A Full Length Play
full length (95 min) drama in one act
By G. L. Horton
copyright © 2000
The play explores the corrosion of a marriage when a mother loses
her child and a husband loses not just his only son, but the supportive
wife on whom he is emotionally dependent. Elaine was driving on
a rain-slick highway with her kids quarreling in the back seat
when her car skidded off the road into the river. She and their
daughter Jenny escaped, but their son Timmy was drowned. Elaine
is haunted by her guilt and loss, and her husband's pain and rage
makes everything he tries to do to help their marriage recover
from the accident backfire.
Elaine learns to meditate to facilitate her body's healing,
and in her vulnerable state begins to believe that she is receiving
messages from Timmy, calling to her from beyond the grave. Frank
is appalled by this. He is a rationalist and a skeptic, but his
opposition to his wife's comforting delusions isn't rational.
Elaine must be made to face what Frank faces every day: his son
Timmy is dead, the victim of his mother's carelessness. Doesn't
Elaine realize what she owes him? How does she propose to heal
An early seven-character version of this script, titled "The
River", was an O'Neill finalist. Rene Miller won a Best Actress
accolade for her performance of Elaine in a production of that
version at Nucleo Ecletico. The present version, Inquest, has
had a staged reading at Playwrights Platform, and a workshop production
directed by Elizabeth Appleby at The Actors Workshop in Boston.
ELAINE, a librarian in her mid-thirties.
FRANK, her husband, an insurance executive.
The play is set in the present, with flashback scenes from
the previous year. The action takes
place in the mind. The actors must be able to move in and out of
scenes easily, and be "present" and commenting on scenes
that happened in the past. The monologues are presentational,
and stop the action.
The set represents Frank's house in a suburb near Boston, but
it should not be realistic. The set calls for a flight of steps
to an upper platform, a doorway to the offstage kitchen, and
a front door leading in from outside. There are a few ordinary
pieces of furniture, but the main feature of the set is the treatment
of the projected images.
The designer is invited to be creative in achieving effects
factual and spectural, but basically there are two sorts of images
called for in the script: "realistic" ones, which Frank
may project on a wall or home-type screen in the ordinary way
that a hobby photographer shows documentary images of family
trips, his wedding, the kids' birthdays, etc.; and "mental" ones,
which are envisioned as processed slides or video or computer
images that impinge upon and "haunt" the house, perhaps
filling up much of the rear wall of the set, probably through
Most of the scenes take place in the rain, or in the overcast
of late winter afternoons, and the atmosphere is one of darkness,
gloom, and a kind of hectic despair.
FRANK: (speaking to the audience as if to a single person.)
You're going to listen, while I go over this one more time. Is
that the deal? I've got to decide what I think happened. To
her, not me! Not where did I go wrong, how did I fail. There's
no point to going around in circles, wailing that if only I'd
done something different, been more observant, more sympathetic--
a different person, in other words! So close it down, forget
it. I'm moving to Tulsa. Did you see the For Sale sign outside?
I don't think anybody's going to buy this place. Would you?
But a lot of people want to see it. Curiosity. I try to get
the real estate agent to keep them out of my way, but of course
they want to get a look at me. The survivor, stuck in his haunted
house. That's why you're here, too, isn't it? I mean, essentially.
You're sympathetic, sure. But really, you want to know more
than you could read in the newspapers. Well, so do I. It's
my-- death. And I don't understand. Was it simply that she
hated me? Did she hate me all along? Nobody'd have guessed.
Elaine and I: We were a happy couple. I have proof. Documentary
(FRANK turns on the projector, and points to the slide of himself
and Elaine with their arms around each other, young and smiling.)
How could I have thought I was happy in my marriage if all the
time my wife was miserable? Hating me, plotting her revenge?
I don't believe that, it didn't feel like that. I mean, look
at us there! If that's not real, then-- But maybe I didn't notice.
Maybe I was so self-absorbed--
(FRANK changes the slide to one of the highway.)
FRANK: This is the place. You probably recognize it from the
pictures in the paper. Maybe when you drove by, you looked at
the guardrail and shuddered. That's natural, I think. Both the
fascination and the revulsion. But when you're trying to understand,
every little detail becomes important. Important. That's why
I took these pictures--after the first accident, when I thought
if I could just grasp the facts, make it clear to myself what
happened, then maybe the why would make sense, too.
(a second road slide)
The road swings out here. The speed limit's 35, but nobody ever
goes that. People drive it like a freeway. But it's not, it's
not engineered for speed: especially not when it's wet, when
it's raining. My wife's not the only one who's gone off here,
through this very guardrail. There was another just a couple
of months before. You can see where the rail was patched. Four!
Four cars went into the river here or near here in the last six
years. Well, five, if you count-- Jesus! All right. look.. See
if you can spot what I missed. Of course, when I think about
it, I don't see it like this, the way it is. I see that night--
both those nights--
(Slide of highway at night)
(change to wedding pictures)
O.K. Back to us, the couple. These are from our wedding. Don't
we look happy? Really, Elaine got better looking the first few
years we were married. After Jennifer was born was the best,
Elaine had a glow.
(Slide of older man )
There's her father. Not a happy man. Wouldn't you say? Not happy.
People said Elaine took after him, but physically at least I
don't see the resemblance. I don't. He was a weak man, a vague
man. Right after our wedding he got married again himself, and
moved to Florida. Some Christmases he forgets to send us a card.
The children, summer vacation, tenth anniversary: all the usual.
We look normal, don't we? It's not just me! Elaine had all the
help I could get for her. A psychotherapist, doctors, a physical
therapist, professionals, and none of them could tell. Or at
least they wouldn't tell me. They didn't even tell me when Elaine
stopped going to therapy. Elaine'd get dressed up, leave the
house, and I thought she was to therapy. That's really strange,
when you think about it. Why didn't my wife just tell me she
was cured? Or she didn't want to go anymore? She knew I was prejudiced
against shrinks-- I'd told her honestly I thought that the sessions
were making her worse-But I never told her to quit.
(Spot on ELAINE on platform upstage, speaking her monologue
ELAINE: It's true. Any kind of help I think I may need, Frank
said go ahead and do it, it'll be covered. Frank's in insurance.
He's seen to it that we have a "safety net" for every
possibility. Everything, even a thing as unlikely as our child's
death. Timmy's life was insured for $20,000. Most children aren't
covered, or have just a tiny policy, to cover the burial. $20,000
is a lot, for a child. Now if I had died, as I should have, Frank
would have collected over $100,000. Instead of the booby prize.
(begins to weep)
(LIGHTS out on ELAINE, up on FRANK)
FRANK:God knows, Elaine needed something. Every day was --
All right, a typical: A Tuesday in September. It started with
nightmares. Elaine-- our daughter Jennifer had the first nightmare,
and I let her come in and crawl in bed with us. I knew Jen's
too old for that, the last time we let her in our bed was when
she was four, and Mom thought she was too old then. But Jen's
so frightened, what am I supposed to do? Jennifer was on Elaine's
side of the bed, next to her, where she should be: I don't see
how I could let the girl lie next to me. But then after we all
got to sleep again, Elaine had her nightmare, a real doozy, thrashing
around and screaming, and Elaine managed to hit Jennifer a hard
one on the side of the head-- in her sleep, of course. Then they're
both awake and hysterical. This was--oh, 5:30, six o'clock. I
got Jennifer dressed, and gave her some breakfast, hoping that
Elaine would get hold of herself, but--
(SOUND of ELAINE'S weeping offstage)
She's still hysterical. I put in a call to her doctor, but of
course all I got was voice mail. I suggested we go to the emergency
room, anything, anything to stop that awful noise--
(Spot on FRANK at head of steps leading to upstage platform,
pounding on door. Sound of Elaine weeping)
FRANK: Elaine! Elaine, open the door! At least let me know you're
listening to me! For God's sake, can't you shut up for a minute,
talk to me like a person? Like a person? Your daughter is terrified,
she thinks you're going to kill yourself in there! For the love
of God, can't you control yourself long enough to come downstairs
and kiss Jenny good-bye? Elaine? Goddammit, Elaine, come out
of there! Elaine!
(FRANK bangs on the door, harder and harder LIGHTS down.)
FRANK: Six months, it's six months today. She's not getting
better. So what am I going to do? I've never understood --
females. It's hard for me even to talk to Jenny. We seem to
be tiptoeing around all the time-- tiptoeing. Not getting anywhere,
any of us. So, how do I deal with that? I -uh- I slow down.
I try to focus on what's ahead, just the next hour, or the
next day. I don't dwell. I keep busy, I make lists. Things
that have to be done. New shoes, PTA, orange juice, vitamins--
day at a time things that Elaine always took care of. I'm grateful,
really, because it keeps my mind off. Keeps my mind off. The
day after, I was actually glad that I had to make the arrangements,
pick out Tim's coffin and all.
(FRANK steps downstage, out of the flashback scene)
I've got a picture of that, too. Pitiful, isn't it? A kid-size
coffin. I snapped it when nobody was looking, furtively. I didn't
want anybody to see. My mother offered to take care of the funeral,
but I said no, it'd take my mind off. I told Mom to choose the
hymns, though. I said I had no idea what "Tim would have
liked". And then she said the strangest thing. She said,
the hymns aren't for Tim, Frank, they're for you. As if it made
any difference to me what nonsense gets sung! As if my mother
didn't know I don't believe in that! Religion, therapy, drugs,
alcohol-- all of them just for numbing. You keep plodding on,
because what else can you do? For Jenny. For Jenny, that's what
I tried to make clear! Sure, it was a terrible experience for
the girl, but Jenny could put it behind her by now if she had
some help from her mother. But when Elaine's not weeping, or
hysterical, she's like a ghost. Half the time, when Jenny asks
her for something, her mother doesn't even hear her. How's a
little girl supposed to make sense of that? So what's the solution?
My mother's offered to take Jen. I think that might be best,
myself. But the psychiatrist thinks it's a bad idea. Because--
because I messed up, I suppose! I didn't tell Jenny her brother
was dead, not right away. I let Jen think that Tim was in the
hospital too, until she was ready to come home. So now she doesn't
trust either of us out of her sight. We might disappear. To reassure
her, I've thought of sleeping in Tim's room. That way if Jen's
scared she can come in with me without waking her mother up and
getting her started. But then I don't know if that's all right.
I mean I'm her Dad, but she's a girl, and I don't want to take
a chance on messing up Jenny's head, because when she was seven
we slept in the same bed. Elaine thinks-- I don't care what Elaine
thinks! She's not in any condition! Her therapist--!? I'll tell
you right out, I think that that Dr. Kolodny is the biggest phony
that-- I've tried to talk to her about Elaine, but she wouldn't
even return my calls! Then when I did get hold of her, she wouldn't
I'd like to believe that talking to a shrink twice a week is
going to get Elaine all dandy and clear the ghosts out of this
house. That's what I'd like. But as far as I can see she comes
out of those sessions crazier than when she went in.
Listen! Elaine's stopped crying. She may have fallen asleep.
Last week she did, curled up on the bath mat, her head jammed
up against the sink. I could see her through the keyhole.
ELAINE: I'm not asleep. You can go to work now, Frank. Go on.
You'll be late.
FRANK: They're used to it by now. You're sure you'll be all
ELAINE: If I'm not, I can call Dr. Kolodny. Or your mother.
FRANK: Or my office.
ELAINE: Right. But I think I'm over the worst. Don't wince when
your phone rings. It won't be me. (Calls) Jennifer?
FRANK: I'll drive you to school, Jenny. Meet me out at the car.
(FRANK grabs his briefcase and the car keys--from a dish on
the table-- and exits.)
ELAINE: I've been bad again. Bad mother, bad wife. You see this?
(ELAINE's left hand is wrapped in an ace bandage. The fingers
are fitted with a device of splints and rubber bands, designed
to put tension on them. ELAINE unwraps the hand, and begins massage.)
It's not healing. Because I can't-- I don't want to --I feel
that I--Oh, God! Why am I doing this? I washed my face and combed
my hair. I don't want pity. They tell me it's a matter of positive
thinking. "Close your eyes, but see your hand. See how delicately
it's made, notice the different shape of each finger, how precise
each one is. Feel life flowing into it, down your arm from your
(Rear projection of the negative of a hand, gray but glowing)
"Feel the warmth, the energy, feel how it is growing strong,
and growing well. Now see your hand picking up a flowerpot, a
heavy clay flowerpot full of red tulips,
(a dim and blurry hand with flowerpot)
--then putting it down and moving your fingers up to caress
those tulips, moving up the stems, the leaves, caressing the
bright red petals with great precision--"
(bright red petals shining out of dark water, the folds of a
red raincoat, then a pale unrecognizable face wearing a pink
But I can't! (opens eyes) When I close my eyes I see her, the
dead woman. The woman who drowned with her children. I can't
relax, I've got to push it back or cover it, or that's what I
see. Over and over. I slow it down, every detail is clear. The
horoscope-- in the paper that morning. A warning, but I forgot
all about it until after it happened, and then I could see it
printed in front of me, so clear. And the chipped pink polish
on that woman's fingernails-
(image of fingernails)
The mother. The one who is wearing my pink scarf and saying
my words. But I'm outside, watching. Watching, again and again.
That's what Frank can't stand. He thinks that if we force ourselves
to go on and never look back, if we wall it off with work or
whiskey, some time soon we'll be in a place where this didn't
happen. But then what happens to Timmy? Did he never exist? Or
is he in hell? Locked into one tormenting piece of time, never
to get past it, to the love that's on the other side. What if
it's like that, for Timmy? That whole last week I was a monster.
A raging, hateful-- And Timmy was bad right back at me, bratty
and mean. No smiles, no hugs--! What if wherever he is now, he's
locked into that?
(image of Tim, screaming with rage)
That last week, or those last three minutes, go on forever:
yelling and crashing and choking and cold? That's hell. I've
sent him to hell, too. But we're both alone. The sins of the
parents, visited on the son-- No, I don't believe that, not in
the sense that-- but it's real to me. Hell is real. It makes
more sense than that Tim should just randomly be dead, and me
The day of the accident was the day after Jennifer's birthday.
I had bought them both raincoats, red raincoats, at an after-Christmas
sale. But I hadn't given the coats to them, I'd put them away
for spring. I'd bought a size too big, for the children to grow.
It rained all that week, the week of the twelfth, rain mixed
with snow, and the next week was the start of April vacation,
with more rain coming. Jennifer had been home with the flu, and
the minute Tim came in they'd start to fight. I couldn't stand
it, they were driving me crazy! I had a cold too, settled in
my sinus. I'd wake up with a headache like an ice pick, and I
kept taking aspirin and decongestants. In the afternoon, if the
ache didn't go away, I'd start the hot toddies. I'd used most
of my sick days, between my cold and Jen's, and I was due to
take my vacation-- but I knew it would be awful, the worst: cooped
up in the house with two cranky kids, nothing to do, nowhere
to go, using up the only free time I'd have until August--! God,
I can't believe that I was thinking that, that I felt sorry for
myself because I had both children with me! Anyway, the birthday
was a disaster.
None of Jen's friends came over, we canceled that part, and
she didn't feel well enough to enjoy her cake and ice cream.
She blamed me--she said it wasn't the right kind, but it was!
The same brand I always make, her favorite! It didn't taste good,
she said. How could it, if she's sick? I wrapped the raincoat
up as a present, and it went over O.K. Not Jen's idea of a great
present, but she got the video she wanted, so she didn't complain.
But the next day, when I gave Timmy his, what a backfire. Jennifer
said hers hadn't been a real present, because Timmy got one too
and it wasn't fair, and Timmy said it was a boy's raincoat, a
fireman's raincoat, and girls shouldn't wear red ones, and Jen
said that red was a girl's color and boys should have black.
I found some magazine pictures and had just about talked them
into agreeing that red was OK for either when Frank came home
and sided with Tim. Frank said I shouldn't get them matching
things, a boy wasn't supposed to look like a girl, and Jenny
started to cry and her nose was running and I yelled at Frank
to stop making things worse, he had no idea what kids wore these
days anyway! Then I grabbed Tim's raincoat and dumped it in a
box and told the kids to get in the car: We're going down to
Jordan's right this minute and exchange it.
Frank said, go out in this rain, sick as you are? And I said,
do you want to take them? Want to babysit two whining brats who
haven't given me a moment's peace in weeks? I was so angry, so
angry! That whole ride, I was seething. I couldn't see, I couldn't
think, I never stopped to realize--
The rain was slapping against the side of the car so hard that
it felt as if somebody was shaking it. Jennifer was still sniffling,
and I think she was scared. But Timmy was excited. He was bouncing
up and down on the back seat, shouting, "Jenny is a sissy!" I
wanted to slap him ! I yelled "shut up!", and I even
took a kind of swipe backwards at him over the seat. All I got
was the edge of his jacket, and he was laughing as we hit the
curve and started to skid. There was a car coming. Headlights
straight at us. But the other side was the river, I knew that
even as I fought the wheel-- the rail and then the water. Still,
that seemed better than head-on, even as we hit and crashed on
through. I think the children were all right, then. It was so
quiet, as we hung there: it couldn't have been more than a minute,
but it seemed a long time, and I thought I could hear them both
breathing, little choking gasps, and then we slid on down.
There's a part here I don't remember. I do remember looking
at the water inside; it was already wet where I unbuckled our
seat belts, Jen's and mine. I didn't feel pain, I didn't notice
my hand was injured: just that it was so clumsy. I couldn't do
anything, it took so long! I kept saying things, soothing things, "we'll
get out, Momma will get us out, we'll be all right, honey," and
somehow I got the handle down and I got Jen out and shoved her
up and toward where I knew was shore. But Timmy was in the back!
I couldn't reach him without losing her. I promised him, I promised
I'd get him, I gave my word. I said I wouldn't live without him,
without my darling. He didn't answer, I don't know if he could
hear, or even if he was alive, but I promised, and I went back.
I meant to stay with him if I couldn't get him!-- But they pulled
me out. They wouldn't listen, they kept saying they'd get Tim,
but I knew--
Then I noticed I wasn't in my body. I watched them pull me out,
and I thought it was strange that there was no pain. There was
only a kind of rush and pressure and coldness and flashing light,
and then I was looking at this poor dead woman, this poor wet
body that had killed her children in a stupid accident, and then
died. It was a sad story, but it seemed to have the right ending.
My mother's dead. My father..? I haven't heard from him in months.
I suppose he doesn't know what to say to me. My husband wishes
I'd died. And I don't blame him. Except sometimes I think he
wishes we were all dead, Jennifer too. I see such hate, sometimes!
But he never says it. He says he wants me to get well. They all
do. They say, "this hand, here. It's been punished enough.
It did all it could."
I should say, "Poor little hand. I forgive you. I'm going
to make you all well." I'm to see myself well, in a safe
free place. My bedroom when I was a child, or Merlin's cave.
None of this gloom, no rain. It works, you know. Putting myself
in a better place. My hand gained mobility, I gained some weight,
got my hair done. Then I tried going back to the library.
FRANK: Monday she started work again. Tuesday I took her picture.
(FRANK clicks on a picture of ELAINE, wearing a suit a bit too
big for her but looking brave and proud.)
And Wednesday she took an overdose.
FRANK: You can't deal with the library. That's clear. You're
worse than you've been in months.
ELAINE: It's too soon.
FRANK: Too soon! How long then?
ELAINE: However long it takes people to forget.
FRANK: You mean the ones you work with? The way they don't know
what to say, the way they avoid your eyes? Conversation stops
when you come around the corner? You grow a thick hide, but it
gets less as you go--
ELAINE: You don't work with the public.
FRANK: It's a big office.
ELAINE: But it's the same people. After the first day, nobody's
surprised to see you. You don't see shock on their faces as they
FRANK: You're the one who--
ELAINE: If it were a bigger library, they'd give me a job out
FRANK: So you can never work? Is that what you're telling me?
You have to mope around here all day--?
ELAINE: No! I should work, I want to. I'll apply in Boston,
or Cambridge, places big enough nobody'll recognize me. Or I
FRANK: Hide in the stacks.
FRANK: (To audience) There's such a -knot- inside. When I look
at her, I don't see the woman I married anymore. I can pity this
woman. But I don't recognize her.
(LIGHT picks up ELAINE sitting with sewing on her lap)
ELAINE: Oh, sh---oot!
FRANK: What now?
ELAINE: I made a Jennifer a vest, but I got the pattern turned
around somehow, so it's--
FRANK: What a mess.
ELAINE: I hate to think of the waste.
FRANK: It's not a tragedy. You can do it over, if it's worth
ELAINE: Yes! I'll do it over. I'll just pull this out---
FRANK: So now you're in heaven! From bottom to top in 15 seconds!
ELAINE: But it matters! When Jennifer sees it, she'll know I've
been thinking of her. Don't you see?
FRANK: I see a big fuss over something trivial.
ELAINE: When my mother was so sick, when she was hospitalized
three different times--I blamed her. I thought she was abandoning
me. Or it was my fault, I must be responsible for her being sick.
FRANK: You were a teenager. Old enough to know better.
ELAINE It's not logical, but that's how I felt, children are
like that. Even years later, I was angry at her for dying. For
leaving me here alone.
FRANK: There's no comparison. Your mother had a disease. Nobody
was to blame.
ELAINE: (screams) Aahh!
FRANK: Shh! Control yourself!
ELAINE: You! My mother had a disease, but me! You want Jen to
FRANK: What do you think it does to her, this hysteria?
ELAINE: What do you think it does, to see her father abuse me?
FRANK: I've never laid a hand on you!
ELAINE: You don't have to! You're frightening me to death. Just
like you're frightening Jenny. Looking at us like it's a sin
to be alive.
FRANK: What frightens Jenny is seeing you out of control. Not
her mother, her protector against the world, but a hysterical
child yourself. Because what's a parent? What does parent mean,
but being in control? Pick this mess up. Don't let Jenny see
(picture of FRANK and ELAINE during their courtship)
ELAINE: Evidence. Worth a thousand words. What was it about
Frank that first attracted me? Not his looks.
ELAINE: Oh, I-- like the way he looks. He reminds me of (pick
movie star's name). But it was his stable personality that got
to me. I guess I thought of him as a good family man. Someone
to depend on.
FRANK: I try to be.
ELAINE: I knew he was, I'd seen him. His mother was widowed
when he was only fifteen. Frank took care of her! And of his
FRANK: You didn't think it was bad to be a mamma's boy?
ELAINE: Oh, it wasn't like that. He was just-- when we were
going out, he would detour over to his Mom's place, to bring
her dry cleaning, or her prescription, or start her lawn mower.
And I'd sit there in the car and--
(picture of FRANK and his mother)
watch him doing this for her, my heart just melting. A good son
makes a good husband.
FRANK: She thought "husband material" from the moment
she set eyes on me.
ELAINE: Not from the moment. The first time, I didn't really
look at him at all.
FRANK: Why was that?
ELAINE: He was dating my girlfriend!
(FRANK and ELAINE laugh)
FRANK: Marie and I had broken up for a couple of months when
Elaine and I met again at a party. Elaine was wearing a red dress,
and sitting on the edge of the table, humming along with the
band. I thought she was even a little wild. Not fast wild. Wild
like a wild thing, a doe or a squirrel. Big wide eyes, shy but
full of feeling.
(picture of ELAINE in red dress)
ELAINE: He came over and asked me to dance.
FRANK: She hummed in my ear.
ELAINE: It was so romantic.
FRANK: We could have been the only people in the room.
ELAINE: We never dance anymore. I can't remember the last time.
FRANK: Our tenth anniversary.
ELAINE: One dance! Why won't you dance?
FRANK: I feel self-conscious. It's just not my style.
ELAINE: I asked him what had happened to him and Marie.
FRANK: I told her she dumped me.
ELAINE: I was so glad to hear that! I was afraid he'd left her.
You see, I'd just broken up with someone who cheated on me. The
first I knew was when he announced he was moving in with her.
So knew how much it hurt, and I could sympathize with a dumpee:
but no dumper was going to darken my door again!
FRANK: Elaine gets frantic with even the idea she could be abandoned.
Once I mixed up the directions for where we were supposed to
meet. By the time I got there she was sitting on the curb, sobbing
hopelessly. Like a six-year old. Like an orphan.
ELAINE: I suppose it has to do with my mother.
FRANK: Her mother died.
ELAINE: Mother wanted a son very badly, but she wasn't in good
health. We two girls were hard on her-- she had arthritis, and
other ailments, allergies.
(ELAINE and her sister as children, b&w)
Even before the pregnancy, Mom had trouble coping. She'd have
to lie down in the afternoons. But she wanted a son-- for Dad's
sake too, I suppose-- so she tried. The bigger she got, the sicker
she got. Seventh month, she had a stillbirth, and she was never
well after that.
FRANK: Elaine took over the house.
ELAINE: My sister tried to help, but she had allergies, like
Mom. On bad days, I took care of both of them. When I was 14,
FRANK: She killed herself.
ELAINE: It was an accident! She took too much of her medicine.
Mom loved us, she wouldn't have left us on purpose. Besides which,
she was religious.
FRANK: She was depressed. She thought her family would be better
off without her.
ELAINE: I don't where you got that idea.
FRANK: From your father.
ELAINE: Well, it's not true!
FRANK: That's what he told me, and I believed it.
ELAINE: You're making it up! You want me to think it's inherited,
that I'm crazy suicidal! But I'm going to live, and get well!
FRANK: I think that patching yourself together for the sake
of your kids is an underestimated state. People talk about staying
married for the sake of the children: but we don't hear about
staying alive for their reason. Or staying sane. Or getting sober.
Thousands do, I bet.
ELAINE: Did you? All the time!?
FRANK: Mostly! Mostly! All right, part of the reason I wanted
Jen out of the house was that I'd begun to drink too much. You
think I shouldn't have sent her? Or that I should have told Elaine
that it was more for me than for her? It couldn't have made it
worse. As soon as Jennifer was taken away from her, Elaine had
a reason to lie. To pretend to be better than she was. To suppress
her anger so I'd give her her daughter back.
(ELAINE on phone)
ELAINE: No, no,... don't call Jen in now, mother Patterson.
I just wanted to know if she was with you. Will you ask her to
call home after supper?... No, Frank never said anything. That's
all right, it was foolish of me. I'll talk to you both later.
(Hangs up, speaks to audience)
When Jennifer wasn't here, I didn't know what to think. I called
the school, I ran over to her friend's house. They looked at
me like--well, I suppose I looked panicked. Frank, why?
FRANK: Jennifer's teacher called me from the school. She started
crying in class, and couldn't tell them what was the matter.
I tried to phone you.
ELAINE: I was cleaning up the yard. Raking leaves.
FRANK: Jennifer hasn't been sleeping well, you know that.
ELAINE: She just never came home! She went off to school this
morning, and she never came home.
FRANK: Look at yourself, Elaine! Suppose Jennifer stopped at
her friend's house on the way home from school: is this what
she'd see when she walked in here? You look terrible.
ELAINE: I'm better, Frank. I am. I can rake, and pick up things.
My hand is much stronger, and I've been sleeping through the
night. You don't want to admit that, because you're still drinking,
and my health is an excuse.
FRANK: O.K., maybe it is me. I'm not saying it's all your fault,
Elaine. But there's tension here, and Jennifer needs time away
from it. My mother's is the best place for Jen right now. With
all the work I've got piled up---.
ELAINE: (begins to protest) But she--! (gives up.) She'll need
FRANK: Why don't you get them packed, and then we'll run them
over to Mother's together. We'll pick up some Chinese food on
the way back, just for us.
ELAINE: I made meat loaf. It's in the oven.
FRANK: Just turn it off. I want to get back in time to tackle
the work I brought home.
ELAINE: I wish there was a way I could help.
FRANK: Once I've got my mind clear, I'll be able to catch up.
I make stupid mistakes.
ELAINE: At least you have something to do. Frank, How am I going
to get through the day without Jennifer? If I'm not able to work,
I can cook, tidy up, help her with her homework.
FRANK: You can look after me! We'll have a little peace. Did
it ever occur to you that maybe once in a while I need that?
ELAINE: I know it's hard on you. And Jennifer. I could go back
on the pills.
FRANK: The doctor says no. If you're ever going to lead a normal
life you've got to get off that stuff, and deal with the nightmares.
ELAINE: But there's no need to wake you with them. If I slept
in Timmy's bed?
FRANK: Wouldn't that be worse? All those associations? But maybe
if I slept did.
ELAINE: Jennifer could crawl in with me then, and not wake you.
FRANK: No, Elaine. One step at a time. If we make progress,
then we'll think about bringing her home.
ELAINE: We? There's no "we"! You can set any rules
you want, and I have to try to do what you say. If you want her
FRANK: Why would I want Jennifer gone?
ELAINE: To punish me, for saving her. Or punish her, for not
being Tim. Or maybe you never really wanted any of us! When I
got pregnant, abortion was the first thing you thought of. You
nearly killed Tim when he was two, you let him get into the silver
polish, and if I hadn't had his stomach pumped--!
FRANK: (Present time) If she hadn't had his stomach pumped!
She! Look at this! This is our car, after they hauled it out
of the Charles River!
(Slide of wrecked car, black & white)
It was on the front page of the Herald! Tabloid thrills! Silver
polish--! This, this is the result of the good mother, the careful
loving wife! My God, can you look at this and not judge between
(Night. Sound of a closing door, maybe the door of the refrigerator.
ELAINE comes down the stairs in her bathrobe, listening. There
is another small sound, maybe the sound of a spoon on a dish.)
ELAINE: Jenny? Is that you? Tim?
(Rear projection of the children, dim and spectral.)
FRANK: I stood at the top of the stairs and watched that. But
I got back to my room before she realized I was up, and I never
mentioned it to her. Nor did she say anything to me. One time
I saw her in Tim's bedroom, in the old rocker, holding his baby
blanky to her cheek and rocking. But I kept quiet, and so did
she. Except for when she tried to get me to go along with one
of her schemes.
ELAINE: When I was talking to your mother today she told me
that Jennifer is failing arithmetic.
FRANK: She scored low on one quiz. She'll make it up.
ELAINE: Your mother doesn't see it like that.
FRANK: My mother's a worrier. She still has dreams about flunking
Latin, and she hasn't been in a class in almost fifty years.
ELAINE: Jennifer's not dumb. If she suddenly gets bad grades,
it's not because she can't do schoolwork. She's calling for help.
FRANK: She'll get it! I'm hiring a tutor.
ELAINE: She's never had trouble in school before.
FRANK: I know that!
ELAINE: Do you?
FRANK: What are you trying to say?
ELAINE: You never seemed to take the time to go over her homework.
Or even check out her report card.
FRANK: I knew how she was doing.
ELAINE: How was she doing?
FRANK: A's and B's, or she'd have heard from me!
ELAINE: So there's nothing wrong with her brain. You can't expect
a tutor to help her solve problems if they're not really math
FRANK: She missed almost a month of school, and then she started
over in a new system. It makes sense she'd need to catch up--
ELAINE: A new system that's worse than her old system! The work
can't be harder in that neighborhood, the kid's in that school
aren't college-bound, they scarcely have homework-- not the way
Jenny was used to. And they tease her, in the halls. Your mother
FRANK: That she'd be better off at home?
FRANK: My Mom means SHE'd be better off. I get calls at work,
four nights a week I'm over there, and do I get time to sit down
and talk to my daughter? Hell, no! Hell, no! Every day it's some
new job Mom's got for me. All the time complaining about the
ELAINE: If she doesn't want Jennifer--!
FRANK: Her own grandchild. All these years Mom's been on my
back, I've carried her, I haven't complained. I haven't complained.
But now it's my turn. She can be a grandmother. Is that asking
too much, just for a while?
ELAINE: No. No, it's not too much. If only we can be sure that
she's good for Jenny. That she doesn't make Jenny feel unwanted.
FRANK: Jen knows she's wanted! I've told her, I've assured her,
that it is my wish, the dearest wish of my heart, that we can
be together. If that's what you want, too.
ELAINE: Oh Frank, I do. I really do.
(ELAINE is moving in the dark in her bathrobe, very slowly,
maybe sleepwalking. She is carrying a pair of children's sneakers
clutched to her chest. She stops, hearing a sound we do not hear,
and then again: startled, she drops the sneakers, scrambles to
pick them up. This time we hear the sound-- a boy's voice calling "Mom?
Mom?" ELAINE looks around wildly, very softly whispers, "Tim?" )
(Rear projection. The children as ghosts)
ELAINE: I was going to strip the wallpaper. Frank's been after
me to re-do Timmy's room, and I finally felt I had the strength.
So I got together the equipment, wet down a strip and started
to slit it with a mat knife-- You know, one of those razor-things
in the holder you use to cut wallpaper-- anyway, I was slicing
down when I heard Timmy yell out "Mom!" Right by my
ear! As loud and clear as if he was standing there. I've thought
I've heard him before-- in the next room, or getting up at night.
But that was faint, maybe I mistook. But this was Tim, Tim was
yelling at me, telling me to stop! That's how I did it, from
the shock-- the blade went right across my wrist. I put on a
little peroxide, wrapped it up. I didn't think that much about
the cut: I was sort of dazed. Until right before Frank was to
get home. And then I realized what it might look like! I'd cut
my wrist! How can I hide the bandage? It'll show when I get undressed,
but that doesn't matter. We're not sleeping together. Tuck it
under the sleeve. Mustn't show it, mustn't say a word about Tim.
Not a word. Frank already thinks I'm imagining things! The other
night I came downstairs because I heard noises, and I found the
TV on, a video in the VCR. It was "Gremlins", Tim's
favorite. But in the morning, when I asked Frank if he'd put
it on, he looked at me as if I were losing my mind.
FRANK: Elaine? You tackled Tim's room! That's great! I'm really
proud of you.
ELAINE: No, Frank. No, I had intended to, but I decided to put
FRANK: You what? Shit!
ELAINE: I don't see how it makes much difference, a few more
FRANK: My whole life's a death watch. You're sick, you're weak,
you're helpless. God forbid I should demand that do something.
A simple little thing like--
ELAINE: It's not simple. If I give in--
FRANK: Is that what it is? Giving in? A simple household task
that you agreed--
ELAINE: I didn't agree! You gave orders!
FRANK: You're above all that, is that it? Or not up to it, poor
ELAINE: I don't want it done! I don't approve! So if you insist--
FRANK: All right. All right, I will! But maybe you won't like
the way I--
(FRANK gets out trash bags, a paint bucket)
ELAINE: Put that down!
FRANK: Get away from me! Get out of my way!
FRANK: It's more than than dusty old toys, that needs clearing
ELAINE: Don't you dare, don't you touch--! Ooowwh!
(In the struggle, Elaine's wound is re-opened, and blood sprays
all around. FRANK stares at the blood on his hands.)
(Present time. FRANK standing at the side of the stage, watching
ELAINE in the flashback.)
FRANK: At some point she began to get messages from Timmy.
When? When did they start? She dropped hints-- in November,
I think-- that she wasn't afraid that Timmy was in hell any
more. She got so cheerful! I really thought at that point she
was making progress. And Jenny had settled in at her new school.
Joined a Brownie troop, tried out for a part in the class play.
Like a normal kid.
(SLIDE of Jenny in her Brownie uniform, and one of her costumed
as a flower-- a red tulip. Slide of Timmy in his baseball outfit,
close up of Tim's face, laughing.)
(Flashback. Early November. Elaine is seated in the late afternoon
dark, She has her left hand on a boy's baseball and she is writing
with her right hand. She is not looking at the paper, however.
Her eyes are focused in the far distance, or perhaps closed.
There is a soft rustling in the room, a sense of another presence.
On the screen in rear projection is a dim outline of a laughing
Timmy. An alarm clock goes off. Elaine stops writing, jumps up,
turns on a light to read what she has written. She smiles joyously,
hugs the paper to herself and whispers, "Thank you. Thank
you, darling." She puts the paper and pen in her purse,
hides the glove in her sewing basket and arranges some mending
so that it looks as if that's what she's been busy with. While
she is arranging these things, she hears the noise of Frank's
car driving up. She speeds up her clean-up and then, remembering
the alarm clock, grabs it and runs out into the kitchen. FRANK
walks into the scene from the past. There is a last mysterious
rustle, and he looks around, puzzled at the sense that there
is an unseen presence in the room.)
FRANK: Elaine? (calls out) Elaine! I'm home.
ELAINE: (off) Out here, dear. Dinner's about fifteen minutes
(enters, wearing an apron)
FRANK: I'm not very hungry.
ELAINE: It'll keep. If you want to wait, I can finish the mending.
FRANK: Is that what you crossed off the list today?
ELAINE: That and the Hall closet. I had a long talk with Jenny
on the phone. Do you think we could go to a matinee of Peter
Pan Thursday afternoon?
FRANK: Are you thinking of driving?
ELAINE: Oh, no. Not yet. Although I think I'll be able to, eventually.
Annie let me drive to the grocery store last Tuesday -- well,
actually she sort of forced me to drive. I was scared, but I
did all right. We didn't hit anything. But I wasn't planning
to drive to the theatre.
FRANK: Where is it, at the Mall?
ELAINE: Downtown. We'd take the bus.
FRANK: It'd take you almost an hour to get to Mom's, and then
another forty minutes to get downtown.
ELAINE: Jenny and I want to, very much.
FRANK: Why don't you wait until it's showing where there's less
of a hassle?
ELAINE: It's not a movie, Frank, it's the play. Jennifer's music
teacher is in it.
FRANK: Why don't you wait until next weekend? Then we can all
ELAINE: This is the day her class is going. An early show, specially
for parents, four o'clock---
FRANK: It'd be a lot easier for Mom to take her.
ELAINE: Jennifer and I need time together, Frank.
FRANK: To see Peter Pan? Off in Never-Never Land? I don't know,
Elaine. I don't think you've thought this through. The Lost Boys.
How are you going to react, the two of you?
ELAINE: I didn't make a connection.
FRANK: But you might. At the theatre, in front of all her little
friends. I don't think we're ready to risk it. Have you called
the Goodwill about that stuff in Timmy's room?
ELAINE: Not yet.
FRANK: You see? If you're still expecting him to fly in the
ELAINE: I'm not!
FRANK: You said you were going to see if Mrs. Peters wanted
any of Tim's stuff.
ELAINE: I started to, but John's not the same size as--
FRANK: John's the same size. Maybe last year he was two inches
shorter but within a few months he'll be the same size. But I
asked Mrs. Peters-- I got tired of waiting for you to. Can you
guess what she said? She told me she'd rather not have any of
it. She said John seems to have accepted Tim's death pretty well,
but that wearing his clothes or playing with his toys might make
John feel threatened, or even guilty because he benefited by
his friend's death. Does she have a point?
FRANK: So that excuse to wait is gone. Now, when do you intend
to clear it out?
ELAINE: Right away. Tomorrow. All of it.
FRANK: I don't mean you should wipe away every trace. Save out
the things that mean the most to you, or to Jennifer when she
gets to an age where she should be reminded. But put the stuff
away somewhere so when Jen gets back she won't run into it until
she's had a chance to heal.
ELAINE: Can she come home soon, Frank? I know she's homesick.
FRANK: Maybe after this term. I don't think she should change
in the middle. I miss her, too.
ELAINE: I will strip the room, Frank. I promise. If I do, will
it be all right to take Jenny to the show? It's important to
me to do this, to prove that I can. I'm trying, Frank, really--.
FRANK: I know you are. I know you are. It's strange to me, too,
to have just the two of us. I've almost forgotten what it was
like for us, before they were born.
ELAINE: What did we do?
FRANK: We played Scrabble.
ELAINE: Did we? That's right! And looked at houses, house plans.
I would bring them home from the library, and we'd look at them
together, and dream. And what else? I can't remember what else.
FRANK: Besides work?
ELAINE: You've always worked. So hard. Even the time you were
laid off at Mutual, you spent twelve hours a day job-hunting.
FRANK: What did you expect me to do, lie around and brood while
the bills piled up? You were pregnant! Eight months pregnant!
ELAINE: We had unemployment. If you'd relaxed, and been there
to hold Jennifer when she was tiny, change her diapers and get
used to her, maybe you wouldn't be so uncomfortable around her
FRANK: I am not uncomfortable! Will you get rid of this weird
idea that I don't love my daughter!?
ELAINE: I never said that! But being there when they were born
is important, it sets a whole range of feelings. You weren't
there when Jennifer--
FRANK: I was out of town! Interviewing! So I could support her!
Jesus, Elaine, how do I know you didn't begin labor two weeks
early so that you could have her all to yourself?! Talk about
ELAINE: I didn't have her all to myself. I was knocked out,
unconscious, with both of my babies. I just wish you'd been there,
Frank. Why is that irrational? It's such a shame, that when they
came into the world, neither of us was there to greet them. I
don't even know what time Timmy was born. Do you? You weren't
FRANK: What do you mean, I wasn't there? For Timmy, I was.
ELAINE: Not in the room.
FRANK: Because the hospital wouldn't let me!
ELAINE: I didn't say it was your fault. I said it was a shame.
Not to know the exact time, the moment of his birth.
FRANK: Figure it out. I remember I'd gone down to the cafeteria
for eggs and bacon, and when I got back upstairs it was all over.
Must have been 8:30 or 9:00.
ELAINE: If I'd had natural childbirth, I'd know.
FRANK: Wait a minute. Isn't it on his certificate? Jennifer's
I just had, to enroll her from Mom's, and hers said--
ELAINE: Hers, but not Tim's. I looked.
FRANK: That's funny. A public record, you'd think it be consistent,
so that-- Jesus! So that what? Who cares? I mean who the hell
cares; 8:00, 9:00, what's the difference?
ELAINE: The ascendant.
FRANK: The what?
ELAINE: The astrological ascendant. At the time you're born.
It sets a lot of what happens.
FRANK: Not after he's dead! Not before, either! Elaine, listen
to me. Don't tune out, because on this I'm an expert. It's not
a matter of opinion, like the color blue is relaxing and fuscia
raises your spirituality--
ELAINE: That's purple--
FRANK: That's bunk! But we're not talking about that. We're
talking about birth and death. Something I know about. If an
insurance company could hire an astrologer to predict when a
person would die, that knowledge would give that company an edge
that would wipe their competition off the map. Believe me, if
there were anything to astrology, Prudential and I would know.
ELAINE: I wish I'd had natural childbirth.
FRANK: You can't handle pain. You can't handle pain, and when
life is painful, you opt out.
ELAINE: They say it isn't pain. Your mind shifts to another
level, where it sees what's happening to the body, but doesn't
register it. Like in a trance.
ELAINE: You lose all sense of time. It's wonderful, to lose
all sense of time, the past, the future. To make a new beginning.
Like I did with my hand.
FRANK: That seems to be working.
ELAINE: It's much better.
FRANK: Looks better. (strokes elaine's hand tenderly.)
ELAINE: Hardly bothers me at all, except when I twist it. I
still can't do jars. There's one on the kitchen counter for you
to open now.
FRANK: Where? (looks, returns with jar) This?
FRANK: (opening jar) When we were first married there were a
lot of little things like this I did for you. Jars and wine bottles
and the attachments for the sewing machine. My god, do you remember
the time you had with the Portaswing?
ELAINE: All I remember is joy. The babies' first smiles, and
FRANK: You want another one.
ELAINE: So much. Do you think we ever could?
FRANK: Two was what we planned. But I just don't know, now.
ELAINE: I know I'm not ready, but by the time he came--
FRANK: We couldn't be sure of a boy.
ELAINE: Maybe we shouldn't hope. A girl'd be safer.
FRANK: I'd want a son. I've always wanted a son. If we had had
two girls, I'd have wanted to try again.
ELAINE: It's hard to know what Timmy would want. We don't want
him to think we're replacing him, that he's not unique and special
FRANK: What Timmy'd want! Elaine, Timmy can't want anything,
or think anything! He's dead.
ELAINE: I know that.
FRANK: Do you? Has it sunk in? Irrevocable, irreplaceable; Tim's
ELAINE: But you can still think of what he'd want, how he'd
like us to be. The same way I do my grandmother. When I'm thinking
of doing something, and I'm not sure it's the right thing to
do, I imagine my grandmother, what she'd say; how I'd like her
to see me, if she's in heaven. Can't we think of Tim like that,
as if he's in heaven? I know you don't, but millions of people
do, it's not crazy.
FRANK: For some people, it is.
ELAINE: You don't believe in it, but it's not because you have
evidence. You want to think you're so tough and smart you don't
FRANK: You think we'd be better off if I imagined Tim was around
here somewhere, haunting us?
ELAINE: Not haunting, that's creepy, to say haunting about your
own child. But don't you ever sense him, here, watching over
FRANK: Yes! Yes I do! But I know I'm wrong. Last week I saw
John Peters and another boy coming out of MacDonalds, and the
other boy was Tim. I almost called out to him! It was Eric Ellerson.
They don't even look alike, but I saw him as Tim. I saw him as
Tim, and I was so sure.
ELAINE: When Tim was alive, I always knew where he was and what
was happening to him. Do you remember the time that I insisted
that we drive home from the Cape, because Timmy'd been hurt?
You yelled at me all the whole drive home, bullying the way you
do because you know what's real and I make up fantasies. But
Timmy had been hurt! He had to have twelve stitches, and the
camp had been calling us! For hours!
FRANK: Nothing more can happen to our son, Elaine. You can quit
worrying. Look at me. Elaine! Look at me, look me in the eye,
and tell me. Where is he?
ELAINE: He's -- he's--he's here, I know it, --
FRANK: He's in Linwood Cemetery, Elaine.
ELAINE: He may have thought I left him alone in the dark, on
purpose, because he'd been bad. He may be stuck here, because
he's scared by that, and blaming me--
FRANK: Blaming for what? Oh no, don't distract yourself at this
point! There's no new worry will make any difference to him now.
The time to worry was before you lost control of that car!
ELAINE: He's here for a reason, to tell us something, or maybe
to forgive me, if I can hear him, if I can reach him, and tell
FRANK: What? To pick up his toys? Is that why you're keeping
them? Is that why you've been darning his goddamn baseball jersey?
ELAINE: Frank, put that back!
FRANK: Fixed up like new! Can't even see the stitches!
ELAINE: You're ripping it!
FRANK: So what, Elaine? So fucking what! He'll never need it.
There no "him" to need it!
ELAINE: Jennifer could wear it! We could give it to another
boy, if not John then one of his teammates, it's perfectly good!
I don't imagine we'll get Tim back. Not in his old body. I know
that's lying out there under the ground in the gray metal box.
But he might be reborn. His soul might be here, near us, hoping
we'll give him a body again, a new one.
FRANK: Elaine, that's muck. Disgusting, sentimental, guilt-generated
ELAINE: Do you want a divorce?
FRANK: No! Not yet, at least. Not yet.
(FRANK, in present time, walks over to the slide projector and
throws a slide of ELAINE with baby Tim onto the screen)
ELAINE: Yesterday I was cleaning upstairs when I heard the door
slam and something slap down on the hall table, just the way
Timmy used to dump his books and things when he came in from
school. And I forgot, just for a second, that he was dead. I
yelled, "Tim, take your stuff to your room!" and he
yelled back, "O.K., Mom!" and I smiled, and then I
realized that he couldn't have, that I was hearing things, but
it was so clear and real that I felt an unreasoning hope in my
heart. Maybe all the rest was what wasn't real, a bad dream,
and now at last I'm awake. I went down the stairs, afraid and
yet-- And there, on the hall table, was Timmy's baseball glove.
It wasn't there earlier. It couldn't have been! I keep it upstairs--
in my sewing basket. I know that's strange, but I like to have
it near me. It's worn from the shape of his hand and it smells
like him and when I touch it I can feel his presence. Even if
I had walked in my sleep and carried it down myself, Frank would
have brought it up at breakfast, he makes such a fuss whenever
I-- I was so happy! Tim was alive! He'd just been hiding, playing
this trick on us! Or else Frank had hidden him away, took him
away from me the way he's taken Jennifer, but now Tim's got free,
he's come back to me! I started to laugh-- and then I got scared.
I knew that if Tim left that glove on the table, it wasn't his
body that did it. His body was in the coffin. Frank's mother
saw it. She wouldn't lie to me. She was at the funeral. She told
me what Tim was wearing. She told me he looked at peace.
But he's not at peace. He's here. Oh my darling boy, my baby--
Tim. What is it? Where does it hurt? Tell Momma, so she can make
it better. Oh, tell me-- why?
FRANK: I think back and try to remember? Did she ever say she
was leaving? Taking Jenny? Did she make threats? Did she ever
say she'd rather see her child dead than alive and away from
her? Then there's the anniversary. The date. How much was that
an influence? It's more common than you think. Symbolic dates.
My own second cousin, Walter, he killed himself on the anniversary
of his fiancee's death. If that's what pushed her, the date,
there's no way I could be expected to guess. Because right near
the end she was great! She was giving the best performance of
healthy since Jane Fonda.
(Flashback. ELAINE comes down the stairs smiling, in a print
ELAINE: Frank? What do you think?
FRANK: Of what?
ELAINE: The dress.
FRANK: It's very nice. Is it new?
ELAINE: Your mother went with me.
FRANK: That's nice.
ELAINE: She was really good about it, she met me at the bus
stop. We got underwear for Jennifer too, and a birthday present
for your brother. And this.
FRANK: It's..uh.. very becoming.
ELAINE: Not too dressy, is it? For an interview? I've got an
interview with the Cambridge library on Thursday, and I thought
a soft blue...
FRANK: I'd have thought one of your suits.
ELAINE: They hang on me. I've lost so much weight.
FRANK: For an interview, I'd think more businesslike. In my
ELAINE: But it's children's librarian! I don't want to look
hard, or dressed for success, but like an aunt, or a mother.
A woman that a child would want to climb into her lap.
FRANK: Do you think that's wise?
ELAINE: If I were hiring it's what I'd be looking for.
FRANK: I mean do you think you should apply for
children's? You haven't worked that since--
ELAINE: Since the budget cuts! But that's my degree. I'll be
happy to go back to it. I miss having children, I even miss the
FRANK: Is that what's behind this?
ELAINE: Behind what? You make it sound like a plot. You know
we need the money, and it's time I went back to work.
FRANK: Are you being fair? I mean if you're using those kids--
ELAINE: I don't understand you.
FRANK: Well, that's a big comfort, cause I sure as hell don't
want to think it's easy to understand you!
ELAINE: Please don't! Don't-- I only wanted to show you, to
put on my new dress and my hairdo and have a nice dinner-
FRANK: All right. All right. We'll drop it.
ELAINE: I made a roast the way you like it, with the tiny carrots.
ELAINE: There's a bottle of wine, sparkling burgundy.
FRANK: Where'd that come from?
ELAINE: I found it, cleaning out the pantry.
FRANK: When did you do that?
FRANK: Ambitious. You're getting ambitious. Did you throw out
ELAINE: No, I didn't--
FRANK: How about the Fruit Loops? Nobody in this family eats
Fruit Loops, now. Are they going to sit in the cupboard until
they crumble, like grain in pharaoh's tomb?
ELAINE: Why do you want to destroy things? My mother taught
me to save, think of the staving children in China, she'd say.
So I have trouble throwing out perfectly good--
FRANK: So send it to China!
ELAINE: I will! When there's a Methodist food drive. At Thanksgiving.
Is that all right? Can we have dinner now, in peace, before the
roast is something that should be thrown out too?
FRANK: I hope you haven't opened the wine.
FRANK: I have to work tonight.
FRANK: That's what I just said.
ELAINE: But Monday you said--
FRANK: It hasn't worked out.
ELAINE: I planned such a good dinner, and I rented a romantic
FRANK: I haven't the time.
ELAINE: If you can't stand to be with me, you should tell me.
Honestly. So I can face that and make plans for living alone-
FRANK: You're still my wife.
ELAINE: I don't feel that. I'm alone here, even when you're
in the same room. Abandoned. You disappear behind your work,
and it's as if I don't exist. I'm trying to get back to living,
but I need your support.
FRANK: You exist, all right. Support! You see these? Bills.
These are bills. That I've got to pay, somehow. I'm sorry if
my working overtime leaves you alone to amuse yourself but--
where're you going?
FRANK: You going to retreat to your room, like your mother?
Expect me to carry your meals up on a tray? Tiptoe around in
bedroom slippers in my own house like your pussy-whipped Dad?
ELAINE: My father is a good man. He may never have amounted
to much, but he was there for my mother when she needed him.
FRANK: Yeah? Where is he now? I don't notice he's rallied round
in your time of need.
ELAINE: I'm not his wife.
FRANK: You're not mine much either, these days, are you? I hope
you do get that job. Maybe you could change your name, so nobody'll
guess. Get yourself a little room, a new identity--
ELAINE: I'm Jennifer's mother. That's one thing I'll always
FRANK: If I were you, I wouldn't be so sure.
ELAINE: What do you mean by that?
FRANK: You know what I mean.
ELAINE: Say it out. Say it in so many words, so that I know
what's a real threat and what's a figment of my morbid imagination.
FRANK: If you can't handle being a wife, if we can't make a
go of it, I intend to sue for full custody. Any contact with
you would be detrimental-
ELAINE: You can't be serious!
FRANK: Don't test me.
ELAINE: Any contact?
FRANK: I'd take her as far away as I could get. I turned down
that job in Tulsa, but I could call them tomorrow!
ELAINE: That's a good idea! If we left here, made a fresh start-
FRANK: You're not a fit mother. I wouldn't want to leave you
in the house with Jenny, not for ten minutes! God knows what
you might do.
ELAINE: You wouldn't get away with it! Even criminals, even
FRANK: If it's in the child's interest, the court protects the
ELAINE: Jenny wouldn't stand for that. She loves me.
FRANK: You tell her lies on the phone, to turn her against me.
ELAINE: I've never said a word against you! She needs both of
FRANK: What if she can't have both?
ELAINE: Then she'd choose me! Frank, if Jenny were to go away
from me, she would grieve and fade away. We're so close, so connected.
All three of us are that way! You know that.
FRANK: That special mystic bond--- muck.
ELAINE: It's true! When the kids call, I pick up the phone before
it rings! I went to the school to pick up Jen when she had mumps,
even before the nurse got ahold of me-
FRANK: Fairy tales.
ELAINE: I don't have to tell Jennifer what's going on here,
she knows how you're treating me. She knows how I feel, she can
feel it herself without my saying a word-- That's why she refuses
to talk to you!
FRANK: Goddammit it! She talks to me!
ELAINE: Does she? When we were over at your mother's Sunday,
she avoided you. You followed her around like a puppy dog, trying
to get her to play frisbee--
FRANK: She's growing up, that's all. She has the interests of
a young lady. Not a boy's, not like Tim's. She's not interested
in frisbee, it's not surprising.
ELAINE: Tim never played frisbee with you, either.
FRANK: What are you talking about?
ELAINE: You bought that frisbee when he was five, too young
to handle it, and you threw it so hard at him and bullied him
so he never wanted to play with you again. He never did. And
now Jenny doesn't want to talk.
FRANK: We talk! Last night--
ELAINE: Last night she was taking a shower, Monday she had a
Tuesday she was watching that Teen Show--
FRANK: Who told you that?
ELAINE: Your mother, of course. (dials phone)
FRANK: I can't believe the way you women stick together! All
the time, I'm outnumbered. At least when I had a son I had an
outside chance. You both make things up. You want to get Jenny
back here, my mother wants her house back, the kid out of her
hair. All you can think about is your own selfish-- Well, you
can have all the peace and quiet you want, the two of you. The
two of you. Jennifer and I will go to Tulsa-- What are you doing?
ELAINE: (on phone) Hi, honey. What're you up to?--
No, not yet. Well, I did, your father's favorite, but we don't
seem to be getting around to eating it, we've had so much to
talk about. No, a roast. Well done, by now. I could bring you
a doggy bag, if it's that important to you. Grandma's a good
cook. Not just your Daddy, other people say so too. Her succotash
is famous in--
No, nobody says you have to eat it, but I hope you don't tell
her that. You don't have to eat any particular vegetable, but
you've got to eat some vegetable, if you want to grow up healthy.
I tell you what: if you eat that, we'll bring you frozen pizza
over the weekend.--
I don't know. I don't know anything about videos. You'll have
to ask your Dad. No, he's right here. I'll put him on. No, honey,
if you want your video games, you'll have to work it out with
him, just ask him-- (TO FRANK) She hung up.
FRANK: You make her. It's your tone of voice.
ELAINE: You know that's not true, you heard me. She's angry
because you've broken up the family, ripped us apart. If you
go away and take her with you, we'll die, both of us.
FRANK: I'm not the one who broke up this family. You've got
a lot of nerve, yelling at me.
ELAINE: All right. I'm guilty. Punish me. But don't punish your
FRANK: She'll forget! Jenny's young, she's healthy. She'll
(Present time. Frank starts running through family slides, some
of are Timmy at Peters' house, one of a number of frolicking
children at John's birthday party)
FRANK: The kid has two parents, and if I was the fit one-- which
I was, obviously! If I'd gone through with it the first time
I thought of it, we'd all be alive! But I couldn't help it! Like
a kid, like rocks at a mangy bitch. I couldn't help myself! Why,
I ask why? I couldn't stand it when Elaine was sitting there
like a lump, wallowing in grief. Who was she, to mourn when I
had to be strong and hold us all together? And then it turned
out I couldn't stand seeing her "put it behind her." Seeing
her "getting well, getting over it". Elaine'd come
home from the library with a pile of new children's books, and
sit in the evening reading them over, planning displays, trying
them out for story hour; and she would smile or giggle and I'd
feel this great rage coming up inside me. How dare she! Where's
our little boy? He'll never sit reading a book again, or run
into the house excited because he's done something new. Elaine
doesn't deserve this, this happiness! And you, -- our one true
friend? Because of course we didn't have friends left by them.
Right after the accident friends tried to rally round, bring
soup, show how broadminded they were by waving and nodding solemnly
and saying, "so sorry, Frank". By then I couldn't stand
the sight of any of them. They forgot, they were uncomfortable.
Who the hell were they, to talk about their kids and pass around
pictures? Like these. from John's birthday. Tim brained John's
little brother with a whiffle bat: I don't have a picture of
that. Scott Sepanuck ate too much cake and was sick on the Peters'
green oriental. I didn't take a shot of that, either. But you
can have these, if you want them. No-- I take that back. You
may be happy now, but what about tomorrow? You think death, divorce,
wrecks, don't apply to you? They will!
Nobody should have pictures. Pictures are too painful. This
is the last time anybody's going to look at these! Into the trash.
As soon as we've found the clue. You say it was my fault, don't
you? For yelling at her. For pushing her over the brink. After
I'd kept a lid on for so long everything came out too loud, too
intense, too sick with -- besides, I had the flu. Or maybe just
the worst cold of my life. Funny, the symptoms all went away
the day after the funeral.
(Rear projection, black and white but clear and distinct: newspaper
photos of a wrecked car, police, ambulance, stretchers with bodies)
(Flashback. FRANK has changed into his bathrobe, and wears a
towel wrapped around his sore throat. His nose is stopped up,
his voice is hoarse, and he is sipping medicinal hot toddies.
ELAINE is sewing on a red raincoat. )
ELAINE: The driving must be awful.
FRANK: The storm drain down the end of the block is backed up
again. It's a good thing I stayed home.
ELAINE: Do you want me to warm you up some soup?
FRANK: I'm not hungry. My throat hurts.
ELAINE: Does the toddy help?
FRANK: It helps some. It helps. Some. (blows his nose)
ELAINE: I wish it'd stop raining. It's just like-- The first
month we lived here. Do you remember? We thought we'd moved into
a rain forest.
FRANK: In New England it rains in the fall. And in the spring.
It rains in the spring.
ELAINE: It was so dreary we didn't even want to look at houses.
I think we bought this one just so we could get out of the wet.
It's so dark in here. Even when the sun shines, there's never
FRANK: I thought you loved having a house set in the trees.
I thought the big old oak trees were your favorite feature.
ELAINE: We ought to cut them down.
FRANK: We ought to sell this place. Sell it and get out of here!
I thought that once we'd cleared Tim's stuff away, it would start
to get better. But it's no use. This house is haunted.
ELAINE: I don't want to leave here.
FRANK: Oh, you love ghosts. You're practically a ghost yourself,
floating around. Floating around. Why didn't you get rid of that
ELAINE: This? It's a perfectly good--
FRANK: Coat for the starving kids in China! Well, here in The
USA, on Oakdale Street, it's morbid! Sick!
ELAINE: Jennifer needs a raincoat, Frank. Suppose she were caught
out in this-- (jabs herself with needle) --ouch!
FRANK: My mother can buy her one. Yellow, black, purple, anything
but that damn-! Now what have you done? Stuck yourself? Jesus
Christ, you ought to be put away!
ELAINE: But I'm better, Frank, I'm almost well! My horoscope
says that once Uranus moves into my fifth house--
FRANK: Uranus, my ass!
ELAINE: I was warned! Before my accident, but I didn't pay attention--
FRANK: That's true enough.
ELAINE: Like today, a dangerous day for Cancers. Cancers should
stay off the road.
FRANK: Flakes should stay off the road! Cancers, for Christ's
sake, one twelfth of the population! All crawling back into bed,
pulling the covers over their heads! Jesus, Elaine, if that junk
were true, there'd be a crash on every corner! What about the
people the Cancers run into, the people who are riding with Cancers?
Are they hoodoo'd too? Or do Cancers only hit each other, or
only trees and guardrails, every Friday the 13th?!
ELAINE: You're always like when you're coming down with something.
FRANK: Coming down! Listen to her, will you? No, listen to me!
Does it sound like I'm "coming down"? I am down, I'm
felled, I'm walking death! I suppose you're going to tell me,
my horoscope warned me, "take an umbrella, take a change
of socks! "
ELAINE: You shouldn't shout, Frank, with that throat. The press
gave Nancy Reagan a hard time about astrology setting the President's
schedule. But I only think she proved there's something to it.
Reagan had such good luck-
FRANK: Where is it?
FRANK: That woman's handbill? Madame Whoosis, handed to you
outside the Stop and Shop on Saturday. You put it in your purse,
you didn't throw it away. I bet you've already made an appointment.
ELAINE: No, I haven't.
FRANK: Prove it. Where'd you put it?
ELAINE: I didn't! Stay out of there!
FRANK: She "mislays" things, she hides things! She
digs out Tim's old toys and leaves them out and then can't remember
she did it! Gremlins did it, Tim's ghost did it!
ELAINE: Not in the drawer! No, don't! I'll get it!
(FRANK goes to the drawer, rummages, holds up a piece of paper--one
of Timmy's "messages".)
FRANK: Oh God. Another one of these. You told me you'd stopped.
ELAINE: I had-- but--
FRANK: Letters. From beyond the grave.
ELAINE: Give it back to me.
FRANK: Where did this come from? How long have you had it?
ELAINE: Since last week. Thursday, I think it was. Don't look
so astonished, you must know how it happens! The exercises I
do for my hand, that's what opened the channel. It let Tim come
through! Empty my mind, you'd approve of that. Clear out the
past, those ugly pictures-- and I did, and then I felt Tim was
here, behind my chair, right next to me. He wanted to talk to
me, he wanted me to write it down: with my right hand! I could
never write with my other hand, the teachers tried to force me
in school, but all I could do was scribble until Tim took over!
Abracadabra, I just relaxed and let go, and there he was.
FRANK: How many of these have--come through?
FRANK: Are they all like this? Love and comfort?
ELAINE: He was never much for letters, but on the other hand
he was never shy the way some boys are. Kisses and hugs- His
letters from camp were signed that way, too. All he wants is
to reassure me. He doesn't hate me, and he isn't nothing. He's
waiting for me, and someday we'll be together.
Now my dreams are --fine. I like them, I want to keep them.
Even the old one, the one of the -- accident. It's the same,
but it's all different now. The noise and fear, that's all dropped
away. The car skims over the road like a flying bird, the guardrail
splits as we touch it, noiseless, the sides roll back before
us like opening gates, and the car swoops up and floats very
very slowly through the air, and then down, and the river parts
to let us slip in. So gently, so smoothly, the car turns in the
brown water with no more weight than a leaf and floats out to
sea. The children are laughing softly, it's like the lake in
summer, like a raft, like a cloud. We kick free of it, the three
of us, and dive like dolphins. You see-- the dream's the same,
but everything is changed. So I don't dread it any more. It's
welcome, to Tim back to me. If it weren't for the dream, and
The library is strange. Nobody there knows about me. Nobody
there ever saw Timmy, they don't know he ever lived. I don't
feel the burden of what happened there, and I suppose that's
good, that feeling, that lack of weight, that -- virgin innocence.
But it's not right! A world where Timmy never was! I don't want
to live there.
FRANK: I can't deal with this. I've held on, kept hoping. But
I'm tired, I'm run down, I can't think. My head's full of snot.
(FRANK blows his nose)
ELAINE: Will you be wanting supper?
FRANK: I don't think so. I expect I'll stay in bed and try to
sleep. Listen to the radio. If I get hungry you can open me a
can of soup.
ELAINE: My mother made broth. For a cold. Feed a cold--
FRANK: I think it's a fever.
ELAINE: I'll take your temperature.
FRANK: It's the goddam rain! (exit)
(Rear projection. Cars speeding through the rain-lashed night.)
(In the dark, ELAINE is seated holding the red raincoat, watching
the rain outside the window. She hears a noise.)
FRANK: It's me, Elaine. Just me. That's all there is.
(FRANK blows his nose and goes to get a bottle of rum. He pours
it straight into his toddy cup, and takes a big gulp of it)
ELAINE: Jenny didn't call.
FRANK: Why should she call?
ELAINE: To let me know she's all right.
FRANK: Of course she's all right. Wherever she is, she's fine.
Do you know what time it is?
ELAINE: It's not that late. It's still afternoon.
FRANK: How long was I asleep?
ELAINE: Not long. I have the worst feeling. Did
you hear anything on the 6 O'clock news?
FRANK: I didn't hear anything. I was asleep.
ELAINE: Something's happened somewhere. I can feel it.
FRANK: What do you imagine has happened? That would make the
6 o'clock news?
ELAINE: Maybe there's a flood or something. An accident. I've
been looking out the window for the longest time, and nobody's
gone by. No cars. It's as if we're on an island.
ELAINE: No sound but the rain. The last people, all alone here.
FRANK: Deserted. Abandoned. Left all alone here, with you. But
you're not alone. How could you be, when you're in telepathic
communication with all your loved ones, living and passed over.
So if anything should happen I'm sure you'll be the first to
ELAINE: You feel abandoned too?
FRANK: No! No, I don't. I wish to God I did. You know how I
feel? Stuck. Stuck in the tomb, with a walking ghost from a marriage
ELAINE: I feel this- pressure. Like bad weather, like a storm
FRANK: Coming? Can't you see out the window? It's pouring! Pouring,
for the third goddam day.
ELAINE: Maybe nothing terrible is going to happen, it's just
the past here, because it's the date-
FRANK: That's right, mustn't forget the date. Drink a little
toast, to our solid year in hell.
ELAINE: I'm going to call Jennifer--
FRANK: No, you're not! Not in this state! You want to talk to
a kid, call Timmy. Use your direct line. For him, you've done
all the harm you can, But give your little girl a fighting chance.
Leave her alone. Find some other way to keep yourself occupied.
Take a nap. Hold a seance. Play Russian roulette.
ELAINE: What are you going to do?
FRANK: I'm going to take the rest of this bottle and I'm going
to go upstairs to cry. Isn't that funny? Me, cry? I bet you'd
love to watch, you'd love to keep me company. Misery loves company.
But I don't want your company. If I'm going to be crazy I want
to be crazy on my own, in my own good time. But when will that
time come, Elaine? Did you know that's what I've been waiting
for? That all along, all along, I've had this foolish notion
that if I could hold myself together for one day, just one day
and then another day and then another, that at last the day would
come when it would be my turn. You would say, I've done a terrible
thing, I've ruined your whole life and even your immortality,
and then I've made you listen to me whine about it, but I'm done
now. You can let go. And that's the day, the precious day, when
I was going tobegin to grieve. But when is it? When's my turn?
When are you going to stop hogging all the tears, and let me
mourn? Oh, but I've forgot! Tim's not really dead. He's in that
big summer camp in the sky! So, uh, what's he got to say this
week? Does he need anything? Not tears, I see that, but something
at the commissary, maybe? Should I send spare change, by the
ghost post, in case he needs a new halo? Shit! What the Hell,
let's go crazy together, and leave Jennifer with nobody solid
at all. Poor little bouncing orphan girl, left with ghosts and
loonies where her family used to be.
ELAINE: Frank, don't!
FRANK: Don't what? Don't get drunk? Don't have nightmares? Don't
mention that you killed him? You killed him, Elaine. Our little
Tim. The only son I'll ever have. He was fished out of the Charles
river with his hair full of slime, his skin as yellow as dog
FRANK: Just stay the hell away from me! Stay on the other side
of the door! Here!
(FRANK picks up the car keys from the dish on the table and
throws them at ELAINE. She catches them by reflex.)
FRANK: Maybe you'll want to go for a drive in the rain. (He
exits up the stairs)
(Rear projection. Cars speeding through the rain.)
(ELAINE is clutching the red raincoat. She smoothes it over
her arm and then, taking the car keys, she goes to the phone
ELAINE: Hello, honey! Is that you?......
No, I don't want to speak to Grandma. I called you...
Mommy misses you, too, Sweetheart. We belong together darling,
it isn't right that we should be kept apart...
I know. The sooner the better, don't you think? Anyway, honey,
that's sort of why I called. Your Dad has given me permission
to drive again, so I'm going to come over and bring you your
Yes, right now, an after-your-birthday present, I'm bringing
it right over...
Don't you argue with me! I'm your mother, remember? You put
on your jeans and a warm sweater and watch for me out the front
door, I'll pick you up and take you for a drive....
Yes of course I know, it's been raining for days! I remember
how to drive....
I love you too, sweetheart. I love you both very much.
(ELAINE puts down the car keys, ties her pink scarf around her
head. She puts on her raincoat, and then picks up the keys and
the red raincoat and exits out the door. Sound of car starting,
driving away into the rain.)
(Rear projection. Speeding cars, rain, sound of skidding and
a crash, water. Black and white newspaper pictures of a wrecked
car, police, ambulance, bodies-- all distorted and watery.)
FRANK: When the police came I was unconscious. Soused and out,
lying face down in my pillow. Which must have muffled the noise
of the door. They broke in to find me. An edifying sight. The
pillow was soaked with tears and spilt booze and snot and the
drool that ran out of my mouth in my drunken stupor. I struggled
to get up. I wasn't surprised to see them, looming over me. I
was too dense to ask questions, but I already knew what they'd
tell me. It was the same, all over again. The cops, the rain,
the ride in the squad car. The dragging was going to begin again,
and go on and on all night.
So you'll say that proves it! I knew! And yet how could I have
known? How could any sane person have dreamed of such a thing,
unless we dreamed it together? Unless I sent her? But I didn't!
How the hell could I?--have known what was in her twisted mind?
But in that moment, I recognized it. I knew--that was Elaine!
But before? You're going to say, I gave her the keys.
But I didn't imagine-- I mean, I couldn't, even after she'd
done it, I couldn't. It is literally unimaginable, that fact.
I point my mind at it, and my mind refuses to go there. I rode
with the police in their prowl car, the blue lights going around
and around. I walked up to the guard rail, to the edge of the
river, and my mind spun its wheels. Round and round. I even walked
up to the bodies, after hours, after hours of dragging, in the
dawn. But I couldn't imagine it, I couldn't believe, until I
looked at the faces. My God, Elaine looked smug! I swear! She
looked satisfied, replete-- smug. Would she have looked that
way if she'd been pleasing me, carrying out my wishes? No! Hell,
no! She looked that way in the casket, too-- smug. Until I made
them shut it. Who'd want to look? Friends? What kind of friends
would come to a freak show? From miles around, to the funeral,
or to stand outside the mortuary, or just cruising past the haunted
house. Hundreds of nosy strangers, to look at freaks! All with
that smug look, that rictus like hers, that bloated smile.
I have to wonder now, if the first time was an accident. What
do you think? Did she mean to kill them all, all along? Kill
them all, but it took her two whole tries! How much, how much
did she hate me?
I don't expect you to answer. But at least you have the facts.
I'll leave them to you. You decide. I just plan to forget. I'll
do whatever it takes. Throw all this out, burn it, sell or rent
the house--or let it fall down. A new job, a different state.
Somewhere I won't meet a single soul to remind me. And at some
point, some time unimaginable now, but only a finite number of
morning from this one, it'll be gone. I'll wake up to a blank.
As if I'd never had two children, or a wife. An empty mind: perfect,
dry, and wide enough for an echo. As if they'd never existed.
Or as if I'd just been born. It may take years, years and years;
but there will be some time when I'm free between here and the
grave. I'm glad there's no heaven! Glad I won't go there-- to
see those smug cherubim flapping their ludicrous wings.