Last week, IRT at Home invited you to join our Playwright-in-Residence James Still for a week of writing prompts. Focused on what people could taste, see, hear, touch, and smell, James encouraged participants to reflect, imagine, and, most importantly, have fun with these ideas. For a full look at James Still's prompts, click here. Read on to see a few of the responses sent in by our IRT audience!
Masking the Taste
by Shelby Lewis
For the better part of spring,
All of the flowers hope to bloom, but I
Cannot taste their scent.
Encapsulating my senses is a
Mask with an unknown expiration date. Through clinging cloth,
All is dulled. Fullness is blocked. The possibility of a cleansing, deep breath is
Keep hope, the blossoms say, while they too yearn to open.
By Miki Hamstra
At this angle, the Cheezit box looks the same as before
It’s bright red packaging enticing me to enjoy
To relax and live like before
Dare to celebrate even
My familiar friend doling out salt and crunch, reminiscent of Games Nights past and friends
Mingling with its chosen partner in crime
A Lime Margarita Cheezit Tango
Unrestrained in joy and soul and movement
But I rip open the bag only to find it half full
Fake news delivered up now in my comfort food
The salt only intensifying this incessant thirst
My eyes search the ingredient list
Annatto extract color? Is that toxic?
Whispered questions in my mind
Did the tequila spin those memories?
What did it chose to cast aside?
Who was silenced?
Quarantine is a real bitch
But I respect her hard hand
And her tough love
Forcing me to read the labels
And choose what I allow into my life
But will I rebel when she is no longer here?
What will I have to prove when she loosens her grip?
Will I succumb to a new embrace
And seek to find a more pure orbit?
One that is centered by love’s pull
Instead of my calendar and due dates and reports
Filled with homemade cooking
And bike rides and neighborhood walks and sleeping in tents
The pull is strong and demanding
An overwhelming wake-up call
A yearning for sustaining food
Regenerating taste buds
Redefining the sweet and salty
And the bitter
Tonight I will make space on my plate for them all
No more judgement
By Michelle Payne
Life and lemons. Forever linked. Just thinking about lemons makes the section of my face between my mouth and my ears tense up. I mean, doesn’t yours when you think about something sour? One reason I’ve never gotten on the Sour Candy Bandwagon. (Ew.) But my Summertime Lemon Bars…they’re where sweet and sour meet quite perfectly.
That’s why they were the perfect choice to make that unforgettable 4th of July in 1996. I had a new boyfriend – you know, “The One.” Independence Day was a big deal for his family, and they celebrated in that quintessential Indiana small town where sitting and snacking all day potluck-style was the expectation and evening fireworks were boss. This was basically my debut among the aunts, uncles, and cousins, so I needed to impress. My red, white, and blue skort would surely strike the right fashion chord, and my Summertime Lemon Bars would wow them on the inside.
So I made the bars – it was a Martha Stewart recipe – that 4th of July morning in “The One’s” (not) impeccable kitchen. I mixed them, baked them, plated them with loving care. Until I dumped them. On the grimy floor. Powdered sugar side down. And when life hands you lemon bars on the floor, you scrape them up and re-plate them as best you can. And you serve them to the family you’ve never met, but who will become yours for the next 23 years. Until they’re no longer your family. Because “The One” becomes “The Wrong One.”
I don’t make those Summertime Lemon Bars anymore. I’ve moved past sour. I’ve embraced sweet. And I’ve managed to scrape even myself off the floor.
By Greg Troxell
It wasn’t grandmother’s warm peach pie, it wasn’t a six pack of illegal beer. It wasn’t like anything good, that taste of fear that filled my mouth with metal. I don’t eat metal, so I don’t know tin from zinc, or lead or platinum, but one of the guys said “Zinc; they say it’s zinc. Now shut up and watch those leaves between the huts.” I did, but salt burned my eyes and my finger tapped the trigger guard over and over and it wouldn’t stop. I spit to get the taste out of my mouth but it kept coming back, and filled my nostrils too, and I knew that’s what fear smelled like and tasted like, looking for an enemy in the leaves, invisible, determined to kill me. I knew it, I thought, until last week, when I couldn’t taste it anymore; or peaches, or beer.
By Miki Hamstra
(The lights come up on an open living room/kitchen area where there was clearly a dinner party that recently ended. Plates, cups, and serving utensils are everywhere. Megan and Peter are washing up dishes together at the sink. He washes and hands her the dishes to dry.)
P: I have to say, Meg, you certainly know how to use every dish in the house.
M: Well... I gotta taste everything along the way. Can’t be dipping in the same spoon in every time.
P: So that might explain the spoons, but what about the rest of this? (Gestures teasingly to the rest of the mess).
M: (whips him lightly with the drying towel). I was inspired.
P: Something like that.
(They continue washing/drying quietly for awhile until Megan senses a good time).
M: You know... I’d prefer if you didn’t tell everyone about the blue car.
M: The blue car. It’s embarrassing.
P: Come on. (Not really paying attention) You told half the story.
M: Yeah well once you got it started.
P: You could have stopped me or said something.
M: Like step on your foot from the kitchen?(He laughs, playing it off. He can’t tell she’s serious). Babe, come on, I’m being serious.
P: Oh hon, come on, everyone knows about MMMs. It’s one of your most endearing traits.
M: (Puts down the dish towel to look him straight in the eye. Starts sharply but voice waivers to indicate how upset she is). No, it’s not endearing. There’s nothing endearing about “Meg’s Made Up Memories.”
P: (Sees how upset she is and puts down his washing)
M: There are just few people I trust with that story and Nancy and Joe are not two of them.
P: (Trying to lighten the mood) So they’re not “blue car friends”?
M: Babe, seriously, it’s not funny. (Moves to the couch)
P: (Follows her) Listen, I’m sorry. I didn’t know it would bother you so much.
M: Well it does
(They sit in silence for awhile)
M: It happens more frequently then you know. The other day, I couldn’t remember our address in Boston. Not even the street name.
P: Megs, that was like ten years ago. I don’t think...
M: (Cuts him off) And the hospital. That one time I thought Luke broke his leg on that silly indoor slide. I got in the car and couldn’t remember how to get to the hospital. Not even the right direction.
P: I don’t think that means anything.
M: I had to call you., remember? I got in the car and just froze.
P: That kinda thing happens when you get stressed.
M: Why aren’t you taking this seriously?
P: I just think you might be blowing it out of proportion.
M: (Sharply) Another made up memory?
P: No (slowly, now more gently) I just think...
M: I’m serious. I really can’t tell the difference any more. I’m putting people in all the wrong places. The other day I was talking to Jace, reminiscing about something we did in high school, but she didn’t go to high school with me. I didn’t meet her until college.
M: (Cuts him off) I’ve gotten to the point where I’m really not sure it’s my memory or not. (Pause. Painfully) It sucks.
P: Ok. (Can tell how hurt she is) I won’t tell that story anymore.
M: I’m just...I’d just prefer...Thank you. I don’t know why I’m so sensitive about it all of a sudden, but seriously, you don’t know what it’s like. I can see my hand on that car. I can hear the organ music. I could have sworn I was there.
P: (Lovingly) Well you do tell it well. You’d have me convinced.
M: Yeah, cause it’s your story! (Peter leans in to hug Megan). Should sound familiar. (They laugh together gently).
P: Probably just told it so well I made you think you were there (He flashes a charming smile)
M: (Pause) I’ve got the rest of this. Why don’t you head up? I know it’s a big day for you tomorrow.
M: Yeah, I’ll be up in 10. (Waves him out, but doesn’t get up to return to dishes. Smile drops from her face after he leaves. She looks lost in thought as the lights fade).
By Miki Hamstra
A woman in her 40s is deep in conversation with the person next to her on the bus who seems to be politely listening while also trying to read a book.
“At first it was sweet. Almost funny really. We’d joke about keeping an eye on your wine glass when we’d all get together. I swear she probably drank four different glasses one night. Thinking they were all hers and smiling like she didn’t have a care in the world. Bebop dancing in between each one as sweet as can be. Listening to some soundtrack in her head while the rest of us barely knew what was happening. Or coming - for that matter.
Do you know she even started following people out of the grocery store? Not any people really - she was drawn to babies. It’s like they were magnetic - she could feel their pull from any place in the store. She’d make some small talk with the moms and then offer to help them out. I legit loved that stage the best. Sure you had to keep an eye on her and feared silver alert cause you know she’d for sure get in their cars if they asked, but she was so freaking sweet. It’s like it brought out the core of her personality. I could take it then. I really could. Even if I knew she was faking it - pretending she knew me. (Nods head softly while reminiscing) like all that God-given sweetness was just bursting to come out in any way it could.
It’s not like I’m walking into churches on a weekday or anything. (Laughs) She really did that too - ended up sitting down at some staff meeting unannounced (laughs). I would have paid to see the look on their faces! Do you know that they just kept going with the meeting? They could tell she had no idea where she was or why she was there. Seriously. She probably sat there smiling and nodding the whole time, giving some much needed encouragement to some well-intentioned, underfunded ministry. Spreading unadulterated love to complete strangers. God, she was real good at that.
(In quieter, more serious tones as if confessing). But mine seems a bit more nefarious. Like I’m stealing others’ memories and claiming them as my own. I swear when I’m recalling them, it’s like I was there. I can see my hand on that blue car as bright as day. I can feel the tinge of the sunburn on my skin. I can hear that organ music and see the way spittle formed in the corners of his mouth when he was trying to soothe me.
I know you probably think I’m crazy (laughs) and maybe I am, but I’m telling you - it’s not like you think it is gonna be. It’s not like you wake up one day in your 80s after you’ve had a fine life and it’s ok to lose your mind a bit. You’ve already got years of good memories stored up in there that you can just cycle through at your leisure. Pick and choose, you know? No, that is not how it works at all. The brain’s a fickle friend. She knows just what details to sprinkle in - strong scents, the taste of marinara on your tongue to make you believe that you were really there, eating that pasta during that dinner when you received that horrible news. Did you know taste is a strong emotional memory? That’s why you can often remember what you were eating when something traumatic happens.
No, in my case I just seem to steal others memories. I know. Crazy, right? I figure whoever told me the story must have told it with such vivid detail that I just made it my own. My brain adds in some missing details - like dates, who I was with - enough to make me take it - hook, line, and sinker. Funny? Maybe at first, but actually pretty embarrassing...now. I’m never sure when I start a story if it’s actually mine or not. I had to stop telling stories. I tried a trick for awhile - starting with “I read this story once...” but then I told someone their own story. I was real good at laughing it off, pretending I did it on purpose. But seriously. I can see the way they have started to look at each other when they think I’m not looking. Already unspoken conversations between them. Conversations I was a part of before.
So here I’ve done it again. You’re a complete stranger. (Laughs) And here I am talking your ear off, telling you my life stories - at least I think they’re mine (hard laugh). What do you care? (Finally gives up on the old man who is clearly not listening)
Well I hope she’s at least enjoying this up there. (Turns head to sky) at least I come by it honestly, Grand-mère.
Thanks. It’s been real.”
By Greg Troxell
I wish I had the nerve to leave. I’d go
where you might least suppose:
down to the lake, to see the dragonflies--
(No, damselflies. Don’t you ever listen?)
down to the lake, to see the dragonflies,
opaline sparklers dancing in the reeds.
I wish I had the heart to leave. I’d see
you padding round the house
in slippered feet and dirty robe, afraid--
(Diana! How long till dinner?)
in slippered feet and dirty robe, afraid
I’ve left you nothing much to eat.
And if I find a way to leave, I think
our world will not abruptly end,
though amends will surely come--
(But I love you? Where will you go?)
though amends will surely come, too late
to seize this precious solitude.
What lies before me now, I see
is nothing, far away; it’s what we’ve left
behind, instead, that occupies my mind
this independence day.
by Shelby Lewis
KNOWS this is all their fault...
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