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[ Nota Bene ]
Charles Borkhuis, The Man in the Bowler Hat

Charles Borkhuis's The Man in The Bowler Hat is a recently completed two-act play that is loosely based on the paintings of Rene Magritte.

The following scene features the young Rene and Fantomal, a character spawned from the delirious meeting on a dissecting table of two fictitious French criminal geniuses, Fantomas and Maldoror, both of whom Magritte adored.

            —G. Kalleberg


* * *


The Man in the Bowler Hat—SCENE FIFTEEN: Rene and Fantomal


Rene stands in front of an easel, painting Fantomal, who is wearing a tuxedo, top hat, and a thin black mask over his eyes. Fantomal brings a red rose to his nose and sniffs it.

                  FANTOMAL

      Ah, exquisite petals of flesh,
      these sweet nothings of life.
      
(He bites a petal from the rose, chews it and spits it out.)

                  RENE

      Please, don't move.

                  FANTOMAL

      Move? Where would I go?

                  RENE

      Everywhere and nowhere—

                  FANTOMAL

      I can't be in two places at the same time.
      That would offend the principle of contradiction.

(Small smile)

      Just remember, I'm with you now, as always.

                  RENE

      But if I didn't... paint you,
      you might remain just another faceless fear.

                  FANTOMAL

      Painting? What is that harmless intrigue
      compared with the divine philosophy
      of human torture?
      My dear Rene, those who would search me out
      need look no further than the thinly veined,
      throbbing red firmament,
      the flesh of heaven hanging on hooks overhead,
      heartless as God's blessing.

                  RENE

      But why let yourself be painted?

                  FANTOMAL

      Ah... possibly a mistake,
      a moment of weakness, perhaps.
      After all, I'm only human, ha, ha, ha—
      but with a difference. I do so want the others
      to smell, to taste the terror among them
      that's closer than their own heartbeat.
      In me they see an inversion
      of their beliefs, their pathetic prayers and hopes.
      I'm the sound of the churning ground
      under their feet.

(He bites another petal of the rose and chews it.)

                  RENE

      You are, of course, absolutely frightening.
      I can hardly control the brush, but please,
      if you don't mind, could you stop
      playing with that rose and return to your pose?

                  FANTOMAL

      All right, all right!

(Fantomal assumes his pose.)

      I can speak, can't I?

                  RENE

      Of course, it's just...
      when I get to your lips, you understand.

                  FANTOMAL

      Rules, rules! The art of the future
      will slice your rules to ribbons.
      What is a face but a series of slash marks
      across the quivering abyss?

                  RENE

      No doubt you are correct.
      Your horror is absolute and breathtaking.
      Congratulations.

                  FANTOMAL

      Thank you.

                  RENE

      My painting could never do justice
      to a true demon of your rank.

                  FANTOMAL

      Do not demonize me, Rene.
      It's too late for false divisions.
      You and I are the products
      of a cruel and unjust indifference.
      The others cannot comprehend
      what suffering we endure.

      Let fools pile their sandbags to the sky.
      In a world that eats its own young,
      there are no protections.
      Kindness, compassion, love?
      More sanctimonious sandbags on the pile.
      Thought? Ha, ha, ha—

      You'll not think your way out of this one.
      The terror awaits you at every turn.
      Each new idea, my young friend,
      is old by evening.
      The moon loves nothing better
      than to chop the heads off little mice
      with big ideas.

                  RENE

      Are you sure you should be telling this
      to an impressionable pre-pubescent?

                  FANTOMAL

      Rene, wake up!
      You're old beyond your years.

      One day I'll come to devour you.
      This day or another, what does it matter?

      You have made a pact with a monster,
      perhaps in order to save yourself.
      But the truth is, you're no different
      from any of the others. In the end,
      I shall have my way with you.

                  RENE

      I'm sorry, I know this is terribly important,
      but I'm doing your mouth now.

(Fantomal sneers and hits a final dignified pose.)

(Fade to black.)

 





Issue No. 16 Copyright © 2002 The Transcendental Friend. All rights revert to the authors upon publication.