The Innocent Gaze of Irene Jacob

A play in one act

CHARACTERS

Sherry: 31, blue short-sleeved plain blouse over purple shorts, blue flip-flops, long straight hair.

Amir: 33, grey-striped pajamas (both shirt and pants), barefoot, shirt collar halfway turned-up, mussed hair, one-day’s worth of stubble.

TIME

The present, late morning.

PLACE

Amir and Sherry’s one-bedroom apartment in Tehran, Iran. Their kitchen is on the right which opens to the living room at the center. The bathroom is a darkened room in the far-left corner. The side of the bathroom facing the audience is made of glass. The TV is on, mostly showing commercials and music clips on low volume, except when noted in the play (the audience cannot see the screen). There’s a large travel bag open on the floor next to a wooden coffee table, near the TV.

 (SHERRY is in the kitchen. She’s humming to the music on the TV and every now and then takes a quick look at it. She’s spreading oil on a medium-sized frying pan. She cracks eggs on the edge of the pan and empties the shells, each time causing a sharp sizzle. A few pieces of the eggshell find their way into the pan. SHERRY considers taking them out and then ignores it. When she picks up the fourth egg, she hesitates before breaking it.)

SHERRY

(Loud.)

How many eggs—

(The sound of the toilet flushing swallows Sherry’s high-pitched voice. She falls silent, shaking her head. Then, she picks up a spoon and stirs the egg yolks and whites. AMIR exits the bathroom and smiles victoriously in SHERRY’s direction. He slams the door shut and waits for SHERRY to acknowledge him. She doesn’t.)

AMIR

            (Shouts.)

What a brilliant suction this flush has!

(AMIR flaps his hands in the air, in an attempt to dry them.)

SHERRY

You don’t have to yell.

AMIR

Wanted to make sure you heard me.

SHERRY

I’m not yelling and you’re hearing me.

(AMIR retracts a stool and sits on it. SHERRY places sausage pieces on eggs. The sizzle resumes.)

SHERRY

(Waits for the sizzling to die down.)

How many eggs did you want?

AMIR

As many as you see fit.

(SHERRY removes an indigo bowl from the cabinet, places it on the island and grates cheese into it.)

SHERRY

I wouldn’t know what’s going on in your belly.

AMIR

But you do know it was just emptied.

(SHERRY wipes the sweat off her brow.)

SHERRY

Gross! Can’t you see I’m cooking?

AMIR

Come on! Don’t ruin your continental breakfast with that frown.

(AMIR approaches SHERRY from behind and places his hands on her cheeks. SHERRY jumps in place.)

SHERRY

Don’t touch me. Your hands are wet.

AMIR

(Surprised.)

It’s just soap and water.

SHERRY

Whatever!

(Amir looks around, finds a fork, punctures a piece of the omelet right from the hot pan, and loads up his fork.)

AMIR

(Sniffs.)

I love this smell. Reminds me of the food carts in Bangkok. Oh, how I miss strolling down those tight and narrow alleys.

(SHERRY collects the cheese curds haphazardly spread around the area. At first, she’s uncertain what to do with them. Eventually, she empties them back into the bowl.)

SHERRY

What else was tight and narrow in Thailand?

AMIR

(Ignores her.)

Dammit! I burned myself.

(SHERRY twists the fork out of AMIR’s hand and tosses it in the sink. It lands on a heap of unwashed dishes and makes a loud clattering sound.)

SHERRY

Be a good boy and go back to your seat. I’ll bring you your food when it’s ready.

(AMIR swaggers back to his stool. He turns to the TV which is showing a commercial about a tour to Malaysia and Singapore. SHERRY sprinkles cheese curds on the omelet.)

AMIR

I wish we could go to Thailand together.

SHERRY

No one invited me.

AMIR

You’re aware of our financial straits. It was a business trip anyway.

(SHERRY grabs two teacups and fills them with tea. Then, she carries them to the island.)

SHERRY

I don’t really get it. What was the point of replacing our Iranian toilet with a Western-style one? It cost us like two tickets to Thailand.

AMIR

Come on, Western-style is awesome. You relax on the rim and leaf through your magazine while doing it. What’s the point of squatting over a hole in that awkward position?

SHERRY

I don’t mind squatting. I love to squat. I long to squat—

AMIR

Now you’re being ridiculous. These days, everywhere we go, we see Western-style toilets. Don’t you envy other people’s toilets?

(SHERRY jerks back her head and gazes him in awe. He laughs.)

Okay, maybe you don’t.

SHERRY

If there’s anything to envy, it’s their peaceful life, their warm relationsh—

AMIR

Warm relationship? Seriously? Like Elnaz and Masoud?

SHERRY

You’re always on the hunt for one of my friends to have a tiny squabble with her husband to use it against me.

AMIR

A tiny squabble?

SHERRY

Their marriage has slipped into a temporary phase. It’ll correct itself.

AMIR

Temporary phase? They’ve been married for four years and have been stuck in this temporary phase for three and a half of those.

SHERRY

Stop picking on my friend. I shouldn’t have told you about their fight. I’m sure things’ll go back to normal once I return from my trip.

(AMIR notices the travel bag on the floor. It’s covered by a couple of unfolded dresses and a long scarf. Next to it lays a pair of light-yellow loafers.)

AMIR

Have you packed by the way?

SHERRY

As you see, I’m not done. It’s just four days anyway.

AMIR

(Sighs.)

So short. Going all the way to Isfahan for only three performances.

(SHERRY turns the stove nub, cuts the omelet and extracts half on a plate and puts it down on the island in front of AMIR.)

SHERRY

How many Isfahanis are interested in watching a postmodern play?

AMIR

No, I mean you could stay longer by yourself. Isfahan has lots to offer.

SHERRY

You love it to be left alone with your films, don’t you?

AMIR

I can’t watch films with you around?

SHERRY

Not if Irene Jacob is in them, I suppose.

(AMIR ignores her. He puts a bit of omelet on a piece of bread, salts it, and takes it to his mouth. Sherry observes him.)

The corners are a bit burned. I should have removed it from the heat earlier.

AMIR

Food made with love is always a treat… Why don’t you try it yourself? Want me to make you a wrap?

(Without waiting for SHERRY’s response, AMIR cuts a slice of bread and steps towards the pan on the stove. He’s about to fish some omelet with his fork when his finger touches the hot edge of the pan. He quickly withdraws his hand.)

SHERRY

Watch out! It’s hot. Let me empty the rest onto the plate.

AMIR

That’s okay.

(AMIR continues to make her a wrap and puts it on her plate. SHERRY starts to eat. For a while the only noise in the house is the music coming from the TV that filters through the hum of the hood.)

SHERRY

(Swallows the last piece more quickly)

You’re obsessed with Irene Jacob, in a morbid way. The other day you told Elnaz how she looked like her. And now you’re writing a critique about her.

AMIR

(chuckles while chewing)

I’m not writing a critique about her. Next month is late Kieslowski’s seventieth birthday. 24 Frames is running a tribute for him. Each critic is writing a review on one of his movies. They assigned Red to me.

SHERRY

They did or did you ask them to?

AMIR

I can’t believe we’re actually having this conversation.

SHERRY

Why not Blue?

AMIR

Then you’d have said I fell in love with Binoche.

(SHERRY opens her mouth to say something but decides against it.)

Eat your omelet before it gets cold.

(SHERRY sinks her fork into her food and reluctantly nibbles at it.)

SHERRY

(looks down at her plate.)

Even in bed with me, you’re thinking about her.

AMIR

You don’t even bother to ask; you just enlighten me about my bedroom fantasies.

SHERRY

I know what I’m talking about.

AMIR

Now you’ve run out of women around us and are targeting a poor French actress?

SHERRY

Does it matter if she’s in France? You like traveling solo.

AMIR

So, the only problem here is how to get myself to Paris? Irene Jacob is waiting for me with a bouquet of roses at the arrival area?

SHERRY

The problem is that you’re living with me, but your thoughts wander to France.

AMIR

Oh God! God! I feel like I’m living in a Woody Allen flick.

SHERRY

It’s not a film. It’s our lives.

AMIR

On what fucking grounds do you make such an absurd accusation?

(SHERRY is hesitant for a moment, then makes up her mind and exits the scene. AMIR sips from his tea while watching her trail, now curious. SHERRY returns with a bunch of A4 papers. She passes him one.)

SHERRY

Look for yourself.

(AMIR peers over the paper. It’s a page full of sentences and several scratching. AMIR shrugs, appearing clueless about the point she’s trying to make.)

AMIR

What about it?

SHERRY

Here.

(AMIR follows SHERRY’s finger that settles somewhere at the bottom of the page.)

AMIR

This is your evidence of betrayal?

SHERRY

First, you wrote “innocent gaze of Irene Jacob”. Then, you scratched “innocent” and wrote “ethereal.” Again, you changed that to “graceful.” and finally to “exquisite.”

AMIR

Sherry! In this thousand-word piece, there are over a hundred cross-outs. And you’re bickering over this?

(SHERRY is still staring at the words, shaking her head.)

SHERRY

   (Softly.)

This is different. You thought more about it.

AMIR

Turn off the hood. I couldn’t hear you.

(SHERRY reaches over and turns off the oven vent. She leans against the stove.)

SHERRY

This is different. You deliberated.

AMIR

Were you there when I was (draws imaginary quotes) “deliberating?”

SHERRY

You crossed out “innocent” and above it wrote “ethereal”. And of all the scratches on this page, you only crossed one word out three times. “Innocent” to “ethereal” to “graceful” to “exquisite.” Three times!

AMIR

Are you an actress or Sherlock Holmes? Another reason to type my shit from the get-go.

SHERRY

You didn’t answer me.

AMIR

You could teach Medea. Seriously.

SHERRY

You’ve said it before.

AMIR

Did I? When?

SHERRY

(Wistfully, savoring every word as a faint smile creeps into her mouth.)

Five years ago, when you came to Roudaki Theater to write a review on our rendition of Euripides’ Medea. After the show, you snuck into the dressing room to tell me no one in the past twenty-five centuries could act Medea’s insanity better than me.

AMIR

How could I tell if you were better than some Greek actress twenty-five centuries ago? I was just trying to get into your pants. I had no idea you’d be like this in your personal life.

SHERRY

(wears a serious face again.)

But you liked it, didn’t you?

AMIR

For the stage, yes. Not here.

SHERRY

I don’t have a good feeling Amir. What am I supposed to do? Something is wrong, I don’t know what.

AMIR

The wrong is that you’re going on a trip and you’re already missing me.

SHERRY

I’m going crazy. I feel like we’re turning into two strangers under the same roof. Because of my travels, maybe? Or because of the things you do—

AMIR

Things I do? What did I do wrong? Well, other than this. (He lifts the paper and flaps it) It’s my job to write. In fact, if it wasn’t for my writing we wouldn’t have met. The way I praised you, no one has ever praised Brando.

SHERRY

Maybe that’s why.

AMIR

Because you don’t want me to name other women in my reviews? To admire them? I’m supposed to only write about you?

(SHERRY is silent.)

No, it’s not that Sherry. I’ve been writing for years and you’ve never complained.

SHERRY

Amir, it’s not something to rationalize.

AMIR

I’m a critic, that’s my language.

SHERRY

And I’m an actress.

AMIR

To hell with stereotypes. Tell me what you want? You want me to remove all the references to Irene Jacob? Or, do you want me to write she was the film’s Achilles heel?

SHERRY

My problem with you is that you take every serious thing as a joke.

AMIR

And you take jokes seriously.

SHERRY

Amir, it’s not a joke. It’s not a joke.

AMIR

I offered to change the text.

SHERRY

It’s not about Irene Jacob.

AMIR

But you started with her. Didn’t you say I told Elnaz she looked like her? Then, didn’t you say I brought her name in my review? And then—

SHERRY

Amir, let it go. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, okay?

AMIR

I know what’s wrong with you. You’ve grown sensitive. Not only with me. With everyone. Why don’t you go out with your friends anymore? Why do you prefer to be alone? That’s why you look for an excuse to rummage through my work.

SHERRY

Nowadays, no one can stand themselves, let alone see me. I’ve turned into a whiny woman. Even Elnaz is drifting away. Well, she has her own issues.

AMIR

If you know this why do you bring tension into our life over nothing?

SHERRY

It’s not nothing. Something is wrong. Something is not in its right place.

AMIR

Okay. Find it and then we can fix it together.

(AMIR extends his hand and puts it on hers. Unsettled, SHERRY draws away.)

SHERRY

Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.

(She keeps repeating don’t-touch-me until the consonants join together and turn into a hissing sound. She notices AMIR’s surprised face. She licks her lips and swallows.)

Why did you come to bed so late last night? You wanted me to fall asleep first?

AMIR

(Rolls his eyes.)

I was working.

SHERRY

What was so important?

(She glances at the papers on the table and takes a deep breath)

Of course. It was important.

(They look at each other, frustrated, as if they both realize they’re stuck in a vicious circle. SHERRY lifts the pan and throws the leftover into the garbage bin and drops the pan in the sink and then turns the tap forcefully to rinse it.)

AMIR

Sherry. Darling. Stop it. You have a flight tonight. You have a performance tomorrow. And it’s not Medea. Stop acting out the part of Medea. Medea is done. Medea is dead.

(SHERRY tries to interrupt him with a chuckle, but he doesn’t let her. He gathers the papers and aligns them.)

I have to type the final version. And you should take a break and go for a stroll. The weather is nice today. Pick up Elnaz on your way perhaps.

SHERRY

(Slides the cheese grater under the running water)

Elnaz’ back pain has returned. This time it’s more severe than ever. Her doctor has advised her to stay home. It’s so serious he forbade her from using Iranian-style toilets which is why they—

(SHERRY freezes mid-sentence. She balances her gaze on AMIR who is leaning on the counter, holding the papers with one hand. He’s silent, as if observing her next move. SHERRY tries to say something but only gasps. AMIR takes one step and shuts the running tap. When AMIR makes sure of SHERRY’s indecision, he approaches and grasps her arms.)

AMIR

Sherry! Darling!

(SHERRY pushes AMIR with all her might.)

SHERRY

    (Screams.)

I SAID, DON’T TOUCH ME.

(AMIR jumps back and puts a hand on the stove to keep his balance. The stove surface is still hot and pushes him further back. TV broadcasts news on the recent wildfire in Canada. AMIR picks up a pen on the coffee table and draws a line on the paper.)

AMIR

There you go! Irene Jacob is gone. Ceases to exist. Stop it now.

SHERRY

(still nonplused. Almost moaning)

Elnaz? Elnaz?

(AMIR drops the pen and raises his hands. SHERRY begins to cough, incessantly to fight off nausea. She presses her chest and retches a few times. Her mouth and eyes are wide open. She takes two steps back, her eyes still on AMIR. Without looking back her hand searches for something to lean on. AMIR gestures as if he’ll move towards her, but she waves her hand to stop him. She can’t take it any longer and dashes to the bathroom. The bathroom lights turn on to reveal its interior through the glass. SHERRY kneels in front of the Western-style toilet, hugs it and throws up. AMIR is motionless, standing in the kitchen and hearing her gag. He turns on the oven vent hood to muffle SHERRY’s disturbing retches. The hood whirl is too loud now, unusually so. Curtain drops.)

The End


Mehdi M. Kashani lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. His fiction and nonfiction can be found in Passages North, The Rumpus, Catapult, The Malahat Review, Wigleaf, The Walrus, Bellevue Literary Review, Four Way Review, The Minnesota Review, Emrys Journal (for which he won 2019 Sue Lile Inman Fiction Award), The Fiddlehead among others. He has work forthcoming in Epiphany. To learn more about him, visit his website: http://www.mehdimkashani.com

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