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 normal—casting 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.

MAN: Hi.

WOMAN: Hello.

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?

WOMAN: Fine.

MAN: Did you sell a lot of books?

WOMAN: Some.

MAN: Did you write anything today?


There’s a flatness and cycnicism to all her answers and she is silent otherwise. He wants to say something lighthearted. He’d like to make the tension in the air disappear so he can relax.

MAN: Later on I’m going to play a song or two with the guys down at the studio.

WOMAN: Fine.

MAN: (Pause) So—are 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. We’ve got a hell of a problem, here, so you’d better look me in the face and deal with it: I’m going to have a baby!!

MAN: (This is what he was afraid of. He holds up a tired hand) Christ, don’t start this now . . .

WOMAN: Don’t start this now? Then when am I supposed to start it? In half an hour? One week from now? It’s been one week already since I said I’m carrying this baby, and still you haven’t had the balls to talk it through. I can’t 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 can’t 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 won’t 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 now—not 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 down at the store. They’re women—and they’re writers! Writers always have something wise to say!

WOMAN: That’s more than I can say for you. You can’t make this problem disappear with sarcasm. Talk to me!

MAN: Can you try to understand what I’m telling you? I cannot deal with this right now.

WOMAN: When can you deal with it?

MAN: Sometime when it’s not a weekday night and I’m not tired and hungry, when I’m not aching to play music for the first time in weeks, and when I didn’t 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 can’t think about it now!

WOMAN: Will you ever deal with this? Or will you float along in your selfish world for nine months saying "I’m 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 don’t 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 moments—and I don’t care. The point is, I can’t fight the world all day, then come home and fight you, too. I just can’t do it.

WOMAN: I’m not asking you to fight, just to talk! Now listen to me . . .


(Aria-type thing, tired and intense) Today, like every other day, I laid gray cable in the ground. I’ve laid miles and miles of gray cable, and I’ll 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 me—every note, every whiff of inspiration, every breath of genius—lost, as though I never felt it. My hands have handled so much cable they’ve forgotten how to finger a guitar. I’ve forgotten what I know and who I am. I spend ten degrading hours a day doing a job a child could do and getting shit upon by small men who don’t know half of what I do—who don’t have half of what I have to give. Their souls are tiny and blind; they don’t know a word of the language of art. They push me here and there like a slave. They take a dozen pieces out of me—And when I walk in this door at night, tired as hell, I need to get what’s 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 I’m nothing but a problem in your life.

MAN: What?

WOMAN: I take pieces out of you? I rob you of your soul or something? Poor helpless you!

MAN: (Tired, upset) That’s 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: You’ve taken this the wrong way.

WOMAN: You’re the first person I reach out to when I hurt. It’s odd to find that mine is the last face you want to see when things are hard for you.

MAN: Hanna.

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. It’s good for us to live together. (Feebly) It’s—nice.

WOMAN: What’s nice about this?

MAN: (At a loss for words) God, I don’t know. We’ve got things kind of—nice. We’ve 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) We’re 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. We’re soulmates at the deepest level!

MAN: We understand each other’s goals.

WOMAN: Do we?

MAN: We’re 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 don’t know.

WOMAN: (Earnestly) At this moment, it appears that you have nothing to say. We’re twenty-four, we hate our jobs, we can’t even get our bottles out to the recycling bin on time, and now I’m pregnant—and you won’t deal with it. What’s nice about this?

MAN: (Rubbing his temples tiredly) It’s not nice when it’s so fucking hard. God, this used to be easier. I want to be together, I just want it to be—easy.

WOMAN: Well, It’s too late for that.

MAN: (Startled; it sounds as if she meant she’s going to have the baby.) Why?

WOMAN: You tell me.

MAN: (An aside to himself--facing the audience--in deep frustration) She doesn’t understand a word I’ve said.

They’ve 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 you’re tired. Your day was hard, your body aches.But there’s a baby growing here inside me, and you can’t make it go away because it doesn’t fit into your evening. There’s a baby growing every day inside me, and I need you to care. A baby, Dave—another life! Hell, I can’t write a poem anyone will buy, but I managed to get a life started in me. If you won’t talk about this life you helped create, then how will you talk to me about the life we’re both living? I didn’t plan to be twenty-four and a failure, hawking other’s people’s words for a living and trying to sell my words to people who don’t 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 I’m 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 won’t mind. It’s 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 doesn’t make a difference to me.

WOMAN: What are you saying?

MAN: I’m trying to help you make up your mind.

WOMAN: My mind? It’s not about my mind.

MAN: (Impatient) Then it’s about this stupid baby—

WOMAN: It’s not about the baby—To keep or not to keep—I’m telling you, I need you to listen to me!

MAN: I’ve listened, and I’ve tried to help!

WOMAN: You’ve tried to help!

MAN: You wanted to talk—well, I’m talking. I’m too tired to think straight, but you need an answer now. And I’m giving you an answer.

WOMAN: (Getting angrier) You don’t understand. I need for you to act like I’m not an imposition on your time, lIke it’s not asking so damn much to discuss the little fact that our future is fucked up.

MAN: Our future?

WOMAN: Ours—you 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 I’m playing music with the guys in half an hour, I won’t be thinking of the music or the guys, or the beers we’re drinking after, I’ll be thinking of your belly and the baby that’s inside it that you HAD to talk about right now, I’ll be thinking of my failings, how I don’t fulfill your fucking needs!!—Oh, I’ll have a great time!!

WOMAN: I’m sorry I’ve ruined your evening! But my LIFE is ruined, you selfish bastard!

MAN: To hell with it. Go ahead and have this baby! You’ll 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.

Copyrighted by Michael Cooke, 2000.