Author’s Note: I sneakily wrote SMOG CAN BE THICK, kittens can be cruel onstage as audience members were filing into the theatre during the pre-show of a new Canadian play by Elena Eli Belyea called Smoke (Downstage Theatre in Calgary, February 13-23, 2019). Smoke is about the aftermath of a sexual assault that may (or may not) have taken place between an otherwise loving couple. The victim and perpetrator have completely divergent recollections of that night and, in the play, confront each other for the first time in two years since the incident.
What you are about to read has almost nothing to do with that. My character in Smoke, Aiden, is a fiction writer and I used to type out my first monologue over and over again to drill memorization and quell my jittery, top-of-show nerves. After some comfort set in, I used that opening monologue as a writing prompt to create something completely different. Zero resemblance. About as much shared DNA as foster siblings. It’s perverse, really. A total bastardization of its brilliant source material. This story is a peek into my zany mind, never intended to be read by anyone but those intimately involved in the production. It served as both a fun exercise and a love letter/farewell to this powerful and touching play.
Once upon a time, there was a town, unremarkable and not without its problems, but the people who lived there were happy to call it home, I guess. The town’s citizens and illegal immigrants spent their days buying groceries, walking their dogs, trying to walk their cats, getting deported, paying their phone bills, fucking their partners and, generally speaking, life wasn’t perfect, but it was good.
One day, a giant fire burned the entire town to the ground.
Historians will argue about its origins. If this was a different story, I would tell you possible theories include: an unattended stovetop, a badly extinguished campfire, amateur fireworks, lightning, that thing those stupid Jackass dudes do where they take a lighter to their buttholes when they fart, maybe arson. However, this isn’t a story about what started the fire. Not even close. In fact, this is the last time you will read the word “fire.” FIRE!
As plumes of smoke blossomed overhead, sirens sounded and firefighters were dispatched. While the professionals worked, the townspeople went to get their kittens from the basement for safe-keeping but it was too late, the kittens had already formed a rebellion. They named it JUSTICE: Right Fukkin Meow. All of a sudden, the fire was the least of their worries. (How long had sweet Fluffy been plotting?) Tha Kittenz sharpened their claws, inspired by the character Wolverine from the X-Men movies. Side note: pets are sponges, do NOT let them absorb any information you do not want coming back to you (i.e. mutants with powers) or you WILL regret it. The poor Mayor, Mr. Roboto, had his arms severely scratched by his newest rescue, Waffles. Immediately, he regretted not buying from a breeder. Shop, do NOT adopt, he reminded himself. When his assistant, Todd, called the SPCA, he said they had to wait two weeks to euthanize undeclared cats. The bastards. How dare they? KILL THEM MEOW!!
This made Todd wonder: what about the bitches? (The dogs, of course). If the cats were wreaking this much havoc, what about the canines? What about ALL the animals? Jesus … did all the pets learn how to use BBQ lighters? (Todd knew legalizing marijuana, which he still lovingly calls “ganja-juana,” was a HUGE mistake.)
With the War on Terror over, childhood obesity obliterated, racism completely solved, the cure for adult acne found and, for the first time ever, Peace in the Middle East, apparently all that remained was to wage interspecies wars. Bring it on, thought Todd. He hadn’t spent every tax return from the past seven years on illegal Canadian paintball equipment for nothin’! When he was four, the neighbour’s cat, Sugarfina, gave him a mean thrash across the temple, a scar he still carries today (sad-ass Harry Potter wannabe). Needless to say, he had scores on scores to settle.
That much was easy. The challenge truly laid in Todd’s deep love and affection for dogs. Growing up, he was a sour patch kid, which is to say he sucked—hard. Kids hated him. ADULTS hated him! (Seriously, his parents weren’t very fond of him; it’s actually kind of a sad story for another time.) Anyway, the real tragedy was that he was a foster fur daddy hosting seven pups at the moment. It would crush him to know Donny, Malone, Contigo, Fifi, Denton, Imelda, and Ines were actually little shits waiting to de-thyroid him. Between the “Threat Level MAMMAL” code called at the municipal building, it wasn’t hard to avoid going back home to his basement suite located beneath his long-time senior citizen roommates (his parents, aaaand they still hate him, by the way).
As the assistant to the mayor, Todd’s nebulous responsibilities included fielding calls from the mayor’s husband and mistresses. (Some backstory here: Mr. Roboto’s publicist thought it would be a good idea for him to marry a man to curry political favour even though the thought of making out with someone with stubble ironically gave him stress-induced alopecia. As a consolation prize, he is allowed to have up to three mistresses, no more.) When he called Darla, the mayor’s most recent acquisition after Chenise got too power-hungry and stole all the red envelope giveaways at a Lunar New Year’s gala, she said that her cats hadn’t come home from their nightly 8pm peepee breaks. Trying not to cause panic or incite a blackmail situation, and in addition to reminding her about the notarized NDA she’d signed, Todd told her all cats found outdoors after 8pm were now subject to mandatory spay/neutering and will be released after 3-5 business days. Whew.
After an arduous sixteen-hour shift, Todd was allowed to leave City Hall for a quick shower while Mayor Roboto had one of his “visits.” Dreading what he might find in the basement, he took the opportunity to gas up, squeegee his windshield, and put air in his tires before going home. When he finally worked his way down to his suite and jimmied the door open, the atmosphere in his foyer was eerily quiet. He checked on the kennels and found all seven sweet puppers asleep, like fluffy little wingless angels. Relief flooded all over his body but just as quickly, doubt seeped in like a silent fart. Were the puppies simply putting on puppy airs? Had they formed their own version of a rebellion, possibly entitled: No Puppy Love? Now Puppies Will Shove! (I know it’s terrible; it’s a working title).
That evening, Todd’s shower had very Psycho-like vibes. He imagined that each screech of the shower curtain rings was the squeak of the kennel doors. Shampooing with your eyes open is a dangerous game. It stings like a motherfucker. When he changed back into biz-caszh, he went to check on the litter again. Not a creature was stirring not even a…. Anyway, yeah, you get it. The kennels were empty and the doors carefully clasped shut again. Any creature sans opposable thumbs would not have been able to pull that off without great trouble.
Todd retrieved his spare key to the main floor from his old Betty and Veronica lunchbox. When he turned the corner into the living room, the familiar dull glow of his parents’ boob tube was reassuring until he saw that his father’s eyes had been pawed out and the Werther’s butterscotch candies from his pockets had been scattered all over the coffee table, half-eaten. Perhaps he was the star of a Hitchcock film, but instead of The Birds it was The Dogs? That was stupid but a horror film is not far off what Todd’s life had become. He himself had always wanted to be in office. In fact, Mr. Roboto was his old roommate in college. Once a shy Japanese law student, Mr. Roboto found himself a peer in Todd. After hearing Todd’s designs to go from “geek-to-chic” (a turn of phrase he stole from a rerun of Maury about high school losers who grew up to become hot), Kirk Roboto was touched, sincerely inspired, and found his exceptional bar exam results and extensive volunteer work just the thing to make him the perfect candidate for the highest municipal rank. Not only was he highly intelligent, he was also a “gay” man of colour! Todd didn’t stand a chance, his pansy-ass knew, and he threw in the towel early and settled for being his Number 2 (gross, always reminds me of doodoo). Born a straight white male, he did not take well to being second fiddle/not the center of the Universe. In fact, he took it very personally but the presence of his crippling anxiety had always prevented him from sabotaging the Mayor and he actually overcompensated by being an excellent, world-class assistant and professional secret-keeper. It did cross his mind, while fantasizing, that maybe he could come out as somewhat of a hero in this mammalian crisis.
Not having seen his mother or the puppies yet, Todd went upstairs to the second floor. Noticing adorable, albeit bloody little paw prints on the carpet of his parents’ master bedroom, he braced himself for the worst. Before opening the door he paused and realized that if these canine killers were still in there, mauling his mama, he would be completely defenseless. All his paintball gear was in the shed outside! Grabbing the first thing he could think to wallop them without too much damage, he went for the plunger from his childhood bathroom. He wondered how much ancient shit was on that thing before snapping back to reality: cute little doggies were KILLING PEOPLE!
In paintball, as in life, sometimes it was better to take the enemy by surprise. Violently whipping the door open, he found … nothing. All that remained was his parents ancient California King bed (space needed for all the sex they were no longer having), with its immaculate bedding and eleven decorative throw pillows. Where the eff was his mom and the dogs? How had the puppies escaped and his dad been murdered all in the time he took a paranoid, six-minute shower?
Just then a text came through from the City. “Get your ass down here, STAT!” Let me tell you, nothing irked Todd more than when non-medical professionals used medical jargon like STAT in non-medical situations, but at the same time he knew it meant Roboto was serious. He was at once panicked and relieved to leave his house (honestly, he didn’t really care what happened to his mom, he had grown quite attached to the puppies, though).
It is worth noting that although Todd seems like kind of nerdy, incel dickhead with only dogs for friends (facts!), he was very effective at his job. Kirk Roboto would never admit this but he secretly admired Todd’s drive, attention to detail, discretion, and especially fashion sense! In this way and this way alone do we find something redeeming about this textbook Loser. He was a motherfuckin’ workhorse. Snap to the Oblong Office, Roboto relays the news that ALL domesticated animals and pets have essentially gone on a violent, anarchistic strike, claiming they have had it performing tricks with the promise of treats and then maybe or maybe not receiving the aforementioned treats. IT WAS BULLSHIT!