Porcelian Morning
Martin Zurla

Not all go gently into that good night.

I can see the gray sun sliding softly though the kitchen window, through the curtains, a gray, delicate sun hiding from the close morning hours. The table is covered with that same orange-brown cloth dotted with yellow daisies. The house is damp inside and the cloth is wet from spilled coffee and cream.

It wasn't so long, not so very long ago that we'd talk, make plans for vacations, for rides to the mountains and crystal beaches. We were gay, important with strong wishes and fancy schemes. And all the while we'd fool the whole world by sleeping late and drinking coffee mixed with cinnamon.

But there were phantoms then too. They'd creep out of the rotted woodwork and cracked, peeling enamel. I could see them. It was always in the early mornings as I sat at this kitchen table watching shadows dissolve and merge, rearranging themselves against the draped dishrag and hanging pot holders. I see them now.

Do you remember those mornings?

Wasn't it as if those early mornings were pressed tightly against our chests, sealed somewhere behind our most fragile flesh?

But the sun is hazy, almost crazy now.

Notice the difference?

Even death and damnation are phantoms, furtive branches knocking hard against our bedroom window blowing the lace curtains to the side, painting fairies and mysteries on the blank wall.

But like I said, I haven't had those dreams in such a long, very long time; not since the crows started raging like tigers. Can you imagine crows; those black alabaster crows in such a city as this? Can you imagine other things too?

See the curtains, the ones I hung over the kitchen windows. You laughed when they fell down.

You laughed all the time.

Did I tell who's here? It's as if there is a small, delicate, very fragile child sitting on the outside windowsill gently pushing both his tiny white hands against the yellow-cream curtains; the curtains with the doily trim and rose-petaled borders. He almost speaks, or rather whispers, about his aging. He's saying to me and the loud smashing traffic that he's not a child at all, but a very old--no, ancient man, a circus oddity, a freak of Nature's whims and a victim of self-imposed despair. He tells me he's an Egyptian hieroglyphic image with webbed feet and snorting nostrils carved into eternity, almost timeless, bottomless. Do you hear his heart beating inside his hollow chest, rattling beside his seashell bones, shaking, pounding desperately inside his small, frail self? Listen as he whimpers against the irreligious morning.

Do you remember those oh so white mornings?

And you used to be so white, so clean from our early-morning showers with the soap dish overflowing from the dripping faucet with the leaking metal tubes; those chrome-covered snakes that wound themselves out of the green porcelain tub. How they would snidely slide and sneak up the pink tiled wall spouting steam and heated holy water, water turning to venom, turning to haze that dissolved itself into the glass drain flowing down to the ocean and coming back again through the copper skins spewing forth crystal seaweed and monsters.

And you used to be so white.

Our lives battered together beside the morning rains each Saturday as we sat perched beneath the coffee-colored plastic tea shade. That's when our memories were cast in pale-blue consistency and marshmallow sailing ships. Oh, we were most irreverent then, in our memories; back then when pushcarts sang along Delancey Street as my steel-wool knickers knocked against the nicks and cuts from yesterday's very unholy stickball game. Oh, how we'd shout, "We shoulda won but didn't 'cause Michael Maloney is a lousy first baseman and Augie Augustus can't hit the broad side'a Sullivan Street."

When the Bowery played itself like a tuba and bass drum and Mulberry Street filled the wet afternoon with Italian ices piled thick like my mama's breasts; with vendors of all sorts selling this and that; and there was always Mister Silverman's tiny tailor shop where, if you got there early enough on Monday mornings to be his first customer, me and my father could bargain a suit or knickers down to a livable, most believable price. But what was a buck and a quarter back then, anyway?

Fifty years ago when there were lions and tigers in the streets; he-wolves and she-wolves marching through the sewers and hiding behind trash cans and garden walls; when everyone smelled of onions and roses; when grandmothers would breathe heavily into our faces filling the air with freshly-cut peppers and staining our souls with crushed garlic; when we'd laugh and sing.

And you were so white.

But now the coffee is cold, cold from sitting unattended. It's black this morning as the sun's haze pushes, tugs aside the billowing curtains painting itself against the kitchen walls and smog-stained window panes.

And I am old now.

Desperate we were then; knocking ourselves against each other; entrapped in constant contact; chest beating beside each other until our brains fell out and our souls collided. Desperate, oh so damn desperate we were about each other; so connected in our frail lovemaking, in our childhood imaginations, our endless procrastination about ourselves.

Yes, you use to be so white in the mornings.

But I am old now; missing you more than my youth, more than my pale, frigid self pressed against my aching bones.

Oh, why did you go, your cancer taking you too, much too early in our timelessness. It crept through your body tearing your soul to shreds, my heart to pieces.

I am old now in time, in years, an old man that can no longer live this life without you.

And I watched as you lay, years and years decaying before my eyes, drifting away in front of my heart; your lungs rasping, grasping for breath. And then they covered you yesterday and took you away. And I am an old man now, have seen too much. For 50 years, we spun together, fastened together as no other king and queen. And your going wasn't your fault, not really. Yet I hate you, damn you for it as I now damn this cold, hard, porcelain morning; and your cancer, your cheeks melting with age and death; your frail, sweet flesh flying from your loins.

And I am an old man now anyway, and that in itself is a sin, a desperate mistake. My head lies here on our kitchen table banging itself against the soiled tablecloth, against the angels that sang at your funeral, at your grave still warm, at your moisture wet against my sighs, my promises, all those promises never really kept, only wished for deep in the bottom of the evening.

Will we pass in our deaths, you going your way, and me mine? Fifty years a twosome, a gruesome together memory never forgiving our separate ways.

And now I take myself up into the winter lightening, out into the blazing fires of my constant damnation. Down, diving deep inside the rotted graves and marble headstones I see your eyes forever fled past my heartbeat, my life that will be no more.

Martin Zurla (pecado@netcom.com) is the founder and Artistic Director of the Raft Theatre in New York City. His play Old Friends won the Forest A. Roberts Playwrights Award; his play February, The Present won the Stanley Drama Award. He has twice received the Theater of Renewal Award, and twice won the Colorado University Playwrights Competition. He recently published a series of one-act plays titled Aftermath: The Vietnam Experience (Open Passages).

InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 4, Number 6 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1994 Martin Zurla.