ACT TWO

No one is on stage. The red curtains remained closed. Then a static trippy white noise begins distorted clarifying into the sound of a train on the rails the rhythmic click of the wheels on the tracks like you’re hearing it go through town waiting in your car at the crossing the horn sounds it blows and as the harsh bell fades it blows again and just that for a minute the sound of a train going by then the white noise again as the sound is distended distorted making it dark you’d imagine this train going by in the dark but then as the sound dies out you hear children’s laughter first isolated and acoustic then louder echoing and it’s followed by the sound of running water water going over rocks in a small stream the sound of natural waters living waters soft and soothing like its aura of electrons can heal you you can feel the energy coming off it and then in the distance a lonesome howl the howl of a wolf the sound echoes and fades then the long howl again and through it the Master of Ceremonies speaks without being present on the stage.

MC:

And the cat is dead. She was alive but we looked and because we looked she is dead. She was murdered killed by our very observation because do you remember her her fascination with water the way she would reach out with her paw to touch your face looking at you with eyes almost a solid black only a tinged yellow-orange on the fringe like her eyes had been eclipsed by the moon the sandy texture of her tongue when she licked your nose purring and mewing softly you remember that and it happened you can’t change that because it already happened all you can do is look at it a different way and so now see her dead the last mournful mew she made and then three huffs as the lungs filled with blood the blood leaking from the mouth and anus the mouth open the still small sharp teeth of a kitten the tongue now hanging to the side and the eyes are open but they aren’t seeing she is no longer observing her death the hind legs move for a moment like a last instinct of fear to run away but it’s too late the body goes totally limp and she defecates as the bowels loosen—do you see it? What image do you have of her now—is she alive or dead? And what if by looking at her one way you cause the other? I am not there and yet you hear me. And the wolf is not there nor the train neither the running water. But you hear them you observe them in your mind. And the cat—well, judged in one situation she’s alive if we just go back and you can do that you can go back in time and what you see in one interval sways the opinion of another and then really it’s a matter of intervals which aren’t random at all arbitrary we set them up many of them derived from nature what’s natural to our days and nights our weeks months years and then it’s a matter of what you see in that interval and some things repeat they repeat many times and other things the breadth the span of it can’t be covered in any interval and you must go backwards to know where it began where the other thing ends because all things in essence travel backwards but death why death—we put a finality to it…

The curtain opens and the screen lowers. You no longer hear the howl of the wolf but the sound of the running water continues mixed with the rumble of thunder the beginning of rain. 

FADE IN

EXT. LOW-INCOME HOUSING COMPLEX—DAY

You see a dumpster. It’s a different dumpster than before this one not so full at least not yet it’s blue and rusted in spots and half the lid is down. Then the camera backs away the dumpster receding and then you turn the corner of a brick building with window units cut into the walls evenly from door to door but varying in size and shape some well insulated others with wooden boards and two-by-fours nailed around the units haphazardly to cover the gaps the doors too mostly painted white but some in better shape than others the windows blackened with blankets. You see two men sitting in white plastic lawn chairs outside one of the doors. They’re drinking beer. The older man has his shirt off skinny about the arms and chest and just the slight paunch of a beer belly. The younger man wears a baggy t-shirt and shorts and high-top sneakers with the shoelaces untied.

OLD MAN

They should have kept her away from Shadrach. I tell you what that old dog will about fuck anything…

The thunder sounds like a distant gunshot. It isn’t raining but the clouds are gathering and so the ground isn’t wet yet it hasn’t yet soaked in the rain because where does the water go what happens to water when it’s underground and you can almost see the ground opening up waiting for to sky to open how the shadows gather in gray to match the clouds and it’s thirsty you feel the ground thirsty for that’s the interval we’re in and the ground has been wet but now it is dry and so depending on the interval is how we see the earth and the old man watches the sky while the young man looks to the ground.

OLD MAN

She belonged to that vet. And least she did ‘til he got those kittens and gave her to Junior next door. Damn cat was wild. Try to hold her she’d be purring and still scratch the hell out of ya… I’ve seen them come and I’ve seen them go through here. People pass through sometimes stay less than a month ‘til the rent’s past due some stay six months and rotate roommates sometimes six of them living together in one room. You get to be my age it’s better to observe be amused at what makes other people angry. Guess it’s just the passing of time you just can’t do it you can’t be young anymore pissin’ fire someone’s gotta watch what’s going on so someone else can do it and I’m past that point I guess past the point of doing somethin’. I just watch. I watch them come and I watch them go… You hear stories of course. His was he worked at the VA maybe still does hell I don’t know. Sure did check his mail a lot. After he left left the cat with Junior I heard that’s how he was getting his spice he sold some to that halfway house down on Main fronted it to Joey who told me ‘bout it because he’s the one sold the ten gram bags Joey said he was just tryin’ to get rid of it but it made them folks at the halfway crazy drove Joey nuts wanting more because they could smoke it and still pass their drug screens. He moved out ‘bout a year ago now. Don’t know if he’s still dealing the spice but he just moved across the street just across from the dumpster round back next to Rural King I know because I’ve seen him dump his trash… Killin’ kittens is what I call it. Anybody livin’ here is just killin’ kittens.

YOUNG MAN

Shit the last time I saw Joey he smelled like a walking bud. Boy should Febreze his ass. And what’s worse was he was out lookin’ for Chakira his baby mama’s girl he’s already been under house arrest cops take a whiff of him searching for a minor he’ll be back in jail… He only deals in top shelf now. Medicinal grade. But I heard about the Manor the halfway house some guys I know took over the business after Joey’s supply dried out with that vet. Gotta watch that shit though ain’t what it used to be they keep trying to stay one step ahead keepin’ it legal that it ain’t even the same compound anymore the shit can fuck you up cause seizures the original stuff only’s sold on the dark net now the black markets and even that shit will knock you off your ass I never got paranoid after smokin’ spice it’s synthetic and it feels synthetic makes you feel guilty like you’re doing something wrong one hit of that fluff and you feel fear but it’s like green crack you want more because you never get that stoned on regular weed… Ya those boys made a small fortune. Far as I know they still only have urine drug screens for a couple of the older strains hell if I had that shit back when I was in the service I coulda made a small fortune too…

The old man and young man look as the mail truck turns onto the road leading to the housing. It swerves around the pot holes and pulls up to the line of post office boxes in the far corner of the lot next to Rural King. The mail man gets out with his key and unlocks the back of the boxes. He looks up for a moment at the approaching clouds and throws mail in the slots quickly.

OLD MAN

Ya it’s amazing what you see in hindsight. Whether or not you’re paying attention because you think it’s about you when really it isn’t because people will talk about you in passing just to make conversation with whoever else they’re with you just come to mind and the funny thing is if you happen to hear maybe it tells you how they see you which tells you a little bit how they see the world and that depends on their identity but really the truth is you bypass all that just like them and focus on what they had to say about you and just like them it depends how you see your world your identity… And ya it’s like a drug. Some things make you feel fear. Other things make you feel pleasure. And we like to think we have some control over that but we really don’t…

YOUNG MAN

Think you got any mail?

OLD MAN

Hell no… All I get is junk and other people’s junk… You know ol’ Shadrach wouldn’t have torn her up if he’d just got her fixed.

YOUNG MAN

They never act right after that. Especially if you declaw them. They just fluff up and get big and fat and sit around and do nothing… They don’t run off though.

OLD MAN

Use a Q-tip.

YOUNG MAN

A Q-tip? What for?

OLD MAN

I woman I lived with once she had a cat she didn’t get it fixed and it used to drive her nuts when she was in heat. Mewed at her constantly wanting to be let out. So she took a Q-tip and shoved it up there and moved it around. Said the cat mewed real loud stuck her butt up in the air with her tail pointed but it seemed to do the trick. She shut up. Gave her what she needed I guess…

YOUNG MAN

Food. Cat’s only pay attention to who gives them food.

OLD MAN

Mmm… yes—gotta go with your gut. It’s a process like anything else. Peristaltic motion. You go forward. You can’t go back. And it comes through in waves—the movement… The gut is for the devil. The heart is for God. Course you can control what you consume but not how you digest it. And expending energy? Well I guess nothin’s wasted. You just think out your moves more. And feel less… Been married and divorced a couple times like me you learn that secret. A good woman’ll get ya thinkin’ with your gut so you ain’t thinkin’ with your dick.

The mail truck is leaving. They watch from their plastic lawn chairs as the taillights flash and the turn signal blinks a quick jolt of inertia in the stop and go back on the main road. You follow it now. You follow it as the rain begins to fall. Heavier drops now that wet the dust and gravel of the potholes the mail truck avoids. It drives by The Matrix. A car audio and small engine repair tool shop just off the highway on the frontage road that leads to Bentley and you don’t follow the mail truck anymore once it turns south on this road because you follow the side street that leads back to Rural King past the rusting blue dumpster up a hill on the easement a tractor-trailer parked there partially obscuring the view of the mailboxes the truck just left and here the view pauses just above the dumpster and then circles around back to the small house across the street with tan siding the kitchen window there just above a rose bush growing wild and for a moment you think the view is going to enter in past the curtains but instead you round the house to the front to the long gravel driveway and the black Cadillac parked there.

INT. HOUSE ON WELLESLEY—DAY

A thermometer comes into focus. Old and wooden and ornately decorated attached to a barometer and below it another needle noting the humidity at 75%. It’s hanging on a white wall between patio windows cracked open only partially the vertical venetian blinds opened fully because it’s going to rain but it lets a breeze in with the patio door open at one end of the room and a standing fan positioned in front of another open window at the other end. The fan is on wheels and swivels on its arms. It is made of old metal painted green. Electra von Turnipseed sits in the room with her son Carter Sexton.

ELECTRA

I remember when we got that fan—your father and I. We got it at a Woolworth’s in 1960. The year we were married. They don’t make them to last anymore… You know you’re getting old when you start with the ending and tell your story that way. Every morning I start with where I am now and then I go back and sometimes the most recent memories come first but other times I remember something for no reason something from years and years ago maybe it’s a smell or I hear a song but sometimes it’s nothing it’s just stillness and I remember something about your father.

CARTER

When you’re in love you just know it. Balls to bones. And it’s good at first it’s always good because it brings out the best in you. You can relax. You don’t have to be perfect in fact the most gratifying part is revealing your weakness your vulnerability and the other person still thinks you’re perfect and you’re not afraid to look into their eyes and you want to touch them and like any drug you’re hooked it’s so pleasurable like a finger tracing lines in your palm just that simple caress can send you in withdrawals when your lover is away… I want that again. I think we want that forever but something about us can’t handle it. Fears. Hang-ups. Baggage from past hurts. Insecurities. The simple fact we’re human and we fail each other and pretty soon we figure out we’re really just alone and all we have is each other to some extent and after a person hurts you shows you their worst side and you show them yours there’s a deepening of the relationship and if the closure’s never coming there can be meaning in that something of value hard to find in this world… or it could be like a shit. Once it’s out you don’t really shove it back in there.

ELECTRA

It is good for the kids. If you can stay together for the children. But do you really want to grow old with her? She’s just gonna hurt you again.

CARTER

Ah hell… what do they say? Don’t hate the player hate the game. But I never understood the rules. I mean if you take into account your best strategy and make the best choice possible and the other players also makes the best choice possible you have stability an equilibrium and it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to win what the game is if it’s about money or a woman or your basic survival you make the best choice possible based on the other person’s decision not changing. But what if it does? We’re not always rational and even when we are that doesn’t mean there’s going to be a rational outcome. Since things change maybe the best choice is not to play the game at all. But then I guess that effects the rest of us now don’t it?

ELECTRA

Sometimes you can love the bad sides of each other. You don’t admit it but it’s what you fall in love with. You don’t want the game to be rational.

CARTER

But does what you know drive you? I used to think so. I used to think if I knew why I did something I would understand but after a while even if you know why you still can’t say you really understand it. You just know and that makes it comfortable maybe you even joke about it. But what drives you? Is it love? Power? Do I see the world as my father and so I want to gain its approval? Are the fears and inhibitions you taught me the very things I rebel against now? I guess like in any game you seek a reward. But none of it feels so rewarding anymore. Imagining you maybe brought a smile to someone’s face… She divorced me because I wasn’t making any money. And she’s right about the books—nobody asked me. Nobody asked me to write them. So maybe I shouldn’t feel entitled to anything. You write alone. You read alone. And it can be the most unique and spiritual and special bond you have with a person because you share a world together inside a book you enter their mind and they enter yours. But not a word is spoken. And you can be miles apart and years away. And so you never really know. You can imagine and sometimes you get vibes off people especially after writing for so many years and you just know you know that’s how they have to respond and that’s all the reward you’re going to get—and so the pain is real but the love is imaginary…

ELECTRA

You feel love just as much as you do pain.

CARTER

Oh well… when life gets you down turn that smile into a frown.

And if you’re worried about the names he’s checking his phone. You see the screen over his shoulder the TV on the discovery channel in the background next to the fan the open window he’s on Facebook his author page—Carter Sexton—maybe Carter Turnipseed isn’t a good pen name he’s uploading a photo a picture taken the day before with his daughters by his ex-wife’s Cadillac and now he’s going up instead of down to see the most recent on his timeline you watch his index finger as what rolls on the screen pauses at interest sometimes backtracking going down again to give time to read the full post but most of it isn’t like that and if these are his friends it’s interesting to see what he invests time in. You can almost see what he wants from people.

CARTER

I don’t know most of my friends on here. Most of them I’ve never actually met. Back when I was living with you during the divorce I got drunk one day and sent out a whole slew of friend requests from the list it gave of people I might know from the few friends I had. I did it ‘til Facebook stopped me. Funny thing is most of them accepted my friend request. Now it’s been near three years and some of them I know now I little bit at least I have a good idea about them based on what they’ve posted just as I’m sure they have a good idea about me. You can almost see mood progressions. Who’s going through a rocky relationship. Sometimes the best way to judge is not in what they post but how much time they spend on it. Like for likes.  Look for looks.  Lots of motivational quotes when you’re lonely. Lots of misspent energy. But that energy has to go somewhere… They say do it for yourself. Really what they mean is only you can save yourself. Pretty soon it becomes what you do every day as a matter of identity…

ELECTRA

I never understood why you don’t stick to your God-given name.

CARTER

Got it from a return address on some weed I got in the mail.

ELECTRA

No wonder your books don’t sell.

CARTER

Nobody will tell you they’re stupid you have to figure that out for yourself. Course you gotta watch out for the ones that do tell you they’re stupid because they probably aren’t. And then the hard question is how do you love then how do you love somebody you know you’re supposed to love but they’re stupid, or at least they don’t tell you they aren’t?

ELECTRA

It’s in what you do not in what you ask…

Carter turns back to his phone now not because of a notification and not because of the TV which would catch any man’s attention the picture of a censored naked woman an outdoorsman show on discovery survival reality TV where two people meet out in the middle of nowhere naked a man and a woman and they have to survive like that for twenty-one days like playing Adam and Eve again except this time it ain’t paradise Carter’s ignoring that and looking at his phone because his mother is talking about a recent religious conference in Cleveland, Tennessee what a certain Perry Stone said in one of his preaching seminars and so he acts like he’s answering his phone when really he’s watching the TV and not listening to his mother at all.

He’s outside. Next to a car not his ex-wife’s car not the Cadillac but a white Volkswagen they’re standing by the trunk and Electra is showing Carter her supplies pulling out each item one at a time the butane the pressure cooker the spare batteries and flashlights clothing and sleeping bags for cold weather rope jumper cables the other accoutrements of survival and the piece de resistance a Clorox bleach bottle cut in such in way so as a woman can relieve herself while in the car and Carter looks at it all and says:

CARTER

I’ve seen ads for those on the web. They come in different colors shaped a little different way but I guess they express the same need…

ELECTRA

I know you don’t want to hear it but we’re in the last days. There’s a financial crisis coming. And not just the church is saying it look at the secular media. Glen’s taught me about how to live out of my car if I have to you know where I live how the blacks have taken over the other side of town. If the economy crashes I’ll have to defend my home. I have a gun but I’m an old woman…

CARTER

I’d rather be the looter than the looted. You can loot because you don’t have a choice. You’re desperate maybe other people are counting on you. But to defend from being looted to use that gun… I wouldn’t want to have to make that choice.

ELECTRA

September is what they’re predicting. Put some money aside. Prepare your house.

CARTER

No man knows the day nor the hour… She liked your light. The one you made out of batteries and a Christmas light strapped together with the lining from a rubber tire. Maybe you should make her one. For her and the girls when the power goes out.

ELECTRA

Does she tell you she’s stupid?

CARTER

No… like anyone smart she puts it all back on me…

ELECTRA

Don’t live your life like that, Carter. Don’t you live your life like there’s someone watching?

CARTER

Of course… the first word you taught me to say was Jesus. Now who I imagine loves me differs with days and moods. Besides you only really pay attention to people you hate.

ELECTRA

It’s your soul, Carter. Don’t you care about your soul?

CARTER

I will not raise my children like that. Fear religion the military what I grew up in. You loved me and you tried to shelter me I get that, but one day I had to venture out into the world. And do you know what the world does to naïve people?

ELECTRA

I know what it does. I was raised in church. I was always awkward as a child…

CARTER

Well I’m breaking the curse…

It looks like they haven’t eaten in days. That’s why you want to watch why you watch Carter watch the TV having a gentle conversation with his mother you even see him put his phone away and for a moment you see him being dropped off by a Cadillac saying his goodbyes to ex-wife and children the knock on the door his mother opening it and smiling and after seeing the everglades and a remote island the desert terrain seems the harshest in which to survive—some godforsaken place in Madagascar—Carter is watching a naked man and woman live in a cave it had to be cleared of spiders there were black widow nests which at first the woman doesn’t want to eradicate she doesn’t like that word she’s a tree-hugging hippie as the stereotypes fly upon first meeting and he’s a Mormon who prays every morning believing we were meant to dominate land and animal but after a night with the feeling of something crawling all over her she helps him burn them out and they haven’t eaten for days Carter watches in amusement as the man tries to harvest a lizard from under a rock hours of labor passed over in seconds on the TV screen and when he’s finally able to pinch it out by the tail he bites the head off… You can tell by his face by the moments he shares eye contact with his mother they are having a very relaxing time sitting in the patio his father built waiting on his ex-wife and his children and the Cadillac to return.

CARTER

I lost something I don’t know when but eventually guilt set in I thought I was alone in it and with it crept in my mortality how souls do die here then anger started every sin as I sought it again a place where the soul of man never dies…

ELECTRA

… if you just give your heart over to Jesus…

CARTER

… but the world’s eternity eventually just becomes names for certain centuries the epics of entropy and whimper of oblivion… Everybody talkin’ ‘bout heaven ain’t goin’ there.

ELECTRA

Aren’t you scared what happens when you die?

CARTER

Well I know tryin’ to plead with it like it’ll go out of its way to show me some common courtesy is probably a waste of time…

ELECTRA

Hell is a waste of time.

CARTER

Not if you want people to like you. Took me a long time to figure that out. They like you when you’re weak and always on time. But make them look bad and they’ll hate ya ‘til you’re dead. It’s back to what they mean when you say do it for yourself. If you want to excel at anything you better be doing it for yourself. If you’re seeking admirers best be playing Candyland. That’s a game where no strategy is involved. Players are never required to make choices. You just follow directions. The winner predetermined by the cards… so children can play… But out there in Babylon you work out to be skinny they gonna hate you for bringing in brownies. Blast the bell curve and you won’t be toted as a genius you’ll be sitting with the retards in the school cafeteria. Believe me—nobody wants you to be perfect.

And now you have the best point of view. Like you know what came before how it hints to you what comes after like you can see what’s around every corner you’re above their heads Electra and Carter and you know this room like you built it yourself you know who made it its history through revisions you can see it from Carter’s perspective you can see it from Electra’s from the people mentioned but not quite named and so the camera spans the perimeter like a cat or dog sniffing out its territory you focus on the barometric pressure again the thermometer on the wall between windows and you circle the room the patio Carter’s father enclosed back when he was in high school maybe some dialogue between them between mother and son that shared that information how else would you know for the words are here but there you see an old Woolworth’s fan and an ancient TV back when they were heavy and took up a lot of space not to be hung up on walls you see the upholstery on the furniture as sign of a past generation even the carpet spells age only the wood furnace opposite of the TV looks modern with its black iron chute to the roof the ceramic tile around it and of course on one wall you see pictures like a meridional manuscript his and his sister’s graduation photos encircled by all the years from kindergarten leading up to it and pictures of other places of Europe and Greece the Badlands Yellowstone each place like you’ve been there too you step into every picture and look around smell the flowers and then you look back at them the back of their heads on each side of the room perched above the headrests of gliders bought in Germany their feet up on ottomans you look back at them to see the back of their heads staring at the moving pictures of the television.

ELECTRA

Do you ever get lonely?

CARTER

When I’m at enmity with myself. What you’re really asking is do I feel isolation. You can be surrounded by people you know and still feel alone, or you can be in a room full of strangers and be moved to tears or laughter because you feel like you shared something with them. That’s the trick I guess. If you’re ready to share you’re never really lonely. Even when it feels like nobody knows you shared. People don’t like you for sharing. But it gives you time to give thanks in case you don’t make it to heaven.

And what really is live television if not but a look into the past it’s a question in Carter’s head almost like you see a balloon above his head text for a cartoon a comic strip and that’s what they become Carter and Electra they become like stick figures the furniture the enclosed patio turn into pencil drawings only the TV remains real made of glass and plastic the inside projecting to the outside but there’s always a slight delay even for light even for edited recordings reruns so this could have happened today just now but it’s never quite just now it’s always a little later if not yesterday last weekend and you already got the feel that this is Mother’s Day by the white rose he brought her sitting on the patio table and if you look ahead without repeating yourself the cat was dead but now it’s come back a memory just before looking and that’s what you see first in the only thing that’s still real you see the cat on the TV screen and it’s alive but you really don’t know if it’s alive now and how quickly can you look away and then look again and you see the cat but you hear a dog howling like it’s trying to bay something up a tree and then the screen turns into the DMV the date on the roll-top calendar at the end of each line where civil servants stand behind computers is a little different it’s ahead of Mother’s Day but still a little behind from now and you see her standing in line with her number you see Carter’s ex-wife Mary Jane Smiley and she’s screaming at her smartphone. You hear the tinny sound of a female voice in a recorded message because Mary Jane’s on speaker phone: … if this is about an auto policy please say auto… for customer service please say customer service…

MARY JANE

(the face of her phone an inch from her nose)

CUSTOMER SERVICE!

Now it’s screen in screen it’s always been screen in screen and so you see four squares in each corner of the television set like now you’re watching five channels Mary Jane in the middle at the DMV and four preachers at the podium on stage some with a choir behind them some holding a bible some with a minister of the cloth to wipe the sweat from their brow and almost like Hollywood Squares you want to see their box light up the audio of their sound the only thing you hear over Mary Jane yelling at her smartphone in the line at the DMV other patrons watching amused some of them for they’ve felt the same way we all go to the zoo we just don’t stay but you listen to each square like they want something and not just your money that’s apparent in everything it’s something else but it does help that their gross income is tallied in a banner beneath their box and the squares light up counter-clockwise from richer to poor as if that said enough when we ask a question we already know the answer to the question we’re really asking to see how another responds but Carter and Electra are just stick figures now the room isn’t even in color the only colors come from the box and the boxes inside the box and how good it is that we have faith healers and marriage counselors and one preacher says it it could be just one or it could be them all: Praise God for placebos for if the effects be known the power of the mind the subconscious mind in what God can do And you see a bubble above Carter’s head which fills with words the faith you put into that pill that cartoon drawing of your soul the same as your faith in God how everyone is God how experience is a state of mind and with no one to watch what’s on the screen how would you define its time the time it takes it to say what it has to say make us see what it wants us to see and now it almost looks like the preachers are preaching at Mary Jane they’re all turned to the center of the screen with fingers pointed almost like they’re accusing her of trying to win a game of tic-tac-toe and it’s funny Carter finds it funny and the stick figure who represents him says with text in a bubble:

CARTER

You know when they’re lit up like that what’s darkened is a cross…

ELECTRA

It’s just what fear makes us… I say I am loved but in it I imply another is not I hurt I am in pain because another has caused it and someone must see I must share it with someone even if only alone with God and my immeasurable imaginings but do I imagine I am loved and not the other does it matter who I share it with for what if they love us both what if God loves us both and time is the judgment what if I know…

CARTER

It’s not what you know it’s what you can prove.

The TV goes to commercial Mary Jane in the middle disappears along with her squares and for a moment you see a sign outside that posts the hours of the DMV and you read that it’s closed on Monday a printed bulletin beside what’s embossed about it being closed on Friday for the Fourth of July a federal and state holiday for employees it floats up and then down with the wind currents you can’t hear the preachers anymore it’s gone to a cat commercial 9Lives and it’s Morris happy in his orange fur with eyes that say like some of us say: I am a God for some of us are fed while some of us feed others and besides he’s the only thing that’s real now the cat in the box Carter and Electra are just stick figures observing him as he licks his chops whiskers twitching as to an unseen wind.

ELECTRA

I know what your Dad knew. Man is inherently evil you must have faith in…

CARTER

I don’t know sometimes I feel better love if another’s hated like it somehow justifies the love like when I still wanted to be a family man again and it was seen and abused as an act of desperation a cry of loneliness because after all who would do anything to be with their children… but then who uses the children as a card and time passes the children learn for themselves and the idea of it the idea of a family lost and being alone becomes jaded with pragmatics and a conscience cleared and the sensitivity the deeper meanings are still there but you don’t hesitate in them no more…

ELECTRA

If you can be happy in giving then give but what’s taken won’t take care of you…

CARTER

It’s funny I work and meet silence with my passion and who should support me says I should pay her for her own kids… see how that sounds? It makes me laugh at women in control of their own bodies…

You can tell what time it is based on the commercials. And the channel. It’s mostly been women’s commercials. Tampons. Maxiderma age-defying skin cream for those pesky stretch marks. Hair straighteners. Even nosey Edna as the cashier so for those intimate products order from Adam and Eve online…

ELECTRA

No one likes to give up control…

CARTER

It’s not the control. That’s an illusion. It’s the giving up that’s hard to do… we try for something that’s already found us. But we ask it to look again and give us what it can’t give. I don’t want a lover to understand because if they really understood they would have to give up. But that isn’t what I really want. I plead for it. Sometimes I rant and rage against it. But if I really got what I wanted I wouldn’t want it anymore.

You can’t tell the age of a stick figure. Maybe if you measured the movement the before and after. Depending on the artist and the flourish of distinguishing features they all pretty much look the same just lines shaded into familiar boundaries so you can’t really tell who’s the talker and who’s the listener their words are in text you can’t tell who gives more who takes more what’s taken for granted all you know is this was once a room an enclosed patio holding a mother and son and now that they’ve been animated as such the only thing actual and determined the TV in the corner you must see them as they are now and what you see decides who they were what roles they play how that’s complicated by what a man is what a woman is what a mother is to a son a son to a mother and how can it be that they are merely stick figures when they represent so much more for if they move they are alive and with the living comes judgment yet they do not move they sit on stick furniture inside a stick house and instead judge what comes from the TV for what’s on the screen is the only thing that’s moving it moves but does not know it’s alive that’s for Electra and Carter to judge but they’re not sure now not for certain the cat inside the TV box they observed could be dead and now the commercials are over we’ve returned to regular programming and you see Mary Jane again standing in line at the DMV angry at an inanimate smartphone. She’s not moving either. And the boxes around her the Hollywood squares remain darkened you don’t hear the voice of a preacher with an answer just the incessant low-level hum of machines working and that other sound a human sound the sound you hear when people gather together but they’re not with each other they didn’t come together and they won’t leave together but that’s when you notice the other thing real in the room what’s not a stick figure merely drawn in you see Carter’s hand on it his hand is on the remote.

ELECTRA

You can know what you want all you want but not really want to know why you want it. If there’s anything time on this earth has taught me is my own denial of how I contradict myself. I even know how things are based on contradictions but I don’t dare admit it. How I’ve got what wanted and then didn’t want it. How I didn’t get what wanted and how I behaved… I was a young girl with your father once. But now I’m an old woman with a son. It doesn’t make one truer than the other. One doesn’t cancel the other out or make them less meaningful. And what’s funny is wisdom before would say this world is temporary and fleeting have nothing to do with it while wisdom after would say yes this earth is full of pain and misery built upon failure after failure but you know what I wouldn’t have it any other way…

You hear the sound of a Facebook notification and with the sound Electra and Carter become real again like a painter with a brush in accelerated motion the colors are added each hesitant with their memories for only a moment before being extracted and contrasting with the further colors added and you watch Carter look at his phone and turn the TV off for a moment you watch the screen snap and retract to the middle a thin line of white noise before completely fading into black and now that the room is real again you see how the TV looks fake in it and without saying a word they look at each other and both rise from their seats.

CARTER

She’s bringing the children… Let’s go outside.

EXT. HOUSE ON BENTLEY—DAY

The rain is coming. You see the blue dumpster again and as the first drops begin to fall you hear a vibrating sound like it’s coming muffled from within the trash it repeats and you think maybe there’s a phone inside the dumpster but then you back away you go across the street again to the kitchen window above a rose bush but you don’t go in that way the view circles around front to the driveway leading away from the house and you notice now it’s a rear cottage a larger house sits at the front of the graveled driveway some fifty yards away a few sheds in between with wood and paint that’s seen better days and you see a picnic table and a small plastic children’s playground with slide and swing and beside that you see a chained dog sleeping. He looks to be an old coon hound his jowls drooped with his head on his paws but then you see the head rise as a mail truck pulls into the driveway then the hound’s up and howling his chain pulled as tight as it can go the truck pulls up to the rear cottage and circles round the mail man gets out drops a parcel in the mail box and hops back in to pull the truck around the hound howling the whole time. The mail man just ignores the dog passing again the space between front and rear signaling to turn right and the truck disappears south on Bentley.

INT. HOUSE ON BENTLEY—DAY

You see Carter walk to the front door. He’s been listening for the mail man all he has to do is wait for the hound to howl he peaks through the curtain then opens the door to retrieve the parcel. He smiles real big as he closes the door walks back to the kitchen and grabs his phone from off the black fold-out table. He texts to a number: THE MAIL CAME!!! and sits back down to a tablet in a case connected to a Bluetooth keyboard and a wireless mouse. You see the words to this screenplay on the screen and you see Carter write:

if there is a test it’s trying to get love from the past but don’t see it as a test just a game you don’t like to play because of the rules… and you see it when it comes. when someone has something they want to say to you. you just gotta let them say it and even if they think they’re leading up to it just wait for them… patiently

And then you see him scroll down between a blank page to where the screenwriting begins again but just before you see notes he’s written to himself in the format of bullets:

  • my mother drank singapore slings at lunch and smoked cigarettes until she had me. then she and her mother got saved and got religious right around the time when I was born—how and why did this happen?
  • work did is work done… she always says we do the same job and she could or she would but two more years of school is two years she didn’t put in and eight books written is eight books she didn’t write and since I started writing in 97 let’s do the math and it’s not about who’s smarter or who’s better it’s about respecting the discipline it takes and the time put in… but hell I know all about having a chip on your shoulder—tie that in to act 3…
  • always end with an image what you know what you love all of us since the time we said no to our parents what an atheist can’t explain and so I sit at a black fold-out table a can of natural light a dixie plate of northern lights shake and JOB 1 ¼ rolling papers a magazine upside down of a green brain from Tulane for alumni a pink fly swatter and a curled cat…
  • I write this play meant for it to be read…

Then you hear his phone vibrate on the table you hear the notification of a text. You watch the exchange as he opens the package he got in the mail. He has to use scissors to cut through the Mylar.

I have a story for you… lol…

Jul 9 12:48pm

I don’t pay

Jul 9 12:49pm

It’s about the po po

Jul 9 12:51pm

Good one Lucy

Jul 9 12:52pm

I wasn’t even driving…

Jul 9 12:57pm

And you see Carter type:

And that’s why the forgiving is hard not because you can’t forgive but because you can’t forget and that sure is a bitch because people are gonna fail ya that difference between what you expect and what you get what you can express and what it is but I guess you find ways to forget because I guess it’s easy to forget when instead of worrying if you pass the test you begin to see there’s really no test at all…

EXT. CITY STREET AND CARWASH—TWILIGHT

The carwash is open in the rain. It’s where they pull in when the cop in the gray and black coupe pulls out of Casey’s waiting on them to go by and follow. The cop hits the lights as soon as the black Cadillac Seville with the 32V Northstar V8 turns on its lights and really what you see now is an interplay of exteriors and interiors you see the area where they pull in where the Cadillac with black matte finish pulls in to the 24 hour carwash the cop right behind them and you see the interior of the Cadillac the wood upholstery faded tan leather heated seats at least the heat works on the driver’s side the electronic console pretty hi-tech for a 1994 and you see hands reach for the glove box the power windows in the front rolling down and you focus on the flaws the crack in the windshield that starts in the lower right corner travelling across the top to where the rearview mirror should be but isn’t and now you know you’re not seeing this from the driver’s side but from the passenger’s so the camera follows that point of view first looking out the cracked window to the empty lot with the wash stalls and vacuum cleaner stands the air having the neon glow it sometimes has at dusk when your downtown among the lights from the gas stations and fast food chains a pinkness to the air slowly being grayed out in swaths of orange and black and for a moment you see the cracked pavement the uprooted asphalt of the lot the weeds growing up then the camera turns to look out the driver’s window over the head of the woman the driver Mary Jane you see her pink bandanna and large sunglasses turned to the cop as he comes walking up his flashlight out trying to shine in the back windows but no good with the tinted panes he’s hesitant as he ducks his head in.

COP

So where’s the weed at?

Now you see the Master of Ceremonies. He’s been sitting at one of the vacuum stands in the carwash lot the whole time. His attire is the same except now he’s wearing a hat a blue baseball cap with Lake of the Ozarks sewn on the front and of course an electronic cigarette dangles from his hand as he sits hunched with his elbows on his knees and with his head hung down you can’t see his face at least not the full angle of it.

MC

You’re seeing an image now. A projected image. And see that’s what’s going on here the cops are projecting an image the car the black Cadillac with tinted windows is projecting an image and what’s seen through its windows is seen as an image as well and then it’s just a phrasing of the timing making sure one image follows another in a way that’s connected and coherently beautiful because what’s projected and where the projection came from the negatives they must have the proper kiss the right cut and splice so that as the images move as the technology improves what was analog becoming digital recorded in quantum measurements an amazing and wonderful thing happens how there’s still harmony how some images can get behind the phrasing some jump ahead just like there’s a demographic that still uses a land line while others are wireless but they still live side by side they still get along somehow you just got to figure out if the image you see is shining from behind the screen or from in front just like you can be holding your pecker or you can be looking at yourself in the mirror holding your pecker and so now watch see the beauty in the movement the interposing of the images how you can wonder how people saw you in your youth how you’ll probably forget nobody wants to hear you say been there done that and really the best thing you can do is burn after reading in a constant discernment of the projection and the projector and if you’re going to film anything film something that’s moving because if there is no movement there is no time and if you watched anything frozen cook on a stove you know heat breaks things apart and this becomes transcendent upon everything. Really just like other animals we go by vibrations.

The cop is young if you go by his face. Now again you’re looking from within the Cadillac from the passenger seat because the first question is to the driver but the rest of the conversation is with the passenger with Carter Sexton and Mary Jane Smiley she just answers she starts the give and take the right way she starts it with a lie.

MARY JANE

There ain’t no weed in here officer.

And now the Master of Ceremonies stands up from the vacuum stand he leans a hand against the hook that holds the hose and while crossing his leg pulls his sock up in his boot. The bill of his cap is still low down and at the angle you see him you still can’t see his face can’t see his eyes.

MC

It ain’t really about being honey-potted or even honey-dicked it really has to do with the honey-do and we come up with lists all the time. When we’re young we don’t know we’re doing it because we’re trying to prove something. When we’re old we know we’re doing it because we’re bored. The irony of so much to do and so little time. When really we have so much time and we need something to do. And then see you do it and then you’ve done it but the doing it was so much better and lasted so much longer than the feeling of having it done and as you get older you know it which makes you wonder about all that doing and what you’ve done and in the military it’s hurry up and wait but then you begin to realize the less you hurry the less you wait but try telling that to someone young especially a young cop the truth is all you can do is lie it’s what they want to hear anyway it’s what they expect and someday they’ll have children and they’ll learn to lie they’ll learn the best way to get at the truth is to lie and well when a cop pulls you over in a carwash in the rain I guess you better damn well lie.

COP

I can smell it.

CARTER

What exactly do you smell?

The plates and the license and registration are easy and for a moment you see a flashback to earlier in the day when Carter opens the glove box to get to the gas tank and notices Mary Jane’s driver’s license there she left it there by accident but now he knows where it is and just so you don’t think they just profiled the car take a step back and witness the black Cadillac drive into town the cop car a coupe in gray in black parked just outside the limits and how it follows the Cadillac into town at sunset passing by as it pulls into Huck’s parking at the Casey’s across the intersection and so you see Carter get out and come back to the car with a fountain soda it’s not like the cop doesn’t know when it pulls out it’s not a car from the hood full of young blacks cruising through town maybe there to front a drop but the cop pulls out behind anyway the Cadillac without its headlights on and then you see Carter watch the cop pull out to follow looking forward for a moment to the horizon all pink and orange in the windshield shaded and smeared with the mist of a drizzling rain and he says to Mary Jane.

CARTER

Do you have your lights on?

Mary Jane fumbles at the knob and Carter says Shit as the cop flips its lights on and so now you know why the young cop pulls them over and calls for backup two more cars pulling into the carwash one marked and one not. Then the focus returns to the Master of Ceremonies now that it’s getting dark the rain has let up he still has the bill of his cap pulled down low but you see it you see the glow of his electronic cigarette and if you know anything about spinning you’d know it’s a PG/VG mix of cappuccino diablo and Sour OG Kush wax how if you hear that’s how they do it overseas but then you don’t know any of this unless someone tells you.

MC

See when you’re just watching what do you have to lose? All you need is a comfortable couch some legal refreshments and a Sunday night with your Netflix series or maybe it’s something on AMC and how easy it is to talk about share a post on Facebook discuss in the break room how you didn’t like the ending because the only time you’re on the edge is when you talk about it your entertainment and how much better you are for it because you know the edge you’ve seen it it’s been shown to you to get ratings and you can bluff all you want how you’ve walked it but you don’t really know because you’re still afraid of what you have to lose just like it might sound cool watching this on TV a black Cadillac getting pulled over by the cops being let go even though everyone knows there’s weed in the car because do you really want to go down that road and I’m not just talking a night in jail maybe only getting slapped with a misdemeanor for less than an ounce on you but how about the fact it will show up in the police blotter might affect your job after it took you damn near two years to get back on your feet financially or let alone the trauma to the children having DCFS called in because even if the cop couldn’t see through the tinted window panes there are an eight year old and five year old girl in the back… Yes, it’s easy to watch. Easy to comment on. But you know and I know you’re bluffing.

And then he made eye contact a damned thing he never did because that’s something holy. The cop doesn’t look at Mary Jane he doesn’t look at the driver anymore and that’s what you focus on—the cop’s eyes. The cop’s eyes making contact with the man riding shotgun.

COP

Where are you from?

And it’s a juxtaposition that defies good narrative because you flash to the MC again the cops don’t seem to notice him he just stands by the vacuum cleaners vaping perhaps seen just as an innocent bystander maybe if he were holding a camera it would be on reality TV and even though he’s far enough away he can still hear amused by how the cop is looking at their driver’s license the registration the insurance Carter had to find in his wallet because Mary Jane has seemed to misplace it just getting the facts straight the truth because what you say and what’s on paper better not contradict for that is the positioning of fear how appearance must match reality.

MC

So afraid to break the rules… I love the inbred psychology of it because it all goes back to when your parents or the guardians of your childhood told you No. The teachers said Do this and you will be tested… and so you do it. They must know what they’re doing because they made up the rules and I better pass their tests. So many lives half-lived this way. So much of yourself not even known. Un-tapped. Because if you’re consciously aware of it you make mistakes all the time that break the rules but if caught they’re forgiven and laughed off as ignorance and really even when you know you’re still ignorant and even if you get in trouble feel the horrible isolation of guilt it’s not the end of the world God willing you’ll still wake up in the morning and when the trouble is over you look back and say: Huh… It’s a beautiful freedom. And a sad responsibility.

The Master of Ceremonies pulls a phone from his pocket. He taps on it and then holds it up to the scene and so it’s how you see it now the view from a camera phone in a somewhat steady hand as it pans from the street cars slowing to witness what’s going on into the carwash parking lot passing over the three police cruisers lights flashing blue and red the horizon for a moment the sun slowly sinking casting its fingers in the sky then the Cadillac the black matte finish dull and un-reflecting the window half-way down on the passenger side and Carter sitting there staring straight ahead while the cops behind the car gather to go over the papers the camera phone zooms in as best as it can on the inside of the car the audio feed excellent as Mary Jane reaches to open the ash tray where Carter’s e-cig had been charging.

CARTER

Don’t open that the roaches are in there.

MC

As you go down the road you don’t notice if it’s not your destination and then when you’re looking reading the signs looking into every parking lot into every shopping window you wonder how you ever get there with so many choices so many places looking for your business people inside with stories and how you may walk in and be helped immediately and other places may have a line and a pissed off employee behind the counter and just like a movie set is an un-worldly vain self-serving thing so tempting in its glamour so is everything on that road asking you to come in and join a world that will go up in smoke as soon as you pass by as soon as it passes… You are not touched by what you see on the road. It takes your eyes the touch of a hand. And you feel it when it happens. The transfer of energy. And when it happens nothing really has to be said it’s just like a mutual silent comfortable okay.

Now you see the kids little girl #1 and little girl #2 in fact you heard them from the back when the cop asked his first question because little girl #1 asked a question: Are we gonna get a ticket? But they’re quiet now the inside of the Cadillac is silent what a movie set can’t capture despite all the lighting the make-up and sound they don’t even look back Mary Jane and Carter they don’t have to because it isn’t that moment when you’re surrounded by strangers there was no isolation little girl #1 and little girl #2 had never felt that but the adults in front had and they didn’t have to look at each other either in fact Carter is looking out the window at a man in a baseball cap filming them on his phone good thing the rain has stopped almost like the horizon has surpassed him the man holding the phone it took no time at all for the fading light to surpass him and you see it’s what Carter wonders staring at the man feeling nothing knowing that man will have tears because if you have to watch you’re not in you’re not inside the car you’re still a stranger and if you’ve ever been familiar with someone intimate and then to feel this strangeness why it’s the most alone thing in the world but there’s no one alone in the car only the man outside holding the phone is and the silence he meets is always the answer innocence gets to its question which is why it goes by its other senses.

And then the Master of Ceremonies catches it for a moment. Even with weak megapixels the focus the light the last of the natural light is caught reflecting out of Carter’s eyes as he stares out the window into the side mirror back at the cops talking amongst one another. It is a muted stare.

COP

He said they were up visiting family. He said he works at the VA. Said he was a disabled vet…

Maybe the Master of Ceremonies feels it feels Carter’s gaze his intent because suddenly he feels he’s attracted too much attention to himself someone may be watching who may do more than just watch and so he lowers the phone for a moment and the focus shifts suddenly because smartphones have sensors in them and flip depending on how you’re holding it and so for a moment what was vertical goes horizontal the view rattled the sound muffled and then the Cadillac comes into view again defying gravity balancing on its hood before the screen rectifies itself the last of the colors on the horizon just about gone now the rain beginning to fall again not heavy just migrant fat drops that splatter on the asphalt of the carwash and a drop hits the screen of the phone running down the edge smearing the MC’s view and you hear it for a moment before the recording stops the soft sound of the rain.

MC

And what would be the music? You always turn off the radio when a cop pulls you over don’t you? And like what leaves you hanging in between as one song ends and you wait for the next to begin you knew a long time ago it was a walk you’re always going somewhere to be somebody or maybe you’re somebody because of where you’re going and though nature abhors a vacuum if not for the spaces in between spaces we would not know the journey at all and with enough spaces you begin to wonder if you’re ever gonna get there until you know the there is here the here of you going there and if your heart starts beating too fast in anticipation slow down just slow down and focus on something focus on it intently but keep walking after you stop and stop once in a while to know why you’re walking and if you have to say anything about it if you need a song to sing along the way know that you are always singing especially when you’re trying to be as still as can be because silence can be very loud.

It’s not being filmed anymore. You see the Master of Ceremonies stop filming on his camera you can’t hear the cops anyway an older cop shorter balder approaches the driver’s side and has a conversation through the window papers are returned and the Cadillac pulls away this time with its lights on though apparently no ticket was given and not once did a car door open and that’s how you leave it this exterior scene on a city street a carwash parking lot and it’s raining again dark the street lamps have turned on and that’s how the scene is left the MC standing alone in the glow of a carwash street lamp with three police cruisers the lights still flashing and the cops all standing around and then you see him tap on his phone again and hit playback and the recording runs until you see a finger hit the share button.

FADE OUT

The movie screen lifts to reveal Carter’s kitchen on the stage. Mary Jane is sitting at the black fold-out table. She’s on the phone. The audience’s view passes over a plate of marijuana an ash tray and a pipe and near the corner edge a Natural Light can with condensation–these are the only articles on the table. The beer isn’t sitting in front of her, but Carter is nowhere on stage. She’s still wearing a pink bandanna.

MARY JANE:

Ya I know, Mom–it could have been really bad. But all they gave us was a verbal warning. Wanted to know if we painted it because when they looked it up it said the color was green. The cop laughed when he told him the car had belonged to an Ida Mae… No, the kids just thought we were getting a ticket… I don’t know, Mom–I don’t know how to look at it. You know how it is. One moment you see it as beautiful and ordered and strangely in-tune and other times it’s just ugly and off and it doesn’t have to be just you looking at I mean what if another person sees… There was a guy filming it on his camera.

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