The Noble Animal*

(This short ten-minute play was written in 2016 for the Five and Dime Drama Collective in Eureka Springs, AR. Jocelyn Morelli played the part of the Police Officer and Ed Bibber played the Homeless Veteran. The play was written to call attention to the acknowledgement of the Department of Veteran Affairs announcement that over 100,000 Vets are homeless on any given night.)

Characters:

Police Officer
Homeless Veteran

Setting:

Anytown USA

(The stage is dark. First lights to appear are flashing blue. Then lights slowly come up, but remain dim. There is a pile of rags on the floor which appears to be human. The police officer (P.O.) walks up speaking into his radio.)

P.O.: Roger that…this is Officer three-two-two. I am preparing to Investigate a possible ten- sixty-six. (P.O. walks around rags, then nudges the pile with the toe of his boot.) Rise and shine you stinking pile of crap!

Vet: What the fuck is up with you, man? You better be waking me up for a good reason. (The pile stirs and comes to a sitting position). Oh, shit Officer, I’m sorry, I mean I didn’t know it was the police.

P.O.: What in God’s name are you doing out here on a night this cold… We have a
Homeless Shelter not two blocks from here.

Vet: Yeah, I know but I can’t stand it there. Too many rules…just way too many rules.

P.O.: Oh, so you had rather sleep out in the cold and possibly freeze to death, rather thana nice warm shelter…because you don’t like rules? Hell, son, we all have rules to follow..or didn’t you learn that growin’ up?

Vet: Oh, yes sir (Ma'm), I learned all about rules when I was growing up. Some of them I had to learn the hard way. You know, like when a person is down you give them a helpin’ hand… oh and my very favorite… Never KICK a man when he’s down.

P.O.: Oh, so you wanna be a smart-ass vagrant? … Well, I thought we could do this the easy way, son. You know I’m looking at that arm patch you got on your jacket that says, ‘RECON.’ Were you in the Marine Corps?

Vet: What if I was, you gonna cut me a break?

P.O. I wouldn’t give a good goddamn if you was Commander-in-Chief, son…I would treat you the same damn way.

Vet: SO, everything is black and white for you, Officer?

P.O.: That’s right, rules are rules and we got a rule in this town that people can’t sleep out on the street. You should know about rules, son…you were a Marine, for crying out loud.

Vet: Yeah, I was a Marine…. And we had rules… Until we got to Afghanistan…then
all rules went out the window.

P.O.: Hell, son. That’s just war. There ain’t no rules in war… You survived, now
it’s time to get over it and get on with life…time to quit feelin’ sorry for yourself… Hell, you haven’t done anything that millions of other Americans haven’t done.

Vet: Oh, really? You know what I’ve done? Why don’t you tell me about the shit that I’ve seen.
(Vet rises from the ground, rags fall off)

P.O.: Easy now, son. (Officer places his hand on gun)… I appreciate your service, but…

Vet: But what? Now is the time to grow up? Get a job at Wally-mart’s and forget the shit that my brain won’t let me forget? I wish it were that easy Officer…I truly wish it were that easy. Believe me I’ve tried … more than once.

P.O.: I figure that everyone who has ever fought in a war has seen some bad things… Have you tried counseling… I hear the VA in this town has a great counseling service for returning Vets?

Vet: Yeah, well I went through their counseling program. You know what they told me? They said I needed to get a job and start acclimating myself back to being normal. Then they gave me a prescription … for when I started feelin’ angry or when I felt like the world was closing in on me. Pills to help me feel … happy. Can you imagine? Well, I walked around with this big shit-eatin’ grin on my face and belly full of pills for about a month … but the dreams never went away. And when I woke up in the middle of the night, with sweat pouring off of me … and this big dumb grin on my face … I threw those pills away. I decided that I didn’t want to forget about the horrors I experienced. I want to remember them. And if I want to live on the street and deal with my demons, then that should be my choice … don’t you think?

P.O.: Well, I don’t think livin’ on the street is gonna solve your problems, son. Don’t you ever think about your comrades in the Marines? How does livin’ on the street honor their service?

Vet: Honor? You want to talk to me about Honor? I will tell you about Honor … we were sent to a small village in Afghanistan on a routine patrol. We got word that an Al Queda operative was in the ‘ville. After a fast burner came in and dropped a five hundred pound bomb on the village, we did a sweep trying to find the Al Queda honcho. What we found were twenty-five dead school children … or at least what remained of them after a five- hundred pound bomb blew off their tiny arms and legs. So … accident of war, right? Collateral Damage, okay? Then we received word to leave no witnesses. We Did Not Leave Anyone Alive. Military justice right? … Swift and quick. So, you tell me … did I perform Honorably?

P.O.: That’s awful, son … truly awful … But, you are still here, if nothing else try to live your life so that you honor those children and the other causalities of that war.

Vet: I think about them each and every day … I think about them when I wake up … and I think about them when I go to sleep at night. I dream of them in my sleep. It’s like a bad movie clip that keeps playing over and over. And I wonder how can I honor those that I have so terribly dishonored? So, if you don’t mind I’m very tired … I think I am going to lay back down now, Officer, unless of course, you might know some remedy to take away my memories? But then, without my memories I wouldn’t be me, now would I? I just want to rest officer.

P.O.: I told you, son, I can’t let you do that … It’s either the Homeless Shelter or Jail … now, what’s it going to be?

Vet: Neither one …
(Vet attacks the Police Officer and grabs for his gun…gun comes out of the holster…Vet has Police Officer’s hand in the air…Lights dim…you can barely see scuffling on the stage…lights out…then one shot is heard. End)

”At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”  Aristotle

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About the Author

Charles Templeton is the author of the award winning, bestselling novel, Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam. When Charles isn’t busy working on his next historical fiction novel, he serves on the Board of the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow, a writers’ retreat in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Charles also serves as the Acquisitions Editor for the Colony’s online literary magazine, eMerge.

Charles Templeton
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