Jesse S. Mitchell
from the book, Sea Snakes (Hydrophiinae) a book of plays.
from the book, Sea Snakes (Hydrophiinae) a book of plays.
Completely empty stage. Dark reddish-orange glow/light over head. Sitting alone in the middle of the stage, a young woman, one leg folded under her and the other splayed out in front. A dark red suit jacket or uniform jacket laying crumpled on her lap. She has long hair but in her right hand she has a short bladed knife and she is grabbing whole handful of her hair in her left hand and cutting it off in chunks and tossing it down next to her. She should be on the verge of tears but not appear pitiful. She is not to seem like a victim. She isn’t one.
Lelija: “Not a sound in the whole world. Complete silence. Nothing but light. I swear in the total stillness like this I can hear them, the spirits and the voices that inhabit this earth, I can feel them, vibrating and reverberating around me. I can feel them on my skin. I can see them in my mind, the ghosts that dwell everywhere, using my eyes, using my mouth, speaking my words, possessing me. (pause) With the intensity, with the focus of a million candle flames, glowing only for one purpose, not to illuminate, glowing only to burn but struggling to find the fuel, too much air, too much earth, too much water, and so expiring, extinguishing into a single strand of smoky steam pulled to heaven by the desire to fill it, to fill it and to burn some more. But what if it loses its way? What if the desire is not strong enough? What if the burning does not satisfy? What returns deflected, dejected back to here as a slow rolling fog, downward? Voices? Some essence? Well I know it is here. I can feel it…everywhere. And I can hear what it says to me, what it means for me to understand. (pause) Like witches, witches everywhere, priests and poets and creatures meant to speak to these creations, these cast off and ruined creations, these waif-thin things meant to drive the imagination…but to me, to me, they are all so real, without need of trance or emissary. But this is not a sin. To not need assistance to find one’s grief or guilt is no transgression. In fact it is because of this dry land that we suffer, this parched land, this desert land. We cannot sustain it, so it will not sustain us. It is because we so require the arts of intermediaries and their supplications to bring to us the rain. But these tears are mine, these pains are mine, these ghosts…are mine. Or maybe it is the cruel seams of heaven that hold back the burgeoning floods of rain and other things and when it does finally come it only comes in torrents, as destructive as any drought. Excess or famine, destruction. (pause) But every storm matters, every gust of wind breaks loose something new, every deluge washes something pure upon the shore, every rush of blood fuels new thoughts or passions. I am never too cold to be a proper part of this life and I hope never to be. Every day, a new disaster, every disaster a new reason. (Pause)
We are unruly. We are vain. We are venomous and vicious. We are wicked, we weak people of this wondrous earth. And perhaps we too quickly ascribe importance to irrelevant things. Perhaps we see moral order where only chaos exists, borders and grey areas where only mountains rise and rivers swell. Anamorphic monsters, we put words in the inanimate mouths of stoic stone cleft from solid rock.
But this is all delirium, it is reality and reality is nothing but delirium and dreaming. When I sleep, I have visions and those visions too become real to me and everything near me seems a reality. I would swear to it. If while I sleep I encounter some ghost or otherwise apparition, my skin senses fright, hairs standing on end, my eyes perceive it, its gauzy form. Or any other physical sensation, at the time of my hallucination, it is sincere entirely to me. If I dream of a fight, if a hand reaches out and grips hard my jaw, I feel its squeeze. If someone spits in my eye, I feel it wet.
But I have no reason in all the world to believe any of it is true. And it shakes me to my core, not the nightmare of it but the ease…the ease I lapse into believing it. How easily the mind is deceived. It brings out a thousand million questions. What is real? What am I? Violence? Am I violence? Violence to the system, to the waking world? I have committed violence, acts of ferocity. Is that me? This is blood I still feel all over my skin, this much I am sure. Am I running? Am I hiding? Am I afraid now? And if so, of what? I am the greatest monster I have encountered, dreaming or waking. Am I ashamed? And if so, of what? I meant to do the things I did, have done, believed them to be necessary…perhaps not purely good but necessary. Does an essentially evil act carry with it the same obligatory shame or something random, something senseless? Is there a turn of justice for the acts of a benevolent savage? (pause) Is it justice I am attempting to hide from or is it simply retaliation? Does it matter? Is any of it real? Is this just dream, just dream and delirium? (pause) Treason. (pause) (quietly, looking down) Have I been deceived? Even by myself?
And now I expect answers. (She finishes cutting all of her hair off, leaving it short and uneven. She stands up and begins inching toward the left, knife still in her hand) Like a snake, open mouthed, poised, skin tight, at my heel, eager. One more careless step forward and it will strike. This is how we all imagine the secrets of life to be revealed to us and with the same apprehension. One swift uncoiling of tensed muscles, like lightning from heaven, and into the blood, a life-changing serum. Fight it off, if you can. Knowledge, of good and evil.
(She picks up speed, lets the knife slip down in her palm until she is just barely holding it, dangling it. Without taking her eyes off the audience she walks quickly, almost runs off the stage to the left.)
End scene one.
Empty warehouse interior. Dark with only soft white footlights and along the back of the stage a tall stack (anywhere from as few as six to eight or as many as twenty-four or more) of old-fashioned television sets all playing the same video loop of fires, volcanic eruption and flow, sparking lighters, automobile crashes and subsequent fire. To the slight left of the stage a heavy dark wood table with four folding chairs around it. Sitting in three of the chairs three men in dark red uniform or suit jackets. Two blonde named Dain and Andrius on the sides and a third with darker hair named Jurgis sitting in the middle but leaning back in the chair, legs crossed, profile to the audience. Dain plays with a knife and carves on the top of the table. Jurgis smokes. Lelija walks onto the stage in the midst of their conversation and makes her way through the seated men to the back of the table and sits in the unoccupied chair (hers should be slightly taller than the others). She faces the audience. The three men are talking as she walks in and they continue without notice to her.
Only Andrius, Dain and Jurgis on stage.
Andrius: “Did you hear the news this morning?”
Dain: (without looking up from carving on the table) “From out west?”
Andrius: “Yeah, some Nevada state trooper found the passport.”
Andrius: “I told you to get rid of that passport.”
Dain: (looking up and casually pointing the knife towards Andrius) “No. You told me to put the passport with the car. And I said that would be monumentally stupid, if they find the car then they will find the passport…(He shrugs and goes back to carving the table.) …and then they would have almost everything.
Andrius: (looking off to the left, visibly nervous, speaking quietly) Jesus Christ, if they find out we have been to Syria…(louder and looking back at Dain) If they find out we got help from the Syrians, they will crucify us. We will go to prison for the rest of our lives.”
Dain: “They would kill us. But they don’t know.”
Andrius: (raising his voice) “They have the passport now.”
Dain: (smirking, waving his hand.) “Relax. They don’t even know who we are. They have no reason to even imagine we exist.”
Lelija enters and walks slowly to her seat.
Jurgis: (taking a drag off his cigarette and looking at Lelija as she walks by) “What did you do to your hair?”
Lelija looks back at him for a second, doesn’t answer, sits down, looks around.
Jurgis: (with a conciliatory and calm tone.) “Listen, they don’t have anything. Relax. They haven’t found Miller’s car and if they don’t find the car, they got nothing. It’s fine. (He stubs out the cigarette on the table top and flicks the butt away.)
Andrius: (looking at Dain.) “What did you do with the car by the way?”
Dain: “I got rid of it. I wrecked it. It’s gone. Forever. (Makes an explosion motion with his left hand and looks hard at Andrius) Boom!”
Lelija sits straight back in her chair, puts her hands on her knees and looks over the others at the table and speaks out toward the audience. The others do not appear to notice her speaking.
Lelija: “And then when we were spiders on the web, moving carefully, spindly, without cohesion on this sticky trap, waiting, daring to act, we should have been leaping to the task with no apprehension. And now, here where we should be so still, so quiet, we are flies buzzing frantic, too close to the gluey strands we ourselves have strung. Some trap, this humanity, to feel things, to be compelled to act, to act from human compulsion and then to fear from human trepidation, tension, consequence. All of it natural, leads you to destruction, gives you away by reaction, perfectly natural reaction. Some great vale, some great moment, some great fog separates what we do from what actually happens in this world. But our fast heartbeats and flush faces give us away. We can keep no secrets. This is no universe for secrets. (pause) This universe is small. And the part of this universe that I inhabited when I (puts her hand to her chest) was small was tinier still and filled to its brim with stories, creatures, all the wild imaginings of mankind, demons and devils. The devil. My world was rife with the devil. He was everywhere, hiding in cracks and crevices, in far nooks and crannies, around every corner, lying in wait to ensnare you. He would trap you and ruin you, corrupt you, change the way you saw the whole of reality, take you to hell…in increments, in increments of sin and ruination. That was the kind of monster he was, all the old people would tell you. I can still hear the warnings in my ears. The certain crisp fear of all modernity. I can see their faces. Glazed-over eyes staring at a world spinning too quickly away from them…and towards the devil. And now I have seen that world staring back, the same glazed-over terrified eyes, not spinning fast enough…away from the devil. And still everyone is frightened.
Dain and Andrius continue their conversation.
Andrius: dubiously “You blew it up, is that what you are saying?”
Dain: proud “I blew it up. That is what I am saying.”
Andrius: “And the pieces? Where are they?”
Dain: Shrugging “What pieces? I blew them up too. Gone.”
Andrius: “Stupid, there had to be pieces, fragments, ash, things like this.”
Dain: Smiling slightly “They are all gone too or impossible to find.” He takes out a cigarette and lights it
Andrius: Shaking his head “Why?”
Dain: “Because when I blew up the car I sent it off a ledge, off the road, down a cliff into very deep ravines. Gone.” He makes a car flying off a cliff motion with his right hand flat and an explosion sound.
Andrius: Annoyed “Like a Hollywood movie?”
Dain: Very large smile. “Yeah. Like a Hollywood movie.”
Andrius: Concerned, leaving the discussion about the car behind. “Those others should not have been killed. This is a problem.”
Dain: Smoking “Fuck them. They worked for that pig.”
Andrius: “They were just people and they had nothing to do with this.”
Dain: “They didn’t have to be there, it is not like they were (leaning in) completely innocent or anything.”
Jurgis: Suddenly “Of course they were innocent. We should have waited.”
Andrius: Turning toward Jurgis, also abandoning this discussion “How are we getting out of here?”
Jurgis: Calm “Bus and then into Mexico…
Dain: Interrupting “Cuba?”
Jurgis: “No Cuba. Separately on buses. Each of us, finds our own way, Lelija first… and we meet up in Tampico. From Mexico a plane to somewhere east of the Potsdamer Platz and then we wait…
Andrius: Also interrupting “And then to Vilnius.”
Jurgis: “And then to Vilnius.”
Lelija stands up but stays in front of her chair and continues speaking over/through the others toward the audience. The others do not notice.
Lelija: “We will see how far we get. Now comes the great face to face moments. Not face to face with each other or with that reckless spinning world but face to face with ourselves, safely on the outside of butchery, safely disengaged from the sorcery (pause) but not really because now we are more tangled in the witchcraft than ever before, weaving too close to the web, disaster. More in the eye of the hurricane than the storm has passed, more under a lying calm than out the other side. (pause) These great wrestling moments, bit by bit, second by second, we pick an instant frozen in time and we stare long at it, we grapple it, we pull hard on it, clutch it, we pick a flash split second and we beat ourselves to the ground with it, black and blue, we beat ourselves to death with it, drowning in it. So now, now that we are clear from all the dangerous danger, we will see how far we get.
End scene two