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illustration by Jeff Ferguson Motel Matches
by Marcus Del Greco

(Time: present day. Place: near Cleveland, Ohio.)

(Scene: a bar, long after last call. NINA and JEFF are still nursing their drinks, stools close together by now. They are drunk but suavely so, as they are in the final stages of the mating dance.)

NINA: You really think women have the upper hand in today's society?

JEFF: Are we getting into dangerous territory here?

NINA: Maybe. I'm quizzing you.

JEFF: I think they deserve it. We've had our chance. We almost blew things up. Now let's see how the women can do. (He drinks)

(NINA looks at him, then in her bag and pulls out a cigarette)

NINA: Do you have a light?

JEFF: Sure. (He pulls out a matchbook from his pocket)

NINA (noticing the cover): Motel matches. Frequent patron?

JEFF: Nowadays. I'm living there, actually. Moved in tonight. My wife kicked me out today. You didn't notice? (holds his hand up to show her the wedding ring)

NINA: I noticed. But you're here, aren't you?

JEFF: I was here last week.

NINA: Thrown out for cheating?

JEFF: No. Thrown out for getting drunk too often and having to call her for a ride. I never cheated on my wife.

NINA: Never until now...

JEFF: What?

NINA: Relax, we haven't even done anything yet. You really never cheated on your wife?

JEFF: Really. What's the difference...

NINA: And it's over now?

JEFF: I guess so. She was pretty pissed, and I don't think my pride will let me go back. Part of me is relieved, you know?

NINA: What room are you staying in?

JEFF: What?

NINA: At the Sqeaky Springs Motel. What room?

JEFF: Oh... 23. Room 23. Awful name, "Sqeaky Springs..."

NINA (leaving): Not so awful. I'll meet you there?

JEFF (confused): But, why-

NINA: Well, we've both gotta bring our cars, and I know where the place is, so I figured I'd get started before I had more of that "mudslide." (Giggles tipsily, endearingly) Hurry up, there's nothing left to do here! (Exits)

(Lights down on JEFF amazed at his luck. Lights up on bar again, with RACHEL in JEFF's place, and RICK in NINA's.)

RICK: So, what did you say you were doing here, again?

RACHEL: Did I say?

RICK: Well, no, but you said you didn't come to bars often.

RACHEL: I'm looking for my husband. He drinks here all the time.

RICK (discouraged): Oh.

RACHEL: We split up two nights ago. Kinda hoped he'd be trying to drink me off his mind.

RICK: Aw, c'mon, if he was trying drink you off his mind, he's probably been to the liquor store already. A man's gotta be economical in some cases.

RACHEL: You know, that's about the best line I ever heard.

RICK: That wasn't a line.

RACHEL: Let's be honest. I'm serious, it was a great line. Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?

RICK: No.

RACHEL: How old are you?

RICK: Twenty-five.

RACHEL (makes her feel old): Wow. You're very mature, though.

RICK: Thanks, "Mom."

RACHEL: I'm only twelve years older than you. A baker's dozen.

RICK: That's thirteen.

RACHEL: Well, thirteen then. Who's counting?

RICK: What about your husband?

RACHEL: I'll bet you're right. He's proabably already been to the liquor store and has himself three-fourths of the way into a bottle. You don't drink much, do you? You haven't touched yours all night.

RICK: Not really, I guess.

RACHEL: Then why are you here?

(he shrugs)

RACHEL: Oh, I see. Hoping to run into a pretty young woman who's had a couple in her?

RICK: I have.

(She looks at her watch, sees it's late and that her husband, JEFF, isn't showing)

RACHEL: So, where do you live, anyway?

RICK: Downtown. I have two roommates.

RACHEL: Oh, that's not good.

RICK: What?

RACHEL: That's not good at all. I don't want to bring you back to the house, in case he shows up--

RICK: I have my own room.

RACHEL: I figured you did. It's just... I want total privacy. I mean, for you to keep me company. I'm used to living in a house, away from people. That's all... you don't mind, do you, just coming and... (she tries to sound younger)  hanging out?

RICK: Where?

RACHEL: That's the problem. Wait, I know. We'll get a room, just for tonight. Is that alright?

RICK: Sure.

RACHEL: I'll pay. God, I've been so lonely since Jeff's been gone. It's really nice of you to do this. Just to hang out, right?

RICK: Right. Whatever you want.

 (Lights down on bar, the two preparing to leave. Musical interlude for scene change*. Lights up on Room 23 of the Squeaky Springs Motel. Enter JEFF and NINA.)

NINA: I want the lights on, definitely. You're a very good looking man.

JEFF: Do I say "thank you"?

NINA: Just take a compliment. (kisses him)

JEFF: So, tell me more about these... bi-sexual tendencies.

NINA: You just want me to bring my girlfriends over!

JEFF: I wouldn't file an official complaint.

NINA: I'll bet you wouldn't. (kisses him again) But I'm enough, aren't I?

JEFF: Plenty.

(NINA goes to the mirror)

NINA: I'm not fat, am I?

JEFF: Of course not. I don't kiss fat women.

NINA: You're just saying that. If you were lonely enough, you'd kiss anyone.

JEFF: I'm not lonely. I'm fresh off a claustrophobic marriage. Loneliness would be nice for awhile.

NINA: It isn't nice. It isn't nice at all.

(They freeze in embrace. Enter RACHEL and RICK into Room 22. How convenient.)

RICK: It was nice of you to pay for the room.

RACHEL: Don't think of it. I figured you didn't have much money, being in school and all. What did you say your major was?

RICK: General Education. I'm trying to take at least one class in every major discipline.

RACHEL: Are you an idealist or something?

RICK: I guess.

RACHEL: That's funny. You know what my father used to tell me way back when? This is when I was a rebellious teenager. He'd say, "We have a word for idealists, Rachel. Unemployed." No offense.

RICK: None taken. Truth is, I don't really know what the hell I want to do. So I say I'm a General Education major like it's part of my master plan.

RACHEL (putting her arms around him): It sure is nice to have a well-rounded man at your disposal. I think you're pretty clever.

(She shyly kisses him and they freeze in embrace. Back to JEFF and NINA, breaking embrace and moving towards bed.)

JEFF: Very clever trick, you've got there. Seeking out older men on the rebound in bars.

NINA: I didn't plan it! I'm just a "free lover." If somebody good comes along, no use in passing it up, right? You never know what could happen. How old are you, anyways?

JEFF: I should be asking you. You could be illegal.

NINA: You met me in a bar, so I'm at least twenty-one.

JEFF: That doesn't mean anything. They let girls into bars all the time.

NINA: Hey!

JEFF: So... how old are you?

NINA: Twenty-two. Happy?

JEFF (sarcastic): Elated. Come over here. (she does) Twenty-two years old, huh? Damn I'm good.

NINA: Don't get too proud of yourself yet...

JEFF: And why not?

NINA: Because you haven't told me how old you are. If you're too old, I won't sleep with you.

JEFF: You can't mean that.

NINA: I do. So?

JEFF: Eighty-five.

NINA: Good enough.

(Lights down on them going at it. Back to RACHEL and RICK.)

RICK: Good enough? What do you mean?

RACHEL: Rick, I must be almost your mother's age. I'm not exactly a good catch.

RICK: Sure you are. Never underestimate the Mrs. Robinson syndrome.

RACHEL: You know The Graduate?

RICK:  There's a definite attraction in older women. It's an honor to sleep with an older woman, because really, as I see it, older women can have their pick.

RACHEL: We can?

RICK: Sure, within reason. I mean, with guys my age. Rumour has it an experienced woman is quite an asset in bed. And we are both at our sexual peaks.

RACHEL: Even knows his Dr. Ruth. Impressive.

RICK: Don't patronize me.

RACHEL: Don't get a complex.

(They stare at each other a moment)

RACHEL: Do you think he's fallen out of love with me?

RICK: I don't know.

RACHEL: I hate him. He just gave up. What a wimp. Gives up and goes to the bar every night because he thinks it'll help us avoid our fighting!

RICK: That's dubious.

RACHEL: You're telling me! But he says, "a little bit just mellows me out, honey." But too much and he gets mean. And if I brought something up the previous evening that he don't want to talk about, he drinks a little more 'cause he thinks he needs a little more mellowing out. And what's more, he takes the checkbook--

RICK (interrupting): Hey, hey, hey! Whaddya gettin' all mad at me for? Take it out on him!

RACHEL: I did! And he's gone...

RICK: I'm sorry.

RACHEL: Oh, I know. I know it's not your fault. (getting up from bed) I guess I just brought you here and handed you all my problems in a wet paper bag.

RICK: A wet paper bag?

RACHEL: Yeah, and the bag gets so full it busts out all over the place and splashes a bunch of icky-smelling stuff on your shoes. (she is in tears)

RICK: Are you okay?

(she sobs)

RICK: Are you gonna be alright? (He approaches her gently from behind and puts his around her in comfort. Her sobs transform in time to passion, and RICK pauses in surprised resistance, but succeeds in resisting not for long...)

(Back to JEFF and NINA, later in the evening. A bedside lamp comes on low, so the matches have darkness to shine in. The mood of this scene is "intimate afterglow talk"...)

NINA (in tears): I'm alright. I'm alright. It was wonderful. This isn't you at all. Please don't think it's you.

JEFF: I don't. You were fine just a minute ago.

NINA: I know. It's just that-

JEFF: You have baggage. Don't we all.

NINA: Don't give me your wisdom because you're older than me. I've been screwed over by a thousand guys and this little divorce thing of yours is probably the only romantic problem you've ever had.

JEFF: What're we doing here? Playing "Conflict, conflict, who's got the bigger conflict?" It was your idea to come here.

NINA: Yours too!

JEFF: How?

NINA: When I decided to sleep with you at the bar and stared at you all sexy-like, you stared back.

JEFF: Oh, I see. "Your Honor, he was asking for it from the start." A likely story. There's guys in jail for that.

NINA: Are you saying you didn't have fun?

JEFF: That's not what I'm saying at all.

NINA: Then what are you saying?

JEFF: I'm saying, why are you telling me about your problems?

NINA: Hey, Pops, I just slept with your elderly ass-

JEFF: That's out of line-

NINA: ...and I expect to unload on you now if I feel like it.

JEFF (pauses): Elderly? Listen here and let's make a deal. I'll promise not to take offense to that remark if you promise not to tell me every detail of your tortured existence in one night.

NINA: Every detail! Go ahead and tell me just one of my problems, if I gave you such a crash course.

JEFF: Well you... you... I don't know! You didn't get to that part. You just started crying.

NINA: A likely story. (They laugh, she sighs) You know, I never had my big post-coital cigarette. You got a light?

JEFF: You sure it was good enough for a cigarette?

NINA: It?

JEFF: Don't be difficult.

NINA: I'm not. You've got to understand that I'm a hard-core smoker. A Snickers bar is good enough for a cigarette, for Chrissake.

JEFF: So you're saying it wasn't good enough for a cigarette?

NINA: No, it was. But so is a Snickers bar, that's all. Don't get a complex. Aren't you too old to be worrying about your performance?

JEFF: You've got it backwards. My prime is twenty years a piece of history.

NINA: Coulda fooled me. (They kiss)

(A knock at the door)

OLD BARTH: I hope you kids aren't foolin' around in there!

NINA: Who's that?

JEFF (a bit surprised): That's Old Barth, the owner of the motel. He also acts as the bellboy. He must have seen me come in with you tonight.

OLD BARTH (entering and turning on light): Bartholomew Proprievitz at your service (shaking her hand and bowing). Toast and jam all around, homefries, eggs, and coffee.

NINA: This place has room service?

OLD BARTH: Only when I remember to set my alarm.

JEFF: It's 3 am.

OLD BARTH: But when I have breakfast, you kids might as well eat, too. It's no trouble to make extra.

NINA: Oh, that's so sweet!

JEFF: Yeah, real sweet. How much I this going to cost me?

OLD BARTH: It's on the house, m'boy. I tell ya, I'm just happy to have some young folk around.

JEFF: Thank you.

OLD BARTH: Have I told you about my sons yet?

JEFF: Um-

OLD BARTH: I'll bet you I haven't. The youngest one's about your age, and just about as handsome as you are pretty. The oldest- well, he must be about as old as you by now... (indicating JEFF, pausing) ...but he hasn't been around for awhile. Why, you two're a bit of an odd match, aren't ya?

JEFF: Well we-

OLD BARTH: That's the miracle of these modern times. Middle-aged men can galavant around with beautiful young women and nobody's crying cradle-robber!

JEFF: I wouldn't say "middle-aged"-

NINA: Oh, he didn't mean anything by it.

OLD BARTH: Now my oldest son, he's a real upright fellow. Gave me three grandchildren and another on the way.

NINA: Do you see them often?

OLD BARTH: See them? Heh, heh. Oh, I got pictures, but he moved to Arizona so his wife could breath proper. (He digs through wallet for pictures) She's got the asthma, you know. That was when they first got hitched. She's a looker for a mother of three and a half, too, don'tcha think?

JEFF: So what about you, Old Barth? You married?

OLD BARTH: Was. Fiona died two years ago. And my youngest son, he went out on the road pretty soon after. It's been pretty quiet around here since then. So do you kids want some champagne or what? I've got half a bottle in the fridge.

JEFF (not really resisting): I hate to drink before noon.

NINA: We'll take it! (Digging into her food) Great homefries.

OLD BARTH (exiting for bottle): I've only been cooking since Fiona's been gone, but my guests say I do alright.

NINA: Oh, you do. (To JEFF) What a sweetheart!

JEFF: Pretty good service for 3 am.

NINA: He's adorable. He really is. I wonder what his story is, anyway...

JEFF: He'll be glad to tell you, I'm sure.

NINA: I just love beards on cute old men. (Stroking JEFF's clean-shaven face) I mean, never on an old man I'd want to be with.

JEFF (crossing to mirror): You're a real comedian, you know that? Actually, I've been thinking about growing one. To represent my new life, you know?

NINA: Wait a minute... I see it! You with a beard. I like that; I don't know why.

JEFF: Maybe it fits your "older man" fantasy.

NINA: Maybe...

OLD BARTH (re-entering): Now there's probably enough left in this bottle for three or four more glasses. But pace yourselves- this is not any ordinary champagne. This here is the very brand of sham-pag-knee that forced the legislation of printing proofs ona all wines as well as liqeurs. It'll getcha in the rear, it will!

NINA: Thank you very much.

JEFF (pouring drinks): Yeah, Old Barth, this is kind of you.

OLD BARTH: Think nothing of it. I'll leave you kids alone now, 'cause I gotta keep drinkin', too. There's a lot to do around the lodge today, and man's got to start early and be well prepared. (He exits)

NINA (toasting): To... bearded men!

JEFF: Cheers.

(Lights down on room 23. Dim lights up on room 22 where RICK and RACHEL are trying to making love...)

RACHEL: Hey, cheer up. What's wrong? You feel a little... unenthusiastic in there.

RICK: I'm not, I'm not. Just talk to me. My mind's all over the place for some reason.

RACHEL: I haven't lost my touch, I hope. It's been awhile since I've been with another man besides Jeff.

RICK: Don't worry about it. Just talk to me. Talk dirty or something.

(RACHEL laughs)

RICK: That's not helping!

RACHEL: I'm sorry... I can't stop!

RICK: What's so funny about talking dirty? Is this a generation gap thing?

RACHEL: You just sounded so... silly, for a moment. "Talk dirty to me, baby... ooohh yeeaaaahh!" (she breaks out in more laughter)

RICK: Silly? (He discovers a new determination and goes about his task like a man getting paid piecemeal. RACHEL's response indicates a deep appreciation for his burst of youthful vigor)

RACHEL (applauding): Whoo hoo! I've never seen a stallion come down the backstretch like that.

RICK: You're just saying that.

RACHEL: You're right, but you certainly finish in the top three.

RICK: Nobody likes to be laughed at.

RACHEL: I'm sorry.

RICK: No, it was fun. Your laughing somehow got me back into it.

RACHEL: It takes a lot to get a man's attention these days. So what was on your mind, anyways?

RICK: Originally?

RACHEL: I mean, what distracted you from... us?

OLD BARTH (knocking): Room service!

RACHEL: At this hour? (She scrambles for some clothes) Uh... we'll be right there!  (to RICK)  Did you order food?

RICK: That's what I was thinking about before. Food.

RACHEL: You've got to be kidding me. (more knocking) Just a moment! (opening door) Oh, it's you. Is anything the matter?

OLD BARTH: Not unless you consider breakfast a matter of negative concern, ma'am. Now I'll have you know it's not usual for me to check in a duo like yourselves to my motel, but I was feeling particularly chipper this evening and I made an exception. It's ritual for me to deliver room service to all my guests when I get up to do my chores, and even though I hate to see older women praying on younger men like they're apt to do, I figure you two could use breakfast like anyone else-

RACHEL: Now, just a minute-

OLD BARTH: Don't give me any lip, young lady, you may be old enough to be his mother, but I'm enough to be your daddy, and this here establishment has the Government-given right to do business or to not do business with anyone it pleases! I may be drunk, but I'm not crazy, and I know a black widow spider when I see one!

RICK: Sir, go easy on the lady. She didn't drag me here. You've had a few too many, that's all. (tries to usher him out)

OLD BARTH: Don't tell me about how many I've had, son. I got a boy your age and the two a you combined ain't swilled a fourth of the booze I have in my life. I kin hold my liqour, sweet Jesus'll tell ya, better'n most men my size and weight. Lookit me in the face, son, an' tell me: is that a drunk man you see? (He can barely stand, propping himself up with one arm around RICK)

RICK: C'mon, Grandpa. To bed, now. (He almost has him out the door)

OLD BARTH: Just one more word, here. Don't let this woman take advantage of you, son. My Fiona was four years my senior, only four, mind you, but she kicked off quicker than a rabbit inta the bushes an' left me here all alone to tend this shack.

(They are out the door and mostly out of sight by now)

RICK: Sure, Old Barth.

(OLD BARTH is heard retching, apparently more ignorant to his limit than he thought.)

RACHEL (still in the room): Oh, Rick.

RICK: It's okay, it was mostly noise. C'mon, old pal, on your feet. We're going to bed now. Giddy-up!

OLD BARTH (now singing drunkly to his own tune as they finally exit):

 "The world is for the young, they say,
where the crown of fertility sits
upon the head of Dorian Gray
and the rest of those beautiful shits!
Hee hah!"

RACHEL:  Come back soon.

(Lights down on room 22 and up on 23, where JEFF is putting on a coat to go out.)

NINA: You'll come back soon?

JEFF: I'm just going out to get some ice; my back is killing me.

NINA: Too much exercise?

JEFF: Ha, ha. Old Barth doesn't have an ice machine for this place because of all the electricity it takes up, he told me. So I'll have to go into town. (Kisses her) You don't think I'm going home, do you?

NINA: I don't know.

JEFF: With the time I've had away so far, I wouldn't dream of going home again.

NINA: Sorry. Just paranoid I guess.

JEFF (slight pause): See you. (he exits)

NINA: Bye.

(NINA tuns from door and goes to the bed. She finds the remote and turns on the television. She watches for a few moments and then turns it off in bored frustration. She finally pours herself another glass of champagne and drinks it slowly as the lights fade on her.)

(Lights up for the first time on OLD BARTH's room. The room is in great disarray, with clothes and bottles flung everywhere. OLD BARTH is sitting on the edge of his bed, swaying.)

OLD BARTH (singing a resolution to the "Dorian Gray" song):

"Even Dorian Gray
in the end will see the day
when his beauty like the picture fades away...
Yay!"

(he laughs, and drunkenly reaches for a bottle which he tips over)

OLD BARTH: Oh, Jesus. Jesus! Hee hee hee. Jesus. (looking at photograph) Oh, Fiona. Hope your happy, old girl, hope your happy. Don't worry about me, I'm happy as a lark, that's no joke. No joke for this bloke! Hee hee. Oh, me. Oh, me. Oh, my. (begins to cry) Fiona, I just can't take care of this place all by myself. I can't do it. You know how I hate to work alone. Why does a man work anyhow, with his family all gone off to start other families? Fuck! Damn, Hell, and Fuck! Oh, I'm one drunk one, I am. Drunk. (phone rings) Who the hell? Who wants a room this time 'a mornin'? Hello? Israel! Israel, my boy! Where have you been, son? Uh huh. No, I'm fine, fine. Say again? Coming home? Oh, Israel, you saved me. I'm saved. A bus from Philly? Okay, okay. I'll pay your fare when you get here. Just get here, boy! I miss ya. Yeah, you, too, boy, you, too. (hangs up) Well tear me a new one, I'm saved! My youngest boy come home to roost. (finally passing out on bed) My youngest boy. Oh, Israel, Israel...

(Lights down on OLD BARTH's room and up on room 22.)

RACHEL: How is he?

RICK: He wouldn't let me put him to bed, but he's alright. Just shit-faced.

RACHEL: You can say that again. Didn't like me much!

RICK: He's just got his own ideas about things, I guess. Old fashioned. I must admit, my parents wouldn't be too thrilled to se me with an older woman, either.

RACHEL: He was so mean about it, though. He makes Jeff look like a pussycat when he's drunk! (she pauses, thinking of JEFF)

RICK: You know, I never asked, but... do you have kids?

RACHEL: Kids? Huh. No, no kids. I can't have children. Never could. I found out shortly after we were married.

RICK: I'm sorry.

RACHEL: No, it's fine, really. I mean, we've wanted children. We even started discussing adoption last year.

RICK: Really?

RACHEL: Yeah. We just never got started, you know... the paperwork, the wait...

RICK: Right.

RACHEL: But I swear we'd be excellent parents. I just know it. Jeff would be an incredible father, and I would be nothing like my mother at all.

RICK: I'm sure you wouldn't.

RACHEL: We'd give them every little thing a growing person would need to survive in this world. And I'd raise them on vegetables, exclusively.

RICK: Exclusively?

RACHEL: Exclusively. I attended this seminar last year given by the Vegan-Americans in the Medical Profession, or: VAMP. They also suggest sleeping during the day and getting up at night. They're nocturnal, in recognition of the sun's detrimental effects.

RICK: I see.

RACHEL: No coming in for dinner when the streetlights come on for my kids!

RICK: That's very progressive.

RACHEL: Jeff thinks so, too. We both started working third shift last year to try it out. Oh, we're such like-thinkers.

RICK: Sounds like true love. Why did you guys split?

RACHEL: The drinking! What else. That's clearly not on the menu, you know? Everybody knows it's poison.

RICK: That's one way of looking at it.

RACHEL: But it is. I mean, I admit I have the occasional cocktail or two, but all the time? Something's wrong, then.

RICK: Maybe having such a strict menu is what's wrong.

RACHEL: It's not just that. We had other issues.

RICK: Like?

RACHEL: Like... my parents, I guess. They're sick, and I don't want them in any "home."

RICK: Would it be so bad?

RACHEL: Yes. They're proud people, and they may be sick, but they're not sick in the head. They would know where they were. They would feel it.

RICK: Where's that?

RACHEL: Death Row! Hundreds of people just waiting to die. You know they don't even like to keep too many calendars in those places?

RICK: What?

RACHEL: So they can't keep track of the years! All the boring lonely years that pass in the process of dragging your sad-sack body into its grave. I won't have them there. Death should take someone by surprise, while a person is still in the... dignity of life.

(Lights down on RICK and RACHEL, up on NINA, still waiting... She is seen pacing the room and killing time for a minute or so before the voiceover is heard)

NINA (voiceover): Sometimes this free-love thing is like the ultimate challenge to dignity. Where is he? I shouldn't care. There's still dignity in giving your love freely, even if others are unable to give back, right? Oh, I shouldn't say he didn't give back. He's giving all he can, or at least the standard "male" donation. I suppose that's a form of love. Just- where is he?

(In the middle of the voiceover, the muffled sound of a clock ticking is heard coming in on a slow crescendo. Slow! NINA ends up lying on the bed, falling asleep. Lights up on OLD BARTH,, still up on NINA. OLD BARTH is in a lawn chair, drinking a beer. The clock says: night is passing.)

OLD BARTH: Where is that boy, anyhow? I did always say that Israel would be late for everything. Aw, what's the fuss. Fuss and bus, and cuss. (sighs) I wonder if the taxi's late at the bus station...? (He falls asleep)

(The clock ticking builds to a climax as the lights all fade out, then suddenly the alarm goes off and lights go up on NINA, OLD BARTH, and RICK and RACHEL. All awake in their own spaces; it is morning. All areas are visible now.)

RACHEL: Ugh! What station is that? (Their clock radio is blaring)

RICK: The one I figured would annoy me enough to get me up.

RACHEL: Why are you getting up?

RICK: I've got class. (He begins to get dressed)

RACHEL: Class? Skip today, why don't you? We could... hang out here.

RICK: Don't you have work?

RACHEL: No. I took the week off after Jeff left. I told myself this week would be for "me."

RICK: Well, I certainly hope it's turned out alright so far. I've had fun. Thank you.

RACHEL: Thank you?

RICK: Thank you. Does that sound weird?

RACHEL: I can't believe this. You can't just leave me today. I need you today. Can you understand that?

RICK: Well, yes, but-

RACHEL: Yes but what!! (she has lost her cool)

RICK (taken aback): I've gotta go. I don't know why I'm here.

RACHEL (beginning to cry, hanging on him): Don't say that.

RICK: I just need to think. I've got school, a life. I'll come back, or something. I promise. (He exits)

RACHEL: Rick! Don't walk away from here. Rick. I didn't mean to yell at you... (She dissolves in tears as the lights fade on her)

OLD BARTH (singing):

"Sit and swing with me a spell
and I promise I won't yell
for you're the sweet young thing
that dragged this sinner out of Hell."

(YOUNG ISRAEL PROPRIEVITZ enters with a suitcase. He is dishevelled, a wanderer. He stops and listens to his father before speaking.)

ISRAEL: Still making up tunes, huh, Pop?

OLD BARTH: Israel, boy! Saving Grace, let me get a good gander atcha. You look good. Tired, but good.

ISRAEL: You, too, Pop.

OLD BARTH: How was the ride, son? Not too long?

ISRAEL: No, no. Fine.

OLD BARTH: Well here, lemme get your bags and show you your new room. You're gonna need time to settle back into...home!

ISRAEL: Wait, Pop, I can't stay. Really. I've gotta catch another bus in a couple of hours. I might have this job in Philly.

OLD BARTH: You might have... Israel. Now, Israel you listen to me-

ISRAEL: Pop-

OLD BARTH: You listen up good! You know I'm glad to see ya, boy, but there's a few more things we both know know've gotta be cleared up.

ISRAEL: I know I owe you money, Pop, that's why-

OLD BARTH: It's not the money! Ever since your mother passed away I've had-

ISRAEL: You're always talking about Mom.

OLD BARTH: I've had all I can do to keep this old fort running. The Squeaky Springs ain't no classy joint but I'm proud of it... your mother and I were proud of it. Now I'm getting old and I'm all by myself-

ISRAEL: Don't guilt trip me.

OLD BARTH: How dare you? How dare you say that? Didn't I understand after your mother died when you had to go off and... find yourself or whatever? Did I guilt you then?

ISRAEL: No.

OLD BARTH: WELL I PAID MY FATHERLY DUES AND I DAMN WELL SEE IT IN MY RIGHT TO GUILT YOUR UNGRATEFUL ASS NOW!!

ISRAEL: I don't care. I'm not staying. I can't.

OLD BARTH: You can! You must.

ISRAEL: Listen, Pop. Let's go out and get some lunch on me and we'll do some catching up.

OLD BARTH: I thought you didn't have any money. Didn't I pay your bus?

ISRAEL: I got a little, just enough to get by. And to take my father out to lunch.

OLD BARTH: Your father is as good as dead, and he ain't hungry. Go to lunch by yourself.

ISRAEL: Pop-

OLD BARTH: Don't "Pop" me or I'll pop you. Get out of my sight and don't come back here unless you've got something to tell me.

(YOUNG ISRAEL PROPRIEVITZ considers for a moment before turning and exiting.)

OLD BARTH (after him): I'm going to lose this place, you know! This is the family business and I've been here for twenty-three years. Where have you been lately?

(Lights down on OLD BARTH. JEFF enters cautiously, quietly into room 23 where NINA is still in bed)

NINA (intense): Where have you been?

JEFF: I went home. She wasn't there. I'm sorry. I couldn't help it.

NINA: It was the wrong thing to do.

JEFF: You have to understand what marriage is like.

NINA: You have to understand what being single is like! I'm not asking for your complete devotion, but don't you think leaving me here-

JEFF: I don't know what to think.

NINA: Well you'd better start thinking a little more before you hurt more people than you can survive retribution from. Listen. You're obsessed. You're in love with your wife. Fine and dandy. But I've been with married men before and they've at least had the courtesy to pretend I was Queen of the Matress all night before finally going home.

JEFF: That's not what it's about.

NINA: For me it is. I'm young and better looking than I'll ever be again. And while there's a good variety of men who'll enjoy spending their time with me, I'm going to take advantage of it. There's lots of people worth loving in this world. (She is now gathering her stuff to leave) Someday I'll get married and have kids, but for now I'm sampling the goods and all I ask from the goods is a little respect.

JEFF: Oh, so now I'm "the goods." There's some respect.

NINA: Hey! Plays about romance are my favorite kind; don't spoil my exit monologue. (she exits, slamming door)

(Lights down on room 23. Lights up on OLD BARTH with a gasoline can. He is splashing gasoline on the foundations of his motel.)

OLD BARTH (voiceover): There's a million better ways for a man to start over, I suppose, but all I have to say right now is: thank God for insurance. It's funny; when Israel left me I was less angry at him than I was envious. He's a single man, wandering from town to town trying to find himself, as he would say. What's so different about me? Fiona died and nothing's been the same ever since. I'm a single man now. This old motel's got me stuck in a rut. Now I'm gonna wander around like Israel for awhile. Anything beat's this gig: living a life on old batteries. Yeah. There's a million ways to start over, but there's one thing about desperation: at a certain point, it makes a man choose one way and go with it.

(He lights a match, and places his hand on the fire alarm)

OLD BARTH (voiceover): Alright. Everybody out of the pool.

(He pulls the alarm, an awful noise. The blackout happens with the alarm, leaving only the light of the match onstage. He drops the match. The fire may be handled any old tasteful way the director likes. The upshot is, the lights go up in both JEFF and RACHEL's rooms, as they rush to leave the building. RACHEL gets outside first, JEFF shortly after. They notice each other and the lights fade on surprise, confusion, and relief as JEFF crosses and embraces her.)


Marcus Del Greco has been writing for the page, stage, and record since 1992. He founded mindmined.com in 1998 and continues as editor and developer of this domain and a small network of other creative websites. He lives in Alton, New Hampshire.

Email: marcus@mindmined.com
Website: http://www.mindmined.com/marcus


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