There are boys with mops. They are on stage in a school cafeteria of the suburban sort. The families sit in chairs that face the stage. The boys are in dark navy uniforms with red shoulder braids. They wear caps and knee socks. They are serious.
Music starts and they move. They swing their mops in a stiff way, moving with the slow banging rhythm of cool blood.
A man, their leader, stands off to one side of the stage. He smiles. He is proud of the boys. They have worked for this. The families do not understand if this is a joke. Their boys, their proud boys in uniform, are moving in ways that make them uncomfortable. They are holding mops and cleaning the stage. They are moving too slowly. If they were really cleaning, they certainly wouldn’t clean like that. They would put their backs into it and bend down a little more. They are good boys and they do what they are told. The families suddenly fear the leader. What is he doing with their boys? What kind of leader is he? To make them mop the stage to a sluggish beat. He must be laughing at them behind his teeth.
After a few minutes the boys are on the floor. They hold their mops straight up, the cloth end high in the air. As the song stops they drop the mops. The wooden handles hit the floor near their heads. They wait for the clapping their leader told them would come. The families start to move their hands together and the boys figure this will do. They sit up and grin. They did it!
The leader claps. The boys stand up, brush off the seats of their pants and take a bow. The music starts again as they exit stage right. They meet their families and drink red punch. There is cake.
“So, what was that about?” asks a nervy parent to the leader.
“Did you ask your son?” he says. He is holding a plastic cup with ice cubes in it. He is waiting for the punch to make its way to him.
“No, I didn’t.” The parent doesn’t like the tone the leader is using.
“Ask him, then ask me,” he says. He smiles, as if this were a good idea.
The parents do not ask their sons what has happened. They just tell them they did a good job. The boys seem happy and are getting excited from the cake and punch. They start to reenact their performance, for fun, in a spontaneous way. One of the boys intones the heavy beat. They jump back up on stage and pick up their mops. They fall down and let the mops drop. The one boy stops making the sound. They all laugh and push themselves around on their backs. They start to hit each other with the cloth end of the mops. Mothers come and grab their sons by their uniform shirts. They are blaming each other. What can they do to the boys to undo what the leader has done? They take them home with red lips and tongues, blue icing ground into khaki pants. The boys knowthat their parents are unhappy. They wonder if they did not mop well enough.
The leader’s wife helps him put away the chairs and throw away the empty cups. She didn’t understand the performance. Their son was a part of it, too. Their daughter didn’t watch the stage, but bobbed her head to the beat and drew graphite circles on the nails of her thumbs. The leader’s wife thinks the daughter probably understood what happened, but doesn’t ask her.
The leader nods to the custodian to tell him that they are finished cleaning up.They leave and the custodian locks the double doors behind them. The custodian mops the floor.