October 30, 2019KR OnlineDrama

On the Street Where We Live

Six Women/Mothers
TORY, female, forty-something, suburban, wealthy-looking in a Lululemon sweatsuit ensemble looks like she just got done with hot yoga. She became a mother a month before graduating from college. She had wanted to be a journalist and sends letters to the local paper. At dinner parties she is quiet because her husband always feels she is interrupting him. She had planned to make a break after her son finished college, but that never happens.
ALICE, female, thirty-five–forty-five, suburban, wealthy-looking, wearing Lilly Pulitzer, old enough to be celebrating her twenty-year anniversary and have teenagers still in the house. She’s been on antidepressants since 2001. Her basement is filled with Christmas decorations. She drives to another town daily and sits at a café smoking.
GINA, female, harried, thirty-something mother, suburban, looks like she is barely keeping it together. Her best friend and next-door neighbor has just committed suicide, though she cannot say this aloud.
CARRIE, female, late twenties–mid-thirties; she wanted to be a ballerina.
SARAH, female, thirty-something, dressed in long skirts and flowing tops, suburban/bohemian, old enough to have teenagers. The mother who looks like she is using everything in her arsenal—meditation, chanting, pot—to stay calm, but she cannot conquer her rage about all the lost years. She met her husband at a batting cage.
EVE, female, mid-thirties, suburban, ten years into child-rearing. Her husband drinks too much and can be abusive, but she has not come to terms with it. She is still a somewhat innocent person, who is bewildered by what is happening on the street where she lives. She dresses up for dinner.

One Male Actor Plays Multiple Characters
ED, Father, forties-fifties, business suit, very dapper, briefcase, goes running constantly.
MICHAEL, seventeen, son of TORY and RONALD. Voice only.
EVE’s WANDERING DRUNKEN HUSBAND: Father, thirty-something, business suit, wears his tie like a bandage wrapped around his head.
RONALD, TORY’s husband; MICHAEL’s father

Projection of a street with small houses, taken in early morning light without people.
The faint sound of Corinthian wind chimes can be heard throughout.
The women move forward in unison, moving a dish towel in a circular motion over a dish.

The women disappeared one by one,
slid through mail slots, lozenges
on their lovers’ tongues, so slight
the sunlight shone right through them,

children tried to catch them as they
floated up over the playgrounds toward
the city where they landed in nightclubs.

In the dark, with their skinny jeans and
extensions they might have been twenty again,

out with boys who don’t yet want to be anyone’s
father, who won’t surf porn sites or trade up.

The days are for counting cups and crunches;
everything is perfect, except for the hunger,

so insistent that filling the hummingbird feeder
is too tempting. The kids scream like passing
ambulances, the only thought: how long until bed,
where no one eats.

(Runs naked across the stage with a cleaver.)

When he was in the grip of it, he’d yell.

You are such a fucking bitch, Mom!

No kid should talk to his mother that way. I thought I was doing the right thing. It was better than reacting; it was better than yelling, “Shut up, you little prick.” So I said nothing. I kept the door locked. I closed the curtains.

Sometimes, the pounding went on for hours. “Do you know how this makes me feel?” Bang. Bang. Bang. And then the crying.

I ignored it all.

What should I have done?

They look like cupcakes on a plate, but they are not.

The kindergarten parents clap
the loudest, descend from vines,
passion flowers in their hair.
But one day the bloom pinched,
the seats grow hard, the sun
glares. Who cares who walks
the stage? The principal sounds
like Mrs. Donovan, wa-wa.
They give children trophies
for breathing in and out.
Clap and clap and clap and clap
The years pass like cafeteria trays.

MAN (Wandering drunk. Blubbering.)

Sidewalks replete
with roving red-eyes,
swindlers who swarm
our daughters, slip
into their ear buds,
caress their baby faces,
lull them into dreams of
the perfect Still-life in Bloom.

Five years after college,
I was strapped into a swing
alongside a squalling baby.
Women in houses all around
lined up like dummies on shelves.
We had eyes that blinked open
on command. We had our small
thatches of grass, brightly colored
rakes. Businessmen descended
at dusk. Even the scarecrows
couldn’t keep them out.
Despite our vigilance, our locks,
our neighborhood watches,
our nontoxic cleaning products,
my neighbor’s hair fell out in tufts.
My other neighbor’s wind-up key
was embedded above her clavicle.
She clacked around on her track
sweeping and mopping,
making donuts from scratch.
When her husband twisted it . . . well . . .
On weekdays her children
trundled out in ascending order,
a tiny army braving the tundra.
Eventually, her key gave out.
The replacement mommy came
in the mail just in time for Halloween.
I mentioned college at the beginning,
but I apologize, I can’t seem
to hold that thought.

and with it comes the ringing in the ears,
and with it comes the wondering, the wondering,
and with it comes the numerals ascending,
and with it comes the night of repenting, not relenting,
and with it comes the rambling, the mind’s unquiet scrambling,
and with it comes the sweat-house, the yoga poses, the chakra cleansing,
and with it comes the doctor with his stethoscope, his blanched almond face,
a clipboard and a small pen (that never makes a mark).

and then he leaves—
followed by the world and everyone in it,
the grass, our abs, what we’d like for dinner,
the whole charade.

Tell me when it starts to hurt.

After the funeral, I had a dream. You were sitting in a field of buttercups. You said, “Tell them I’m happy now.” I thought you were happy, neighbor. Your skin was better than mine. You were younger. You earned real money. You lived in a gingerbread house. At 5:00 p.m., every Thursday we drank multicolored margaritas and laughed. There were babies involved, but we tried not to let them get to us. Who has not had to beat their demon back with a large broom? I thought you had a handle on him. Still, when the phone rang, I knew what had happened before the words reached me. Why was that? And the yellow flowers? They weren’t buttercups after all.

You are such a fucking bitch, Mom!

You in your cat housecoat, your pumpkin housecoat, your Santa Claus housecoat standing sentry on your stoop across the street. No matter how you fixed your gaze, people never paused in passing. Only the postman. He’d seen the Virgin, and he could see you, too. Every day, he dropped devotionals through your chute. Your lumpy husband flicked through football face-offs. Then one day you weren’t there anymore. It took the postman weeks to figure it out. Cancer. You never mentioned it.

I had a cleaning lady who was a real mess. She had the odd notion that she should vacuum and mop first and then dust everything afterward so that the dust and sediment collected on the wet floor. She was skinny and poor, and her blond hair was lank and hung like wet angel-hair pasta from her head. She didn’t work for me long—I fired her when she insisted on taking the laundry out of the dryer and folding it soaking wet. Her theory was that if it was wet, it wouldn’t wrinkle. She was divorced. Her five kids were nowhere to be found. I was deep into my babies and having a nervous breakdown every five seconds, and one day she said, “You know, if I had it to do over again, I think I’d have skipped the kids.” After she said it, I couldn’t breathe for a minute. I’d never heard anyone say that out loud before, and for years afterward it has run on a loop in my head.

Last night we celebrated twenty years.
We were the only people on Main Street
besides the folks in Dean’s funeral home.
Our waitress had a panic disorder, maybe
it was the proximity? Many grieving people
favor steak au poivre. Our son moved to
another continent: Are you sleepwalking
through your life? he asked me once.
Was he thinking of us last night in our
mauve booth? My husband sent his
steak back. Too many displaced spices.
It wasn’t the first time.

Your face is a pancake. Your nose a bathtub plug. Your hair as brittle as pine needles. You’re a porker, a piggy. I ought to put you over a spit, wedge an apple into your yawning mouth.

This was the voice mail I received: “Mom, you can find your son on the corner of Jefferson and Alter in the parking lot around the back of the bank building. Mom, this is not a prank call. I’m sorry.”

It sounded like a computer-generated voice. I put the phone down and sat on my hands, which were freezing. I sat on my hands and stared out the back window at the trampoline, which had a layer of snow across the top of it. The trampoline I bought seven years ago when he was eleven.

Making cookies with my daughter,
Christmas coming,
I thought about the boy who died.
No stuffed animals, no crosses
marked the spot where they
Found him. It wasn’t even winter.
I hardly knew him, but he
was a beautiful child,
a John Cusack look alike,
Rode his bike all over town,
played his guitar, once he
Serenaded the girl next door.
He was in my son’s class. How many times
have I scrolled through his tweets
these past six months? The last one:
How slowly the brain registers the end is near.
It wasn’t even winter. It is now.
We put up our fake Christmas tree
yesterday, assembled it, fitted one piece
into the next, so neat, so easy,
when we’re done we’ll throw it back
into the box for another year
I’d like to think his parents made
some mistake, something I
would never do, but last month
while I was watching TV, my own
daughter wandered off. It took the police
several hours to find her, then
a week in psychiatric. When
it happened, I was watching
“Transparent” and drinking wine.

Don’t make me . . .

I don’t know if you remember me. I’m the pregnant woman who gave you Crabtree and Evelyn Primrose Bath Beads? I was thinking that after we were mothers we’d really need to take a soak in the tub. Turned out I needed more than that. I know you weren’t watching me through the window. I know you weren’t spying on me. I’m sorry I called the police. I do remember the kitchen shears and chasing you down the street in “my birthday suit.” My baby, Mavis, was ordering me around like a drill sergeant: Run naked down Ballard Avenue, take the kitchen knife and . . . Yesterday when I waved, you ran inside, and I don’t blame you. But the “medication took” as they say! No more Carrie après the bloody bucket. I’m thinking about getting my real- estate license. I just painted the picket fence. Come on over and take a peek.

I slipped in between the folds
of the curtain and sat in the dark hot box
examining my conscience and waiting
for the screen to slide open and the keeper
of the keys to materialize. When he did,
his was not the face of a stocking-faced burglar,
or a postman, or the creeper who used to circle
my block in his white van, but it was not
the face of God either.
God would not have fingered a clump
of pellets, while peppering me
with allegations. He would not have said,
“Are you sure that’s all you’ve done?”
When I was little, I saw a supposed saint.
She was the marquee attraction
in the basement of a famous church.
In her glass coffin, she lay with her hands
pointing toward Heaven, rosary beads coiled
around her waxy fingertips. It was chilly
in that temperature-controlled room.
According to the sign, she’d been lying
unmolested for hundreds of years.
Good for her.
One touch and I turned
right to dust.

MAN (Motions for the choir to commence. He conducts.)

Sing in full voice “How beautiful is the body of Christ.”

The husband and wife rented one of those
videos. The wife was up for it, never having
seen one. At the time, she believed that
a person should try everything once.

The film opened with one of the principals
gagging on a monster knob, and then,
repeatedly jamming it back into her mouth.
Afterwards, she knelt for the benediction.

Abduction was a major part of the story line:
A woman shunted into a white van and drugged.

In the next scene, the perpetrator pounced
and the woman’s knockers rocketed around
like people trapped and frantic, scrambling
for the exit.

At one point, the star’s eyes
rolled back in her head and her pink lids
fluttered wildly. The wife was reminded
of a naked mole-rat documentary she’d seen
the week before where she’d learned that
a naked mole-rat’s skin has no pain receptors.

Even if doused with acid, the creature
won’t feel it. Its lips are sealed
to prevent dirt from filling his mouth.

This could be a useful adaptation
for larger mammals, she decided.

In church, two days later, the choir sang,
“How beautiful is the body of Christ.”
The wife fought the urge to flee.
Her son grew bored and grabbed her finger.

“Tell me when it starts to hurt,” he whispered.
He pinched and she shook her head.

The girls
snap selfies.
Every possible
Pleasing puckers,
sour pusses,
on parade.
on the beach,
on the lawn,
in the kayak,
in the car.
Do you think
I’m pretty?
Pop that hip,
Petite Kardashian.
look at me!
what will

I knew that normal people don’t paint whole bedrooms during the night and then get up to care for four children the next day. I knew you couldn’t have invented the immersible blender. I knew you weighed more than 110. And even though I wondered at your assertion that you had the highest grade-point average at Michigan State, I didn’t press you. Your kids were too quiet, too well-behaved. I wanted to believe that you were that thin and smart and powerful and that it was possible to have kids who picked up their toys on command. You had furniture that matched and you fixed your own leaky faucets. Every day, my face started to ooze off the bone like meat that has simmered too long in a Crock-Pot. I wanted to send you up my flagpole. I wanted to blow my bugle and salute.

How did they get my number?

When I was little, a boy named Billy gave me a ring. I thought he’d paid a quarter for it. I thought it was a gumball machine bauble. He handed it to me at tennis camp and then ran away. I threw it in a trashcan. I was so cool. I hadn’t paid any attention to him beforehand, and I can’t picture him now. Small, blond hair, that’s all. I had no idea I was being mean until people said I was cruel—a word that shocked me. I remember wondering why he was upset, why his friends were giving me the evil eye. I tried to fish it out of the trashcan the next day, but it wasn’t there. I didn’t apologize. I was a coward. I avoided him. What stays with me is that disconnect: one person heartbroken, another indifferent. No one has ever given me a ring since then. Of course I have a wedding ring, but that doesn’t really count. That was a token, not a gift. My husband knew I expected a ring. It was his grandmother’s, so it cost him nothing. He hasn’t given me another precious stone. Once upon a time, a boy, a stranger, gave me a gift for no apparent reason, and I threw it out without a thought.

Stay there until I get back. Don’t make me . . .
Tell me when it starts to hurt.

Once I saw an exhibit at the art museum called “Melancholy Women.” The women in those eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings are all dead or nearly dead. The rouge back then was made from the crushed bodies of cochineal insects. The hair pomade was laced with lead. In one painting called The Nightmare the woman suffers from sleep paralysis, a small gargoyle perched on her chest. The same thing happened to my daughter just the other day. She tried to wake up, but she couldn’t move. She was right next to me in the car. Later, it started to rain. We stopped under an overpass. When the lightning lit up the sky, I screamed and remembered that lightning killed Amelia. (Not the strike but the fear of it.) There was nothing Celadon could do to save her. When I screamed, my daughter looked at me with disdain. Then she stared at her unopened Vogue magazine while we waited for the storm to end. Two females at liberty in a car filled with gas, money to spare, still unable to face the deluge. Frozen.

(In the dark SARAH and CARRIE ride bicycles in figure eights. Neon tubes are threaded through the spokes. This should become mesmerizing and peaceful.)

I would like to kill every single person in that fucking funeral home. My sister with her, How are you holding up? Look. Aunt Betty and her simpering pink mouth and her fat fucking arms. When she puts her puffy mitts on me, I want to spit in her face, and I want to spit on all of her children too, and I know they are all thinking: this could never happen to us, we’re all so fucking perfect, but I’ll tell you what—I thought I was a good mom. A year ago, I would have been sitting in the back of the funeral for a heroin addict, and I would have been sure that nothing like this could EVER happen to me.

When the priest says, “Michael is with the Lord, we wish he could have stayed with us longer, but it isn’t for us to understand the plan.”

The plan?

And that’s when I realized I am possessed by the devil, and I am going to start screaming and tearing my hair out and running up and down the aisle. But I don’t. I just sit in my pew and shake like a leaf, Ronald next to me. We don’t touch. Not even once. I hate him, too.

I do.

There is not one fucking person on this planet that I do not hate.

Again and again
Oy not joy
see how the mannequin
wife does dishes
you can position her
just so
nubile breasts
and ice cream cone
floral plates
walnut shell eyes
the light
from the window
slides right over her
just like it moves
across that chair
over there

When she descended from on high
the lake was calm, so gray it faded into sky.
Even the dogs refused to budge. Perhaps
they too felt dirty, sin-filled and destined
for damnation. How kind of her to pay
respects to the fallen. Woe to us and all
who are like us. Surprising that the lake
does not rise up and swallow us. Truth be
told I often have those dreams. When I
was young I wanted to be good and donned
my robes and lit candles with a slender wick.
Father Echle’s nose was always running,
the other one pursued me with his eyes.
At night I held my hand up toward the sky
hoping God would pull me up to Heaven.
I felt loved then, I guess I was mistaken.

Today when I was walking my dog, Rocky, a man popped out. Of where? I don’t know where. One minute he wasn’t there, the next he was barreling down on me. I had leaned over to clean up Rocky’s do-do. The man looked like Don Draper, but his suit was brown and baggier than anything Don would have worn. His shirt was yellow. A yellow and brown outfit. Good grief! And on his head? A bowler hat. He was dragging this tree bough down the street; so long it took up half the block. The whole enterprise looked awkward and pointless. The limbs were all jutting out at odd angles. The man’s neck was bulging with the effort of hauling it. There were no leaves on the branches, meaning it was dead dead dead. I’m not a bark expert, but if I had to guess I would say it was an oak tree. Through all this, the guy’s face remained as blank as drywall. I should have asked him if he was planning to make a sculpture or if he was just cleaning up the neighborhood. I missed my chance. I just stood there and gawked at him. This is all apropos of nothing except that I have always wanted to ask you: Why can’t you just let it go?

I spent my morning watching Ask the Mortician,
bodies rolled into crematoriums and blood
flowing down drains. Only the ultraexpensive coffins
explode. What I wouldn’t give to watch a body stiffen
and then go flaccid again, to stare into eyeballs
darkening like spilled ink. Last winter, I put another
cat to sleep. He passed through a slot into an alternate
dimension. My father’s toes were soft in his casket.
He hadn’t eaten in six days. Corpse poop can be an issue,
the mortician giggled. She is twenty-eight, with flawless skin
and decades to go before liquefaction.

Tonight I made a Thanksgiving wreath at the senior center. We started with fresh balsam speckled with blue berries. Ferry bells. I didn’t know the name of anything. A woman whose face was stretched like Cling Wrap over a plate told me to use the lotus pods as my focal point. Once I saw lotus flowers floating in a pond in Shanghai. A man there drew a poem on the ground with water and a calligraphy brush. He wrote Can you coax your mind from its wandering? Then the words disappeared. All around us, people danced. They’d hung their purses and their groceries on the branches of trees. Someone had brought a boom box. Women danced with women, women danced with men. At the senior center, women wearing twinsets and pearls manipulated their Thanksgiving wreaths. They poked wires through the lotus pods. The instructor cautioned against using fruit as it would rot. Everyone picked out dried flowers instead.

Is this supposed to be dinner? Is this congealed glue your idea of stuffing? It’s a good thing you didn’t invite anyone. Imagine serving this shit for Thanksgiving dinner. If a man is served shit on a plate, he has a right to seek nourishment elsewhere. The phone is dead. I’m taking the car. I can smell your rancid breath from here. Leave the dirty plates on the table and get in that bedroom! Stay there until I get back. Don’t make me . . .

You could look even better.
Here’s a fresh kiss of color.
Your true shade is under there
somewhere. Bold blond,
not old blond. These jots
will give you a little extra pop.
Long wear is fast-acting.
Endless perfection
is divine. Let’s talk about
what’s coming, not
what’s coming to an end.

I know my husband blames me. He’s shuffling around the house in his bathrobe looking at the ground because he knows that if he looks up at me, he will take the coffee pot and pour the hot coffee over my head. He hates me. He thinks that because we fought, because I was hard on him, because I wouldn’t let him treat me like crap and borrow the car, because I changed the locks and called the cops on him when he robbed the Nicholsons next door, I caused it. I drove him to it. Everybody hates me, I hate everybody. I got up today, went to the bathroom and went back to bed. The doctor had the nerve to offer me Xanax yesterday, and Ronald had to hold me back, because I tried to kick the man.

I was driving past the Revelation Church of Holiness. On the radio a
scientist was talking about dimensions nine through thirteen—
superstring theory and whether a four-dimensional life form might
one day unzip the sky and beckon to us. The scientist was open to
multiple possibilities. Maybe there are happy people living in the sixth
dimension, in molecules on top of our ash cans, trees from Heaven,
no weeds in their world, the Rouge River a flute brimming with
cheap champagne. Hold my hand; let’s float like Chilly Willy over
Belle Isle, past the Saint’s Temple to Heaven’s giant Slurpee machine.
Please tell me God is not that man behind the armored glass.

Look at this little monster in my mirror. Well, you are a very small
monster. I have to give you that. It’s a big world, and I wish I had a little
rhinestone suitcase. Then I could carry you around like a miniature poodle.
Of course, you are much smaller than that. You could hide behind two books
on my shelf, you could foxtrot with the dust bunny under the couch,
quiver in anticipation of the broom. There! Over there! You could dart
underneath the tea set. You could nestle into that score in the wood. Once,
long ago, I believe I remember you larger. I saw you shaking the slats.
Later, in the hospital, your size saved you, scurrying as you did
up the IV pole and into your own vein. I will put you in an eggshell,
in a locket, in a coin purse, under my tongue. Never mind what they say
about you, Monster, you are not alone. Look in the woodpile, on the
evergreen leaf, in the finch feeder, there are hundreds riding in the
paramecium parade. Stick to the glue on the envelope, and I will lick you.

Tell me when it hurts.

They look like cupcakes on a plate, but they are not.

For years we stood in the cold
with the wind raking our faces,
in the summer with the heat
pressing us into the ground.
We were trapped beneath
the monkey bars.
You rested your head
on the hollow metal steps
near the slide and when you
lifted your cheek, there were
little O’s imprinted on it.
Your husband weaved
inebriated down the street.
My husband was fused
to the chair in his cubicle.
We could not ooze out through
the X’s in the mesh fence.
One day someone finally
took actions, a man poured
concrete over my head.
A blue jay alighted on my
shoulder and set to squawking.
That roused you. Just before
he cast you, you slipped
into a little girl’s backpack
and she smuggled you out.

You know what they do now? They don’t bring you down to the morgue anymore. They pull the face up on their computer screen. They push a button and bingo, there is your beloved son, his face, the scar on his chin from that time when he was four, when he jumped off the bed and cut it open on the dresser. The little divot and the scar above his right eyebrow from the time he was eleven and fell off his bike. That was before he sold his bike, after the OxyContin and before the heroin.

When he died he weighed 117. He was 6’2”. Maybe if I hadn’t yelled at him . . . Maybe if I hadn’t yelled at him to come out of his room, to pick up the dirty laundry, to turn off the computer, to make it home on time, to stop using, to stop stealing, to stop wandering off, to stop running away, to stop selling . . . to stop . . .

When he was little, we used to take naps in the afternoon. If I woke up before him, I’d roll on my side and stare into his beautiful face; his skin was so soft and his lips were pink, and his blond hair was like a curtain over his eyes, and his little hands were cupped as if he was praying.

Tell me when it starts to hurt.

On the train I saw a long line of cars.

I saw a big white house.

The ground was mottled
and abraded like
the back of a buffalo.

I saw a chicken coop,
a muddy ditch,
the padded cell
of the sky.

I saw a hunting blind,
ratcheting arms,
coal silos,
sand silos,
yards like ratty bath
mats, abandoned
sand boxes.

No green man.
No benevolent cow.
No villagers whistling
and hoisting sickles.
No multicolored houses.

No woman waltzing
on the wind, Chagall.

It was the morning after,
the tough rows to hoe,
the scrub brush of babies
and midnight feedings,
Kansas before the witch’s
stockings and the wizard’s
charade. No tree of life,
just my chalky fingers
on the window pane,
just my face pressed
against the glass.

The chimes become very loud.


Acknowledgments: This play is adapted, in part, from poems included in a poetry collection, Goodbye Toothless House, by Kelly Fordon, which was released by Kattywompus Press in spring 2019. Some poems were also published in an earlier form in a chapbook that won the 2011 SRCA Open Poetry Chapbook Competition.