Post Road Magazine #8

Scenes From the Life & Times of Little Billy Liver by Dennis DiClaudio

Characters:
Catherine Rogers: Billy's mother, a tired working class woman.
Burt “Big Cat” Carter: A lonely truck-driving man.
Mr. Gazarian: A kindly gas station owner.
Victor Greenman: A slick L.A. talent agent.
Deborah Leiberthal: An attractive Hollywood photographer and starfucker.
Kyle Mann: A small-time film actor, looking for his break.
Little Billy Liver: A liver.

Episode 1:
LITTLE BILLY LIVER, young, impressionable and eager, sits quietly in the kitchen, taking in the last moments of his boyhood, while his mother, CATHERINE ROGERS, sullenly watches the rain streak against the window pane.

CATHERINE: I suppose that I always knew that this day would come. Eventually. But, I never wanted to believe it. Belief is a funny thing, Billy. Like our hearts and our heads don't have to work together at the same time. Like they were never meant to. You can know a thing and not believe it. And you can believe something with all your heart and know at the same time that it isn't so. Like your heart and your head are fighting for your...your...your being. And the funny thing is that they're both right about half of the time.

When you were born, the doctors said you wouldn't live. You couldn't live. It was impossible. They knew. A person can't survive without a heart or a head, or lungs, kidneys, a pancreas, a stomach, a digestive tract, a nervous system, lungs, kidneys, a spinal chord, a nose, ears, lungs, legs, arms, fingers, skin. They said a baby born with just a liver had no chance for survival. They knew. They were men of intelligence. Of education, with their books and their stethoscopes and their diplomas on the wall. They knew. And I knew. I knew they were right. But I never believed them.

I always told you that you could do anything you wanted. I never wanted you to feel deprived of the opportunities that other children had. Or wanted you to think that the world was less wide for you. I told you that you were not less of a person than the boys who played football and climbed trees. What you lacked in extremities and organs, you more than made up for in potential. You were special. You are special. I believed it. And I know it. But, today, I wish I'd never told you.

(She breaks into tears.)
I'm sorry. Aren't I allowed to be a little selfish today? Can't I cry on the day that I lose my little boy? When you walk out that door, you're not a boy anymore. You're a man. I worked so hard so that this day could come, but now that it's here I wish it would never come. I wish that you would just stay my little boy.

(She regains her composure and places a suitcase by Billy's chair.)
I packed all of your things, or at least what you'll need. And I made you a lunch. (She tenderly wraps a scarf around Billy and places a rain cap on top of him.) There's five-hundred dollars in here. It's not much, but it will get you started. I've been putting away, little by little, for years. Because I knew this day would come. I knew.

(Black out.)

Episode 2:
Billy sits in the passenger seat of a large truck, travelling down a dark and lonely stretch of highway. BURT “BIG CAT” CARTER sits at the wheel.

BIG CAT: Burt Carter. Big Cat. You see? That's how I got the handle. Because of the initials. It's important for a man on the road to have a handle. Without a handle, a man's anonymous. And the one thing a man can't be is anonymous, not on the road. You go crazy. You sit inside yourself. This radio full of voices keeps you sane. It's just voices, but it keeps you sane.

You got a handle, kid? We should give you a handle. Let's see.

(He looks Billy up and down, sizing him up.)
You ain't too big, but that don't matter. Little something. No hair. Can't call you Little Blondy or Little Blacky. Already a Little Blacky, and you don't want his name. Fella outta Fresno. Stayed awake for eighty-nine hours on pills and coke and then crashed his rig into a battalion of boyscouts in the desert. Doing four-to-twelve in the house. Listen, you stay away from that stuff. That ain't nothing but trouble. Believe me. I seen it all. I seen it all. Or at least most of it.

A man sees a lot on the road. Sometimes the road is all a truck-driving man really knows. I sometimes liken myself to a lonely sailor out at sea. The road is the ocean, and this truck is my ship. The road is powerful strong. It's long and wide and stretches out as far as you can see. And when the sun rises over it, it looks like it's made of gold. A force of nature. It gives life and it takes it back. You gotta respect a force of nature. But, you gotta fear it at the same time. There are countless ghosts on this road, and you can hear them all through this radio. That's why a man needs a handle. So he can talk to the other ghosts.

(He slaps his hands together in revelation.)
Little Billy Liver! That's it! That's your handle! Little Billy Liver. Suits you, don't you think?

(They stare out at the road before them.)
Sure is nice to have someone to talk to.

(Black out.)

Episode 3:
Billy sits in the office of a dirty roadside gas station. His boss, MR. GAZARIAN, sits across from him.

MR. GAZARIAN: Sit down, Billy. Make yourself comfortable. Now, Billy, the reason I asked you in here is...Goddamnit, this is gonna be hard for me to say. I've always thought of you as a son, Billy. You know that. My own son, he died over there in the Gulf. It's a sad act of the world that he died defending the very oil that I made my living from. Distilled down to gasoline and pumped into the gas tanks of BMWs heading westward down the interstate. Stockbrokers on vacation, looking for America. They don't know America. You can look out your back door and see America.

(He brings his hand to his eyes to hide the tears.)
I knew this would be hard.

Billy, I'm going to have to let you go. Now, you know it's nothing personal. You know that. You're a hard worker. You do your best. You do your best. It's just not working out.

When you showed up at my station, a scruffy kid, covered in the dust of the road, looking for a place to spend the night, I could see a spark in your...Well, I could tell you had a fire in you. You were out looking for life, and you needed a break. So, I gave you a chance and a job, a cot in the back. 'Cause I wanted to help you to get to wherever it was that you were going. But, that was six months . . .

Goddamnit! A person needs arms and legs to pump gas! That's just the way it is. I don't make the rules.

It's not your fault. I always liked you, Billy. Like a son. I know it's not fair. But, who ever said that life is supposed to be fair, goddamnit?! You think I wanted to spend my Fourth of Julys laying flowers in a military graveyard? Is that fair?

I'm sorry. I guess what I'm getting at is, sometimes life has things planned for us and we can't get around them. Like, I was meant to sell gasoline to cityfolk on the interstate. And my boy was meant to die in some country that he'd never even heard of six months before. And you, you Billy, you were meant for something much much more. I don't know what life has waiting for you, but I know it's big. Bigger than sleeping in the stockroom of some sad old man's gas station.

The worst thing in the world is wasted life. And you've got so much life in you. You don't have to believe me, but I'm doing this for you.

I want you to pack up your things and leave. You're fired.

(Black out.)

Episode 4:
Billy sits with a shot and a beer in a small town honky-tonk. His guitar is at his side. VICTOR GREENMAN, in an expensive suit, clearly not dressed for this joint, approaches. Sad, drinking country music plays on the jukebox.

GREENMAN: Is this seat taken? Can I sit?

(He sits without waiting for a response.)
Can I buy you a drink? You okay? Okay, fine.

That was some performance. I'm really impressed. Really. Little Billy Liver. That's a catchy stage name. Would look real nice on a CD. I'm just speculating now. I mean, know no one really knows the industry. I mean knows knows the industry. Some people know better than others, but no one really knows.

(He extends his hand to Billy.)
Victor Greenman. I'm a talent agent. Los Angeles. That's the city of angels.

(Having received no response, he pulls back his hand.)
You're skeptical. That's smart. I can tell you're smart. That's what I like about you. It come out in your music. You're not like these flash-in-the-pan pop singers with their jeans down to their ass-cracks. Not that I haven't made a lot of money off those kids. I can't complain. They bought me the car that I have in the parking lot. Ferrari. And this suit. Georgio Armani. I'll tell you one thing. When I stepped into this place to get direction to Vegas, I sure as shit didn't expect to see what I saw. Or hear what I heard. Like I was saying before, some people know the industry better than others. But nobody knows the industry like me. And, when I see talent, I can taste it. And you taste like a million bucks.

(He slides his business card across the table to Billy and then stands.)
Think of it this way, talent is a gift from God. It makes people happy. And you could be making a lot of people happy. Is there anything better than that? Think about it.

(He walks off. Black out.)

Episode 5:
Billy sits in a photography studio wearing a rhinestone cowboy hat, with his guitar at his side. DEBORAH LEIBERTHAL, photographer to the stars, circles him, snapping pictures.

DEBORAH: That's it. That's it. Give me pain. Give me grit. Show me the black spot on your soul. That's what women want. That's what women want to fuck. They want to fuck that darkness. And men too. And dogs and cats and cars and microphones and cameras. The fucking sun wants to fuck the darkness. It's drawn to it. It wants to stick its big bright sunbeam dick into that dark hole. That's what sex is all about. That's why one amoeba first climbed onto another amoeba. For the pain of it all. Sex is pain. Pain is death, and sex is sex.

You've got the pain in you. It's where the brilliance lives. Artists who are happy aren't artists. They're busboys. Oh, that's beautiful.

(She stops to reload her camera.)
You're a very photogenic subject. You know that? You know it. You don't fool me for a millisecond with that good ol' country boy act.

(She starts snapping pictures again.)
I've photographed a thousand people. Men and women. And I can tell who has the pain 'cause they make my pussy wet. And when my pussy gets wet, I know it's 'cause I'm sitting on twenty-four-carat gold.

You know what? Music doesn't sell records. Or movie tickets. Or washing machines. I've worked with the greats. I've shot them and hung them on my wall. And you know what? Do you want to know what they all had in common? You know what you have in common? I can see it. And I know how to put it on the page. You can be so fucking huge. And I can make it happen.

(She pulls Billy's hat from him and puts it on her own head.)
So, what say we take some...private photographs?

(She drops to her knees and leans in to kiss him. Black out.)

Episode 6:
Billy reclines in a sleazy hotel bed partially concealed by a sheet. KYLE MANN, a struggling film actor, also in half-dress, strokes at Billy's guitar and sings Billy's own words back to him.

KYLE: (singing)
Nobody loves you
And you ain't got no flesh and bone
Can't bring yourself to cry
When you're lying all alone
Can't figure out why
You're doin' all you can
It don't come to nothin'
You're not even half a man.

When I'm lying by myself, listening to you, to your music, I know it's stupid, but I feel like you're singing just to me. Like you know somehow without ever having met me. Like you know some universal truth.

When you wrote that song, did you imagine someone like me? How can you understand me when you don't even know me. Well, know me know me. (laughs a bit)

I'm being stupid. I mean, obviously, you didn't write that for me. Not just for me.

(He lays back and strokes Billy tenderly, playfully.)
I've never done this before. I'm glad I met you at that party. I'm glad I waited for you. But this is all new for me. But it feels. Well, it feels...I don't know Billy. There's something about you. This is so fucked up. I don't like men. I mean, I like you. But, you're not a man, are you? You're something more. You're...

Christ, if I could only get some of what you have. Because I sure as hell don't have it. Not me. God spooned that out at the beginning, and you can tell he played favorites. For ten years, I've been playing the game in this city—auditions and auditions and auditions—and I don't know how much longer I can go on with it. I mean, at what point do you have to look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that it's time to go back to Iowa. Iowa. The boys in Iowa would never believe this.

Why do I keep it up? I think it's people like you. Not that I'm blaming you. Not at all. I'm to blame. Do you think a moth wants to be a light bulb? How do you think he feels when he gets his wings burned? The sadness is probably worse than the pain. Don't you think? Oh, how would you know. I'm sorry. I'm being stupid again. You should tell me to shut up.

Why are you being so quiet? (pause) I'm sorry. I'm embarrassing myself.

(He stands and starts grabbing his clothes from the floor.)
I'm leaving. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...I just wanted. I guess I just wanted to...I'm sorry.

(He starts for the door, but stops and looks back for a reaction from Billy. He gets none.)
Don't worry. I won't tell anyone about this. A shame though. My wife would really get a kick.

(He exits. Black out.)

Episode 7:
Billy lies drunk, half passed out, on the floor of his dressing room amid empty bottles of booze and pills. Just beneath him is a piece of white paper. Victor Greenman enters, appalled at the sight before him, and paces a bit before speaking.

GREENMAN: Little Billy Liver. The darling of the music industry. (kicks a bottle) I think there's still a few drops left in that one.

This can't be good for you. I mean...Well, you know. I don't have to say it. You're killing yourself. Why? A little bad press? Some compromising photos? Some fag actor's lurid tabloid story? You'll pull out of it. These things don't kill a career.

But that's not it, is it? I should've known when I met you. You've been heading down this path all along. Since the first. Well, I won't have it. I won't stand by and watch another one step off the ledge. I take your money. I make my living from you. But I won't pull the trigger. I'm dropping you from my agency. I just can't handle the responsibility.

What? Don't you have anything to say for yourself? What's this? (grabs paper) A suicide note? Funny, if you put this to music, it'd probably sell a million...(reads)

I'm sorry, Billy. I'm sorry. Was your mother a good woman? Stupid question. My condolences. I'll send flowers. I'll sign your name on the card. I'm sure she would have liked that. But it doesn't change anything. You can chase your mother into the ground full time now. I wash my hands.

I will never understand you people. Luckily, I don't have to.

(He walks out. Black out.)

Episode 8:
Billy sits on a street corner, panhandling. Burt “Big Cat” Carter happens past him on the street. Stops, looks back with recognition.

BIG CAT: Billy? Little Billy Liver, is that you? My God, what happened to you? It's me. Big Cat. Big Cat Carter. I'm gonna get you out of here.

This isn't a place for you. Out here with the whores and pump freaks. Oh, Billy. You let the road slip out from beneath your tires. Lucky for you I came along. I'm pulling a load down to Santa Fe. I'll give you ride. Get you back to someplace decent. Someplace where you belong. You don't belong here. This is no place for a little liver like you.

You gotta remember, Billy, you're gonna make some wrong turns, get some bad directions, but you can always get back on the turnpike at the next ramp.

(He carries Billy offstage. Black out.)

Episode 9:
Billy sits in Mr. Gazarian's office once again. Gazarian stares out the back window.

MR. GAZARIAN: (His voice is gruff) Billy...I've still got your cot made up in the back. (He turns to Billy and smiles warmly. Pause. Black out.)

The End

Dennis DiClaudio lives in Philadelphia. He performs improvisational theater and edits for both Ducky Magazine and (parenthetical note). His plays have been produced in New York City and Philadelphia, and his fiction has been published elsewhere.

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