The Cold Chain
By Yaiza Berrocal Guevara
Translated by Sian Creely
In The Cold Chain we follow the story of Lola, a little girl whose first taste of potato smilies leads her to write love letters to Mr McCain, the faceless man responsible for her delight. Aided and berated variously by her former militant father and worn-down mother, Lola finds that, in the final decade of the 20th Century, dreams for the new millennium can sometimes create monsters.
The play won Spain’s Premio Nacional de Teatro Calderón de la Barca in 2020. and was performed as a staged reading by Barcelona’s Sala Beckett and the Centro Dramático Nacional in Madrid.
The Cold Chain is a celebration of the childlike wonder of fast food, the thrill of feeling famous, perfect, if just for a moment, when the benevolent light of branding falls upon you. An experience familiar to anyone who was ‘rewarded’ with a Happy Meal as a child, has turned to takeout in their hour of need, or has entered a promotional competition in the hope that the gods of marketing would smile upon them.
It describes the feeling of sublime awe when interacting with a force greater than themselves for a generation that did not yet know that one day they would be able to like, retweet, call out or cancel the brands that mediate their relationship to the world around them, to the great human emotions, and even to themselves. This is undercut at every turn by a dark irony and surreal humour that reminds us that our characters are not the permanently smiling circles of carb-laden perfection they consume, but mere mortals.
In short, the play deals with the promise of consumerism and what happens when a family, doing its best not to fall apart, finds out that these promises might not be kept.
In terms of the specifics of this text, what the author has done marvellously is to capture a kind of lumpenSpanish, a domestic, working class speech which feels at once intimately familiar and also relatable to a wide readership. The dialogue is almost all between members of one family, and the play takes place almost entirely within the space of their home, where the crass, the tender, the colloquial and the transcendental come together in a way that is at once completely surprising and also utterly predictable.
A particular challenge, then, was how to strike this balance in the target language, given the many Englishes that exist, particularly the British domestic variety, where in the space of a few miles whole accents and vocabularies can diverge. This can make it difficult to call a tomato a tomato, a potato a potato, or a spade a spade in a way which would invite the audience in, rather than alienate, that would chime rather than clang. This invitation inside was something I was focused on creating when writing the translation.
A small note too on the name of our real protagonist, the potato smile. Its official name is “McCain Smiles [mashed potato shapes]”, the final addendum depending on the local market, though they are often affectionately referred to as “smiley” or “smilies”. I have used the Sunday name in official settings, and the pet name as the colloquial. Today, they even sell potato emoticons.
Sian Creely is a translator, writer and researcher based in Brooklyn, NY, but her heart is never far away from Manchester, UK where she was born. Her work has appeared in Novara, Pikara, Religions Magazine, Culture Trip, and the Colombian Journal of Sociology. It is motivated by a desire to bring into the Anglosphere political ideas and concepts not yet expressed in English. She holds an MPhil in Latin American Studies from the University of Cambridge.
Yaiza Berrocal Guevara (Barcelona, 1991) is a playwright and screenwriter in Catalan and Spanish. She studied Theory of Literature at the University of Barcelona and has a Master’s degree in Latin American Literature and another in Screenwriting. She is the author of the plays Nor will I fear the beasts, which in 2021 won a grant from the Teatre Lliure; Foreign body cartography and The children’s crusade: remake of Schwob’s visions. Her play The cold chain won the Calderón de la Barca National Theatre Prize in 2020. She has also written for TV and film. Her novel Curling was released in 2022.
The Cold Chain
By Yaiza Berrocal Guevara
Translated by Sian Creely
CHARACTERS DOLORES IGNACIO LOLA
TV presides over the room, with a sofa, lamp and ficus plants.
Side table in front of the sofa, from which objects will be projected onto the TV. McCain is in a corner, upstage, with a microphone.
Present moment in 2012 and succession of events from 1996 to 2012.
Will it be chips or jacket spuds
Will it be salad or frozen peas?
Will it be mushrooms? Fried onion rings?
You’ll have to wait and see Hope it’s chips, it’s chips
We hope it’s chips, it’s chips.
MCCAIN: So, how did you first hear about us?
On screen DOLORES, IGNACIO and GIRL, a family, are standing on an industrial weighing scale. IGNACIO and DOLORES are holding an enormous certificate displaying a milk company logo and an illegible number. All are smiling apart from the GIRL, who, like LOLA, is holding a glass of milk.
DOLORES: This is the happiest day of my life.
LOLA: Through my mother.
MCCAIN: Ah yes. Is she your role model?
DOLORES: What a marvellous surprise. Beyond my wildest dreams.
MCCAIN: Do you look up to her?
DOLORES: I was peeling potatoes when the phone rang.
MCCAIN: You’re beginning with a … sentimental story. About how your mother would cook for you when you were little. Is that it?
DOLORES: I said, ‘Hello?’ and it was you! Little Lola came running in, she thought something terrible had happened I’d shouted so loud.
LOLA: No, that’s not right.
DOLORES: They told me we’d won.
LOLA: It was the biggest marketing campaign in Spain in 1996. Don’t you remember?
DOLORES: I could have cried with happiness. And I never cry.
LOLA: Saffron and Associates PR for Asturian Central Dairies.
MCCAIN: We’ve worked with Saffron and Associates.
LOLA: I know.
DOLORES: Ignacio came running in, ‘Dolores what’s going on?’ I was crying and I’d gone so pale, white as white can be. Whiter than milk!
LOLA: A modest budget, three million pesetas including press, TV marketing and the cost of the prize. It led to a direct increase in sales, quintupling profits month on month for the duration of the campaign.
DOLORES: I’d never won so much as a line at the bingo, until now. Now I’m a winner.
LOLA: The premise was simple, and after the success of Asturian Central Dairies the technique was patented by Saffron and Associates. It’s so simple it’s amazing no one had thought of it before.
DOLORES: The family’s weight in milk.
LOLA: The family’s weight in milk.
DOLORES: I’ve been sending in those barcodes from the milk cartons for I don’t know how long.
LOLA: Nine months.
DOLORES: I’d get my scissors and cut them out, and when I had fifteen… I’d put them in an envelope. The key is to never give up. My friends all started, but they gave up after a few weeks. I don’t blame them. But the more codes you send, the more chance you’ve got. Life´s like that. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
LOLA: Our prize was the chance to weigh ourselves on an industrial scale, in the presence of a notary, as our witness. They would weigh only the members of the nuclear family, no more than four, and we all had to bring a form of ID to prove we were related.
DOLORES: To the whole team at Asturian Central Dairies, thank you so much.
LOLA: It was June, but my mum made me wear thick trousers, a parka, and let me fill my bag with as much cutlery from the dolls’ house as I could fit. For extra weight.
DOLORES: It’s a really beautiful thing you’re doing, bringing joy to families.
Milk is essential for a family like ours, a normal family, no different from any other family in Spain. We just got lucky, that’s all.
LOLA: I remember the heavy smell of cologne in the car on the way there.
The dense reek of aftershave, the overripe fruit of my mother’s perfume, and the musky lemon oil they combed my hair with. I was practically stoned by the time we got to the supermarket. That afternoon, I was high.
DOLORES: Raising a family is a marvelous task, but sometimes you need a little help. You are giving me that help right now, and I can’t thank you enough.
LOLA: The manager met us and took us inside. Have you ever been in the storeroom of a hypermarket? The hangar where the lorries leave the goods. It’s dark and damp, like an enormous car park full of pallets and stacks of packaged food. I felt horrendous. It was June, it was boiling hot, and I was high.
DOLORES: You can rest assured that this family is eternally grateful. All three of us, and no one more than this little girl. Isn’t that right darling?
LOLA: And that’s when the marketing person from Asturian Central Dairies gave us an enormous smile. There was a photographer. The notary was there. They made us get on the scale, the scale-cum-podium, the scale they normally reserved for pallets of milk but this time was for us. That scale was going tell us the precise weight of all the skin, all the flesh and bones and blood and cartilage of my family.
DOLORES: Lola, darling.
LOLA: I was sweating and I was cold. And while the manager clapped and the photographer set up the shot that would later appear in the Asturian Central Dairies calendar nineteen ninety seven, the number flashed up in giant red digits, my family’s number.
LOLA: That number, the weight of my family in milk, was so freakishly large that we drank free milk for the next seven years. We got a shipment every six months and milk piled up in our garage. We could never fit the car in there, obviously.
DOLORES: Lola, please, say thank you to the nice people.
LOLA: Thank you.
DOLORES: Now drink your milk.
LOLA: Thank you so much.
The girl on screen drinks the milk.
MCCAIN: Could you tell us about a challenge you had to overcome?
The same day, at dinner time.
IGNACIO, LOLA and DOLORES are on the sofa. IGNACIO has a half-made paper model of the Sagrada Familia on his lap and is inserting tabs into flaps with considerable skill.
DOLORES is trying to open a bottle of champagne. LOLA is sat between them.
In the background, the evening news is starting. It is the final day of José María Aznar´s presidential campaign.
Cheers and whistles for José María Aznar in the Mestalla Stadium, Valencia.
JOSÉ MARÍA: It is businesses that create the jobs we need for young people and for our future.
IGNACIO: Th th th that dickhead with th th the stupid moustache. He wants us taking out loans left right and centre and for what? To open a bloody bar or a hairdressers? Oh it’s gone tits up has it? Well that’s your own fucking fault. It’s going well? Well fuck your fellow man. That’s what democracy was for, right? So we could open bloody bars and hairdressers. That’s what I marched for, that’s what I chanted, “Liberty, amnesty, bars and hairdressers!” Well fuck my life what is this country coming to… And and and this shit, it gets thinner and thinner. This paper used to be laminated, a hundred fucking grams per metre fucking squared and now it looks like fag paper. What do they want me to smoke the Sagrada Familia?! It’d cost them the bloody same, Jesus…
DOLORES: Don’t talk like that in front of your daughter.
IGNACIO: I’ll talk however I bloody well like.
LOLA: At home we had gadgets of all shapes and sizes, for as-yet- undiscovered purposes. In the kitchen, Mum had things for beating, straining, spinning, chopping, slicing, julienning and peeling, freeze- drying and smoking, to boil, steam or bain-marie. There were battery- operated forks that rotated by themselves, sandwich-makers, cake tins and miniature ovens for madeleines, different-sized fryers and electric grills, ice cube trays shaped like fruits, marine animals and footballs. In the living room cabinet Dad had all the complete collections from El País. And I mean complete. VHSs of the most memorable westerns, the most memorable film noir, the most memorable war films, learn English in a month, learn French in two, cassettes of the 100 best zarzuelas, the 100 best operas, the best jazz, the best singer- songwriters of the Democratic Transition, the best of Queen, of Pink Floyd, of Julio Iglesias. There were books too: classics of world literature in paperback, Spanish literature, history of Art and Music and-
The TV volume rises.
IGNACIO: Oh go on, clap away, like a herd of sheep, clap clap clap and you’ll see the crumbs they give you…You know whose fault this is? Do you know? Carillo. Him and his politburo mates put our arse on a plate for that centrist bastard Felipe Gonzalez, lot of good he did, put our arse on-
DOLORES: Language, Ignacio.
LOLA: All, all of those collections were still in the plastic, never been opened, brand new, waiting. It’s curious, don’t you think?
MCCAIN: What do you mean?
LOLA: Having it all, but never taking it out of the packet. Everything there, ripe for opening, but unopened. Waiting for the right moment to run your fingers through the cellophane and watch the film or listen to the tape or read the book: a moment that’s always coming but never arrives. It’s interesting, but that’s not the most interesting part.
IGNACIO: Creating businesses he’s saying, the lying bastard, he’s been licking Fraga’s arse back since the Popular Alliance, popular my arse, they were fascists then and they’re fascists now, that’s the only good business idea they’ve ever had. Those flag-waving, arse-licking sons of bitches can suck my-
DOLORES: Ignacio, I’m not telling you again.
IGNACIO: Are you going to open that bottle or not?
DOLORES: I’m trying.
IGNACIO tries to help her but DOLORES refuses.
IGNACIO: Creating business, for fuck’s sake. With all all all ETA’s bombings and they’ve managed to leave that bastard alive and well-
DOLORES: -Will you be quiet.
IGNACIO: (sheepish) It’s my house.
DOLORES: It’s my house too. And we’re going to celebrate.
DOLORES takes the remote and turns off the TV. IGNACIO can’t believe it. He’s furious. He takes the remote and turns the TV back on. Voice of José María Aznar.
LOLA: My mum did open her kitchen gadgets, but only to look at them.
IGNACIO: (scornful) Celebrate what.
IGNACIO turns up the volume.
DOLORES: The prize that your family won.
IGNACIO: (gesturing to the TV) Look, Dolores, look at the prize we’ve won, and you won’t shut up about this milk bollocks.
DOLORES takes the remote.
DOLORES: We’re competition winners.
She turns off the TV. IGNACIO tries to grab the remote, but she resists.
LOLA: My mother put the travel kettle, the miniature oven and the multi grater proudly on display in the kitchen: neat, clean and new. Like a shrine, with pictures of the Virgin Mary and all the saints. She cooked under their watchful eye with the same old stuff: old pots, scratched pans, chipped spatulas, blunt knives. Nothing she cooked ever tasted nice: it tasted old, like poor people’s food, like failure. Don’t you think that’s interesting?
MCCAIN: Interesting isn’t the word.
There is a struggle between IGNACIO and DOLORES, weak at first but getting stronger. The TV turns on again.
LOLA: If she made chips, for example, they were too thick, all different sizes, stiff on the inside and charred on the outside. They were horrible.
They were nothing like the chips I knew were out there… I knew they were out there.
José María Aznar promises, on repeat, subsidies and support for a newly-formed social class: entrepreneurs.
The struggle becomes more intense. IGNACIO pushes DOLORES who almost smashes the bottle on one of IGNACIO’s paper models. José María goes quiet. An oven timer goes off in another room. DOLORES goes to the kitchen and comes back with dinner: fish fingers and McCain potato smiles. DOLORES passes around tubes of Magic Mayonnaise. Whilst her Dad struggles to open the packet, LOLA takes a smiley and puts it in her mouth.
On screen, José María moves in slow motion: time has slowed down. Little by little, McCain potato smiles appear in his place.
LOLA: It’s a completely new flavour. I can’t describe it. It’s… it’s like…
MCCAIN: …a fluffy cloud of specially selected mashed potato, fried in sunflower oil for a tasty crunch, with four times less fat than our competitors, and the shape that brings a smile to their faces at any mealtime.
LOLA: …It’s like someone said: you exist. No lies. No games. No soggy middle, no burnt edges: a world of succulence where potato means exactly what it should. A taste that transports you to another world. A world where you could stay and live forever…
LOLA: A taste created by a person, a person who does things right, a person who made absolutely sure I would feel this good… A taste that should be the taste of every childhood-
LOLA: This is completely new for me, do you understand?
DOLORES: Eat up your fish fingers too, eh. Or there’ll be no smileys.
LOLA: I’ve never felt this way before.
DOLORES: Are you listening?
LOLA: I can feel it all through my body. It fills me up, or empties me, I can’t describe it. I feel…
IGNACIO: Lola, answer your mother when she’s talking to you.
LOLA: I feel at peace.
DOLORES: No? Well you’re going to bed with no dinner.
She takes LOLA’s plate.
DOLORES: Go to your room.
LOLA slaps DOLORES, then IGNACIO smacks LOLA.
The light closes in on her. The living room is now LOLA’s room.
MCCAIN: Is this…a sad story?
MCCAIN: What happened next?
LOLA: It’s not sad, there’s a happy ending. Do you want to hear it?
MCCAIN: Go ahead.
LOLA: Every setback is an opportunity for growth, no?
MCCAIN: That’s certainly how we see it.
LOLA: Dear Mr McCain: I love your potato smiles because they are happy and their smile is contagious and when I eat them I smile as well. Thank you for making smileys they’re my favourite I didn’t know what potatoes were before now but now I do. I love you. I love you lots.
MCCAIN: (laughs) That sure is sweet.
LOLA: (laughs) Right? I love you! I love you lots!
MCCAIN: Love you lots!
LOLA: Lots! Loads!
DOLORES: (from the doorway) Lola.
LOLA: Leave me alone!
DOLORES: Lola, don’t be rude, pet. Come back and finish your dinner.
LOLA: Leave me alone!
DOLORES: Don’t you want your fish fingers?
DOLORES: Not even your smileys?
LOLA: No! (To McCain) Obviously I wanted the smileys.
DOLORES: Come on pet, what do you want?
DOLORES: Come on chick, come and watch telly with us. What’s the bet? is coming on…
LOLA: A stamp.
LOLA: A stamp!
LOLA: A stamp!
DOLORES: What for?
LOLA: And an envelope!
DOLORES: You want to… write us a letter?
LOLA: A stamp and an envelope!
DOLORES: To tell us what?
LOLA screams. The mother, desperate, gets a stamp and slips it “under the door”.
LOLA: It might not seem like it, but this is a story about overcoming adversity.
MCCAIN: We are very interested in those kinds of stories
Jump forwards in time from 1997 to 2002. The family is sat down as usual. LOLA opens the orange capsule from inside a Kinder Surprise; she takes the toy; it’s a miniature of her and another of her father, which she puts on the table. On the table already are some of her father’s paper models: one is the Sagrada Familia. As he talks, the father adds more models until the table is completely covered.
LOLA: 7th February 1997. Dear Mr. McCain. Thank you for answering my letter and thank you for sending my McCain club member card (shows a card with a large potato smile) I am really happy. I really like the McCain club magazine the crosswords and the smiley comics are my favourite. There are lots of things I didn’t know about the vitamins and nutrients in McCain potatoes but now I do. Did you write it? You are really good at writing. I like all the sections but I really like the McCain club problem page I liked the question from the girl from La Rioja whose name is Laura she asked what is Sarajevo the answer was interesting, but really sad. Will the magazine come every month? I hope so. I’m going to write to the problem page I hope you write back my question is: I’m going to make my first holy communion and I am nervous and I don’t know if God is real, my daddy says he isn’t but my mummy says he is, my dad doesn’t want me to do my communion he says mean things about priests. But anyway my question is I don’t know if God is real but if he does exist I don’t understand how Jesus could be in the sacred host because how can Jesus be in food? Jesus is Jesus and the host is the host. Sometimes when I eat potato smileys I think I understand a bit, just a little bit. Potatoes are potatoes but they are also not potatoes because they are you. My question is Mr.
McCain if you believe in God and if you did your first holy communion. I hope you can read my writing thank you I love you.
Her Father passes her a stamp, her Mother an envelope. LOLA puts the letter in the envelope, closes it, affixes the stamp, and reads the next letter.
LOLA: 3rd August 1997. Hello Mr. McCain how are you I hope you are good I am good well not really but it’s a long story. Thank you for always replying to my letters I like them a lot. One thing: did you know they are changing the money and you won’t be able to buy things with pesetas anymore? I bet you do. Do you know how much McCain smileys will cost? Do you know another thing? My daddy says that the new currency is a scam to make everything more expensive and that we are cogs in the capitalist machine and that’s why they made the european union and they’ve got us by the balls what do you think I think I like the new coins they look like monopoly money. I like the question on the problem page from the boy called Ekaitz from Bilbo or Bilbao I looked it up in the encyclopedia and I don’t want to live there it looks very scary. Lots of things are scary ETA is scary terrorism is scary it’s scary that a basque person might kidnap you radiation and the hole in the ozone layer are scary it’s scary that your husband or wife might not love you or the man you married might turn out to be total fraud or your wife too. Luckily I love you and here is my question: are you going to make potato smiles in the shape of Euros? I hope so. Thank you I love you Lola.
31st December 1999. Hello Mr McCain how are you. One millenium is ending and a new one is starting I heard that maybe the satellites that whizz around the world will stop working and fall out of the sky. Dad says hopefully a satellite will fall on the factory and smush everybody but especially the deputy manager and his sellout friends from the union. The factory is the thermoplastic rubber factory which is a really cool kind of plastic because you can stretch it really far and then it goes back to its shape. My dad works there or used to. Not any more. When my last Club McCain magazine arrived he got a letter and then he stopped going to the factory. The bad news is he shouts more at the telly the good news is he makes more paper models of famous buildings in spain that he gets with the saturday paper. He’s made: the sagrada familia zaragoza cathedral the mapfre tower the aqueduct of segovia casa mila arc de triomf the gate of europe and edificio españa. Mum does doubles at the old peoples home. My question is what happens if all the computers and clocks stop working will the world end and will there still be McCain potato smiles? Will there still be the McCain club magazine? I hope so because I don’t know what I’d do without smileys but mostly I don’t know what I’d do without the magazine. Thank you I love you Lola.
6th March 2002. Hello Mr McCain how are you. Do you remember the two euro coins? That my mum gave me to start my collection? I had ones from France, from Germany, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, and even one from San Marino! I put them in my piggy bank, you don’t have to smash it because it has a plastic cap at the bottom. I like two things: One, writing letters to the McCain problem page. Two, recently I also like looking at my euros from different countries. Do you know what happened? First I couldn’t find the one from France but I didn’t really care because they are easy to get. Then I couldn’t find the one from Portugal. Then Germany. And now I can’t find the one from San Marino! I’m sad about San Marino. I don’t know if I’ll ever find another coin from San Marino. I’ve hidden Belgium. At least one. My dad has new models of the Alcázar and the Royal Palace and the Giralda. I don’t want to think bad of anyone but… What would you think? My question is: if my mum gives me more coins should I hide them or put them in my piggy bank? If they’re from France I know what to do, but what if there’s one from San Marino or Monaco or the Vatican? What would you do? I’m sad but like you always say I’m going to focus on the positive. Thank you I love you, Lola.
IGNACIO: Are you finished with the glue?
IGNACIO: Shall we finish Girona cathedral?
DOLORES: Move that off there, dinner’s ready.
Father and daughter clear the table; on screen, the miniature models of Spain disappear one by one. Once the screen is blank, we see the last letter from the McCain club to LOLA:
Dear valued McCain Club Member,
We hope you’re doing McGreat! With this new millenium we are beginning together/ McCain Foods is moving with the times./ Starting now, the McCain club is going online!/ From next month you’ll be able to find us at/ www.mccainclub.com/ where we’ll be having a blast with our online community and eating deliiiciously healthy./ You can keep up with the McCain club in our junior chatroom./ Catch you online! / Mr. McCain.
2005. Sound of a dial-up modem connecting. On the screen, we see an old-style web page called “McCain Club” and a chatroom. We see what LOLA is typing. She is SMILEY_GIRL_90.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: Did you get off?
SMILEY_GIRL_90: Did you come?
You’re really good at that.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: I’ve got to go.
Dad needs the phone.
SK8TER_92: Your dad… makes a lot of calls huh
SMILEY_GIRL_90: He needs the phone in case anyone rings.
SK8TER_92: You never want me to do stuff to you.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: What kind of stuff?
SK8TER_92: The stuff you do to me.
SK8TER_92: I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day.
About the faceless man
that you imagine sometimes.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: I told you about that?
SK8TER_92: Yeah, who you imagine when you
… you know
SMILEY_GIRL_90: I don’t remember telling you that.
SK8TER_92: Are you embarrassed?
SMILEY_GIRL_90: Forget it.
SK8TER_92: I was thinking that if you want.
I can help you.
SK8TER_92: If you want we can pretend
I’m the faceless man.
SK8TER_92: If you’re into it
cause I’m into it. Really into it.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: I have to go.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: My dad needs the phone in case anyone rings.
SK8TER_92: If who rings?
SMILEY_GIRL_90: About a job.
SK8TER_92: They’re not gonna call.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: How do you know?
SK8TER_92: They never call.
SK8TER_92: Are you still there?
SMILEY_GIRL_90: How did you find the chatroom?
SK8TER_92: I used to get a magazine, years ago, about potatoes.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: From the McCain club.
Did you ever read the problem page?
SMILEY_GIRL_90: He was a total bastard.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: Disappearing like that
You shouldn’t treat people like that.
SK8TER_92: If that guy did the same to you
he didn’t deserve you, Lola.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: How do you know my name?
SK8TER_92: You told me the other day.
Don’t you remember?
SK8TER_92: You never asked mine.
My name is Damián. I’m 14 too.
Are you in second or third year of high school?
SMILEY_GIRL_90: The faceless man
Is from Canada.
He built a great company
From the ground up
A frozen food empire.
He’s a tough man, but kind to his children.
A serious person who smiles on the inside.
A good man,
who makes potato smiles for little girls.
He smells nice.
And he has cold hands.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: Hands that shovel snow from the path to his one family home in Canada.
SK8TER_92: His fingers are so cold.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: Hands that go in industrial freezers and personally inspect the frozen food,
making sure that everything
is exactly as he said it should be.
SK8TER_92: Fingers so cold, Lola
it hurts when they brush your skin.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: Hands that ruffle his children’s hair and caress the back of his beautiful wife.
Very early in the morning
Before he goes off to build his business empire.
SK8TER_92: His nails are full of frost
as they slide into your underwear.
SMILEY_GIRL_90: Hands that write personally to little girls the world over
and console them, late at night.
SK8TER_92: Are you touching yourself?
SK8TER_92: Did you come?
LOLA is completely unmoved.
When we finish school
if you want
We’ll move to Canada.
you and me.
the two of us
The dial up tone sounds again.
LOLA turns off the computer. The screen goes blank.
DOLORES and IGNACIO have been dressing the set of an already-concluded tea party: empty or half-empty plates, dirty napkins, coffee pot, etc. One of the coffee sets is unused: Lola’s. Once the table is set, DOLORES begins to clear it and IGNACIO sits on the sofa. To watch TV.
MCCAIN: Wow that was… Highly personal.
LOLA: Well you said we shouldn’t keep secrets.
Have you ever done that?
Talked to a stranger.
To a little girl.
Had her tell you her secrets. Her fears.
Promised her that everything would be OK.
Promised that you’d be there for her.
That she can count on you.
Then disappeared at the last minute.
Have you ever done that?
MCCAIN: Maybe… Maybe we should leave it there.
LOLA: We’re just getting started.
MCCAIN: We like to maintain a positive tone in all our interactions here.
LOLA: Sometimes you have to take risks.
MCCAIN: In this case, we’d prefer not to.
LOLA: We’d prefer? It’s just you and me here.
MCCAIN: If you’d like to make a complaint, you can get in touch with…
LOLA: You said we shouldn’t keep secrets. For there to be no secrets you’ll have to hear the whole story. That’s the deal. The deal is if I start telling my story, you start listening. You don’t get to leave my story unfinished.
MCCAIN: I think you’re getting confused…We don’t…I don’t…
LOLA: Because if the story is unfinished, you know what happens? People can’t be honest, or transparent, and they end up sandy on the inside and charred on the outside, like a chip left in the fryer, like an overcooked potato smile. Then that person spends years going back and forth between hate and love for the person who didn’t listen to them, who only heard half of their story, you understand?
Now pay attention. (To DOLORES) I know, I’m sorry. Is there any left?
DOLORES: Do you think this is normal behaviour?
LOLA: I told you, I’m sorry. I had a double shift, I forgot, then I couldn’t call.
DOLORES: You think this is normal? You couldn’t even send a text?
LOLA: You know we have to leave our phones in our lockers. Where’s Damián?
DOLORES: Damián came here, had his aperitif, had his lunch and had the coffee afterwards all while he was waiting for you to turn up. He even blew out your candles! What a way to stand him up.
LOLA: But where is he?
DOLORES: He started work at five. Same as usual, Lola.
LOLA: Is there any lasagne left?
DOLORES: I don’t know how he puts up with you.
IGNACIO: Happy birthday.
LOLA: Thanks, Dad.
And comes back a moment later with a plate of lasagna, a half-eaten piece of cake and two candles, a 2 and a 1, already blown out. LOLA eats the lasagna hungrily.
DOLORES: You know he baked the cake himself. I sent him the recipe.
LOLA: I’ll call him later and thank him.
DOLORES: And you better apologise, because…
LOLA: Yes, I’ll call him, thank him, and apologise, ok Mum? I’ll apologise.
DOLORES: You smell like a burger van.
LOLA: Anything else?
DOLORES: You always come back reeking of oil…
LOLA: What did you think I’d smell like, Mum, rosewater? I was at work.
DOLORES: Don’t get me started on that job of yours…
DOLORES: Don’t say a word Ignacio, alright? Not a word.
IGNACIO looks completely defeated, has been for years.
DOLORES: So tell me why we paid for your English lessons for so long, why we signed you up for typing and computer classes, so you’d end up frying chips in some burger joint?
LOLA: They hired me because I spoke English. And it’s called Burger King.
DOLORES: Do you know how much those private lessons cost?
LOLA: (With American accent) Double cheese, pickles, special fries (to McCain) This is where I tell her that I’m at university, this job pays my tuition, and she says oh I don’t know, food engineering, so long and hard and no job prospects, how will I survive, I’ll spend the prime of my life frying potatoes for next to nothing, couldn’t I think of something else… and then comes the good bit:
DOLORES: Parking spaces, and rent them out. That, plus your salary and Damián’s would get you a lovely little place to yourselves.
LOLA: First the lovely little flat, then the lovely little baby, and then the lovely little mortgage, no? What world are you living in?
DOLORES: Not the same one as you, that’s for sure.
LOLA: Do you not watch the news?
DOLORES: Of course I do, it’s all doom and gloom. You have to find your own happiness.
LOLA: Ever heard of the financial crisis? The housing bubble? That people are camping out in the squares? Does any of this ring a bell?
DOLORES: (shakes both hands in the sign of agreement of the 15M movement) Like this? Now eat your bechamel.
LOLA: Look at yourself.
DOLORES: If the people at the bottom move, the ones at the top fall… I used to know a few of those: “My hands, my capital!”, isn’t that right, Ignacio?
IGNACIO: “Fighting, creating, people power!”
DOLORES: The one I liked best “Work, equality bread, and a roof over your head.” But for what? Because I bring home the bread, I put the roof over our heads and on top of that, I do all the work. And taking care of this “fellow traveller” well, I get that privilege as well.
LOLA: (at the food, disgusted) It’s cold.
DOLORES: I even talked to your boyfriend about it.
LOLA: What does he have to do with it?
DOLORES: He agrees with me. We’re cut from the same cloth.
LOLA: And that cloth is…?
DOLORES: That the world’s going mad. There’s no use trying to understand it…
And that’s why it’s better to have children when you’re young.
LOLA: Wow, devastating logic.
DOLORES: Better to have them when you’re young.
LOLA: So they’ve got more time to suck the life out of you.
DOLORES: Children open up a whole new world, Lola, they’re –
LOLA: “The most wonderful thing that can happen to you”
DOLORES: Well they’re clearly more wonderful than frying chips and flipping burgers.
LOLA: It’s not a hobby, Mum, I don’t do it just because. Are you going to pay my tuition? Or Dad?
Silence. IGNACIO is absorbed in the TV. He isn’t listening, or is pretending not to, but faced with the silence, he reacts.
IGNACIO: Happy birthday, darling.
LOLA: Yes, thanks, Dad.
IGNACIO: I have a present for you.
IGNACIO: Close your eyes and put out your hand.
LOLA does. IGNACIO places a flat oblong package into her hands. LOLA opens her eyes. She knows what it is.
IGNACIO: Qué será, será?
LOLA opens it. It’s a paper model.
IGNACIO: You haven’t got this one, have you?
IGNACIO: Can you guess which it is?
IGNACIO: What do you mean, no? It’s the City of Arts and Sciences!
LOLA: Wow. I love it.
IGNACIO: We went once, the summer we went to Benicarló. You were just a baby. Do you remember? Do you want to make it? Shall we?
DOLORES: (to LOLA, changing subject) Give me your plate, let’s blow out the candles.
She takes the plate.
IGNACIO: With this you’ve got the whole collection! Congratulations honey!
LOLA: Thanks, Dad.
IGNACIO: Miniature architecture of Spain, the complete collection! Look, look closely, it’s got every tiny detail, the dome, the bridge. Let’s put it together, shall we?
DOLORES clears the table and serves LOLA a piece of cake. Violently, she lights the candles and stabs them into the slice.
DOLORES: Ignacio, you already had yours and that’s more than enough sugar for you, don’t be having any more.
LOLA: Mum serves me a slice of cake, a cake made by a boyfriend who two weeks later will break up with me. Do you think this development came as a surprise?
DOLORES: Come on, blow.
MCCAIN: I think we’re done here.
LOLA: It did not. If a little girl learns what love is by writing letters to a frozen potato company, she might have one or two romantic mishaps as an adult, don’t you think? Even if that same girl, because of the letters she writes and receives, will be better prepared to face the terrible circumstances of her life. Thanks to this correspondence the girl will learn everything there is to know about the world: nuclear disasters, wars for oil, the perils of extractivism, the nutrients preserved in food through the deep-freezing process, and she’ll come to learn how fragile relationships can be. Look where all this wisdom got me: while I force a smile, with my greasy face and the stench of fried food overpowering my family, posing for a photo of my twenty first birthday just like they asked, I’m protected by a generous, big- hearted smile. The smile that’s always protected me, my guardian angel, the McCain potato smile that reassures me that everything’s going to be OK. This time, everything’s going to be OK.
DOLORES: Make a wish.
LOLA: Mum won’t be at all pleased about my break up with Damián. We won’t speak for almost a whole year. Not on bad terms, no. We’ll just stop speaking, like when someone has been sunbathing for a long time and takes a dip in the water, just because their skin is burning. Do you know what I mean? And when I get out of the water, it’ll be to take the call from my mother telling me that Dad has died. Of a heart attack. He’ll have made every single one of the models of the miniature architecture of Spain, apart from the City of Arts and Sciences, which will be intact, in the plastic, waiting for me, I suppose. But I still don’t know any of this. And when my mum tells me to make a wish I listen to the TV and she brings, like an oracle, what I’m about to wish for. (To IGNACIO) Dad, turn it up.
The news is on. In the business segment, we learn that McCain foods has suffered a calamitous fall in the value of its stock due to a food security scandal which took place in an Ontario school. The children got sick from the frozen chips from their school canteen due to the growth of a bacteria which was caused by a breach in the cold chain.
We hear the McCain jingle, sinister and sad.
LOLA: One breach in the cold chain and everything starts to spoil.
LOLA blows out the candles.
LOLA blows out two number 2 candles. DOLORES and LOLA clap, serious.
DOLORES: Two little ducks.
LOLA: I have to go soon.
DOLORES: When are you coming back?
LOLA: Eleven, twelve, after close.
DOLORES: Yes, well. Let’s eat the cake.
LOLA: Only a bit, I’m not hungry.
DOLORES: Once you try some you’ll want more…
DOLORES serves the cake. She is about to say something but holds back. LOLA notices.
DOLORES: What? I didn’t say anything.
LOLA: Come on, what?
DOLORES: It’s the same cake as last year.
DOLORES: How life can change from one year to the next.
LOLA: (Thinks she’s talking about her father’s death, strokes DOLORES’s shoulder). Yes, mum, last year with Dad…
DOLORES: Last year Damián made you the cake.
LOLA removes her hand, brusquely.
DOLORES: A good man is hard to find. He was a nice boy, no? Have you heard from him?
DOLORES: Don’t you text each other still? Young people do that these days, they even said it on the news the other day.
LOLA: Do you still text your ex boyfriends?
DOLORES: All this ex-boyfriend business is a new thing.
LOLA: What do you want me to text him for?
DOLORES: I don’t want anything.
DOLORES: I don’t know why you left him.
LOLA: I didn’t break up with him, Mum, he broke up with me.
DOLORES: But why?
LOLA: Because it didn’t work out, that’s all.
DOLORES: People aren’t like the hamburgers you make, you know, a couple of minutes on each side and then on to the next one.
LOLA: Why do you care? It’s my life, not yours.
DOLORES: I’ve seen more of him than I have of you in the last few years. Do you know Damián used to come over in the afternoons when you were doing double shifts and were coming home I don’t know how late. We watched the evening news together. We’d talk about current events, have a little limoncello. He made the models with your father, who’d tell him about his years in the Party. Then he disappeared all of a sudden. You must have done something, he had so many plans with you.
LOLA: I’ve got to go.
DOLORES: Oh do as you like, you always do.
LOLA: Alright Mum, whatever you say. Bye.
LOLA doesn’t move.
LOLA: Do you want to know what happened?
DOLORES is too scared to answer.
LOLA: We had a joint account. He set it up, “so we could save”. He wanted us to save up to go to the Costa Brava for three days in July. I invested the money in the stock market. He says I stole from him, I’m a thief, but technically the money was mine. And I never wanted to go to the Costa Brava.
DOLORES: You did… what?
LOLA: I invested. In the stock market. The money in the joint account didn’t stretch to many shares, that’s for sure. I also invested money from my savings. For next year’s tuition. That got me a few more.
DOLORES: You dropped out?
LOLA: Weren’t you always asking what the point was? Of food engineering? “You could have tried roads and bridges…” Well, that’s one less thing to worry about. Didn’t you say you have to fight for what you want? That nothing is for free? You were right. Shares cost money. Damián was always scared of my dreams. Dad was too. Dad was even afraid of his own. Maybe you’re scared of yours. Though I don’t think you have any dreams. No offence Mum, but it’s true.
DOLORES: What do you want shares for? You’re not right in the…
LOLA: A little treat to myself. Some people buy jewellery or expensive clothes. I wanted shares. As… a souvenir.
LOLA wants a rise from her mother, she expects a reaction, but it doesn’t come. There is a long pause, and LOLA becomes agitated. DOLORES seems to realise something.
DOLORES: What did you buy shares in?
LOLA: McCain. It’s a Canadian company.
DOLORES: The oven chips.
LOLA: They also make chicken nuggets, and recently they started making frozen lasagne.
DOLORES: You used to love those chips.
LOLA: (Sarcastically) Oh, really?
DOLORES: You used to write to the potato man.
LOLA: You don’t say.
DOLORES: You used to ask him about the world. You asked him about all sorts: the wars in Yugoslavia, mad cow disease, Jesus Christ, the wife and children of Ramón García, off the telly. But if you’re saying it’s a Canadian company, I don’t think the potato man would have known much about Ramón García.
LOLA is in complete shock.
DOLORES: You even asked him what to do when you got your period. You told him you weren’t sure if you liked girls or boys or neither. You said you wanted to be as tall as the fridge so you could move to Canada. Because your family gave you depression. Depression, where did you hear that? You said, what was it? Oh yes, that your father was a charlatan who never stopped shouting at the TV and your mother a hysterical fishwife. I don’t know where you heard hysterical either, on telly I bet.
LOLA: You had no right. You went through my things? In my room?
DOLORES: Lola, don’t you remember? Who posted those letters every week? Mum took them to the postbox. Then you started posting them and then I lost the scent. Yes. (Pause) I also sent letters for a long time.
LOLA: To who?
DOLORES: Don’t you remember?
DOLORES: To the man from Asturian Central Dairies.
LOLA: Those… weren’t letters. They were just bar codes. Bar-
DOLORES: Yes, barcodes. Barcodes all look the same, they were all the same, but also they weren’t, because every day is different. They’re coded messages, it’s just there’s no key, you know. Indecipherable. (Pause) That was a good day. A lovely day.
LOLA: (To McCain) And that’s when she brings up the weight of the family in milk.
Rapid run through of Scene 1, without McCain’s part. They stop at:
DOLORES: Now drink your milk.
LOLA: (To McCain) Now watch. Memories are so often… like frozen food, do you know what I mean?
LOLA: When you want to bring back the past, first you have to heat it up, in the fryer, or the microwave. Then you have it, but it’s stale, soggy, stiff, and inedible. That’s what I like the best about McCain. McCain potatoes aren’t like that. They have no past, only present. Somehow they manage to erase the gap between the machine that slices the potatoes, fries them in oil, packages them and sends them to families in flats, or one family homes with geraniums in the window box, so that little boys and girls can eat them, unspoilt by time, direct from a place with no name. Outside of time. They hand a pure, ready-to-eat, memory down through the decades. (to Dolores) I was seven years old, I was allergic to lactose and I drank an entire glass of milk in front of a notary.
DOLORES: You were lactose intolerant, not allergic. Why would you bring that up now?
LOLA: Because it’s true.
DOLORES: It was a prize. Why would we say no?
LOLA: Because I can’t drink milk, mum.
DOLORES: Well I can. And anyway, being intolerant isn’t the same as being allergic, the paediatrician said, I don’t know what you’ve been telling yourself.
DOLORES: I was happy when we won. Hap-py.
LOLA: Milk makes me sick.
DOLORES: Because I sent off all those bar codes, I cut them out ever so carefully and put them in envelopes and oh it was like throwing a bottle into the sea-
LOLA: It gives me stomach cramps, Mum.
DOLORES: – and I really wished that the man from the Dairy would open them and know that they were mine and they were coded and he would crack the code to read them… But deep inside I didn’t think anyone opened the P.O. Box, I didn’t think anyone would open the envelopes I sent or count the codes I cut out for the competition, and the thing I least expected in this world was that we’d win, us, us who have never won anything, us who’ve done nothing but lose.
LOLA: I shit myself if I drink milk, mum, do you not get it? You made me drink an entire glass of cold, full-fat milk in the back of a supermarket, and I started sweating like I’d never sweated in my life and I thought I’d shit myself right there, in front of the notary, in front of the photographer, and in front of the man from the Central Asturian Dairies, that I was dying, I thought I’d die right there.
DOLORES: It was a happy day.
DOLORES: I had to buy your milk separately. Almond milk or soy which was so expensive and they only sold in special shops. I bought your special milk every week and you had your soy or your almond milk from a carton that cost 1000 pesetas a litre and the rest of us drank the milk we got in the competition.
DOLORES: The day of the prize you were sick the minute we left the supermarket and you started crying.
DOLORES: You know what I did to cheer you up? We went inside again and I told you to pick something out for dinner, whatever you wanted.
LOLA: I don’t remember that part.
DOLORES: You took your time choosing. In the end you bought some frozen chips, with a smiley face, they’d just come out: a five hundred gram bag of McCain potato smiles. And what can I say, you looked the happiest you’d ever been.
LOLA: I don’t remember that.
LOLA: He got them all in the end. Spain in miniature.
DOLORES: He did them for you, for the collection. It’s yours.
DOLORES: How much does a ticket to Canada cost?
LOLA: I don’t know. A lot.
DOLORES: How much?
LOLA: About 300 euros.
DOLORES: I can pay half. I’ll pay half. Do you have the other half?
LOLA: What are you saying?
DOLORES: Do you have the other half or not?
Instrumental, McCain jingle.
MCCAIN: We truly appreciate how well you know the company and its message.
Unfortunately, there are no openings at the moment. Thank you for your effort, for coming all this way. Really, thank you and we wish you the very best of luck.
He puts out his hand for LOLA to shake it. She does. It seems as if they’ll part ways, but LOLA keeps hold of McCAIN’s hand.
LOLA: Your name isn’t really McCain, is it?
MCCAIN: Johnson. Mr. McCain retired to his beach house in Malibu some years back. He only knows he owns a multinational because his grandchildren call him from time to time to tell him how swell it’s going. I’m sorry, I really am, but there’s nothing else we can do for you.
LOLA: Have you heard of Magic Mayonnaise? Did you sell it here in Canada? Because it certainly reached Europe. Definitely Spain.
MCCAIN: We’re sorry…we don’t know what you’re talking about.
LOLA: In 1999 McCain had some R&D disasters. We even studied it at university. Maybe it had to do with the new millenium… Everyone was obsessed with reinventing themselves, bringing out new products, making radical changes to the business. It wasn’t just Magic Mayonnaise: McCain brought out a line of crisps with impossible flavours: strawberry, green peppers, Pisco Sour. But Magic Mayonnaise was the biggest blunder by some margin. How come you’ve never heard of it? What’s your job here?
MCCAIN: Manager. (pause) Human Resources Manager.
LOLA: Well, the idea was that the mayonnaise would go with all of their potato products. The concept wasn’t bad: a little tube, like toothpaste, with enough mayonnaise for one meal, one person. It reinforced the idea that McCain “gave mums a break” since they didn’t have to peel the potatoes or beat the mayonnaise to go with them. So far so good, right?
LOLA: What could possibly go wrong?
LOLA: Well, the tubes! The changes in temperature between packaging and transport meant that by the time they reached people’s houses, there was a huge build-up of pressure inside. Picture it: a child on the sofa in front of the TV, dinner on their lap, tearing open the plastic seal on the tube and.splat! Mayonnaise comes squirting out.
LOLA laughs. McCAIN, being polite, laughs nervously along.
LOLA: Where? All over their little faces.
LOLA lets go of McCAIN’s hand.
LOLA: That’s why it never took off. The resemblance to spunk was not lost on the mothers. Those mums saw an. Ominous image. Terrible. Unthinkable. The image of McCain Foods Ltd. spunking all over their child’s face, it falling, white and thick, down their tiny cheeks. Us kids all suffered the same fate, we don’t remember it as anything traumatic, in fact the mayonnaise was very good quality. But the mums did. (Laughs) There were many mistakes, many failures. Then, the stomach infection scandal in the schools in Ontario. But you have to stay positive. Failure is normal: “Nothing ventured.”
MCCAIN: (Taking her to the door) Of course, you don’t need to think of it as a failure, rather an opport-
LOLA: (Resisting) I took risks. I did everything it took. I ate all of it: the strawberry and pepper and Pisco Sour flavoured crisps, Magic Mayonnaise, I’ve eaten tonnes of oven chips, tonnes of McCain potato smiles. I bought shares when they were so worthless that people like me could afford them. They’re still so cheap I could buy two or three more. (Pause) Who wrote the letters?
MCCAIN: The letters?
LOLA: The McCain Club. Who wrote back to the children?
MCCAIN: There was more than one person. It was a team of copywriters… a subcontract.
LOLA takes a letter from her pocket and starts to read.
LOLA: Dear LOLA: Thank you for your letter. Our community is growing, but you are still special to us. I love reading about your questions and your life. Please keep writing! Remember to eat five portions of fruit and veg every day, drink plenty of water and never stop smiling with McCain potatoes! Hugs from your friend, Mr. McCain.
Tell me, Johnson. If you were eight years old, would this letter calm your spirit? Yes or no?
MCCAIN: That’s not my specialty.
LOLA suddenly grabs the microphone through which McCain has been talking until now. She seems to like the feel of it. She strokes it, then talks through it.
LOLA: Little boys and girls the world over need to know that they can count on McCain. Because McCain will always be with them. In pleasure and in pain. It’s their flesh and blood, their family. Boys and girls everywhere need to know that there’s a whole world out there, a world of flavours like nothing they’ve tasted before, because they are the flavours of the future. Those flavours are the dawning of a new world. Because a new world is coming. And in that world, there will be McCain.
LOLA: You have a boss, correct?
LOLA: Call them. Tell them I’m here.
The face of a McCain potato smile appears on screen and we hear the McCain potato jingle sung by a choir. On screen we see 90s photos of children eating potato products in progressively rapid succession. Little by little everything goes dark except for LOLA.