I am currently working on a project with a network of local artists. This is, to me, extremely cool. An amazing friend of mine has invited me to join her in writing a piece of performance poetry, a mixture of spoken word and theatre, using a mixtape of sound and noise playing on tape onstage to create a sense of increasing unease. A couple are discovering that they simply cannot communicate: not only are they not “on the same page”, but there is no page. Hence “404,” as her choice of current working title. This is my draft dialogue so far. A lot has been adopted from Mamet, Pinter and Arthur Miller: but you see, even the process of writing this is palimpsest. I will be scratching, editing, writing over and reworking this until it suits the final purpose of the text. What I’m showing you here, if you like, is the middle stage of my process of palimpsest. Enjoy.
Working Title: 404
[A is sat in semi-darkness. A holds a cup of tea, and barely moves it. B enters. Ignoring A, B turns on the Noise. He sits down.]
B: I know I’m late: sorry.
There was a problem: at work today the system failed.
There was some kind of bug. It was exhausting.
It kept having to re-run, it was awful. Sorry I’m late back.
A: That’s fine.
B: The system just went down. And when you rely on a system,
Well, nothing else works. And Sam was even saying…
A: I’m fine.
B: …that the glitch keeps repeating itself, and even then
We’ve got the software, I told him: we have the software,
And still – you see what I mean? – and still we keep…
A: The answer might just come through patience.
B: But we keep having to test the thing,
Test it, try it out, test it again,
It takes whole working hours, unsustainable.
A: Unbelievable. [Goes to turn the tape off throughout A’s next lines]
B: Unsustainable. We even tried
Tapping the thing, hitting it hard, a slap
To bring it back to life. It just kept dying.
A: [Sitting back down] I haven’t left the house today.
I think the milk was wrong. I don’t know.
I made cereal anyway. I made cereal?
I made cereal, that’s what I made today.
B: [Gets up to turn the tape back on] It doesn’t matter how much I tell them, it won’t improve.
I’m banging my head against a wall.
I’m banging my head against a big brick wall.
A: I got close though. Closer than I’ve got
In three months. I’d even tied my laces.
I even taught myself to tie my laces
[B stands to turn the volume up]
Again, and braced my hands upon my knees
And levered myself up – tried, to lever myself –
But I don’t know. I’m really fine.
B: It seems like I only ask rhetorical questions.
Why can’t this be changed? Is no-one listening?
A: I never seem to get past the questions.
Why aren’t you listening? How can this be changed?
I haven’t left the house in seven days.
B: At times it’s a wonder we’re still going.
[A stands to turn up the volume]
There’s no infrastructure. There’s no support.
We need tech support. We’re dying on our arses.
A: Patience is the answer. Patience drowns me.
Patience is a tide I can’t hold onto.
Patience isn’t golden. Patience reeks.
Patience is fetid. Patience stands in drains.
Patience isn’t golden. It changes colour
Like Autumn. Patience is a pile of dried-up leaves.
Patience is a pile of paper leaves
That one day, just, fell.
B: There just isn’t the tech support. There’s no support.
I’m sorry I’m late back. I wanted to get back,
I was going to get back to you. But there’s something up.
A: I dreamt the back of my head
Had a massive wound. A massive, painless wound,
Which opened to the pillow. My entire head
Was open to the world, and I couldn’t move
In case something got in.
B: There are days when I just think, what’s even the point?
I did my best, and I don’t get anywhere.
We’ve hardly left our starting place on this old project.
I’m doing my best, I’m working hard enough…
A: I dreamt my head was painlessly wide open.
I posted about it. I got three likes.
Somebody said it was cool, then I fell asleep again.
B: I changed my status. That’s what I did.
I posted about this start-and-stop at work.
I changed my status. I got seven likes.
A: I haven’t left the house in thirteen days.
Because I didn’t need to. Because.
[B stands up to turn the tape over]
Nobody needed me to. I haven’t changed
My clothes, I can’t say when. Nobody needed me to.
Nobody needed me, too. It’s the same again.
B: We needed to use the backup. That’s how bad
It got. We fell upon our backup.
And it still wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough.
A: Not nearly enough. It’s just not nearly enough.
[A stands up as though to change the record: then slowly sits down again]
I wouldn’t mind if we were haunted.
If there were a ghost, I’d at least have reason to get up.
There’d be sounds in the house. There’d be a presence.
A ghost in our machine.
B: That’s exactly it: there’s something in the machine
Which stops it breathing. It jams it up
With stuff, and clutter, and memory.
It slows us down. I think that’s our problem.
A: I dunno. I just don’t know.
[They sit for a while. The Noise changes somehow, becomes more prominent. It grows and grows as the following lines progress.]
You walked in here as though it were an empty house.
You walked in as though you can’t make noise.
You barely even notice my noticing you.
B: If you would only talk, you see me talking.
If you would listen, you could even hear me listening.
I get nothing from you. You offer me nothing.
And heaven knows, I work, and work, and work….
A: You work and work and work
And nothing works. We’re talking even now.
And we’re not on the same page. I wonder
If we’ve ever been on the same page.
B: It’s like I said: there was a system error.
They tried to find the page, page cannot be found.
A dialogue box cropped up. We couldn’t close it.
It just stood there in the middle of the screen
Demanding, thoughtless, empty dialogue box.
Cancel, or OK. Say Cancel, or say it’s Ok.
A: When did we become lake-dwellers? When
Did our footfalls cease to make a sound?
I think we even ceased to breathe.
We are in a glass tank.