Dec 30, 2021
Trigger Warnings below the script, below.
Two girls in very different times and places both make their way to the top - One finds exaltation, the other merely death.
Tess - Beverly Poole
Teza - Lyndsey Thomas
Mom - Kris Keppeler
Markie/Malque - Julie Hoverson
Doctor/Trainer/Priest - Mathias Rebne Morgan
Josh Woodward (JoshWoodward.com)
[Music of Woodward and Mangold used under a Creative Commons license and available through Jamendo.com]
Editing and Sound: Julie Hoverson
Cover Photos: Chris Gilbert
(courtesy of Stock Xchange.com)
"What kind of a place is it?
Why, it's a mother's heart. Can't you tell?"
LONELY AT THE TOP
NOTE: the roles are deliberately doubled to present the same “people” in both girls’ lives. The “mom” speeches apply to both at the same time.
OLIVIA Did you have any trouble finding it? What do you mean, what kind of a place is it? Why, it's a Mother's heart, can't you tell?
MOM Darling, this is wonderful. You can't imagine how proud I am of you! I've always known you were special, but it means so much to have someone like that see what I have always seen!
MARKIE I totally can't believe it! You made the cut?
TESS It's not set in stone yet - It's just the semi-finals, but mom's about to wet herself, she's so excited.
MARKIE But Miss Modern Teen Model 2009! I mean, even if you wash out on the semi-finals, that's still soooo cool! I wish I was pretty.
TESS Puh-lease. You're cute. Cute lasts. Beauty fades.
MARKIE Cute. Yeah, that's my curse. Not tall enough to be a model, not short enough to walk under turnstiles... [laughs a bit bitterly]
TESS Cute lasts. I have to make the most of this while I can. Besides, you have plans for your future - the scholarships are lining up.
MARKIE Yeah yeah yeah, but brains don't get you dates.
TESS Brains last too.
MOM The idea that my daughter - my lovely child - could go all the way to the top. That you could have the perseverance and willpower to do what has to be done to make it. It will reflect so well on all of us!
MARQUE You are one of the chosen?
TEZA [laughs delightedly] Yes! There is still a long path ahead of me, but I feel - it feels right!
MARQUE You are so fortunate! I wish I was graced with beauty pleasing to the gods.
TEZA Everyone's fate is different, my dearest friend. I hear your parents have found you a husband!
MARQUE He is ... kind. Not unappealing. Not too old. Yes, it is a promising match. I could certainly do worse.
TEZA So you have as much to look forward to as I do!
MARQUE Could you ... do something for me?
TEZA Anything - you are my dearest friend and I love you!
MARQUE When you ... get there, could you petition the great mother Chalchihuitlicue [chal-chee-weet-lee-cue] to smile upon my first pregnancy? That say that should you survive the first, the others are not so hard.
TEZA Not even a bride yet, and you worry about bearing? Silly. Let your time come when it may.
TEZA But! But I will. I will speak with every goddess in the heavens if it will help ease your burden.
MARQUE I love you!
MOM Don't be afraid honey, I won't let you fail. I know you can reach any goal you set your mind on. You simply must keep your focus. Can you do that? Eyes on the prize, sweetheart. And you know what that means - giving up the things that don't matter to clear the way for the things that do.
MOM What are you eating?
TESS What? Ice cream.
MOM No, no, no! You know what Mr. Dupree said - these last few days before the pageant, you need to stick to simple foods. No sugar! Nothing bloaty.
TESS Chill mom. I made it this far--
MOM It just gets harder, honey. Every inch of the way is like another huge step up the side of a mountain. None of these steps are easy, but they're worth the effort, if only because of the view once you get up there.
TESS You're really stoked on this, aren’t you?
MOM Yes honey, I'm stoked. For you. I want you to be able to get everything you can out of life - a model's life isn't easy, but there are plenty of rewards.
TESS [heard it a million times] and you have to get it while you can, because models are over the hill before they can legally drink.
MOM It's not funny, honey. It's very serious. Can't you give it just one year? How hard is that - to push yourself, for just one year?
TESS I guess.
MOM When I heard that you had been chosen, that you were smiled upon out of all the girls, I nearly wept. I was so pleased. I've watched your sisters put themselves at the service of husband and children, and I wanted so much more for you. You are my special, beautiful, darling.
MARQUE I'm sorry you will miss my wedding.
TEZA It is set, then?
MARQUE Not the day, no, but it will be summer next, right after the sowing.
TEZA A good time. And I will be with you in spirit.
MARQUE The midwife thinks I will be old enough, then. [breaking a little] Oh, I will miss you! Once you enter the grand temple, we can never speak again!
TEZA You will always be in my heart, as I know I will always be in yours. I will watch over you and always hear you when you speak to me.
MARQUE It will be in the spring? For you?
TEZA If I am selected to represent Chicomecoatl [chih-coe-me-coe-ah-tul]. It would be a great honor.
MARQUE Your mother has been bragging everywhere. She cannot be quieted.
TEZA It's as if she was the one being considered.
MARQUE Never mind. Regardless, we will be together through the winter, while you learn all you must know for the big day.
TEZA And you learn all you must know for your big day.
MOM My dearest child, you don't know how my heart swells with pride when I think about you, up there in front of everyone, beautiful and serene, like a shining star, and knowing, deep inside myself, that I made you perfect.
[Both are speechifying]
TESS I am so pleased to be considered --
TEZA --to represent our lady of corn on this most sacred of days. I have always wanted--
TESS --to be able to find a way to show the world what I have inside, what I have to offer. And if I could do one thing--
TEZA --I would like to make my mother, my family, and my people proud of me, for community is everything. Without the people around us, we--
TESS --would never have made it this far, this close to becoming the next to represent--
TEZA --Lady of the corn--
TESS --Miss Modern Teen Model 2019.
MOM What the hell did you think you were doing in there? They were laughing at you!
TESS [teary] What?
MOM That judge said you walk like a trucker with hemorrhoids!
TESS I don't know how I walk! I don't watch me!
MOM [softening] Honey! Sweetie! Oh, come here. It's not over - I promise you. You were doing so well, I'm sure this one thing won't put you out entirely, as long as you don't give up.
TESS I want to--
MOM Shh. Shh. We'll just find someone to do something about that walk. No big deal.
TEZA [tears] It's all over! I know it!
TEZA The rich merchant from Tenochtitlan - he has requested I marry him!
MARQUE But doesn't he know you are destined for the temple?
TEZA [scornful] Apparently he likes the idea of marrying someone perfect enough for the gods.
MARQUE That is - he is asking for something terrible to happen!
TEZA Well, I haven't been chosen yet - if I tried to step away then, that would be blasphemy. But to drop out now... what a blow it would be to everyone. And yet - my mother may consider his offer, since he is very prosperous. It is not fair!
MARQUE No. Do not worry. I think this means as much to your mother - more even - than it does to you. She wishes you to secure her a place in the high tables of the night. And there is money from the temple as well - the position is a very prestigious one.
MOM Your dreams are all that matters, my dearest child. I will never try and stop you from getting everything you deserve. You know you can count on my support every step of the way. I will always be behind you to help you face forward, and will push you up every step, if that's what it takes.
SOUND VOMITING MUFFLED BY DOOR
MOM Honey? You doing all right?
TESS [recovering] Just a minute.
MOM Quick rinse, dear - there's someone here to see you!
SOUND DOOR SHUTS, FOOTSTEPS
MOM She'll be out in a minute - fixing her face, you know.
TRAINER Of course. Why don't work out my fees while we wait--
SOUND DOOR OPENS
TESS [subdued] Hi.
MOM Oh, come on, show a little enthusiasm! She's really much more excited than that.
TRAINER Don't worry - I understand. So this is Tess. [hmming noises]
SOUND FOOTSTEPS CIRCLE TESS
TRAINER Has she had any formal modeling training?
MOM She's been taking classes since she was nine.
TRAINER [disapproving] Hmm.
MOM But she also studied ballet, tap, jazz, deportment, and has kept up a 3.7 G-P-A.
TRAINER [dismissive noise]
TESS And I-
TRAINER Shh! How old is she?
TRAINER We're starting it a bit late, but I see potential here. Show me this walk...
MOM Think on this. Think of the great ones - the ones we all idolize and hold in great regard. Now picture your face there, among them, gracing the rest of us below. Can't you see yourself? Your perfect self?
MOM [whispered] Don't they look grand in their feathers? They hold our future - your future in their very hands.
TEZA Mother. You will make me tongue-tied. They are wise and all-knowing. They will know if I am the one--
MOM That you are the one--
TEZA --the minute they lay eyes upon me.
MOM [gasp] Was that your name? Did they call your name?
TEZA Yes, mother it was my name. Pray for me.
SOUND ECHOING FOOTSTEPS
PRIEST You, child. You aspire to represent the great lady of the corn?
TEZA [awed and respectful] Yes, if it please the gods.
PRIEST You are lovely, but are you pure?
TEZA Yes, sire. My mother can swear to it.
PRIEST Remove your shawl, show us your body. Do not hesitate, child - nothing untoward will happen. Your mother is right there watching.
SOUND HEAVY FABRIC FALLS TO THE FLOOR
MOM It's just skin, honey. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. You're lovely. Think of yourself as a work of art, and they are objective observers. They wouldn't be interested in you that way, anyway - you know that. And I'm right here. Tell me if you get nervous, and I'll make them stop. All right? You know every girl who has gone before has been through this same thing.
TESS [nervous, jittery] Well, they haven't said no, yet.
MARKIE That's good.
TESS I guess. I mean, I'm starting to wonder whether it's all really worth it. I'm supposed to get good sleep, be rested, so I can look my best, but half the time I'm too damn nervous, or hungry, or...something. I'm always trying not to think of things, like food, or having time to myself - I mean, what is it all for?
MARKIE Wow. Maybe you should just tell your mom you want to stop.
TESS Tell my mom? [laughs almost hysterically] Tell my mom? Are you high? She would toss me out on my ear. She's got so into this - and besides, she's spent all this money - mucho dinero, you know - to get me this far. How can I let her down - make her waste all that?
MARKIE But you have to think of yourself, right?
TESS I promised her I would do this for one year. Just a year - I can do it. [affirmations] I have the willpower to maintain, and the serenity to--[breaks into a sob]
MARKIE Have you eaten anything today?
TESS I can't! The pre-judging is tomorrow.
MARKIE I have some tic-tacs--
TESS No! Don't tempt me! Shit, Markie, you're supposed to be helping me!
MOM It will all be worth it, you know it will. The purging, the special oils. You will always be the most lovely one in the place - caught in that one special moment, when you shine above all others. No one will ever forget you after that!
TEZA great and reverent master, what if I have doubts?
PRIEST Doubts? What doubts, child?
TEZA I fear that I will not be worthy. That I will falter in my steps and dishonor the crown of corn.
PRIEST I can look into your heart, child, and I see that you have the strength within you to bear this burden - to rise to the heights, and carry the name of Chicomecoatl with dignity and grace.
TEZA Do you?
PRIEST It is always the way of men and women to doubt themselves. To worry that they will lose themselves in fear, or to ponder what life would be like had they not stepped out upon the path to greatness. Ever and always.
TEZA But what can I do?
PRIEST Fast and pray, child. I know you will see the correctness of your choice. And when your day of glory comes, you will never know fear or doubt again.
MOM A boy? What do you mean a boy? You don't have time for - you're too young for boys. All the boys you could possibly want will be at your feet, when the time comes, but right now - [hissed] it will ruin you.
TESS But Corey's on TV! He could help my--
MOM He could get you on the covers of a bunch of sleazy tabloids--
TESS But you said publicity is good--
MOM Not that kind - that will make sure everyone knows your name, but you will never be high class again! Save that kind of exploitation for when your looks start to fade.
TESS Yeah, like when I'm 17.
MOM You knew going in this was a short hard run, missy. There is no free ride. You wanted this as much as I did!
TESS Well I don't want it any more! I want to have a normal life!
MOM Fine. We can go back to living a normal life. You and me and your dad - oh, wait. Where should we live, hun? We sold the house when we came on the road with you - to finance your headshots and your spa treatments. I suppose if you quit school--
TESS [muttered] I can't concentrate anyway.
MOM --and get a job in fast food, we three between us could make enough to [ramping up, each statement a dagger] live in a crappy little apartment and eat junk food all the time and get enormously fat and covered in acne, and then as soon as you're old enough, you can run off with some high school drop out who wants to start a band-- [sliding down, into her own misery] but of course you love each other and he ends up driving Greyhound and you lose the last vestige of your waist when you have the first three children, but the fourth child - your fourth child, she might just be perfect enough to live the good life - the beautiful life - at least until she ruins it!
TEZA You gave me the choice mother, and I accept my fate.
MOM I always knew you were just too good to live. You are an angel, honey, a perfect angel.
TESS Yes, mother.
MOM Sweetie. [all business] Now here's your pills from Dr. Gustavson - he said don't take them on an empty stomach, so go grab a cracker and some diet soda.
MOM There is nothing wrong with wanting more for your child than you had. Wanting to guide her and make sure she gets the advantages instead of making the same stupid mistakes you made. Is there? Isn’t all of life - at least the lives of parents - the effort to make a better life for your children?
MARQUE And is he very handsome, the chosen vessel of Tezcatlipoca?
TEZA Don't be silly - he is perfect. They wouldn't have chosen him otherwise. [sigh] but of course, we are set upon different paths.
MARQUE Perhaps you will meet later. Beyond the sun.
TEZA Perhaps. But he has been given four wives who are all perfect as well.
MARQUE And you are the Lady of Corn - none can shine brighter than a candle in the sunlight when you are in the room. I swear you get more beautiful every day. This suits you.
TEZA Thank you - my mother says so also. [beat] We are to meet at another function - what if he talks to me again?
MARQUE Talk is all well and good, but do not be alone. It is so humiliating to prove that you have not fallen into temptation.
TEZA ugh [shudder] I could go my whole life without ever feeling that again. [bucks up] And I shall. I may talk to him, but I will never step out of the sight of the priests. We will both remain perfect.
MARQUE Very good.
TEZA I wish you could have come with me...but the temple handmaidens are devoted even earlier than we.
MARQUE Well, I have news for you as well. My husband to be, [pleased] who has meals with my family more often than custom requires -hmm? - is really quite an amusing man. And very fond of me. I may not have my moment in the center of the universe, but I will have a good life.
TEZA I am so pleased. And I will remember to petition for you.
SOUND [hug noise]
MOM Unhappy? How can you be unhappy? You have everything you could possibly want - your face in front of everyone, men at your beck and call, and attending all the best celebrations! What could you possibly be missing? [wheedling] you know I'm only doing this for you! You want this as much as I do! You've finally made it, honey, what more could any girl want? Every girl out there looks at you and cries herself to sleep wishing she could trade lives with you. That is enough to make anyone happy, isn’t it? To be envied? How could you possibly be unhappy enough to do this?
DOCTOR Now take two of these every eight hours, to prevent infection, and change the dressings every 4 hours or so.
MOM I'll keep her on schedule, don't you worry. And...this won't get out?
DOCTOR It's hardly likely that people won't notice the change, even with the recuperation period, but I certainly don't keep in business by revealing personal info about my clientele.
MOM Don't worry, dear. Momma's right here.
TESS You said I wouldn't feel it.
MOM Does it hurt, honey? Here, doctor, can she have something for the pain?
DOCTOR That's in the bag too, but do go light on them - you don't want to become dependent.
MOM And when the scars heal, and everyone sees how lovely you are, with your new curves, you will be the envy of even more of the world.
TESS [dully] Of course, mother.
MOM Even perfection can be improved on. Beauty is pain. That which is prized most is always hardest to come by. If it was easy to be beautiful, everyone would want to be ugly instead. You cannot be special if everyone can easily achieve what you have. You must stand out. You must shine. Look into that mirror, dearest child, and tell me you don't love yourself even more each day as you come closer and closer to perfection.
TEZA Life is pain
TESS Beauty sucks.
TEZA I am being remade in the image of the goddess.
TESS Who decides what I should fucking look like?
TEZA Painted and pierced. Smoothed and scented. I am treated like a queen.
TESS If I have to have one more operation, I'll pee stitches.
TEZA I bite the stick and let the pain carry me away as they mold my flesh.
TESS I cry all night, silently, so my mother won't come and comfort me.
TEZA See my new ear plugs? They made them larger again, and heavy. They almost touch my shoulders now.
MARQUE Don't they hurt?
TEZA Of course, but pain won't last forever. I rather coveted a nose piercing as well, but that is not suited to the lady. I am being remade in her image.
MARQUE I really admire your hair. Such elegantly styled coils and plaits!
TEZA Smell! Only the finest oils must touch me. Everything is moving so quickly - such a short time left before the day I ascend to the top of the sky.
MARQUE Too bad it is not sooner - my sister will start her labor soon, and she could use a blessing from the lady of rivers.
TEZA I can still burn offerings, like anyone else.
MARQUE True, but I can't help but feel the word of the corn lady will be heard so much louder than mere mortals such as we.
TEZA [laughs ruefully] I can ask any one of a legion of priests to guide me in my prayers, and they will gladly help - for it is goodly for the lady of the corn to look after those with child.
MARQUE Would you?
TEZA Yes. And the priests - well their voices will carry as far as they need to go.
MOM The day is set, my child. You have reached the height. This can never be undone and leave you a nobody ever again. Everyone will see your face, and know - they will know - that you are the center of the universe.
TESS Who the hell am I?
MOM What? Sweetie, you're--
TESS I used to know! I used to be Tess, a pretty and I dunno - slightly talented, maybe - high school student, and now--[sob catches]
MOM Now, you're the most beautiful woman in the world - the magazine said so. It showed your absolute perfection--
TESS Not my perfection, mother - that's complete crap. I'm like - I'm like Mr. potato head, and you stuck hair and makeup and a pair of boobs on me - None of this is me! Who the hell am I? Did you ever ask? Did you ever care?
MOM Honey! It's just icing on a wonderful cake. You like cake, don't you? [ingratiating] And isn’t it better with frosting?
TESS [through gritted teeth] I don't GET cake, mother, not unless I want to taste it both ways [eating and throwing up]. I don’t even know if I could hold it down if I tried.
MOM What the hell has got into you?
TESS You couldn’t even leave me my own name, could you? "Tess" just isn't supermodel material. And you didn’t even choose it - you let a marketing firm do a survey and took their suggestions.
MOM You got to pick one of the three they came up with--
TESS There isn’t any me left under all this, mother! Nothing. I'm hollow. Empty.
MOM Where are you going?
TESS To find something to fill me.
MOM Purpose. Purpose is enough, isn’t it? You are moving forward, ever forward. The search for perfection is a road, not a destination. There is nothing wrong with embellishing the beauty you were born with.
MARQUE [crying] It was horrible.
TEZA I'm so sorry. I did what I could.
MARQUE I know. She is with the gods, now, but it was so awful. I - I'm so scared.
MARQUE Watching her - watching the blood and the pain, hours and hours of it - and the baby died too! How can I ever choose to go through that?
TEZA It is what women do.
MARQUE You won't ever have to.
TEZA [teasing a bit] I have to give life to the whole world. [serious] But I feel for you. And for your sister, and her baby. It is a tragedy.
MARQUE Is there anything in life that doesn’t hurt?
TEZA Flowers. Chocolate. Love.
MARQUE You know what I mean - important things.
TEZA What is more important than Love?
MARQUE [sniff, then a tiny sad uh-huh]
MOM Only a few more days. Nothing must go wrong. You must be so very careful not to harm yourself, even a scratch or a nick will show. Only the most skilled may come to do your hair, massage, and dress you in the most beautiful garments. Nothing is left to chance. Nothing. Do you hear me? Nothing will go wrong, even if I have to hurt someone.
MOM I see you're feeling a little better?
TESS [dull] Yes I took my medicine.
MOM Good. Nothing like seeing a smile on my little girl's face again. And there's nothing wrong with using science to combat unhappiness.
TESS Yes mother.
MOM Unhappiness isn't natural. Especially for beautiful people.
MOM Dear. Don't frown. You don't want to get wrinkles!
TESS Why don't I just lie here like a blob? That way I can't break a nail.
MOM Are you sure you took your pills?
MOM It is always darkest right before the dawn. And it is always tensest the night before the main event. You hold your breath and pray for dawn, the watch the shadows crawl across the ground, feeling like the final moment will never come. And once it arrives? Pfft. It is over.
TEZA I'm happy you could sit vigil this night with me, mother.
MOM How could I do otherwise, my darling chosen one?
TEZA [teasing] You must relinquish your claim to me, since I am now the Corn lady.
MOM [fondly, almost in tears] My lady of corn. I will never forget that I was able to contribute to the glory you represent.
TEZA Without you I would not be here - would not be able to bring life to the crops for another year.
MOM And yet it is a melancholy time as well. Knowing that the great lady will ascend to heaven tomorrow.
TEZA I told Marque I will watch over her. I can watch you both. I have two eyes.
MOM Can Teza give her mother a final kiss before the Corn lady must take her walk?
TEZA Of course. [kiss noise]
MOM And this is it. The end. What we have worked so hard for. I know it is a sad time. I feel sad too, but the triumph, the glory, the joy will outweigh the sorrow.
MOM What the hell do you mean, she's gone?
TRAINER She was here for the opening - the talent portion is about to start, and she's not in the dressing room.
MOM Have you checked the bathroom?
TRAINER I asked every girl in there, and between yarks they said they hadn't seen her.
MOM How could she do this to me?
TRAINER Worse - her opening number gown is gone too, and it was a rental.
[Tess is down, Teza is filled with joy]
TEZA I gaze up the endless stairs
TESS Knowing this will be my last trip
BOTH I feel my sandals shift beneath my feet as I take the first step.
TEZA With each step, the roaring grows louder
TESS The voices in my head just won't shut up!
TEZA I must go slowly, for while I cannot falter, neither can I look down.
TESS My head is so heavy
TEZA My crown is so weighty.
BOTH I feel all those eyes upon me.
TESS [shriek] They won't leave me alone!
TEZA [ecstatic] They love me!
TESS They hate me!
TEZA Each step takes me higher. Closer to the heavens.
TESS I haul myself up, one step at a time.
TEZA My ears still ache - the pain reminds me of what I leave behind.
TESS The pain of what I have become will never leave me.
TEZA The scent of a thousand flowers, thrown by the crowd, surrounds me.
TESS The hallway smells of puke.
BOTH Only a few more steps.
TEZA I thrill with fear and longing, yearning for the gods.
TESS Please god don't let me fuck this up.
TEZA The priests await me, stern and welcoming.
TESS I see a face and don't recognize myself until I realize it's a mirror.
TEZA The name me Chicomecoatl, and I know I have become the Lady of the corn.
TESS I stare into the eyes in the mirror and have no clue who she is.
BOTH I take up the cup.
TEZA The drink warms me, and I love everyone.
TESS I drink slowly, timing the pills - too fast and I'll barf it all up before it can work.
TEZA My mind floats.
BOTH I can't feel anything anymore.
TEZA They gently lay me on the altar.
TESS The bathroom tile is cool under my cheek.
TEZA The knife above me catches light from Huitztipotchli's glory.
TESS Everything is getting dark
TEZA The knife falls and I transcend.
TESS Everything goes black.
CLOSING MUSIC SLOWLY CREEPS IN
[TW - mature language and situations, extreme dieting, non-gender related body dysmorphia and modification, depression, suicide, human sacrifice]