The Sickness of Stone

Blanca Doménech

Illustration by Emma Roulette

Little by little, lights up inside the guard house. The large, glass windows afford us another perspective on the basilica. From the ground floor, the space takes on the sensation of a tunnel, owing to the curved roof and the distance to the back of the space. Some areas are covered with scaffolding and cloths. ANDRÉS is seated calmly in his seat, listening to the transmissions from the walkie-talkies coming from a device that centralises all of the conversations.

J1:  Right then, J2 and J3, clear them out. Over.

J3:  How we s’posed to clear them out? There’s guys everywhere. The place is packed. We’re surrounded. We’re deploying firearms. Over.

J2:  Clear them out. Over.

J3:  Go ahead, J2. Over.

J2:  We’re gonna use firearms. Nice and safely. OK? Over.

J1:  Go in the three of you together. J2, J3, and Charlie 2. Over.

(Noise and interference.)

J1:  Get them out any way you can. Over.

CHARLIE 2:  OK. OK. It’s just no one’s answering me. Over.

V5:  They must be out on the road, running around like lions. Over.

(ANDRÉS laughs at this last remark. He switches on his walkie-talkie.)

ANDRÉS:  A1 to V5. What a pack of hounds. Over.

V5:  Shut your face, farmboy. Stay in your little hut. Over.

ANDRÉS:  Come off it. Come off it. You’re in your element. Over.

(ANDRÉS switches off the walkie-talkie and continues listening with a smile.)

J1:  J1 to Valladolid nil. Come in. Over.

V5:  Andrés, you bastard. Over.

J1:  Go ahead. Go ahead V5. Tell me who you’re with and what’s going on there. Over.

(While we have been listening to the walkie-talkies, MIRANDA has appeared in the doorway. She has watched ANDRÉS laughing. She is dressed now for outside, in a coat, gloves, and scarf.)


ANDRÉS:  Oh, look who it is . . . What are you doing here?

MIRANDA:  They wouldn’t let me out. I wasn’t even allowed down to the road. I have to stay here.

ANDRÉS:  Course you do. What did you expect? Come in, then. You’re shivering.

MIRANDA:  I’ve been standing outside for twenty minutes. Do you know how cold it is? I’m frozen.

ANDRÉS:  Why didn’t you come in before?

MIRANDA:  I hoped they might let me out soon . . . But David’s just told me that—

ANDRÉS:  David?

MIRANDA:  David.

ANDRÉS:  Is he on the terrace?

MIRANDA:  The car park. He said he’d tell me when I can go down.

ANDRÉS:  Does he know you’re here with me?

MIRANDA:  It was his idea. (Pause.) I’m frozen.

(ANDRÉS stands and brings out a heater. He plugs it in. The sound of the walkie-talkie is heard.)

CHARLIE 2:  Hang on . . . What’s going on? Over.

J3:  It’s pretty bad. Over.

(The walkie-talkie remains audible in the background, but completely unintelligible. ANDRÉS unfolds a chair. He offers it to MIRANDA.)

MIRANDA:  (Referring to the case and the plans.) Where can I leave these?

ANDRÉS:  Leave ’em where you like. You can see the state of the place. Want a coffee? I was just about to make one.

MIRANDA:  No, thanks.

(MIRANDA leaves the things in a corner and sits beside the heater. She rubs her hands.)

ANDRÉS:  I’ve got some good coffee. The really good stuff. Look. From Colombia. Friends of mine brought me it.

MIRANDA:  I don’t drink coffee this late. Keeps me awake.

ANDRÉS:  I drink it all the time. Can’t do without it. Doesn’t really affect my nerves. Relaxes me, actually.

(ANDRÉS approaches the electric coffee-maker and begins to prepare coffee.)

(Silence. A sentence from the walkie-talkie is heard.)

J2:  Roger that. Roger. It’s getting ugly down here. Over.

MIRANDA:  You like reading?

ANDRÉS:  Oh, the books, you mean . . . Yeah, I do. I’ve never read a whole book though. I mean, all at once, from start to end. What I do is pick one and read a few pages. Then I pick another one and do the same. Like that. Opening books at random, see what I can find. Keeps me entertained. Lot of hours alone.

MIRANDA:  Can I have a look?

ANDRÉS:  Course.

(MIRANDA stands and looks at the books. ANDRÉS watches her.)

ANDRÉS:  Sometimes I pick one at random and just read a sentence. Just one. See what the book tells me. You pick one.

MIRANDA:  Any one?

ANDRÉS:  Yeah. Any.

(MIRANDA chooses a book from the pile.)

ANDRÉS:  Open it and read the first sentence. See what it tells us.

(MIRANDA opens the book. The sound from the walkie-talkie grows louder for a few seconds and the interference grows more intense. ANDRÉS switches it off.)

MIRANDA:  “Now, one of two things must happen. Either you do something, or something will be done to you.”

(Pause. MIRANDA places the book back on the pile. She removes her coat, gloves, and scarf. ANDRÉS sits as he looks MIRANDA up and down. MIRANDA sits too, beside the heater.)

ANDRÉS:  That’s not bad.

MIRANDA:  What isn’t?

ANDRÉS:  The sentence. I liked it.

(The coffee-maker makes a noise, like a small explosion, and begins to smoke. ANDRÉS stands quickly and unplugs it.)

ANDRÉS:  Fuck. Here we go.

MIRANDA:  Has it broken?

ANDRÉS:  It’s the socket. It burns sometimes and . . . Fuck.

MIRANDA:  You can get protectors for sockets.

ANDRÉS:  What do you think this is? Hold on . . . Hold on. I think I’ve got another one.

(He opens a drawer filled with objects and begins rummaging through it. Finally, he takes out a protector for a socket. Next, he picks up a toolbox. He approaches the socket. Opens the box. Begins to unscrew it.)


(15 minutes later.)

(MIRANDA is still seated by the heater, listening to ANDRÉS, who is standing with a book in his hands.)

ANDRÉS:  “Thus the Devil is Defeated.” That’s the title. I read a few pages the other day. (Turns the book over and reads what is on the back cover.) “The theory of the devil. The possessed speak. Exorcists speak. The devil’s greatest trick is to convince us that he does not exist. For the first time, the possessed dare to speak out . . . And exorcists reveal their experiences.” (Places the book on the table. Picks up the screwdriver and continues fixing the socket.) The capacity of the human mind. That’s what neutrality is: realising that. Everything’s narration. Stories. When I was young . . . I never thought like that at first. But there came a time when I realised that everything, everything, is a fallacy. A story. All that stuff about the devil. They’ve built a whole theory around it.

MIRANDA:  What I meant was that they’re not against any political party. They’re just against the political system and they want to change it. They want to stop the rot, get rid of all the corruption. That’s why I said they’re neutral.

ANDRÉS:  It’s not the same. (Stands. Places the screwdriver on the table.) Fucking socket. (Takes the tool box and rummages around inside it.) We spend our whole lives hurting each other. Teaching lessons. Imposing punishments. Man’s exploitation of man.

MIRANDA:  It isn’t like that.

ANDRÉS:  Yes it is.

(Pause. He looks at her. He is about to say something, but stops. MIRANDA feels suddenly uncomfortable and stands. ANDRÉS takes some nails from the toolbox and crouches back down to continue fixing the socket.)

MIRANDA:  Why do you have that book there?

ANDRÉS:  Which one?

MIRANDA:  The one about the devil and the possessed.

ANDRÉS:  I’ve got a whole pile of books; no idea where they came from. Visitors leave them sometimes. Others I take from the abbey. And others I find at home. I live in a very old house. It was my grandparents’ house. Then my parents’ and now mine. My grandfather used to read a lot. There’s still a pile of ancient books knocking around the house. Does the devil scare you?



MIRANDA:  Nothing.

ANDRÉS:  Pick it up.

MIRANDA:  The book?

ANDRÉS:  Yeah.

MIRANDA:  What for?

ANDRÉS:  Read a bit.


ANDRÉS:  It’s fun. Are you frightened?

(MIRANDA picks up the book. She opens a page at random. She looks at ANDRÉS. Reads.)

MIRANDA:  “As well as beating and biting them, Anne would insult every member of her family in a very cruel fashion. She slept on the stone floor of her house, ate spiders, flies, and coal, and drank her own urine. Her body emitted nauseating vapours, and she would wander for hours through the house, screaming and even spitting blood. At one point, Anne also began to self-mutilate, beating herself against the walls and furniture, and tearing her clothing. (Pause.) This aggression continued throughout her sessions of exorcism. The young woman’s attacks were sometimes so violent that neither three men working together, nor even the use of chains, could hold her down. Anne could jump to a height of almost one metre, and on one occasion threw both her father and a priest to the other side of the room in a single blow. The attacks grew worse. Anne would lose consciousness and become rigid with increasing frequency. The ritual lasted for several months, in the presence of family members and other witnesses. During the exorcisms, the possessed woman reproduced conversations held between demons. Days before her death, Anne screamed, stating that ‘all the demons were following her.’ This caused even her closest friends to stop visiting her, with the exception of her boyfriend: ‘She would mumble to me about getting away from her, but I never left her on her own.’” 

(MIRANDA slams the book shut. She places it on the table. Puts on her coat.)

MIRANDA:  I’m going out for a second.

ANDRÉS:  What for?

MIRANDA:  I have to make a call.

ANDRÉS:  Use this phone if you like.

MIRANDA:  I’ll use my mobile.

ANDRÉS:  I won’t charge you.

MIRANDA:  Will the café be open at the abbey?

ANDRÉS:  This time of night?

MIRANDA:  I’m starving.

ANDRÉS:  Should have said before.

(ANDRÉS leaves the socket and goes to the back of the guardhouse. He opens a small fridge and takes out a few packages. He places a piece of cheese, some cooked meats, and a little bread on a plate.)

ANDRÉS:  You like cheese?

MIRANDA:  There’s no need.

ANDRÉS:  You don’t like cheese?

MIRANDA:  Really, there’s no need.

ANDRÉS:  Not mass-produced, this. They make it on a farm, just near here. Chorizo?

(ANDRÉS gives her the plate. MIRANDA accepts it somewhat resignedly. She takes off her coat and sits by the heater.)

MIRANDA:  It looks good.

ANDRÉS:  You can use the phone if you like.

MIRANDA:  Do you think they’ll be long . . . ?

ANDRÉS:  Couple of hours at least.

MIRANDA:  That long?

ANDRÉS:  You can use the phone if you like.

(Silence. MIRANDA begins to eat.)

ANDRÉS:  Nice having some company. I’m always on my own. Stuck in here. Alone. (Stands. Leaves the tools on the table.) Anyway. Fucking socket!

MIRANDA:  Have you fixed it?


(ANDRÉS sits on his seat. He stares at MIRANDA.)

ANDRÉS:  I spend the whole day in here. Alone. I go walking through the corridors sometimes. Into the corners. Take a stroll, keep myself occupied.

MIRANDA:  I’m not surprised.

ANDRÉS:  What do you mean?

MIRANDA:  This place, it’s . . . 

ANDRÉS:  It’s . . . ?

MIRANDA:  It’s full of dead bodies. Do you know how many dead bodies there are here?

ANDRÉS:  Exactly thirty-three thousand, eight hundred and forty-seven.

MIRANDA:  This place only stays up thanks to them. A cave carved out of the mountain and crammed full of corpses.

ANDRÉS:  What’s the matter?

MIRANDA:  Nothing.

ANDRÉS:  You seem a bit nervous.

MIRANDA:  There was an inspection the other day. They were checking what state the remains were in.

ANDRÉS:  Right.

MIRANDA:  I wanted to see it. I asked for permission to go with them. In the crypts where they were buried, the water’s leaked through. It’s damaged the corpses. The bones have all got mixed together. I had to rush straight back out. I thought I was going to throw up. Ever since then . . . 

ANDRÉS:  What?

MIRANDA:  Nothing.

ANDRÉS:  I’m used to hearing all kinds of comments about this place. Everyone gives me their theory. Some call it a work of art. Some call it a terrifying fascist theme park. All kinds of comments.

MIRANDA:  Can I really say what I think?

ANDRÉS:  Go ahead.


MIRANDA:  There was a dictatorship in this country that lasted for forty years. Forty years of panic. People were so hungry they were going mad, like stray dogs. There was a dictator . . . a . . . dictator . . . who staged a coup and proceeded systematically to exterminate anyone who opposed him. This horrific place was built in a country that was dying of hunger, cold, and fear. And yet, all those corpses . . . are holding up the basilica. They’re sustaining the tomb of the man who had them murdered.

ANDRÉS:  How old are you? If you don’t mind me asking.

MIRANDA:  Twenty-nine.

ANDRÉS:  I’m surprised a twenty-nine-year-old woman should talk with such rage about something she’s never experienced. About a story. Because that’s what it is to you. A narrative.

MIRANDA:  I have two degrees. History and restoration. I’ve studied history. Do you understand?


MIRANDA:  I’ve read many more books than you can imagine. And I don’t read them in fragments to see what a single sentence tells me.

ANDRÉS:  And you believe them?


ANDRÉS:  Books.

MIRANDA:  I’ve read books by very important people. Great writers, historians . . . What do you think?

ANDRÉS:  But you didn’t experience it.

MIRANDA:  There are some things you don’t have to experience to realise that . . . (Pause. Tries to contain herself.) My parents experienced the dictatorship. And my grandparents lived through the war.

ANDRÉS:  And those are the people who’ve told you the story that’s making you so nervous now. Told you it in pieces. Phrases disjointed in time. After-dinner chats, family get-togethers. Discussions with friends. Advice for the future. Telling you who your enemies should be.

MIRANDA:  That’s ridiculous.

ANDRÉS:  They’ve forced you to suffer from their wounds. Look at how you get when you talk about it.

MIRANDA:  This monument is built on the victims. Perishing here with their executioners. Isn’t that true? The remains of hundreds of Republicans were transferred to this Valley. Without their families’ consent. And they were put here with their own murderers. All together as a sign of reconciliation.

ANDRÉS:  Why shouldn’t that be a reconciliation? The past is the past. You can’t change what’s already happened.

MIRANDA:  We live in a democracy.


MIRANDA:  This place was built by Republican slaves. They were forced to build their own graves. It’s shameful. Democracy should condemn the atrocities of dictatorship. It was barbaric what was done here. Hundreds of the dead stolen from their families. They spent years and years looking for them, missing them, waiting for them to come back.

ANDRÉS:  It’s all over now. Why think about it?


ANDRÉS:  There’s no reason to go on thinking about it.

MIRANDA:  It was barbaric!

ANDRÉS:  Sometimes, to survive, you just have to leave your dignity aside.

(MIRANDA is uncomfortable. She stands. ANDRÉS stands too. He starts making coffee.)

MIRANDA:  I’m going out to make a call.

ANDRÉS:  Shit. Bloody coffee machine doesn’t work.


translated from the Spanish by William Gregory

The Sickness of Stone
was first performed on 6 July 2016 as a rehearsed reading as part of Out of the Wings 2016 at the Anatomy Museum, King's College London. It was directed by William Gregory and performed by Denise Hoey and Christopher Knott.