writing: screenplay #3, “muse”

The window is gothic, church-shaped, above her. She is bending over a wooden desk, working furiously; outside, it is autumn and the light is brilliant and orange. Her hair tucked hurriedly behind her ears, curling out. He comes and stands above her, looking down; there is something unusually serious about him; he is a person who moves restlessly and lightly through the day, every thought and feeling hung outside himself, and raced through, and only considered in emotional retrospections. He is holding a magazine, the plastic pages shaking faintly.

HIM: Did you write this?

HER: I’m working.

HIM: Listen to me, this is important. Did you write this? Page fourteen.

[she stops working, looks at him. she is almost immediately angry]

HER: What the fuck? We talked about this? Don’t interrupt while I’m working.

HIM: Yes, but when — [he slams the magazine down on the desk] — your work is about me, it’s kind of fucking important.

HER: What do you mean?

HIM: What do you mean, “what do you mean”? What the fuck. It’s literally word-for-word. I thought your poetry was supposed to be, you know, esoteric or some shit. Incomprehensible, like this shit always is.

HER: I’ve told and told you, if you read more poetry, or read more in general, it wouldn’t be —

HIM: But NO, you can read this fucking shit and know exactly who it’s supposed to be about. No, listen to me. Your mother and your sisters are going to be banging down my fucking door. Do you get how– how serious this is? You lied, this is a lie, this isn’t what happened.

HER: I maybe took some artistic license —

HIM: The fuck you did. The fuck. This says that I pulled back your head by your hair and threatened to rape you. Should I repeat that? Okay, let’s quote —

HER: Just stop it. Stop it please.

HIM: No, let’s fucking quote it. “He yanked me back / by my hair / there is spit, on his mouth / I could have licked it off / I might have / but he said, I will make you, and you will / I will.”

HER [faintly]: But it never says “rape.” That’s important.

HIM: Oh, is it? Because the idea is pretty clear.

HER: And don’t you get it? It says —

HIM: Oh, no I don’t get it, please explain it to me. Why don’t you explain it to me.

HER: If you would just let me talk.

HIM: Yeah? Should I? Fuck. [he slams his hand onto the desk, she jumps slightly.] Because the rest of this is word-for-word me. It’s like, fucking verbatim. The color of my hair, the color of my jersey, the fucking number…the color of the front room, the conversation that we probably had, word-for-word…

HER: Word-for-word? Exactly word-for-word? What, you think I have tape recorders stashed around? It’s an approximation, fuck you. And you know what, you don’t have any right — [she stands up, pushing into him] — because you knew how it would be, married to an artist.

HIM: What — I don’t have any right? Me? In this situation? Yeah, okay, I’m fucked. You’re fucked.

HER: It’s not fucking real! It’s a poem!

HIM: Yeah, and it says I raped you. Pretty much. Is that how you feel? Is that how I make you feel? Is that how you want to present this, us, to everyone — your family, your fucking editors?

HER: You didn’t have to actually rape me, you didn’t have to, you did it a thousand other ways. Okay? It’s a metaphor. It’s how I felt at the beginning.

HIM: Oh, what, so I’m an emotional rapist? That’s what this is now? Another one of your made-up terms for something that never happened…

HER: It happened! You don’t remember all the fucked-up things you said to me? When I was living with your sister still? The way you touched me in the middle of the night and then pretended, the next day, that we were just friends, or barely even that. You wouldn’t even look at me. You treated me like shit.

HIM: Why do you always have to make it about the past? Yesterday, it was about two weeks ago, and now it’s about — fucking six months ago. The fucking past. Do you get how this works? Normal human emotions? You don’t write a poem about something that happened six months ago, and yeah, I fucked up — but you don’t make it into rape.

HER: You would sit so close to me when I was tutoring you. You would tell me I how I would make a good mother, a good housewife. You were looking at me when you thought I didn’t notice, like looking at me, and then when I looked at you —

HIM [softly]: But I didn’t rape you. The stuff you’re talking about isn’t even comparable; I was a kid, I was stupid. I would never — do you know how this makes me feel?

HER: You tried to make me jealous, talking about every girl imaginable, and then you would fucking gaslight me. So I was imagining things, I was the crazy one. And then your whole family, your sister, fucking gaslighted me too. It was just nervous boy energy, your mom said, when you couldn’t keep your hands off me. I shouldn’t, you know, read into it. She knew what was going on. You all knew. Fuck you.

HIM: You know, I think you enjoy not moving on. You’re obsessed. You’re obsessed with the fucking past. I already apologized, okay, I’m not going to apologize again. Or, you know, do I need to? Is that what I need to do? Or are you going to write another rape poem?

HER: It was a metaphor.

HIM: Yeah, I know what that means, thanks. I’ll explain that to whoever reads this fucking poem, although — [he drops the magazine, rubs it into the carpet with his shoe] — now that I’m thinking of it, that’s like, what? Five people, tops? Who reads this fucking shit?

HER: You know, just because, you’ve only read three books in your entire life —

HIM: See? This is what I mean! You’re obsessive. How do you know it’s exactly three. How do you know I’m not reading something right now, or that I didn’t read something last week, or last month. But no, it’s always the past, the past, and then a fucking poem.

HER: It’s just three books. It’s your dad’s book, and The Great Gatsby for school, and then The Murder on the Orient Express for some fucking reason.

HIM: Yeah? Fuck you.

HER: I wouldn’t expect you to understand.

HIM: What? The rape poem?

HER: No, the poem.

HIM: Yeah, because I’ve never read a fucking poem. We’ve never laid in bed, at night, and you know I’d much rather be watching a game, but I listen to you read and read. I’ve never bought the magazines when you get published, or read the links you send me, or watch you working, and let you read things out loud, trying different shit, and I don’t understand any of it, but I’m still there, I’m still listening —

[she is suddenly quiet. the light in the room has sunk to a sad glow.]

HIM: You think you’re better than me.

HER: I– I don’t. I don’t. You thought you were better than me. You always thought that, and I was lucky to have you, you were so perfect and so fucking attractive — do you know what it’s like to go through life being not attractive? How fucking aware of it I am all the time? People don’t look at me, it’s so obvious, I can feel it, the absence of their looking.

HIM: I think you’re beautiful.

HER: No, you think I’m smart. And you’re sort of wowed into this, like, religious silence because of the fact that I have an inner life, that I think — you look up to me.

HIM: Who do you think you are — my fucking mother? I mean, what, I don’t think? I don’t have an “inner life”?

HER: You like to play fucking video games! You play hockey! It’s all go, go, go for you, and it’s just the mind for me, everything all fucked in my fucking mind. You think I don’t want to be you? You think I don’t want to not think?

[he is silent for a moment]

HIM: You must really hate yourself.

HER: I don’t — I don’t. You’re projecting. I just want you to understand. I have to write, the past is good for that, you were kind of fucking toxic —

HIM: How am I projecting? This about me? You should hear yourself. God, you won’t go to therapy but you won’t move on from any of this stuff either. You know what I bet? I bet this all comes down to some fucked-up childhood trauma, the same shit you always go over and over and over. Like I said, you’re fucking obsessive. This is all about your father again, I bet a fucking billion dollars on it. You know, when I asked you out, I wasn’t asking out your fucking father too, but it pretty much feels like it, doesn’t it?

HER: You want to talk about fucking daddy issues? You want to talk about fathers, you of all people? You’re so desperate for approval, it’s disgusting. All your older male friends, your friends that are so much smarter and more mature than you, giving you advice on God and relationships and all that shit — see a pattern there? You always want to know if you’re smart enough, or smarter, or good at school — you read all my fucking magazines. Yeah, right, for what. For who.

HIM: What? I don’t give a fuck about poetry. I’m reading them for you — you think I’m reading them because I want to get smarter, like I want to get better at poetry? I don’t give a fuck– about how smart I am. That bothers you, not me. You care that I’m not smart, you’re embarrassed of me. You told me all the time when we first me, how stupid I was. How I’ve only read three books.

HER: I don’t know — I don’t know where we’re going here. I don’t care how many books you’ve read. You don’t have to be smart. But you don’t understand, it’s not about, it’s just about the poem —

HIM: Yeah, is it? Just about that? Just about the poem? [he laughs humorlessly] Yeah, okay. I’ll play your game. It’s just about the poem — which is just about me. Which just above how I raped you, or didn’t, but apparently made you feel like you were raped — fuck, okay, it’s just so simple.

HER: But it still happened. You still made me feel like that. I don’t know what you want me to say. It’s a good poem. It makes a good poem.

HIM: I apologized, for how I treated you. I apologized.

HER: But I can’t just — you know, maybe you’re right. I am obsessive. I am fucked. I have to write about it. It comes like a feeling in my throat, a wet feeling, and it’s pushing out of me. I can’t control it, I’m not in control. I have to write about it. It’s like, you have to play hockey, right? You have to always be doing things. I have to write. I have to write.

[there is a long silence. the air seems to have sunk dead, the night pressing resignedly against the window. he takes a deep sigh.]

HIM: But you didn’t have to publish it.

[he leaves the room, hands shoved into his pockets. she speaks to the empty room, almost in a whisper — ]

HER: But it made a good poem.

End Scene.

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