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Time for Bed, Neil by Cheryl Julia Lee

Time for Bed, Neil by Cheryl Julia Lee

Drama, Vol. 8.1, March 2014

Cast of Characters
Neil
Joshua
Erin

Scene
Scene: The living room of the family’s house, modestly furnished. In the center of the room is a TV set switched on to a cartoon, but on mute, a sofa and a coffee table. To the right is the kitchen. A fridge with a piece of paper, titled “Menu,” on it, a counter, stove, and sink. The dishes on the counter are all uniformly colored. A small pot of milk is heating on the stove. A clock on the wall reads 9 p.m.

Neil, a young boy of about seven, is seated in front of the TV, arranging his toys in a row. He is dressed in his pajamas. His mother, Erin, stands in the kitchen with her hands on the counter. She is also dressed in her pajamas, with her apron over it. The apron’s old and dirty. Erin watches her son. She looks tired. The sound of keys in the door. Joshua enters left, wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase.

JOSHUA:
I’m home.

ERIN:
Shut the door quickly. I don’t want Neil getting out by accident. Thanks. Hi.

(Joshua closes the door. He notices Neil and looks surprised.)

JOSHUA:
Oh, hi, Neil. Still up?

(Neil does not respond)

ERIN:
Neil, darling, daddy’s home. Neil, say, “Hi, daddy.”

NEIL:
(monotonously) “Hi, daddy.”

ERIN:
Thank you, Neil. (turning to Joshua) How was your day?

JOSHUA:
Busy. As usual.

ERIN:
(quietly) You’ve been working late these past few months.

JOSHUA:
We’ve been busy.

ERIN:
Busy.

NEIL:
(monotonously) Busy.

ERIN:
Yes, Neil. Daddy’s been busy.

JOSHUA:
How was your day?

ERIN:
Oh, it was alright. We went to Dr. Sarah’s today.

JOSHUA:
Was that today?

ERIN:
Yes. (turning to Neil) We saw Dr. Sarah today, didn’t we, Neil?

Neil nods.

ERIN:
And were you a good boy, Neil?

(Neil nods again)

ERIN:
Yes, he was. (turning back to Joshua) She says he’s doing well. We might even be able to send him back to school soon.

JOSHUA:
Good. Good. That’s good to hear.

NEIL:
(monotonously) Good. Good.

(Joshua walks over to Neil and bends down beside him)

JOSHUA:
(softly) Neil? Do you miss school? Would you like to go back to school?

(Neil shrugs)

JOSHUA:
You like school, don’t you?

NEIL:
It’s okay. I like math.

ERIN:
You’re very good at math, darling.

JOSHUA:
Well, don’t you want to see your friends again?

NEIL:
No, not really.

JOSHUA:
Why not?

NEIL:
They’ll make fun of me. They’ll call me names.

JOSHUA:
No, they won’t. Their parents have spoken to them. They’ll be nice now.

(Neil shrugs)

JOSHUA:
And if they do anything to you again—anything—you let me know. I’ll take care of it, alright?

NEIL:
(shrugs) Okay.

Joshua watches Neil, quietly. On impulse, he goes over to Neil and tries to hug him. He knocks over Neil’s toy in the process. Neil begins to scream. He starts rocking his body back and forth, and hitting his head with his fists. Erin rushes over as Joshua quickly backs away.

ERIN:
Oh, Josh! You know he doesn’t like to be touched! And you’ve knocked them over! There, Neil, there. It’s alright. They’re back in a row now. The duck’s in front again, isn’t he?

(She pries Neil’s hands from his head and holds him to her. Neil stops screaming and Erin lets him go. He goes back to his toys.)

JOSHUA:
(bitterly) He seems to be alright with you. (He turns away and notices the TV. Raises his voice.) God. Why is this damn thing on anyway?

(Joshua moves to switch it off but Erin stops him)

ERIN:
No, Josh! Neil needs it on.

JOSHUA:
You can’t even hear anything, for Christ’s sake!

ERIN:
He just needs it on, alright?

JOSHUA:
Why?

ERIN:
Something about ‘presence’.

JOSHUA:
The doc tell you that?

ERIN:
Yes. So just…leave it on, alright?

JOSHUA:
Fine. Whatever. Isn’t it time for him to go to sleep though? He’s usually in bed by now.

ERIN:
(looks at the cartoon still playing on TV) Almost. You’re a little early tonight.

(Erin and Joshua exchange a look. After a while, Joshua looks away.)

ERIN:
Have you eaten?

JOSHUA:
Yes. I got something on the way back. I’m going to take my shower.

ERIN:
Josh, wait! I was thinking… We haven’t been out in a while. I thought it might be nice if we got dinner together. Tomorrow.

JOSHUA:
Out?

ERIN:
Yes. Out. Beatrice said there’s a new restaurant just down the corner. Japanese. You like Japanese.

JOSHUA:
With him?

ERIN:
No, of course not. Beatrice said she could come over.

JOSHUA:
Your sister doesn’t know how to take care of him.

ERIN:
She does! She’s watched him many times with me. And Neil likes her. Oh, let’s go out, Josh! We could both do with some fun. And some time together.

JOSHUA:
I—not tomorrow night, Erin. I’ll be working late.

ERIN:
Couldn’t you leave earlier? Just a little bit.

JOSHUA:
We’re busy.

NEIL:
(monotonously) Busy.

ERIN:
(busying herself in the kitchen) Fine. Alright then. That’s that. I just thought it would be nice to get out. What with it being our anniversary and all…

JOSHUA:
Shit. Is that tomorrow? Sorry, Erin. I’ve just been so—

NEIL/ERIN:
Busy.

ERIN:
Pass me his cup, will you?

(Joshua passes her a glass)

ERIN:
No, not that one. The one with the handle.

Joshua passes her the mug. Erin pours the milk out from the pot and into it. She then pours some of it into the sink so the cup is only ¾ full. Erin then pounds some tablets into powder and mixes it in with the milk.

JOSHUA:
You know what? You’re right. We should get out. I’ll leave work early. Beatrice can come over and we’ll go get some Japanese. It’ll be nice.

ERIN:
Yes. Yes, it will be nice, Joshua.

Erin turns to her husband and they lean in to kiss. Just before they do, Erin stops, as if she notices something. She lets it slip and kisses Joshua. When they break apart, they are looking at each other, both relieved and a little sad.

JOSHUA:
It has been a while, hasn’t it? I’m sorry, darling. I know it hasn’t been easy.

ERIN:
For all of us.

JOSHUA:
At least I get out of the house. You’re home all day. You can’t take him to the park because he doesn’t play well with children. And you can’t spend too long at the shops because it scares him. You have to watch him all the time. How are you doing it, darling?

ERIN:
It’s not so bad. Neil and I have fun together, don’t we? He’s my baby. And I don’t need to go to the shops. I’m home all day and then, there’s this thing! (flips her apron) Everything looks the same under this thing.

JOSHUA:
Couldn’t we get you a new one? Something pretty. With strawberries and frills.

ERIN:
(laughs) Like in a catalogue? No, thank you. Besides, it has to be this one.

JOSHUA:
Or one with a little lace? A nice black number…?

ERIN:
Are we still talking about aprons?

(Joshua leans in to kiss her again. The cartoon ends and Neil pushes his toys away.)

ERIN:
Not now, dear. It’s time to get Neil ready for bed.

JOSHUA:
He can wait a little while.

ERIN:
You know he can’t.

Erin moves away from her husband and goes to Neil. She kneels down and brings herself to his eye level. She reaches out toward him, her palms facing each other. Her actions are deliberate and theatrical. Joshua watches, frowning a little.

ERIN:
(slowly) Time for bed, Neil.

Neil nods and gets up. He holds Erin’s hand and they walk to the kitchen. Erin helps him with the glass of warm milk. At the same time, Joshua pulls a bottle of alcohol out from the cabinet and fills up the glass cup. Father and son drink.

ERIN:
Now, go brush your teeth, Neil. Make sure you get the teeth at the back, alright?

Neil nods and runs offstage, right. Joshua takes the cup from Erin and washes up. She goes to the counter and looks in a drawer. Erin frowns and bends down to get a better look. She puts her hand all the way in and feels around.

ERIN:
It’s not here. It’s not here.

(She pulls out the other drawers and looks into them. She cannot find what she’s looking for. Erin panics.)

ERIN:
Oh god. Where is it?

(Erin scrambles around the kitchen, frantically looking.)

JOSHUA:
What’s not here? Darling?

ERIN:
It’s not anywhere. Oh god, where is it?

JOSHUA:
Erin? What’s wrong? What’s not here?

ERIN:
String.

JOSHUA:
What?

ERIN:
String! Neil’s string!

JOSHUA:
What do you mean, “Neil’s string”?

ERIN:
Neil has—Neil has this piece of string—oh my god, where did I put it this morning? He has this string he needs tied around his finger when he—I swear I put it right back in the drawer—when he sleeps.

JOSHUA:
A string? What for?

ERIN:
She says it keeps him from being scared.

JOSHUA:
Of what? Who says?

ERIN:
The dark. Dr. Sarah says. Josh, don’t just stand there! Help me look for it?

JOSHUA:
Why does he need a string tied around his finger? I’ve never heard of anything like that before!

ERIN:
It’s like someone’s holding his hand. Please, Josh. Just help me look for it! (looks at the clock) He’ll be done brushing his teeth soon!

JOSHUA:
Well, just get another piece of string! It’s…it’s string!

ERIN:
No, I can’t. It has to be—

JOSHUA:
That string. It has to be that string.

ERIN:
Yes! So just help me—

Neil enters.

NEIL:
I’m done.

ERIN:
Oh, darling, yes. Why don’t you sit down there and daddy will read you your bedtime story alright?

NEIL:
Why won’t you read me my story, mummy?

ERIN:
Daddy wants a turn too. Is that alright, Neil? Remember what Dr. Sarah said about sharing? Mummy needs to share with Daddy too.

NEIL:
(thinks for a while) Will he read Goldilocks and the Three Bears?

ERIN:
Daddy will read whatever you want, baby. (Neil nods.) Thank you, baby. (She takes a book from the coffee table and passes it to Joshua.) Just read this to him.

JOSHUA:
I don’t know—

ERIN:
It’s a book, Josh. Just read it to him. Please. I need some time.

(Erin continues trying to find the string. Neil sits on the sofa and waits. Joshua follows his cue and sits next to him uncertainly. He opens the book and begins to read.)

JOSHUA:
“Once upon a time, there was—”

NEIL:
You smell weird.

JOSHUA:
Well… That’s because I—

ERIN:
Daddy hasn’t taken a shower yet, Neil. He wants to read to you first.

NEIL:
I don’t smell like that when I haven’t showered. You smell like a barbeque.

JOSHUA:
Well, daddy’s a grown-up. Grown-ups smell…different.

NEIL:
Why?

JOSHUA:
(getting flustered) Well…we go out more, we go to different places, sometimes—

NEIL:
Okay, this is really boring. Can we get back to Goldilocks?

JOSHUA:
Yes. Yes, let’s get back… (beginning again) “Once upon a time, there was—”

NEIL:
No.

JOSHUA:
What? No what?

NEIL:
That’s wrong.

JOSHUA:
What’s wrong, Neil?

NEIL:
That’s not how mummy reads it.

ERIN:
Well, Daddy reads it a little bit different, Neil.

NEIL:
No. That’s wrong.

JOSHUA:
(to Erin) How am I supposed to read this?

ERIN:
Well, just…lean in a little to him and speak…more like me.

JOSHUA:
What?

ERIN:
Just softer. Less…curt. Less…you. It is a bedtime story. Please.

JOSHUA:
Okay. (tries again in a softer, exaggerated voice) “Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks.”

NEIL:
Gooooo-di-locks!

JOSHUA:
Yes, Neil. Goooo-di-locks. “She went for a walk in the forest. Pretty soon, she came upon a house. She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in. At the table in the kitchen, there were three bowls of—”

NEIL:
Porridge.

ERIN:
(softly) That’s good.

JOSHUA:
Yes, three bowls of porridge. Do you like porridge, Neil?

NEIL:
That’s not in the story.

JOSHUA:
No, it’s not. Daddy’s just asking if—

NEIL:
The story! The story!

JOSHUA:
Alright, alright. “So Goldilocks was hungry. She tasted the porridge from the first bowl.  “This porridge is too hot!” she exclaimed—”

NEIL:
No!

JOSHUA:
What’s wrong now, Neil?

NEIL:
That’s not how Goldilocks sounds!

JOSHUA:
(Tries to mimic a young girl’s voice) “This porridge is too—”

NEIL:
No!

ERIN:
Try sounding like a little girl.

JOSHUA:
That’s what I’m trying to— (tries again in a higher pitch) “This porridge is too—”

NEIL:
No! No! You’re doing it wrong!

JOSHUA:
(tries again) “This porridge is too—”

NEIL:
No! Mummy! He doesn’t know how to do it! You do it! He doesn’t know!

JOSHUA:
(Stands up impatiently) You’re right. I don’t know how to do this. (to Erin) You do it!

NEIL:
Mummy do it! Mummy, you do it!

ERIN:
Josh! Don’t shout. Neil, it’s okay.

NEIL:
He’s doing it wrong! He’s doing it wrong!

JOSHUA:
This is ridiculous. This whole thing is ridiculous!

(Neil begins to rock back and forth. He keeps saying, ‘No’ and ‘He’s doing it wrong.)

ERIN:
Stop yelling, Josh! You’re scaring him!

(Erin runs to Neil and holds him to her, as before.)

JOSHUA:
What am I supposed to do? I don’t know how to do this! These—these—rituals. The same menu, the same colors, the apron, the string! They don’t make sense!

ERIN:
What does it matter? They help him.

JOSHUA:
How? How do they help him? He’s not getting better!

ERIN:
The patterns give him some kind of structure. Consistency. They keep him calm. And he is getting better!

JOSHUA:
These rituals are what’s keeping him from getting better! It’s all bullshit. You’re telling him it’s alright to be the way he is!

ERIN:
(Standing up and moving toward Joshua) It is alright!

JOSHUA:
No, he’s not! He’s sick!

ERIN:
It’s not his fault!

JOSHUA:
No, no, it’s my fault! He knows that too. That’s why he won’t let me touch him.

ERIN:
That’s not true and you know it!

NEIL:
(Still rocking back and forth) Read the book! Read the book!

JOSHUA:
So why won’t he let me hold him? I haven’t held my son since he was three. I’m his father, for Christ’s sake, Erin!

ERIN:
Oh, you’re aware of that? That you’re his father? Josh, Neil doesn’t want you touching him because he’s afraid of you. How can he let you hold him when you’re like a stranger to him! You work late, you come home smelling like—God, I don’t even know which is stronger, the smell of cigarettes or alcohol—you don’t want to take him out, you don’t try and understand who he is and what he needs—

JOSHUA:
So we agree then! All of this is my fault. Isn’t it, Neil? I disrupted your precious little ritual, didn’t I? Coming home early? Daddy reads things all wrong, daddy’s touch is disgusting, daddy’s only supposed to come home after I’ve gone to bed and leave before I wake up.

ERIN:
Don’t speak to him like that, Josh.

JOSHUA:
I don’t try and understand his rituals? There’s nothing to understand! The whole thing’s fucking ridiculous!

NEIL:
(monotonously) Fucking ridiculous.

ERIN:
You think Beatrice doesn’t know how to take care of Neil? She knows more than you do! He lets her hug him! You chose not to be part of this, Josh. You can’t even bring yourself to face him. What was that about just now? Huh? You’ll ‘take care of it’? Since when did you ever take care of anything? Where were you when that kid hit Neil with the bat? It wasn’t Neil’s fault but you decided to take him out of school anyway! That’s what’s fucking ridiculous!

JOSHUA:
I did that for his safety!

ERIN:
Oh please, Josh! Don’t insult me. Don’t insult Neil. You did that because you were ashamed of him! It’s not that Neil doesn’t love his daddy. It’s his daddy who hates him!

Joshua slaps Erin. Neil stops rocking, looks at his parents, stares blankly. He presses the sides of his index finger and repeats, “Fucking ridiculous” over and over again. Erin walks to the kitchen and stops at the counter, her back to Joshua. She cries softly. After a while, Joshua storms out of the door, still holding the book. After a while, the sound of a car door slamming.

NEIL:
Where’s dad going?

ERIN:
He just needs to go out for a while, Neil.

NEIL:
Why?

ERIN:
He’s going to see a friend.

NEIL:
(quietly) But he’s got my book.

Erin doesn’t hear him. Neil looks at the open door in front of him, and then turns back to his mother, who still has her back to him. After a while, he follows his father out of the house.

ERIN:
(sniffing) Neil? Give mummy a minute and then mummy’s going to finish reading Goldilocks to you, okay? Neil? (She turns around.) Darling, where are you?

(Erin runs offstage, to the right. She runs in again and just as she notices the door’s slightly ajar, she hears the engine of the car and then, a soft thud. The car stops.)

ERIN:
Neil?

CURTAIN

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