Featured in the 2016 Spring Issue of Rambunctious
By Michale Schueler, ’18
(DOWNSTAGE RIGHT is a GIRL, spotlighted. UPSTAGE LEFT, behind a screen, is an OLD WOMAN and a MAN, backlit so that their shadow is cast on the screen. The OLD WOMAN sits in a wooden kitchen chair, next to a table with a wine glass and bottle on it, and a pile of envelopes and magazines. The MAN and OLD WOMAN are wildly gesturing and seem to be arguing. The MAN shakes his head and walks behind back curtain to UPSTAGE RIGHT, where there is another backlit screen, behind it a patio table and chair, a wine bottle, and a glass. His fists are clenched as he throws himself into the chair, and holds his head in his hands. As the GIRL begins to speak, small scraps of paper, like confetti, begin to fall around the OLD WOMAN. Paper scraps continue to gently fall and accumulate around the OLD WOMAN throughout the play.)
I sit across from my grandmother, and I am alone. She sips her wine, babbling about flowers and my mother and I can see the pretty paper projectiles, hastily made like those airplanes I attempted in kindergarten as they come out of her head and surround her like an aura.
(The GIRL turns to look back at the OLD WOMAN, surveying the scene of the paper falling around her. The OLD WOMAN angrily pours herself a glass of wine, and the MAN does so at the exact same time, exuding tension. The MAN downs his drink in two gulps. He then sits still. The GIRL turns back, facing the audience. The OLD WOMAN sips her drink and makes gestures as the GIRL resumes speaking.)
One of the airplanes is nothing, just where she left her keys. Another is a picture of me when I was nine. But another is how to say I love you to my father. And I see it. I see it in the empty glasses in my dad’s office, in my grandfather’s dimming eyes. I see what she won’t.
I remember when I liked my grandmother’s house, when sadness didn’t follow me from room to room. When the smell of it didn’t make me want to gag.
(The GIRL takes a deep breath through her nose and shudders.)
It smells of burnt toast and desperation.
Some things are the same. The ice cream is in the freezer. We’re surrounded by trees and the brittle stalks of last summer’s flowers. The dogs are barking. But other things will never be the same.
My grandmother always used to be smiling, Smiling as I would rip flowers from their roots to give to her and to my mother. Smiling as I lay on her dog’s chest. Smiling as I fiddled with brooches from her jewelry box. My favorite one was a golden bird, as long as my little finger, with red and green glass inlaid with white.
The bird is long gone. I wonder where she put it.
Now I never know which grandmother I’ll get. I might be gifted the grandmother who showed me her figurine of an Indian bride, who explained why the sari was red, the grandmother who bundled me up in snow pants and a puffy coat so I could go sledding down her driveway.
I usually get the grandmother who sees our concern as criticism, paranoid that we’ve turned against her.
She doesn’t smile much anymore.
The memories spiral in the air, creating a double helix of pain and forgetting.
(The falling paper swirls around the OLD WOMAN, and she seems not to notice anything.)
I remember, and that’s what hurts me. I remember when it wasn’t like this, a house scattered with paper, reminders that never get read. I watch as she shuffles junk mail around because it makes her feel important and smart and awake.
(As GIRL is saying this, the OLD WOMAN stands and picks up a few envelopes and magazines from the table, shuffles them, and puts them down again in a different place)
Paper airplanes dust the house like a sketchy antique store, each a memory scrawled in my grandmother’s hand. I notice one. It says Take your pills.
I remember, and she can’t.
My grandfather calls to her from the living room, and my grandmother stands, hurrying to his side.
(The OLD WOMAN gets up quickly and hurries off LEFT. The pile of paper at her feet is scattered at her departure.)
She never hurries for anyone but him, this man desperately clinging on to life. And in a way, that helps her. And I can’t blame her for it. Because she does a good job hurrying for him. Her love for him is bigger than the airplanes. She could forget me. She will forget me.
But she will never forget him, her escape from the airspace, her anchor to the runway. There are no airplanes near him. They surround me like dust, triggering my asthma. I shouldn’t be jealous when he can’t even toilet himself, but part of me wishes the rest of the family, especially my father, were held in such high esteem. She walks back to me, but the biggest part of her is still with her husband.
(The OLD WOMAN returns and sits wearily back into her chair. The paper resumes falling, more heavily.)
When the conversation turns back to flowers, she recites the same verse about how the daylilies are coming soon. Outside, it is February.
(The MAN crosses behind the stage curtain to UPSTAGE LEFT, walks back in and looks at the OLD WOMAN. His shoulders visibly shake.)
My father walks back in, eyes red, and he ages twenty years in twenty seconds and I want to scream at her. But I don’t scream.
It’s not worth it anymore.
She won’t hear it anymore.
Because she’s not there anymore.
(The MAN walks over to the table and sifts through the mess of paper to find a pill bottle. He shakes it. The OLD WOMAN gets up and she and the MAN begin to argue.)
I get up as the inevitable argument about pills begins, as if they haven’t had this ‘discussion’ before, as if they won’t have it again. I walk past the dogs playing on the stained carpet. I walk past the airplanes. I walk past my grandfather’s pained expression until I reach the bathroom.
And I sit down in the shower like I do when I don’t want to think, a habit I picked up from reading too much, but there’s no water to make it seem like I’m not crying, no water to make me clean of this house, no water to slowly melt the paper from my hands. No water to pound the noise of my grandmother’s anger from my eardrums.
I stay in there for an hour, maybe two, wishing for water. And I wonder if this is how my family feels about wine. If the sour red liquid that comes out of a box numbs everything the way we want it to, making the feelings fly away like those airplanes that flit around my grandmother’s head and settle on the window sill. And I wonder if that will be me someday, a person who finds solace in a cardboard box, on it a bad painting of an imaginary countryside.
(The paper has accumulated around the OLD WOMAN again, enough to cover her feet. The MAN gestures angrily one last time and stalks off behind back curtain and to the screen UPSTAGE RIGHT. He stands there, hands on the table. Paper begins to fall around him.)
But that’s not my greatest fear.
(As the GIRL speaks the last sentence, confetti begins to swirl and fall around her, too. We hear faintly the sound of the wind, which grows slowly louder as the next lines are spoken.)
I am afraid that the airplanes that plague my grandmother’s house will creep into mine. I’m afraid that the airplanes will surround my father, and, in time, me. Airplanes with the day he taught me how to ride a bike, picking me up as I fell. Airplanes with the way we read The Lord of the Rings each night before bed, with that day in the hospital when I first saw him cry.
Airplanes with my grandmother’s confused face.
(Fade to black on all three lit spaces. The wind rises to a howl, then cuts off after a few seconds)