by Wayne Paul Mattingly
Setting: house on Hudson River, Croton-On-Hudson, New York
Time: present, evening
Character: JASON, about 40
JASON stands in his living room addressing some party guests. Although all have been drinking, there is no evidence of this in his speech.
My father is next door, dying. Wandering from room to room like a ghost. No, a “phantom.” Naked. You can hear him wail sometimes, a long soul-wrenching wail such as I’ve heard seals bellow bemoaning a loss. Try to help him. He may swat you a backhand, growl fiercely—or even bite. That’s Henry. That’s Dad. He’s heavy-handed on rejection, not just now but since … ever. We grew up apart, mostly—I lived with my mother after they split up—but I went to live with him and Olga—his sexy new German wife—for my high school years. It was a very intense, and … precarious time—but more of that later. Now, let me speak only of a typical Henry rejection.
I was dating a voluptuous young Jewish girl at the time and up came the Big Dance & Dinner, or Prom or something—I forget. Maybe the Big Winter Dance, which was preceded by “we young high school fellas takin’ our dolls out to dinner.” There was this very expensive, I thought, place called Emily Shaws, or some such, for which I was entirely unprepared, but where everyone took their dates. In fact, it was like a dress-up reunion when I walked in there with Bette on my arm. Lots of dumb smiles and waves to and fro from the awkwardly postured as we were escorted to our table.
Now, before I left my house to fetch Ms. Saturday Night Fever, I entered the living room to announce my departure to Henry and Olga, who were seated in the study, reading. Olga gave me that endearing, but too seductive, don’t-you-look-cute warm smile, but my father stood up. Now, I want to interject here that my father and I had never, and I mean never, had physical contact in my life. To my memory. Now, perhaps when I was a swaddler, even a toddler—but not since I developed memory. So he stands up, very formal, and inquires, with genuine interest, which is in itself shocking, “Where are you going for dinner?” Apparently, Olga had given him some information. “Emily Shaws,” I pipe up, rather pleased with myself. “How much money do you have?” he asks. “Fifty dollars,” I reply confidently. With even a swagger. “Pshaw! You’ll need more than that at Emily Shaws,” he says, then reaches into his wallet, peels off a wad and extends it to me. This is the first—and only—time he’s ever given me money.
Before I can speak, he extends his hand to shake mine. “Enjoy yourself,” I think he was going to say. I heard “enjoy,” but before he could finish, I’d taken his hand and then thrown my other arm around his neck. Which apparently repulsed him: he recoiled. Pushed me away with disgust. Now, he wasn’t the type of man who, at this point, mumbles and sits down, no. He stands there, eyeballing me, almost daring me, with a fierce glare silently saying, “If you push this one step further, I’ll drop you.” I can feel my face contorting, trying to find the right expression without betraying my little boy feelings, so it’s me that stammers, looks down, mumbles “Thanks Dad.” I turn to leave, glance at the wad of money still in my hand, and then for some reason walk deliberately over to Olga, put my arms around her neck, kiss her smack on the lips. “Goodnight.” That handshake? We haven’t touched since.
copyright © 2010 Wayne Paul Mattingly. All rights reserved. ___________________________________________
Wayne Paul Mattingly is an award-winning playwright residing in New York City. Works include: Moonshades, Stripping Eden, The Love Doll, and his latest, Affair With A Fish, among others. Jason is a character in Affair With A Fish, although this monologue does not appear in it.