Speaking Through a Screen

by Maria Brandt

ROSE: eighties
SAM: twenties

ROSE sits on a reclining chair on a screen-enclosed porch near the St. Lawrence River in the late 1970s. She is covered in blankets. When she speaks, she yells, as if she were hard of hearing. SAM is working outside. A pile of gigantic stones sits in the corner of the porch. The effect can be absurd.

ROSE
It was 1904. Come here. Press your face against the screen so I can see you. (SAM revs a power tool. ROSE talks louder.) You and your noise, you don’t want to hear, no one wants to hear, no one cares that it was 1904, that he worked on the Castle. That he carried stones from boats on the river and placed those stones in piles for the pulleys, then climbed his ladder and lifted the stones, that he built the Castle. (SAM turns off the power tool. ROSE still yells.) Not the Power House, not the Tower, not even the Gazebo. (She realizes the power tool has been shut off. She’s a little quieter.) The Castle. Come closer. Press your face against the screen. I can’t see you. (SAM comes closer but does not press his face against the screen.) You’re a shadow, a haunt.

SAM
Ma’am? (Silence. SAM turns and revs the power tool. ROSE yells above the noise.)

ROSE
He used tools to chisel those stones into shape, nothing you plug into the wall, not like you, he used his hands and made something real. (She knocks on the window sill. He doesn’t hear her.) I’ve never been to the Castle, but I live here, and I know where the Castle is, on one of those small islands in the middle of the river, I know where it is. (She knocks again, but he doesn’t hear her, so she leans as close to the window as she can without falling out of her chair.) He crafted stones while my mother waited in Manhattan. We lived in a stuffed one-room apartment with the other Polacks. They played their accordions and we could hear them dancing, their feet pounding on the wood floors, and we could smell their studzienina and golabki, and we waited for him to come back so he would dance with us. He crafted stones and sent us the money, and I went to correspondence school, and we waited. (She covers her ears.) And then the letter came. “Dear Mrs. Wachnick.” The letter the letter the letter. (Silence. Then, she removes her hands from her ears and yells more loudly.) And then the lady of the Castle died, she died, and bells rang across the river. He had been dead already, dead like a rat, not like a rat, like a mouse that got stuck in a maze scuttling for cheese that isn’t there, a shadow, he had been dead and the maze kept going, and the other mice crawled through, their tails cut off, but when she died, when the lady of the Castle died, someone took the maze away, poof, like a magic trick, and all the work stopped, and the rains kept coming, and the stones fell to ruin. I watched my mother stumble into her bed and never get out again, I dropped my correspondence course so I could feed my mother chicken soup with a spoon, I let that one-room apartment stuff me inside its walls. But I took what I learned in my correspondence course and wrote a letter, and they wrote me back, and I read a book in that one-room apartment and knew the work had stopped, I knew the stones my father lifted fell to ruin, I found them out, I knew the Castle tumbled to the ground! (She makes a loud noise, maybe bangs the table or stomps her foot. SAM turns off the power tool.) I’ve paid young men for fifty years, since 1927, to row to the island and steal me a stone. Will you row to the island? Will you steal me a stone? I’ll pay you. I’ll give you a dollar.

SAM
Ma’am?

ROSE
I’ve collected his stones like a thief, I live to collect his stones. When my mother died I moved to this village by the river and I’ve sat on this porch and the wind has chilled my bones, the wind that blows from Ontario east, pushing cargo boats with their loads of furniture and specialty goods, and my body has changed, the blush on my cheeks has faded like ash, but I’ve collected fifty stones. I’ve worked my muscles stacking fifty stones into a pile in the corner of this room. (She points to the pile.) I’ve turned each stone into a story, turned it into a prayer, like magic, one prayer for each stone that I’ve stolen like a thief!

SAM
Ma’am?

ROSE
(She prays.) “I remember you, my father, who used to know the notes of the songs. I pray on the first stone for the songs to sound again. I pray on the second stone for the flavors of the pickled pigs’ feet and cabbage stuffed with beef. I pray for correspondence and I pray for Manhattan and I pray for mothers who have died and for chicken soup and for ladders and hands and tools. I pray for dry ladders and for men who climb those ladders and lift their stones and who never slip on the highest rung, who never fall through the winter cold, who never lie in a heap of bones in the tall grass that moves by the river….”

SAM
You mean the Castle?

ROSE
Yes. The Castle. They tell the story of the lady of the Castle. I used what I learned in my correspondence course and wrote a letter and learned nothing about my father, only about the lady of the Castle.

SAM
Right here?

ROSE
Yes. Right here. They tell the story of the lady of the Castle but no one tells the story of my father, of the man who fell from his ladder in the rain and whose bones were crushed on a pile of stones!

SAM
The Castle on the island in the river?

ROSE
Yes! In the river! (She’s breathing heavily.) Will you row your boat, young man? Will you steal me a stone? I’ll give you a dollar.

SAM
They’re working on the Castle again Ma’am.

ROSE
What?

SAM
(He’s excited.) They’re rebuilding it, they want to finish it this time, they have tools, power tools, they’re rebuilding the Castle! Boldt Castle! To honor the lady! It’ll be famous!

ROSE
(Her voice gets louder again.) To honor the lady?

SAM
They want people to hear the story and visit us.

ROSE
They’ll never do it!

SAM
It’s for the tourists, ma’am, so we can have more tourists, so we can have a life. (ROSE struggles to rise from her chair, her blankets falling in heaps around her. SAM approaches the window. He presses his face into the screen, creating hideous shadows.) They want us to have a life.

ROSE
(She covers her ears.) I can’t hear you!

SAM
They want to polish the floors, open a gift shop, play waltzes in the ballroom.

ROSE
(ROSE begins piling the stones, which are obscenely heavy, on the window sill to block out SAM.) I can’t hear you!

SAM
Someday, ma’am, I’ll dance in that ballroom, I’ll make some money, and I’ll be a father, and I’ll dance there with my little girl.

ROSE
(She’s still piling the stones.) I can’t hear you!

SAM
Will you dance with me, ma’am?

ROSE
I can’t hear you!

SAM
Ma’am? (Pause. SAM revs his power tool and begins waltzing with the power tool. He hums a waltz as he dances.)

ROSE
I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!

ROSE continues to yell these words and build her wall as a waltz begins to play (perhaps Wiener Bonbons, Op. 307, by Struass, or something by Chopin). Lights slowly fade to black as waltz music overpowers the sound of the power tool.

 
 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maria Brandt Maria Brandt

Maria Brandt's short plays have been finalists in NYC, Boston, Buffalo, DC, and London; read in Los Angeles, Valdez, Fort Lauderdale, and Rochester; and performed in Boston and NYC. Her full-length play The Cell was read at and is being developed with Geva Theatre Center in Rochester; her collection New York Plays (of which "Speaking Through a Screen" is part) will be produced by Out of Pocket Productions in Rochester in October. Maria also has published several academic and creative pieces with Routledge Press, Rock & Sling, Chamber Four, Shark Reef, and others, and she is editing Pam Mill's forthcoming posthumous memoir Kamastone for Jaded Ibis Press. Maria teaches American Literature and Creative Writing at Monroe Community College in Rochester, where she lives with her husband and son, and she is a founding member of Straw Mat, a Rochester-based writing circle.

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