This Great Society - Arts

 

 

Illustration: Joel Bentley

Noah C. Buck: In from the Cold
Illustration: Joel Bentley

 
 

 

ACT I

Scene 1

Curtain raises to dimly lit kitchen set spanning across stage left and center with a door exiting kitchen to side yard on stage right. Along the kitchen perimeter is generous counter space punctuated by a deep sink with a window above the faucet and ending at a doorway leading off stage left. A red wall-mounted phone and long coiling cord perch on the wall next to the doorway. Downstage center sits a simple table surrounded by four chairs. Outside the door leading to the yard is a small set of steps going down to a simple concrete walkway leading off stage right.

A loud, traditional telephone chime begins to ring.

Enter MARY from stage right, dressed in a warm coat and festive muffler, carrying a large wreath and a full paper bag of groceries. She might shiver, maybe slip a little making her way to the door. All the while the phone continues to ring. Struggling to keep from toppling, MARY fumbles for house keys, unlocks the side door, enters the kitchen, sets down her shopping and flips a switch next to the door; the lights go up on only the kitchen.

The phone rings again.

MARY (Calls off stage left) Jackson. Jackson can you get that?

Phone rings.

MARY (Rushes over and picks up phone) Merry Christmas, this is the Donovans… Oh, hello Jack, I was just calling you– No, I haven't had the chance I only just got home. Barely got to Woodby's before they closed for the night. Where are you?

Enter PETER from off stage right, wearing a leather jacket and muffler, a large bouquet of all white flowers wrapped in brown paper under his arm. He stops at the base of the stairs and looks up at the door. Maybe he switches the bouquet from one hand to the other, jamming the empty hand in his pocket to keep it warm.

MARY I've still got plenty to do and everyone's set to arrive in less than an hour. Yes, of course I told him to get here before everybody else. (Regards kitchen table strewn with groceries and wreath)

MARY This is such a mess. I have to go. Drive safely. (Hangs up, breathes a deep sigh, places hands on hips, then goes directly to the table where she picks up the wreathe and walks over to the door to the yard.)

PETER turns around, almost deciding not to come in, then turns once again just as MARY opens the door to hang the wreath. To her it seems as though he's just walking up.

MARY (Amused) Well look at that timing. Hello there Peter.

PETER Hi Mom. (slight pause) That wreath is great. I don't think you've ever had one that nice before.

MARY (Hangs wreath on door. PETER stays where he stands) Last year's was really nice, Pete. I loved last year's.

PETER (Bashfully) Oh, I don't know. I mean it fell apart so fast last year. I don't think I even made it through Christmas day.

MARY (Turns around) What do you mean? You made it through just fine.

PETER The wreath.

MARY Last Christmas?

PETER Yes. The wreath. Didn't make it.

MARY You didn't make the wreath last Christmas?

PETER Yes, I made the wreath.

MARY Oh. Right. (pause) I bought this one at Woodby's.

PETER It's nice. I like it.

MARY It's alright. I liked last year's.

PETER You never asked me to this year.

MARY Now Peter–

PETER It's fine. Really. It's just a decoration. Something to show off.

MARY Look honey, it's a lot more than–

PETER (Brusquely) Can we go inside? It's cold out here. The two look at one another a moment then enter the kitchen where

MARY begins putting away the various groceries still laying on the table.

PETER stands slightly away, bouquet drooping carelessly from his hand.

MARY (without looking at PETER) Are those for me?

PETER Why didn't you ask me?

MARY (Purposefully not listening) I'll get them some water.

PETER Mom.

MARY Oh, how silly of me. They're for someone else.

PETER (Angrily) Mom!

MARY There's no need to shout, Peter. It was just a mistake.

PETER So you meant to tell me then. You forgot to call.

MARY Don't be so upset. It's just a wreath. I saw that Woodby's had them right there, so I just picked one up. It was easy.

PETER As easy as forgetting to ask me to Christmas?

MARY Oh goodness, I forgot cinnamon sticks for the cider.

PETER (slams fist on table) ANSWER ME MOTHER, GOD DAMMIT!

MARY (stops and stares at PETER) I believe you just gave yourself all the answer you need, son.

PETER What? Because I shouted? Because I started yelling?

MARY Peter, you're unpredictable. First it's a little argument. Then you start screaming and after that, well, you might– you might–

PETER What? I might what?

MARY Hurt somebody.

PETER You think I would hurt someone?

MARY Let's not pretend please. You know as well as I do that you've been known to be violent when–

PETER (incredulous) Violent?

MARY (Loud though not quite yelling) When provoked!

PETER It was only that one time. And I said I’m sorry!

MARY (About to retort, MARY stops herself, looks down, then speaks) When– when people get angry– we all need to be in control of– everybody else isn't responsible for you. You're responsible for you.

PETER Alright, so I'm responsible for myself.

MARY Yes.

PETER Even when provoked.

MARY Yes.

PETER So what about the people doing the provoking?

MARY It's not for you to think about them. You only need to think about yourself.

PETER Oh, I get it: I'm just supposed to think about myself. (Pause, waits for MARY to nod in agreement) But then, when somebody provokes me – by accusing me of thinking only about myself – I'm just supposed to stand by and take it with a smile and thank you since all I'm supposed to do is think about myself.

MARY I can't talk to you when you're like this.

PETER Like what, Mom? Rational?

MARY This is not rationality, Peter. You're attacking me.

PETER There wouldn't be any attack if you'd just tell me why you didn't ask me to come tonight.

MARY Peter – son – you KNOW why I didn't, why I COULDN'T invite you to come tonight–

PETER Do you know how I had to find out?

MARY The family has had a hard enough year–

PETER Facebook.

MARY What?

PETER Facebook.

MARY That website?

PETER I had to read about tonight on Elizabeth's status update.

MARY I don't know what that means.

PETER What it means is that I have two parents, five siblings, and god only knows how many aunts, uncles and cousins who knew about this evening and not a single one of them told me about it! I feel like Uncle Byron. Like some damned pariah!

MARY Peter you're being ridiculous. Your uncle Byron is NOT a pariah and neither are you.

PETER Oh, of course not. We're just the two blood members of this family no longer welcome at the gift exchange. Would things be different if I brought better presents?

MARY You know very well why your uncle Byron didn't come to Christmas last year.

PETER Of course I know why that scumbag isn't invited. But I'm not the one who slept with every flight attendant and ten dollar hooker from here to Japan while married with two kids. So why am I being kicked out too?

MARY You’re not being “kicked out,” Peter. We just need you to–

PETER Well, who said that I need any of you anyway?

MARY Do you even hear yourself? You're so cruel when you get angry and you get angry so easily. If you spent half a second considering how much those kinds of things hurt your family, if you thought about other people's feelings–

PETER I'm sorry mother, but apparently all I'm supposed to do is think about myself. Isn't that right?

Flustered, MARY turns her back to PETER putting both hands down on the counter top.

MARY I don't have time to fight like this, Peter. You're my son. I love you. But I love your brothers and sister and father too and I need to look out for them as well. Now please, just go for tonight.

PETER But mom–

MARY (miserably) I just need you to go.

MARY keeps her back to PETER who stands still a moment, then turns and walks toward the door to the yard. He stands in front of it, then turns back.

PETER You were right, mom. (pause, MARY turns to face him) The flowers are for you. PETER walks slowly back to the table and sets down the bouquet.

MARY (quietly) Thank you, son. They're really beautiful. I should put them in water.

PETER Do you want me to get down one of the vases? I mean, so long as I'm here.

MARY Yes. Yes, please. Thank you, son.

PETER steps over to the cupboard next to the phone and reaches up to the top shelf, retrieving a simple glass vase.

MARY Sometimes I still can't fathom how I gave birth to so many children who are so much taller than I am. Who can reach so much farther.

PETER I like how you try to come up with a reason to make me feel special, when in reality you just need me to do something for you because I happen to be tall.

MARY That's not so at all! You are special! You're my child and that's all the reason I need. We share something no one will ever be able to take away.

PETER It's just another relationship, mom. Just another way of describing a connection between people. Maybe nobody could take it away. But a person can let it go pretty easily if you asked me.

MARY Well–

PETER Wait, you don't ask me things anymore.

MARY Peter, let's not. Not again.

PETER Fine, fine. Sorry, just one last gripe I guess. (They are both silent for a moment) It's true, though. You know? About being able to let go of that connection to someone, that bond. It's just a relationship. People have enough relationships that one or two are not too difficult to forget about every once in awhile. (MARY nods somewhat absently) And anyway, all a relationship really ever comes down to is a sort of shared awkwardness. Not awkwardness. Secret. No, not a secret. It's...it's...esoteric. That's it. It's two people who know certain things about certain things. And they both get a kick out of knowing the same certain things about the same certain things. But even then, nothing is certain. About the two of them I mean: Person A and Person B. Chances are they might make one another's "easy to let go" list. Eventually we all try to find our way off of that list for good. I think that's why we glorify family so much. We all pretend that being genetically linked is some sort of stand-in for sharing something mutually important, some sort of scientific guarantee. At the end of the day sharing DNA with a person doesn't do anymore for your chances of liking them – of loving them – or of them loving you...

PETER goes silent.

Phone rings.

PETER instinctively reaches to answer as MARY hurries to try and intercept.

MARY (urgently) Oh, I'll get that.

PETER Hello? (darkly) Oh hi, Byron.

MARY (too sweetly) Here Petey, I'll talk to him.

PETER (shooing away MARY) Tonight? Oh no, I won't be here. (Shoots spiteful glance at MARY) Yeah, me too. I'm just busy, that's all. Didn't hear about it in time. I have plans. (Speaks to BYRON while looking directly at MARY) But I'm sure you'll all have a great time. Yes, here she is. Good bye, Byron. PETER thrusts the receiver into MARY's hands and begins to make for the door to the outside.

MARY (quickly) Byron, I'll call you right back. (hangs up hurriedly) Peter wait!

PETER (over his shoulder as he keeps walking) You want me to go. I have somewhere to be anyway.

MARY (Hurrying after him) Peter, don't be hurt.

PETER I really am sorry I hurt you, okay? I never meant to push you.

MARY Wait. Peter wait!

PETER And I’m sorry my little brothers had to see.

MARY That’s all over.

PETER This is not over. It’s so not over. Do you know how it feels to be this angry and yet righteous at the same time?

MARY What?

PETER (during his speech PETER might pace back and forth in front of MARY or walk a circle around her like a predator) It's like craving something sweet – something like pumpkin pie – for longer than you can even remember. So much that you can imagine yourself eating an entire mountain of it all on your own. And then – BAM! – you look down and find that you have some – you have a whole lot – right in front of you. And without a single thought, you sink your teeth into the biggest bite you can manage even though it gets all over your face. And you don't even care about the mess, because it tastes incredible. (MARY cowers as PETER laughs loudly only to deteriorate into emotion) And all the time you hate yourself more than you could ever imagine just because you're enjoying it so much. That's what it feels like. Angry and righteous.

MARY I... I... Oh, Peter...

PETER (Accentuating every word) You hate yourself. More than you could ever imagine.

MARY Oh, Peter. Peter, Peter, Peter. My son, Peter.

PETER (Softening) Mother.

MARY (Holding her arms open to him) Oh, Peter. Honey. My little boy.

PETER (Lets himself be embraced) Mom.

MARY Shh. Shhh. There, there. (Holds him and rocks him like a baby while looking at the sky) Do you remember the Christmas we spent at Grampa's cabin? (PETER nods with his head still on her shoulder) We all promised to make each other presents instead of buying them. Your sister crocheted that throw I still have. Your father built a toy chest. And do you remember what you made?

PETER Blocks. I made a set of building blocks for Joshua.

MARY That's right. You made a set of building blocks. And on Christmas morning you were so eager for your brother to unwrap his gift.

PETER I can't imagine why. (Chuckling) They were just a bunch of pieces of scrap wood that dad helped me spray paint. If one of the kids had given them to me I wouldn't have been any kind of thrilled. And anyway, Joshua didn't even keep them. Because of that man. Elliot.

MARY That's right. Because of that man. Elliot. (Quietly, almost to herself) Elliot. Gosh, I can't believe you remember his name. He knocked on the door hungry and hopeless and your father and I disagreed on him staying for dinner.

PETER You two flat out fought about it, Mom. The bathroom door in Grampa's cabin isn't soundproof.

MARY Well, whatever you heard happening between your father and I, I'm sorry. You kids shouldn't have had to hear us screaming. Especially on Christmas. But do you know why I was so insistent that your father let Elliot stay to dinner with the family?

PETER Because he was hungry. And something about Jesus.

MARY Because we had something he needed. And we had enough of it to share.

PETER Like Joshua's blocks.

MARY Your little brother was so happy to be able to give that man something for Christmas. But it wasn't just a present –
(Looks directly at PETER)
A LOVELY present that was gratefully received; it was someone who needed something and wasn't afraid of showing it.

PETER You need to call Byron back.

MARY Why can't you need us, Pete? We're your family. We DO love you. And no matter how you spin it, we're not going to let you go. Because it doesn't matter what happens, we were only given one of you. And I'm sorry, but there's no way I'm sharing. Not with Elliot. Not with anybody.

PETER (turns away from MARY) You think I wanted to keep you from coming tonight? Do you think I was glad to ask everyone to keep it quiet? I knew it would hurt you. I knew. And that hurt me a lot more than I think you may realize. But the truth is that your anger has hurt all of us too. A lot more than you may realize. I don’t blame you for being upset at being left out. Yes, I can admit that we left you out and looking back I know that that was not the proper way to go about things. We should have talked. We should have sat down and had a conversation. We should have done a lot of things differently. But that’s how hindsight works. It reminds you how if you’d been stronger – if you…if I hadn’t been so weak – everything might have been so much better. I was exhausted by all of it. The yelling, the insults, the tension. And I tried to take the easy way out. But there is no easy way to say that I want you to be here, to be a part of all of this…this…family. I just don’t want you to be so angry with us. You need to decide to let the anger go.

PETER (steps away from MARY) Mom –

MARY (maybe she reaches for him or maybe she pulls her sweater around her and crosses her arms tightly) But you need to want us. You need to decide NOT to let US go.

PETER Mom, I really meant it when I said I had to be somewhere.

MARY Where are you going?

PETER You have to call Byron.

MARY Son.

PETER I was going to go see South Pacific at the University Cinema. There's a 6:15 show and they're giving everybody hot cocoa with tiki straws.

MARY Are you meeting anyone? Who are you seeing it with?

PETER I was just going by myself.

MARY You know I haven't seen that movie in years. (Thinks a moment) I'm getting my coat and purse. We can walk there by 6:15, can't we?

PETER Mom, you have to call Byron. And the party –

MARY Byron will be fine. He just wants to know what kind of pie to bring for dessert. And your father will handle the family.

PETER I'm not actually going by myself, Mom.

MARY Oh?

PETER I'm meeting Phillip.

MARY Oh.

PETER I didn't want to make you uncomfortable saying anything earlier.

MARY I see.

PETER Mom, I'm not trying to –

MARY No, no. It's fine. You're fine. Everything is fine. (Takes a deep breath) Will he mind if I sit with you two?

PETER What?

MARY Phillip. Will he mind?

PETER You're still coming?

MARY I can stay home if you would rather I not muss up your date. It's a date right? You and Phillip are...seeing...each other? Yes?

PETER Yes, mom.

MARY Well. Then it's settled. I need to get my coat or we're really going to be late.

PETER It's fine, Mom. We don't need to rush. We'll get there when we get there. And that's fine with me.

THE END

 

 
   
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