CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Show of Affection
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.
Elyse turns. He is pressing and holding up his finger, too. She looks at him.
|What are you doing?|
|I thought it was a new kind of greeting. How everyone in the city was doing it or something.|
|Don’t be an idiot. I cut myself, that’s all.|
Sheepishly, he lowers his hand. He puts down the bag, takes off his coat. She offers him some wine.
|Here’s something everyone is doing.|
|At four-thirty in the afternoon?|
|If you’re my twin brother, how come you’re an old woman? Huh? How did that happen? (drinks)|
|Excuse me for caring about you, okay?|
|If that’s what you want to call it. If you really cared, you’d actually help me with something—like dinner.|
(opening his bag)
|I brought hummus treats, tofurky, and my seitan sweet potatoes.|
|Great. I hope you enjoy them. The rest of us are having food.|
He endures this slight.
|Where are Mom and Dad?|
|Dad’s taking a nap. Mom left me in charge when she went out shopping. (checks her watch) Awhile ago.|
|I’ll keep a lookout.|
Alan looks out a window.
|Are they really going to do it? Fill in the pool?|
|What are they supposed to do?|
|I don’t know, but—|
|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.|
|God rest her soul.|
Elyse rolls her eyes. She attends to chopping again.
|A dead dog is awful enough. But did anyone else notice the—|
|What, you mean near the front door?|
|Yes. Did anybody even—casually—comment on it?|
|Really? It was the first thing I saw when I came in.|
|Well, you always were the sensitive one, weren’t you?|
|It was once part of a human being. That was what Kenny Tragora was.|
|If you say so. He was apparently something else, too.|
Alan just stares at her.
|What? Who was?|
|No—that’s—he was an orthodontist.|
|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—|
|—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?!|
|It might sound silly, but that’s what everyone says.|
|Huh. So that’s why his head is sitting on a spike outside the house.|
|But why couldn’t he have just been—stabbed through the heart?|
|For a little insurance, I guess.|
|That seems insecure.|
|The mailman’s been putting letters in his mouth.|
|I saw, but only the magazines. And everyone’s a comedian.|
|It’s a little—unseasonal. That’s my feeling. It’s unfestive.|
|One man’s meat. (oven bell goes off) And speaking of meat—|
She attends to a turkey in the oven.
|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?|
(attending to bird)
|I hope this is done. Does this look done to you?|
|And why our house? Kenny Tragora was a nice guy and all, but who here loved—|
|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?|
|I’m concerned, is that a crime? Concerned about who would kill Kenny Tragora, cut off his head, and leave it near our lawn.|
|We’ll take him down after Thanksgiving. All right? Let’s not let it spoil our meal.|
Behind them, their father, Ron, has entered.
|It was his wife.|
He has recently awakened. In upper middle age, he seems gentle, wears glasses and a fusty winter sweater.
|What? What do you mean?|
He kisses his father. But it goes unnoticed.
|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.|
(closing the subject)
|Well, she must have had a reason. Mustn’t she?|
This causes an awkward pause. Elyse has turned.
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.
|Did no one see this hanging outside?|
|I did. Hi, Mom.|
He kisses her. But it goes unnoticed. During this, clearly uncomfortable, Ron grabs his coat, starts out.
|I’ll go pick up the pumpkin cheesecake|
The action continuous, he exits, as Lorna comes farther in. Elyse is also clearly uncomfortable.
|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?|
|Did you get more wine?|
|I left it in the car.|
|Can I have the keys?|
She gives them to her. The action continuous, Elyse exits, and, as she’s going—
|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.
|And that was a very nice scarf, too.|
Alan tries to put his arm around her.
|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.
|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.
|Mom, there’s … a little bit of blood.|
|On your—at your breast.|
|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—|
|No, it’s blood. Above your heart. It looks like someone tried to—stab you there, to—|
|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.
|Where are you going?|
|For soda, like you said.|
|Look, don’t worry about me so much. Worry about yourself.|
|What do you mean?|
She takes him aside.
|Are you still at that sort of school, Alan? That little teaching job?|
|It’s called a college, Mom. I teach drama at—|
|Where is it again? Alabama? In the holler?|
|It’s near Tennessee. And it’s an accredited academy that actually—|
|I’m sure it has running water and everything.|
|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—|
|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.|
|How can I? How can I do that? How can I ever accomplish anything if you insist on criticizing—|
|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?|
|Where they put the toxic plastic into babies’ teething rings? No thanks.|
|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.
|Please don’t come any closer.|
|I can’t love you from light years away. I want to force you to feel how much I love you.|
|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.
|Your teeth. Your mouth, Mommy. They’re both so red.|
|What? But—Crest White Strips. I used them in the car coming home from Kenny’s.|
She has said too much.
|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—
|He was Mommy’s lover.|
Elyse immediately closes the can. Then she evasively starts preparing food again.
|What do you mean? Who was?|
|Him. In there. Kenny Tragora.|
|How do you know that?|
|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.
|You mean you—know?|
|I know Mommy.|
|You know her how?|
|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.|
|My God. Mom and him and—how many others?|
Elyse shrugs: an infinite amount. He stumbles to a chair.
|Are you all right? I know this is hard. You look a little—pale.|
|It’s from the shock, that’s all.|
(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.
|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.|
|Keep your voice down—they still don’t know about Mr. Klein.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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?|
|Leave that alone! Sex is not a—passport to becoming a person. There are lots of ways to love somebody. This is mine.|
|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.
|What? Nothing. A mosquito bite.|
|No, it’s not, it’s a—|
|Boil. I’ve been in the swamps, as you said.|
|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.
|Where—where were you before you saw me?|
|What do you mean? With Mom.|
He has said too much.
|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.
|Where’s your brother? It’s almost time to eat.|
|He’s, uh, resting. On the living room floor. And I think he’s had enough for today.|
|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.
|What’s that in your hand?|
She quickly places the bottle away.
|Is that right?|
|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.|
|Which is what?|
|Kenny Tragora, that’s what.|
|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.|
|That’s not who killed Kenny. This is going to be hard, Daddy, but it’s going to help you.|
|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.|
|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.
|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.|
|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.|
|You know about—Mr. Klein?|
|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.
|You always were weak. I want to help you not to be.|
|I’m not weak. No matter what kind of sweaters I wear. I feel what I said very strongly.|
|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.
|I don’t care about that, either. If your mother’s love is my death, then I don’t want to live.|
|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.
|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?|
|Sure, Daddy. Anything you want. You know that.|
As she is getting it—to himself—
|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.
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.
|I guess it was going to happen eventually.|
|That they’d find out about you. About all of them. About us.|
|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!|
|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.
|Then it’ll be just the two of us, that’s all. The way it was before—the others—were around.|
|The others? You mean, our children?|
|That’s what I said.|
She has taken a seat.
|Please pass the jello mold.|
|It was different this time, wasn’t it? It was different with Kenny Tragora.|
|It’s not true.|
|It’s a little obvious, Lorna.|
With a pinky, he indicates her mouth. She cleans it off.
|It’s deceiving. Please pass the cranberries.|
|What, did he keep his Santa suit on while you—was that why you—|
|Or was it just his money, was that what—|
|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.|
|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.
|Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.|
|You already have.|
|Well, I won’t do worse.|
|Won’t you? What if I want you to?|
She is stopped by this. She can’t answer. She goes back to the food.
|Breast or leg?|
|Don’t you know now? Neither. Please.|
He exposes his neck. She looks at him.
|No. I don’t want to do that. You’re going to stay alive.|
Slowly, he covers himself. He nods. He looks past her.
|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).