By Ellen Birkett Morris
Max Anderson, Age 43
Jack Hensley, Age 72
Jenny Anderson, Age 41
The Andersons’ dining room table.
Four chairs surround the table; a place is set at each.
(Lights up on Jenny, Max enters and kisses her on her forehead).
MAX: You’re sure you don’t mind company.
JENNY: Not at all honey. It’s been a while since we had someone to dinner. It was…
(She stops herself and furrows her brow.).
MAX: Dad. We can talk about it. I want to talk about it. It isn’t like someone just disappears when they die.
MAX: I mean from our memory. We should keep his memory alive.
JENNY: I set his place just like you asked me to.
MAX: God, what a mess he would make out of spaghetti and garlic bread. I’d sweep up a whole pile of crumbs.
All his shirts had stains on them.
(Jenny runs her hand along Max’s cheek.)
JENNY: So tell me about Hensley.
MAX: I know you’ve seen him, the guy at the coffee shop. The one who sits in the corner and works out the problems of the world.
JENNY: The homeless guy? The guy who rants to himself all day?
MAX: Think of him as a modern day Socrates, someone who is trying to figure out what it’s all about.
JENNY: What possessed you to ask him to dinner?
MAX: I was in line at Hersh Brothers and I ordered mango tea. Hensley leaned up and said, ‘Everybody to their own thing said the old lady as she bent over to kiss the cow’s behind.’
MAX: It was something my dad used to say after he read me a story at bedtime. It made me giggle, so he said it every night before I went to sleep.
JENNY: That’s why you asked a homeless guy to dinner?
MAX: Not really. When he said that, I looked at him, I mean really looked into his face and he had Dad’s eyes. Pale blue. Clear as day. My dad’s eyes alive in another person’s face. Then he starting talking about how the pigeons are agents of homeland security and have listening devices implanted in their butts.
JENNY: Oh, honey.
(She wraps her arms around Max. Doorbell rings and Max breaks the embrace and opens the door.)
MAX: Hello. Welcome.
(Hensley enters looking nervous and extends a bouquet of flowers with dirt and roots attached towards Jenny.)
HENSLEY: These are for you.
JENNY: Thanks, they’re . . . lovely.
(Jenny smiles, takes the flowers, looks around and places them into an empty soup can and on the table.)
MAX: Let me take your coat.
(Hensley reluctantly hands over his worn coat, which Max places on the coat rack. Max pulls out a chair. Hensley sits in the father’s chair, after taking a napkin and dusting off the seat. Max sits opposite Hensley.)
HENSLEY: What are we having?
JENNY: Vegetable soup and wheat rolls.
HENSLEY: Great. I don’t eat anything with a mother.
JENNY: I’m vegan, too.
MAX: I love a good steak every now and then.
HENSLEY: Everybody to their own thing said the old lady as she bent over to kiss the cow’s behind.
(Max smiles at Jenny.)
MAX: So tell me about yourself.
(Jenny walks to the stove, ladles soup into bowls and puts one at each place.)
HENSLEY: Not much to tell. I lost my job, lost my house. Now I’m unencumbered.
MAX: What did you do before?
HENSLEY: Classics professor. I was fired for bringing a spear to class. Fired before I could complete my lecture on the evolution of human violence.
JENNY: What did you do then?
HENSLEY: I got any job I could, telemarketing, delivering papers. I was working three jobs when I lost the house. It was the freest I’d felt in years.
(He holds his soup spoon delicately, pinkie aloft, and takes a small sip.)
Pass the salt?
(Jenny hands him a tiny salt shaker. Hensley holds it between two fingers and shakes it.)
MAX: You don’t miss any of it? In my experience, life is about holding on to what you’ve got. I can’t imagine life without a house, my favorite mug, family pictures.
HENSLEY: Ephemera. Everything worth having is right in here.
(He taps his head.)
JENNY: I guess that would be liberating on some level.
MAX: Says the woman who just bought a snuggie at the drug store.
HENSLEY: A warm snuggie, a park bench, a summer night. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
Can I use your facilities?
(He stands up quickly.)
JENNY: Down the hall and on the right.
MAX: Did you see his eyes? And he sat in Dad’s chair. The old lady and the cow’s behind. It’s like Dad is in there somewhere.
JENNY: Max, honey, what is it you want from him?
MAX: I don’t know. To feel like I have another minute with Dad, I guess.
(Sounds of a toilet flushing and water running. Hensley enters and take his seat.)
JENNY: Oh, I forgot the rolls.
(Jenny gets up and brings a basket of rolls to the table. Hensley gets a roll and tears it apart. As crumbs fly, Max nods at Jenny. Hensley butters the roll and chews intently)
HENSLEY: Good rolls.
MAX: Those were my dad’s favorite rolls. You can’t beat a good roll.
HENSLEY: I told you all about me. What’s your story?
MAX: Jenny’s an acupuncturist. I met her when she treated me for headaches. She won me over with her sense of humor.
HENSLEY: Ah, the healing arts.
JENNY: I loved watching the needles above Max’s eyebrows shake as he laughed.
MAX: I’m a photographer.
HENSLEY: You steal souls for a living.
(Max laughs nervously.)
MAX: The Aborigines say that with every photo taken, a piece of your soul goes with it. I think it is the opposite, something of the person or event is kept alive and shared.
HENSLEY: Treasured memories. Buried treasure. Buried guilt. Let me tell you, son, life is the process of learning to let go.
JENNY: Dessert anyone? We have oatmeal cookies.
MAX: I’ll get them.
(Max goes to the counter to get the cookies.)
JENNY: He lost his dad six months ago to cancer.
HENSLEY: I could see it in his eyes. He’s looking for someone to fill that empty place.
(Max walks to the table with a plate of cookies, sits, and the plate is passed around.)
MAX: You were talking about letting go.
HENSLEY: Things happen, things change. People disappoint you or quit listening to you or they get sick and die. After a while, you just have to let go of what was and think about what is. Letting go doesn’t mean you stop caring. It means you realize you don’t control everything.
MAX: What is, huh? Do you believe in heaven?
HENSLEY: I believe that the departed have all the answers and we have all the questions.
JENNY: All of the answers. I like that.
MAX: Me too.
HENSLEY: Folks, I better get going.
MAX: I have one more question. Where did you get the saying from? The one about the cow’s behind.
HENSLEY: My dear mother. I credit her with my unique views and my blue eyes. I like to think she sees through my eyes now.
MAX: You sure you won’t pose for a picture?
(Max pulls a small camera out of his pocket. Hensley hides behind the coat rack and comes out when Max returns the camera to his pocket.)
HENSLEY: No thanks. I can’t risk it. My soul has places to go and people to see. Thanks for dinner.
(Hensley puts on his coat and pats Max on the back. He walks out the door. Max gets the broom and begins to sweep the crumbs from under Henley’s chair as Jenny looks on.)
MAX: Everybody to their own thing . . .
JENNY: …said the old lady as she bent over to kiss the cow’s behind.
(Max and Jenny embrace. BLACKOUT.)
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning, multi-genre writer, teacher and editor based in Louisville, Kentucky. Morris is the author of LOST GIRLS, a forthcoming short story collection (TouchPoint Press), and SURRENDER (Finishing Line Press). Her short play “Fool Me Once” appeared in Plays, The Drama Magazine for Young People. Her ten-minute play “Lost Girls” was a finalist for the 2008 Heideman Award given by Actors Theatre Louisville. Her work can also be found in Mud City Journal and on Monologue Bank.