Portrait of a family
An odd-looking kitchen. Most of the doors on the cabinets are missing. There is a PAINTER on a ladder outside the window. ELIZA (twenty-two, tall, long cinnamon tresses, gorgeous like Venus on half-shell except clothed) is cooking French toast at the stove. The doorbell rings.
Eliza (yells to someone offstage): It’s UPS!
Susan (offstage): On my way.
SUSAN (fifty-two, frazzled, not so gorgeous but doing her best, followed by LILLY, emaciated, anxious, rescued greyhound) charges through and immediately exits by front door, shutting it on Lilly’s nose.
Slight pause. The painter continues to paint. Eliza flips a slice of French toast. Lilly stands facing the front door, statue-dog.
Susan bursts back into the kitchen carrying a box. Lilly rouses and scrambles to keep up with her.
Susan: Did you order something from Apple?
Eliza: No, did you?
Susan: I have no idea. Hope it’s not a mistake.
She pulls out a drawer carefully, the handle held on by loose screws, rattles around for a box cutter and opens the package.
Susan: Oh, it’s the cards!
Eliza: Are they all dark like that other time?
Susan: Please don’t let them be dark. No, they look okay.
Susan and Lilly cross to Eliza. Susan hands Eliza a card.
Eliza: I guess.
Susan: What do you mean, you guess? This picture is fine. It’s only a little dark. Everyone is smiling but the pets, which is fine.
Eliza: Look at the—
Susan: Except for Papa, but he never smiles any way. This card is a major accomplishment. We managed to all get ourselves together in front of a camera for like the only time this year. We couldn’t all be there for a picture in New Orleans, where Papa is now back filming the third season of Treme for HBO after doing a cameo in World War Z, coming to the big screen in December 2012, and indie movie Winter in the Blood, which will be at Sundance or I’ll eat my yoga pants, and The Odd Life of Timothy Green which is out this August. Can’t wait.
Susan: So we couldn’t take the Mardi Gras picture, because Ben was stuck at the University of Texas at Austin where he is majoring in business and has joined the men’s rowing club.
Susan: What? We’ve all been very busy. We couldn’t take the usual photo in Maine last summer because you were in Philadelphia interning for a commercial photographer after you graduated Cum Laude from University of Richmond, getting ready to start taking stills for an independent movie in Montana later in the summer and another one next month.
Susan: This is the one split second we were all in one place at Thanksgiving and remembered to take a picture before Sam had to go back to continue his sophomore year at University of Vermont (where his favorite subject is Psychology and he just hiked the New Hampshire presidential range in 18 hours flat and ended up with black toenails). No other card options to be had this year, especially because I have been so busy.
Eliza: Mama. What about—
Susan: Yes, what about me? I have barely enough time to manage the repair people and these darn painters, who have to touch-up the house because we have been here for ten years now and everything is starting to fall apart.
Eliza: Mama, the painter. He can hear you. Look at the back of the—
Susan: It’s all I could do to place this order for cards. I don’t even remember doing it. I barely remember taking the picture last month, but it looks great. We are all decorated for the holiday; it’s awesome! We’ve never done that before for a card. We have elves! And Sam is wearing a really funny little hat.
Eliza: MAMA! The card’s wrong.
Susan: What’s wrong with it? So they won’t be able to see that Ben has a giant Christmas stocking on one leg, big deal.
Eliza: Look at the back.
Susan turns over the card. The painter cranes his neck, subtly, peering at the card through the window. Lilly peers too, on tip-toenails.
Susan: “Peace.” That’s perfectly non-denominational, politically correct and heartfelt. “Lots of love from Sam, David,, . . .” oh.
Eliza: Two commas after David instead of one.
Susan: Darn. Well, hopefully nobody will spot that.
Eliza: And lots of love from MARBLES? Marbles got really old and was put to sleep two years ago.
Susan: Oh. I think you may be right. This Marbles part is not good.
Eliza: The cat in this picture is Joey. Our cat’s name is JOEY.
Susan: I know what our cat’s name is.
Eliza: You needed a proofreader.
Susan: Don’t mention that word in this house. I have had enough of proofreaders now that I have finished my book, THE HABIT, which was just published last month with two typos left in it (and counting) and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, except when they run out, which seems to be happening a lot these days, but the publisher says that’s just Amazon’s marketing strategy and they are actually lying, so don’t let them fool you. Just order it anyway.
Eliza: Mama. You already gave me a copy of your book. You’ve been doing too much Twitter and Facebook, you have to stop with the PR hype. You make us sound so in control, and we’re not. You never say anything about how Lilly is on Prozac, Joey has diabetes, I have no idea how this stills thing will work out, Ben is boiling to death in Texas, you could barely walk most of this past year, Papa is allergic to everything, and Sam’s toenails are probably going to fall off.
Susan: Well, where can we find somebody creative enough to figure out how to touch up these cards?
Pause. Susan, Eliza and Lilly turn. They look up at the painter. He pretends not to notice.
© 2013 Susan Morse