Uncomfortably Numb

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
I wrote Uncomfortably Numb twenty-odd years ago and, despite coming back to it every now and then, it's remained pretty much unchanged.

It came about during a lecture when I was training to be a nurse. Some fat guy was telling us about the riveting world of microbiology and, being in yet another of my 'life sucks' phases, I started on 'Uncomfortably Numb'. The play developed over a couple of months and eventually ended up as the beast you see before you now.

What's it about? That's open to interpretation. What do you do when Ambition dies? Do you attempt resuscitation or let it slip peacefully away? Do you spend your life thinking of the consequences of every tiny thing you do, thereby essentially nullifying your existence, or do you grab it by the balls and the Hell with consequences?

It's also about loyalty and friendship, about justifying every breathing moment, and it's about Death. Does death make experience pointless, or is experience the only thing that lets us know we're alive, that we have lived?

I've noticed different things, possibly subconscious meanderings of the time, in this piece of work every time I've returned to it, wondered how I managed to string such words together in such a way that they summed up my feelings towards myself and the world at that time; still do to some degree.

I have sent the work out. Some have said that it's too derivative, but then, for me, all work is derivative; I can’t disagree; it’s everything I’ve read and done and felt. It’s about my father travelling to London every day of his working life without thanks or credit. It’s about public school. It’s about my mother unfailingly fulfilling her expected role in life without complaint or reward. It’s about peoples’ expectations of us and how we fail to meet them or how we fall short of even our own expectations. We write what we experience, what we love and what we hate, otherwise we would have nothing to write about. Of course it's derivative, but ultimately it's mine and, like everybody's work, is unique to me at that moment in time.

They are so many writers many who have made a difference to my perceptions of this life and I am deeply grateful to them for it because they have opened my eyes and added colour to what may well have been, for me, a dreary world. Somewhere along the line though, I just had to have my own say, in a way that meant something to me, in a way that I understood because that was how it had been communicated to me by others, however unintentionally on their part. They had taught me to express myself; had given me permission to do so. This is my predicament, my perception.

Not everybody understands this work; not everybody wants to or needs to. They are certainly not required to by me. It certainly brought out some extreme reactions in those who read it. But I love it. It still makes me feel very sad, still makes me laugh and still makes me proud.

Burton's final words, of dreams and loss, perhaps even of Hope, have been used by me before in a poem. They speak of those that have passed through our lives and have in some way been lost to us. There is also the hope in there that they will at least have had some impact upon us and us upon them. To me they mean something, and I hope they mean something to you.

Submitted: June 06, 2013

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 06, 2013















Chris Bradbury





Bird and Burton sit behind a desk each. Their

jackets are off and hang on the backs of their

chairs. The sleeves of their white shirts are

rolled up. Their ties hand loose around their

necks. They are doing their best not to notice

each other. An uneasy silence prevails.


Burton: (suddenly, jovially) Beautiful morning!

Bird: (tiredly) Is it?

Burton: (less enthusiastically) I thought so. Do you disagree? If you do, please say so.

Bird: I can't say. The morning has escaped me. Or perhaps I escaped the morning. Either way, I didn't see it. But I'll take your word for it, that it was good.

Burton: Thank you. (pauses to pluck up the courage to speak) Have you been here long?

Bird: Not so long. I've been here longer. You?

Burton: Not so long as you. Long enough though. I could have been elsewhere you know. I was invited elsewhere, but I didn't go.

Bird: (interested) Where could you have gone?

Burton: Anywhere. I could have gone anywhere. I don't have to be here. If I wanted, I could leave. Just like that. (fails to click his fingers) Couldn't you?

Bird: I suppose so, if I felt inclined.

Burton: And you don't?

Bird: (sadly, wistfully) No, not any more.

Burton: But you used to?

Bird: Oh, yes, many years ago. I had many inclinations then. Too many, I fear. I inclined to this and to that. You know how it is.

Burton: Yes, of course. (emphatically) I know.

Bird: Where will you go?

Burton: When?

Bird: When you go from here.

Burton: (panicked) I didn't say I would! Did you hear me say I would? I merely said I could. If I wanted to, I could. See? You didn't listen. If you had listened...

Bird: I did listen! I did! I just...misunderstood. Don't you want to leave?

Burton: I do, but not yet. I'm not quite ready yet.

Bird: What would you do?

Burton: I would paint.

Bird: (enthusiastically) You can paint?

Burton: No. But I would learn.

Bird: What would you paint?

Burton: Oh, people, trees, animals, landscapes that stretch for empty mile upon empty mile, endless miles. Or I could write a book.

Bird: Yes, that's it. You could write a book. How exciting! A book! What would you write about?

Burton: About? Oh, dear. That's a question! What should it be about? I've no idea. Ideas are not my forte. I'm more of a doing man. Do you understand? More of a doing man. Perhaps I could sing.

Bird: Write, paint, sing! You're a talented man! You can do all those things and you're still here?'

Burton: (defensively) So are you! I'm not alone, you know! You're here! You've been here longer than me. (uneasy silence) What's that on your arm? On your arm. (leans over and points at Bird's arm) There. Tattoos? Are they tattoos? I'm sure they are. What do they say?

Bird: Does it matter? Does it matter to you?

Burton: I don't know. How can I know if they matter if I don't know what they say? They might matter if I knew what they were. They might be very important. They might change everything. That's what happens you know, when things change. Something happens that you don't know about, something important. I wouldn't want to miss it, really. It would be such a disappointment if I missed it. Such a waste, after all this time.

Bird: Why make such a fuss? It could have passed you by. You would never have known and it wouldn't have mattered. But you had to make it so important, so relevant. It would never have been so if you had looked the other way. It would have been easier, for both of us. Now, if it turns out that it is important, we will have to change everything. We will have to adjust. Are you ready to adjust? To change? And if it's not important, think of the disappointment, the let down. It would be a step back...

Burton: But we have to try. It's our duty. We can't let it slip by. It wouldn't be right. Will you tell me?

Bird: Yes. But only if you're ready. Are you ready?

Burton: Yes, I think so.

Bird: Are you sure?

Burton: Yes, I'm sure.

Bird: Here we go then.

Burton: Here we go!

Bird: (turns his arm to Burton) These are names.

Burton: Names? Of what?

Bird: Of people.

Burton: Ah. Which people? Come on. I'm on the edge of my seat. Can't you feel my excitement? Please. Go on. Go on.

Bird: What do you want from me?

Burton: A chance. That's all. Just a chance.

Bird: Alright! But don't blame me if it doesn't work.

Burton: I won't blame you. How could I? It wouldn't be your fault. Continue. Please.

Bird: They are the names of people that I once knew. They are long since gone. They have... moved on.

Burton: From here? Moved on from here? How? They must have been very clever. Could they paint or sing or write? What did they do? How many were there? (Burton goes to Bird and grab's his arm) Let me count. One, two, three, four, five. Five? Five names! So what did they do? How did they get out?

Bird: They are (whispers) demised.

Burton: (he shrinks away) A little drastic. All of them?

Bird: Yes. They were not from here.

Burton: I'm relieved.

Bird: So were they. Do you want more?

Burton: Oh, yes. I'm interested. Who were they?

Bird: I can't remember. They have names. They had faces. There was meaning to them once. Now I rarely notice them unless I wash that arm.

Burton: How sad. How very sad.

Bird: It could be. I 'm not sure.

Burton: I'm sure it is. It must have been once, mustn't it?

Bird: You must be right. Shall we talk about something else?

Burton: What?

Bird: It's your turn. You talk and I'll listen.

Burton: (uncertainly) Very well. (pauses) We are doing a good job here aren't we. (pauses again) How about children? Have you ever seen a child being born?

Bird: No. It seems strange to me. A means to an end. No more.

Burton: Oh, there is more.

Bird: Tell me then. Tell me what more there is.

Burton: Well, before it finishes. You know. (pauses

sadly) What did you do before you were here?

Bird: (impatiently) What did I do?

Burton: Yes. Before today.

Bird: The same. I did the same. I have always done the same. Ever since I can remember. But then my memory isn't what it used to be.

Burton: Did you have a good memory?

Bird: I think I must have done. A better one at least. I'm not entirely clear. Do you mind?

Burton: Not at all. (proudly) I was a doctor.

Bird: You were?

Burton: No. Not strictly speaking. But I had an inclination.

Bird: I'm inclined to believe that we have more inclinations than are good for us.

Burton: There's no harm in it.

Bird: There's no good in it.

Burton: (makes to stand up, but sits down again) Should there be somebody else here?

Bird: Without a doubt. I'm sure they'll arrive. Maybe they're lost.

Burton: Maybe we are lost.

Bird: I don't think so. I have always been here. How can I be lost? I would have noticed by now. Anyway, somebody would have come looking for me.

Burton: (spitefully) Maybe not. Maybe they forgot about you. Maybe they don't care in the first place.

Bird: Don't be ridiculous! You found me and you're not lost.

Burton: I hope not. Oh, I hope not. You don't think I could be do you? It frightens me, the thought that I could be lost...

Bird: Calm yourself. It is simply not possible. We have established that I am not lost, have we not? You found me, therefore I am no longer lost. You are with me and, if I am not lost, how could you possibly be? No need to panic. We will simply wait for someone to come along and, just to make sure, we'll ask them.

Burton: Suppose they don't come? What then?

Bird: Then they are lost. It stands to reason.

Burton: Of course! Of course! I'm glad you're here. To reassure me. (there's a knock on the door) Who's that?

Bird: (panicking slightly) I don't know.

Burton: Invite them in. If you think we ought to. Do you think we should?

Bird: I see no good reason why not.

Burton: Do it then! Before they go! Quickly! Quickly! They might be important.

Bird: Alright! Alright! I'll invite them in. (pauses uncertainly) Should I say 'come in' or 'enter'?

Burton: Either. No! Say 'enter'. It sounds more

professional. More in control.

Bird: Right then. (calls timidly) Enter. Come in. Oh, God. I've blown it! They're sure to leave now! Shall I fetch them?

The door opens. A tea-lady with a trolley enters.

Burton: No. It's alright. Here they come. Shall I invite them to sit? They may not want to. Say 'good morning'.

Bird: Why me? Why don't you? (to the lady) Good morning!

Lady: Tea?

Burton: Tea?

Bird: Tea?

Lady: Do you want tea?

Bird: (to Burton) Do we?

Burton: Yes. I think so. It would be a change.

Bird: Two. Two teas. Thank you. Are we lost? (raises a thumb to Burton)

Lady: No! You've always been here.

Burton: Always? Both of us?

Lady: Oh yes. Sugar?

Burton: Two. (to Bird) Sugar for you?

Bird: Oh, sugar. Yes. I rather think that all this excitement has sapped my energy. I had better have three. (to Lady) Always? How long is that exactly?

Lady: As long as I can remember. But my memory isn't as good as it used to be. A long time though. Definitely a long time.

Bird: So we're not lost? I mean, I know we're not, but it's good to make sure.

Lady: (with a laugh) Well, if you're lost, then I must be.

Burton: You can't be. You found us. That's what he says.

Bird: That's right. That's exactly what I said. You found us, so we can't be lost.

Burton: She could have been lost before she found us. She could have...well...stumbled across us. By accident. (to lady) You didn't did you?

Bird: Please say you didn't. We thought it was everybody else that was lost. Not us. We've always been here. We can't be lost.

Lady: I'm not lost! Oh, no! Not me! It's against the rules. I can't just go around losing myself. So if I'm not, then you can't be.

Burton: But what about everybody else? Are they lost?

Lady: I can't talk for everybody else. They don't seem to be. But I can't tell until I get there. They may well be.

Burton: Oh, dear.

Lady: But they may well not be. Anyway, I can't stay here chatting to you. It's against the rules.

Lady leaves the room.

Burton: She's gone.

Bird: She is.

Burton: She seemed sure.

Bird: She did.

Burton: I'm almost certain she was.

Bird: Oh, so am I. I feel happier. All doubt gone. You?

Burton: All gone. (there's a knock at the door) Who's that?

Bird: I don't know. Shall I invite them in?

Burton: Yes, do. I should hate to miss anything. Not now that I feel so positive.

Bird: Quite right. (aloud) Enter. That's better.

Lady enters again.

Lady: Tea?

Burton: Tea?

Bird: Tea?

Burton: Oh dear. Is this a crisis?

Bird: I think so. (to lady) Are you lost?

Lady: Have you had tea?

Bird: (Holds up a cup and saucer) It would seem so.

Lady: Then I think I must be.

Burton: Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Then we are lost. Nothing to do.

Bird: Don't panic. She is lost. We are not. I found

you, remember? If I am not lost, you are not lost. We are not lost!

Burton: That's it. Only she is lost.

Bird: We must ignore her. If we ignore her, she will go away.

Burton: That's right. (to lady) Go on! Go away! Get lost!

Lady: I already am.

Bird: She's right you know.

Burton: Then we must continue to ignore her.

Bird: Agreed. Turn our backs on her.

Burton: Fine. Let's do it.

They turn away from her.

Bird: That's better. No danger now.

Burton: None. Is she gone?

Bird: If I turn to look she may take it as an encouragement.

Burton: If you don't we will never know.

Bird: Alright. I'll look. (turns quickly to look) Still there.

Burton: What's she doing?

Bird: Nothing. Sitting down. Looking a little...lost.

Burton: Don't stare. It might be catching.

Bird: Well, we can't ignore her. I feel guilty. It's or

duty to help.

Burton: We must not get involved. It's too risky. It might be a trap.

Bird: A trap? Surely not. She gave us tea.

Burton: That's true.

Lady: Help!

Bird: She's calling. I can't stand to listen.

Burton: There's nothing we can do.

Bird: We could kill her.

Burton: (shocked) How?

Bird: Strangle her.

Burton: I couldn't! My hands weren't made for

strangling. You could do it.

Bird: No! Not me! She would struggle and I haven't the strength.

Burton: The teapot. We could hit her with the teapot.

Bird: Too messy.

Burton: We could empty it first, into the cups.

Bird: The blood! I'm talking about the blood!

Burton: I see.

Lady: Help!

Bird: We must do something.

Burton: We could throw her out. Show no mercy.

Bird: We would have to stun her first. So that she couldn't fight. I would hate her to fight. The guilt would sap my strength further. How could we do it? The teapot again?

Burton: (looks briefly around) There is nothing else. Unless you wish to use a chair.

Bird: Rather rules out the element of surprise. It's too big. Surprise is the key here I think. Who shall do it?

Burton: Not I! No, no, no, no, no! Not I! She seems so... inoffensive. Look at her. I couldn't possibly...

Bird: Then it must be me. Although, perhaps...

Burton: Yes?

Bird: Perhaps we could let her stay. She was kind to us after all. She gave us tea. She said we weren't lost. She could quite easily have lied to us. She doesn't deserve this. No. We should help her. Let her stay if she wants.

Burton: Shall I ask her?

Bird: I could ask her. I don't mind.

Burton: I would rather it was me.

Bird: If you insist.

Burton: I don't insist. I'd like to. That's all.

Bird: Go ahead then. Don't mind me. Please, go ahead.

Burton: Fine. What should I say?

Bird: Say 'hello'. I often find that works. Although my experience is limited.

Burton: But it generally works?

Bird: In my experience.

Burton: Here goes then. (he makes to go to Lady)

Bird: (grabs Burton's arm) Don't look into her eyes. Just in case.

Burton: Just in case. A quick glance at first, to test the waters.

Bird: A wise move.

Burton: You think so?

Bird: Undoubtedly. Are you going?

Burton: Yes. Should I stroll casually, do you think? Or creep up on her?

Bird: As you wish. I'm sure it doesn't matter. But don't run. It may startle her.

Burton: Good idea. This is it then.

Bird: Call me when you get there.

Burton: Certainly. (goes over to Lady. Calls back to Bird) I'm here. (to Lady) Hello.

Lady: Have you come to help?

Burton: Yes. Would you like to join us? (looks uncertainly over at Bird, who shields his face from them) We're only over there. You can sit with us. (takes her by the arm and guides her back to Bird, who turns nervously to greet her) We're back. Here she is.

Bird: Sit down. Sit down.

Lady: Am I lost?

Bird: I rather fear that you are.

Lady: It's against the rules. Being lost is definitely against the rules.

Burton: We won't tell anyone. Not a soul. If you don't tell anyone, we won't. (to Bird) Will we.

Bird: No. Too dangerous. What do you do?

Lady: Do?

Bird: To pass the time.

Lady: I make tea.

Bird: Of course. Of course. Very good. Do you find this fulfilling?

Lady: Fulfilling?

Bird: Stimulating. Interesting. Satisfying. Worth living for.

Lady: I've never thought about it. It's against the rules.

Bird: I see.

Lady: And you? What do you do?

Bird: (taken aback by the question) Oh, this and that. I...we...that is...both of us... we incline.

Burton: We do. We are very inclined. Towards many things. I was inclined to be a doctor.

Lady: A doctor! You must be very proud.

Burton: It was only an inclination. It was my last one.

Bird: An astute move. Too many inclinations are very dangerous. (to Lady) Don't you agree?

Lady: I have never inclined. I couldn't say. Am I really lost?

Bird: It is almost a certainty. We are not lost and never have been. We have always been here. You said so yourself. Having not experienced it, I couldn't recognise it for sure. There's nothing you can do about it. Relax. Sit back. Have some tea. I suppose it will be cold by now. Never mind. I'm sorry for your loss.

Lady: But you said to him that I couldn't be lost. If you're not lost, then I can't be. That's what you said. Tea?

Burton: (to Bird) That is what you said.

Bird: I said that we are not lost...

Burton: (to lady) Tea? I'd love some...

Bird: (to lady) I cannot speak for you...

Lady: (to Burton) Sugar?

Burton: As before.

Bird: It stands to reason. Like I said. (aside to Burton) We must stick together. You never know do you.

Burton: What? What don't I know? What have I missed?

Bird: (impatiently) Nothing. You have missed nothing. Don't worry. I'd let you know. I meant about her. (both turn to look at Lady)

Lady: (smiles feebly) Tea?

Burton: Know what? What don't I know?

Bird: Nothing.

Burton: How can I know nothing? It's impossible to know nothing. One must always know something. It's like being nobody. Impossible! Nobody can be nobody.

Bird: What I meant was that we must be careful of her. Is she who she says she is? She might be somebody else. Somebody she claims not to be.

Burton: Who?

Bird: I don't know. If I knew I would have no need to ask.

Burton: I'm glad you don’t know. I would hate to be alone. Should I ask her?

Bird: No! We wouldn't want her think that we might know.

Burton: We don't know!

Bird: All the better. A little knowledge...

Burton: Can be useful.

Bird: Is a dangerous thing!

Burton: Ah, yes. Of course. I remember.

Bird: What? Tell me. What do you remember?

Burton: That knowledge is dangerous.

Bird: How do you know?

Burton: I knew a man once.

Bird: And?

Burton: He tried to kill me.

Bird: That's it! That's it! You've got it! Almost. What happened?

Burton: He failed. But it was close. As close as I want to come.

Bird: To come to...

Burton: Yes?

Bird: To...(whispers)...an unfitting demise?

Burton: My thoughts exactly. An unfitting (whispers) demise. Most inappropriate.

Bird: But what would be a fitting...you know?

Burton: Something sudden.

Bird: Oh yes. Something sudden. I wouldn't want to know.

Burton: With dignity.

Bird: Most certainly with dignity. It is necessary to have dignity when a (whispers) demise is met. Although one wouldn't necessarily want to be there to see it, the dignity, or lack of it.

Burton: This is true. There is no dignity in it. Maybe in the process, in the (whispers) demising. Do you...worry?

Bird: Worry? About...? No. I don't think about it. No time. Things to do. People to see. Places to go.

Burton: Can I come with you? When you go?

Bird: (tenderly) Of course you can, old friend. If I go, you may come with me. I'm comfortable at the moment though. I've always been comfortable here. I think.

Burton: I'm sure. We both have. (pauses) I worry.

Bird: You do? What about?

Burton: About...the end.

Bird: The end? You mean...?

Burton: Yes.

Bird: Why?

Burton: Well, it would be a shame. A real pity. To leave all this. We have always been here. To go somewhere else...I'm just not sure. But to have no choice...We never have.

Bird: I have. I always have.

Burton: No you haven't. You never have. It is the way of things. There is no other way. It's inevitable. You can't walk away from the inevitable.

Bird: I can. I would have done, but for you. I stayed for you. I could have gone. I will go. I will. Now. I will go now. (goes to door) All I have to do is open this door. That's all. Then I'll be free.

Burton: Fine. Go ahead. Please. I don't need you.

Bird: (hurt) You don't need me? You don't mind if I go?

Burton: No.

Bird: (opens the door an inch and peers out) Are you sure?

Burton: Yes.

Bird: What do you think is out there?

Burton: Freedom. Like you said.

Bird: Then I'll go. (picks up hat and jacket, opens door and leaves)

Burton: (worried) Shit! (sees Lady) Oh, shit! What to do? Suppose he was right? Suppose she isn't who she claims to be? I can't leave. I can't. I wouldn't know where to go, what to do. Maybe he'll come back. It would be good to see him, have a chat, talk over old times. Not that I need him. No, no, no! Not at all. We knew each other. We were... acquaintances. You know how it is. Hello. Goodbye. Such is life. (looks warily at Lady) Perhaps I should talk to her. Make a new acquaintance. Make her feel confident about me. I'm sure she needs a friend, an acquaintance. It would be good for her. (looks sadly at door) And for me. Mutually beneficial. (walks slowly over to Lady and stands behind her. Bird lifts the teapot above her head, as if to hit her, but changes his mind. Lady turns to see him with the teapot in his hand. He steps back, startled) Tea?

Lady: I hate the stuff. It gives me boils.

Burton: But you sell it. How can you not like it? How can you sell something that you don't like?

Lady: I have to, to survive. It's the nature of things.

Burton: Couldn't you do something else?

Lady: No.

Burton: No? Why not?

Lady: There is nothing else. Never has been.

Burton: Of course there is. Look at me. I could have done many things.

Lady: Did you?

Burton: No. But I could.

Lady: I'm sure. I'm sure we both could. I just never knew of anything.

Burton: But are you happy?

Lady: Happy? I never thought about it. It's against the rules anyway. Suppose everybody started thinking? All at once? What kind of a mess would that make? (slightly hysterically) I know my place. If I started thinking...well...I don't know. Who would make the tea?

Burton: (eagerly) I would. It would be a change. I could do it. I think.

Lady: And who would take your place? You see? You see? One careless thought and the system would collapse. No tea. Who would make the tea?

Burton: Who would take my place?

Lady: Exactly.

Burton: Does tea really give you boils?

Lady: Oh, yes. It's congenial.

Burton: Congenital. You mean congenital.

Lady: No. I inherited it from my father. If he so much as sniffed a leaf he came up in lumps. Played havoc at breakfast. Gave up drinking in the end. Dried up like a prune and faded away.

Burton: You mean...

Lady: (nods head sadly) Yes. (whispers) Demised. We cremated him. Burnt well though. They said it was cause he had no juices left in him. I suppose that makes sense.

Burton: If anything ever did.

Lady: And you. What do you do?

Burton: Oh, many things.

Lady: Such as?

Burton: Import. Export.

Lady: Yes?

Burton: This. That.

Lady: Do you enjoy it?

Burton: I've not thought about it. It's safer that way. That's what you said isn't it? I just do it. In. Out. Here to there. Day in. Day out. It serves a purpose.

Lady: (interested) Which is?

Burton: (thinks about the question) It fills the

gaps. Between times.

Lady: What times?

Burton: Well, the beginning...

Lady: And?

Burton: (whispers) The end.

Lady: (nods in understanding, then looks around the room) Where's your friend?

Burton: Who?

Lady: Your friend.

Burton: (matter of factly) He left. He wanted to be free. So he left.

Lady: (laughing) What? Out there? He'll be lucky! He'd better watch out. They might get him.

Burton: (worried) Who? Who might get him?

Lady: (suddenly distant) Nobody. It doesn't matter. Tea?

Somebody knocks at the door.

Burton: What's that?

Lady: (calmly) It's somebody at the door. Answer it.

Burton: Should I call them in?

Lady: If you want.

Burton: Or should I open the door?

Lady: (impatiently) As you want!

Burton: I don't know. I don't know. I'm really not very good at this sort of thing. I'll open the door. (goes to the door and stands hesitantly, unsure whether he should open it. Scuttles back to his chair) I'll call.

Lady: Well, do it now! They'll be dust before you make up your mind!

Burton: Alright! Alright! It's not a light decision. Who knows what will happen? It could have consequences.

Lady: Not at this rate!

Burton: Alright! I'll call. Enter! (Bird comes in and sits down) You're back! You're back! You came back!

Bird: (despondent) Yes. I came back.

Burton: Well, what happened?

Bird: Nothing.

Burton: Nothing?

Bird: No! Nothing! I found this! (pulls a large tomato from his jacket pocket and places it on the desk)

Burton: What is this?

Bird: What's this? It's a tomato!

Burton: I know that. What I meant to say was 'why?'. Why do you have a tomato?

Bird: I found it. On a plant.

Burton: Whose plant?

Bird: I don't know. It was there, so I took it.

Burton: (shocked) You stole it? You stole somebody's tomato?

Bird: No! Yes.

Burton: This is Freedom? You went looking for Freedom and came back with a tomato?

Bird: It's a good tomato.

Lady: It is. I know. I'm a woman. Women know about these things.

Burton: What about Freedom?

Bird: It's a symbol! It was enterprise. It was there so I took it. Veni. Vidi. Vici.

Burton: You cannot conquer a tomato!

Bird: I know that! I conquered the man that I took it from.

Burton: Did you beat him?

Bird: No.

Burton: Did you frighten him away?

Bird: No.

Burton: What did you do?

Bird: I stole his tomato!

Burton: This is not Freedom!

Lady: But it is a good tomato.

Burton: (exasperated) What did you find? What did you learn?

Bird: I found a tomato!

Burton: (angrily) I know! Tell me! Tell me what you learned. What was beyond that door?

Bird: There was nothing. Believe me, there was nothing.

Burton: Maybe you missed something.

Bird: I missed you.

Burton: You did?

Bird: Of course.

Burton: A lot?

Bird: A little.

Burton: Please tell me what was there.

Bird: There was nothing. So I came back. Back to familiarity.

Burton: To breed contempt?

Bird: To be content.

Burton: And are you?

Bird: (ignores question. Claps hands together jovially) Time for tea I think.

Lady: Tea?

Bird: Oh, yes. Strong, like before. To drown my thirst.

Burton: And your sorrows. (picks up tomato) What shall we do with this?

Bird: I've no idea. We could eat it. We could have it with tea.

Burton: A taste of victory!

Bird: On the other hand...

Burton: Yes?

Bird: We could keep it to admire. Something to look back upon. To remind us of today.

Burton: A trophy. We could frame it. Each day we could take our seats, look at it, admire it and feel proud.

Bird: We can feel proud.

Lady: (brings over tea. Burton and Bird drink. Lady stands next to table) You did a good job. To go out there, with them, and come back. I wouldn't do it, if I didn't have to, to survive. They're a strange bunch. I see them, each hour of each day, bits of soggy biscuit nesting in their moustaches. They wouldn't do what you did. They wouldn't step outside their doors and come back with such a trophy. (to Burton) You shouldn't be so cruel. You shouldn't criticise. (sits on table and squashes tomato)

Bird: (he screams, is panicked and hysterical) My tomato! You've squashed my tomato! My prize!

Burton: (as if to soothe) It was only a tomato.

Bird: It was a monument! I could have died going out there!

Burton: (angrily) You could have lived!

Bird: No! No I couldn't. Not out there! There was nothing. There was no life. There was nothing to live for. I saw a door. I knocked. Nobody answered. I went in. There was somebody opposite me. They smiled and took off their hat. They said 'hello'. And then I saw it was a mirror. I had taken my hat off to myself. I hadn't recognised myself! In the first second that I saw the man I thought, Oh joy! that I am not like that, so plain, so tired, so unrecognisably me. I ran away, out of that room, as fast as I could. I didn't know where I was going. Then I saw the plant and the tomato. So I stopped and picked it and ran off again. It was a sign of life. It was a Victory. My Victory. I saw life and I took it. And now it's gone. Some uninvited stranger has dropped her unthinking arse into my world and mashed my dreams. They were my dreams!

Burton: (embraces Bird) Our dreams. They were our dreams. There'll be others.

Bird: No. One chance. That's all we had. One chance. (Bird begins to cry)

Burton: We could try again. It wasn't the only tomato.

Bird: It was. The last one. See. It was ripe. It was full of juice. I could hear the plant strain under the weight as it struggled to break away. The stem was bent to the ground, to drop it unbruised to safety. It was ripe for the picking. All the others were gone. There was one small one left, withered with time, long past it's best, so dry, so light it floated on the wisp of a breeze from a closing door. No good to anyone. But this one. This one cried, begged, for release, for fulfilment, and I had it. Then she destroyed it. Do you understand? There were no more. No plants; no fruit.

Burton: Really no more?

Bird: Not a one.

Burton; Maybe next year...

Bird: There's always next year. There always has been. Every year we have known, you and I, that it was there, somewhere. Every year we ignored it, feared it. Every year we have left it to some brave other. Until today. The hormones rose, I felt a flush of bravado, a lust for confirmation, a fear that next year may be cancelled. So I went for it, and got it, then watched it destroyed before my eyes.

Burton: And there were no more.

Bird: No.

Burton: Our one chance gone.

Bird: Gone.

They sit in a hopeless silence. Burton fiddles with the teapot and empties the contents onto the floor.

Lady: (scathingly) It was only a tomato. What do you need it for? I don't need it. I never have. I have what I have and am content. My needs are met. What I have is all that I get. That is the way. There is no more. Not for me. Not for you.

Burton: (angrily) Not for you! Not for you? How do you know? Your contentment is disgusting! What about him? What about me? Should we nod our submissive heads and paint the fence that hems us in? Should we not glance beyond it with wonder and hope, even with fear? Should we allow the common terror, the infectious decay of apathetic satisfaction, to stifle us? (Burton brings the teapot down upon Lady's head. She falls to the ground) Tea?

Bird: What have you done?

Burton: I hit her.

Bird: Why?

Burton: It seemed the right thing to do at the time.

Bird: Is she...?

Burton: I've no idea.

Bird: (kneels down and examines the body) I think she is.

Burton: Oh.

Bird: 'Oh'? Is that it? 'Oh'? You cave her head in with a teapot and say 'Oh'? That teapot is public property!

Burton: Oh dear. I see. That is a problem. We had better clear it up.

Bird: Get rid of it.

Burton: Bury the pieces. A bit here. A bit there.

They scrabble around for pieces of teapot. They hide them in pockets and drawers, the bulk of it under a rug that lays between their desks.

Bird: All gone?

Burton: (relieved) All gone.

Bird: That as a bit close.

Burton: It was. (they both laugh loudly) But exciting. It was exciting.

Bird: It was, wasn't it!

Burton: What shall we do now?

Bird: Something as exciting. Feel my heart. Here. Feel it. (grabs Burton's hand and presses to his chest) Strong, eh? Alive!

Burton: It is. I can feel it up in my shoulder. I never realised.

Bird: Neither did I. I feel dizzy, as if I'm floating.

Burton: We should celebrate.

Bird: Wildly.

Burton: With tea.

Bird: Oh, yes.

Burton: (calls) Woman! Bring tea!

Bird: And biscuits?

Burton: (aloud) And biscuits.

They sit expectantly. The tea does not arrive.

Bird: Well, where's the tea?

Burton: I don't know. (aloud) Woman! Bring tea!

Bird: (looks at the ground and notices Lady's body) I don't believe it!

Burton: What?

Bird: She's done it again. Look at her! Lying there! No consideration!

Burton: None at all.

Bird: Can't resist it can she. Has to ruin everything. I mean, why is she doing this? Why does she just lie there?

Burton: I hit her.

Bird: You did! Of course. Then it's your fault.

Burton: In a roundabout sort of way.

Bird: Whichever way.

Burton: If that's the way you want to look at it.

Bird: It is.

Burton: But she destroyed your tomato.

Bird: And then you destroyed her. And our tea. I don't ask for much, do I. Do I?

Burton: (ashamed) No.

Bird: This is your fault, you realise that.

Burton: But I did it for you.

Bird: Did I ask for it? Did I? Did I say 'break her head with that teapot'? Did I? No. And now you have ruined everything.

Burton: You started it!

Bird: I did not!

Burton: You did. It was you. When you left. I didn't ask you to leave. You just went. We were doing fine. I was content. I hoped, of course. We all hope. But I didn't need. Then you came back. Things had changed. What did you expect? You can't do what you did and think nothing will change. She didn't like it. She tried to stop it. What was I to do? Her words left a vacuum. You cried. She had to go. It is the nature of things. Once the change is made, it must go on.

Bird: I only did it for you.

Burton: I know old friend. I know.

Bird: And what of her?

Burton: We must get rid of her. Hide her.

Bird: Why? She was a means to an end, that's all. Of no more consequence.

Burton: Not to us, but others might miss her. If they find out it was us, who knows what they will do.

Bird: They might hang us.

Burton: That would make it worth staying. No, they would not be so kind.

Bird: So what shall we do?

Burton: We can roll her up in the rug. Then we could hide her behind the desk. Nobody would find her.

Bird: They would eventually. She would melt. That's only natural. They would sniff her out.

Burton: Then we must leave.

Bird: Leave? What? Here?

Burton: We must. We can't stay. Don't you see? We would be at their mercy.

Bird: Go somewhere else? Out there?

Burton: It's beyond us now. Choice has fled.

Bird: Then we must do as you say.

Burton: Grab her feet, then help me put her on the rug.

Burton and Bird lift Lady to the rug and straighten her out. They then roll the rug around her. Once done, they carry it with effort to behind a desk.

Bird: That's it. She was heavy.

Burton: She'll soon lose weight.

Bird: That's you all over. So positive.

Burton: I try my best. (they sit down to catch their

breath) Shame about the tea.

Bird: It is. (looks at the space where the rug has been, then kneels down at starts picking at the floor) Teapot! Damn the woman! (turns to Burton) Teapot! Under the rug. There were bits of teapot!

Burton: (despairing) Even in demise the woman pulses revenge.

Bird: What shall we do?

Burton: We must put the rug back. (they retrieve the rug with the body still in it and roll it back out over the floor. Lady's body rolls limply with the rug) That's better.

Bird: (points at Lady) What about her?

Burton: Is she still there?

Bird: Yes.

Burton: Roll it up again. Roll it up. (they roll the rug up) Now let's pick up the pieces.

Bird: If only we could! (they collect the pieces of teapot) Now what?

Burton: Unroll the rug. (they unroll the rug and Burton throws the pieces of teapot over the body of Lady. Burton does the same) Now roll it up again. (they roll it up and put the rug with the body in it back behind the desk) That's it then. Now we must leave.

Bird: I don't know if I can. Not again. Once is enough. Enough for my lifetime. I don't know if I can do it again.

Burton: (grabs Burton by the shoulders) Together. We can do it together. As long as we have each other. The rest don't matter. We are worth all of them.

Bird: Then why must we go? If we are so great, if we don't need them, if, together, we are worth all of them, why must we go?

Burton: Because I might be wrong.

They pick up their jackets and hats. Burton ushers Bird towards the door. Bird opens it gingerly and is pushed out by Burton, who takes one last look around the room, leaves and shuts the door behind him. A few seconds later the door is opened again and left ajar.





It is dark. An alley, dimly lit, wet from rain, the sound of unseen water streaming from pipes and into drains. Burton and Bird sit on boxes a few feet apart. Burton does a circuit of the tramp and examines him closely. He lifts the tramp's head by the hair, then drops it quickly back to the ground and wipes his hand on his jacket.

Burton: Lazy swine! Nothing better to do I suppose.

Bird: Shameful!

Burton: Absolutely, my friend.

Bird: No ambition.

Burton: That could be unfair. This could be Ambition.

Bird: I stand corrected.

Burton: While he lies prostrate.

Bird: Lazy swine.

Burton: (after a thoughtful pause) Do you think he dreams?

Bird: Not any more. There lies Ambition fulfilled.

Burton: In his sleep. I mean in his sleep.

The tramp's leg kicks out.

Bird: Look! He's chasing rabbits.

Burton: Or rainbows.

Bird: That proves it then. He dreams.

Burton stands up and rummages through a bin.

Bird: (disgusted) What are you doing?

Burton: I'm hungry. There must be some food in here.

Bird: That is so low!

Burton: It's survival. It's not low to survive.

Bird: And what about standards? Where are your standards?

Burton: Up the tree picking apples.

Bird: What? Explain yourself.

Burton: Explain. Explain. This is my life! Two boys. One called Thief, the other called...

Bird: Standards?

Burton: Precisely. They break into a garden to steal apples. Thief climbs the tree first and steals the apples that he wants. Then he comes down and allows Standards to rise. The owner comes out and grabs Thief by the ear. 'Where are your standards?' he cries. 'Up the tree picking apples' replies Thief.

Bird: Then what happened?

Burton: Nothing. That's it.

Bird: That's it?

Burton: It's an anecdote. It doesn't mean anything.

Bird: What a pointless exercise.

Burton: You did ask. (rummages through the bin some more) Are you going to eat? There's some good stuff in here. Meat, veg. Some wine. Plenty for two.

Bird: Twice as much for one then. (looks at the tramp) What do you think happened to him?

Burton: (sits and nibbles at a bone) It's impossible to say. It could have been anything. Alcohol. Mental illness. A woman. A friend.

Bird: A friend?

Burton: It could have been. It happens. When a storm hits port, ships drift apart.

Bird: He sunk pretty low. That won't happen to us, will it?

Burton: (puts an arm around Bird) No. Of course not.

Bird: I'm glad. What do you think he was?

Burton: It's impossible to say.

Bird: One of us? He could have been one of us.

Burton: And got lost? I hope not. That's a frightening thought. To see him as a crystal ball.

Bird: Leaves in a teacup.

Burton: Do you think he was ever a child? Is the child really father to the man?

Bird: We have all been children. I think we forget. Drowned by the tide of time. Do you remember when you were a child?

Burton: I remember that summers were long and hot.

Bird: And it always snowed at Christmas.

Burton: The smell of linseed.

Bird: The taste of Easter.

Burton: The smell of her perfume.

Bird: The taste of her lips.

Burton: Then the splitting of skin.

Bird: Reborn (pats his body with disgust) to this.

Burton: Was Ambition the child we see now?

Bird: By the look of that coat, I'd say so.

Burton: Poor thing.

Bird: Such is life. It's the way of things.

Burton: Summer dust to mud.

Bird: Snow to slush.

Burton: How far back do you recall?

Bird: (sighs deeply and sadly and tries to think) I remember my father. He was tall. But then I was short. But he was always tall, until the day he...demised. I always seemed to strain my neck when I looked at him, even as they lowered him into the ground. It was April and there was a real feel of Spring in the air; crisp, cool. The scent of new leaves, the sun weeping through the huge oak under which we stood. The snow was melting. It had lain upon the earth like a sleeping bear all winter and now, in the feeble sun, it was melting as if it's strength was being drained by the new life around it. As it melted, it dripped onto my head and wriggled through my hair and onto my face. My mother looked at me, saw me shivering with the cold, saw that icy drop under my eye. She pulled me to her and whispered to me not to cry. I didn't have the courage to tell her that I hadn't been crying. I didn't have the courage to tell her of the release I felt as dirt hit wood. I believed that that was it. I had never believed anything so strongly. It had been his choice, you see. His own choice. I thought that meant the choice was also mine. But as they filled the hole and the snow melted underfoot, I slipped. I tried to grab at something, anything, but there was nothing, and in I went, right after him. My belief was shattered. It had lasted for a second; a spot of honey on the tongue, so sweet and pure. But it was soon dissolved. When I fell into that hole, I knew that fate was in control, that, no matter what I did, I was going to end up in a hole in exactly the same way as my father. Cassius was wrong. The fault is in our stars.

Burton: But what about today? You left. We left. You said enough was enough and changed things.

Bird: To what end? It's too late. There's no difference between you, me and Sleeping Beauty here. Different names, different faces, that's all.

Burton: I can't believe that.

Bird: (angrily) Well, what the fuck do you remember? What the fuck? (quietly) What the fuck do you remember?

Burton: (sadly) Nothing. I remember nothing. Because I choose to remember nothing. It's all irrelevant. What was then is not now. It bears no relation. The dead are dead and the living goes on. I refuse to let it be any other way.

Bird: And the song remains the same.

Burton: Because I like the tune.

Bird: Rubbish! It's because you're...(stops and looks at the ground in shame)

Burton: I'm what? Continue please.

Bird: Nothing. Nothing at all.

Burton: Tattoos. That's all you are. Words. No more.

Bird: (angry and hurt) I am Hope!

Burton: (stands and towers over Bird) You are bottomless despair!

Bird: (quietly) And you are my friend.

Burton: (sits again and hugs Bird) And I am your friend.

Bird: Let's not have it any other way.

Burton: I agree. Birds of a feather...Do something for me?

Bird: Of course. Name it.

Burton: Don't say that word.

Bird: Fuck?

Burton: Yes, that's the one.

Bird: (pause) Fucky fuck fuck.

Burton: What?

Bird: Nothing.

Burton: Why do you persist?

Bird: I'm an impulsive sort of fellow.

Burton: Couldn't you find some other way?

Bird: I've tried everything. As far as I know. Until I come across something that I haven't tried of course, but events are getting fewer.

Burton: And time is getting shorter.

Both look at the tramp.

Bird: And what of this old Bird?

Burton: Hardly a spring chicken. Shall we wake him?

Bird: I doubt if we could. He hangs onto the verge of a (whispers) demise I think.

Burton: Then he has a right to know. If he is about to...you know, he has a right to know.

Bird: Maybe it's better that he doesn't know. Why ruin what little time he has left?

Burton: How considerate of you. How thoughtful. I hope you would do the same for me.

Bird: I doubt it. I think it is something that we should share. I would hate to bear the burden alone.

Burton: I would hate you to have to. There was a man once who was (whispers) demising. He had cancer. Each day he became more emaciated. You could see through him, like a dirty window. His voice turned to shallow gravel and his shocked eyes blinked glazily over his sharp nose. Soon his lips dried and his lungs filled and he breathed through water. Then he began to see things that weren't there and see through things that were. One morning he looked out of his bedroom window, into the early sun, and pointed his finger, and then his arm, into a shaft of sunlight. He followed the shaft as far as he could, until he could reach no more. Then his arm fell down, exhausted, back onto the bed and, for the first time in a week, he looked at his wife and recognised her. He said 'thank you', and died. She died before they could bury him. She hadn't been ill, but she had withered with him. As he had suffered, so had she. They were flowers in the same soil.

Bird: It's the high cost of loving.

Burton: Are we prepared for that? If we wake Mr Ambition here, are we prepared for what may come? We would be obliged, you see.

Bird: Surely not. We have no history with him.

Burton: Not yet. But once we cross the line, history is made. We will be involved.

Bird: Then let's not do it. I don't want to be involved. Not that much.

Burton: Then we will leave him.

Bird: But I'm curious.

Burton: So was the cat.

Bird: This is true.

Burton: On the other hand, can we just pass it by?

Bird: I'd feel safer.

Burton: Just how you like it.

Bird: I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Burton: And there's no reason why you should be. It's not all of us who are happy to feel safe.

Bird: I didn't say that I was happy. I never said that. It's just that I would hate to wither before my time.

Burton: Maybe it is your time. Have you thought of that? Maybe you have come full circle. Maybe you have met your fate.

Bird: A good point. Maybe this is what it was all for. All those years of toing and froing. This could be it. My summit. My climax. The service of another. To be nailed upon the cross of concern.

Burton: Steady on! Steady on!

Bird: But that's it. That's it. We must wake Ambition.

Bird gets up and goes to the tramp. He stands uncertainly, unsure as to whether he should touch.

How should I wake him?

Burton: I'm not sure that you should.

Bird: Stop it! Help me. Come on. You're the clever

one. Tell me how I should wake him.

Burton: Set his beard alight.

Bird: Don't be silly!

Burton: It would wake him. I'm sorry. Shake his shoulder.

Bird: You think it would help? (shakes the tramps shoulder. The tramp stirs and Bird jumps back) He moved.

Burton: Of course he moved. So would you.

Bird: Shall I do it again?

Burton: Go ahead.

Bird shakes the tramp's shoulder again.

Tramp: Piss off!

Bird: He talks.

Burton: He said 'piss off'.

Bird: I'll piss off then shall I?

Burton: Persevere my friend. People who need help all too often decline. Try again.

Bird shakes the tramps shoulder again.

Tramp: Are you deaf? Or stupid? Leave me alone!

Bird: I'm here to help you. To tell you that you are about to...demise.

Burton: Oh, well done! Very tactful! He'll be so happy now.

Tramp: Sod off!

Burton: Ah, leave him alone.

Bird: But there's something I need to ask him.

Burton: Him? What can he know? Look at him. Just look. I bet he doesn't even know his own name.

Bird: You said I must persevere.

Burton: What do you want to know? Tell me.

Bird: What does a demising man dream? Does he dream of his own demise? Does he dream of what he was? Of what he could have been? What he never was? I need to know.

Burton: What do you need to know that for? You fool! What does it matter?

Bird: It matters to me. It really does.

Burton: Naked women. A dying man dreams of naked women. There's your answer.

Bird: How do you know?

Burton: Somebody told me.

Bird: Who? Who told you?

Burton: A dead man.

Bird: That's a lie! You don't live seventy years and fade with a pair of tits in your head.

Burton: Would I lie to you?

Bird: I believe you would.

Burton: How unkind! Would you like to kick me? Now that I'm down?

Bird: But I can't believe that's all. After all we've tasted. For it all to boil down to no more than...

Burton: A pair of tits?

Bird: Precisely.

Burton: That's life.

Bird: And death it would seem.

Tramp: Jesus! Will you two bastards shut up! Can a man not get some sleep in his own alley!

Bird: (excited) He lives! I must speak to him.

Burton: (holds Bird back) He will only double your disappointment.

Bird: (breaks away and kneels next to Tramp) What do you dream?

Tramp: What?

Bird: What do you dream?

Tramp: (to Burton) Is he a friend of yours? (Burton shrugs) What are you talking about?

Bird: It's very simple. I need to know what you dream.

Tramp: Mind your own bloody business! My dreams are private.

Bird: I won't tell a soul.

Tramp: Too bloody right, cause I'm not going to tell you! Now, piss off!

Bird: I'll pay you.

Tramp: (suspiciously) What with?

Burton: What with?

Bird: I'll write an IOU.

Burton: Oh, excellent! He can cash it in on the way to the cemetery.

Tramp: What cemetery? Are you mad?

Bird: Only with desire.

Tramp: Poofs! Are you poofs?

Bird: For knowledge! A desire for knowledge.

Tramp: Listen. If I answer the question, will you go away?

Bird: Of course. Of course.

Tramp: Forever?

Bird: Yes.

Tramp: Fine. Go ahead. Ask away.

Bird: (anxious) I need to know what you dream.

Tramp: Right, I see. Well, I dream...

Bird: Yes?

Tramp: Of...

Bird: Yes?

Tramp: Naked women.

Burton: Told you so.

Bird: Naked women? Naked women?

Tramp: Well, not just naked women. Big ones. (opens his arms wide) Like this. Heavy. You know.

Bird: I don't believe it.

Tramp: You asked pal. Now bugger off.

Bird: Women? Is that the be all and end all? What about the rest?

Tramp: Rest? What rest? Jesus! I've spent nigh on sixty years trying to forget the bloody rest! Why the hell should I worry about the rest? At the end of the day it doesn't matter. It flies on the wind with my dust like so many schoolboy farts. Look at it this way. You cook a meal, okay, and you eat it and you feel satisfied. The meal was a means to an end. Sure, the odd anchovy may have stood out along the way, may linger in the memory, on the tongue, but in the end, it just served a purpose. Big, naked women are my anchovies. Does it matter?

Bird: Of course it bloody matters! Where's the meaning?

Tramp: What meaning? Why the hell does it have to have meaning? Fuck it! I see you every day, you know, grey little men, scrabbling in sawdust like hamsters for some meaning that doesn't exist, and all they find is peanuts. I used to be like you.

Bird: Like me?

Tramp: And him.

Burton: Leave me out of this.

Bird: What happened?

Tramp: I walked out. Left the job, the house, the wife. Well, she threw me out, but I would have left in the end.

Bird: Why did she throw you out?

Tramp: I don't know really. I was eating my breakfast, black pudding, bacon, two eggs, fried bread, funny how things stick your mind, eh? Anyway, she put a couple of sugars in my cup, mashed the tea in the pot, and poured it into my lap. Then she said, quite out of the blue, and get this, 'enough is enough'. I didn't know what she meant. I thought she meant that she had enough, that she was content, satisfied. 'Jolly good', says I and, my groin boiling slightly I have to confess, and got stuck into my black pudding. Next thing I knew, she was up the stairs like a budgie on speed packing her cases. Actually, my cases as it turned out. By the time I'd finished my eggs she was out of the bloody door, Whoosh!, like the caped bloody crusader.

Bird: You must have been shocked.

Tramp: I didn't actually notice that she wasn't around until tea-time. You see, I don't eat lunch, so that makes sense really, eh? Anyway, tea-time comes along and I'm thinking to myself, 'wait a minute my friend. Where are the tea and Bourbons?' Naturally, I gave the woman a call, but all that

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