A remote bus shelter. Night.
ORSON sits asleep on the bench in the shelter. He snores gently. A note book rests on his lap.
Enter JESSICA. She is wearing an elegant evening gown with matching handbag.
Jessica steps into the shelter, looks at her watch and then glares at Orson.
She spots the note book and picks it up.
After a quick flick through the equations and diagrams that cram its pages, she replaces it.
Jessica reaches into her handbag and takes out a vicious-looking paper knife. She raises it above her head and prepares to strike Orson. Changing her mind, she puts the knife back in the handbag.
JESSICA (yelling): Pig!
Orson’s snoring gives way to a series of staccato splutterings. He sleeps on.
JESSICA: All men are pigs. You snore, you sweat, you snivel, you fart.
Jessica sits down.
JESSICA: You’re pathologically incapable of keeping your bodily functions to yourselves.
Jessica nudges Orson in the ribs.
JESSICA: Wake up, pig!
Orson wakes up.
ORSON: Did you just nudge me?
JESSICA: Depends on how you define ‘nudge’.
ORSON: You nudged me!
JESSICA: Only with my elbow.
ORSON: You’ve been looking at my note book.
JESSICA: You were snoring.
ORSON: And that gives you the right to interfere with my belongings? This might only be a book to you – a collection of pages and paragraphs and punctuation marks – but to me it’s a whole lot more.
JESSICA: Such as?
ORSON: Such as never you mind. You shouldn’t touch what doesn’t belong to you.
JESSICA: I was just being curious.
ORSON: Curious? No that’s not curious. Curious is when you wonder about things – like how many stars there are or how long it would take a computer to calculate Pi to a billion decimal places. What you did went beyond curious. You – Oh, how can I put this? (searches around for an appropriate phrase) You intruded. You trespassed. You overstepped the mark.
JESSICA: I’m sorry.
ORSON: You practically raped me.
JESSICA: I think you’re over-reacting.
ORSON: You probably think I’m over-reacting.
JESSICA: I do.
ORSON: It’s that certain things which might appear trivial to you are a matter of prime importance to me.
JESSICA: What’s your book about?
ORSON: You wouldn’t understand.
JESSICA: Try me.
ORSON: It’s a dissertation. Do you know what a dissertation is?
JESSICA: Do you know what a smack in the mouth is?
ORSON: Ten years. Ten long years.
JESSICA: That’s not a dissertation. That’s a decade.
ORSON: That’s how long it’s taken me to write it. It’s still not finished.
JESSICA: It must be quite some dissertation.
ORSON: Now you’re showing your ignorance. You can’t judge a dissertation by how long it takes to write.
JESSICA: It’s like make-up. My sister spends hours putting hers on and she still looks like a pig. I, on the other hand – Well, a bit of eye-liner, a touch of lip gloss and I’m away. Less is more. At least in my case. Take my cheek bones. Do they look rouged to you? Most men think I use rouge, but I don’t. I just happen to have an exceptionally fine bone structure.
Orson looks at his watch.
ORSON: Bugger. Bloody thing’s stopped.
Jessica checks her own watch.
JESSICA: Ten to five.
ORSON: In a pig’s eye. It doesn’t get dark till gone eight.
JESSICA: Ten to five in the morning.
ORSON: Can’t be. The pubs have only just closed.
JESSICA: You fell asleep.
ORSON: I dozed off. There is a difference. Wish I knew what the time was.
JESSICA: Ten to five.
ORSON: Pity neither of us has a watch that works.
JESSICA: My watch work a just fine. It’s got a lifetime guarantee. Won’t lose a second in a thousand years. Its three quartz crystals makes it one of the most accurate time pieces in the world.
Jessica gets up and walks towards the front of the stage. She turns to face Orson.
JESSICA: Did you know that quartz vibrates thirty-two thousand, seven hundred and sixty-eight times every second?
JESSICA: It was in the booklet that came with the watch. I memorised that figure in the hope that I could impress somebody with it. Perhaps I will one day.
ORSON: You impressed me.
JESSICA: But then I blew it by telling you about the booklet.
ORSON: I’m still impressed. My name’s Orson by the way.
JESSICA: Orson? Really?
ORSON: That amuses you?
JESSICA: It makes me think of Orson the Little Red Duck. I must have read that book a thousand times. You remember the bit where he goes to the Tower of London and gets into an argument with a raven?
ORSON: I’ve never heard of Orson the Little Red Duck.
JESSICA: When I was a little girl, I ran away from home to see the raven for myself. Of course, I was too young to know it was only a story. Life’s full of disappointments, isn’t it? I keep telling myself I’ll get used to it but I never do.
ORSON: If that bus doesn’t come soon, I’m getting a taxi. I was hoping to be home by midnight. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in days.
JESSICA: Don’t count on getting one any time soon.
ORSON: What did you say your name was?
JESSICA: I didn’t. It’s Jessica.
ORSON: Are you off to a party?
JESSICA: At this time of day?
ORSON: You’re wearing an evening gown.
JESSICA: So I am. I hadn’t realised. I just slipped into the first thing I could find. Wish I’d put more thought into it. Still, the police won’t be looking for someone in formal attire, will they?
ORSON: I’ve got a dinner jacket at home. Never worn it. I’m not really a dinner jacket person. I might be if I got invited to dinner parties, but I never do.
JESSICA: My husband liked dinner jackets. Always smartly turned out. That’s the thing that impressed me most when I first met him.
ORSON: Please don’t tell me it was love at first sight. I can’t stand it when people do that.
JESSICA: To be honest, I don’t think it was ever love. More of a mutual respect. You can’t build a decent relationship based on love. Your feelings get in the way.
ORSON: What does your husband do?
JESSICA: He’s dead.
ORSON: So not much then?
JESSICA: There’s no need to be judgmental. It’s hardly his fault he’s a stiff.
ORSON: How long has he been dead? I know it’s a personal question, but you brought up the subject.
JESSICA: To the nearest minute?
ORSON: An approximation will do.
Jessica looks at her watch.
JESSICA: About forty-five minutes now. Give or take a minute or two.
ORSON: By your watch? You don’t want to go by that.
JESSICA: It used to give me a rash. My doctor reckons it’s down to a combination of stress and zinc. There’s zinc in the strap. You wouldn’t have thought so to look at it, would you?
ORSON: How did your husband die?
JESSICA: He wasn’t expecting it.
ORSON: What I meant was – and I hope you don’t mind me pressing the point – what was the cause of death?
JESSICA: Well, I’m not a doctor, but I suppose he just sort of bled to death.
ORSON: Good Lord. How awful.
JESSICA: I had considered poison, but I’d no idea how to go about acquiring some.
ORSON: Did you try a chemist?
JESSICA: I hate chemists.
ORSON: Because they remind you of hospitals?
JESSICA: Because they remind me of the perfume hall at Harrods. Too many smells. They give me migraine. I’m a one-smell woman.
ORSON: I’m like that with ice cream. So long as it’s just a single flavour, I’m fine. But give me two or more and I’m as sick as a puppy.
JESSICA: I wish you hadn’t mentioned ice cream. I’m cold. Aren’t you cold?
ORSON: I’ve always been impervious to the weather. My brother was the complete opposite. ‘Tommy Two Coats’ we called him.
JESSICA: I’ve got no knickers on.
ORSON: I reckon I could walk naked to the North Pole and not feel the slightest degree of discomfort. Of course, my legs would ache but that’s to be expected. Must be lovely at the North Pole this time of year.
JESSICA: I never wear knickers – unless I really have to.
ORSON: My Aunt Rebecca was the same. Hated underwear. She had a nickname too – Auntie No-Knickers. Always wore trousers though. So, you murdered your husband then?
JESSICA: Don’t you care that I’m not wearing knickers? Most men would find that exciting.
ORSON: I suppose he deserved it.
ORSON: Your husband.
JESSICA: Now you’ve lost me. What did my husband deserve?
ORSON: He deserved to die.
JESSICA: What a horrid man you are. How can you say that about somebody you’ve never met? Or have you? Have you met my husband?
ORSON: Not as far as I know.
JESSICA: Are you sure? People call him the Can Opener King. He’s big in domestic hardware.
ORSON: I’ve got three can openers but I’ve never heard of the Can Opener King.
JESSICA: Then how can you say he deserved to die? Don’t you think you’re being presumptuous?
Annoyed, Orson gets to his feet and approaches Jessica.
ORSON: Presumptuous? Did you say presumptuous? You come along, purloin my note book, assault me and rob me of my sleep – and then you have the gall to call me presumptuous?
JESSICA: What is this precious book of yours anyway? What’s it about? Is it interesting?
ORSON: Of course not. The last thing you want from an academic treatise is for it to be interesting. That way lies madness and death.
JESSICA: What’s it about?
Orson ignores the question.
ORSON: When I was at University, a certain Professor wrote a popular book about fluid mechanics. Critics and public were unanimous in declaring it the first book on the subject that could be understood by the man in the street. He was immediately ostracised. His grant was cut. Invitations to symposia dried up. He found himself lecturing to empty halls. His wife left him. His children disowned him. His dog bit him. Someone let down the tyres on his bicycle. Things got even worse when extracts from his book were published in Reader’s Digest. Two days later, he blew his brains out.
JESSICA: So you were at university? I suppose you think that makes you an intellectual.
ORSON: Actually, I’m a mathematician.
JESSICA: You poor thing. Life’s too short to waste on numbers and things. Why don’t you write about something useful like cookery?
ORSON: I can’t cook.
JESSICA: You’ve got three can openers.
ORSON: Mere decoration.
JESSICA: So what is it?
ORSON: What is what?
JESSICA: Your book.
ORSON: I told you.
JESSICA: You didn’t.
ORSON: It’s a dissertation.
JESSICA: What’s it about?
ORSON: You wouldn’t understand.
JESSICA: I don’t want to understand. I just want to know what it’s about. Is that too much to ask?
ORSON: It’s a mathematical and geometric analysis of the Kama Sutra.
JESSICA: And what’s it called?
ORSON: ‘A Mathematical and Geometric Analysis of the Kama Sutra.’
JESSICA: Sounds interesting.
ORSON (testily): Well, it isn’t. Even the title is as dry as ditch water – as anyone but a cretin would realise.
JESSICA: You’re getting aggressive. Why do men always get aggressive? Isn’t it enough that you snore, sweat, snivel and fart?
ORSON: I resent your bald statement that my work is interesting. I demand a retraction.
JESSICA: It’s only a dissertation. No need to get excited.
ORSON: Thank you. That’s what I wanted to hear.
JESSICA: If I’d known it was going to be this cold, I would have worn knickers. As a matter of fact, I would have worn two pairs. I’d have been risking a yeast infection, but at least I’d be warm.
ORSON: It’s the bus company’s fault. They don’t care if we’re here from now till Doomsday.
JESSICA: Tights would be better than knickers. Though best of all would be tights and knickers.
ORSON: That’s something I’ve often wondered about. Do you wear the tights over the knickers or the knickers over the tights?
JESSICA: Don’t you know?
ORSON: I wouldn’t be asking if I did.
JESSICA: A mathematical and geometric analysis of the Kama Sutra? That’s what you said you’re writing, isn’t it? Will it have pictures?
ORSON: Just diagrams.
JESSICA: Filthy ones? Can I see? Will you let me look? You won’t shock me, I promise. I’m quite broad-minded – especially when it comes to geometry.
ORSON: You wouldn’t understand it.
JESSICA: I don’t want to understand it. I just want to look at the pictures.
JESSICA: Diagrams then.
ORSON: It’s pointless anyone reading it right now. I have yet to draw my conclusions.
JESSICA: Is there anything maths and geometry can tell us about sex we don’t already know?
ORSON: As I say, I’ve yet to draw my conclusions.
JESSICA: So the whole exercise could be a complete waste of time?
ORSON: In maths, we learn by our failures as well as our mistakes. Besides, I’ve developed a whole new algebra to describe every conceivable position two people can take whilst having sex.
JESSICA: Is that useful?
ORSON: It’s enabled me to discover three new positions not mentioned in the Kama Sutra or any other literature I’ve come across. And I’m sure there’s more to come.
JESSICA: Show me.
ORSON: Can’t. Two are only possible in zero gravity, and for the third, one of us would need to be a midget.
JESSICA: I meant show me the equations.
ORSON: You wouldn’t understand them.
JESSICA: You say that just once more, Orson, and I’ll bust your fucking nose. Credit me with some brains.
ORSON: Why should I? You reckon the bus isn’t due for at least another two hours and yet you stand here in the freezing cold without any knickers on. It’s hardly the action of an Einstein, is it?
JESSICA: Einstein wore knickers, did he? Is that what you’re saying? And I suppose Isaac Newton paraded round in fishnet stockings. Come to think of it, I believe I heard that Heisenberg dressed as a woman at weekends – but I can’t be certain.
ORSON: Why are you here?
JESSICA: I’ve just killed my husband. What do you expect me to do? Sit around waiting for the police to arrive?
ORSON: At least you’d be warm.
JESSICA: I’m on the run. I’m a fugitive from justice. A desperado. An outlaw. Just like Robin Hood.
ORSON: Except Robin Hood had the sense to wear tights.
JESSICA: But not knickers.
ORSON: How did you kill your husband?
JESSICA: I’ve told you once.
ORSON: You said you made sure he didn’t suffer. You said you didn’t use poison. And that’s all you said. It’s hardly a detailed account.
JESSICA: What more do you need to know?
ORSON: Did you shoot him?
JESSICA: If I can’t get hold of poison, I’m hardly likely to get my hands on a gun, am I?
ORSON: I’m told the best method is to inject insulin between the victim’s toes. Coroners never look there and insulin breaks down into naturally occurring compounds.
JESSICA: And from where would I get insulin? Or a syringe for that matter?
ORSON: You must have used some sort of weapon. What was it? A pillow?
JESSICA: Don’t be daft. You can’t stab someone with a pillow.
ORSON: So you stabbed him!
JESSICA: You don’t have to broadcast it.
ORSON: What did you stab him with? A knitting needle? A bread knife? A wire coat hanger?
JESSICA: Do I look the sort of girl who has wire coat hangers? Have you any idea what a wire coat hanger would do to a gown like this?
ORSON: I’m talking hypothetically.
JESSICA: Yes, well, if I want tips on how to murder someone, I certainly won’t be coming to you.
ORSON: A knife! It must have been a knife. Maybe a ceremonial dagger of some sort? Am I right?
JESSICA: A paper knife.
ORSON: Oh yes. That’s beautiful. A paper knife. I applaud your choice of weapon. Sharp enough to be lethal and yet at the same time delicate and feminine. I knew it had to be something like that.
JESSICA: I did think about using a chainsaw.
ORSON (horrified): No!
JESSICA: But I decided it would be too noisy. Besides, it’s hard to conceal a chainsaw beneath a pillow.
ORSON: So you killed him in bed? Was he asleep?
JESSICA: Very much so. He was snoring. Why is it that sleep brings out the worst in a man? He was snoring. He was sweating. He was sniveling. He was farting.
ORSON: Did you stab him in the front or the back?
JESSICA: In the back. That might seem cowardly, but he was lying face down. If he’d been on his back, I would have killed him just the same.
ORSON: Did you stab him through the heart?
JESSICA: Where else?
JESSICA: With a paper knife. In the back. Through the heart.
ORSON: I know that! I’ve been listening. What I meant was how did you do it? For instance, how did you grip the knife?
JESSICA: I can’t remember.
ORSON: Of course you can! There you are, on the verge of taking the life of a fellow human being. You have a knife in your hand. You’re about to commit a dreadful crime. You can’t tell me that scene isn’t burnt indelibly upon your memory.
JESSICA: Maybe it’ll come back to me.
ORSON: We’ll skip over it for now. Describe the movement of your hand as you stabbed him.
JESSICA: I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking.
ORSON: Did you thrust the knife straight into him? Or did you swing your arm through the air like a bowler delivering a googlie?
JESSICA: Does it make a difference?
ORSON: Not to your husband. But murder’s a big thing. It’s probably the most significant act you’ll ever commit. Every little detail is important.
JESSICA: I could tell you about the planning and what I did straight afterwards, but the actual murder itself is something of a blur.
ORSON: You say he was lying on his front. (Orson lies face down on the bench.) Like this?
JESSICA: He didn’t have his arm and leg dangling over the side.
ORSON: If I try to get my leg up, I’m going to fall off. You’ll have to make allowances.
JESSICA: He was facing the other way.
ORSON: Let’s say for the sake of argument he was facing this way.
JESSICA: Then he’d be sleeping with his feet on the pillow.
ORSON: Does it matter?
JESSICA: ‘Every little detail is important.’ Besides, I was on his right when I killed him and the bus shelter’s in the way.
Orson turns round and lies in the opposite direction.
ORSON: Is that better?
JESSICA: He was in his pyjamas.
ORSON: Don’t be flippant. We’re talking about a man’s life here. Someone who was flesh and blood the same as you and me. Show some respect.
JESSICA: Are all mathematicians self-righteous little pricks?
ORSON: Yes. Go ahead and stab me.
ORSON: The same way you stabbed your husband.
JESSICA: I can’t for the life of me remember –
ORSON: Just do it! Don’t think about it. Let your instincts take over.
JESSICA: I can’t.
ORSON: Oh, for crying out loud! I’m freezing my bollocks off here.
JESSICA: I thought you didn’t feel the cold.
ORSON: Except in my bollocks. Can you at least remember in which hand you held the paper knife?
JESSICA: My right. I think.
ORSON: You think?
JESSICA: It must have been my right. I’m right handed.
ORSON: So you had the knife in your right hand. Good. Now we’re getting somewhere. Show me how you held the knife.
JESSICA: Oh dear.
ORSON: There’s only so many ways you can hold a knife.
JESSICA: It’s gone. I thought I had it there for a moment, but now it’s gone.
ORSON: Look, you either held it like this (demonstrates a downward slashing movement) – like Norman Bates in Psycho when he attacks Janet Leigh in the shower or else like this (demonstrates a straight stabbing motion) – like Othello slaying Desdemona.
JESSICA: It was Norman Bates.
ORSON: Are you sure?
JESSICA: Quite sure.
ORSON: Not Othello?
JESSICA: Definitely not Othello.
ORSON: Then the stroke must have been over-arm as opposed to under.
ORSON: Then do it!
JESSICA: I can’t. Not with you watching.
ORSON: How about if I close my eyes?
JESSICA: That would work. I could kill you if you had your eyes closed. I’d have no problem doing it then.
ORSON: Good. (closes his eyes.) Just don’t go nudging me in the ribs again.
Jessica opens her handbag and rummages inside. She pulls out a paper knife.
ORSON: Have you done it? Am I dead yet?
JESSICA: Not yet.
ORSON: What’s keeping you?
JESSICA: I’m psyching myself up. You want me to get this right, don’t you?
ORSON: I want you to get on with it. The bus will be here soon.
JESSICA: OK. Here goes.
Jessica brings the paper knife up high in the air and back down again. She stops with the knife just above Orson’s back.
JESSICA: Wow! That was intense.
ORSON: You’ve done it?
JESSICA: Even as we speak, the last remnants of your life are ebbing away like ice in the sun.
Orson opens his eyes.
ORSON: Very elegantly put.
Orson sits up. He sees the paper knife in Jessica’s hand.
ORSON: Is that it? Is that what you used to commit the dirty deed? (holds out his hand.) May I?
Jessica hides the knife behind her back.
JESSICA: No! I don’t want you touching it.
ORSON: Why not?
JESSICA: It has sentimental value. With this implement, I killed my husband. It reminds me of my wedding vows.
ORSON: To love, honour and obey?
JESSICA: Till death us do part.
ORSON: Do you always get attached to your instruments of destruction?
JESSICA: Whatever do you mean?
ORSON: Do you keep all your murder weapons as souvenirs?
JESSICA: I never killed anybody until tonight.
ORSON: You didn’t tell me that. Dear God, I feel so stupid. You led me on, letting me believe you’re a serial murderer – and all the time you’re no more than a beginner.
JESSICA: It wasn’t my intention to have you believe I was some female Jack the Ripper. What did I say to make you think that?
ORSON: I don’t want to talk about it. You’ve deceived me. I was going to let you look at my note book but now I shan’t.
JESSICA: See if I care.
ORSON: I’m giving that bus another two minutes and then I’m out of here. It’s a long walk home but it’s better than hanging around in the middle of nowhere with some neurotic bitch who doesn’t even know what time of day it is.
Jessica brandishes the paper knife.
JESSICA: What did you call me?
ORSON: A neurotic bitch.
JESSICA: A neurotic bitch who – what?
ORSON: Who doesn’t know what time of day it is.
JESSICA: You see this watch? Fifteen hundred pounds it cost. My husband bought me it for my birthday. Won’t lose a second in a thousand years.
ORSON: What’s his name – this husband of yours?
ORSON: And what do his friends call him? Dougie?
JESSICA: They call him the Can Opener King.
ORSON: What does his mother call him? Canny?
JESSICA: Do you talk to everyone this way? No wonder you were at this bus stop all alone. You don’t have a friend in the world, do you?
ORSON: Now you’re being personal.
JESSICA: You don’t, do you?
ORSON: I used to have a dog.
JESSICA: A dog’s not a friend. It’s a commodity. You buy it from a shop like a tin of baked beans.
ORSON: It died when it was four weeks old.
JESSICA: And is that the only so-called friend you’ve ever had?
ORSON: I loved that little puppy. It was always there for me. Always loyal. Never questioning. Everyone I’ve ever known has betrayed or disappointed me. But not my puppy. He never let me down.
JESSICA: It died.
ORSON: But I got my money back.
JESSICA: And what was this puppy called? I presume it had a name.
ORSON: I don’t remember. All I remember was its little puppy eyes.
JESSICA: Let me see your note book.
ORSON: Go home and put some knickers on.
JESSICA: Tights would be better.
ORSON: I never did see how you killed your husband. I had my eyes closed. Show me again.
JESSICA: You should have been watching.
ORSON: You told me not to.
JESSICA: What I did was this –
Jessica swings her arm up in the air.
ORSON: Stop there.
ORSON: Interesting. Most people would swing their arm in an arc but you’ve gone more or less straight up.
JESSICA: With a slight forward motion.
ORSON: I’ve noted that. Continue.
Jessica brings the paper knife back down in a stabbing motion.
ORSON: A parabola! That’s perfect.
JESSICA: It is?
ORSON: You must have loved your husband very much to have killed him with a parabola.
JESSICA: I’m not sure what a parabola is.
ORSON: A parabola is the locus of a point which varies in such a way that its distance from a fixed point is equal to the distance from a fixed line.
JESSICA: You don’t think it’s a bit over-elaborate? Perhaps I should have just thrust the knife straight into him.
ORSON: Too crude. A parabola’s exactly right. It’s the most poetic of all curves.
JESSICA: I didn’t know it was a parabola.
ORSON: Instinct must have led you to it. You’re a remarkable woman.
JESSICA: So you’ll let me see your note book?
ORSON: On one condition.
JESSICA: Which is?
ORSON: That you’re not wearing any knickers.
JESSICA: I’m not. Give me the note book.
ORSON: How do I know you’re not lying?
JESSICA: You want to see for yourself? Is that it? You’re after an eyeful of beaver! Well, well, well, Orson. There’s hope for you yet.
ORSON: You don’t have to make it sound so sordid. This dissertation means the world to me. How do you think I’d feel if I let you read it only to discover you’ve been having me on?
JESSICA: I take your point, Orson, but this evening gown is not something I can just hitch up around my waist. At the very least I’d crumple the fabric. Most likely I’d tear the damn thing and then where would I be?
ORSON: Open your legs.
ORSON: Stand with your legs apart and I’ll lie on my back and take a peep. I promise not to touch anything.
JESSICA: You’re a seriously weird person, Orson.
ORSON: I’m not doing this for kicks. I need to know you’re honest before I let you see my work.
JESSICA: And you can tell an honest woman by looking at her beaver?
ORSON: If you’re wearing knickers, you’ve been lying to me and I absolutely, definitely and most positively cannot trust you with my work. You can see the logic, can’t you?
JESSICA: I’m not going to do it.
ORSON: Suit yourself.
JESSICA: If you’d just come right out and asked for sex, I might have said yes. I’ve got no objection to straight-forward, honest-to-goodness sex – especially now that I find myself unattached. But to have you lying on the ground staring up my dress – no, that’s just too much.
ORSON: Okay. Let’s forget the whole thing.
JESSICA: Why couldn’t you just ask for sex?
ORSON: I don’t want sex.
JESSICA: Of course you do. You’re a man.
ORSON: I’m a mathematician.
JESSICA: That’s hardly a defense.
ORSON: I don’t even like sex.
JESSICA: That’s because you haven’t been doing it right.
ORSON: I haven’t been doing it at all.
JESSICA: You poor thing. How long have you not been doing it?
ORSON: All my life. I’m a virgin.
JESSICA (horrified): A virgin!
ORSON: And proud of it.
JESSICA: That’s not normal, Orson.
ORSON: Celibacy isn’t an affliction.
JESSICA: I’d have to take your word for that.
ORSON: I should have known you wouldn’t understand. You’re like all the others. You look down on me now, don’t you? I can see it in your eyes – the pity, the fear, the contempt. And that hurts. It really does.
JESSICA: Nobody asked you to be a virgin!
Orson glances at his watch.
ORSON: I wish this watch hadn’t stopped.
JESSICA: Mine was made in Singapore.
ORSON: Why – in Christ’s name – Singapore of all places?
JESSICA: The people of Singapore have as much right to make watches as anyone.
ORSON: So how about it?
JESSICA: How about what?
ORSON: A peep for a peep. You might as well. There’s nothing else to do here except read the timetable.
JESSICA: No deal.
ORSON: How about if I let you flick through my other book as well?
JESSICA: You’ve written another book?
ORSON: Not exactly.
Orson reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small hardback.
ORSON: This is by a chap called Euclid. He was a Greek mathematician who lived in Alexandria three hundred years before the birth of Christ.
JESSICA: What’s it about?
ORSON: It’s Book One of Elements, commonly known as Postulates and Axioms.
JESSICA: Book One? So there’s more?
ORSON: There’s thirteen in all.
JESSICA: This Euclid must have had a lot of time on his hands. What’s an axiom?
Orson slips the book back in his pocket. He sits on the ground, places his note book beside himself and then lies down.
JESSICA: What are you doing?
ORSON: If you want me to tell what an axiom is, you’re going to have to prove you’re an honest woman.
JESSICA: I can always look it up in a dictionary.
Orson says nothing. Jessica is disconcerted.
JESSICA: Get up, for goodness’ sakes. You never know who’s done what on that pavement. It must be crawling with germs.
ORSON: It’s quite comfortable actually.
JESSICA: Get up!
ORSON: Not until I know whether you’re lying or not.
JESSICA: What if a police car comes past?
ORSON: No law against lying on the pavement.
JESSICA: I’m a fugitive. The police may already be on to me. What are they going to think if they see you lying at my feet?
ORSON: I’ll wave at them to let them know I’m all right.
JESSICA: I could kill you.
ORSON: Not with me wide awake and expecting it.
JESSICA: Then I’ll walk away.
ORSON: I doubt it. I don’t know much about human nature but I have studied game theory. You’ve got nothing to gain by walking away except unsated curiousity. Whereas if you stay, you get to look at one of this century’s defining mathematical works. Plus you find out what an axiom is.
JESSICA: OK – let’s get this straight. You look at my beaver for no longer than it takes you to determine that it is devoid of underwear. And then I get full and unfettered access to your treatise on the Kama Sutra as well as Book One of Elements by Euclid.
ORSON: Those terms are acceptable to me. Shall we begin?
JESSICA: Very well. But just you behave yourself.
Jessica stands with her ankles either side of Orson’s face.
JESSICA: See it?
ORSON: Too dark.
JESSICA: Would it help if I squatted?
ORSON: No. I’m claustrophobic. We’ll have to wait until my eyes adjust. Won’t take long. I can see past your knees already.
Enter CAWTHORNE dressed as a traffic warden.
JESSICA: Good morning.
CAWTHORNE: Do you know there’s a man between your legs?
JESSICA: He’s a mathematician.
CAWTHORNE: Of course.
ORSON: Who’s that? Is someone there?
CAWTHORNE: The name’s Cawthorne.
Orson proffers his hand. Cawthorne reaches down and shakes it.
CAWTHORNE: You’re a mathematician then?
ORSON: How can you tell?
CAWTHORNE: Your delightful friend told me. Won’t you introduce us?
ORSON: Cawthorne, this is Jessica.
Cawthorne lifts Jessica’s hand and kisses it.
ORSON: I can just make out the top of your thighs now.
CAWTHORNE: Not parked around here, are you?
JESSICA: My car’s safely locked up in the garage. It’s an Alfa Romeo Spyder.
CAWTHORNE: If I find your car on a yellow line, I’ll have to give you a ticket.
JESSICA: It’s a funny time to be issuing tickets.
CAWTHORNE: I believe in hitting them when they least expect it. People think that once the sun goes down they can do any damned thing they please. Well, I’m here to show them they can’t.
JESSICA: Do you get extra money for working nights?
CAWTHORNE: The job is its own reward.
JESSICA: It’d have to be. I bet you get paid peanuts.
CAWTHORNE: I give my time freely.
JESSICA: What are you? Some kind of vigilante?
CAWTHORNE: Vigilante with a capital ‘V’!
JESSICA: Perhaps you should give Orson a ticket. I’m sure he shouldn’t be parked where he is.
CAWTHORNE: Any idea what he’s doing down there?
JESSICA: He’s looking at my beaver. Where do you get your tickets from?
CAWTHORNE: I print them myself.
JESSICA: And does anyone actually take any notice?
CAWTHORNE: Not yet, but they will. The day shall come when every motorist in the country fears Cawthorne the Vigilante Traffic Warden.
JESSICA: You’re mad, aren’t you?
CAWTHORNE: I’m not the one standing in a public place with a man between my legs.
JESSICA: Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
CAWTHORNE: Look, I know we’ve only just met and I wouldn’t normally jump in like this, but I was wondering if…
JESSICA: I’d have dinner with you?
JESSICA: I’d love to Cawthorne, but it’s rather awkward right now.
CAWTHORNE: Of course it is.
JESSICA: I’m sorry.
CAWTHORNE: No. Not at all. Please. It was rather presumptuous of me to ask. Let’s say no more about it.
JESSICA: It’s just that I’ve very recently killed my husband. It’s far too soon for me to be seeing other men.
CAWTHORNE: Some other time then?
JESSICA: Some other time.
Cawthorne spots Orson’s note book lying on the pavement.
CAWTHORNE: I say! What’s this?
Cawthorne picks up the note book and flicks through it. He stops at a particular diagram.
CAWTHORNE: Good Lord. r cosined with x squared over g? That’s anatomically impossible.
Cawthorne turns to a new page and scans it.
CAWTHORNE: Oh dearie me. This is the most obscene quadratic equation I have ever encountered in my life.
ORSON: I can see it! I can see your muff!
Orson emerges triumphantly from beneath Jessica’s evening gown and leaps to his feet.
ORSON: You’re right. You’re not wearing knickers! I’m so happy!
Orson takes in the fact that Cawthorne has his note book.
ORSON: What are you doing with my note book? Give it back at once.
CAWTHORNE: Here. Take the filthy thing! Take it!
Orson grabs the note book from Cawthorne.
CAWTHORNE: You ought to be locked up. Those differentials would make a navvy blush. And why can’t you stick to natural numbers like normal people? What are you? Some kind of a pervert?
ORSON: Now look –
CAWTHORNE: There’s a special pit in Hell reserved for the likes of you. It’s filled with fire and snakes.
ORSON: Don’t the snakes get burnt?
CAWTHORNE: God loves the poor. He loves sinners. He even loves the double-parkers. But He hates mathematicians.
JESSICA: Because they’re boring?
CAWTHORNE: Because they won’t leave Him alone. They can’t just look at the world and appreciate how marvelous and beautiful it is. They have to know how it works. The bastards dissect His Creation like it’s some laboratory specimen. They’re not happy unless they’re reducing His wondrous works to mere equations. They’ve taken the ghost from the machine.
JESSICA (chidingly): Is this true, Orson? Have you taken the ghost from the machine?
ORSON: As a mathematician, it’s my job to fathom the workings of nature and discern the rules that govern the Universe.
CAWTHORNE: There are no rules. It is God who guides the planets in their orbit – not Newton.
ORSON: Now steady on. There’s no need to have a pop at Newton.
CAWTHORNE: Get stuffed, you atheist!
Cawthorne stalks angrily away and exits.
ORSON: What a strange fellow.
JESSICA: Invited me to dinner.
ORSON: You said no, I hope.
JESSICA: Not jealous, are you? I didn’t have you down as the jealous type. But then I’ve noticed that people do get jealous over me – even people you wouldn’t expect it from.
ORSON: I just don’t feel you should be wasting yourself on someone who thinks we should be living in the Dark Ages.
JESSICA: I’m beginning to think I did the right thing by murdering my husband. It’s opened up a whole new world to me. Aren’t you glad you fell asleep and missed the last bus?
ORSON: I have not missed the last bus.
JESSICA: If I hadn’t killed my husband, we wouldn’t have met and you would have no idea that quartz vibrates at a rate of thirty-two thousand, seven hundred and sixty-eight times per second.
ORSON: I already knew that.
JESSICA: And you wouldn’t have gotten to see my beaver. You don’t mind if I call it that, do you? It’s my favourite word for it.
ORSON: A rose by any other name…
JESSICA: All in all, Orson, I’m probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to you in a very long time. I am, aren’t I? Go on – be honest. Am I or am I not the most exciting thing that’s happened to you in a very long time?
ORSON: A very, very long time. And not just because you allowed me to – er… (breaks off in embarrassment)
JESSICA: Check out my beaver? Go ahead – say it. I love my beaver and I don’t mind in the least that you’ve seen it. Talking of which, it’s time you kept your side of the bargain. Which do you think I should start with? Your dissertation or Mr. Euclid?
ORSON: I don’t suppose it much matters.
JESSICA: In that case, let’s have your dissertation.
Orson hands over the note book. He and Jessica sit down on the bench.
Jessica opens the note book.
JESSICA: You’re going to have to talk me through this. (reading) ‘Let i equal the phallus and u equal the yoni.’ What does that mean in plain English?
ORSON: i is a penis and u is a vagina.
Jessica slaps Orson. Cawthorne chooses that moment to come stalking past.
ORSON: What I meant was –
JESSICA: I know what you meant. I’m sorry. I reacted instinctively. Perhaps we should just stick to the diagrams.
ORSON: That seems the safest option.
JESSICA: Poor Orson. One minute you’re studying my beaver in all its full, naked glory, and the next you’re getting slapped around the face.
ORSON: Such is the duality of woman. She can deliver pleasure and she can deliver pain.
JESSICA: I used to deliver pizzas.
ORSON: Or she can deliver pizzas.
JESSICA: Let’s get back to your dissertation, shall we?
Jessica finds a diagram.
JESSICA: What about this one?
ORSON: Good choice.
JESSICA (reading): ‘Fig. 1. A Silkworm Spinning A Cocoon. While lying on her back, the woman raises and spreads her thighs to expose her clitoris to powerful stimulation. Let c equal the clitoris and t equal thrust.’ (turns to Orson) What’s this symbol?
JESSICA: And Omega equals orgasm. Why are there three of them?
ORSON: Multiple Omega.
JESSICA: And these two arrows, one above the other, each pointing in opposite directions – does that mean what I think it means?
JESSICA: You’ve a filthy mind, Orson. Is the Euclid as racy as this?
ORSON: It’s about as racy as an obituary in the Catholic Herald.
JESSICA: Good. I don’t think I could take any more smut.
Orson takes out the Euclid. He proffers it to Jessica. She shakes her head.
JESSICA: Read it to me.
ORSON: I’m not a good reader.
JESSICA: I’ll make allowances.
ORSON: The bus will be here soon. I doubt we’ll get much past the axioms.
JESSICA: The axioms will do.
Orson opens the book.
ORSON: Okay. Let me see now. (reading) ‘Axiom 1 : Things which are equal to the same thing are also equal to one another.’
JESSICA: Things which are equal…
ORSON: … to the same thing…
JESSICA: … are also equal…
ORSON: … to one another.
JESSICA: Is that it? ‘Things which are equal to the same thing are also equal to one another’? Talk about stating the bleeding obvious.
ORSON: That’s what an axiom is – a statement of the obvious.
JESSICA: Give me another one.
ORSON: Are you sure?
JESSICA: I’m hoping they’ll get better.
ORSON (reading): ‘Axiom 2 : If equals are added to equals, the wholes are equal.’
JESSICA: What exactly does that mean?
ORSON: If you take one lot of equals and –
JESSICA: What are they equal to?
ORSON: Each other. You take these equals and add them to some other equals –
JESSICA: Are these new equals equal to the first set of equals?
ORSON: Not necessarily. They’re just equal to each other. If they were equal to the other equals, it wouldn’t make the slightest difference.
JESSICA: So you’ve got one lot of things equal to each other and another lot of things equal to each other, but the first lot of things need not be equal to the second lot of things. Is that right?
ORSON: Precisely. And you add both these lots of things together to get a new lot of things.
JESSICA: And are all the things in this new lot of things equal to each other?
ORSON: The things in the new lot of things that were in the first lot of things will be equal to each other, and the things that were in the second lot of things will be equal to each other, but whether the things that were in the first lot of things are equal to the things that were in the second lot of things all depends on whether they were equal in the first place. Is that clear?
JESSICA: Perfectly. What you’re saying is that if equals are added to equals, the wholes are equal.
JESSICA: But what are the wholes?
ORSON: The wholes are the sums of the two equals.
JESSICA: How many sums of two equals are there?
ORSON: The same two equals?
JESSICA: So what you’re saying is that if you add two numbers together, the answer you get is equal to itself?
JESSICA: Are you taking the piss, Orson?
ORSON: This is Euclid!
JESSICA: This is bollocks.
ORSON: These five axioms of Euclid form the whole basis of classical geometry. They’re very important.
JESSICA: You led me to believe that Euclid and his Elements would open up a whole new world to me. I was looking forward to illumination, to a life-changing experience. And what do I get? Some poncey rubbish I already knew.
ORSON: You’ve got to give him a chance. What he says about parallel lines will knock your socks off.
JESSICA: To think I allowed you to observe my beaver at close quarters! You have cruelly deceived me, Orson. You see before you a disappointed woman. What have you to say for yourself?
ORSON: It wasn’t at close quarters.
JESSICA: Apart from that, what have you to say for yourself?
ORSON: It’s not my fault Euclid doesn’t tickle your fancy.
JESSICA: I’m going now, Orson.
ORSON: Please don’t. I’m sorry Euclid was a disappointment, but I can make it up to you. I promise.
JESSICA: It’s not the Euclid. Anything after your mathematical and geometric treatise on the Kama Sutra was bound to be anticlimactic. And even though things haven’t ended too well, it’s been lovely meeting you. But I really have to go.
ORSON: The bus will be here any second.
JESSICA: You don’t really believe that, do you?
ORSON: I have to. I’m tired. It’s late. I don’t want to walk home.
JESSICA: Your best bet is to sleep here until morning.
ORSON: You know what it is, don’t you? You know what’s going on? The bloody thing’s waiting for me to start walking. Have you noticed that? The bus always comes just when you’ve given up and started walking.
JESSICA: Is that another axiom?
ORSON: As near as damn it. I could construct a whole geometry based on the vagaries of British public transport.
JESSICA: Good luck on that one.
ORSON: Why do you have to go? Was it something I said?
JESSICA: The sun will be rising soon. In about an hour, the maid will discover the body of my husband and all hell will break lose. I have to find cover – somewhere to hide until night falls once more.
ORSON: You can stay at my place.
JESSICA: That’s kind of you, but I need time alone to sort my head out. You do understand, don’t you?
ORSON: Not really. I tell you what, how about we meet here tomorrow night? I’ve enjoyed talking to you. It’s not often I get the chance to discuss maths with somebody as beauti- (breaks off in embarrassment) – as nice as you.
JESSICA: I really ought to get as far from here as possible.
ORSON: There’s no rush, is there? Another day can’t make much difference.
ORSON: I tell you what, I’ll bring you a copy of the Principia. You can take it with you while you’re on the run. It’ll keep you company.
JESSICA: What’s the Principia?
ORSON: Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Sir Isaac Newton. It explains the workings of the Universe in wonderful detail. Have you ever wondered what keeps the Solar System together or what holds the stars in the sky? It’s all there in the Principia.
JESSICA: You don’t say. Is there any sex in it?
ORSON: Just lots of heavenly bodies orbiting each other.
JESSICA: Sounds exquisite.
ORSON: So you’ll come?
JESSICA: How could I not?
ORSON: Same time tomorrow?
JESSICA: Whatever time that may be.
ORSON: And do you know what I’m going to do in the meantime, once I’ve caught up on my sleep? I’m going to lose my virginity.
JESSICA: I’m very glad to hear it.
ORSON: I suppose I’ll have to find a prostitute.
JESSICA: You’re going to pay good money for a grubby fumble with some seedy little tart?
ORSON: If that’s what it takes to gain your respect.
JESSICA: That’s very sweet. Well, I’d better be off then.
ORSON: I’ll walk you part of the way. About twenty yards should do it.
JESSICA: Twenty yards?
ORSON: Remember my axiom? The one that says a bus always comes just when you’ve given up and started walking? The trick is to walk far enough to conjure up a bus but not so far as to be unable to run back to the bus stop in time. According to my calculations, twenty yards is the optimum distance.
JESSICA: And you’re sure that will work?
ORSON: Only one way to find out. Shall we?
Jessica takes Orson’s arm.
JESSICA: Lead on, Orson. Lead on.
They head away from the bus shelter.
ORSON: You trim your beaver, don’t you? I didn’t realise that was possible.
JESSICA: You sure have a lot to learn about women.
Exit Orson and Jessica. After a significant pause, Orson cries out.
ORSON (offstage): That’s twenty yards. Good bye, Jessica! See you tonight!
Orson comes sprinting back to the bus shelter. Panting heavily, he looks around for the expected bus. There is no sign of it.
ORSON: Oh bugger.
Cawthorne comes ambling by.
ORSON: Oh bugger.
Orson walks towards the stage exit. He pauses before disappearing from view.
(End of Act I)