III: The Voyager Returns
Cast scorn on the informer, reject his report.
PAUL is straightening his clothes after the interrogation. He is dressed in an elegant overcoat, hat, etc.
The STORYTELLER wearing a white fedora sits near the ornate desk.
PAUL approaches him and takes the other chair.
He takes off his coat. He picks up a pad and pen and starts writing.
STORYTELLER: Take this down.
PAUL: (writing) I already am.
STORYTELLER: I haven’t started yet.
PAUL: Yes you have.
STORYTELLER: Many years ago when I was a younger man . . .
PAUL: Not like that. It doesn’t start like that. It’s already started. Can’t you see it.
They look intently out in the direction of the audience towards come point in the distance.
PAUL: Earlier today at Emilios, having coffee with one hand tied behind my back I was thinking about this.
(He strikes a most peculiar pose)
Do you know what the caption would read?
(He strikes the pose again)
PAUL: “Regret the future.” The Russian journalist, the one who plays golf so astutely during revolutions, was at Emilios. I struck the pose. He shouted the caption . . . across Emilios. “Regret the future.”
He strikes the pose again with the precision of a flamenco dancer.
STORYTELLER: (starts again) Many years ago when I was a younger man I journeyed for some . . .
PAUL: Why not have dinner instead. A good dinner. We shall run into our mothers’ arms. Las Marismas down on the corner serves a good steak, or Nijinsky’s on the Boulevard Tolstoy. We could go there. Cafes on either side. St. Petersburg rising in the mist. Perfect, impossibly delineated architecture of a lover’s heart. Or we could go visit that painter Reems, who’s painting his own breathing. He’s always eager to share his work.
(sound of a breath, exhale inhale)
ANNA turns a page of the book.
STORYTELLER: (starts again) Many years ago when I was a younger man I journeyed for some 19 months in the general direction: east. When I returned I stepped lightly and easily into my usual life, and considered myself, although 19 months older, completely unchanged. I had heard many tales during my travels and at the time I listened to them all with the detached interest of a tourist, never suspecting they were my own.
RASKOLNIKOV enters. He is in a great rush.
RASKOLNIKOV: Listen I have a plan. I mean a question. There are two old ladies who live in my apartment who have turned themselves into cats. Most annoying. The whole country is falling apart. Have you noticed? Well, never mind. Now you know my apartment. Corner of Varick and King.
(both men nod)
You know how noisy it is.
(both men nod)
You know how it is truly two apartments identical, one a mirror image of the other, with the two little kitchens both useless fit into the corridor so absolutely no one but a cat can possibly reach the sink. And the diagonal bathrooms.
(both men nod)
And you know how one half of the apartment is filled with the old ladies’ junk who live there as two old cats. Two old cats whom I feed. Which is part of my agreement with the two old ladies. Can this agreement be held up in the courts? An agreement made with two parties who have transformed themselves into cats. Or is the apartment mine? To consult you as a lawyer on this very point. I’d like to know.
PAUL: You have no time for this digression. Give him his answer quick and hope he leaves.
STORYTELLER: The legal system makes no allowances for transformation. You will have to ask them to transform themselves back to old ladies in order to be able to take them to court and obtain the lease on the apartment.
RASKOLNIKOV: Thank you. I will take care of everything as soon as I return. I am going to Belgrade to fix my teeth. It is worth the price of the journey. That’s how cheap the dentists are. And yet the whole city has appalling teeth . . .
He leaves in a great rush slamming the door behind him.
STORYTELLER: (continues his story_) Spring, of the year 19 hundred and blah blah, (_he clears his throat) many years after returning from my journey, I collapse utterly on the Rue Saint Jacques.
Unable to sleep, I had gotten up for an early morning walk.
Dawn, the Boulevard, 6:15 AM. Madame S. has been cooking since before daybreak. The early morning sky turns a peculiar shade of lavender. A voice reaches me out of the gutter, Eh, monsieur, c’est pas mal comme boulot. I have no answer for this beggar. He therefore assumes he is right. Madame S. gently folds the heavy cream into her Potage du Balzac. The sound of gunfire carried on the wind from Spain, and all around me lovers’ murmurs floating over the white dawn streets. Madame S.’s soup, I notice, is exactly the same colour as the morning sky.
ANNA KARENINA enters: she is dressed in velvet and fur.
ANNA KARENINA: Herr Avocate. There is a little matter of a train and my life. Consulting you would be a great favor. It would ease my mind. Vronsky, it turns out, is totally lacking in imagination. Most annoying. And I am quite bored. Things as they are are of very little interest to me. I walk on highly polished glass. Which was not my intention. I am stuck in the house and have no one to speak with. Not from my heart. How can I live a true life under these circumstances. The country by the way is falling apart. Most annoying. Have you noticed? Well, never mind. Can you spare a dime?
The STORYTELLER hands her a dime
She exits in a great rush, slamming the door behind her.
ANNA turns a page of the book.
Elsewhere the SOLDIER is sitting on his haunches. Trashed coffee pot and remnant of fire still remain. He reads by torchlight. A figure lies asleep beside him.
STORYTELLER: (continues his story) A roar begins in my ears—that of an approaching locomotive filled with deserters delirious at the new names they have just been given for their journey. I do not speak Spanish or Portuguese. I am for all intents and purposes mad.
My legs buckle, rather, a force propels me to my knees. The roar grows louder, the impending arrival of a certain kind of knowledge against which the doctors write long and useless prescriptions. I am overcome with a longing the depth of which cannot be fathomed. In an instant it destroys the structure of my physical frame. Language moves away from me at great speed and is sucked back into its original source.
PAUL and the STORYTELLER listen.
TRIGORIN: I have an idea.
Your book will never be published. I hate to tell you. By the way I’ve won an award. My book is coming out in London. My book is coming out in New York. I’ve had a wonderful time. I’ve had breakfast lunch and dinner and dinner lunch and breakfast. And a fling. You look depressed. I ate in all the best restaurants. I will list them by name and I will tell you what I had to eat and which night it was I ate it and how it affected my digestion. And I met Tom & Andy. Wined and dined in all the gourmet restaurants of the uhhhhh Holy Land. Where I read my work along with Zunzi and Milosh. Well respected poets. And the place was full. I had no idea so many people knew me there. Perhaps they came to hear Milosh . . . . Well, never mind. The curator invited me to lunch and the Vice Chancellor invited me to dinner, at the Cinemateque overlooking the Western Wall.
TRIGORIN: (to PAUL and the STORYTELLER ) Who are Tom & Andy?
TRIGORIN: (as he is walking away) How often have I called your name. My former life rises up from the wheat in the evening light. My heart . . . Construct myself again. Exhausting. Quotations rise from the grass like photographs. Overexposed. Who will write them down. Not me. I’m eating. When will we run into our mothers’ arms again. By the way, the country’s falling apart. Have you noticed? Well, never mind. You talk of nothing but highways anyway. Find the person you love and fix them with your third eye. That way they’ll never leave you. My advice to you. Thank you.
He leaves in a great rush crossing with the ASSISTANT SUSHI CHEF who enters in a great hurry. He holds a huge dagger inlaid with amethysts.
ASSISTANT SUSHI CHEF: I am writing a novel. It’s called The Dead Souls of Dead Fish.
The STORYTELLER lies in an ornate bed wearing his white fedora.
STORYTELLER: I am, of course, put to bed. Where I am overcome with a longing to gaze endlessly into another’s eyes. My wife, my children, my friends, for the most part, cease to invite me out of my room . . . . I understand them.
It is an imposition. Time consuming. Slow . . . anarchy.
I, too, when an acquaintance or a friend for whatever reason would hold my gaze even for an instant too long, would turn away politely. In that polite instant I tore them limb from limb, destroyed their homes, for that inconvenience, that unpardonable diabolical imposition.
Let the devils and the angels pass.
After a time only a small child, the niece of a servant in my home, would enter my room. My food was sent in with her. She would sit at the end of my bed. And did not mind my gaze. Returned it seriously. I would awake after a short nap to find her humming softly to herself. Later dancing.
A small GIRL sits at the end of the bed humming. At the sound of voice offstage she kisses the man on the cheek, picks up the food tray and disappears into the light.
STORYTELLER: In those moments there was a profound peace in the room. I called her Anna. After someone else I had once met. You see Anna spelled backwards is still Anna. This pleased me at the time . . . comforted me. A great deal.
The STORYTELLER lights a candle which is on a table next to the bed.
THE STORYTELLER: Cairo 1939:
Six months into my journey, on descent into that city. Our propeller plane was damaged upon landing. The air company, now defunct—there will be no records—put us up for the night at the Alexandria hotel in the center of town. It is there that I met Anna. She sat quietly in the corner of the huge, high ceillinged lobby. I was struck, bone tired, and the word inconvenient droned in my mind. Something was inconvenient. The names of the streets, the temperature of the sky. I sat beside her. She wore a thin white blouse, the cuffs of which where held together by cufflinks—on one was the head of a tiger, on the other a setting eastern sun. On her scarf, which was pale gold, the letters of an alphabet unknown to me ran like a river.
It told many stories.
It told the story of the soldier and the queen.
—Elana Greenfield is the recipient of a 2004 Whiting Award for writing. She is the author of the book At the Damascus Gate: Short Hallucinations (Green Integer, 2003). Her play Nine Come is slated for publication in the anthology New Downtown Theater forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press in 2006.