What You Know

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: May 01, 2018

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Submitted: May 01, 2018

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Lights up on a small apartment living room and kitchen. The present. It’s a mess. There is clutter everywhere, mostly dominated by scribbled on sheets of paper on every surface and wall of the room. There is a couch centre stage with a small, low, rectangular coffee table in front of it and an almost entirely obscured chair stage right. On the table are more sheets of paper with a couple of empty wine and beer bottles on top as well as a full ashtray and an empty cigarette box. On the couch lies JAMES. He’s unshaven, wearing an old red dressing gown, grey sweatpants and a stained white tank-top. He is asleep and snoring loudly.

 

There’s a loud knock on the door.

 

JAMES grunts and rolls over.

 

Another knock.

 

FRANK (from offstage). James?

 

JAMES makes no move to respond

 

James! Wake up and open the door!

 

JAMES grunts and rolls off the sofa, pushing himself off the floor to his feet and trudges to the door, probably hungover, or even still slightly drunk from the night before. He opens it slowly. Enter FRANK, a well-dressed man, hurries in, looking around.

 

Jesus, James, what…

 

JAMES (sarcastically). Nice to see you too, Frank. Please, come in.

 

FRANK. Honestly James, you can’t live like this.

 

JAMES (gestures to himself standing up, smiling wide). That is where you, my darling Francis, are wrong.

 

FRANK. I didn’t… God, it’s a mess in here.

 

JAMES pulls out a fresh packet of cigarettes from his dressing gown pocket.

 

JAMES. Why are you here, Frank?

 

He lights the cigarette and leans on the kitchen countertop.

 

FRANK. They sent me.

 

JAMES. The higher powers?

 

FRANK. The higher powers that be, indeed.

 

JAMES. It’s nearly done, I swear.

 

FRANK looks around the room and pulls a piece of paper off the wall, reading it.

 

FRANK (rightfully unconvinced). Evidently… (Beat.) But this is good, James!

 

JAMES (with the cigarette, still in his mouth). Come on, we both know it’s rubbish. Now put it down. Don’t need you judging it as well as them… If I can escape an extra level of judgment I will.

 

FRANK makes no move to put the paper down and continues reading it.

 

JAMES. Put it down!

 

He lunges towards FRANK and rips the piece of paper out of his hand before calmly righting himself, taking a drag on his cigarette, tightening his dressing down and balling the paper up and shoving it in his pocket.

 

FRANK. All they need is the first chapter, James. One chapter! Please! For my sanity!

 

He throws his briefcase down on the couch upsetting an entire pile of paper. JAMES says nothing and quietly smokes while FRANK sits in despair on the side of the couch, his head in one hand, massaging his own forehead.

 

JAMES. Coffee?

 

FRANK. Huh?

 

He looks up.

 

JAMES. Would you like a cup of coffee? You look like you need it.

 

FRANK. Sure, why not.

 

JAMES pushes himself off the counter and turns his back to the audience, turning the kettle on and getting two mugs out.

 

So, what’s it about?

 

JAMES. Hmmm?

 

FRANK. The book. What’s it about?

 

JAMES. Oh, you know. Love, last minutes, lost evenings. Sex, drugs, rock n roll. Another list of three.

 

FRANK (bitterly). Sounds riveting.

 

JAMES (sarcastically). Don’t try and hide your enthusiasm on my part, Frank, really.

 

FRANK. I’m sorry, James. You know you’re my favourite writer.

 

JAMES scoffs and turns around with two steaming cups of coffee. FRANK stands from the sofa and takes the mug from JAMES’ hand.

 

JAMES. You don’t have to pretend to like my work. As long as they like it, it’s all I need.

 

FRANK. Then why don’t you have the first chapter yet?

 

JAMES puts the end of his cigarette in another ashtray on the countertop and scratches his head.

 

JAMES. Who knows. Just can’t get the characters to come to life. Watching a film or a play is all good and well but writing a novel is so… (He searches for the right word) 2D if it’s not good.

 

FRANK. Tell me about them.

 

JAMES. Who?

 

FRANK. The characters.

 

JAMES. Oh. Well.

 

JAMES sits on the couch and light another cigarette then takes a long sip on his coffee in preparation. FRANK pushes a pile of papers off a nearby chair and sits, looking tired, holding his mug of coffee, expectantly looking at JAMES.

 

FRANK. Go on.

 

He gestures for JAMES to talk.

 

JAMES. The protagonist, Leon, is a middle-aged, washed up artist –

 

FRANK. Sounds familiar.

 

JAMES. They say write what you know.

 

FRANK chuckles, his spirits seeming to lift.

This Leon, he’s a painter. Proper vivid, expressionist…sort of, impressionism y’know?

 

JAMES pauses as if waiting for FRANK to interrupt him.

 

Anyway, he’s starting to notice the first stages and symptoms of arthritis so he starts to panic.

 

FRANK. Obviously…

 

JAMES looks over at FRANK, narrowing his eyes and taking a long drag on his cigarette.

 

JAMES. He meets this young girl. Alice. Not too young. Like early twenties, just graduated. She’s an art student.

 

FRANK. Of course, she is.

 

JAMES. They build a friendship. She starts working for him, helping out around the studio, y’know? Even learns some of his techniques to help him when he can’t paint. Brings him catalogues of the new collections, teaching him about new art and how it’s evolving. But he’s so close minded he doesn’t want to accept it.

 

FRANK. At first.

 

JAMES. Right. At first.

 

FRANK. How touching.

 

JAMES. You asked.

 

FRANK. It’s not 2D.

 

JAMES. But it’s not 3D.

 

FRANK. Not yet, no.

 

JAMES just hums and takes another drink of his coffee. FRANK sits in silence for a moment, swirling his coffee around in the mug.

 

Have you got anything written down?

 

JAMES. Yes, but you can’t take it.

 

FRANK groans audibly and loudly whilst running his hands through his hair in exasperation.

 

FRANK. Why not?!

 

JAMES. Because it’s not ready! It’s not good enough!

 

FRANK. Screw ready. Screw good enough! They want a copy of the first chapter now. Right now. I honestly don’t think they care whether it’s good enough.

 

JAMES. I care!

 

He shouts, his hands shaking, lighting another cigarette.

 

FRANK. Would you stop smoking?

 

JAMES. No. I need to.

 

FRANK. Dammit, James you don’t!

 

JAMES. You have no idea what it’s like!

 

FRANK. Christ, you know I do.

 

JAMES. You don’t! You have no idea and you never will. It’s food on my table, bills paid and people entertained. It’s my livelihood!

 

FRANK. How are you so self-involved?! Do you not realise that if you don’t write anything it’s my ass on the line? It’s me going hungry too, my bills unpaid. Fucking hell, James use your head for once.

 

JAMES is silent.

 

If it’s not me that coming to get these pages, it’s them, Jim. You know that. And they won’t be half as sympathetic as I am.

 

Another pause.

 

JAMES. I used to love writing.

 

FRANK. I know.

 

JAMES. It’s not the same anymore. One bestseller out in the world and they want more. And god, I hate myself because it’s not the same.

 

FRANK. It’s been 10 years. You released your first novel when you were straight out of university. It was never gonna be that easy again.

 

Beat.

 

JAMES. Do you think I’m good enough?

 

FRANK. They do.

 

JAMES. That’s not what I asked, Frank.

 

FRANK grunts and shifts his chair away from JAMES. A silence falls over the two men.

 

FRANK leans over to a pile of papers on the floor and picks up the top sheet reading what’s written on it.

 

FRANK. It’s not half bad, Jim.

 

JAMES. Honestly?

 

FRANK. Honestly.

 

Beat.

 

Hate the name ‘Leon’ though.

 

JAMES (sighs tiredly). What do you suggest then?

 

FRANK. Something older. Something more classic. Is he English? Is he American? Heck, with a name like Leon I wouldn’t be surprised if he was French.

 

JAMES. He’s not French.

 

FRANK. Then change the goddamn name.

 

JAMES. Why?

 

FRANK pushes himself up from the seat, groaning and starts paces with purpose towards the kitchen, JAMES doesn’t move but sips his coffee.

 

FRANK. I knew a guy once.

 

JAMES. Called Leon?

 

FRANK. Called Leon. French. Broke my heart. Although I suppose it wasn’t really his fault…

 

JAMES now considerably more interested, turns towards FRANK, leaning on the back of the couch as FRANK stands in the kitchen making small tears along the edge of a piece of paper.

 

JAMES. Who is he?

 

FRANK. Was.

 

JAMES (After a moment). Who was he?

 

FRANK makes no move to answer as he turns to pour another cup of coffee.

 

FRANK. No one. He was no one.

 

JAMES. That’s not fair.

 

FRANK. What’s not fair?

 

JAMES. I told you about my characters. You tell me about yours.

 

FRANK. He wasn’t a character. This is my life, James. Not one of your stories.

 

There’s an awkward silence. JAMES shuffles in his seat, and puts out his cigarette very decidedly, making sure FRANK is watching him.

 

JAMES. Fine. Tell me about him.

 

FRANK. No.

 

JAMES. That’s half a cigarette I just wasted for you, Frank!

 

FRANK takes a moment, obviously realising how much this gesture means to JAMES, but still says nothing.

 

Wow, thought we were friends, close enough at least, you’ve seen me at my worst and well -

 

FRANK. Fine, fine fine! Jesus.

 

JAMES smiles smugly.

 

It was a few years before I moved here, started working for you. I was in New York working for this guy. Leon. French. From Paris. He was my best friend. I made a mistake though. I crossed the boundary between writer and friend.

 

JAMES. You were lovers?

FRANK. Oh, James, behave.

 

JAMES. Sorry, sorry.

 

FRANK. We were wonderful together. Then one day I went over to get the last page of his book and he was gone. Apartment completely empty.

 

JAMES. What happened?

 

FRANK. It was the 80s.

 

JAMES. So?

 

FRANK. Leon had lived in America for many years at that point and well, he never tried to hide his homosexuality.

 

JAMES says nothing, waits for FRANK to go on.

 

And… (Beat.) And despite it all, I suppose neither did I. We grew very close.

 

JAMES. What did he write about?

 

FRANK. Travel. France. France for Americans. Oh, it was wonderful. He could transport you with just a sentence. One moment I was in Brooklyn Heights and the next, sipping coffee next to the Eiffel Tower.

 

JAMES hums in acknowledge, sipping his coffee, still waiting and listening intently.

 

I haven’t come across a writer like him since, y’know… got all his pages in on time too.

 

FRANK shoots a stern look at JAMES, but it is clear that he is mocking him.

 

JAMES. What happened?

 

FRANK. This isn’t just another story, James. I’m not telling you this as material.

 

JAMES. I know. 

 

Beat.

 

But they’re right when they say that once the public know you’re a writer, they bring the characters to you.

 

FRANK. I’m being serious, James.

 

JAMES. I know, I know.

 

FRANK. He was ill.

 

JAMES. How ill?

 

FRANK. It was the 80s.

 

JAMES. You keep saying that.

 

FRANK. Use your brain, Jim.

 

Beat. After a while, JAMES still doesn’t seem to understand. FRANK sighs audibly, exasperated.

 

That was the thing about AIDS. No one wanted to believe they had it  or they could ever get it but if they did…

 

Beat.

 

JAMES. I’m sorry, Frank.

 

FRANK. I’m fine, before you ask. But I suppose someone before me wasn’t.

 

JAMES. Did you know?

 

FRANK. No… maybe that’s the worst part. I would have looked after him. Supported him. But the shame he had…

 

JAMES. And so, when he left…

JAMES trails off, waiting for FRANK to finish his sentence.

 

FRANK. Hospital. Gone within a matter of days.

 

JAMES. Frank, I –

 

FRANK. It’s fine. It’s fine. I’m fine.

 

JAMES. Are you though?

 

There’s a silence, FRANK doesn’t reply, JAMES decides to drop the subject, turning back around to shuffle through the pieces of paper on the table in front of him, after a moment he holds one up and reads from it.

 

JAMES. How about ‘Harold’?

 

FRANK (with a small smile). Harold works.

 

FRANK returns to his seat and reclines in it, looking tired but also a little more relaxed.

 

This chapter, James. It’s good. It doesn’t have to be perfect, right now at least. That’s what you’ve got editors for. I like it. I genuinely like it. And it’s about time you sent something off.

 

Beat.

 

JAMES. Give me a day and I’ll send it over tomorrow.

 

FRANK. Can you promise me that?

 

JAMES. I won’t let you down.

 

FRANK pushes himself up, hands on his knees, and groans. As he picks up his briefcase, facing the door, he pats JAMES gently on the shoulder.

 

FRANK. I’ll hold you to that. Tomorrow, Jimmy. If not for them, for me.

 

He exits. Leaving JAMES alone on stage. After a moment, JAMES looks around him before methodically and carefully picking up sheets of paper from around him and from the walls and countertops, compiling them in an order before sitting back down, swiping everything on the coffee table on the floor so it is completely bare, and laying out the pages he’s compiled. He starts reading through them and with a pencil from his dressing gown pocket, makes small and clean changes/notes.

 

LIGHTS FADE OUT.

 

END.

 

 


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