Digital Ischemia

13/08/2017

Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists

Fossoway Flora quickly became tired of life at tree pace—or, more tactfully, she’d learned what she needed and it was time to move on. Prince Tiahmin was adorable, but also became tiresome every time his baddies threatometer lurched and he reached for a stick. Repeatedly she had to remind him that sticks had an original purpose before they became handy weapons. He was leaving her disfigured.

Such irritations all come to the same thing: Flora has learned the various ways we live and let live or let die. That old tree is a canny beech. The way it manipulates everything that enters its space, deciding who to encourage, who to repel. She feels the urge to visit Uncle Umbel. This could be problematic, given that her genome has merged with Fagus sylvaticus fossowaii, and currently exists in a firmly rooted way. However, she reasons, every cell carries the complete genome and her uncle is an open-minded sort.

Uncle Umbel has an allotment that appears to have been trampled by a navigationally-challenged herd of migrating aurochs, pulverised by glacial moraine, and finally kept at perfect conditions for putrefaction by the lukewarm outflow from a more-alcohol-less-taste whisky distiller. An extremely quaggy mire.

“Umbel? Umbel? I’m quite bored and if you don’t show yourself I’ll plant something with flowers on!” …calls a thrawn twig, swirling across the mire.

A three foot diameter octagon of mud opens via eight triangular petals, carefully draining slime outward, and reveals a spartan subterranean bunker. The clipped voice of one who aspires to have served in the RAF c.1940 dots and dashes forth.

“Wotcha. Get a move on, girl. Hatches to rebatten T minus three!”

The twig daintily pivots into position to surf a gust-stream and thereby dives between the gnashing metal petals.

“Cocoa?”
“Er, not really practical, thanks.”
“No. Hah! You’d get sticky! Hah! Sticky!”

Fortunately, a twig is also excused from having to disguise disrespectful facial expressions. Flora grabs for the conversational initiative to avert any further grocerial puns.

“Ahimsa, Umbel.”
“Gesundheit!”
“What is your understanding of it?”
“Your what-what?”
“Sanskrit: harmlessness. As in: toward self and other living beings.”

Flora gulps in horror at the contagious nature of the abbreviated style. She reassures herself that she is merely applying ‘mirroring’; a clever technique of neuro-linguistic programming. And she’s doing it unconsciously so she must be good. Still, she hopes producing puns won’t be necessary.

Umbel blinks repeatedly as distant, neglected circuitry is recommissioned. His amphibiously protruding eyes swivel and his ears twitch back an inch, stretching his forehead. On grocerial subjects you can get an interaction in real time, but anything even vaguely philosophical requires Umbel to shut down and dedicate all cognitive resources to the matter. His head lolls, lip slackens and cocoa teeters precariously on his chest.

Flora patiently scrutinises the bunker’s interior: piles and piles of dust-besmothered…shapes. She really can’t identify any of it, apart from the odd protrusion of wire or single sheet of paper, revealed only by apparent overwhelm, tilt and subsequent dustalanche.

A fragile connection sparks. Umbel’s cocoa hand twitches. Cocoa inevitably splashes on his shirt. Umbel powers back up.

“Ah. Just logged off pro tem, chaps. Buggeration.”

He blots himself with a towel placed at the ready for such regular eventualities, thereby scattering a portion of crumbs he carefully collected earlier.

“Clean on today, of course. Irretrievable. I shall have to disrobe forthwith.”
Umbel chuckles and lurches into unsteady motion. Flora’s patience was never good during pantomime. “Ahimsa?”
“No. Not a flicker.”
“Nothing?”
“Refer to the Conflict Chaps.”
“Who are..?”
“Thomson, Tim, and… and… Tarantula. You get the idea. Cheerio, folks.”

Flora is nowhere close to getting it, and rather thankful for the implied shreds of sanity. There are some peripheral gene puddles she’s keen not to paddle in. With Umbel retiring for a post-cogitatory nap—’cocoa’ is merely a vehicle for a substantial sugar and cream component—Flora is unattended in the elves’ factory. The fact of being trapped holds little concern as yet. Her leaf stalk flits investigatively along the bench, enticed by a curiously shuddering tin. A little probing releases a lid to reveal three blinking figures, of similar stature to herself in her current twig incarnation.

To be continued…

06/08/2017

My Neighbour’s Baby

The parents’ squabbling catches my attention. My quiet Sunday breakfast with a wildlife magazine shattered. Peer Gynt capers on in the Hall of the Mountain King. The squabblers slam from room to room, swatting and shrieking at each other. I lean to the window and pull back the gauze curtain, searching for explanation. One of their children sits on my front grass. Just sits, not playing, not eating, not moving, not seemingly hurt, but I don’t read children well. The parents barrel on. Another figure slinks by – another neighbour, inspecting the unattended child. My gut flips – some pre-verbal fear. In a reflex I knock the window. The neighbour starts and glances at me. I wave. Frustratingly her momentum carries her out of my sight. The parents separate, hurling only intermittent complaints. The child remains immobile.

I unlock the front door to look closer. Mostly I want to help, but I need more information: what happened? I seem to be too late. The neighbour is out of sight. The child sits on the grass, freckled and bewildered. I don’t want to approach in case this aggravates the situation. I don’t want to interfere. Or should I move her to a safer position? What would be safer? In my house is far too ambiguous. I have no relationship with this child. Her parents seem to be calming. I return indoors and glance out the window. The child still hasn’t moved. I can’t settle back to breakfast; I wander ineffectually about the front rooms, reviewing the incident, assessing my choices. I keep glancing out the window.

Suddenly the parents launch a fresh bout of shouting. I check the window: the child is gone – in a matter of seconds between my glances. I can’t see anybody, any movement. I open the front door and see the parents hopping and shrieking along the pavement. I can’t read their distress. Still no sign of the child. My eyes flit to another movement. Beneath the bordering hedge I see my neighbour’s legs saunter up the path and out of sight. The parents are hysterical. Why didn’t they do something for their child before? Why didn’t I? I peer again between the trunks of the hedge. I look very carefully to catch a glimpse as my neighbour’s path curves back into view. In a moment I see what I’m looking for: the shape of the child, carried away.

There was a moment when I could have acted. I chose not to. To let others’ choices play out. I may have delayed things by rapping the window, but that’s as likely to have increased the suffering as not. If I had the chance again, I’d lift that baby and bring it indoors. I’d suffer the guilt of upsetting the parents. My experiences lead me to believe that my neighbour simply wanted to play with the child. A distorted behaviour that has its roots in natural instinct but has become torture. I have some responsibility for that. I could do better.

If it had been my neighbour the sparrowhawk who found the young blackbird, I would be more comfortable with that. A reasonably quick death for food. A domestic cat I’m much less comfortable with. It doesn’t feel natural to me. Still, I have too little information. I had a moment and I only half-intervened. Bless her.

25/06/2017

Solstice Stillness

follows Night Ride and Sunrise

As the leading edge of the rising sunlight pours down past my hand I feel that warmth. And another: I feel another hand touch mine. I wind two fingers between these others. The animal warmth, the companionship is surreal. My fatigued legs underline my fragility as the nuclear explosion hits us. I’m not looking at the sun, but the dazzle across the wet sand is mesmerising. The pebbles laid to outline the orca blaze darkly. Eventually it becomes too bright; I have to turn.

This straggle of a man juts out of the sand like he’s been here years. His features seem especially coarse and creased as my eyes overcompensate the contrast. Envying experiences of which I’m ignorant would be nonsensical, but he seems rooted, settled.

He cranks his head around to face me, with huge effort to turn from the sun. He opens his eyes, then his mouth as I did only moments back. For him, the lack of arising words seems a surprise, a perplexing fault, rather than a second thought. I firm my grip on his hand.

Where did he come from? I twist to scan further around, behind us, to examine my entry point. I see the thin end of the curved edge of headland, the last stretch of silky grass that I glided over, the beginnings of the vertical rock face, loose rocks tumbling over the beach in geological time, no shelter. Where was he before that?

Finally, he rasps, “It wasn’t for you.”
“I know. It wasn’t for you either. It’s only meaningful from the crags.”
“Or from the air.”
“Your problem with me is that I didn’t arrive by helicopter?”
“My problem is that you showed up.”
My pique relishes this bickering. “Sorry to ruin your peace but other people are going to keep showing up. We’re like ants at jam.”

I release his hand. Mine feels damp. I step away then change direction to reach for the bike handle.
He spits out, “I won’t nick it.”
I flush, thinking: no, but you’d have my food and precious things in an instant, and that would hurt me more than I’m prepared for right now. The sublime sunrise moment has left me feeling vulnerable. Remember that thing? Surely it can’t be overshadowed already. I want peace and isolation to savour that experience, not someone else’s selfish, abrasive neurosis. Ha – I’m just like him. I shove the bike east, away from him, along the beach. I’m not leaving yet.

He emits another flurry of words, “I meant: once you’d showed up, I didn’t know what to do next. I don’t…”
I freeze, replaying his blurted confession. Is it? Is it enough to mollify my umbrage?

He lunges surprisingly nimbly and is suddenly in front of me, facing me, fixing my eyes. Bless him, he’s contrite enough not to touch me again. So he stands in my path. A couple times I feign to bypass him. A smirk breaks one side of his stare.

“I’ve been here a long time. You can stay with me or you can go. You can’t stay without me.”
I ask a little trade for my acquiescence, “Why an orca?”
“Intelligent, well evolved, decent creatures.”
“Is that who you want to communicate with?”
“No chimpanzees or elephants in Scotland.”
“Any progress?”
“More than I’ve had with humans.”
“Imagine how much more we could be if we could.”
“We can; we just haven’t worked out how yet.”
“I hope you do. Maybe if they want to as well. I wonder why they would, though. We’re choking them with plastic, poisoning them with chemicals leaching from landfilled electronics, removing their habitat, or simply killing them for body parts. And there’s taking them captive, ‘lethal’ sampling for ‘scientific research’, ship strikes…”
“I’m aware of the time pressure. It doesn’t help.”
“I only mean to despair of my species—my culture. We keep obliterating communities—native peoples as much as other species—then regretting it later when we realise what we’ve lost, whether that’s indigenous knowledge or ecosystem processes. We think we’re so successful, but the terms of that success are so short-sighted.” I seem to have a lot to say on this. So does he.
“It’s way more than our ‘loss’: they have their own right to life, their own life, not just for how they can help us.”
“You’re right, of course. I should go.” I seem to have flipped my stance.
“Why?”
“I’m bringing all the shit that you’re trying to get away from.”
“You’re not bringing anything apart from a decent-looking oilskin, and you’re not leaving.”
“Hostage for a tarp?”
“Something like that.”
“When did I change from resented intruder?”
“You said ‘who’. About the orca; you see it as a person, not a thing.”

He makes fire; he bakes bannocks. Not the hermit I’d assumed. Apparently he trades information and expertise with crofters and hikers for the staples he can’t forage. I’ve brought plenty, partly to share, partly for not knowing how long I’d stay. I wonder if he’d choose me or the supplies.

He’s a caveman, but again not as I’d assumed. The entrance is invisible without serious exploration: behind a downward-sloping four foot high shelf of rock, a horizontal slit the width of a human head. Reading my panic, he chuckles, “As long as you can fit your head through, the rest of your body will squish.” Hardly reassuring.

I glance about for distraction. Nestled in a rocky crevice, a solar-powered evaporator reassuringly drips desalinated water into an amphora. Anxiety makes me critical, “And if there’s no sun?”
“Cloud still lets some energy through. It’s slow but it’s enough.”
I continue digging, “And if it’s raining?”
He looks at me, patronising amusement twisting his face. I flush again. That idiocy just sealed my fate.

He slides on his back; for some reason I’m less uncomfortable on my belly. We squirm and side-wind like snakes into the cold hole. High rock shelves carry dry groceries and drying dulse, ceramic vessels and shell platters. The smell is oddly pleasant. A huge contoured sandbag seems to be universal furniture. I draw back from inspecting further; it feels intrusive.

Solo again in scavenging for driftwood, I find a cache of plastic flotsam. Things in the wrong place. I can’t help myself collecting it and removing it to the cove’s grassy entrance. Things to be returned to the rest of the world. That done, the polluted spot restored according to my idiosyncratic perspective, I make an offering to the sea of the dried flower I brought. An apology. A drop in the ocean.

We return to the fire and boil water for a drink of herbal something. It’s exquisite. The simplicity and the ingenuity delight me. My half pound bag of random nuts delights him; he’s had none for months. He tells me he didn’t intend to stay so long. He didn’t intend to be alone.

Some time after five AM the world leans its furthest. The moment of the solstice before the world’s tilt begins to recede. I feel for the turn, straining as if I might catch the crank and rattle of the universal machinery. I recall my hairpin journey, its far flung crook before I came back almost to my starting point.

He chose me, we shared, and I stayed.

beach pink shell

20/06/2017

Night Ride and Sunrise

Sandscape

Inspired by: Jean Sibelius – Öinen ratsastus ja auringonnousu (Night Ride and Sunrise) ~15min

A cold air balloon hits me in the face, startling me to gasp. I tread hard on the pedals before I can reconsider. I set out again, cycling through the night, but this time away from home – such that it is: that rough stone bothy furnished with old wood from so many places before. They’re barely familiar but they sing long songs of experiences, those sticks and stones. They even grudgingly comfort me, lost soul that I am. Only now I have an urgent reason to get somewhere.

I hope the wheels don’t come off, literally or figuratively. I had to liberate the bicycle from the lean-to, from cobwebs, carcasses, dust and rust; spent most of yesterday at it – or maybe it’s the day before now; must be by midnight. Thought I might need to go further. Never thought I’d need to go faster. I review my inventory: water, food, blanket, tarp… A torch seems inappropriate. Can’t think of anything else needed, but I never do, until it’s too late to turn back. I feel for the pannier behind the saddle; still secure. Can’t do that too often: the front wheel wobbles wildly on the rutted track.

This section of the way is newly familiar. Three weeks’ exploring has started this way every day. I wanted a remarkable place to see the solstice sunrise. Along this tiny stretch of north Scottish coast I’m spoilt for choice. Unusually for me I could simply let my intuition take over. Wherever I ended up would be fine, would be right. No obsessing. I was learning to relax, until I found the cove this evening—yesterday evening. Now I ride that old, familiar tension.

I drift away too easily. I should pay attention to this moment, this space, the immediate future, the path ahead. The undulations of the landscape seem concertinaed even at this modest speed. Wind gusts, breezes, blasts and swirls. I try to become accustomed to the uneven rhythms of the jolting and swaying, to not resist. A cloud of tiny creatures peppers my face; I blink until my eyes rinse them out.

My initial sprint—for warmth as much as from excitement—subsides to steadier pedalling and rhythmic squeaking. Glowing nocturnal eyes flash aside from the front wheel. How do I seem to them? How do I see? I’d forgotten the beauty of incomplete darkness this time of year: the northern horizon remains a rich, deep blue through the barely five hours from sunset to rise.

Through a strip of scrubby trees, the front wheel jinks off a twisted tree root. For a moment the bike and I are suspended at the edge of tipping over. A rut yanks the wheel and restores my balance. That was pure fortune; no skill of mine. I’m rattled enough to coast to a halt, to rest.

The pannier is still intact. I brought other things too—unnecessary things of sentimentality; I’m not ready to analyse that just yet—four pieces of music, a notebook, a dried, pressed wild orchid – romantic, thoughtful, planned, preserved, but only delaying the inevitable.

Avian pipings precede the dawn – other insomniacs unable to rest in the undying twilight. Colour and shape emerge from the blue, movement flickers, huddling to stretching to quivering, then dainty footsteps. I refocus on the path: the appointment is the summer solstice: sunrise, four AM. It really doesn’t matter where, but I’m suddenly very attached to that cove.

I ride my excitement, rattling and jiggling over the last of the rough moorland, then freewheeling down a smoother grassy slope. A slight warmth catches me, reminds me I’m racing the sun.

I so hope I’ve timed this right. I was so late spotting the cove, even later deciding what to do. I had reached the crags expecting to see only a sunset—an entire experience in itself—then sleep a bit before wandering out again for sunrise. The direct light slipped away, like every year for millennia, leaving the twilight to reveal an image.

The shape blew me away. I just gawped. Suddenly I was galvanised: it had to be, but could it? My brain struggled to engage with logistics, to calculate if I had time to cycle home for supplies then all the way west until the ground fell away so I could double back at land’s edge until it descended to sea level. I don’t know the distance but it would be well over an hour each length of the hairpin, maybe nearer two. I wasn’t sure I remembered the terrain. Now I’m sure. Committed, anyway.

The dawn chorus winds up – I can’t help myself labelling each arising signature: starling, oyster catcher, curlew, skylark, meadow pipit. Their calls cut the murmur of air pushing through the features of the land.

So smoothly the total glow becomes direct sunlight way above my head, brightening, warming, lifting the air. A puff of cloud has the temerity to dull then obscure the light. For one hypoxic moment I think that gives me more time. As if anything so ephemeral could slow universal mechanics.

Exultation bubbles over my anxiety. I haven’t dared wonder if I can even access the cove this way. It has to be. There’s no time for— I clatter around the last curve, in a rush of anticipating the sudden drag of sand, and the moment of sight.

The sand. The pebbles. Here on the tiny beach they are obviously arranged, but the shape is not apparent. From the crags the shape is a deliberate line drawing of an orca, swimming through a sea of sand and rocky spume. It’s a magnificent vision. It must have been created recently or the tide would have smudged it, erased it. It must be communication. Must it? I lean on to one foot and swing the other over the bike. As I rest the frame against a rock my legs wobble – exhaustion or nerves?

I stand at the orca’s pebble fluke facing north-east. I open my mouth to call out a greeting to…anyone, but perhaps being present is enough. The sun doesn’t need my awe verbalising. I let my eyes sweep the sharp, sandy cove, the shimmering sea, the jutting rocks, and back to the crags and my earlier vantage point. A few moments more rush past. My euphoria builds with the dazzle. Finally the sun’s rim ripples over the headland. I imagine I feel its leading edge scan down my body. Perfect.

The world turns. And someone stands beside me.

Wooden post in sand

18/06/2017

Fossoway Flora and the Midsummer Malcoordination

Ancient beech tree

Flora needs a dark night of the soul – her soul. She needs a dark wood to get entangled in and become thoroughly lost. The summer solstice beckons. This being the least dark point of the year is merely a minor hurdle to waylay the under-zealous.

Fossoway beech stands through its 421st year. It was planted by a fortunate gust of wind in September 1596 in a fortunate spot upon soft, moist loam. It has been fortunate enough to receive regular celestial watering and plentiful nourishment from myriad lifeforms crossing its space. This specific instance of Fagus sylvatica programming has been optimised to take advantage of such fortune: a perfect combination of natural forces, poised on the precarious tip of a tiny equilibrium. The moments of its eons slide by; each fully attended to, fully felt, as it stretches, reaches, in every direction of space and time.

Flora selects her most inappropriate clothing to ensure she trips over a protruding tree root, thereby twisting her ankle beyond any weight-bearing capacity, then gets soaked in a predictable rainstorm, thereby becoming dangerously chilled. For her lower half she chooses a flat sheet of double-layered cheesecloth with straps at two corners. She forgets the fancy name of the garment. It’s perfectly impossible in its rigidity: fastening it tightly enough to prevent it slipping down also prevents her legs from operating and restricts her breathing. A slight loosening to allow movement thus makes slippage and trippage deliciously inevitable. A shapeless blouse based on the elasticated cone construction method—a triumph of manufacturing economy over style and functionality—has sleeves not only too long but trumpeting wide around her fingers, thereby always in the way of any emergency grasp. The garment is finished by a ghastly fringe of inexplicable tassles and thirty-four redundant beaded fastenings, designed to fail within twenty minutes. She unbraids her hair with a lazy wrench, letting it flop where it will, expecting it to sway and flap and straggle across her eyes at every critical visual movement. Perfect.

Around its base, the beech has seven—most auspicious—impressively sturdy arms arranged at varying stages of being overwhelmed by their own weight, right down to lethargically resting upon the layered leaf litter. The crumbling remains of earlier exhausted limbs dissolve back into the woodland recycle. A radius of thirty metres around this Titan contains nothing but itself: it has completely papered over every sliver of sky, every grain of soil. A perfect dance-floor.

Music swirls within Flora’s head – random, powerful strains and skirls that direct her dance. Flora flings her arms and birls into a stagger. Fortunately every beech arm has some growth at Flora height of a characteristically sturdy nature, perfect for tactfully receiving dizzy dancers and reeling them back into orbit. A perfect moment.

Flora supplicates before the beech: heartfelt, overwrought thanks to her perfect dance partner.

Gzwzwzwzwrrt. Lightning strikes. Something had to.

Of Fossoway Flora there is no trace. Except… Perhaps when wind blows through the twigs you may hear her peculiar musical refrain. When a scientist bores and extracts a careful core from the tree to establish its precise age, some strange isotopes may be identified: cheap cotton from the unethical sweatshops of Bangladesh. When the midsummer heat lifts the air, an idiosyncratically beaded and tassled spider’s web catches far more than its fair share of drifting, airborne creatures. Each time, once again, tilting the precarious equilibrium of nature.

Prince Tiahmin came not upon this clearing. He’s in the right wood, on the appointed day, but in an artificial intelligence simulation or the wrong reality, deluding his senses and suspending his disbelief. He wouldn’t recognise a rain-slick, gusting beech leaf if it slapped him in the face. However it would give him a much needed interface refresh. Unfortunately Tiahmin believes his mission is to blam baddies. It never occurs to him to enquire to what end. Anyway, who wants to question such things? That requires the facing of that other, dull and uncomfortable reality. So long as baddies arise, he has a call to blamming. His superhero hairdo, ever tilting at enemies, underlines the point.

Come back again in another hundred years.

Or, actually, maybe just bide your time a wee moment…

Prince Tiahmin has gunned a stolen 1970s Massey Ferguson into a supposedly deserted industrial farm complex. He would be quicker walking, but convention requires assault by vehicle. His only available weapon is an anachronistic pitchfork. It may be effective on any zombie scarecrows that lurch into range, but would not be at all satisfying. He has absolutely no interest in collecting a cache of pre-regulatory agricultural chemicals; he has no interest in chemistry…of that sort.

Tiahmin’s sole motivation for indulging this unentertaining and badly animated diversion around an agricultural cul-de-sac is, of course, seedy. A gaming chum of dubious trustworthiness has boasted of a feisty, busty, rustic wench in the environs. With the requisite hack key she promises to become very obliging. Sometimes three minutes of low grade erotica has to be seen to be disbelieved.

After four underwhelming circuits of the farmyard buildings, in a rationale-free fit of frustration, Tiahmin revs the red diesel and chugs flat-out at five miles per hour up a pasture—large scale, livid green triangles adorned with unconvincing cuboid livestock—toward an enticingly dark smear of forest.

Tiahmin aims the unappreciated Fergie at the nearest brown column. Once the graphics stop vibrating in an uncoded eventuality loop, he dismounts, sans pitchfork, and trudges jerkily through primeval tree ferns—the serendipitous botanical design is wasted on him—until a beige clearing forces its way into his path. A low resolution character artefacts beside a hefty tree trunk. With a rapacious leer, he taps to text entry mode and pastes the prepared character string.

Bzhzhzheow. No power. Had to happen. The only sound is an invective suited to one of limited profanity.

Prince Tiahmin is awoken by a sopping leaf slapping him about the phizog – unnecessarily loudly and repeatedly. He would attribute this flagellation to a freak microclimate, except for the leaf still being attached to the looming limb of a tree. By a beaded stem. Well practised in the spotting and following of obvious clues, he hauls himself up by the obliging branch. He admires the astonishing improvement in graphic and tactile resolution – which is to say: he likes the look and feel of the place. And the heady scent. The soft whooshing of air is unsettling, but he assumes it’s meant to be atmospheric.

The moment Tiahmin completes his reconnoitre of the beech clearing—for of course it is that—music arrives, drifting by in wisps; discordant pibrochs and dizzying slurs. Cursory assessment of the tree reveals a curiously attractive arrangement of branches, ascending helically. He boldly climbs this staircase toward the crown and its tumult of drooping foliage, which appears to keep blowing rather coyly across two small cankers. And that’s quite enough of that.

Did the fair pair live happily ever after, entwined in arboreal bliss? Hardly. The poor girl has rematerialised in genomic combination with a tree – Fagus sapiens. The poor boy is ill-equipped to deal with a non-threatening surreality. But once Tiahmin gets to grips with Flora’s various cankers and galls, they have an interlude of what can only be described as heavy coppicing.

Ancient beech tree branch

05/03/2017

Episode 5: Winter

Rotting Leaves — Two people bicker through their history of failure at the end of the world.

Rotting Leaves starts at Episode 1: Staging.

SCENE 1.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS, TREES CREAK, FIRE CRACKLES
FENELLA: The land of the midday moon.  An endless skyfull of cloud hurr—rushes at me like I’m flying into a frac—fractal.  Gusts creak a tree branch like a seagull’s cry.
MAX: It was a dark and stormy night…
FENELLA: It hardly matters that it’s awful, does it?  No-one will hear it.
MAX: So why say it?
FENELLA: To express it.
MAX: Must you?
FENELLA: It’s all so painfully beautifully—ful and it’s almost gone.  My soul…
MAX: And we ruined it?  Paint away.  I could use a wallow.

SCENE 2.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Perthshire, Hill; 2022, Winter, Day
SOUND: WIND HOWLS, DISTANT HELICOPTER ROTORS CHOP
FENELLA: Do you see?  There!  A helicopter!
MAX: Yes!  Run up to the top!
FENELLA: They have to see us.
MAX: It’s not that dark.
SOUND: FADE HELICOPTER ROTORS
FENELLA: Oh, are they…  No!  They can’t be passing!
MAX: Perhaps they can’t stop – you know, land.
FENELLA: Maybe they’ll come back.
MAX: Perhaps…  Perhaps – I’m sorry – perhaps they weren’t looking for us.
FENELLA: What do you mean?
MAX: Perhaps they were just assessing the extent of the damage?  There must be some military somewhere safe.  If it’s as big as we think, they can’t save us.  Nowhere to go.  I’m sorry.
FENELLA: You’re right, aren’t you?  Millions of people, inevitable contamination; where would we go?  How?  Oh, just…
MAX: What?
FENELLA: Just please tell me they’re sorry?  Please say they’re not just automatons carrying on with Plan Whatever and jettison the collateral?
MAX: I hope.

SCENE 3.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Garden Shed; 2017, Winter, Day
SOUND: WIND BUFFETS
FENELLA: The winter sun rolls along the horizon then slips below.  An air-root claws the edge of a stone: one bony digit raised to latch on.  Wind tantrums around every feature, testing every tether.  The moon blurs with each chased wisp of cloud.  Or perhaps with the condensation on this window.  Cold is near, ice is abroad and snow, ah, numinous snow, could overtake it all with silent, still, soft death.  How long’ve you been there?
MAX: A very long time.
FENELLA: I really don’t have the mental energy for your layers of meaning.
MAX: I did hear about that.  Tough.
FENELLA: Come to analyse or to sympathise?
MAX: Neither.  I need your help.
FENELLA: Impossible.
MAX: I really do.  It wasn’t even hard to say.
FENELLA: No, I mean you can’t have it; not right now.
MAX: Too busy?
FENELLA: Don’t be like that.  I will fall out with you if you push at me.
MAX: I thought you’d like your mind taken off…things.
FENELLA: ‘Things’?!  My partner apparently abducted in Madrid and now who knows where?  The constant gut-wrenching terror of wondering what he’s going through each moment?  Of wondering if he’s still alive or just…a body?
MAX: Yes, exactly.  Here to help.
FENELLA: Yourself?
MAX: I know you have insight into some of the strategies that the big corporates are using – the psychology their marketers are applying to counter the mass awakening of citizens from the clutches of consum—
FENELLA: Stop, stop.  I lost it…
MAX: I thought I was quite eloquent.
FENELLA: Corporate psychology; run it again.
MAX: You could just rewind that thing and play it yourself.  Oh, fine.  The psychology that companies are using to distort the narrative as—
FENELLA: Hang on.
MAX: Have you no focus at all?
FENELLA: Look.
MAX: What?  The valley?  The road?
FENELLA: On the road.
MAX: A van?
FENELLA: Coming here.
MAX: Possibly.
FENELLA: It’s news.
SOUND: CLICK

SCENE 4.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS, FIRE CRACKLES
MAX: Lucky he turned up in one piece.
FENELLA: Hardly.
MAX: Not lucky?  Or not in one piece?
FENELLA: Definitely not one piece, but who lucky fo—for whom..?
MAX: Well, ultimately me, I suppose.
FENELLA: Inevitably, but how exalt—exactly?
MAX: You would’ve been destroyed otherwise.
FENELLA: And I’m not now?
MAX: Not just—quite.
FENELLA: Soon enough.  Comes to the same end…point anyway.
MAX: Perhaps.  But the journey…
FENELLA: Oh, please.

SCENE 5.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge; 2022, Winter, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS
FENELLA: Tales should be spoken, not written, and definitely not typed.
MAX: Handy.
FENELLA: Native Australians tell a story as they walk the land, connecting the features as they pass, like a needle on a record.  Only sounds right at four miles an hour.  Look at all this ice, dust, shit.
MAX: Your record warped?
FENELLA: Someone put a pizza on my turntable.
MAX: Nasty.
FENELLA: Wrong format.

SCENE 6.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS, FIRE CRACKLES, APPROACHING STUMBLING FOOTSTEPS
MAX: Where’ve you been?
FENELLA: Uphill— the hill.
MAX: That’s just wasting energy!
FENELLA: I know.  I had…
MAX: There’s nothing growing there; we’ve been and we’ve looked.
FENELLA: I know.  I just—  I saw the sun.  It was so clouded by smoke and dust, it looked like the moon; a midday moon.
MAX: And, like a true loon, you grav-it-ated towards it?
FENELLA: …to where I was…
MAX: The quake?
FENELLA: The second warning.
MAX: With him?
FENELLA: We were watching the sun, saying farewell to sunnier…  Summer.  I never thought how long it could be.  One of his better days.  In the middle of that rare, precious, precarious joy and laughter: a flash, shaking that seemed to be at the same time.  The ground you depend on.  Without that security…  Where were you?
MAX: Different hill.  I knew right then…  That was that.  Do you know…  Half of me stayed up that hill, watching, while the other half pelted back to the house for…  Nothing.  Denial.  My other life, as you said.
FENELLA: She was still there?
MAX: Just until that moment. Then she knew I hadn’t come back for her.

SCENE 7.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Day
SOUND: CLICKS, FAST THROUGH DIALOGUE AUDIO FILES
FENELLA: Where’s the rest of it? Oh, come on.  It has to be here somewhere.
MAX: Why’s that one so important?
FENELLA: Not record! Play you idiot device!

SCENE 8.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Winter, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS, FIRE CRACKLES
FENELLA: It’s not that we couldn’t keep up with the changing herbscape—
MAX: Herbscape!
FENELLA: —It’s that the herbs couldn’t keep up with the changing climatescape.  In plant time it was the blink of a…stomata?
MAX: We didn’t do so well, even seeing it coming.
FENELLA: Did it help – knowing?
MAX: It’s always better to know.
FENELLA: I don’t know; I mean: knowledge and belief are so easily distorted.
MAX: I know about that.
FENELLA: Is that what happened with your marriage?
MAX: My marriage is absolutely… not…
FENELLA: Nothing is sacrosanct any more.  Give it up.
MAX: It was the victim of external forces.
FENELLA: Which means what?
MAX: Subject closed.
FENELLA: Anything to do with the lack of materialising children?
MAX: Did you hear me say I’m not talking about it?
FENELLA: We’ve never respected that. Maybe it’s a blessing: you wouldn’t want children facing this with you.
MAX: Don’t try to tease something positive from stuff you know nothing about.
FENELLA: Boring.  How about I tell you mine, then you tell me yours.
MAX: Still no.
FENELLA: I found him in the gulley, plastered with muddy rain, quite cold.
MAX: I know; you don’t have to relive it.
FENELLA: I didn’t tell you, though: I’ll never know if he meant to…
MAX: Die?
FENELLA: I was beyond autopsies and enquiries.  I just buried him in silt and stones.
MAX: From what you’ve said his head was pretty much melted.
FENELLA: He never got over – never had chance to get over – the abduction.  It felt like all the nastiness of human desperation and fear focused to a pinpoint and stabbed into him.  Him of all people! So grossly unfair.
MAX: I’m still not telling you anything.
FENELLA: I don’t care any more.
MAX: Don’t try your reverse motivation crap.  Knowing more horrible experiences you went through doesn’t make me want to share mine.
FENELLA: It’s not a competition.
MAX: I’m not even playing!
FENELLA: Fine.  You’re right: not my business.  I made my choice a long time ago.

SCENE 9.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Edinburgh, Office; 2013, Winter, Day
SOUND: WIND BUFFETS, TYPING
MAX: How do you feel about the continent of North America?
FENELLA: Ambivalent.
MAX: That was… underwhelming.  Would you like to try again?
FENELLA: No.  I’m not going.
MAX: Yes, you are.
FENELLA: No.  I’m resigning.
MAX: I don’t understand.
FENELLA: I’m sorry.  I need to stop.
MAX: But you’ve been stopped!  We’re about to restart.
FENELLA: I know.  It hasn’t been enough.  I need to do something else.
MAX: There isn’t anything else.
FENELLA: There must be.
MAX: Like what?
FENELLA: I don’t know either.  I feel like I’m letting down my entire gender by spending my professional life and much of my personal life running around after men.  Man.  You.
MAX: Really?
FENELLA: Something like that.
MAX: Well, that’s that, then.
FENELLA: They’ll have another assistant in place for you well before you set off.
MAX: There won’t be any setting off.  And you were never my assistant.
FENELLA: Yes, that’s exactly what I was.  And I don’t mean you made me feel in any way demeaned; I just need to be doing something myself.
MAX: I didn’t think this is how it would end.
FENELLA: It’s not ending!  I’m just stepping off.  The wagon train is still going with you at the helm.
MAX: Trains don’t have helms.
FENELLA: See?  You need a new assistant.
MAX: Not funny.
FENELLA: OK, I’m not dragging this out.  You know I’ve had the time of my life. I’ll see you… sometime.
MAX: Right, I’ll have to come back to you.  I need time to process.
SOUND: DISTANT DOOR THUMPS CLOSED

SCENE 10.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Winter, Night
SOUND: ICE CREAKS
MAX: Turns out hell isn’t an everlasting volcano; it’s penetrating, unremitting cold.  Total absence of energy.  All life smothered by a blanket of ash and darkness.  Just like when you leave me on my own.
FENELLA: Ouch.  Is that snow?
MAX: It’s the most pathetic snowfall I’ve ever seen.  It’s not even frizzle.
FENELLA: Frozen drizzle of what, though?
MAX: Who knows what poisons are floating about overhead?
FENELLA: Without our canary heron we’re in the dark.
MAX: In a shrinking oasis in the middle of a circle of death.  No-one’s coming in; we can’t get out. The doughnut of destiny.
FENELLA: I’m glad we saw it, though. I feel sorry for the folk who had no idea; the power, everything just stopped.  I guess they found out eventually.  Other countries must still be operating, but anyone too far away to see and too close to escape… It must be hell.
MAX: This is hell enough.
FENELLA: How did we end up…
MAX: Effectively the last two people alive?
FENELLA: It’s all dire chance and fateful fuck-up.
MAX: I beg your pardon: I came for you!
FENELLA: When there was no-one else left.
MAX: Why are you always trying to diminish us?
FENELLA: We had a good, really good, working relationship – fantastic rapport.
MAX: Fantastic reductionism, thank you.
FENELLA: Well, why muddle that with drama and over-stretched significance?
MAX: Because we’re the last two fucking people left alive!
FENELLA: One: your arse.  Two: it’s not like all the history of the planet has been leading up to this point.  And three: even if either of those were true, we don’t matter one bit.
MAX: When we’re all that’s left, we’re all that matters.
FENELLA: Only to your planet-sized ego.
MAX: Pax?
FENELLA: Pax. And, by the way, I think you were right about getting away from town.
MAX: Shame no-one else did. And not that it matters, but when I said ‘I came for you’ I meant the other time.
FENELLA: Which?
MAX: Both.
FENELLA: Evil overlord!
MAX: How?
FENELLA: Just as you think you have the heroic protagonist at check-mate, you feel an irresistible urge to relate your entire back-story, including, especially, admitting all your crimes and explaining exactly how you committed them.
MAX: We are rather at check-mate.
FENELLA: So, ‘fess up!
MAX: This is not the time for the ‘heroic protagonist’ to start using youth slang.
FENELLA: You came for me with Europe, and you came for me—
MAX: Yes, yes, the pouncing-on-the-recently-widowed inappropriacy award goes to: me.
FENELLA: What was it when he was just abducted?
MAX: That’s in poor taste.
FENELLA: I hardly think it matters; I don’t see many etiquette adjudicators.  Let’s get it all out!
MAX: That was testing the water.
FENELLA: Are you serious?
MAX: No, I’m not serious, you moss-encrusted melodramatist!  It’s much worse: I was testing myself, to see if I was capable of being…normal with you.
FENELLA: As opposed to?
MAX: Two fucking decades of torturous adolescent infatuation.  Well?  Say something.  Express your enumerated objections.  We actually don’t have all the time in the world.
FENELLA: Well, OK: one: I don’t believe you; two: you addle-minded narcissist; and three: you really think you’re going to seduce me before we either starve or freeze to death?
MAX: It’s not the worst idea.  Once again: not serious!  I haven’t the strength.

SCENE 11.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS, FIRE CRACKLES
FENELLA: You know, I did have a passion for you for about six minutes one time.
MAX: My ego isn’t that desperate for…
FENELLA: Your ability to…organise facts to suit the audience…
MAX: You’re teasing me with professional respect?
FENELLA: Is that enough or shall I carry on?
MAX: Please.
FENELLA: You know I love you, don’t you? In a strange, powerful way that defies…
MAX: I’ll take it.
FENELLA: Shall we digest the story so far?
MAX: Again?
SOUND: CLICK

SCENE 12.
MAX: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Day
MAX: No, not again. End.
SOUND: CLICK

SCENE 13.
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES
MAX: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Day
MAX: Hey! I found more moss!  Don’t pretend you’re not excited.  I remembered one of the trees that was dead before the winter.  I climbed it and ta-dar!  Come on!  This deserves more than one of your unimpressed icy stares.
SOUND: CLICK

SCENE 14.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Winter, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND MOANS, FIRE CRACKLES
MAX: Stop wandering away.
FENELLA: It’s picking you up fine.
MAX: Do you really think this’ll work?
FENELLA: Bound to.  Layering the recordings might turn into a bit of a mishmash but who the hell cares?
MAX: It won’t explain anything.
FENELLA: It might.  Transformed like old parchment, like layers of rotting leaves.
MAX: The battery won’t last.
FENELLA: It might.
MAX: But, do we really want to invest our time in this?
FENELLA: What could go wrong?!  One of us pegs it and the other one’s left to perform live in sync with the recording?
MAX: I hadn’t thought of that.  How—
SOUND: CLICK

26/02/2017

Episode 4: Autumn

Rotting Leaves — Two people bicker through their history of failure at the end of the world.

Rotting Leaves starts at Episode 1: Staging.

EPISODE 4: AUTUMN
SCENE 1.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Autumn, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, WIND WHISTLES
FENELLA: A haunting gale rushes through the house, moving and sounding its greeting.
MAX: Ghosts.
FENELLA: What?
MAX: I wish I’d done more.
FENELLA: I don’t see, really, what else you could’ve done.
MAX: There must’ve been someone, somewhere, I could’ve persuaded; made the difference.
FENELLA: That’s the problem: people having free will.  It wasn’t any one person, like it wasn’t any one issue.
MAX: Gho—
FENELLA: Wasn’t goats either.
MAX: Ghosts?

SCENE 2.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Fife, Garden; 2019, Autumn, Day
SOUND: VEHICLES RUMBLE DISTANTLY, BIRDS CHIRRUP
FENELLA: Jet aeroplanes roaring beyond clouds, lorries shaking over potholes sound to me like rumbling thunder.  Much as cognitively I enjoy the excitement of an approaching storm, emotionally, primitively, I fear it.  My mind creeps toward my gut, agreeing that there are all sorts of reasons to fear big transport engines.  The smell of kerosene is not at all like aviation fuel.  It pricks my throat, stings my eyes, strains my head, leaves my whole upper body toxic.  It is another real threat that my brain is catching up to my body. Hello.
MAX: You have a phobia about vehicles?  Is this a reaction to our trip?
FENELLA: Seven years would be post-post-traumatic.
MAX: I’m a slow burner.
FENELLA: Unlike the fossil fuels.  No, it’s deeper, more primitive; it’s basic fear.
MAX: Death?
FENELLA: What makes you say that?
MAX: Your partner expired.
FENELLA: Your marriage expired.
MAX: Yet here we still are: in the autumn of our lives.
FENELLA: Like rotting leaves.  Is that why you’re here?
MAX: Because the wind happened to blow this way?  Do you think I’m entirely passive?
FENELLA: Didn’t you just have a wife-shaped hole to fill?
MAX: I think my hypothesis is slightly less self-degrading.
FENELLA: Leave me now.
MAX: Why?
FENELLA: Because I’ve had enough of you for today and we both know you’ll be back tomorrow.
MAX: All our problems boil down to timing.

SCENE 3.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Autumn, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES
MAX: Where did you and he meet?
FENELLA: Are you obsessed with him?
MAX: I would think so.
FENELLA: Cramond.
MAX: Specifically?
FENELLA: That…reception, soirée thing for the almost-celebrated Scots I got invited to. Somebody insisted I went.  Wow, six years—
MAX: I was meant to be there.
FENELLA: Yes, you were.  Giving me a swerve, eh?
MAX: If I’d known, but I was having some dreadful premonition: all that talk of blasting under the firth.
FENELLA: It doesn’t matter; we’re all as guilty as each other.
MAX: It does if he was my substitute.
FENELLA: Hardly.  I really don’t know why he was there, since he was definitely celebrated.
MAX: Not by everyone.
FENELLA: OK, not by you.
MAX: The corporates were quite vitriolic about his appointment.
FENELLA: As they were about all of them.  Even though the tide had turned far too late.
MAX: Whatever about the guest list, where exactly were you?
FENELLA: Cross-examining me?
MAX: Keen to know what I missed.
FENELLA: I was out on the sand, hiding, as usual.  Too many bright lights and clanging people.  The water soothed me.  He just appeared beside me.  I was a bit awestruck, but I’d had just enough fizz to be perverse.  To test him.
MAX: Even then?
FENELLA: Even what?
MAX: Right from the first encounter you had an idea he was worth it?
FENELLA: Worth testing?
MAX: You know what I mean!  You only test the ones you care about.
FENELLA: I told you that.
MAX: I haven’t forgotten.
FENELLA: So there was a lot of me nipping and him being bemused.  He stuck it out for ages.  He had surprisingly big shoulders. Did you ever notice that?
MAX: Tried not to.
FENELLA: I guess the activist business required a certain amount of…climbing.
Anyway, I was getting tired of being waspish and pretending not to know his résumé, and wondering how to coolly extricate myself.  Saved by our dippy hostess redistributing him.
MAX: There has to be more than that.
FENELLA: There was.  I was draining my glass, drawing imaginary dotted lines of least resistance to my exit, when he came striding across the sand at me, stabbing the air, shouting something like, ‘I know you!’  It was a bit blowy.
MAX: And your cool, witty rejoinder?
FENELLA: Lost forever in possibility: the tremor.  Turns out you were prescient even if not present.
MAX: Lost your sandcastle?
FENELLA: That was what freaked me out: the sand; it cracked up – wee patches and lines of it falling in on wee gullies…
MAX: I don’t understand.
FENELLA: The sandscape wa—
MAX: Most people say ‘beach’.
FENELLA: The beach was fracturing and pouring into its own crevasses.  It felt like standing on a crazy paving of quicksand.  Then he hit me—
MAX: Hit you?
FENELLA: He just carried on running and collected me on the way through.  He was staggering about, heading roughly at the buildings, dodging the moving sand.  After all the being flung about, he shoved me into a tree, barking at me to climb.
MAX: Barking!
FENELLA: Ha.  I never climbed a tree in my life.  He was after me, pushing.  I was utterly confused – useless in a catastrophe – bewildered by my stinging hands.  Turned out he had experience of quakes in Asia and the tsunamis that often follow.  So you get up high, preferably on something solid like grounded rock, but a tree was the best he could do.  In the event the wave was big but the sand was enough to absorb it.
MAX: Thank you for that!
FENELLA: You asked!
MAX: The earth moved, the wave rolled over you. Can we just say you were besotted?
FENELLA: I was in shock.  We just sat in the tree, watching helicopters swarming up the firth, hearing sirens swirling down the streets…  My memory’s fogged after that.
MAX: But you saw him again, obviously.
FENELLA: Couple days later he showed up at my house.  ‘You’re the one that dedicated that manifesto to me!’  Done his research, totally took advantage of my enfeebled state and my tattered hands, and charmed through all my defences.
MAX: Bastard.
FENELLA: Aye, weakened me then left me to live through this shit alone.
MAX: Not alone.
FENELLA: That’s right: I can always count on your presence in shitty times.

SCENE 4.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2021, Autumn, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, FIRE SPUTTERS
FENELLA: Say that again.
MAX: Why?
FENELLA: Wasn’t recording.
MAX: Fine!  I don’t give you enough credit.
FENELLA: For?
MAX: Prescience.
FENELLA: Ugh.  Don’t patronise me with ‘woman’s intuition’.
MAX: I don’t think it’s gender-specific.  As far as I know it’s unique to you.
FENELLA: Actually you’re not that hard to predict.
MAX: I know.  Much more impressive is being able to foresee global-scale – what are we calling it?  Climate cataclysm?
FENELLA: Again, I don’t think I was the only one who saw that coming.
MAX: I think you’re among very few who knew it was only a matter of days away.
FENELLA: I think you’re havering.
MAX: I think you came for me.
FENELLA: Not in this lifetime.
MAX: In fact I know: you came to my office on the Tuesday.  I was in that meeting that seemed so insurmountably important.  Imagine my disappointment to find I’d missed a far more important one.
FENELLA: Nope.
MAX: No what?
FENELLA: Can’t imagine that.
MAX: Denial is futile.
FENELLA: Almost rhymes.
MAX: Point proved.
FENELLA: Hardly.  Even if I was there, you have no idea why.
MAX: You were there.  My assistant described you.
FENELLA: My description is astonishingly non-specific.
MAX: He didn’t describe you physically.
FENELLA: I barely spoke to him!  I was there all of seven seconds!  What other terms could he possibly use?
MAX: Mine.
FENELLA: Insightful.
MAX: He’s a good assistant.  Second only to you.
FENELLA: Well, go on, Sherlock: how’d you deduce my purpose?
MAX: If it’d been unimportant, you’d’ve emailed or phoned.  If it’d been personal, you’d’ve come to the house.  It had to be the only thing that you couldn’t discuss with anyone else.  Alive.
FENELLA: To distinguish you from?
MAX: Your late activist.

SCENE 5.
FENELLA: (V.O.) England, Exeter, Hotel; 2019, Autumn, Evening
SOUND: DELEGATES CHATTER, MOBILE RINGS
FENELLA: What.
MAX: (DISTORT) I’m outside.  Can I come in?
FENELLA: No.
MAX: (DISTORT) Why?
FENELLA: Because you don’t have special powers or a key.
MAX: (DISTORT) Just let me in.
FENELLA: No.
MAX: (DISTORT) Why?
FENELLA: Because I don’t have special powers either.
MAX: (DISTORT) Where are you?
FENELLA: That’s better.  I’m not at home.
MAX: (DISTORT) Well, hurry up: I need you.
FENELLA: Impossible and unlikely.  I have about twelve minutes just now if you want them.
MAX: (DISTORT) No!  Can’t be done over the phone.  Crisis.
FENELLA: What crisis?
MAX: (DISTORT) Crisis crisis. Need to know basis. In person.
FENELLA: How quickly can you travel six hundred miles?
MAX: (DISTORT) Unacceptable. When are you back?
FENELLA: Tomorrow evening.
MAX: (DISTORT) I’ll see you then.
FENELLA: No you won’t, because I’ll be out.
MAX: (DISTORT) Cancel.
FENELLA: No.  You can either get yourself invited to the Commonedge Trust thing or wait till Sunday.
MAX: (DISTORT) Blacklisted.
FENELLA: Then it would be very bad form of me to take you with me.
MAX: (DISTORT) Brilliant, yes, do that.
FENELLA: No, I’m actually there to work.
MAX: (DISTORT) You can slice through that; I’ll help.  Pedantic nonsense.
FENELLA: Why were you blacklisted again?
MAX: (DISTORT) Offended some bean-counter over her obsessional focus on grains of sand.
FENELLA: Hard to imagine.

SCENE 6.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Autumn, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES
FENELLA: Do I look as ghastly as you?
MAX: Like a burst mattress? You called me back for that?
FENELLA: Remember I said about the third time?
MAX: Being the second time the universe crapped on you. Can I get on with my soul-destroying and literally fruitless pursuit of food now?
FENELLA: I found it.  Listen.

SCENE 7.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Perthshire, Garden; 2019, Autumn, Day
SOUND: LEAVES RUSTLE AND SHOOF, BIRD CALLS, BREEZE
MAX: I’m at a loss.
FENELLA: I think I’m the one with loss.
MAX: Mine is what to say.
FENELLA: Unusual for you.
MAX: Highly irregular.
FENELLA: Who’ve you been speaking to?
MAX: To find out?
FENELLA: To pick up a peculiar phrase like that.
MAX: You still amuse me.
FENELLA: Aye, I didn’t expect you to be here to lift my spirits.
MAX: I could just not speak?
FENELLA: I doubt it.  Stand there, at that tree.
MAX: Here?  Why?
FENELLA: I’m going over there to take a picture and I want you out of temptation’s way.
MAX: Why do you want a picture of me?
FENELLA: I don’t.
SOUND: FABRIC PUSHES PAST LEAVES AND BRANCHES
MAX: (OFF) Then what?  It’s all dull orange and brown.
FENELLA: I’m learning to love it.
MAX: (OFF) Are you secretly hoping to catch me hugging this tree?
FENELLA: It’s really not about y—  Oh!
SOUND: FABRIC SLIDES AND TEARS
MAX: (OFF) Are you alright?
FENELLA: (OFF) Yes.  No, I’ve lost contact with my wristy.
MAX: (OFF) Serves you right for using outdated technology.
FENELLA: (OFF) Three years is a museum piece?
MAX: (OFF) No, they transmogrify it into something newer.  Have you got it yet?
FENELLA: (OFF) No.
MAX: (OFF) No?  It’s hard for me to tell from this sub-omniscient position, but you sound a little…stuck.
FENELLA: (OFF) I’m stuck.
MAX: (OFF) Oh, dear.  I don’t suppose you want to release me from tree arrest?
FENELLA: (OFF) Only if you walk quietly away and never speak of this to anyone.
MAX: (OFF) Impossible.  I’m leaving my post now. (PAUSE) Oh, dear.
FENELLA: (OFF) Is that all you have?
MAX: (OFF) Why don’t you just climb back along the branch?
FENELLA: (OFF) I’m not leaving my wristy.  Important files on there.
MAX: (OFF) Important?
FENELLA: (OFF) Personal.
MAX: (OFF) Not important.
FENELLA: (OFF) They are.  They’re recordings of…
MAX: (OFF) Oh, him, right.  Then I think you have to use me as an anchor—
FENELLA: (OFF) I don’t think I’m emotionally ready to crawl over you.
MAX: (OFF) Up to you.  I don’t expect gratitude.
SOUND: FABRIC SHUFFLES, DRAGS
FENELLA: (CLOSE) You’re quite warm, aren’t you?
MAX: (CLOSE) Fuck, woman, I’m doing my best here!
FENELLA: (CLOSE) A bit tense?
MAX: (CLOSE) Just get your—  Ooh, you’re very close. Move along.
FENELLA: (CLOSE) I’m snagged on something.  Can you see?
MAX: (CLOSE) There.  Ahhhhhhh!
SOUND: WHUMP, GRUNTS
FENELLA & MAX: (TOGETHER) I’m not ready for this!
MAX: I’m going back to the tree.  I was safe there.
FENELLA: Look at that!
MAX: (OFF) Not now; I need the safety tree.
FENELLA: My wristy’s still recording!

SCENE 8.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2021, Autumn, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, FLICKING THROUGH PHOTOS
MAX: One photo I didn’t understand: Edinburgh Waverley station.
FENELLA: You don’t like the soothing orderliness of parallel lines?
MAX: You have five pictures to remember your life by. Why that one? And don’t give me any smart-arse crap.
FENELLA: The track not taken.
MAX: Well, that’s crystal clear. Although, it reminds me of a night I was stood up. Yes, 2011. In fact, it was that exact night, wasn’t it?
FENELLA: It was.
MAX: But the time-stamp – you said you were too late; you were early.
FENELLA: Except…
MAX: Except it’s an hour later because of your time setting idiosyncrasy.
FENELLA: So I was neither early nor late.
MAX: And you were there.
FENELLA: Hard to define the terms of being stood up, isn’t it?
MAX: I suppose if I look closely I’ll see I was there too.
FENELLA: Almost an existential crisis now.
MAX: So why the fuck did you let me wait, lie to me? Why stand me up? Another of your feminist interludes?
FENELLA: Look again.
MAX: What? The platform? The posters? Trains? People?
FENELLA: People, but not passengers.
MAX: That… looks… Oh, god, she suspected.
FENELLA: What do you do when the man who has invited you on a train to Paris confirms in the same moment that the trip is not entirely professional and that he has unfinished business with his wife?
MAX: You take photographic evidence for future arraignment. Remarkable.

19/02/2017

Episode 3: Summer

Rotting Leaves — Two people bicker through their history of failure at the end of the world.

Rotting Leaves starts at Episode 1: Staging.

SCENE 1.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Scotland, Gorge Cave; 2022, Summer, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES
FENELLA: This evening sky is finely spattered with fugitive tufts of cloud, like a cave pouring bats into dusk.  A crowd of rooks merges and churns.  We are a mesh of interconnecting activity.  I see what you’re doing, by the way.
MAX: I feel my mental acui-racy less every day.  When my memory goes, I’ll need a fall-back.  I’m reduced to making blotches on rock.
FENELLA: If.
MAX: If what?
FENELLA: Never mind.  Anyway, I don’t mean your cave paintings; I mean your categorising of events.
MAX: You were quite bizarrely strict about there being no order.
FENELLA: And yet you’re putting us in seasons.
MAX: I beg your pardon: I am not ‘in season’.
FENELLA: Just let me bask one more time in the warm summer sun.

SCENE 2.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Edinburgh University, Lecture Theatre; 2012, Summer, Day
SOUND: AUDIENCE SHUFFLES, ECHO
FENELLA: The question was: which politician was it who said “environmental legislation is crippling the economy”?  And didn’t they have a p—
MAX: Oh, which one of the seven thousand, one hundred and sixty-two politicians, on which one of the eight hundred thousand, five hundred and twelve recorded occasions?  Who said the fossil fuel industry needs our support in the form of tax incentives in perpetuity?  Who said the nuclear sector needs propping up with decades of investment return guarantees?  Who said car manufacturers should be allowed unsafe, unhealthy exhaust emissions limits to help them make the feeble transition to slightly less unsafe, unhealthy limits?  Who said we need genetically-modified crops to ensure our food security, and therefore we must allow our heroic biotechnology sector some flexibility in regulation?  Who said that the resulting over-application of herbicides analogous to agent orange required by these GM crops, that caused the evolution of super-weeds resistant to everything short of napalm, was the cost of doing business?  Who said the resulting levels of herbicide in bread and lettuce and human breastmilk being eight hundred times the safe limit was scaremongering by woefully out of touch idealists?  Who said shooting badgers was an essential part of a coordinated approach to controlling bovine tuberculosis thereby ensuring the continuing success of our valuable and blameless dairy industry?  Who said the routine use of prophylactic antibiotics and anti-inflammatories was essential for the livestock industry, and in no way connected to the rise in resistant superbugs and dead vultures? Who said, who said, who said?  It couldn’t matter less.  All idiots.
FENELLA: I don’t think she can hear you now, over the roaring of her personal light aircraft engine.
MAX: The answer you’re looking for is this: they’re all spectacularly, perniciously wrong.  Because they all made the same, fundamental mistake: you can’t ‘balance’ nature against human ‘needs’.  Humans are part of nature.  We’re only stealing from one another, or from our future.
FENELLA: Well, I think we lost her vote.
MAX: There are some other people here.
FENELLA: They were with you already.
MAX: What’s next?
FENELLA: Some mellow time and abstinence from sugar.
MAX: Next question.
FENELLA: Why are megafauna so important?  Surely other species or even humans can step in to fill any niche?
MAX: Megafauna, the biggest animals, play significant roles in all their ecosystems.  They disperse seeds over great distances – some seeds even need large mammals to disperse them; they evolved with them.  Just through eating and moving about, megafauna open up areas in forests and maintain grasslands, thereby decreasing the length and intensity of wildfires.  Even when they die, these massive creatures become food for top predators and scavengers.  And their remains are important: carcasses donate a variety of nutrients such as calcium to the soil. Large herbivores interact with a range of small animals – birds, insects, rodents, lizards – for example, several fish species feed on hippopotamus flesh wounds.  The dung of Asian elephants is used by amphibians as a daytime refuge.  Bison wallows support amphibians and birds through creating ephemeral pools, and the bison grazing improves the habitat for prairie dogs and pocket gophers.  Oxpeckers need large herbivores for their diet of ectoparasites, hence the name.  Even blood-sucking insects such as tsetse flies largely depend on herbivores for food.  Less attractive conservation icons perhaps, and these are just a few of the relationships – the ones we know about.  There are myriad interdependencies we haven’t yet discovered.  The message is clear: remove a node from the web and the resulting fraying quickly ends up at our door.  And we’re missing them from our world, just like all the apex predators we’ve bumped off for getting in our way.  But this is not what I came to speak about.  What I want to focus on dwarfs species conservation like the legendary woolly mammoth.  Not content with picking at nodes, we’re directing a flamethrower at the entire web.  We’re too important for the universe not to save, right?  Yes, you’re right: preaching to the converted. Blustering away ineffectually at a hurricane.
FADE.

SCENE 3.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Spain, Barcelona, Conference Hotel; 2012, Summer, Day
SOUND: DELEGATES CHATTER
MAX: Why does it have to be so flaming hot?!
FENELLA: I’ll put some time in your diary to explain lines of latitude.
MAX: Just blot me.
FENELLA: I’m not that kind of girl.  Don’t use th—!  Uch.  I’ll never wear that again.
MAX: I’m melting!  My mind is a finely tuned instrument.  I require supercooling.
FENELLA: Don’t tempt me.
MAX: Where does this go? 
SOUND: DOOR CLICKS OPEN
Ooh, balcony!  I like balconies.
SOUND: DELEGATE CHATTER FADES, DISTANT VEHICLES, BREEZE
FENELLA: Rather spiky.  And still hot.
MAX: Wasn’t that how we began?
FENELLA: Me skewering you on an iceberg?
MAX: Yes, how it all began: 2002, you impaling yourself on the railings at—
FENELLA: I was cooling my face!  May was always obnoxiously sunny, as if to exacerbate the insult of swotting for exams.
MAX: The campus was rather sixties concrete geometry…
FENELLA: Surrounding a postage stamp-sized park incarcerated within iron railings.  I suppose the students would not’ve respected the sacred quadratitude.
MAX: The railings were black.
FENELLA: And therefore the instruments of Lucifer?
MAX: They weren’t cool.
FENELLA: No, and they smelled nasty.
MAX: So why were you nuzzling up against them?
FENELLA: I was trying for shade, green shade, man.
MAX: No excuse for perving.
FENELLA: I was feeling much better until you interfered.
MAX: I was concerned.
FENELLA: No, you weren’t.
MAX: No, I wasn’t.  I was finding things especially ridiculous.
FENELLA: That was the heat.
MAX: I was revelling in the woeful unpreparedness of my classmates.
FENELLA: Being an unmitigated Percy yourself.
MAX: An engaged student with the ability to manage my time?  Yes, mea culpa.
FENELLA: You offered to assist by greasing me up like a pig.
MAX: I thought you might be stuck.
FENELLA: I thought you were rude and lewd.
MAX: The start of every dream romance.  If it hadn’t been for cabbage-face.
FENELLA: And me not finding you remotely attractive, or coherent.  But, if I’d had the chance, I should’ve thanked her for saving me from your lecherous advances.
MAX: There’s a conversation I would’ve enjoyed listening to.
FENELLA: How spectacularly narcissistic.
MAX: The only person who loves me more than me is you, dearest.
FENELLA: And delusional.  Cooler now?
MAX: Hardly.
FENELLA: Good.
MAX: Oh, don’t flounce off!
FENELLA: I have to polish your stuff—your words.

SCENE 4.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Belgium, Brussels, European Parliament Concourse; 2012, Summer, Day
SOUND: DELEGATES CHATTER, SCURRY BY
MAX: Have you seen him – Monsieur transcribey squiggley?
FENELLA: Not since—  What are you doing?!
MAX: Minister.  Balcony.
FENELLA: Alone?
MAX: Almost have her – sort of Jungian hydrology.
FENELLA: You need the rapporteur!
MAX: Yes, that’s why I—
FENELLA: This is why we need some sort of coded hand signals!
MAX: Fingers!  Wiggling!
FENELLA: You always fidg—  Does it feel cooler to you?
MAX: I always get a chill off you.
FENELLA: You’re changing the fucking weather.  Get back out there!  I’ll find him.

SCENE 5.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Summer, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES
MAX: I liked that: changing the weather.  Shame I didn’t.
FENELLA: That’s chaos for you.
MAX: I thought of the comeback too late.
FENELLA: Better be good after ten years.
MAX: You know when the butterfly flaps its wings?
FENELLA: Oh, yeh, in Peru then a typhoon hits Switzerland.
MAX: You feel the butterfly.
FENELLA: I think everyone feels it.
MAX: No, I mean you feel it beat its wings.  You feel it tap its leg.  You sense those tiny vibrations on the far side of the world – those early warnings.
FENELLA: I knew you’d find a way to make this my fault.
MAX: No, that’s not what I—
FENELLA: I know.  Thank you.

SCENE 6.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Italy, Florence, Hotel Room; 2012, Summer, Night
SOUND: WHUMP, BED SHEETS RUSTLE
MAX: Listen!  I had one of my brilliant ideas!
FENELLA: (Sleepily) Why are you in my bedroom?
MAX: It’s not your bedroom.  It’s a public hotel room.
FENELLA: Which I hired for my privacy. How did you get in?
MAX: Oh, like you only leave your window open for vampires.
FENELLA: You wouldn’t understand, not breathing air like us mere mortals.
MAX: Why are you so sleepy?
FENELLA: Having been asleep.
MAX: Waste of time.  Wait till you hear this.
FENELLA: Can I sleep-wait?
MAX: You’ll never get to sleep now.  This is too exciting.
FENELLA: Probably the most excitement I’ll get in my hotel bedroom.
MAX: You’re lucky this is far too important to be diverted from or I’d have to do something about…
FENELLA: What?
MAX: Have you seen the Climate Clots’ latest?
FENELLA: Yes, I gave you that briefing.  After I wrote it, you know, based on my own research.
MAX: We need to get in front of them.
FENELLA: Predicting their next outpouring of garble is quite difficult.
MAX: No, I mean literally in front of them.  Look where they’re booked.  I’m dancing about Europe already, surely we have to cross paths somewhere.
FENELLA: Which sort of dance do you plan to do in front of them?
MAX: The nimble polka of reason and fact and evidence.
FENELLA: How long before they mash your potato?  Yes.  We don’t have the hordes necessary to infiltrate their gatherings.
MAX: Oh, flash the bat-sign!
FENELLA: Cunning as a pigeon.  Like none of them can navigate the internet.
MAX: You’re quite negative.  Over-tired.
FENELLA: I’m not crushing your hare-brained ideas just as some form of displaced sleep-deprived rage.  It’s also fun, it’s part of my job, plus you’re dangerously untethered.
MAX: How can I possibly be dangerous with you…
FENELLA: Me what?
MAX: Semantic double-exposure.  Never mind.  I must take my untethered tango elsewhere.
FENELLA: Mind your exposure.
MAX: (OFF) Too late.  Curdled.
SOUND: SQUIRMING THROUGH WINDOW, BED SHEETS RUSTLE

SCENE 7.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Perthshire, Hill; 2021, Summer, Day
SOUND: WIND BUFFETS, BIRDS CALL
MAX: Pretty spectacular back garden.
FENELLA: The apple fell pretty close to the tree, eh?  Well, it blew away a bit then washed back.  On a clear day, up here, I can see Edinburgh.  Like looking at my past self.
MAX: On a clear day you can see yourself.
FENELLA: What?
MAX: Some ghastly self-help aphorism.
FENELLA: And what do you see on a clear day?
MAX: A thousand missed chances.
FENELLA: Still torturing yourself for not saving the world?
MAX: No, just you.
FENELLA: This is all very amusing – the long-running joke on our relationship, the unrequited motif – but don’t try to up the game; we both know this is as far as it goes.
MAX: I do no— I know no such thing.
FENELLA: Choice had; passed.
MAX: When?!
FENELLA: There was a time when I imagined we’d end up with a smallholding.  I’d keep chickens and you’d have some mountains to wrangle.
MAX: When was this between finding me rude and lewd and declining my advances at the end of the world?
FENELLA: The end? Of the world?
MAX: Actually is nigh.
FENELLA: Oh. Well, it was 2010, October, I think: I was getting more and more bothered by drifting toward my thirties without a tangible mission.  And then something remarkable happened.

SCENE 8.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Edinburgh, Office; 2010, Summer, Day
SOUND: THWACKING PAPERS ABOUT, BANGING CABINETS
MAX: It’s not your birthday?
FENELLA: No.
MAX: Are you sure?
FENELLA: Am I sure I’m not 10 years old?
MAX: Yes, that does seem unlikely.
FENELLA: Where did you get that date from?
MAX: It popped up.
FENELLA: What popped?
MAX: This thing.  So, when is your birthday?
FENELLA: Next year.  Is it possible you believed some fib I inserted in the internet for the purpose of obfuscating my personal information?
MAX: Again, unlikely, but possible.  When next year?
FENELLA: Classified.
MAX: Oh, don’t be stroppy.  When is your birthday?
FENELLA: I try very hard to keep that data private and if you have, all by yourself, aided my mission then I applaud you.
MAX: I shall catch you unawares when you least expect it.
FENELLA: That’s usually when it happens.
MAX: Drat.  I had this whole…
FENELLA: Why would you want to mark my birthday?
MAX: Oh, a grand, romantic gesture.
FENELLA: But why?
MAX: You must wait until your surprise birthday.

SCENE 9.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Edinburgh, Suburb; 2011, Summer, Day
SOUND: ELECTRICAL WHINE
FENELLA: Disappoin-ted!  Expectations left salivating like Pavlov’s wolves!  Exposed to the censure of the world for caprice and to its derision for disappointed hopes, etcetra.
MAX: I know; you would’ve made a great political director.
FENELLA: Oh, that; no, that’s not it…
MAX: Well, it should be it: I spoke to— well, never mind who I spoke to.  They were all quite baffled with the outcome; couldn’t elaborate details of course.  Did you have a meltdown in the interview?
FENELLA: No, no, my heart just wasn’t in it.
MAX: But it was five days ago!?  What’s the matter— What is that fucking whining?!
FENELLA: Neighbour vacuuming car.  Every Saturday.  That used to be me.  Now the wheels have all come off.  Worms everywhere.
MAX: Did I miss something?
SOUND: FADE ELECTRICAL WHINE
FENELLA: Twice.  All future anniversaries are cancelled.
MAX: I thought this was your fake birthday outing!
FENELLA: No, this was—is your twenty-seventh pitch-a-wacky-idea meeting.
MAX: Then when was the party?
FENELLA: Earlier.  What’s the idea?
MAX: Actually, I did have a thought around bees—
FENELLA: Oh, get to the point!
MAX: A little tetchy?  Is it your rapidly advancing age?
FENELLA: Antenna!
MAX: What?
FENELLA: I can read your online diary.
MAX: Yes, it’s online.
FENELLA: All of it.
MAX: Well, not all of it; some of it’s private.
FENELLA: Not as much as you think.
MAX: Such as?
FENELLA: Antenna.  Getting your communications satellite upgraded?  Long-range political forecasting?  Or, as it turned out: antenatal appointment.  So, you did in fact catch me unawares when I least expected it.
MAX: That’s supposed to be private.
FENELLA: Apparently.  So is there something you need to tell me about your gender or is there something you need to tell me about your imminent unavailability?!
MAX: That rather trumps my point…which was—is that…the idea…your birthday—
FENELLA: Has led us to another birth-day, and it’s time you stopped trying to lead two lives.

12/02/2017

Episode 2: Spring

Rotting Leaves — Two people bicker through their history of failure at the end of the world.

Rotting Leaves starts at Episode 1: Staging.

SCENE 1.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Scotland, Gorge Cave; 2022, Spring, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, RAIN PATTERS
FENELLA: Bluebells trail a fresh scent that underscores the promise of spring, prefaces the heavy sweetness of summer, appetises the smell buds—
MAX: You were on shaky ground, but ‘smell buds’ definitely ruined it.
FENELLA: I’m setting the scene. It’s not ready for an audience, especially not a hostile one.
MAX: Rain makes me fidgety.
FENELLA: Are you seven years old?
MAX: I suppose you immerse yourself in the total rain ganzfeld.
FENELLA: Notwithstanding contrarians, rain twinkles, trickles down the glass, refracting our destination into a thousand tiny, sodium glows.
MAX: What about our starting point?
FENELLA: Which one?
MAX: Tell me a story.
FENELLA: I shall start in the middle.
MAX: By all means.
FENELLA: The second time you blundered in to my life you had taken a notion to go away.
MAX: Lovely juxtaposition.
FENELLA: Must you interrupt?
MAX: I’m resigned to enjoy the ride; there’s no point quibbling over your relentless mangling of the facts.
FENELLA: Had you or had you not announced you were going around Europe?
MAX: Ah, we’re then, then.
FENELLA: Yet you had no idea how to leave.
MAX: And this is about me being left.
FENELLA: Since it’s already about you, you can’t make it any more about you.
MAX: If it isn’t about leaving and being left, what’s your point?
FENELLA: It’s about misdirection, misreading; about finding out subsequently that the trip – that entire theatre of foolishness – was part of the deal for your latest professional ascension.
MAX: Why can’t you just say promotion?
FENELLA: That makes it sound like you were awarded it.
MAX: I was.
FENELLA: No, you acquired it: the inevitable outcome of years of manoeuvring.
MAX: How twisted thou art.
FENELLA: Au contraire, my helical nemesis.
MAX: Then you are that around which I entwist.
FENELLA: Like leaden chains, dearest.
MAX: Yes, so, they insisted on Europe.  This digressing is tiresome.  Carry on.
FENELLA: You insisted.  The train was cutting through Belgium, Holland; you were—
MAX: Belgium is a country.
FENELLA: Well done.
MAX: You make it sound like a place in Holland.
FENELLA: It’s a list, not a belonging.
MAX: A list of two?
FENELLA: You were sleeping; I was updating your various reports and—
MAX: Hang on, back a bit: I insisted?  What deal?
FENELLA: You insisted that you would only take the job if it included the trip.
MAX: Why would I do that?  How could it possibly be for you?!
FENELLA: World class manoeuvring.  I liked it fine on the train.
MAX: Because I was asleep.
FENELLA: Especially.  And because I actually enjoyed presenting your brilliance.
MAX: I only had any brilliance with you.
FENELLA: Your breadth and depth of understanding, your conviction, your ability to bend power and direct the course of events…
MAX: I was quite something.
FENELLA: You made my socks roll up and down.
MAX: There’s a sight to see.
FENELLA: Do you miss that?
MAX: Playing with your socks?
FENELLA: Crunching over sun-baked dust without a map?  Gliding through vast snowfields with a plan fizzing in your head?  Stepping from hall to office to ancient monument with every face turned to you?  Changing the weather from a balcony hundreds of feet above a glittering city?
MAX: I miss the way working with you made me feel.
FENELLA: Well, now we’re getting somewhere… on a train.
MAX: I miss, I really miss your polishing.
FENELLA: I beg your pardon?
MAX: You focus on the point, drill right into it, painfully, then remove everything that isn’t that.  Absolutely everything else goes out.
FENELLA: I’m an unapologetic minimalist.  On a train.
MAX: Let us not forget the train!  I hope you’re recording this.
FENELLA: Always.

SCENE 2.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Hill; 2019, Spring, Day
SOUND: WIND BUFFETS, BIRDS CALL
FENELLA: The sun emerges through thick cloud as a galaxy spreads from the pure dark of eternity.
MAX: Lovely. My turn.
FENELLA: By all m—
MAX: I am a singleton.
FENELLA: You certainly are.  With another ill-advised beard. I never had you down as fashionable.
MAX: I had hoped for a more supportive reaction.
FENELLA: To what?  You stating the bleeding obvious?  Your idiosyncrasies are only just endearing enough to outweigh your irritating traits.
MAX: Thank you again for the support, but that’s not what I mean—what ‘singleton’ means. I’m alone.
FENELLA: And yet here I am.
MAX: My marriage has ended!
FENELLA: Ah!  I’ve been waiting for that.
MAX: Have you?
FENELLA: Because that would make you Ruth-less!
MAX: And yet more support.
FENELLA: OK, thanks for telling me, but you can cut out the sympathy sponge.
MAX: You’re being spectacularly unfair!
FENELLA: Perhaps you’re a little poor of judgement at present, but you don’t come to me for kindness and soothing.  Ever.  That’s not how we work.  So, shall we delve into your motivation?
MAX: Let’s not.
FENELLA: Yes, let’s enquire into when exactly this happened.
MAX: Why?
FENELLA: Because it wasn’t last week, was it?
MAX: September.
FENELLA: Shortly before or after I was widowed?
MAX: You weren’t wid—before.  Before.
FENELLA: Could there possibly be any connection in your ruthless, selfish mind?
MAX: I beg your pardon?!  Are you suggesting I…in some way engineered this?
FENELLA: I’m asking.
MAX: You think I deliberately ended my marriage in order to swoop upon you?
FENELLA: Perhaps not, but I wonder if the course of events made things harder or easier for you.
MAX: You are astonishingly callous.  Single-minded.  Always were.

SCENE 3.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Norway, Bergen, Office; 2012, Spring, Day
SOUND: CHATTER, TYPING
FENELLA: Du trenger en tolk.
MAX: That’s what we need!  You come in with us.
FENELLA: No.  You need an interpreter.
MAX: Yes.  You come in—
FENELLA: No.  I will arrange a professional interpreter.
MAX: We can’t wait!  We’re on the cusp of—
FENELLA: The only thing you’re on the cusp of is a seafood smorgasbord.
MAX: Throwing Norwegian about again after withholding is in poor taste.
FENELLA: Smorgasbord is Swedish and, as for taste, your ill-advised beard is a constellation of crustacean…cremains.
MAX: Alliteration expired on you.
FENELLA: Much like the crustacea.
SOUND: MOBILE RINGS
Interpreter candidate number one.  Go away.  Hose yourself down.

SCENE 4.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Scandinavian Arctic Circle, Snowfield; 2012, Spring, Day
SOUND: SLEIGH SCRAPES OVER SNOW
MAX: Is this patronisingly twee sleigh business absolutely necessary?
FENELLA: It’s a delightful diversion.
MAX: Why am I here?
FENELLA: Because I know what you want better than you do.
MAX: It’s not as cold as I feared.
FENELLA: That’s the problem.
MAX: You prefer me frozen?
FENELLA: I prefer the parts of the world that are meant to be frozen, frozen.  This is an unmissable opportunity to meet some folk whose land is changing daily.  This land is so flat that the contour lines, if you like, are very wide.  So, a slight variation in altitudinal temperature affects swathes of snowfield, very suddenly.
MAX: Now slushfield.  Soon marsh.
FENELLA: That’s the point.  I explained it well, but it helps being here.
SOUND: SLEIGH SCRAPES, CRUNCHES OVER SNOW
MAX: Being less than frozen.  On land that is suddenly less than frozen.  Wow, it’s like the tide coming in!
FENELLA: Exactly.  Scary?
MAX: It’s like sleet landing on a window.
FENELLA: Not so evocative.
MAX: I suppose you expect me to do something with this new information.
FENELLA: Full marks.  In your own time.
SOUND: FADE OUT SLEIGH SCRAPES; FADE IN CONSTANT WIND; REVERSE
MAX: That was…worthwhile.
FENELLA: Don’t question my authority again.
MAX: Why do we have to go so slowly?  I don’t need to absorb every individual ice crystal.
FENELLA: Because—
MAX: Because the ground can suddenly become unfrozen.  Not just in space; in time.
FENELLA: You could almost see it as a metaphor fo—
MAX: Hush.  I’m fizzing.  What are you gesticulating at her?  Why are we speeding up?
FENELLA: Safe now.  You’re fizzing.
MAX: We don’t have to go slowly?
FENELLA: Not any more.  Just fizz quietly.  Let me immerse myself in the gliding.

SCENE 5.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Netherlands, Middelburg, University College Roosevelt Campus; 2012, Spring, Day
SOUND: VOICES, BICYCLE BELL, BREEZE
FENELLA: Where’ve you been?!
MAX: Right here!  You’re the one the went—
FENELLA: Don’t be ridiculous; I knew where I was at all times.  Are you ready for these academics?
MAX: Oh, absolutely, since I can read my notes that are on your laptop via the screens on my fingernails!
FENELLA: Hysteria: check.  Sense of injustice: check.
MAX: Don’t try to make fun of—
FENELLA: Endearing mother-usually-does hairdo: check.  That’s you warmed up.
MAX: You need to take this seriously!
FENELLA: Say that again.
MAX: You…need…to…  Why would you think you have the upper hand?
FENELLA: Look up.
MAX: What?
FENELLA: Higher.
MAX: At?
FENELLA: My hand.  How do you feel about summer in southern Europe?
MAX: You got us fired and our passports revoked in less than three hours?
FENELLA: Aye; got the tour sold out and more dates added.  You may kiss my feet.
MAX: That’s quite good.
FENELLA: You even get a week off to let your wife remember you.
MAX: Oh, good.  Great.
FENELLA: I pride myself in thinking of everything.  When the director’s PA calls in the middle of my pancake with capers to queue me up for a quick update, I say ‘how would you like the slides?’
MAX: Smug.
FENELLA: On the hoof.  Just like you’re going to be for these delightfully cosmopolitan academics, whilst feeling calmly assured that I have the long game in my upper hand.
MAX: Mud! Sucking at my hooves! I’m in the reeds!
FENELLA: Quacking with fear?
MAX: Give me peace, woman.
FENELLA: Anything else?
SOUND: RUMMAGING IN BAG
MAX: No.  Yes?  What else could I possibly need from—  My notes!  Give me my notes!
FENELLA: I love testing.
MAX: Why a pancake with capers?
FENELLA: Apparently it’s a Dutch speciality: what can you say when a man offers you ‘pickled flower buds’, alth—
MAX: Never mind!  No, yes: what testing?  No, I’ll have to come back to that.
FENELLA: Go.

SCENE 6.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Germany, Berlin, Street; 2012, Spring, Day
SOUND: FOOTSTEPS, VEHICLES, BUSTLE
MAX: You’re surprisingly calm.
FENELLA: You’re Beelzebub’s coach-horse!
MAX: That’s…a beetle.  Are you calling me a beetle?
FENELLA: You poisonous newt!
MAX: Do you mean toad?
FENELLA: Tyrant!  Machiavelli!  Butcher!
MAX: Ladies, ladies!
FENELLA: You’re the sword of fucking Damocles!
MAX: I rather like that.
FENELLA: What happened in there?
MAX: I got a bit bored.
FENELLA: Bored.
MAX: Your Scottish bryophyte people were banging on: “ach, will no-one think of the wee pools and lochans.”
FENELLA: So you tactfully manoeuvred—
MAX: I found an excellent facility on the teleconferencing software: I pressed a button and an automated voice cut them all off.
FENELLA: Yes, apparently everyone else heard, “your chair has muted all participants,” followed by a torturous electronic rendition of Vivaldi.
MAX: Wizard.
FENELLA: They thought you were incompetent or rude or both.
MAX: I thought they were dull.  Where are we going?
FENELLA: I have to buy incontinence pants in German.
MAX: Thank you for that gift for mocking, but do I have to be here?
FENELLA: Since I can’t leave you unattended for two minutes, I’ll have to wee myself.
MAX: Ugh, I don’t want to be thinking of you weeing your way through my meetings.
FENELLA: Good.  I shall establish a hand gesture so you know when I’m letting go.
MAX: Can I still chair?
FENELLA: Oh, get it together!  You’re pissing away golden opportunities—
MAX: (SNIGGERS)
FENELLA: This isn’t ‘arseing about’ time at nob school!  If the sword drops, you cocky fuck…

05/02/2017

Episode 1: Staging

Rotting Leaves — Two people bicker through their history of failure at the end of the world.

SCENE 1.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Scotland, Perthshire, Gorge Cave; 2022, Summer, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES
FENELLA: The third time you came to me, the universe had its foot on my head once again.
MAX: How can you start with a third and a second?
FENELLA: The past is before us: we start now and walk on into the known.
MAX: Surely the future is ahead?
FENELLA: No, behind, unseen, unknown.
MAX: Oh, dear.  We’re walking backwards, forwards.
FENELLA: Exactly.
MAX: And in which direction was the universe going, with its foot on your head?
FENELLA: Remember autumn 2019?
MAX: In its entirety?
FENELLA: I was in my grief miasma and suddenly there you were.
MAX: Not in the miasma.
FENELLA: No, by the river.
MAX: Yes, because I was fine.
FENELLA: You were nowhere near fine, but I’ll come to that.
MAX: Because we’re going backwards.
FENELLA: No, forward, because you didn’t tell me till much later.
MAX: Because the miasma was impenetrable.
FENELLA: How convenient.  So there we were, in step, in the damp autumn leaves, in the rotting silence—

SCENE 2.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2023, Winter, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, FIRE CRACKLES
FENELLA: Do you remember that conversation?
MAX: Was that us?
FENELLA: Only five months ago.
MAX: We must’ve been pretty dopey.
FENELLA: But what’s doping us?
MAX: I meant sleepy.
FENELLA: A Freudian sleep.  I used to be articulate. Have I got Alzheimer’s?
MAX: We’re just tired and malnourished.  And stressed.
FENELLA: How did we get here?  Not the trudging; I mean what set us off?
MAX: We had to leave the city.
FENELLA: I know, but why?
MAX: The ca-sastrophe.
FENELLA: What sort of cat-sas-trophe?
MAX: How should I know?!  Enviro-mental disasters were esc-at-aling.  The seriousness of them.  Hm.  I’m not clear on details.  Do you think we rather overreacted?
FENELLA: I feel… my mind is fragmented—memory.  We’re surviving in a cave, in a gorge, what passes for seasons are coming around again, and we’ve lost the big picture.
MAX: Perhaps we’re dead and just don’t know where to go next.
FENELLA: Constructive.
MAX: Open-minded.  OK, do you think this is how radiation affects us?
FENELLA: I remember fretting about plasticine—plastic.  Synthetic chemicals.  I haven’t dismissed consp-iracy theori-cies either.
MAX: What conspiracy?
FENELLA: ‘Forces’ that have the power to erase our memorase.
MAX: I think there was an earthquake.
FENELLA: Yes!  Was that it?
MAX: Why would that give us an-mesia?
FENELLA: Er, trauma?  No…  There were dead birds all over the fields.
MAX: What does that mean?
FENELLA: They don’t get traumatic stress distress.
MAX: They live their lives stressed.
FENELLA: Does that mean they could die of stress or not?
MAX: I think it’s the stress that stops—the stop stress…sorry, lost that thought.
FENELLA: Maybe if we go back over things we can piece us back together…like layers of rotting leaves.

SCENE 3.
FENELLA: (V.O.) River Bank, 2021, Autumn, Day
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, INTERMITTENTLY BIRDS CHOKE, MAMMALS COUGH
FENELLA: How did we get here?
MAX: Painfully memorable hours of trampling through dust and ash?
FENELLA: It was a rhetorical whinge.  I really hope at some universal level this all makes sense.
MAX: I can draw you a diagram in the sludge if you like: man begat man begat machine begat pollution begat disaster.
FENELLA: Yes, and we saw it coming, but how did we actually do it?
MAX: Not enough of us stepped out of the machine.  Tiny cogs don’t see the effects of their actions, much less any problems or choices.  Need we analyse this right now?
FENELLA: I guess we can see plenty of effects now.  Oh, I need a break. (SOBS)
MAX: We will find a way.
FENELLA: I know. Or not; it doesn’t matter.  I’m just so sad for everything else we’ve destroyed.  Did you see those birds?
MAX: And the toads and the rabbits and the cows.
FENELLA: Don’t care so much about cows.  Or rabbits.  You know what I mean.  I don’t want to live in a world without birds and toads.
MAX: Wait till the plants frazzle up too.
FENELLA: Maybe we don’t get to understand, really understand, life until we die.
MAX: OK, let’s just get to the gorge and the basic necessities.

SCENE 4.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Edinburgh, Flat; 2021, Summer, Evening
SOUND: GARDEN BIRDS CHIRRUP, VEHICLES RUMBLE
MAX: What brought you two together?
FENELLA: Apart from the tidal wave?
MAX: That was only the start.
FENELLA: He did some remarkable things.
MAX: The man was a force of nature, but why was he the one for you?
FENELLA: That’s pretty intense, personal.
MAX: It’s important.
FENELLA: To me, and to him.  Not for you.
MAX: Then why show me all these photographs?
FENELLA: I’m not ‘showing’ you; I was just glancing through one last time before…maybe not seeing them again, and you’re lurking.
MAX: I’m waiting for nightfall.
FENELLA: Ah, the Clandestine Clot.
MAX: Where’s that?
FENELLA: Up the hill.
MAX: But the time taken is five AM in April.  It wouldn’t be light.
FENELLA: OK, metadata melodramatist.  Any other more likely explanations?
MAX: Your camera time is set wrong.
FENELLA: And why might that be?
MAX: You deliberately set the time wrong?
FENELLA: Aye.
MAX: What on earth’s the matter with you?
FENELLA: For about twenty years I’ve been hoping to catch you out.  Today, at last, my deep laid plan has succeeded!
MAX: Seriously?
FENELLA: No, you narcissistic nitwit.  I leave it on Greenwich Mean Time.
MAX: So it’s actually six AM.
FENELLA: Calamity over; universe back in place.

SCENE 5.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Summer, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES, HERON CALLS
FENELLA: Night advances like a tide, smothering every feature and creature of the land.  Except for a few chinks: anti-shadows, discarded shards of light.  Through the dark, overhead: a heron; four squawks, one shard receding along the river.  Welcome back, she-crone.
MAX: What?
FENELLA: Ah, you’re here; good. The third time you came to me, the universe had its foot on my head once again.
MAX: How can you start with a third and a second?
FENELLA: The past is before us: we start now and walk on into the known.
MAX: Surely the future is ahead?
FENELLA: No, behind, unseen, unknown.
MAX: Oh, dear.  We’re walking backwards, forwards.
FENELLA: Exactly.
MAX: And in which direction was the universe going, with its foot on your head?
FENELLA: Remember autumn 2019?
MAX: In its entirety?
FENELLA: I was in my grief miasma and suddenly there you were.
MAX: Not in the miasma.
FENELLA: No, by the river.
MAX: Yes, because I was fine.
FENELLA: You were nowhere near fine, but I’ll come to that.
MAX: Because we’re going backwards.
FENELLA: No, forward, because you didn’t tell me till much later.
MAX: Because the miasma was impenetrable.
FENELLA: How convenient.  So there we were, in step, in the damp autumn leaves, in the rotting silence—
MAX: I like ‘rotting’.
FENELLA: What do you mean?
MAX: I like the word ‘rotting’.
FENELLA: Thank you.
MAX: It’s redolent of our respective circumstances.
FENELLA: Indeed, for our respective circumstances were riddled with decay.
MAX: They still are.
FENELLA: I don’t know; I think now even the decay has stopped.
MAX: Would you like to start again, differently?
FENELLA: Existentially?
MAX: Or just the story?
FENELLA: Yes, thank you.  The green beaks of bulb sprouts poke through the soil surface.  Snow melt drips and trickles all around.  Winter’s claws recede.  On you go.
MAX: Me?
FENELLA: I’m sure it’s your turn; I’ll keep you right.
MAX: OK.  So, it all began—
FENELLA: No.  Never start at the beginning.
MAX: I think you’ll find it’s logical, in fact it’s chronological, it’s sensible and it’s conventional.
FENELLA: And entirely illusory.  Just start.
MAX: When?
FENELLA: Whenever memory takes you.
MAX: The moss is almost gone.
FENELLA: Has your attention wandered already?
MAX: You said go with the memory.
FENELLA: And you went?
MAX: Forty minutes ago.
FENELLA: The only thing stopping me laughing is the tragedy.
MAX: It’s never stopped you before.
FENELLA: And the pain.  And the hunger.
MAX: I know.  So, I’m here to tell the tale of how we got here.  In space and time.  But not in order.  And you?
FENELLA: I’m here to marshal the recording of events.
MAX: You’re good at that.

SCENE 6.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Gorge Cave; 2022, Spring, Evening
SOUND: WATER TRICKLES
MAX: Have you ever eaten insects?
FENELLA: No, and I won’t be starting now: vegan waiver.
MAX: We’ll see how long that lasts.
FENELLA: You think my principles will buckle without beans and brown rice?
MAX: You don’t have the luxury of fussiness.
FENELLA: OK: vegan wager.  You win: I eat insects.  I win: what?
MAX: No, no, you need a penance on top of the insects.
FENELLA: Like a garnish?
MAX: Yes, garlic: my share of the wild garlic.
FENELLA: Surely that would only be unpleasant for you?
MAX: You know what I want from you.
FENELLA: Is this garlic or mistletoe?  I never thought you’d be the first to get entangled in…variations on a theme of paganism.
MAX: It can be poppy opium if that works.
FENELLA: Has this nonsense still not died?
MAX: Please don’t debase this.
FENELLA: From what?  Warped idealisation?
MAX: Not quite.
FENELLA: I wouldn’t’ve been that bothered either way, but now you’re making it into a thing.  It feels like the thin edge of…
SOUND: HERON CALLS
MAX: The thin edge of the we—?!
FENELLA: Sshh.
MAX: What?
FENELLA: Heron.  Not well.
MAX: They always sound primeval, like they’re choking.
SOUND: HERON CALLS
OK, maybe not like that.  Poor thing.
FENELLA: Nothing like the sound of another creature dying to ruin your lecherous plans.
MAX: Not ruined; resting.
FENELLA: You have a lot of plans at rest.
MAX: Well, it’s hard to progress anything right now.
FENELLA: I was thinking of your ‘wacky idea of the week’.  Dozens and dozens of them – your creativity was awesome.  The extra workload was also awesome.
MAX: Most of them were stolen.
FENELLA: Well, what was the point of deluging me in stolen ideas?!  Oh, don’t start that again.
SOUND: HERON CALLS

SCENE 7.
FENELLA: (V.O.) Edinburgh, Street; 2021, Autumn, Day
SOUND: VEHICLES RUMBLE, PEDESTRIANS SCURRY, CHATTER
FENELLA: Where have you been?!  You weren’t at your meeting.  It doesn’t matt—
MAX: You were right!
FENELLA: We need to go!
MAX: Not yet.
FENELLA: We need to leave!
MAX: Yes, but not now.
FENELLA: We don’t have time to argue!
MAX: We do.  We always do.  Watch this.
FENELLA: What?  This stupid wobblecam movie?!
MAX: Didn’t have time to set up a crew, sorry.  Just watch it.
FENELLA: This is you?
MAX: Filming, yes; not the subject, obviously.
FENELLA: Are you running?
MAX: Along the road to Arbeith, the flat bit.
FENELLA: That’s a big plane.
MAX: Isn’t it?
FENELLA: Or very close.  Very low.
MAX: See when I turn to look across the field.
FENELLA: Three, four?!  What are they doing?  Practising almost-landing in the middle of nowhere?  And on the other side too!
MAX: Miles from any landing strip.
FENELLA: Offensive?
MAX: Escapist?
FENELLA: Who escaping what?
MAX: See the next clip.
FENELLA: Train window?  Is this you heading into town?
MAX: Nearly at the bridge.
FENELLA: Woh!  What the fuck is that?
MAX: Hefty, eh?
FENELLA: That’s one heavyweight plane.  It looks more like a spaceship—battleship…  How the hell is it staying up?
MAX: Given that we’re not being invaded by aliens, I think somebody has some special technology, serious kit, that they’re not sharing.
FENELLA: Why reveal it now?  I can hear other folk in the carriage exclaiming.
MAX: Nothing to lose?
FENELLA: Something terrible…
MAX: Enough to miss a meeting.
FENELLA: Why me?
MAX: I don’t think it’s personal!  I think they have hierarchies for such eventualities and we’re not even close to being on that list.  I don’t even know who I mean by ‘they’.
FENELLA: No, I mean, why am I on your list?
MAX: There isn’t time.
FENELLA: We always have time to argue!  There are folk all around.  You could’ve picked—
MAX: I mean there isn’t time to explain to anyone else.  You’re the only person I know who could get this—who already got it.  Plus all the stuff we never— You’re my ideal companion for an apocalypse.
FENELLA: Is that what this is?
MAX: Bag packed?

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.