Mother Courage

Setting: An oral surgeon’s office in the second-wealthiest county in the United States.  On one wall are paintings of pitchers and bottles.  On another, a huge ugly abstract painting with a black frame.  In front of the black-framed picture sits a woman, 32, with blonde hair and dark roots, and dirty black patent-leather shoes.  She leans back, hitting her head on the black frame, then slouches forward.  Every so often, she does this again, as if she has forgotten.   A receptionist sits behind a counter, doing paperwork.  In the corner, an old man wearing a giant birthday cake hat sits grinning.  He is wearing turquoise pants.

Enter: A businessman in a trenchcoat with two teenage daughters.  The daughters wear Catholic-school uniforms.

Businessman: Hi, we’re here from Dr. Hobnob’s office to make an appointment with Dr. Soandso. 

Receptionist: Ah, yes.

The younger of the daughters eyes the woman.  The older of the daughters gives the receptionist an intense stare.  The younger daughter decides the woman has no children, is completely free.

Older daughter: They can put me to sleep, right?

Receptionist: Yes, dear, if that’s what you want.

Businessman: But they don’t, usually, do they? 

Receptionist: They can give her a local, too.  Whichever she prefers.

Businessman: We’d like something in December, if you have it, so she can get her braces on over Christmas break.

The woman smiles knowingly.  She had four teeth pulled before getting braces.  Younger daughter continues to look at the woman wistfully.  Then she notices old man with birthday hat.

Younger daughter: Is it your birthday?

Old man: It is.  I’m ninety-two today.

Businessman: Ninety-two?  Wow.  Good for you!

Old man: I tell you what the trick is.  I’ve been exercising all my life.

The woman smiles again.

Businessman: Is that so?  Wow.  Good for you.

Enter another man, about forty.  He wears blonde shoes, khaki pants.  He goes to the receptionist.

Khaki man: I’m here from Dr. Whoever’s office.  My dad is out in the car waiting for me because my car just broke down, and he’s lending me the money to get this done.  It’s so embarassing.

Receptionist (clearly not interested in his bizzare story): Okay, hon, just fill these out, please.

Khaki man sits down.

Receptionist: The fifteenth?  At two-thirty?

Businessman: That’ll work. 

Younger daughter: That’s my birthday!

Older daughter: Well, what does it matter if it’s your birthday?

Younger daughter shrugs.

Businessman: Thank you very much.  We’ll see you on the fifteenth.

Receptionist: Okay, then.

The old man, woman, and khaki man sit quietly for a moment.  Then the old man catches the woman’s eye.

Old man: You know I have all my own teeth?

Woman (half charmed and half annoyed): Really?

Old man: Yep.  My dentist– he’s gone now– he told me the secret, and I’ve told my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren.  You wanna know?

Woman: Sure.

Old man: You brush your gums.  When you’re done brushing your teeth, you just brush your gums.

Woman (smiling with teeth full of fillings, and an abscess, despite her brushing and flossing and fluoride rinses): I’ll have to remember that.

Enter an older woman, rushing in the door and seeming slightly flustered.  She wears black pants, a sweater, and delicate earrings.

Older woman: Honey, I’m sorry, I didn’t get your first message.

Woman (smiling with secret relief): That’s okay.  I would’ve been fine by myself.  It’s no big deal.  It should be just like when I got my other teeth pulled, you know, it’s a wisdom tooth, but it’s all the way out so they can grab it.  It’s not a surgical thing.

Older woman: That’s good.

Enter a short man, in his sixties, wearing a plaid shirt tucked into his jeans.

Short man (to woman): Well, hello again.

Woman: Hello.  (To older woman) We were both at Dr. Jibberjabber’s office today earlier. 

Short man: Yeah.  I’m his dad.  (He indicates khaki man, who smiles miserably.)  Let me ask you something.  (He sits.)  Do you think people should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? 

Woman: Well, if I know someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas, I’ll say, “Happy holidays,” but I also think if I tell them “Merry Christmas” I’m just trying to be nice, so they really shouldn’t be offended.

Short man (to older woman): What do you think?

Older woman: Well, I don’t know.  It’s not a big deal to me.

Short man: I think they should be able to say, “Merry Christmas.”  If they don’t, that’s taking away from our heritage.  I mean, I’m an agnostic, so I don’t care, but… (Snorts to himself)  See, this is what I do all day, go around to dentist’s offices and ask people questions to get their minds off their troubles.

Woman and older woman laugh politely.

Receptionist: Elizabeth?

Woman (stands up): Yes?

Receptionist: It’s time for you to go back.

Older woman takes hand of younger woman, they approach desk to exit scene.

Short man: Good luck!

Woman: Thanks.


Have Two


            I have two stacks of vocabulary tests in my hands, standing at the front of the room, and one of my bolder students says, to delay things, “So, what’re you doin’ this weekend, Ms Schurman?”

“Well,” I say, “One of my friends is turning eighty today, and I’m going to his party.”  I try to generally portray myself as a dork at school.  There’s nothing worse than a cool teacher. 

“You have friends who are eighty?  And they have parties?” he says incredulously. 

“We have our coffee together,” I explain, as if this explains something.

My student shakes his bald head.  “That’s crazy,” he says.

“Everything inside your desk,” I say, and everyone groans.

Actually, Charles’ party looks like more fun than plenty of others I’ve been to.  I open a door in a boring strip center to see a mass of mostly white-haired guests.  Weaving through them to the buffet table, I notice that although their average age must be 70, they are laughing and downing white wine and beer like college kids.  Some people are wearing big buttons with photos of Charles at every age: baby, teenager, adult.  One of the photos, I notice, was taken at my birthday party, when Charles posed with a belly dancer.  He was only seventy-eight that year.

I had been invited by a mutual friend of Charles’ and mine—who is much closer to 30 than 80.  I find him by the buffet table.  Pete is tall, built like Superman, with big mitts of hands.  He climbs mountains.  He sells stocks.  Along with Charles, we’ve been idly chatting for about seven years over coffee.  I fill a plate, order a drink, and tell him that one of my coworkers just asked me out.  He advises me to meet the guy at a downtown bar wearing a miniskirt and red stilettos.  I thank him for this sage advice.

I find a table seated across from one of the octogenarians.  During the war, he and his friends used to steal shoes from downtown shops.  Used to take the streetcars that went over into Kansas City, Kansas, across a bridge without sides that scared the crap out of them, and they liked it.

Charles’s daughter comes over to meet me.  She has her father’s gregarious nature, and her mother’s dark hair.  I agree to encourage Charles to spend part of the winter in Florida.  The daughter is afraid that he will fall on the ice, alone.  I have worried about this, too.

People keep coming up to meet me and assuming I am Pete’s fiancé.  I ask him where his fiancé is, and he says, “Ah, we had a little falling out.”  I’m sorry I asked.  The charm of acquaintances is that you don’t have to go into your deeper miseries.

            A wrinkly woman stands up to give a toast, clinks her glass with a fork.  “I just want to tell Charles happy birthday, from the only woman here he hasn’t dated!”  Everyone laughs.  Another person greets me as Pete’s fiancé.

I go to say goodbye to Charles.  He tells me I am the prettiest girl in the room.  Wearing red lipstick always has this effect on him.  I told him I hoped to have an 80th birthday as great as his.

“I hope you have two!” he says, beaming.

Charles is on dialysis twice a week, and I’m going home alone, tipsy.  But eighty might be a good goal, after all.