“A Girl and an Old Woman” by He Yue Hazel

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USA. Mississippi. Mound Bayou. 1976. Members of the community on their front porch.

Editor’s note:
This is a play in response to the photograph above by Alex Webb,
for the ENG Department’s course Genremorphosis.

A girl and an old woman, inside a screened porch. The girl is standing, the woman is next to her, sitting and staring at the ground. They seem to be both thinking. They are facing away from each other. There’s a tear in the screen of the porch on the girl’s side.

Girl: You know what I’m thinking? (hesitates for a second) I’m thinking like, why? I don’t have any desires or requests other than to have a little bit of peace. I’ve always tried to be a good girl, a good person, you know?

Woman: Yes.

Girl: But I fail all the time. (She raises her hand and stares at it, as if studying her fingernails) I feel like my brain is covered by some plastic membrane and I’ve been trying to rip it off. But I can’t.

Woman: You won’t fail every time. Maybe things will be better tomorrow.

Girl: Tomorrow? Nothing will change. Tomorrow, tomorrow has already come, yet nothing changes. Things that I expected and wanted… It would be better if everything just remained illusory. You’re talking about tomorrows. What for? I’ve thought about it. This anxiety ultimately originates from the conflict between my strong inclination to self-destruct and a guilt that I carry which prevents me from self-destructing. I cannot resolve it.

Woman: I went to pick peaches from the trees with some of my friends one Summer. I suppose you’ve never tried it, yes? There is a river close to James’s house. It flows from the east to the west – a pretty long one, you know. We had to walk under the arch of a bridge. There were some old men playing chess there. And then James suddenly starts to sing. His voice is so beautiful when hearing it under the archway. His life was pretty hard at the time, but you couldn’t tell, not even a bit, from the way he sang. He sang as if all the bad things just didn’t exist.

Girl: Mama told me last month that she’s never been really happy since she turned eighteen. My heart breaks when I heard that. It’s like my heart was being torn apart piece by piece in salty water. I imagine her pain, the pain of being constantly cut by dull knifes for thirty years. What’s my pain compare to that?

Sounds of starting a motorcycle come from somewhere in the distance. The engine is roaring. The girl glances in the direction of the sounds.

Girl: In fact, what is my pain compared to so many other people in the world?

Woman: James was wearing a pair of slippers. Zilla was with her dog. The puppy was five months old and James thought that she had already learnt to pick things up. Unexpectedly, he lifted his right leg and kicked his slipper off. The slipper flew really far and landed in some flowering shrubs. The puppy didn’t notice it at all, she was still sniffing around. James said, “Damn! Why isn’t she even moving?” I laughed really hard and told him to pick it up himself. (Laughs)

Girl: There was a period of time when the kids around here felt that I was too weird. Mama told me that they came to her and complained about me always trying to touch the back of their neck. They knew nothing.

Woman: The shrubs are quite high, up to the waist. (She tries to make a gesture to express it) James went in there with one foot bare, trying to find the slipper. He didn’t find it, but he did find a nest of hornets. He stood in the shrubs and observed the nest for a while before getting out. He said, “You see, I can walk barefoot. You wouldn’t even notice it if I didn’t tell you, I walk so naturally like this!” He didn’t get many peaches, you see, but he lost one of his shoe.

Girl: I had this dream. There was a man who would touch the back of everyone’s neck, trying to pull a universe out of each of them. (Grabs from the air) I like him, I want to do the same. I don’t know if he finally succeeded or not.

Woman: It’s like all of that happened just yesterday. (She touches the frame of the porch screen)

Girl: Right? (Nods slightly) Sometimes I feel that many things happened yesterday all together, like only one day passed after I was born. I do feel sometimes that it’s been a really long time though.

Woman: Time only exists in our minds anyway.

Girl: You think so? (She unconsciously touches the tear on the screen)

They both go silent. The old woman strokes her hair. The girl stares at the tear on the screen

Girl: Mama loved this gauze screen when she got it. She thought it bestowed some vague dreamy beauty on the place. The place is too desolate, you can’t see anything that might be called scenic. She really has an innocent heart, isn’t she? She’s like that. (Touches the tear again) The screen is full of scars now.

Woman: I had severe insomnia for quite some time when I was young. This guy told me that he thought it was sometimes a waste to sleep because you’d miss the tenderness of the night. I was like, he’d never say that if he was the one who suffered from insomnia. (laughs shortly and pauses) Now I think what he says is beautiful.

Girl: You really like one thing and you treat it the way that you want and the way you like, but you never think about what that thing wants and likes. It’s just an umbrella, yet you hope that it could be a walking stick too, it will only be scuffed and broken in the end. I’m always like that. I’m like mama.

Woman: It is true that this place isn’t really pleasant, there are too many rocks here. But I picked a cute stone when I got here. It looks like a puppy. I really loved Zilla’s dog back then.

Girl: Insomnia, insomnia. There was a teacher from school who talked about it once. She said that an author who had insomnia for years claimed that his time had stopped. He said that someone who can sleep will greet a new day after waking up, but someone who can’t sleep is always trapped in the same day. How to restart everything, huh? How to restart?

Woman: Zilla collapsed once when she started raising dogs. The puppy was too stand to understand her and get into the habit of not peeing everywhere. Zilla thought she was useless and stupid. The puppy wasn’t to blame. She just lay on the bed, facing the ceiling and cried for a long time. That was so Zilla. The stone I picked reminds me of her puppy.

Girl: I’m physically and mentally fading. Sometimes the chills that suddenly rise in the air are like a calling to me. I feel like I’m a cicada that survived by chance at the end of summer, and now I’m finally going to start a hibernation from which I’ll never wake up.

Woman: Have you ever seen a dog that lived for seventeen years? Usually they can only live for twelve or thirteen, tops. I went for a stroll once and met someone walking with her dog. We had a chat. Her dog was seventeen. He was tiny and looked about five. Can you believe that? Seventeen.

Girl: How long can a cicada live? I thought I’d never live this long. I even set a limit for me, twelve. It turns out that my twelfth birthday passed and I’m still here. There’s not much difference actually.

The old woman doesn’t speak but raises her head and looks at somewhere far away.

Girl: I remember going to the beach to see the fireworks with Ma. The girl to my left threw a firework into the sea. The little firework, I thought it would be consumed right away in the dark waves. But a light came seconds later out of the darkness, along with a muffled sound, those kinds of sound you hear if you close your hands over your ears. Have you ever seen fireworks exploding in the sea?

 The old woman shakes her head slightly, doesn’t make a sound to respond.

Girl: Later somebody to the right sets off a firework, a firework that looks like a shooting star when it explodes. He sent it flying really low, so it fell into the sea very soon after describing an arc in the air. How beautiful it would be if all the stars fell into the sea.

Woman: That would be an apocalypse. (laughs relaxedly)

Girl: Yeah. If the apocalypse is that beautiful, I’d be ok with it.

Nobody speaks again. They’re both still, with the same gesture in the beginning.

The End.

:::::

He Yue Hazel

He Yue Hazel is a student from the Department of Religion and Philosophy and an independent musician. She held a personal concert  entitled “I will breathe like grasses” in 2015. In February, Hazel was interviewed by the radio project “Portraits Sonores” and she attended the exhibition “Les Croisées Créative” of “Portraits Sonores” as an  interviewed artist in Toulouse in April 2017.

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