Water on Stone

Water on Stone

 

IN THE BLACK, we hear water dripping in an echo chamber. Then we hear the sound of a man laboring and breathing.  The first light we see is a flashlight, upstage and down low.

 

 LIGHTS UP slowly as we discern it is on the helmet of DAVE VAN FLEET, dragging himself along the floor of a narrow passage and into a subterranean cavern.

As he stands, we see him more clearly: A man in his 50s,  fairly fit, equipped for caving, with a colored utility suit,  detachable tool belt,     coil of rope, grappling hooks, etc.

DAVE:

You alright?

 

CHRIS: (off)

Right behind you. Give me a minute.

 

DAVE:

If I can get through, you certainly can.

 

CHRIS: (off)

Give me a minute, Dad. This is tight!

 

 We see a second flashlight now as CHRIS VAN FLEET enters  in the same manner. He’s in early 20s, similarly equipped.  DAVE steps back as CHRIS looks out into the chamber, downstage.

 

CHRIS:

Whoa!

 

DAVE:

What’d I tell you?

 

CHRIS:

Shhh.

 

CHRIS steps downstage and snaps his fingers. We hear it reverberate as an echo. Then he claps his hands. Again, it echoes.

 

CHRIS:

Daaamn. How big is it?

 

DAVE:

We haven’t mapped it yet. The cartographic team is on their way from the Czech Republic.

 

CHRIS:

It must be immense!

 

DAVE:

Pretty darned impressive, huh?

 

CHRIS:

Look at those speleothems!

 

DAVE:

Yeah.

 

CHRIS: (pointing up)

Soda straws. Helictites.

 

DAVE: (pointing down)

Look down. Rimstone. Calcite rafts. Cave pearls.

 

CHRIS:

It’s got it all.

 

DAVE:

I told you.

 

CHRIS:

How big’s your team?

 

DAVE:

At any one time? Forty, fifty people. Well, you know how it goes. People fly in and fly out. The government puts limits on the number of visitors to the karst at any one time.

 

CHRIS:

You haven’t greased the right palms?

 

DAVE:

No, not graft. They’ve got rebels in the hills here. Not enough to mount an offensive, but they occasionally kidnap tourists for ransom. The government’s pretty serious about it. No tourism in the karst. Which is a good thing. But it was work getting permission to fly you in.

CHRIS:

So, I’m the only tourist here.

 

DAVE:

No, son. You’re part of the team.

 

Something lower down captures CHRIS’ attention.

 

CHRIS:

Look at that rimstone. Layers of it.

 

DAVE:

The hydrology people are all over this. We got several of those. Americans, from Indiana.

 

CHRIS:

I can imagine.

 

DAVE:

The biology is a little thin. Your mother was disappointed. Hardly any arthropods at all so far. Some pretty interesting chemotrophic bacteria. The chemists are having a field day!

 

CHRIS:

And you?

 

DAVE:

Yeah, son. I’m pretty happy. I think I may have stumbled onto something pretty special here.

 

CHRIS:

Look at those draperies.

 

DAVE:

We get some lights down here, you wouldn’t believe their colors. But I didn’t want to bring a whole team. Just you and me.

 

CHRIS:

It’s beautiful. Thank you.

 

A pause as CHRIS admires the cavern in silence, and DAVE looks at CHRIS.

 

DAVE:

How’s school?

 

 

CHRIS:

Oh, you know.

 

DAVE:

No, I don’t. I didn’t go to Harvard. Declared a major yet?

 

CHRIS:

I got to soon. Next year.

 

DAVE:

What are you thinking?

 

CHRIS:

I haven’t decided yet.

 

DAVE:

Archeology?

 

CHRIS:

I haven’t decided yet.

 

DAVE:

Maybe Physical Anthropology.

 

                                                            CHRIS says nothing, stares at the cave.

 

DAVE:

Well, you know, whatever you pick, that’s fine by me. As long as you’re happy.

 

CHRIS:

Yeah.

 

DAVE:

What’s wrong?

 

CHRIS:

Nothing, I just… Well, I don’t deal well with pressure.

 

DAVE:

Hey, nobody’s pressuring you. Whatever you decide.

 

CHRIS:

Yeah.

 

A pause. We hear a drip reverberate.

 

DAVE:

The draperies are so delicate. The calcium carbonite content has to be just so, balanced against the limestone in solution, and all at just the right inclination. Somewhere between twenty and sixty. The colors come from the amount of iron in it. It’s just beautiful, isn’t it?

 

A pause.

 

CHRIS:

What if I didn’t pick a science?

 

DAVE:

Well, son, everything’s a science. I hear you need statistical analysis to get an advanced degree in just about anything. Political Science, Sociology, History…

 

CHRIS:

What about Art.

 

DAVE:

Art?

 

CHRIS:

Or Art History.

 

DAVE:

Wow.

 

CHRIS:

Yeah.

 

DAVE:

Art History.

 

CHRIS:

Yeah.

 

A beat.

 

DAVE:

Why?

 

 

 

CHRIS:

I took a course in it. You said explore, I explored. I was telling my professor about all the places I’d visited, that you took me to when I little –Lascaux, and Altamira— and about the work you did at Arnhem. And… and I was more excited about that than I ever was about any metrics or statistical analysis.

 

DAVE:

Well, that’s science too. Parietal images.

 

CHRIS:

“Parietal images.” Nobody ever talks about it as art. These people, the men who made those images, they experienced the same wonder you do. They came down into these places, places few people or none had ever been, and left a mark to show they’d been there. It’s awesome. It’s… it’s what I want to do.

 

A pause. We hear the drip reverberate.

 

DAVE:

And you think I won’t understand that?

 

CHRIS says nothing, just nods.

 

DAVE:

You know how I got into caving?

 

CHRIS smiles, shakes his head.

 

DAVE:

I was taking a class in political science, and we were reading Plato. God awful boring stuff, the Greeks. But we read this one Dialogue, The Allegory of the Cave. All about how most of us go through life watching shadows on the wall, but the philosophers –the scientists, I thought— are the ones who see the forms behind the shapes, can look directly at the essence of reality.

 

Spring Break, a bunch of us drove down from Palo Alto to stay in a cabin in the foothills. There are caves all over the Sierras, of course. And I started going to them. At first, because I was curious, then because I was interested, then because I was obsessed. Like an artist.

 

CHRIS:

Like your father.

 

DAVE:

We’re not that different.

 

CHRIS:

You and your father?

 

DAVE:

You and me. Or, yeah, me and my dad. Music was everything to him.      What a pair we made. The artist and the scientist. But he understood,      you know?

Scientists flatter ourselves that we’re not looking at shadows, but right at the heart of reality. But a real scientist will tell you, it’s all projections.

We’re all part of a process, bigger than ourselves. It’s an accretion. Like water on stone. In terms of what makes you happy, science or art, it’s the same as anything else.

You delve. You see what’s down there. You pay attention ‘til you find something special.

 

A pause. We hear the drip reverberate.

 

CHRIS:

You missed your calling, Dad. You should have been a psychologist.

 

DAVE:

Naw. I’m right where I need to be. We both are.

 

The two men smile, put their arms around each other, look out at the cavern.  We hear the drip reverberate.

 

                                                            LIGHTS FADE TO BLACK. END OF PLAY.

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