suite for a dead cat
a play in five acts by Marc Heiden.
a BOY, unemployed
a GIRL, clean
a BUM, scruffy
a CAT, deceased
The play requires a bench (large enough for two people), a shopping bag with handles (large enough for one dead cat), and a pair of chairs.
VOICE: Act One: Early afternoon. A bus stop.
(the BOY is sitting at a bus stop. the BUM approaches, carrying a shopping bag)
BUM: Is anyone sitting here?
(the BUM sits down. the BOY gives him a quick glance and then moves a couple inches away. he is uncomfortable. the BUM stretches out, relaxed. he is enjoying himself)
BUM: This is a nice bench.
BUM: I've tried other benches. This one's the top of the pops. (pauses) Yep. Some good sitting right here.
BUM: Oh, you agree?
BUM: Ah! A fellow connoisseur! It's great to meet a man of taste. Most people, they'll just plop their big old butt down and not give the bench a second look. But it matters, doesn't it? It matters. You know that.
BOY: (checking his watch) Yeah.
BUM: (holding out his hand) Bill Gates, entrepreneur. (the BOY gives him a long, uncertain look. the BUM keeps smiling, grabs the BOY's hand, and shakes it) I really do appreciate you sharing this bench with me. Good choice of bench, too. Shows an uncommon class. A discerning character.
BOY: If you don't mind, I've got to read this story. There was this tragedy that I've got to read about.
BUM: Oh, yeah, yeah. No problem. Just grateful, that's all. (stretches) So where are you headed?
BOY: Downtown. I've got to look for a job.
BUM: Ah, in the employment market, eh?
BOY: Well, outside of it, actually. I'm unemployed.
BUM: That's a shame. Wish I could offer you something in my firm. These are rough times. High finance isn't friendly to honest men, am I right?
BOY: I guess.
BUM: Rough times indeed, but we get by, because there are a few decent people in this world and we've got to look out for each other. Like how you let me have a seat on this bench. I was afraid I was going to have to stand the whole time. My arms were damn near about to fall off.
BUM: Bye bye, arms! Thanks for all the memories!
BOY: (reluctantly) Why?
BOY: Why were your arms going to fall off?
BUM: Well, I've got a pretty huge bargain in this bag here. I'm carrying around a deal bigger than anyone's ever seen. It's big.
BUM: Might come as a surprise, but I'm not connected with any of those big chains. I'm an independent operator. Sure, it means I have to do a lot of the busywork on the transport and shipping end, but it keeps my costs down and allows me to sell some really high-quality merchandise at some pretty amazing prices.
BOY: Sure. That would, um, do that.
BUM: You wouldn't be
ah, forget it. I hate to impose, especially seeing as how we're such good friends and all.
BUM: I should just sit back and enjoy this lovely day.
BOY: No, what?
BUM: Well, I was thinking. You're a man of taste and character. You might be the guy I'm looking for. I mean, I could hold out, wait until some yuppie jerk comes along with a fat wallet and a jaded materialistic outlook, but I like you. I want to do this for you.
BOY: Do what?
BUM: I'm giving you first shot at this item. And because I like you so much, I'm going to waive most of my fees. Forget 'em! They're gone. Some things are more important than money. Like making a friend happy, or saving a little baby that's about to get eaten by a shark. Don't you think?
BUM: Great minds think alike, my friend.
BOY: What are you selling?
BUM: I've just received authorization from the home office to make this item available. It's not on the market yet. We're not talking about a prototype here. This is the real thing. What I'm offering you is a mint condition, top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art dead cat.
BOY: A dead cat?
BUM: Yes, sir. This fantastic piece of merchandise can be yours for the low, low price of one dollar.
BOY: You want to sell me a dead cat.
BUM: Let's get down to brass tacks here. How can I make this deal work for you?
BOY: A dead cat.
BUM: That's right.
BOY: For a dollar.
BUM: Just one dollar.
BOY: (long pause) Seventy-five cents.
BUM: Seventy-five cents?
BOY: What kind of an option package are you offering?
BUM: Options? Whoa there, pal. You go anywhere else in town, you're not going to find this caliber of dead cat for less than five dollars. Now you're asking for
BOY: Power steering.
BUM: Power steering? What are you trying to do to me here?
BOY: I'm not going to commit myself to a new dead cat without power steering.
BUM: Fine. But I can't go lower than eighty-five cents.
BOY: Let's talk financing, then.
BUM: 1.9% APR.
BUM: Nine months?
BOY: Two years, sixty-thousand miles.
BUM: Jesus, man, I've got to eat!
BOY: I've got to have that warranty. How do I know it's not going to come back to life all of a sudden?
BUM: (sighs) Would you describe your position as intractable?
BUM: Fine. You drive a hard bargain. (takes a wad of papers from his pocket) If I can just get your John Hancock on the dotted line, please
(the BOY signs) And a down payment
(the BOY hands him two quarters) Pleasure doing business with you.
(the BUM walks away, leaving the BOY alone with the bag. lights down)
VOICE: Act Two: Later that day. At home.
(the BOY sits, staring at the bag. FX: "Girl from Ipanema" plays. he glances at it from a few different angles. he looks away, but keeps watching it out of the corner of his eyes. finally, he stands and nervously approaches the bag. he gets close and looks at it for a long, tense moment. suddenly, he nudges the bag with his foot. he jumps backward. he sits down, still staring. lights down)
VOICE: Act Three: Even later that day. Still at home.
(lights up. the GIRL enters)
GIRL: I'm home!
BOY: (jumping up to embrace her) Hi! How was your day?
GIRL: Oh, what a day. I'll tell you all about it later. Suffice to say, Freidheim got caught pissing in the secretarial pool.
GIRL: Yep, and it looks like he's getting sent to the showers.
BOY: That's great!
GIRL: (sniffs) Phew! Open a window in here! (pause) Any luck finding a job today?
BOY: No. I, ah
couldn't catch the bus.
GIRL: That's a shame. Well, keep your spirits up. I know you'll do it.
BOY: I will.
GIRL: I have a surprise.
BOY: You do?
GIRL: You might be mad.
BOY: No, what is it?
GIRL: Don't get mad.
BOY: I won't.
GIRL: Well, it's not what you're expecting.
BOY: I don't think I'm expecting anything.
GIRL: In fact, you're probably going to find it pretty disgusting.
BOY: (shoots a quick glance at the bag, and then back to the GIRL) What?
GIRL: (wincing in anticipation) I invited William and Colleen Bryant over for dinner.
BOY: You did?
GIRL: I know how you don't really get along with them, but I could be in line for a promotion, so
BOY: No, it's fine.
GIRL: You mean it?
GIRL: I love you. (kisses the BOY on the cheek) I was thinking I could make tacos.
BOY: Sounds good.
GIRL: I need to buy some refried beans, though.
BOY: We're out of refried beans?
GIRL: Not a bean to speak of.
BOY: Then by all means.
GIRL: (checking her purse) I'm a little short. Do you have some change?
BOY: No, I'm out.
GIRL: You're out?
GIRL: Didn't you say you missed the bus?
GIRL: So you didn't have to spend any bus fare, right?
BOY: Oh. Uh, no, I did.
GIRL: You did?
BOY: I spent it.
GIRL: What did you buy?
BOY: A dead cat.
GIRL: A dead cat?
GIRL: Your bus fare.
GIRL: To find a job.
GIRL: You spent on a dead cat.
GIRL: I can't believe you.
BOY: I know.
GIRL: The whole point of refried beans is that they've already been fried once, so you don't have to waste time frying them again.
GIRL: Has the dead cat been fried in advance?
GIRL: So it's not exactly a substitute for the refried beans, is it?
BOY: I wasn't thinking.
GIRL: Well, obviously. And you can't serve dead cat with red wine, and you know that's all we have.
GIRL: A dead cat?
GIRL: What am I going to do?
BOY: I got a great deal on it.
GIRL: You haven't even taken it out of the bag yet?
BOY: I'm respecting its privacy. It's had a hard week, being dead and all.
GIRL: Trust no one. Open the bag.
GIRL: Maybe the salesman threw in some complimentary refried beans.
BOY: He didn't seem like that kind of guy.
GIRL: You never know. Open it.
(apprehensively, the BOY walks over to the bag. FX: "Thus Spake Zarathustra" begins. the BOY stops. the GIRL urges him on. the BOY, grimacing, picks up the bag but does not look inside. the GIRL motions. he winces. she nods. as the music reaches its crescendo, the BOY overturns the bag and the dead cat falls out)
GIRL: That is a dead cat.
VOICE: Act Four: Late that night. At home.
(lights up. the BOY and the GIRL are sitting, both staring at the dead cat)
BOY: Well, that dinner was a disaster.
BOY: I kept trying to make conversation
GIRL: I know.
BOY: Honey, you know I detest the Bryants.
GIRL: So do I.
BOY: Then why did you make me do all the talking?
BOY: You didn't say a single word all night.
GIRL: I didn't want to be rude.
BOY: To the Bryants? I don't think they'd have minded hearing you talk.
GIRL: No, I didn't want to be rude to the dead cat.
BOY: To the dead cat?
GIRL: Well, look at him sitting there. He's so
GIRL: And here I am, alive. It doesn't seem fair.
BOY: How is that not fair?
GIRL: I didn't want the dead cat to think I was lording it over him.
GIRL: I feel bad.
GIRL: You kept calling William and Colleen by name.
GIRL: The dead cat doesn't have a name.
BOY: What does it have to do with this?
GIRL: I want to name the dead cat.
BOY: I don't think you can name things after they're dead.
GIRL: Why not?
BOY: It's against the rules. You have to catch them while they're alive or the window of opportunity is gone.
GIRL: I don't care. I'm naming it Earl.
GIRL: (cooing) Earl, honey
stay, Earl! Stay! Good boy. (to BOY) See? He's so well-behaved.
BOY: As long as you don't ask him to roll over.
GIRL: Play dead, Earl!
BOY: I don't think I agree with this.
GIRL: (cooing) Who's a good dead boy? Earl's a good dead boy!
BOY: I'm finding this all very creepy.
GIRL: Please, dear. I need your support. This is an important moment for us.
BOY: Not for him.
GIRL: Of course it is.
BOY: He's dead. Death doesn't have important moments. It's pretty much just death.
GIRL: You're being hurtful.
BOY: No, whoever killed the cat was being hurtful. I'm being disturbed.
GIRL: I'm tired of you refusing to look beyond the deadness to see the cat inside!
BOY: I'm tired of you imposing your weird emotional agenda on the dead cat!
GIRL: We don't even know who killed him! The man who murdered that cat could be on the loose! Doesn't that bother you?
BOY: How do you know the cat was murdered?
GIRL: Well, it's dead.
BOY: Maybe it fell off somebody's roof.
GIRL: Did it fall
or was it pushed?
BOY: I don't know. Want me to call around, have the Warren Commission look into it?
GIRL: If any more cats die, it's on your conscience!
GIRL: (quietly) What's happening to us?
BOY: What do you mean?
GIRL: The dead cat is tearing us apart.
BOY: God, you're right.
GIRL: You know what we were talking about at work today?
GIRL: Last year's Christmas party, when you dressed up as the Easter bunny
BOY: For all the people who were burned out on Santa, I figured they'd be happy to see the Easter bunny
GIRL: And it turned out Freidheim had a paralyzing fear of gigantic rabbits
BOY: A grown man trying to hide in the bean dip. Not a pretty sight.
BOY: I just wanted to make you happy.
GIRL: I know.
BOY: I got a great deal on the dead cat. I haggled.
GIRL: You sure did.
BOY: I wanted to help out. I mean, I feel bad. Ever since we moved to the city, you've had to support both of us. You work so much, and I can never get a job
GIRL: It's okay. You know I don't mind. I care about you.
BOY: I wanted to show you that I can do well with money too and help out by getting a good deal on something.
BOY: Yes, dear?
GIRL: I love you more than the dead cat, and if letting go of Earl is what I need to do to be with you, then I'll do that.
BOY: I love you.
GIRL: I love you too.
(they embrace. lights down)
VOICE: Act Five: A bus stop. The next day.
(the BUM is sprawled out on the bench as the BOY approaches. the bag sits nearby)
BUM: (sighs happily) These are the days.
BOY: Excuse me.
BUM: Oh, hey there, compadre!
BOY: Hi, Mr. Gates.
BUM: How's the dead cat working out for you?
BOY: Not so good. I need to make a return.
BUM: Sorry, old bean. All sales are final.
BOY: But I can't have the dead cat any more. It's breaking up my marriage.
BUM: That sounds like a problem. There's really nothing I can do, though. I can't break policy for you or everyone who's got a dead cat they don't want any more is going to come crying to my door. Total economic collapse. No go.
BOY: What about the warranty?
BUM: Oh, sure. If the dead cat is defective, then I'll have our service technicians look at it and I'll refund your money.
BOY: Well, it's still dead, so I guess it's not defective. But I really need the money. I've got a job interview downtown at a potato company so I've got to catch the bus. Please?
BUM: Sorry, pal. As long as that dead cat is functioning according to the terms of the lease, there's nothing I can do. You've got one dead cat and zero marriage.
BUM: (stretching out to lie down) Now if you don't mind, I've got other clients.
(the BOY sighs hopelessly. suddenly, the bag moves)
BOY: Hey! It moved!
BUM: What the
(the bag moves again, and a third time. the BUM panics)
BUM: Ah! Shit!
BOY: It's moving! That's against the terms of the warranty!
BUM: Here! Take your money! (throwing the coins at the BOY) Shit!
(the BUM runs away. the BOY picks up the coins and stares at the bag, which is still)
BOY: (smiling) God bless you, dead cat.
(the BOY exits and lights go down)
suite for a dead cat by Marc Heiden, January 2000.