End of the World

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Xenia briefly finds happiness–a new home and a family, however strange. From Rogaland Theater’s production. Glenn André Kaada as Kaa (“the Wolf”) Buu, Mette Arnstad as Xenia and Gretelill Tangen as the family’s ever young matriarch Do. Photo: Emilie Ashley.

End of the World
By Astrid Saalbach
Translated by Michael Evans

Volume 7, Issue 4 (Fall 2019)

A flight attendant suffering from severe jet-lag and premature hot-flashes has just returned from a long and stressful tour abroad. Her passengers panicked for no apparent reason. On her way home from the airport she gets lost and can’t find her house. A strange girl, who would rather be a horse, offers to show her the way, but leads her instead into a world beyond our time zones, a world where airplanes are a thing of the past (because they inexplicably started falling from the sky), and where a roller bag can be traded for a baby.

***

When working with playwrights I often ask them to tell me about the fictional world that their play takes place in. What are the “rules” that govern this world? Playwrights of a fantastic bent sometimes answer: “I want to create a world where anything can happen.”

Then I know we’ve got a problem. Because if anything can happen in a play, nothing can mean anything. In order for meaning to arise in a play, the status quo and the actions of the characters have to be circumscribed by a set of rules that obtain in this particular fictional world.

The social and physical rules that the world Astrid Saalbach has created in End of the World are vastly different from the world we live in. But they add up to a coherent alternative world. Strange things happen, but not just anything. It’s all perfectly logical, in its own way.

Saalbach’s fictional world is the fascistic opposite of the world we want to live in. Through some advanced form of gene splicing, the authorities are attempting to create the perfect woman. Four of the young women we meet are science’s rejects, failed experiments, but necessary steps toward perfection. (They are all played by the same actor; they are apparently near clones.) Each of them has been designed to have a particular skill or attribute: a talent for math or drawing, generosity or empathy. In this the authorities have succeeded. But each also has a major defect: one is autistic, a second one was born with a grossly deformed head, a third with no legs, a fourth with no eyes.

Perfection is this society’s only goal. For them, winning is all; there is no place for losers. Once out of office, popular politicians are viewed as a threat. Soccer teams that lose are hounded and often killed. In this world, there are no second acts, no second chances. When your time is up, it’s up.

Why is this particular flight attendant thrust into this particular topsy-turvy world? Again, it’s no coincidence.

Saalbach writes obliquely. Much is left understated, and any plot summary will necessarily be a ham-handed interpretation. But this much is clear. Prior to the start of the play, Xenia, the jet-lagged flight attendant, was feeling out of sorts and went to the doctor. He, a young man, diagnosed her as approaching menopause. This came as a shock. While having a great time travelling around the world, she hasn’t been paying attention to her biological clock – which is ticking alarmingly fast. Her visit to the doctor is the play’s “inciting incident,” the action that causes the rest of the play. She feels that her time is up.

The action of the play can be understood in various ways. Maybe it’s all Xenia’s dream or nightmare. Or, perhaps, it could be her thoughts in the minute or so before her plane crashes. Certainly she is confronted with her greatest hopes and fears. In this world Xenia acquires everything she always wanted, but had neglected in her life—only to lose it all again.

In the final scene Xenia sees the tail of an airliner sticking up from the sand. Do we see it, too? This is a major design question; there’s no stage direction one way or the other. If the set includes something that looks like the tail of an airplane, then it would seem that her plane had crashed, and she somehow survived. If we don’t see the tail, we have to guess.

One production didn’t leave the audience guessing. Théâtre du Trillium, an experimental group in Ottawa, staged the whole play in the rubble of a crashed airliner. This strikes me as chewing the audience’s food for them, but the production won several awards.

***

Astrid Saalbach has had an impressive career, both as a novelist and playwright. End of the World won two major awards, best Danish play of the year and best Nordic play. Several of the productions in Europe have also won or been nominated for awards for acting, directing and design. The play is published in book form in the original Danish and in French, Romanian and Cantonese. It appears here for the first time in English. And, strangely, given the play’s international appeal, it has never been performed in English.

 

Astrid Saalbach trained as an actor at the national theatre school in Copenhagen, but found her calling as a playwright. Her first effort, the radio drama Tracks in the Sand, was produced in Denmark and several other countries in Europe. Her first full-length play for the stage was Ballet Lesson in 1986, a play that has been revived many times. Since then she was written ten full-length plays for the stage, two television dramas, six novels and one collection of short stories. Her plays have been seen in many countries in Europe and have won three pan-Nordic best play awards. She is a member of the Danish Academy. Her agency is Colombine Teaterförlag in Stockholm, info@colombine.se.

Michael Evans is an American expatriate who has been living and working as a dramaturg and translator in Norway since the 1980’s. His translation of Miller’s Death of a Salesman has been produced five times in Norway, and his translations of Saalbach’s plays have been seen in London, Chicago and Ontario. His textbook Innføring i dramaturgi (Principles of Dramaturgy) is widely used in Scandinavia and is currently in its fifth printing. He has guest lectured at universities in Oslo, Aarhus, Stavanger and Kabul. His articles have appeared in Theatre Forum, Ibsen Studies, American Theatre and Shakespearetidsskriftet.

 

END OF THE WORLD

Characters:

Xenia                                                   in her early forties

Girls 1-4, a Nomad Girl                       between 16 and 20

Kaa                                                      in his forties

Do                                                       in her thirties

The Young Man                                  in his twenties

 

SCENE 1

Late afternoon, somewhere in a suburb near the sea.

A girl is playing alone, alternating between being a horse and a rider. She makes noises and tries out various gaits. Her clothes are strange and ill-fitting, her shoes mismatched. Xenia enters, dragging her roller bag. She is wearing the uniform of a flight attendant, with matching overcoat and high heels. She sees the girl.

XENIA: …Excuse me?

GIRL 1: (No reaction)

XENIA: Hello…?

GIRL 1: (No reaction)

XENIA: Can’t you hear?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Can I ask you something? Do you know where Ahorn Avenue is?

GIRL 1: (Stands still) Yeah…

XENIA: How to get there from here?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: (Relieved) Whew! (Laughing) I’m lost! It’s ridiculous, I live there, it’s around here somewhere. I was walking along the road by the coast—couldn’t find a taxi, and the buses weren’t running. Suddenly there were two dogs right in front of me. I don’t usually get scared, but they were huge and seemed threatening. One of them had a big gash on its neck. So I turned around and went down a side road… (laughs) And now I have no idea where I am! But I bet you do?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: So, how do I get there?

GIRL 1: (Doesn’t answer. Plays at being a horse)

XENIA: …Do you understand what I’m saying?

GIRL 1: Yeah, yeah.

XENIA: Of course. Sorry. (looks around) …Everything seems different—when you’ve been away for a while. Do you live around here?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: In one of those houses?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Those big rocks, is this an ancient ritual site?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: I wish I could sit down on one of them for a while, but I’d just fall asleep. I’m so tired, but I have to stay awake until evening, otherwise I’ll never get back into the right rhythm. (Looking at her watch) …Do you know what time it is? I forgot to reset mine… (Looks at the girl and smiles) Looks like somebody left in a rush today; your shoes don’t match. And you forgot to zip up.

GIRL 1: (Looking at her clothes and shoes.) Yeah…

XENIA: In a hurry?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Going somewhere?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Well, I won’t keep you. Just point me in the right direction.

GIRL 1: (Takes Xenia’s roller bag.)

XENIA: Hey, hey! That’s mine. What are you doing? Do you want to pull it for me?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Show me the way?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: That’s very kind of you. I need someone to show me the way; the trip home was the worst ever. The passengers panicked; we couldn’t understand why—there wasn’t any turbulence, nothing out of the ordinary. First it was a young mother; she got out the life-jackets and started putting them on her children. Then somebody tore down the oxygen masks. Have you ever flown?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Of course, who hasn’t? Did you like it?

GIRL 1: Yeah…

XENIA: We kept serving one thing after another, the captain tried to calm things down, but it just kept getting worse. Some of them began to cry—sobbing loudly—others prayed, one person fainted, another one we had to put restraints on: he started thrashing about and tried to break into the cockpit. Everyone was calling for us, we ran back and forth for I don’t know how many hours. My legs are still shaking…my jaws ache from all that smiling… (yawns) That blue stripe out there—is that water or sky?

GIRL 1: Yeah…

XENIA: Is that all you can say?

GIRL 1: No. It’s just hard. (Plays at both horse and rider at the same time.) I would rather be a horse.

XENIA: Than a human?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: (Looking at her) Well, you’re doing a good job. I don’t know what I’d rather be. A bird maybe.

GIRL 1: Giddy up!

XENIA: Do you have a horse?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: I had one too, when I was your age. Tonga was his name. A big stallion. My best friend. Every morning before I went to school I rode my bike out to the farm where we kept him, gave him feed and fresh water, brushed and groomed him and cleaned his hooves; nobody else was allowed to touch him. Every afternoon I rode him, galloped over the fields…

GIRL 1: (Neighs)

XENIA: One day, in the forest, he suddenly collapsed under me, and died. Congenital heart defect, they said. I cried and cried, mourned like he was a person. For years I couldn’t bear to hear his name or see a horse that reminded me of him.

GIRL 1: Come.

XENIA: (Surprised) Is this the right direction?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: (Hesitates) Are you sure?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: (Following her) Oh, I am so looking forward to home. Sitting curled up in my own sofa, watching my own TV!

 

SCENE 2

In a forest.

Xenia and Girl 1 with the suitcase.

XENIA: …Wait! You’re going too fast. Are you sure this is a shortcut?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Imagine, was I really so far off? I didn’t know there was a forest here. What a scent…! Can you pick mushrooms here?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: I’d like to. Learn how to find them, what’s edible and what’s poisonous. Oh, I could lie down on that moss—it looks so soft! Close my eyes. (hears a noise and starts) …What was that? An animal—that stepped on a twig?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: I can’t remember the last time I was in a forest. I only go outdoors when I have to. I’m a couch-potato—most of us are. You wouldn’t think so, but when you travel as much as we do, literally living out of a suitcase, then home really means something. I’m hungry. You too?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: (Taking something out of her purse) I got this for my neighbor, because she takes care of my cat. It’ll soon be more attached to her than to me. (gives the girl a piece of chocolate) Wait, you have to take the wrapper off first…

GIRL 1: (Eats)

XENIA: Do you like it?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: You have something in the corner of your mouth. (removes it) How old are you? Sixteen? Seventeen? Older? Nineteen, maybe?

GIRL 1: …Yeah.

XENIA: Do people get angry with you very often?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: You could be my daughter. I’d like having children. It would give my life a center, an anchor. When we’ve got unaccompanied minors on a flight, usually from broken homes, shuttling back and forth between the two parents, I’m the one who looks after them. Making sure they get something to eat, talking to them, as much as time allows, getting them to feel safe. And I’m the one that hands them off to the mother or father, who’s sometimes drunk, usually the father. Or even worse, sometimes the parent has forgotten and doesn’t show up. Then I get the urge to take the kids home with me and keep them. Am I talking too much?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: I know, I know, but I have to, to keep awake. It would be nice if you said something too. Where were you going when I came? To some activity?

GIRL 1: (Neighs)

XENIA: Going riding?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: By yourself, or with someone? Are they waiting for you somewhere? Getting worried because you’re late?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: It’s my fault. We’ll have to get going.

GIRL 1: (Takes the suitcase and starts to go)

XENIA: (Following her) …Stop.

GIRL 1: (Stops)

XENIA: …It’s not that way. We’re getting further and further away. Where’s the sun…? Already pretty low… Where was it? In front of us or behind us? Which side…? I’m so tired I can’t remember…can’t think straight… We have to get our bearings…

GIRL 1: (Pointing) There.

XENIA: A star. Do you think that’s enough?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: I don’t even know what it’s called. (Starts.) There it was again, that noise! Did you hear it?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: We have to stay calm, keep a cool head. We came from that direction. Or was it from there…?

GIRL 1: Yeah…

XENIA: You don’t sound so sure. I thought you knew the way, had an instinct.

GIRL 1: (Takes the suitcase, starts to go)

XENIA: (Holding her back) …That’s not the way, it feels wrong. We’re going to get lost, if we’re not already. Just what I need—having it all end here, in the middle of a forest, after flying halfway around the world. Let’s turn back. See if we can find our way back to the city. It has to be that way, toward the light…

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: So why are you always leading me in the opposite direction? Weren’t you supposed to take me home? Or did I get that wrong?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Did I misunderstand…?

GIRL 1: (Lets go of the suitcase and starts walking off)

XENIA: Stop! Come back…!

GIRL 1: (Stops)

XENIA: Do you want to go?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Without me?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Leave me here…? No, don’t. I won’t manage… I wish I could talk with you! Where are you going? What’s drawing you away? Are you meeting someone?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Here? In the middle of the forest?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Who? The people you’re going riding with?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: (Relieved) Are they waiting for you out here? You could have said so!

GIRL 1: (Takes the suitcase and starts to leave)

XENIA: (Following her) I hope they’re still there. And that they can help me find what I’m looking for.

 

SCENE 3

Somewhere in the forest.

Girl 1 enters with the suitcase, Xenia following.

XENIA: Either we’re going in circles or this is one big forest—huge… Ah, ow! My ankle… (hobbles over to a tree stump and sits) …Just what I needed. After hopping and running around… (fighting back tears) …You don’t have to feel sorry for me, but a little sympathy would be nice.

GIRL 1: (Picks up something, maybe a pinecone, and throws it at Xenia)

XENIA: You hit me!

GIRL 1: (Does it again)

XENIA: Stop it! What’s the matter? Can’t I cry?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: (Blows her nose, wipes her eyes) …Okay, I’ll stop. It doesn’t hurt that much anyway. It doesn’t take much nowadays, to set me off. My doctor thought it probably has to do with my age. “Have you thought about that?” What does he know? A young guy with tattoos and a stupid smile. I’m 42 for Christ’s sake! That’s not old. But he’s made me feel old. Now when I look at myself in the mirror, I don’t see myself, but an older woman, no longer attractive, no longer able to have children… (Cries)

GIRL 1: 6,571.

XENIA: What?

GIRL 1: 6,571.

XENIA: …What? (following the girl’s gaze) Trees?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: (Starting to laugh) How? You must be some sort of savant. I hope your sense of direction is as good.

GIRL 1: (Sees something, picks it up)

XENIA: Did you find something? A glove…? It’s very unusual.

THE YOUNG MAN: (Enters, wearing a worn and dirty outfit, a t-shirt with wide blue and white stripes and matching scarf, and jogging pants) That’s mine. It’s a keeper glove…

XENIA: (Laughing) Oh, you scared me!

THE YOUNG MAN: (To Girl 1) Who’s she? Why did you bring her along?

XENIA: Do you two know each other?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Is he the one you were going to meet? Who’s been waiting…?

GIRL 1: Yeah.

XENIA: Maybe you can help me?

THE YOUNG MAN: I can’t help anyone, not even myself.

XENIA: Who are you? What are you doing in the forest?

THE YOUNG MAN: Live here, until I can show myself again.

XENIA: What have you done?

THE YOUNG MAN: Nothing.

XENIA: So why do you have to hide?

THE YOUNG MAN: I was on the wrong team, the one that lost.

XENIA: Is that so bad?

THE YOUNG MAN: They burn all the banners, kill all the fans of the losing team, when they get ahold of them. Everybody runs, pushing and shoving and trampling each other. Then they storm the field, break into the locker rooms and drag the players out one by one. Toss them to the lions, if they aren’t lucky and escape.

XENIA: What kind of sport is that? What’s it called?

THE YOUNG MAN: If I had stopped that last ball, we would’ve won. Then it would have been the others.

XENIA: …Does it always end like that?

THE YOUNG MAN: Always.

XENIA: That’s insane! (Mops her brow)

THE YOUNG MAN: …You’re sweating.

XENIA: I’m hot.

THE YOUNG MAN: That’s weird.

XENIA: I get this way sometimes, always when it’s least convenient, like walking in the desert in the middle of the day, in the burning heat. Not able to find shade or a cool spot anywhere…

THE YOUNG MAN: Your face is red.

XENIA: I know.

THE YOUNG MAN: I’ve never seen anyone sweat like that. At least not a woman.

XENIA: Maybe that’s the problem, maybe that’s what’s happening. I’m finished as a woman.

THE YOUNG MAN: I can smell it.

GIRL 1: (Neighs)

THE YOUNG MAN: Sugar…? (Takes out a lump of sugar and offers it to Girl 1, with the lump on his flat hand. She takes it with her teeth. The Young Man strokes her hair, takes out the bridle and puts it on her.)

XENIA: What are you doing…? What’s that you’re putting on her?

THE YOUNG MAN: A bridle.

XENIA: Take it off!

THE YOUNG MAN: She likes it. That’s why she comes here every evening.

XENIA: To ride? To be the horse?

GIRL 1: (Neighs)

THE YOUNG MAN: Easy, easy.

XENIA: Stop! I won’t have it!

THE YOUNG MAN: You don’t get to decide.

XENIA: I can’t just watch this.

THE YOUNG MAN: Then go.

XENIA: But where? I don’t know where I am, that’s the whole problem! I’m lost! Leave her alone…she’s just a child. Let go of her…!

THE YOUNG MAN: Mind your own business, you old hag. You just don’t get it. Giddy up! (rides off)

XENIA: Come back! Don’t leave me alone! With just the trees… Six thousand, seven hundred… Do you hear me? Come back! …I’m so tired. Should never have sat down… (closes her eyes and falls asleep)

(Lights change, birds sing. The Young Man comes back, carrying Girl 1.)

THE YOUNG MAN: (To Xenia) …Wake up!

XENIA: …Did I fall asleep? What’s happened?

THE YOUNG MAN: She just collapsed, had a seizure and started foaming at the mouth.

XENIA: Lay her down here, on her side. (helps put Girl 1 down)

THE YOUNG MAN: Are you a doctor? Nurse?

XENIA: No.

THE YOUNG MAN: I’d have thought…

XENIA: She’s not breathing. The bridle is too tight, cutting off circulation…!

THE YOUNG MAN: I’ve strangled her!

XENIA: Help me. (freeing the girl from the bridle)

THE YOUNG MAN: I can’t… I told her I didn’t like it, but she wanted it like that, tighter, tighter, all the time tighter…!

XENIA: (Trying resuscitation) …Come on, breathe!

THE YOUNG MAN: Breathe, breathe…!

XENIA: Please…! (gives up)

THE YOUNG MAN: She’s dying! Don’t stop! Move over, I’ll do it… (shakes the girl, trying to revive her)

XENIA: There’s nothing more to do.

THE YOUNG MAN: I killed her.

XENIA: No, no…

THE YOUNG MAN: No, it’s my fault.

XENIA: And mine. For letting it happen, for not stopping…

THE YOUNG MAN: Now I can never come back.

XENIA: I can help you, if you help me. Get me away from this place!

THE YOUNG MAN: (Gathers up his keeper gloves and disappears)

 

SCENE 4

Somewhere in a suburb.

A baby carriage with a screaming baby. Xenia passes by it with her roller bag. Stops, goes back. Looks into the carriage.

XENIA: …There now, there now little one. Are you lying here all alone…? Why are you crying? Did you have a bad dream. Are you cold? Hungry…? There now, there now, you mustn’t cry like that. Like it’s the end of the world… (sniffles) Then I start in too… (blows her nose, wipes her eyes) …You’re hoarse, you must have been crying for some time. What should we do? Where’s your mother…?

GIRL 2: (Appears, wearing provocative, tight-fitting clothes, high heels and something covering her head) Hallo there!

XENIA: Hallo…

GIRL 2: Wonderful weather! Not too cold, not too hot.

XENIA: Is this your baby?

GIRL 2: Your baby or my baby, whatever, but yeah, they say it’s mine.

XENIA: You’re very lucky. Is it a girl or a boy?

GIRL 2: Girl. (looks at Xenia’s roller bag) Pretty clever, those little wheels.

XENIA: Hardly a new invention. Aren’t you going to pick her up?

GIRL 2: Same to me. Doesn’t bother me.

XENIA: Poor little girl…

GIRL 2: Helps develop the lungs, they say. So she’ll be able to play an instrument.

XENIA: No, not anymore; now you’re supposed to pick them up. I’ve read about this. Hold them tight so they know you’re there. Talk to them, so they can hear something besides their own crying. Not picking them up when they cry makes them feel abandoned—a feeling that never goes away. (sniffles)

GIRL 2: Ring around the moon today, I guess, huh?

XENIA: (Blowing her nose) It’s silly, I know. But the sound of a baby crying just…

GIRL 2: So hold your ears.

XENIA: Pick her up, please. She’s unhappy.

GIRL 2: Do it yourself.

XENIA: May I?

GIRL 2: At your own risk.

XENIA: (Picks up the baby) There now, there now…don’t cry little one. She’s wet.

GIRL 2: More than that, I suspect. Unless someone put a plug in her hole.

XENIA: (Rocking the baby) She’s a little sweetie. And beautiful.

GIRL 2: Doesn’t take after her mother, fortunately.

XENIA: I’ve never seen such a headdress before.

GIRL 2: It’s not a headdress. It’s a sack, so I don’t scare the hell out of people. They start screaming when they see me. Because of my face.

XENIA: It can’t be that bad.

GIRL 2: Well… (removes the sack)

XENIA: (Screams)

GIRL 2: What did I say?

XENIA: How did that happen…?

GIRL 2: One of the whims of nature, or whoever it was that was having fun that day. But my body’s okay, that’s what my friends say, the men. And they like the sack; it helps them imagine I’m their wife or girlfriend or whatever, when they’re doing me.

XENIA: Is that your profession?

GIRL 2: Oh, I don’t do it for money. It’s a calling. My contribution to a better world. I like giving. Sometimes though I do get something, little presents from particularly good friends. Well, I can’t stand here all day, there’s already a line…

XENIA: Is that them, your friends?

GIRL 2: They’re so patient. Can stand there and wait all day.

XENIA: In front of that shack.

GIRL 2: The Palace, people call it.

XENIA: Who looks after her, while you’re tending to your calling?

GIRL 2: She looks after herself; she’s a clever little girl, my Pearl.

XENIA: But a baby…

GIRL 2: They’re more capable than people give them credit for. Oh, I’m going to be sick…

XENIA: Are you nauseous? Would you like a bag?

GIRL 2: Throw up every morning.

XENIA: One more on the way?

GIRL 2: Guess so.

XENIA: Already.

GIRL 2: It’ll be great for Pearl, she won’t be alone so much. What do you say, pretty Pearl. You want some company? A little sister, or brother? (looks at the suitcase) Can I try it?

XENIA: Sure, go ahead.

GIRL 2: (Pushing and dragging the roller bag around) How do I look? Does it suit me?

XENIA: Yes.

GIRL 2: Trade you.

XENIA: What?

GIRL 2: I get the suitcase.

XENIA: For what?

GIRL 2: For her.

XENIA: Your child. You’ll give her away?

GIRL 2: You’re supposed to give away the best thing you have, didn’t you know that?

XENIA: But you can’t; it’s illegal. And you’d regret it…

GIRL 2: I’ve done it before, with two other ones.

XENIA: Gave them away, to strangers?

GIRL 2: You said you came from around here.

XENIA: I do.

GIRL 2: Otherwise I wouldn’t.

XENIA: You won’t be able to live without her.

GIRL 2: There’s another one on the way.

XENIA: I’ll take good care of her. Give her love and a good upbringing, make her feel safe. I’ll re-do a room for her…knit tiny little booties, buy…she’ll have everything. Travel with her, when she’s a bit bigger. Love her, never leave her…

GIRL 2: (Weeping) My baby!

XENIA: (Alarmed) Hush…! (looking around) What’s the matter? No one’s going to take your baby. Stop it. It was just a joke. A stupid game… (giving her the baby) Here.

GIRL 2: Don’t you want her?

XENIA: Well, of…

GIRL 2: Then take her, and go. Let’s get it over with. (toying with the suitcase) How do you open it?

XENIA: Like this. (shows her how)

GIRL 2: …And it’s mine, right? All of it?

XENIA: Yes.

GIRL 2: Here, you’ll need her blanket; I’ll keep the carriage for the next one. (tosses things out of the suitcase) What a lot of stuff…!

XENIA: (Exits with baby)

 

SCENE 5

In Do’s house.

A spacious, semi-dark living room. Curtains are drawn shut, here and there we see drawings on the walls. At first they look like a child’s scribbles.

Xenia enters with the baby, wrapped tightly in her blanket. She looks around. Kaa, hidden, watches her silently.

XENIA: …Hello? Anybody home?

(Kaa disappears. Do comes forward, cautiously. Her face is covered with a greenish paste or mask. She follows Xenia with her eyes.)

XENIA: Hello…? (sees Do) …Excuse me! I knocked, and tried the doorbell, but it didn’t work.

DO: What do you want?

XENIA: To ask directions, to a place; it’s not far from here.

DO: Where did you come from?

XENIA: From—what’s it called again, that city with the muddy river, and all the houseboats, that we started out from?

DO: (Reaching out for the baby) Shall I?

XENIA: No, thank you, she’s not heavy.

DO: Have a seat.

XENIA: I can stand.

DO: It doesn’t look that way.

XENIA: I’m in a hurry, I have to get her home.

DO: How old is she?

XENIA: (Taken by surprise) A few weeks. Two, three…

(Ka appears again. He looks at Xenia, then disappears.)

DO: Be careful with her head.

XENIA: Am I holding her wrong?

DO: You’re supposed to support her head.

XENIA: Oh.

DO: (Sees the airline insignia on Xenia’s jacket) That’s very pretty.

XENIA: The airline’s insignia.

DO: Reminds me of when people used to fly.

XENIA: Used to…?

DO: Ages ago, I don’t know exactly when, dates are not my strong suit. I’ve seen it in old movies; the air full of silvery machines, like long tubes with wings!

XENIA: So what happened?

DO: They started falling.

XENIA: Crashing?

DO: They couldn’t figure out why. Some people thought it was metal fatigue, others said that they were carrying too much weight, still others claimed that they were flying too slow, that the air was creating too much resistance. They kept on debating, the planes kept on falling. Sometimes over cities, destroying whole blocks. Finally, they stopped flying. Since then, no one has tried.

XENIA: Where am I. On a different planet?

DO: The pond over there was caused by that, a plane crashed and made a crater. Once when Kaa was little he came home with a piece of metal he found there; he pretended it was a wing.

XENIA: What has happened…? Is this punishment for crossing too many time zones in too few days?

KAA: (Enters. Looks at Xenia) …You let someone in. Who’s she?

XENIA: My name is Xenia Jensen. This is my daughter…Baby.

DO: The young lady has gotten lost.

XENIA: Young?

KAA: Who isn’t young? Who doesn’t grope around in the dark? Mistaking the light of the fire for the light of the sun? Mere shadows for humans of flesh and blood?

DO: You recognize Kaa, of course.

XENIA: …Do I? Should I?

KAA: Have I changed that much? Gotten thin and gray in my exile? (stretches out a hand) Kaa Buu, also known as The Wolf.

DO: Politician and former minister. Leader of the Supreme Council, until just recently.

KAA: (Lightly) Now, with a bounty on my head.

XENIA: Why’s that?

DO: Kaa’s period was up.

KAA: My time.

XENIA: Couldn’t he get a new period?

KAA: When your time’s up, you’re finished.

DO: Everyone would’ve voted for Kaa again, if they could have. He was the most popular leader ever.

KAA: You’re exaggerating.

DO: Didn’t they march in torchlight processions? Hail you as the greatest leader ever?

KAA: And the next day they were ready to hail someone else. That’s just how it is; power must not have a face.

XENIA: I thought it was supposed to…

KAA: (Opens the curtains)

DO: No, don’t…! What are you doing?

KAA: Looking out.

DO: At what…? Kaa is a dreamer. He never compromises!

KAA: Stop it.

DO: Carries out his plans, no matter the cost. Never thinks about the consequences for his own safety. Beauty is the only thing that counts. How he can open the people’s eyes. He wants freedom.

XENIA: I do too!

DO: Love, and peace.

XENIA: Yes, yes. Wonderful! Too good to be true. I’m going to start crying… (dries her eyes) I didn’t know that there were any politicians who could be like that.

DO: Close the curtains. Don’t stand there, they can see you…!

XENIA: Is there anyone out there?

KAA: Not a soul.

DO: They could be hiding.

XENIA: Who? What’s the matter? Why do the curtains have to be closed?

DO: A person who eats even the tiniest lump of human flesh, mixed in with animal meat, turns into a wolf. Do you know that story?

XENIA: No.

KAA: (Nodding toward the baby) It’s not appropriate for children.

DO: You have to enjoy it, when they are babies and you can hold them in your arms. Protect them.

KAA: Mother…

XENIA: (Looks from one to the other surprised)

DO: Kaa is my son.

KAA: Mother refuses to get old.

XENIA: Can you do that?

KAA: If you’re willing to pay the price.

DO: And I am. Do anything, pay any price to postpone it. I can’t live without love.

KAA: That’s not love, mother.

DO: Call it whatever you like. (touches or scratches her face)

KAA: Don’t touch! Mother has just had a new face made.

DO: (removing the mask) What do you think? They can make anything, except hands. But they’ll get that done some day. Until then I have to wear gloves.

XENIA: I think I will sit down… (starts to sit)

DO: That’s not a chair!

KAA: (Helps her sit somewhere else) Nothing here is what it seems to be.

XENIA: My head…I’m afraid that something happened, that I’ve had a stroke, or some kind of fast-growing tumor that makes everything seem foreign, strange.

KAA: Exhaustion—completely normal to feel that way, when you’re on the run.

XENIA: I’m not on the run—did I say I was? My heart, it’s beating wildly. Is that dangerous?

KAA: Let me feel. (puts a hand on her heart)

DO: I’ll get you some water.

XENIA: (Looking around) …Did I bring in all that dirt?

KAA: Doesn’t matter.

XENIA: I must look terrible.

KAA: On the contrary.

XENIA: (Notices something) There’s a leg…

KAA: My sister Rose. She leaves them lying all over. She came to the world without legs, but she’s very good at drawing and painting. Mother lets her do her thing everywhere, even on the walls if she wants.

XENIA: (Looking at a drawing on the wall) Horses…

KAA: She loves horses.

DO: (Enters with a glass of water) Here you are.

XENIA: Thanks. (empties the glass, gets up)

DO: Are you leaving? Now? With the little baby?

XENIA: I have to get home. We have to go home.

KAA: It’s getting dark. I wish I could escort you home, walk ahead of you with a lantern. Stay here tonight, we have plenty of room and everything you need. You’re tired, sit down before you collapse.

DO: I’ll take the baby.

XENIA: No, no…

DO: It gets the hormones going, sitting with a baby. Just having one in the house.

XENIA: She’s asleep. (Do takes the baby.) I will be too in a minute…

DO: She looks just like Rose when she was a baby. The same colors, same long eyelashes. Exactly the same profile.

XENIA: I don’t understand it… How can this have happened? How can everything you know just vanish, like it never existed? (falls asleep)

DO: …Whose child do you suppose it is?

KAA: Hers.

DO: No…

KAA: It takes a thief to suspect one.

DO: Look at the insignia on her jacket.

KAA: Wings?

DO: That could be your salvation, if we act now.

KAA: I’m not that desperate.

DO: I am.

XENIA: (Talking in her sleep)… Hope you’ve had a pleasant flight. Passengers… other destinations… baggage here…customs…

 

SCENE 6

The same room, or perhaps a different one, in Do’s house.

The curtains are drawn. On all the walls we see drawings and paintings of horses and other cloven animals. Rose (Girl 3) is sitting in a wheelchair, with a brush and paint. Xenia is holding the baby.

ROSE: You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.

XENIA: …How could I forget her!

ROSE: Who?

XENIA: The girl…

ROSE: Has something happened to her?

XENIA: No, no…she was interested in horses too.

ROSE: I often dream that I’m riding. Galloping off on a big stallion. I’d love to try it for real, but mother won’t let me.

XENIA: How can two people look so much alike? Do you have a sister?

ROSE: Not as far as I know; I’m adopted. Mother found me in a garbage can, she heard something whimper. At first she thought it was a rat! (laughs)

XENIA: Who would ever put a baby in a garbage can?

ROSE: Oh, lots of people here. If there was something wrong with it.

XENIA: What kind of place is this?

ROSE: I wish I had a sister—I used to pretend I had one, when I was little. Lots of sisters. Made mother set places for them at the table, and they had to get presents when I got presents. Do you like my horses?

XENIA: They remind me of some drawings I once saw in a cave. What’s that?

ROSE: A woolly mammoth.

XENIA: And the ones with the long necks?

ROSE: Giraffes.

XENIA: All of them drawn in profile.

ROSE: I like them best that way. Is it true that people where you come from walk on their hands?

XENIA: (Laughing) No.

ROSE: Is it true that you have ten days in a week? And that children eat roasted puppy dog tails dipped in chocolate?

XENIA: No!

ROSE: And that women don’t wear panties on their birthdays?

XENIA: What a strange idea? Who told you that?

DO: (Enters. She is wearing some type of leather bodice with a helmet or mask.) What are you two talking about?

ROSE: (Falls silent)

XENIA: The horses. They’re wonderful…! So simple, yet lifelike.

DO: Rose is clever. Why don’t you have your legs on?

ROSE: I can’t find them.

DO: You lose them on purpose.

ROSE: They’re too long!

DO: They are as long as they are supposed to be; as long as your own legs would have been, if you had legs.

ROSE: I don’t like them, I’m afraid I’ll fall.

DO: You could learn how to walk if you wanted to. Dance if you put your mind to it. But you cling to your chair. What are you going to do when I’m not here anymore? Who’ll carry you up and down the stairs when I’m too old…? Go find your legs.

ROSE: (Exits)

DO: She’s asleep.

XENIA: I know. But I just can’t put her down.

DO: (Looking at the baby) …She’s ugly. Looks retarded. Should never have been born.

XENIA: Excuse me!?

DO: Shh! That’s to fool the gods, so they don’t see her and take her back. Are you sending signals, telling them where to find Kaa?

XENIA: If I could send signals, I’d be home by now.

DO: I know you’ve installed microphones. So tiny that you can’t see them.

XENIA: Do you think I’m a spy?

DO: I don’t know what I think. If it were up to me, I’d send you packing, but Kaa wants you to stay here.

XENIA: He does?

DO: Don’t start imagining things. Kaa can have anyone he wants, but he’s choosy. More interested in his own ideas and dreams. Tell them to leave him alone…

XENIA: I will.

DO: He’s not going to stage a comeback.

XENIA: Would that be so bad?

DO: The whole game would be changed, because he’s so strong, so much smarter. Kaa could save all of us, if he came to power again.

XENIA: (Puts the baby down)

DO: Do me a favor; hang this weight on my mask.

XENIA: (Taking the weight) Won’t this hurt?

DO: You have to suffer for beauty.

XENIA: (Hanging the weight on the mask) Like this…?

DO: (Suppressing a groan) One more.

XENIA: Is it necessary?

DO: If I want to stay young.

XENIA: (Hangs another weight on the mask)

DO: (Moans loudly) Now the last one.

XENIA: No…

DO: Aren’t you living in my house? Eating my food?

XENIA: (Hangs the last weight on the mask)

DO: (Gasps and groans in pain. Pees in her pants) Oh, oh…! Damn wrinkles, bloody bones! Miserable sack! Damn it to hell…! (looks at her pants) …See, I’ve wet myself. I’ve lost control over my bodily functions. What’s the point? Why do we have to get old?

XENIA: I thought there was a cure, pills or injections.

DO: There are, but you still have to do things for yourself or else the cure won’t work. Use a corset and mask. Hang weights on it, in order to strengthen the musculature. Train with heavier and heavier weights for more and more hours each day the older you get. After a while, all your time is spent training.

XENIA: For who’s benefit?

DO: For my benefit, isn’t that enough? And for Kaa; he doesn’t deserve an old mother. When he was little, he used to cry over each new wrinkle he found on my face, and each new gray hair, because he was afraid of losing me. Sometimes I want to give up, just sit in a comfy chair and let it happen, but then I see myself in the mirror, try to imagine how I’ll look… (looks at her pants again) I have to change… (exits)

XENIA: (Walks back and forth with the baby, who has become restless. Speaks babytalk and sings.)

KAA: (Enters. Listens) You’re singing…

XENIA: (Stops) I can’t remember the words.

KAA: I don’t like words. They can be dangerous.

XENIA: Your mother thinks I’m a spy.

KAA: Don’t mind her, she sees spies everywhere. Is suspicious of everyone, even herself. Always assumes the worst of people.

XENIA: If only I knew I could get home again.

KAA: Is it so terrible here?

XENIA: No, no.

KAA: Perhaps there’s someone waiting for you at home?

XENIA: For me? No. When I get back from a long tour I need to be alone, recharge my batteries.

KAA: I see. (to the baby) Kitshy-kitshy-koo!

XENIA: But there have been. Several, in fact. It’s difficult; they get tired of waiting. And when I’m home again at last, we’ve become strangers. I’ve been out, meeting new people, changing, they say; so we have to begin all over again, getting to know each other. Again and again. The last one was a biologist. Raised frogs in my bathtub. He waited nearly three years before he gave up. I came home one day and found a letter. I wasn’t even sad about it. The only thing I missed were the frogs.

KAA: You just haven’t met the right man.

XENIA: I’ve been too demanding.

KAA: That’s good.

XENIA: I was too critical, always complaining about something. Trivial things. I regret it now.

KAA: We all have things we regret.

XENIA: Do we?

KAA: Things we can’t bring ourselves to think about. You think you always do the right thing, but… Sing that song again. I want to hear it.

XENIA: (Sings or hums for the baby)

KAA: (Looking closely at her) …You’re warm.

XENIA: Is it so obvious…?

KAA: I like warm women.

XENIA: Yes, but dripping?

KAA: The warmer the better. She’s asleep… (takes the baby and puts it down) Your skin glistens. Glows like gold.

XENIA: My blouse is soaking wet.

KAA: Your hair.

XENIA: All my clothes.

KAA: From every pore. Such power!

XENIA: How awful.

KAA: What a sight! Like a goddess, rising out of the water.

XENIA: I don’t feel like that.

KAA: I’ll make you. Stay here, let us live together, all of us, as long as it lasts.

XENIA: You don’t waste any time.

KAA: I don’t know how much I have left.

XENIA: Who says you’re my type?

KAA: Oh, but I am. I know.

XENIA: I don’t like men who are too sure of themselves.

KAA: You just don’t know yet.

XENIA: Normally I’d cross the street if I saw you coming, but here nothing is like it was before. Here I don’t know what I’m doing.

KAA: Take off your clothes.

XENIA: No!

KAA: You’re soaking wet, you’ll catch cold. (Kisses and caresses her. Puts a hand down her pants) …What’s that?

XENIA: What’s what?

KAA: Down there?

XENIA: You mean my…?

KAA: It felt…different.

XENIA: Different? Do you remove them here? Cut them off? Is this that sort of place?

KAA: No, no; I just forgot what it feels like.

XENIA: I know it’s a bit big, and stiff.

KAA: Let me feel again.

XENIA: Don’t stop, don’t stop.

KAA: Then you’ll stay with me?

XENIA: As long as it lasts. I knew it. I knew I’d fall, from the second I saw you!

KAA: I fell first. Saw you before you saw me.

 

SCENE 7

A room in Do’s house.

Kaa and Xenia.

XENIA: (Bent over the baby) I can’t decide. Should she go to a regular school, or a private school. On the one hand, you want to protect them; on the other, give them a realistic picture of the world. What do you think? I don’t know what I’d do if they teased her. Probably kill them… (to the baby) Are you smiling? Smiling at your stupid mother who’s always worrying about everything? Oh, my how you can kick and wave your arms! Those tiny little hands and feet, I want to bite them off and gobble them up…! (talks more baby talk)

KAA: She’s ugly.

XENIA: Hideous. The most repulsive little baby ever. I wish she hadn’t been born.

KAA: You’re learning.

XENIA: She getting a tooth. You can’t see it yet, only feel it. The jagged top. That’s why she’s drooling so much and crying at night. Won’t stop. It hurts, every single new tooth. That’s easy to forget.

KAA: (Opens the curtain a bit)

XENIA: Be careful.

KAA: I have to have light. See the sky.

XENIA: Is anyone there…?

KAA: No. As deserted as always.

XENIA: Not always.

KAA: You go crazy living like this, in artificial light, looking at the same four walls, day in, day out.

XENIA: I feel at home here, more than anywhere else on earth, if that’s where we are. I could stay here, forever, if it was together with you, and her. Close the curtains, please, for my sake. Someone could be out there.

KAA: (Closing the curtains) Then take your clothes off.

XENIA: (Giggling) I’ve just put them on again!

KAA: The only thing that helps. Hurry. Let me…

XENIA: You’re shaking. You tore a button. (looks for it)

KAA: You’re torturing me.

XENIA: Found it…!

KAA: Come.

XENIA: Easy, you’re tearing my blouse.

KAA: I want to see your breasts.

ROSE: They sag.

XENIA: …Rose? Where are you?

ROSE: Here! Peek-a-boo! Behind the door…! (comes into view. She has her prosthetic legs on.)

KAA: (to Xenia) Come, my love. Don’t think about her.

ROSE: I’ll just watch, even though I’d rather…!

KAA: Rose loves romance. Can’t see enough of us.

XENIA: She’s seen us?

ROSE: Every time. I can’t wait to be old enough to have a boyfriend. He’s going to be just like Kaa, do it just like him… (falls) Ah, aw! Stupid legs, I said they were too long!

DO: (Comes into view. She has a kind of frame on her head. Helps Rose up) On your feet. Right.

XENIA: Do…? Are we all here now?

DO: Does that bother you? I don’t know what it’s like where you come from, but here we share both pleasures and sorrows.

KAA: (Tries to take Xenia’s clothes off)

XENIA: Not now. Not in front of them…!

DO: You don’t have anything to be ashamed of.

XENIA: I don’t…?

ROSE: It is a bit stiff.

XENIA: What?

ROSE: You said so yourself.

DO: Other places you sag. You ought to work out.

XENIA: Give me my clothes…!

KAA: But that’s how I like it… Soft, tender. Showing the marks of time.

XENIA: Tell them to go.

KAA: Do you want to disappoint them? Deny them the pleasure of seeing us together, as man and woman? What else do they have to pass the time here? They have so few things that give them pleasure. (pulling her closer) Look at me. Forget about them. Think of us. That we will be together forever… (kisses her)

ROSE: Yes!

DO: Good! Kiss her!

ROSE: Use your tongue!

DO: Naughty girl.

(The doorbell rings, once, twice, before they notice it. Do peeks outside.)

DO: Kaa…! They’re here. Do you hear me? Let go of her.

KAA: I can’t.

DO: They’ve found you.

KAA: (Letting go of Xenia) …They have? What should I do?

DO: The cellar door is open.

KAA: Should I run? Where to? They’ll find me no matter where. I knew this would happen some day, it was only a matter of time…

DO: Run.

KAA: (To Xenia) Come with me.

DO: She can’t. Not with the baby.

XENIA: I’ll follow later. Run, like your mother says. Go underground somewhere, I’ll find you, I’m sure.

DO: Out through the garden, under the bridge, over the road and into the forest. Now! Hurry…!

(The doorbell rings again. Kaa disappears, Do goes out to open the door.)

XENIA: …My clothes. Where are they? What have you done with them?

ROSE: I want the wings.

XENIA: Give me that. Spoiled brat—you can’t have everything you want! Give it to me, I don’t want to stand here half naked when they come…

DO: (Enters) They want to speak to you.

XENIA: Me…?

DO: Take you with them.

XENIA: Take me where?

DO: I don’t know. To ask you a few questions, they say. Check your papers.

XENIA: How could they know I was here? Who told them?

DO: I’ll take care of Baby.

XENIA: I’ll take her with me.

DO: That’s not allowed.

XENIA: How long will they keep me there? Where’s Kaa?

DO: Over the hills. Come, they’re waiting.

 

SCENE 8

A cell in a prison.

Xenia is sitting on a bunk. She is wearing some sort of prison outfit.

XENIA: (Looking at the various things) Ceiling…lamp…light…rays. Radiance…shadow. Wall…table. What’s it called?; wood…chair…seat, sit, sit down. Legs…chair legs…floor. Floor, floor…what’s it called? What’s it called? Linoleum! Linoleum… Bars…bars… And what do we have here? (goes down on all fours to look more closely) …Something moving? …A little guest? A foreign intruder, with wings and eyes on stalks. What are you doing here…? Just visiting…visiting me? That’s very kind of you, checking in on me. Say hello to Pearl. How is she? And Kaa…? Where is he now? What’s he up to? Is he pulling any strings…?

(A key is thrust into a lock. Xenia gets up. The Young Man, a prison guard, enters with a plate of food.)

THE YOUNG MAN: (Putting the plate down) Food.

XENIA: Not hungry.

THE YOUNG MAN: Should eat.

XENIA: Can’t. I miss my daughter. What kind of people are you? Separating a mother and child. Barbarians! Throwbacks…!

THE YOUNG MAN: I don’t have anything to do with that.

XENIA: Then tell them. I’m going crazy. Won’t eat until I get to see her.

THE YOUNG MAN: Okay.

XENIA: (Taking out a baby sock) It’s hers. Smells of her… (sniffs the sock. Looks at the guard) You’re new.

THE YOUNG MAN: Yes.

XENIA: We’ve met before.

THE YOUNG MAN: Have we?

XENIA: In a forest… I had different clothes on, and I was with a young girl.

THE YOUNG MAN: Don’t talk about that! Don’t tell anyone!

XENIA: Okay, okay, I promise. Take it easy, it wasn’t your fault.

THE YOUNG MAN: I couldn’t stay there, after that. Thought I saw her all the time running around through the trees, kept hearing the sound she made, that whinnying.

XENIA: She would have rather been a horse, she said.

THE YOUNG MAN: Than a human? She was weird. All of them are weird, even the ones that look normal. But they’re easy to catch, way too easy, they follow you around. Do whatever you want. Creepy.

XENIA: Who…?

THE YOUNG MAN: Them. They bring out the worst in you, they should be put to sleep, that would be more humane. Eat.

XENIA: (Shakes her head)

THE YOUNG MAN: It won’t help you to starve, they don’t care. Take a bite.

XENIA: No…

THE YOUNG MAN: It’s our national specialty. Do you mind if I…?

XENIA: Dig in. Old hag—you called me that.

THE YOUNG MAN: Sorry. I didn’t mean it.

XENIA: You were right, I am old. Can’t remember what things are called. Words disappear…

THE YOUNG MAN: That’s normal. Everybody gets that way, when they’ve been here a while.

XENIA: How long will I be here?

THE YOUNG MAN: Until they’re finished with your case.

XENIA: If I didn’t miss my husband and my daughter so much, I wouldn’t have anything against staying here. I like this kind of room, bare, impersonal, like a hotel room.

THE YOUNG MAN: Except for the locked door.

XENIA: But even that is a relief—being forced to stay in one place. No longer having a name, just a number. But you wouldn’t understand, you’re young.

THE YOUNG MAN: I don’t feel young.

XENIA: Dream of getting out in the world.

THE YOUNG MAN: No.

XENIA: Seeing the world!

THE YOUNG MAN: It’s the same everywhere, that’s what they say, those who have seen it.

XENIA: Don’t listen to them! Travel yourself, there’s so much to see, so many places, each more fantastic than the last, if you’re open and have an eye for it, and you do, I can see you do.

THE YOUNG MAN: Really?

XENIA: What happens when they’re finished with my case?

THE YOUNG MAN: They’ll send you home.

XENIA: Home…?

THE YOUNG MAN: That’s the usual procedure.

XENIA: And where’s that…? What is home…? Is it something in you, or outside you? An address…? Rent! Has anyone paid my rent? Maybe I don’t even have a place to live any more. Maybe they’ve annulled my contract, and sold or given away all my things. Maybe someone else is living there… I don’t want to go back, my home is here now. I have a family.

THE YOUNG MAN: Doesn’t make any difference.

XENIA: But doesn’t that matter? Don’t they care? What happens if you refuse?

THE YOUNG MAN: Then they’ll make you.

XENIA: Home…home…a while ago that was all I wanted. But now…

THE YOUNG MAN: (Seeing something) What’s that?

XENIA: Leave it alone.

THE YOUNG MAN: An insect?

XENIA: My friend.

THE YOUNG MAN: A cockroach?

XENIA: Don’t…!

THE YOUNG MAN: (Stomping on it) Sorry, but I had to. We have to be careful, it could be a new species, a threat to the native species. Happens all the time. They come in with your clothes, or in someone’s hair, or maybe they’re in suitcases and get transported over great distances, to the other side of the world, where they settle down and adapt, start to reproduce, and wipe out all the others. Are there any more?

XENIA: No.

THE YOUNG MAN: Thanks for the food.

XENIA: You’re welcome.

(The Young Man leaves. The door is locked.)

 

SCENE 9

In the cell, half-light.

Xenia is sleeping. The door is opened, Girl 4 is shoved in, and the door is locked again. She gropes her way over to the bunk where Xenia is sleeping and sits on the edge. She lets her hands run over Xenia’s body.

XENIA: (Wakes up. Lies still) …Who are you?

GIRL 4: Your new cellmate.

XENIA: What are you doing?

GIRL 4: Looking at you.

XENIA: …With your hands?

GIRL 4: Lie still.

XENIA: It tickles. Are you a foreigner too?

GIRL 4: No.

XENIA: Then why are you here? What are you charged with?

GIRL 4: Murder. (laughs) Gotcha! No, begging without a permit. Relax, then it goes faster.

XENIA: You’re very thorough.

GIRL 4: Have to be, in order to get the image right. Sorry I woke you.

XENIA: Doesn’t matter, I was having a nightmare. Dreamt that I saw a woman standing on a frozen lake, half naked, thin, with long, stringy hair. The ice wasn’t thick enough, I knew. She’d fall through if she moved. She turned halfway around and looked at me. Instead of a nose she had a long, thick trunk like an elephant…

GIRL 4: (Laughs)

XENIA: Let’s turn on the light; I can’t sleep anyway.

GIRL 4: I thought it was on.

XENIA: (Turns on the light, looks at Girl 4) …Another one! How many of you are there?

GIRL 4: Us? Now? Two or three hundred I should imagine. Some people say thousands, but they’re exaggerating.

XENIA: Exactly alike.

GIRL 4: Except for the different mistakes and defects we have that make each of us unique. One of us for example has a head that is so big and heavy that she can’t lift it, another one has a head as little as a fist. One of us came to the world with four legs, but no arms, another one was just the opposite.

XENIA: That’s horrible!

GIRL 4: One has no skin and has to lie in water all the time.

XENIA: I don’t want to hear.

GIRL 4: There’s one who doesn’t have a tongue, another one who doesn’t have ears. Me, I’m lucky, the only thing I’m missing is eyes. When I was little I was always scratching holes in my face because I thought they had to be there somewhere, under my skin, but they weren’t.

XENIA: It’s criminal!

GIRL 4: We don’t complain. Without us they won’t be able to make the perfect human. We are stages along the way, necessary failures. Someday they’ll do it, they say, and it won’t be long now. Then she will come into this world, and all our suffering will have been worth it.

XENIA: That poor girl…

GIRL 4: Oh, she won’t be alone, there’ll be many more just like her, and they’ll show all of you what real love is, what compassion is. Justice. They’ll stop all the wars and conflicts.

XENIA: All of us?

GIRL 4: The unique ones. As long as that lasts.

XENIA: What do you mean?

GIRL 4: Watch out for the guards, don’t let them take you and pluck something from you. Get it to grow in a dish, divide into new cells, then divide again and again, until you suddenly run into yourself on all the streets.

XENIA: Would they do that?

GIRL 4: They’ll do anything. Nobody dares use a public toilet anymore, for fear that somebody might be collecting stuff and start to make it grow.

XENIA: I’m going to be sick…

THE YOUNG MAN: (Enters. Kicks Girl 4) Move!

GIRL 4: Ah! You don’t have to kick. We are supposed to be treated like people, that’s the law.

THE YOUNG MAN: Ghosts, that’s what you all are. Freaks!

GIRL 4: Some day they’ll worship us as divine prophets! We’ll be carried around on pillows.

THE YOUNG MAN: You’d like that.

GIRL 4: Some places they’ve already started.

THE YOUNG MAN: Well, not here. Turn around, so I don’t have to look at your face.

GIRL 4: It reminds you of someone, maybe?

THE YOUNG MAN: Watch your mouth.

GIRL 4: What happened out there, in the forest? Were you too rough? Did she die?

THE YOUNG MAN: Did you tell?!

XENIA: Not a word.

GIRL 4: We have a secret channel. We feel what happens to each other, when one of us comes to harm.

THE YOUNG MAN: Shut up! (to Xenia) Get your stuff.

XENIA: Am I going…home…?

THE YOUNG MAN: They won’t take you.

XENIA: Can they refuse?

THE YOUNG MAN: Nobody wants you, so you have to stay here. You’ve been granted temporary asylum.

GIRL 4: Don’t go! When you leave he’ll attack me. Do to me the same thing he did to her…

THE YOUNG MAN: Shut your hole!

GIRL 4: …kill me.

THE YOUNG MAN: (Grabs Girl 4) I’ll shut you up good…!

XENIA: Let go of her.

THE YOUNG MAN: Weren’t you leaving? The door’s open.

XENIA: Leave her alone…!

(She tries to push the guard away from Girl 4. They start fighting. Xenia gets a bloody nose. The guard suddenly doubles over in pain.)

THE YOUNG MAN: (Moaning in pain) Aw, aw, aw! Where did you learn that?

XENIA: I took classes. (takes his handcuffs and cuffs him. Grabs the girl) Let’s go… (leads her out)

THE YOUNG MAN: (Yelling) Stop them…! Old hag! I meant it, I meant it; you fucking bitch. Aw, aw, aw…

 

SCENE 10

In Do’s house.

Xenia with the baby. She has visible signs of her fight with the guard..

XENIA: Little precious…! You’re smiling! Do you remember me? Happy to see me? My baby, my dear, dear little girl. My how you’ve grown. Learned how to grasp things…! It’s so quiet here—where are they? Where’s Kaa? And Do? Rose…? Have they all gone and left you alone…?

DO: (Enters. She is now very, very old) I’m here.

XENIA: (turns around, gasps) …Do?

DO: Yes.

XENIA: Is it you?

DO: I’ve aged.

XENIA: That went fast.

DO: It does, when you go off the cure. Each day adds several months to your age, you become old, really old, very fast. First your vision dims, then your hearing goes. Then your bones collapse, teeth fall out and your memory is shot. Actually the memory part isn’t so bad…

XENIA: (Looking at the baby) She has two new teeth.

DO: Three. One upper. Look at me, if you dare.

XENIA: (Looks at Do)

DO: Do I look awful?

XENIA: No…no worse than me.

DO: You’re lying.

XENIA: Yes.

DO: You also get a beard. Long hairs in your face and on your chin, which you pluck every day. Soon they’ll start growing out of my nose and ears. If men only knew what we go through, what we have to hide so as not to scare them. I’m glad Kaa can’t see it.

XENIA: Where is he?

DO: Kaa? Haven’t you heard?

XENIA: What happened? Tell me!

DO: He’s dead.

XENIA: Oh, oh…!

DO: One morning, not long after they came for you, he went out—even though I begged him not to. Down the street two men appeared out of nowhere; they came closer and closer, stopped him and it looked like they asked him something. Suddenly he collapsed. I ran out, the two men were gone, not a soul to see anywhere. I cried for help, but no one heard, tried to drag him back to the house, but he was too heavy. He bled all the while…stained everything red.

XENIA: Kaa…! No…!

DO: Don’t cry, it ruins your skin. Salt water is the worst.

XENIA: What does it matter? Who will look at my skin now? Who cares if I’m attractive or ugly? I want to die…

DO: Then who’ll take care of her? I’m too old. It was good that you came when you did. She can already sit, with support. Soon enough she’ll be crawling around.

XENIA: He was supposed to be her father. We were going to be a family!

DO: Stop it.

XENIA: I can’t…

DO: Pull yourself together. I have, and you can too.

XENIA: Was that why you went off the cure?

DO: Who am I supposed to look young for now?

XENIA: Where’s Rose?

DO: Ran away. She forgot to take her legs, the little fool. She could have learned to walk, with a little effort, but she’d rather roll. I put a little food out for her each evening, in case she should be passing by. Once in a while it’s gone. I’m glad you’re back, I don’t like living alone.

XENIA: Who says I’m staying?

DO: Where will you go, with the baby? Plenty of room here. We can help each other.

XENIA: You turned me in.

DO: To save Kaa. I told them about the wings.

XENIA: On my jacket? Why would they be interested?

DO: Why wouldn’t they? They promised me they wouldn’t hurt Kaa if they could take you instead.

XENIA: A horse trade?

DO: You’d do the same for her. A mother will do anything.

XENIA: I thought you became a better person when you got a child.

DO: Just more ruthless. Don’t look at me that way. I’ve removed all the mirrors, because I couldn’t stand the sight. I hate old people.

XENIA: Me too.

DO: Especially women.

XENIA: They’re the worst.

DO: Always showing their weaknesses. Showing off their wounds.

XENIA: Impossible to please. The coffee’s too hot, or the tea’s too cold. “No, I’d rather have a window seat.”

DO: You’ll be like that too.

XENIA: I know.

DO: Sit down.

XENIA: She likes it best when I walk around.

DO: You shouldn’t let them decide, they’ll become tyrants.

XENIA: Not her, she’s so happy and content. So easy.

DO: Smiles at everyone, just like Rose, when she was a baby. Resembles her more and more, of course except for the legs.

XENIA: She’s got a bruise…

DO: It wasn’t me. Do you think I could…!?

XENIA: Sorry, sorry. You get so suspicious.

DO: Sit down. My head can’t take so much motion.

XENIA: (Sits down. Looks at the baby. Smiles) …Listen, she’s talking! Trying to tell me something.

DO: So am I.

XENIA: …Those tiny little sounds, aren’t they cute? “Aachoo!” (delighted) She sneezed! Wasn’t that cute? An ittsy-bittsy baby sneeze! …And one more! Now, now, no more, otherwise mommy will start to worry. Oh, the scent…! Those soft cheeks. That perfect little face. Look, she’s kicking…! And waving her arms! Like she’s trying to fly… (sweats, mops her brow) My cheeks…

DO: What a color.

XENIA: She’s warm. It’s like having a pile of hot coals in my lap.

 

SCENE 11

In Do’s house.

Do is sitting, Xenia is  pacing back and forth with the crying baby.

XENIA: There now, there now…

DO: It’ll soon be light.

XENIA: There now, there now…

DO: You’ve been going back and forth with her all night long.

XENIA: (To the baby) Want me to sing for you…?

DO: Only interested in the baby. Don’t see or hear anything else.

XENIA: You mean you.

DO: That’s what it’s like getting old. Nobody notices you, you might as well be invisible. When I see a young woman, I wish I could switch bodies with her. Or even with a young man, who cares? It could be fun. But who would take my body? Who would want this bag of bones?

XENIA: You stayed young a lot longer than most people.

DO: I can never get enough, that’s my problem. I want to live long enough to see you get old, and the baby too. All of you! Where’s Kaa?

XENIA: Kaa…?

DO: On his way home I should think. He mustn’t see me like this! What should I do? Help me! Throw a blanket over me! A sheet…!

XENIA: Kaa is dead.

DO: (Confused) …Dead?

XENIA: You’re dehydrated. You have to drink.

DO: I’m not thirsty. You’re not supposed to drink at my age.

XENIA: Do it anyway. (puts a glass of water by her) Here… (looking at the baby, who has stopped crying) At last…! (lays the baby down carefully)

DO: Is she sleeping? Wonderful.

(The baby starts crying again.)

XENIA: Oh God.

DO: Let her cry. This is a test. If she wins, she’ll be the stronger of you two. That’s not healthy for a child. It makes them anxious.

XENIA: There has to be something wrong.

DO: She can’t be hungry.

XENIA: And doesn’t need changing. Maybe she’s getting a new tooth?

DO: While the last of mine are falling out. (Xenia goes to pick up the baby) Don’t…

XENIA: I can’t let her cry.

DO: Then let me. (picks up the baby)

XENIA: She’s my child!

DO: Is she?

XENIA: She feels safest with me. (takes the baby from Do)

DO: Are you going to carry her around every time she gets a little bored?

XENIA: That’s the way we do it where I come from.

DO: Here we put them down every once in a while. Let them cry, it won’t kill them.

XENIA: I would go to the end of the world with her, if it would make her happy. My daughter will not be unhappy.

DO: (Sings to herself. Perhaps a bawdy song, or a love song)

XENIA: What’s that song?

DO: Don’t you know it? Where’s my mask, where’s my weights? I want to start training again. Start a new cure! Do you hear me, Rose?

XENIA: Xenia. Rose isn’t here.

DO: Xenia? Who are you? Where did you come from? You have to help me.

XENIA: With what?

DO: (Whispers) The little girl’s room!

XENIA: You’ll have to wait until she falls asleep.

DO: Then I’ll just do it in my pants.

XENIA: You’re not three years old you know!

DO: I’m not…? I want my mommy.

XENIA: Stop it! I’m tired. We both are, and too old…! Drink your water, now. The whole glass.

DO: (Drinking) You’re so mean.

XENIA: Would you like to sit with her?

DO: Yes, please.

XENIA: You mustn’t drop her.

DO: No. (rocks the baby gently. Sings her bawdy song)

XENIA: Oh, my arms.

(The baby is quiet.)

DO: She likes my song better! She’s burning hot. Her eyes are shining…

XENIA: What does that mean?

DO: Fever. Get her clothes off.

XENIA: Off?

DO: That’s how we do it here. All these tiny strings and buttons…my hands are shaking, I can’t…

XENIA: (Takes the baby and starts undressing her) Look, another bruise…! Bigger than the first one. And another. Every time I touch her, I make a bruise…!

DO: And you thought it was me…!

XENIA: How far is it to the nearest doctor?

DO: Pretty far.

XENIA: Do you know the how to get there?

DO: Yes.

XENIA: Give me the blanket. (wraps the baby in the blanket) Let’s go—hurry!

 

SCENE 12

A bench outside a hospital.

Do and Xenia with the baby.

XENIA: Are we supposed to just sit here, with a sick baby? Under the open sky?

DO: We were lucky to find a bench.

XENIA: It could start raining.

DO: Not a cloud.

XENIA: One doctor for all these people. Why don’t they call in more?

DO: There aren’t any more. There’s just one doctor at a time. When he or she is gone, you get a new one.

XENIA: Aren’t there any outside the hospital system?

DO: No.

XENIA: What do you do when it’s an emergency?

DO: Wait.

XENIA: That’s crazy.

DO: That’s the way it’s always been. It promotes natural selection.

XENIA: Children should to be taken first.

DO: No, they shouldn’t.

XENIA: She’s trembling.

DO: Then her fever’s going up. Pack her in tight.

XENIA: I liked it better when she cried.

DO: She’s saving her energy.

XENIA: She’s got another bruise, on her cheek, where I kissed her. I don’t dare touch her. I hope it goes away, don’t want her to be blue the rest of her life.

DO: As long as that lasts.

XENIA: What?

DO: Nothing.

XENIA: She’s in pain. A cramp…! I wish I could be sick, and not her. What kind of place is this, where they let children suffer? There it was again, a spasm! What should we do?

DO: Be patient, that’s all.

XENIA: You look tired.

DO: It took a while to get here.

XENIA: She’s lying so still. So limp. How long do we have to wait? I can pay extra, pay them everything I have to get in.

DO: You don’t have anything. And it wouldn’t help.

XENIA: (To the baby) Little sweetie…soon it’ll be our turn. Then the nice doctor will give you something and make you well again… Your eyes…why are you looking at me like that? Like I was far away. Or you were. Breathing so fast…? Way too fast! Do! Wake up, Do…! How do we know when it’s our turn? Do they come out and get us? Do they know where we’re sitting?

DO: They’ll find us.

XENIA: (To the baby) Fight, sweetie, don’t give up. There are so many places to see. So many things we’ll do together. I’ll show you things, the place I come from… She’s not breathing!

DO: Move her arms! Lift her up…

XENIA: Breathe! Come on, breathe! What should we do?

DO: Nothing. There’s nothing more to do.

XENIA: Go get someone, tell them to run! Get going, what are you waiting for?

DO: (Looking at the baby) …It’s done. She’s gone.

XENIA: My baby…her hands are cold. I can’t smell her anymore.

DO: (Lets her hand glide over the baby’s face)

XENIA: What are you doing?!

DO: Closing her eyes.

XENIA: Don’t touch her…! Who gave you permission? She should look at the sky, the trees! The birds, hopping from branch to branch. The little ones with the red and yellow feathers. She’s like Rose, that’s why. There is something wrong with them, all of them, and their children too. They weren’t supposed to live. (bending over the baby, rocking it gently) My little precious, you’re free now… (hears a sound, lifts her head and looks up) …Look! That white stripe across the sky…! (pointing) There…! Can you see it?

DO: (Looking up) Yes.

XENIA: That silver arrow! That’s a plane…!

DO: (staring) Is it?

XENIA: (Following it with her eyes. Gets up) Will you come with me?

DO: I’m too old. I’ll stay here.

XENIA: (Giving the baby to Do) Take care of her.

DO: I will.

XENIA: (Exits)

 

SCENE 13

Somewhere in the desert, in the middle of the day.

Xenia staggers in with her shoes in hand. A young, veiled nomad girl with a small child on her back looks at Xenia from a distance. Xenia stumbles and falls. 

XENIA: (To the girl) …What are you staring at?

NOMAD GIRL: (Doesn’t answer)

XENIA: So do something; help me up. Can’t you see that I’ve fallen down?

NOMAD GIRL: (Helps Xenia on her feet)

XENIA: Is this the first time you’ve seen a foreigner?

NOMAD GIRL: (Nodding) My aunt says your eyes are shifty and that you are always tearing your hair out.

XENIA: Well tell your aunt she’s right. I thought I was alone out here. The only living creature in the whole desert. The sand is burning. I can’t stand having shoes on, or going barefoot either.

NOMAD GIRL: It’s worse at this time of day, when the sun is highest.

XENIA: It bores right through you… (shudders) I’ll freeze. Are there scorpions here?

NOMAD GIRL: Lots of them, they bury themselves and come out when it’s not as hot.

XENIA: They’re pretty smart. (Looking at the girl’s clothes) You must be hot inside all that.

NOMAD GIRL: It protects.

XENIA: Then I wish I had an outfit like that. (brushing away sand) It gets into everything, eyes, ears, between your teeth, in your nose… (notices the child on the girl’s back) …Is that a child?

NOMAD GIRL: (Nodding) My sister.

XENIA: You sure do pack them in well. I’m dizzy…have been walking forever, many, many miles, following that white stripe there… (pointing up at the sky) Actually there’s two of them, one from each of the engines, they get squished together. Where are you going?

NOMAD GIRL: Home.

XENIA: And where’s that?

NOMAD GIRL: (Pointing) Over there. You can see the tents…

XENIA: Those black blankets, strung up like sails? I see some people in front.

NOMAD GIRL: My family.

XENIA: It looks like they’re floating.

NOMAD GIRL: That’s the heat.

XENIA: I’m thirsty, do you have anything to drink?

NOMAD GIRL: I just gave her the last of it.

XENIA: Do you know where I can find water?

NOMAD GIRL: On the other side of the reddish sand dunes over there, and before you get to the golden dunes on the other side, there’s a well, but I don’t know if it’s dry or not.

XENIA: My lips are cracked…doesn’t it ever rain here?

NOMAD GIRL: Once every hundred years, my uncle says. His father saw it; the whole desert started blooming.

XENIA: I would love to see that! There must be water here somewhere; there are plants here, small plants with thick leaves and thorns. Underground springs. I’ve tried digging with my shoe, but I guess I didn’t get deep enough. Over there! There’s something… A lake, right over there…! (starts to go)

NOMAD GIRL: Wait!

XENIA: And beyond it…a city!

NOMAD GIRL: That’s a mirage.

XENIA: Impossible! I see it so clearly! The tall buildings…power plants! The towers and domes…! I recognize it! It’s what I’ve been looking for…!

NOMAD GIRL: Fata morgana…

XENIA: Are you saying that it’s not really there? Am I the only one who can see it?

NOMAD GIRL: No, no. But it’s very far away.

XENIA: How far?

NOMAD GIRL: A thousand miles. They say it’s like a photograph, carried through the air.

XENIA: Thousand miles…but it’s there. It is there…! (laughs) I thought I’d never see it again! I’ll just push on, until I get there, sooner or later?

NOMAD GIRL: Yes.

XENIA: Maybe I’ll rest a bit first.

NOMAD GIRL: You can follow me.

XENIA: Where to? Over to those black tents? What will your family say?

NOMAD GIRL: Nothing. They’ll give you something to eat and drink. A place to sleep.

XENIA: Let me borrow an outfit like yours?

NOMAD GIRL: Yes.

XENIA: How long can I stay?

NOMAD GIRL: As long as you like.

XENIA: They wouldn’t have anything against that?

NOMAD GIRL: The more we are the better, my uncle always says. They would also like to meet a  foreigner. Come… (They start to go.)

XENIA: Look, camels…are they real, or a mirage?

NOMAD GIRL: Real. Ours.

XENIA: A whole caravan. They don’t have to drink, they have enough in their humps for a long time. The people following them, are they your family too?

NOMAD GIRL: Yes.

XENIA: You have a big family; that must be nice. What’s that sticking up from the sand over there? A boulder?

NOMAD GIRL: I don’t know.

XENIA: Looks like it could be something from an airplane. The tail section. But where’s the rest of it…? (turns around) It’s still there…the city. I wonder what they’ll say when they see me? Will they recognize me at all? It’s burning… I’m looking forward to the evening, when it’s cooler. When I can see the stars, that must be fantastic.

NOMAD GIRL: You can sit outside, around the fire with us, and look up at them. Get someone to tell you where the different stars are and what they’re called.

(End of play)

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