P L A Y S
Both my plays seem to be about the past, time, and change… what a surprise!
- by Hélène PASCAL-THOMAS
*This play had rehearsed readings with actors and Q. and A.s in 2011 in London two venues: PENTAMETERS in Hampstead and the Interchange Studios in Belsize Park
A Lovely Small Theatre In Hampstead
- by Hélène PASCAL-THOMAS
In the course of a few days, under the mother’s pressure and the daughters’ contrary needs, a past of childhood abandonment, jealousy and abuse is revealed, with life-changing consequences.
A middle-class apartment in a provincial town of France. Dark. Too much furniture.
List of characters
– ANNE, the mother, 78, who lives alone, has summoned her daughters to an important meeting to discuss a family matter.
– EMILIE, 53, a teacher, who has just arrived from London where she lives with her daughter.
They are both waiting with great foreboding for the arrival of:
– (MARIE-) ODILE, 50, a catholic nun ‘in the world’, who lives and works where she can.
– MICHEL, 55, a doctor and the only son, lives nearby with his own family. He isn’t involved in the meeting but visits to give support when he can.
Character list and description:
The mother, 78 years old. French bourgeoise, ex-headmistress. Has lived a conventional and dutiful life, crippling to her. A powerful woman in every sense, we see her full of goodwill, anguish, fear, and more than anything: need to control. A matriarch.
The younger daughter, 50. A tragic figure: a nun in the world, not attached to any particular religious order, but doing good works under Church supervision. A vision of angry despair. A needy, damaged woman with deep religious feelings, and a great deal of resentment towards her family.
The elder daughter, 53. A teacher, pleasant and dutiful within limits. Recently single and the mother of a 15-year old daughter. In the past sought refuge from her family in London where she has been living for a long time, but today summoned, with her sister, to an important family meeting.
The only son, 55years-old. A doctor, who lives on the outskirts of the town with his wife in a contented marriage. One grand-child. A decent man, stable, friendly and sympathetic. Keeps out of family dramas when he can.
Living room of mother’s flat. Elegant. Antique furniture, too much of it. Dining table set for two. The women enter room together. Affectionate noises and gestures.
Anne: ….and how was your trip, darling?
Emilie: Fine. No problems at all. You look good.
Anne: You think so? I don’t feel so good. It’s an anxious time. (spiky) Still got your short hair.
Emilie: (ignoring her) What a welcoming table!
Anne: I’ve cooked you a treat.
Emilie: A vol-au-vent? Such a long time since I had it.
Anne: Since last time you came. There, take your coat off
(Emilie takes her coat off and Anne hangs it off stage)
Emilie: (sitting on couch). Has Odile arrived?
Anne: (joining her) You won’t believe it, she keeps postponing her arrival.
Emilie: You know I’ve only got a few days.
Anne: You know how she is, I always worry about her it was supposed to be yesterday, now it’s maybe tomorrow and she knows it’s important, but she only does what she wants.
Emilie: She knows I’ll be here?
Anne: Yes, yes, I’ve told her Michel will drop by this afternoon.
Emilie: Is he involved in our meeting?
Anne: There was no need. At least you’ve got a stable job. Unlike Odile.
Emilie: She working?
Anne: I’m not sure, but she’s still involved with religious organisations, they always want money.
Emilie: She still asks you for money?
Anne: I’ve had to take a decision. I couldn’t afford to keep sending her money every month, I hardly manage on my income. Her letters – when she writes – are so hostile, so aggressive. They make me quite ill, I can’t sleep at night for the worry so I’ve cut her allowance by half. I spoke about it with my parish priest, he agreed with me. You cannot let her treat you like this without sanction.
Emilie: Oh, I’m sorry but she may be even more angry now.
Anne: (cross) But what could I do? I’ve done everything I could to help, I couldn’t go on like this.
Emilie: No, no. I didn’t mean you were wrong, on the contrary, but she’ll be even more resentful, that’s all.
Anne: I must get some nice things for breakfast tomorrow, when she’s here, there’ll be three of us then: raisin buns for her, she always loved them, I wonder if she’ll have put some weight on, she was so skinny last time I thought she was ill, she often fasts, you know, to mortify the flesh, she says it’s also good for her digestion which has been bad for years. Is yours better these days?
Emilie: Up and down. When it gets rough, I take a tranquilliser for a couple of days.
Anne: Yes, I take them as well, it seems to help, I wonder if Odile takes them too,
Emilie: (sarcastic) Maybe it’s against her religion: there must be no peace.
Anne: I spoke to my parish priest a while back: it was after her bronchitis, she told me on the phone she’d spent two hours prostrate on the church floor, her arms apart. I was concerned, it seemed a bit dramatic, but he said: You know, Madame Ségur, it’s true that her behaviour is quite unusual nowadays, but we must be cautious and understanding, there are rare people who live their faith acutely, it could be she is one of them… I’m sure that’s when she caught her bronchitis. She doesn’t take care of herself I can’t be everywhere, I have enough problems myself.
Emilie: But you have Rosa?
Anne: Yes, and she comes most days. She’s a real treasure.
Emilie: I like her, you’re lucky there.
Anne: Oh, you know, it’s still not easy I occupy myself as best I can. I listen to the radio, I read, and I watch the news but there are so many hours in the day, and everyone I knew has died. You’ll see when you’re old and alone.
Emilie: I won’t be alone.
Anne: Ha! The way you deal with men (Emilie gives her a look) Your cousins have a good system with their mother, they each have her for six months, in turns. That works very well (pause)
Emilie: (thoughtful) Did you want another child? I mean, after me?
Anne: Not really, a boy and a girl seemed enough, that’s for sure, children can be a pain. But things weren’t so good between your father and me, and people said having another child helps strengthen a couple.
Emilie: So, you didn’t really want Odile?
Anne: In those days, we took them as they came, you know! Women didn’t have much choice.
Emilie: I remember Odile asking me once – we were children – if she’d been adopted.
Anne: Now, if you want to put your things away in your room, you’d better do it before Michel arrives.
Emilie: Okay, I won’t be long (she disappears)
Anne puts the radio on and tidies up the lunch things. This takes a little while. The news is of a landslide in Peru and a plane crash in the States. She leans out of the room and shouts:
Anne: There’s been a landslide in Peru! They fear hundreds of dead! And a plane crash in America! (She goes to the kitchen, taking the transistor with her. Emilie reappears)
Anne: (coming out of the kitchen) Yes, I’m here.
Emilie: You know, that hippopotamus tooth dad had on his desk at home? He used it as a paperweight. You’ve still got it?
Anne: I must have it somewhere, but I’m not sure where.
Emilie: If you don’t mind, could I have it? I have nothing of dad’s.
Anne: Well, that’s silly, you have lots of photos.
Emilie: I mean, I don t have an object that belonged to him. Can I have it?
Anne: What an idea, and just when I’m so busy with preparations for your sister, I can’t be looking for it everywhere
Emilie: So can I have it? If you can find it, I mean.
Anne: The thing is, I had thought of giving it to your Paul next time I come to you, he’s so keen on Zoology. I wanted to give him a present.
Emilie (quick) So you know where it is, then?
Anne: Vaguely, but let’s not bother with it now.
Emilie: (adamant) No, let s bother with it now, just for a minute: you can’t give it to Paul, Paul is out of my life. This means you can give it to me, since you didn’t want to keep it anyway, all right?
Anne: If you want it that much, we’ll discuss it later (pause). We haven’t talked about Julie! How is she?
Emilie: Great. She’s gone to the seaside with a school friend and her parents.
Anne: I’m so sorry not to see her.
Emilie: You’ll see her in the summer. She’s becoming independent, now. But she’s got a good group of friends, nice kids, bright sparks. (She laughs) I think she’s got a boyfriend.
Anne: Really? That worries me, it’s the beginning of all sorts of troubles. You have to watch her, she’ll start lying, want to stay out late, just like you did at that age: it drove me insane with worry! I hope that you’ve explained things to her, that she’s got to be good and responsible.
Emilie: Don t worry, she’s a good girl.
Anne: It’s very well for you to tell me not to worry, but I’m not there, I can’t know what’s going on!
Emilie: Oh, maman! Now I feel I shouldn’t have mentioned it, it’s always… (the doorbell rings) Oh, here he is! I’ll get it! (She goes to open the door) HEL-LO! How lovely to see you! Come in and sit down.
(Re-arranging of chairs around the table)
Michel: (kisses his mother and sister) Maman, I’ve brought some goodies, do you have somewhere to put them?
(Anne goes to the kitchen with the goodies)
Emilie: (to Michel) Have you got me some? I’m going mad already!
Michel: (takes out a tube from his pocket) Here they are. Only one at night – or one in the morning as well if life gets difficult.
Emilie: You’re saving my life. (puts tube of pills in her bag on the floor) And how are Simone and the kids?
Michel: Everyone fine, and the younger one growing fast, you know…
(Anne returns with a plate of petits fours)
Anne: Shall I make some tea or coffee? It’s so nice of you to have brought all that, you really shouldn’t have…
Michel: No, thanks, we’ll just pick at these. (He passes the plate to Anne and they sit at the table) Help yourselves. So, you must be pleased to have this English woman to yourself for a few days.
Anne: She s become a real foreigner, that’s for sure
Michel: And Odile, when’s she coming?
Anne: I think tomorrow, she hasn’t confirmed yet.
Michel: Everything simple, as usual. She okay?
Anne: No idea yet, I hope so.
Michel: (to Emilie) Your Julie must be happy to be on holiday.
Emilie: And me too, I couldn’t t wait for it, this job kills me… I can’t stand it any more at times… I feel completely burnt out.
Anne: But you must be sensible, you’re lucky you’ve got it. With your responsibilities…
Michel: Surely, there must be other jobs elsewhere?
Anne: Don t encourage her to give up her job, please! She needs stability. She’s not going to leave her job and start again at her age!
Michel: Schools are always crying out for good teachers.
Anne: There’s a lot to be said for stability. Particularly when money is tight.
Michel: (Michel stands up and takes a biscuit and for the rest of the scene paces around the room.) Have you planned any outings, or visits?
Anne: Well, I’m not too mobile… And we’ve got a lot to do.
Michel: But you will come to us one of these days? When Odile’s here? It’s funny, I feel I hardly know her…
Emilie: You’re not the only one.
Michel: Still mysterious, is she? Still up to her neck in religion?
Anne: Yes, but it doesn’t seem to be bringing her much peace… She hasn’t made contact with you?
Michel: ‘fraid not. She’s never seen me as an ally.
Emilie: (teasing) Maybe because you can be a little sarcastic at times?
Michel: I don’t mean any harm. Fortunately, God is on her side (he laughs).
Anne: Come on, be respectful. She may go over the top in her religious behaviour, but…
Michel: At least she’s not a drug or sex addict, although, religion can be a drug. (Changing the conversation) Emilie, how’s your Julie doing?
Emilie: Brilliantly, I’m so proud of her. Lovely as ever, and she gets very good marks in almost all her subjects.
Anne: Except Spanish, I understand
Michel: We all aim at perfection, maman, but very few of us get there.
Emilie: I just want her to be happy, it seems to take care of everything else.
Anne: I must say, I’ve never seen such a joyful young girl in my life! When I think your father has only seen her twice, if that…
Emilie: Dad is fine with his new life, maman. Let sleeping dogs lie.
Anne: (to Michel) Well, my dear, I am not throwing you out, but I am late for my afternoon nap. Just be quiet when you leave, won’t you? Emilie , there’ll be paperwork when I wake up. So, if you go out, please don’t be too long. (She leaves the room and Michel and Emilie leave their chairs and throw themselves on the couch and an armchair. They sigh in unison.)
Michel: How long are you staying?
Emilie: Until Friday morning. We’re having that Very Serious Meeting tomorrow. You know, I dread seeing Odile even more than coming here. I might take more tranquillisers! And I’m also sharing the bedroom with her…
Michel: It mightn’t be so bad, play it by ear. She might be pleased to see you. (Michel gets up, takes the plate of biscuits and passes it to her. They keep nibbling)
Emilie: Don’t think so, she’s always been hostile with me as well…
Michel: But she’s a nun! If a nun can’t be nice to her family, who will she be nice to?
Emilie: It depends on why you become a nun.
Michel: Do you think it was a refuge?
Emilie: More than likely, no? Oh, let’s talk about something else! Cheer me up.
Michel: You need cheering?
Emilie: (concerned) I’ve been having a tough time for a while, a couple of years actually. I’ve been having the most terrible dreams…
Michel: Really? Is it serious?
Emilie: The dreams are.
Michel: Are you getting help?
Emilie: Yes. I don t want to talk about it right now
Michel: You know you can talk to me, don’t you?
Emilie: Yes, thanks. I’ll be okay.
Michel: We’ll talk later. (Looking at his watch, then standing up). Got to leave you now, a patient to visit.
Emilie: That’s fine. It was really good to see you.
Michel: I’ll be back soon.
Emilie: Tomorrow? Please? After the meeting?
Michel: Yes, tomorrow. Bye, sweetie. (He kisses her) He leaves the room. Emilie sits down again, but is restless, stands up and opens a cupboard, pulls open some drawers seemingly looking for something. Without success. Sits down again, frustrated. After a while, Anne reappears, holding her transistor radio which is on.
Emilie: Didn’t you sleep?
Anne: How could I sleep with your sister coming? I’m all churned up.
Emilie: Would you mind turning this off? (Anne turns the radio off.) Maman, do you still think of dad?
Anne: You know, let me tell you something: when a woman has had children with a man, he is a part of her life for ever. He lives on as a husband – whatever that may have been – and he lives on as the father of her children. He is in her children. There’s no getting rid of him.
Emilie: Do you wish you were rid of him?
Anne: I often do – and sometimes not…You must have found that after Julie’s father died.
Emilie: Yeah. He lives on, even after death.
Anne: (reproachfully) Of course, you replaced him, it must have made things easier. And now your Paul is gone, too…
Emilie: Leave it be.
Anne: There always were men around.
Emilie: Maybe you should’ve replaced dad?
Anne: (in disgust) Oh, I cannot bear the thought… Another man in my life! I had enough to endure with him.
Emilie: Was it that bad?
Anne: I never liked it. You do these things to please someone you love. Many women I know also dislike sexual relations.
Emilie: What about this paperwork, then? (She sits down at the table)
Anne: It’s this heap on the side chair. (Picks it up and places it on the table,
then gives Emilie a notebook and pen) Bonds of the Russian Railway. It was supposed to be a safe investment then – after the war. But we were robbed! The French State was robbed! They never paid up. Still, we live in hope. Now, I need you to write down all the numbers in this book. I’ll dictate. You do realise this is part of my estate. This will go to you all, together with the apartment and the furniture. I want you to know what you’ll inherit on my death.
Emilie: (irritated) Have you really asked Odile and me to come all the way here to tell us that?!
Anne: No, no. I have very serious things to put to you. But I want your sister to be here.
Emilie: What about Michel?
Anne: He isn’t involved. You’ll understand later. Now start writing: 72626 BN0003; 72627 BN0003;… 72628 BN0003… 72629 BN 0003… 72630 BN0003…72631 BN0003… (hovering over her)
Emilie: Do the numbers all follow each other?
Emilie: Wouldn’t it be quicker to write the first and the last number, then?
Anne: But this way we know there’s none missing.
Emilie: And how many are there?
Anne: A few hundred, I think.
Emilie: God! No, sorry. I won’t be doing this. (She stands up)
Anne: But darling, I need you to do it, you know I haven’t got the help…
Emilie: Maman, it doesn’t need doing. You need to listen: I’m not interested in what you are leaving us. I don’t think about it. I don’t care.
Anne: But you don’t realise that if there are problems at my death between your sister and you, at least there will be an inventory…
Emilie: I won’t do it. And I can promise you that if Odile wants the Russian Railway bonds, she can have the whole bloody lot!
Anne: You’re being difficult, I’m very disappointed – and don’t swear Right. In that case, we’ll make a list of the furniture.
Emilie: No, we won’t.
Anne: (astonished) We won’t?
Emilie: No, we won’t. Sorry again. You have to understand that these things don’ t matter to me.
Anne: But they matter to me! It represents my life, your life, your childhood! You grew up with this furniture, it was your world! When I go, you’ll be very happy to have it all, and the money! It’s not as if you are rolling in it now!
Emilie: You’re not listening! I’ve never lived for money. If I had, I’d have done law, or finance. Or found myself a millionaire. Just leave it alone, will you?
Anne: Oh, you’re impossible… I thought I could rely on my daughter to help me.
Emilie: I’m going for a walk. (moving away from the table)
Anne: A walk? In this weather? Is that what you do in London?
Emilie: I do what I want in London.
Anne: I thought we could have an early dinner…
Emilie: Well, it’ll have to be…
(the telephone rings. Emilie looks out of the window)
Anne: Allo? (delighted) Oh, it’s you, darling! (sombre now) Yes, I m listening. Oh, good! Are you well? (defensive) I was only… (resigned) Fine, all right.
(Anne puts the telephone down, looking despondent. She sits on a chair.)
Anne: Not going out, then?
Emilie: It’s pouring with rain.
Anne: Your sister.
Emilie: I guessed.
Anne: She’ll be here tomorrow after lunch.
Emilie: Right. How was she?
Anne: Didn’t want to talk.
Emilie: Ah. (long silence. Anne is setting the table for dinner. Emilie turns to help. They come and go with crockery, etc.)
Anne: (cheerfully now) I thought of cooking something she used to love for our evening meal tomorrow: pork kidneys and chips. But you like it as well, don’t you?
Emilie: (joining in cheer) Oh, yes. I can’t think why I’ve never cooked it myself.
Anne: Do the English eat kidneys? I thought they didn’t like offal…
Emilie: Oh, they do. You know, steak and kidney pie: you had some once, didn’t you?
Anne: Yes, that’s true, I liked it, I was quite surprised.
Emilie: Do you cook the chips before putting them in with the kidneys?
Anne: (with relish, she is in her element) Yes, to some extent. What you do is, you put the sliced kidneys in a casserole, and cook them slowly in butter and a little oil. To stop the butter from burning. Some chopped garlic. At the same time, you pre-cook the chips, but only so they become golden Chunky chips of course. Then you strain them and add them to the casserole to finish cooking, and they will absorb the juice of the kidneys. Very simple.
Emilie: And so delicious. I must try it.
Anne: I gave you lots of recipes when you got married, that would’ve been one of them. What have you done with them all?
Emilie: Probably put them in a drawer somewhere. What’s for dinner?
Anne: Some cheese roulés from the delicatessen. But you’ll see, they’re very good. At my age, I can’t be expected to cook every meal.
Emilie: I don’t expect you to. I don’t cook every meal at home.
Anne: But you do make sure Julie gets a balanced diet, I hope, you know how important it is, particularly when children are growing up…
Emilie: I think I know all that.
Anne: How are your nice neighbours?
Emilie: John and Jillian? Well, I guess. At least separately. They’re getting a divorce.
Anne: Oh, my God! Why on earth? What happened?
Emilie: Well, John had another woman somewhere, and Jill caught him lying That hurt her even more, I think.
Anne: But is it final? Aren’t they going to try and mend things? They could at least try, surely?
Emilie: I’m sure they’ve tried. It’s the last resort, no? At the end of the day, you ask yourself if things are bearable or not…
Anne: But what about the children? Do people think about the children nowadays? It seems people just want to be happy, and if they’re not, they throw everything away! It certainly wasn’t the case in my time, I can assure you. I stayed because of my children.
Emilie: And because dad had taken all your money.
Anne: Well, mostly because of you.
Emilie: We used to beg you to leave him…
Anne: Maybe but it wasn’t so simple then… I had become just a housewife, I no longer had a career after we moved, that was hard.
Emilie: Yes, that would’ve been difficult.
Anne: (angrily) And you re all so spoilt! If you can’t have everything, you leave, or throw the man out! (Emilie gets up promptly and gathers her cup to take it back to the kitchen at this point, but her mother holds her back.)
Anne: No, sit down, darling. I must talk to you. I was very shocked and hurt recently by your decision to leave Paul How could you leave that man? You must be very blind, selfish – and stubborn! – not to have seen he gave you everything you needed. You could have confided in me if you were unhappy, I would’ve counselled you… but of course, you think you know it all! It was always so, since adolescence, when you started talking back to your father and me – and HE wasn’t always wrong when he wanted to know where you’d been…God knows he had his faults, but you never appreciated him, no more than you did Paul, I could see that, such a decent man…You were lucky you had him, a man of his intellect, his situation -who might have been difficult but I always felt you didn’t t know how to handle him – and I even heard you call him a pig once! How could you? I was so shocked, this isn’t the way with men, I could have advised you… (Emilie stands up, but her mother grabs her back). No, stay, I haven’t finished. Don’t think I can’t speak my mind to my own daughter, where would the world be?… Where was I? Ah, yes, Paul: you were insensitive to his needs, I could see that – and such a good-looking man too, so tall, his shoulders… a real man (sighs). What I am so hurt about is that you think you can run your life as if it didn’t affect anyone else! It means I won’t see him again either… I was very attached to him. Very selfish of you. Anyway, I had to speak my mind, to help you realise the consequences of your actions. I sometimes fear I haven’t brought you up very well…But you know I am saying these things because I am your mother who loves you: this you must never forget. Naughty girl. Give me a kiss now.(Anne holds her cheek out. Emilie stands up and moves away, seething)
Emilie: (hard) Never, ever, talk like this to me again. I’m going to bed.
Anne: (disappointed and hurt) You’re not being very nice… and dinner? What about dinner?
(Emilie leaves the room, slamming the door violently. Lights out)
NOW and THEN
- by Hélène PASCAL-THOMAS
A contemporary kitchen/living-room in a townhouse near London (not the fashionable sort). Alan (45) returns deflated from Australia after 25 years and his recent divorce, and is reunited with his sister Emma (41) in the old family house where she lives alone after their mother’s death.Their reunion highlights their conflicting situations and goals as well as shockingly different memories of their common past, and an ancient kiss with Emma’s friend Karen is revived, with challenging consequences.
List of characters
Alan, 45, an ex-farmer in Australia. (Australian accent.) Still traumatised by his recent divorce and leaving his children behind, and angry with his sister for some reason. A difficult man to live with at present.
Emma, 41, Alan’s sister. A university lecturer. Recently single after an affair, and badly affected by a private loss, she is wary of her brother’s attitude to her and his renewed interest in Karen.
Karen, 42, a school counsellor. Single parent of a small boy. Emma’s best friend and neighbour. This wise woman, supportive of Emma, now looks at Alan with open eyes.
Guy, 43, a property developer. Divorced. Not true to type, but a modern man with an open mind and his own hopes.
NOW and THEN
- by Hélène PASCAL-THOMAS
Thursday night. Emma and Alan enter the kitchen/living-room of Emma’s house. Alan removes his shoes, then looks around the room. Emma goes to hang their coats.
Alan: You’ve changed it.
Emma: I had it painted, that’s all.
Alan: You shouldn’t have.
Emma: Oh, come on!
Alan: It’s too different, I don’t like it.
Emma: You’re being unreasonable.
Alan: It’s her house.
Emma: Mine now.
Alan: So you say…
Emma: (putting the kettle on) You don’t?
Alan is silent.
Emma: Want some cake?
Alan: Lost my appetite.
Emma: Oh, stop being so childish!
Alan: You don’t realise…
Emma: Look: it must have been a surprise, but a shock?
Alan: Don’t tell me what to feel, please.
Emma: (handing him a cup of coffee) Here you are…
Alan: What was his name?
Alan: (scornful) Nigel! (sits at the table) And how old was she?
Alan: When she married that man.
Emma: I don’t know…early twenties, I think.
Alan: You don’t know?
Emma: She didn’t write it down or anything… It doesn’t matter…
Alan: Stop saying that! I don’t know and it does matter! I hate not
Emma: (sitting down near him at the end of the table) It’s such an old story.
Alan: (raising his voice) It‘s new to me! And it’s my mother’s story, so it’s also my story! And there are things that I should know and don’t! Things that you know and are not telling me!
Emma: This is the past… All I know is that she was married for two or three years. No children, OK? I’m your sister, or at least I think so…
Alan: You think so?
Emma: She remarried – our father – soon after her divorce, if I remember correctly. Then we were born.
Alan: You think so?
Emma: Look. Stop this. You can probably find out the facts through the Registry, or her papers… I didn’t bother because I’m okay being me now. And I suggest you do the same. History is history… (gently) What I want is my brother now. (pleading) Come on! Please! You can do that, no?
Alan: How could you keep all that to yourself?
Emma: Look, it wasn’t deliberate. It wasn’t relevant to our life, that’s all.
Alan: What do you mean: not relevant? Our mother had a first husband and I was kept out of that story? I can’t believe it! How did you know?
Emma: She told me.
Emma: I don’t know… I was thirteen, or fourteen maybe.
Alan: You didn’t tell me…
Emma: You were a boy… always out with your friends, doing boys’ things…
Alan: My mother… our mother… she had a life before us…
Emma: Of course she did. Parents do… They are children, they grow up…
Alan: Don’t patronise me! Why have I been kept out of this?
Emma: No reason. It got forgotten… It wasn’t important.
Alan: Not important? I am now having to think of my mother completely differently… it does my head in. (silence) How did it happen?
Alan: How did she tell you?
Emma: I was at secondary school, because I remember my uniform: dark blue, green top. She sat me down. She cried.
Emma: Maybe she felt it had been wrong…or sad
Alan: What was wrong?
Emma: To have been married before… and divorced…
Alan: Just a minute, let’s be methodical: where was I?
Emma: Lower sixth, or upper sixth, I suppose. Look, it doesn’t matter…
Alan: It matters to me.
Emma: I never cared…
Alan: But you knew! I’ve just found out about it! And I can’t find out any more because now she’s dead!
Emma: Just accept it.
Alan: Are you hiding any more things from me?
Emma: Why should I?
Alan: Indifference. Mischief…
Emma: (standing up) Oh, really!
Alan: You don’t care, that’s why.
Emma: Look, our experiences are different, that’s all…
Alan: It’s like we have separate lives, it draws us apart…
Emma: All right. If you like.
Alan: You even sound like a different sister.
Emma: (exasperated) All right. Maybe so. Maybe we were adopted? So you’re even less my brother now? I don’t know…
Alan: You’re enjoying this!
Silence. Emma looks at him and shakes her head.
Emma: Come on, don’t be like that…
Alan: Don’t do that to me, then.
Emma: You’re just so fragile…
Alan: What do you expect?
Emma: You’re jet-lagged as well.
Alan: I’m exhausted.
Emma: I’ve made your bed up in your old bedroom. It’s been painted, too.
Alan: (gives her a look) Oh, yeah? (he leaves the room.)
Emma: Sleep well.
Friday morning. Alan, wearing the same old trousers and creased old shirt, enters the kitchen/living-room, as if about to speak, but the room is empty. Grudgingly, he goes to the kettle and proceeds to make himself coffee. He takes the mug to the table, then looks around the room at the objects, pictures that belonged, it is obvious, to his parents. He paces around, restless, takes his first sip. After a while, Emma enters from the garden, some flowers in her hands.
Emma: (jovial) Hello!
Alan: I was wondering where you were…
Emma: A few things to do: fill the bird-feeder, clean the bird-bath – if there are too many leaves in it, the birds don’t go in. And a few sedum stems, look!
Alan: (sits at the table. Ironic) How organised you are! You even organise the birds…
Emma: There are so many trees, you live with the birds here, you know. The blackbirds love raisins…
Alan: A little extreme, don’t you think? I mean, birds are wild things… In Australia, we leave them alone.
Emma: This isn’t Australia, and I enjoy their company.
Alan: Any veg in your garden?
Emma: Nope. Not a single one.
Alan: Sounds pretty useless to me…
Emma: Hello, are you getting at me again?
Alan: No, no…
Emma: (goes to the sink to put the flowers in a vase) Too many trees. Mum couldn’t grow any vegetables either. But I’m not complaining, I love trees…I guess there’s no shade in Australia…
Alan: It’s all getting parched, you should see the pastures. The sheep can hardly get anything. We’re being defeated, I’m afraid. I certainly was…and the divorce…
Emma: (places the vase of flowers on the table and puts her arm around Alan’s shoulders) I must tell you, I’m so sorry, it must’ve been so painful for you all, and the kids…
Alan: I said I’d go back and visit next July. When it starts raining. If it ever rains again…
Emma: (sits next to him) It’s so difficult to communicate at such distance, I can never say anything the way I want, but I really thought about you all. Tell me about Cate.
Alan: Well, she gets everything, doesn’t she? I mean, I can’t begrudge it, it all belonged to her in the first place… But I’ve arrived here completely empty-handed.
Emma: I mean, how’s she feeling?
Alan: I don’t know. We had so many rows…
Emma: So it’s a jolly good thing you’ve got something here.
Alan: Not much, though, is it?
Emma: You’re wrong there… When do you want to go and have a look?
Alan: I’ll go by myself.
Emma: There’s also the flat. It’s empty, but I’ve got the keys for you. Do you want me to show you around later?
Alan: No, it’s okay, I’ll go on my own.
Emma: Alright, but introduce yourself to Tom Wise, otherwise he won’t know who you are. He’s such a lovely man. Just as well he wants to retire as his lease is expiring…Do you want a stroll around the town, later?
Alan: I’ll go in my own time.
Emma: As you wish… Alan, what’s the matter?
Alan: Nothing, why?
Emma: Just wondering (goes to a drawer and gives Alan a set of keys) These are yours. You’re a shop owner, now, and a flat owner, too. That must be of some comfort.
Alan: I suppose…
Emma: So try and be positive?
Alan: Yes, mum.
Emma: (laughing) Well, if that’s the case, you might change your clothes before going out? Because you’re in urban England here, and you could look decent at least…
Alan: First of all, I don’t have any other clothes. Second, I have no intention of looking smart: I would hate standing out, so leave my clothes alone.
Emma: If you go out like this, you will draw attention to yourself, some beggars can look quite decent nowadays.
Alan: You think…
Emma: Believe me. Just get yourself some stuff from one of the big stores in the High Street. I assure you, you will look as ordinary as any guy around here.
Alan: I really don’t care what I look like…
Emma: And if it’s an incentive at all, Karen might pop in to say hello later.
Alan: Oh, Karen? will she? You’re still seeing her?
Emma: Of course I see her, she’s my best friend and she lives next door!
Alan: And is she… I mean, is she seeing anyone?
Emma: (looking anxious) Why? You’re interested?
Alan: Oh, no! She’s not my type, anyway.
Emma: I have to change now, I’m giving two lectures before four o’clock. If you’re hungry, there’s food in the fridge. Ok? See you later. (she goes upstairs to change)
Alan: I’ll go and hit the shops then. What a bloody pain!