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The Mystery at the Middle of Ordinary Life: A One-Minute Play
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The South Atlantic Quarterly 99.2/3 (2000) 601-603


EDITOR’S NOTE: In a letter to Frank Lentricchia, Don DeLillo wrote:

This is really 2 acts in 2 minutes.

It’s all in the playing of course but I think the 2nd part—the one-line exchanges—ought to be done without reference to the first part, as if the characters had completely forgotten the woman’s exfoliation of the state we call marriage.

A man and a woman in a room.

WOMAN I was thinking how strange it is.

MAN What?

WOMAN That people are able to live together. Days and nights and years. Five years go by. How do they do it? Ten, eleven, twelve years. Two people making one life. Sharing ten thousand meals. Talking to each other face to face, open face, like hot sandwiches. All the words that fill the house. What do people say over a lifetime? Trapped in each other’s syntax. The same voice. The droning tonal repetition. I’ll tell you something.

MAN You’ll tell me something.

WOMAN There’s a mystery here. The people behind the walls of the brown house next door. What do they say and how do they survive it? All that idle dialogue. The nasality. The banality. I was thinking how strange it is. How do they do it, night after night, all those nights, those words, those few who do it and survive?

MAN They make love. They make salads.

WOMAN But sooner or later they have to speak. This is what shatters the world. I mean isn’t it gradually shattering to sit and listen to the same person all the time, without reason or rhyme. Words that trail away. The pauses. The clauses. How many thousands of times can you look at the same drained face and watch the mouth begin to open? Everything’s been fine up to now. It is when they open their mouths. It is when they speak.


MAN I’m still not over this cold of mine.

WOMAN Take those things you take.

MAN The tablets.

WOMAN The caplets.


MAN Long day.

WOMAN Long day.

MAN A good night’s sleep.

WOMAN Long slow day.

Lights slowly down.


Don DeLillo is the author of twelve novels and two full-length stage plays. The playlet in this issue was originally written for a benefit evening at the American Repertory Theater.

Copyright © 2001 by Don DeLillo.


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