My name was Mary. I had to remember that. My name was Mary. I stood by the small table, endlessly rearranging its contents, waiting.
"Mary, you're home!" someone said. "What a nice surprise. I thought you would still be out grocery shopping. What's for dinner?"
I moved a pile of letters from one corner to the other.
He tried again. "What's for dinner, Mary?"
I pretended to sort the newspaper, in reality putting the sections back into random order so that I could sort it again later.
He sighed. "Karen."
I looked up, then realised what had happened. "Oh, dang it. I'm sorry." I looked down at the author of our ridiculous script. "Would it kill you to make her name Karen? I never get used to being called someone else's name."
"Her name is symbolic. I can't in good conscience change it," Eric replied. I looked to our teacher, whose idea this had all been, for help. But she was beaming down at Eric in pride.
"Teacher's pet," I muttered.
"Let's try this again," Eric suggested. He was also serving as director. I took my place onstage and began rearranging things again. As I waited for my cue, I thought about what I was doing. I hated school plays. Especially ones written by my fellow students. Oh, some of them were good, but the average high-school playwright had an inflated opinion of his own work. Or so it seemed to me. Of course, had I not been forced to participate, I might have felt differently. I hated acting, and I had an awful case of stage fright. Today, my audience consisted of the cast and crew--in other words, the rest of my English class--and even that small number frightened me. I knew I would be scared witless when we performed for the school at the next convocation.
For one instant, as I shifted a set of keys to a vehicle that no longer existed, I lost my fear. Wouldn't it be fun, I thought, to improve on the script? I was sure I could come up with some better lines for myself. My response to the question about dinner was supposed to be, "Your favourite, honey. Fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. And for dessert I've made a cherry pie." Please. Gag me. Seriously--Eric wanted me to play the submissive little housewife as best I could. It wasn't a big role, which was why I had taken it, but it was a somewhat degrading role. I felt like I ought to be asking my "husband" if he wanted me to bring him his newspaper and pipe while I was at it. Which was fortunate, since that was more or less my next line. What I really wanted to do was say to him, "I don't know. I've been at the office all day, earning the money our kids are going to go to college on. I just got home fifteen minutes ago, I've had the worst day of my entire year, traffic was slow all the way home, and I've still got the McClaron account to work on tonight, which I really ought to get started on soon. You know how to cook, honey. Why don't you fix something for dinner?"
It would get me in major trouble, but I knew it would earn me points with some of the girls in my class--and even a couple of the guys. I'd heard quite a few complaints about Eric's sexist writing since this project had gotten underway. And it would feel so good. If I did it well, maybe the teacher would see that it was better this way and make Eric change it. And while he was at it, maybe he could change my character's name. That way I wouldn't miss my cues.
I turned the idea over in my mind for a second as I continued to wait. Perhaps...
"Mary, you're home!" someone said. "What a nice surprise. I thought you would still be out grocery shopping. What's for dinner?" My moment was over. This time I remembered. I turned and spoke my lines.
"Your favourite, honey. Fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy."
So much for fun.
Copyright Sara Fawbush 1998.
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