Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Let’s Not Get Political



by Harman Burgess

iced tea 

 


Characters
Michael:      Young and rather nervous. Michael is unsure of what his role is in life and what’s happening around him. Michael is more worried about the morality of things than Johnathan, but this is more because of nerves than any human quality.

Johnathan:    Johnathan is somewhat older than Michael, but still on the young side. Johnathan is also quite nervous, but he overcompensates with a false bravado that fools nobody. Both Johnathan and Michael are dressed in pseudo-military fatigues.

Piper:         Michael’s neighbour. Old but not geriatric, Piper has been around for a while and has seen somethings in that time. She speaks with the tiniest hint of a German accent, and dresses like how you’d expect an elderly woman to dress.

Setting
The kitchen of Michael’s apartment. It is furnished on the cheap side and is quite unkept- dirty dishes, laundry piles, that sort of thing. There is a largish table with the bomb on it right centre, and the set should be positioned to highlight that. To left centre there is a run-down leather couch. There should also be some kitchen cabinets and various culinary appliance sprinkled around the stage. If the director is feeling especially ironic a Keep Calm and Carry On poster could be hung somewhere. Entrances and exits should be done stage left as if the door to the apartment was there.







Scene
(Open on the kitchen. Johnathan is seated with the bomb, while Michael is pacing back and forth in obvious distress. Note: The first few lines of dialogue should take place as the curtain rises to give the impression that the scene has already been going on before the audience arrived)

MICHAEL
(anxious)
Oh my God. Oh my God. Why hasn’t that fuck called yet?
JOHNATHAN
Calm down! Everything’s going to be ok so calm down, won’t you? Would you like a cup of tea?
MICHAEL
No, I don’t want a fucking cup of fucking tea! I want to know what the fuck is going on. That prick, Harry, he was meant to call us to bring that thing to where he had the senator three fucking hours ago! Wasn’t he? Wasn’t he?
               (pause)
Do you think he’s been caught?
JOHNATHAN
He hasn’t been caught. He hasn’t! If he had the pigs would’ve been here ages ago. It’s probably just taking time. What? It takes time to organise these things, you know. You’ll get used to it.
MICHAEL
(sits down opposite Johnathan)
You’re right. I know, you’re right. I’ve never done anything like this before. I think I’ll take that tea now. Could you make it Irish?

JOHNATHAN
Sure buddy.
(Johnathan gets up and puts the kettle on. As he goes past Michael, he pats him on the back, and rolls his eyes to the audience)
JOHNATHAN (Continued)
I know this is your first time, that’s why I’m here. Just try and relax ok? We’re just holding onto it until they’re ready. Besides, if the pigs do come, I’ve got this.
(Johnathan pulls a revolver out of his belt and hands it to Michael. Michael is clearly impressed by this)
MICHAEL
Wow, is this the real thing?
(Michael pretends to fire it)
JOHNATHAN
Yeah that’s real, so stop playing with it like that, you’ll end up fucking killing someone if you’re not careful.
MICHAEL
Have you ever killed someone?
JOHNATHAN
Yeah loads of people.
(Johnathan adds some Whisky to the tea and hands it to Michael. Sits back down)
MICHAEL
What was it like?
JOHNATHAN
The first few times were a lot easier than you’d expect. Pipe bombs in Embassies and the like. You don’t really get to feel anything if you don’t see it go off. But one time, when I was running some parts for Harry, I was pulled over by a particularly nosy cop. It was in the country. It was dark. A flash of light, and no more pig.
MICHAEL
What about the pig’s family? Pigs normally have families.
JOHNATHAN
Fuck ‘em. They get what they deserve, hanging around fucking pigs.
MICHAEL
(pause. Michael starts fiddling with the bomb)
How’s this thing even work anyway?
JOHNATHAN
Stop messing with that! It’s not a fucking toy ok? If that goes off it could bring down the whole fucking apartment building.
MICHAEL
Sorry. Sorry. Don’t glare at me like that I said I was sorry.
(pause)
What’s it need to be so powerful for, it’s just one pig senator isn’t it?
JOHNATHAN
(scoffs)
Style.
MICHAEL
Oh. What’s it made of though?
JOHNATHAN
It doesn’t matter what it’s made of.
MICHAEL
What if we hand it over to Harry and it doesn’t work properly?
JOHNATHAN
What if it does?
MICHAEL
I hope it does. But what if it doesn’t?
JOHNATHAN
It will.
MICHAEL
Will it?
JOHNATHAN
(tersely)
Yes.
MICHAEL
Are you sure?

JOHNATHAN
Yes.
MICHAEL
Why?
JOHNATHAN
(angrily)
You’re such a bloody child, I swear to God! If it’s that bloody important for you then listen up- this is a special kind of explosive. Not like the normal hit and run stuff, this is bespoke fucking engineering here. Fully customised destruction.
(Johnathan calms down and becomes more interested in the mechanics of the device)
When Harry gives us the word we go to where they have the senator, we strap this little beauty onto him, and we hit the button. After we hit the button there’s no turning back, this isn’t something you can just turn off. This is the custom bit though, there’s a program I wrote that randomises when it goes off.
MICHAEL
What’d you write a program like that for?
JOHNATHAN
You’re not listening. We strap this to the senator and then we tell him we don’t know when it’s going to go off. Then we livestream his reaction. Hey? Hey? How good is that, right? We get to watch a pig squirm. Now that’s art. That’s fucking poetry right there.
MICHAEL
Isn’t that a bit cruel?
JOHNATHAN
Cruel? Cruel? It’s fucking justified, is what it is. This cunt is one of the fattest pigs there are! Now being a politician is reprehensible enough, but consistently supporting the disenfranchisement of persecuted peoples. Fuck him. Fuck him. And if you think it’s too cruel, fuck you too.
(Johnathan’s phone starts buzzing).
And here’s Harry. Excuse me.
(exits)
MICHAEL
(pause as he waits for Johnathan to leave)
Fucking arsehole.
(he resumes playing with the bomb)
I’m Jonathan. I read fancy books about politics. I kill people. I know everything there is to know about everything. Blah, Blah, Blah. I hope he fucking dies out there–
(there is a clicking sound from the bomb. Michael has activated it. A small electronic beeping should now play throughout the rest of the scene. Michael falls out of his chair, pointing at the bomb)
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! Oh my God! Oh my God!
(Michael paces back and forth making worried gestures at the bomb and muttering to himself. As he frets, Johnathan appears at the edge of the stage in the last stages of his phone call. Michael, seeing Johnathan, freaks out, grabs a dish cloth from the kitchen and drapes it over the bomb, picks up his chair and sits down. Johnathan finishes the call and enters properly)
MICHAEL (Continued)
(superficially)
Everything all good with Harry?
JOHNATHAN
Yeah, they’ve got the bastard. It’s time.
MICHAEL
Oh, that’s good. Isn’t that Good? I think it’s good. Are you good? I’m good. Oh, I’m saying good too much aren’t I? That’s not good.
JOHNATHAN
Are you having a stroke? Hey, why’d you put a towel over it?
MICHAEL
In case the cops show up.
JOHNATHAN
That’s actually… good thinking. Anyway
(Johnathan goes to pick up the bomb, but Michael grabs his hands)
What’s this, are you chickening out or something?
MICHAEL
No, no.
(pause)
Is everything safe out there?
JOHNATHAN
Yes.
MICHAEL
How do you know?
JOHNATHAN
I was just out there fuckwit, let go of me.
MICHAEL
I just thing you should check and see if everything’s… good out there.
JOHNATHAN
(Johnathan makes a big show out of traipsing off-stage and back on)
There’s nothing outside. Let’s go.
MICHAEL
Um.
JOHNATHAN
Hold on, just a fucking second. Can you hear that? There’s like a fucking beeping or something.
MICHAEL
No, I can’t hear anything. Do you? Hear things, I mean? I can’t. Practically deaf, I am. Ain’t nothing coming through these ears.
JOHNATHAN
You are practically deaf? How’re you having this conversation then?
MICHAEL
I can read lips.
JOHNATHAN
You can read lips? Interesting, interesting. Let’s play a game, shall we?
(Johnathan holds a hand in front of his mouth)
I’m going to fucking murder you.  
(pause)
What did I say?
MICHAEL
That you’re madly in love with me and couldn’t bear if anything bad happened to me?
JOHNATHAN
Is that your final answer?
MICHAEL
Yes?

JOHNATHAN
No.
(He lifts the cloth off the bomb and sees that it has been activated)
Oh my God. Oh my God. Michael. Friend. Comrade. What the hell is this?
MICHAEL
(pleasantly)
That’s the bomb, John. Hmm, the bomb, John. John Bomb. John Bomb, the Bomb John. Hey that rhymes!
JOHNATHAN
Michael why is the bomb making noises? The bomb shouldn’t be making noises.
MICHAEL
Oh that? The beeping? Yeah, I was… cleaning the bomb when my fingers slipped, and it just happened to turn on.
(pause)
Sorry.
JOHNATHAN
I told you not to play with it. I told you not to fucking play with it! What the fuck are we going to do now?
MICHAEL
Calm down John. Would you like a cup of tea?
(Johnathan screams and pulls the gun on Michael. Michael ducks under the table, and the pair chase each other around for a bit. Johnathan soon grows tired of this and starts firing randomly about the room until he runs out of ammo.)
MICHAEL
               (from underneath the table)
Are you trying to fucking kill me?

JOHNATHAN
Are you trying to fucking kill me?
MICHAEL
No!
JOHNATHAN
(gesturing to the bomb)
What? What? Help, please help me understand this.
MICHAEL
It was an accident! I swear it was an accident. You gotta believe me.
JOHNATHAN
Really? An accident, really?
MICHAEL
Really.
(Michael peeks out from under the table)
Why would I purposely do something like that? That’s right I wouldn’t. Now calm down. Put the gun away. There we go. There we go. Was that so hard?
(Johnathan glares at Michael for a few moments. He starts to say something but is interrupted by a knock from off-stage. Michael goes to answer it. While Michael is speaking, Johnathan examines the bomb.)
MICHAEL (Continued)
I’ll get it. Coming!
JOHNATHAN
Be careful.
MICHAEL
(off) Piper! I am so glad to see you, how’s it going?
PIPER
(off) I’m good, but I thought I heard what sounded like gunshots from my apartment. Is everything ok in here?

MICHAEL
(off) They were gunshots.
PIPER
(off) Oh.
MICHAEL
(off) Would you like to come inside?
JOHNATHAN
The fuck is he doing over there?
PIPER
(off) I think I better be heading off actually. Left the kettle on.
MICHAEL
(off) Nonsense. Nonsense.
(enter Michael and Piper. Michael has his arm around Piper and is practically dragging her onstage. He leads her to the sofa at the back)
MICHAEL (Continued)
Have a seat.
(Piper glances off-stage like she wants to leave)
Have a seat! There. Please make yourself comfortable. Would you like a biscuit?  
(they sit down on the couch)
JOHNATHAN
Oh my God. What’re you doing Michael, why did you invite her in? Have you forgotten about…?
MICHAEL
               (through a biscuit)
The bomb?
PIPER
That’s a bomb?

MICHAEL
Yes dear. Do try and keep up. Are you sure you don’t want a biscuit, they’re really quite good?
PIPER
I think I might.
JOHNATHAN
Michael, please focus!
MICHAEL
Don’t be like that John, I’ve actually had an idea of how to fix things.
JOHNATHAN
You have?
MICHAEL
I have.
(pause)
JOHNATHAN
What is it?
MICHAEL
It’s really quite simple, when you think about it. Genius, even. I say, I think I deserve a Nobel prize just for coming up with it. You know, Alfred Nobel actually invented bombs, so–
JOHNATHAN
Michael.

MICHAEL
Don’t rush me John! I’ll never get to the point if you interrupt me.
(pause)
Well? Apologise?
JOHNATHAN
I’m sorry. I’m sssssoooooorrrrrryyyyyy. So, so sorry.

MICHAEL
Thank you, Jonathan. Was that so hard? My plan is thus. Are you ready John? Are you ready Piper? Here we are then. This is the answer. Ok… we call Harry and get him to call the whole thing off until we find a replacement.
JOHNATHAN
(long pause)
That’s your plan. That’s your plan? Were you not listening earlier when I said we already have the fucking senator? Were you not listening?
MICHAEL
Oh, you said that?
JOHNATHAN
I said that.
MICHAEL
You said that.
(pause)
I guess I really haven’t been attention, then.
JOHNATHAN
Do you ever pay attention? Does anything ever get through that thick skull of yours? You ape. You fucking cretin.
MICHAEL
Hey, it’s easy to criticise, but I don’t see you coming up with ideas.
JOHNATHAN
Oh, I’ve got the ideas. I’ve got the bloody ideas, mate. I can give fucking lectures about the fucking ideas. Marx! Engels! Lenin! Trotsky!
PIPER
Boys, boys. Let’s not get political.
MICHAEL
Bit late for that love.

PIPER
You know, this whole situation reminds me of a short story I read. It must’ve been like 20 yea–
JOHNATHAN
(as Johnathan speaks, he starts reloading the revolver, but is so angry he drops one of the bullets)
Shut up! Both of you shut the fuck up! I’m going to talk, now. It’s my turn. Me. There’s been more than enough from you, Michael. Call Harry. Call Harry! Oh my God. The whole thing has been right fucked, now, and you want to call Harry? After what he’s just done? I’m going to have to get out of here before he finds out, or I’ll be the one strapped to a fucking bomb. Fuck the bomb, fuck the plan, fuck Harry. I’m done. I’m out. I don’t care if this thing does explode, and if it does kill everyone that lives here. Fuck ‘em. I’ll find a new home in Venezuela or someplace like that.
(pause)
But I can’t leave with you two alive, can I? You’ll rat me out to Harry.
MICHAEL
I wouldn’t dare!
PIPER
I don’t even know who this Harry person is.
JOHNATHAN
Oh, he’s such a cunt Piper, he is.
(pause)
Such a cunt. And that’s why I can’t have him coming after me.
(Johnathan spins the revolver shut and points it at Michael)
And last words?



MICHAEL
no, no. I’m good, thanks.
(Johnathan fires point blank at Michael, but nothing happens. It was the empty chamber. All three are surprised. Johnathan examines the revolver in disgust. Michael seeing his opportunity, takes it. Michael and Johnathan fight. During the fight Michael knocks the revolver out of Johnathan’s hands, and it lands in Piper’s lap. However, Johnathan throws Michael to the ground, and starts choking him)
JOHNATHAN
Here we go. Here we fucking go.
(Pause. Piper stands and empties the revolver into Johnathan. Johnathan collapses on the ground next to Michael)
MICHAEL
Oh my God!
(kneels over Johnathan’s body and makes the appropriate sounds of grief)
PIPER
Is he dead?
MICHAEL
(clearly upset)
Yes!
PIPER
Good.
(pause)
Pull yourself together man, I went through much worse than a lost friend in the war, let me tell you that.
(despite that pep talk, Michael is still upset)
Jesus man, are you a revolutionary or what?
MICHAEL
I’m a revolutionary.
PIPER
Are you sure?
MICHAEL
(yelling)
I’m a revolutionary!
PIPER
Then bloody well act like it for fuck’s sake. That shite there was going to kill us. There’s no use crying over a man like that. Is there? Is there?
MICHAEL
I suppose not.
PIPER
(mimicking)
I suppose not.
(pause)
It’s kill or be killed, my friend. You political types had a lot more spine back in the old days. Back in the old days when the red army was comprised of real men, not biscuit munching pussies. You’d never have seen Starlin or Mao crying over a dead comrade. That kind of thing would’ve been inexcusable.
MICHAEL
What are we going to do now?
PIPER
We aren’t going to do anything. I am going to dispose of this trash, and you can do whatever you want.
MICHAEL
And just how are you going to do that?
PIPER
You ever read the classics? I thought not. Let me tell you the story of the three Generals then. About 5000 years ago, I think, there was this old King who ruled over the area of Hellas referred to as the Peloponnese. Now, to be a King you need an army. To keep the people in line and the foreigners scared. And you need Generals to run that army. In his day our King had been one of the biggest conquerors, rivalling even Napoleon. He fought with everybody Athenians, Spartans, Persians, Egyptians. It didn’t matter. But then the fucker went and grew a conscience and decided to try his hand at peace. His three Generals seeing this apathy, mistook it for weakness and turned their eyes on the throne. It was to be quick. A knife between the sheets. Peaceful. More peaceful than the old bastard really deserved. But the old King didn’t play his part. No, no, no. For when the three Generals came for him, he was waiting with the Royal Guard. The king threw the Generals straight into the dungeon. He wanted to pardon them, to just exile them and be done with it. But you can’t really let that kind of thing happen again. You need to set an example. So, the next night while the Generals were sleeping, the old King crept down to the dungeons. And with the very blades the Generals had meant to use on him, he slit their throats. One by One. And drained their blood. And cut their bodies into little pieces. And baked those pieces into a feast fit for the Gods themselves.
(long pause)
Have you ever wondered what human flesh tastes like?
               (Michael mutely shakes his head)
PIPER (Continued)
Well, after the allies had carved up my beautiful Germany, and the bloody communists swallowed up the eastern bloc, food was scarce. Food was scarce, and the bodies were plenty. Do you know what it’s like? Have you had the fucking experience of watching your family die of hunger in front of you? I have. And do you know what it’s like to see your family, your family! Be slowly devoured by rats. And to feel hunger gnawing at your insides, as the rats eat the skin right of your parent’s faces.
(very long pause)
I know what to do with the body.
(betraying a surprising strength, Piper starts dragging Johnathan’s body off-stage, leaving a red trail on the floor. Johnathan’s phone rings. Piper fishes it out of his pocket and tosses it to Michael)
MICHAEL
(as if coming out of a reverie)
what about the bomb?
PIPER
Oh, who gives a fuck?
(exit with body. Throughout the rest of the scene the lights are dimmed until the only source of light is a spotlight on Michael. Then that spotlight also fades)
MICHAEL
(on the phone, but ostensibly talking to himself. Note: the actor playing Michael may have to ad lib some extra lines as the lights go down)
Hello? Hello? Harry! How the hell are you? … Good … I’m Good … Yes, we have the bomb… Yes, everything’s fine… I know you have the senator; I know what that means ok! … Where’s Johnathan? Oh, he’s fine, just on the way to the toilet right now… No, you don’t have to come out … Everything’s fine. Everything’s fine! … Relax! Calm down! Make yourself a cup of tea or something before you have a fucking heart attack. It’s all going to work out… Everything’s going to work out just fine.
(The spotlight flickers off. The only sound is the electronic beeping coming from the bomb)
BLACKOUT
END

About the author 

Harman studies Psychology at the University of Newcastle, Australia. His short fiction has previously appeared in CafeLit, Scarlet Leaf Review, Entropy, and Friday Flash Fiction. Also in the upcoming 42 stories anthology


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