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!