Prelude to a Walk through the Snow
E. Joyce Guilford-Blake
LAURA - Late 30s. Generally insecure, and at the time of the play, under extreme emotional duress. It is suggested (but not required) that she have African-, Asian-, Hispanic- or Native-American features.
LEAH - 16 years older than LAURA. It is suggested she be Caucasian.
NINA - A hospital aide.
SETTING: The visitorís lounge of a sanatorium.
TIME: Early on a mid-winter evening, this year.
... poetry is meant to compensate for the failures of reality.
--- Alfred Corn
for Mary Mikva
AT RISE: LAURA sits in a wood chair, smoking. There is a small table beside her with a glass of water, a vase and an ashtray on it. Nervously, SHE plays with her cigarette, the flowers in the vase, then gets up and goes to a -- barred -- window. There are DISTANT TRAFFIC SOUNDS. SHE looks out for several moments, then checks her watch.)
LAURA: (quietly) She changed her mind. She changed her mind. (SHE returns to the chair and, without sitting, drinks from the glass, then paces, returns to the chair, drinks again, drags from her cigarette, then crushes it out. SHE looks at the watch.) This is ridiculous Iím --- (SHE goes to the door but makes no attempt to open it.) Nina. Nina! Are you out there? ... Nina!. (SHE lights another cigarette, then goes again to a window.) All right; Iíll give her - ten more minutes. Ten minutes from (Checks her watch) -- now. (SHE returns to a window and looks out again. Quietly, the door opens. LEAH stands there, silently looking on a long moment. Then SHE steps through and lets the door close. It shuts with a loud click.) Nin---...a.
LEAH: ... Hello.
LAURA: Hello. ... Are you... (LEAH nods) Oh.
LEAH: Iím sorry Iím late. The weather... They, um, they said I could only stay a few minutes. This time. (LAURA nods) Is it all right if I smoke? (LAURA nods) Thank you. (SHE lights a cigarette and shivers) Ooh; I canít get warm. This cold -- Iím not used to it. ... I never liked cold weather.
LAURA: Itís my favorite season. The snow feels so clean.
LEAH: Hmh. I always liked the rain in spring, for the same reason.
LAURA: Children always like the snow. We sled in it. Mine do.
LEAH: You have children.
LEAH: Girls. ... Thank you for seeing me. (LAURA nods) I - Words arenít usually this - hard for me. I mean, in - poems, when Iím writing..., I can usually find them; right away. ... Now I donít know what to say.
LAURA: Whatever you came to say.
LEAH: Youíre - very pretty.
LAURA: (beginning to cry softly) No Iím not. Donít say that, donít say anything that isnít true.
LEAH: It is true.
LAURA: Youíre - not.
LEAH: No. I never was. ... May I, Iíd like to sit down. Is that all right?
(LEAH sits. LAURA remains standing.)
LEAH: ... I donít - know what to say. What do you want me to say.
LAURA: I donít know. I donít even know if I want you to be here. ... Everything. I want you to say everything.
LEAH: I can only stay a few minutes.
LAURA: I know.
LEAH: Donít cry. Please.
LAURA: I canít help it.
LEAH: All right. ... So youíre, um, married.
LEAH: And youíve got children.
LAURA: Two. Jean and Paula.
LEAH: Jean and Paula. ... This is, I --- Iím --- This place seems so - like the wrong place for this. I didnít intend to upset you. Not like this. (Indicates the room)
(LAURA laughs, through the tears.)
LAURA: (on the edge of hysteria) Oh, God. You didnít intend to upset me. You didnít intend... You --- What did you intend? What?
LEAH: I wanted to - see you.
LAURA: Well, see me. See me? Look and look and look and look. Look! ... I - I donít think I can --- (SHE runs to the door.) Nina! Nina! (SHE pounds on the door.) Nina!
(The door opens quickly and NINA steps in.)
LAURA: I want her to go.
NINA: Are you sure?
LEAH: Please, I ---
LEAH: Please. Let me talk to you. Please.
LAURA: You donít have any right.
LEAH: No; I donít.
LAURA: ... Nina? ...
NINA: Itís up to you, Laura. Dr. Nevin told you: You donít have to do this.
LAURA: I donít have to. ... All right. ... Itís, Iím all right.
NINA: Iíll be outside. (SHE exits.)
(LAURA gets her water and a cigarette.)
LAURA: (in fragile control) Youíre Leah Nagle.
LEAH: Leah Cassady now.
LAURA: ... After you - said it, I didnít know whether to believe you. I just sat there with my hand on the phone. Steve said I was like that when he came in; and I was crying, I wouldnít stop.
LEAH: So he brought you here.
LAURA: Yes. ... He didnít know what else to do.
LEAH: Thank you for letting me stay.
LAURA: The doctor thinks itís, Iíll only be ...; ... in a few days.
LEAH: Iím glad.
LAURA: Glad ... (shaken, but trying to be gentle) They never told me anything about you; only your name.
LEAH: They couldnít; they didnít know.
LAURA: Yes; they said that.
LEAH: I - thought it would be - better.
LAURA: Better? I, I felt so - unwanted.
LEAH: I - couldnít take care of you.
LAURA: I looked for you. As soon as they told me I started looking. But you changed your name.
LEAH: I didnít want to ---..., when I started getting published, I didnít know if you knew who I was, but if you did I didnít want to - disrupt your life.
LAURA: Disrupt my life. (a short laugh) They told me when I was twelve. Things were always different after that; I always wondered, I was never sure; of anything. Not that I had a bad home life, or any reason to think it, but I, just, I always wondered if someday they were going to - give me up. Too.
LEAH: Iím - sorry.
LAURA: Did you, ever, look for me? Before?
LEAH: (with a deep sigh) No.
LAURA: Then why? why now, why are you here? Finally?
LEAH: Because now Iím dying. Iím trying to - make peace.
LAURA: (sits, for the first time. Pause.) Youíre - dying.
LAURA: (on the brink) Oh, God.
LEAH: It doesnít sound like much -- words are so often just words; you want them to be more, but ... -- I am sorry.
LAURA: Why did you do it. Why? Didnít you feel anything for me?
LEAH: I felt so much for you, Rebecca. That was going to be your name. Rebecca. (LAURA nods.) When you were - growing, in here, I felt so many things. Wonder, and giddiness, joy and terror, hope; and fear. I felt that the most; I was afraid, for what might happen to you, for what you might become. I knew I couldnít keep you -- in those days a sixteen-year-old girl wouldnít have dared to try to raise a child on her own. And - abortion wasnít even a possibility; even if I could have gotten one I knew I wouldnít; I wanted you so much. But... I knew I couldnít keep you, and I was so - frightened, to be bringing a life into the world and to know I would always be another stranger to her. And then you were born, and I - held you; you seemed as small as a star, as red as a Christmas bow; and you reached out with your tiny hand and took my finger in it, and you held it, like, like it was the maypole at the center of the universe and you dreamed to dance around it. It was the best thing I ever felt, those few - seconds, that moment... And then they took you away. ... That was the worst thing I ever felt. And it never -- never -- stopped...
LEAH: Yes. (beat; with difficulty) May I hold you?
LAURA: ... Yes. (THEY embrace.)
LEAH: Thank you. Oh, thank you.
LAURA: There are so many things I want to ask you. ...
LEAH: We both do; both of us do.
LAURA: I, I need a drink of water.
LEAH: Iíll ask the ---
LAURA: No; Iíve got some. Over there.
(SHE breaks the embrace and gets the glass. As SHE does, there is a soft KNOCK. The door opens and NINA enters.)
NINA: Itís time, Ms. Cassady.
LEAH: Already? couldnít we have just a few more minutes?
NINA: Iím sorry ... (LEAH nods.) Doctor Nevin would like to see you for a moment, before you leave.
LEAH: All right. ... May I come back?
NINA: Laura? (LAURA nods.)
LAURA: When, whenever youíd - like to.
LEAH: Tomorrow? (To NINA, without hesitation) Maybe we could take a little walk together? If I came earlier.
NINA: Thatís up to the doctor, but if you both want to ...
LAURA: Yes. A walk through the snow.
LEAH: Well, then.
NINA: (gently) We should go, Ms. Cassady. Laura, Iíll be back in few minutes.
LEAH: May I give her something? Very small.
LEAH: (SHE goes to LAURA and offers an envelope.) For - later; all right? (LAURA takes it and nods.) Itís, sometimes I can say things better -- more clearly -- this way.
LAURA: Thank you.
LEAH: Read it out loud; when you read it. The, the - sound... matters. (LAURA nods.) Well. (SHE gently kisses LAURA.) Iíll see you tomorrow?
LEAH: Good night, Laura. (LAURA nods.)
(LEAH starts out with NINA. As SHE reaches the door:)
LAURA: Good night - Mother.
LEAH: ... Good night. Rebecca.
(LEAH and NINA exit. LAURA stands a moment, then goes to a window and looks out. There are DISTANT TRAFFIC SOUNDS. SHE opens the envelope and reads.)
LAURA: ďWords are words; and so, though kind or cruel,
Are only shades of meanings incomplete.
On well-built craft their demons do unfurl
And travílers coursíd to sail without deceit
Are set adrift by unforgiving Fates
Tíward ports uncharted by the ancientís past.
Words are words; and so, though cruel or kind,
Are portraits only done in blacks and white
Revealing not the hues of troubled minds
But images half-hid in hindered light.
Hold love, not to kind or cruel wordsí states
But reach where colors harbor, holding fast:
Deep, where truth lies waiting, there lies reason;
Shallow truth belies youthís heart and season.Ē
(SHE replaces the paper in the envelope, stands a moment, then lifts her cigarette and looks out the window.)
(The tableau is held for a long beat. Then:)
VERY SLOW FADE TO BLACK
END OF PLAY