Jar of Nickels
A Short Play By
D. M. Larson
copyright © 2002, 2005
CAST OF CHARACTERS
TERRY: a desperate mental patient who can’t be away from his therapist.
LINDA: TERRY’s therapist who is more interested in selling books than treating patients.
MASSEUSE: A massage therapist who dresses in white who speaks with authority but has a gentle touch.
[Stage has a bed UR and a message chair DL. UL are some children’s picture books on a small bookrack. DR is a table and chair. TERRY is a little over 30 and looks on the edge]
(TERRY wakes up in bed R. Stares at ceiling)
I’ve lived another day. Oh, God, why have I lived another day?
(TERRY sits up in bed)
Every single morning I’m full of wonder. Such wonder at my living. It’s not an awe thing. It’s in an awful thing. There’s no thanks for this continued carbon dioxide production I perform daily.
(TERRYS rises. Pulls on pants. Pants pockets are filled with coins)
I don’t get to see my therapist today. She is busy getting famous off my suffering, doing some book signing, and I’m not receiving any royalties.
(Listens a moment, then continues)
Sue her? Yeah, sue her. That’s what she gets for messing with my mind then telling everyone about it.
(Listens again, then continues angrily)
But I can’t… Can’t I? People do it all the time, but it’s not right. Right? What do people care of right and wrong now days?
How could I upset her like that? She is a constant in my life, helping me…
Or is she? My habit… I must kick my habit and the doctors say only she has the answer. But just when I think we are about to solve it, she snatches it away, leaving me to fall flat on my back. Somehow, I keep coming back for more. Except for today.
(Heads out the door to his home [pantomimed] and walks DC)
So now I walk. Walking to kill time. Or kill something. Didn’t matter which. Walking, hoping. Hoping I get hit by a car.
(Stops and frowns)
But I’m so careful at crosswalks. Look both ways. Why not let a truck hit me this time? Run over by a Mack truck. So… cliché.
Killed by a cliché. I’d like that.
(Walks a bit more)
My walk takes me along a shady avenue. Ancient trees, undeterred by smog, grow mightily along the roadside.
(Bends down to look at something on sidewalk)
Before me lay a local resident of these roadside woods. A small baby bird had fallen from its nest. It barely moved, a tiny bit of life, but not enough. It writhes helplessly before me.
(Rises and lifts foot)
My foot considers putting it out of its misery. What a waste. Kill it. But I can’t. I can’t even kill myself let alone something else. Sometimes I wish God would stomp on me with one of his big Jesus sandals.
(Looks up a moment and holds out his arms. Nothing happens. He moves on)
Half expecting a big foot from the clouds to crush me, I saunter on, carefully sidestepping the suffering.
Why sidestep? Take it on. No, life’s too short to make it shorter. Keep moving.
(Marches around stage)
Keep moving. Left! Right! Left! Another step closer to death. Left! Left! Marching to my doom.
(Suddenly stops and stares)
Somehow, as if by magic, I’m at the bookstore. My walk seemed so directionless, but here I am. Magic. I believe in it now. If only magic could take me where I really want to go.
(Nervous and angry)
Inside… she is inside. Doing her little book signing. I’ll give you something to sign…
(Starts to undo his pants)
…as I drop my pants.
(Stops and does up pants again)
No, I can’t do that.
(Opens a pantomimed door to bookstore)
I step inside and ignore the greeter. The greet with the minimum wage smile.
(To imaginary greeter)
Don’t greet me. I’m not greetable. I’m very disagreetable today.
(Stops like a deer in a headlight, then moves quickly)
The store confuses me and I stumble into the quick fix section. The handy man books on the shelves mock me.
Can’t you pound a nail? Can’t you turn a screw? I’ll give you something to screw.
I quickly flee the section before I do something I will regret.
To reach the signing, I have to pass through the self-help section. I pause to consider and go around through children’s books instead.
(Moves on to UC and stops at book rack)
The cute little picture books threaten to comfort me. Stellaluna, the cute little fruit bat, so much like me… losing her mother, a stranger among strangers…
(Clutches book to chest and moves on)
Keep going, keep going… almost there…
(Stops C. LINDA is at table DR signing books for imaginary people)
Then I see her. Sitting there all smug in her author’s chair. A poster with a glamour headshot leans on an easel. Her weasely eyes glowing, her scales airbrushed. The magic again. It made her beautiful.
“Ask Linda,” the poster says in big letters. That is the name of her newspaper column. Every week losers ask Linda for her pearls of wisdom. Pearls among swine, their lives consisting of wallowing in mud. When life gives you mud, make mud pie. Ha!
She is doing a signing of her latest book: A Jar of Nickels. Jar of… what does that mean? I’m not about to buy the book and find out.
(Shocked when her realizes something)
Oh, my God! I have a jar of nickels. My fingers stroke my pocket full of change. I keep jars. One jar has quarters… one jar has dimes… another…
Aaaah! She is stealing my life, draining me… All for her little books.
(Freezes as if caught)
Linda sees me then. Good old Linda. She pretends not to notice me until everyone has gone away. Finally, a dead moment and she calls me over.
(LINDA rises and steps toward TERRY)
(Quietly, almost a whisper)
What are you doing here?
I can tell something’s wrong. She’s too quiet, maybe uncomfortable? Scared? I expect her any moment to cry, “Loony in the bookstore! Somebody call the hospital. Loony in the bookstore!”
(TERRY turns into someone who is calm, cool, and collected)
I keep my composure. Dare I say I’m nonchalant. “Got a minute?” I ask. She has several I think. Her area cleared out… No more books sold today, missy.
(LINDA looks around)
What’s she thinking? “Loony alert! loony alert! loony…” But she decides to play nice.
Sure, I need a break. Come in back and talk to me, Terry.
(TERRY moves to follow her C)
She leads me away, getting me out of sight. Maybe some of her fans might recognize me. I should be famous by now. If only the names weren’t changed to protect the innocent.
(LINDA stops and gets out a cigarette)
Her craving for cigarettes is her main motivation for her break but I try to overlook it. We end up in a staff lounge or something. She lights up. I watch the smoke she creates. Hers isn’t magic.
(Turns to LINDA)
(Gives TERRY a critical look)
I didn’t think you lived near here. Did you take a bus?
(Giggles to self)
The dragon belches fire. Hee hee. Dragon breath.
(Turns away nervously)
Why don’t I tell her? Actually I don’t know what to say now. She doesn’t care anyway. No, she does care. She needs you. Needs you for her books.
Scared? Scared of what?
(To her, weakly)
I don’t know.
I say. I don’t really. I’m not being difficult. I want an answer.
I asked my question, Linda. I want an answer!
(He turns back to her but doesn’t say anything)
Think. You have the answer inside you.
Easy out for Linda. Always putting it back on me like she doesn’t know…
Or maybe she won’t tell me. Hiding the answers from me.
(Pleads with her)
Can’t you tell me? Just this once, tell me. I’m always so afraid, but I don’t know why. Please, you’ve got to tell me why.
(Stops and turns away)
Desperate. I sound desperate. She hates that.
(Sighs and puts out cigarette)
My break’s over.
(Follows her back to table DR)
I stand too and follow her back to the signing area like an abused puppy. If I’d had a tail, it’d be giving me a wedgie.
(Pleading with LINDA)
But I need to talk now.
(Turns on TERRY and he stops and jumps back. LINDA almost hisses as she speaks)
Go away or I’ll call security.
(LINDA exits R)
I let her go. Back to her books. Back to her signing.
Maybe I’d write my own book. I’d tell things about her. A penny for your thoughts? Hers cost a nickel. Rip-off. Fraud. But my mouth is stuck shut. I am trained too well. Outbursts no longer allowed.
(Walks away toward DL. MASSEUSE enters L and preps massage chair)
Giving up, I start out. She’d never see me again. I’d make sure of it. This is the end.
(Sees MASSEUSE. Stops as if he’s seen an angel)
Then I see the sign. The true sign. The magic sign that will save me. Cautiously I peer inside the enclosure. A creature lurks inside. A magical one… not a snake nor a dragon. The creature is glowing like an angel. I watch her silently but she sees me. Her smile greets me warmly. The warmth fills me more than a thousand sessions at the hospital.
(Points to massage chair DL)
Inside is the chair. The chair. I was hoping for the chair.
(Reads imaginary sign)
$5 for 5 minutes in the chair. $15 for fifteen. $1 a minute, eh? I throw caution to the wind, pull the plastic baggie in my pocket out, and fish out five dollars in quarters, dimes, and sorted other…
(Holds up Sacajewea dollar like it is a sacred relic)
…my gold dollar. Should I use the golden dollar?
(Looks toward chair)
The angel waits patiently after preparing the chair. I sign my name to her roster and check 5 minutes. And she gives me just that… five minutes of heaven.
(TERRY looks expectantly at MASSEUSE)
(Looks at clipboard and speaks authoritatively and points to chair)
(TERRY goes on chair)
She points to the chair perfectly suited for prayer. I settle my legs onto the pads.
(Looking around chair stretching arms in front of him)
The straps? Where are the straps?
(MASSEUSE laughs and then TERRY does too)
She laughs, thinking it a joke. I laugh too. Always laugh too. Let them eat jokes.
(MASSEUSE begins her message. TERRY is sitting up so audience can see a look of ecstasy)
Then it happens. Like a zillion volts of electricity surging through me, she begins, taking me to another level of living. So careful, so gentle… Her touch flutters like a thousand angels wings pressing down on me.
(Holds out arms and closes eyes. MASSEUSE does TERRY’s arms and
My body slipping away, my spirit soaring. The pain drips away like ice cream on a summer day.
The radio plays softly, a serenade. The song croons, “As I lay me down to sleep, this I pray…” An angel’s song…
(Raises arms toward the sky. Spotlight falls on him as other lights fade)
The chair, give me the chair. My life is over. I have been delivered. Heaven has begun.
(Spotlight fades to black)
END OF PLAY
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