A FAMILY'S LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE.
(A Two-Act Play)
By Gail Ylitalo
The playing space is divided into two areas by a diagonal line, which runs from downstage right to upstage left. The area behind this diagonal is on a platform and represents the Taylor’s back porch. Inside, downright is the Taylor’s living room and up center, elevated, a kitchen/dining room. The area in front of the diagonal is neutral ground—used for actors speaking their private thoughts to the audience. The various areas are made to appear like the rooms of a modest home. For the kitchen/dining room, a table and chairs are used, along with a counter holding a coffee pot and cups. There should be at least six chairs around the table. The porch area furnishings should include a glider and three outdoor chairs. The living room should have an old sofa and two easy chairs, positioned so that they’re easily viewed. Time: the 1980’s. Place: the Taylor home in Cumberland, Virginia.
Characters (daughters and sons are listed separately by descending age)
Michael Taylor (Father)
Ruby Taylor (Mother)
It’s a Sunday afternoon at the Taylor’s. The parents and two of their seven children are seated on the porch. Michael and Ruby are sitting in the glider. Anita and Steve, the “babies” of the family, are seated in chairs around them. Ruby is a young looking woman in her late 40’s. Michael, in his 50’s, is a husky man with graying hair. Anita, in her early 20’s, is petite with long, dark hair. Steve is tall and thin. He’ll be a senior in high school, and his life centers around football.
Michael. Not too much longer and you’ll be throwing that ol’ pigskin around.
Steve. Dad, do you remember what you said about making my truck payments during football season? I’ve already checked with my boss at work, and he’s going to give me a leave of absence.
Michael. (Indulgently). I’ve told you that we’d take care of it so don’t worry.
Ruby. Michael, I wish you’d remember that you’ve just retired, and money’s going to be a problem. Lord only knows when they’ll get all that paperwork taken care of! (She stares grimly at Michael). You’ve always promised Steve the moon whether it’s possible or not. We might end up needing his help to keep from losing our home!
Michael. (Ignores Ruby and changes the subject). I thought I heard a car drive up. You’d better go and see if it’s one of the kids. (Ruby frowns in frustration, stands, and hurries off).
Anita. (Puzzled). Daddy, you ought to listen to Mama. You shouldn’t be promising Steve you’ll help him if you can’t. He’s a big boy now. Mama’s been worried about money since the day you got sick. She doesn’t agree with the way that doctor retired you. (Michael doesn’t bother to answer so she turns to her brother). Steve, you know the circumstances. You do live here! Why do you keep pestering them? It’s not as if you’re going to get a scholarship to college if you play this year. You know how the system works out here—if you’re not one of the “chosen”, you don’t get crap!
Steve. (Angrily). Why don’t you stay out of this! This is between Dad and me. It’s my last year of school and I’m entitled. Speaking of freeloaders, what about your wanting rich Aunt Mary to pay your way out west so you could visit with her? The only reason you’d go is to get back at Charlie for taking that job in Buckingham. You’re too simple to realize we’re right in the middle of a recession, and he’s damned lucky to have a job at all! It upsets you because your “honey” isn’t at your beck and call. (Michael remains quiet).
Anita. (Upset). That doesn’t concern you! I have to stay around here and help out Mama and Daddy. I don’t see you doing much of anything except sitting around here acting like an ass. (Michael makes a point of not noticing the exchange. He sits back in the glider and closes his eyes).
Steve. (Calmly). Well, if you really want to know the truth about yourself, I’ll be glad to supply the information. You’re a vain, spoiled brat who’s been sheltered far too long. If I’ve been taking advantage of Mama and Dad then what the hell do you think you’ve been doing? If you weren’t so wrapped up in yourself, you’d be able to see a few obvious facts. You think you’re God’s gift to men, but one of these days someone is gonna come along and knock you out of your dream castle, flat on your butt. When that happens, and believe me it will, you’re not gonna be able to put the pieces back together!
Anita. (Infuriated). You’re a bigger ass than I thought! Since when do you get off telling me my business? Can’t you grow up and see the self-centered person you’ve become? If I’ve got hang-ups, Buster, then yours are even worse! I work and pay for my room here. I helped take care of Daddy when he was in the hospital. You made one trip to see him and then went on your merry way. You’re not even worth talking to! (She jumps up and storms out. All is quiet on the porch for a few moments. Steve tries not to show that Anita’s comments hurt him).
Michael. (Speaking as if he’d heard nothing). I think the coach should work you boys harder on defense to keep you from getting murdered. With Cumberland the smallest school in the district, he usually doesn’t have much to work with. I was really amazed when y’all won a few games last year. (He smiles). Whenever something went wrong, your mother would blame it all on the officials. She’d jump up and down, getting mad every time they called a penalty on your team. (Pauses). Despite the cold, I think she actually enjoyed going to your games.
Steve. (Thoughtfully). Yeah, we’ve lost a few good players—the Jones brothers and that big guy, Wade Smith. The coach says we don’t stand a chance moving the ball on the ground—being such a small team. We’re going to work more on passing. If we could move the ball through the air, we’d be able to score.
Michael. Your mother worries about your getting hurt. It’s hard for a woman to understand a man’s sport like football. That time you had your bell rung and ended up lying flat out on the field, I had to hold your mother down to keep her from rushing out there. She’s something else when it comes to you children. (Changes subject). Are you going up the road to play volleyball with the boys?
Steve. (Smiling). You know we play every Sunday. I’m glad my sisters married men who like to be active. We tried to get the women to play, but they’d rather sit around here moaning and groaning about their husbands out playing and having a good time.
Michael. (Sadly). I remember when I played on Sundays. (Sighs). Time passes in the twinkling of an eye. I never knew what my father meant by that until now. He was sure right. (Surprised by this unusual show of emotion from his father, Steve doesn’t know what to say. Michael, sitting forward, looks lost and afraid. The scene dims out slowly).
Lights come up on laughter and talking in the kitchen. The daughters, excepting Anita
who briefly enters the scene later, are seated at the table thumbing through the Sunday
paper—Sheila, 31 years old, slim and attractive; Joan, 28, the plain one; Karen, 26, very
pretty but obese; and Lisa, 24, small like her sister Anita. At one time, Lisa had a weight
problem like Karen and went on a starvation diet when a friend told her that she looked
like her “fat” sister. All the daughters are married except Anita. They come to see their
parents every Sunday and sit around and talk. They’re quick to point out each other’s
faults and criticize each other without mercy. Ruby has learned to let the conflicts work
themselves out. She realizes the difficulties her children have facing life. Ruby’s
standing by the coffee pot pouring herself a cup. The others are already drinking theirs.
Sheila. (While lighting a cigarette). Mama, I told you about Cindy being kicked out of her apartment. Well, last night she went out with us and got drunk out of her skull.
Ruby. (Stirring coffee). You’d better watch her when she’s around your husband—I’ve been down that road.
Sheila. (Teasing). You know me better than that! John and I have been married since we were sixteen. I trust him around my friends.
Lisa. (Looking up from the newspaper). I’m glad you trust yours. I certainly wouldn’t trust mine around a young, single girl.
Karen. (Looking around). Where’s Daddy? I haven’t seen him yet. Is he feeling better?
Ruby. (Sitting down at the table). He’s out on the porch where it’s cooler. I don’t know why we sit in here and cook—it gets so hot. (Looks at Karen). He’s better but still gets tired easily. He’s been taking a couple of naps a day.
Sheila. I know why we sit in here—because it’s closer to the food!
Karen. (Gives Sheila a disdainful look). I was asking about Daddy, and you go and make a crazy comment like that.
Sheila. (Smugly). I thought it was funny.
Karen. Well, you were speaking for yourself. I don’t need to see food. (Pauses for a few moments). I wish I could lose like Lisa did. (Looks at Ruby). The doctor told me the only way my blood pressure is going to come down is if I get the fat off.
Joan. (Pep talk). I know you could do it if you wanted to. Just think about all those people you could get back for their hateful comments! You’re much too pretty to be so heavy.
Ruby. My mama, your grandmother, always had a weight problem. I remember how hard she tried to lose weight. She finally went to the doctor who put her on a diet. She lost weight and got sick at the same time. The doctor didn’t bother to listen to her complaints and the cancer spread. The whole time she went to that doctor the cancer was growing and growing.
Sheila. (Sadly). I remember her funeral. Daddy’s mother took me. I guess I was eight years old, and she kept telling me not to cry. Daddy’s parents never cared about us. When your mama died we had no replacement.
Lisa. Let’s not get on that subject.
Sheila. Why not? It’s the truth! They never came to see us. God only knows how that hurt Daddy. His parents looked down on Mama because she had seven kids—like she did it all by herself.
Ruby. Keep it down. Your father’s not feeling well, and he doesn’t need to hear us.
Joan. He hasn’t felt well since they removed that tumor.
Sheila. (Calmly). That was one nightmare none of us was ready to deal with—the first time any of us saw Daddy in pain.
Karen. (Uncomfortably). Let’s get on another subject—one less depressing, for a change. It’s not good to sit around and talk about your woes.
Joan. I read in Psychology Today that it’s good to talk about things bothering you—all the hurts you’ve had, feelings of resentment, hostility, and jealousy. I’m sure we all have resentment towards each other.
Sheila. (Annoyed). Thank you, Doctor Freud! I remember the last rap session you got me into. If I remember right, it was you, John, and that guy you’d met in your psychology class. (Pauses for a few moments). I hate to admit I was even there—it was so embarrassing!
Joan. (Defensively). I thought it did you some good.
Sheila. (Laughs cynically). Sure it did! I talked about my mother-in-law and what a pain she is. John got mad at me for talking about his mother, your boyfriend got mad because you said he was conceited, and we all thought you were crazy for getting the damned conversation started in the first place!
Ruby. (Seeing the discomfort and hurt in Joan’s eyes, she changes the subject). Did any of you read the story in the paper about that seven-year old girl who was raped and murdered?
Lisa. (Shaking her head in disgust). When I hear about things like that I’m glad I don’t have any children.
Karen. I worry about little David all the time. Nowadays, not even little boys are safe.
Lisa. (Nodding in agreement). I really feel that we’re going through the last days. All the small wars going on; all the hateful people in this world, hurting each other, killing one another; everybody sleeping around… Maybe all this mess with herpes has to do with the plagues mentioned in the Bible. It’s strange when you think about the fact that all a few men have to do is drop a few nuclear bombs and that’s it. If that happens, I sure hope I’m one of the first to go!
Ruby. That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about. There’s not going to be anything left of this dear old country.
Sheila. (Feigns shock at her mother’s words). You mean you have no faith in Uncle Sam? What about all those shelters that were built to protect the citizens? Didn’t you listen to that man from Civil Defense many years ago? In the event of a nuclear war, he said all the people living in the cities were to move out to the rural areas and build lean-tos.
Ruby. My blood boils every time I read about our elected officials and their wanton spending. I place them on the same low level as doctors.
Joan. (Standing). Does anybody want more coffee? (All shake their heads no. She walks over and pours herself a cup while getting into the conversation). It really bothers me that people are getting so paranoid. They’ve been screaming “it’s the end of the world” since the Holy Crusades. Look how many wars have been fought defending God. If you would take one day at a time, get the most out of it, and use Daddy’s favorite saying, “Life’s one big adventure”, there would be a lot less stress around here.
Sheila. (Mockingly). Don’t you think you should get off your soapbox and dwell among us mere mortals?
Karen. I think Joan is right. We can’t do a damned thing about the way things are. Control in the average citizen’s hands was taken away long ago. (After thinking for a few moments, she turns to Sheila). We shouldn’t sit here on Sundays and insult each other.
Lisa. (Smugly). Yeah, it’s just another Sunday. Here we sit while our darling husbands are up the road playing ball like a bunch of sophomoric brats. They just bring us here so they won’t be bored by our company.
Sheila. Well, I hope my husband is having a good time because this is the last Sunday I’m coming up here to watch y’all sweat. (The others smile knowingly. Sheila has been making the same declaration every Sunday for as far back as they can remember).
Anita. (Makes a sudden entrance, still upset over her argument with Steve). Mom, have you seen my blue blouse? I left it hanging in the bathroom. (Before Ruby has a chance to answer, Lisa jumps in).
Lisa. (Annoyed because Anita didn’t bother to say hello, she tries to mimic Anita’s voice). Hello, Lisa. Why, I haven’t seen you in a week! (Goes back to her own voice). Hello, Anita, nice to see you. (The others laugh).
Anita. (Flaring). You got a problem or have you always been so weird acting?
Ruby. Anita, I think I washed that blouse, and it’s hanging downstairs in the utility room.
Anita. (Mumbles). Thanks, Mom. (Glaring at Lisa, she exits).
Lisa. (Indulgently). What’s wrong with her? Anita’s always rude, but usually not that bad.
Ruby. She’s been upset since last week. I think her boyfriend taking that job far away from here has confused her. She’s not ready to get married and neither is he. They both have lots of growing up to do.
Karen. She still sees him every other weekend, doesn’t she?
Ruby. Yes, but I think he’s putting the pressure on her to marry him and move out there.
Sheila. (Jokingly). I know what would keep her from getting married. All she has to do is look around at her sisters and see the suffering caused by marriage.
Joan. (Ignoring Sheila). Men! I’ll tell you one thing—if I leave my husband, I’ll not make the mistake of getting married again.
Karen. I know what you mean. There isn’t much more to the words “I do” then “Ouch, I did”. This is my second marriage. I had to get married the first go round, but the second time, I should have known better.
Ruby. Your father told you not to—to wait and finish high school, and we would help you with the baby. Sixteen was much too young to get married, and that Robert was never right in the head.
Joan. That’s always puzzled me, Karen. Why’d you jump up and marry Billy the day after your divorce was final? He’s ten years older than you.
Karen. (Bristling). Maybe I thought it was the best I could do—being fat!
Sheila. That’s bull. You’re not that bad. You’ve always had men, and you sure as hell played the field before, during and after your divorce! (Karen doesn’t know what to say).
Lisa. (Teasing). You sure didn’t get bored, and that’s the truth! (Turning to Ruby). Maybe if you and Daddy had been more honest with us when we were growing up about how things really are, we wouldn’t have been so blind about life.
Ruby. (Frowns). You all know better than that! We pleaded with Sheila and Karen to stay in school—to get their education because it’s so hard to make it in this world if you don’t. It’s hard enough to make it if you finish school and hell if you don’t. We tried to instill in you children that education is very important. (Pauses for a few moments). I’ve never painted a pretty picture about life.
Lisa. I guess we’re all guilty of being willful. I wish I’d waited a few years before I got married. I finished high school early so Kevin and I could get married, and my life’s been hell ever since. I’ll stay married because there’s no way I’m going to give up my house and dogs. Kevin will be the one to go—not me!
Karen. (Crisply). Everybody tells me that the Taylors are fighters. We’ll fight among ourselves, but Lord help the outsider who hurts a member of our clan! (All laugh and some of the tension is eased).
Lisa. Yeah, but it’s a shame we don’t know one another better. Five sisters, and each one of us is different. The only thing we have in common is that we come and visit our parents on Sunday.
Sheila. I come because my husband and children like to play!
Lisa. (Smiling). I’m glad you come up. I enjoy sitting around talking about things.
Karen. I’m glad you get something out of it, but I think it would be better for Mama and Daddy if we stayed at home and only came on holidays. Right, Mama?
Ruby. None of you are a bother. I learned a long time ago to not let your bickering and problems get to me. We’ve always let you kids know you can always come home.
Lights dim and Lisa appears in front of the diagonal.
Lisa. How can I get them to see what lies beneath the fake laughter, the cruelty, and the fear? We were never really that close, and the jealousy can really flow in the whispered words. (She paces back and forth a few moments before facing the audience and speaking mournfully). Mama tried her darned best to give us love—to love us all equally. She tried to make up for Daddy’s lack of caring—to compensate for his being so hard on us. He was a mean man—I couldn’t understand why when I was a child, but I can understand him now. As a child, I feared him, but for a short while I had Granny to protect me. (She pauses for a few moments to collect her thoughts). She died when I was only six years old—cancer. She tried to keep us out of harm’s way and then she died. For a long time I hated her for that, and then I hated my father. (Tearfully). I blamed them both for a long time—then one day I grew up. I love Mama and Daddy. (Lights start to dim). I understand Mama and Daddy. (Lights go out, and her last words cut through the darkness). And I forgive Mama and Daddy.
Lights come up on the porch where Michael and Steve are joined by Karen. She takes a
seat, trying not to be so self-conscious.
Michael. You look like you’ve lost some weight, Karen. Are you still following that diet?
Karen. (Sadly). I keep trying, but I haven’t lost a pound. I wish I could say I’ve lost twenty. I’m tired of that doctor screaming at me that I’m too damned fat. Then I have to go home and hear it from my husband and son. Did you know that my own child is ashamed to be seen with me? He told me his friends tease him about his fat mama.
Michael. (Firmly). That’s the way our society is, and the only way you’re going to fit in is if you’re thin. You’ve got to watch yourself. Your grandmother’s lying in a nursing home because of a stroke. It could happen to you, too, if you’re not careful. I can’t even go see my mother—it’s too depressing, and she wouldn’t know who I was anyway. Your grandfather just sits around and feels sorry for himself.
Steve. (Surprised by Michael’s honesty). You talked to Grandpa on the phone last night, didn’t you?
Michael. He wanted to know if I’d drive up to see Mama—it’s her birthday. He knows I can’t drive that far because of the pain. I told him that maybe one of you kids would make the trip.
Karen. I can’t go. Between work, looking after my family, and taking care of the house, I just don’t have the energy to drive all that way. (Ruby walks in, hands Michael a cup of coffee and takes a seat beside him).
Ruby. I don’t know how you can drink that hot coffee on a day like today.
Michael. (Severely). I’ve always liked my coffee. It’s one of the few enjoyments I have left that the doctor hasn’t taken away!
Ruby. (Hurt). I guess you’re not feeling well—why don’t you go and take a nap?
Michael. (Annoyed, he ignores the fact that he’s been napping during the day). I’m not a child who needs a nap in the middle of the day!
Karen. (Quickly jumps in, knowing a fight is in the making). Daddy was telling us about his mother and father. (Ruby nods knowingly). I was thinking that Steve could take his truck up there and get those rugs Grandpa wanted you to have.
Steve. (Disgusted by the idea). I can’t drive that far! I got lost a few weeks back driving to the next county, and besides, that old truck of mine couldn’t stand the trip.
Ruby. (Slaps at a fly). These flies can drive a person crazy! They probably smell the cabbage cooking. (Steve jumps up).
Steve. God, I’ve got to go in! These bugs are eating me alive! (He exits).
Karen. (Dreamily). I’m sure looking forward to autumn. Whenever we have a cool night I think about fall.
Michael. What else did the doctor have to say about your health?
Ruby. (Breaks in). How’s your blood pressure?
Karen. The doctor said my hypertension would disappear if I lose weight. The only time I was really able to lose the fat was when I was a teenager and Mama kept me on that diet—now at home when I get nervous or upset, I eat. At this point I pray for that…What’s it called where you hate food? (She thinks for a few moments). Oh yeah, anorexia nervosa!
Ruby. (Troubled). You don’t want to lose weight like Lisa did—she starved herself. I worry about her. She just doesn’t look good. I’ve talked to her until I was blue in the face, and what good has it done?
Karen. (Tearfully). I’ll always remember what Lisa told me. She said the reason she went on that starvation diet was because somebody I knew saw her at the store and said she looked like me! That did wonders for my ego!
Michael. (Clears throat and changes subject). Have you talked to your big brother?
Karen. (Regaining composure). I called him last night. He’s still trying to get that police job. With his lack of education, he’ll still be trying to become a cop when he’s fifty years old. (Pauses a few moments). He told me his wife had to work today so he was going to come by later. He’s leaving the baby with Sara’s mother.
Ruby. Daniel has wanted to be a policeman since he was a boy. I guess seeing his Daddy and grandfather as state troopers made him want to carry on the family tradition.
Michael. (Thoughtfully). He’s got something to prove to himself. He doesn’t talk to me about things. I never was one for “father and son” talks. I pushed him to play sports in school, but he wasn’t able to get anywhere with it, and now with Steve playing football, Daniel stays away.
Ruby. Daniel’s never had a chance. In school, they labeled him slow, and that’s been the course of his life. (Pauses briefly). Education in this country has really become a joke. They’re not being taught the basic subjects. He was in the eighth grade before they discovered he was reading on a second grade level!
Karen. Well, Daniel’s an adult now, and it’s time he started acting like one. Dreams are fine when you’re sleeping, but you can’t build your life on them.
Michael. (Trying to provide some insight about himself to his daughter). I had dreams. I played one helluva game of football. The coach even fixed it where I failed a subject in my senior year so I could play the next session. Well, I played but not as well. Everyone was disappointed in me—even my father. I then joined the Marines, got married and—presto—a family. Those first years were rough. Your mother and I lived in a bus made into a trailer. You cooked in the summer and froze in the winter. We managed though—we survived and were the better for it. Yes, I had dreams, and I thought I’d pass them on to my children. When I was your age, Karen, I thought I had all the time in the world. Then one day I woke up, looked in the mirror, and saw an old man looking back at me with nothing to show for this life except guilt and regrets.
Karen. (Touched). Daddy, you’re only fifty-two. I hardly consider that old. You still have time to do something with your life.
Michael. (Glances at Ruby who, with a faraway look in her eyes, is also reflecting back, and puts his hand over his heart). In here is where I feel old. I’ve been shot, stabbed, and had the cancer—but that’s not what really bothers me. When I look at myself, what I’ve done in life and haven’t done—that’s when I feel old inside. (The porch dims out).
The lights come up on the kitchen/dining room where Anita, Lisa and Sheila sit talking.
The discussion is about their childhood and events they really don’t understand but feel
compelled to talk about. They repeat the same old tired stories.
Sheila. (Teasing Lisa). Remember the time Daniel fixed up that old wagon, put flat boards on the side of it and an old tractor engine in the back? He hauled it to the top of the shed, got you to sit in it, and then pushed it off.
Lisa. (Laughing). Yeah, and it fell to the ground in a rush with me hanging on for dear life! There I was lying on the ground, covered in dirt, and he yells down to me (Tries to sound like her brother)—I swear it flew ten feet!
Sheila. Daniel was always making things and conning one of us into testing them out. It’s a wonder we lived to adulthood! (Thoughtfully). He was a strange kid. The thing about him that stands out in my mind was the day Granny came out of her coma, and Mama took all of us in to see her so she could kiss us goodbye. Afterwards, we were marched down the street to stay at a neighbor’s house. There we all sat in this stranger’s front yard, not understanding that our grandmother was dying. Then Daniel decided to go back and see Granny again. As soon as he got the chance, he took off, with all of us cheering him on. (Sadly). They brought him right back—with a warning from Daddy that he’d get a beating if he tried it again.
Lisa. (Leaning back in her chair with a frown). That’s what makes it so ironic with Daddy. His own mother’s a real bitch—could have cared less what happened to us—and now she’s a vegetable. Think about what she told you, Sheila, at Granny’s funeral.
Sheila. (Nods). She told me to stop crying—it wasn’t going to bring her back. Mama later told me that she’d told her not to bring any of us to the funeral.
Anita. She was wrong to have taken you. I can see why you have such a fear of death.
Sheila. (Angrily). What are you talking about? I don’t have a fear of death! Every time we have a good conversation going, you or Joan have to spoil it by acting like a damned psychoanalyst! (Anita looks at her knowingly).
Lisa. I have a fear—I’m afraid of Daddy. (Sheila and Anita, surprised by her remark, turn and look at her). I’ve always been afraid of him. I’ll never forget that time he took Daniel and you (Looks at Sheila) upstairs right after dinner and beat you for having failing grades on your report cards. Mama took me and Karen outside, but I could still hear your screams. You know something? After that, I used to pray that I’d never fail a subject so I wouldn’t have to get a beating like you two got.
Sheila. (Calmly). I find it difficult to forgive him for the beatings. Daddy made my life hell, and it seems like he was always giving you (Eyes Anita) praise. When I ran off and got married, I didn’t ever want to come back—but I did. I guess I did because of Mama. (Shakes her head). Yeah, that’s the reason.
Lisa. I never really loved Daddy until that day I stood up to him and walked out of the house. Mama and Anita came running after me, pleading for me to stay. Graduation from high school was only a week away, and I didn’t even want to come back for that.
Anita. I was afraid when you yelled at Daddy and walked out, telling him he was wrong. None of us had ever done anything like that before.
Sheila. Why’d you come back?
Lisa. (Thoughtfully). Because I grew up and discovered the reasons he is the way he is.
Sheila. (Annoyed at Lisa’s admission). You can’t forgive just like that! It’s not that easy. Daddy made me hate school so much I couldn’t learn! He pushed me into getting married!
Lisa. (Getting uneasy). Daddy’s been through a lot. We ought to let the past die.
Anita. (Laughs). Let the past die? Why, it’s the past that keeps bringing us back every Sunday. (Eyes Sheila knowingly). You’re so caught up in the past that you’ve kept yourself from maturing! (Lisa tries to interrupt, but Anita keeps talking). Can’t you see? It’s your guilt that keeps driving you. You feel guilty because when you were young you actually hated your father and thought how great it would’ve been if he’d died that time he was shot. Sheila, you were only ten years old at the time! I can hardly hold you in contempt for the thoughts you had as a child! Now you’re still trying to hang on to the guilt that should have been understood years ago. You think that if you don’t come up here like a dutiful daughter, you’ll never win his love. But now you’re a grown woman, and it’s time you faced facts. You love Daddy, and the feelings you had as a child were normal, under the circumstances, so try to understand them. Daddy today is not anything like the man we knew as children.
Sheila. (Wildly). How dare you talk to me like I’m a child! (She stands up). You’re only fooling yourself by acting as if you know everything! You’re just like the rest of us—A FAILURE! (Gathering herself, she stoically walks out of the room).
Lisa. Anita, I think you pushed her too far, too fast.
Anita. (Calmly). Not really. She won’t go home—not yet. She’ll stay because she has nowhere else to go. If she went home now she’d have to think, and that’s something she can’t allow herself to do.
Lisa. You’re not going to say anything to Mama or Daddy about this, right! (A command more than a request).
Anita. Of course not! I was only trying to help our dear sister—I wasn’t trying to hurt her. In a few minutes she’ll calm down, and things will be back to normal. By the time she leaves here, she’ll act as if nothing’s been said.
Lisa. I think you’re wrong on that count. I’ve never seen her so—threatened. I still think you went too far. (A few moments of silence pass while they drink their coffee, then Lisa looks at Anita thoughtfully). Anita?
Lisa. How do you feel about me—what’s my problem? Please give me an honest answer.
Anita. (Carefully). Well, I know you made a pass at my boyfriend. (Lisa looks shocked). Don’t worry, I understand. We all know what you’re going through being married to that bonehead. At first, I was upset that you’d do something like that, but I think I was more jealous than anything else. (Sighs). At times, I wish you’d stayed fat. Now you’re thin and beautiful. (Stares at Lisa for a few moments). When you were a child all the relatives would make over you, saying things like (Sarcastically), “Such a pretty child.”—“I must have a picture of her to show off to my friends.”—“She ought to be doing commercials.” Just to name a few. I guess they stuffed my picture in some musty old drawer and forgot about it. Your problem is you’ve always had it easy because of your looks. My problem is I’m so damned jealous of you!
Lights dim and come up again in the area in front of the diagonal where Lisa is now
Lisa. (Shrugs). I never would’ve thought it—Anita jealous of me! (Puzzled). Jealous of me? With the health problems I had when I was a kid? (Mimics mother’s voice). You can’t go out and play—you’ve got problems with your bones. Must be because you’re so frail. (Back to normal voice). And Daddy, who never even acknowledged my presence—unless he was mad about something. Boy, he could yell and knock the fool out of you! I learned early how to stay out of his way—I was so afraid of him. There was safety with Mama. When she was around, she wouldn’t let him hit me. The older ones think that me, Anita and Steve had it easy—that Daddy had mellowed by then. Not much—I was still afraid of him. (Afterthought). I never really knew him. It’s different now though—I’m a grown woman. I never really knew Granny, Mama’s mother. She must have really been something special because all the others keep talking about her. (Brief pause). Why do I keep coming home on Sundays? I’ve tried not to, but then I get an empty feeling—like if I don’t come home something will happen to Mama and Daddy, and I’ll never be able to say goodbye. That’s a crazy thought! What’s so great about goodbyes? (Brief pause before repeating sadly). Jealous of me? (Lights dim out).
Lights come up on Michael and Ruby seated on the porch.
Ruby. We have a few minutes to ourselves. (Michael nods). I wonder. (Thoughtfully). Where has the time gone? All the children are grown. (Sadly). Steve’s eighteen and will graduate from high school in the spring. You’re now retired, and we’re still having to manage every penny. Michael, I’m tired of being poor. I’ve never been anywhere—never seen the country. I was so young when we got married. My youth was spent raising kids—with you gone most of the time—and the hardest part was losing my parents. I never got to see them grow old—to talk to them as an adult. When Mama died, Daddy stopped living. The last six years of his life were empty ones. (Pauses and looks at Michael thoughtfully). I’ve never really been free, and now that my job of taking care of children is over, I’ve nothing to do—no skills that would get me a job. I don’t understand life at all. You live, you die, and in the middle there’s nothing but pain and empty feelings.
Michael. (Searching). Do you feel cheated?
Ruby. Yes and no.
Michael. (Impatiently). What do you mean, “yes and no?” You do or you don’t!
Ruby. (Flatly). I could sit here and count all the times in my life I’ve felt cheated. I felt cheated when Mama died from cancer. It really got to me that she’d been going to that doctor for a year, and he never found anything. He was too busy trying to make her lose weight. I felt cheated at the time—watching her slowly die, giving her those shots for pain. I felt cheated because I didn’t even have the time to feel sorry for myself, because I had five small children to look after. Damn, I feel cheated now! I’m forty-eight years old with nothing to look forward to. You’re retired, and we’re living the same way we did thirty-three years ago when we got married! (Pauses and shakes her head). I felt cheated when they operated on you and found cancer. My life wouldn’t have any substance to it if you were taken from me. We’ve had some rough spots, but there’ve been a lot of good times. Now that you seem to be beating the cancer, I know there’s hope. I found, beyond my own selfish needs, that I love you and always will. You’re my life. (Takes Michael’s hand and smiles weakly). The mistakes we’ve made were made together, and there’s still time to correct a few of them. You must believe that!
Michael. (Wipes at eyes with his free hand). Ruby, I’ve made so many mistakes. I wonder if they can be corrected.
Ruby. (Firmly). We have made mistakes. I was there, too, you know. There’s time to make amends if you really want to.
Michael. I’ve always told the kids that you can never go back—the past is past. Now I wish we could go back. God I wish we could! I’d be a different man.
Ruby. I doubt, if given the chance, we would really change that much. We were meant to worry and sweat—to earn everything we have. It’s been our lot in life, but now it’s time to reach out and do some explaining—to admit to the mistakes. I guess I’m at that stage in life where I’m starting to realize that all the worry in the world won’t change a thing.
Michael. I sit out here and listen to all the noise. I can feel the different emotions coming from everyone, and it hurts. I’ve never been able to talk to any of them. I’ve tried, but I can’t seem to reach them. At times, I was glad to get away from the house, and then when I’d come home and see all the changes—the growing up they’d done without me—I’d hate myself.
Ruby. I’m sure every parent has felt that way at one time or another. There was many a time I wanted to run through the house screaming. I could have walked out that door many times and so could you, but we didn’t. We’ve made it this far and now, with the kids grown, it’s back to you and me.
Michael. It’s hard. There never was just you and me. There’s always been children around. I think it’s time for me to change my way of thinking—time for us to rebuild our life together and discover each other all over again. In a way, the clock has turned back. We’re talking like we did those first few months of our marriage when the world was all ours.
Ruby. We’ll always have each other. We understand each other, and what we don’t understand we’ll learn together. (Lights dim as Ruby kisses Michael).
The lights come up on the kitchen/dining room. Anita’s reading the newspaper. Karen
pours herself a cup of coffee then walks over and sits at the table.
Karen. Anita, what did you say to Sheila? She’s out on the porch with Mama and Daddy looking pretty upset.
Anita. (Smugly). I tried to show her the error of her ways. I think she took everything I said the wrong way, but that’s not unusual.
Karen. (Shrugs). Yeah, she’s always been one to take things the wrong way. Perhaps being the firstborn gives her special rights.
Anita. You could feel sorry for her—being the oldest isn’t easy.
Karen. How so?
Anita. Extra work, helping to take care of us when we were babies, giving up your room when one gets old enough to move in. Things like that.
Karen. You left out being the boss and knocking the rest of us around. She was a real pain when she was a teenager.
Anita. We all were. Lord, did we have some fights! I mean knock down, drag out fights. Sheila was constantly picking on you.
Karen. That’s okay. I got her back by having the first grandson.
Anita. (Teasing). I don’t think that was your intention!
Karen. So? Try and tell her that! (They stop talking when Joan walks in. She takes the chair by Anita).
Joan. What are you two talking about? If you’re talking about me then by all means continue. I won’t listen to a word. (Karen and Anita laugh).
Anita. We were talking about Sheila. One thing we didn’t mention, Karen, was the way she hogs the conversation. When she’s around you might as well get ready to do an hour’s worth of listening before you can get a word in.
Joan. (Pleasantly). So what else is new? When Sheila walks into a room her voice has preceded her by a good five minutes. (All laugh).
Karen. (Mockingly). You’re as bad as the rest of us! If Mama could only hear the way you talk about your sister!
Joan. (Seriously). Don’t get me wrong—I feel sorry for her. She has a rough life. Her husband’s never going to make anything of himself, and he makes her work at those awful places to they’ll have a few dollars for food. Her only escape is going out every Saturday night and getting drunk. I love her, but she can sure get on my nerves!
Anita. She’s sitting out on the porch talking with Mama and Daddy, telling them about how I hurt her feelings. I wish they’d tell her to grow up and stop blaming them and us for her problems. She’s too old to act like such a …
Karen. (Completes the thought). …child! She’s thirty-one years old and acts like one. Her children act more maturely than she does. One of these days I’m going to tell her where to go! (She sips her coffee and looks at Joan).
Joan. If you think I’m going to get in the middle of this, forget it. Sheila’s too unstable and could easily go off the deep end. Besides, Mama’s tired of all the bickering, and it upsets Daddy. Our parents need some peace and quiet around here. It was a nightmare when Sheila went on her last crying spell.
Anita. (Annoyed). If what you say is true , Mama would tell us all to stay home on Sundays. (Pauses for a few moments). Well, maybe we should.
Karen. Wrong. Mama’s afraid of being alone.
Joan. What makes you say that? (Anita looks puzzled and thoughtful for a few moments. Joan silently waits for an answer).
Anita. (Interrupts Karen before she can answer). I never looked at the situation like that. Mama could be afraid of growing old. I guess most people are afraid of that, but it’s got to really be tough for Mama. Nowadays, most women work outside the home, and she never has. Now that we’re grown, she could feel useless.
Karen. I saw a talk show on television where this woman about Mama’s age was talking about the fear she’d felt when she discovered she was no longer needed by her children. Mama might feel like she no longer has a role in life.
Joan. It makes you sad and, at the same time, mad.
Anita. (Heavily). At least Mama saw to it that all of her girls could take care of themselves—work outside the home. Now how do we help her?
Joan. (Easily). She could sell Avon like Lisa. (Anita, shaking her head in doubt at Joan’s idea, gets up, walks over to the coffee pot and pours a cup. She walks back to the table, deep in thought, and quietly takes her place. Joan and Karen wait for her to speak).
Anita. Joan, when you come up with ideas like that it makes me think you only have air between your ears! Mama would need a car, and she doesn’t even know how to drive! If we’re going to help her, one of us will have to teach her how to drive.
Karen. (Laughing). I can see Daddy’s face now if Mama learned how to drive!
Joan. If she could drive a car, she wouldn’t feel so trapped.
Anita. Let’s take turns talking to her during the week to see how she feels about it, and we’ll compare notes next Sunday. We could get Daniel to help, too.
Karen. He should be here at any time, but you know he won’t want to help. I’d forget about asking him. Let’s keep this between the sisters.
Joan. Yeah, count out our dear brother. (Becomes annoyed). He makes me so mad when he walks in here acting like we should be thrilled to see him.
Anita. I worry about him. He’s always trying to impress people with his stories—I should say lies.
Karen. (Sadly). I know what you mean. I really felt sorry for him when I found out that he was telling his neighbors he was a Vietnam vet. He can sure tell some tales.
Joan. It all has to do with Daddy being in the service, so he tries to act like him. He doesn’t relate with his parents adult to adult. He looks at them through the eyes of a child.
Anita. (Claps her hands). Very good! You see things better than I would have thought.
Joan. (Pleased with herself). I can make some pertinent observations, too! (Pauses for a few moments). But I don’t force my opinions on others.
Anita. (Offended). Was that directed at me?
Joan. (Quietly). You can be overbearing. (Anita starts to respond angrily when Karen breaks in).
Karen. We ought to try and get along. It would be nice if one Sunday passed without some battle going on! (She gets up, takes her coffee cup over to the counter, places it down quickly, and exits. Joan watches her leave before speaking).
Joan. I wish she’d lose weight. How can she deal with all the looks and insults she gets?
Anita. (Sadly). If every person was fat for just one day, there wouldn’t be so many cruel remarks.
Joan. She could lose if she wanted to. I see how much she eats.
Anita. You don’t have a weight problem, so it’s easy for you to pass judgment.
Joan. I’m concerned about her. It bothers me when she gets hurt. How would you like it if even your child called you “fatso”?
Anita. I know what you mean—I heard him say that once. I don’t remember when it was, but I talked to him about it.
Joan. (Thoughtfully). Remember last Sunday when all of us were looking at those old pictures—the ones that were taken a few years ago? (Anita nods). Lisa and Sheila were holding up the ones of Lisa when she was fat and kept saying what a pig she was back then. They laughed about it, but I saw the look on Karen’s face. I heard her tell Mama later that she was the only fat daughter she had.
Anita. Did you say anything to Lisa about it?
Joan. Yeah, I talked to her. She said she was laughing at herself and enjoying the fact she’d lost all that weight. She didn’t mean to hurt Karen.
Anita. Well, she was hurt, and it’s about time we remembered each other’s feelings. Karen gets enough of those mean comments at work. She doesn’t need to hear them from her family, too. Sheila gives her a hard time and acts embarrassed when she sees Karen in public. Sisters should be understanding of each other. In the future, all we’re going to have is each other. No one else is going to give a damn!
Joan. (Slowly). Is it right to expect your family to remain close as you grow older? All of us are going through changes right now. Age has a way of causing that.
Anita. Maybe so. (Thinks for a few moments). When you do mature, you see life in different terms. You realize the people you love aren’t always going to be there—that death is standing by everyone’s door. (Joan frowns in uncertainty and glances down at her coffee cup). In the end, we all go the same way.
Joan. (Softly). If you take the time to really think about life, you start to question why you’re even here.
Anita. Everyone, at one time or another, thinks about that. Nothing new. We’re trapped by our fears and worry about changes coming too fast. Maybe we wouldn’t talk about death so much in this family if we hadn’t experienced it at such a young age when Granny died. (Her voice quavers, but she quickly gets control of it). We can’t get away from it—even those of us who weren’t born then. We’re caught up in it, too. The seed was planted a long time ago when we had to deal with something we didn’t understand.
Joan. (Reluctantly). What’s there to understand?
Anita. (Smiles sadly). The age old question—what is death?
Joan. Who knows? I don’t think we’ll have the answer to that question until after we’re gone. (Pauses for a few moments). That’s enough talk about death for now—let’s move on to something else.
Anita. (Dourly). But isn’t that why we come home every Sunday? Our parents have aged and are closer to death. None of us wants to take the chance of not coming by and having to live with the guilt if something suddenly happened to them.
Joan. If you look at it like that, we’re a bunch of selfish people.
Anita. Not really.
Joan. (Confused). Not really? What you’ve just been telling me makes us look like insensitive clods.
Anita. (Heavily). That’s how it looks, but isn’t it human nature to protect oneself? We’re protecting ourselves from potential guilt. (A long pause). What do you want out of life?
Joan. (Closes her eyes for a few moments). I don’t like to think about it.
Anita. (Amused). Well, think about it now.
Joan. I can’t answer that. I’m used to taking one day at a time. When you start looking ahead, you only make life more difficult. There’s too much disappointment, and I’m not ready for that.
Anita. If that approach works for you, then don’t change it. I do too much thinking anyway. I don’t like looking at death, but it seems it’s always in the back of my mind. I worry about losing Mama or Daddy before I really get to know them.
Joan. (Brightly). You know them. We all know them.
Anita. (Annoyed). Do we? When was the last time you talked to Mama and listened to her feelings—what she has to say about life? What it was like for her as a child, and what it was like being so young with so many children?
Joan. Damn. You know someone only as much as they want you to know them. Maybe Mama doesn’t want us to know her.
Anita. Maybe so, but I have to make sure. If I only get one thing out of life, it will be the act of getting to know my family. If I die and truly understand one human being, I’ll be satisfied.
Joan. (Quiet for a few moments before responding). Well, we’ve just had quite a conversation. I guess that’s something!
Anita. (Grimly). I guess that will have to do. (The lights dim out slowly).
It’s late afternoon. The only room visible is the living room where Daniel is sitting on the
sofa. Beside him is Ruby and, across the room, Karen and Lisa are sitting in the easy
chairs, thumbing through old magazines. Daniel appears nervous and restless. He’s the
oldest boy and has been avoiding his family since Michael had his cancer operation. His
sisters act indifferently towards him.
Daniel. I keep trying to get on with the State Police, but I keep failing the tests. This feeling that I’m stupid—that I’ll never be anything—keeps eating at me. Even my own wife keeps putting the knife in. (Ruby feels her son’s depression. She reaches over and takes his hand. Daniel, as always, eases out of her grasp, uncomfortable at the show of affection. Karen glances up and sees her brother’s reaction and looks over at Lisa, who also saw him. Lisa quickly looks away while Karen glares at Daniel. He doesn’t notice his sister’s reactions). If I’d only had some direction! Dad was always the tough guy. He’d never tell me I was doing good in football or baseball. It was always, “you need to work out more”, or “you aren’t trying hard enough.” When Dad had to have that tumor removed, I couldn’t make myself go see him at the hospital—I couldn’t force myself to see him! (Ruby looks down, hands in her lap, not knowing what to say to her son. Karen makes no attempt to interrupt, only shaking her head in disbelief that Daniel could be so callous). When I was living here, I hated Dad and wanted to get out. The only reason I finished high school was to prove to those snobs I went to school with that even a poor, dumb kid could get a diploma!
Karen. (Daniel’s comment hits a nerve). I know how you feel, Daniel! It was hard going to those schools where most of the students had more money for their allowance than Daddy brought home in his weekly paycheck.
Daniel. (Sighs). I tried to date a few of those rich girls. You’d have thought I had V.D. the way they reacted.
Ruby. (Sadly). I knew it was going to be difficult for you kids when we rented a house in that neighborhood. We didn’t have much choice in the matter. We had to declare bankruptcy, lost our home, and had to take the first place we saw. (She looks at Karen and then at Daniel). But you can’t go back, so why dwell on it? It won’t change the damage that’s been done.
Karen. (Thoughtfully). All of us reacted to the sudden move. I did plenty of things I’m not proud of. Peer pressure, I think it’s called. I had to fit in with the main crowd, not realizing at the time that I never would. When you tried talking to me about my behavior, I resented it. I didn’t listen to you. I didn’t want to listen, and I avoided my sisters when I could. I never let my friends know where I lived or who my family was. But I still didn’t fit in.
Daniel. Mama, Dad and Anita all tried talking to you, but you could have cared less. I was so ashamed of you! My friends called you a whore. (He looks away from Karen’s hurt and angry stare for a moment). Seeing my own sister acting like that really got to me. Those rich punks were only interested in you because they thought you’d give it to them. Then when Lisa started acting like you, I really got upset!
Lisa. (Too quickly). Wait a minute! I didn’t act like a whore! I only dressed like those around me to try and fit in—I was a follower, not a whore! You treated us like we were the scum of the earth. If you want to talk about hurt, I can fill you in on what hurt is really like! My own brother would walk right by me in school and not say a word because he was afraid someone would find out we were related!
Daniel. (Softly). I had my reasons, and if you got hurt then I’m sorry. I wanted to get back at my family.
Karen. (Sadly). I wanted to get back at Mama and Daddy. (Looks at Ruby). I can’t explain why, but I had to strike back at someone and y’all were right there. That’s why I got pregnant. I thought that even though I was only sixteen, you’d still let me get married. Funny, but when Daddy told me I didn’t have to, that y’all would look after the baby and help take care of it while I finished school, I became confused. You weren’t supposed to be so damned understanding! So I went ahead and got married anyway, and now, one divorce later, I still can’t explain my actions.
Daniel. (Grimly). The only thing that saved Lisa from the same fate was Mama and Dad buying this house out here in the country.
Ruby. It was a good move. (Brief pause). Country living is slower than city living, and there’s less peer pressure out here.
Lisa. (Still resentful). Daniel, I don’t know why you’re picking on me today! I certainly don’t see where you’ve done all that great with your life.
Daniel. (Pained look on his face). Well, if you wanted to hurt me, Lisa, you did. I was pointing all of this out to show you that I did see what was going on. I do care about you—as much as I can.
Ruby. (Softly). I’m proud of all my children. Each one of you is different, but you care about others. None of you have anything to prove to me or your Daddy.
Daniel. (Grimly). Maybe you feel that way, but Dad doesn’t. (He suddenly gets up and begins pacing. The others watch him nervously, unsure of his actions. Daniel stops pacing and stares at Karen). Don’t you get fed up with the way people treat you—all the fat jokes? I’m always having to prove that I’m not some dummy. When I run into people, the ones I went to school with, the first thing they want to know is whether or not I hit it rich. I can tell by the look in their eyes that if I said yes, it would kill them. How could they be content living in their fancy world if it turned out I was living better than them? I wish to hell I was! What’s wrong with people? Everybody’s so damned rude and self-serving. It makes me sick!
Karen. (Jumps in). It’s your life, Daniel—no one controls you. As for my getting hurt, maybe I need to get good and mad at the cruel remarks—then I’ll go on a diet and change. But that’s up to me. I am what I am and if they don’t like it, they can stay the hell out of my way. We’re only on this earth a very short time, and I’m going to get the most out of my life! I’m living for ME. Let the others live for themselves! (Daniel sighs, throws up his hands in defeat and sits back down).
Lisa. I lost weight because I couldn’t deal with the stares and comments. I had to starve to do it, but I won. I’d reached the point where I had to be self-serving to lose the weight. I did it for ME and my way of life. (Voice quavers). I was about to lose my husband!
Daniel. (Smirks). I guess I’m going to remain a nothing. I lack your talents for making it in this world. (Brief pause). Don’t think that I haven’t tried. I have! I got in there with the rest of them and played their games. I walked away with a deep, empty feeling. (Brief pause). Maybe I’m admitting to thoughts that most of us hide.
Ruby. (Annoyed). You can’t blame society. It’s up to you to make something of yourself. What you’re telling me is that self-pity is ruling your life. It’s time you worked towards some goal.
Daniel. (Sadly). I’m too old! I’m almost thirty now. I’ll never get a job with the State Police. I’ve tried and tried, and each time, I fail the test. (Bitterly). So much for dreams!
Lisa. So decide on something else.
Daniel. Like what?
Lisa. (Puzzled). I don’t know—whatever interests you. You could go back to school.
Daniel. Easier said than done, dear sister! If I can’t pass that damned police test, how do you think I could pass other tests?
Ruby. (Disappointed). Enough of this self-pity! If you want to hear some sad stories, I can tell you some!
Karen. (Nervously changes the subject). Mama, let’s go out and see those kittens next door. (She gets up and Lisa follows suit).
Ruby. You go ahead. I want to sit here and talk with your brother. (Karen shrugs and exits. Lisa, looking bewildered, follows her).
Ruby. (Pauses for a few moments while collecting her thoughts. Daniel waits patiently for her to speak). If it wasn’t for my love of books, I’d be bored to tears. The fact is, I found reading as a means of escape. My life isn’t special. I know when I die, there won’t be books written or movies made about me. In a way it’ll be like I was never really here at all. My children will recall me on some occasions, and my grandchildren might ask about me, but that’ll be the few times I’ll be remembered. I’ve done the best I can with my life. I took care of my children and tried to instill in them love and concern for others. I know you think you’ve had a rough life, but when you get right down to it, who cares? Daniel, the point is this—you can find a place in this world, something that eases the mind.
Daniel. (Blandly). I can’t change and find a hobby. That won’t give me what I need. If I looked at life like you do, I’d see no point to it at all. Perhaps I do see life in some of your terms. Maybe, deep down inside, I see that a short time has been given to me, and once it’s over, I’m just a lonely marker in some cemetery. Come to think of it, the whole damned world probably feels the same way! An average Joe goes out and kills twenty people and reads about himself in the newspaper. He sits back and smiles smugly because he just gained himself a piece of immortality. (He pauses when he sees the fear on his mother’s face). Don’t worry, Mama, I’m not going to act like some crazy nut. I was only pointing out how some insane person might act out the wish that most of us hide.
Ruby. (Uncertainly). You need to try something new. Join a club or church, and make the most of the time given to you. Get out and find your place!
Daniel. (Laughs). I could try a new wife! (Shakes his head). No, that wouldn’t work. I’d end up with one worse than the one I have. Besides, I haven’t the nerve for that kind of change.
Ruby. (Seriously). Are you having problems with your marriage?
Daniel. (Disgusted). Why do you think I never bring Sara with me when I come up here—when I manage to get away?
Ruby. For heavens sake! Why haven’t you told anyone? You can talk to us.
Daniel. (Sadly). No, Mama. I can’t talk to y’all about it. Daddy would only half listen and tell me to work it out, and you’d place it all in Sara’s lap.
Ruby. (Surprised). That’s not so …
Daniel. (Interrupts). Then you’ve changed.
Ruby. That’s not true ! You’ve never taken the time to see your mother through the eyes of an adult! I’m not just a mother! Daniel, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’ve never interfered in any of my children’s affairs. If you had come to me, wanting to talk about what was bothering you, I would’ve listened, but you still would have had to find the answers out for yourself. (She becomes upset and pauses for a few moments). It hurts me to think that you find it difficult to talk to your own mother. I’ve tried to be there when you needed me—to listen to you. (She throws her hands up in hurt and frustration). Now I find out that you don’t trust me at all—that somehow I’ve let you down! Daniel, we’ve always been there for you, but you didn’t want to come to us. You’ve kept your problems bottled up inside, and that’s not good. If you had talked to someone about them sooner, you’d feel better about yourself.
Daniel. (A little guilty). Mama, that’s not true . I’m just depressed so I’m saying things I don’t really mean. I love you and don’t like to burden you or anyone else with my problems. I do love you, Mama! (Lights dim as Ruby answers).
Ruby. (Tearfully). I love you too, Daniel.
Lights come up on Daniel standing in front of the diagonal. He stares out in the
direction of the audience for a few moments, runs his fingers through his hair, and
Daniel. (Speaking his inner thoughts). I still find it hard to believe that I’m a grown man. Fifteen years ago, I was a teenager. What happened during those years resulted in what I am today. (Pauses and smiles slightly). Or lack of what I am! Let me see—I could go back to when I was a kid; everybody does that. No, you have to look at what you remember. (Brief pause). Memories—I can hear my teachers calling me stupid. Teachers in those days really knew how to motivate you—right out of school! (Laughs). Football—now that was a real eye-opener for me. (Face hardens). I was a damned good player, too—damned good! I could have been a starter if that coach hadn’t been such a brownnoser. (Clenches and unclenches his fists). The parents with money have to see their boys out there or they won’t give the financial support the sports program depends on. Those fat cats put their untalented boys out there to feel good about themselves. What slobs! So that coach made me second string to allow that no-talent rich kid to play my position to keep the money coming in from his Daddy. I’d like to see that bastard today! (Sadly). I tried to explain this to Dad, but he wouldn’t listen. He said I had to work harder, and that was that! Dad’s always trusted people way too much. (Thoughtfully). He’d let people walk all over him, then come home and take out his frustrations on us. I guess he had to prove himself—that he was somebody by ruling his family with an iron hand. (Pauses for a few moments, puts his hands in his pockets, and shrugs). In this crazy mess of a world, a person either feels needed, loved, and respected or remains a lost soul. (Grimly shakes his head). If that’s the case, we’re all a bunch of fools, and nothing will ever get any better. Life will remain a hell. I want to believe there are happy endings but … (Voice trails off. Brief pause, then he clears his throat). Yet, the end of suffering is death. Not even the rich and famous can avoid that! There’s nothing to look forward to—no everlasting ideals for new generations to follow. That’s why the 60’s were such a mess. All those confused kids understanding that there’s no point to the traditional way of life, but now they’re in the mainstream like everyone else because, in the end, they had no answers, either. (Shakes his head in disgust). Now it’s back to finding out what I want in life. I’ve failed so far. My dream was to be a cop, but the clock has quickly ticked away, and now I’m too old. Not yet thirty, but I’m too old! Even if I did pass the test, who would hire me at this age? That really says something about our society, doesn’t it! (Laughs). Maybe that’s why I’ve failed. I haven’t earned praise from a single human being. I’m the second oldest of seven children so five others took away that little piece of respect that was due me! (Lights dim as he moans). I’ve never really been alive!
The lights slowly come up on the back porch. Sheila is standing in front of Michael,
hands on hips. Michael appears to be listening intently to his daughter’s words.
Sheila. (Angrily). I’d like to know what gives Anita the right to talk to me like that! She’s got some serious problems—going around and telling others why they act a certain way and say different things. My blood boils just thinking about what she said! You should talk to her before somebody lets her have it! (Stops to catch her breath). I’d like to know why she thinks she has the right to act like a female Freud! So she went to college and majored in psychology—she’s working as a nurse’s aid now! That’s some accomplishment! (Smirks in satisfaction and plops down in a chair).
Michael. (Carefully). Anita cares about you and, in her own way, thought she was helping you.
Sheila. (Points at self). Do I look like I need help? Sure, I’ve gotten upset over my lazy husband being out of work for so long! But who wouldn’t? So what if I called Mama crying when they came and cut off the lights because we couldn’t pay the bill—it was the dead of winter, and we have electric heat! What normal person wouldn’t lose control? Damn, you’d think my sisters believe I’m crazy the way they treat me! Well, I’m not!
Michael. (Sternly). Calm down, Sheila. (Waits a few moments while she collects herself). I can understand your being mad and upset with Anita. She meant well—it’s just that she went about it the wrong way. Always remember this—if it gets to the point where all of you don’t care about each other, you kids are in for some rough times. Who else will listen and help when one of you is having problems? Your Mama and me won’t always be around, so you need to get closer to your brothers and sisters.
Sheila. (Flatly). I’ve heard this before.
Michael. (Patiently). You’ve heard it before, but do you believe it?
Michael. Why not?
Sheila. Because I don’t even know them. You don’t have anyone but yourself to count on in this day and age. I hate to say it, but none of us get along. Oh, we try to say we do and almost convince ourselves sometimes, but if you and Mama weren’t around, we wouldn’t even see each other. We can’t deal with each other. One is prettier than another; one is smarter than another—and the list goes on.
Michael. (Sadly). Why is it that way?
Sheila. (Sighs). Because we’re all caught up in our own private battles, and all we do is remind each other of our failures. I don’t understand why we turned out this way. All I know is that we did, and there’s no changing it.
Michael. You must hate me.
Sheila. (Surprised). Daddy, why would you think that? I love you in my own way. After all, you are my father!
Michael. (Sadly). A father who’s made a lot of mistakes—who’s been too hard on his children. I blame myself for your not finishing school and running off and getting married. We tried to talk you out of it because we knew you were making a big mistake, but you were too set against us. You were only a child and couldn’t see the situation as an adult. You thought that it had to be better elsewhere.
Sheila. It was my life and my choice. Nothing you say or do will ever change that. I feel guilty now because I bring my problems to Mama, but I need her to talk to. She doesn’t say, “I told you so.” (Voice fills with anger). It’s my dear sisters who tell me that. They get mad because they feel it’s my fault that my life has turned out like this—hell.
Michael. (Unsympathetically). Aren’t you just jealous of them?
Sheila. They’ve done so much more than I have! They went to college and have jobs that pay, and I work in a bar! (Swallows back tears).
Michael. I think that’s why you and Anita don’t get along—because she did so well in school. (Leans forward). Do you ever wonder what her life has been like? What kind of hurts she’s suffered through the years? It might surprise you to know that she’s had her share of pain. It’s part of growing up and becoming a complete adult. Perhaps it’s time you started treating your brothers and sisters as adults and not children. I can relate with my father adult to adult. Oh, he fights it and tries to keep me in my place as his little boy. (Sheila smiles). I know it sounds funny—a fifty-two year old boy, but some parents never change the way they look at their children, which only causes the children more problems. (Stops the conversation when Steve walks out and takes a seat by his sister).
Steve. (Looking at Michael). Did you know that Daniel’s here? (Michael nods yes). Mama is talking to him—he came in right upset.
Sheila. (Moans). So what else is new?
Michael. I’d better go and see what’s going on. (Slowly gets up and exits).
Sheila. (Thoughtfully). Old age.
Sheila. The way Daddy moves around. He’s gotten old.
Steve. Are you serious? Come on—what are you talking about?
Sheila. (Flatly). Life.
Steve. Yeah, life’s a drag. (Laughs, sees Sheila’s not laughing, too, and looks puzzled). You’re worried about money, aren’t you?
Sheila. (Sarcastically). If you don’t have it, what’s there to worry about?
Steve. It’s the times we live in. (Brief pause). If you weren’t talking money, what were you talking about?
Sheila. (Annoyed by his sudden interest). I told you! Life and this crummy family!
Steve. (Unruffled). If you feel that way, you shouldn’t bother to come up here on Sundays. I live here, and it’s no hardship.
Sheila. (Softly). Fear. Fear brings me here.
Steve. (Slowly). Fear about what?
Sheila. That I might not get to say that last goodbye.
Steve. (Fearfully). Do you think that Dad’s cancer is back? (Looks at Sheila, searching for some reaction that will confirm his fear).
Sheila. (Eyes Steve, smiling sadly). No, Daddy’s cancer isn’t back—at least I don’t think so. Getting back to my fear, there’s more to it than what I said. I’m afraid I’ll never find what it is I’m searching for. I believe the answer might come one Sunday, and that I’d better not miss one because I’ll miss what it is I’m trying to find. (Pauses, looking grim). I feel so lost at times—kind of like I’ll never be happy. When I do start to feel good, something always happens to take the feeling away. Another stone is thrown in my path.
Steve. (Leans back and places his hands behind his head). I’ll probably understand you better next year after I get out of school. I know I’ll have to face up to things then. Right now, all I want to do is keep my world as simple as possible. I want to stay (Pauses, searching for the right word)—free.
Sheila. We all could stay free if we really wanted to.
Steve. (Teasing). So you’re actually doing some brainwork for a change! Be careful, you don’t want to question too much! (Smiles and looks Sheila in the eye, taking his hands and placing them on his knees). Don’t let me get in your way. Thinking can do some good, but it can also be depressing as hell.
Sheila. (Smiles). For instance?
Steve. (Slowly). Well, if you start looking at yourself real close, you might not like some of the things you see. (Brief pause). We all run from thoughts that scare us. We have trouble confronting them because we don’t understand them. If you do decide to confront them, you’d better be prepared for the naked truth!
Sheila. (Laughs). Why, baby brother, you surprise me! Here I thought you’d never have an intelligent thought in your whole life, and one pops out of your mouth. That goes to show you certainly can’t judge a book by its cover!
Steve. (Sharply). What do you know about books? The last time you read one was twenty years ago!
Sheila. (Hurt). You’ve got a lot of nerve, boy, talking to me like that! I was just teasing you, and there’s one helluva reason for my lack of interest in reading!
Steve. (Coldly). I know—we’ve heard a hundred times how Dad would hit you if you didn’t know a word while you were reading to him.
Sheila. (Tonelessly). It’s useless! No one will ever understand me. I’ll always be the bitch!
Steve. (Remorseful). We all love you. (Brief pause). It’s just that you act so self-centered it makes it hard for us to get close to you. You have to lead every conversation or you act bored and interrupt.
Sheila. (Tired). Maybe I use that to keep y’all away.
Steve. Well, I’m sure I’ll have my share of problems after I get out of school. (Smiles and playfully slaps her on the arm). We’ll really have some deep talks then!
Sheila. (Playfully). Don’t be bringing a passel of babies to my door, wanting me to look after them!
Steve. (Softly). I wish! (Pauses for a few moments, not responding any further to the tease. Sheila looks uncomfortable at his silence). I can’t even get any dates!
Sheila. (Puzzled). I can’t figure that out. (Stares at Steve). I see this handsome young man sitting here (Smiles) who bathes regularly, brushes his teeth, shaves, and has his hair styled, and he tells me he can’t get a girl! (Starts to laugh but stops when she realizes Steve is serious).
Steve. (Painfully). It’s true . It’s not easy for me to ask girls out. Then when I finally do get up the nerve, they say no anyway. I never ask the same girl more than once.
Sheila. (Sternly). That’s not fair! They could’ve had other plans, and you caught them at the wrong time.
Steve. (Annoyed). Forget it. What do you know anyway? You’ve been married since you were sixteen, and things change.
Sheila, Married, not buried! I’ll let that remark slide, baby brother, because you’re upset. (Pauses while she thinks for a few moments). Your problem’s easy to read. You don’t believe in yourself.
Steve. (Softly). Do you?
Sheila. (Frowns). Hell, no! None us believe in ourselves—Mama and Daddy included. I bet if you look at past generations, none of them did either. Families stay the same through generations. Fears and hang-ups are passed down like family heirlooms. If you think about the people we’ve known and then think about their families, you see that they all act more or less the same. (Sighs). It’s a rough road when you try to be yourself and deal with all the secret fears.
Steve. (Nods). Maybe there’s no escape. You either stay like the others or you’ll be left behind.
Sheila. (Sadly). If you stay like the others, you will be left behind. It’s a mistake to keep coming home, trying to act like time hasn’t passed. (Chuckles). It’s not easy to face up to things, and I doubt that I’m ready to give it a try. Maybe I’ll never be!
Steve. (Resigned). We’re all stuck on the same sinking ship. (They stare at one another as the light dims).
Lights come up on Steve standing in front of the diagonal. He sits down and looks off
Steve. (Slight pause before he speaks). So I’m a baby in a long line of babies. So I’ve had a rough time in school. My sisters have always been a pain. (Short laugh). So who cares? Getting out of high school doesn’t mean a thing! One more season of football, then graduation, and WHAM, look out world, here I come! (Tearfully). Well, damn it, I don’t know a thing about living, and I’m scared of what’s out there! I wonder what Daddy would think if he knew how scared I was! I’m supposed to play the tough guy. (Softly). I guess I’ll never be much—amount to anything. They’ve told me I should go to a trade school. “They.” What a joke! Those teachers could care less what happens to kids like me so long as we get out. (Brief pause). My brother told me that—on one of those rare occasions when he actually spoke to me. (Throws up his hands). He’s only eleven years older than me, and he acts like an old man! (Shrugs). He doesn’t even care about Mama and Dad. (Rubs his chin). What about Mama and Dad? I know Mama wants me to graduate even though she worries that I’ll join the Army—but Dad? Hell, he wants me to join the Army! Some advice. (Loudly). Here I don’t even understand why I was born into this hell, and he wants me to go into the Army. (Stands up and regains his composure). Well, dear father, this will be the first time in my life that I’m not going to listen to you—I’ll join the Navy, instead! (Laughs and the lights dim out).
The lights dim into the kitchen/dining room. Michael, Ruby, Daniel and Karen are
seated around the table. Sheila enters during the scene.
Michael. You should go back to school.
Daniel. (Curtly). I don’t want to go through that again. (Brief pause).
Ruby. You know we’re behind you in whatever you decide to do.
Karen. I wish you hadn’t quit that job down at the city jail. It was rough work, but at least you got to wear a uniform.
Daniel. (Nettled). Can we please drop the subject? Enough’s been said already!
Michael. (Demanding). Why didn’t you bring your daughter up with you? We never get to see her.
Daniel. (Annoyed). Sara wanted her to stay with her mother today while she works, and I needed a break from them both. (Sheila walks in and Daniel nods at her). How’s my big sister doing these days?
Sheila. About the same. How come you’re sitting here? All the men and kids are up the road playing volleyball. (Goes over to the counter and gets a cup of coffee before coming over to the table).
Daniel. (Cynically). I’m not in the mood for games.
Sheila. (Sheila sits down). I’ll drink to that! (Raises her cup to help make her point).
Karen. (Teasing). You’ll drink to anything.
Sheila. (Unperturbed). You ought to go with us one Saturday night. You’d have a ball.
Karen. (Laughs). How do you mean that?
Michael. (Concerned about her drinking). Did you go out last night?
Sheila. (Defensively). Of course! I work that bar at night and take care of children during the day. I need my Saturday nights out!
Daniel. I can remember when your husband wouldn’t even touch a beer.
Sheila. (Bitterly). He can’t keep a good job so he has to tag along with me to forget about bills.
Ruby. (Shakes her head). There’s jobs out there if he really wants to find one. He’s a very bright boy.
Karen. Are you going to keep working at that bar?
Sheila. (Flatly). I have to. If I don’t, we don’t eat. I’m working four nights a week from five until two in the morning. My boss wants me to work six nights—I told him I’d think about it.
Michael. (Grimly). I knew this was coming.
Sheila. (Imploringly). Daddy, I get so mad at my husband! He does nothing all week long then comes up here on Sundays to play! He doesn’t care where I work as long as I make money!
Daniel. (Stands). I might as well walk down the road and see who’s winning. (Winks at his mother to let her know that Sheila’s the reason he’s leaving).
Karen. (Frowning). You just don’t want to listen to Sheila moan and groan about her rough life.
Daniel. (Too quickly). You got it! (Exits the room).
Karen. (Feigns pleasantness). I don’t understand him—going off like that when he could hear a good “woe is me” story. (Waves her hands in mock disgust).
Sheila. (Angrily). I’m sorry if I get on your nerves, but I get tired of all the crap. (Glances from Michael to Ruby). John thinks he’s doing me a favor by bringing me up here. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I can stay at home and be bored.
Ruby. (Gently). I know, honey, and I don’t blame you one bit. I get bored sitting here, too.
Karen. Mama, all you have to do is ask, and we’ll be glad to take you out somewhere. I think it would do Daddy some good if he got out more. You two shouldn’t stay locked up in this house day after day.
Michael. (Smiling). I’ve tried to take her out, but she won’t let me—and she’s hidden all the credit cards.
Ruby. (Sternly). Now, Michael, I can’t see getting even further into debt. We don’t have it, so we stay home. That check we get once a month is all we have to live on.
Sheila. That’s what really gets to me! Daddy’s worked hard all his life and was barely able to feed his family. Now he’s retired, been a good taxpayer, and he can still barely afford to eat. It’s not fair the way things have turned out. (Brief pause). It really gets to me when I think about the future—how we’ll be doing when we’re your age. (Tries to make a joke, but deep down inside, she knows she means it). By the time I’m ready to retire, dear old Uncle Sam will have taken eighty percent of my income!
Michael. (Sadly). You got that right! I really feel for all the young people these days. (Sighs). I never said life was fair, and that’s certainly proved to be true . I still cling to the belief that life is what you make it. I guess even old folks like to have hope.
Ruby. (Cheerfully). All and all, we didn’t do that bad! We’re still together and that means something, especially these days.
Karen. (Lightly). Yeah, you raised all of us little darlings.
Sheila. (Wanting to be the center of the conversation, she makes a cruel remark). That’s reason enough right there to call it a failure!
Karen. (Reacting angrily to the hurt she sees on her parent’s faces). You sure are in a foul mood! I hate it when you get like this. You think you can cut people to pieces, and they’ll forgive you because you’ve had such a hard life. (Voice flares). Well, you’ve gone too far, way too many times! I’m sick of your cruel mouth!
Sheila. (Unfazed by Karen’s reaction). You can thank your baby sister for my mood. I wasn’t feeling this way when I came here—then I talked to Anita, and she was her usual nasty self.
Karen. (Takes a deep breath and speaks calmly). You should forget it. After all, we forget half the stuff you say.
Sheila. (Self-righteously). Why should we forget what’s said? Isn’t that what we’ve been doing wrong all these years—sweeping everything under the rug? It’s time to air it all out. I want to tell my vainglorious sisters just how I feel. (Looks Karen straight in the eye). Besides, I know I’m as smart as any of you, and I didn’t even finish high school! (Smirks).
Michael. (Vacantly). Sometimes it’s best to forget things. (Sheila and Karen ignore him. Ruby’s listening intently to the conversation).
Sheila. (Scornfully). Karen, you should look at yourself. You don’t have to be that fat! (Karen’s startled and hurt by another jab over her weight. Ruby decides to interfere).
Ruby. What’s wrong with everybody today? All I’ve heard is complaints and more complaints. It doesn’t usually get this vicious. (Turns to Sheila). Why do you want to hurt your sisters?
Sheila. (Flatly). I’m sorry, but I get tired of being bored and poor. (Brief pause). I like that—it’s me! Bored and poor. Those two words sum up my life.
Karen. You’ve acted like a bored and poor bitch all your life. You probably like the way you act!
Sheila. (Still unfazed). That’s real cute. And your life is so much better?
Karen. (Angrily). That’s none of your business! You’ve hurt me too many years for me to really give a damn about you. I haven’t forgotten all your nasty remarks when I got married and the way you treat my child. (Glares at Sheila. Ruby and Michael don’t know what else to say). When I was growing up, you said some very mean things to me—and not just the normal spiteful remarks sisters make to each other! No, you wanted me to feel ugly and worthless because that’s how you feel about yourself! You used to call me a fat blob around my friends! My own sister hated me so much that she would do something like that!
Sheila. (A little embarrassed because she knows what Karen said is true , she still responds sarcastically). Do you want me to say I’m sorry? Would that help?
Ruby. (Sad and troubled over Sheila’s indifference). Sheila, don’t you feel any remorse? Can’t you feel Karen’s pain? (Points at Karen who, in tears, gets up and rushes from the room).
Sheila. (Stares at Michael for a few moments). I’m like my father.
Michael. (Brief pain on his face, he looks sadly at Sheila). Then I feel sorry for you.
Ruby. (Concerned). What are you saying, Michael?
Michael. (Thoughtfully). I wasn’t around the children that much when they were growing up, but when I was, they knew it. (Still looking at Sheila). I used to hit you when you stumbled over words while reading—you got on my nerves. In doing so, I destroyed any desire you might have had to learn. (Points at Sheila). Now you use me as an excuse to hurt others. You’re a bitter young woman who will turn into a bitter, old, lonely woman if you don’t try to change your ways. Your own family isn’t going to want to be around you! (Sheila’s face remains blank).
Ruby. (Still sad). Sheila’s just Sheila. She’s been like this since she was a child—she was born with this personality.
Sheila. (Finally showing some hurt). See, Daddy! Mama’s already written me off!
Ruby. (Shakes her head). No, I’m still trying to love you, daughter.
Sheila. (Tearfully). Love me? What do any of us know about love? Daddy saw to it that we all turned out to be cold, unfeeling shells! Perhaps it began one Sunday when we were all banished to our rooms because we were playing too loudly and he couldn’t hear the TV! We were just trying to be children! (Brief pause). Don’t you see? We were loud so you’d notice us! Give us some attention! The right kind of attention! I had to develop a “me” that could survive. I’d rather not feel other’s pain—I’ve got enough of my own. (Stands). I protect myself! But I do care about you—as much as I can—and I’m sorry for the times I’ve hurt you. I’m sorry that we’re all so miserable and will likely remain this way the rest of our lives! (Pauses before smiling half-heartedly). I think it’s time I collected my husband and children and went home. It won’t kill them to miss one of your Sunday dinners. Goodbye, Daddy. Goodbye, Mama. (Hurriedly exits. Michael and Ruby remain seated, staring glumly at one another).
Michael. (Softly tries to mask the pain he feels). I think there’s hope for her yet.
Ruby. (Smiles thinly, also trying to hide her hurt. Tries to be hopeful). I’ve no doubt they’ll each find their place in this world, despite it all. (Michael smiles back). Well, I’ll get busy getting supper ready. (Stands). Do you want another cup of coffee?
Michael. (Brief pause). Yeah.
(Lights dim out. Falling curtain ends the play).
Want to review or comment on this
Click here to login!
Need a FREE Reader Membership?
Click here for your Membership!
|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|Good story, Gail; enjoyed~
(((HUGS))) and love, your friend in Tx., Karen Lynn. :D
Love the name you picked out for one of the daughters; good name! LOL