OUR EXPERIENCES DURING THE FIRST DAYS OF ALLIGATORS
A play by David Hoppe
Copyright 2010, David Hoppe, all rights reserved.
This play is performed in one act, without intermission.
The stage is divided into three sections. The center section lies beneath a high ceiling with a skylight angled so that it can serve as a screen for shadows and other images. Stage left, on another level, is a double bed with an old-fashioned steel bedframe. Stage right, yet a third level, is a working screen door in a doorframe. The levels must be connected for easy access with ramps and stairs.
CHARLIE: A man approaching middle age
REA: A woman, slightly younger
BEN: A man, approximately the same age as CHARLIE
(CHARLIE enters through the screen door and goes to center stage.)
CHARLIE: It was the end of March, during a stretch of mild weather. People were walking around town with their jackets off. Crocuses - purple, white and gold - were pushing through dead leaves and oak trees were all in heavy bud. Joggers ran bare-legged in the streets.
Between three and four one morning - that time when the deepest sleep, the most vivid dreaming, occurs - the first alligators were seen.
Alligators. In case you don't know, alligators are not associated with our part of the country. They are tropical reptiles, dinosaur holdovers supposed to live in swamps and bayous. They can't tolerate cold weather and here, in the Midwest, it gets very cold.
Ernie Spychalski figured they escaped from the zoo. (ERNIE's face appears in the skylight as if in a camera obscura, an older, worried looking man) Ernie was getting off his watchman's shift at Joy Manufacturing when he saw three alligators pull themselves out of a drainage ditch and on to the road he had taken home every morning for 15 years. During that time, Ernie had seen plenty of dead coons and cats; shiny red pairs of eyes in the tall grass. Never an alligator.
Three alligators headed down the road, their three long tails making three long streaks of wet on the cracked concrete.
The police sent a squad car with two officers. (REA and BEN enter from right and left.) Ernie knew the cops were studying his eyes, the way he stood, the tone of his voice. He felt that tension you get when you have to show someone else that you are normal, just like they are.
The three of them started walking up the road where Ernie had seen the alligators. (CHARLIE, REA and BEN begin walking in place.) There was the sound of the their footsteps on the concrete. No one spoke. They walked about 100 yards, the length of a football field, and all stopped at once. Ernie pointed, his hand shaking.
One of the cops unsnapped his holster. They were close enough to see, to know.
REA: Their tails are weapons.
The alligators were moving slowly, heads bobbing groggily from left to right. The men could now walk slowly, too. Bringing up the rear. The alligators seemed to pay them no heed.
BEN: You better go back and call, ask what to do.
His partner started going back, but stopped up short. Another alligator was coming behind them. The cop watched it for a moment.
REA: I could see its broad snout, the little legs carrying it nearer. It stopped and made a hissing sound. It sounded hot, as though steam might follow. But there was no steam.
CHARLIE: The other alligators stopped and began shifting themselves around.
BEN: We better kill 'em,
CHARLIE: Both cops drew their guns from their holsters. Ernie thought of the adventures of Jungle Jim, of beautiful women in sleek canoes, exclaiming with fear at the sight of open jaws. He wondered how many more alligators there might be. Who they belonged to.
(CHARLIE moves stage right, picks up newspaper.)
REA: Charlie manages a franchise bookstore - the only bookstore in the only shopping mall in town. The mall is on the south side of town. It's become the place where most people shop; that's why the north end's dead.
Charlie was reading about alligators. They were on the front page of our local newspaper. The headline said UNHEARD OF and there was a picture of the four alligators that were killed on the road to Joy Manufacturing. They were laid out on the grass in front of the gates to Joy like a gang of dead outlaws. The cops were posed on either side of Ernie Spychalski, who was gazing down at their huge corpses.
No one knew where those alligators had come from. A biology teacher from the community college claimed alligators could not live in our part of the country. The manager at Pets Plus pointed out these animals were too big for pets. The Chief of Police said he knew of no circuses that had passed through the vicinity. And the head of Streets and Sanitation stated that, contrary to popular mythology. There were no alligators in the sewers of New York and there were certainly none breeding here.
BEN: We hated having to shoot them all.
REA: Said one of the cops.
BEN: They were such impressive animals. There was no place to sequester them and they were creating a public hazard. Since no one was there to claim them, we had no recourse but to destroy them.
CHARLIE: A guy I knew came in the store. He was a lineman for the utility company. He and his crew had been east of town all day, climbing poles. They were driving home on Highway 20, about five miles from the city limits, when he said they saw the damnedest thing.
This guy's hands were large and wind-burned. He was thumbing through a copy of Field Guide to Reptiles. He started tapping the picture of an alligator with his index finger and he swore to God there were two of them. They almost ran over them with their truck!
I wanted to go to Rea's, have some dinner, drink a little wine, and then, if she felt like it, make love. But my replacement, Ted the Teenage Clerk, was late. Very late. He was home watching the news on TV, fascinated by the uncertainty he heard in the voices of familiar media personalities. Alligator sightings were being reported across the country: in Washington, D.C., Fargo, North Dakota, Marin County, California, and Bangor, Maine. Ted sat on his parents' couch and forgot what time it was.
Before I called him, I called Rea and, trying to sound clever, I asked,
Seen any alligators lately?
REA: Yes. I was on my lunch break. I left the bank to go get a sandwich. At first I thought I was hallucinating. Here it is, a perfectly lovely spring day.
CHARLIE: Green grass, clean sidewalks, Robins pulling up worms.
REA: And out of the corner of my eye I see - what? - an alligator! Twelve feet long and it's bopping down the street like it has a train to catch. It crossed in front of me and passed out of sight down the next block.
CHARLIE: You were alone?
REA: That's why I wondered if I was hallucinating. There were no people. No traffic. I thought to myself that if this was a hallucination, it was a very vivid hallucination and demanded my full attention. You don't get a vision everyday. I decided I better step into this and find out what was going on. I walked into the street. I was sure some sound or sign would make a fool of me, prove that lunchtime was still lunchtime and that alligators lived in Florida.
CHARLIE: But nothing like that happened.
REA: The alligator was hustling. Its skin looked dry as a cinder. It was crossing another sidestreet, making incredible time. I heard an electric whoop. A police car with red lights swirling passed on my right and bounced to a stop near the alligator.
CHARLIE: They opened fire.
REA: My ears are still ringing.
CHARLIE: I left Rea's in a funk. I had drunk too much wine, come to quickly in our lovemaking. And I had yet to see an alligator. I felt cheated out of the new reality. I drove home in a hurry, gliding through stop signs and flooring it through yellow caution lights.
I live in a carriage house. It's behind an old mansion, built, I'm told, by the robber baron who invented barbed wire. It's a Queen Anne style building, chopped into cheap apartments so that now the most comfortable and private living space on the property is that which was once a servant's quarters.
REA: Charlie's headlights bumped up the driveway, swung over an expanse of red brick, a row of darkened windows. He was facing his front door - it needed painting - and a rusty snow shovel left out from winter.
CHARLIE: 80 white teeth, the roof of a mouth that was three feet long and pink as my grandmother's upper plate. The jaws stayed open and I stayed in my car, wondering if an alligator could eat it.
REA: Those jaws slapped shut. The alligator was black, marked with gold. It bellowed, a sound that came forth like thunder. It rattled the dashboard in Charlie's car.
CHARLIE: I felt it through the soles of my shoes, up my shins, behind my diaphragm. Then it bellowed again and, this time, from adjoining yards and down the alley, the sound was joined, multiplied, brought to a headbanging rumble.
(CHARLIE begins laughing. His laughter builds.)
REA: Lights flipped on all over the neighborhood. The bellowing quaked the narrow spaces between old buildings. It rolled over soot-thickened rooftops. At last it echoed away and Charlie heard the scrape of a powerful tail on the pavement beneath his car.
(CHARLIE begins to weep.)
(Enter BEN: He carries a martini in either hand and he gives one to CHARLIE.)
BEN: How's Rea?
CHARLIE: (accepting the drink and composing himself) She wants to get married.
BEN: To you?
CHARLIE: I think so.
BEN: You're lucky.
CHARLIE: This is Ben, my best friend in town. He lives in this basement apartment on a trust his parents left him. They were blown up in a terrorist bombing while they were on a second honeymoon in Spain. They were in a train station. Innocent bystanders. How could they have known what was going to happen? What could they have done to prevent it, to save themselves? Now Ben travels to places like Nepal and Patagonia, reads history and studies the world's religions. (To BEN) I can imagine being married, but I don't know if the rest of me is ready.
BEN: Afraid your dreams will come true?