(Eulalia and Malachi come on stage together and they are clearly in a happy mood. They go to the door of Abel's room carrying packages whose bright wrappings proclaim the fact that they are gifts. Eulalia is a small, vivacious woman of late middle age. Malachi is a big bluff fellow of about the same age, rather slow in demeanor)

EULALIA: (Singing) Haapy birthdayyy, dearrrr Aaaabel, hahbrthdayyy to youhooyou. Oh Malachi, I do hope he'll like the presents.

MALACHI: If he hears your singing, he may not want to let us in.

EULALIA: I'm his mother, and he can allow me a little braying on the eve of his thirtieth birthday. Oh, Malachi, open the door for me--these packages are all I can manage.

MALACHI: (Tries door) It's locked!

EULALIA: Locked? I don't believe you. He knew we were coming. Why would he lock it. It's probably just stuck. Push harder.

MALACHI: (Pushes hard) It's locked. Try it yourself.

EULALIA: (She tries door) You're right. Something's wrong.
(They knock . No answer. We can see that Eulalia is becoming concerned., They knock again.. No response from within. They fumble with the doorknob. No success. Eulalia turns in despair to Malachi]

EULALIA: I tell you, Malachi, there's something wrong. I know it as a mother always knows when her child is in distress. (She presses her abdomen with her right hand) I feel it here. Abel is in trouble. Why wouldn't he be home when he knew we were coming to celebrate his birthday. After all it's the only thirtieth birthday he will ever have.

MALACHI: Yes, that's true. I wouldn't have thought of it in that way. One certainly would expect Abel to want to celebrate such a unique event.

EULALIA: Then why doesn't he answer?

MALACHI: Maybe he isn't home.

EULALIA: I know he's there. Malachi, do something.

MALACHI: Like knock the door down?

EULALIA: Yes, yes let's do it!

(They both push against the door, until it yields to their weight, causing them to fall forward into the room. The door is actually made of very flimsy material. Lights come up to reveal a grotesque scene. A figure in the center of the room, covered by a shroud lies on top of a kind of catafalque, with lighted tapers at his head and feet. He is lying face up and with hands folded around a rolled up scroll. There are painted backdrops that picture such deathdealing devices as a scaffold, a hangman's noose and a guillotine; in addition there is a panted backdrop that depicts rows of shelves that have pictures of bottles labeled with names of poisons. It is a room that has an aura of death.)

EULALIA: (From the floor where she has fallen when the door gave way.) Oh, Malachi, I knew it. He's dead. My sweet boy, My dear son. So young and with so much to live for.

MALACHI: He looks so natural! (Then, looking down at Abel, he sees the rolled up scroll and plucks it out of his hands. Unrolls the scroll and starts to read) Eulalia, it's a letter to you! Do you want to read it?

EULALIA: (Turning her back to Abel and Malachi) No. Please read what my darling son had to say…and I'll try to control my sobs. Read it Malachi…please.

MALACHI: (Reading) Dear Mother, Dear Stepfather. Long ago, I resolved to accomplish something notable with my life. I always wanted to strive for something beyond excellence. I tried to become a super salesman, the best salesman of all. And I failed. Then I strove to become a super athlete, and failed, After those two failures, I tried a long string of other avenues to super success--music, science, poetry, and many others…always seeking a special significance and always ending in dismal failure. So at last, on the eve of my thirtieth birthday, I have sought one last avenue to perfection. Knowing that I could not be a youth of gold. I leave you now, forever, having escaped with honor from what would have been a bleak succession of meaningless years. Thus, if I could not be a youth of gold, I hope to defy my fate by finding a magificent way to escape my failures. To end my life rather than endure the unending feeling of complete failure.

(As Malachi finishes reading the scroll, Eulalia, who has been facing away from the coffin is sobbing and Abel slowly rises up to a sitting position. He is smiling)

ABEL: (Speaking to her back) A good suicide note, isn't it, mother?

EULALIA: (Replies without turning to face him and speaking in a flat, unemotional tone) Not from a stylistic standpoint.

ABEL: But you wept.

EULALIA: I wept as a mother. Speaking now as a critic, I have to say that it was too florid. As usual, you seem unable to resist the temptation to overwrite. Your father's suicide message, now there was a model of style. Isn't that right, Malachi?

MALACHI: Delivering that message was the high point of my career as a messenger. That suicide note from Hermann Cain, was the last, and the most important message I ever carried because it brought me together with you, dearest Eulalia.

(The stage lights go dim except for a bright spotlight on Malachi who has put on a uniform cap with a label that can be read easily-"Messenger")

MALACHI:How well I remember. I knocked at your door and said "I have an important message for Eulalia Cain." And you said, "My hands are wet, please read the message to me" And when I read it, you wept uncontrollably. I thought you would never stop. I opened the door, and feeling sad that I had been the bearer of such bad news., I tried to console you…it was ten years ago, but I feel as if it were happening right now (Spotlight goes out and stage lights return)
EULALIA:I remember, and will never forget that moment…you were such a comfort. And of course, I also knew that Hermann must have had compelling reasons to do what he did. You see, Abel. He was a man of honor to the end. He left that note for me, at the river bank, sticking out from the pocket of his neatly folded jacket, and anchored by his favorite bowler hat. No self pity. No pretense. And no hoax. He did what he set out to do. So unlike you. Sure it was distressing. But he left with honor. (Turning to glare at Abel) But with your trickery, you have forever tainted my notions of honor with your pretended suicide.

ABEL: No mother, believe me it wasn't going to be a hoax. I really meant to commit suicide.

EULALIA: How were you going to do it: (looking around) I don't see a noose. I don't see any poison. I don't see a razor.

ABEL: That's the point! Exactly it! (Excitedly) You've read about people trying to commit the perfect murder, haven't you. They scheme to find a way to kill someone without anybody knowing how it was done. Well, I extended the logic. I wanted to commit the perfect suicide.

MALACHI: What a brilliant notion. But how were you going to do it?

ABEL: (visibly heartened by the question indicating interest) I thought about all kinds of methods. I spent weeks researching strange, exotic and possibly undetectable poisons…but there was always the danger that a brilliant forensic scientist would come up with a test that would spoil it all for me. Another possibilitywas that of a dagger formed from a sliver of ice, but there was always the danger of a smart detective noting the puddle of water, and besides that it could be that the assumption would be that a murderer had taken a metal dagger with him. I'd almost given up when inspiration came to me.

MALACHI AND EULALIA:(together) What was it?

ABEL: The simplest way of all. I decided that I would hold my breath until I suffocated. Thus I would die without any outward signs of any cause. It would have created a mystery that could not be solved by even the most brilliant forensic scientists. "No detectable cause of death" would have been the headlines. The police would have questioned you. It would have been very exciting. And I would have achieved perfection.

MALACHI: But what went wrong?

ABEL: I made a big mistake this morning. I failed, I think, because of having at the predictions in the horoscope feature in the paper. I only glanced at it, but the words somehow were burned into my mind. It said: "For the Leo's this is a good day to take things easy, and try to set things straight, but be careful not to do anything final." Well, what could be more final than dying? So I would try to hold my breath and every time that I was on the edge of achieving my goal, that horoscope warning came into my mind's eye…and I would feel intimidated and…would despite myself, breathe again.

MALACHI: (Snorting in disbelief) I think there's no way you could have held your breath till you suffocated. You can't blame the horoscope for that!

EULALIA: Malachi, you're doing it again. Never willing to give Abel credit for making a serious effort to achieve greatness. No wonder he fails at everything.

MALACHI:And you're always trying to blame others for his failure. I think you're the one who is ultimately responsible…always pushing, pushing at him. You should realize once and for all, he just doesn't have greatness in him.

EULALIA: (Fiercely, stepping close to Malachi) And for the last time, I'm asking you to mind your own business. You're not Abel's father. And remember that I AM his mother! And I know what's best for Abel. (To Abel) Look what we've brought you, dear. Everything asked for. The miniature guillotine, the model of Peter the Great's torture rack, and the blueprint for constructing an Iron Maiden and a surprise that I've been saving to tell you when the time is ripe…and I think the time is now! What do you think of that?

ABEL: It's nice to have a surprise, but I don't think it will make me feel any better. Oh, mother, I've failed in every way a person can. I don't have any chance for greatness.

MALACHI: See what comes of your pushing him so hard!

EULALIA: (To Malachi) Keep quiet, I've heard enough from you. (To Abel) I told you I had a surprise. (She takes the scroll from Malachi) This scroll, which seems to be your suicide note…isn't that any more. (Holds it up to the light) And it is instead, an amazing new avenue to greatness. The legendary one I used to tell you about when you were very small.

ABEL: Mother, do you mean…

EULALIA: Yes, it is …

ABEL: The Qualifying Board?

EULALIA: {Flourishing the Scroll) This is our Certificate of Appearance

ABEL: Oh, isn't this thrilling, Malachi?

MALACHI: And what if we have an Unqualified Rejection there?

EULALIA; Well, what then?

MALACHI: You're never willing to face consequences. You know as well as I do that there is a terrible penalty for that. Anything reasonable, I'd say it would be worth risking for Abel's chance to achieve greatness…but not at such a great risk.

EULALIA: Once for all, realize that Abel's quest for greatness is like the shining of the stars. They have no option but to shine. The little mountain stream that becomes later on the mighty river doesn't suddenly declare that I'll stay here safe and sound-no it goes on toe reach the ocean. He is now just the mountain stream, but soon Abel will be that mighty river.

MALACHI: Stars, streams, rivers. I don't know about that stuff. But I do know that there is a terrible penalty for an Unqualified Rejection..a penalty that could not be rendered on not only Abel, but also the two of us, as well. And I'm afraid.

EULALIA: (Slowly, soothingly) Alright, Malachi. It's alright. You needn't be afraid any more.

MALACHI: Then we won't go to the Qualifying Board?

EULALIA: No, WE won't be going there. Abel and I will go there without you. And you will no longer be part of our household. I don't think you ever really and truly belonged, anyway…just an appendage.

MALACHI: (Stunned) An appendage. Have you so completely forgotten how I came into your lives. (Again the stage lights go out, this time the spotlight is on both Malachi and Eulalia.) Remember how after I read Hermann's suicide note to you, and you wept so uncontrollably, and I consoled you. Then at last you asked me to take you to the river bank where I had found the message, and showed you the mound of neatly piled clothes with the black hat still on top like a nipple.

EULALIA; (Falling into the memory) And I said, "What will I do now with a little boy to take care of and a living to earn?

MALACHI; And I said, "May I help?

EULALIA: How kind of you, but I couldn't ask for help from a stranger.

MALACHI: But you need help. Please let me help.

EULALIA: I'll have to find work. Would you look after my son while I'm at a workplace?

MALACHI: A big responsibility.

EULALIA: Yes, it is. Although it might not be so difficult. Even though my son is only twenty, he already has learned to do a lot of things for himself.

MALACHI: And I'd have to give up my post as a messenger. Would you pay me?

EULALIA: Oh, my dear, I couldn't afford to.

MALACHI: Tell you what. The solution is simple. I know we've only just met, but I hope you won't mind my pointing out that since you are a widow now…what if we were to marry. Then you wouldn't have to pay me. It would all be in the family.

EUlALIA: Of course! The answer is "Yes" (They embrace)
(Stage lights return)

MALACHI: There was depth and beauty in that moment, and now you say that I don't belong

EULALIA: Just at first you did, but that's all over now. You came to us as a messenger, and now you can go back to that.

MALACHI: (Abjectly pleading) Don't send me back to that.

EULALIA: Why not? Somebody has to do it.

MALACHI: That's the point. Being a messenger was for me the denial of being somebody. I became a nobody. It was so horrible for me because the very act of delivering messages was for me a denial of my very being. You see, I felt that the people from whom I collected messages, and the people I delivered them to were…(struggling for words) …s-s-superior beings and that made me automatically inferior. And they had secrets contained in their messages, and I had none of my own. It seemed to me that wearing that uniform, that peculiar cap, meant parading my nonentity for all to see. For me, a shameful fate.
Delivering other people's secrets.

EULALIA:Why not have some secrets of your own.

MALACHI: I tried to have some. How I tried. But no matter what I did, it was to no avail. My attempt at having secrets could not work because I knew that nobody cared if I had any sscrets. After all, mine were only fictitious creations. Not really genuine. They could not meet the one test secrets…somebody had to want to know what they were. And of course, nobody did. So please don't suggest that I return to that shame.

EULALIA: The choice is yours…messenger or Qualifying Board.

MALACHI: Between shame and the risk of a terrible fate…how can I choose?

EULALIA: It seems to me that the shame is sure…but the terrible fate is only a possibility. (Looking with pride at Abel) Really only a remote possibility. After all we can depend on Abel to come through successfully at the Qualifying Board. All you need is to have in Abel.

MALACHI: I think I feel it. (His hand is on his abdomen) Is this where it begins.

EULALIA: Sometimes. That's where my faith in Abel began.

MALACHI: But at my age?

EULALIA: I never heard of it happening quite so late before. That's no reason why it couldn't.

MALACHI: Or maybe it's the shrimp we had yesterday. Remember there was an odd odor.

EULALIA: It might be the shrimp. Would you like it to be the shrimp (Meaningly)…oh, messenger boy.

MALACHI: (Catching the implied threat) No, no! It must be faith. Faith in Abel.

EULALIA: Without secret reservations?

MALACHI: Of course. If I had any secrets-even secret reservations I would have been able to go back to being a messenger. I have faith in your potential for success at the Qualifying Board, Abel.

ABEL: Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah

EULALIA: I know you'll never be sorry, Malachi. And now that we're united in our dedication as a family to the effort to help Abel achieve greatness, let us make this Appearance Certificate (Holding aloft the scroll) our banner of battle.

ABEL; Onward. (Abel jumps out of the coffin and trips over the shroud he is wearing)

EULALIA; Abel, you'd better change. You can't go to the Qualifying Board in a shroud.

ABEL: You're right. I'll wear that blue pinstripe.

MALACHI: Onward!

EULALIA: You're eager

MALACHI: And afraid

EULALIA: (Waving scroll) On to the Qualifying Board

Stage lights go out

Scene 2 - Qualifying Board






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