A Penny a Day/ Here We
Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush
A Dramedy in One Act
by Don Grigware
Penny Jocelyn – a woman in her early 70s. Penny is a recovering alcoholic who is suffering from Hepatitis C. In spite of her health issues, she has a joie de vivre that rarely quits. She is on a variety of meds and depends on social security to pay her monthly bills. She is currently living in the apartment on Section 8. The meds cause many mood swings but she maintains an infectious sense of humor about her condition. She has three problematic children, and the Jocelyns are indeed a strongly dysfunctional family. Penny has a loud, hearty laugh reminiscent of Colleen Dewhurst. She paints and writes poetry.
Eddie McFee – an actor originally from New York via Ohio who is Penny’s neighbor. He is about 51. He is gay, funny and tries to accept Penny and her family. When we first see him, he is grieving over the recent loss of his partner of 17 years, Andy.
Sam (Samantha) Knight - Penny’s oldest child is a divorced woman about 45. She is a single mother with one daughter in her early teens. She is plain but pretty, bright and in denial concerning her drinking problem. She is constantly restless and rarely sees eye to eye with Penny.
Jamie Jocelyn – Penny’s other daughter in her 30s. She is a lesbian, but dates both men and women. She is a drug user, alcoholic and has been arrested for illegal drug dealing. She is studying to be a paramedic. She is currently clean and sober, but is on and off in her relationship with her mother.
Mike Jocelyn – Penny’s son, the middle child between Jamie and Sam, in his late thirties. He is a talented pianist, insecure and lost in a world of drugs and alcohol. He currently lives with two women and is pleasant on the outside, but very quiet and self-absorbed.
Robbie Jolly – Penny’s current boyfriend, in his early 60s. A mama’s boy, but definitely not gay! He is loud and can be terribly rude and self-centered; he is very flirtatious with all the women. Like Penny he is a recovering alcoholic. He treats Penny like his toy and is prone to irritability.
Tatianna Day – Penny’s grand-daughter and Sam’s 13 year-old daughter. She is smart and savvy for her age Sadly, she is caught in a custody battle and comes off exceedingly unhappy. She loves Penny, but has to please Sam as well, so may frequently switch sides.
The entire action of the play takes place in Los Angeles in Penny Jocelyn’s apartment and back porch. The play begins on Christmas Eve and follows through to early Christmas morning,1997. The last two scenes take place in January,1998.
I have found the mystery
of quiet souls
that have continued
on despite the dark night
and cold winds
that beset us all
In that time of seasons
When all doors close
And silent together
We no longer suppose
And there you are
And here you go
So we leave
And become as rain, falling again
upon this earth
Do you hear? Do you listen?
The joy of life, the truth in living
As rain dancers gather
to applaud in bringing
the incredible lightness of being.
- Paula Jalsevac
As lights rise on Scene 1, we are in Penny’s semi-noisy apartment. The large one bedroom has a few guests stationed in the kitchen, living area and porch. Eddie has been there about five minutes and is nursing an egg nog near the piano.
Penny: Egg nog, Eddie?
Eddie: Oh, I’ve got enough.
Penny: You never have enough on Christmas Eve. Cheers! (she pours another ladle in his brimming cup.)
Eddie: You’re too much!
Penny: (putting her arms around him while licking egg nog off the ladle) Of course I’m too much! I wouldn’t be throwing this bash, if I weren’t! Except, goddamn-it, where in the hell are the guests? They’re late. (rushes to door and throws it open) Party! Party! Merry Christmas! Free food! Free booze! Come one, come all! (looks back in) Nobody home! How nice and cheery for them! (goes to kitchen, where her daughter Sam is cooking) Sam, peek in at the turkey. That smell is driving me crazy! Check it, it must be time.
Sam: Mother, would you let me take care of the cooking…and the worrying?!
Penny: How can I when you’re burning my oven and dirtying up my kitchen! Look at this mess!!
(Robbie, Penny’s boyfriend, also an AA member, is enjoying himself. He sips on what he calls a diet soda.)
Robbie: “Here we go ‘round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush” (does a little jig as he sings) Wanda, for Christ’s sake, will you come over here and keep daddy company and leave Legs to do the turkeying!
Sam: Don’t call me Legs, Robbie!
Robbie: (grabs Sam around the waist and starts a little cheek to cheek with her right in front of the oven) It’s Christmas, Legs! It’s my one day to howl.
Give a man a break! (He lets out as fierce howl, scaring Eddie who has not expected such raucous behavior.)
Penny: I’ll break your goddamn head, if you don’t get away from my daughter!
Sam: That’s the first bright thing you’ve said today, mother. Thank you. Robbie, get out of my kitchen!
Penny: Her kitchen! Will you listen to that crap!!
(Jamie, Penny’s other younger daughter, barges in from the veranda.)
Jamie: O.K., sis, let’s do this turkey right.
Sam: My turkey will be perfect. You whip the potatoes and we’ll be in great shape!
Penny: I doubt that.
Jamie: Hush, ma! We’re here to serve you. Now, be a good girl, sit down and be quiet!
Robbie: You heard them, Wanda.
Penny: One word out of you and…
Robbie: And what? …(He grabs Penny and gives her a big smooch.)
Penny: Mmmmm. That’s tasty. What have you laced that drink with? (They kiss.) Vodka or…shit, it tastes like tequila. There’s no tequila in this joint. Goddamn, did you bring tequila?
Robbie: I’m clean and sober, remember? It’s a fruit-flavored diet pepsi. (They all laugh except Eddie, who sits quietly.)
Penny: Fruit, my ass!
Robbie: And some coconuts thrown in for good measure.
Penny: Coconuts, Rob? (shaking her boobies at him) These are the only coconuts here.
Robbie: Let’s not get too vulgar!
Penny: Vulgar? You weren’t complaining last night, honey.
Robbie: Do I ever? (He kisses her again, quickly this time.) I need a cigarette. Eddie, care to join me?
Eddie: Sure, Robbie.
Penny: (noticing Eddie’s melancholy) C’mon, Eddie, don’t smoke! Come over and have a bite! (She points to the table near the entrance.)
Eddie: No. I’ll wait for the others.
Penny: At the rate Rob is going, there won’t be any ham or deviled eggs left for anyone!
Robbie: I’m a growing boy, what can I say!
Penny: You’re a pig! Mike should be here soon, and he’ll serenade us.
Eddie: You told me he gives piano lessons.
Penny: Used to.
Eddie: What does he do now?
Penny: Do whom or what? (Robbie laughs.) (pause) Sorry, Eddie. He drinks. Shoots up with Nina every chance he gets. (shooting a glance at Robbie) He’s an addict. Why lie about it? I’m clean and sober 8 years… and he’s a goddamn addict!
Robbie: Tell ‘em, Wanda! C’mon, Eddie! Let’s light up!
Eddie: Who is this Wanda? A nickname, obviously, but where did it come from?
Penny: From the movie Barfly. Ever since Barfly, Robbie’s nick named me Wanda.
Eddie: Faye Dunaway played her.
Penny: Real wanton woman.
Eddie: She certainly sacrificed her beauty for that part. She didn’t wear an ounce of makeup.
Penny: But still beautiful, makeup or not! (she looks in the mirror) What can I say, some of us have just got it naturally while others have not. (She laughs uproariously at herself like Martha in Viriginia Woolf.)
Robbie: Wanda, oh Wanda, where is the Christmas music? Let’s put on the stereo until Mike gets here. (He puts an album of carols on, and then proceeds to the veranda with Eddie.)
Penny: Don’t be long, boys! Mike will be here soon.
(On the veranda):
Robbie: Pen tells me you lost your significant other last week. I’m so, so sorry.
Eddie: Thanks. (Robbie lights up and uses his lighter to light Eddie’s cigarette.)
Robbie: How long have you known Penny?
Eddie: For a few months. Andy, my partner, befriended Penny and she used to come over to our apartment to visit him. He was a veteran and had a motley assortment of meds on hand. Penny quickly caught on and used to ask Andy on occasion for a Tylenol with codein or a valium. I used to kiddingly call him her supplier in the building. She came over quite regularly, and he usually obliged her, if he had extra.
Robbie: That bitch! And she swears she hasn’t touched a single pill… except, of course what the doctors give her for her condition. You know she has Hepatitis C, don’t you?
Eddie: Oh yes. We all know. Penny has been pretty frank about her illness. Brave lady!
Robbie: Very. I kid her all the time, but she’s a fun gal and can take it. Hard to believe that she’s as sick as she really is. It must be hard for you, all alone at Christmas without…did you say his name was…Andrew?
Eddie: Yes. Andy. Yeah, I ordered our Christmas tree the night before he died. It was delivered and is still sitting there in the apartment without a single decoration on it. I haven’t had the motivation to do anything but feel sorry for myself. Penny pinned a note to my door this afternoon and
invited me to come over. I didn’t want to. I hardly know any of you. But I felt I needed to get away from there for a while.
Robbie: Well, it’s good that you did. Where else can you get food, good company and music – if Mike ever gets here – all on the same night?
Penny: (barging through the French doors) It’s damp out here. You’re willing to catch a fuckin’ cold just to have a few drags of those cancer sticks? (She puts her arms around Eddie.) I’m glad you came over. Was it the threat in my note?
Robbie: What threat?
Penny: (starts laughing at the top of her lungs) I told him if he didn’t come, I’d call the cops and turn him in as a producer of kiddie porn.
Robbie: You know, that’s pretty god damn lucrative. Maybe we should look into it, Wanda?
Penny: You only have to go down the hall and talk to that hippie sleazebag with the long beard in apartment 206. It’s his studio, for Christ sake!
Eddie: You’re kidding! In this… (tongue in cheek) classy complex?
Penny: Well, I’m Section 8, so it ain’t that classy! It’s a haven for losers!
Eddie: I beg your pardon!
Penny: Well, someone has to be different. It might as well be you, sweetie. Anyway 206 scares me. Every time my granddaughter comes over, I have to make sure she stays far away from there. He spies in the halls and loves young girls her age. Jesus, I’m freezing. Put those cigs out and let’s go in and party! (They all go in.)
Penny: (yells at the top of her lungs) …We need Mike. Where are Mike and that god damn Nina? I could live nicely without her. She’s enough to make me want to throw up. How he can live with that child boggles the mind. Wait ‘til you meet her, Eddie! You’ll see how right I am! (Penny crosses to kitchen and Jamie sits on the piano bench next to Eddie, who has just sat down there.)
Jamie: So, how goes it? Sorry about your loss. I’m Jamie, by the way.
Eddie: Thanks, Jamie. Eddie. (He puts his hand out.)
Jamie: What will you do now?
Eddie: Survive alone, I guess. I’ve been on my own before.
Penny: (who has been watching them whispers to Robbie) Jamie’s gotten so goddamn butch with that haircut; she looks like a truck driver.
Eddie: What do you do, Jamie?
Jamie: Phone sales.
Penny: (crossing to the porch door, stops and whispers to Eddie) Adult porn. (Eddie has all he can do but to burst out laughing.)
Eddie: I mean, oh…how interesting! Do you do well at it? It’s frustrating I would imagine.
Jamie: I’ve only been at it two days…we’ll see.
Jamie: What about you? What do you do?
Eddie: I teach.
Jamie: Talk about frustration. How do you stand those little brats?
Eddie: How do you know I teach kids?
Jamie: Is there any other kind of student?
Eddie: (stupefied) Adults. I teach adults.
Jamie: What do you teach them?
Eddie: ESL. I teach them ESL.
Penny: (passing by again) That’s English as a Second Language.
Jamie: I know what it means, ma!!
Penny: (whispers to Robbie) She called me ma. She wants something pretty bad. She’s trying to get on my good side.
Robbie: Wanda, please! Control yourself! It’s Christmas!
Penny: (glares at him) (loudly, to everyone) We’ll have music soon. Mike will be here soon.
Eddie: Tell me about Mike.
Penny: Just wait ‘til you see him. You’ll fall in love at first sight.
Eddie: Don’t know if I’m ready just yet?
Penny: Just teasing, doll! But you’re gonna love him. I hope he’s not bringing that girl Nina; she like a two-year old.
Robbie: Where did he meet Nina?
Penny: In some sleazy bar.
Robbie: That’s where we met.
Penny: That was years ago. You know damn well, you met me at an AA meeting.
Robbie: I re-met you. I met you again. It is the second time around for us!
Eddie: My mother always said: the second time’s a charm.
Robbie: I knew there was a reason I liked this man (pointing to Eddie). (doorbell rings once, then repeatedly.)
Penny: They’re here at last!
Eddie: I’m really looking forward to meeting Mike. (knocks at the door)
Penny: It’s open. Come in!! (Mike enters alone. He is swaying somewhat, inebriated. Mike is distinguished looking in his late 30s.)
Penny: Ladies and gentlemen, my son Michael Jr., pianist extraordinaire. (to him) Boy do you have a load on! Where’s Nina?
Mike: Nina? (pause) I don’t know…and I don’t care.
Penny: I hope she’s gone for good. She destroys you. (aloud) OK, OK, you’re finally here, so we can have some Christmas music! You know Robbie.
Robbie: How’s it going, pal? Merry Christmas!
Mike: Same to you, Robbie. (They hug.)
Penny: Mike, my neighbor Eddie McFee.
Eddie: A great pleasure!
Mike: Nice to meet you.
Penny: Eddie’s friend Andy passed away last week.
Robbie: Wanda, couldn’t you wait?
Penny: What do you mean?
Robbie: Well, you don’t usually say Hi! This is my friend Eddie. He’s gay, and his boyfriend just died all in one breath! I mean let Mike at least take off his jacket! (Robbie and Penny exchange dirty looks.)
Mike: So sorry. Hope you’re doing OK.
Eddie: I’m doing the best I can.
Penny: It gets better, dear. Give it time! (offering sincere comfort to him) Yes, it surely will. (throws her arms around him) Andy had chronic heart and lung diseases, Mike. So, stop smoking NOW!
Mike: How old was he? (to Eddie)
Mike: Too young!
Penny: Is there ever a right age to go?
Robbie: This is too depressing. (looks at Mike) We need relief! Let’s hear that good ole’ music!
Mike: Merry Christmas, everyone! (He deposits an armful of presents under the tree.)
Everyone: Merry Christmas, Mike!
(Tatianna, Tatie for short, Penny’s granddaughter comes in from the bedroom. She sits in front of the stereo and starts going through her grandma’s CD collection.) Hi, Uncle Mike. (He kisses her.)
Penny: What’s up, Tatie? Mike is going to play soon, so leave the CDs alone.
Jamie: (sits next to Tatie on the floor) How’s grandpa?
Tatie: Disgusting! How did you live with him growing up? You’d think his wife Candy was a Playboy bunny! She’s 60 and he still treats her like a little doll. I can’t sleep at night. Through the bedroom wall I can hear their mattress springs squeaking away! Yuck! They’re supposed to be role models for me! They make me want to puke.
Penny: (sits next to Eddie) In case you can overhear what she’s saying, my ex remarried Candy and Tatie lives with them. I wish I had room for her here permanently. She needs better surroundings while she’s growing up.
Eddie: How old is she?
Penny: 13…going on 40. Unbelievably wise for her age! I wish I could give her a good home! (Eddie looks and takes in Penny’s sincerity.)
Jamie: Tatie, be tolerant! He’s your grandfather!
Tatie: Tolerant? Their behavior is gross. And they have the nerve to criticize me. Grandma, where did you put my Britney Spears?
Penny: Can’t you see that grandma is talking. This is Eddie. Maybe he’ll teach you to speak Spanish.
Tatie: I don’t want to learn Spanish. No, gracias.
Eddie: That’s pretty good. Your pronunciation, I mean.
Tatie: (pretty much ignoring Eddie) What did you do with my Britney CD?
Penny: It’s in my drawer in the bedroom. You don’t need to listen to that now. Uncle Mike is going to play Christmas carols soon.
Penny: No backtalk, smartass! It’s almost time for dinner. Wash your hands!
Tatie: But I want to listen to Britney Spears!
Penny: There’s no place for goddamn Britney Spears on Christmas Eve. Diana Krall, yes; Britney Spears, NO!! Go wash up!
(Tatie runs into the bedroom and slams the door shut.)
Sam: (to Penny) Now see what you’ve done!
Penny: She’s a kid. She’s got to have someone take enough interest in her, to teach her proper manners.
Sam: I’m her mother and I suppose I have no interest in her?!
Penny: Of course, you have no interest in her. You’re too busy drinking to even notice that the poor kid is alive!
Sam: I don’t need to hear this. Dinner’s almost ready. Jamie, would you put out the plates? I’ll go talk to Tatie.
Penny: You do that! Go play mother for a change! I’m tired of mothering her!
Sam: Don’t you mean smothering? You think you have all the answers. You really made me feel good as a kid, didn’t you?
Jamie: (interrupts) Sam, not now!
Sam: No, she loves to put on a show in front of company! Stop airing our dirty laundry in front of strangers, mother!
Penny: There are no strangers in this room. Eddie is like family. (She laughs long and hard.)…There are no secrets here. Even your dad thinks
you’re an incompetent mother. Why are you living here and Tatie’s with him? Huh?HUH? Because we won’t allow her to live with you in your condition, that’s why!!
Sam: You are despicable! (She storms out of the room and slams bedroom door.)
Robbie: C’mon, Wanda! Let’s carve that turkey. I’m starving!
Penny: You’re always starving. You pig! (All of a sudden she realizes the gravity of what she has said and puts her arms around him.) I’m sorry, hon! Really I am; it’s the drugs they’ve got me on. It’s the ATAVAN talking, not me!
Jamie: We know ma, we know. (to all) Everything’s almost ready.
Penny: Ah, the little dinner hostess! And since when have you been cooking? You could never even open a can of tuna! And, by the way, you reek of smoke and beer!
Jamie: Ma the big kidder! (She kisses the top of Penny’s head.) (whispers to her) Can’t we be on decent terms for once? It’s Christmas, for Christ sakes!
Penny: (looks heavenwards) Please, let me get through this holiday, without throwing someone out!
(Sam re-enters with Tatie.)
Penny: There’s my beautiful granddaughter! Well, Jamie, is it ready? Is it soup yet, mommie? (She laughs like a kid.) Eddie, are you hungry? (She helps Jamie and Sam serve the meal.) Come on over here and give your new family a hand! DINNER IS SERVED Y’ALL!
(lights dim to show a 20/30 minute lapse. Jamie and Sam deposit packages and then pick up some from underneath the tree and then, along with Tatie, are seen leaving by the front door.) (lights back up)
Penny: Well now that my two bitch daughters have left the premises, maybe we can have some peace and sing some carols. Sam is going to spend some time with Tatie this holiday…so, we’ll see what happens!
Robbie: Want to sing, Eddie?
Eddie: Sounds good to me. I love a songfest on Christmas Eve.
Mike: Let me sit and warm up a bit.
Robbie: Maybe we can open our presents first?
Robbie: You’re gonna love the gift I got you, Wanda!
Penny: Later, Robbie, later! (She pulls Robbie to the piano.)
(Mike is warming up. “Don we now our gay apparel, Falala lala, lala lala!” is heard. Penny, Robbie and Eddie join in.)
Mike: Let’s do “The Christmas Song”.
Penny: Mel Torme? My all time favorite!
Robbie: Wanda, just for you! (Robbie solos on the song.)
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire/Jack Frost nipping at your nose/Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow will find it hard to sleep tonight/They know that Santa’s on his way/He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh/And every mother’s child is gonna spy/To see if reindeer really know how to fly/And so, I’m offering this simple phrase/To kids from one to ninety-two/ Although it’s been said many times, many ways/Merry Christmas to you!
(They all applaud.)
Mike: Robbie, that was beautiful!
Penny: I never knew you could sing like that, buster. Thank you! (They kiss.)
Eddie: Yes! Tres belle!
Penny: No place for that frog language here. English, please, ESL teacher!
Eddie: Whatever you say, Penny! Very beautiful, Robbie!
Mike: Oh ma, let’s do the presents.
Penny: (grabbing a Santa hat and putting it on Mike’s head) Hand out the presents Santa and let’s call it a night!
Robbie: Wanda, it’s the shank of the evening!
Penny: Maybe for you. I’ve had it. I have a miserable headache.
Robbie: I’ve got to hand it to you, Wanda! You’re never afraid to say what you feel…you’ve got spunk.
Penny: Skunks have spunk! Are you complimenting me or chastising me? With you, one never knows.
Robbie: Let’s not argue! We’ll open a few packages and…(He kisses her.)
(Mike calls out “Here’s one for ma from Jamie and another one for ma from Sam. Eddie prepares to leave.)
Penny: (whispers to Mike) Your breath is fowl. You must have drunk a quart of vodka before getting here!
Mike: Let’s not go there, ma! (He continues to smile.)
Eddie: This is for family. I should leave.
Penny: You are family, Eddie, but if that’s the way you feel…Merry Christmas. (She stands and pretends to give her best Tiny Tim impression.) Merry Christmas to All and… to All a GOOD NIGHT!!
(She covers her mouth as if to puke and bolts out of the room.)
Robbie: Jesus Christ, Wanda! (Eddie looks confused, somewhat hurt, yet concerned. Robbie throws up his arms, as lights fade.)
As lights come up on Scene 2 it is 5 am Christmas morning and Penny opens the door for Eddie, who has been knocking furiously… Eddie has thrown himself together, hair mussed and still wearing slippers… …
Eddie: Didn’t you get to sleep? What’s wrong? You sounded desperate on the phone. (He hands her a cup of coffee.) Here’s the coffee you asked me to bring.
Penny and Eddie sit down and talk as they sip coffee at the kitchen table which is still piled high with dishes and food from the night before…
Penny: Thank you. (She raises cup as if in a toast.) No. I never got to sleep. No sleep!
Eddie: What about Robbie? Is he asleep?
Penny: I sent him packing. He was drinking and doing cocaine in the bathroom. I will not stand for that in my house. He’s nothing but a jackass. I never want to see him again… (lost in thought) What is this, cinnamon?
Eddie: Huh… oh, Christmas blend…yeah, there’s cinnamon in it.
Penny: It’s delicious. I shouldn’t be drinking it. It’s off my diet. What the hell, it’s Christmas, and with all that happened…fuck it! (pause) Oh my God, last night! God help me forget last night! I was an ass. A total ass!
Eddie: I kind of thought that flamboyance you showed is just part of your nature. It can be fun, if not overused.
Penny: Penny Overdo should be my name! Heaven forbid! Don’t tell my therapist what I said or did! I’m supposed to keep a journal of my behavior. Everything I say and do. I’m sorry if I upset you. I didn’t mean to throw you out.
Eddie: You didn’t. I was leaving. I had a nice time…and it was time to go.
Penny: I created such a stir with Tatie, with Sam, with Jamie, even Mike. It’s just natural for me…going…out of control. (She laughs.) Sam does drive me crazy. I have to learn to surrender and let her find her own way. God knows, I was never the greatest mother, but I want more for Tatie than Sam can give her. She drinks. She’s a closeted alcoholic…who won’t admit she has a problem. When I mention AA she hits the roof. Refuses to cooperate, but what she has got to realize is that I am CLEAN and SOBER for (adamant about this) EIGHT YEARS. I can’t have anyone drinking around me. Sure…within moderation, like at a party, I have to accept the fact that someone will have a cocktail and I have to be strong, resist… but Robbie was swilling ‘em back last night like there was no tomorrow. And when I caught him doing coke this morning in the bathroom, that was it. OUT! OUT of my house! I’ve done that with him, with Sam and with Jamie on more than one occasion. I cannot live with abuse surrounding me. I have to heal, and need healing people around me. I’m no saint, Eddie! I’ve had my days of wine and roses. (She laughs as she starts to remember an
episode from her past.) The good old Marijuana days! Boy, I sure enjoyed myself. (She laughs herself into oblivion.) I remember when I left my apartment one night with my girlfriend Angie – I was in Glendale then – we picked up a couple of sailors in a bar and one of them, Boyd – that was his name – he had a stash that knocked us cold for 3 whole days. Oh God, he was gorgeous too! I lost my job at the five and dime for missing 2 days of work, but man o’ man, did I have a blast! (laughs more) (pause) Yup, I am no saint, Eddie! I did my share of misbehavin’. I guess I’m paying for it now, seeing it in my children. Are they the way they are because of me? We’re taught that we all have free will. You have to want to get better. I did and I still do. I just wish I could pass along my feelings to them, so their lives will not turn out like mine has. (She looks at Eddie.) You’re a fine guy with a good disposition and a great chance to make the most of life. I know Andy was an alcoholic too. I’m sure you had your suffering with him. You’re a good person. Relationships?... A crapshoot finding good people! (She reaches over and touches his hand.) How are you feeling, my dear?
Eddie. (grasps her hand) Lousy right now. Andy is lying in the morgue at St. Joe’s hospital this very second. I can’t get his body released.
Penny: What do you mean, sweetie?
Eddie: I can’t cremate him until I hear from his next of kin, his cousins in North Carolina. Both his parents are deceased. The cousins have to call and then give written permission for me to take care of arrangements. He had no will, and a gay partner is… a curse. We have responsibilities, but no legal rights to carry them out. The law will not accept me as his husband. So he lies there cold and alone until I can finally get something done, which probably won’t be until after the holidays.
Penny: Did he leave you any money?
Eddie: Nothing. He told me the Veterans’ Administration would handle everything. What a crock! He had no pension coming, nothing. No insurance policy. If I surrender his remains to them after cremation, they will only guarantee burial. With 500, 000 other veterans in an unknown place? I don’t think so. I’ll find my own place.
Penny: Are you sure about those numbers?
Eddie: Unknown soldiers. Yes. I won’t bury him like that. Oh, he’d probably be overjoyed. The eternal party boy! “Lots of seafood on the menu”, he’d say!
Penny: Be patient! It will all work out. And don’t be so bitter! Andy loved you; whenever he mentioned you, his eyes lit up.
Eddie: Really? The problem is I think I loved him too much. He was not always there for me… the way I was for him. He drank, he cheated on me and I stayed with him. I was always loyal, in spite of his sins.
Penny: Because you loved him.
Eddie: What about you and Robbie?
Penny: I’ll give him a week or so to see the error of his ways, then talk to him and…unless he comes begging to me for forgiveness first. It’s happened before. There’s a lot of good in him. He can be good to me.
Eddie: It will work out the way it’s supposed to, I guess. …(long pause) I wish I were straight sometimes.
Penny: What do you mean? You know you’re proud to be gay! Where is all that coming from?
Eddie: It’s a mess; it’s impossible being gay in this city… when you have a partner, and you do not share the same name or you’re not married, it’s worse than hell. We’re both treated like total strangers, and I can’t do a damn thing about it, but cry and complain! Boy oh boy, mom never told me life would turn out like this! I sure hope there’s a change down the line. Marriage Equality. Do you think it will ever happen?
Penny: Clinton? Too busy banging his brains out! Equality in marriage?... I sincerely doubt it. Religion will win out. Marriage is a heterosexual union meant solely for propagation. I’m not sure where I stand. All I know is in this our democratic state, illegals are getting our money and citizens are losing benefits; everywhere you turn, you’re screwed.
Eddie: I’m not political…never was… and certainly not religious, any more, but I’d campaign for marriage equality, that’s for sure! (pause) Not to change the subject, but my stomach is growling. Do you mind if I have one of these cookies?
Penny: No. Finish them. Enjoy! I can’t eat a bite.
Eddie: That was a pretty good meal last night, if I do say so. Sam and Jamie really can cook.
Penny: I taught them everything they know. Cook with LOVE!
Eddie: What about Jamie?
Penny: Jamie needs a controlling influence in her life right now. At least she’s on the wagon. I know she wants my help…deep down. I’ll just have to sit and wait for her to open up to me. She’s bisexual, you know.
Eddie: Does she have a partner?
Penny: Maryanne. She hates me. That’s why she wasn’t here last night.
Eddie: How could anyone hate you?
Penny: You’d be surprised. (she laughs long and hard)
Eddie: I wish Mike were gay. Gorgeous, talented men should all be gay!
Penny: He’d be worse for you than Andy was! I know about addiction. Andy was an alcoholic and was addicted to meds; Mike? He drinks himself into oblivion… constantly. It’s amazing that he even made it over here yesterday. (She starts to cry.)
Eddie: Are you all right?
Penny: Another piece of paper for my Godbox. (She grabs a piece of paper.)
Penny: Part of my therapy. Excuse me, or I’ll forget to do it later.
Eddie: What’s a Godbox?
Penny: I write out my failure or frustration and surrender it to the higher power. It brings temporary consolation. You’ve got to let go of what you’re feeling and try to move along! It’s difficult; one can only try!
Eddie: But you’re not responsible for Mike’s behavior. Why blame yourself?
Penny: I have to let go of even the slightest thought that I might be guilty.
Eddie: I guess I get it. Maybe I should try it!
Penny: Why? You don’t have anything to be sorry about. You’ve done more than well by Andy…(pause) No feeling sorry for yourself!... I don’t want to dwell on this any longer… (She suddenly remembers something, gets up, goes into bedroom and returns with an art canvas.) After I threw Robbie out last night, I started to work on this again…
Eddie: What is it?
Penny: (She turns art board around so he can see it.) Does it look like her?
Eddie: Who? I guess you don’t want to tell me… Let’s see! That beautiful golden hair – it must be Tatianna. That’s really good!
Penny: Do you think so?
Eddie: Yes. You’re a really good artist…artiste. The shadings are so real. She’s going to be a beautiful young lady someday soon.
Penny: If she makes it through all this turmoil. It’s her birthday January 5. I love her so much. I wish I had the money to buy her a new stereo, but I don’t. She has all these Britney Spears CDs and has no stereo of her own to listen to. Her grandpa won’t let her play his new wife ‘s…Candy’s; it’s reserved for her classical concertos! And, he’s too cheap to buy another! At the rate her mother’s going, she’ll never be able to afford to buy her one either! (She takes a long look at Tatie’s portrait.) My beautiful Tatie! I want her to have everything good that life can possibly offer her. She’s so bright and deserves better.
Eddie: She stands up to you.
Penny: Of course, she’s belligerent. What 13 year-old isn’t these days? (She picks up the painting.) This is my present to her. I hope she likes it. It means everything to me that she like it! Everything! She means the world to me!
When lights come up on Scene 3, it is January 10, 1998 and Penny has called a family pow wow. Eddie is present as well. Penny and Eddie are
sitting at the table. Robbie and Jamie nearby. Mike is at the piano bench, and Sam is making coffee in the kitchen.
Sam: Mother, you have never called us together like this in such a big hurry. What gives?
Penny: I saw Dr. James yesterday. The bottom line is … I need an operation.
Sam: What kind of surgery?
Penny: They’ve found a tumor in my liver. A small one but he says it must be taken care of immediately.
Jamie: Isn’t surgery dangerous with Hepatitis C?
Penny: What choice do I have?
Mike: Ma, you could do chemo.
Penny: No, I will not do chemotherapy. It destroyed your aunt Jenny. It killed her. She was in agony twenty four hours a day. Throwing up, she couldn’t eat or keep anything down.
Sam: Mother, don’t compare yourself to her. Everyone is different. Chemo is a way to treat it and keep you alive. Surgery in your condition is wrong.
Eddie: Penny, Sam is right. If you have internal problems, opening you up is only going to complicate matters.
Robbie: I think you should do the chemo. Can we take a vote here?
Penny: There is no vote. I’ve decided to have the surgery. I’m going in next week.
Jamie: So why call us together? You’ve already made up your mind. You are going to do what you want to do, like always.
Sam: Jamie is right. This is ridiculous. Tatie needs a ride to her dance class. I have to go.
Mike: I have a piano lesson in a bit. I have to leave soon too. Do whatever you wish, ma.
Sam: Have you thought about how surgery will weaken you? You’ll need someone to come in every day and help you. I can’t do that. I don’t have the time. I have to work and Tatie is my main responsibility now.
Penny: It’s about time you wised up!
Sam: Let’s not go there again, ma!
Jamie: I don’t have time either. Maryanne and I want to move soon, and we both need to work in order to make that happen.
Penny: (screams at the top of her lungs) YOU ARE LIVING IN A DREAM WORLD! How can you possibly move on your salaries? Telephone sales? You’re delusional! Sam, not to worry! I have asked Eddie to be a caregiver, a part-time one. Now that Andy has been properly cremated, he has some time he can devote to me, right Eddie?
Eddie: Penny, I will help you with whatever you need, but you never asked me to be a caregiver. I don’t have the skills to take care of you. You’ll need a nurse.
Penny: No. I need someone to clean up around here, dump the garbage, and heat some soup or toss a salad for me. Not a lot. I have the papers for you to sign. And you’ll make a little money too. Not a lot, but something.
Eddie: I’ll think about it. It’s a lot of responsibility. I’d rather you not have the surgery. I think that’s a mistake.
Jamie: You never asked any of us to be caregivers, but you asked Eddie. Does that make sense? You go to a neighbor before asking your own flesh and blood?
Penny: (yelling in confusion) Didn’t you all just say you don’t have the time to give me? I knew what you would say, so I immediately thought of Eddie.
Mike: I think that’s great, ma. Eddie will be a big help to you, and I will stop by when I can.
Sam: I’m outa here. Call you, ma!
Jamie: Me too! If you need a ride to the hospital, maybe Eddie can give you a ride. See you! (both Sam and Jamie leave, slamming the front door.)
Mike: (comes over to Penny and kisses her on the forehead) Do you think I could maybe stay here while you’re in the hospital? I could give lessons on the piano here and I could help keep the place in order until you get back.
Penny: Yes, of course you can stay here. (Mike kisses her on the cheek and proceeds to leave.) Hold it! I do not want Nina here; she’s a thorn in your side.
Mike: Ma, I told you, I left Nina. Couldn’t afford her habits anymore. She went home to her family.
Penny: Best news I’ve heard in years! She needs to grow up…and so do you! Take me to the hospital next week?
Mike: I’ll call you Monday, ma. Take care, Eddie!
Eddie: See you Mike! (Mike exits, gently closing the front door.) Penny, reconsider this operation! I don’t have good feelings about it.
Penny: I won’t put myself through the hell of chemo. (She puts her head in her hands.) Oh, Christ! I knew something like this would come eventually… (pause) (She looks at Eddie.) What other choice do I have?
As the lights come up on Scene 4, it is January 30, following a memorial service for Penny, which was held at the home of an AA friend. Penny died five days after the surgery. The place is a shambles. Furniture has been moved out. There are books, CDs, papers in stacks on the floor. Sam and Jamie are trying to decide what they’ll keep and what is to be discarded. Eddie enters to speak with both of them.
Jamie: Hey, Eddie! Thank you for speaking at mom’s memorial. She would have appreciated the kind things you said about her.
Eddie: I felt obligated, as no one spoke except her friend Mimsy who had known her at AA. I thought one of you would have said something. And Mike, where was he?
Sam: He took mom’s passing harder than anyone. He couldn’t face it.
Eddie: I know he stayed here while she was in the hospital. I saw him in the hall one day and he was so lit, he didn’t even recognize me. I said hello, but he just kept on walking. He almost fell down the stairs.
Jamie: He wanted to stay here, but who will pay the rent? He can’t afford it, even with Section 8, and none of us are in a position to help him.
Sam: Why should we help him? He’s our brother, who is supposed to look after us. Fine brother he has been. He’s no tower of strength; he’s a mess. (Tatie walks in.)
Eddie: Hi, Tatie! I didn’t see you at the memorial either.
Tatie: I didn’t go. I hate death. I just came by to get my Britney Spears CD.
Sam: (picking up Tatie’s portrait from the floor and handing it to her) Tatie, are you sure you don’t want this? Grandma did give it to you for your birthday?
Tatie: Noooooooooo! It sucks. And she didn’t even frame it. (She throws it down on the floor.) Where is the CD? Oh, here it is. It better not be scratched. (She puts the CD in a bag and goes to the door.) I’m going downstairs to grandpa. He’s waiting in the car. He told me to tell you to get a move on. Candy is cooking dinner and expects all of us to be home. (She leaves.)
Sam: Poor kid! This has been so hard on her. She’s never experienced death before. What are we going to do with ma’s beige leather coat and those white blouses in her bedroom closet? They’re about the only decent clothes she had!
Eddie: You know, you could give the clothes to Goodwill. Somebody can use them. There are a lot of needy people out there.
Jamie: Not even the needy would want those rags! I do want that coat, though! (She proceeds to bedroom to check it out.)
Eddie: (He picks up Tatie’s portrait from the floor, looks at it, holds it against his chest, looks at it again…) Sam, do you mind if I take this? It meant a lot to Penny.
Sam: I don’t want it. Tatie definitely doesn’t. Keep it in good health!
Eddie: I’m going to frame it. (He wants to say something to Sam, but somehow cannot find the words.) (long pause)…I need to say something. It’s very hard for me to interfere where I don’t belong. I’m an outsider, not a member of this family, but there’s one thing I do know. Penny deserves respect like any other human being on this planet. She has left us. We need to praise the good intentions in her life. (Jamie re-enters and listens from the bedroom door.) She may not have been a perfect mother to you, but she did what she could, at least during the brief time that I knew her.
Jamie: (bursting forth from the bedroom) That’s right, Eddie! You are not a member of this family. You already made your speech at the memorial. We don’t have to hear again how you felt about our mother. So why don’t you take that painting and get out of here!
Eddie: (firmly, like a teacher to his students, he holds back nothing!) Clean up your act! Both of you! You and Mike are capable of so much more! Stop wasting time! Get professional help! Make some positive changes in your lives!
Sam: It’s none of your business, Eddie. We’ve heard your two cents... now get out!
Eddie: (He shakes his head in disgust, fighting back tears and goes to the open door, looks back, taking in a good view of the place.) (sincerely) Good luck! (He leaves.)
Jamie: (going back into bedroom, talking as she goes. She talks loudly from the bedroom.) I never liked him. Asshole!... has all the answers and he doesn’t even understand the issues. (She comes back in wearing her mother’s beige leather coat.) What do you think?
Sam: (shrugs her shoulders) It was too young a style for ma. She never looked good in it. What about the blouses?
Jamie: Crap! They’re too old-fashioned. I’d never wear them. I tossed ‘em in a garbage bag! (pause)
Sam: Did you stop to think that I might want to try them on? And the coat?
Jamie: You’re still too young for them. As far as the coat is concerned, (she looks her over) you are a bit heavy in the hips. It suits me to perfection.
Sam: (going over to Jamie, grabs hold of her and slaps her face) You little bitch! Penny’s favorite. She can have anything she wants.
Jamie: Oh yeah! (pushes Sam away) What do you mean, her favorite? She despised me. It was you she cared about. Adored! Her precious Sam got married, had a kid, gave her a grandchild… did everything that she wanted me to do.
Sam: Don’t know when to stop, do you?
Jamie: No, cunt, I don’t! (They lock arms and start a brawl that ends up with both of them fighting, and knocking each other to the floor. When they sit up slowly they look at one another… isolated, hurt and confused. There is no laughter, nor tears, only the realization that time is against them.)
Jamie: Did you ever find… a will from ma? Robbie said she was thinking about making one.
Sam: A will … for what? She had nothing. No money. Nothing of any value to leave anyone, except her silly art… and a batch of unpublished, useless poetry.
Jamie: I did cash that last disability check. I forged her signature. (She takes money out of her pants pocket and kisses it.) It’ll pay February’s rent. Thanks, ma! You were good for something. She picks up papers from floor, as she stands.) All these poems she wrote… that make no sense. Junk! (She tosses them into a waste paper basket.) She gave us nothing. (She turns on the stereo full blast as she and Sam continue cleaning up. Sam is on her feet, pulls a flask from her pocket, opens it, takes a swig and passes it to Jamie, who does the same.)
(Diana Krall sings in the background.)
Sam: Thank God this is over. I need a change!
Jamie: Yeah! No more! (she exults) You can’t give us any more crap, Penny! (They stare at each other seemingly content.) (Jamie gets broom and starts sweeping.)
Sam: The janitor can do that. Let’s get out of here.
Jamie: Yeah. They are waiting downstairs. What about the books?
Sam: Leave them in the lobby. Neighbors will take them.
Jamie: Maybe we should come back tomorrow and finish.
Sam: Finish what? It’s the janitor’s job. So, they’ll hold back the security deposit? Uh, uh. She was Section 8, remember? A worthless refund!
Jamie: The stereo?
Sam: A piece of shit. Leave it and those lame CDs. I don’t want any remembrances. And I don’t want to come back here…ever!
(Jamie picks up box of books and heads for door. Sam follows without even turning around to look. They slam the door on the way out. Diana Krall continues to sing on the stereo, as lights fade slowly.)