Nautilus (a memory in three short scenes)

28 Plays Later – Challenge #11

Numbers are so friggin’ awesome, and you can do so much with them – from basic arithmetic to some intense hardcore calculus.
‘But how does that lend itself to a play?’, I hear you ask (I really must do something about all your voices in my head!)

‘Well,’ I respond back to the negative numbers.
What about a dialogue that is structured as a Fibonacci sequence (1 word, 1 word, 2 words, 3 words, 5 words, 8 words, etc…)?

(There were a lot more suggestions, but they’re not relevant to my play).

Notes: I used the Fibonacci sequence for the dialogue structure, but I went up and then back down. As well, the golden ratio (Phi) is referenced, somewhat tangentially. Also, since this piece is pretty short, I haven’t uploaded a PDF, just provided the text.

 Copyright: <a href=''>josepijosep / 123RF Stock Photo</a>



(a memory in three short scenes)


Melissa A. Bartell

Scene 1:

A living room. There’s a picture window looking out onto a suburban yard upstage. Stage left is a black baby grand piano with the kind of stool that spins up or down. Stage right there’s a red leather wing chair with a haphazard pile of books and magazines. Slightly behind it is a floor lamp. Center stage is a round table with a white tablecloth. The surface is filled with tiny pots of African violets.

At rise, the window is obscured by curtains. ESTHER enters from stage left and goes to the window, pulling open the curtains. The light for the rest of the scene should feel like it’s daylight filtered through the window.

ESTHER, dressed in a long pink nightie and ballet-flat-style bedroom slippers, is in her late 60s or early 70s. She approaches the table and picks up a green, glass misting bottle. She talks to the violets as if these are her children, her grandchildren, her pets, as she mists them.


ESTHER (in a sing-song voice): Hello.


Hello, darling.

Hello, pretty baby. (lifts a petal with a gentle finger)

You look so lovely today.

Are you thirsty? Let me give you water.

See? Isn’t that better? Maybe one more spritz.

Such soft leaves, you have. (removes a dead leaf)

Velvet, like velvet.

So green.




(The violets, of course, do not answer. ESTHER exits the way she came in, humming “Somewhere my Love” under her breath.)


Scene 2:

The beach. ESTHER is wearing one of those black bathing suits with the reinforced bra-top and the flippy skirt favored by older women the world over. Her feet are bare. She has a ridiculously large straw sun-hat on her head. There are gentle surf sounds punctuated by seagull cries. She is carrying a plastic pail – the kind little kids bring to the beach for building

ESTHER enters from stage right, meandering along the beach. Every so often she bends to pick up a shell. Some she returns to the ground, others go into the bucket.

ESTHER (examining shells):

No. (drops it)

Yes. (puts it in bucket)

Mermaid’s toenail. (she keeps it)

Just a clam. (this one gets dropped)

Oh! A Nautilus! Those are magic!

Their shells are perfect spirals… the golden… something.

Eddie would know. Must remember to ask him.

Spiral shells. Something about math.

Math and music.

Maybe Jimmy…?




Scene 3:

The living room from before. ESTHER is seated at the piano, playing. It’s slightly out of tune but since she’s just improvising, rather than playing ‘real’ songs it doesn’t really matter. EDWARD, a few years older, short hair, mostly gray, a round belly, is sitting in the red chair reading one of the magazines (either NEWSWEEK or MODEL RAILROADER).

BOTH are dressed in casual summer clothes. EDWARD in a short-sleeved button-down shirt and light khaki pants with leather ‘work shoes.’  ESTHER in a blue and white tennis shirt over white cotton pants, rolled up at the ankles, and white canvas espadrilles.  


ESTHER (stops playing): Eddie.

EDWARD: (Silence, turns page.)

ESTHER (longer, sing-song): Ed-die!!

EDWARD (still reading): Yes, dear?

ESTHER: The golden… something?

EDWARD: Golden rule? The golden ratio?

ESTHER: Yes, that!  It has to do with shells.

EDWARD: Nautilus shells have spirals that follow that ratio.

ESTHER: (gives him a look that means ‘please continue’)

EDWARD:  They’re nature’s illustration of the Fibonacci number sequence.

ESTHER: Oh, yeah? Who was he?

EDWARD: An Italian mathematician.

ESTHER: Italian. Really? (this pleases her)


ESTHER (tasting the word). Fibonacci.

EDWARD returns to reading his magazine and ESTHER resumes her playing.

ESTHER (humming with her music): Da, da, da de. Da da da, da da de da de. Da da da de da de da de…

(Her random noodling resolves into the chords for “Somewhere my Love”)

ESTHER (Singing): Somewhere, my love… there will be songs to sing…

(The music continues to the end of the verse.)