Excerpts From The Verse Play, Tumbling Through

by Michele Merens

Devolution of language is often associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s.  In my full-length play, “Tumbling Through” I chose to set formal literary style alongside rambling substance to depict the insurmountable language barriers a family must face once their wife/matriarch is afflicted with this insidious disease.
By contrasting Charlotte’s, Max’s, and Juno Denk’s* erratic communications against a fixed verse (mostly iambic pentameter) framework, I hope to make audiences highly conscious of the language chasms such families encounter on a daily basis. Like Jack and Jill in the children’s rhyme, loved ones carry heavy buckets of good intentions and heartfelt remarks uphill only to often find their best efforts “poured empty” against the slippery slope drag of Alzheimer’s, Aphasia or other language-impairing disorders.

In a subplot to the main story, cracks in habitual familial communications are also explored. As many of us know, pre-existing tensions between parents and children tend to fray in times of chronic strain and loss. We can see this fallout in Max Denk’s interactions with his adult son Juno, as both come together to witness and grieve Charlotte’s decline.  

A final note: * Charlotte Denk’s “medical condition” will require any actress playing this character to strike two poses when onstage. She should alternately be communicating eloquently and in an isolated fashion when talking to herself (and by implication, the audience). She should also quickly shift postures to reveal a helpless and distracted persona when interacting with other members of the Denk family onstage.

I thank the editors of Verse Wisconsin for this opportunity to share with you the following excerpts of “Tumbling Through”.

Michele Merens
Cast  for excerpts of Tumbling Through (in order of appearance)

Max Denk:              A heavy-set, elderly, balding man.
Charlotte Denk:      Max’s wife, an elderly woman, she is  
                            suffering the onset of Alzheimer’s throughout play.*   
Juno Denk:            Max and Char’s son, a man in his late thirties,
Terri Denk:            Max and Char’s grandson, approximately eight years old
Sandra:                  Owner of an estate sale business, a businesswoman
                             of Hispanic descent  


An older couple’s living quarters. In the main living room, a hat rack for coats, a weathered sofa, some tables strewn with small knickknacks, pictures on walls, etc. The overall effect is cozy, middle-class clutter that could use some updating, but won’t receive the attention needed. The STAGE is divided along either an imaginary or propped line to indicate splits in rooms. Adjacent to the living room, RIGHT, the audience must be able to see a semblance of a three-season porch, with sitting area and room provided for at least two actors to inhabit the space at any one time. Most action will simultaneously take place in either the porch or living room throughout play.

As we open, MAX and CHARLOTTE DENK ENTER STAGE LEFT. Both are wearing spring coats/jackets of lighter material and CHARLOTTE is carrying a pocketbook. MAX moves CENTER STAGE to coat rack and turns to CHARLOTTE to help her off with her coat. She ignores him, however, moving in distracted yet determined fashion FAR STAGE RIGHT onto three-season porch. MAX sighs and removes his own coat/jacket, hanging it on coat rack. Simultaneously, CHARLOTTE (CHAR) can be seen STAGE RIGHT still wearing her coat on the three-season porch and placing her pocketbook, almost without noticing, onto a wicker chair.

Straightening, CHAR seems absorbed by
a ladybug trolling a wooden beam of the
three-season porch. One has obviously
surprised the other, although it is not
quite clear who has roaming rights.
(focused intently on ladybug)

         So come in, Miss Bug. Small creature critter
         You, who’ve always charmed us away from
         Your insect bits and stuff. Black wire hangers,
         Your legs, antenna, covered lovely though
         By polka-dot attire. And a swell
         Name too. You have the best publicity
         (except maybe for Praying Mantis, by
         Law sanctioned never to be maimed. All we
         Can do to repent for stringing up a
         Critter-praying man named Christ, I suppose.)
         So should we all be charmed and not disturbed—
         That in you, lady comes first; then the bug?
         Shall we act as we might in the presence
         Of a lady? Then come in, come in, live
         In my home. Creep along the sill like a
         Most crafty thief. Climb into my bedding
         To peek, you voyeur. Leave slews of corpse shells;
         Any massacring renegade would.
         This may not be ladylike behavior,
         Bug, but out of politeness to you, I
         Will turn that blind eye. And so, please, come in.
         With all these warm spells. Come under the door
         You watermelon seed, spit up in a
         Celebration of this season’s warm
         Rubs, its newly-picked, juiced swallows. Here in
         This city, there are no fields, only
         Smog from truck exhausts, both short-haul and long.
         Trains whistle, radios blare and cars can
         Backfire, Max says, don’t worry on noise.
         So I know, you get confused like me.
         You find heat surging in vents here and think,
         This place has something in it promising
         Spring. The Sun, that liar, baits you in rooms
         Where giants grow off the same heat and light.
         But you’ve made a mistake. Coming here to
         Our house, Mistaking our winter
         For spring. Too early for a sweet warming.
         You’re coming in here newly-born, but here
         You’ll die; out there too? And which spots
         On your shell are the age of you? Perhaps I
         Should leave as you come in to find out the same.
         What trees and grass and rocks can tell. How long
         Before I, with my spotted mind,
         Shall live or die?

         Where are you Char? Out on the porch?

                     (to herself)
         I thought to kill him the first time because
         He snored. ‘Who gets the pillow over the
         Head to get through this?’ I thought. The second
         Time I planned to poison his food. When
         He complained about the seasoning, I
         Decided, well, no more seasons for you.

         Char? Are you hiding?
                       MAX moves towards PORCH.      
         But now I’m glad I
         Didn’t murder him. He’s proving useful, I
         Am surprised to find. These days, he lets me
         Be alone, he cleans all those rooms himself.
         My old job. He tries to rearrange, but
         I figured out what to carry off long
         Ago. Here, on my arms and legs, all these
         Wrinkled paths on skin. Like you, the same, bug,
         Your dots, counted, charted, stowed. We travel
         Light now. Aimed at the light.  Max?
                 MAX moves onto PORCH;

         Yes, Char, yes.
                   CHAR seems confused; to him,

         Come in.

         I am-(takes a step) in.

         (She flinches) Take your time.

         To do
         What, Char?

         Shh, sh. You tell me.

         About what?
         Char? Why are you so sad?

         Come in—trees.
              (Grabbing his hand, she brings him to far screen, we see
               trees, lit, on backdrop)

         They are just trees.

         No. Come in trees. Take out—       
         The storms.

         The storm windows? But it’s not yet
         A prudent time to not be on guard with
         The weather. This is a three-season porch,

         No. I can’t breathe. Come in, trees.

         But why worry so about the trees, Char?
         Why do you cry?

         Why? Because we’re the same.
         What God promised us is no more than He
         Promised those trees. In storms. Sun. How they bow,
         Turn to all the—days—nights—weather. How
         They do bend, yet stand. (beat) Max, we waste our time.  

         What life may be like for trees in a storm?
         Yes, they shudder…but pain? Maybe that will
         Always be their tiring unknown. And
         Maybe Char, you are tired too. We can’t
         Fix weather but I’ll promise you all that
         We can do. God gave us brains to put roofs
         Over our heads, to be warm and safe.

         God doesn’t love us more than He loves those

         But He blessed us. We’re his caretakers
         On earth.

         Us? No. We’re misers, so tit for tat.
         The trees let fall millions of leaves, they          
         Work, work all the time on wind, and never
         A rest, never a whine, “That’s it, I’m done.”
         No God can’t love us more than He loves trees.
         (beat, quietly) Max, whatever’s happening to me, I’ll
         Keep working just as hard. I won’t complain.

         (long beat) Oh, I see. Char, you do understand then
         Why the doctor had to examine you?
                    He tentatively reaches for her;
         But it was never your job to keep a
         Roof over our heads. Don’t worry, love. Don’t worry. You are
         Safe with me. May I—hold you up? Hold you
         Like trees do stand? How highest branches will
         Bend, yield strength, to bear whatever comes.

                       CHAR lets MAX embrace her from behind; they look out,

         Char, when you look at those trees, do you think
         Of when I was up there too, how you had to
         Scale the skies with your glances to find
         Me? Do you remember when I was a
         Telephone repairman, twenty-three years
         Fixing phones, helping people talk non-stop
         Through wires, behind leafy curtains, a
         Skilled puppeteer? My hard hat still hangs in
         The bedroom closet on a hook. My gloves,
         My black boots, my walkie-talkie
         Belt--all astronaut gear for low-flying
         Trips.  “Who’s up in the trees?,” children would scream
         To mothers, “Tarzan?” And most mothers, who
         Feared one day their children might climb beanstalks
         Would close their blinds, shutter me away. Who
         Cared, if I fell, who cared? And no, children
         Never knew I mostly plucked bird wings and 
         Turds out of phone boxes each day. They thought
         I was a man who played with lightning in
         The trees. “Yes, lightning,” the Mamas said, and
         When they asked me, I’d solemnly agree. 
         “That’s right. Lightning there, electrocution.
         If you haven’t yet learned about danger
         Learn from me. Danger’s everywhere, in
         The crackling air.” All I wanted, though,
         Was for them to climb up too. After I
         Shooed birds off lines, tossed flashlights, radios,
         To the ground below, I’d show them all the
         Secrets hidden up there, camouflaged by 
         Trees. How inside each box coils of red
         And black wire licorice were stored, how
         The adults knew and hid this great truth from
         Children; hoarded for themselves the pleasures of 
         String candy chatter; chewed and chewed and chewed.
         Then these good children, armed with the truth, might
         Declare a mutiny, latch onto my belt,
         Saddle my hips with their monkey-squirm
         Thighs, and like a family of circus
         Folk, long-necked sword swallowers, bulimic
         Contortionists, those who’ve spent their whole lives
         Sashaying the trapeze without nets, we’d
         All head on out to those wires, me a
         Pied Piper bobbing children astride
         My belt, holding hostage with each step the
         Licorice-pinched, sour faces of their
         Parents, gazing upwards. No more. No more 
         Lightning Man. Cell phones and digital, who
         Needs us storming the poles? Let the boxes
         Rust orange, squirrels leave their nuts behind;
         I’m grounded and standing firm, in most ways.
                     CHAR abruptly breaks embrace.

         When are we going?
         We’re home now. No need to move.

         Home? This place?

         Isn’t it? Home for you?

         Where’s my purse?

                     (noticing purse on wicker chair, retrieves it)
         Yes, yes, your purse. All these years, you wouldn’t let
         It out of your sight, into mine. Let’s look  
         Now. See what matters to you most.

                       (tries to take it from him, nervously, he gently resists)  
         Max. Noo.
                                   Aside, to herself/us;                  
         Your wife is no good, please forgive. I hide
         My secrets in this purse. The flavors of
         The candies I chew, how they make my mouth
         Erupt where he does not; red berry, grape.
         He doesn’t know. And I have lied about
         Weight on my driver’s license, lied by a
         Good twenty pounds. If I go missing, let
         No one put up on the T.V. this truth.
         Greater sins, my wallet holds. Beyond the
         Fold, a hundred-dollar bill, for the one
         Day when maybe I would want to flee, ride
         A bus away from all of this, with all
         I could afford. This one bill--.

                  (finding bill in wallet)
         What is this?
         Char? One hundred?

         Give it, give it, oh please.

         But what are you doing with this money?

         It was
         Something once. I--can’t remember.

         But it will be of no use to you now.
         We can buy groceries. May I have it?

         Would you like? My plan I
         Can’t remember?
         But why?

         I just—would like it. Yes? Thank you.
         What else can we pull out of a purse? Oh
         See, Char, your brush. (he sets to brushing her hair) Close your eyes, let me          Run
         These prongs through where strands do river at your
         Widow’s peak. Don’t make a face. I’ve always
         Been in love with the points where you diverge.

         That name I don’t like. I’m not a widow.

         Language cuts blunt, I agree. No reason
         To brand widow on your forehead when your
         Husband brushes not more than a whisper
         Behind. See, don’t worry.
                  (he leans over, kisses her neck)
         Oh, you startled

         No one said open your eyes.

         But your
         Breath on my neck. You stole my calm.

         Here, let
         Me brush some more, over, forget,

         I don’t
         Want to forget.
         No more brushing, please! Look!
         There’s a mouse.

         No mouse. Some grey hairs corked in
         Prongs, some fluff.

         A mouse, a ball of fang and
         Fur in my hand, tailed up from its warm
         Burrow after a deep hibernating
         Spell. A season gone, she’ll never miss it.
         Never had an inkling.

         Char, stop playing
         With hairs! Come on—come, you’re scaring me. (slowly) You
         Do know this is only an old ball of

         An old bald hare? But that’s you, Max! That’s
                       (as she smiles, he joins in laughing)

         O.S., sound of door intercom buzzing, dog barking. CHAR, frightened,                   turning               

                         (rushing to the door, FRONT STAGE LEFT)
         It’s the door, the doorbell, Char.

           MAX mimes opening DOOR. JUNO and TERRI enter STAGE LEFT, merrily
            (to TERRI, brief nod at MAX)
         That ends with an A.

         Oh yeah? Atlanta.
         And that’s another A.

         Oh, I’ll get you
         For this. My turn now?
         It’s Alabama.

                   JUNO hands MAX their coats, to hang on rack, continues with son, 
         No good, Dad. Antarctica.

         You’re setting
         A trap? Arkansas.

         That ends in a R?

         (growling) Ends in a S. You’re old enough to spell.

         Leave him be, Pop. We’re just playing a game.

         Well, it’s bothering me. This chit-chat you
         Do with him, this endless saying nothing, noise,

                    CHAR approaches tentatively,
         Hi Grandma!

         You scare me!

         I want to play
         Geography with you.

                                                  (to CHAR, noticing her distress)
         What’s wrong?

         He wants
         Me to play? What does that—what does he want?

                                                  (to JUNO)
         What’s wrong with Grandma?

         Shh, shh.

        Why can’t he
         Leave me alone when I’m so tired but
         No he’s all the time growling in my ear…

         It’s Terri who’s come to visit us, Char.
         The dog’s quiet, not even close by.

         Let’s watch what we say around Terri, Pop.
         He’s sharp as a knife.

         Of course, he’s sharp. And
         Who loves him best? How—
           MAX goes to hug; TERRI pushes him off, a frightened boy,                                                     
         ’Bout a hug, Terri?—Ow!

         You’re knife-sharp, boy?

                     (clinging to JUNO’s arm)
         Dad, Grandma scares me.

                  (in whispered aside to TERRI)
        It’s all confusion.

        I’m playing with knives, see! (to TERRI)You’re old, pretending
        To be small! Go away!

                  (to TERRI)
         Don’t worry. I’ll
         Explain it to you later.

                  (sharp, refocus on JUNO)
         Where’s your wife?

         You’re missing Claire? Hey that’s good news, I think.

                   CHARLOTTE moves STAGE
                   RIGHT slowly, back to porch.

                    (with great remorse, watching her leave)
         No she’s not thinking of Claire. But she’s with
         Us. Love the ways she still rhymes, son, if you
         Can’t love more, love the bob in her voice now,
         The joke in that rhyme. It’s the best she can
         Give the boy she gave birth to, she’s tired.

         What did Dr. Breen say? Is head or heart
         Not cooperating? Will her rudeness
         Be a constant part of illness? Terri’s
         Clever, he hears.

         Oh your son, who cares? He’ll
         Forget that God swooped in and let me laugh
         As my wife made her puns. I don’t laugh much
         In this house anymore, but I can thank
         Her today. Not you.

         Well, I’m sorry my
         Visit with Terri upsets you. I hoped 
         Your grandson would please you two; he always
         Has before.

         Us before?
         But that’s all you’ll
         Get from her now, what she was before! Don’t
         Ask for more! As for me—(to TERRI)
                                               —you want Grandpa?           
         Fine, I can still bring up the last crumbs in me.
         Here come, Terri, play a game of chess with
         Me. And Grandma will rest out in the sun.
         MAX directs TERRI to chess game on table in living room; the
         two sit to play as JUNO watches.

         Wait, Pop. I’m sorry. How can we help? I
         Didn’t mean to—.

         Sure. Terri. Line up your pawns
         So the Queen’s protected.

         We protect the
         Queen most of all.

         Not exactly. It’s the
         King we normally protect; not today.
         We’ll play however you want today. I’m
         Wary, weary, following the rules.

         Have to understand, I’m deeply concerned.
         The doctor was unequivocal? So
         Alzheimer’s the condition she’s facing?
         Alzheimer’s, or a phase something, he said.

         Did he order tests, follow-ups? How far
         Along is she?
         Since you called,
         I’ve done research on the Internet, found—


         Medication. Sometimes, it can slow
         The progression of the disease. Not in
         All cases, but test trials reassure.
         If we track symptoms early enough,

         Turn, Grandpa.

         (tired) The progression of stall, this
         Disease. The doctor, he said listen for
         Shifts in sentences. Not just what’s recalled,
         How she comprehends.

         What stage is she in?
         Did he say?

         What stage? I don’t know. I come
         In as audience. I sit and wait for
         Our heroine to cue up for each
         Scene. When she appears, I applaud, then wait
         A while more. But come, see for yourself!
         Leave Terri with Claire, visit and watch
         What stage she is in, on, if she remembers
         Her lines.

         Pop, I would but, well, you’ve got to
         Understand. This news hits twice as hard with
                            (sarcastic to JUNO)
        Don’t worry for your Pop, boy. I can

         I know. It’s not just you and Mom, though.
         I worry…uh, this sounds so selfish, but…
         But I’m Mom’s nesting doll and her collapse
         Precedes mine. We both swim in the same gene
         Pool. If you trust numbers as I do you
         Cannot agitate the odds or load the
         Die, to gin a better game. It could be
         A few decades. But my future walks this

         You don’t sound selfish.


         No. Just cruel.

         Your turn next, Grandpa.

         I’ll tell you, here’s your
         Choice, Juno! Join up as her caretaker
         Now or abandon our lighthouse. Hug
         The shoreline to avoid muddy and
         Low muddled waters for however
         Long you can!

         Pop, please I don’t blame you. But
         Don’t you think I’m terrified? To see my
         Future mapped out in her? That no matter
         What, all I’ve learned, earned, it comes down to this;
         Losing your mind.

         Take care now. This is your
         Family! Not just at one end, but the
         Other. The whole package you tend!

         I will
         Handle as much as I can, but she’s your
         Wife. You had a vote. And I have my vote.
         My family. Remember what you and
         Mom taught me? Marriage is our last,
         Best place to join as eager volunteers.

         All she has done for you. And me too-we
         Are, after all, your parents, who raised you.
         Instead you act the bystander? Give me
         Your money, buy your tickets then sit, watch
         A show? Take poison with tonight’s dinner
         Theatre, then. The doctor himself gave me
         The dose; it’s Alzheimer’s. (moans, rubs face wearily) Give me a joke,
         Son. I’m dying to laugh.

         To laugh? Laugh, Pop?
         Okay. Remember how bad it was when
         You gained twenty pounds?

         Yes. I moaned like each
         Step of mine broke the earth…

         But now you’ve gained—

         Umm. Forty.
         Remember what you called the
         Neighbors on Wilson? Their house was beside
         The hydrant?

         The Pugs and their plug. Yes. Oh!
                                                  (his laughter turns bitter)
         Every joke you say though, it counts on me
         Remembering. Or playing with the words.
         And this is what she can’t do any more.
         My poor girl, she has lost her chance to play.
         And what is life without the play? I guess
         What she said it is now, life for a tree
         Or a bug. Life can go on without the
         Urge near to play or pray or remember.
         Life missing its God nonetheless goes on.
         And is she damned now, poured until empty?

         Pop? Where are you? Don’t scare Terri.

         I won’t.
         I am sorry. I won’t scare the child.

         Terri, Pop. Don’t scare my son.

         Don’t scare her
         From the sun—that’s what you should say! Don’t scare
         Her away from her place on the porch now;
         One place where she seems to calm. The doctor
         Will put her in some black cave machine to
         Take some pictures of a brain and call it
         Help. But how will that help when she thrives in

                     (glancing at her alone, on porch)


         The porch brings her peace? What is
         Happening out there? What does she see or
         Angle, try to understand?

         What does she
         Know by gazing, gazing on last night’s lawn?
         We must think Hiroshima without a
         Camera, I suppose. What I guess she
         Does see, in her cataract mind (and that’s
         How I conceive it, that cataracts in
         Her brain cloud the view) is a nuclear
         Blast plumed. Without, this time, a recording
         Device hinged on an airplane’s wing, filming
         How a population does indeed fray
         Seed-like, off a dandelion shoot. Or
         Audio, to hear, how any sound would
         In the wake of Hiroshima-swept death,
         Collapse into the same needled noose of
         Air, the same odd movement, down then up, quick,
         To stitch, silent, a tunneling, black sleeve.
         Thread sound and silence one and the same.
                MAX also looks to porch;
         Days she sits on the porch, half-in, half-out,
         Making choices. I think she does believe
         Out there exists the next room she will dwell
         In and so decorating choices have
         To be made.

         Decorating choices?

         I mean, she has this new affinity
         With the trees I don’t quite understand. She’s
         Lived in the city, just like me, you, she
         Didn’t care much about Nature one way or
         Another. No, we cared more about the
         Bus stops, how they protect from assaults of
         Weather. And car interiors, just how
         Comfortable it was behind the wheel
         Of a Chevy after a day trip quite
         Far. Sometimes we might wonder how to
         Squeeze an eyedrop’s worth of sun from April’s
         Miserly spring sky. Or why the lake was
         Too martini-cold-and-dirty, to swim.
         Now she’s suddenly entranced with Nature.
         Surprised by a new inheritance, and
         It’s never too late to plan.                                               


         In our yard. She says the trees
         Are helpless, suffer keenly from shifts in
         Our weather. She can feel their aches
         Along her spine, she says; their roots strained, pained,
         Pushing up against soil. Char still has
         This logic in her, I think, for sometimes
         I have these pains too. Meanwhile God has
         Long deserted this house; I find myself
         Bitter-mouthed to His lemony, stinging
         Taunts up along my lips, in my nostrils.

                      He pauses, seems to realize JUNO and TERRI with him,
                      makes brisk move on chess board.
         But I am laughing, also crying as
         I share with you my darkest truths and yet
         Because you are my son, I swaddle
         Us both, just like a good father should, in
         Secrets I don’t dare share, and so you see,        
         It is me who is alone in the end.
         No! I cannot breathe!

         Stop! You can’t castle
         Me, Grandpa. It’s not your turn, but look! Your
         King’s off his spot.

                 MAX pushes away game,
         I don’t have energy
         To play with your son while she’s alone,

         (peevishly) Dad, when can we go?

                   CHAR is returning to the living room, in sing-song mocking voice,
         Max, when can we go?

         But Grandma, you’re home!

         Can we go? Max? When can we leave?

                  (standing, waving off JUNO and TERRI)
         Go. Just
                  JUNO pushes TERRI gently STAGE LEFT,   
         Grandma’s scaring me, Dad.

         Don’t say that!
         They EXIT, STAGE LEFT.


         ACT II, SCENE I: Denk’s home, INTERIOR,
         same as before.                               
         Lights turn up, CHAR stands on porch, dog barks, and MAX
         rises from chair, to door,
         addressing dog at his heels,

         Shush, Bloomers! You yap as loud as three dogs,
         A three-headed dog! Who’s out there?

         Can I—?

              MAX unlocks door. JUNO ENTERS STAGE LEFT, carrying a laptop.

         Juno, come in. Why are you here?
         I didn’t call.

         First to apologize, Pop.
         Mom’s behavior when I see her has been
         Shocking, I’ll admit. But I don’t handle
         Things well. In my confusion, there’s been no
         Chance to steer attention your way.
         What’s done
         Is done. The sad truth I’ve faced since setting
         Out on our journey, we can’t turn back.

         I agree. Not any of us can turn
         Backwards, we must move ahead.
         This laptop will help you out, Pop, you’ll see.
         You can take it anywhere.

         I don’t know.
         Not too interested.

         Pop. Please. Listen.
         You’ll need to know things as Mom moves through her
         Illness, the different stages. Use the
         Internet to help you. Here shift. Cap.

         But I already shift, to move her from
         Bed to chair. Her thoughts shift –like a rug off
         Its mark when the doorframe comes up on it,
         When a door moves too far, ajar.

         Come here
         And see.   
                MAX sits on sofa next to JUNO as JUNO sets up laptop;

         It’s not much like a typewriter.

         In some ways, it’s like a typewriter. See,
         There’s keys. All you have to do is go to
         This part of the screen here and type in
         Subjects you need to know about, a few

                MAX types a bit, then stops.  
         Not working.

         Take a breath. Try again.

                 MAX types a bit more, then,

         No, these keys, they’re not working for me! Not
         Connecting, not working. And a son shouldn’t
         Give a laptop to his father who all
         His life gave a real lap, felt his weight, 
         Felt his squirm.

         Just give my lessons for you
         A chance, Pop. There’s too much at stake. I can’t
         Leave here knowing you don’t have a way to
         Find help when you need it,

         Help! There’s
         The phone! When I call, pick it up! I used to fix phones
         So that people could come together no
         Matter how far apart; but you, you don’t
         Come when called. No, never as a child,
         Or now. You—leave that unhappy job to
         Play referee to your wife. You print
         Out what I need, you order the pills I
         Tell you! Be there for me Juno.
               MAX stands, starts to pace.
              JUNO starts to close laptop.  
         I’ll need
         Access to your doctor’s signature. You’ll
         Have to scan--.

         No, you! You order her pills
         Online. Do the inventory. I’ll give
         You the lists!

         Pop, let’s not do this now. We
         Just need to get through.

         Oh? Why? On your watch,
         Only fifteen minutes? Now what, fourteen,
         Thirteen minutes left in your heart for me?  
         And already –you have that look on your
         Face—Sorry, Juno, too bad. And don’t come
         To me with new ways not to deal, to
         Mute me; a screen, a mouse you call this, to
         Nudge with my palm, nudge me away? Do you
         Think I can unravel this mind, simply
         Go? I cannot. I’m trapped.

         No one is trying to—

         You come here with computers to insult
         Me? Show me bridges I’m too old to cross?
         I taught you to fix toasters, wire lamps.
         You show me what I don’t know, as retort?

         You are cruel, Juno. You give me no more
         Then she gives now. It’s too much, get out, go!

               JUNO rises, EXITS STAGE LEFT,
               MAX closes door behind him.
               Dog whimpers at heels. To dog,      
         And we don’t need him, Bloomers. We will be
         Fine without his what, rubber mouse, in my
         Palm, as small as any of the pills she
         Takes, as small as your dog food bits, this is
         Nourishment? To roll this marble about,
         Play a child’s game? “This is the world,” he
         Says. “Click a point on the screen, it’s a map.”
         And the world’s flat again, not real, so
         How do we touch? “Oh, easily,” he says.
         “This is our world now.” (with disdain)  Juno. He’s an
         Arrogant Columbus. Only bowed in
         His petition to the Queen, he whispers,
         “Trust in me, the world is for you.” Oh, the
         Sovereign should have cut out his tongue for
         Such insolence. But no, Isabella
         Funded his expedition, and Juno’s
         Mother would’ve done the same! All mothers
         Believe, most assuredly, in the launch.
         Isabella, I say, the Empire
         Could’ve stayed on to be Spain and Spain and
         What else matters but Spain, but no, she was
         Greedy for more. They were all of them so
         Greedy for more. And you know, I’m smarter.
         When an arrogant  Columbus comes to
         My door, saying, “Trust me, I will give you
         This world”, Bloomers, trust me, we must not be
         Greedy, make those mistakes, put empires
         At risk! We have a wife to care for, a
         Wife who’s our only true queen. We have
         No time for noble adventurers when
         Our attention must be to pills not
         Pins on maps, to caring for the Empress –
         And not the Empire’s wealth, no, not now!
         LIGHTS OUT ON SCENE; When LIGHTS come on again, we see,    

         ACT II, Scene III: Denk’s home, INTERIOR.

         Although we are in the Denk’s home again, the stage is transformed by          clutter in the form of boxes strewn about. Prominently, STAGE LEFT, in          living room, a rolling rack lined with men’s clothes on hangers, fine suits,          pants, shirts, ties, etc. sits in the living room, just near imaginary border to          bedroom. Tea kettles, vases, silver, assorted plates, etc. poke out of open          boxes laid about the floor. CHAR is out on the porch, absently sitting,          staring.

         In living room, SANDRA, an attractive woman with dark, Hispanic features,          walks about the Denk’s living room alone, pulling items out of boxes, and          affixing colored stickers to each item. As she works, she talks to          herself,                                 

         This Danish silver, no it’s silverplate;
         These plaster masks depicting Comedy
         And Tragedy in this house, hung on a
         Wall; and,
                          (in a loud voice, to MAX, O.S.)
         What pattern is your china?
                           (to herself again)
         A shame how fashions change, how these plates are
         So lovely hand-painted from France, but lead;
         No one shall eat off Marie Antoinette’s
         Plates or they’ll die from poisoning, eh? We’ll
         Sell them in a lot on EBAY, I think. 
         Also, I see that she knitted, oh she
         Was mad for knit-one-pearl-two, huh? Can’t you
         See she was all about squinting. Those eyes
         Of hers, squinting so, fell out, I bet; rolled
         Under the bed, eloped with the dust mites,
         Then ran back to Mama, protect us please
         From what we saw out there. Put on blinders,
         Click shut the gates! We will never roam far
         From your skirts again!
                                                 (laughing to herself).
                                               But just look how she
         Swallowed herself up small in this house! The
         Doll-size this and doll-size that, a full-blown
         Tiny city tucked in drawers. We will
         Get less than the cost of sorting for small,
         Perhaps some dollars here, there, not worth the
         Commission. My lot in life, to barely
         Profit from these lots, ha, ha, I’m too kind.
         I give respect to the people, still, not
         Their things. Everyone tells me, “Sandra, you
         Will always fall short with your generous
         Ways.” Oh, but I’m too soft so it’s my fate
         To be poor. God’s work gets the best of me
         In these homes. Don’t the charitable folks
         Tend to pay and pay?

              MAX enters BACK STAGE LEFT, as if from bedroom, drops another box
                 on floor.

         Sell it all!

         What is
         Important to keep?

         I believe close to          
         Nothing. These closets are stuffed with simply
         Things, without her nod or explanation,
         Oceans of her things pooling about.
         I walk through undertows each day. She wore
         Her boots in the house once, I believe she
         Felt half-drowned too.

         Of course, it’s too much. That’s
         Why I’m here to help.

         You do. You remind
         Me when appearances had value. When
         We opened our home and our things 
         Would shine—now I can’t summon up the time
         Or patience. Instead, I must tend to this
         Invisible world she’s ushered in, be
         Alert merely to her smells and her sounds.
            MAX EXITS DOWNSTAGE RIGHT       
         (to herself) Alert to smells? But the carpets wouldn’t be
         So filthy then, would they? And how can I
         Sell in such a mess? How can I sit here?
              MAX ENTERS DOWNSTAGE RIGHT, carrying another box. As he does, 

         (to himself, noticing SANDRA) I like that a woman, who knows enough
         To wear perfume, earrings, visits me too…
         Still, I guess I’ve known worse, encountered
         The tail’s end of how many lives? What
         Their pyramids are filled with? Chipped china
         Remnants from an Occupied Japan. This
         Decanter sporting the most handsome stopper,
         A steed in black pewter. Postcards from
         Those loved ones loyal to the wrong sides in
         The war. Tea kettles that lost their lids in
         Steamy tantrums are still stored below.
               SANDRA heads to clothes rack, starts to examine ties, suits,
         Husband, however, he’s spent a lot
         On clothes; in this regard, a dandy who
         Does not know rhythms must compensate
         With some different bebop built in, to     
         Hang along all his rafters, advertise…   
         These ties! Such materials! Faconne
         In a fine pattern. For the holidays,
         Of course.

         He joins SANDRA, to rifle through clothes.                                 
         Foulard for late August. Gabardine
         For October.

         You know your fabrics, Max.

         Yes, I’m a snob. Each week, we went dancing…

               The door buzzes and MAX heads DOWNSTAGE LEFT
               to answer it. JUNO enters. On porch, CHAR stirs.   

         I’m here to help.

         Oh Juno, lift this box.
              MAX indicates they must move BACKSTAGE LEFT to bedroom, and they
              head to it. JUNO briefly EXITS BACKSTAGE LEFT, while MAX
              stands NEAR WING,  talking to him, directing. SANDRA
              continues work in living room, with boxes.
         (MAX to JUNO O.S.)

        The woman tagging our possessions, she says
        The hardest work comes when you creep into
        The spaces you don’t know; when you open    
        Closets you have forgotten, and find there
        In the silence, shadows, a life that will
        No longer fit.
                JUNO enters BACKSTAGE LEFT,                                      
                drops box in living room.     
        (alarmed, as she looks at a pair of pants)
        Why are labels showing the size cut
        (she pauses, then rifles through rest nervous)
        Every suit, shirt, these pants. They’re missing
        Any hint of size.
            MAX and JUNO hurry over, all pull out clothes, start checking
            them. Finally, MAX stops, and gazing towards porch, says in
            slow, shocked tones,       
         She did this, I think.
                       (long beat, as he examines shirt he holds)
         Her last attempt to be kind, before she
         Couldn’t. In realizing my fierce pride, she
         Bowed to it. I was always embarrassed
         Because of my size. Now I won’t be.

         No labels? To know sizes? Should we guess?
         This could be a problem. Buyers at the
         Sale won’t buy.

                      (slowly to himself, a stunned revelation)
         She’s leaving me a map, a
         Trail. Crumbs on a path to her world. She is
         Showing me, us, a way to come along!
                     MAX starts to smile, then chuckle softly. His behavior confuses
                    SANDRA, infuriates JUNO, who demands in frustration,  

         Pop, how could you leave Mom anywhere near
                   MAX shrugs his shoulders,
                   laughs helplessly. JUNO
                   turns to SANDRA, nervously,     
         (to SANDRA) How much will her confusion set
         Us back? Adding it all up, how much will—?

               (interrupting them, excited, laughing, giddy, yelling)
         How much will
         She set us back? Who cares? Who cares, we can’t
         Go back! It’s no fun counting backwards.
               (he takes a breath, laughs, shaking head, then to JUNO)
         Remember Juno? The game I taught you
         That my Papa taught me? Counting backwards
         In how many languages?
                 (to SANDRA) 
                                                You, you’re a                                       
         Saleswoman. Understand this talent,

         (to JUNO) What’s he saying?

         Come on, Juno. You’re so
         Worried about remembering, here’s a
         Mental sharpshooter’s game. And what are
         Numbers but game pieces
         We roll, pretending we can hurdle to
         The infinite when our abacus
         Comes tooled with ten slim fingers, ten toes!

         (to SANDRA) Clearly, he’s stressed. Forgive him.                                                                                       
         Maybe we can still fix this?
                JUNO thrusts clothes he is
                holding towards MAX,       
                                                     Pop, can you
         Recall if these pant sizes were the same?
         Which you wore twenty pounds ago? And now? 
                 MAX pushes JUNO away.

         Why? (irritated) These clothes fit, and who cares what numbers
         Mean? Numbers don’t have any logic to
         Them, numbers just have grief or joy to them.
         A joke that logic in the numbers can
         Relieve anxiety. Old people grieve
         Around their numbers, don’t you know? Weight, age,
         And money—all these totals head for their
         End points. A final mark. A tired sum.

                  (beat, His attention turns to porch where CHAR stands, lit in
                   backdrop, focused on something undistinguished in her view.)

         Her craziness has wonderful sense to
         It. I am just starting to understand.
         Her way to come along.

         (an announcement) These suits and pants
         Won’t translate. Only useless testament
         To ego now.
                  (to MAX, pointedly)
        They won’t last beyond you.

                        (back to SANDRA)               
         That’s not the worst is it? To know the world
         Will not exist beyond your firm fit?

                        (a beat, then SANDRA smiles softly at MAX, a nod)

         Where’s Mom?

         (tired) On the porch. Like some cat.
         She stirs cream out of sunlight to feed.
                        JUNO and SANDRA exchange glances. MAX notices.     
         I see. I should go too.

         No Pop.

         That’s fine.
         Fine. But tell me, Juno. When will you be
         Done? When are you going? Forfeit your claim!

                 MAX angrily leaves them, heads
                 for porch. Silently, SANDRA and
                 JUNO resume work.