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Three people gather to determine the fate of the man who sits in a straight-backed chair saying nothing. He is Alex Macklin, who gave up easel painting to do land art in the southwestern desert, and he is seventy now, helpless in the wake of a second stroke. The people around him are the bearers of a complicated love, his son, his young wife, the...
Three people gather to determine the fate of the man who sits in a straight-backed chair saying nothing. He is Alex Macklin, who gave up easel painting to do land art in the southwestern desert, and he is seventy now, helpless in the wake of a second stroke. The people around him are the bearers of a complicated love, his son, his young wife, the older woman -- his wife of years past -- who feels the emotional tenacity of a love long-ended.
It is their question to answer. When does life end, and when should it end? In this remote setting, without seeking medical or legal guidance, they move unsteadily toward last things.
Luminous, spare, unnervingly comic and always deeply moving, Love-Lies-Bleeding explores a number of perilous questions about the value of life and how we measure it.
From Act One
ALEX: a man, seventy
TOINETTE: a woman, late fifties
SEAN: a man, thirty-five
LIA: a woman, early thirties
Two actors appear as Alex. One plays the character in three episodes that precede the main action. The other plays Alex in extremis, a helpless figure attached to a feeding tube.
A spacious room in an old house, remotely located. The set is spare and semi-abstract, with subdued lighting and a few pieces of well-worn furniture, including a sofa. There is also a metal stand equipped with an intravenous feeding setup.
In several scenes a limited sector of the stage functions as playing area.
Alex and Lia, one year before the main action of the play.
He is haggard, after a stroke, seated in a wheelchair, stage right, isolated from the room set, which is in near darkness. His speech is labored. Lia sits in close proximity, a food bowl within reach.
Across the stage, in scant light, barely visible, there is the sitting figure of a man.
ALEXI saw a dead man on the subway once. I was ten or eleven, riding with my father. The man was in a corner seat, across the aisle. Only a few people in the car. A dead man sits there. This is the subway. You don't know about this. Nobody looks at anybody else. He sits there, and I'm the only one that sees him. I see him so clearly now I could almost tell you things about his life. My father was reading the newspaper. He liked to follow the horses. He analyzed the charts. He studied the race results. There weren't too many things he followed, my father. Horse races and prizefights. There was a column he always read. If I thought about it long enough, I could tell you the columnist's name.
LIAAnd the man. Across the aisle.
ALEXNobody paid him the slightest mind. Another sleeping rider, by their dim lights. I watched him steadily. I examined him. I was fixated. When the train rocked. (Pause.) I'm thinking how he sat. He sat against the bulkhead, partly, at the end of the car. When the train rocked, he got bounced around a little and I thought he might topple to the floor. His mouth was open. His face, I swear, it was gray. There wasn't any question in my mind. Dead. All life drained out of him. But in a way I can't explain, it didn't seem strange or forbidding. It seemed forbidding but not in a way that threatened me personally. I accepted what I saw. A rider on the train, going breakneck through the tunnel. It scared me to think he might topple to the floor. That was forbidding. He could have been riding all day. Gray like an animal. He belonged to a different order of nature. The first dead man I'd ever seen and there's never been anyone since who has looked more finally and absolutely dead.
LIAAnd your father. What did he do? Did he alert someone when the train reached the next station?
ALEXI don't know. I don't know if I told him. The memory ends here. I draw a total blank. This is the subway. He's reading the sports pages. The column he's reading is part boldface, part regular type, and I can see the face of the columnist in the little photo set into the type. He has a slick mustache. A racetrack mustache.
LIACan you tell me his name?
ALEXHis name will come to me in a minute.
Present time. Lights up on the sitting figure. This is Alex, after a massive second stroke. The rest of the room remains dark.
Alex is motionless in a straight-backed chair with arms. It is now possible to see that he is attached to hydration and feeding tubes that extend from a metal stand next to the chair. His eyes are open, mouth open slightly. His hair is cropped. He is clean shaven and neatly dressed — casual pants and shirt, new pair of running shoes.
Lights up on entire room. Toinette and Sean are situated some distance from the sitting figure.
TOINETTEI don't like sharing a toilet.
SEANMaybe I can use the shed.
SEANOr dig a hole somewhere.
TOINETTEWhat will she say?
SEANYou know what she'll say.
TOINETTEI don't know her. I know her for half a day.
SEANI don't know her much longer.
TOINETTEYou've been here before.
SEANOnce. After the first stroke. He was home from the hospital. She was looking after him, very capably, without help. That's what she wanted then and that's what she wants now.
TOINETTEDo you think she has any idea?
TOINETTEYou tell her.
SEANYou must have shared a toilet with Alex. Somewhere along the way.
TOINETTEWe shared many things. We exhausted each other. We shared our exhaustion.
SEANShe does everything one person can do for another. A male fantasy of the caring woman. But not really. She's not a little house sparrow. She's smart and tough. Stubborn too.
TOINETTEFinally what we shared was silence. The entire last year. Everything became internal. Shapeless and motionless. Vaguely sinister. Each of us wishing the other dead in a car crash. I'd sit and study that look of his. Angry and dangerous. Always a question in it. He's puzzled by something.
SEAN (IN ALEX'S VOICE)I'm probing, I'm searching. Trying to figure out exactly what it is that makes me want to tear out your liver and use it in a painting.
TOINETTEOur car crashes were different. In my mind, Alex was the only victim. Lying there looking okay, actually, sort of presentably dead.
SEANThe crash in his mind. What?
TOINETTEThree or four cars. Nine or ten dead. My friends, colleagues, secret lovers. And I'm in the middle of it, smashed and burnt. All right, I wanted him dead at times. But not scattered into smoky little pieces.
SEANThat's the difference between men and women.
TOINETTEThat look became a fixed look. We'd seen the last of our living, breathing days and nights.
SEANBut you're here. Because — tell me.
TOINETTEThere were times, I swear, when we were living in the same skin. That's how I remember it and that's what I want to believe. Makes it easier to understand how we could live as enemies, off and on, for as long as we did. I'm here to be with him, that's all. I want to be close — close as we can get, he and I. I've been here before. You know this.
SEANNo, I don't know this.
TOINETTECouple of days. Long before Lia. Maybe it had a mellowing effect.
SEANWhy don't I know this? I thought we talked, you and I.
TOINETTEIt was six or seven years ago, and many years after he and I had lost contact. The old furies were not so intense. I guess we both felt this, telepathically. He called out of nowhere. This is nowhere, isn't it? Said come visit for a few days.
TOINETTEI don't know. What happened?
SEANDid you make reparations? Talk in the same old way. Sleep in the same old bed.
TOINETTEWhy so interested?
SEANI'm interested in his life.
TOINETTEGet your own.
SEANHe's my father.
Look at him.
Sean does not look. Copyright ©2006 by Don DeLillo