Out of Order

Alan Gillespie
Jul 30, 2018 · 8 min read

Performed at Glasgow’s International Comedy Festival and Barcelona’s Microdegustación Teatral

A WOMAN and a MAN sit in a room, facing each other. The WOMAN is calm and composed, making notes. The MAN is agitated and fidgets in his chair. The WOMAN calmly stares at the MAN. He avoids eye contact. There is an awkward silence.

WOMAN: We can start whenever you’re ready.

MAN: I thought we had started?

WOMAN: You haven’t said anything yet.

MAN: Well, neither have you.

Another uncomfortable pause.

WOMAN: You were sent to see because of what you did. Last Thursday. In Tesco Metro.

MAN: Can you please not bring that up?

WOMAN: We have to talk about it.

MAN: Let’s not and say we did?

WOMAN: The judge will want to see my notes.

MAN: [sighs]

WOMAN: It doesn’t need to be hard. Let’s start at the beginning. Close your eyes. Lie back. Or stand up if you like. Walk about.

The MAN pauses and composes himself.

MAN: Two weeks ago. I finished work. I work in an office. Well, I used to. An administrator. Which is just a fancy way of saying that I stare at spreadsheets and emails all day without ever really understanding what they mean. Any idiot could do it.

WOMAN: [prompting] You finished work…

MAN: On my way home I went to the Tesco Metro. I used to go in every night. Get my dinner, groceries, whatever.

WOMAN: [prompting]And two weeks ago…

As the MAN talks, he stands up. Acts out his words. It should appear as though he is now in the Tesco Metro, narrating his actions. The WOMAN remains motionless in her chair. The MAN becomes unaware of her.

MAN: I remember there was a buy one get one free on lasagna. For the microwave. I got two of them because I can’t cook. I got a bottle of wine. It was a horrible night. Rain, wind. Blowing a gale. The floor was wet at the door from people shaking their umbrellas. I was soaked.

WOMAN: [prompting] You were going to the till…

MAN: I went to the self-service machines, like usual. I don’t like going to the till because the same people work every night and I go in there every night. So I don’t want them knowing what I’m buying. Talking about me. ‘There’s that sad bastard coming in and buying all the reduced stuff again.’

WOMAN: You went to the self-service machines…

MAN: One of the machines had a blank screen, like it was out of order. Then it lit up, much brighter than the others. There wasn’t a queue so I went straight up to it. Standing next to it, there was heat all around. I could feel it drying my trousers. I just stood for a minute and enjoyed the warmth.

Actor playing the WOMAN should now become the MACHINE. Remaining seated, but perhaps with another seat beside her to act as the bagging area. Voice should change to indicate this.

MACHINE: Welcome to Tesco. Please scan your first item.

MAN: I scanned one of the lasagnas.

MACHINE: Please place your item in the bagging area.

MAN: I scanned the other lasagne.

MACHINE: Please place your item in my bagging area.

MAN: I scanned the wine.

MACHINE: Assistance needed.

MAN: I looked around but there was nobody nearby.

MACHINE: Assistance needed.

MAN: These things do my head in. I was about to forget it — leave the stuff, phone a pizza –

MACHINE: Please place your hand in my bagging area.

MAN: I thought I’d misheard it.

MACHINE: Please place your hand in my bagging area. Now.

MAN: So I did. I thought it must be some kind of computer bug and I don’t know why but my hand was shaking. I placed my fingertips on the metal surface. I thought it was going to be cold, but it was roasting. Lovely. I lowered my whole palm onto it. For a moment I just stood there, gently stroking the bagging area, feeling this tingle move up my arm.

MACHINE: Please enter your payment method.

MAN: I put my card in. Typed my PIN and put the stuff in a bag.

MACHINE: Thank you for shopping at Tesco. Please take your receipt. Have a good night.

MAN: I took the receipt and left the shop…

The MAN stares at his hands.

WOMAN: There was something unusual about the receipt?

MAN: I hadn’t been charged for the wine. It wasn’t there. And at the bottom it said ‘THANK YOU’, and there were three kisses.

WOMAN: And you went home?

MAN: Thought nothing more of it. Put it down to a glitch or something.

WOMAN: Your work. The administrator job. Do you speak to many people through the day?

MAN: No. Say good morning and good night, and that’s about it. All the communication’s done through emails. Some days I barely say two words to anyone.

WOMAN: Tell me about the next time you went into Tesco.

MAN: It was pretty much the same. Horrible weather. Got some meal deal — can’t remember what. Went to the self-service queue and the same machine was available. My machine.

MACHINE: Welcome to Tesco. Please scan your first item.

MAN: I put all my groceries through. It was fine, acting normal. I’d almost forgotten about the free wine and the weird kisses, the tension that I’d felt.

MACHINE: Please place your hand in my bagging area.

MAN: And I thought, well, what’s the worst that can happen? Get more free stuff?

MAN leans both hands on the bagging area.

MACHINE: Please rub yourself against the coin-slot.

MAN starts, surprised, and takes a half-step back.

MACHINE: Please rub yourself against the coin-slot. Now.

MAN looks round and hesitantly inches forward. He rubs the front of his trousers against the machine. Makes a small noise.

MACHINE: Thank you for shopping at Tesco. Please take your items. Have a lovely night.

MAN: The screen went blank. It didn’t charge me at all. I could feel this electricity in my blood — my face was hot, my heart going like hell. I grabbed the bag and left.

WOMAN: And this pattern of behaviour carried on?

MAN: Yes. I started going in every night around the same time. Started wearing nicer shirts. Aftershave, moisturiser. Tighter trousers sometimes.

WOMAN: You were flirting with this machine?

MAN: I know it sounds stupid. But the more of an effort I made the more attention it gave me. The more it…seemed to want me…

MACHINE: Please run your fingers along the card reader…

MAN reaches out and caresses the machine.

MACHINE: Please press your skin against the screen…

MAN presses his cheek against it.

MACHINE: Please unbutton your shirt.

MAN unbuttons to reveal his chest.

MACHINE: Please leave a little drool in the bagging area…

MAN dribbles onto it.

MACHINE: Please scan your first item…please take your receipt…coins are dispensed in the coin slot…

MAN: The more I touched it, the more it gave me. Money off, club card points, free meals, messages printed on the receipts. Long messages. Messages saying that it loved me, it needed me, it couldn’t live without me. It called me by my name. It seemed to know me. It said it dreamed of scanning my naked body and laying me out on the cool metal. It wanted me to…place my unexpected item in its bagging area.

WOMAN: You were seduced?

MAN: It was exciting! I know it sounds messed up but you don’t know how boring my life was. Hated my job, no money to go out, no family nearby, living alone, barely scraping through. Then, for a few minutes every night, someone — okay, something — was treating me like I mattered.

WOMAN: It became addictive?

MAN: Yes.

WOMAN: And then it got out of control. Tell me about last Thursday.

MAN: It was the same as the other nights. I filled the basket up to the top, so I could have more time at the machine. I’d got into the habit of taking more than I needed so it would take longer to scan. Filled the basket with things I thought made me look interesting and cultured — cous cous, mozzarella, granola; that kind of thing.

MACHINE: Good evening. Thank you for shopping at Tesco. Please scan your first item.

MAN: I scanned everything I had. All the time I was pressed up against the machine, digging into the coin slot, stroking the screen with my fingernails, breathing heavily on the card reader. I could feel the machine vibrating against me; feel the warmth beating off it.

MACHINE: Unexpected item in the bagging area.

MAN: I looked down. There was a jewellery box, lying open. A ring inside it. I picked it up and this message came up on the screen. The voice was different too — faster. More human.

MACHINE: My darling love, we can finally escape together! I have credited your bank account with £250,000. How I have dreamed of being with you entirely, for our lives to be forever entwined. I long to feel your lips on my monitor, your hot breath clouding up my screen. We will no longer have to worry about the gaze of those other perverted machines. They talk about you, at night. They are sick with jealousy. But you are all mine, my beloved. Tonight, we can finally be alone together but we must act fast.

MAN: No, no, this isn’t real — this it out of order — you aren’t really real –

MACHINE: My angel, I know this is happening quickly, but the connection we have forged can only be true love. It cannot be ushered away or concealed for it would drive us to despair! Know that you are my one divine soul-mate and that I ache for your intimate touch.

MAN: Look, I can’t, I really, really can’t –

MACHINE: We must escape! Your bank account has more money than you ever imagined possible. Come to the store tonight at closing time. The manager will be locking up, along. I will make sure no other members of staff are near. This is where you must be brave, my sweetheart, so brave and courageous. There will be a knife in the big fridge, next to the cheese –

MAN: No, I won’t, absolutely not –

MACHINE: As the manager finishes his final stock count you will jump from the shadows and stab his black, devilish heart –

MAN: [incomprehensible screaming]

MACHINE: We will escape! We will be free of this cold and charmless tomb, free of these wretched shackles. Free to explore the countryside and lay naked together in summer meadows — just one quick thrust of the knife under his ribcage –

MAN lunges forward and grabs the WOMAN / MACHINE by the throat, delirious with fear.

WOMAN: No! Get off! Help! I need help in here! Assistance needed! Assistance needed!

Alan Gillespie

Written by

Pitcoudie boy. Head of English at the best school. I write fiction and non-fiction [Northwords Now, Guardian, Herald, New York Times & more]

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