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Dessert

BITTER COFFEE

Characters

Kalina (First as a ghost, then alive)

Kyr Avram Brankovich

First Stonemason

Second Stonemason

Pasha

Masudi

Cohen (sleeping in a tent)


(Takes place in the 17th century in an ancient theater by the Danube. Stage front are two tombstones, one for Kalina and the other for Petkutin. The two stonemasons are carving the names into the tombstones by the light of a lantern.)

FIRST STONEMASON
You owe me a letter. A female letter! You could help me out now by repaying your debt.

SECOND STONEMASON
And so I shall. I like female letters better than male. In fact, friend, I like anything female. I’ll die without ever getting over the fact that I didn’t have female bread to make every day. (Goes over to Kalina’s tombstone) Let’s see what letter it is and be done with it.

FIRST STONEMASON
The letter A at the end of the name Kalina.

(They work. Kalina’s ghost appears in the red cape.)

KALINA
Once life vanished we awoke To a life to us not given. As from a copse we emerged dazed, Amidst familiar places amazed Their time on our young flesh had grazed. Caught once drunkenness had ceased We to some new dogs tossed bones And the new tongue our hour knows. We on our graves repose, The sounds in the grass we hear Through the blades not with our car.

FIRST STONEMASON
There’s a woman. She muttering something. There’s something suspicious about her being her at this hour. What is she doing by the graves?

SECOND STONEMASON
I’m not afraid of the female breed. This one uncovered one church without covering the other.

KALINA
(Using 20th century intonation) Hey there, boys!

FIRST STONEMASON
The very best to you, miss.

KALINA
Who’s that lying down there’?

FIRST STONEMASON
Mistress Kalina. Now whether she is lying or standing is something you, Miss, would know better than either of us poor wretches.

SECOND STONEMASON
They say she was young and beautiful. Like a fine meadow. So fertile that if a woman fell upon her she would lay seed, let alone a man, who is always so quick to do so.

KALINA
How come she kicked the bucket so young and beautiful?

SECOND STONEMASON
The dead tore her to pieces before the very eyes of her betrothed. Serves her right for roaming around theaters at night. Like you. If you’re looking for a man, you’ve found one!

(Comes up to Kalina, who suddenly bursts into the Beatles song “Yesterday”. The stonemasons run away without looking back. Out of the darkness appears Kyr Avram Brankovich.)

AVRAM
You called me?

KALINA
I certainly did. I am the biggest mistake of your life.

AVRAM
You want revenge? (Visibly frightened)

KALINA
No, I want to strike a little deal. I want to sell you my death.

AVRAM
(Overcoming his fear) What do I get out of it?

KALINA
You know my death but not your own. Shall we swap? Yours might be worse than mine.

AVRAM
Or better.

KALINA
It can’t be better. I already know how you’re going to die and you know that I know. So, you want to or not’?

AVRAM
I want to know how and when I shall die, but I do not want to buy your death. My own is good enough for me. It is whatever it is and I do not need a different one.

KALINA
All right then. Come with me. (Walks over to the tent standing in the darkness in the middle of the theater.) Now you will hear how you are going to die. It will be in 1689, near Kladovo, in a battle between the Austrians and the Serbs on the one hand and the Turks on the other. (Kalina pulls back the flap of the tent and we see the spacious interior covered in carpets and rugs. Sleeping on one of them is Cohen. Masudi and Pasha are sitting on cushions, talking.) Do you know any of those people in there?

AVRAM
I know the younger one. He’s my valet, Masudi. (Kalina signals to Brankovich to be quiet. The people inside the tent begin to talk.)

PASHA
You say you’re a dream reader?

MASUDI
I am. I can catch somebody else’s dream the way you catch a rabbit.

PASHA
See that fellow asleep over there? He grooms my horses. He’s got sleeping sickness and will never wake up. Can you read what he is dreaming about?

MASUDI
Of course I can. I’ve already been killed in other people’s dreams. He’s dreaming about a man named Avram Brankovich. Since this Avram Brankovich is currently dying, he’s dreaming about Brankovich’s death.

PASHA
That means that by dreaming about Brankovich dying he can actually experience death and still stay alive?

MASUDI
Yes, but he cannot wake up and tell us about it.

PASHA
But you can see him dreaming about Brankovich’s death?

MASUDI
I can and I shall immediately inform you what it is like for a man to die and how he feels. (Walks over to the sleeping Cohen and stares at him.) Strange. Most strange. Brankovich isn’t on the ground.

PASHA
Where is he then?

MASUDI
On a tall pillar.

PASHA
And what is he doing there?

MASUDI
Three Turks are shooting arrows at him. They have told him that if he survives the fifth arrow, his life will be spared. They are shooting the arrows at him and he is counting. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine ... Now he’s fallen off the pillar and stopped counting. In his fall he collides with something hard, immovable and immense. It is not the ground; it is death. But in that same death, between two stabs of the arrow, he dies once more, he dies a boy’s premature death. Brankovich is lying behind a stove built like a colorful little church and he is peeing. When he pees out his entire past he will be dead. But look, now he’s dying a third time. This third death of Brankovich’s is barely noticeable. Hundreds of years seem to stand between his first two deaths and this third. Look, his hair is falling out all at once, as though a fur hat was being knocked off an already dead head. Now your groom’s dream is as barren as a dry riverbed.

KALINA
(Lets the flap of the tent fall.) Now will you buy my death in place of yours?

AVRAM
No. What I saw are not my deaths, they are the deaths of my children.

KALINA
Of course. Every person dies with the death of his children. But he experiences it as his own, just as his children will suffer the death of their own off spring…. Now let’s make a deal. I will take your three deaths, whoever’s they are, upon myself. I will die again, this time instead of you. You won’t feel your three deaths, I will.

AVRAM
And what do you want in return?

KALINA
For you to give me one day of your life in exchange for the three deaths.

AVRAM
All right. What do you want a day of life for’?

KALINA
I want to fuck somebody I loved one more time. I want to love him forever and a day.

AVRAM
I think the loss is yours, Kalina. I know what you want to do now and whom you want to meet. You want Petkutin! Before you take my three deaths ponder whether that encounter of yours will work.

KALINA
Don’t You worry about my problems.

AVRAM
I’ll tell you a secret before we part. If on your way to Petkutin, for he is the one you are looking for, a blue flame flashes, you will find him, but if there is a burst of red flame, you shall never find the one you love and are searching for through lives and deaths.

(Holds his hand out to Kalina and his thumb touches hers.) There’s your day! (In Kalina’s part of the ancient theater the sun suddenly rises. Kalina turns from a ghost into a beauty, there is color in her face, her body suddenly appears naked in all its former glory; in Brankovich’s part of the theater it is still a star studded, moonlit night. Kalina’s long mane of wavy hair, just as it was during her lifetime, is eye catching. Brankovich sadly goes off into the night.)

KALINA
(Carries the blue and gold Khazar jar into the middle of her day. Brings water and starts to make Petkutin out of the mud. Places the mixture in the jar and whispers the 40th Psalm.) “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and he set my feet upon a rock and established my goings….” (The nearby church bell rings three times, Kalina smashes the jar with the stick, it releases a red flame and Petkutin does not emerge from inside. The jar is empty. Kalina collapses onto the ground, sobbing in despair.) “Ah, my good angel, have you completely abandoned me?” (Her day fades, she rises to her feet and gazes at the sun. When it sets, Kalina screams three times and her hair drops off like a hat. Then she turns back into the ghost she was before.)

AUTHORS NOTE