By: Kathy Rucker
(An adaptation of the memories of Eduardo Galeano)
The stage is dark. On the stage is a small house, a house in a poor neighborhood in South America. It has been blown up. All the bits and pieces are now hung from invisible wire from high above the stage—planks of wood that once were walls, shards of glass, pieces of chairs, tables, utensils, cloth, bedding, torn clothing, books—all floating in air. In the middle hangs one solitary light bulb. The set of this blown up house takes up almost the entire stage. In geometric form, the profile still resembles a house.
Stage is dark. We hear traffic sounds, horns honking in the distance, dogs barking, screeching tires of a car stopping, the pounding on a door.
MAN is in the center of the house and the light bulb goes on.
MAN. They blindfolded me and put me in a van and drove. You could hear people laughing, the chorus of the street musicians, the sounds of noisemakers and horns. They told me: “Listen to the people having a good time. This is the last carnival you’re going to hear in your life.” This hurt. When they took me out of the car, I stepped on grass. I thought we were close to the train tracks. I prepared myself to be shot. (WOMAN enters from stage left. We hear the sounds of a street carnival, people laughing. The sounds become softer and softer.)
WOMAN. He had been given neither food nor drink for two days and his head had been covered by a scratchy hood. He had been interrogated about the sources of his articles, among other things. He saw only the dusty, worn shoes of his interrogators.
MAN. She had been with us the entire weekend, but it was at dinner that I discovered that Indian face that Siqueiros would have liked to paint. I saw abundant light in those greenish eyes, as well as their dry tears, the dignity of her cheekbones, the very womanly mouth marked by the scar: a woman like that should be banned, I thought, with surprise.
WOMAN. Afterwards we played cards and I bet my last cent. I won. Then…
MAN. …she pushed everything she had into the middle of the table, and lost. I did not yet know that it had been a bullet that had grazed her face, but perhaps I already realized that no scrape from death’s claws would be able to disfigure her.
WOMAN. My body had grown to find you, after so much walking and stumbling and losing itself. Not the port, the sea: the place where all the rivers end and where the ships and little boats sail. I was home.
MAN. (Pacing the stage.) Later I got up and walked. I felt the cool sand under my bare feet and tree leaves touching my face. I pinched myself and laughed. I had no doubts or fears. That night I realized I was a hunter of words. This is what I had been born for. This was going to be my way of being with others after I was dead and this way the people and the things I had loved wouldn’t die. To write I had to get my feet wet, I knew. Challenge myself, provoke myself, tell myself, “You can’t do it. I bet you can’t.” And I also knew that in order for the words to come…
WOMAN. I had to close my eyes and think intensely about a woman.
MAN. Our bodies entwined, we change position while we sleep, shifting this way and that. Your head on my chest, my thigh on your belly, and as our bodies turn, the bed turns and the room and the world turn. “No, no,” you explain, thinking you are awake. “We are no longer there. We moved to another country while we slept.” (WOMAN moves to stage right. She stops at the wall of the house. In this section are a group of different colored glass bottles hanging. This section of the stage is lit with a soft warm light; everything else is dimmed. She taps the bottles with a spoon making as if playing a xylophone.)
WOMAN. I dreamed that the poets were entering the house of words. The words kept in old glass bottles, waited for the poets, mad with desire to be chosen: they begged the poets to look at them, touch them, lick them. The poets opened the bottles, tried words on their fingertips and smacked their lips or wrinkled their noses. The poets were in search of words they didn’t know as well as words they did know and had lost.
MAN. The telephone rings and I jump. I look at my watch—nine thirty. Should I answer or not? It’s the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance. “We’re going to kill you, you bastards.” “The schedule for calling in threats, sir, is from six to eight,” I answer.
WOMAN. It’s time to go. We haven’t slept more than a few minutes but feel fresh and wide awake. We have made love and have eaten and drunk, with the sheet as a tablecloth and our legs as a table, and we have made love again. He has told me sad things about Uruguay. It’s difficult, he has told me, for companions to be dead after he has seen them so alive. He escaped by the skin of his teeth and now asks himself what he should do with so much freedom and survival. We arrive at the airport late. The plane has been delayed. We have breakfast three times. A long time—minutes or years—passed while the two of us sat there in… (BOY enters, goes to the center of the house.)
BOY. —Silence. The dictatorship had erected a machinery of silence. They hoped to hide reality, to…
MAN. …erase memory, to empty consciences. Once in a while the government would close us down and dawn would find us at the police station. Standing in the smoky hallway we received the news with more relief than indignation. Every day we didn’t publish the paper was a day to get money together so we could come out the next. We would go to the police headquarters and at the door we would say good-bye just in case.
BOY. To survive we would have to become mute, banished in our own countries, and internal exile is always harder and more futile than any exile outside.
MAN. I empty my desk drawers, full of my papers and letters. I read, haphazardly, the words of women I loved and men who were my brothers. With my finger I caress the telephone that had brought me friendly voices and threats.
WOMAN. Night has fallen. The compañeros have left a few hours—or months—ago. I hear, I see them; their footsteps and voices…
MAN. …the light that each one gives off and the vapor that remains behind when they leave. (Stage goes dark. MAN and WOMAN leave. We hear the sound of pots banging rhythmically.)
BOY. (Spotlight on BOY banging on the pots hanging in the house upstage. Stage is enveloped in a late afternoon golden light.) We waited for the summer, and in the summer, party time, carnival. Mars shone red in the sky, and the hot earth was warm with little toads. We roamed the quarries for good clay for the masks. We would hang an old pot around our necks, and the masked orchestra would set out to wander around the carnival parade. Every neighborhood had a stage, maybe two. In the shadows under the stage, with the commotion above, the first little kisses happened. (BOY exits stage left as MAN walks on stage right. WOMAN enters from stage left. Light goes from gold to early morning pink.)
WOMAN. The police came. They put me in a car. They moved me and locked me in a damp cell. I stared for hours at the black boot left in the corner by a forgotten soul. The night they let me out, I heard murmurings and distant voices and sounds of metal clanking while I walked through corridors, a guard on either side. Then the prisoners began to whistle, softly, as if blowing on the walls. The whistling grew louder and louder until one voice, every voice as one broke into song. The song shook the walls.
MAN. She dreamed that her glasses were smashed and her keys were missing. She scoured the city for her keys, groping on hands and knees, and when at last, she found them, the keys told her that they didn’t open any of her doors.
WOMAN. Exile involves the risk of forgetting. Please don’t.
MAN. Go where I may, I will never forget the land I belong to, because I wear her, I walk with her, I dream her,
WOMAN. I am her. Cities and people unattached to my memory float toward me: land where I was born, children I made, men and women who swelled my soul.
MAN. I walked out of Montevideo because I don’t like being a prisoner, and out of Buenos Aires because…
WOMAN. …I don’t like being dead.
MAN. We chat, we eat, we smoke, we walk, we work together, ways of making love without entering each other, and our bodies call each other as the day travels toward the night. I hear the train pass. Church bells. And then I remember, you are not…
WOMAN. …here. (Silence. Stage goes dark.)
Spotlight on MAN, WOMAN, and BOY in sequence as each begins to speak. They are each standing downstage, in front of the house. The sound of a slow tango begins.
MAN. When I return…
BOY. …I’m going back to the places where I made myself or was made. I am going to the red brick patio of the house where I learned to walk by holding onto our dog Lily’s tail. I’ll go horseback riding through the arroyo Negro grassland, where I learned to gallop. I will return to the streets leading down to the sea, the battlegrounds and soccer fields of my first years. That’s where we waged war with sticks and stones.
WOMAN. They pushed me against the tree. I was still blindfolded. I heard several men get in line and kneel. I heard the click of their guns. A drop of sweat rolled down my neck. I heard an explosion.
BOY. But I was still alive.
WOMAN. I heard the sounds of cars driving off.
MAN. I managed to untie myself and pull off the blindfold. It was raining. The sky was dark. Dogs were barking someplace. I was surrounded by tall, old trees. I could smell the eucalyptus.
WOMAN. A morning made to die in. I walked…
MAN. …home. It was a warm, serene night. Autumn was arriving in Montevideo. I learned the week before Picasso has died. A short time passed and my exile began. My exile from you, from our life together. (Pause.)
WOMAN. Tell our children about the things that are happening now. Talk to them about the friends who are dead and in prison and about how hard life was in our countries. And I want them to look into your eyes and not believe you and tell you you’re lying. I want them to not be able to believe that this was possible. I want them to say that this time never existed. (Music ends.)
MAN. I believe you.
End of Play
Kathy Rucker is an SF Bay Area playwright. Her plays have been seen in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London and Valdez, Alaska. Her play, Beautiful Scar, was a finalist for the Heideman Award at the Humana Festival Ten-Minute Play Contest. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley.