A PLACE TO CALL HOME
The bus. Anna opens the window.
Bus Driver: Hey, no openin the window.
(The bus stops at Anna’s house. She picks up her backpack and starts walking down the aisle. She trips over someone’s foot and goes sprawling into Natt Leon’s lap. Her books go flying everywhere. The bus falls apart.)
Anna: Sorry about falling in your lap.
Natt Leon: That’s OK.
Bus Driver: Hey, Leon, what have I told ya about hitching rides on the schoolbus. You’re 68 years old, for cripes sake.
Natt: I be darned if I gonna pay to ride dat high-falutin city bus.
(Anna gathers up her books, gets off the bus and walks up to her house. Casey can be heard crying inside. Anna opens the door and enters.)
Anna: Mama? Mama, are you here? (She goes into Casey’s room. He is lying in his crib, crying. Anna picks him up.) It’s OK, baby. Anna’s here. (She goes into the kitchen and opens the fridge door. There is only half a bottle of 7 up in the fridge.) You can’t very well give a seven-month old baby 7 Up. I need to find a suitable nipple substitute.
The house. Anna enters, pulling a cow on a rope behind her.
Anna: Well, this should provide some nourishing sustenance, Casey. The Johnson’s are gonna be mad I stole their cow, though.
Mandy: Anna, wanna see my pitcher?
Anna: Sure. (Mandy pulls a water pitcher out of her backpack) Very nice. It was a good idea for Mom to put you in a kindergarten that teaches ceramics. That’s one thing she did right.
Mandy: Where’s Mommy? I want to show her.
Anna: Mommy’s, uh, not here right now, but look, I got you a cow to play with. (Mandy is uninterested) Mandy, right now I have a special job for you.
Mandy: What is it?
Anna: I need you to baby-sit for a few minutes while I run to the corner store. (Mandy frowns) I’ll pay you.
Mandy: You will?
Anna: Yes, I’ll pay you one Sugar Daddy lollipop.
Anna: OK, good. Now, I won’t be long. Remember the rules. If anybody comes to the door, put on the tape of the scary Halloween music, and if anybody calls on the phone, pretend we’re a pizza place.
Anna: That’s my little monkey.
Mel’s Convenience. Anna brings her purchases up to the counter.
Anna: Your prices are outrageous. This tilapia costs five dollars less at the Grab And Cash, and this haggis is a whole dollar cheaper there.
Mel: Whadya want. I gotta make a livin, you know.
Anna: If you lowered your prices you’d get more people in.
Mel: If I lowered my prices it wouldn’t do any good anyway, what with that vortex down the road and everythin. That’ll be $17.65.
Anna: (Grimaces and hands over the money) This is highway robbery.
Mel: Hey, do me a favour.
Mel: (Hands over a package marked Chocolate-covered Haggis) Two favours. First, accept this on the house. Second, learn how to be a kid.
(Anna nods her thanks and exits.)
The culvert. Anna is standing on the culvert, staring off into the distance.
Anna: I remember when Mom and I used to walk along here when I was a kid. We had a little game. I’d kick sand into the grate and watch it fall.
(The culvert gives way. Anna falls and winds up in a large room. The shelves are stocked with items found in a convenience store.)
Anna: Wow, these prices are great. We could live like kings on the little money we have if Mom shopped here.
(An elf comes up to her.)
Elf 1: Thank you for shopping at Culvert Convenience. Can I help you find anything?
Anna: No thanks. These prices are amazing.
Elf 1: Glad you like ‘em. Hey, you look familiar. Hey, Mirdwig, it’s that girl who used to kick sand down on us.
(Mirdwig comes over to them.)
Mirdwig: We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.
(Mirdwig blows a whistle hanging around his neck. A whole bunch of elves appear and start beating Anna up.)
The house. Anna comes up to the front door. She sees Mandy running past the front window, dragging something behind her. She puts her grocery bags down and opens the door. Mandy is dragging Casey around behind her in the hot water heater.
Anna: Amanda Aloysius O’Dell. What do you think you’re doing. (Mandy ignores her) Mandy, stop it!
Mandy: Why, Anna. Casey likes it.
Anna: Why in the world were you dragging Casey around behind you in the hot water heater.
Mandy: We don’t need the hot water heater.
Anna: How can you say that?
Mandy: The hot water’s already hot.
Anna: Oh, good point. Look, I can’t deal with this right now so go to bed.
Mandy: But it’s only just gotten dark.
Anna: I’ll read you a story.
(Mandy goes into the bedroom and crawls under the covers. Anna comes into the room and sits down on the opposite side of the bed.)
Anna: Now, what story do you want to hear?
Mandy: The Runaway Bunny.
Anna: OK. Once there was a bunny rabbit who wanted to run away from his mother. One day, he snuck out of the house and started walking down the road. Before too long, a man came along and asked the little bunny, “Hey, little bunny, what are you doing out on the road all by yourself?” The little bunny replied, “I’ve run away from my mommy. I’m looking for a new home.” “Well,” the man said, “why don’t you come live with me. I’ll take really good care of you.” “That sounds great,” the little bunny said, overjoyed about having a new home. “Do you have a name, little bunny,” the man asked. “No,” the bunny responded, scratching his head “My mommy always just called me her little bunny.” “Well,” said the man, “Why don’t I give you a name.” “That would be great,” the bunny said, hopping and wiggling his ears in excitement. “I think I’ll name you Stewart,” the man said. “Why Stewart?” the bunny asked, puzzled. “Because it’s the long form of stew, which is what I’m going to make you into. Here, have a whole bunch of carrots.”
The school parking lot. Anna gets out of an old, beat up clunker of a car and walks toward the front door of the school.
Anna: Thanks for the lift, Billy Bob. (She enters the school and walks into the principal’s office. The school secretary is sitting at her desk.) Miss Norris, would you please give this note to the principal for me?
Miss Norris: (Takes the note and reads) Please excuse Anna from school today. She has suddenly developed a highly contagious case of German measles and won’t be attending school today. Well, that certainly is a good reason for not going to school. I’m glad your mom let us know.
The house. Anna is in the kitchen. Casey is in his playpen in the living room. The phone rings. Anna answers it.
Principal Weingrad: Hello. Is Mrs. O’Dell there, please?
Anna: This is Mrs. O’Dell.
Principal Weingrad: Excellent. Mrs. O’Dell, this is Sherry Weingrad from ABC Carpet Maintenance. We will be cleaning carpets in your area this after noon from 2:00 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. and we were wondering---
Anna: Principal Weingrad?
Principal Weingrad: Anna, is that you?
Anna: Yes, but what---
Principal Weingrad: I’m working in telemarketing to supplement my salary. Are you interested in superior affection for your carpets or not?
Anna: No thank you.
Principal Weingrad: OK. (Hangs up)
The Westbridge Mythical Creatures Preserve. Anna enters the park, pushing Casey in a stroller.
Anna: This is my favourite place, Casey. See, there are some centaurs, and over there are some satyrs, the half goat ones, and over there is a Medusa, and way over that hill is a griffin. I’m glad he’s not any closer. Oh no, a grundle. Run.
(She turns around and hurriedly exits the park as a grundle chases after her and Casey.)
The house. Anna is in the kitchen. Casey is in his playpen in the living room. The phone rings. Anna answers it.
Station Wagon: Hey there. Is anyone going to come and get me out of the lake?
Anna: Get you out of the lake? Who is this?
Station Wagon: Oh, and I hate to break this to you, but your mom committed suicide by driving me into here.
Anna: What? Oh no!
The front porch. Anna comes walking up to the house, pushing Casey in his stroller. Mandy is sitting on the front porch, crying.
Anna: That walk did me good. I just can’t believe--- Oh Mandy! I forgot!
Mandy: You promised you’d be here. I thought the social people came and took you away.
Anna: It’s social services, and no, they didn’t show up. I just went out for a long walk and lost track of time. I’m really sorry.
(Casey begins to cry. Nat Leon comes up to them.)
Nat: Hey, what’s happinin, Anna?
Anna: Oh, thank goodness. Could you hold Casey for me while I go inside and prepare a bottle, please? (She puts Casey in Nat’s arms and goes inside. She returns a moment later carrying a bottle of milk) Thanks Nat. Casey should stop crying in a matter of seconds.
Nat: Casey was crying?
The kitchen. Anna is standing in front of the counter.
Anna: Oh, man, it has been an exhausting day. I’m going to have to tell Mandy what happened to Mom sooner or later. I just don’t know what we’re going to do. I’m so hungry. (She begins rummaging in one of the bottom cupboards. She pulls out a whisky bottle with a few inches in the bottom.) This is the whisky I hid from mom recently. (She opens the bottle and sniffs) Oh, it smells horrible. I wonder if it tastes as horrible as it smells. No, it couldn’t possibly. (She takes a sip) Oh, what a feeling. I think I’m beginning to understand why Mom was so drawn to this beverage. (She takes a few more sips) You know what this party needs? Some music. (She goes into the living room and begins searching through some cassettes) Ah, darn, I forgot, all we have is children’s tapes for the kids. Well, they’ll have to do. (She pulls out an old Walkman and inserts a cassette) All right, now we’re talking. (Begins waving her arms and dancing around the kitchen) Old McDonald had a farm, e-i-e-i-o. Wooooooo hooooooo.
The kitchen. Anna is lying on the floor.
Anna: Oh, my head. Oh, every other part of my body, for that matter. I’ve learned my lesson. Next time, I’m buying some mixer.
The lake. Anna is pushing Casey in his stroller and has a red blanket tucked under her arm.
Anna: Stay right here, Casey. Now, I’ll just throw this red blanket into the lake and that’ll cover up Mom’s car. Now no one will ever find it.
She tosses the blanket into the lake.
Mel’s Convenience. Anna enters, pushing Casey in his stroller.
Mel: What the? What have you been doing? And look at my floor! What the heck have you been up to?
Mel: Sorry! Sorry! Sorry’s not gonna clean my floor. (Anna grabs two cans of formula off the shelf. She starts toward the cash register with them, but drops one on her toe. Casey starts crying.) Oh jeezum.
(Mel grabs a box of Zwiebecks off the shelf, opens it and sticks a cookie in Casey’s mouth. Casey stops crying. Mary comes out from the back room.)
Mary: Jeez, Mel, you opened that brand new box of biscuits.
Mel: Don’t worry your pretty little head. I’ll tape it up and resell it later.
Mary: All right, then.
Mel: (To Anna) Where’s your mother?
Mel: Where’s your mother? Haven’t seen her for a while. She usually comes in every couple days to buy her cigarettes, and she never misses the lottery. It’s thirteen million tonight, you know.
Anna: Mom’s sick. I took Casey out for a walk in the woods so she could get some sleep. She asked me to buy a ticket.
Mel: All right. (He pulls out a lottery ticket and puts it in a bag along with the formula) She hasn’t bought any whisky in a few days. Does she want some of that, too?
Anna: Uh, yes, three bottles. And she also wanted me to get some Very Berry Kool-aid to go with it, along with one of those Krazy straws.
Mel adds these items to the bag.
Mel: (Leaning over the counter and whispering) She also picks up some other stuff on a regular basis. Usually some weed, some rock and fairly often a bindel of crank. She happen to want you to purchase that for her as well?
Anna: Oh yes.
(Mel goes into the back room, comes back with the drugs and puts them in the bag.)
Mel: Here you go.
Anna: Oh, and could I also have some Nerds, and I’d like to rent Aladdin for tonight.
Mel: OK. (Mel gets these final items and adds them to the bag) With the movie rental your total comes to six hundred fifteen dollars and sixty-five cents.
(Anna hands over some money.)
Anna: Sorry, I don’t have six hundred dollars.
Mel: That’s OK, honey. I’ll send Tyrone over later to collect the money.
Anna: You know, Mel, underneath that gruff exterior you’re really sweet.
Mel: Why thank you. Have a nice day.
(Anna and Casey exit.)
The kitchen. Anna and Mandy are sitting at the kitchen table. Casey is in his high chair.
Mandy: Have you heard from Mommy yet?
Anna: No, honey.
Mandy: You mean Mommy hasn’t even written us a letter?
Anna: Oh shoot, that reminds me. I haven’t checked the mailbox in, it must be five days. Mandy, could you go get the mail for me, please.
(Mandy exits and returns a moment later with an armload of soggy mail.)
Anna: Oh darn, the mail is all ruined because of the rain … except for this postcard. (Reads) Please find along with this postcard an envelope containing two hundred dollars cash. Signed Annonymous. (Anna finds the envelope and opens it. The money has been ruined by the rain.) Oh, shoot.
The kitchen. Anna, Mandy and Casey enter. Anna is lugging two bags of groceries. Mandy is pushing Casey in his stroller.
Mandy: It’s sure good you managed to dry out that money with Mommy’s hair dryer.
Anna: It sure is, Monkey. Thanks for your help.
Mandy: You’re welcome, Anna.
Anna: Now what I need you to do is get your backpack and stuff as many warm clothes as you can in it. We’ve got to get out of here.
Anna: Mel is starting to ask too many questions. There’s this little cabin in the woods I know about that’ll be just perfect for us.
Mandy: But what if Mommy comes back while we’re gone?
Anna: I’ll check back here every day.
Mandy: But shouldn’t we leave a note?
Anna: No, that wouldn’t be a very good idea.
Mandy: Mommy always says leave a note when you go out somewhere.
Anna: Mommy never said anything like that!
Mandy: Well, maybe then it was Mr. Rogers. I know it was somebody. Anyway, I really think we should leave a note.
Anna: All right, we’ll write Mommy a note.
(Anna grabs a pencil and piece of paper and writes a note which says Dear Mom, We’ve gone off to a cabin in the woods near here. I’ll be checking back here every morning at 10:30. Love, Anna Anna tapes the note to the front door and they exit out the back door. Nat Leon happens by.)
Nat: Their only hope is a blind truant officer.
The woods. Anna is walking through the woods, carrying a bag of supplies. She walks up to the cabin. She notices two strange rucksacks on the front porch. She runs up the steps and bursts through the door. Two strangers are sitting on a blanket beside Mandy and Casey.
Anna: What are you people doing here!?
Hipster 1: We’re the children of yuppy parents trying to get in touch with our heritage by spending the night in a primitive setting.
Hipster 2: I think the more important question is what are _you doing here?
Anna: We’re, uh, camping, too.
Hipster 1: Camping? With a baby?
Anna: Sure. Deranged ex-husbands do it all the time.
Hipster 2: Oh, that makes sense.
Anna: Now, could you people please leave.
Hipster 1: No way, man. We drove, like, half an hour out here to these woods and we intend to spend the night in this cabin. Now I’m going to play my Fish records.
Anna: Let’s get going, Mandy. We’re giving ourselves up to Social Services.
Mrs. McCalum’s house. Mrs. Romero’s car pulls up and Mrs. Romero directs Anna and Mandy to get out. She goes around the car to get Casey out of his car seat.
Mrs. Romero: Mrs. McCalum is going to take care of you for now. I think you’ll be very happy here.
Anna: How long will we be staying with Mrs. McCalum for?
Mrs. Romero: Just temporarily until we can find your mother.
Anna: And Mrs. McCalum was willing to take three children?
Mrs. Romero: Yes, she was.
Anna: Did you tell her about them being white and me being … black?
Mrs. Romero hands Casey toMandy.
Mrs. Romero: Yes, we don’t spring any surprises on our foster parents.
(Mrs. Romero knocks on the door. Mrs. McCalum answers).
Mrs. McCalum: Hi.
Mrs. Romero: I’ve brought you three children this time, just for a while till we can locate their mother. The older girl, Anna, is black, as you can see. The little girl, Mandy, and the baby, Casey, are white, obviously. There mother sure must have done some sleeping around. Well, toodle-oo.
Mrs. McCalum: Well, come inside and get ready for bed.
Mandy: Bed? But the sun hasn’t even gone down?
Mrs. McCalum: I will have no backtalk or questioning in this house, young lady.
Anna: But why do we have to go to bed when it’s only quarter to seven?
Mrs. McCalum: I will ignore your questioning for now, Anna, since I know black people don’t tend to learn things. You three have to get ready for bed now because at 7:00 this house becomes a smoke shop and night club. Oh, here are some of the early birds now. Get inside, quick.
(Arab men have started to pull up to the house in expensive cars. Anna leads Mandy, who is holding Casey, down the hall to two bedrooms.)
Anna: I take it these are our rooms?
Mrs. McCalum: Oh good, dear, maybe there’s hope for your kind after all. Yes, the room with the crib is for Mandy and Casey, since Casey’s a baby and babies sleep in cribs, and the room next to it is yours. Hope you kids can manage by yourselves, I have to start my act.
(Mrs. McCalum steps up onto a stage before a large crowd of Arab men which has gathered in the front room. She begins to sing “Your Mother’s Son-in-law.”)
Anna: Mrs. McCalum, we’re hungry. We haven’t eaten all day.
Mrs. McCalum: All right, we might as well have family dinner.
(She goes over to a vending machine and gets three cups of soup out. Anna, Mandy, Casey, and Mrs. McCalum sit down at one of the tables. Farshid comes over to them.)
Farshid: Hey there. I am truly out to party it down tonight.
The school. Anna is standing outside the gym. Nat Leon walks by.
Anna: Nat! Nat.
Anna: Could you meet me at the cabin this afternoon?
Nat: Sure … no, my bad, I got baseball practice.
Anna: Then could you meet me this evening after baseball practice?
Nat: Yeah, I guess.
Anna: Oh, thank you. Bring a pair of scissors, an old ball cap and some boy clothes.
Anna: (Whispering) I’m running away for a little while. I need to look like a boy so the police won’t catch me.
Nat: All right, but seeing as how you got a figure like Marilyn Monroe I don’t think that’s gonna work.
The bus. Anna is sitting on the bus. She has no suitcase. Winston Strathmartin is sitting next to her.
Anna: We’re in Vicksburg. I thought it would look more like Gone With The Wind.
Winston Strathmartin: You’d be wanting Nachez for that, I’m afraid. The real Old South is to be found down there.
Anna: Oh. I’ll have to travel down there someday.
Winston: I’m sorry, I don’t believe I’ve introduced myself. My name is Winston Strathmartin. I’m a wealthy financier from London.
Anna: So, you’re in the States on business?
Winston: Yes, and I’m taking the bus because I enjoy making use of the commoner’s modes of transport every now and again. Where are you headed?
Anna: I’m headed to Sunnydale … to see some family.
Winston: Ah, Sunnydale, wonderful little place. I’d considered purchasing it once but the deal fell through. Well, hope you have a wonderful time.
Sunnydale. Anna stands before the door of a house and knocks. An old woman comes to the door.
Eleanor O’Dell: Yes. Can I help you?
Anna: Is Suzanne O’Dell home?
Eleanor: I’m sorry, Suzanne doesn’t live here anymore. She left over fifteen years ago.
Anna: Well, you see, the thing is, I’m you’re granddaughter, Anna.
Eleanor: Well, come on in.
(Anna enters and She is directed to a seat at the kitchen table and given a glass of lemonade.)
Anna: So tell me, uh, Grandma, why did my mother leave home in the first place?
Eleanor: Well, you see, child, your mother and your grandfather had a terrible fight. There was this contest sponsored by the local grocery store to see who could build the best time machine in town. Suzanne and her dad both entered, your grandfather by himself and your mother with her boyfriend, James Hughes. Well, they got into an argument about which was the better machine. Your grandfather’s could go back to specific years, but Suzanne’s and James’s could go back to specific days, even specific hours and minutes. Father and daughter got into a terrible argument one night and Suzanne stormed out the door. Said she was going up north with James and never coming back!
Anna: Well, hopefully we can get to know each other again and put all those things in the past.
Eleanor: No, child, there’s nothing for you here.
Anna: Oh. Do you know what happened to my father, James Hughes?
Eleanor: Oh, he killed himself nearly fifteen years ago.
Anna: Oh. Well, thank you. Goodbye.
The gas station. Anna walks up to a man who is peering under the hood of a car.
Anna: Excuse me, when’s the next bus to Vicksburg?
James Hughes: The next bus to Vicksburg doesn’t leave till tomorrow morning.
Anna: Are you sure?
James: I’m as sure of it as I’m sure my name’s James Hughes.
(He turns around.)
Anna: Daddy! But Eleanor O’Dell said you’d died.
James: Sure no, I’m still alive. Mrs. O’Dell might have thought that since we haven’t seen each other in so long.
Anna: Look, I could really use your help. My mother, your old girlfriend, Suzanne O’Dell, is dead. There’s me and my little brother and sister and we’re living in this foster home that doubles as a night club. You’re our only hope.
James: Well, I suppose we could arrange for your little brother and sister to be sent for, then you could jump in my old time machine and live in any era you wanted.
Anna: Really! Oh thank you. I think I’d like to go back to the bubonic plague. All that death and misery and brutality sounds exciting.
James: Just as long as my little girl’s happy.
James Hughes pats Anna on the head.
Based on “A Place to Call Home” by Jackie French Koller.