Cardhouse and the Cage: The Art of Lies
Universe: The Metaverse
ALICE, a neglected human trans-girl aged ~13, selected for abduction by a powerful fairy-lord known as the Cardmaster.
JEZEBEL, a denizen of the Cardmaster, mentor to Alice in preparation for her abduction.
An attic. Enter ALICE, holding several pieces of a broken teaset. She takes a seat on the floor and fiddles with them, brooding. Enter JEZEBEL.
ALICE (surprised): You came.
JEZEBEL: But of course! [Alice looks away.] So, how did your little get-together go? You are making an impression on your new friends, I hope? You must be sure always to make an impression, you know. The nature of the impression is really secondary to the fact. [Alice continues to brood and say nothing.] Why don’t you speak? Has someone finally stolen that beautiful tongue of yours? Really, Alice, you must keep better watch of your assets.
ALICE: You lied to me.
JEZEBEL: Ah, there it is. [Pause.] Oh, you mean . . . in earnest? [She sighs.] I thought we went over this. Lying is what we do.
ALICE: I don’t mean like that. I mean you set me up. You lied to me.
JEZEBEL: I take it the tea party did not go well then.
ALICE: You made me ruin everything.
JEZEBEL: Oh sweet child, I’m fairly certain that If I made you do anything I would be well aware of it. No, I’m afraid you’ll have to enlighten me—I am quite in the dark. What went wrong?
ALICE: Don’t play with me, fairy, you know. You all think I’m so foolish, don’t you? A silly little girl. Well if you’re so much better than me, you figure it out.
JEZEBEL: Ah. Well in that case, I should hate to disappoint. Let’s see . . . [She makes a show of recollecting.] I have trained you, I have appeared to you regularly to assist in your advancement, I relayed your accomplishments to the Cardmaster in order that he may love you the more, I acquainted you with your peers in order that you may make your first ever 'friends', and, by mere virtue of my presence, I think it fair to say I have made a vast improvement upon the aesthetic well-being of this attic. In short, I have within certain restraints given you everything you’ve wished for. I really can’t see where I went wrong.
ALICE: Where you went wrong was giving me what I didn’t ask for. I told you, I don't want any friends.
JEZEBEL: No . . . no, you see, I’m afraid you didn’t tell me that. Not quite. If you will recall, what you said was that you didn’t want any human friends. Humans were, and I quote, ‘so boring’.
ALICE: Yes, and you didn’t listen to me. You made me meet them anyway.
JEZEBEL: I convinced you to meet them, and when you did, you were pleasantly surprised to discover that they were not human at all! You see? I gave you exactly what you wanted.
ALICE: You lied.
JEZEBEL: I’m still not seeing where—
ALICE: You said they would be human, and they’re not.
JEZEBEL: Oh, so you noted the ‘lie’ from the outset, but it only became a betrayal once the situation turned to your disadvantage. [Alice answers with a glare.] No matter though, as we seem to have misunderstood one another from the start. You see, I never said that they were human per se. You asked me whether they were human and I answered, ‘naturally’. I never said they would present human.
ALICE: You said they were like me. You said they were my equals—my peers.
JEZEBEL: And so they are.
ALICE: Have you seen them? Iris is a raindrop. Syrine is a mermaid! And Anemone . . . Anemone’s the worst; she’s a flower. A flower who hates me. They’re on a completely different level; they have . . . powers! So yes, I could see from the start that they weren’t my equals, and yes, I was happy at first, because I thought they liked me anyway. I should have known it was only because they mistook me for someone else. Something else. So today stupid me went and told them the truth, and now they’re gone forever because it turns out, they `don’t play with humans.’ [Pause.] Of course, you always knew that was going to happen. They were bound to find out sooner or later, and when they did, they’d humiliate me, and leave. So why’d you set me up for that? Did you want me to fail, to be laughed at? Because if that’s it, if that’s your game, then you’re no better than the kids at school, you’re no better than my sisters—no better than grown-ups—you’re no better than human filth.
[JEZEBEL meets Alice's gaze and approaches her deliberately, not breaking the tension.]
JEZEBEL(quietly): And if you found out that such were the case, what would you do? What could you do, small as you are?
ALICE (fierce): Anything. I would do anything.
JEZEBEL (grinning): Excellent. [She relaxes, and withdraws.] That, by the way, was a test, but don’t worry: I most certainly did not mean to set you up for humiliation—that, I fear, is the fault of my own negligence, and I will do everything in my power to amend it. Tell me, how was it exactly that you came to tell your friends ‘the truth’?
ALICE: They asked me, and I answered.
JEZEBEL: They asked if you were human?
ALICE: They asked me what I was. Just, out of nowhere: `What are you?' I didn’t know what they meant, so I told them . . . I told them I was a girl. They laughed at that, and asked me what kind of girl I was. But I wasn’t any kind of girl; I was just . . . me. I was afraid that if I lied about that, they wouldn't believe anything about me. So I told them the only the only thing I could think of. I told them I was a human girl. I thought I was pretty clever, coming up with that. Stupid Alice. [Pause.] I ruined everything, didn’t I? They’ll never play with me now.
JEZEBEL: Oh darling, of course they will. I see now what went wrong, and it is as easy as thinking to fix. You see, it isn’t so much that they won’t play with you as you won’t play with them. You broke the spell, and it’s up to you to mend it.
JEZEBEL: The glamour, to be more specific. The way you appear to them, the way they appear to you. Their ‘powers’, as you say. It’s all a glamour. [ALICE still looks very confused. JEZEBEL sighs.] Yes, I’m afraid this was my fault—you were such a natural that I completely neglected to explain the thing. Silly me. You may not be entirely aware, but you have been casting a glamour for yourself since before we met. On things around you, too, but most consistently your self.
ALICE: You mean my appearance?
JEZEBEL: More than that. [she steps close.] You are Alice because she is who you want to be. That is the substance of the glamour. You could easily have `powers’ like those girls if you willed it. Mere ornamentation, really—it is the current fad. You could be a teacup or a river or a tree. The only thing you can’t be . . . is human.
ALICE: But I am—
JEZEBEL (holding up a finger to shush her): Ah ah ah, no more than they! That’s the game, see? That’s why they refused to play with you. By calling yourself human, you weakened their illusion.
ALICE (starting to get it): You mean I could have said something, anything, and they would have just accepted it? Even though I hadn’t been projecting it before?
JEZEBEL: Oh, chronology is not so very important in these matters. Retconning an identity is perfectly acceptable play.
ALICE: I see.
JEZEBEL: I mean, you’d have to present it with enough confidence to carry it off. Granted, they might have made fun of your glamour if it had been distasteful, but they wouldn't have rejected it. Or you. They wouldn’t have left. It is of course best to pick something that isn't distasteful---and something that isn't completely arbitrary either. You’ll want a theme that suits you---something that builds on what you have, since—
ALICE: Oh I already know what I am.
ALICE: I don’t know why I forgot it before. It's probably because you taught me wrong. You're lucky I don't send to the Cardmaster for a new mentor. But yes, I've known for some time now. [Retrieves a pair of moth antennae stashed somewhere on the stage. Calmly, she places them on her head.] I’m not human at all. [She presets herself to JEZEBEL.] I’m a moth.
JEZEBEL (impressed): A natural. [She admires the antennae.] You see, you hardly even needed the explaining. Even Anemone won’t dare question you now.
ALICE: Yes. [paus.] But there's one thing I don't get.
ALICE: If what I said actually threatened Anemone in some way, than why did she look so pleased about it? It was like . . . she was happy that I said it.
JEZEBEL: Oh, of course she was! But that’s just Anemone: a flower who hates you. And I don't mean just you: she is notorious for her snobbery. Your words were no real threat to her: it would have been one thing if you’d spoken out of knowledge and malice, but your ignorance easily gave her the upper hand. And you must understand, it is very hard for Anemone not to take advantage of such a situation.
ALICE (rolling her eyes): Poor Anemone. She must suffer so much.
JEZEBEL: I must say though, I am curious as to your choice. Another girl would have gone for the more beloved insect—the butterfly. Why a moth?
ALICE: Because I know what I am. [Pause.] Sure, I could pretend to be a butterfly. It would be nice, to fly around under the sun, to be loved. But pretending doesn’t work for everything. I’d still know.
JEZEBEL: Know what?
ALICE: That I live in the dust and the filth, that I’m not really beautiful, that I’m not really Alice. I steal and I scavenge and I tear through fabric with my teeth. I’m a pest. No human calls me beautiful—no human loves me. [She crosses to a place upstage where the rest of the moth accessories are stored, and begins to don them.] But I know something they don’t. I know that moths can be beautiful too, in their way. And besides. Butterflies are only reborn once. [She finishes putting on the wings, and turns around.] When moths die, they are reborn as angels.