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Double Naught

a play in one act

by

S. A. Scoggin

S. A. Scoggin
sascoggin@gmail.com

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CHARACTERS

MR. SMITH, SENIOR is a prosperous businessman in his mid-
sixties.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR, his son, is in his early thirties.

MRS. SMITH is in her mid-twenties. She is hugely pregnant.

MR. and MRS. LARGENT are introduced later.

2
SETTING

A well-appointed parlor at about 11:30 PM on December
31, 1899.
Upstage, a flight of stairs rise out of sight.
Downstage right, a partial wall contains a window which
looks outside. Stage right is the door to the outer porch.
Stage left is dominated by a huge ornate upright
grandfather clock which does not tell the time. That task
is left to a rather plain round timepiece on the mantle
which keeps us aware of the approach to midnight. Stage
left is also an interior door, to the pantry or kitchen.
In the middle are an overstuffed couch and two
armchairs open to the small fireplace. The walls are
papered beautifully but are otherwise bare. Everything
seems new, as if the owners have just moved in.

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(MR. SMITH, JUNIOR is
studying the enormous clock.
He is poking into it innards
through a door opened in its
side. At his feet is a
toolbox. He looks down
thoughtfully, picks up a
screwdriver, and turns
something inside the clock.
He withdraws the screwdriver,
thinks for a minute, then
trades it for a pair of
pliers which he uses to pull
gently on something deep in
the case.

In the distance a brass band
is playing a Sousa march over
faint crowd noises: happy
cries, shouts, roaring
laughs.

MRS. SMITH, in robe and
slippers, waddles quietly
down the stairs without her
husband noticing. She flops
onto the sofa, making the
springs shriek. MR. SMITH,
JUNIOR spins around and the
pliers fly out of his hand.)

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Good God, woman! Are you - are you not well?

(He rushes to her and kneels,
taking her hand.)

Have I woken you? Or is it -

MRS. SMITH
My time? No, not yet. Soon enough, my love. What are you
doing?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
(Quickly taking his hands
away.)
Nothing.

MRS. SMITH
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You were taking my pulse! you wicked old thing! you never
showed concern for my pulse when you wooed me. Neither when
you married me. Yet since I became with child, you are like
some over worried trainer forever by the side of a prize
filly.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
And such a filly.

MRS. SMITH
Yes, I have the girth to fit any saddle. And I feed by the
bale. Yet though I feel like I have galloped ten furlongs,
I cannot sleep like a thoroughbred.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
You realize that there are men - I could name you a dozen
who work in our factory - who make no noise in their
parlors in the evenings but drink their supper at the
tavern and only crawl home in time to sleep.

MRS. SMITH
The racket does not disturb me. Your son - or daughter - is
tumbling about like a Chinese acrobat.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
I am truly sorry.

MRS. SMITH
It is not your fault. No, I am corrected. It is your fault.
What are you doing with the old man there?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Having a look at his bowels.

MRS. SMITH
If you cannot sleep, perhaps you should....
(She motions to the window.)

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
(Suddenly stern.)
You have heard me enough about that lot.

MRS. SMITH
You need not lecture me, Professor. I withdraw the thought
and beg your forgiveness.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Granted.

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MRS. SMITH
Who would have dreamed that your many talents included
clocksmithing.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Eleven months and you know all of me? I think not.

MRS. SMITH
I cannot fathom that on this same New Year’s Eve but one I
was not aware that the world held you. And now we have
created a new life. I am sure we have been married for one
hundred years.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Ninety-nine years.

MRS. SMITH
Ah! You have soiled my tenderness with your spite. Now you
must kiss me.

(He embraces her. They kiss
for a long moment.)

MRS. SMITH
Oh! Take my pulse now!

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
(Returning to the clock, he
picks up a spanner.)
Off to bed with you and your enormous burden.

MRS. SMITH
Let me sit here for a while first and watch you resurrect
the dead. Is there hope?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Were I a smith, of clocks, perhaps. I am only a rank
amateur, a dilantante, tapping the springs.

MRS. SMITH
Shall you send it away to be restored?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
If Father’s story is to be believed, this patient has been
waiting for his surgeon for thirty years or more. The inner
workings must be corrupt by now.

MRS. SMITH
My last wish is to seem ungrateful. It is a wonder to look
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upon, bell or no bell. And though it shows eight forty-
seven perpetually, so it represents the truth twice a day,
morning and night. A lesser timepiece might tick but be
always dropping behind the world second by second or racing
ahead of us into the next minute, and thus be never
accurate-

(The crowd noise rises
briefly and falls back to its
previous level.)

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Mrs. Smith, your idle talk is wiser than the combined
cackle of a score of our alleged wise men.

MRS. SMITH
Thank you, Mr. Smith. As I was saying, when your dear
father presented his silent gift, I was too new to be bold.
Then I was too busy moving our household here to be bold.
And now, if I may be so bold: Why are we possessed of a
clock which does not even attempt to keep up a pretense at
timekeeping?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
(He drops his tool into the
box and looks up at the face
of the clock.)
Well, this is the Tale of the Clock. As told by Mr. Smith
the Elder to his gullible son: Before his elevation to the
primacy of his country, even before his acceptance of
command of her feeble army, George Washington, plantation
man, builds his slaves their own chapel so that they might
better throw off the theoretical shackles of their heathen
superstitions and be cleansed by the light of the true
Lord, that is, the Lord of the white man. Onto this chapel
he raises a modest belfry, and into this belfry he hangs a
bell cast from the molten remains of shackles of a very
real sort salvaged from a slave ship which had foundered
off the Virginia coast. It is said that the peal of this
bell was so haunting in its timbre, so much like a thousand
voices crying as one unto Heaven, that its tolling could
enchant any who were within its ring, and the people
journeyed from several states just to hear it once and then
turn home.

But the day Washington died, his loving human chattel rang
the bell so long and so hard, enraged by grief, that it
shattered with the scream of a dying angel. The bell then
disappears from recorded history.
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MRS. SMITH
I am all a shiver. Are there ghosts later?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Patience. I said recorded history, did I not? The bell
reappears transformed, bought up as scrap by a merchant who
recognizes its historical value, and remade into
collectibles large and small: snuff boxes, ink pots, and
the like. And most of the inner works of a very fine
timepiece.

MRS. SMITH
Our old man himself?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
The same, by this tale. Crafted in Chelsea, Massachusetts
and sold to a Mr. Seward, father to the Seward of fame and
passed onto him in his inheritance. Seward carried the
clock, then very much a functioning measurer of the hours,
minutes, and seconds, to Washington the city when he
becomes one of the Cabinet under the ancient one. It was
there in his library that fateful April morning that Seward
entered, laden with an unbearable sadness, for he had just
returned from a bedside vigil over his President, who had
lain all night in a bed too small for his long old bones in
a boardinghouse hard by Ford's while Booth’s bullet worked
its slow terror in that mighty brain. Seward looked up to
check the time. He found that the hands, constant for these
several decades, had stopped, and had stopped forever, at
7:22 - the minute that Abraham Lincoln drew his last
earthly breath.

MRS. SMITH
Oh! How enchantingly eerie!

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
But a total fabrication. I will find within here a plate
affixed by the real manufacturer somewhere about 1890, I
would think.

MRS. SMITH
Then why search? Shut it back as it was before, and we may
regale our guests and our grandchildren with that tale. I
will darken the room and light candles all around.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Shall I serve lies and call it hospitality?

8
(A loud knock at the door.
Without a word of permission
or welcome, MR. SMITH, SENIOR
flings open the front door
and enters, carrying two fist
fulls of mugs.)

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Well, well! No one asleep?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
No, Father. Not even the muffling of the womb is enough to
drown out your infernal brass band.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
My dear - is it true? - I will go at once and mute them
all.

MRS. SMITH
Please do not. The music is lovely. I could drift away
quite easily to it, but sleep these days is only at baby’s
convenience. Come and give us a kiss.

(MR. SMITH, SENIOR goes and
gives her a peck on the
cheek, then hands her a mug.)

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Freshly-brewed birch beer. Good for foaling mares.

MRS. SMITH
Why must I be a horse always? I want to be a cat. They can
nap any old time.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
And for the stallion?

(MR. SMITH, SENIOR brings him
a mug.)

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Rum punch to toast the New Year.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
(Raising his drink.)
To you. But not to any year.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Thank you.
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(He walks over to the clock.)
Extracting satisfaction from the clock, are you?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
I cannot possibly go to bed with your mob of fools over
there laughing and shouting. I thought I might do something
productive.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
There is still time to join us. Just for a moment. The men
have all been asking after you. The wives gather around me,
the children tug on my coat. Where is he, where is he? they
cry. What do you say to a toast, three huzzays, and then
back home quick as a wink?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
I say they should wake from their dream and let us sleep.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Very well. Your objection is again noted.

MRS. SMITH
(Rising ponderously.)
Gentlemen, I will take my leave now.

(MR. SMITH, JUNIOR rushes to
her side and tries to support
her.)

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
She flees from the promise of another lecture.

MRS. SMITH
Oh, posh!

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
We will not quarrel tonight, dear. Peace on Earth and all
those blessed tidings, you know.

MRS. SMITH
You are a week late. Strange for one otherwise strictly by
the calendar.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Besides, there are no grounds to quarrel. I agree with you
in all respects. Your position is irrefutable.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Yet you pay the piper to play that tune, knowing it to be
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false.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
We often party for no reason at all. Is this not some
manner of reason enough?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
No, no, no! Rational men should shun parties on this eve.
Snuff their lamps and go creeping about on stocking feet
with wax balls stuffed into their ears to absorb the
illogical tintinnabulations about in the land-

(Party sounds rise and fall.)

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
May we only celebrate with the leave of science and reason?
Strike out Halloween then. And Easter. Christmas itself
must fall on examination of available facts. Happy equinox
to all!

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Harmless superstition is quite apart from this travesty,
this celebration of a false beginning to a new century.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Many disagree with you.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
There can be no disagreement with fact. Even if we allow
Pope Gregory’s manipulation, the plain and truth is that
Christ’s birth began the year one, and the year one hundred
was the one hundredth year - the end year of the first
century. Not the first year of the second. And so until the
year one thousand nine hundred, which is the last year of
the nineteenth century, not the first year of the
twentieth. And for all that unchallengable accounting of
time, I care not so much for the veracity of my calendar as
I do for what ensues if we choose to ignore it. That some
of us - hear them out there! - will lie to ourselves, lie
to our fellows, hear the testimony and not take it just so
we will not suffer the wait of a year to celebrate? It is a
malignant omen on which to open a new century, setting
aside rational thought for the immediate pleasure of a
revel.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
So my little party has ruined your whole century, has it?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
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You jest, sir, but I am dead straight upon this. In some
minutes, the bells will toll, our rockets will be lit, and
all throats will be raw from shouting - for what? Scream
for double naught. Voices hoarse, demanding amusement, damn
the facts, entertain us, appease us, only do not reason
with us. We want, we want, we want, and what the mob must
have it must have now and not in one year.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Ha! Those are not demands you hear but prayers. Those you
condemn for rushing toward a new century may be only
desperate to escape this one.

MRS. SMITH
Flee our beloved century? Why, that would be like leaving
one’s home of a hundred years. And shall we all not arrive
in the next one at the same time no matter how much or how
little we burn to go ahead?

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Perhaps not everyone has such a contented home that they
would stay as long as they might.

MRS. SMITH
It will be like a gold rush? A few men from every town,
those who are wanderers anyway or who have no family and no
prospects, will go off at first. Soon, word will come back
from the departed that the creekbeds in the twentieth
century are choked with nuggets. Then follow the men with
their families and all possessions in wagons. Except we did
not all go West, but we will all be heaved into the next
century, wagon or no.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
That...is just as it was.

MRS. SMITH
Father Smith. You were a forty-niner?

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
No, dear, I never had that kind of wanderlust.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Father means the great conflict. The war for the Union. Is
that not right, sir?

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Drink your punch. And you, madam, your beer.

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MRS. SMITH
I shall. And you had better wet your throat, for I sense
the imminence of a tale.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
A story? Who shall tell us a story?

MRS. SMITH
Why, you shall. I have yet to meet a veteran of the great
conflict who did not have a story. A very long story.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
(Shaking his head.)
Then let me be the first. It was so long ago, and so
uneventful.

MRS. SMITH
You have high standards. I have only memories of stifling
afternoons at Madame Souvenlikes, memorizing Latin speeches
and French couplets. That was uneventful. One distant
cannon's blast will suffice for me.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Even if I had so much as a far off artillery barrage in my
addled old brain, why should you want to hear of it now? In
your condition; on this evening some are devoting to
looking to a better future?

MRS. SMITH
Then you do have a tale, but you will not tell it because I
am with child? You are to consider that it is a natural
state for a woman, and I intend to be thus encumbered for
the next several years. Then when will I hear your
experiences? What will I have to tell of you to my children
and they to their children unless you give me a history? I
come into this family from a far distance. All that I know
of you you must yourself tell me. It is hardly fair that
you should know everythimg about my short life, and I know
nothing of your full life.

(MR. SMITH, SENIOR goes to
the window and speaks as if
adressing someone outside.)

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Whenever this new century comes, I pray God that the young
will finally take the occasion to consider all those past
we labor so to educate them about. If they but attended to
the least part of what all the countless young men were
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calling out to them as they died.... The youth yet unborn
will know that ancient men, supposedly wise and grown
impartial through time's attenuation of passion, are no
more than crotchety fools all too ready to take offense at
slights the young would laugh away. But who must leave
their homes when the bugle calls? Not the old men, but the
callow obedient young.

I enlisted in the cavalry, Company C of the 32nd Illinois.
Beowulf was my horse's name. He was a roan stallion,
fifteen hands high and as fast as an antelope. It was 1863,
in the fall. We had new carbine rifles and the latest
revolvers. Our saddles still smelled like the tannery, and
they sent us to guard a supply train coming through the
Cumberland Gap, right where a rebel division with two years
of fighting behind them were raiding. I'll not trouble you
with the maneuverings or disposition of forces leading to
it, but we were taken. Most of the company was killed.
Beowulf was shot three times. I asked a rebel sargent to
finish him for me as a merciful favor.

We were marched south. Some of the time we were packed into
railroad cars. In the heart of one of the bitterest winters
anyone could recall, we arrived in Georgia. They had built
a crude stockade fence in a meadow outside of a town called
Andersonville, big enough to hold ten thousand men close
packed. But the confederacy could not even feed its own
troops, let alone enemy prisoners, so the green rinds of
bacon quit coming in very soon. Twenty thousand men, and
still they came. The gates opened one time each day for the
grimy bread like stones and mush as much insect as corn.
Thirty thousand men, poured atop one another and still they
came in. One year after I was captured, the pen held forty
thousand men who shared the black water from one stagnant
creek.

God was traveling in Europe for two years, I think. Perhaps
He was lying about in Venice or Paris; He was surely not in
Georgia. We had corn meal, very coarse and unsalted for our
manna, for all our fervent praying. Do you know what a
constant diet of corn meal does to the human body? We would
have chewed grass like goats if they would only have let us
a little way beyond the fence. Your knees and elbows swell
up and ache all day and night so you cannot sleep. Any tiny
nick or scratch will not heal, worse than that, old scars
open themselves back up as though remembering their birth.
But the end comes when your teeth loosen themselves from
the jaw and you cannot grind the stony meal with them any
longer. And then because there is no milk or gruel or
14
Mother's soft white bread, you stretch out in your small
patch of stinking mud and leave your wretched body and
cares behind. They buried them in a single long pit. Not
even the rebs had the energy to dig graves for them all.
How many thousand died? You can go to Washington and look
it up. It's all there, in the trial records, because they
tried and hung the bastard who ran the place. His defense
was that he, a simple Major, was obeying the orders of his
superior officer, as though he could not look each and
every day through the planks and see the Hell on earth that
it must be every human's duty to prevent.

And so he was hung, but it gave no comfort to the twelve
lads from Company C of the 32nd Illinois who were in an
unmarked ditch in the Georgia clay. Two of us made it out.
The other one was my friend Ned Barclay. They took a
picture of him when we got to the hospital at Annapolis,
after the surrender. He terrified the doctors - battlefield
surgeons all. Once they cut his rags away to see his two
arms ending in stumps still full of maggots feeding on the
gangrene, and his knees like melons and his legs that you
could touch your fingers around. A cancer had eaten away
the bottom of his jaw, and he weighed no more than the
rifle I had lost an eternity before. I know, because I
carried him in my arms like a bundle of kindling wood out
of the stockade and laid him in the train that took us
north.

The day after they took his picture, he quit breathing. I
think he was holding on so that picture could be made. He
probably had the same feeling I had for two years - that
this was one tale no one would want to believe.

That is probably why I have little fondness for this
nineteenth century and wish it to be damned to Hell and
gone.

(He walks to the door and
leaves. MR. and MRS. SMITH
are motionless for a long
moment.)

MRS. SMITH
My dear, I do not mean this as a reproach, but...why did
you not tell me...?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
My dear, because I did not know until this minute. I
thought he was in the cavalry, but that.... I have never
15
heard him speak of it. I wonder that he told you.

MRS. SMITH
He was talking to you, husband, and you alone. I was an
eavesdropper. But perhaps you do not realize yet the
particular fear which engulfs the parent. Perhaps you will
have to wait until the dear babe is in your arms, whereas I
have had it since the first tentative little kick, this
fear that you have made a grievous error to introduce the
helpless loved one into a wicked uncaring world.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
I am no babe.

MRS. SMITH
Perhaps to a father, the son retains some part of the
infant, needing protection and a shielding love, until one
end of that bond lies in a grave. I am of a very rigid
opinion that he has just tried to apologise for exposing
you to a great many injustices which are not his fault at
all.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
I yield to your perspicacity. You see things around here
more clearly than I. I have only one correction to your
views. I do not have to wait until our beautiful darling is
out and about to be filled with apprehension about the
course which history seems to be set upon. You see this
blithering congregation out there - I am not so annoyed by
their mistaken calendar-watching as I am by what it
portends. If you take any one of them aside, alone, he will
admit, yes, that the first century began with the birth of
our Lord which began the year one and so the year one
hundred was the one hundreth year of our history and thus
the last year of the first century. And they will
cheerfully admit the same counting by one hundred years
leads us to the present night and the inescapable
conclusion that the twentieth hundred years, the twentieth
century, will begin one year from tonight. Not this
evening. Yet in a mass, they cry out for a celebration
because the year begins with a double naught. Are they too
immature to wait one single year? Are they willfully
denying the truth just so as not to miss a glass of spirit?
I tell you, Mrs. Smith, that so many of our fellows should
pass upon the fact so as to seek indulgence does not bode
well for the coming century.

MRS. SMITH
You will excuse me if I will point out to you an obvious
16
thought. The Hebrews have their own number for this year,
the Chinese another, and the ghosts of the Maya, the Aztec,
the ancient Egytians, the modern Hindu and Muslim. I would
be amazed if tonight most of the world were sound asleep
with no thoughts at all upon the significance of the year.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Let those happy natives slumber in peace while they may,
for I hear across the way there a number of white men who
will soon fall upon them to take away their land,
possessions, and gods. Now they clamor in false
celebration. They have convinced themselves of a fraud,
surrendered their reason without reservation. They are
fertile land waiting only for some modern tyrant, a
Napoleon of their twentieth century, to rouse them into
ever larger demonstrations, start them with ever increasing
lies.

But tonight is suddenly redeemed. A family mystery has been
solved.

MRS. SMITH
The clock?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Bother the clock. My greatgrandfather came to America to
make his living as a master compounder. That is to say, he
was a mixer of powder. He rolled black grains of saltpeter,
charcoal, and sulfur. Much as we still do to this day, but
his concoctions were deadly serious. He never tipped
strontium nor cobalt into his mill. Smith's powder made the
best fine red-mark grain for blasting and cannon, and he
taught his secrets to my grandfather, and my grandfather
taught them to my father. But after the great war for the
Union, father gave up the military side of the business and
changed most of the mill over to our firecrackers,
skyrockets, Roman candles, fiery patriotic displays. All
the many devices we sell to make a bang and a flash in
innocence. I never knew until this moment that he quit
supplying material of war not from financial intelligence
but rather from moral compunction.

MRS. SMITH
But you still sell to the mines and the railroads.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Of course, my darling, and that brings us a fair return,
but don't you see the mad grandness of his decision? He
risked his whole inherited property, his livelihood and
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life's work by turning his back on the obscene profits to
be made from the Department of War. Do you think that the
battleship Maine exploded because her powder was stabilized
first-quality red grain? Do you think that Teddy's rough
riders chose to fire government-issue cartridges filled
with charges so adulterated that their rifles clogged after
a dozen smoky, fizzing rounds? We are not the only
manufacturer of powder, but we are now the only one which
does not slink into Washington in the shadow of every
jingoistic cry from Hearst's yellow sheets. We are the only
one which does not own a Senator or two to ferry gold to
the Secretary of War so that we might barrel up the
sweepings from our factory floor and ship it off to cavalry
and frigate amid the teary-eyed fanfare of great patriotic
huzzahs.

(He goes and puts on his
coat.)

MRS. SMITH
Please do not-

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Never mind me. I am not going to tame the rabble to my
view. Not this night. I am going to find my father and take
back every bit of abuse I am entered for upon his books.

(He leaves. She lies back,
listening to the crowd noise.
Her back is to the door, so
when it opens, she hears it
but does not see MR. SMITH,
SENIOR step quietly inside.)

MRS. SMITH
Mr. Smith?

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
The same, but I presume not the desired one?

MRS. SMITH
Father Smith! Did you meet your son outside?

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
No, I did not. Has he deserted you?

MRS. SMITH
He went out to find you.

18
MR. SMITH, SENIOR
I see. He went north toward the festivities, but I was to
the south, in the garden.

MRS. SMITH
At this hour in the dark garden? I trust you did not
stumble over a hedge or turn your ankle upon a stone?

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Thank you, no. I was there for the darkness, you see. And I
came back to beg your forgiveness. I was beastly rude to
you both. Try as I might, I do play the cranky old fool.

MRS. SMITH
Never in life, my dear. Now go and find your son before he
causes a row.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
I should think he will be back to look in on you before I
might run him down in the crowd. I am amazed he left you
alone at all. Not that I would judge him at all, mind you,
but he has made you his devotion these several months -
running his duties at the plant by notes and drawings, and
quite neglecting his poker and shooting fellows. But we do
understand his thinking, don't we?

MRS. SMITH
I am sure. Don't I? His thinking would be his boundless
love for his unborn child. With some sliver left over for
me, I do hope.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Why.... He never told you. Of course not. He would not put
that burden upon you for fear....

MRS. SMITH
I don't understand.

(He comes over and rests his
hand on her shoulder.)

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
His mother. My dear, dear wife. She bled with the delivery
and kept bleeding and kept bleeding. It could not be
stopped. A pink bawling baby at her breast, she white as a
lily and the bed glistening red.

(MRS. SMITH bursts into
tears.)
19
MR. SMITH, SENIOR
I am sorry. I should not have presumed to tell you.

MRS. SMITH
When am I to be allowed to know these things of my own
family? I have been here only this one year, but must I not
know these things about you, my new loved ones?

(MR. SMITH, JUNIOR enters,
alarmed by the sight of her
distress.)

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Darling, what trouble?

MRS. SMITH
(Composing herself.)
Nothing at all. Tears of joy-

(Wide-eyed, she rises up in
her seat and brings both hand
to her belly.)

MRS. SMITH
Oh, my! I believe- yes, my water. It has broken.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
No, no, no. Impossible. You are a month away! It's too
early.

MRS. SMITH
I agree, yet there it is.

(She contorts from a painful
contraction, biting her lip.)

MRS. SMITH
Oh! The child cannot read a calendar!

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
I shall ring the doctor.

MRS. SMITH
He is out of town until the day after tomorrow.

(She has another
contraction.)

20
MRS. SMITH
By then we will be parents and grandparent.

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Virginia Largent is a midwife. They are across the way at
the party.

(He runs out the door. MRS.
SMITH rises slowly to her
feet. MR. SMITH, JUNIOR sees
her intent and helps her up.)

MRS. SMITH
Then I am off to my bed. Tell me, dear husband, is it the
bed you were born in?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
No, it is new. Do you mind?

(They advance slowly to and
up the stairs.)

MRS. SMITH
Strangely, I do not. Oh, dear, I think I have quite ruined
the sofa. I am too blunt, too forward and crude, but the
pain has drive all my modesty far away before its cruel
advance. Soon I will be in be in bed with a strange woman
working her trade upon my delicate....

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
You have been introduced to Mrs. Largent. Her husband is
the day foreman.

MRS. SMITH
Husband, you comfort me greatly.

(They climb out of sight. The
room is empty for a moment
with only the distant sound
of the party unabated,
ignorant of the crisis. Then
MR. SMITH, SENIOR reenters in
a hurry, followed close
behind by MR. LARGENT, a
short swarthy man, and MRS.
LARGENT, a thin woman taller
than her husband. She sizes
up the room, sweeps past them
and hustles up the stairs.)
21
MRS. LARGENT
(Off stage.)
Thank you. Yes. Good bye. Good bye.

(MR. SMITH, JUNIOR appears,
coming down the stairs as if
propelled by a push. He
checks his progress and takes
a step back up.)

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Will I fetch water? Bandages?

MRS. LARGENT
(Off stage.)
A basin of warm water. Let someone else bring it.

(MR. SMITH, JUNIOR comes
slowly down the stairs and
sinks into an armchair.)

MR. LARGENT
Never worry, Mr. Smith. Aggie has brought many into the
world and she tells me she has yet to drop one.

(MR. SMITH, JUNIOR glares at
him.)

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Mr. Largent has eleven children.

(There is a long awkward
silence.)

MR. SMITH, SENIOR
Son, it's time for our display. Give Mrs. Smith my
blessings.

(He leaves. MR. LARGENT, who
has been standing quietly,
sits nervously on the edge of
the sofa. Another long
silence, then the sharp crack
of a skyrocket and its light
reflected into the room. MR.
LARGENT runs to the window.)

22
MR. LARGENT
Will you have a gander at that? That was the new Deluxe
Heaven Fire, the quarter charge with sodium. One of your
best, Mr. Smith.

(Another boom, red light
casting his shadow into the
room.)

MR. LARGENT
There's your Blessed Nova! Look at the cesium! How it fires
the sky! Brilliant work!

(The crown claps, whistles,
cheers. MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
comes over to the window.
Another report, flash of
white and green.)

MR. LARGENT
Oh, the Perseid Necklace! Sapphire and diamond! My very
best congratulations, sir!

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
The credit is all yours, Mr. Largent. They would be only my
beautiful dreams without form but for you and your most
valuable craftsmen.

(A door opens off stage
above.)

MRS. LARGENT
(Off stage, above.)
Where is our water? Warm water, mind you - not scalding.
Just boiled and let stand to cool. But not near any open
window. You know the evil of the winter vapors about. And a
very sharp knife. D'you hear?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
(Racing to the stairs.)
A knife?

MR. LARGENT
A most usual implement in these matters - do not trouble
your mind. I shall fetch the water. I know how she likes
it.

(He goes out the door stage
23
left.)

MRS. SMITH
(Off stage, above.)
Dear heart and father-to-be, your rockets are unspeakably
magnificent.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
I thank you, but should you be so excited?

MRS. SMITH
(Off stage, above.)
You cannot know how I crave any distraction now.

MRS. LARGENT
(Off stage, above.)
Please - we must have quiet! Where is my water?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Shall I have the display stopped? Is there any trouble?

MRS. LARGENT
No, No. I mean to have the patient lie still rather than
trying to stand up in her birthing bed to see a firework a
little better. Still, these crashes are prefered to a
gaggle of mothers and grandmothers hovering about, each one
offering up an unfailing remedy, a score of old family
secrets and potions and spells.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Then all goes well?

MRS. LARGENT
(Off stage, above.)
Well and most rapid.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Too rapid?

(The door above is slammed
shut. Several loud cracks and
flashes close together. A
short cry of pain from off
stage, above. MR. LARGENT
comes back bearing a basin,
nods to MR. SMITH, JUNIOR,
amd hurries up the stairs. He
reappears, smiling.)

24
MR. LARGENT
Shan't be long now. The New Year and a new child. What
could be more happy?

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
I bless you for your sentiment, but forgive me this answer
to that question. It might be better if the child were not
brought into a world where so many surrender reason for
self-gratification.

MR. LARGENT
Still put out by the new century people, eh? I say you're
better off ignoring the lot of them.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
What? Were you not there in the midst of the partying not
long ago, preparing to celebrate a false and dangerously
foolish moment?

MR. LARGENT
Oh, yes. But I pass no judgement. A party is a party, I
say. Live and let live. We'll have another one next year on
the true night. Soon it will be midnight and all's well,
eh?

(MR. SMITH, JUNIOR turns
to the window where he
looks up at the
unstopping aerial
bombardment.)

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
The dreaded chime moves upon us. I thought I would have a
soliloquy at the ready, a raving denunciation worthy to
move the shade of the Bard. Down with the goddamn blind,
the greedy, the cattle too simple to work out for
themselves when one hundred years should be truly over. But
I am drained. I have nothing left inside but prayer for
this child and all those to follow, God willing. Keep them
from the mad erratic desires of the populace. Shelter them
until they can be of age and wisdom to break with this
denial of reason and rule their world with logic and
justice for a period of one hundred years, which they and
all their world will know is not ninety-nine. And when my
children's children's children have guided this world into
that next great divide, the millennium itself, all will be
joined in agreement on that most wonderful night in the
winter of the year of our Lord 2001 that another thousand
25
years is granted this tired callow race. For the New Year
of the year 2000 will have passed with but the usual
clamor. The ignorant, the foolish, the disingenuous
hucksters - all will be distant memories by that far-off
time-

(A bang louder than the
previous few cuts him off.)

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
These begin the cannons.

MR. LARGENT
That's right. Two dozen half-charges with potassium, then
the same with three-quarter charges. Elevating through the
series, timed right up to end with your masterpiece, the
twelve stroke of full charges ending with your Ominous
Beast, the blessed eighteeen charger, fit to end any epoch
upon, I say. It's the largest load we ever tried to lift up
off the ground-

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Wait. Did you say eighteen? My Ominous Beast?

MR. LARGENT
Eighteen, just as you drawn it out. We had to lay on a
special casing to fit it all in.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
No! No! It was one point eight! Eighteen charges is
insanity!

MR. LARGENT
Eighteen it was, clear as day-

(Bombs begin to go off, a
slow rolling braodside of
cannon fire and white
flashing in the sky. MR.
SMITH, JUNIOR leans out the
window and begins to scream.)

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Father! Stop th-

(A shrieking detonation
shakes the house. A blinding
flash bleaches everything and
everyone.)
26
MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
My God! What have I done? Mr. Largent! The phone! Call for
help! There must be dead-

(But instead of the cries of
the dead, they hear applause
and laughter. The distant
crowd begins to sing
"Columbia".)

MR. LARGENT
Don't sound like many have been killed over there.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
Thank Providence the shell rose up into the air.

MR. LARGENT
A good omen for the future.

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
That it were, Mr. Largent. Oh that it were. May we never
have cause or opportunity to construct such a rocket again,
nor the world ever see its like.

(Off stage, above, a final
shout of effort. A pause,
then the bawling of an angry
newborn. MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
runs halfway up the stairs.)

MRS. SMITH
(Off stage, above.)
A son!

MRS. LARGENT
(Off stage, above.)
A boy!

MR. SMITH, JUNIOR
May I come?

(Hearing no reply, he goes up
the stairs. The old upright
clock begins to toll the half
hour with an odd muffled
bell. MR. LARGENT moves over
and looks up at the face.
MRS. LARGENT comes down the
27
stairs, wiping her hands.)

MR. LARGENT
Look at this, Mother. It is the queerest thing.

MRS. LARGENT
What, Father?

MR. LARGENT
This old clock. It has been stopped for thirty years and
more and now it is running. Hear it tick? The last blast
must have brought it back to the living world.

MRS. LARGENT
That awful rocket of yours left my ears numb, you old fool.
Why did you make such a thing? Not only did it ring to wake
the dead, it fairly popped the child right out of its
mother and into my distracted hands.

MR. LARGENT
That was just our newest rocket, Mother. I think we will
sell them right and left after that kind of advertising.
But look at this! Is it not the omen of the world?

MRS. LARGENT
Omens, excuse me, be damned.

(They exit.)

END

28

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