Tilty Gringot frowns at the fresh face of the morning and draws shut the curtains. He is an ambler and a shuffler, Tilty, and as he walks from the window to the kitchen small flurries of dust obscure his feet and gather about the legs of his pajama pants. He opens the fridge, and his space is momentarily illuminated. So let us pause for a moment to take advantage of the light and survey Tilty’s studio.

Seven life-sized wooden puppets hang in the gloom like the wreckage of a ship suspended weightless and still in the depths of some ocean crag. Above them is the small crawlspace from which Tilty manipulates their strings. They are completely featureless, from neck to waist they are sheer and sexless and from the hips down they are sterile. But at the moment one bears a gold and safire-studded coronet, another a tattered monk’s habit, while a third has around her head a pair of woman’s underpants and a stocking on one leg. They hang in front of a painted scrim on which we can see the intersection of two city blocks. Citizens are frozen mid-bustle, but the scrim is so masterfully painted as to give one the impression of loud and overwhelming cosmopolitan life. Indeed the presence of such a painting in the quiet obscurity of Tilty’s studio is grim indeed.

Tilty takes from the refrigerator his breakfast and closes the door. All again is bathed in a fulvous half-light. The wooden puppets appear tawny and defeated, hanging in absolute stillness. They appear not to be petrified, as the passerby familiar with shop-window mannequins would suppose, but ultimately and finally spent. The ends of their limbs, the stumps of their fingerless hands and toeless feet, the mouth and forehead regions of their flattened faces are all worn slightly, chipped in places and cracked in certain unmentionable spots. But enough of these observations, for Tilty has finished his breakfast and is mounting the ladder up to the crawlspace. At the top, he touches a switch and from an unseen gramophone a static whisper calls the puppets to life. Tilty scampers back and forth, manipulating the strings. An ominous plucking of a banjo accentuates the sudden movements of the crowned king as he approaches the waiting monk.

“Excuse me,” says the king.

“I’m sorry,” says the monk, “let me get out of your way.”

“Excuse me,” says the king.

“You are excused,” says the monk. High above their heads Tilty snickers.

“Excuse me,” says the king.

“Hey, no problem,” says the monk, “I was just moving along anyway, and have no problem getting out of your way, seeing as how it was what I was planning on doing, independent of your asking me to move out of your way.”

“I appreciate that,” says the king.

The king moves his arms in long arcs as he speaks, while the monk is a shamble of shuttering tics, his head jerking back from his head and his elbows a flurry of motion. Tilty races back and forth along the crawlspace as he tugs each string. He calls down their lines in his timorous tremble.

“Excuse me,” says the king.

“Yes?” says the monk.

“Hi,” says the king, “I’m not sure if you remember me-“

“Oh God,” says the monk, “Charles?”

“No no…no my name is Tilty” says the king.

“Oh, quite right,” says the monk, who turns to head off towards the other end of the stage, “Tilty, well it was nice seeing you, Tilty.”

Tilty, perspiring, resets the monk to his original position.

“Excuse me,” says the king.

“Tilty!” says the monk, “Tilty, I would never have guessed that here of all places“

“It’s good to see you,” says the king.

“What are you doing out here in the middle of the jungle?” says the monk.

“What are you doing in Spain?” says the monk.

“What are you doing in this castle?” says the monk.

“I’m king now,” says the king.

“Get out!” says the monk, “king of the entire empire?”

“The whole fucking thing,” says the king.

“The entire empire,” says the king.

“Well, as much of it as I can see from the castle, certainly,” jokes the king.

“Incredible,” says the monk.

“Isn’t it?” says the king.

“It is,” says the monk, “Tilty Gringot, king of the empire.”

A woman enters from stage right.

“And this is my wife,” says the king.

“Pleasure to meet you,” says the woman.

“And this is Amanda, my wife,” says the king.

“And this is Fantasia,” says the King, “my beautiful beautiful beautiful cousin.”

“Oh, look who it is,” says the king, “this is Rebecca, my fiance.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” says the woman.

Tilty scampers back and forth, his voice calling out the lines is ragged and torn and as he runs his sweat falls like rain upon the heads of his actors.

“The pleasure is all mine,” says the monk, who bends low to kiss her knees.

“The pleasure is all mine,” says the monk, who extends his hand to her. She refuses, turning her body in slightly towards her fiancée.

“How did you two meet?” says the monk.

“On a boat,” says the king.

“At a ball,” says the king.

“I don’t know,” says the king, turning towards his wife, “how did we meet?”

“That’s a secret,” she says, and leans her head against his shoulder.

They all fall limp. Tilty, sprawled on his back, his chest straining desperately for air, smiles up at the ceiling. As he catches his breath, the smile turns into a strange sort of leer and then the darkness falls over his face. He sits up and hugs his knees, rocking back and forth on the crawlspace. Below, the puppets swing in regular arcs that diminish slowly to imperceptible waverings and eventually come to rest. Tilty turns off the music and climbs down the ladder. He pulls on a coat and quickly walks to the door. At the door he does his ritual unlocking, relocking, unlocking, relocking, unlocking of the door and walks out to join the maddening tide. Soon he will be behind his desk at the library, or the patent office, or the cafeteria or the deep recesses of some monstrous automaton, manipulating its movements as it rages along, leaving in its wake the smoking wreckage of a destroyed civilization.