Play – Jack of clubs

Before I begin, a disclaimer. This is indeed a manuscript for a theatrical performance, but that doesn’t mean I expect it to be performed anywhere. This story concept seemed well suited to the format of a play, and I figured it would be a fun exercise to write it that way.

The stage is a British trench during the first World War. Four soldiers are sitting at a table.
From left to right, they are positioned the following way: Samuel-York-Vince-Wayne. Samuel is tall and thin and in his thirties, with short well-combed hair. York is around 25 and equally thin, though somewhat shorter and with dark brown unkempt hair. Vince is middle-aged, bearded and heavily built. Wayne is in his forties, has a rather average build and a neat but subtly nervous body language.
Beside the table, propped up against the trench wall, lies a wall clock – presumably scavenged from a deserted house – frozen at thirteen minutes past four. The soldiers are playing a game of cards, taking turn placing cards into a pile at the center of the table, as they call out the names of the cards. Those saying pass do, naturally, not play any cards those turns. At the start of the play Vince has exactly four cards, Samuel has at least three, York and Wayne have at least one card each. The lines at the beginning are said mechanically, monotonously.

Samuel: Nine of hearts.
York: Pass.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Your turn.
Samuel: Nine of diamonds.
York: Pass.
Vince: Ten of diamonds.
Wayne: Pass. Your turn.
Vince: Eight of diamonds.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Pass.
York: Pass.
Vince: Five of spades.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Pass.
York: Pass.
Vince: Five of Hearts. I’m out.
Wayne: Pass.
York: Pass.
Samuel: Pass.
Wayne: You won.
Samuel: I’ll shuffle.
Wayne: No. It’s Vince’s turn to shuffle.
Vince shuffles, everyone is silent.
Wayne: We go clockwise. You shuffle next.
Vince deals six cards to each player. They start playing a second round using whatever cards the the director wants them to until York has three cards, Samuel and Vince have four cards each, and Wayne plays his second last card:
Wayne: Queen of clubs.
Samuel: (Not playing a card) Five.
Vince: Huh?
Samuel: It’s five o’clock. We should signal the camp.
Wayne: Your turn.
Samuel doesn’t pay attention to Wayne.
York: It’s a quarter past four.
Samuel: The clock’s late.
Wayne: It’s your turn. Queen of clubs lies.
York: How do you know it’s five, then?
Samuel: It’s thirty minutes after my watch, which is fifteen minutes after. Ergo, five.
Vince: Blind leading the blind.
York: How do you know?
Samuel: Know what?
Wayne: It’s your turn. Queen of clubs lies.
York: The difference. That it hasn’t changed. What’s your.. Er..
Samuel: Frame of reference?
York: Yes, that.
Samuel: Aint got one, It’s just the most educated guess.
Wayne: Your turn. Queen of clubs lies.
Samuel: Pass.
Vince: Who’ll go?
York: No one, it may not be five o’clock.
Vince: Yes it is.
Samuel: Probably.
Wayne: (To York) Your turn. Queen of clubs lies.
Vince: Who went yesterday?
Samuel: I did.
York: It’s Wayne’s turn to go.
Vince: No.
York: It must be! He never goes!
Vince: No, it’s not.
York: Loser goes.
Samuel: Huh?
York: Guy who loses the game.
Vince: That’s not fair.
York: It is.
Vince: If I’d known, I’d have played better!
Samuel: You couldn’t. It’s luck.
York: See, it’s fair.
Vince: We finish this round, next round decides.
York: We don’t have time, it’s five o’clock, ace of clubs.
Vince: More or less five o’clock. Frame of reference.
York: Your go, do something.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Your turn.
York: Ten of hearts, loser goes.
Wayne: Jack of hearts. I’m out.
Samuel: King of hearts.
Wayne: Your turn.
Samuel: Queen of spades.
York: Pass, loser goes.
Vince: Fine. Loser goes. Pass.
Wayne: Your turn again.
Samuel: Eight of spades.
York: Pass.
Vince: Nine of spades.
Wayne: Your turn.
Vince: Ten of diamonds.
Samuel: Pass.
York: Pass.
Vince: Five of spades.
Samuel: Pass.
York: Pass.
Vince: Three of clubs. I’m out.
Samuel: Four of clubs, I’m out.
York: Nine of clubs, I’m out, tie.
Samuel: No, you lost.
York: It’s a tie. Next round decides.
Vince: No.
York: Tie between us three, new round between us three.
Vince: Alright, that’s fair.
Samuel: No, we don’t have time. You lost, you go.
Wayne begins shuffling the deck.
York: There are tanks up there. This isn’t fair.
Samuel: Yes it is. You said the loser should go, we agreed, and you lost.
Vince: There are no tanks there now.
York: There are gunners, snipers, planes. I’ll get killed because of a fucking draw!
Samuel: There are no planes here. Place aint worth the resources required to send ’em.
Vince: It’s safe, go now.
York: It’s a fucking battlefield!
Samuel: It’s relatively safe.
Vince: You’re a soldier. C’mon, champ!
Wayne starts dealing to everyone except York.
York: You’re going to keep playing, aren’t you?
Vince. You can join the next round when you come back. I’ll deal you five cards instead of six, even!
Samuel: What’s the problem? We’ve all been up there hundreds of times. Come on! If you keep stalling, the camp will think there’s a problem soon.
Vince: C’mon champ! You’ll just have to promenade up there, flick a few switches and walk back. We’ll se you in a few minutes. Go!
York: Problem? I could die and you’d just keep playing your fucking game!
Samuel: you won’t. Come on, go!
York: But what if I do? What if some scout spots me and shoots and-
Wayne: (Startlingly loud and sudden) It’s your turn to start Samuel!
York: ..And I fall and he shoots again and m-
Wayne: Your turn Samuel!
York: ..Bone splinters like a twig into a thousand needles inside-
Wayne: Your turn Samuel!
Samuel plays a card without calling its name.
Vince: Now, listen to me..
York: ..And blood and shit and stomach acid bleeds and pours out-
Wayne: Your turn Vince!
Vince: Kisten, kid, you won’t die!
York: ..And you’ll keep playing while-
Wayne: Your turn Vince!
York: Rot, mud and the worms slither-
Wayne: Your turn Vince!
York: Gone like the thousands of thousands-
Vince: You won’t die! you won’t get shot! You will be back in minutes!
York: A decimal point that bleeds-
Wayne: Your turn Vince!
York: ..In the mud while you play and play and play and-
Samuel: If you don’t go now you’ll have to go the next two times in a row!
Two seconds of silence. York snorts. A few more seconds of silence. Then, York slowly stands up and exits to the right. Vince gives Samuel a sour look, then plays a card without calling out the name.
Wayne: Pass. Your turn.
They continue playing. Wayne calls the name of every card he plays. The other two stay silent. When they would otherwise say pass, they instead shake their heads. Eventually Vince wins and Samuel finishes last. Neither one makes a comment. This game takes as long time as the director wants it to, because fuck the audience.
Wayne: It’s your turn to shuffle.
Samuel shuffles the deck and starts dealing, but suddenly stops.
Samuel: Thirteen past.
Vince: Huh?
Samuel: The clock. It’s thirteen past.
Vince: So what? That sounds about right.
Samuel: Four.
Vince: Huh?
Samuel: Thirteen past four.
Wayne: Keep dealing.
Samuel does not continue dealing.
Samuel: The clock still says thirteen past four.
Vince: Still?
Samuel: Yes.
Vince: No, what do you mean with still?
Samuel: It said thirteen past four before we started arguing.
Vince: No, it said five.
Samuel: It said thirteen past four. I said five.
Vince: Right. The stuff with the watch.
Samuel: Do you know what that means?
Vince: It stopped?
Wayne: Keep dealing.
Samuel still does not continue dealing.
Samuel: I was wrong, it wasn’t five o’clock.
Vince: Maybe it wasn’t. Probably was.
Samuel: Probably not.
Vince: Well, so?
Samuel: We didn’t have to signal the camp.
Vince: We probably did.
Samuel: Probably not.
Vince: Well, so? It doesn’t hurt.
Samuel: What if he gets shot?
Vince: He doesn’t.
Samuel: He may.
Vince: He wont.
Samuel: He would have been safer here.
Vince: Not much.
Samuel: But the fact remains, it’s not five o’clock.
Vince: It may be.
Samuel: Probably not.
Wayne: Keep dealing.
Samuel does not continue dealing.
Vince: What time is it then?
Samuel: How would I know?
Vince: You have a watch.
Samuel: No.
Vince: You said you did.
Samuel: I did.
Vince: Well?
Samuel: Now I don’t.
Vince: How did you know.. Um, the clock stuff, then?
Samuel: I compared when I got here. Lost the watch since.
Vince: How?
Samuel: Traded it.
Vince: For what?
Samuel: I don’t remember.
Wayne: Keep dealing.
Samuel does not continue dealing.
Samuel: Coffee, maybe.
Vince: Or cigarettes.
Samuel: I don’t smoke.
Vince: Right, I forgot that.
Samuel: It happens.
Wayne: Keep dealing.
Samuel continues dealing.
Vince: Queen of hearts.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Pass.
Vince: Ten of clubs.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Pass.
Vince: Ten of spades.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Jack of spades.
Wayne: Your turn.
Samuel: King of spades.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Ten of diamonds.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Ten of hearts.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Five of diamonds.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Nine of diamonds. My turn. Eight of clubs.
Samuel: Pass.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Seven of hearts.
Samuel: Pass.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Five of clubs.
Samuel: Pass.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Three of spades.
Samuel: Pass.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Two of clubs. I’m out.
Samuel: Pass.
Vince: Six of clubs.
Wayne: Your turn.
Vince: Three of hearts.
Samuel: He’s taking long.
Vince: You think?
Samuel: He’s dead.
Vince: No.
Samuel: He’s dying.
Vince: No.
Wayne: It’s your turn, three of hearts lies.
Five to ten seconds of silence, nobody moves.
Wayne: It’s your turn, three of hearts lies.
Samuel: It wasn’t five o’clock.
Vince: I remember now.
Samuel: What?
Vince: What you traded for.
Samuel: What?
Vince: The watch.
Samuel: You weren’t there.
Vince: I was.
Wayne: It’s your turn, three of hearts lies.
Samuel does not play a card. Two seconds of silence.
Samuel: What did I trade for?
Vince: A box. A chest.
Samuel: Did I?
Vince: Yes. A black chest. Small. Made of ebony.
Samuel: Was it?
Vince: Yes. A small black ebony chest. It had fine little golden.. Er..
Samuel: Ornamentations?
Vince: Yes, exactly! And elephants. Small, carved, ebony elephants along the side. And mages carrying sticks, and traders and princes from the orient.
Samuel: The orient?
Vince: Yes, because, you see, you got it from an Arab.
Samuel: Yes, of course.
Vince: A lean, bony Arab priest. He had white eyes and a beard that stretched to his knees. A massive beard. Black, and think as stone. And a turban. Which color was the turban?
Samuel: I remember now. Red. Red as the setting sun.
Vince: Hes, his turban was red as the setting sun. You gave him your watch, and he gave you the chest and then he walked away. And then you turned around to look as he went, and..
Samuel: And?
Vince: He was gone. Disappeared into thin air. A puff of smoke!
Samuel: Yes, I remember that now. But what happened to the chest?
Vince: A week later you were up on the battlefield, and someone threw a grenade-
Wayne: It’s your turn, three of hearts lies.
Vince: You ducked for cover, and when you looked up-
Wayne: It’s your turn, three of hearts lies.
Vince: The enemy was attacking. Riflemen, tanks, planes, all at once-
Wayne: It’s your turn, three of hearts lies.
Vince: But beside you in the mud was the chest. You opened the lid of the chest and looked inside..
Samuel: What was in the chest?
Vince: An amulet. A silver amulet. With ornamentations on it.
Samuel: And a diamond!
Vince: Yes, there was a diamond in the middle of it. Big as a strawberry. And you picked up the amulet, and hung it around your neck.
Samuel: What happened when I did that?
Vince: You closed your eyes, and it felt.. You felt like the ground fell away.
Samuel: Yes, that was how it felt.
Vince: And you opened your eyes again-
Samuel: What did I see?
Vince: You saw that you were here, in the trench, safe.
Samuel: And the amulet?
Vince: It was gone!
Samuel: Disappeared!
Wayne: Puff of smoke!
Samuel looks at his final card and plays it.
Samuel: Four of hearts, I’m out!
Vince: Congratulations!
Wayne: It’s your turn to deal.
Vince shuffles the deck.
Samuel: It was a magnificent amulet.
Vince: Diamond the size of a strawberry.
Wayne: Size of an apple!
Vince: A bowler hat!
Vince deals the cards. York reenters from the right and stands at the edge of the stage, silent and unnoticed.
Samuel: Silver engravings of sultans and Bedouins!
Vince: Saints and demons!
Wayne: Dancers and camels and elephants!
Vince: Yes, the Chinese elephant god!
Wayne: My turn. King of diamonds!
Samuel: Pass, I can’t!
Vince: Me neither. The Chinese elephant god with eight arms!
Wayne: Queen of clubs!
Samuel: Still can’t!
Vince: Me neither. A flower in every hand!
Wayne: Red flowers, purple and blue. Ten of clubs!
Samuel: Lotuses, lilies and roses. I remember it all now, pass!
Vince: Pass!
Wayne: Eight of spades!
Samuel: Pass!
Vince: Ace of spades! I have spades in spades! Queen of diamonds!
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: And pass!
Vince: Jack of diamonds!
Samuel: Pass and pass!
Vince: seven of hearts.
Wayne: Pass!
Samuel: I am completely heartless!
Wayne: That’s funny!
Samuel: That is, pass.
York: (monotonously) The clock. It is broken.
Samuel, Wayne and Vince instantly turn silent, and turn towards York.
York: The clock does not work right.
Nobody moves. Seven seconds of awkward silence.
York: The time is not five o’clock.
Vince: Without a trace of the earlier cheerfulness) Six of hearts. I’m out.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Pass.
Wayne assembles the deck but does not shuffle it. Nobody moves or speaks for twelve seconds. Then, York slowly makes his way to his chair, sits down and deals. The lines that follow are said monotonously, in increasingly low voices, as the light gradually fades.
Vince: King of diamonds.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Pass.
York: Pass.
Vince: Jack of hearts.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: King of hearts.
York: Pass.
Wayne: Your turn.
Samuel: Ten of clubs.
York: Pass.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Queen of clubs. My turn. King of clubs.
Samuel: Pass.
York: Pass.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: King of spades.
Samuel: Pass.
York: Ace of spades.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Your turn.
York: Queen of diamonds.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Pass.
York: Nine of clubs.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Pass.
York: Eight of spades.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Ten of spades.
Samuel: Pass.
Wayne: My turn. Eight of hearts.
Samuel: Nine of hearts.
York: Pass.
Vince: Pass.
Wayne: Your turn.
Samuel: Nine of diamonds.
York: Pass.
Vince: Ten of diamonds.
Wayne: Pass. Your turn.
Vince: Eight of diamonds.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Pass.
York: Pass.
Vince: Five of spades.
Wayne: Pass.
Samuel: Pass.
York: Pass.
When the lights are completely out, their voices have faded into total silence, and the play ends.

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