(Lights up on a practice room. Music stands scattered around, stacks of sheet music on shelves. THE PLAYER is curled up in the corner of a couch. THE NOVICE enters with a mandolin slung over her shoulder and sits beside THE PLAYER.)
THE PLAYER. What’ve you got there?
THE NOVICE. You played really well yesterday. I mean really well.
THE PLAYER. Not really. Had jittery fingers. Couldn’t get clean notes.
THE NOVICE. You’re just being modest.
THE PLAYER. Nah. You could go find ten people in a five-mile radius who’d do it better.
(She pulls her blanket up to her chin.)
THE NOVICE. Could you show me this one again? (She hums the first few notes of Vivaldi’s "Winter, Part III." She slips the mandolin over her head and props it against THE PLAYER’s leg.)
THE PLAYER. (wedging herself further into the corner of the couch) You know, you should probably go ask Jess. She can do it more justice.
THE NOVICE. But when you played it, you had this look on your face and…
THE PLAYER. Probably nausea. From the nerves.
THE NOVICE. Well, if you were nervous I couldn’t tell. Which makes it even more impressive how well you played. You look so cool when you play. You look like you belong in a fantasy novel.
THE PLAYER. I rest my ring and pinky finger on the pick guard. Bad habit. Jess sounds better because she curls them under like you’re supposed to. You should ask her to show you.
THE NOVICE. But she mostly likes to play bluegrass, right? And you like classical?
THE PLAYER. Oh no, she does both. And I’ve even heard her do some Brubeck, too. It’s something else. You gotta hear it.
THE NOVICE. You must’ve built up some nice calluses. Can I see?
THE PLAYER. Oh, uh…
THE NOVICE. I mean, can you show me how it helps to have them? I can’t press on the strings for more than ten minutes at a time. You can probably go for like, a half hour before you start stinging.
THE PLAYER. Actually, I played a little too long yesterday and my calluses busted open.
(She starts to leave.) Come to think of it, I should go put more lotion on them.
THE NOVICE. Oh, alright.
THE PLAYER. See you around.
(The scene moves to follow THE PLAYER into the hallway where she leans her back against the wall. MANDOLIN enters from the practice room.)
MANDOLIN. Can you learn to take a goddamn compliment, please?
THE PLAYER. So you’re the mandolin, huh?
MANDOLIN. I am and I’m beautiful. Look at these immaculately maintained strings, this mother-of-pearl fleuron. (He gestures to himself.)
THE PLAYER. Here we go.
MANDOLIN. I’m an artifact of this department. A gift passed down for one-hundred and fifty years…but you wouldn’t know that from looking at me.
THE PLAYER. I can tell. (MANDOLIN recoils.) You don’t have the fingerboard of a young instrument.
MANDOLIN. Oh, I hate you sometimes. I bless you with access to my beauty, my polished curves day in and day out and, do you ever appreciate it? No! You sigh and you moan and you denigrate. I’ve half a mind to leave you.
THE PLAYER. You’re an object.
MANDOLIN. An object who deserves better.
THE PLAYER. I agree. Go find better. I’ll even help you get started. Go find Jess.
(MANDOLIN twists his hands.) Well? (MANDOLIN shifts his weight.) Go on. Find better.
MANDOLIN. (advancing on THE PLAYER) But…
THE PLAYER. (backing away) No, no, no. You deserve better, remember?
(MANDOLIN makes grabby motions. THE PLAYER steps further away.)
MANDOLIN. Think of your calluses. I gave you those. They’ll disappear if you leave me.
THE PLAYER. Calluses are dead skin.
MANDOLIN. No, valiant armor!
THE PLAYER. Ridiculous.
MANDOLIN. But what about this one? (He hums “Winter” Part 3 and dances.)
THE PLAYER. What about it?
(MANDOLIN dances toward THE PLAYER; she evades. He lunges, clasps her waist, presses his cheek to her diaphragm.)
MANDOLIN. Listen to me. I beg you. I belong here. Right here.
THE PLAYER. (trying to pry him away, failing) Why settle for mediocre? Your immaculately maintained strings, your mother-of-pearl fleuron. You should have excellence.
MANDOLIN. You wound me. You wound both of us.
THE PLAYER. Then leave!
MANDOLIN. I try so hard. Why can’t you just learn to take a goddamn compliment?
THE PLAYER. (frees herself) I’ve never asked for them. (She exits grumbling. MANDOLIN sits on the floor and mopes. Beat. THE NOVICE enters.)
THE NOVICE. Oh! You’re the—
MANDOLIN. (dejected) I’m the mandolin.
THE NOVICE. Everything okay, buddy?
MANDOLIN. I don’t deserve rejection. I’m beautiful. (THE NOVICE hums affirmatively and sits beside him.) How long will I have to suffer at the hands of a coward? Do I feel feverish?
(She checks his temperature with her hand.) What could the moon say if the sun stopped shining out of fear that its light failed to drape across every mountain and valley with absolute perfection? The moon could say nothing, only languish in its darkness.
THE NOVICE. You know, sometimes I think the sun is too bright. Like when you’re driving on a nice flat highway, going somewhere exciting, but the sun sits just right so it fries one of your arms. Just one of them.
MANDOLIN. You’re no sun.
THE NOVICE. Don’t get your strings in a tangle, buddy. I’m only trying to sympathize. (She scoots away from him. Beat.) Hey, you said something about hands…
MANDOLIN. I say many elegant things.
THE NOVICE. You said… (she imitates him) How long will I have to suffer at the hands—
MANDOLIN. Of a coward, yes.
THE NOVICE. I’ve got an idea.
(Some time has passed. THE PLAYER has returned to the practice room, flips through a sheaf of music on a stand. MANDOLIN and THE NOVICE enter, arm-in-arm. They sing “Winter, Part III" and dance. THE PLAYER notices them and raises her eyebrows. The pair ends with a flourish and they collapse on the couch.)
MANDOLIN. Never has Vivaldi filled me with such wonder. I feel as if my fingerboard will crack in twain.
THE NOVICE. I played the life right out of that little tune. Better than Jess. Definitely better than… (She glances obviously back at THE PLAYER.)
MANDOLIN. And you did it without resting your ring and pinky fingers on the pick guard. I can’t tell you how… (He glances obviously back at THE PLAYER.) Irritating that is.
THE PLAYER. Alright, what do you two want?
MANDOLIN. Oh, want? From you?
THE NOVICE. We’re doing great.
MANDOLIN. (rolls his eyes) We’re stupendous. We’re euphoric. We’re so much more than great.
THE PLAYER. Whatever you say.
THE NOVICE. While we’re on the subject, I heard the same piece played last night and it was played exactly like someone had jittery fingers. Couldn’t get clean notes. A shame.
MANDOLIN. A terrible shame.
THE NOVICE. Some people just don’t have dedication.
MANDOLIN. I dare say I’ve never met anyone who so clearly understands the drama of Vivaldi. The storytelling at the heart of each movement. Never have I met anyone who understands that.
THE PLAYER. Listen here, you weasels. (THE NOVICE jabs MANDOLIN with her elbow, rolls her eyes.) I don’t know who you think you are, waltzing in here and insulting me to my face, but I’m not going to listen to it. (She slaps the sheaf of music onto the ground, scattering the pages.) Not when I’ve spent the last year working on Vivaldi. Not when I’ve eaten the Four Seasons for breakfast and laid my head on La Cetra when I go to bed at night. Whatever game you’re running, I know how hard I’ve worked. I know I played well yesterday.
THE NOVICE. (thoroughly rumpled) Then why wouldn’t you let me tell you that?
THE PLAYER. I… (She deflates, crosses her arms, and pouts.)
MANDOLIN. (delighted, runs to her and shakes her shoulder) We played well yesterday. (THE PLAYER shrugs away. He replaces his shaking.)
THE NOVICE. (under her breath) Coward.
THE PLAYER. Fine. We played well yesterday.
(MANDOLIN spins away, singing “Winter, Part III" and dancing in wide arcs around the room.)
THE NOVICE. And?
THE PLAYER. And thank you…for saying so.
THE NOVICE. Like pulling teeth.
(While MANDOLIN sings, THE PLAYER smiles, sheepish, and extends a hand to THE NOVICE for a dance. THE NOVICE slaps it aside, but with little force.)
THE NOVICE. I’ve got some dignity, you know.
THE NOVICE exits. THE PLAYER nods to herself and then goes to dance with MANDOLIN. Lights down.
Rose Kinney is a second-year MA fiction student. She is an amateur photographer and recovering theatre kid.