Play #50: NAPKINS (an extrapolation from Guillaume Apollinaire’s story, “The Poets’ Napkin” in Heresiarch and Co., 1910).

The play is set in the studio of painter Nat Picker, a studio he shares with a lissome but lazy jewelry designer, whose name is Erin Hoarse.

Every Friday evening, Nat and Erin provide dinner for two of their poet friends: Noel Fitchfinger and Clark Cooler.  Because nobody has any money, they cut corners, preferring felicity to sumptuousness.  To that end, there care only two napkins on the table: one shared by Nat and Erin, and the other shared by Noel and Clark.

NAT (motioning the two poets to the table):  Please—let’s begin.

ERIN (passing around a huge streaming bowl): Have some goulash, gentlemen!

NAT (paternally):  And don’t forget to make use of your communal napkin, boys.  Erin and I do!

[everybody dabs straightaway at his—or her—lips]

NOEL AND CLARK TOGETHER:  It’s delicious, Erin!

NAT(pointedly):  I was the one who made it.

NOEL (uneasy):  Ah.  Well, it’s still delicious!

CLARK (hearty):  Sure is!

NAT (wiping his mouth and then handing the soiled napkin to Erin):  Wipe your mouth, Erin.

[she does so]

A week passes and the same meal recurs, served to the same two people, Noel and Clark

NAT (to his guests):  Napkins at the ready, gentlemen? 

ERIN:  We may be poor, but we’re neat!

NAT:  Immaculate, I think!
Month after month of Friday nights go by.  Then years.  By now the four of them have consumed enough goulash to fill nine bathtubs of the stuff.  The two napkins, having been dabbled all this time at their gravy’d mouths, have grown stiff and crusty.  Eventually, there comes one final Friday—as final Fridays must come—when, in the midst of the goulash, both Noel and Clark keel over and die. 

NAT (quietly to Erin):  Take their napkin and wipe their lips, my dear.

ERIN (hopelessly):  I can’t, Rubel.  The napkin is too heavy and hard.  I can’t lift it from the table.

NAT:  Here, let me try.

He can’t lift it either.

ERIN (sadly): You knew this day would come

NAT:  But I had hoped it wouldn’t come so soon.

ERIN:  Do you think we ought to have laundered the napkins?

NAT:  No, no.  The gradual encrustation of the napkins has been like erosion in reverse.  It’s the matrix of time, embodying itself in the linen.  You can’t interfere with that sort of thing, you know.

ERIN: Do you think we ought to start again—with new dinner guests?

NAT:  As long as we use the same napkins.  Remember, Erin, these creaking, fossilized napkins are an axis, the sole still point of a wobbly, teetering world!


Short Play # 49: Twentieth Century Silks

The play is set in the backyard of a humble frame house in Kingston, Ontario.  It is high summer, 1953.  A young, aspiring magician—he is thirteen years old—has set up a card table, laden with the equipment necessary for perpetrating feats of higher presdigitation.  A lot of this equipment—cardboard tubes and several suspicious-looking boxes and sheets of newspaper—he has prepared himself.  In lieu of a shiny top hat, he has purloined his father’s fedora.  He is most proud, though, of three large squares of silk, purchased recently—with his accumulated allowances—at a local dry-goods store.  The three squares—magicians call them “silks,” he remembers proudly—are red and blue.  Two red and one blue. 
Five or six other children, younger than the Magician, sit in a semicircle on the grass in front of the card table, waiting to be transfixed and transformed.

The performance begins with a couple of good easy tricks—The Buddha Coin Vanish, The Flying Penny and The Bewitched Slave Bangle.  His audience is gratifyingly responsive.

MAGICIAN:  Next, for your afternoon enjoyment, I have prepared for you a truly amazing spectacle—a justly famous handkerchief effect called The Twentieth Century Silks!

KIDS (murmuring expectantly and excitedly):  Yay!

MAGICIAN:  First, I take these two red handkerchiefs and knot them together—like so [he ties them together and holds them up for inspection].  And now I drop them into my magician’s hat.

OUTLAW KID:  Ah that’s just your father’s hat

MAGICIAN (smoothly):  Not today.  Now I offer for your approval, THIS blue handkerchief [he holds it delicately and rather self-consciously in his left hand].  Which I will now cause to vanish!  [the blue handkerchief duly disappears before their very eyes, thanks to the Magician’s having previously, and laboriously, constructed a “pull”—lucidly explained on p.16 of Joseph Leeming’s new book, Fun With Magic (a “pull” is a spring-loaded tube fastened to the magician’s belt and concealed under his jacket, capable of suddenly whisking away any handkerchief the performer is holding)]  The Magician has borrowed—and then endlessly renewed—this intoxicating book, this book of dreams, from the Children’s collection on the second floor of the Kingston Public Library].

KIDS:  Wow!

MAGICIAN:  I will now reach into the magic hat and….what do I find??

KIDS (beside themselves):  What?  What?

MAGICIAN (smoothly): I find this!
[he pulls from the hat all three handkerchiefs, now knotted together, the recently vanished blue square tied securely between the two red ones!

KIDS (dumbfounded):  Wow!!

MAGICIAN (proudly and poignantly):  And this astonishing spectacle now concludes this afternoon’s performance!

[Kids applaud wildly.  Then they quickly begin to drift away]

MAGICIAN (who rather expected more sustained adulation): What are you guys doing now?

OUTLAW KID (returning to the Magician):  We’re all going over behind the A and P store. [lowering his voice to a whisper]  Alice Stafford told us she’s going to take down her underpants and let us all look.  Do you want to come?

MAGICIAN (swallowing hard):  Sure, I guess so.

MAGICIAN’S MOTHER (calling out from the back porch):  Is your magic show finished, dear?  I want you to go the store for me.