NEW MEXICAN THEATRE: Laura García / Silk for a Golden Fish

from Silk for a Golden Fish. Translated by Johnny Crisp.

I 

A paper boat. A cook, chubby and rosy skinned, plays out the melody of a nostalgic song on her saucepan while a young boy, who could quite easily be a young girl, sings.

BOY: Eu não sou daqui também marinheiro
mas eu venho de longe e ainda
do lado de trás da terra
além da missão comprida.
Vim só dar… despedida.
Filho de sol poente
quando teima em passear
desce de sal nos olhos doente da falta de voltar…

He stops singing.

BOY: It’s no use, fatty. If he wanted, if he was at all interested in coming back, he’d already be here. Do you really believe…?

The cook makes a threatening gesture.

BOY: Filho de sol poente
quando teima em passear
desce de sal nos olhos doente
da falta que sente do mar.
Vim só dar despedida…[1]

A pause. Both keep silent and wait for the moment when the captain, drawn near by their song, should appear in the middle of the ocean.

BOY: I should never have believed in that story about the siren’s song. Maybe it didn’t work because we don’t know how the lyrics go.

COOK: … (Moves towards the boy, menacing.)

BOY: Yes… Yes, fatty! Of course! It’s completely absurd to think the captain would confuse our song with a siren’s.

COOK: …

BOY: I’m sure of it. No siren speaks Portuguese anyway.

COOK: …

BOY: In truth, you’d have to be pretty dumb to think that sirens exist in the first place… but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true about the golden fish! It wasn’t my fault he left! And anyway, I told him — Captain, you don’t just go looking for a fish that gives out wishes. It’ll only show up if the subject in question is chosen—. He didn’t listen to me, fatty, though; he turned his back and went off looking for my fish.

The cook throws the saucepan at him.

BOY: What was that for? I never said it would work! I said we could try it, and that’s what we did.

She, resigned, takes out a washrag from her apron and works away at a stain. He tries to touch one of her breasts and gets a slap instead

BOY: What? Why can’t I…?

COOK: … (lets fly another blow)

BOY: Aha! You know, I read a story about another man who meets his downfall in a woman like you!

COOK: Ha!

sailroYOUNG BOY: It’s true, fatty. Only in that story, the man comes back. He sets off on a long and dangerous journey, even though his destination is a nation with a nasty thousand-year-old habit of murdering foreigners, all so he can see this woman just one more time, a woman like you. (Pause.) Actually… that woman was young and thin… and in a country full of slanted eyes there was absolutely nothing oriental about her. But the point is the woman in the story never speaks to the man… just like you… Not bad. A couple of tweaks and you’d have my autobiography.

The cook clears her throat and gestures for him to climb the mast.

BOY: Again? How many times have I got to…? (She hits him with her rag) Ah! Ok! Why don’t you do it yourself? (He climbs up the mast and cleans the tip while he talks) The man had a similar life to mine. I don’t mean he had a woman in every port like I do, nor do I think he ever arrived in a brand new country to find himself face to face with three separate children the very next day. Now that I think about it, he never did have any children. Did I ever tell you about my little ones, fatty? (As he waits, watching for any kind of response, she gets up and leaves) Keep your hair on!

The cook comes back in, this time with a basket. Indifferent, she starts taking out clothes.

BOY: (Pulls at her washrag. She, exasperated, drops it.) I know you don’t like me having a kid in every port. It’s like I feel bad about you cooking for everyone almost all the time… I say ‘almost’ because you always forget about my plate.

She throws up a rope and together they make a clothes line, from which they hang various items of clothing.

BOY: This same man, fatty, left his career in the military to become a silk merchant. Where he comes from, everybody depends on hundreds of threads like this one.

COOK: (Incredulous) Ha!something

BOY: It’s true! One day a stranger arrives. He tells them that their silk will make them all rich and then chooses our man to be in charge of the longest journeys. It’s like the captain said to me one day… (He picks up a sailor’s jacket and holds it up like a person.) — No, kid, you haven’t got what it takes to be a sailor; you haven’t got what it takes to look for anything golden, in any sea. You’ve got exactly what it takes to clean my boat—. Like a woman? I said, are you trying to tell me that I’m going to be on this boat cleaning pots and pans, washing your clothes, mopping and sweeping like some old woman? —No. From time to time you’ll also get to hoist the sail and then you’ll have the honour of performing circus acrobatics for us while you do your chores—. Climbing to the highest point just to clean like a woman? (The boy nods his head, imitating the captain) Fine… but I refuse to cook! And that, fatty, was how I went from being a sailor on the scent of adventure to an old washerwoman…

She throws back her head and cackles.

BOY: Stela 1he laughs! Why don’t you tell us how you ended up here, then? Surely my story can’t be more ridiculous than yours.

She, caught off guard by her own laughter, takes the clothes basket and sits herself down on the edge of the deck, looking out towards the horizon and doing her best to ignore him.

BOY: (Climbs up towards her) To those people being a silk merchant seemed a little effeminate. Some people are stupid like that. They can’t see grandeur even if it’s slapping them right in the face. I don’t know if you know, fatty, but silk worms are very beautiful. At first glance they seem insignificant, ‘Who’s going to care about some weird little bug?’ they’d say. You, for example, might come to the conclusion that I am such a bug. (Balls himself up into a cocoon.) You should be a little more intelligent and show some love for this little worm, don’t you think? (Starts flapping his arms like a butterfly. She isn’t looking.) If notyou’ll end up regretting it, you stupid fat cow. Just like the mayor in the story who thought silk was just for women. (He starts to swing himself violently back and forth off the ship’s sail until he manages to grab at the cook up on the hammock.)Buying silk and cleaning boats is not just for women! If you want to be a great sailor and find a golden fish you’ll need to know how to keep a boat spotless. (The cook turns and eyes him warily) Oh, come on! Don’t give me that look. This isn’t silk. It’s the useless flag of a useless boat that probably can’t even set sail anymore! And all because your boyfriend, ‘the captain’, decided to leave us here ‘til we both turn to dust. (Pause.) If I did make a fortune in something as apparently useless and feminine as silk… you… you… would you let me touch one of your tits?

The cook huffs, she is about to get up and leave. He lets himself fall flat on his face, she screams and comes nearer.

BOY: (Lifts the edge of her skirt and looks up inside) My God, you’ve got the most beautiful legs I’ve ever tela 2seen! Let me touch them, come on! (She tries to escape, they grapple.) Your legs inspire me, fatty. They make me think of Africa. That was where the man got his silkworms. In the story. Do you know where Africa is, fatty? Your boyfriend the captain would never tell me where we were. I used to ask the same question whenever I found myself in between some lovely woman’s legs — Where are we? — She would say, and then after I could never remember. It’s a beautiful thing when you manage to forget something between the legs of a beautiful woman. (The cook slams the clothes basket down onto the boy’s head and manages to escape from above him. He carries on speaking without trepidation.) Since you’ve been on this ship, I haven’t known what I’ve been doing, where I’ve been going. I don’t even know what it was I was looking for before I met you. The golden fish took on a different meaning as soon as you climbed aboard. Sometimes your body frightens me. I feel like if I should ever have you I could even forget whether I’m a man or a woman. (Descends.)That doesn’t happen to the silk man. But he arrives in Japan and when he finally sees that girl, he doesn’t get that sweet peaceful life he’d dreamed of. Do you know where Japan is, fatty?

COOK: …

BOY: Ignorant cow. Japan’s on the other side of the world. I’ve been doing some thinking, fatty. We could have been there this whole time and not even have realized it. Their ships have got a single mast and a sail too. I’ve never heard about whether or not they’re made of paper…but I’m sure they all are. Perhaps we are in a very old boat. I’m sure of it. Without a doubt we could have been taken for those Dutch types that transport our man acrwho knowsoss the seas to Japan, a stowaway! And suddenly, zing! (He jumps on her back and starts grabbing for her breasts over a shoulder. She starts running around in circles, trying to throw him off while he, euphoric, carries on with the story.) Fatty, after crossing the Russian Steppe on horseback, what the hell is the Russian Steppe, fatty? And after somehow passing through a whole load of other places that I can’t remember, I forget everything in your body, remember…(Together they fall to the floor, exhausted.) The man arrives at the edge of the world. (The boy slowly blindfolds himself with the handkerchief-rag and starts feeling his way about the deck, feeling for the cook’s legs.) And so, led by a little servant dressed in black, he comes to a little village surrounded by mountains on all sides. (He finds the cord and starts to climb) How did the man know the other was wearing black, when he himself was blindfolded? (She looks on, startled now.) The same way I know you’ve never looked at me the way you’re looking at me now, fatty. Like how sometimes I watch you when you’re cooking, and with your little spoon you check that everything’s just so… and then you catch me watching and you chase me out with the sharp edge of your frying pan. Yet still I find ways to observe you, just like our hero found a way to secure a healthy shipment of beautiful silkworms. (He removes his blindfold.) And there… at the world’s edge… standing opposite him, a Japanese man, perhaps the only Japanese man who could hope to match the captain’s power (and who also brought with him, as the ultimate proof of his opulence, a woman mute beside him). Beautiful… just like you. The powerful Japanese man asks the Frenchman to clarify, in his own language, just who he is. How absurd! The Frenchman speaks French to the powerful Japanese man, explaining his life as best he can. (Pause. The boy climbs down the rope) Could it be I’ve been talking to you in the wrong language? Is that why you deride me so? Je t’aime, fatty! Je t’aime!

COOK: Parlez-vous français? Voulez-vous que je vous raconte l’histoire de ma vie?[2]

BOY: Fuck. All that time asking myself why you wouldn’t talk to me, and here it turns out you’re French! That’ll be why you get on so well with the captain, then. You know, he was the one who taught me how to say ‘je t’aime’. According to him, simply saying it to a woman will make her fall in love with you… (Pause.) And he’s right! Many women have been struck dumb by my simple mouthing of those words: je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime. Don’t play deaf with me! I know you understand me and … I can guess your story. I could even tell you the whole thing right now.

[1] Despedida by Marcelo Camelo.

[2] Do you speak French? Would you like me to tell you my life story?