A Ten-Minute Play
By Carolyn Gage
Caution: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that 52 Pickup is subject to a royalty. It is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, and of all countries covered by the International Copyright Union (including the Dominion of Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth), and of all countries covered by the Pan-American Copyright Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention, and of all countries with which the United States has reciprocal copyright relations. All rights including, but not limited to, professional, amateur, recording, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio and television broadcasting, video or sound taping, all other forms of mechanical or electronic reproduction, such as information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages are expressly reserved. Particular emphasis is placed on the question of readings and all uses of this play by educational institutions, permission for which must be secured in writing from the author or the author’s representative. No amateur or stock performance or reading of the play may be given without obtaining, in advance, the written permission of the Author.
All inquiries concerning professional and amateur performance rights should be addressed to the Author via her website at http://www.carolyngage.com .
Cast of Characters
JANIYA: A woman, any age.
CIL: Janiya’s ex.
Patient’s room on a psych ward or in a psych hospital.
Lights come up on a hospital room. JANIYA has been committed on a mandatory suicide watch. She is wearing paper scrubs. Bored, she thumbs through a magazine. There is a knock on the door.
JANIYA: (Dropping the magazine, she looks up.) Carly… ? Is that you…? Carly?
CIL: (Offstage.) Not Carly. (Long silence. JANIYA picks up her magazine.) Can I come in? (Silence.) Okay. I’m comin’ in. (CIL enters. She is carrying a small paper bag.)
JANIYA: (Not looking up.) I didn’t say you could come in.
CIL: You didn’t say I couldn’t.
JANIYA: (Lowering the paper.) I thought you were Carly.
CIL: Yeah, I heard that. You just be glad anybody came to see you. (JANIYA picks up her magazine again.) You’re not really expecting your girlfriend to come see you after what you just did? (Pause.) What you just did for the third time…?
JANIYA: (Tossing the magazine to the side.) I’m in a hospital. That’s what girlfriends are supposed to do… They come see their partners when they’re in the hospital.
CIL: And how many times you expect them to do that. (JANIYA doesn’t say anything.) Yeah. And, you didn’t have to go and get yourself locked up.
JANIYA: Yes, I did.
CIL: They asked you in the ER, after you woke up, if you were going to try to kill yourself again and you said you were thinking about it.
JANIYA: Thinking about it.
CIL: Well, you know they gotta lock you up when you say shit like that. You know that and don’t act like you don’t. I know you, Janiya… Remember? You used to live with me.
JANIYA: I was thinking about it.
CIL: Well, if you don’t want to be here, the next time they ask you that, just lie. And don’t act like you don’t know how to do that. You lied all the time with me.
JANIYA: No I didn’t.
CIL: There you go.
JANIYA: Not all the time.
CIL: I asked you if you were seeing Carly and you said no.
JANIYA: I didn’t want to hurt you.
CIL: No, you just wanted to keep your options open before you made up your mind. And what makes you think Carly would want to come see you?
JANIYA: Well, you did.
CIL: That’s because you already left me. I had two years to get over that. Carly, she’s just learning.
JANIYA: You’re not making me feel any better.
CIL: Yeah, well, you’re not making any of us feel better either, so we’re even.
JANIYA: Is that why you came here? To make me feel bad?
CIL: Yeah, that’s why I came here. That’s why I went to the store and got you some candy bars and some smoked almonds and a deck of cards. To make you feel bad. (She hands her the bag.)
JANIYA: Thanks. (She goes through the candy bars.) Oh, yeah… You remember what I like.
CIL: I’m good like that.
JANIYA: So who told you?
CIL: Carly did. (JANIYA looks up, surprised.) Yeah. Right after the ambulance came. Called me first. You going to get some help here?
JANIYA: Here? No. They send a doctor in to see you. That’s all.
CIL: Has she seen you?
CIL: What’s she say?
JANIYA: She said it was PTSD. I coulda told her that.
CIL: She give you pills?
JANIYA: Not this time. Put me down for “cognitive-something therapy.” Reframe my negative thinking….
CIL: Good luck with that.
JANIYA: I don’t have negative thoughts. (She opens the deck.)
CIL: Third time you’ve tried to kill yourself in six months and you don’t have negative thoughts? (Pause.) Well, if you don’t, I sure as hell do.
JANIYA: Come on, let’s play… (She holds the deck out for CIL to cut. CIL cuts.)
CIL: So you don’t have negative thoughts?
CIL: You have positive thoughts…?
JANIYA: I have positive thoughts.
CIL: Like what?
JANIYA: Like “I’m not stupid enough to keep sitting at the table when I got dealt a shit hand and everyone else is playing with a marked deck.”
CIL: (Laying down her hand.) What’s that bad hand, Janiya? A girlfriend who loves you? Your health? What? Your job? What’s that bad hand that’s so awful you wanna quit?
JANIYA: What happened to me as a kid.
CIL: But that was then.
JANIYA: No, that is now, because I can’t sleep without waking up and I keep getting these memories right in the middle of work. I’ll be helping some customer and bam… suddenly I hear a door slam… and I’m having a panic attack so bad they have to send me home. I can’t keep my job, and that means I can’t pay the rent, and Carly’s going to kick me out… So I’ll have to go live in some homeless shelter… won’t be able to take my cat. And I wont have any of my stuff… I’ll have to sell my car—
CIL: Okay, okay, okay. The bad hand. I get it. (Pause.) If that happens, you can move in with me.
JANIYA: Oh, yeah. That would be great.
JANIYA: Fuckin’ charity case.
CIL: Friend helping out a friend.
JANIYA: Charity case.
CIL: (Really angry.) Fuck you. (JANIYA shrugs.) Fuck you and your bad hand. Oh, look—I got one, too…! (She throws her hand at JANIYA, and then she picks up the rest of the deck and throws that up in the air. It lands all over the floor. There is a moment of silence, and suddenly JANIYA bursts out laughing.)
JANIYA: Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about!
JANIYA: Didn’t that feel good? Tell the truth, Cil. Didn’t that feel good? You sittin’ there tryin’ so hard to get me to say something you want to hear, and me not sayin’ it no matter what… And you just tryin’ harder and harder… and then you just be like “Fuck it! Just take the whole game and just ‘fuck it!’” Didn’t that feel good?
CIL: (Considering.) Yeah… I guess it did.
CIL: Well, what?
JANIYA: Well, that’s what it’s like. That’s what it’s like taking that whole bottle of pills. That’s just what it’s like. Just fuck this shit. Fuck this game I can’t win. Whole new game…
CIL: It’s not a game.
JANIYA: Yeah, it is. “52 Pickup.” That’s what it is.
CIL: 52 Pickup is a joke. It’s not a game.
JANIYA: Oh, yeah it is. It’s a game on my terms. Suicide is 52 Pickup. (There’s a long silence.)
CIL: Okay. But if that’s true, then you can’t even play your own game.
JANIYA: What do you mean?
CIL: Well it’s not “52 Fuck Shit Up.” It’s “52 Pickup.” Like the cards have to get picked up. You don’t stick around for that when you kill yourself. There’s Carly coming home from work, all “honey-I’m-home…” and then that silence. And your car in the driveway, and you’ve already tried twice… and so that’s messing with her head right there, like a horror movie… So then she goes to the bedroom… and she has to open that door and wonder if you’re in there. And you are, and then she has to wonder if you’re sleeping or not. And so she has to yell at you and shake you… so now she knows you’re not sleeping, so she has to figure out if you’re dead or in a coma or some shit… so now she has to take your pulse—
JANIYA: (Cutting her off.) Is this supposed to help me with my positive thinking?
CIL: (Escalating.) No, this is the game, the damn game. Your 52 Damn Pickup. This is the pickup part. Yeah… and so then the ambulance comes and she has to watch them do all that stuff with you…
JANIYA: Okay, okay. I get it.
CIL: Yeah. Well… so, it’s your turn.
JANIYA: What’s my turn?
CIL: I threw the fifty-two. Your turn to do the pickup. Go on. Cause I’m here for this damn game. I am so here for this motherfucking game. Go on. Get your fuckin’ ass off this bed and pick up those goddam cards. Pick ‘em up! (Screaming.) Goddam it, you fuckin’ pick up those goddam, motherfuckin’ cards! (Frightened, JANIYA gets off the bed and onto the floor. She starts to pick up the cards.) And I’m gonna count ‘em and they better all be there. All fifty-two of them. Because that’s how you play… I throw the cards and you clean ‘em up. (JANIYA turns to her.) No, goddam it! You pick ‘em up! Because that’s the game. That’s the game you want to play…? You fuckin’ play it! You pick ‘em up now…! There’s one over there…
JANIYA: I’m sorry…
CIL: Oh, yeah, that’s the game, too. You don’t think Carly’s sorry? You don’t think I’m sorry? You don’t think all the ambulance people and all the doctors and all the nurses out here… you don’t think they’re sorry? Oh, trust me, all of us picking up your shit for you…? Yeah, we are sorry. So you be feelin’ sorry now. That’s the game. (JANIYA, still on the floor, starts to cry.) Yeah. You cry. Carly’s cryin’. I’m too pissed to cry, but I have, I will. Oh, I will. That’s the picking up. (Long silence as JANIYA sobs. JANIYA is really crying, like a baby.) Oh, shit. Girl, you can’t even play cards. (CIL gets on the floor with her and begins to pick up the cards.) Here… here… Count ‘em. (She hands the cards to JANIYA, who remains unresponsive, given over to her sobbing.) Damn. (More crying.) Goddam it, Janiya. Goddam it! (The crying continues. Her anger played out, CIL, still on the floor, reaches for JANIYA and pulls her into her arms. JANIYA, exhausted from grief, allows herself to be held like a child.) Baby, it’s all right… It’s all right… (Both women, overwhelmed by the discharge of their taboo truths, are empty, open, and connected in their humanity.)
End of Scene
©2018 Carolyn Gage
All rights reserved.
Suicide has touched my life in recent years with the death of two friends of mine. One of them was an especially close friend, and she attempted more than half a dozen times before completing. It was a painful journey for those of us who loved her.
I also made an attempt when I was a very young woman, more than forty-five years ago. I am still friends with the woman who was my primary support person at that time. I remember very little about that episode, but when we were discussing this play, she reminded me that she came to see me when I got home from the hospital and that we sat on the bed and played cards.
I believe in writing this play, I was wanting to reach back and take some responsibility for the people I hurt with my attempt… and I also wanted to vent some of the powerful and complicated emotions I still hold over the death of my friend.
The play did what I always hope a play will do: It took on a life of its own during the writing. As the characters of Janiya and Cil began to emerge, they began to elbow me, as the writer, to the side. It became my job to get out of their way, to listen, and to record.
I began to realize that this play was never going to make it into that anthology… that it might never even make it to the stage. But it was telling a truth that was important to me, as a woman who has been on both sides of the act.
Lesbian poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “When a woman tells the truth, she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.” When suicide has become an obsession and a compulsive, repeated behavior, overt expressions of grief and rage can become repressed, and, in my experience, this repression results in cycles of reciprocal, escalating resentment… fueling the ideation/ behavior.
In this play, the use of the card game as a metaphor frees Cil to express the anger she has been repressing in the name of compassion. This anger breaks through Janiya’s numbing alienation, powerfully reasserting connection to community. Unable to hide from it anymore, Janiya accesses the grief that underlies her own anger.
With both characters overwhelmed and emotionally spent, the play ends in the creation of healing space for humility and humanity.
Carolyn Gage is a playwright, performer, director, and activist. The author of nine books on lesbian theatre and seventy-five plays, musicals, and one-woman shows, she specializes in non-traditional roles for women, especially those reclaiming famous lesbians whose stories have been distorted or erased from history. She also specializes in plays about survivors of sexual violence. Her work is widely produced, and in 2014 she was one of six featured playwrights at UNESCO’s World Theater Day in Rome. She has won the national Lambda Literary Award in Drama and her play Ugly Ducklings was nominated by the American Theatre Critics Association for the prestigious ATCA/ Steinberg New Play Award, an award with given annually for the best new play produced outside New York. Phyllis Chesler, author of Women and Madness, reviewed Gage’s first collection: “Women’s mental health would improve, instantly, were they able to read and see these plays performed.” Her catalog is online at www.carolyngage.com