Natasha Naayem

A Shift in Attachment

Cast:  BOY ; SISTER ; KAREN, wife of PAUL ; RICHARD, husband of SUSANNE


Act I 

Beyond the garden, where two couples sit face-to-face under the arched shade of a parasol, is a pool. A young BOY is in that pool. Its blue is bright, primary, complete. The BOY is aware of a world, but it’s more the promise of a world in wavelengths and whispers and warmth. The warmth he can feel. It comes from out there and forms sails of the drapes that billow softly and slowly around him. His gaze floats up along the sails, meets the lazy ripples, the painter’s glaze. 

Thoughts project through the BOY’s mind: His mother KAREN. She puts flowers in see-through pots and smells of mandarin. His SISTER, whom he loves. And that means letting her have the last piece of lemon-meringue pie when she catches the flu. It means other things too: being splashed in art class with thick paint flung from a girl’s paintbrush. A large baseball glove. His father resting it firmly on his shoulder. Leaves that fall, that crackle like cereal, and which he jumps into once they’ve been collected by his father into big pyramid piles. The time he tried to tie his own shoe.  

The BOY is aware of depth and boundaries and surface, but delineation does not exist here. It is all washed out in blue. His arms make waving motion­s. They salute the environment that supports them. His legs, light, oscillating kites, follow suit. He could go this way or that way. He could go any way he wants. 

The adults drink their afternoon tea

RICHARD: These are lovely tulips, Karen. Did you get them from the market, or have you grown them yourself?

KAREN: I got them from the market.

PAUL: [He reaches for the sunscreen that has rolled near the vase and applies the paste to his already freckled nose. Residual sunscreen accumulates by one of his prominent beauty marks. SUSANNE can see this beauty mark, on the left side of PAUL’s cheek, but KAREN cannot.]  And how goes the poetry, Susanne?

RICHARD: She wrote a poem about the moon. [He shoos a fly that has landed on his hand.]

SUSANNE: Oh, you know, it’s only a class.

KAREN: I’m sure you’re very talented.

PAUL: I would love to read it –– when you feel it’s ready to be read.

RICHARD: [Motioning to PAUL.] You got a little something there.

PAUL wipes off the residual sunscreen. The fly buzzes away. 


Act II 

Against a black backdrop, the SISTER sits on a leather sofa. She is not young, nor is she old. Her childish features obfuscate her age. The SISTER faces outward. We do not know to whom she speaks.

SISTER: It’s like when you’re younger, and you find a salamander, and you see its face is slick, like a pebble fresh out of the pond. Except that there’s a slit –– maybe like the pebble was trying really hard to become two pebbles but couldn’t, or like two soap bubbles about to become one. Either way. You like its face. Its eyes seem to smile because it doesn’t have eyelids and cannot narrow them. And you’ll learn something, from your dad, say. About how the salamander can detach its tail if it’s being attacked. In your mind that tail will be like a wobbly finger. And you’ll think, wouldn’t it be convenient if my fingers could detach? So I wouldn’t have to hold that boy’s hand in line at school?

But when you’re older you think about how tail autonomy, a self-defense mechanism common among the caudate, is a romanticized term for amputation –– even if the process is beautiful, really, and deserving of a nice scientific name rather than one with a crude association to something severed. The tail breaks along fractured planes in the neural arch and vertebrae. The muscles in the tail contract. The blood vessels constrict. There is little to no blood loss –– which isn’t to say it doesn’t come at a cost. There is a depletion of resources. An increase in vulnerability. You know all that.

You also know that the salamander, like yourself, has trichromatic vision. Except that his extends into the ultraviolet range. So, how much wider is his rainbow? His photoreceptors are more porous to blue. And this allows him to spot his prey or signal to his partner. But people speak in color too: we blush, we ashen. Such diminutive responses to the spectrum of emotion. Which hues would surface then, if only, like the salamander, we had the sensitivity to see them?

A fly appears, buzzes around the SISTER, and lands on her arm. She smacks it. 



The promise is broken. The languid sails surrounding the BOY have turned to ghosts. Above, the ghosts’ heads tower and beyond, static hovers as a barbed net. The static sends down garbled signals. They roar through the BOY’s ears. He deflects his gaze downwards. There, a dark cold current lurks. 

Thoughts project through the BOY’s mind: His mother, storming out through the entrance door. A shattered picture frame sprawled across the floor. His SISTER’s sutured foot. A tiny sound deafening: his father piling up the shards in the trash that evening. That time in the beverage aisle of the supermarket. His eyes leveled with the third rack. Rows. Rows. Cranberry juice. Crates full of it. Shelves and more shelves. Aisles and aisles and aisles. He turns. They torpedo. He reaches for his SISTER or his mother or his father’s hand. 

The BOY registers a lack of place. A lack of top or bottom. His limbs, first frantic, retract from his surrounding. His arms close in on the only solid thing he has left.      

The adults drink their afternoon tea.

PAUL: And how goes the poetry, Susanne?

He would not be so encouraging with my wife, thinks RICHARD of PAUL, if he lived with a woman of Susanne’s temperament. She is always adrift. The burden is mine, thinks RICHARD. Paul does not know, and Susanne does not understand, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; she soars, I stiffen; my feet are heavy from the weight of Susanne’s wandering. I study the stars but I am present, when I am not working; I see the tulips Karen has placed with care, with purpose, on the center of the table.

RICHARD: She wrote a poem about the moon.

He says with derision, thinks SUSANNE. I can hear it in his pragmatic astronomer’s voice. Richard believes only in projections and formulae; numbers, not words. But I draw lines between what is too small to notice and too large to understand. I see in that sunscreen the obstructing clouds. I see the sun reflected in Paul’s prominent beauty mark. I see the greatest beauty in astrology: people inhabiting the world like snapshots at their instants of birth; the stars calked in freckles on our skin; the order, the chaos, of two naked worlds colliding.

SUSANNE: Oh, you know, it’s only a class.

KAREN: I’m sure you’re very talented.

For you are mysterious in ways that I am not, KAREN thinks. I am like these tulips I have purchased at the market, there, at the center of the table, for everyone to see. But my husband’s eyes escape me.

PAUL: I would love to read it –– when you feel it’s ready to be read.

And then we will become inextricably involved, Susanne and I, thinks PAUL, for when I read her writing I will face the expression of her ambition and it will surface mine.

RICHARD: You got a little something there.

But no, thinks PAUL, wiping the residual sunscreen, I will not sit down and let my words soak up my distinct impressions, whether I read Susanne’s poem or not. I have limited personal space, like this fly: there it is on the cusp of Susanne’s saucer, now back to Richard’s extended hand, now onto Karen’s upturned teaspoon. I waver and my words don’t anchor. Karen will say “Darling,” the kids will say “Dad,” and I will become Darling or Dad and not Paul. But Susanne is separate from the call of others; she is a stranger to the movements of the fly. And this I envy, and this I love.

Love, KAREN thinks, is always a gift. This is what I have told my children, to shield them from disappointment. It is offered like tulips, and the tulips are severed. But I will not tell them how the tulips, nurtured by water in the earnest palms of the vase, droop, suddenly, and rise again only under the assuring gaze of the sun. I rise and I fall, when my husband looks at me, and when he doesn’t. My center is made of fibers worn and I feel the tear, and I fear the snap: when I will be left, numb to his gaze, the warm and tender sun.

Although there is no flutter of summer breeze or the palpitating touch of another, the hairs –– fine subconscious filaments –– on the arms of the couples at the table rise in response to fear. 

The adults turn towards the pool.