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27 July 2018

The Line


 

Characters in order of speaking: Sitter, Clerk, Entrant, Stander, Knobby, Knobby Two, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Porky Two

 
 

SCENE ONE

 

There was a time when the little town of H. had a mayor who travelled far and wide. His enthusiasm was so roused by what he witnessed at Hyde Park in London that he opened a Bureau of Complaints forthwith upon his return. The complainants called the office “Complaints”, others named it Jeremiahburg. This was the locale of the following scene, which can be verified even today by eye and ear witnesses, who remain in good health, with the sole exception of Stander, who has since quit the world of the living.

(A knock at the door.)
 

SITTER (sitting; takes a flower from the desk drawer, tears out the petals one by one): Open. Closed. Open. Closed. Open. Closed. Open!

CLERK (enters, a picture of servility): At your service.

SITTER: I sent for you to go and check whether there are many in line.

CLERK: As you wish. (Bows, exits.)

SITTER: All will become clear now. Whichever way it turns out, it’s all just an experiment. It could be that God is experimenting with us, that this is the experiment of the first creation, after which comes the second creation. (A knock. Begins to grab for a flower, but realises that only the Clerk would be knocking.) Come in. (Clerk enters.)

CLERK: The line extends to the butcher shop across the way. The last person is already standing in a pork loin.

SITTER (hearkens): Bring that one. The one in the pork loin.

CLERK (haltingly): Wouldn’t it be fairer if I brought in the one with the doorknob pressed to his stomach?

SITTER: Do as I said.

CLERK: As you wish. But they’ll beat me up.

SITTER: Occupational hazard. That’s why you get hazard pay. Just remember when the complainants used to come here with lead pipes. We gave you a bottle of milk every day to prevent lead poisoning. (To his face.) You really don’t understand? You don’t understand the logic behind my plan?

CLERK: Begging your pardon, no.

SITTER: Well, listen. Just as you assume that the one who has waited longest is the one standing closest to the doorknob, we may take it as proven fact that the one in the pork loin arrived last.

CLERK: Begging your pardon, only insofar as…

SITTER (aggressively): Only insofar as?

CLERK: Only insofar as others, newer ones, haven’t come since then…

SITTER: For purposes of logic, our system must be self-contained. This means that in order of arrival, we need only examine those extending from the doorknob to the pork loin. Now then, if we assume what is very likely the case, that the one with the doorknob in his stomach, let’s call him Knobby, got here first because his case is more serious and urgent, then we may also take as indisputable fact that the one who arrived last, who’s standing in the pork loin, let’s call him Porky, came to complain about an easier, less pressing matter. Are you with me so far?

CLERK (nods): I am. But I have only one fate, a deadly fate, which is no solution for me.

SITTER: Now then, what are we after? By all means impartiality, justice, and all that. If we took Knobby first, wed never get to the end of the line, because his business is urgent, difficult, and lengthy, and the one after him, call him Knobby Two, came in a matter requiring an examination almost as serious and lengthy as Knobby’s does. So, if we proceeded according to proximity to Knobby, wed never get to Porky. Whereas our goal is the end of the line, finishing this work today. The end of our work, moreover, is, for our purposes, signified by the last person. In this case, Porky. If the line were only as long as the waiting room, we could lock the door. But it has taken over the street. And the street has no door that can be locked. That’s why we have to start with Porky. Now do you understand?

CLERK: At your service.

SITTER: Not to mention the fact that our aim is to be impartial. If we started with Knobby’s long and complicated case, so much time would pass that our Porky friend could become justly indignant: What is thishas the long wait been in vain? I won’t even mention the fact that if we abided by the natural and proper order, everyone would think we were bribed. Anyway, wed fall into discredit if our actions were dictated by the line rather than the other way around.

CLERK: Begging your pardon, but if we took Porky first, wouldn’t Knobby be offended?

SITTER: You must understand mass psychology. If we started with the last person, everyone would turn around thinking that our office moved across to the butcher shop, and that hed been facing the wrong direction. Or hed begin suspecting that not everyone came to complain, that some were standing in line for meat and that, through some error, the two lines – the complainants’ line and the meat shoppers’ line – got mixed up. Thus everyone would turn toward the butcher shop, thinking the line began there. In this way, Porky could come in first without further ado, the others being convinced that the butcher shop is here, and the Bureau of Complaints there. Thus, we divide and conquer. We divide the line so that it won’t be infinite. Divide it, and make it finite. Let’s render the infinite finite so that we can finally finish.

CLERK: Begging your pardon, they’ll beat me up in any case. And to me it’s all the same, begging your pardon, whether I get beaten up by Knobby or Porky. It’s all the same to me, begging your pardon.

SITTER: But if we started with Knobby, whose case is lengthy, the line would shrink more slowly, and theyd beat you up right away. If we began with Porky, on the other hand, theyd become confused. Indeed, theyd think they were mistaken and either blame themselves for standing in the wrong direction, or think that Porky’s case must be extraordinary. They may even think he didn’t come to complain at all, that he’s some official. And by the time they came around, theyd be that much farther ahead in line. And thus, their hope rekindled, theyd wait patiently.

CLERK (a little panicky): But, begging your pardon, someone here is going to beat me up today. We, the useless, cannot solve any of your problems with our lives or deaths. (Toward the door.) Our death is not the key that opens the door to any of you.

SITTER (with a dismissive gesture): It is also important not to lose sight of the fact that those standing in line talk to one another and tell what brought them here, what their complaint is, and most important, when they come out, they tell what the result was. If Knobby, who has the difficult case, came out first and told everyone that his problem was not solved, then those with easier problems would lose hope and patience, and thered be anarchy: demands for quicker action on our part, demands to get in sooner. If, on the other hand, Porky came out of the room first, beaming – if for no other reason than that he never expected to be taken first – it would be a boon to them all. Theyd all wait confidently and quietly.

CLERK: And yet… (Toward the door.) One of you will beat me to a pulp by noon today.

SITTER: And anyway, this is the fairest course of action because Knobby’s case is serious and possibly insolvable. So, he could dash the hopes of the hundred or thousand that follow him. Porky’s case, on the other hand, is easy and can be solved. This will nourish the hope in those near Knobby that if we bothered with such inconsequential cases as Porky’s, then we would certainly prefer spending our time on their more serious questions. Not to mention the fact that we depart from justice whether we start with Knobby or Porky. Why? Because they are the two extremes. Those situated in the middle of the line are not represented by either Knobby or Porky, Knobby’s case being weightier than theirs, and Porky’s slighter. Thus, as always, we must choose the lesser of two evils. I choose the evil at the end of the line, for the reasons I’ve mentioned. Because we must get through the line. With a master stroke, by cutting the Gordian knot, by hook or by crook… we must get through the line. The line may be infinite, it may be eternal, but we must get through it. We must. Because that is the measure by which my work is judged.

CLERK (whimpering): Then, begging your pardon, couldn’t we begin the line, say in the middle instead?

SITTER: That would mean employing an obvious statistical average, which is just as unfair. Don’t forget that those standing in the middle of the line are situated just as far from those at the front of the line as from those at the back. What does this mean? It means that those standing in the middle of the line are, to the ones at the extremes – Knobby on the one hand and Porky on the other – equally unpopular. After all, if we took Knobby as the representative of the just solution, the middle one is at the same distance from him as from Porky, who in this case must be taken as representing the unjust solution. And conversely, if we designated Porky the representative of the just solution, then the one in the middle is again just as far from him as from Knobby, whom, in this case, we must consider the representative of perfidy. Thus the question arises: Why don’t we proclaim the middle ones the representatives of justice? Because the beginning of every line is at once the end of a line, and vice-versa. Of course, only in relation to another line. This is why I say: Either-or! Heads or tails! Right-left! Black-white! Positive-negative! God-devil! Knobby-Porky! This is why I say: No cheap statistical averages! No golden mean! No middle- of-the-road solutions! Otherwise we’ll lose our purpose, and divide in three the line that must by all means remain one. In three. That is: Knobby, the middle, and Porky. No! It must remain one for the sake of hope. Bring Porky!

CLERK (haltingly): In other words…

SITTER: You dummy. You still don’t understand? If we begin at the back, with the easy cases, then those at the front, the difficult cases, who are almost dropping with fatigue, will get discouraged and stagger home. Our purpose is to get through today’s line. Today’s line. Tomorrow’s is not our concern now. The line will never come to an end, so let’s at least get through today’s. Après moi, pas de deluge after me, the line. (Brief pause.) Get Porky! (Clerk exits with a grim expression.) Now everything will become clear. (A knock.) Come in!

CLERK (enters): Porky disappeared. Whom should I show in instead?

SITTER: Some new face! Not always the same ones. New women, new wine, new wheat, new peace, new complaints! I’m tired of this gruesome, sour-faced crowd. Nothing original about them. They’ve no gender, no names, no hearts, they stink, they’ve nothing to say. All they do is complain. Now Porky, there’s somebody… I was even able to give him a name… he has originality… Bring Porky by all means!

CLERK (spreads his arms in a gesture of helplessness): I know. By now it’s clear to me too that he would have been the best. But he disappeared. Completely disappeared.

SITTER: Get him here no matter what.

CLERK: As you wish. (Exits.)

SITTER: Everything will come to light now. The experiment is cast. The die, given a try. Experiment is the first step toward a possibility. The line must be gotten through, because there’s no time for the infinite.

CLERK (staggers in, patting his face and neck): Just as I said. They beat me up, sir.

SITTER (calmly): Out! Now you’re complaining too? Out!

CLERK: As you wish. (Exits.)

SITTER: Everything will come to light now. (The door bursts open, a very fat man enters ceremoniously.)

ENTRANT (offers his hand): Pleased to meet you.

SITTER: Are you Porky?

ENTRANT (recoils indignantly): So that’s what I get… That’s what we get for our trouble. We’re hardly in the door and already we’re derided, made fun of… That’s what we get… But we deserve it. We do. No one deserves more than what he gets because his being is part and parcel of what he gets.

SITTER (calmly): Out! You’ve hardly stepped in the door and already you’re complaining. Out! (Shoves Entrant out, shouts over his head.) Bring Porky! (Returns, sits down. Clerk enters bringing Porky, henceforth Stander, by the hand.)

CLERK (pointing at Stander): Here he is.

SITTER (beaming): Well, well, we’ve found you. We turned the whole town upside down looking for you.

CLERK: I even looked under the counter.

SITTER: You may leave. Don’t come back till I call for you.

CLERK: As you wish. (Bows, exits.)

SITTER: So you’ve arrived at last. We’ve been expecting you as if you were the Messiah. You can’t imagine how concerned we were about finding you. So much concern, such frazzled nerves, infinite patience. And in return, no gratitude! That’s what it means to work here. No gratitude. But I’m not complaining. I mustn’t. What would happen if even I were to complain? Hm?

STANDER: Quite so.

SITTER (warmly): What is it you’re here for?

STANDER: Well, I couldn’t tell you right away… I’m the type to whom a million things have to happen before I finally ask: why? I’m the type who lets his life flow by and perhaps never asks. A million things have to happen before I finally ask.

SITTER: I appreciate your consideration. You think of us, too. Not like those out there… All they do is complain. Can you imagine how many handkerchiefs Id go through in a day if I allowed everyone’s complaint to affect me? How many baths Id have to take if I worked myself into a sweat over everybody’s complaint? How could I afford to do that? (Aggressively.) Well, how? Well, tell me, how?… But I’m not complaining. I have no right to complain. I don’t even want to. It is of my own free will that I don’t complain. I get paid for my free will so that I won’t complain. Paid? If that’s what you call pay. But never mind. They pay me to listen to others. Others… (leers at him) who complain. So the one thing I must not do is complain. Complaints are dropped into me as are coins into St Anthony’s collection box, according to custom. Yes, I am St Anthony’s collection box of complaints, the St Anthony of collection boxes, and the complaint of St Anthony’s collection box. Because the collection box also suffers. While the collection box is happy to receive money, it is also hurt by money. The collection box also has feelings. But no! I won’t complain. (Has been banging the table occasionally, then suddenly, quietly, very warmly.) What is it you came here for?

STANDER: A month ago, at night, I was walking in the park it’s as if I’m seeing it now – with my wife. All of a sudden from a bush three enormous, woman-hungry I couldn’t know this at the time three woman-hungry young men knocked me out… and my poor wife was… (Clears his throat.)

SITTER (sombrely): I understand. This falls within the jurisdiction of the vice squad. These friends of our society would not look kindly upon our rowing onto their territorial waters in our own provincial lifeboats. Onto their territorial waters. In our lifeboats. On which solitary red crosses glisten. Have you been to the police?

STANDER: We have. They punished the criminals, but I wanted to tell you, too, because you’re a civilian here, like me. It’s different, sir, among civilians, in civvies. Civilian to civilian… you know what I mean? Officialdom is far removed from me. I’m not one of those people who wear down its threshold. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t even know where to find it, and who becomes aware of its existence only when it comes after me – to levy a fine, or collect my taxes.

SITTER: What happened, as a matter of fact?

STANDER: My wife was…

SITTER (abruptly): I understand. (Thinks.) A unique case. You can’t imagine how unique. In our town, something like this happens perhaps once in twenty-five years.

STANDER: They knocked me out.

SITTER: Unique, completely unique. You must understand that this case is not appropriate for the general public. Precisely because of its rarity. Rara avis. Rare bird. Black swan. White raven. No, you mustn’t assume the responsibility for those others who may get knocked out in the future. No one has thought of doing this yet in our town. At most, perhaps once in fifty years, by accident. But if we made it public, wed give them ideas, make them bold, and theyd say: “Hm, there’s a possibility, this too can be done.” No. We mustn’t allow this. There’s a Latin saying that no one longs after the unheard of. Therefore, a thing must be denied in order to prevent its recurrence. If, however, you still want those beaten up, humiliated husbands on your conscience…

STANDER: No, no. I don’t. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even want to mention this. Rather… I’ll tell you about another thing. Two months ago I was walking in the park one night. With my fifteen-year-old daughter. Some drunks came along, singing. I remember they were singing drunkenly. And they tied me to a tree, stuffed a handkerchief – not a clean, I could tell – in my mouth, and my little girl was… (Clears his throat.)

SITTER (sombrely): I understand. This throws a different light on the matter. You see, there can also be repeating victims. In this case the victims were repeaters but the criminals changed. Yes. This makes it completely different. (Aside.) The line must come to an end, as I live and breathe. Each body immersed in the line will increase in weight by the weight of the line displaced. (To Stander.) Yes, this makes it completely different.

STANDER: I also feel that perhaps… maybe… it’s different.

SITTER: Though I must tell you that in our town the case is still completely isolated. To put it precisely: it’s peripheral. A thing like this might happen perhaps once in a hundred years. That’s how unique, how singular it is. Because something that happens twice can still be singular, right? You see, in general husbands aren’t knocked out. In general our wives and daughters aren’t… (Clears his throat.)

STANDER: I understand.

SITTER: Your two cases are so singular and unrepeatable, that this needn’t even be mentioned. Things like this are best forgotten. Because the most important thing is public calm. Anyway, I’m sure the criminals got their just deserts. Am I right?

STANDER: Yes, of course.

SITTER: There, you see? Why keep stirring things up? Do you want to make an everyday occurrence out of something that, in our town, might happen at most every two hundred years? Could your civic conscience bear that?

STANDER: No, by no means.

SITTER: That’s what I mean. (Quietly.) And you should be thankful that you got off so lightly…

STANDER: But sir, four men…

SITTER (places his finger to his lips): Shush! What would you have said if theyd cut you into four pieces, placed you in four suitcases, and dumped you into four rivers? Well?

STANDER: Horrible.

SITTER: Are you aware that only one out of five men dies of natural causes? That every third man gets robbed? Every other one is cheated on by his wife? Every seventh has tapeworm? Every fourth gets a nose-bleed when he hears certain news? Every tenth is missing his handkerchief? Every…

STANDER: If you please…

SITTER: Every sixth picks his nose?

STANDER: But…

SITTER: Every eighth has rheumatoid arthritis?

STANDER (stupefied): Rheumatoid arthritis?…

SITTER: You should be very grateful. Your wife will forget, the little one will also get over it.

STANDER: But my grandmother…

SITTER: What do you mean?

STANDER: Well, here’s how it was. Three months ago, I was walking with my grandmother through a dark park. And then I was hit on the head with a heavy object, and my grandmother was… (Does not clear his throat. Sitter nods.) Well, that’s why I wanted to tell you too. Because, you see, the police caught, questioned, arrested, and the law punished the criminals…

SITTER: Well then, what’s your complaint?

STANDER: I came to a civilian office, sir, so that you too could see what the situation is, and perhaps discover its cause. Because it’s fine that the police should catch, and the law should punish, the criminals. All that is fine. But what’s the cause?

SITTER: For the moment we can’t know this. We have men. Our men do spot checking. Our men research public opinion. Our men conduct experiments. Our men collect data. Our men plot graphs. Our men compile statistics. And they sum everything up. And all this is done with the most up-to-date means. That’s why I say there’s no need for anxiety.

STANDER: Clearly.

SITTER: Our researchers are keeping their fingers on the pulse of things.

STANDER: But I was knocked out.

SITTER: Consider the grand scheme of things. In the grand scheme of things no one gets knocked out.

STANDER: My grandmother was…

SITTER: That’s tragic, but from the point of view of the grand scheme of things it has no significance. Have you heard of the Thirty Years’ War?

STANDER: No, sir.

SITTER: You see? What about the Hundred Years’ War?

STANDER: No, sir.

SITTER: The five-year plan?

STANDER: Yes sir.

SITTER: Then you must know that the grand scheme of things brings peace of mind. The grand scheme of things is our only consolation, our comfort and our support in life. Don’t you agree?

STANDER: By all means.

SITTER: So then, you acknowledge that what happened to you, to your esteemed wife, your dear daughter, and your poor grandmother, has no significance at all in relation to the grand scheme of things, the Hundred Years’ War, the Thirty Years’ War, the five-year plan, and that a thing like this happens in our town perhaps once in three hundred years. Do you agree?

STANDER: Yes, sir.

SITTER: Do you acknowledge that the grand scheme of things is beautiful and harmonious, and in it no one gets knocked out, and no harm befalls your esteemed wife, your dear daughter, or your poor grandmother, and that our town is a part of the Grand Scheme of Things?

STANDER: Naturally, sir.

SITTER (stands up ceremoniously): Then convey the condolences of our town, our Bureau of Complaints, of me personally, to your honourable loved ones. We wish you strength and good health. (Shakes Stander’s hand.)

STANDER: (is about to leave, but stops short): What should I tell my wife?

SITTER: Tell your wife, sir, that she may rest assured regarding the future. After all, in our town something like this might happen every five hundred years, and by then, no matter how long and happy a life I were to wish upon your esteemed wife, she will not be among the living. The little one either. Your grandmother… (Spreads his hands apart indicating that the other knows what the point is.)

STANDER: She died.

SITTER: Naturally. (Shakes Stander’s hand again.) Have a long and happy life! (Leads Stander to the door. When Stander steps out, shouts over his head.) Next! (Closes the door.) This line will come to an end in my lifetime. I made it finite so that I can be master of it. Experimentation is the best of God’s games in us.

(End of Scene One)

 

SCENE TWO

 

The following incident occurred outside the Bureau of Complaints in the little town of H. just after Porky stepped into the office:

(Knobby stands by the door, his stomach pressed against the doorknob. The line extends all the way to the butcher shop, in whose broken window hangs the pork loin. Porky Two, the “heir apparent”, sits on the window ledge. Knobby Two stands behind Knobby. Between them, the others: First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth. The door has just closed.)

KNOBBY: What was that? Where does the line begin? At the back?

KNOBBY TWO: Sir, I told you already at dawn that we’re facing the wrong way, because the Bureau moved into the butcher shop, and the butcher shop into the Bureau.

KNOBBY: Come off it! Then why did that man go in this door?

FIRST (pricks up his ears): What’s that? That man came here to go to the butcher shop, not the Bureau of Complaints?

SECOND (pricks up his ears): The one who just went in was standing in line for meat?

THIRD (passes it on, by now as fact, to Fourth): Did you hear? The one who just went in was standing in line for meat.

FOURTH (to Fifth): Did you hear, sir? They’re selling meat here.

FIFTH: That’s just propaganda. I know all about this sort of thing. They say there’ll be meat, and then there’s nothing.

SIXTH (to Porky Two): Did you hear? This person in front of me is in line for meat. He didn’t come to complain.

PORKY TWO: It is possible to complain even while standing in line for meat.

SIXTH (whispering to Fifth): The person behind me says he’s standing in line for meat, and that’s why he’s complaining.

FIFTH (to Fourth): Those behind me didn’t come to complain, but for meat.

FOURTH (to Third, whispering): Those at the back say not to worry, because they didn’t come to complain. They came for meat.

THIRD (to Second): The line is not unitary. There are some who want meat.

SECOND (to First): We’ve been betrayed! There are meat shoppers among us!

FIRST (to Knobby Two): Those standing behind me wish to inform you, the front of the line, of the situation that has evolved: There is dualism in our midst. Divisiveness has raised its head. There are those who did not come to complain, but for meat.

KNOBBY TWO (to Knobby): The crowd behind our backs has become divided. Our purpose is no longer one. Only a few of us actually came to complain. The rest are in line for meat. They’re common meat shoppers.

KNOBBY (addressing the whole line): Gentlemen! Your attention please! (Pauses briefly for silence.) I feel it is my historic duty to disclose to you the present situation in the fairest possible way. Till now, you and I have been standing in line in the belief that we all came to complain. I, you, he, we, you, they. From first to last. But no! I can no longer suppress the astonishing truth: There are those who are standing among us for another purpose. (Pauses for effect, the others murmur.) In the line, which grows and extends itself, those at the front cannot see the end. The world’s most horrible chain is the line: Its linkage is unreliable.

VOICES: Who? And why are they here? Let’s hear it! Tell us!

KNOBBY: For meat, gentlemen, meat. As horrible as it sounds (pats and pinches the flesh on his arm), for meat.

VOICES: Down with them! Down with the Meat People! Beat them to death!

KNOBBY (gestures for silence): Gentlemen, anarchy has no place here. Our purpose is to discover who came honestly to complain, and who came slyly, deceitfully, for meat.

A VOICE: Let’s find out!

KNOBBY: Let everyone tell, to the best of his knowledge and belief, why he is standing in line, and swear to it. (To Knobby Two.) You, for example.

KNOBBY TWO (with upraised finger): I came to complain.

KNOBBY (to First): And you?

FIRST (a little frightened, placing his hand on his chest): I swear, I have a complaint.

KNOBBY (to Second): Speak!

SECOND (defiantly): Complaint! (From here on, Knobby indicates them only by nodding or pointing.)

THIRD: To complain, and how!

FOURTH: Same as those before me!

FIFTH: Ditto!

SIXTH: Long live the complaint!

PORKY TWO: Death to the Meat People! (Brief pause.)

KNOBBY: Well, this is no good. Gentlemen, it is in our common interest to expose those who did not come to complain.

KNOBBY TWO: Maybe our methods were at fault. After all, no one’s going to admit that he came for meat.

FIRST (intimidated): But still, no one can be coerced.

SECOND: But we have to do something.

THIRD: Let’s be logical. Who could have reason to stand in line for meat?

FOURTH (who is fat): Obviously, skinny people. They want to gain weight.

FIFTH (who is skinny): On the contrary, my dear sir. Fat people. They like to stuff themselves.

SIXTH: We must find out who among us are the gourmands, and who the gourmets.

PORKY TWO: Who’s going to be crazy enough to admit that?

KNOBBY: But gentlemen, we still have to find out why Meat People are mushrooming among us. We mustn’t tolerate such proliferation.

KNOBBY TWO: Let’s try to draw conclusions calmly and systematically. The one who went in was last in line. That means that the Meat People stood in the back.

PORKY TWO (outraged): I will not tolerate insinuations. The fall of mighty empires started with mild insinuations. No one has the right to make insinuations about my internal affairs…

SIXTH: On what grounds am I being accused? I won’t allow you to trample my peace of mind. Besides, I’m of the opinion that Carthage needn’t be destroyed. (Faltering.) If it were up to me…

FIFTH: Let’s not jump to conclusions! It’s not worthy of us. In any case, (sarcastically) it is common knowledge that the hungriest always stand at the front. Let’s assume that we at the end are in line for meat. Is it logical that the hungry ones stand farthest from the source of meat? No, it isn’t. Anyway, here’s this pork loin, which we could have distributed among ourselves long ago if indeed we had wanted meat.

THIRD: The reason for that pork loin is so the Meat People can confuse us, so they can score points for themselves, pull the wool over our eyes. They’re pulling the wool of oblivion over the world’s eyes. And forgetting serves the interests of those who want to rule.

FIFTH: Logic dictates that those at the front of the line are the Meat People. Let’s designate them Meat People.

KNOBBY: Watch what you say, because no one has the right to label another a Meat Person till he has proof. Let’s think. All together. Let’s think. (They think collectively.)

KNOBBY TWO: No, it can’t be done this way. Only separately.

KNOBBY: Let everyone think for himself. Alone. Individually. (They think alone and individually.)

FIRST (Pointing behind himself): Gentlemen, what if the butcher shop is there after all and our concern is without foundation? What if our concern is misplaced?

SECOND: Why do you wish to reassure us? Why do you wish to put our minds at ease, when it’s crystal clear that there are Meat People among us? Could it be in your interest to do so?

FIRST (stammers): Of course not, but still…

KNOBBY: Gentlemen, let’s not lose our heads.

THIRD: Right! Listen to the boss.

KNOBBY: I’m not the boss, I’m just trying to steer the conversation onto a more civilised path.

KNOBBY TWO: Fellow sufferers! We must come to an understanding in the matter of meat.

SECOND: Let’s come to an understanding.

KNOBBY: Let’s coordinate our thinking and build a common platform of complainants against the Meat People.

FIFTH: This is all just hot air until we know for sure who the Meat People are. Let them not deny it. A liar is sooner caught up with than a lame dog. Fate will catch up with the Meat People, because man’s fate is inescapable.

SIXTH: That’s right. Let’s point a finger at the Meat People!

PORKY TWO: Let’s throw light on them!

KNOBBY: What’s all this chaos? How can we hope to achieve anything if we don’t come to a mutual understanding? Let’s listen to one another. Let everyone listen to everyone else in turn.

FOURTH: There’s too much talk. Where are the Meat People?

THIRD: Let’s try to get at the Meat People through logic.

SECOND: What have the Meat People to do with logic, and logic with the Meat People?

KNOBBY: Logic lives in the flesh. Meat is the medium of logic. So let us be logical. Oh, logic in the flesh, how we implore you to show yourself, but our nerves are padded – with fat, and you just keep silent, silent, while the flesh speaks… Let us be logical!

FIRST (in acquiescence): Let’s be logical.

KNOBBY TWO: Let’s not use the plural: Meat People. Let whoever is a Meat Person step forward and admit it. Let’s discard the concept of the plural. Let’s decide on the singular.

SECOND: We will extenuate the offense of the one who admits it as long as someone finally admits to something. There will be a life-belt for him on the sea of guilt. Someone admit to something already! That would truly be best, since the “many” will evade our grasp, their sins and offenses will remain elusive, their every deed will dissipate, and we’ll be unable to resolve the question of appropriate punishment. The one man, on the other hand, is the Archimedean “fixed point”, allowing our thought and judgment to put into port. We can haul our sins to his name the way the slaves hauled stones to the pyramids. We need someone on whom we can lay our sins.

THIRD: How could I possibly be a Meat Person? I must say, it’s very disconcerting when everyone is under suspicion, because the real culprit doesn’t get caught. At times like this, everyone suffers because of one. Oh, how much better it is when one suffers for everyone a Christ, who takes the burden off the shoulders of the lot of us.

FIRST: That’s right, gentlemen, until the real Meat Person or Meat People fall into our hands, we are all under suspicion. Everyone is under suspicion because of one! Oh, truly it would be better if one were under suspicion for all a Christ. But everyone here is under suspicion because of one.

SECOND: How true. As the poet said: Everyone who lives is suspect!

FIFTH (solemnly): It’s as if he had written that with this very moment in mind.

PORKY TWO: Let’s leave literature out of this. We’re undergoing tragedies here, and you’re waxing poetic. Quite inappropriate in view of the future. We’ll tie the beasts of our sins with many tethers to a single manger. Let’s leave poetry out of this. Let’s revile the Meat Person instead!

SECOND: Only a Meat Person could be such a cursed enemy of lyricism. Meat People are insensitive. They have no refinement. They’re crude… (With refinement, choosing his words carefully.) Gentlemen, let us… hang them.

KNOBBY: Companions in line! Don’t you see that this is all just hot air until we decide who and where the Meat Person is?

PORKY TWO (suddenly): Where?! Colleagues, this question has shown me the light. (Brief pause.) Consider this: The Meat Person is not in our midst. (Stunned silence.) Man’s most felicitous attribute is the ability to consign his sins to Nothingness, where they dissolve into nothing.

KNOBBY TWO: Could it be?

THIRD: Oh, yes. It’s clear. He’s not here.

FIRST: I agree. The Meat Person is elsewhere.

FOURTH: Yes. The Meat Person has departed.

SECOND: He’s located at a different point in the continuum. I’ll tell you where. In Nothingness. This line too, like a cliff that juts out over a precipice, ultimately trails off into Nothingness.

FIFTH: Don’t strain yourself. I also know where he made tracks to.

SIXTH: The picture is clear to all of us. We know where the Meat Person is to be found.

KNOBBY TWO: Clearly, there is only one Meat Person, and his whereabouts are known to all of us.

KNOBBY: Fellow citizens! The Meat Person moved to a place known to us.

(Points to the door.) The Meat Person is there.

PORKY TWO: Behind it.

SECOND: Without a doubt. And (lowers his voice) he was from among us.

FIRST: He went there from here.

KNOBBY: The Meat Person was the one who…

KNOBBY TWO: Who was the first to take leave of us.

THIRD: It’s all clear. There can be no doubt that he was the one.

FIRST: The matter is crystal clear. From the moment of our birth it was clear to us that only he could be the Meat Person. Our studies in school have served only to strengthen this belief. In our adulthood the only possible truth has crystallised: Only he can be the Meat Person.

SECOND: Remember? It was written all over his face, as if with letters, with letters of blood and flame, that he is the Meat Person!

FOURTH: Yes. With upper-case letters. Several of us poked one another in the side as he went in there.

FIFTH: A few of us whispered to one another: Look there, the Meat Person. Where did he come from? Just look, there goes the Meat Person.

KNOBBY TWO: Everything necessarily pointed to it. We understood the indications immediately and declared without hesitation that the Meat Person is none other than the one who was summoned to the Office first. He was first among the Meat People. I know I’m more than my tongue. But I also know I’m no more than that. Though I know there’s more to me than what meets the eye, and that what’s in me is different from what’s realised, still, what’s realised is all I amount to.

KNOBBY: Companions, I observe with profound gratification that together we have solved the question of the Meat Person in the most rational and resolute way. We have drawn a line between him and us. Indeed, I can state without exaggeration that no vacillation, no doubt, not the slightest hesitation, not one iota of uncertainty, not the tiniest manifestation of confusion clouded our judgement. We recognised what had to be recognised. We did so in the most precise and the quickest possible way. And in time. Indeed, early. He is the Meat Person. He must perish.

FIFTH: In his absence we’ll do what we can – against him. To us, our separation from him is merely a bonus, the perspective that insures dispassion, the interval required to pass proper judgement. (Recites.)I choose the distance that brings the verdict whereby you become a convict.” The Meat Person must perish!

SIXTH: Gentlemen, we have been too tolerant. A Meat Person has wormed himself ahead of us in line, the line which goes on and on without end.

PORKY TWO: And he went in. From our line. Time fashions slithering serpents out of lines like oursserpents that undermine space. He went in from our line.

THIRD: Before us. To there. From our line, to there. Space braids whips out of lines like ours – whips that drive and chase time. Out of our line – into there.

FIRST (with reverence toward the door): There. To where wed all like to slither.

There, to where we whip ourselves. There, where the Solution dwells.

KNOBBY TWO: Let’s not waver in our judgement. The most important thing is to act.

SECOND: We must act so as not to forget our decisions or the judgement itself.

FOURTH: Because we cannot know what the value of things will be tomorrow, and by the day after tomorrow our deeds may prove inadequate. So perhaps… we should act after all.

FIRST: What is to be done? (Pause.)

KNOBBY (looks up, speaks with quiet determination): One thing is to be done. Only one. (Brief pause, then Knobby steps to the keyhole and puts his ear against it. The others gather, forming a semi-circle around him. When the door opens and Porky – that is, Stander – steps out, Sitter is heard calling “Next!” The door closes, the people slowly surround Stander, and step by step, without a word, accompany him from the space in front of the door. The area from the doorknob to the pork loin is now empty. Clerk crosses to the door, knocks, it opens, Sitter steps out.)

SITTER (looking around): Our expectations have panned out. Our prediction may be said to have come true. Our presupposition has been vindicated. The water- level forecast was precise. Something ventured, something gained. Our work for today is over. We may go home. Good day. (They exit in different directions.)

(Curtain.)

Translation by Eugene Brogyányi




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