(What follows is the opening section of “Pardon Me For Living” – a harrowing, alternately horrifying and comic account of what happened when playwright and actor Staci Swedeen was attacked by a rabid raccoon in May 2003. Ms Swedeen will be performing the show in its entirety at Penguin Repertory Theatre on September 12 at 4 PM and 8 PM. For more information:
Box Office: 845-786-2873)
The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business. John Berryman
PARDON ME FOR LIVING
It’s May and it’s a beautiful day in Sleepy Hollow, the small village where I live on the Hudson River. The sun is out and I really want to take full advantage of all this streaming Vitamin C or D – which one is it? I can never keep my vitamins straight – much less remember to take them – but I know there is some kind of vitamin in sunshine that’s supposed to be good for you and damn it, I want mine.
I also want a comfortable outdoor chair – and I don’t have one that would let me take full advantage of Mother Nature’s benediction.
But wait…I have a coupon to Bed Bath and Beyond –which I also call “The great Cathedral of America” since all of suburbia can be found worshiping at the altar of linens, towels, and martini glasses.
So I get in my shiny green Subaru and drive over to Elmsford. I wander the aisles and look at pink candles, pastel soaps pressed into the shapes of clams and tropical fish, small pans suitable for frying one egg. I look at shelves of 400 count sheets, large tubs of chocolates and gummy bears – but that’s not what I want, I want a comfy chair to put on the patch of grass outside of my house.
I find the perfect one – white and greens stripes, and it folds so I can put it in my back seat and now –
I’m headed home and the sun! Oh, it feels glorious. I glance down and admire the polish on my toe nails. The shade is called Vintage Wine and that has me thinking – is it too early for a glass of wine? It’s after twelve and a nice chardonnay would be just the thing with my sun streamed shot of vitamins.
I keep driving – and in about ten minutes I’m home from Beyond the Bed Bath. I park on the street where I always park. I get out of the driver’s side of the car, open up the back door to get my lawn chair out when something bites me.
I think something bites me but I don’t see anything – but now, yes, there is definitely something biting me, biting my left ankle and this is so weird, I’m just standing right next to the side of my Subaru and nothing was around when I pulled up so what could it be?
I leave my new chair lying on the back seat, I bend down to look under the car – since that’s where– and I poke my nose to see what’s underneath there.
And here is where my mind does this funny thing, and it’s connected with my mother in law who recently died and left behind this rather ugly, frumpy gray old cat named Abigail who smelled and drooled and exhibited all the signs of major depression you’d expect from someone living with a woman who was drinking heavily as she slipped into dementia.
So after my mother-in-law died in February, my husband and I had taken Abigail in, because who was going to adopt an old cat like this? And once furry, frumpy Abigail had her dental hygiene attended to and the dreadlocks cut out of her fur, she was actually a pretty nice cat – I was growing quite fond of her.
So when I peer under the car, I’m surprised to see Abigail nipping my ankle. How did she get out of the house? What is the matter with her? Why do some cats do that nipping thing, anyway? I thought she liked me now. But as my eyes focus and my mind clears, I see that this is clearly not Abigail – this is –
- this is –
I pull my leg away from the car. Attached to my left ankle is a gray, ravaged looking raccoon who must weigh about ten or fifteen pounds. It is snarling at me, an angry throaty growl. Its arms – legs – paws – are wrapped around my ankle. Its teeth – jaws- fangs – are buried in my flesh. I try to comprehend what I’m looking at as blood drips down my foot.
There are moments that stop time.
When I was about six years old – before my parents were divorced, before time altered forever – I was playing in the front yard and walking across this thin cement wall that dropped off to the place where my parents parked their car below.
I was pretending to be an acrobat – a tightrope walker. As I carefully put one front in front of the other, I called out –
Hey Mom! Watch me! Dad, look at me! Over here! (Falling, attempting to stop)
And I lost my balance and fell through space, through time, through the hole in the universe – coming out at the other end to the sounds of people screaming –
-and that is the same hole that I fell through today –
- the sound of screaming, only this time, this time- who IS that screaming? It takes me a minute to realize that it is me – because the scream is high pitched, a horrified howl, the kind of scream that will be squeezed out of you when you see an animal with its teeth sunk deep in your flesh on a bright, sunny May day, the kind of scream that would make all the hackles stand up on the neck of a small animal if that animal were not already electrified. I’m trying to shake the raccoon off of my leg, but he- she – IT – is hanging on with a fury.
(c) 2009 by Staci Swedeen. Reprinted by permission of the author. Please direct inquiries to Elaine Devlin Literary Agency, c/o Plus Entertainment, 20 West 23 Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10010, or to the author firstname.lastname@example.org or staciswedeen.com.
(STACI SWEDEEN is featured in One on One: the Best Women’s Monologues for the 21st Century and One on One: The Best Men’s Monologues for the 21st Century (both published by Applause Books.) Staci is also the recipient of the 2004 Arts and Letters Award in Drama, A New York State Council for the Arts New Play recipient, a Lark Theatre and Dramatist Guild Fellow alum. Her play The Goldman Project premiered Off Broadway in the fall of 2007. Other plays have been performed across the country, published in numerous anthologies and presented in many festivals. http://staciswedeen.com/.)
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