an uncertain ache
(an extremely loose adaptation of A Slight Ache by harold pinter)
[brian eno’s neroli is playing at middle volume as audience arrives. dim light. at curtain time, edward appears onstage and thanks audience for coming. he then changes the music to tomas koner’s topographie, at high volume, extinguishes the light, and stands facing the audience in silence for 45 seconds. he exits thru the back. 30 seconds later, flora appears from the kitchen and sits down at the dining room table, slumped forward, head in hands, weary. approximately 2 minutes pass. rain and birds appear in the music as drones fade out. 45 seconds later edward reappears from the back, plastic shopping bags in both hands. as he comes into the dining room he turns the lights up. flora looks up at him and smiles wearily as he passes in response to his “hello honey”. he deposits bags in kitchen, off stage, and returns to dining room- he asks flora if she would mind if he turned down the “music”. “no problem”, she answers. he goes to the study table and turns topographie to a low enough volume that it will not overpower the dialogue. he approaches the table.
ED<<< honey- guess what? beans were on sale at rockwell’s for 15 cents a can! isn’t that almost insane? (goes into the kitchen briefly and does a little unloading) pinto, great northern, kidney, black, white, red, hyacinth, pigeon, mung, fava, velvet, lentils, garbanzos, mertons, diamond blues…
(flora resumes an elaborate organizational task spread out all over the table. moving papers, objects, photos into different piles. every now and then ripping something up or putting something into a garbage bag. taking photographs of the objects, of the piles, or taking a photograph of one of the photographs...she is possessed and in a world of her own. edward comes back into the room and watches flora nervously for 15 seconds or so))
ED<<< (playfully) hey- I noticed something quite fetching out in the garden this morning…
FL<<< (pause) oh yeah? what was that?
ED<<< well, that’s just the thing- I’m not sure- it’s running alongside the shed, on the side facing away from the yard-
FL<<< (distractedley) the honeysuckle, dear
ED<<< oh…huh…is that honeysuckle? I thought it was…I don’t know…convolvulus, maybe?
FL<<< sorry, hun.
ED<<< really?…I thought it was convolvulus, somehow…well, whatever it is, it’s in wonderful flower…
FL<<< (still busy with her project)...yes, I was out there myself around 5 this morning...appreciating it...back by the firepit along with the convolvulus blooms- (pause) hey- have you ever thought about making a bean mosaic or necklace?
ED<<< uh...no, not really...but I suppose now that you...wait- did you just say that the convolvulus was in flower?
ED<<< but hold on- didn’t you just deny that there was any?
FL<<< I was talking about the honeysuckle.
ED<<< so there is some actual honeysuckle out there?
FL<<<(calmly) edward- you know that shrub running alongside the back steps? it was originally planted by///the carters when they first decided to
ED<<< yes, yes- I know the one.
FL<<< that’s convolvulous.
FL<<< (exhausted) yes.
ED<<< Oh. (pause) I thought that was japonica.
ED<<< could you hand me a banana?
(she does do)
(he peels, has a bite)
FL<<< have you by chance seen my rhinestone belt around lately?
ED<<< (pause) uh...sorry honey- I can’t say that I have...
FL<<< what about that log cabin needlepoint?...the one that used to be outside the bathroom, upstairs...
ED<<< ah...no...but I’ll keep an eye out...
FL<<< oh, they’ll turn up eventually
ED<<< (pause) flora- how can anyone be expected to distinguish between so many plants?!?...many of them so impossibly similar!…that it requires…what?...literally, an entire lifetime’s experience…
FL<<< no one expects you to, edward...
ED<<< this has never really been one of my strong points, you know…
FL<<< (nods distractedly) yeah
ED<<<(again watching flora)…look, maybe we should think about making a little map or guide to what’s out there-
FL<<< (smiles at edward)...didn’t you propose that last year?
ED<<< yes...I might very well have...but that piece for field and stream came up, if you recall....things are a bit more relaxed now...anyways, an overhead view- that would be easiest…18 by 16 inches, perhaps- we could probably get marcus to laminate it- simple sketches of the various plants alongside simple descriptions- maybe a brief history…the latin name, if there is one…I could study it…you see?...I could spend time with it out in the garden…with map in hand, I could maybe get to the point where we avoid this periodic confusion…
FL<<< and what about the plants themselves? do you see yourself spending any time with the actual plants?
ED<<< what do you mean?
FL<<< (finally stops her tasks and looks straight at edward) ok…just try and visualize for a moment- put that down- seriously- sit down- c’mon (convinces edward to sit down) now close your eyes for a second-
ED<<< but flora, how am I supposed to/////understand what you’re-
FL<<< just for a second- close your eyes- (he does so) ok...first, take a couple deep breaths…relax a little...deep breaths...deep breaths...that’s better...deep breaths...ok, then: what might you do with the plants once you’ve memorized their names and locations?
ED<<< ok…let’s see here…so you really want me to visualize?... ok, then…well, uh, I could...uh...watch them, of course...I could watch them swaying back and forth in the breeze, if there was one…I suppose I could...maybe...water them…right? isn’t that what gardeners do? if I learned which were the weeds I could weed around them, perhaps…keep them clear of intrusion, suffocation…if that word is appropriate…and...uh...if you told me beforehand that you would like such and such an organism to supplement dinner- something along the lines of a tossed salad, maybe- well, I could remove that organism from the garden and bring it inside, into the home…
FL<<< (pause) ok, edward- good...keep going- keep imagining yourself out in the garden alone-
ED<<< (almost amused) ok…well, I suppose I could just...well, just reach out and touch the plants for no reason at all (chuckles)…I’m not sure I’d ever actually do that, but since you’re asking me to essentially brainstorm…(suddenly serious) hey, honey- do you think I should jot some of this stuff down on paper?
FL<< no, no, hold off on that for a second, edward- I want to know more about what you would do out in that garden alone...
ED<<<…touch the plants, watch the plants, study them…uh, maybe look for indications of ripening...I suppose I could also investigate the various fragrances…that could be fairly interesting…(pause)…but look, baby- hey- can I open my eyes now? (“sure” while staring despondently) this would all come only after I had really studied the map- I can’t just go barging around back there without some kind of orientation- maybe we could set a little time aside this very evening? (pause...no response from flora...she is staring despondently out the window) flora?
FL<<< (mechanically) edward dear, sure, I’d be happy to help you out with the identifications.
ED<<< (hesitantly) why, thank you flora- maybe some time after dinner?
FL<<< listen, I was up around 5 this morning sitting for a considerable period in the chair back by the firepit....(pause)
FL<<<well, it was very calm, you see…very quiet… and yet, the whole place seemed to be…almost…trembling…
ED<<< trembling? what do you mean? at 5 o’clock in the morning? were you cold? were you shivering?
FL<<< no, edward, it wasn’t me trembling- I was perfectly calm- it was the garden itself that was trembling- I was just sitting there watching it happen-
ED<<< were you doing one of your visualization exercises?
ED<<< you were just sitting there doing nothing?
FL<<< that’s right-
ED<<< huh…that’s a little bit weird…
(flora continues looking despondently out at the garden.)
FL<<< what about that old circular canteen that was covered in canvas? it had an adjustable shoulder strap...about this big, or so? brown canvas? (motioning with her hands a circle with approx. 8 inch diameter)
ED<<< wow...I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about...(pause)...why do you ask?
FL<<< no particular reason...I just came across a photograph of it...
ED<<< from how far back, approximately?
FL<<< probably just after college...
ED<<< are you sure it ever made it into this house?
FL<<< yes- I am- I had it with all our camping stuff up in the attic-
ED<<< and you’ve looked there already?
FL<<< yeah- multiple times now.
ED<<< so...what...you just want to see it?
FL<<< yeah- pretty much- but no, I might drink out of it also...eventually...
ED<<< like...on a camping trip?
ED<<< plenty of outdoor opportunities at this time of year...
FL<<< an infinite number.
ED<<< (pause) well, speaking of the outdoors...I was thinking about setting up the card table and canopy out in the garden and sketching out a few new ideas I have for an article-
FL<< (coming out of despondency) really? (smiling and looking at edward surprised) the canopy, huh?
ED<<< well, yes- for sun protection, of course...that haughty bastard…thinks it’s so freakin’ tough...
FL<<< (pause) are you talking about the sun?
ED<<< I am.
FL<<< well honey, it is pretty tough, I’m afraid-
ED<<< I know, I know, I know- there’s no use in complaining- it’s actually a very agreeable morning-
FL<<< (with unexpected pathos) do you know what today even is, edward?
ED<<< uh...saturday- right?
FL<<< no, edward- it’s the longest day of the year.
FL<<< yes- the summer solstice.
ED<<< oh my, well then, let me pay my proper respects...summer standing tall and proud (shaking his head)…summer really lording it over us…these bloggers, these editors- god, even marcus, the neighbor boy- a mere lad of 10- have you noticed? even he seems to be lording it over us these days-
FL<<< what on earth are you///talking about?
ED<<< wait!- don’t move! there’s a wasp-
ED<<< don’t move- cover the jelly!
FL<<< the lid’s in the kitchen
ED<<< just use your hand then!
FL<<< huh? where is it, edward!
ED<<< wait- don’t move- not a single part of your body!
FL<<< where is it, edward?!?
ED<<< hold on…wait…ok, it’s gone into the jelly…hand me the lid, very slowly-
(flora starts to go to the kitchen)
ED<<< wait! stop! don’t move! just freeze every part of your body!
ED<<< hold on…ok, get the lid, quick…quick, as fast as you can…
(disappears into kitchen, the sound of dishes being rummaged thru, then returns with the lid, hands it slowly to edward)
ED<<< (reaches for the lid, puts it on) whoa- that was a close one.
FL<<< (flora sits down and puts her ear near the jelly) edward, I can hear it-
ED<<< hear it?
FL<<< yes, it’s buzzing.
ED<<< no way. it’s an air tight seal they make for these things.
FL<<< no, just put your ear down close for a second- it’s becoming frantic, it sounds like-
ED<<< should I take it outside and release it back into the wild?
FL<<< I think if we can....
ED<<< yes (goes out to the back door) ok- you’re free, little wasp- fly away, little fella- go on- fly back home to your buddies…(pause) huh- (comes back in) it looks like it’s burrowed down under all of the jelly-
FL<<< maybe if we dig it out with a spoon (going into the kitchen)
ED<<< what would we do with it then?
FL<<< maybe if we can clean it up a little somehow...
ED<<< you want to nurse the wasp back to health?
FL<<< I don’t know…(coming back into room from kitchen and peering at edward with spoon and bowl in hand)…hey, is there something wrong with your eyes?
ED<<< no- why do you ask?
FL<<< you keep clenching them, blinking them hard-
ED<<< yeah, I guess I do have a slight ache in them. just a slight ache- nothing serious- as if I’d been up for several days and nights in a row.
FL<<< did you sleep ok last night?
ED<<< I did. uninterrupted. as usual.
FL<<< and yet you feel tired this morning-
ED<<< I didn’t say I felt tired. I merely said that I had a slight ache in my eyes.
FL<<< (going over to jelly and noticing the jar) it’s moving around in there.
ED<<< let’s just kill it, ok?
FL<<< you want to kill it?
ED<<< just a suggestion-
FL<<< how, exactly?
ED<<< stick the spoon in there and crush it against the side of the jar.
FL<<< what if it bites?
ED<<< flora, wasps don’t bite- they sting…it’s snakes you’re probably thinking of…and rodents...and certain household pets... that bite.
FL<<< oh, whatever- I guess if we wait long enough, it’ll just suffocate in there.
ED<<< honey, I need to get started on a few things, ok? I can’t wait around all morning attending to the fate of this wasp.
FL<<< and you think that I can?
ED<<< well, kill it then!
FL<<< I’m not convinced yet-
ED<<< well, I am. I’m sorry. I guess that’s just the sort of twisted, cynical person I am. (gets up, goes into kitchen, comes back holding a teapot with oven mitt)
(flora glares at edward)
ED<<< I’m dealing with the situation head on.
FL<<< what are you doing?
ED<<< I’m going to scald it.
ED<<< do you mind taking the lid off?
(flora ignores edward-remains staring at the wasp in the jar)
ED<<< ok, no problem- I can do it myself. (takes lid off himself and pours) there. vicious creatures…funny, but I don’t remember seeing any other wasps yet this summer.
FL<<< oh please.
ED<<< no- I’m serious- this couldn’t have been the first wasp this summer?
FL<<< no, I can assure you edward- it wasn’t.
ED<<< (getting up and looking out the window at the garden) we are a lost people, flora…we are a corrupt and irredeemable people (shaking head)…but still- it has to be stated- what a beautiful day! I know you probably think I’m being sarcastic now, but I’m not- I think I really will go ahead and do a little work in the garden. where is the canopy, anyway?
FL<<< in the shed of course..
ED<<< ah yes, the shed- that would be the obvious place for it…shelter from the storm, from the sun (still looking out the window)…not a cloud to be seen- flora- tell me if this sounds familiar at all- “an unobstructed glimpse, a stumble- I crawl like a worm, from that moment forth- humble.” (flora gives him a very strange look) something from the old testament, I think- jeremiah something or other- or maybe it's lamentations...hmm...in any case, I saw it scrawled on a dumpster behind rockwell’s this morning…people are weird in this town...and getting weirder every year...so, is it really the longest day of the year? (flora goes back to her organizing project, doesn’t respond)
that seems appropriate, somehow- synchronized with the flow of the artistic process. this is going to be a productive and enjoyable day, I can feel it! I don’t know why- I just feel it- in my bones, as it were. and look, honey- I’m even wearing clean clothes! dear god, look at that flowering shrub by the rain barrels- clematis. yes. what wonderful ideas we come up with whe//// (stops suddenly- looks intently out the side window)
ED<<< (with pathos) he’s there.
FL<<< (distractedly) who?
ED<<< he’s there, flora- holy shit. he’s there again at the back gate!
FL<<< (for the first time seems generally interested, drops her tasks and hurries over to edward) …(she moves over to the window)…(with a smile) oh sure, the matchseller.
ED<<< he’s back again.
FL<<< he’s always there, edward.
ED<<< but why, flora? why? what in god’s name is he doing there?
FL<<< relax, edward, he’s never disturbed you, has he? I mean, he’s been pretty much standing right there all summer. why are you only mentioning it now?
ED<<< but why? that’s my question! just a single word- why? (no response) what’s he doing there, flora?
FL<<< he’s selling matches, apparently.
ED<<< but it’s crazy! ridiculous! what time is it, anyway?
FL<<< it’s probably about 10-
ED<<< my point exactly! what in god’s name is he doing with a tray of matches at 10 in the morning?!? why is he even trying to sell matches by hand in this day and age?
FL<<< I’ve discovered he often arrives before 7 o’clock.
ED<<< before 7 o’clock?
FL<<< yea, he’s usually always there around 7 when I come down to feed ping.
ED<<< ok…but have you…I mean…have you…ever actually seen him arrive?
ED<<< well then, how do you…wait…flora- my god- what if he’s been standing there entire nights thru? what an unbelievable thought! flora, this man might be completely insane!
FL<<< I’m guessing you find him...interesting, edward?
ED<<< interesting? no- that’s a bizarre choice of words…interesting?...no, I can’t say that I find the man interesting.
FL<<< well, I think he’s a very sweet and yes, maybe slightly unstable man- seems very alone in the world- seems a little unsure of himself- but something of a gentleman, really...something very formal about him.
ED<<< that seems like a bit of an understatement...so you’ve talked to him, then?
FL<<< no...but I’ve nodded hello a few times.
ED<<< and did he nod hello back?
FL<<< no, he didn’t
ED<<< well then, how do you know he’s so sweet? how do you know he’s not plotting some terrible revenge on the world?
FL<<< oh, I don’t know...
ED<<< you know what he sort of reminds me of? that creepy guy behind the dumpster in Mullholland Drive. (pacing, wringing hands)...for two months he’s been standing on that spot- do you realize that? (flora nods) two whole months! I haven’t been able to step outside the back gate!
FL<<< why not?
ED<<< christ, flora, it used to give me such pleasure- strolling thru the long grass back there- you know, secretly glad that marcus was a little tardy in cutting it- strolling thru the yard, pacing for no particular reason, thinking about my next article, and then on out thru the back gate, into the alley, and further on into the countryside-.
FL<<<...the countryside...countryside...has always been essential...to both of us...maybe not in quite the same way, but still-
ED<<< yes, yes, of course- absolutely essential- but you see, ever since our entrepreneurial friend out there has shown up, this pleasure has been, more or less, completely denied me! that man out there has been, in his very quiet way, interfering! interfering in a creative and natural process that is already well underway- surely you have been feeling the same pinch yourself?
FL<<< no, not really, edward- I still go to the countryside whenever I want...I don’t know ...don’t you think you might be being a little over dramatic?
ED<<< look flora- I’m sorry- I can’t act freely, ok? maybe you can...you’ve always been a somewhat bolder person than me...and look, while we’re on the subject, I may as well admit it right now that I probably haven’t helped out very much with the garden…(no response)…ok, you’re right…I haven’t helped out at all. but that man out there is largely to blame for it! not completely, but largely!...(pause) do you remember that big storm last sunday? well, honey, it just so happens I noticed him- ok? I didn’t say anything at the time, but I noticed him- and guess what? he just stood there. stock still, while it raged away all around him.
FL<<< (still looking intently at matchseller) he didn’t take cover?
ED<<< none whatsoever! nary a movement, whilst the night just thundered on, all about him.
FL<<< (very slowly and seriously) edward, this is all very hard me for me to understand.
ED<<< what do you mean?
FL<<< I mean, specifically, that all of this is very hard for me to accept.
ED<<< me too, flora! me too! think about the time element here! and do you know- I’ve never seen him sell a single solitary box! not one! as if that should come as any surprise! look where he’s trying to supposedly rustle up business! it’s not even an alley! it’s a barely used earthen footpath! christ! why is he even trying to sell matches by hand in this day and age? there’s what- 3 convenience stores in a 7 block radius? I mean, if he insists on selling matches don’t you think he should probably be out in front? maybe on the sidewalk or street? or even better, the bike path? people might pick up a few boxes out of sheer curiosity.
FL<<< edward, I’m telling you- you’re getting worked up over nothing- he’s a quiet, harmless man who’s disturbing no one and no one needs to disturb him- just let him go about his business- he’s harmless, ok? If he wants to try and sell his matches who are we to get in his way?...(pause)...a simple man...simple pastime...simple desires...simple products...he’s selling matches, for christ’s sake! sure, it’s an outdated profession, but really- come on! what’s the big freakin’ deal? since when have you been so touchy about alternative lifestyles? let it go, ok? he’s entirely harmless!
ED<<< honey, I never said he wasn’t harmless…of course he’s harmless…how could he be other than harmless?
FL<<< exactly…now couldn’t we give this a little bit of a rest? please? [edward gradually calming] look, why don’t we go out there together? I can do some of this organizing out at the card table with you- does that sound ok? edward?
ED<<< I don’t know honey...I’m worried...
FL<<< about what? what are you afraid is going to happen?
ED<<< (pause) how can you be so casual about it? since when have you been so cool with strangers hanging around at the edge of our property?
FL<<< I guess it’s just a matter of having the proper perspective-
ED<<< you think I lack perspective?
FL<<< yes, in this case, I think so-
ED<<< so what is this “proper perspective”, then?
FL<<< simply that there’s no harm being done- and no indications that there’s going to be any in the immediate future...we can all co-exist, honey...for the time being at least...can you just try and relax?...(pause) can we head out there now and do a little work at the card table?
ED<<< (bewildered, exhausted, resigned) I guess, honey, I guess...but I”m still////
FL<<< don’t worry, don’t worry- get your writing things together and I’ll meet you out back-
ED<<< (shrugging) ok, if you say so...
(fade out) (interlude)