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Inclusion

Inclusion

by Laurence Klavan


Setting up for a card game. The players, all male, are Leslie, Albert, Moe and Heck.

LESLIE

It wasn’t personal.

ALBERT

Well, I don’t see why it would have been. I mean, what had I ever done to anyone? Still, I was never invited.

LESLIE

Well, you have been now.

ALBERT

I’m a nice guy.

LESLIE

I never said that you’re not. It was a matter of chemistry. Personal chemistry.

ALBERT

And I like playing poker. I’m even bad at it, so other people can win. What could be better?

LESLIE

Right, right.

ALBERT

I’m serious.

LESLIE

I know.

ALBERT

Then how come I could never come to your game? You friends and I could have had a stimulating chin wag. We could have jawed. Batted ideas back and forth like badminton birdies. It would have been fun.

LESLIE

Well, see, that’s the…Some other people are not as comfortable…You’re unusual, Albert, in that you…anyway, it’s over. You’re here.

ALBERT

Right. I even sprung for the snacks. Regular chips with plenty of preservatives. None of that sea salt and vinegar. You know what I’m saying? Our Dads didn’t eat sea salt, unless they were at the bottom of the sea. Because their submarine had been torpedoed. Just regular Lay’s potato chips. Which sounds salty. Not sea salty, sexy. Because Lay’s, get it? Not Ruffles. That’s too Beau Brummel. You understand? Nuff said.

LESLIE

See, this is what I’m…There’s a problem in…You always tend to…

ALBERT

Haven’t we known each other since high school?

LESLIE

Yes, but…

ALBERT

Don’t you know how lonely I am?

He tears up.

LESLIE

I hate when you do this.

ALBERT

Do what?

LESLIE

Weep.

ALBERT

(weeping) Who’s weeping?

LESLIE

The game’s starting. Yes? Now try to stick to the subject at hand.

ALBERT

Of course. (wipes nose) You won’t regret it, Les.

HECK

Okay, everybody, ante up. Seven card stud. Aces are wild.

MOE

I’m in.

LESLIE

Me, too.

ALBERT

Moi, aussi. (to audience) You can insert any subject you want. We made up something weird so it doesn’t date or pander and limit the appeal of the play. Okay? Thanks. (to others) I find Alabaster works the best.

LESLIE

Albert…

ALBERT

What?

MOE

I bet a dime.

ALBERT

Alabaster buttons. Because they go down the easiest. Smooth as silk. Though silk would stick. In your throat. So it’s an imprecise expression. That’s what I’ve always thought.

HECK

I’ll see you. And raise you a quarter.

ALBERT

I’m in. Wooden buttons work, too. If they’re shaved down enough. And certain kinds of plastic. But Alabaster are still the best buttons. For swallowing.

LESLIE

I’m out.

MOE

I’ve got a straight.

HECK

Full house.

ALBERT

I’m out. Do you think they should be force-fed to children? Buttons? Kids already eat everything. So maybe they wouldn’t have to be encouraged. And if you’re worried about the buttons not agreeing with their tummies, you can always feed your little ones a laxative and pick the buttons out of their feces yourself. I bet the Alabaster buttons would shine in the light and be apparent in their poop and so easy to disengage. I open the floor to a freewheeling discussion!

MOE

Can we just play?

LESLIE

Yes, let’s just…

ALBERT

Exactly. I invite us all to play. Like children. Who’ve ingested and expelled Alabaster buttons. More popcorn?

HECK

I’ll pass. Pardon the expression.

MOE

This game is five card stud. Jokers wild.

HECK

Jokers weird.

MOE

You said it.

ALBERT

What was that?

MOE

Nothing. Excuse me. I have to make an important phone call.

He exits. Then we hear the front door open and close. Beat.

HECK

I’ll see what’s keeping him.

ALBERT

But he’s only been gone a…

Heck exits. Front door opens and closes again. They don’t return.

LESLIE          

See?

ALBERT

What do you mean? I was having a great time.

LESLIE

Well, you may have been, but…

ALBERT

That’s right. Thanks for finally having me. See you next week?

Before Leslie can answer, he exits. Leslie sighs. Light shift. Albert re-enters. Another night. He waits, checking his watch.

ALBERT

Maybe they’re both sick.

LESLIE

I don’t think so.

ALBERT

Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense. Last week, it went so well. We had a good give-and-take. Really chewed on a few choice bits of belief. I lobbed an idea; they banged it back. Like intellectual jousting, back when “knight” meant man and not just when the moon comes out. When “knight” meant manly and not a soft and tender time of day. You know?

LESLIE

I do, but…I’m not sure that they…You might have been the only one here who…

ALBERT

I think you take it too seriously, Les. When two fellas “wrastle,” it’s not a real fight. I mean, perhaps you’re pinned, but you don’t have a broken buttock. And I felt we were all in one big, harmless, sweaty huddle, rolling around on the floor. Pure fun!

LESLIE

If you say so. But again, Albert, I…wish you would…

Heck enters. He sees Albert, freezes, caught. He tries to escape, but…

ALBERT

Hey. There he is!

HECK

Oh, uh, hi.

ALBERT

Ready to win some more money off me, Heck? It might have to be a three-hander tonight. Go Fish? I can’t play that, either, if that’s an incentive.

HECK

Actually, I just came by to…pick up my hat. Which I, uh, left.

ALBERT

But you weren’t wearing one. I always pay close attention to other people’s clothes. Especially their fasteners. And hats aren’t as good as buttons. Because you can’t swallow your hat. Or force-feed it to a child. As you could a button. An Alabaster button.

HECK

Uh…right…

ALBERT

(thoughtfully) Or could you?

LESLIE

Here. Here’s your hat. You left it the time before.

HECK

I did? I did! Thanks. So long!

He rushes out.

ALBERT

Maybe he went to get snacks.

LESLIE

Look, it’s over, all right? No one’s coming back. While you’re here.

ALBERT

But it was just a…chin wag.

LESLIE

I’m aware that’s what you thought.

ALBERT

They thought so, too.

LESLIE

They did? What did they say?

ALBERT

Well, nothing, but…

LESLIE

Of course not. Because they were too embarrassed. Or disgusted. So they kept a civilized silence until they could get the hell away and never return.

ALBERT

You always had a funny way of seeing things, even when we were kids.

LESLIE

I was only your friend because my mother made me. Okay? Because she felt sorry for you.

ALBERT

(tearing up) Because of how lonely I was?

LESLIE

I think she was afraid of how lonely you were.

ALBERT

That makes no sense. Say something that someone else can understand.

LESLIE

Never mind.

ALBERT

It was an Alabaster button on your mother’s blouse that first inspired my appetite. The way she toyed with it, turning it back and forth and back and forth, but never turning it so much that she sent it back through its own hole and opened up her blouse. Nothing sick, in other words. I only wanted to swallow her button, not—I won’t say. Anyway, I’ll always be grateful to her. And her Albaster button.

LESLIE

You better go.

ALBERT

You’re all a bunch of bigots. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? All I want is to be included!

He storms out. Light shifts. Albert re-enters. Another night.

LESLIE

Albert, what are you doing…I know it’s poker night, but…I didn’t…

Phone rings.

LESLIE

Hello? Yes. What? (beat) Jesus Christ. Oh, no. My God! (hangs up) Moe’s dead. They found him suffocated, with something small stuck in and blocking his windpipe. There were bruises on his arms and shoulders as if he had been…held down.

ALBERT

Life is so full of bad luck, isn’t it? It’s almost enough to make you lose faith in God. Almost!

Beat.

LESLIE

Albert, you didn’t go to his house, did you?

ALBERT

What? Me? No.

LESLIE

Good.

ALBERT

I mean, maybe I happened to be in his neighborhood…and the subject of his not coming back came up…and we had a good back and forth, a chin wag, a jaw, but…that’s not the same as…

LESLIE

My God.

ALBERT

I’ll happen to be in Heck’s neighborhood later.

LESLIE

Look, uh…maybe we ought to talk about this another time….

ALBERT

There’s no reason to talk about it at all. Who needs talking? That’s too touchy feely. Our Dads weren’t touchy feely. Well, they weren’t touchy, but maybe they were feely. When they were in the Army. In a huge crowd because victory had been declared. There they could be feely without being found out. Otherwise, our mouths aren’t meant for talking. They’re best used for swallowing buttons. And Alabaster buttons are the best. (advancing)

LESLIE

(backing away) Albert…

ALBERT

It’s just a stimulating and provocative idea. It makes for a good give and take. Like a “wrastle” on the slippery wet tiles of a steam room, our towels akimbo. Something our Dads would have done, though not in uniform. (takes out buttons) Care to join me? It’s a fun thing two pals can get up to. Otherwise, I’ll have to do it by myself. Haven’t we been friends since nursery school? Here—it tastes good!

He forces a handful of buttons into Leslie’s mouth. He holds him down while he bucks. Leslie swallows them and suffocates.

Beat. Then, panting, Albert sits and deals out cards by himself.

ALBERT

(to audience) It’s my game now. So anyone can play. Who wants in? (no one does; tears up) Don’t you know how lonely I am? (sobers) That’s the button.

BLACKOUT

 

 

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