My Life as a Performance Art Piece

Submitted for Contest #42 in response to: Write a story that ends by circling back to the beginning.... view prompt

9 comments

I.

No, this isn't where my story begins.

I haven't even been born yet, much less conceived.


By the time I am --

born, that is --

and I've had a few years to collect my thoughts on the subject --

this is how I might depict myself:


As a character in a television series

based on the story of my life,

my life as a performance art piece . . . .


II.

My Life

as a

Performance

Art

Piece


Characters:

Kathy, a 38-year-old artist and divorced mother

Eric, her 16-year-old son, high school basketball star

Patty (Patricia), his 17-year-old girlfriend, member of the dance team


Interior of Eric's car, heading for home in a quiet suburban neighborhood.


Eric's Voice: I first learned what life was about on the day of the state finals. I remember pulling up in the driveway next to my mom's car, wondering why she wasn't at the gallery where she practically lived day and night. I soon found out what she was up to. Looking back, I should have seen it coming.


Eric enters house quietly: Mom?


Eric goes to the hall closet and searches the pockets of his clothes.

Sound of woman's voice down the hall, moaning and grunting:

Oh! Ohhhhh, arrgghh!


Eric pushes open the door to his mother's bedroom: Mom? What in the --


Kathy is sprawled out on the bed, shuffling through tons of papers and receipts: Uh! Eric, honey! I thought you were going straight up to Austin after school!


Eric: I came home to see if I left the extra ticket for Dad in my other jacket. What's all this mess?


Kathy gathers up the documents nervously, but spills a huge stack onto the floor: Nothing, dear. Just renewing some art grant applications, the usual stuff!


Eric walks over to help pick them up: Why is my name all over these forms?


Eric flips through another set, starts to panic:

And this is an itemized list of all my sports equipment from last year! Is this a tax audit?


Kathy gives him a guilty look: No, darling.


Eric: Tell me the truth, Mom. Are you in trouble with the I.R.S.? What's "Project Pinocchio"?!!


Kathy tries to grab papers from him, cornering him at the door:

Honey, there is something we need to talk about, but there's no time to explain! I'm up against a major deadline, and you've got a basketball game to --


Eric: No, I need to know now! Did you lie on your tax return?

(shakes papers, pointing) Is this going to affect my athletic scholarships?


Kathy: Eric, you have a lifetime grant that pays your tuition! I just have to renew it once a year through --


Eric, skim-reading paperwork: Through the NEA? Which one?

The National Education Association or the Endowment for the Arts? (hold up New Forms Regional Initiative Grant application) Mom, I'm not the artist -- you are! Why are these grants under my name? Tell me, before I burn this trash in the fireplace!


Kathy chases Eric down the hall to the living room:

Calm down, sweetheart! I know we need to have a little talk!

Kathy stops Eric from tossing the stack into the fireplace. They sit at the edge.


Eric shoves the papers in his letter jacket, crossing his arms: I'm listening!


Kathy glances at the family photos above the fireplace: When your father and I got married, we knew it wouldn't be forever. But I wanted to have a baby anyway. Well, he didn't want to face years of alimony and child support, and I would never qualify for welfare. So we conceived you as a performance art piece to get private funding. I only asked for enough to cover a few basic costs, but the art donations kept pouring in!


Eric, stunned: So you're telling me I'M "Project Pinocchio"? A little puppet you created with the help of a deadbeat dad who didn't want strings attached? Mom, I don't believe it! How could you do this to me!


Kathy: Just because you're a work of art doesn't mean you're not my son! I love you, Eric, no matter what you become or decide to do with your life. You're a free person, not a puppet on anybody's strings!


Eric knocks row of photos to the floor: You're lying! I've never been real to you, have I?! I'm just some abstract piece of conceptual art -- a product of conception created right in the privacy of your own bedr-- Aha! So that's the X-rated videotape that Uncle Dave was copying! (Eric runs over to the TV bookcase) The one of you and Dad "making art" in your bedroom studio!


Kathy: Stop it, Eric! That's enou--


Eric throws open the cabinet and starts ransacking the tape collection: It was right here, I swear! (shot of tapes piling up at Kathy's feet) Between the footage of the delivery room and my kindergarten graduation! (turns, outraged) What else did you tape? When I first peed in the toilet?


Kathy picks up old sports portrait in the pile: If I were out to spy on you, to record every second of your life, I'd use Dad's ticket to sit at the game just to catch my son the big shot on 8mm! That's not the point!


Eric: What is it, then? What does my life mean to you -- anything? (Kathy looks up, her arms full of tapes and frames) What's the purpose of your little art project now? (Eric weeps angry tears, slams empty cabinet)


Kathy drops everything, and runs over to give him a hug:

To prove the existence of God, I was trying to prove that God --


Kathy (holds Eric and starts to cry): Eric, there are some things in life beyond anyone's control. There's a higher plan in place that shapes all of our decisions. I knew I wanted to be a mother, but I couldn't explain why! (Kathy strokes Eric's hair) It didn't make sense financially. I was told I was selfish. So I promised God that if He let me have you, I would use my art to prove to the world once and for all that He existed. And I trusted Him to provide whatever I needed to make that happen. It just hasn't happened quite yet --


Eric, coldly: So in the meantime God keeps sending you more money to subsidize my life! For what? Where did you expect this to lead? Who else are you leading on besides me and half a dozen nonprofit foundations? (shot of their image in the mirror, as camera pans the framed certificates hanging on the wall)


Kathy: No one darling! I even turned down offers from churches and schools who saw this as an important divinity study. Believe me, dear, I pray to God every day for some miracle, some coincidence to happen in your life for me to document as undeniable proof of the divine -- (she wipes his tears) Oh, honey! I never meant for you to find out like this! I planned to tell you as soon as I figured out how this was going to end!


Eric, bravely: It's all going to end right now. I want you to cancel those grants and refund that money, or I'll go -- lock myself in the bathroom and end my life! (Kathy stares) My life as a performance art piece!


Eric hurls a baby picture at the wall, shattering the mirror, and heads for the door.


Kathy clings to Eric's jacket, which comes off in her hands: No, baby, don't! I'm sorry! Forgive me!


Eric runs down the hall to the bathroom: No, take it! Take it all back! Send that to your sponsors along with all my soccer trophies. They never meant a thing to you anyway! (Papers scatter to the floor)


Eric slams the door on Kathy, who drops to her knees: That's not true! Eric! Oh, God, don't do this to me!


Eric from inside, tearing through the medicine chest: You should have thought before you did this! What good is praying to God if you don't take responsibility for your actions! Did you ever stop to think how I would feel? Or Patty? How is she going to feel once the whole school finds out she's been dating a real-life Pinocchio?


Kathy grabs papers, runs for the phone: Oh, Patty! I better call her! She'll know what to say to that boy!

(Kathy pushes speed-dial buttons) Patty! Sorry, wrong number! (Kathy tries again) Hello, Mr. Sanchez? Yes, is Patricia there -- we've got a slight emergency! (pause) Oh, so you found the extra ticket, great! No, this is something else, it's very urgent! (pause) Why, what's wrong? Why can't she talk? I need to speak with her right away, it's about Eric, he's --


Patty, in tears, grabs the telephone: Eric? Is Eric there? I've got to talk with him! Now!


Kathy runs down the hall, unwinding the extension cord: Patty, sweetheart, it's Kathy! What's wrong dear?


Kathy bangs on the bathroom door: Eric are you alright in there? Patty's on the phone, she sounds very upset!


Eric barges out, grabs the phone: What did you tell her? Is this line

bugged? Is this part of your art, too?

(Eric slams the door and leans up against it, while Kathy tries with all her might to force the door open) What did she say to you, Patty? Patty-cakes, it's me! Are you OK?


Patty holds the telephone in one hand and a letter in the other, trembling: Oh, Eric! I went home to look around for the ticket, and spotted this letter in the trash with my name on it. So I read it and it was, it was (sobs uncontrollably) it was this notification from Washington that my Dad's science grant got cancelled! Eric, I've been funded as part of a failed research project on past-life karma and reincarnation! (wails) I'm nothing but a human guinea pig that nobody wants anymore!


Eric suddenly stops crying: You're kidding!

(Eric steps aside and sends Kathy flying in, full-force)


Patty: No, I'm not! And what's worse is I wasn't supposed to find out until after they matched my brain and voice patterns with some dead girl on file! They didn't want me to bias Dad's research! The state was secretly using genetics to prove a bunch of spiritual nonsense! And all this time I thought my dad loved me for who I am! All my dance recitals and music lessons were paid for with -- with government waste!


(Shot of papers floating around in the toilet) Eric laughs out loud: That's wonderful news!


Eric hugs Kathy, tangled in the cord, laughing: Mom, guess what! Patty's been funded, too, as a far-out governmental science project! Hallelujah, there is a God! You were right! We were made for each other!


Patty still in tears: What?! Do you think this is funny?


Eric: I think it's great! (Eric hoots and hollers ecstatically; Patty is speechless) I can't explain now! I'll come over and get you. But I gotta leave now -- or we'll miss the bus to the game. Wait for me, sweetie, I'll be right there! No, it's OK, trust me. Love you, too! (Eric passes the phone to Kathy, basketball-style) Thanks, Mom! Good catch!


Kathy: Perfect match! (into the phone) Oh, Mr. Sanchez! Yes, everything's fine now. Yes, she did -- I (picking up the pills) I understand, I do similar research based on Eric's life as --

(looks in toilet) No, he just found out, that's why he was so upset! (laughs nervously) Yes, it is quite a coincidence, isn't it?

(fishes out the wet forms) Project Pygmalia? Really? I call mine Project Pinocchio! (pause) Yes, we have to talk! Are you busy now? (checks her watch) We only have till midnight to get all this typed up and postmarked! (strolls back into living room) Great! I'll meet you at the copy place in half an hour. Yes, I'm sure there is! Thanks, Mr. Sanchez. See you soon! Goodbye.

(Kathy hangs up, stares at the mess, bursts out laughing, tossing the phone up in the air) YES !!


The telephone sails through the air in slow-motion as the crowd cheers, watching it fly through the hoop and land on top of the pile of videotapes, old sports photos, and other memorabilia. The crowd goes wild. Eric turns to see them storm the court to hoist him up onto their shoulders, where he sits, smiling proudly.


Eric's Voice: And that's how I found out that God not only existed, but had perfect timing and an incredible sense of humour . . . (Fade to snapshot of young mother proudly holding her son, sitting on the potty, smiling) . . . and a very special purpose for my life.


THE END


III.

Now, don't get me wrong, folks.

I love my mother dearly.


But I don't see how she expects to get anywhere in life

with her radical views of God and "divine purpose"

and the role of the media.


Maybe someday,

the rest of the world will finally

catch up with my future mom.


Until then, I guess she's stuck.

And I may never be born.

Or worse,

I will cease to exist.


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9 comments

Hope Wells
18:55 Jul 20, 2020

I really enjoyed your story, particularly the twist and humour. I found the ending enigmatic and it made me think. You are a really clever and engaging writer.

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Len Mooring
08:44 Jul 20, 2020

I was about to bring wrath on Eric's head as an ungrateful little,,, something, as I felt in tune with what you did FOR him. My wife always said I was a piece of work, but I must admit I didn't see any of the largesse flowing towards us. However, perhaps us 'downunder' have a more parsimonious government. Perhaps if you instead of the project being ...an important divinity study, you should have left the Y off of the study. You'd never need alimony at all then. Marvellous story. Excellently executed.

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Emily Nghiem
03:30 Jul 22, 2020

Thank you, Len. You leave the most in-depth fascinating comments. Have you considered having your own online show for reviewing literary works? You would take it to the next level. We have people who make an art of dissecting movies and cable series. You would carry the genre and reinvent the world of critics. I would definitely subscribe and follow you, just to see what you say next! Thank you for all your feedback. I will definitely read your stories and try to return the favor. Though no one can quite mimic your style. You should host you...

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10:36 Jun 12, 2020

I liked it.. something new . Out of the box.. like.. theme.. BTW thank you for reading my story. It would be of great help if you could leave feedback too..

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Kathleen March
00:40 Jun 10, 2020

I am puzzled by this story and would not take the time to say that if I didn’t like a number of things about it. The narrative flow is fast and great. What happened to me was that it was very fast and hard to keep up with. Lots of voices to manage, but all the characters are begging for attention. I see at least 3 stories here. What do you think?

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Writers Block
14:18 Jun 07, 2020

I also liked the introductory of characters at the beginning :)

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Ray Van horn
12:47 Jun 06, 2020

OMG, what a brilliant concept, Emily! Keep pushing for it in the brain stew.

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C.j Catluva
22:56 Jun 01, 2020

wow this really caught my attention it was very good

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Roshna Rusiniya
08:42 May 23, 2020

This is really good. Loved the title. Good job Emily!

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