A Thief in the Night: A Creative Sketch

As promised, here’s one final, random piece of creative writing before TMTF reverts to being merely a blog about stuff. Enjoy!

Characters: Thief, Lady, Chief of Police, Officer Thompson, Officer Sharp

Scene: The stage is arranged as a living room. Three doors lead offstage: the front door, the bathroom door and the bedroom door. Two armchairs face each other across a coffee table. A telephone stands on a side table. The walls are hung with paintings.

The curtain rises, revealing a dark living room. The front door opens slowly. A man in black clothes and a ski mask enters, turns on a flashlight and begins rummaging through the objects in the room. A minute goes by. The bedroom room door opens slightly and someone peers out. Then the bedroom door is flung open. Clutching a pistol, a lady in pajamas leaps out and slaps a switch on the wall, flooding the stage with light. The lady points her pistol at the thief.

LADY: Stop or I’ll shoot!

THIEF: Fine, you got me. You can put away the gun, lady. I’m not going anywhere.

LADY: [Sidling toward the telephone] Put your hands up and don’t try anything funny.

THIEF: All right, my hands are up. I’m not going anywhere. Geez. Go ahead and call the police.

LADY: Sit down in that chair where I can see you. [Thief sits down. Lady dials a number and speaks into the phone, keeping the pistol pointed at Thief] Yes, this is an emergency.

THIEF: Ah, such melodrama.

LADY: I caught a thief. I’m pointing a gun at him. He’s sitting in my living room—

THIEF: And cringing at the indignity of being held hostage by a woman in pajamas.

LADY: No, I won’t go near him. I don’t think he’ll try anything while he’s got a gun pointed at him anyway. My name? Christina Elbow. My address is fourteen-fourteen Cherry Road, Goshen. Yes, it’s pretty far from town. Please hurry. I think I’ll be okay, but I’m—I’m—

THIEF: Stammering awkwardly? Verging on hysteria?

LADY: Yes, I’m scared. Come as quickly as you can. No, I’ll be fine. You don’t have to stay on the line. Just hurry. All right. See you soon. [Puts down telephone, slowly moves to the chair across from Thief and points pistol at him with both hands]

THIEF: So I guess it’s just you and me for a while, huh? [Pause] You have a nice place. It was hard to appreciate in the dark, but you’ve done a good job decorating. Except for the pictures. No offense, but they’re kind of ugly. [Pause] Will you put down the gun already?

LADY: Forget it.

THIEF: Don’t tell me you’re going to make me sit and stare at these hideous paintings till the police get here. May I have a magazine?

LADY: Shut up and sit!

THIEF: I need to go to the bathroom.

LADY: Hold it.

THIEF: I really need to go.

LADY: Hold it!

THIEF: You’re cruel, lady.

LADY: Sit still and be quiet or I’ll shoot.

THIEF: People have accidents when they’re nervous, lady. Threatening me with death might not be a good idea.

LADY: Fine. The bathroom is through that door. I’ll let you go on one condition.

THIEF: Anything.

LADY: You keep the door open.

THIEF: That’s disgusting. No way, lady.

LADY: Then you stay right there in that chair.

THIEF: Are you afraid I’ll escape?

LADY: That bathroom has no windows.

THIEF: Then what’s the problem?

LADY: I’m not letting you out of my sight. You might have a knife in your shoe or a derringer up your sleeve—

THIEF: Or a shotgun stuffed down each pant leg? You’ve seen too many police movies, lady. [Empties pockets] My pockets are empty, see? [Takes off ski mask] There’s nothing in my mask, either. Please don’t make me take off the rest of my clothes. That’s not a sight you want to see. [Pause] Come on, lady, do I look like a desperate murderer? Please let me use your bathroom.

LADY: I don’t trust you.

THIEF: Look, you can point your silly gun at the bathroom door till I come out.

LADY: What if you don’t come out?

THIEF: Then the police break into the bathroom when they arrive. I hope that doesn’t happen, though. Getting caught is embarrassing. Getting caught in the bathroom—I’d never live it down.

LADY: Fine. You have five minutes. Then I start shooting through the door.

THIEF: You can stop making threats, lady. Have I threatened you even once? Geez, anyone would think you were the criminal here.

LADY: Just go already. [Thief enters the bathroom and closes the door. Lady points the pistol at the door. After a long pause, she begins talking quietly to herself] What a jerk! He breaks into my house and then whines about everything as if he were the victim. He keeps making fun of me, too. I can’t believe he said my paintings were hideous. He has no appreciation for art. Unless—no, don’t let him get to you, Christina. He’s a criminal with no taste. [As she thinks aloud, Lady gradually lowers the pistol] Maybe he’s right. My paintings won’t sell. Maybe they are hideous. It’s like the story of the emperor’s new clothes. It was rude for that boy to yell, ‘The emperor isn’t wearing anything,’ but it was true. [Thief slowly opens bathroom door as Lady talks to herself] I’ve wanted some blunt criticism. Maybe this is it. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the only honest critique of my paintings came from a criminal? Face it, Christina. You need to get a real job.

THIEF: You should also think about getting a better grip on your gun.

LADY: [Pointing the pistol at Thief] Don’t startle me like that! What took you so long?

THIEF: Are you sure you want to know?

LADY: Sit down and be quiet. [Thief sits down. Lady takes the other chair, keeping the pistol pointed at him]

THIEF: Listen, lady, I’m not a good judge of art.

LADY: What?

THIEF: I have no taste for art, all right? I’ve never liked it. It drove me crazy when my college professors dragged me to art museums and made me look at paintings of acid trips and sculptures of decapitated nudes.

LADY: You went to college?

THIEF: Yup. Graduated summa cum laude.

LADY: You’re lying. What college?

THIEF: Harvard.

LADY: You’re definitely lying. What did you study?

THIEF: Poetry.

LADY: You expect me to believe you studied poetry at Harvard and graduated summa cum laude?

THIEF: I really don’t care what you believe, lady. I just want you to know I don’t have any appreciation for the visual arts. I’m sorry I insulted your paintings.

LADY: Forget it.

THIEF: I can’t say I like your paintings—frankly, I think they’re ugly—but they remind me of the ones I’ve seen in museums. Those museum paintings are the best of the best, so yours can’t be too bad.

LADY: If you’re trying to flatter me, you’re not doing a very good job.

THIEF: Fine, I’ll stop. I just wanted you to know I didn’t mean to insult your work. Don’t give up painting just because one person made a rude remark.

LADY: That’s not it. I wouldn’t quit for something so trivial.

THIEF: Then why?

LADY: Why should I tell you?

THIEF: Do you have anyone else to tell?

LADY: [Pause] I’m nearly broke. I sell my paintings, but I make hardly enough to cover rent and groceries. It’s only a matter of time before something breaks or I get sick, and then I’ll be destitute. What are you smiling about? This isn’t funny.

THIEF: I’m sorry—really. You reminded me of something, that’s all. So you don’t have much of an income?

LADY: I guess you picked the wrong house to rob.

THIEF: You think I broke in to steal your money? No, I was after your underwear.

LADY: [Outraged] What?

THIEF: I’m joking! Joking! Please don’t shoot me. I have no interest in your underclothes, I promise. Your jewelry is another matter. Do you have any?

LADY: None. Why did you choose to rob this house, anyway?

THIEF: It seemed convenient. The nearest town isn’t very near. Your garage was empty, so I assumed nobody was home.

LADY: I park out back.

THIEF: In that creepy grove of trees? No wonder I didn’t see it.

LADY: How did you get into the house?

THIEF: Let me teach you a life lesson, lady. Never hide your key under the doormat.

LADY: May I ask you another question?

THIEF: Sure, on one condition.

LADY: What?

THIEF: You put away the gun.

LADY: I still don’t trust you.

THIEF: Has it occurred to you that I might feel nervous with you pointing that thing at me? I’m afraid you’ll set it off by accident.

LADY: All right, I’ll put it down. But if you make one suspicious move—

THIEF: I got it the first time, lady.

LADY: Now may I ask that question?

THIEF: Ask away.

LADY: If you graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, why are you robbing houses? Shouldn’t you be writing books or something?

THIEF: I tried, lady. [Pause] You know, I’m curious to take a closer look at your paintings. Do you mind?

LADY: Go ahead, but I’m keeping my eyes on you. Damage any of my paintings and you’ll be sorry.

THIEF: [Rising from his chair and examining the nearest painting] What’s this one called?

LADY: Dreams.

THIEF: It looks more like a woman on a flying horse.

LADY: I had a dream in which I was riding a white horse galloping across the sky.

THIEF: That’s weird, lady. You’re lucky I’m not a psychoanalyst. [Moving to the next painting] What about this one? The one of the girl and the mirror?

LADY: That’s Delusions of Grandeur. I have a niece who dresses like a celebrity. I think she looks silly, so I painted a picture of a plain girl whose reflection is fashionable.

THIEF: You know, your paintings are growing on me. I wouldn’t want them in my apartment, but I’m beginning to think you’re on to something good.

LADY: I’m not letting you go, so it’s no use trying to sweet-talk me.

THIEF: I’m being serious, lady. [Returns to his chair and sits down] The police are taking their time, aren’t they?

LADY: I hope they get here soon.

THIEF: And cut short our blossoming friendship? You’re cold, lady.

LADY: May I ask you another question?

THIEF: Sure.

LADY: What happened?

THIEF: You’re going to have to be a lot more specific than that.

LADY: You said you tried writing a book or something. What happened?

THIEF: I really did graduate from Harvard, lady. I wanted to be a poet. I wrote a million poems, but none of them got noticed. To make a very long story short, I tried a number of other jobs and finally settled on housebreaking.

LADY: You were a poet?

THIEF: I wore a beret and everything. Most of my poems are still rattling around in my head. In fact, you reminded me of one a few minutes ago. I called it “The Painter.” It’s not very good, to be honest. I wrote it in fifteen minutes one night after receiving a rejection letter from a publisher.

LADY: Let’s hear it.

THIEF: Right now? Well, I guess I shouldn’t argue with you as long as you’ve got that gun. All right, here goes. [Stands and paces the room, losing himself in his performance] Upon a mountain rising from the earth / a painter lived and labored for his art. / As day by day the shining clouds gave birth / to wind and rain, he sat alone, apart / from all the dust and heat of crowds below. / The markets, gardens, brothels held no charm / for him whose paints were dew and sun and snow, / whose only tools were brush and eye and arm. / But only angels can forever dwell / in heaven’s halls above the dull earth’s strife. / Although he tried, the man could never sell / the paintings into which he poured his life. / At last he perished, hungry and alone, / his paintings lost among the crumbling stone. [Sits in his armchair] Not a masterpiece, but did it ever feel good to write.

LADY: I liked it.

THIEF: Really? I thought you of all people would hate a poem about a painter failing.

LADY: It was inspiring.

THIEF: I hope it didn’t inspire you to quit.

LADY: No, it inspired me to keep trying. I’d rather die on a mountaintop than put up with dull earth’s strife, or whatever you said it was.

THIEF: Not bad, lady. [The front door bangs open. Officers Thompson and Sharp enter cautiously with guns raised. Chief of Police enters behind them] Geez, it’s about time you guys got here. [Thompson and Sharp approach Thief, who raises his hands, and handcuff him]

CHIEF: I’m sorry we took so long, Miss Elbow. I’m glad you’re not hurt. What happened?

LADY: I heard the thief from my bedroom, threatened him with a pistol—

THIEF: And annoyed him with a good deal of unnecessary melodrama.

THOMPSEN: Quiet, you.

LADY: Then I called the police and waited.

CHIEF: You were very brave, Miss Elbow. I know you’ve had a rough night, but I’m afraid you’ll have to come with us to the station. We need to take your statement. [Speaking to Thompson and Sharp] Take him to the car.

LADY: Wait. [Thompson and Sharp freeze. Thief looks up hopefully] Do either of you have a camera?

SHARP: Sure. Why do you ask?

LADY: Could I get a picture with the thief?

THOMPSON/SHARP/THIEF: You’re joking.

LADY: Well?

CHIEF: This isn’t a game, Miss Elbow. He’s a criminal. He could hurt you.

THIEF: In case you haven’t noticed, I’m handcuffed. I don’t mind having a photo taken if the lady insists. I promise not to bite anybody.

CHIEF: Miss Elbow, please be serious.

LADY: I am.

THIEF: I think she is being serious. She’s an artist. Artists think differently from sane, well-adjusted people.

LADY: Please?

CHIEF: Fine. One photo. [Lady poses beside one of her paintings and motions for the others to join her]

THIEF: What painting is this?

LADY: The Artist.

THOMPSON: A man stargazing in the desert. Bleak.

THIEF: Forget the desert, Officer. The artist doesn’t pay attention to the desert. Look where he’s looking. Look up at the sky. Look at those stars. [Pause] It’s perfect, lady.

Chief of Police takes the camera from Sharp. The rest pose in front of the painting. Thief gives the victory sign. Lady smiles. Thompson and Sharp grin sheepishly. Chief of Police takes the photo, then Thompson and Sharp lead Thief from the room, followed closely by Lady and Chief of Police. The curtain falls.


Author’s Note:

I was once involved in a production of “The Brute” by Anton Chekhov—some of my readers may remember That Time I Was Trapped in a Stage Kiss—which begins with a man and woman arguing and ends with them falling in love.

I wanted to write something similar: a one-act play in which a woman catches a thief in her house. As they wait for the police to arrive, they talk about their lives and eventually fall in love. That was the plan, anyway. In the end, this goofy little sketch went in quite a different direction. It became a dirge for every creative person who struggles to market his or her creativity.

I love being creative. I hate marketing. I love writing. I hate publishing. Although I’ve had the patient support of many people—my agent, my family and my college professors, to mention just a few—the process of marketing my writing has been tough. This short, silly sketch is my way of complaining.

2 thoughts on “A Thief in the Night: A Creative Sketch

  1. The minute I realized the female lead had a pistol, I had some lovely deja vu moments! The one-act is very nice, and conveniently avoids such minor complications as stage kisses 🙂 As always, it’s a pleasure to read your work.

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