Stage Directions for Knives (prompt 1 – 313 words)

by | Oct 17, 2020 | Dean Cleaning One | 13 comments

Start with the Grandfather opening a pocketknife. An apple in his hand, which he carefully peels.

The girl, seated on the floor, rests her head against her grandfather’s leg. The cane chair is a sturdy relic.

There is a smell of mothballs in the tiny back room. The knife glints silver as red petals fall onto a white linen handkerchief.

The girl and grandfather share the apple slices.

In the next scene there there is a stroke, an ambulance, and a hospital, where the girl stares at a fly buzzing the grandfather’s catheter.

In what the audience thinks is the end there is a funeral.

Intermission – 15 minutes

The next scene is a day or a year or five years later. The girl’s brother enters her bedroom in the middle of the night, holding a pocketknife.

Some in the audience will recognise it as the grandfather’s knife.

Others will not be surprised when the next morning, the brother denies what happened that night.

A less bold director could end with the girl crying because no one will believe her. This option is clearly stated in the playwright’s introduction.

Other directors will follow the next stage direction, which clearly shows the girl creeping into the kitchen, past her brother who is passed out on a sofa

She opens a drawer, pulls out a steak knife. She looks down at her brother, steak knife looming over his face.

Originally, this is where the play ends. However, subsequent directors have changed the ending, always with the playwright’s permission.

Some end with the girl hacking her brother to death. Others with the girl putting the steak knife under her pillow.

In my version the grandfather doesn’t die.

He takes the girl to live with him in his gated senior community.

There are oblique references to the girl’s brother, who died young.

This version has never been performed.

13 Comments

  1. Clementine Burnley

    Hi Roberta,

    I did not foresee where this took me, and the way you construct leaves me space to fully inhabit the piece myself.

    There is a sense of strong love, concreate loss (the image of the fly and the catheter was ‘oof’ it hit me. There is real menace too, in the atmosphere around the brother and sister and a sense of control on your part as the writer as there are powerful forces held in what you share and what you leave off stage

    I love the end. This version has never been performed.

    • Paul Beckman

      Roberta-What a fine story and the way you told it. “Start with the Grandfather opening a pocketknife. An apple in his hand, which he carefully peels.”
      “The girl and grandfather share the apple slices.”
      “In what the audience thinks is the end there is a funeral.”
      And then the darkness of the story: “The next scene is a day or a year or five years later. The girl’s brother enters her bedroom in the middle of the night, holding a pocketknife.”
      and these three lines are gold:
      “He takes the girl to live with him in his gated senior community.

      There are oblique references to the girl’s brother, who died young.

      This version has never been performed.”
      Wow!

  2. Tommy Dean

    Love the calm opening, but still some tension with the knife, the first word being start is a great way to launch in. Love the cane chair being a sturdy relic, the way it creates a bit of a metaphor when associated with the grandfather! Really nice juxtaposition! I love the patience of these single sentence segments, the way they almost read as paintings in my mind for each line. Love the way you add the white space by stating calmly the problem, and skip the ambulance and get the grandaughter into the hospital. The way you implicate the reader into doing this work!

    Creating a metaphor in the form of a show or play and adding that intermission is really clever, but affecting!

    oh, and how that knife comes back, made more nefarious in its shift not only in time but in the wielder as well!

    “A less bold director could end with the girl crying because no one will believe her. This option is clearly stated in the playwright’s introduction.” oh, this is chilling!

    “This version has never been performed.” Whoa! This is so unique and fresh! So much room for interpretation! Love it!

    • Roberta Beary

      Glad to see you picked up on what I was trying to do. I want you to know I felt safe enough in this workshop to go in a different direction, and take a few risks in my writing.

      • Tommy Dean

        Exactly the kind of environment I was hoping to create and foster!

  3. Christina Rosso-Schneider

    This is so wonderful. I haven’t seen a story structured quite like this before and it works really well. I particularly like the various endings. It feels almost reminiscent of a fairy tale.

    “In my version the grandfather doesn’t die.

    He takes the girl to live with him in his gated senior community.

    There are oblique references to the girl’s brother, who died young.

    This version has never been performed.”

    • Roberta Beary

      Thanks for noticing those nods to my playwright pals. I did a few drafts of this one, it’s very much a work in progress.

  4. Constance Malloy

    I love the format you write this in. The intermission is genius, and I love how the directors make their changes “always with the playwright’s permission,” and then you give the reader the alternate endings. And, the last line makes the whole piece such a satisfying read.

  5. Roberta Beary

    Thanks! I’ve been accursed with the label of writing ‘too dark’ so I am trying to do a work-around in some pieces, to see what that feel like. The ending came out of that attempt.

  6. Meg Tuite

    Hi Roberta!
    First off, never worry when someone says something is too dark! It is only their connection to your work. That is a compliment.
    I love the structure of this piece. I felt the leering brutality of the grandfather from the start. The knife helped to bring me there. And then the intermission which gives the movement of time and also the movement from predator grandfather to brother. And that the ending is not an ending. Yes, you have captured the time capsule of abuse through generations. This is outstanding! LOVE!

  7. Gay Degani

    Roberta, I love how you tell this story. First I love the “staginess” of it. It gives the piece a different feeling than if you left the stage directions out. It makes for the possibilities of seeing the story as truth or fiction and not knowing really what is true and what is not. That is so clever. Terrific story. Congrats. Reminds me of Patty McCormick in “The Bad Seed.” I loved that movie.

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