5X5: Only Angels

Another short from a talented local playwright/director responding to Pangs of the Messiah.

Only Angels
by Kathleen Akerley
inspired by Pangs of the Messiah

Characters
Narrator
Man Indoors
Man Outdoors
Stage Directions

N: A man woke sleeping in the desert. There was, in addition to the dust and desolation, a cavity where his digestive tract and lesser-known organs should be. That was unsurprising. I tell it to you now because it was not true, but also so that you understand how much he believed that it was true at the time. Believed the cavity and the expanse of sand. The desert was waking up. Then the man woke fully in his bed.

(SD: the sound of a bell. Man Indoors pulls off his blanket and sits up. He pours and drinks a glass of water)

N: He must have dreamed of the desert only because he’d gone to bed thirsty. He would have said. If someone had been there to hear him. But instead of speaking he had a second glass of water.

(SD: but he doesn’t)

N: Then he remembered that, before the desert, before that long dark gap in the dead and viewless part of the night, he had a worse dream.

(SD: the Man Indoors drops his glass. He goes to his door and looks out. He sees the Man Outdoors, who is repetitively making an obscure gesture against the earth in the moonlight).

N: Every night the Man Outdoors made an obscene gesture against the earth.

(SD: obscure gesture against the earth continues)

MI: Come inside.

MO: Why are you awake?

MI: I just woke up. I had a nightmare. Two, actually. But the second one woke me up. I guess that’s a kind of courtesy.

(SD: one of them laughs but the other does not. The Man Outdoors stops making the obscure gesture and peers closely at the ground)

MI: Did you lose something?

MO: No.

MI: Well then, will you come inside?

MO: I can’t right now.

MI: I want to tell you . . . I never had a nightmare like this before. I want to tell, I need to tell someone about it. It was different.

MO: Tell it to me here.

N: In those days there were electrical storms in and out of season. Both men had lost family to the lightning.

(SD: the Man Indoors looks out at the sky)

MI: I’d rather you came in.

MO: Tell it to me through the door then.

(SD: the Man Indoors hesitates for too long and the Man Outdoors returns to his work, this time a different gesture, slower and making less or less lateral contact with the earth. The sound of a bell)

MI: It was when I wasn’t fully asleep yet, those flashing, disconnected images you get? I usually see a lot of faces then, people I feel sure I don’t know but they’re so detailed I must have seen them somewhere, on the street, and just not thought about it. But last night they were farther away from me, and I could only really see that they were people but not any detail at all. And a lot of them were behind me, too, but I didn’t . . . in the dream I was really angry. I don’t mean angry the way we mean, I mean I was standing among these people and I was bubbling with rage.

MO: I’ve felt that way in waking life. So have you.

MI: But I mean it was inhuman, it was like I was embodying the chemical reaction of fury. And then I swung my arm and in real life my left arm jerked up and into my pillow.

N: The Man Outdoors was a more empathetic person than people realized, but he rarely had the time to show it.

(SD: the Man Outdoors stops making his gesture and places one hand gently on the ground)

MO: That’s the electricity in your body. When you’re falling asleep it changes somehow, and sometimes not smoothly. I remember when I was small the way I would shudder awake made me think of a fish.

MI: Does that ever still happen?

MO: Not as much, but yes.

MI: It’s been years for me, and even then I never moved so far. My arm could have hurt someone. It wasn’t just twitching: I took a swing.

MO: But you were alone so it was okay. Imagine if you had to share the bed, who you would hit.

(SD: the sound of thunder)

MI: Come inside.

MO: I still have work to do. Go to sleep.

MI: But there’s more. It wasn’t just the anger or the fist, it was that I fell asleep again and the same thing happened. Some images started of people and my being with people and then that ocean of anger and I hit again. Not any of them. Just this explosion of me. And in my dream I thought ‘Well then it must be that I’m hurting myself.’ And then, I don’t know whether I was asleep or awake, I suddenly wondered, with that new way of seeing something that you can’t ever describe . . .

MO: I know.

MI: . . . I wondered, ‘why should I hurt myself?’ Not, well of course you shouldn’t like anyone would tell you, not ‘stop,’ but ‘why?’ Where did I learn it and why did I keep it up? Ever since I was small, I don’t know if I ever told you, I grind my teeth. My lovers complain about it, my mother told me about it before I was even a teenager. She just told me, nothing to fix it, here’s this fact: you’re grinding yourself to dust. I tried to fix it when I got older, I tried meditating and mantras as I fell asleep and a plastic guard but never the fundamental ‘why do I keep up something that can’t be what I want to do? Why will it be alright with me in forty years, when I’m about to die and there are no days to do a better job on, that I spent every night literally attacking myself?

(SD: the Man Outdoors looks fully at the Man Indoors for the first time)

MO: How awful.

N: Which in his language meant “I know.” And in one old dialect of the language of the Man Indoors meant “I’m sorry.”

MI: And now I wonder, what else am I doing to myself in my sleep?

(SD: the Man Outdoors looks away and kneels back down)

MI: Will you come inside?

MO: Yesterday for one second I turned my back, for one moment I looked at the sky instead of the earth, for one instant I gave in to the pressure to check for lightning and protect myself, as we’re told to do, so I said to myself, check to see if you’re safe, and in that moment a dog came through here and walked right across. Paws and food and saliva and urine and probably dead animals all across this strip.

MI: How awful.

MO: That doesn’t begin to describe it.

(SD: long silence)

MO: So, no, I will not be coming inside. And I will not watch you sleep to keep you from hurting yourself.

N: In another story the Man crosses the threshold of the door.

(SD: the Men simultaneously turn their backs to each other. The Man Indoors returns to his bed and pours himself another glass of water. The Man Outdoors lays himself across the ground as far as his legs and arms can reach).

N: The end.

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