Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rat Manor -- Truth Marathon excerpt

Recap of my screenplay-novel TRUTH MARATHON: Paul, an English-as-a-Foreign Language instructor who is struggling to survive on low-paying contract work, is caught in the nexus of stress that afflicts all members of 21st Century society -- or at least, those members of it who do not create the nexus.

The particulars of Paul's life at this moment are these: a father with a history of mental illness who is obsessed with conspiracies (especially surrounding Pearl Harbour and the eve of the Korean War), a business-like, meddlesome mother who, though long-divorced from his father, keeps trying to "manage" both Paul's and his father's lives, and a job that seems to be killing him by degrees.

But on the day this scene opens, things have apparently gone well: his father has gotten a rent-controlled apartment that's a considerable improvement on the shared house he'd lived in previously. (Paul even feels a hint of envy toward his father; the dump of a house his father is leaving is, arguably, better than the one Paul resides in.)

Paul is in good humour. He feels, for once, that life isn't a endless series of complications and let-downs. It's a sensation he's able to relish for a good half hour or so.



Paul has just arrived home. He lifts his bike onto his shoulder and walks up the wooden porch steps (careful to avoid the one that has rotted). Then he locks his bike to the porch railing. But after a moment, thinking better of this, he takes the bike inside and leaves it in the hall.

He walks quickly upstairs, still happy and energetic.

His shared house actually is more of a shared apartment: it comprises the second and third stories of a narrow row-house situated on a busy street. He and three roommates occupy the upper floors. His landlord lives downstairs.

Paul and his roommates have a shared kitchen and bathroom. It, like the house, is narrow and cramped. But Paul seems at home here.

He takes off the backpack he’s been wearing and takes out some food: whole grain bread, shrink-wrapped chicken legs, some apples, celery, and a bottle of flax seed oil.

He fills a pot with water and sets it on the stove, which he turns to high. Then he opens the fridge and pulls out some potatoes. He washes and peels them, puts them in the water, and turns on the oven and begins washing and seasoning the chicken legs.

SFX: door slamming downstairs.

Paul continues cooking.

SFX: Footsteps ascending – slowly, tiredly.

A young man around Paul’s age enters. He is East Indian. He has a slim build, quiet manner, and strikingly handsome face: a hawklike nose, strong chin, and high cheekbones.

YOUNG MAN: Hey, Paul.

PAUL: [not really turning] Oh hey, Ramish.

RAMISH: What’s up?

PAUL: Nothing.

RAMISH: [looking over Paul’s shoulder] Mmm. Chicken legs. Looks good.

PAUL: Yep. Cheap ‘n’ delicious.


RAMISH: Did Rudy tell you about the rat?

PAUL: What rat?

RAMISH: The rat that was in the kitchen yesterday.

PAUL: Uh, no. He seems to have forgotten to mention it.

RAMISH: Yeah, well I got home last night and when I was coming up the stairs I heard this weird sound. Like paper being scrunched or something. It was pretty loud. I thought it was you. But then, when I walk into the kitchen, right on the shelf, right by Denise’s stuff, was this – rat.

Paul turns to look at Ramish squarely.

PAUL: You can’t be serious.

RAMISH: I am! A big honkin’ rat! It wasn’t like the mice we had last winter. It looked like a … cat. A small, evil cat, with a rat’s head and rat’s tail and little scratchy rat’s feet.

PAUL: [looking at his food, clearly losing his appetite] Swell. There’s always something.

RAMISH: Rudy says he’ll get an exterminator next weekend.

PAUL: I sure hope so.

RAMISH: I mean, the weekend after this. Says he can get a discount from a friend of his.

Paul doesn’t respond. He simply looks at his chicken. He seems undecided. Then, with an angry gesture, he grabs some cellophane wrap from a cupboard over the sink and wraps his food up.

RAMISH: Whassa matter? It won’t come when we’re here.

PAUL: I’ll stick to potatoes tonight.


Paul is on the phone.

Intercut, Paul and his mother.

KAREN NORTHFIELD: Was the apartment okay?

PAUL: Yeah, it was fine.

KAREN NORTHFIELD: How about the flooring?

PAUL: Parquet.

KAREN NORTHFIELD: Cheap parquet?

PAUL: Parquet, mom. Medium range, not-too-shitty parquet. It’s public housing.

KAREN NORTHFIELD: Okay, okay. How about the water?

PAUL: Good.

KAREN NORTHFIELD: Sounds wonderful, then! I talked to Esther Gomez today – she’s the one I’ve been dealing with – and she says your father can move in next month. Like you said, that’s pretty soon, actually. He’ll have to get cracking on packing. [beat] Maybe you could help him.

PAUL: He’s a grown man. He can do it himself.

KAREN NORTHFIELD: I know, I know! But you know how he is. He loves to disappoint people. I just don’t want any last minute wrinkles.

PAUL: By the way, the super told me something about Dad signing forms. You know about that?


PAUL: I don’t know. Forms. Dad’s gotta sign them to make it all legal. Like a lease, I guess.

KAREN NORTHFIELD: What was the super’s name?

PAUL: [reaching for wallet] Just a sec. I’ve got his card here.



Paul is in his room. He is sitting upright on his bed and sipping a beer while watching the news on an antique black-and-white TV.

SFX: A strange sound from far away, similar to paper being crumpled.

Paul, hearing this, sits up.

SFX: More noise.

Paul gets gingerly off his bed. He takes a final swig from his beer, then turns the bottle around in his hand so he can hold it like a weapon. Thinking better of this, he puts the beer down and opens a tool box in his closet. He pulls out a hammer.

Slowly, cautiously, Paul makes his way down the hall toward the kitchen holding the hammer menacingly.

[End of excerpt. To see more about Truth Marathon, click here.]

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