Inherent Tense

A small, messy living room in a crumbling house somewhere in the suburbs of Lansing, Michigan. MICK, late sixties, sits in a recliner, drinking a Rolling Rock and watching the Lions game on TV.

There is a knock on the door.

Mick: Who is it?

Marty (Offstage): It’s me.

Mick (not unexpectant, but fairly unwelcoming): Oh. Come on in.

MARTY enters, struggling to get the door open and then closed again. He wears a long winter coat. He's Mick's son, and looks to be about in his mid-thirties. He steps carefully into the living room, as if he is a stranger.

Marty: Hey, Dad.

Mick doesn't look up.

Mick: Good to see you.

Marty: Thanks...I mean, you too.

There is a long, awkward silence, neither man particularly eager to start the conversation.

Marty: What is that, the Lions?

Mick: Yep.

Marty: They doing pretty good this year?

Mick: They’re okay.

Marty: Who are they playing, the Chiefs?

Mick: Redskins.

Marty: What, did they get demoted? (Off of Mick's quizzical look) Sorry.

Awkward silence.

Mick: There’s a chair over there, if you wanna have a seat. Unless you’re in a hurry.

Marty: No, I, uh….Thanks. I’m glad you had some free time, I, um…well, I was hoping to stop by either now or on the way back from the lake.

Mick: Your family with you?

Marty: No, they…well, yeah, they came with me, but they’re not here. Susie dropped me off here and took the girls to breakfast.

Mick: They afraid of me?

Marty: No, no no. No, it's not that, they just…the girls were hungry, and I didn't want her to have to worry about wrangling them while we talked, so I dropped them off at the diner up the road.

Mick: Hank's?

Marty: I don't know.

Mick: Hank's is a good place. I've known Hank for a while now.

Marty: I think it might have been Hank's.

Mick: He's a good guy.

Marty: That's good.

Awkward silence.

Mick: I don't even think I've met Lucy yet. She's gotta be, what, three years old now?

Marty: She's four and a half.

Mick: Is that right?

Marty: Yeah. You know, maybe when her fifth rolls around you could come down and surprise her. I'm sure she'd probably like that.

Mick: Maybe. If I can get the truck to start.

Marty: Right. Well, you've got time to figure it out.

Mick: Sixth months.

Marty: Right. It's just that sometimes the cards come a little late, and--

Mick: Your grandmother gives me a different date every year.

Marty: Right.

Beat.

Marty: So, um--

Mick (at the TV): Goddammit! Assholes...

Marty: I'm sorry...

Mick: No, it's okay, they just leave him open like that all the time...

Marty: The quarterback?

Mick: Did you want something to drink, or...?

Marty: No, no, I'm fine. Thank you.

Mick: There's plenty of beer in the fridge. Some bologna if you're hungry.

Marty: No, I'm okay, really. (Beat) So, anyway, uh...

Mick: ...yeah?

Marty: I don't know, I'm sorry. I probably shouldn't even bring it up, I just...

Mick: What?

Marty (can't quite get it out): It's stupid...

Mick: Then why'd you come here? Look, don't let me keep you or anything. Wouldn't want to keep your wife waiting with the kids.

Marty: I watch her when she sleeps, sometimes.

Mick: What?

Marty: You know, sometimes when I can't sleep. I turn over and watch her.

Mick: Is that right?

Marty: Yeah...Its' just, I've had pretty bad insomnia off and on now for most of my life. Since high school, at least, so it happens pretty often. I watch her. For a while, sometimes. She, uh...she sleeps with her mouth just slightly open, so that her front teeth stick out and she looks like...like a little rabbit or something.

Mick (Gruffly): Cute.

Marty: I hate it. I think she looks awful. She looks dumb, like she's going to drool all over the pillow. I can't help it, I see it and I just feel...disgust. Pity. I don't know. Sometimes I think of leaving her. Yeah, seriously. Not just because of the teeth, though that's always how it starts. It kind of grows out of that, just all the little things that...well, I'm not going to tell you about all of that. You know about all of that. It's not even a conscious thought, really - well, not the idea of leaving her, at least. I always feel guilty about it. But then I really start to think about it, and you know what's worse? At first I dismiss it, I shove it away. I try to convince myself that the mouth thing is cute, but the impulse keeps coming back. To leave. I think to myself, well, if I was really in love with her, wouldn't it be cute? Wouldn't all that little annoying shit make me like her more, instead of making me want to punch her fucking teeth back into her face? I'm sorry, I shouldn't talk like that, but those are the kinds of thoughts that go through my mind. And I think maybe I don't really love her. Maybe I've just been convincing myself that I do this whole time, because she fits the narrative, and because it was all so easy and rather than put in the hard work of trying to build a more interesting life, with someone who's going to be dynamic and resist and that I'll grow together with through all that shit, I settled. So I think of leaving her, and I wonder if I could even do it. If I'm not too much of a coward. But I am a coward, because in reality it would take a lot of strength and courage to admit that my whole life is nonsense, and to just walk away from it. I could do it, practically speaking - I figure it all out. Where I would go, what I would take, what I would leave them. What I would tell her, how I would approach it with the kids. I know, I don't need to tell you any of this, you know it all, but the worst part is that I'm okay with it, but I can't do it. I mean, I feel awful for thinking it, and I know that I would feel awful when I actually did it, but that I'd get over it with time. I would start over. I'd keep in touch for a while - mainly for the kids' sake - but then I would just fade away. I wouldn't call anymore. I imagine a future where I never talk to my daughters again and I feel like I could reconcile myself to that. I start to feel that I'm hurting them by staying, because if that's inside of me it means that I ultimately don't give a shit, and they're better off hating me for not being there - at least then I'm an influence in their lives, not just a bystander. And it starts to eat away at me, and it finally dawns on me - I'm more upset about the fact that thinking all of these things makes me a bad person than I am at the prospect of leaving my family in the lurch. There's no ideological failure, there's just a guy trying to justify the fact that he could, in a conceivable circumstance, cease caring about any of it, and to be that cold he must be a bad person. And even if that's not the case, if that's normal? Then he's still a bad fucking person because he's too much of a spineless piece of shit to go through with it. So either way, I'm a failure. So I then I start to hate myself for that. And I blame her. That's the really fucked-up part - I blame her for making me think about all of these things and realizing I may be a horrible person just because of those two fucking teeth staring at me, and I want to shove them under a pillow until she stops breathing. I'm not kidding - and then I start to wonder at what point I would get over that! And that's even worse, but only in the sense that I know I feel worse about the fact that I'm capable of doing a worse thing, not so much at the idea of doing it. Maybe. Does that make any fucking sense to you?

Mick has no response.

Marty: I didn't think so. (Sighs) You know, I think I will take a beer.

He gets up, walks over to the refrigerator and takes one out, downs half of it in one gulp. He comes back to the chair and, as he sits, looks up and lets out a long, slow exhale before slowly looking back down at the TV.

Marty: I can't see, what's the score?

Mick: It's, uh...

Marty: What is it?

Mick: 17 - 10.

Marty: You need a new TV. I talked to mom last week.

Mick (numbly): Oh?

Marty: She's in Italy. Restoring an old cathedral. Venice, I think.

Mick: That's good.

Marty: Yeah, she's happy. She sends the girls cards and calls every birthday and Christmas. Oh, that reminds me - we got grandma's package. I don't think I have her new number. Maybe we can stop and see her on the way back. She's still over by Port Huron?

Mick: Yeah...

Marty: The kids haven't talked to her in a while. They'd like to see her. Probably be good for her, too.

A beat. Marty downs rest of his beer, checks his watch.

Marty: Shit, I better go. Don't want to keep Hank waiting - he's such a nice guy and all. I'll give the girls your best.

He gets up, starts to walk away, but turns back briefly.

Marty: You know, grandma's cards always come on time.

He struggles with the door.

Marty: You really ought to get this fixed before the winter settles in.

He leaves. Mick sits in numbed silence.

END OF PLAY

- cs