Excerpts From The Verse Play, Tumbling Through
by Michele Merens
Devolution of language is often associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s. In my full-length play, “Tumbling Through” I chose to set formal literary style alongside rambling substance to depict the insurmountable language barriers a family must face once their wife/matriarch is afflicted with this insidious disease.
By contrasting Charlotte’s, Max’s, and Juno Denk’s* erratic communications against a fixed verse (mostly iambic pentameter) framework, I hope to make audiences highly conscious of the language chasms such families encounter on a daily basis. Like Jack and Jill in the children’s rhyme, loved ones carry heavy buckets of good intentions and heartfelt remarks uphill only to often find their best efforts “poured empty” against the slippery slope drag of Alzheimer’s, Aphasia or other language-impairing disorders.
In a subplot to the main story, cracks in habitual familial communications are also explored. As many of us know, pre-existing tensions between parents and children tend to fray in times of chronic strain and loss. We can see this fallout in Max Denk’s interactions with his adult son Juno, as both come together to witness and grieve Charlotte’s decline.
A final note: * Charlotte Denk’s “medical condition” will require any actress playing this character to strike two poses when onstage. She should alternately be communicating eloquently and in an isolated fashion when talking to herself (and by implication, the audience). She should also quickly shift postures to reveal a helpless and distracted persona when interacting with other members of the Denk family onstage.
I thank the editors of Verse Wisconsin for this opportunity to share with you the following excerpts of “Tumbling Through”.
Cast for excerpts of Tumbling Through (in order of appearance)
Max Denk: A heavy-set, elderly, balding man.
Charlotte Denk: Max’s wife, an elderly woman, she is
suffering the onset of Alzheimer’s throughout play.*
Juno Denk: Max and Char’s son, a man in his late thirties,
Terri Denk: Max and Char’s grandson, approximately eight years old
Sandra: Owner of an estate sale business, a businesswoman
of Hispanic descent
ACT I, SCENE II:
SCENE: THE DENK’S HOME, INTERIOR
An older couple’s living quarters. In the main living room, a hat rack for coats, a weathered sofa, some tables strewn with small knickknacks, pictures on walls, etc. The overall effect is cozy, middle-class clutter that could use some updating, but won’t receive the attention needed. The STAGE is divided along either an imaginary or propped line to indicate splits in rooms. Adjacent to the living room, RIGHT, the audience must be able to see a semblance of a three-season porch, with sitting area and room provided for at least two actors to inhabit the space at any one time. Most action will simultaneously take place in either the porch or living room throughout play.
As we open, MAX and CHARLOTTE DENK ENTER STAGE LEFT. Both are wearing spring coats/jackets of lighter material and CHARLOTTE is carrying a pocketbook. MAX moves CENTER STAGE to coat rack and turns to CHARLOTTE to help her off with her coat. She ignores him, however, moving in distracted yet determined fashion FAR STAGE RIGHT onto three-season porch. MAX sighs and removes his own coat/jacket, hanging it on coat rack. Simultaneously, CHARLOTTE (CHAR) can be seen STAGE RIGHT still wearing her coat on the three-season porch and placing her pocketbook, almost without noticing, onto a wicker chair.
Straightening, CHAR seems absorbed by
a ladybug trolling a wooden beam of the
three-season porch. One has obviously
surprised the other, although it is not
quite clear who has roaming rights.
(focused intently on ladybug)
So come in, Miss Bug. Small creature critter
You, who’ve always charmed us away from
Your insect bits and stuff. Black wire hangers,
Your legs, antenna, covered lovely though
By polka-dot attire. And a swell
Name too. You have the best publicity
(except maybe for Praying Mantis, by
Law sanctioned never to be maimed. All we
Can do to repent for stringing up a
Critter-praying man named Christ, I suppose.)
So should we all be charmed and not disturbed—
That in you, lady comes first; then the bug?
Shall we act as we might in the presence
Of a lady? Then come in, come in, live
In my home. Creep along the sill like a
Most crafty thief. Climb into my bedding
To peek, you voyeur. Leave slews of corpse shells;
Any massacring renegade would.
This may not be ladylike behavior,
Bug, but out of politeness to you, I
Will turn that blind eye. And so, please, come in.
With all these warm spells. Come under the door
You watermelon seed, spit up in a
Celebration of this season’s warm
Rubs, its newly-picked, juiced swallows. Here in
This city, there are no fields, only
Smog from truck exhausts, both short-haul and long.
Trains whistle, radios blare and cars can
Backfire, Max says, don’t worry on noise.
So I know, you get confused like me.
You find heat surging in vents here and think,
This place has something in it promising
Spring. The Sun, that liar, baits you in rooms
Where giants grow off the same heat and light.
But you’ve made a mistake. Coming here to
Our house, Mistaking our winter
For spring. Too early for a sweet warming.
You’re coming in here newly-born, but here
You’ll die; out there too? And which spots
On your shell are the age of you? Perhaps I
Should leave as you come in to find out the same.
What trees and grass and rocks can tell. How long
Before I, with my spotted mind,
Shall live or die?
Where are you Char? Out on the porch?
I thought to kill him the first time because
He snored. ‘Who gets the pillow over the
Head to get through this?’ I thought. The second
Time I planned to poison his food. When
He complained about the seasoning, I
Decided, well, no more seasons for you.
Char? Are you hiding?
MAX moves towards PORCH.
But now I’m glad I
Didn’t murder him. He’s proving useful, I
Am surprised to find. These days, he lets me
Be alone, he cleans all those rooms himself.
My old job. He tries to rearrange, but
I figured out what to carry off long
Ago. Here, on my arms and legs, all these
Wrinkled paths on skin. Like you, the same, bug,
Your dots, counted, charted, stowed. We travel
Light now. Aimed at the light. Max?
MAX moves onto PORCH;
Yes, Char, yes.
CHAR seems confused; to him,
I am-(takes a step) in.
(She flinches) Take your time.
Shh, sh. You tell me.
Char? Why are you so sad?
(Grabbing his hand, she brings him to far screen, we see
trees, lit, on backdrop)
They are just trees.
No. Come in trees. Take out—
The storm windows? But it’s not yet
A prudent time to not be on guard with
The weather. This is a three-season porch,
No. I can’t breathe. Come in, trees.
But why worry so about the trees, Char?
Why do you cry?
Why? Because we’re the same.
What God promised us is no more than He
Promised those trees. In storms. Sun. How they bow,
Turn to all the—days—nights—weather. How
They do bend, yet stand. (beat) Max, we waste our time.
What life may be like for trees in a storm?
Yes, they shudder…but pain? Maybe that will
Always be their tiring unknown. And
Maybe Char, you are tired too. We can’t
Fix weather but I’ll promise you all that
We can do. God gave us brains to put roofs
Over our heads, to be warm and safe.
God doesn’t love us more than He loves those
But He blessed us. We’re his caretakers
Us? No. We’re misers, so tit for tat.
The trees let fall millions of leaves, they
Work, work all the time on wind, and never
A rest, never a whine, “That’s it, I’m done.”
No God can’t love us more than He loves trees.
(beat, quietly) Max, whatever’s happening to me, I’ll
Keep working just as hard. I won’t complain.
(long beat) Oh, I see. Char, you do understand then
Why the doctor had to examine you?
He tentatively reaches for her;
But it was never your job to keep a
Roof over our heads. Don’t worry, love. Don’t worry. You are
Safe with me. May I—hold you up? Hold you
Like trees do stand? How highest branches will
Bend, yield strength, to bear whatever comes.
CHAR lets MAX embrace her from behind; they look out,
Char, when you look at those trees, do you think
Of when I was up there too, how you had to
Scale the skies with your glances to find
Me? Do you remember when I was a
Telephone repairman, twenty-three years
Fixing phones, helping people talk non-stop
Through wires, behind leafy curtains, a
Skilled puppeteer? My hard hat still hangs in
The bedroom closet on a hook. My gloves,
My black boots, my walkie-talkie
Belt--all astronaut gear for low-flying
Trips. “Who’s up in the trees?,” children would scream
To mothers, “Tarzan?” And most mothers, who
Feared one day their children might climb beanstalks
Would close their blinds, shutter me away. Who
Cared, if I fell, who cared? And no, children
Never knew I mostly plucked bird wings and
Turds out of phone boxes each day. They thought
I was a man who played with lightning in
The trees. “Yes, lightning,” the Mamas said, and
When they asked me, I’d solemnly agree.
“That’s right. Lightning there, electrocution.
If you haven’t yet learned about danger
Learn from me. Danger’s everywhere, in
The crackling air.” All I wanted, though,
Was for them to climb up too. After I
Shooed birds off lines, tossed flashlights, radios,
To the ground below, I’d show them all the
Secrets hidden up there, camouflaged by
Trees. How inside each box coils of red
And black wire licorice were stored, how
The adults knew and hid this great truth from
Children; hoarded for themselves the pleasures of
String candy chatter; chewed and chewed and chewed.
Then these good children, armed with the truth, might
Declare a mutiny, latch onto my belt,
Saddle my hips with their monkey-squirm
Thighs, and like a family of circus
Folk, long-necked sword swallowers, bulimic
Contortionists, those who’ve spent their whole lives
Sashaying the trapeze without nets, we’d
All head on out to those wires, me a
Pied Piper bobbing children astride
My belt, holding hostage with each step the
Licorice-pinched, sour faces of their
Parents, gazing upwards. No more. No more
Lightning Man. Cell phones and digital, who
Needs us storming the poles? Let the boxes
Rust orange, squirrels leave their nuts behind;
I’m grounded and standing firm, in most ways.
CHAR abruptly breaks embrace.
When are we going?
We’re home now. No need to move.
Home? This place?
Isn’t it? Home for you?
Where’s my purse?
(noticing purse on wicker chair, retrieves it)
Yes, yes, your purse. All these years, you wouldn’t let
It out of your sight, into mine. Let’s look
Now. See what matters to you most.
(tries to take it from him, nervously, he gently resists)
Aside, to herself/us;
Your wife is no good, please forgive. I hide
My secrets in this purse. The flavors of
The candies I chew, how they make my mouth
Erupt where he does not; red berry, grape.
He doesn’t know. And I have lied about
Weight on my driver’s license, lied by a
Good twenty pounds. If I go missing, let
No one put up on the T.V. this truth.
Greater sins, my wallet holds. Beyond the
Fold, a hundred-dollar bill, for the one
Day when maybe I would want to flee, ride
A bus away from all of this, with all
I could afford. This one bill--.
(finding bill in wallet)
What is this?
Char? One hundred?
Give it, give it, oh please.
But what are you doing with this money?
Something once. I--can’t remember.
But it will be of no use to you now.
We can buy groceries. May I have it?
Would you like? My plan I
I just—would like it. Yes? Thank you.
What else can we pull out of a purse? Oh
See, Char, your brush. (he sets to brushing her hair) Close your eyes, let me Run
These prongs through where strands do river at your
Widow’s peak. Don’t make a face. I’ve always
Been in love with the points where you diverge.
That name I don’t like. I’m not a widow.
Language cuts blunt, I agree. No reason
To brand widow on your forehead when your
Husband brushes not more than a whisper
Behind. See, don’t worry.
(he leans over, kisses her neck)
Oh, you startled
No one said open your eyes.
Breath on my neck. You stole my calm.
Me brush some more, over, forget,
Want to forget.
No more brushing, please! Look!
There’s a mouse.
No mouse. Some grey hairs corked in
Prongs, some fluff.
A mouse, a ball of fang and
Fur in my hand, tailed up from its warm
Burrow after a deep hibernating
Spell. A season gone, she’ll never miss it.
Never had an inkling.
Char, stop playing
With hairs! Come on—come, you’re scaring me. (slowly) You
Do know this is only an old ball of
An old bald hare? But that’s you, Max! That’s
(as she smiles, he joins in laughing)
O.S., sound of door intercom buzzing, dog barking. CHAR, frightened, turning
(rushing to the door, FRONT STAGE LEFT)
It’s the door, the doorbell, Char.
MAX mimes opening DOOR. JUNO and TERRI enter STAGE LEFT, merrily
(to TERRI, brief nod at MAX)
That ends with an A.
Oh yeah? Atlanta.
And that’s another A.
Oh, I’ll get you
For this. My turn now?
JUNO hands MAX their coats, to hang on rack, continues with son,
No good, Dad. Antarctica.
A trap? Arkansas.
That ends in a R?
(growling) Ends in a S. You’re old enough to spell.
Leave him be, Pop. We’re just playing a game.
Well, it’s bothering me. This chit-chat you
Do with him, this endless saying nothing, noise,
CHAR approaches tentatively,
You scare me!
I want to play
Geography with you.
(to CHAR, noticing her distress)
Me to play? What does that—what does he want?
What’s wrong with Grandma?
Why can’t he
Leave me alone when I’m so tired but
No he’s all the time growling in my ear…
It’s Terri who’s come to visit us, Char.
The dog’s quiet, not even close by.
Let’s watch what we say around Terri, Pop.
He’s sharp as a knife.
Of course, he’s sharp. And
Who loves him best? How—
MAX goes to hug; TERRI pushes him off, a frightened boy,
’Bout a hug, Terri?—Ow!
You’re knife-sharp, boy?
(clinging to JUNO’s arm)
Dad, Grandma scares me.
(in whispered aside to TERRI)
It’s all confusion.
I’m playing with knives, see! (to TERRI)You’re old, pretending
To be small! Go away!
Don’t worry. I’ll
Explain it to you later.
(sharp, refocus on JUNO)
Where’s your wife?
You’re missing Claire? Hey that’s good news, I think.
CHARLOTTE moves STAGE
RIGHT slowly, back to porch.
(with great remorse, watching her leave)
No she’s not thinking of Claire. But she’s with
Us. Love the ways she still rhymes, son, if you
Can’t love more, love the bob in her voice now,
The joke in that rhyme. It’s the best she can
Give the boy she gave birth to, she’s tired.
What did Dr. Breen say? Is head or heart
Not cooperating? Will her rudeness
Be a constant part of illness? Terri’s
Clever, he hears.
Oh your son, who cares? He’ll
Forget that God swooped in and let me laugh
As my wife made her puns. I don’t laugh much
In this house anymore, but I can thank
Her today. Not you.
Well, I’m sorry my
Visit with Terri upsets you. I hoped
Your grandson would please you two; he always
But that’s all you’ll
Get from her now, what she was before! Don’t
Ask for more! As for me—(to TERRI)
—you want Grandpa?
Fine, I can still bring up the last crumbs in me.
Here come, Terri, play a game of chess with
Me. And Grandma will rest out in the sun.
MAX directs TERRI to chess game on table in living room; the
two sit to play as JUNO watches.
Wait, Pop. I’m sorry. How can we help? I
Didn’t mean to—.
Sure. Terri. Line up your pawns
So the Queen’s protected.
We protect the
Queen most of all.
Not exactly. It’s the
King we normally protect; not today.
We’ll play however you want today. I’m
Wary, weary, following the rules.
Have to understand, I’m deeply concerned.
The doctor was unequivocal? So
Alzheimer’s the condition she’s facing?
Alzheimer’s, or a phase something, he said.
Did he order tests, follow-ups? How far
Along is she?
Since you called,
I’ve done research on the Internet, found—
Medication. Sometimes, it can slow
The progression of the disease. Not in
All cases, but test trials reassure.
If we track symptoms early enough,
(tired) The progression of stall, this
Disease. The doctor, he said listen for
Shifts in sentences. Not just what’s recalled,
How she comprehends.
What stage is she in?
Did he say?
What stage? I don’t know. I come
In as audience. I sit and wait for
Our heroine to cue up for each
Scene. When she appears, I applaud, then wait
A while more. But come, see for yourself!
Leave Terri with Claire, visit and watch
What stage she is in, on, if she remembers
Pop, I would but, well, you’ve got to
Understand. This news hits twice as hard with
(sarcastic to JUNO)
Don’t worry for your Pop, boy. I can
I know. It’s not just you and Mom, though.
I worry…uh, this sounds so selfish, but…
But I’m Mom’s nesting doll and her collapse
Precedes mine. We both swim in the same gene
Pool. If you trust numbers as I do you
Cannot agitate the odds or load the
Die, to gin a better game. It could be
A few decades. But my future walks this
You don’t sound selfish.
No. Just cruel.
Your turn next, Grandpa.
I’ll tell you, here’s your
Choice, Juno! Join up as her caretaker
Now or abandon our lighthouse. Hug
The shoreline to avoid muddy and
Low muddled waters for however
Long you can!
Pop, please I don’t blame you. But
Don’t you think I’m terrified? To see my
Future mapped out in her? That no matter
What, all I’ve learned, earned, it comes down to this;
Losing your mind.
Take care now. This is your
Family! Not just at one end, but the
Other. The whole package you tend!
Handle as much as I can, but she’s your
Wife. You had a vote. And I have my vote.
My family. Remember what you and
Mom taught me? Marriage is our last,
Best place to join as eager volunteers.
All she has done for you. And me too-we
Are, after all, your parents, who raised you.
Instead you act the bystander? Give me
Your money, buy your tickets then sit, watch
A show? Take poison with tonight’s dinner
Theatre, then. The doctor himself gave me
The dose; it’s Alzheimer’s. (moans, rubs face wearily) Give me a joke,
Son. I’m dying to laugh.
To laugh? Laugh, Pop?
Okay. Remember how bad it was when
You gained twenty pounds?
Yes. I moaned like each
Step of mine broke the earth…
But now you’ve gained—
Remember what you called the
Neighbors on Wilson? Their house was beside
The Pugs and their plug. Yes. Oh!
(his laughter turns bitter)
Every joke you say though, it counts on me
Remembering. Or playing with the words.
And this is what she can’t do any more.
My poor girl, she has lost her chance to play.
And what is life without the play? I guess
What she said it is now, life for a tree
Or a bug. Life can go on without the
Urge near to play or pray or remember.
Life missing its God nonetheless goes on.
And is she damned now, poured until empty?
Pop? Where are you? Don’t scare Terri.
I am sorry. I won’t scare the child.
Terri, Pop. Don’t scare my son.
Don’t scare her
From the sun—that’s what you should say! Don’t scare
Her away from her place on the porch now;
One place where she seems to calm. The doctor
Will put her in some black cave machine to
Take some pictures of a brain and call it
Help. But how will that help when she thrives in
(glancing at her alone, on porch)
The porch brings her peace? What is
Happening out there? What does she see or
Angle, try to understand?
What does she
Know by gazing, gazing on last night’s lawn?
We must think Hiroshima without a
Camera, I suppose. What I guess she
Does see, in her cataract mind (and that’s
How I conceive it, that cataracts in
Her brain cloud the view) is a nuclear
Blast plumed. Without, this time, a recording
Device hinged on an airplane’s wing, filming
How a population does indeed fray
Seed-like, off a dandelion shoot. Or
Audio, to hear, how any sound would
In the wake of Hiroshima-swept death,
Collapse into the same needled noose of
Air, the same odd movement, down then up, quick,
To stitch, silent, a tunneling, black sleeve.
Thread sound and silence one and the same.
MAX also looks to porch;
Days she sits on the porch, half-in, half-out,
Making choices. I think she does believe
Out there exists the next room she will dwell
In and so decorating choices have
To be made.
I mean, she has this new affinity
With the trees I don’t quite understand. She’s
Lived in the city, just like me, you, she
Didn’t care much about Nature one way or
Another. No, we cared more about the
Bus stops, how they protect from assaults of
Weather. And car interiors, just how
Comfortable it was behind the wheel
Of a Chevy after a day trip quite
Far. Sometimes we might wonder how to
Squeeze an eyedrop’s worth of sun from April’s
Miserly spring sky. Or why the lake was
Too martini-cold-and-dirty, to swim.
Now she’s suddenly entranced with Nature.
Surprised by a new inheritance, and
It’s never too late to plan.
In our yard. She says the trees
Are helpless, suffer keenly from shifts in
Our weather. She can feel their aches
Along her spine, she says; their roots strained, pained,
Pushing up against soil. Char still has
This logic in her, I think, for sometimes
I have these pains too. Meanwhile God has
Long deserted this house; I find myself
Bitter-mouthed to His lemony, stinging
Taunts up along my lips, in my nostrils.
He pauses, seems to realize JUNO and TERRI with him,
makes brisk move on chess board.
But I am laughing, also crying as
I share with you my darkest truths and yet
Because you are my son, I swaddle
Us both, just like a good father should, in
Secrets I don’t dare share, and so you see,
It is me who is alone in the end.
No! I cannot breathe!
Stop! You can’t castle
Me, Grandpa. It’s not your turn, but look! Your
King’s off his spot.
MAX pushes away game,
I don’t have energy
To play with your son while she’s alone,
(peevishly) Dad, when can we go?
CHAR is returning to the living room, in sing-song mocking voice,
Max, when can we go?
But Grandma, you’re home!
Can we go? Max? When can we leave?
(standing, waving off JUNO and TERRI)
JUNO pushes TERRI gently STAGE LEFT,
Grandma’s scaring me, Dad.
Don’t say that!
They EXIT, STAGE LEFT.
ACT II, SCENE I: Denk’s home, INTERIOR,
same as before.
Lights turn up, CHAR stands on porch, dog barks, and MAX
rises from chair, to door,
addressing dog at his heels,
Shush, Bloomers! You yap as loud as three dogs,
A three-headed dog! Who’s out there?
MAX unlocks door. JUNO ENTERS STAGE LEFT, carrying a laptop.
Juno, come in. Why are you here?
I didn’t call.
First to apologize, Pop.
Mom’s behavior when I see her has been
Shocking, I’ll admit. But I don’t handle
Things well. In my confusion, there’s been no
Chance to steer attention your way.
Is done. The sad truth I’ve faced since setting
Out on our journey, we can’t turn back.
I agree. Not any of us can turn
Backwards, we must move ahead.
This laptop will help you out, Pop, you’ll see.
You can take it anywhere.
I don’t know.
Not too interested.
Pop. Please. Listen.
You’ll need to know things as Mom moves through her
Illness, the different stages. Use the
Internet to help you. Here shift. Cap.
But I already shift, to move her from
Bed to chair. Her thoughts shift –like a rug off
Its mark when the doorframe comes up on it,
When a door moves too far, ajar.
MAX sits on sofa next to JUNO as JUNO sets up laptop;
It’s not much like a typewriter.
In some ways, it’s like a typewriter. See,
There’s keys. All you have to do is go to
This part of the screen here and type in
Subjects you need to know about, a few
MAX types a bit, then stops.
Take a breath. Try again.
MAX types a bit more, then,
No, these keys, they’re not working for me! Not
Connecting, not working. And a son shouldn’t
Give a laptop to his father who all
His life gave a real lap, felt his weight,
Felt his squirm.
Just give my lessons for you
A chance, Pop. There’s too much at stake. I can’t
Leave here knowing you don’t have a way to
Find help when you need it,
The phone! When I call, pick it up! I used to fix phones
So that people could come together no
Matter how far apart; but you, you don’t
Come when called. No, never as a child,
Or now. You—leave that unhappy job to
Play referee to your wife. You print
Out what I need, you order the pills I
Tell you! Be there for me Juno.
MAX stands, starts to pace.
JUNO starts to close laptop.
Access to your doctor’s signature. You’ll
Have to scan--.
No, you! You order her pills
Online. Do the inventory. I’ll give
You the lists!
Pop, let’s not do this now. We
Just need to get through.
Oh? Why? On your watch,
Only fifteen minutes? Now what, fourteen,
Thirteen minutes left in your heart for me?
And already –you have that look on your
Face—Sorry, Juno, too bad. And don’t come
To me with new ways not to deal, to
Mute me; a screen, a mouse you call this, to
Nudge with my palm, nudge me away? Do you
Think I can unravel this mind, simply
Go? I cannot. I’m trapped.
No one is trying to—
You come here with computers to insult
Me? Show me bridges I’m too old to cross?
I taught you to fix toasters, wire lamps.
You show me what I don’t know, as retort?
You are cruel, Juno. You give me no more
Then she gives now. It’s too much, get out, go!
JUNO rises, EXITS STAGE LEFT,
MAX closes door behind him.
Dog whimpers at heels. To dog,
And we don’t need him, Bloomers. We will be
Fine without his what, rubber mouse, in my
Palm, as small as any of the pills she
Takes, as small as your dog food bits, this is
Nourishment? To roll this marble about,
Play a child’s game? “This is the world,” he
Says. “Click a point on the screen, it’s a map.”
And the world’s flat again, not real, so
How do we touch? “Oh, easily,” he says.
“This is our world now.” (with disdain) Juno. He’s an
Arrogant Columbus. Only bowed in
His petition to the Queen, he whispers,
“Trust in me, the world is for you.” Oh, the
Sovereign should have cut out his tongue for
Such insolence. But no, Isabella
Funded his expedition, and Juno’s
Mother would’ve done the same! All mothers
Believe, most assuredly, in the launch.
Isabella, I say, the Empire
Could’ve stayed on to be Spain and Spain and
What else matters but Spain, but no, she was
Greedy for more. They were all of them so
Greedy for more. And you know, I’m smarter.
When an arrogant Columbus comes to
My door, saying, “Trust me, I will give you
This world”, Bloomers, trust me, we must not be
Greedy, make those mistakes, put empires
At risk! We have a wife to care for, a
Wife who’s our only true queen. We have
No time for noble adventurers when
Our attention must be to pills not
Pins on maps, to caring for the Empress –
And not the Empire’s wealth, no, not now!
LIGHTS OUT ON SCENE; When LIGHTS come on again, we see,
ACT II, Scene III: Denk’s home, INTERIOR.
Although we are in the Denk’s home again, the stage is transformed by clutter in the form of boxes strewn about. Prominently, STAGE LEFT, in living room, a rolling rack lined with men’s clothes on hangers, fine suits, pants, shirts, ties, etc. sits in the living room, just near imaginary border to bedroom. Tea kettles, vases, silver, assorted plates, etc. poke out of open boxes laid about the floor. CHAR is out on the porch, absently sitting, staring.
In living room, SANDRA, an attractive woman with dark, Hispanic features, walks about the Denk’s living room alone, pulling items out of boxes, and affixing colored stickers to each item. As she works, she talks to herself,
This Danish silver, no it’s silverplate;
These plaster masks depicting Comedy
And Tragedy in this house, hung on a
(in a loud voice, to MAX, O.S.)
What pattern is your china?
(to herself again)
A shame how fashions change, how these plates are
So lovely hand-painted from France, but lead;
No one shall eat off Marie Antoinette’s
Plates or they’ll die from poisoning, eh? We’ll
Sell them in a lot on EBAY, I think.
Also, I see that she knitted, oh she
Was mad for knit-one-pearl-two, huh? Can’t you
See she was all about squinting. Those eyes
Of hers, squinting so, fell out, I bet; rolled
Under the bed, eloped with the dust mites,
Then ran back to Mama, protect us please
From what we saw out there. Put on blinders,
Click shut the gates! We will never roam far
From your skirts again!
(laughing to herself).
But just look how she
Swallowed herself up small in this house! The
Doll-size this and doll-size that, a full-blown
Tiny city tucked in drawers. We will
Get less than the cost of sorting for small,
Perhaps some dollars here, there, not worth the
Commission. My lot in life, to barely
Profit from these lots, ha, ha, I’m too kind.
I give respect to the people, still, not
Their things. Everyone tells me, “Sandra, you
Will always fall short with your generous
Ways.” Oh, but I’m too soft so it’s my fate
To be poor. God’s work gets the best of me
In these homes. Don’t the charitable folks
Tend to pay and pay?
MAX enters BACK STAGE LEFT, as if from bedroom, drops another box
Sell it all!
Important to keep?
I believe close to
Nothing. These closets are stuffed with simply
Things, without her nod or explanation,
Oceans of her things pooling about.
I walk through undertows each day. She wore
Her boots in the house once, I believe she
Felt half-drowned too.
Of course, it’s too much. That’s
Why I’m here to help.
You do. You remind
Me when appearances had value. When
We opened our home and our things
Would shine—now I can’t summon up the time
Or patience. Instead, I must tend to this
Invisible world she’s ushered in, be
Alert merely to her smells and her sounds.
MAX EXITS DOWNSTAGE RIGHT
(to herself) Alert to smells? But the carpets wouldn’t be
So filthy then, would they? And how can I
Sell in such a mess? How can I sit here?
MAX ENTERS DOWNSTAGE RIGHT, carrying another box. As he does,
(to himself, noticing SANDRA) I like that a woman, who knows enough
To wear perfume, earrings, visits me too…
MAX EXITS DOWNSTAGE RIGHT
Still, I guess I’ve known worse, encountered
The tail’s end of how many lives? What
Their pyramids are filled with? Chipped china
Remnants from an Occupied Japan. This
Decanter sporting the most handsome stopper,
A steed in black pewter. Postcards from
Those loved ones loyal to the wrong sides in
The war. Tea kettles that lost their lids in
Steamy tantrums are still stored below.
SANDRA heads to clothes rack, starts to examine ties, suits,
Husband, however, he’s spent a lot
On clothes; in this regard, a dandy who
Does not know rhythms must compensate
With some different bebop built in, to
Hang along all his rafters, advertise…
These ties! Such materials! Faconne
In a fine pattern. For the holidays,
MAX ENTERS DOWNSTAGE RIGHT
He joins SANDRA, to rifle through clothes.
Foulard for late August. Gabardine
You know your fabrics, Max.
Yes, I’m a snob. Each week, we went dancing…
The door buzzes and MAX heads DOWNSTAGE LEFT
to answer it. JUNO enters. On porch, CHAR stirs.
I’m here to help.
Oh Juno, lift this box.
MAX indicates they must move BACKSTAGE LEFT to bedroom, and they
head to it. JUNO briefly EXITS BACKSTAGE LEFT, while MAX
stands NEAR WING, talking to him, directing. SANDRA
continues work in living room, with boxes.
(MAX to JUNO O.S.)
The woman tagging our possessions, she says
The hardest work comes when you creep into
The spaces you don’t know; when you open
Closets you have forgotten, and find there
In the silence, shadows, a life that will
No longer fit.
JUNO enters BACKSTAGE LEFT,
drops box in living room.
(alarmed, as she looks at a pair of pants)
Why are labels showing the size cut
(she pauses, then rifles through rest nervous)
Every suit, shirt, these pants. They’re missing
Any hint of size.
MAX and JUNO hurry over, all pull out clothes, start checking
them. Finally, MAX stops, and gazing towards porch, says in
slow, shocked tones,
She did this, I think.
(long beat, as he examines shirt he holds)
Her last attempt to be kind, before she
Couldn’t. In realizing my fierce pride, she
Bowed to it. I was always embarrassed
Because of my size. Now I won’t be.
No labels? To know sizes? Should we guess?
This could be a problem. Buyers at the
Sale won’t buy.
(slowly to himself, a stunned revelation)
She’s leaving me a map, a
Trail. Crumbs on a path to her world. She is
Showing me, us, a way to come along!
MAX starts to smile, then chuckle softly. His behavior confuses
SANDRA, infuriates JUNO, who demands in frustration,
Pop, how could you leave Mom anywhere near
MAX shrugs his shoulders,
laughs helplessly. JUNO
turns to SANDRA, nervously,
(to SANDRA) How much will her confusion set
Us back? Adding it all up, how much will—?
(interrupting them, excited, laughing, giddy, yelling)
How much will
She set us back? Who cares? Who cares, we can’t
Go back! It’s no fun counting backwards.
(he takes a breath, laughs, shaking head, then to JUNO)
Remember Juno? The game I taught you
That my Papa taught me? Counting backwards
In how many languages?
You, you’re a
Saleswoman. Understand this talent,
(to JUNO) What’s he saying?
Come on, Juno. You’re so
Worried about remembering, here’s a
Mental sharpshooter’s game. And what are
Numbers but game pieces
We roll, pretending we can hurdle to
The infinite when our abacus
Comes tooled with ten slim fingers, ten toes!
(to SANDRA) Clearly, he’s stressed. Forgive him.
Maybe we can still fix this?
JUNO thrusts clothes he is
holding towards MAX,
Pop, can you
Recall if these pant sizes were the same?
Which you wore twenty pounds ago? And now?
MAX pushes JUNO away.
Why? (irritated) These clothes fit, and who cares what numbers
Mean? Numbers don’t have any logic to
Them, numbers just have grief or joy to them.
A joke that logic in the numbers can
Relieve anxiety. Old people grieve
Around their numbers, don’t you know? Weight, age,
And money—all these totals head for their
End points. A final mark. A tired sum.
(beat, His attention turns to porch where CHAR stands, lit in
backdrop, focused on something undistinguished in her view.)
Her craziness has wonderful sense to
It. I am just starting to understand.
Her way to come along.
(an announcement) These suits and pants
Won’t translate. Only useless testament
To ego now.
(to MAX, pointedly)
They won’t last beyond you.
(back to SANDRA)
That’s not the worst is it? To know the world
Will not exist beyond your firm fit?
(a beat, then SANDRA smiles softly at MAX, a nod)
(tired) On the porch. Like some cat.
She stirs cream out of sunlight to feed.
JUNO and SANDRA exchange glances. MAX notices.
I see. I should go too.
Fine. But tell me, Juno. When will you be
Done? When are you going? Forfeit your claim!
MAX angrily leaves them, heads
for porch. Silently, SANDRA and
JUNO resume work.