THE DESERT

(Prologue. An abandoned car and the interior of a small apartment in the middle of a desert. The lights come up on David, a young man of about 30 and an old woman. She's eating a bowl of cold cereal.)

 

DAVID

Momma, I had to see you—

 

SYLVIA

Ugh.

 

DAVID

—I—

 

SYLVIA

God damn it!

 

DAVID

What?

 

SYLVIA

Ugh. In my whole mouth, I have two teeth. How is it possible that I could get food stuck in there?

 

DAVID

I don’t know.

 

SYLVIA

Ugh. I can’t eat no more. I can’t enjoy my food.

 

DAVID

Look Momma, I want to—

 

SYLVIA

David, do you see a lot of old people where you live?

 

DAVID

What?

 

SYLVIA

Old people. You know. Old. Do you see them?

 

DAVID

There’re some.

 

SYLVIA

Do you ever talk to them?

 

DAVID

Talk to them? I don’t know. Sometimes. Momma, I—

 

SYLVIA

You talk to them?

 

DAVID

Yeah, small talk, “how ya doin”, you know.

 

SYLVIA

So maybe you could tell me.  Are they like me?

 

DAVID

How?

 

SYLVIA

Are they like me?  In my predicament.

 

DAVID

Predicament?  I don’t understand.

 

SYLVIA

Miserable.  Are they miserable?

 

DAVID

You’re miserable?

 

SYLVIA

Yeah. So, are they like me?

 

DAVID

You never told me you were—

 

SYLVIA

Miserable. Yes. I’m very unhappy.

 

DAVID

You’re miserable?

 

SYLVIA

I hate living. I don’t know why you live just to get old.  Doesn’t make any sense.

 

DAVID

I dunno.  I don’t see an alternative…

 

SYLVIA

Are they miserable too?

 

DAVID

Who?

 

SYLVIA

The old people. Are they miserable too?

 

DAVID

I don’t know.

 

SYLVIA

When you see them again; look carefully, deeply, in their eyes and if you can take some time from your busy schedule—

 

DAVID

Momma—

 

SYLVIA

—talk to them and get back to me. I want to know if it’s everybody or if it’s just me. 

(Pause.)

David, don’t get old. It’s not worth it.

(Pause.)

I’ve hit an all-time low.

(Silence.)

Ugh. Place smells from cats and I don’t even have a cat.

 

DAVID

I don’t smell anything.

 

SYLVIA

You don’t got a good smeller. Smell’s from downstairs. The Russian’s got at least ten cats. Maybe fifteen. Takes ‘em in offa the street, fixes ‘em up good as new and stinks up my apartment! Smell goes right up through the vents. And everyone thinks she’s so nice, “poor little kitties need a home” well, I’m the one that’s gotta smell the stink! It's not fair!

(A short beat.)

Why on earth do I live here? Why this place? Out of all the places in the world, beautiful places; France, Florida, the Caribbean, tropical islands. Why here?

 

DAVID

This is our home.

 

SYLVIA

Ugh! Why this place? Why Brooklyn? This is a horrible place to live. Why is this home and not some place nice?

 

DAVID

This is nice.

 

SYLVIA

It is not. It stinks from cats. I just told you!

 

DAVID

I guess, well, this is where our—you know— your parents and grandparents and great grandparents—

 

SYLVIA

I didn’t ask you for no goddam Ellis Island history crap! What I’m asking is why didn’t we see this place was a dump and move somewhere else?

 

DAVID

I don’t know.

 

SYLVIA

You know. You knew a long time ago. I could tell just by lookin at ya. Why didn’t you say somethin?

 

DAVID

I was a kid.

 

SYLVIA

(With disgust.)

Eh!

(Short pause.)

My neighbors say I’ve lived here, in this furshtunkunah building for over thirty years. Is that true?

 

DAVID

No.  Closer to forty.

 

SYLVIA

How can that be when I hate it so much?

 

DAVID

Momma. You didn’t always hate it. There was a time you loved it.

 

SYLVIA

No.

 

DAVID

Yes. You loved the ocean. The rides. The air.

 

SYLVIA

Doesn’t sound like me.

 

DAVID

You always talked like you loved it.

 

SYLVIA

Nope. You're way off-base, kiddo.

 

DAVID

Momma, I heard you say—

 

SYLVIA

You’re confusing me with your sister.

(A beat.)

Hannah. Hannah Rebecca. Remember her?

DAVID

Of course, Ma.

 

SYLVIA

I just saw her the other day.

 

DAVID

You saw her?

 

SYLVIA

Yeah.  Out my window.  Smilin.  Flying around.  Doin tricks.  Waving at me.  She loved everything. The water, the wind, the sun, the moon, the stars. You name it, she loved it. That’s how she was. I thought she was crazy. “Don’t you just love the water, Momma?” “The water’s polluted” I’d tell her.  “I love the hot sun on my back, Momma.”  “Gives ya cancer!  Wear sun block!”  She shoulda listened.

(A short beat.)

She was somethin wasn’t she?   Always smilin. What the hell was she smilin about?  Even if she was miserable, she never let anyone know. Not like me. If I’m suffering, you’re gonna hear about it!  She was different.

 

DAVID

Yeah.

 

SYLVIA

She smiled through the pain.  Why would God take her so young?

 

DAVID

Ask Him.

 

SYLVIA

She withered away. Ugh. It was hard to look at her.  My baby.

 

DAVID

Momma, please.

 

SYLVIA

And your poor father, killed him, ya know. He couldn’t take it. Watchin his little girl suffer and die like that.  When you love your children—

 

DAVID

Momma.

 

SYLVIA

—when they’re everything to you—

 

DAVID

Please. I don't want to—

 

SYLVIA

—and you lose them…

 

DAVID

—go there—

 

SYLVIA

It kills you.  It’s a tough thing; to love.

(Short pause.)

And gangsters live to be a hundred!

 

DAVID

That’s what I came to talk to you about.

 

SYLVIA

You came to talk to me about gangsters?

 

DAVID

No.  Not that. I’m going to find out, Momma.

 

SYLVIA

What?  What’s to find out?

 

DAVID

His Eternal Plan!  If there's a plan at all!

 

SYLVIA

Who's plan?

 

DAVID

God's plan!  It’s time He fessed up!  It’s time He was held accountable!  I’m going to find Him and ask Him why He does the horrible things He does.

 

SYLVIA

I’ve been asking Him for years.  He don’t wanna talk.

 

DAVID

He’ll talk to me.

 

SYLVIA

Who are you that He should stop whatever he’s doing—?

 

DAVID

That’s what I mean!  What’s He doing?  Doesn’t look like He’s accomplishing very much, does it?

 

SYLVIA

You’re just askin for trouble.

 

DAVID

Ma, how can I go on (as if everything's fine), living my life, and soon, bringing a child into the World—

 

SYLVIA

Janet’s pregnant?

 

DAVID

Yes.

 

SYLVIA

Finally!  Nice to see you two gettin down to business.  God bless you.

 

DAVID

Thanks, Ma.

 

SYLVIA

And Janet.  That’s wonderful news.  God bless her, too. Tell her I said that.  I know she thinks I don’t like her.

 

DAVID

That's not true.

 

SYLVIA

I don’t know what I did.  I was always cordial.

 

DAVID

Momma.

 

SYLVIA

I thought we were chums.  Send her my love.

 

DAVID

I will.

 

SYLVIA

I wish we could’ve gotten to know each other a little better. Then, maybe you both woulda come over and visited more often—

 

DAVID

Ma.  Janet loves you.

 

SYLVIA

You’re just being a good son; lying to me.  I appreciate it, but it’s too late.

 

DAVID

Ma.  Janet loves you.  I promise.  Just listen to me.  How can I do all that—

 

SYLVIA

Do what?  Be a good son?

 

DAVID

No, Ma.  Bring a child into this world where there’s so much hate?  So much pain and suffering and cruelty?  How can I do that with a clear conscience?  How?

 

SYLVIA

You want I should tell you?  How the hell would I know?

 

DAVID

No, Momma.  What I mean is, what’s He doing up there?  Playing a round of golf?

 

SYLVIA

That is not for us to know—

 

DAVID

I don’t buy that.

 

SYLVIA

—or question!

 

DAVID

That’s a lotta crap!  A smokescreen! He is so vast and we’re so small that we can’t possibly fathom—bullshit!  I’m going to sit out in the middle of the desert—

 

SYLVIA

Why the desert?

 

DAVID

Everything seems to happen in the desert.

 

SYLVIA

My son is a crazy person.

 

DAVID

I’m going to sit out in the desert, where He lives,  until He tells me!

 

SYLVIA

Meshugga.

 

DAVID

I’m not crazy!  I have to do this Momma.  I’m going to Mount Sinai.

 

SYLVIA

The hospital?

 

DAVID

No—

 

SYLVIA

Why? You’re sick, too?

 

DAVID

No. Mount Sinai, the mountain.  In Israel.  I want to see His face.

 

SYLVIA

Who’s face?

 

DAVID

God’s face.

 

SYLVIA

You can’t wait till you’re dead?  What’s the hurry?  You’ll have all eternity to look at God.

 

DAVID

I need to do this.  I need to do this now.

 

SYLVIA

Look, David.  I don’t have too much time left. I’ll see Him a lot quicker than you will. I’ll let you know.

 

DAVID

Momma—

 

SYLVIA

I’ll contact you. A young man like you shouldn’t be wasting his time with craziness. You have a nice home. You have a beautiful wife. You have a good job. You have a future., kunahura. Go home.

 

DAVID

I can’t. Not until I’ve settled with Him.

 

SYLVIA

You're gonna lose everything.

(Pause.)

That’s what happens, ya know?  Nowadays, people who go lookin for God, they find Him… it doesn’t end well.

 

DAVID

I wanted you to know, Momma. That’s all.

 

SYLVIA

So, now I know.

(Pause. They hear a crow’s “caw, caw, caw.”)

Ugh. Goornisht mit goornisht

(She feels something deep inside of her.)

David?  Ya hear that?

 

DAVID

Yeah. So?

 

SYLVIA

I’m shit outa luck.

(Sylvia closes her eyes.)

DAVID

Momma?  Momma?

(She’s gone. The lights fade to black. Live music is performed, such as “Long Gone” by Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.)

End of Excerpt

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