Blackout at Battery Cliff: a one-act play by Tim West

batterycliff

SCENE 1 – IN THE BLACK, we hear Glenn Miller’s slow and sleepy “At Last,” overlaid by snippets of period radio: news announcer, folksy ad, ballgame, farm bulletin –the more bucolic, the better. 

Suddenly, this is replaced by air-raid sirens, bombs exploding, and FDR’s declaration that the U.S. is at war with Japan.

The music continues underneath, but fades with the siren, bombs and declaration as the room shakes with the sound of airplanes taking off.

LIGHTS UP first from a naked bulb onstage, suspended from the ceiling, then on the bunker. A folding desk and chair with a radio unit stand beside a folding cot. An entryway from above (steps or  ladder) is identified by  the sign, “Watch Your Step,” and there is a narrow slit running across a wall. A key light penetrates the space from these, its effects indicated in  the text.

TOM McCAIN sits at the desk, operating the radio, adjusting the tuning.   He is a youngish man, with wire-frame glasses and perhaps a hint of a moustache, dressed in the khaki cotton shirt and high-waisted olive-drab worsted-wool knickers of pre-war U.S. Army issue.

He glances up as the last plane flies over –perhaps we see its shadow in the doorway. We hear some radio static, and a voice on the other end of    a two way system.

                                                        TOM:

Hello? Hello? Are you still there?

                                                        VO1:  

Roger, Battery Cliff. That’s a negative to your question, though. Checked with Loma and Rosecrans. They show no report to the infirmary. McCain, you still there?

                                                        TOM:

Roger. McCain here, still standing by. So, Lonergan never made it to the infirmary? Over.

                                                        VO1:

Confirming, no sign of Private Lonergan. You say he left for the infirmary half an hour ago?

                                                        TOM: (looking at watch)

Lonergan and Tucker. More than an hour ago, now. There’s no sign of either of them? Over.

                                                        VO1:

What, there were two of them? Tucker’s injured, too?

                                                        TOM:

No, Tucker took Lonergan to the infirmary with a snakebite, so they should be there by now. But listen, I’m calling about a replacement. I’m here all alone, and this is a three man crew.

                                                        VO1:

Lemme check with Battery Loma.  Hold on, Battery Cliff.

                                                        TOM:

Roger. Standing by. Again.

Under radio static, something makes a small noise near bunker entrance. TOM stands to a new voice on the radio.

                                                         VO2:

Battery Cliff, this is Captain Kessler at the Com. Regarding your replacement, a three-man crew is already scheduled to replace you at 0:8oo. Over.

                                                          TOM:

But sir… As you say, they were already scheduled. That’s when Tucker and Lonergan and I were to stand down.

                                                          VO2:

Well, then you’re all settled, soldier.

                                                          TOM:

Beg pardon, Captain, but we’re not.

                                                          VO2:

Excuse me, soldier. Did I read you right?

There is a noise at the entrance, as a shadow plays on the wall.

Sir, I— Wait, here they are. Someone’s coming up the path.  That must be replacement crew.

                                                          VO2:

There you are, then. Over and out.

                                                          TOM:

Er, Roger. Over. Whatever.

Radio out. The shadow in the doorway grows, and a pair of legs appear,   in period stockings, followed by a skirt and the figure of THERESA BARONE, a girl in her mid-20s, in 1940s splendor. She is carrying a presentational tray of baked goods.

                                                          THERESA:

“Watch your step.” Oh Jeez, and me in heels. All I can say is, you better watch your step, Larry Lonergan, after I bake you cookies and come all this way to bring them to you for your birthday, I don’t want any monkey business from you or Tucker. You hear me, Larry? 

THERESA stops short at the sight of TOM.

You’re not Larry.

                                                         TOM:

No, I’m Tom. Who the hell are you?

                                                         THERESA:

Watch your language, Tom. Lady present. Theresa Barone. Pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m here to see Private Lonergan.

                                                          TOM:

Lonergan isn’t here, he got—  How did you get on base, anyway, Miss… Barone, is it? This is a secure facility.

                                                          THERESA:

I manage the PX, Poindexter. What do you think? Probably sold you your private’s stripes.

Where’s Larry?

                                                           TOM:

Corporal.  I sent PFCs Lonergan and Tucker to the infirmary.

                                                           THERESA:

Tucker, eh?  Is he trying to pull that stuff with the Army now? What do they call it? faking sick to get out of work?

                                                            TOM:

Excuse me, is it… Terry?

                                                            THERESA:

Theresa, if you please.

                                                             TOM:

Theresa. Well, Theresa, we’re under something of an emergency situation and I’m afraid

I’ll have to ask you to leave. Go back to the PX, where-ever.

                                                             THERESA:

It’s sundown. The PX is closed now.

                                                             TOM:

Wherever. Just not here, OK? Right. There are rules. Security. Besides, if you’re caught here, it won’t look good for Lonergan.

                                                             THERESA:

For you, you mean. You don’t have to get pushy, Corporal. Tell Larry that I used the last of my sugar, and he just missed his favorite cookie.

TERRY takes a bite of cookie, spins to make a dramatic exit; but before she clears the doorway, the wail of an air raid siren.

                                                             TOM:

Wait! What’s that?

                                                             THERESA:

Don’t ask me! It’s your bunker.

TOM pulls THERESA from the door, rushes to work the radio.

                                                             TOM:

This is Battery Cliff calling Battery Loma! Come in, Loma! Battery Cliff, calling! You there, Loma?

                                                              VO2:

Kessler, here. Get off the line, Battery Cliff! Can’t you hear the air raid siren?

                                                             TOM:

Roger, Battery Loma, but be advised, Battery Cliff is unmanned.

                                                             V.O.    

Battery Cliff, we’re under lockdown. There is movement on the range.    You hear the siren! Maintain radio silence, man your station until further notice. That’s an order. Over and out.

Radio out as siren fades. TOM puts out the overhead bulb, leaving the beam from the window the room’s only key light in the silence, TOM moves to the window apprehensively, and peeks out.

                                                            THERESA:

What’s going on?

                                                            TOM:

Just be quiet for one second, will you?

                                                            THERESA:

No, this is nuts. I’m getting out of here.

TERRY makes for the doorway, but TOM blocks her.

                                                            TOM:

You can’t go out there. There’s movement on the range.

                                                            THERESA:

What does that mean?

                                                            TOM:

You heard the alert. There’s someone unauthorized, or more than one, moving around out there. So they will shoot anything that moves on      that range.

                                                            THERESA:

Who will?

                                                            TOM:

The other batteries. This whole peninsula is peppered with gun emplace- ments, little crews like this one. They’ll open up on anything that moves. You have to stay here now. Stay here and keep your voice down.

                                                            THERESA:

I have to leave, I have to stay. Speak up, pipe down. Make up your mind, Corporal.

                                                            TOM:

Look, I’m just telling you how dangerous this is. They’ll shoot you.

                                                            THERESA:

Why would they shoot me?

                                                            TOM:

They think there’s Japanese infiltrators moving in the dark.

TOM crosses to the window, peers into the darkness intently.

THERESA struggles to suppress a laugh.

                                                            THERESA:

Japanese infiltrators?

                                                            TOM:

Who knows? We’re at war! The whole West Coast is vulnerable to another sneak attack.

Don’t you read the papers? They found dynamite stashed near a dam up in Washington.

                                                            TOM: (cont.)

And they found guns buried in the desert just east of here…

                                                            THERESA:

I saw that. Dynamite near a construction site. What a surprise. And how  do they know who buried them?

                                                            TOM:

Who do you think? They say Jap fisherman are scouting out the coast.    And Japs in San Francisco have been seen photographing the harbor.

                                                            THERESA:

Japanese people with cameras? Imagine that.

                                                            TOM:

There’s rumors of Jap airbases in Baja California.

                                                            THERESA:

Oh, c’mon!

                                                            TOM:                           

And they’ve spotted dozens of Jap subs prowling all up and down the coast of California!

                                                            THERESA:

“They.” Who is this they?      

                                                            TOM:

You think people make this stuff up?  There was an attack just a few days ago. An oil-field was shelled. Then the next night, the whole of Los Angeles.

                                                            THERESA:

Yeah, everybody got jittery because of the oil-rig. One. Near Santa Barbara. Larry said it was just the Jap captain, getting revenge on account of they’re gonna put all his people here into camps.

                                                            TOM:

Lonergan talks too much. You think the government is actually gonna start rounding-up people and sticking ‘em in camps?

                                                            THERESA:

The President signed orders last week. The FBI rounded up dozens of Nisei just yesterday.

                                                            TOM:

Nisei?

                                                            THERESA:

Born in this country. Lived here for years. A lot of them where I live. National City has a bunch of families. Hard-working farmers, mostly.    They produce half the vegetables in the county!

And the ones that aren’t farmers work in the canneries. Did you know   they made it so that only native-born citizens could work in the canneries?

                                                            TOM:

You don’t see the logic of that?

                                                            THERESA:

Guigliermo Barone, born Palermo, Sicily; 1892. Been in this country since he was seven. Served in the war, wounded in action. Settled down, had kids. Had me. He works in a canning factory. Worked there, now.

                                                            TOM:

Sometimes the wrong people get hurt.

                                                            THERESA:

Yeah, when you’re ready to shoot anything that moves! And who are the right people? That could be me out there, if that siren came a minute earlier. Or Lonergan and Tucker.

                                                            TOM:

Yeah, unauthorized PX girl. Or two clowns pulling a ruse on a bunkmate.

                                                            THERESA:

Ruse?

                                                            TOM:

Ruse. Trick. Practical joke.

                                                            THERESA:

I don’t know what you’re talking about …Tom, is it? I don’t put nothing past those two, when they put their heads together, but I ain’t part of any ruse.

                                                            TOM:

Okay, okay, alright. There isn’t any ruse. It’s just: I didn’t actually see the snakebite.

This catches THERESA short.                                         

                                                            THERESA:

Snakebite?

                                                            TOM:

At least that’s what they told me. They showed me the snake, but I never actually saw the marks on Lonergan’s arm.

                                                            THERESA:

Larry got bit by a snake? Jesus!

                                                            TOM:

He’ll be okay. I sent him to the infirmary.

                                                            THERESA:

With a snakebite.

                                                            TOM:

He’ll be fine.

                                                            THERESA:

He got bit by a snake!

                                                            TOM:

You can’t go out there!

THERESA makes for the doorway, but TOM stops her. There’s a bit of a struggle, which TOM finally wins but it takes some effort and is not heroic. It leaves THERESA flat on her butt on the floor and them both breathless.

After a moment…

                                                             TERRY:

And to think I was going to offer you a cookie. Not all the thugs are in Germany, I see.

                                                            TOM:

Look, I’m not a thug, I’m just—  Okay. Okay. They’ll shoot you to pieces, but… You go if you want to.

TOM steps aside, but THERESA doesn’t move from the floor. TOM offers THERESA his hand, but she waves him off and picks herself up off the floor.

                                                             THERESA:

Is he gonna be okay?

                                                             TOM:

Who, Lonergan? I don’t know. He hasn’t shown at the infirmary.

                                                             THERESA:

What?

                                                             TOM:

Lonergan and Tucker, not at the infirmary yet. At least, last I checked.

                                                             THERESA:

Well, where are they, then?

She crosses toward the window as she realizes.

Oh my gosh! You think they’re still out there?

                                                            TOM:

They might be. I don’t know. The whole thing may have been a practical joke. You know those two. And I never actually saw the snakebite. Lonergan’s hand was bandaged.

                                                            THERESA:

But why would they fake a snake attack? I mean, when they could fake   any other injury?

                                                            TOM:

‘Cause they know I’m afraid of snakes. They turn up in all the bunkers. Snakes. Snakes, or rats. Tucker likes to joke that the snakes keep the rat population down. He says they can smell fear.

                                                            THERESA:

That Tucker is a piece of work. But he wouldn’t go so far as to fake a thing like a snake bite.

                                                            TOM:

Maybe.  I did see the snake, before it slithered behind the bed.

TERRY wheels on the room, rigid and alert.

                                                                THERESA:

You mean the snake’s still here?

                                                                TOM:

Probably, somewhere. Pacific rattler, eight rattles.

                                                              THERESA:

You don’t sound like a guy who’s afraid of snakes.

                                                              TOM:

Then I hide it well. Terrified. But I grew up with ‘em all around me. On our ranch.

                                                             THERESA:

Oooh… Your ranch! Lucky you.

                                                             TOM:

In the desert, they’re all around you. When you ride the range long enough, you’re bound to come across one.

TERRY is not so good at disguising her amusement.

                                                             THERESA:

Sorry, it’s just… “Shucks, when you ride the range.” You don’t look like much of a cowboy.

TOM, surprisingly, gives a little self-deprecating laugh.

                                                            TOM:

Yeah, that’s what my father always says. Maybe if I lose the glasses. Grow  a moustache.

                                                            THERESA:

He says that to you? To your face?

                                                            TOM:

Yeah.

                                                            THERESA:

That must’ve been fun growing up.

                                                            TOM:

It’s good for you, in a way. You grow a… protection.

TOM peers out the window, a thin stream of light beaming in from outside. TERRY paces, eyeing the room suspiciously.

                                                            THERESA:

So, you think that snake’s still around?

                                                            TOM: (perring into the dark)

It’s a real possibility.

THERESA stops suddenly, looks under the table: No snake.

                                                            THERESA:

We should make a lot of noise. Snakes hate noise. It hurts their little ears.

                                                            TOM:

Snakes don’t have ears. They sense motion with their tongues or something.

                                                            THERESA:

It’ll hurt their little tongues, then. TSSSST! ARGH! YOU HEAR THAT, SNAKE?

                                                            TOM:

Hey, keep it down!

                                                            THERESA:

Oh, right: The infiltrators will hear us.

                                                            TOM:

It’s no joke. We’re at war.

TOM peers out the window to see if there’s any movement.

THERESA sketches the simple “Kilroy” figure in some dust.

                                                             THERESA:

“Killjoy was here.”

She crosses to the window.

What are you staring at? Wow. I’ve never seen the city all blacked out like that. I never been up here after dark. What’s that dark patch north of the graveyard?

                                                            TOM:

That’s the aircraft plant. Gigantic tarp over it. Camouflage from enemy aircraft.

                                                            THERESA:

You think that’ll fool anyone?

                                                            TOM:

No. Let’s move away from the window, huh?

                                                            THERESA:

And do you really think there are foreign-born people here waiting to rise up against the United States, where they’ve lived and worked for years?

                                                            TOM:

The Chamber of Commerce thinks so. The American Legion. The California legislature. Even President Roosevelt.

                                                            THERESA:

That’s a disappointment.

                                                            TOM:

You a big Roosevelt booster?

                                                            THERESA:

Over Alf Landon or Wendell Wilkie? You bet! But, that a man like the President lets fear get the best of him…

                                                            TOM:

The man who said (FDR impression:) “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”?

                                                            THERESA:

Don’t mock the President.

                                                            TOM:

He left us sitting ducks on December 7th. Some people even say he let it happen. I heard a rumor that Jap pineapple pickers left bare patches in   the pineapple fields in patterns that directed Jap pilots to Pearl.

                                                            THERESA:

What, like a giant arrow?

                                                            TOM:

Yeah, or… You know. Some Japanese symbol.

                                                             THERESA: (Jap on tarmac)

“Airfield this way”?

                                                            TOM:

Something like that. Why not?

                                                            THERESA:

So if they come, what are you supposed to do about it?

                                                            TOM:

Hit ‘em with the fifties. Fifty caliber machine guns.

                                                            THERESA:

Larry says those guns don’t have the range to hit a plane before it takes out the battery. He says none of the batteries do. A ship could sit outside the range of the guns and bomb the heck out of the city, not a thing we could do about it.

                                                            TOM:

Then we’d fall back and regroup.

                                                            THERESA:

Fall back where? The Rocky Mountains? Larry says they could take the whole West Coast.

                                                            TOM:

Larry’s got a loose lip.

                                                            THERESA:

He says everybody knows it. These guns are older than you and me put together. And never even used.

                                                            TOM:

“Never fired in anger.”

                                                            THERESA:

That’s not what I heard.

                                                            TOM:

What did Lonergan tell you?

                                                            THERESA:

How Tucker got antsy one time and opened up on what he thought was     a submarine. Turned out to be a humpback whale. What?

                                                            TOM:

Nothing. Well, two things: One is that a dead whale washed up on the Strand a few days later.

                                                            THERESA:

And two: Tucker knew it was a whale all along. Larry didn’t suspect Tucker was capable of that.

                                                            TOM:

The problem with guys like Tucker is, nobody knows what they’re capable of. Hey, move away from the window. You don’t want to present a silhouette.

                                                            THERESA:

Is something wrong with my silhouette?

                                                            TOM:

You don’t want to make yourself a target.

                                                            THERESA

Not by a long shot. How long do we gotta stay here?

THERESA moves back, paces the room, bored and restless.

                                                            TOM:

Until they sound the all-clear. Then you can leave.

                                                            THERESA:

But you’re going to stay?

                                                             TOM:

Until they send a replacement crew.

                                                            THERESA:

Why?

                                                            TOM:

It’s my duty.

                                                            THERESA:

Tucker thinks you’re bucking for sergeant.

                                                            TOM:

Naw. They’d just assign me more Tuckers to keep an eye on. I’m hoping they’ll put me on the big guns. That’s what I trained for.

                                                            THERESA:

Yeah, Larry says you’re some kind of whiz kid with numbers.

                                                           TOM:

Lonergan said that?

                                                           THERESA:

Don’t get all gooey about it. He said you’re smart, but afraid to show it. Afraid to pipe-up when you know something’s wrong. Afraid to say “Boo” to that Captain Kessler.

                                                            TOM:

I’m not afraid of Captain Kessler.

                                                            THERESA:

Everyone’s afraid of something.

                                                            TOM:

Like Lonergan’s afraid of Tucker. Think he could talk Lonergan into faking  a snake bite?

                                                            THERESA:

That Tucker’s a bad influence. But we don’t always get to chose what influences us, you know? Good men are at a premium right now. So many of them called up.

                                                            TOM:

“Theresa.”

                                                            THERESA:

Yep.

                                                            TOM:

Lonergan calls you “Terry.”   

                                                            THERESA:

Really? I prefer Theresa. So what’s Larry say about me?

                                                            TOM:

That you’re a whiz with numbers. Don’t go all gooey on me. What do you think a guy like Lonergan tells a guy like Tucker? Lies, I’m sure. You’re a local girl, right? South Bay, you said?

                                                            THERESA:

National City.

                                                            TOM:

How’d you end up managing the PX on Point Loma?

                                                            THERESA:

After Pearl Harbor, I wanted to do my part. The PX was hiring. As a matter of fact, I am a whiz with numbers. They made me chief cashier, then supervisor. What about you? I mean, where you from? This ranch of yours?

                                                            TOM:

My father’s. Here, actually. East County. There’s a valley named for my family there.

                                                            THERESA:

Sounds grand.  Big spread?

                                                            TOM:

Big, but not rich.  Mile after mile of rocky slope and dry brush. There’s not enough water. We lose a lot of cattle.

                                                            THERESA:

And there’s the snakes.

                                                            TOM:

You think snakes are funny?

                                                            THERESA: (snake voice)

Ssss-s-s-silly to be sss-s-scared of them, is-s-sssn’t it?

                                                            TOM:

“Silly.” When I was nine, my sister and I were playing in what we call       The Old Homestead, the cabin my grandfather built, back in the 1870s.  We weren’t supposed to play in it, but… We didn’t know why not. Because the wood was rotting, and the floorboards collapsed.

                                                            THERESA:

And there were snakes.

                                                            TOM:

Rattlers. Lots of them. I fell into the space under the floorboards.

                                                            THERESA:

Did you get bit?

                                                            TOM:

No. I stayed very still, while my sister ran for help. My father came, and pulled me out. Never said a word about it. Never treated me the same afterward.

                                                            THERESA:

What did he expect you to do?

                                                            TOM:

My father respects strength. He doesn’t like weakness. He expected me not to be afraid.

                                                            THERESA:

You were just a kid.

In a silence, TOM hears a scratching sound from the doorway, just as THERESA speaks.

                                                           THERESA:

Your old man sounds like—

                                                            TOM:

Shhhhhh…

                                                            THERESA:

—no, I wasn’t going to say anything bad! He sounds—

                                                            TOM:

Shh!

                                                            THERESA:

What?

                                                            TOM: (trying not to move)

Something. Moved.  In. The.  Doorway.

                                                            THERESA: (matching him, mocking him)

In. Fill. Tray. Tore?

                                                            TOM:

Quiet.

We hear a noise again, more clearly now.

                                                           THERESA: (still quietly, but reasonably)

Oh, come on. It’s probably just Larry and Tucker got lost on their way to the infirmary.

                                                           TOM: (still whispering)

You don’t think Lonergan would make more noise, with all that venom     in him?

                                                            THERESA: (a little louder, now)

Maybe it was some kind of… What did you call it? A prank. Is that you, Larry?

                                                            TOM:

Shhhh…

TERRY crosses to the doorway before TOM can stop her.

                                                            THERESA:

Tucker, is that you, you rat?

                                                            TOM:

Theresa—

TERRY hesitates in the doorway, her shadow on the wall.

THERESA:

Huh. Maybe it is a rat.

                                                            TOM:

Terry!

                                                            THERESA:

Or else it’s—

We hear a rattle, and TERRY’s scream. BLACKOUT.

SCENE 2 – LIGHTS UP on the same set, with THERESA now returning to consciousness propped up on the cot, one leg draped across one side of it, showing signs of a snakebite. TOM is operating the radio.

                                                            TOM:

This is Battery Cliff, calling Battery Loma. Come in, Loma. Battery Cliff, calling Battery Loma.

                                                             (to THERESA)

I can’t raise them. They’ve gone radio silent.

                                                            THERESA:

What does that mean?

                                                            TOM:

It means—

TOM is interrupted by a series of gunshots, far off but unmistakeable.     He rushes to the window and peers out.

                                                            THERESA:

Was that…?

                                                            TOM:

Yes.

                                                             TOM rushes again the radio.

                                                            TOM:

Battery Cliff, calling Battery Loma. Come in, Loma. This is an emergency. Loma, can you hear?

                                                            VO2:

This is Kessler. Get off the airwaves, Battery Cliff. You’ve been warned once. Sign off and maintain radio silence.

                                                            TOM:

Begging your pardon, Captain. Something has come up. I’ve got a woman here with me, with a pretty serious snake bite.

                                                            VO2:

Not again with the snakebite. Did you say a woman with you? With you, there in the bunker?

                                                            TOM:

Roger that, Captain. A PX employee who—

                                                            VO2:

Battery Cliff, my patience for this is at an end. I’ve already sent Lonergan and Tucker to the stockade for this snakebite stunt.

                                                            TOM:

Lonergan and Tucker?

                                                            VO2:

Are both under arrest. They were the movement on the range. I was just about to call stand down when someone got jittery. Didn’t you hear the shots? Now, it’ll be another— You any part of this, McCain?

                                                           TOM:

No sir. Negative.

                                                           VO2:

Infirmary found no sign of snakebite on either Tucker or Lonergan. Some kind of… of thing those two concocted.

                                                            TOM:

Sir, be that as it may, we’ve got a real crisis here. A serious medical emergency.

                                                            VO2:

We’re standing by to give the all clear. Then you report to me. Until then, McCain, you are to remain at your post and maintain radio silence on pain of court-martial. Is that understood. Private?

                                                            TOM:

Roger, sir.  …er, Corporal.

                                                            VO2:

Get off the air! Stay put until the all clear! You’ll be fired-on if you don’t! Am I clear?

                                                            TOM:

Yes,  sir.

                                                             VO2:

Over and out.

Static until TOM switches off the radio. He turns to THERESA.

                                                            TOM:

Well, it looks like we’ll have to stay put just a little while longer. Until they sound the all clear.

                                                            THERESA:

Cause they’ll shoot us if we don’t.

                                                            TOM:

Let’s see what we can do for you until then. You and me, kid.

                                                            THERESA:

I’m not a kid, but okay, McCain. What do you got?

TOM retrieves a small book from the table, brings it to the cot.

“First Aid for Military Personnel.” But I’m not military.

                                                        TOM: (paging through it)

Quiet. “Shingles…. Syphilis… Smallpox…”  Here it is! “Snakebite: Common symptoms include tingling, weakness, anxiety, perspiration, swelling, severe… er, pain, nausea and vomiting…”

                                                         THERESA:

Go on.

                                                            TOM:

No, that’s all there is.

THERESA grabs the first aid manual from him, and reads from it.

                                                           THERESA:

“…localized hemorrhaging, circulatory trauma and eventually heart failure.”

                                                            TOM:

“Remain calm.”  Look, it’s important. They underlined that one.

                                                            THERESA:

Stop trying to make me laugh.

                                                            TOM:

Me? Hey, it’s the manual. “Retreat from the snake by at least fifteen feet.”

                                                            THERESA:

Great. That’s a good start. Is the snake still here?

                                                            TOM:

Yeah, he was just leaving.

                                                            THERESA:

He’s gone?

                                                             TOM:

He’s history.

                                                             THERESA:

How can you be so sure?

                                                             TOM:

I’m sure. I… I killed it.

                                                              THERESA:

You killed the snake? Great. What else does the book say to do?

                                                            TOM: (reading)

“Keeps limbs… below heart level. Keep the victim… calm; put… the victim at rest…”

                                                            THERESA:

–You know It might calm me down and put me at rest if you didn’t call me “the victim.”

                                                            TOM:

“…which will lower… their heart rate… slowing the spread of the venom.”

                                                            THERESA:

What?

TOM shows her the text. THERESA reads:

“Remove restrictive clothing items.” Dream on, you.

                                                            TOM:

It also says here, “Make an incision over the wound, using a knife, as shown.” 

Then I draw out the venom by mouth.

                                                            THERESA:

Bad idea.

                                                            TOM:

I’m not thrilled about it either. Why?

                                                            THERESA:

Taking poison into your mouth?

                                                            TOM:

Venom, technically. Yeah?

                                                            THERESA:

Nature’s way of saying “Don’t come anywhere near this.”

                                                            TOM:

Well, it’s a little late for that. It’s the only thing I know to do that might help you.

                                                            THERESA:

“Transport the victim to a hospital as soon as possible.” Get me to the infirmary, Tom. That will save me. Anything else is just for show, and     you know it.

TOM considers for a moment, turns to the radio.

                                                            TOM:

This is Battery Cliff, calling Battery Loma. Corporal McCain, here. Captain Kessler?

                                                            VO2.

 Kessler, here. McCain, I warned you. I’ll have you court-martialed for this. You are in violation of a direct order.

                                                            TOM:

Sir, I know. But we’ve got a situation. No time to explain. I’m bringing         a civilian casualty from Battery Cliff to the infirmary. She’s the victim of a… of a snakebite.

                                                            VO2:

Lonergan and Tucker have already tried this.

                                                            TOM:

Shut up! Begging you pardon, sir, but I’m not discussing this. If you fire on us you’ll be firing on a friendly and a civilian, and it’ll be your court-martial, not mine.

Static for a long moment.

                                                            VO2:

Hold your fire, men. All batteries, hold your fire. Stand down. Stand down, I say.

                                                            TOM:

Thank you, Captain!

                                                            VO2:

Shut up, McCain. You’re finished, you understand me? Finished. Over and Out.

TOM puts down the radio receiver, turns to THERESA, who smiles at him and faints as LIGHTS FADE OUT.

SCENE 3 – LIGHTS UP on TOM, lying on the cot, staring at the ceiling.  After a moment, he sighs heavily. We hear a noise at the doorway.          We see a shadow there, and hear footsteps as a pair of legs come into view. It is TERRY’s gams, still with the stockings and heels.

                                                            THERESA:

Ten-Hut!

TERRY steps into the room, with a slight but detectable limp.

She is carrying a cardboard box in her hands. TOM sits up.

                                                            TOM:

Theresa!

                                                             THERESA:

Well, stand to, soldier. Lady present.

TOM stands, awkwardly.

                                                            TOM:

Ma’am.

                                                            THERESA:

Miss, if you please.

                                                            TOM:

Really? Rumor has it you and Lonergan got hitched.

                                                            THERESA:

I heard they took your stripes.

                                                            TOM:

“Stripe.” I only had the two.

                                                            THERESA:

I coulda spoke for you.

                                                            TOM:

Naw. Military justice: Summary court-martial. A panel hand-picked by the captain.

                                                            THERESA:

I’m sorry.

                                                            TOM:

There are worse punishments.

                                                            THERESA:

Your father wasn’t happy about it?

                                                            TOM:

He’s really angry. At the U.S. Army.

                                                            THERESA:

Uh-oh. They’re in trouble now.

                                                            TOM:

Yeah, he’s writing letters to the Judge Advocate General, the Army Chief of Staff, the Secretary of War…

                                                            THERESA:

President Roosevelt?

                                                            TOM: (his father’s voice)

“That Man”?

                                                            THERESA:

Mrs. Roosevelt?

                                                            TOM:

He hasn’t got to that yet.

                                                            THERESA:

Any luck with the letters?

                                                            TOM:

I think they made it worse, actually. They transferred me from the Coast Artillery.

                                                            THERESA:

Where to?

                                                            TOM:

The 32nd Infantry. It’s a great unit. Lots of history. The Iron Brigade            in the Civil War.

                                                            THERESA:

Ooh… “Iron Brigade.” Bet your father likes the sound of that.     

                                                            TOM:

Yeah, he does. He does, at that. And it looks like I’ll see combat.         They’re shipping us out.

                                                            THERESA:

What? No?

                                                            TOM:

I’m not alone. A lot of other guys, they’re in the same boat. The same situation. We’re all in this together.

                                                            THERESA:

Where are they sending you?

                                                            TOM:

You know I’m not at liberty to say.

                                                            THERESA:

Yeah. Yeah, I do know that. I hear Tucker’s shipping out.                 (whispering) To the Aleutians.

                                                            TOM:

Couldn’t say.

                                                            THERESA:

And Lonergan’s staying right here. I hear he’s cleaning the latrines. But   you can’t believe everything you hear, you know?

                                                            TOM:

Yeah You gotta be careful about rumors. I heard you almost lost your leg.

                                                            THERESA:

There was some tissue damage. Not much. The doctor says I was lucky.

                                                            TOM:

I’m so sorry.

                                                            THERESA:

Sorry I was lucky?

                                                            TOM:

Of course not. Sorry I didn’t take you to the infirmary straight off.

                                                            THERESA:

You’re the reason I’m still here.

                                                            TOM:

Still alive? You’re exaggerating.

                                                            THERESA:

No, still in San Diego. I’m moving to DC. Got a job with the Navy.    Catching a train out tonight.

                                                            TOM:

You came just to say goodbye?

                                                            THERESA:

I came to give you this.

THERESA takes the box from the cot, presents it to TOM.

                                                            TOM:

Cookies?

                                                            THERESA:

I thought you were worth a whole cake. Cost me all my sugar ration for the month.

TOM opens the box, looks inside, and smiles.

Is that a whale?                                   TOM:

                                                            THERESA:

Supposed to be a snake. It kinda got mushed. Sorry.

                                                            TOM:

No, that’s alright.

TOM dips a finger in the cake, tastes the icing.

Doesn’t taste like snake.

THERESA laughs. They enjoy that for a moment.

                                                            THERESA:

So, if you’re ever in DC…

                                                            TOM:

They’re sending me to the Pacific. I can at least tell you that much.

                                                            THERESA:

No, I mean… When all this is over. If you find yourself in New York.

Look me up. Is all I’m saying.

                                                            TOM:

I’ll do that.

                                                           THERESA:

You come through.

                                                            TOM:

I’ll try.

THERESA takes out a small piece of paper. In the meanwhile, send me         a postcard now and then. Don’t worry, the army will black out any sensitive information.

                                                            TOM:

I’ll try not to say anything sensitive.

                                                            THERESA:

Yeah.

                                                            TOM:

I’m glad we got to know each other.

                                                            THERESA:

Yeah. Me too.

THERESA embraces TOM, who balances the box of cake as best he can, and then drops it to embrace THERESA. It is not a romantic embrace, but one of grief and relief. And they just hold each other like that, not moving.

LIGHTS CROSSFADE to a blue exterior light through the window, as we hear Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” and LIGHTS FADE TO BLACK. END OF PLAY.

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