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A Tale Told by an Idiot

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Originally Published by Maudlin House


ACT I

An ordinary room.

Midday.

A friend waits as a writer enters.

“Crap. Pure crap,” the writer says, tossing the thin stack of paper to the ground with the force of a feather.

“What is?” the friend asks.

“All of it! Every word, every sentence—the structure, the plot—”

“What’s wrong with the plot?”

“There isn’t one! It’s just dialog about nothing that goes on and on like a poor man’s Waiting for Godot.”

“I love that play.”

“Yeah, well, this isn’t that.”

The friend considers this while the writer considers the wall.

“Well, what do you have so far?” the friend asks.

“Dialog.”

“Is that all?”

“Sometimes I put words outside the quotation marks.”

“As in ‘he said, she said’?”

“Among other things.”

“Such as?”

“There are brief instances of characterization…later ruined by the fact that nothing happens.”

“Why does something have to happen?”

“What do you mean”—the writer says, moving his hands violently through the air as if bringing each word that leaves his mouth into existence—“‘why does something have to happen?’ It’s a story. What is it without the very existence of its own name?”

“Why can’t the characters be the story? You said there was characterization. Is there not?”

“Well, that’s subject to debate. And besides, they’re characters, not events, not plot.”

“So, you want there to be a plot?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“Is what they talk about not a plot?”

“Of course not,” the writer scoffs.

“Why not?”

“Because there’s no substance to what they speak of. You look at what I have now and what the characters babble on about and all you can ask is: what is the story here? What is it all about? It is as if they only speak for the sake of speaking, as if breathing is too boring, so they must fill the air with something else.”

“Well, what is it you want the story to be about?”

“I want it to be about something.”

“And yet?”

“And yet it is about nothing.”

“Well, what were some of the other ideas you had?”

“Well, first I thought that maybe the characters would have some depth—that the protagonist wouldn’t just be some cookie-cutter, cereal-box-type anyone.”

“So, who is the protagonist then?”

“Some flat-faced no one.”

“Well, that’s not anyone then, if it’s no one.”

“Of course it is. He’s anyone, he’s no one, he’s everyone.”

“Well, that sounds like something to me.”

“It is something which is nothing.”

“You have a gender at least. You said ‘he.’ Do you have a name?”

“I just said ‘he’ to say something. It has no gender. It has no name. It! has no personality.”

“Oh, so it’s autobiographical then.”

“Now you’re getting it!”

“I’m really not, though.”

“Neither am I. However, that does remind me. There is a title, actually.”

“Oh?”

“Oh, indeed. I’m actually quite fond of it—even though it’s attached to something which lacks any reason for fondness.”

“Well, that’s good. What is it?”

The writer strokes his hand through the air, alluding to the nonexistent stage seats in front of him. “A Tale Told by an Idiot.”

“Is that from Macbeth?” the friend asks.

“‘Is that from Macbeth?’” the writer says, scorning his friend with mock judgment.Of course it’s from Macbeth!” He shakes his head in dismay. “So uncultured…”

“Well, anyway, it’s certainly fitting.”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?”

The writer starts to wander as the friend reflects.

“Have you tried hiring an editor?” the friend suggests.

“An editor?” The writer scowls.

“I think it would be very help—”

“No! I have to do things my own way.”

“And what way is that?”

The writer puts his hands on his hips and stares at the scenic view of the ceiling. “Through blind stubbornness.”

“And how has that been working for you?”

“Terribly,” he says in the same prideful tone.

The friend watches the writer, waiting for him to take his hands off his hips. Eventually, he does and turns back to the friend.

“Well, do you want to read it?” the writer asks.

“The crap?”

“Yes, the crap on the floor.”

“Alright,” the friend says, picking the pages up off the ground. The writer stares at him with narrowed eyes for the reading’s entirety.

“Yeah,” the friend says after turning the last page and placing the stack neatly on the table. “There really isn’t a story here.”

The writer waves his hand through the air once more. “Signifying nothing.

“But—”

But?”

“But—”

“But what?”

“Let me fucking talk and I’ll tell you.”

“Yes yes, okay. So, you were saying there’s a butt?”

“But as in the conjunction, not the squeezing kind.”

“You can squeeze a conjunction.”

“Nevertheless—”

“Nevertheless.”

“Nevertheless,” the friend says, giving the writer a stern look before continuing. “Nevertheless, there is promise here.”

“Ooh!” the writer says, giddily. “Promise. My favorite word! The ultimate sign of only being good enough for encouragement. ‘Your son’s grades are fucking shit, but damn does he show a lot of promise. Let’s give him some pills!’”

“I’m serious.”

“As am I!”

“But really, there is promise here.”

“How so?”

“Well, although there is mainly only dialog, it is pretty good dialog. It’s humorous and grounded, but—”

“Here we go again with the butts…”

“But it needs to go somewhere.”

“And where would that be?”

“I don’t know, I’m not the fucking writer.”

“But you can be!”

“No, that’s not my part in this play.”

“What is your part then?”

“The supportive friend, of course.”

“And what a marvelous job you’ve done in that role.”

“Well, thank you. I really appreciate that.”

They stare at each other, smiling as they nod their heads. The writer takes a seat at the table across from the friend.

“So, what now?” the friend asks.

“I don’t know, I thought maybe we could get something to eat or whatever.”

“I meant in terms of the story.”

“Oh, the story! Right. Forgot all about that thing.”

“We were just talking about it.”

“Maybe to you we were just talking about it, but to me, that was a lifetime ago. Time moves at different speeds for us all, my friend.”

“It’s literally been two minutes.”

“But what even is two minutes?”

“Are you going to keep talking nonsense or are you going to answer the question?”

“What question?”

“The one about the story!” The friend pounds his fist on the table like a gavel.

“Ah, yes,” the writer says, leaning back in his chair and pointing his fingers towards the air. “The story.”

“Yes, the story.”

An equivocal amount of time passes as the writer smiles and stares off into the nothing while the friend waits.

“Well?” the friend asks.

“Well, what?”

“What now?”

“Oh, fuck if I know.”

“Are you going to keep working on it? Write up a new draft?”

“I suppose,” the writer says with an air of annoyance.

“I mean, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“Of course I don’t have to. I didn’t have to write the first draft to begin with.”

“And yet.”

“And yet I did.”

“So, I think you should keep working on it.”

“I think I might just.”

Curtain


ACT II

Next day. Same time.

Same place.

The writer enters.

“I’ve really done it now!” the writer exclaims.

“What?” the friend asks. “Did you write a second draft?”

“Yes,” he says, proudly.

“And?”

The writer slaps the somehow even thinner stack of paper on the friend’s desk, alarming no one with its lack of sound.

“Even worse!” the writer proclaims.

“Oh.”

“It’s quite alright, though. Like they say, ‘fair is foul, and foul is fair’”

“Why do you keep quoting Macbeth at me?”

“Oh, so you know that one too,” he says, snidely. “Fancy you.”

“You realize I was in the same Intro to Shakespeare class as you, right? In fact, I’m pretty sure you still have my copy of Macbeth, come to think of it.”

“Yes yes, I remember.”

“And besides, it doesn’t even make sense in this context.”

“Of course it does.”

“How?”

“Well, it goes to show that all those pieces I somehow got published before weren’t actually any good; that the publishers—and, thereby, the public—were wrong, and they were as bad as I suspected. Fair is foul.”

“Okay, but if we’re saying that the phrase is true of your work and that those pieces perceived by the public as good are actually bad, then the second half—foul is fair—must be true as well, and the work the public perceives as bad is actually good.”

“Preposterous!” the writer exclaims. Then, attentively, “but go on.”

“The reason this doesn’t make any sense in context to your work and is certainly not true is that first of all”—he picks the paper up off his desk and points it at the writer—“this is actually shit. At least, the first draft was. I don’t know about this one. But the public was not going to perceive that as good.”

“No, of course not. I never said they would.”

“Exactly. Therefore, foul is not fair. And, secondly, in regard to fair is foul, the pieces you got published are good. It’s not just public perception.”

“Nonsense.”

“It’s not nonsense. You coming in here, misquoting Shakespeare and calling all your work shit, is nonsense.”

The writer shakes his head, besmirched.

“Look,” the friend continues. “This”—he points the paper again—“may be shit—I don’t know, you haven’t let me read the second draft yet—but that doesn’t mean you are.”

The writer’s eyes roll right out of his head, across the floor, and out the door. The friend leaves the room, picks them up, and puts them back in the writer’s head.

“You just have to keep going,” the friend says. “And eventually you will turn that shit to gold.”

“That is a disgusting metaphor. I hope to God the gold that people are wearing around their necks isn’t made from feces.”

“I mean, I’m not a gold digger, so I don’t know, maybe it is.”

“Well, good thing I’m too broke to afford any anyway.”

“Yeah, imagine if you were actually a good writer. You’d be swimming in it then.”

“Oh, so now I’m shit again?”

“Well, right now you are, but not in general.”

“So you say.”

“So I say.”

The friend reaches across the table, pulling the paper towards him as the writer takes a seat.

“Well?” the writer asks.

“Well, what?”

“It’s worse, right?”

“I literally just picked it up.”

“Alright alright, well, go ahead then.”

The writer keeps his eyes on the friend as the friend thumbs through the story.

“Well…” the friend begins.

“Well?”

“It’s better, but also it’s worse.”

“Like your life since we met.”

“Exactly.”

“Well, go on.”

“Well…you cut a lot of crap out, which is good, but it’s also less comprehensible now because you didn’t add anything.”

“What was I supposed to add?”

“I don’t know, something.”

“And yet.”

“And yet you added nothing.”

“It seems we are stuck in a pattern.”

“We? What do I have to do with it?”

“You’re the reader!”

“So?”

“So, fill in the blanks, read between the lines.”

“There are no lines to read between. And filling in the blanks is your job.”

“Why me?”

You’re the writer. Write something!”

“Ugh,” the writer huffs, “you are so demanding.”

“Hey, you brought this story to me. I didn’t ask for a story.”

“And yet you read it.”

“Well, of course. That’s what I’m here for.”

“Well, that’s very nice of you.”

“Yes, it is. And you’re welcome.”

Each of their elbows falls to the table as they stare off into the lack of distance.

“So, what now?” the friend asks.

“I don’t know, I thought maybe we could get something to eat or whatever.”

“I meant in terms of the story.”

“Oh, right, that little thing.”

“Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Any ideas?”

“I don’t know, maybe pizza?”

“About the story!”

“Oh, right. No.”

“Well,” the friend says, looking back at the paper. “Where did the story come from to begin with?”

“Well, I opened my laptop and started to type some words—”

“Not literally.”

“Okay, well figuratively the words just exploded right out of me.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Well, what did you mean?”

“I meant…how did you come about this story? Where did the idea come from? When you started writing the very first sentence, what was in your head?”

“What am I, a mind reader?”

“Are you saying the story came from your subconscious?”

“No, don’t be silly, I was just being annoying.”

“When are you not?”

“Great question. But to answer your first…” The writer pauses to look within. “Well, it came from an emotion.”

“Oh? You didn’t have a line or something in your head that you needed to put on paper before you forgot it?”

“No, although that does happen. In this case, I really had nothing.”

“As we’ve seen.”

“But I was incredibly angry—”

“Oh?”

“—and I just had to get rid of that anger. So, I started—figuratively,” he says, raising an eyebrow to the friend, “—taking it out on the page. And all of a sudden I had these two—nameless characters yelling at each other. About what? I don’t know. It seemed to be about nothing. But it was so raw. And it was so—there. And so I just continued on like that, letting these two—angry characters write the story for me.”

“I’m not sure I follow. The characters wrote the story?”

“Well, essentially, yes. I just kept writing more dialog. I thought: how would the first character respond to this? Then: how would the second character respond to the first character’s response? And I just kept going on and on and on like that.”

“Like you do most things.”

“Like I do most things.”

“Well,” the friend says, considering this. “That seems like something to me.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Maybe there is a story here after all,” the friend says, leafing through the pages once more.

“Maybe there is.”

Curtain

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