ACT TWO: HEART TO HEART 

XII.

NARRATOR

Now you’ll have to agree, out of all of creation,

the Border Falls town deserves commiseration.

This town with neat lanes, and a market, and more

(a school, and a hall with a big old red door),

had been through the ringer, had suffered great pain.

You’d think that they’d never feel any the same.

But fate has a bad way of feeling quite different.

Its nature is tricky. Bad luck is insistent.

The Extermination had not gone as was planned:

it resulted in speaking the word that was banned.

That bad word had been barred since the starting of time.

(Practically; it had no natural rhyme.)

And now it was loosened. The rhythm was broken.

All because of some jerk, and that word they had spoken.

The truth isn’t always that nice to uncover,

as Border Falls town was about to discover…

 

XIII.

GEORGE sits at the kitchen table, reading his paper. MARTHA clears the breakfast dishes in silence.

 

MARTHA              (Goes to speak, doesn’t)

 

GEORGE              (Goes to reply, doesn’t)

 

MARTHA              (Goes to speak again, doesn’t)

 

GEORGE              (Goes to reply again, doesn’t)

 

GEORGE gets up abruptly, picking up his briefcase. MARTHA looks pained. A silence.

 

MARTHA              Goodbye. George.

 

                             Beat.

 

GEORGE              Goodbye. Martha.

 

GEORGE turns to leave.

 

MARTHA              George?

 

GEORGE              Yes, Martha?

 

MARTHA              I just thought…

 

GEORGE              I’m sure Billy’s just…

 

                             Beat.

 

MARTHA              Yes. Of course.

 

                             Have a good day.

 

GEORGE              Yes.

 

                             I…

 

GEORGE leaves. MARTHA stands on the doorstep, lost. She closes the door and goes inside.

XIV.

MAYOR CLUMP sits at his desk, while TRENT is frantically juggling half a dozen ringing telephones. Concurrently:

MAYOR

Bullshit! Bastards! Black-bellied bog-rats! What do you mean, on my favorite afghan? … Woman, if that dog has so much as shat a single shingle on my hall runner, I’ll personally pickle its pinecones with a pair of pennywhistles! … No, I don’t think I’m over-reacting! I have more problems on my plate than the perfidious practices of some perverse pooch! My ploy for the town has gone tits-up, and the last thing I need to do is deal with domestic disasters! … Damnation and dingleberries, I’m complicit in a crisis! If I’m home for dinner, I’m home for dinner! If I’m not, tough titties!

TRENT

Of course Miss Prime, I’m very sorry to hear… Yes, I understand, he’s just a little bit… tangled up, at the moment… No no, you’re on top of his list, just as soon as he… Excuse for a moment… Mayor’s office? I’ll check and see, Mister Custer… There’ll be a bit of a wait on a response, I’m afraid… If you wouldn’t mind holding for a moment… Just a second… Hello? Of course I appreciate your opinion Miss Prim… I’m sure you’ll agree that… No, not at all Miss Prim, the Mayor values your bowel movements like his own… If you wouldn’t mind… He’ll call you back… just as soon as he… All of you… as soon as we… can…

Both hang up their respective phones.

 

MAYOR                 Trent! What the fuck have we done?

 

TRENT                   I’m sorry sir, it’s hard to say… I’ve had my hands full with town communications… which is to say, a few complaints, sir.

                              People are very… upset, to say the least…

 

MAYOR                 Shit-kicker sandwich, of course they’re upset! I’m upset! My wife’s upset! And when my wife’s upset, Trent, it’s your job

                              to not let her upset me!

 

TRENT                   I’m sorry, sir, but I’m a little… upset… as well.

 

MAYOR                 Thundering flatulence! I need you at your best, Trent! I hired you to spin, not to sit with your thumbs up your arse!

 

TRENT                   I wrote up a statement! It’s here… somewhere… (Looking) It wasn’t half bad, I swear…

 

MAYOR                 Why is it that when things get shit, I’m the one that cleans up it?

 

They both look at each other sharply.

 

                              Figuratively speaking…

 

TRENT                   It’s nothing personal, sir. Everything’s just gone topsy-turvy. Everyone’s… well, scared. They’re just not sure where to

                              turn, what to do, who to blame…

 

MAYOR                 What d’you mean, blame? I’m doing everything they’ve bloody asked me to do! I’m only local government, Trent. I can’t

                              be expected to solve every bloody problem!

 

TRENT                   Sorry sir! I’m sure no one’s blaming you, sir!

 

MAYOR                 Oh God Trent… I can’t stand this kind of tension… And in an election year!

 

                              Where the hell is that Exterminator?

 

TRENT                   Oh! I might… here we go… (Finding a memo) Rosemary Thyme called to say he’d been visiting at her husband’s

                              butchery… He apparently accused their recipe for ‘Sensational Swiss Sausage’ as pure sensationalism, reducing Mister

                              Thyme to tears…

 

MAYOR                 When he said he had ‘questions’ to ask about, I assumed he wasn’t talking about culinary concerns!

 

TRENT                   Similar complaint from Benson Bunser: wanted to know exactly what he meant by ‘Bargain Basement Prices’, and how

                              he attributed value without a proper adverb. Again, there were tears…

 

MAYOR                 Christ in a cream-cheese sauce! We’re not paying him to make Main Street cry!

 

TRENT                   We’re not paying him at all, actually…

 

MAYOR                 And we’re certainly not getting our money’s worth! This is what we get for embracing Communism, Trent.

 

TRENT                   I thought it seemed more like a democratic delineation, sir… but I could be wrong?

 

MAYOR                 Get a hold of yourself, Trent! Blame’s a game for a reason, and those in charge can write the rules. Damn that

                              Wordsworth Weekly!

 

TRENT                   In it’s defense, sir, it is a quality publication. I find its sealed section quite educational… for a multinational media

                              conglomerate…

 

MAYOR                 Balls! That Word Exterminator is nothing but a corporate media conspiracy! I knew we should have sorted it ourselves.

 

TRENT                   He came quite well reviewed…

 

MAYORS              Balls, I said, balls! So what if he’s a smash in Grand Old Tangello? The bastards speak like hermetic heathens! The

                             mangy mongrels, I wouldn’t be half surprised if it was ethical espionage, the social saboteurs…

 

TRENT                   Sir?

 

MAYOR                 Balls to them, Trent! We need a plan, in case this Exterminator’s a bust. We need a plot for the perp, a ploy for a patsy---

 

A phone rings, TRENT answers it.

 

TRENT                   Mayor’s Office? No, Miss Prim, I’m afraid the Mayor’s in a meeting right now ---

 

MAYOR                 (Snatching the receiver) Rack off, you constipated cunt!

 

He slams the receiver town. Pause.

 

                              Trent, why the hell d’you let me do that?

 

TRENT                   I’m… I’m sorry, sir, but… well, you are the Mayor…

 

MAYOR                 And it’s your job to stop me from making a complete scrotum of myself! Don’t tell me you’re pussying out on me, too?

 

TRENT                   I think, sir, I might have always been a pussy…

There’s a long silence between them.

 

MAYOR                 What the fuck have we done?

 

The phones all begin to ring at once again.

 

XV.

BILLY is down by the bridge, throwing words and stones into the water. SUE bicycles by.

 

BILLY                     Syncopation! Abacus! Existentialist! Boobs!

 

SUE                        William B. Wilder! I knew you’d be here.

                               Your parents are both worried sick about… about… you.

 

BILLY                     Lederhosen! Quantum theory! Coagulation! That’s nice of them. Thanks.

 

SUE                        Billy, you’re raving. You’re making no sense.

                               Your mother’s beside herself. You need to come… come…

 

                               Damn it! I can’t find the right… bloody… word…

 

BILLY                     Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

 

SUE                        You’re not helping!

 

BILLY                     Life’s a bitch and then you die, cross your heart and hope to never rhyme a fucking word again. Isn’t this awesome?

 

SUE                        That’s not quite the word I was looking for.

 

BILLY                     Terribly tremendous! Ovulatingly outstanding! Croquembouche!

 

SUE                        So you’ve been hiding down here, have you, throwing swearwords into space? That’s very juvenile.

 

BILLY                     I’m a delinquent. I’m embracing my label. Truancy! Pogo! Chechnya!

 

SUE                        I guess you’ve heard what’s going on in town.

 

BILLY                     Everyone’s cut the bullshit and stopped talking out their arses. Embrace the non sequitur!

 

SUE                        I don’t know how you can say that. The town’s a total wreck – everyone’s beside themselves, speaking in the most

                               horribly crude and convoluted way. The Word Exterminator’s not working like he should. I’ve been all around the town

                               twice trying to track him down. I think it’s awful.

 

BILLY                     Nuts to those retarded rhymes. They were cruel and unusual. Claustrophobic. Suffocating.

 

SUE                        But they always felt right. The rhythm was comforting… Familiar…

 

BILLY                     Do you know how hard it is to do long division in rhyme?

 

SUE                        I never had to think about it… What to think, what to say… Things just… fell out.

 

BILLY                     Horse shit and cow dung. That’s all anyone ever says to each other. A steaming pile of turds from every wagging

                               mouth. We’re better this way. At least we’re being honest now.

 

SUE                        Your parents are looking for you. They’re worried.

 

BILLY                     Fuck ’em.

 

SUE                       You don’t mean that.

 

BILLY                     Fuck them.

 

SUE                        William Wilder! It’s thoughts like that that prove we need rhythm.

 

BILLY                     You think that’s what kept us from speaking the truth? All we did was sugar coat it. Made it easier to swallow when we

                               shoved it down each other’s throats…

 

SUE                        At least it sounded kinder. Whatever happened to make you so hateful?

 

BILLY                     Betrayal! Frustration! Hypocritical political constitutional ridicule! You got a pen? Wanna write this down?

 

SUE                        Billy, you’re not making any sense!

 

SUE sits down on the grass. She looks like she’s about to cry.

 

SUE                        I feel like I’ve lost a piece of myself. Like an arm’s been loped off in a wood-chipping incident. The fingers are gone                                but I can still feel the muscles. Why is that?

 

BILLY                     Conformity. Conditioning. Conscious collective conspiracy.

 

SUE                        They’re just a lot of fancy words. Meaningless.

 

BILLY                     And we can shout them now as statements. Without screwing them up in some stupid pun. You can’t tell me you don’t

                               feel freer. Be honest Sue. Tell the truth.

 

SUE                        Why do you keep talking like you’re escaping from something? You’re a white middle class teenage boy. You have a

                               skateboard.

 

BILLY                     Class is just another way of locking you up, of putting you down and suppressing your thoughts. You can’t dream of

                               more or less if you’re always in the middle. We’re all prisoners of the social economic condition. It stinks.

 

SUE                        I love my job, Billy. I love my town. I’ve never lived anywhere else and there’s nowhere else I’d rather live. Border Falls

                               is good to me, and it’s good to you, and what else do you need but goodness?

 

BILLY                     Revolution! Revolt! Antidisestablishmentarianism!

 

SUE                        Do you even know what half of those words mean?

 

BILLY                     Doesn’t matter. If you don’t like them, we can have them killed.

 

SUE                        I thought the Word Exterminator would be a good thing. He’d find that awful word and stop it… not let it all loose. He

                               had such good reviews…

 

BILLY                     Maybe it wasn’t the word that fucked us up. Maybe it’s the other way around.

 

SUE                        Everything’s gone backwards. We aren’t the same as we were yesterday, and we’re half the people we were last week.

                               This is all my fault.

 

BILLY                     Stop thinking like the proletariat! A canary doesn’t know it wants out of its cage until you open the window. You just

                               don’t know better. You’re as trapped by their lies as me.

 

SUE                        Who are they? You talk about them like they’re not your friends… your parents…

 

BILLY                     My parents? My parents wouldn’t know an honest thought if it bit them on the patella. Why should they have taught me

                               any different? They’ve built a marriage out of it.

 

SUE                        Not everyone’s as hopeless as you, Billy. You used to be so chipper. Now you’re as backwards as everyone else in

                               town today. Your hormones have turned you nihilist before your time.

 

BILLY                     Whoopee for teenage rebellion then. Someone had to do something to this town. Change is a good thing.

 

SUE                        It’s such a violent, destructive thing. Especially for those who don’t want it.

 

BILLY                     You want it. Admit it Sue. Be honest.

 

BILLY kisses her. SUE slaps him.

 

SUE                        Billy! Shout what you want to the water. Pretend all you like that you’re having a ball. It’s just another excuse, another

                               sham. You’re just a vulgar little boy, and you’re still lying – you’re just doing it more clearly.

 

SUE picks up her bike and cycles away. BILLY is shocked, but then furious.

 

BILLY                     Whatever, Sue! Conformist conspirator! Atrophy apostate! Yeah… whatever. Whatever…

 

BILLY resumes throwing stones into the river, but with less enthusiasm than before.

 

XVI.

MARTHA is in the kitchen, making dinner. She’s just taken a roast out of the oven when GEORGE enters with his briefcase. They surprise each other. A silence is observed.

 

MARTHA                Oh. George.

 

GEORGE                Martha.

 

                               Beat.

 

MARTHA                I didn’t expect you home before six. I thought you’d be working.

 

GEORGE                Yes, well. I am.

 

                               Beat.

 

MARTHA                Dinner’s almost on the table. I thought Billy might come home, so I…

 

GEORGE                Of course.

 

                               He hasn’t, then?

 

MARTHA                Not yet. I made his favorite, in case he was hungry…

 

GEORGE                He always is. No doubt. Hungry.

 

                               Beat.

 

                               I’ll… come back.

 

MARTHA                Do stay. The glaze is… almost done…

 

                               I was just waiting on the celery…

 

GEORGE sits at the dinner table. MARTHA places the roast in front of him.

 

                               I always forget to give it more time, the silly thing. You’d think it would boil faster… being mostly composed… of

                               water…

 

MARTHA pulls a large kitchen knife out of the block.

 

                                You could carve… if you’d like?

 

GEORGE                Yes. Thank-you. (Taking it, he looks lost, puts it aside).

 

MARTHA takes the celery off the stove. Dinner is complete and laid out on the table – far too much for the two of them. She unfolds a napkin and sits.

 

MARTHA                I suppose there’s not much sense in waiting. He hasn’t been home all day. He must’ve gone to Grace’s Greasery. I

                               asked Sue to look for him, and let me know… how she went…

 

MARTHA dispenses vegetables onto a plate, and passes it to GEORGE. GEORGE takes it obligingly, carves her some meat, and passes it back. They both stare at their dinners.

 

MARTHA                How was your day at work?

 

GEORGE                Work was… fine.

 

MARTHA                That’s good.

 

                               Beat.

 

GEORGE                How was your day at home?

 

MARTHA                Quiet.

 

                               Lonely.

 

GEORGE                Very… good… for you.

 

                               Beat.

 

MARTHA                Do you think he’s all right?

 

                               We didn’t leave things on a very friendly note. He doesn’t tell me much lately, not that he ever did, but I know he’s been

                               having trouble, sometimes…

 

                               He’s frustrated, I think… not in so many words… and I just can’t help but wonder ---

 

GEORGE                He needs to apply himself. Learn to focus. Stand up for himself.

 

MARTHA                I know that’s true. But perhaps we couldn’t be a little more… Well…

 

GEORGE                We’ve done all we can for him. If he wants to throw away everything we’ve sacrificed, then that’s his own shameful

                               business. I am a good father, and you are a good mother, and I won’t listen to any of it anymore.

 

A silence. They both eat a mouthful, and regret it.

 

GEORGE                Speaking of which, I wrote an article today about the influence of external forces.

 

MARTHA                Did you, George?

 

GEORGE                Yes, about how things can be corrupted without even knowing, from the inside out, by something seemingly

                               superfluous to our blinded point of view. My editor returned it to me a few notes for alteration. He suggested that I was

                               being, in his words, too “rash” in my assumptions, too “limiting” in my conviction, and too “ugly” in my insinuation. I

                               wrote him a note back with some notes on his notes, about how “limiting” his reductive thinking was, how “rash” it was

                               to not examine the decay currently ravaging our own community, and how, if he felt conversely to the article’s

                               sentiment, I could take his “ugly” leftist ratface and shove it up his arse.

 

                               Beat.

 

                               I’m still awaiting a reply.

 

MARTHA                I’m sorry, George. I’m so very… sorry… to hear that…

 

Another silence. GEORGE picks up a glass of wine and empties it in a gulp. MARTHA puts down her knife and fork.

 

MARTHA                I was going to call you, at work. Just to see if, maybe, you wanted to talk about… about anything… but I was afraid you

                               wouldn’t answer…

 

GEORGE looks like he’s about to be sick.

 

GEORGE                Martha, I wish you wouldn’t say these things…

 

MARTHA                … Or if you did… that you wouldn’t hear me…

 

GEORGE                Martha, please…

 

MARTHA                I was afraid it would just be another day, George – another day that just passes us by in that endless cycle of the same

                               – and I was hoping you’d tell me otherwise.

 

GEORGE                Martha, stop it ---

 

MARTHA                I hoped it wasn’t just another day where I sit home in silence, and wait for my husband to return from work, and my son

                               to return from anywhere, so my life can start from where they left off and try, once again, to resume, again, like

                               everything was just the same as always ---

 

GEORGE                Martha ---

 

MARTHA                --- hollow, and empty, and pointless ---

 

GEORGE                Enough!

 

                               Beat.

 

MARTHA                Why, George? What’s so shameful about it?

 

GEORGE                (Bursting) It’s not what we do, Martha! For God’s sake, it’s the principle of the thing! It’s the way that you say it, in so

                               many words! I mean, you just don’t come out and say it ---

 

MARTHA                It’s the truth, George. Just the truth.

 

GEORGE slams his knife and fork down on the table. A silence.

 

MARTHA                I’m unhappy, George. Why should I say it any other way?

 

                               Beat.

 

GEORGE                What do you want from me, Martha? What do you want me to say?

 

MARTHA                Anything would be nice. You could tell me anything, whatever comes to mind, so long as you feel, in some way, that it

                               was true…

 

GEORGE                What is… (gesturing) this, then? This meal? This kitchen? This home with beds and curtains? What’s not truthful about

                               that?

 

MARTHA                George…

 

GEORGE                What’s not truthful about waking up in the morning, and saying “Good morning, dear!”, and “Good morning, dear!”, and

                               eating your breakfast, and going off to work, and working hard, and writing memos, and going to meetings, and staying

                               late, and coming home, and saying “Hello, dear”, and “Hello, dear”, and “How was your day?”, and taking a shower,

                               and eating dinner, and watching telly, and reading a book, and saying “Good night, dear”, and “Goodnight, dear”, and

                               going to bed, and losing sleep because you’re doing your best, but doing your best still makes you worry, because it

                               might not be enough to put food on your table, and a roof over your head, and a family in all your rooms? Life is

                               worrying, and working, and trying hard, and losing things, and not saying any of it. What isn’t truthful about that?

 

MARTHA                Our lives are made up of so many words, George… and not one of them is “I love you.”

 

A final silence. GEORGE gets up.

 

GEORGE                I…

 

                               I’ve got work to do.

 

He leaves. MARTHA picks up her napkin and cries into it.

 

XVII.

GEORGE sits angrily at his work desk, pecking away at an article on his typewriter. His fingers stumble over themselves, the paper jams, and he makes an overall mess of it.

 

GEORGE                “Where. Would. We. Be. With. Out. Walls. That. Are. Sound?

                               Where. The. Dan-ger. Of. Stan-gers. Rides. Rough. Shod. And. Un-bound?

                               How. Can. We. Blame. Us. If. Push. Comes. To. Shove?

                               When. All. That. We. Do. Is. For. Those. That. We… We… We…”

 

(Scrunching it up) Bugger it.

 

The phone rings. GEORGE tries to ignore it, but the phone is insistent.

 

GEORGE               Yes? What? What is it?

 

TRENT                   Mister Wilder?

 

GEORGE               Who is this?

 

TRENT                   Mister Wilder, it’s Trent.

 

GEORGE               Trent? Trent who?

 

TRENT                   Sorry, I wasn’t prepared for an existential enquiry. It’s just… Trent? The Mayor’s assistant?

 

GEORGE               Oh. Yes. What is it? I’m working. I mean, I’m busy. Working. What do you want?

 

TRENT                   I’m terribly sorry to bother you… We tried calling you at home, but no luck. I’ve the Mayor on the line… unless this a bad

                               time?

 

GEORGE               A bad time? My article is abjured, my town is teetering into a tumult of moral malaise, my son has been suspended from

                               school, my faults as a father are fairly far along, and my wife made a roast.

 

TRENT                   So it is a bad time?

 

MAYOR                 Give me that, you twit. (Taking the telephone) George. Mayor Clump. How are you? Surviving?

 

GEORGE               I honestly don’t know.

 

MAYOR                 Great, good to hear it. George, it’s late, and my reserves of eloquence are as dry as a menopausal cooch. So let me get

                               to the point. We have a crisis on our hands. Now, it’s hardly me to demonize the due process of democratic delineation,

                               but in light of today’s... disastrous demonstrations… I believe the Word Exterminator may not, in a manner of speaking,

                               have proven to be the best course of action.

 

GEORGE               You mean the Exterminator you personally endorsed?

 

MAYOR                 George, be aware my balls have been properly busted by the bollocksing they’ve experienced today. I’m confiding in

                               you as an upstanding member of this beloved community, and as a vocal opponent of this democratically decided

                               course of action, in the hope that you can volunteer… an alternative.

 

GEORGE               Why? What’s wrong with the Word Exterminator?

 

MAYOR                 Wrong? Nothing. Best decision I’ve made this week. But like every good decision, it’s not without regrets. We need to be

                               Girl Scouts about this and be prepared.

 

TRENT                   Um, sir, I think that’s ---

 

MAYOR                 What we need is an alternate solution, George, to this… Exterminator nonsense. If nonsense, as it were, is… what it is.

                               Options, I mean. A plan B.

 

GEORGE               I stand by what I said at the town meeting. What right does an outsider have to pass judgment on us? Why should we

                               be told our business, if none of us is to blame?

 

MAYOR                 I don’t follow.

 

GEORGE               It’s clear what’s happening here, Mayor.

 

MAYOR                 What?

 

GEORGE               We are at war.

 

MAYOR                 War?

 

TRENT                   War?

 

GEORGE               Isn’t it obvious? We’re under attack by a malicious moral malignancy. Like any who prosper above others, we are

                               continuously engaged in a war for the heart and mind.

 

                               Every day, the foundations of our society crumble beneath the weight of these powerful external forces. Magazines,

                               television, radio airwaves – endorsements and byproducts and advertisements – all beaming to the corroded core of

                               Border Falls, directly into the fragile truths we hold so dear.

 

                               Yes Mayor, we are at war. And it is a war we are losing.

 

MAYOR                 George, I don’t want to sound like too much of a Negative Nancy… knowing, as I do, that your column is known for its

                               verbose and… virulent point of view… but you’re sure about this? War?

 

GEORGE               Call it what you want, the result is the same: total cultural stagnancy. It was only a matter of time before something

                               unforeseen – the Exterminator, the Word, the rejection of my articles – tipped the balance in favor of total anarchy.

                               Accumulation is like arsenic – dangerous in quantity – and we must defend ourselves, whatever the cost. After all, what

                               is the word we heard – the word so forbidden to our unique rhyme and reason – if not a staple citrus of Grand Old                                Tangello?

 

TRENT                   So… Tangello’s responsible for this?

 

MAYOR                 I knew it! The fraudulent fruitists!

 

GEORGE               No! No one thing is responsible. My point is, our society has been falling into decline with every word that strays from

                               our delicate values, the fragile fabric of our own ideal. We let it run unabated. We did this to ourselves, for just like a

                               man, no town is an island.

 

TRENT                   Except we are. There’s water… on all sides… all around…

 

MAYOR                 Then the chances of infiltration are statistically scant, but therefore more likely.

 

GEORGE               What?

 

MAYOR                 George, you may be right. We could indeed be the victims of substantial and obtuse terrorism. Trent, this is excellent

                               news!

 

GEORGE               Excellent? This is disastrous, Mayor!

 

MAYOR                 Of course, I meant only in the sense that the way forward is becoming clear. Sedition isn’t a solo sensation – our suspect

                               is a politicized mammal, and I am nothing if not political.

 

GEORGE                Mayor ---

 

MAYOR                 Thank-you, George. You’re a true patriot. I knew we could count on you. (Hangs up)

 

GEORGE sits in front of his typewriter, waiting for inspiration.

 

GEORGE                (Typing) “While the welfare of all. Is a matter of state.

We mustn’t forget. We’re in charge of our fate.

The state of our town. Is five minutes to twelve.

If someone’s to blame. Must we blame. Ourselves?”

 

GEORGE removes the sheet of paper, re-reads what he’s typed, scrunches it up, and throws it in the waste bin. He continues typing.

 

XVIII.

MARTHA sits at the kitchen table, crying quietly. BILLY stands awkwardly in the doorway.

 

BILLY                    Mum?

 

MARTHA              Oh. Billy. (She quickly dries her eyes) Your dinner’s cold.

 

BILLY                    I’m not hungry.

 

MARTHA              Did you eat already?

 

BILLY                    Some Subway.

 

MARTHA              With what money?

 

BILLY                    Mine, all right?

 

MARTHA              It’s your favorite. I’ll warm you up some.

 

MARTHA puts a plate in the microwave. BILLY sits down at the end of the table. Silence. The microwave pings. MARTHA places the plate in front of him.

 

MARTHA              Are you going to apologise?

 

BILLY                    What for?

 

MARTHA              William Bradly Wilder. You may not respect the values of this town or your father, but I am still your mother, you will

                             always be my son, and you will not hurt my feelings.

 

BILLY                    Fine then. I’m sorry.

 

MARTHA              What for?

 

BILLY                    What d’you mean, what for?

 

MARTHA              Why are you apologizing?

 

BILLY                    You just asked me to apologise!

 

MARTHA              And I’m asking you what for. (Beat) It’s not a hard question, Billy. (Beat) I raised you to be honest, if nothing else.

 

BILLY                    All right! I’m sorry I ran away! Ok? I wasn’t even gone that long. Fucking hell…

 

MARTHA              Don’t use those words, William. Of the so many hundreds of thousands gifted to you, you don’t have to use those.

 

BILLY                    Don’t tell me what to say then! Don’t make me sorry if I’m not sorry!

 

MARTHA              I’m not trying to make you sorry, Billy. (Beat) I’m not trying to make you anything. (Beat) I just want you to talk to me.

 

BILLY                    Why would I talk to you? The whole town always talks. You don’t even listen. You just tell me what to say.

 

MARTHA              I do not.

 

BILLY                    You just did! And I’m not sorry, ok? I’m not sorry I ran away. I’m not sorry I got kicked out of school. The only thing I’m

                              sorry about, is that I didn’t run away further, and for longer, and that I even came back at all.

 

MARTHA              Why are you so angry with us, Billy? What did we do?

 

BILLY                    You wouldn’t understand.

 

MARTHA              Why?

 

BILLY                    No one understands.

MARTHA              I might.

BILLY                   Yeah, right. You’re my mum. It’s not your job. If you wanted to understand me, you should’ve had a daughter.

 

MARTHA              A daughter might have been easier. I might have known how to mother someone if they were more like myself. I’d also

                             have to deal with the bitching, the bulimia, and the fact my clothes would always be missing. (Beat) At least you just

                             smell.

 

BILLY                   Thanks.

 

MARTHA              Loving someone isn’t easy, Billy. Yes, it might be easier if we were all a bit more like ourselves. But sometimes the

                             challenge is what makes you love them more.

 

BILLY                   That doesn’t mean anything. Love is just a capitalist buzzword spawned by a consumerist society.

 

MARTHA              Billy. I don’t know what that means.

 

BILLY                   It means this family is based on a patriarchal model of middle-class affluence, where love and affection are outsourced

                             commodities. It means Dad’s a purveyor of political propaganda, and you’re a fucking housewife.

 

                              Silence.

 

MARTHA              I still love you, and so does your Dad.

 

BILLY                   My Dad doesn’t love anyone.

 

MARTHA              (Angry) Your father is a good man, and he loves you very much, and you know that, the same way I know you love me,

                             even though you sit there and scowl on the other side of your face. So don’t you dare rebut it, just because you can.

 

There’s a silence between them. BILLY stirs his peas around. He looks as defeated as MARTHA.

 

BILLY                    Love is just a social construct used to hold us together. How can you love me? I wouldn’t love me.

 

                             Beat.

 

MARTHA              Billy. What a thing to say. How couldn’t I?

 

BILLY                   I don’t know. Forget it. Live your bourgeois fantasy. I’m just your screw-up of a son.

 

                             Beat.

 

MARTHA              I love you, Billy. Is that so hard to hear?

 

                              Beat.

 

BILLY                   Not from you.

 

MARTHA              You don’t need him to. You’re the best of both of us. Genetically and ecumenically.

 

BILLY                   It’s just…

 

MARTHA              I know it’s hard. It’s hard for us to say, and it’s hard for you to hear. But if things weren’t hard, they wouldn’t be worth

                             doing.

 

                             Beat.

 

                             I love your father very much. When we were engaged to be married, my parents couldn’t see the man I loved for the

                             place he came from. My mother took me aside after dinner one day and told me that a marriage needs more than love to

                             survive. She said love is what nourishes the seed of a marriage, but it takes more than love to make it grow. She warned

                             me things would be hard, not least because of who we were: him being from the Falls, and me being from Tangello. She

                             warned that I would lose things, because difference is a kind of loss. And I did. My homeland. My family. My love of

                             stone fruit. But these weren’t things that I felt I’d lost, compared to what I’d gained. A new home. A husband. The

                             promise of a family. And so, knowing that I understood the prices I would pay, and believing so firmly, as she did, in the

                             richness of my rewards, she gave us her blessing. She reminded me of something she always told me when I was a little

                             girl. She said that when faced with things that are hard or scary, when there’s no reason to look ahead, we must

                             remember that the world is only as hopeless and cold as we make it. We build it over ever day, filling it up with whatever

                             we hope to find inside.

 

                             Every day since then, that’s what I’ve tried to do. I’ve tried my best, in every way, to make a new world every day.

 

BILLY                   But you can’t. Some days are just… shit.

 

MARTHA              True. It’s on those days you try your hardest.

 

                             Beat.

 

                             What’s really wrong, Billy? Can you tell me?

 

BILLY                   I’m sorry.

 

MARTHA              What for.

 

BILLY                   For fucking everything up.

 

MARTHA puts her hand on BILLY’S. There’s the whoop of a police siren from outside. Red and blue lights flash through the window.

 

MARTHA              What on earth is that? (Rising to look out the window) My goodness, it’s the Mayor. And Miss Prim. Tom Goldberg from

                             the bakery. Mister and Missus Thyme. Why… it looks like everybody…

 

BILLY                   Oh shit.

 

MARTHA              What’s the whole town doing on our doorstep?

 

BILLY                   I can’t… They gotta know I didn’t mean any of this…

 

MARTHA opens the front door. The population of Border Falls stands on her doorstep, MAYOR CLUMP and TRENT stand closest to the front, beside a police car with flashing lights. MAYOR CLUMP has a megaphone.

 

MARTHA              Mayor Clump? What’s going on? Is there another emergency?

 

MAYOR CLUMP hands TRENT the megaphone, and whispers into his ear.

 

TRENT                 (Though the megaphone) Martha Temperance Wilder. Please surrender yourself from the front porch in a brisk and, uh,

                             orderly fashion. There’s no need for a kafuffle. I repeat, no need for a kafuffle.

 

BILLY                   Oh no…

 

MARTHA              Mayor, what’s this about? What on earth’s going on?

 

MAYOR CLUMP whispers again.

 

TRENT                  I’m, er, afraid there’s no use playing it dumb, Missus Wilder. Your act of, um, feigned ignorance will only aggravate your

                             complicity further.

 

BILLY                   Mum, I have to tell you something ---

 

MARTHA              One moment please, Billy. I can assure you my ignorance is genuine, Trent.

 

SUE pushes her bike through to the front of the crowd.

 

SUE                      Martha, what’s going on? What’s happened? Is it Billy?

 

BILLY                   Mum, please, I think it’s best ---

 

MARTHA              Please Billy, shush a moment. Mayor Clump? I’d like an answer, please.

 

TRENT                 Off the porch, Missus Wilder. Sans kafuffle please. Stat.

 

The townsfolk rumble their agreeance.

 

SUE                      (Taking her arm) Martha, maybe it’s best you do what they say…

 

MARTHA              This is my porch, Sue. I shan’t step one degree from it until they’ve explained why they’re standing on my azaleas!

 

TRENT                  The town has reached a unanimous agreeance. Democracy cannot be, ah, made a mockery of…

 

MAYOR CLUMP grabs the megaphone impatiently.

 

MAYOR                Hop to it, Martha. Off the front porch now, quick sticks.

 

MARTHA              What meeting? What exactly has the town decided?

 

SUE                      There was a meeting, and I wasn’t invited?

 

MAYOR                Of for fu----

 

MAYOR CLUMP looks pained. TRENT grabs the megaphone back.

 

TRENT                  Um, by emergency caucus of the free and legal citizens of Border Falls, the populace, vis-à-vis the victims of a gross

                             international act of verbal terrorism, have hereby revoked your citizenship to our town as a naturalized independent

                             entity. As a true national of Grand Old Tangello, and therefore a suspected sympathetic collaborator, your presence is

                             no longer required. We demand to escort you to the Border Falls city limits. Thank-you.

 

SUE                      I didn’t vote for this!

 

MAYOR                You voted by proxy. (Taking the megaphone) Look, Martha, I think you’ll agree it’s in your best interest if you come along

                             with us right now before this gets out of hand. The town has decided. You don’t have a choice.

 

The MAYOR takes MARTHA by one arm and leads her off the porch.

 

MARTHA              This is absurd!

 

MAYOR                This is democracy. All right folks, let’s move this along, show’s over…

 

BILLY                   (Following) But my Mum didn’t do anything wrong!

 

MARTHA              Billy, stay put.

 

SUE grabs hold of BILLY. The crowd clears around the police car to let the MAYOR and MARTHA through. GEORGE is standing beside it, his briefcase in his hand. He looks confused and appalled.

 

GEORGE              Martha?

 

MARTHA              Yes, George?

 

GEORGE              Mayor Clump, everyone… good evening. What’s going on?

 

MAYOR                Look George, this is town business. Regrettable I know, but the vote was unanimous.

GEORGE              Vote? What vote?

TRENT                  An, ah, executive emergency order, issued in light of new evidence regarding the deliberate and foreign nature of the

                             terror attack on our humble town. All folk of illegal origin are to be returned to their place of origin.

 

MAYOR                 Sorry George, but I’m sure you’ll agree, this is for the best.

 

GEORGE              But that’s my wife. Martha’s my wife.

 

TRENT                  The vote was unanimous.

 

GEORGE              I didn’t vote for this.

 

MAYOR                Of course you did! You practically proposed the initiative! Trent?

 

TRENT holds up a transcribed copy of meeting minutes.

 

TRENT                 (Reading aloud) “Dare we dismiss the vague role and interest

                             of the neighboring towns to the East and the West?”

 

MAYOR                Your words last night, as matter of public record.

 

GEORGE              Yes, but I was refer to ---

 

MAYOR                And how dare we indeed, in light of this act of social sabotage? Price fixing was only the tip of the iceberg. Who could

                             have guessed at the vile depths our enemies would stoop?

 

GEORGE              The price fixing is indeed a concern, but as far as a proven rhetoric goes ---

 

MAYOR                And unless I’ve read your column wrong, you’ve alerted us time and time again to the dangerous of international

                             philanthropy. My only regret is that we didn’t heed your warning sooner, so that this whole muddled mess might have

                             been averted.

 

GEORGE              That’s not what I meant. I didn’t mean that Martha --- My wife ---

 

BILLY                   My Mum didn’t do anything!

 

MARTHA              It’s all right, William.

 

SUE                      Billy, shush!

 

MAYOR                Don’t worry, young Willy. As rancorous as your mother’s actions may have been, I’m sure she’ll be more than

                             comfortable when she’s back with her own people and among other crude, like-minded individuals.

 

SUE                      Mayor Clump, is this really necessary? She’s on the pastry committee!

 

MAYOR                The fact remains, Sue, that Missus Wilder is of Tangello decent. We can’t expect her to uphold the values that aren’t her

                             own. It is a sad but inconvenient truth.

 

GEORGE              My wife isn’t guilty of this nonsense!

 

MAYOR                No one said she was, George, this is merely a precautionary measure. Your testimony is only a part of a compelling case

                             put forward to this town, one that paints an ugly picture of jealousy and resentment.

 

                             (Thru the megaphone) How are we to stand by as our way of life crumbles into mediocrity? How can I stand by and let

                             us slip into a coma of moral decay? Standards must be raised. Solutions must be found.

                             (Lowering it) And thanks to you, this town’s way forward, out of the darkness, has been found. I thank you, George.

                             You’re an inspiration.

 

MAYOR CLUMP shakes GEORGE’S hand. There is a silence. Everyone seems to be looking at GEORGE in a crucial moment. GEORGE says nothing, and the moment passes.

 

MARTHA              George?

 

GEORGE              Yes, Martha?

 

MARTHA              Dessert is in the oven.

 

MAYOR                (Thru megaphone) Now, without further ado, let’s put this to rest.

                                    I know you’re all tired and antsy and stressed.

                                    The culprit is captured. The Crisis is ended.

                                    I hereby declare our rhyme-breaking… suspended!

 

The crowd breaks into spontaneous applause. MAYOR CLUMP looks pleased by their show of approval. BILLY and SUE remain on the porch step, distraught. MARTHA and GEORGE share a long telling look, before MARTHA gets into the police car without another word.

 

 

END OF ACT TWO

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