons, which elude them.
Over and over, again, we are freed from the crowded, mushy minutiae of routine, to confront the stark, precise, unknown.
And we do so from the necessary, sufficient, proximity to risk, that we reasonably foresee lighting our own darkness.[He flicks what appears to be a light switch; nothing happens.]
Once again, there is a premise forced upon us, an event, squaring-up to our massed individualism, knocking a chip from our bowed shoulders, causing us collective pain without damage.
And we let the tide of irrelevance wash back over us, crowding-in the keenest darkness, where the starlight vanishes.[He regards “Desolation” on the wall.]
Sic transit gloria mundi.
Repeatedly – the epiphany.[He simulates a conversation.]
‘Hi it’s us, whilst waiting for you, had a bit of a wander…’
‘Fairly nice time had by all.’
‘Anyway, you finally showed. A few refreshers…
…and all back to normal.’
‘We’ll never leave.’[He lightly pushes the door to the male toilet, not as if to enter, which door does not move, and instead, he reads aloud a graffito on the door.]
“Cacator sic valeas ut tu hoc locum transeas.”[He sniggers, and translates aloud:]
‘Do yourself a favour by shitting somewhere else.’[Alicia, Seth and Sid enter as a procession, from the anteroom, holding plastic cups, and a large soft drink bottle, that they swap and pass around throughout as they skim magazines and a newspaper. Seth remains seated almost throughout; the others play jack-in-the-box. The remainder of the scene is played rallentando.]
ALICIA: I couldn’t make head or tail of what she was saying.
HAROLD: Didn’t they send all the Indian doctors to Hollywood?
ALICIA: That’s what I thought. They worked too hard…
HAROLD: And spoke English too well. No one could understand them.
ALICIA: That is why I’m a numbers person. Numbers are clearer.
HAROLD: You think?
ALICIA: Well. Yeah, no, you can lie just as much with numbers, more so, but the lies are less…ambiguous.
HAROLD: More Disraeli.[Pause.]
ALICIA: Are we are achieving anything here?
HAROLD: We are the puppet show for our conscience.
SETH: Hmm. In other words: No.
SID: Yeah. But real friends are there aren’t they. It’s not process versus outcome.
ALICIA: Why no watch?
HAROLD: She’s sedated.
ALICIA: So, wait but don’t watch.
HAROLD: On that, you know that deinstitutionalisation…
ALICIA: …say that again…?
HAROLD: …was put into place as a cost-saving measure…
HAROLD: When to really work properly, it would have cost double or triple that of running the bughouses.
ALICIA: Not necessarily.
HAROLD: And so we turned them out into the community, onto the streets, relying on the poor loons to function, take their medicine when it was due, act normal, and assimilate, and so on.[Alicia attempts to change the subject.]
ALICIA: I wonder where..?
HAROLD: Live next door to the inmates of public housing. Relieve the burden on the health system. You saw how that worked. So what we really need right now is a new Bedlam.
SETH: Oh yes?
HAROLD: Not a nuthouse, a workhouse. Not a workhouse, an arthouse: a secure, properly staffed facility where the mentally ill receive treatment and their talent is fostered by professionals.
ALICIA: Like the monkey writing Shakespeare, you mean?
HAROLD: No, I mean art as therapy… with the bonus of free, subsidised public art.
ALICIA: I’m so glad you’ve thought this over, Harold.
HAROLD: [Virtually to himself:]
…with the bonus of free, subsidised, public art.
SID: [Drinking from his cup:]
What is this?
SETH: Clare Valley?
ALICIA: Of course. More?
SETH: Ta.[He holds out his cup; Alicia stays the other side of the coffee table. Seth smirks, gets out of his chair and holds his cup closer to Alicia, who pours.]
ALICIA: [Lifting her cup in a toast:]
Here’s to, uh, er, you know. “A speedy recovery.”[Everyone drinks without zest.] [Alicia speaks to all:]
ALICIA: When Ray called, I was still finishing up, which is why I was late rolling up. Almost all day at a compulsory conference on “Resilience and Ethics”.
SID: You need resilience to get through that.
ALICIA: You need compulsion.
SETH: Anything interesting?
ALICIA: We-ell, the Minister gave the keynote.
SID: Not on ethics, surely.
ALICIA: Resilience. I think the idea was that we all have to stiffen and steel ourselves; do the heavy lifting, stop whining, withdraw our outstretched palms, blaming not the Power Elite.
HAROLD: In other words, ‘don’t blame us.’
SETH: Well, they are under siege and circling the wagons.
SID: Heal thyself. Where do ethics come in?
ALICIA: I think the idea is that we all move forward, together, with fairness, and that means some of us move faster and more forward, but it evens up eventually, each according to his own…pace. Or his own – er – path.
HAROLD: No one left behind, at least in the end. Until it runs out of steam, out of ideas, out of money, out of time. And most lethally, because you can’t change this, out of luck.
ALICIA: Raymond would say that the problem with fighting for fair is that fair goes against nature.
SID: Friend Raymond wouldn’t know what fair was.
SETH: He’s a natural, then.
SID: Your friend would say that there are winners and losers, so deal with it.
ALICIA: That would be true by definition. Wouldn’t it?
SID: [With some warmth:]
I don’t think it has to be that way.
ALICIA: Well, we can’t all be winners, surely.
SETH: But we can all be losers, right Sid?
SID: There’s not a whole lot of point discussing values with you, quite frankly.
HAROLD: I don’t see why we have to squabble about it.
ALICIA: We don’t have to talk about these dead debating points at all actually.
SETH: There’s nothing better for jettisoning your values than re-examining them.
HAROLD: [Quoting himself:]
“…with the bonus of free, subsidised, public art.”
SETH: They crowd out the rest of the resources.
ALICIA: Maybe they could store them in the Records Room![Sid takes out his phone and taps out a message.]
SETH: Have you turned-up anything decent at the festival?
ALICIA: Not really. Not a thing.
ALICIA: What is everyone reading?
SETH: Your old joke.
ALICIA: I’ve a pile by the bed but can’t get started.
SETH: I can’t finish.[Sid’s phone beeps; he opens and reads a text.]
ALICIA: All those paper bricks and violent praise, going nowhere. Scratchings and signs. Signs but no sign.
SETH: We don’t need signs anymore; we have the ‘interweb thingey’.
ALICIA: And GPS. It’s comforting to have machines that tell you what to do. I was driving in England a year ago and appreciated how calm it kept when I got lost at yet another huge roundabout.
SETH: But GPS can’t tell you how to avoid Angel of the North…
ALICIA: No, we need a life-GPS to tell us what to avoid.[A painful silence:]
SETH: I remember driving with Jenny one day and she decided we’d follow someone, follow them home, just for fun.
HAROLD: There’s no way that’s not a great idea!
ALICIA: That can be seriously risky.
SETH: You said it. We tailed this couple, man and woman, in a blue Commodore for about an hour, all through town and out north.
HAROLD: Holy crap.
SETH: I got the feeling that they were trying to evade us eventually, especially since Jenny was so aggressive. I mean, she drove right behind them. Changing your expression every few minutes doesn’t provide the necessary camouflage.
HAROLD: Tailgating rather than tailing.
SETH: The woman – she was the passenger – kept turning round and staring at us. At one stage she was writing something down, probably our registration number. By now we were so far out north I didn’t recognise where. And it was getting dark so I told Jenny to stop and turn around. She said she’d do that at the next roundabout, because she hated three-point turns. So after a few miles – the Commodore is doubling back, stopping and starting by now, parking and taking off when we parked a way behind them…
HAROLD: This sounds great.
ALICIA: What could possibly go wrong?
SETH: We take the roundabout and head back towards town.
ALICIA: Very pleased with yourselves?
SETH: Only the Commodore turns back too. They start after us.
SID: [Still looking at his phone, to himself:]
SETH: And by now it’s almost dark and they tail us back to town, and they aren’t hiding either, they’re flashing their high beam at us, they are coming up really close, and by now Jenny is getting hysterical…
ALICIA: What about you?
SETH: I was shitting myself. I suggested that we should pull over, go and apologise…
HAROLD: Bad idea.
SETH: I said I’d say we followed them as a gag, or we thought they were friends of ours. But she wouldn’t stop. We headed straight to a police station on Osmond Terrace and the Commodore passed by. I saw the woman wave at us.
HAROLD: Just a bit of fun.
SETH: Then, they pulled into the pub, about fifty yards down the road, and we couldn’t tell if they were waiting for us, or getting out to come back, kill us, or what. So we waited for ages, and then Jenny decided to go in and report the whole thing.
SETH: Jenny marched in, full of righteous anger, and as she started to talk to this young cop at the counter, she caught my eye, told him ‘never mind,’ grabbed my hand, and marched out.[He takes a swig, as if to jog his memory:]
Then she – what – wait, she got a big umbrella, a heavy wooden one, out of the boot and we drove down to the pub.
ALICIA: She never could quit while ahead, could she?
SID: [He is still fiddling with his phone]
SETH: But as luck would have it, we couldn’t find the blue Commodore. So we had a drink and left, but I always wondered about them having her registration details.[Pause.]
Anyway, that’s what we’ve been up to.
HAROLD: And how.[During this conversation, Sid has been constructing an SMS.]
HAROLD: I wish something would happen to me.
SETH: “It loved to happen.” Who said that?
HAROLD: I’m going mad.
ALICIA: Imagine how the rest of us feel.[Sid’s phone beeps; he reads the message; starts to respond.]
HAROLD: And it is so stuffy in here.
SETH: Why don’t you get some air?
HAROLD: It’s stuffy out there as well.[He gets to his feet.]
I mean, we’re not accomplishing anything here.
ALICIA: Being here is enough.
Harold, it’s not always about you.
HAROLD: Look at us: four characters in search of a solution.
ALICIA: Who’s searching?
HAROLD: Waiting for a sign, some of us, pining for some news.[He walks to the door and stands facing it:]
Some of us not, ah, what; wanting – wanting news at all. Can’t we…?
SETH: Take a turn.
What?[Sid’s phone beeps; he checks an apparent SMS.]
SETH: Take a turn around the block.
HAROLD: And keep turning?[All take a break.]
ALICIA: Does anyone want another glass, or some putrid coffee?[Sid starts to cry. The others gaze at him.] [Fadeout] [The End of Act One]
ACT TWO[Scene: A suburban lounge room. Comfortable but not fancy, furnishings tending to overstuffed Victorian as opposed to post-war minimalist: Armchairs and sofas surround a low coffee table, on which is a vase of lilies, a candle next to it. Under the lilies is a gold or silver frame for a photograph, but there is no photograph. To the side is a sideboard, which will serve to accumulate party detritus throughout.
A door at the rear leads to the kitchen, and to the laundry. An entrance to the lounge is at right (or left) of the stage. Some out-of-copyright music floats about from backstage, together with occasional small bursts of hilarity, perhaps from the kitchen.
To the (left or right) of stage, a stairway leads to what we assume at this stage is a bedroom.
Raymond enters with a glass of wine. He is, just a touch, under the affluence of incohol. Penelope drifts in, from off stage. She carries a bottle with the tentativeness of a guest.
Note that the gathered characters are dressed roughly as follows:
Alicia – dark skirt, neutral top, possibly grey jacket;
Harold – ill-fitting light suit, dark tie;
Penelope – Party gear (not too tizzy);
Raymond – dark suit, no tie, white shirt buttoned at the throat;
Seth – dark pants, white shirt and black tie; and
Sid – black jeans, black tee shirt.]
PENELOPE: Hello, I…Raymond, I think?
RAYMOND: How do you do.
PENELOPE: Well, that was a nice send-off.
RAYMOND: You are…?
PENELOPE: Penny.[They shake.]
I didn’t know her well, but…you know.
PENELOPE: Were you…family?
RAYMOND: In a sense. Jenny was a sister to me, really.
RAYMOND: She was younger and…a little nervous, a little damaged, and I took her under my wing.
RAYMOND: So naturally I feel guilty, in all the circumstances. I wanted to be there for her and instead…she dies alone, essentially.
PENELOPE: Well, of course…
RAYMOND: But she wouldn’t care about that, wouldn’t fuss at all. And she’d dislike anyone else fussing into the bargain. She hated regrets and hand-wringing. And so do I.
PENELOPE: Sort-of self-indulgent, you mean?
PENELOPE: But, uh…
RAYMOND: Why go to funerals even. They’re not for the dead.
PENELOPE: People, ah, what’s the phrase; people need stretching room for their feelings.
Not on my time they don’t.[Pause.]
Not on my dime, neither.[He takes a long gulp and re-fills his glass. He offers Penelope nothing.]
So what’s your connection Penny? Friend, foe, other?
PENELOPE: Another friend.
PENELOPE: I met some of you at the hospital when, you know…
RAYMOND: And Sid thought you might help make-up a wake? Well, he’s all heart that way, you know, he’s the chap you met there?
PENELOPE: Well, one of them.
RAYMOND: Sid probably wanted to talk to someone, you know. Talk. And talk.
RAYMOND: And talk.
RAYMOND: My friend Sid…my friend Sid is “a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.” Yes, he has many- he carries many feelings of which he has an altruistic need to unburden. There is no one better for turning over buried feelings or rolling away stones, none superior at examining entrails.
PENELOPE: I suppose –
RAYMOND: What’s Wilde’s definition of a cynic? He knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. That’s Sid.[Penelope waves her bottle, taking a step towards the kitchen: Raymond ignores this gesture.]
Yes, Sydney is a pensive fellow. You have probably noticed that he confuses ‘significant’ with ‘substantial,’ and yet everything is of substantial significance to him.[Penelope is almost edging towards the kitchen. Raymond carries on regardless.]
It’s that ‘passionate intensity’ of his. And his deep, graven concern for everything. Sid would have made a good Sandinista, I think![Here is an almost appalled pause. Penelope stands as still as a statue, barely holding onto her wine bottle.]
Sydney’s a sentimental chap. The type who weeps for those un-similarly blessed. The first at a demonstration – demonstrating his concern.
PENELOPE: [About to flee:]
I’ll just –[She is nearly offstage. Raymond hardly notices.]
RAYMOND: Sid is a repressed saint, I think. He has the requisite qualifications, the correct level of self-esteem. All he lacks is one miracle to clear the way for canonisation. But his heart is pinned there on his sleeve for everyone to see, all red and thorny.[Penelope heads to the kitchen, muttering a platitude.]
Because we must all show compassion, give of ourselves, we in the global family.[Raymond, sotto voce:]
And we must be brave when action is called for.[He takes another gulp; re-fills, and rolls a word around his tongue, as if to savour:]
Repressed.[Enter Harold. He is not a heavy drinker but has a fairly low tolerance; it makes him more assertive.]
HAROLD: The consensus is it wasn’t suicide.
RAYMOND: Well, she was thinking about it.
HAROLD: Did she tell you that?
RAYMOND: Er, she implied it.
Have you got a cloth? Sid has knocked over a whole bottle of red.
RAYMOND: In the cupboard under the sink.[Alicia stands looking at Raymond for some time, and then retreats.]
What are you saying?
HAROLD: What are you saying?
RAYMOND: Nothing, as it happens. Can’t you wait for the Coroner? They’ll get to it before the decade is out.
HAROLD: We want to know what you know Ray, you were closest. You must know something.
RAYMOND: ‘Closest’ you say. ‘Something?’ Why don’t you have a black coffee and come back and get to the point?[Harold takes a bellicose half-step forward:]
HAROLD: Just tell us, that’s all. Why the evasion?[Raymond reacts to both body language and accusation by fronting Harold and grabbing him by his tie]
RAYMOND: Listen shit head, just put a cork in it. We’re at a Wake, not a Royal Commission. You’re not ‘Matlock’, even in your stupid powdery suit. I’m over everyone huddling in a corner, whispering in my direction about what I know about Jenny. What I know, I know![Harold, shocked, is released and recovers his composure to a degree, smoothing his rumpled garb. He strides back to the kitchen without a word.]
Jesus, Mary and Joseph.[He takes a seat on the sofa with an air of ‘apprehensive arrogance’ and takes several drinks in silence for a couple of minutes.] [Seth enters. He is sober, but slurs his words occasionally:]
SETH: What happened out here? We heard some raised voices and then Harold came in and started pouring shiraz into a schooner.
RAYMOND: [In leisurely fashion, swirls his glass, sniffs, sips and savours:]
What’s his problem?
SETH: Yes, precisely. What is his problem?
SETH: Ray, I’m a man of infinite patience. I can play this game of yours till the sun blows up.
RAYMOND: Good for you.
SETH: Harold thinks you are acting like some kind of monster, or maybe he said ‘mobster’, it was a bit hard to follow him. He was a little incoherent, much more than normal. So we infer that something has upset him.[An interrogative, significant, pause.]
RAYMOND: Jenny is dead.
SETH: Look mate, everyone is upset but something just happened to upset Harold more. Didn’t it? So what is his problem?
RAYMOND: Harold hasn’t had a fuck in this millennium. He hates his job. He has a slight touch of Asperger’s, which makes it hard for him to relate.
RAYMOND: -in other words, his problems are manifold.[He walks offstage and up the stairs. Seth watches him without a word, starts after him, thinks the better of it, and eventually vanishes in the direction of the kitchen.
After a few moments, the party gathers, in the manner of a procession, and arranges itself about the lounge. Alicia, in accordance with tradition, carries a tray of some goodies. Everyone else carries a glass or two and a bottle each.
Harold is muted and sits carefully; Alicia attempts to be chipper; Penelope is similarly all hail-well-met; Seth somewhat distracted; Sid, crashing into an armchair, is quite drunk.]
PENELOPE: When my Aunt died, she’d had a long illness, they timed it to the second. The end, I mean. Everyone in the family should come in, because today’s probably her last day. They said.
SETH: How could they know?
PENELOPE: Dead right, how could they? But we all rolled-up and Sheila duly took her last bow. So how could they know?
SID: Because they did it.
SETH: Oh, how could they?
SID: That’s not a serious question.
SETH: It is.
SID: No it isn’t.
ALICIA: [Intervening upon the routine:]
Stop it, you two.
I suppose they can when it’s clear there’s no hope. If that’s what the patient wants.
SETH: You can change your mind though, right? Right?
SID: Sure but that won’t mean much if they’ve already pumped the veronal into you.
PENELOPE: They can’t legally just terminate life though, can they?
SID: Are you kidding? They can; they do.
SID: If no one argues, it’s legal.
SETH: And if they need the bed.
ALICIA: [Determinedly changing the subject:]
Well. We’ve had a few do’s here Penny. Over there on the stairway is where we found Sid, conked out…
SID: Lying on the stairs like a ransom note!
ALICIA: You’d broken a rib, remember? But didn’t confirm it till months later!
SETH: Which didn’t matter.
SETH: Steady, mate, all I meant is that it didn’t matter you didn’t see a doctor because ribs just have to heal naturally anyway. Like bones in the foot, remember?
ALICIA: [Pointing to the rear of the stage:]
We found Jenny slumped on the laundry hamper once. She thought it was the toilet.
SETH: Only number ones, thankfully.
HAROLD: She was a kamikaze.
SETH: She was. Remember when she got so tiddly that she decided to go for a run in the middle of the night?
ALICIA: And how!
SETH: Out the door; over the road – thank Christ there were no cars – straight into and over a fence on the other side and into some bushes.
ALICIA: We were picking thorns out of the back of her head for a while there.
PENELOPE: Any happier memories?
SETH: Absolutely. One morning I found her passed out on the kitchen table, with some fella slumped over her.
HAROLD: I remember that.
SETH: Like a blanket.
ALICIA: Bear in mind that that was Jenny at low ebb – when she was up, she was radiant.
ALICIA: She didn’t smile with her teeth much, like autistic kids do and Japanese don’t –
HAROLD: That’s a grimace.
ALICIA: – but she grinned with her eyes, her voice was full of, I don’t know… laughing tears. We’d cry with laughter when Jenny was switched on.
SETH: Yes! Exactly.
PENELOPE: Liked to have met her.[A pause for refreshment.]
Did she have any…family?
ALICIA: She had guts, Jenny. She was crazy-brave in fact. The jobs she took on, in her choice of men. The things she did.
PENELOPE: Sounds like a life force!
SID: That’s just the trouble.
SID: A life force doesn’t go and sputter out like that. It has to have an enabler.
SETH: She was a bit of a terror-junkie though. Thrilled with fear, in herself, or anyone else!
ALICIA: I wouldn’t say that.
HAROLD: You’d never go anywhere with her that wasn’t on the ground floor.
SID: First floor.
SETH: [To Penelope:]
She loved to stand on the edge of high places and wonder aloud whether she could fly. And I couldn’t stand it because I’ve always had a thing for heights. Which she bloody-well knew. “Hey Seth, look down there! What kind of impact would we make from here?” And so on.
SID: [Stretching, yawning:]
A lot of desperados die in bed.
SETH: She was always going on about falling from great heights, used to dream about it, she said.
ALICIA: Oh, that’s just arrhythmia.
HAROLD: No she said – she told me she stayed in some gruesome hotel in Melbourne with a huge atrium, about ten stories high, and she kept leaving her room and running up to the rail, imagining a swan dive from the top.
SID: Like Christopher Walken?
SETH: She was fascinated by the idea of falling. It’s a wonder she never sky-dived.
ALICIA: O, she did sky-dive. And someone went straight through her chute.
PENELOPE: How does that work?
PENELOPE: No, really?
ALICIA: Well, someone dropped through at a thousand miles an hour, or whatever, and ripped a gaping hole in the thing. But Jenny had a back-up chute, so it was still a soft landing.
SETH: I didn’t ever hear that.
ALICIA: As for the uninvited guest, I don’t know. Tried rolling as he hit the ground…
SETH: Dying doing what he loved – screaming at the dirt-nap heading his way…
PENELOPE: So when it came down to it, she chose life?
ALICIA: Oh, that was ages ago.
PENELOPE: Didn’t she? When it came down to it?
ALICIA: That was in another country.[A drinks pause. Throughout the remainder of this Act, drinks are taken liberally.]
ALICIA: She told me she wanted to dive nude but you have to log 100 dives first.
SID: [Slurring his words, now:]
I’d like a swim or…uh…
In the shape you’re in Sid, it’d be your last. Why don’t you have another drink? Pretend it’s Cup Day?[He exits at rear]
SID: [Grumbling, speaking slowly and heavily:]
We used to swim when we were soggy. “Great way to clear the head” she said. “Better than coffee.” She and I would go to that basement pool in her old place and just survival-swim in our clothes.
SID: And it worked. We knew that all those rules about swimming after eating and drinking were balderdash, created by fools for knaves.
SID: That tosh about fighting against the rip, about sharks passing the bar, needles in the sand…just a load of crap.[Seth returns with a new open bottle.]
SETH: No swimming today. The weather isn’t right.[Sid stands, and sways uncertainly:]
SID: Well, if I can’t have a swim…[He leers meaningfully at Penelope.]
HAROLD: Sid…[Alicia and Seth put their glasses down abruptly, rise and cluck Sid into the back room.]
I’m sorry about this, people are…people have had a little too much to drink and their real selves are starting to show.
PENELOPE: It happens.
HAROLD: [Clearly uncertain as to the reason for Penelope’s presence:]
You know that Jenny…that Jenny…she…
PENELOPE: Is dead, yes.
HAROLD: No, uh, well yes, but what I mean. What I meant was; did you know her?
HAROLD: I didn’t. Know her. At all.
PENELOPE: You mean that she was hard to read?[Harold’s off with the pixies, staring into a glass.]
She seems very different to that, from what I’ve heard, I think. Perhaps she kept her thoughts buried in her actions, perhaps, when in doubt, she just did things.
HAROLD: When in doubt.[Alicia and Seth return.]
PENELOPE: Is he OK?
SETH: Never better.
ALICIA: He wanted his swim; he’s getting properly doused, all right!
SETH: What’s the time?
PENELOPE: Perhaps I should shoot through?
ALICIA: No, don’t go.
PENELOPE: Well, most people haven’t come back, and, er, I feel a bit like a 5th wheel.
ALICIA: No no no.
PENELOPE: An interloper.
ALICIA: Not at all, we really appreciate it.
SETH: Yes, stay, Penny.
SETH: Yes, stay, whatever your name is.
PENELOPE: Well, thanks.
SETH: [Raising his glass:]
It’s supposed to be a celebration, after all. Celebration of a life. What a bunch of malarkey that is! Throw a girl off a balcony, crack a bottle of champagne! Cut your own throat and watch the bubbles rise![He fumbles in his pocket, produces a mobile phone and fiddles with it:]
This is Jen’s. Trying to find her saved music. She loved those funeral songs you could access online.[He continues to fiddle.]
ALICIA: We are the living. We owe ourselves life. We owe a degree of honour to the dead. They light our way.
SETH: [Still fiddling:]
ALICIA: We all follow Seth, so we’re all in the same boat that way.
SETH: [Not paying attention:]
ALICIA: Let’s not go there…I don’t think that’s –
SETH: “Tramp the Dirt Down”?[Alicia appropriates the phone.] [Everyone pauses to take a drink.]
Well.[He checks his watch; Sid wobbles back into the room.]
How are you, mate?
SID: Just peachy.
PENELOPE: Glad you’re back.
SID: Glad you’re here. Glad you came.
ALICIA: Yes, Jenny would be pleased. She was like the Great Gatsby, preferred big parties to small ones.
I mean, it’s nice to have someone here without blood on their hands.
ALICIA: Shut it, Sid![There ensues some fussing about clearing away; Alicia and Harold rattle and head to the kitchen, but think twice and leave bottles and some glasses on the sideboard.]
SETH: I’m going to go to Havana finally.
SID: Wait, I’ll get your passport.
SETH: Really, this time.
ALICIA: You should. See it before they spoil it.
HAROLD: I thought they had.
ALICIA: Westernise it, I mean. “Burger King” and that.
HAROLD: Would they have “Hungry Jacks”?
SETH: So I can get me a whopping-great tamale with gherkins, well maybe. While the ‘Gypsy Kings’ are authentically piped throughout the area. But I wanted to see the place, now it’s opening-up.
SID: Too late.[Alicia and Harold sit. A conversational gap ensues.]
HAROLD: Where’s Vanya?
ALICIA: Raymond took it away, I think.
SETH: I hope he left it somewhere responsible. I hope he didn’t tie a brick to the poor brute’s leg and hurl it in a pond.
SID: I’m going to chunder.[He leaves quickly; no-one pays attention.]
SETH: Time for another bottle of champers.[He leaves in Sid’s direction.]
ALICIA: Well, I think we might be at that point where the party’s all downhill from here.
HAROLD: You think?
PENELOPE: I did offer to go.
ALICIA: You did, and you didn’t. But I’m not thinking of that.
HAROLD: No, what you mean is: we’re at that tipping point where you don’t know whether to go on or pull the pin. When the very thought of another drink makes you physically sick. The next warm and runny piece of finger food will have you fit to burst, the next sentence you utter will be as empty as your head and your heart, as bereft as a feverish consumptive on a scaffold.
ALICIA: Yes, Harold.
HAROLD: You’re now in your own little world, surrounded by true friends. Mr. Drink is here – raw and warm with his smile and knowing look. Mr. Pill is hanging around, too – a bit of a bore but kind of dependable. Very reliable. Mr. Phone fills in conversational gaps and awkward pauses with his burbles and trills; even when he shuts-up he hangs on comfortingly, on the off-chance he’ll be needed.
ALICIA: [To Penelope:]
I indulge my friends in their party pieces and cabaret turns, as you can see.
HAROLD: Ms. Needle is here – she’ll weigh-in at a pinch, and only Mr. Razor will tell us when the party’s over.
ALICIA: Thank you.
RAYMOND: Who’s for some fun?
ALICIA: No-one’s in the mood Raymond. Come on.
RAYMOND: Time out for fun!
HAROLD: No Ray!
RAYMOND: Eh? What’s wrong?
ALICIA: It’s not the right time.
RAYMOND: O come on, Penny doesn’t mind, do you? Jenny would have loved to go on a clown-purge, it’s just the ticket to lift the spirits while lowering others!
ALICIA: Cut it out.
HAROLD: Stop it![He rises and heads quickly to the kitchen.] [Raymond removes the mask and sets it down]
RAYMOND: Gee, I was only trying to cheer you up.[He takes a clean glass and pours some wine.]
ALICIA: Ray, why did Jenny do it?
ALICIA: I mean it doesn’t make any sense. A note that’s nothing like anything she’d ever write or say…wordier than, I don’t know…Tolstoy?
PENELOPE: Maybe she wasn’t in her right mind –
ALICIA: No, the whole thing is not something she would say, right mind or not.
PENELOPE: What are you saying?
ALICIA: Look, it is hard enough to accept she’s gone, and she liked to live dangerously –
RAYMOND: She did.
ALICIA: But we’re supposed to accept that she just upped and wrote this essay in a fit of remorse –
PENELOPE: I’ve seen weirder.
ALICIA: – and stifled herself.
RAYMOND: You didn’t really know her at all, did you?
ALICIA: Rubbish. Where did you get that from? I was her best friend.
RAYMOND: Inconvenient traits you simply ignore.
ALICIA: Don’t you?
RAYMOND: Jenny was a party accessory to you, that’s all.
ALICIA: I –
RAYMOND: That’s true, isn’t it?[He reaches for his clown mask, and holds it up.]
As you know, she liked fear, she fed off it.
ALICIA: That’s not true.
RAYMOND: And others.
ALICIA: This is not fair.
RAYMOND: She liked to make trouble. Then she was filled with remorse.
ALICIA: Ray, you’re just foisting – this smacks of transference.
RAYMOND: Been at a psychology conference, Leese?[He rises, gathers his drink, drains it, puts on his clown mask, takes it off again and meanders about the room during the following:]
She liked to imbue others with her Fear.
RAYMOND: Fear-pusher, she was. Scared and scary.
ALICIA: It depends on your perspective.
RAYMOND: And on getting some. See, what you think of as “inappropriate,” others regard as just clowning around. But you Alicia, what you don’t like, nobody should like.
PENELOPE: You said you thought of her as a sister, Ray?
ALICIA: Half in love with her, but not that way.
RAYMOND: Jenny was not only a sister to me; she was much more. Not a muse, exactly; I’m not as grand as Sid. Anima? The regia to my aqua? Perhaps. A soul mate? Perhaps.[He pours yet another drink]
There was something fairly crafty about Jen. Leave aside all the good-time-girl stuff. Forget the self-destructive behaviour; Jenny usually ended up just fine, exactly on her own terms, precisely where she had always wanted to be. She wanted Sid to be her poodle, and look how he now pines and howls to her memory; Seth she used as a pipsqueak major-domo.[Putting on his mask; Turning to Alicia:]
You, Leese, were her Miss Lonely-heart correspondent. Harold, was her catspaw.
RAYMOND: I was the only one on her wavelength, on her level. I saw through her. I knew what she wanted.[During a pause, Raymond casts away his mask abruptly.]
I knew what she wanted. She didn’t, but she knew that I knew. And now she’d say “let us learn to show friendship in life and not after” or something mockingly portentous as that. She carried on as if she didn’t care, or rather had no cares, led the life of one of those fourteenth century troubadours, a 70s rocker, tapers lit at both ends, the dead-at-27 Club, either dangling from or wrapped round a tree. That’s how it was supposed to be.[He takes a drink, sets his glass down, and stands.]
She invited me in. I arrived. I fixed it. I’m a fixer.[He heads up the stairs, stage left, turns halfway:]
I guess that Jenny had it coming. I suppose she knew that. We all knew it, didn’t we, after all?[From off stage, comes the sound of a cork popping.] [Fadeout.]
(Permission to perform can be sought c/- The Varnished Culture)