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Both from Kansas. Both began their professional careers in Dallas. William Inge is known for his iconic Midwestern plays Picnic and Bus Stop. Bruce Coleman is a most distinguished Theatre Three Alumni with countless directing, designing and writing credits to his name. His most recent play Andi Boi, a recipient of a prestigious TCG Grant, received its world premiere at the Dallas Children’s Theater to great acclaim. The play is still available for streaming! https://dct.org/andiboi/digital/

 

WORK TO BE DONE

By William Inge

It’s been a hundred days since The Fever sent us home.

From the school.

That’s where the first wave hit.

One child. Then three. Then Twenty. Then their Families. Then all of Johnson County.

 

I was a teacher there. English.

The only male amongst a gaggle of hens.

A Rooster. Plucked.

Originally, I was the fantasy of marital bliss.

I showed no interest.

Now, they look at me with suspicion. I look right back.

I am glad to be away from them. Ten miles away.

These 14 acres are my Eden.

Of sorts.

Funny but being alone in a room full of people is more lonely somehow than

Being left to your own devices at home.

I don’t mind entirely.

There are about a million seconds in the day,

All of them empty as a promise.

This is —–is different.

The house being empty isn’t new.

Having no hope to fill it is.

I wake up tired, I stumble through the day tired, and I go to bed exhausted.

Sometimes I find myself staring at nothing.

Staring till the room gets dark.

What am I waiting for?

When there’s a knock at your door and you aren’t expecting a knock at your door

You can jump right out of your skin.

Months since you have seen another person.

Except Sam at the dry goods. He doesn’t see me at all, but takes my money just the same.

Are there other persons still?

And your mind and reason can go in a hundred different directions.

You imagine all kinds of scenarios, filled with blood and thunder.

Good lord.

Get ahold of yourself. I go to the door and open it.

I catch my breath.

 

‘Sorry to bother ya mister but I been out there walkin’ on them back roads for a good long while and I saw yer place up here and I’m awful thirsty and I

Just got in from Camdenton and I don’t know a soul here and I was hopin’ to get a drink of water if it aint too much trouble.’

 

He said it all in one breath. Like he had memorized it and was afraid I might interrupt the story.

Movie star handsome. But as far away from heroic as they come.

He looked to have been on the wrong side of an occasional fist,

His nose crooked and flat.

His smile was warm but worried.

His brown eyes shone a glimmer of dreams as yet fulfilled.

I stared too long.

He saw me stare.

 

‘Oh….uh…Of course! Sure. Come on in.’ I say to him.

‘No sir. I’ll stay out here on the porch. My boots are awful dirty. Hell, ALL of me is awful dirty. Plus you shouldn’t be lettin’ strangers into your house. The Fever and all.’

He caught me off guard.

‘Fine. You can have a seat over there on the swing. I’ll bring you something cool.’

‘Hey Thanks mister!’

I watch him swagger his way to the swing.

My cheeks burn.

 

‘What is your name?’

‘Royce. Like that fancy car.’

His smile devastates.

 

I fetch a tall glass of lemonade to him with some ice chips in it and the dam bursts.

He talks for an hour straight. I don’t believe he took a breath.

I guess loneliness works different for different people.

I listen, rapt in the tall tales he tells of

His Life on The Road.

He’s looking for work to do.

Something that can pay him a few coins and preserve his dignity.

I take a dive.

I say why not?

We work things out.

No fever here.

He’ll stay on the sofa.

 

And that’s how it was for the next month.

Royce would get up at the crack of too early and get to work.

When he finished doing whatever job I’d manifest for him, he’d come round and ask me ‘what’s next?’

Always eager.

Always excited.

I had plenty for him to do at first. It’s no surprise how you can let things go when it’s just you.

I had some of my school teaching money left and I was happy to share it with him.

What else was I going to do with it?

Wait? For What?

 

Other people can take so much from you.

They can also fill your life.

And then the days have meaning.

And the stars shine brighter.

And all of those millions of seconds aren’t so empty anymore.

 

Royce lit out this morning to run ‘an errand.’

When he returns two hours later, he’s different.

All that confidence and bravado seems to have slipped away.

I got his Vess soda pop ready for him but he won’t look at me.

I wait. And he tells me he ‘ain’t gonna be around no more.’

Tells me he’s ‘gone and joined up with the marines so’s to start making a regular livin’.’ It’s about the only choice he’s got.

He looks at me.

‘But I tell ya, Brady. I sure am gonna miss my time out here. All them little jobs you found for me,’

‘Sure,’ I say, fighting against a sea of panic.

‘Mostly Brady, I guess I’m gonna miss you.’

You could hear my heart break all the way to Salina.

He holds out his paw for a shake. We have never touched before.

I hesitate for a moment, wipe my palms off against my shirt and take his hand in mine.

The connection was far more electric than I hoped it would be.

I sobbed a sigh.

‘You take care of yourself Royce.’ I tell him.

‘You too Brady. I’ll write ya.’ He says.

‘Oh, don’t trouble yourself. Just come by and see me if you’re ever in this neck again.’

‘You sure?’

‘Sure I’m sure. I won’t be going anywhere.’

We shook on it. He turned and walked away. A backward glance, a smile and a wave.

Goddamn that smile.

And he was gone.

 

I stood there a long time. Long enough for cicadas. Long enough for lightening bugs.

Then I returned to my lonely rooms.

 

I stop wondering about tomorrow. I know it’ll look just like today.

All those millions of seconds to fill.

No way to fill them.

 

I do have memories. Memories of the most unexpected summer of my life.

Maybe in a few years he’ll stop by.

He would be most welcome. As a friend. I won’t press anything. And that is fine.

He will be company. And I need company. I miss people.

Even if they don’t miss me.

Being alone is like a prison sentence with no parole.

He was my companion.

And I….I was all right by him.

And I am not finished. I hope. I HAVE hope.

The truth is

I still have some work that needs to be done.

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