The Supper Waltz. (Excerpt)
Act One. Scene Three
(BARB enters GERTIE’S kitchen. Her mother is on the sofa, slumped over a pile of memorabilia.)
BARB: I just got a phone call from a lawyer, Mumma. What is this all about?
You all right?
GERTIE: I wouldn’t say that I was all right, but I’m not sick, if that’s what you mean—unless you mean heartsick.
BARB: I was afraid of something like that.
GERTIE: A lawyer called. He was looking for you . . ..
BARB: I know. That’s why I thought we should talk.
GERTIE: He asked: did I have a daughter by Bennie Schneider in 1960? Where did you live? What was your married name? I told him everything you needed to qualify.
BARB: Then why are you so angry? Half a million dollars is a helluva prize.
GERTIE: I’m an old woman, Barbie, and I don’t know if I can handle the Bennie Schneider nightmare again—even if it gets you a small fortune.
BARB: But, Mumma—
GERTIE: I’ve got a grandchild now and friends at the church who respect me; a whole new life.
GERTIE: So . . . how will it sound when some lawyer gets up in court and tells everybody that “Gertie Freimark let Bennie Schneider rape her forty years ago?
BARB: That justice was finally served?
GERTIE: I don’t think that anybody wants to hear the details of my affair with Bennie—especially you, Barbie.
BARB: But you’ve been bitching about the Schneiders for years: They didn’t do this, they didn’t do that, and now that you have a chance to challenge the rumours, you’re afraid of what people will say.
GERTIE: The prospect of a little money has loosened your tongue. Is that it?
BARB: People will say what they’ve already been saying behind your back for years.
GERTIE: A shrink has all the answers.
BARB: I’m a social worker, Mumma, not a psychiatrist—someone who wants you to be happy.
GERTIE: You didn’t exist, Barbara Ann, for him you were never a daughter.
BARB: He existed for me . . . every time I looked in a mirror.
GERTIE: Well, he didn’t love you.
BARB: How could he love me?
GERTIE: You can’t make people love you—not even a father.
BARB: He didn’t know me. You saw to that.
GERTIE: I gave him plenty of opportunities.
BARB: By moving to Medicine Hat when I was 18 months old?
GERTIE: I got tired of being snickered at.
BARB: Moving away from Burstal took away my rights, Mumma . . ..
GERTIE: A 29 year old with a head full of dreams doesn’t always make good decisions.
BARB: For your information, there were times when I needed a father . . .
GERTIE: Wasn’t I always there to answer your questions?
BARB: Whether you admit it or not, Mumma, you kept me from knowing part of my family.
GERTIE: So you wouldn’t mind if the court dug up your mother’s dirty laundry and hung it on the front page of the Medicine Hat News? Half a million dollars; that would make it right?
(Phone rings: Answering machine kicks in)
BARB: If the Schneiders agree to settle out of court, it won’t come to that.
GERTIE: And if they don’t?
BARB: Then we take our chances.
(LAURA leaves message)
LAURA: (V.O.) Hi, Grandma . . . Mom-ma! Where are you? You’re late—as usual.
BARB: Oh, God! I forgot about Laura. I promised I’d pick her up after work.
(BARB grabs her jacket and purse)
Think about it, Ma, the settlement is a lot of money.
GERTIE: Fifty years ago money was important, but not now.
BARB: That’s asinine. How can you say that?
GERTIE: We survived, didn’t we?
BARB: And we still are, but just barely.
GERTIE: So what?
BARB: You really don’t get it do you, Mumma? Okay; how’s this for an answer? Russell is laid off—for God knows how long—and I’m carrying the mortgage payments, the utility payments, the life insurance payments, the car payments, the dental and medical payments and, god dammit, woman, Laura announced at breakfast that she’s pregnant.
GERTIE: What did you just say?
BARB: I said: Laura is pregnant. Oh, shit!
BARB: Stupid kids don’t practice safe sex.
GERTIE: But Anthony is such a nice boy . . .
BARB: A nice Catholic boy who doesn’t believe in contraceptives.
GERTIE: Maybe I’ll lie down for a while . . . I’m not feeling so good. Go. Go.
(GERTIE pretends to gather up memorabilia)
BARB: Why can’t you make this easy for us, Mumma? Bernie Schneider is dead, gone, forbei. Get over it. Yes or no? Mr. Weissmann can’t wait forever. (Exits)
(GERTIE sinks back onto the sofa)
GERTIE: Bennie Schneider dead, gone, forbei.. . . I remember I was cutting Barbie’s hair when I got the news. Once a month—usually a Friday night—she would drop by for a trim, and every six weeks or so, I’d bleach out her roots. When Russell, the husband, was away in the gas fields, Barbie would sometimes bring Laura along, and I’d order in Chinese from the City Café and would give them both the works.. . . But, on that day—the day I got the news—it was only Barbie and me in the kitchen. And while I cut and trimmed her hair, she drank perked coffee and read the Leader Post. The subscription was a habit from the old days when we still lived in Saskatchewan. Some of it Barbie read out loud, like the obits, and I remember when she stopped reading and looked at me, her face white as cake flour.
“He is dead,” she said. “Bennie Schneider is dead. And I never got to call him Puppa. Not once.”
I tried to grab the paper from her, but my plastic gloves were dripping Miss Clairol. “Well, read it! Read it! I yelled. For God’s sake what does it say?”
(GERTIE finds the obituary in the memorabilia and reads)
SCHNEIDER, Ben Aaron. Passed away peacefully April 25, 1987 after a brave battle with a cancerous brain tumour, surrounded by his loving family . . . Predeceased by his cherished wife, Lorene and his parents.. . . There were no children.
My poor Barbie. Babies should never happen by accident. Nobody should ever have a baby who doesn’t deserve one. Barbara Ann was a gift I never deserved.