Excerpts from Drake's Drum
Sharp light on figures in limbo.
I am a footnote in history.
My history. The triumph of faith and enterprise.
One cloud in a blazing sky.
Black. Sound of jazz on a car radio, its reception breaking up. The headlights flare then dim. Marcie, a woman in her mid-fifties, is driving.
Rest stop forty miles. Stay awake. Stay awake, Marcie. You hear me, girl? God, I hate the I-5.
No you don’t. You made the choice to drive instead of fly. Attitude adjustment: God, I love the I-5!
I need some French fries.
Unshackle Sir Thomas. This is a friendly repast.
Doughty stretches his arms free.
Thank you for accepting my invitation.
The summons of a captain is not to be dismissed.
Or a friend’s.
Perhaps not a friend. Friendship is fleeting in this age. A comrade in arms. Those who have killed Irish together form a bond. Irishmen are mad quarry.
Elizabeth raises glasses to observe them.
Should I feel more honored to dine with a captain? Or you, to share the company of a gentleman?
Let us both feel honored. I commend this dish to whet the appetite.
He ceremoniously offers a fast-food container of French fries. Doughty tastes, then takes another.
A native delicacy. I will not say what it is. If I did, you would spew.
The aboriginals of Africa and America have much to teach us. Their souls are damned, but they are human, I truly believe it.
The question is, are we?
By God’s Grace.
I learned much from my youthful days on slave ships. I spoke with a blackamoor who told of a village where music was made by chimes, great echoing chimes. It might seem hellish to us, a pandemonic cacophony, but to them it was voices from God.
One day their chimes were gone. They had been sold for strings of beads. We had taught them buying and selling, you see, and so they had sold their god.
But here is the comical thing. They did not see that buying and selling were real. They saw it as borrowing: our child goes to live in your house, and yours in mine, and then they return. Their chimes did not return.
Did you copulate with their females?
I had hoped for a pleasant meal.
Will you be present? At my demise?
I should like to ask one favor.
Spare my life.
Silence. He smiles.
Whimsy. I should have said, prior to my death, allow me privacy to relieve myself. We are but clay. I was present when Norfolk went to the block. He befouled the festivities.
Well Francis, I have puzzled. What does he want of me? He is not a man for diversions. What is in his mind?
Nostalgia, perhaps, when we shared a campfire in the wilds of Ireland and bathed in the icy rivers to wash out the stench of blood. Oh for our days of friendship, slaughtering Irish.
Forgiveness? But the man never questions his virtue.
Or I thought, approaching the Straits of Magellan you might doubt you stood high enough in the Grace of God to assure safe passage. You seek the help of magic. There being rumors of my traffic with darker powers. Yes?
Perhaps you wish to flaunt your magnanimity: you bear me no ill will for slaying me. Friendship still, though I can hear your voice once the ax has fallen—
“Thus die all traitors.” You know me well enough.
I have it: You are curious to know if I am guilty. Which concerned you very little at the trial.
Headlights flare. Marcie pulls out from the rest stop.
She picks up her cell phone, punches a number.
Great thing about telephones is nobody answers.
Hi, sweetheart, this is your mom. You said you’re gone this week, but I just felt like calling, say I love you. I’m halfway to LA, driving down this time. Talking on the cell phone, which I know I shouldn’t be doing, but I’m trying to stay awake. Listening to books on tape about all the heroes over the centuries who made us what we are. And thinking about my insignificant little life.
So I’m coming back on Thursday, I could stop through Oakland if you’re back yet, so lemme know. Tell Raven that her grandma called and really loves her, and I’ll tell her a story when I see her. Love you, Jo. Bye.
} I give up. I’m asleep, and I’m having this horrible nightmare that this is the Twenty-first Century.
She punches the cassette. Music. Focus on Elizabeth.
I am troubled, my lords.
We twist the tail of the Spanish bull. We sport with fire.
We tend the balance of trade and suckle the ravenous babe of the Royal Exchequer. Daily we foil the blade of conspiracy.
We dance the quadrille of queenship.
“I am troubled, my lords...”
Will it be said, next millennium, she was a great queen, but lacking, this queen whose starched ruff cuts the head from the body.
This fetid virgin. This monster of virtue. This salt fish.
Five minutes of the news does that for me.
Trapped in the daily tedium of state, the placement of furniture, the endless march of kingship, queenship, ship of state, ship of death, ship of fools.
I combat a tyranny, perhaps to supplant it with a more enlightened tyranny, and promote the true religion of our merciful and loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with blood.
Blood in the Lowlands, blood in the New World, blood in the sea, blood one day across the skies.
You nailed it.
And beheadings to attend to. Political expediency. My own mother was but one on the list of the beheaded. I must not fault my father for it. Beheading, perhaps, is good for the soul.
Yet it blurs our vision.
A vision dimly glimpsed as a girl among the greenery.
Our poets envision new worlds, worlds ungoverned by plague, by war, by death, by gold. Worlds of passion, rivers, wonder.
A world deep-rooted. Should I not glim this world, and bend my armies to its birthing?
Armies as midwives. . .
Imagine a queen presiding over a world without nightmares, a world of love, where no mothers are beheaded—
A world where a woman might rule and still be a woman—
A world where a child is conceived, engendered, and born, and lives in joy—
A world where all men remember their suckling at a breast, and that is communion.
A world at peace. A world in blossom, not blood.
Could I please have a piece of that pizza?
Drake rises to give her a piece. They look at each other a moment, puzzled, then he returns to his seat. Marcie punches the cassette.
Have you requests that I in conscience can fulfill?
I should like—
A drum at my execution. The roll of a drum. A drum’s tattoo.
And I would have you keep this drum, perhaps hang it on the wall of some fine house that your fortune brings you to, that my death not be lost in your memory as you ascend the heights.
I should like to be remembered by you, Francis. And on this condition, I shall repent all, and my soul be saved.
It shall be so.
He brings forth a drum as Marcie speaks.
“Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,
Strike et when your powder’s runnin’ low;
If the Dons sight Devon, I’ll quit the port o’ Heaven,
An’ drum them up the Channel as we drummed them long ago."
Doughty steps forward, addressing all.
My comrades, all.
I ask your forgiveness. I ask blessings upon your voyage.
I heartily ask remission of my sins, and punishment proper to them. I ask that my friends be forgiven.
And I ask that all loyalty be given, all heed be paid, to our good captain, in whom lies all your hope. I ask blessing upon him, and absolution for my soul.
Your voyage, of which I may not partake, is sacred. It will transform this world, this veil of tears, into something . . . undreamed of.
He kneels, tips his head sideways. Drake signals. Drum roll. Elizabeth flicks her fan with a sharp crack.
(mouthing silently) Thus die all traitors.
Doughty looks around, confused.
Death is a confusion.
I’ve always imagined that the dying are present at their dying, but at a distance. They’re somewhere at the edge of the crowd, trying to get a better view, they can only hear the choking, then the calm.
They look around, they can’t remember names, they hear someone reciting a poem they learned in school. They call out for their mother, any woman who might be their mother, and they wait for their mother to find them.
He approaches the Pachamama, disappears.