Alimento

The room is dimly lit. Most of the light comes from two spots on the actors. At downstage left, CELIA and LYMAN sit across from each other at a small table set for three. At each place setting an oversized menu. At upstage right, a DARK-HAIRED MAN stands casually, his back against a thick wood pillar. He holds a large, silver-toned serving platter under one arm and scans the room continuously, his eyes stopping frequently, anxiously, at Lyman and Celia’s table.

CELIA
I long for the days when I ate fat black grapes and spat out the seeds wherever I wanted. Never had to worry where they fell, whether or not they took root, when the next bunch would come.

LYMAN
‘Spat’?

CELIA
Why am I doomed to carry the bulk of the world’s hunger in my belly?

LYMAN
‘Bulk’?

(CELIA picks up her menu; scans it perfunctorily.)

CELIA
There’s nothing on this menu.
(beat)
There’s never anything to eat anymore.
(beat)
Let’s go someplace else.

LYMAN
We’re getting a free meal here.

CELIA
Free? Is that all you care about? That it’s free? We’re getting a big free nothing so far.
(looks around)
And we’re practically the only ones here. Just one inattentive waiter and us.

LYMAN
Hunger isn’t free. It makes you pay.

CELIA
You just said it was free.

LYMAN
‘Free’ is relative–in the appetite of the consumer–in a manner of speaking.

CELIA
Free or not free, related or not, manners or not, I’m hungry. I want to eat. I came here to eat. Isn’t that why we came here? To eat? Why else come here?

LYMAN
How much do you have to offer to relieve your hunger? They take cash, plastic, barter. Whatever you’ve got. And the hungrier you are, the more they’ll take.

(His comments stop her short rant. She looks at him for a moment, probing.)

CELIA
So … we’re not going anyplace else, then? We’re eating here.

(SHE scans the room, peers into the dark spaces.)

CELIA
(disappointed, but resigned) Here.

LYMAN.
This is the place–the right place for people with appetites like yours.

(CELIA looks around again.)

CELIA And yours?

(HE seems about to answer but instead just shrugs. SHE peers into the dark corners.)

CELIA
(slightly sarcastically) Not much on ambiance.
(beat)
Oh, I’m so hungry.
(looks around for a waiter)
Can we get some service?

LYMAN
It’s self-service. You order from the menu, signal your order number, then go pick it up at the counter when they call your number.

CELIA
Food by numbers. It’s probably disgusting food, too. Well, if it’s self-serve, then what’s he for?

(indicating the Dark-Haired Man)

LYMAN He’s waiting.

CELIA
He is a waiter, then? Not some performance artist?

LYMAN In a way.

CELIA
He’s a waiter. Call him over so we can order.

(sarcastically) By the numbers.

LYMAN
He’s not that kind of waiter. He’s waiting.

CELIA
Well, what’s he waiting for, then? I mean, he’s scoping out the room, holding a serving tray and all, like waiters do.

LYMAN
That’s his plate. He’s waiting for scraps and leftovers.

CELIA
Leftovers? Why? The food’s free here. You just said so.

LYMAN
For us. Not for him.

CELIA
He’s waiting to eat scraps? Like some dog? That’s disgusting. So what does he do? Gobble it off customer’s plates?

LYMAN
He serves himself. But he has to beg for it first. He’s not allowed to eat indiscriminately.

CELIA
(sneaks a glance at the Dark-Haired Man)
That’s good. He looks kind of scruffy. I’m not sure I want him anywhere near my food.

LYMAN
What’s the difference between the food you eat and the food you leave on your plate?

CELIA
Is he homeless? Oh, God, he’s homeless. They let a homeless person in here to beg customers for their leftovers!? That’s–that’s filthy. Probably violates some kind of health law. Someone should report them. God, it’s almost enough to kill my hunger.

LYMAN
I hope not.

CELIA
Are you sure we can’t eat someplace else?

LYMAN
It’s too late to go anyplace else. This is the only place open that still has food.

(The DARK-HAIRED MAN shifts his weight from one foot to the other and in the process loose his grip on the platter. It drops with a loud clatter and startles CELIA.)

CELIA
My God! What is his problem? I’m going to go over there and tell him to leave.

(She starts to rise but LYMAN grabs her by the wrist before she manages to stand.)

LYMAN You can’t.

(She plops back into her seat as the DARK-HAIRED MAN reaches down to pick up the platter.)

LYMAN
He can’t leave.

CELIA
That’s stupid. Why can’t he leave? They should actually throw him out. He’s bothering the customers.

LYMAN
All he did was shift his weight from one foot to the other. Otherwise, he hasn’t moved. The platter dropped by accident. A twist of fate, you might say.

CELIA
Well, he bothers me. Now I won’t be able to eat when our food arrives. I’ll gag on it thinking about him eating my leftovers.
(beat)
And what do you mean he can’t leave?

(The DARK-HAIRED MAN squirms, bends and contorts his body to pick up the platter, but he’s tethered to the wall and can’t manage to reach it. He grows frantic–whimpers softly as he thrashes about in frustration, unable to reach his tray. His frustration turns to anger, then rage. He kicks hard at the platter. It skids across the room and crashes into Celia’s chair. The DARK-HAIRED MAN howls. CELIA jumps up from her seat and turns to face him.)

CELIA Stop that!

(SHE stomps to stand in front of him, just out of arm’s reach.)

CELIA
Stop that noise this instant!

(At the table LYMAN raises five fingers on one hand, and three on the other. The DARK- HAIRED MAN continues to howl.)

CELIA
I said shut up! All that howling’s not going to get you a thing! Not food, not water, not friends!

(The DARK-HAIRED MAN’s howls ratchet down to whimpers. He starts to cry.)

CELIA
That’s better. But you’ve got to stop crying, too. It’s so unattractive–and bothersome–especially when people are trying to have a nice meal in peace and comfort.

(The DARK-HAIRED MAN continues to cry softly, as if he’ll never stop.)

CELIA
You don’t listen, do you? Why don’t you listen?

(Still crying, the DARK-HAIRED MAN reaches his arms out to her. She jumps back.)

DARK-HAIRED MAN
My plate. My plate.

CELIA
Your plate?

(SHE looks back at the platter next to her seat.)

CELIA
You want your plate?

(HE nods.)

CELIA
Well, I’ll get it for you but you’re going to have to stop crying. Otherwise there won’t be any leftovers for you. We’ll take home doggie bags and give them to the dogs. That’s what they’re for. Right?

(The DARK-HAIRED MAN growls.)

CELIA
What was that? What a horrible noise. What does it mean? Are you disrespecting me? Is that what that repulsive noise in your throat is?

(The DARK-HAIRED MAN growls again, louder.)

CELIA
Again? After what I just offered you? You throw it back in my face?

(The DARK-HAIRED MAN howls.)

CELIA
All right. Have it your way.

(SHE walks back to where the platter lies and stomps on it– over and over, as the DARK- HAIRED MAN’s howls intensify. Using her hands and feet SHE twists and bends it until it’s no more than a scrap of useless metal. Then SHE flings it offstage left, out of sight. The DARK-HAIRED MAN lets out an anguished cry, then slumps against the pillar, defeated.)

CELIA
So there.

(A VOICE calls out.)

VOICE
Nomber Three. Nomber Fie.

(LYMAN rises from his chair and crosses upstage. CELIA sits in her seat. She picks up her menu, smirks at it, then tosses it away. It slides upstage out of sight. LYMAN returns with two covered plates of food on a large silver- toned tray and sets it on the table.)

CELIA
Oh, good. Food at last. I certainly worked up an appetite. But at least we can eat in peace. You know, sometimes a body just has to stand up.

(SHE reaches for one of the plates.)

LYMAN
That’s not for you.

CELIA
Oh.

(SHE reaches for the other plate.)

LYMAN
That’s not for you either.

CELIA
You didn’t order for me? They’re both yours?

LYMAN
I ordered them.

CELIA
What about me?

LYMAN
You need to make your choices and place your order.

CELIA
I already threw away the menu.

(SHE grabs the third menu and reads it.)

CELIA
It’s blank. There’s nothing on it. Let me use yours.

(SHE grabs LYMAN’s menu.)

CELIA
It’s blank, too. How did you order from a blank menu?

LYMAN
They’re customer-specific and single-use. It’s what this place is known for. Besides, I come here often. I already know every item that’s on the menu.

CELIA
Well, how am I supposed to eat if I can’t see the choices to order?

LYMAN
Guess you’re not.

CELIA
Not what? Not supposed to eat or not supposed to order?

(LYMAN shrugs.)

CELIA
You could share yours with me. I don’t care what you ordered. I’m so hungry I could eat a yak.

LYMAN
No, I can’t. There are consequences.

CELIA
Oh really? Consequences … Such as?

(LYMAN glances for a long moment at the Dark-Haired Man, who’s still slumped, dejected, against the pillar.)

LYMAN
You know, you weren’t very nice to him.

CELIA
I can’t stand crying. Or begging.

LYMAN
You could have given him his plate back. But instead you destroyed it. Why?

(CELIA squirms and shifts her position on her chair. She looks down at the tray of food on the table and touches the cover of one, then the other.)

CELIA
(surprised)
They’re cold.

LYMAN
I know.
(beat)
Answer the question. Why did you destroy his plate?

(SHE stares at him, trying to decide something. HE returns her stare, silently demands an answer. She opens her mouth to speak but stops. Starts again.)

CELIA
(forcefully, her voice rising)
Because I didn’t want him to eat my leftovers. Because he’d make me leave enough on the plate for leftovers. Because I wouldn’t be able to eat everything on my plate because I knew he’d be waiting for leftovers! I’d leave as hungry as I came–even though I ate. All because I couldn’t have everything I ordered!

(SHE pauses for a moment and looks speculatively at Lyman. Then realization dawns.)

CELIA
And you knew it! You picked this place on purpose knowing I wouldn’t be able to eat my fill! Knowing he–
(indicating the Dark-Haired Man with her head)
would be here, waiting with his stupid platter! A platter, for god’s sake! Not a simple, regular plate!

(SHE screams.)

CELIA
I’m so hungry! Why can’t I eat!? What is it with you? You bring me to this place to eat then keep finding ways to keep me from eating! You bring food you say isn’t for me and I can’t have! Why?!

(SHE stops ranting suddenly and looks intently at Lyman.)

CELIA Why?

(LYMAN takes the covers off the plates of food. The food is wrapped burrito-style in butcher paper.)

LYMAN
Take one. Number Three or Five. It doesn’t matter.

(CELIA hesitates, unsure.)

LYMAN
Go ahead. Help yourself.

(CELIA reaches for the one closest to her. Gingerly, she unwraps it. She’s puzzled by what she sees and opens the paper fully, spreading it flat. The food is gorgeous– colorfully, artfully arranged plastic. She stares at the display for a long moment. Behind her, the DARK- HAIRED MAN moans softly and moves as if to stand up.)

CELIA
(rising from her chair; to Lyman) You bastard!

LYMAN
It was my chance. My first, last and only chance. I only had three, you see.

CELIA
(pacing back and forth)
You used me? For some mysterious, perverted quest of yours?
(beat)
All I wanted was to eat! Everybody eats! It’s basic–human survival. Why did you need to go through all this–this–? What’s the point? What were you after? What do you get in return? You’re clearly not hungry. You don’t seem to need to eat.

(SHE stops pacing.)

CELIA
And just what is this mysterious last chance of yours? Why is it so important that you had to put me through all this?

LYMAN
I thought it would work. I had faith in you–your voracious hunger. You’ll do just about anything to ease your hunger. Feed mine in the process. Release him–

(indicating the Dark-Haired Man) from his.

(CELIA struggles to understand and respond. She opens and closes her mouth, tries to get words out, but she can’t seem to figure out what to say. She pushes.)

CELIA
Feed yours in the process …? what the hell does that mean?

(LYMAN hesitates.)

CELIA
Are you going to tell me what’s going really on? Or should I leave now–and forever? Take this starving body and march it decisively out the door. Never again to have even the slightest contact with you. Or even care.

LYMAN
You still haven’t figured it out, have you?

CELIA
(annoyed)
Would I be asking if I had?

(LYMAN rewraps the plastic food in the butcher paper and places both bundles in his pocket. He stands.)

LYMAN
You are my food–or rather, your ravenous hunger is what feeds me–what you do in its name. It consumes so completely. It’s so intoxicating–voracious, never satiated. And it feeds me completely —fills me–so I don’t have to be hungry.

(LYMAN stares for a long moment at the DARK-HAIRED MAN.)

LYMAN
So I don’t have to bleed. Or cry. It’s that I can’t stand to be hungry. I can’t stand to be in such want. That’s all.

(CELIA falls back into her chair, stunned, seeming not to understand. The DARK-HAIRED MAN mumbles something unintelligible. LYMAN walks stage right, stops and turns back to Celia.)

LYMAN
By the way, about your leaving, now or ever. This place is open for starving customers twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, always. But it’ll be a while yet for you. You haven’t eaten yet.

(HE exits. CELIA sits for a long moment, confused, still trying to understand. She gets up and crosses to stand before the Dark-Haired Man. HE rises to a fully standing position, straightens his clothes, looks uncertainly at her. She glances at him but doesn’t seem to see him, then looks around the place as if searching for something she lost but can’t quite remember what it is.)

CELIA
(to no one in particular)
We could have been friends.

VOICE
Nomber Seven. Nomber Nine.

(The DARK-HAIRED MAN perks up. Looks around, searching. LIGHTS DIM, leaving only a low-level spot on the platter on the table. BLACKOUT.)

END OF PLAY

 

 


elena minor is the author of TITULADA and founding editor of PALABRA. Her work has been published in more than two dozen journals and anthologized in Angels of the Americlypse, BAX 2015 and Coiled Serpent. She teaches community-based creative writing to high school students.

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