If I Didn’t Care
By K. Brian Neel - July 12, 2007
Nature is at war with each of us.
Mrs. Badger – Elderly Mother
Sylvia – Her Daughter
Nurse – In Home Care
Lights rise on a woman sleeping in blankets on the floor. There is a chair on casters and a basic cabinet or shelves in the corner. Nurse enters singing cheerily.
NURSE: If I didn't care more than words can say; If I didn't care…
She goes to the woman on the floor, and takes off her bedding, folding it neatly and putting it away.
NURSE: Rise and shine, Mrs. Badger. Another morning. Greet it like the Dutch.
Mrs. Badger is bleary and reluctant.
MRS. BADGER: Are you here to kill me?
NURSE: Not today, Mrs. Badger.
MRS. BADGER: Leave me to death.
NURSE: Nonsense. Death is far off.
MRS. BADGER: (Hard of hearing) What?
NURSE: Let me set you up, then I’ll write.
MRS. BADGER: What?
NURSE: Deep breaths, deep breaths.
MRS. BADGER: You know damn well I can’t hear a lick. You always ridicule me in the morning. It’s unnerving. Put me out of my misery.
Nurse pulls out a pad and pencil, writing her words:
NURSE: ‘Get dressed.’
MRS. BADGER: I want my night clothes to remain on.
NURSE: (writing) ‘Uncivilized.’
MRS. BADGER: What has civilization done for me lately?
NURSE (writing) ‘You’ll be happy’ in day clothes.
Nurse goes to get clothes.
MRS. BADGER: I’ll be happy dead.
SYLVIA: (O.S.) Hello.
NURSE: Hello. Who is it?
SYLVIA: The door is unlocked.
She enters carrying a wooden case like a toolkit, full of varied containers. She is startled to see her mother on the floor.
SYLVIA: Mother? What are you doing?
MRS. BADGER: Nurse! Nurse!
Nurse scrambles back to her.
MRS. BADGER: Chair. Chair.
She scrambles over to the chair, brings it back.
MRS. BADGER: Center it.
Nurse adjusts chair.
MRS. BADGER: More. More. Stop. Up.
Nurse lifts Mrs. Badger onto the chair.
SYLVIA: Is she lame now?
NURSE: No, just old.
Once on her throne, Nurse goes to the cabinet.
MRS. BADGER: Where have you been, Sylvia? You don’t visit any more.
SYLVIA: I’m visiting now, mother.
MRS. BADGER: Come closer, my dear. Look at you. You’re older. Soon you’ll be like me, a victim of nature.
SYLVIA: Nature fears you, mother. Nature thanks the lord every day you’ve imprisoned yourself in this dingy little hole in the world.
MRS. BADGER: I don’t read lips.
Nurse hurries back over with some shoes. She drops them for the tablet and pencil, thrusting it in front of Mrs Badger. Over the invalid’s lap, Nurse and Sylvia really see each other for the first time – it’s love. The song by the Ink Spots plays, Nurse mouths the lyrics, they dance.
NURSE: I don't want to set the world on fire
I just want to start a flame in your heart
In my heart I have but one desire
And that one is you no other will do
I've lost all ambition for worldly acclaim
I just want to be the one you'd love
And with your admission that you'd feel the same
I'll have reach the goal I'm dreaming of believe me
They end in the same position on either side of Mrs. Badger, who jars them back to reality.
MRS. BADGER: Jar.
MRS. BADGER: Jar.
MRS. BADGER: Get me the jar.
Nurse rushes to do so, and hands it to her.
MRS. BADGER: I can’t go with spectators.
Nurse and Sylvia turn their backs to her. She urinates into the jar.
SYLVIA: She’s worse.
NURSE: Science has found that older people don’t understand jokes.
SYLVIA: Mother’s never understood jokes. Except her own, and no one else understands those. I’ve come to kill pests.
NURSE: How sweet. That’s very thoughtful of you.
MRS. BADGER: You have a very small head, Sylvia.
Nurse and Sylvia get to work, shy with each other.
MRS. BADGER: I just noticed that. It’s not an insult. My best friend in school had a small head, meaty body but small head, and she was highly intelligent. Test scores off the chart. Failed, but good tests. With her it was a matter of… what’s the word? On the tip of my tongue…
MRS. BADGER: It’s when you have the ability, but not the gumption… Not laziness, but…
SYLVIA: Doesn’t matter.
NURSE: She’ll go on all night.
MRS. BADGER: Inertia is close.
SYLVIA: I’m de-lousing your room, Mother.
NURSE: Do you want me to write that?
She writes it.
MRS. BADGER: Of course you are, dear. Such a dear. Not like your sister.
NURSE: You have a sister?
MRS. BADGER: The eldest is the one supposed to be responsible and helpful. Oh, but she was always getting into trouble. She once got stuck in a tunnel underneath a mall. Snuck in somehow, and got stuck there. The police didn’t know whether to arrest her or just pity her. Should have been taking care of her younger siblings, that’s the stereotype.
Joan is stuck in a memory for a long pause.
NURSE: Should I write something?
NURSE: I could say something nice.
NURSE: It might make her feel good.
SYLVIA: One wants to make one feel good no matter how much history. But history is strong. Weigh the cost of years of therapy over writing something nice. It might not be a lie, but certainly it’s not required to survive.
MRS. BADGER: I saw a rat in that corner yesterday. Scurried about like a lawyer. I don’t remember where it went. Probably some hole.
Sylvia sets a trap in that corner.
SYLVIA: Write this down. I remember when I was a little girl summering at a beach house, drifting off to sleep hearing waves against the shore, and the pink sunset between the green islands.
Music rises again. Sylvia lip-syncs, dancing with Nurse, spinning around Mrs. Badger, who gets caught up in the fantasy too.
SYLVIA: (singing) I never cared much for moonlit skies
I never wink back at fireflies
But now that the stars are in your eyes
I'm beginning to see the light
I never went in for afterglow
Or candlelight on the mistletoe
But now when you turn the lamp down low
I'm beginning to see the light
Used to ramble through the park
Shadowboxing in the dark
Then you came and caused a spark
That's a four-alarm fire now
Comes out of the dream instantly, all in their same positions again.
SYLVIA: In the morning I’d wake up with the tide out, smelling rotted plankton, muck and mud as far as the eye could see.
Nurse is still writing. Mrs. Badger looks at the words...
MRS. BADGER: What?
NURSE: I got as far as beach house…
SYLVIA: Just write: ‘muck.’
NURSE: I don’t think I will.
MRS. BADGER: Application! That’s the word. So simple.
NURSE: (screams) Aaah! Cockroach. There’s a cockroach.
Sylvia grabs a can of poison spray and goes to her.
NURSE: Right there. Under the cabinet. It’s moving. Over there!
They chase about the room quite a bit, eventually find it and shoot to kill.
SYLVIA: It’s dead.
NURSE: My hero.
Sylvia sets the poison down on the cabinet.
MRS. BADGER: Stop romping about. Ready my breakfast!
Nurse goes to the cabinet and makes bread and jam and poison.
SYLVIA: (writing) We saved you, mother.
MRS. BADGER: Save me from life.
SYLVIA: (writing) Everyone loathes you.
MRS. BADGER: What a thing to write. And to your mother. To speak it would be upsetting, but not nearly as much as seeing it written down. For posterity. Hurtful words have more meaning on a page. I am saving this to remember the horror of this visit, my dear.
SYLVIA: I’ll have the page buried with your corpse. Perhaps they’ll have more sympathy for you at the gates of judgement. Believe me, you need all you can get, Mother. (seeing under her chair) Oh, I found an egg sack.
NURSE: (returning with breakfast) Please be nice to her.
Mrs. Badger eats.
SYLVIA: You’re right. I’m sorry. I’ve always used genetics as an excuse for my ascerbacity. I’ll turn the corner now. Now that there’s a sweet, caring nurse present.
NURSE: You’re very welcome.
SYLVIA: There’s millions of baby spiders under this chair. In a large white, silk cocoon.
Nurse and Sylvia examine under the chair as Mrs. Badger passes away.
SYLVIA: They’re moving.
NURSE: Funny how spiders don’t cause the same revulsion in me as cockroaches.
SYLVIA: They’re helpful. They catch flying pests in their webs. Harmless, except the poisonous ones, of course.
NURSE: There are few poisonous species in this part of the world.
They come up, and peer over Mrs. Badger’s lap.
SYLVIA: Nurse. You are the most amazing person I’ve met in years.
NURSE: (Modestly.) Go on.
SYLVIA: I don’t have many friends, I admit. Mostly…
Nurse hadn’t noticed Mrs. Badger’s passing (she’s dead), and now she does… They are silent for a moment.
NURSE: There is nothing to do now. No right, no wrong. That will come later, when things start up again. But at this moment there is nothing.
Music rises once again…
MRS. BADGER: (rising from the dead, speak-singing:)
Into each and every life some rain has got to fall
But too much of that stuff is fallin' into mine
And into each heart some tears gotta fall
And I know that someday that sun is bound to shine
ALL: (singing) Some folks can lose the blues in their hearts
But when I think of you another shower starts
Into each life some rain must fall
But too much is falling in mine
Fade to black.
Copyright © K. Brian Neel. All rights reserved. Except for brief passages quoted in newspaper, magazine, radio or television reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author.Professional and amateurs are hereby warned that this material, being fully protected under the Copyright Laws of the United States of America and of all other countries of the Berne and Universal Copyright Conventions, is subject to a royalty. All rights including, but not limited to, professional, amateur, recording, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio and television broadcasting, and the rights of translation into foreign languages are expressly reserved. Particular emphasis is placed on the question of readings and all uses of this play by educational institutions, permission for which must be secured from the authorá║s representatives. For all rights, including amateur and stock performances, contact K. Brian Neel.