a short play by
A bar off the interstate on a dark stormy night
on the southern edge of the United States of America.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Mack…………………………………………………a bartender in his thirties. Dunk…………………………………………………a circus clown. Old.
It’s a dark and stormy night somewhere near the southern edge of the United States of America.
A clown walks in to a bar. No really, a clown walks in to a bar.
He is wearing a red clown nose and a janitor’s jump suit. He carries a mop and bucket. The bar is empty except for a lone bartender polishing a glass behind the bar. The clown, DUNK, puts down the mop and bucket. The bartender, MACK, looks up.
MACK Sorry, pal. Last call was an hour ago.
MACK One of those days eh?
DUNK You don’t know the half of it.
MACK Tell me all about it next time. We’re all closed up here.
DUNK I see. (a sigh.) Oh well. Par for the course.
MACK Good night.
DUNK Good night.
(DUNK picks up the mop and bucket, walks towards the door.)
MACK You looking for janitorial work or something?
DUNK Not really.
MACK What’s with the mop and bucket?
DUNK (DUNK puts down the mop and bucket, looks at them lovingly) They’re props.
MACK Props? Like for a play?
DUNK Not a play. The circus.
MACK (Chuckling:) So that’s not a real mop and bucket?
DUNK It is. But it’s more.
MACK Looks like a normal mop and bucket to me.
DUNK That’s the beauty of it.
MACK What? What’s so beautiful about this mop and bucket? It’s a mop and bucket. So what? I just thought you were looking for janitorial work. That’s all. And we don’t have any so good night and good luck with your mop and bucket, buddy, because we are clos-ed. See you in the circus pal. Goodnight.
DUNK Good night.
(DUNK picks up the mop and bucket, slowly walks to the door)
MACK Wait a minute…That’s where I saw you! The circus. You were that clown. I saw you. Sure. Three or four months ago. I went with my wife. Little rinky tink circus tent they put up over by the interstate. Yeah. I remember you. You did that human cannonball routine where it never got off the ground and you kept getting bonked on the head by the cannon. Yeah. I saw you!
DUNK Always nice to meet a fan.
MACK It wasn’t that great. Pretty hokey stuff actually.
DUNK Well. We try.
MACK My wife thought you were funny, though. She was laughing. But then she got the hiccups so we left early.
DUNK I have that effect on people.
MACK The part I liked better was the fairway behind the tent anyway. Those games where you can win a stuffed animal by shooting a BB gun. Or ring the bell by hitting a stump with a mallet.
DUNK The Sideshow.
MACK Yeah. And they had that dunk tank. Where you get three balls to hit this red button that is actually the lever that drops the seat out from under this bum sitting over a tank of dirty water. And it was cold that day. I remember.
DUNK Oh yes.
MACK Anyway, I was pretty much all state starting pitcher on our team in high school and I hit it all three times.
(He shows DUNK his pitching style.)
DUNK I remember.
MACK Wait a minute- That was you too! Now that was funny. Every time you sat down you just knew it was only a matter of time and then …Kerplash!
MACK But then my wife said it was too cold and she still had the hiccups so we left.
DUNK Too bad.
MACK Why’s that?
DUNK You missed my main act.
MACK It was in the second half of the show?
DUNK Yes. While they’re setting up the high wire. That’s when I did my mop and bucket routine. Same routine my father did. And my grandfather before him. Going back to vaudeville days. The McGarrigle Mop and Bucket Act.
MACK Sorry we missed it. But you can’t be too careful. You see, my wife and I are expecting.
DUNK What are you expecting?
MACK We’re pregnant.
DUNK We are?
MACK No, my wife and I. We’re pregnant.
DUNK You’re pregnant?
MACK No. My wife. We- She’s having a baby, alright? In fact the due date is today.
MACK So that’s why I got to close up. My mother in law is stuck back east because of this storm so it’s just me and the missus. Tell you the truth. It’s all I can do to keep up with the cravings and the moods and all the rest of it. Our place is only seven and a half minutes from the hospital- I timed it- but she still gets nervous. It’s our first baby. You know how it is.
DUNK Not really.
MACK No kids?
DUNK Never had children. ..Never had to.
MACK I guess a lot of traveling eh? With the circus?
DUNK All my life. Born into it.
MACK Tough to have a family I guess.
DUNK The circus was my family. And my children were all the kids that came to the big top. Night after night.
MACK So what are you doing here? The circus left town three months ago.
DUNK It left town without me.
MACK That ain’t right. (Chuckling.) Don’t you clowns all pile into a little car to get to the next town?
DUNK I was sacked. Fired. …Shit canned.
MACK What happened?
DUNK Well. You see, I’m… a drunk. Passed out. Might have been the pain killers. Might have been the rum. Whatever. I missed the tear down. Again. Boss unhooked my trailer while I was sleeping. Sleeping it off, really. Pinned a note on the door. “You’re Fired. Don’t bother to follow.” Something like that.
MACK Tough. I saw that little red and white trailer off the interstate. You’re living in that? That thing is a relic. What’s your name anyway? I’m Mack. Mack Reynolds. Your friendly neighborhood bartender.
DUNK Dunk. Dunk McGarrigle. Clown.
(They shake hands.)
MACK Dunk? Like as in “dunk tank”. I get it. Dunk McGarrigle.
DUNK At your service.
MACK Well Dunk, I got to get home to the missus, so if you don’t mind..
DUNK On my way. Goodnight.
(DUNK picks up the mop and bucket, heads towards the door.)
…Oh hell. It’s not like she’s going to pop the baby out tonight. Let me buy you one drink. For the road. Least I can do for dunking you in the drink. Three times in a row, at that. C’mon. What’ll it be?
DUNK (Stops in the doorway.) How about a Dark and Stormy?
MACK Rum and ginger beer? I think I can do that.
DUNK Heavy on the dark. Easy on the stormy.
MACK I got ya.
(MACK starts making the drink as DUNK puts down the mop and bucket, steps up to the bar.)
So what you been doing since the circus left town without you?
DUNK I heard they were looking for janitorial help. Graveyard shift. Up at the I.R.C.
MACK The what?
DUNK That complex behind those gates up on the interstate. It’s called the I.R.C., so I got a job. Mopping floors.
MACK Good for you. I always wondered what that place was. Figured it was some sort of government storage facility.
DUNK Something like that.
MACK So you landed on your feet. Better than in the dunking tank.
MACK So I was wrong. You ain’t looking for a janitorial job. You got one.
DUNK Actually, tonight is my last night.
MACK Oh no. What happened? They fire you too? Sleep in again?
DUNK No. I’m going to kill myself. Tonight.
MACK What?! Why? What happened?
DUNK It’s time.
MACK Time? Whaddaya mean “it’s time”? Something happen?
DUNK You don’t want to know. You’ve got to get home to the missus. I’ll just finish my drink and shove off.
MACK Wait. Hold on. You can’t be serious.
DUNK That’s true. I’ve never been serious. I’m a clown. But I am going to kill myself. Tonight.
MACK Wait. Listen. You can’t just-
(MACK’s phone rings)
Hold on. I gotta take this. Hi baby. What’s up? I was just closing up. Sure. I’ll stop at the Piggly Wiggly on the way home. Whaddaya need? Ice cream? What kind? Rum raisin. I’ll write it down. I’m writing it down.
(He is not writing it down. He winks at DUNK.)
Got it. Anything else? Pickles. Dill. Got it. Pickles and ice cream. You got it. Yes I know it’s stormy. I’ll be careful. I know. …I know. Honey we are seven and a half minutes from the hospital. We’ll be fine. Yes the blanket’s in the car. The blue fuzzy. Yeah. Yeah. On my way. Just closing up the register. On my way. Love you too. Mwah. (He hangs up.) Sorry about that. Lot of cravings lately. Worried about this storm. You know.
DUNK Yes. It really is coming down out there.
MACK So you were saying-
DUNK I’ll just thank you for the drink and be on my way. Goodnight.
MACK Well. (MACK doesn’t know what to say) …Goodnight.
(DUNK picks up the mop and bucket, almost gets to the door this time.)
Look. Sometimes you just have to get these things off your chest. Humor me. Tell your story. I bet things ain’t as bad once you air ’em out. You got fired from the circus, started working graveyard at the I.R.C. Then what? I’m listening.
DUNK (As he sets down his mop and bucket:) Things were fine. I’d start at three AM. “Mop the halls” they said. I mopped. A month went by. Then two. I guess they started to trust me. Gave me this ring of keys. (He brandishes a ring of keys.) “Just make it shine” they said. “Spic and span” they said. They have a lot of hallways up there. I did building A. Building B. Building C. A whole lotta hallways.
Then one night the boss said do building D. Hands me the keys. I’d never set foot in building D. It’s connected to the loading dock. Where the trucks would back up. So that night I took the mop and bucket over to Building D. Three AM. Unlocked the door. It was dark in there. Cold. But something was different. I could hear breathing. I switched on the light. And that’s when saw ’em. Kids. Kids in cages. About a hundred of ‘em. Sleeping on cots. All sprawled around. Huddled together. Trying to keep warm.
One kid was awake. Cute little dark eyed kid, rubbing his face. He looks up at me through the chain link. With those big, dark eyes. His face all puffy from crying. I went over, but on the way I stepped in my bucket. Kid laughs. It wakes up another kid. The bucket’s stuck on my foot. More kids laughing. I don’t think a one of them spoke English. Didn’t matter. It was pure clowning. Human.
I couldn’t help it. I slipped into my routine. The McGarrigle Mop and Bucket Act. Soon all the kids were pressed up against the chain link. Huge laughs. I was killing them. I finished up. Took a bow. Not a word had been spoken. I put my finger to my lips. Turned out the light, locked the door.
MACK Jesus. What then?
DUNK Went back to my trailer. Drank some rum. Passed out. The next day I was back at Building D. Three AM. This time when I flicked on the light the kids were waiting for me. Some were gone but there were new ones to take their place. Every couple of days a new set of kids. A new audience. All those expectant eyes. And I made ’em laugh. Just me and a bucket and a mop and all those kids. My kids. A “captive audience” I guess you could say. And that was how it was. Every night.
MACK For how long?
DUNK A month. Every night I had a packed house. A one ring circus. Starring Dunk McGarrigle and his mop and bucket.
(DUNK does a brief but virtuosic sample from the McGarrigle Mop and Bucket Act.)
DUNK Until last night.
MACK What happened last night?
DUNK I opened the door to Building D, flipped on the light. And they were gone. All those chain link cages: empty. My kids. Gone.
MACK Where were they?
DUNK Dunno. That’s why they call it the I.R.C., Immigrant Relocation Center. I guess they got ..relocated. All I know is they were gone. Along with the trucks. Except for one. It’s still in the loading dock. And I’ve got the key.
(He brandishes his set of keys.)
MACK What’re you going to do?
DUNK I’m going to drive it into the garage they got over there. It’s got one of those big clankety metal doors. I’m gonna drive in, press that big red button that closes the door, turn on the engine and fall asleep. It’s time.
MACK What do you mean “it’s time?”
DUNK I have bounced these bones around enough to know when enough is enough and this is enough. This was a great engagement to go out on. Packed houses. Standing ovations. I’m the headliner. The rest ..is silence.
MACK But they’ll be other audiences. New kids growing up. More kids for you to make laugh.
DUNK It’s time.
MACK I bet my daughter, who ain’t even born yet, will want to see your act.
DUNK Enough is enough.
MACK Ain’t there somewhere you can go? Some kind of home? A place for old clowns when they’re done with the circus?
DUNK It’s called the cemetery.
MACK You can’t just decide you’ve had enough and end it all in a garage somewhere off the interstate!
DUNK I can. And I will. Goodnight, Mack Reynolds. You’re going to be a fine father.
(DUNK picks up the mop and bucket. Stops. Sets them down again.)
I am going to leave these with you. Looks like we may have some flooding the way this storm is going. Thank you for the drink. Goodnight.
(DUNK walks to the door. Opens it. Outside the storm is raging. There is a lightening flash and DUNK is seen in a momentary silhouette in the doorway. And then… He is gone.)
(A moment. MACK’s phone rings.)
Hi baby, I’m on my way, I just- I think I- what ? What is it? It’s what? It’s time? Whaddaya mean it’s time? You mean “it’s time.” As in: “It’s Time!” Your what? YOUR WATER BROKE! Why didn’t you tell me!? Okay!
(MACK is putting on his jacket, jumping over the bar.)
Breathe! I’m on my way! I’m on my way! Keep breathing! We’ll be there! Seven and a half minutes! Just keep breathing! Stay calm! It’s a what?! It’s a mess?! Don’t worry about it, I’ll clean it up!
(Mack stops, picks up the mop and bucket, )
Honey! We’re having a baby!!!
(And MACK is out the door and into the storm.)
END OF PLAY