On Being Frank

A play in two acts
by Douglas Lockhart.


      Man is an onion.

Herman Hesse.



      Bruce Mitchell                     Husband to Sylvia.

      Sylvia Mitchell                     Wife to Bruce.

      Grandmother/Betty            Bruce’s mother.

      Roger Mitchell                    Son to Bruce & Sylvia.

      Margo Monaghan               Fiancee to Roger.

      Frank Derby                         Neighbour.



 Scene one: Lounge of Bruce and Sylvia’s house

 A large lounge festooned with Christmas decorations and a heavily decorated tree. There is a three-seater sofa with matching chairs on either side, a low coffee table, a scattering of straight-backed chairs and a large table with the remains of their Christmas dinner on it. On the floor lies torn shards of Christmas paper – presents are lying around in little piles. Back of stage is dominated by a large picture window. It is night. The background music is Christmas carols.

Opening scene is a tableau. Tableau breaks. Everyone seems to be in festive mood. BRUCE is about to take a video of his mother (seated on the sofa between SYLVIA and MARGO) opening her Christmas present. FRANK is on right of sofa. He is asleep, his head sunk on his chest. ROGER is seated to left of sofa. BRUCE, video camera in hand, switches on two spotlights. Everyone  protests, squints, shields their eyes.


ROGER: (with a touch of belligerence.)  Turn them off, dad – you’re blinding everyone! (To his mother)  Tell him to switch them off!

BRUCE: (defensively)  Its dull in here. I need the extra light!

ROGER: Not that much light you don’t!

BRUCE obeys. It is as if the father is afraid of upsetting the son.

ROGER: (to SILVIA) So where is it?

SYLVIA: (gets up.)  I’ll get it. (She leaves the room. Everyone waits listlessly for her return. She comes back with a large box wrapped in Christmas paper. She puts box on the coffee table in front of grandmother. Hands shaking, the old woman leans forward and tries to tear open the paper)

BRUCE: No, no! Not yet! (He pulls a straight-backed chair into position climbs up on it, and aims the video camera down at his mother)


BRUCE: (laughs.)  Yes, now.

Everyone’s attention is fixed on the old woman. After a struggle with the over-cellotaped paper she lets out a yelp of despair and sits back 

GRANDMOTHER: (peeved.)  I can’t do it! I just can’t. My fingers don’t work!

SYLVIA: Here, let me.

BRUCE:  Just a little bit. Just start it for her. No more than that.

                  SYLVIA starts to undo a corner.

BRUCE: (still squinting into camera.) Not too much!

                Her hands shaking, GRANDMOTHER leans forward and tears at the corner where the paper has been loosened.

BRUCE: That’s it! Good one.

GRANDMOTHER: (she sits back exasperated)  I can’t do it, Bruce – my hands! (She holds up her shaking hands as if for inspection)

SYLVIA:  I’ll do it for her. (She is about to start, but Bruce stops her)

BRUCE: Pretend to do it, mum. Just pretend.

                  GRANDMOTHER responds, but it is obvious she is doing nothing at all – she fluffs at mid air with her hands.   BRUCE shakes his head and stops filming. ROGER pulls a face and looks away.

GRANDMOTHER: (looking up at  him.)  That okay?

SYLVIA:  (her patience exhausted) Look, let me do it. (She sets to work on the paper and quickly reveals a box containing a huge electric fan) 

GRANDMOTHER: Oh, you shouldn’t have!

BRUCE: (while looking through video scope)  It’s what you wanted.

GRANDMOTHER: I didn’t mean you to buy me a new one!  Wasn’t there an old one some where? I remember seeing an old one somewhere.

BRUCE: (stops filming)  The one in the garage? I couldn’t have given you that old thing – it’s falling apart.

GRANDMOTHER: It would have done fine. (Shakes her head)  All that expense!

                  SYLVIA is staring up at her husband stonily.  FRANK snorts and comes out of sleep momentarily, looks around, looks up at BRUCE, takes a deep breath and closes his eyes again.   

BRUCE: (filming)  Okay, take it out of the box.

GRANDMOTHER: (when SYLVIA has loosened flaps)  It’s too heavy, and its in a polythene bag!

BRUCE:  Give her a hand, Roger.

                  ROGER gets up and pulls fan with all its padding out of box, wrestles sullenly with polythene wrapping and eventually succeeds in dislodging fan from bag. He places it on the coffee table and returns to his armchair.

BRUCE: Good lad.

GRANDMOTHER:  It’s very big!

BRUCE:  It’s got three speeds. Plug it in for her, Roger.

ROGER:  There’s no need to go that far!

BRUCE:   Have to make sure it’s working okay.

ROGER: It’s brand new for God’s sake!

SYLVIA:  Humour him, Roger.

ROGER:  (responds lethargically to his mother’s request. Looks up at his father before switching on the fan) You realise you’ve recorded everything that’s been said as well.

BRUCE: (undaunted) I’ll edit it.

ROGER: (to his mother) He can edit?

SYLVIA:  There’s a book.

BRUCE:  Action!

                  ROGER looks at MARGO and bursts out laughing.

BRUCE: (stops filming) What?

                  SYLVIA reaches forward and swtiches on fan. It blasts out air and begins to revolve from side to side.

ROGER:  (sarcastically) It works, dad!

FRANK: (snorts and opens his eyes suddenly) Where’s the fucking draught coming from!

BRUCE: (lowers camera with look of despair)  Thank you very much, Frank. Thank you very  much!

                   Scene ends with everyone  – except BRUCE and his mother – trying not to laugh. ROGER thinks the comment particularly funny. They go into tableau. Lights dim and go out with BRUCE standing glowering down at FRANK. Christmas music becomes louder, and louder, then fades.

 Scene two: Lounge as before.

      Lights come up as SYVIA comes across lounge carrying a tray of mugs, coffee pot, etc. BRUCE is sitting on the chair he was previously standing on. The video camera has been put aside, and the fan is on the floor out of the way.  MARGO is now sitting in an armchair to the left of the sofa. ROGER is sitting on arm of same chair with his arm around MARGO. MARGO is talking animatedly to FRANK, who is in the same chair as before. BRUCE’S mother is now all alone in the left hand corner of the sofa. She is attempting to direct the setting down of the tray.  

GRANDMOTHER: (pushing things aside on coffee table.)  That should do it. Watch out for that little ornament.

SYLVIA carefully deposits tray and starts to fuss over the pouring of the coffee – she looks round and speaks to BRUCE.

SYLVIA:   Be a pet and get the biscuits; there wasn’t enough room on the tray.

                  BRUCE dutifully heads for the kitchen.

SYLVIA: Coffee everyone!

MARGO: (to FRANK  You live on your own, Frank?

                  A nod from Frank.

SYLVIA:  Coffee, Frank?

FRANK: Keeps me awake if I drink it this late. Any tea?

SYLVIA: (smiles as if FRANK is if he is a naughty little boy)  I asked earlier if anyone wanted tea. Didn’t you hear me?

FRANK: I didn’t hear you say anything about tea!

SYLVIA: Anyone else want tea while I’m at it?

ROGER: I’ll have a tea.

SYLVIA: You’re a coffee drinker!

MARGO: He was drinking too much coffee.

ROGER: I didn’t want to put you to any trouble.

SYLVIA: It isn’t any trouble. If you want tea, I’ll make tea. (Looks around.) Anyone else?

FRANK: I’ll have tea.

SYLVIA: (very controlled.)  I know you want tea, Frank.

FRANK: Without milk.

SYLVIA:  Without milk, Frank. Sugar?

FRANK:   Half a teaspoonful.

SYLVIA:  Half a teaspoonful.

                  BRUCE returns with plate of biscuits, sets them down next to tray and sits down.

SYLVIA: (to BRUCE)  Be a darling and put the jug on again – some of them want tea.

BRUCE pushes himself back up with a sigh and heads back to the kitchen without a word – on his way out he picks up the video camera and takes it with him.               

MARGO: (to FRANK)  You’re next door?

FRANK: (nods)  We moved in about two months ago. Needed a smaller place. Then the unexpected happened.

SYLVIA: Franks wife had a heart attack.

FRANK: Massive. Came out of the blue.

MARGO:  Oh, I’m so sorry.

BRUCE slides into view video camera to his eye. He keeps well back.

SYLVIA:  Such a shame. She wasn’t all that old.

FRANK:   Sixty-two. I’m seventy-five.

MARGO:  You don’t look it. I mean that. You really don’t.

FRANK: (laughs) I don’t feel it either.

BRUCE is now behind SYLVIA; others are trying to ignore him.

SYLVIA: She was a real gem.

FRANK: (under his breath.)  That’s one way of describing her.

SYLVIA:  Frank!                                    

                  BRUCE swivels video camera in FRANK’S direction.

FRANK:   Well, it’s true. We didn’t get on all that well.

                  BRUCE doubles  back to SYLVIA. Everyone is trying to ignore his antics.

SYLVIA: (aware now of her husband – she shields herself from him with an outstretched hand.)  She always seemed so nice.

FRANK:   Just about everyone thought so.

MARGO: How long were you married?

FRANK: (bitterly and looking straight at the camera which has now swivelled towards him.)  Forty-two bloody years!

SYLVIA: Now, now, Frank. (Then to BRUCE)  Bruce! Will you please stop that!

                  BRUCE moves back and away camera still to his eye. ROGER stares up at his father and shakes his head.

FRANK: (to MARGO)  She was a difficult woman. Learned it from her mother.

SYLVIA: (sadly)   Not all of the time, surely.

FRANK:   No, there were lulls. But it didn’t take much to set her off. (Turns to ROGER) Women are wonderful as long as you don’t let them rule the roost. Keep that in mind, son.

                  ROGER glances at MARGO and smiles. MARGO punches him lightly on the arm.

GRANDMOTHER: (to FRANK)  I’ve seen you before somewhere. Your face is familiar. Or is it your name?

FRANK:   Probably both. I used to be a professional boxer. (Laughs to himself) I wasn’t always an old man.

                  Video camera to his eye, Bruce moves in again.

SYLVIA:  (staring straight at video camera) Bruce! The jug must  be boiling by now!

                  BRUCE exits backwards still filming.

FRANK: (to ROGER)   The big day’s when?

ROGER: Next Thursday.

FRANK: What age are you, son?

ROGER: Twenty-five.

                   FRANK shakes his head.

SYLVIA:  (a little too quickly) They’re very well suited, Frank.

FRANK: (to ROGER)  Marriage is a bubble, son, whichever way you push, it extends with you, goes with you, holds you to itself.

GRANDMOTHER:  (to SYLVIA) What’s he on about?

FRANK:   I’m talking about what people do to people.

GRANDMOTHER:  What people?

FRANK:   Married people.

SYLVIA:  Marriage isn’t all bad, Frank.

FRANK:  Marriage changes a woman’s expectations. The man’s expectation is that the woman will stay just as she is. It’s the other way round for a woman. She expects her fella to fall into line with whatever she wants in life. She’ll put up with a lot to get her man, but when she’s got him, look out.

SYLVIA:  (smiling)  She’s preparing her nest, Frank. Marriage is a nest. When all’s said and done it’s about children.

FRANK:   It’s about a hellova lot more than that!

SYLVIA:  It’s the first step towards procreation.

FRANK:  And here was I thinking it was about two people who wanted to share a life!

SYLVIA:  Marriage carries responsibilities, Frank. Getting a roof over your head, looking after your partner,  rearing your kids . . .

FRANK:   It’s the subtle stuff that goes with marriage that bother me, Sylvia. For instance, the assumption that every day has to be the same.

SYLVIA:  Every day isn’t the same.

FRANK:   Not the same same, but the same nonetheless.

GRANDMOTHER:  What? (Looks at Sylvia for an explanation)

SYLVIA:  (ignores GRANDMOTHER) Marriage is what you make of it, Frank.

FRANK:   Marjorie made mine hell.

SYLVIA:  (consternated)  Why did you put up with it?

FRANK:   (after a pause) There were little glimmers of light. I thought we’d make it. We didn’t. You know how it is. Was.

SYLVIA:  (looking at MARGO and ROGER) You didn’t just up and leave at the first sign of trouble in our day. You hung in there.

FRANK:   (to ROGER) ‘Hung’ is the right word.

                   ROGER smothers a laugh. BRUCE enters with teapot.Tea is dispensed.

FRANK:   I’m not saying people shouldn’t get married. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that people who get married ought to have some idea of what they’re getting themselves into. The assumption for most men is that everything will sail on as before, that the girl they fell in love with will stay just as she is. It really is quite different for the woman.

SYLVIA:  (smiling) A woman sees a man’s potential, that’s all. She has to help nurture that.

FRANK:   Marjorie wanted me to give up boxing not long after we got married. I couldn’t do that. Boxing was my life.

MARGO:  She probably didn’t want to see you get hurt. Did you get hurt much?

FRANK:   I was pretty lucky. It was generally the other guy who copped it. I only got really thrashed once in my whole career – just before I handed in my gloves. I should have known better.

ROGER:  Did you win any big bouts?

FRANK:   A couple. I was never a big star, but I was good. And the money wasn’t bad.

SYLVIA:  How did you meet? You and Margerie.

FRANK:   At a friend’s house. She was very quiet; I was attracted by that. I’ve never liked noisy women.

SYLVIA:  And you fell in love.

FRANK:   I don’t rightly remember. (Shakes his head at the the thought of it all)  I think I’d probably have married a one-legged woman with a squint to get some real sex.

SYLVIA:  (horrified) Frank!

GRANDMOTHER: (frowning) You’re wife had only one leg?

SYLVIA:  This isn’t fair, Frank.

FRANK:   It’s the truth. It was the only way we could get any. Then I discovered I couldn’t even get it then.

ROGER:  (fascinated) She was frigid?

MARGO:  Roger!

FRANK:   She hadn’t a clue, son, and neither had I. We were both stone ignorant. Difference was, she was scared out of her wits. Took a bloody year to consummate the marriage.

SYLVIA:  (upset) This is not a suitable conversation for Christmas day, Frank.

FRANK:   Why? Because it’s Jesus’ birthday? He couldn’t get any either?

GRANDMOTHER:   (staring at FRANK aghast)  Why did you invite this horrid man to share our Christmas?

SYLVIA:  (despairingly) I was being neighbourly. (To FRANK)  You really must curb your tongue, Frank.

FRANK:   (nodding at grandmother) She knows what I’m talking about.

GRANDMOTHER:    (to FRANK) You ought to be ashamed of yourself!

FRANK:  (to ROGER)  I thought I was the only poor sod to get hoodwinked. (Laughs) Isn’t something a young fella wants to admit.

MARGO:  (defensively) You can’t tar all women with the one brush, Frank.

FRANK:   You’re right. I can’t. But that’s how it was for a lot of us young fellas. Wasn’t like it is to day. There was no taste and try before you buy. The stigma of a child born out of wedlock was huge.

MARGO:  I can‘t imagine what it was like.

FRANK:   God was in the bedroom, or up the close, and you weren’t allowed to forget it.

GRANDMOTHER:   Don’t bring God into this!

FRANK:   Why, what will he do? Blind me? Maim me?

SYLVIA:  That enough, Frank!

GRANDMOTHER:  Men love darkness because their deeds are evil.

FRANK:   Too much light blinds! We need shades of grey.

GRANDMOTHER:   Stuff-an-nonsense!

FRANK:  I remember standing at a window staring out at nothing wondering why I felt half dead inside. I couldn’t move for her thou-shalt-nots. I wanted to scream! And always at me for all the right reasons, of course. Always for all the right fucking reasons.

                   GRANDMOTHER turns away in disgust.

MARGO:    (after a pause) She hurt you that much, Frank!

                  FRANK stares at MARGO but does not reply.Tableau. Lights dim and slowly go out. Music fades and stops.

Scene Three :  Lounge, later that evening. 

                    Lights come up on tableau. SYLVIA is at the table cutting a Christmas cake into slices.

SYLVIA:  Everyone for a bit?

                  There is a mumbled chorus of Yes.

BRUCE: (to ROGER as he gets up)  Another beer, son?

                  ROGER, sprawling in armchair, shakes his head slowly and stares at his father.

BRUCE:   I’m not trying to make you have another beer. I’m really pleased you aren’t a heavy drinker.

MARGO: (under her breath)  Little you know!

                  ROGER turns his head languidly and gives MARGO a look.

SYLVIA: (to MARGO)  Bruce has never touched the stuff.

FRANK: (to BRUCE with strong Australian accent)  What’s yer secret vice then, cobber?

                  SYLVIA gives FRANK one of her ‘dont you dare’ looks.

BRUCE:  (becomes pompous.)  I like to have a clear head. Alcohol dulls the brain.

ROGER: (repeats last sentence back slowly, blankly)  Alcohol-dulls-the-brain.

BRUCE: (to Roger)  What?

                  ROGER does not reply; he just stares at his father.

BRUCE: (mystified.)  What’s the matter with you today?  (Turns to SYLVIA.)  What’s the matter with him?

ROGER: (to Bruce)   A clear head isn’t everything.

BRUCE: Meaning?

ROGER: Oh, skip it.

SYLVIA: Roger!

                  ROGER gives his mother a big smile which quite disarms her; she smiles back in spite of herself, shakes her head.

BRUCE: (to ROGER)  I wish you’d been here to talk to Kate; she’d have taken you on. She’d have given you a run for your money. (Glances at FRANK) And you.

SYLVIA: (WIth a touch of awe.)   She’s got a Phd in philosophy.

BRUCE:  Listens very carefully to what you have to say, then fast as you like takes what you’ve said apart and shows you exactly where you’ve gone wrong. Not often you meet a girl with a mind like that.

                  ROGER makes a face.

BRUCE: (to ROGER)  I’d like to have seen you play games with her.

ROGER: Analysis isn’t everything.

BRUCE: It’s a tool. You can’t reason properly if you aren’t logical.

ROGER:  (dismissive)  I think I’ll go for a swim.

SYLVIA: The pool’s not all that warm – hasn’t been much sun for the last couple of days.

BRUCE: (warming to his subject)  Not often you meet a girl with a mind like that. Like a clamp it was.

ROGER: (to MARGO) Swim?

                  MARGO is undecided. She makes a face.

SYLVIA:  (to ROGER) Go out and feel the air; it’s not at all warm out there.

                  BRUCE stands looking down at ROGER; it is as if he’s trying to fathom the problem he can sense.

ROGER: (with a staccato rhythm)  Analysis-brought-to-dizzying-heights-isn’t-everything, dad.

BRUCE: She has a trained mind.

ROGER:  You make her sound like a bloody seal. (Flaps his arms) Oink. Oink.

BRUCE:  That’s unfair.

SYLVIA: (smothers a laugh)  It’s men who are boringly logical. Women are intuitive by nature.

FRANK: (to BRUCE)  Ever really listened to a man and woman argue? The man looses most times. Do you know why? Because nine times out of ten he can’t break the woman’s logic. (Pauses, looks around.)  There’s nothing more fearful than a woman’s logic.

                  SYLVIA is about to say something, but ROGER cuts in.

ROGER:  You know that better than anyone, dad. Don’t you? Mum runs rings round you in an argument.

                  BRUCE laughs uneasily, but does not reply. He is standing quite straight. It is as if he doesn’t quite know what to do with his body

ROGER:  (to FRANK) He wants to say that women are irrational,  but he’s afraid to. He knows mum’ll take a bite out of him if he does! That’s what he meant by: (Quotes his father) “Not often you meet a girl with a mind like that.”

SYLVIA: (to BRUCE) You didn’t, did you?

                  Everyone’s attention is on BRUCE.

BRUCE: Of course not! Without logic we’d all end up talking gibberish.

FRANK:   We seem to end up talking gibberish with it.

BRUCE:  (frustrated) Reasoned argument is what makes us civilised beings!

FRANK:   (to BRUCE)   Logic on its own is a blunt instrument. Keep on adding bits of logic together and you end up with absurdity.  P J O’Rourke put it best: “Too great a complexity leads to fraud.”

BRUCE:  You can’t reason without logic.

FRANK:   You can’t reason with it if that’s all you’ve got up your sleeve.

BRUCE: (gyrates bemused) I don’t follow that at all.

FRANK: You should, it’s pefectly logical, mate.

                  Everyone laughs except GRANDMOTHER.

ROGER:  Time I read O’Rourke.

GRANDMOTHER:   (sarcastically) I knew he must have read that stuff somewhere, him only having been a boxer.

FRANK:   Only?

GRANDMOTHER:   Speaks for itself.

FRANK:  (to everyone) There’s a bit of logic for you.

ROGER: (gets to his feet)  I am  going for that swim. Margo?

                  MARGO shakes her head.

SYLVIA: (distractedly)  It’ll mean taking the cover off.

ROGER: That’ll only take a minute. (Looks at his father)

BRUCE:  Okay, okay.

                  ROGER and BRUCE head out of lounge.

MARGO: (suddenly) I’ve changed my mind! (Gets up and follows the others)

SYLVIA: (rises and follows on)  You’ll need one of the big beach towels just to get you to the pool.(Looks round and laughs)  It really is quite chilly out there.

                  GRANDMOTHER and FRANK sit in silence not looking at one another.

GRANDMOTHER: (looks round at FRANK with an expression of triumph) You were in the newspapers for something, weren’t you? Something you did. (She stares at FRANK) What was it?

FRANK:   I was a boxer. I was often in the newspapers.

GRANDMOTHER:  No. It was something else. Something you did. What did you do?

                  Lights dim slowly and go out with FRANK staring out into the audience.

Scene Four – Lounge

                  Lights go up on tableau of two; BRUCE re-enters lounge.  

BRUCE:  Pool’s not too bad, but you wouldn’t catch me in it!

GRANDMOTHER:  They’re young.

BRUCE:  You mean I’m getting old.

FRANK: You’re not old! You’re only what . . . fifty-six and  never touched liquor. You should be bouncing!

GRANDMOTHER: (glowering.)  He eats too much.

FRANK: Sign of worry, eating too much. What are you worried about, Bruce?

BRUCE: Everything. Nothing.

FRANK: Black fallas out in the bush can dance all night when they’re my age – her age, even!

BRUCE: I’m not black and I’m not a dancer. I hated dancing when we had to do it at school.

FRANK:  I loved to dance – when I still could.

GRANDMOTHER: You’re type always does.

                  FRANK’S head swivels round in GRANDMOTHER’S direction, but he doesn’t say anything.

GRANDMOTHER: Bruce was sensible even as a little boy.

FRANK: (to GRANDMOTHER)  What’s sensible about not liking to dance! (To BRUCE) You must have been a boring little fart!

GRANDMOTHER: That’ll be enough of that if you don’t mind!

FRANK:  Sorry I’m sure.

GRANDMOTHER: You’re never sorry for anything, are you? If you  think it’s okay, then it’s okay.

FRANK: Most things are  okay; we’ve just got to thinking they aren’t because of old fuddy duddies like yourself.

                  GRANDMOTHER is suitably shocked.

BRUCE: (with sigh of resignation) What makes you so sure you’re right about everything, Frank?

FRANK: (quickly in)  What makes her so sure I’m wrong?

BRUCE: (with a terrible innocence)  It’s just the way things are . . . you just don’t say things like that to an old lady.

FRANK: Nothing to stop me; I’m an old man. She might not expect it from some youngster, I’ll grant you that, but she can’t expect me to offer her perpetual deference. There’s nothing particular sacred about old age.

BRUCE: Your black fallas think there is.

FRANK: My black fella’s? (FRANK’S smile is scathing)  The sacred has to be earned, Bruce; it isn’t handed out with the rice crispies.

GRANDMOTHER:  Nothing’s sacred these days.

FRANK: Everything’s sacred; all you need is the eye to see it.

BRUCE:   (jokingly) That come out of a book, too, Frank?

                  FRANK does not reply.

GRANDFMOTHER: (to FRANK) Cat got your tongue?

FRANK:  You should know.

                  SYLVIA enters and throws herself down into an armchair.

SYLVIA:   They don’t seem to feel the cold, these two. (Looks around)   What’s up now?

BRUCE: (thumbs in FRANK’S direction)  His fault. Called my mother an old fuddie duddie.

SYLVIA: (with a little laugh)  You’re really in form tonight, Frank, aren’t you.

FRANK: You shouldn’t have invited me; I’d have survived on my own.

SYLVIA: Christmas is a time for sharing.

FRANK: (very quietly)  Christmas is mostly bunk, and you know it.

SYLVIA: (annoyed)  It is not! It’s a lovely time. (Goes sentimental)  Family. Presents. Carols. . . Everything . . . the children love it.

FRANK: Blessed are the little children.

SYLVIA:  (hesitates, smiles)  It’s certainly expensive, I’ll give you that – but it’s not bunk, Frank. Getting together as a family is important.

BRUCE: (attempts to rescues SYLVIA)  We haven’t seen Roger and Margo in six months.

FRANK: (dead pan)  I wonder why?

SYLVIA: Now, now, Frank. You’ve got to be more careful in what you say. You’re terribly . . .

FRANK: Frank?

                  She laughs in spite of herself. ROGER and MARGO are heard running back into house with some hilarity – MARGO gurgles “Stop it, ROGER” and again  “Stop it! Squeals of delight follow.

GRANDMOTHER: (listening intently)   What are these two up to?

BRUCE: They’re just fooling around.

                  GRANDMOTHER shakes her head. More giggling followed by a good-natured scream from MARGO.

GRANDMOTHER: What’s he doing to her?

BRUCE:  They’re just getting changed.

GRANDMOTHER:  (shocked)  Together?

BRUCE:  (awkwardly)  That’s how it is these days, mum.

GRANDMOTHER: You allow that kind of thing to go on in your own home?

SYLVIA:  They’re only larking around.

GRANDMOTHER:  It’s disgusting!

FRANK: It’s good, and it’s bad. We were too stuffy; kids today have taken it to the opposite extreme.

                  GRANDMOTHER draws back and looks at FRANK in amazement.

FRANK: Everything loses it’s flavour when it’s a free for all. (Huffs a laugh)  I can remember lusting after an ankle when I was a boy. A bloody ankle!

SYLVIA: I’d have thought you would have wanted all the freedom there was, Frank.

FRANK:  Too much freedom never did anyone much good. Too much freedom is the equivalent of eating too much cake. You have to know when to stop or you end up making yourself sick.

SYLVIA:  (innocently) It’s nice to indulge yourself every so often.

BRUCE:  (quickly) She means with cake.

                  FRANK gives a little hiccupy laugh. GRANDMOTHER shakes her head and looks away. 

SYLVIA: They’re engaged.

                  Another squeal from MARGO.

GRANDMOTHER:  You don’t care what they’re getting up to through there?

FRANK:   (to GRANDMOTHER) Lawrence said that the young things of his time had swapped natural desire for an ungettable at itch.


FRANK:  Awful! What the fuck would you know about Lawrence!

SYLVIA: (exasperated)  Frank!

                  BRUCE gets to his feet in the same instant and weaves from side to side like someone demented.

FRANK: She hasn’t the right!

GRANDMOTHER: (is not going to be outdone)  It was people like . . . him  who opened the sluice gate and let the filth in!

FRANK: (very controlled)  No. Others did that.   What Lawrence wanted was people to live real lives, have real thoughts, experience real sex, see and know the real world. That’s all. He lived his whole life with the intensity of that belief. You know nothing of the man if you don’t know that.

SYLVIA: (to BRUCE, who is still hovering.)  Sit down, Bruce!

                  BRUCE obeys immediately.

FRANK: (to GRANDMOTHER)  Don’t lump things together that don’t belong together. Lawrence doesn’t belong alongside the sex-sodden writers of today. His vision was unique – it’s still unique.

SYLVIA: (making a face)  Could never read the stuff.

FRANK: What you have to do is let his stuff seep into you, summon poetry up out of you like someone summoning the dead back to life.

BRUCE:  Bit dramatic, Frank.

FRANK: (With look of astonishment)  There is nothing more dramatic than being raised from the dead!

GRANDMOTHER: (with a glance.)  Fancy talk from someone like you.

FRANK: Someone like me?

GRANDMOTHER: (self-satisfied tone)  I remember why you were in the papers now. It’s just come back to me.

FRANK: (dead pan.) Really?

GRANDMOTHER: (With a sneer)  So don’t come the high and mighty one with us.

                  Tableau/lights dim and go out/Christmas carols comes up softly.                     



Scene One – Lounge

                   Tableau. Lights come up on exactly same arrangement as at end of Act One. Christmas carols fade. Sylvia comes into lounge as GRANDMOTHER reveals what she has remembered. 

 GRANDMOTHER: (to BRUCE)  He killed a man in a pub! (Turns to look at FRANK)  With his bare hands!

FRANK: (very low voice.)   It wasn’t intentional.

GRANDMOTHER: You went to prison for it.

FRANK: The verdict was manslaughter.

SYLVIA: When did this happen?

FRANK: 1942. Fight broke out and I tried to stop it.

GRANDMOTHER: Likely story!

FRANK: (continues)  He was a big bloke and I hit him extra hard to slow ‘im down.

BRUCE: (softly)  You killed him?

FRANK: Not directly. I hit him three times. Fast. But it wasn’t my punching that did it. He hit his head off the edge of the bar as he went down. (Shakes his head) It was an awful moment.

GRANDMOTHER: A lot didn’t believe he’d hit his head at all.

FRANK: The inquest report showed it to be the cause of death. You can’t argue with an inquest report.

BRUCE: How long did they keep you in prison?

FRANK:  I did eighteen months out of a two year stint.

GRANDMOTHER: (with distaste.) The papers said you had it in for that poor chap.

FRANK: (sarcastically.)  The poor chap’s sister put that one into the jury’s mind at the last minute.  (Huffs a laugh)  Got your memory back with a bloody vengeance, haven’t you!

GRANDMOTHER: You were found guilty.

                  Scream of laughter from ROGER and MARGO in bathroom.

FRANK: (patiently)  Of manslaughter. Not murder. Manslaughter.

SYLVIA: How awful.

FRANK: You’ll never know how awful.

GRANDMOTHER:  We reap what we sew.

FRANK: (irritated)  Come off your high horse! It was accidental and I paid my dues. I never argued. Took it on the chin.

BRUCE: (soft voice.)  Easy, Frank.

FRANK: Easy nothin’!  Respect is hard won in my book. (Points at BRUCE’S mother)  She’s said not a word all night to earn mine. Not a single word.

GRANDMOTHER:  You wouldn’t know how to spell the word!

SYLVIA: (smiling her plastic smile) Now, now, children!   Enter ROGER with wet hair; he is drying it with a towel. 

SYLVIA: (beaming.)  You must have been frozen out there!

ROGER: Colder than I thought it would be. (Looks around and stops drying his hair, then starts again with a smile)  Still at it?

GRANDMOTHER: (pleased with herself)  We’ve just been learning how Frank ended up serving a prison sentence for killing someone.

ROGER: (To FRANK)  True?

                  FRANK nods. Enter MARGO in bare feet and with hair bound in a towel.

ROGER: (to his father)  Got Frank’s confessions on film have we?

BRUCE: Don’t be silly.

ROGER:   Silly?

BRUCE: (annoyed) Get off my back!

ROGER:  That’s better!

BRUCE:  What do you mean by that?

ROGER:  (as he turns away) Work it out. (Then to FRANK)  How did you do it??

GRANDMOTHER:  With his bare hands!

ROGER:  (ignores GRANDMOTHER) In the ring?

FRANK:   In a pub. A fight broke out between two young fellas. One was an absolute bruiser.

ROGER:  You got between them?

FRANK:   Not exactly. I told the big guy to stop, he didn’t.

ROGER:  He turned on you?

FRANK:   Didn’t like my tone.

GRANDMOTHER:  And you killed him.

SYLVIA:  (to ROGER) He struck his head on the bar. It was manslaughter.

FRANK:   He was big. Took three punches to put him down.

ROGER:  Why did they jail you?

FRANK:   I’d had a few drinks. It was argued that I hadn’t needed to hit him as hard as I did.

GRANDMOTHER:  That’s where drink gets you.

FRANK:   Abstinence can be a bugger in its own right.

BRUCE:  That directed at me?

FRANK:   (to BRUCE)  You don’t have to be pissed to make an arsehole of yourself, Bruce.

                  BRUCE stares at FRANK uncomprehendingly.

SYLVIA:  ( to Frank, quickly)  I think we had better leave it right there, Frank.

                  Tableau with Bruce staring at his wife. Lights dim and go out. Carols come up softly.

Scene Two – Lounge

      Tableau. Lights come up. Carols subside. Frank is standing looking out of the big picture window. ROGER and MARGO are sitting close on the sofa. SYLVIA is clearing table and GRANDMOTHER is sitting in armchair stage right. BRUCE is busy picking up bits of Christmas paper and putting them in a plastic bag.

FRANK: (half turning)  Looks like San-Fran-bloody-sisco from up here; can’t see anything from mine because of the trees.

SYLVIA: (talking as she clears the table)  You would have to get permission to remove them, Frank.

FRANK:   I don’t want to get rid of them. They were there long before I appeared on the scene.

SYLVIA:  (stops and miles at FRANK) That’s very considerate of you, Frank.

FRANK:   I’ve always liked trees.

SYLVIA:  I remember Margerie saying she wanted to have them taken out.

FRANK:   She hated them. Wanted me to cut them down – without permission.

BRUCE:  I don’t think the council would have let you.

FRANK:   They wouldn’t have – it was in the contract that I couldn’t cut them down.

SYLVIA:  (surprised)  Marjorie wasn’t aware of that.

FRANK:   I didn’t tell her.

SYLVIA:  Oh, Frank. That was unfair!

FRANK:   Nothing unfair about it. Margorie was the type of person who got her own way through simply not listening to anything she didn’t want to hear. It was an extraordinary nack she had. After the first year of our marriage I ceased trying to convince her of anything. It was a waste of time.

SYLVIA:  Knowing you I find that hard to believe.

FRANK:   (laughs)  How do you think I got this way!

GRANDMOTHER:  (looks away)  Likely story!

FRANK:   (ignores GRANDMOTHER/addresses SYLVIA) There’s a point, isn’t there?

SYLVIA:  A point?

FRANK:   Of no return.

SYLVIA:  What do you mean?

FRANK:   You know what I mean.

                  SYLVIA stares at FRANK, then looks round and addresses ROGER.

SYLVIA:  Don’t listen to him. It doesn’t have to be that way.

GRANDMOTHER:   I was happily married for forty-five years.

FRANK:   If Margorie was here that’s what she would say.

SYLVIA:  Now, now, Frank. Good will and all that.

FRANK:   Rhymes with swill.

                  BRUCE, who is still tidying up lowers his head and groans.

SYLVIA:  (brightly, looking around) How about we sing some Christmas carols?

ROGER:  I fancy going to the casino. (Looks at MARGO) You?

SYLVIA:  It’s getting late.

ROGER: That’s when you go to a casino!

SYLVIA: (to MARGO) You don’t really want to go to the casino, do you?

BRUCE:  The house always wins.

ROGER:  Not always.

SYLVIA:  Eventually it does.

ROGER:  We all die – eventually.

BRUCE:  Not something I’ve ever wanted to do.

FRANK:   Die?

BRUCE:  Go to the casino.

FRANK: (imitating GRANDMOTHER)  Bruce was always sensible, even as a little boy!.

                  MARGO smothers a laugh and SYLVIA gives FRANK a dirty look.

BRUCE:  Throwing good money after bad isn’t sensible in anyone’s book.

ROGER:  You can’t spend the whole of your life being sensible, dad.

SYLVIA: (to ROGER)  I’d like to see you design and build a house from scratch.

ROGER:  What’s that got to do with anything?

SYLVIA:  You father’s very talented.

                  FRANK wanders back and sits down on armchair stage left.

ROGER:  I didn’t say he wasn’t. I said you can’t spend the whole of your life being sensible.

SYLVIA:  (patiently)  We all know that, Roger.

ROGER:  Do we? You sure about that?

FRANK:   The boy’s right.

GRANDMOTHER:   Don’t you start!

FRANK:   Life shouldn’t be a continual nuts and bolts affair. You’ve got to be a bit daft occasionally.

BRUCE: (pointedly)  A little politeness goes a long way, Frank.

FRANK:   Lying to one another is polite? I’ve got another word for it.

BRUCE:   Who’s lying? I’m not lying!

GRANDMOTHER: (looking daggers at FRANK)  Off on another of our little rants are we? (Then to BRUCE)  Why did you invite this horrible man to share our Christmas?

SYLVIA:  (hands palms outwards) Now, now.

GRANDMOTHER:   (childlike)  He’s spoiling everything!

FRANK:   You don’t need me for that.

SYLVIA: Enough!

                  ROGER gets to his feet and tries to pull MARGO up after him, but she won’t follow suit.

ROGER:   Come on!

MARGO:   I don’t want to go to the casino!

ROGER: (throws himself back down onto the sofa and sprawls)  You didn’t want to go swimming, but you did!

SYLVIA:  More coffee? (Adds quickly.)  Or tea?

FRANK:  Tea.

                  SYLVIA looks around expectantly, but no one else takes up her offer of tea.

SYLVIA: (glances at FRANK)   One tea it is, then.

                  SYLVIA leaves stage. There is a lull in the conversation. GRANDMOTHER struggles to her feet, BRUCE rushes over to assist her – they both leave the stage. Off stage their voices can be heard. BRUCE is telling SYLVIA that his mother wants to go to the toilet.

ROGER: (gets up and whispers to MARGO)  I’ve got to get out of here! 

MARGO: (whispers back)  We can’t! It’s Christmas day, Roger!

ROGER: (to FRANK)  Want to have a little flutter, Frank?

MARGO: (to ROGER)  Don’t you dare! (Then to FRANK) And don’t you go egging him on.

FRANK:  She’s right, son. Isn’t the right time.

MARGO:   Thank you, Frank.

FRANK:    (to ROGER)  Sometimes you just have to shake to bits inside.

ROGER:   What?

                  FRANK chuckles to himself. He continues to chuckle, and as lights fade he begins to laugh Tableau. Lights dim and scene ends.

 Scene Three – Lounge

                  Tableau. Everyone present. BRUCE is sitting on armchair stage left. MARGO and ROGER are sharing armchair stage R. FRANK is sitting on straight backed chair near to picture window. SYLVIA and GRANDMOTHER are sitting at opposite ends of sofa. There is no love lost between these two, and this slowly becomes evident throughtout scene.

SYLVIA:  (to BRUCE, all smiles) Get me a glass of wine, would you dear? White.

BRUCE:  (getting up.)  You only drink white.

SYLVIA:  (smiling and talking to everyone in general)  I always have to ask!

GRANDMOTHER: (to no one in particular and half under her breath)  Poor man never gets a minute to himself.

                  SYLVIA glances at GRANDMOTHER, but says nothing.

BRUCE:  (to FRANK while pouring glass of wine)  Want anything Frank?

FRANK:   Small whisky.

                  GRANDMOTHER throws a look at FRANK.

BRUCE:  (to his mother)  Orange?

                  His mother shakes her head. There is a short silence.

ROGER:  What was prison like, Frank?

FRANK:  Better for me than for some.

ROGER:  Why was that?

FRANK:  I could look after myself – some couldn’t. They’re out to test you the minute you arrive.

MARGO:  Sounds awful, Frank.

FRANK:  You don’t know the half of it. You have to deal with some pretty damaged individuals. Some are okay. Some are as mad as hatters.

BRUCE:   It would kill me to go to prison.

FRANK:  You seem to be surviving okay.

BRUCE:   Whats that supposed to mean?

FRANK:   Life’s a prison, Bruce. Hadn’t you noticed?

GRANDMOTHER:  What nonsense are you spouting now?

FRANK:   (to BRUCE)  We’re our own jailers. The key to our cell is in our own pocket, but we refuse to use it. It would be funny if it wasn’t so bloody pathetic.

BRUCE:  That’s not how I see life.

FRANK:   You’ve not once caught sight of what’s really going on out there?

BRUCE:  Philosophising about life isn’t my thing, Frank. I’m kept pretty busy at work, and there’s a pile of things to do around here.

FRANK:   Everything’s just dandy, eh?

BRUCE:  For me it is. But I’m easy to please.

FRANK:   Nuts and bolts.

GRANDMOTHER: (to FRANK) You’re an anarchist, aren’t you? You’re never satisfied with anything.

FRANK:   Kropopkin theorised seventeen different types of anarchy. Which one am I do you think?

GRANDMOTHER:   How would I know?

FRANK:   You were quick enough off your mark with Lawrence.

GRANDMOTHER:  Everyone knew what Lawrence was up to. He was notorious. He had a filthy mind and a life style to match.

FRANK:   (to everyone) It takes courage to break out of prison – particularly when the prison is invisible. That’s what Lawrence tried to do.

GRANDMOTHER:  Stuff-an-nonsense!

FRANK:   (quietly)  Every age has its own version of prison. Ours is the belief that human freedom is about doing whatever we like, whenever we like. But that isn’t freedom. It’s just as daft as the up-tight stuff that was going on in Lawrence’s day.

ROGER:  So what do we put in its place?

FRANK:   Nothing.

MARGO:  It isn’t possible to believe in nothing, Frank.

FRANK:   I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe in things. We couldn’t exist without our beliefs. Its when belief becomes an end in itself that the problems start.

                  BRUCE shakes his head and rolls his eyes.

FRANK:   Unquestioning acceptance, Bruce. The line of least resistance. Mindless conformity to ideas and to a way of relating that seems absolutely natural when its actually a travesty of everything sensible.

GRANDMOTHER:  Being sensible is suddenly okay?

FRANK:   Ah! You’re actually awake then. Good for you!

GRANDMOTHER:  (to SYLVIA)  Beastly man!

FRANK:   We have only ourselves to blame when the bottom falls out of our lives.

BRUCE:  You’re talking in riddles, Frank.

FRANK:   (to everyone)  Not a glimmer.

SYLVIA:  Weren’t so clever yourself, Frank.

FRANK:   No, you’re right. I wasn’t. But I knew what was going on. I could see it plain as day.

ROGER:  What did you see, Frank?

FRANK:   (pauses)  My soul rotting away like an old peach in a bowl.

SYLVIA:  That’s a horrible image!

FRANK:   It’s a horrible experience.

BRUCE:  (bewildered)  What in God’s name are you trying to say, Frank?

FRANK:   She was strangling the life out of me and I didn’t know how to stop her doing it! Took me years to wake up to what was going on. To admit to what was going on.

GRANDMOTHER:   That’s a fine way to talk of your dead wife!

FRANK:   She was dead long before she died.

SYLVIA:  Oh, Frank . . .

ROGER:  There are none of us innocent, Frank.

FRANK:   You’re right. Its wall-to-wall collusion.

MARGO:  You obviously have it in for women.

FRANK:   Not at all. Can just as easily be the other way round. I think women are smashing.

ROGER:  Collusion?

FRANK:   Dishonesty. We’re fundamentally dishonest with one another most of the time.

ROGER:  There’s a limit to how honest any of us can ever be.

FRANK:   You’re not wrong, honesty’s not all it’s bumbed up to be. But I’m not talking about honesty, I’m talking about dishonesty. I’m talking about the kind of dishonesty that systematically disables you and leaves you hollow inside. Hollow and empty.

SYLVIA:  (sad tone)  You sound hollow and empty, Frank.

FRANK:   (smiles)  The mere memory of it is enough to cause an echo.

SYLVIA:  (softly)  She seemed so nice.

FRANK:   (pauses)  It was my fault, Sylvia. I should have stood up to her much earlier than I did. If I had things might have turned out differently.

ROGER:  (to MARGO, smiling) So watch it!

                  MARGO opens her mouth and eyes wide in fake astonishment.

GRANDMOTHER:  All you’re saying is that she got her way and you didn’t. What’s the difference?

FRANK:   The difference is that it isn’t about getting your own way. It isn’t about being self-centred, it’s about having a bloody life!

GRANDMOTHER:  Must you swear all the time?

FRANK:   Must you be a prissy old prig all the time.

BRUCE:  (trying to be asssertive)  Don’t speak to my mother like that, Frank.

FRANK:   Why not? I’ll bet it’s what everyone who knows her would like to do.

                  There is an awkward silence.

FRANK:   That’s what I’ve been trying to explain. We too easily let people ride roughshod over us.

ROGER:  (quietly)  Anything for a quiet life.

FRANK:   Exactly. But there’s a price to pay for that kind of dishonesty.

ROGER:  Its hardly dishonesty, Frank.

FRANK:   Being dishonest with yourself is the worst possible kind of dishonesty, it’s what keeps a dishonest world spinning on its axis.

SYLVIA:  (with a forced laugh)  Well, now. There’s a different kind of Christman day for you!

FRANK:   (to BRUCE)  Didn’t tell you what I did the other day, did I?

BRUCE:  (tired voice.)  What did you do, Frank?

FRANK:   I went walking on the shore out by the Taroona yacht club. Where the big concrete steps are. Where the cars are park. That’s when it dawned on me there was something I hadn’t done in years, something I should’ve done, but never seemed to get round to – paddled.(Looks around before continuing) So I took off my socks and shoes like I did when I was a kid.

BRUCE:  (disinterested)  And paddled.

FRANK:   (smiles to himself and continues)  It was a bit windy, so there were a lot of people sitting in their cars and utes enjoying the view. All these little faces staring out from behind glass. With their radios on. Thirty, forty people looking out through the windscreens of their cars like bloody goldfish. That’s when I saw it. For a split second I saw all clear as day.  

SYLVIA:  What, Frank? What did you see?

FRANK:   (pauses)  Myself locked up in spite of my attempts to wriggle free. Even with Margorie dead I was still in prison.

ROGER:  You want freedom without restraints, Frank?

FRANK:   (smiles) No, not that kind of freedom. The freedom to exist in my own skin for a moment or two. Without fear.

BRUCE:  (looks around smiling)  By paddling in front of a few cars, Frank?

FRANK:   Not quite. (Pause)  I took everything off.

GRANDMOTHER:  You did what?

BRUCE:  (astonished)  You didn’t?

SYLVIA:  What happened?

FRANK:   Nothing.

BRUCE:  You paddled naked in front of all these people!

FRANK:   (to BRUCE)  Paddled? You daft or something! I was naked you silly bastard! You don’t go fucking paddling when you’re naked! You swim! (Then almost tearfully)  I waded out and let the water close around me. And I swam. (Shakes his head in amazement)  It was delicious, Bruce, I haven’t swum in the sea for twenty years!

                  Everyone sits staring at FRANK.

SYLVIA:  (hiccups a laugh) I don’t know what to say to that, Frank.

ROGER:  Must have been difficult getting back into your wet clothes.

FRANK:   I dried myself with  my clothes.

MARGO:  No one did anything? Said anything?

FRANK:   A few drove off.

GRANDMOTHER:  (disgusted) There would have been children in some of those cars!

FRANK:   (laughs)  It’s something they’ll never forget if there were.

GRANDMOTHER:  Don’t you have any sense of decency at all?

SYLVIA:  You could have ended up in jail . . . a second time, Frank.

FRANK:   Would have been worth it.

BRUCE:  What in God’s name made you take your clothes off?

FRANK:   (frowns) I don’t know. I started with my shoes and socks . . . and just sort of kept going.

SYLVIA:  (smiling)  You’ve got to be a little bit mad to do something like that, Frank!

FRANK:   (deeply serious)  Wasn’t mad enough, that was my trouble. Took a long, long time for my own dishonesty to register on me.

BRUCE:  Where do you get all this stuff, Frank?

FRANK:   Stuff?

BRUCE:  The kind of stuff you keep coming out with.

FRANK:   (withdraws into himself as if to check, then replies)  That’s a good question, Bruce. (Smiles) From myself?

BRUCE:  You think it up?

FRANK:   I listen. To myself.

BRUCE:  Same thing.

FRANK:   (shakes his head)  Not the same thing at all, Bruce. There’s a bit of us that thinks on its own. (Smiles) We’re brighter than we think.

SYLVIA:  There are two Franks, Frank?

FRANK:   You’ve never said you were in two minds about something?

BRUCE:  That’s indecision.

FRANK:   You’re sure about that?

BRUCE:  Of course I’m sure!

FRANK:   (to SYLVIA) I think you know what I mean.

SYLVIA:  (frowns) Yes, I think I do.

BRUCE:  Then you had better explain it to the rest of us.

SYLVIA:  Its a strange kind of feeling. It’s . . .

BRUCE:  (eyeballs the ceiling)  Women and their feelings.

SYLVIA:  If men knew a little bit more about their feelings the world wouldn’t be in the state it’s in!

BRUCE:  (raises hands in defence)  Okay, okay!

            ROGER laughs pointedly and BRUCE throws him a dirty look.

SYLVIA:  (to FRANK) Its another voice, isn’t it, Frank?

                  FRANK nods, but does not reply.

BRUCE:  (mischievously) You hear voices, Frank?

FRANK:   I sense other thoughts going on.

SYLVIA:  (excited)  That’s it exactly!

BRUCE:  Indecision. (Looks from FRANK to SYLVIA and back again)  Why can’t either of you see that?

FRANK:   Because it’s not always that simple. It’s as if another you comes on line. But you know it isn’t you, not the regular you.

BRUCE:  Never heard such nonsence.

FRANK:  Stuff-an-nonsense?

BRUCE:  (gets to his feet) You’ve lost me, ‘ol son.

SYLVIA:  Where are you going?

BRUCE:  For a drink of water. I’m thirsty.

                  SYLVIA watches her husband leave the room.

                  A silence.

FRANK:   (to MARGO)  When’s the big day?

MARGO:  A week on Thursday.

FRANK:   Church? Registry?

ROGER:  Church.

FRANK:   I was married in church – for my sins.

SYLVIA:  Registry weddings lack something, don’t you think?

ROGER:  (to FRANK)  I didn’t want a big wedding.  Guess what?

                  FRANK smiles, but does not reply.

SYLVIA:    Its an important day, it should be treated as important. Anyway, getting married means more to a woman. 

FRANK:   (to MARGO and ROGER)  You want children?

MARGO:  (hesitates)   Probably.

ROGER:  (with a laugh)  We’re in no hurry.

GRANDMOTHER:  Children are a blessing.

FRANK:     Cluck cluck, bloody cluck!

SYLVIA:  (to Frank)   You don’t regret not having kids?

FRANK:   (aghast)  With Margorie?

SYLVIA:  Maybe that was half the problem, Frank.

GRANDMOTHER:  (to SYLVIA)  You mean maybe he was half the problem.

FRANK:   (to SYLVIA) Not half as daft as she seems, is she?

GRANDMOTHER:  (tersely)  There’s generally a reason.

FRANK:   You think I couldn’t get it up?

                  GRANDMOTHER looks away in disgust.

SYLVIA:  That’s enough of that, Frank.

FRANK:   (to MARGO and ROGER)  Don’t let them badger you into it.

MARGO:  (apologetically)  I don’t think I’m the mothering kind.

SYLVIA:  Oh, don’t say that. Children are what marriage is all about.

FRANK:   You think so?

SYLVIA:  (surprised)  That’s why people get married, Frank!

FRANK:   I thought it was because they wanted to be together.

SYLVIA:  That too, of course.

GRANDMOTHER:   (to FRANK)  I pity your poor wife. Yiouy must have put her through the mill.

FRANK:   (ignores GRANDMOTHER, turns to SYLVIA)  Biology ruling the roost?

SYLVIA:  It’s a natural instinct, Frank.

FRANK:   You don’t think too clearly during the push and shove, I’ll give you that.

SYLVIA:  I meant wanting to have a child .

FRANK:   ‘Natural’ is just another word for ‘biology’, Sylvia.


FRANK:   So its sort of . . . blind. (Adds quickly) I’ve got nothing against kids, I used to be one. It’s the assumption that marriage is about having kids and not much else. I don’t accept that. It makes it too easy to have kids and let everything else go hang.

SYLVIA:  I know what you’re saying . . .

FRANK:   Marjorie couldn’t have kids. When she discovered she couldn’t conceive it was all but over between us. (Turns to GRANDMOTHER) I’ve still got the medical report if you want to see it.

                  GRANDMOTHER physically draws back.

 FRANK:  (to everyone)  Let me put it this way.  When people are standing shoulder to shoulder all over this planet it’ll still be natural to want to have kids, but it won’t be practical. Which suggests, to me – dumb as I am – that “natural” (Makes quotation makes with fingers)  isn’t automatically good or right or even beneficial. Kids are important, but they aren’t the basic reason for us getting together.

SYLVIA:  (laughs and glances at MARGO)  They’re just so cuddly when they’re little!

BRUCE:  (beaming inanely)  I have no  regrets.

FRANK:   (to BRUCE)   So tell me, what are we here for? What’s the point of being born on this little spinning blob of a planet?

ROGER:  We’re a quirk of nature, Frank.

FRANK:   No God? No Devil? No purpose?

                  ROGER smiles, shakes his head.

BRUCE:  I agree.

ROGER:  (jerks a thumb at his father)  My fathers an atheist.

SYLVIA:  For goodness sake, it’s Christmas day! Were supposed to be celebrating Christ’s birth!

FRANK:   It’s in our bones to be afraid.

ROGER:  (with a laugh)  I’m not afraid. I don’t believe in any of that crap.

                  GRANDMOTHER raises her eyes to the ceiling.

FRANK:   You’re young. You think you’re immortal. Wait until you’re my age. (Laughs)  Or her age.  

ROGER:  You’re afraid of dying, Frank?

FRANK:   (quickly) I’m more afraid of not having lived. Yeah, I know, it’s a cliche to say something like that, but that’s how I see it. I’ve learned . . . (corrects himself) I’m learning to push everything through that perspective.

GRANDMOTHER: Always so grand.

FRANK:  (with a glance)  The word you’re looking for is ‘pretentious’.

ROGER:  You don’t sound much like a boxer at times, Frank.

FRANK:   It was a choice I made.

SYLVIA:  Did you do well at school, Frank?

FRANK:   Not bad.

ROGER:  Why boxing?

FRANK:   Why anything?

ROGER:  You’re not exactly a big man.

FRANK:   I’m wiry. They called me the ‘terrier’.

SYLVIA:  I saw a terrier beat off an Alsatian once.

FRANK:   (holds his throat with his right hand) They come up under the throat and hang on until the big dog tires out. That was my tack. I was dogged.

ROGER:  You aren’t afraid of death?

FRANK:   (pauses) I’m not exactly looking forward to it, I’ll give you that. But no, I’m not afraid. I’m more curious than afraid.

GRANDMOTHER:  Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

FRANK:   Don’t give that Old Testament crap!

GRANDMOTHER:  You won’t be so cocky when you’re standing before the judgement seat of Christ.

FRANK:   (quotes) “Judge not that ye be not judged, for with what judgement ye judge, so shall ye be judged.”

GRANDMOTHER:  (frowning) Exactly.

FRANK:   Exactly? What do you think that means?

GRANDMOTHER:  That we’ll be judged by Christ.

FRANK:  If there’s any such thing as a judgement then I think we’ll have do it ourselves. I’m with Swedenburg on that one.

GRANDMOTHER:  Oh, really!

BRUCE:  Swedenburg?

FRANK:   (to GRANDMOTHER)  We know what’s in our hearts, we don’t have to be told.

GRANDMOTHER:  How convenient.

FRANK:   (pauses)  Funny he never judged anyone when he was alive. In fact he did the exact opposite.

GRANDMOTHER: What would someone like you know.

FRANK:   (quotes)  “He who is without sin cast the first stone(?)”

                  GRANDMOTHER sits blinking at FRANK, but does not reply.

FRANK:  No. We would judge ourselves. Couldn’t be any other way.

GRANDMOTHER:  You just make it up as you go along!

FRANK:   (frowns and stares at GRANDMOTHER)  You’ve never once questioned the vicious nature of that God of yours? It’s never occurred to you that a God capable of assigning you to the flames of hell for all eternity would be doing what you yourself aren’t capable of doing.

GRANDMOTHER: Evil has to be rooted out.

FRANK:  Through torture for ever and ever?

GRANDMOTHER:  We bring it on ourselves.

FRANK:   For ever and ever?

GRANDMOTHER:  (flustered)  Its what the Scriptures tell us.

FRANK:  Over a bit of slap and tickle? Because you think Jesus was a virgin?

GRANDMOTHER:  You have to believe to be saved.

FRANK  (to BRUCE)  What she means is that we have to believe in ‘belief’ to be saved. Belief in a grocery list of beliefs is what the whole thing is about. It hasn’t anything to do with love, compassion or tolerence. It’s a head trip, Bruce. It’s believe this instead of that. Condemn this instead of that. Assign this poor sod to the flames and this one to eternal bliss. If it wasn’t fucking pathetic it would be funny!

                  GRANDMOTHER puts a hand to her chest as if about to have a heart attack. 

FRANK:  (staring at GRANDMOTHER)  Look at her face, her God is gobbling her up from the inside.

SYLVIA:  (frightened voice)  You’re being a bit hard on us, Frank.

FRANK: (pauses, and smiles at SYLVIA)  Yeah, I suppose I am. But every day isn’t Christmas day, is it, Sylvia?

                  Lights slowly dim and go out on tableau.

 Scene Five – Lounge

                   Christmas music starts up again. Everyone  is present, and in tableau. BRUCE is doing something to his video camera. ROGER is sprawled out in an armchair to left of sofa, and looks half asleep. MARGO is crouching next to SYLVIA’S chair having a private tete-a-tete. GRANDMOTHER is sitting stiffly on sofa across from FRANK, who is nursing a glass of whisky and staring into it.

 SYLVIA: (to GRANDMOTHER with fake concern.)  Feeling tired, dear?

GRANDMOTHER: (stifly)  No.

MARGO: (gets up from crouching position and stretches)  I’m zonked!

SYLVIA: (holds out hands to MARGO)  I’m so glad you were able to come over – it’s been great having you here. (Beams across at ROGER) Both of you.

MARGO:   (takes SYLVIA’S hands) I love it here; it’s such a beautiful island. I never realised . . .

SYLVIA:   We think so. (Laughs)  But we’re prejudiced of course!

                  MARGO returns to the vacant armchair. She is within touching distance of FRANK.

SYLVIA: (brightly) Plenty of Turkey left for tomorrow. Let’s hope the weather picks-up.

ROGER: (intones like weather forecaster.)  Snow is expected on high ground . . .

BRUCE: (to MARGO)  Wouldn’t be the first year we’ve had snow on the mountain on Christmas day.

MARGO: Really? Snow!

FRANK: (to MARGO)  Had a peek up there yet?

                  MARGO shakes her head.

FRANK: (to MARGO)  I used to climb the mountain regularly. At least once a week.

BRUCE: (BRUCE is now standing behind SYLVIA’S chair, video camera in hand)  Isn’t really much of a climb, Frank.

FRANK:   You done it recently?

BRUCE:   When would I get time to climb the mountain?

FRANK:  You make time.

SYLVIA:  (laughing)  Too much for him to do around here!

BRUCE: (nodding)  I get all the exercise I need in the garden, thank you very much.

SYLVIA:  We climbed it a couple of years back, by the path that snakes up from Lenah Valley. Didn’t go right to the top of course. Too much for the likes of us.

FRANK:   And?

                  BRUCE has started to squint through video camera from time to time.

SYLVIA:   (innocently)  Very nice.

FRANK: (to MARGO)  Strange thing happened to me up there a few months back. I was on my way down one of the fire brakes when a bird – a tiny little thing, don’t rightly know what it was – flew out of the bush and fluttered right in front of my face. Gave me quite a start.

MARGO:   Why do you think it did that?

BRUCE: Too near it’s nest.

FRANK:    (half laughs) It was like it was trying to  tell me something.

BRUCE: (laughs) Yeh, you’re too near to my nest!

FRANK:  I don’t think it was that.

BRUCE:  Couldn’t be anything else.

FRANK:   (to BRUCE)  Stayed with me for about ten minutes.  Kept flying off and coming back.  Didn’t make a sound. Just it’s little wings beating the air like crazy right in front of my face.

BRUCE:    (amused)  You think it had a message for you?

FRANK:   Of course not.

BRUCE:  (laughs)  For a moment . . .

FRANK:   I think it was the message.

                  There is a silence.

BRUCE:  (looks around smiling) So who sent it, Frank?

FRANK:   No one.

BRUCE:  Messages are generally from someone, Frank.

FRANK:   It wasn’t that kind of message.

SYLVIA:  (sympathetic tone)  What are you trying to say, Frank?

FRANK:   I’m not rightly sure. All I can say is that I felt a damned sight better after the experience than I did before it.

SYLVIA:  You were feeling a bit down?

FRANK:  Down? (Laughs) Didn’t know what to do with myself, with my life, with my thoughts. Anything. Everything was topsy-turfy and impenetrable. (Takes a breath)  It was like the bottom had fallen out of everything. I was stranded in an unfriendly universe and there was no escape from the meaninglessness everyone was creating and reinforcing and advocating – myself included. I woke up suddenly and realised I was living a kind of nightmare, that my most horrendous dreams of the night were no match for the blinding horror of simply being conscious (Pauses) So I went up the mountain.

BRUCE:  (nods sympathetically)  To escape.

FRANK:   No, no. I don’t go up the mountain to escape, Bruce. I go up there to nut things out.

BRUCE:  I use the net for distraction. (Laughs)  Less energetic!

FRANK:   I wasn’t after distraction.

BRUCE:  The little bird did the trick.

FRANK:   The little bird blew my mind.

BRUCE:  The little bird was a little bird, Frank.

FRANK:   You don’t say!

BRUCE:  It wasn’t a message, Frank.

FRANK:   How do you know?

BRUCE:  Stands to reason.

FRANK:   It was reasonable that a little bird should flutter on and off in front of my face for around ten minutes?

GRANDMOTHER: (with disdain.)  He thinks he’s special.

FRANK: (softly)  I am special.

GRANDMOTHER: There, what did I tell you!

FRANK:   We all are. We’re just too bloody distracted to notice.

MARGO:  What makes us so special, Frank?

FRANK:   (shrugs)  The fact that we’re alive?

BRUCE:  There’s nothing terribly special about that, Frank.

FRANK:   There’s nothing special about being alive?

BRUCE:  We don’t have any say in the matter. Do we? We’re born, we live, we die. That’s all there is to it.

SYLVIA:  (almost to herself)  Christmas is special.

GRANDMOTHER:   Because of Jesus.

FRANK:  (to GRANDMOTHER)  Why was Jesus so special?

GRANDMOTHER:  (pointedly)  He was the son of God.

FRANK:   (pauses)  Why?

GRANDMOTHER: What do you mean. why?

FRANK:   Why was he reckoned to be the Son of God?

GRANDMOTHER:  Because he was.

FRANK:  No other reason than that you believe  he was?

                  GRANDMOTHER stares at FRANK.

FRANK:  Jesus wasn’t special because people believed he was the Son of God, he was special because he was special in his own right.

ROGER:  That’s a tautology, Frank.

FRANK:   No it isn’t. If I’d said he was special because he was special and left it at that, that would have been a tautology. I didn’t. I tacked on in his own right.   

GRANDMOTHER:   I’m surprised you even think he was special.

FRANK:   Special? He was spectacular!

SYLVIA: Its nice to hear you admit that, Frank.

FRANK:   (to Sylvia)  I’m not admitting anything!

GRANDMOTHER:  Mad, completely mad.

FRANK:   He was special because he was really there.

GRANDMOTHER:  Of course he was there – where else could he be but there!

FRANK: Not ‘there’, (Shouts)  THERE!

                  GRANDMOTHER covers her ears with her hands and grimaces.  

SYLVIA: (gets up as she speaks) You’re not making much sense, Frank. (Looks around)  Shall I put the jug on?

FRANK:   (normal tone) Tea, please.

                  SYLVIA looks at FRANK and huffs a laugh. They sort out who wants what, and SYLVIA leaves for kitchen.

ROGER:  (to FRANK) What you’re saying is that he made his mark on those around him.

FRANK:  Sort of.

MARGO:  They couldn’t ignore him?

FRANK:  That, too.

ROGER:  He got their attention?

FRANK:   (smiles)  Sure did, but why?

MARGO:  (repeats FRANK’S line as a question)  Because he was really there.

                  Everyone waits for FRANK to respond.

FRANK:   Like we aren’t – most of the time.

                  There is a silence as everyone tries to digest what FRANK has just said.

FRANK:   We’re distracted by what’s going on all around us. He wasn’t.

ROGER:   When did you pick up on that?

FRANK:   Not when, where. When you climb into a boxing ring you had better be all there or you’re for it.

GRANDMOTHER:  Gibberish!

FRANK:   You think so? Try handling a temperamental dog when you’re distracted.

BRUCE:  What you’re describing is attitude.

FRANK:   It goes deeper than that, Bruce. It goes all the way down into what you are, at your core.

ROGER:  (smiles) What are ya.

                  SYLVIA re-enters with tray and stands listening.

FRANK:   And that’s generally bugger all! We ain’t here most of the time. Were ga ga with distraction. A vacant lot. Not at home. Absent without leave. There’s a million way to describe it. That’s why we’re in such a mess.

ROGER:  When did this hit you?

FRANK:   (poetically)  Up the mountain with that little bird fluttering in  my face. I woke up and realised that I had been fast asleep a split send before that little bird appeared. Asleep. Out to the count with my eyes open. Oblivious. An empty shell.

SYLVIA:  Didn’t Jesus climb a mountain once?

FRANK:   Yeah, and he lit up like a bloody torch!

GRANDMOTHER:   Don’t blaspheme!

FRANK:   That isn’t blasphemy! It’s what happened. The bugger climbed a mountain and was never the same again!

GRANDMOTHER:   You are the absolute limit! You can’t swear and using the name of Jesus in the same breath!

FRANK:   I’m beginning to think you don’t know anything about that guy.

GRANDMOTHER:    You obviously think you do!

SYLVIA:  You’re a closet Christian, Frank?

FRANK:  Christ, no! I don’t even believe in God.

ROGER:  You’re an atheist like my dad?

FRANK:   I’m no atheist.

GRANDMOTHER:   You just admitted to not believing in God.

FRANK:   To not believing in your God. I wouldn’t give your God ten minutes of my time.

                  GRANDMOTHER is too shocked to reply.

FRANK:   (to GRANDMOTHER)   You think ‘Christ’ was Jesus’ surname, right?

GRANDMOTHER:(articulates words carefully)  Jesus Christ, Son of God!

FRANK:   ‘Christ’ doesn’t mean Son of God. It’s Greek, it means ‘Messiah’.

GRANDMOTHER:  Same thing.

FRANK:   Nothing of the kind the same thing! The Jews never ever believed God was going to visit them in person. In a person, yes, but not as a person. They didn’t believe it then, and they don’t belive it now. All of their kings were reckoned to be messiahs.


SYLVIA:  You can’t speak Greek, Frank.

FRANK:  Didn’t say I could.

SYLVIA:   Then how do you know what you’re saying is correct?

FRANK:   Because some clever buggers who can speak Greek sorted out this nonsense decades ago.

GRANDMOTHER:  (looks away disdainfully)  I know in whom I have believed.

FRANK:   That’s the problem, you don’t really know the guy at all. You just think you do. You probably think he had red hair and blue eyes.

                  GRANDMOTHER stares at FRANK in silent anger.

SYLVIA:  It’s a matter of faith, Frank.

FRANK:   Is it a matter of faith to hound homosexuals and treat every other religion as inferior to your own, or worse?

ROGER:  You found your own version of God up Mount Wellington, Frank?

FRANK:  No, it found me.

GRANDMOTHER:   (scathingly)  It?

FRANK:   No names, no pack drill.

GRANDMOTHER:  That from someone who parades naked in front of children?

FRANK:   You forgot to add the word ‘murderer’.

GRANDMOTHER:  Your behaviour speaks for itself. Every word you utter speaks for itself.

FRANK:  Yours don’t?

SYLVIA:  (taking control)  I think we should change the subject.

GRANDMOTHER:     (on her high horse)  Totally mad.

MARGO:  (runs out of patience)  Oh, shut up!

GRANDMOTHER:   (astonished)  What did you just say young lady?

SYLVIA:  Margo?

MARGO:  (to GRANDMOTHER)  You’re so bitter!

GRANDMOTHER:   (glancing at FRANK)  You’re defending him?

MARGO:  I’m interested in what he has to say.

FRANK:   (softly)  You don’t have to defend me.

MARGO:  I’m not defending you, I’m defending myself. I’m defending my right to listen to something different.  

SYLVIA:   No one’s denying you that right, dear.

MARGO:  (nods at GRANDMOTHER)   I don’t see why we should have to keep deferring to what she thinks and believes.

BRUCE:   (shocked)  I never thought I’d hear you speak like that, Margo.

ROGER:  (half smile)   I forgot to tell you, dad – she’s real fiesty.

GRANDMOTHER:   And rude.

FRANK:   (quietly)  Could you get me a drink of water, Sylvia.

GRANDMOTHER:    Get it yourself – she’s not your servant!

                  FRANK makes to get up, but SYLVIA stops him. She heads for the kitchen without a word.

MARGO:  (to FRANK)  You okay?

FRANK:   (smiles)  Indigestion. Had it for a couple of days.

GRANDMOTHER:    (to FRANK)  You are your own worst enemy.

FRANK:   I’ve always known that.

GRANDMOTHER:   You admit it?

FRANK:   You don’t?

                  GRANDMOTHER does not know how to reply. SYLVIA comes back into lounge carrying glass of water. She hands it to FRANK, who takes a sip or two.

MARGO:  (to SYLVIA)   I don’t want my life with Roger to end up like this.

SYLVIA:   (taken aback)  LIke what?

MARGO:  Pretending everything’s just fine when it isn’t.

SYLVIA:  (resigned tone)  It’s called life, Margo. (Smiles wanly) There’s not a lot one can do about it.

FRANK:   Anything for a quiet life?

GRANDMOTHER:    (to FRANK)  What are you saying now?

FRANK:   She’s saying it’s too late for any of us to change. She’s saying we’re stuck in a rut and the only difference between a rut and grave is that one is deeper.

MARGO:  (alarmed)  It shouldn’t ever be too late.

GRANDMOTHER:   He wants everyone to be as selfish as he is.

FRANK:   Selfishness is something you have to learn how to handle.

SYLVIA:  Selfishness isn’t nice, Frank.

FRANK:   Neither’s selling out to someone ten, twenty times a day.

MARGO:  I’m with Frank on that one.

FRANK:   (to GRANDMOTHER)   I’m not talking about selfish selfishness, I’m talking about knowing when you’re being had, when you’re having unfair demands made on you, demands that appear just as you’re about to do something for yourself. It’s as if it’s a crime to have time to yourself, time to read, to think, to walk or wander. You’ve got to fill in your day with sensible things. If you don’t, then you ought to feel guilty. And if you don’t feel guilty then you’ve got to be made feel guilty. Everything’s about engagement. You have to be constantly engaged with things, people, ideas, hopes, fears and ambitions. If you aren’t, then your doing the unimaginable, your freewheeling mentally and that has to be stopped at all cost. Why? Because it is in such moments that you begin to register on you, and we can’t have that, can we? Why not? Because that’s when we begin to notice how dead we are, how crushed and disabled we are, how unfeeling and lifeless we are.

SYLVIA:   Life’s about give and take, Frank. We can’t just . . .

FRANK:   No it isn’t. It’s about not doing what you really don’t want to do, and it’s about not telling lies.

SYLVIA:  Wouldn’t do for any of us to tell the truth all of the time, Frank

FRANK:   That’s not what I’m saying.

GRANDMOTHER: (scathing)   You think what you’re doing is telling the truth?

FRANK:   You’ve got to break out of telling lies before you can tell the truth. No one can tell the truth if they’re constantly lying to themselves.

SYLVIA:   How does one do that, Frank?

FRANK:   By keeping a little bit of yourself in hand when going about your business.

GRANDMOTHER:  (dismissively)  Mr mystery speaks.

FRANK:   It’s staring us in the face.

SYLVIA:  What is, Frank?

FRANK:    (FRANK puts his head back and takes a deep breath) Everything.

                  GRANDMOTHER shakes her head and looks away.

FRANK:   (his head comes forward, but hes shaking slightly) It would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic. (Pauses, looks down then up Again) It’s right there in front of our noses and we miss it every time.

SYLVIA:  (impatient) What is, Frank?


                  There is a stunned silence.

FRANK:   (in a kind of reverie with his head pushed back again)  Everything glistens!

GRANDMOTHER:    (horrified)  I want to go Home, Bruce. Right this minute!

SYLVIA:  (concerned)  Are you okay, Frank?

                  FRANK does not reply; his head drops to his chest.

SYLVIA:  Frank?

FRANK: (breathing with difficulty) I don’t feel well.

SYLVIA:    Shall I get a doctor?

FRANK:   (looks around as if seeing something)  They’re coming in fast.

SYLVIA:  ( with a frantic glance at Roger)  What do you mean? What’s coming in fast?

                  FRANK rolls slightly to the side, corrects himself, looks around wide-eyed and falls back.

SYLVIA:  Roger!

                  ROGER and MARGO get up and come over at top speed. As they approach, FRANK lolls forward but stops his fall from the chair by jamming his hands down on his thighs.

SYLVIA:   (grips FRANK by shoulders and gently pushes him back into the armchair) His doctor said he had to takes things easy. That’s why we invited him for Christmas dinner.

                  Every eye is now on FRANK.

BRUCE:  Has he fallen asleep?

                  SYLVIA straightens, but remains in attendance

MARGO:  Hes very pale.

SYLVIA:  (shakes FRANK gently by the shoulder) Frank? Wake up, Frank.

MARGO:    (checks)  He’s breathing okay.

GRANDMOTHER:   Always the centre of the attention.

SYLVIA:  Something’s not right here. Can you hear me, Frank? Frank?

MARGO:  I think he’s had a stroke.

BRUCE:  Oh, God!

MARGO:    (to ROGER)  You’d better ‘phone for an ambulance.

                  ROGER produces his mobile as BRUCE gets to his feet. BRUCE gets to his feet and stands uncertainly looking on.

BRUCE:  (to MARGO)  You really think it’s a stroke?

MARGO:  Has to be something like that!

                  ROGER is already talking to the emergency services.

SYLVIA:     (reeling)  What are we supposed to do?

BRUCE:    (beside himself)  I don’t believe this!

ROGER:  (on mobile)  Can’t you get someone here sooner?

SYLVIA:  (frantic)  How long will they be?

ROGER:  (closes his mobile)  Ten minutes at best. We’ve hit a bad time. Lot of stuff happening out there. Could be longer.

MARGO:  We could make up an ice pack for his head. I’ve heard that that can help, if it’s a stroke.

                  ROGER signals to MARGO and they head for the kitchen.

GRANDMOTHER:    (self-satisfied)  Well, well well . . .

SYLVIA:    Don’t you start!


SYLVIA:  Spitting your bile!

GRANDMOTHER:  (to BRUCE, shocked)  Did you hear that?

                  BRUCE looks pained but remains silent.

SYLVIA:  (to GRANDMOTHER)   He wasn’t wrong about you, I’ll give him that.

BRUCE:  Now, now . . .

                  Banging sound from kitchen as ice is knocked out of containers. ROGER and MARGO can be heard urging each other on.

GRANDMOTHER:   (dismissive)  He’s probably only fainted. Either that or he’s pretending. I wouldn’t put it by him to pretend.

SYLVIA:  He wouldn’t do that. He’s not a cruel man.

GRANDMOTHER: How would you know? You hardly know him.

SYLVIA:   (quickly)  No, but I’ve got to know you real  quick.

                  GRANDMOTHER glowers and straightens in response. More banging from kitchen. 

MARGO:  (appears carrying plastic carrier bag and hurries over to FRANK)  There were only two trays of ice – It’s probably not enough! (ROGER follows her into lounge)

                  MARGO applies bag of ice to FRANK’S brow, then to the left and right sides of his head. BRUCE continues to hover idiotically.

SYLVIA:  (harshly) For Gods sake, Bruce! Sit down!

                  BRUCE obeys instantly.

MARGO:  (laughs suddenly)   Our Christmas present from Frank?

SYLVIA:  We’re all to blame.

GRANDMOTHER:  For what, might I ask?

SYLVIA:  (turns her head and and looks at GRANDMOTHER)  For what we are you selfish old bitch!

BRUCE:  (to SYLVIA, mystified)  What are you saying for God’s sake?

SYLVIA:  (dejected tone)  Nothing you would understand.

ROGER:  (takes over from MARGO)  Plucky old bugger.

GRANDMOTHER:   Larrikin!

SYLVIA:   (disatractedly as she hovers)  Climbing down firebreaks at his age.

GRANDMOTHER:    On ‘imself!

MARGO:  He twitched!

SILVIA:    Colour’s coming back into his face.

GRANDMOTHER:  (to Bruce)  Bruce. Help me up.

BRUCE:  (looks round)  What?

GRANDMOTHER:  (harsh whisper)  I need to go to the toilet.

                  BRUCE makes to help his mother.

MARGO:  He’s coming round!

SYLVIA:  Oh, thank God!

                  But it isn’t to be. FRANK opens his eyes, lunges forward and lets out a strangled cry. He then goes limp and hangs between SYLVIA and ROGER. In background BRUCE is assisting his mother to get up from the sofa.

SYLVIA:  (to MARGO)  Is he dead!

MARGO:  (after a moment’s checking)  Yes, I think he is.

                  SYLVIA shudders and disentangles herself from FRANK. ROGER takes over and pushes FRANK back in against the armchair. He lies there, eyes open, head forward. SYLVIA turns away in deep distress.

ROGER:  (closes FRANK’S eyes) Bye ol’ son.

GRANDMOTHER:          (to BRUCE, in a cross tone, as they cross lounge)  I’m not going to make it!

BRUCE:  (panicking)  Of course you are!

                  Sound of ambulance arriving. MARGO rushes out to open door.  GRANDMOTHER stops in her tracks and stands splay legged. She farts. 

BRUCE:  Oh, no!

                  Curtain falls slowly on scene. Lights come up, but voices continue.

SYLVIA:  (begins to laugh) Jesus!

BRUCE:  Help me with her Sylvia!

SYLVIA:  She’s your mother. You deal with it!

BRUCE:  Sylvia, please!

                  Sound of ambulance men entering lounge.

ROGER:  I think he’s already dead.

                  Sounds of ambulance men going about their business.  GRANDMOTHER begins to wail.

AMBULANCE MAN: You’re right. He’s gone.

SYLVIA:    (lamenting)  Oh, Frank.

BRUCE:  Will some one please help me! She’s too heavy for me. What’s the matter with you all? Sylvia? Sylvia!


                  Music comes up – Still the night, holy the night . . . .


              (Tableau. Christmas music rises in volume and lights slowly dim and go out.)