• Joseph Johnston

"It’s Too Nice A Day For All That"


Setting: A horseshoe pit on an otherwise desolate stage

Cast: ROGER, a middle-aged or older man, paunchy, in a flannel shirt. Eyeglasses and papers in his breast pockets.

CHERYL, a middle-aged or older woman in pajamas with slippers and a housecoat that goes nearly to the ground.

At Rise: Roger and Cheryl are pitching horseshoes from stage right to left, then upon completing a turn, from left to right. Cheryl scores periodically, but Roger never connects with the post.

Cheryl

We should go down to the bar, Roger.

Roger

It's too nice a day for the bar, don't you think, Cheryl? Bars are for Saturday nights, aren't they?

Cheryl

I guess. Still, might be nice to drop some quarters into the jukebox. Have a few drinks. Dance. Remember dancing?

Roger

Not really.

Cheryl

There's darts at the bar. We could play darts.

Roger

I'm not really good at darts.

Cheryl

Remember drinks? Out in public, I mean.

Roger

Maybe on a day that's not so nice, Cheryl.

Cheryl

Hey, we could go down to the St. Priscilla's car show today. See the classic cars. Get some hot dogs. That would be fun. Nice change of pace.

Roger

It's too nice a day for car shows and hot dogs, don't you think? That's more of a miserable summer afternoon thing to do. Not something you do on a nice day like today.

Cheryl

What day is it, anyway?

(Roger removes several papers from his breast pockets and fumbles through them, finally unfolding what appears to be a large calendar, with various dates crossed off in no discernible order.)

Roger

It's today.

Cheryl

But what 'day' is it, you know? Like day of the week.

Roger

Why do you have to know? It doesn't matter.

Cheryl

Of course it matters.

Roger

Why? You got some place to be?

Cheryl

I just want to know what day it is. I'm sick of not knowing.

Roger

It's today. That's all that matters. And we're together. And it's too nice a day to worry about being anywhere else, or doing anything else. Don't you think?

(Cheryl pitches a horseshoe)

Cheryl

I'm rather tired of this game, Roger. We really need to end it.

Roger

I suppose we could get out the cornhole boards if you want. But one of the beanbags was chewed up by a mouse a year ago. Or two years ago. Something like that.

Cheryl

I don't think that happened.

Roger

Something chewing. In the garage.

Cheryl

Whatever. We need to end the game.

Roger

But you love horseshoes. Always loved horseshoes on a Sunday.

Cheryl

Is it Sunday?

Roger

Does it matter, Cheryl? You loved them on a Sunday. You can love them today.

Cheryl

I don't love them today, Roger. I want out.

Roger

Shhh! It's my turn.

(He completes his turn with a miss and they walk the length of the stage to retrieve their horseshoes and pitch again)

Cheryl

Aren't you bored, Roger? Aren't you bored of missing all the time?

Roger

I'm not bored. You might think I'd be, but I'm not. Nope. I'm improving my game and I'm quite satisfied. I'll get a ringer one of these days. You'll see.

Cheryl

Roger, we need to talk about the funeral arrangements.

Roger

Funeral? For who?

Cheryl

It's been dead a long time.

Roger

I'M NOT GOING TO TALK ABOUT FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS. What about dinner arrangements? We should talk about dinner arrangements. I was thinking pizza, for instance, or fajitas. Do we have any fajita stuff?

Cheryl

We have tortillas. And some skirt steak. In the freezer. It's been in there a long time, Roger. With all the rest of it. I think I last saw it three or four years ago, wedged under the top tier of our wedding cake. Hey, maybe we can thaw out the wedding cake finally. For DESSERT.

Roger

Nah, it'll keep.

Cheryl

You really feel like grilling fajitas?

Roger

Sure.

Cheryl

Great! I'll go dust off the grill. (She begins to exit; Roger stands in her way)

Roger

WAIT WAIT wait wait, what am I talking about? I hate grilling. You know that. I mean I can turn a hot dog just fine but then you gotta remember to drag that wire brush over the thing after and I never could find the matches and UGGGGGH. So much effort for a hot dog, right? I'd rather save my efforts for other types of cooking.

Cheryl

Effort? You never expressed any effort for cooking. Or cleaning up. Dishes. Mop and a bucket. Fuck. (pause) Maybe we could go out somewhere to eat, huh?

Roger

No, I don't think so. I think we should just stay here and play the game.

Cheryl

But I'm hungry.

Roger

It'll go away.

Cheryl

It won't!

Roger

Just play the game, and it'll go away. I promise.

Cheryl

Like the day before. And the day before that. (She sighs)

Roger

That's great, that little sigh. That pout. You can let me know all about your displeasure with me and my decisions without having to express them directly. I've always loved that.

Cheryl

Maybe it wasn't that kind of sigh, Roger. Did you ever think of that? Maybe it was a pleasure sigh. Pleased. Pleased with the birds and this day, which was just like the day before and the day before that. Anyway it's too nice a day to deconstruct my sighs, don't you think?

Roger

I'm glad you see it my way, Cheryl. Too nice a day for talk of change. Too nice a day for minimum credit card charges and too nice a day for funeral arrangements and drinks at the bar. Too nice a day for changing the oil on the truck and patching the roof and changing the filter on the furnace. Too nice a day to consolidate debt and talk about adding that covered porch. Too nice a day for thawing out wedding cakes and for wire grill brushes and too nice a day to cook or eat. None of that forward motion stuff. Because it's all circular, you know? It's all circular and it all leads back here. No sense in moving forward when it all leads back here. One big circle. Remember how back in high school I used to round pi down to 3 so all my circles eventually turned into triangles?

Cheryl

No?

Roger

Well anyway, it's too nice a day for math and triangles. (He pitches a horseshoe and misses.)

Cheryl

Parabolas might be of more use to you than triangles. You can't throw for shit.

Roger

What?

Cheryl

Nothing. (She tosses.) You know what I miss? The yard. Remember the yard? It was so cute. We had some plans, man. Cold frame spinach, remember? We were going to grow vegetables when the price of food went up.

Roger

Price of food never went up that bad, I guess.

Cheryl

But it did go up. And down and up and down and up and you never built the cold frames.

Roger

Must not have gone up that bad. Else I would have built them. Like we talked about.

(They play.)

Cheryl

Marigolds in whiskey barrels out front. I always wanted them. Just for decoration. Remember?

Roger

Price of whiskey barrels was too high.

Cheryl

Price of whiskey never too high, though, right?

Roger

Listen, I can't change who I am. If I could, we might have had a nice house. And yard. With whiskey barrels and marigolds. But we don't gotta worry about yards and yard-work. Not today.

Cheryl

So we just keep playing horseshoes then?

Roger

It beats wandering around out here, naked and confused.

Cheryl

We could have played horseshoes in the yard, Roger. In our yard. Instead of out here.

Roger

Really, Cheryl?

Cheryl

Yeah, between the whiskey barrels. We had a great house! We could have had fun there. Games are supposed to be fun.

Roger

Are you not having fun?

Cheryl

I had fun in the yard. And in the house. I tried to keep it up by myself. I really tried, Roger. I tried to make it work. Arranging the patio furniture in different ways. I carried all those rocks and made a fire pit. I thought bonfires would be fun. I tried to fill the vacuum. I did. But YOU. You never cared. You never cared about anything but the vacuum, did you? Never a concern about what we had, just on what we didn't. What we couldn't.

(Cheryl faces the stake and rockets a horseshoe down the lane with an audible ringer. She throws another ringer and rushes down the lane to collect her horseshoes and hers alone. Roger follows lazily.)

Roger

Is it getting colder?

Cheryl

I think it might be getting colder. Finally. I'm glad you recognize that. Not so nice a day anymore, eh?

Roger

That's crazy. (He fumbles through the papers and notebooks in his breast pockets again, eventually settling on a tiny bound book.) Yep, right here. Almanac. It's usually warm today.

Cheryl

And what is today?

Roger

TODAY is today. We've been over this.

Cheryl

And where is here?

Roger

I don't know! (He fumbles through his shirt pockets again, unfolds a map, and points to a spot.) HERE. Here is here. The pit.

Cheryl

The pit? I thought it was called the pitch. The horseshoe pitch.

Roger

No, 'pitch' is the verb. That's what you do. You pitch. How many times do we have to go over this? Now it's your turn, so will you pitch the horseshoe already, pretty please? (Cheryl throws the horseshoe and connects.) Thank you. (She pitches again and connects. Roger pitches twice and misses, and they walk to the other end and retrieve their horseshoes.)

Roger

I don't remember the yard too much. Just the winter. That last winter all the boot-prints of children playing in the snow were filled with the carcasses of rodents the following day. Remember?

Cheryl

Will you be quiet? I'm trying to pitch.

Roger

Every afternoon, new children playing in the snow. New boot-prints. Every morning, new rodent carcasses filling the boot-prints. It was depressing.

Cheryl

(Winding up.) That never happened, Roger.

Roger

I don't even remember it as much of a yard. Just this white void filled with rodent carcasses. And children's boot-prints.

Cheryl

I'M TRYING TO PITCH and your revisionist memories are making it difficult to concentrate, I'll have you know.

Roger

Cute little children's boot-prints.

Cheryl

THERE WERE NEVER ANY CHILDREN, Roger! So of course there were never any children's boot prints. A white void, sure. Go on punching me in the face with that. But shut up about the children's boots. For once. For a goddamn minute shut up about the children's boots. It wasn't my fault. Goddammit.

Roger

I'm sorry, Cheryl. Please, proceed. (Cheryl pitches, but halfway through Roger begins speaking again.) I'll never forget what you wrote on the wall, though. (Cheryl quickly throws her second horseshoe. Roger takes his turn.)

Cheryl

What wall?

Roger

The living room wall. (Throwing his second.) THAT'S not a revisionist memory.

Cheryl

You just stay here, Roger. I'll get them.

Roger

You took that giant Sharpee from the desk and wrote 'WE WILL ALWAYS STICK TOGETHER' across the living room wall. Right before the sheriff put us out. Two foot letters. Cursive. Impeccable longhand. It was so lovely. Best part of the whole foreclosure. (Cheryl returns with the horseshoes). I took a picture, Cheryl. (He produces a picture from several in his pockets.)

Cheryl

(refusing to look) I know what I did.

Roger

Do you? Do you know what you did? To me?

Cheryl

You gotta lot of damn nerve, Roger.

Roger

Am I not allowed to hurt?

Cheryl

ONLY EVERY DAMN DAY, DESPITE THE SCENERY.

Roger

Who cares about the scenery when I'M in pain.

Cheryl

Goddammit, Roger! Have you ever not been in 'pain?' Of one kind or another?

Roger

What do you want? Receipts?

Cheryl

I want you to acknowledge what I tried to do for us. I want you to acknowledge how I tried to save the house from falling down with you passed out on the couch. I want you to acknowledge what the 'void' you keep talking about really was, and how you blamed me alone for it, and then gave up. And how I screamed and no one heard me. No one. You were supposed to listen. You were supposed to hear my screams, Roger. That was your job.

Roger

I don't remember screaming. All I remember is hurting. You were supposed to take care of me. That was your job.

Cheryl

You know what? I'm going to pitch from that end. You can pitch from here. (She takes her horseshoes and walks to the opposite stake.)

Roger

That's against the rules, Cheryl.

Cheryl

Is it now?

Roger

You know it is.

Cheryl

Do I?

Roger

YES. (He fumbles through his breast pockets again and produces a tiny rulebook.) NHPA rules, section 12: 'Opposing contestants pitch from the same end. A contestant cannot start to walk to the opposite end until both players have pitched both shoes.'

Cheryl

Well well well. Maybe it's time to break NPHA rules.

Roger

It's the NHPA! National Horseshoe Pitcher's Association.

Cheryl

It's too nice a day for your rules, Roger. I'm pitching from here. YOU can pitch from there.

Roger

You should always play by the rules, Cheryl. Always. It's what keeps us civilized, Cheryl. It's what separates us from the animals when all is said and done. The animal kingdom doesn't have rule books and lists and order. No order at all. We, on the other hand, are civilized. But only when we play by the rules. We're not allowed to break the rules, Cheryl. Nothing good can come from that. NOW GET BACK OVER HERE AND PLAY BY THE RULES!

Cheryl

Don't you tell me what to do! There's no such thing as your 'order!' It's all in your head! You make it all up so that you can fault others when they don't live up to your expectations. Never a concern paid to what's right and what's wrong, just a matter of checking things off in some made up rule book.

Roger

WHAT ABOUT THIS? (He fumbles in the pockets again and unfolds a large document labeled 'MARRIAGE CONTRACT) This is clearly signed by you and by me and it represents ORDER. You can't break it, Cheryl. You just can't.

Cheryl

Roger. Oh god, honey. That hasn't been valid for a long time.

Roger

We're not allowed to break the rules. Terrible things will happen if we break the rules.

Cheryl

That contract was broken in spirit years ago. You have to own up to that, babe. You have to admit your part. We can't get out of here until you admit your part.

Roger

But I'm not breaking the rules! You are!

Cheryl

And nothing is happening. (Roger cools his jets and looks around in a circle.) See?

Roger

Why isn't anything happening?!? We're not allowed to break the rules, and you are CLEARLY in violation of the rules!

Cheryl

And??

Roger

Nothing is...happening. Huh.

Cheryl

So what are we still doing here?

Roger

Cheryl. Honey. We're playing horseshoes. You always loved horseshoes on a Sunday.

Cheryl

Roger.

Roger

You said we'd stick together. No matter what. You can't break that vow.

Cheryl

I wasn't alone, Roger! You have to admit your part.

Roger

Nevermind my part! It was your job to keep us together. Why didn't you keep us together?!? You were the glue!!!

Cheryl

AND YOU WERE THE GASOLINE! NOW PITCH THE FUCKING HORSESHOE, WOULD YOU???

(Roger pitches, and misses.)

Cheryl

You know what? I think I'm done. For good. I'm tired of trying to burn off this extra pound of sin while you can't even acknowledge your saddlebags dripping with it. I can't do this anymore. I'm done. Enjoy the rest of your game. (She begins to walk toward Roger and past him, with an almost skip in her step.)

Roger

But...you can't leave. You can't. You'll never make it out of here alive, you know.

Cheryl

And you'll never pitch a ringer.

(Roger spins away and Cheryl exits. He does not see her leave.)

Roger

Oh, I'll never pitch a ringer, huh? Well, we'll just see about THAT. (He begins walking toward the opposite stake.) As long as we're breaking the rules, shit. Watch THIS. I'll just do like you do and break the rules. No more attention paid to order. Nope. We're just common rule-breakers now. In strict violation. And I guess that's just FINE. (He picks up his horseshoes and stands directly in front of the stake, winding up.) Here, does this make you happy? (He misses the very easy shot) Goddammit. (He winds up his second horseshoe and misses again. He looks back to where Cheryl was last seen.) Cheryl? (He stalks about the stage, searching) Cheryl? (Dropping to his knees, knowing she isn't coming back) Cheryl, I'm sorry, okay? I'M SORRY!

(LIGHTS OUT, END OF PLAY)

Writer and filmmaker Joseph Johnston's prose, poetry, and video literature have appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Iron Horse Literary Review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. He resides in Michigan where he is working on a video literature series about the history of boxing in Detroit. 'It's Too Nice a Day for All That' had its world premiere at Tipping Point Theatre in Northville, Michigan, on October 19th, 2018. It was produced by James R. Kuhl, directed by Patrick Loos, and featured Joe Zarrow as Roger and Emily Wilson Tobin as Cheryl.


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