Sunday, February 26, 2017


Scene 1.

[Mel, a man in his late fifties, is lying on a narrow bed gazing at a copy of The New Yorker magazine. He is gazing at it, one page at a time, his expression somewhere between a lack of comprehension and vague annoyance. Sitting on a stool near Mel is Leo, his son. Leo is studying Mel's face for some type of positive reaction. As the moments clock by, Leo struggles to control his impatience. At last, Mel puts down the magazine.]

Mel: What kind of magazine is this? A comic book?

Leo: It's The New Yorker, dad. 

Mel: I can see that. Lots of cartoons, huh?

Leo: That's my short story in there.

Mel: I see that, Leo. I see that.

Leo: Well?

Mel: They pay you to write that?

Leo: Yes, they paid me. They paid me a lot.

Mel: Good. They ought to pay you.

Leo: The New Yorker, dad, it's a big deal.

Mel: Yes. 

Leo: Somehow I thought you'd be more impressed than this.

Mel: Well, I'm not. Come here a second.

[Leo leans in. Mel whacks him on the head with the magazine. As he does, Tonya, Mel's wife and Leo's mother, enters the bedroom.]

Tonya: I guess you didn't like it.

Leo: He didn't like it.

Mel: I didn't read it.

Tonya: Then how can you say you don't like it?

Mel: Was there something you wanted?

Tonya: It's time for your medicine.

Mel: Who are you? Nurse Ratchett? I don't need any medicine.

Tonya: Leo, please explain to your father that--

Mel: The boy can speak for himself.

Leo: Do you want your medicine?

Mel: I'll let you know.

[Tonya and Leo exchange a look. She sighs and exits.]

Mel: She gone? [Leo nods.] Give me that morphine.

[Leo takes the small plastic bottle from the dresser.]

Leo: You need this or you want this?

Mel: Squirt some under my tongue and shut up.

Leo: [Administers dose.] The pain bad?

Mel: [Swallows it] No, the pain's good. Reminds me I'm still alive. Truth is I don't feel sick. I can still kick your ass.

Leo: I know.

Mel: Damn right, you know. What's that song on the box?

Leo: "Rank Strangers."

Mel: Stanley Brothers. See? I knew what it was. How much they pay you?

Leo: For the story? Twenty-five hundred.

Mel: Dollars? Give me a cigarette. They pay you that kind of money, you can spare your old man a smoke.

Leo: I can't do it. You'll have to make do with the dope.

Mel: Is it like that guy Stephen King?

Leo: The story? Not much, no.

Mel: It's not one of those horror stories?

Leo: It's a just a story about--You can read it when you feel better.

Mel: Don't you go confusing yourself into thinking this is self pity, boy. But I won't be feeling better. This is as good as it's going to get. [Tosses magazine onto the floor.] I want you to take care of Tonya for me.

Leo: We're a long way from that point.

Mel: I can't get out of this bed. I use a pan. I'm on morphine. I have lung cancer. You were there with me. You remember what the oncologist said? She said to make me comfortable. You know what that means? It means there's nothing anybody can do. You think one more cigarette is gonna kill me? 

[Leo thumbs one out of a pack, lights it for him.]

Mel: We have some money in the bank. Tomorrow you're gonna go with Tonya and she's going to give you power of attorney. You know what that means?

Leo: Mom can take care of herself just fine.

Mel: Your mother is unbalanced. You must have noticed.

Leo: She's fine.

Mel: Some guy called the other day. Told her she'd won a recreational vehicle.

Leo: When was this?

Mel: Told her she could come pick it up but first he needed her bank information for tax purposes. 

Leo: Oh no.

Mel: I was listening on the line. I cussed that bastard a blue streak. Leo, she does that kind of thing all the time. Runs in the family.

Leo: I didn't know that.

Mel: We don't tell you everything. 

Leo: I guess you don't.

Mel: Tomorrow. Don't forget.

Leo: I don't mean to beat this to death--

Mel: Then don't.

Leo: I thought you would be proud of me.

Mel: For that story? I'm glad for you. You used to write those little things for the radio, you remember?

Leo: That was a long time ago.

Mel: You were in high school. What did they call those?

Leo: Just segues between songs.

Mel: They paid you for those. 

Leo: First writings I ever had. . .published.

Mel: How's your real job going?

Leo: I quit.

Mel: Oh? Your mom's not the only psycho in the house.

Leo: I'm going to take care of you--and mom. Full time.

Mel: You go with her tomorrow. Tonya and I already talked about it. You'll pay the bills--don't overpay them. Just pay what the bills say. The car insurance comes due in two months. Property taxes won't be up until first of the year. Wait. February. I don't know why it's February. Pay the income taxes at the last minute. One other thing.

Leo: Okay. You sure mom knows about this?

Mel: If you mean do I think she'll remember, I plan to remind her tonight. And in the morning. But there's one other thing.

Leo: You just can't say you're proud of me, can you?

Mel: I could. Truth is that in a lot of ways you have been a good son. You didn't stay out late getting stoned or whoring around, as far as I know. You always were a hard worker. How long have you been--were you with the firm?

Leo: Nine years to the day.

Mel: Nine years. And you quit. Maybe you did the right thing. We could have brought somebody in.

Leo: Who? I'm your only child, remember?

Mel: I remember.

Leo: What's the other thing?

Mel: Your mom's pregnant.

Leo: What?

Mel: You got no sense of humor at all, do you? I want you to call my brothers and let them know what's going on with me. I don't want to talk to them myself. Greedy bastards'll be tripping over each other to stick it to you. Ray will be the worst. He may be my brother, but you remember this: he's a self-centered prick. Earl's almost as bad. He invented the hard luck story, the little shit. Those two don't get squat, understand?

Leo: You have a will?

Mel: It's with the lawyer. Copy in the safe. You don't worry about that. Whatever's left, you use it to take care of your mom. Whatever's left after she dies, if there's anything, that's yours. 

Leo: [Takes Mel's hand] I'll do my best, dad. Mom won't want for anything.

Mel: Here she comes.

[Tonya returns]

Tonya: Honey, it's time for your medicine.

Mel: I guess you better give it to me then.

Leo [As Tonya reaches for the morphine]: Dad just had a dose.

Mel: I think I would know, wouldn't I? Tonya, just squirt some under my tongue.

Leo: You're going to overdose.

Mel [Accepts the dose from Tonya]: Ummm. Yummy. Hey, you know Stephen King here wrote a story?

Tonya: I know. It's beautiful. So much better than those horrible things you used to write.

Leo: The music reviews?

Mel: They always stiffed you for those.

Leo: I was paid.

Mel: Couldn't quit your day job, could you?

Tonya: Did you tell your father about leaving the firm?

Mel: He told me. Whew. That last dose was a good one.

Tonya: Leo, let's leave your father to his rest.

Mel: Where's that liquid Xanex? My nerve's are shot.

Tonya: I think you've had enough for now.

Mel: You afraid I'm gonna die? Jesus! You afraid I'll be too stoned to remember my last days after I'm dead? Give me the goddamned Xanex!

[Leo opens the drawer, takes out the bottle, gives Mel a small squirt.]

Mel: You guys go on and busy yourselves. I'm going to enjoy the show. Leo? What song they playing now? 

Leo: "Bean Blossom." 

Mel: Ah, Bill Monroe. [He falls asleep.]

Tonya: Honey?

Leo: There's no music, mom. It's just a game we play.

Scene 2.

[Leo and Tonya are sitting at the kitchen table sipping coffee. The room is filled with flowers and get well cards.]

Tonya: How did the calls go with Ray and Earl?

Leo: I can see why dad doesn't want anything to do with them. Have they always been such jerks?

Tonya: Ray was very interested in me. Before I met your father, that is. When Mel came home from the war and I caught a look of him in his Air Force uniform, I forgot all about Ray. I suppose he's still bitter.

Leo: That was a long time ago.

Tonya: And Earl? I never knew him very well. He was always so shy. I would come over to visit your father and Earl would go hide in his room.

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