meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html;charset=utf-8" /> Cornered


by Edward Crosby Wells


For Paddy

AT RISE: BLACK, an elderly gentleman in an orange jumpsuit and in handcuffs, sits in a chair next to a desk where WHYTE, a much younger man sits, wearing a suit. WHYTE taps his pencil on the desk and on his note pad. A full minute of WHYTE tapping his pencil while BLACK remains silent, exploring his surroundings. They exchange glances and frowns and WHYTE appears exasperated waiting for BLACK to say something.

WHYTE: (Breaking the silence.) Well? I'm waiting.

BLACK: I'm not what you think I am.

WHYTE: And what is that?

BLACK: (Hesitantly.) You know.

WHYTE: You tell me.

BLACK: (Difficult to say.) A murderer. I am not a murderer.

WHYTE: That's for a jury to decide. If you're fit to stand trial, that is.

BLACK: My life.

WHYTE: What about your life?

BLACK: (Strangely distant and addressed to no one -- the ceiling, perhaps.) It hit me. Yes. That's when it hit me.

WHYTE: What? What hit you?

BLACK: My life . . . it just came down upon me.

WHYTE: And how was that . . . when it hit you?

BLACK: At first, I felt a lump in my throat. Then, all of a sudden, there was a white flash. Bright flash. Heat. Like a bomb went off in my head. I was frightened. And then . . .

WHYTE: (After a pause to wait for BLACK to continue.) Then?

BLACK: Nothing. (A long sigh.) Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And then there was the man across the street.

WHYTE: What man?

BLACK: Just a man. He was on the corner.

WHYTE: And you?

BLACK: I was across the street.

WHYTE: Doing?

BLACK: Watching. Waiting. Just watching--and waiting.

WHYTE: Tell me about the man on the corner. BLACK: He was sitting. Begging. Cradling somebody in his arms. It could have been a man.

WHYTE: You're not sure?

BLACK: I wanted it to be a man.

WHYTE: You wanted it to be a man? Why is that?

BLACK: I don't know. Perhaps I'd feel more . . . pain. And, if the man were dead, the pain would be merciless. Pure. Sharp. Exquisite.

WHYTE: I see. You like to feel pain.

BLACK: No. I don't. I just thought pain might take me away from it.


BLACK: My life, I needed to feel something . . . anything. Something that would take me away from my life! Nothing. I felt nothing. There must be something better.

WHYTE: And you thought the man . . . or the woman might help you feel something?

BLACK: It was a man. He was a man.

WHYTE: You've decided it was a man.

BLACK: Yes. I decided. He was a dead man . . . draped across the man who held him.

WHYTE: Dead?

BLACK: Decidedly.

WHYTE: But it could have been a woman.

BLACK: Yes, it could have been.

WHYTE: It could have been a woman and she could have been alive.

BLACK: Yes, but it was a man and he was dead.

WHYTE: What made you decide he was dead?

BLACK: Desire. My desire to cry for someone other than myself. He was across the street sitting on the corner . . . with his dead friend. I was on a bench waiting for a bus. I wanted to cry. I needed to cry. I felt nothing.

WHYTE: Do you often feel sorry for yourself?

BLACK: I disappoint myself. It saddens me. But the man with his friend comforted me in a most distressing way. There was someone worse off than me--two worse off. It gave me pleasure.

WHYTE: Pleasure?

BLACK: In a convoluted sort of way, yes.

WHYTE: Where were you?

BLACK: When?

WHYTE: Just now.

BLACK: Here. Watching the man on the corner. Across the street. Watching people pass. Watching them move more quickly as they came upon the scene of the accident. An accident of fate. Breathing a sigh of relief because it wasn't them. They, too, felt nothing. (A long SILENCE.) I thought, maybe he is me. Maybe that was my life . . . across the street. Maybe it was my death. Outside myself. Waiting. On the corner. Across the street. Living and breathing within that stranger.

WHYTE: What did you do?

BLACK: What could I do?

WHYTE: I don't know.

BLACK: I watched. I watched as I sat on the bench at the bus stop with two full shopping bags at my side. Waiting. Just waiting. (A pause. A sigh.) The minute I get there everyone seems to have moved on. It's always been that way. So now I wait--hoping to catch the sun. Waiting for the sun . . . some warmth . . . a tender touch. The Age of Aquarius. Whatever happened to that? The sun forgot to shine. So I stay in one place, my place, and wait. Hoping to catch the first glimmer. Hoping they'll come to me . . .

(A look from WHYTE.)

BLACK: (Continues.) . . . the party-goers, the revelers who are glad to see me--really glad. The kind of glad I can see and feel. (A deep breath. A pause before exhaling.)The sun. God. Sometimes there's God, but only sometimes. Then He disappears. Like everybody else. They disappear. Sometimes, most of the time, there is nothing. And--

WHYTE: Do you know why you are here, Mister Black?

BLACK: Because they think I killed--

WHYTE: (After a long SILENCE.) Who, Mister Black? Who did you kill?

BLACK: Nobody.

WHYTE: You don't remember?

BLACK: I don't know.

WHYTE: Why did you dismember the body?

BLACK: I don't remember.

WHYTE: Of course you do. It didn't cut itself up.

BLACK: Oh, God. (Looking heavenward.) Why, why, why? (After a pause to remember.) Ah, yes. I needed to get rid of it.

WHYTE: After you killed him.

BLACK: No! I loved him. Do you think it was easy?

WHYTE: I don't know. Was it?

BLACK: He was dead. My life was dead. I was dead! Dead . . . like the friend of the man on the corner. What was I supposed to do?

WHYTE: Why don't you tell me?

BLACK: (Coldly, deliberately and without emotion.) I wrapped his body in the drop cloth. The one we used to paint the living room wall green. Just the one. He had fabulous taste. I couldn't look at him while doing what I had to do. I began with the arms, his arms. I tried the electric carving knife, but it broke. I should have known. it barely carved the Thanksgiving turkey. Thanksgiving. There won't be another, will there? I took a bus to the hardware store. Number fourteen. I bought a sturdy saw with big teeth. All the better to see you with. Funny, I don't know where that came from. The things that rattle through the mind. Anyway, you could cut down a redwood with that saw . . . with the big teeth. I removed his arms. I had to cut them into . . . oh, maybe ten-inch pieces so they'd fit into shopping bags. I had to cut off his hands too. He had nice hands, always did. Piano hands, you know? He didn't play the piano. We had one. Once. Neither of us could play. How pretentious is that? We tried to sell it. Ended up giving the thing away. So much of our lives . . . we gave away. The saw with the big teeth inched its way through his bones. I thought I'd never finish. The kitchen was covered with blood. I was covered with blood. I saved the head for last. It rolled across the floor. His head. I knelt there. I couldn't touch it--him--his head. I went to sleep. When I awoke, I thought about keeping the head--his head--preserving it somehow. He was his head. He was my friend, my brother . . . my lover . . . my everything--

WHYTE: (Interrupting.) Stop it! Stop it right now! You disgust me! What in hell is wrong with you? I've seen my share of wackos, but you're one sorry sonofabitch!

BLACK: You don't find that a bit judgmental? I mean, for a psychiatrist?

WHYTE: Did it never occur to you that what you were doing was wrong, Mister Black? Did you know it was wrong?

BLACK: What else was I supposed to do? He was dead. I was alone. Totally, completely--alone.

WHYTE: You could have called the police.

BLACK: (Visibly shaken.) And how was I supposed to live? He had a heart attack in our bed. I could feel him next to me as he died--side by side, arms touching, legs touching. What was I supposed to do? How was I going to live? How, Doctor Whyte? How?

WHYTE: Husbands and wives live on after their loved ones die every day.

BLACK: Husbands and wives. Yes. But we weren't married, were we? We couldn't be-- WHYTE: Parts of him were buried all across town. BLACK: I took the bus. I used shopping bags. It took me over a week. (A pause to remember.) The stench. That God-awful stench!

WHYTE: For six months you've been living off his Social Security.

BLACK: I had no choice.

WHYTE: Everybody has choices.

BLACK: And live like that man on the corner--an accident of life--in life?

WHYTE: That's not the only alternative.

BLACK: For me it was. I'm too much a coward for suicide. There was no way I could support myself. My Social Security doesn't even cover the rent.

WHYTE: Why did you?

BLACK: What?

WHYTE: Kill--

BLACK: I told you I didn't kill him!

WHYTE: I understand you not wanting to talk about it.

BLACK: There is nothing to talk about!

WHYTE: Maybe later.

BLACK: All I did was steal a dead man's Social Security. So I broke the law. He was my lover--my lover. We were together forty-five years! I had every right to it! I loved him!

WHYTE: That has nothing to do with anything?

BLACK: Everything. Everything, God damn it! It has everything to do with it!

WHYTE: Calm down. (Threatening.) The guard is just outside the door.

BLACK: Don't you understand?

WHYTE: What do I need to understand, Mister Black?

BLACK: They put us in a corner. Everyone put us in a corner. Everyone . . . you.

WHYTE: You put yourself there, Mister Black.

BLACK: (After a long SILENCE.) Well? What's the verdict? Am I fit to stand trial?

WHYTE: (Calling to door.) Guard.

BLACK: Well? Am I?

WHYTE: (Calling again as LIGHTING dims to BLACK OUT.) Guard .


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