A light breeze calls through the grass.
PHILLIP: Oh, lord. My word. Look at the state of you! I’ve been gone for a day and… How does this happen? I guess these places have become hang-out joints now. These little bloody canisters! I feel sorry for the binmen of this city, I really do.
The sound of small metallic objects being picked up and dropped into a plastic bag.
PHILLIP: You’ve been on the Buckfast too, I see? Desperate times down there, is it? There’s me worrying you’d be all lonely in the afterlife. Who knew this was the place to hang out now? I miss the good ol’ days. I used to have this cemetery all to myself. People are bored of the same parks, I suppose. Change is better than a rest and all that. There’s a gang over there, can you hear them? By our favourite headstone as well. I’d better check on it later.
And have you seen? Over there. You’ve a new neighbour. I…. No. I can’t make the name out from ‘ere. What’s that flag? You know flags. That’s your thing. It’s like a black and green and yellow version of the Saltire. Caribbean? I wonder if it’s ol’ Lorraine finally?
Thought she’d outlive all of us…
Here, let me get a better look at ya. Where does this nuisance come from? This stuff is like miracle-grow, isn’t it? I tell ya, if I do have to come back for one more go on the hamster wheel then I’m coming back as bindweed. Never lets go. As much as you might want to sometimes.
The sounds of exertion as foliage is pulled away and torn up out of the ground.
PHILLIP: This wasn’t here Tuesday was it? Damned stuff. C’mon. Let’s get you presentable. Especially if there’s new neighbours on the block. You always were the greatest living flirt, no? I wonder what took her? If it is Lorraine. Old age hopefully.
I don’t know what these kids are worried about nowadays. I really don’t. Come see us when you hit your first million, hey? I know, I know. I can hear you saying it. Nasty, nasty. I shouldn’t be so nasty. Hard not to be. Took you.
There. That’s better. (sighs) I’m exhausted. I’ll sit down here with you for a spell. I owe you that after yesterday. Sorry.
I am more and more unnerved at the sight of this vacant lot next to you. When the penny finally drops and you realise there are less days ahead of you than behind. Well, it is. It’s unnerving. You wangled your way out of that one, didn’t you?
I’m glad you can’t see me now. I really am. That blonde Adonis I once was has scrunched up something alright. I look like a bloody sock puppet. How young we were, mister? How young, how gorgeous. I had to put that photo away.
Did you know that? I never told you, did I? You know the one. I know you know the one. The first. That first date. Cheers! Martini glasses ahoy. What a beautiful evening you gave me.
Recently… Oh, it’s me being nasty again. I’ve recently come to think we should have kept it there. Should have kept it to that one, beautiful evening. Like a perfect little nugget. That feels like a dig. Sorry. But then again we are surrounded by digs. (laughs) Still not laughing at my jokes? You don’t change, I see.
Twenty years it’s been. Yesterday. I couldn’t come. I’m sorry. It was too hard. You won’t be surprised to learn I stayed in bed. I’m sure I’m not alone, these days. And no… I don’t mean I had company. I tried those applications. Fucking soul-destroying. And nerve- racking. And at my age, you do not want your nerves to be racked, let me tell you! I stayed in bed alone. I tried not to think of us. Impossible. I’ve had cold feet for twenty years, you know. Not even in a metaphorical way. I miss that. I miss us holding feet at night. Like you thought I was going to run off. You pulled that trick.
You always got there before me, didn’t you? You rascal. You made your name before me… Oh, who am I kidding? There’s no point in lying now. Too late for that kind of bullshit. Too old. I never made my name, did I? It certainly never made me. No wonder. The amount of times I changed it. Like a new name held some kind of magic. Wave of the wand and whoosh! It’ll all happen.
You knew how jealous I was, didn’t you? That’s what held me back. Still. I got to be a great plus-one, didn’t I? I thought I might get here before you, though. I couldn’t even beat you at this! You would’ve been awful on your own. Just awful… So, in a way… I’m glad I didn’t leave you. That’s me patting myself on the back. For not abandoning you. How noble.
I had it all in my head, too. It was so romantic. How I was going to draw my last breath. The little vignette I’d painted in my imagination. I started crafting it right back in the early days. When you were still in that pokey little shed in Maryland. Two figs living in the land of the Marys. It was all too perfect. So good I was already imagining the end days? What does that say about me? Crafting a perfect diorama. Crafty little bugger. You always said I was.
I can remember it. God. It’s painful to think on it. No. No, no. I’m not crying. I stopped doing that the day you left me. So thanks. Thank you for finally exhausting my tear ducts. He cries at the drop of a hat! Oh, that Panama! Do you remember? I did, too! I cried when I dropped it. Ruined. How exquisitely gay of me. My Panama in the puddle and on came the waterworks.
But I’ve stopped crying now. Twenty years. Not a single bloody tear. Not even when I think about you denying me my perfect death scene. It’s all us actors want. I still call myself an actor. I know how cheeky that is. A glorified extra, that’s what you said. You deny it and I’m goddam sure you’re denying it now, right under my nose… Well. Under my feet. Muffled under the earth. But you did. I know it came from a place of anger, but you can’t unsay what was said.
It was true. Still is. I’m just a glorified extra. Never got that limelight. Though I have to admit it looked painful at times. I could see you squinting. You thought I couldn’t.
What was I saying? The light? Oh. That was my vignette. Whenever it was sunny and you were in that kitchen playing chef extraordinaire. Getting yourself in a tizz over timings and quantities. I remember the first time so… So clearly. You were making squid ink pasta. I mean… Who did that back then? You. You did those kind of things. One of the reasons I loved you I guess. I had my eyes closed. That garden was such a suntrap. Almost too much even for me. The great pussycat I was. I was listening to you curse and mumble and berate yourself at… Whatever it was when you used to berate yourself while cooking! My heart aches even now thinking about how stressed you used to get. All because you wanted dinner to be perfect.
I sat there, listening to you and when you fell silent I knew you were sneaking out for a kiss. I knew it! Waiting for you was… It can only have been a second or two! I knew you were coming. Quietly padding out to tell me you love me. Show, not tell. And you did. I miss those. And then back into the kitchen to resume your bad language.
I knew… No. I thought or… I hoped that would be how I’d spend my last moments. Where I’d spend them. Sat there sunbathing, not really thinking about anything. A kiss from you. No words. In you’d go to finish dinner and off I’d pop. I never was happier than that moment. Never. Not even when we said ‘I do’ at that pretence of a wedding. It was the best we could get in those days, hey?
Amazing. I can actually hear you frowning. Of course that was a happy day! Right up there in the top five. Top three. But that evening, that hot summer evening… I don’t know what year it was… That moment. I was so blissfully, simply happy. Was it odd that I was thinking that when we were so young? I hate that those nights are just Polaroids now. I have so few photographs left. If I’d known those evenings were going to be a finite source…
Didn’t have as many as we’d hoped for. Off you popped. You rascal.
How patiently you’ve been waiting. Yup. That vacant lot really gives me the heebie-jeebies, but I can’t not visit. There! A double-negative for you. I know how much you love those. I wonder why the weeds don’t want to grow in my spot, look? Not a lick. Nothing to feed off, I s’pose. You should give ‘em a heads up. There won’t be much even when I am under there. Even when I’m still a bit fresh and smelling of that cologne you hate. Warn those wigglers under there with you, hey? Ain’t much difference between skin-and-bone and bone-and-bone.
It kept my figure didn’t it? Our little gay sniffle. Ah, I shouldn’t say that. But, it’s hard for me to shake the image of it. Even now. You should have held on a little longer, you know. Why didn’t you?
What clichés! Two figs with AIDS. Ah, no. You beat me at even that. I never did get the promotion, did I? Stuck in HIV like some ol’ loser. Do I sound ungrateful? That I’m alive because of that? You wouldn’t believe how small the tablets are now, love! If I drop that little blue bastard I have to get a magnifying glass out. And no. My eyes are fine, thank you very much. They are so small, now. So bloody small. Not like those Werther’s Originals you had to take. See? I can be grateful. I know I’m alive because of… A lack of promotion? Did me some good. Finally.
You should’ve fought. You should’ve fucking fought. Like I did for you. For us. Don’t say you’ve forgotten that? Two years I fought for us and how do you repay me? Yes, yes. You stuck with me. Eventually. And then you just gave up and checked out. You just accepted it. You’d had enough fun, enough success. So sayonara hey? What about me?
You left me. And by extension, us. I’ve been paralysed for twenty years because of it. You haven’t missed much. Though this year… Well, Jesus did indeed weep. I don’t know if I want to survive these times. But that would be giving up. I could have another ten years, don’t you think? Could I? I mean, could I even put up with myself for another ten years?
I’m an old dog. An old, old bitch and the only trick I know is how to remain paralysed. What am I going to do for another decade?
Can I ask you a question? Was it just easier to give up? I think your shame got the better of you. Oh, love. To choose the easy way out. So unlike you. You liked things difficult.
Though in truth, if I’m honest… I think you wanted us to be easier. It never was easy for you, was it? It was never not difficult. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Just being crafty.
Fuck, you were one of the worse gay men I knew! I suspect… Oh, it’s nasty. It’s me being nasty again. Tho’ if I can’t say it to you now… I suspect you accepted the AIDS so readily because it kind of validated your gayness. It made you. We were always such a competition, weren’t we? That was the only one I thought I’d win. My sheer, bloody, vocal, outspoken gayness. I always was a bit… How did you used to phrase it? Too much. You always thought I was too much. I really had to bite my tongue, you know. How can any person be too much? Surely they are just the right amount of themselves? I can’t argue with you now, of course. Thanks.
Got the last word. You can’t unsay that, either. I think you knew how I thought. You knew me better than I did. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so paralysed. I have nobody to tell me how I’m feeling. Nobody to tell me what I’m thinking. Your sister tries. Jesus, that Nancy! Why didn’t you take her with you? Sorry, that’s mean. But honestly – and you know this – she is a fucking headache. She was a parting gift, wasn’t she?
I don’t know how that woman survives on a daily basis. She got the scrapper’s gene in your family, a’right. Why didn’t you? Why d’ya give up, hey? Why didn’t we get the chance to make peace?
Not many of us had any peace during those years. We weren’t alone. And now everyone’s on tenterhooks because of some sniffle. Call this a… No, no. It’s not a competition. That was only us. I should be a bit more patient with these poor souls. Nobody really knows what the fuck’s going on. That hasn’t changed. We didn’t, did we? Flies dropping left, right and centre. Is it wrong how patronising I’ve been? Yes. You’d have my guts for that.
Nobody wears garters any more, do they?
I wish we’d left on nicer terms. I’ll rephrase that. I wish you’d left on nicer times. I didn’t know that was your last day. “Keep your words sweet as you may have to eat them one day.” Y’know, I think that might have been Lorraine that said that to me. And look at her now, fresh under a mound. I’ll go have a gander. It might not be her. I sort of hope it isn’t.
I wonder if we would have just gotten worse. I wonder if we would have made peace, really. Nobody can move on if there’s still war in the air. Maybe that’s why I can’t move now. The things you can’t say are worse than the things you don’t. There’s absolutely no chance left for them to ever be aired. No hope. Is that just me and my control thing? Ah, look around us, love. We have no control so why bother? It just has to be lived with.
What a place for me to make that statement. Has to be lived with, he says, in a goddam cemetery. I couldn’t not have chosen a better… Oop. That negative was a double. Sorry. Sorry, love. I’ll keep my words positive. Pun very much intended. I’ll keep ‘em sweet.
What is it gypsies say? He who says ‘I love you’ first loses? I was always the loser anyway. Trailing in your shadow. Even now! Trailing in your shadow of death? Ugh. Too biblical by far. You always had the power though. Over me.
When I think of you now… It feels like I don’t know you any more. I reckon I don’t. You wouldn’t recognise me, not this shade of the man I once was. I’m very serious these days.
A rustle as PHILLIP rearranges himself on the ground.
PHILLIP: I heard a joke at clinic the other day. Did you hear about the man who said he can detect HIV just by listening to a body? He calls the service ‘hearing AIDS’. Hm. I’m not laughing if it makes you feel better.
What? What did you say? You’re telling me now you would’ve stayed? Don’t bullshit me. Not now. Not after all this time. If you would have, you would have. You’re just saying that to make me feel better. I wish you could tell me what it’s like down there, tho’. Is it very bright? Are you still squinting?
Oh shit. You still have that power, William. Look at me. I’m crying. Twenty years, you rascal…