GHOSTLIGHT (full text)



by Tommy Smith


“[Smith’s] words open up onto haunting and darkly grotesque psychic landscapes unreachable by more pedestrian dramatic entertainments, [ranging] in feeling from the experimental flash fictions of Donald Barthelme to the early schizophrenic-styled writing of Peter Handke.” – LA Weekly


© 2015 Tommy Smith. All rights reserved. This material may not be reproduced, displayed, modified, performed, produced or distributed without the express prior written permission of the copyright holder. For permission requests, please click this.


a female performer






The fully-produced set of an unrelated play; post-performance.

The only illumination is a ghost light.

A flicker.

A woman appears.

She’s sitting in a chair.

She never gets up:



My friends and I found this Fog.

The Fog was in a deserted part of town.

You take the subway there then walk past the wharfs.

Take a right.

It’s right there.

A billowing low cloud illuminated by the orange glow of the city working.

I don’t remember who found it first.

But we all loved it.

We all loved getting lost in it.

I loved the moment right before entering.

Right before my body hit the wall of gray.

A gentle cold overtaking the skin.

A chorus line of goose bumps.

A reassuring chill.

We felt safe there.

Without a sense of direction, we knew where to go.

How to be.

How to act.

In the vacuum of the Fog, every decision was right.

Going left meant as much as going right.

You could call out your best friend’s name and get no answer.

And it was okay.

We knew we were there for each other.

Even though we weren’t there for each other.

Pretty soon, we knew we had to leave.

Go back to our lives.


Take out the trash.

Establish and keep relationships.

Call people back.

Write and respond.

Fix meals and clean up dishes.

Walk to places and back.

Look at the sun and when the sun wasn’t there, look at the light from the sun that still managed to reach the ground despite the best efforts of the weather.

But we grew tired of all these slight variations.

The shifting repetitions of a day.

And we found ourselves back at The Fog.

Which, once you entered it, was nowhere.

A beautiful absence.

Time standing still.

And we would find ourselves irritated at everything that was not the Fog.

Which was everywhere.

All the buildings lining streets.

All the cars zooming past.

All the people walking or standing still or trying to interact with us.

And one by one, we retreated to the Fog.

Peaking our heads out every once in a while.

Checking to see if it had changed.

But it only got worse.

The outside growing more and more grotesque.

And we spent longer and longer inside.

Until we forgot how to leave.

Until The Fog replaced everything.

And we were stuck in this bliss.

Pawing our way across endless air.

Searching for each other.

But finding no one.



It was sailors.

I think it was sailors.

Yes it was sailors who came in from the distance.

We could see them from the distance with our telescopes.

There was a ship.

Black sails.

The black was the color of the Empire.

Everyone on our island was under the rule of the Empire.

So we all recognized the black sails of Empire ship full of sailors.

We greeted them on the beach.

Mostly, they were handsome men.

The girls among us smiled and waved the tips of their dresses in the sand.

And the men saw.

They had beards from being at sea and not seeing women.

We held out our hands to them and their armored arms took ours in a loop.

There was a jungle you see between the beach and where we were going.

The men asked us where we were going.

Where are we going?

We are going to our house.

What is your house?

And we smiled and laughed and did not answer their question.

And then we were in the house.

The men took off their armor in the front foyer of our house next to the room full of lotus flowers.

And the men bathed in the large turquoise-tiled communal washroom.

And one by one we showed them their quarters.

And the men knelt and kissed our hands and told us they were only staying the night.

You can stay longer if you want.

You men can stay as long as you like.

And the men all smiled a smile that said:

Lady the sea is my home.

In the morning they woke to the smell of frying pigs.

It was amazing because in actuality each individual sailor did indeed wake at the exact same moment as if they were the same creature.

They put on the pajamas we had left for them.

They came downstairs.

And us sisters waiting next to the dining table.

Standing near a sizzling pig.

Waiting for the men to arrive.

They seemed tired, the sailors.

They seem like they carried a heavy burden on their shoulders.

One of the ladies asked:

What is your burden sailors?

And one of the sailors said:

We have been at sea a long time.

And then someone asked:

What are you doing at sea?

And then there was a long explanation that we didn’t quite understand.

Something involving a task that they had to do for their homeland.

They were either going to retrieve something or they’d already captured that something that they were looking for and were on their way homewards.

We didn’t quite catch all of it.

But they told their tale with animated voices.

They had fought an army of skeletons.

They sailed through the legs of some giant angry statue.

Maybe another one of their stories involved a woman with snake hair.

We just nodded and smiles in their pretty faces.

All sailors are pretty.

Men at sea excite us so.

They’re mad, sailors, and the trick is?

Get them to stay on land.

They don’t like land by nature.

By their nature the look at dirt and get a little queasy.

One trick is to stroke their arms while you walk with them.

Their feet aren’t so steady.

But if you take the arm of a sailor and caress it as you walk, they will fall under your influence.

Like the nape of a cat’s neck.

The bunch of fur behind a dog’s ear.

One of the best things that God did for us animals is make places on our bodies that make us happy when other beings touch those places in a certain way.

I can’t explain it.

The touch of a sailor’s hand.

The cool chill of a man’s nostril on your shoulder.

You know what to do.

The men tore into the rotating pig.

They pulled sinews of swine bone from the sizzling spit.

Licking their mustached lips.

And then we did something crazy.

One of us animated the head of the roast pig.

It was the oddest thing.

This one of us was a little girl really.

A little girl in a dress at the dinner table with the soldiers.

It is quite easy to pluck the head off a pig once it’s been roast for hours.

The dripping fat sizzling in the coals.

The bulging eyes of the dead pig.

And soft little fingers caress the fire-scabbed snout.

Pulling hard and snapping off with a pop the head of the pig.

And the little girl against all our expectations put the sizzling head of the pig over hers.

The brains of the pig squishing against her braided hair.

The young child snorting through the dead nostrils of the beheaded swine.

The hot pig juice dribbling down her naked neck’s nape.

You know what to do.

Would you like a sip of tea?

My tea is finally done brewing.

I will pass cups of tea along so please pass them along to the next person until everyone has a cup of tea.

So where was I?

Where were we?

The sailors bursting into laughter.

Maybe it was around the time the sailors were unable to control their laughter that they began to feel sleepy.

If you were a sailor at the table you might have started to feel a little dizzy, like you had just held your breath too long.

Three minutes later your belly rumbles but it’s nice like feeling your tummy has just been filled with warm liquid and the fires of the room become blurry, like someone had drugged you.

Someone looks a little groggy.

Let’s get up on your feet now.

Brush off your legs.

You have leaves all over your legs.

You have smudges on your face.

Lick your thumb.

Lick your thumbs and wipe your wet thumbs on your cheeks.

It’s called a cat bath.

Isn’t it a lovely day?

Don’t you just love it here?

Don’t you want to stay here forever?

It’s like we’ve been waiting for you.

We feel like we’ve been waiting for you.

How is your tea?

Do you like your tea?

We brew it from lotus flowers do you have lotus flowers?

In your country?

In the place where you’re from.

Forget about that place for a moment.

Think about your brain.

Did you know your eyes are connected to your brain that your eyes are the goop that your brain sends out from its butt?

The eyes act like a membrane for the absorbtion of chemicals straight to the biofabric of the brain.

If someone administers an eyedrop of poison to your eyes its like you swallowed it.

Even dust particles in the air.


These flowers you see these flowers?

They are mated with the roots of the lotus.

They just blossomed.

Don’t they look beautiful?



When I was younger I did all sorts of things.

I was into the artist’s lifestyle.

I know, me.

It seems hard to imagine I mean look at me.

Look at me now.

Could you imagine me sauntering the streets of Paris looking like this?

This was in the old days.

In the old days I wore things that were way too short for me.

Sometimes I wore bras without nipples.

It gave men easier access.

Now look at me speaking like this, speaking like I don’t have a husband.


I don’t know there’s just something about you.

It’s okay that I say these things, I feel okay saying things to you.

There were these boots I used to wear.

Cowboy boots.

Not a woman or rather a young girl at that time?

Never wore such a thing.

People could hear me clomping for miles, I was like that cat with the bell.

I was into film.

At first it was a lark.

Just I got this camera from a man I was seeing.

A film camera.

He left it.

He had left it when he took all his things he forgot to take his camera.

So I took his camera and got it fixed and started filming my own movies.

I asked my male friends, you know just the males around me in my life not necessarily my friends but guys, you know, who were attracted to me?

I asked them to do my art projects.

Now I remember one.

I think I must have come up with it on heroin?

I took heroin sometimes.

It was casual not like it is now, not like everyone now regarding it a disease.

You just took it every now and then.

I was with my boyfriend at the time a large Moroccan man whose name escapes me like Moses?

Moses had injected my arm and he was also naked.

You hallucinate first thing, when the drug enters your bloodstream, there’s a rush of hallucinations that flood your vision?

I saw the penis of Moses become erect in slow motion.

And I started laughing and Moses said:

What are you laughing about?

And I said:

Moses, I’m laughing because your penis just became erect in slow motion.

And he said:

Well, my penis is erect.

And I gave him a blowjob.

But then I got this idea?

These males around me in my life not necessarily my friends but guys, you know, who were attracted to me?

I could probably ask them to be in my movies?

And I would film them slowly becoming erect.

Them just standing there, or sitting on their couch, completely naked, with their heads cut off from the frame, and they get this erection while their bodies are completely motionless.

And I shot a lot of these movies.

Guys would say yes even in bars.

I liked the older guys.

I would help them sometimes.

I would ask them:

What would you like me to do?

And they would say:

Could you please take off your shirt?

Or they would say:

Could you pull your pants around your ankles and bend over that counter?

Mind you, I was off-camera.

Lie down on the ground and stick your ass in the air.


Stick your finger in your mouth and suck on your fingertip.

That got them going.

I wouldn’t do anything until they asked.

Sometimes they would close their eyes to consult their imagination of past loves.

They weren’t allowed to touch themselves, you see.

And I had all this footage of men’s penises becoming erect independent of any touch.

I didn’t end up doing anything with it.

What can you do with that?

Eventually there’s a point in your life when art, any art, seems stupid and boring.

You just want to look out at the Ocean.

You just want to drive down the coast and have someone not yammer on about the recent exhibit they just saw.

I mean who gives a fuck, am I right?

Do you think this is enough?

Should I make more?

I don’t know if this is enough for everyone but maybe if I make another batch everyone will eat more.

I read about this one woman in the I don’t know lower parts of the city who poisoned some people by baking with this toxic substance.

I don’t know where she got it.

I haven’t seen the paper today has it come?

It doesn’t come every day or does it come?

Does the paper come every day at your house what’s it like in your house?

Could I come inside one of these days, do you think I could come into you house I could bring my camera and you and I could take a couple movies of you inside your house?

Is it cozy?

I imagine you’ve got a roaring fire.

Your house is probably “pimping.”

Am I saying that right?

You’re British no Canadian no don’t tell me!

You told me earlier and it is my responsibility to remember.

I see you’re done with your coffee would you like another?



A hopping crow perched itself on the powerline above.

She thought:

That’ s him.

That’s the reincarnated soul of my husband.

She sat down as tears began to flood her eyes.

Her husband was dead.

Two houses down, a light went on in the second story.

It blinked out a moment later.

She fell asleep on the floor in front of the television.

It wasn’t her house.

She lived in a house by the water that wasn’t hers.

She used to own her house but she lost her job.

She thought she could swing it.

She couldn’t.

She asked a friend if the friend would not mind if she lived in her guest house by the water.

The friend said it was okay.

In exchange for rent the woman gardened the exterior of the house.

It looked nice.

And she had to watch the cat.

It was a tortoiseshell.

The eyes of the cat were bright yellow.

And the cat kept attacking her.

She tried to be nice.

She left balls of cheese so the cat would emerge from under the table.

The cat seemed interested but would only stare.

She was trying to win over the cat.

But the cat would always swipe at the woman like an enemy.

The woman understood the cat’s attacks as love.

But soon she grew tired of a claw swinging at her pant legs every time she went to the fridge for another ice cream sandwich.

As the months wore on, the woman had come to antagonize the cat on a daily basis.

She would pet the cat nice.

For a while.

Then maybe she would pull the cat’s tail or poke the cat’s nose.

The cat began to develop a mean temper.

The woman sat at the kitchen table touching the cat’s paw saying:

Fuck you cunt –

The cat retaliated.

It sent a claw out.

There was a flash where she looked the cat in the eye.

The cat was also afraid.

When the woman pulled her hand away blood surfaced in a maroon bubble.

She ran her hand under cold water.

The tap stream pushed open a raw flap of flesh where the claw had cut.

She thought of her mother.

Her mother scolded her once for antagonizing her much older sister in the same way.

As a girl the woman would poke her bigger sister until the sister would spring up and attack the girl and their mother would have to stop the sisters from hurting each other.

Her mother and the sister.

They were both dead.

The woman cracked a can of food from the fridge and scooped it into the cat’s bowl.

The cat slinked out from under a chair.

The woman watched the cat eat.

She woke up on the floor.

It was the middle of the night.

The television was on.

Inside the television was a black lady in a purple suit.

The woman had a conversation with the black lady that she doesn’t remember.

But then imagine the black lady looking at you now.

When she woke that morning she wrote down six six six in a notebook.

Just to see what the numbers looked like.

Then she closed her eyes and imagined the numbers.




The cat wanted out.

She went to the door and let the cat out.

She checked her email.

Still nothing.

She looked out the window.

Across the bay, a cloud loomed over the water.

The rest of the sky otherwise blue.

Where is the cat?

She thought.

It was no use looking for it now.

No use calling for it.

The cat would be gone for fifteen minutes.

Usually the cat would bat its paw against the back door.

The sliding glass door.

She could imagine it now.

The Tink Tink.

She’d come to expect it.

She made herself a glass of water.

She drank it slow.

She refilled the glass.

She drank one sip and set the glass down.

She walked into the living room.

She stared down at the rug.

It had a swirling brown pattern.

There was cat hair all over the rug.

She took out the vacuum and ran it over the carpet.

There, better.

She thought.

There was nothing to do so she stacked the old newspapers by the fireplace.

There was a pellet stove, not an actual fireplace.

She hadn’t had real fire since her husband.

I haven’t had real fire since my husband.

She thought.

I suppose I should bundle the newspapers and recycle them

She thought.

She bundled the papers.

When was the last time I talked to anybody?

She thought.

She thought that one of her children could come over.

But that was impossible.

The kids didn’t live near anymore.


She knew but the faces of her children but they didn’t enter her head.

She didn’t think about the towns they lived in.

Just the thought came and went.

The space behind her eyes hurt so she sat in her dark bedroom for thirty minutes.



It would cost nothing to drown.

She stood and went into the living room.

The cat was at the sliding glass door.

She felt very happy to see the cat.

The cat rubbed its backside against the glass.

She slid the door open.

The cat trotted inside.

She thought the cat looked proud and said to the cat:

Princess looks proud, yeah?

The cat looked up at the woman.

The cat rubbed its backside against the woman’s pant leg.

The woman picked up the cat and held it.

Nothing happened for a half minute.

She stood there with the cat and the cat looked over the woman’s shoulder at something in the distance, or nothing.

She put the cat down and went into the bathroom.

She combed her hair.

The cat peeked in through the crack of the bathroom door.

You can come in.

She said to the cat.

The cat came in.

She sat down on the toilet to take a pee.

The cat sat down, then lay down.

The cat stared at the woman in her eyes as she was peeing.

The woman every now and then said:


But the cat did not turn away its gaze.


A flicker.

The woman disappears.

End of play.













Please feel free to watch the following GHOSTLIGHT film.


Footage taken from world premiere of GHOSTLIGHT at the Bank Street Theater (NYC) in association with LAByrinth Theater Company and The Playwrights of New York, March 2015, on the set of Lucy Thurber’s THE INSURGENTS.



































%d bloggers like this: