April 27, 2015
The surreal factor of divorce cannot be overstated. For me, at least, I definitely feel like I’ve been pulled through a worm hole into an alternate universe, even during those first few years when I still had the kids and was trying to navigate being a single parent. But now my life is way beyond Star Wars, which might be more charming and fluffy, actually. If my new alien world could be more like Star Wars, then maybe I’d have my own chubacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 team of helpers.
My surreal was–and is–more like being transplanted to an unknown alien planet, which is all the more sinister because my life in this new alien, post-divorce parallel universe eerily mimicks my previous life–yet I haven’t been gifted Princess Leia’s figure, which would be nice.
In this parallel universe, I have urged my kids to eat breakfast in the morning then urged them to get in the car so we could get to school on time. I have picked them up after sport practices, thrown together some version of “dinner” and urged everyone to do homework, bathe and sleep while I simultaneously break up sibling spats and soothe hurt feelings.
Each night in my old, king-sized bed (now burnt to a crisp due to house explosion), I have read to my youngest, rubbed the head, neck and ears of my middle child while my oldest performed his nightly study-break dance in the hallway to entertain us. It has all been so familiar. Yet, so undeniably not my pre-divorce life of relative stability and clear identity as a wife and mother.
Of course, now my life is even more surreal. Now, without the kids in my direct care, there is no urging of the kids. No throwing together dinner. No study break dancing. No bickering.
Just silence. Silence and the constant worry about getting people into the gallery and studio. I worry about sales figures or what would happen if my benefactor landlord, Eileen, suddenly decides to kick me out. Uncle Claudius was unclear on the length of my stay. He is a man who actually says stuff like, “Tut, tut.” He tut-tutted me when I asked how long I could stay at Eileen’s place. Knowing him, as I do, I think he was trying to provide comfort. I just wish I felt comforted.
Today, my intention was to go to planet Work to see if I could rustle up some out-of-this-world, marketing plans. Of course, first I had to deal with a brother from another, um…location, ’cause that’s what we do in this wild, new world of divorce. We deal with whatever floats, crawls or moonwalks through the door.
(Morning, Phoebe’s house, backyard next to Attacking Live Oak)
Phoebe, Lucy and Cooper are standing at the base of the tree and looking up at a majestic and magnificent specimen of Live Oak. Maude and Irving (Phoebe’s guardian angels) are sitting nearby on a picnic blanket drinking tea.
Lucy (with a basket of strawberries over one arm and, with her free hand, patting the tree trunk): Yep, evil through and through, this one.
Phoebe: Really? Can you tell?
Lucy: Nah. Just joking! It’s a pussycat tree.
Phoebe: Hey, isn’t there a Pelican Plaza shop-owner meeting tomorrow? What did Sheila’s note say? A board meeting? I didn’t know I was on a board. Also, where the heck has Sheila been these last few weeks? It’s like she just vanished!
Lucy: You never know, maybe she had a little nip and tuck! But, you’re right. You’re not on the board. The shop owners are invited to tomorrow’s meeting. Be there early so we can grab the best seats.
Cooper: Which are furthest away from Sheila. I heard something about a proposal to build a wall along the border of the swamp. You know, to protect us from the alligators. Only Sheila…
Maude: I think somebody has a little crush!
Cooper: What? Yech!
Phoebe (checks watch): Right! Time to open up. I guess we need to leave Mr. Oak to his mysterious and sometimes violent ways.
Cooper: I could make a nice set of chairs out of him and maybe a bench or two. Whaddya say?
Lucy: Cooper! I’m ashamed of you! Strawberry?
Irving (to Maude): Feels like rain. Maybe we should pack up.
Phoebe (looks up at blue sky): Weather man said sunny and clear.
Lucy (to Irving and Maude): I’m just curious. Where do you guys go when you…go?
Maude: Irving likes the pirate museum. Me? I like Target. Of course, we always have an eye on Phoebe, no matter what.
Phoebe (frowns): Pirate museum? Huh. The kids might like that.
Lucy: Oh there’s some great pirate lore here. I have lots of books at the store if you want to read up.
Irving: Phoebe’s family has ties to pirates….
Phoebe: I do? And that reminds me, when are you guys going to tell me how to save the world and all? All I do each day is get up, go to work, come home, rinse and repeat. If this is the life of a fairy with a mission, it’s honestly not that challenging. Except for the tree part… I guess you could say that was challenging, but I didn’t exactly bring about world peace, now, did I?
Cooper (takes strawberry): What I don’t get is why the stump removal company isn’t here grinding up the stump of the already murdered tree. Phoebe, don’t you want to get rid of him, I mean it, now that you know its true character?
Phoebe (like Lucy, reaches over to pat the trunk): I agree with Lucy. Pussycat tree. I could never cut it down. The other night was a fluke, a phenomenon, a, a…you know, a one-time-only, crash through your window and try to kill you, unrepeatable thing. Every tree deserves a second chance.
Cooper (grabs another strawberry from Lucy’s basket and eyes the tree): Yeah. Well, I’m not so sure. Just toss me a slab of red meat and a chainsaw and I’ll do my thing out here while you guys go to the pirate museum with Irving.
Lucy (to Phoebe): Even if you wanted to, you’d have to consult the town tree council before touching it.
Phoebe: There’s a town tree council?
Cooper: Yes, sadly, there is. And that looser Thor is on it. Have to say I am not a big fan of the tree council. Gets in the way of many a building project, and my bottom line doth protest.
Phoebe (holding a strawberry): Somehow, your bottom line aside for the moment, I don’t picture Thor as a tree hugger.
Lucy: You and me, both.
Cooper: That makes three of us. On a scale of one to ten, one being not egocentric at all and ten being the poster child for narcissism, I’d rate him a 49, because 50 would be exaggerating.
Lucy: Yeah, you wouldn’t think he would look away from his reflection in the surfboard long enough to notice a tree.
Cooper: But back to Phoebe’s mission, I’m a little curious about that, too. Not that I’m criticizing or anything, but I’m not getting the fairy thing at all. Not to mention the fact that we live in vacation paradise. Evil isn’t our biggest problem.
Maude (to Phoebe): You’re doing just fine! It isn’t our place to direct you. Just ask us when you need help. When you ask, we can always step in.
Phoebe: Ask? Really? Would you have stopped this bad boy (indicates tree) if I’d asked?
Irving: (to Phoebe): You’ll never know if you don’t try it.
Poof! Maude and Irving disappear. Phoebe, Lucy and Cooper stare at the now empty space with the picnic blanket used to be.
Lucy: Strawberry, anyone?
They eat strawberries. There is a peaceful moment. Then, from the direction of the house, an unfamiliar voice.
All three turn toward a man holding a bucket filled with cleaning bottles.
(Nearby and up the road…)
Thor is riding his motorcycle down a sandy lane dappled in sunlight. As far as the eye can see, the live oaks arch over the street and form a green cathedral. Just behind his head, the fairy Clementine is flying as fast as she can to keep up. Unexpectedly, Thor pulls over to the shoulder. Unable to stop quickly, Clementine flies past him. With super-human speed, Thor’s hand shoots out and he catches Clementine. He holds her in front of his face.
Thor: I see the mosquitoes are out early today. Good thing I always carry bug repellent.
With his other hand, he reaches into his messenger bad and pulls out a miniature spray bottle. He holds the nozzle directly in front of her face. Clementine squirms to free herself.
Thor: Ok, talk. Why are you following me?
Clementine continues to struggle in his hand. Thor spritzes her face with a small amount of the spray, and Clementine coughs violently.
Thor: There’s plenty more where that came from so you better start talking.
Clementine: Now my hair is all sticky! Hold me up to your mirror so I can fix it.
Thor: You’ve got to be joking.
Clementine: I’ll tell you anything, but I can’t think straight with messy hair. I need a mirror!
Thor rolls eyes but holds her up to rearview mirror. Clementine becomes engrossed in grooming.
Thor: Look. I haven’t got all day. Could you speed this up? Have to say you haven’t changed a bit, babe.
Clementine (gives him flirtatious look over her shoulder): Neither have you.
Thor (watches her primping in mirror): You know I just can’t take you seriously like this.
Clementine snaps her fingers. She’s now human-sized and sitting on Thor’s lap, arms around his neck.
Clementine: Great. Now I can do this.
She slaps his face.
Thor: What was that for?!
Clementine: That was for spaying me with bug spray and this…
Clementine slaps him again.
Clementine: …this is for the way you broke things off between us!
(Back at Phoebe’s house…)
A man has just entered Phoebe’s backyard…
Phoebe: Hi, may I help you?
Man: Yes ma’am. I am here to clean the house, please?
Phoebe (wipes hands on overalls and reaches out to shake his hand): Oh! Uh…I’m Phoebe, and you are…?
Man: Ernesto, ma’am. I’m here to clean the house, please.
Phoebe (looks uncertainly at Lucy and Cooper): I…well, I don’t have a cleaning service. I think you must have the wrong house.
Lucy (to Ernesto): Maybe I can help. Do you know the name of the family or the house number?
Ernesto (looks at Lucy and smiles warmly, then into Phoebe’s eyes and does a double take; his eyes widen in fear, he looks flustered): This is the house. I clean now.
Ernesto glances at Lucy again and gazes, as though love-struck. Then, he turns and, avoiding Phoebe’s eyes, walks back the way he came.
Phoebe (following him): Uh, I think there must be a misunderstanding? You see, I didn’t ask for anyone to clean my house. Maybe my neighbor, over there…. (she tries to point, but Ernesto keeps walking and she follows him around to the front door where there is a vacuum cleaner and a mop leaning against the porch rail)
Ernesto: Miss Eileen send me.
Phoebe: Oh! I see. How often do you clean for…Miss Eileen?
Lucy (stage whispers behind Ernesto): Got to open the bookstore. See you later!
Ernesto turns to watch Lucy leave. He is smiling.
Cooper (looking from Ernesto to Phoebe): Do you need me to stay?
Phoebe: What? Oh. No…I’ve got this. You go ahead. Bye!
Ernesto (frowns as he watches Cooper catch up to Lucy. Cooper puts his arm around Lucy’s shoulder): I clean every other week, ma’am.
Ernesto busies himself with collecting all of the cleaning equipment and struggles to carry the heap of it up the steps to the front door.
Phoebe: Really? I’ve been here a month and I haven’t seen you before now.
Ernesto (pushes the door open with his foot): I was sick. No clean.
Phoebe: Can I…help carry something? You look like a pack mule, haha…oops, maybe that isn’t funny…wait, let me get that door. Okay, yep, got it.
Ernesto freezes in the entry hall and points to the Quanyin statue, which in now on top of a table in the entry hall.
Ernesto (gestures toward the statue): New?
Phoebe: Oh, right! It’s new, yes. (looks at Quanyin and shrugs) My uncle sent it.
Ernesto (looks warily at statue and then seems to be checking air around him as though there was something suspicious nearby). Ernesto goes to plug in the vacuum cleaner as the sound of a motorcycle gets so loud it is clear it is just outside. The motorcycle engine goes quiet.
Phoebe (shakes her head and makes an exasperated face): What now? (then, to Ernesto) You know what? Hang on a minute. I just thought about it and I don’t really need someone to help with the cleaning. I give you permission to go home or to your next job. It’s just that I’m hardly ever here and, when I am, I clean because, well….I get bored! That’s right. Bored. I just have to clean when I get bored. After all, as you said, you’ve been sick. You probably need some extra free time, and…
Thor’s voice (at the screen door): Knock, knock.
He is holding a bouquet of wilted wild flowers that he either picked by side of the road or pulled out of his messenger bag—maybe both. Phoebe looks surprised.
Phoebe: What are you dong here?
Thor: Is that any way to greet an old friend?
Phoebe looks from Thor to Ernesto, who narrows his eyes at Thor. Thor narrows his eyes at Ernesto but tries to smile sweetly to Phoebe. Then he catches sight of the Quanyin statue and seems to recognize it.
Thor (keeps his eyes on the statue as he holds out the bouquet of flowers): I wanted to bring you these. You know, to make up for the other day (Phoebe’s face softens a little). I was out of line saving your daughter from the shark without your permission (Phoebe’s face hardens again).
Phoebe: I suppose you still think I should say thank you?
Thor: Well, yeah. That would be the decent thing to do.
Phoebe makes no move to open the screen door or to take the flowers. There is an awkward silence.
Phoebe: Oh, fine then! Thank you.
Phoebe swings open the screen door, grabs the flowers and pushes the screen door shut again. Thor’s hand is still in the same position it was when he was holding the flowers. He blinks.
Thor: Of all the… Honestly! I don’t know why I bother…
Phoebe: That’s a really good point! Why did you bother?
Thor: Look, I came here to make amends for something I didn’t even do wrong! Then you….you prove, yet again, what an arrogant, holier-than-thou, ingrate twit you are. I have better things to do than this, and…and better people to see. Have a nice life!
Phoebe: Arrogant? Smart is more like it. Smart enough to spot a low-life creep when I see one. Do me a favor and stay away from me, my house AND my children!
Ernesto, who stands behind Phoebe, nods emphatically with each of Phoebe’s words and scowls at Thor.
Thor (mounts his motorcycle): No problem with that! There is nothing I want more than to stay away from the lot of you!
Thor revs the motorcycle engine and leaves in cloud of sandy dust.
Phoebe (looks at the flowers in her hand, opens the screen door and throws the flowers into the bushes): Ugh! What a…creep!
She turns toward Ernesto, who now has his back turned to Phoebe. It is clear he is sniffling.
Ernesto turns around. He is crying and looks at the floor while he talks.
Ernesto: The minute I see your eyes I know that you know. I try not to look…but your eyes, (here he looks up and points two fingers at her eyes) they like a snake. Hypnotize! You not like the others!
Ernesto breaks into sobs, sits on a side chair and covers his face. Phoebe fairy-jumps over to grab a box of tissues from a nearby table and hopes Ernesto hasn’t noticed the unusually high leap.
Phoebe: Here. These days, it seems I am fully stocked with tissues…
Ernesto takes a tissue, blows his nose and dabs his eyes.
Phoebe (waits a beat while Ernesto collects himself): Okay, look. Maybe we got off on the wrong foot. You see, I simply wasn’t prepared for… Sometimes, my mouth just opens and I say completely the wrong thing. I am sort of known for it. Really, I am very sorry.
Here, Ernesto begins to sob loudly. Phoebe looks alarmed.
Phoebe: Oh dear! Did I do it again?
Ernesto: I can’t lie any longer! The pressure is too much. Whatever you are doing, please stop! (he sobs and covers his face) I can’t take anymore!
Phoebe: Oh my goodness. If I knew what to stop, I would. Believe me!
Phoebe looks at her watch and begins to pace. She turns toward Ernesto.
Phoebe: Ernesto, do you need medical attention? You seem more than upset and I really, really need to get to work. Can I call someone? A family member?
Ernesto (if possible, his body language gets even gloomier): Ah….family. If only I had that…a family.
He blows his nose again and seems to calm down.
Phoebe (appears to relax): Yeah, I know what you mean…
Phoebe offers him another tissue.
Ernesto (talking to himself): I should just…come clean. That’s what I should do. No more lies. No more hiding from those…(he shivers)…eyessss.
Phoebe: My eyes? I always thought they were my best feature? What’s wrong with my eyes, anyway?
Ernesto (tries to look at her but holds one arm across his head and face): The eyes of Truth! They bore into my soul! You are not like others. I have to say it. Just say it, Ernesto. Say it!
Phoebe: Say what?
Ernesto (seems to gather courage to look Phoebe in the eye): I am, how you say, an illegal alien. No, please! (he flinches and covers his face again) Have mercy! Don’t look at me!
Phoebe (tries not to laugh): Is that all? Oh, Ernesto, I thought you were going to say you stole something or, or, killed somebody. I mean we have had that weird rash of murders…
Ernesto continues to cover his face and mutters something about mercy.
Phoebe: Ernesto, look at me. Please?
Ernesto (lowers his hands and, cautiously, looks at her): Okay.
Phoebe: Look, I know you are here illegally. And…that’s not good, of course, because, well, it’s illegal. Naturally, I cannot condone something illegal. But, well, I feel that your status is your business. Who am I to judge you? You probably have very good reasons for being here. Besides, I didn’t hire you. Eileen did! Plus, you do an honest day’s work for honest pay. I have no interest in sending you back to Mexico!
Ernesto (looks confused): Mexico?…
Phoebe: Sure. Heck, I feel like an alien myself.
Ernesto: You are…an alien?….
Phoebe: Sure. I mean, I too have felt forced to leave my…I guess you could call it my homeland. And I’ve come to this foreign-feeling place to start a new life. We are not so different, you and I. How about you take the day off and meet me at my gallery? I will show you what I do there. Buy you an ice cream or something to make up for my…what did you call them? Snake eyes? I should really try a new eyeliner, I guess.
Ernesto: That is very kind. But Miss Eileen has paid me to clean, so I must clean.
Phoebe (sighs): If you feel you must, then fine. But, why not come to the gallery after you clean?
Ernesto (still sniffling): Okay.
Phoebe (holds tissue box out to him again): So what part of Mexico are you from? I love Tulum. We went there a few years ago…
Ernesto: Miss Phoebe, what is this Mexico?
Phoebe: You aren’t? Oh, God. (Phoebe covers her mouth) That’s so tacky of me to assume! Forgive me. And drop the Miss. I am Phoebe. Just…Phoebe. So…where are you from, Ernesto?
Ernesto swallows and points up. Phoebe looks at the ceiling and then at Ernesto.
Ernesto: Up there.
Phoebe: Sorry. I don’t get the joke.
Ernesto: No. Come…
Ernesto gestures for Phoebe to follow him as he walks out to the porch. Phoebe follows.
Ernesto (points again, this time at the sky): My home is that way, about two years.
Phoebe (looks up, puts her hands on her hips and considers this): Huh.