18 April 2016

A Garden of Samanthas

On a hill, on the west side of the river, five miles from the nearest town, a ladybug took the liberty to sunning herself on a rock.

At the foot of the hill, in a house that must have grown up there a hundred years ago, the Wilson’s cat sat erect, staring at the pantry, trying to decide if was worth the effort and whether he could finish the job before the Mistress and man-child returned.

On the other side of the hill, where sun was still shining (and some say it still is) the Mistress and the man-child were concluding their evening meal, he his crackers and almonds (which he would not eat without peanut butter) and she her sandwich (which she preferred lightly toasted).

“What are you drawing, dear?” asked the Mistress.

“Issa samantha.”

“Samantha? It looks like a flower.”

“Uh huh. Issa flower.”

“Did you name it Samantha?”

“No, issa samantha,” said the boy impatiently.

“It’s a Samantha?”

“A samantha is a flower,” he explained.

“Oh, I see. I’ve never heard of such a flower before.”

“Uh-huh,” the boy conceded.

The boy often said odd things like this, and the Mistress had come to accept it. His father had tried to teach him about the names of Cows and Horses, but in spite of all his training the boy would never call trees “treesif for some reason he preferred them to be called elephants. When he spoke, his word was law. There was no convincing him out of it.

The drawing did not remotely resemble the yellow and pink rhododendrons in front of him. It was more purple than yellow (whether from artistic choice or the limitations of his color palette she could not decide) with vibrant, fiery appendages shooting out from the roots. She smiled to herself, and considered how dearly she loved him. And yet—when you really looked at the drawing, you couldn’t help but feel that it was somehow right that it should be called a samantha. And when she turned her gaze to the rhododendrons he was supposedly modeling, wasn’t there something very samantha­-like about them? Perhaps the man who had named them “rhododendrons” was the one who had got it wrong. Let it be known, world, that these flowers shall henceforth be called samanthas.

She checked herself. Of course this was nonsense. They were rhododendrons, not samanthas. She must explain this to him later. But not today. Some other time.

The Mistress said, “It’s time to go,” and it was. The boy took her hand and they turned their backs to the sun. But if they had been listening closely, they would have heard the faintest tingling music washing over the hillside. They did not know that the samanthas were singing, rejoicing quietly over the sound of their new name.

02 April 2016

Customer Satisfaction Guaranteed

Model 1
Model 2
The Store Clerk
A family of three: Father, Mother, and young child
A young man
A teenage couple

Two plastic clothing models stand behind the glass window of a store, perfectly still, with deadpan expressions. Model 1 wears a wide brimmed hat and a brightly colored floral dress. Model 2 wears a fitting leather jacket and a mini denim skirt. Shoppers periodically pass by the window in silence.

The store clerk comes up and changes the sign from “CLOSED” to “OPEN”. He continues to appear periodically throughout the play to adjust the model’s positions. Model 1 yawns, as if waking up.

Model 1: [to the second model] lovely day out, isn’t it?

Pause.  M1 clears her throat. A shudder runs through M2 and she wakes up.

Model 2: Sorry?
M1: I said it was a lovely day out.
M2: Oh. I’m so sorry. I misheard you. I thought you said it was a lovely day out.
M1: I did.
M2: What’s that?
M1: I did!
M2: [with disgust] oh.

A pause.

M1: Well, what are you wearing today?
M2: Oh for God’s sake, stop trying to make conversation.
M1: They gave me this lovely floral dress. I like floral. Don’t you?  I’m sure it would be exceptionally pretty if I could twirl around in it. Some girls, you know, they twirl in their dresses. I’ve seen them do it. I wish I could twirl around in this. Sometimes I think a pretty dress is all a girl needs in life.
M2: Child, don’t say such things. It’s not good for our customers. If they could hear you (thank God they can’t) they’d actually start thinking they have enough!
M1: Well what’s wrong with that? Isn’t it our motto? “Customer satisfaction guaranteed”—it says so on the window.
M2: Now don’t you start believing our own propaganda, child. The last thing we want is for them to be satisfied. If they were satisfied, they’d never come back!
M1: But why shouldn’t they be satisfied? Don’t they want what we’re giving them? Hats, coats, skirts? That’s what we’re here for.
M2: Oh, good gracious, no. We don’t sell clothes here.
M1: What do we sell?
M2: Customer satisfaction, child. It says so on the window.
M1: It’s the same thing.
M2: Of course it’s not the same thing! We don’t want to sell things. Things don’t last. “That which is seen is temporal.”
M1: Where did you hear that?
M2: I don’t know, I read it in a book once. Now listen: we want to sell an idea—a promise. A promise is eternal, you see. They come in every day to pick up this promise, and we tell them “we’re all out. Come back tomorrow, and then it will be ready.” And they will always come back, till their bones crack and their hair falls out, as long as we don’t deliver the promise.
M1: What’s the promise?
M2: That they will one day be like us. But every time they buy one of our outfits, the store clerk comes and puts new clothes on us, so they won’t be like us anymore. Hence the promise is never delivered.
M1: [with genuine admiration] you sound very wise. You seem to know a lot about this sort of thing.
M2: [pompously] I’ve been around.

A mother and father with a small girl walk by the store. The small girl stops and stares at the first model for some time. She begins to cry.

Mother: Sweetheart, what’s the matter?
Little Girl: I’m sad.
Mother: Why are you sad?
Little Girl: Because [points to plastic model in floral] because she’s sad.
Father: The model? [laughs] Oh sweetie, there’s no need to worry about that. It’s not a real girl. She’s made of plastic. She doesn’t have feelings.

The little girl continues to shake her head and point, and the conversation continues in pantomime as we switch to the other side of the glass. The family eventually exits as the following conversation ensues:

M1: Is it true? Are none of us real?
M2: It’s true. You’ve got nothing. Now people, if you opened them up, you would find all sorts of interesting things: bones, blood, lungs, pizzas, cancers, kidneys—the list goes on. But if they opened you up, you know what they’d find? Nothing. You don’t breathe, you don’t eat, you don’t sleep. You don’t even have a heartbeat. You’re empty.
M1: Then I’m an empty promise.
M2: Ugh, stop saying such intelligent things. It’s disgusting.
M1: Is that all it means to be real? To have things inside of you? Even if I don’t have any of those things—I feel real.
M2: [guffaw] we all do at first. You’ll get used to it eventually. That’s what happens when you stare at real people for too long. It rubs off on you—you start thinking you’re one of them. You’re not. That girl had a Mom and Dad. You never had a Mom and Dad: you were made in a factory, popped off a conveyor belt, along with five hundred other plastic women who look just like you. That girl could cry. That means she’s sad. You can’t cry: you can’t even close your eyes.
M1: [dejected] Then the man was right? I can’t cry. I don’t have feelings.  Why would they ever want to be like us—like this?
M2: That’s the genius of it! Don’t you see you’re the envy of them all? You’re the thing everyone wishes they could have.  I saw a man once break up with his girlfriend when he realized how little she looked like me. You should consider yourself the privileged. We’re practically at the zenith of society.
M1: Envious? What’s there to be envious of? My plastic face, my stiff joints, stuck behind this miserable glass wall watching the world pass me by, people laughing and walking and texting and paying parking tickets with those beautiful hands of theirs, while I can’t even lift a finger to join them? I’d give my right arm to be one of them.
M2: Be grateful you don’t work in the jewelry section. They don’t even have arms.
M1: I suppose.
M2: Or heads, for that matter.
M1: Yes, isn’t it a pity? [Another pause] Even so, they’re still better at conversation than you.

A young man walks past the models and stops at the window. He stares at M1.

M2: Oh brother, not this one again.
M1: Who is he?
M2: One of the romantics. He wants that pretty hat of yours. He’s been coming here for weeks now.
M1: [laughs spontaneously] him? In this hat? How funny!
M2: Not for himself, nitwit. His wife. It’s their anniversary. Look at how he gawks and the price tag. He can’t afford it, the poor thing. [To M1] Quit laughing. It’s unprofessional.
M1: I like him.
M2: Well, hate to crush your dreams, but I don’t think he likes you back.

Young man looks up from the price tag to stare at M1’s face intently.

M1: [with almost uncontrollable delight] he’s seen me. He’s looking at me!
M2: Don’t be a fool, he’s looking at your hat.

Store clerk comes up from behind M1 and removes her hat, replacing it with another one. The young man, instead of continuing to look at her, follows the hat with his eyes and eventually, as if suddenly making up his mind, walks briskly inside the store. Visible disappointment registers on M1’s face.

M2: [triumphantly] hah! See? He was never interested in you.
M1: [dreamily] did you see the way he looked at me?
M2: Looked at you! He only looked at you [shudders] like that because he was imagining the expression on his wife’s face when she tries on the hat for the first time.
M1: [sadly] lucky girl. [Brightens up again] Maybe, when I’m real, someone will look at me like that, and not just while imagining I’m someone else.  But still, it did feel wonderful.
M2: When you’re real? What makes you think you’re ever going to be real?
M1: I don’t know. I read it in a book once.
M2: [scornful laugh] you stupid girl, where do you get such ridiculous ideas? [Getting increasingly furious] We’re not human, you and I! We’re hunks of plastic that happen to look human! When they’re done with us, they’ll melt us into pools of sticky liquid and turn us into Tupperware. That’s all you are: Tupperware! You’re not real—never have been, never will be. Do you understand?


M1: [downcast eyes] I liked him.
M2: [exasperated sigh] you know what you are? Hopeless. That’s what you are.

More silence.

M2: Store closes in an hour. They’ll take off our clothes and put us in storage. That’s the procedure.
M1: The sunset is beautiful, isn’t it?

M2 does not answer.

A little later, a teenage couple walk up, hand in hand. The boy takes his phone out to text, and freezes in position. The girl drops his hand and advances to M1.

M1: Who is she? I’ve never seen her before.
M2: Hopeless. [More to herself than anyone else]

The girl reaches up and puts her hand on the glass. M1, straining from the effort, slowly begins to move her own hand towards her.

M2: [seen M1 moving her hand] Look—hey! What are you doing? You can’t do that!
M1: I can almost—touch her!
M2: Stop it! Someone will see!
M1: I just want to touch her—
M2: Stop moving your arm—
M1: Just for a second—
M2: It’s unprofessional—oof!

Her shouting is muffled by the store clerk who comes up behind her and throws a black sheet over her, carrying her away as she continues to yell at M1. She is eventually silenced.
The girl and the model continue to stare at each other, palm to palm on the glass.

Girl: Look at her.
M1: Look at her.
Both: You’re beautiful.
Girl: You’re seen.
M1: You’re touched.
Girl: You’re admired.
M1: You’re loved.
Girl: You’re perfect.
M1: You’re alive.
Both: If only I were you, someone might actually notice me.

Boyfriend looks up from his phone.

Boyfriend: Let’s go.

Girl drops her hand from the glass and walks away with her boyfriend. M1 remains with her hands on the glass, but her expression freezes and becomes as lifeless as it was in the beginning. The store clerk comes up with a black sheet to throw over her. He hesitates, startled to find her hand on the glass. He shrugs it off, throws the sheet over her, and changes the sign to “CLOSED” on the store window.