A Play in Six Scenes
By
Stephen Chinlund and Gayle Greene
©2000 All Rights Reserved

Summary of play:
"Lily on Black", "Last Chapter Best Chapter" and "The Chase Goes On" are three versions of a play about a widow and a widower, in their seventies, who fall in love. They also face end of life issues.
It runs a little over an hour.
the following is a text of the first scene which is similar in all three versions.

VIRGINIA HARPER, great inner substance.  Tough, sexy, smart, crusty,  A great spirit.. Mother of Mitzie, grandmother of Johnny.

ERIC ANDERSON, dignified, strong.  Available. Some undirected
energy.   Neat, even fastidious.  Restless. Retired businessman. Father of Dany, Sam and Christina

ANTHONY HUNTER, very energetic, a little scattered, intelligent, retired doctor.

All three in their early 70’s.

The primary set is Virginia’s New York City upper west side one bedroom apartment, entrance off stage left.  There is a bank of high-to-the-ceiling windows and skylight. Some of Virginia’s early work hangs on the fourth wall.  The rest of the space is filled with paintings, drawings, some framed, some tacked and pinned.  A drafting table with brushes, tubes of watercolor paint etc. covered in clear plastic suggests lack of recent use. 
Décor is worn, but not shabby.  Three cushion couch, armchair, and
rudimentary “bar.”  Kitchenette, partially in view up stage right,  with
bedroom and bath off upstage left.

Scene One
It is late August., 2006
Beginning in the blackout and as the lights come up slowly, we hear a phone ringing, then Virginia’s voice on her answering machine.  “Please leave your message at the signal.“ The lights come up on Virginia in the living room of her apartment. She is attempting to do drawings of withering flowers in a vase, while the caller leaves a message:  “Hi, Mom.  I was so happy to get you home from the hospital. I will bring you more groceries before supper time. I was a little nervous to tell you that I have a new man. Turk. That’s his nickname. Well, anyway I’m sending lots of good energy your way!  Love you!”  Virginia works with her left hand, which appears to be weak.  As the phone rings again, she is trying to tear the drawing from the pad, but has to use her right hand to accomplish it.  “Please leave your message... “ and throws each one on the floor. “Hi Grandma,  So glad that you are out of the hospital! You were out before I knew you were in. What a scare. Things are great here. I love college. The band is good and I made a CD I’ll send you..  There’s more than just RAP and hip hop..so listen and call me.  Love ‘n stuff.  Ciao, grandma.” (She mutters to herself as she struggles.  The buzzer rings.)

VIRGINIA
Oh my God! I forgot! Today is Tuesday! It’s that Eric  person. (Goes to the intercom.) Who is it?

ERIC
It's Eric Anderson from the Art Students League...

VIRGINIA
Yes...well.. come up. (Puts her hand to her messy hair, looks in the mirror and shrugs.) Oh, what the hell. (Tries to smooth her clothes and considers putting on her shoes, then gives up. The door bell rings).
Welcome! Do come in.

ERIC
(Entering the space, Virginia behind him).  It is really very kind of you to let me come and see you, Virginia.   When we made the date at the art lecture...(entering more into the room)  Virginia, ..all this light! This is really a studio!   (She follows him into the room).

VIRGINIA
Yes.

ERIC
Oh, and may I give you these, Virginia?  (He hands her a bouquet of flowers).  Oh dear.  They seem to have died on the A train.

VIRGINIA
Oh, no. They just need a little water.  Thank you.  I like flowers that are a little past.  Well, I think I am going to put these in some water. So if you would take a seat, I’ll be right with you.  (She waits until he has turned away from her, grabs the vase she was drawing, then exits to the kitchen, which is partly visible.  Their conversation takes place as she struggles to get the flowers out of their wrappings and into a vase. They are circling each other warily.)

ERIC
(Is engaged at looking at her paintings, and calls out).  Are these all yours?

VIRGINIA
Poor things, but they are mine own.

ERIC
Not poor at all.  They are very good.  (He points to one.) That one is...what mountain?

VIRGINIA
(Turns her head toward where he is standing).  That’s Mount Lafayette in the White Mountain range.    I spent practically every summer  through college in that part of New Hampshire.  That one on the end is my first grown up watercolor.  I was twelve.  The one next to it was done when I was 18 and the next 10 years later.

ERIC
That mountain I recognize.

VIRGINIA
Cannon Mountain in the same range.

ERIC
The “Old Man of the Mountain” is no more.

VIRGINIA
No. His face fell off.  I’m glad I have these studies to remember him by.

ERIC
Mountains seem to hold great meaning for you.

VIRGINIA
Well, yes. They do. (Long silence).

ERIC
I missed you when you didn’t come to class.  What happened?...Then I saw you at the art history lecture at the Y.

VIRGINIA
Perhaps I should explain a bit about these pieces.  They are really for me, I suppose, in some way, representative of different periods of my life and they’re very....mountains and my Grandfather...mountains are my Grandfather...He died a little before my 18th birthday.  (Eric points to a painting.  Virginia has entered). Well, that’s a painting of my mother.

ERIC
Right, That is your mother...How old is she?  You asked the questions everyone else was too shy to ask.  I liked...

VIRGINIA
Well, you seem to be the one asking the questions, now.  She was 76, and it was shortly before she died. And that’s what I do.  I...

ERIC
Do you paint only watercolors?

VIRGINIA
There you go again!  Yes I do.  I don’t really know why, and I suppose that’s a lack, but you know I just paint for myself really.  Since I’m not an artist, I do what pleases me, and...

ERIC
You are an artist. (Long silence. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out an apple). Do you realize that there is an apple tree growing in Central Park that actually gives apples?

VIRGINIA
You mean it actually has apples? (Takes the apple, smells it.)  Isn’t that a wonderful smell?  (He takes out another apple and both of them start eating them, continuing to eat the apples down to the core as they talk).

ERIC
Have you ever shown your work?

VIRGINIA
No. These are...how can I make you understand...very personal records of various states of being during various stages of my life.  They express what I cannot or do not want to put into words.  I see something and somehow it seems to respond to my feelings in a way that makes me want to paint it..  I must paint it, not to paint it would be like shutting out a part of who I am. That’s enough.  Now..do sit down!

ERIC
Somehow you managed to hide your work in your corner at painting class, but I thought you paintings would look a bit different...I mean the way you went about your work --big gestures, buckets of water, sloshing everyone.  You are not at all what I expected.

VIRGINIA
What you expected...Is that what this is all about? You want to be my agent?

ERIC
I thought your work must look like some kind of de Kooning, but what I see here is the mostly carefully drawn and painted work. It’s a bit of a surprise, as are you yourself.  In art class you looked so, I don’t know, bohemian, or an ex-radical from the early sixties.

VIRGINIA
No, the paintings on this wall were mostly done some time ago, and are thoroughly conventional, and if that is a surprise and disappointment to you, well then, we can end this interview right now. And I’ll say thank you for the flowers and thank you for the...

ERIC
No, please.  It’s just that you’re much neater than I expected.  You used to dress in rags.

VIRGINIA
I dressed in my late husband’s old white shirts to go and paint.  Those portraits you haven’t asked me about are of him.

ERIC
I like them.  They are very nice.

VIRGINIA
And very nice was the man who wore them.  Did you really think I’d act and look the same in another place?  People exist in context.

ERIC
You live alone.

VIRGINIA
Yes, I am a widow.  Which I am sure you certainly figured out long before now. And I somehow figured out that you’re a widower. Now if you’re not going will you please sit down!   Would you like a drink?  All I have is Jim Beam and water. I’m going to have one. (Headfs for the bar.)

ERIC
I am a widower, have been for six years. That is when I sold my business, giving me enough to live on, very cautiousloy invested, for the rest of my life.

VIRGINIA
So, let’s tell our stories and let’s get them over with: my husband was killed ten years ago in an automobile crash, along with our son and his wife, leaving me with our daughter , Mitzie, who’s an aging flower child, and a grandson, Johnny, who’s practicing to be a J.D. or is it DJ? 

ERIC
I don’t need biography.  Virginia I...think your painting needs to be seen, and...

VIRGINIA
Stop that right now!  What, exactly, are you doing here?  And what is it that you want from me?

ERIC
I had a big birthday a few months ago, and I am conscious of the limits on the time left to me.  Even though It could be 25 years.  I know a few people who have had my level of health and just kept going -  Of course, I could die in my sleep tonight. So I don’t want to waste time. When I look back on my life, it seems strangely abbreviated.  When I was a child, summer lasted forever.  Then I became an adult, went to work and suddenly I am an old man.  I was married to Inger 41 years, had three kids, now four grandchildren...  My daughter Christina reminds me of you.

VIRGINIA
 How does she remind you of me?

ERIC
Feisty.

VIRGINIA
Oh...so how is it that you aren’t living with one of your children and being the doting grandpa?

ERIC
Perhaps if I had to...I’ve never said this to anyone,  I am crazy about my
kids and they love me, grandchildren too, especially Max. But they don’t want me to live with them. And I really enjoy my freedom. If I found a new... friend, she would have to audition immediately with them. Not good....But, my health is great and I feel restless, conscious that each day is a gift, not to be wasted...and I have promised myself that I am going to live life differently...going to be more honest.. I will take some Jim Beam after all, with a little water.

VIRGINIA
Coincidence. I have promised myself to stop being such a good girl. Have been all my life. No more. I am going to be brutally honest. Saves time. Last week on the subway I was pushed up against this gorgeous guy and I just said, “You are a good looking man!” He looked at me as if I had groped him! (As Virginia goes to fix his drink he negotiates the business of sitting on the couch). Painting means everything to me. I have done my best raising my daughter and grandson and now it is time for me!  I will never be a great painter, but it is more satisfying than anything I have ever done in my life and I am not going to let anything interfere with it.

ERIC
You are carrying honesty further than I have... so far! ......What did you think of Caprielli?...At the Art Students League?

VIRGINIA
(She brings the drinks and sits beside him on the sofa).  Oh yes, Francesco! He liked my work, so I liked him...

ERIC
(Takes her hand as he takes the drink.) You have beautiful hands.

VIRGINIA
With all the spots and wrinkles?

ERIC
Makes them more beautiful.

VIRGINIA
Brutally honest?.. You just want to hold my hand.  (Withdraws her hand.)

 ERIC
Honestly? That was the idea. Those hands have changed many diapers, cooked many meals, painted many paintings. They are eloquent hands.

VIRGINIA
Oh brother! (Turns away, then back.) Brutally honestly, I want to say that is not a pretty tie.

ERIC
(Takes it off. Throws it towards the waste basket.) I only have old office ties.

VIRGINIA
I’m not a tie person.
 
ERIC
Honestly?... That is not a beautiful dress.

VIRGINIA
No, it is a very old house dress.

ERIC
When you said you did not like my tie, I took it off. (Virginia laughs.)
And how did you like working with nude models?

VIRGINIA
I liked the models. It is very exciting to work with those who have made themselves so vulnerable. It is a privilege. And some were particularly exciting...Especially Ernesto. Our society has no phrase for a mature woman who is alive at all levels.

ERIC
While I can be a dirty old man. The models certainly excited me, gave me energy to keep painting...but...  ..Virginia, in the painting class, I wasn’t always painting the model, I was painting you. You were even more ... interesting.

VIRGINIA
You love wrinkles.

ERIC
I adore wrinkles.

VIRGINIA
Then you must be nuts about me.

ERIC
I, I...am.

VIRGINIA
Is this a date? I...

ERIC
No, it’s an exploration.

VIRGINIA
An exploration?

ERIC
Virginia, you disappeared.  I didn’t know...

VIRGINIA
Well, you know, people have lives!  I do things, I go places.  I’m, you know, very, uh, very complicated.

ERIC
And then you showed up at the Y last week, I was very happy to see you again, That is why I asked to come to see you.  I had wondered where you were.

VIRGINIA
And now you don’t have to wonder anymore because I’m right here now.  And here we are looking at each other.  And what do we do about this?

ERIC
Well, I’m happy just to be here...and there is one thing I was going to ask you...

VIRGINIA
What is that one thing you were going to ask me?

ERIC
Could I...would you sit for me?

VIRGINIA
Oh, dear God!

ERIC
I have five unfinished paintings of you from the Art Students’ League and I...(Silence).  Is this unreasonable?

VIRGINIA
...I’m just a little bit, I don’t know quite where I am...

ERIC
...I’ve been on your trail for two years.

VIRGINIA
Well, I was unaware of it.

ERIC
......No, of course you didn’t know it.  Virginia.  I only tried a couple of little conversations....

VIRGINIA
But this seems very uncharacteristic of you, from what I’ve seen of your demeanor, and...

ERIC
It is. I am a, an uptight person.  And if you saw my paintings...they are all overworked.  However, on that birthday, I promised myself that I would stop being so careful and let ’er rip!  Painting and everything else!

VIRGINIA
Yes, your paintings were overworked: I saw.  But you painted with such, I can’t think of the right word to describe...but sometimes you were literally shaking... intensity! That’s the word!

ERIC
Ever since I was a little boy, I have wanted to paint. When I got thew blues, my older sister, Grace, would paint with me. She speciallized in painting  white or pale flowers on a dark blue background. It felt wonderful. And flowers are pretty forgiving. But then Grace got married and left. I tgried to keep going with drawing and painting, but I did not like what was appearing on the page... got discouraged. Then lately, after retiring, I felt this terrific surge. Started painting lilies on black backgrounds. Painting saves me from the blues... Then I saw you in the class and I ... You ... Could we paint together?

VIRGINIA
You’re a little scary when you get going about painting.

ERIC
I admit it...I do get excited about painting.  You should know in advance, that when the magic happens and colors flow together even better than I had planned... when I stop thinking in words and there is no voice saying, “too thin, too fat” or “more red, more blue”  that is just thrilling and I roar......sometimes.

VIRGINIA
Roar?

ERIC
Yes.  Rrrrah!  Like that.

VIRGINIA
Oh my, and you’re so dignified.

ERIC
I’m serious about wanting to paint you. You are a beautiful woman.  Every one of your wrinkles is evidence of a life of big happenings. Babies born. People dying.  What happened to make you leave the painting class?

VIRGINIA
I don’t want to talk about that now.

ERIC
I have no wish to engage in a “tell all” conversation either.

VIRGINIA
Then don’t!

ERIC
I won’t, but...I can give you a medical rundown starting at the southern end: orthopedic shoes for fallen arches; one steel artificial knee nine years old, one artificial hip five years old; need to do my other hip soon;  At the North Pole, hearing aids in both ears and lenses in both eyes.  I am a bionic senior citizen, walking testimony to the genius of modern medical technology!

VIRGINIA
Enough, already!  Next you’ll be telling me about what goes on at the equator.  I think it’s time you...(she starts to get up.  Her left hand crumples).

ERIC
Virginia, I...

VIRGINIA
(screams) Oh, all right!  Damn you!  I had a stroke.  My left side was paralyzed. I couldn’t even talk.  I...

ERIC
Virginia, I am so sorry...I’ve known since that lecture that there was something... but I wanted to wait until you...you seem fine.  The hand is a little...

VIRGINIA
I am fine. The doctor says I’m doing very well, and that it’s just a matter of time...This is one of my bad days.  I paint with my left hand and, God damn it, if it doesn’t get better...the thought that I might not be able to paint anymore is...I’d rather die than have that happen.  I did pray for death...when I could think again...but that’s over. I’m not much for praying these days.
 
ERIC
 No praying? That is a tough way to go.

VIRGINIA
It is, but it is honest.

ERIC
Big topic. For later. But I do not believe that God sent your stroke.

VIRGINIA
Lying in that hospital bed. All alone. My prayers just went out into the dark. Silence. Horrible.

ERIC
I believe with all my heart that God was there... in the silence.

VIRGINIA
You really believe that don’t you? You are a closet Chistian!

ERIC
I am.  But it is hard to talk about.   I stopped working in the church. They did not want what I was selling:  simplicity. They were about being in the in-group,

VIRGINIA
That is the way they were when Joe.. and everyone got killed. The people in church just wanted me to get on with my life. I quit.

ERIC
I will stay in the closet. I love the silence.

VIRGINIA
I would like to get into the closet with you.

ERIC
That sounds good to me. But I do not want to tread too hard on this meeting. For now it is important that you said yourself that your disability is only temporary.  Is that what you were doing before I came in today? (Virginia looks blank). Drawing?  Could I see it?

VIRGINIA
Oh my. No!  I couldn’t bear for you to see the fruits of those restless attempts at rehab.    I’ve shouted at you, I’ve yelled you.  I’ve...I’m very sorry.  Will you please forgive me?  You don’t deserve it.  But I have to say it.  You seem a bit too good to be true.

ERIC
I’m human, Virginia. (In ascending volume and hysteria) If you want proof that I am imperfect, you should have seen me yesterday, screaming at my computer, trying to send pictures of my paintings and a three page application to a watercolor workshop.  Typed it up and the whole thing was wiped out when I tried to put page numbers in...and the technical assistant who told me to log out and log back in and then he made me a new user... and then he wanted me to drag everything back to my desktop and I didn’t know what that really was and when I realized that I had lost all three pages of text and the photos, I would have strangled my computer if it had a neck! I roared then too.. in frustration.

VIRGINIA
You are human.

ERIC
I have not fully recovered. I am going to buy a quill pen and an inkwell and some excellent stationery.  And some day I will have an elegant writing desk!...  O.K.  You’ve got a bum hand.  I’ve got a bum hip.  Why do you think it took me so long to sit down?  I had to wait till you weren’t looking.  It’s not a pretty sight.  When I do get up, you will see what I mean...

VIRGINIA
Well, that makes you just fine. Sit there as long as you need to.
 
ERIC
Well, we are two old crocs.  Will you, do you want to try...painting together, and..  Paint here?  Or would you like to paint in the park?

VIRGINIA
I’d give anything to be able to paint outdoors again...do you think we could manage it? Have you got somewhere in mind?

ERIC
One place I love is the pond in the park.  It is glorious right now, in the beginning of September.   I can make a start on a painting on one side in the morning, dawn is good...then I go to the other side in the afternoon, maybe I just turn my chair around. That way the light is always good.

VIRGINIA
You paint all day?  I don’t think I could manage that, and all my stuff.  I can’t carry...

ERIC
Just watercolor... and we’ll go in a taxi. Would you like to?

VIRGINIA
Maybe.  When?

ERIC
How about tomorrow?

VIRGINIA
Good grief! Tomorrow?  You meant it when you said you do not want to waste time. What if this (holding her left hand) doesn’t work?

ERIC
We’ll deal with that if we have to.  Early morning is wonderful.  Slanting sun.  Sometimes misty.  No people.  And I’ll bring bagels.  I love breakfast.

VIRGINIA
How early is early morning?

ERIC
7:00? 7:30? 8:00?

VIRGINIA
10:00 it is!  Oh dear God!  What have I consented to?  Do we want to do this?  You may have to... to help me . and then you won’t be able to concentrate on your ouwn painting. (Eric is waving her off.) Well..   I think that is quite enough for one day.  Can you manage to get yourself up?  (She tries to help him get off the sofa).

ERIC
No, no, no...stay clear...(He gets up very slowly).

VIRGINIA
I’m so sorry to end this surprising afternoon, and kick you out.  All this good stuff is exhausting.

ERIC
Virginia, thank you for this time together. You are ... different... and I’m privileged to know you.    I’ll just let myself out....

VIRGINIA
If you would...(She decides to follow him out).  Till tomorrow, then.

ERIC
Tomorrow.  (He exits).

VIRGINIA
(Coming back into room).  Oh no!  (She looks down at the hand she is holding with her other, examines it, and brings it up to her cheek, as she looks at the paintings on the wall in front of her).

(Fade to black).

End of  Scene One