AN: This was submitted as a portion of a larger piece of devised theater I created with my playwriting class last year. Our topic was "Zugunruhe," or the restlessness of migratory birds. We each had to produce an interview, a "found" material relating to the topic, and a scene, and the best of these were selected to be a part of the final show. My scene came near the end.
ZUGUNRUHE: THE UNDERGROUND
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
TOM MERCY (AKA THE IRISH ROVER): A homeless, mentally disturbed Irish vagrant who spends most of his waking time walking the streets and especially the parks. Age unknown.
SCHUYLER MCINNES: A workaholic accountant, trapped in a loveless marriage. Early to mid thirties.
LOREN DUKES: A McDonald's line cook and a heavy smoker, with a tremor in his right hand. Late twenties.
Present day. Late February. 11:30 PM.
A New York City subway station, mostly deserted.
ZUGUNRUHE: THE UNDERGROUND
A nondescript subway station, such as you might find in any city in the world. The fluorescent lights are wan and dim, flickering eerily, illuminating a water-stained ceiling, a littered, dirty floor, and some black and green graffiti on one of the stone pillars- it reads "Zugunruhe." Another graffiti drawing along the back wall, in a dingy greyish blue, reads "Here there be dragons." A sickly yellow drawing of Tweety Bird is beside it. It is raining outside, but the sound is muffled; the rain seems to be coming from another world.
The shadowy figures of three men can be seen onstage. "Mad" TOM MERCY is huddled in the shadows along the back wall, a ragged blanket wrapped around his shoulders, a thick woolen cap drawn low over his ears, flicking thin fingers towards disinterested pigeons. He mutters softly to himself, letting out quiet, keening sobs when the pigeons strut away from him. LOREN DUKES, a skeletal young figure wearing paint-stained jeans and a grimy flannel jacket about three sizes too large, leans against one of the pillars, staring vacantly at the empty train tracks. He has the emaciated, pallid, unkempt look of an addict, and his right hand trembles as he lights a cigarette. SCHUYLER MCINNES, well-groomed hair slightly disheveled, stubbled face weary, stands at the edge of the platform, wearing a suit and tie beneath a navy pea coat. He is clutching a battered briefcase, and his hand goes white-knuckled on its handle as the shrill ring of a cell phone, slightly muted, sounds. He moves to answer it with great reluctance; a woman's indistinct screaming can barely be made out on the other end.
Jules...Jules, I'm down at the station. You knew that, you- I told you, didn't I? That I'd be at the office late today? ...No, I did. Eight-fifty-two this morning, I sent you a text...I did. Check. ...Just check, please, I can't- (The screaming gets louder, and the words "you fucking liar, you're out with some fucking cunt, you're fucking dead if your lying ass comes crawling back" can be made out before the call is ended. SCHUYLER shoves the cell into his coat pocket as though it's burnt him. He closes his eyes, sighing shakily.) Fuck.
(Walks over to stand beside SCHUYLER, bemused)
Trouble over here?
...Bit of a spat at home, is all. It's nothing.
Don't sound like nothin'. Just sayin'.
(Fiddles with the collar of his coat, expression shuttered, voice cold)
Say all you like, I'm sure it's none of your business.
You a lawyer, or somethin'? Big shot CEO, all fancy case 'n coat? Might not be my business, alright, but if I was you, I'd make your business more about the business and less about getting shit heaped on me by some chick back home.
My wife. Not "some chick."
(Takes a slow drag on his cigarette)
Don't see how that helps, if you-
...Jesus. (A pause) Does she, uh...y'know, is gettin' pissy and goin' off about killin' you sort of a...one-time thing, or…?
(Runs a hand slowly over his face, closing his eyes and hunching in on himself so that his back is to LOREN. He speaks slowly and deliberately, enunciating every word.)
I thought I told you it was none of your business.
(Puts both hands up in surrender)
Your standin' here talkin' t'me makes it my business. I think.
(A beat of silence. LOREN continues smoking; SCHUYLER, body tense, glances nervously down at his watch, before craning his head to peer down the dark tunnel. A pigeon flies up above where the two are standing, frozen in this unhappy tableau, as the lights above them dim. Only TOM is left illuminated, and he comes to life with an explosive movement, reaching up after the bird.)
Oy, laddie, don't leave! I had questions for ye! Questions, dammit, and yer just gonna leave me hangin'?! (He waits there for a moment, arm outstretched, fingers clawing at the air, face contorted in something nearing a scream, before crumpling to his knees with a growl). Bloody arsehole, bloody buggering little shite, I only wanted t' ask ye what it felt like, so! Flyin'. Slippin' out the underground cracks, home in the sky, no place t' be but Heaven. Is it so much to ask? (Louder) Is it? (Screaming at the top of his lungs) WELL IS IT?!
(The full stage is illuminated again as TOM, staring after the bird, catches sight of SCHUYLER and LOREN. A grin breaks out on his face as he runs over to them, grabbing both of their shoulders.)
Saw him, did ye?
(Steps back, unsettled)
Fellow wot just flew past, like! Up through the roof t'th' great beyond, you know what I mean?
...You mean the pigeon...?
Where d'you get off, throwin' shite on him like that? Highest form of life, he is! A fecking angel!
Dunno, man. Looks like a regular ol' pigeon to me.
Then you're looking wrong, you are! Get a better fecking pair of eyes, alright! (Looks sidelong at the silent SCHUYLER, a strange look stealing across his face). Quiet one, you. (SCHUYLER stares fixedly at the track, avoiding TOM'S eyes). Bet you could use an angel. Would fly away, you would, if y' could. With him, so. 'Cept he won't come back if it's callin' him ye'd be doin'. He knows, he does. All of 'em do. They know we want their wings, but they smell the meat on us, rotten, worn-out human meat, see, an' they just fly away. Keep their secrets to themselves, like. We're not worthy. Not you, or me. Tied down is what we are, and you kin just bet they're up there laughin'. (TOM tightens his grip on LOREN'S shoulder, beginning to laugh as he glances up towards the crack in the roof.) But I'm gonna get up there. Someday. Someday, see, I'll get meself a pair o' them wings, and I'll just waltz off the ground and up to where the earth can't paint me black no longer. (A pause. TOM grows quiet, still. LOREN looks both disturbed and entranced. SCHUYLER looks ill.) 'Cos the earth's a poison, so it is. So many people rushing about, so many cars, lights. Flashing faces, smiles- devils, more like, and everyone's out to build himself or herself up, an' t'hell wit' everybody else. Smoke and the stench of humanity in the air, in your clothes, your body, an' sometimes you just wanna get up to where it's clean, y'know?
(Nods slowly, expression darkening slightly)
Yeah, man. I know. (Laughs bitterly). Fuckin' hell, I know.
(Another pigeon starts flying in circles around where the three are standing, and the energy of the scene explodes again. TOM starts to chase it, leaping crazily to catch it, passing precariously close to the edge of the platform. He tries to drag LOREN with him, but he jerks away in shock.)
It's him! He's the key, don't you see? All of his kind, they know! Ye just- have t' catch one-! An' he'll tell you his secret-! (Addressing the pigeon, shouting over the sudden rumbling of the tracks) COME DOWN HERE Y' LITTLE TOSSER LITTLE SELFISH FECKING ANGEL HIDIN' OUT JUST TELL ME HOW TO FECKING FLY-!
(The pigeon, startled by the noise of the approaching train, darts over to the other side of the tracks. LOREN cries out, pushes SCHUYLER away from the edge and reaches out towards TOM. TOM leaps onto the tracks. The tunnel is filled with blinding light.)