There’s something unnatural-feeling about being separated from one’s children when they are still young. While it is completely possible to keep on living your life as an individual, it’s an insidious sort of experience. You get up, you make tea or coffee, you try to earn a living or maybe find romance again. A person is capable of this. The days stack up, one on top of the other.
But every so often it sneaks up on you. There you are, going about your business, sending off an email, folding laundry when, suddenly, you remember them. Your babies. The horror of it is realizing that through the small tasks of each day and getting on with life there are pockets of time when you forget them. The moment you remember this, the pain sets in. Not only because they aren’t there with you, or you with them, but because you realize it’s possible to move on and forget.
It’s at this point the fear takes hold. The fear that one day you won’t remember to think of them at all or that they will remain forgotten, as if they didn’t exist. Then you wonder if this same fear grips them in some way. That they are scared they will forget you. Or they fear, deep down, you have forgotten them. That with each passing day, the distance between you expands until there is no way back.
This kind of thinking can suck a person into a deep and dark place, instantly. When I think like this, Maude and Irving show up. Today, for example.
April 4, 2015
(Wooded area between Wrightsville Beach and Historic Wilmington, early morning)
Animal control unit is combing area for animal that attacked and killed two people just days earlier.
Fred: So, I’m installing a tackle box on the boat this weekend. Watch that branch.
Errol: Thanks. (Errol ducks under branch) Aluminum or fiberglass?
Errol: Shoot, I did that one time and forgot to reinforce with plywood and…
Fred: What’s that?
They stop and look at a small, muddy puddle.
Errol: Holy Toledo! That almost looks like a track but…look at the size of it. Can’t be.
Fred: Hang on.
Fred crouches next to puddle and pulls out cell phone to take photo.
Errol: I mean, that’s no coyote.
Fred: Put your hand next to it for scale.
Errol puts his hand next to the puddle which is in the shape of large paw print. Fred takes more photos.
Errol: No way. It’s like the size of a, of a…I don’t know, the birdbath in my mother’s backyard or Tammy’s ass!
Fred: Really? That’s the first thing that comes to you, your mother and Tammy’s ass?
Errol: Give me a break. My mind’s jumping all over the place. I should never drink more than three cups of coffee.
Fred: See this?
They look at five deep gouges in the mud, each one four inches or more in length.
Fred: Claws. One for each toe.
Errol: I don’t know man. No animal is that large. Not in these parts. Is this someone’s idea of a joke? Like a Bigfoot prank?
Fred (Puts away phone): Not very funny, is it? Two people died. Left some kids without a father.
Errol: Yeah. (Scanning woods) Not funny at all.
(Beach parking area, deserted except for Phoebe’s golf cart, morning)
Phoebe, in running clothes, sits behind the wheel and stares at nothing.
“Are you coming or going?”
Phoebe turns toward voice. It’s a gray-haired woman who looks a lot like Tracy Ullman and a man who looks like Einstein.
Phoebe: Oh. It’s you.
Maude: Nice to see you, too, dear.
Phoebe: Actually. I am just about to leave. (She turns the key and puts cart in reverse)
Suddenly Maude is sitting next to her, and the man (Irving), is in backseat.
Phoebe: You know, I really don’t like it when you do that. Can’t you just walk like normal people?
Maude: We’ll go with you so we can catch up.
Phoebe: Catch up? What’s there to catch up on? Aren’t you guys always hovering somewhere nearby with little crystal balls or something? Isn’t that what guardian angels do?
Maude: Not exactly.
Irving: But close, Maude! Give her credit. Our Phoebe is very perceptive. That’s what I love about her.
Phoebe: Okay, great. Let’s catch up. Just cut to the chase. I’m not in the mood.
They pull out of parking lot.
Irving: It’s just that…your light is starting to go dark again. You know we get concerned when you go dark.
Phoebe: My light went dark the minute Dennis told me he was having an affair with my best friend. It was snuffed out forever when he took the kids. I don’t have a light anymore.
Maude: That’s not true dear.
Irving: Occasionally, you blink a little.
Maude: Like yesterday, when you finished unpacking and you admired your shop. You had a little glow then.
Irving: Or when you met your new friends and they invited you to the party tonight.
Phoebe: You’re right. It did feel good to finish unpacking and I’m glad I met new people. But, I’m not going to the party tonight.
Irving: What? And miss out on all the fun? No. You must go, dear. Young people need to be with young people.
Phoebe: Young? You call 50 young? Maybe in your world, but not in mine.
Maude: Nonsense! You’re a spring chicken.
Irving: A babe in the woods.
They drive up a narrow path in the woods.
Phoebe: Spring chicken or not, after work I will come home, make popcorn, drink a glass of wine, watch old episodes of Gray’s Anatomy and go to bed.
Maude: But remember, dear. Remember what happens when you brood. It’s unhealthy for most people, but especially for a fairy. Fairies can’t brood.
Irving: Fairies can brood, but bad things happen. Very bad things. Just think of your house.
Phoebe: About that. My house. The explosion was caused by the plastic pan in the oven. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was upset. It was stupid, and, and…rare. But it was caused by chemistry. Plastic plus oven equals boom. Science pure and simple.
Maude: We planted that plastic plate to try to help with the investigation. We wanted to help you keep the children. But I think we both know something else happened that night.
They pull into a short drive next to cottage-style house with picket fence. Phoebe shuts off engine.
Phoebe: We know nothing of the sort. It was a bad science experiment. Period. If you’ll excuse me, I need to change for work. Today kicks off the tourist season. It’s Spring Break and I need to sell ceramics and fill some camp spaces for summer so that this spring chicken doesn’t end up a bag lady. Goodbye.
Maude and Irving watch Phoebe go into house.
Irving: You think it will work?
Maude (Shrugs): Meh. Who knows?
Maude raises her hands and sparkly dust flies off them and follows Phoebe into house.
(Phoebe’s bathroom, just after shower as she gets ready for work)
Phoebe wraps herself in a towel and goes to sink and mirror. She looks up at her reflection and shrieks. Wearing a full fairy costume complete with wings and flower wreath on her head, she drops towel and begins to tug at costume and wreath to remove them. But they won’t come off.
(Phoebe’s studio and gallery, bustling with activity, late afternoon)
Lucy and Cooper walk into crowded gallery and push through people until they get to the counter, where they see Phoebe, dressed like a fairy, laughing and talking with a few customers. They are handing her money and the bell rings as she opens the cash register.
Lucy: Wow! What a great marketing idea!
Cooper: Yes. (Looks at low cut bodice and sheer skirt) You should wear that all the time!
Phoebe: Yep. That’s me. I’m just lousy with bright ideas.
Cooper: The wings are a nice touch.
Phoebe: Had a few casualties early on, knocking things off tables and shelves. But I think I’ve got it under control now.
Lucy: So, I’ll pick you up at seven?
Phoebe stops smiling.
Phoebe: Oh, I’m sorry. I meant to come find you at lunchtime. Didn’t expect this kind of crowd. Look, it’s been a long week. I think I’ll pack it in for the day and just go home and relax.
Lucy: Oh, no! You have to come! It’s a tradition here. You need to learn our beachy ways. Get acclimated.
Cooper: I already mixed a batch of Mojitos for three. We don’t want to waste a good Mojito, now, do we?
Phoebe (Her wings flutter almost imperceptibly): I don’t know. I guess I’m still…
Lucy: Did your wings just…
Cooper: I gotcha. But I’m a divorce coach, remember? As your unofficial coach I think you need to go out and circulate instead of going home to “relax.” In divorce terminology, that means moping.
Lucy (Nods): Or brooding.
Cooper: Or sobbing uncontrollably into a glass of wine while you watch reruns.
Phoebe (Looks surprised): Wait! You know me too well. Okay, okay. I’ll go.
Phoebe: Seven it is.
Cooper: Oh, and you should definitely wear that costume. No need to change for us.
(East Beach, near sunset)
Phoebe (wearing a t-shirt and jeans) walks with Lucy across the boardwalk that leads to beach. They carry picnic baskets and beach chairs.
Lucy: Look! There’s Cooper.
Down on the beach Cooper, in the distance, waves from where he has spread a blanket. The beach fills with Full Moon party goers. People play Frisbee. A few brave people wade into still-cold surf. Some people have candle-lit lanterns.
Phoebe: So, are you and Cooper sort of…?
Lucy: Sort of…? Oh! No. We’re just friends. At first, I had a little crush on him, but we make better friends. Why?
Phoebe: Just wondered. You seem so close. But it’s nice to have a man around and not worry how you look or what he thinks.
Lucy: Hmm. Don’t tell him that. I think he has a crush on you.
Phoebe: Seriously? Huh.
They walk over to Cooper, and he hands them each a drink.
Lucy: To friends!
Over Cooper’s shoulder, Phoebe spots Maude and Irving sitting in beach chairs. They wave.
Phoebe: Excuse me. I’ll be right back.
Cooper: Uh, sure. You know where to find us.
Phoebe walks over to them.
Phoebe: Never do that again!
Irving: It worked, didn’t it?
Phoebe: What do you mean, worked?
Maude: Your grand opening. It was a success!
Phoebe: Well…I guess so.
Irving: You guess? It was a bonanza!
Maude: Congratulations, darling.
Irving: To celebrate, we brought you a little something.
Maude opens a Tupperware container and holds it out.
Phoebe: Flower petals?
Maude: Edible flowers. Go ahead. Eat up!
Phoebe looks around cautiously then picks up handfuls and devours every last flower.
Irving: Good. A hungry girl is a healthy girl.
Phoebe wipes a small petal from the side of her mouth.
Phoebe: Thanks. I was famished. Forgot to eat lunch. Where did you get them?
Maude: I know someone who knows someone.
Phoebe (Seems to glow just a little): They were delicious. Now tell me why you are here.
Irving: To bring you a present. To celebrate!
Phoebe: No. I mean really.
Maude: It is a Full Moon.
Irving: You’ve heard the stories.
Phoebe: What stories?
Maude: Tales of what can happen on a Full Moon.
Irving: Madness, for example. Wolves…
Phoebe: You think something bad will happen?
Maude: Hard to say.
Irving: Just call it a feeling. Don’t you feel it?
Phoebe (Looks around at families enjoying the beach at sunset): Not really, no.
Maude: Just keep your eyes open, dear. That’s all.
Phoebe: Uh. Okay. I’m going back over to my friends. Thanks again for the flowers.
Irving and Maude together: Bye for now!
(The dunes behind the party-goers, just before moonrise)
Clementine, Glade and Balthasar sit and sway on a blade of Sawgrass. They look out toward the beach and ocean.
Glade (Holds binoculars): Gus said to watch her. We don’t make a move until we learn how she operates.
Clementine: She certainly doesn’t look like a fairy.
Balthasar: Where are her wings?
Glade (Looks through binoculars): Okay. You know the plan. Wait for my signal, then we move. This is the first part of The Exam.
Clementine and Balthasar nod grimly. Over the ocean, the Full Moon begins to rise from the horizon line. Everyone on beach claps and cheers.
(Back to beach, where Cooper, Lucy and Phoebe sit in beach chairs)
Phoebe: Not to be rude, but is this it? I mean, we watch the Moon and drink? Not that I’m complaining. Watching the moon and drinking would be the highpoint of my recent life.
Cooper: Pretty much, yeah. This is it.
Lucy: But then we howl.
Cooper: When I first came to these parties, something deep within me just said no. Now, I just go with it.
Lucy: I’ve always thought it was a fun idea. I’m kind of impressed a bunch of upscale oldsters thought of it in the first place.
Phoebe: So, when do we howl?
Cooper: Just follow our lead.
Lucy: Phoebe, are you okay?
Phoebe: Yeah. I was just thinking about my youngest daughter, Pearl. When she was a toddler, a baby really, she used to sleep with us. I always joked with Dennis that she did it only on Full Moons, but sometimes she would sit up in her sleep, tip her little head back and howl. Just like a wolf. Then she’d fall back over and continue sleeping. I miss that.
Cooper and Lucy look thoughtful.
Cooper: I really am sorry on Sheila’s behalf. It must hurt sometimes not to be with them. Your kids. I go through it, too. It just feels wrong, somehow.
Phoebe (looks up at Cooper): That’s it exactly. It’s unnatural.
Lucy: I never had kids, but I can’t even imagine.
Phoebe: Well. It helps to talk about it. All my old friends are still married. Sometimes I wonder if they think I did the wrong thing not fighting. But I just couldn’t do that to my own children. The court battle. Dragging them into it. It didn’t seem right.
Cooper (Looks at his hands): Yeah. I know what you mean.
Lucy: Oh wait! I think it’s time.
Over the water, a gigantic Full Moon lifts to the sky. All around them people throw their heads back and howl. Cooper and Lucy howl. Phoebe takes a long swig of mojito, looks up at the first stars and howls. Then…there is the sound of a wolf howling. Several wolves howling. People turn and look toward sand dunes and beach scrub. Way off down the beach, someone screams. Then children begin to cry and scream. Over the increased howling of what sounds like many wolves, everyone starts to scream. People pick up chairs, blankets, coolers and run toward the parking lot.
Phoebe (Stops mid-howl and looks around): What’s happening? Is this a part of the thing?
Lucy (Looks around in alarm): No. This is definitely not part of the thing.
Cooper: We should probably split. I don’t know what this is, but I don’t like it.
They look at mob bottlenecked at beach path.
Cooper: Follow me. I know a short cut.
They run toward dark dunes. At edge of dunes, Cooper tries to find opening to footpath in the weeds and tall grass.
Cooper: Somewhere in here…
Lucy: Wait. I think I found it.
They follow Lucy onto very narrow path through dense vegetation. Soon they are surrounded by tall dunes. In distance there is sound of wolves and people screaming. Closer to them, a sound of scuffling and heavy breathing. All three freeze.
Phoebe (Whispering): I’m guessing we all heard that.
Lucy: I have a flashlight. Here.
Lucy shines light into grass and scans the dunes. Again, a sound like a twig snap and panting.
Cooper: No. Turn that off. We don’t want to draw attention.
Lucy turns off light. They stay frozen and listen.
Phoebe: Can anyone else see those twinkly lights?
Phoebe: There, to the right.
Lucy: Yes. What are they?
Cooper: Lightning bugs?
Lucy: Oh, right. Lightning bugs.
Phoebe: No. I don’t think so.
Phoebe jogs toward lights and disappears.
Cooper (In loud whisper): Phoebe! What are you doing? We run away from the panting thing, not toward it!
Lucy (Also in loud whisper): Phoebe! Come back!