John Tang

Back at Prose and my Last Play, Maybe

Posted in Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on January 28, 2011

For Schliener

The pages of Shakespeare’s collection of works complied by Riverside were fresh and appealing to read from the beginning to the end. On the spine was a orange sticker which read in blue ink, “117 B, Schliener.” I remembered this was a gift from Winifried Schliener, a professor of English at UC Davis. He was a tall German man, fit, his face clouded in white hair, who specialized medicine in Renaissance literature. In our Shakespeare course, he was enthusiastic in one character in particular, Jacque in “As You Like It,” known at the Melancholic. Tonight I thought of writing a piece in spirit of Jacque and Schleiner; what kind of story was that in prose? The least I could repay by immortalizing a man who loved literature and its mastery of the melancholic.

A Play

Where will You be Five Years from Today?

Characters

 

Abigail—Thirty. A larger woman. Hair usually tied.

Oran—Abigail’s Boyfriend

Michael—Abigail’s Brother

Aunt Mel—Abigail’s Aunt

 

Scene

 

Evening. In a small room each person has the book, Where will you be in Five Years from Today? There is a door on the right, which opens to the living room the audience doesn’t see. When the scene opens they are writing in their books.

 

Abigail

I can’t believe I’m halfway into the book, you’d think they ask about marriage by now. When you write it out like this, you begin to notice so many things can be done in five years.

 

(Beat.)

 

Okay, guys. It’s share-time. What did you guys write?

 

(Silence.)

 

We’ll go this way.

 

(Points counterclockwise.)

 

Michael, what did you put down for Five Moral Values that are Important to You?

Michael

(Counts with fingers.)

 

Sadness, humility, family, community, and dreams.

Abigail

Oh, sadness. Why is that your first?

Michael

I didn’t know there was an order.

 

(Looks at page.)

 

I see. There are numbers. One through five. Sorry.

Abigail

It’s okay. We’ll come back to you. Think of the order.

 

(To Oran.)

 

Hi, babe. What did you write?

Oran

Didn’t get there yet.

Abigail

(Friendly.)

 

You’re slow. That’s funny. I’m already halfway inside the book.

 

(Laughs. Flips through book. Reads.)

 

This is great. “Dedicate your life to a cause greater than yourself, and your life will become a glorious romance and adventure,” by Mack Douglas.

Michael

I think some of these are too happy: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it all the time.” Who is B. J. Marshall? Or this one: “You can’t find someone in crowd of a thousand who writes his or her dreams and say, ‘This is possible.’ Virtually nothing is too good to be true.”

Abigail

You’re always choosing what you don’t understand. Einstein is in here. Walt Disney has mission statement: “Make people happy.”

Oran

Okay. Finished.

 

(Beat.)

 

For my five morals I wrote: Love. Family. Friends. Hard work. And for fun I wrote, Food.

Michael

Food is not a moral.

Abigail

(Ignores.)

 

That’s pretty cool, Oran. What kind of ingredients do you normally work with? Some apricots powered, some cinnamon pecan. I’ll tell you now, nothing is more fun than apricots, my favorite fruit; I can smell the spicy sweetness on my lips just talking about it. You’ll love it, Oran. One time search for a French dessert and we’ll make something.

 

(Silence.)

 

It’s cold in here. I’m going to brew some coffee. You guys want anything?

 

(They say show disinterest. Beat.)

 

I’m going to ask mom if she can turn the heater. Aren’t you cold? I’m cold. I still haven’t eaten either; that’s probably why I’m cold in the first place. Funny.

 

(Exits. Silence for some time.)

Michael

 

Do you like my sister?

Oran

(Pause.)

 

I do.

Michael

(Pause.)

 

Good.

Oran

(Jokingly.)

 

There something I should be afraid of?

Michael

Depends on your fears; from there, anywhere your mind can go.

Oran

You’re scaring me. Is this part of the brother-sister love?

Michael

She’s a whore.

Oran

I don’t believe you. I’ll rephrase: Do you love your sister?

Michael

Aside from our blood? For the most part I love my sister. Don’t misunderstand me. She’s a nice person. There were many suitors before you.

Oran

She’ll tell me when she’s ready. That’s all I need to know.

Michael

 

(Beat.)

 

How was the drive? I mean where did you guys drive from?

Oran

We drove from Carmel. About an eight-hour drive and we didn’t even take the scenic route on one-o-one. You hit traffic when you hit LA—but that place is always congested anyway you cut it. I amazed your sister made it here in one shot—muggy the entire stretch on the grapevines. I was asleep the whole drive.

Michael

You’re coming from up north. Forgot Abs lived out there.

Oran

Where was she before?

Michael

My parents never know where she is. She’ll call from Arizona, Nevada, Sacramento, with a new job in every city and state. If you had all the slices of time she visited us, in a span of seven years, a couple of months she was with us. For Christmas, I don’t know why, one time she called me: (Poor imitation of her voice) “Carmel.” Hung up. You’d think it was a prank but that high-pitch voice, like a seagull, resonates. How am I expected to remember one word in a month? Before you guys got here my mom was asking, “Where is your sister now? Are we expecting her, now?  Where is she at on 5 now?” She didn’t think she was arriving with a boy.

 

(Beat. Referring to Oran’s copy.)

 

I think that book was originally for our cousin Victoria.

Oran

(Nervously.)

 

Oh, are you serious? Let me return it.

Michael

Well, you wrote in it already. Nothing you can do now except say thank you.

Oran

I feel awful.

Michael

Don’t.

 

(Beat.)

 

Our aunt is insane. Divorced now, two years by herself in the south Don’t get me wrong about her character. She’s strong, career-oriented, always updating herself with the nieces and nephews. Has our names and birthdays on the inside of her Bible. She likes these kinds of little things. For my high school graduation she bought me a travel-journal. Now I think she bought it only for the cover, because when you open it, it’s like any kind of journal with lines, you know, going left to right. She likes to know these kinds of things about us, even before our mom.

 

(Beat.)

 

Probably felt terrible if you were the only person not unwrapping a gift.

Oran

She sounds like a sweet person. By the Christmas lights she just handed it over and apologized.

Michael

(Imitating aunt.)

 

“Sorry, I know it’s nothing much, Oran. Please, we got it on short notice.”

Oran

Very sweet of her.

Michael

You must never have relatives before.

 

(Beat.)

 

By the way, did you eat already?

Oran

No. I’m tired from the ride. Thank you, though.

 

(Pause. Beat.)

 

Does your family meet every Christmas?

Michael

Normally, our parents go home to Philippines every year. Our dad’s birthday falls on Christmas and most of his friends are there and my mom’s family is there to celebrate.

Oran

That is cool.

Michael

Sorry you guys didn’t get any cake.

 

(Abigail returns with two cups of coffee.)

 

Abigail

You guys didn’t fast-forward ahead in life, did you?

Michael

(Looks at book.)

Oran

Only talking.

Michael

This is stupid. It says in here Shakespeare wrote “Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and five other immortal plays.” That’s stupid. It makes me want tie a rope around my neck.

Oran

It’s just a number.

Michael

It’s a lie. It bothers me because it’s delusion. There were five or six plays before these.

Abigail

(Flat tone.)

 

It’s just saying what you can do that in five years.

Michael

I’m saying we don’t know when his genius decided to catch on fire. To me, it’s rather showing time is irrelevant for greatness.

Abigail

(To Oran.)

 

Sorry, babe, you have to hear us. Sibling rivalry. Natural as air and blue skies.

 

(Laughs. Beat.)

 

Take this.

Oran

I know how brothers and sisters can be.

Michaels

Am I alone on this?

Abigail

(Ignores.)

 

This is for you, babe. Has everything—quarter of the cup is cream, powder chocolate; I used the real Hershey dark chocolate you put in a cake, if you don’t mind; it might be a little bitter. It’s missing only the hazelnut I know you have with your order.

Oran

Thank you. You heard me back at Carmel?

Abigail

You are the one who said “let’s prepare” and I listened. I remembered, also, I ordered my large coffee with mocha and put extra lump of sugar and topped it with cinnamon just for the road.

Oran

(Genuine.)

 

I am remembering that.

Abigail

Here take it.

Oran

I’m not really craving coffee. Can you leave it on the desk?

Abigail

Hold onto it now because my dad doesn’t want anything on his work-desk. It’s a privilege we’re in his room now. A stain will have him throw a fit soon as he sees us in here.

 

(Rubs the desk.)

 

I understand now why he doesn’t want a ring on the surface. Just ruins the wood in minutes. The ghostly ring—I imagine him asking himself where did this come from, asking the entire house how this came to be rather than the

Michael

He’d be upset when we were children.

 

(To Oran.)

 

Go ahead, leave it there. No one cares. We’re all on vacation.

Abigail

(To Oran.)

 

Oran, you’ll get used to it: Hearing him is like listening for a note in a heat wave. That’s the dogs barking . It’s going take some time.

Oran

(Stands. Takes coffee.)

 

Let’s not make an issue on Christmas Eve, okay?

Michael

And how do you know how our house functions? Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Oran

I want to be calm for a second.

Abigail

Oran, I am on your side.

Michael

No one is stopping you. Be calm!

Oran

(Beat. Sits. To Abigail.)

 

Where is your family now? I didn’t even say hi to your parents yet. I should say something, since I’ll be sleeping here for the night.

 

Michael

(To Abigail.) Why are we giving him a bed?

Abigail

Everyone is fine with it except you.

Michael

Where is he sleeping? He is not sleeping in my room. And definitely mom will not have him in your room. Losing your “face,” (To Oran.) as our dad puts it because when man and women are in the same room, together and alone, mind you, their bodies tangled at the legs—remember, Abigail, they were whispering in each other’s ear?

Abigail

Stop.

Michael

I need ask someone.

 

(Exits.)

Oran

What’s happening?

Abigail

No. Let him go. Hold onto your integrity, Oran. You’re human. You’re a little shook right now. My brother has that kind of power when his head falls off.

Oran

(Sips drink. Grimaces.)

Abigail

Is it bitter?

Oran

No, no, no. It’s a little too warm.

 

(Beat.)

 

I’m sorry. Let me introduce myself—the least I can do. I’m with your brother: You wouldn’t allow any stranger to sleep over, would you?

Abigail

No, sit. My parents are just smoking in the backyard. My God, they left the screen open and you can smell it from the kitchen. In fact I can almost smell it now…or is it me? Did the ash get in my dress?

 

(Smells cloth.)

I need to change tonight.

Oran

I feel like I should say something.

 

(Feels book.)

 

They got this for me.

Abigail

Babe, they’re all drunk out there. They’re hyper and childish right now. Pop your head in the smoke and you’re forgotten, anyways; might give you a cigar to yourself for being a man. See them in the morning, babe, when everyone has their heads clear.

Oran

Why do you keep calling me babe?

Abigail

Because we’re together now.

 

(Puts a hand out.)

Oran

(Grabs her fingers.)

 

Tell me about your parents.

Abigail

They love nice people when they’re listening. People who are carry themselves quietly. They grew up together in love and had us when they were in love.

Oran

Remember me lying on the sidewalk by the beach?

Abigail

Don’t even think that far behind—two days ago, yesterday, or last week.

Oran

I want to say, Abigail: Thank you. I remember because the ocean was sea-blue and marble and air. You sat on the jetty and said to me, “Will the otters jump out?” I lived there for five years and wandered for the last two and never asked such a silly and spontaneous question, as if I mastered the Del Monte ocean. We had to close the book store, but I couldn’t leave the ocean. Why did I come here in the first place? I’d ask myself. I forgot how the beach always drew me in, pulling me by my cold feet to never leave, its diamonds shining in the infinite sun. For the first time I felt homeless.

Abigail

Does my brother scare you?

Oran

(Silence.)

 

Your brother is a little strange.

Abigail

You have it, Oran. Come here. He is unstable. He tried to commit suicide several times in this house. In bathroom you’ll see a dent in the wall—that’s his face, when his body dropped and hit slammed wall.

Oran

That’s sad.

Abigail

He’s an idiot. I’ll tell you his logic. It’s terrible but it’s true to his nature. He said, “I know they’ll be in pain, but I won’t be around to feel it.” Isn’t that selfish?

Oran

Is he fragile now?

Abigail

He’s a little bitch, I know the asshole.

 

(Mel pops her head in the door.)

Mel

Hello. What are you guys doing? Where’s your brother at?

Oran

(Confused.)

 

He went out to eat.

 

(About to stand.)

 

Hi, Ms. Davis.

Mel.

No, stay there.

Abigail

We’re filling out the book you got us. Our first goal tonight is try to get through this. We’re half-way in. I want to show you later.

Mel

Oh my God, guys, I hope you guys think it’s neat.

Abigail

You have to get yourself one, look at mine.

Mel

No, no, no, I’m old.

Abigail

Age is has no soul. You’re modest.

Mel

There aren’t any more five-years left in my career. My body is set in stone.

Oran

Appreciated. Has been a lot of fun to imagine a future.

Mel

I know you guys are old enough and maybe don’t need it anymore. It’s fun. Don’t tell your cousin Victoria (To Oran.) that’s Abigail’s cousin—I’ll share with you an inside secret. I was on the fence the whole time, anyways, too; but I couldn’t let her have one because you don’t think it isn’t so far ahead; she hasn’t finished college and has the future is endless for her, I think. Am I being mean?

Oran

No, you’re not.

Mel

So is it changing your lives? Once I saw that red cover glistening like lipstick, I had to buy it. I opened it, it said (Eyes closed, thinking.), “Talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back. The things you naturally good at are your gifts.”

 

(Beat.)

 

I know you and Abigail don’t need it, but I consider you kids still young, innocent to what’s ahead. I ask myself all the time, where will I be in five years. Will I be in Stinson beach? On the shore Mani’s pier? Is that the Orca’s over there?

Oran

You’ll love the beaches in the north. Not now, the fog is rolling in.

Abigail

You don’t have one where you’re the president of the company; will I get married again? Will my son be working then.

Mel

(As if she heard her, so she repeats last remark.)

 

Be working then? I just thought it would be a fun idea. By the way, what do you do, Oran?

Abigail

Thanks to the book, I learned Oran loves to cook.

Oran

For fun.

Mel

That’s excellent. We don’t have enough men who cook for us. I was divorced twice. You men, all the time, would argue over chores, like normal people, though, and small things—I’m sorry, can I be frustrated—and you men argue over compromises—(As if now.) “Could you at least remove the cheese with your heavy hands,” and I’ll say he couldn’t lift the glass dish, but lift only the fat tongue on his teeth, “It’s sulking.” People are never who they are unless you have some time on them.

Oran

I can speak only for myself: I’m excited I don’t know where will be in five years.

Abigail

You don’t where?

Oran

(Ignores.)

 

A lot can happen in five years. Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, King Lear and Othello.

Mel

Which one is Shakespeare? Did he write Romeo and Juliet?

Abigail

That’s him. Wrote that love is eternal.

Mel

(Still. Eyes opened. Thinking of what Abigail said.)

 

Shakespeare wrote that love is eternal. Through the greatest love story told.

Abigail

(Beat.)

 

Soon as we go home, we’re working on a French dessert with apricots and cinnamon.

Mel

Why don’t you young Blue Jays do it now? No one is in the kitchen. That’ll be like your gift to the world?

Oran

Maybe. For fun, Abigail.

Abigail

He’s modest. Our first goal is to finish this, auntie.

 

(Holds book up.)

 

I’ll show you later when we’re done.

Oran

What are they doing outside?

Abigail

I told you already, babe. They’re smoking there cigarettes outside.

Mel

(Says in the air.)

 

I don’t know, Oran.

 

(Beat.)

 

Show me later, Abigail.

 

(Exits.  Closes door quietly.)

 

(Some silence. Oran opens books.)

Oran

 

Abigail

Did you mean what you said earlier? You don’t know where you’ll be five years from today.

Oran

(Ignores.)

 

Was that your aunt? Who was your mom out there?

 

(Michael enters.)

Michael

(To Abigail.) Mom wants to meet Oran. Now she’s bothering me, how did the whole evening pass without meeting him. I invited her to come here, but she as quickly forgot what she said earlier. I turn around, forgetting as well, when she asked me to bring you both out here. (To Oran.) She’ll like you; you’re taller than Abigail. They’ll come inside once they see you.

Oran

See, I should be out there.

Abigail

You’re lying, they’re not asking for him.

Michael

Where are we going to get the room tonight for him?

Abigail

He has yours.

 

Michael

No. David, James, Arthur, are in the same bed. I’ll be on the floor tonight.

Oran

Abigail, if your parents see me, shake hands, smile, me wrapped around your waist, they’d feel safe with me around you; in your bed we’ll be warm like couples.

Abigail

Stay here with me now. We’ll have that now.

 

(From the outside, Aunt Mel calls.)

 

Mel

Oran. Oran! Abigail. Come into the kitchen.

Michael

That’s tita Mel.

Mel

They finished smoking over here.

 

(Coughs.)

 

Come in now. Don’t stay cooped up in there with each other.

Abigail

I have to take a shower first.

 

(Exits.)

Oran

Are they still looking for us?

Mel

Come out, guys…Go dressed up already, Abigail. Everyone’s coming in now. We’ll take your pictures. Hurry, hurry.

Michael

I need to see whose room are you sleeping in tonight. We have the family in the living room, my room, everywhere.

Oran

How about here?

Michael

In here? By here you mean my dad’s office? His children don’t even have the privilege. Living here for years, we lost it since we found my dad’s porno in the computer. It makes me question, how did you guys get in here in the first place. When I found you, you were innocent in the corner. I didn’t say anything because my sister knows this is a party evening.

Oran

Then there shouldn’t be any trouble. Your sister brought me in here after your cousins opened their gifts. Then I got mine.

Michael

Abigail hasn’t lived here five years now. If she is how you know our house, I don’t expect you to know anything.

Oran

(Silence.)

 

I know how to be alone. I found your sister yesterday in love with the ocean.

Michael

“Love?” Is that the word you want?

Oran

(Ignores.)

 

She asked me how, do I survive in Salinas. Living there homeless, two years, you’d think I’d lose my face to humanity. The solitude is beautiful place I recreated my world.

Michael

I’ve been alone, too.

Oran

No, you haven’t. Behind that white door is a group of people who exercise your humanity. When your sister found me, she was talking about the otters, the transparent ocean, the cloudless blue mountains. I feel in love with her words.

Michael

(Laughing.)

 

No. That’s delusion.

Oran

I love your sister to the palm of time. She saw me in a single glance and I felt the look my body wash the unforgiving two years I wandered around the ocean. Can you let me be with her?

 

(Beat.)

 

I don’t want any static between us. Let’s cool it now. I’m going out there.

 

(He opens door, yet Abigail comes in a new dress.)

Michael

You’re quick.

Abigail

(To Oran.) Where are you going, babe? Sit down, sit down.

 

(Pushes into the chair.)

 

They’re not ready for us. They’ll call us for pictures. For now we have this. You still didn’t answer my question, where do you see yourself in five years?

Oran

Where am I sleeping tonight, Abigail?

Abigail

You can sleep here tonight of course.

Oran

(Looks a Michael.)

Michael

(Takes a seat and opens the book.)

Abigail

We’ll go out there when they’re ready. Now, how are we going to past the time? I’m glad you found interest into a little optometrist.

Michael

Okay.

Abigail

(Opens book.)

 

Come here, Michael.

 

(Taps book.)

 

Direction. That’s what you need. By Armand Hammer: “It’s easy to come up with big ideas. Just think of something that everyone agrees would be ‘wonderful’ if it were only ‘possible’—and then set out to make it possible.’ Here, Whoopi Goldberg said, “If every American donated five hours a week, it would equal the labor of twenty million full-time volunteers.” Celebrities have the right mind; that’s how they achieved the ultimate dream.

 

Michael

So simple. You’re right. A dash of optimistism in my day soup.

 

(Beat.)

 

But how am I supposed to volunteer? An hour day will solve world’s problems, but…I can’t think…do you know how when you watch too much television you stand and might go the bathroom or you might go to the store for some milk?

Abigail

There you go again. If you don’t want hear any kind of optimism then you will be alone.

Oran

What she’s saying, Michael, is you can look on the brighter side.

Michael

How is it you can translate what my sister says for me? I lived with her my whole life—you not think my ears are tuned to the history behind her nonsense.

Oran

You’re becoming hostile again.

Michael

Get the fuck out of our house.

Mel

(Off stage.)

 

Are you guys coming out of that tiny space?

 

(Mel sticks her head through the door.)

 

Rains seems to be coming down tonight, all through the morning. Don’t know if you guys can drive by tomorrow because of the mud slides excepted.

 

(Beat.)

 

What do you say, Oran: Your always welcome to sleep in the bathroom.

 

(Laughs.)

 

With the entire family tonight. Thank the Lord you guys made it on time.

 

(You hear the first sign of the storm.)

Light Dim

 

 

 

 

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