STORY OF THE WEEK

Elegy of Lightning

Massimo Monfiletto

A boom of thunder.  Russel appears.  He’s a perfect storm of pride, ego, genius, and insensibility, and he smells terribly.  He is carrying a pad, a small tin of paints, and a wooden stool.  He stalks up to the flagpole and leans his supplies up against it.  He places his stood defiantly in the dirt, and puts his foot on it. 

RUSSEL:

Calling into the house

Molly!!!

No answer

Molly! Come out! Where are you? I’ve missed you!

MOLLY!!! I forgive you!  Everyone has weaknesses, and you’re not beyond slip-ups!  I know you didn’t mean it.  You’re just… fragile.  Breakable.  Come out and I’ll cradle you against my chest and shield you from the rain!

Still no response

Molly, I finished the portrait of you.  It’s a masterwork, my best yet.  It’s the night you found out Bowie died and you cried and cried and cried.  You’re so pretty when you’re sad.  So Beautiful and sweet and melancholy, like a kiss in the rain. 

You’re dealing with a lot, I know.  Let me come in and paint you again, like I did last night.  Let me take on your sorrow and turn it into something beautiful.  I’ll consume your pain and turn it into the most intense kind of catharsis, spindly and delicate.  Let me paint your sadness in bruise tones.  I’ll make you beautiful.  Come out. 

Pause.  No response

C’mon, stop being a bitch, it’s freaking dusty out here!

Jeremiah crawls out from under the front steps, coated in ashes and dust.  He’s rubbing his eyes, bleary from sleep. 

JEREMIAH:

Whaaaa?

RUSSEL:

Jumping

Whaaaa! Where did you come from?

JEREMIAH:

I don’t know.  It was dark and damp down there, like the inside of an intestine.  Is there a maze under this house?

RUSSEL:

What were you doing down there?”

JEREMIAH:

Dazed

I was sleeping, I don’t think I dreamed.  But I remember feeling itchy all over.  Water.  I need water. 

Glances back toward the house

Molly!  Where’s Molly?

RUSSEL:

Molly!  Do you know where she is?

JEREMIAH:

Last I saw she was burning her house down. 

RUSSEL:

What?  How’s she doing that?

JEREMIAH:

I don’t know.  I don’t know.  But I need to stop her. 

He rushes up the steps

RUSSEL:

Wait! (Jeremiah pauses) What’s your name?

JEREMIAH:

Jeremiah.

RUSSEL:

Oh.

JEREMIAH:

What?

RUSSEL:

Remembering

Oooooh.

He leaps up the steps and grabs Jeremiah around the throat.

JEREMIAH:

What the fuck are you doing?

Russel drags him down the steps and sets him on his feet in the dirt.  He and Jeremiah begin to circle, like Russian duelists

RUSSEL:

I’ll give your thirty seconds to tell me why I shouldn’t rip you apart with my bare hands. 

JEREMIAH:

Wait, what?

RUSSEL:

Thirty seconds.  Go. 

JEREMIAH:

Hold on!  First, tell me why you want to kill me in the first place!

RUSSEL:

For tainting my muse! For eating up her precious sadness!

JEREMIAH:

I’m sorry, What?  Her what?

RUSSEL:

You!  You you you!  You were there the night her parents died and I wasn’t!  I could have captured all of the beautiful numb shock!  I could have captured her pain in a panel of grays!

JEREMIAH:

That’s fucked man.  You sound psychotic. 

RUSSEL:

I’m an artist!  I have license!

JEREMIAH:

I’ve heard of you!  You’re the weirdo hippie who lives in the library attic in town!  You’re the one who tried to paint all the cement in town green. 

RUSSEL:

Green is soothing!  I was doing a public service, if anything. 

JEREMIAH:

Is this what you do?  You just show up where people are suffering and harvest their pain?

RUSSEL:

Careful now.  You don’t know a thing about Molly and I’s relationship.  She’s my muse.  She lets me see the most wretched vaults of her psyche, and I in turn, create art. 

JEREMIAH:

God, no wonder I haven’t seen you before now.  I met you three minutes ago and I already want to put my fist through your teeth

RUSSEL:

Yeah?  Well then, I’ve decided.  I’ll take your head off with my bare hands.  And then I’ll go study my muse again. 

JEREMIAH:

Stop calling her that! (They collide.  Neither are particularly good fighters.  After several minutes, they separate, panting heavily) Damn, man.  You’ve got pointy elbows. 

RUSSEL:

And you have thin, sharp fingernails.  Like a little girl. 

JEREMIAH:

Yeah?  I’ll stick them in your eyes. 

RUSSEL:

Go ahead, I dare you!

He’s very out of breath

In a few seconds. 

JEREMIAH:

Yeah, yeah, Truce for a few minutes. 

They both slowly let down their guards.  Russel takes stock of the house for the first time. 

RUSSEL:

What happened to this place?  It looks like it was looted. 

JEREMIAH:

It was.  Molly told people that her parents hid gold and diamonds in the floorboards, and a few guys tore them up looking. 

RUSSEL:

Why would she do that?

JEREMIAH:

She thought it would destabilize the foundations.  Didn’t even sway the house. 

RUSSEL:

She’s a destroyer.  A dark angel, beautiful and dangerous

JEREMIAH:

She’s scared.  She needs help. 

RUSSEL:

I need to be in that house.  It looks like a ruined castle. 

JEREMIAH:

It’s dangerous now, there’s shattered glass everywhere.  Half the living room is caved in and the kitchen is a tangled mess of warped metal. 

RUSSEL:

Hmmm.  That’s inspiring.  Doomsday chic.

JEREMIAH:

Are you even human?

RUSSEL:

That’s a very good question.

JEREMIAH:

Now you’re just trying to sound cryptic

RUSSEL:

I’m an artist.  My innermost thoughts and emotions are a mystery

JEREMIAH:

I thought art was making your emotions visible in the most ostentatious way possible. 

RUSSEL:

See, I resent that.  I think that real art resides in subtlety

JEREMIAH:

I see.  What was your last piece?

RUSSEL:

I erected a large statue of a horse mating with a dolphin in the middle of town.  It was called “Eighteen Dreams”.  It was symbolic, you see. 

JEREMIAH:

I do see.  I thought you were a painter. 

RUSSEL:

I work in every medium. 

JEREMIAH:

That’s impressive.  I made a papier mâché hot air balloon in elementary school.  I won a prize for it. 

RUSSEL:

Don’t patronize me.

JEREMIAH:

Whatever you say. 

Long silence.  They don’t like each other any more than they did. 

RUSSEL:

So what about you?

JEREMIAH:

What?

RUSSEL:

What makes you so special that she chose you to share this pain and not me?

JEREMIAH:

Wow, my knuckles are suddenly itchy. 

RUSSEL:

Why?

JEREMIAH:

I want to punch you in the face again.

RUSSEL:

One second.  I’m not ready yet.  I have more questions. 

JEREMIAH:

I don’t know that I want to answer. 

RUSSEL:

But seriously.  Look at you.  What could she possibly want from you that she can’t already get from me?  Love?  Comfort?

JEREMIAH:

Goodbye, whatever-your-name-is

RUSSEL:

Sex?

Jeremiah starts

That’s it isn’t it?  She needed a body to keep her warm.  You’re a glorified sex toy.  My name’s Russel by the way. 

JEREMIAH:

Nice to meet you.  I’m gonna beat the shit out of you. 

Jeremiah runs at Russel, with twice the vigor that he did in their previous fight.  Russel starts, surprised at this sudden violence.  The two are about to clash, when:

TRIXIE:

Coming out on the front steps

I hope you’re not intending to raise the body count even higher.  Two seems like plenty for a single day, right?

JEREMIAH:

Staggering to a stop

You!

TRIXIE:

Me.

JEREMIAH:

What did you do to me?

TRIXIE:

Descending

I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.  You drifted in my arms and I tucked you in nice tight.  You looked so peaceful I couldn’t bear to wake you. 

JEREMIAH:

Stuttering

You- I-

TRIXIE:

Enough.  I’m bored.  Introduce me to your friend. 

RUSSEL:

I don’t need an introduction.  My name’s Russel.  What’s yours?

TRIXIE:

Trixie.  I’ve heard of you.  You’re very controversial. 

RUSSEL:

Only to stupid people.  Where’s Molly?

TRIXIE:

I’ll tell you the same thing I told the narcoleptic.  No visitors.  She’s had enough to process at the moment.  So you can pack up your cute little finger-paints and pad and shuffle along. 

RUSSEL:

I don’t take orders. 

I’m not ordering.  Ordering implies that you have the option to disobey.  I’m decreeing.  Get out, both of you. 

RUSSEL:

I don’t obey decrees, and I don’t acknowledge your authority.  Get out of my way before I move you myself. 

TRIXIE:

Hot.  I like you.  You’re kind of emaciated, like a lion in famine.  I want to pick your bones clean and leave them for the vultures. 

RUSSEL:

What a beautifully fatalistic image.  You should be an artist. 

TRIXIE:

Shut up.  Both of you, out.

JEREMIAH:

No.  I’ll wait here all night if I have to.

RUSSEL:

I’ll wait exactly thirty seconds.  Then I’ll start screaming. 

JEREMIAH:

Now that I think of it, me too.

TRIXIE:

Fine.  Do what you will.  Wait like children, see if I care.  I’m going to make tea.  (She exits)

JEREMIAH:

Do we do it?

RUSSEL:

You can do what you want.  (Takes a comically large breath)

JEREMIAH:

Wait no!  Let’s do it together on three. 

RUSSEL:

Alright.  One… Two…

The two are gathering their breath

RUSSEL:

…three

Molly enters

JEREMIAH/RUSSEL:

MOLLY!!!

Their scream echoes through the yard like a battle horn

MOLLY:

…yes?

RUSSEL:

Rushing up toward her

Molly! Molly, Molly, Molly, Molly, Molly, Molly, Molly, Molly…

(Reaching her, he kisses her passionately, with a touch of melodrama.  Pulling back and staring at her:) Molly. 

MOLLY:

Who are you again?

RUSSEL:

So cruel.  I’ve always loved that about you.  Your words cut to the meat. 

MOLLY:

I told Trix to keep you away.  Figures you’re here, then.

RUSSEL:

How could you set guards against me?  You know I won’t be kept from you.

MOLLY:

Get off me.  You smell like roadkill. 

RUSSEL:

I haven’t bathed in tow days.  I’ve stayed up waiting for you.  I went insane!  I climbed onto the roof and screamed at the sky and dipped my hands in scalding water and tried to chew glass!  I finished my portrait of you. 

He heads down the steps and grabs up his painting.  Going to show it to her:

It’s from the night that Bowie-

MOLLY:

I heard. 

She looks

It doesn’t look a thing like me.

RUSSEL:

Of course not.  Not physically.  But look at it closer.  See the way your eyes crackle and burn like a driftwood fire, lit in greens and blues?  Your cheeks are perforated like soapstone, your chine chiseled from slate.  Your hair is thin and white as though spun from frog.  You look so delicate, so beautiful, so… tragic. 

MOLLY:

I look wet.  Like a poodle in the rain.  Anyway, I wasn’t crying because Bowie died.  I was crying because you had painted a nude picture of my seventh grade English teacher, who you had seduced the night before. 

RUSSEL:

Details, details.  The important thing is, you’ve never looked more ravishing. 

Taking stock of her now

Except right now, stay where you are.  The light is perfect.  Can you lean on the railing a little with your hand just so?  And tilt your head to the left a smidge.  Can you be smoking a cigarette?  Does anyone have a cigarette?

MOLLY:

Stop.  You won’t paint me tonight.

RUSSEL:

But.  This!  This is the most fabulously morbid sight I’ve ever seen!  You have to let me capture it.  It will be my masterpiece. 

MOLLY:

Indicating his painting

I thought this was your masterpiece

RUSSEL:

A great artist can have many masterpieces. 

JEREMIAH:

I knew it.  This guy is sick.  I’ll get rid of him, Molly. 

MOLLY:

No, let him stay.  It’s just as well.  I’ve been feeling righteous. 

RUSSEL:

And what does that mean?

MOLLY:

Jeremiah, go inside and get tea from Trixie.  I need a word with this man. 

JEREMIAH:

Are you sure?

MOLLY:

Do it.  And don’t question me. 

Jeremiah goes inside

Turn around. 

RUSSEL:

I don’t want to stop looking at you.

MOLLY:

Tough.  You can’t look at me until I’m done talking.  Turn around. 

Russel does

And close your eyes

He does.  She starts to circle.

Now.  Let’s take stock, shall we?

You.  You are twenty-four and a fuck-up

He tries to argue

            Don’t talk.  Yes, yes, you are.  A fuck-up.  You live in an attic like a mentally diseased Victorian madwoman, you steal your meals from the local 7-11 and spend all of your measly paychecks at a third-rate art supplies shop, you craft these massive hunks of shit and call them art and plop them in the middle of the town to mild reactions unless you count major traffic jams caused by drivers veering off the road at the ghastly sight of them, you reek exclusively of pot and Mac’n’Cheese and bathe only when you’re caught out in the summer rain, you talk like the hero of poorly-written romance novels, and you look presently like you’ve been thrown in a burlap sack with an open bottle of soy sauce and a fresh bag of dog shit and dragged from Kentucky to here over a road made of bicycle parts.  Oh, and your hair looks like you used it to sop up bacon grease at Denny’s.  Has there ever been a human being less satisfactory than?

            And you love it.  You revel in it.  You’re so glamorously unkempt, you make Che Guevara look clean-cut.  You’re so precise in your shabbiness, in your transiency, in your fucking fucking fucking loserness, and the boys and girls in town lap it up like honeyed milk from a saucer.  You don’t even have to pursue them, they just show up at your door one sweltering August night when the stars are sharpening focus, just like I did, and you give them a little bit of rebellion to take home and put under their pillows at night or tack onto their ceilings to be comforted by it’s glow.  And you promise things, sweet things that make them wet with sex and novelty and they’re enamored with your simulation of love, like I was.  But really, they’re just flint that you strike your knife against, hoping to shoot sparks up inside that powder keg of a brain locked behind layers of concrete-thick skull.  They’re so disposable you forget them the second their foot catches the threshold. 

            So when you named me your muse, I was flattered, gobsmacked.  I thought I was watching something ancient and immovable fall away, the centuries-long marriage between the artist and himself.  I was the woman who tamed the beast, and you were my hapless prey

            But you aren’t interested in anything about me that isn’t beautiful.  Or, in actuality, you think that any and all of my imperfections can be made beautiful through hard work and your keen eye.  You said in the beginning of our relationship that you weren’t interested in reality.  You wanted to recreate the world as your very own, your own universe, the personal playground of Russel.  So you took my essence, ran it through the wringer a few times, and hung me out to dry for the world to see, sans the oily drippings and the unpleasant stains,  You kept the parts of me that made you quiver with excitement and chipped away at those that contradicted your heavenly view of me, and painted me with your eyes pointed toward the sun, now toward my face.  You’re a liar and a fraud, but you’re so beautiful when you do it.  That picture isn’t of me.  It’s not my failures (at least not the un-tragic ones) and especially not of my anger.  Sure, it has pain galore.  Every time you paint me it looks like a slash in the canvas, like an open, gaping wound.  I am the very portrait of artistic dichotomy, artistic carnage. 

Pause.  The wind starts to whistle

            My parents died yesterday.  Both of them.  Their bodies are freshly anointed, and then you’re lying in the position they know best: side by side, cold, not touching.  Their caskets are currently serving as a kitchen table in what’s left of the house that I almost destroyed that night in a frenzy of confusion, pain, and pure resentment. 

Now tell me.  Does that sound pretty to you?

Do you want to paint that?  Can you see the colors in that?  Does that make your mind swim with inspiration?  Do your fingertips tingle with anticipation?

            Paint me with the sight of my parent’s bodies strung up on the twisted metal wreck of two cars scrapped together in a fiery explosion, like sinners crucified.  Paint me with the blood of my father misted across my face, tiny droplets soaking into my pores as though climbing to safety.  Paint me with the twisted spine of my mother bent around the rearview mirror, with the cold hard stares glowering stonily down at me from their unseeing eyes, paint me with their last strangled breath leaving their bodies.  Paint me bright red with violent death.  Do you want to see their bodies?  Morticians do wonders with embalming, they hardly look touched.  From the waist up.  I can life back the lid and you can stare into the yes of a dead man and get your death inspiration and paint the most glamorously morbid portrait ever.  Does that appeal to you, artist?  Do you want me to help you capture the breadth of the human experience? 

Look at me. 

Now he doesn’t want to.

LOOK AT ME!

Russel looks at her

            I’m alive!  I’m alive and it’s killing me!  I want to rend my flesh from my skeleton and lie in the sun until my bones are bleached dry!  I want to drink the sea until I burst at the seams with water and my gut explodes!  I want to crack my head open and let the contents spill onto the soil and fertilize it so that something grows on this godforsaken land for once!  I.  Can’t.  Think. 

Jeremiah and Trixie run out and see Russel, who is cowering at Molly’s feet. 

            You make me sick.  You’re here to remake my sadness into your own.  You’re going to turn my grief into vessel for your own talent.  People will look at your masterpiece and marvel at your pure compassion, at your ability to comprehend the scope of my tragedy.  Well, I won’t let you.  I won’t let you!

She flies at him, nails bared.  Trixie and Jeremiah rush to stop her.  Just as they reach her, the whistling sound stops and an enormous boom of THUNDER echoes through the stage.  They all stagger to a halt and start up at the sky, paralyzed with awe. 

Blackout