CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Show of Affection
Laurence Klavan


Chopping noises. Then—a scream.

Lights up suddenly on the kitchen of a suburban home. We also see a dining room table, set for a holiday meal. Her finger bleeding, Elyse has cut herself while chopping vegetables on a countertop. A bottle and glass of wine are nearby. She is in her late twenties, pretty, already somewhat blowsy. She sucks blood from the finger. Then she presses it with her thumb and holds it up.

Behind her, Alan, her twin brother, enters. He is pale, thin, and delicate. Straight? Gay? He has never given himself the chance to know. He is carrying an environmentally friendly bag of groceries.


ALAN

  Hi.


Elyse turns. He is pressing and holding up his finger, too. She looks at him.



ELYSE

  What are you doing?


ALAN

  I thought it was a new kind of greeting. How everyone in the city was doing it or something.


ELYSE

  Don’t be an idiot. I cut myself, that’s all.


ALAN

  Oh.


Sheepishly, he lowers his hand. He puts down the bag, takes off his coat. She offers him some wine.



ELYSE

  Here’s something everyone is doing.


ALAN

  At four-thirty in the afternoon?


ELYSE

  If you’re my twin brother, how come you’re an old woman? Huh? How did that happen? (drinks)


ALAN

  Excuse me for caring about you, okay?


ELYSE

  If that’s what you want to call it. If you really cared, you’d actually help me with something—like dinner.


ALAN
(opening his bag)

  I brought hummus treats, tofurky, and my seitan sweet potatoes.


ELYSE

  Great. I hope you enjoy them. The rest of us are having food.


He endures this slight.



ALAN

  Where are Mom and Dad?


ELYSE

  Dad’s taking a nap. Mom left me in charge when she went out shopping. (checks her watch) Awhile ago.


ALAN

  I’ll keep a lookout.


Alan looks out a window.



ALAN

  Are they really going to do it? Fill in the pool?


ELYSE

  What are they supposed to do?


ALAN

  I don’t know, but—


ELYSE

  It’s too sad. The Lewises should have kept that dog on a leash. While Mom and Dad were on vacation, she got loose and wandered into the backyard. She thought she was free but she was really lost. She got stuck on the pool tarp and couldn’t escape, as if she was on an ice flow. When they got back, they found her there, frozen. They’ll have to scrape her off with a shovel. Or else just wait for the weather to get warm.


ALAN

  God rest her soul.


Elyse rolls her eyes. She attends to chopping again.



ALAN

  A dead dog is awful enough. But did anyone else notice the—



ELYSE

  What, you mean near the front door?



ALAN

  Yes. Did anybody even—casually—comment on it?



ELYSE

  Not yet.



ALAN

  Really? It was the first thing I saw when I came in.



ELYSE

  Well, you always were the sensitive one, weren’t you?



ALAN

  It was once part of a human being. That was what Kenny Tragora was.



ELYSE

  If you say so. He was apparently something else, too.



ALAN

  What’s that?



ELYSE

  A vourdalak.



Alan just stares at her.



ALAN

  What? Who was?



ELYSE

  Kenny Tragora.



ALAN

  No—that’s—he was an orthodontist.



ELYSE

  An orthopedist.



ALAN

  And a Republican fundraiser. He had three beautiful and obnoxious children. Every Christmas, he would put all those blinding lights on his house. Then he would dress up as Santa and drive down his street in a sleigh pulled by his two little dogs—



ELYSE

  Dandy Dinmonts.



ALAN

  —waving and throwing big pieces of fruit and candy to kids. It was embarrassing and pathetic and everyone loved it. Last year he was even hit by a bicycle but was unhurt. He was a vourdalak?!



ELYSE

  It might sound silly, but that’s what everyone says.



ALAN

  Huh. So that’s why his head is sitting on a spike outside the house.



ELYSE

  Exactly.



ALAN

  But why couldn’t he have just been—stabbed through the heart?



ELYSE

  For a little insurance, I guess.



ALAN

  That seems insecure.



ELYSE

  Whatever.



ALAN

  The mailman’s been putting letters in his mouth.



ELYSE

  I saw, but only the magazines. And everyone’s a comedian.



ALAN

  It’s a little—unseasonal. That’s my feeling. It’s unfestive.



ELYSE
(shrugs)

  One man’s meat. (oven bell goes off) And speaking of meat—



She attends to a turkey in the oven.



ALAN

  But why hang him here? I mean, vourdalaks are vampires who only kill the people they love. Who are then turned into vourdalaks themselves. Some say there are entire towns of them here in the Hudson Valley. Like Rhinebeck. That’s why it was burned to the ground and replaced by a giant CVS. But in Beacon? We’re a guiding light, right?



ELYSE
(attending to bird)

  I hope this is done. Does this look done to you?



ALAN

  And why our house? Kenny Tragora was a nice guy and all, but who here loved—



ELYSE

  It’s a rumor, all right? It’s an old wives’ tale. Why must you take it all so seriously? Why are you always picking at everything? First it was your face when we were little. Then it was the food on my plate, so I wouldn’t get fat. Now it’s life itself. Why can’t you just let things be?



ALAN

  I’m concerned, is that a crime? Concerned about who would kill Kenny Tragora, cut off his head, and leave it near our lawn.



ELYSE

  We’ll take him down after Thanksgiving. All right? Let’s not let it spoil our meal.



Behind them, their father, Ron, has entered.



RON

  It was his wife.



He has recently awakened. In upper middle age, he seems gentle, wears glasses and a fusty winter sweater.



ELYSE

  What? What do you mean?



ALAN

  Hi, Dad.



He kisses his father. But it goes unnoticed.



RON

  I saw her. Nadine Tragora. From the upstairs bathroom, while I was standing, peeing, and looking out the window. She didn’t even park her car. She just left it running at the curb, got out—the door still open, that annoying little bell audible from upstairs—pulled her husband’s head out of a Barnes and Noble bag and stuck it where the guy usually hangs our dry cleaning.



ALAN

  But—



RON
(closing the subject)

  Well, she must have had a reason. Mustn’t she?



This causes an awkward pause. Elyse has turned.



ELYSE

  Mom.



Her mother, Lorna, is standing in the doorway. She is a formidable woman in upper middle age. Annoyed, she carries a round object crudely wrapped in an expensive scarf. Hair sticks out of the top. She refers to it.



LORNA

  Did no one see this hanging outside?



ALAN

  I did. Hi, Mom.



He kisses her. But it goes unnoticed. During this, clearly uncomfortable, Ron grabs his coat, starts out.



RON

  I’ll go pick up the pumpkin cheesecake…



The action continuous, he exits, as Lorna comes farther in. Elyse is also clearly uncomfortable.



LORNA

  Well, did no one think to—it’s not like it’s a Christmas wreath, or something. It’s a little—unsightly—wouldn’t you say?



ELYSE

  Did you get more wine?



LORNA
(realizing)

  I left it in the car.



ELYSE

  Can I have the keys?



She gives them to her. The action continuous, Elyse exits, and, as she’s going—



LORNA

  You know, a little effort wouldn’t have hurt anyone. I don’t know why I have to do everything around here—



Lorna has moved to the garbage. She steps on the pedal, opens it, drops the object and scarf in. Then she lifts her foot and shuts it.



LORNA

  And that was a very nice scarf, too.



Alan tries to put his arm around her.



ALAN

  Someone else will simply own it now. They’ll discover the scarf in the garbage dump. Even objects have their own journey.



Lorna just looks at him.



LORNA

  My little Gandhi. I guess I couldn’t have expected you to—take the lead.



He endures this slight. She has taken off her coat. She turns. He looks at her.



ALAN

  Mom, there’s … a little bit of blood.



LORNA

  What? Where?



ALAN

  On your—at your breast.



LORNA
(looks down)

  This? Oh, no, that’s—nothing. Someone must have just—spilled something—cranberry sauce. It’s the season for it. A breeze must have just blown some cranberry sauce on me, that’s all. I could use some club soda to—



ALAN

  No, it’s blood. Above your heart. It looks like someone tried to—stab you there, to—



LORNA

  I pushed my American flag pin in too hard, that was it. I liked it so much, I felt so patriotic, I almost—punctured—my own heart. Some positive feelings can be fatal. Let me simply get some seltzer and—



He is obeying, moving. She stops him.



LORNA

  Where are you going?



ALAN

  For soda, like you said.



LORNA

  Look, don’t worry about me so much. Worry about yourself.



ALAN

  What do you mean?



She takes him aside.



LORNA

  Are you still at that sort of school, Alan? That little teaching job?



ALAN

  It’s called a college, Mom. I teach drama at—



LORNA

  Where is it again? Alabama? In the holler?



ALAN

  It’s near Tennessee. And it’s an accredited academy that actually—



LORNA

  I’m sure it has running water and everything.



ALAN

  Why must you always make fun? Should I help those who have enough help? Why can’t I give a hand up to those who—



LORNA

  Don’t wear shoes? Have so few front teeth they cover their mouths when they smile? Because you identify with failures, Alan, that’s why. And I want you to see yourself as a success.



ALAN

  How can I? How can I do that? How can I ever accomplish anything if you insist on criticizing—



LORNA

  I’m not criticizing. I want the best for you. Not giving elocution lessons to L’il Abner. I love you. If I accepted you, let you live your life—when I didn’t mean it, when I was actually mortified by it—I would be lying, and that wouldn’t be love. Why can’t you even consider coming in with me at the company?



ALAN

  Where they put the toxic plastic into babies’ teething rings? No thanks.



LORNA

  Those lawsuits are still pending. We’d work together, wouldn’t that be wonderful? I’d groom you. Like the animals do in nature. I’d pick out all your parasites. Or you could be my groom.



She is advancing.



ALAN

  Please don’t come any closer.



LORNA

  I can’t love you from light years away. I want to force you to feel how much I love you.



ALAN

  No—no—



LORNA

  Stay still! Stop squirming! Loosen your collar and let me show how much I love you!



She is at his neck. He looks at her.



ALAN

  Your teeth. Your mouth, Mommy. They’re both so red.



LORNA

  What? But—Crest White Strips. I used them in the car coming home from Kenny’s.



She has said too much.



ALAN

  You mean– from—the—vourdalak’s?!



There is a second in which both understand. Then he runs. She pursues him offstage.

From another door, Elyse comes back in, carrying a paper bag. She takes a new wine bottle out of it. Then she opens the garbage to put the bag in. She looks down at what’s in the can.

Behind her, Alan staggers back on. Half his collar is now awkwardly up. He stands there, shocked. Then—in a dazed voice—



ALAN

  He was Mommy’s lover.



Elyse immediately closes the can. Then she evasively starts preparing food again.



ELYSE

  What do you mean? Who was?



ALAN

  Him. In there. Kenny Tragora.



ELYSE
(awkward laugh)

  How do you know that?



ALAN

  I just—well— (evasive, too) His wife wasn’t just bringing his head from house to house, like “Trick or Treat for Unicef.”



She sighs and stops. Then she turns.



ELYSE

  You’re right.



ALAN

  You mean you—know?



ELYSE

  I know Mommy.



ALAN

  You know her how?



ELYSE

  How she’s always been. I’m sorry this is how you had to learn about this, Alan. You always trusted her. When she didn’t merit your trust. Three minutes older, and you always were the baby.



ALAN

  My God. Mom and him and—how many others?



Elyse shrugs: an infinite amount. He stumbles to a chair.



ELYSE

  Are you all right? I know this is hard. You look a little—pale.



ALAN

  It’s from the shock, that’s all.



ELYSE
(glances toward door)

  Dad doesn’t know, either. What kind of woman he’s been lying beside all these years.



She has placed her hands on his shoulders. He shakes her off, stands, holding his collar.



ALAN

  What are you getting on your high horse about? You haven’t had a healthy relationship since high school—and that one was with the guidance counselor.



ELYSE

  Keep your voice down—they still don’t know about Mr. Klein.



ALAN

  You mean, you’re not proud of yourself? How many married men have there been, Elyse? Has anybody not been married? You should hand out your card at weddings—put up an ad with a tearaway phone number in laundry rooms near the baby-sitting and dog-walking offers.



ELYSE

  I’m not ashamed of anything. I’ve liked being with all those awful men. At least I’ve been making memories, and that’s more than you can say.



ALAN

  Don’t turn this back on me. I’ve always been trying to put you on the right path—I’ve been trying to help you, not hurt you.



ELYSE

  You’re always “helping” others, aren’t you? Little Jimmy Carter with your hammer in your hand, putting up houses after hurricanes. You ever kissed anyone with no nails in your mouth? You ever slept next to anyone when you weren’t on a shelter floor?



ALAN

  Leave that alone! Sex is not a—passport to becoming a person. There are lots of ways to love somebody. This is mine.



ELYSE

  Well, I don’t like your love. Your love makes me hate myself. I may be fucked up, but at least I’m alive. You’re an angel, and they don’t exist. You’re a—hey, what’s that on your neck?



Alan corrects his collar again.



ALAN

  What? Nothing. A mosquito bite.



ELYSE

  In November?



ALAN

  Global warming.



ELYSE

  No, it’s not, it’s a—



ALAN

  Boil. I’ve been in the swamps, as you said.



He advances.



ALAN

  Let me give you a back rub, Elyse, the way you used to like when we were little. Back before our hair grew in peculiar places and we came apart from each other.



He is at her neck. She stops him.



ELYSE

  Where—where were you before you saw me?



ALAN

  What do you mean? With Mom.



He has said too much.



ELYSE

  Oh, my God. (backs away) And she was with—It’s true about Kenny. Don’t come any closer. Help!!!



Grabbing the bottle of wine, she runs. He pursues her offstage.

Beat. Then Ron comes back in from outside, carrying a store-bought cake. He takes off his coat. He opens the box, takes out the dessert. He gets a knife for the plate. Behind him, Elyse re-enters, dazed. She is holding the now broken and jagged wine bottle. Her hair is arranged over one side of her neck. Ron deals with the dessert, not looking.



RON

  Where’s your brother? It’s almost time to eat.



ELYSE

  He’s, uh, resting. On the living room floor. And I think he’s had enough for today.



RON

  What do you mean? There’s enough food for an—



He turns, sees her. He stops a second. Then he goes back to the dessert.



RON

  What’s that in your hand?



She quickly places the bottle away.



ELYSE

  Nothing.



RON

  Is that right?



ELYSE

  You don’t miss anything, do you, Daddy? But there are some things you never saw. Even now you’re blind to what’s going on.



RON

  Which is what?



ELYSE

  Kenny Tragora, that’s what.



RON

  Forget Kenny Tragora. Kenny Tragora was a sleazy lawyer who built his house on kickbacks from construction companies connected to the mob. He thought if he dressed like Santa Claus once a year he could get into heaven. Someone was always going to disabuse him of that idea, with a gun to his head or a knife in his neck. So now someone has.



ELYSE

  That’s not who killed Kenny. This is going to be hard, Daddy, but it’s going to help you.



RON

  Oh, you’re going to educate me about him, is that it? You’re like a five-year-old who finds out everybody’s going to die and is amazed that the adults already know.



ELYSE

  This is about Mommy, I mean. You don’t know Mommy because you don’t know women. You’re still an innocent, Daddy, no matter how incredibly old you are. I may be nubile, but I know more.



She has come closer to him. She fiddles at his neck.



ELYSE

  Remember when I was little and I used to sit in your lap and correct your collar? The absent-minded professor. The absent-minded assistant in marketing for a deodorant company, mommy would say. But I was impressed by you. I still am. People need to know the story behind how they smell, and you told them. It was delicate work and I protected you. I’ve had—known—been friends with—many men—accountants, talent agents, a feed salesman, one magician—but none of them have needed me like my Dad.



RON

  Well, you made sure of that, didn’t you? Because every one of them was married and an asshole—except for that guidance counselor in high school, he was all right.



ELYSE
(taken aback)

  You know about—Mr. Klein?



RON

  I’ve always known about everything. I know about “Mommy” and Kenny, too. I know Kenny wasn’t the only one. And I don’t care.



She looks at him, shocked, then compassionately.



ELYSE

  You always were weak. I want to help you not to be.



RON

  I’m not weak. No matter what kind of sweaters I wear. I feel what I said very strongly.



ELYSE

  Well, did you know this? That Kenny Tragora was a vourdalak? And now Mommy is? And that Mommy just made Alan one? And that I just stabbed Alan through the heart with a broken wine bottle at the same time he was biting me?



Ron considers this.



RON

  I don’t care about that, either. If your mother’s love is my death, then I don’t want to live.



ELYSE

  That’s not love. My sitting on your lap and adjusting your collar, that’s love. Now let me—



She tries to. He pushes her away.



RON

  Don’t love me like that! I’m not your husband and I’m not your son. I can’t be kept in a crib by my own child. You imitated your mother when you were little, wearing her pearls, padded bra, and high heels. Now you imitate her with all your married men. But she’s still my wife, not you. Now pass me the pumpkin cheesecake, will you?



ELYSE

  Sure, Daddy. Anything you want. You know that.



As she is getting it—to himself—



RON

  Don’t remember when she was five and the doctor diagnosed her astigmatism. Don’t remember how she looked in her first pair of glasses. Don’t remember her dressed as a princess on Halloween in that pair of glasses. Think of her the way she is now.



She hands the dessert to him.



RON

  Thank you.



Then she lunges for him. He grabs the knife from the cake and drags her down to the floor. They are covered by the counter. His hand with the knife comes up and goes down again and again. Then he pulls it out and rises, panting, holding the bloody knife. He wipes it off with a dish cloth.

Behind him, Lorna enters. Blood is all over her mouth now, and dripping down the front of her blouse. She goes to the oven, as he just looks at her.



RON

  I guess it was going to happen eventually.



LORNA

  What was?



RON

  That they’d find out about you. About all of them. About us.



LORNA

  I don’t know what you’re talking about. Let’s just—enjoy our Thanksgiving, all right? (pulls turkey out of oven) Kids! It’s time to—Alan, Elyse!



RON

  Don’t call them. They won’t come.



The truth dawns on her. But she carries on. She brings the bird to the dining room table.



LORNA

  Then it’ll be just the two of us, that’s all. The way it was before—the others—were around.



RON

  The others? You mean, our children?



LORNA

  That’s what I said.



She has taken a seat.



LORNA

  Please pass the jello mold.



RON

  It was different this time, wasn’t it? It was different with Kenny Tragora.



LORNA

  It’s not true.



RON

  It’s a little obvious, Lorna.



With a pinky, he indicates her mouth. She cleans it off.



LORNA

  It’s deceiving. Please pass the cranberries.



RON

  What, did he keep his Santa suit on while you—was that why you—



LORNA

  Stop it.



RON

  Or was it just his money, was that what—



LORNA
(blurts out)

  I didn’t mean to, Ron! After all these years, all those affairs, I was like that dog who died in our pool. I thought I was free, but I was really lost. Kenny and I just kept going down and down on each other until we—hit—love. It was lying at the bottom of our affair like oil we never knew was there. What could we do, not admit that it existed, just leave it where it was? We had to take it home, stake our claim to it, make it pay.



RON

  That’s enough.



LORNA

  He told me he was a vourdalak from the beginning, but I thought it wouldn’t matter, because we wouldn’t feel a thing. When I knew that we loved each other, it was too late. I let him sink his hard teeth into my white fleshy neck. And then his wife walked in on us. She stabbed him in the heart and cut off his head. She stabbed me, too, but I escaped. I hitch-hiked home and got picked up by a pizza delivery truck. I have no idea where Nadine is now. That crazy cow. She wouldn’t make me miss Thanksgiving. That’s not negotiable, no sir. This is my family. She should only see how much we love each other. (indicates the carnage) Well. It’s obvious, isn’t it?



She touches his hand. He pulls it away.



LORNA

  Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.



RON

  You already have.



LORNA

  Well, I won’t do worse.



RON

  Won’t you? What if I want you to?



She is stopped by this. She can’t answer. She goes back to the food.



LORNA

  Breast or leg?



RON

  Don’t you know now? Neither. Please.



He exposes his neck. She looks at him.



LORNA

  No. I don’t want to do that. You’re going to stay alive.



Slowly, he covers himself. He nods. He looks past her.



RON

  Yes. And that’s something I should be thankful for. Isn’t it?



Lights slowly fade.



END OF PLAY




Inspired by the story “Family of a Vourdalak,” by Alexey Tolstoy (1841).