by Dave Patton
Alice Coyle…middle aged woman.
American, Midwest accent.
Woolen hat, fingerless gloves, scarf, and long tweed coat.
Bronsky…middle aged, large man.
American, Midwest accent.
Tan leather sheepskin jacket, denims, winter boots.
Heller…middle aged, slight built, slightly stooped man.
American, New York accent.
Dark three-piece suit, highly shined shoes, Fedora, brolly.
American, Midwest accent.
T shirt, denims, one boot. Clothes are torn and bloodstained. Face, arms, and hands have cuts, bruises, and blood.
Two benches overlooking a midwest town pond.
To left of stage, a balcony about three feet above stage.
Mrs. Coyle is spreading breadcrumbs at front stage.
Bronsky sits on a park bench to rear left of stage.
Narrator lies prone on an adjacent bench, occasionally sitting up to deliver his lines.
No fighting now, there’s more than enough to go round.
Now now Ethel, give the little ones a chance.
Yes you! You, you naughty girl. If you don’t let the little ones eat, they won’t get through the winter if you take their share, now will they?
(She laughs and skips away as the ducks follow.)
No more. (She pleads, hands outstretched to show the truth of it.)
No more. See?
Comes down here most days, Mrs. Coyle, lives up there on Clarence Street in one of those big old brownstones.
Brings a bag of crumbs the Baker on Clarence Street gives her when she buys her morning rolls.
She used to run it, the bakers, but she sold it on a few years back to take care of her husband, on account of he’s got the cancer like my maw had, and he ain’t gonna make it neither, so it seems.
I dunno, maybe she comes down here sometimes just to have some time to herself, you know? Must be tough I guess.
Anyway, this guy?
This guy here’s Bronsky, retired cop, had a few run-ins with him when I was a kid. Decent guy though, for a cop! Old school, you know? Clip on the ear kinda guy.
This here park used to be part of his beat, comes down most days, I dunno, nostalgia maybe, who can tell with these old folks, although where else a guy gonna get some peace and quiet in this shitty little town?
So when she’d first started coming down here and he saw her with her headscarf, her fingerless gloves, and pulling a tartan shopper, he’d put her for a bag lady, or a bum maybe.
But that was back when things were black and white with him you know?
When there was only good or bad with no kinda blurred edges, he figured he knew how the world went back then.
Figured that for a little over twenty-eight years on the beat that he’d seen it all and dealt with most of it.
It’s taken him a while to learn what most of the folks around here just take for granted…that there ain’t just victims or villains, guilty or innocent, in the force or out, but that people are just individuals, you know?
People just trying to get along each day to make more sense of their lives than they did yesterday.
He’s figured it out that people are more than just tick boxes on the report forms he’d filled out each night for his Desk Sergeant.
Shit, listen to me, philosophizing and all!
Cold this morning Mister Bronsky. I expect they’ll mostly be gone soon. (She motions towards the ducks.)
Bronsky. (Bronsky stirs, he’d been so far into his own thoughts, that he hadn’t noticed her approach. He rises as she nears and makes to sit on the bench.)
Yes ma’am, it’s cold alright. (He swats at the slats of the bench with his gloves as he speaks, clearing the dusting of this morning’s first winter snowfall for her.)
Couple of weeks, I reckon you’ll only have the fish to feed around here, an’ then you’ll be breaking the ice to get to them. (Chuckles.)
Thanks Mister Bronsky, that’s kind of you, but really there’s no need. These are my old duck clothes. Mister Coyle says I look like one of the bag ladies from over on Carmyle Street!
Bronsky. (Looks embarrassed, shuffles, harrumphs and makes a fuss of pulling his collar back up around his ears.)
I miss them terribly in the winter, the Ducks. Oh, I feed the pigeons over there on Marshall Street then, but it’s not quite the same somehow.
No ma’am, I wouldn’t want to sit watching you feeding no flock of pigeons in town, that’s for sure. If you see what I mean?
Mrs. Coyle. (Smiles.)
Oh, I know they need food in the winter too, and I do put some out on the ledge at home, but the lake’s just … It can be so pretty in the wintertime.
Bronsky. (Grunts his agreement and follows her gaze out over the pond. As he turns to her, we hear a jet thunder low overhead.)
Shit! (A second jet, roars above them.)
Mrs. Coyle. (Her eyes are closed tight, and she clutches at Bronsky’s arm. The noise fades as she shakes her head, Bronsky touches her arm, she turns to him, her eyes barely open.)
They’re gone ma’am.
Mrs. Coyle. (Looks up to where he is pointing and realises that she was holding on to him. She’s a bit embarrassed.)
I’m sorry Mr. Bronsky, (lets go his arm) but those things just frighten me so, I can’t even think properly.
Bronsky. (Nods, shuffles embarrassed.)
Uh, me too ma’am, don’t think you’d hardly be human if they didn’t.
(They sit for a minute and sensing she is getting ready to go, he asks.)
What’s the Doc say about Mr. Coyle ma’am?
Mrs. Coyle. (Smooths out the empty paper bag, carefully folding it over and over. She straightens out the folds of her coat around her knees before sighing her answer.)
I’m afraid he won’t see Christmas Mr. Bronsky. Doctor says he’s sorry, but this is it. This is the one which will finally take Brian from me. (She dabs her eyes as she speaks.)
There isn’t anything anyone can do for him this time… no, not this time.
Bronsky. (Shakes his head, turning to look at her.)
I’m real sorry to hear that Mrs. Coyle. I thought maybe, your… Brian that is, you know, after Christmas – in the New Year sometime. Maybe…
Mrs. Coyle. (Nods slightly, her mouth forcing a small, sad smile.)
Oh, if you saw him now you wouldn’t want that for him Mr. Bronsky, no.
Thank you, but really, it’s best this way, that he goes soon. Best all round this way, yes. (She says this through a tight little smile in a no-nonsense, matter of fact, staccato bursts of words.)
Now would you look at this guy! He sure as hell wants to say something. Knows he oughta say something…anything just to let her know that he knows. That he understands her pain.
So, as he just sits there struggling for the words, she’s thinking that a woman, even if she was a stranger, would have reached out at a time like this you know? A woman would have held her and shared her pain, but she knows that he can’t; that he won’t, and she’s sad for his distance.
Mrs. Coyle. (Sniffing and wiping her eyes)
Your friend is late today mister Bronsky.
Ah, yes ma’am, he’s always got stuff needs doing, always in a hurry going from place to place, from here to there. Never really seems to get all the things done he set out to do though.
Well, I need to be going Mister Bronsky. I’ve got a lot of things I need to get done. (She rises to go, busily brushing her coat and pulling on her gloves as she stands.)
Bronsky. (Stands, holding out his hand.)
Swede ma’am. Friends call me Swede.
Mrs. Coyle. (Taking his hand.)
Thanks Mister… erm…Swede, it’s so very nice to have someone to listen.
And it’s Alice please Swede, Mrs. Coyle sounds so terribly formal.
Sure thing Alice, Mr. Bronsky and Mrs. Coyle seems like we’re just dancin’ round somethin’ we neither of us can see.
Mrs. Coyle. (Shuffles and they both appear embarrassed)
Say hello to Mister Heller for me Swede?
Bronsky. (Nods and tips his fingers to the cap he no longer wears.)
Yes ma’am, if’n whenever he ever gets here, I’ll pass your regards.
(He sits back on the bench, slow and deliberate and opens his lunch bag.)
(Mrs. Coyle exits stage and appears at the balcony.)
Mrs. Coyle. (from balcony)
Now you might think, to see him, that he’s infirm, or perhaps ill or something of that nature, but he’s a big man, and he walks and holds himself like big men sometimes do, slow and deliberate.
He still wears good quality clothes; not necessarily new you understand, but good, and clean.
Keeps his boots clean. I always like a man who keeps clean shoes.
Never wears a hat, not even when it snows!
His hair, (chuckles) makes him look like Buffalo Bill. (Laughs)
But it’s those hands! (wistful)
Last time we spoke, he’d told me… Now how did he say it…
(She mimics Bronsky)
Yes Mam, these hands have dug ditches in Australia, fired an M16 halfway round the world and erected steel in New York these here hands.
They’ve driven a truck in Ohio, felled timber in Alaska and a bare-knuckle fighter in Michigan!
That poor man, well, he was out for half an hour! Twenty dollars Mrs. Coyle, twenty dollars for half killing a man I barely knew, and yet the army paid me much more for killing people I didn’t even know at all!
(She resumes her normal voice)
And yet… and yet they’re such elegant hands for such a big man, and I think that this can make him appear awkward when he does something delicate.
Look at him now, massaging the joints around his knees, like two great pale spiders worrying at some prey.
(We hear a clicking of shoes on concrete approaching.)
Oh, now this man hurrying along here, this is Mr. Heller, Mr. Brons… Swede’s friend.
Now as you’ll see, it’s easy to tell them apart. Everything the big man is, Mr. Heller isn’t.
Now Mr. Heller is a salesman, and it would seem that he’s sold almost everything, to almost everybody, in almost every state. Apparently he’s only younger by four years from Mr. Bronsky, but if you didn’t notice the hairpiece, and were fooled by the way he walks, sort of spring stepped, then you’d maybe take off a handful of hard winters.
Mr. Heller’s the man in the store who would get the owner to say; ‘Gee, I woulda put you for a lot younger’n that friend.
Watch now…see how he moves, with a dancer’s spatial awareness, a fluid, easy grace, reminds me of Fred Astaire rather then Gene Kelly. More fluid and less…I don’t know…Gymnastic?
Look, see his shoes, polished like patent leather!
They were expensive too, those shoes, hand tooled Italian leather, cut to fit. He was very lucky; the man they’d been made for had the same size, and nearly the same shape of feet!
He dresses modern, but he buys his clothes from bargain stores so that they never really last. I think, rather unkindly I suppose, that he looks like a waiter from that Italian restaurant in town.
And that umbrella? He always carries his rolled umbrella, or as he calls it, his Brolly. “Gentlemen do, they just do.” He says!
Swede says that he jokes that his father was English, which, for all he knows, might have been true… Oh, that’s a terrible thing to say, I don’t know what’s gotten into me today!
But he’s a nice man, if a bit shy, him with his little snap-brim Fedora, which he tilts at ladies who catch his eye and doffs to priests and funeral corteges.
Now his hands, see how he uses them. “Watchmakers’ hands”, he says. They’re always moving, even when he’s only listening. He could conduct a conversation with his hands as though it were the Berlin Philharmonic! (She mimics a conductor.)
Hi Bronsky, Hi Leif. (He pants.)
Bronsky. (Doesn’t look up. He reaches inside his jacket and very deliberately pulls out his glasses, unfolds them and sits them on the end of his nose. Then back into his jacket again where he pulls out his watch, flips open the case and studies the face.)
My retirement piece says you’re late, Heller.
(He clicks the watchcase shut and turns to Heller as he replaces it and his glasses back inside his jacket.)
Heller. (Gasps, spreading his arms out and appealing to an invisible jury.)
Bronsky. (Ignores the performance.)
Me an ol’ Leif here thought maybe something happened. (He nods to the little brass plaque on the bench, fingering it.)
Heller. (Stops unbuttoning his coat, and points at the face of his own watch.)
Late you say!
Late the man tells me!
It’s a miracle I’m here even!
You wouldn’t believe even should I tell you!
(He unstraps the watch, shakes it at his ear, turns the winder a few times as though it’s somehow to blame, and straps it back on his wrist.)
Well, “Hello Heller” would be nice. “It’s good to see you here and looking so well Heller”, even if I am late, would be nice.
Bronsky. (Grunts and turns back to stare out over the lake and hide his smile.)
Alice had to go, said to say hello.
Alice? … Mrs. Coyle? … The Duck Lady? … Mrs. Coyle? That her name, Alice? Never thought of her as an Alice.
Alice, Mrs. Alice Coyle.
Didn’t look like no Irisher, an’ I should know. (Scoffs)
Worked with enough of ’em over the years!
Hard workers them Irish… when they’re not on the liquor that is!
Never knew a nation who could drink so much; ‘cept the Scots, an’ they’re nearly Irish anyhow, right?
Don’t mean she’s Irish Heller, no more’n Bronsky means I’m Polish or Swedish or whatever.
So, where’d the Bronsky come from?
Oh, on my dad’s side my Mom says, all the way back to whenever. Nobody ever thought to find out. Europe somewheres I reckon.
Her husband’s dying.
Heller. (Head snaps up.)
Who? (He sucks in, coughing as the cold air caught at his throat.)
Shit! The Duck Lady? Her husband, Mr. Coyle you say?
Brian. His name’s Brian. Said the Doc told her it’d be soon. No point to be thinking anything else.
Shame, she seems kinda nice. Brian? Always the decent folks, huh?
Yeah, always so. Always the good folks.
Look at them, sitting there thinking over the death of a man they neither of them know.
Bronsky? He’s kinda soft on Mrs. Coyle I reckon, and I won’t be too far off the mark thinking that, married and all, she’s got a kinda crush on old Bronsky there!
(Every now and then Heller shakes his head and makes a little ‘Shh’ noise, as if he’s saying shit, only half to himself. Bronsky nods to Heller’s ‘Shh’.)
Bronsky. (Shivers in the cold.)
Brrr. (He lets out, as the spiders rub furiously at his knees.)
Got a letter from my brother, the youngest one. Been up in Canada since ought-five. Hadn’t wrote in three years now.
Joints botherin’ you old man?
Went to Canada once Bronsky, cold; cold as all hell, and French too!
Might be he’s coming back home he reckons.
(He opens the wax proof wrapping of his lunch and spread it on the bench between them, nodding to Heller to take first choice.)
Was kinda glad to get back home myself.
Fried chicken on brown bread with mayonnaise or smoked cheese & ham?
People were okay, least the ones I could understand. But it was cold, damn cold.
Coming back home. (He looks inside his sandwich.)
Back home to be with me and the family.
Heller. (Chews on his food, nodding.)
We always used to get back together for Christmas. Christmas and thanksgiving. Christmas is a good time for families to be together. But there’s not enough of us left now to, you know…
Bronsky. (Lets out a long, long breath down through his nose.)
Doc’s told him he’s got no more’n six months, my Brother, you believe that. Six months!
Had a cousin died young. Twenty-four. Some kind of accident, squished him like a piece of Salami, never did get told the details.
Dying young like that…him younger’n me just don’t seem right, like there oughta be a natural order in the way of things, you know?
(He blows in his hanky and wipes the cold from his eyes.)
I just… (He blows his nose again.)
Squashed flat he was, in an accident on a rolling mill down in Chicago. (He peers suspiciously between the two slices of bread at the flattened meat.)
My uncle had to go identify the remains.
(A skein of geese flies overhead.)
Bronsky. (Gestures at the geese.)
Time they get back; I expect he’ll be gone. Won’t ever see no geese coming back north again.
Chicken? (He asks, picking up a second sandwich.)
Heller. (Nods and looks up at the birds.)
He couldn’t have looked none too pretty. Box came to my Uncle’s place with the lid already screwed down. (He shivers and pulls his coat around his legs.)
Went hunting for duck one time, up in the Adirondacks. Weren’t supposed to, but my brother, the one that’s coming back home, told us he had permits.
Damn Rangers came an’ took our guns until we left the following week, said we were damned lucky I was a cop, else we’d have lost the truck! (He looks up and gestures with his sandwich.)
Beautiful, Goddam beautiful.
They can fly for thousands of miles that way you know. First one bird takes the lead, then another, then another, and so on until the first one goes at it all over again.
This guy, a guy I know, he told me that once. Ornicolagalist he called himself, told me how those birds have it all worked out to fly in a kind of “V” to save energy?
Now I ask you Bronsky, who would know that?
Who would know that some bunch of birds could figure that all out, huh?
Bronsky. (Chews and smiles.)
Ornithologist, feller that knows all about birds and their ways, they’re called Ornithologists.
Why do we always have to screw up the good things Heller?
All that way, all that flying, then some frickin’ redneck blasts the hell out o’ them, just so as he can prove he’s a man to the rest of them good ol’ boys. Just makes no sense to me Bronsky, you know? Something’s in this world just make no frickin sense at all.
(He wraps a doughnut from his paper bag in a napkin and having passed it to Bronsky, he sits for a while sucking the sugar from his fingers.)
Bronsky. (Takes two apples from his pocket, burnishing them to a shiny, almost plastic red on the sleeve of his jacket and passes one to Heller.)
I mean, them geese, free and flying, why we always got to go shitting on things Heller, huh?
Heller. (His voice softening.)
Just the way things are old man. Just the way they are.
(He nods over his shoulder at the little plaque screwed to the bench.)
Old Leif here, he probably didn’t make much sense of things either, did you Leif, huh?
(He spells out the words slowly.)
In Loving Memory of
Born 9th July 1979.
Died 14th June 2001.
Only 22 years old when he died, he couldn’t have known or guessed that he’d be asked his opinion on so many occasions on such a variety of topics.
They both use him this way, like an emotional conduit. When their dialogue strays over into the realms of emotions, whether love, pain, or anger, one of them will invoke the ghost of Leif Slobaken.
The irony would have been lost on Leif. His last few years, before his death-day, had been spent hooked up to the machines that fed and breathed for him. His mother would sit there every day and tell him her news, or tell him how busy his father was, or that he was working abroad or…
Mostly though, she’d just sit and tell her son all of the things his father didn’t want to hear and wouldn’t listen to.
Before she died, she’d agreed they could cut off the power and, “Use any bits of my son that would help somebody else. Least that way he’ll still be here when I’m gone”.
She didn’t ask Leif if he wanted to die, but then, as she said, she’d never asked him if wanted to get born neither.
So Leif lives on as a liver in a young girl in Florida.
A heart in a man in California.
One cornea in a New York cop, and an oracle for two old friends.
I knew her, his mother, she would be happy he finally did something good.
Maybe dying young ain’t no bad thing Heller. Maybe dying before you get to find out what a mean life this can be ain’t no bad thing anyway. Hell, I don’t know anymore Heller. Thought I did, but I don’t. Way too many things I just can’t figure no more. Way too many.
These silences? They don’t weigh heavy on them, these silences. They have comfortable silences.
Silences that last until one of them has something to say.
A stranger would maybe find it intolerable; would feel the silence grind on their ears.
Compelled to break the tension, a stranger would maybe say something; anything.
But they don’t.
When they don’t need to speak, they don’t, so that when they do speak, their conversations are more than just filling in the holes.
That’s not to say it’s an exchange of ideas, like a debate or an argument.
No, it’s just that when one of them breaks his thoughts to say something, then the other will generally listen, or at least appear to.
Now look at Heller there, nibbling on his apple, and just like Bronsky, he hears everything the other man says. But they never analyse, and they rarely comment.
They’ve never talked about this way of communicating of course.
Never agreed to this format, they just didn’t know of any other way.
Commenting, agreeing, or disagreeing, sympathizing, or empathising would leave them open… open and vulnerable, and that’s way too scary!
They’ve both been hurt before, been damaged by people who should have loved them enough not to hurt them, but did anyway.
Neither of them has given much thought to the reasons, nor spent much time figuring out ways to avoid it happening again. No, they both just found life easier this way.
So they each speak in turn, pouring out their feelings to a man each of them thinks maybe doesn’t listen, and they feel safe knowing he won’t say if he had.
It’s not that they don’t care, they do, but like most men, they just don’t know how to show it.
Such a shame, he’s a fine man, gentle and good…Oh I know, here’s me goosing over a man with my Brian fading each day. But sometimes, sometimes when most of your life has been lived, I don’t think it at all wrong to ponder…Sliding Doors, I loved that picture, where chance plays such a role in shaping our future, but not our past, no, that’s set, and no amount of daydreaming can alter that.
Heller. (Dusts off the crumbs, tossed the wrappings in the wastebasket and stands buttoning his coat.)
Well, them geese are long gone by now Bronsky, hope they get to where they’re going without some fool taking shots at them, even if they got a permit to say they can. Ornithologist you say?
Bronsky. (Chews on the last of his apple, throwing the core to the waiting ducks down by the shore.)
Yep, specializes in birds they tell me.
See you tomorrow, Heller, if you don’t go forgettin’ Leif an’ me again.
Heller. (Snorts and pulls his collar up against the afternoon cold.)
Take care Bronsky, be a shame if you don’t make it one day. Ol’ Leif here, he’s only good for listening.
(Bronsky, his arm now along the back of the empty bench, fingers the well rubbed plaque as he watches Heller walk off, the metal in the heels of his shoes tapping quickly away, echoing sharp in the still, cold air.)
(END OF ACT)
© 2021 Dave Patton All rights reserved.