What about the boy…?

“She had a fever. She was burning up like a hot coal in my arms. I was cradling her and I started singing it mindlessly to her. Softly singing, ‘Got a feeling ’21 is gonna be a good year…especially if you and me see it in together…’ Like it was the strangest lullaby.”

The mother sits quietly at the kitchen table. She looks like she’s collecting thoughts or stifling an imminent outburst.

“I’m singing, ‘I had no reason to be over optimistic…but sometimes when you smile I could brave bad weather…’ Cause that girl would smile and you’d think you could do anything. You could…you know…risk anything just to keep that smile happening.

“That song comes on the radio the other day. I hear the middle section…you know…’What about the boy…what about the boy…he saw it all…’ I get a chill run through me. Cause our boy…what he saw…he ain’t gonna forget. I wish to God he hadn’t seen it. I wish to God…”

She stops speaking and silently drinks her black coffee.

The song’s running through my head for the rest of the day. I sit down at my computer and pull it up to listen – in hopes of silencing it in my skull. The contemplative ending. “What about the boy?” It just makes it harder to forget it.

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Doghouse Speaks…”If Memory Serves”

3pm in the park.  The tattooed girl that I catch out of the corner of my eye resembles a girl I affectionately called “Sullen” – a girl I remember during the haphazard days I not-so-affectionately called my adolescence.  I would see Sullen walking down the afternoon street with a safety-pinned backpack slung over her narrow shoulders.  Sullen wore a long black trenchcoat, painted her pale-white face with even whiter make-up foundation – contrasting sharply with the jet black Egyptian lines that she drew around her dark, dark eyes creating the visage of a Goth Cleopatra – and dyed her fine hair blue back.  She was remarkably pretty.  She struck me as a girl who was wholesomely pretty – pretty like something from a cheerleading squad – before she gave the wholesome look the proverbial finger and covered it in her dark, disaffected regalia. 

Her head was always hanging low as she walked down the afternoon street.  She walked and hung her head as if watching the movement of her combat boots and dark leggings.  She walked as if what was in front of her – slowly drfiting towards her – was irrelevant.  And what was truly important was down at her feet – sliding beneath her as she trudged across the concrete.

I wondered if she was sad.  Or was she simply looking sad to hide?  Her blue black hair hung down and practically obscured her pale face.  The image of this would have been stunningly breath-taking if it wasn’t underlined by a sense of despair.  Well.  I have to concede there is striking beauty in despair.  Whether that’s a universal truth or a romantic concoction – I leave to the reader to decide.

I watched this black-clad girl walking from school for so many days.  Always the same posture.  Always the same despair.

And then – one day – she vanished.  I didn’t see her anymore.  And I wonder what happened to her.  Did she move?  Did she flee school?  Was it something more menacing?  Did despair overwhelm her?  Claim her? 

It unsettled me.  Somebody like that becomes a part of you.  You watch somebody like day after day after day.  They develop some kind of identity for you.  They exist for you.  You build a story for them.  You imagine what they might be after they turn a corner and leave your vantage point. 

The tatooed girl watching me singing – I wondered if she watches me with the same sense of curiosity.  Does she watch me with the same inquistiveness?  Does she imagine what I might be after I pack up and leave the park?  Does she wonder why I’m singing a joyous song…a sad song…a rauchious song?

It’s strange – I think Sullen must be okay.  She must be fine.  I can’t explain why this is the case.  I just imagine that she must be okay because the universe has just sent me this moment of clarity and why would it do that if she was not okay?  And I know that sounds uninformed and – perhaps quite enchanted.  But it’s no different than the countless people who have left notes in my jar telling me that my voice made their days or saved their days or gave their days hope.  “Who the hell am I?”, I wonder.  How is my voice – barking from a corner or in some station or on some stage – supposed to save anything.  But – for those few individuals who needed the universe to tell them that their plight is manageable and – they hear the universe where they need to hear it.  And if it’s through my voice or the voice of a friend or the voice of a politician or the voice of a stranger on the subway…if we’re smart we hear what we need to hear.

I needed to hear that Sullen was okay. 

The tatooed girl dropped a few bills wrapped in a white piece of paper in my jar.  And she walked away. 

The piece of paper was a note.  The note was a thank you.  The thank you – at that moment – was enough to know that Sullen was okay.   

To begin with…

It feels a bit like throwing a bottle containing a message into the void of space. It feels like hoping that bottle will float through the ether and find someone. It feels like hoping the someone who finds their hands wrapped around that space-borne bottle will take the time to read the enclosed message. It feels like hoping that they’ll care.

I remember – as a child of 11 or 12 – sitting up in my bedroom late one Saturday night watching an episode of “Doctor Who” on the local PBS station. The companion was leaving the wayward Doctor and preparing to embark on her own travels across time and space. The Doctor, obviously moved by the bittersweet parting of the ways – wanting her to find her own way but still knowing that he would miss her terribly – asks earnestly how they might meet again. The companion laughs and says she’ll throw a message in a bottle out into space. “It’ll find you…in time.”

Imagine an 11-year-old trying to come to some kind of grips with that prospect. Time – eternal as it is, along with space – infinite as it could be, existing for these travelers like oceans. And the enormity of eventuality for these people. EVENTUALLY…yes…this bottle thrown into space would find this man who seemed to infinitely wander through eternity. The very word “eternity” had a terrifying sound to a young child trying to wrap his infantile mind around new concepts to him: concepts like mortality and finality.

I’ve always thought of the internet as having qualities similar to what I can only imagine is the Universe. It never seems to end. I’m sure it must be finite on some level. But for us mere mortals who simply wander through it’s seemingly vacuous ether and don’t even attempt to fully understand or control it’s goings-on, it might as well be the awe-inspiring eternity that I tried so hard to internalize as a child watching “Doctor Who.”

Two decades later and here I am writing a message, scrolling it up and slipping it into a bottle to be thrown into space…

My name’s Jason Stuart and I’m Playwright-In-Residence for an NYC-based theater company called FIST IN THE POCKET. Associate Michael Chamberlin and I started this company, in part, to produce a show I wrote called “WASHING MACHINE.” As is the case with all in the 21st Century – you want people to notice you – you got to make noise on the internet. You’ve got to shout so as you might be heard throughout this intimidating eternity. And, between the two of us, I’m the more web-savvy. Oh…if that’s the case…dear God 😉

So, reader, travel with me over the next few weeks as we prepare to re-mount our production of “WASHING MACHINE” at the Sanford Meisner Theater. I’ll be regaling you with tales gathered from our fictitious, unnamed, little rural, American town where a five-year-old girl was sadly, strangely and macabrely trapped and killed inside a Laundromat washing machine. Nobody knows the full story of how she got in there or how the machine turned on or who might have been responsible. Very loosely based on a Washington Post article from a couple of years ago…

It strikes me as a tragedy that could only have happened in the States.