Issue 14

Prose: Robert Bradley

Stages, Large and Small

Chet wrote a play. We’re No Butchers, he calls it. We’re at Rick’s discussing its merits. Everybody got haircuts, since the last time I saw them.

This is Chet’s first play. Chet teaches at some college down the road. He sits at the far end of the kitchen table and drinks beer and wine and vodka, all three, one after the other. Rick offers him a shot of Tequila by putting a shot glass in front of him and pouring. He drinks that too, puts his cigarette out and lights up a cigar.

“Who are these people?” I ask him about his play. The play was written in capital letters to denote shouting. Unqualified rage and ignorance is served up in nine abominable scenes.

“It’s about my brother,” he says. “I wrote it over a weekend.”

“A shrill masterwork written in the span of two days,” I say. “Here’s the run down as I see it: It’s the story of a family; mother, father, son, and their homosexual uncle who comes to live with them. He sleeps on their couch, because the father won’t give up the den or the T.V.  This leaves the uncle out in the open and vulnerable to the son’s quick and unremitting temper.  The father and son rage at any perceived threat to their world view, or personal comfort. The mother confines herself to the kitchen preparing one meal after another so as not to confront the savagery in the adjoining rooms.

The penultimate scene is held in a bar where the son and uncle are getting along until the uncle gets drunk and bad mouths the parents. Then an old Chinese man enters the bar and sits across from them. The uncle makes racist remarks and accuses the old man of staring at him. He is once again vilified by the son, and left behind at the bar to fend for himself.

The point seems to be that people are people; some are racists, some are physically and verbally abusive, some are Chinese or homosexual. We already know this but it’s good to be reminded once in a while in play form.”

What the fuck is that?” says Rick.

“I was just summing up,” I say, “giving the overview.”

“What did you ever do in your life?” says Rick. “This man made an effort. He wrote a play. And you come in here and bash it with your so-called overview.”

Chet’s up on his feet, now, bobbing and weaving. I’m up holding a chair in front of me, legs out like daggers.

“Put the chair down, you fucking failure.”

“Shut up and sit down, you fuck. I’m not done critiquing your play.”

Chet throws a wild round house punch and dives or falls at my feet. I drop the chair on him and back away as he curses me.

Rick comes at me with a ladle.

“Fuck this,” I say, and back out the front door, jump in my car and drive. I pass through a small market town, busy with lights and signs. Someone dressed in the costume of a cow waves at the traffic. There’s a hum, a narcotic lull in the air, music from the shops, cars idling, a world drained of color. Legions standing curbside are waiting for the light to change. If I were rowing, instead of driving over this river of blacktop, I’d beat the stragglers with my oar.

We’re nothing more than heads on mute from too much talk and television; hands and arms and tongues and jaws, clicking and clacking, twitchy and slow and hapless; blind torsos propped up at dinnertime, feeding off custom; the knowledge (kill or be killed) handed down from generation to generation and acted out on stages, large and small, around the world.

I stop for beer. The deli owner grumbles and yawns, displaying teeth, tongue, tonsils, uvula, pharynx, the constrictors… Privy, now, I am, to his whole history, dental and medical. Stone faced, fat fisted, he taps out code. Chews his cigar. From frayed vocal cords comes the cost. I slide some bills across the counter. He drops coins into my hand.

“Foggy today, huh?” he says.

“Can’t see a thing,” I say.

“Careful driving,” he says.

“You, too,” I say.

I drive by Petra’s place. It’s late and the lights are off inside. But she’s standing next to the mailbox at the edge of the yard with her back to the street looking up at the stars. I don’t slow down. Sometimes, I don’t know what to say to her.

Once home, I open a beer, turn on the television. Watch a show on bowerbirds. They decorate the woodland floors around their burrows with colorful leaves and fruit and bottle caps to entice the female of the species into an evening of splendor, and then a life of thankless drudgery. After the “courtship” the female builds her own nest and raises the chicks separately. I fall asleep as the commentator complains, no human has ever seen them mate.