2009 - Act 2: Nothing Left to Mull

Highlights from last week's Orwellian play, 2009 (Act 1 - see 6/18/08 entry):

It is the Great Depression of 2009. The stage is dark. With an electronic crackling the large plasma screen on the wall comes to life, casting awkward shadows about the small apartment...Gradually, the image on the screen sharpens.

"Good evening, friends," begins the newspeaker, wearing the traditional government-issued uniform. "Welcome home after another rewarding day of work..." Messages run along the lower portion of the screen, providing information with letters that emerge from the right side and which disappear off the left...Every few minutes, a series of hypnotic musical notes emanate from the speakers on either side of the screen -- deep, low tones from the right side; light, airy tones from the left side.

From outside the room the sound of footsteps is heard ...A tired looking, gray clad, middle-aged woman steps through the threshold ...She closes the door, and then closes her eyes, standing for a moment on the other side to allow the dust of the day to fall away...

We now continue with the blog play, 2009, presented here with limited commercial interruption.


Act 2: Nothing Left to Mull

The image on the large screen changes to that of the state flag fluttering in a steady breeze, accompanied by subtle tones from the speakers that could almost pass for music. The tones are an anthem of sorts, a hypnotic medley of sounds, holding the woman in the gray clothing hostage for a moment, staring, listening, until finally she breaks free, making her way through the small room and into the lone bedroom chamber to change out of her work clothes.

Tired, she stands before the mirror and then slowly opens her eyes to view the reflection before her. It is as if she is looking at someone else, a total stranger, someone she does not even know. Then she realizes -- it is someone else!

In her tired, semi-hypnotized state she finds that she isn't standing before the mirror at all - but instead in front of the open window, devoid of curtain and shade. And on the other side of the window is an older woman in a claustrophobically close neighboring building staring back at her!

"How many times have I told you to stop looking in my window?!" she yells at the older woman. Undeterred, the older woman remains for a moment, staring, and then slowly moves away, a blank look upon her face.

The younger woman steps away from the window to stand before the cloudy full-length mirror in the poorly lit room. The image before her is a ghost of her former self. Gone is the individual, fashioned into a cog by the state. Gone is the softness, molded into muscle by state. Gone is the tenderness, transformed into cynicism by the state. Gone is the romance, frozen into a wall of ice by the state. (Boy, the state is such a drag!)

Staring into the glass, she runs the fingers of her right hand down the length of her left arm, trying to awaken long dead sensations. Nothing. Simply tissue touching hardened muscle. But then, from the next apartment, she hears the door open, followed by heavy footsteps. He's home! Perhaps not all her emotions are dormant after all.

She takes two quick strides to the wall that adjoins their apartments. She can hear his footsteps enter the neighboring bedroom. He is whistling a tune, something jazzy, upbeat. She smiles. He knows she is listening. She knows he knows she is listening. He knows she knows he knows she is listening. Whistling, by the way, is illegal - everyone knows that!

Along the adjoining wall, her tiny closet and his rest side by side, separated by two panels of half-inch sheetrock attached to two-by-four studs (with 1-1/2 inch drywall screws, no doubt). Inside their respective apartment closets they can each sit, hidden from surveillance, and quietly talk to each other through a small hole drilled into each wall. Carefully, she slips into her closet and settles down onto the floor with her ear near the hole in the wall. She waits. The whistling grows louder. In the other closet he takes his place against the opposite wall.

"Gershwin?" she asks (in a voice slightly louder than a whisper) of the vaguely familiar tune he is whistling.

"Ellington," he says, rubbing the stubble of his beard against the wall. "Don't get around much anymore."

"Ain't that the truth!" she says with laughter, which subsides as the familiar voice is heard in each apartment.

"Good evening, friends," begins the repeating message from the TV screen. "Welcome home after another rewarding day of work. Remember, your hard work keeps our nation strong ..."

"So how was your work day?" she asks.

"Oh, the usual," he answers. "I was reprimanded again today ... for not shaving."

"That's the third time this quarter. One more time and you'll lose credits."

"Credits! Who needs them?!" he remarks, kiddingly.

"We do ... to buy food, clothing, fuel, electricity...!"

"I know ... I know," he mutters.

She realizes that her husband's little protests, like refusing to shave and conveniently forgetting to wear the state pin on his work clothes, are his way of exhibiting some degree of control over his life. It seems that each day another piece of freedom is taken away. Soon there will be nothing left. Nothing, except the stubble on her husband's face.

"And how was your day, comrade?" he asks in a voice impersonating an officer of the state.

"It was fine," replies the wife, and then more convincingly: "Really, it was fine."

"Right," he says with a chuckle. "Hey, before I forget, I wrote a poem at lunch today."

"You know poetry is illegal. All creativity was abolished by the state. You could get into trouble."

"Here, I'll read it to you. (Clearing his throat) I awoke is shards this morning, like broken shafts of glass / Splintered from the drink of evening, this vague malaise will pass / My life, of late, has been like a bottle, half empty and half full / And when the bottom of the glass is reached, there is nothing left to mull."

"Nice," she says to the former English teacher. "A lot of references to broken glass ... and drinking. There must be some hidden meaning. Are you drinking again?!!"

"No, no...I just like the imagery ... although full and mull don't really rhyme. Anyway, I'm going to read it at the coffeehouse tomorrow night. You should come. It would be nice. Besides, it's 2-for-1 nite!\

\I'd like to go..." Just then the lights go out. "Well, it looks like the power's off for the night."

"Kind of peaceful, huh? No more 'Good evening, friends. Welcome home after another rewarding day of work."

"Remember, your hard work keeps our nation strong," she adds, mimicking the newspeaker's voice.

The husband and wife laugh quietly on their respective sides of the closet wall. Their whispered conversation goes on for the better part of an hour until finally it's time to get some sleep. Another workday for the state looms ahead.

Tune in next time for the third and final act to learn how this Orwellian society is destroyed and the Great Depression of 2009 is thwarted when the economic stimulus checks finally do their trick, thus saving the masses and the country from certain financial ruin!

Jack Sheedy

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