CLARA HERRERO: a woman in her early sixties
MARCO HERRERO: a man in his mid-forties
ROMAN HERRERO: a man in his mid-sixties
SAMESH JOSHI: a man in his early twenties
A root cellar behind the house of the Herrero family. Emergency food and supplies line shelves attached to two opposing walls. On the wall opposite the entrance is two sets of bunk beds, with a desk and chair between them. A HAM radio sits on the desk, and an old Panasonic AM/FM is mounted on the wall above. A tapered glass spiral hangs from the ceiling in the center of the room, like a beautiful but silent wind chime. A heavy wind becomes audible outside.
(At rise: Clara Herrero is calmly sitting in the chair. The only light comes from dim, solar-powered rope lights running along the floorboards and entryway. She is facing the entrance as if waiting for someone to enter. The cellar door opens, and Marco stumbles in, pulling the door shut behind him. The sound of the wind grows much louder for a moment and quiets again when he closes the door behind him. He flips a switch. Lights come on, and a car advertisement streams out of the radio speaker. Marco is holding his side and appears to be in pain. He lays down on one of the bottom bunks without acknowledging Clara. Clara remains seated, calm, and unmoved.
Marco is grunting, panting, and mumbling to himself. After a moment, he stops and lays still. The radio commercial fades to silence. There is no sound for a long moment. Then he awakens.)
MARCO: What the—? What the hell is going on? That tornado came out of nowhere.
CLARA: Yes, it was quite a surprise, wasn’t it?
(Marco sits up, apparently noticing Clara for the first time.)
MARCO: Mom! I didn’t even see you. Are you alright?
CLARA: I am uninjured. Which, it appears you cannot say the same. You know where the disinfectant and bandages are. Please, attend to your wounds if you need to.
MARCO: That’s ok. I’m fine. Have you talked to dad?
CLARA: I believe Roman is still at the office.
MARCO: Oh, that’s right. They have a basement parking garage there. (Putting his hand to his head.) Wow, I have the worst headache ever. I can’t even think straight. So, were you home when the tornado hit? Is the house locked up good?
CLARA: I suppose you could say I was home, and the house is as your father left it when he departed for work. So yes, to both.
MARCO: Is that right? Why are you talking so weird? Did you hit your head like I did?
CLARA: I apologize. I am just a little surprised to be here with you so unexpectedly. How have you been? I understand you are seeing someone. She seems nice.
MARCO: Liz? Yeah, she’s great. For some reason, I can’t remember you meeting her. We met dad for lunch the other day. Dad couldn’t stop flirting. Luckily Liz found it cute.
CLARA: Roman will never change. Women have always been objects for his admiration. I suppose everyone has their faults. He was a good provider and father to you. I’m glad his views on women didn’t infect you too.
MARCO: Come on. He’s harmless. He just likes to gawk. It’s not like he ever cheated on you.
CLARA: Not that I am aware of, but you remember all those years of constantly traveling for work before we divorced.
MARCO: Divorced? Holy crap. That’s right. Damn, what’s wrong with me? I hope I don’t have a concussion. (The ceiling shakes, and the glass spiral briefly begins to spin.) Call me crazy, but I swear that tornado was following me. Well, I’m glad you made it over here safely. And, that dad never changed the locks down here. (Mildly amused.)
CLARA: I understand you and your father had a conversation recently. And that I was one of the topics. Do you have any questions for me?
MARCO: Who told you that? I haven’t even told Liz about that yet.
CLARA: I am glad that confiding in the woman you love is a priority for you. It was not for your father. At least not when we were married, and I cannot imagine he has changed in that regard. I have told you that your father does not respect or even truly like women.
MARCO: Oh, mom. He’s just a perv. He doesn’t hate women.
CLARA: Ask him his opinion on the nineteenth amendment sometime.
MARCO: Dad and I get along much better when we don’t discuss politics.
CLARA: I understand you love your father, but when you marry that girl, don’t you take any stock in his advice on women and marriage. You’ll be a fine husband. Don’t let him turn you wicked.
MARCO: (Muttering to himself.) Kind of hypocritical considering what he told me.
CLARA: Yes, I suppose it is. But it is good advice, nonetheless.
MARCO: How…? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.
(The glass spiral begins to spin again.)
CLARA: Please, ask your questions. I believe it is why I am here.
(Marco gets up and reaches his hand to the still ceiling.)
MARCO: That’s strange. I don’t feel anything. (He points at the suddenly still glass spiral.) How did that thing start spinning? And why would dad hang a wind chime in a bunker?
CLARA: I do not believe Ramon hung that, nor do I believe it chimes. I fear there are far stranger things than spinning glass in store. So, what did your father tell you?
MARCO: (Pauses to think for a moment.) He told me you did some pretty horrible things to me when I was a baby.
CLARA: Go on.
MARCO: Did you grab my arm, swing me around, and throw me across the room?
CLARA: I did.
MARCO: (Choked up.) Did you burn my leg with a curling iron? Dad said that’s how I got the scars on my leg. It wasn’t from his motorcycle muffler. Do you know how long you have to hold a curling iron to the skin to cause that kind of permanent scarring?
CLARA: I am so sorry, Marco.
MARCO: Sorry? Qué mierda! Sorry? God damn it! Is that all you have to say?
CLARA: Do not blaspheme, Marco! Trust me. Now is not the time to curse God.
MARCO: Trust you? A baby abuser? What could I have done to make you hate a baby so much?
CLARA: I honestly do not know, son. I remember being surprised when your father came home and found me treating your wounds. He looked at your burns and then at the curling iron by the sink, and he knew. He knew. I remember some things, but what drove me to do that…? I spent a lifetime trying to make up for my sins. It did not work if that gives you any comfort.
MARCO: Was it postpartum depression?
CLARA: My psychiatrist said it is possible, but she doubted it. You were almost two.
(They sit in silence for a moment.)
CLARA: I never hurt you again after that day. I became a good person. I ran charities for the mentally ill and for wounded first responders. And I started going to church every Sunday. I lived for you and those in need.
MARCO: Dad said he told you if you ever hurt me again, he would kill you. That’s why he didn’t call the police. He made you get help, but he also wanted to be able to keep his promise. And he didn’t want me growing up knowing what you had done. Is that why you stopped?
CLARA: Ramon has many faults, but as I said, he is a good father. I do not believe I was myself when I hurt you. Seeing the look in your father’s eyes that day made something inside me die. Shame would forever haunt me. But I believe it also killed whatever evil was inhabiting me.
MARCO: Oh, don’t give me that. I don’t believe in that shit. You aren’t blaming this on Satan.
CLARA: I did not say Satan. I am no longer sure there is a Satan. Or even God as I once knew him. There is something, though. Oh yes. Of this, I am sure. Some kind of—. All I can say is I was not myself. That, and I am sorry. And will remain so, forever.
MARCO: This is so surreal having this conversation in the middle of a tornado. I don’t know how to feel. I won’t forgive you right now. Maybe eventually. I need time.
CLARA: Time is not something we have. Forgiveness is as much for the person wronged as it is for the guilty. Perhaps more so.
MARCO: I remember dad saying he forgives you during your funeral. I didn’t understand what he meant at the time. (He pauses and stares at his mother in shock.) Wait. Mom, you had a bad heart. You had heart failure, and it failed for good five years ago. You died. How are you here?
CLARA: I am not here in the way that you mean, my son. (She begins to cry.) Oh, Marco. How did I not realize? It seems that you no longer are either.
(The ceiling begins to shake, and the glass spiral spins much faster this time.)
MARCO: Mom, what is happening? I don’t understand.
CLARA: The vortex is opening. It is time I return to my penance.
(The room fades to black.)
CLARA: (Her voice, coming from a distance, gradually growing quieter.) I trust we are not bound for the same place. I have much left to find. I love you, son. I pray we will meet again.
(No noise but the dull sound of wind swirling outside.)
MARCO: Mom? Are you there?
SAMESH: You calling for your mommy, Marco?
(The lights fade on again and Samesh is now sitting in the chair. Clara is gone.)
MARCO: (Stunned at Samesh’s sudden appearance, Marco instinctively pushes himself back to the far end of the bunk.) What the hell?
SAMESH: Nope, not hell, but maybe for you, huh? I bet you deserve it.
MARCO: Who are you, and how did you get here?
SAMESH: Oh, so you don’t remember me? I think I’m going to cry. You would like that, wouldn’t you? Seeing me cry again after all this time? (Pauses and looks Marco over.) Wow, you got old. What are you, like fifty?
MARCO: No, I’m not fifty yet. Who in the name of God are you?
SAMESH: Well, you almost got that right. My name is Samesh. That ring any bells?
MARCO: Sammy? Sammy Joshi? How is that possible? You should be my age.
SAMESH: I prefer Samesh now. Sammy was the kid you used to terrorize to show off for your friends.
MARCO: What are you talking about? We were friends, Sammy. You always wore those shirts with the cool water tornados on them. Vortexes, right?
SAMESH: They are called vortices, and they were not always water. But don’t pretend you thought my shirts were cool. You enjoyed ruining them when you beat me up.
MARCO: I only remember us getting in a fight once.
SAMESH: Yeah, the one time I stood up for myself. What about all the times you tripped me, punched me, or shoved me down so everyone could have a good laugh?
MARCO: I remember teasing you because Cindy Lawrence thought you talked funny. But I was just a dumb kid trying to impress a dumb girl.
SAMESH: Wow! I’m the one who should have repressed memories. Hello? You were a total asshole to me all sophomore year. It’s why I changed schools before junior year. Bully doesn’t even come close to the dickhead you became. I thought we were friends too…, once.
(The ceiling rumbles, and the glass spiral begins spinning again.)
MARCO: I am sorry you feel that way. (He puts his hands to his head.) Ahhhh! My head is pounding.
SAMESH: Good! (Pauses.) No. I don’t mean that. I forgave you a long time ago. But you have yet to forgive yourself, Marco. That is why I am here.
MARCO: (Still in pain from his headache.) Forgive myself for what? A little high school teasing? Oh, and that time I dumped my hot chocolate over your head in the cafeteria. Wait, and the time Ernie and I had a punching contest on your arm to see whose hand got sore first. I totally won that. Ernie didn’t know how to throw a proper punch.
SAMESH: (Sniffles, fighting back tears.) Well, that’s a start.
MARCO: How did I forget that? And how long did we make you stay in the trash dumpster that time you bumped into Cindy at 7-Eleven?
SAMESH: At least two hours. There were rats in there, you dick. They bit me, and I got sick. I got a rash all over my hands and feet and what felt like the worst flu of my life. When I finally told my mom some of what was happening—.
MARCO: We all lied to Principal Willis. Me, Ernie, and Cindy. And he believed us. Sammy, I’m so sorry. I mean Samesh. I don’t know how I managed to hide all this away in my brain, but it was wrong. All of it.
SAMESH: My mother wanted to go to the police, but I begged her not to. I would have been the rat that got bitten by rats, or whatever the horrible mob at San Marcos High decided to call me. Did you hate me? I mean, you couldn’t have been that cruel just to impress people. Could you?
(Marco stares at the glass spiral as its spinning speeds up and suddenly stops.)
MARCO: That wasn’t me. I wasn’t mysel—. Oh, wow. Did I just say that? (Pauses.) It was like there was something inside me making me do horrible things.
SAMESH: Yeah, like your sex drive. You ruined my life trying to get laid, didn’t you?
MARCO: No, it wasn’t about impressing Cindy. Hell, she wasn’t even part of most of it. She tried to get me to stop. That is so weird. I never did anything like that before or after sophomore year. Cindy broke up with me over the summer. Ernie dropped out and went to work for his uncle. We stopped hanging out after that. I always thought of myself as a good person. Are there other awful things I blocked?
SAMESH: I don’t know, are there? Now is the time to face them.
MARCO: Samesh, why are you so young? What happened to you after high school?
SAMESH: (Sits silently for a moment, staring at the ground.) I barely made it through high school. I figured college would be just as bad, so I got a job at a video store instead. My mom found me in the garage on my twenty-first birthday. It was not my finest moment. I pray she has forgiven me. Sadly, I think I will soon find out. But right now, I am here for you.
MARCO: What do you mean, she found you in the garage? You don’t mean you—?
SAMESH: Yes, but it wasn’t your fault. Well, mostly not, anyway. I never learned to cope well with the world. Luckily, that whole thing about desecrating the holy human temple being unforgivable is not entirely accurate. Besides, I was Hindu. It was studying the Vedas that began my fascination with vortices. I remember thinking it was cool that the vortex brings us passion or suffering. Later, I learned that it is we who decide which, but by then, it was too late. Not that it matters now. From what I can tell so far, nobody got much right. Although, I seem to remember something in the Rig Veda about one’s vortex acting as a doorway after death. And forgiveness is a big thing, but I think there is more to forgiveness than most of us thought.
MARCO: Samesh. I don’t know what to say. Shame doesn’t even cover it. I’m so sor—.
(The ceiling shudders violently, and the glass spiral spins faster and faster until suddenly it falls, shattering on the ground.)
SAMESH: As I said, I forgave you a long time ago. I guess it’s time to find out if you can forgive yourself. Our ride is here.
(The shaking stops. The roof of the cellar detaches and rises out of sight. The sound of the wind gets louder. Marco and Samesh slowly ascend as the winds blow all around them. They begin to spin as they enter the offstage tornado.)
MARCO: (Shouting into the wind.) I forgive you, mom!
(As Marco and Samesh disappear from view, the stage goes black. The radio is illuminated, and the broadcast fades back in.)
RADIO: The sky is sunny and clear with a mild breeze from the south. After a week of pleasant winter weather, we may be in store for some more snow on Friday. In the news, a heroic deed has left a man missing. Early this morning, a man identified as Marco Herrero jumped in front of an out-of-control car to save a young girl. A patch of black ice had sent the vehicle spinning as it rounded a corner. Mr. Herrero leaped in front of it and tossed a nine-year-old girl out of harm’s way just before the car collided with him. Witnesses say that Mr. Herrero survived but seemed confused. Several witnesses reported he was pointing toward the sky and yelling for people to run as he fled the scene. The police ask that anyone with knowledge of Mr. Herrero’s whereabouts call…
(As the news continues, the lights fade back in on the cellar, now back in its original condition. Marco lies motionless on the same bunk and in the same position as when he first laid down. Ramon bursts through the entry and sees Marco. He rushes over to his son and shakes him, yelling his name. He checks his pulse and cries out in despair.)
RAMON: (Softly.) Oh, my son! You were always a better man than I was. A better son than either of your parents deserved. Goodbye, Marco. May you find peace in your new home.