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[Readings]

The Rival

Adjust

From the 1957 script “C’est Toi Alors: Scenario for Existing Props and French Cat,” in The Hipsters, a collection edited by Nile Southern, which will be published in May by ANTIBOOKCLUB.

A small apartment in late evening. A sensitive-looking young man sits at his desk scrutinizing the pages of a telephone directory. The soundtrack is a military march played very softly. The young man is wholly engrossed, but he suddenly starts, as if at a knock at the door. He half faces the door, frowning with annoyance, and then returns quickly to his “work” with the directory. After a few seconds he is startled again; then, with resolution and a grim smile, he gets up from the desk, crosses the room, and dons a U.S. Army helmet, which he carefully adjusts. He takes up a machete that stands in the corner of the room and retrieves a pistol from under the rug. He faces the door, holding the machete in his right hand and moving it in a narrow, menacing arc, while slowly taking aim with the pistol.

young man
Entrez donc!

His face grows tightly more resolute, then expresses consternation, which gradually relaxes to mild annoyance, as if he recognizes a harmless but boring visitor. He lowers the pistol and half turns away, as if to say, “So, it’s you again, is it?” It is a cat, which enters the room at a trot, as if on the way to food, but then sits down near the desk, to wait, and stares up expectantly at the young man.

He puts the pistol and machete on the desk, sits down, and resumes his “work,” turning the pages of the directory. He finds it difficult to concentrate, however, and it slowly dawns on him that the cat—who continues to stare—is up to something. He starts suddenly as though the cat had addressed him; then, with forced indifference, he turns and sits facing the cat in an attitude of listening—first expressing haughty amusement, then bland indifference, and finally blatant disbelief, at which point he brings his finger to just below his eye and stretches the eyelid down in the classic French gesture of incredulity. This is done emphatically, however, so that his finger slips and gives him a nasty cut below the eye. He does not realize it at first, but after a moment of smugness, he begins to act as though the cat were laughing at him and even calling his attention to the cut. He touches his face and looks at the blood on his hand.

young man (demanding)
Qui fait ca?

He turns and seizes a small mirror from the desk and examines his face minutely. He opens a drawer and takes out a Band-Aid, which he sticks under his eye. Then he examines himself again, touching his hand to his hair and smiling mechanically in the glass to see his teeth. Now, with the awareness of being watched, he slowly lowers the mirror, takes up the directory, and turns to face the cat—whom he regards with knowing suspicion. He resumes his scrutiny of the directory, which is now in his lap, glancing up from time to time to fix the cat with cold appraisal, exaggerated suspicion, and confidence (his eyes become mere slits past which the smoke of a cigarette rises). The cat remains impassive. After a moment, the young man becomes livid with anger and frustration.

young man (in a hiss of rage)
Je vous déteste!

He turns back to his desk and quickly flips over to the next page. He screams and recoils in horror, closing the book as he does as if to trap whatever is there inside, at the same time seizing the machete and plunging it into the closed directory. He slowly withdraws the machete with the page attached to the end of the blade, holding it out like a writhing snake.

close-up reveals it to be a photograph of a cat springing toward the camera. He crosses the room with it, quivering, holding it away from him, to the corner, where he takes it off the machete with his foot and slashes at it frantically. Visibly shaken, he slowly turns to face the cat on the floor.

young man (shouting)
C’est toi alors!

He leaps at the cat, holding the machete like a dagger. The cat jumps aside, and the young man grovels on the floor, kicking his feet like a child and plunging the blade repeatedly against the floor, his face buried in the rug.

young man (shrieking insanely)
C’est toi alors! C’est toi alors! C’est toi alors!

camera pulls up to show the cat sitting in the helmet, which spins slowly on the desk.

fade to black

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February 2021