Personal Note To Reader: In exchange for this gift of a short scene, would you kindly read the Author's Notes first? I'll be keeping your place in line right here for when you come back.|
Thumbnail sketch of the Last Scene: Cililla Queez and Pidely-Poo battle over right-of-access to Cornelius’s mind. Pidely-Poo’s urgency to win-over Cornelius’s total loyalty, which would render him forever a child, is Pidely's “last hurrah”, and when he goes down in defeat to Cililla, he crawls away to his final exit. Cililla’s leverage in defeating Pidely is by focusing Cornelius’s attention on Jennie Jax, standing outside the window in tears.
Cornelius Plumb: An autistic, musical genius child, age 12. Stunningly attractive, His mother dresses him fashionably and impeccably. He is at a developmental crossroad, physically, mentally, and emotionally. His thoughts, when spoken, often broken, tend to end in an inflection. Movements Jerky. Has a mild stammer.
Cililla Queez: An outgrowth of Cornelius’ mind, a replacement for his imaginary childhood mentor, Pidely-Poo; she is here to transition him through puberty and adolescence. She is shapelier than most of the girls she is to typify and her demeanor is rather racy, like a pre-teen channeling a stripper, but she also feels deeply and abounds in wisdom.
Jennie Jax: Cornelius’s classmate, age 12, physically not yet blossomed. On the shy side, she is kind-hearted, but still a child and swayable. She is attracted to Cornelius.
SETTING: A towering green hedge Upstage, right to left. Grassy playground, Centerstage, right to left, with a few kids milling about or sitting with their lunches spread out. Balls lying here and there, perhaps a tetherball pole awaiting use. Downstage, Center, a large boulder, flattened, and perfect for two or three people to sit on. A few flowering plants are growing to the sides and back.
AT RISE: CORNELIUS and JENNIE are sitting on the large boulder, a foot of space separating them. JENNIE occasionally steals a glance at CORNELIUS, but for the most part, she seems to be studying her feet. CORNELIUS sits stiff and straight, chin high, his head making short jabbing movements at the space just above the expansive roof of the school, and the corner of the dark green hedge to his left that borders the school ground, abutting with the hedge behind them. CILILLA smiles down at them from the rear.
(In a shaky voice, to her feet)
I’m glad you came with me, Cornelius.
(Picking up the two lunch bags at her feet, placing one in the space on the boulder between them)
I brought it from under your desk.
We should probably eat.
(Unwraps a sandwich from her bag and takes a small bite from half of it, shooting a glance at CORNELIUS)
You’re not hungry?
[For a moment, CORNELIUS continues staring into his safe space, but then he brings his attention to his bag, opens it, much as a blind person would, and pulls out a sandwich wrapped in wax paper. He slowly unwraps it, keeping his eyes averted from JENNIE. He takes a tiny bite and chews it absently.]
Your mom made you baloney. Mine always makes me peanut butter and jelly—yuck! I keep telling her I’m tired of them, but she keeps making them.
(She stares for a long time at her sandwich, as though expecting it to comment)
Do you like peanut butter and jelly?
I-I dropped—a jar of pic-kles.
I was-was … nine.
That, um, that must’ve been messy. Did your mama get mad?
[CORNELIUS takes a bite of his sandwich.]
My older brother—he’s dead—but … me and him, we used to trade halves of our sandwiches on account o’ he made his own out of mustard and pickles, and he’d always say it tasted good at first, and so we’d trade. …Your pickle jar reminded me.
(She glances down at a volleyball that had rolled to their feet and gives it a cursory kick away)
So … I was just wondering … I mean, do you wanna … you wanna trade the other half of our sandwich, Cornelius?
(Animatedly speaking to the safe-space above the building while shaking his head resolutely)
Nooo! It’s—my sandwich. Mama made it.
[CILILLA touches CORNELIUS’S shoulder, but says nothing]
I understand. I don’t know why mama uses strawberry jam. Some of the berry chunks are so big they tear through the bread and get my fingers all sticky. And I keep telling her, white bread, mama, white bread, but she only buys Roman Meal because she says it’s a hundred percent whole wheat and that’s better for me.
So it’s okay. … Ummm, Cor-nelius?
(with filling eyes, and through a sniffly, catchy voice)
Cornelius—I was … I-I’m sorry for what that big bully did to you at recess, yesterday. Um, I probably shouldn’t have, but I told my Mom and Dad about it, and … and well, they called the school on account of I’m new here from Montana and they were worried about me, being as I'm their only child left and all.
[CILILLA puts both hands on CORNELIUS’S shoulders, hoping to quiet his building agitation.]
Anyway … Daddy said they weren’t supposed to tell me, but the school suspended him. Not Daddy—but that boy. He has to take the Constitution test after school, but he won’t be back anymore. And …
So, I-I wanted you to know. Cornelius … I’m sorry—
(Sniffs and swipes her eyes with her fingertips)
I’m sorry … I couldn’t—I-I was afraid to do anything when they kept poking at you.
Ooooooo that's o-kay—It’s ooooooo-kay.
[CILILLA bends over and whispers something to CORNELIUS. With obvious resistance, he makes stuttery little movements of his head toward JENNIE, and her tear-filled eyes look back.]
I—need to—c-c-care now. S-s-show you.
(Suddenly, his face registers panic and he jerks his head away)
Nooooooo, huh-uh ….
We don’t need to look at each other, Cornelius. We can just sit here and eat. And be friends. We don’t need to say anything. Can we just do that, Cornelius?
[CILILLA, unobserved by anyone, dances about behind them jubilantly.]
[There ensues a long period of silence, with much of the drama in the remainder of the scene being in the expressions crowding CORNELIUS'S AND JENNIE'S faces. Both munch at their half sandwiches, and there should be a sense of intimacy in their separation. After perhaps a full minute of this, CORNELIUS, with his characteristic jerky movements, removes the wrapped half sandwich from his bag. He holds it out to JENNIE while still looking away. She takes it with excitement she has trouble concealing, retrieves her own wrapped half-sandwich, and hands it across the chasm to him. They begin eating their newly acquired sandwiches.]
Thank you, Cornelius.
END OF SCENE 9
It's probably a good idea to remind the reader from time to time that the story takes place in the early 50s. The world knew little about the spectrum of Autism back then. The man on the street was likely to associate it with a kind of craziness that needed to be sealed off from polite society. I would have been among them. Not as one of the bullies: not like James Delaney. I was too skinny and nerdy for that. But I would've probably been right there cheering him on. I mean, my God, man, some of them crazies stank and even slobbered or had snot hanging from their noses. They didn't belong in school. I mean, they would've been happier in an institution. You know, with their own kind....
Much gratitude for the photo by Daniel on Upsplash.