by G. Arthur Brown
(An average family American 1960 sits at an average family table for an average dinner. Eugene Ionesco is not among them. FATHER sits at one side of the table dressed like an American father 1960. MOTHER sits at another side of the table dressed like an American mother 1960. GIRL sits at another side of the table dressed like an American daughter 1960. DOCTOR sits another side of the table dressed like an American American doctor 1960. Thomas, dressed like an average American son 1960, sits in his dorm room one thousand miles away. They chat before eating.)
Girl: Doctor, I am led to believe—
Doctor: How are you led, my dear, by rope?
Girl: By road signs, sir. They tell me, the road signs, that you are working on a technique to separate mother from prenatal child.
Doctor: Well, it is quite difficult, you know, to separate the best mothers from the best children because they never even meet. Sometimes living thousands of miles apart. At this point I’m devising a maneuver to prevent any mother from ever coming in to contact with a child, hers or otherwise.
Father: Quite remarkable!
Mother: Then why not remark?
Father: I’m afraid I’ve no ink.
Girl: Won’t it be brilliant to have babies one never even has to see!
Father: That reminds me. I had a telephone call today from Eugene Ionesco.
Doctor: Indeed, and what did he say?
Father: I’m really not quite sure.
Mother: Oh, darling, but you speak French quite well.
Father: Yes, I speak French, but I cannot hear it. So to me it was just as a dead line… nothing at all.
Doctor: What a thing! What a sad loss.
Father: Oh, I don’t know about that. Now I am aware that all these years when I thought the line was dead, no one there, it was really Eugene Ionesco calling with his words of encouragement, or derision, or indifference. One of the three, I suspect.
Doctor: And you can’t tell us anything about what he had to say?
Father: He was wearing a derby hat.
Doctor: Why do you suppose that?
Father: You just now asked me to.
Mother: His favorite fish is herring.
Girl: Eugene Ionesco’s favorite fish is herring!
Mother: No, your older brother Thomas’ favorite fish is herring. I didn’t realize we were still talking about Eugene Ionesco.
(Offstage a phone rings.)
(The family sits in the sitting room. Each member sits on a different stick of furniture. MOTHER sits on a tall bar stool. FATHER sits on a short step stool. DAUGHTER sits on a tuffet. DOCTOR sits on a surgical table with elaborate ivory inlay.)
Doctor: (To Daughter) I’m going to have to hit you in the face. Don’t blame me. Blame my methods and the men who invented them.
Daughter: Oh! Isn’t it so exciting to take part in medicine!
Doctor: (Approaches Daughter and punches her in the face, knocking her from her tuffet). I think we have once again proven the science always works.
Daughter: (Weeping) I’m glad I was subjected to that.
Father: What a reaction!
Mother: Equal and opposite. I saw it all, right there.
Doctor: (Writing something on clipboard) I was about to renounce the calling entirely.
Mother: What changed your mind?
Doctor: I couldn’t figure out how to get my lab coat off.
Father: Oh, yes! I had another telephone call from Eugene Ionesco today.
Daughter: (Rising, rubbing face, sitting back on tuffet) If you can’t hear his words, it can’t have been interesting.
Father: I wrote it all down. (Rummages in pockets for note) Here it is. He said to me, “I know you think I am Eugene Ionesco. But I am not him. I am not even a man. I am your Aunt Bernice. We need to discuss your mother’s estate.”
Mother: Well, that sounds just like something Ionesco would say.
Doctor: Did he have an accent?
Father: You might as well ask, “If I hang it on a wall, is it art?”
Daughter: You put all my drawings on the door of the refrigerator.
Father: But our walls are full.
Mother: What else are we to do?
Father: There is just too much art to fit it all on our walls. I’ve had the hardest time getting the Sistine Chapel ceiling on our own meager ceiling.
Doctor: But if it is on the ceiling, is it art?
Daughter: (Considers question with finger over lips) It’s not on the wall.
Mother: Nor is it on the refrigerator. Oh, Husband, I’m scared!
Father: (Rises and embraces mother) Why does Ionesco put us through this, time after time? Hasn’t our faith been shaken sufficiently?
Doctor: Which reminds me. Mother, I’m going to have to hit you in face.
(Lights fade. Curtains)
(Family stands around a circular table with a punch bowl at its center. If a punch bowl is unavailable, a punch fountain will do. DOCTOR has his stethoscope pressed to his abdomen. MOTHER wears a conical paper hat. FATHER eyes the telephone surreptitiously. SALLY holds her doll.)
Doctor: They are in there, my friends. My friends are in there.
Sally: In your intestines?
Doctor: I have a phantom womb where I am letting them stay for the weekend.
Mother: That’s peculiar.
Father: Are your friends phantoms as well?
Doctor: As well as what?
Father: As well as being your friends, are they phantoms?
Doctor: Shall I ask them?
Sally: (Writes a quick note on a paper tablet and tears it out, begins folding the paper) Swallow this. They can respond at their leisure.
Mother: I worry that this type of paper won’t taste so very good. Pepper it first and wash it down with punch.
Doctor: I have pepper in my pocket of course, but where might I acquire the punch?
Sally: (Grinning) I’ll take care of that part.
Doctor: Ah, thank you ever so much. (Peppers note. Places in mouth, chews, gags)
Sally: Here it comes! (Punches doctor in the mouth)
Doctor: Ah! (Falls backward)
Mother: Looks as though it has gone down.
Father: Did the punch work, Doctor?
Doctor: (Rises, rubbing his belly) Yes. But it went down the wrong way.
Father: So your enemies will be getting the message instead of your friends?
Doctor: Probably. I’ve been letting my enemies stay in my spleen.
Mother: (Changes subject) It’s getting late. It is almost no longer my birthday.
Sally: You shall have to call him, Father.
Father: (Dials phone) Eugene Ionesco? You are once again late for my wife’s birthday party. The punch is here. (Pauses) It’s in a bowl. (Pauses) It’s in a silver bowl, or possibly a fountain. You’ll have to ask the crew about that bit. (Pauses) You’ll be here later? What time? (Pauses) What do you mean I have the wrong number? (Hangs up)
Mother: It wasn’t him?
Father: No, it was him. But he refuses to attend any birthday parties where there are an incorrect number of candles on the birthday cake.
Mother: (Stammering in fright) I… I… I… c-can fix it! (Pulls packet of small mutli-colored candles from pocket, spilling the contents onto the floor)
Father: (Ominously) It’s too late. He knows.
G. Arthur Brown is a jerk who publishes his own work, but it’s his birthday, so please forgive him. The three acts of A Phone Call from Ionesco appear in his flash fiction collection I Like Turtles. He will spend the majority of 2015 as a 38-year-old. God help him.