Sleep

by COLM LENNON


The space is an empty room, or locked cell, the two characters facing the back

wall, which has two standing lights downstage projecting onto it. 

SCENE 1 

Alice: All my life I knew they were coming for me with airplanes and pop music, making cracks to let the demons in. Not all my life no that’s not true. There was a time when I was young when I think I must have been with God because that was something when I think about it now. I remember the first boy I kissed properly kissed I was thir- teen he was fifteen and it was the summer and he tried to rape me but he didn’t have a condom so he got cold feet. Our flat was overrun with cats my father died when I was fourteen he was never committed my mother just put up with it and I suppose we did too. There was a song he used to like when he was quiet he said that was the voice of God and of course we believed him, we said then why don’t you listen to it all the time. He said sometimes you don’t want to listen to God. He really loved us, and we loved him. We all did, there was love and cat piss and God sometimes. He never left the flat and he was scared to sleep, we used to read to him from the newspaper every morning and he would sit there in silence and take a bath afterwards and not come out for hours. On my twelfth birthday I went in to tell him to wish me a happy birthday but he didn’t understand he cut my hand to take the chip out. I still had the scar when they put it in four years later. I thought that was funny, it made me smile. Right before he died he thought he was God Almighty and it was the most wonderful week of our lives. The doctors said it was an aneurism, his brain malfunctioning, but I knew different because he had told me things that couldn’t be explained, least of all by them. He taught me how to see and how to think in the dark. He was the sanest person I ever knew. 

Bob: How long do you think we’ll last? Alice: Before we give in?
Bob: Of course.
Alice: I don’t know. Not long. 

SCENE 2 

Bob: So my friends and family are staring at me watching me, and the jaws on this thing are enormous, six feet wide with rainbows of teeth, and the ocean is up around me and it feels like I’m walking a plank but re- ally I’m already in the water, and I go under and there’s a bathosphere a cage underneath me and I swim for it fast as I can and the water’s pushing against me and I swim hard as I can but I should’ve kept my eye on those jaws because I wake up in the most horrible fright and I know it’s over he got me. Night after night I’d go to sleep imagining myself climbing down into the bathosphere and watching in terror as it snapped at me but couldn’t reach me, and slowly my terror would go away and it too and I would wait a long, long time before swimming back up towards the light and surfacing alongside the boat, climbing a rope ladder to safety. And for a while I would be a monkey in the jungle, or waking up on Mars with my sister on Christmas morning, but somewhere along the way I would find myself in the water. 

Alice: That’s it, that’s the only recurring dream you’ve ever had. Bob: The only one. 

Alice: I’ve had lots. I’ve always had one on the go. I’ve had one where I could go through telephones, through the wires and go right into other peo- ple’s ears and then out again, and this went on and on until I must’ve gone through the phone book. It would always start with the phone in my grandmother’s kitchen, and most nights I’d be minding my own business I’d turn a corner and there I was, diving into the receiver. It was just a pain more than anything else. I had another one where I was a Cadillac and I kept crashing into trees. I’d be in fairy land or wherever and suddenly I’m a car bouncing around a forest. 

Bob: Nothing scarier than that? 

Alice: Not while I was dreaming, no. My waking life’s another story. I had one where I was walking up this plush carpet and two doormen stood like this with their arms like this and their heads like this and you walked in and it was a circus, a woodland circus with toadstools and fireflies, and at the back was a gypsy lady who was a girlfriend of mine in this enormous purple velvet dress like one of those toys that never falls over, and the feeling I have in this place is one of pretending I’m enjoying myself while really I’m looking for something. I never find it. I’ve forgotten what it was. Ones like that are just strange, there’s nothing to them. Then somehow you learn to write them. 

Bob: You mean you make them up? 

Alice: It just happened gradually, more and more it’s like you’re awake in your dream, or more aware, and you start to remember them too. 

Bob: So you’re in control? You can do whatever you want, in your dream? 

Alice: Whatever you want. Well, it takes time. You learn. It starts off it takes you ages to remember, and of course, don’t really know what you’re doing. The first time I did it I was in the mountains, Himalayas white as paper walking with my father, and I sat down on a rock because I felt somehow that it couldn’t be true. He went on, disap- peared, and I looked up at the sky and I wanted colours and there they were and I tried for them. I can’t describe to you what it’s like. The whole world moves for you, a world that is infinite and all colours all shades, all yours. You are the only one awake in this world. I would fly to an island made of glass way out in the sea, my little Atlantis, then I changed my mind and it was a humpbacked whale and steam blew from its blowhole and down we went into the soda stream that was anything that passed through my head. I would will us out into space and there we were, swimming past giant squids clinging to meteorites as they rolled across the galaxy, spinning in infinity I really can’t begin to describe it. And whenever I wanted to wake up I would just touch my face. 

Bob: Just like that? Christ I wish I’d known how to do that . . . but what do you dream about? When you can see anything you want, when you know it isn’t real? I can’t even imagine. 

Alice: When I was down sometimes I’d go back to those mountains, those same Himalayas and walk the trail looking for my father but I never found him, and I would sometimes will all the white wolves and the bears and the penguins to help me and they would find him and bring him to me . . . penguins, I don’t know what they were doing there . . . and I would see him and rush down the mountainside to throw my arms around him but it wouldn’t be him it would be a dummy, a braindead stuffed man with stitches in his mouth. So I would fly somewhere or walk alone until I hadn’t the heart to go on and I’d wake up. So you see you can’t say there’s real and there’s everything else, because that’s not true. I don’t really know sometimes what to make of it myself, but when you’re there and you feel it it feels real. And you know what’s not real. So I couldn’t have him, I could have a tyrannosaurus rex to fly me to the pyramids any night of the week, but I couldn’t have him. So I gave up and instead I’d just float down a river all cold and silver down down into the earth dropping and dropping further down winding through caves alive with things in the dark and down until it was just a cold black tunnel and I would wake up with a vision of every bone shattering in my body, no, my whole body shattering like glass, all the pieces scattering in the dark. But I would be awake, or half awake, with that screen dead in front of me at the end of the bed and the rumbling deep in the walls. I’d wake up all alone no sense of time and once my brother was sat there on the edge of the bed and it was like there was something sitting on me I couldn’t move and the cold moved through my skin and he was in shadow but there he was unmistakable til the lights came on and he was gone. 

Bob: He didn’t say anything? 

Alice: No. Not a word. 

Bob: How long were you there? 

Alice: Six months, that time. Six months and he was gone when I got out. I asked after him and no one could even tell me what had happened to him. He was just not there anymore. My brother. 

Bob: I had one where I was walking through the hospital looking for my wife, very swanky hospital only it was a mix between the hospital and my old school, anyway, it was abandoned and I kept locking the doors behind me as if there was something coming for me you know? And I don’t know why but my heart jumped when I went round corners, anyway I get to the top and there’s my wife behind these plastic curtains and they tell me I’m sorry she’s dead, and I can see her covered in blood but she looks ok, she’s staring back at me blinking as if nothing’s wrong, but they say no she’s dead so I leave. And I felt relieved, I wasn’t checking behind me, I wasn’t scared to go round corners any- more. Outside the hospital there was broken glass as though someone had jumped through a window. Maybe that was you, huh? Alice: I don’t want to talk anymore.
Bob: Don’t say that.
Alice: Why?
Bob: Because what else are we going to do?
Alice: Well let’s not talk about dreams anymore. 

Bob: My daughter would be one year old by now. When you have a daughter you feel like God Almighty. You’re not yourself anymore: you are all of existence. You shed your skin because there’s this other thing that’s you and so much more and if you try to put that skin back on it’ll kill you so leave it off and let the wind blow through you and it’s wild and it’s terrifying and it’s wonderful, it’s like this other half of your brain is turned on. I miss it so much. I didn’t even know if I wanted a child, I was terrified. But my wife was pretty damn sure, and God knows I’d have given her anything. That’s what she said to me, the night we made love and I came inside her and she held me so tight it hurt and whispered ‘thank you, thank you, thank you,’ like she knew just how frightened I was, I mean I was pathetic. But I never said any- thing, I just hoped against hope something would happen, something else would take over and I would just become this other person. But you don’t, you become God and all the angels and the devil and every- thing in between, and you realise how tiny and insignificant was this thing you’ve left behind, this navel-gazing idiot you were only an hour ago with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Now you are all the weight of the world and all the shoulders too, and it overwhelms you til you nearly drop the baby only you’d fall with her and die. So you hold her close not too tight and not too loose, and like a sail she carries you out into open waters and you’re still scared when you look back at the man you left there, the man with the mirrors where his eyes should be, but as long as you look to the horizon you are the sea and the sun and the waves and all that is. This little girl. You are her world. 

.. .
(out) Do you hear that?
.. .
Do you hear me? Answer me, someone. What do have to say to that? C’mon, who will answer me? 

Alice: No one’s going to answer you. .. . 

When I was a little girl walking home from the shops with my mother one day I went into this field by our estate and waded in the long grass, my mother called to me to come back on the road but I knew she just wanted me to stay in sight, and I looked back to make sure I was keeping pace with her carrying the shopping on the back of the pram then carried right on hunting panthers in the Amazon, with the distant roar of the river on the M1 and the loud wet lawnmower noise of the jungle all around me, cutting a path through clumps of lush wild ferns and bulbous red carnivorous plants leering down at me, when suddenly I see it: down in the valley, below, hidden in the trees, the wheel-shaped lost city of El Dorado, spokes glinting in the afternoon sun. I race towards it, into the clearing at the edge of the cliff, down on my knees so’s not to be seen when my heart stops short. There by the edge of the long grass is the sleeping head of a deadly black mamba, lying in wait. I thank my lucky stars I saw it in time. I look for a stone to load my gun, when I notice something moving on the snake’s head – little golden flies, rising and falling, crawling over its eyes. Is it dead? Or just playing dead? But no . . . I look again and it’s a dog turd, shining in the grass, covered with flies. I look for my mother and the pram, but from where I am I can’t see the road. I look again at this turd, shining in the grass, when all of a sudden its eye opens, its tongue flicks at the golden flies, and it’s like another sun’s risen in the sky because the field is caught in a wind of fire, blasted with colours bulging and melting together, deforming, warping with the wind, the grass shrieks, bares its blades like fangs the unrusted metal specks on the spokes shine like sparks, burst into flames glowing like the sun, the field is on fire with showers of rainbow rain and I am staring into the eyes of this twisted black snake whose face dances and mutates with ever more deadly intention, poised to strike but all I can do is sit paralysed and hollow inside with this tremendous fear like the world is frying like an egg all around me and I am nothing but a speck. So when they sent me to school I couldn’t believe any of the things they told me, even if I might have wanted to. I had seen God in a dog turd. There was something broken I didn’t want them to fix. 

Bob: When I was young my mother said now Bobby I don’t want you to worry anymore I want you to forget about the past and I did. 

Alice: Are your folks still alive? 

Bob: I don’t know. Are yours? 

Alice: No. What do you think they’d think? 

Bob: About this? I think it’d break their hearts into pieces. 

Alice: Do you think they might be watching? 

Bob: I really don’t know. What would your folks think if they were still alive? 

Alice: My mother would take it, the same way she took every rotten thing life through at her. My brother would do something stupid. My father . . . I can’t help thinking he’d be proud. I don’t really know why. All his life, you could never really describe him as proud, not about anything, but I can’t help feeling, was it something he said? Or just something in my head? Anyway, are you hungry? Bob: Peanut butter blocks. Fat and protein. Alice: Want to share one? 

Bob: When we moved to the city my Dad got attacked walking home one night. I went down to the lobby and he was there with his hanky and his shirt all covered in blood because he didn’t want us to see, and my mother tried to take me back upstairs but he sat me down and talked about how there were bad people and everything the way you’d explain something like that to a child, I don’t really remember. What I remember is stepping out of the elevator and seeing them talking before they saw me, because it’s those moments you really treasure as a child, maybe treasure’s the wrong word, but when something’s really wrong and the adults don’t know you’re watching them that’s when you pay attention because that’s when you really see them. My mother was trying to keep her voice down but she was staring him right in the eyes going crazy and he was like a zombie, and that really shook my spine. She was shaking him like she wanted him to panic with her, couldn’t understand why he was being such a zombie, why he was just sat there fidgeting his hanky between his hands slowly like he was watching a movie while the blood was running down his face. I stepped out of the elevator and that hit me all over even though I didn’t understand why. Maybe because I didn’t understand. Then he saw me and he forced a smile, and he was a different man. Moments like that they become like anchors for your memory, whether you like it or not. 

Alice: I remember my brother and I looking up at the jet streams in the sky and wondering what they were, why they were there. Planes coming from the airport used to pass overhead all the time, so why did these ones leave a trail? And anyone we’d ask, my mother or a teacher or whoever would just tell us that’s what they do. That’s normal. And I could never understand where everyone got the idea that normal meant everything’s fine, no need to worry. Why people just naturally assume all is right with the world. Do you think we’ll win? 

Bob: Win? 

Alice: Yeah. 

Bob: I don’t see how we can win. 

Alice: I don’t mean live. I mean win, there’s other ways of winning. 

Bob: Like beating them somehow, at their own game. 

Alice: No, like playing a different game entirely. What do you think it is they want us to do? 

Bob: I don’t know. I don’t think it matters. Go out quietly maybe. But even if we don’t, it’ll still be entertainment, for a while. And it’ll have a message, I expect. 

Alice: Get plenty of sleep, you mean. 

Bob: No, don’t . . . look down, don’t look up, just keep the wheels in spin. I mean I guess that’s what they’re getting out of it. 

Alice: Don’t open your eyes.
Bob: Exactly.
Alice: Then we’ve got to keep them open. Bob: What, forever? 

Alice: For as long as possible. Til the end. And we don’t beg and we don’t bargain and we don’t say a harsh word or lay a finger on eachother we just sit here and we fight them, we just sit here and we don’t blink not once til they have to come in with their rifles and take us out and shoot us in the back of the head because that’s what they promised themselves they wouldn’t do. And when they’ve broken their cool in front of half a billion people then we’ll have won and our existence and all our sorrow will have been worth it for that. Do you think we can do it? 

Bob: Alice, you’re amazing. 

Alice: Do you think we can? 

Bob: It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be hell, but yes, I believe we can. 

Alice: Believe is no good, swear. Here, bite your finger like this. Good . . . there. I swear I will not close my eyes. 

Bob: I swear I will not close my eyes. I swear it on the dog turd. Alice: Good. Well remembered.
Bob: Alice, they’ll be watching.
Alice: Make love to me. 

Spotlight comes on them as they turn to face the audience, seated like John and Yoko at an imaginary piano, as Bob mimes ‘Imagine’ over a backing track. 

Lights down.