By: Deborah Ann Percy and Arnold Johnston
This one-act focuses on Ellie and Linda, both in their thirties. Their planned Thanksgiving trip from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to visit Ellie’s parents in Terre Haute, Indiana, and announce their relationship has been interrupted by an unexpected stop to repair their automobile.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
ELLIE: early thirties, pretty, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Michigan.
LINDA: late thirties, more classic than pretty, an OB-GYN specialist at U of M Hospital.
ARVIN: twenties, skinny, not unattractive, with a scraggly little beard.
SETTING: The waiting area of a service station.
TIME: The present, more or less, just before Thanksgiving, a cold and icy day.
NOTE: The set may be minimal as regards props and set-pieces.
(As the lights rise we see ELLIE and LINDA seated along the L wall on plastic chairs with an empty chair between them. A counter for customer service stands L. A door R leads to the parking lot and one C leads to the service bays, from which various noises may be heard, pneumatic devices, power tools, engines revving, and the occasional ding-ding of wheels crossing a bell-cord. There’s also a table with a coffee-maker, Styrofoam cups, packets of sugar and creamer, and a plate of cookies. ELLIE wears a fashionable blouse, short skirt, heels, and her hair is shiny and well-coiffed in an understated way; LINDA is also well-dressed in a silk blouse, slacks, and Western boots. Their coats and are piled on a chair along with ELLIE’s purse and LINDA’s messenger bag. Neither woman looks pleased. They’re tired and stressed, but not actually angry at each other.)
ELLIE: So. You got your 4-Runner checked.
LINDA: I did.
ELLIE: You said you got my Civic serviced, too.
LINDA: I did.
ELLIE: Oil change. Tires filled with… whatever it is. Halogen?
ELLIE: Nitrogen. Spark plugs tapped.
ELLIE: (After staring at her for a beat.) And whatever the on-board computer is supposed to diagnose.
(We hear a ding as wheels cross a bell-cord.)
LINDA: (Evenly, counting each point on a finger.) Ellie. I did. I did. I did. I did. And I don’t think your Civic has an on-board computer.
ELLIE: Yours does, though. Yet here we sit. Not on the road.
LINDA: True. And your Civic is safely at home, because my 4-Runner is what we need.
ELLIE: But your on-board computer didn’t help, did it?
LINDA: It told us we had a problem.
ELLIE: But making sure we don’t have car problems is your job. Ironing shirts, packing Atkins-approved snacks—packing everything! Those are my job. Your special toothpaste. Your favorite panties with the leopard pattern.
LINDA: Panties. You keep saying stuff like that. To irritate me.
ELLIE: What should I be saying?
ELLIE: All right—leopard patterned underwear. Your favorite jeans, black not blue. Puffs with lotion. Camera. Cell-phone charger.
LINDA: Diet Dr. Pepper.
ELLIE: (After a beat.) Diet Dr. Pepper. (Another beat.) All my job. (Another beat.) But not the cars, too. You get the cars ready to go. Fill the gas tank. Check the tire-pressure. Update the Garmin. Head off potential problems.
(A longish pause follows, punctuated by the ding-ding of more wheels crossing the bell-cord.)
LINDA: (Finally.) Yes, dear. And in… (Checking the watch on a chain around her neck.) Just forty-five minutes we’re scheduled to sit down with your mother and father for a fine home-cooked meal.
ELLIE: Not a “fine home-cooked meal.” One of my mother’s famously fussy gourmet creations. Osso buco. Or pork tenderloin soaked overnight in some sort of anise-based marinade. Served with my father’s famously fussy selections of pricey vintage Bordeaux.
LINDA: But instead we’re stuck in this God-forsaken grease-pit.
ELLIE: Still three hours away.
LINDA: Stuck for hours in this God-forsaken grease-pit, still waiting for our speedy personalized service.
ELLIE: The chocolate soufflé is a completely lost cause.
LINDA: Because someone at Hometown-Friendly McManus Motors forgot…
ELLIE: Hours of preparation. Not to mention pre-preparation. Mother’s shopping lists of special ingredients. Arranged in precise sequential order for easy navigation of the aisles at Brownie’s Gourmet Foods.
LINDA: Because someone at Hometown-Friendly McManus Motors—Ann Arbor’s finest service facility—somehow forgot to check my thermostat and coolant hose.
ELLIE: Brownie’s Gourmet Foods. Where discriminating shoppers find only the very best in Terre Haute.
LINDA: Maybe you should call them. Tell them the truth. Part of it, anyway.
ELLIE: That we’re miles away and the hollandaise is done for.
LINDA: And I suppose, since he’s a man, this never happened with Eric.
ELLIE: Actually, no. But not because he was a man, dearest Linda.
LINDA: Because men can intuit when cars are going to overheat, even when the state-of-the-art computerized maintenance systems at Hometown Friendly McManus Motors don’t have a clue.
ELLIE: Oh, for Heaven’s sake. Give me your phone.
LINDA: My phone? What about yours?
ELLIE: It’s dead. And the charger is in the green overnight bag in the luggage deck of the 4-Runner. On the hydraulic lift. For two-and-a-half speedy hours.
LINDA: You didn’t intuit it was going dead?
ELLIE: Just give me your phone.
(LINDA rummages in her bag among the coats and gives ELLIE the phone. She begins to punch in numbers as RANDALL enters behind the counter C. The name stitched on his shirt is “Arvin.”)
RANDALL: Ladies. Good news.
RANDALL: Your thermostat and coolant hose just came in from our South Bend store. (He checks his watch.) Right on time. As promised.
ELLIE: (Looking up from her phone.) Good. (To LINDA.) It won’t save dinner from being ruined, but at least we should be there fairly soon. (She finishes punching in the phone number and listens.)
LINDA: Aren’t fancy foods with lots of ingredients supposed to be better the second day?
ELLIE: When they’ve become leftovers. Mother doesn’t serve leftovers to guests. (Into the phone.) Hello, Mother. Give me a minute. (To LINDA, holding the phone to her chest.) Daddy gets them for lunch.
LINDA: I like leftovers.
ELLIE: That may be. But in my mother’s home, you won’t get any. Unless you raid the refrigerator in the middle of the night. (Into the phone.) Mother, I’m in the middle of something. I’d better call you back. (Listening.) Yes. I know I called you. Sorry.
LINDA: Maybe we could raid it as a team. A couple.
ELLIE: Only if we clean up as a team. A couple. Wash dishes and put them away quietly. (Waving her off. Then into the phone.) Mother, look out the window. The weather is awful. And our car overheated. (Listening.) No, it’s Linda’s SUV. My Civic’s way too small for moving stuff. We left it at home. We have to take care of the problem. I’ll call you right back. (She clicks the phone off and sighs in exasperation.) Ay-ay-ay.
RANDALL: Ladies, ladies. Your parts are here. But they’ll take maybe forty minutes to install. And we close in… (Checking his watch again.) Twelve minutes.
LINDA: Close? Without fixing—
ELLIE: (Finishing.) Our car?
RANDALL: It’s a holiday tomorrow. People got plans.
LINDA: We have plans. Look—
RANDALL: Closin’ at three today. (Pointing.) Says so right on the door.
ELLIE: It also says, “Fastest service in town.” Right on the door. (Waving the phone at him.) And on the Internet.
RANDALL: Not after three o’ clock on the day before Thanksgivin’.
ELLIE: (Peering at his shirt.) Arvin. I—
RANDALL: My name’s Randall.
LINDA: It says “Arvin” on your shirt.
RANDALL: Nevertheless. It’s Randall all day long.
LINDA: Well, listen, Randall-all-day-long. You need to fix our car before you close. We’ve been sitting here for hours. And it’s not even three o’ clock.
RANDALL: I been here since six a.m. I got relatives comin’ in tonight. They’ll want entertainin’. Gotta hit the market, the party store. Pick up a case of Bronson’s Pale Ale. They love that local craft-brew.
ELLIE: Listen, Randall. We need to be on our way, too. We have holiday plans we can’t postpone. And we’ve been sitting here while the ice and snow keep piling up.
RANDALL: Way I see it, you got two possibilities. Stay in town overnight. There’s a Super 8 right across the street. Or I can call my cousin Link. He’ll prob’ly be willin’ to skip Thanksgivin’ dinner and drive you wherever you’re goin’ for maybe fifty bucks. You can pick up the 4-Runner on the way back.
(The phone in ELLIE’s hand rings.)
ELLIE: (Into the phone.) Mother. I’m right in the middle of something. I told you I’ll call you back. (Listening.) As soon as I know something definite. (Listening.) Yes. The thermostat. And some hose or other. (Listening.) No. You don’t need to put Daddy on the phone. We’re handling it.
LINDA: (To RANDALL.) All right, Randall. What do we need to do here to get this taken care of?
RANDALL: I told you. Pick it up on your way back. (Nodding at ELLIE.) This little lady’s daddy can drop you off here.
ELLIE: (Into the phone.) I know, Mother. The soufflé. I’ll call you back.
LINDA: We’re not paying to ride with your cousin and leaving my SUV here.
RANDALL: Fair enough. Stay at the motel.
LINDA: We’re not staying at some Super Five-and-a-Half.
RANDALL: Suit yourself.
ELLIE: (Into the phone.) Daddy. For Heaven’s sake. I told her not to put you on. (Listening.) No. I just wanted to do what’s appropriate, let you both know we’d be late.
LINDA: (To RANDALL.) We need the 4-Runner. We’re bringing back furniture and dishes. Not that it’s any of your business.
RANDALL: Service is my business. But not after three today.
ELLIE: (To RANDALL, after glaring at LINDA.) It’s family heirlooms. They want me to have them now, so they can enjoy my “treasuring their treasures.” (Into the phone.) No, Daddy. (Listening.) No. Eric’s being here wouldn’t make a bit of difference. My housemate and I can handle it.
ELLIE: (Ignoring this, then into the phone.) We don’t need a man to take care of us.
RANDALL: (Offhandedly, to both of them.) ‘Cept me.
ELLIE: (Ignoring this, then into phone.) Eric is no longer necessary. In any case, we’ve already called and hired Billy and Ira Holt down the block to put the Victorian desk in the SUV. If it’ll fit.
RANDALL: They men, too?
LINDA: Very funny.
RANDALL: Look, lady, we all have plans. And I ain’t changin’ mine. I got to cash out. (He turns away.)
ELLIE: Wait. (He moves behind the counter, back to ELLIE.) Daddy. Goodbye. (She clicks off the phone; then to RANDALL.) Wait! Don’t leave! (Startled, he stops, but keeps his back toward her. She motions for LINDA to sit and, puzzled and a little irked, she does. ELLIE addresses RANDALL in a girly voice.) Don’t leave. Give me a minute. (He turns back.) Give me just a minute, uh… (She peers at the name-tag on his shirt.) Uh, Arvin.
RANDALL: It’s Randall.
ELLIE: But it says…
RANDALL: It’s Randall.
LINDA: All day long.
ELLIE: (After shooting LINDA a look.) Randall. Okay. Randall. (She walks toward him and, as she does, gives a mini-one-shoulder shimmy—subtle, nothing exaggerated. She speaks flirtatiously.) Randall. We need that 4-Runner. Silly as that may seem. But we’re two women on the road, in a strange place. We need to get to my family in Terre Haute before dark.
RANDALL: And I need to make a beer run before my relatives arrive. They’re a thirsty bunch.
ELLIE: I know. But Ar… ah, Randall. Randy. If you help us, we’ll help you. Make it worth your while.
RANDALL: What did you have in mind?
(She picks up her purse and pulls out her wallet, taking out money as she speaks.)
ELLIE: We really do need to get there before dark. (Leaning across the counter, flirtatious but not vulgar.) We’ll make it worth your while to stay just a little longer and fix our… whatever.
RANDALL: Thermostat. And hose.
ELLIE: Whatever. (She slides banknotes across the counter.) Will that do?
(He slides the bills to below the counter and counts them quickly.)
RANDALL: That’ll do, Missy. That’ll do. (He puts the bills in his “Arvin” pocket.) Just gimme fifteen-twenty minutes. (To himself, patting the pocket.) Some brie. A nice chunk of paté. (Nodding, he exits off into the unseen service area.)
LINDA: (Rising.) What on earth are you up to?
ELLIE: (Laughing.) Getting your SUV fixed.
LINDA: That’s what I was up to. I was about to give him money to buy his craft-brews. What was all that other stuff?
ELLIE: You mean the mini-shimmy?
(She turns toward the audience and executes another subtle shoulder-twitch.)
LINDA: (Angry.) How could you? “Two women alone”?
ELLIE: Well, we are, aren’t we?
LINDA: Money’s all it takes with guys like that. The rest was phony. Not worthy of you. Or me.
ELLIE: (Getting angry, too.) What on earth? You’re overreacting.
LINDA: Or us. Your father thought you needed a man. I guess you do, too.
ELLIE: I got him to install the new thermofax, didn’t I?
ELLIE: Whatever. You’re overreacting because you’re worried about meeting my parents.
LINDA: The money got him to install the thermostat and the hose. All the flirting was… what? Icing on the cake?
ELLIE: The flirting was insurance.
LINDA: It was demeaning. You’re a professor of art history. I’m a doctor. We don’t need a man. And should I be worried about meeting your parents?
ELLIE: I never said we needed a man. We do need a…
LINDA: Thermostat. And coolant hose.
LINDA: (Scornfully.) Two women alone. Housemates. Housemates.
ELLIE: I want to break it to them face-to-face. We agreed on that.
LINDA: So you say.
ELLIE: Why are you being such a butch bitch?
LINDA: Bitch? Butch? Why were you being such an available cunt?
ELLIE: Cunt? Cunt? (A beat.) How gynecological. Is that how you talk to your patients?
LINDA: That’s how I talk when I lose patience.
ELLIE: Well. You certainly have a mouth on you.
LINDA: (Unable to resist.) You would certainly know about that. Wouldn’t you?
ELLIE: (After a beat.) I guess I would.
LINDA: And that shimmy thing?
ELLIE: You mean this?
(She turns to LINDA and gives her another example.)
LINDA: (Anger draining right out of her.) Oh my goodness.
ELLIE: I’ll shimmy whenever and wherever I want to.
LINDA: (Trying unsuccessfully to be angry again.) I guess you will. But that little act wasn’t necessary. Did you enjoy it?
ELLIE: Of course. Girly-girl stuff. Did you enjoy it?
LINDA: Stuff you used on Eric.
ELLIE: (Flirting now.) Of course. But the real woman stuff is what I used on you. Can I help being a lipstick lesbian?
LINDA: Sometimes I wonder if you’re a lesbian at all.
ELLIE: You don’t have to worry about that. Not anymore. And you seemed to like the mini-shimmy.
(She gives LINDA another.)
LINDA: Well, it does work.
(Finally laughing. ELLIE laughs, too. Then LINDA does a less successful shimmy of her own.)
ELLIE: Practice makes perfect.
(They laugh together.)
LINDA: It all works. (A beat.) Should I be worried about your parents?
ELLIE: Of course not. At least I don’t think so.
LINDA: Don’t think so?
ELLIE: They love me. They’ll love you. They never really warmed up to Eric. Way too butch. Even for Daddy.
LINDA: And they’ll warm up to me.
ELLIE: They’ll treasure whatever I treasure. (We hear the sounds of a pneumatic tool from the service area.) So now we can look forward to a cozy evening with Mother and Daddy. Packing china and cut glass.
LINDA: Sleeping in.
ELLIE: And coming out. Dearest Linda.
(They embrace and kiss. More sounds from the service area. They break the embrace, but hold each other at arms’ length.)
LINDA: You know, I hear that nitrogen in the tires is a waste of time and money. Regular air is mostly nitrogen, anyway.
ELLIE: You’re the doctor.
(They kiss again as the lights snap to black.)
Married writers Deborah Ann Percy (Johnston) and Arnold Johnston live in Kalamazoo and South Haven, MI. Their individually and collaboratively written plays have won some 200 productions, as well as numerous awards and publications across the country and internationally; and they’ve written, co-written, edited, or translated some twenty books.
Debby earned the MFA in Creative Writing at Western Michigan University. A book of her short fiction, Cool Front: Stories from Lake Michigan, appeared in 2010 from March Street Press; in fall 2014 One Wet Shoe Press published her full-length collection, Invisible Traffic, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and an Independent Publishers Award.
Arnie’s poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and translations have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies. His books include two poetry chapbooks—Sonnets: Signs and Portents and What the Earth Taught—and The Witching Voice: A Novel from the Life of Robert Burns. His translations of Jacques Brel’s songs have appeared in numerous musical revues nationwide, and are also featured on his CD, Jacques Brel: I’m Here! A full-length collection of Arnie’s poems—Where We’re Going, Where We’ve Been—will appear soon from FutureCycle Press, and his new novel—Swept Away—is forthcoming from Caffeinated Press.
This play is also part of an upcoming collection of six one-act plays set in or around automobiles, called Steering into the Skid: Six Dramatic Vehicles.