E
Jul/Aug 2007 Fiction

trying on, a ten minute play

by Steven Schutzman

Photography by Kawika Chetron


Characters:

Erica--42

The Man--30's

 

(A room in a hotel built above the main train terminal of a large city. Twilight outside. ERICA, facing Audience, is dressing and making herself up in a mirror. The Audience is the mirror. THE MAN, also dressing, sits on the bed behind ERICA. He faces a window, his back to her, in profile to the Audience. THE MAN's insouciant charm seems perfunctory now that he's gotten what he wanted.)

THE MAN
I can see you in the window, reflected in the window flying over the financial district, in your bra, right over my office. You could drop right in. Usually I'd still be up there.

(Pause.)

THE MAN (cont'd.)
32nd floor. It's a sign of something, to be top floor like that, recognition from the company. It helps. Clients recognize the recognition. To be a success you need the signs of success.

(ERICA puts her dress on.)

THE MAN (cont'd.)
I like that dress. I liked it on. And I liked taking it off.

(Pause.)

THE MAN (cont'd.)
I said I like your dress.

ERICA
It's from the 40's. Elegant yet understated. There was a war going on and lots of scenes in train stations. Like ours.

THE MAN
You took the train here?

ERICA
Didn't I say? I thought I said. Because it's funny, with that bar and then this hotel room above the station, I never left the building, never actually set foot in your fair city.

THE MAN
It's not mine but I love it here.

ERICA
I love train stations: people on the move, beginnings, endings, crossing paths with lives that have nothing to do with mine. You get to read people, make up their stories, and get read by people, to see if you pass the test.

THE MAN
I'd say you passed. I enjoyed the heck out of you.

ERICA
In at one, out by six, that was my plan. See a few sights but I never made it out of the station. I didn't come here to do what we did. I just wanted to be someplace where I wouldn't run into anybody I knew. You see, I left my husband four months ago and haven't told hardly anyone at home.

THE MAN
Oh.

ERICA
Oh?

THE MAN
I mean, really?

ERICA
You wouldn't think you could hide something like that but nobody noticed. No one's interested in anyone else anymore unless they want something.

THE MAN
Yeah.

(Pause.)

THE MAN (cont'd.)
Yeah!

ERICA
It was for practice, actually. You try the clothes on, attitudes on, identities on. You try everything on and hope the inside lines up with the outside and you can become who you're pretending to be.

THE MAN
You know what the CEO said at a meeting once, it was years ago at the weekly lunch for his top people, and he says, "He who thinks he's found the meaning of the way has lost the meaning of the way." I mean, Whooa. So I said, "Either do it or don't do it, just do it." Big man laughs. Thirty fucking second floor.

ERICA
I was starting over, like a spy with a new made-up history. It wasn't a good feeling because at my age you don't get many more chances and it makes you care too much. You worry about seeming pathetic. I'm forty two.

THE MAN
No way.

ERICA
I have terrible arthritis in my hands but I still have pretty good lines. Good long lines. And this dress actually lengthens them. I look willowy in it, I hope, like Lauren Bacall. We used to call it my Lauren Bacall dress.

THE MAN
I don't know her.

ERICA
The dress slows me down, makes me languid like Lauren, and men take the slowness as a come-on. The slow walk and voice, the slow eyes, the slow smile, as if some idea is slowly forming in your slow mind and this idea has to do with them doing something slow to you.

(Pause.)

ERICA (cont'd.)
It could've been any city the train goes.

THE MAN
I could be someone else, you mean.

ERICA
I never made it out of the station. I went into that bar and saw it was the exact right place with the exact right soundtrack for the movie life becomes in bars like that, and with the exact right people, like you, young, busy, powerful, a place of power. Like Lauren said once, "All talk is bragging."

THE MAN
Wait a minute. I remember her. Bogart, right? Always smiling to herself.

ERICA
And the tapas at the bar. If you have to ask what they cost you don't belong in there.

THE MAN
Sushi, oysters, steak tartar. Raw meat, so people can protein up for afternoon meetings. Lawyers, consultants, dot-com people. After a train, guys charge in, throw a fifty down, grab five things, charge out again. A raw flesh pit stop. A meat market in more ways than one.

ERICA
Lauren enters the bar slowly to the music. Life starts now. Outside she's self-assured, slow and smiling to herself. Inside, she's a mess, worried about seeming pathetic. After her entrance, she sits at that little round table apart from the crush at the bar, in the place but not of it. She has secrets. She's a spy with secrets. This is a spy story. Danger makes you choose between loyalty to yourself and loyalty to the mission.

THE MAN
"Decide on an image," the CEO said. "And make enough people buy into it and then you are that image."

ERICA
Lauren's not in the bar long when a familiar thing starts to happen, men arranging themselves around her, aiming themselves at her, their bodies at her. Aiming their words at her, their eyes at her, aiming their wares at her in their eyes. Bragging.

THE MAN
Oh, I get it.

ERICA
She's an object of desire, like an actress on stage, alive again in their fantasies. She could have any one of them. But I can't imagine it either, like I'm also in the audience and can't imagine Lauren pointing at me and saying ‘You! You're in the play now.' I'm watched and I'm watching.

THE MAN
So it had nothing to do with me, you're saying?

ERICA
Sorry.

THE MAN
I don't give a damn really. What do I care? People use each other and that's that.

ERICA
It reminds me of when we bought the house, when we were trying to decide to buy the house. Playing grown-up. I remember I kept trying to imagine our lives there. And I thought the address should somehow sound familiar, the street, the number should sound like fate, like a memory, like I should already remember it, and the neighborhood should be familiar and the people who lived around - but the whole thing was unimaginable and didn't match up with any picture in my head. Then I had the revelation that we should buy the house because I couldn't imagine it, because it didn't match up. That's a young person for you. They can do something crazy. They can not care. And that's what I did today, picked you up, a total stranger.

THE MAN
I paid cash for my house. Brought a briefcase full of cash. You should've seen the homeowner's mouth drop.

ERICA
And the stranger was on a roll, had just closed some deal. Good looking. Obviously works out in the spas of five star hotels when he's on the road. Obviously one of those fine-tuned, four-hours-of-sleep-a-night guys who taste like milk in your mouth. It was like test driving a Lexus.

THE MAN
Thanks. That's nice. Though it's not what I'm driving now.

ERICA
Anyone in America with one nice outfit can test drive a Lexus. Just dress up, go into the dealer and take it for a spin. Take a taste of the best the country has to offer. I remember test driving cars, checking out houses we couldn't afford, going into galleries and inquiring about expensive works of art. We were like spies in that world and it was fun. Loyalty made it fun.

THE MAN
Me, I'm loyal to myself.

ERICA
My husband wrote novels, excellent novels but he was only able to sell one of them. One early success and the movie got optioned but never made. I'm talking like one of his characters now. He's teaching high school English and taking care of his sick father. He said he couldn't be a great man so he'd try to be a good one. I guess that's admirable but I hate to see a man give up. I'd rather give up on him than watch that to the very end.

(THE MAN approaches ERICA..)

THE MAN
I better get going.

ERICA
The Lexus came up to Lauren and said, "What are you doing here?" "I'm pretending I left my husband," she said. "Oh," he said. Someone else might've inquired further into that but you didn't. I knew you wouldn't.

THE MAN
I'll take care of me, you take care of you, okay?

ERICA
Of course. "I'm pretending I left my husband," Lauren said. And you don't have to say much after that. Everything just follows. Lauren and the Lexus went to the hotel above the train station, didn't actually have to set foot in the weather. In the elevator, they ascended from one level of coolness to another, one level of privacy to another. I won't go into the details of what happened in this room.

THE MAN
Good. Because I don't want to hear them.

(THE MAN puts on his jacket.)

THE MAN (cont'd.)
Because it feels creepy all of a sudden. I am who I am.

(THE MAN is at the door.)

THE MAN (cont'd.)
And my life, you know. My fucking life. My actual life. I love it.

(THE MAN exits. Pause.)

ERICA
I won't go into the details of what happened in this room. Just let's say that as the Lexus was taking, with incredible precision, every curve of Lauren's high mountain roads, I was far away in the cool crystal air without a nerve in my body, not feeling a thing. Dead. And that's how I enacted the murder of Lauren Bacall in my mind.

(ERICA stares into mirror. Slow fade to black. End of play.)

 

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