FOUR ONE SENTENCE STORIES 10-14-16
NONSENSE POEM 3/26/15
IS THIS AN AIRPLANE? 9/17/12
FABLE OF HAPPY AND UNHAPPY 1971
DEATH IS DEAD (from White Trash Mystery Novel) 7/14/07
YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS (a short story) 5/11/12
Here are four one-sentence stories I wrote for an anthology coming out in the spring of 2017. The first three are light hearted, the fourth more serious.
1) Every story has a beginning (she wishes she hadn’t jumped off the cliff), a middle (the air was chilly) and an end (thud).
2) By the time he remembered her name, she was gone and all the first lines and whispered goodbyes and sweaty in-betweens and “What a coincidence, I like stars too” were gone as well, but she had left her card, Lois, and maybe, just maybe, he’d call her later and they’d gaze at the stars and get tipsy on “you’re beautiful,” “I like how you make me laugh,” “I don’t know if I’m ready for another long-term relationship,” “the divorce isn’t quite final,” but probably not.
3) The Man Who Dialed The Wrong Number, Accidentally Setting Off A Chain Of Events Resulting In The Nuclear Destruction Of The Planet by Nick Page © 10-11-16
His death was not the worst thing that happened to Quale that day, nor was his wife leaving him, nor his dog biting him, nor his house burning to the ground, nor his suicide note with many misspellings, nor the humiliation of his wife finding him in bed with their dog, nor his failed suicide attempt, nor his running out of the burning house naked after the explosion caused by the gas emitting from their kitchen stove, nor his wife having second thoughts and saving him from an oncoming bus, nor the bus running her over, nor the bus driver backing up to see if he hit something and running him over, nor that his roommate in Hell was a novelist, nor that his missing private part had been in their dog’s mouth, nor that a neighbor’s child had retrieved said part and asked her mother, “What’s this?,” nor that that mother had been cheating with Quale’s wife, nor that Quale had written a blackmail note to her saying, “I no wat you did,” nor the fact that he would never know the worst thing that happened to him that day.
4) And It Is Called Life by Nick Page © 10-13-16
I am the oak whose leaves fall brown down to the Earth from which I grew long ago from an acorn, a seed in rich soil made of my ancestors, dead but alive in me and my acorns are rich in memory of all the stories told under my branches by hiding children, seeking children, young couples carving names in bark, old couples shedding like me, birds repeating their one sentence stories over and over, beautiful all the same, and the equally beautiful repetition of sunrise to sunset to rise, to set, to winter to fall to summer to spring, and these stories weave like light, like darkness, like air through my leaves, and I listen, a slow listening with fragments of a ten year olds’ tears, no one loves her, as she grows lovable, returning with love and lover to share lovable things and she grows to raise a child, showing her child the gnarly initials now part of me and she grows old and I grow old and I am an Oak and I know I am Holy and life is Holy and all is Holy and I know that I too will become soil for some future oak and the stories of the chatty birds, the singing children, of loving embrace, of tears at life’s seeming to end, and I know that life never really ends and every living child song whisper lover leaf never really ends, and we are proof that life never really ends as each seed is made of me and I am each seed and and we are proof that life never really ends, that all stories are one story and that there is no beginning, middle, no end, and we are knowing that life never really ends, that we are one unending story and it is called me and it is called life.
NONSENSE POEM 3-26-15 by Nick Page ©
In ofush stood a bitsen babe,
she glaff the coffish renish.
why why why she glastened who
and furbished non see quentist
Not on my flonch, she gallif stud
Hal to the Fling she glostened
And time was pass the day astay
And what shall whim deplenish?
I am not who this pennish glare
and deny the solish oats
for boats and goats do glockish sing
and I am but a floatish.
IS THIS AN AIRPLANE? by Nick Page © 9/17/12 (I wrote this soon after my father’s death. His dementia prevented him from remembering his remarkable life, but the comapassion and the wisdom remained.)
“Is this an airplane?”
“No dad, it’s a fork.”
“What do I do with it?”
“You eat your food with it.”
“Is this an airplane?”
“No dad, it’s a spoon.”
“Is this an airplane?”
“That’s your milk. Drink your milk.”
“Is this an airplane?”
He smiled, a courageous smile, a hero’s smile, Lieutenant Page under fire. Kamikaze pilots dive bombing his ship. Desperate bombs exploding all around.
“Is this an airplane?”
“No dad, that’s your mashed potatoes. Eat them.”
A fire breaks out on the deck. Tripping over bodies, Lieutenant Page rushes to put it out. The deck sprayed with rapid bullets from above, the bam bam bam bam, constant canon fire, constant chaos, constant attack.
“Why are they trying to kill us?
“Why is who trying to kill us?”
“Why do they attack?”
“I don’t know why they attack. Eat your potatoes.”
A look of concern on his face. “Why do people kill each other?”
“Nobody’s killing anybody. They’re just potatoes.”
“Why do people kill each other?”
Lieutenant Page raised five sons, taught them to love peace, taught them that there was no fight that couldn’t be won with a good argument, taught them to value every breath, to be in awe of the little things and not to fear the insurmountable. He never spoke of the war. He spoke of what could be.
“Why do people kill each other?”
“Because they don’t know.”
“Don’t know what?”
“That we are all a big family, that life is precious, that when you are kind, people will be kind in return, that we live in fear but that fear is only ignorance, that if you ask questions, constant questions, what, where, who, when, how, why, you will find the answers, that sometimes it’s the obvious things, the sun shining, the yellow flower receiving the gift of light from the sun, the yellow flower shining like the sun, giving back it’s light, that the flower is not alone, there are many flowers, many suns, many planets, and that we are not alone, we are part of something grand and noble and good, all connected,”
“Who told you that?”
A smile on the old man’s face.
“Is this an airplane?”
“Yes dad, it’s an airplane.”
FABLE OF HAPPY AND UNHAPPY by Nick Page (© l971)
There once was a worm named Happy who had two heads, one on either end of its’ body. One side was happy and was called Mrs. Happy. The other side was unhappy and was called Mr. Unhappy.
Mr. Unhappy was sick of living with Mrs. Happy and wanted to break up but Mrs. Happy wouldn’t hear of it. Mr. Unhappy did everything he could to make life miserable for Mrs. Happy but Mrs. Happy kept on being as happy as a worm could be.
Every day a woodsman would come out and split wood, so one morning while Mrs. Happy was still sleeping, Mr. Unhappy crawled out of the wormhole and onto the chopping block. Mr. Unhappy hoped that the axe would separate Happy from Unhappy forever, but just as the woodsman was walking up, a bird flew down, grabbed Happy and Unhappy, split them in two, and fed them to her two baby chicks.
The moral of the story is: Two heads are better than none.
Love the one you’re with even if he is a worm.
DEATH IS DEAD 7/14/07 by Ricky (Itchy) Crotchett (Nick Page) This is from the White Trash Murder Mystery Nick has been writing with his wife for twenty years.
Death is dead. It all started when my folks died. They had been driving up a mountain pass in Wyoming. My mother was screaming, “Let me out of this car.” My father kept saying, “We’ll be over the pass soon.” She’d scream, “Let me out of this car NOW!” Real terror striking to her core – my father calm as always in the face of danger. Evidently the road was steep, with hairpin turns, cliffs to the side. Great view. “Let me out of this GOD DAMN CAR!” My mother never sweared. “Calm down honey,” my father probably said. Knowing my mom, she was probably tearing up the glove compartment at this point, screaming at the top of her lungs, throwing things out the window.
“Let me out you miserable mother fucker!” My mother now turning to my father to face him with the furry of Zeus or Zeus’s mother, which is worse. My father turning to reassure her, missing the hairpin turn and driving off the cliff. I wish I could say that they died quickly, but the car got caught on a tree with my father saying, “Look honey, we got caught on a tree.” Tree breaks, car falls landing on a ledge. “Look honey, we landed on a ledge.” Cliff gives out. Car lands in water. “That was close, we landed in water.” Car gets swept off hundred-foot waterfall. “I can’t believe we survived a hundred foot waterfall.” Deadly blood-sucking eels entering the flooding vehicle. I wish I could say that it was the eels that killed my father, but they found my mother’s hands clamped around his throat, his face in shock, my mother smiling in blissful revenge. Police called it a murder/suicide.
That was the day that death died. It went on holiday for a while. Rumors spread that death was dead. Death heard this rumor and offered a deadly smile, thinking “perhaps I should let go of deadly smiles for a while,” but deadly smiles were too much of a way of life for death. Death’s way of life involved deadly smiles, deadly appetites, deadly gorging, deadly digestion and deadly bowel movements. “Shit,” death would say, “that dump could kill a city,” followed by a deadly laugh, “A shitty City.” Death’s way of life involved laughing at its’ own jokes. No one else did. Back when death was in the death business it would say, “Knock, Knock.” Some idiot would say “Who’s there?” and death would say, “Interrupting death,” but before they could finish their obligatory response they would be on the floor clutching their heart with death standing over them laughing and laughing – a sad laugh – not sad because death had just killed yet another innocent being, but because this innocent being would never get to appreciate death’s comedic timing.
YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS A Short Story by Nick Page (begun 6/95 & completed 5/11/12)
Paul Mowat had two lines in the play. The first was, “Your tea is ready, Mam,” and the second was, “You can’t have it both ways.”
It was a community play by a local businessman named Fred Thomas. Fred sold hats, shoes and women’s apparel for a living. He watched no television, especially sports. He wrote the play for the heck of it or so he said. Paul’s father directed the local theater company, a small town company, full of radical ambition and amateur conviction. They were thrilled to have a local playwright write them a play, or so they said. And so they did it.
There were twelve characters, a lot for a play with little plot or character development. Twelve people auditioned and ten got parts. Michael Mowat, the director, cast his son Paul as the waitress, a part no one had auditioned for as she only had two lines, “Your tea is ready, Mam,” and, “You can’t have it both ways.”
Paul hated theater almost as much as he hated his father, but he agreed to play the waitress as he was afraid of the consequences if he didn’t. Paul was afraid of a lot of things – lights, cameras, action. He liked being alone. He was a sometimes college student. At present, he was working at his uncle’s low-cal candy warehouse where he would count boxes and crates as he practiced his lines, “Your tea is ready, Mam,” and, “You can’t have it both ways.”
Paul was early for the first rehearsal. Rehearsals were held in the basement of the local United Church of Christ. There was a stage there and a kitchen behind that. Michael Mowat, the director and father of Paul, would sit on the director’s chair in the middle of the room facing the stage. Actors were encouraged to stay out of the room and be seen only when they were on stage. This was one of Michael Mowat’s attempts at making the company seem professional. The fact that there was no money involved didn’t seem to faze the vision of his radical anti-New York Off Off Off Professional Regional Theater Company. “Making money in theater is what’s wrong with the profession now-a-days,” he would say.
Michael was in the kitchen preparing for his role as the waitress. He was still hoping they could change his part to a waiter instead, but he hadn’t worked up the nerve to ask yet. Paul Mowatt had to serve tea in the first scene. Wanting to get it right, he had boiled the tea, which he then proceeded to spill on the lead actress on stage in front of everybody. The lead actress, Ginny O’Hara, had been Paul’s high school English teacher. She advised Paul to give her an empty cup from then on. Paul wanted to argue, but a quick loud cough from his father prevented him. The cough was more like a door slamming, something coldly familiar to Paul. Paul stood frozen before his father’s calm-before-the-storm silence. He stood like a statue aware of his father’s growing rage. “Please,” thought Paul, “don’t let me do anything to upset him.” It was too late. “Paul, you idiot,” his father began, “You groin disaster!” Michael Mowat loved non-sequitor insults like that. “You cretinous wasteland of drool. It’s your line!”
“My line.” thought Paul. He panicked, looking up at the ceiling, then to the floor. Finding his inner peace and in perfect diction and impeccable placement he said, “You can’t have it both ways.” This, of course, was the wrong line.
He had had a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right, so it wasn’t a total failure. None-the-less, he chose to stay away from home that night and slept in his car where he had a hidden stash of pilfered low-cal candy that he slowly ate as he concentrated on his first line, “Your tea, Mam.”
After work the next day he went to the local library where he researched tea. Where does tea come from? How should it be served? Is it appropriate to put the tea bag in the water before serving it or should he offer the tea bag separately? These were the kind of questions that plagued Paul Mowat.
He read books on theater history and acting techniques. He studied pictures of great actors and actresses serving tea. He noted the way their knees stayed together and their necks were like unswerving posts with statuesque expressions. Paul practiced being a statue, then a post, then a tall lamp. He practiced standing still – not spilling his imaginary tea. One acting technique, borrowed from a spiritual acting troupe in Northern Ottawa, proposed an active stillness – an animated motionlessness. Paul worked on this.
His boss at the warehouse, Uncle Phil Mowat, began to notice Paul’s’ new sedentary nature. Paul would be standing over a box of Wizo Nuts, his outstretched hands frozen in air with a look of compassionate servitude. “Practicing for the play, you moron?,” Uncle Phil asked. “Yes, Uncle Phil.” Paul would answer, awaiting the stream of creative verbal abuse that both Uncle Phil and Paul’s dad had inherited from their father, “You lazy renegade pinko disaster area. You bazooka hooter-scooter do-nothing moron! Get back to work.”
That night’s rehearsal went by with no troubles for Paul. They started with the second act. Paul’s other line, “You can’t have it both ways,” wasn’t until act three. Most of the rehearsal was spent blocking the final scene of Act II where the lead character, a hat and women’s apparel salesman, tries to escape from the police who want to question him about the murder of a local baby doctor.
Paul went home that night. His father returned a bit later. The silence was thicker than usual. Michael didn’t ask about his sons’ absence the night before. Paul didn’t volunteer anything. Too much shame, too much guilt, too many secrets – way too many secrets. The father would stare at his son, the stare freezing his son like a terrified deer in the headlights of an oncoming Ford.
Paul had once considered killing his father, but where would he get permission to do that?
The weekend came around. Paul went off to a quiet place he knew about – a rock overlooking a reservoir about an hours’ drive from home. He sat and contemplated his line, “You can’t have it both ways.” The line was a pivotal line in the third act. It came at the climax of the trial scene where Paul’s character, the waitress, is observing the trial of Lou Johnson, the women’s apparel terrorist who is on trial for the murder of the baby doctor. Lou is the hero to the Right-To-Life people who, in the play, are encamped outside the courtroom. All twelve actors were on stage for the trial courtroom scene so the stagehands, and costume and make-up people had to make the distant angry noises of the Right-To-Life mob outside, “One life! One life! One life!”
Sitting on his rock at the reservoir, Paul stared at his script. He repeated his line over and over out loud, “You can’t have it both ways, You can’t have it both ways.” He experimented by placing the accent on different words. “You can’t have it both ways, You can’t have it both ways, You can’t have it both ways.” He then tried holding certain vowels longer than others, “You ca – -n’t have it bo – -th ways.” He put in pauses, “You . . . . . . can’t . . . . . . . have it . . . . . . . . . . both ways.” He spoke the line low and slow, fast and loud, fast and soft, and slow, high and loud. He tried various British accents he knew from the old English comedies he loved. He started with Alec Guinness, then went to Peter Sellers, then John Guilgud and Laurence Olivier. He tried some of his favorite Saturday morning cartoon voices. Somehow Daffy Duck saying, “You can’t have it both ways” didn’t work for him. He despaired that he would never find the right voice.
Mondays’ rehearsal began as usual. Michael Mowat sat in his directors’ chair facing the stage. Fred Thomas, the playwright, sat in the back of the hall. Nan Francis, the assistant director yelled out, “Act three, scene one. Places.” Everyone gathered on stage for the big knock-down courtroom scene. Even the angry crowd outside had to be there – offstage, which meant in the kitchen. Act three began with the blocking of the entrance of the character Lou Johnson with all the standard lines like, “How does the defendant plead?”
Paul slowly became aware that his father was staring at him. His line didn’t come until near the end. If his father was staring at him, there must be a reason. What had he done wrong? Mrs. Johnson was at the witness stand, “Yes,” she said, “I married Lou because of his strong family values.” Paul turned in his chair to see that his father was still staring at him. Paul’s face began to tense up.
Paul was sitting stage right behind a railing. The swinging gate was to his left. Was his father still staring at him? Paul stared at the gate. He remembered a scene he had done in his “Theater As Therapy” class at the local community college. “Who are you and where are you going?” the teacher asked. “I am Paul Mowat, son of the greatest father in the world – son of the great Michael Mowat, my one and only father. ” Paul still hadn’t learned that not all fathers were the same. He assumed that all fathers had dressed their sons up as female movie stars and had had them dance. He assumed that all fathers would sit frozen and motionless as their sons pranced back in forth in drag. By the age of eight, wearing lipstick and mascara had become normal for little Paul Mowat. “I am beautiful. I prance. I am gorgeous, the most glamorous woman in the world.”
The stagehands were loudly chanting “One Life! One Life! One Life!” Karl Phillips, who played one of the lawyers, was yelling at Lou Johnson, who was yelling back in unison with the angry mob outside, “One Life! One Life! One Life!”
Paul’s father was still staring at him. Paul stood, took a deep breath, checked to see if his imaginary stockings were on straight and in his best Marilyn Monroe voice, said, “You . . . “
“Cut,” his father shouted. “We’ll start here tomorrow.” In his head, Paul finished the sentence, “can’t have it both ways.” His father’s eyes glared at Paul even as the great director talked with some of the actors. Paul noticed that the playwright/women’s apparel salesman Fred Thomas was still in the back of the room staring at Paul’s dad.
On the outside, playwright Fred Thomas was a bubbly kind of guy. He had a certain flair or zest or something. His women’s apparel shop did good business. Many women felt comfortable around him. He made them feel beautiful. It was his business. He sold beauty. And he would laugh giddily, even when there was nothing to laugh at. But if the subject of family values came up, he grew darkly serious. Paul’s mother (more about her in a minute) hated Fred Thomas. She said he was a caveman who would never be happy until every woman was wearing an apron, a willing slave to a master husband. “A woman’s place is in her home,” Fred would say, “and it’s her job to look pretty for her husband.” Paul’s mother, Jill, would hear these words and her blood would boil. She wasn’t a raging feminist, just sane.
Paul missed his mom. She had left a few years back, taking his sister Polly with her. Jill and sister Polly had moved to the Toronto area. Jill’s family was from there. Paul once asked his mom why she left. She said, “I needed to be with a man.” Paul had asked, “What man?” “Any man, just a man. I can’t tell you more,” then a pause, followed by, “When you’re older.”
Paul arrived at the next night’s rehearsal ready to recite his final line, “You can’t have it both ways,” but his dad wasn’t there. His business required that he take occasional trips. He did some kind of import/export business. So Nan Francis, the assistant director, was running the show. Paul noticed that Fred Thomas, the playwright, was also absent. They started the rehearsal with Paul’s line. It was perfect. Everyone noticed. Nan Francis complimented him on it. If only his dad had been there. They finished the basic blocking that night so all the actors and stagehands knew the basic movements and stances for all three acts.
Michael Mowat was still absent at the next night’s rehearsal. They started Act One again, still reading from scripts although Ginny O’Hara, the lead, had all her lines memorized. She was that way. She had been that way when she taught Paul in High School. She expected great things of her students. Paul rarely delivered. It wasn’t that he was stupid. He just lived in a fog most of the time. Everything was a blur to him. Details escaped him. The word “clueless” would apply, but in a cruel way that he did not deserve. Because of the way he was, he had avoided friends. He had tried, but they would always turn on him. Basically, Paul was still a child. He was still that ten-year old boy dressing up like Doris Day for his dad.
The opening scene of the play took place in a café. Paul’s character, the waitress, was named Stu, which was a nickname derived from Stephanie, or so they said. Even though she only had one line in the scene, “Your tea, Mam,” it was a busy part requiring constant movement about the stage serving other customers who all pretended to be talking with Stu and with each other as Ginny O’Hara’s lead character, Mrs. Taylor, conversed with the character Lou Johnson, the man who would later be on trial for murdering a baby doctor. In drama, Act One is the time for exposition, getting the basic plot laid out. Fred, the playwright, had read a book on how to write a play and learned that in an exposition, you present a problem. In Act Two, you develop that problem and in Act Three, you resolve the problem. The problem was that Lou should have read a few more books about drama. There wasn’t much of it, just the characters Mrs. Taylor and Lou Johnson plotting to kill a baby doctor for his sins against the indisputable moral rightness of family values.
Paul Mowat decided to spice up the action by creating his own imagined dialogue with the customers at the café. And he decided that that imagined dialogue needed to be more than just, “Can I get you some sugar with your tea?” His imagined dialogue, he decided, would help develop the plot.
CUSTOMER # 1: What do you suppose Mrs. Taylor is talking about with that Lou Johnson?
STU: I heard them saying something about “right to life” and about how anyone who didn’t respect life, didn’t deserve to live.
CUSTOMER # 2: Have you seen the new shoes at Lou’s shop? To die for.
CUSTOMER # 1: Yes, I want the new red shoes in the window, but my husband would kill me.
CUSTOMER # 2: My husband would strangle me, chop me up and throw me out with the trash.
CUSTOMER # 3: When you ladies are done gossiping, can I get some service over here?
STU: Oh I’m so sorry Mr. Brandy. How can I help you?
CUSTOMER # 3: I’m dying for a bran muffin. And I’d kill for a cup of coffee, black. By the way, what were those two misfits saying about Mrs. Taylor and Lou Johnson?
This imaginary dialogue went on like this. In an odd way, it worked. It worked because the café customers were occasionally looking at the lead characters suspiciously. Paul added to the tension by pretending to listen to Mrs. Taylor’s conversation with Lou Johnson. Everywhere he went in that little café, he was eavesdropping, getting an earful. By the time of his line, “Your tea, Mam,” his voice had a knowing quality. “I know what you two bastards are up to,” he was thinking. There was a sarcasm in his delivery that bit the air like a cold blast of wind, “Your tea, Mam.” It was certainly nothing Fred, the playwright, had ever thought of. Paul called it “reading between the lines.”
After the rehearsal, Ginny O’Hara, his old high school teacher, complimented Paul on his work. She used the proverbial line, “There are no small parts, only small actors,” adding, “You, my boy, are a BIG actor.” Paul wished his father could have heard this. Paul wanted to call his mom to give her the good news, but he feared it was late and she would have gone to bed. His mom was the only good news in his life and she had gone away. He wanted to call a friend, but there was no one to call. He had to make a choice, “Do I get all depressed with all this garbage? Or do I smile and be proud of what I have done, regardless of what my father says?” He chose pride. He chose happiness. He chose to defy his father and be something more than what was expected of him. This was a turning point in the life of Paul Mowat. As with all the turning points in his life, he was, of course, oblivious to it.
His father returned the next night and Fred Thomas returned to his post in the back of the hall. They rehearsed Act Two. Paul was required to be backstage even though he wasn’t needed. He tried to talk with his father, but he would not listen. “Dad, “ he began. “Son,” his dad interrupted, “We’ll talk about this later. We have to rehearse.”
In Act One, Mrs. Taylor and Lou Johnson had plotted to kill the baby doctor. In Act Two, we see the baby doctor, then we don’t see the baby doctor because he becomes dead. There were other things that happened in Act Two like the pursuit of Lou Johnson, but it was mostly deadly dialogue. By deadly, we mean boring – like when the doctor says, “I know killing babies goes against the Word of God, but the law says abortion is legal, so I do it,” or Mrs. Taylor screaming, “What if that was the blood of a baby Jesus on your hands? How would you feel then?” with the doctor replying, “We all have to make choices in this world, We all have to make choices.” It was soon after this that the lights on stage would go out, we would hear a blood curdling scream (what other scream would do?) and the scene would end with the assumption that Lou Johnson had just killed the baby doctor. But had he? And that brings us to Act Three.
By now, Paul had memorized everyone’s lines in Act Three. He knew his own line, “You can’t have it both ways.” He knew the judge’s lines, the lines of the “Hear Ye, Hear Ye” guy, the lines of the two lawyers, the lines of the stenographer, Mrs. Taylor’s lines, Lou Johnson’s lines, the lines of the three witnesses who had overheard their conversation at the café, the lines of Lou’s wife, and the lines of the angry crowd outside the courthouse, “One life!” He had even created a little “back story” on his waitress named Stu. He made it all up. It’s something actors do. He knew that she had lived a sad life with a father who had abandoned her and that she lived with her cruel mother who used to dress her up as famous men from the old movies, making her walk around like Humphrey Bogart or Clark Gable. He imagined that Stu’s mom loved hearing her daughter say things like, “I love you, Bedford Falls,” or “Frankly, I don’t give a damn.”
So Paul was well prepared. He knew all the lines. He even knew the secret line that wasn’t in the script. It’s the line after the judge asks the jury foreman if the jury had a verdict. The playwright, Fred Thomas had kept it out of the script so that there would be a sense of suspense among the actors, a suspense that would be resolved the opening night of the play. Paul had snuck into his dad’s office late one night and found the script with the final line scribbled in, “We, the jury, find the defendant, Lou Johnson (pause for dramatic effect) innocent on all charges.” His dad had then added directions for the stagehands, “Cries of great joy from outside the courtroom, “One life! One Life! One Life!’ ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ played over the sound system. The defendant and Mrs. Taylor waving flags triumphantly, marching through the audience shaking hands.”
In Act Three, Stu sat stage right along with the other witnesses with the lawyers in front of them. The judge was in the middle and the jury was stage left. Even though it was only the second week of rehearsal, Stu had decided to be in costume. As soon as he put on the dress, he was Jean Harlow, he was Bette Davis, he was Jane Fonda. He was every woman he had ever been. He became a celebration of overblown over-the-top womanhood. His father, out in the hall, froze when Paul came out in drag. Fred Thomas, sitting in the rear, also froze, their eyes fixed on Paul. For the playwright, it was as if he and every soul alive was in chains, devoid of freedom, but one precious angel, Paul Mowat, had broken his chains and was flying free. Paul did not walk onto the stage. He floated. The playwright, Fred Thomas, in the rear of the hall, imagined angelic choirs singing “Hallelujah.” Stu sat on her bench with head held high, a light seemingly radiating from her eyes.
Michael, the director, the father, the bearer of dark secrets, the carrier of dark pasts, yelled out, “Paul,” Paul froze, “You idiot,” his light began to dim, “You maggot,” his posture sagged, “You moronic bottom feeding scum,” his nylons drooped, “Why are you in costume? I didn’t ask for costumes yet. You don’t see anyone else wearing costumes yet, do you?”
Paul found the courage to answer, “I’m getting into character.”
“Your character is a waitress, a nothing, a nobody, a waste of space like you.” The stage fell silent. Paul’s silence became the silence at the bottom of a deep pond, life and light above, but nothing deep down below, just bottom feeders.
Just then, a surprise. The playright Fred Thomas stood up, began walking forward, and with the biggest voice he could muster shouted out, “NO.” He turned to Michael Mowet, “No! You still don’t get it. Stu’s line, that’s the line. Everything else in this play is just filler. Stu’s line is the line that turns the jury. Stu’s line turns the audience. It’s not nothing! It’s everything!”
Paul pretended he knew this already. He stared at Fred Thomas and his dad, angry shouts, sparks flying, an uncorked rage. The movie of Paul’s life began to play in his head, his dressing up in drag, his father’s stillness, his father’s frequent trips, Fred Thomas’s frequent trips, his mother looking for “a man, any man,” the way Fred and his dad looked at each other, like an old married couple, emotion in their eyes like two Gods locked in the embrace of battle. Paul saw, for the first time, that they were in love. Fred and Michael were in love. “But that can’t be right,” Paul thought, “Fred is Mr. Family Values. Fred is the man who waves the flag, bakes apple pie and sings ‘God Bless America.’ Fred is the defender of moral correctness and here he is . . “ Paul paused to consider “here he is” and “here and now” and those trips that dad and Fred had probably been taking for years. Then Paul realized that he had stopped wearing dresses seven years ago, around the time Fred Thomas came into their lives, around the time Paul’s mom left. Paul wondered who wore the dresses now? His fog was beginning to clear, his cloud of ignorance fading away, another turning point was approaching and this time, God Damn It, he was going to notice it.
Paul stood up, straightened his dress, flung his wig hair back, and with a voice no one had heard before, cried out, “STOP, Stop this bullshit. Stop pretending.” His voice swelling with anger, “Stop your lies, your delusions, and in the name of Jesus, stop your righteousness. You preach the Holy Word to us, while the two of you are probably off in some cheap hotel room doing God knows what. You pretend to lead us in the clear path while your path is muddy and rough. You teach us how to live our lives while you go on living your life any Gad Damned way you please. Well I have news for you, YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS.”
Fred Thomas, the small town bard, had been right. This line was the line, the turning point. The actors on stage watched in wonder as a love that had festered in deep denial for far too long, blossomed and unfolded before them. Fred and Michael looked into each other’s eyes. Fred whispered into Michael’s ears, “You can’t have it both ways.” Michael got it, repeating, “You can’t have it both ways.” And the two kissed, a deep kiss of release – and their bodies seemed to let go, letting go of years of self-hate, letting go of their hate of the world, letting go of their hate for each other for being who they were, letting go of fear.
The stagehands in the kitchen, sensing their cue, started shouting, “One Life! One Life! One Life!” The actors, suddenly realizing the profundity of it all, began chanting along, “One life! One Life! One life!”
Michael Mowat stared deeply into his lover’s eyes and said in a quiet confident voice, “One life.”
Paul called his mother to tell her the news. She was unaware that he was in a play or that her ex-husband was directing it with his lover whom she had known about for years. She listened as Paul excitedly explained everything, but finally she interrupted him, “Son, what about you? It’s always been about your father, but what about you? You can’t live for your father and live for yourself. It’s time for you to grow up. You have to choose. You or him.” and then with a calm loving voice that only a mother could make, “You can’t have it both ways.”
That night, Paul moved out of his dad’s house. Fred moved in. The play came to an end. Paul went back to college, grew up, and never wore a dress again, never put on women’s make-up again, never wore his Marilyn Monroe platinum blond wig again. His mom and his new step-dad were right; you can’t have it both ways.