[a curtain opens. it is the curtain of a young wife, the wife of a soldier, who has opened the curtain to let in sunlight. as a bee circles around her head, she looks out her window and sees a cat approaching her front door]
[another curtain opens. behind this curtain is a stage-set. on the stage there is a brown table, a box of biscuit mix on the table, a balloon in one corner, a big bottle of blue substance by a banister, the boot of a soldier, a bright bandanna beside a broom, and a banjo below the table. a bee is flying around on stage. a big man, though not the biggest of men, descends the staircase, leans down to pick up the big bottle of blue substance, and takes a swig]
man [after burping]: Babesia, bachelor, bacillus thuringiensis, bat, Count Basie, beaker, between brain, biometeorology, battle, [he pauses and notices the box on the table] biscuits!
[woman holds a framed photograph, looks at the photograph, clutches it to her body, and sobs]
[man picks up biscuit mix, looks at the picture of biscuits on the box, clutches it to his body, and sobs]
[the woman hears a scratching sound at her front door. she sets the photograph down and opens the door. a cat enters her home. the bee that was circling the young wife’s head stings the cat]
[through his tears, the man begins to read from the box of biscuit mix]
man: Enriched flour bleached, partially hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed oil, dextrose, salt.
[the man stops reading and looks at the back of the box. there is a photograph of a child sitting on a park bench enjoying a biscuit. in the picture a cat is brushing against the child’s leg. the man sets the box down and walks over by the broom. he picks up the bandanna to wipe his eyes with. the man drops the bandanna and it drifts out into the audience. the bandanna lands in the lap of a twelve-year-old boy. later this boy will save a big man from choking in a dimly-lit restaurant. on stage the bee has landed on the balloon. the balloon pops]
[man swigs blue substance, sweeps balloon under a rug]
woman [shivering, crying]: Absence, cold, pain.
[stung cat jumps to woman’s lap]
woman [rubbing, patting cat]: Presence, warmth.
[cat shakes head, twitches ears]
woman [soothing, stroking cat]: Pain.
[as the man sweeps, he begins to whistle a tune which will become popular several years later. a soldier knocks on the man’s door and enters. the man notices the soldier has only one boot on, and a bandanna is tied around the leg without a boot. the man sets the broom aside]
man [to soldier]: Biscuit?
[the cat purrs and jumps down from the young wife’s lap. going to the picture of the soldier, the cat begins to lick the photograph]
soldier: No, thank you.
man: Blue substance?
[licking cat startles, leaps from photograph]
[the young wife has gone into her kitchen. from her cabinets she takes down flour, sugar, cottonseed oil]
soldier: So I says to him, no dice! [he slaps the table with his hand, then takes another drink from the bottle. the soldier wipes his mouth with his sleeve and passes the bottle to the man sitting across the table]
[from the refrigerator the young wife brings out milk. her arm brushes past a bottle of blue substance as she does so]
soldier: But anyways, please, tell me more about this biometeorology.
[the cat laps from a bowl of milk the young wife has set out. the young wife begins to hum as she ties on an apron]
[as the man is explaining the finer points of biometeorology, the soldier brings out a banjo from underneath the table]
man: …Feelings making climactic changes engendering warm embraces…
[soldier strums banjo slowly, gently, nodding his head at what man is saying]
man: …Fair-weather friendships, accords…
[soldier strums banjo not-so-slowly, nodding]
man: …Cold winds of wars…
[soldier paws & slaps at banjo, nodding to the time of his slaps]
man: …Nuclear winters…
[frenzied banjo-playing reaches crescendo, soldier’s head jerks wildly, banjo strings snap and curl, soldier’s fingers bleed]
[the young wife turns on the radio while making biscuits. she catches the phrase bled to death. she turns the radio’s dial and hears of an approaching storm]
[the soldier is asking audience members if they might have a band-aid. on stage another knock is heard at the door. the big man, though not the biggest of men, opens the door and finds a milkman standing there. behind him a young girl with her hair in pigtails is running around, laughing, with a balloon in her hand]
milkman: Hot one, isn’t it? [he wipes his forehead with a bandanna. he looks over the man’s shoulder and sees the bottle of blue substance]
milkman [nodding his head in the direction of the bottle]: You mind?
[the soldier has come to the boy who will later save a man from choking in a dimly-lit restaurant. the boy is dreaming of a man lying in a foxhole, a makeshift tent of ponchos over him. rain falls around the man as he writes a letter. in the boy’s dream the man stops writing and picks up a photograph near the letter. it is a snapshot of a young girl with pigtails holding up a kitten towards the camera. the soldier shakes the boy]
boy [mumbling]: B-chords, bones, barrages, bare-knuckles, barley, bombs, bumble bees, bunya-bunya, broccoli, broad-casts, bullets.
[simultaneous with milkman drinking blue substance, the quarts of milk the milkman is carrying change from white to red in color]
[woman watches approaching storm through window]
[mumbling boy opens eyes to laughing pigtails girl standing before him. laughing girl offers boy her balloon]
man: …Comfortzones, no-mans land, battlelines drawn, frontlines, homefront beelines to hotbeds of unrest…
[a lightning bolt flashes in the sky as the young wife has a vision of the Red Sea turning white. the cat has jumped onto the kitchen counter and is licking the bowl of batter]
milkman: An Australian evergreen coniferous tree having tiers of nearly whorled branches and sharp-pointed leaves. G’day, mates. [the milkman tips his hat and exits through the door]
[squeaky noises are created as the boy twists and shapes the balloon. he hands the balloon back to the laughing girl]
laughing girl: I like it. [she skips away, pigtails bouncing, with the balloon, now in the shape of a cat, in hand]
man [swigging blue substance]: It’s not relevant to me whose son he says he is.
soldier [swigging blue substance, laughing]: Relevant?
[man and soldier and boy watch red milk bottles change to white milk bottles]
man [to boy]: Yeah, as in, like, was it you just changed the milk color?
boy: No dice!
[the author has a sudden craving for milk and biscuits. he gets up to indulge this craving. when he returns, crumbs stuck near the corner of his lips and a slight milk-mustache, he notices that his characters have gotten out of control. the milkman is wearing a soldier’s boot on his head. the cat that was in the home of the young wife is now in an alley way shooting dice with the bumblebee. the milk has turned into a blue substance. a puppet has begun whispering to audience members, “Pssst. Wanna buy a B?” and opening his trench coat to display the merchandise. the boy has grown pigtails and tied the bandanna around one of them. he begins to call the big man, though not the biggest of men, his son. the young wife is nowhere to be found]
author [laughing, rubbing his hands together]: Splendid! as with any, say, organic, set of circumstances, each moment’s its own tentative outcome, finality’s continually postponed, it’s all in-the-making, any measurement or stock-taking of the process instantly relegates such calculating thoughts and takes to hindsight’s lag-time realm. land of self-congratulatory back-pats and I-told-you-sos. twenty-twenty backtracks of causes and particulars modified so game plan’s dictates appear immutable, infallible, exhaustive. last words at onsets. smug limbo wherein, or at, keeping up with, or an eye on, the Joneses is rendered as an obsessive fantasy. bunya-bunya, indeed!
[murmuring from unknown source]: Absence.
author [turning circles, craning neck]: Where?
author [ceases turning and craning, removes shirt, walks to murmurs]: Here. But, where are you?
[young wife steps from shadow. author drapes shirt over her shoulders. young wife sobs, holds own body]
young wife: Pain.
author: Where does it hurt?
[young wife sobs. author hugs young wife to him]
young wife: Longing.
author: How long? I had no idea. How has this happened? I must have written this in. I didn’t write this! Who did? Did I? How can this be?
[a breeze rustles the curtains in a nearby window. the author begins to shiver, and the young wife steps back, notices goose bumps on his arms]
young wife: Bumps, bruises...
[the author glances at the play he has been writing, then glances at the young wife. he wipes a tear away from her eye. he hears a buzzing sound, like that a bee might make. again the author glances at the play. outside it begins to rain. a loud boom is heard, from thunder, and the young wife hugs the author to her. lightning strikes outside. a cat meows and jumps from a tree. the lights inside have gone out, the power knocked out by the lightning. the author begins to grope in the dark]
andrew topel resides in illinois, and a few of his books include X (broken boulder press), assassin (lingua blanca), and the electronic book puzzles (xPress(ed)).
john crouse resides in washington with his wife and two children, and a few of his books include headlines (o books), belows (broken boulder press), and prefaces (xtant).
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story copyright by author 2003 all rights reserved