Gillian, at a glance, is calm. She is freshening her make-up, mentally running through her second-act lines. For the third straight night, the house is full; she can hear it on the monitor. Conversations blend in an enthusiastic purr. Act One went superbly; she is pleased, as are her colleagues. When things go well, this cast responds like one cohesive troupe; nerve ends fuse; each beat, each breath is shared, yet no one speaks of it—for mentioning when "the ghost walks" breaks its spell.

Gradually the noises differentiate themselves; couples, intimate groups express opinions:

"It's paced so well."
"You think so? I was bored the first half hour."
"Bored!?"
"Well, not exactly bored. I guess, 'impatient.'"
"That's just it; they have us way off balance, we're so into the production."
"You're reviewing?"
"Did already; no, I've come this time for me."

"She's marvelous, don't you think?"
"Which one?"
"The one who's playing Monica; the short one. I remember her in two, three other things. Competent, but nothing special."
"Oh, she made the papers. She's the one who stirred up all that fuss?"
"I didn't hear."
"She missed a line, or something; couldn't say it."
"How embarrassing!"

"Think we ought to leave, George."
"Why? It's good; the best all season."
"That's beside the point."
"Which is?"
"The language; it's so foul."
"Bullshit."
"See? It's rubbing off. Besides, abortion is immoral."
"The girl was raped, for crying out loud."
"It's still a mortal sin. And decent people don't."
"Don't what?"
"Kill babies."
"That's ridiculous."

"Do you think she will? I mean, let's face it, everyone's expecting it. The reviews alone were not that great, and wouldn't have filled these seats."
"You're awful."
"Me? You're curious, aren't you?"
"Not to see some break-down. It's cruel to hope an actress flubs her lines."
"Who said we're 'hoping'? We're anticipating; that's not cruel."
"Same difference."
"Poor little thing."

"I read they almost fired her."
"What; for that?"
"It's happened twice. They say the second time she didn't even realize."

"That restroom queue is five miles long; I'll hold it."

"Lights just blinked."

The hand applying make-up is...

"Five minutes."

...sure and steady. Silent bits of dialogue still enliven glossy lips, as Gillian lengthens vivid lines that circumscribe her features, accentuating eyes (already large), highlighting lids (in contrast to their underscoring shadows). Above all else, an actress keeps control, resounds her subtext. Confident, she sets her jaw...

"Places."

...takes a breath...

"Cue twenty-six."

...and nods in mute resolve.

"Lights 14, 16, 18. Ready? To one-quarter... Go."

 

The set is back-lit dimly. Three characters are standing on their marks. None moves. They are dressed entirely in grays, blacks, and dull whites, a color scheme continued throughout the stylistic setting—a simplified interior, stark, severe. All chairs are straight-backed and of the same hard-edge design. The floor is carpeted with throw rugs of varying size and pattern, though similar in that each is a-chromatic. There is a wall clock with fist-sized weights of pewter. Audible, its mechanics punctuate the stillness. A synthesizer (offstage left) drones one somber chord; its throbs are contrapuntal to the ticking.

"Cue twenty-seven. Special 4. Ready... Go."

Jacob Altar moves, albeit subtly. On the coffee table's top he spots a fly. Missing one wing, it crawls in a jagged circle (as seen from overhead, projected upon a screen). Jacob, with a casual air, hoists a heavy volume... suspends it over the insect...

"Cue twenty-eight. Lights 14, 16, 18—up full. Ready?"

... then drops it.

"Go."

    LAURA

          "Jacob!"

    JACOB

          "Yes, dear?"

    LAURA

          "What did you do?"

    JACOB

          "I believe I dropped a dictionary."

    LAURA

          "I know, but why?"

    JACOB

          "Euthanasia."

    LAURA

          "What?"

    JACOB

          "A mercy killing. See?
He pries up a corner.
          "Care to inspect the remains; perform an autopsy, perhaps? My motives, I assure you, were humane."

    LAURA

          "Don't be vile."
She lights a cigarette from an open pack on the table and blows her first full drag into Jacob's face.
          "What's keeping Monica? She knows we have to be there by... (She checks the clock)... by ten minutes ago. Richard? Will you go see?"

Richard, roused from a static trance, heads in the wrong direction.

    LAURA

          "She went that-a-way."

He halts, u-turns, and exits.

    LAURA

          "I think that he is taking this harder than she."

    JACOB

          "Of course; he's Catholic. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic. Has something to do with the water. Baptized, they're like salmon; they always return.

    LAURA

          "Why so hypercritical? They're our best friends, after all. Can't you put yourself in their position?"

    JACOB

          "Thanks; no thanks."

    LAURA

          "Show a little compassion, then."

    JACOB

          "I'm driving them to the clinic, aren't I? I've recommended Simmons, who will do the job up right. I've even offered to pay, to allay their guilty consciences."

    LAURA

          "Okay, okay; I take it back; you've acted like a saint. Your attitude, however..."

    JACOB

          "Is, when something like this happens, you deal with it—as quickly and efficiently as possible. These scenes of existential angst are grossly out-of-place, and frankly, Laura dear, they're a goddamn bore."
Laura lights a second cigarette; two-thirds of the first still smolders in an ashtray.
          "And look at you. She's undergoing the knife. Calm down. Relax. And spare us, would you please; those Lucky Strikes?"

    LAURA

          "You don't understand; men can't."

    JACOB

          "Says who? It may be harder on us than it is on women."

    LAURA

          "That's absurd. (pause) How?"

    JACOB

          "Women have the right to do what's best for their anatomies—not to mention their psyches—whereas men have no excuse.  If we say 'Have it,' we're accused of foisting nine months work on Mama—not to mention heavy-duty pain—while we stand by. If we say 'Kill it,' we're assassins, murderers, butchers of the innocent. Either way we're damned and bear the blame."

    LAURA

          "Somehow you're not making me feel all that sympathetic."

    JACOB

          "That's because your hormones interfere with common sense."

Laura stops pacing.

    LAURA

          "You've thought about this, haven't you?"

    JACOB

          "Indeed I have."

Richard re-enters.

    RICHARD

          "She won't get off the toilet."

Laura censures Jacob's look of droll exasperation...

    LAURA

          "I'll go."

...and exits as her helpmate phones the clinic.

    JACOB

          "Hello. You have Monica Claiborne scheduled for admission this morning. 11 a.m. (pause) She's going to be late. (pause) That can't be helped. She'll be there shortly. (pause) Yes, I will. (pause) Thank you. (pause) Goodbye."

Richard moves downstage right. His monologue will be heard by the audience only.

    RICHARD

          "I can't touch her now. She flinches. She claims my touch disgusts her; my touch. I've always been gentle. She trembles in the dark. Her eyes accuse me. She says my sex glands sweat. She showers constantly. In social settings, she covers pretty well. It's become extremely important that no one calls attention to how she's changed. But it shows. She talks a little too much, or too loudly, or not enough; the balance is all off. And yesterday she said she'd have the kid—a rapist's child! I didn't know what to say. It's not my fault, and yet... I was out of town, you see, when it happened. I wasn't there when she needed me, didn't come to her rescue. God!"
The synthesizer resurrects its drone.
          "You have no idea what they did to her. If you knew, if you really understood, none of you could sit out there so smugly. Oh, I could describe it; I'm sure you're curious. Most of you, I'll bet, are dying to know. The rest have drawn your shutters and don't want to look... feel... acknowledge that this could happen to you, as well. Voyeurs and ostriches!"
The drone has overtaken Richard's speech (which he continues), muttering oaths and insults as he vents his pent-up spleen—an ineffectual dumb-show of frustration.

"Kill 12. Lights 14, 16, 18, up full. Ready? Go."

The droning chord desists. The scene returns to normalcy. Jacob moves down right and rests a consoling hand on Richard's shoulder.

    JACOB

          "Want another coffee? Or how 'bout a drink?"

    RICHARD

          "I don't drink."

    JACOB

          "That's right, I..."

    RICHARD

          "You know I don't drink. What the hell's the matter with you?"

    JACOB

          "I'm sorry, I forgot. Some more coffee?"

    RICHARD

          "No."

Richard stares off left. Laura reenters right.

    LAURA

          "She's on her way...   Well, don't just stand there like a couple of zombies."

    JACOB

          "What would you have us do, dear?"

    LAURA

          "Talk, or something. Move around. It's like a funeral parlor in here. MONICA? YOU COMING?"

    MONICA
(from offstage)

          "I'LL BE RIGHT THERE."

    LAURA

          "Now shape up, fellas. I think she'll be okay. Richard. Richard! Stop pouting. It's very unbecoming in a man."

Richard pulls himself together as Monica enters, dressed in white—save for the crimson sash around her waist, whose incongruity shouts like an open wound. Laura casts an anxious glance at Jacob, starts to speak. Monica cuts her off.

    MONICA

          "Sorry, sorry, sorry. Just weak kidneys. Thought I had to go. I didn't. I did, I mean, but not until I turned on all the faucets. Laura, did your mother ever do that? When you were little, I mean? To help you piddle?"

    LAURA

          "She..."

    MONICA

          "Mine did. And it always worked. I feel so much better. Richard? Where'd you put my handbag, darling?

    RICHARD

          "It's in the car."

    MONICA

          "Would you get it, please?"

    RICHARD

          "What for? It's late. We were supposed to be there..."

    MONICA

          "Richard? Richard? Will you get my bag? I need it. I wouldn't ask, if I didn't need it. That's a dear."
He exits.
          "He's been so kind, Laura, Jacob. Richard's been so understanding. Most men wouldn't be, you know. Most men would behave like they'd been betrayed; like it's the victim's fault. If she'd been more careful, if she'd avoided this or avoided that, if she'd just used her head, the whole thing never would have happened. Most men—not my Richard—would act like pigs."

She crosses the room in fits and starts, picking up things: an ashtray, a knickknack, a magazine, a cup—replacing each. By comparison, Jacob and Laura appear to be fixed—wary lest they collide with Monica's crash course.

(Gillian halts. She knows perfectly well that her next line is, "By the way, this little trip to the clinic is off," yet somehow she feels disinclined to deliver it. Paul and Janie wait. Gillian turns to observe them, almost detachedly—as an escalating panic visits their faces.)

    MONICA

          "By the way, this little trip to the clinic is off."

    LAURA

          "Now Monica. Monica, honey, we've been through all this before. You can't keep bouncing back and forth indefinitely. You are pregnant. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. If you won't think of yourself, think of Richard. This is torturing him, too, you know."

    MONICA

          "Isn't that a shame. Poor Richard."

Monica lies down in the middle of the floor. Laura and Jacob exchange incredulous looks. Laura crosses right to kneel beside her.

    LAURA

          "Monica? What are you doing, sweetie?"

Monica crosses her palms, protecting her belly.

    MONICA

          "I felt her kicking."

    LAURA

          "That's impossible. Come on, get up. You're being hysterical. You're not even eight weeks gone."

Laura tries to lift her.

    MONICA

          "Don't touch me!"

Monica's hostile tone takes Laura aback. Richard re-enters, bag in hand.

    RICHARD

          "Good grief, what now?"

    JACOB

          "Your wife is doing 'Mourning Becomes Electra.'"

    LAURA

          "Jacob!"

    MONICA

          (SCREAMS!)

"Kill 14, 16, 18, 26, 27. Up special 7 on a three count. One, two, three."

Monica parts her legs, lifting and lowering her hips in pseudo-copulation. Her arms are held out rigidly; her hands (as if impaled) are pressed to the floor, fingers writhing... while the synthesizer plays (distortedly) a nursery rhyme (vaguely recognizable as "Rock-a-bye Baby"). Monica's moans redouble, pained and impassioned. She frees her upstage hand, strikes out with her fist (the music grows dissonant, the spotlight intense) until her fit, as quickly as it came, subsides.

"Spot out. Lights up. Count of one, and—go."

Richard and Laura help Monica to the sofa. Her sash remains like a blood clot, staining the floor. No sooner do they have her settled than she springs to her feet and resumes her random traipsing. Upon noticing their stares, she abruptly halts.

    MONICA

          "What?... What? Have I done something rude? Did I offend somebody?... Oh, I think I must have done. Sorry. Sorry, everyone. Forgive me? Richard? Laura? Jacob?"
She continues before anyone can reply.
          "Of course you do. She couldn't help it; Monica can't be held responsible. She's had a little shock and needs some time to work things through...  Ah, you brought back my handbag, darling, thank you."
She outlines the clasp and handle with her index finger, then abandons it. Jacob, arms folded across his chest, a look of reproach in his eye, begins to chuckle.
Monica turns on him.
          "Stop that! How dare you laugh at me!"
He stops.
          "Certain things are funny; certain things are not. Monica is not. What happened to Monica is not.  It may have been a joke, a mean and ugly and disgusting nightmare of a joke, but it was not funny. Except to sick people. Like men. Don't you agree, Laura, that men are sick, sick people?"

 

A woman in the audience spontaneously applauds, her face aglow with righteous indignation, her features lit by a stage-borrowed light that modulates warm to cool... cool to warm... slowly... then at heartbeat rate...

... then strobe-light-fashion it flashes... as a second face, a man's, alternates with the first... changing color... atmosphere... expression... indignation turned to high regard... as Mike swipes off his baseball cap before his latest idol, Cindy (who looms above, half-nude, on the Golden Spur's stage)... inspiring Mike to write on a damp paper napkin... (sidles closer)... on which the ink from his ballpoint pen now bleeds... (blond and bold and fluid as liquid pearl; she smiles); he flushes, inverts his blurry message, spreads it banner-like; (Cindy twirls, undulates her ass until it hovers) Mike, in reach, wraps a dollar bill around his missive, pulls her g-string, and tucks the wad between her uniform cheeks; (she stands, retreats, finishes her number with a perky promenade, then tiptoes back to Mike, as the music fades, extracts his tip, separates the bill and napkin, hands to him the former, and waltzes off with the latter pressed against her heart.

"Hey, how come he rates?"

"Yeah, you gonna refund my buck, too?"

The crowd, in Cindy's wake, complains.

Mike sips his seven-seven. The alcohol will make him sick, of course, but not for now; for now the taste of life is oh, so sweet.

 

 

a dainty white-lace...

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