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Apr/May 2008 Spotlight

Ancient Island in the Brain: A Play in One Act

by Steven Schutzman


Setting:

A rough bivouac during an ethnic war of ancient origin.
*** Note: This play takes place in no known country.

Characters:

Stash--a hill fighter, 20's
Limo--a hill fighter, 20's
Gill--a dead hill fighter, 20's
Birdwoman--a young woman

 

(STASH and LIMO playing poker in a rough bivouac. LIMO lights a joint, tokes, passes it to STASH. Joint will go around until spent and they are totally wasted. GILL is dead and has been propped up so he can serve as the third hand at poker. BIRDWOMAN lies in a heap in a corner. STASH deals the cards then plays GILL's hand for him. As he deals:)

STASH
You know what I miss, Limo? You know what I really miss? Peanut butter. I miss peanut butter. Of all the lousy things to miss; my friends, my girlfriends, my motor bike, my leather jacket, my mother even... I don't miss any of them but I can't sleep for the wanting of peanut butter. Chunky. When I think of home, all I can think about is the delicious peanut butter that was there. The taste of it, sticking my finger in a jar in front of the TV, pulling a big glob up and licking it off.

LIMO
That's just the weed talking. People who talk of peanut butter have become puppets of the weed.

STASH
Homesick for what? A stupid jar of peanut butter.

LIMO
Because home was blown to dust but you still have a shot at that jar.

STASH
Yeah, I guess. What about you? You miss anything?

LIMO
Me? I just feel hate. Here's what: We'll play for your jar of peanut butter instead of the woman. Make it more interesting. I'm sick and tired of her. We need to get a woman who doesn't play dead. What's the use if they're not scared?

STASH
There is no jar.

LIMO
A future jar, numb nuts.

STASH
That's the problem, Limo: I'm numb. Numb.

GILL
Numb.

(Both men notice that GILL, the dead man, has apparently spoken but each, out of stoned paranoia, keeps it to himself. This reaction continues whenever GILL speaks. Yet STASH and LIMO are also compelled to test the reality of GILL's speaking by trying to get him to speak again.)

STASH
Numb.

(Pause. No echo from GILL.)

STASH (cont'd.)
I'm not playing for a jar. I just want to open the jar and stick my finger in and I'm not losing the jar before I can open it.

LIMO
Idiot. Okay, okay, same as usual.

STASH
Draw poker. No check and raise. High bet is six stones.

(STASH finishes dealing, looks at his own hand and then at GILL's hand.)

STASH (cont'd.)
He bets six stones.

LIMO
Six already, huh? He must have a real good hand or maybe... but hey, hey, I forgot, is the dead prick allowed to bluff or not? Hee, hee.

STASH
Sure he can bluff.

LIMO
But his eyes are shut. Can't tell if he's being wise, if I can't see his lying eyes, hee, hee.

STASH
Stoned you're nothing but a rhyming goof.

GILL
Goof.

STASH
Rhyming goof.

(Pause. No echo from GILL.)

LIMO
Watch this, Stash. See this bullet hole in his neck? Watch.

(LIMO puts joint in GILL's mouth, holds GILL's nose and takes a big toke on joint by sucking on the bullet hole in GILL's neck.)

STASH
And your point is?

LIMO
That our beloved comrade Gill, killed during a truce in the fighting, may have died stupidly but did not die in vain. Go ahead and try it.

STASH
No way. Six stones to you, goofball.

LIMO
So can the dead son of a whore bluff or not?

STASH
Ain't poker if you can't bluff.

GILL
Ain't.

LIMO
Ain't.

(Pause. No echo from GILL.)

STASH
Without bluffing we might as well deal the cards face up like old folks playing bingo in the church.

LIMO
Poker ain't bingo. This ain't church. And we ain't never gonna be old.

GILL
Ain't, ain't, ain't.

STASH
Ain't.

(Pause. No echo.)

STASH (cont'd.)
Grandma used drag me to the church for bingo when I was small. Bingo's dull as hell but the old folks love it and go completely nuts when they win, thanking their patron saint.

GILL
Saint.

LIMO
Saint.

(Pause. No echo.)

STASH
I was bored to death. Sitting still for hours on a hard pew. Staring at the stained glass. The expulsion from the Garden. Looking at these shriveled up old people who stunk of vinegar, bent over their cards. Torture, man. The stink of vinegar. Ugly, veiny skin with black growths and shit, bent over their cards. Boring torture.

LIMO
Like now.

STASH
What?

LIMO
Boring. Like now. Like the things you say. Peanut butter. The garden and the growths, the vinegar and the bingo. Who's interested in that shit?

STASH
Fuck you.

(LIMO leans over and speaks to GILL.)

LIMO
You know what they never tell you, my friend: How boring war is. A few islands of thrills surrounded by vast seas of boredom. That's war. They tell you lots of things but that war is a bore they never tell you that. The endless fucking hours with nothing to do, the boring people, him, her, you.

STASH
I was remembering my childhood, man.

LIMO
Interesting to you and to you alone. Oh yeah and maybe to your mother.

STASH
Like the things you say are so fucking fascinating. So he bets six stones.

LIMO
Dead bastard finally got dealt a decent hand, huh?

STASH
Maybe.

LIMO
A real good hand for the dead son of a bitch?

STASH
Maybe.

LIMO
Dead mother wants another shot at Mary over there, eh? The stiff wants to get stiff again.

STASH
Hey don't do that.

LIMO
What?

STASH
Don't call her Mary. Why call her Mary?

LIMO
Commonest name there is: Mary.

STASH
Six to you.

(Pause. LIMO just can't let it go.)

LIMO
It'd be like calling you John. Every whore of a Mary has her John.

GILL
John.

LIMO
Hee, hee.

STASH
I said to stop it. Now stop it.

LIMO
But why, John?

STASH
You don't give the Holy Mother's name to a whore. Six stones to you.

LIMO
It's a little late to get religion, don't you think?

(Pause. STASH thinks hard.)

STASH
You have to admit, Limo: If there is a God, we are totally screwed.

LIMO
Bullshit. An eye for an eye.

STASH
Love thy neighbor.

LIMO
Neighbors started it.

STASH
Turn the other cheek.

LIMO
What're you scared all of a sudden?

STASH
It's the holy virgin's name, okay? You can spatter your goofball come all over every other name but leave that one alone, you hear me?

LIMO
The Bible gave the virgin's name to a whore.

GILL
Mary Magdalane.

LIMO
Hee, hee. "The Holy Mother and the Holy Whore of Magdalane/ and all the other Holy Marys are just the same/ because of the hole between their legs/ that's both sacred and profane."

(STASH takes out his pistol.)

STASH
I've had it. This is the last time I'm telling you: Stop calling her Mary, man.

LIMO
Calm down, idiot. It's because in my house growing up we had this picture of the virgin with a little verse at the bottom. "Mother Mary, high above/ with your pure and perfect love/ something something something there/ something something something care." But me and my brother were all the time making up new verses like that. There. There's a memory.

STASH
Fucking fascinating.

LIMO
Now holster your pistol.

STASH
Still interested in living, Limo? Not that bored yet?

(Pause. LIMO smiles.)

LIMO
There was a young hermit named Dave/Who kept a dead whore in a cave/ "I have to admit/I'm a bit of a shit/But think of the money I save."

STASH
That's better. Now are you in or out?

LIMO
Better to be a bettor/than to wind up dead or/with a bullet in your head or/ heart or something...

GILL
Right on, brother.

(LIMO cracks up laughing.)

STASH
You're losin' it, man.

LIMO
I read about this guy, they were operating on his brain and touched a wire to some structure, some ancient island in the brain, and he starts to speak in perfect rhyme and meter, now isn't that insane?

(LIMO cracks up again.)

STASH
Stop, man. Stop rhyming. No more fucking rhymes.

LIMO
Okay. Okay. Now put that thing away.

(STASH aims pistol at LIMO.)

LIMO (cont'd.)
Hey, hey, I forgot, is the dead guy allowed to bluff or not?

(STASH cocks pistol.)

LIMO (cont'd.)
Okay, okay. Now put that thing away.

(LIMO cracks up laughing.)

STASH
That's enough.

GILL
So can I bluff?

(STASH turns pistol on GILL, fires and hits.)

STASH
Stop rhyming.

LIMO
Jesus Fucking Christ.

(A pause. STASH, smiling, puts pistol away.)

LIMO (cont'd.)
It's a fucked up world and you're the king.

STASH
Fuck it. I'm out. Six to you.

LIMO
Out? Really? So he's got you beat?

STASH
Maybe.

LIMO
He's got you beat.

STASH
Who knows. I'm playing like I don't know what he's got and you better do the same when it's your turn to play his hand.

LIMO
So if you're... if he's bluffing you might go out anyway?

STASH
Depending. Sure.

LIMO
On what?

STASH
On how good he does it. Why would I lie? We're only playing for the woman and for stones.

LIMO
Plenty of stones around here. And you can have her. I'm sick of her, and I'm sick of you.

STASH
In or out?

LIMO
Playing poker to poke her. Laughing and playing for laughs. Stoned and playing for stones, hee, hee. Stoned used to mean, the whole village against you. Imagine that. Stoned to death. What a way to go. Ow, ow, ow.

(LIMO, freaked, throws his arms up as if to protect himself from stones.)

LIMO (cont'd.)
Stoned to death. That's us. Stoned to death and playing for stones.

STASH
In or out, bozo?

LIMO
I'm out too. What's he got?

STASH
Nothing.

LIMO
Ha! We both got bluffed out by a corpse.

STASH
That's right.

LIMO
We're terrible at cards.

(LIMO cracks up laughing then gets freaked out by his own laughter.)

LIMO (cont'd.)
I don't care if I fucking lost. We need a new woman anyway; one who's alive, one who begs, one who's not so boring. My dick's all limp and covered with running sores, my dick looks like some oozing piece of gut...

(LIMO, suddenly furious, gets up and goes to BIRDWOMAN.)

LIMO (cont'd.)
I screwed your cunt. I screwed your mouth. I screwed your ass. I'll screw your eye socket and come inside your brain. I'll shoot you full of holes and screw your bullet wounds until your blood is dripping like gravy from my oozing dick. For what your brothers did to my village, your guts will sing your brothers' names as they drip like gravy from my hands...

(LIMO starts kicking BIRDWOMAN.)

LIMO (cont'd.)
Get up! Get up! Get up! You fucking whore!

(BIRDWOMAN rises and flies like a bird.)

BIRDWOMAN
"A bird sings for beauty and to indicate danger. A bird sings for truth and to indicate possession. A bird sings for love and to indicate abandonment. A bird sings for peace and to indicate a willingness to die."

(BIRDWOMAN sinks back down into a heap again. Scared, STASH and LIMO retreat and huddle together.)

STASH
Mother of God.

LIMO
Man, that was pretty wild huh?

STASH
Holy Mary mother of mercy.

LIMO
What the heck was that?

STASH
Her ghost, man. She doesn't talk for weeks and then starts flapping her arms like wings. It's obvious she's taking off for heaven. Shit. Shit. Shit. Don't you see? Ghost? Her ghost? It means there's life after death, Limo. And if there's life after death there's Hell, an eternity of torture and we are totally screwed. What did she say anyway?

LIMO
I don't know.

STASH
Come on. Something about birds?

LIMO
I don't know. It didn't make any sense.

STASH
It's words from death, from the other side. The words of the dead ought to be remembered.

LIMO
She should've spoken more plainly then. And why should she tell us anything?

STASH
She wasn't telling us. She was warning us.

LIMO
Why should she warn us?

STASH
Scaring us.

(Now it's LIMO who takes his pistol out and points it at STASH.)

LIMO
So if you're so sure she's dead, you go over and kick her this time.

(STASH takes his pistol out too and points it at LIMO.)

STASH
No. You're the one who killed her.

LIMO
So what? What difference can it make? One less Mary in the world?

STASH
What did you say? What the fuck did you say?!

LIMO
I said, what difference does it make? One less in the world?

STASH
One less what? One less what?

LIMO
One less...

GILL
Mary.

(STASH and LIMO look at each other then at GILL. They both aim at GILL then aim back at each other. Both men fire and both men die. BIRDWOMAN rises and stands over the dead men. She speaks matter-of-factly to the Audience.)

BIRDWOMAN
I never saw my original captors. I was taken from my bed in the dark with a burlap bag shoved onto my head. I didn't see the light of day for weeks. I was raped repeatedly and lost consciousness repeatedly. We traveled. I remember the winding of the engine and the terrible bumping of unpaved roads in the back of the truck where my body was being jostled against other female bodies living and dead. I began to dread those moments of tender weeping against another living female body. Understanding that tenderness hurt more than pain, I didn't try to find out whether anyone was from my village. Eventually I forgot my name. Whenever the truck stopped, I was raped repeatedly. I believe we were being trucked around to serve various enemy camps. I tried to will myself to die but couldn't. It's amazing what one's body will endure even after you yourself have given up. As time went on I became more and more skilled at flying away, at making things distant as if they were happening in a far off world, the world where my body was and I was not anymore. Finally I wound up in this small camp and things got better in some ways and worse in some ways. Better that I was raped less. Worse that there was no more traveling and so I never knew when the rapes would come and couldn't prepare myself to fly away. Better that the soldiers removed the bag from my head, not caring if I saw them or not because this meant they intended to kill me soon. Worse that there were now more penises shoved in my mouth and the sour ejaculations of men living on roots and the meat of stray dogs. Better that I eventually learned to control my presence in their world with more precision. Worse that there was another woman there for a while who would hold me between violations and make me feel a longing for life again. Here is a picture of the bodies of my last captors who killed each other because of the sickness they tried to transfer from their souls into mine.

(BIRDWOMAN bites furiously at her skin like a traumatized bird anxiously and compulsively picking at its feathers. Slow fade to black. End of play.)

 

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