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The Red Silk Kimono

A Script Without Dialogue
Time:
Place:
Characters:
Now
A City
Business Woman, UPS Man, Six Living Mannikins
A very simple two-level modern apartment. Furnishings are sparse but expensive (built to last) and without imagination. No personal expressions are visible on the walls. It is difficult to detect the personality of the resident from the furnishings, unless it be a sternness, a withholding nature, one who imagines herself worthy of finer things but only as a quiet statement to herself, not to be used or shared. A glass cabinet holds fine, elegant china that is never used.

In the bedroom, somber, dark-colored clothes are hung on a series of six living mannikins standing in a row to represent a closet. (Underneath the clothes they wear identical flesh-tone leotards, a few of them are only in leotards -- as if they are empty hangers -- at the opening of the scene; their hair is pulled back unadorned so that they look as much like each other as possible, and they stand in identical positions, all facing the same direction off stage.)

It is early evening. Enter the resident, a woman in her late 30's dressed in severe conservative lines -- dark business suit, low heels, dark overcoat, gloves, leather briefcase. It is obvious that her evening movements upon entering her apartment are highly ritualized, never varying. She places the briefcase on a desk, at right angles to the desk's corners. Removes her gloves, places them neatly on top of the briefcase. Goes to the bedroom, removes her coat, drapes it on a mannikin. She moves the mannikins as if they are attached to a clothes rack, they move passively under her hands. Sits on the bed, removes her shoes, places them near the mannikins.

As she removes her suit jacket, the door buzzer sounds. Mild aggravation, instinctual response of her body -- being interrupted in the next action of hanging the jacket has thrown her -- unsure what to do, buzzer sounds again, she leaves the jacket, goes to the door, irritatedly checking her wrist watch as she does. At the door is a UPS man with a package, she signs for it, he smiles, being friendly, she is curt and ends the exchange quickly, closing the door. She shows no curiosity about the package, places it on a table, goes back to the bedroom, continues hanging the jacket on a mannikin, removes the blouse and skirt until she is down to her slip, drapes the blouse on a mannikin, folds the skirt and drapes it over the arm of the mannikin, then removes a dark, mannish bathrobe from one mannikin and puts it on. Goes back downstairs, puts on a kettle for tea, removes a covered dish from refrigerator, puts it into oven. Sits at table, opens evening paper to the business section, tries to concentrate.

Now the box has her attention, against her will. She starts to go over to it and is stopped by tea kettle whistling. Relieved for the excuse not to yet approach the box, she goes to the stove, prepares the tea, sits back down with the paper. But the box again beckons. She rises, starts to go toward it, smells her dinner, relieved again, goes to oven, removes it, sets it on the kitchen table. At table she glances over to the china cabinet for a long moment, deciding. Goes to the cabinet, touches the glass almost wistfully, puts her hand on the knob, then stops herself, her face composed again, goes back to kitchen, selects a simple, day-to-day plate from a cabinet, sets her place with folded napkin, correctly placing the utensils as if for a formal gathering. Sits to eat. Takes one forkful, her attention again drawn to the box. Forces herself to eat her meal, going against her obvious wish to open it and satisfy her curiosity.

After eating, she gives the box a stern look as if it is a child that must wait until the dishes are cleared. Clears the table, puts everything away, dishes in the sink, etc. Then turns, wiping her hands on a towel. Faces the box, goes to it. Reads the return address, a shadow of pain and rigidity quickly replaces an initial look of surprise and delight. Turns away, as if not to open the box, then turns back, opens it. There are two brightly and elaborately wrapped birthday presents inside. She opens the first one; it contains a cake box. She lifts the lid only partially, closes it, places the box in the center of the kitchen table. Opens the second package. It is an antique, elegant red, silk kimono with embroidered flowers and birds. She is stunned, sits, holding it in her lap, impressed with its value and beauty. This is the first time we have seen her lose herself a bit.

She stands, holds the kimono up to herself, starts to put it on, stops. Folds it neatly, sets it down. Gathers the wrappings and puts them in a garbage bag, puts the garbage bag in a trash can in the kitchen. Locks the door, turns out the downstairs lights, starts to go upstairs. Stops, looks at the kimono, goes back, picks it up, takes it with her upstairs.

The upstairs lighting is soft, a lamp. She places the folded kimono on the bed. Takes a nightgown from a drawer, steps out of our sight behind the mannikins, returns wearing the nightgown, drapes the bathrobe on a mannikin, picks up the kimono. For a moment we think she will put it on, but she takes it to the clothes rack, hangs it on a mannikin. It is clear that, to her, the kimono looks out of place with her somber clothes. She rearranges the clothes so that the kimono is sandwiched between darker pieces, as if to hide it. She goes to the dresser, combs her hair without looking in the dresser mirror. Sets her alarm, gets into bed, turns out the lamp, goes to sleep.

The kimono seems to glow in the dark, a soft pulsating light emanating from it. Slowly, the mannikin wearing it begins to move, almost imperceptibly -- we think it is our imagination, a trick of the light at first -- but then she is clearly moving, gracefully, sensually, delighted with herself. She goes to the mirror, admires the kimono, turns, runs her hands over the silk, luxuriating in the feeling against her skin. Takes up the woman's comb, undoes and combs her hair with pleasure.

A soft light follows her in the dark as she glides downstairs. She opens the cake box and removes an elaborately-decorated chocolate cake, digging her fingers into the icing in an unladylike manner and sucking the chocolate from her fingers. She goes to the china cabinet, takes out a candelabra, lights it, takes out several pieces of the china, cuts large hunks of the cake and sets them out on several plates, proceeds to eat the cake, moving from plate to plate. She is a child playing out a fantasy, totally enraptured with it. Finally, she is happily weary, curls up and falls asleep on the sofa.

The light gradually goes up, daylight coming, the alarm rings. The woman wakens, turns off the alarm, sits up, feet over the edge of the bed, as if hungover. She sits several minutes, then shakes her head, rises. Combs her hair again, without looking in the mirror. Dresses, makes her bed.

Goes downstairs, seems not to notice the chaos on the table, puts on the tea kettle. Turns, begins to clean up the birthday mess as if this were an ordinary scene. Washes the good china plates, puts them in the cabinet, blows out the candelabra, replaces it in the cabinet, closes the cake box, puts the box in the garbage. Goes over to the mannikin, without expression leads her back upstairs. The mannikin is docile again, just a clothes rack. The woman places the mannikin in the rack with the other clothes, starts to go back downstairs, stops. Goes back, removes the kimono, folds it carefully. Takes the kimono back downstairs. Takes tissue paper from a drawer, wraps the kimono in the paper. Opens a drawer of the china cabinet, places the kimono carefully in the drawer. Closes the drawer. Puts on her gloves, picks up her briefcase, turns off the lights, takes one last proprietary look around the apartment, exits.

Open Book
Excerpts List
from HUNGER IN THE FIRST PERSON SINGULAR:
STORIES OF DESIRE AND POWER

© 1992, Michelle Miller

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