Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Perfect Marriage by Val Dunn

ACT I

Scene 1: A Wedding Reception

A woman nearing thirty sits alone at table decorated with the gaudiness of a wedding reception.  She smokes, picks her nails, or some action that indicates the severity of her discomfort. From time to time, she sneaks glances at the bride.

A man walks over from the bar with two glasses of champagne and a nervous disposition. He stands behind a chair, exhales heavily.

Ben: Weddings, huh?

Miranda: Marriage, huh.

Ben: Huh?

Miranda: Marriage. (A pause) I’ve heard weddings lead to marriage.

Ben: Only heard? You aren’t married, a pretty girl like you?

Miranda: (Mocking Ben) Do you come here often?

Ben: Sorry, that was rough. No more lines, I promise.

Miranda: Mmm.

Ben: Have a drink?

Miranda: Are you always this charming with women?

Ben: Does that mean you’re not married?

Miranda: Married?  God, no. No, I’m not married.

Ben: (A wheezy exhale) Thank God. (Ben collapses into the seat next to Miranda.) Cheers.

He clinks his glass against hers.

Miranda: I’m a lesbian.

Ben chokes quietly on the drink he has just swallowed. Miranda misses this, however, as she is gazing across the dance floor once more.

Ben: (Recovering) Are you always this open?

Miranda: Tonight I am.

Ben: Oh.

Miranda: What? You weren’t hitting on me, were you?

Ben: On you? God, no.

Miranda: Good. Because if you were, you’ve had a pretty lame start.

Ben: You couldn’t pay me to like you.

Miranda: You can’t buy love.

Ben: I said like, I didn’t say love. You can certainly buy like.

Miranda: Is that so?

Miranda’s attention is drifting away from Ben as the Bride glows happier and happier with her new husband. Until-

Ben: So you like girls?

Miranda: Women. I like women. Girls are monsters in ponytails.

Ben: I’ve heard women aren’t much better.

Miranda: You’re pretty insightful, aren’t you?

Ben: I can’t tell if you’ve been mocking me this entire time, or if you’re really just that-

Miranda: Honest?

Ben: I was going to say blunt, but sure.

Miranda: People aren’t honest anymore, are they?

Ben: Well. I guess it depends on your version of honesty.

Miranda: There can’t be more than one version of honesty.

Ben: Ok, then what are you?

Miranda: I already told you, a lesbian.

Ben: No, I mean. Are you mocking me?

Miranda: You brought me champagne, why would I mock you?

Ben: It’s comments like that-

Miranda: I don’t even know your name. How can I possibly mock you if I don’t know your name?

Ben: Ben.

Miranda: Benny.

Ben: No, just Ben. (A pause) So. Which one of those hideous bridesmaid gowns belongs to your lover?

Miranda: All of them.

Ben: What?

Miranda: I’m teasing you, Benny.

Ben: Oh.

Miranda: Do I have to have a lover to attend a wedding?

Ben: No, but. There’s something in your eyes and I don’t think it’s the champagne.

Miranda: She’s not my lover.

Ben: But she used to be?

Miranda: Yes, I thought so. (A pained smile to fill the pause) Are you still waiting for an answer?

Ben: Will you tell me if I say yes?

Miranda gives Ben a look.

Ben: You don’t have to tell me her name, just the dress will be enough.

Miranda: That one. (Miranda points to the twirling bride.) The beautiful white gown worshiping the exquisite bride.

Ben: Oh. Hey, I’m really sorry.

Miranda: Thanks.

Ben: I didn’t mean to pry.

Miranda: No, it’s ok. Like I said, tonight I’m open.

Ben: You aren’t usually?

Miranda: No. I’m afraid not.

Ben: Don’t blame you; society’s a bitch.

Miranda: Just my family. Just people like our lovely bride.

Ben: Ah. Been there before.

Miranda: How do you mean?

Ben: I’m gay.

Miranda: This is an open night.

Ben: No joking.

Miranda: Sorry. I get insensitive when I have champagne and watch my ex dance with a man she’s going to very shortly be fu-

Ben: Why did you come to the wedding?

Miranda is silent.

Miranda: (Quietly) I don’t know. Wouldn’t you?

Ben: Why did she send you an invitation?

Miranda: I think it was because she was afraid. While we were dating, she went around telling everybody I was her best friend. So, wouldn’t people wonder if I wasn’t at her wedding? Bit of a scandal, don’t you think, Benny?

Ben: Sorry.

Miranda: It’s not a big deal, not really. We just… I was really serious about her. And I thought it went both ways. But looking back, it seems I was just an experiment for her.

Ben: That’s rough.

Miranda: I mean, keep in mind I’m not exactly open about this sort of thing when I’m not sulking around weddings. You’re in an exclusive club now, Benny.

Ben: Let me assure you, you’re part of an even more exclusive club.

Miranda: Oh, gosh. Am I, I mean you never, did you just come out?

Ben: Well, not really, but almost just.

Miranda: Huh. I’d give you a pep talk, Benny, but I’ll need a little more champagne before I feel like pepping anything.

Ben smiles, takes her empty glass, and waltzes back to the bar. In his absence, Miranda checks her phone. Seeing that her mom has called, she dials a number.

Miranda: (Waiting for the other line to pick up) Hello? Mom? Hey, you called- the wedding’s fine, no- no I didn’t catch the… Yes, Mom, I’ll keep that in mind. Mhmm. What? Mom, we’re losing connection. What? Mom. Mom?

Ben arrives with the full glasses as Miranda hangs up her phone.

Ben: Everything ok?

Miranda: Yeah. (A pause) No. Um. It’s just my mom. I think I have to run back to her house.

Ben: But you’re just starting to have a good time.

Miranda: This is a good time?

Ben: Well, don’t leave me here alone. What if I told you I love the groom.

Miranda: You don’t.

Ben: That’s a hefty assumption from a girl-on-girl kind of girl.

Miranda: Women.

Ben: Women-on-women.

Miranda: You’re kind of insensitive, yourself.

Ben: Does champagne always make you so aggressive?

Miranda: Oh, forgive me if I’m a bit irritable while I watch the girl I love-

Ben: Woman. The woman you love.

Miranda: Fuck you.

Ben: I only want to take care of you and I don’t think a night with your mother is going to make you feel better when your mommy doesn’t even know that you’d like to trade places with that stiff-neck of a groom. But you and me, we’re in the same boat here. And I just want you to be happy. Or at least not miserable. And I don’t even know your name.

Miranda: My mother is sick, you bastard. I don’t care if she’s going to make me feel better. I want her to feel better.

Miranda grabs her purse and stomps from the table.

Ben: What’s your name, Cinderella?

Miranda: Wouldn’t you prefer Prince Charming?

Ben: I’d prefer your name.

Miranda: Miranda.

Ben: Miranda, that’s a lovely name, Miranda. Now sit down and listen to my problems.

Miranda: I don’t think I like you. And I definitely don’t want to listen to your problems.

Ben: But I feel like I can talk to you.

Miranda: I knew there was a reason I hate gay men.

Ben: You can’t hate gays.

Miranda: Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do.

By this time, Miranda and Ben have created a small spectacle. As a dance number ends, the Bride excuses herself from the dance floor and approaches the bickering people.

Bride: Look at you two, bickering like an old married couple.

Miranda: That’s funny.

Ben: We’re not bickering.

Miranda: Don’t let us ruin your evening.

Bride: Not at all. I’m so happy you came, Randy. Well, mostly surprised. I’ll be honest, when I sent out the invitations I was sure you would feed it to your cat, or something-

Miranda: My cat would choke on all that lace.

Bride: Like I said, so glad you came.

Miranda: Is that why you sent me an invitation? Because you didn’t think I’d come to your wedding?

Bride: Don’t mince my words.

Ben: Hey, I don’t care if this is your wedding. I’ll ask that you don’t talk to my girlfriend like that.

Bride: (With the attitude of a person knocked down a few notches) Oh. I didn’t know it was like that.

Miranda: (Catching on) Yeah. It’s like that.

Miranda steps a little closer to Ben, she slides his hand around her waist.

Bride: Well, I’m glad you’ve found some happiness. I was so worried, I heard that you were having trouble moving on, and the last thing I wanted between us was hard feelings.

Miranda: Yup. Completely moved on. You couldn’t pay me to like you. (A beat) Your present is on the table.

Bride: How sweet of you to get us something. Mark will be so ple-

Miranda: There was a gift registry. Besides, it’s not for your husband.

Bride: I’m sure it’s lovely.

Ben: Have a nice evening.

The Bride, slightly affronted, returns to the arms of her husband. Miranda turns to Ben.

Miranda: Have a nice evening?

Ben: Randy?

Miranda: Gosh, I’m not over her.

Ben: That bitch?

Miranda: You’re a friend of the groom, I suppose?

Ben: Distantly.

Miranda: My mother-

Ben: -can wait.

Ben leads her back to the table, forces the flute of champagne into her hand.

Ben: I have an idea.

Miranda: Let me finish this glass first.

She does, he hands her his.

Ben: More like a proposal.

Miranda: Shoot.

Ben: Will you marry me, Miranda?

Miranda: What?

Ben: You heard me.

Miranda: Benny, you’re gay. I’m gay.

Ben: It’s legal in New York.

Miranda: That’s not what I meant.

Ben: Think about it Miranda. This night aside, we’re both snuggled into our closets. If your family is anything like mine, you’re running out of excuses, Miranda; you’ve got to be thirty-

Miranda: Twenty-Nine.

Ben: Twenty-Nine and you have yet to bring home an eligible bachelor for your father’s approval. Meanwhile, you have to be extra careful when you do see another woman because your parents are starting to get worried. What’s the one thing that would cancel out any suspicion regarding your sexuality?

Miranda: Marriage, but…

Ben: Exactly. It’s the ultimate cover-up.

Miranda: People have tried it before and it doesn’t work.

Ben: But those people, the husband and wife weren’t both gay. It was a sordid, secret affair. Not us!

Miranda: But not us. Because we would both know.

Ben: You’re catching on.

Miranda: Don’t think I haven’t thought of this before tonight.

Ben: But have you ever found someone so willing? Miranda, Miranda. We’d be home free! You could bring in any number of women to our home, and I would not care. Because I’ll be fucking every boy I can in our spare bedroom.

Miranda: The same bedroom my mother uses when she visits?

Ben: Right, save the spare bedroom for your mother. We’ll do our dirty deeds in the living room then.

Miranda: But marriage is so…

Ben: Conventional?

Miranda: Yeah.

Ben: And we could be beacons of conventionality.

Miranda: This wouldn’t work.

Ben: Why not?

Miranda: We might be OK with having affairs outside our ‘marriage’, but what about our lovers? Do you think they’ll want to have an affair with a married person?

Ben: We don’t have to wear our rings in public. Only around our parents.

Miranda: So many things could go wrong. And I don’t like diamonds.

Ben: Emeralds?

Miranda: You can’t buy love.

Ben: You can buy like.

Miranda: What if I want a divorce?

Ben: We’ll burn that bridge when we need to.

Miranda: This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

Ben: But you agree that it could work.

Miranda: There’s a less than ten percent chance that this could work.

Ben: Do you have a better chance with your lovely lady in white?

Miranda: Fuck you.

Ben: Only on our honeymoon. Just to make things official.

Miranda: Only if I’m fuller of champagne than I am now.

Ben: We’ll save no expense on our nuptials.

Miranda: I want to go to Spain.

Ben: Well I want Paris, so we’ll go to both.

Miranda: You’re a romantic.

Ben: Call me gay.

Miranda: Call me a lesbian, but I think it’s stupid.

Ben: But you’re falling in love with the idea.

Miranda: I’ll think about it.

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Never Cold by Will Malkus

After Sean died, he moved to New York City. It made sense, he thought. His parents had always said everyone in the city was dead on the inside, so Sean figured maybe he’d feel at home there. He found a tiny, overpriced apartment, and his cousin managed to get him a job waiting tables at an Indian restaurant in Brooklyn, and between that and the little money his parents had given him he managed to scrape by. At first, it hadn’t been any better. When he moved to the city, it was September, and the streets were packed and smelled strongly of copper. It was hot, so the signs on the bank buildings told him, but of course, Sean couldn’t tell. The people were rude, and they stared at him, singling him out and making it clear that they knew he didn’t belong. A homeless man on the street had once followed him for two blocks, calling him Tom. Tom was his father’s name, but Sean tried not to dwell on that experience. His first two months were miserable, but then winter came, and the looks stopped. He finally belonged.

 

He started going to Central Park every day. He’d hop the number three train up to 96th street, and enjoy every second of it. Sometimes he’d get so absorbed in the train ride that he’d miss his stop, at which point he would have to get out, cross the busy platform, and take the train traveling in the opposite direction back to 96th street. He never minded, though. If he were completely honest with himself, he’d admit that sometimes he missed the stops on purpose, because during those short trips, the subway car shook and rattled and juked in a way that Sean found familiar and comforting. It took him a few days to place it, then one day it hit him. It was like being back on the ice. Sometimes, the train would take a curve in the track in such a way that Sean could almost feel the blades under his feet again. The other passengers gave him odd looks that would have bothered the old Sean, but the new Sean reveled in it. Every skeptical glance was simply a reminder that he was alive.

 

It became a ritual, the only one that he still observed. There’d been a time in his life when rituals consumed him; when nothing seemed random and everything was premeditated. Sean knew, on some hard-to-explain instinctual level, that he could remove the element of chance from his everyday life, provided he repeated a certain set of motions regularly, like wearing the same briefs under his uniform every game, or the way he touched every mirror in his car before starting it. His mom had gotten him evaluated for OCD when he was seven. His dad had introduced him to hockey around the same time.

 

When he started playing, he’d had a ritual for that, too, of course. Kiss the gloves, kiss the stick, and kiss the helmet. The jersey didn’t get kissed, nor did the rest of the pads. The way Sean figured it, if he was good enough, he wouldn’t need them. If no one could touch him, it wouldn’t matter how well-protected he was, and besides, by that point it was too late; it was already a ritual, and changing it could prove to be disastrous. His coaches told his father he flew on the ice, and his father had told them “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” By the time he was lapping adults at the rink, his mom discovered the psychiatrist they’d hired to test him had vanished.

 

“Why would he just up and leave?” she asked Sean’s father one night, long after Sean was supposed to have fallen asleep. He crouched on the fourth stair from the top, not low enough to be seen, but just low enough to be able to overhear their conversations so long as they didn’t whisper.

 

“Maybe Sean was too crazy,” Sean’s dad had joked. “Maybe he drove the guy to jump off a cliff or something.”

 

Sean went back to his room, but didn’t sleep that night. Balding men kept jumping off cliffs every time he shut his eyes.

 

His mom gave up. She decided to leave well enough alone, and Sean got to keep his rituals. He was allowed to run the shower for exactly ten minutes before getting in (the stopwatch became a permanent fixture in the second floor bathroom), he was allowed to eat his dinner in the exact same pattern (in descending chromatic scale, though he was not allowed to eat the same meal every night), and he was even allowed to keep the exact amount of change in his pocket (fifty-five cents) at all times. His parents figured, “it’s Buffalo; what’s normal, anyway?”

 

Now Sean only had the one ritual, and it suited him just fine. Back home, there was a two-stop Amtrak train that ran through downtown Buffalo, but it was a smooth, quick ride, and not at all like the subway he had grown to love since coming to New York. In a lot of ways, Sean thought, the subway was like God. It was impossible to know the intentions of the train, but people still got on every day, trusting their lives to it, praying that it would keep them safe and get them where they were going. He recognized that it was a small thing to care so much about, especially since he lived in a city full of people that took it for granted and talked endlessly about all the ways it could be better, but to Sean it was perfect, absolutely perfect, just the way it was.

 

So on the morning of November 30, in the bitter cold, when all the other New Yorkers were huddled in the warmth of their beds and blankets and loved ones, Sean walked the twenty-two blocks between his apartment and the subway station only to discover that he was the only person in the whole borough trying to go anywhere. That realization made him feel proud, and daring, and he boarded the train same as he always did. He took a seat in one of the hard plastic chairs, one right next to a window, and closed his eyes. He leaned his head against it and enjoyed the cool glass against his skin, but the steamy breath that roiled out of his mouth and fogged up the window made him uncomfortable. He couldn’t feel it on his skin, even though his mind told him he should be able to. Something failed to connect, the same way it always did.

 

He had been surprised to learn that, despite the blizzard, he still had physical therapy at five. Dr. Stanton had called him that morning, to confirm that he was still coming in.

 

“They tell me it’s cold outside,” he’d said, amusement evident in his tone. “So I’ll understand if you can’t make it.”

 

Sean could. The Harwick Institute was fairly new, but was becoming well-known for their advances in the world of nerve damage rehabilitation. Sean’s doctor had recommended it to his parents after the accident, but it was all the way in New York City. His dad had been against it, and for once his mom agreed. The city was too far away, too dangerous, and he was still too weak. Sean disagreed, and finally talked them into letting him put off college until he’d gone through the program. The hockey scholarship was gone by this point, anyway, so it was the only move that really made sense. Get a job, get some experience, save some money, then go to school.

 

An unintelligible voice crackled over the subway’s PA system and then shut off. Sean couldn’t understand what it was saying, but he knew this was his stop.

 

He hiked his old Sabers parka up higher around his shoulders. It was just a formality now, on two counts. One, he didn’t need it, and two, he hadn’t watched a hockey game in almost a year. Instead of having ‘game night’ with his dad, he went to night classes, and besides, watching it hurt more than trying to walk. As thrilling and exciting as the games were to watch, they couldn’t hold a candle to actually being out there, flying down the ice with nothing under his feet. That frictionless glide that he never got tired of, even on the rough ice of the pond near his house, where he would sometimes go to skate when there was no one around. Days like today in New York City.

 

On days like this, days when he felt like he was the only living thing left in the city, he liked to imagine that it was all some big secret between the city and himself. The trees and rocks refused to face the way the world had become, and so instead sulked under their thick blankets. They demanded change, protesting tempestuously in their silence, raging against the seasonal machine that left them tired and dying. Sean remembered that feeling all too well, and when he did his chest ached with phantom pain and memory. He felt the spreading cold that slowly wrapped his mind up in wax paper and sequestered it away from the rest of his body, and the invisible, multitudinous clawed hands that dragged down on his eyelids, and worst of all, the sensation of all of his synapses firing more and more erratically, like a half-loaded pistol, forcing all of his thoughts to stumble through impenetrable fog banks just to reach his frontal lobe.

 

Now Sean always felt cold, so he liked to wander through the city on days when streetlights and storefronts were blotted out by walls of white. All the way down 104th, to Central Park.

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The Thing That Breaks Plates by Zoe Woodbridge

When she’s mad she drops things

like plates and pots of water.

 

She never dropped either of us, thank goodness.

She always said she would drop him first.

 

Our father, that is, as he sips his drink in the parlor

if you can even call it that,

as my mother washes and drops her dishes

and fights back years of words she’s never said.

 

I skim, no…I read, I immerse myself in his poetry

and maybe I can see why he drinks

each glass of wine or vodka depending on the day,

because his life is so hard.

 

How do I know? Because he’s told me so.

Everyday he told me until I stopped asking and then,

then he kept drinking and nothing changed.

 

Nothing ever changes until he stops drinking

Then the plates stop dropping but the yells are louder

and the doors slam louder and I hear everything.

We hear everything as our ears are pushed against the door.

 

I see now this is it, this is what tears families apart.

But we still cohabitate this place, this home.

She talks of leaving but she won’t

I know she won’t.

 

She can’t leave because I already have left,

gone to a place where they drink more, sometimes

they even drink themselves to death and I don’t get it

 

Why they push vodka down my throat when I refuse

and it burns, not the alcohol but these hot tears running

down my face, they burn my face

 

And I’m just left with scars on my cheeks

and pieces of  broken plates.

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The Pens Know All Your Secrets by Zoe Woodbridge

This one knows I stole it
from the office
and don’t really plan
on giving it back

The black one with all the bite marks
can tell you all about my first sloppy,
gross kiss and the bad things I wrote
about it afterwards.

The tiny pink one
that came with a stationary set
I got for Christmas from my cousins,
hoping I’d write to them,
doesn’t know that much.
Just what I buy at Giant, really.

But they never tell anyone
Not even the little pink one.
(You would think she would.)

They just let me hold them
and use them till they’re old
and done. Even then,
they know more about me
than I do.

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