The Prodigal Son (act one of a new play)


By Debra Moolenaar

( a short play inspired by Camus’ “The Outsider”)

Act One

NARRATOR: (to us.)  Listen up.  Your life may depend on it.   Think you can play around and not get burned?  Think again.

MRS NOVAK:    Let me get this straight, Mr Kermak.  You want me to believe you once lived here in this stinking hole of a town?

KERMAK: That’s right, ma’am.  Indeed I did.  Must have been, oh, twenty years ago, now, since I left Ustecky Kraj.  Doubtless, I look quite different, especially in this fine hand-made cashmere suit from Savile Row.  When I went away, I was wearing nothing but denim rags.  I’ve done quite well for myself in London.   But surely you must remember me?

MRS NOVAK: I’ve got a photogenic memory, Sir, and you’re not in it.

ANICKA NOVAK: What my ma is a saying, mister, is that this here village is so small there’s no way we wouldn’t know ya if you’d have lived here like you say.

MRS NOVAK:  That’s right precious child.  You know, Mr What’s-Your-Name, I had another child once, a son, whom I loved more than anything.  I worked three jobs to put him through school and how did he reward me?  He ran off.  One snowy night, just like tonight, he disappeared without a word and I ain’t heard heads nor tails of him for nigh on twenty years.

KERMAK:   There might have been a good reason for that.

MRS NOVAK: Ain’t no reason good enough for breaking a poor old woman’s heart.

KERMAK: Are you religious ma’am?

ANICKA NOVAK: What kind of question is that to put to a complete stranger?

MRS NOVAK: Why do you ask?

KERMAK: If you were religious, then you’d know the biblical story of the prodigal son.

MRS NOVAK: Never heard of it.

ANICKA NOVAK: You mean the one where the fool of a father welcomes his even more foolish son home after having disappeared for years?  Best I recall, the stupid old geezer even killed a fattened calf for a celebration and didn’t that piss off the older brother, who’d stayed at home and worked his tail off for the old man.  Bet he got his revenge.

KERMAK: Perhaps like the father in the story, Mrs Novak, you might forgive your own son should he show up here some snowy night to surprise you.

ANICKA NOVAK: What a stupid suggestion.  Just goes to show, mister, that you ain’t from these parts after all, else you’d know that’s not our way.

KERMAK: What is your way then, if I might ask.

MRS NOVAK: You may not ask, Mr Busy Body.  Didn’t your ma teach you to mind your own business?

KERMAK: My mother didn’t have much time to teach me anything when I was growing up, although I daresay she thinks otherwise.

MRS NOVAK: Probably working her fingers to the bone to take care of you.

KERMAK: Perhaps.  At any rate, I’d like to stay the night here in your hotel.  I’ll pay cash for the room.  As you can see here, I’ve plenty of that.

ANICKA NOVAK:  Wooo, baby.  I ain’t seen so much money in all my life.

KERMAK:   As I mentioned I’ve been quite successful in business.

ANICKA NOVAK:  Ain’t you scared carrying around a wad like that? I would be especially in a place like Ustecky Kraj.

KERMAK: Of course not.  Nothing untoward will happen to me.

MRS NOVAK: Why do you want to stay here, Mr Show-off?   With money like that to burn, I’d think the newly tarted up Hotel Royale across the street would be more to your taste.   They’ve got a ballroom and a grand piano.

KERMAK: I like it here and, besides, I’d like to share my good fortune with you.

ANICKA NOVAK: You playing around with us?  Cause if you are….

KERMAK: I…I’d never do a thing like that Miss Novak.

MRS NOVAK: I don’t want your good fortune, Mr Nobody, but I do want your cash.  Christmas is in less than a week and I haven’t a single booking.   Anicka, take this key and show the gentleman upstairs to the presidential suite.  A man of such quality must sleep like a king.


MRS NOVAK: I’m going to kitchen to sharpen my butcher’s knife on account of I think, thanks to God, we’ve just been delivered our own fatted calf. (exits).

NARRATOR: (to us.)  Prodigal son indeed.

(to be continued)

Original Fiction

The Secret Book of John

Anger and The Secret Book of John

Short fiction by Debra Moolenaar

© 2010

“Tomorrow I shall have to tell them.”    Glancing down at my hands, I wince and stuff my wedding ring in my jean’s pocket.  After shuffling across the room, I practice silent arpeggios before the well-stoked fire.  A week before Christmas and even Marseilles is cold and damp as a grave.   With increased circulation comes unexpected hope.  “What shall I tell them in London, Mother?   What shall I tell them when I go home?”

“The truth, child.”   Mother Superior hands me a cup of strong china tea.  “Understand that your anger is that of all the wronged women since the beginning of time.   There’s no disgrace in that.”

“I am not angry.”

“I’ve something that may help.”  With polished confidence, the nun glides across the crimson carpet to her ebony bookcase.  She selects a thin volume.  “This is one of my alternative Christian texts, some of which have come down from ancient Mesopotamia.”

The Secret Book of John?”  I flip  gold embossed, parchment pages and wonder what in hell kind of sacred treasure I’m holding in my unclean hands.

“The bishop believes it heresy.”  She flashes a seductive wink.  “I prefer to think of it as wisdom from the time when man had direct discourse with his gods.”

I nod.   Best I understood, heresy was wisdom, just in disguise.

“I prefer a humanist god to one who dishes out hell and damnation for every mistake,” continues the mother with the hint of a smile.

The Mother is progressive.  That’s why I chose The Sisters of Saint Joseph for my little er, um, retreat.   But as I prepare to leave France, I’m now thinking she’s too progressive, too focused on sweetness and light.  Maybe her sheltered life is like that.  Mine isn’t.

“Like me, Hannah, you search for truth.”  The mother bows her head.   “Yet when you fail to find it, like most of us you will accept the lies.  In this case anger is justified.  It signals something deep within you is wrong.   This Gnostic text explains much about what I believe it means to be a woman and why we all share the same anger.  What would you say if I told you that it was man, and not woman, who was responsible for original sin?”

“I’d be extremely pleased.”  I sip hot tea and find it satisfying as my favourite Belgian crème chocolate.  Finally, this nun is saying something that makes sense.

“According to the story, original sin resulted not from Eve’s encounter with the snake, but from God’s arrogance.  The Old Testament god was very selfish.  He didn’t hesitate to steal light from the Mother Sophia to give life to his human creations, Adam and Eve.   Understandably, Eve thought this unjust and it was while trying to return the light to the Mother, that she first tasted the fruit of knowledge in the Garden of Eden.”

I flip pages again.

“Let’s suppose it were true,” she continues.  “Can you imagine how Eve must have felt to be eternally damned for doing something so noble?”

“She’d be angry.”

“Yes.”  Although near my own mother’s age, Mother Superior suppresses a girlish giggle.  “Might it be possible that if, as the Church teaches women are burdened with Eve’s original sin, we might also be burdened with her anger?”

“I’m confused.”  Sometimes the mother talks in circles like my psychoanalyst in Golders Green.

“Confusion comes when you’re unable to see things for what they are. “  The mother glances at my blossoming belly.  Her mood slips.  “But anger, Hannah, anger comes when you refuse to accept things as you know they are.  Eve couldn’t change her situation but imagine how miserable she’d have been if she’d not accepted it.  Each of us must embrace her reality.”

“Not everyone…”  I stop horrified at my accusatory tone.  “I didn’t mean to say that.”

“But you did say it, Hannah.”  She watches a pair of jet-black starlings scrounge for berries, their yellow beaks bobbing against an abundance of pine green.   “And you had every right to do so.  If I’m not honest with you, how can you be so with me?”

“That’s not all that happened to Eve, is it?”  The softness in my voice frightens me. Without anger, I feel naked.  Without pain, I’m alone.

“Eve was raped.”  Her blue eyes go rheumy.

Mine glued to the floor I nod my understanding.   The mother’s life hasn’t been sweetness and light.  She’s just like me.

“John reminds us wrong lurks around every corner, even when we think ourselves safe.”  She squeezes my hand.  “But while John believed deliverance comes from outside, Eve demonstrated it comes from within.”

“Tomorrow I shall tell them the truth,” say I.  Rubbing my tummy, I shrug away tears.  “Although I was betrayed by a man I trusted, me and his child will be OK.”

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