Double Digits

“Yea, I can come!” Brittney said. “This is going to be so much frickin’ fun!”

I held my cell phone tight to my right ear as we talked, dangling my feet over the edge of the dock, feeling the cool water lick my ankles. Tomorrow will be my 10th birthday, a biggie by anyone’s measure. Brittney and I talked about the huge sheet cake my mom was getting and I confided in her that I had over sixty balloons to fill, the big surprise for the end of the party. We talked about who was invited, who was coming and who was getting nailed with the most water balloons.

“I bet Robbie throws all his balloons at you!” she said.

Brittney and I had talked long and hard about Robbie. His dark eyes, his cool clothes and the way he could make milk squirt out his nose and, at the same time, play what sounded like “Who Let the Dogs Out” with his arm pit.

Robbie wasn’t from around here. He had come here from California which is 2,160 miles from Peshtigo, Wisconsin.

I looked it up, twice.

I watched four cranes take off from the weed bed across the river and asked, “I wonder if he was ever in the movies?”

“Probably,” she said.  “He is from California.”

“Chloe! Your dad’s home!” my mother’s voice rang across the river. I didn’t even have to turn around to know she was standing there, in her apron that said “Kiss the Cook” while she held the screen door open, waiting for me to get in the house.

“Gotta go. My dad’s home,” I said into the phone and clicked the End button.

“Coming!” I yelled back, holding my phone with one hand and scooping up some river water with the other, dabbing the back of my neck, as I ran toward the house.

I was glad to have Dad home now. He had lived somewhere else for a while. Mom stopped wearing perfume and spent a lot of time in her room when he was gone. Now, he comes home everyday from work around lunch time and, since its summer and I don’t have school, we all get to sit down and eat fried chicken or steak and sometimes he even brings home a pizza, the expensive kind from the Palm Tree Pizza Company.

“What’s up ChloeChloeDavidBowie?” my dad said as he picked me up and swung me around the kitchen. I was, I thought, a little old for that but I liked it anyway. He says David Bowie and me are gifts from God, music to his ears he always says.

Mom sat the meatloaf in the center of the table and said, “Tomorrow is the big day, huh Chloe?”

“Whatcha got going on?” Dad asked.

Trying to keep my face from frowning, I looked at my Mom and she said, “Bruce, don’t be mean. You know its Chloe’s birthday tomorrow!” I watched as she rubbed his left shoulder.

“Hah! Got ya!” Dad said to me. “You think I would forget double digits?” He paused. “Remember that magician you told me about? The one that Jordan had at her party?”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling all tingly inside.

“Well I talked with him, worked my magic a bit and he’s coming to the party! He has a bunch of new tricks. Of course, he’ll do a few of the good ones he did at Jordan’s party too but he’s been working on some brand new, never seen before, super cool ones!”

“Are you kidding?” I screamed and looked at mom who smiled at me but I could tell it was a surprise to her too. “Oh my God, this is the best present ever!”  I ran over and gave Dad a big hug. His face got all red and he smiled making his dimples show and I poked my fingers in them like I used to do when I was a little girl.

Somehow I managed to sit through lunch and eat what was on my plate but Mom could tell I was antsy and wanted to call Brittney back.

“Go ahead,” she laughed and excused me from the table.

I called Brittney right away. Jordan always had the nicest parties and now mine was going to be even better. Water balloons AND a magician! I called everyone who’d been invited saving Robbie for last.

“Hello.” Robbie said, his voice sounding like cotton candy and root beer.

“Guess what Robbie? I’m going to have a magician at my party tomorrow. It’s gonna be awesome! You’re still coming right?”

“Yea. I got you a present. My mom’s gonna drop me off at eleven.”

My heart stopped. I hadn’t even thought about what he would get me for a present. Robbie is getting me a present. I let that just sit in my head and that tingly feeling was back full blast as I spelled out Robbie + Chloe with a stick in the dirt.

“Super!” I said grasping for something, anything to say as this weird silence hung in the air. “I gotta go. I’ll see you tomorrow!”

See you tomorrow? That’s the best I could come up with?

“Okay. Talk to you later.”

I said bye not wanting to but, let’s face it, there was nothing else left to say.

I hung up the phone, danced, twirled  and spent the rest of the day picking daisies and pulling the petals off in that “He loves me, he loves me not” game. I imagined what our house would look like and how many kids Robbie and I would have, that is until I realized I had nothing to wear.

At first, I was going to wear my yellow shorts with my Harry Styles T-shirt and my sneakers but after talking with Robbie, I decided on my dark blue sundress.  I knew I would be able to dodge all of Robbie’s water balloons if I wore my sneakers but, really, did I want to let him miss me every time? Besides, a dress would be prettier and all the magazine covers say dark colors are slimming.

Dad came home and we had supper and watched TV while Mom finished up a baby blanket for my new cousin, Oscar. Nothing exciting about the evening but I couldn’t sleep. I had put my hair in curlers and didn’t want them to fall out so I tried to lay real still but that just made my head itch and when I tried to think about something else to forget about the itching, I came right back to Robbie and my party.

Mom and I got up really early and strung yellow and purple streamers she’d bought at Dollar General in all the trees so they hung mid-air over the table and then dangled balloons from some of the branches. Next, we strung up the huge banner we made. Yesterday, Mom and I had spent hours cutting out the letters, gluing them to the construction squares and decorating them with silver glitter. Mom brought out the One Direction tablecloth, paper plates, cups AND napkins and laid everything out on our picnic table. By myself, I dragged some palettes over and made a stage for the magician and then cut out little red construction paper triangles to trim the edges. We had some silver confetti left over and my mom was going to sprinkle it on the table but I asked her if I could put some on the stage and use the rest to throw up in the air when we announced the magician. She didn’t answer right away but then agreed after thinking it over.

We stood back and stared at all the decorations, the giant pink box that held the huge chocolate fudge cake in the center of the table, the streamers, the balloons, the stage. It was all just perfect!

The first car pulled up and Brittney jumped out with a big pink and yellow present for me. She stopped just before reaching us to look at the decorations. She looked at me and squealed, “It’s frickin’ beautiful!!”

I knew as soon as it was out of her mouth, our day was doomed. Brittney’s mom hated, and I mean hated, the word frickin’.

“Brittney Lynn,” her Mom said sternly from the car.

“Sorry,” Brittney said, standing very still.

Our moms looked at each other and smiled and Brittney and I both knew that it was with an “aren’t-these-kids-cute-heavy-sigh” kind of smile and not an “embarrassed-you’ll-be-in-trouble-later” kind of smile.

Everyone showed up. Carol, Jodie, Kylie, Jordan, Madison, Joey (‘cuz my mom said Robbie shouldn’t be the only boy) and, the last one to arrive:  Robbie. He smiled at me when he handed me my present and I think he said he liked my dress but I wasn’t sure and I didn’t want to ask him to repeat himself but I think I said thank you before he walked over to the picnic table. My head was swimming.

We played Charades, ate hamburgers and then my mom said everyone could go swimming in the river. I was so surprised when everybody peeled off their clothes and had their swimsuits on underneath.

“Surprise!” mom said. “I knew it was going to be hot today so I called everyone and told them to bring their suits. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Mind?” I said. “That’s frickin’ awesome!”

She just laughed and shook her head.

All of us took turns jumping off the pier doing our best cannonballs and measuring who had the biggest splash. Robbie could do backflips off the edge like an Olympic gymnast. He said it was easy and that he could teach me how.

“Cake and ice cream, anyone?” Mom yelled and that caught everyone’s attention. It felt like I floated from the river back up to the picnic table.

Mom started to light the candles and it dawned on me. “Where’s Dad?”

“He had to work but he should be here soon,” she said and then began singing “Happy Birthday”. Everyone joined in and I made a wish that Robbie would teach me how to do backflips. I blew out all the candles in one breath so I know that wish will come true.

Mom started slicing the cake and handing out pieces. She came to the corner piece that had the most frosting and I quietly reminded her to give that piece to Robbie.

She winked at me and we watched Robbie’s eyes light up.

“Thanks Mrs. Stewart. Frosting’s my favorite part!”

Mom kicked me under the table and we both tried hard not to smile.

After cake, we broke out the water balloons. Mom and I had spent forever filling each one and had piled them in two baskets. I watched as she struggled to get them all to the safe spot we had agreed upon.

“Now there are enough balloons for each of you to use six, so use them wisely. The battle field is just beyond those two birch trees and all the way down to the riverbed. Throwing any balloons within the safe zone will get you disqualified so wait until you clear the trees. Look around out there, there are lots of places to hide.” Mom clicked on the portable CD player and the theme to the Hunger Games began. She cleared her throat and in her best Claudius Templesmith voice said, “Let the games begin and may the odds be forever in your favor.”

We all ran toward the baskets. Some of us grabbed two balloons at once; others took only one and then sprinted off to find a good hiding spot. I watched which way Robbie went and followed through the trees.

“Arghhhh!” Madison was the first one hit and she ran back for a second balloon.

I hid behind some bushes and tried not to make any noise. I heard Robbie laugh and Jordan cry out, “You butthead!”

Robbie joined me by the bushes and said, “I just got Jordan!”

We looked at each other and smiled.

The theme music continued to play in the distance, the sound of water exploding followed by laughter played in the air. Robbie took off again, with his second water balloon in tow, looking for his next victim. I followed, nailing Kylie in the back.

I threw my other balloon at Joey and missed and then noticed something strange. Robbie was hiding, holding his balloon and not throwing it even though Joey and Brittney were in the open. Jordan returned with her balloon and hid behind a tree. Robbie caught sight of her, snaked around the back and threw the balloon on the back of her legs.

“You…” Jordan yelled and started chasing Robbie.

As my grandma always says, “I wasn’t born yesterday.” I knew what this all meant and sure enough, Robbie used almost all of the rest of his balloons on Jordan.

I ran back and got the rest of mine and quietly pierced them behind a tree.

Mom called game time and everyone crept out of their hiding places soaking wet.

“Wow Chloe!” Robbie said. “You’re good at this game. You didn’t even get hit!”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Robbie, look at my hair,” Jordan said. Her long brown hair was wet and she had piled it high on her head. Strands started to fall and I realized then that I had never noticed how pretty Jordan is.  Everybody laughed as she grabbed a particularly wet strand and made believe she had a beard.

My dad’s red pickup pulled fast into our yard, kicking up dirt, making a big announcement; at least now the magician was here. We all turned as my dad’s car door flung open, each of us holding our breath just waiting for the guy in the tuxedo to get out of the passenger’s side. Instead, my dad folded out of the truck in slow motion. I watched as he weaved toward us. The closer he got, the tighter the knot in my stomach got. I tried to stop my face from reddening. I tried to stop my eyes from tearing but I knew what all this meant.

“ChloeChloeDavidBowie,” he yelled slurring his words and catching his foot on an overgrown tree branch.

“Who’s David Blowie?” I heard Jordan whisper to Robbie.

“Hey kids! The magician sends his apologies. He got sick and is unable to attend this fine, fine party.” He threw his arm out in a grand gesture and burped loudly, then mumbled, “A’scuse me.”

Please, please stop talking. Mom shot me that one look that I had long forgotten about. She walked over to him, put her arm around him and said, “Hey, you hungry honey? All the kids wanted to save you the biggest piece of birthday cake. Let’s go inside and find you something to eat.” It was the same kind of voice she used when my last dentist appointment was over and she was trying to get me out of there before I started crying.

“Really?” Dad said, the slurring getting worse; his legs turning to rubber. “You kids are the breast. I mean the best.” He covered his mouth with his hand, laughed way too hard and said, “My bad,” drawing his leg in like a bashful schoolgirl. He winked, snapped his fingers and pointed at me, “Double digits! Par-tay!”

Mom ushered him inside and everyone stood staring at me. I wanted to run, to hide, but then there had been Mom’s look, that look that said: This is the last time, I promise.  I wanted to disappear, to melt, to fade away but I just stood there. Brittney clapped her hands and said, “We have presents to open,” in that happy voice she uses when she feels like crying.

Brittney handed me presents and I opened them and hoped that I looked happy. I just kept picking up a present, unwrapping it, thanking everyone and going on to the next one. My mom came back out and “oohed” and “aaahed” each time I pulled the paper away as she handed out popsicles. Mom said, “Happy Birthday” and raised hers in the air. Everyone at the table raised theirs too and then pretended they were wine glasses and clinked their popsicles together like a big toast as if we were grown ups at a dinner party. The heat began melting them before everyone could finish and drips of purple and red ran down their arms which made me feel like crying again.

Parents started pulling up and it was a good thing as no one was really having a good time anymore. One by one, my guests disappeared until only Brittney was left. Mom gave me a long hug, kissed the top of my head, and went back in the house without a word, just a long exhale as she wiped her hands on the back of her jeans.

Brittney and I went down to the pier where just less then an hour ago, Robbie had told me he would teach me how to do a backflip. I didn’t really feel like talking but that’s the thing about best friends. They just seem to know and can stay quiet with you so you aren’t alone.

We sat there until a summer rain began to fall. The rain came hard and fast but we didn’t budge. Mom didn’t come out to check on us. I knew she was trying to get Dad onto the couch so he would just fall asleep in front of the television set. She was probably laying that ugly brown and yellow blanket over him and placing that big silver barf bowl next to him and when I went inside to get my sleepover stuff, she would probably mumble something about him not feeling well. Whatever.

I mean, I’m a little old for that.

The rain stopped just as quickly as it had started leaving the air super muggy, heavy and tight like last year’s Christmas sweater.

“You okay?” Brittney asked.

“Yea,” I said, just staring down watching the water bury my feet making my toes disappear, wishing the rest of me could too. “Do you think I could spend the night?”

“You know you can. My mom said anytime was fine with her.”

“Thanks.”

The laughter and play that had filled up the river was long gone and now a stillness just sat next to us, the occasional click of a snapping turtle the only noise breaking the silence.

“Hey look,” said Brittney, “a rainbow.”

It was one of those big, beautiful rainbows that fill the sky and reflect off the water and we studied it for a long time without talking.

“Do you think the other side of a rainbow, the side no one can see, is dark and gloomy?” I asked.

“No way. It’s colorful no matter which way you look at it,” she said quietly trying to meet my eyes and then added brightly, “My mom says it’s the reward for making it through the storm!”

I smiled back but knew that was only true for some people.

Image result for real rainbow images

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Writer’s Workshop

whatifI drove home in silence with my brain full of learning, learning how to avoid adverbs, how to create distance or focus, how to re-arrange, tighten, pull back, learning ways to get the reader to willingly crawl inside the skin of a character and feel. The workshop introduced me to people I would otherwise never meet, worlds I will undoubtedly never physically see, and witness ways that authors can make the mundane, inspirational and the unreachable, the larger than life moments that only a chosen few are brave enough, lucky enough or unfortunate enough to be immersed in, seem so small, so human, so approachable, so unintimidating and so like me.

I am grateful for the folks who put events like this together. Not just for the technical knowledge we learn, not just for the comfort we get from those who struggle with the written word, not just for the friendships that develop but because what I see in the classrooms, the boardrooms, the lecture halls is a small fire. And for some of us it is so hard to keep that fire going, that dream alive. But days like this someone comes along and offers some kindling, some tools, some feedback, some hope and I begin to feel, once again, like I have something to contribute, that maybe the dream isn’t frivolous, that the “what if” is out there and maybe, just maybe, it is out there waiting for me.

The Day the World Stopped

worldeye

You can feel his eyes trying to reach yours, to hold your gaze, but the last thing you want to do is look up because you know if you do, the sucker punch he will deliver will not just break you but shatter every inch of your already drained and fragile soul.
You think about the first time you met Rick. The way you immediately fell in love with this unique, shared, instantaneous, logic-defying connection that affectionately embraced you every time he smiled. His easy laugh that melted trouble. Those warm hugs that, throughout the years, never ceased to give you comfort. Two babies and twenty-three years later, hundreds of bedroom romps and kitchen table arguments later, roller coasters of feelings that waxed and waned later, you find yourself here. No one warned you it could be like this and the more you think about it, the more you find it harder to breathe.
Finally, you raise your head and meet his eyes but there seems to only be part of you alive. While on some level, you are dimly aware of a flurry of activity, of green scrubs and white orthopedic rubber-soled clogs racing by, of beepers rushing frantic pleas to perched ears, of a steel on steel whisk as curtains are thrown back, of clipboards and rubber fob watches, of nametags and stethoscopes, of regular people drawing their hands up to pained faces in slow motion and spilling a kind of sadness that makes others recoil, the only thing that pierces through all this fog and holds your attention are his lips moving. You barely feel the whisper of his rehearsed, yet gentle, touch to your right elbow. You glance at the surgical mask that hangs like a punctured balloon from his neck and you note the way his shoulders now sag in defeat as if losing all of your hope had physically shortened him six inches.
There you stand, not sure which way your mind is going to go because control is no longer in your vocabulary or capacity. You watch as his head imperceptively shakes back and forth in slow motion. Just yesterday, you were arguing with Rick over the toothpaste cap. The toothpaste cap. Last night you went to bed mad and it all started with the damn toothpaste cap. And now, all the images crawl inside your heart. Rick playing “airplane” with Ricky Jr. Rick teaching Sara, at sixteen, how to check the oil in her first car. Rick, leaning against the frame of the bedroom door, smiling, and you remember how his look made you feel sexy despite the wrinkles, the grey roots and the extra pounds that the years had gifted you. You can almost hear the way he used to say in that sexy, smooth-honey, southern drawl, “How’s my Baby doin? You wanna….”
But the man’s lips keep moving and his voice interrupts and cuts through your thoughts like a guillotine as the sporadic words like, “I’m sorry” and “nothing more we could do” slam against you, a relentless tsunami, and that is when you become aware that you are drowning and your ability to make it all stop is not, nor will it ever be, within your reach again. You think you are falling but you can’t be because no one else is reacting so you stand there….silently sinking until the man’s words build walls around you, boxing you in, keeping you frozen.
The man slowly guides you to a chair and this very cruel part of you no longer lets you have even moments when you are numb or distant or sheltered. His demolishing words, the sad sideway glances from strangers who dare to make eye contact, the suffocating swarm of antiseptic combined with body odor and fear, the futile offering of a small glass of water come straight at you like rapid fire knives and make it harder and harder to breathe and the only thing you want to do is claw your way out of this moment. But you know there is no way out, no other side, no where to hide or run or scream. This box you’re in is now your permanent home and that thought is so overwhelming, so desperately devastating that you just let the walls envelope you, chew on you, crush you, and hope that they can erase you.
He sits next to you and watches you breathe, hands you a Kleenex for tears you didn’t even know were there, places his hand on your back to calm this heaving body that no longer feels like your own. You are in quicksand, all the way under, and while the man tries to comfort you, he is miles above the surface and so very far away.

You are all alone now.

“Mrs. Jennings, do you want…see the body….a chapel on the first floor….is someone here to drive you home….I’m so sorry for your loss…”

Is this happening?

You mumble thank you and stare at the used, torn Kleenex wadded up inside the palm of your hand that won’t stop shaking and absently ask in a small, lost, child’s voice you have not heard for decades, “Who will put the toothpaste cap back on now?”

COURAGE

dawnThere is a pencil sketch that hangs in my living room I bought years ago at a charity art auction entitled “Dawn” by an unknown artist.  Train tracks run up the center of the picture and then split off into three different directions fading out into infinity while the morning sun peeks brightly from behind the station. When I saw this picture propped up on the bidding table it felt isolated from the other paintings, perhaps in a lonely kind of way but also in a thoughtful kind of way – as if it tried to go unnoticed sitting by its more vivid bidding family.  For me, Dawn had a message. I too was at a crossroads trying to decide which path to take.  I find myself there again now and each time I approach my couch at the end of the day, there it hangs reminding me that my train has been on one track long enough and what lies ahead is some necessary change.

The fact that Dawn is black and white seems to be a perfect fit because times like this, for me, are not filled with excitement and joy and thrilling adventures.  Times like this are not painted with strong hues that jump off the canvas.  Changing directions, altering paths, requires stillness and too much color, too much frivolity, will cloud judgment and distract focus.  Natural early light is best – that clear headed thinking that has always come for me in the morning will help me decide how to begin the second half of my life.

When we bought this piece, I was deciding a marriage proposal and now we fast forward twenty years and I am traveling with the same partner but passengers have arrived and departed during our long ride.  Being self-employed for as many years, we have seen employees come and go, die and move on, become family or burden. Friends have stepped on board placing their baggage next to ours which, at times, has helped distribute the weight comfortably.

Our daughter has boarded another train altogether and my role in motherhood has altered and somewhat disappeared. I find myself trying to figure out where the train is headed now and actually choose, for myself, which path to take.

The journey, filled with opportunity, the kind that feels like youth and idealism and passion and winning bravery, is balanced delicately with trepidation, the kind that feels like an icy wind against my bare cheeks and chills my deep breaths of courage every time I step away from the deeply grooved track I have traveled for years.

What if I get it wrong? But, oh my, what if I get it right?

success

Rosie’s Hands

     handspicHer hands. For decades, those hands have produced oil paintings that cause strangers to stop, stare and sigh. Hands that ignore age and disease and transfer stories to canvas. Fingers that refuse limitation and caress paintbrushes to create beauty. Hands that have cradled babies at dawn, embraced bibles in church, gripped armchairs in injection centers and nursed relatives in care facilities and I am both mesmerized and enchanted as I watch her paint free today of obligation or sadness or pain. My eye travels to the canvas and I study the picture. The son she lost during the Depression stares back with eyes that no longer weep or fear and as I transfer my gaze back to her, I see a mother who, for an instant, has again touched her boy, heard him giggle, felt him inside. Her eyes smile with the warmth of fresh-baked bread hot out of the oven. Her expression purrs like a cat lying in the sun.

     Hair peeps from her scalp and if we use our imagination, we can all pretend each strand poking up is new growth. We can pretend the wrinkles are canals where wisdom lies; that sallowness is a color and gravity has not drained her for over 84 years. Age has stolen her youth, cost her her health, but does not leave her wanting. She knows the disease will dictate that she put down her paintbrush for the last time and she stares at her hands, ignoring the tremors and the transparency, because she knows…

     soon her hands will be holding those of the boy in her painting forever.

The Hunt

tunnelgirl

When I need an escape, I find refuge in thrift store shopping, imagining the people as animals foraging with the same goal in mind:  to find that unique item to return to their nest, a slice of magic that will calm their prowl. The customers flit around me some traveling in packs while others are lone wolves on the hunt. Some are injured trying to find a slice of solace that will feed their soul while others simply prance about laughing in the sunshine of a good bargain.  The young mama bear searching to clothe her offspring who plays hide and seek beneath the hanging garments, grateful for the diversion and the innocence that her cub enjoys. But there’s no mistaking the primal protection in her darting eyes which signal the others that she has a history of being very aware of any predators in her midst.

The white haired, stooped older mammals, like wise owls, gather around the books and lose themselves in the warm bask of a good story.  Other animals remind me of what happens when left in the wild too long.  The ripple effect of bad decisions, sometimes forced bad decisions, play across their face, crawl up their spines and lay heavy on their stooped shoulders; their empty eyes lost in a forest of numbing apathy and useless regret.  There are others still, rejuvenated, primping, strutting as they enhance their plumage barking, chattering, cooing while others plod through this forest, worn and tired, simply trying, practically and matter-of-factly, to gather the necessities for the cold winter ahead.

I relish in the anonymity that my “nature” place provides.  I go unnoticed among the herd as I pick through the sticks that line my own nest and draw comfort in being surrounded by others who unknowingly carry inside them a tiny piece that looks a lot like me

*sigh*

monotony

Sometimes it is the humdrum of life that just might save us all. We fight against it; we mock it; we dread waking up to one more day of everyday chores that boil down to “Shampoo. Rinse. Repeat.” But this is what I have come to appreciate about the sameness of it all. It is something to focus on when you’re waiting for the phone call or the proposal that doesn’t come. It is the distraction that keeps us stepping forward as we wait for the test results on an abnormal pap, a job interview or a desperate yet necessary email sent. It is the focus that propels us through watching our children toddle off, bright lunchbox in hand, to the independence of kindergarten to the more lump swallowing moment when they step out onto the diving board and fly off to college.

These little tasks that go unnoticed, unappreciated and sometimes unnecessary wrap us up in a warm, comforting blanket of monotony and slip us into a comfortable rut we will bemoan and wiggle out of during a vacation or a carefree night when the second or third drink stirs in us that free spirit but when the dust settles, we will glide easily back into “shampoo, rinse, repeat” mode. It is often what keeps us breathing.

Thoughts on Dancing

Dancing is freedom, no other way to put it. Once the music starts and begins to settle inside, the spinning, the rhythm, the primal beat feels like flying as if the air around me is mine alone seemingly lighter, lifting, void of gravity. I love the slam into the ground the forceful pop of a ribcage thrust, the sensual rotation of the hips as if drawing circles in mid-air. There are pockets of time when the music demands and celebrates hard moves allowing any anger to pitch itself outward and bounce off the walls and there are other times when the music is soft and a gentle longing pours from the body and out through each fingertip before it floats up and away. Then there are those moments, those delicious moments, when the music swells from inside and beams laughter and sunshine and joy and spreads itself around the room infecting everyone. Dancing is freedom, indeed.

WHAT STARTED OUT AS FRIENDSHIP (a one-act play)

WHAT STARTED OUT AS FRIENDSHIP

a play in one act by Patti Santucci

There’s just something about a gentlemen caller

 phone

WHAT STARTED OUT AS FRIENDSHIP character list

DEIDRA: 33 year old female nurse/artist, married to Chris.

CALLER: adult male, age unknown

CHRIS: 37 year old husband, married to Diedra

BECKY: female child around five years old

POLICE OFFICER: strong male voice

Synopsis

A wife befriends an anonymous caller because she has become bored with her marriage.

WHAT STARTED OUT AS FRIENDSHIP

SCENE 1

(Deidre leans against her kitchen counter while talking on the phone)

DEIDRE

I know we shouldn’t be talking every day but I really enjoy hearing your voice. I think yesterday and today have been the longest we’ve talked. I drone on about my artwork and you act interested.

CALLER

It’s not an act. I am interested.

DEIDRE

Do you think we will ever meet? Just a cup of coffee or something? You pique my curiousity, you know. (hesitates): You make me feel alive, important. It’s been a long time since….

CALLER

(interrupts): And that’s a shame. You are a fascinating woman, Diedre. I’ll bet your patients look forward to seeing you everyday – you are their sunshine in the rain.

DEIDRE

I am just a pass through for most of my patients. We got a guy in yesterday, just a baby, maybe all of seventeen. Jumped off a bridge with a bunch of his friends. Word is he won’t ever walk again. He’ll be with me for a while. The surgeon is optimistic that he may be able to move his thumbs soon and eventually the hope is he’ll have limited mobility in his arms in a couple months. It was just so, so sad. To make matters worse his mom’s a single mother. I generally don’t get too involved but I just wrapped my arms around her – mother to mother you know?

CALLER

You’re a good woman Deidre. Chris is lucky to have you. I’ll bet you are an excellent mother. Have you gotten any bites on the masks you painted? The ones you said you have hanging at that upscale restaurant in El Dorado Hills?

DEIDRE

Wow. You have a good memory. I don’t even remember telling you about that.

(She smiles.)

Good listener. Great mind. (smiles and touches her hair coyly)

CALLER

You make the listening easy.

DEIDRE

(with panic) Crap! Chris is home. I gotta go.

(Deidre hangs up the phone)

 

WHAT STARTED OUT AS FRIENDSHIP

SCENE 2

 (Chris walks through the door. Diedre turns away from the phone.)

CHRIS

You’re looking mighty guilty. Who was on the phone?

DEIDRE

Nobody.

CHRIS

It was him again right? Yea, I know some guy’s been calling you. Who is it? Not that I care, I mean if he wants to listen to you prattle on, then God help him. We’ve been married nine years now and I know I’ve heard every single one of your brain numbing stories.

DEIDRE

I doubt that. I mean that would insinuate, at some point, you actually listened to anything I had to say in the first place.

CHRIS

(making a grand gesture with his arms): And she’s off! Pulling into the lead: Whining About Everything.

DEIDRE

Oh, Chris. The horse analogy is so close. Look in the mirror and you’ll see an ass.

(The phone rings)

CHRIS

Must be your boyfriend.

(Deidre picks up on the third ring as Chris and Deidre stare at each other)

DEIDRE

Hello.

CALLER

Sorry to call. I know you said Chris is home. Just pretend I’m one of your girlfriends. I just had to call back. I forgot to tell you something.

DEIDRE

Oh hi JoAnna! How are you?

CALLER

I forgot to tell you that I think I’m falling in love with you.

DIEDRE

Come again?

CHRIS

(angry): It’s him again isn’t it? Son of a bitch!

(He storms off stage and returns with the other phone. Chris holds the phone to his ear. He glares at Deidre daring her to speak)

CALLER

I said, I think I’m falling in love with you.

CHRIS

Diedre, who is this jerk? You do know she’s married, asshole? Let me introduce myself: I’m her husband.

CALLER

I know who you are. (beat)  (calmly): You know, if I were her husband, I’d make sure she didn’t have any reason to find comfort in conversations with a stranger. Do you even see her? I mean really see her? Did you know she’s been up at 3 am crying about her failing marriage? (beat) Yea, I didn’t think so. Now who’s the asshole?

(Chris makes eye contact with Diedre. She drops her gaze and stares at the floor)

You think she hasn’t figured out that you’re not really working late…that you just drive around so you won’t have to come home. Do you think she doesn’t know you stop at O’Malley’s Pub and mope on a barstool, drown your pathetic sorrows in a vodka tonic?

(Diedre stares at Chris through watery eyes)

CHRIS

Are you following me? Who is this?

CALLER

I know things, asswipe. You should know things too. You should know the new technique she tried on the art masks she sells at Brea’s Boutique are a hit and she’s sold seven of them since last Friday. You should know that she sends a secret prayer to God every day around 3:00 in the afternoon for her father. Do you even remember that was the time of his death? Do you remember anything? Do you remember you once had a sense of humor? Do you know she still has one?

CHRIS

Look asshole, all of that is none of your business. (turns to Diedre) What have you been telling this guy? WHO IS THIS GUY? (slams his fist on the counter.)

CALLER

I’m someone who listens. I’m someone who appreciates Diedre. I’m someone who knows she likes hot mustard and smoked swiss on her ham sandwich and always orders extra pickles. I’m someone who knows she only wears her blue nightgown when she’s sad and she dances to “Brick House” when she’s feeling sexy. I’m someone who knows how big her heart is –how she always sings to her patients.

DIEDRE

How….how do you know I sing to my patients?  And how do you know about…

CALLER

(interrupts): You told me. Remember? You said just today that you sang lullabies to that kid who jumped off the bridge.

DIEDRE

I didn’t say that. The only people who know I sing to my patients are some of my co-workers. And how do you know what I dance to or that I wear a blue nightgown? Are you watching me? (voice shaking): Who are you?

CALLER

You know who I am Diedre. I only watch you because I love you. (beat) I love you Diedre! I can tell you love me too. Our conversations, so easy….the lilt in your voice begging me to find you. For weeks, I have walked the railroad tracks by my house thinking of you. I sit staring out my front window and watch the kids cross my street on their way to the waterpark and I can feel your desire to have children with me. We’d make great parents Diedre.

SCENE 3

 CALLER

(Diedre, terrified, slides down against the kitchen counter and sits on the floor. Chris approaches Diedre. We can hear Caller shouting  to someone else.)

Becky, come here Becky. Say hello to your future mommy.

C’mon Becky. Just say hello. Don’t be afraid. Trust me honey. You’ll love her.

(awkward silence)

(enraged now): BECKY, GODDAMMIT, DO AS YOUR’E TOLD!

BECKY

(a child’s crying voice comes on the line)

Hello? (beat) I’m so scared, please help me…

(loud slap is heard followed by a ruckus that sounds like furniture being flung as Caller goes into a rage)

CALLER

That’s enough Becky! One thing! That’s all you had to do! One thing! One goddamn thing! See what you made me do? You’re ruining everything!

BECKY

(heard in the background) I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll clean it up. I’m sorry.

CALLER

(completely calm) That’s my girl. Sorry about that Diedre. Kids, you know? Where was I? Oh that’s right. I love you Diedre! I love you so much that I keep things around my house that remind me of you. I keep the cup from the double shot latte you had last Tuesday to put my pens in. I even painted the color of my house to match your eyes.

DIEDRE

(looking up at Chris): Chris, I don’t know this guy! (angrily into the phone): Who are you? How do you know so much about me? Don’t call here anymore.

CALLER

What? C’mon, Diedre. Is it Becky? Don’t worry. She’s fine. Every kid acts up sometimes. She’s actually very well behaved. You’ll love her. Really. I can hardly wait for you to meet her.

DIEDRE

I’m hanging up. Don’t ever call here again or I will call the police.

(Diedre hangs up the phone. Chris stays on the line and listens to the caller)

CALLER

(panicked and crying): Wait! Diedre! You can’t do this. Oh my God. Oh my God. (yelling): Becky! you stupid little bitch……

(A commotion is heard, followed by what sounds like footsteps running away. Becky’s childlike scream fades getting farther away from the phone. Heavy breathing comes back on the line.)

CHRIS

(yelling): Stop! What are you doing? Look, tell me where you are. We can talk about this.

CALLER

(deadpan) You never listen Chris. That’s the problem. Then again, maybe you’re right and your wife is a bitch.

(The phone goes dead. Chris and Diedre face each other. She is crying)

DIEDRE

I’m so sorry. He was just some guy who started calling. At first he said he was a salesman for Verizon, tried to sell me a new plan. He was charming and funny and before I knew it, we were talking. Just talking Chris. He’d call and I ….it all seemed so innocent.

CHRIS

Diedre, I think we should call the police. This guy is crazy. God knows what he’ll do to his daughter. (beat) If that is his daughter.

SCENE 4

(The phone rings again. Diedre rises,

grabs a scott towel off the counter

and wipes her nose and then answers

the call)

DIEDRE

(angry now): Hello!

CALLER

(says quickly): Don’t hang up Diedre. I’m sorry. I just thought we had something, you know? I shouldn’t have rushed you. Chris just took me off guard. He’s just such an angry guy. I worry about you.

DIEDRE

Look, you don’t know anything about my husband. He’s a good man. I shouldn’t have been talking to you at all. Don’t call here anymore.

CALLER

(no longer pleading): I want you to listen hard to this Diedre.

(A clicking sound echoes.)

Do you know what that sound is Diedre? Go look in your nightstand if you want. It won’t be there. (Pause) Really, it’s a nice gun. I can cradle the frame against the heel of my hand. The recoils a bit timid but I like that, reminds me of you. Have you ever shot this gun Diedre?

               (Diedre motions for Chris to pick up the other phone holding her index finger across her lips asking Chris to remain quiet)

DIEDRE

How did you get my gun? When…?

CALLER

(interrupts): You really should lock your back door when you jog the neighborhood Diedre. There are all kinds of creeps out there. I have the gun now. I will always protect you.

(Chris frantically grabs a piece of paper and pen and writes “KEEP HIM TALKING. I’M CALLING 911”. Chris disconnects the land line

and reaches into his back pocket for his cell.)

CHRIS

(speaking quietly into his cell phone): There’s this guy that’s been stalking my wife. He’s on the phone with her now and he stole our gun. He has our gun! He also has a little girl at his house. She talked to my wife on the phone. (beat) No, I don’t know where he lives. (beat) Oh, wait a minute. He said something about living near a waterpark and seeing railroad tracks from his front window. Please hurry, he has a little girl. Oh God.(long beat) I don’t know. I don’t know. (slowly) Oh… My…. God.  His house! His house is sky blue, like a light blue. He said that his house matches my wife’s eyes.

CALLER

Who is Chris talking to? Is someone else there?

(Diedre motions for Chris to go into the next room to finish the call. Chris walks off stage)

SCENE 5

(Diedre is in the kitchen on the phone. Chris is offstage)

DIEDRE

(with voice cracking):  No, no one else is here.

CALLER

Well, I hope he doesn’t try calling anybody else. I’d hate for anything to happen to Becky here.

(Chris walks back onstage to check on Diedre. The pistol goes off, followed by a child’s scream.)

DIEDRE

(visibly shaken): He just shot the gun! OH GOD! I think he shot Becky!

CHRIS

 (into his cell  phone): He just fired the gun! I think he shot the little girl! Please do something!

(Chris grabs the phone from Diedre and starts punching numbers into the keypad. He hands the phone back to Diedre and walks away out of earshot.)

(speaking into his cell): The caller ID is 555-7381.

                                                                                    (Chris turns back to Diedre)

(whispers): Keep him talking.

DIEDRE

I dropped the phone. Look, I’m sorry. I just got nervous because Chris was here, you know? I want you to keep calling. I enjoy our conversations, you know that. (Pause) Where’s Becky? I’d love to talk her again.

CALLER

She hiding right now. She can be such a jumpy kid. I give her everything but she’s a crier. (chuckles)

DIEDRE

Yeah, I know what you mean. You know, (Pause) I think I might be falling in love with you too. (face scrunches with disgust) I keep this little heart shaped soap on my counter because it reminds me of you.

                                                                                    (Chris gives her a thumbs up)

CALLER

Really? I knew it! I knew it!! I keep all kinds of things that remind me of you.

(Diedre quickly grabs the pen and paper)

(excited):  I’ve got a collection of nursing pins that I keep on a scarf that I drape over my nightshade. I look at it every night before I go to bed. And the masks that you’ve been painting? I bought seven of them. I’ve hung them above my garage door, all seven, so they are the first thing I see when I come home. And remember when you told me about that dream you had? The one where you fell down that well? The next day I bought the cutest little well and put it in my front yard.  I even bought Becky a blue nightgown. I’m so glad you feel the same way. I can’t wait to show you everything.

(Deidre scribbles down what he says and hands it to Chris)

CHRIS

(hurrying off stage, whispers into cell): He lives in a blue house with a well in the front yard. There are seven decorative masks above his garage door. He’s got to be living in the Montgomery Development. It’s the only housing complex that I know of near the water park. He’s by a railroad. He can see the railroad tracks from his front window!

CALLER

(eerily calm): What did you do Diedre? Why do I hear sirens?

SCENE 6

(A pounding is heard through the phone. Diedre is shaking as she holds the phone)

POLICE OFFICER

This is the police. Open Up!

CALLER

FUCK!  You bitch! You’ve ruined everything. You lied to me! (pauses and continues in a dejected, whining voice) You don’t love me. You never loved me!

(More pounding on the door.)

This is all your fault Diedre. All your fault.

(The gun goes off and it sounds like the phone has been dropped on the floor. Muffled sounds, a big crash, many footsteps. Diedre drops the phone and then picks it back up almost dropping it again.)

POLICE OFFICER

Hello? Who is this?

DIEDRE

It’s Diedre Mulligan. My husband called 911. What happened? (frantic): Find the little girl. Find the little girl!! Her name is Becky.

POLICE OFFICER

I’m going to need you to calm down maam. The suspect has shot himself. The premises have been vacant for months. The officers have searched the entire house and we have not found a little girl. Two of the officers are searching the perimeter outside. Our dispatcher has indicated you have been talking with the suspect for some time? Is that correct?

DIEDRE

Yes. I know. It was stupid.

POLICE OFFICER

Maam you are very lucky.  He had previously been convicted of rape and had recently escaped from The Napa Valley State Hospital for the criminally insane. I suspect there is no little girl. He had schizophrenia and a multiple personality disorder. He was very dangerous man.

DIEDRE

(gasps): I heard about this guy. My sister works across the street from that Napa hospital. Their whole office was in lockdown when he escaped. He killed the custodian. The guard he beat is still in the hospital. They don’t think he’ll ever come out of his coma. Oh God.

POLICE OFFICER

You and your husband are going to need to come down to the station for questioning. The dispatcher is terminating the call with your husband as we speak. It’s all over Mrs. Mulligan.

(Diedre hangs up the phone as Chris walks back into the kitchen. Both are stunned. They embrace.)

DIEDRE

He’s dead.

CHRIS

(wincing): And the girl?

DIEDRE

The police think there never was a little girl. He had schizophrenia and multiple personalities. Chris, he was a convicted rapist! (crying): I’m so sorry. (sobbing harder): I don’t know what I was thinking.

CHRIS

No, I’m the one who’s sorry. (putting his arms around her): That creep was right. If I had been paying attention, you wouldn’t have struck up a conversation with some stranger.

(The phone rings. Chris picks up the phone, looks out at the audience and places it right back on its cradle.)

CURTAIN