Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Death of Old Man White

A Short Play by Jake Berry.


The Gravedigger: a man in his mid-60s. An inhabitant of a small town for many years. A widower of less than a year.

His sister: A widow of several years, also in her mid-60s. Recently moved to the small town.


The gravedigger comes in, late afternoon of a cold, rainy day in November. He removes his raincoat, shakes the water out of it and hangs it on a hook by the door.

They live in a small house. The house the gravedigger and his wife lived in for most of their married life. The back door opens directly into a kitchen with a stove, oven, sink, stove/oven, refrigerator, table and chairs.

Sister: You could shake that thing off outside on the porch before you came in.

Gravedigger: Yeah. Sorry about that. It's just so cold and damp. I guess I was eager to get in.

Sister: Job's done then?

Gravedigger: Only half. The hole's dug.

S: What about the rest of it?

G: Body's in the coffin, lid on, but not yet nailed.

S: And who does the nailing?

G: Not sure. It won't be the man that dug the hole unless they pay half again. Won't be the priest or the preacher. They never raise hammer toward a nail. Maybe the young kid that just came on. He has both ignorance and enthusiasm going for him.

S: What's the issue. They die, they get boxed, nailed in and laid to ground every day. What's so special about this one?

G: I wouldn't exactly call it special, just a long time coming, and some remain what you might call… doubtful.

S: Doubtful of what? Why? Who is it?

G: Old Man White.

She hesitates a moment. Struck by the painful memories of the ancient face. She quickly regains her composure and continues:

S: Yes. I remember him in a general way. He was very rich and powerful in his day wasn't he?

G: He was that and more. No one made it through a door, held land or build a structure without his approval.

S: How could one man have so much importance? I can't say he seemed like much when I saw him. Just a scary, withered old face. Maybe a little intimidating to look at, but that's it.

G: You saw him weak, old and humbled, and you only saw the one. He was, in his prime, one man, but also many. What he spoke came from a chorus of mouths. What he wrote fell into many brains. Some believed it came from more than a brain. It was like a a white ghost hovered over every word.

S: And those that are afraid to drive the nails, they believe all this?

G: No, but they remember it and fear it. They don't expect him to rise from the grave, but no one's quite convinced that he's dead just yet. It's hard to accept that so much authority can ever entirely pass away. No one wants to seal the box. It's almost as if as soon as they do they'll turn around and he'll be standing there watching them.

S: What? Like a ghost?

G: No, like the man himself. Nailed in the box, but up and alive walking around just the same.

S: That's just a bunch of foolishness.

G: Yes, it is. But foolishness was the old man's stock and trade. He sold it like food, set fires with it, drove engines with it. You can't turn your back on a man like that. He can be everywhere at once.

S: Sounds like you caught a bit of that foolishness yourself.

G: No. I'm just telling you what people think and how they feel.

S: I say nail the lid, drop the box in the hole and throw dirt on it till the the hole is filled.

G: Like I said, I'm willing, if they'll pay me fair wage to do it.

S: So then, do it. Sooner the better. Put an end to this silly chatter.

G: Fine, if they'll make me, or someone, the deal.

S: Get it done then. Shake the hand, sign the paper. What's the hold up? They want you to work for free or what?

G: No. Problem is, no one is sure who'd be the authority on the other end of the deal. The one who'd pay the extra wage.

S: Why not? Where'd the authority go? Don't you have laws in these matters?

G: I don't know about laws exactly, but we did have a method. It's just that the authority is holding his tongue, so to speak.

S: Why? Out of fear?

G: No. Out of death. He's the man in the box.

S: Oh.

She falls silent again, gets up from her seat at the table and goes to the stove where she stirs something in a pot, thinking. He takes a seat at the table, rubbing his hands, still trying to shake off the damp and chill.

S: Well then, someone else has to be the authority.

G: That's the same conclusion we came to up on the hill. A fellow offered to do the job, if we'd help him with the tough bits since he'd be new to it.

S: Good then. What's he say?

G: He's thinking the matter through. He's a smart fellow, but he's consulting with some others on the matter. As smart as he is, he thinks he should ask around to see what we all think about it.

S: So he thinks and we wait. He talks to everyone from geniuses to gravediggers. Meanwhile, Old Man White lies in his box pretending to be everywhere at once?

G: Something like that.

S: Yeah, sure seems like that foolishness was contagious.

G: I hope not. I'm glad to do the job and we need the money.

S: That we do. Still, we have to wait.

G: Yes. We wait, for a while. We wait and see.

Jake Berry 11.5.08

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