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Mutual Respect

The library of a mansion, night. Enter OLD MAN with a lavish fur coat.

OLD MAN: Ah, at last. Finished at last. My day of obligations. A smooth conclusion to arduous tasks. Now [removing his coat] … nnugh … now is the time for leisure. Now is the time for sedentary stillness. With a book. Yes, that is what I will do. I will take out a book.

Pause. Goes to the fireplace and lights it.

But what book? I, who in all my days of trading obligations and leisure, have acquired so many. And yet, I feel I know so few. Bah! This should be a blessing! All these printed friends-in-waiting. But this is not so. It is daunting. It is overwhelming. It is overpowering. These books make a wall unto itself. Will I dismantle its careful design so willfully? No.

Pause.

I will err toward safety … with familiarity. I do so by taking careful note of the spines. Not too loose so as to break completely apart, but not too stiff and unknowable. Woe is me, who cannot pass up the cracking of an unbent spine in an unread book. Each snap vibrates in the nerves from fingers to kidneys. But as ever, I find myself resisting, as I do all temptations to adventure. It can’t be helped.

Pause. Turns to bookshelf.

Now, what are you leading me to tonight, my friends? What … is our desti— … Oh, what do we have here?

Pulls book from the shelf. Pause.

Well, if it’s familiarity I sought then it is familiarity I have found! The Anatomy of Exuberance, by Thomas Kincaid Tinderbrook. That’s me! But I hardly remember ever writing such a book.

Flips to the back page.

“Thomas Kincaid Tinderbrook is a doctoral candidate for comparative analytical therapy at Gywnnyn Slade University. He lives near campus with his wife-to-be, Hilda, and dog, Lancelot.” There you have it. Now, for the necessary measures: bourbon or wine?

Goes over to his drink cart.

Hmm. I … think … it … shall … be … It shall be vodka, actually.

Preparing the drink.

I suppose we could be adventurous just a little! There!

Goes to his chair, settles into it, takes a drink, opens his book.

Now, at last, I shall commence my leisure.

Pause.

Oh damn it all! My obligations. How arduous they were! So much more than they are on average. What was it that so vexed me at their peak? I shouldn’t ponder it. Not now. Not in my time of rest.

Pause.

But why rest when I know that obligations are waiting on the other side of the night? Ready to pounce, to unhinge their collective jaw, and to gnash, gnaw, and gnarl at me for hours until I return home to do this all over again. A new glass of vodka, a new (old) book. The fire raging as ever.

Takes a drink.

What have I become? You’d think by my age there’d be clarity … there’d by calm … there’d be time enough to savor leisurely moments for their own sake … not because they warrant me a sense of centeredness against the brunt of my daily tasks. I thought by my age there’d be—

IDIOT [slow, monotone]: Chad?

The IDIOT appears in the back of the room standing still, but staring blankly as if lost. The OLD MAN looks around but does not see who is talking.

OLD MAN: What in the devil?

Pause.

IDIOT: Chad?
OLD MAN:Who is speaking?
IDIOT: I .., am.
OLD MAN:And who are you?
IDIOT: I do … not re … member.
OLD MAN:Oh bother!
IDIOT: Chad?
OLD MAN: There is no Chad in this house.
IDIOT: Chad … has … left?
OLD MAN:There was never a Chad here. You are mistaken.
IDIOT: Tell Chad … that I … am here.
OLD MAN:I can’t very well tell Chad—who I do not know—you are looking for him if I also do not know who you are.

Pause.

Well?

IDIOT: Chad?
OLD MAN: An idiot has found his way into my home. My home. What is this country coming to?
IDIOT: I’m not … an id … iot.
OLD MAN:Then what are you? State who you are, plainly and with confidence.
IDIOT: I do … not re … member.
OLD MAN: That is a very idiotic thing to say. And I’ve never met an idiot who could ever make a compelling argument against his own idiocy.
IDIOT: Where I … come from … we don’t … argue.
OLD MAN: Where are you from?
IDIOT: It … is … black.
OLD MAN:Does this black place have a name?
IDIOT: There is … no name … only … black and … cold and … sorrow.
OLD MAN: Perhaps this … Chad is there. He is waiting for you. He shouldn’t be too hard to find.
IDIOT: Chad can … not go … he’s not … ready.
OLD MAN: Be that as it may Chad is not here, and you do not belong here. I’m calling the police to remove you.
IDIOT: Police … cannot … help you.
OLD MAN: What will get you away from here faster?
IDIOT: Mutual … respect.
OLD MAN: How dare you come into my house, and demand respect as an equal. In no just world will I ever respect someone who cannot name who he is or state where he is from. That is too much. Too much!
IDIOT: Then I … can’t leave.
OLD MAN: We’ll see about that.

Pause.

I wonder … I wonder if mutual respect is what you make of it. Yes! If it is in my power, I can conjure mutual respect in anything.

Walks over to the fireplace, picks up tongs.

Like fire … and smoke!

Picks up a flaming log with the tongs.

Okay, Idiot. Speak. Call out your friend’s name and I will send you back to where you came from as etiquette dictates. How about over … here!

Swings at the curtains, they catch fire. The IDIOT fades from view.

Or perhaps you are … here!

Swings at the drink cart, smashes bottles, flames burst out.

Oh you are tricky for such a moron. But I’ll get—

Trips over and falls, log flies from the tongs and hits the bookshelf, which also catches fire. Struggles to get up. He chokes up as smoke fills the room.

That … [cough] … should do it.

Pause.

IDIOT [appearing next to him]: Chad.

Pause.

OLD MAN [monotone]: Bruce.


Guest Author
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Chris R. Morgan is a writer from New Jersey. His blog is Black Ribbon Award and his Twitter handle is @CR_Morgan.

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