ACT THREE: RHYME AND REASON 

XIX.

GEORGE and BILLY sit at the kitchen table. BILLY pokes at his breakfast cereal without appetite. GEORGE is mechanically eating the last third of a huge strudel. A radio sits in the middle of the table.

 

RADIO

Good morning to you, all you folk of Falls town.

That was Elvis, the King, with his hit song, “Way Down”.

This is day number three since the rhythm returned.

We hope you’re enjoying the tunes. They’re well earned.

Our leader, Mayor Clump, had a few words to say:

 

MAYOR

We’re all to be thanked for this dawning new day.

The folk of the Falls are a virulent sort.

By banding together, we’ve reaped what we’ve wrought.

Our borders are safe now. The bridge is all sealed.

I’m so proud of you all, of your resilience and zeal.

For now that the traitor’s been taken away,

every one of our days is a shining new day!

 

RADIO

You heard it here, folks, said with eloquent style.

For more on the Word, keep it fixed to this dial.

Up soon is some jazz to enjoy at your leisure.

But that’s it from me. Now here’s Bret, with the weather ---

 

GEORGE turns off the radio. Father and son sit in silence.

 

BILLY

You’ve been eating mum’s pie for a few days now, Dad.

Do you want me to make you some toast or… something… rad?

 

GEORGE              Hmm? No. Thank you.

 

BILLY                    Want me to… warm that up?

 

GEORGE              It tastes better cold. Blueberries. Full-bodied. Your mother… prefers it that way.

 

A silence. GEORGE spoons strudel mechanically. BILLY watches him.

 

BILLY                    Has she called today?

 

GEORGE              Not today. (Beat) I imagine the town’s had long distance disabled. (Beat) Collect calls are quite expensive.

 

BILLY                    Not even an email?

 

GEORGE              I don’t have a computer.

 

Another silence.

 

GEORGE              (Goes to speak, doesn’t)

 

BILLY                    (Goes to speak, doesn’t)

 

Silence.

 

GEORGE              Did she say anything to you, before she left? About me? For me?

 

Silence.

 

BILLY                    She just said you were a good man, Dad. And that she loved you very much.

 

GEORGE              Really? That’s good of her.

 

Silence. BILLY stands up with his backpack and goes to leave.

 

GEORGE              Where are you going?

 

BILLY                    School.

 

GEORGE              They took you back then?

 

BILLY                    I asked them to.

 

GEORGE              Do you? Yes, well. I’m very glad to hear it. Have you… lunch? What does your Mum usually do? A salad? Cold cuts?

 

BILLY                    I’m all right.

 

GEORGE              There’s some radish and coleslaw left over. It’s a few days gone, but reasonable, otherwise, with vinaigrette…

 

BILLY                    I’m fine, Dad. I’ve got a sandwich.

 

GEORGE              Of course. (Beat) Very resourceful. (Beat) Do you need a ride? I have a car.

 

BILLY                    I’ll catch the bus.

 

GEORGE              A bus? Well… that’s tax dollars well spent.

 

A silence.

 

                             Would you like to talk about your mother? (Beat) It must be hard for you, I realize… How things… With what’s happened.

 

BILLY                    I’ll manage.

 

GEORGE              Because I’m here, if you need me.

 

BILLY                    I’m not a little kid any more.

 

GEORGE              No. No, of course you’re not. (Beat) Of course you’re not! Look at you! You’re positively grown! (Beat) When did that

                             happen? (Beat) And to think, I used to be so… scared. So scared of you…

 

BILLY                    Dad?

 

GEORGE              When you were a baby. Absurd. From the moment your mother told me we were pregnant… the baby shower… the time

                             I took off work to care for her… the drive to the hospital… the waiting and the waiting… right up to the very first time the

                             nurse put you in my arms… I was always so scared of you. More than scared. Petrified. Utterly paralyzed with crippling,

                             incoherent terror.

 

                             What was this shriveled, mewling, dribbling pink thing wrapped in blankets in my hands? How could this be a brand new

                             human life, with its head too small even to fit in the flat of my palm? How could anything so helpless, so pathetically

                             dependent, ever grow to make a different to anything in the world?

 

                             All at once, my own existence up until now seemed a huge and unlikely fluke. I was no one remarkable. No scientist or

                             doctor. I just wrote things down that people liked to read, and the more they read, the more I wrote. Why should the

                             phenomenon of life happen to someone like me? What right did I have to hold it in my hands, to risk the chance to drop it

                             and destroy the endless possibilities contained inside its head? It was all a horrendous mistake.

 

                             You mother laughed at me. She said, since time in memoriam, fathers had paled and run for the bathroom at the acute

                             and vivid reality of newly found fatherhood. Like so many things in life, the first time was the hardest. It would pass with

                             practice. The second would be easier, and the third… well, easier still.

 

                             But we never returned to the hospital. The doctor advised against it and so we were happy with what we’d been given.

                             But the terror never passed. I never had a chance to rectify my mistake. I could only watch you from the doorway, while

                             your mother nursed you in the rocker, or listen from the other side of the bars as you slept in your crib… Keeping you at

                             arms length, safeguarded against me, should I make some grave and unforgivable error.

 

                             I realized that somewhere between your birth and fifth birthday that I had made a bargain in my mind: that I was willing

                             to give you up at a moment’s notice. Better to let you go, unharmed and untouched by my presence, than to damage

                             you with the unruly and deadly love a parent feels for their child.

 

                             No one should suffer that responsibility. No one should have to know the terror of being a parent.

 

                             I love you, Billy. But being your father has been the most frightening experience of my life.

 

A silence. GEORGE picks up his spoon and resumes eating strudel. BILLY leaves. There is a heavy thud on the roof, followed by another, and then another. BILLY reenters the kitchen, carrying an orange in each hand.

 

GEORGE              Well, will you look at that. Those were your mother’s favorite.

 

XX.

Oranges still fall from the sky, thundering on to the roof like dropped bombs. MAYOR CLUMP is hiding beneath his office desk, while TRENT frantically fiddles with a ham radio. Both are wearing 1940s infantry helmets.

 

MAYOR

Thundering Heracles! What is it now?

This is more noise than I care to allow!

I thought we were through with our run of dissent?

Oh what did I do to deserve this treatment?

Never before has a Mayor had to weather

the shit that I’ve weathered to keep shit together!

Trent!

 

TRENT

               Almost done. I’m just tuning the dial…

 

MAYOR

Well don’t make me rush you. I’ll just cower awhile.

 

TRENT

Got it!

 

MAYOR

            About time! Quick, give that thing here.

I urgently need it to cover my rear.

(Speaking into the microphone)

Folk of Falls town! This is me, your good Mayor!

You’re no doubt aware of what’s happening out there.

I’m declaring a state of emergency,

until this bombardment ceases to be.

Try not to panic, and stay behind doors.

(That way you’ll avoid the grapefruits and paw-paws.)

Know that I’m doing my utmost to halt

this bleak situation. It’s nobody’s fault.

No doubt it’s a storm or a freak wind insurgence,

like that time when, last Christmas, it rained us with sturgeons.

My point is we mustn’t let things out of hand.

We must show our resolve, and stand tall where we stand.

Await my instructions, you’ve no need to doubt.

This is Mayor to the Falls – over and out.

 

A particularly huge shower of citrus lands thunderously on the roof.

 

TRENT

You really thing this is a turn in the weather?

 

MAYOR

How the hell should I know, Trent? Do I look all together?

This should have been over, the troubles and strife…

I’ve never jumped so many hoops in my life!

 

TRENT

I’ve boarded the windows. No fruit can get through.

At least for the moment. What else can I do?

 

MAYOR

Pour me a scotch – I need to be numb-er.

Christ almighty I wish that we still had that bunker…

 

There’s an electronic ringing sound.

 

MAYOR

Trent, what is that? What the hell is that sound?

I thought all our telegraph lines were all downed?

 

TRENT

They are, but it sounds of a different stripe.

Someone appears to be calling on Skype…

 

TRENT turns the Mayor’s computer on. The AMBASSADOR OF TANGELLO appears on the screen.

 

MAYOR

What? Who are you? Who the hell is this calling?

We’ve got our hands full. I’ve no time for stalling!

 

TANGELLO

Greetings, Mayor Clump of Falls Town.

I’m sorry to hear that you’re down.

It’s not my intent

To cause further resent

And give you more reasons to frown.

 

The MAYOR and TRENT exchange a glance.

 

MAYOR             Who are you?

 

TANGELLO

I’m a rep on behalf of Tangello

A people who mostly are mellow

But with recent events

We have circumvent

Some things that make us fine fellows.

 

MAYOR

A rep from Tangello?

 

TRENT

                                   I suppose it’s the truth.

His clothing looks funny, and his speech is uncouth.

 

MAYOR

What do you mean, with these “recent events?”

I’m confused by the lilt of your foreign accent.

 

TANGELLO

Border Falls is a town we admire

With values whom all can aspire

But your conduct of late

Seems fuelled with much hate

And caused current events to transpire.

 

TRENT             The raining fruit?

 

MAYOR            Now hang on just a bloody minute there ---

 

TANGELLO

We’ve regrettably read some reports

And articles that claim to tort

Of flagrant price-fixing

And anti race-mixing.

Allegations we do not support.

 

TRENT             George wrote about that in the Tattler. Mayor, you don’t think ---

 

MAYOR            Shut up, Trent!

Rep of Tangello, I’m sorry to say

I haven’t a clue why you’d feel this way.

We love all our neighbors, the fruity and dry.

I can’t even guess at what thing you’d imply…

 

TANGELLO

We’d stomach such lies that were viler,

Or if all of this slander was milder.

But what we won’t stand

And we shall reprimand

is the treatment of Martha T. Wilder.

 

MAYOR            Martha? This is about Martha?

 

TRENT             She is a Tangello national, sir… And we did banish her…

 

MAYOR            Shut up!

 

TANGELLO

We demand an apology’s given

And Martha’s racism forgiven

We’ll embargo your town

And bombard you down

Unless you renege your decision.

 

MAYOR

Now look, I won’t stand by and swallow this slander.

Especially from someone who demands I pander

to political interests I don’t need to share.

Don’t like what you’re hearing? Then go grow a pair!

 

TRENT

Sir, if I may…

 

MAYOR

                        You may not!

 

TRENT

                                                Please, one word.

I urge you to not disregard what we’ve heard.

It might not be best to so tersely converse,

you could make this bad situation far worse.

 

MAYOR

I knew we were right in preserving our town!

We’re surrounded by villains on all sides, all around!

I will not be swayed by a fructose-fuelled frenzy.

So take your threats and assertions and shove them up your arse.

 

TANGELLO

You have until dawn to retract

The fruits of your ignorant acts

If you don’t do what’s best

We’ll join force with the West

Who you’ve also had cause to attack.

 

MAYOR            What! Those mineral huffing heathens?!

 

TANGELLO

To condemn what we truly deplore

And right slights that we cannot ignore

I’m afraid I must say

That in less than a day

We’ve no choice but to declare… war.

 

Good day, gentlemen.

 

The call ends. A silence, but for the patter of grapes falling on the roof. TRENT looks anxious.

 

TRENT

Mayor, you’ve gone quiet. Your face is quite white.

What do we do? Are you… feeling all right?

 

MAYOR

Empty the safes, and the files, and the draws.

 

TRENT             Sir…?

 

MAYOR

Get my stash of pink slips from their nook in the floor.

Take the accounts and the ledgers and lists.

My checkbooks and bonds, my medallion and… this.

 

The MAYOR strips off his sash of office and flings it at TRENT. He pulls out his desk draws, upending the papers inside.

 

MAYOR

We’ve no time to waste if we’re saving my skin.

But before you do that – Trent, get me my gin…

 

XXI.

GEORGE is in his office, sitting in front of his typewriter. A blank sheet is waiting to be written on. GEORGE pushes aside the obscuring stack of copy paper and picks up the picture of MARTHA and BILLY. Outside, watermelon’s fall with the high whistling sound of a mortar, followed by a wet smack as they hit the ground.

 

GEORGE

I know I’ve done things I did not mean to do.

The last thing I want is to hurt or harm you.

When I look in your eyes, the world’s chaos relents.

When I come home to you, my life makes such sense.

 

What will I now find when I walk through that door?

How can things be like they used to before?

How can I fix all the things that I’ve broken,

when all of the things that were true went unspoken?

And what chance would you give me, if I were permitted,

to say those lost words. Would I be acquitted

of all of the stupid, absurd things thing I’ve done?

Can I still change? Or is my race run?

Have I wasted your time and the lost energy

you spent trying to show me the man I could be?

 

Why did I waste all the words that I had,

filling page after page with the hate in my head?

I’ve squandered the gifts you tried so hard to nurture.

I’ve dropped all our dreams, abandoned our future.

And what pains me the most is a can’t quite recall

if we’d dreamed of a future together at all.

What kept us together? A fond memory?

Or was it just habit…? Pathetic ennui…?

 

Why can’t I remember the times that we had,

when I was more than a husband… reporter… a dad?

Why am I sitting here, talking to air?

Do you hear what I’m saying ? Do you even care?

How did we think we could just speak the truth,

when the silence between us is simply… the truth?

 

GEORGE sits in silence for a long time, then slowly starts to type.

 

XXII.

TRENT is in the Mayor’s office, shredding a huge pile of documents. There is shredded paper everywhere.

 

TRENT

Just look at this Trent, what a joke, what a mess!

What are you doing? You don’t need this stress!

Just follow your orders. What else can you do?

Political pander’s not suited to you.

You’re only a lackey, an errand boy, whipped.

For complex conspiring you just aren’t equipped.

All you’ve done is spin facts and sway public consensus.

If only you’d wised up and just been a dentist…

 

SUE enters. She has a bicycle helmet on her head, and is carrying a basket of mixed fruit.

 

SUE

Trent, what’s all this? What on earth are you doing?

 

TRENT

Sue! When did you… This is not public viewing!

 

SUE

Where is the Mayor? I thought he’d be ---

 

TRENT

                                                                        Out!

Surveying the damage. His actions need clout

in this dark, troubled time. So… hop on your bike.

Peddle off home and get out of my life.

 

SUE

The damage from mangos outside is severe,

but it’s nothing compared to the state of in here…

 

TRENT

Sue, I’ve no time for your lame brainless prattle,

I’m too busy to see you ---

 

SUE

                                                Trent, I don’t want to battle.

I came here to see if I could lend some aid,

but it looks like the chaos in here is homemade…

 

TRENT

What would you know about grit and hard work?

 

SUE

It beats having digs as a drab office clerk.

 

TRENT

Oh sure, you’ve a bike, and a helmet to boot.

That just means you save heaps on your morning commute.

 

SUE

My role as Enforcer of Public Relation

is a valued and coveted official station.

 

TRENT

Your position is pointless, a total vox pop,

an empty example of dumb agitprop.

 

SUE

Trent! This is stupid! It’s not worth the bother.

We should be banding together, not fighting each other.

Just because you feel slighted I won this post fair

is no reason to hurt the good people out there

who need help and assurance that’s clear and overt.

This fruit is delicious, but gosh, does it hurt.

Instead, you’re in here… the Mayor’s called it a day…

Just what the heck are these papers you’ve shred, anyway?

 

SUE picks up the nearest file.

 

TRENT             Hey!

 

SUE

These are all records of funds and amounts…

The Falls’ annual budget… The Mayor’s cheque account…

 

TRENT             Stop that ---

 

SUE

(And another) And what are these, duties? Import manifests?

Goods that we’ve bought from the East and the West?

Tangellian Ale and twelve carat gold…

All bought at prices far less than they’re sold…?

 

TRENT

Give me that!

 

SUE

                        Trent, are these numbers all true?

The mark-ups… price fixing… It’s the Mayor’s doing? (Beat) You knew?

 

A silence.

 

                        Trent… what’s going on?

 

TRENT             It’s all our fault, all right? We jacked a few prices, and inflamed an international incident, and now we’re going to war. There!

                        That’s what’s going on, spin-free and plain. The truth. And that’s what I’m shredding: the thing we’ve all been up in arms

                        about trying to preserve. So are you happy now, Sue? Got what you came here for? Have you rubbed my nose in it enough,

                        or should I peel a melon and let you have at me?

 

SUE                 Trent… how could you let this happen?

 

TRENT             I didn’t know! I’m just a sidekick, Sue. I do what I’m told, even when what I’m told isn’t what I want to hear! Politics is the art

                        of moving forward without looking back. The bureaucratic machine runs so long as someone’s at the wheel. Every cog

                        knows its place and turns the wheel its assigned, and all I ever wanted, Sue, was to be one of those cogs, a cog turning the

                        wheel that makes the smallest bit of different, that moves the machine that extra inch to where it needs to be and, maybe,

                        one day wears a sash so that everybody knows just how good a job I’d done and how unfair we all were, to put down his

                        dreams of one day owning a Schwinn three-eighty, with flags, and a yellow jersey reading ---

 

SUE                 Trent, get a hold of yourself! (Slaps him)

 

Beat.

 

TRENT             Everything’s gone down the shitter, Sue… and it’s all my fault. (He bursts into tears)

 

SUE

Trent, your best fault is for being too good

at spinning the truth half as good as you could.

Hearing what’s right is the hardest to hear

when you’ve got so much stuffing packed in your own ear.

But put that aside, we’ve more problems in store –

what do you mean by, “we’re going to war”?

 

TRENT

The town’s copped the heat for the shoddy treatment

of poor Missus Wilder and her banishment.

Tangelo’s response is this hailstorm of fruit,

declaring our complicity somewhat moot.

Unless we respond with oeuvres of repentance,

they’ll join with the West and extract fruity vengeance.

 

SUE

Why hasn’t Mayor Clump defused this fragile state?

He just has to say sorry. It’s still not too late.

 

TRENT

Exactly the reason I’m filling these bins:

Would you admit guilt if you’re guilty as sin?

 

SUE

Then we’ll have to take stock and resolve it, we two.

 

TRENT

But what can we do? I’m just me and you’re you.

 

SUE

Well, I’m the Enforcer of Pubic Relation,

and since you seem recently stripped of your station,

I hereby proclaim you my deputy.

I’ll show you how useful our two heads can be.

 

TRENT

So you have a plan then?

 

SUE

                                                Not even a jot.

But… do you have some glue?

 

TRENT

                                                ... I suppose.

 

SUE

                                                                         Get the lot.

 

XXIII.

NARRATOR

Out of all in the Falls, we must spare a pause,

for the fellow named George, and the man that he was.

George Wilder had started the week as a man

convinced of his mind, with a solid life plan.

He knew who he was, who he wasn’t, and why.

He’d never expected that that man could die.

That the rug could be shifted to swiftly beneath

his feet on the world that contained his beliefs.

As the daylight bombardment came to a swift end,

George drove through the streets in his Mercedes Benz.

He steered without pausing, or thinking a word,

through the streets of the town where the bad word was heard.

Each sidewalk he passed, and from every roof awning,

hung garlands of kiwis and grapefruit, adoring

every shop window, each lamp and bin lid.

The town looked for all like a great big fruit salad.

Though he’d lived here each moment that he’d been alive,

George drove through a town he did not recognize.

It occurred to him then, as a man of strong views,

that never before had he so much to lose.

And though he’d tried to preserve it, at God knew what cost…

there was no use preserving the things he had lost.

 

XXIV.

GEORGE is standing on the bridge out of town. In one hand is an orange, in the other a sealed white envelope. He drops the orange into the river below and watches it float away, leaving only the envelope.

 

SUE                 (Over the emergency PA) Like this?

 

TRENT             Hold it down.

 

SUE                 Right… um…

Folk of the Falls! This is me, your friend Sue!

This is a friendly reminder to you

that we’re doing the best of the best that we can

to sort out this mess. We have a good plan

to get the town back to a citrus-free route.

So… thanks for your time. This is Sue. Signing out.

 

GEORGE looks at the water. BILLY enters with his skateboard.

 

BILLY              Dad?

 

GEORGE        William. How was school?

 

BILLY              Cancelled.

 

GEORGE        That’s a shame.

 

BILLY              I went in anyway. Just hung around. Watched grapes fill up the gutters in the locker breezeway. They overflowed. Flooded

                       the computer labs. Mister Lannister the janitor was furious. We had to sweep them out with brooms.

 

GEORGE        Good of you to help.

 

Silence.

 

BILLY              It felt weird being back there, with nobody there. It didn’t seem so loud.

 

GEROGE        Really?

 

BILLY              Yeah. At first.

 

GEORGE        But you soldiered through?

 

BILLY              Mum helped.

 

GEORGE        Good man. (Beat) Woman. (Beat) What are you doing all the way out here?

 

BILLY              I come out here sometimes. When I need some space to think. Or talk. (Beat) What are you doing out here?

 

GEORGE        Something similar, I think. (Beat) I think I was hoping that if I stood here long enough, I might be able to sort out why I’ve

                       been so awful to you and your mother. And if that happened, I thought maybe you both might find me here, and forgive me.

                       (Beat) Seems I’m halfway there. (Beat) I haven’t been drinking, if that’s what you think.

 

                       At least it’s stopped raining. I have a bruise the exact shape of a dragon fruit.

 

BILLY              You can see the Tangello trebuchets from here, on the north bank.

 

GEORGE        So you can. I think they’re unloading troops. I believe I saw a tank. (Beat) It seems things have got a little out of control,

                       haven’t they?

 

                       I proposed to your mother here. Did you know that?

 

BILLY              Yeah.

 

GEORGE        I was a typesetter at the paper. No pay but experience. Lowest rung on the ladder to… where I am now, I suppose. She was

                       ---

 

BILLY              Studying contemporary jazz, at the conservatorium across the water. Clarinet.

 

GEORGE        Quite right. Jazz, of all things. Can you believe it? And to think, she settled for me. (Beat) We’ve told you this before?

 

BILLY              (Nods)

 

GEORGE        Ah. It’s moments like that you need the Kodak… Proof of memories you’re too busy to mark yourself.

 

                       She sold that clarinet. I can’t remember why.

 

                       Look at that. They’ve turned on the lights.

 

A string of lights appear across the water, hung from the invading army like Christmas lights.

 

BILLY              I’m so sorry, Dad. I shouldn’t have said it. I know it was wrong. But I had to say something. A thousand different people were

                       screaming inside me, and when I opened my mouth… that’s all that came out. I knew it was wrong, and I knew I shouldn’t

                       say it, but that’s why it felt so good. I needed to say something awful and mean, because that’s how they felt, all those

                       voices inside, they felt awful and mean, and I don’t know why, but I just…

 

                       I just needed someone to hear me.

 

                       What’s happened to the town… to Mum… If I hadn’t said it – if I’d kept my mouth shut…

 

GEORGE        It’s not your fault, Billy. Your mother and I… we love each other very much.

 

BILLY              I know.

 

GEORGE        But we love each other only half as much as we love you. Sometimes so much, we can’t even speak.

 

BILLY              I know that, too.

 

GEORGE        Knowing and hearing are two separate things. There are some things you shouldn’t have to take on faith. If you need to

                       shout, then go ahead and shout. Shout whatever you need to say. No matter how awful or mean, or wild and ecstatic, or

                       joyful or sad. We’ll hear you.

 

BILLY              You mean that?

 

GEORGE        I need that.

 

BILLY and GEORGE turn and face the water.

 

BILLY        ORANGE!

 

GEORGE         ORANGE!

 

BOTH              ORANGE!

 

“Orange” echoes across the water, skittering down laneways and bouncing off the rooftops.

 

XXV.

NARRATOR

The town, Border Falls, between East and the West,

had been put to a very unusual test.

For the town had been pulled quite apart at the seams,

with circumstance beyond its wildest dreams.

The town that’s so lovely, so full of good cheer,

hardly resembles the town we see here.

For its street and its lanes, in the light of sunrise,

appeared as if draped in a puréed disguise.

The Border Falls folk all awoke to the sound

of the bells of the hall summoning them to town.

They staggered from beds, bleary eyed and in socks,

to the steps of the hall, where they found, to their shock,

a battalion of troops bearing Tangelo crests,

flanked by two reps of the East and West.

They’d come to sit judgment on Border Falls’ fate,

where a word to their credit may come one word too late…

 

XXVI.

The entire town is gathered in front of the town hall. The AMBASSADOR OF TANGELO, in yellow military uniform, and the AMBASSADOR OF THE WEST, in glittery ceremonial robes, stand either side of a lectern.

 

SUE is the last to arrive, carrying a scroll of rolled paper. She comes to stand next to GEORGE and BILLY.

 

SUE

(Breathless) Sorry I’m late, have I missed it?

 

GEORGE

                                                                     Not yet.

They’re waiting for Clump to arrive here, I bet.

 

SUE

No chance of that.

 

BILLY

                              Huh? What do you mean?

 

SUE

The Mayor as we know him is nowhere to be seen.

But don’t speak too loud, I don’t want the word out!

Not with things like they are…

 

GEORGE

                                              (Loudly) What is this about?

 

The AMBASSADOR OF TANGELO bangs a gavel on the lectern, and the crowd falls silent.

 

TANGELO

Falls Folk, I bid you good morning.

We’re sorry to rouse you from snoring.

But this matter can’t wait

We must de-conflagrate 

The conflict to which we’re conforming.

 

A confused silence. The AMBASSADORS confer in whispers.

 

WEST

Language is a gift

But it’s not universal

Let us speak one tongue.

 

TANGELO          Where is Mayor Clump?

 

Silence from the crowd. SUE steps forward.

 

SUE                    Good morning. I’m Sue, the Enforcer of Public Relations. Can I help?

 

WEST

Words are home to all

Meaning must have many forms

You must be as one

 

TANGELO          What we mean is, can you speak for everyone here?

 

SUE                    Well, I’m not sure… I don’t often know what I’m speaking myself, let alone for everyone… I suppose the answer’s no, no I

                           can’t. But we’re a strong people. I’m sure we can speak for ourselves.

 

TANGELO          Citizens of Border Falls. You have insulted the character of our two sovereign nations, and accused us, without basis or

                           proof, of subverting your cherished beliefs. You have injured the pride of our people, and hurt the feelings of my own

                           fellow national, a citizen of Grand Old Tangelo. How do you speak for your crimes?

 

The crowd rumble a hubbub of conflicting thoughts: outrage, shock, sincerity, confusion.

 

SUE                    I think what we mean to say is, we really didn’t have any idea what we were doing, and really, we still don’t. I think I can

                           reasonably speak for everyone in saying we intended no offence?

 

TANGELO          Regardless, you must accept responsibility for your actions, no matter the intentions of your own ignorance. According to

                           the conventions of linguistic armistice, we convene a court of moral decency. You will be judged on your actions.

 

WEST

We alone shall not

Judgment must pass as equals

Martha will decide.

 

MARTHA stands, dressed in green fatigues, and takes her place behind the lectern, to everyone’s astonishment.

 

TANGELO          Let me make this clear:

Border Falls town, you will now be subjected

to the scrutiny of the one soul you rejected.

She will weigh up the facts and determine your guilt,

in the hope that a peace can again be rebuilt.

None of you here are completely sin free.

The extent of your crimes will be measured by she.

And if she should find that your truth is all prattle,

we are forced, by her ruling, to engage you in battle.

 

The crowd at once explodes again into confused protest.

 

SUE                    Ambassadors, please, there’s been a huge misunderstanding. There’s no need to take the town to task ---

 

MARTHA

Sue, if I may, have a moment or two,

I would like to speak plainly to all of you.

I’m sorry to put it to you in this manner – 

a militant action is no place for banter – 

but beside the excuses and eloquent talking,

the town’s conduct to others has just been appalling.

My own home is a place I do not recognize.

When did we lose the words to empathize?

We’ve been monstrous, and vile, and totally void

of the goodness we used to take pride we employed.

 

SUE

No one’s denying the bad things we’ve done,

out of cowardice, fear, confusion or fun.

But in order to find how our senses departed,

perhaps we should look then at how this all started?

 

SUE unrolls her paper scroll, which is ten feet long and composed of shredded documents, all stuck back together with glue and sticky-tape.

 

These papers and notes were all in the Mayor’s files – 

they’re duties and imports of all different styles.

They clearly list all of the prices we paid

for goods that your nation so kindly purveys.

Compare, if you will, the wholesale discount

with the price paid in store…

 

TANGELO

                                           Hmm… that’s quite an amount.

 

SUE

The same goes for gold that’s supplied by the West.

Mayor Clump marked them up, and embezzled the rest.

That’s why he placed blame where it didn’t belong,

when something in town went so tragically wrong.

 

TANGELO

This seems like a terribly devious con,

but what says Mayor Clump? Where is he?

 

SUE

                                                                               He’s long gone.

He’s legged it, absconded, he’s skipped out of town.

His wife is distraught. Trent’s still hunting him down.

 

The crowd is shocked by this news. The AMBASSADORS confer. They defer to MARTHA, who nods.

 

TANGELO          This is indeed compelling evidence. But without the body to which it’s attached, we can’t allow it. Words cannot be

                           incarcerated. Their guilt is insubstantial, and only guilt at the hands of those who misuse them. Next order of business ---

 

There is a commotion from the back of the crowd. TRENT appears, dragging MAYOR CLUMP by his hands, which are tied with an extension cord. CLUMP is blindfolded with his own necktie. He clutches a bulging and hastily-packed suitcase in one hand.

 

TRENT

Wait! Hold it there! Is this what you need?

 

MAYOR

Trent, let me go! I demand that I’m freed!

 

TRENT

This is your fault, and we’re here to prove it.

It’s time you grew balls and faced up to the music!

 

TRENT pulls off MAYOR CLUMP’S blindfold. The MAYOR is gob smacked at what he sees.

 

MAYOR            Huh? Gah? Mah?

What’s all this, what the hell? Did I miss the memo?

Who are these reps of the West and Tangelo?

 

TRENT

Don’t play the fool, you know well what this is!

It’s the price we’ve all paid for the crimes that you did!

And if that’s not enough to indite you quick flash,

just look in your suitcase – it’s stuffed full of cash!

 

TRENT opens the MAYOR’S suitcase: full of money.

 

MAYOR            I… Well! How did that… Well I never…

 

MARTHA

Mayor Clump, you’re accused with substantial finesse,

with inspiring hate out of gross selfishness.

You whipped up a storm that effectively hid

all the crimes you conspired to enact and did.

You intentionally rallied to cause great offence.

What do you have to say in your defense?

 

MAYOR            I… I…

Balderdash hellfire! How dare you accuse me

of deeds far beneath who you know me to be?

All I have done is to protect this town!

To stop us from erring and being brought down

by things that are ugly, obnoxious and crude,

bike SBS Movies, and Indian food!

American cable, and trashy TV!

Reality shows, and pornography!

So what if I’ve skimmed off some cream on the side?

I’ve still made this the best place we all can reside.

And you all know it!

 

A murmur of consent from the crowd.

 

MARTHA

Mayor Clump, there’s no motive a man can relate,

more noble than keeping ones’ very home safe.

While family values are beyond suggestion,

it’s the methods you’ve used that I call into question.

For what you have done, and the means that you used,

I suggest that your title of Mayor be removed.

While you channeled our fears to be most democratic,

the Falls needs a leader who’s much less dramatic.

 

MAYOR

Preposterous! Bah! I’m a Falls citizen!

They want me deposed? Let me hear it from them!

 

The crowd is silent.

 

WEST

A wise man knows this

When to fight, and when not to

He exits stage right.

 

MAYOR CLUMP promptly grabs up an armful of cash and runs.

 

TANGELO            I suppose he knows he’s on an island?

 

GEORGE steps forward.

 

GEORGE

Martha?

 

MARTHA

            Yes, George?

 

GEORGE

                                    If the Mayor is to blame

for setting the fires of hatred aflame,

then I must be blamed for my role its spread.

I fanned it with all of my words that were read.

In fact, I’m much worse than the Mayor and his greed.

It’s through my own thoughts that his hatred was freed.

 

TANGELO

This court must be proffered with real evidence.

You need more than neat words to prove your innocence.

 

GEORGE approaches the lectern and hands MARTHA a sealed envelope. She opens it and reads.

 

GEORGE

Quite the contrary, I am no innocent.

I’m guilty of every last charge I present.

I’m the absolute worst kind of man you can find,

one who lives out his whole petty life in his mind.

I’m a man who discards all he loves on a whim,

who neglects to see the good things around him.

If one must be blamed for the worst you can see,

you need not look harder or further than me.

 

BILLY

No! That’s a lie! My Dad’s a good man.

He’s always tried hardest to do what he can

for me and my mum. His love is implicit,

though he says it far less than he’d care to admit it.

 

GEORGE

Billy ---

 

BILLY

            No, Dad. This is not your crime.

You can’t take the blame for the faults that are mine.

I said the word, the one we forbade.

I said it. That’s it. I wish I could trade

anything I could alter to change what’s now done,

but I can’t – and I won’t – cos I’m not sorry.

 

GEORGE

Son…

 

BILLY

Since our township was founded – the beginning of time – 

we’ve indulged in a morbid compulsion to rhyme.

To express to ourselves, to our friends and to others

the words that we’ve heard from our fathers and mothers.

We feel that our thoughts and our feelings were freed

by conversing and versing in phrases that lead

us to no solid end, no conclusion, no aim

other than beauty, which words alone tame.

Where is the meaning? What the heck do we say, 

when we say what we say when we speak in this way?

Is it really just beauty? Ephemeral truth?

A pearl of real thought, like an extracted tooth?

Do we find it in keeping emotional silence?

Or do we rip it clean out, with linguistical violence?

Why do we speak when there’s nothing to say?

Why do we speak?

Why do we?

Why?

 

A silence. MARTHA steps down from the lectern and hugs BILLY.

 

GEORGE            Martha… I’ve made a mess of things.

 

MARTHA            I know, George.

 

GEORGE            I don’t want you to forgive me, but I need to know ---

 

MARTHA            That too, George.

 

TANGELO          Missus Wilder. Our tanks are standing by, and the tangerines are overripe as it is. What have you ruled?

 

Beat.

 

MARTHA

We cannot move forward unless we agree

that the things in the past are what shouldn’t be.

Blame matters little if nothing is learned.

The right to the truth is not spoken, but earned.

And the truth seems to be, that one man to another,

may well be his mother, his sister, his brother.

If only we thought, as my son rightly said,

more about what we felt in our heart, not our head.

And if we must rhyme, we must do it with care,

and make certain we share what we feel inside there.

 

BILLY                 I’m sorry Mum. Dad. Sue. I’m sorry everyone.

 

MARTHA            Ambassadors, does that answer your question?

 

TANGELO          Right, marm. We’ll order down the troops and get started on the clean up.

 

WEST

Wisdom comes in time

Bread broken with neighbors makes

The best fruit salad

 

TANGELO           (Into his radio) Move out men, the war’s off.

 

The AMBASSADORS leave. The crowd applauds.

 

SUE

Well that resolves that, but we’re still in a fix.

The town’s a hot mess and our Mayor’s hit the bricks.

 

MARTHA

It’s true we’ll need guidance to put all things right.

We need someone who’s kind, and pragmatic, and bright,

courageous and clever and full of hot fizz,

to lead us to where our best future is hid.

We need someone enthused about all that’s to do.

That’s why I would like you to nominate Sue.

 

SUE

Who? You want me? But I’m no real Mayor!

 

BILLY

Out of everyone here, you’re the best one who cares

about every small thing in this big old dumb place.

 

MARTHA

More to the point, you respect creed and race.

You’ve always believed, without missing a beat,

that this town, in its heart, can stand tall on its feet.

 

GEORGE            I think Sue is a terrific candidate. (He raises his hand)

 

The townsfolk do likewise, with a chorus of “Agreed”. SUE looks fit to bursting.

 

SUE

Martha, I’m couldn’t! Well, maybe I could…

But only so long as my Mayor-ing is good.

I haven’t much practice, and might be too brash…

I should keep my bike… Do I get a new sash?

But – I really don’t think I could fulfill that station…

unless Trent’s my Enforcer of Public Relations.

 

TRENT               Me?

 

SUE                   I know he hasn’t been the most truthful civil servant, but Trent was the one who told me what the Mayor had been doing.

                          He stayed up all night with me, sticking the receipts back together.

 

TRENT               I really just found the glue…

 

SUE

Folk of the Falls, if you do trust my stance,

will you help me to give Trent here a small second chance?

 

Sounds of acquiescence. SUE takes of her sash and drapes it over TRENT.

 

SUE

There you go, Trent. It’s a bit worse for wear,

but a sash just tarts up the best parts under there.

 

GEORGE

Martha?

 

MARTHA

            Yes, George?

 

GEORGE

                                    Could we please go home now?

My brain’s taken all of the strain it allows.

And after some tea, could we maybe talk…?

 

MARTHA            (The letter) Did you mean this?

 

GEORGE            Every word.

 

MARTHA            Then yes, George, we probably can.

 

GEORGE            I don’t expect things to be easy…

 

MARTHA            I’d be concerned if they were.

 

SUE

All right then folks, we’ve a heap left to do

to make this place perfect for me and for you!

Trent!

 

TRENT

Yes Sue? I mean, you called for me, Mayor?

 

SUE

I want all this fruit sorted, each kiwi and pear.

We should celebrate and turn over a leaf.

(Peeling an orange) We needn’t fear words that are tasty to eat.

From now on we’ve no need for Word Ex-term’nators,

our problems are something to which we can cater.

And if we have problems, we won’t be afraid.

Why, with so many lemons, we’ll just make lemonade!

 

SUE and TRENT begin to clean up the town.

 

BILLY                  Where is the Word Exterminator, anyway? I never met him. Was he good?

 

GEORGE            Not really. Hopefully he’s concussed with all that fruit falling about…

 

MARTHA            George!

 

GEORGE

Truthfully, Martha, that’s just how I feel!

You can’t judge too harshly if what I feel’s real.

 

MARTHA

Still, there’s no likening him to a felon…

 

BILLY

I don’t know, Mum… Did you see the size of those watermelons?

 

They exit.

 

XXVII.

The WORD EXTERMINATOR is on the bridge out of town, strumming his banjo as he walks.

 

EXTERMINATOR

(Singing)

Since the world was set to turnin’

There’s a fire that’s been burnin’

Deep down inside this humble heart o’ ours.

It’s the need to speak and listen

To the words we think we’re missin’

From the mouths we use to fill up all our hours.

 

Like a beacon

Out in the dark

We must find the sounds that speak for us

And cling on to their spark.

How can we fight

Through those dark days

Unless we find the words that help us on our way?

Yes those dark days

Are here to stay

Unless we find the words that help us on our way…

 

He disappears into the distance.

 

THE END

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