- Lily Ross-Millard, excerpt from play, 1,2,3 Woyzeck!
- Hilary Maloney-Nevin, creative non-fiction, Gloria
- Jen Neale, creative non-fiction, Mes Petities Souliers
The Impressment Gang 1:3
© Copyright remains with the writers. 02 2015.
Excerpted from the unpublished manuscript premiering in Halifax
March 21-24, 2015 at the Fort Massey United Church, 5303 Tobin Street. Reprinted with permission of writer.
1.1 Morning Time
Woyzeck sleeps on the ground. The town has assembled. Smiling stretched.
1: Something terrible has happened.
2: There is going to be a press conference.
3: And a funeral.
1: And that’s all there will be.
Grandmother: Shh! Please do not wake the baby. He has a long day.
2: And then– maybe something else will happen.
3: Why do things keep happening?
Noise! Drums! The Drummajor detaches and makes himself HEARD! The
Screaming Grandmother chases him out with clamor. Andres shakes Woyzeck.
Andres: It’s time to wake up.
An opportune moment for a musical note/s. Woyzeck is a sudden river.
Performance of a drill. His pillow is a small tool case. Pulls out his tools and
inspects. Like a poor and haggard man whose hunger only fuels his efficiency.
Enter Captain and child assistant (less like a guard and more like a grandfather
clock). Woyzeck begins to shave Captain with jaws and razors on edge in light.
Captain: Take your time! You’ll cut me. Blood. Time–. Take yours. Pay attention to the minutes and you’ll mind my face.
Captain: How old are you Woyzeck? By the looks of you I’d reckon you have another 30 years. 30 years. 30 years is 30 years you know they say, they say. But the minutes, Woyzeck, those are what you have to look out for. And what will you do with it all? Mind your edge man! Damn your eyes.
Woyzeck: Yes, sir. Certainly.
Captain: Eternity. Eternity. Meaning–. Eternal. Eternity. You understand. A child understands. She! She! She can tell you. But- ahh! Why? Why do we go on like the mill Woyzeck? The mill wheel turns for the miller, but what’s the miller without the mill? Stop! Slow down for krists sake you’re making me nauseous as a pig on ice.
Woyzeck: Yes, sir.
Captain: Stop flashing. Good men don’t look the way you do. Like lightning. Sign of a clouded conscience. (Woyzeck moves a little too fast and seems to swipe swiftly across near his eye. Captain screams.) You too, Woyzeck? Of all my– in one fell– Goodnight sweet–
Woyzeck: Forgive me, sir, I think you are well. Quite well. No blood.
Captain: Wozzat? Is that–. No blood. I could have sworn you were trying to– Well?! what do you have to say for yourself? Damn it. Well what’s the weather been like today? Cloudy?
Woyzeck: Bad, sir. Bad. Blowing cross the common. Was nearly swept off the path and into the swampish.
Captain: Bad! Yes bad. I can sense it, you know. The weather. Right here on my head– be careful with that area. Comes in handy these days. The wind I can feel like a stray feral cat wandered into my blackberry copsey. A diseased cat who’d nip– Chomp! you if he had half a chance. I hate cats. I hate blackberries too. Thorny–. Hate the winds. I think we have the South-Northerlies today, eh Woyzeck?
Woyzeck: Yes, sir.
Captain: There’s a laugh. South-northerly. North-southerly. Ha. Eh– you’re a good man, but you have no morals Woyzeck. Morals– you know the meaning– to be moral. Very important in this world. Your bastard, he’ll be the same. Bringing a child without the blessings of the church, that’s quite low.
Woyzeck: The Lord-o mighty is not going to look at that poor kid to see whether smoke and Amen is on his brow– didn’t the Lord– Our Lord say: suffer little children and forbid them not to come unto me?
Captain: What’s that? What an absurd thing to say. You carrying on like that– confusing. You– as in you– as in your people–
Woyzeck: My people–
Captain: Your people– are a bit– . Quick you know? Short– . Shelf life. They sort of– . Pheuw.
Captain: How to say it. Ah! Like a sea of burning ghosts over a green sea– but what does the lighthouse man see? The smoke doesn’t behave like regular smoke. It doesn’t dance up to the stars with the bers like regular smoke– . It sinks– . The sea sucks it. With a whistle– down into a watery hell. Your people– your souls are the smoke– quite the metaphor. I would like to think about it for a while.
Woyzeck: If we went to heaven we’d be behind the organ pedaling for the sound of thunder.
Captain: Virtue. Virtue. You see, the difference between you and I– . When it rains– I feel a little child dance in me– I go to the window and sit with my head out the glass– and my arm dangling there– and I watch those white stockings rush into the school– all the young feet– running over the hard stone without a single tear in the sock– the sluts probably borrowed them from their mothers. You know what I mean. And yes, Woyzeck. I too am flesh and blood. A man! A man– . A real man. You know what I mean– . A man. But virtue keeps my little arm dangling. My hand like this. And I say, “You are a virtuous man.” A good man. A good man.
Woyzeck: If I had a good hat, I’d be virtuous. I think so, anyways. Sometimes I think I know what’s right, like a command, about what I should do. Always ends in the shit. Woyzeck with his ass back in the bog where he came from. Dreaming of the heather.
Captain: Woyzeck! You must not philosophize. It doesn’t– don’t do it. Perhaps that’s what’s eating you and gives you such an electric look by eleven in the morning. Quite an indecent hour. Go on. OUT! Out! Out! And not that fast. Steady– there– slower. Slowly down the path. Look– A poor person.
1.2 The Field
A large bundle of sticks reminds Woyzeck of a childhood game.
Andres is making beautiful one, pulling sticks off a large branch until bare.
Is Andres a closet artist? Building sculptures in the dark that he burns the next
day? The moon drops wine onto them. Woyzeck keeps watch.
Woyzeck: This place is cursed. You know that, Andres?
Andres: What place? This hill? The swamp? The field? This town? This province? The country? Woyzeck!
Woyzeck: See that the light stripe on the green field? Leading into the bog. Every night, like clockwork, the moon rises, and as soon as she finds her spot, you can hear it– and there on the hill– there– the head comes rolling into the bog. If you keep watching, I promise you’ll see it.
Andres: Can’t. I’m busy.
Woyzeck: With what? Sticks?
Andres: Making a good bundle for the captain.
Woyzeck: Oh Andres yes you is! Hehe. A good bundle.
Andres: Get off.
Woyzeck: Brings them to the captain. I wish I made bundles like you. Have to try harder! He chucks him in the furnace you know.
Andres: I said get away!
Woyzeck: Sensible man not wasting good fuel. It’s too cold of a winter for that.
Andres: I know.
Woyzeck: They’re fine. Your wooden bellies and what not. As long as you don’t expect a twiggy baby to come out of it. No harm.
Woyzeck: I just saw it! Oh lord! The head Andres! Did you see it? Whose was it? Stay close. Andres. One time, poor fool from the post station– Hanz. Franz. Hanz– He sees the head, thinks it’s a hedgehog. He picks it up, fool. Three days later he was lying in his coffin with the stars in his eyes. Poor soul. That cranberry farmer with the canoe found him. Mark my words Andres.
Andres: Wait a second Franz. The bog isn’t there. It’s on the other side of the valley.
Woyzeck: No it–
Andres: A pair of hares was sitting there. Eating grass.
Woyzeck: Andres I was born in that bog! I think I’d know where the bloody bog was.
Andres: Bog my bum. A bunch of hares like jesus walking on the bogs. Bum. Ass! Ass on the Grass!
Woyzeck: Shhh! Hear that?
Andres: Sings. Fraßen ab das grüne, grüne Gras Biz auf den Rasen.
Woyzeck: Andres! Shh– there! Watch the marsh. I’ll show you.
Andres: Never will I. Never will I. Never will I kill a fly. Never will I–
Woyzeck: Quiet Andres! How strange– look! Look now– See it! See it!
Andres: I can’t look. I have to keep watch over these sticks.
Woyzeck: Do you hear it?
Andres: Yes– I hear it. I hear it.
Woyzeck: So quiet. As if all the world was dead. Andres– say something
Andres: Sings. A pair of hares was sitting there, eating the green green grass. Until the ground was bare.
Woyzeck: Shh! There. Some thing is moving. Behind me. Under– through me? There– beneath! It’s hollow. Some thing is moving under us!
Andres: Franz, I’m frightened.
Woyzeck: Don’t move! Still as a tree. It’s so bright! Too bright for the night. Unnatural oranges. The fire sailing over the town. And the smoke is close. Oh Jesus look at it! Here it comes! Soldier get down!
Thrown down. Still. Andres after a moment gets up.
Andres: There’s nothing there!
Woyzeck: Shh! It’ll get you Andres!
Andres: Franz you scared me! I was really scared. I have to go. I have to go feed the– bye. See you later.
Woyzeck: So quiet. As if all the world was dead.
Violin sounds sound.
Woyzeck: Such a pity. Such a pity. When I first met Marie, the sky in the valley was always in different shades of indigo. Orange now. Past is past.
Grandmother: Woyzeck! Go home. Avanti. Faster! Don’t forget the sticks.
Woyzeck: I’ll be getting home to Marie now. I’m going.
Takes bundle of sticks.
Someone who taught me was my grandmother Gloria. She has had many traumatic experiences and I’ve witnessed the healing process and the ways she never healed. My grandmother was taken from her home, her parents and her siblings to a school off reserve to be transformed from Mi’kmaq to Christian.
The Shubenacadie Residential School was run solely by priests and nuns sixty-five years ago, when she was only five. They lured many young children from my community onto a bus, saying they were going on a field trip. Not only from my reserve, but also from reserves across Nova Scotia, children were taken to the “Rezzy School”. When they arrived their hair was cut and when they spoke our language they were beaten and punished. They were punished for caring for one another or sticking up and talking back. Many children were sexually abused, lost their language, and their dignity and their childhood. These they never recovered even after they were released from the residential school.
When I was growing up I remember my grandmother yelling and chasing us out of her house. She lost her ways of how to love and care, even though she was blessed with seven kids. She became an alcoholic and suffered from not loving herself.
When I was sixteen, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and my heart was with her every day. When I graduated, I moved in with her and spent two years caring for her. She would attack me, yell and kick me out or try and run away, not remembering who I was. I would never listen. I would hold her tight, tell her how much I loved her, and tell her: it’s okay, you don’t need to worry, I’m not going anywhere, I love you.
She would look at me with her turquoise-blue eyes and say, “I love you too,” calm as could be, like she didn’t just freak out. Soon she became so attached to me she wouldn’t go to bed unless I was lying by her. She would place her head upon my chest when she was feeling lost, you can notice her eyes were in a daze. I would tell her, “Gram, you know I’m here to remember for you, when you forget.” She only felt safe when I was there.
Someone told me my gram had been blessed with peace finally and to look at Alzheimer’s as a good thing, since she no longer remembers the horrible things from that school and can live in peace. For two years I would tell her I loved her, as I would come and go and she started to love again. I saw it in her eyes. Now she tells me she loves me and gives me a kiss as I walk in and I embrace her every single time. She taught me how to let go and move forward even though she can’t remember. It is a blessing to be released from all the agony she had to face as a child. I am blessed with such a beautiful gram I can care for and love. She is a beautiful woman and I love and miss her so much today.
Mes Petites Souliers
These things happen when I’m 16 —
1. I go to France.
2. My parents get divorced.
3. I have my first kiss.
By the end of my exchange, I’m most known for shuffling cards, and this is how my stump thumbs are first brought to my attention. High school is a shit time, shitter to be in a high school in another country, and maybe shittest if that country is France and the prevailing opinion of the Canadian girl is girl, stay away from me with your flared pants. In my mind now, they don’t speak French; they sound like that. Girl! Nuh-uh. Not to say that the Canadian girl hasn’t earned her nuh-uhs — in the morning when groups gather in circles and exchange kisses, she’s got a special talent for giving too many or too few, leaving her lingering cheek-to-cheek too long. Girl, you best not be crossing to circles you shouldn’t be crossing to. But when I shuffle cards… oh lord, it draws all kinds.
At afternoon break, we line up by the cafeteria window and one-by-one take our ration of baguette and chocolate stick, eaten together like a sandwich. I sit at the cafeteria table and Solène takes up the post at my right shoulder. Solène is six-foot-something in red platform Docs, with an overbite that extends as far as her nose. If I needed a bouncer, it’d be Solène. A group saunters up as I take my last bite of bread and pull the deck of cards from my bag. Most of these Frenchies normally choose not to speak to the exchange student, but Francine, Aude, and Solène are familiar faces. Francine is, at best, two thirds of Solène’s height. She ducks into one of the chairs right by the action. A bright white goggle tan, from her family’s recent trip to the Alps, lights her face. Aude, whose grayish hair always seems to blend into her grayish complexion, is near the back, hunched into her own form. My thumbs release the cards as perfect alternators left to right to left… it’s the beat of a hummingbird’s wings, the drum of Niagara Falls, the kick-start of a freshly gassed lawnmower. And we’re not even at the good part.
Internet palmistry tells me years later that my thumbs are murderer’s thumbs. Also known as potter’s thumbs, stub thumbs, clubbed thumb, it’s a condition shared by millions of self-conscious people around the world. There are Internet support groups dedicated to my condition, despite the fact that there are no real ramifications of having short thumbs. Mine crack a lot. That’s all. Stumpies on the site describe having children with an elegantly long-thumbed spouse, and checking their offspring’s digits as soon as they’re freed from the womb. During the brief period when I wanted to wear a thumb ring, it was hard to get it over the knuckle but then it’d dangle at the base. They’re about half the length of a normal thumb. According to Internet palmistry, they belong to a person who is:
1. Kind of dumb
2. Very calm (even frighteningly so), except the two-to-three times
in their life that they lose their shit. Murder someone. With their
thumb shaped like the inside of a jugular vein.
Before I left for the exchange, I was given a booklet. It laid out proper etiquette for your host country — Belgium, Switzerland or France. The advice they give you in Canada about how to act in France is the worst.
• Fold your lettuce four times before placing it in your mouth.
• Learn your kisses; it’s four for formal or important meetings, three
in some parts of the country, sometimes it’s one kiss for a quick
hello, but usually it’s two unless it’s three days past a full moon on
a Sunday. The entire plane ride from Toronto, I worried about
how many cheek kisses I should give my host parents. It was two
for each of Amandine’s family members, Mr. Treguer, Mrs.. Treguer
and Tiami, their adopted daughter from Vietnam. Amandine
wasn’t able to make it. Mrs. Treguer didn’t make me feel too un-
comfortable when I inexplicably took her hand during the cheek
• Don’t try to be too friendly.
Also, do not place too much trust in your high school French teacher in small-town Ontario, who also teaches Italian and sometimes art. My French teacher, Mme Ssss (Sorbet? Scabies?), had a very serious look on her face as she had our class of 12 repeat back to her, “souliers… shoes… souliers… shoes”. Do not say souliers in front of a group of teenagers at a high school in France, because they will laugh at you, and they will make you say it again and again. Souliers is what you would ask for if you were a bright-eyed eighteenth-century chicken heart and your toes were chilly in the dewy morn. The only time they actually use the word is in the expression être dans ses petites souliers — “to be in one’s small shoes”, “to feel awkward”. Shoes are chaussures.
Amandine, my exchange partner, spent three months in Canada before I came to France. She had a crush on a boy named Andrew who hung out in the smoke pit, and with whom she got to make out once or twice. Now, back in France, she hovers with her friends near the door of the cafeteria. She won’t come over to watch me shuffle. She won’t come near the pariah. The cards have all been laid down; the two piles bellies’ fold into one another at the centre. My thumbs hold the cards steady on top while my other four fingers lift from the bottom. Eight or nine French faces lean further over the cafeteria table to see exactly how the trick is done, and Solène warns with her arm, making sure there’s no interference. I bend the cards up into a rainbow. Once the pressure builds high enough, I let them cascade down, completing the bridge.
A tall boy who wants to try snatches the deck from my hands. He can do the riffle, but not the bridge. The deck travels around the group and it’s the same for all of them. In my group of euchre players in Ontario, a bridge is nothing to nobody. Who can’t do a bridge? But here, c’est encroyable.
There are three places I go while I’m staying in Bretagne — the house, the high school, and the stable. Horses are why Amandine and I were paired together, and she has to take me with her whenever she goes riding. We’ve both ridden since we were young. In Ontario, I have a horse named Smokey. When Amandine was in Canada, I sorted through the bathroom waste basket for the torn pieces of a diary entry that read Je n’aime pas Smokey. Je ne sais pas pourquoi. I don’t know if she tore it because she changed her mind about Smokey or because she knew how upset I’d be if I found it.
After Amandine left Canada and before I arrived in France, in that three-month period, my parents announced they’d be getting divorced. It happened the day after Christmas, actually, with the poinsettia still firmly planted in the centre of the kitchen table. The poinsettia is still the only image I can conjure for that day.
Soon afterward, my mother began taking a late-night computer class even though she seemed to know her way around a keyboard well enough. My father began taking late-night drives around Niagara Falls.
I was in France for about a month before I finally received a care package from my mother. The package was waiting on my bed when I returned from school. I ripped open the manila envelope and found a couple of Caramilk bars and a letter saying she’d gotten a boyfriend (from the computer class) and a Honda Shadow. I knew my mom had ridden a motorcycle when she was young, but the image of her doing it as a 48-year-old wouldn’t compute. Tiami knocked on my door with her tiny fists but my eyes didn’t lift from the letter. Jenneefer, ça va?
In Bretagne, everyone wears britches instead of chaps, and smokes before and after riding. I collided with a girl on our second ride. The horses moved around the indoor ring at a near gallop and dust wafted through the air. There was no order to the galloping, or I didn’t understand the directions. We made laps around the ring. My horse was starting to get sweaty, and I leaned forward to give him a pat. When my eyes returned upward, I was headed straight toward another horse. The girl tried to steer one way or another, and I mirrored. In Canada (En Canada… I got so tired of saying that) you pass left-to-left, and France, apparently, it’s right-to-right. Our horses tried to take over the steering at the last minute — I don’t know why they trusted us for so long — but still their chests hit hard. I didn’t fall off, but the other girl did. Every horse in the ring halted.
From the ground she yelled at me and I replied with the words that Mme Sss had taught: je m’excuse! Don’t say souliers and don’t say je m’excuse, especially not again and again. I excuse me! I excuse me! Je suis desolé.
The cards are passed back to me, and I perform a few more easy bridges. And the boy I have a crush on, Sébastien, breaks away from Amandine and comes in to watch. I remember him being so tall, but not as tall as Solène. He rides too, which is awesomely uncool in Canada and très cool in France. French boys know how to wear britches. Every morning, I cross to whatever circle Sébastien is standing in to kiss cheeks, and he obliges. It makes my gut smolder.
A month after the horse collision, a group from the stable, including Sébastien, went out to a small boîte to dance. That night we planned go back to Isabelle’s house and sleep in one big room. We only had two scooters between the eight of us, so Isabelle and Yves made rounds picking up two people up at the back of the pack and driving them up the road. For those walking, the pavement twisted ahead in the dark, and it would take a few moments after the glare of the scooter headlights faded to be able to see. I tried to position myself so I’d end up with Sébastien on the scooter, but he was always somewhere else. I was dropped off with Guillaume at the front of the pack and the scooter wheeled around to get new passengers. Guillaume was one of the few I felt like I could be friends with, so I tried to say anything to push through the swath of silence. When the stars emerged from the scooter’s headlights, they looked incredibly clear to me. The countryside and the smell of gasoline reminded me of nights back home with my best friend Eric, when we would drive up a dead end road to stargaze. I said to Guillaume, in my best French, Les étoiles sont belles ce soir. He looked at me like Oh Shit Girl, nuh-uh.
There are a lot of moments that could be considered the trigger point for the trouble—some might choose the horse collision or the fashion errors—but for me, it goes back to that line. Les étoiles sont belles ce soir. The stars were beautiful. But it made things worse…
Now, at the cafeteria table, my stump thumbs are first brought to my attention. The tall boy passes the cards back to me. I do the bridge again. And again. Sébastien moves closer to see the pivotal moment where it transforms from a normal shuffle to an impossible cascade. Back at my home in Canada, my mother is packing up my childhood belongings from our home on Shorthill Place, the house where I’ve lived since I was six, the basement walls of which I’ve ruined with giant watercolours of horses, the backyard in which my dog Mustard is buried. Here, Sébastien leans over towards me and my heart speeds up. There, en Canada, my mother moves her boxes into a bungalow belonging to a man named Gordo, who teaches a nighttime computer class at the local high school. Here, in the cafeteria, Séb looks amused and holds his thumb against mine, and it’s twice the size. He ushers some people over to see, including Amandine, and my crowd is larger than ever before.
That night, sitting in my bedroom, I get the phone call from my mom that the house has been sold and that Peter and I will be spending some time at grandma’s when I get back. My mom will sleep at Gordo’s. I stare through the window at the hilltop church spire while I hear stories of motorcycle rides and the excitement of dating. That hilltop spire is the image I retain from the phone call. Tiami peers her head around the corner to tell me that dinner is ready. Dinner at the Treguer’s is almost always the same: baked fish, fresh baguette, shredded carrot salad, weird chunky sausages, cheeses. I sit at the table with Amandine, Tiami, Mr. and Mrs. Treguer and fork some carrot onto the baguette. They talk to one another and I stare only at my plate. It goes quiet, and then Mrs. Treguer ask me, Jen, ça va? I start crying into my carrot, but even now, I do not murder. The family sits composed as I try to say what the hell my problem is, but it’s stuck in sobs and French gibberish. Je m’excuse, je m’excuse… I get myself up to my bedroom as fast as possible and sit on the bed. Mrs. Treguer arrives at the bedside and sits beside me, puts her arm around my shoulder and tells me I can speak English.
My thumbs stay hidden for years, tucked into my palms as I walk down the street. When I develop my film from France, I get to see the trip my camera took during some hours it went missing at the stable. I flip through the photos one by one, shuffle and rearrange them, look at them again, look at the images my friends from the stable wanted me to keep. I investigate the different angles and lighting. Regardless of the order, regardless of how many times I shuffle, the photos are always the same. It’s a bunch of horse assholes. And I still have them.