Spinach For Short Stories

The last story I shared on my blog was one that ate all of its greens and grew up to be a big, strong stage play that people actually paid their hard-earned money to come and see! It is, to date, the Popeye of my writing…

Back when it was a short story it had many names, the most constant is Tough but as a stage play it is known as The Good Sister. I have adapted prose into scripts on a few occasions and it is always a challenge but ultimately a bit of a thrill…

THE GOOD SISTER

A Play In One Act.

First Performed and Produced in 2014

CAST OF CHARACTERS

MAGGIE – Woman in late thirties, recently widowed.

SALLY – Her older sister, early forties.

The scene is set in a modern house in Ireland in 2008. Split stage into kitchen and living room. The kitchen has a small counter, kitchen table and the back of a television facing the audience. the living room has a couch and one other chair. There is a window in both rooms with closed curtains.

Music suggestion to begin and link scenes Andy Williams “Can’t Get Used To Losing You…

Scene 1

(Open into living room where Maggie sits in her pyjamas pouring herself a glass of wine. She is talking to her dead husband. Her speech is slightly slurred)

MAGGIEYou hated this wine, remember? I was never allowed buy it when our friends came over… Of course, back then it was the only time your Maggie actually drank wine. Not anymore!

(sniggers)

Nope… Now I drink it all night long…every single night! There’s a name for that, isn’t there, Pat? We call them DRUNKS!

(She fills her glass again to the very top)

We don’t call them lonely or lost souls… They’re just drunks! Who wants to be married to a drunk anyway? Looks to me like you got away just in time my poor love… Just in time…

(puts her glass on the table and looks upwards)

I wonder what you’d say if you could see me now? IF! IF! FUCKING IF! 

(She gets up slowly and looks out the window)

I bet the whole neighbourhood is talking about me. The best person to gossip about is the one nobody sees anymore.  Sometimes I just keep the curtains closed to give them a nudge in the right direction.

(Maggie sneers at the window and closes the curtains again. she returns to her space on the floor)

Can you see me? Is that part of the deal, that you can stay with your loved ones until they drink themselves to death? And If I did, would you be the one to come and say, collect me? It’s certainly tempting, I wonder who came to collect you… 

(Maggie straightens herself up. She is preparing for something)

Okay, Pat. Give me a sign or something. Let me know you’re here and if you do that I won’t drink anymore tonight. I’ll go to bed… Just give me a sign. Bang something! Move something! Slap me!

(There is a loud bang out in the hall. Maggie jumps and crawls on her hands and knees in terror to the sitting room door.Maggie is sitting crouched by the door and there is deafening silence in the house. Suddenly the sitting room opens violently knocking her over. She has her head in her hands in terror. Sally enters.)

SALLYGood lord, Maggie, what on earth are you doing on the floor? Here, get up!

(Sally helps Maggie to her feet. She is unsteady and speechless)

MAGGIE Sally! Wha… What are you doing here at this hour? Why didn’t you call me first?

SALLYI tried to call you but your phone was engaged. Who were you talking to?

MAGGIEEr… Pat.

SALLYYou were on the phone to…Pat?

(Sally feels her sister’s forehead looking very concerned. Maggie shrugs her off in annoyance.)

MAGGIEOf course I wasn’t on the phone to Pat! How the hell would I manage that? He’s dead, remember?

SALLYYes deary, i know that… sorry. So who wereyou on the phone to?

MAGGIEI wasn’t on the bloody phone, Sally! I don’t have it on the hook. I thought you meant who was I talking to before you came in.

(frustrated and embarrassed)

Look, forget it! I wasn’t talking to anybody. Everything is fine. I am not a loon, and you can go home now. Okay?

SALLYDon’t be silly Margaret. I just got here! I was just finished dinner so I thought I would pop over and see you.

(She takes off her coat and sits down on the couch. Maggie stands defeated)

I have something for you.

(She hands Maggie a book)

MAGGIE What the hell is this?

SALLY Well, look at it!

MAGGIE(reading)Fighting Through Phobia. (mockingly)It’s very pretty Sally, did you make it yourself?

(throws it back at her)

SALLYMargaret, don’t be petulant. It took me a long time to find that one.  Well, Andrew found it for me. He has such a great eye for books… (nervously)Andrew is my… friend. He runs the new bookshop you see. (Smiles to herself)

MAGGIE(sarcastic)Marvelous!  

(reaches for her wine glass and takes a few long gulps)

SALLYI just felt that after our talk the other day, you know, about you being afraid to go outside, that maybe this book  might just change your life!

MAGGIEYou think I’m afraid to go outside?

SALLYWell, that is kind of what you said, isn’t it? But really, it was only when I went back home and chewed it over with Johnathan…

(Maggie rolles her eyes and pours more wine)

– He pointed out to me that, in hisexperience, people like you are most likely afraid of germs. I think he called it… ostium-tracto-phobia. Yes, that was it… Which to a lay person like you, means, fear of door handles. If you need help remembering the name just think of Uncle Jimmy’s dirty old tratcor… Everyone was afraid of that filthy old thing…

(Sally giggles, extremely pleased with herself)

MAGGIESally, Johnathan is an insurance broker. How exactly can he have any experience with phobia’s? And I didn’t say that I was afraidto go outside or that I was afraidof my germ infested door handles. I SAID that I just wasn’t ready to leave here yet. I don’t want to face people.

(Sally attempts to speak)

AND! That doesn’t mean that I am afraid of faces either! Why can’t you ever just listen to me?

SALLYI do listen to you! It’s not my fault, Maggie. I’m only trying to help! And anyway, you are hard to understand when you have been… drinking.

MAGGIEAgoraphobia.

SALLY  Pardon me?

MAGGIEIf I was afraid of going outside. I would have Agoraphobia.

SALLYOh… I see… (Gently)Are you ready to talk about it then?

MAGGIE(Explodes)I am not agoraphobic! I’m just saying Johnathan was wrong.

SALLYOh, yes well Johnathan can certainly be wrong sometimes… He never admits it of course. I hardly bother to correct him anymore.

  (Pause)

Aren’t you going to at least offer me my own drink?

MAGGIENope. I am going to bed. You can sit here if you like. I don’t care.

SALLY (Checks her watch) Don’t be ridiculous! I have ages before I meet… I mean, you have no intention of going to bed yet. it’s only eight o clock! Go and get your big sister a glass… 

MAGGIEThey’re all filthy. Here, take a swig of this if you want.

(She takes the glass)

SALLYI’d actually prefer red.

MAGGIEYes, well I’d actually prefer to be left alone.

SALLY  Hmmm… this looks like quite a crisp white! This will be fine. Thank you.

MAGGIEGreat.

(Awkward silence)

SALLYDon’t you want to turn on the television?

MAGGIENope. It’s all shite at this hour.

SALLYYes, you’re right. Let’s just chat shall we? Television can be so anti-social anyway.

(Maggie quickly reaches for the remote control. Sally snatches it off her)

SALLYOh Margaret, stop it! I came over especially to spend some time with you.

MAGGIEI’m not in a very chatty mood,

SALLYOkay, well then lets do something else. (Checks her watch again)Have you any cards? We could play Gin Rummy or something.

MAGGIEThe only cards I have are the tarot ones you got me when i had my appendix out. They said I was losing something in life. Very accurate…

SALLYWhere are they?

MAGGIEI lost them. (sniggers)

SALLYNo you didn’t! Actually, come to think of it I remember seeing them at Pat’s wake. Hang on. I bet they are still in the powder room…

(She exits)

MAGGIE Sally, I don’t have a powder room. I have a downstairs toilet. (To Pat) I don’t understand that girl, one minute she says I need a psychiatrist and then she decides I need an exorcist!

(Sally returns holding up the deck of tarot cards.)

SALLY  Ha! See? I knew I saw them there!

MAGGIE Oh,that’s right… I left them beside the dream catcher you got me after my back operation and the healing crystals you got me when i was made redundant.

SALLYI keep telling you, Margaret, if you don’t learn to use those things I will simply stop giving them to you.

MAGGIE Promises, promises…

SALLY Oh stop it! You know I always have your best interests at heart. Now…

(She spreads the cards out on the coffee table)

I think we’ll start with the four card spread. Doesn’t take too long…

MAGGIEI really don’t want my cards read, thank you. I am depressed enough.

SALLYOh come on… This will lift your spirits. Just shuffle the deck and give them back to me.

(She sighs and shuffles the cards)

MAGGIEHere.

SALLY Great! Now take a deep breath and exhale and ask one specific question. Ask something that will give a yes or no answer only.

MAGGIEWhy? Are the cards stupid?

SALLYMargaret! Stop making fun of this. You could use a little guidance. Come on now, deep breath…

( Sally closes her eyes reverently. Maggie lights a cigarette)

Now exhale…

(Maggie exhales a plume of smoke)

Now clear your mind…

(Maggie gulps her wine)

Now ask your question and pick four cards from anywhere…

MAGGIEFine! One… two… three… four. Now, Psychic Sally Amazeme!

SALLYOkay, let’s begin…

Okay… the first card is The Fool. Ooh, and I’m afraid it’s upside down… This represents your past. It means you’ve made some bad decisions in the past. You have behaved irrationally or carelessly… Well, you obviously have some regrets!

MAGGIEI do at the moment, yes…

SALLYNext… The Magician. Hmm, this one is upside down too… this shows that you have a certain lack of drive or a weakness in will right now. Well, you have been living in your pyjamas so i see that’s fairly accurate.

MAGGIEGet on with it… And maybe turn the bloody deck upright while you’re at it… We wouldn’t want you spilling the wine…

SALLY Margaret, if the cards are upside down that is just the way they are meant to be!Now your future… Well now, Oh! this is a relief! It’s The Wheel of Fortune andit’s facing upright! So that means you’ll have unexpected gains coming your way! Isn’t that exciting?

MAGGIEVery exciting!

SALLYNow, the final card. this one indicates the outcome to your question. Ready?

MAGGIE Yeah… go on then… (paying attention)

SALLYAh Ha! Yes! The Chariot! Lovely! Oh and this one is upright too! Isn’t that great?

MAGGIEThat’s great.

SALLYIt is great… I see a journey ahead! See? We’ll get you out of this little house yet! Does this answer your question?

MAGGIE Actually I think it does… Okay, let me just be sure I’ve got this right. The past was the fool and the bad decision thingy…

SALLYYes.

MAGGIEThe present card was the Magician fella and that had something to do with a lack of willpower, yes?

SALLYThat’s it!

MAGGIEThis one here, the…Wheel Of Fortune? That had to do with my luck changing for the better or something,  right?

SALLYYes! Yes!

MAGGIEAnd finally, this last one was the outcome and it said something about a journey?

SALLY That’s right. So go on… What was your question?

MAGGIEI asked the cards if you would ever just piss off. The past said I shouldn’t have given you a key. That was obviously my bad decision. the second said I don’t have the energy to fight with you, which I don’t.

And my two favorite… The future showed hope and a change in luck which says maybe you’ll be going soon and my absolute favorite is the chariot! Which means your chariot awaits! Those cards are bloody accurate after all. Fancy that! Good night Psychic Sally. I am going to bed. (stands up)

SALLY  (embarrassed. Checks her watch again and taps it)Well, yes… I suppose I’d better be going then… Hadn’t I?  I’ll leave the book with you, though. it’s no good to me. See you tomorrow then… Night. (Walks to the door)

MAGGIEHang on. What about my key?

SALLY It’s my key.

MAGGIEWhen did I give it to you?

SALLYEr… the … other night.

MAGGIE I don’t remember that…

SALLYOh yeah. you said I should have a key for emergencies. You insistedon it! 

MAGGIENo… I definitely didn’t…

SALLYWell, that is okay, you had been drinking quite a bit. Not to worry!

MAGGIE Well, I have since changed my mind. You can give it back to me now.

SALLY But I don’t want to.

MAGGIEWhy not? It’s my key to myhouse.

SALLY I paid to get it copied. So, it’s mine.

MAGGIE Oh just keep the bloody thing then. You’d always find a way in anyway.

SALLY Here…you take it back… I have three more copies at home! Night deary!

(She exits and Maggie sits and fills her glass again Lights fade.)

Scene 2

Lights go up onto messy kitchen. Maggie enters with a bag of groceries. She empties them. There are six bottles of wine and six packets of cigarettes. She lays them out slowly. She walks over to the cupboard stepping over a large pile of clothes on the floor. She makes no attempt to move them. She is wearing the same pyjamas.

MAGGIE (To Pat) God bless Tesco’s delivery man. The widow’s saviour! 

(Maggie sits down at the kitchen table and fiddles with the remote control before eventually turning on the television. Theme music from Frasier can be heard)

Good old Frasier. That was your favorite one, Pat! Last time I watched that was with you… It was on the last night. Remember that? You were so weak and I begged you to eat so off I went and made you boiled eggs and toast… Then when I came back upstairs I rushed to get the food over to you and what happened? I tripped over the fucking telephone cord and sent the whole lot flying into your sock drawer…. You laughed at me.But I didn’t laugh. I just felt like clumsy useless idiot! And then when I came back up the stairs you were asleep. And that was it. You went so soon after that… They all said that was a good thing… Ha! A good thing indeed… That was the first time you ever left this house on an empty stomach… I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

(turns television off and wipes her eyes)

ANYWAY! Sally was trying to call me earlier. I didn’t bother answering. I wonder what the all mighty Johnathan said about me when she went home last night. i suppose I should be grateful that he has the sense to make his ridiculous comments at a safe distance. God, he is a plonker. Always was! Remember the time he took you golfing and when you came home your nine iron was snapped in two? I think it was because he kept correcting your swing… Funny how an insurance broker doesn’t know a serious risk when he sees one! I would have decked him one, but you just took it out on the club… You were a good man… I really miss you… 

(She is startled by a loud knock at the kitchen window.)

MAGGIE Pat, I swear to God, if she brings a book this time I’m going to ram it down her bloody throat!

(Sally enters)

SALLY Yoohoo Only your big sister! Oh for goodness sake, Maggie! This kitchen is a complete mess! I can’t believe I didn’t notice last night!

MAGGIE  There, there! You were too busy certifying me last night.

SALLY Well, we’re just going to have to give this place a good clean and that’s all there is to it.

(Sally rolls up her sleeves and looks around. She walks around slowly and changes her mind. Taps her watch)

Er…I really should have my housekeeper take care of this… disaster. Yes, that makes much more sense.

MAGGIE (Amused) See Sally? I told you I have no problem with germs. All ten million of us live here quite comfortably!

SALLY Well, yes… I really think we should have my Maya sort this place out. obviously I’ll pay her. You don’t need to worry about anything.

MAGGIE That won’t be necessary, thanks. I was planning on giving the place a clean today. Not that I didn’t enjoy your disgust but I suppose it is getting a bit out of hand. (Sighs)

SALLY Would you like some… help, deary?

MAGGIE No, don’t worry. I can manage. it’s my house after all… Although it hasn’t been as clean since Pat was alive. He used to do the cleaning. I’ll have to get used to doing it… Do you want a coffee or something?

(Sally looks nervously around and decides not to sit down)

SALLY Eh, no deary, that is alright. I can see you’re busy. I just wanted to give you something.

MAGGIE (threateningly)Sally, if you hand me another book on phobia or some shitty pop psychology i am going to completely lose it! I’m warning you…

SALLY It isn’t…(spelling) s h i t t y pop psychology. This one is about coping after the death of a loved one. It’s very useful. Please read it… Andrew gave it to me…

(She hands her the book)

MAGGIE (reading)“In Loving Memory”…  Ah for fuck sake Sally! STOP WITH ALL THIS! Actually, here… I believe I filed the last one under yesterday’s black pudding…

(Maggie goes over to the kitchen bin and sorts through it. She produces the first book covered in slime and shoves it into Sally’s hands)

Here, take this and let’s have no more bloody books. I don’t need any books or DVDs or anything. I ‘m just… grieving. I miss Pat… (tearful) IT’S NORMAL to miss Pat! I AM NORMAL!

SALLY I never said you weren’t normal deary!

MAGGIE What? You thought I had some exotic, weird phobia! You go home and talk about me as if I was a filthy lab rat!

SALLY (offended)I most certainly do not! I come over here and see you’re in pain and I try to find ways to help you! I’m trying to be a good sister! You always make fun of me but I’ve always been there for you! And THIS (she holds up the slimy book)IS THE THANKS I GET?

MAGGIE You always get it wrong. You don’t listen!

SALLY (cutting her off)I DO LISTEN!

MAGGIE Well then, listen to this… GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HOUSE!

SALLY No!

MAGGIE See? Not listening!

SALLY I didn’t come here to fight with you, Margaret…

MAGGIE  And that’s another thing, stop calling me Margaret! You are the only person to call me Margaret in twenty years. Why? Because YOU DON’T FUCKING LISTEN! IT’S MAGGIE! MY NAME IS MAGGIE!

(Silence)

SALLY Richard still calls you Margaret. So does Alice…

MAGGIE I don’t want to talk about Richard and Alice.

SALLY They know about Pat.

MAGGIEI am sure they do.

SALLY I called them. (Pause) It should have come from you though.

MAGGIE We haven’t spoken in four years. Why would I call them now?

SALLY Because they are your family and they love you.

MAGGIE Ha! They loved accusing my husband. That was all.

SALLY What happened, Mar… Maggie? Why don’t you see them anymore?

MAGGIE Oh please! Don’t act like you have no idea. I know you talk to them all the time. I am sure they bitch away about me.

SALLY They just said it was something to do with…(whispers)money… What happened?

MAGGIEI don’t want to talk about this, Sally. Drop it.

SALLY They want to see you… They have been asking about you. You’re their son’s Godmother!

MAGGIE Ha! So it’s still about (whispers mockingly)money? They want back payment for all the birthday’s I missed!

SALLY No! It’s not like that. And shame on you for even thinking…

MAGGIE How the hell do you know what it’s like? I don’t want to see my brother or his family again.

SALLY Why not?

MAGGIE Because I said I don’t! They said things that they can’t take back. They hurt my husband and now he’s gone… It’s much too late for apologies.

SALLY Well then I suppose I’m all you have,  aren’t I? And yet, you don’t appreciate my gifts…

(The two women stop and stare at each other. Sally takes the two books, looks at her watch again and exits. Maggie stands for a moment and then goes to follow her)

MAGGIE (Sighs)Sally, I do appreciate… Wait!

(The door slams shut. Maggie stands in the kitchen alone)

I’m sorry…

(Lights fade)

Scene 3

(Lights up into the sitting room. Maggie is standing folding men’s shirts and placing them on the sofa. She is listening to classical music and she is in a different pair of pyjamas)

MAGGIE Pat, I know you probably think I’m being a bitch. It’s just so typical of her to parade in uninvited to a crisis and completely miss the point. She has never ONCE shown any concern about my drinking. I have been drunk every night she has been here and she has been here every God damn night this week. She can be such a bloody idiot! Andshe stole my key!

(She walks from the living room into the kitchen which is now tidy. The curtains are open and she has put moved the pile of clothes)

I can’t believe the nerve of Richard and Alice! I bet they told Sally all sorts of terrible lies. Don’t you worry, they won’t enter this house again. They accuse you of stealing and they expect me to support them! Yeah, they lost a few bob on that stupid investment, but we almost lost the house! They still had savings. We had nothing! You worked all the hours to get us out of that. And it killed you…And now I’m left behind… Alone…

(She opens a bottle of wine)

Between you and me, I don’t particularly like drinking. I never did much of it before… I’m certainly making up for lost time, aren’t I? Sorry Pat. What you must think of me… I just hate all this time I have. It’s like a curse.

(drinks)

Sally annoys the hell out of me. She always pushes my buttons but… I think if I’m honest… deep down I kind of keep hoping that she’ll come over one of these days and actually… save me.. or something..  She’s my only hope, God help me!  (Pause) Maybe one of these days she will invite me over for dinner or bring her kids to see me.. I’d nearly even tolerate Johnathan for twenty minutes… I don’t want to go out unless I absolutely have to. I think I want her to push me out. I can’t face it alone. But I won’t admit that to her. 

(She goes back to the sitting room and continues to fold men’s clothes)

She wasn’t there to help me when you were ill. I’m not complaining, really but it was such a frightening time… I was terrified you would die and then at the same time… terrified you’d live too long and suffer, I have never felt like that before…(Pause)

Although, she has been here every single day since… Maybe she’s just very bad in a crisis and doesn’t know what to do… I suppose that’s fair enough… You know, she looks a bit different these days. Better than she has in years, actually. Or maybe I’m just not used to seeing normal looking humans anymore. It’s funny. She calls over late, and then as soon as she gets here she seems eager to leave again. Always checking her bloody watch… Why come and see me if she doesn’t really want to? 

Maybe I should just call her… (reaches for her phone and dials) No, To hell with that! I won’t grovel… She was in the wrong… Not me. 

(Lights down)

Scene 4

( Lights up onto the sitting room. The door bangs offstage and Sally enters)

SALLY Hello deary! I just thought I would pop in on my way to the shops. Do you need anything?

MAGGIENo thanks. You’re earlier than usual…

SALLY (Peeking into the kitchen)You seem a lot brighter today! The kitchen is almost sparkling! Almost!

MAGGIEYeah, well. I was half thinking of getting dressed today, maybe. 

SALLY Okay. Good for you! Well, I just wanted to call over now because i won’t make it over tonight. We’re having a little dinner party, you see.

MAGGIE (Hopeful) Really?

SALLY Yes, it’s for my book club. Just the ladies, though. Nice girly evening. Poor Andrew isn’t invited…

MAGGIE (Meekly) That sounds lovely. I can’t remember my last dinner party… Who is this Andrew again? 

SALLY Actually it’s my first time to host one. Very stressful task! Oh, Andrew? he’s nobody you know… just in my book club. Runs the book shop…

MAGGIEOh… What are you cooking?

SALLY Oh well, we are starting with some beef carpaccio, followed by my very special homemade consomme… Then we’ll be having a beautiful rack of lamb with stir fried vegetables and a nice creamy mash, and I have also whipped up a chocolate tort for desert. Nothing too over the top.

MAGGIE That sounds amazing, Sal. You’re making me hungry…

SALLY Oh it’s just a simple menu… No fuss.

MAGGIE Well…I’m sure it will be a lovely evening… Do I know any of the women going?

SALLY Actually you do, Jackie your neighbour will be there. She is a pleasant enough lady I suppose. Although, she does like swear quite a lot. A little bit crass for my liking…

MAGGIE Yeah…. (Pause) I get on well with Jackie. She called to the door a few times last week but I wasn’t really up for company. I hope she calls again sometime…

SALLY Oh I’m sure she will dear. Don’t worry. Anyway, I’ll be off then, if there’s nothing else. So that’s me going for the wholenight… (Pause) I won’t be back…It will be tomorrow night before you see me again… Okay?  (She pauses waiting for Maggie to stop her. She exits)

MAGGIE (To Pat)Well, no luxury dinner party for Maggie then… Not even a fucking invitation that I could reject… But  not to worry…I do have plenty of wine! (She grabs the bottle and exits.)

(Lights fade)

Scene 5

(Dim lights up in the kitchen. It is late at night. A person dressed in black is rushing around making a mess and putting things into a black bag. As lights increase slightly we see a person in a short skirt and a baliclava)

SALLY (To Pat) Okay, that’s it! I am going to get your wife out of this house if it kills me. You know Margaret, she is so stubborn. I don’t know how you lived with her. I’m sure you never won an argument.

(She pauses)

See, that’s where myself and Johnathan differ. At least I have the sense to let him live his own life and he lets me live mine… We both know the passion is gone, but that’s just the way it goes…  Oh sugar, I only have half an hour before I have to meet… Andy… And you can stop judging me wherever you are! 

I refuse to let her wallow any longer. It’s embarrassing!  Tow months you’ve been gone…The whole neighborhood is talking about my poor odd sister. I can’t come up with any more lies. They almost believed the holiday story, if it wasn’t for all her bloody deliveries. She has absolutely no tact! Her crazy behavior upsets people. If the Anderson’s in number 22 ever manage to sell their house it will be no thanks to your Margaret, that’s for sure! Your lawn is nothing short of a jungle! Disgraceful…

I try to get her interested in my dinner party and she hasn’t even the decency to ask for an invite! I give her books and she mocks me! I try to get her talking to Richard and she insults me! I know that stupid investment was all your fault, but not to worry, I’m not one to hold a grudge against a dead man. 

(She opens cupboards and drawers and empties contents into a black bag)

So this is it. This is where we are. She is forcing me to take drastic measures. I’ll have to frighten her out! Sometimes it takes a small mess to clean up an even bigger one, as our poor Mother used to say, (she blesses herself)Lord rest her. And my sister is one big mess! Maybe she needs a new man in her life… Well, maybe it’s a bit soon…

(She knocks a glass and it smashes loudly.)

Oh Sugar Sugar! Don’t wake up, Maggie! I’m almost done!

(She trips over something and knocks an empty bottle of wine. She panics. The lights come on and Maggie enters terrified with a bottle of wine as a weapon)

MAGGIE Whoever you are get out of my house! How dare you…  I have a weapon! (Pause… she looks closer)

Sally? What the hell are you doing?

(Sally stands stunned for a moment and runs for the door. Maggie grabs her)

 For Christ sake I know it’s you! What is going on? Why are you… robbing me? Are you wearing my shoes!

SALLY (Out of breath and embarrassed) Don’t be so dramatic I wasn’t robbing you.

MAGGIE You’re in my house at one in the morning putting all my stuff in a black bag. You’re robbing me! 

SALLY I was just…pretending… to rob you.

MAGGIE You scared the hell out of me! Why would you do that?

SALLYI… I wanted to get you out of the house…

MAGGIE What?

SALLY I… I thought if you woke up and saw you were robbed… you would want to stay with me.

MAGGIE This is ridiculous, Sally! Why are you going to such stupid lengths? You could have just asked me to your fancy dinner party. I wanted to go! 

SALLY  Oh I gave you every opportunity to ask to come. I wanted you there!

MAGGIE I shouldn’t have to beg you!

SALLYWell, I wasn’t going to beg you either!

MAGGIE (She looks inside the black bag)This is what you were stealing?

(She takes out the tarot cards, dream catcher, wine and cigarettes)

 Okay, I understand the fags and booze but why are your gifts in here?

SALLY I don’t know… I thought maybe they would mean more to you if they were stolen… Don’t be mad at me, Maggie… I’m sorry. I feel a bit silly…

MAGGIE I’m not mad, Sally… I’m confused… Mostly by your getup! Why are you all dressed up for a robbery? 

SALLYI’m sorry… I’m not thatdressed up…  I had the dinner party…

(awkward silence decides to change the subject)

MAGGIE Okay…Oh! here, I almost forgot! I got you something…

(She goes to the cupboard)

I added a nice bottle of red to the shopping list yesterday. I can’t believe you didn’t think to check ALL the cupboards for the wine! You only scratched the surface, you know! (She laughs)

SALLY But I thought you were mad at me yesterday!

MAGGIE  I was… You shouldn’t have interfered with me and Richard… I know you were only trying to help… But still… don’t do it again. It’s not your business… Listen, why don’t you just stay here tonight?

 SALLY  (Looks at her watch)  I don’t think so…It’s not the best night for me to stay…

MAGGIE Because of the kids? I am sure Johnathan can hold the fort for one night. You’lll be back early in the morning.

SALLY No, it’s not that…

MAGGIE (concerned) What’s wrong? 

SALLY  Nothing! I should probably just go on home. 

MAGGIE  What’s your hurry? I’m sure your lot are all in bed. Stay here for another while at least.

SALLY No, Maggie. I really can’t. 

MAGGIE Sally, what is wrong with you? You seem very edgy these days… Always checking your watch. You call over and seem anxious to leave just as quickly… I know I am not much company but still.

SALLY No, it’s nothing to do with you. I’m sorry if I seem a bit… distracted. I don’t have to go home but well, I do have somewhere else to be…

MAGGIE It’s One in the morning!

SALLY Yes I know… (Chews her fingernails)

MAGGIE Sally, is there something you want to tell me?

SALLY No. I can’t… You wouldn’t understand.

MAGGIE (Pulls out a chair and motions for Sally to sit)Try me…

(Pause. Sally sits down)

SALLY  It’s terrible really.  I don’t even know how I let it happen. It’s just… Well… Johnathan barely knows I exist anymore. Except when he’s hungry or looking for his golfing shoes…

MAGGIE Okay… Sally, are you seeing someone else?

SALLY (Puts her head in her hands)Yes.

MAGGIE A… man?

 (Sally Nods and reaches for the wine)

MAGGIE Are you having an affair?

END OF SNIPPET!

Bluebells

“I don’t know”. 

The words were incredibly cathartic to say. My daughter thought I was just being my usual stubborn self, trying to push her away. I was known to do that when I was reading the newspaper. However, I was being completely honest. To hell with it! 

            “You don’t know?” A painfully slow expression of bewilderment and concern filled her pale little oval face. 

            “That’s right. I don’t know. I have little, or nomemory of that!” I stared back at her and nodded vigorously just in case my words hadn’t landed. I took the glass of sparking water off the table and sipped, my eyes never leaving hers. The poor little thing looked very worried about her dotty old mother. But my words were true and it was probably time she understood. Someone had to hear those words before I myself become just another casualty of the cortex, like the second day of primary school. 

            “How can you not know who you lived with in your first year of college? I don’t understand.” She was smiling now. Cue the awful nervous laughter. She thought I was joking. Wouldn’t that be a good one? if only I was!

            *Well, there are lots of things I don’t remember about college or school. Actually, most things that happened before 1976 are either foggy or just… not there.” I looked at her with a face as blank as the topic. 

I had never told anyone about my memory loss. My ex-husband knew alright, because apparently most of the memories that alluded me actually heavily featured him, and he was not a man that could bear to be forgotten. Our happiest years together were victims of my recovery. That probably hurt him more than I realized but I suffered from debilitating depression, and after a particularly agonizing episode in 1976, I underwent Electroconvulsive Therapy, which robbed me.

            I had suffered from depression my entire life. I had been diagnosed with Seasonal Affected Disorder, which basically meant that certain parts of the earth’s orbit around the sun made me feel like utter shit. The autumn months were the worst. It was like a slow descent into the abyss of winter. I was forced to grit my teeth, squeeze my eyes shut and hang on in there until around April every year. Then, I knew it was safe when I saw the bluebells out in their brief, but fantastical bloom. A reprieve!

Perhaps, when I am gone, my children will understand why I got so excited by the bluebells each year, and why we had to take the scenic route through the school woods when we were going absolutely anywhere, or often nowhere in particular.  

do remember all of my pregnancies for some reason. I was pregnant nine times in my life, but only carried six to full-term. The first was when I was nineteen, in University and unmarried, although that soon changed. Before long, I wore a wedding dress with the tiniest little hint of a bump, while my parents looked on utterly wearing themselves out by not smiling and not wishing me well. That was normal. There was never much joy in my childhood home. I remember that much, sadly.

 The morning of my wedding, pains started and then rapidly worsened and I began to bleed. I lost the baby that day, but still I went to the church and married that man that I loved so terribly. 

            The season of my sixth pregnancy was quite unfortunate. My daughter was born in March of 1976, a bad time of year for me, when nothing had yet lifted and there was no sign of the bluebells. It is always darkest before the dawn in a mind with a malady.  That was the only baby I carried with me the entire way through the blackness, and that year I simply couldn’t hang on in. Somehow, she still became the best natured, gentlest child, a natural born healer before she even left the womb! 

A few weeks after our daughter was born, I continued to spiral down the rabbit hole solo, finally tumbling in to a dead end. I could go no further, so I decided to put myself out of my misery. It was only when a kind old woman we had recently hired as our housekeeper, yanked me out of the bathwater, that I got some proper help.  That woman was a proper motherly mother to me. 

 In the 1970s, mental help involved curious and wildly experimental men in lab coats inducing a seizure to jolt all the blackness away. It actually did help me. It helped me to snatch more frequent glimpses of light and enjoy my family, but as the years went on, I was slowly alerted to all that I had lost. I was robbed of myself and my memories. Children naturally asked thousands of questions about their parent’s past and about the “days of black and white” but I had no real answers for them because everything seemed truly grey and strangely vacant.

            My daughter looked at me with tears in her eyes after I told her the story, about my missing stories…

“Mam, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I never knew this before. How did I never know this?! I’ve asked you about your childhood before and school and everything! And you answered me. You alwaysgave me an answer!” She looked at the floor, and then back to me in shock and confusion. 

“Yep, well…that’s just that!” I quickly picked up my newspaper again so that she knew we were finished talking about it for good. She became silent. She understood me. 

            Years from now, my family might grasp why I always had something to pick up and read while we sat by the fire on rainy evenings, I was simply avoiding difficult questions, passing the time, waiting for the bluebells.

A Stranger One

After the session with Dr Hall, Eve found herself remembering some forgotten details about her time there. She began thinking about her very first week in Galway as a fully-fledged student, and amazingly when she concentrated really hard, she could even remember smaller details of her very first day as a student.

The first day of University had started off as first days tend to; uncertain. Eve checked her bag too many times for her wallet that was in the same place each time, and her keys were beside it. She had gotten into the habit of checking her keys, wallet and phone about every two minutes or so until she got distracted. That was the problem with being a waking dreamer, she could never fully account for her accountability, and so she had to keep checking on herself.

            Walking up the bronze autumn avenue of the University, Eve inhaled the sharp morning air and felt genuinely excited as a new adventure lay itself down like a rich carpet just for her! There were students everywhere and she couldn’t wait to get stuck into her first official lecture. She had been there a few times the previous week, before most of the others on her course, just so she could get the lie of the land and reduce her odds of getting lost and looking silly.  

            As Eve walked up the flight of stairs of the New Building, as it was called, with twenty minutes to go before her first lecture, she checked for her wallet vigorously once again, so distracted in her search, that suddenly she tripped over something on the floor. Looking down, she saw a girl with blonde hair, hunched over and vomiting loudly into a wicker bin.

            Eve dropped her bag and bent down to the girl. They were both full of apologies for one another.

            “Are you alright,?” Eve placed a hand on the girl’s back and jumped a little when she felt her flinch.

            “Sorry, yes, yes I’m fine. Just suddenly didn’t feel well and I don’t know where the stupid loo’s are in this maze. You can go now. Really I’m fine.” The girl laughed loudly,  clearly mortified.

            “Can I get you anything? Do you want some water? Here!” Eve reached into her bag and handed the girl the unopened bottle.

            “Oh God, thank you! So sorry!” The blonde girl took it off her gently and opened it shakily. She was very pale, thin and had a sad little shadow stuck on her face despite her efforts to laugh off the embarrassing little pickle she was in.

            “Okay, well, I’ll leave you alone then. Hope you feel better soon!” Eve picked up her bag and walked reluctantly away. When she turned back briefly, she saw the little blonde girl put her head in her hands and then rush to her feet, scoop up the bin and run back towards the entrance. Eve wondered how she was going to get rid of a wicker basket full of vomit without destroying everything in her wake and making a laughing stock of herself! But it wasn’t funny. She silently berated herself for being so mean about the poor wee girl right up until the Lecturer stormed the room and her college adventure took off.

 

It must have been the next morning, as far as Eve could remember, it was definitely some time in that first week -. It was her first History class. Yes! That was it. It was the next day. She held the memory in her mind’s eye as carefully as possible without letting it evaporate…

Gradually people filed into the room. They all seemed to be well settled into their individual cliques as far as Eve could make out. She wasn’t sure how they had managed to find each other after only one day. Some people just had a gift for grouping. Eve knew she could easily slip herself into any of the segregations if she wanted to, all she had to do was copy the others, but she opted to give herself a few days of observation time first. From what she could gather, everyone was exactly the same anyway. Just like at school. The lecture began and the room evenly settled.

            Ten minutes or so in, there was a faint knock on the enormous door of the hall and it went unanswered for a good five minutes. Not everyone in the hall seemed to hear anything at all, until the door eventually opened, stopping the flow of the class.

            “I’m sorry I’m late…” Eve realized it was the tiny little blonde girl from the wicker bin incident the day before. She had obviously found somewhere to dump it! Eve was glad to see her and felt deeply uncomfortable as she watched the girl scurry clumsily towards the tiered masses of judging eyes directly in front of her. Poor thing! Eve waved and gestured for the girl to take the seat next to her own and was glad when she did. The blonde girl smiled and settled herself into the proceedings.

            “Are you okay, after yesterday…? Eve asked with trepidation once the class had finished and the room had emptied a little.

            ‘Oh! Yes, You’re the girl who gave me the water! Thanks. I’m fine, really. I just did something silly!” The blonde girl trailed off and Eve was hooked.

            “What do you mean… were you hungover yesterday? She laughed, trying not to sound judgmental.

            “Oh! No! I just… I had a Turkish Delight for breakfast. So fucking stupid!” The blonde girl looked like she had just admitted to murder.

            “Oh, well, that’s not the end of the world… at least you had breakfast! My name is Eve. Nice to meet you…”

            “Hi Eve, I’m Meg. Thanks” They shook hands.

            “Well, at least you’re okay. Lesson learned! Do you want to get a cup of coffee or something?” Eve checked her wallet was in her bag as she asked the question.

            “Sure! Why not?! Ha! I bet you thought I was pregnant or something like that!” Meg laughed with that embarrassed look on her face still lingering from the day before.

            “Oh God, no! Not one bit, don’t be silly!” Eve laughed out loud and placed her hand on her stomach as she slid out from behind the desk. She kind of felt like she was still pregnant sometimes but that was silly. It had been two months since the abortion. They said she might feel a little weird for a while. It was only natural.

            “Eve, do you fancy a pint instead?” Meg grinned.

            “Yes, I do indeed!” They gathered their bags and left the hall laughing at their newfound freedom.

Eve walked slowly, lost in conversation as she learned all about her new friend from “the middle of fucking nowhere” they chattered effortlessly all the way out to Salthill, and when she checked for her wallet, even after an hour’s thoughtless neglect, it was still safely in her bag right beside her keys and her phone.

Friendly Ghosts

“That thing is pretty old, isn’t it, Dr Hall?” Eve gestured towards his tatty leather-bound folder with the lightest little smirk on her face that he did not notice. “If that thing could talk, eh?” After a moment she wondered if she had actually cracked that joke out loud because he made no response. And that’s probably why she was sitting in the psychiatrist’s office in the first place, she decided. Because she was fucking crazy.

Eve had been sitting opposite Dr Hall for ten silent minutes while he scribbled furiously in his once-upon-a-time-fancy folder. The man and his folder were so connected, had such shared history together, that they were as good as married.

“Eve, I’d like to talk a little bit about your time in university if you don’t mind… We didn’t really get to discuss it as much as I would have liked in your last session, but you have mentioned some of the anxious episodes you experienced at that time, and I feel that we ought to explore them a little more here today. Would that be okay? You studied… Sociology.”

“Psychology…”, Eve corrected him sheepishly. She was mortified having to admit that subject choice to her psychiatrist but she wasn’t entirely sure why. She was perpetually sorry about everything, especially around Dr Hall. She regretted him having to go to the bother of scribbling on his tidy notes just to edit her pathetic little story.

“Oh I beg your pardon, Psychology, yes, very good. So, you had some concentration difficulties back then, and you mentioned that you used quite a bit of marijuana, isn’t that correct…?” He placed his index finger to his lips waiting for…something.

“Yes, that’s right. I found it helped me sleep so I used it daily, but after a while I felt like I couldn’t sleep without it and then I would start to feel anxious and then of course I couldn’t sleep so it was like a vicious cycle really. I don’t smoke it anymore. I haven’t for years.” Because I’m fucking great, give me a gold star, Dr Hall, Please! She thought sadly.

“Yes, I understand that, but I am painting the history, you see. Your history…of addiction and substance dependence. Do you follow me,?”

He hadn’t stopped writing since she had mentioned the word Anxious. It must be like a buzz word to this guy, she mused, like the steadfast rules in a drinking game, write like a maniac when someone says the word Anxious. Maybe he was still stuck in some kind of hypnotic trance from his university days… Eve tried to bring her attention back to the session but she just didn’t feel much warmth in the room today.

“Oh yes, I see. Well, yes I did experience many anxiety attacks while I was studying. I don’t know why, really, well, there was the weed, but I just felt scared all the time…. I was scared I would fail. I had a lot of terrible nightmares back then”

“Well, you know Eve, a fear of failure is a very common….”

Eve had stopped listening to Dr Hall completely. She was away dreaming again. She spoke when prompted and gave him whatever it was he wanted to hear so he could tick his boxes and send her back home to herself.

Eve wished she was talking to Mary instead of Dr Hall, but Mary was dead. Such a wonderful woman, Mary. She was her friend’s mother, a trained psychologist who never acted like one, and just had a gift of drawing pain from people as if she was merely pulling errant hairs from their coat. She made Eve laugh and cry at herself many times, and even though she must have known she was talking to a totally disturbed soul, she never looked worried about her, she had better sense. When doctors or nurses or anyone in healthcare look worried, people get scared and shut down. Mary must have known that.

Eve still talked to Mary all the time on her walks and in the car and she always felt more hopeful talking to her friendly ghost than any other mental health professional. She was glad to have her in her life, even if she had been dead for ten years.

“Well, yes, I did drink a lot in college, but we all did! Oh… I’m doing it again, aren’t I? I know, I know! I have to stop trying to justify my actions and I have to take responsibility for myself and my choices. Sorry.” Eve knew he had asked about alcohol use and assumed it was to continue to paint her as a failure in an effort to understand her better and earn his crust. He gave a lengthy reply, reiterating what she had just said undoubtedly, but as usual she was only scanning the exchange and responded when given her triggers and cues. She nodded obediently.

Eve learned to converse with people while simultaneously dreaming of the past, hanging around her happiest memories for long periods of time without anyone being any the wiser. She was rarely present with anyone having learned how to carry out exchanges in auto-pilot. She rarely remembered conversations but the buzz words could still upset her during sleepless nights, interrupting her safe, habitual dreams.

“Yes, I had a few brief romantic relationships at that time but nothing serious,” Eve heard herself lie to Dr Hall. The truth of the matter was she spent her college years dreaming of her first boyfriend from home, dreaming of their baby that didn’t make it to birth, and dreaming that somehow, she could get back to that time before she fucked herself up. Dreaming and having sex with too many strangers.

“Yes, I was dating a little here and there. I once had a short romance with a trainee doctor, you know.” Here I go again seeking his approval, Mary. Why the fuck do I play these stupid games?

Daddy Issues! – Eve and Mary concluded at the exact same time. It was very funny to everyone in the room, except Dr Hall… evidently.

“Right, Great. I think we will leave it there for today, Eve and I will see you on Thursday. Thank you. Take care, now” He pretended to pat her shoulder but never touched her as he breezed past in the direction of his surgery door opening it wide. She thanked him for absolutely nothing and scrunched herself up before gliding into the dark and rainy Dublin streets.

Retreat

No Turning Back beyond this Point, the angry red security sign bellowed.

“No fucking kidding, Mr Sign” Eve thought. She hadn’t been very well on the flight; not well at all. She was wired, agitated and nauseous. Eve had made that journey a dozen or so times before, but Mr Sign’s emphasis on the word NO was panic inducing on this particular visit, like she was being robbed of her free will with every step forward. Where was that damn sign hiding two years ago when the pain started and the drugs flowed from every drugstore with no questions asked? She wondered, broken.

Before she got out of the car at Dublin Airport, her mother squeezed her right hand and told her it was going to be absolutely fine this time, but if for any reason it didn’t feel fine, she was to come home immediately. Eve didn’t even entertain the notion that it would come to that. It was just one of those things people say when they can’t hold your hand and do the hard part for you. She was a grown woman. She wasn’t going to run home to Mammy.

Eve couldn’t deny that she really really didn’t feel fine though. It was so hot in the airport with the manic crowds and their tired sweat.  She stopped dead in her tracks and pulled off her jumper like it was on fire, causing the man behind her to trip over her wheeled case, and his toddler to run head first into her bum. When her head was free from the fire pit, she looked behind and saw a spate of other minor casualties she was entirely responsible for. All because she felt like her jumper was on fire, yet another classic example of how her “selfish actions had directly, or indirectly hurt others”.

“I’m so sorry”, Eve whimpered to herself, burying her sweaty face into her jumper. Feeling the crowds close in, she couldn’t bear to look back at her victims again. Angry voices rumbled around her ears until it occurred to her that if she simply started walking that would make them all go away. She put out her right foot and started off slowly, then it seemed like everything and everyone she was running from got her scent and gave relentless chase. Eve pounded up the escalator, panting hard, flying away from the carnage below, and finally some distance was born between herself and her latest mistake. She spotted the Ladies’ Bathroom and slipped inside.

Eve pushed on the nearest stall door and toppled into the glistening cubicle. She sank to her knees and opened the lid with a bang, certain she would vomit but nothing happened. She rested her cheek on her flattened knuckles, took a series of the deepest possible breaths and hummed along with the white noise of the hand-dryers. She didn’t care that the bathroom was chaotic and she didn’t care that she couldn’t get sick. She didn’t care about anything as the soothing hum kept her together in that increasingly tolerable then and there. Taking yet another deep breath, Eve decided she needed to find her way to the Departures Hall to steer herself back home…to Mammy.

“Not today, U.S.A.. I’m not quite ready for you,” Eve softly whispered out the window of another crowded plane hours later, as she headed for familiar airspace; an exquisite, white flagged retreat.