Staring Directly into the Sun

From left to right:

TABLE 1 – Stage.

TABLE 2 –Dining table.

TABLE 3 – Makeshift shelter. BEVERLY ECHO, a homeless woman, is a fixture of this setting.

TABLE 4 – Examining table in doctor’s office.

(Lights up on TABLE 3. BEVERLY ECHO crouches beneath it.)

BEVERLY ECHO
The only subject in school I ever thought was worth a damn was biology. There’s a disease we learned about in that class called nyctalopia. Night blindness – you can’t see at all in dim light or at night, and when you have it, your immune system is also compromised. All these children in South Asian countries were getting this disease, and no one could figure out why. But finally, they realized that all of these kids had a vitamin-A deficiency. All most of these kids ever had to eat was rice, and some of them were going completely blind, and some were dying. All they needed was a few drops of a solution of vitamin A. Biology – such a simple solution! But biology is a multidisciplinary science. It’s also subject to the laws of physics and chemistry.

(Now lights up on TABLE 2 and TABLE 4. At first glance, they look like mirror images, and also the same as Beverly Echo’s table. CLARISSA BROOD, LENNY DWELL, and ASHLEY DWELL head toward the former, bringing on chairs, plates, and chopsticks. Their father, TED DWELL, walks slowly toward the latter table and lowers himself onto it so that he’s sitting on his edge, with his legs dangling. He looks agitated, and every once in a while, a random part of his body twitches involuntarily. Clarissa, Lenny and Ashley mime eating and talking until their dialogue starts – the dialogue on the two sides of the stage will alternate intermittently, and the lights will suddenly dim a bit on whatever side isn’t most prominent in a given moment. This is intended to have a somewhat disconcerting effect on the audience. As DR. BLANK [aka KATE)] enters officiously on the right side, the family eating on the left side comes into focus. The dinner scene is in normal typeface, and the appointment scene is in bold. Anything bolded after that indicates a scene change.)

ASHLEY
This was supposed to be a family dinner. Did he forget?

DR. BLANK
Good evening Mr. Dwell, how are you doing?

TED
I don’t know, you tell me.

LENNY
Dad remembered. He was all, ‘let’s go to our favorite restaurant at the end of the week,’ which, why does he call it that, since we go all the time but he never comes with us.

CLARISSA
(Tense)
I told you, he’s sorry, but he had a doctor’s appointment.

DR. BLANK
Yes well, I guess we can get right to the point. We have the test results – for your physical examination, your blood tests, your MRI.

LENNY
And he couldn’t reschedule?

CLARISSA
There was a cancellation. Dr. Blank’s schedule opened up very suddenly, and no he couldn’t.

DR. BLANK
You know we tested your balance, your coordination, your reflexes, we tested you for any abnormal movements—

TED
(Laughing)
These past few months I sure have been pretty clumsy. My wife makes fun of me. (Seeing how serious the doctor looks and sobering) Is it bad?

(The doctor stalls by rearranging some paperwork.)

ASHLEY
Yeah, what a bummer it would have been for him to have to wait whole weeks until the next available date. It sucks so much when you ‘re hoping against hope to have a needle jabbed into the crook of your elbow and a circle of cold metal pressed into your chest, and then it just can’t happen when you planned it.

CLARISSA
Ashley, leave it.

LENNY
Really, I’m eating. No need to be so graphic. Not all of us are desensitized to violence from hours a day of mind-numbingly gore-y computer games—

ASHLEY
Lenny, I know that you’ve never respected the very important role I play–

LENNY
–Here we go. (He mouths “massively multiplayer online role-playing games on the Internet” along with her.)

ASHLEY
–in moderating one of the largest ever massively multiplayer online role-playing games on the Internet, but to bring it up now is in poor taste even for—

LENNY
Please. What you do is virtual barbarism. What I do, what I do is art. (He squares his hands and holds them up to the orange lantern, framing it as though poised to snap a photograph on an imaginary camera.)

TED
(Insistent)
Is it?

ASHLEY
Yeah, I know, you’re Lenny the lensman. Prince of pictures. King camera nerd. You’re all that. While our dear father is just a disappointing no-show.

DR. BLANK
(Pained)
You have to know that with the blood and the brain imaging, we’ve ruled out all of the other possibilities—

TED
Please just tell me. I can take it.

CLARISSA
(Exploding)
Guys! Enough. Please just shut up. (Beat) It’s not a routine check-up.

ASHLEY
(Stunned briefly into silence, but recovers and says accusingly)
What do you mean?

DR. BLANK
I’m so sorry. You have Huntington’s disease.

TABLE 2

(We see Ted talking to Clarissa, breaking the news to her. Her face crumples, and she embraces him fiercely. While they are embracing, another light shines on TABLE 4.)

KATE
(Sitting on the table that Ted vacated)
I kind of get why people hug each other. There’s something so solid about slamming into someone else – not forcefully, but just with a lot of intention. There’s something about people pressing as close together as possible, and how that physical connection clicks so willingly into an emotional one. Nothing else allows you to extend to someone else so instantly on a deep, loving psychological level than those tight embraces when two people really do become one. And no. Not in a sexual way. Just in the way of such a meaningful bond. The oxytocin and all.

(Blackout as they exit and Ashley and Lenny take their place at TABLE 2. Ashley is in one seat fiddling with computer parts, and Lenny is in another adjusting the settings on his camera. He is fidgety.)

ASHLEY
(Noticing the computer chips moving around on the table)
Can you quit fidgeting? You’re making everything move!

LENNY
Sorry.

(They keep working, and pretty soon he’s at it again.)

ASHLEY
You’re doing it again!

LENNY
Sorry! It’s subconscious.

ASHLEY
Well try to make it conscious. You don’t do this normally.

LENNY
I know, I know. I’m just worrying about what they’re gonna tell us tonight. I think something really bad is happening with Dad.

ASHLEY
(Looks up.)
I’m trying not to think about it.

LENNY
Okay. Let’s try not to, just for now. What are you doing?

ASHLEY
(Looks back down)
I picked up a memory board today for the computer I’m building. It’s a detachable board with computer chips in it, and when you need it, all you have to do is connect it. (She has an idea) What if people worked like that? Hook up the hardware, and wham. Experiences. Or you know, there could be plenty of practical usages. Like, memorizing verb tables for Spanish sucks butt, but, imagine if we could just take a chip full of all the knowledge we’ll ever need, shove it through one ear and into our brains, and boom. Knowledge but no pain wasted acquiring it. So the stuff our teachers say goes in one ear still, just this time it doesn’t go right out the other. And there’s an easy counterargument to this brilliance; what about all the morals instilled from (in a singsong voice) learning the hard way. Or a better point, the desire to acquire unique knowledge as opposed to an encyclopedia impersonally shoved through the circuits of everyone’s nervous systems indiscriminately. So we’re human and different.

LENNY
(Almost indignantly)
I’m not just a digital camera capturing the images of my life.

ASHLEY
(Agreeing)
And besides, just because computers can “remember” information on their memory banks doesn’t mean that they are truly processing and understanding what they contain. Does it?

LENNY
(Laughing at the idea)
Scrapbooks can’t reminisce about the family photos inside them. Can they?

(Lights down on them, and lights up on the space in front of the tables where Clarissa, wearing a coat and a briefcase, is walking quickly. She crosses the stage back and forth, quickly, as though she is on her way to work and in a hurry.)

CLARISSA
(Into her cell phone)

Yes, I realize when this brief is due. (pause) Look, I just think we need ten more pages to incorporate all the material from the new witness (pause) trust me, we’re gonna kill with this in direct examination. (pause) okay, bye. (She looks at her phone) I need to check my voicemail. Missed call from – shit. Ted. (She stops in her tracks just shy of center stage, slumping.) After I listen to my voicemail, I can never press the 7 key to delete the message—I must always press 9 and save it, because what if the sender suddenly dies? What if I casually delete my husband’s message, ‘Just checking in. Hope you have a great day at work. Love you’ (the voice of the actor playing the husband actually issues from offstage, here) and he gets hit by a car tomorrow? And I never have that message, to play over and over, until I miss him so much that I moan and cry because the hurt is so deep, but thankfully not with the added depth of having deleted such a precious day-to-day memory of the love of my life. (It hits her) I’m never going to delete any of his messages ever again.

TABLE 4
(BROOKE, a character we haven’t seen yet and Ashley’s girlfriend, is sprawled on the examining table. There are bandages on her lower arms. KATE enters.)

KATE
(Handing her water and some pills)
Hello, Brooke. How are you doing?

BROOKE
(Scooping the pills into her mouth and swallowing them with a practiced air)
Hey Dr. Blank. I’m alright.

KATE
You should see if you can spend some time in the courtyard today. It’s a beautiful afternoon.

BROOKE
I don’t really like going out there. You can see that poor homeless woman hanging right around there, you know, Beverly Echo. It’s creepy and sad.

KATE
(Trying to change the subject, and saying something she’s clearly wanted to say the whole time)
Well, I have some news you might like. You have a visitor.
(Brooke visibly brightens, and Kate smiles.)
I think you know the one.

(She exits and Ashley enters. Ashley and Brooke kiss.)

ASHLEY
Scooch over, you big lump.
(Brooke moves over so Ashley can sit next to her on the table. They cheat out, facing each other cross-legged.)
How are you doing?

BROOKE
I’m doing great! (Taking her hand) But listen, how are you doing? I heard about your dad. I’m so sorry.

ASHLEY
(Her face falls)
Yeah. (Beat) Yeah. It’s really hard. It’s going to be really hard. Right now I’m trying not to think about it.

BROOKE
(Gently)
Well you’re going to have to think about it.

ASHLEY
I know. But not right now, okay?

BROOKE
Okay. Would you like to hear about all of my problems instead? (Wryly) As usual?
(They laugh, and Brooke kisses her on the cheek.)

ASHLEY
Yeah, okay.

TABLE 1

TED
(Reading from a journal entry)
I miss childhood. Not the way I was pampered and charmed and taken care of all the time, because having experienced adulthood I could never relinquish my independence in any satisfying way. Rather, I miss the way everything used to be new and exciting. The smell of airports, the thrilling grayness of the carpet, and arguing with my brother for hours about which was the best part – the takeoff, or the landing. For the first time being old enough to ask that friendly face on the street whether it would be okay to pet the puppy bouncing up and down on her leash, and what breed was it, and how amazing it was when the owner said she had no idea. Relishing, really enjoying a maple walnut ice cream cone because you have managed to swipe your tongue carefully around its sides, refusing to let any cold, wet trickle onto your fingers. Knowing with certainty that there is no adventure more fulfilling than staying up til midnight, than not missing out on that sacred, dividing instant between today and tomorrow. (Beat) When people tell me that they haven’t read the Harry Potter series, I’m extremely jealous of them. Because they’ll get to experience what I won’t ever experience again barring some freak attack of amnesia: reading and discovering the wondrous Wizarding World for the first time. Yes there’s a certain comfort in predictability, and humans are creatures of habit. But routine isn’t exactly conducive to “living as if you’ll die tomorrow, and learning as if you’ll live forever.” (Shutting the journal) That was then. Now I might as well go for it. No promise of stability (his hand spasms, and the journal falls to the floor, pages askew) holding me back now. And when my health becomes too frail for freedom, when the pale pages of the pearls of my youth are all I have, and dementia makes demands on my body that I cannot brave…I’ll keep on. Maybe it will feel like the first time.

TABLE 4
(It’s still Ashley and Brooke. They’ve switched positions though, to make it seem like they’ve been there talking for a while and we’re entering the scene mid-conversation.)

ASHLEY
At least you aren’t alone. I have it too now. My eyes start welling in the middle of class. And I just feel angry at myself. It’s not even supposed to be my ordeal.

BROOKE
Of course it is. He’s your dad. And yeah, clinical depression’s a bitch (she gestures at the room) but so is situational depression.

ASHLEY
And for me it wasn’t always like this.

BROOKE
Like when you were little?

ASHLEY
The year I was in kindergarten, I had a fear of the dark like a lot of people I guess do. So going to bed would always be a huge torment. The glow of my Mickey Mouse nightlight cast strange shadows over my bedpost, freshly formed into the skeleton of a silent ghost that could be joined any second by an upward writhing of sheets, animated and communicating via the breezes from my fan and the changes in frequency of my white noise machine. The clothes folded over the back of my rolling chair could shape themselves into a fabric Frankenstein’s monster, and (change of pace) the toilet made the weirdest noises! The worst was when you flushed it, because that was when the demon who lived in the water tank tried to grab you. Well obviously, the only beings who could stave off these cruel creatures were my parents. So while I was falling asleep, it was imperative that they check on me two minutes, then five minutes, then ten minutes after I was enclosed by covers.
(Transitioning) It’s the opposite now. I have a whole lot of trouble getting out of bed for school in the morning. This is what my mom doesn’t realize when she comes in two minutes, then five, then ten after they’ve shrilled me awake and insisted that I throw off my blanket and greet the world. I’m not lazy. I’m not even that physically tired, even though I’ve probably only gotten four hours of sleep. (As though explaining to someone who just won’t get it) Getting out of bed isn’t the hard part. It’s the easy means to the unbearable end of facing the whole entire day.

TABLE 2/TABLE 4
(Clarissa and Kate are talking on the phone, and they are mid-conversation. Clarissa is angry and Kate is apologetic.)

CLARISSA
So just to reiterate, there is not one single clinical trial available that you can put my husband into?

KATE
I really am sorry. But your husband’s disease is not at a late enough stage to qualify him for either of the two trials the FDA has approved right now.

CLARISSA
Neither of them? Not one of them.

KATE
No.

CLARISSA
And how long does it take the FDA to approve a new clinical trial?

KATE
I really couldn’t tell you, I’m sorry.

CLARISSA
I just bet you are.

(Clarissa slams the receiver down.)

CLARISSA
At my law firm we write briefs, go to trial, argue the case as best we can, and then the trial is over. But no cases ever truly close. We are required by law to save them, mandated to for future reference. Usually they’ll keep records for ten years, in rubescently red folders and great big binders, or scanned into CDs. And then there’re cold cases. They’re unsolved so they’re set aside, culprit-less financial frauds and homicides biding their time until new information comes along. (Very grimly) But no one has any idea how long justice will be waiting.

TABLE 1
(Lenny and his friend MATT are sitting on the stage. They hang out here a lot.)

LENNY
My stupid camera’s broken!

MATT
So fix it.

LENNY
I can’t fix it. It needs a replacement lens they don’t have readily available in this stupid town. It’s taking forever to ship.

MATT
That sucks man, I’m sorry. I know it’s how you deal with shit.

LENNY
Yeah.

MATT
You know what I like to do to cope?

LENNY
Matt, I’ve told you a thousand times, I don’t. Write. Poetry.

MATT
It’s fun! All I’m asking you to do is try it.

TABLE 2/TABLE 4
(Clarissa and Kate are in the middle of another phone conversation.)

KATE
I know you’re angry, and I know this is hard.

CLARISSA
No, I really don’t think you have any idea what this feels like.

KATE
Maybe you’re right. But you can’t keep avoiding me on this subject. We have to talk about this.

CLARISSA
I don’t want to think about it!

KATE
(Losing it)
Well you’re going to have to!

CLARISSA
(Silence)

KATE
(Much more quietly, knowing she’s probably crossed the line)
You cannot go on avoiding the fact that Huntington’s runs in families. One or more of your kids could have this. And if they do, it won’t set on until later in life. But there are decisions you have to face.

CLARISSA
(Slowly she lowers the phone away from her ear, hangs up, and puts it down on the table. Then she takes a pair of chopsticks out of her pocket and pretends to eat. She does this for ten slow seconds, before letting them clatter down. While she has been eating, Beverly Echo who has been inert for almost the entire play turns slowly toward her from her crouch.)

BEVERLY ECHO
(Breaking the invisible barrier between the tables)
Would you like a fortune cookie? (It turns out that there is a whole pile of fortune cookies hidden under her grubby clothes.)

CLARISSA
(Looks up at the homeless woman) Sure, I’ll take one of your fortune cookies. (She gets up, crosses to Beverly echo, takes a cookie from her, and sits back down.) One of your recyclable kernels of profundity, one of your bits of scrap paper destiny. Never has it been easier to take a life lesson, say “fuck it,” and rip it in two. I never remember what my fortune is. And so I let all the opportunities to reconnect with the people I love slip through my fingers—I never was too good with chopsticks. (Beat) You know, nobody’s even totally sure where the fortune cookie originated. That helping of false hope encased in a sweet, low-fat crunch. If it was some game dreamed up by bored Chinese nobility, or if it was invented in 1800 by a Californian baker wrapping prewritten fortunes in egg casing. If only sealing someone’s fate was actually that easy. (Overcome with emotion, but snapping out of it) So what they do is, what the manufacturers do is they get the fortunes printed up on this oil-resistant and moisture-resistant paper, so the ink doesn’t bleed when the paper is tossed in with the eggs, and sugar and water. Well okay, it isn’t just thrown in there. First they mix a watery dough and pour it into cups, and then they send it to a special circular oven, which it rotates through for three-and-a-half minutes because that’s exactly how long it takes to bake. It emerges onto a griddle, and a mechanical arm seizes it (getting emotional again) and pins it down so a vacuum can forcefully embed one of roughly 1,000 legally approved fortunes into its center. (Sardonic) Literally, cookie-cutter. Then, the arm flexes two mechanical fingers, and contorts the cookie into a crescent moon. It’s not magic or destiny. It’s a fucking business enterprise. They’re going designer, making custom fortunes for weddings, and you know what? (Furious, pleading) The odds are pretty solid that someone, at least one poor, hopeful person, has gotten the same fortune twice. My children cannot have this disease too. They can’t. I won’t be able to take it. (The whole time she has been unwrapping her cookie. Now she holds up her fortune away from her face, and without looking at it, rips it in two.)

TABLE 1
(Lenny and his friend Matt are sitting on the stage again, and this time they are armed with notebooks and pencils. They sit scribbling for a while. Matt seems into it, but Lenny feels awkward, and keeps glancing at Matt’s paper out of the corner of his eye.)

LENNY
(Clearing his throat)
What do you have so far?

MATT
Nothing really.

LENNY
The sheer volume of words on your page seems to contradict that statement.

MATT
Hmm. (They keep writing)

LENNY
(Trying again)
Well, what kind of poem is it? A sonnet? An ode?

MATT
It’s free verse-ish. If you must know, it’s a love poem.

LENNY
(Bursts out laughing)
A love poem! I should have known. Well how does it go?

MATT
I don’t really want to say yet.

LENNY
Okay well let me guess, (he clears his throat obnoxiously and begins gushing in a mockingly saccharine tone) The sky glimmered so beautifully on the night I said “I love you,” that blue never seemed like so many different colors, people’s dreams hung down like drowsy fruit from the drapes of trees, and flowers grew by the nourishment of moonbeams, so—

MATT
Oh, shut up. It’s a different kind of love poem.

LENNY
Different how?

TABLE 2
(Ted and Clarissa are sitting next to each other, holding hands.)

CLARISSA
Someone told me there’s a distinct moment when two people fall in love. And in that moment, each regards the other as perfect, as the perfect person to be with. (Beat) In that moment, in our moment, you didn’t seem perfect to me. (Seeing his reaction) No! I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing. I loved that you weren’t perfect, and that neither of us have to smooth over the moment of our meeting as somehow purer than it was. Because…I love the slight buckness in your teeth. And the little cowlick that always sticks up on the side of your head, even though you try to tame it. And how you didn’t have a car because you went through that eco-friendly phase—remember?—and you showed up twenty minutes late to our second date because your bus ran late. So you apologized adorably like a thousand times and you picked me a bouquet of wildflowers right off the side of the road and asked the waitress for an extra glass of water to put them in. That’s what made you so wonderful.

TED
When this thing gets worse, I’m not going to be wonderful anymore.

CLARISSA
You’re going to be wonderful to me. I’m going to love you more than ever. Honey, we are going to get through this.

TABLE 1

LENNY
Okay, I’ve got Love Poem 2.0 for you. Wanna hear?

MATT
(Rolling his eyes)
Sure.

LENNY
(Still trying to mock his friend)
Looking in your eyes is flinging myself off of a twined, ragged rope swing
And landing in the icy water so fast that my lips don’t have time to turn purple
Before my heart gets brain freeze and my brain’s lightning circuitry sends my heart
The crushing, crying chemical message that it’s about to be broken
And that its own lightning impulses are soon to electricute my sorrowful soul
          
MATT
That’s not bad. Actually, it’s quite good. Really sad though! It’s just not mine. But do you know what?

LENNY
What?

MATT
I know you aren’t taking this seriously, and you’re only trying to make fun. But part of why you’re writing that well is because you actually mean it. Yeah, you’re not in love. You’re not like me and you don’t think you’re in love every time a cute girl notices you because you’re trying to get over your ex-girlfriend. But seriously! You’re going through a lot right now with your dad. Quit pretending it’s all a joke to you, and face what you feel!

(Lenny, stunned, gets up and walks offstage.)
MATT
Shit.

On Either Side of TABLE 3
(Ashley and Lenny are stargazing, lying back and propped up on their elbows. Beverly Echo is just behind them on the stage although they don’t know it, and she has lit a candle. That is the only light used for this scene.)

ASHLEY
The universe isn’t that complicated, really. It’s just like (beat) like a candle. The high up flame is variegated and flickering, scary and beautiful, tenuous but very fierce in its showery shades of orange, yellow, red and blue. It’s deep, but showy. Rife with intentions good and bad—to warm, but also to burn, to protect, but also to destroy. And it distracts you from the fact that all the while the wax is melting away and down, leading everything to death. (Beat, more intense) The more you think you know, the more you’re kidding yourself, because all your thoughts are distorted by a haze of candle wax that you all but drown in until there’s nothing left but a stub. And your fire has to go out. You can try to keep the fire alive, set other shit on fire, but what’s that do but fan out the ruination? You can try to isolate the fire, shield the other stuff, but then it snuffs out. No middle. There’s no middle! People always want to be in the middle: the center of attention, the compromise, that magical space where no one can criticize you and you see everybody else as though from the heavens, from a perfect, unbiased sweet spot nestled somewhere between the stars. But it doesn’t exist. We’re simple people. We want the essence of everything, the world broken up into little comprehensible tributary tokens, so we epitomize things that can’t be—the universe. A candle. What bullshit. Point is, you’re going to go out, blow out, be thrown out, be shown out, be loaned out, be zoned out, be towed out, be grown out of somehow. Enjoy the heat while you can.

LENNY
Yeah. (Letting himself feel) Yeah it’s awful. You just have to try to keep everything in perspective.

ASHLEY
(Let’s out a humorless laugh)
How.

LENNY
Take a picture and stare at it. Figure it out removed from the overwhelming context.

ASHLEY
It can never be as good as having a grasp of the real thing.

LENNY
I’ve been thinking since my lens cracked. There’s a reason why photographs aren’t as beautiful as the real thing. It isn’t just because it’s out of context—out of the moment—or because you can only experience the subject of the snapshot with sight, as opposed to with all five of your senses. It’s because you’ve stolen an instant in time, you’ve distilled what was supposed to end up as not even the faintest of memories, and there it lies. Lumped into a pretty little stack on your bedroom dresser. In capturing it, you’ve drained it of its magic. The minute you can take it for granted, it loses its splendor. Beauty, by nature, is fleeting. Evanescent. Rare. It’s not something you can figure out, frame, and hang up in your hallway beside your creaky bathroom door. (Beat) Look up at the sky, go on. Know why the stars are so beautiful? Because you’ll never enumerate them with some algorithmic computation. Because you can’t grasp them. Because they’re unattainable.

ASHLEY
At least you’ll always have them.

LENNY
(Pausing heavily, then agreeing)
At least you’ll always have them.

ASHLEY
You know the homeless woman?

LENNY
Beverly Echo.

ASHLEY
You actually believe that that’s her name?

LENNY
I don’t know. She wants it to be. And it suits her. And that’s what everybody calls her.

ASHLEY
Well she keeps a photograph in a Ziploc bag underneath her mattress. You know, that she sits on, next to the courtyard by the psych ward. I don’t think she wants anyone to know about it. But I saw her take it out and look at it when she didn’t think anyone was watching.

LENNY
Who was in the picture?

ASHLEY
I only saw it for a second but (beat) it was a man. He was handsome actually, in a rugged way. I think maybe it was her husband. I think maybe — do you think we’ll have pictures of Dad and we’ll have to hide them from each other? So we won’t feel as terrible? So maybe we’ll forget?

LENNY
We won’t forget. Also we can’t forget. As soon as I consider having kids, I’m getting genetically tested. You should too, if you and Brooke want to get married one day.

ASHLEY
Lenny?

LENNY
What.

ASHLEY
I think I want to be cremated.

LENNY
Why?

ASHLEY
It’s not like I have some really romantic reason. I’ve just beaten Crypt Invader 3 too many times not to be unsettled by the idea of rotting in a coffin forevermore, until I decay into nothingness or until some dark force wrests me out from below the ground.

LENNY
Oh. (Beat) Kind of like the covenant.

ASHLEY
Huh?

LENNY
God’s promise to Abraham. God promised Abraham that his people would be more numerous than the stars in the sky (gesturing upward) and the dust in the earth (letting his hands rest at his sides again).

ASHLEY
I guess one’s ashes can be sort of like one’s children. In a messed up way. Ashes to ashes, anyway, and dust to dust. You know?

LENNY
I know. I know.

TABLE 2

TED
(Lying flat on his back below his dining room table. His unusual position is an unsettling contradiction to the subject matter of his monologue.)
Some things you have to be a parent to realize. When you’re a parent, and you look at your children, a strange thing happens. You see the children, the grown-up children, at their current ages, in their current states. But simultaneously, you see them in all of the ages and states they’ve ever been. It’s truly bizarre. (Now he alternates between his children) Cradling her as in infant and she has the tiniest little nose you’ve ever seen. Pushing him in a stroller at two in the morning up your block because he refuses to stop crying, until he looks up at the moon, and miraculously, the tears are gone. At six, she’s laughing and climbing the tallest tree in your yard and you’re sure that she’s going to fall because she’s laughing so hard, but she makes it all the way to the top and back down again. At 11, he proudly shows you his first A+ on a story for English. At 15, she shyly tells you upon her return from summer camp that she’s had her first kiss, and also, that she wants to be a marine biologist when she grows up. Then at 18, his face, full of hurt and confusion, full of college dreams but afraid to talk to you anymore about anything normal. (Echoing himself) It’s truly bizarre. But Lenny, Ashley, neither of them shares my experience. They love me (sitting up with effort and bumping his head on the underside of the table, then sitting on top of the table and trying to control his shaking) there’s no doubt about that, but she never wiped my butt, clasped my fresh diaper around tiny thighs, and tucked me into bed. He can barely remember how I looked when my hair wasn’t gray, when I was clean-shaven, when I had no wrinkles, or paunch, or (louder) muscle and memory disease. So when they look at me, really look at me, and see who I am today (beat) my heart clenches and crumples, seeming to spurt out into tiny pieces. Prematurely (beat) prematurely I am a stupid old man who knows not what he is saying. But I am older and wiser, I was always older and wiser, and in my broken heart that won’t change. But in their minds, in Ashley and Lenny’s very much healthy, functioning minds, their beautiful mind, it will. I will.

TABLE 4
(Watching Matt, who is writing poetry by himself at TABLE 1 on the other side of the stage.)

KATE
I didn’t realize fully until I grew up exactly how much bullshit my parents threw at me – to take advantage of me. And I guess it’s not really such a bad thing: everyone does it, and I only became aware of it because I started doing it to my own children. It just disturbs me because (beat) okay! I was always The Thing-Finder. I was the best Thing-Finder in the family, so much so that it became part of my identity. Only, looking back, my mom wasn’t “incapable” of finding her purse that was sitting in clear view a few feet away from her. In retrospect, she was just too lazy to get up off of the couch. She’d say, ‘Kate, you’re such a good Thing-Finder, I bet you can find my purse for me!’ Translation: ‘fetch me my purse, slave, because I don’t feel like moving.’ This fundamental part of my identity, a part that I treasured and that built up my fragile self-esteem, was hollow. Was bullshit. Yet I have subjected my child to the same emptiness. When my son Matt was little, when my arms were killing me and I felt that I would physically drop dead if I were forced to carry him over one more square of sidewalk, I said to him, ‘Matt, you’re such a good runner. Why don’t you run to the end of the block and show me what a good runner you are?’ I wanted to give my arms a rest. Bullshit at its purest. (Realizing) And it only gets worse as he grows up. I tell him to push his boundaries, to try out for the A-team in soccer and the rigorous academic summer program, maybe quit writing poetry all the time, when – I don’t know if he can really do it! But I want the best for him. And I also want the best for me. I get why Clarissa keeps calling. And I get why she keeps hanging up.

BEVERLY ECHO
(Opening one of her fortune cookies, eating it, and reading the fortune aloud)
It’s much easier to make a name for yourself as someone who changed the world than to actually change the world.

TABLE 3
(Standing on the table almost directly above Beverly Echo)

BROOKE
I learned in biology that when you suss out the layers of a tree, there’s a lot more than just the bark and what’s underneath.
I walked down to the benches on the border of the courtyard today, picked up part of a fallen branch. Sat on a bench peeling away the ectoderm, the mesoderm, the endoderm. I think I’ve forgotten the more specific names of dermal tissue, at least in plant phyla…collenchyma, sclerenchyma, I don’t know.
But it’s almost like a game, tearing off the pieces. What’s the most you can unravel at a single go?
And then when it comes off, it may be detached but it isn’t free. Still curled up in the shape of the arm of the branch of that tree of where it was born, from where it was torn. By wind and rain, and now by human hands and for human pain.
It stings and it scars in the place where it’s gone, but there’s a quiet elation that comes with destruction, with knowing it will never fit seamlessly back on, it will never heal completely. I’ve done something indelible that can’t be undone. It may not be good but I feel it in my gut. It’s bad but unbreakable, this scratch, this cut. Was the skin dead upon separation, or already when I just thought the thought?
(Tone change) There’s a movie called “I Love Huckabees,” and the two main characters having existential crises take turns wacking each other in the face with a rubber ball, because in that instant of blinding pain they’re able to cease to think or feel anything.
(She brings home the connection) So you wanna know the thought process that got me in this ward? It should feel wrong and drastic, like I’m messed up in the head, but it doesn’t. It just feels like relief. You listen to music and go on a run to calm you down, I graze the flesh of my forearms with a razorblade. You watch “Mean Girls” for the 27th time when you’re sad, and I singe myself with the glowing stub of a cigarette. So long as I wear long sleeves in public, what’s the difference? (Harsh laughter that stops abruptly). Nobody has to know the difference.

TABLE 3
(Beverly Echo gets up off of the ground, and retrieves the two pieces of Clarissa’s fortune that she ripped up such a long while ago. She puts them together, and reads it.)

BEVERLY ECHO
Pessimism is just sarcastic optimism.

TABLE 2
(Clarissa is ranting to Ted)

CLARISSA
You know – every time I call a new hospital, trying to find better medicines, trying to find a better treatment plan, I feel like they’re deliberately evasive with me. Just as soon as it comes time to mention that I have a strained insurance policy, and that I don’t have a seven-digit salary to throw around, they make an excuse and they get off the phone. I never hear back.

TED
The medication I’m on now is fine.

CLARISSA
It’s not fine.

TED
(Getting up and exiting)
Well it’s the best we can afford. So I think it is fine.

CLARISSA
Let me put it to you this way. Everyone knows that witness accounts of crimes are intrinsically inaccurate. Say a short guy with brown hair and a brown jacket runs into a room brandishing a stapler and steals a briefcase off of a stool. And say the victim, in panic, happens to shout, “somebody stop the man in the green jacket!” Chances are, at least four eyewitnesses will think the man was tall and had blonde hair. A few of them will think that the stapler was a gun, for sure, and nearly all of them will think that the brown jacket was green. All that is by accident. That’s why it infuriates me when witnesses are deliberately unhelpful and forgetful; ‘I don’t recall, I don’t recall.’ Yeah, well I don’t recall you having the memory of a retarded goldfish when I was prepping you for our direct examination!
TED
(Coming back on stage)
Honey, this isn’t one of your trials. And it’s fine!

CLARISSA
It is not fine!

TABLE 4

BROOKE
Goddamn, some of the people who’ve been in here are creative. In a sick way. As soon as I got here they took away my shoelaces – someone must have tried unstringing them from the shoes and tying a noose or something. I mean, Jesus. And they made me take off my bra so they could remove the wires from the straps. (Beat) Do they really think I’m that desperate to cut myself?

TABLE 1

MATT
I have this one friend who derives great amusement from what she calls writing “hipster poetry.” Anyone can do it. All you have to do is attach two phrases together that seem utterly nonsensical on the surface, and cap them off with an absurd – not to mention absurdly unrelated question. Example: (clears throat) Lightning bugs. Kumquats. What does it feel like to be the inside of a comma?

BEVERLY ECHO
Fortune cookies. Candles. What does it feel like to know everyone’s problems, when all they know about you is that you don’t have a home?

        TABLE 4

           BROOKE
           Sometimes, when things get really bad, and I don’t want to…you know (she slides the fingers of each hand gently across both of her forearms and wrists). When I’m not going to go there, instead I stare directly into the sun. I know it’s bad for my eyes, it burns away at the rhetinas and whatever.

           ASHLEY
What appeals to you about staring at the sun?

BROOKE
Not at the sun, into the sun. It isn’t that superficial – it’s deeper. When you look into your lover’s eyes, you’re looking into them, not at them. (They stare into each other’s eyes, then they kiss, and pull away.) It makes me feel like maybe I could be that powerful and bright. Sometimes. Or eventually.

THE END

Lily Gellman
Age 17, Grade 12
Writopia Lab
Gold Key

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