Belonging — Laurence Klavan



ROLAND, uncouth, thirties, stands at the door. He is near MERRY, more refined, also thirties, whose place it is.


                                                ROLAND
I just want you to know:  I’m not the kind of man who does this.



                                                MERRY
Okay.



                                                ROLAND
But having been married for so long, well, it’s…not easy.



                                                MERRY
It’s normal to be nervous. Come in.

                       (He enters.)


                                                ROLAND
I’m not nervous. I’ve condemned other men who’ve done this. Seen them as contemptible, embarrassing, weak.



                                                MERRY
That’s harsh, but however you have to…Look, should we get started? It’s your dime.



                                                ROLAND
Okay.

                       (They sit down, across from each other.)

It was a last resort to consult a psychic, that’s all I’m saying.


                                                MERRY
Okay.



                                                ROLAND
But being without my wife for awhile, I just needed to—see her again, in a sense.



                                                MERRY
I understand. Did you bring what we discussed? May I have a belonging of hers?



                                                ROLAND
Oh, okay. Here.

                       (He takes out, hands her a bra. She just looks at it.)

It’s all I could—everything else was gone, I—


                                                MERRY
It’s all right. I think. I guess we can—work with it.

                       (She holds it, touches it, senses it.)

Tell me…was your wife in great pain when she died?


                                                ROLAND
She’s not dead. She’s in perfect health. She ran off with someone else.



                                                MERRY
Oh.



                                                ROLAND
You don’t see that in her bra?



                                                MERRY
Well, it’s not me. The guides are the ones who see and who tell me. And they’re saying that…(considers) tell me, did she ever fall out of a window?



                                                ROLAND
She did throw my things out on the lawn.



                                                MERRY
(considers it, then—) They see that she’s ready to be out of pain, that’s it, to be cut loose, to be free.



                                                ROLAND
So you’re saying she’s not coming back? You don’t have to hedge or soft-soap. I won’t sue or anything.



                                                MERRY
The guides say that, yes.

                       (Beat)


                                                ROLAND
Oh dear God.

                       (He cries, grievously. She looks at him.)


                                                MERRY
I’m sorry if that was painful.



                                                ROLAND
Not to be connected to her any more would be a kind of exile. Like being blindfolded and let out of a car, on a highway, anywhere in America.

                       (She can only nod.)


                                                MERRY
Maybe you don’t want her to return. Has that ever occurred to you? Maybe that’s why you’ve come.

                       (Roland shakes his head.)


                                                ROLAND
That’s ridiculous!



                                                MERRY
I’ve seen it in others. People fearing their wants. Sometimes they even give me their own belonging and say it’s someone else’s.



                                                ROLAND
(weeping, points to bra) Well, that wasn’t the case here!

                       (Beat.)


                                                MERRY
This isn’t what you were seeking from a psychic.



                                                ROLAND
(sniffling) I thought you might conjure up her floating face. And she would say she was sorry.



                                                MERRY
That’s not how anyone works. Outside of an old Abbott and Costello movie, I mean.



                                                ROLAND
You don’t use cards either? The pictures of corpses and devils?



                                                MERRY
To be honest, that takes training. And I just—I can’t help hearing.  Guides from the other side chose me, it wasn’t my idea. It was like accepting an inheritance from someone in my family I never knew existed. It was to my benefit, but now I have an odd obligation.



                                                ROLAND
I hear you. In a restaurant recently, a rich, drunken stranger at another table bought my wife and me dinner. I think he was really only interested in my wife, but I ate it, anyway, on him.



                                                MERRY
In a sense. But now imagine the stranger moves into your house, even sleeps in your room, at the head of your bed. And if something occurs to him at all hours, he says it. And then this happens all the time, no matter where you are or who you’re with, making most other experiences impossible. Imagine that came with the entrée you accepted, the—



                                                ROLAND
I had the veal.



                                                MERRY
Imagine those were the conditions that came with the veal.



                                                ROLAND
But you know the future, and I ate for free once at an overpriced—the place doesn’t even exist any more, I think it’s a nail salon now. It’s not the same thing, your deal is better.



                                                MERRY
You say that, but sometimes you might want to not know any more, to be in the dark with all the idiots on Earth again, no offense. You might want to be ignorant again, to not be so isolated, to be connected to someone actually alive. That has its appeal, once it’s over.



                                                ROLAND
I see.



                                                MERRY
I guess this isn’t an ideal advertisement for my services.



                                                ROLAND
Well, I was going to ask you if you wanted to take a few minutes. I could wait outside if you—



                                                MERRY
No—it’s just one of those days, that’s all. Here, take your belonging.  Your wife’s not coming back. See the sunny side. I’m sorry.

                       (She has risen, waits for him to go.)


                                                ROLAND
Don’t you even—want my money?


                                                MERRY
(shakes head) It’s on the house, a Fall special, or something.



                                                ROLAND
This is July.



                                                MERRY
Please, just take your padded bra and go.


                                                ROLAND
It’s padded?

                       (But she has shown him out. Alone, Merry is agitated. Two GUIDES come out.
GUIDE #1 is in seventies disco clothing. GUIDE #2 is from the time of cowboys.)



                                                GUIDE #1
That was the third one you didn’t charge this week.



                                                GUIDE #2
How are you going to—what’s the expression?



                                                GUIDE #1
“Make your nut this month”?



                                                GUIDE #2
Exactly.



                                                MERRY
I don’t care. It was just the look on his face. I couldn’t ask him for—



                                                GUIDE #2
We didn’t make anything up.



                                                GUIDE #1
He got more than his money’s worth.



                                                MERRY
Well, you think that whatever you see is worth a hundred dollars, and I don’t. Even if it doesn’t help, only hurts.



                                                GUIDE #2
It’s not always unpleasant.



                                                GUIDE #1
We’ve seen some very sweet things.



                                                GUIDE #2
Like that man being reunited with his dachshund.



                                                GUIDE #1
Maybe you should have charged him for us today, then given him half off for your whining, that would have been about right.



                                                MERRY
I think I’ll cancel the rest of the day. I’m not up to any more clients.



                                                GUIDE #1
That’s not a good idea.



                                                GUIDE #2
You need the income.



                                                GUIDE #1
How else are you going to make a living? Remember when you were a receptionist? How hard was it to put someone on hold?



                                                MERRY
And whose fault was it I was fired? How could I hear who was on the other end with the two of you yammering in my—



                                                GUIDE #2
We weren’t hammering.



                                                MERRY
Not hammering, I said yam—



                                                GUIDE #1
Cut him some slack, he doesn’t know our figures of speech. He was wandering longer than I was in the after-life, looking for someone living who’d be worth giving our wisdom. And it’s not easy for me either, with no choice but to be thrown together with him and forced to interpret all the time.



                                                GUIDE #2
What’s “hold”?



                                                GUIDE #1
See? (to him) It’s when you’re stuck in a strange and silent space while others go on.



                                                GUIDE #2
So it’s death?



                                                GUIDE #1
It’s not death. And, besides, she didn’t even do it right, she disconnected them.



                                                GUIDE #2
She allowed them to live?



                                                GUIDE #1
Look, when you were alive, you had to ride in a covered wagon to deliver one letter. So how can I explain “on hold” to you?



                                                GUIDE #2
(shrugs) I know that holding is filled with meaning. I know that much.



                                                MERRY
It’s true. Whatever belonging is held in my hands, our hands, is…and they’re all too heavy for me now, I can’t handle it. (beat) Why did I reply when I heard you on the subway that day? I thought someone was saying that I had dropped something, my umbrella with the swan head handle, or my phone had fallen on the floor. But the car was almost empty: it was you. You said it was because I was sensitive, and you’d been searching for someone sensitive. Your words were like an arm around me, that’s how by myself I’d been. I was so anxious not to be alone. I didn’t know how much I’d miss a Sunday afternoon with only me and the crossword puzzle—and no one saying the answers in my ear.



                                                GUIDE #1
Just the easy ones.



                                                MERRY
That was enough!



                                                GUIDE #2
What’s she going on about?



                                                GUIDE #1
She doesn’t want us any more.



                                                GUIDE #2
But we want her.



                                                GUIDE #1
(nods) Otherwise, we’d still be alone out there—and lost forever.



                                                GUIDE #2
Not attached to anything, not even to ourselves.



                                                GUIDE #1
You can’t go back on the deal.



                                                GUIDE #2
It’s not possible, and you know it.

                       (Roland has re-entered. She sees him.)


                                                MERRY
Oh.



                                                ROLAND
I’m sorry. I knocked hard enough to break off the angel on your door, but you—



                                                MERRY
I didn’t hear it.



                                                ROLAND
Well—this belongs to you. I took it by mistake.

                       (He hands her a pen. She takes it.)


                                                MERRY
Does it? Thanks.



                                                GUIDE #1
It doesn’t.



                                                GUIDE #2
You’re right.



                                                GUIDE #1
It’s his.



                                                GUIDE #2
He only used it as an excuse. To come back. To see her again.



                                                MERRY
Thank you.



                                                ROLAND
You said that already.



                                                GUIDE #1
He drove his wife away. To the other man.



                                                GUIDE #2
It wasn’t her fault.



                                                GUIDE #1
She said he was too needy and was suffocating her.



                                                MERRY
Look, I—



                                                GUIDE #1
And he doesn’t last long in bed!



                                                GUIDE #2
He can’t control himself, he’s too excitable! It was too much masturbation!



                                                GUIDE #1
It’s a sort of—selfishness!



                                                ROLAND
Is anything the matter?



                                                GUIDE #2
We’re warning you!



                                                GUIDE #1
We’re trying to save you the same experience!



                                                GUIDE #2
Don’t pretend you don’t hear!



                                                MERRY
Shut up!



                                                ROLAND
What? What’d I say?



                                                MERRY
Nothing—look, just—keep it, okay?



                                                ROLAND
(shrugs) Okay.

                       (She has handed him back the pen. He turns to go. Then he turns back.)

Look, I wasn’t going to come back, but—I feel like I should do anything I want now, who’s stopping me, no one. You helped me. Because of what you said, about my wife: I wanted to stay with her so much, maybe too much, and I—love doesn’t have to be unhealthy, an obsession, a desperate—you can see it in a new way, turn your head around about it, like the girl in the old exorcist movie—not that you’re an exorcist, but even if you were. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m trying to find out…will you be free tomorrow?

                       (She is looking at him. She looks at the guides, then back at him.)


                                                MERRY
No. But, please, pick me up at six. Okay?

                       (Lights fade.)


***


Laurence Klavan received two Drama Desk nominations for the book and lyrics to Bed and Sofa, the musical produced by the Vineyard Theater in New York and the Finborough Theatre in London. He co-wrote the musical, Embarrassments, produced by the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia. His one-act, The Summer Sublet, produced in the Ensemble Studio Theater Marathon in New York, is included in Best American Short Plays 2000-2001, and his one-act, The Show Must Go On, was the most produced short play in American high schools in 2015-2016. His novels, The Cutting Room and The Shooting Script, were published by Ballantine Books. He won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. His graphic novels, City of Spies and Brain Camp, co-written with Susan Kim, were published by First Second Books at Macmillan, and their Young Adult fiction series, Wasteland, was published by Harper Collins. His short story collection, The Family Unit and Other Fantasies, was published by Chizine.