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Forty-one short stories
by Holly Gramazio

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2 down

What is that?

The Festival Centre plaza. White clamshell buildings upstage; in front of them, angular works of modernist sculpture jut out from the ground, red and blue and yellow. These double as seats, tables, pedestals, anything they need to—though not always comfortably. One side of the stage is occupied by a fountain; the other, by Milly and Gordon. They're dressed in stagehand black, separated by an awkward metre or two, and awake sooner than they'd like. They look out across the audience from their seats on top of the taller sculptures, and maybe it's an excuse not to look at each other. It's early morning, and the shadows change gradually, sunlight moving across the stage.

A crash comes from behind the audience.

Gordon:  We should go and help.

Milly:  I don't start till eight.

Gordon:  Even so.

Milly:  They're doing perfectly well without us.

Pause. Perhaps Gordon has some breakfast; if so, perhaps he moves to offer Milly a share and then thinks better of it.

Gordon:  I didn't know you were working here.

Milly:  There's no reason you should have.

Gordon:  I wouldn't have applied if... I mean, not that it isn't good to see you. It's been a while.

Milly:  Eight months.

Gordon:  You're looking well.

Milly:   Actually I just got diagnosed with lung cancer.

Gordon:  No you didn't.

Milly:  (after a moment) No.

Another crash from off-stage. Gordon flinches.

Milly:  This is going to be a disaster. I told Anna to keep it inside. She said we need to open the production up. People have this thing about Shakespeare under the open sky, I don't understand it. Maybe they just want to get rained out so they can go home early.

Gordon:  I quite liked that Titus Andronicus we did in the park in oh-three. Smell of roses. Lots of parking. Easy access to vending machines.

Milly:  I told Anna about that one too. Also about the sausages we put in a bag for the decapitated heads.

Gordon:  That worked surprisingly well, I thought. Until the seagulls came, anyway.

Milly:  Lawnmower over the lighting cables didn't help either.

Gordon:  Well, it discouraged a few of the moths.

They smile at each other, then look away. Another crash. Another pause as they watch something happen over the audience's heads.

Gordon:  What is that?

Milly:  It's for the mist during the shipwreck.

Gordon:  What about that one?

Milly:  Cloven pine. It's metaphorical.

Gordon:  Oh. What about that?

Milly:  That's... actually I don't know what that is. (Shouting) Cassie. What's that? (She listens to an answer.) Oh. Are you sure? (Listens again.) And a what? Why? (Pause.) A what? (And again.) No, never mind. No, I don't start till eight.

Gordon:  Oh dear.

Milly:  Lighting techs.

Gordon:   (defensive) Some lighting techs.

Milly:  Yes. So how is Theda?

Gordon:  She's fine. She was off doing an opera in Melbourne last month.

Milly:  That must have been nice for you. Easier to get to sleep.

Gordon:  She doesn't snore. I don't know why you think she snores.

Milly:  Mitchell told me.

Gordon:  How would he know?

Milly:  That's hardly my place to say.

Another crash. They wince.

Gordon:  We broke up actually.

Milly:  You couldn't deal with the snoring.

Gordon:  I didn't mind.

Milly:  So she does snore? I could tell. It's in the shape of the nose.

Gordon:  It was endearing.

Milly:  And she made you sleep on the couch.

Gordon:  Only twice.

Milly:  And she ate half your dessert instead of ordering her own.

Gordon:  We don't all need a dessert to ourselves.

Milly:  And she slept with other people.

Gordon:  Only twice.

Pause.

Milly:  Never mind, it happens to the best of us.

Another crash comes from offstage. Milly turns around.

Milly:  I can't watch.

Gordon:  Oh dear.

Milly:  It'll be fine as long as they keep it dry.

Gordon:  So if someone mistook the condensation for smoke and brought a fire extinguisher out, that would be bad?

Pause.

Milly:  Yes.

Gordon:  Mm, I thought so too.

Milly:   (turning back around to see) Oh well. I did warn them.

From this point the stage begins to fill with fog; at first only a little, but then more and more. Scraps of music edge into audibility, an orchestra tuning perhaps, individual instruments playing a few bars from "The Skaters' Waltz" or "Waltz of the Snowflakes" and then fading out.

Gordon:  There's quite a lot of it.

Milly:  Do you still bring orange juice to work? We could take the bottle over and freeze it to make a delicious yet healthy snack.

Gordon:  Only apple juice. Will that do? You can have it if you like.

Milly:  It might seem a bit frivolous.

Gordon:  And we'd have to help them clean up, yes.

Milly slides down from her sculpture to stand on another one, lower. The rising fog is at her toes. After a moment Gordon drops to the lowest sculpture, a wide platform. The mist swirls out around him. It's at least knee-high, maybe higher, and still rising.

Gordon:  If this spills down to the railway station it's going to look like the city's being attacked by terrorists. Or vampires. Could we make it red? What happens if you mix food colouring in with the water before you pour it on?

Milly:  I don't know.

Gordon:  We could spike all the fire extinguishers and find out next time.

The fog keeps rising. Gordon kicks around in it a bit aimlessly. Milly watches.

Gordon:  We should go. It's eight o'clock.

Milly:  Go on then.

Gordon:  Aren't you coming?

Milly:  You're not going.

He isn't. He stands back and looks at her.

Gordon:  It's quite nice, this dry ice stuff.

Milly looks down. Gordon walks to the edge of the platform closest to her. The fog's up around his waist now, and over her feet. She sits down on her sculpture, legs triangled in front of her, floating just below the surface of a cloud.

Milly:  I suppose you got used to it. Lighting technicians and their fog machines.

Gordon:  She didn't feel the need to introduce them into everyday life.

Milly:  She didn't set up a distracting mist so she could steal your dessert without being noticed?

Gordon:  No.

Milly:  No? Fair enough. I would have.

Gordon:  Mm.

Milly slides off her statue. Gordon watches her, almost invisible, then steps down as well. They're an arm's length from each other when they disappear beneath fog.