by Charles C. Cole
SCENE 1: Dusk. A rustic lakeside cabin: sleeper sofa, breakfast nook, hallway to bedrooms. Windows in the rear. EDNA pushes a wheelchaired HARTLEY HENRY through an open sliding door.
EDNA: Welcome home!
HART: Nothing welcoming about it. (Sniffs) Musty maybe. Doesn’t feel familiar at all. Nope, not one bit.
EDNA: Give it time. We just got here.
HART: Maybe it’s the wrong cabin. I should know. No, really, I should.
EDNA: Say, “Hi, house.”
HART: Now that’s not going to happen.
EDNA: Say, “I missed you, childhood friend.”
HART: Tell me, Nurse Edna, why do some nurses insist on treating their patients like they’re three years old?
EDNA: Because some patients insist on acting like it.
HART: (Suddenly) This isn’t going to work. Roll me back out. I’m not feeling up to it after all.
EDNA: Hart, no. You came here every summer from eight to eighteen. There is no place on this earth better equipped for reminding you who you are.
HART: I know who I am: I’m damaged goods. I don’t need a talking house to shout it out to me.
EDNA: Give it the weekend. Make an effort. Then I’ll take you back. I’m too tired to turn around and drive back now. (Teasing) And I have a surprise for you.
HART: You found a dusty time machine to take me back to the day of my accident, but it doesn’t have a manual and there was a severed hand on the seat.
EDNA: Writers! God, no! Your parents are on their way. Surprise.
HART: I’m sorry. What? No!
EDNA: They insisted. I had to ask them for the key.
HART: They could have left the place unlocked. What’s a poor crack-head thief going to do, (Noticing) steal the cribbage board?
EDNA: Let them fawn over you for an hour, then we’ll tell them that you need to rest.
HART: More adults to baby the baby. That’s exactly what I need. If I could drive stick, I’d abandon you without a glance in the rearview mirror.
EDNA: I know you would. Listen, they’re not going to spend the night. We made a deal, a compromise. They wanted to see you. Can you blame them? This is their first time since your coma.
HART: What’s that about? As I understand it, they’re Florida retirees living the good life. You think they could have checked in before now.
EDNA: They did. Twice. The first time, I think, was too soon. It shocked them. You were still pretty banged up and not yet ready to join the world.
HART: Don’t tell me: coma.
EDNA: The second time you were in and out of sleep a lot, confused, agitated, wanting to be pretty much left alone.
HART: Bet you’re glad we’re through with that stage.
EDNA: You thought your mother was a nurse and you yelled at her for moving your unfinished lunch. “Don’t ever touch my food!” She’d never been yelled at like that before, not by you, her baby.
HART: I’ll take your word for it. Okay, I’m sorry. Is yelling such a bad thing, given what I’ve been through? I don’t remember the incident. Clearly, I don’t remember them. I have no past before waking up in that loud, smelly, cold hospital. And white, lots of white, except the bossy nurses prancing around in their pretty floral pajamas.
EDNA: We’ll make new memories, this weekend. You’ve got to start somewhere. If you’re good, I’ll even teach you my trick for skipping stones. It’s all in the wrist. I routinely get 7-8 skips. It’s uncanny.
HART: I’ll break their hearts, like I’ve forgotten them on purpose, spitefully cut them out of my life. I’ve seen the reaction before, from well-meaning co-workers with nothing better to do on their lunch break than visit the infirm. It’s not pretty. Turn me around while there’s still time.
EDNA: They’re family, the only ones you have.
HART: In name only, not in memory.
EDNA: Perhaps, but you’re in their memory. If anybody can help rebuild your past, they –
HART: (Suddenly) Fine, but no photo albums, promise me that. I can’t stand looking backward and feeling like we’ve saved the man but lost the life. I’m here and I’m grateful to be alive, but I’m no longer me, am I?
EDNA: That’s where we disagree. You’re still in there; we just have to peel away the scar tissue to find you.
HART: That’s appetizing.
EDNA: My cousin works with computers. He’d say you’ve been “reimaged.” Some people would envy you. Every tragic event in your life, every heartbreak or crisis of conscience or bad decision, they’ve all been erased.
HART: Leaving what, exactly? I can’t order pizza because I don’t know if I like pepperoni or the veggie lovers. I know I like one but I don’t know which and I don’t want to make a decision that insults the man I used to be. And don’t tell me I’m being trivial. I think I should get to know the old me, warts and all, before we transform me into a new and improved me.
EDNA: (Sarcastic) Ah, but you can’t improve on perfection, can you?
HART: What’s that supposed to mean? I just don’t like the feeling that I’m playing catch-up. I don’t want to be a clean slate.
EDNA: That’s why we’re here. To dirty you up a bit, and fill in a few of the blanks along the way.
HART: I want to remember the man, not the boy.
EDNA: We’ve got to start somewhere. At least it’s quiet. I could’ve taken you to your high school reunion. “Go, you Fighting Falcons!”
EVERETT: (Entering, tossing a basketball into HART’s lap, which he catches.) Did somebody call for a piece of the past? Hey, buddy, how you feeling? You’re looking good.
JUDY: (Entering) Hi, honey. Surprise! We’re not staying. We just had to see you for ourselves.
EVERETT: You look better, untangled. Not so much like the Amazing Human Pretzel.
HART: (Dropping the ball to the floor) Edna, I think we should tell the owners of this fine establishment that the knocking apparatus to the front door seems to be malfunctioning.
EDNA: Good evening and welcome.
HART: You’ll forgive me if I don’t do hugs right now. Nothing personal, but we’re practically strangers for all intents and purposes.
EVERETT: That’s one opinion. The wrong one, but you’re entitled to it.
EDNA: We didn’t hear you.
EVERETT: We were sitting on the dock, giving you two a little time to adjust.
JUDY: We’re staying at the Redlans’ camp next-door. You remember the Redlans. Anyway they’re away this week and they were more than happy to help.
EDNA: (Grandly) I feel like introductions are in order.
HART: Don’t. I know who they’re supposed to be. I don’t want to be made to feel insensitive because I don’t recognize them.
EVERETT: Insensitive? Are you kidding me? When I look in the mirror in the morning, I don’t recognize me either. Damn old age. Sneaks up on you. I was young and handsome like you once and, sure I can remember most of it most of the time but, what’s the point? It just makes me bitter that I can’t get it back. (To Edna, indicating the wheelchair) Say, you got a second one of those Go-Karts for me?
JUDY: What your melodramatic father’s trying to say, dear, is even when accidents don’t steal our memories away like a thief in the night, they still get lost bit by bit, all on their own, and it still hurts.
HART: Thanks for depressing me with the unvarnished facts of life. You must be my mother.
JUDY: (To Edna) Is it all right that we came so soon? We were both eager to play our parts after the long wait.
EVERETT: That we were. (To HART) Role of a lifetime, being your dad. Did I ever tell you that?
EDNA: Hart was one wheel out the door a minute ago. Your timing couldn’t have been better, actually. Isn’t that right, Hart? Hart?
HART: Allow me to get this over with: presumptive Mom and Dad, I’m your refurbished son, Hartley Henry. Or what’s left of him, re-imaged according to some. And, in case this is news, I’ve been told I’m chronically grumpy and hungry.
EDNA: Some would say, like a three-year-old.
HART: What I’m trying to say is, if either one of you is good in the kitchen, you’re welcome to stay and make yourself useful. I eat ham or turkey on white bread, because it’s what they fed me in the hospital. No mayo, no mustard, and no Jell-o. Otherwise thank you for stopping by, nice meeting you, now go home.
JUDY: I’d be happy to make sandwiches, if it’s really all right. Give me something to do. We’re not here to push.
EDNA: (Half-joking) No, that’s what I’m for.
JUDY: We can come back in the morning if this is bad time.
EDNA: Nonsense. You’re doing fine. Thank you for making the effort.
JUDY: I didn’t realize, by your emails, that he’d be in a wheelchair.
EDNA: Nothing’s broken. He just needs more practice at being a stand-up human. He’s weak, that’s all. Maybe a little resistant to getting back on his feet. Nothing says “mobile pity party” like a good old-fashioned wheelchair.
HART: Hey! Can we talk about something else?
EDNA: Maybe we could do with a break from each other, you know, after the long drive.
HART: Again with the long drive. I was in the car, too, and I didn’t notice anything arduous about it.
EDNA: I must have missed the part where you offered to take the wheel and give me a break. Oh, that’s right, because you were sleeping and snoring.
HART: Side-effect of my meds. Says right on the bottle: may cause inconsiderate drowsiness. (Laughs darkly) Fine: I’m also insensitive and self-serving. Now that we got that out of the way, apparently I’ve got some time to kill while I rebuild my lower body strength. (To EVERETT) I play a mean game of cribbage, a dollar a point, all business and no chit chat, especially no nostalgic small talk about the good old days. Nurse Edna here doesn’t partake. You interested, old fella?
EDNA: I played once. Twice: the first and last time. Scarred me for life.
HART: She means I played both hands. Numbers I’m good at. (To EVERETT) You look like a numbers man. I see a board over there, and it’s been calling my name since we rolled me in the door. It would be rude of us to ignore it.
EVERETT: I’d love to play, though a penny a point is more my speed: fixed income don’t you know.
HART: Not my problem. A dollar a point or out the door you go. Your choice. Think it over.
JUDY: Hartley Henry!
EVERETT: It’s okay. I know a cry for help when I hear one. I guess I’m good for a game. Two, if you let me have a practice round; I’m a little rusty.
HART: Sounds like you’re setting me up for a fall, but I’ll take the bait. I’m a staunch proponent of the Muggins rule. Familiar with it?
EVERETT: If I miss a point in my hand and you see it, you get it. Tough but fair.
HART: And absolutely no photos.
EVERETT: No photos. Got it. Of what exactly?
HART: (Indicating Judy) She knows.
JUDY: Not even your first baby picture?
HART: Which you just happen to have in your wallet, am I right? You must be my mom. (Beat) If you pull it out, you can consider yourself unwelcome for the rest of my stay here. I’m deadly serious about this.
EVERETT: Sounds like he means it, dear.
HART: One baby step at a time. That goes for everyone.
EDNA: Even you?
JUDY: Why don’t I busy myself in the kitchen and leave you boys to your counting? Edna, do you want something? A stiff drink?
EDNA: Two. No, I’m fine. Nothing new here. I’ll get the luggage. Don’t hurt each other while I’m gone. I’ll be right back.
HART: Food first. Bags second.
EDNA: How about food and one bag? It’s getting dark out. You don’t want me to trip and twist an ankle.
HART: Then I’d get to push you.
EDNA: (Meaningfully) Like that’s something new.
HART: Fine. One bag, but it stays near the door, in case I need a quick exit, or until bed, if I make it that long. We’ll see. (EDNA exits). Who wants to roll me over to the table? I’d do it, but then we’d have a precedent for my independence. I don’t think Nurse Edna’s heart can take it. I give meaning to her existence.
EVERETT: I don’t mind. (Pushing HART)
HART: And we need names. I can’t exactly call you Mom and Dad, because that would be weird, though I did it once for her benefit. How about Everett and Judy? Have I got that right? You’re not going to cringe and sigh when I call you by your birth names, are you?
JUDY: (Sweetly) I’ve been using it all my life. I think it will do just fine.
EVERETT: I’ve been called worse. Ask your mother. Remember that time, dear, with the drunken town councilman? Never mind, don’t ask her.
HART: Judy. Judy. Judy.
JUDY: Yes, Hart?
HART: If you could stop staring at me for a minute and make some sandwiches, I surely would appreciate it.
JUDY: Yes, Hart. Of course. (She exits.)
EVERETT: A man who knows what he wants. Better than that sad lost high school senior you used to be. You didn’t know whether to join the Air Force or have me pull strings to get you in the Ivy League school of your choice.
HART: Everett, you don’t mind me calling you Everett, do you?
EVERETT: Most people do. I’ve gotten kind of used to it. Never had a nickname my whole life. Let’s stick with what works, shall we. No need to reinvent the proverbial wheel.
HART: Good. I think once you familiarize people with a standard code of conduct, and agree to naming conventions, society just sort of settles into civility, don’t you?
EVERETT: If you say so, son. If you say so. (He doesn’t mean that “son,” but HART takes it as a dig.) I’ll get the cards.
Copyright © 2015 by Charles C. Cole