by Curtis Scott Dunn ©2015 – all rights reserved
Michael – in his 50’s.
Colleen – Michael’s wife. Younger than Michael by a few years, confined to a wheelchair for the last two years, paralyzed from the waist down in a skiing accident.
James – 25 or so, Michael and Colleen’s only son.
Beth – 25 or so. James’ girlfriend.
Girl – 20’s. A high-class prostitute. Clean, nice makeup, intelligent, but dressed to seduce. Needs buttoned coat, lingerie layers.
Scene 1: A dinner party at Michael and Colleen’s house, sometime around Christmas. An entry door and foyer are indicated SR and a sofa and fireplace SL. James and Beth are newly engaged. The two men and the two women are engaged in separate conversations.
Colleen: This is really wonderful, Beth! Michael and I are so happy for you both!
Beth: Oh, Colleen, thank you! Or should I say “Mom” now? It feels a little strange coming out of my mouth.
Colleen: Colleen, Mom, whatever! The important thing is that my son has found a wonderful woman to spend his life with. Take care of him, Beth, he needs a little “guidance” now and again, just like his father.
Beth: Don’t you worry! I made him sweat for a good five minutes before I said “yes”. He looked like he was about to get sick when I finally took pity on him. Not that I had any doubts, but he really did catch me off guard with the proposal. I didn’t think there would be so many people around. I couldn’t let him off easy after that.
Colleen: Well, I approve! Keep that boy in line. So, have you two thought about a date? I suppose we should invite your parents out here for a visit. All the time you and James have been together, we’ve never met.
Beth: It’s difficult to pry them away from the coast, and my Dad hates to fly. They’ll probably drive the 16 hours to get here. Can I tell you a secret?
Beth: My parents already know. I called them the morning after James proposed. My Dad is going to offer James a job in his company. It’s the same kind of work he is doing here, but it will be worth twice what he’s making now. Dad thinks of it as an engagement present, but I’m not sure how James will take it.
Colleen: You mean, will he feel obligated?
Beth: Yes. And I can’t predict the future. I THINK they will like working with each other, but what if they don’t? I don’t want James to resent it. Or me. But Dad’s not trying to manipulate us, it really is him trying to give us a “leg up” on life.
Colleen: What if James refuses the job?
Beth: Well, my Dad will be disappointed, but I don’t think there would be any bad feelings. He likes James.
Colleen: I was talking about you. What if James refuses the job?
Beth: I don’t care! I mean it would be nice to have a little more stability, but I’d marry him if he said he wanted to move to Idaho and farm potatoes!
Colleen: Maybe you should tell him that, so he can consider the offer with a clear head?
Beth: Maybe I will…
(the women’s conversation fades as the men’s becomes the focus)
Michael: Congratulations again on the engagement, son! Welcome to the legions of the damned!
(waits for a reaction) I’m kidding, I think you picked a winner of a girl.
James: She is a winner… (looks over at her lovingly). I’m just so happy she said yes!
Michael: You had doubts?
James: No… I mean, not really, but it’s still THE QUESTION. And she didn’t answer me right away, I thought I might just melt into the floor if she said no! Beth is the only person I’ve ever felt this way about, you know? I want to make her happy.
Michael: I’m sure you will! You certainly started off with a bang! The ring is huge! There’s no way I could have swung that back when your Mom and I were dating.
James: Maybe I did get a LITTLE carried away. I just wanted her to know how I feel about her.
Michael: It’s obvious, James. Your Mom and I have been able to see how you two feel about each other for months now. You didn’t need to go overboard with the ring to win her.
James: I know. But she’s grown up with so much more. Maybe I was trying to convince myself…
Michael: How’s that?
James: It’s just… It’s so… wonderful… being with Beth. But it can’t stay that way forever. I know life will happen, I just don’t know how. I only hope we will be as strong as you and Mom.
Michael: Strong? (raises a questioning eye)
James: Dad, these last seven years, since the accident, can’t have been easy for you. (Beat) Mom’s depression, you helped her through that. And, so many of your friends have faded to the background now that she can’t get around so easily.
Michael: We still have friends. If anything, the accident showed us who we could really count on, you know?
James: And who you couldn’t…
Michael: James, what’s wrong? You don’t need to worry about your Mom and me, or our friends – there’s something else on your mind.
James: Dad, I’ve never asked, I didn’t WANT to ask, but how do you deal with it?
Michael: Deal with what?
James: C’mon Dad… Mom’s… paralyzed.
Michael: (pause until he “gets” it, then a little taken aback) You’re asking about sex?
James: NO!.. Well, yes… I mean, not exactly…
Michael: What are you asking?
James: About romance… I guess… strength… keeping love alive. I mean, it’s on my mind. I know that Beth and I are in the magic part of a relationship, and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I know at some point that magic-ness is going to end. I see you and Mom, and there’s plenty of reason that your relationship might suffer or change. You have to carry her sometimes, you help her bathe, help her with everything. How can you still keep the fire… Even my friends comment on how devoted you are.
Michael: (gently) James, this is your mother we are talking about. And this conversation is…
James: Dad, don’t get me wrong! I love Mom and all, but I don’t know how you can do it. I’d like to think that I would be there for Beth like you are for Mom – you know, if the situations were different – but I don’t honestly know if I could. And I don’t know if she could do that for me. And so I don’t know if I am doing something wrong by marrying her.
Michael: Ah! (beat while he considers) James. (pause) You’re not wrong. And I don’t know how to explain it to you. Love is… complex. It’s built on trial and sorrow as much as it is on happiness. And it’s like jumping out of a plane. You can’t know how it feels until you know. And you sure as hell can’t describe it to someone accurately, because it’s different for each of us – but at the same time it’s the same for all of us (realizes he stopped making sense, smiles).
James: (brightening, but not comprehending) I have no idea what you just said.
Michael: That’s OK. You made a good choice with Beth. Don’t second guess yourself, just grow with her.
(conversation shifts to the women)
Beth: …and my apartment is larger than his and I have a guest room, so I guess we will stay there, at least until we figure things out.
Colleen: Sounds like a plan.
Beth: Wow! It does, doesn’t it?
(pause. there is a lull in the conversation that they both pick up on. Perhaps a stifled yawn.)
Beth: Thank you so much for dinner, and the gifts, but I think I should walk the boy home now. It’s getting late.
(crosses to James)
Can I interest you in some reindeer games?
James: Uh, sure?
Beth: Come on, then! We have a long walk and I want to talk and your parents are probably tired. (just a little seductively) Tell you what, if you’ll go the few extra blocks down to the bar and bring back some rum, I’ll have eggnog ready to be spiked and a snuggle to warm you up!
Michael: Ahem! I may be approaching decrepit, but I’m not deaf! (retrieves their coats)
James: (kidding him) Yet. Seriously, thanks for the chat, Dad.
Michael: Sure… Anytime. Or not.
Beth: (to Michael) Thank you for dinner. Your meatloaf was magnificent!
Michael: (chuckling) Thanks! I don’t get “magnificent” nearly enough! (puffs up)
Colleen: Great. Thanks, Beth. (to Michael) You can puff your chest out while you strut around the kitchen cleaning up. (Michael deflates)
(smiling, all make their goodbyes. James and Beth exit.)
Michael: Wow! The boy’s engaged! (looking at watch) It was an exhausting evening though. Let me straighten up, and then I can get your meds.
Colleen: The kitchen is straightened up enough. Leave it for morning. I was hoping we could cuddle on the sofa?
Michael: Hon, I’m really tired. I still have a lot to do. And James and I had a conversation I’m still trying to process.
Colleen: I know. I overheard parts of it.
Michael: Did Beth?
Colleen: I don’t think so. She’s all caught up in the excitement.
Michael: Oh. That’s good. James is fine, just a little deer-in-the-headlights thing.
(Colleen, silent, looks at him. There is a pause)
Really, they’re going to be fine.
Colleen: I expect so. Beth is a wonderful girl, and it’s clear she’s in love. Unless it’s different for James and I didn’t see it?
Michael: No, no. James is completely in love – he just doesn’t trust himself yet. He looks at the future, and realizes that he can’t predict everything. He’s a little scared. But he’ll be OK.
Colleen: That’s good. Help me to the sofa?
(Michael goes to her, kisses her, picks her up out of the wheelchair and sets her on sofa. He rises to go to the kitchen, but Colleen beckons him back to the sofa. Michael acquiesces and climbs onto the sofa behind her, so that she can lay on his chest on her side, in such a way as to allow her to look at him directly, or away)
Colleen: This is better. You haven’t held me in a while. (plays with his chest)
Michael: I know. I’m sorry. (changing subject) Hey, did you get a look at that ring Michael bought?
Colleen: How could I not? Beth practically walked around with her hand in front of her all evening. I think she’s afraid she will walk into something and damage it.
Michael: James said something about wanting to evidence his love for her… I told him that she loved him. He didn’t need to buy her with something he couldn’t afford.
Colleen: Oh, I don’t think he was trying to buy her! Men just have such a hard time expressing themselves about love – sometimes expression takes the form of gifts. (smiling) And we ladies don’t mind! I suspect she plans to express herself in her own way tonight.
Michael: (lost in a thought)
Colleen: Speaking of which, can I thank you for your wonderful dinner?
Michael: (still thinking about something else) Oh, you’re welcome. It was only meatloaf.
Colleen: And for cleaning the house today before the kids got here?
Michael: Not a problem. I always clean.
Colleen: Yes, you do. And I want to express my gratitude to you. (Colleen makes advances at Michael.)
Michael: Colleen, why do you do that? You don’t enjoy it. You don’t even feel it.
Colleen: I do feel it. (grabs his hand) I feel you. (holds it to her chest) In my heart.
Michael: Babe, I feel you in my heart too. Even right now. You don’t have to put out for me.
Colleen: (gently, not unkind or agitated) I’m not trying to put out. I’m trying to be your partner. I’m trying to hold up my half of the relationship. You didn’t sign up for celibacy. If you don’t want to make love, there are other things we could do. (reaches for his zipper)
Michael: (stops her with his hand) And you didn’t sign up for… what happened.
Colleen: No, I didn’t. And I also didn’t sign up for celibacy. (escapes from his grip, starts trying to entice him) Don’t punish me. Let me enjoy you, enjoying me.
Michael: Colleen, I… can’t. It feels like I’m using you. Before, I get an orgasm, you get an orgasm, maybe two. Now, it’s just me. It feels… dishonest.
Colleen: But look at all you do for me… (purrs) It’s the LEAST I can do for you…
Michael: (explodes) And that’s PAYMENT!? (pushes her up and away toward other end of sofa, rises)
(steps away from sofa)
This is what I mean, we are talking about it like a transaction! It’s like, if I keep everything neat and the dinner made and the bills paid and the house clean, you throw me a fuck!
Colleen: Jesus, Michael! You make me sound like a prostitute!
Michael: (long beat) (quietly, and not directly to Colleen) Aren’t all women, in some way?
(they look at each other, both horrified by what Michael has said)
And what the hell am I?
(Michael is distraught. He grabs a coat and exits on the verge of tears. Colleen is in shock, watching him go as lights fade to black.)
Scene 2: 10pm. James and Beth are walking home, arm in arm.
Beth: (stopping) So, there is something I wanted to talk to you about.
Beth: Yes, well, first I was a little not honest with you. We aren’t surprising my parents. I called and told them right after you proposed.
James: That’s OK. I couldn’t believe you were holding out on them anyway. I sure couldn’t! Everyone at work knew I had popped the question the next morning even before I said anything. I thought someone had leaked the story, but it turned out that I just had such a goofy look that everyone knew.
Beth: And that’s the other thing I wanted to tell you. It’s about work. Well, your job.
James: What’s that?
Beth: My Dad wants to offer you a job in his company, basically doing the same thing you are now, only we have to move there.
James: Wow! I wasn’t thinking about a new job. I like it at…
Beth: (interrupting him) I know, I know! But Dad is looking at it as a gift. Something to give us a little boost starting out. He wants to offer you a pretty substantial pay raise to go out there.
James: You discussed this?
Beth: (sheepishly) Yes?
James: Without talking to me?
Beth: I’m sorry?
James: Is this some kind of condition? We only get your parents blessing if I take their job and ensure that I can keep their baby in the manner to which she has become accustomed?
Beth: That’s not fair! You very well know that they do not support me financially at all. I have lived here on my own, so any “manner to which I’ve become accustomed” is my own doing!
James: Then why interfere with us now?
Beth: He’s not trying to interfere with us. He just wants to help us. The job is supposed to be an engagement gift!
James: A gift!? So I need charity to support us?
Beth: No! No. This is coming out all wrong! Dad likes you, and he respects your work. He thinks you’re worth more than you’re making is all!
James: This is… I don’t know… (pause) I mean, I understand that your family has more money than mine…
Beth: (interrupting) That has nothing to do with anything!
James: Doesn’t it? You make me feel inadequate.
Beth: You’re not inadequate!
James: Beth, I asked you to marry me. Me! Not some new, improved, Daddy-bolstered version of me! I’ll do the best I can for you, but if that’s not good enough…
James: Look. Go home. I need to think for a bit. I’ll be there soon, but there’s too much going on in my head.
James: I’ll be there soon. Just go home. I need a little time to think.
Beth: James, I…
James: Just go home. Please?
(Beth nods and exits, upset. Blackout)
Scene 3: Minutes before midnight, a street corner. Girl is standing in her coat leaning on wall. James enters, carrying a bottle of rum in a paper bag. He is a little tipsy.
James: (yelling offstage) Thanks, for the drink Carl! (to no one) But I think I might be in a little trouble, wasn’t supposed to be out this long! Happy Freakin’ Holidays to me!
Girl: Where ya headed?
James: (now notices her) Home. (sarcastically) Back to my future…
Girl: Sounds fascinating. Need some company?
James: Um, I don’t think that would meet with… approval. And, I’m at a point in my life where I’m all about approval. (talking to no one in particular) Though my decision to not go straight home this fine evening in favor of a cocktail – maybe two – with ol’ Carl might give one pause to wonder if I’m serious about approval.
James: Maybe I’m not? Maybe… deep down… I know that it doesn’t matter. Eventually, life is going to intervene somehow.
Girl: Life is life. It doesn’t intervene. It doesn’t help us – or get in our way. It just is. And you live through it, until you’re done.
James: Hmm. (laughs, just a little derisively) Are you life? It seems like you’re in MY way.
Girl: I guess I could be life. Do you want me in your way? (she opens her coat to James. James backs up until he hits a wall or other object. Girl kneels in front of him and reaches for his belt.) Life isn’t easy, but life is good.
James: (Lets her undo his clothes for a moment, then snaps out of it.) Wait! Wait. Look, that’s not for you. I mean, I’ve promised it to someone else. And I’m late, but I have to keep my promise to her, you know? (Buttons up)
Girl: So I guess SHE’s life? (rises, buttons coat)
James: Yeah, I guess she is. Like you said, I gotta live through it, until I’m done – but I’m not ready to say I’m done. And I’ll be damned if I give up easy.
Girl: Strong words.
James: Yeah, they are. (pauses, smiles) And I am. Thanks.
(James starts to exit as Michael enters. James turns back, perhaps to offer Girl some money, and notices Michael talking to her, but Michael doesn’t see James.)
Girl: (to Michael) Where ya headed? Need some company?
(Michael is surprised, he hadn’t seen her until she spoke. He takes a moment to look at her. Blackout.)
Scene 4: Midnight, a shabby bedroom. A table lamp practical on a nightstand comes up on Michael and Girl, who have just entered, still in coats from being outside.
Girl: Here we are.
Girl: 800 for the night.
Michael: Yeah. You live here?
Girl: Um, no. This is a motel. But I do have someplace to live. I’m not homeless, if that’s what you’re asking.
(pause. Michael does not respond at all)
So, what do you want? (removes coat, she is dressed in cheap lingerie)
Michael: I don’t know. I guess I want you to feel me. Respond to me. I want you make you suffer through pleasure. Like I do…
Girl: (nonplussed) No shit. (kindly and honestly) Let me explain two things to you, sweety, First, you’ll have to really be something to make me suffer from pleasure. And second, everything costs. It’s like life. God put us here and said “Here’s the world. Take anything you want, and be ready to pay for it.”
Michael: I don’t think God said that.
Girl: Doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Michael: I guess.
Girl: So look, I’m happy to sit here and chat with you, but it doesn’t save you any cash, you know? You’re still taking up my time.
Michael: That’s OK. I’m paying, right?
Girl: Yeah, you’re paying, all right. So, what do you want? (begins to undress)
Michael: WAIT! (beat) Uh, you don’t need to do that. (She stops, looks questioningly at him) I mean, I’d rather do it, OK?
Girl: I’m all yours. (Holds arms out, as if offering herself)
Michael: OK. I’m just not ready yet.
Girl: Your call. You’re paying. (she sits on the bed) So, what do you want?
(pause, Michael is thinking)
Michael: A prostitute…
Girl: (indicating herself) Uh…yeah…
Michael: I called her a prostitute.
Michael: My wife.
Girl: Is she?
Girl: So it’s an insult?
Michael: Yes! (realizes) I mean no…
Girl: (just looks at him) You mean?
Michael: I don’t know what I mean. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…
Girl: Hey, it doesn’t matter to me. You’re paying. You want to scream at me and call me a slut – knock yourself out.
Michael: Maybe I should go…
Girl: You can, but you’re still paying. What are you paying for?
Michael: I don’t know. Love?
Girl: (Laughs at him as she rises. Moves US of the bed) Baby, you can have whatever you want – we can discuss literature, or you can get your freak on. But this is not the place where you get love. You don’t have enough money to buy that.
Michael: (smiles at her) Not you. Her. My wife.
Girl: Let me ask you – why are you here? You’re obviously thinking about her, and not how you’re gonna hide where you’ve been tonight. You’re hung up on the idea of paying, but do you even know what you mean? Somebody comes to me, they pay for an experience they can’t or aren’t getting somewhere else. So I’ll ask you again, what are you paying for?
(long pause as Girl removes some article to indicate she has exposed herself to Michael. Michael looks at her for a long moment, then turns away from her and looks out into space)
Not sex. You’re looking for something else.
(Girl puts outfit back, picks up her coat)
Hey, tell me something – do you charge your wife for your love? Tell me, how much do you get? I’d like to know what the going rate is.
Michael: (stays turned away from her. As he speaks, she casually steps out of the light) She’s not supposed to pay me, we’re just supposed to be partners for each other… It’s a gift.
Girl: (from darkness) I don’t think you pay for her love either.
Michael: I… don’t. You’re right. (turns back to where she was, realizes she’s gone) Hello? (the table lamp blinks out)
Scene 5: Morning. Colleen and James are seated on sofa. Colleen is wearing the same clothes and her makeup is messed. James and Beth have changed, but look tired. James is agitated. Beth is cleaning up from the night before as Michael enters. He has been gone all night.
James: Where have you been?
Michael: (surprised to see them) Uh, Hi. I had to go out for a little while. How long have you two been here?
James: Since around 2 in the morning when Mom called us. What the fuck, Dad?
Michael: Watch your language…
James: (escalating) You left Mom ALONE! She was CRYING! Now, where were you?
Beth: (confused at first) All…night? With who?
(As Beth asks her question, James rushes Michael. James grabs Michael by the collar and backs him up. Michael does not resist.)
Beth: (shrieking) JAMES! What are you doing?!
James: (angry and cold, not releasing Michael) Mom? Did you hear him?
Colleen: (steely) I did. And I remind you that he is your father, regardless of how upset you are. You need to cool off. Go for a walk.
James: Mom, don’t tell me what to do. I heard him.
(a look passes between Colleen and Beth. Beth pulls James by the arm, grabs their coats and steers him out. Beth and James exit.)
Scene 6: This scene be a quick insert between 5 and 7 – perhaps a downlight pool to one side of the stage. Setting is a street. James and Beth are walking.
Beth: (stopping) Are you alright?
James: I’m angry.
Beth: At me?
James: No! Well, maybe a little. But Dad!
Beth: Why are you angry at him?
James: He went out all night! He left Mom alone!
Beth: OK. And she was upset, but she was all right. She had us!
James: It’s not all right. You don’t abandon someone you love.
Beth: I don’t think he abandoned her, they had an argument. He went for a walk.
James: It’s not the same. Mom needs him in a different way now.
Beth: You mean because she’s paralyzed.
James: Of course that’s what I mean!
Beth: I don’t think you give your Mom enough credit. She can take care of herself much more than you think.
James: Maybe. But that still doesn’t excuse Dad from…
Beth: From behaving exactly the way you did last night? They had an argument. He went for a walk. Sound familiar?
James: (long beat. then, he’s a little uncomfortable) Fine. It just seems harsher because she needs him more than you need me.
Beth: That’s not true.
James: It’s not?
Beth: No. It’s not. I need you more than I’ve ever needed anything.
(pause, they look into each other’s eyes)
James: I didn’t have a chance to talk to you last night, but I realized some things while I was out walking.
James: Look, Beth, I realize that love sometimes isn’t perfect, but that’s not a weakness. (pause) And that I should turn down the job if your father offers it.
James: Yes. I proposed to you thinking we would make it on our own. And for me, I have to do this. Or I’ll never be able to define “us” as “us”. Once I feel we are defined, maybe I can consider it. But not now.
Beth: So, maybe don’t turn it down, just postpone?
James: Right now all I want is you. And all I can give you is me. So, if I turn down your father’s offer, will you still marry me?
Beth: (quickly) Yes! Of course, you doof! (pause) On one condition, though. Take back the engagement ring?
Beth: I love the gift. But… it’s too much. Let’s get a smaller one.
Beth: (interrupting) And let’s stay here. In this town. For now. So we can be near your Mom if she and your Dad need us.
Look, I love you, and the people you love, and what you are, and what you can be – that’s more than enough for me.
(kisses him, long kiss)
Shall we go check on your parents?
Scene 7: Michael and Colleen’s home, continuing from scene 5
Colleen: (just a little less collected than before) Michael?
(Michael doesn’t answer her. He crosses to the sofa and sits down on the end opposite her. He drops his head to his hands.)
Colleen: (calmly) I didn’t know where you were. I was afraid for you. That’s why I called the kids.
Did you find what you were looking for?
Michael: No. Yes. (beat) I met a prostitute. But it’s not what you’d think. We just talked.
Colleen: A prostitute? Why?
Michael: I don’t know, really. I was walking, and she just appeared. I mean, I wasn’t paying attention and suddenly there she was in front of me. And she told me to follow her, so I did. And we talked for a little while. And then she disappeared… just like she appeared.
Colleen: What in the world did you have to talk about with a prostitute?
Michael: Life. She was the strangest street girl you could think of – she was smart, smarter than me, she didn’t seem like she was on drugs, she wasn’t homeless, she didn’t try to rob me…
Colleen: Rob you? Much worse could have happened, Michael.
Michael: We talked about sex. And love. And how one can be something you pay for, but the other can’t. And… (pause) I was wrong. What I said to you. I was feeling so guilty about everything you lost, and how sex felt so one-sided. I couldn’t understand what you got from it, so I tried to justify it in my head, make it right somehow… balance the scales. But eventually I couldn’t deal with it anymore because I knew it wasn’t just gratitude. Maybe it was duty? I felt like I had to give you something in return for all that you lost – and since I promised to stay by you “in sickness and in health”, I was already committed to living without sex if that’s what came after the accident. But, after we got through your depression, you’ve wanted to be intimate, and I felt like there wasn’t a way to reciprocate. And so I felt like I was stealing from you. It just all rushed to the surface.
Colleen: You can’t steal what I freely give, Michael.
Michael: I get that now. This girl – she understands. Sex can be business, it can be transactional – separate from feeling, separate from love. I never stopped loving you, but that’s what I feared our intimacy was becoming. But now I see I was wrong. THAT isn’t US.
Colleen, what I do for you – it’s because I love you, not because I want something in return.
Colleen: It’s the same for me, Michael.
Michael: I know. I can accept it now.
Colleen: You hurt me, Michael. Running away from me.
Michael: I know. I am so sorry.
Colleen: I know you are. And I can accept that you hurt me because you love me, and in that moment last night you didn’t know how to love me.
Look, Michael, you didn’t cause my accident (indicates her legs). It’s just life. I’ll live through it until I’m done, just like I did before. Let me take my pain and my joy and give it all to you as a gift, like I did before – my body, my love, my life – this is what I have to offer. Can you accept it? Can you love me the way I am, and accept that I don’t want you to, nor could you ever, make it up to me?
Michael: Yes. (Pause) Colleen, thank you.
(Michael reaches for her hand, which Colleen gives. He holds it and kisses it, then moves closer to her. They hold each other. There is a long pause before James and Beth enter)
James: Mom? Dad?