This was written as part of the ’28 Plays Later’ challenge, where participants have to write a play each day for the month of February.
For this one, we were asked to write about the body and its parts.
As you can imagine, these are written under quite a lot of pressure of time (most participants have full time jobs) and what can be defined as a ‘play’ is pretty broad.
A doctor’s surgery. Nathan is a neurosurgeon. Anthony is his anxious patient.
N: Well, Anthony, let me start by putting you at your ease. We have examined your scans in minute detail, and I’m very happy to report that your tumour has completely disappeared.
A: Oh – oh my God, that’s such a – such a – oh I’m so (he becomes overwhelmed with emotion and bursts into tears).
Nathan comforts him somewhat awkwardly.
N: Well, that’s good news, isn’t it Anthony, really good news. Great news. We should all be very happy. Very happy.
A: (through his tears) Believe me, I am so grateful, so grateful for all the attention that I’ve been…
N: (quite bluntly) You should be happy.
A: (slightly disconcerted) I am. As I said, I’m really, really…
N: Happy. Not crying.
A: Sorry, but that’s quite natural, isn’t it?
N: Natural? Well, everything’s natural.
A: Yes, but when someone has been under a great deal of stress, and is worried about something, doesn’t the relief often make them break down in tears?
N: Well, sometimes. But I’m guessing you do it quite a lot, don’t you, Anthony?
A: What? What is this?
N: Is that true, or am I wrong?
A: I don’t even –
N: It’s a fairly simple question, and I know you’ve just had good news, and everything, but I don’t see that there’s any good reason not to ask it now: do you cry a lot?
A: I – well – I – yes, I suppose, I would say, I’m a fairly – er – emotional kind of person.
N: No, no, don’t put it like that, don’t try to make it sound like it’s some kind of virtue, you cry a lot.
A: Yes, but the reason I cry is –
N: Is what? Because you think your emotions are more important than someone else who doesn’t cry?
A: No, of course not –
N: What were you going to say then?
A: I don’t know – well, I suppose I was going to say, yes, that I am a fairly emotional kind of person.
N: What does that mean, though, Anthony, you said it before, and as I suggested, I’m not sure it actually means anything. Lots of people get very emotional about things, but they manage to keep a stiff upper lip, so to speak, they don’t immediately start blubbing away like a baby!
A: I’m sorry, I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this.
N: Well, of course, we’re all very pleased that the tumour has disappeared.
A: Yes, so am I, I think I said that, I really hope I’m clear how very grateful I’ve been for all the care I’ve received. Up until now.
A: But? There’s a but?
N: Well, perhaps not a but. More a sort of ‘by the way’.
A: A by the way? I’m not even sure what that would mean in the context of a brain tumour… Your brain tumour had gone away and by the way you’re pregnant? Your brain tumour has vanished and by the way you’re about to have a major stroke?
N: You’re a cry-baby, Anthony.
A: Yes, you’ve told me that, though I don’t know why –
N: We know why, Anthony.
A: What? You know why?
N: The brain reveals more of its secrets to us on an almost daily basis, Anthony. We have begun mapping it in more detail than ever before. Using machine learning and AI, there is a remarkable amount we can find out about people.
A: I see. (pause) Is that legal?
N: Legal? You signed a waiver.
A: To scan my brain and tell me how the tumour was going. Not to give me grief for my personality defects.
N: I’m not giving you grief at all, Anthony. It’s entirely up to you what you do with this information. If you want to carry on being a big soppy girl’s blouse of a cry-baby, you are most welcome.
A: Well, thank you very much. How very kind of you.
Anthony has a sulky demeanour.
N: Have I said something to upset you?
A: Upset? No, not at all. Not at all. If I were upset, I’d be crying wouldn’t I? Like a big girl’s blouse.
N: Ah, I see.
A: I think you might be the one with the personality defect, actually, you might be the one on some kind of spectrum for your failure to relate emotionally to people.
N: No, I’ve been scanned for that. I’m fine.
A: You think.
N: No, really, objectively, I’m fine. It’s been checked and double checked by all the best experts in the field, and all of my emotional responses are entirely within the normal parameters, and I am not to be regarded as being on any spectrum whatsoever by anyone, and furthermore, I have the right of legal action against anyone who suggests otherwise.
A: (slightly taken aback) Oh. Right.
N: Maybe you’d just let me show you this 3D scan of your brain, Anthony. It’s really quite informative, and might assist you in coming to some kind of decision.
A: A decision?
Nathan gives him a small pair of glasses, flimsy cardboard things like you watch eclipses with, or a 3d movie old style which he puts on. Nathan puts on a pair too. He holds up a lolly stick between them, which he moves as if he is rotating something. As he speaks, he clearly indicates various portions and pathways of, what is, by common consent, Anthony’s brain.
N: Just take a look here. These pathways represent your lachrymal system. This controls your tear ducts, and the associated areas of your nasal area. It’s because of the proximity to the nasal area that things like cutting onions often causes people to cry. It also accounts for the effectiveness of tear gas and pepper spray. Unlike most people, however, your primary emotional conduits, what we call the Rivulets of Paltrow, run very close to your lachrymal system. You can see by comparing your brain to a scan of a normal person.
A: A normal person?
N: Yes. Well, in this case, it’s me, but as I’ve said, I have been officially certified as normal in every possible respect. And no one can say otherwise.
A: I’m not saying that. At no stage have I suggested that you’re not normal.
N: I’m glad. So, you see, my lachrymal system runs in its own gully across this lobe of the brain, and although it runs parallel to my Rivulets of Paltrow, the connections between them are minimal. In your case, in addition, there are also some very unhealthy connections with the Channels of Dodd, which are concerned with musical appreciation.
A: Where do these things get their names?
N: Oh, they are named after the neuro-scientists who discovered them. Friedrich Paltrow was active in the late nineteen fifties and did much work on emotional centres of the brain. And then, of course, the very famous Ken Dodd.
A: Ken Dodd?
N: That’s right.
A: (laughs) That’s a bit of a coincidence. I mean, Ken Dodd.
N: A coincidence? With what?
A: Well, you know – Ken Dodd. Oh, I guess you’re too young. Ken Dodd. He’s a very famous comedian. You know, tickling stick, diddy-men, the whole thing.
N: (nodding) That’s the one.
A: (taking his glasses off) What?
N: Yes, he keeps it quiet, but Mr Dodd is one of the finest minds in neuroscience. I am sure it is partly what has ensured that his act has such enduring appeal. ‘What a lovely day, Mrs – hahhaha’ Please if you will once more put the glasses back on, I will continue.
Anthony does so.
As I was saying, your lachrymal system is not only very closely connected to your Rivulets of Paltrow, but is actually intertwined with your particularly large Channels of Dodd.
A: How fascinating.
N: This is very bad.
A: Bad? Why?
N: For your pathways to be all interconnected like that must be monstrously inconvenient. I would imagine that you take enormous care not to be inadvertently exposed to music in public.
A: Of course I don’t. What do you mean?
N: Surely – I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, although if I am, it would mean Mr Dodd’s work would require a great deal of reappraisal – surely there are circumstances when hearing certain pieces of music would cause an overwhelming emotional response, very often leading to a huge lachrymal outpouring.
A: Erm – well, with the right music – yes, that’s exactly what happens.
N: (removing his glasses) This must be extraordinarily inconvenient, is it not?
A: (removing his, too) Not really. In fact, I rather like it.
N: Like it? Why?
A: I don’t know – I – music has always just done that to me. Ever since I was a little kid.
N: How terrible!
A: Not really!
N: To have the world looking at you and thinking what a big pussy you are? This is not embarrassing?
A: Well, no, not really. I always thought it kind of meant that I was just sensitive.
Nathan considers this for a moment.
N: I suppose that is one way of looking at it.
A: Thank you.
N: Delusional, of course, but legitimate in its way.
N: Oh, you are not any more sensitive than anyone else, Anthony. You’re just – what is that phrase – ‘soft as shite’.
A: Look, is there any point to all this?
N: Yes. I am offering to fix you, free of charge.
A: I beg your pardon?
N: I am eager to try out a new form of minimally invasive surgery which uses not scalpels but carefully crafted concoctions of neuro-transmitters to permanently alter the brain pathways, and ensure that you need never suffer these socially obnoxious outburst ever again.
A: I don’t understand. Are you saying that there is a need to operate? My tumour isn’t gone?
N: The tumour is gone, Anthony, there is no doubt about that. It is your personality defects that I am offering to cure you of.
A: I – I don’t have any personality –
N: Oh, I thought I had made it quite clear that bursting into tears in public from a purely sonic stimulus is very far from being normal, Anthony, so, yes, I can assure you that these are indeed personality defects.
A: Nobody has ever –
N: Well, they wouldn’t, would they? They’re not going to do that. Even your best friends wouldn’t tell you, but believe me, they are talking about you behind your back.
N: Of course. I can contact some of them, if you wish, and ask for their testimonials on the subject.
A: Contact my friends?
N: It is no difficulty. I can provide the evidence for you.
A: No, I don’t want you contacting my friends to find out whether or not they think I’m a cry baby, thank you very much.
N: Then you don’t need the proof, excellent. I can fit you in tomorrow, actually, I have just had a cancellation.
A: NO! Aren’t you hearing me. I’m not interested. I like the way I am, thank you.
N: But it is not normal, Anthony. Not normal at all.
A: I’ll tell you what’s not normal. This. This whole thing. You’re not normal.
N: Careful now, Anthony. Remember, I am defined to be normal, and I have legal rights.
A: I don’t care. You’re a freak. Trying to make everyone be the same. Of course some people are more emotional than others. Of course some people react differently to others. That’s what makes us different. That’s what makes us interesting to each other. My wife loves me. Loves me the way I am.
N: She says….
A: No, she really does?
N: Really? Why don’t you send her in for a scan when she’s supposedly ‘loving’ you, and we’ll find out what’s really going on. I could probably fix that for you, if you’re interested…
A: There’s nothing to fix! You know what I think. I think this is just an excuse for you to try out your loathsome new kind of brain surgery. You’re just looking for a guinea-pig.
N: Ah, guinea-pigs! Those were the days.
A: Look, anyway, I’ve had enough now. I’m very grateful to you for all that you’ve done for me, and I always will be, but you’re freaking me out now, and I need to go…
N: Just one more thing, Anthony.
A: What? What now?
N: Your Mountains of Stallone. They do run very close to your Mounds of Nabokov.
A: So? So the fuck what?
N: I really, really think you should think about having them flattened somewhat. In fact, I’m not sure a man of your age should have Mounds of Nabokov at all.
A: I’m off.
Anthony leaves. Nathan heaves a despondent sigh.
N: Oh dear. I suppose I’d better tell someone.
He picks up his phone.