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Holding Jennie's Boat
Genius in Love
: Genius in Love, Scene 13 by Jay Squires

The Previous Scene, in a nutshell: Toloache and Howard meet in their living room with Gary and Phyllis Jax, the latter couple grieving in their own ways over the death of their son a month earlier. A great deal of anxiety and tension brew beneath the surface as the couples talk. After Cornelius and Jennie emerge from the Music room to join the grownups, Cornelius uses his new relationship strategy during his introduction to the Jaxes. Afterward, he astounds everyone with his piano playing as Jennie sits proudly by his side.

CHARACTERS DESCRIPTION: Found in "Author's Notes"


SETTING:
An early 1950s 8th-grade classroom. A prominence of charts and pictures of branches of government, portraits of presidents, and historical figures populate the walls. A large teacher’s desk sits CENTERSTAGE, right, and faces left. Student occupied desks are in the usual rows facing the teacher’s desk and extend back to stage left. The exit door is UPSTAGE right. An oversized clock is above the door.


Time: Spring, 1952; Wednesday, four days after the meeting of the Plumbs and the Jaxes.

At Rise: CILILLA sits atop JENNIE JAX’S unoccupied desk, facing CORNELIUS. His eyes are averted. The classroom, except for CORNELIUS AND CILILLA is in suspended animation and in shadow; MR. HINEY is sitting on the edge of his desk, his index finger extended toward his charges, interrupted, as he is, from the midst of making a point.

CILILLA:
It’s only been three days, Sweetie. I’m sure she just has a cold or something.

(With an upbeat smile)
You’re looking at my eyebrows, aren’t you, love?

CORNELIUS:
No. Huh-uh. Jen-nie is hooome. M-Mister Ja-ax did not l-l-like Cor-nie’s muuuusic.


CILILLA:
Nooooo, Sweeeetie, how can you think that?


CORNELIUS:
Cornie was … nerrr-vous. Cornie m-missed two notes.


CILILLA:
Silly, I was watching and they were spellbound. Everyone was spellbound, Sweetie. I was spellbound. Only you heard those notes. They … we all … heard perfection.


CORNELIUS:
No. Not per—not per-fection. 

(Jabbing at his eyebrow)
L-L-Like—like this. All a … trick.

CILILLA:
Oh, love, I was teaching you a strategy, not a trick! There's a difference. People expect others to look into their eyes. When they don't, it makes them uncomfortable. It's the way they are, and we can't change that. So I gave you a strategy. You took it and refined it. And it works beautifully.


CORNELIUS:
No. A trick.


CILILLA:
Sweetie, it was a strategy. It was to make them more comfortable, while you avoid the pain of looking in their eyes.


CORNELIUS:
(Looking at CILILLA)
No.

CILILLA:
I know what you're doing. You refine it so brilliantly that someday you'll be able to look at their eyelids, upper and lower, without looking in their eyes.


CORNELIUS:
(Louder)
No—a trick. Jen-Jennie’s hooome.

CILILLA:
Listen to me, Sweetie—


CORNELIUS:
(His face twitching)
Jennie’s hooome … M-Mister Jax … he saw—the trick. He—he heard Cornie’s m-mis-takes.
(beat)
baaad mu-sic. H-h-he made Jennie st-stay hooome.

CILILLA:
Can you close your eyes, Sweetie, and go to the music?


CORNELIUS:
Baaad music.


CILILLA:
Find the good music. Now Sweetie. It’s there. There is so much beautiful music. Close your eyes and find the good, the beautiful music.


[Dutifully, CORNELIUS closes his eyes, but there is still an occasional twitch in his facial muscles.]

CILILLA (Continues):
The music in your head is like an ocean. Like a vast, shoreless ocean. And it’s like you are in a boat on that ocean. Can you see that, Cornie? Can you picture that? See yourself in a boat, a rowboat, with the oars inside? Just you afloat in the middle of the ocean of your music? This music you hear in your mind is different from the music you play on the piano, isn't it? Anyone who's listening can enjoy your piano’s music.


CORNELIUS:
Not M-mis-ter Jaaax.


CILILLA:
Oh, yes he did. He was absorbed—everyone was absorbed by the music that came out of that piano.

(beat)
But you can't let yourself forget ... as absorbing as your piano music is, it’s different from your mind’s music. Your mind’s music is very powerful—but private. No one else can hear your mind’s music. Sometimes I think I almost can, Cornie, but it’s really not the music; it’s something else I am feeling which is as beautiful as the music. That’s something special we share—through our ... our connection. 
(A look of frustration compresses her lips)
Words! Okay ... Okay, it's like I am in another boat, nearby. A small boat, like yours, on that immense ocean of pure music.

CORNELIUS:
(His eyes remain closed, his face relaxed, his breathing easy.)
I want … to … staaay heeere.

CILILLA:
Oh, yes! I want to stay here, too. I need to stay here, too, Cornie, because there is an invisible cable that connects me—my boat—to yours. Life would be perfect for you if you could explore this great ocean of music, its expanse, and its depth, and translate this music of your mind to the piano. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if you could do this, Cornie? If it were all you had to do?


CORNELIUS:
(As through an elongated sigh)
Yeeeeeeees.

CILILLA:
Ahhh, yes. As long as it’s just your boat and mine on that shoreless ocean of your mind’s music, it’s perfect and peaceful and the music goes on and on without end. You can hear the music lapping against your boat. Or you can plunge your hand into the unexpected chill until the music invades your arm and chest—your entire body, oh, so very very completely.


[Here, his arm slips off his lap and hangs to his side, his hand slowly moving fore and aft; he brings his hand back to his lap and audibly sighs.]

CILILLA (Continues):
Oh, Cornelius, I can feel it too, right through the cable that connects us. I feel, for a fleeting moment, your joy and peace. And I am permitted to feel, just for one …sublime … instant, how all of you is absorbed by your oceanic mind of music.
 
(beat)
You know what, Cornelius? Listen to me, now .... If I were permitted to feel more than that one instant of your bliss … I know I would surely die. I know I would. I would be too close to something sacred. Only the truly innocent can be that close and not die. That’s why I need the cable.

CORNELIUS:
(Blissfully rocking forwards and back)
Ooocean … Muuusic.

CILILLA:
 You need the cable, too, my sweet Cornelius. You need it every bit as much as I do, but for different reasons: sometimes, through the cable, I give you gentle persuasion. When I give a little twitch on the cable. That’s the direct instruction I give you at a time when there is no urgency and it doesn’t disrupt your music—oh, because the music is everything!

(Beat)
Cornelius, I am about to teach you the most important lesson. But before that, there is something you need to do. Cornelius … Sweet Cornelius … Keep your eyes closed; in just a moment, though, I’ll want you to open your eyes. And I won’t want you to look at my eyebrows. Because—listen to me, Cornelius
—because I am a part of you, and because we are connected as two boats on the ocean ... it will be time for you to look directly into my eyes. You can do that because you will see and feel the same ocean of music that you are experiencing now.

CORNELIUS:
It—It will huuurt Cornie.


CILILLA:
Only if I’m lying to you. Only if everything I’ve told you has been a lie.


CORNELIUS:
(His eyes twitching, he emits something of a groan)
Oooooooooooh.

CILILLA:
I’ve never lied to you, Sweetie. Now ... open your eyes.


[With a flutter, CORNELIUS’S eyes open, and his whole body jolts]
CILILLA (Continues):
Steady … easy … stay with my eyes, Sweetie.


CORNELIUS:
(With his eyes locked on hers, in the passage of only a few moments, his body goes from rigidity to total release, and he utters almost orgasmically ...)
Yeeeeeees … Yeeeeeeessss! Uuuuuuuuum…

CILILLA:
Welcome home, Cornelius.

(Beat)
Now you can be so much more focused. You can look in my eyes because we are connected—and it’s lovely being connected, isn’t it? Someday, you'll be able to allow yourself to see what’s behind other people’s eyes. But only when you want to ... 
(Beat)
Cornelius, a while ago, I told you that most of our lessons are tiny twitches on the cable.

CORNELIUS:
Twitches.


CILILLA:
Just a twitch. But there have been times, Cornie—there have been times when the cable was an alarm. When it was a warning. A time for readiness. Really. Maybe even for battle! And it might happen again. It won’t happen often, but it'll be when I jerk hard on that cable. And you'll feel it. It might be confusing to you, but it'll be necessary.
 
(beat)
 Remember your confusion when they took you from Mr. Hiney’s room and put you in the music room? That was me yanking on your cable! I’m sorry for that, Sweetie, but someone—a now forever-nameless someone—was trying to snap the cable and climb into your boat. Someone who was once your friend, but whose name you’ve blessedly forgotten, wanted to possess your sweet, beautiful, innocent, musical mind.

CORNELIUS:
(Looking directly into CILILLA’S eyes and speaking in a voice that is clearly more fluid)
Jennie … was there…. Jennie was outside.

CILILLA:
Yes, that was when I yanked the hardest on your cable, Sweetie. I called on you to focus everything you had on Jennie because that other misguided force was trying to control your lovely mind.

CORNELIUS:
Jen-nie’s Cornie’s friend.


CILILLA:
Yes, she’s a good friend, Sweetie, but don’t go there yet. Not yet. Focus on my eyes.

(Beat)
I would like nothing more than to stay with you on this calm, deep and wide ocean of your music—just you and me—

CORNELIUS:
—and Jennie …


CILILLA:
Yes, you and me and Jennie, whose boat has nudged itself up against yours so that you can reach out for a while and hold it and keep it from drifting away. But … but Cornie … that's the point, Cornie! Don’t forget ...

(sighs)
... don't forget there will be two other boats, bolted together, never far away from Jennie. The Jaxes are in those two boats. There were three. They had just unbolted Jennie’s boat from theirs and that is why they are close by … so she can learn the tricks of navigating her boat without getting herself hurt. There is a cable linking her small boat to their bigger ones. Are you picturing that?

CORNELIUS:
Cornie’s hol-ding Jennie’s boat.


CILILLA:
Yes … but listen to me, Sweetie …

(She threads herself between the desks to arrive at the other side of CORNELIUS’S desk, where she kneels down, grasping one of his hands in hers. His eyes have never left hers, throughout)
Sweetie, a while ago, when I told you that our boats are on the ocean of your mind’s pure and perfect music—that’s true, Cornie, that’s absolutely true. But Sweetie, here is where you really need to focus. Here is where I’m yanking your cable with all my might.

[CORNELIUS stares, unblinking, into CILILLA’S eyes.]

CILILLA (Continues):
Our ocean of pure music, yours and mine—ours because I do not exist without you, and you absolutely need me as your navigator—our ocean, Sweetie, is shared
—now hear me, Cornelius—is shared with thousands, millions, no, billions of other boats. And not one of the people on those boats recognizes, let alone understands, the purity and innocence of our music. In fact, some will think it's stupid. It will frighten some. Some will be angry. Try to make waves.

CORNELIUS:
(His eyes wavering from CILILLAS)
Cornie’s holding … Jennie’s boat. Why can’t …?

CHILLA:
No … You're not following


CORNELIUS:
Why can’t Jen-nie get in—Cornies boat?


CHILLA:
No. No, Cornie. Because it’s just the way we’re made—the way we are. It’s why the Jaxes are in separate boats. It’s why your mother and father are in separate boats.
(Beat)
Do you know why not one of those people on those billions of boats recognizes our pure ocean of music? 
(Beat)
Sweet darling, Cornelius, it is because the ocean is all things to all people. This vast ocean of music that you, in your boat, are afloat on is really the ocean of life. Life! Life experience for everyone! It is all that we have. It’s all that we are. It is all things. To all people.

CORNELIUS:
Cornie and Jennie—Cornie’s music makes … Jen-nie happy.


CILILLA:
(Running her fingers through her hair, she exhales through pouched-out cheeks)
Okay ... Jennie told you that?

CORNELIUS:
Noooo …


CILILLA:
That's okay ... What you’re feeling, then,  is Jennie holding onto your boat, too. You’re holding onto each other’s boat.

(Beat)
For
for a while. 

CORNELIUS:
(Visibly agitated)
Jen-nie smiles when—when Cornie plays.

CILILLA:
Oh, Cornie ... yes! Yes. The music you play makes her feel good inside. It’s the music you make come out of the piano. Please see the difference, Sweetie. It’s not the same as the music you have inside you. The music you have inside of you is personal. And in that form, it won’t let itself be shared.

(Beat)
You have been specially chosen to experience the depth and breadth of life in a kind of alphabet of-of tone and pitch and-and rhythm and harmony, and lots of other things, that no one else has ever experienced—or can ever experience in exactly the same way you do. And you don’t own that experience, Cornelius. If you can just focus, and try to grasp that. You may think you own it. You can move around all the parts of it in your mind, but you don’t own it. You can manipulate it, but you don’t own it. IT OWNS YOU, my Sweetie, and it’s very … very jealous.

CORNELIUS:
(Suddenly jerking his eyes away from CILILLA, and his voice reverts to his previous speech patterns)
No! Cornie d-doesn’t—like it. Cornie h-hates it. It’s a bul—it’s a bully!

CILILLA:
(In a calm voice)
Yes, but it’s a magnificent bully, isn’t it sweet Cornelius? It’s magnificently pure and beautiful. And you love it even when you hate it, don’t you Cornelius? 

[CORNELIUS, his eyes closed and his head shaking defiantly]

CILILLA (Calmly continues):
You know I’m not saying anything you don’t already understand on some level, Cornelius, because I am from your mind—the navigating part of your mind—and that means I am part of that magnificent bully … just as you are, Sweet, Sweet Cornelius. 

(Beat)
I know why you hate it, but I also know why you can’t stop loving it. And we both know why Jennie can’t be in your boat—

CORNELIUS:
But
—ButNo!

CILILLA:
Yes! For the same reason your Mama, who loves you so much, can’t be in your boat … why I can only navigate your boat through awkward twitches and jerks of the cable—but I can’t be in your boat.

(Beat)
If another were, somehow, to climb into your boat, it would throw it into imbalance and both of you would be tossed into that great, magnificent, hated-and-loved ocean—and both would surely drown.

CORNELIUS:
(In desperation and tears)
Wha-wha-what can Cornie d-dooooo?

CILILLA:
You know already, Sweetie. You do what you’re doing now; the only thing you can do: you hold on to Jennie’s boat as long as Jennie wants to hold on to your’s … or until her mother and father reel in her cable.


CORNELIUS:
Nooooooo.


CILILLA:
(Holding his hand and stroking it)
Sweetie, I don’t want that to happen. And you sure don’t want that to happen. But something inside you senses that can happen, and—and you’re blaming yourself for that possibility. Cornie, I can’t let you blame yourself for what life does.

[There is a timid knock on the door, followed by another, slightly louder. Stage lights come on full. MR. HINEY and the students “thaw” and MR. HINEY completes his point, giving a quick sideward glance at the door]

MR. HINEY:
…should know by now—and if you don’t know by know … heaven help you … that the United States Constitution—

(Turns his head to the third in a series of knocks at the door and addresses the girl at the desk nearest the door)
Susan, would you kindly see who that is?

SUSAN:
(Opening the door a crack and sticking her head out, then after a moment, closing the door and facing MR. HINEY)
It’s the student assistant from, um, Mr. Hallow’s office, Mr. Hiney—

MR. HINEY:
Spit it out, Susan!


SUSAN:
She’s waiting outside to take, um, Corn-Corn—


MR. HINEY:
Cornelius?


[She nods her head rapidly, scurries to her desk, and sits down]

MR. HINEY (Continues):
Cornelius, gather your things together and follow the young lady to Mr. Hallow's office.


[CORNELIUS stares helplessly in CILILLA'S eyes. It's as though they are communicating a hidden knowledge only they are privy to. Her shoulders slump. She slowly nods and gets up from where she was kneeling beside CORNELIUS'S desk. He rises, never taking his eyes off CILILLA'S. As CORNELIUS (with CILILLA, unseen, of course, beside him, her arm around his waist), crosses in front of MR. HINEY'S desk, CORNELIUS turns his head and looks fully in his teacher's face. MR. HINEY'S mouth drops open and stays open as his eyes follow CORNELIUS to the door.]

 
END OF SCENE 13

 

Recognized

Author Notes
CHARACTERS:

CORNELIUS PLUMB: An autistic, musical genius child, age 12, in an era when little was known about autism, and one diagnosed as such was generally institutionalized. While he is highly dysfunctional on the social level, he is intellectually far advanced over his classmates, most of whom ignore him, but some of whom bully him and treat him unmercifully. When he speaks, it is in a clipped, non-fluid manner, but the content of his speech is generally uncensored. He is uncommonly handsome for a 12-year-old, well-groomed, and well-dressed.

CILILLA QUEEZ: An apparent product of Cornelius's mind, there to guide him through a rough emotional patch. Only Cornelius can see Cililla. And while they are able to converse openly with each other, no one else is privy to these conversations. [This is accomplished by fading into shadow all but the two, who are in full light.]

MR HINEY: 8th-grade teacher. He's got some emotional problems that, unfortunately, he's working through while teaching his students.

SUSAN: A student.

     

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