A wheezing dying boy watches flies on the window.
THE SOUND OF FLIES BUZZING, THE BOY’S STRIDOR (LABOURED INTAKE OF BREATH) AND COUGHING ARE BACKGROUND TO THE DOCTOR AND MARY.
Is there any hope, doctor?
He’s a very sick boy, Mary. There isn’t anything I can do for him. I’m sorry to have to tell you but I think you and Liam need to prepare for the worst.
(SOBS) Oh, no. That’ll be four I’ve lost. (SOBS) Three born dead and now Jericho, my first born, ripped from my life! (SOBS)
Oh, Mary. For some unknown reason, life is cheap out here on the prairie. It comes and goes in a flash. Very often, too often, I just have to stand by and let the Lord do his work. That’s all I can do for your boy is stand by. And pray. Please know, Mary, that you and your family will be in my prayers tonight. How are your other children feeling?
Two had a bit of fever this morning but the other two are just fine, thank the Lord.
Keep him as comfortable as you can. God be with you, Mary.
Thank you Doctor. (SOBS)
The setting is the farmhouse bedroom of the sick child in 1896. It could be the boy who just moments ago was so excited about the new windmill. All we see is the dirty window and the flies.
This is a sad sad story told in the moment, told minimally by a two-person cast with an easy to understand story, but told to the max visually by the flies on the dirty glass and the connections between disease and flies. Disgust, horror, repulsion, fear of plague – it’s all in the flies.
Add stridor to the sound of the buzzing flies and mournful voices. Stridor is among the most dreadful sounds of illness made by the human body. The hoarse croak on the in-breath is the result of a blockage of the upper airways, often due to dire illness. It sounds otherworldly, even frightening. My cat reacts noisily when I play a tape of a child with stridor. Stridor is the harsh breathing sound heard underneath the conversation between mother and doctor throughout this segment. It’s interrupted by short sections of violent coughing.
The doctor is old and experienced, world weary yet still compassionate and kind without even trying to be. He understands what the future of the child is and pulls no punches with the mother. If he had any hope to offer her, he would.
Mary is distraught and weeps in giant sobs. Nonetheless, she is appreciative of the doctor’s candid sharing. She is worried about all her children, sensing her family has not seen the last of the disease. The doctor offers his sympathy and leaves Mary to her tears, the heart-wrenching sound of the boy and the incessant buzz of the flies.
Crawling in their own feces so thick it obscures the view out of the window, the buzzing flies are the persistent image of the piece. The spread of disease due to poor hygiene and the role flies play in the process get a good workout in this unhappy segment.
There isn’t a lot of complexity to this piece. It’s in-your-face gritty and unhappy, the people are real and sad and future sadness is inevitable. All the while, oblivious to the human tragedy, the flies buzz, always the flies.
I discovered after several people had viewed The Lonesomes that this piece caused confusion, mostly because of the unfamiliar sound of stridor. I didn’t make the connection between the sound and the boy causing it evident enough. With 20/20 hindsight I should have had the doctor explain in more detail what was happening.
Both characters were brought to life beautifully. Duane Braun plays the reserved but candid doctor and Carol Anne Miller voices Mary, the distraught mother.
Newcomb’s Hollow, just southeast of Deloraine Manitoba, was the site of a land titles office located along the well-used Boundary Commission Trail where it fords Turtlehead Creek. The office sold millions of acres to the pioneers arriving daily on the trail as the Canadian west was opening up to settlers.
Today there is a replica log building where the land office stood and some signage stating the site’s history and relevance. Inside the empty replica building there was one Plexiglas window covered in flies and their excrement. The view of the prairie out the little window is abstract, almost pointillist, due to the fly spots. I shot several minutes of the window with its flies and hazy view beyond. The story came much later as an act of pure imagination inspired by the relentless flies.