Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist

Relics.

I was cast in the Neo-Futurists in 2004, at the height of the Bush administration, and just a few short months before that same overwhelmed boy emperor was about to be soundly and inarguably re-elected by a population still scared of terrorists without and gay people within. Over the course of the next four years I often wrote politically themed work, specifically targeting what I saw as abuses by the administration, for Too Much Light. Some of this was my best work either inside or outside the context of the show.

I estimate that about 20% of my entire Neo-Futurist archive became completely irrelevant in January of this past year, and I’m just fine with that. In a perfect world I would never have felt compelled to write them in the first place.

I was reminded that today is World AIDS Day, an international moment of reflection on the plague and the millions caught in its wake.

Below is a 10-minute play I wrote for World AIDS Day 1999, first performed by Inner Voices, the social issues theatre ensemble I worked with for three years in Urbana. It was written by a college student still trying to figure out his voice; so it’s more heart than head, more text than technique. I’m posting it here as my wholly inadequate acknowledgment of this year’s World AIDS Day.

If anybody wishes to do anything with it today I need only be asked; no royalties will be requested.

But again, I wrote it in 1999. I’m not completely up-to-date on the state of the pandemic. I am sure–at least I hope–that the play is as irrelevant now as it wasn’t ten years ago.

Requiem for the Bogeyman
A Play in One Act
© 1999 Bilal Dardai

CHARACTERS
BETH CARVER, a doctor at an AIDS clinic
JEFF CARVER, her older brother

Several times in the lives of these characters.

ACT ONE

Lights up. Two chairs, and a small table upon which rest a few medical journals and pamphlets, possibly a clipboard with a pen resting on top of it. BETH, a woman in her mid-thirties, is sitting down, facing the audience. She wears a lab coat. JEFF, her older brother, is just barely within the light, crouched on the ground, pantomiming picking up small rocks, examining them, putting them down. He is wearing a sweater. At this moment in time, JEFF acts as though he were around ten years old. BETH speaks directly to the audience.

BETH
This is how you become a doctor.

JEFF
(finding a rock, calling as if from a distance)
Beth!

BETH
(to the audience)
You live by a lake as a child. You’re so young that you don’t even recognize the existence of other bodies of water, so really, you live by the lake, as a child.

JEFF
Bethie!

BETH
One day, when you’re six years old, your older brother decides to show you—

JEFF
—Beth, come on! I want to show you something!

BETH
(running over to JEFF, as a six year-old)
What, Jeff?

JEFF
(showing her the rock)
You see this rock?

BETH
Uh-huh.

JEFF
Watch this.

JEFF skips the stone across the lake in front of him, making the sound as it skims the water. BETH watches it in equal parts wonder and joy.

JEFF
Splish, splish, splish, splish, plop.

BETH
Wowwww.

JEFF
(picking up another rock)
It’s easy. Watch how I throw it. (He skips this stone.) Splish, splish, splish, splish, plop. (He picks up another rock, hands it to her.) You try it.

BETH tries it. They watch it go nowhere.

JEFF and BETH
Plop.

JEFF
(picking up another rock)
Try again.

They both begin picking up stones and skipping them across the lake in front of them. While they go about this, slowly but playfully, BETH again speaks to the audience as the woman in her thirties.

BETH
You do this for weeks, until you finally get the hang of it.

JEFF
(skipping a stone)
Splish, splish, splish, splish, plop.

BETH
Until you become great at it. (She skips a stone.) Splish, splish, splish, splish, splish, splish, plop.

She smiles at JEFF, and he smirks back. The continue skipping stones.

BETH
One day, you chuck a nice fat one across the lake, and a duck suddenly surfaces.

They look on in horror.

BETH
And you watch the stone strike it, watch it collide with this graceful, green curve that was just abruptly there, and it snaps back like nothing you’ve ever seen…and when you…(She moves forward as if walking in water.)…get to it, it’s just lying there with its bill open, its eyes open, and that graceful green curve is at an angle that you just know, even as a six year-old you just know it isn’t right…

JEFF
(looks confused and shocked, wandering offstage)
Bethie. What did you do?

BETH
(backing away from the duck towards the chairs, slowly)
And in the hours and days and weeks and nightmares that follow, you learn to believe in blood, and the heart that pumps it, and the arteries you can feel in your neck and wrist. They displace your God and cascade through your childhood ambitions and never let you forget that they hold the keys to life and death.

Pause. She sits down again, picks up a medical journal.

BETH
1982. You become a doctor, and suddenly an epidemic surfaces. And no matter how many rocks you throw at it, it continues to swim in your lake. 1985. 1988. It gets bigger. 1990. 1993. It lays eggs, and it migrates south, north, east and west no matter what season it is. 1996. 1998. (She opens the journal and looks at it.) The current edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association contains a half dozen articles dealing with the epidemic, about the new ways that the virus has mutated, the successes and failures of drug cocktails, the statistics, the controversies, the doctoral theses. You read the magazines cover to cover, you find names that have started to function like the flag at the front of the old British army, you find Dr. Montagnier, Dr. Ho, Dr. Gallo. But every paper published is a reminder that you haven’t found a way to kill it yet.

JEFF
(walking on)
What’s this disease you’re working on?

BETH
(to JEFF)
They’re calling it G-R-I-D.

JEFF
GRID?

BETH
No, I’m wrong. They’re calling it A-I-D-S.

JEFF
AIDS?

BETH
Yes.

JEFF
What’s causing it?

BETH
H-T-L-V. No, I mean L-A-V. No, I mean H-I-V.

JEFF
Bethie, is this a disease or a spelling bee?

BETH
(to the audience)
The first time you see it on the slide is like the first time you hear a ghost story; you say to yourself, over and over, it can’t be real, but the voice at the base of your spine keeps telling you that it is. If you believe in electron microscopes, then you believe in ghosts.

JEFF
(as a twelve year-old)
Did I ever tell you about Bloody Mary?

BETH
And in every cemetery you pass by…

JEFF
…did I tell you about Old Man Wayne down the street…?

BETH
…you can see the people that have been scared to death.

JEFF
(shining a flashlight under his face)
Did I tell you…about the bogeyman?

BETH is eight. She’s looking at her brother fearfully.

JEFF
(continuing)
The bogeyman, little sister, he’s huge, he’s bigger than dad even. He’s got teeth like Mom’s kitchen knives. And I’ll bet you he’s in your room right now.

BETH
Wha…what?

JEFF
Surrre. (He removes his sweater, to reveal a blood-red shirt beneath it.) He wears red all the time, so you know it’s him, but he hides. He hides in your closet, or under your dresser, or under your canopy bed…

BETH
Stop it, Jeff!

JEFF
(advancing on her, slowly)
And every night, he comes a little bit closer to your bed, and when you wake up the next morning, your hands are cold…and they keep getting colder, and he keeps getting closer, and then one night…

BETH
(screaming)
MOOOOOM!

JEFF chuckles and runs off.

BETH
(to the audience, as a thirty year-old)
The last patient I had used to hold my hand as tight as he was able and call me “Mom”. I would excuse the nurses, feed him Jell-O and read to him…read the medical journals to him because there was nothing else around. His real mother came to visit him once, she made the sign of a cross over his bed…kissed two fingers and held them to his forehead. His fever was terrifying. I could imagine it, the absolute last act of love she could show for him, crackling and burning away on his skin like something in a crucible. (Beat.) Your mother tells you there is no such thing as the bogeyman, and your brother doesn’t get to have Jell-O that night.

JEFF
(sourly)
You didn’t have to get me in trouble.

BETH
(at eight years old)
You were mean!

JEFF
You’re a twerp!

BETH
I am not! I hope there really is a bogeyman! I hope he takes you away in the middle of the night!

JEFF
Oh, there’s a bogeyman all right. And he’s gonna get you.

BETH
(to audience)
You wake up the next morning feeling like you held an ice cube all night.

JEFF
Sleep well, twerp?

BETH
(remembering her patient)
Some nights, he would gasp for air, the skin in his neck collapsing around the veins and puffing back out. He had a voice like sand. I used to hold an ice cube to his mouth, and watch the lips irrigate themselves.

JEFF
You know what I said. He’ll get closer, and closer…

BETH
That night, you remove everything red in your room. The next morning your hand is so cold that it’s numb.

JEFF
…and closer, and closer…

BETH
The next night, you go into your dad’s toolbox. It’s a really nice one, heavy and metal and the color of a fire engine. You’re never supposed to touch dad’s tools, but this is an emergency. Your hands are stiff and cold and the bogeyman is coming to get you. You grab a screwdriver.

JEFF
You know how the bogeyman gets you? He starts by nibbling at your hands…that’s why he has to make them cold, so you don’t feel anything. He just starts slowly, and then eats you, bit by bit. You’re just bones by morning. Trust me, little sister, I’ve seen it happen.

Pause. BETH pulls a screwdriver from her lab coat pocket.

BETH
Your dad knew how to fix things. He tells you, years after you become a doctor, that it runs in the family, and you smile that thin smile that used to make him tousle your hair. But you’re too old for him to tousle your hair.

Lights go down to almost nothing.

BETH
That night you only pretend to sleep. The shadows on your ceiling move and blend into each other, like the surface of the lake on a windy evening. You hold your father’s screwdriver in one hand. It’s as big as a sword. You hear the door creak open ever so slightly, this tall shaft of light bends across your floor, and suddenly he’s there. He’s gigantic. He’s just like your brother described him. The bogeyman creeps across the room, your breathing becomes so quick and shallow that you think you’ll vomit. (She remembers her patient, briefly.) He hadn’t been able to eat anything for days. He kept looking at me like he wanted to vomit, as if it was something he could do just to prove he was still alive, because dead people don’t throw up…it was all he wanted, was to let his stomach go, but…it was all air. (Beat.) Tonight the bogeyman’s through with just getting closer, tonight he’s going to be there. You know it. He’s so big and evil, and he’s going to gobble you all up, starting with your hands. (Beat.) He pulls at your blanket. (Beat.) And you scream like no eight year-old has the right to, and you stab the bogeyman’s hand with your dad’s screwdriver…!

Lights up. JEFF is clutching his hand and yelling.

JEFF
Ahhhhhh!

BETH
And for the first time in your life, you see what your older brother’s blood looks like. It falls onto your sheets and spreads across the cotton, and your parents come in to see what’s happened. (Beat.) And even if there really was a bogeyman, it doesn’t matter. Because you’ve killed it.

JEFF
(to BETH)
Bethie! God! What did you…do?! (He runs off, holding his hand.)

Pause.

BETH
Your children don’t believe in the bogeyman. You raise them to feel safe in their bedrooms, that there are no more bogeymen. He’s just make-believe. (Beat.) But sometimes, you lie awake at night, staring at the shadows that the streetlights create on your wall and ceiling and husband, and you imagine that this, the epidemic, is the bogeyman’s revenge. You imagine that the moment it died, it cursed you with its last desperate breaths, you’ve killed me, you little brat, you killed me, but just you wait, in retaliation for this, I am going to destroy everybody around you. And he catches fire, crumbles to ash, and years later Patient Zero rises from them. (Beat.) And you don’t sleep at all that night. (Beat.) Other nights you imagine that you didn’t really kill the bogeyman when you were eight, because it was just your brother. But in the end, you didn’t have to, because the epidemic killed it for you.

Taped conversation of two children. This may or may not be JEFF and BETH.

BOY
You didn’t have to get me in trouble.

GIRL
You were mean!

BOY
You’re a doofus!

GIRL
I am not! I hope you get AIDS and die!

Pause.

BETH
Killed or replaced. It’s the same thing. The bogeyman ceases to exist. (Beat.) Your children know what you do for a living. Your husband tells them that Mommy is trying to save the world from a terrible sickness, and they think you might as well be slaying dragons. The only animal you’ve ever killed is a duck.

JEFF walks on.

JEFF
Any progress?

BETH
Slowly. Did you read the latest Newsweek? They say that someday it’ll be just like diabetes, something you can live with for a long and worthwhile time.

JEFF
Yeah? What will diabetes be like?

BETH
Diabetes.

JEFF
Of course. My friend Carlo tells me that the only thing that keeps him from killing himself is that with his luck, he’ll do it, and the next day there’ll be a cure.

BETH
Hm.

JEFF
It’s going to get better, isn’t it, Bethie?

BETH
I don’t know what that means, Jeff. I think there’s too many dead people for “better” to happen anymore.

JEFF looks as though he needs to reply to this. When he can’t, he walks off, confused.

BETH
(watches him go off)
Other nights, you imagine how wonderful it would all be, if AIDS, the dead, the whole damned thing were just a hoax. A hoax perpetrated by your brother just to scare you, to remind you who the older sibling was, a red-shirted child-munching monster that made your hands go cold. And you wait for the lights to turn on, and he’s standing there, his whole ruse completely exposed. There is no bogeyman, Jeff, you made it all up.

JEFF
(jumps on, smiling)
Gotcha!

BETH
(looking at JEFF)
But that doesn’t happen. It can’t happen, because if he had made it all up…

JEFF sits down. He is very ill, shivering, exhausted.

BETH
…if he had made it all up, it wouldn’t have gotten him too, would it…? (She turns to face JEFF.) Jeff? Jeff, how are you doing?

JEFF
(perking up as much as possible, stifling coughs)
Me? What are you talking about, sis? Fit as a fiddle.

BETH
Jeff…

JEFF
Strong as an ox.

BETH
Jeffrey.

JEFF
Fast as a…

BETH
(exasperated)
Jeff will you tell me the truth?

JEFF
(seriously)
Sis. You know the truth. What are you doing, Bethie?

BETH
What am I…?

JEFF
Why. Are you asking me questions you know the answer to?

BETH
(trying to answer)
It’s. Because.

JEFF
Bethie, are you a doctor or a lawyer?

BETH
(to the audience)
It comes and takes him in the middle of the night. You’re not there. You’re asleep at the time.

JEFF
(deliriously, frightened)
Beth? Beth, is that you? Who’s there? (Quietly.) Bethie, there’s something in here.

Pause. Lights down on JEFF. BETH steps forward into her own light.

BETH
You walk past the in the public park on your lunch hour. It’s a good lake, it’s small and clear and the children are dismantling loaves of bread, throwing them to the ducks. And the sound in your ears is your own blood, clean and pure and the key to life and death. I stand at the edge of this lake, every day, and no matter how hard I look, I can never find any stones to skip.

Blackout.

End of Play

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This entry was posted on December 1, 2009 by in Plays, Politics, Theatre, Writing.
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