Playtext written for Bootleggers and Baptists VII, August 2011, by Poppy Corbett (1 & 2) and Will Wade (3, 4 & 5) – Alea Theatre. (Image by themtube2)
He’s been dead for two weeks.
I try to imagine his face. I try and do it.
I close my eyes and try really, really hard.
But I can’t see him anymore.
Can’t see him at all.
Conjure him up. Can’t.
Why is that?
Even looking at photos it doesn’t work.
I look at them, look away
And he’s gone already. Just like that.
I can’t see him
I can smell him around the house
When I open the wardrobe in the morning.
His smell. Hits me.
I should probably take the clothes to a charity shop
So many T-shirts.
Can you hear me?
I went to visit you yesterday.
Left you some peonies.
Like you they are beautiful, but last for too short a time.
You’re not there, are you?
The saddest thing was when I found your gloves.
I put them on and they were so big.
Made me cry. But I still don’t think I’ve cried enough and I feel bad about that.
I always found it funny how big your hands were.
That made me feel safe. Big hands.
I had to get out the house for a bit.
It was the post that did it really. All those letters.
Your name on them –
Our name on…
Do you know what’s really awful?
What I can’t stop thinking about.
One of the first things I thought in the few hours after you died was
‘Who’s going to slice the ham at Christmas?’
I can’t fucking do it.
That’s really bad isn’t it?
To – to think that.
As if it mattered.
But it does.
‘Cause there was so much I would rely on you for.
I suppose I can get a cat now.
He was allergic. Hated them.
Someone from your school called me
Said they’d had a dream about you and they thought I’d like to know
I haven’t dreamed about you.
I got a letter – from one of your Year 9 English students. I’ve not opened it.
Can’t – don’t think I ever…
I can’t really talk to Mum and Dad.
They never really approved of –
And I pretended to you they did.
But you knew, didn’t you?
You knew me better than anyone.
Knew when I was lying. Knew.
You could read my face like you’d already memorised the contents.
Yet I can’t picture yours.
I can’t see your face.
Can’t see his face.
I can remember things he did.
Things he said.
‘Sometimes when you jump in, the water isn’t as deep as you thought it’d be.’
‘Steady now tiger.’
‘I love you.’
I remember his body,
His broad back.
The mole on his right finger.
The tattoo on his shoulder
Symbol for the year of the tiger.
The hairline on his chest
His pasty white legs
God, he hated wearing shorts
But I can’t remember his face.
I was starting to think that I was a really callous person.
That I must be really cruel because nothing shocked me anymore.
I don’t know if we’ve just become de-sensitised to it –
Seeing all the death and bombs and hate in the newspapers every day or –
I was starting to think that I couldn’t really feel anymore
Because nothing shocked me
Nothing made me feel.
And then he died.
I don’t know why I cried because I didn’t really know him that well.
It was a bit embarrassing
Standing there in the middle of the staffroom just crying and crying.
When Sue gathered us all together I thought it might have been some good news – like we’d broken the record for SATS results or something.
But it was you.
When she spoke, it was as if time had stopped. Everything slowed down for a second.
And I didn’t realise at first
But I was crying
And I couldn’t stop.
Last night I had a dream about him.
Well not about him but he was in it.
He looked at me and said ‘you seem upset everything’s fine.’
I think I should tell his fiancée about this.
It was a really real dream. You know, felt really real
There are stories you know
People visiting people in dreams
I woke up, sweating.
He used to come into my classroom sometimes
Keep offering me loads
He always seemed like that
Considerate, generous with everyone
Always used to mediate at staff meetings.
Used hold his hand up, to calm everything down if things got heated
Everyone looked to him to sort stuff out
We used to chat away during break
I used to tell him all about the cats
Which he seemed really interested in
Said his fiancée wanted to get one
I don’t know why I feel so sad about this. I just do.
I can’t stop crying
I didn’t even know him
I feel bad for crying so much
This is someone else’s grief
I shouldn’t be grieving
A woman came to the school the day after you-
She stood outside the gates for a good twenty minutes.
She stood like people do who’re waiting for someone – looking around in all directions, trying not to look like they’re looking, or alone, or unsure, or… stood up.
She came into the reception and asked for you.
The reception was ever so – diplomatic. I froze still. I was standing at the photocopier, like a sculpture, as the mounting paper dropped onto the floor. I couldn’t do that. Deliver news. That news…
I just – I remember him so clearly
The gap between his teeth
His blue eyes.
How he always seemed to be smiling
And now he’s gone.
Just – not there.
Sometimes I feel really important.
I know that sounds a bit – a bit arrogant, but I don’t mean it to be. Significant. That’s a better word.
There are some jobs you do, though, that seem to keep people connected to the world – that if you didn’t do them, it would mean people could just slink off the edge of the planet.
Like a bank manager. I know we’d all like to live without them, but…– I just get this feeling that they keep you connected to the world. Like a national insurance number. Or an address – yes, an address.
When I’m delivering in the morning, I know I’m helping the world tick over…. just keeping its pulse.
Occasionally I get to see what happens when this pulse is interrupted. I can see through the frosted glass a pile of unopened envelopes, all shapes and sizes – even a few of those red post office cards saying “You weren’t in so we’re holding your parcel for ransom.”
It’s a good first indication that – well, you know. I know. I know. Morbid. But then it could be any number of other things – holiday, business trip, visiting family abroad….
But then people talk too. So it’s not long until I’m made aware that the young couple at forty two are no longer a couple due to a tragic…. She’s still alive– but staying at her parents I’ve been told. Understandable. Too many things in that house to remind her that he’s gone, not to mention the shared bank statements with both their names on.
I never met them before. They’re at the end of my route; I assume they’d both left for work when I got there. But you tend to build up story through what you deliver.
The tell-tale envelopes: WWF for the charity-types. They were. Medical letters – they’re the most obvious, despite having probably the most sensitive information in them. They had quite a few of those. Most were addressed to him. I thought he was a doctor, maybe. Turns out he was a teacher. Maybe he died of some disease? I thought. Last time I passed there was a heap of shirts in a clear plastic bag on the doorstep. Charity collection I expect. She’s a good’en – no sooner has his smell faded than is she sorting his clothes to be put to good use elsewhere. Maybe there’s something psychological in it.
It’s quite emotional when the letters stop coming. Like a whole house has died. An idea of a family, or a couple, or a person….just vanishes. The letters can even start to look like flowers on a grave.
I s’pose one day quite a few people will wake up to no post at all.
I couldn’t speak that morning.
No, really. I couldn’t speak.
I looked it up. Apparently it’s called ‘Aphasia.’
I’ve never been able to not speak before. Everyone at work immediately knew something was wrong . I’m always talking. Never stop. And it wasn’t even the kind of not speaking when your head’s a bit swilled up and your sentences aren’t coming out properly, and you mix up words and names and stuff like that.
My mouth was just shut and I didn’t want to open it, for fear something would come out that I didn’t want. Like a shriek. Or a profanity. Or sick.
I had to do something with it thought– tight shut as it was. I had to prise it open and coax it back to life. Imagine…imagine if you couldn’t speak ever agaun. Well I guess you can’t. Both. Speak. Again. Or imagine.
But just imagine, though…you had permanent aphasia. That’d be terrible, wouldn’t it? I couldn’t stand the thought of that –the liberty of being able to choose when I can and can’t speak is just too much for me to give up.
So I drank loads of tea. Literally shitloads. I suspect some people thought I was just a little bit hungover. Blood gone from my face, dreary eyes, frequent bathroom breaks… But no.
I had a dream about you a few nights ago. Well, actually, it was about your hands. I didn’t see your face. I couldn’t. Your hands covered my face, but I could see them clearly. I think – when I woke up – I think I was aroused – my heart was racing with excitement, not. not. Does that make me a bad person?
I never told you this – but it got to me…when you would insist – I wouldn’t refuse of course, or question.. but – because it’s awkward but…we always used protection. ‘Can never be too safe’ you’d say. Safe from what? But, well. It doesn’t matter now.
I don’t know what to do with the clothes you left. All those bloody shirts. One for each ‘date,’ it seemed. Guess I should get rid of them. ‘Burn the evidence.’ That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?
It came naturally to me. Sneaking around. Living a double life. Taking full part in any and all conversation – sometimes on behalf of multiple people, such is the motor on my mouth – and all the while burying under my tongue the one thing I wanted to say but shouldn’t. Such extremes…the unending joy of conversation, and the thrill of a dark secret.
Maybe that’s why I can’t speak…The two sides of me were so delicately poised that I had to fall on one side of the knife eventually. Much like our – ‘clandestine’ relationship. Either you’d make good on all those promises and leave her, and we – I’d – finally be able to speak about it, about you, say it out loud; or…well. No need for anyone to know now. No point tarnishing your memory for those that didn’t know about me.
I’m destined to be permanently aphasic. My voice goes with you to the grave.
I always knew my kid were a bright’en. I know all parents say that, but honest t’God, when the lad were a few months old and building shit it took his father 3 year of an apprenticeship to learn, I said to the Mrs: “we’ve done it love – popped out a smart one!” They were walls out of ABC toy bricks, but the craftsmanship was beautiful.
I never lost faith. I used to…anticipate… those reports home, the parents evenings, open assemblies. Just waiting for one of the teachers to see the same genius I saw. Now… I GUESS that primary school isn’t the place where that sort of – obvious genius – is seen…and nurtured. BUT… when he got to secondary school….
I can still see his face….lad walks through the door, smile beaming like its Christmas and his birthday, and the last day of school all wrapped in to one – and he says “Dad…I’m gettin’ published.”
My lad! Published! I didn’t have to feign surprise and joy, even though I’d been waiting for it to happen for years! Says his English teacher pulled him aside after a lesson, and told him some creative writing he’d done is brilliant and he’s going t’send it to some young writers publication.
I asked him about this teacher – lad says he’s a top teacher – all the kids love him, always smiling and never gets angry or loses it with ‘em. He’s always looking for ways to help the kids be creative and read and learn about things you wouldn’t expect to learn about in the English classroom. Like politics, and philosophy… Lad says his teacher reckons learning English is pretty pointless if you’re locked away from the world, or from history, or from culture.
Sounded like a switched on teacher. One of those ones that you just can’t help think “Why the F….bloody hell have you become a teacher!” I’ll only ask it once though. Don’t want to jinx it eh?
Parents evening was coming up. Made sure I had an appointment with this man – wanted to thank him personally, and ask him what plans he’s got for the lad, and what I can do to support him and help him get to the big time and all that. Before all that… I just wanted to shake the man’s hand. I’d even heard he’s got massive hands that he uses as like… I dunno what they call it… a teaching part? No, teaching aid.. right? Lad says they’re that big you can’t take your eyes of them. He almost conducts his lessons.
Anyway we get there, I’ve made sure he’s first in for the evening. Reckon I’ll need a good smile to get through some of the other subjects. German. Lad can’t stand that palaver.
When we find his desk it’s empty. There’s just a note on it. “For all English appointments, see Mr Allenby and Ms Holmes. That’s it.
Put me in a foul mood that did. Pretty much scowled through the other meetings.
I’d calmed down a bit by the next day. Think I was just impatient to get planning my lad’s future, fulfill his potential and all that. Then i saw it in the news.
I couldn’t think of anything–… I just. Well, what do you do?
I made ‘lad write a poem or something for his Mrs. Gave it to someone at the school; said she’d make sure she got it.
I felt terrible.
Planning my lad’s future through this man I don’t even know… and…and…