Warm Wind in China
a tragedy in two acts
by Kent Stetson
Davis: Late twenties
Slater: Early Thirties
Elna Slater: Slater’s mother
Jack Slater: Slater’s Father
Off stage: Matthew, Slater’s 10 year old son
1984: Slater and Davis are lovers. Slater has contracted AIDS, which has become full blown. Slater and Davis been together for three years raising Slater’s son Matthew. In act one, Slater lures Davis with promises of re-ignited passion to Crystal Crescent beach on the Atlantic coast south of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Mid-seduction, Slater binds and buries Davis up to his neck in the sand below the high water mark. The tide is coming in. Slater tells his lover of his condition and forces a promise from Davis that come what may, come what will, Davis will raise Matthew.
Act One Excerpt:
Davis moves toward the knapsack. Slater tackles him, pins him face down on the sand.
SLATER: Say Uncle.
DAVIS: Uncle! I’ll break your face if you twist any fur…
SLATER: [twist] Apologize.
DAVIS: C’mon, Slater. Let me up. I said I was sorry.
SLATER: Say it again.
DAVIS: What do you want, for Christ’s sake. Blood?
SLATER: Maybe. Say it. Say it, or I’ll rip it off and make you eat it.
DAVIS: What’s got into you?
SLATER: Who’s got into you?
DAVIS: I told you I was sorry. I thought you said you were over it.
SLATER: I am over it. I was over it. I will be over it.
DAVIS: Are you finished?
DAVIS: How was it for you?
SLATER: I thought you were someone else…
Slater falls back on the sand.
DAVIS: Terrific. Should I close my eyes and think of Springsteen?
Davis covers him. They are nose to nose.
DAVIS: Was it something I said?
SLATER: No. Someone else.
DAVIS: I’m sorry.
He moves to kiss Slater. At the last moment Slater turns away. Davis rises, takes Slater’s extended hand, helps him up.
SLATER: Thank you.
DAVIS: You’re welcome.
SLATER: You know how long it’s been since we were out here?
DAVIS: Two years this month.
SLATER: We used to come every weekend.
DAVIS: Till the fruits took over.
SLATER: Till the fruits took over? Who the hell are you? Arnold fuckin’ Schwarzeneggar?
DAVIS: [striking a muscle man pose] Jah. I zink pewaps I am.
Davis crushes his can. Beer spurts in a gush of white foam. Schwarzeneggar segues into a demented evangelist. Davis presents a new strong man pose on each ‘again’ throughout the following:
DAVIS: I believe. I believe ye must be born again —
SLATER: Praise Jesus.
Slater adjusts the pit. Sand flies to punctuate.
DAVIS: — and again —
SLATER: Yes. Yes, Lord.
DAVIS: — and again and again and again —
SLATER: Yea-ess. Oh, yea-ess! Praise Jesus!!
DAVIS: I believe in the second coming. I believe in Andrew David Slater.
SLATER: Thank you, thank you.
DAVIS: I believe that he will come again. It’s been months, Dear Lord in heaven, since this man came. What can it be? A conflagration? A reign of blood? Maybe the clap —
SLATER: If it’s the clap, I’ll know where to look.
DAVIS: If it’s the clap he will know where to look. [Breaks evangelist/strongman poses] Good. Maybe you’ll find your ‘on’ switch when you’re rootin’ around down there.
Slater twirls two lengths of rope.
SLATER: So. Who ties up who?
DAVIS: I don’t know. We never got into this.
SLATER: Tell you what. I’ll flip you for it.
DAVIS: I bet you will. Then what?
SLATER: I don’t know. We’ll let mother nature call the shots.
DAVIS: All right!
Davis maneuvers Slater for a hip toss, which he executes. Slater lands hard, cries out.
DAVIS: What’s the matter?
SLATER: I’ll be all right… give me a minute… I just… I took it too hard this time.
Slater rises briskly.
DAVIS: Took what too hard?
SLATER: Nothing Davis. The fall.
DAVIS: That wasn’t hard. You’ve taken harder falls than that.
Davis offers token resistance when Slater ties his hands behind his back. Davis is intrigued, purposefully misled to anticipate some kind of sex.
DAVIS: What’cha got in mind tiger?
Slater binds Davis’ feet.
DAVIS: This is weird. Promising but weird.
Slater smiles, silent, determined.
DAVIS: I don’t know what those leather guys get out of this kinky stuff.
Slater takes him down.
DAVIS: Untie me, Slater. I’ve had enough fun. I’m not getting off on this. Are you?
Slater drags him into the pit, begins to bury him.
DAVIS: You’re not going weird on me I hope. C’mon, Slater. A joke is a joke.
SLATER: The bad news is your son is homosexual. The good news is he’s dying.
DAVIS: That sucks.
SLATER: Can’t have everything.
DAVIS: You’re a real fun guy lately.
SLATER: Fun guys run deep.
DAVIS: You never did know the difference between scratching your ass and tearing the skin off.
Slater moves a sand filled scoop into Davis’ range of vision.
DAVIS: Oh, Christ.
Slater kisses Davis with passion. Davis lies back, receptive, seduced. The kiss lingers as Slater’s free hand caresses Davis’ chest, cruises his stomach. When he reaches the waist band of Davis’ speedo, he raises it. They both peer in. Davis is expectant, pleased until with one swift movement Slater dumps the sand in Davis’ crotch.
DAVIS: That’s dirty pool.
Slater covers Davis rapidly.
SLATER: It’s gonna get a lot dirtier.
DAVIS: What’s goin’ on?
SLATER: Relax. You’ll get to enjoy this.
DAVIS: I’ve never seen you like this before.
SLATER: I’ve never been like this before.
Slater stops abruptly. A trickle of sand escapes his raised fist.
DAVIS: Lose something?
SLATER: Not entirely. I’ll know exactly where you are. For a change.
He moves the trickle directly over Davis’ face.
DAVIS: [spitting] Cut it out or so help me God I’ll fuckin’ kill you.
Slater piles sand furiously.
SLATER: You fuckin’ killed me already.
DAVIS: You bastard.
SLATER: You slut.
DAVIS: One slip in the last three years, Slater. One.
SLATER: One too many, my man. One too many.
DAVIS: Don’t give me that holier than thou bull shit.
SLATER: Right now, I’m a hell of a lot holier than thou, Champ.
DAVIS: One lousy weekend six months ago. You forgave me. Like I forgave you.
SLATER: You forgave me four years ago. You’ve had no reason to forgive me since. I swear to God, Davis. You’re it.
DAVIS: I’m what?
SLATER: You’re it. I looked in the mirror this morning too. Only by myself. You know how I’ve been feeling a little tired lately? Losing things, like my strength? Well, I organized this picnic to let you in on a little secret.
DAVIS: Slater — ?
SLATER: Shut up! Just shut up and listen. When I met you, I thought the sun shone outa your ass hole. You treated me like a king and I had no trouble returning the favor. Two kings beat a pair of queens, you used to say, and you were right. I loved before, but never like this.
DAVIS: Stop it. Let me out of here.
SLATER: I don’t mind my son loving you more than he loves me. I love you both so much, I can’t tell who is who anymore.
DAVIS: Don’t start that stuff.
SLATER: I’m you, you’re my son, Matt’s my father. When I see you together, I think they’ll be okay.
DAVIS: You’re scaring me.
SLATER: Don’t be afraid. Be strong. And patient. You’ve got to be patient. You got Matt going in track and field and hockey. That’s good, but that’s enough sports. The kid can draw. Get him drawing. If anyone can perk his interest, you can. I never saw a boy love anyone like my boy loves you. He’s got the musical ability of an army boot, so forget music. And don’t let him lose that sense of wonder. You’ve got to be tougher with him Davis. You’ve got to be tougher.
SLATER: I’ll lose my hair. I’ll begin to rot inside and watch myself disappear. [exposes his calf] See that? Look like an ordinary bruise? Like the ones we sometimes laid on each other? In the natural course of things? When the moon was full? They were more delicate. Nicer colour too. It appeared last week. If a fifth horseman was sent to purge the world of male love he’d wear one these.
SLATER: ‘Fraid so, Champ. The lingering colds, the confusion. All part of the same package. Hurry, hurry! Step right up! See the greatest show on earth, where nature battles nature, where nature wins and nature loses. Come on folks. It’s all happening on the inside. Bring the wife and kids. It’s not his life you’ll want to see, it’s his death. By the looks of things, I have you to thank. Breathe, Davis. You’re losing your breath.
He checks below Davis’ jaw line.
SLATER: Clean so far. You got the constitution of a horse.
Slater rises too quickly, experiences a sudden, overwhelming faintness. He covers.
SLATER: I got you set up at the clinic just in case. First thing Monday.
DAVIS: Where are you going?
Slater stands at some distance, staring out to sea.
DAVIS: What about me?
SLATER: You looked great out there.
End Act One Excerpt
In Act Two, Jack and Elna Slater have come to Halifax to take Matthew from Davis, and settle Slater’s affairs.
Act Two, Scene Two: The Hospital room. Slater’s clear plastic mask has been replaced by a respirator hose and mask. The machine itself is concealed from the audience. Its sound fades to bg as light builds. Davis leans from the bedside chair, his arms crossed on the bed, his head resting on his arms. He sleeps. Elna enters, wakes him.
ELNA: Davis what happened?
DAVIS: His lungs failed at four o’clock this morning. This thing is doing his breathing. I couldn’t let him go.
ELNA: Of course not.
DAVIS: I promised. No respirator.
Elna touches his shoulder. Davis weeps, embraces her.
ELNA: You did the right thing.
Davis strengthens. Elna washes Slater. Davis moves from the bed, washes sleep from his face.
ELNA: You’ve been here all night.
DAVIS: Yes. What time is it?
ELNA: Eight thirty.
DAVIS: I had to change the linen.
ELNA: Matt’s on his way to school. Jack’s dropping him off.
ELNA: I can’t believe Jack and Arnold. They’ve become thick as thieves.
DAVIS: Arnold has been a good friend.
ELNA: Yes. You mustn’t exhaust yourself.
DAVIS: I slept some.
ELNA: Good. I’m full of questions.
ELNA: How did you boys meet?
DAVIS: I was at Crystal Crescent Beach — the infamous nude beach, third one up from the parking lot. Near Sambro. A bunch of us were clowning around. Slater walked past, grabbed the frisbee, chucked it back and went on his way. Ten mouths fell open, mine among them. He always parked himself on this flat rock ten or fifteen feet above the water. He was sprawled there asleep when the wind came up. A hot wind out of the east. Weird. A wave picked him off the rock and the current carried him out to sea. And this is cold North Atlantic water. Frigid. Not like Brackley or Cavendish Beach on the Island.
ELNA: Warmest water north of Florida. And?
DAVIS: We thought he was a goner. We all stood there cheering him in. Well, he swam through waves that would drown anyone else. Then he hopped through the surf waving and smiling, his pecker all shriveled from the cold. Clown. He stopped clowning when he saw me. Suddenly his smile was for me alone. I’d give anything to be back there lost in that wet salty grin.
ELNA: How did you know he was gay?
DAVIS: He told me.
ELNA: Oh. What do you boys do?
DAVIS: I beg your pardon?
ELNA: You know — Oh, dear. Forget it, Davis. I can’t believe I asked.
DAVIS: You mean how do we make love?
DAVIS: Are you… titillated?
ELNA: No. Yes.
DAVIS: May I ask why?
ELNA: It’s all so… exotic.
DAVIS: Exotic is not the first word that springs to mind. I find this stuff hard to talk about. Slater would have told you.
ELNA: Yes. Whether I wanted to hear it or not.
DAVIS: He didn’t have the time of day for me. I can understand why. I was such an arrogant asshole.
ELNA: He said you were a pretty cold fish. Originally, I mean.
DAVIS: He did, did he? Well, he was right. I’ve been wanting to ask. About Slater’s message?
ELNA: Well. He loves you very much. I guess you know that. He believes in you.
ELNA: He told me things that broke my heart. And he’s worried about you, Davis.
Davis hands her a legal document.
DAVIS: These are Slater’s instructions. It’s time to set him free.
JACK: What’s this?
ELNA: He can’t breathe on his own anymore.
DAVIS: Excuse me. I think I’ll grab a bite.
JACK: I dreamed about him last night. He’s Matt’s age — nine, ten. He asks me what I think he should be when he grows up. I say ‘anything you want.’ Christ.
ELNA: I wish we could start again.
JACK: That’s just it Elna. No judge in the world is going to put up with this arrangement.
ELNA: Davis is a fine young man.
JACK: Davis is a homosexual high school gym teacher.
ELNA: We’re doing exactly what Andrew expected.
JACK: Well good for him. Matthew belongs with family.
ELNA: Yes Jack.
JACK: Don’t ‘Yes Jack’ me. You want your grandson to go the same way? Growing up to be a… a misfit? Dying of some god forsaken plague?
ELNA: How can you say such a thing. Our own son —
JACK: I’m fond of that boy.
ELNA: We’ve lost him.
JACK: Lost who?
ELNA: This man lying here drowning in his own blood.
JACK: Don’t be dramatic, Elna.
ELNA: What happened to Andrew will not happen to Matthew.
JACK: Nothing happened to Andrew.
ELNA: Andrew is twelve years old. He is standing in front of me. Right there. Look at me Jack. Right there. He’s desperately trying to tell me something. But he can’t. There’s something in his eyes I’ve never seen before. Some awful terror. The more I try to calm him, the more upset he becomes. Then this… male hand appears out of nowhere and snatches him away from me.
JACK: Jesus, Elna. You always were half that boy’s problem.
ELNA: I try to run after him, but I’m chained to the spot. I say his name over and over. He disappears into the darkness behind him forever. And I am all alone. You see, dear. I dream about him too.
JACK: I don’t know what in the name of Jesus you’re talking about.
ELNA: I want to talk to him. Now. Here. I want you and Davis to disappear and never come near me, never come near him again as long as you live. I want you to tell him not to worry. I want to comb his hair and tell him everything is going to be okay. I don’t want my boy to die.
ELNA: I want our son to live. I want you to love him. I want him to know you love him before it’s too late.
Jack offers comfort.
ELNA: Don’t touch me. Don’t even come near me.
He persists. She finds herself weeping in his embrace.
ELNA: You didn’t lift a finger. I would have torn the son of a bitch limb from limb.
She breaks free.
ELNA: Our own son. A twelve year old boy… And you, big strong Jack, you kept it all to yourself. I could have helped you. I could have helped him. Why didn’t you tell me? I hate you for that.
JACK: Hate me? For what?
ELNA: Finally one of you had the decency to tell me.
Authors Rights & Copyright Note
It takes 10,000 hours to master a craft. The same to excel in any profession.
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