The Billboard

“The secret of life,” say the Utes, “is in the shadow and not in the open sun; to see anything at all, you must look deeply into the shadow of a living thing.” Joan Halifax, The Fruitful Darkness

CHARACTERS

WOMAN Late fifties

MAN Mid-sixties

JOHNNNY Mid-forties

WADE Late teens

SCENE 1

Early evening. WOMAN and MAN sit on a park bench overlooking the Meadow, a crescent moon rises in the background. WOMAN is dressed in a skirt and blouse, MAN in a greenish-grey striped shirt and trousers.

MAN

You can’t stay here.

WOMAN

I have nowhere to go.

MAN

(He stares at his feet.)

All these years together I still don’t know . . . you.

WOMAN

(She looks out over the Meadow)

Why do I even try? Answer me, please. Why?

MAN

(He looks up at the sky.)

There it is. What I saw last night

(Points at the crescent moon.)

The shadow of myself.

WOMAN

What did you see?

MAN

I can’t put it into words. It’s up here.

(Points to his head.)

That’s where it is, but it’s gone now. I can’t bring it back.

WOMAN

(Moves closer to MAN.)

Try. I need you to try. It might be what we’ve been waiting for . . . this moment when we’re together. Now it’s here and we don’t know what it is.

(Changes the subject.)

Tell me, what’s your favorite color?

MAN

Color? You know my favorite color. The color of the shirt you gave me for my birthday last year. Why do you ask?

WOMAN

I thought you had forgotten about that shirt. I never see you wearing it.

MAN

I’m wearing it now. The one with the green and grey stripes. It hasn’t changed at all.

WOMAN

I’m sorry. I didn’t know.

MAN

Know what?

(Reaches his arm around WOMAN but she pulls away.)

WOMAN

I knew nothing at all when I gave you the shirt.

MAN

Do you want it back?

(Starts to unbutton his shirt, gets to the second button and stops. He looks across the Meadow and sees a young man riding a horse bareback. MAN and WOMAN move closer together, touching. He halts his horse in front of them.)

WADE

I’m looking for JOHNNY. Have you seen him?

MAN

Johnny? We haven’t seen anyone. Who’s Johnny?

WADE

He’s supposed to be in the Meadow, over there. I thought you might’ve seen him.

MAN

What’s he look like?

WOMAN

It doesn’t matter. We wouldn’t have seen him anyway. We’ve been discussing our future

(Turns to MAN.)

. . . if there’s going to be one.

(Moves to the opposite side of the bench.)

WADE

Your future? We wonder if you even have a future.

(MAN and WOMAN look at each other, puzzled.)

MAN

What do you mean? You know what we talk about?

WADE

Everyone knows about you two. It’s common knowledge with the Meadow People. You should try to find a different place to work out your problems. This is much too public a place.

(WADE rides off toward the Meadow.)

WOMAN

What’s happening to us? Is there nowhere we can discuss anything of importance?

(Turns to MAN.)

What’s the matter?

MAN

(Experiences a semitrance.)

What I saw last night. It’s coming faster now. I think I must be going crazy.

WOMAN

(She touches his eyes.)

You want me to see it?

MAN

Yes, yes. Maybe if you see it you can save me.

WOMAN

Save you? I can’t save you. Save, savior, salvation, salve, safe . . .

(WOMAN runs offstage. MAN slumps over.)

SCENE 2

A beautiful butterfly alights on JOHNNY’S shoulder as he walks in the Meadow.

WOMAN and MAN leave the park bench and walk on a path through the Meadow where they meet JOHNNY.

JOHNNY

(A long strand of beads hangs around his neck.)

“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, / Must give us pause”. . . and still have we learned anything at all?

(He reaches to touch a flower in bloom. The butterfly alights on his extended finger.)

That’s okay, pretty one. What’s not gained here will be gained in another life. We are constantly dying and being reborn. Reborn. Now that’s a nice word, but does it have any meaning? Does it mean anything to you, my pretty butterfly?

(The butterfly flies onto his shoulder, playing with him).

Yes, that’s where you belong. So you can see the world better. Maybe I should change places with you. You can fly through this beautiful Meadow and I will alight on your wings, expand my horizons, explore what I have missed and dared not find, hoped for and failed miserably.

(The butterfly flies into the Meadow as JOHNNY hears footsteps emerge on the path.)

WOMAN

(Sees JOHNNY and stops. MAN follows closely behind her.)

I thought you were much younger than you are.

JOHNNY

I’m not as old as you think, and I’m much younger than your companion here.

(He turns to MAN, bows, and sweeps a bouquet of flowers before him.)

MAN

Not that much younger or we would have met sometime in the . . .

JOHNNY

. . . past?

MAN

Well, yes. How did you know?

JOHNNY

She told me.

MAN

She told you? But you just met her.

JOHNNY

That’s the point. We all know something even when we don’t’ know it.

(Turns to WOMAN.)

Isn’t that right?

(Gestures toward the Meadow.)

Now, all of this, every inch of it belongs to who? Do you think it belongs to you because you are walking through it? Of course, you do.

WOMAN

You didn’t give me a chance to answer.

JOHNNY

(Gently)

Do you have any answers?

WOMAN

I haven’t searched as long as you. But I’ve searched long enough, and I don’t feel like doing it anymore. What’s the difference, whether the Meadow belongs to you, me, him, or that boy—I mean young man. Now, that was really strange. We’ve been sitting on that park bench for years, at the same time every evening, and this young man rides up on horseback, and all of a sudden when you least expect it there’s this eruption . . . in the scene, and then . . . well, it doesn’t feel so good not to know exactly what it is that you’re seeing, especially if it’s something you’ve never seen before and it arrives out of nowhere. . . and it breaks a habit you’ve gotten used to, not like brushing your teeth, or eating the same thing for breakfast every day, not like that, but like a habit you can’t live without, you know, or you’ll die if you don’t keep it.

MAN

Like going to the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet at the same time. It doesn’t matter, morning or evening, just as along as it comes at the same time.

WOMAN

It’s not like taking a shit, even if you do it every fucking day. Why do you say these things, take it completely out of context, misrepresent it? I was saying that—

JOHNNY

When did you see WADE?

WOMAN

Maybe fifteen minutes ago, or five. . . or thirty. I don’t know. He said something about our future and everyone knows about us, even you. And we don’t even know you. Or him. We didn’t even know you existed until he told us you were in the Meadow.

JOHNNY

He talked about the future to you?

MAN

He said we need to find a more private place to air our grievances. And something about the Meadow People knowing all about us. He wasn’t making much sense.

JOHNNY

I have to find him.

(He unclasps his beads and hands them to WOMAN.)

Here. Take these and wear them.

(He shakes WOMAN’s hand, and nodding his head at MAN, he rushes back through the Meadow.)

(A single white light shines on MAN and WOMAN. She pulls the beads over her head and looks down. MAN stares at the white light.)

SCENE 3

Around a campfire, WADE sits on a rock and JOHNNY rests against a boulder. WADE takes a stick and moves the cinders around in the dying fire.

WADE

Do you think they’ll come?

JOHNNY

(Shrugs)

WADE

Well, do you think they’ll come?

JOHNNY

(Shrugs and closes his eyes.)

WADE

Well, do you think they’ll come?

JOHNNY

(Nods and falls asleep.)

WADE

(Looks up at the sky as it grows brighter and lies on the ground and falls asleep.)

SCENE 4

Before dawn. WOMAN and MAN walk along a desert path in the vicinity of JOHNNY and WADE.

WOMAN

(Sits down on a rock and takes her shoes off.)

You didn’t tell me it was going to be like this.

MAN

I would’ve told you if I had known. I didn’t know. Wouldn’t I have told you?

WOMAN

I heard you the first time. You don’t need to repeat yourself.

MAN

They should have given us directions and I would have written them down. But you had to tell them we don’t need directions. We’ll use our intuition.

WOMAN

I thought it would be just beyond the Meadow. Who would have thought it would be miles and miles?

MAN

We don’t know it’s been miles and miles. Tell me what you know. Give me your intuitive insight.

WOMAN

But it feels like miles and miles. What time is it?

MAN

(He checks his wrist.)

Where’s my watch?

(He tears at his pockets.)

I never leave anywhere without my watch.

(Looks at WOMAN.)

Did you take my watch? Slip it off while I was dozing back there? Please tell me you have my watch!

WOMAN

I don’t have your watch. What would I do with your watch? It’s too big for my wrist.

MAN

I never forget my watch. Never! Never! NEVER!

WOMAN

Well, it looks like you’ve forgotten it. And you can’t say never again.

MAN

NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!

WOMAN

Oh, shut up. We don’t even know where we are. We could be going around in circles and you’re worrying about your watch. What’s the matter with you?

(Pokes him in the ribs.)

It’s almost dawn and we haven’t found them yet.

MAN

(Frets about his watch and pulls a cellphone from his shirt pocket.)

WOMAN

(She sings.)

The sun will be rising over the mountain and we’ll just keep walking to get away from all our old stuff and welcome in the new . . . Welcome in the new . . .

MAN

It feels like we’ve been stuck here forever.

WOMAN

We haven’t been here forever.

MAN

It seems like forever we’ve been going around . . .

WOMAN

. . . in circles, but at least it’s not the same thing we do every night.

MAN

What do we do every night?

WOMAN

Sleep in the same ole bed at the same ole time in the same ole house with the same ole pajamas with the same ole blankets with the same ole paint and the same ole furniture staring at me while I’m trying to breathe my way into dreams and sleep and. . .

MAN

That’s how you feel? Just the same ole same ole? You’re bored with me, is that it? You don’t want me around anymore?

WOMAN

I don’t even know myself what I want.

MAN

You seem like you’ve known for a long time, maybe ever since we got married, from the first moment I put the ring on your finger. Maybe you’ve been lying to me all this time. Or kidding yourself . . .

WOMAN

I haven’t been lying to you. I didn’t know how I felt until just now, this very minute. . . the feeling of being . . . well . . . tired of it all . . . of being . . .

MAN

Bored? Life with me is boring? I’m boring? Our house is boring? You don’t want to go on living with me? You want a di . . .

WOMAN

(Softening)

. . . vorce? Why on earth would you think I want a divorce? I’m not bored on account of you. It’s just . . . well . . . it all seems like such a bore. This life and all. The life we lead together. (Sweeps her hand across the desert.) Out here it’s different, interesting, adventurous, not like our lives on the park bench. It must be the air. The air here is fresh, like it wants to take you someplace. Any place. Where your heart desires.

MAN

(Breathes in the desert air.)

Yes, it does seem different, somehow.

(He stands very still, as if in a trance. WOMAN wanders off into the dawn.)

SCENE 5

MAN lies on the ground, sleeping. WOMAN enters left. She runs toward MAN, barefoot. She is a bit disheveled but still wearing the beads.

WOMAN

(She whispers.)

I saw them.

MAN

(He wakes up.)

Saw them? Who?

WOMAN

WADE and JOHNNY. They’re back there over the hill. I climbed up some rocks and looked down and they were there, around a campfire, sleeping. JOHNNY against a boulder, WADE on the ground, next to the fire.

MAN

I didn’t know.

WOMAN

What didn’t you know?

MAN

I didn’t know about it.

WOMAN

You don’t need to know about it. You don’t need to know about anything. Just come with me.

(She leads MAN into the sunrise.)

SCENE 6

WADE throws dirt on the fire. WADE leads the horse on stage, JOHNNY beside him.

JOHNNY

They’re walking down the path toward us.

WADE

I know.

JOHNNY

I heard their footsteps. They’re just on the other side of the rocks. Down below.

WADE

I know.

JOHNNY

She’s leading him.

WADE

I see it happening.

JOHNNY

When did it happen?

WADE

About eighteen years ago. I saw it happen then.

JOHNNY

And they don’t know it.

WADE

Nope. Had no idea.

JOHNNY

You would’ve thought they’d have gotten it by now. Doesn’t make sense, those two, just hanging on and hanging on.

WADE

He didn’t know. She didn’t understand, but she knew. She tried to tell him the best she could, but you know him.

JOHNNY

Yep.

WADE

Do you want to wait or go?

JOHNNY

Let’s go.

SCENE 7

The path is covered with pebbles and small rocks. In the background, WADE sings, JOHNNY strums his guitar.

MAN

There it is, what I saw last night. I told you I would see it today, but you didn’t believe me. I knew it ! There it is. There, coming down the path.

WOMAN

(Looks up and rubs her eyes.)

I can’t see anything.

MAN

You can’t see it? Something on the path, up ahead . . .

WOMAN

(Peers down the path.)

There’s nothing there. Nothing for miles and miles. Can’t you see there’s no end in sight? There’s just the two of us and our fantasies. Fantasies of youth. Fantasies of old age. And lies. Fantasies and lies.

MAN

It’s not a fantasy. What I saw last night while we were sitting on the park bench. . . maybe it wasn’t last night but the night before. . . I don’t know—

WOMAN

(Sits in the middle of the path.)

I hear something. Do you hear something?

MAN

No.

WOMAN

You don’t hear that singing? It’s coming down the path. Just beyond the hill. Listen.

MAN

I hear nothing. NOTHING. NOTH . . . ING

WOMAN

Down the path. Where the singing’s coming from.

MAN

I don’t hear anything.

WOMAN

Here, I’ll help you.

(Cups her hands on his ears.)

MAN

A man. He’s talking to someone.

WOMAN

Who?

MAN

Him. The MAN we saw last night in the Meadow. He’s talking.

WOMAN

(Looks up the path. JOHNNY is walking alongside WADE riding his horse.)

There they are!

MAN

Is that them?

WOMAN

(Grabs his hand.)

Yes, yes, that’s them. Let’s go.

MAN

(Pulls away from WOMAN.)

I don’t need to.

WOMAN

Why not?

MAN

It will ruin me.

WOMAN

What do you mean, ruin you? JOHNNY and WADE are the only people around for miles. We have nothing to lose.

MAN

They’ll never go away. They’ll always be here.

WOMAN

We need to meet them halfway or we’ll be here with nothing.

(Grabs his hand.)

Let’s go.

MAN

No, I can’t.

WOMAN

You’d rather die than meet them halfway? What’s the matter with you?

MAN

Nothing’s the matter with me. It’s not useful.

WOMAN

I’ve never understood you. Maybe it’s JOHNNY you heard last night. Did you ever think of that?

MAN

(Places his hands over his ears.)

You know I can’t stand it when you repeat yourself.

(Sits down in the road.)

I’m not going.

WOMAN

I’m not going to come back to get you. I’m not going to help you this time.

MAN

(Silence.)

(WOMAN stares at him and walks off in a huff.)

(MAN sits in a meditation pose and closes his eyes, facing the audience.)

SCENE 8

JOHNNY

It’s a lovely day, don’t you think?

WOMAN

It’s you. It’s really you. I tried talking MAN into coming with me but he refused.

JOHNNY

Where is he now?

WOMAN

Back there, in the middle of the path. Can you see him?

JOHNNY

Oh, I see him. He looks like he’s in a . . . meditative pose. Does he meditate?

WOMAN

Meditate? I’ve never seen him meditate. It must be the desert . . . and the loneliness.

JOHNNY

Lonely. Yes, I know this about him.

WOMAN

You do? He seems afraid of being too close. He’s sad too. I don’t know why.

JOHNNY

Sad and lonely. Not too great a combination in the desert. Well, for that matter, anywhere. For either of you.

WOMAN

When I first met him, he seemed like somebody I could love. I mean . . . he was very convincing . . . paying attention to. . .

JOHNNY

. . .you. Attentive to you. Is that what you’re saying?

WOMAN

Sort of . . . well . . . yes . . . this was important to me. I wanted . . . needed him to pay attention to me. And vice versa. We sort of doted on each other.

JOHNNY

Doted? That’s how you were attentive to each other? Doting?

WOMAN

I guess that’s what you could say, but it wasn’t even that. No, come to think of it, maybe we were just pretending then, and when we stopped doting, or paying attention to each other, we had to find other things to do with each other. That’s when we started sitting on the park bench.

JOHNNY

And how long has that been going on? Sitting on the park bench, I mean.

WOMAN

Let’s see. We got married in 1999 and this is 2020, so little more than eighteen years. We’ve been sitting on the park bench for eighteen years.

JOHNNY

That’s a long time to do the same thing every night with the same person. You guys have real discipline.

WOMAN

Well, thank you. We’re both very disciplined and we take control over our lives. We would never give that up. I don’t know what we’d do if we couldn’t sit on that park bench every night.

JOHNNY

What did you do last night?

WOMAN

We slept on the path, right in the middle of it. But he was having bad dreams and I had ahold of him when he started to wander off. Bad dreams. About you, I think. Claims he saw you the night before we actually found you in the Meadow. Let’s see. I think that was the night before last, no, it was the night before the night before last, because last night we spent the night on the path and he tried to wander off, so that was two nights ago.

(Thinking)

I’m all mixed up.

JOHNNY

Does it matter?

WOMAN

Of course it matters. It’s the source of everything. Figuring out what comes before and what comes after.

JOHNNY

I see, makes perfect sense. Control and discipline. Discipline and control. You make the most of it, and what’s left out just sort of goes in the garbage.

WOMAN

I wouldn’t say garbage because I don’t know what’s left out and I know MAN doesn’t know what’s left out, so if you don’t know what’s left out, I mean, if it’s not in your field of . . . field of . . .

JOHNNY

Vision?

WOMAN

Yes, that’s it. Field of vision. Then how can you know anything’s been left out? Otherwise, there’s nothing to throw in the garbage. . .

JOHNNY

. . . sort of like an earthquake on the other side of the world. It’s not happening because you’re not in that field of vision.

WOMAN

Yes, I suppose so.

(She hears howling and jumps close to JOHNNY.)

What’s that?

JOHNNY

I think it’s him.

WOMAN

Who?

JOHNNY

Him. The one you left behind. MAN.

WOMAN

My husband? I never heard him howl like that.

JOHNNY

He howls often?

WOMAN

Never like that, but yes, he howls sometimes.

JOHNNY

Well, he’s really howling now. Should we find out what’s going on?

WOMAN

I don’t want to.

JOHNNY

You don’t want to? You don’t want to see why he’s howling?

WOMAN

He chose to stay down there and not come to meet you. So he can just howl all he wants.

JOHNNY

What if he needs help?

WOMAN

He doesn’t need help. He just needs to howl.

JOHNNY

On principle you won’t see if he needs help because you already know he needs help and because you know he needs help, you won’t go.

WOMAN

He didn’t come when I asked him. It’s the principle of the thing.

(WADE rides toward JOHNNY and WOMAN. WOMAN can’t see MAN holding onto WADE, howling.)

WOMAN

What’s that?

(Steps closer to JOHNNY, holding onto his arms.)

NO, no, no no no not that. .

JOHNNY

What do we have here?

WADE

I found him howling up a storm.

(JOHNNY helps MAN off the horse and sets him down, and MAN resumes his meditation pose. The howling is eerie now. WOMAN walks toward them.)

JOHNNY

(To WADE)

Ride into town and find that billboard. The one with the man who sells vacuum cleaners.

WADE

They took it down last night.

JOHNNY

Took it down? It’s been up for over two years.

WADE

(Shrugs)

I saw the men paste over it. On my way back from the Meadow.

JOHNNY

Ride back and tell them you’ll pay a higher price to rent it for a couple of days. We don’t have much time.

SCENE 9

JOHNNY and WADE put the finishing touches on a scaffolding to hold a large billboard near the park bench overlooking the Meadow. WADE lifts a large roll off the back of his horse and climbs up the scaffolding and begins to paste the roll to the frame.

WOMAN and MAN sit on the park bench as if nothing unusual has happened. They are dressed in the same clothes as in SCENE 1.

WOMAN

(Points to the billboard.)

What’s that?

MAN

I don’t know.

WOMAN

That’s a strange place for a billboard. It wasn’t there yesterday.

MAN

It does interfere with our view of the Meadow. But stranger things have happened in this park before.

WOMAN

What do you think it’s going to be?

MAN

What?

WOMAN

The billboard. What’s it going to be?

MAN

I don’t know.

WOMAN

Aren’t you curious?

MAN

Not really.

WOMAN

I think you ought to be curious. Why they’re putting it up right where it blocks our view of the Meadow. That seems really curious to me.

MAN

(He shrugs still looking at the billboard.)

WOMAN

(She’s excited and jumps up.)

They’ve got one half of the billboard up. It’s a man. I can see it from here. He’s got a suit on just like the one you wore at our wedding.

(WOMAN runs to the billboard to inspect the man’s face. She runs back, breathless.)

WOMAN

It’s you. They’ve pasted you on the billboard. It looks like you are embracing someone.

MAN

(He walks up to the billboard.)

Oh my god, it’s me. It looks exactly like me.

(While MAN stares at the billboard, JOHNNY and WADE paste the other half. MAN sees his wife pasted on the billboard in a white flowing dress.)

MAN

(Calls to WOMAN.)

Come and see. It’s you in your wedding dress. It’s us. You and me. We’re dancing at our wedding.

(WOMAN runs to the billboard and sees them in a loving embrace. She touches MAN’s arm and they start to dance to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”)

(Lights fade to black.)

THE END

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.