Prose Header

Donna’s Men

by Michael E. Lloyd

Table of Contents
Book I: Windmills Everywhere

Chapter 6: Outsider Soup

part 3 of 3

D-503: I tried to pit nature and spirit against artifice and order. They took my imagination away, but perhaps I made a difference ...

MARX, WATSON & THE SAVAGE (in unison): And So Did We. If only something had worked!

DIEGO: Yes, how can you pretend to live if you don’t oppose, to the death, what you know to be wrong?

SMITH: I understand just how you felt, D-503. Too well, some would say ...

‘Men after my own heart,’ says Albert.

Axel wanders in with his new girlfriend in tow. She is wearing a virtual reality headset and her pistols are still smoking.

‘I really shouldn’t have come down here tonight, you know,’ he moans. ‘I was quite happy up in my room. But now we can’t possibly go back, can we? Hey, you two, the funny little waiter and the dopey blonde — would you please deal with everything while we’re away? Good!’

Axel and Sara exit stage left. They have brought their own bottle.

‘Not the best solution,’ muses Albert. ‘I think something a little more positive might be needed, Donna. Let me present The Visionaries.’

BOEHME: Oh, the joy of awakening to those opening gates and realising that heaven and hell are everywhere within us!

SWEDENBORG: I know what you mean about those gates, Jacob. I know it for a fact. Every sense at its most alive! Nausea, get ye gone!

BLAKE: Yea indeed! Energy is eternal delight. Know thyself! Cultivate thy vision! Abhor the literal! Chase off the Spectre! The way lies forward, with heart and mind and body in perfect harmony.

WHITMAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah! Give me a good body (as well as a healthy mind) and a fine place for them to live and sing in!

YEATS: Life is a tragedy. But don’t use scatter-fire on it. The answer must be there, somewhere. Enable those special moments, those rare glimpses of harmony. And I’ve just spotted Fray Luis over in the corner! I think I’ll go and have a quick word, if he’ll allow me to intrude ...

Albert remarks ‘I think they were all on the right sort of track too.’

Kurtz is already on stage.

‘Oh, the horror! The horror! And nobody dare tell me I’m living in the moment! It’s you and your pathetic pretences I’m talking about. YOU!’

He seems purged at last, and simply drifts out through the exit door.

Albert is clearly impressed but unfazed.

‘Now, we’re going to need a bit of extra life force to cope with the next bunch, Donna. Steel yourself ...’

ELIOT: It’s really just a waste of time. Barrenness every way you turn, whatever you think. But no surrender is allowed. Just wait and hope.

PRUFROCK: I have to agree, boss. Well, I would, wouldn’t I? Pass the coffee spoon, please.

THE HOLLOW MEN: Just how we feel too. Don’t forget us, sir! Not that you could, of course. And never try to set us free!

WELLS: I was positive at the start. Like Mr Polly. But when I finally thought about it properly, I reached the end of my tether. There is no way out or round or through. Perhaps we should give way to some other breed ...

STROWDE: Nothing is worth doing.

WESTBURY: Nothing is worth doing.

GAUNTLETT: Nothing is worth doing.

ALL ON TABLE: Whimper.

‘Give me strength!’ hisses Albert through gritted teeth. ‘Where’s the point in recognising you’re different from the bourgeoisie if you don’t follow through and do something with that insight?’

‘Like Roquentin, you mean?’

‘Hah! And Meursault, in his way!’

The Fasting Artist has dragged his weary bones across the room, and is looking in strange detachment at the gaily feasting ensemble.

‘I just didn’t enjoy any of it, you know. So it was very, very easy.’

An uncaring stagehand emerges from the exit door and unceremoniously pulls the artist out.

‘I hope you’ve digested your dinner by now, Donna,’ says Albert, once again the rebel without a pause. ‘Strong hearts and stomachs required for the next table!’

KARL and FRANZ MOOR (arm-wrestling): Power to the Male! Evil for its own good! No religion! Man is all he needs!

JAMES Sr: Hah! You were so busy doing evil you never felt the vastation of it. If you had .......

DELEAL: Life is a vast web of cruelty.

ANDREYEV: All I see is horror.

ADAMS: I started out carefree, you know. But after the war — yeah, evil’s everywhere. Everything’s out of tune. I’m trying to cope ...

‘Hell is those people, Donna. Right up J-P’s street. “And with one great leap of terror they were free.” Hah!’

Jordan has appeared in the limelight.

‘To be or not to be ...?’

‘Plagiarist!’ cries the multitude with one voice.

‘But that is the question!’

‘Get off!’ they all scream. ‘We can’t let two characters have the same bright idea!’

‘It’s all very well for you! You’re not stuck in the firing line.’

He crawls through the exit, looks up, and waits. After a few moments the door slams shut.

‘Hmmm,’ says Albert. ‘OK, I’ll get J-P to take over now. And don’t worry if he makes a fuss about Christian again. I only do it to annoy ...’

‘Albert, you are quite wicked.’

We return to our own places, and I enjoy a light sorbet. It clears my literary palate nicely.

‘J-P, would you kindly escort Donna around the final set of tables? They’re rather more up your street than mine.’

J-P acquiesces with just enough grace. And as he leads me towards the first group of Searchers, he murmurs ‘I really don’t know why he said that, young lady. Why can’t he live in the real world? Oh well, he’ll learn the error of his thinking soon enough.’

CHRISTIAN: What must I do to be saved?

RASSELAS: Well, don’t go down to Happy Valley or you’ll lose your mind. Break free and face the facts — there’s no easy path to happiness. Just get busy.

UNDERGROUND MAN: But you’re suggesting it’s somehow possible to rationalise things! I wish I could. A curse on thinking! If only I were bourgeois instead of unique and forever alone!

BEZUKHOV: I can’t see the difference between good and evil. Nor can other men. Why do we live? What’s life? What’s death? What am I? But in the end I found solace in love.

TOLSTOY: That is just how I felt, my friend. Perplexed and nauseous at the lack of meaning. And escape from myself was impossible. I tried to fix it by giving everything away. Did that help? Who knows?

JAMES Jr: My characters, c’est moi! You have to stay outside. But how to realise yourself? — that is the question!

‘At least they all made some sort of effort to break out,’ remarks J-P. ‘Or in, perhaps. So, let’s move ... Ah, wait, here come Albert’s own merry men!’

Meursault and Sisyphus dance through the main doors in an unremarkable and self-contained pas de deux. They do not appear to be thinking or feeling very much at all, and their eyes are half-closed.

‘Just absurd,’ says J-P, largely to himself.

‘Of course,’ I say boldly to him. ‘But they don’t mind. Look!’

The heroes stop in their tracks for one brief moment, open their eyes wide, then hold their heads up high, separate and dance happily on — Sisyphus back the way he came again, and Meursault through the exit door, free as a bird and seemingly indifferent to anything his audience might think of him.

Over at our table, Albert applauds with vehemence, declaring ‘Now that was not the coward’s way out!’ J-P raises a heavy eyebrow and retorts ‘But he wanted always to be hated.’

Then he turns back to me.

‘So, Donna, let us see what the next lot have to say for themselves ...’

Mitya KARAMAZOV: The world is cruel. It was cruel to me, and I gave it no respect. But I still longed to live and to love ...

Alyosha KARAMAZOV: I came back out to look for my salvation. It was hard to find it in the turmoil. But everything is good, you know. And yes, Mitya, we should simply love life.

Ivan KARAMAZOV: I thought too much, on reflection. But life really is unliveable. Pitiable. A senseless chaos. How can you love it? Yet the will forces you to keep trying. And so the spiral worsens.

THE BROTHERS, in unison: Perhaps if we could have got it together ...

DOSTOEVSKY: You are all my children. But you, Ivan, see it most clearly. Catastrophe, Success, Weakness, Insight ... Yes, No, Yes, No ... the one always leads to the other. How to survive?

ZARATHUSTRA: By recognising that existence is nauseating. It is better to sin than to be bourgeois! Go it alone, but beware: you must exercise all your faculties to find your purpose, and then pursue it. To Life!!

NUÑEZ: They’re all just sick, sick, sick. But do they know it? Do they, hell! And who has to suffer for it?

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL MAN: We do, of course. I saw too deep and too much. Then there was no going back. And they dare talk about Truth? Hell is the nothingness around us. Everything is within us.

‘Not a lot of social interaction on that table, Donna!’ observes J-P. ‘But they did all make an effort, too.’

The spotlight has picked out Hancock chatting earnestly to Van Gogh and Gauguin.

‘Clearly still trying to learn some new tricks,’ muses J-P. ‘No chance.’

Hancock leaves the artists and walks into the open area, looking uncomfortable and laughing worryingly to himself.

He stops, peers out into the audience, and then laughs worryingly to himself again.

‘Did anybody come here by commuter train?’

Nobody responds.

‘Glad to hear it. Men after my own heart. So, which way is it, Albert? Ah, yes. Thank you and goodnight.’

He exits stage left.

J-P is unmoved. ‘Final table now, Donna. Maybe these guys have found the answer. Moi, I think at least a couple of them did ...’

DEDALUS: Just keep searching for your own ideal and your own truth, or you’ll be forced to accept those of others!

HESSE: Without purpose life is desolate, and with purpose it’s a nuisance. No man can achieve complete realisation. As my friend here may or may not agree ...

HALLER: You know, this place seems strangely familiar. Anyhow — when you realise you’re in a mess, you just have to listen to good advice, take the shock of the new, and not just bow out. And don’t wait too long. Then you might finally be healed.

KREBS: I’m glad you think you found the key to your freedom. I’m still looking for mine. Show me the way to go home ...

HENRY: I finally found meaning in my Cathy. My own Juliet. But love hurts. And what next?

ROQUENTIN: I did an awful lot of watching, and thinking too, and that made me see my utter insignificance to everyone and everything. Hah! So what? It is all absurd, we’re all useless, and there are no worthwhile solutions. But the music got me wondering if we shouldn’t just commit to something and get on with it. Like maybe writing a novel ...

SANTIAGO: Be a man. Be courageous. Be graceful under pressure. And know when to stop, undefeated.

‘Bravo!’ J-P has been cheering. But I’m not quite sure of the object of his accolades. Perhaps he’s just grateful that we are finally returning to our own table. And now I see Albert quietly booing across at Roquentin, and holding up a yellow flower, and murmuring ‘You were crazy from the start.’

The singer and her band move smoothly into Nightbus.

As we sit down again, I notice Nietzsche is busy talking, though few seem very interested.

‘... play actors of our own ideals ...’

I am trying to pick up the thread of the conversation when he just happens to exclaim ‘Mein Gott!’

‘Yes?’ asks a quiet voice.

A small hole erupts in the conversation. Nietzsche peers around in some disquiet, seeking the source of that voice and failing to find it. But he feels obliged to respond.

‘Ah. I did not believe you were still here.’

‘I am not ...’

‘Oh, that’s a relief.’

‘... but only in the simplest sense of that word.’

Nietzsche again looks rather dismayed. The localised silence abates. Some wit murmurs ‘I didn’t know Nijinsky had been invited,’ but nobody else seems to be listening. Certainly no-one responds. They all now have much bigger fish on their minds.

The main doors burst open again. Enter Treadwell, pursuing a bear and then stopping in his tracks.

‘Hey, will one of you nice thinkers please get that Hemingway guy off the back of my poor defenceless friends?’

Nobody reacts. But the bear has finally had enough of this attention, and has taken advantage of his protector’s lapse in concentration to creep behind his back.

Exit Treadwell stage left, now pursued by a bear.

J-P sighs, gets up, closes the exit door on a nasty crunching sound from just beyond, and returns to his table.

I shake my head in sympathy, take a sip of coffee and am suddenly aware of a new absence. The band has finished playing and has left the carousel. Its lights go dim, its lights go out, but all, it seems, is well.

Then, in another of those abrupt and infinite moments of terrifying silence in the midst of intense conversation, when everybody dreads it is only their last damnable words that are still resonating around the entire room, I hear the slightest of rattlings from the darkest corner, beside the now-silent, brooding carousel.

A man stands there alone, staring blankly into this scene, one embottled hand leaning on his cane, the other throwing a fistful of tablets down his gullet. He is ruthlessly tall, untidily bearded, and dangerously blue-jeaned. He is no stranger to me. Quite possibly my kind of man — another time, another place.

I drag my eyes away from him for a moment and glance at my table companions. It is not just the talking that has stalled. Time does not pass. Everything is still.

Except for this new man. I sense that now he is watching only me. I turn back, he comes alive again, and my eyes meet his frowning smile. The room deflates around us and he is suddenly much closer.

He swallows hard, grimaces, and stops smiling.

‘So, differential diagnosis, people!’

Still golden silence and that stare.

‘Who, me?’

‘Yes, you, Donna Whatever-your-name-is! Come on! What’s wrong with us all? Is it some sort of cancer?’

‘How can I possibly tell? So many conflicting symptoms! And anyway, everybody lies ...’

‘Oh, brilliant! So where does that leave us?’

Tap, Tap.

What was that? His cane? Surely not?


No, it’s coming from behind the door ...

Thump, Thump, Thump. ‘Donna, are you in there??’

To be continued ...

Copyright © 2010 by Michael E. Lloyd

Table of Contents

Home Page