Your Heart, My Winecellar

Setting:  Summer 2000, University of Arizona fraternity house in Tucson. Martin enters. He is a middle aged man with a pot belly and receding hairline. Maxine is of similar age, frail and pale.)
MARTIN: Hello. Hello. . . anybody here yet?
MAXINE: You’re early.
MARTIN: Oh. Hi. Mind if I–  . . .Thanks. Been hiking all over campus. Do we. . . know each other?
MAXINE: I’m on the administration staff.
MARTIN: This IS the ’80 reunion?
MAXINE: The time’s been moved back an hour, but you’re welcome to wait.
MARTIN: Things have sure changed around here. That new dorm, library, and that round building out front, what is that thing?
MAXINE: The records office. The computer is king now, and that’s its castle.
MARTIN: What do you do?
MARTIN: What’s your specialty, I mean.
MAXINE: Public relations. But I’m subing as caterer and bartender tonight.
MARTIN:  Sure is hot out there.
MAXINE: It may rain later, though. I’m. . . Judy. Judy Jenkins. Class of ’78.
MARTIN: Martin Hill.  I hope it won’t be too disappointing, the attendance. If I was a betting man… MAXINE:  It has been twenty years.

MARTIN: Right. By now we’re only half alive, I guess.  . . .Need any help here?

MAXINE: No. Everything’s set up. I’m just waiting for more of you.

MARTIN: What time have you got?
MAXINE: 5:20. Lots of time to kill. The schedule’s for 6:30. Dinner’s at 7. If you can call it that. Finger sandwiches…cheese…plenty of wine of course. I think there’s a modus operandi on these things, but I never read it.
MARTIN: Ask the computer, eh.
MAXINE: Would you like some wine now, Mr. Hill?
MARTIN: No, I–  Really. Don’t bother.  I can come back. It’s really early.
MAXINE: It’s no bother. I’d rather you waited with me. There’s bound to be a couple of your old buddies turning up soon anyway, right? I was going to test the stock, and. . . there’s no reason to go.
MARTIN: Well, if you’re sure. Campus sure looks deserted. I got into a basketball game out behind the gym with some faculty brats. Kids needed an extra. And me in street clothes. One of ‘em kicked me accidentally. Is this usual, after graduation?  I suppose it is now.
MAXINE: You’d be surprised what 24 hours does to this place now. Grad day it’s all a-flutter in black gowns, but the NEXT day. . .like a graveyard. Reunions would just be in the way. That’s why they’re the week after. Tomorrow night there’s another one, in fact.  So tell me how you’ve managed to survive the past two decades, Mr. Hill.
MARTIN: No “misters” here, please.  I used to go by Marty a long time ago.  It’ll be strange, hearin’ somebody call me that again. But maybe you can practice on me. . . in exchange for my opinion on the wine.
MAXINE: Sure “Marty.”  (He sips) It’s a vintage ’77 from Dean Eagers stock.  Remember the year?
MARTIN: You kidding?  Oh, I remember, all right. I hated that old man. Is he still…
MAXINE: No, his stock was donated to the Alumni Association to be toasted at each year’s 20th reunion. Right up to the ’89 reunion when he retired. Yeah, he’s still around. Another member of the cruise vacation set.  If the world’s still around that last bottle will be toasted in 2012.
MARTIN: Then how did you come by–
MAXINE: –a ’77 bottle?  Oh, there’s still half a cellar of the old vintages downstairs, under padlock most of the time. Evidently not many people showed up for that one.  And Eagers WAS a wine cona– FANATIC, actually.
MARTIN: You mean wino.  (Sips with satisfaction) I’m surprised he gave it up, though. It’s probably worth a small fortune.
MAXINE: Doctor’s orders, I’m sure. Can you think of a better way to assure you’ll be remembered?
MARTIN: The ol’ vanity of vanities got ‘em, huh?  Here’s to all the secure old bastards in the world, then.  May their wives be free of blue hair…and may they have at least one barbecue with their neighbors before they kick off.
(Glasses tinkle)
MAXINE:  So what DO you do, Marty?  …To survive.
MARTIN: That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  (He laughs wryly) And what we do.  We are what we do.
MAXINE: I’m sorry.  You asked me what I do.
MARTIN: No, no.  It’s all right.  It’s just funny, that’s all.
MAXINE: Funny?
MARTIN: Yeah.  Me, I’m an insurance salesman.  I was just thinking about a free spirit used to spend more time in Eager’s office than in class. That was back when I first got here in ‘76. But he was a senior then, with rich parents. A pampered kid, except by the dean. Told me he didn’t want to DO anything. Just wanted to plug into the cosmos. Peace and love, brother. Livin’ ten years before of his time. Wonder what he’s doing now. Probably a corporate fat cat. Or an ad man. You know, I almost didn’t stop by here tonight. I’m from Cleveland.
MAXINE:  That explains it.
MARTIN:  I mean I’m on vacation. I almost just kept drivin’. . . right on down the freeway. I’m goin’ ta visit my mother next week in El Paso. It’s been a while.
MAXINE: Why didn’t you keep driving?
MARTIN:  I don’t know.  I came into town last night, and I went up to “A” Mountain this mornin’. There’s  still a good view of everything up there. Funny how it looks exactly the same. But it’s not. Not really. Know what I mean?
MAXINE: You mean the smog. The brown stuff.
MARTIN:  (laughs) I used to bike up there to study. Dr. Maxwell held an interpretive speech class up there one spring. I’d almost forgotten. Him shouting lines from the Tempest for the benefit of some delinquents passin’ round a joint on the other side of the rock.
MAXINE: And you never did that?
MARTIN: Oh sure. Everybody did. You remember Butch Phillips? He shot himself in the eye accidentally on a ricochet. Actually the BB caught the ridge of his eye socket here and deflected into his eye. He lost it. I’ll bet he’s had to live with THAT afternoon.
MAXINE: Butch Phillips…
MARTIN: Yeah, he practically lived up there. Had a bulldog named Junior. Ugly thing with this sickly pinkish face. Butch was one of those dropouts from Saguaro High. Lookin’ down on life. Wonder what became of him…
MAXINE:  Something to think about.
MARTIN: Yeah.  Mind if I ask you something?  Why do YOU think I stopped?
MAXINE:  Fear. You’re afraid of letting it go. The past.
MARTIN: (amused) Am I?
MAXINE:  The past made us what we are.
MARTIN: Maybe. It’s something to relate to, anyway. But. . . maybe it shouldn’t matter.  I mean now, in the present.  Survival.  You think that’s it?  You think I’m afraid?
MAXINE: Look at what there is now. . . what this is.
MARTIN: So what is it?  Now it’s just. . .what. . .the afterlife?  . . . My boss, he wants me ta convince clients the world today is run by some malevolent deity out to crush them on a whim. It doesn’t take much coaxing, believe me.
MAXINE:  Sounds like you’re talking about Dr. Edwards. Philosophy 101.
MARTIN: It’s more clinical than that.  Vincent Canby, sales director at Associated Insurance.  To hear him talk it’s amazing the sun comes up in the morning.
MAXINE: For some people, maybe it doesn’t.
MARTIN: Come on, I mean his world. . . well, it’s populated by diseases, gale force winds, minorities in ski masks. . . or just a bunch of crazed maniac rednecks waitin’ ta side-swipe you at every corner with their red Firebirds. What kinda world is that to assume?  All you hear there is horror stories about earthquake victims and hospital bills, and. . .well, it wears on you, ya know?  People eat it up, like listenin’ to a good dose of hell fire on Sunday. Before long it’s as much a part a’ you as anything could be. ‘Course I suppose our profits would take a nose dive without all that canned talk too.  “Canby and his canned talk.”  You start off the mornin’ readin’ the paper, listen to doom and gloom all day–with that subtle hint that if you don’t meet your quota, well. . .  Then you go home at night and wait with bated breath what the news anchor’s gonna say.  . . .You seen those lawyer ads on TV. . . my God, it’s like an addiction. Pretty soon you actually BELIEVE your neighbor would let you die on the sidewalk. An’ ya get tunnel vision… start drivin’ fast through the puddles instead a’ noticin’ the pedestrians. And maybe yer even EXPECTED to do that. Maybe there’s some moron tail-gatin’ ya!  . . .Sorry, it’s just there’s no escape from it now. Except for my landlord. Right up to the end a landlord. Only land he’s got now is a cemetery plot.  Heart attack.  Too busy makin’ sure his “future” was secure.
MAXINE:  Are you married, Marty?
MARTIN: Was once. Didn’t work out. I didn’t know her. I don’t think anyone did. . .not even her.
MAXINE: You have a way of looking at things from the outside, don’t you.
MARTIN: How do you mean?
MAXINE:  Like you’re standing outside of it, watching.
MARTIN: Me?  No, I got that from her.  She was hollow for all I knew.  Or maybe it just made a good defense.
MAXINE:  . . .For survival.
MARTIN: She was a survivor, all right.  She got everything.  (He pours himself another drink)  Maybe you knew her.  Carla Simmons.
MAXINE:  Tall, skinny girl.
MARTIN: Yeah. Like a model. Like those girls you see on magazine covers.  Whatever you imagine they are, you’re probably wrong.  . . .Ya know, she hated being called “baby,” but it worked good when she wasn’t busy bein’ a robot.  Whatever her mask, though, she was the user.  Me–I was the loser.
MAXINE:  Was it never the other way around?
MARTIN: Not with her. She’ll probably show up here with her new husband. She could do that…  Though I pity the poor bastard. He’s rich, actually. ‘Course I never met him.
MAXINE: You’re on speaking terms, then?
MARTIN: Most strangers are nowadays, aren’t they?  Wonder who else will show up.
MAXINE:  There’s someone special you want to see?
MARTIN:  Sure. Buddies. Mike, Gerald. Jim Ellison. You remember Eddie Cantrell, the student body president?  He’s got a story I want to hear.
MAXINE: From the past.
MARTIN: Yeah, from the past.  About him and Carla.  He’s in that yearbook, look him up.
(She turns pages)
MAXINE: There you are.
MAXINE: You took a good picture then.  I’ll bet you were popular.
MARTIN: I got by.
MAXINE: Play sports?
MARTIN: Track and field.  Not like the jocks.
MAXINE:  I was on the swimming team.
(Pages turn)
MARTIN: You’re not in here, though.  Hey–THERE’S Gerald.  All the time borrowin’ money.  Ya know, I bet he still owes me a hundred bucks for financin’ his partyin’ and hell-raisin’.  Maybe I should try an’ collect from the bum.  Charge him interest!
MAXINE: Maybe you should.
MARTIN: Naw, it wouldn’t be the same, rememberin’ him.
MAXINE: What about just seeing him now, the way he is?
MARTIN: Been tryin’ not to think too much about that.  I guess if he’s fat and disgustingly sober. . .but that’s awful hard to imagine, ya know?  Even after twenty years.  Though it’s probably true.  Everything’s changed around here.  So how was your reunion?
MAXINE: Not much to say.  The same cliques gathered around in the corners to impress each other, and they told the same jokes.  It was less funny the second time a– . . . Hey, how about some music while we wait?
MARTIN: While we drink the old years away?  Why not.  Any old tunes?
MAXINE: Sorry. How about White Christmas sung by chipmunks?
MARTIN: “Eagers.”  You got any Scotch?  That’s what I really need.
MAXINE:  It’s not 20 years old.  More like six.
MARTIN: Six is fine.  Maybe the mix’ll jar my memory into focus. This is worse than waiting for exam grades.  Are you sure we haven’t met before?  I was a Sophomore when you were a Senior. . . . Guess it is askin’ a little much.  Some ways, though, it SEEMS like yesterday. You pile up all those dead days between then and now, ya got nothin’ to grab onto.  Nothin’ between except survivin’.  People just. . .gettin’ up an’ drivin’ to work…their faces…like they were still asleep, ya know?. . but they aren’t. . .they just don’t know it. . . don’t know what’s real anymore.  All those years. . . it was like lookin’ across a desert at those mountain peaks gettin’ smaller.
MAXINE: Do you remember Rosalind?
MARTIN: Rosalind Buckner?  You knew Rosalind?
MAXINE:  So did Eddie Cantrell and a few others.
MARTIN:  Yeah?
MAXINE: You were one of those guys, weren’t you?
MARTIN: (Fondly) Yeah.   I wonder. . . do you remember that tall blond that–
MAXINE: Angela?  I’d already graduated, but yeah–I remember.  I remember a lot of things that haven’t quite been exorcized yet.  YOU must have some good memories, though.
MAXINE:  Tell me more about it.
MARTIN: The peaks.
MAXINE:  Just the peaks.
MARTIN: Hell, wouldn’t sound like much. . .this distance.
MAXINE:  There you go.  Outside again.
MARTIN: Yeah, an’ there I am now, treadin’ liquor.  God, that was the life, though.  It was like…we expected to go somewhere, ya know?  A destination.  Road signs everywhere.  Man, they had a lot of choices. . .catalogs, degrees.  You got caught up in it, even if you were only waitin’.  But it wasn’t just waitin’ either, it was…livin’.  And what a time we had–guzzlin’ oceans of beer, dancin’ like fools, or just…just throwin’ a football in the moonlight on the mall.  Why’d it have ta end?  Like some big change of seasons–a dark cloud slidin’ overhead, cuttin’ us off?  . . .That last year our team steered within a hair of the title, and it was like. . .we were drunk with laughter, ya know?, and chasin’ the sun and thinkin’ it’d never end, with us just happy to be alive and never askin’ the WHYS of anything like now, just feelin’ in CONTROL, havin’ some kind of CONNECTION to things.  ‘Course we didn’t know it.  We had hope of more.  Always more.  Hope?  BLIND hope. . .  Can you believe we thought it’d be better on the outside?  . . . My mother lives in El Paso now.  But I have some old photos of her taken in Cleveland.  A couple of them were taken inside. . .in the kitchen on Thanksgiving . . .Or just when someone sneaked up on her there.  We never owned our own house, just rented.  Those pictures, she’s lookin’ back over her shoulder, from the sink.  Years and years, days and nights later. . .I can’t describe it. . .talkin’ about movin’ into our own house.  But we never did.
MAXINE: Do you think any others will feel the same as you?
MARTIN: I couldn’t.  I mean, with YOU, or a stranger. . . They wouldn’t understand.
MAXINE: You mean expectations. Aren’t you curious? . . . So you’re gonna read between the lines like the rest of us.  Their epitaphs, written in their faces. “Epitaphs.” You know. . .something to be thinking about while they tell their bad jokes.  Sometimes I like to let people guess about me. All the time I’m in control that way, see.  Some people are so out of it they don’t even guess the whole situation is rigged against them, still think you really care about what they’re saying.  They really do.  I mean. . .it’s like you’re free of any  responsibility. . .free of them. . .an’ it doesn’t matter anymore. You don’t NEED their approval anymore because your life is finally “opened up”. . . and so you SEE through them.  It’s like they’re trying to impress you from the bottom of a well.  (Laughs) You don’t care about their money, what cars they drive…  An’ when they learn the real score?  Like I said. . .exorcism.
MARTIN: Maybe I should do that with my boss, with Carla.
MAXINE: Maybe you should.  Then what?
MARTIN: Then I’d be free?  No. . .I’d be right back where I started.  I’d–
MAXINE: You think you would?
MARTIN:  I don’t know.  How would I tell her off?  Carla. What would I say?
MAXINE: What did she do?  You said she used you.  How do you feel about that?
MARTIN: Like she took it away. The past. She. . .she’s the bitch that stole it from me.
MAXINE:  How?  Maybe by reachin’ in from the outside and draggin’ you with her? . .. So that’s why you’re here.
MARTIN:  I don’t know.  Maybe.  Look what she’s left me with.
MAXINE: You want revenge?
MAXINE:  Read her epitaph to her.
MARTIN: And what if it’s a long and healthy life she’s gonna lead–what then?  I ain’t some kinda fortune teller, but I imagine she’ll have it all worked out. A house full of motion detectors…life insurance…a husband bound to her every whim. A–a makeup table lined with facial creams made a’ aloe vera and vitimin E. (Laughs) Oh yeah–one look at her face an’ it’ll all be there.  She’s a survivor.
MAXINE: What about happiness?
MARTIN: You want happiness, go find an eight year old climbin’ some monkey bars.  He’s got no past or future.  Just now.  Right. . .now.
MAXINE: You’re bitter. That’s a start.
MARTIN: When I used to take her out, buy her things. . .or we’d be just sittin’ there in a restaurant.  I mean, what was goin’ through her MIND?  How’d I misread it??
MAXINE: That’s the whole mystery, isn’t it. Everyone lives in their own world, blind as love.
MARTIN:  Love?  So that’s what it was?  That was it?  Love?
MAXINE: Are you sure I’m the one to ask?
MARTIN:  You’re objective, not involved.  (Maxine laughs) . . .What?  What?
MAXINE:  Sorry.  It’ just, I know what Carla was thinking.  I suppose I’m thinking it now.
MAXINE: Want to know what Carla thought?  . . .You’re a fool.  What a fool
MARTIN: Whatda ya mean?
(Pages turn.)
MAXINE: That’s what I mean.
MARTIN: That photo. . .you mean you knew. . . (She giggles) No. . .
MAXINE: Go ahead–look close. There’s still some signs here. . .and here.  The surgeon didn’t do that good a job. ‘Course you weren’t looking much at my face, were you?  Had a little accident up on Mt. Lemmon nine years ago. Ended up in some trees fifty feet down. Went through the windshield. They had to break my nose and reset it, and after a year of therapy the plastic surgeon went zip, zip, and. . .what do you think?
MARTIN:   Maxine? . . . You let me talk on…and on.  It’s not. . .right.  . . .What am I supposed to say now?
MAXINE: Keep it up, I was enjoying it.  . . .You know, you could have had it all, the real thing, if that’s what you wanted.  Could have.  I followed you around like a puppy dog, didn’t I?  Sad girl, much too serious during that one rich time when things weren’t serious at all, remember? . . . My friends call me Max now. Are you my friend, Marty?
MARTIN (amazed) I. . .don’t know what to say.
MAXINE: Say you used me like you used the others.  Say I was your fool because of a four letter word, and now I’m nobody’s fool.
MARTIN: Love..?
MAXINE: Of course it’s past tense and a little academic now.  . . . I remember telling you all about myself.  Opening up.  I remember you listening.  Or I thought you were listening.  But you were pretending, weren’t you.  You were acting. Remember?
MARTIN:  I don’t. . .I don’t remember.
MAXINE: You have a very selective view of history, Marty. You used me, and you don’t remember?  You’ve got a good memory for Carla and those macho morons you went out with every weekend guzzling beer, but you don’t remember the one real thing you might have. . . The abortion I had, do you remember that?  Cat still got your tongue?
MARTIN: What are you doing?  What have you been up to?
MAXINE: Hating myself, mostly. Trying to put aside the pain you gave me once and for all.  The pain that made me feel abandoned and–and worthless.  The pain that had me staring out of my apartment window for weeks until. . .something snapped.
MAXINE: I eventually became a registered nurse, although it took twice as long as it should have. Then I realized my life wouldn’t truly begin until I could drink to my own health.  Until, shall we say, a kind of exchange took place.  My life. . .for yours?   So I had this idea. . . if they’d let me do the invitations I could also volunteer to set up here a night before the reunion. Then I’d only have to alter one of the invitations.  Yours. And then you might just show up alone, Marty–a night before the real reunion. And with us toasting the old years, I could slip a lethal drug in your drink. . . .So here we are.  (Glass tinkles) A cold, perhaps, but simple revenge. We reap what we sow. While your life was full and happy then, mine was empty and unbearable. While you try to remember what was, it is I who must try to forget. But what better way than this, to break clean of it?  How amusing, too, to speculate which of your buddies will find you here tomorrow night, dead of a. . .presumed. . .heart attack?  Who’ll it be, I wonder. Eddie? Gerald?
MARTIN: You’re insane. . .  (a pause; she laughs with delicious amusement) Why now. . .because it’s taken you this long to. . .twenty years to. . .we were talking about my revenge!
MAXINE: And you agreed.  Payday’s not always on Friday, Marty.
MARTIN: No, no, I refuse to. . .you wanted to marry me, don’t you remember?  We didn’t know who we were, kids, and it didn’t matter, I couldn’t marry anybody.
MAXINE: What about Carla?
MARTIN:  That was after, and it was wrong, a mistake. I paid my dues.
MAXINE:  Not like I have.
MARTIN: I’m sorry. . .look. . . you kept backing me into a corner, but this is now.  This is real, this time right now, the clock is running. . .how do you beat a thing like that?  What can I do?
MAXINE: You can’t do anything.
MARTIN: Why?  Why?  This is now.  It doesn’t matter now!  This ain’t gonna make up for then!  It’s not the same, don’t ya see?  It’s past, it’s gone.
MAXINE: Why didn’t you keep driving, then. What are you doing here?
MARTIN (at a whisper) We’re proving now is enough.
MAXINE: You don’t sound convinced.
MARTIN: You don’t know how you were then.
MAXINE: Neither do you, evidently.  I gave you everything I was. . .there wasn’t anything left.  But it didn’t matter, did it.
MARTIN: Didn’t you ever marry?  . . . But why, if that’s what you wanted. . .the white picket fence, the cottage, kids, why didn’t you, why?
MAXINE: I couldn’t get a legal abortion.  I went to a hack.  It was a dirty place, not very sterile.  But it left me sterile.  . . .You had to be there, I guess.
MARTIN: So you’re blaming me for that?  It’s my fault?  . . .It’s a myth.  Nobody has to have kids!  Don’t even have to marry.  It’s something they tell you. . .when you’re young, they, they tell ya what’ll happen, what’s supposed ta happen.  Sometimes it doesn’t, doesn’t mean you’re not human anymore–who the hell are they anyway!
MAXINE: What’s supposed to happen?  To me or you?  I’m not supposed to care, remember?
MARTIN: Then why do you?
MAXINE: I was dead in your arms.  Dead to you.  Not real at all.  You murdered me. This is just the way things are.
MARTIN (in disbelief) You’re heartless. Like a stone. Like Carla.
MAXINE: Maybe there was a time, in the past.  Probably for Carla too.  But we had good teachers.
MARTIN: Not me.  I’ve changed.  It wasn’t real.  I mean it’s not now. Not to me!
MAXINE: But it was real, and still is, to me.  But not much longer.
MARTIN (in pain) You can’t do this. Not you.  (She laughs)  Help me, please.  Time. . .how much time . . .  Please!
MAXINE (still laughing) Why?
MARTIN: Because you can.
MAXINE: You mean because I should!  . . . But should doesn’t work with me anymore.  I don’t need anyone’s approval.  I’m on the outside now too, looking in at a part of my life dissolving.  It’s like a chemical reaction, really.  Everything’s been calculated.  It’s just something I have to do.
MARTIN (almost crying) Why?
MAXINE” Why?  To earn my freedom.  To fill the emptiness with order, justice.  Things that aren’t there until you put them there.
MAXINE: Yes, or no.  Usually no.  Survival, remember?  You love something you’re vulnerable.  You don’t, you’re dead.  We’d all rather walk around dead, wouldn’t we?  You forced me to choose that death, Marty.  Now I’m just making sure you made the same decision.  It’s why we’re here.  Just so we both know we’re not alone in death. . .  (a pause as Martin breathes heavily) Don’t worry, Marty.  Most of the drug’s here.  I couldn’t go through with it in the end.  And besides, just look at yourself. . .balding and aging before my eyes.  There’s an awareness of sickness in your eyes, too. . .you should see it.  Like you been locked in a sunless room these past twenty years with only your memories, Marty, just your memories to keep you company.  And so I asked myself, just moments ago, why should I put you out of your misery?  Wouldn’t it be better to let you wallow in it–to come back here ten or twenty years from now, tortured by those same brief years of happiness?  That way I could drink to my own health from your misery, which was once your habit with me, Marty.  That way, your despairing heart would be my winecellar.  . . .Do you understand?  (Tinkling glass) Yes, I think you do. . . (Door opens;  rain and distant thunder is heard) It’s suddenly very nasty out there, Marty.  Lock the door when you leave, will you?  Oh. . .and good luck with Carla tomorrow night.
(The door closes)
MARTIN: Don’t leave me. . .alone with. . .
(He looks at all the wine bottles.)
MARTIN: (his filtered voice is heard) You won’t leave me alone, will you?
(He lays down and clamps shut his eyes.  He smiles, tentatively.)

(This play was given a reading at the Warehouse Theatre. A short story version was published in Buffalo Spree, the Buffalo NY city magazine.)