ANNIE: A young woman, dressed in black.
DEREK: A cheerfully officious man, in uniform.
A clock is ticking, then stops. Annie stands centre stage. She addresses the audience.
Annie: To lose a loved one implies a lack of care - a mislaid parcel somewhere waiting. (pause) Inevitably words let us down.
DEREK: (enters whistling. He carries a large stuffed dog) Be right with you. (he crosses the stage and exits)
ANNIE: I had a boss once. He slipped his first-born under the cinema seat and he and his wife laughed and screamed their way through ‘Jaws’. At the car they felt too light, legged it back - found the baby still asleep among discarded wrappers. Every day this week I’ve passed Lost Property, tempted to enquire. (she opens her handbag and takes out a small, framed photograph, looks at it, sighs) Just in case.
DEREK: (re-enters without the dog) Right. What can I do you for?
ANNIE: It’s only on the off chance, really. I doubt anyone can . . .
DEREK: Doubt? Doubt has no jurisdiction here, Miss. We give no truck to doubt in this establishment. I have just warehoused a dog of the Shih-tzu persuasion, stuffed some several years hence. No collar. No label. Found in the gents at St Pancras Station. Do I doubt he has an owner? No. Do I doubt he can be catalogued? Filed? Retrieved? Repatriated? No. Do I doubt that one day there will be a glorious reunion? (expectant pause) No. How could I get up in the morning if I did? (he sits down at a computer and taps wildly on the keyboard) Right then. Lost item. (he looks at Annie expectantly) Details.
ANNIE: (sighs) Where to begin?
DEREK: (helpfully) Shape? Colour? Texture? Length?
ANNIE: Sorry. It’s still terribly . . . painful.
DEREK: (approaches her nervously) Yes. Yes . . . (fascinated by the words) Loss, separation, severance. Excoriating, just the speaking of them. (he hands her his handkerchief) Yet words are the tools with which we chisel. With words, comes definition. With definition, concreteness. With concreteness, objects. With objects, owners. With owners, possession. With possession . . . union. (to Annie) Height? (Annie hesitates) Height of object.
ANNIE: Height? (she thinks for a moment then indicates a height slightly below her own) I suppose . . . about here.
DEREK: (critical) I suppose? Oh no. No, no, no, no, no, no.
ANNIE: (slightly lowering her hand) A touch lower, perhaps.
DEREK: A touch?
ANNIE: A touch.
DEREK: A touch! (he pulls a tape measure from his pocket) Approximations, estimations, obscurifications. We can’t build a world on shifting sands. (he hands Annie the tape measure) Height? (she takes the tape measure and holds it at the height of her lost object) Good. Allow me. (hespools the tape down and takes a reading from the floor) Fifty two inches point two six, recurring. (he lets go of the spooled tape) Lovely. (he returns to the computer)
ANNIE: Look, you’ve been very kind and helpful, but the fact is . . .
ANNIE: (long pause) It took four men to carry the box.
DEREK: (thinking hard) Four men, you say. (he taps on his calculator and works things out under his breath) Average weight per man . . . divided by gravitational pull . . . plus Boyle’s Law . . .
ANNIE: Yesterday I dialled her number. Silly isn’t it? Just so I could hear her voice again. No-one answered of course.
DEREK: (announces proudly) Three stone, ten pounds and seven ounces. (he taps the datainto the computer)
ANNIE: I just can’t believe I’m never going to see . . .
DEREK: Distinguishing features? (Annie hesitates) Come on. Think. (encouragingly) Distinguishing features.
ANNIE: (long pause) Very thin.
DEREK: Oh, excellent. (he taps in the details) Very thin.
ANNIE: (warming to the memory) Slightly bent with age.
DEREK: Aha. (types the details encouragingly) Slightly bent with age.
ANNIE: (smiling) Wonderfully musical.
DEREK: (more tapping) And wonderfully musical. (he views the computer screen for a moment then exclaims joyfully) We have a match! (Annie moves towards him in disbelief) Reference 838, forward slash B. Brought in ten days ago.
ANNIE: Ten days ago? (joyful disbelief) Yes, it was ten days ago.
DEREK: (triumphantly takes her by the shoulder) This is why I brush my teeth in the morning. This is why I strap on my bicycle clips and lock horns with death on the gyratory system.
ANNIE: It can’t be. Surely? It’s just not possible.
DEREK: Everything is possible. (he squeezes her encouragingly then exits)
ANNIE: If I close my eyes, maybe . . . the feel of her hands again, the sound of her voice . . .
DEREK: (he re-enters, and proudly presents her with a trombone) Very thin. Slightly bent with age. Wonderfully musical. (he plays a blast on the instrument) Well?
ANNIE: (slumps onto the chair, and sighs) Oh, Nana.
DEREK: (utterly bewildered) But . . . it’s such a good match.
(Final Black Out)
Claire Booker mud-wrestles words and sometimes comes out on top. Her poetry pamphlet Later There Will Be Postcards is out from Green Bottle Press. www.bookerplays.co.uk