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Helvetica

Helvetica by Will Coleman

Will Coleman © 2015

Photo by Todd Ristau: Future Helvetica (right, played by Kathryn Clay) shares words of comfort with the Patient (portrayed by Amanda Mansfield) in the oncologist’s waiting room in a January 2015 production ofHelvetica at Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke, VA.

About the Play

Helvetica by Will Coleman is the 2015 winner of SETC’s Charles M. Getchell New Play Contest. See the Fall 2015 issue of Southern Theatre magazine to read scenes one through nine.

For production information, email Will Coleman at willjcoleman@gmail.com.

Scene Ten

Sound effect: Sound of the Future.

Future Helvetica is at lunch with her AGENT

AGENT: I know it’s a been a tough couple of years.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Decades?

AGENT: Okay.

FUTURE HELVETICA: You’re gonna ask me to write another Darkly Drear.

AGENT: Not necessarily.

FUTURE HELVETICA: The story’s over. He’s grown up, what, you want me to write about his old age? Darkly Depressed?

AGENT: Please, no.

FUTURE HELVETICA: I was joking. No one wants another Ballerina.

AGENT: Actually it did well overseas.

FUTURE HELVETICA: I heard.

AGENT: People are more pessimistic there.

FUTURE HELVETICA: What, are you hurting for commissions or something?

AGENT: Why’s it gotta be about that?

FUTURE HELVETICA: It’s been ten years.

AGENT: And that’s too long without a book. You haven’t worked on anything?

FUTURE HELVETICA: I had something, but… too close.

AGENT: Too close?

FUTURE HELVETICA: Too close to home. I don’t think I want it published.

AGENT: What’s it about?

FUTURE HELVETICA: A girl and her father.

AGENT: Oh.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Right.

AGENT: Well, you be the judge of that. What about something new?

FUTURE HELVETICA: You don’t have any authors?

AGENT: Not like you.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Oh, are you my biggest fan?

AGENT: If I wasn’t your biggest fan you’d be in trouble.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Okay.

AGENT: Kids forget, Helvetica. The Darkly kids are all grown up, just like him. I’m not saying that’s it, I’m not saying they’re not classics. Kids will read them for the next century, at least. But…

FUTURE HELVETICA: What?

AGENT: I think we deserve more.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Awfully demanding today, aren’t you?

AGENT: I’m just saying…

FUTURE HELVETICA: I’m old.

AGENT: I want to read another Helvetica Burke book.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Before I die.

AGENT: It’s always about death with you.

FUTURE HELVETICA: I’ll think it over.

AGENT: It’s not as bad as you think.

FUTURE HELVETICA: What’s not?

AGENT: Everything.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Sometimes I just think I’m out of reasons.

AGENT: Reasons to write.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Excuses. Stories about better places, magic and romance?

AGENT: Have you thought about writing for adults.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Ha. I have no interest in that.

AGENT: I think the cynicism would kill me.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Probably.

AGENT: Just think it over.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Maybe something will come to me.

AGENT: Call me. And get a dog or something. You’d be surprised.

FUTURE HELVETICA: I’ve always been afraid of dogs.

AGENT: A little too old to still be afraid of things, aren’t you?

Scene Eleven

Sound effect: Sound of the Past

Past Helvetica is being tucked in by her Mother. Myron is there, of course.

MOTHER: Did you have a good day today?

PAST HELVETICA: I love the zoo. Myron too.

MOTHER: Oh? Myron didn’t scare anyone off, did he?

MYRON: I solve my problems with words.

PAST HELVETICA: No, he was nice.

MOTHER: He’s a very good bear. You brush your teeth?

PAST HELVETICA: Yes.

MOTHER: Do I need to check it?

PAST HELVETICA: Sure.

MYRON: The trick is just to wet the brush.

They bump fists.

MOTHER: I need to tell you some things.

PAST HELVETICA: Dad already told me a story.

MOTHER: Oh. No. Not a story.

MYRON: No reason we can’t have two stories.

PAST HELVETICA: Mom?

MOTHER: …

PAST HELVETICA: Mom?

MOTHER: What baby?

PAST HELVETICA: Can I have another story?

MOTHER: Sure.

PAST HELVETICA: Thanks, mom.

MOTHER: Okay. Um, let’s see. Once upon a time, there was a woman who didn’t know what she wanted. She wasn’t a princess or anything, just a regular girl. But for some reason she grew up expecting to find all of those things from the stories, and the funny thing is she did. She found the handsome prince. Alright, he wasn’t a prince, but he did alright, and he sure was handsome. And the beautiful castle was a split level in the suburbs, and it all seemed so great when she was twenty-three. And at thirty she realized that maybe she didn’t want any of that, that maybe she didn’t want anything at all, and that maybe… maybe she wanted everyone to just shut up, to just stop talking so goddam much. Cause there’s the storm coming, and it’s so dark, and it’s so there, just hanging on the horizon, and no one seems to notice it but her, and maybe if everyone shut up she could finally get some rest then, and maybe she’d just go to sleep for a long, long time, maybe she’d just prick her finger on a spindle wheel or something and sleep for a long time, and when she woke up everyone would be gone. But then the sun comes out and the birds sing, and everything seems fine again, you know? For awhile. For just a little while, everything seems fine and there’s you, my love. You absolutely light up my sky. But the storm is so very dark, sometimes.

She takes Past Helvetica’s hands in hers. Carrying her hands.

PAST HELVETICA: Mom?

MOTHER: Yes, baby?

PAST HELVETICA: What are you talking about?

MOTHER: Nothing.

PAST HELVETICA: I’m sleepy.

MOTHER: Honey?

PAST HELVETICA: Yeah?

MOTHER: Don’t be afraid to be alone. Sometimes there’s nothing better than being alone. Loneliness is underrated.

PAST HELVETICA: Um.

MOTHER: And don’t trust perfect people, okay? Perfect people are liars. If you meet a man who claims he’s got it all figured out, you run as far as you can, okay

PAST HELVETICA: Okay.

MOTHER: And be sure he needs you as much as you need him. It’s terrible to owe anybody anything. And do something you love, okay? Even if it’s just for fun? Even if no one will pay you a cent for it?

PAST HELVETICA: Okay.

MOTHER: And you know about your period?

PAST HELVETICA: Mom!

MOTHER: Okay, okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Neither is sex. Sex is just like any other sport. Protect yourself and you won’t get hurt.

PAST HELVETICA: What?

MOTHER: Nothing, I–I… I’ll see you in the morning, love.

PAST HELVETICA: Okay, mom.

MOTHER: I love you so much.

PAST HELVETICA: I love you, too.

Mother stands up. She sees something out the window. For the first time in a long time.

MOTHER: On a good day you can see the lake from here.

PAST HELVETICA: Yeah?

MOTHER: Not today, though.

PAST HELVETICA: Oh.

MOTHER: Goodnight, Little Sprout.

PAST HELVETICA: Goodnight, Mom.

She leaves.

 

Scene Twelve

Sound effect: Sound of the Present

Sounds indicate a large, loud party. People talking, loud music, traffic. Present Helvetica is on stage with Illustrator. Myron is there, but not present in the scene.

MYRON: Helvetica hated parties.

PRESENT HELVETICA: (Shouting over the noise) I can never hear anything! I can barely hear myself think, excuse me, excuse me–I–Shit!

Husband enters with two glasses of champagne.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Thank god.

HUSBAND: Do you know any of these people?

PRESENT HELVETICA: They’re from the publisher.

HUSBAND: Ugh, Well, good turnout, I guess. All of these strangers seem to like you.

PRESENT HELVETICA: They have been fed a steady dose of lies and slanders.

HUSBAND: And money.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Can’t forget that.

HUSBAND: Or maybe they just really like your work.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Maybe a mix of both.

HUSBAND: Well, It’s a business, just like–

ILLUSTRATOR: Helvetica?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Hey!

Illustrator hugs both Helvetica and Husband.

HUSBAND: Finally, someone we recognize.

ILLUSTRATOR: Oh, yes, these are very important people..

PRESENT HELVETICA: Did you shake some hands?

ILLUSTRATOR: A few. I met Hunter Graves.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Oooohh. You gonna try to hit that?

ILLUSTRATOR: By hit that, do you mean illustrate for him or… hit that?

HUSBAND: Whichever.

ILLUSTRATOR: I wouldn’t turn down either.

PRESENT HELVETICA: We have the same editor, I’ll put in a good word.

ILLUSTRATOR: Have you been schmoozing?

HUSBAND: She’s been hiding by the shrimp.

PRESENT HELVETICA: The shrimp is more interesting.

ILLUSTRATOR: You have to try.

PRESENT HELVETICA: I’m not really a schmoozer. I think most of the people here think I’m somebody’s assistant.

ILLUSTRATOR: It’s cause you don’t put your picture on the jacket.

PRESENT HELVETICA: No! Have you not seen the galleys for Darkly the Great? Big, ugly picture of me on the flap!

ILLUSTRATOR: Ha! Who talked you into that one?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Who do you think?

HUSBAND: It’s a great picture. Took it myself.

ILLUSTRATOR: Are you standing on a cliff, holding a torch?

HUSBAND: That would’ve been good.

ILLUSTRATOR: Oh, what is that one?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Oh, yeah, Jessica Davis. She’s got a necklace in her mouth!

HUSBAND: What?

PRESENT HELVETICA: I don’t know who told her that was a good idea.

ILLUSTRATOR: Yeah, she’s a great writer, I just don’t think she cares about the business side of it. She just lets other people make decisions for her, and now she gets ridiculed at parties by her peers.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Okay.

HUSBAND: You see what she did there?

PRESENT HELVETICA: It was subtle.

ILLUSTRATOR: Thank you.

PRESENT HELVETICA: It’s a nice picture, really. Just me in the house. Where I’d rather be right now.

HUSBAND: You wanna go home? We can go home. Fuck these people.

ILLUSTRATOR: Yeah, what is this anyway?

PRESENT HELVETICA: The American Library Association.

HUSBAND: Ugh, libraries.

ILLUSTRATOR: They’re the worst.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Point taken.

HUSBAND: Seriously, though, we can duck out early if you need to.

PRESENT HELVETICA: I’m supposed to read, or… give a speech or something.

ILLUSTRATOR: You know what you’re gonna say?

PRESENT HELVETICA: I don’t know. Something about creativity?

HUSBAND: She’s been not working on it for weeks, now.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Something will come to me.

ILLUSTRATOR: That’s it?

PRESENT HELVETICA: I’ll make it up when I get up there. Maybe I’ll just read from the book.

HUSBAND: Now you’re making me nervous.

PRESENT HELVETICA: It’s not a big deal, I’ll just tell people what they want to hear. I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across a silent sea.

ILLUSTRATOR: Oh yeah, that’s popular. Peppy.

HUSBAND: That’s my cue to get more drinks.

He exits.

PRESENT HELVETICA: People don’t like to be reminded of the creeping inevitability of death? Is that not a thing?

ILLUSTRATOR: Not at a children’s book conference.

PRESENT HELVETICA: I can never read these situations.

ILLUSTRATOR: Just give your speech.

PRESENT HELVETICA: You ever think you’d be happier as an animal?

ILLUSTRATOR: Like a puppy?

PRESENT HELVETICA: I’ve never liked dogs. Something mindless or something. A clam or a mussel or a– something with no

responsibilities or actions, just–

ILLUSTRATOR: Scuttling across silent seas?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Alone.

ILLUSTRATOR: This is super depressing.

PRESENT HELVETICA: I don’t think so. At least you don’t have to worry about what you’re supposed to do. Evolution has left us with too much free time, you know? Maybe it would be better. Can you see me as a clam?

ILLUSTRATOR: Maybe you should talk to your husband about this.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Ugh. Please.

ILLUSTRATOR: Alright, do your reading and I’ll draw you a picture. A mollusk or a crab or whatever you want.

The lights shift.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Hi everyone. Thanks for coming. This is called Warrior Girl. The town of Errata was a terrible mess. People left their socks right on the floor. And soup in the bowl, and paste on the brush, and everything, right where it fell, stayed where it lay, forever. And no one was messier that Kenzie McFibb. Kenzie never combed her hair or washed her shirts or changed her underwear. And that suited Kenzie just fine, thank you very much, because there was no one there to tell her any different. Oh, did I forget to mention? No one in Errata had any parents.

Scene Thirteen

Sound effect: Sound of the Past

Past Helvetica, Myron, and her Father are sitting on a bench outside a funeral home. They’ve just buried her Mother. Helvetica hugs Myron throughout.

FATHER: That was nice. She would have liked…

PAST HELVETICA: Everyone was crying.

FATHER: Yeah.

PAST HELVETICA: I didn’t know Mom liked animals.

FATHER: She used to.

PAST HELVETICA: I mean, I know she works at the…

FATHER: We used to have so many animals. Pigs and chickens, an iguana–

PAST HELVETICA: An iguana?

FATHER: Sure did.

PAST HELVETICA: What was his name?

FATHER: Umm…Oh, uh Cloves? Oh, no that was the dog. He liked to eat them.

PAST HELVETICA: Iguanas?

FATHER: No, cloves. Yeah, he was an old retriever. We named him Captain Cloves.

PAST HELVETICA: I’m scared of dogs.

FATHER: Oh, that’s silly. They won’t hurt you.

PAST HELVETICA: Hey, dad?

FATHER: Yeah, honey?

PAST HELVETICA: What happens when we die?

FATHER: …Fuck.

MYRON: The question Helvetica’s father had been dreading for days now. All parents, really, they know there will one day be a question asked of them that they are profoundly unable to answer.

FATHER: I, uh…I don’t know.

PAST HELVETICA: Well, what do you think happens?

FATHER: I guess I–I guess I hope something… something nice?

PAST HELVETICA: Heaven?

FATHER: Yeah.

PAST HELVETICA: That would be nice.

FATHER: Yeah. Heaven’s nice.

PAST HELVETICA: Kinda stupid, though, isn’t it?

Long pause.

FATHER: Yeah.

PAST HELVETICA: I mean, not that nothing happens when you die, but it’s stupid to think it’s all clouds and harps and stuff, right?

FATHER: You’re right. If something happens, if there’s another place, it’s not perfect.

PAST HELVETICA: Huh?

FATHER: Well, like here. Some days are good, and some are bad, right?

PAST HELVETICA: Yeah.

FATHER: Today was a bad day. The last few days.

PAST HELVETICA: Yeah.

FATHER: But one day, there’ll be good days again, right?

Helvetica nods.

FATHER: So that’s probably what it’s like out there. Sometimes there’s good days, sometimes there’s bad, but it’s… different.

PAST HELVETICA: Like a planet with cat-people?

FATHER: Or dinosaurs.

PAST HELVETICA: A black and white world.

FATHER: Right. Something different. That’s what she wanted, just something different.

PAST HELVETICA: Are you gonna die now?

FATHER: Oh, honey.

He hugs her tight, pulling her from Myron.

FATHER: Baby, I’m going to be here a long, long, time. As long as I possibly can, okay?

PAST HELVETICA: But you’re gonna die someday.

FATHER: Do we need to talk about this right now?

A look at her face tells him the answer.

FATHER: Yes. Yes, everyone dies, Helvetica. Your mom, your grandparents, me, even you. But not for a long, long time. So long from now…

PAST HELVETICA: Even Myron?

FATHER: No. No, I think Myron gets to live forever, doesn’t he? That’s kind of the magic of him, isn’t it?

MYRON: Damn straight.

PAST HELVETICA: So you’ll never leave me?

MYRON: Promise. I’m here for good. Like the wooden ballerina, doing what I was built for, for all eternity.

PAST HELVETICA: What?

MYRON: Nothing. Tell you later.

PAST HELVETICA: If everyone’s gotta die, I just wish I could die first. Then I won’t have to see them die.

FATHER: Don’t you say that.

PAST HELVETICA: What?

FATHER: Don’t say that, that’s what… that’s what some people think, and that’s… that’s just wrong, okay? You’re supposed to outlive some people, okay? You only get so long here, so don’t start wasting it already. …Some people think the world is full of ugliness and just can’t get over all the terrible things that happen, but you know? That’s just stupid, alright? There’s a lot of great things that happen too, alright? Like The Beatles and fishing trips and Vladimir Nabokov and Hamlet and falling in love, and silk stockings and coffee and cigarettes and dogs and cats and birds and iguanas, and just… the capacity to love an animal is miraculous, isn’t it? And they’re… they’re more than worth sticking around for. Okay?

PAST HELVETICA: Okay.

FATHER: I love you.

PAST HELVETICA: I love you.

FATHER: Always.

PAST HELVETICA: You really think there might be a cat-people world?

FATHER: …yeah.

PAST HELVETICA: That would be nice.

FATHER: Tell me about it.

PAST HELVETICA: What?

FATHER: Tell me about the cat -people world.

PAST HELVETICA: Oh. Okay. So the world is like a big ball of yarn, and when you step on it it’s kind of bouncy, like a trampoline.

FATHER: I’ll bet the cat-people love that.

PAST HELVETICA: Yeah.

Scene Fourteen

Sound Effect: Sound of the Present 

Present Helvetica and her Husband are looking through some papers.

PRESENT HELVETICA: The Church of the Errant Light?

HUSBAND: Right.

PRESENT HELVETICA: What is that supposed to mean?

HUSBAND: It’s not important.

PRESENT HELVETICA: No, tell me.

HUSBAND: Well, it’s like, sometimes the light doesn’t end up where it’s supposed to, right? And that’s what causes depression, and mental illness, and–and all the things that make you feel bad, really.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Are you serious?

HUSBAND: I knew! I knew you wouldn’t take it seriously.

PRESENT HELVETICA: So what, by giving them a lot of money they redirect the “light,” and then you’re happy?

HUSBAND: It’s more complicated than that.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Well I should certainly hope so.

HUSBAND: I don’t expect you to understand.

PRESENT HELVETICA: What is that supposed to mean?

HUSBAND: It means… nothing.

PRESENT HELVETICA: No, really, I need to know.

HUSBAND: What do you think happens when we die?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Nothing. Probably.

HUSBAND: And that doesn’t scare the shit out of you?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Sometimes. But there’s nothing you can do about it.

HUSBAND: So what does it matter if I believe in this?

PRESENT HELVETICA: I—

HUSBAND: You think nothing happens after death, so all that matters is what we do now.

PRESENT HELVETICA: I don’t–

HUSBAND: That’s what you say, at least.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Yes.

HUSBAND: So, if this makes me happy, you can’t be happy for me?

PRESENT HELVETICA: No, I just…

HUSBAND: What?

PRESENT HELVETICA: I want you to be better!

HUSBAND: Oh. Thanks.

PRESENT HELVETICA: You’re not happy! This won’t make you happy. You’ve collected faiths and new age bullshit and you wear them around your neck, and you’re still unhappy.

HUSBAND: I just want to believe in something.

PRESENT HELVETICA: And you’ll believe anything anyone tells you. You gave these people, what? A hundred thousand dollars? Are you insane?

HUSBAND: It’s a donation! They’re building a new center!

PRESENT HELVETICA: You are such an asshole.

HUSBAND: I’m the asshole? Cause I don’t shit on other people’s ideas? Cause I don’t think what they tell you to think? You don’t know the secrets of the universe, Helvetica. No one does. So, yeah, maybe it’s ridiculous. Maybe there’s no such thing as the Errant Light. But is it anymore ridiculous than any other theory you might have? You think the universe just came about randomly, and we’re all just here for no reason.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Not for no reason.

HUSBAND: Well I want to be part of something.

PRESENT HELVETICA: I thought we were.

HUSBAND: You know what I meant.

PRESENT HELVETICA: There’s beauty in the facts.

HUSBAND: You have such an imagination in your stories. Why can’t you have any when it comes to this?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Because it’s a lie.

HUSBAND: So are stories.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Stories aren’t lies. All the best stories are true. They’re metaphors and fables, but they’re about real life.

HUSBAND: Can’t you just support me?

PRESENT HELVETICA: I’m not gonna let you give my money to crazy people.

HUSBAND: You don’t believe in anything. Not me, not yourself, not us. You write these stories because you hate yourself so much, you’re trying to come up with something better.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Don’t be ridiculous.

HUSBAND: You think I don’t know? I know you better than anyone. And you don’t believe in anything.

PRESENT HELVETICA: I believe in me. I believe in stories! I believe in my father! I believe in–

HUSBAND: Me?

PRESENT HELVETICA: I thought I did.

HUSBAND: I think I’m gonna stay with some friends.

Helvetica doesn’t speak.

HUSBAND: Did you hear me?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Yeah, fine, go stay with your friends. All your laughing, suited banker friends that–

HUSBAND: Where are your friends?

PRESENT HELVETICA: What?

HUSBAND: You have co-workers. You have publishers and agents and illustrators, but do you even talk to them when you’re not working? So where are your friends?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Sometimes. I talk to–

HUSBAND: I’m your friend, Helvetica.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Don’t do it.

HUSBAND: Don’t what?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t need friends, and I don’t need a fucking cult to tell me I’m a complete person.

HUSBAND: You don’t need anything, do you? You don’t need me.

PRESENT HELVETICA: And you need everything so desperately.

HUSBAND: What’s wrong with that?

PRESENT HELVETICA: It’s pathetic.

HUSBAND: Nice.

PRESENT HELVETICA: That’s what attracted me to you in the first place, you know. You needed me so badly.

HUSBAND: Oh, fuck this.

PRESENT HELVETICA: You are so phenomenally broken, you know that? And you need anything, doesn’t matter what, that can hold you together. And I guess it wasn’t me. I’m glad it’s not me. I can’t be your anesthetic anymore, I don’t have the energy.

HUSBAND: I’m leaving.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Yeah.

HUSBAND: Stop me.

He waits for her to say something.

She doesn’t.

Husband exits.

 

Scene Fifteen

Sound effect: The Sound of the Future 

Future Helvetica is alone on stage.

Silence. She’s looking off into the distance.

She thinks of something.

She walks offstage.

A moment passes.

She returns, bringing Myron with her.

She hugs him tightly, and moves off to the screen door.

While Myron begins speaking, Future Helvetica begins fixing the screen door, tightening a screw. It’s an easy fix. Something she could have done years ago, but just let it pass, walking through it, hearing the squeak, hating the squeak, but not doing anything about it. Today she has done something about it.

MYRON: So what happened while I was in the attic? What did she do without me for all those years? The short answer is: I’m not sure. Such a large section of her life passed by when I was gone, but that’s what happens to the past isn’t it? Ten years can go by sometimes, without once thinking of your 4th grade teacher Mrs. Strickland, and how you broke that potted plant painted by a former student, and how she cried. So Helvetica lived her life. She wrote a little, she took up and abandoned some hobbies. Her dad died. I was sorry I missed that. She got old. Maybe the two are related. Other things happened as well, big and small. She slept. She read some great books. She watched some dumb movies. She watched TV, which was somewhere in between. She ate. She made love with people she didn’t care about. She fixed the screen door.

After a moment, she crosses to her desk, which is still a piece of the sailboat. She picks up a phone and calls her agent.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Hey. It’s me. No, it’s all clean. Just got home from the Doctor’s. You were the first one. Who else am I gonna call? Yeah, hair’s growing back and everything. I know. Well I think I’m gonna have something for you. It’s been awhile, yeah. Fifteen years? Twenty? Oh. I spent some time in the attic. Found some old comforting things.

Myron touches her hand.

FUTURE HELVETICA: I don’t know, I just thought it would be nice. Yeah, my paralyzing fear of death. Hey, Madeline L’Engle wrote into her seventies and eighties. This may be the start of a whole new renaissance. Yes, I guess you could say I’m happier now. I’ll call you when I have something.

MYRON: She would be dead in ten months.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Are you gonna help me with this?

MYRON: Sorry.

The two of them begin to move the furniture around. It’s ritualized now, almost a dance. This is Helvetica looking for ideas. This is how she writes.

MYRON: Thanks for finally springing me, by the way.

FUTURE HELVETICA: You’d been in there too long.

MYRON: Why the change of heart?

FUTURE HELVETICA: Is “I missed you” too easy an answer?

MYRON: You’re not growing soft, are you?

FUTURE HELVETICA: I’m sorry.

MYRON: Glad to be back.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Hoist the sail, stupid bear.

MYRON: Aye.

After a time, Past Helvetica joins them.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Thanks.

PAST HELVETICA: Where are we going?

FUTURE HELVETICA: I’m not sure yet. Where do you want to go?

PAST HELVETICA: A city in the clouds?

FUTURE HELVETICA: We’ve been there.

PAST HELVETICA: We can’t go back?

FUTURE HELVETICA: Not today.

PAST HELVETICA: So treasure and pirates are out too, huh?

FUTURE HELVETICA: I’m afraid so.

MYRON: We’re international thieves, betrayed by our accomplices, with no way to smuggle the jewels out of Monaco…

BOTH HELVETICAS: No.

MYRON: You guys never want to have fun.

PAST HELVETICA: What about the desert?

MYRON: A dashing prince.

The furniture now becomes a desert palace. Maybe some crenellations or a minaret.

FUTURE HELVETICA: A brilliant but flawed prince, at war with his evil brother.

MYRON: And a princess.

FUTURE HELVETICA: But not a love story.

PAST HELVETICA: A ghost story?

MYRON: What’s the difference?

PAST HELVETICA: The soul of the dead king can’t cross into paradise until the kingdom is at peace.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Magic, Good vs. Evil,

MYRON: A talking tiger!

FUTURE HELVETICA: The soul of the dead king is the tiger.

Myron roars sheepishly.

PAST HELVETICA: Then what happens?

The Palace is complete. Future Helvetica starts to think.

 

Scene Sixteen

Sound effect: The Sound of the Present 

Present Helvetica sits at a table with her Father.

MYRON: Helvetica’s father has long since retired from the forestry service. He’s an old man now, sleeping in the old shaggy recliner that no one can seem to make him remove. He doesn’t eat right, and although Helvetica worries he’ll develop heart disease or diabetes, it’s the cancer that’ll kill him. Prostate, then liver and bone. But for now, he’s still here, for another ten years or so, to listen to Helvetica’s problems and offer the support he can.

FATHER: Happy Birthday.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Another one.

FATHER: They just keep coming, don’t they?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Forty-five. And alone.

FATHER: You know I was only thirty-four when your mother died.

PRESENT HELVETICA: …Yeah. I uh, I didn’t think about that.

FATHER: That means she was–

PRESENT HELVETICA: Thirty-two. Jesus.

FATHER: There’s a lot worse things that can happen to you than a divorce at forty.

PRESENT HELVETICA: How come you never…

FATHER: Eh. It’s not so big a deal. After awhile, you just get used to being on your own, I think. I mean, I saw some women. When you were still around I tried to keep it a secret, but…

PRESENT HELVETICA: You never met anyone special?

FATHER: They’re all special. Everyone’s special, Helvetica. That’s the problem. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find anyone that lived up to your mother, It was… I could see myself marrying any number of these women, and then I thought… well, I guess that makes the problem with me, doesn’t it? I think I just wanted to be married. Anyone would do. You needed a mother, and I was trying to find you one.

PRESENT HELVETICA: I get it.

FATHER: I decided that I would make a better mother than some stranger.

PRESENT HELVETICA: You did.

FATHER: I… thank you.

PRESENT HELVETICA: I think I’ll start an online profile.

FATHER: Take some time though.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Oh, I have no interest in jumping into another relationship.

FATHER: No, I mean, some time for you. When’s the last time you finished a book?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Three years?

FATHER: Isn’t it time?

PRESENT HELVETICA: What am I going to write about?

FATHER: I don’t know.

PRESENT HELVETICA: What do you think?

FATHER: I can’t tell you what to write.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Just a little?

FATHER: Some things you have to do for yourself.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Sometimes I feel like I can’t do anything. The screen door’s been broken ever since we moved in, and every time I pass it I think, I’ve gotta fix that thing. But I don’t.

FATHER: So fix it.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Yeah. I will. Someday.

FATHER: And write.

PRESENT HELVETICA: It seems like I can’t get there anymore.

FATHER: Where, to that little girl who didn’t want the fish to die?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Something like that.

FATHER: Just be you, Helvetica. You’ll find it again.

PRESENT HELVETICA: I’ve got a story. About a ballerina. It’s different though. Dark.

FATHER: You have to write who you are. And you change. People will understand that or they won’t.

PRESENT HELVETICA: And if I lose my adoring public?

FATHER: You’ll still have me.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Thanks.

FATHER: And Myron.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Myron’s in the attic.

FATHER: Oh, that’s a mistake.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Time to put away childish things?

FATHER: Eh. Sometimes I think childish things are underrated. Why the attic?

PRESENT HELVETICA: You’ll laugh.

FATHER: So?

PRESENT HELVETICA: Accusing me, looking at me with those eyes… I just… I couldn’t look at him anymore.

FATHER: It’s hard to look at sometimes. I had the picture of your mother on my night stand turned down for years. It gets better after awhile.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Maybe I’ll fish him out one of these days.

FATHER: Well you’ve got us, in the attic, in the old folk’s home, wherever.

PRESENT HELVETICA: Always.

Scene Seventeen

Sound effect: The Sound of the Present 

Future Helvetica is in the sailboat.

MYRON: Helvetica died on a warm autumn Tuesday, of an aortic aneurysm in her sleep. She was seventy-three years old. Survived by an ex-husband on the West Coast, a husky mix named Joharis, an old stuffed bear, and millions of children, who grew up reading her stories. They might not have known her name, but they knew her stories, and named their pets Darkly and Cap’n Kloves and Veronica and Drake and they acted out her stories in their living rooms. Her last book, the labor of the last few months of her life, was finished a few weeks before her death. She didn’t know it, but she had started it years before. Before the book about the desert, which was already at the printer’s. This was something else, something different. It was on her agent’s desk when s/he heard about the news. S/He opened it immediately, and noticed the weight. It was long. Very long for a children’s book, indeed. If she hadn’t died, it would be tough to sell, but for now she was on the covers of magazines, and the publisher would buy whatever s/he brought them. S/He turned to the first page, and with a sigh, knowing it would be the last book s/he would read by his/her favorite author, he started to read. The first image was of a little girl and a small, worn, stuffed bear.

Past Helvetica enters.

MYRON: The girl said:

PAST HELVETICA: This is a story about my best friend.

Myron joins Future Helvetica in the sailboat. Sounds of crashing waves.

MYRON: Where are we headed?

FUTURE HELVETICA: Not sure. Do we really have to go?

MYRON: We do.

FUTURE HELVETICA: You think there’s something out there?

MYRON: There’s always something more.

FUTURE HELVETICA: How do you know?

MYRON: I’m just a stuffed bear, Helvetica. I don’t know the mysteries of the universe.

She reaches out, and takes his hand.

FUTURE HELVETICA: There’s nothing left here anymore. Time to see what else there is to see.

MYRON: Across the ocean, new wonders await.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Endless forms most beautiful.

MYRON: I’ll consult the astrolabe.

FUTURE HELVETICA: I don’t think there are charts for this neck of the ocean.

MYRON: Uncharted waters.

FUTURE HELVETICA: My favorite kind.

Past Helvetica climbs aboard the sailboat.

PAST HELVETICA: How can I help?

FUTURE HELVETICA: Tighten the mizzen and hold fast, girl, there’s rough seas ahead.

PAST HELVETICA: Aye.

MYRON: Are you scared?

Present Helvetica enters, and climbs aboard.

PRESENT HELVETICA: What’s there to be scared of, bear?

MYRON: The Undiscovered Country?

PRESENT HELVETICA: We’re explorers, Myron.

FUTURE HELVETICA: Discovery is in our blood!

PAST HELVETICA: All hands on deck!

PRESENT HELVETICA: Set course, dead ahead! Are we prepared for what comes?

PAST HELVETICA: Always—

FUTURE HELVETICA: —Always.

PRESENT HELVETICA: —Always!

MYRON: …Always.

Hands joined, they sail away.

END OF PLAY
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