A sunny afternoon outside the church in Mimico, Upper Canada, 1850.
Janice, age 11, stands under a large oak tree beside the church, trying to recite something from memory. She has a large scrap of white cloth she’s flapping around for dramatic punctuation. A book sits on the ground.
JANICE: « …At daybreak, on the black sea-beach,
A fisherman stood… agog?
To see the face… » No, « the fog »?
Her father William, age 50, enters as she opens the book to read.
« At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast… »
WILLIAM: Janice! What are you
He snatches the book.
JANICE: It’s for school, father. I’m to recite it on Monday.
WILLIAM: « The Wreck of the Hesperus. »
JANICE: A captain takes his daughter to sea on a big boat but there’s an awful storm so he ties her to the mast to keep her safe (pretends to tie herself to the oak tree) but the mast breaks and the ship breaks and everybody dies!
She crumples to the ground. He’s horrified.
WILLIAM: It’s ridiculous. No father would do that to his daughter.
JANICE: He didn’t know the storm was coming.
WILLIAM: A captain would know. A FATHER would know.
JANICE: But it’s so exciting. So much better than boring poems about birds and flowers. It’s just, there’s too many fancy words…
WILLIAM: Well don’t worry. You won’t be learning them.
JANICE: What? Father, no. I have to, or else I have to write my own.
WILLIAM: Perfect. Write about a daughter who brings her father a boring flower. He says thank-you. The end.
JANICE: I can’t write a poem at all, even a boring one. I don’t know all those words. I don’t know how those people live in the same world I do and see all those things and hear all those words.
WILLIAM: You see enough.
JANICE: You’re not listening.
WILLIAM: And you’re not reciting this.
JANICE: A storm is coming.
WILLIAM: No, no storms, no masts – just a pretty flower.
JANICE: No, father… Don’t you hear that?
They both listen. There is a rumbling sound. Distant but continuous, and growing louder.
WILLIAM: Get inside the church.
JANICE: What IS that?
WILLIAM: Get inside the
She starts to follow him, then spots something in the distance.
JANICE: Look, look! That’s not a storm cloud. I’m sure of it.
Before her father can stop her Janice is climbing the oak tree.
WILLIAM: Janice, listen to me!
He tries to follow her up the tree but he struggles to climb it.
JANICE: It sounds like, like horses. Horses in the sky.
She runs out onto the church roof. He is still struggling to get up the tree. The noise grows ever louder.
WILLIAM: Don’t be ridiculous! Now get inside!
JANICE: But what IS it?
WILLIAM: I don’t know!
The rumbling becomes a deafening roar, like trilling waves, and the sky goes dark. Janice ducks a little, but she doesn’t shy away from what’s passing overhead. Instead, she looks up.
WILLIAM: It’s the end times!
JANICE: No, father. It’s birds.
William looks up as well. Carefully he crawls out onto the church roof. He’s amazed, but Janice is absolutely mesmerized.
WILLIAM: It’s those pigeons! They talk about them at the mill. They said they come in the thousands, more than you can count, but this… Why, we could just knock dinner out of the sky with a stick!
He takes Janice’s white cloth « sail » and tries to catch a bird passing overhead.
JANICE: Can’t you hear them?
WILLIAM: Hear them? I’m just about deaf with them!
JANICE: No father, under that. Or over it. Or, I’m not sure. But there’s another sound, like they’re speaking.
WILLIAM: It’s just their wings whistling.
JANICE: It’s more than whistling.
WILLIAM: Wings don’t have words, child.
He finally catches one.
WILLIAM: Ha ha!
JANICE: Father, no!
She grabs the bundle from him to protect it. Then, slowly, realizing, she holds it to her ear.
JANICE: « Where do I come from? »
JANICE: « Where do I come from?
Where do I go?… »
I can’t understand the rest.
She holds the bundle out. William listens.
JANICE: « Where do I come from?
Where do I go? »…?
WILLIAM: « Where do I fly when the cold winds blow? »
He takes the bundle back from her and, gently, opens it. They both watch a bird fly up and rejoin its massive flock.
JANICE: Belly of sunset,
Back of clean slate
Day turns to night as they migrate
Whispers of wonders
Under the roar… um…
WILLIAM: Teach you to listen for evermore.
Father and daughter sit on the roof beside each other, watching the birds pass overhead.
Marilyn Anne Campbell is a Canadian writer and occasional puppeteer whose plays have been seen in Canada and the US. Find her on Facebook @MarilynWrites and on the web at www.MarilynAnneCampbell.com