Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.
WHAT THEREFORE GOD HATH JOINED TOGETHER, LET NOT MAN PUT ASUNDER
ST. MATTHEW 19:6
Darkened stage. Light slowly comes up behind a couch. The heads of two people seated on the couch are silhouetted. Beside the couch there is a table upon which lies a pair of binoculars. A silhouetted hand reaches out to the table lifting the binoculars up to the eyes.
Y says nothing.
X: What’s he doing now?
Y: He’s just standing there at the window looking out.
X: At us?
Y: You wish. We’re in the dark. How could he see us?
X: He must be lonely. (Pause) Let me see.
Y continues looking.
X: LET ME SEE.
X grabs binoculars away from Y, and puts binoculars to eyes.
Y: No need to get nasty about it.
X: I think he’s looking at us. I really think he is.
Y: No way. We’re totally in the dark. He can’t be looking at us.
X: He must be so lonely thinking about us over here.
Y: You idiot. He could care less.
X: Now who’s getting nasty?
Y: Well, I mean, really. How could he think about us when he can’t even see us. He doesn’t even know we exist.
X: Let’s do him a favor then and turn up the lights.
Stage lights come up revealing two actors side by side on a couch bound together as Siamese twins, wrapped ankle to ankle, leg to leg, torso to torso. X still has the binoculars.
Y: So? Is he doing anything now?
X: He’s just standing there at the window looking out.
Y: The same thing, right? With or without the lights, he’s doing the same thing.
X: He must be so lonely standing there at the window looking out at us.
Y: HE CAN’T SEE SHIT. God, you’re weird.
X puts down binoculars angrily.
X: That hurts. That really hurts.
Y looks away sternly.
Y: (Pause) I’m sorry. Let’s not argue.
X: Say he’s looking at us then.
Y: AHHHH! I’m going to kill you.
X puts binoculars back up to eyes.
X: He’s looking. He is.
Y: Let me see, let me see.
Y grabs binoculars away from X.
Y: He’s standing in exactly the same spot staring at exactly the same thing and it’s not us.
X: Fooled you, fooled you.
Y: I AM GOING TO KILL YOU.
Y starts hitting X.
X: Go ahead. Go right ahead. You’re hurting yourself more than you’re hurting me.
Y: Think so?
Y takes X’s ear in hand, twists it and doesn’t let go.
X: Owwwww. Okay. Okay.
Y: Say he’s not looking at us. Say he doesn’t even know we exist. (Y twists X’s ear harder.)SAY IT.
X: Owwww. He’s not looking at us. He doesn’t know we exist.
Y lets got of X’s ear.
Y: Fine. That’s what I wanted to hear.
X rubs ear.
X: Jesus, you scare me sometimes. What do you care whether I think he’s looking at me or you or … or the Queen of Roumania. I can dream can’t I?
Y: Yes, you can dream alright, just don’t let your dreams infringe on my reality. Grow up, will you?
X: I’m just as grown up as you’ll ever be and don’t you forget it.
Y: Let’s just be quiet for awhile. I’m getting a headache.
X: YOU? (X rubs ear.) I’m the one that’s hurting.
Y: Shut up, please.
X and Y are quiet. Pause as X and Y try and ignore each other.
X: I’ve thought of it, you know.
Y: Thought of what?
X: How I’m going to kill myself.
Y: How? How would you do it?
X: I think I would jump. Yes, I’ll jump.
Y: Very funny. (Pause) You’re so dramatic. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing. I was right here. I saw you reading the review of that Elephant Man bullshit. And you haven’t been the same since. You have developed an excessive sense of drama and I don’t intend to suffer by it. Soooo dramatic. So very, very dramatic. This talk about killing yourself, it’s ’night Mother, isn’t it? Isn’t it?
X turns head away.
Y: You’re so susceptible. You just never got over it. All that false hope and sentiment. You’re too sensitive.
X: You’re driving me crazy. I’m going crazy.
Y: DON’T YOU DARE.
X and Y stop arguing. X and Y begin giggling. X and Y stop giggling. X sighs.
X and Y on couch.
X: Oh, nothing.
Y glares at X.
X: I was just thinking that I’ll never forgive you for not letting me go into show business.
Y: Look, that wasn’t show business, it was sideshowbusiness. There’s a big difference. You don’t take me off at night and go home. Abbott and Costello. Martin and Lewis. Sonny andCher. —that’s show biz, not me plus you, you hyphen me. Get it?
X: Don’t get so huffy about it. You don’t need to remind me of my reality, believe me. Not at this particular point.
Y: But apparently I do.
X: I could’ve made it. I could’ve been a star.
Y: I’ll tell you something, right now Mr. Entertainment—if you don’t stop talking like that, they’re going to come and lock you up and throw away the key. And I’ll be the one to make the call.
X: Lock me up? Me? What difference would it make? Tell me. (Pause) You’re going to wake up one day and I’m going to surprise you.
Y: Hah! What are you going to do, run away to the circus?
Y: Right. Over my dead body.
X sulks. Y picks up a magazine from the table, flips through it, throws it down. Y slowly looks over to X, Y begins singing “I Got You Babe.”
Y: “They say we’re young and we don’t know …”
Y stops and waits for X to join in. X pretends not to notice, pauses, begins singing loudly.
X: “Won’t find out until we grow.”
Y: “Well, I don’t know if all that’s true …”
X: “… but you got me …”
Y: “And babe I got you.”
Y: “I got you, babe.”
X and Y: “I got you babe.”
X and Y applaud each other. X and Y laugh.
Y: Oh, that was a good one.
X: Do you want to play checkers now?
Y: Why bother. I always win. It’s too boring. (Pause) Don’t forget we’ve got to write that letter.
X: Not now. Why spoil everything when we’re having such a good time.
X: We can’t put it off forever you know.
Y: Oh, alright. How about … I’m thinking of a number…
X: Ummmm. Five.
Y: Shit, you never guess right.
X: Watch your language, okay? And you think you can do better, smarty-pants? I’m thinking of a number …
X, shocked, says nothing.
X: That’s right. That’s it. That’s the number I was thinking of. You can’t … Can you read my mind?
X: What am I thinking now?
Y: You watch your thoughts, pal. You expect me to say that out loud?
X: Eeek! You can read my mind.
X: (shouting) Invasion of Privacy. Invasion of privacy. You just better stay out of there, buster. It’s not fair. As it is now I can’t even talk to myself. It’s not fair. There are laws, you know.
Y continues laughing.
X: I’m going to call the cops. It’s not funny. I have secrets. I have a right to privacy.
Y starts choking.
X: Good. Die. Die, why don’t you. Free me. Leave me in peace.
Y still choking.
X: Read my mind now.
X throws his head back and laughs, stops suddenly. X glares at Y. Y choking. X gets worried. X starts pounding Y on back. Y calms down.
(Pause. Y chuckles.)
(Y chuckles again.)
You think I can read your mind. That’s another good one.
X: You mean you can’t?
Y: It was just a guess, a lucky guess.
X says nothing. X shakes his head in disgust.
X: I hope you’re happy now. I was already paranoid. Now I’ll never be able to trust you.
Y starts laughing.
X: You’re a devil, an absolute demon.
Y: That’s not the first time I’ve heard that slander, you know. And from better people than you. Sticks and stones, sticks and stones …
X: Give me the binoculars, please. I want to see if he’s looking at us. It’s all I have to live for at the moment.
Y: Oh, please.
X: It’s true.
Y: Someone’s look? A passing glance from a stranger standing in a window? That’s what you have to live for?
X: Well, those are the facts, they just happen to mean something different to me obviously, than they do to you.
Y: You wretched thing. You’re simply ungrateful, aren’t you?
X: And exactly what is it I have to be grateful for?
Y: You’ve got a roof over your head and food in your mouth. You’ve got your health and you’ve got …
X: I’ve got …?
Long pause. X and Y star straight ahead. X takes binoculars and looks towards window.
X and Y on couch.
X: We’re so different. (Long pause.) If only …
Y: Is it Mom you blame?
X: No, I don’t blame her. Not really. I try not to too much, anyway. However, I do think it was taking the family unit one step too far. (Pause) Maybe it was drugs in her body.
X: What else could it have been?
Y: SHE WAS CHRISTIAN SCIENCE. You’re not forgetting, you’re denying. She was Christian Science. That’s why we were never separated. You really are nuts if you think she took drugs and got us in this pickle and then wouldn’t allow us an operation to get out. If there’s one thing she was it was consistent. Oh yes, you’ve got to give her that. It was straight Christian Science down the line. No medicine, no doctoring, no technology, just faith and acceptance in what had happened, was happening … is happening. Until now, when …
X: When it’s possible but really dangerous.
Y: Now that she’s … now that we can decide. We’ve got to …
X: I know, I know … the letter. I can’t think about it just now. Oh, I want to take drugs so much.
Y: Hey, remember this is my system, too, you know. At least now it is. No funny stuff, okay? Nothing that I don’t know about. Is that agreed?
X: Oh, all right. Party pooper.
Y: Need I remind you again of that time you got drunk?
X: We got drunk.
X: Oh that was fun, wasn’t it? I felt real … a real normal experience.
Y: It was disgusting. You were a monster. Reeling all about the room yelling obscenities out the window to passersby and babbling in tongues to me. It’s a wonder you weren’t arrested or that I didn’t have you arrested. There was nothing normal about your behavior at all.
X: It was glorious. It was normal. It was a normal drunk.
Y: I’m glad you think so. You were drunk and even when you finally passed out you ended up shouting in your sleep all night.
X: (in a whisper) He thinks I was asleep.
Y: I hardly slept a wink that night you tossed and turned so. And the next morning … all that moaning. And I had the hangover.
X: That’s what’s supposed to happen.
Y: Not to me. Never again. I lost a full day by having to stay in bed because of your drinking.
X: Well … how about on special occasions? Like my birthday?
Y: Don’t get me wrong, I like a drink as much as the next man. There definitely are reasons to drink. Just don’t go overboard. Moderation is my creed.
X: (quietly) Fuddy-duddy.
Y: Excuse me?
X says nothing.
Y: What did you say?
X says nothing.
Y: I know what you said. I may not have heard it, but I know what you said.
Long pause as X and Y say nothing. X reaches over and begins to tickle Y. Y tries not to laugh, pushes X’s hand away.
X continues to tickle Y. Unable to control himself any longer, Y breaks into hysterical laughter which ends in a scream.
X and Y sitting on couch. X slyly puts finger up nose while sneaking a look at Y.
Y: (sharply) Are you picking your nose?
X quickly pulls finger out of nose, dangles hand down beside couch, says nothing, looks away. X discreetly wipes finger on side of couch.
Y: You pig. Are you wiping boogers on the couch?
X: I don’t feel like getting up and getting a tissue right now. Do you? I don’t.
Y: You know I would if you asked me. That is so gross. Next time, if you’re not willing to do it, please just ask me.
X picks up the Village Voice from the table.
Y: What are you doing?
X: I’m looking through the listings. What I wouldn’t give for my own place. I’d kill for my own apartment.
Y looks askance at Y.
Y: You know … I doubt seriously that individuality is all it’s cracked up to be.
X: Maybe not, but I just never thought I’d spend my entire life in a contact sport.
Y: Maybe you won’t.
Anyway, just think about it: anything that’s called personal space can’t be all that great, now can it?
X: That’s true.
Yes, you’ve made me feel better.
If only …
Y: If only what?
X: Well, if only … I was so much in love.
Y: Oh, God. Here we go again. (Looking upward.) Jesus, pull the plug, will you?
X: There’s no need to be cruel about it now. You were cruel enough then.
Y: Yes, I was. I had to be. I put a stop to it.
X: Yes, you did.
Y: She was nothing more than a gold-digger.
X cranes his neck looking all around the couch.
Y: What are you doing?
X: Why you silly goose, I’m looking for all the gold, of course.
Y: Ha Ha. Make jokes. Just because you underestimate your own value doesn’t mean I do. (Pause) Besides, love’s an artificial stimulant anyway.
X: And how would you know?
Y: I know, believe me, I know.
X: Remember that night she came over and we danced and laughed and made a little love?
X elbows Y in the side. <br
X: And she said that she was beginning to believe that it really ultimately didn’t make any difference to her—that true love found a way.
Y: Ah yes, love. Love is a powerful source, I’ll have to grant you that. But life is stronger, more brutal and willing to do absolutely anything to survive.
X: Survival? What’s all this about survival? Maybe for you, but we were in love. Our whole lives were in front of us …
Y puts one finger into each of his ears and begins humming loudly, swaying back and forth as X continues. X shouts to make Y hear.
X: … I had never felt such closeness. We were so pure. We had everything to hope for. To hope for—together.
X stops talking at the sound of the last word. Y stops humming at exactly the same time.
X: You’re just jealous because she said I was taller. She said I was stronger.
Y: Yes, but she thought I was better looking.
X: She never said any such thing.
Y: She thought it, though. I could tell. (Pause) She was only a pity princess. She didn’t know the difference between pity and love.
X: So? I didn’t care.
Y: (sternly) I would not allow it. She was not going to come between us.
X: (Leers, raises his eyebrows up and down.) That’s exactly what I would have liked her to do.
Y: Oh, you’re too disgusting for words. Here.
Y hands X the binoculars.
Y: Dream On.
X puts binoculars to eyes.
Y: Pure. Fooey. “Too young to be pure.” I’ve got news for you, purity comes with age.
X and Y sitting on couch. Sound of music coming from apartment above. Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” X takes X and Y’s communal leg and stomps it on floor several times.
Y: (shouting upwards)
(Pause) STOP IT.
X stomps X and Y’s communal leg again.
X: (looking at Y) You stop it.
Y stomps X and Y s communal leg again.
Y: (shouting upwards) STOP IT.
X: (Looking at Y) You stop it.
Sound of knocking from apartment below.
X: Now you’ve done it.
Y: I just can’t bear it. How many times do I have to tell them up there?
X: It’s not that bad.
Y: I can’t stand listening to dead singers. (Pause. Y puts head in hands.)
X: I love it. It’s so … so …
Y: It’s just too ironic for words.
X: Oh right. It’s been a long time since I heard this routine.
Y: They’re dead singers still singing on earth—Trapped. Dead. Singing.
X: Well maybe that’s what they’re doing in heaven too. They’re angels and they have to say everything in a sing-song voice. (X says in a sing- song voice): EV-VER-REE THING IN A SING-SONG VOICE.
Y puts hands up to ears.
Y: Shut up. Shut up. That’s hell.
X: It’s heaven.
Y: Hell. (Pause, then quickly) Heavenandhell.
X: Hey, why don’t you play something and I’ll dance. Please? Play something. Just as long as it’s not the flute.
Y: And what’s the matter with my flute.
X: It hurts my ears.
Y: Okay, that’s fair enough.
Y reaches behind couch and pulls up a guitar. Y places guitar on lap.
Y: (strums three loud chords, screams) ROCK AND ROLL.
X: (levely) Something nice, please.
Y: Okay. Sure, (thinking) Something kinda nice for “Mr. Light FM.”
X: C’mon. This’ll be fun.
X and Y stand up and walk to center of floor. Y positions guitar to play. X positions himself to dance.
X solemnly nods head. Y begins singing opening of “Fire and Rain ” by James Taylor.
Y: “Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone.”
Y stops playing. X dances a few steps.
X: Ooooh. This is good. (X dances a few more steps.) I do wish I had a partner though.
Y: (continuing playing) “Susanne, the plans they had put an end to you.”
Y stops. X dances a few steps. Sounds of knocking from apartment below.
Y: Now you’ve done it.
Y: Yes, you. With all that hobbling about that you call dancing.
X: Wait a minute. Did you ever think it might have been that dirge sung in a cow-like voice that offended their sensibilities?
Y throws down guitar.
Y: Okay. That’s it.
Y drags X back over to couch. X and Y standing in front of couch.
X: I’m not finished. I’m not finished.
Y sits down. X falls with him.
Y: Oh yes you are.
Y crosses his arms. Pause. X reaches down beneath table and pulls out a bottle of Jack Daniels. Y stares straight ahead, arms crossed, as X brings bottle to lips.
X and Y lying on floor. The bottle of Jack Daniels is nearby, almost empty.
Y: Get up. (Pause) Get up.
X and Y continue lying on floor.
Y: Would you please get up.
Y struggles to get up. Unable to pull X up, Y lies back in exhaustion.
X: (in delirium) I wanna go. I wanna go out.
Y: If you can’t get up, let me have some peace, for pity’s sake.
Y reaches over to bottle. Y takes a slug.
X: I wanna go out. I wanna go.
Y: Don’t go. (Hands X the bottle.) Pass out.
X passes out. Long pause as X and Y lay on floor. Y drags X and Y’s communal body to edge of couch, grabs arm rest and pries X’s limp frame up onto couch and arranges their communal body in a sitting position. Y begins crying. X begins to come to.
X: I had a dream … I had a dream. I was out somewhere and …
(X becomes fully conscious.)
I forgot. I just forgot the dream.
What was I dreaming?
Y: (wiping away tears, then matter of factly)
You had a dream you were outside. You were at a mall. You were shopping in a Big Man’s Store, looking for some party clothes …
X: You know, I’ve been meaning to bring this up—we always wear what you want. And you always pick the lowest common denominator. We have such nice things and we always wear what you want.
(X begins picking lint off Y.)
I want to get really dressed up.
Y: For what?
X: For a party. Like in the dream.
Y: Be quiet. Let me finish telling you the dream. Then, in the Big Man’s Store you turn to ask me if ruffles on a tuxedo shirt are declasse when you realize that I’m not there. You race around the store searching for me, but I’m not there. You go to the door of the Big Man’s Store to go out into the mall to find me, but the doors have been locked. The lights of the store go out, you scream, then you wake up.
X: That’s scary.
Y: No it’s not. It’s so stupid it’s not even Freudian. “I wanna go out. I wanna go out.” For Christ’s sake.
X: Remember that day we went out?
Y: How could I forget it?
The favorite thing I ever actually witnessed happening happened. That woman was walking in high heels across a grate and her heel got stuck in a hole in the grate but she kept on walking but her high heel didn’t and she almost fell.
Y laughs. X stares at Y laughing. Y stops laughing.
Y: Do you think I hate women?
X: Judging by your past behavior, it seems that way to me.
Y: It was much easier to go out when we were younger, wasn’t it? When we didn’t know quite so well what we are.
X: It’s true. Children are meaner but more tolerant. Adults are meaner and less tolerant.
Y: Adults don’t mind thinking maybe you’re Siamese, suspecting maybe you’re Siamese, but they sure can’t deal with knowing you’re maybe Siamese.
You know, I think we should do it. We should get separated.
X says nothing.
X: But why?
X begins crying.
Y: I’m tired of your banal dreams. Let’s just leave it at that.
X: But I’m too old to change. You’re too old to change.
Y: Just remember I am older and you’re to respect your elders.
X, still crying, reaches over and picks up binoculars as Y reaches in the opposite direction for pen and paper. X and Y pull their communal torso in opposite directions. Y places paper on lap, puts pen in mouth and stares upward. X puts binoculars to eyes, looking upward.
Y: The separation agreement …
X: (quietly) Who’s in agreement?
Y: You’ll be able to have your career now. (Thinking, with pen in mouth.) Where to start …
X: (thinking, with binoculars to eyes) I wonder if he’s attached …
X suddenly pulls binoculars away from eyes.
X: (excitedly) Remember all those times … Remember when we were younger, when we used to … When we would climb to the top of a hill, wrap our arms around each other and roll down the hill shouting with laughter? Remember how we laughed?
Y takes pen from mouth and stares straight ahead.
X: (quickly turning to Y) Hold me.
Y doesn’t move.
X: What are you, afraid of getting too close?
X and Y on couch. Loose sheets of paper strewn all over floor. Y is writing. X is leaning on his arm, dejectedly, binoculars in hand pressed against cheek.
Y: It’s coming together, it’s coming together.
X: Very funny.
Y: Cheer up. Don’t be depressed. I’ll always be here when you need me.
X: Hah. You’re already always here and you’re not always here when I need you.
Y: Now, now. Self-pity isn’t flattering.
X slumps down in seat.
Y: Hey, sit up, will you?
I’m almost finished.
X slumps down further. Y forcefully jerks X back up.
Y: You monster, you. Behave yourself, okay?
X: Let’s just get this over with, for once and for all, right now.
Y: Okey-dokey. That’s it. I’m through. Just remember it’s a first draft though.
X says nothing.
Y: Well, don’t you want to hear it?
Y tries to stand up, but is pulled back down as X refuses to rise.
X: Do you have to stand for this? Give me a break.
Y: Yes, I do.
C’mon, it’s our annual State of Our Union Address. Be a sport. (Pause)
Y stands and X, reluctantly, stands also. Y clears his voice.
To whom it may concern …
X: Don’t you think that’s a little too formal?
Y: (ignoring X)
Re: The State of Our Union.
X: You’d think this was a business letter.
Y: It is.
Oh, that’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said to me, the absolute meanest …
Y: Shhhh …
(Y stroking X’s head)
Just listen … Okay, “To whom it may concern,” blah, blah, blah …
And just who, exactly, is this written to?
Y: Why, to the ones trying to separate us, of course.
Long pause. X thinking. Y looking slyly at X.
Y: Yes, now, just listen …
(X begins jumping up and down.)
You mean it? You really mean it?
Y: WOULD YOU JUST CALM DOWN AND LISTEN?
X: If it’s true I swear I’ll never be lonely again.
Y: Listen. To whom it may concern: Those of you knowing the facts of our lives together have often wondered exactly why it is we remain together. And if that question is a question youask yourself occasionally, it is a question that, for us, informs our very existence, not merely periodically, but daily, moment by moment, existences times two. So, this letter is for you, but written to ourselves. The thing you most want us to sever is the thing we protect the most. It is our connectedness. You ask that we separate to become whole. But how can we be more whole separate. How can we be cut apart to become two to become one.
Now, I give them some facts.
The medium of our connection is more complicated than one would expect. Our union has, in fact, become stronger, more cartilaginous, less flexible as time has gone on, in all the years of our union. There is no assurance that we would be able to disunite without pain or without danger. In fact, study and observance of other unities would seem to suggest exactly the opposite. Pain is immediate and long lasting in uncoupling; danger, less apparent but more insidious, more destructive to self. How can you put something back together by separating it. How can you put something back together that’s never been apart.
Our connection does not in the least interfere with our happiness. (Pause_) Well, sometimes … (Y laughs_)—That’s the humorous touch.—(Y clears throat.) On occasion we may pull in different directions, but for the most part there is harmony in our movements, harmony emanating from habit, from skill, from intuition. It is the harmony of necessity, the harmony of necessarily being one. A necessity of choice. United we stand, divided we fall.—Do you think that’s too much of a cliché?
X: Oh no, no. It’s beautiful.
Well, maybe … but it’s true, anyway.
Y: We can excise that. Okay. And then … so, it ends like this:
(Y clears throat)
You ask that we separate to be separate enough to love. I answer that we are separate enough to love. And therefore, we must say no to you so that I can say yes to myself.
We are …
Y looks at X.
X: I think it’s even better than last year’s.
Y: C’mon. We are …
X & Y: (triumphantly) Yours …
Pause. X and Y applaud and laugh uproariously, issuing one belly laugh after another from their communal torso.
Craig Gholson is a writer who lives and works in New York. His fiction has appeared in BOMB Magazine, Between C and D and the East Village Eye. His first play, Floor of the Sistine Chapel, written at Ensemble Studio Theater is currently in development. He has co-written a screenplay, Force of Circumstance, a film by Liza Béar, to be released this year.
Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.