Hands

A boy struggles with the death of his mother in Becky Hirsch's short play "Hands."

Visual art by Ben Mcnutt

SETTING: a quiet, suburban home.

CHARACTERS: MICHAEL, a teenage boy, wants to protect his family. RAYNA, his mother. Recently a robot.

SCENE ONE:

RAYNA

 (to audience)

There was a house fire here two weeks ago, on a Thursday. It began at 6:40 PM at the latest. It was contained to the kitchen. I was in the master bedroom at the back of the house. I had left the stove on without realizing. I had fallen asleep. The kitchen appliances have been fixed since then, but there is still some structural damage. Michael has worked hard to make everything good as new. (beat) No, Michael was at the library when it started. He studies all the time. At the library or in his room or at a friend’s house. Michael is very bright.

(Offstage MICHAEL hears his mother talking to someone and runs onstage.)

MICHAEL

Mom!

RAYNA

Michael?

(RAYNA shuts the door.)

MICHAEL

Who were you talking to?

RAYNA

The policeman, Michael. He was asking me questions.

(MICHAEL gasps and stares at her. RAYNA watches him passively.)

MICHAEL

What did he want to know?

RAYNA

About you, Michael.

(MICHAEL gulps.)

MICHAEL

Me?

(beat)

RAYNA

I don’t understand.

MICHAEL

Oh, uh, I mean: what did he want to know about me?

RAYNA

He wanted to know about why you haven’t been going to school, Michael.

MICHAEL

But what did you tell him?

RAYNA

I told him that there was a fire and that since then I have not gone to work and you have not gone to school.

MICHAEL

That’s it?

RAYNA

Yes, Michael.

MICHAEL

I mean, why was that it?

RAYNA

Because you called me, and I have to stop what I’m doing when you call me.

MICHAEL

Um, yeah. (beat) Is he still outside?

RAYNA

I don’t know, Michael.

(MICHAEL looks through a window.)

MICHAEL

(to himself) I don’t see anyone. (beat – remembers RAYNA) Well, I’m going to go back to my room. To study. (beat) Make me some dinner?

RAYNA

What would you like?

MICHAEL

Pasta.

RAYNA

By when should it be ready, Michael?

MICHAEL

Oh, just whenever you can.

RAYNA

Yes.

(Beat)

MICHAEL

Spin around.

(RAYNA spins in one circle.)

Jump up and down.

(RAYNA jumps once oddly, since she wasn’t built for jumping. MICHAEL laughs, honestly finding it funny. RAYNA watches passively. MICHAEL stops laughing abruptly.)

Laugh with me, when I laugh.

RAYNA

Yes, Michael.

(MICHAEL forces a laugh. RAYNA copies him. He brushes it off.)

MICHAEL

Well, I’m going to go to my room. (beat) Look, don’t worry about dinner. Just… why don’t you go to sleep?

RAYNA

Whatever you say. Good night, Michael. Sleep well.

(RAYNA lies flat on the couch with her hands folded over her stomach, like a corpse in a coffin. MICHAEL sits down on a nearby chair, and watches her for a moment. Then he picks up a notebook from under the chair. He opens it up and writes in it, reading out loud as he goes as if he were reading from a script.)

MICHAEL

Her motor and cognitive functions are all fine. So is her vocabulary. Her response time is improving. I don’t think the policeman would have suspected anything. He probably just thought she was weird.

A lot of her responses are just the default programming. There’s a huge list of basic information, like who the president is and what order the alphabet goes in and stuff. And then there’s more specific things: my name, my allergies, my GPA. Sometimes it’s weird, because I remember entering all the information. I remember sitting and watching her download it all, but I try not to think about that. It makes it all too creepy, like I’m talking to my- (self)

(MICHAEL crosses that last sentence out.)

It was a truancy officer that came here today, asking why I’d been ditching school. Two weeks now, I think. I can barely leave the house, except to pick up food. I keep reliving that day. (MICHAEL gets caught up in the memory, gradually panicking.) There was this horrible smell coming out of the kitchen window and it got so much worse when I walked in the front door. Smoke was pouring out of the kitchen and I almost couldn’t see her lying curled up on the floor. Smack on the ground, hands all mangled and crunched underneath her, underneath her- (Getting angry) God, it was so- She died like that! Greasy and crumpled up and that smell-

(MICHAEL calms himself.) We stay up all night watching Jeopardy and eat home-made pancakes. I wake up late, sometimes after noon and find pictures of us up all over the walls, all down the hallway. We dig out my old yearbooks. We’re doing things the way we used to, with less class time, but it’s the way things are supposed to be.  This robot, she makes everything right.

(MICHAEL looks up from the notebook and stares over at RAYNA.)

(Worried)

Right?

(MICHAEL stares at her for a long time. Blackout.)

SCENE TWO:

(The lights come up. MICHAEL has fallen asleep curled in the same chair, the notebook open on his lap. He looks a little more disheveled. RAYNA is still asleep on the couch. She wakes up after the lights come on.)

RAYNA

Good morning, Michael!

(MICHAEL jolts awake, snatches the notebook and holds it closed against his chest. He stares at RAYNA. He has just woken up from a horrible nightmare.)

Would you like some toast? Some cereal?

MICHAEL

No thanks.

RAYNA

French toast, Michael? Pancakes?

MICHAEL

No, I don’t want anything.

RAYNA

(As RAYNA says this she begins getting up and walking toward offstage.)

You should eat something, Michael. Your brain needs nutrients and energy to keep working. Brain cells require twice as much energy as any other cells in the body, Michael. I have to take care of you. I’ll get you some fruit, Michael. Fruit is made up of long chains of sugar molecules that the body breaks down gradually to release glucose to fuel the brain over a long period of time. You should have some, Michael.

MICHAEL

I had a nightmare.

(RAYNA stops and turns back to face him.)

RAYNA

I’m sorry, Michael. Would you like to tell me about it?

MICHAEL

There was this lady, this really sweet old lady, and she told me that she was pretty, and I guess she was pretty but not like that because, you know, among other things she was old and related to me.

(MICHAEL looks at RAYNA to see if she makes the connection. She doesn’t.)

Anyway, I reached up to touch her face, and her whole face started sizzling and then melted away, and underneath it was this crazy, wrinkled old lady and she hated me—

RAYNA

(RAYNA kneels by MICHAEL’S chair.)

No one could ever hate you, Michael.

MICHAEL

But this lady did. I- in the dream, I’d- I shoved a knife through her stomach, so far that I stuck her to the living room wall. And in the dream, I reached out and touched her face, her wrinkly old face, and the whole thing just slid off and right underneath it was mine! My face, staring straight back. And then you woke me up.

RAYNA

I’m sorry.

MICHAEL

But it was just a dream. I used to be so terrified when I woke up from nightmares, but I woke up and you were here, and you asked me if I wanted toast, and God, Mom, it was just a dream, wasn’t it? It was just a crazy nightmare!

(Off-stage, a knocking starts and continues to the end of the scene, as if someone was knocking continually on the door. MICHAEL freezes up and grips RAYNA’S wrist. RAYNA looks offstage toward the source of the knocking.)

RAYNA

I think someone’s at the door, Michael.

MICHAEL

I know.

RAYNA

Would you like me to go get the door?

MICHAEL

No.

(beat)

RAYNA

Would you like me to go get the door, Michael?

MICHAEL

No.

RAYNA

Would you like to temporarily override this response?

MICHAEL

(MICHAEL closes his eyes.)

Yes.

(They stay where they are: RAYNA kneeling next to MICHAEL, staring offstage, MICHAEL, eyes closed, sitting and gripping RAYNA’s wrist. The knocking continues. Blackout.)

SCENE THREE:

(The lights come up. MICHAEL is sitting hunched in the same chair. He looks even more disheveled. RAYNA is on the telephone, standing near the center of the stage. She does not pace as she talks.)

RAYNA

Yes, I know that Michael has not gone to school these past few days. He has been home with me. (beat) I’ve been ill.

(MICHAEL stands up and starts pacing.)

I’m not sure. He’ll come back when he’s able. He loves school. He’s very bright.

(MICHAEL slumps to the floor. RAYNA immediately hangs up the phone and puts it on the little end table. She kneels by MICHAEL.)

Are you all right, Michael?

MICHAEL

No, Mom.

RAYNA

You should have some food. You haven’t eaten much lately, Michael.

MICHAEL

I don’t want anything to eat.

RAYNA

What else can I get for you?

(beat)

MICHAEL

Mom?

RAYNA

Yes, Michael?

MICHAEL

Are you happy?

RAYNA

I’m with you.

MICHAEL

I know that, but are you happy? Here, with me.

RAYNA

Yes, of course, Michael. I love you.

MICHAEL

Well, why do you love me?

(beat – RAYNA is computing.)

RAYNA

I don’t understand, Michael.

MICHAEL

What?

RAYNA

I don’t understand the question.

MICHAEL

What about it don’t you understand?

(beat)

RAYNA

I don’t understand the question, Michael.

(beat)

MICHAEL

Mom?

RAYNA

Yes, Michael?

MICHAEL

I would like some food, actually. Some soup. Would you us make some? We could eat together.

RAYNA

I don’t need to eat.

MICHAEL

I know, but I want you to.

RAYNA

You told me I wasn’t supposed to eat, Michael. That it would be very bad for me.

MICHAEL

No… I mean, yeah, that’s what I said but I think that maybe now… I think maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. For you. For both of us.

RAYNA

Of course, Michael. Whatever you want.

MICHAEL

Thank you.

(RAYNA exits. MICHAEL stares after her for a moment. Then he picks up the phone and dials 911.)

Hello? My name is Michael Dougherty, and I understand someone has been coming by my house? Yeah, I figured it’d be about that. Look, actually this is about my mom. She’s been sick, since the fire, she got hurt, and… she’s just died, actually. This morning. (beat) I know. I know, I should have. (beat) Yes, send someone over.

(RAYNA comes back carrying two bowls with spoons in them.)

Wanna sit on the couch?

RAYNA

Yes, Michael.

(RAYNA and MICHAEL sit down facing each other. They eat their soup. MICHAEL watches her.)

MICHAEL

Mom?

RAYNA

Yes?

MICHAEL

Are you angry with me?

RAYNA

For what, Michael?

MICHAEL

For what I did to you. I think I destroyed you.

RAYNA

You could never hurt anyone. You could never do anything wrong, Michael.

MICHAEL

You used to say that. All the time. It was ridiculous back then, too

RAYNA

I don’t understand. You could never do anything wrong, Michael.

MICHAEL

No, I did.

RAYNA

Would you like to temporarily override this response?

MICHAEL

Yes.

(RAYNA suddenly freezes and drops her spoon.)

RAYNA

Experiencing technical failure.

MICHAEL

Power down.

RAYNA

Yes, Michael.

(RAYNA slumps and then lays back on the floor. MICHAEL stares at her for a moment, and rearranges her on the couch, just like how she was when she was sleeping in scene one. He folds her hands across her chest.)

MICHAEL

I loved you, too.

(A knocking starts up off stage.)

I’m coming.

(He exits.)

END OF PLAY

 

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Becky Joy Hirsch is a sixteen-year-old Californian who has never held a steady job. She frequently finds herself speaking in public with no idea how she got there. She hopes to see this year’s Parallax published without a hitch and eventually graduate and possibly go on to do something with her life.