a play by
Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
Kenneth Alcott — a junior high school teacher
Joanne — his sister
Paula — a stranger
Mrs. Anton — his landlady
Mary — his private student
Flora — a stranger
The five female characters may be played by one actor.
© 1976 by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller. All rights reserved.
For production information, contact WordWorkers, 707-824-4307 or E-mail.
Open stage. Up center, a very large cardboard box. Down right and left, arrangements of cardboard boxes and folding chairs. Boxes scattered about the stage. Across the front, a row of small boxes, spaced like gravestones. Dim blue light.
Hospital sounds. Dimly seen, the head frame of a hospital bed, with IV bottle. Naked light. A woman’s hand, tube in vein, gropes for call button.
Below, KENNETH appears, his image in a mirror. Hand gropes, above. Buzzer. He startles. Turns front, cradling a cassette recorder. Finger to button. His voice is heard on the tape.
TAPE: My home is a thousand years away. What good are my powers, when all is beyond my grasp. I must make my home here, in the place of my exile.
Off. He speaks, straight front, into himself.
KENNETH: When I was very small, they’d say “Don’t eat that because you’ll get a dreambelly.” Dreambelly. You eat and eat, and it’s just before bed, and your belly heaves around, and your belly gives you dreams, and that’s a dreambelly.
Buzzer. He startles, recovers.
I talk very rapidly because I’m a teacher. Kenneth the teacher, substitute teacher, junior high. When you’re talking to kids, you have to talk slowly, and every week I’d talk faster and faster, and they became very retarded. Where is it?
He picks up two shopping bags.
I have collections. I could be a collector’s item.
Buzzer. Silence.
My mother died. Two weeks ago, courtesy of Mercy Hospital. She began to cough before dinner, and she thought, Well, I better cook the meat longer, and she did, but the cough kept on, and the nails went all white. And I came home for a visit, because I was out in the hall checking potty passes, and I had a premonition. And she said, “Don’t let me concern you,” and she coughed up the size of a walnut. And she took hold of my hand and shook it for two weeks, and then she died. I’d lean over the bed and tell her jokes, and then I couldn’t remember the joke, and she died. Sat with her two weeks, and don’t forget to water the plant, and I watered the plant, i watered the godblessed plant, and she knew I watered the plant, but she died.
Lights out. Dim blue only. WOMAN’s hand gropes bedframe. He lights his own hand with a penlight, mimicks her hand. Light up on KENNETH.
You watch the night nurse. Over there. She sits there counting the beeps. Miss your beep, they pull your tubes. Two weeks, and everybody you see, they all take on that same godblessed bedpan grin.
His hand is an airplane. It crashes.
But it was funny. Because I had to sit with her nights. So I went back to the house and I dug out these comic books, all this wonderful stash of comic books I had when I was . . . when I had a mama. And I read comic books all night, every night, while she spit herself all over the bed. And then at last, once and for all, the last beeper beeped, and she died.
An astronaut:
Dreambelly: over and out.
Lights out. Dim blue only. Sounds of hospital, fading. He picks up shopping bags, walks into new area.
Lights up. With his sister, he is packing cardboard boxes.
JOANNE: Do you have another box?
KENNETH: I’m full.
JOANNE: We ought to dump it. Funerals are barbaric enough, but then packing all the garbage— Kenneth, just put it all in the boxes. Don’t even look.
Shows a picture.
Remember when you looked like that?
JOANNE: Huh. All the damn closets, attic, basements, the garage. Did you label that? Kenneth, honestly. How can we tell what’s in anything?
KENNETH: The pictures are in the little box.
JOANNE: Never mind the pictures. I’m never going to accumulate crap like this. When I hit forty I’m going to start throwing stuff away. By the time I’m sixty I’ll be bare naked. Look at this: place mats, candles, napkin rings—
KENNETH: Recipes.
JOANNE: Jesus. Potholders, needles, Easter seals—
KENNETH: TV Guide, 1962.
JOANNE: Lens wipers, hearing aid batteries, enema tubes—
JOANNE: Nut bowls, bookends, peanut butter lids, and a note to send Evelyn a sympathy card.
KENNETH: Sis. . .
JOANNE: And then there’s, uh, Kenneth’s Boy Scout badges, Kenneth’s stamp collection, Kenneth’s rocks, Kenneth’s matchbook collection, Kenneth’s valentines—
KENNETH: Comic books—
JOANNE: It’s all so tacky! Handpainted teacup: Mount Rushmore. Bohunk things. Why are we packing all these things? Oh, did you run across a little ceramic— I made her a— No, she would have thrown it away. Boyoboy. Everything has kind of a pee smell.
KENNETH: How do you move a refrigerator?
Silence. She stacks boxes.
JOANNE: Did she say anything about me?
KENNETH: She said, “Where’s Joanne?”
JOANNE: What else?
KENNETH: I didn’t listen. She said everything. I did some reading.
JOANNE: For two weeks? She was there two weeks.
KENNETH: They pumped her full of Kool-whip.
He digs into shopping bag, takes out comic book, reads.
JOANNE: I would have come if I could. But you would not believe how Eddie bitches when he has to take care of the kids. And I’ve come trotting back here more than once without much of a thank-you. All I ever got was, “You think Kenny’s going to come?”
KENNETH: (reading) “My home is a thousand years away. What good are my powers, when all is beyond my grasp!”
JOANNE: Kenneth—
KENNETH: “I must make my home here, in the place of my exile.”
JOANNE: Will you stop farting!
She grabs his comic book, flings it down. Then picks it up, hands it to him.
I am sorry, but I should have left right after the funeral. This is Thursday already, and Eddie’s going to be screaming at the kids, and we’ll have one of our famous heavyweight bouts, and then he’ll come snuffling back and breathe all over me. Kenneth, I do not want to listen to comic books.
KENNETH: I found a whole stack.
Oh, you know Mom’s refrigerator? Would it be ok with you if I took it? It doesn’t work. It’s got a broken latch.
JOANNE: Be my guest.
They sit in silence.
I don’t know what we’re doing with all this stuff. You can do something. Take it back, fill up your apartment, give it to Goodwill. I could use the crystal. You take all the rest and flush it. You’re Mama’s baby.
She picks up photo, stares at it, throws it in box.
What are they doing about your classes?
KENNETH: They get a substitute. I’m just a substitute. They get a substitute substitute. Throw another Christian to the lions.
JOANNE: You don’t dig it.
KENNETH: The trainer has it better than the baboons. I get paid.
JOANNE: I remember you were thrilled about it.
KENNETH: When I loved all the little dark folks? Oh, they’re the greatest. I walk in, they say, “Hey, Mis’ Alcott, you stoned? Hey, he stoned!” They don’t believe I’m there. I’m a wad of gum on the teacher’s chair.
JOANNE: You’ve changed a lot.
KENNETH: It’s the flight from reality. Departs at 8:40 a.m. from Room 224.
JOANNE: Kenneth’s collection of wisecracks. Har-de-har.
KENNETH: Oh, I asked about the refrigerator.
JOANNE: She didn’t talk about me at all?
He stands up, then sits down.
What’ll you do with the loot?
JOANNE: The inheritance.
KENNETH: I bought a tape recorder. I thought I might record some things.
JOANNE: Kenneth’s famous last words. I had a great idea. Because I’ve been thinking about a divorce, and Eddie’s such a wonderful lawyer: maybe I could take my inheritance and hire him to divorce himself. . . She raised a couple of bent-up kids. Vitamin E.
KENNETH: You know how it is, Lois.
KENNETH: You don’t know the real me.
JOANNE: Clark Kent!
They laugh.
JOANNE: I remember we used to do that. Then you’d take off your pants and jump around.
KENNETH: Flying.
JOANNE: She thought it was cute.
KENNETH: I wish I could talk to you.
JOANNE: Talk’s cheap, Clark.
KENNETH: (in character) Lois, gee, it’s hard for me to talk, because I have to wear these glasses to hide my secret identity. I know they all laugh at me, but you’re different, Lois—
She laughs at him.
Even Superman couldn’t stand to be in my shoes.
JOANNE: Superman wouldn’t fit in your shoes, Clark, ho ho.
KENNETH: You know, Lois. . . I’m going to inherit $30,000 from a distant relative. A very distant relative. And you know what? Why can’t we go some place? Why can’t we team up, leave everything behind and find our secret identities? It’s possible, Lois. We could be happy. Lois, say there’s a future.
JOANNE: Bullshit, Clark.
Silence. He sits down, fiddles with cassette recorder. They wait.
Well, I don’t care what it is, I have to get out of here this afternoon. The bus leaves at 4:35. Could you give me a lift?
KENNETH: I don’t know if I’ll be here.
KENNETH: Maybe I’ll be gone.
JOANNE: The Chicago bus doesn’t leave till ten.
KENNETH: I can fly.
JOANNE: (enraged) You just do what you want. I have to get out. Let the lawyers pack up the peanut butter lids. All this stuff, you can just stand at the toilet and flush every potholder and pisscatcher. Go right ahead. I’ve had it.
JOANNE: Don’t ask me anything.
JOANNE: What? Say it!
KENNETH: You’re a very miserable person. You’re growing horrible. Maybe it’s radiation.
He laughs. Silence.
JOANNE: So I hope you feel better.
KENNETH: I wish we could talk.
Light change: tight focus on KENNETH. JOANNE disappears. His hand is an airplane, diving to turn on cassette.
TAPE: She was ugly beyond her years. She stood there and fell apart. And he had come so close to revealing his deepest self. She had seemed to his dazzled yes like a sister, the very shape, except for one tiny scar. But he saw the monster peeking out the eyes. And he uttered the truth. And the demon shriveled and fled.
He turns it off. Picks up comic book.
KENNETH: So many ways. There’s one, his brain is a computer, and his fingers are ivy vines that spread all over the walls, and he tries to get himself together, but he’s scattered all over the house. There’s one, his fingers are skeleton keys, and he comes in at night and opens up people’s heads, and it all runs out. Show and tell.
He turns it on. As his voice continues, he picks up bags full of comic books, walks up center, pushes away stacks of boxes, revealing white refrigerator, faced front.
TAPE: Driven by doom, he fled. His only possessions, the shattered remains of his past, sealed in capsules he dare not unlock. He was sealed away from his soul by the grasp. . .of Ti-i-i-i-ime!
Sound reverberates. He leans on refrigerator. Silence.
KENNETH: Bullshit, Clark. Preserve all the babble. Run it back, and it goes back, back, back, and then it goes back, back, back to my birthpuddle. Mama.
She’s sewing baby clothes. She’s sewing my Oshkosh suit, patching the teethmarks. And she says, “I believe you. I believe it’s you. I don’t care what you do. I don’t care if you made the team. I don’t care if the darkies love you or if you’re a little snot. I know you. You’re mine.” And they come with tubes, which they stick in her several parts. And a big fizzle runs down the tube, and she hoots. Another box full. Dead critter. Shut up.
He opens the refrigerator, pulling out shelves, energetic.
Take’em, she said, all the damn boxes. Take all the loot, it’s got the mummy’s curse. Hey, we’re revving up. Greyhound’s on the launch pad. Ten, nine, eight. . .Whuh come aftuh eight, Mist’ Alcott? But you know where it ends. Sure you do. It ends when they slam the lid.
He slams refrigerator door.
Is there life after. . .school?
Lights out. Dim blue only. Sound of bus terminal: arrivals, departures. He picks up shopping bag, walks into new area.
Lights up. He is in aisle seat on the bus. Woman comes down aisle.
PAULA: I’m sorry, could I ask you something?
KENNETH: I’ll try.
PAULA: Were you going to be smoking? Do you smoke?
KENNETH: I cough my head off.
PAULA: Gee, could I sit here?
She steps across him, to the window seat, as he readjusts bags.
PAULA: I was up front, and it says No Smoking, but this person, she belches it out like some kind of mushroom cloud. I didn’t want to make a big thing.
KENNETH: Are you going to Chicago?
PAULA: Yes. I was visiting.
KENNETH: Springfield?
PAULA: St. Louis. My sister got married.
KENNETH: Is she happy?
PAULA: Well, I guess. . . That’s a funny. . .
KENNETH: I’ll bet she is. Here, I’ll move it.
He lifts a shopping bag over into the aisle.
My name is Kenneth. Did you ever know anyone who wasn’t named Kenneth?
PAULA: Well—
KENNETH: I was in Springfield. My mother was in the hospital.
PAULA: Oh. Is she better?
Silence. She takes a book from her purse, with a leaflet marking the place.
Is that a baby?
PAULA: Yes. No, I have some more. I do some work for Right-to-Life.
KENNETH: Is that abortion?
PAULA: Anti-abortion.
KENNETH: I never keep up with abortion.
PAULA: Well, I don’t like to talk about it, because that usually means an argument, and I’m not good at arguments.
KENNETH: Listen.
Turns on cassette tape.
TAPE: He sat as she filled with preservatives. He only remained. Sealed from her by the impenetrable atom shield, he began to read the hidden chapters of his destiny.
Turns it off.
KENNETH: I bought a tape recorder.
KENNETH: The smell is from the restroom.
KENNETH: Hospital smell. What do you do with that?
PAULA: Well, I help with mailings sometimes. You mean what do I do? I’m a typist.
KENNETH: My sister made some sandwiches.
PAULA: Thanks, no.
KENNETH: You know you look like someone. I looked at one face for two weeks, and everything started looking like that face. “Don’t stare at the sun, Kenneth.” And you know, when I was in high school, I got my face in the newspaper three times. I didn’t know if I should be a nuclear physicist or a high school teacher. . . . I always talk when I ride the bus.
PAULA: I’m not much of a talker.
KENNETH: Talk about your. . .Right to Life.
PAULA: What? Oh. You know what’s hard is a lot of the people are Catholics. You’re not Catholic, are you? I just don’t see how anyone can believe in the Pope. Whatever the Pope says, that’s what you have to do. Monkey see, monkey do. . . I better talk softer.
KENNETH: See, you talk. You must have about two children.
PAULA: Me? My boyfriend would be surprised! I don’t know. I really love kids, and then people come up and say, “Well you ought to kill babies so they don’t have an unhappy life.” Do these seats adjust?
Leans across her, contorts, trying to fix seat.
PAULA: These people start making all these arguments, but there are some things you know are wrong, you don’t have to go to college to know it. It makes you want to cry.
KENNETH: Do you cry?
PAULA: I don’t really think I want to—
KENNETH: I wanted to cry, but I just sat there and counted to seventy thousand.
PAULA: You are something! I’m sorry—
KENNETH: No, I am something. I am. . .something.
Silence. She looks out window.
PAULA: Do we go through Joliet? I forget.
KENNETH: You know what I want? I have boxes full of things. I want to put them together.
PAULA: I suppose.
KENNETH: Well, you know what an antibody is? Ok, when the system is invaded by bacteria, it produces antibodies specific to the organism. The antibodies combine with the organism and destroy it. But it has to be specific. Measles antibodies for measles, mumpers for mumps. And there’s been an absolute invasion, and I’ve been triggered. “Look there, it’s. . .it’s moving. The Antibody!” You know? But what am I after? What am I specific to? Warts?
PAULA: I really. . .
Waves toward toilet.
The wind is out of the south.
Nazi salute.
Shtop the shtinken!
Leaps up. Lights out. Tight spot on KENNETH’s face, frozen. He speaks front, into himself.
No. I don’t want a story about a man who goes crazy. No, this man is normal beyond the call of duty. This man’s size is Medium. But one day he opens up his box of Wheaties and finds his mythic dimension. Mythic dimension, a dollar ninety-eight, your choice of colors. The mutter of trolls: “Hey, Mist’ Alcott!” And as the pterodactyl swoops, he swings aboard and soars, the frigidaire in hot pursuit. . . . No, if I went crazy, I’d be ridiculous.
Lights fade up slowly, as before. Sounds of bus terminal: departure. They sit, eating salted peanuts. Sounds fade.
PAULA: I guess you want to dedicate yourself to something.
PAULA: Like this thing. I don’t know why I feel so strongly about it.
KENNETH: You have a purpose.
PAULA: Well, you have to have some kind of purpose, and after you work your forty hours, you can put in a few hours on your purpose.
KENNETH: It’s much more. You’re doing something. . .heroic.
PAULA: What?
KENNETH: Heroic.
PAULA: Please, I. . .
KENNETH: Heroic, heroic, heroic. Listen, I stand there every day, and the morning announcements come over the intercom: “Will the student who flushed Mr. Alcott please report to the office.” The only way out is to fly. And that’s heroic.
PAULA: I don’t kid myself.
KENNETH: No, you do.
PAULA: Ok, I do kid myself.
KENNETH: No, I mean you feel strongly, you have a strong—
PAULA: I don’t feel that strongly.
KENNETH: No, you feel strong. Everything is possible. I was reading where they build an army of robots. It’s silly, but they build an army of robots, and they program them with a purpose, and they’re merciless. But as soon as they begin to do good, and they stop all the killing, and they do good, and they see they’re doing good, they begin to develop a soul.
PAULA: I don’t have any robots.
KENNETH: You have a purpose, is what I’m saying. You can’t escape it.
PAULA: You’re making fun of me. Would you please not do that. I haven’t been laughing at you, and just because I can’t say things—
KENNETH: You can say things. You can talk. You just do it.
PAULA: I don’t just do it.
KENNETH: You just do it. You just get up on your feet. Don’t think about it. You just believe in your purpose.
PAULA: I don’t have any purpose!
KENNETH: Just stand up. You have to do it. Don’t wait to do it. Just do it.
PAULA: People are looking. . .
He stands up, waves for attention.
KENNETH: Listen, there’s a person here. . . Would you please listen. . . Say it. Listen, she’s going to tell you. . . Do it!
PAULA: Stop it! Please!
KENNETH: Say it. I need you to say it. Please, if you say it—
PAULA: Excuse me—
She starts to move across him to aisle.
KENNETH: If you move!
She freezes. Silence.
I don’t. . . I never do this. I don’t do things. I sit at the desk, and when they come up looking crosseyed I say something dead, and they can put it in their pocket and carry it back to the desk and let it rot. Say something that puts them to sleep, because if they riot in their sleep you can’t hear it down the hall. Because remember little Reggie. He was crazy, but he didn’t riot, so we let him sit there and play with himself. And one day I’m asking what’s the capital of Illinois, and he stands up and takes off his clothes. Riot squad. They ship him off to the cannery, chop him into little brown pickles. I’m not that way. I’m not a public nuisance. I’m not a civic disturbance. I’m not a repeater. I’m not a crackpot. I’m not a threat. I’m a substitute. I look like you. We’re from the same planet. We both have faces. Can’t you hear me? Listen to me! Don’t you hear anything? It’s the milkman, Mabel! Listen!
He turns on tape.
TAPE: The projectile hurtled through night, away from the nameless doom. A new life beckoned, but who could read its promise or curse? They huddled together, and shared their pain.
She pushes across him to the aisle.
KENNETH: No, this is only Joliet—
TAPE: From the dream’s devouring belly, onwar-r-r-rd!
KENNETH: You can’t run away, you know. You’re not really there!
He runs against boxes. Avalanche. Lights out. Tight spot on his face, frozen. Woman disappears.
Lights come up slowly. He moves into center: his apartment. Folding chairs, boxes, the refrigerator. He carries the shopping bags.
KENNETH: Trouble on I-55. How’d he escape? Driver says, “Buddy, you gotta vamoose.” Maybe I flew.
He sits, turns on tape, listens to his voice. Unpacks comic books from bag, strews them on floor.
TAPE: So from that day, his mission began. Yet another had fled, hopeless and weak of will. And untold millions of souls, defenseless and dumb, whispered through his dream: Give me a body. Give me birth. Give me life. And his work began.
KENNETH: Boxes. Boxes. Boxes.
Light change. He listens to tape, laughs. Pulls strings. Lines of crudely built robots, constructed of cardboard boxes and scrap materials, come forth from all directions, as the voice continues.
TAPE: A robot that’s very simple. But implacable. Solar energy, the muscle of the sun. Contained in modules, and selenium cells that are very responsive, prismatic photosensors, they activate solenoids, and worm gears, spur gears with drive ratios of a million to one, you can’t imagine. Transistors, capacitors, and lasers — lasers with this binary system, and all it does, all it has to do is feed the servomechanism. The servomechanism, put a reciprocator, you can’t stop it. It feels the impulse, all there is, with heat sensors, and the robots. . .SWARM!
Shuts it off. Rises, euphoric.
KENNETH: Army of robots, call the roll!
Stops, looks. Light fades up slowly.
Cardboard boxes, Kenneth. you have delusions of grandeur. Delusions of grandeur are not appropriate to a simp. Not part of the job description. No, he just has trouble connecting his parts. He’s a couple of cardboard boxes, and it’s all been emptied out.
A bomb has been planted and is about to sprout. This is a job for... Kenneth! Ta-da!
He breaks down, sobbing. Buzzer.
The tardy bell.
Goes to door, opens it. LANDLADY appears.
MRS. ANTON: Buzzer work?
MRS. ANTON: I buzzed.
KENNETH: I was straightening up.
MRS. ANTON: Did you have the rent?
KENNETH: Oh sure. Come in. Checkbook. Come on in. It matters not who won or lost, but if you pay the rent.
MRS. ANTON: You threw a pile of stuff out back. My husband noticed.
MRS. ANTON: He wasn’t too happy with all the junk.
KENNETH: My sister didn’t want it, so the boxes were shipped here, but I carried them out to the dumper and I dumped it all out. Rose petals, hatpins. . . Then I had the boxes. Come in.
MRS. ANTON: No thanks.
MRS. ANTON: I think we know.
KENNETH: That’s long past.
MRS. ANTON: Nuff said.
KENNETH: Mrs. Anton, I—
Signs check.
Kenneth Alcott.
Gives it to her.
That was two months ago. And it wasn’t intended as disrespect. That just came from the fact that it’s a stereotype of landladies that they always have an—
MRS. ANTON: Affair.
KENNETH: Affair with the tenant. So I. . .inquired.
MRS. ANTON: The Gallup poll. How bout the pen?
KENNETH: (handing it back) Yes.
She looks into the room.
MRS. ANTON: What the hell! What is all this? Boxes. Look at that. Scrapes on the floor. It’s the tenant’s job to keep the place neat. If Tony saw this—
KENNETH: He’s Italian.
MRS. ANTON: He’s Italian, he’d hit the ceiling. Food on the floor. It’s a pigsty. Look, we got an investment. . . What’s the matter? Hey, I’m not old Mrs. Bitch. Say something. What’s that? What is it?
KENNETH: Robots.
KENNETH: A series of prototypes of robots that can be constructed from materials available at your local A & P.
MRS. ANTON: Hobby or something?
KENNETH: I want to create a small army of robots subject to my every whim.
MRS. ANTON: Mr. Alcott—
KENNETH: I’m joking. I couldn’t build a pump lamp, let alone a robot.
KENNETH: I took shop in high school, we had to build a pump lamp. A pump lamp is a lamp shaped like a pump. You pump it to turn on the light.
KENNETH: Mine wouldn’t pump. What I mean is, I’d like to build robots.
MRS. ANTON: Look, Mr. Alcott—
KENNETH: I really would like to work with tools. But I don’t have the prerequisites. Some people are born with the prerequisites, some acquire them, some have them thrust upon them.
MRS. ANTON: I got work to do. This is an apartment, not a nuthouse— I’d like to take a week off and go crazy.
KENNETH: I’m doing that.
MRS. ANTON: You are a nut.
KENNETH: Nut quite.
He laughs. Silence. She walks around room, aimlessly.
MRS. ANTON: What is this? You’re supposed to be a teacher. I come in here, you fumble around, try to make a pass—
MRS. ANTON: What a laugh. We got that straight, right? No way.
KENNETH: No way.
MRS. ANTON: Cause Tony’s a hard act to follow.
Silence. He tears off piece of masking tape, sticks it on box. She laughs. Laughs again, loses control, tries to stop laughing.
What am I laughing about? Come on. . . I never laugh. . . You oughta be on TV, then I could laugh. . .
She starts to go.
MRS. ANTON: I got stuff in the oven.
KENNETH: You look alike.
MRS. ANTON: What the hell does that mean?
They stand awkwardly. Silence.
You got me shaking. Look at that. That’s nerves. You got some kinda plan? Big plans? I tell you bout that. I had plans. I wanted to be a woman doctor. Don’t they say, the women’s lib, girls can be doctors? Unless you’re dumb. Dumb Irish girl, nasty Italian boys. My daughter too. Big plans.
Silence. Toward boxes.
They need one big blue eye.
She bursts out laughing, uncontrollably. Tries to regain control as he talks. Each line makes her laugh more.
KENNETH: See, I don’t know what I mean. . . See, there’s a story going on, but I can’t get it right. It rambles around. . . You read how the world is being saved, and you come to a page from Donald Duck. It almost came together. . . There’s some way it wants to add up.
MRS. ANTON: Stop it! Oh you take the prize! You know what you got? You got the perfect line. “I’m crazy, I’m going round the bend, help me.”
Change: sharp, serious.
What are you leading up to?
MRS. ANTON: I’m asking you.
KENNETH: We find our heroic dimension.
MRS. ANTON: Heroic dimension.
KENNETH: We can.
MRS. ANTON: You got heroic dimensions, huh.
KENNETH: I will have, soon.
MRS. ANTON: How big’s “heroic”?
KENNETH: Very, very big.
She bursts out laughing again, uncontrollably.
MRS. ANTON: Whatta you trying to do to me! . . . I ain’t laughed in six months. . .
Laughs. Abruptly, her laughter turns to sobbing. She collapses into chair, crying bitterly.
Oh you bastard. . .
KENNETH gestures, at a loss. She tries to control herself, unable.
(crying) I got a spring loose. . . I don’t do stuff like this. . .
He goes to her, holds her awkwardly.
(crying) I’m a very contented lady. . . This is no reflection on Tony. . .
KENNETH: (awkwardly comforting) No. . .
MRS. ANTON: (crying) Dumbest thing I ever heard. . . Meant for each other. . .
KENNETH: No. . .
MRS. ANTON: (crying) Think you got problems. . . Whatta you trying to do. . . I got stuff in the oven. . .
KENNETH: I’m sorry, I. . .
MRS. ANTON: I’m shaking! Hold on!
They are embracing, awkward, panicked.
KENNETH: No, you find somebody who’s having the same dream. Then if you sink, you pull each other out.
MRS. ANTON: My daughter. . . I thought she could go to college, date a bunch of guys, have a ball. . . Sure. . . She’s getting married. She’s a potato. . .
MRS. ANTON: He doesn’t kiss me no more. I always turn my head.
Silence. She draws him to her. Both terrified.
Holy Virgin. . . Don’t look now. . .
She kisses him ardently.
I love him, but I don’t kiss him.
She kisses KENNETH.
I guess I want some kind of fling.
She kisses him.
My name’s Lois.
KENNETH: Lois. . .
She draws away, awkward, trembling. Straightens her clothes.
MRS. ANTON: I gotta. . .go upstairs, and then I’ll come back down. Why don’t you open a window?
MRS. ANTON: I got a cake in the oven. Bake sale.
Touches him.
There’s nobody home. I’ll be right back.
KENNETH: Mrs. Anton. . .
She stops at door.
MRS. ANTON: “Mrs. Anton.”
KENNETH: You misunderstand. What I did before was a different story. It just happened. I’m somebody else. I don’t know, maybe you’ll read where I come jumping out of a phone booth in my underwear and save the world. We’ll see. See, I’ve inherited a very hungry icebox. When I was three, I had a babysitter, Nancy, and she wanted to put me in the icebox, and I said, “No, it’s not snack time,” and she takes out all the leftovers, all the shelves, and “Now there’s room for the little fart!” And Mama came back. But now she won’t. And I have to be so strong, I have to be. . .
I’m trying to say it. I’m scared. I didn’t mean to have a misunderstanding. But now I’m working out a story that’s going to be true, and I can’t lose track of my plans. I plan to be the hero. The hero is highly scared.
But you do fit the story, you know? You’re the one, just before blast-off, you’re the one who comes to see me off. And you say, “Do you have to go? Must you go?” And I know the answer is Yes.
MRS. ANTON: Ok. You blast off. Just remember. If you want to hang yourself, the ceiling lamp won’t hold. The gas makes a smell. And don’t splatter the walls. You just blast off.
KENNETH: Listen.
He picks up tape recorder, turns on lamp.
TAPE: She came just before blast-off. The last one he would see before the fateful journey. She said, “Do you really have to go? Must you go?” And he knew the answer was Yes.
She slaps him hard.
Lights out. Dim blue only. Up center, the refrigerator door opens slowly, swings open, silhouetting them in its light.
She goes off. He walks among boxes.
KENNETH: Time. It’s time. The time has surely come. She goes up the stairs, back into chocolate cake. Headlines: Alcott Nixes Sex, Pledges Action. Oh this time it’s gotta be for real. It has got to be for real. Something has got to be for real. Godzilla! Aieeeee!
Slams refrigerator door. Light change. He loses control, scatters the robots, flings boxes wildly. Spills a box: hospital items, package of rubber gloves. Falls on the box and beats it violently. Interrupts, clutching hand.
It stings. It must know something’s up.
Turns on tape. As it speaks, he holds his hand as an object becoming alive. Pulls a rubber glove onto it. Takes out marker, decorates it with eyes, sunbursts. Lives the fantasy, giggling.
TAPE: The universe of atoms is in eternal motion, motion permeating every substance, miles of empty space in a grain of sand. One day, like every day, he went in to shave, looked in the mirror, and by the raging moon, he saw his predestined fate. . .inscribed in meticulous lesson plans. Now imagine a moment, somewhere in the universal span, where probability fails, and at that instant his image strikes the mirror, the atoms draw apart, the mirror opens, the image enters and is consumed. Nothing left. Devoured. Except only . . . for one hand . . . the ever-predestined hand . . . which was holding the towel. For minutes, days, millennia, the hand stings with incipient life. It scrapes, it flushes, it gropes. And at last it knows. It feels. It accepts. From the trivial litter of days, the lines of the hand trace the true, heroic dimensions of Man. The hand moves forth, implacable: the bewildered carcass staggers behind. And thus is born anew . . . THE ATOMIC . . . HAND!
The hand is superhuman, soaring, diving, blasting, erasing, while his body does nothing. At last the energy drains. He turns off tape, speaks into himself.
KENNETH: See, class, he tries to construct a meaningful universe from the evidence he has, but his evidence is fragmentary. So he has no conditioners to create a functional structure. You understand? So the structure is bizarre, but it is entirely composed of the data his world offers him. There’ll be a test on Tuesday.
Rubber ball rolls to him. He grasps it.
Lights up. Bare area with two chairs. A retarded woman with a doll comes to him, squinting through thick glasses.
MARY: Mine.
MARY: My ball. Mine.
KENNETH: Take it. Don’t take it.
MARY: Bu-bu-bu-ball.
She reaches for it. He grasps her finger playfully, turns on tape with it. She giggles.
TAPE: And he flies on, to save the hands of a concert pianist, lamed from birth. And he moves in shadows, leafshadow leafshadow. And the shadow strides into twilight. He is eternal dawn, reaching to beings unbeknown, dawnfinger dawnfinger. His hand is the map of man’s escape from the veil of tears, sunblossom sunblossom, onward—
Turns off tape. Hands her ball. Takes off glove.
KENNETH: Ball. It’s your ball.
MARY: Buh-fop.
MARY: Ball buh-fop.
KENNETH: Ball buh-fop. Do you remember what this is? You don’t remember much, do you? Am I talking too fast? Ball buh-fop.
MARY: Ball.
KENNETH: You know, I told your mother, I don’t know if I can come too much longer. Because I think I’m not going to do any kind of teaching for a while. Because I have some very important things. You know I also teach in the big school. The junior high school.
MARY: You’re the teacher.
KENNETH: And I’m your teacher too. But I really think they ought to put you in a special school. I mean you ought to go to a special school. Because I don’t really teach you much, right? Right?
MARY: Right?
KENNETH: What’s my name? Or they could put you in the zoo.
Turns on tape. Snatches her doll, holds it out of reach as she grabs wildly for it.
TAPE: And he flies on, to rescue the kidnapped orphans. And as he nears the forgotten city, he spots beings with faces split down the middle. Good on the right side, the other evil. Their faces are covered with feathers, very pale. They buzz for the night nurse. Onward!
KENNETH: (simultaneous with tape) Buy a newspaper. . . Story behind the headlines . . . The old x-ray vision. . . Buy some red underwear, just in case. . .
Lets doll fall in her lap. Turns off tape.
MARY: Mary.
KENNETH: That’s your name. Mary is your name. That is your doll. I am your half-assed, incompetent. . .friend, Kenneth.
MARY: I wanta play ball.
KENNETH: Hey Mary, what’s two hundred forty-seven thousand, one hundred fifty-six, divided by one and four-fifths? Give up? You’re pretty dumb.
MARY: I’m old. I’m about one hundred years, I’ll be one hundred years tomorrow. I’m not.
KENNETH: Not what?
Well, I told your mother I couldn’t come and teach you things any more, because I have other things to do, and also because I don’t need the money, and also because I can’t really take you seriously, and also because you stink.
MARY: Because because because because.
KENNETH: Say your ABCD’s.
MARY: Mommy goes to work on a bus.
MARY: Mrs. Day is my mommy today.
KENNETH: I told Mrs. Day to boil you in a pot.
MARY: She can’t.
KENNETH: Why not?
MARY: I’m going to boil you!
KENNETH: See, there was a time when I thought I could do good by teaching all the little kinkyheads. and I thought, gee, I could be a private tutor, enlighten the dim little noggin of Mary. But see, I saw a photograph where there were drawers full of naked babies. They all looked alike and they had their little tongues out like birds. I wanted to help them. They wanted to be fed. And you know what I fed them? Nails.
MARY: I got a doll.
KENNETH: I got a secret identity I drag around. . .like a big tail.
MARY: Big tail! Big tail!
KENNETH: Rah rah rah.
With her finger, he turns on tape. They watch each other.
TAPE: And he flies on, to the ends of the earth, bringing jokes. Jokes to bring the rainbow. Jokes to clear the air. Jokes to banish care, and the starving children cheer, Rah rah rah.
KENNETH: (simultaneous with tape) It’s ok, Kenny, they’re laughing with you, not at you. . . Ho ho ho. . . Haw haw haw. . . He he he he he!
Speaks in and out of sync with tape.
BOTH: He is indeed absurd, perhaps. But there is a choice. You wallow each day in the scum of mundane subsistence. Or you reach into yourself, somewhere deep, and find the last scrap of noble, heroic, mythic. . . something.
Turns off tape.
MARY: Mrs. Day is like this.
She makes a face. Long silence.
KENNETH: I’ve had a lot of trouble, Mary. I’ve met all these people, and they all look. . . You even look. . . And my encounters have been so dramatic. I’ve inspired such excitement already. I’ll be back in the newspapers any day.
MARY: You’re a funny.
MARY: Fun-ney.
KENNETH: We have a lot in common. I have this knack for looking into mirrors. They’re always women. You’re kind of a woman. Oh, I know a word. Potato. You’re a potato. Say it. Say “I’m a potato.”
MARY: I’m a potato.
KENNETH: The truth at last! Give her a scholarship! What’s the capital of Afghanistan?
MARY: Potato.
KENNETH: Hail, Mary. Am I mean to you, Mary?
KENNETH: Do you like me, Mary?
MARY: Yes.
KENNETH: Was it fated that we should meet?
MARY: Yes.
KENNETH: Well it’s too bad, because I’m not coming back.
Silence. He picks up her doll.
This could be me. Little Kenny. When I was a little boy, sometimes I was sad or silly or mean. And everyone said, “Oh Kenny, why are you sad or silly or mean? Poor poor Kenny, it must be his tummy.” Because I was little. And the years went by, and I was sad or silly or mean, and they stopped saying “Oh Kenny why?” I wonder at what age do you cross the line? When do they stop saying “Poor poor Kenny”? You cross the time zone, and you never know till you see a clock, and then it’s too late, it’s time for Phys. Ed.
MARY: You’re a poop.
KENNETH: I’m not a poop.
MARY: No no no no.
KENNETH: I’m the Atomic Hand.
He giggles. Silence.
MARY: I’m the. . .foof!
KENNETH: I’ve never told a soul. And now I’m telling you. You’re the first to know. See, you could be the faithful friend. You’re too silly to know better. And you might even see me fly.
MARY: Fly.
MARY: Fly.
KENNETH: Where is she? She take the laundry down?
MARY: Fly-y-y-y!
KENNETH: If you believe. If you truly believe. It’s all in the hand.
Takes out glove, puts it on as he speaks.
Forget the rest. The body is nothing. Look. Canker sores. No arches. Rib cage, it’s round on one side, kind of pointed on the other, I must have been squashed at birth. My left eye is weak, my belly is soft, there’s a large brown mole on my back, I wonder what its plans are. Hemorrhoid sometimes too. I drink too much coffee, I might die before I’m sixty, I might be over half dead. But the hand. Its powers transcend. Its scope is. . .far. It is the carrier of. . .the secret soul!
The hand animates, soaring, diving, blasting, erasing: a space opera dogfight. MARY loses interest, begins bouncing ball. He looks at her. Drains.
You’re the only one that knows.
MARY: You’re a buh-fop.
MARY: You’re a buh-fop.
MARY: You’re a buh-fop. Goddamnit buh-fop.
KENNETH: What’s a buh-fop?
MARY: A buh-fop is a fish buh-fop.
KENNETH: No, we have to pretend.
MARY: A buh-fop is a fish buh-fop.
KENNETH: I’m pretending to fly. Pretend.
He pretends to fly. Fails. Pretends. Fails.
MARY: You buh-fop goddamnit buh-fop fly buh-fop.
KENNETH: Please help me.
MARY: Buh-fop buh-fop.
MARY: It’s a buh-fop.
MARY: Buh-fop.
KENNETH: Don’t say buh-fop.
MARY: Buh-fop.
KENNETH: Don’t say buh-fop.
MARY: Buh-fop.
KENNETH: Don’t say buh-fop.
MARY: Buh-fop.
KENNETH: Don’t say buh-fop! Don’t say it! Don’t say it! Don’t say it!
Frenzied, he falls to floor, beating floor. Silence. In sympathy, she falls off her chair, sits on floor. Silence.
MARY: I want to be the friend.
Long silence. He gathers himself up, prepares to go.
KENNETH: This is our leavetaking now, Mary. I have done my professional best, though technically unqualified, and have accomplished nothing. You are too feebleminded for words. Words such as HELP and HELLO. Oh you know, maybe some day you’ll meet, oh, some fifty-year-old degenerate, he’ll haul you away and do disgusting things, and you’ll fall in love. Your little pig eyes will swim with joy. It will all come true.
She begins to cry, cries in great, gaping sobs. He tries to erase it, waves to make it stop.
What’s the capital of Afghanistan?
Silence. She thinks.
MARY: Potato.
Lights out. Dim blue only. Sounds: TV cop show. Light up on KENNETH: he sits atop the refrigerator. Sound fades.
From above, he opens freezer, takes out telephone. Dials, waits.
KENNETH: Hello. . . Hello. . . I’ll wait. . . Precinct? I don’t know. I want to report a disturbance. My name is Kenneth. . . Just Kenneth. . . Hello? I want to report, ok, there’s this guy, and he must be crazy, because he’s going around. . . He screamed at the bus driver, and he had all these boxes, and he’s walking around doing all these crazy things. He tried to put out a woman’s cigarette, jumped out of a phone booth and grabbed her cigarette, tried to put her out. He’s absolutely. . .absolutely. . .vicious. Look, don’t try to trace. . . No, don’t try to trace this call, because I’ve got a jamming device, with capacitors. You ought to be grateful. Yeh. You just better do something. Because it’s the Atomic Hand. . . The Atomic Hand. . . H-A-N-D, HAND! Just listen. He’s been in the neighborhood a week, and it’s going to be in all the papers. You think it’s just some poor idiot, but just wait. . . JUST LOOK IN THE ICEBOX, YOU BASTARD, SEE WHAT’S THERE FOR LEFTOVERS!
Hangs up. Silence.
Mama. . . Mama. . . Mama. . .
Lights up, front: at sunset. A woman in late middle age stands before boxes arranged in a formal row like gravestones. She holds flowers. KENNETH approaches, at a distance.
KENNETH: Those are beautiful.
FLORA: They really are. I think so.
KENNETH: I don’t remember the name.
FLORA: These are mums.
KENNETH: Crysanthemums. My mother said “cryzanthemums.”
FLORA: Either way, I guess.
KENNETH: Could I have one?
Starts to reach with gloved hand, stops, conceals it.
Other hand.
He takes a flower.
FLORA: My son.
KENNETH: These are my favorite.
FLORA: They were his favorite. Well, my favorite anyway.
KENNETH: I never keep up with the names of flowers.
FLORA: Do you have someone here?
KENNETH: My mother. No, she’s in Springfield, really. But I’m here, so I bought some flowers, and I put them on somebody else’s. . .front lawn.
FLORA: It’s nice you remember your mother.
She puts flowers on the grave.
Was he thirty-four years old?
FLORA: Was who? No, he was twenty-nine.
KENNETH: What happened?
FLORA: Why, he. . . There was an auto accident, he and another family. I think because somethimes he had these blackouts, I think there must have been. . .
KENNETH: Dreams.
FLORA: No. Just blackouts, where he’d kind of. . . And I was hard on him sometimes but. . . Your baby’s always your baby.
KENNETH: I always thought, what if the future isn’t coming? What if the past is coming? We just slip on a wet spot and meet ourselves coming back.
FLORA: I guess you never know.
KENNETH: The flowers smell good. Everything smells very good.
FLORA: I enjoy flowers.
KENNETH: We’d look at the seed catalogs, my mother, all the flowers we might plant in the spring. Make a rock garden. Gladiolus, carnations, rose of sharon, snowballs, phlox, mound asters, dragon’s blood. . .
FLORA: That’s quite a garden.
KENNETH: We never planted. We raised crabgrass.
FLORA: Oh, that’s a fright, I know.
KENNETH: Oh, we had plastic flowers inside. And she bought a record player, there were record racks on the wall, Guy Lombardo, and all those Negro jazz immortals like Nat King Cole. And she had the statue of a swan.
FLORA: I have some ivy and some African violets.
KENNETH: And we had a thing where. . .we called a molasses kiss. Just a big, wet, sloppy kiss. “Mama, I want a molasses kiss.” And I could be away, and I’d come home and she’d say hello and I knew what it meant. Whatever I was, whatever I did, she believed in me. I mean she believed I was there. It takes some imagination.
FLORA: I suppose.
KENNETH: You know the funny thing? You’re the mother. I’m the son.
She freezes.
This is just like the teacher’s lounge. Real school spirit.
FLORA: Well, I think I have to go now. I have a meeting at church. Bunch of old hens.
KENNETH: It’s not working.
FLORA: What?
KENNETH: Oh, now you’re going to think something is. . . The Atomic. . . Because something in the ruins. . . Like a clock stopping. . . GLONNNNNNNNNNG!
FLORA: I have to go.
KENNETH: You know where the teethmarks come from, Mama? From all the teeth.
Silence. Helpless grimace.
Say it: Kenny. . . Kenny. . . Kenny. . .
FLORA: Kenny.
FLORA: Now I want you to listen. I want to help you. Do you believe that?
KENNETH: Do I believe that?
FLORA: I know how you feel. I felt the same way. I couldn’t make sense out of anything. Like a chicken with its head cut off. I know, your mind just starts hopping around. I know what it’s like.
KENNETH: You know what it’s like. Are you my mother?
KENNETH: You’re my mother.
FLORA: All right.
KENNETH: If you’re my mother, then I’m your son, and we’re both planted here, getting ripe.
FLORA: I think you need some help. I’d like to help you. We could take a cab, I’ve got the fare, and on Wilson Avenue there’s a doctor, and right after the accident where my son was hurt, why, he helped me through that, and I’m sure he could. . .
KENNETH: If you’re my mother, I’m your son. The Atomic Knuckle.
FLORA: I understand how it is. Because I couldn’t. . . I was in my own world. You couldn’t tell me a thing. It’s nothing special, and the doctor could really help you know what you want to really. . .
KENNETH: Could really help me go crazy? Wish he could. It’s a bitch to scratch where it doesn’t itch.
FLORA: But I think if you really gave him a chance, because I was just the same, I was just upset, and that’s all, you’re just upset. The mind gets upset just like the stomach, and you have to get some help. . .
KENNETH: I’m the Atomic Godblessed Hand.
FLORA: It’s just like a dream.
FLORA: It’s just a dream. It’s a dream.
Silence. They stand motionless, numb.
KENNETH: Are you afraid of me?
KENNETH: You know what I can do? I can do something very bad. You read the newspapers? You know how they kill old ladies in dark alleys? And they say, “Oh, he’s mentally ill. It was like a dream.” And you lay there and babble and bleed.
Slowly, he takes gloved hand from pocket. Walks very slowly toward her. She is frozen. Abruptly, he becomes a mock Frankenstein, veering away, staggering, giggling.
Are you afraid?
FLORA: We don’t have to be afraid.
KENNETH: No, Kenny, go back to the trolls. Pledge allegiance.
FLORA: Would you like to come down to the doctor?
KENNETH: Let’s count to a hundred, and then I’ll come. Ok?
He stands absolutely motionless, barely able to speak. Counts slowly.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. It’s endless. Fourteen. Fifteen. Honestly. Sixteen. Seventeen. Eighteen. Nineteen. Twenty. Every day. Twenty-one. Twenty-two. Kenneth. Twenty-three. Twenty-four. Twenty-five. Twenty-six. Oh shit. Oh shit. Twenty-seven. Twenty-eight.
He breaks down.
At a distance, he flails at her, blasting, erasing. Stops at last, exhausted.
I tell you what. First I’ll pick up the flowers. Then you wouldn’t mind if I did my disappearing act. It’s done by shrinking. Day by day. See, now it’s time for finals.
Lights out. Dim blue only. Up center, the refrigerator door opens slowly, swings open, silhouetting them in its light.
Woman kneels by grave. KENNETH moves slowly up to refrigerator. Touches it gently.
KENNETH: This is how it goes. “What now?” says the Hand. And the man, the Kenneth says, “You deserve to be free, to fly to the realm of. . .while I. . .” And the Hand says, “Never shall we part.” And the Kenneth says, “Bullshit, Clark.” No, let’s do some work for Right to Life. This time it’s got to be for real.
He peels off rubber glove, drops it. Places tape recorder on floor near refrigerator. As he speaks, he takes off jacket, tie, slides wire shelves out.
This is how it goes. Go to the kitchen. Because if they don’t get their Wheaties, they start to shrink, and after thirty years they’re the size of a substitute. Open the door. Hamburger buns. Take out the shelves, take it all out, they all slide out and they all say “Be my guest.” Open the door and. . . Name all the parts of the body. This is my bellybutton, and heroes don’t need bellybuttons. Take it away, Sam. We say our goodbye. “Goodbye.” Open the door and. . . Let’s not talk about it. Let’s do it. Open the door.
He squeezes himself into the refrigerator. Takes off his glasses, places them in door’s butter dish.
Turns on tape recorder. As it speaks, he adjusts himself.
TAPE: Slowly the creature hulked into thickening fog. Was it for this that his quest began? For this he had tracked his secret, trackless soul? Were all who claimed the dimension of their birthright, were all thus fated to fail? And yet through him there lived a spirit reborn. His frail mortality shriveled in cold, while the eternal, mythic, heroic dimension would soar and be kindled by starlight. The End. . . Or the Beginning?
KENNETH: Close it.
Slams door shut. Woman, down center, rises, goes off. Light intensifies on refrigerator, standing in blackness.
A sneeze. Slowly the door opens, swings open. KENNETH sits, staring. Speaks front, into himself.
KENNETH: His quest must now be to fix the latch.
Untangles himself slowly, very stiff. Sits, feet on floor. Turns off blank tape.
Sit there about five hours. Try not to breathe, but you can’t hold onto the mood when you feel like an ass. Get out, start to straighten up, check the want ads under Mythic Dimension.
Puts on his glasses.
So what’s the story, Mac? So maybe. . . Maybe at thirty-five he got married, made a truce with the trolls, began to have kids of his own. Avoided between-meal dreams. And his children believed his existence, for nearly as long as he lived. That’s one way. Is that the way? Or like the man in Los Angeles, he put on a Superman suit, spoke the magic words and jumped out the window, bye bye. Another way. Is that the way? Is that the only way?
Turns on tape, records with reverb, clowning.
Turns it off.
Continued. After this message.
Fade to blackout.