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The Spaces Between

A Play in One Act

by Eric Craft

Characters:

ZEKE, 20-30s

CLEO, 20-30s

Act One

Scene One

 

CLEO’s apartment. It is empty save a cheap folding table and a single chair in the middle. There is a door to enter the apartment, and a door to the bathroom on the far side, which is open. Four glass containers sit on the table: a short glass containing whiskey, a tall cylinder near full with spare change, a glass ginger jar with dried up long dead flowers, and a short cylinder container holding five copic markers. ZEKE enters the apartment wearing a small backpack. He looks at the room.

 

               ZEKE

Oh, this is…sad.

          (noticing the flowers)

Ew. Okay, I’ll just be in and out and then shoot her a text. Shoot, I have to go. It’s fine, she won’t know. She won’t know.

    

          He exits into the bathroom.

 

                         ZEKE (o.s.)

How?! How did this get so messy so fast?!  

 

          The door closes. After a moment, CLEO enters, on the phone.

 

                         CLEO

Yes, of course! So Hyperclutter is my series of mixed media, mostly visual art, that is a commentary on consumerism, late-stage capitalism, the grind, social media, basically everything that is threatening to rapidly burn us out as a society and inundate us with worthless crap that holds increasingly less meaning. Like my piece “Paywall”: a collage made up of spam ads that blockade the viewer from seeing the actual subject of the painting. The actual subject? Well, the subject is whatever you interpret it as. It could be a beautiful landscape or a sexy lady or…freedom, or something…or my piece “Plastic Paradise”, wherein the canvas is filled throughout with old barbies, credit cards, bags, and plastic packaging. And the effect is this very overstimulating, suffocating experience. I really want my audience to walk away feeling overwhelmed. Well, yes, I am aiming for something highly evocative and…

          (noticing the bathroom door is closed.)

I’m sorry? Yes, so I choose to remove any negative space because I find that space…underwhelming? Why give up real estate on a canvas to nothing when you can fill it with something. I mean, something that says something. We’ve all seen those sterile still lifes, with large empty backgrounds cavernous echoing…sorry, give me one moment.

          (She opens the door to the bathroom and shrieks)

What the—oh my god!!

          (to the phone)

Sorry, I’m okay. It was just my ex-boyfriend taking a dump, ‘cause I, well—I’m sorry. Um, I swear, it’s not-it’s easy enough to explain. Anyway, do you want to hear about my art again? Oh. I see.

         

          Zeke enters sheepishly.

 

Right, well, we can’t all be painting landscapes now, can we? No I’m not…denigrating…no, that’s not what I mean when I—was I not clear? Mhmm. Well, thank you for your time. G’bye.

 

          She hangs up. A tense moment.

 

Zeke.

 

                         ZEKE

I thought you’d still be at school.

 

                         CLEO

You didn’t think to call?

 

                         ZEKE

I was going to text you.

 

                         CLEO

What, after breaking and entering?

 

                         ZEKE

I still have a key. I’m still on the lease.

 

                         CLEO

You can’t stop by when I’m home and knock, like a normal person?!

 

                         ZEKE

I thought it would be easier if I just snuck by while you weren’t home.

 

                         CLEO

That makes no sense.

 

                         ZEKE

I didn’t want to see you. Okay?

 

                         CLEO

So what, you’re picking up random birthday cards from two years ago? There isn’t much left for you to take, in case you forgot removing all the furniture.

 

                         ZEKE

It was all my grandmother's.

 

                         CLEO

I know, I just—why are you here?

 

                         ZEKE

I need my nightguard.

 

                         CLEO

It’s not here.

 

                         ZEKE
I know it is.

 

                         CLEO

It’s not.

 

                         ZEKE

It was in the background of your Instagram story last month.

 

                         CLEO

…that’s disgusting.

                         ZEKE

Can you just—help me find it?

 

                         CLEO

I need to eat.

 

               She sits in the chair and pulls a sandwich out her bag. She

               regards the whiskey.

 

                         ZEKE

Was that sitting here all day?

 

                         CLEO

I left it out by accident. Now it’s my reward for being such a good girl.

 

               She drinks.

 

                         ZEKE

Was that a gallery you were on the phone with?

 

                         CLEO

Thankfully for you, not a big one. I’m trying to get Hyperclutter a showing or something…anything.

 

                         ZEKE

How’s work?

 

               She empties the drink.

 

That bad?

 

                         CLEO

We had our open house yesterday, and a dad asked me if I was a lesbian insurgent of antifa who would be grooming the kids to be trans, because that’s what they teach you in art class, apparently. I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time.

 

                         ZEKE

What does a person even say to that?

                         CLEO

“We spend the first unit working on still life painting, and focusing on concepts like composition, lighting, and negative space.” Oh, and guess what? I’m going to teach at the high school next year. Don’t worry though, I’ll still be at the middle school too. Arnold, the old guy at the high school, is retiring early because otherwise I would be let go in the impending budget cuts. Because even though I have tenure I’m the most junior person in the department. So now he’s retiring at the end of the year and I get to take on two people’s jobs come September. But fret not taxpayer, I’m still only getting my standard pay increase.

 

                         ZEKE

Did you talk to the union?

 

                         CLEO

They already picked their battles, and I’m not one of them.

 

                         ZEKE

That sucks.

 

                         CLEO

Eeyup.

 

                         ZEKE

Do you want me to get you in touch with my second cousin, who you met at Jackie’s wedding?

 

                         CLEO

Which one?

 

                         ZEKE

Tom? He’s a lawyer, is my point.

 

                         CLEO

No, I’m fine. I just want to bitch about it.

 

                         ZEKE

Are you sure, I—

 

                         CLEO

Yes, trust me. I’ve considered it. I’m good.

 

          A pause.

 

                         ZEKE

So have you seen my nightguard?

 

                         CLEO

Do you really need it?

 

                         ZEKE
After a month without it, my teeth are noticeably shifting so yes.

 

                         CLEO

How’s the rest of you?

 

                         ZEKE

Also shifting, I guess. Can we not do this?

 

                         CLEO

I just want to know how you are.

 

                         ZEKE

You don’t get to ask me that anymore.

 

                         CLEO

I don’t?

 

                         ZEKE

I didn’t want to see you today.

 

                         CLEO

I still care about you, is that so bad?

 

                         ZEKE
Please respect my boundaries.

 

                         CLEO

Zeke, we lived together for three years. I don’t want to let all of that go.

 

                         ZEKE

Where do you have to be tonight?

                         CLEO

For once, nowhere. No more grant-slash-residency whatever applications, no senior center, I’m off tonight.

 

                         ZEKE

Grading?

 

                         CLEO

That doesn’t count.

 

                         ZEKE

Yes it does.

 

                         CLEO

Well, sorry that I always have something that needs to get done, it’s almost like I have a job.

 

                         ZEKE

But don’t you get it? We lived together for three years, but I can count on one hand the number of evenings you actually spent with me.

 

                         CLEO
That’s not fair, I was providing for us.

                     

                         ZEKE

And I wasn’t?

 

                         CLEO

You work twenty hours a week doing retail.

 

                         ZEKE

And I cleaned, cooked, ran errands; I kept this house!

 

                         CLEO

It’s an apartment.

 

                         ZEKE

Domestic labor is labor. You never had to pick up a pathetic grocery store sandwich while I lived here.

 

                         CLEO

This is from the deli down the street, it’s not that bad.

 

                         ZEKE

You’re being dismissive.

 

                         CLEO

Yes, I’m a dismissive person, we had this fight already.

 

                         ZEKE

Help me find my goddamn nightguard!

 

                         CLEO

What about all the old cartoons we watched together?

 

                         ZEKE

What does that have to do with my nightguard?

 

                         CLEO

No, I mean, that was time I would spend relaxing with you.

 

                         ZEKE

You spent it grading and doing emails.

 

                         CLEO

That was only, like, twice.

 

                         ZEKE

It was more than that.

 

                         CLEO

But we did things together we enjoyed. We were Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask, I enjoyed that. And we never did finish Gargoyles. It was time we spent together. And I wish I could spend more time with you.

 

                         ZEKE

Why do you still have the flowers I sent you?

 

                         CLEO

Well, they’re the only ones you ever sent me.

 

                         ZEKE

I didn’t even get a thank you?

 

                         CLEO

We were actively breaking up at the time.

 

                         ZEKE

But you still have them a month later.

 

                         CLEO

I don’t know, I liked them. More than I should have, maybe. It makes me feel stupid to admit, but they gave me this weird nugget of hope? You never sent me flowers when we were together.

 

                         ZEKE

Because they’re expensive and they die.

 

                         CLEO

Both of those statements are true for dogs.

    

                         ZEKE

But they’re superficial.

 

                         CLEO

But I like them. I asked for them. And when you sent these, it was—in the moment it felt like the nicest thing you’ve ever done for me. And if they’re superficial, that’s not inherently a bad thing. Hell, my art is all about the superficial.

 

                         ZEKE

And that’s why it sucks.

 

                         CLEO

What.

 

                         ZEKE

It’s all jumbled on the surface. It is too much all at once and you cannot glean any real meaning from it. Even on the phone just now you listed so many disparate ideas you were addressing that the whole collection came off as unfocused. I didn’t ruin your interview; you were already bombing it. Is it about consumerism or burn out or trash in the oceans, what is it? I can’t figure it out because you are purposefully leaving your audience no space to breathe.

                         CLEO

But life doesn’t give you space to breathe. I am presenting life as it is.

 

                         ZEKE

Life as you experience it, maybe. Full to the brim with meaningless stuff. I look at your art, and I don’t know where I’m supposed to look. It’s pretty, sure, and technically well done, but where’s the composition or negative space? Where’s the focus?

 

                         CLEO

I made a choice to get rid of negative space.

 

                         ZEKE

And it was a bad one! And besides, real life has space in it! The vast majority of the universe is empty space!

 

                         CLEO

At least I’m making art! What about your music? What about all the things you wanted to do?

 

                         ZEKE

We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about how you constantly take on more than you can chew because you have never seen the value of idleness, of empty space, of rest. Because that’s where my love for you lived. It lived in the spaces between that you kept ignoring and filling in because you discount everything that you can’t see. You are so insufferably literal. The one time I give you a physical token, and it’s the nicest thing I’ve ever done for you? These stupid goddamn flowers?! Do you even hear yourself?! How insulting that is?! Do you have object permanence or do you believe the moment these flowers disappear that my love for you will too? My love has always been there, and for years it has been silently supporting you and your mediocre art!

 

                         CLEO

Do you really think I can’t see beneath the surface? I ask you how you are and you won’t tell me because of your boundaries and fine, whatever, but I already know how you feel! How profoundly alone and confused and directionless you are. Because you left too many empty spaces in your life for me to fill. And I pity that. And I can’t pity the person I’m in love with; that’s not a partnership, that’s not fair to you. And that’s why I ended it.

 

                         ZEKE

Clearly you can’t help me find my nightguard, and clearly I can’t help you with anything, even when it was all I ever wanted to do, so give me five minutes to find it and—

 

                         CLEO
I flushed it.

 

               A long silence.

 

                         CLEO

I flushed your nightguard down the toilet.

 

                         ZEKE

Why?

 

                         CLEO

Because you sent me flowers. And I was so happy but still so angry, and then confused, and unfocused. So I lashed out. And I shouldn’t have. I should have called you and told you sending me flowers at the apartment you emptied was stupid. But I also loved them. And it was your grandmother’s furniture, what was I supposed to expect when we broke up? I am doing all of this work and I don’t even have a couch. Or a second kitchen chair.

 

                         ZEKE

I have to go.

 

                         CLEO

No, here. Take my change jar, there’s got to be at least ninety bucks worth of quarters in here.

 

                         ZEKE
A new nightguard is seven hundred dollars out of pocket, and you know I don’t have insurance.

 

                         CLEO

Please.

 

                         ZEKE

I can’t take this.

 

               She dumps the change into his box.

 

                         CLEO

Or I can just pay for a new one.

 

                         ZEKE

Cleo. Clearly, we’re not on the same page here. The money was never the important thing to me.

 

                         CLEO

I know that.

 

                         ZEKE

When we were together, did you ever think of me as a responsibility like any of your others?

 

                         CLEO

No, you were never a job like all the rest of my shit.

 

                         ZEKE

I deserved to be. A relationship is a job you have. But it’s not one you block in time for, it just…is. I was putting in the work with you, I was building a life with you, but you clearly couldn’t do the same for me. You chose to pity me instead. And that’s okay.

 

                         CLEO

It doesn’t feel okay.

 

                         ZEKE

Well, it can. It can feel okay if you let it.

 

He exits. CLEO stares at the door a while. Zeke reenters, walks past her and rips the flowers out of the vase.

 

                         ZEKE

There isn’t even water in this anymore.

 

               He exits.

                         CLEO

I guess that’s when you really know its time to toss out a bouquet. I didn’t know this apartment still had so much in it. And now…now it’s empty. I should just—this is the most unappealing sandwich I’ve ever seen. I hate it. Die.

 

               She tosses the sandwich.

 

I’m going to order pizza. Chinese. Mexican. All of them. Ice cream? Wine. And then watch Sailor Moon on my laptop on the floor and skip over all the tuxedo mask parts…I’ll watch something new on the floor of my empty apartment. I’ll go to Homegoods and buy a couch. They usually have like, one couch. It’ll be like couch roulette. A couch randomizer. And then I can pick up Chinese ice cream wine on the way home. I’ll go out to the car right now…or I can take my shoes off.

               (She takes off her shoes.)

I’m just going to order a goddamn pizza. And then cancel my volunteer hours so I can furnish my apartment this weekend. Oh my god, it’s only Tuesday. Shit.

(She sits. Stares at the four containers, three now emptied.)

They look like something I’d assign for class. It’s so basic. A still life.

(She removes the copic markers from the fourth and gets a drawing pad from her bag.)

Still. Quiet. The spaces between. Composition. Light. Negative space. Give room to breathe and embrace what has been emptied. Find the focus…

 

               As she puts pen to paper, we

               BLACKOUT.

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