NOTE: This is a scene from an opera I have been working on. I wrote the story but the follow text was co-authored with Susanna Dyer.
Couple Fightin Scene
The scene: The main living area of a small apartment. The decor is sparse: a couple of chairs, a table, a floor lamp. The front door of the apartment is to the left. It is a weekday evening. As we hear the opening music, there is a young woman in the apartment. She is standing at the right of the stage with arms folded, slightly facing the audience and back to the front door, gazing intensely and thoughtfully out a window offstage. She has the appearance of calmness, but with tension seething inside and ready to come to the surface at any time. A young man opens the door and enters. She turns around to look at him slowly. She is silent. As he takes off his jacket, sets his keys on the table, holds his fingers to his temples, his movements are full of tiredness. He looks a little sheepish or nervous and is trying to act normalcasting about for something to say (he is aware that his apartment that evening is likely to be like a mine field and he is hoping to say whatever will avoid stepping on a mine.) Perhaps she remains in one place glaring at him and waiting for words and he paces from one side to another. Or perhaps they circle each other in the strained silence, doing meaningless business like her straightening up two books on the table, him running his fingers through his hair.
Finally, he speaks.
With that hurdle cleared, the music resumes and he searches for more words in the still-tense environment.
MAN: Did you have a good day?
WOMAN: It was fine.
MAN: How was work?
MAN: Did you sell a lot of books?
MAN: Did you write anything today?
Theres a flatness and cycnicism to all her answers and she is silent otherwise. He wants to say something lighthearted. Hed like to make the tension in the air disappear so he can relax.
MAN: Later on Im going to play a song or two with the guys down at the studio.
MAN: (Pause) Soare you hungry?
WOMAN: Not really.
MAN: Did you eat dinner?
MAN: Do you want dinner?
WOMAN: Dinner? Do I want dinner?
(Explodes unexpectedly) Goddamn it, who gives a shit about dinner? What I want is your attention.
MAN: My attention?
WOMAN: Your attention.
MAN: What do you mean?
WOMAN: You know damn well. Weve got a hell of a problem, here, so youd better look me in the face and deal with it: Im going to have a baby!!
MAN: (This is what he was afraid of. He holds up a tired hand) Christ, dont start this now . . .
WOMAN: Dont start this now? Then when am I supposed to start it? In half an hour? One week from now? Its been one week already since I said Im carrying this baby, and still you havent had the balls to talk it through. I cant just sit around and guess the perfect time for you. We start this now.
MAN: Please leave me alone.
WOMAN: We start this now!
MAN: Hanna, I cant help you solve this problem now. I just got home, I need a beer, I need to rest.
WOMAN: You need to rest! I need to talk!
MAN: Then talk to someone else.
WOMAN: (Angry) And who am I supposed to talk to?
MAN: (Intense) Someone else. Someone who wont mind to have their asses jumped on out of nowhere as soon as they walk in the door.
WOMAN: Well, forgive me if my screwed-up life is on my mind right nownot all of us can concentrate on beer and music and how fucking tired we are, to the exclusion of all else.
MAN: Then talk to your friends
downat the store. Theyre womenand theyre writers! Writers always have something wise to say!
WOMAN: Thats more than I can say for you. You cant make this problem disappear with sarcasm. Talk to me!
MAN: Can you try to understand what Im telling you? I cannot deal with this right now.
WOMAN: When can you deal with it?
MAN: Sometime when its not a weekday night and Im not tired and hungry, when Im not aching to play music for the first time in weeks, and when I didnt just get home from being yelled at by the saddest-ass bunch of arrogant idiots in the fucking world.
WOMAN: That sounds like the perfect moment. But when will that be?
MAN: (Frustrated) God, how do I know? I cant think about it now!
WOMAN: Will you ever deal with this? Or will you float along in your selfish world for nine months saying "Im tired" and "Leave me alone" until I fucking have this baby or walk out the door?
MAN: (Frustrated, speaking slowly to make her understand) I am exhausted.
WOMAN: Me too!
MAN: (More frustrated) Do you know how my day went? Do you know how it fucking went?
WOMAN: And what about my day?
MAN: Right now I dont care about your day. Your day is not the point. Your day could have been wall-to-wall orgasmic bliss or one long hellish series of premenstrual momentsand I dont care. The point is, I cant fight the world all day, then come home and fight you, too. I just cant do it.
WOMAN: Im not asking you to fight, just to talk! Now listen to me . . .
MAN: (Shouts) YOU LISTEN!
(Aria-type thing, tired and intense) Today, like every other day, I laid gray cable in the ground. Ive laid miles and miles of gray cable, and Ill probably lay a hundred thousand more. That goddamn cable rings my waking hours like a noose and runs through my dreams like a long gray death. In my most lurid visions of my future, that cable rolls on and on endlessly. unreeled by the ignorant, whining assholes who order me around. The cable chokes the music out of meevery note, every whiff of inspiration, every breath of geniuslost, as though I never felt it. My hands have handled so much cable theyve forgotten how to finger a guitar. Ive forgotten what I know and who I am. I spend ten
degradinghours a day doing a job a child could do and getting shit upon by small men who dont know half of what I dowho dont have half of what I have to give. Their souls are tiny and blind; they dont know a word of the language of art. They push me here and there like a slave. They take a dozen pieces out of meAnd when I walk in this door at night, tired as hell, I need to get whats left of me together. I need a moment of time and space, an hour of music at the studio, to be left alone, to give me back to me. Now all you can do is take a piece of me as well.
WOMAN: (Hurt) So Im nothing but a problem in your life.
WOMAN: I take pieces out of you? I rob you of your soul or something? Poor helpless you!
MAN: (Tired, upset) Thats not what I said. I am telling you how I feel at a specific moment of time . . .
WOMAN: And all this time I thought we supported one another. I thought my love was maybe helping you through life a little.
MAN: Youve taken this the wrong way.
WOMAN: Youre the first person I reach out to when I hurt. Its odd to find that mine is the last face you want to see when things are hard for you.
WOMAN: If I only eat away at you like the rest of the world, then why do you come back here every night? What are you doing with me?
MAN: (Wearily) I LIKE being with you. Its good for us to live together. (Feebly) Itsnice.
WOMAN: Whats nice about this?
MAN: (At a loss for words) God, I dont know. Weve got things kind ofnice. Weve got life just the way we want for now. We work, we go out, I play, you write.
WOMAN: You bitch at me, I bitch at you.
MAN: (Making the effort) Were similar in lots of ways. We want the same things from life.
WOMAN: Yeah, we both like to get shit-faced on weekends and tell the world to go to hell. Were soulmates at the deepest level!
MAN: We understand each others goals.
WOMAN: Do we?
MAN: Were both creators; we both have something to say! (Frustrated) We make good coffee on Sunday mornings. We write shitty poetry on nightclub walls. God, I dont know.
WOMAN: (Earnestly) At this moment, it appears that you have nothing to say. Were twenty-four, we hate our jobs, we cant even get our bottles out to the recycling bin on time, and now Im pregnantand you wont deal with it. Whats nice about this?
MAN: (Rubbing his temples tiredly) Its not nice when its so fucking hard. God, this used to be easier. I want to be together, I just want it to beeasy.
WOMAN: Well, Its too late for that.
MAN: (Startled; it sounds as if she meant shes going to have the baby.) Why?
WOMAN: You tell me.
MAN: (An aside to himself--facing the audience--in deep frustration) She doesnt understand a word Ive said.
Theyve reached a quiet point in the argument, and his silence tones her down a little. She tries to explain her needs to him.
WOMAN: (Aria thingie) I know youre tired. Your day was hard, your body aches.But theres a baby growing here inside me, and you cant make it go away because it doesnt fit into your evening. Theres a baby growing every day inside me, and I need you to care. A baby, Daveanother life! Hell, I cant write a poem anyone will buy, but I managed to get a life started in me. If you wont talk about this life you helped create, then how will you talk to me about the life were both living? I didnt plan to be twenty-four and a failure, hawking others peoples words for a living and trying to sell my words to people who dont want them. But at least I thought I had a partner--another artist trying to find his voice. Now, when it matters most, I feel Im living with a stranger.
They are both silent for a time.
MAN: (Trying to say something helpful but copping out because he resents that he must deal with this right now) Just do what you want. I wont mind. Its your decision, you do what seems right to you.
WOMAN: (Dumbfounded because her emotional plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears) What do you mean?
MAN: You know, to keep the baby or not to have it. It doesnt make a difference to me.
WOMAN: What are you saying?
MAN: Im trying to help you make up your mind.
WOMAN: My mind? Its not about my mind.
MAN: (Impatient) Then its about this stupid baby
WOMAN: Its not about the babyTo keep or not to keepIm telling you, I need you to listen to me!
MAN: Ive listened, and Ive tried to help!
WOMAN: Youve tried to help!
MAN: You wanted to talkwell, Im talking. Im too tired to think straight, but you need an answer now. And Im giving you an answer.
WOMAN: (Getting angrier) You dont understand. I need for you to act like Im not an imposition on your time, lIke its not asking so damn much to discuss the little fact that our future is fucked up.
MAN: Our future?
WOMAN: Oursyou and me. Or do you think I made this baby on my own?
MAN: (Pretty much pissed off) Yes, I think you made it on your own to ruin my goddamn evening and fill my head with shit. So when Im playing music with the guys in half an hour, I wont be thinking of the music or the guys, or the beers were drinking after, Ill be thinking of your belly and the baby thats inside it that you HAD to talk about right now, Ill be thinking of my failings, how I dont fulfill your fucking needs!!
Oh, Ill have a great time!!
WOMAN: Im sorry Ive ruined your evening! But my LIFE is ruined, you selfish bastard!
MAN: To hell with it. Go ahead and have this baby! Youll be a FINE mother!
WOMAN: Fuck you!
MAN: Go to hell!
He turns and leaves......
WOMAN: Fuck you!
.... and slams the door.
End of scene.
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Copyrighted by Michael Cooke, 2000.