Bert Brecht and the Bodysnatchers
Brecht knows the call is coming and knows how he’ll respond. Beg pardon, he says. He smiles politely. The young man with the neat haircut and official ID is not to be deterred and repeats what he said the first time, word for word. Not only that, Brecht notes, but the intonation is exactly the same, so clearly the speech has been learned by heart; it has been a labour of love, Brecht concludes. Have you ever performed on the stage, my friend? he asks the young man, again not forgetting to smile generously, expansively, as he speaks. Moreover, he takes great care to emphasise each syllable he utters, thus demonstrating beyond any shadow of a doubt his unqualified love for the American language, and by extension the American way of life.
Mr Brecht, the young man continues, a worried frown disfiguring (as Brecht, observing all, would have it) his attractive features, I don’t think you quite realise just how serious this is.
At college, perhaps, Brecht smiles. An amateur thespian, I can tell, treading the boards for love. All should be for love, I believe, my young friend, might I ask if you agree? And he pauses, eyebrows raised expectantly, the smile—how to put it?—unflinching. I firmly believe this, he explains when the young man, open-mouthed, is momentarily lost for words, if nothing else, I firmly believe all should be for love. And with this he grasps the young man’s head in his hands. The young man, taken unawares, lets it happen. And Brecht plants a kiss on his lips.
The embrace has explosive consequences. The young man struggles to free himself and pushes Brecht away. Stepping backwards out of Brecht’s reach he aims at Brecht’s head a pistol that appears by magic in his hand. That’s about as far as we go, Mr Brecht! he says. One further move, you’re a dead man. His face is bright red.
Called to testify, Brecht apologises profusely. I had no idea my actions would be so misunderstood, he says. The Committee must believe that and forgive me, a foreigner who knows less than he arrogantly supposed about the rules and regulations that dictate daily life in this great nation.
The Chairman looks sternly at him. Mr Brecht, he says, your--assault, I can find no other way of describing it, cannot be forgiven. There are witnesses. Innocent men and women, who just happened by at that very moment. This is a grave matter, sir. Indeed, the one thing that saves you is our knowledge of your sexual history. You, sir, are an incorrigible philanderer. You have broken the hearts of countless women. We have detailed and graphic film evidence of your sexual liaisons with two hundred and fifty-nine different females since you arrived in these shores. There is no reason to suppose, wearily shaking his head to acknowledge the inadequacies of those government departments charged with national security, this record is not incomplete. Nowhere, however, can we find evidence of unnatural practices on your part. It seems, sir, and this is the sole mitigating factor in your behalf, you are all man.
Thank you, Mr Chairman, Brecht says as bulbs flash.
The Chairman’s gavel silences the gathering. However, he goes on, the equally grave matter of your writings remains.
Yes, Brecht says with an enthusiasm that takes the entire Committee by surprise. I welcome this opportunity, one I believe only this great nation would be prepared to offer me, to discuss on prime-time television the many plays and stories I have written.
Your writings, sir, are subversive! The Chairman raises his voice imperiously. Your writings, sir, would comfort the most dangerous enemy this nation has ever known. Dyou realise, Mr Brecht, that if found guilty, the consequences for you could be painful in the extreme?
Brecht considers this and, pausing a beat, artfully decorates his features with a puzzled but thoughtful look. He turns and whispers something to his Counsel, who nods slowly, looks equally puzzled and whispers back behind raised hand.
Mr Brecht, you have a problem? the Chairman says.
I am guilty of writing poems and plays, stories, a novel. I even contributed the script to a film made recently by a major Hollywood studio. None of this is disputed.
I am happy to hear it sir, says the Chairman. Your candour does you great credit.
I love the timbre in your voice, Brecht says with his most seductive smile.
Good Lord man, are you hitting on me! The Chairman can hardly believe what is happening. Sir, he says, there was a glint in your eye. Incredibly, it seems you are trying, wilfully, to compromise this Committee. Explain yourself sir, immediately. The consequences are grave, I should remind you, if you are found in contempt.
Again Brecht confers with his Counsel. The Chairman, impatient, shuffles uncomfortably in his seat.
Paul Nightingale is a teacher living and working in London, England. He has published education research based on narrative interviews with literature students and his blog (Schoenberg’s Favourite Colour @ isread.wordpress.com) includes work on education policy, Thomas Pynchon and Howard Barker.