Let’s Hop This Train

A Scene from An UnDutiful Daughter 
Published in Island Writer: The Literary Journal of Vancouver Island & The Gulf Islands. Volume 18, Number 1, Summer 2020.

    by Wendy Judith Cutler
 
                      Settings 
 A Car and Hospital Room, City of Angels, Summer 1989

 Characters:
 Daughter 
 Mother 
 Father 
 
                       Setting: A Car
 
DAUGHTER
I come to the City of Angels to visit my Dad in the hospital. He has been in a gradual decline for several  years. After a series of small strokes and a bacterial infection that lodged in his hip, heart and brain, he is now “transitioning” into perhaps the final stage of this illness. 
 (Pause.)
I drive my mother and myself in my father’s gold Cadillac to the large monstrosity of a hospital where many of the Hollywood stars and monied Jews go for their facelifts, heart attacks and cancer treatments. The same hospital they brought me to when I was five years old and my appendix burst and I almost died.

MOTHER
I always thought I’d have a husband and children.

DAUGHTER
You do. You have a husband and children.
 
 MOTHER
 I always thought my daughter would have a husband and children.
 
 DAUGHTER
 You have a husband and you have children. I’m your daughter.
 
 MOTHER
You know how I feel about your life.
  
 DAUGHTER
I know you don’t accept who I am.
 
 MOTHER
You’re ruining your life. You don’t care about us. You’ll never have anything...What       did I do wrong? You should have never turned out like that.
 
 MOTHER exits car.
 
 DAUGHTER
I let my mother out of the car in front of the hospital entrance. I park the car in the gigantic multi-levelled parking lot, circling up and up and around until I finally find an empty spot. I get out of the car and find a door to an elevator that swiftly descends to the bottom, depositing me in front of a sign that says “Information.” I give my father’s name to a woman with a name card that reads “Valencia.” Valencia gives me a slip with the room number on it with vague directions. I search for another elevator. (Pause.) The hospital exudes that nauseating, sickly combination of cleaning supplies, illness and decay. Nurses, aides and doctors, in various pastel-coloured smocks, slip in and out. The chatter at the nurses’ stations interrupts the otherwise solemn and somber atmosphere.  A person slides a cart out of the room with blood samples and syringes. After asking for directions as I wander the corridors, I find his room number and open the door.
 
DAUGHTER opens door.
                           Setting: A Hospital Room

My mother takes root in the one worn-out plastic chair next to his bed that she hardly ever vacates. My father, usually reserved and introverted, displays a distinctly opposite demeanour. He becomes a resistant and uncooperative patient, flailing his dissipating body around, pulling out IV’s, bargaining for his freedom.  (Pause.) 
I see that he is restrained; his wrists are tied to the corners of the bed. When he sees me walk in, he winks at me.
 
FATHER
Call the police. I’m being imprisoned. It isn’t right. This is terrible...I can get out. I’ve done it before.

MOTHER
 MOTHER is reading a magazine.
Dear, do you want something to eat?
 
 FATHER
 Yes. 
 
 MOTHER
 Do you want some ice cream? You like ice cream.
 
 FATHER
 No.
 
 FATHER pulls on wrist ties. Tries to get out. 
 MOTHER
 Well, I don’t care what you do. You’ve always been a hard patient. You’re not a good     patient, dear.
 
 FATHER
 That’s ridiculous. Is there a scissors, to cut out?
  (Pause.)
 
 MOTHER
   (To DAUGHTER.)
 I gave you a 12-piece set of dishes. You probably lost it. Somebody probably took it.
 
 DAUGHTER
 I still have it.
 
 MOTHER
And that set of sterling silver that I’ve been saving for your dowry. I’m not giving you that unless you get married...to a man!
 
 FATHER
 At 11:00. They’re letting me out.
 
 MOTHER
Won’t you just call Sammy Rozay and say hello and that you’re here and that you wanted to say hello?
  
 FATHER
 I want to go home. I want to get out of here. Please...
 
 MOTHER
 (To FATHER.)
 Do you want some soup, dear?
 
 FATHER
 Soup. I want soup.
 
 MOTHER
 Is that what you want?
 
 FATHER
 Nothing. Alright, where is it?
 
 MOTHER
 Where is what?
 
 FATHER
 I thought you were making... Come on. Forget it. I want to get out of here.
 
 DAUGHTER
  (To AUDIENCE.)
Sometimes, my Dad’s distinct kind of humour comes out. Like when a doctor breezes in briefly and asks my father how are you doing.
 
 FATHER
 Medium rare. 
 DAUGHTER
 That’s the way he always liked his meat cooked.
 
 MOTHER
 Honey, what do you want now?
 
 FATHER
 I just want to get the car worked on.
 
 MOTHER
 Everything's fine.

  FATHER
 Alright. Forget it.
  FATHER starts to cry.
 Please don't. Please...
 
 MOTHER
  MOTHER wrings her hands. 
 
Nothing’s going to happen to you. (Pause.)  I think he’s really off his rocker now. I’ll never be able to take him home. I may have to put him in a home, if I can’t take care of him. I won’t have him, if he doesn’t get better, I won’t take him home.   
   
  (To FATHER.)
 Honey, I’m not taking you home from the hospital. . . if you’re a vegetable.
 
 DAUGHTER
 (To AUDIENCE.)
This is my mother’s version of “tough love.” Her strategy is to goad him into getting better and, as far as I can tell, a hopeless attempt. I desperately want to spend some private time to be alone with my father.
 
 (To MOTHER.) 
Mom, don’t you want to get something to eat? There’s a cafeteria on the 4th floor. I’ll stay here until you return.
 
  MOTHER slowly rises from the chair.

 MOTHER
 Okay. Maybe I’ll get a little something to nosh.
 
 MOTHER takes her purse. 
 
       (To FATHER.)
 I’ll be back soon, dear. I won’t be gone long.
 
MOTHER walks out the door, leaving it half open. DAUGHTER  closes the door. She unties the knots that tie his wrists  to the bed.FATHER opens and closes his hands, trying to  release the tightness caused by the ties.

FATHER
 “How’d you like to be married to that?”
 
 DAUGHTER
This was one of the things he’d say, usually in front of my mother. She didn’t seem to mind. (Pause.) I notice that his  hands are so like mine. They were always soft and clean, almost delicate. He washed them constantly. They were his tools for over forty years as he made his living as a dentist. A perfectionist by nature, he was really more of a jeweller than a skilled technician, fitting teeth with fillings, inlays and crowns. He worked long hours doing lab work after patients had long left. His strict standards left no room for mistakes or sloppiness.
 
 FATHER
 “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it.”
 
 DAUGHTER
I heard this often enough. He didn’t see the use of trying to do something you didn’t know how to do. I wonder whether he ever realized how stultifying this was, destroying a sense of experimentation so essential to growth and maturation.
 
  (Moves closer to bed and takes FATHER’S hand.)
Hi Daddy, it’s me. I’m here. (Pause.) We had this tradition, whenever we’d attend a play or musical when I was young, of squeezing our hands together when the lights went out.
 
 FATHER
 Get me out of here. Help me. Please...
 
 DAUGHTER
 I can't, Daddy. You're sick.
 
 FATHER
 Come on, let's go. I'm fine.
 
 DAUGHTER
 Dad, I can’t take you. I wish I could.
 
 FATHER
Pleassssssssse. Let’s skip this joint. Let's find another hotel. Let’s hop this train. Help. Let’s go...Now.
 
 DAUGHTER
 (To AUDIENCE.)
My father grew up in Los Angeles, but was born in Montreal where his parents met after leaving their shtetls of small villages outside of Kiev. He told me my grandpa, Sam, worked in a cap factory and my grandma, Rose, in a wedding gown factory. They had the first four (of six) children and rode a train to California when my father, the eldest, was seven. (Pause.) As far as I know, he never hopped any trains, but who knows. There’s so much about his early life, and that of my ancestors, that I don’t know. 
 
 FATHER
 When you’re around the river, drop in.
 
 DAUGHTER
This was another one of his sayings. (Pause.) My father hardly ever asked anything of me, except when I sent my coming out letter to them when I was twenty-one, after falling in love with my best friend and housemate. I had put off telling them directly for two years, but I couldn’t stand the dishonesty or lies of omission any longer. (Pause.) I also submitted the letter to a lesbian-feminist anthology of coming-out stories that accepted it for publication. It was printed in a national lesbian newsletter, Lesbian Connection, and a local one, Rubyfruit Reader. My parents never knew about any of this.
 
 (DAUGHTER writes letter.)
 Dear Mom and Dad:
You are asking me to explain to you why you don’t understand me. . . The basic misconception you have about me is that I am looking for a man. I am a lesbian socialist feminist revolutionary. My life and political viewpoints are not tradition. I feel good about myself, my understanding of oppression in this society and my connections with other women. . . More and more of us are affirming our connections with each other and defining ourselves as woman-identified women. . . 
 
 MOTHER
 "The day we received your letter was the worst day of my life."
 
 DAUGHTER
 That's how my mother's letter began, following my coming out letter.
 
 MOTHER
 "You're not like that. Someone has brainwashed you into believing you're that way!”
 
 DAUGHTER
 At the end of her letter, she wrote:
 
 MOTHER
 "We love you very very much. Please don't hurt us."
 
 DAUGHTER
 In subsequent letters, hurt was to change to:
 
 MOTHER
 "Please don't disgrace us.”
 
 (Pause.)
 
 DAUGHTER
 My father's letter came later, even though he was usually the one I corresponded with.
 
 FATHER 
"I’m willing to accept you as you are and will stand by you. However, I’m asking you to NEVER use the words “lesbian” or “gay” in your letters or conversations with her. Please give her a glimmer of hope, no matter if you think it’s dishonest. You must make her feel that maybe, someday, somehow, conditions may change.”

 DAUGHTER
 Then he asked:
 
 FATHER
 “Tell her you will shave your underarms and legs. After all, hair will always grow back. That will give her some hope and can’t hurt you very much. Your reaction to this is very important to me.”

 DAUGHTER
Towards the end he writes:
 
 FATHER
“You have given us a lot of pleasure. We’ve been proud of your achievements. But your overzealous devotion to women’s lib and trying to change the world in a hurry and your aggressive involvement in the revolutionary movement is a constant worry to me.”

 DAUGHTER
 He ended with:
 
 FATHER
 “All I ask is that you stay out of trouble. I love you very much.”
 
 DAUGHTER
The minutes are ticking away and I know my mother is going to return soon. We used to have these political discussions late at night when he came home from the office to eat dinner in the white kitchen.
 (To FATHER.)
Dad, remember our discussions at night, after you came home from the office?
 
 FATHER
When we’d solve all the world’s problems? All at once!
 
 DAUGHTER
I relished those talks. (Pause.) Do you consider yourself a liberal?
 
 FATHER
I never really thought of myself as one, but maybe I am.
 
 DAUGHTER
You used to tell me that you were grateful that you did something for a living that helped people.
 
 FATHER
Did I say that?

 DAUGHTER
And you always seemed to support equality for all people. You once told me that your dad thought that the workers should own the factories.
 
 MOTHER
 MOTHER’s voice from off-stage.
 See, I knew she didn’t get it from my side of the family!
 
 FATHER
 Really? I said that?
 
  (Pause.)
 
 DAUGHTER
 Dad, what do you think about dying?
 
 FATHER 
 I haven’t given it much thought.
 
 DAUGHTER
 You also told me you were agnostic. What do you think happens when you die?
 
 FATHER
 I’m not ready yet.
 
 DAUGHTER
 Neither am I. I wonder what it feels like though, where you go.
 
 FATHER
 When are we going to the racetrack?
 
  MOTHER briskly enters room. 
 
 DAUGHTER
 Mom, did you eat anything?
 
 MOTHER
 I couldn’t eat a thing. There’s mostly just chazerai. 
 
 DAUGHTER
 Do you think you could walk around for a few more minutes?
 
MOTHER doesn’t leave the room. She comes to the other side  of his bed and sits in the chair. DAUGHTER moves away from  the bed and sits on the floor in the corner of the room.  She takes out her journal and pen and starts to write in  it.
 
 FATHER
 I just want to get the car worked on.
 
 MOTHER
Oy vey, I don’t know how much of this I can take. Everyone thinks I’m strong, but I’m not. (Pause.) Dear, I keep telling you that everything’s fine.
 
 FATHER
 Alright, forget it.
 FATHER starts to cry.
 
 MOTHER 
 (To DAUGHTER.)
I don’t have anyone here. I have to do everything myself. You better help me with some things. You're only going to be here a few more days. You don't even want to help me.
 
 DAUGHTER
 (To AUDIENCE.) 
A hospital aide comes into the room. She tells me that I can’t sit on the floor because it’s a fire hazard.
 
DAUGHTER reluctantly rises from the floor and moves to the other corner of the room, continuing to write in her journal. 
 
 MOTHER
Dr. Wallace was next door to see a patient. His daughter lives in Washington...has a little girl...divorced her husband....Dorothy Kadimer's daughter has been on drugs for twenty years, can you imagine that? Her husband has never accepted her daughter  marrying a Japanese. He won't ever see him. Isn't that something! (Pause.) My son was such a gorgeous kid. He really was. He said that if he could, he would live over those years. Can you imagine that? Those were really the best years of my life.   
 
  (To DAUGHTER.)
You used to be so great... until you changed, chose that lifestyle...I’ll never never accept that, not in a million years. You can’t tell me that I raised a gay daughter...We really had some great times.
 
  MOTHER rises from chair. Looks at DAUGHTER. His lunch should be coming soon...What are you writing in that thing, anyway? Probably bad things about your mother.
 
  DAUGHTER closes the journal and puts it in her backpack. 
 
 DAUGHTER
 It’s just my journal. I’ve been writing in one for years. You know I teach writing. 
 
 MOTHER
I don’t know what kind of mishugas you write. You never show anything to me. What do I know! When are you ever going to get a real job? You’re in your 30s. You’re not getting any younger, kid. You better grow up.
 
 DAUGHTER
I do have a real job. I teach writing at two community colleges.
 
 MOTHER
And do you tell your students what you are? I hope you don’t. You’ll lose your job. You better watch out. Anyhow, you’re not like them. You’re being brainwashed! Do you want me to take an ad out in the Denver Post saying “My daughter is a lesbian?”
 
 DAUGHTER
 I don’t care what you do or who you tell. You don’t respect me. You’ve alienated me.
 
 MOTHER
 You’re killing me, that’s what you’re doing.
 
 DAUGHTER
 No, Mom, you’re killing yourself. You don’t really care about how I feel.
  
 MOTHER
 I do. I love you.
 
 DAUGHTER
 I don’t feel loved.

 MOTHER
 How can you treat your mother so terribly?
 
 DAUGHTER
 How can you treat your daughter so terribly?
 
 MOTHER
 I love you.
 
 DAUGHTER
 I don’t feel it.
 
 MOTHER
 (To DAUGHTER.)
You can’t tell me I raised a gay daughter. I want you to know I love you dearly, but I’ll never accept your life.
 
DAUGHTER
You mean as a lesbian.
 
MOTHER Don’t you ever say that word again, ever, ever, ever! Do you hear me? Don’t you ever. Not ever! 
 
 FATHER
 FATHER sits up and looks at DAUGHTER.
 Sweety, you should go to bed.
 
 DAUGHTER
 I want to be here with you, Daddy. I want to be here with you. I love you, Daddy.
 
 FATHER
 I love you, baby.
   
  Three Days Later
 
  DAUGHTER enters the room, this time by herself. She moves  close to her FATHER’s bed.
 
 DAUGHTER
  (To AUDIENCE.)
My father’s breathing is belaboured. The “death rattle” seems to come every thirty-seconds or so. He doesn’t open his eyes. He is certainly in a different realm than even yesterday. I’m leaving tonight to go home, to my life, to my lover, to my work. I know this is probably the last time I’ll see him alive.
  (Pause.)
Finally, I am able to be here myself without my mother’s presence and her endless harangue about my life, her despair and disappointment and denial, not only about losing her husband but about me. My brother, her prodigal son, is coming tomorrow. I will just as soon get out of the way. Except my dad is probably not even responsive now. My brother chose to wait to come. His loss.
 
 DAUGHTER moves closer to her FATHER.
I gently kiss his lips. I dab his eyes with a moist tissue to get some of the crusty stuff off. I wipe the corner of his mouth. (Pause.) I take my father’s hand and squeeze it. I sit with my hand clasped around his. My tears fall upon our hands. His breathing slows and his agitation ceases for these brief moments together.
 
 DAUGHTER looks directly at FATHER.
Daddy, you don’t have to worry about anything or anybody. I feel good about my life. I’m fine. Everybody is fine. You don’t have to worry any more.
 
  DAUGHTER bends down closer to FATHER’s face.
 Dad, just do whatever you need to do. Just. . . let. . . go.
 

  They stay like this for a few moments.  
I always loved looking at his face, those ice blue eyes, his moustache and large, Jewish nose. He used to say: “I don’t know how you girls handle having those tiny noses. I take one breath and it lasts me all day.
 
 DAUGHTER
I place my fingertips on the furrow between his eyebrows, that special place he used to lightly caress my face when I was young, soothing me then. I move my fingers back and forth, hoping to calm him and bring some of the tenderness of our loving to us both in this  hospital room. (Pause.) I visualize him letting go, allowing himself to release his tired, now burdensome body. I close my eyes to attune myself to his irregular breathing, as it slows and slows, and then suddenly quickens. His face is gaunt and stubbles show. His hair has greyed but is still kinky-curly. I imagine never seeing him again, never gazing upon his face. (Pause.)
 
 (To AUDIENCE.)
My father died two weeks after I last saw him, the night before he was supposed to be transferred to a nursing facility, exactly one month after he entered the hospital. My mother phoned to tell me he died, when she left his room to change her clothes at 
home.  Truthfully, I am relieved. I am glad he decided to finally let go. The real tragedy is that my mother has forbidden me to bring my lover, my partner, to his funeral. I always assumed she’d be there with me. The dilemma is how to honestly grieve my father’s passage while wanting my lover to be there with me, to be comforted by someone who loves and understands me.
 
  Scene Ends