In an ordinary looking suburban living room, perhaps with a slight 50s/60s look and feel, we see DENNIS, a man in his early forties sitting in a comfortable chair. His left leg is grotesquely and ludicrously swollen and looks quite painful. He is looking at a nearby clock and growing increasingly agitated. He mutters to himself with growing aggression.
DENNIS: It’ll be seven past, you see. Every time. How does she manage it? Here we go. It’s six past now. Six past and counting. She’ll be gearing up, ready to burst in at the stroke of seven. She knows how I feel about that particular number. It has to be deliberate. Right, here we go. Final stages now. [Getting very agitated] On the launch pad. Getting closer. [Almost screaming] Up the garden path. Up the garden path. Approaching the door, here it comes. Here it comes…
There’s a pause then MIDGE enters in a particularly unspectacular way, given the build-up. She’s a woman of a similar age to Dennis. She carries some bags of shopping and seems a bit sweaty and flustered. On her entrance Dennis erupts into frustrated fury.
DENNIS: [Shouting] A ha! I knew it. Seven past. Every time. You always do it. How do you manage it Midge? How can you enter this house at seven past the hour, or derivative of seven past such as 17 and 27 past the hour on every single occasion.
MIDGE: [Calmly] I’m not aware of it Dennis.
She drops the shopping on the table and begins to wearily unload items as they speak.
DENNIS: You must be. It happens every time. I even change the clocks. I fiddle with the hands at random so they make no sense and you still manage it.
MIDGE: I don’t. I don’t pay attention to it.
DENNIS: You must. You knew perfectly well my aversion to that particular number. Yet you’re in here at seven past like clockwork. [Amused] Like clockwork! You see Midge, humour in the face of adversity. You couldn’t manage a thing like that. Despite your persistent torture.
MIDGE: Please Dennis.
DENNIS: You do it deliberately to derail me. It’s like an addiction.
MIDGE: Don’t start. You can see I’m carrying things.
DENNIS: I have an utter disdain for the number seven that has plagued me since adolescence. My daily commute was hindered by my refusal to board a bus bearing that number. Added several hours to my journey. And I spend most Julys in bed.
MIDGE: I am aware of that Dennis.
DENNIS: I expected you hours ago. What could you have possibly been doing to bring about this delay?
MIDGE: You know very well what I’ve been doing. You set me to it. Look at the state of me. [She indicates her sweaty state] A woman of my age - toiling.
DENNIS: [Shocked] Toiling? I hardly think what you do could be considered toiling.
MIDGE: What would you know about it?
DENNIS: Toiling. The act of toil. It brings miners to mind. Or those who construct our railways. That’s toiling. That’s the essence of toil. Sweat, dirt and the like. You’re as clean as a flu. There’s barely a streak on you. And what’s age got to do with it?
MIDGE: I’m tired Dennis.
DENNIS: All mental. If you believe you’ve been toiling then your body is bound to react to it. But toiling is nowhere near what you’ve been up to.
MIDGE: Fine. How would you describe my recent activities?
DENNIS: [Thinks] Pandering.
DENNIS: No…not pandering. What’s the word I’m after?
MIDGE: I’m sure I don’t know.
DENNIS: [Thinking] Pandering? It’s got a ring like that. Well, pandering will have to do. I don’t have the time to get hung up on this.
MIDGE: Thank Christ for that.
DENNIS: Don’t vain the Lord’s name Midge. Now I believe I was asking you where you had been.
MIDGE: No, you asked me what I had been doing. Can I put this cod away? [Indicates shopping] It’s beginning to spoil.
DENNIS: Not cod again Midge. What’s this fascination with cod? I’ll begin to resemble a cod at this rate.
MIDGE: There are those who would say that transformation has already begun.
DENNIS: Don’t attempt humour Midge. It doesn’t sit well with you.
MIDGE: Then let me get on.
DENNIS: Fine, then jam the kitchen door ajar so the flow of conversation can be kept constant.
DENNIS: [Shouting through door] Well, what or where are irrelevant. They are both contributing to my demise.
MIDGE: [Off stage] I thought they were irrelevant.
DENNIS: Don’t dangle the logic Midge.
MIDGE: [Off stage] Demise is a bit dramatic isn’t it Denis?
DENNIS: I’m wild with hunger. Can you deny me a bit of drama?
MIDGE: [Off stage] If you insist
DENNIS: Either way I have been sitting here alone. Starving. Waiting.
MIDGE: [Off stage] Why didn’t you get up?
DENNIS: With my leg? You know that can’t be achieved. It hurts just to look at it.
MIDGE: [Off stage] I’m not asking you to look at it.
DENNIS: Well someone needs to look at it. [Looks at leg, pulls at trousers] It’s blown up considerably. The pressure on these seams is unbelievable.
MIDGE: [Off screen] Why didn’t you put the television on?
DENNIS: How will that help my leg?
MIDGE: [Off stage] It would have been a bit of company for you.
DENNIS: I tried. Nothing on. Just extreme close-ups of penetrative sex set to a soft-rock soundtrack with the occasional saxophone solo.
MIDGE: [Off stage] Not one of your videos. Watch something else.
DENNIS: What do you expect me to watch? Television? A channel? Like the common herd? You know me better than that Midge.
MIDGE: [Off stage] There’s the news, you might have seen me on the news.
DENNIS: Don’t tell me your developing a notoriety for yourself Midge. That would be very dangerous, I don’t want you getting ahead of yourself.
MIDGE: [Off stage] I didn’t say I’d enjoy it or even consider it particularly. I’m merely suggesting it could act as a distraction for you.
DENNIS: Oh I’ve had plenty of distraction thank you very much. Sizing up what you’ve been up to while out on the streets.
MIDGE: [Offstage] What do you mean?
DENNIS: You’re head.
MIDGE: [Offstage] How about my head?
DENNIS: So easily turned.
MIDGE: Do you want me to try rubbing it again?
DENNIS: Rubbing what?
MIDGE: The leg.
DENNIS: No chance. You nearly dislocated it last time. Dug your claws right in.
MIDGE: It’s you. You keep twitching.
DENNIS: That would elicit sympathy in most wives. Not induce the urge to cripple your partner.
MIDGE: I don’t know my own strength. Here, I bought something for it.
She walks over to the table and rustles around in a bag.
DENNIS: What? What is it? Where did it come from? Is it from a reputable source?
MIDGE: I asked the lady in the chemist.
DENINS: Which lady? The short one or the one with the extra finger?
MIDGE: Extra finger.
DENNIS: And you’re asking her for advice? The woman has an extra finger. If she can’t deal with a blindingly obvious situation like that, how is she supposed to deal with a complicated case like mine?
MIDGE: Her extra finger isn’t medical. She was born with it.
DENNIS: Born or not you’d think she’d tackle it. Especially working with the needy as she does.
MIDGE: She said give this a go.
Midge hands Dennis a bottle.
DENNIS: [Reading] Polge-Tex? What’s this when it’s at home?
MIDGE: She said it would help with the swelling.
DENNIS: How will it help?
MIDGE: She wasn’t clear.
DENNIS: Side effects?
MIDGE: She didn’t mention any.
DENNIS: But you asked of course?
MIDGE: I thought if it was important she would have pointed it out.
DENNIS: No Midge, you have to ask. They can’t tell you things, otherwise they’re liable. You have to winkle out any salient information. Who knows what havoc this concoction could wreak on my leg. It might muddy the waters considerably.
MIDGE: Well it’s up to you. I thought it might help. You can sample it if you wish to.
DENNIS: If you pain becomes so severe that my treatment enters an experimental stage I might consider it.
Midge takes a seat at the table. There is a long pause.
DENNIS: How was the bombing?
MIDGE: Fair to middling.
MIDGE: Only bystanders.
DENNIS: Bystanders. Funny word that. Bystanders. I mean they’re just people who are standing by when something happens. Right? But I mean no one else gets that kind of attention. People standing far away aren’t called farstanders are they? Somebody staring from a passing bus aren’t bus-starers. If a soul is not involved in any way they are not dubbed involve-nons. Why do bystanders get the privilege?
MIDGE: I can’t tell you.
DENNIS: Don’t use contractions Midge. They’re vulgar and they can’t compete with the real thing.
MIDGE: You just used three in that sentence.
DENNIS: [A bit caught out] Erm…I’m a professional around language. I’m fully trained.
MIDGE: What danger can come of it? I’m just trying to save a little time.
DENNIS: If you’re unconcerned about your standing and how you’re considered by the wider world then please, contract away.
MIDGE: I’ve used them enough in the past amongst all sorts of people and it’s never been to my detriment.
DENNIS: What sorts of people?
MIDGE: Doctors, accountants. People who might pull me up on that sort of thing.
DENNIS: They’re not going to say it to your face woman. They’ve got their finances to think about. They can’t alienate every passing vessel that uses contractions. Wait a minute, what did you say?
MIDGE: I didn’t say anything.
DENNIS: A minute ago.
DENNIS: Detriment. You said the word detriment.
MIDGE: And what of it?
DENNIS: It’s not a word commonly in your cadence. And that blazer? Where did that blazer come from?
MIDGE: Where or why?
DENNIS: I’m not likely to say why did that blazer come from are I?
MIDGE: You’re liable to say anything when you’re in one of these moods.
DENNIS: You’re skirting Midge. There’s a story behind that blazer.
MIDGE: Don’t be silly.
DENNIS: I’m far from silly Midge, I’m considering that blazer.
MIDGE: [Angrily] It’s not a blazer. It’s a smart jacket.
DENNIS: Ah ha! So you reveal yourself.
MIDGE: What do you mean?
DENNIS: Smart. Smart jacket. And words like detriment. A pattern is beginning to decipher.
MIDGE: Oh Dennis. You’re seeing things that aren’t really there.
DENNIS: This is Dusty. This has the touch of Dusty all over it. Did Dusty give you the blazer?
MIDGE: Dusty? Are you serious?
DENNIS: Deadly Midge, deadly.
MIDGE: Where would Dusty get his hands on a blazer? He can barely stand upright.
DENNIS: So now it is a blazer? It’s magically transformed from a smart jacket?
MIDGE: I’m using your terms so this ridiculous conversation doesn’t become any more convoluted.
DENNIS: Convoluted. My, you’re like a walking dictionary today. All these roads lead to suspicion.
MIDGE: That’s not my intention.
DENNIS: But you saw him today didn’t you?
MIDGE: You know I did. He was my accomplice.
DENNIS: You needn’t say it with such affection.
MIDGE: I was applying my regular tone. I wasn’t aware of any particular emphasis.
DENNIS: Emphasis? Where did you pluck a word like that from? They’re Dusty words. Very Dusty words.
MIDGE: He was your choice of accomplice. I wanted Basil.
DENNIS: I bet you did Midge, but we broke up that little sorcery didn’t we? So now you’ve turned your talons on Dusty.
MIDGE: No ones turned anything on Dusty. If you feel so strongly about this let’s abandon the whole campaign. I’ll never see him again.
DENNIS: You know that’s impossible Midge. There’s no escaping the campaign. Even if it does force you into the arms of Dusty.
MIDGE: I’ve never been anywhere near Dusty’s arms. And I resent the suggestion.
DENNIS: That’s what I’d expect you to say if you were kicking up dust.
MIDGE: Kicking up dust?
DENNIS: Covering your tracks.
MIDGE: There’s no tracks to cover Dennis. It’s a ridiculous suggestion.
DENNIS: That’s another dust kicking expression.
MIDGE: There’s nothing for you to be suspicious of.
DENNIS: Yes, I fully expected you to say that also.
MIDGE: We are simply colleagues.
DENNIS: Yes, yes, all forming a pattern of what I completely expect you to say.
MIDGE: The Burmese may have a reputation for speed but their close work in crafts is precise and complementary.
DENNIS: [After a pause] All right, I wasn’t expecting you to say that.
MIDGE: I don’t know how you think I have the time and energy to engage in anything nefarious with Dusty when I’m so busy with the campaign.
DENNIS: Nefarious. Another Dusty word. You’re practically painting me a picture.
MIDGE: Have you actually met Dusty? He’s not known for his verbal fireworks Dennis. He tells the same story. Over and over. As you well know.
DENNIS: I have not spent as much quality time with the gentleman as you.
MIDGE: All you are doing is creating a poisonous atmosphere. You know he’ll be arriving any minute.
DENNIS: What? The scoundrel’s coming here?
MIDGE: Of course he is. He requires debriefing.
DENNIS: I’ll refrain from the obvious comment.
MIDGE: He requires debriefing as per your orders.
DENNIS: Your ability to wrangle this situation so I’m made out to be some kind of facilitator while you are an innocent party is quite remarkable Midge and I feel this also has the hand of Dusty in it.
MIDGE: You will accuse me of changing the subject if I brought up the cod at this point, so by acknowledging this I hope you realise that I am not attempting to change the subject, though it will be an added bonus, but rather I would like to get an answer about this cod.
DENNIS: I didn’t know cod was on the agenda.
MIDGE: Cod is firmly on the agenda.
DENNIS: You say this as if we were bantering merrily about cod since your arrival at the despised seven past the hour, when you have seized it out of thin air.
MIDGE: We were discussing the cod earlier.
DENNIS: Only in terms of it’s constant appearance in our dietary lives. There was nothing specific attached to it.
MIDGE: Well I’m attaching it know. The cod. What is it going to be?
DENNIS: It’s a bit late for philosophy Midge. I imagine it will always be a cod. Unless you have plans for it.
MIDGE: That’s what I’m try to ascertain…
DENNIS: Dusty word.
MIDGE: …what do you want to do about this cod? How do you want it prepared?
DENNIS: What are my choices?
MIDGE: Poached in a sauce with new potatoes or fried in batter.
DENNIS: With chips?
MIDGE: We’re not allowed chips. You said they were the prison bars of the establishment used to hold the proletariat in stasis.
DENNIS: Just checking.
MIDGE: Or it could be bread-crumbed I suppose.
DENNIS: What did we have yesterday?
MIDGE: Poached in sauce.
DENNIS: Best to avoid that then. Is there anything else? Other than cod?
MIDGE: You could have the new potatoes in sauce without the cod.
DENNIS: I fancy some chops.
MIDGE: We can’t stretch to chops. All the budget’s gone on the campaign.
DENNIS: Again, I’m swivelled into the villain position. Due to my beliefs we’re forced to live on cod. Old devil Dennis makes Midge the martyr eat cod at gunpoint. Is that what you want to hear?
MIDGE: Or there’s eggs.
DENNIS: Oh right, now you remember eggs. Once the damage is done. I’m out on a ledge here, and suddenly there’s eggs on the menu. Since when have we been an egg household?
MIDGE: I always have some eggs in. Just in case I need to do some baking. Or it’s Pancake Day.
DENNIS: Another holiday we don’t celebrate and so another needless expense. And so how I’m branded as Jack the Ripper over here. You’re splashing out on eggs and I’m the baddie for forcing cod.
MIDGE: I’m flustered when the campaign is underway. I’ve told you before, I don’t like to combine domestic tasks with the specifics of the campaign. But since your leg, I haven’t had any choice. I can’t really take shopping along to the atrocity and after the atrocity, my concentration has wandered to the point where I hone in on the familiar. So cod it is.
DENNIS: As Jesus said, thy complains too much, Midge. There’s still an element of dust kicking, I can taste it. Most functioning adults could perform a simple bombing and then visit a grocer’s and not necessarily fall back on the staples.
MIDGE: Well perhaps I’m not cut out for it. Perhaps we should suspend things until your leg is cured and then you can act how you wish.
DENNIS: Sometimes I think your commitment must come under scrutiny. You seem all too willing to throw the hat of shirk into the ring.
MIDGE: I’m sorry?
DENNIS: The hat if shirk. You’re always throwing it into the ring.
MIDGE: What ring?
DENNIS: The ring of…you know what ring I mean. The metaphorical ring that’s always connected to hats. The ring that hats are thrown into when hats are thrown as a symbol of…you know…appeasement.
MIDGE: You’ve lost me Dennis.
DENNIS: It’s your mind tricks. They’re all pervading.
MIDGE: A bit of cod might set your thinking straight. I just need direction on its preparation.
DENNIS: That’s another hat you insist on throwing…
Off stage we hear a door opening and closing sharply and heavy footsteps.
DENNIS: Oh, here we go…
Both characters follow the sound of the footsteps as they walk across the floor, then climb some stairs.
DENNIS: Another punctual article…
The footsteps stop, a door opens and then closes with a slam. Midge and Dennis look at each other then back at the ceiling. The sounds of sexual congress begin: the squeaking of a bed, a headboard hitting a wall and the rhythmic grunts of a man. These sounds continue throughout the next passage of dialogue.
DENNIS: It’s the inevitability that I find so depressing. Every evening the same functions in the same order.
MIDGE: He certainly seems to have a lot of stamina.
DENNIS: Please try and keep it on a suitable level Midge. I don’t think I want you delving into his stamina levels. He’s a beast.
MIDGE: Be charitable Dennis. He lost his job.
DENNIS: He didn’t lose his job, he just stopped going. And we know what he’s doing instead. [Nods towards the ceiling]
MIDGE: You don’t know the full circumstances. You’ve never even seen him. I often cross him on the stair.
DENNIS: Oh, another convert to your harem. It’s all coming out tonight. First you had Dusty, then the man upstairs and…wait…wasn’t there another one?
DENNIS: Thank you, Basil. It must be an animal instinct. When the alpha male is injured and encumbered, his mate slopes off to liaise with the Basil’s of this world. I don’t blame you Midge, you might not even know your doing it. It’s your instincts in overdrive.
MIDGE: Alpha male?
DENNIS: Why the mocking tone?
MIDGE: No, nothing. I’d never heard you referred to in those terms, that’s all.
DENNIS: Not everyone has such a abstract opinion of me. You once held me in high esteem. Don’t you recall your vows?
DENNIS: What other vows have you taken with me? Unless you’ve uttered a few while I slept.
MIDGE: I think it might do you good to get out and about. Why don’t you go and visit your mother?
DENNIS: How can you possibly mention my mother in the same environment as that?
He points towards the ceiling.
MIDGE: Should I wait until he’s finished and then bring your mother up?
DENNIS: If a suitable distance has elapsed. However, I can’t visit my mother while the campaign is in full flow.
DENNIS: Why? She might be implicated.
MIDGE: What about me? You don’t mind implicating me.
DENNIS: Blood is thicker than water Midge.
MIDGE: But you hate your mother.
DENNIS: Like I say, I don’t think a discussion of her is appropriate at this time.
MIDGE: You’re the one talking about her.
DENNIS: Well, obviously I can talk about her. My close relationship with her supersedes the filthy goings-on above. It is my mother after all.
MIDGE: So I’m to be mute?
DENNIS: When it concerns my mother during the sexual congress of the man upstairs and just before the congress begins and for a decent period after he’s finished, then yes.
MIDGE: How will I know it’s before he begins?
DENNIS: Because he’s always at it. If there’s a lull up there you know he’s just finished or about to start. If he’s at it at all. I’m wondering if he’s at it at all.
MIDGE: Isn’t it obvious?
DENNIS: We live in compounded times. It could be a ruse?
MIDGE: A ruse?
DENNIS: Considering our current activities. The love-making could be a cover. A mask of sound to cover their surveillance.
MIDGE: Who is their?
DENNIS: Ugh, what an ugly sentence . Couldn’t you couch it in more attractive terms?
MIDGE: [Thinking] When you say their surveillance, the people conducting the surveillance could be considered as what?
DENNIS: Marginally better Midge, but still fairly painful. The there is the authorities. They could be on to you.
MIDGE: [Alarmed] To me?
DENNIS: Well you are the one conducting the atrocities.
MIDGE: But you’re the one behind the whole thing.
DENNIS: They can hardly perform surveillance on that can they? Don’t be so far-fetched. Unless the dark agencies can suddenly hear my thoughts and make a recording.
MIDGE: I hope you’ll stand up and be implicated if that’s the case.
DENNIS: We will assess situations as they arise. His humping could be an innocent activity. Truth is stranger than fiction. But in my position I have to consider all possibilities.
MIDGE: Do you have a contingency? If these situations do arise.
DENNIS: Contingency? We’re back to Dusty are we? Can’t keep him away from your thoughts for any length of time can you? Perhaps it’s this aural stimulation that brings him to mind.
MIDGE: Don’t be dirty Dennis.
DENNIS: You’re the man consistently dragging your paramours before my poor, disabled eyes.
MIDGE: I’m not doing that at all. Now what about this cod?
DENNIS: Every time your obvious dalliances are brought out into the open, your cod fascination lurks from the shadows. A psychiatrist could base a whole conference around you.
MIDGE: That’s not a very nice thing to say.
DENNIS: The truth is a painful mistress.
MIDGE: You’re cooped up Dennis. You need to get some fresh air. Perhaps I could look into getting a wheelchair.
DENNIS: I don’t think it’s necessary to bring attention to myself in such away. Why don’t I limp out into the street bearing a loud hailer and announcing ‘I am conducting a campaign’ up and down the Close?
MIDGE: It’s not a Close.
MIDGE: It isn’t a Close. Not any more.
DENNIS: I should know what variety of street I live upon. Chillingford Close. Would you like to see the mortgage agreement?
MIDGE: They’ve opened it out at one end.
DENNIS: Who has?
MIDGE: Whoever’s responsible for that sort of thing. The council I suppose.
DENNIS: They don’t have the authority. Surely I have some say if my street is being altered. Particularly from a Close to a common road or thoroughfare.
MIDGE: Something to do with the drains. There was a sign attached to a lamp-post.
DENNIS: You decide to bring this to my attention now?
MIDGE: Well it doesn’t really affect you. Being stuck in that chair.
DENNIS: You can be a cruel woman sometimes. As if the indecencies of being in my current climate isn’t intolerable enough. I have to be chafed further by having seismic alterations in my environment kept from me, as if I’m a pot-plant.
MIDGE: That wasn’t my intention. I thought you would have heard the work.
DENNIS: I could certainly make out certain sounds of industry in-between his efforts [Points to ceiling] and any other distractions I can provide, but I never dreamed it was my whole world crashing earthwards.
MIDGE: I didn’t think you felt so strongly.
DENNIS: I opted for a Close, rather than an avenue, a Cul-De-Sac, which I’ve never trusted, a crescent, a terrace or a lane. There’s a certain distinction to a Close. Plus, in times of revolution, there’s only one entrance. Makes defensive measures far more palatable.
MIDGE: We’re still a Close.
DENNIS: You said they’d opened up one end.
MIDGE: They have. They put through that section of hedge near to the sub-station and linked us to Pansard Street.
DENNIS: That’s hardly a Close then.
MIDGE: But we’re still called Chillingham Close. They didn’t change the name.
DENNIS: Why ever not?
MIDGE: It would have confused the postal workers. It’s quite a complicated process to change the name. All sorts of departments have to get involved.
DENNIS: How are you so knowledgeable about the process?
MIDGE: I talked to the lead man. When the work began.
DENNIS: My God Midge. Now there’s another one? Have you been taking lessons from our friend upstairs?
MIDGE: It was a passing conversation in the street. I saw a digger and grew curious. I think I’m obliged if such a thing is happening on my road.
DENNIS: Then why keep it from me? Why make a secret of it? If it existed in all innocence?
MIDGE: Nothings being kept. It’s the complications of the campaign. Juggling the bombings and the shopping and trying to maintain my disguise, it slipped my mind.
DENNIS: That’s one explanation. One of many possibles.
MIDGE: That’s my stomach growling. I’ll need to eat something soon.
DENNIS: There you have it again. Your peccadillo with the councilman is over-turned and suddenly you’re back onto the cod again. Do these men pay you in cod? Is that why you constantly make the connection?
MIDGE: Don’t be foul. I’m prepared to allow you certain realms of fantasy but I refuse to be labelled a cod whore.
DENNIS: Don’t be excitable Midge. I’m merely trying to establish certain facts. If you crumble this easily under my pressure, how will you cope with a thorough police interrogation?
MIDGE: I have no intention of allowing myself to be in that position.
DENNIS: All possibilities have to be considered. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? More cod obviously, but beyond that.
MIDGE: I’m happy to forego cod tomorrow if we can decide what form today’s cod will hold.
DENNIS: Can it be baked?
MIDGE: Baked cod? I’m sure it’s not impossible, but I can’t confirm its quality.
DENNIS: I’m just trying to think laterally Midge. I’m reading a book on that very matter. Adapting situations and taking a more considered approach. It appears this cod is the perfect subject to attempt this new technique. We may be used to taking cod in certain forms but sometimes it is valuable to go against the grain. So, I say, why not a baked cod?
MIDGE: Fine, one baked cod coming up.
Midge exits. The sexual grunts from upstairs continue, accompanied by the clanging of pots and pans as the meal is prepared.
DENNIS: [Looking skyward] I was a young man once. Even so, I was able to control my urges. My spread my seed certainly, occasionally on barren ground. I was even known to onanise. That’s how it all began. All those lonely summers in the cabin. That’s all I had for entertainment. That and a tennis ball. Not even a deck of cards. That’s a point, I’ve never seen a trace of a woman. Maybe he’s on his own up there. [Shouting off-stage to Midge] Does he even have a woman up there?
MIDGE: [Off stage] What?
DENNIS: Him upstairs. Have you ever witnessed a woman on her way up there? Perhaps he’s on his own?
MIDGE: [Off stage] Don’t shout he’ll hear you.
DENNIS: He’s too involved with his own actions. I could start playing the French Horn and I doubt his stroke would alter.
MIDGE: Cod’s in.
His grunts suddenly cease.
DENNIS: Thank goodness for that.
Almost immediately there’s a knock on the door.
DENNIS: If it’s him from upstairs wanting my stepladder again, do not give him access under any circumstances. He gave them back all bent last time. God knows what use he’s putting them too.
MIDGE: [Getting up] He’s never done anything against you Dennis. He just enjoys himself, that’s way your offended.
DENNIS: [Shouting as she exits] Enjoying yourself is not reason enough to act in a disgraceful manner. That excuse is levelled at any degenerate behaviour these days. As if enjoyment is a fundamental right, rather then a privilege reserved for those of us who have some grasp on propriety.
DUSTY enters. He is every inch the old-fashioned washed-out hippy. He wears blue denim from head to toe, a scruffy beard and large frizzy hair. He moves in a jerky uncoordinated manner and talks in a gibbering, uncontrolled way. Midge walks in behind him, looking a bit sheepish.
MIDGE: It’s Dusty.
DENNIS: So I see.
DUSTY: Your shouting there I hear. Having a good old shout. Reminds me of my shouting days. Always one for a good shout I was. Particularly at policemen. See a copper, always had a good shout at them. About their obvious defects. Or postmen. Anything in a uniform.
DENNIS: I was not shouting. Not in the provincial, uncontrolled manner which you just alluded to. I was merely completing a conversation with my wife and raising my level so she could hear while leaving the room.
DUSTY: Oh right. I had a wife once. In Jersey. Or Guernsey. She was a blond. Or a red head. She never really had much hair, as I remember. Kept it cropped close to the skull as a symbol of sympathy. I think it had something to do with French lorry drivers. Being in the Channel Islands changes the strength of sympathy with our French cousins.
DENNIS: I think the subject of wives, close cropped or not, is a sensitive one we probably shouldn’t dabble into at this time. Not if we want to keep blood of the walls.
MIDGE: [Trying to defuse] I’m just baking some cod Dusty. Would you care for a portion?
DUSTY: No thank you. That sounds disgusting.
DENNIS: I think that was unnecessary Dusty.
DUSTY: You can’t bake a cod. I see as I find.
MIDGE: I’ll just see how it’s doing.
DENNIS: Now we are men alone Dusty, I think we may have to have a chat.
DUSTY: Used to know a man down Bury way. Loved to chat. I think they called him chatty. Not his birth name obviously. As a moniker, you know. Chatty. Could hold sway on any number of topics and age wasn’t a restriction. Nor race. He’d chat away to all and sundry. He wasn’t married, but had any number of admirers. He was useful in social situations, like the start of a party where disparate groups were in attendance. Old Chatty could build bridges like that.
DENNIS: I’m not sure this is the sort of chat your pal Chatty would excel at. I said chat to keep you at ease and not sully the atmosphere. But really chat is hardly the term. What I really wish to have with you is quite a serious talk, perhaps leading into an argument.
DUSTY: [Chuckling] Oh no sir. Couldn’t argue. Not me and you. Never could argue. Shouting, I used to be a bit of a shouter. Uniformed types mainly, happy to shout away at them. But it never escalated into an argument. I remember coming close to an argument once. I used to be married to this woman. It was on one of the Channel Islands. She’d decided to chop off her hair in solidarity with the Irish Nationalists. Wasn’t happy about that, and we had crossed words…
DENNIS: Dusty please. This doesn’t concern your bald wife, your shouting or your friend Chatty…
DUSTY: [With joy] Old Chatty? Did you know him? From Bury way? Lovely chap old Chatty. Never a dull word from him. He could hold firth like nobody’s business…
DENNIS: Please attempt to concentrate Dusty. I need to address you on a serious issue.
DUSTY: Oh right, yes. Ok, yes, alright. Got me now sir, I’m very much listening.
DENNIS: Good because I have concerns that your loyalties within the mission are beginning to alter…
Dusty is staring at the corner of the room in a distracted way and not paying attention at all.
DENNIS: Dusty? Dusty?
DUSTY: Now. Is that coving?
DUSTY: Coving. That up there. Is that coving?
DENNIS: I don’t think I follow.
DUSTY: Because I know there’s coving and there’s some other stuff, it’s a bit like coving but it goes by another name and often someone who is not in the know can make themselves appear quite uncultured by their mention of coving when in fact what they are looking at is the other thing. Only I can’t quite remember what that other thing is. Does it come to you Dennis?
DENNIS: I don’t think it does. I’d say that was coving.
DUSTY: But are you aware of the other term? If you’re not then your hardy qualified to identify it are you.
DENNIS: [Confused, flustered] What? Dusty, you keep throwing me off course. I anted t have a serious talk to you. Then you start on coving.
Midge returns. Dusty returns to staring at the ceiling.
MIDGE: [Under breath to Dennis] You see? You think I’m picking up syntax and possibly much more from this?
DENNIS: It could be a cover. He might be playing the giddy goat to throw me off the scent.
MIDGE: No Dennis. This the crux of your campaign. This is what I have to put up with on a day-to-day basis. Which is why questions about my fidelity, especially connected to him, is all the more galling.
DENNIS: No, no. He’s a sly one. I’ve come across his types before. He hides his bushel under a veil of befuddlement. Then he fiddles while all our backs are turned.
DUSTY: [Suddenly, with animation] No it is coving. That’s it. Coving. Don’t know what I was thinking of. What was I thinking of? Coving. Is it coving? Now, there’s another word for it isn’t it. Ballistrade. A word like that. Something that looks decorative and also sounds decorative. Because coving doesn’t sound decorative does it? Not a pleasing sound at all. You see, I think the sort of people who deal with coving on a professional level wouldn’t be happy with the word coving and would rather have a far more fanciful name for it. Something like ballistrade, or braiding or something akin to that. Do you know what I mean? That sort of people?
DENNIS: What the hell is he talking about?
MIDGE: That is the phrase that I find myself coming back to continually in my interactions with him.
DUSTY: How’s that cod coming along?
MIDGE: I didn’t think you were interested?
DUSTY: I’m not planning on eating it, but I’m curious about its condition.
MIDGE: It’s gone a bit hard.
DENNIS: That doesn’t sound appetising.
MIDGE: You should see it.
DENNIS: Is it salvageable?
MIDGE: Don’t say salvage.
DENNIS: Why ever not?
DUSTY: I had a friend in salvage.
MIDGE: Because you learn in your dealings with Dusty.
DUSTY: Had himself a midget submarine.
MIDGE: There’s certain words its best to avoid.
DUSTY: Moored that’s what he called it.
MIDGE: Because certain words have a tendency to provoke.
DUSTY: Had it in a bay.
MIDGE: These particular stories.
DUSTY: Used to go scouring the ocean bed when the weather was clement.
MIDGE: That go on and on.
DUSTY: Had this mobile, mechanical crane or arm.
MIDGE: And on and on.
DUSTY: Used to gather items of scrap metal or booty.
MIDGE: And on and on.
DUSTY: Then he used the submarine as his abode.
MIDGE: And on and on.
DUSTY: A houseboat sort of a set up.
MIDGE: And on and on.
DUSTY: There was some seepage in the autumn and winter.
MIDGE: And on and on.
DUSTY: And during high tides.
MIDGE: And on and on.
DENNIS: [Shouting] Perhaps a small sherry is in order.
There is a moment of stunned silence.
DUSTY: Having a bit of a shout are you? I used to be quite the shouter. Often found myself shouting at those bearing a uniform for some reason.
MIDGE: You see?
DENNIS: He’s a genius or a simpleton. The two are often confused when dealing with visionaries.
DUSTY: There was a St. John’s Ambulance man once. He got a hell of a bawling off me. It was the hats or the collars. Something set me off.
DENNIS: Is there any way to stop it?
MIDGE: None that I’ve learned.
DUSTY: Landed me in quite a few scrapes.
DENNIS: [Sternly] Dusty, we must speak of today’s actions. How was the mission?
Dusty’s eyes begin to widen as he looks on at Dennis with open-mouthed disbelief. He slowly begins to snigger, which then develops into full scale hysterical laughter, he starts to scream with laughter, and roll around on the floor in unstoppable hilarity. He continues to laugh throughout the following conversation.
DENNIS: [Alarmed] Have you witnessed this behaviour before?
MIDGE: Only once. It was outside a shoe shop.
DENNIS: What triggered it on that occasion?
MIDGE: I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s important.
DENNIS: Not important? How can you say that?
MIDGE: It’s not important to know what causes this behaviour. The important part is knowing this behaviour exists and so to avoid it as much as possible.
DENNIS: That’s quite profound Midge.
MIDGE: He brings that out in me.
There’s a banging from the ceiling as the man upstairs begins to thump the floor violently and shout incoherently. Dusty continues to laugh.
DENNIS: What’s that now?
MIDGE: The man upstairs. I presume he’s upset about the noise.
DENNIS: How can he be? Isn’t he aware of his own noise?
MIDGE: It’s a different noise. Certain sounds cut through people.
He bangs the floor again and shouts more angrily. Dusty continues.
DENNIS: This evening is descending into chaos. How did this happen?
MIDGE: It’s an unfortunate side-effect of life with Dusty.
DENNIS: I’m going to try something.
MIDGE: Be my guest.
DENNIS: Here we go.
MIDGE: Go on then.
DENNIS: [Shouts] Coving!
Dusty stops immediately into a stunned stupor and stares up at the ceiling. The man upstairs offers one final burst of abuse then falls silent. Dusty struggles to his feet and seems to be dealing with something incredible that’s troubling him.
DENNIS: Are you alright?
DUSTY: The coving?
DUSTY: Was the coving…shouting?
DUSTY: The coving? It was shouting?
DENNIS: Take a seat Dusty. You’ve had a busy day. Midge, do we have any brandy?
MIDGE: There think there’s some stout.
DENNIS: That’s hardly a suitable replacement.
She goes over to a sideboard and begins to root through it. Dusty wearily takes a seat.
DUSTY: The coving was shouting.
DENNIS: No, it was the man upstairs. He’s a hypocrite.
MIDGE: Here’s something.
Midge pulls out a bottle from the sideboard.
MIDGE: [Reading] Greetings from Hartlepool. That doesn’t tell me anything.
DENNIS: Give him a bolt of it anyway. It can’t make him any worse.
DUSTY: It was wasn’t it? It was shouting at me.
Midge takes a glass and pours some contents of the bottle into it.
MIDGE: Here you are. Try this Dusty.
Confused, Dusty takes the glass and has a sip. His face contorts into an expression of surprise and disgust.
DENNIS: That should have an effect.
MIDGE: I’ll see how dinner is coming along.
Midge exits. Dusty falls silent.
DENNIS: How is it old man?
DUSTY: [Distracted] Sorry?
DENNIS: The drink. How is it?
Dusty looks dumbly at his glass.
DENNIS: Can you identify the taste? We’re at a bit of a loss.
DUSTY: Tastes like…road.
DUSTY: The marks on road.
DUSTY: Where the tyres have been.
DENNIS: Oh. Sort of a rubbery thing.
DUSTY: Precisely. I feel quite worn out.
DENNIS: Yes, you’ve been through quite a lot.
DUSTY: My heart’s beating ten to a penny.
DENNIS: Just have a little rest.
DUSTY: I need to tell you about the mission.
DENNIS: Plenty of time for all that. You just calm yourself.
DUSTY: No, I had something important to report.
DENNIS: Well, if you think you’re ready fire away.
DUSTY: The coving…
DENNIS: No, no, no. Put that from your mind for now. You were about to tell me about the mission. What did you have to report?
MIDGE: Right. It’s inedible. You need to make a decision Dennis.
DENNIS: Not now Midge. He’s about to tell us something.
MIDGE: What? Him?
DENNIS: He says he’s got something important to report.
MIDGE: I doubt it. I’m going to the chip shop.
DENNIS: [Outraged] The chip shop?
MIDGE: Well you’re incapable of making a decision and I’m growing faint.
DENNIS: I made a decision about the cod.
MIDGE: And now it’s inedible. So we’re back on the starting blocks. Last time it took you an age to decide to bake the cod. I’m not prepared to go through that again. I’m going to the chip shop.
DENNIS: I didn’t know there was a chip shop.
MIDGE: It’s far closer since they opened up the Close.
DENNIS: My world is crumbling around me.
MIDGE: Possibly. What do you want to order.
DENNIS: From a chip shop? I wouldn’t know where to start.
MIDGE: It’s a fairly limited menu. There’s a selection of battered fish, or pies and there’s chips of course.
DENNIS: It all sounds foul.
MIDGE: I’m having haddock. Would you also like haddock.
DENNIS: Will it be wrapped in paper? Like in the films?
MIDGE: I expect so.
DENNIS: I can’t rightly fathom it.
MIDGE: I’ll take that as a yes. Dusty?
MIDGE: Do you want anything from the chip shop?
DUSTY: Battered sausage.
MIDGE: Very well. I won’t be long.
Midge exits. Dennis looks stunned. Dusty still seems rather distracted.
DENNIS: I never would have expected, when I rose this morning, that the day would grow so complicated. Eating out of paper. My father would have beaten me for such an action.
DUSTY: I had a father once…
DENNIS: [Interrupting] No, no, no. We’re not taking that route again. Now, Dusty, no more nonsense. You had something to tell me.
DUSTY: About the running?
DUSTY: When I was running?
DENNIS: When were you running?
DUSTY: Isn’t that what I said?
DENNIS: [Frustrated] No, you were going to tell me something about running.
DUSTY: When I was running?
DENNIS: [Angry] I don’t know. You haven’t told me. Were you running?
DENNIS: Yes. Ok. Today. Were you running today?
DUSTY: I had to run.
DENNIS: Why did you have to run?
DUSTY: They were running too.
DENNIS: Who was running?
DUSTY: The ones I used to shout at.
DENNIS: [Exasperated] Good God, Right. So. You were running. From the ones you used to shout at. Now, you told me, frequently during the length of out brief relationship that you used to shout at people in uniforms. [Scared, realising] Wait. Uniforms? You were running from people in uniforms?
DUSTY: So was I.
DUSTY: That was me. A minute ago. Running away from the uniforms.
DENNIS: [Panicking] Before you came here? They were chasing you?
DUSTY: I should coco.
DENNIS: Did they follow you?
DUSTY: I don’t know. I’m indoors.
DENNIS: [Panicked] Midge! Midge! Oh no, she’s gone to the chip shop. I knew no good would come of that.
DUSTY: Having a shout are we. I used to dabble in that myself…
There’s a sudden violent banging on the door.
DENNIS: Christ Dusty. What have you done?
They bang on the door again.
DUSTY: Once at a Park Keeper. He wasn’t happy.
DENNIS: No, no, no.
We hear the sound of wood splintering as a door is demolished.
DENNIS: What will become of me?
END OF ACT ONE