a play in one act
(Lights up on Suzanna, Peter and Majda, they stand stage left, middle and right
front, a forest scene, piles of woods and an axe, they are dressed for winter lighting suggests coldness)
Majda: When the Lannica froze you could ride a truck across it filled with a dozen men.
Suzanna: But not a tank.
Majda (laughing): Two gunners and a sergeant once froze to death…
Suzanna:…with our help…
Majda: … when we assured them that the ice was strong enough to bear the
burden of two tanks with an elephant riding on the gun turret!
Peter: The dragons had once again fled their winter nests and our sleepy land was swallowed in the night, as so often before, by an angry invader – now from the West, and this time a power which emanated from the boiling belly of the earth itself.
Majda: The ferry boat was made of trees drawn from our ancient woods – a
thousand years of combined growth, lush and vibrant in the summer heat,
Suzanna: ..rampant in budding spring..
Majda: ..and impertinent in the deep of winter.
Suzanna: .. woods, cut down, not to provide warmth..
Majda: …nor to serve as a sturdy wall for a dozen generations in a
Peter: …nor to stand tall and proud as a springtide maypole with rose-
cheeked children a-dancing all about…
Majda: … not even to carry a farmer to one of his fields
Peter: … or a mother to her family
Suzanna: ..cut down to build a heavy and soulless boat which would ferry hopeless people to their slow and starving deaths in the work camp at Mrnava.
Majda: ..In gold they had to pay.
Suzanna: ..Sometimes I saw teeth torn out of cheeks pierced by greedy foreign hands clutching at golden fillings
Majda: a golden tooth the price of a ferry trip across the Lannica..
Suzanna: …our Lannica
Peter: which ran with the blood of mothers and sons during those dark days of the occupation.
(Peter sits down centrestage left, his back to Majda who kneels behind him and plays lazily with his hair)
Suzanna: (stepping forward, she curls up hugging her knees): Sometimes I sleep
in the hollow of an oak, a warm rain falling about and I lay my head upon soft, damp moss, and close my weary eyes, and pretend I am a-slumbering, hibernating like a red squirrel or a badger. And when I wake up the war will be over, and we can return to our homes, and begin our lives again.
Majda: Our people had no love for Jews. But we had no hate for them either. We
did not understand their ways, though their curling locks and colourless
skullcaps made us laugh, made us question and made a few of our elders turn to
the older bible for an explanation. We were Christians in the simple sense – we
blamed no one for the death of Christ and we held to our national customs
which those Yids seemed to scorn on Sundays, on Saints Days and on Holy Nights.
Suzanna: (rising): Yet who were we to talk strangeness as a people? Even I can
still remember Great Grandmother Neda’s senile rantings about smoky dragons and forest salamanders and witches and sacrifices of goats upon stony alters up by the Green Cave. She claimed they were still doing such things during the last war. Neda even said she had herself borne witness to the ceremonial castrating of an Italian Corporal caught by the Partisans, his manhood offered up to Carandak as a plea for aid in the great battle for the Mrnava Plateau.
Majda: Stuff and nonsense, child!
Peter: (picks up an axe and begins to chop some wood) In the midnight of winter,
the Lannica becomes covered with a sheet of dirty ice so thick that a sharpened
axe will not even scratch it. Ha! The streams which feed our angry rivers from the great mountain above become frozen like marbled sculptures, pieces of which, you can break off with a knife and put into a pot to boil.
Majda: That winter was so fiercely cold that your uttered complaints froze
before your eyes, and frost-bite took the lives of many, both young and old.
Suzanna: That was a cold which burned your fingers.
Peter: In that cold, ice met fire and danced with it.
(Music, Peter and Majda dance, she like fire, he like ice, humming the tune, then they fall onto each other and collapse. They all sit down in a semi-circle and warm themselves by the fire)
Majda: Soldiers too far from home, angry at being In a foreign land, sought justification for their cruelty.
Peter: Some found it in the jar, in slivovitz or vodka.
Majda: But more than a few were the unwitting partners in the creation of an
Suzanna: An egregore ? What is an egregore ?
Peter: (tuts) Our resident witch plays games with words…
Majda (rising authority) …An evil spirit built of the thoughts of Man, which took on more shape, more life and became more real as the war days wore on. The egregore lived within each one of them, lived off the spirit substance of each individual soul. It took the form of a frowning demon with no tolerance for anyone or anything not living in its own image. It was their masters who gave birth to it…
(Peter tuts and Majda becomes more animated)
Suzanna: …feed it, like a Christmas goose, and it will grow fat.
Majda: It is a hater of Jews and would love to clog up the Moon Pool with the blood of Romanian gypsy children, for it has no truck with the travelling folk and their Ways of Weird.
Suzanna (taking a drink): If Old Neda were alive she’d call on Carandak the dragon to drive it away or even to destroy it with a purifying fire.
Peter: Old Maria would have laid her trust in the lap of Christ or the Archangel
Michael to exorcise it or to cast it out.
Majda: But no one gave it a name until it was too late, no one recognised it,
and so it went about its business unhindered, even supported, and it came to
rest in those summer and winter months upon the lands that cradled our beloved river – our innocent Lannica.
Suzanna: How can a river ever be innocent ?
Peter (suddenly angry): How can a nation ever be guilty ?
Majda; … First it was just a trickle like an icy cold spring high on the forest slopes…then it grew and gathered in pace…
Suzanna… teased by the pebbles and rocks and the crystals which quickened it and goaded it…
Majda: …encouraged by the wind at its back and the seductive whisper of the sea…
Suzanna: …taking heart from tiny tributaries that trickled their way into it swelling it, nurturing it…
Majda: ..and the trickle became a stream…
Suzanna: and the stream a river…
Majda:..and the river a torrent…
Suzanna: …’til it flowed so fast, with such power and intent, that nothing could stop it.
Majda: Why, it even ate rocks as if they were black bread loaves…
Suzanna: …and pulled up roots like some journeyman in the bushes a-huntin’ for his supper…
Peter: (sudden rising anger) And it grew fat on the blood of thirty-six thousand women, men and children. Our Lannica ran with blood and bones, with sinew and the cries of babies, their skulls smashed willingly by blonde-haired, mad-eyed kids upon the stained ice of our river.
Majda: Our river.
Suzanna: Our river.
(Peter and Majda rise and leave the stage, Peter taking the axe with him, Majda
singing to himself)
Suzanna (rising): How I used to feel sure that Carandak the dragon had long since departed this place, and that Christ was nowhere to be found..
Majda: ..unless all this desolation and abandoned hope were a second crucifixion of the Lord a-taking place high up in the Kingdom of Heaven.
(Suzanna gasps at what Majda has said and looks at her. Majda stares back then slowly turns away to move firewood. Suzanna moves to frontstage centre and sits down)
Suzanna: And one day, as I lay on the frozen ground, my ankle all twisted from a fall upon the ice up by Lannica Falls, in tears of pain, I spied in a sycamore, a-hanging from a high branch, the head of a gypsy girl, stuck upon a pike, and tied with old rope. A-swinging it was, its decaying face arrested in a serene gaze by the preserving cold. My heart went cold as those hollowed eye sockets seemed to stare at me, to single me out and direct their gaze upon me, picking me out impossibly in the long grass.
Then, all of a sudden, from behind this terrible sight of ossified hell, eclipsed like the moon on holy days, there emerged the sun, bright and blooming, beckoning the evil cold to turn to Christ for melting warmth. The sun shone, its rays penetrating the skull of that poor child, alighting on snowflakes and sending the tree branches into silhouette. The pike, on which that head protruded, a-hanging all flat and horizontal, still as stone in the air, the sycamore trunk, vertical and straight, upright in the earth, they formed a perfect cross with the sun behind, shining through.
And, through the growing agony in my ankle, I wondered if some great event, some spiritual symphony of abundant joy were not playing in heaven, trumpeting a new age, the birth of a new kingdom, reflected in the light of that perfect sun, penetrating the dead eyes of that poor gypsy babe, the light of angels casting their necessary shadow below. If only we could accept that sunlight, welcome it, know it’s true purpose, then all the shadows would disappear, and the battle of light and darkness would finally be settled. And a new kingdom would be borne on the earth. Then I drank to dull the pain, laughing at my crazy fantasies, then I drank some more, and sang stupid partisan songs, and fell into a heavy slumber.
(lights fade on Suzanna)
(Lights come up on Majda who sits centre stage on a log carving a piece of wood into a sharp spear. Peter stands, stage right cleaning the barrel of a gun)
Majda: That spring, the rains which cascaded with the burden of a month of April
downpours and melting snows, down the side of the mountain, through gorges and ravines, caused the Lannica to overflow and flood a score of villages in the deepest part of the valley. It added to their misery and ensured the death camp become a sea of mud in which there flourished the perils of cholera and typhus.
Peter: But we survived.
Majda (laughs to himself): Oh yes, the great heroes of the Partisan Resistance.
Suzanna: We who made nests in the hollows of oaks. We who wintered on the flesh of moles and the roots of wild plants.
Majda: We who wiped our arses with sycamore leaves.
Peter: Where the Lannica flows slowest and straight our weary half-family of
Jews, Catholics, orphans and partisans resisted and tried with all the fire in us to slow the flow of damned souls across our beleaguered river from unsafety to certain death in that hopeless camp.
(Exit Peter. Enter Suzanna excited. She carries a handful of roots in her hand. She holds it up for Majda to see)
Majda (continuing to carve): What have you brought child ?
Suzanna: They are good. They smell good.
Majda: Then add them to the pile. We still have the brew from yesterday.
Suzanna: Then let us drink a toast…
(She pours two wooden cups of liquid from a kettle on the fire, giving one of them to Majda)
Majda: To life !
Suzanna: To love !
Suzanna: To virtuous maids !
Majda: Pah !`To warm toes and full stomachs !
Suzanna: Nazdravia !
(Majda adds vodka from a bottle and they drink and drink again. The light changes to dull colours. Suzanna sits, hugging her knees)
Suzanna: I am alone with a memory and have stolen away from our camp. They are singin’ empty songs to fill their empty hearts and I cannot bear to be part of it. The time I first met Peter. I hear a sound in the trees but lie still as a pile of
corpses, pretending to be asleep. A shadow emerges from behind a large oak.
(enter Peter, warily, so as not to be seen or heard)
From the furthest corner of my left eye, I sense the figure of a man, sure in his gait, but creeping like a wild-cat, wary and canny.
(Suddenly she leaps backwards, grabbing his legs so he falls, dives on top of
him and holds her knife to his throat)
Suzanna: What animal have I trapped here ? I wasn’t even hunting !
Peter: You’ve caught a stoat, child. A clumsy stoat. You may slit my throat if
you wish, but I beg a kiss before I go…
(she stares at him for several seconds, kisses him suddenly on the lips, cuts his
face with her knife and then rolls off from him and sits upright)
Suzanna: A kiss and a cut to remember me by…
(he puts his hand to his cut cheek and smarts at the pain)
Suzanna: I am Suzanna…
Peter: And I am… still living !
(she looks at him and smiles)
Peter: … Peter.
Suzanna: Hello… Peter. Take more care in future.
Peter: I am looking for the Partisans.
Suzanna: You and the Germans then…
Peter: Do you know where I can find them? I wish to join the fight.
Suzanna: Fight? There is no fight. Our only fight is a fight to survive. There is nothing more…We have no love of Jews…or Gypsies.
Peter: You are a Partisan ?
Suzanna: (laughs): I am a teacher ! (then quietly to herself): I was going to be a teacher.
Peter: (rising): Then, teacher, let me depart in peace. Goodbye.
(He starts to leave)
Suzanna: I will take you to the Partisans. You will have your “fight”. We shall eat soon. And you should wash that cut…
(She stands up and holds out her hand to him. They stare at each other for a
long time. Then he joins her, taking her hand. They linger for a few moments, staring at each other. She leads him offstage right as lights fade.)
(lights fade up front stage centre on Peter and Suzanna. They are eating stew from bowls with wooden spoons)
Peter: It’s good. Very good…
Suzanna: It is. Just don’t ask what’s in it…
Peter: Whatever it is… it is good.
Suzanna: Just watch out for the little paws, they can catch between your teeth…
(He stops eating, putting down his bowl in shock, and looks at her alarmed. She laughs, putting his bowl back into his hand)
Suzanna: (relenting): It’s mutton ! With perhaps a bit of chicken. Enjoy it, that’s the last of the meat ’til Franjo comes.
(He warily continues to eat. he finishes wiping the bowl clean and licking his fingers)
Peter: So.. where are you from ?
(Suzanna is silent, just looking at him intensely)
Peter: You stare like an owl. Do you have a village near here ? Where do you…
(She puts a finger to his lips)
(she puts her hand over his mouth)
Suzanna: Hush I tell you. (pause): You have such terrible, blue eyes.
Peter: Terrible? Now there’s something ! Tell me, where do you…
Suzanna: (interrupting) I like you, Peter.
Peter: (laughs) You have only just met me !
Suzanna: So don’t go spoilin’ it by lettin’ me get to know you ! No questions. Not yet !
(she gets up pulling him up with her)
Suzanna: Come ! I have to check on the traps. It’ll be dark soon. Come with me! Perhaps we’ll trap an egregore !
Peter: A what ?
Suzanna: Quickly !
(she runs offstage right leaving Peter standing. There is an owl sound offstage. He makes an owl sound back. Then runs offstage to follow her)
Peter: Wait ! Suzanna ! Wait !
(he laughs as he runs offstage. Sounds of gunfire slowly fade in and rise in volume til they fill the entire space. A torrent of machine gun fire which merges with the sound of a waterfall which then fades. Lights fade)
(Lights up on Suzanna sitting centrestage)
Suzanna: It is said that, in the eyes of God, one, single death is as important and as terrible as a thousand. During those days, it was no easy task to see the world in that way, for a thousand deaths was easy to cope with for you couldn’t even imagine it.
They would stand on that boat in their hundreds. Sometimes we’d get a message to one of their leaders. “It’s gas, not a work camp. Try to save yourselves.” And sometimes they believed us, but mostly they didn’t. “We were promised it is resettlement” they’d say. Did those fools really have no idea of the double talk and clever lies they were fed ? They would stand there in the freezing cold or the baking heat and, they went in their thousands to certain death. (in a Jewish accent) “It’s resettlement ! We’re being resettled.”
But one death. One single death.
We were strolling in the forest looking for the traps I had set for our dinner. Peter and I. Peter, and I. I had known him but a few days and we couldn’t take our eyes off each other. You can’t know what it is to have such feelings at the centre of an endless war. You feel your pain more deeply but it is an escape too. I escaped into his soul and he kept me there, all snug and warm, like a ruby given by a lover nestling on velvet in a silver trinket box. A clutching cuddle by the fire was just the beginning. Soon I would awaken in the chill of the night, and the stars would enliven his form with a soft, yellow gold. I would reach for him, but I would be unsure who’s arm was who’s. Was that my hand or his ? And I would flex my fingers, one by one, in order to be certain. Just for a fleeting moment I was safely nested within the veil of his protecting soul and, during those all-too-few seconds, I knew I had entered another world, a realm of spirit-land where the pain I felt so keenly here was a star a-brightly-shining there.
(Enter Peter. He is shaking. He vomits. Suzanna goes to help him and puts her arm around him)
Suzanna: But one death, one solitary death when you could smell their already decaying flesh and see that empty look in their eyes of blackened glass, now that was much harder to take.
Peter: It didn’t look like a person! But it was a person. How could they do that to another human being ? Don’t tell me she was living when they did that to her…
Suzanna (lying): No Peter, they probably killed her first. I am sure they killed her first…(to audience); How easy it is to lie to someone you love when they are crying or are in pain.
(Peter breaks down in tears)
Peter: We should bury her and say a prayer. Can we bury her, now ?
Suzanna: Yes, we’ll bury her by the Moon Pool. It’s peaceful there. (to audience) This was the first time Peter saw a corpse, right up close. She was no more than fourteen. They had raped her, and then scalped her. Then they had cut off her fingers, dear Jesus Christ, who knows in what order! Sometimes they even skin them. There’s some kind of market for it back where they come from. Fifty marks for a fresh pelt. They had spared her that. We buried her, with all of her fingers. One by one we put them carefully back in their proper places. Then I went and checked the traps. We had caught a rabbit and a mouse. The mouse was pregnant. Six babies.
(Lights up on Majda who sits up )
Majda: It was as far back as ‘Thirty-three that I knew in my bones that another war was coming. You would not be the first to pronounce me a madwoman when I try to tell you of Nature’s trembling. As a cow will cover a patch of dry ground with her rump before a rainy storm, as starlings will carve uneasy patterns upon the east wind when the air shimmers with threats of earthquake or avalanche, so do even the bluebells quiver with the gentle burden of knowledge; a sure presentment of a history yet to be made.
I tell you a flower knows in its own peculiar sap when the buds of its own seed yet to come will be carelessly plucked by a lover drunk on passion, or a by a curious child collecting for a pressing between the pages of an old book. A flower shivers and bends with the wind of change.
And when you have lived in the wood for as many years as I, you learn to read these signs like a text, like the writings of Nostradamus. In the autumn of ’33, as I sit upon the Fisher’s Bank a-resting in the cool gush of Lannica Falls, I see the river reeds a shaking, barely perceptible, transcending the breeze with an anxiousness of a history yet to reveal itself. I know in my bones that there is war a-coming to our valley, a terrible battle the like of which even our oft-invaded land has never witnessed before. There is a tide of hate yet to appear on the horizon, a wave which will rise up higher even than the rocky scales of Carandak, and come a-crashing down upon all of us.. Such an evil that will test every one of us…
(She holds up a small rose bud in her hand in front of her)
(suddenly, with intensity): Can you believe me when I say I can see such pictures in the tiniest a-quivering of this ruby rose?
(lights to fadeout, fading out on the rose, quivering in Majda’s hand)
(Lights up on Peter and Suzanna. They sit before a quenched fire, she enveloped by his arms. He massages her shoulders as she speaks)
Suzanna: They used to talk of a time when our rivers would flow with the dark blood of our mothers and fathers, a time like the story of Noah when a great flood would rise up, a-comin’ to wash away all of our sins. It was easy for them to say that, to deliver up their wisdom from the warm, shady comfort of their becushioned boudoirs, or their silk-heavy hermit holes.
Peter: Hush now.
Suzanna: But no one was prepared for the sorry rains. which fell that autumn like a sudden freezing fog on the Carnak peak, for the terrible snows which followed, a-plundering the grassy hillsides and trodden meadows which our high-slope herds needed to survive, killing all the birds, a-freezin them so a beak could break at the desperate attempt to avoid heartless cold or bitter starvation.
Peter: Hush Suzanna. Calm your thoughts a while!
Suzanna A frozen blackbird or a jackdaw is a funny thing, Peter my love, curious to behold…
Peter: Shhh now!
Suzanna:..like a stuffed ornament, or a prop in a mummers play, the eyes glazed over, the mouth fixed shut, or open, petrified where it last had let out a desperate and hopeless chirp for a passing Samaritan, but, my oh my, did it boil up nice and quick in a stew or a soup. the frozen bones and marrow yielding up their hidden goodness to the invading heat of a-bubbling, boiling snow.
Peter: (gently): Shhh.
(During the next piece Peter gently hums a lament)
Suzanna: I grew to know the winds in our valley, the tiny changes in the flow and direction, in strength and intention. And they served me well for they carried the smell of death, and of storm, of blood-thick fog, or enemy fire and the awful stink of rotting corpses carrying typhoid and plague. Once I thought I had learned to tell the odour of Satan himself but it was only a rotting sheep overflowing with the stench of a season-full of gangrene.
(Enter Majda with a pile of sticks)
Peter: Hello mother.
Majda: I am not your mother.
Peter: You are the only mother I have.
Majda: (Looking at Peter): Alright, then call me mother.
Peter: (smiles at Madja who ruffles his hair): Hello, mother.
Majda: Peter. A cold wind again this night.
Peter: The breeze about the Lannica flowed like water; it was a good place to come when you needed to make a decision, the water and the wind conspiring together to flow along to action, to result, to outcome. Yes, it flowed like water, always lost in some secret conversation with the running streams and the rocks – current and breeze a-waltzin down the mountain side, though more like a frenzied flamenco that autumn, when bloody war settled on us like a canker on a cat.
There was no river of blood in the Lannica that year, no relentless torrent a-fumin’ down the back of the dragon.
Suzanna: (with rising anger) But in the valley below, until those welcome rains came, there was a score of great puddles, crimson like the curtains of hell; seepin’ from Yiddish corpses piled high, as drunken bands of soldiers, a “liquidation” brigade, stomachs filled with grappa, who took more pleasure in the killing than in the disposal, with more love for the makin’ of holes with their guns than the diggin’ of ‘em with their frozen shovels.
Peter: Be calm, child. There, there…
Suzanna: My lover presses plough-hardened fingers into the knots of my shoulders, kneading me like dough, filling me with a needing of a different kind, like dough a-ready for the oven. Drivin’ out the cold in my aching bones, igniting the flame in my blood and my complaining marrow. And often, as we lie together in freezing woods, our fires a-trodden for fear of patrols, those searching fingers find my heart, taking hold of the lock I have placed around it, becoming a tiny wooden key of cork which turns softly and silently, teasing open the cage door. Then as the light rushes in, my tears come, (she begins to cry) gentle at first, like a spring up by the Moon Pool, then a-flowing like the Lannica up by the Green Cave, and I weep for my mama and papa, for my brother, lost in the Tyrolean camps, for our little house, and our field, burnt to a cinder, for our people, my people, I cry for revenge, and weep with an achin’ hunger, and I weep for Jesus, and for the dragons all flown, and for the loss of love from our land, for the red all gone from the poppy fields, for the cracked white in the eyes of the Madonna a-lying broken in the vandalised shrine in our burnt-out village, for the red in the eyes of our enemies, for the raped and the robbed, for the impotence of the Holy Father in Rome, for the lonely and the abandoned. And his fingers keep a-workin’, a-pressin’ and a pushin’, bringing healing and comfort. But most, I weep for the water, a-wishing that my salted tears could cleanse our Lannica clear and pure. Then my lover sings, a song in a language I do not understand yet a language as old as the first flood. Then I sleep.
(Suzanna sleeps, Peter sings the first verses of the lament as lights fade to be replaced by the sounds of refugees moaning and wailing and the sound of the oars of a boat crossing a river)
(Enter Suzanna and Peter, hand in hand. They stop centrestage still holding hands. They stare into each others eyes for about thirty seconds, almost like a staring game. They kiss – once, twice, three times, then a fourth)
Suzanna: Go on !
Peter: I promise.
Suzanna: I promise.
Peter: Forever ?
Suzanna: …and a day !
Peter: Pah !
(they kiss once more)
Suzanna: Hold me.
(he pulls her to him and they embrace)
Suzanna: (angrily): I said, Hold me !
Peter: I am holding you !
Suzanna: Like a promise !
Peter (unsure): What do you mean ?
Suzanna: (impatiently) Hold me like a promise !
(he holds her tightly)
Suzanna: Not enough! That’s not even worth a year! Hold me like a promise of forever.
(Peter starts to hold Suzanna more tightly, more and more tightly until she begins to strain under the pressure)
Peter: Like this ?
Suzanna: That’s only five years !
(he squeezes tighter and she begins to strain)
Suzanna: Ten years…twenty…thirty years…ow !
Peter (becoming carried away): Forty years… fifty years…forever ?
(Suzanna is now in pain but enjoying the passion. She finally relents)
Suzanna: Yes ! Forever. Forever !
(Peter suddenly lets go. Suzanna steps back gazing at him, then he pulls her closer to him again with threat of more squeezing!)
Peter: (calmly letting her go): Forever.
(they both sit centrestage front, breathless. Pause)
Suzanna: You should not believe so easily in sacred promises.
Peter: And you’ll be telling me why, I suppose?
Suzanna: What kind of a sacred promise did your great and holy god give to your people down there at Old Mrnava – harmless people, babies and children, grandmothers – what holy tryst did you make with your god that he puts the flower of your race into the rotting mouth of hell ?
Peter: You speak like a witch.
Suzanna: Perhaps I am … a witch.
Peter: Are not witches to be burned ?
Suzanna: Then I truly am a witch, for I am burning now…
(she approaches him and places a hand on his chest…)
Suzanna: You burn me… I like it.
Peter: You are not a witch (he takes her hand)… more a dragon…
(Suzanna turns away slightly)
Peter: What is the matter ?
Suzanna; Dragons. I really used to believe in dragons. My Auntie Lydia used to tell me stories of them – how they awoke from the slumber of centuries to fly to the aid of our people in our hour of greatest need. I believed her. You know, I really believed her ! So, where are they? Where are our dragons Peter?. Don’t speak to me of dragons.
Peter: They have left their mark on you … old Carandak, the greatest of them all. She has put her fire into your eyes, her blood is yours…
Suzanna; And my blood is yours … come, take it…
(they embrace and kiss, she bites him on the lip)
Peter: A dragon with sharp teeth… Come here…
(he kisses her and bites also, drawing blood, they kiss again)
Suzanna: Now you have the blood of the dragon in you as well..
(they kiss again)
Peter: This is a taste I could grow used to…
Suzanna: That (she kisses him again) …is good. Forever.
(lights fade on their kissing then fade up on Suzanna. The following could either be done literally or in storytelling mode)
Suzanna: And we lie down together on dewey, damp moss amongst the might of poplars which sit like a philosopher’s beard upon the sloppy chin of Carandak’s foothills, and we kiss and we taste and we laugh too much and we cry even more and then, flesh to flesh, unwashed yet pungent with the reek of desire, we set ourselves down, a sleepin’, yet our tremblin’ hands and fingers still a-movin’ not wishin’ to waste a moment of this peace, so rare in a land of roving monsters and savage ghosts.
For those few precious hours we will forget the terror all about, and glide upon the Mrnava mistral borne up part of the way by the sweet singin’ of his silken, soft voice in my ear, an ear which is tired of the sounds of pain and death yet which he now nibbles into easy silence with the tender and careless caresses of his lovely lips. And we will wake up and make angry passion as busy insects scurry along our spines, the tears of dew a-dancin’ with the tears of body heat risin’ in the sea of lovin’ and fire.
(Sounds of a wheelbarrow and drunken voices offstage)
Then, as we are locked in a sweet embrace desperate never to be unravelled there come the intruding sounds of voices in the wood and the clanking of a heavy wheel barrow. The calls and curses become louder and nearer. Peter grabs his knife. I take hold of mine and we lie still as Eduardo’s statue as two of Hitler’s drunken Nazi sons burst into our secret space, a rusted cart a-sprawlin’ before them.
(Suzanna freezes in tableau)
Peter: I erupt into angry thunder as I spy the corpse of a baby-child which these fucking devils are going to dump into the stream like some worthless rubbish.
Suzanna: There is blood in that barrow enough to fill a pint pot of black ale where those bastards have slit the poor might’s throat.
Peter: And without words, and even in the knowing that these two are no more than sixteen barmy summers and are drunk on a gallon or more of stolen wine, we leap out of our hiding place, naked as Eve and Adam, and I know those criminal kids will shit their dirty pants as they see us pounce upon them and cut their rotten throats, screaming like savages, like Neptune’s warriors in the water we pull down their ship crying “An eye for an eye!” And soon there are two more rotting corpses to add to the poor Yiddisher babe a-lying in his metal cot on wheels of rusty iron.
(Peter turns away, still)
Suzanna: We parted a few months after the war ended. We tried to set up house together, as a couple bound by an eternal promise should.(she laughs to herself). It was funny how hard we tried – he acting the builder, I, the artist and house-maker.
Peter (turning back): Like children who try to run before they can walk.
(they both smile at each other)
Suzanna: But soon we both caught the lovely, nagging itch of dirty feet a wishin’ to travel and there were too many memories of that swirling chaos in our valley and the stench of death still hung heavy on the morning air.
Peter: It would take the winds of many summers to cleanse our country of that smell. Perhaps a fire…
Suzanna: … a great blaze…
Peter:.. a great blaze would erupt like a song from the mouth of the great dragon and purify all, even our pain and our memories.
Suzanna: Our memories.
Peter: Our memories.
Suzanna: We rented a small room in Paris but the sounds of coffee cups and accordions didn’t suit Peter, though I loved it, and it didn’t take long for us to realise that the war had changed us…
Peter:… more than we knew…
Suzanna:… and the ending of it had brought another change.
Peter: The river changes its course, it meanders to east and to west, on its eternal journey to the sea.
Suzanna: So one day, in the wink of an eye, we kissed and parted, glad of the promise we had made to each other…
Peter:… regretting none of it…
Suzanna: … not even the breaking of it. For that impulse in the deepest forests of war would travel with the both of us wherever we went. He would pass it on to a wife and six children and make a life for himself in Israel; I, to many friends and lovers, and still more friends and yet more lovers! Thank god for that promise made by the river not kept, yet fulfilled. It filled us full and I am still overflowin’ with it’s power, like the Moon Pool, when the autumn rains have come, and come again.
Peter: As we stand there in the biting cold, in a puddle of German and Jewish blood which mixes as well as water and honey, do you know what we do? We laugh. We laugh ’til we ache, ’til our kidneys are ready to burst.
Suzanna: Yet a laughter which only comes when all your tears have flowed away into the sea, when there are no more tears left to cry.
Peter: We wash in the stream, put on our clothes and bury the bodies, all three with a prayer and a song. Then we leave and join the others by the fire where the pot is a-boiling with stew.
Suzanna: For the sight of a dead babe takes away your appetite…
Peter: … but the work of burying it makes you ravenous. So we will eat another meal before the sun sets.
(lights fade on Peter and fade up on Suzanna who walks to frontstage left)
Suzanna: What stories will I tell to my children from that time, as Great Grandmother Neda used to tell me stories of her time ? “Mother Suzanna, tell me about the war. Tell me a tale of the war.” “Hush, child. There are no stories from that war. No tales to spin on a wheel of words.” There were no stories. Only moments.
(she walks stage right and smiles to herself)
So many moments. And one moment was the love which flowed so easily between myself and dear Peter. He used to say…
(Lights fade up on Peter)
Peter:… There can be no river unless the mountain spring makes a sacred promise to the sea.
Suzanna: Dear, dear Peter. I wonder where he is now?
(They embrace and lie down together as lights dim to twilight)
Suzanna: I love his eyes in the twilight when they eat up the moon and send its ivory glow a-scurrying like frightened badgers to east, west and north. I love his hair. pale and fair like the sand on a summer’s day near the Old Fisher’s bank.
Peter: I love you.
Suzanna: He will offer me those sapphire eyes, as on a plate. He will deliver up his sunlit scalp for me to cherish as a keepsake. I will have his love for my possession and return it with a fire that courses in the veins of lusty hydras.
Peter: I love you.
(Suzanna lies in Peter’s arms and closes her eyes to sleep)
Peter: (aside): She is young. Sometimes the eyes of a child light up in her. Yet often, there glows the fire of an angry woman who has seen too much pain.
Suzanna: Kiss me, Peter…
(he strokes her head)
Peter: (aside) For three days and three nights without slumber I am coward to the task of revealing myself as I truly am. Her people have no love for my people
(He turns to her – they sit up, lighting shows a change of time)
Peter: Suzy, I need to tell you something. I am not a…
(she quickly puts a hand to his lips)
Suzanna: Shh! Stop speaking. Calm your thoughts.
Peter: But Suzanna, there is something I have to..
Suxanne: Hush I say! Hush! (Pause) I know it. Peter, I Know.
Peter: What is it that you know?
Suzanna: I know what you are !
Peter: You know? How did you know ?
Suzanna: You were sleepin’ so peacefully, and I lay for most of the night watching you. Watching over you. I set my fingers to glidin’ through your hair. It shone in the moonlight, it was like running my hands through fine silver. I touched you on your brow, on your lips. I softly held your hand, I spent an hour looking at your fingers each one – I pulled them like rose petals. I put my face close to yours to feel you breathe on me. Like this ! (she demonstrates) You are so beautiful when you are sleeping Peter…
Peter: Yes, yes. But how did you know, curious night-owl ?
Suzanna: As I said, you were sleeping. I was suddenly curious. Very curious ! So I took a peek. THEN I knew.
(he looks at her seriously then melts into laughter which she joins in. They roll over in a long hug)
(Lights change to show shift in time again, brighter)
Peter: Majda is brought into the camp and she is all blood and smashed bones. Majda, who was our cook, our healer, our teacher and our mother – and an artist with fuses and gunpowder – has a bullet in her stomach, a handful in her legs and one in her chest.
Suzanna: The pain on her face is an awful sight. Peter lays her down by the fire and puts a blanket over her, speaking calmly all the time like to a baby lamb or a newly delivered calf.
(Majda moans in terrible pain)
Peter: Hush now, let us get you down by the fire. No noise now… Suzanna, put some water on the heat… quickly now…
Suzanna: I can tell from the ghostly colour of the old woman’s face and that look in her eyes that it is all over with her, but we heat up some tea with lavender and camomile to ease her pain. Peter sets about stopping the bleeding and I take dear old Majda in my arms, like a baby and put my breath close to hers so she knows someone is near…
Majda: Suzy, is that you ?
Suzanna: Of course, its me you old fool…
Majda: I was such a clown Suzy…it was so funny !
Suzanna: Be still, now.
I shinned up the tree which overhangs the Lannica near the meadow. I saw such a juicy cruncher and I said – “Majda, one of those beautiful apples was put there by God and he means you to get it!” I climbed up, and I meant to have it at any cost… I inched along that branch ’til I was over the flowing tide and then – fat lump that I am- that branch makes a decision to break and I’m a-plunging into the icy cool -I flap my wings like a bird – but I’m like a brown bear who suddenly decides that maybe it would be better to be an eagle…
(she laughs and coughs painfully, as Suzanna cradles her)
Suzanna: Hush now, mother, save your strength…
Majda: Then I am splashing in the current which carries me along and there is nothing on earth I can do. Within a few seconds am over the Lannica Falls, heading like driftwood towards the ferry crossing. There’s the noonday ferryboat going across with a hundred lost souls just arrived for Germany all bound straight for the gas by the look of ’em – women, babies and children, so many children. Suzy, So many pretty children ! One poor child was wearing a pink birthday dress. She had no idea what was happening to her.
(Majda coughs and winces in pain)
Suzanna: Easy, mother. Easy.
Majda: Two guards catch sight of me and I know I am a sitting duck. They raise their rifles so I decide to put one on them as I shoot past at thirty-an-hour like some fairground target. As they take aim I scream, scream with all the breath god gave me. “Jump!” I am a screaming at the shivering crowd on the ferry boat, “Jump for your lives! That’s no work camp, there’s gas is all that’s waiting for you on the other side. Save yourselves!” Then I’m tearing past and I take six or more bullets before I’m out of the range of their guns. The pain is worse than I ever dreamed, but I laugh Suzy, I laugh and I sing when I see two young’ns pull off their lice-ridden jackets and leap off that hellboat into our Lannica which soon carries them to safety before those Nazi fools know what’s happening! Then I blacked out and prayed for a swift drowning…
(She suddenly winces in pain then coughs violently. Peter brings the tea which is now ready)
Suzanna: I take the old fool in my arms and rock her gently and she just lies there like a babe in my arms, helpless, soon to be new-born into a land of shadows or perhaps Christ’s new kingdom.
(she rocks her gently)
Majda: Will you do something for me ? Please…
Suzanna: Name it, I say, name it as I lean close to catch his fading words…
Majda: Sing to me, daughter. Sing to me.
Suzanna: So I will lean closer and sing to her and kiss her quavering lips which bubble with blood from deep inside her broken lungs. I will pay no heed as I press my lips softly to hers and sing her to her final sleep:
“Away my love, come away my love
(Majda tries to join in weakly)
Across the hills with me
And I will give to you my heart
For all eternity…”
Then I lay her down, and justice says she should die peacefully on the last line of a song.
Peter: But there is no justice in this place, and she moans and cries out with the pain for another hour, and a dozen more before she wheezes a last breath, when we can finally close her lids and say a prayer…
Suzanna (crying and singing) …and I will give to you my heart for all eternity.
(she wipes the blood from her mouth as lights fade. Exit Suzanna and Peter)
(Lights up on Peter, centrestage right)
Peter: It was a time of mixing chalk with flour to bake bread. There was plenty of chalk and little enough flour. It was a time of watered ale and stolen wine. We robbed squirrels of their store of acorns, we relieved foxes of their winter coats. There were stories from the north of Partisans who drank the blood of captured Ukrainian solders and ate their flesh just to stay alive, but we never believed them. Yet there wasn’t a rat, a cat or a dog, a bear or a badger that didn’t find one of it’s kin a-boilin’ in a rusty pot or a-roastin’ over an open fire.
Suzanna (crouching behind a tree): Shhh!
Peter: How many of them ?
Suzanna; Shhhh! Two about ten metres apart.
(Peter makes the call of an owl. There is a call offstage in reply)
Suzanna; The one on the left is drinking.
Suzanna; Not drunk – but not far off. He’ll be easier. But the other one. He’s younger, fresher. Take him from behind, and slit his rotten throat.
(another owl call from offstage)
Peter: The ferry’s here ! It’s the boat !
Suzanna: Quickly then. Is Marko in position?
Peter: Hold off !Not yet ! You’re always so impatient!
Peter (giggling); Shh! You’ll have us killed one of these days!
Suzanna: Perhaps ! (Suddenly shouting) NOW!
(Suzanna leaps up and fires her machine gun screaming. Peter jumps up and fires as well. They freeze in tableau)
Peter: We used to play at war as children. I remember catching the rabbi one on the arse as he came out of Moses the butcher’s. We had catapults and pop guns and I even made a crossbow out of some wood and a rubber ring from an old press machine Uncle Mirko used to own.
(they fire their guns again)
Suzanna: We leap out from our cover amongst the bushes and put a dozen holes and a ten more into two guards. And there’s the turncoat, ferryman who can hardly stand with all the vodka inside him, now spilling with his blood from thirty different places. The boat stops in mid-flow and there are three score of women and children, mainly Jews, who huddle together, not knowing where to turn. Majda calls out…
Majda (from offstage, entering stage left): It’s alright. You’re safe now! You! Take the oar and bring her slowly ’round…
Peter: In the games we played as children, we were the victors, chasing the terrified Philistines out of our land. We were the great bible fighters of old, with modern cork rifles and wooden hand grenades. We fought Goliath with broomstick machine guns!
Suzanna: But that day, when the sun was shining like a diamond through the freezing rain which fell without rest ’til dusk, I took the lives of twelve men. Twelve pissed Nazis, not one of ’em past his nineteenth birthday. And we saved of lives of how many ?
Peter: It doesn’t matter.
Suzanna: (angrily): How many ? Three people. Two men and a young girl. Jews.
Peter: A young girl ! A beautiful, blooming rose of a young girl.
Suzanna: Twelve dead for a young girl ! Eleven with a gun and one taken from behind, I slit his throat before he had time to cry out. I took some of his blood in my mouth. Warm it was and stinkin’ of vodka. “Jump!” we cried. “Save yourselves before the tanks come!” And three jumped ! Three out of seventy or more. They just stood there, lookin’ at us with the same crazy, confusion in their eyes as they looked into the eyes of their slavemasters only seconds before. “Leave us alone, you are making trouble for us. Let us alone won’t you ? We’re being resettled. Get away from us !”
Peter: They were frightened, for god’s sake. Confused !
Suzanna: But the look, Peter ! The look on their faces ! They looked at me as if I were no better than a Nazi ! Perhaps I’m not. Sweet Jesus, perhaps I’m not !
(lights up on Suzanna centrestage)
Suzanna: When that awful war came to an end, it was seven years since I had visited that weary place in the woods we had called our home. Seven seasons had passed. Seven cycles of spring, summer, autumn and winter free of black smoke from the furnaces of that terrible death camp, levelled by the fleeing Nazis to hide their horrible crimes. Seven seasons free of pain and horror. The trees were a little taller and the flowers were budding brighter and with more fire in their colours, more blues and purple, deeper yellows and greens than I can remember. Paths once well-trodden by Partisans are now covered with new grass and soft moss. Though I can still pick some of them out with a keen eye.
As I wander along the Fishers’ Bank I cry for a while for the memory of our dear Majda, a mother, a teacher, and a guardian angel. I climb high to Carnak Peak and perch upon Eduardo’s statue, letting the wind freeze my eyes and my cheeks and my arms. And I think of Peter. My Peter. Then I descend and settle by the Moon Pool and take up a red rose in my fingers, taking care not to pluck it or to do it any harm.
(She picks up a red rose which lies on the stage)
I rest for a while, more hours than minutes and, just as old Majda had taught us all those years ago, so long ago it seems now, I open myself up to its voice. My heart becomes an organ of seeing – a heart-eye, and my soul becomes an organ for hearing. And I look and I listen to the colour-song within the rose.
The colour spoke of the blood of sacrificed souls, souls which once swam with joy and passion in the water, now making their way through the air towards the fixed stars, yet prematurely turning away from Christ’s new Kingdom above the earth. A-turning they were earthwards again so urgently, too soon after their leave-taking at the hands of devils in human skin, a-hanging upon human bones, hard as the stone of Carnak Peak.
They turned in their thousands, causing the clouds to boil and bubble and to rain a rain of tears upon our land, which filled our Lannica and over the course of seven years, washed her clean, washed her pure again.
They turned in their thousands. That ruby rose spoke soft, yet insistent words, an urgent whisper to me that those souls, who had once perished so terribly upon that hellish ferryboat, which had cut its evil way through the gentle flow of our Lannica, that those souls were making their return to the earth and would soon be born a-screaming as the memory-cursed babes of a new generation.
Then I closed my heart-eye and listened with my spirit ear for the lovely, tinkling faery sounds of that springtide flower. Yet I could hear nothing, not even silence. So I opened my earthly eyes and looked. I looked, and I was sure on that windless day that I could see those crimson petals a-quivering, so slightly, almost bereft of movement, yet a-quivering nonetheless, with the sure burden of knowledge of a struggle, another destruction more terrible than ever before, yet to come. Then I let go of the rose and the tears came…
(she lets her arm drop to her side, the rose still in her hand)
… the tears of a childhood stolen from me. The tears of a love lost. And those tears are falling upon my cheeks, and running over my lips, as they drop into the water and they are carried away, along the valley, out of our lovely land, to be lost in the salted wet of the sea.
(She continues to cry. Slow fadeout)