NOT A FIRST DATE BUT A START, a short play by Kirby Fields

 

The Characters

STANLEY – late-40’s

AUDREY – mid-30’s
The Place

An outdoor café in an American city.
The Time

The present.

 

At rise: A table for two at an outdoor café. The table has a cloth on it that extends all the way to the ground. STANLEY sits at the table. He nervously taps an envelope. AUDREY enters. She wears an ankle-length skirt and a tank top. In one hand, she carries a cup of coffee. In the other, a gift bag and a single red rose. She looks around, twirls the rose. STANLEY stands.

STANLEY
Audrey?

AUDREY
Jake.

STANLEY
Hello.

AUDREY
Hi.

(STANLEY awkwardly extends a hand. She shakes it.)

STANLEY
So, uh.
(He motions to the seat opposite.)
Please.

AUDREY
Thank you.

(They sit. She places the gift bag, the rose, and the coffee on the table.)

STANLEY
This is a nice place. I like it.

AUDREY
Delivery trucks can be a bit much, but otherwise.

STANLEY
Do you live around here? Or is that an inappropriate question?

AUDREY
No. It’s not inappropriate at all. I live in the neighborhood, yes. You?

STANLEY
No. I, um, I live in, um…I don’t live around here.

AUDREY
Cool.

STANLEY
Yeah.

Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Coffee?
(AUDREY gestures with her coffee.)
Oh, right. Something to go with it, maybe? A muffin or a scone? I had a cinnamon-chip scone, myself.

(STANLEY taps the envelope.)

AUDREY
I’m fine.

STANLEY
Are you sure? It was very—.

AUDREY
Jake.

STANLEY
Yes?

AUDREY
Relax.

(STANLEY stops tapping.)

STANLEY
Relax, right. Relax. Apparently you’ve done this before.

AUDREY
I have.

STANLEY
Ahh….
AUDREY
Enough to be impressed that you followed through, actually..

STANLEY
Yeah?

AUDREY
Yeah. You can usually tell from that first email who’s serious and who’s desperate at the end of a late night.

STANLEY
I seemed desperate?

AUDREY
You seemed tentative. Curious, but unsure.

STANLEY
I was impressed by how quickly you replied. And that you knew when to use capital letters.

AUDREY
All lowercase is the hallmark of the underaged. It’s the kiss of death in this line, unless you want to attract the real creeps.

STANLEY
You get a lot of those? Creeps?

AUDREY
I get my share, but most guys are harmless enough. They’re just looking for a discrete way to blow off a little steam without feeling too guilty about the wife and kids. After all, it is only coffee, right?

STANLEY
And sometimes not even that.

AUDREY
Exactly! Sometimes not even that.

No, I was impressed that you followed through because you sent your first email at 3:30 in the morning. That’s either drunk or on a whim, neither of which suggests a high level of commitment.

STANLEY
I wasn’t drunk.
AUDREY
The earliest message you sent was at 2:00 a.m. Another was close to 4:00. You having a hard time sleeping, Jake? Looking for a little nocturnal release?
(She nods to the ring on his finger.)
Or do you just prefer that early-, early-morning privacy?
(STANLEY covers his ring with his thumb.)
Not that I necessarily blame you for being cautious, of course. What with all of the casual surveillance out there? Maybe I’m a set up? Maybe Dateline is lurking in the bushes? Maybe I’m some money-hungry vixen looking to make a dishonest buck?

STANLEY
I don’t think you’re dishonest.

AUDREY
I try to do everything short of business cards to prove that I’m legit. I use my real name. I send pictures. I send real pictures. I’ll even give you my phone number if you ask. Well, the business line, anyway.

STANLEY
You told me what neighborhood you live in.

AUDREY
I told you what neighborhood I live in. See. I try to keep everything on the up-and-up. So, you see Jake, there’s no reason to be nervous.

STANLEY
Your pictures don’t do you justice, by the way. You’re prettier in real life.

AUDREY
Thank you, Jake. That was a very sweet thing for you to say. That’s something I don’t get much of anymore. Sweetness.

STANLEY
My name is Stanley, by the way. It’s not “Jake.” If you’re really Audrey, then I’m really Stanley.

AUDREY
Then hello, Stanley.

STANLEY
Hi.

AUDREY
So. Shall we—?

(AUDREY begins to adjust herself in her chair.)

STANLEY
What? Here? Now?

AUDREY
That’s the whole point, now isn’t it, Stanley?

STANLEY
Wait.

AUDREY
Wait?

(AUDREY stills herself.)

STANLEY
Can we just sit for a few more minutes, before, maybe? Maybe talk. It’s been a long time since I just sat and talked to a woman.

AUDREY
A man who actually wants to take his time. Something else I don’t get much of anymore. What do you want to talk about?

STANLEY
Tell me something about yourself.

AUDREY
What do you want to know?

STANLEY
Well, for starters, how did you end up…?

AUDREY
You mean, What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?

STANLEY
I guess. Or do people ask you that all the time?

AUDREY
Actually, you’re the first.

It was a date I had in college, if you really want to know.

STANLEY
I do.

AUDREY
It was my freshman year—he was an older man, a sophomore—and we were in the same Intro to Sociology class. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 in Kimpel Hall. He was one of these introverted types who sat in the front row and wrote down everything the teacher said. Not just the notes on the board, but every single word. His notebook must have been like a transcription. He never looked up. He didn’t even know that I existed.

Then one day I stepped funny off a curb and twisted my ankle. I had to miss a week of class. No one would have more detailed notes than he. I explained my situation, and when I was done, I had not only the notes, but also a date. Only he didn’t call it a “date.” He called it “hanging out.” Do you want to, quote, hang out with me sometime, unquote? I should have known then.

So we hung out, me and this boy I was smitten with, and we had just a really, really nice time. Dinner and a walk through the park, and everything was just really free and easy and casual, you know. Comfortable. And at the end of the night, he walked me back to my dorm, and I thought, What a gentleman, half wishing that he wasn’t. After all, I was 19. I was pretty. I mean, all he had to do was say the word and I would have gone wherever he asked, done anything he wanted. Well, almost anything, apparently.

So we’re standing outside of my building, and finally, finally, he leans in to give me a kiss goodnight, only his cheek goes right past mine, and his breath is in my ear now, and my mouth opens to allow that sudden heave in my chest, and he’s pulling me close, and I’m thinking, OK, if this is how he wants to play it then that’s just fine with me, that’s just fine, indeed, and my chest flat against his now, and then he whispers in my ear, all moist like, he whispers, May I have your panties, please? Not How about a good night kiss or Do you want to go back to my place? Not even Will you suck my cock? Those I would have understood. But May I have your panties, please? May I. Please. No interest in that which was inside the panties, which, until that point, I had always thought was the goal. No. Just the panties. Thank you.

Well, of course I was mortified, so I pushed him away and ran as fast I could into my dorm. I must have looked like someone who had just been…well, I must have looked like someone who had just been raped. He called after me, but I didn’t turn back. That night I cried myself to sleep, and on Monday morning I dropped Intro to Sociology.

But that night always stayed with me, partly because of his audaciousness and partly because—well, if you promise not to tell—partly because it turned me on.

I don’t have to do this, you know. I have a job. I have a good job, with benefits and time off for vacation and sick days and a 401K even. I do this because I like it. I do this because nice boys are hard to find, and while I’m waiting, why not, you know? Why not have a little fun?

I’m sorry. That was more than you asked for.
STANLEY
I didn’t even know what I wanted until I saw your post. Then I thought I did. Now, sitting with you here, I know I do.

AUDREY
Plenty of women will mail you their game-worn jerseys, as it were. But what I provide is different. The connection. It adds a whole new dimension.

STANLEY
Yes. Yes, it does.

AUDREY
So, Stanley. Was that talk enough? Are you ready to stop talking now?

STANLEY
You said I was married before.

AUDREY
I never said—.

STANLEY
You suggested it. I’m wearing a ring.

AUDREY
It was just an observation. I didn’t mean anything by it.

STANLEY
She died. She’s dead.

AUDREY
Oh. I’m—.

STANLEY
It’s—.

AUDREY
I’m sorry.

STANLEY
It’s OK.

AUDREY
I had no—.
STANLEY
Really, it’s—. These things happen sometimes. Sometimes people get sick and then they don’t get better. I gave myself a year before—. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense, seems disrespectful even, but I gave myself a year before I would…before I would put myself back out there again.

AUDREY
I see.

So…I’m, what, your first date?

STANLEY
It seemed less complicated.

I miss having her stuff around the house. A woman’s stuff. So much more dainty and ornamental and fragrant than a man’s. When she passed, I purged myself. Boxed it all up and gave it to her mother. Got it out of my sight. It felt like the right thing to do at the time. But now I miss it. Now I miss all of her stuff. The shoes lining the bottom of the closet. The six different bottles of shampoo in the shower. Those sponges that she washed with instead of the cloth. Her robe. I tried to buy the same things that she bought—that powder-blue deodorant, the baby powder she’d splash on before she got dressed. I’d try to scatter them around the house to make them look accidental. Oh, she must have been in a hurry this morning. Or Oh, her sister must have called. But it was no good. It was too forced, too sterile. How to be spontaneous in ten easy steps. Then I saw your post and I knew what I wanted. I wanted something alive, something lived in. I wanted something with a life behind it.

No, it’s not a first date, but it’s a start. It is—at the very least—a start.
(pause)
You’re still pretty, you know. I told you that before. I wasn’t being sweet.

AUDREY
You requested the white cotton with the small red hearts, right?

STANLEY
Yes.

AUDREY
Do you want to confirm?

STANLEY
How would I?

AUDREY
Take a peek.

STANLEY
But—?

AUDREY
Just lift up the tablecloth and take a peek.
(STANLEY looks left, then right.)
It’s OK. It’s just you and me, Stanley. No one else even exists.
(AUDREY’s hands disappears beneath the tablecloth. STANLEY looks around. He pulls the tablecloth up on his side and looks.)
Are those the right ones?
(STANLEY nods yes.)
OK. You can stop looking now.
(Her hands back above board, STANLEY lets the cloth fall.)
I’ve really enjoyed meeting you, Stanley.

STANLEY
I’ve enjoyed meeting you too.

AUDREY
It’s been a most affirming afternoon.

Are you ready?

STANLEY
I don’t know.

(STANLEY looks away.)

AUDREY
Stanley. Stanley, baby. Look at me.
(STANLEY looks at AUDREY.)
I said, Are you ready?
(STANLEY nods.)
Good. Now.

(AUDREY reaches under the table, wriggles in her seat a bit, first one side, then the other. When she is finished, she takes the gift bag from the top of the table, places it in her lap. She puts her panties inside the bag, neatly folds the top, and returns it to the table.)

AUDREY (cont.)
Special, just for you.

(She pushes the bag across the table. It sits next to her rose from before. In turn, STANLEY pushes the envelope back, but her hand stops his.)

AUDREY (cont.)
No. It was my pleasure. Really.
(She stands up, smoothes her skirt. She leans down, kisses STANLEY on the cheek, then whispers in his ear.)
I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for.

(AUDREY begins to leave.)

STANLEY
Audrey.

(She turns around.)

(He extends the rose.)

 


 

KIRBY FIELDS is from Joplin, Missouri. He holds an MFA in Playwriting from Carnegie Mellon and has had his work produced or developed in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, DC, Ann Arbor, and Kansas City. He lives in Washington Heights with his wife and two sons. Track his novel-in-progress at http://summer-session.tumblr.com.

 

HOW TO STEAL A HOUSE (IN THREE EASY STEPS) by GJ Hart

 

I

To steal a house, you must understand a house, and Jason understands the detached Georgian villa better than its owners. High on imported bubble gum and dressed to endeavour in snake cuts and plaid hackneys, he slips through a window and drops quietly to the floor.

Out front, Debbie keeps watch from the front seat of a 1969 convertible s460. She spears cold katsudon from a leaking punnet and is dressed penny simple, in spaghetti straps, fangtooth mules and a pearl necklace lifted from a high rise in Chernobyl.

Jason begins in the kitchen: he exchanges espresso cups and stone glazed chargers with exact replicas. He does the same with the silverware and appliances. He continues until the entire room is forged. Then he throws the remainders into black bags and hurries on.

In the bathroom, Jason replaces toe nail clippings with his own; in the bedroom: the cum stains and dried blood he finds on the brushed steel headboard. In the study, he reads, to read is enough, the tiny notes he discovers hidden in a cigar box beneath floorboards. When he’s done, he retraces his steps and leaves.

Debbie drops the empty punnet to the kerb just as Jason appears and jumps into the rear seat

“Done?” She says, wiping her mouth.

“Done,” says Jason.

Later, as Jason balances a Bloody Mary, Debbie fucks memories into their brand new foam topper. Tomorrow they will return for the furnishings.

 

II

Mrs Root couldn’t remember entering the competition but was more than happy to accept the prize, after all, she assured herself, a holiday once taken, is difficult to claim back. But the holiday is cheap and eviscerated of comfort and they return home miserable and sick to the stomach.

After dumping their luggage in the hallway, Mrs Root takes their daughter upstairs and Mr Root retires to the kitchen to make coffee. The heating is on but the house feels cold and as he reaches for cups he becomes pensive and his mind, as if infected with malicious code, slows.

He fumbles with the kettle and while spooning out granules, unexpected and unbidden memories flood back. He remembers the day he was shown into Mr Triton’s office and asked to pack his things and how the accusations still stalk him to this day.

Upstairs he hears his wife thundering from room to room. He calls to her and she calls back: nothing’s wrong, nothing’s wrong.

He notices the pack of party balloons gummed to the fridge door. The balloons remain as they were left: sky blue and packed beneath plastic in a multiple of ten. He wants to convince himself something is wrong but he can’t and the conclusion brings no consolation. An hour later, Mrs Root finds him curled and weeping beneath the extendable breakfast bar.

 

III

After jumping a moving sushi train, Jason and Debbie hit the road.

Jason is bedizened to complete in chromed bulchers and tattersall check. Debbie is triple take, in belted guayabera and an emerald ushanka, snatched from the migraine of a bad man in Chelsea.

She pulls up outside the house and Jason gets out. He walks up the garden path and, finding the front door open, raps hard on the frame. Inside, an argument is raging and only after knocking again – so forcefully he nearly splits wood – does Mrs Root finally appear.

“I’ve come for the house,” says Jason

Mrs Root pulls her dressing gown tight. Her hair is electrified and a tearful child hangs from her side. Behind her, Mr Root cowers at the kitchen door, naked except for underpants.

“The house?”

“Yes, the house. It’s time to leave. Could you sign here please.”

Jason hands her the clipboard

“Bu.., ” she begins.

“Just sign please.”

Mrs Root takes the clipboard and in one, slow motion, signs the document.

“Come on then, time to go,” says Jason, smiling.

Desperate for support, she turns to her husband, but he drops his head drops and his body begins to shake. Confounded and entirely beaten, she grabs her daughter’s hand and they step out into the cold, January morning.

Seeing them go, Mr Root makes a grudging attempt to cover himself with a dirty tea towel printed with every significant historical site in Dorset.

“Leave it,” says Jason.

“Ok,” he says and, letting the tea towel fall, shuffles after his family.

After watching them wander into the distance, Jason motions to Debbie. She steps out of the 460 and Jason sees she is clutching balloons, five in each hand. They swirl madly around her in the wind.

As she walks toward him, Jason pulls down his glasses.

“You look different today,” he says, half smiling, half not.

Debbie hands him a balloon, pats his cheek and disappears inside the house.

 


 

GJ HART currently lives and works in Brixton, London and has been published or has work upcoming in The Jersey Devil Press, The Harpoon Review, 99 Pine Street, The Jellyfish Review, Foliate Oak, The Eunoia Review, and others.

 

 

HE WAS AWESOME by John D Robinson

 

By the age of 15 the house
was wall to wall with
trophies, he was special,
he was something else
and he was my next
door neighbour,
we were friends
and he was mean and he
was fucking fast,
he was awesome;
he became a national and
European amateur
champion
and then he turned
professional and fought
unsuccessfully on 2
occasions for a
championship of
the world belt
and he drank and snorted
cocaine and he
was vicious and beat his
women and he went to
prison where he found
God and became even
more dangerous than
ever before;
we’d meet on the street
and he’d throw punches
of biblical quotes at me
whilst he danced on his
feet and tell me where
my life was going
wrong, I would listen
without interest and
think of the stories that
had followed him;
the illegal bare-knuckle
fights in
organized gambling
halls and trips to
Thailand and tales of
drug-running and I tell
him that I’ll take a look
at the sacred words
that he had found in prison
for beating a woman
close to death;
words, that had
changed his life around.

 


 

JOHN D ROBINSON was born 63 in the UK. His poems have appeared widely in the small press and online literary Journals; Bareback Lit; Red Fez; Dead Snakes; Bold Monkeys; Your One Phone Call; Yellow Mama; Zombie Logic Review; Hobo Camp Review; Napalm & Novocain; Outsider Poetry; His latest poetry collection, When You Hear The Bell, There’s Nowehere To Hide, carries an introduction by John Grochalski and is published by Holy&intoxicated Publications.

 

 

PROOF by David Hammond

A boy adjusts the position of a box of tissues on his desk and sits cross-legged on his bed. It is a Sunday afternoon and he has nothing else to do. The door to his room is closed, and nobody will bother him before dinnertime. He has all afternoon to make the box of tissues move with his mind.

He has toyed with telekinesis before and has never been successful, but he suspects that either the level of concentration or amount of time or both have been lacking in past attempts. This time he will dig down to the very depths of his consciousness, dredge the silt of psychic energy that normally lies dormant. The tissue box will move. He believes it.

He does not examine what forces will come into play when it happens, whether magical or spiritual or natural. That is secondary to his belief that he will make it happen. He has the power. Even if everyone else in the world has tried and failed to do this, he will succeed.

Why he feels so special is not clear, but he believes strongly in the awesome grandeur of his own mind. He has applied it to the problem of perpetual motion, creating a contraption of cups, straws and paper towels in his grandfather’s sink. He didn’t quite get it, but he was so close. There are many other mysteries of the universe, such as time travel, that he feels he can solve if given the time and space to think them through properly.

It should be pointed out that his gifts are physical as well as mental. He feels sure that he can walk on his hands, despite having tried several times and failing. When he sees people on TV climbing sheer cliff faces he knows that he can do that quite easily too. Some day he will. For now, he will perform the more mundane task of lifting an object with his mind.

So he meditates on the box of tissues: the thin flower-patterned cardboard; the fibers of its serrated opening, softened by use; the diaphanous tissue emerging from the top; the soft, dense clot of tissues inside.

He visualizes the box rising from the desk…

He visualizes tendrils of mental energy emanating from his skull, wrapping around the box and pulling it up…

He visualizes a psychic tide rising from the floor and lifting the box like a toy boat…

But the box of tissues does not move.

He is perplexed. He has focused the full power of his brain on the box of tissues, and it has not budged even a hair. He wrestles with the implications of this. Does this mean that moving objects with one’s mind is impossible, or does it mean that his mind is just not powerful enough? He decides to give it one more try before coming to any conclusions.

He closes his eyes, keeping the idea of the box of tissues foremost in his mind. He zooms in on a protruding fiber of cardboard until it is a giant rocky promentory. He keeps zooming in until individual molecules can be discerned, and atoms, and the blur of electrons, the blob of the nucleus, and he zooms in further to find within a neutron another whole universe full of galaxies and nebulae and infinite expanses of space, and himself floating cross-legged like a buddha, rotating like a forgotten comet and smiling, and from his head a great dark and powerful emanation around which everything else revolves.

He stays in this space for an undefined length of time, until a call comes from outside his bedroom. Dinner is ready. He opens his eyes and the box of tissues sits on his desk unmoved.

So that’s settled.

 


 

DAVID HAMMOND lives in Northern Virginia with three females who are way more talented than he is. He’s still trying to move things with his mind. More of his writing can be found at oldshoepress.com.

 

TWO POEMS by Sanjeev Sethi

 

Peregrinations

For years it has
been raining.
I’ve moved often.
Each site
I made mine
it seemed,
I had serried
the rain with me.

Valises aren’t meant
to shoulder
mobility of showers.
Though mine
is a unique holdall:
swaddled in scone
it compels me
to carry my case.

 

Rubber Stamp

The furuncle of those fifteen years live
with me as no dermatologist is equipped
to dress it. I am told to travel to other
regions but deadbolt positions fence me.
Some keys are of my making, others by
divine superintendence.

 


 

SANJEEV SETHI has published three books of poetry. This Summer and That Summer (Bloomsbury, 2015) is his latest work. His poems have found a home in  The London Magazine, The Fortnightly Review, Ink Sweat and Tears, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, The Galway Review, The Open Mouse, I am not a Silent Poet, Otoliths, Anti-Heroin Chic, and elsewhere. Poems are forthcoming in Futures Trading, Drunk Monkeys, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Yellow Chair Review, The Bitchin’ Kitsch and Of/with:. He lives in Mumbai, India.

THE LARGEST MAN by Cathy Ulrich

This world is too small for him. He has to duck his head to fit. His mother is the only woman who ever held him.

You nearly split me in two when you came into the world, she says, like he’d done it on purpose. She used to feed him half as much as her other children, hoping he’d stop growing. He never did, and his brothers and sisters would sneak him peas off their plates, and crusts of bread.

His father constructed a special addition to the house just for him, with furniture to fit, and his brothers and sisters would play inside with him. They would pretend that they were all Jack and he was the giant, needing slain.

His youngest sister once stood atop his dining table and kissed him on the forehead.

Dear brother, she said.

She went off and was married, like all of his other brothers and sisters, and left him behind in the room their father built.

Once, he went with his parents to the city. He had heard of the city from his brothers and sisters when they came to visit. They all said it was so very big.

The children shrieked and the dogs followed him and the strangers stared. His parents went into little shops and he waited on the sidewalk, looking in the windows. His mother bought him some chocolate, and he swallowed it without chewing, like a child.

How did you get so big? said the children when his parents left him alone on the sidewalk.

He said, I don’t know, and one of them kicked him in the ankle.

His parents took him home as the sun was setting. The would have liked to stay the night in the city, but there were no beds to fit their son.

What did you think? said his mother.

It wasn’t what I expected, he said.

After that, he didn’t like to leave the room his father had made for him, where everything was the proper size — or nearly: one of the chairs creaked and shuddered if he sat in it, so that was the one he saved for guests. His youngest sister came to visit once, letting him lift her up into the chair and then dangling her legs over the edge of it.

With you, I feel like I’m still a child, she said.

Oh, he said.

There is one window in his room, and he used to watch out of it in case his sister came home again, and perhaps bring another kiss like the one she had given him when they were children. He doesn’t watch for his sister anymore, but he still looks out his window at the world — it’s a very large world, he remembers his teacher telling him in the days before he grew too large for the desks at school and stayed at home — and thinks it isn’t as large as all that. From his window, it is small enough he can hold it in his hand.

 


 

CATHY ULRICH is an average-sized person who can’t always reach things on the top shelf. Her fiction has been featured in a variety of journals, including Rose Red Review, Pidgeonholes, and Monkeybicycle.