The Garments

by Yusuf Lateef

Characters
JOSEPH, the husband, age 48
SALLY, the wife, age 41
CARINE, Sally’s mother, age 61

Scene

The small kitchen of a bungalow in a suburban district of New Jersey 1968. The time of the year is fall; it is afternoon about 4:00 P.M. The kitchen has two large windows through which a fast setting sun streams brightly. From the windows can be seen a huge cherry tree that is gradually being relieved of its summer attire by the pinching fall air. On one side of the kitchen is a door that leads to the basement. Another door on the other side of the room leads to the living-room, Carine’s room and Joseph’s and Sally’s bedroom. The stove is a plain gas stove. There are three chairs and a small breakfast table.

Sally is preparing whole-wheat pancakes, cooked on top of the stove, while Joseph waits patiently, seated at the table. At the same.

JOSEPH: Go ahead! Ma, those cakes are out of sight. I can smell ‘m and tell. (Looking at Sally) Do you dig ‘m Sally?

SALLY: I’m fixing pancakes now, Joseph.

JOSEPH: Darling, I realize that, but can’t you appreciate the aroma?

(Sally softly smiles and places her hands on her hips.)

SALLY: Yes darling. (exaggerating) I’m the lady who rode the mule around the world but talking about food won’t satisfy your appetite.

(Sally places the pancakes before Joseph and he begins to eat in earnest as Sally sits opposite him and looks on.)

JOSEPH: What have you learned in your trip around the world? Did it take eighty days? What kind of MULE was that!????

SALLY: It was the mule of life and it has taken forty-one years. I found that mankind is basically feeling and thinking.

JOSEPH, (pausing as if in deep thought): What is he when he is sleeping?

SALLY: Sleep is the brother to death, a subconscious state of being. But what I would like you to understand is that mankind suffers from an unbalance between thinking and feeling. You see-this balance is what man needs. Man is too deeply involved in industrial and commercial civilization. He, unfortunately, devotes very little time to spiritual culture. If he doesn’t die prematurely he becomes a nervous wreck. (sighs deeply) He seems unable to live at peace within himself. When we understand that …

(Carine interrupts. She is spreading icing on the cake that has been placed on the table.)

CARINE: Why is it necessary to understand? I am powerless to correct the testimony of my mind …. I love the free future.

JOSEPH: It’s not necessary to understand that I love your cakes and I’m powerless to refuse in the near future …. as soon as these pancakes digest. (Patting his stomach, he turns his attention to Sally.) Yes, my darling Sally, but your views are only concepts and concepts are the inner side and what you speak are only sounds that represent symbols ….. (He draws the symbol of infinity in the air with a fork. His facial expression remains placid but his voice takes a tone of authority.) Images of perceptions combine in various ways; they form groups and in the end give rise to concepts … (He pauses as in deep thought.) Have you noticed Mama’s unusual sounds and symbols?

CARINE, (with a tone of love and pity): Thank you Joseph, my angel, the effect of love upon the brain is not fully understood but it will not damage the tissue or cause injury by corrosion or irritation.

JOSEPH, (quickly): You see! What I mean, Sally, she speaks …. she speaks in odd emotional tones.

SALLY, (half whispering): Do you have clear insight into the nature of Mama’s inner self?

(Carine is on the opposite side of the kitchen taking another cake from the oven.)

SALLY, (without giving Joseph a chance to answer, speaks softly): Mama sounds strange but lovely ….. Love directs the vain and vulgar to the path of earnestness and reality. (with feeble voice) It makes us feel interest in higher things which are above the senses; it delivers us from the bondage and torture of ignorant talk.

CARINE, (from across the kitchen): My loving daughter, love in itself is no longer thought to have nutritional deficiencies. (softly but excitedly) Great powers have been given to me and ….. I will save you both …. (in an Euphoric tone) I am of high optimism and my thoughts are in high gear. I could bake a hundred cakes, pick a thousand cherries and scream a thousand songs.

(As Carine speaks, the mournful melody of a flute can be heard in the distance. When Carine finishes her latter statement, Joseph gets up slowly from his chair, as if in slow motion and does an unusually exotic dance to the music of the flute. As he dances he interjects a soft heinous laugh while his facial expression remains normal. Sally and Carine look on unaffectedly. As Joseph’s dance ends with him standing in an extended frozen position, Sally speaks.)

SALLY, (seriously): There was no love in your dance ….. It was abstract ….. It was dry as a bone and cold as a corpse.

JOSEPH, (releasing his frozen position, speaks in menacing tones): Perhaps creativeness lies in the ability to think abstractly and creativeness is the consequence of …

(Carine interrupts.)

CARINE, (as if in a trance): Now now, my dear children, let your abstract thinking be virtuous. Humane relations is the consequence of virtuous consciences …. Solitary acts of love in an endless chain extends peace to the conscience and soothes the soul …. (as if coming out of the trance) Is not love its own reward? Therefore let all be that which produces love. (in a despondent tone) Don’t be serpents in the garden of life. Able yourselves!!!

JOSEPH: Sally isn’t a serpent, Mama, she only rode the mule around the world and …

(Sally interrupts.)

SALLY, (in an authoritative tone): I can speak for myself, Joseph! I can look at the facts directly and reach the bottom of things. I have grasped the very life of the universe, that which makes the sun rise in the morning, that which causes the bird to sing his cheerful song and that which makes man hunger for love, righteousness, truth and goodness.

CARINE, (in admiration): I will be good to both of you, my darlings … I will save you.

(By this time Carine has finished putting icing on a cake which Joseph is viewing with lust.)

JOSEPH, (speaking very childishly): May I have a slice of cake, Mama?

SALLY, (also speaking childishly): May I have some too …. Please?

(Carine slices some cake for them.)

CARINE: Of course, my dears.

(Placing a slice of cake before each of them.)

JOSEPH: Thank you, Mama.

SALLY: Thanks, Ma.

CARINE: You are welcome.

(Carine walks to the kitchen window and looks out at the cherry-tree. As Joseph and Sally enjoy their cake, Carine breaks the silence.)

CARINE: The cherry-tree is rotting away. Nothing seems worthwhile anymore. All that was beautiful has lost its beauty.

JOSEPH: But we are all identical with the same base, Mama.

CARINE: No! No! .. I guess I expected more than life has given.

SALLY, (softly smiling and placing both hands over her heart): Love is the eye of the heart and mind that sees into the mysteries of reality and non-reality.

JOSEPH, (with mixed emotions): The vision from a mule must be phenomenal!

CARINE, (with decision, but wantonly): I have sinned against nature … now nobody can love me.

SALLY, (distrustfully): But Mama …

CARINE: I don’t deserve friends. I feel .. .. terrible …. simply terrible. There’s no way out of it … Nothing but blind alleys … it’s difficult to get an animal to understand a picture … Nothing matters anymore . .. it’s hopeless …. we can’t measure mental properties as we do flour for a cake… Everything’s hopeless. I don’t know I feel different … I am not like other people …

SALLY, (slowly and wearisome): But Mama, we are all one family disjointed by the lack of love … (Mixed emotions stir within as she looks first at Joseph and then to Carine.) Chain our hearts to peace! Let peace circulate its warmth in our conscience to soothe our souls. (In a depressed tone) We are only food for the moon ….

(The flute, in the distance, begins to play an odd atonal melody and Sally begins to dance extraordinarily, almost in slow motion except for the uncontrollable jerking movements that occur intermittently. Her expression on her face is masklike. Joseph looks on showing no visual indications of emotions but as Sally dances he inhales and exhales, deeply breathing through his nostrils. Carine places both hands over her heart and watches unassumingly. When Sally finishes her dance, she slowly moves her arm in the air as if drawing the outline of a large heart with her index finger, then speaks.)

SALLY, (as if to herself); Certain sensations can be expressed by certain movements. These movements may serve as signals of danger or love.

JOSEPH, (bringing his deep breathing to a gradual silence). Love can never be laid hold of, only felt.

CARINE, (After Sally’s dance ends, Carine goes to the window and looks at the cherry-tree again. She speaks in solemn tone.); I am food for the moon. The roots of the cherry-tree are food for the worms but I will save you, my darlings ….

(The stream of sunlight coming through the window grows progressively weaker. A pale light makes everything visible.)

JOSEPH, (wistfully); The sun is now clothing the earth with garments of shadows as she leaves us.

SALLY: And the worms are under the earth.

JOSEPH: The moon shall be full tonight and little wild flowers may burst open under its influence.

CARINE, (melancholy); The tree glitters like gold and I am only a shadow.

SALLY, (sympathetically); And the nightcrawlers shall eat the little flowers. (Sally faces the audience and begins to speak passionately, staring in one fixed direction, as Joseph sits and stares at the floor directly in front of him.)

SALLY: Flowers, pretty flowers, lovely, love, embrace us, please! Don’t let evil subdue us …. Take from our minds the thorn-like thoughts that torture us like blood-sucking leeches and demons of disenchantment. Free us of withering, despairing thoughts that inhabit our minds like the dull buzz of dragon flies. Take from our hearts the veils of ignorance that we may walk in peace. Come soon, please!

CARINE: Excuse me. I must make a phone call.

(Carine goes into the living room where she is not seen. Joseph then directs his stare from the floor to Sally.)

JOSEPH, (with feeling but aloofness); Love opens the gates of truth and the lips of flowers. Love makes trouble burst like bubbles. It’s a road to immortality. Love can shelter the world. Don’t cling to weak worm infested branches of the mind. . .. Have sympathy for the nightcrawler and …

SALLY, (looking at the floor in front of Joseph); Confused people talk with the mouth while the wise practice with the heart.

(Sally continues to gaze at the floor in front of Joseph. Carine enters; her gaze is also at the floor in front of Joseph as she walks to the table and picks up a large wooden cake spoon and holds it above her head.)

CARINE, (still staring at the floor in front of Joseph): I have opened the door of salvation. The angels of mercy shall come.

(The sun has set, causing a dull light to come through the window. Stage lighting should make each actor’s body cast eerie shadows. Carine, with the huge spoon raised high above her head, Sally looking intensely at the floor in front of Joseph and Joseph, as if in a trance, looking at the floor in front of him, remain in statuesque positions for about thirty seconds without making a sound or movement. The flute, offstage, begins to play a mournful melody, accompanied by a talking drum, with irregular rhythms. Joseph raises his head slowly and looks blankly towards the audience.)

JOSEPH: In … the heart.

(He lowers his gaze back to the floor.)

SALLY, (still looking at the floor in front of Joseph): Yes … In the heart.

(Carine begins to dance with the spoon above her head. Her face is expressionless and her eyes remain pinned to the floor in front of Joseph. Sally also begins to dance. Her facial expression is that of nothingness and her eyes remain pinned to the floor in front of Joseph. Joseph slowly gets up from his chair and begins to dance also, keeping his eyes focused to the floor in front of where he was sitting. All three are now dancing by themselves and staring at the spot on the floor. Their dance movements bring them into a semicircle facing the audience in the middle of the stage. Joseph is in the center. They, as the music continues, continue to dance in the area of the semicircle, eyes remaining on t~e same place on the floor whenever their movements have them facing that direction. Their dancing resembles people who have poor control of their limbs. Some movements are jerky and some are forward and staggering. At times the movements are very slow in motion. At times there is no motion. The dancing is not in ensemble but individually independent. Throughout the dancing, Sally, Carine and Joseph give out with bits of laughter, however their faces remain expressionless. The sound of a siren can be heard in the distance coming closer and closer, mingled with the music of the flute and drum.

After about two minutes of bizarre dancing, the siren stops, but the music continues, increasing in intensity. Three ambulance attendants walk grimly onto the stage. Each one has a white straitjacket, holding them open with both hands as they advance slowly towards the dancers.

Carine, Sally and Joseph still dancing and still looking at the same area on the floor, dance into the strait-jackets without provocation. Carine lowers her arm long enough to put it through the sleeve, which she does without releasing the spoon and immediately returns her arm to the raised position. The sleeves of the jackets are not tied but left hanging. Joseph, Sally and Carine begin dancing toward the stage exit in single file. Joseph leads, Sally is in the middle and Carine is last. All continuing to look at the same area on the floor as they exit.

The attendants exit simultaneously on the side of Joseph, Sally and Carine that is away from the audience as shadows. Just before Carine disappears from view, she raises her eyes from the floor towards the audience and stares blankly as the music comes to a peaceful close. After about five seconds of silence with arm still raised, she speaks.)

CARINE, (with conviction): Love! … In the heart!!!

Curtain

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