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There Is Only One Scene (Short Story/Play Within A Play)

There Is Only One Scene

Many New Narrative writers, as a deepening of their investment in community, began to explore the theater. Scholars who have noted the connections between Language poetry and New Narrative rarely focus on poets theater, but for both groups, a turn to the stage seemed an inevitable outcome.




       The interior of a stage, completely black and practically empty. Half painted cardboard cut-outs of rooms of a house layered like scrap wallpaper. A ladder sits on stage left creeping into your field of vision if you move just into the correct position. A window's open that not only lets' in the light but also a strong breeze and doughnuts' smell from the building next door. It compels you to want to leave more. The light from the window is the only light to reach the stage and illuminates a stain of weathered carpet and a white piece of tape that marks its centre. The whole atmosphere evokes a sense of unfinishedness. Which is true. In fact, the play starts five days from now. 

But you are here now. 

     A single man sits on the front row with a bored and tired air, a five o'clock shadow, so mostly tired then. On his lap rests a notepad and pen. He taps the pages with the pen with impatience. He is the owner of the organisation funding this show.

     THEY enters stage by trying to jump up at the centre, but the platform is too high, and they fall. They then spot the steps and begrudgingly climb those instead. THEY is wearing a blue hospital gown over jeans and a ratted hoodie. Idly strolls up to the white line, coughing roughly twice.

THEY: Good evening or morning. (Stares at the watch with concern. Scratches their nose. Contemplates why they're here but not very well. Realises it was a pointless exercise andfinally looks back into the audience) Whatever. Look you know why you're here. You're here to see a weird performance and claim you understood the profanity of it. In reality, this is my life on a budget.

     They recompose themselves, smoothing out the hospital gown. Thinking about how they want to present themselves in this opening scene, they wonder if their back is slight hunched as they've had posture issues in the past so pull their shoulders back. 

THEY: I shall begin with my birth. (Lights are supposed to change to a blue and be on.)

   I was a rose at birth, pink like and wrinkled

   My father sat beside my mother
   I cry all night wrapped in blue
   Undenounced to those around sickness sucked at my lungs
(Throughout the performance, THEY looks upward with a dramatic expression of sadness. An in-person depiction of the Virgin Mary statue if you will.)
JULES: Can I just stop you there? (Spoken as an imperative) Your character 'They' is this genderless figure that shouldn't be affected by conventions but your parents seem exceptionally conventional, almost too traditional, especially only twenty years ago. 
 This is what the older generations, our generation and the younger generation like to call a stalemate, and the atmosphere is... stale. This is down to two probable reasons. Firstly, JULES is an uncompromising fuck, or secondly, there's only one window for this massive theatre.The most logical thing would be to just continue. (THEY crosses their arms defiantly aware that this will become a common issue throughout the rehearsal.) JULES, at this instant, wished they couldn't care less but now money was involved it was not to be.
THEY: (Removes hospital gown.) Right... hmmm. Where was I? I should have taken this off ages ago. Good. Okay. Moving on to my childhood, I think.
THEY: Yes... Grace that was it. Grace was the tallest girl in my school, and she was powerful. In fact (giggles) she would always challenge the boys in her class to an arm wrestle, win, they would all get found out, and she would get away with it. I would say sexism was the main reason for this, but I wasn't really sure what that meant at my age.(starts to bounce the basketball)Now, Grace was in the basketball team, and she was outstanding so good that we actually won a few trophies because of her. I, on the other hand, couldn't even play football—the woes of the uncoordinated. 
JULES: (hisses) You. Did. That. On fucking purpose. (yells) Why the hell did you kick a basketball at me? 
like a
world in
which not
one thing is .
lines are
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people in
people in
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cold &

THEY: My mother was a graphic designer, and my father worked in a factory. My mother loved her job but could never break through the corporate barrier whilst my father hated his but went on to become the company's manager at the youthful age of fifty-three. The deal was (wraps right hand around mouth in a secretive manner) that whoever earned the most would continue to work after I was born. But as gender so often works (A dab of red lipstick sit on their index finger and with the word gender, the red colour is swept across the bottom lip.) It was my kind, wonderful, irritable mother who raised me during daylight hours. 

It seems like a strange thing-

THEY: (looks at JULES with annoyance) (It made perfect sense to them because it isn't particularly made up) Anyone can be from anywhere. This is how I grew up it's pretty conventional, yes, (for now) but you think people like David Bowie (Carson, 2021) and Eileen Myles (Cauterucci, 2016) didn't, at least on the surface, have a traditional childhood.

JULES: But we're trying to captivate an audience here. This has been done before. Can't you just lie? Add something new and thrilling. Isn't that what writers do? (raises eyebrows with an affirmed intensity)

THEY: I could lie, I suppose. (sarcastically) Add a murder in there, maybe an arch-nemesis. It could make the play really exciting. 

JULES: Exactly! (smiles and points at THEY) 

THEY: (irritation) But that would make this whole exercise pointless! It's not for their benefit. (Gestures to the empty rows of matted red velvet seats.) It's for my own selfish use,so let us not pretend it's theirs. 

JULES: Fine. 

THEY: Fine.

It would be a lie to not admit the most enjoyable time of my life was the time I now barely remember. Two thousand and five is a particular favourite of mine, but I don't believe its possible to be that accurate about the year. However, it is a date that stays in my mind and my reasoning... Colour. (to JULES) here should be a backdrop of a green field with a blue sky oh and the lighting should be yellow now! Yellow is the colour of happiness for me. 

JULES: I'm making a note now. (jots it down on his notepad then Rests the pen in thought) I'm going to risk it. Isn't yellow a bit cliché? 

THEY: Coming from the man who wears a cravat and runs a theatre. 

JULES: Point taken and proven.THEY: It does look good though. 

JULES: Well, then, I'm definitely not wearing it tomorrow. 

THEY: (not so ironically) My heart is broken. Anyway, I'll continue again. Light is on. Background check. (inhales deeply)Yellow. Yellow was the colour of my childhood and not that intense egg yolk yellow that turns eyes jaundice. (Grins )This is the yellow of a summer day that catches in coils of hair and the tip of grass. When I grew up and tried to think back to my childhood, I can envisiononly two scenes. Any day of the summer holidays and that one time it snowed. Oh, and Jules here it would be so cool if some kind of white confetti or ribbons dropped down.The snow is magical when you're younger but now as an adult all the snow just ends up becoming slush. It's as if the weather was purposely skipping the best bit to crush your spirit. 

    THEY drops down and sits cross-legged on the floor. From their hoodie pocket, they pull out a giant fake school badge and pin it delicately to their t-shirt.

My secondary school days were somewhat different as in crap. My secondary school was a Catholic being and yet mixed the genders which seemed counter-intuitive considering they would want to stop any kind of mingling. P.E. was the only thing we did separately... obviously. 

     THEY arches backwards reaching for a basketball.They miss with the fingertip and knock the ball back it rolls towards the curtains. THEY jumps up and runs to get it. Picking it from the ground losing their train of thought- something about P.E.

(Jogging back to their mark their face is that of an idea.)

    Drops the basketball and kicks it into the audience. The basketball bounces off the corner of the stage with a high pitch squeal and crashes into JULES' face. The skin warps like water across his face twisting his head to the side and a raw red scuff left behind. JULES lifts his head with intense hatred as blood seeps from his gums.

THEY: I didn't mean to it was just supposed to go into the distance.

JULES: This is because of last week, isn't it

THEY: Of course not! How petty do you think I am? 

JULES: Very. You forget, I don't need to think about it. 

THEY: honestly, I swear it was an accident. I wouldn't bring that up while we're working. 

JULES: LOOK, forget it. Let's just finish this thing and no basketball in the actual performance go for one of those things you get at the beach. They have less (long pause)friction. 

THEY: You don't need to go to the hospital then? (mumbles with worry) 

JULES: No. Get on with it. (blood continues to seep) 

THEY: (to themselves) Hmm... still on Grace. I'll just skip a bit and come right out and say it. (to the imaginary audience) Grace was a bully. My bully. Pigtails and freckles don't mean you're sweet and innocent. No, in fact, her my purpose in life, other than basketball, was to spread rumours around that somehow ended up being true ninety per cent of the time. You know the kind. 

THEY as GRACE: Did you hear Peter keeps lipstick in their bag? Or did you hear Peterwrites poetry for fun? 

THEY: Firstly, (emphasis) Grace, it was a tinted lip balm and secondly, it was song lyrics. This is probably what I would have said to her if I was even the slightest bit brave. (Runs to the side and grabs a full-length mirror surrounded by colourful scarfs and necklaces. THEY stare into it deeply. They's voice is low and full of consideration.) I'd have practised these things in front of the mirror at home over and over. And now I'm older I've come to the realisation of many things. More obviously my name- but we'll come to that later. More relevantly, I would have said yes, it's lipstick and yes, it's poetry, so what? 

JULES: Would you though?

THEY: (In reality) No, probably not. Not yet, at least. You see the thing about Secondary School is that I wanted to dress both like my mum and dad, and ultimately, school meant I couldn't do either. So, I think we'll just skip the rest and go on to university. 

    THEY stops for a moment picking up a bottle of water a drinking half of it in one go. Then places the bottle to the side. They wipe the back of their hands across their lips and frown a little. This next part is where the story became a little more interesting. Or possiblyit's perfectly normal. 

THEY: (describing set changes) I want to bring many new things onto the stage. It needs to be this small and enclosed space that only fills a quarter of the stage but can open out and become huge. I thought we could staple sheets to the sides of the board so that when it is pressed together the space becomes box-like but when they've been pulled apart the area around me has these undefined edges. It represents freedom, you see. 

JULES: (touches cheek and winces after the incident Jules has become less receptive to new ideas) Why didn't you ask me earlier about this? 

THEY: Because I didn't think of it until yesterday and it's not that big a change. 

JULES: (frustrated) You can't just keep changing your mind without telling me. I'm going to have to phone the set designer and have them come in on their day off now. You don't think,do you?

THEY: I'll do it I've got a load of old scrap material I can bring in. All I need is a stapler. #

JULES: That's not the point... it's just. (surrenders) It's a good idea. You do that I'll make some calls afterwards. 

THEY: I'll get on that then. (sits on the chair) Pretend this is a bed.University for me wasn't so much about the course but the experience. I mean you can't expect anyone to make a career from drama, can you? I realise this is precisely what I ended up doing- but you generally shouldn't. No university was when I saw the world and realised that everyone was suddenly cool because the reality is you can be in an environment like this. I fancied everyone. 

Sex is

My first dorm party was peculiar; I walked into a kitchen only half knowing one person we played a drinking game with a pack of cards. A game I don't remember the name of. Visited everyone's rooms and discussed who we fancied until dawn. After a while, the music stopped,and I took charge of the playlist, picking songs that didn't fit the moment. They were murkyand gloomy. (THEY begins to flick through the phone in a jarring manner muttering to themselves how that wasn't it and then a bright aha. A tinny and fractured version of fake plastic trees by Radio head barely audible to JULES.) By that point, just me and one other person remained in that room. That was you as in a man called Jules. 

JULES: (quietly) Crap. (loudly) Change that name now and all the details you're about to disclose. 

THEY: Okay As in a man called... Ben. Ben and I were alone together in someone's room,and there was chemistry almost immediately. (JULES glares) I mean we sat in silence for three hours and did absolutely nothing in that

- Look this is ridiculous! I've changed the name what does it even matter? 

JULES: It matters because this isn't just your life, you're sharing anymore there's going to be people in the audience who know us. You're a very explicit person. 

THEY: These things need to be celebrated. Sex is liberation for some people. It may be the first time a person has been themselves ever and to share these emotions and sensations can awaken or confirm identities that have been closed off previously. 

JULES: There's porn for that. 

THEY: It's not the same. 

JULES: I am aware of that. Just don't. 

THEY: You're literally making me skip over my most important parts about the universityexperience. 

JULES: Are they though? 

THEY: I'm going to have to talk about Brexit now. Fuck Britannia and all that. I'm going to have to get my script. 

    THEY storms off the stage becoming tangled in the black drapes that part the silence from behind. THEY is gone, and JULES is left deserted in the theatre. His face is contorted in pain, crooked teeth bite down on his bottom lip. The notepad on his lap has only one notewritten on it the rest are gouged biro marks that tear and fray the paper on either side. His hands shake, and it's obvious now that he's in physical pain just sitting there.Returning to the stage, THEY glances at JULES with worry but dismisses concerns without really thinking about them. They flick through the pages making a show of turning a large chunk of the script in one go. THEY sits back down on the chair and read over their own words, immediately having distaste for the sentence they had written. Making mental changes to the script, knowing how little difference it actually makes. They didn't want to write about politics, they didn't want to talk about politics either. However, JULES had left them no choice. Relevant to them or not, it would have to be brought up, much like if this virus had made its way onto the news for England. To be entirely of one mind on such a situation seems unlikely. However, there is this moral and personal temptation to always be on the side of the left.

THEY: So, in my last year of university, one word was on everyone's lips, and it wasn't jobs. Well, jobs were brought up, but that isn't my fault. Jules and I. Sorry Ben and I had been watching the news religiously for the slightest change in the polls. Imagine, if you will, a tiny room covered in crisp packets and cups filled with congealed remains of coffee. I'm in this dressing gown that's so big the hood adds two inches to my height, and I'm not sure what time it is anymore. Deliriously tired is not how you want to be when receiving any kind of important news. When we did find out the results, it was Friday the twenty-fourth of July twenty sixteen. Feels like a lifetime ago. I felt like I wasn't listening clearly. I'll give you an example The Guardian wrote this:

"The British people have voted to leave the European Union after a historic referendum in which they rejected the advice of the main Westminster party leaders and instead took a plunge into the political unknown."(Asthana, Quinn and Mason, 2021)But I would have interpreted it like that; 

Imagine blank blurry spots,

and I said to Ben,What we're actually leaving? We read it correctly? What's happening?Three years later we're still asking the same questions. At the time, it felt like a failed quest.Long pause 


THEY: God, this material is draining my soul! (pretends collapse to the floor arms flying forwards) (looks up with only their eyes) Brexit should have been about wanting a free market and making our own laws, for better or worse. But it turned into this big immigration thing and-

JULES: Okay, you don't even know what you're talking about anymore. This isn't even performance art; this is a rant at the world. Get back to the plot. 

THEY: The rest of my plot is you! (tears up slightly) What's there to talk about except love and politics. 

JULES: (stands up in protest, his face is red with emotion as he yells) Tell it then! You win, what exactly happened Vyvyan? Vyvyan. A person of three names. A person of two. Only one. 

    The atmosphere grew calmer between the two for this brief period. Thoughts prickled with energy at the edge of their minds of arguments that could destroy one another. Neither one dared speak them at the risk of moving the eye of the storm too far one way. They just stare. Wide-eyed and trembling. The spotlight from the window starts to wander as the sun sinks into the evening, diminishingto an insipid trace. The script lies discarded on the chair. 

VYVYAN: (coldly) We've been together for five years. Three and it started idyllically. Wewere inseparable at university. I can remember one day, in fact, where I can't recall letting go of your hand. (Their tone changes to something softer and forgiving) I never felt that there was this battle with you that I felt with other people. We just worked. We seemed to go along wanting the same things, even moving in together.Do you remember that house warming party? 

     VYVYAN wanders towards the mirror again picking up a pale blue scarf, draped on the edge of the frame. They lift the scarf and wrap it around their shoulders. They avoid eye contact by looking into the glass, but there's this sense of shock as they meet their own eyes, looking back detached and miserable. 

    VYVYAN turns their head to the floor and their back to Jules. 

VYVYAN: (sighs) You walked into the room with subtle glee, and I was surprised. You were so quiet. You kissed me on the back of my neck, and I shivered (their fingers reach behind and trace down the spine and then turns to face you) You were wearing that muted red suit- a colour that I never thought could be possible. I thought it was laughable how well it suited your personality.Around eight people had begun to arrive in their little congregations, we played board games had wine discussed almost everything from the ingredients in the food to the theory of a string universe. I had no clue on that one. But it was fun, and you seemed to know, you know? Every day, I felt a little like that dinner party, even when we both worked in soul-destroying office jobs.I didn't think I would amount to much in my life, but then you opened this drama company and let me have a voice. Both of us having a voice. 

JULES: And then it went wrong, did it?

 VYVYAN: (spoken through gritted teeth) Yes it went wrong. You started disappearing for hours on end even when we were supposed to meet people, friends. You ignored messages; work seemed to consume you. (laughs hollowly) I actually started to think you were sleeping here. You weren't, though. In your world, you had already left me, and I still don't get why. (VYVYAN turns back around slowly- cynicism seething) I don't think you knew I had found out about the flat you had been renting for two whole months. I can't believe I actually have to say this, but you were cheating on me, weren't you? 

(VYVYAN doesn't wait for a response.)

They didn't mean to say those lines they were going to let it go. The word Damnit thuds around in their head distraught after being so adamant that they would be the bigger person in this. They were going to leave things; it was okay they didn't need to get involved anymore. They were done. They had said it though, and they'll finish it. 

VYVYAN: Do you remember the day you left? Of course, you do it was only last week. You came out of our room with a suitcase, and with a simple, I'm done you walked out. Later Ifound a note, not that it helped much. 

"I'm sorry it had to be like that, but I'm done with this.

How does that explain anything? (VYVYAN points their finger accusingly at JULES) Did you forget we were still working together or did you think we could? 

JULES: Could what? 

VYVYAN: Work normally. I was... I was. I had plans, you know? For us. So, do you think you were right to break up with me? Looking at it from an objective point of view. 

JULES: It isn't objective though is it? You decided this is what happened you don't even listen to me in your imaginary re-enactment Vyvyan! You talk about authenticity but dress your everyday life up as an opera.

VYVYAN: Okay, then why don't you come up here and show me? Come on then. 

    VYVYAN jumps off the stage in frustration, climbing clumsily over all the chairscatching their toes on the backrests. Their canvas trainers are caked in mud and lumps of dried dirt hook onto the suede fabric. VYVYAN lurches forward but turns dramatically to slump down next to JULES.

 VYVYAN: Go on then. 

JULES: Why? Why should I? What will it change? You won't even listen. 

VYVYAN: I want to hear an explanation, not a goodbye. 

    JULES begrudgingly lifts himself out of the chair and ambles up to the stage. Hesitant in the fact that they had not acted for many years unsure if his emotions could convey the betrayal and sadness they felt, but also the freedom they had found no longer having to care for another human being in such an intense and consuming way. Sweat starts to build in the lines of their palm. A gush of wind presses against his face causing his recently created wound to burn. They step up onto the stage and stand daunted. 

 JULES: (adjusts cravat. exactly forty seconds of nothing is said. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .) I never cheated on you. I brought that flat when I knew we wouldn'tlast much longer and I didn't want to have nowhere to go. You're so selfish it's always what you want to do, or we go and hang out with your friends. And then you don't even introduce me properly. I work long hours because I want this company to succeed, and you just waltz your way into doing a show about yourself. No one even knows who you are!(shakes head despondently) I couldn't say no to you. Even after I left, I could have very easily cancelled this show, left you with no stage to perform your insane drama. Also, I don't know what you read, (vaguely waves at the pages of the script as a surrogate) but that wasn't the letter. I wrote about how we seem to have been drifting apart and wanting different things. That I felt so isolated, that we hadn't spoken to each other properly for months. I'm finished feeling that way. I knew trying to confront you wasn't an option anymore. You know what? I was bloody sick of trying! 

(this whole speech is hyperbolic and emotional a battle to condense old emotions down again into plausible reasoning) 

For VYVYAN it's as if they had just been told they were not in fact the only one with emotions. Which was true- from the very beginning. The two were equally placed at the top-ranked by alphabet alone. VYVYAN rushes to join JULES on the stage adamant about findinga solution to this. 

VYVYAN: (gasps) I don't understand. We did everything together. I brought you with me wherever I went. 

 JULES: Fury You abandoned me to the sidelines every time we went to a stupid party with all your stupid friends or all the stupid friends came to my bloody house! (Subdues into sadness.) (JULES wraps their arms around VYVYAN, hugging them tightly and plants a soft kiss on their lips. He pulls away completely and leaves a gap between the two.) 

We're over Vyvyan just except it and I'm sorry but what you end up with is a goodbye ofsorts. (Inhales deeply) I really hate your play it's verbose, false and about a nobody. But we've basically completed this ordeal we may as well drag it out until it's dead.So, are you going to finish this thing off today or not? 


    Night completely sets in and the two are left standing. Moonlight dowses the different textures of the unfinished set leaving the two figures as imprints of ghosts. Soon even that fades and they are left in darkness. A minute later you hear the sound of a double door swinging back and forth until silence


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