“Blaming Bloman”

Free short story time! Here’s “Blaming Bloman,” which was first published in the premiere issue of Beyond Imagination Digital Literary Magazine (it’s permanently free on Amazon, FYI). This story was adapted from a short play I wrote in college, “Blaming Beckett,” which technically can never be performed (but that didn’t stop us in college).

Copyright 2014 Daniel R. Sherrier

“Blaming Bloman”

By Daniel Sherrier

The stage directions were clear.

Bathe the minimalist set in pink lights. Position character ‘A’ in a garbage can. ‘A’ must stand in the receptacle and raise her left arm at an eighty-point-four degree angle. The garbage can will be gray, will not exceed one-point-zero-three meters in height, and will under no circumstances surpass one-point-ninety-seven meters in circumference.

Position character ‘B’ upside-down in a second garbage can of identical dimensions, situated zero-point-two meters stage-right of ‘A’ and not one decimeter further. His legs will point forty-five degrees in opposite directions, forming a V.

‘A’ will face character ‘C,’ who will stand two-point-seven meters stage-left of ‘A’ and behind a branch measuring one-point-two meters in length. The branch must have two leaves still attached. No garbage can, but it is absolutely imperative that he wear a brown paper bag over his face. ‘C’ is not to breathe.

H. Bartholomew Bloman decreed all this and more in his latest masterpiece, “Shrug: A Play in One Act?”

The cast and crew followed the script to the greatest extent possible while staging the show’s world premiere at an off-Broadway establishment. Several states off. Three would-be accomplished actors now gave life to ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C’ on a creaky proscenium stage before an audience numbering in the tens. Lower tens. The box office sold twenty-seven tickets, and twenty-one patrons showed up for the eight o’clock curtain.

Bloman always hated dialogue, so “Shrug: A Play in One Act?” features none of that distracting chatter. Thus, the cast was not miked in the acoustically challenged theater wedged between a twenty-four-hour gym and fast food restaurant, so two of them were free to speak their minds.

“Bart Bloman can kiss my ass,” ‘B’ said from the depths of his garbage can. Well, ‘B’ didn’t say that. The script denied ‘B’ any permission to say anything, but the young actor with perfectly coifed hair considered himself under no such obligation as the residual odor of long-departed trash slithered into his nostrils.

“Don’t insult the playwright,” the actress portraying ‘A’ muttered. She rendered her face nearly inscrutable, per Bloman’s instructions, though her infectious wonderment threatened to burst forth from her wide eyes as she watched the finely crafted personification of ‘C.’

The actor beneath the paper bag was not free to speak. He was not even free to breathe. He was, however, required to shrug right this second, so he did.

‘B’ noticed a blue tint forming at the base of his garbage can—the first of the incomprehensibly important light cues.

“Playwright?” he said. “How is he a playwright? How is this a play?”

‘A,’ ever an unpaid pro, flattened her burgeoning smile. “It’s a work of art.”

“Yeah, sticking two people in trash cans is just so artistic.”

“Don’t forget ‘C.’”

The lights turned to red. ‘C’ shrugged, though ‘B’ missed it due to his unfortunate vantage point.

“Oh, yes. ‘C.’ How could I forget good old ‘C’ standing there shrugging his shoulders at random intervals? Oh, such pathos…”

‘C’ shrugged twice more. Each new shrug was a flawless replica of its predecessor.

‘A’ would not stand by and let a fellow actor mock Bloman’s brilliance. She’d stand there because Bloman told her to, but Bloman did not explicitly forbid her from pushing words through her clenched teeth to defend his honor. “It’s supposed to represent the uncertainty of humanity at this crucial point in history when—”

“I don’t want to hear it. That’s it. I’m getting out of this damn trash can.”

“You can’t get out. It’s not in the stage directions.”

“So I’m improvising.”

“You can’t improvise.”

The lights turned to green, and it meant something.

“That’s right. Bloman’ll sue my ass off if I mess up his precious stage directions. Bloman can go to hell.”

“Just accept it. You’re upside-down in the can until the play is over.”

“I feel light-headed. Did someone try to bleach this thing?”

“It’s only a one-act. Kind of.”

“Is it? Your arm has to be getting tired.”

‘A’ refused to complain about discomfort in pursuit of art. She focused on ‘C’ as he shrugged beneath the purple lights. Ah, purple. Bold choice, Bloman. Bold choice.

“I’m sure no one would notice if you shook out your arm real quick,” ‘B’ said.

“I can’t.”

“You can.”

She took care not to raise her voice, lest she spoil the illusion for the twenty-one patrons in attendance. “In a few moments, I lower my hand to waist-level for precisely two-point-four seconds and then raise it back up at an eighty-three degree angle. I can wait until then.”

“Chicken. Bok bok bok.”

“Stop clucking. They might hear, and that’s an inappropriate juxtaposition. I don’t see you hopping out of your garbage can, now do I?”

“Somehow, this has gotten oddly comfortable.”

“Sure it has.”

“Or maybe it’s the fumes. Someone used a lot of something in here. And yet still not enough.”

The script called for ‘A’ to cough at this very moment while awash with this specific hue. So she coughed.

“Sounded like tough acting there,” ‘B’ said.

Bloman’s peerless intellect knew of only one way to follow up such a cough. The lights switched to yellow.

“I had to make sure the cough was delivered at just the precise pitch and volume so as to convey the sense that—”

“How’s it going, ‘C’?”

‘C’ did not respond, but that did not deter ‘B.’

“Hey, man. How’s life in a bag?”

“Wait for it,” ‘A’ said.

“What the hell is he doing over there?” ‘B’ asked.

“Standing perfectly still. In character.”

“I don’t get that guy or his ‘character.’”

‘C’ shrugged. ‘A’ almost erred by grinning, but she caught herself. “There you go. He shrugged his shoulders.”

“How shocking.”

“The yellow really highlights the shrug. Isn’t this fascinating?”

“Maybe it’s all the blood rushing to my head, but no. It’s not. Not even a little.”

‘A’ basked in the orange lighting now saturating the stage. “Bloman is a genius.”

“I can’t see a damn thing.”

‘A’ lowered her hand to waist-level for two-point-four seconds, brought it up, and held it at an eighty-three degree angle.

“Ahh…That felt nice,” she said.

“What was nice?”

“I lowered my arm.”

“With Bloman’s blessing, I’m sure.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t want to mess up his play.”

“This isn’t a play. We’re not doing anything.”

“I did something. I moved my arm.”

His legs stiffened. “How impressive.”

‘C’ shrugged.

“You missed another shrug,” ‘A’ said. “Each one’s better than the last.”

“They’re all the same.”

“No, you see, they’re all occurring in different color lighting, so each shrug has its own unique personality because of the way the light—”

“Don’t make me kick you.”

“You can’t kick me. It’s not in the stage directions. Now lower your voice.”

“Then I’ll add my own stage directions at the end of the play.”

“And afterwards you can face the wrath of Bloman.”

Lawyers usually accompanied Bloman’s wrath. They were his parents’ lawyers, but still. “Dammit.”

“Don’t mess with Bloman. He’ll get you.”

The lights transitioned to a perfect shade of brown. ‘B’ grew drowsy, though the lingering, noxious traces of refuse prevented any peaceful slumber, leaving him merely restless.

“So what are you doing after this ‘performance’?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Probably going home and watching TV. You?”

‘C’ shrugged.

“TV sounds about right, maybe a beer,” ‘B’ said. “What about you, ‘C’?”

“Your timing was a little off,” ‘A’ said.

“He’s no fun.”

“We’re not here to have fun. We’re here to give life to a great work of art,” ‘A’ said.

“Oh, excuse me.”

“You’re excused.”

‘B’ drew out a long breath. “Are we almost done with this?”

“I still need to lower my arm that second time.”

“People can’t possibly still be watching this.”

“I don’t know. My head can’t be turned directly at the audience.”

“What about ‘C’? He suffocate yet?”

“No, he’s hanging in there. I think. He’s standing. That’s a good sign.”

“What if he passed out? Wouldn’t that ruin everything?”

Golden lights replaced the brown in what Bloman considered a feat of sublime symbolism.

“That won’t happen,” ‘A’ said. “He put too much work into the role.”

‘B’ felt his arms going to sleep. “We should do something different.”

“No,” she hissed.

“Bloman’s not even in the audience. He’s working a shift at the bar. He’ll never know.”

“He will know. He’s Bloman.”

‘C’ bent his knees and reached straight down to pick up the branch. He held it in his right hand for four-point-five seconds before setting it seven centimeters to the left of its original location, and he rose back into his default stance.

“Amazing,” ‘A’ said.

“What?”

“He picked up the branch.”

“Oh. Does that mean we’re almost done? I’m losing feeling in my legs. And my head.”

“Um, well…Wait, hold on. Need to focus…”

‘A’ lowered her hand to waist-level for two-point-four seconds, brought it up, and held it at an eighty-three degree angle.

“Sorry, didn’t want to mess that up,” she said. “Anyway, you did actually read to the end of the script, right?”

“Stopped reading when I realized I had no cues,” ‘B’ said. “I am so ready for a new script. No more Bloman plays.”

‘C’ breathed for two seconds. Pink lights bathed the stage.

“So you didn’t see that last stage direction?” ‘A’ asked.

“What, the lights going back to pink?”

“No. There’s one more after that.”

“After?”

“Uh, yeah. It says…”

“Says what?”

“‘Repeat entire play.’”

‘C’ held his breath and shrugged.

‘B’ did neither. His frustrations echoed within his garbage can.

“Fuck Bloman.”