Conjunctions:26 Sticks & Stones

Hide and Seek, A Play in One Act

(Bare stage. Two rectangular boxes made of wood, standing upright, ten feet apart, stage center. MAN occupies stage right box; WOMAN occupies stage left box. The boxes are approximately the size and shape of telephone booths. Each box is open on the front panel from waist level to roof and furnished with a dark velvet curtain, theater-style, a shelf at thigh level for props within and a drawstring that can be operated from within by the actors. The opening and closing of the curtains must be audible: a hard, distinctive grating sound. The stage is in darkness. Spotlights on each box, to remain until the end of the performance.)

(WOMAN opens curtain. Pause, two beats. MAN opens curtain.)

WOMAN. What did you say?

MAN. (Thinks.) I can’t remember. (Pause.) Maybe I didn’t say anything.

WOMAN. (Shrugs.) Suit yourself. (Examines teeth in a pocket mirror.) It makes no difference to me.
(WOMAN shuts curtain. Pause, two beats. MAN shuts curtain. Pause. Eight beats. MAN opens curtain.)

MAN. Do you think we’ll ever find it?

(WOMAN opens curtain.)

WOMAN. What?

MAN. I said, “Do you think we’ll ever find it?”

WOMAN. I heard what you said. Then I said, “What.”

MAN. Oh. You mean what.

WOMAN. Yes, what.

MAN. Yes, yes, now I see. What.

WOMAN. Well?

MAN. (Thinks.) I can’t remember. (Pause.) Maybe I wasn’t asking anything.

WOMAN. (Shrugs.) Suit yourself. (Flips through the pages of a magazine.) It makes no difference to me.
(WOMAN shuts curtain. Pause, two beats. MAN shuts curtain. Pause. Eight beats. MAN opens curtain. Pause, one beat. WOMAN opens curtain.)

MAN. It’s cold in here.

WOMAN. No it’s not. It’s quite warm.

MAN. Maybe for you. For me it’s cold.

WOMAN. No. If it’s warm for me, that means it’s warm for both of us.

MAN. But ... (Exasperated.) ... I’m shivering.

WOMAN. It’s your imagination.

MAN. What are you talking about? It’s my body. The cold is in my body.

WOMAN. (Patiently.) No, my love. It’s in your mind.

MAN. Mind? (Pause.) Mind? You can’t be serious. It’s in my arms. My legs. My face. My chest. My feet. (Pause.) Mind!

WOMAN. (Patiently.) Are you finished?

MAN. Finished? What do you mean finished?

WOMAN. Finished with your ... (Gropes.) ... your ranting.

MAN. Yes. I suppose so. I mean ... yes. (Pause.) I suppose so.


MAN. (Imitating her.) And?

WOMAN. And how do you feel?

MAN. (Thinks.) Lonely. (Pause.) Unloved. (Pause.) Lonely and unloved.

WOMAN. That’s not what I mean. I want to know if you’re still cold.

MAN. Cold? (Stops, touches his arms, his face, thinks.) It’s funny. I actually feel quite warm now.

WOMAN. Do you see?

MAN. (Confused.) See? Yes. Of course I can see. (Peers out into the distance.) I see people.

WOMAN. No, not that kind of seeing. I mean see. You know, with your mind.

MAN. With my mind? (Pause.) Yes. I see what you mean. See with my mind ... in the same way my mind can be cold. (Smiles. Pause.) See what with my mind?

WOMAN. How much I love you.

MAN. (Pleased.) Yes, my darling. Of course I see that. (Pause.) But what does that have to do with what we were talking about?

WOMAN. You said you were cold, didn’t you?

MAN. Yes.

WOMAN. Well, I can’t go over and take you in my arms, can I? I can’t warm you with my body. (Pause.) Can I?

MAN. But you said it was all in my mind.

WOMAN. I had to say something. And what better way to warm you up than to get you angry? There’s nothing like a vicious little spat to get the blood flowing again.

MAN. Ah. That was very clever of you.

WOMAN. You see what sacrifices a woman makes for the man she loves? I was willing to let you hate me—just to show my love.

MAN. I thought you hated me.

WOMAN. It’s complicated, isn’t it? But sometimes hate is really love.

MAN. (Impressed, shaking his head.) You’re really a very clever woman.

WOMAN. (Smiling.) Of course I’m clever. (Pause.) I’ve needed to be, haven’t I?

MAN. I don’t deny it.

WOMAN. That’s good.

MAN. Yes, I don’t deny it.

WOMAN. (A little puzzled.) Deny what?

MAN. Anything. (Pause.) Everything. (Pause.) Anything and everything.

WOMAN. That’s very clever of you.

MAN. (Pleased.) Well, you have to admit ...

WOMAN. Yes, I do. (Pause.) In fact, I don’t deny it.

MAN. Splendid. (Reflects.) I’m glad we agree.

WOMAN. (Attention beginning to wander.) I’m glad you’re glad.

MAN. I’m glad you’re glad I’m glad.

WOMAN. (Pause. More abstracted.) I’m glad you’re glad I’m glad you’re glad.
(Pause. MAN listens. Closes curtain, as slowly and quietly as possible. WOMAN comes out of daze. Listens.)

WOMAN. Jimmy? (Waits. No answer. Shrugs.) Suit yourself. (Takes out pocket mirror and examines her face.) It makes no difference to me. (Smiles at herself in mirror. Touches her face. Frowns. Looks more closely at herself in mirror. Smiles again. Still looking at herself, she absentmindedly reaches for cord and slowly closes curtain.)
(Pause. Eight beats. WOMAN opens curtain. Pause, two beats. MAN opens curtain.)

WOMAN. (Thinking hard, as if trying to unravel a difficult logical problem.) If you have nothing to say, maybe you just shouldn’t bother to say it.

MAN. (Shrugs.) Speak for yourself.

WOMAN. On the other hand, if you have something to say, you should speak what’s on your mind. (Pause.) That’s what I think.

MAN. (Sadly.) It’s all just words.

WOMAN. Of course it is. What else would it be? Words. That’s what we’re talking about.

MAN. You can’t just say “words.” That doesn’t mean anything. You have to say one word or another. This word or that word.

WOMAN. But I don’t want to say this word or that word. I want to say all words. Any word. Words. In the sense of ... (Pause.) ... words.

MAN. Yes, I see what you mean. (Pause.) But what if I were to say one word? What would you think then?

WOMAN. It depends on the word.

MAN. How about “blue”?

WOMAN. Ah yes, blue. (Closes eyes, smiles.) That’s a very nice word.

MAN. Do you see what I mean?

WOMAN. Yes. (Smiles with inward pleasure.) I see ... blue.

MAN. No. I mean ... think of the word blue.

WOMAN. That’s what I’m doing. And I see blue ... beautiful blue.

MAN. But blue isn’t a word like other words. (Pause.) It doesn’t mean anything.

WOMAN. Of course it does. It means “blue.”

MAN. But what can you really say about blue?

WOMAN. I can say ... Blue ... is blue. A color. I can say: blue is a color.

MAN. But that doesn’t help, does it? I mean, it doesn’t let you see blue.

WOMAN. All I have to do is say “blue” ... and then I see blue.

MAN. Yes. But you see it only because you’ve already seen it.

WOMAN. (Thinks. Long pause.) Yes, I see what you mean. (Pause.) But just because I can’t talk about blue, you’re not trying to say there’s no such thing as blue—are you?

MAN. No. There is blue. Blue exists. (Pause.) I believe in blue. I love blue. Of all the things in the world, blue is what I love best.

WOMAN. Me too. (As if seeing it: contemplative, rapturous.) A very blue blue. A blue bluer than the blue that is blue. The bluest of blues, a blue so blue, it is beyond blue. A blissful, beautiful blue.

MAN. A blue that would be blue even if there was no blue.

WOMAN. A blue that is blue even if there was no word for blue.

MAN. A blue that is green. A blue that is red. A blue that is green and red and blue.

WOMAN. A blue in the eye of all seeing, of all that is blue and not blue.

MAN. A blue of blues.

WOMAN. Yes. A blue of blues.
(Pause. Five beats. Letting the idea sink in. They slowly close their curtains in unison. Pause. Eight beats. They open their curtains quickly in unison.)

MAN. Do you remember the last time?

WOMAN. Which time was that?

MAN. The time we sang the song and danced the dance.

WOMAN. (Remembering.) Ah yes, That time. (Remembering warmly.) They loved us, didn’t they?

MAN. We deserved it. We were wonderful.

WOMAN. I was deluged with flowers for a month.

MAN. I’ve never seen you so beautiful.

WOMAN. I had quite a voice in those days, didn’t I? And you were so handsome.

MAN. We were in love.

WOMAN. It wasn’t so long ago, was it, Jimmy?

MAN. I don’t think so. At least not so terribly long ago.

WOMAN. Maybe things will pick up again. Maybe we’ll get another break.

MAN. I’m not really counting on it, my love.

WOMAN. (Reflects.) No. I suppose not.

MAN. On the other hand, it could be worse.

WOMAN. Yes, at least we’re working again. (Pause.) I know it’s not much. But it’s something, isn’t it, Jimmy?

MAN. Yes, my love. It’s something.

WOMAN. (Smiling to herself.) Do you remember Boston?

MAN. Yes. I remember Boston and I remember Kansas City.

WOMAN. Do you remember Chicago?

MAN. Yes. I remember Chicago and I remember San Francisco.

WOMAN. Do you remember Spokane?

MAN. Yes. I remember Spokane and I remember Atlanta.

WOMAN. Do you remember Minneapolis?

MAN. Yes. I remember Minneapolis and I remember New York.
(Pause. They reflect. MAN takes out newspaper and starts reading. WOMAN remains wistful.)

WOMAN. Travel isn’t the same today, is it?

MAN. (Turning from his paper.) Hardly.

WOMAN. I loved those old trains, with the berths, and the dining cars, and the sounds at night.

MAN. (Turning from his paper.) Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack.

WOMAN. And the silverware shivering on the table at breakfast, everything clinking together like little bells, and the trees and the air outside, always changing, always becoming more trees and more air, the whole thing always changing.

MAN. (Turning from his paper.) Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack.

WOMAN. Sometimes I would look out the window for hours on end. I’d always say to myself, “Try to remember this. Even though you’re seeing it only once, try to remember it.” But I never could. It all went by so fast, it became a blur in my head. (Pause.) That’s what I see now. A beautiful blur.

MAN. (Putting down his paper.) Do you remember the last time?

WOMAN. Which time was that?

MAN. The time we sang the song and danced the dance.

WOMAN. (Remembering.) Ah yes. That time. (Remembering warmly.) I had quite a voice then, didn’t I?

MAN. (Remembering.) It was quite a song.

WOMAN. (Pause. Seeing it in her mind.) It was quite a dance.
(Pause. Two beats. They both make gestures with their arms and shoulders, as if singing and dancing, moving their lips in silence, as if delivering the words of a song. Theatrical smiles. They finish, blow kisses to the audience, etc. They close curtains in unison. Pause. Eight beats. MAN opens curtain quickly. Pause, one beat. WOMAN opens curtain quickly.)

MAN. (Alarmed, excited.) Have you noticed?

WOMAN. (Also alarmed.) Yes, yes, of course I’ve noticed.

MAN. What are we going to do about it?

WOMAN. I don’t know. What can we do?

MAN. We can sue. We can protest. We can throw stones.

WOMAN. But that wouldn’t solve anything. (Pause.) We’ve got to make them listen.

MAN. I know. But we don’t have much time. We’ve got to act fast.

WOMAN. What if we don’t? (Pause.) What will happen to us then?

MAN. Nothing good. (Pause.) I suppose the worst. (Pause.) Yes. Nothing but the worst.

WOMAN. The worst?

MAN. Yes.

WOMAN. That’s bad, isn’t it?

MAN. It’s worse than bad. (Pause.) It’s the worst.

WOMAN. The worst.

MAN. Are you all right?

WOMAN. To tell you the truth, no.

MAN. Do you have any ideas?


MAN. What?

WOMAN. I’m going to scream.

MAN. When are you going to do it?

WOMAN. Right now.

MAN. Right now?

WOMAN. Yes. Right now.
(MAN tenses for the scream. WOMAN building her courage. MAN waits. WOMAN still building her courage. MAN continues to wait. Finally gives up. Shrugs. Closes curtain.)

WOMAN. (Meekly.) Help. (With more force.) Help. (With greater force.) Help! (With greatest force.) Help! Help! Help!

(MAN opens curtain.)

MAN. (Screams.) Help! Help! Help!
(They suddenly fall silent. Pause. Five beats, staring out blankly. WOMAN closes curtain. Pause, two beats. MAN closes curtain. Pause. Eight beats. MAN opens curtain.)

MAN. It begins like this. (Recites.) It was and it was and it was. It was and it was and it wasn’t. It was and it wasn’t and it wasn’t. It wasn’t and it wasn’t and it wasn’t. It wasn’t and it wasn’t and it was.
(WOMAN opens curtain. She is reading a magazine.)

WOMAN. (Turning from her magazine.) That’s absurd.

MAN. You don’t like it?

WOMAN. I can’t stand that kind of stuff. (Pause.) Give me a good story any time.

MAN. (Shrugs.) People aren’t interested in stories anymore.

WOMAN. That’s absurd. (Pause.) I, for one, devour them.

MAN. Since when?

WOMAN. Since ... since always.

MAN. I didn’t know that.

WOMAN. There’s a lot you don’t know about me. I have my own life. I have my own life ... and my own secrets.

MAN. Oh?

WOMAN. That’s right. Since ... since always.

MAN. What kind of secrets?

WOMAN. If I told you, then they wouldn’t be secrets anymore, would they?

MAN. I suppose you mean that fellow in Baltimore. (Pause.) What was his name? That short one with the slicked-down hair. (Pause.) George.

WOMAN. George?

MAN. George. (Pause.) And then there was the one in Philadelphia. The tall fellow with the blond hair. (Pause.) The waiter. (Pause.) Oh yes. And the young woman in Washington. That redhead with the nice body. (Pause.) I remember her, too.

WOMAN. You’re being nasty again, Jimmy.

MAN. No I’m not, my love. I’m just telling you the story.

WOMAN. Well, I don’t like it.

MAN. (Shrugs.) It makes no difference. (Pause.) Cocks and cunts have a life of their own. What they do and where they go has little to do with the people they belong to. (Pause.) It’s always the same story.

WOMAN. But I like stories.

MAN. That’s why I’m telling it to you.

WOMAN. Good. (Pause.) How does it go again?

MAN. What?

WOMAN. The thing about ... about bodies.

MAN. (Thinks. Has trouble remembering.) Cocks ... (Pause.) ... and cunts ... (Pause.) ... have a life of their own.

WOMAN. That’s right. I liked that very much.

MAN. You did?

WOMAN. Very much.

MAN. I made it up on the spot.

WOMAN. You see? When you let yourself go, you say the most brilliant things.

MAN. Perhaps. (Pause.) But it wasn’t really a story.

WOMAN. It doesn’t matter. I liked it.

MAN. It was just words.

WOMAN. So much the better.

MAN. Do you think so?

WOMAN. I know so.

MAN. (Smiles.) So much the better.
(They both laugh. They laugh again. They close curtains in unison at the peak of a third burst of laughter. Pause. Eight beats. WOMAN opens curtain.)

WOMAN. Have you noticed?

(MAN opens curtain.)

MAN. (Thinks.) It’s hard to say. (Pause.) Probably not. (Pause.) In fact, I’d say definitely not.

WOMAN. I find that hard to believe.

MAN. It’s hardly hard. I can believe it quite easily.

WOMAN. Look. All you have to do is look.

MAN. (Peers out into the distance before him.) I’m looking.


MAN. And what?

WOMAN. What do you see?

MAN. (Looks even more intently.) Nothing. (Pause. Produces a pair of binoculars and looks through them.) Absolutely nothing.

WOMANWhere are you looking?

MAN. In front of me.

WOMAN. That’s the problem. You’re looking in the wrong place.

MAN. Where should I be looking?

WOMAN. To your left.

MAN. (Looks to his left.) All right. I’m looking to my left.

WOMAN. What do you see?

MAN. A wall.

WOMAN. Good. A wall. Now look to your right. What do you see?

MAN. (Looks to his right.) A wall.

WOMAN. Now look behind you. What do you see?

MAN. (Looks behind.) A wall.

WOMAN. Now look down, in front of you. What do you see?

MAN. (Looks down.) A wall. (Pause. Considers.) Half a wall. (Pause.) I would say I see half a wall.

WOMAN. So how many walls does that make?

MAN. (Counting with his fingers.) Four walls. (Pause.) No. Three and a half walls. (Pause.) There are three and a half walls.


MAN. And what?

WOMAN. Have you noticed?

MAN. (Thinks.) I’m not sure I follow you.

WOMAN. Have you noticed that you’re boxed in?

MAN. Oh. (Pause. Thinks.) Yes, I see what you mean. (Thinks.) So what else is new?

WOMAN. It doesn’t bother you to be boxed in?

MAN. (Reflects.) I don’t think so. (Pause.) Not particularly anyway.

WOMAN. Well, it bothers me. (With emphasis.) Very much.

MAN. You shouldn’t let it get you down. After all, it won’t go on very long.

WOMAN. (Suspicious.) Who told you that?

MAN. Isn’t it obvious?

WOMAN. Not for me it isn’t.

MAN. Don’t you remember? We agreed to do it.

WOMAN. (Thinks. Grudgingly.) Vaguely. (Pause. Angry.) But I never thought it would be like this.

MAN. We’re just here to help things along.

WOMAN. We could have helped in other ways, couldn’t we? Boxes! (Pause.) It’s so ... demeaning.

MAN. We’re in the boxes for a reason.

WOMAN. (Sarcastic.) Yeah? Name one.

MAN. What I think doesn’t matter.

WOMAN. You see? You can’t even come up with one.

MAN. That’s not true. How about this? (Pause, thinks.) The boxes are our bodies, and our bodies inside them are our souls?

WOMAN. Rubbish.

MAN. How about ... We are all alone, walled off from each other in darkness ... (Waxing eloquent.) ... in the darkness of an unappeasable solitude?

WOMAN. Piffle.

MAN. How about ... (Groping.) ... The boxes are just here, and we’re just here inside them ... to help things along?

WOMAN. You see! When you come right down to it, there’s no reason at all.

MAN. (Considers.) Mmm ... I see what you mean. (Pause.) I’ll have to think about that.

WOMAN. Well, don’t be long. I don’t have all night. There are things I want to do, and I can’t do them standing in this box. (WOMAN shuts curtain. MAN thinks. Three beats. MAN shuts curtain. Pause. Eight beats. They open curtains quickly in unison. Pause. Three beats.)

MAN. In answer to your question ...


MAN. In answer to your question about ... these enclosures ...


MAN. I think ...


MAN. I think ... there is only one thing to be done ...

WOMAN. Which is?

MAN. To do what we have to do.

WOMAN. Aren’t you repeating yourself?

MAN. No, there’s a difference.

WOMAN. Which is?

MAN. To put it another way ...


MAN. It all comes down to this ...


MAN. To say what we have to say, to do what we have to do, to act in the way we have to act.

WOMAN. And then?

MAN. There is no then. That’s it.

WOMAN. Ah. (Smiles.) What a soothing thought. (Pause.) And how kind everyone has been to us tonight.

MAN. You almost seem to be ... happy.

WOMAN. I’m very happy. Wonderfully and blissfully happy.

MAN. You never fail to astonish me.

WOMAN. I never fail to astonish myself.

MAN. Ah yes. I see what you mean.

WOMAN. Funny, isn’t it?

MAN. Yes, it’s funny.

WOMAN. And sad, too.

MAN. Yes, I suppose it’s sad, too.

WOMAN. And many other things as well.

MAN. Yes. And many other things.

WOMAN. And life just goes on, doesn’t it? With us or without us.

MAN. That’s true. With us or without us.

WOMAN. That’s why I’m so happy.

MAN. What a lovely thought. I couldn’t agree with you more.

WOMAN. I’m glad.

MAN. I wish I could kiss you.

WOMAN. There will be time for that later.

MAN. I hope so.

WOMAN. Hope is the air we breathe. Hope is everywhere.

MAN. Very well put.

WOMAN. Yes. I sometimes have a gift for saying beautiful things.

MAN. (Pause. Looks at his watch.) I think we have to stop now. This little part is over.

WOMAN. Oh, that’s too bad. I was just getting warmed up.

MAN. There’s always the next time.

WOMAN. I suppose so. But it might not be the same. One has one’s moments ... of inspiration.

MAN. (Looks at watch nervously.) Darling, I really think we’ll have to put this off until later. Time is up.
(MAN shuts curtain suddenly.)

WOMAN. It’s such a pleasure to feel the words rolling off your tongue, to feel them flowing out from you, into the air, into the world, into the ears of others. It’s such a pleasure to hear yourself speaking the words that come from your mouth, to feel your mouth moving with the sounds you make. It’s such a pleasure—
(MAN opens curtain suddenly.)

MAN. Darling!

WOMAN. Yes, dear. I’m coming.

MAN. Now!

WOMAN. (Sighs.) Yes, dear.
(WOMAN closes curtain. MAN, listening to be sure she has done it, then closes his curtain. Pause. Eight beats. MAN opens curtain. WOMAN opens curtain.)

WOMAN. Do you think we’ll ever find it?

MAN. It depends on what we’re looking for.

WOMAN. It doesn’t matter. Anything.

MAN. A door to open, a door to shut. A place to put our heads.

WOMAN. Yes. And those things as well. (Pause.) But it doesn’t really matter.

MAN. No. It makes no difference at all.
(Pause. Four beats. They think.)

WOMAN. Do you think we’ll ever find it?

MAN. We can’t count on it too heavily.

WOMAN. Does that mean we’ve given up?

MAN. Not exactly. But as time goes on, we invent new ways of looking for it.

WOMAN. Like closing our eyes.

MAN. Yes. That should be mentioned. But that is only one example.

WOMAN. One could also include: keeping your eyes open, blinking your eyes, wearing dark glasses, wearing no glasses or any of the above in any or all of their combinations.

MAN. That’s a beginning, yes. But it’s too early to tell if something will come of it.
(Pause. Four beats. They think.)

WOMAN. Do you think we’ll ever find it?

MAN. What makes you so sure we haven’t found it already?

WOMAN. My bones. I feel it in my bones.

MAN. Maybe bones have nothing to do with it. Maybe we’ve been surrounded by it from the very beginning and have been too distracted to notice.

WOMAN. Do you mean it doesn’t have to be somewhere else? It can also be here, right in front of us?

MAN. I only mean that we shouldn’t ignore the evidence.
(Pause. Four beats. They think.)

WOMAN. Do you think we’ll ever find it?

MAN. First you must leave, and then you must be on your way, and then, if a door happens to appear before you, so much the better. But there is nothing that says you must open the door.

WOMAN. And if you open the door anyway?

MAN. Then you have simply opened the door.

WOMAN. To stand in an empty room. Or else, to discover that this is where you live.

MAN. Or else, it is simply a door, standing in the road. You open it, step over the sill and discover there is no room at all. Nothing but more road, stretching before you. And so you just move on, putting one foot in front of the other, continuing on your way.

WOMAN. Until you come to another door.

MAN. Or a wall without a door.

WOMAN. Or a hole in the ground.

MAN. Or a hole in the sky.
(Pause. Four beats. They think.)

WOMAN. And if none of this ever happened?

MAN. It would happen anyway.

WOMAN. (Dejected.) I’m so tired. I don’t want to think about it anymore.

MAN. That’s part of what happens, too. (Pause.) It all has to end some time.

WOMAN. Which means ... it can end at any moment.

MAN. (Sighs.) Most likely. (Pause.) It probably means it will end at any moment.
(Pause. Four beats. They think.)

WOMAN. Do you think we’ll ever find it?
(Pause. Four beats. MAN shuts curtain. Pause. Four beats. WOMAN is about to speak, then says nothing. She shuts curtain. Long pause. Darkness.)
—New York, 1976

Paul Auster is the author of over twenty books including The New York Trilogy (Faber & Faber) and The Book of Illusions (Henry Holt).