Absurd is right

Last summer I was unemployed, a blissful state of being that left me with long stretches of time to watch "A Makeover Story" and think about how hot it was in D.C. But believe it or not, this occasionally became boring. On these occasions, my gainfully employed housemate humored me by sending me prompts to work with at work, the idea being that when she got home that night I would present her with 600-800 words to read on the topic or topics she had selected. The following is our first collaboration: she emailed me the following prompt:

Genre: Existential and/or absurdist one-act
Key words: stranger, olive trees, Scotland

(Yes, purists, I know that it would be more in keeping with the tenets of Theater of the Absurd to just have skipped the intro and presented the one-act with no context whatsoever, but eh.) Thus, I present to you ... Waiting for Macdougal!

Waiting for Macdougal

Two men sit at a small, round table in the middle of a dark restaurant in the middle of the afternoon. The shapes of other diners at other tables are visible, moving shadows eating, talking, and ordering. Muted restaurant noises can be heard. The two men--both wearing rather fashionable but low-key (think David Bowie in agnès b.) business suits--seem perturbed, and fiddle with the objects on the table, sugar packets, salt shakers, cutlery, etc.

A: Do you see him?

B: No, of course I don't see him. If I saw him, I would say something.

A: How long has it been?

B: I don't remember.

A: Ages, anyway. Ages spent sitting here at this faux-Spanish table at this faux-Spanish restaurant, eating olives. I wish there was a clock in here.

B: They aren't even the right kind of olives, you know.

A: What?

B: The olives. They're not the kind they actually serve in tapas bars. In Spain, I mean.

A: Of course in Spain, where else do they serve tapas? I'm not stupid.

B: What I'm saying is that in Spain, in Andalusia, they don't serve this kind of olives as tapas. They serve bowls of gazpacho, and squid--squid fried so recently that the breaded crumbs leave hot oil prints on your fingers like brands. And potato salad, and tortilla española--which is like a potato omelet, not like a tortilla you would make an enchilada with, a lot of people make that mistake-and stuffed eggs and asparagus with sauce and ham with melon. They serve all of that ...

A: And olives, too?

B: And of course olives too! Always olives. Whole trays of them. Black, green, red. Pit in, pit out, brine cured or packed in oil. Not like this kind.

A: What's wrong with this kind?

B: These? Ha!

A: I like these!

B: These ... these frogs eyes, these pimento-stuffed excuses for real tapas olives? Ha!

A: Well I like them.

B: Hmmmpf.

A long silence.

A: I don't see why it matters so much.

B: What matters?

A: The olives. I don't see why it matters. Everyone knows that this place isn't a real tapas bar. Look at it! The faux Spanish wrought-iron decorations, the faux Spanish music they play, the faux Spanish flamenco dancers they have pawing and snorting in the corner. It would be a grotesque joke if, in this restaurant where everything is false, a pale and imperfect repetition of someone's cloud-coloured dreams of Spanish reality, the olives were perfect, don't you think?

Further silence.

B: I was in Spain once, you know.

A: Yes ...

B: For a summer, many years ago ... I can still remember how blue the sky was, hot and blue and burning, a blue so blue it was almost a violence. The wind would blow through the scorched green of the olive trees against that cruel blue sky, and I would stare up, up through the branches and into the pale void of the sun, the sun that blanched the surface of the earth and burnt the acrid taste of the Spanish summer into the olives ... that was many years ago.

A: That must have been beautiful ...

B: It was many years ago. And now it is over and done, and we are here. Waiting.

A: Waiting for Macdougal.

B: Waiting for Macdougal ...

A: I do not understand why we must wait. Why here?

B: Because this is where he will meet us.

A: Why this place, this counterfeit Spanish bar? Macdougal is not a Spanish name.

B: No, it is a Scottish name ... Macdougal is from Scotland.

A: Then why here? What business does a Scot have coming to a Spanish bar? He has no connection to the land, to the people, to the sun.

B: It is true, Macdougal doesn't know the sun, the sun that burns and sears and blisters.

A: (Suddenly flying into a rage) Then why?! And why must we wait, and why must it be us, and why must it be here! I will go mad, I swear it! I will go mad, while we sit here and wait and think about olives and the sun and the burning! And I HATE, HATE olives.


B: You said you liked them

A: What?

B: Before. You said you liked the olives.

A: Well, I don't. I don't like the olives. And I don't like waiting. We don't even know what Hamish Angus Macdougal looks like. Imagine, the ridiculousness of it all? Waiting, in a pathetic recreation of a tapas bar for a man we've never even met, not knowing when he's ever going to come! A Scottish man, what's more! It's completely insane.

B: If he comes.

A: If?

B: Well, we've been waiting. What if he doesn't come? Or has already come.

A: He'll come. He will.


A: I suppose he would find a way of letting us know. He would, wouldn't he?

B: Let us know what?

A: If he wasn't coming.

B: And how, do you think, he would let us know? We don't know him. He doesn't know us. How would he tell us he wasn't coming?

A: Well, he could phone the desk. Have them pass on the message.

B: How would he do that? He doesn't even know our names.

A: He could have the maitre d' pass the message along to the two who are waiting.

B: Look around! Do you think we're the only ones waiting? Everyone here is waiting!

A: Waiting for Macdougal?

B: How do I know? Waiting for something! For their entree, for the check, for Macdougal ... for death, even. Half of them don't even know what they're waiting for! They're just waiting!

A: You needn't get so angry.

B: I think I rather hate you, you and your questions. We wait, that's all. Just wait.

A: Fine.

B: Fine.


A: I hope he comes.

B: Ha! Hope.

A longer silence.

B: Well, let's get on with it ...