Well, as the whole of the evening’s session resulted from a stupid, slack-mouthed, off-the-cuff suggestion made by Phil, he felt obliged to make the first contribution. “Perhaps,” he had said a couple of weeks ago, “we should all have a go at writing in one another’s genre. It will help us to understand…” He could recall exactly how his voice had trailed away as he realised that everybody else actually saw this as a good idea. He had meant it to stir up disagreement: something to spice up the last few minutes of a drab meeting, but it had been met with universal approval. Deidre had drawn up a list on the spot, they had all chosen a random number and Phil had chosen ‘Play’; the knot in the pit of his stomach tightening immediately with the realisation that Billy would become his main critic. Anyway, the die was cast so, despite the attraction of wanting to hear what Penny would make of the ‘Horror’ ticket she had drawn, Phil offered to go first – it was, after all, his baby. Such was the general enthusiasm that they all agreed to make it a monthly diversion and gave Phil two weeks to make his ‘pitch’. Two weeks can pass so quickly…
“Right,” Phil started, sounding very much more at ease than he felt. He had worked very hard on this. He actually thought he was onto something, but that was the last thing he wanted any of the others to know – especially Billy. He had pages of dialogue at home: he couldn’t quiet the voices in his head; they kept him awake at night. He felt that what he had was good, but it was much too close to him to let the others hear much of it yet. He pulled half a dozen neatly typed, but deliberately ‘distressed’ sheets of foolscap from his pocket. “This is what I’ve got… It’s probably not very good,” he continued in a voice that even Terry recognised as insincere. “The scene is simple: a single park bench facing the audience. The setting is a graveyard and the cast is three old men discussing life and death, and the inconsequential nature of everything between the start of one and the end of the other. It will be wordy, because there is no action and each of the characters each have monologues to deliver to the audience through the progress of the conversation. I guess it would make them tough roles to learn – but it would be very cheap to stage.” He paused for a moment expecting to hear Billy’s voice questioning whether it would be ‘real’, but it never came. ‘Give him a little more rope…’ was what was dancing around Billy’s brain.
Silence can be good, but, in truth, it seldom is. Phil decided it would be the right course of action to fill it.
“OK,” he continued. “It starts like this…
(As the lights come up on stage a three seat bench is centre stage facing the audience. Behind the bench, his hands resting on it’s back, stands Frank)
FRANK It never seems quite right – a funeral on a sunny day. You’re looking for gloom aren’t you? Cold. A chance to wear one of those long black coats like they do on the telly. A bit of rain would be good; a swirling wind perhaps. Maybe you could hold a big black umbrella over the grieving widow’s head. Lift your collar. Watch the rain drops collect on the coffin lid… Funerals should all be in the winter. Everybody should die in the winter, when the weather is right for funerals. Not like today. The world should be a drab place on the day that you’re buried, like one of those old newsreel films of the miners leaving the pits after a day’s shift; young men trudging off to fight in the war; the same men, now old men, trudging back, empty-eyed, from the war – the world should be monochrome on the day that you’re buried: dank and dark and cold for everybody else, like it is for you…
But look at this. Bright sunshine. Nobody wants to be buried in bright sunshine. Unseasonally warm the weather man said. Spring flowers pushing through the grass. A world alive with daffodils and discarded ice-cream wrappers; confetti from yesterday’s wedding; birds singing in the trees, fighting and mating, scrabbling round in the newly-dug graves, searching for worms in the freshly turned soil. You should go away little bird, come back in a couple of years when the worms are big and fat. They say that we share 99 per cent of our DNA with worms. It’s no surprise, is it? I wonder what the other one percent is? God perhaps. Do we all contain one percent of the almighty? Like the one percent of pork in a pork sausage – are we all God? Is that what the Church means when it says that God is in us all? God is all around us? We are all minutely God?
(He walks around the bench and sits in the centre)
I read once that when bodies are exhumed, they find evidence that most of them were not actually dead when they were buried. All those people asking to be interred with their precious possessions, when really they’d have been better off with a Black & Decker or a Walkie Talkie. You’d at least want a neat little flat screen telly in the coffin lid. Or a torch and a good book. Imagine waking up and expecting a little bit of comfort in your plush silk lining only to find your stingy bloody kids had buried you in a cardboard box. Eco-friendly. Laid to rest like a Shredded Wheat. I suppose, ultimately, we’re all recyclable aren’t we…
(He takes a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket and looks at it briefly)
One side of A5, that’s what your life boils down to isn’t it? One side of A5. Two prayers, a hymn and a eulogy from a vicar who can’t even remember your name.
(He folds the paper and puts it back in his jacket)
Sometimes you do have to wonder if you’re at the right funeral. The person that they’re all talking about, it’s never the person you knew. Nobody ever mentions that he stole from the tea fund; dropped old buttons in the charity collection; fed all fifty seven of the gerbil’s offspring to next-door’s boa constrictor… Always the friend you could rely upon – always the rock in everybody else’s storm.
Everybody who ever died was a wonderful parent: I wonder what happens to all the crap ones. Maybe they never die. Maybe they live forever. Strange thing to have as the key to immortality – ‘Are you a bad parent? Yes? Then don’t bother taking out life insurance, you’re here forever baby…’ You wouldn’t even have to worry about what the kids might say about you at your funeral : no-one would ever know that you’d never read them a bedside story; that you’d never sat with them when they were ill; that you never put actual English currency into their piggy banks on their birthdays. You’re never going to die – you’ll never have a funeral – you don’t even have to worry about the ancient photographs of you with long hair and a kipper-tie being passed around the wake.
I wonder why people have such a compulsion to embarrass you after you’ve died. ‘Look, here’s a picture of him with a really stupid haircut. And here’s one when he had that really silly ginger moustache, do you remember that? Ooh and look, he’d had far too much to drink on this one. Wasn’t he funny? Such a shame he’s dead. Do you want another sherry?’…
Well, that’s all I’ve got really. I know I’ll never make a playwright…” He folded up his papers and forced them back into his top pocket. “But it has made me think
about how these things are plotted. I’m sure Billy will have a few pointers for me.”
As one, the Circle turned to Billy, who even now was toying with his own draw: ‘Detective Novel’. “Right, well,” he gathered himself. “Very good – for a non-playwright – although I can see many pitfalls ‘construction-wise’ and I think what we really need to ask ourselves is, ‘Is it real?’”
“Or is it a play?” asked Frankie.
Phil grinned broadly. As far as he was concerned, the reaction had already been worth the effort and, truth be told, what had set off in his head as a means of laughing at Billy had become a project that he was now determined to pursue. Meanwhile, the heated discussion he had hoped for had started, although Billy, whose thoughts were now fully occupied elsewhere – how would it be possible to kill someone without ever being caught – was strangely quiet…