An extract from Alexander Wiseman’s postgraduate dissertation of four short plays, HARPY/HERRING/HORSE/HUMAN.
A dining/living room space set up for Christmas dinner.
An old harpoon hung on the wall.
An armchair in the corner, facing outwards. MARLIN (60s) sits in it – tense, gaunt.
A few moments. A stagnant evening hum.
DORY (60s) enters, wearing an apron.
She stands at the threshold, MARLIN facing away in the armchair.
She puts her face in her hands briefly.
Marlin d’you want to give him a ring?
See if he’s on his way?
I s’pose if he’s driving…
I asked him to bring some of those pigs in blankets that you liked last year.
The ones from that friend of his with the farm. Peter, or something… I can’t…
She slowly moves into the room, sits on a chair around the dining table, faces his direction.
Do you want me to–
MARLIN shifts in his seat and makes a slight noise.
I said ‘never mind’, darling.
(Quieter) You’re not even listening. Are you?
Sat there in your mood. Not even listening.
No matter what I said, you wouldn’t listen.
Not even if I said ‘Marlin, the house is on fire, the house is flooding.’ Not even if I said ‘Marlin, I’m going to go stick my head in the oven and leave it there till I die,’ not even then.
(In a tantrum) Just SITTING there.
Look, Marlin, d’you reckon you could put on a happy face just for this evening, just while Mack’s here? I’d really– and Mack would appreciate it, too, I’m sure. You don’t have to say much, just, y’know: ‘hello, how’re you, goodbye.’
(As if to a child, not condescending) Can you do that for me, Marlin? Please.
She stands, makes her way to the back of the armchair to lean on.
I bumped into Angie earlier, in the Co-op, Tom’s Angie, y’know. When I was getting veg and things.
And she asked, y’know, ‘how’ve you been, how’re things, how’s Marlin been?’ Because we haven’t seen each other in yonks, not for years. She’s one of those kinds of people that are still friendly and warm after so much time, and we were never even that good friends, y’know.
But she asks how I’ve been, how you’ve been. And I begin to try think of all the things we’ve done since I last saw her.
But I don’t think of all the holidays, the anniversaries, the happy occasions – Mack getting his PhD, y’know, that kind of thing. None of that comes to mind at all.
I can only think of you. Here. Saying zip.
And I start crying, right there in the middle of the Co-op, parsnips in my basket, Angie right there taking the brunt of it.
And I’m angry. Not because I’m crying, but because you – this – is… infecting my mind, it’s all I think about, it’s– Not only can I not have a normal conversation with you, I also can’t have one with anybody else. It’s embarrassing. And it’s not fair, Marlin, it’s not–
She stops herself. She wipes her face with her hands.
I’m going to go check on the spuds.
DORY waits for a second, then exits.
MARLIN hits the side of his head a few times with his palm.
A few moments.
The front door opens and closes.
MACK (30s) enters, taking off a long coat.
Father of mine! Good to see you. Sorry for letting myself in, still have my key, but it is bloody freezing out there and I fear if I’d’ve rung the bell I would’ve had icicles hanging from my schnoz by the time either of you seniles had gotten to the door. Is there somewhere I can put my coat on? The hanger seems to have moved since I was last here. And where’s Mum? You haven’t left her to do all the cooking, have you? I was going to bring something, but, well, I didn’t.
… Dad? You alright?
MACK moves over to MARLIN, sees him properly.
He squats by the side of the armchair, takes MARLIN’s hand.
Oh, jeez, Dad, you look awful. What’ve you come down with?
(Calling off) Mum?
Mack. Why didn’t you ring the bell?
What’s up with Dad? He looks like death.
Hah. He very well could be for all I know.
It’s fine, darling, let’s just – try and ignore him for now.
What? What’s wrong with him? (To MARLIN) What’s wrong, Dad?
Come help me with the food. How’s Finn?
(Shaking MARLIN’s shoulder gently) Dad. Can you tell me what’s wrong? Are you okay?
You’re not going to get a peep out of him, Mack.
Is it dementia?
No, it’s – it’s fine, he’ll sort himself out.
How long has he been like this?
A few weeks! And you didn’t tell me?
I didn’t want to worry you.
But you still invited me over for Christmas?
I thought you’d worry more if I didn’t. And I hoped that your father would be – normal – by now.
And I was lonely.
Have you told anyone? Called anyone?
DORY shakes her head.
I don’t know, Mack! I don’t know. I wouldn’t know where to start.
Well, I don’t know, use your brain. How did it start? You said he’s been like this for a few weeks, so what happened a few weeks ago?
Well, he– he got back from a voyage.
I thought he’d retired?
They almost didn’t go because the catch from the voyage before was dire and many of the lads didn’t see the point. But, of course, your father insisted, he was confident it’d be worth it.
But when he got back. He was…
He came in mumbling something to himself, not a word or even a look at me, and then: (She indicates him) silent.
I haven’t known what to do with myself. Seeing him like this is…
The egg timer goes off again.
(To herself) Fuck!
(Following her off) Mum? Where’re you going?
(Off) To stuff my head in the oven – where do you think?
MARLIN is left alone again.
A few moments.
The alarm fades out slowly.
MARLIN speaks shakily, but stoically:
Never been scared at sea before.
Even in torrents, in storms. Hunkered down. Withstood it.
This wasn’t a thing you could withstand.
We spotted it a way off. And then, suddenly, it was right on top of us.
Before we could do a thing.
Long, black body. Like a snake. Fangs.
A sea serpent. Huge.
Frills on its head were, were red, bright red. A crown.
It rose up, out of the water, like a, a column. I… don’t–
Never been so scared.
And it got onto the boat.
Thrashed around. Hit me. Like a tree trunk.
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t… do anything.
And it swallowed him.
The new lad. Young, confident lad.
Swallowed him whole.
Then it swam away. Fast as it came.
With the kid in its belly.
Nothing I could do.
Nothing I could do.
Breathing is difficult now.
And all I taste is salt, brine.
The skin around the gash is green with rot.
It’s hardened and segmented, and it shines, like…
I can feel myself changing.
Into what I don’t know.
I’m sorry Dory, my resilient wife.
I don’t think I’m the man you love anymore.
Water. I need water.
MARLIN pushes himself up, lumbers out.