Peeling the SunThe stage floor is bare except for a lawn chair set right of center facing down left. Next to the chair, a small lawn-table, and on the table, a half-filled glass of ice-tea with mint-leaves. A clothes-line rope is strung all the way across the stage (drooping somewhat in the middle in the way that telephone wires hang from pole to pole running across the country) as though it would never end. There are some items hanging from the line- (many heavy sweaters, a pair of tatty work-boots, a slinky piece of women's lingerie, stained work-pants, another sweater, a padded bra, a flannel shirt, a tatty t-shirt, more sweaters...) All of these items on the line are soaked and dripping with water. The sound of the water dripping underscores the monologue.
A woman enters dressed in a thick, stuffy sweater and denim shorts. She is carrying a large laundry basket full of sopping- wet sweaters. It is a coolish early spring day-one of those days on which you would freeze in just a t-shirt and you'd sweat in a sweater-but to keep up the position of the sun, in front of or behind the clouds- you need both. She begins to hang the rest of the sweaters onto the line (three big ones) and as she pulls the last sweater out of the basket we watch her face and body transform as she remembers this particular sweater from a particular day in her childhood. She crosses to the lawn chair, and sits with the sweater soaking in her lap. She touches it, explores it's weave- sticks her fingers through the weave and speaks:
I spent my whole life three-sweaters-down(It felt the way Mama looked all the time with all her parts. Those parts that men looked at funny when they jiggled. Mamaeven showed off those parts cause Papa was always buyin' her things that let him touch those stretched out parts real easy-like.)
peeking out from between threads in the weave.
I watched while Mama painted heavy blues and reds across her
thin-lidded eyes and her well-scarred cheek.
I watched her white teeth fade to yellow as she sipped hot tea
and whiskey through clinking ice, and mint-leaves
wilted over the cubes.
And I watched
while Papa grew a thin line of dirt under his too-thick nails, and
grease gradually stained it's way down
into the deep-ridged calluses.
And I watched sometimes in the mirror--
trying to pull the wool out of my eyes,
but that only sent my eyes rolling back--
back into my head and seeking sleep.
And sleeep only ever settled on me in shallow surges,
the way of rain eroding stones.
But there was that night just--ebbing to a flow--
like a tug began a yanking in my gut.
And the yank kept yanking- pulling harder--
And it seemed like a band of rubber in my gut--
All taut and lax and taut and lax and it fell so lax and stretched out of shape--
a bloated skin-sack of grease dangling from my hip-bones.
But me, under wraps, bed-bound and scared I might bloat to a burst- the tug pulled up all it's slack and snapped back a slap- And blood came thick through the rip like pent-up honey, pouring into and through my well-wrapped woolens to the bed. I flung my flannels round me and went to Mama's bedroom. The door was wide open and her gauzy sheets were bare. So I came downstairs to find her pads. But mama couldn't get them.
Papa had her all propped up on the kitchen counter so she couldn't move. He was goin' crazy, screamin' and sweatin' and grabbin' and yankin' and pullin' and twistin' all those parts. Mama wasn't really movin', her head just slumped over his shoulder with her eyes bleedin' down his back. Papa was tryin' to stand, but he kept slippin' in the puddle of blood and sweat at his feet. Mama looked up and saw me through her blurry eyes, the blue make-up streaked and running from ear to ear. Papa's eyes caught me too, reflected back in the window. All their eyes on me beggin' me not to say nothin' to the other, not knowin' the other was lookin' too. Then Mama's breast slipped out of the thing she was wearin' and I bolted back up the steps and slammed my door and triple tied my sheets up around me.
The bed was all flooded with puddles of blood, warm and thick, and every time I rolled over, it swished and lapped in waves beneath me.
I could still hear them downstairs- skin slappin' the counter-top like steak, and the bang of Papa's knees as he slipped and hit the floor. I heard Mama drag herself up the stairs, too weak to walk, and the light thud of her weight falling out from under her.
The kitchen door squealed open and I pressed my fists hard to my eyes, waitin' for it to bang shut. There a pause and then it came, shakin' the house like a baby's toy rattle. I listened to the hum of the motor run out beyond the trees, leavin' the house in a horrible roar of silence. Everything stood still. Nothin' could move but the blood that kept flowin' on out of me. I wished for snow then- for heavy, heavy snow to piling onto the roof above me-and for the roof to buckle and give way and let the snow crash through to bury me. And I wished on for last years snow-angels to come and take me and fly me away.
And I kept thinkin' 'Snow, Snow, Snow' and finally believed that I could feel cool drops of frost fallin' on my face. I opened my mouth to receive snow but tasted salt- wet salt, cooler and thinner than snow. I couldn't open my eyes when I felt a stale, smoky breath leak and gasp across my cheek, but through the thin skin of my lids, I saw her face hoverin' over mine- cryin' and needin' and too scared to hold me.
I felt a wave of salt water rush up from the pit of my stomach and into my head. Tears pressin' from behind my eyes, tryin', tryin' to get out, but my sight, like a dam, held them back. And they pushed so hard they sent me in a lunge out the door- leavin' Mama limp on the bed.
And I found myself climbing over the railing on the front porch to the other half of the house. The unfinished, uninhabited duplex of ours- that nobody ever moved into. I pulled away a sheet of particle board from the window frame and hoisted myself over the ledge to discover a living room with no walls and no floor- just wood planks and beams and piles of dust. It was the bones of our house without any flesh or clothes. I wandered through the damp, the dank, and found a staircase. I climbed up through the wild dust that flew all around me-and found, almost too late, that there was no second floor. I'd never thought that I wouldn't be able to depend on there being a floor at the top of the step.
I sat, on the top step, facing where another hallway could have been, my well-socked feet hangin' down. My three-layered pants were soaked and dripping, the smell of my inside swallowing the air.
The smell of Emmaland. I named it. I peeled down the jeans, the sweats, the thermals; now all different shades from red to burgundy. And then I scrambled out of the sweaters.
And I ran down the steps, screaming and singing, flinging my clothes through the dust, louder than Mama could hear-
and now, empty handed- I lowered my head to look at this body at the bottom of my neck. It had shapes like Mama's. I hadn't even known. I did not recognize the dirty-little-girl-bones for they were buried under the bumps and curves of a woman.
I took the steps up again- this time avoiding the splinters and from atop the steps, I rained myself out to paint the floor with what was mine and only mine, watching as my blood fell in thick droplets to splash below--and how it ran in thin streams down the steps behind me.
I remained on the step till a sharp ray of sunlight pointed down through the rotten wood beams at the back corner of the house. It journeyed straight across the dirt floor to the place where it was now colored with me and began to rise slowly up the steps. I gave it my feet to touch first, and watched as brilliance settled around my toes. It continued to wash me over my legs and I stood to welcome it up my thighs, my stomach, my new-found breasts. Reaching my shoulders, my chin, I turned to let it take my face and the glare quickly seeped into my eyes, blazing my sight away with joy.
(The lights blaze up to full intensity, she is standing center, she pushes her sleeves up to her elbows, and stretches- arms out- strong and full in the light.)
I never before found the sun so appealing.
(She takes the wet sweater, hangs it on the line in the last spot- stage left- and walks off left.)
Christine D'Ercole is a recent graduate of the Drama Department at Carnegie Mellon University. She was the recipient of the Adelyne Roth Levine Memorial Award and the Pauline Adamson Award in Fiction. She also received an undergraduate research grant toadapt this story into a performance piece.
Christine D'Ercole currently resides in New York City, where she is pursuing a theatrical career. "Peeling the Sun" was adapted into a performance piece.