Jan Donley, Author of The Side Door

Plays

A Closet Year - a look inside the manuscript

Note: This play consists of three connected acts, the first of which is “Aunt Elinor’s Closet,” excerpted below.

Time
Act One: Summer
Act Two: Fall
Act Three: Winter

Scene: Aunt Elinor’s house. Somewhere in the Midwest.

Setting: The action takes place in the living room, which consists of well-worn furniture. One table or shelf holds small, animal-shaped skeleton models: curious, artsy bone-sculptures. The stage should include entrances/exits to represent 1) the closet 2) the bedroom 3) the kitchen 4) the front door.

AT RISE: ELINOR sits in a chair by the window. Her chair is set apart from the rest of the furniture. She wears a simple dress, and her hair, fully gray, hints at an age her face refuses to show. GRACE enters. She wears slacks, a loose blouse, and flat, comfortable looking sandals. GRACE carries two folded bedsheets, one bright, the other not so bright. She gazes from ELINOR to the cluster of furniture.

GRACE You’re out of place.
(GRACE sets the sheets down.)

ELINOR That’s true, Grace. (Pause.) But at least it’s my place.

GRACE Furniture should be arranged talkatively.
(ELINOR directs her next comment out the window.)

ELINOR I planted that tree years ago.
(GRACE stares at the ELINOR’S chair, and not at the tree.)
Because I wanted shade.

GRACE I read about it in a magazine.

ELINOR About my tree?

GRACE —Some article about interior design. It said—let me make sure I’ve got the words right—“furniture should be arranged in a talkative manner.”

ELINOR Well, I’m not feeling particularly talkative.

GRACE So that’s it. You’ve moved into an anti-social stage. (Pause) After what the doctor told you, that makes perfect sense.

ELINOR Honestly, Grace, maybe you should study psychiatry instead of nursing.
(ELINOR stares out the window.)
That tree comforts me. Shade offers comfort. (Pause.) I had it once, then I let it go.

GRACE I’m only trying to put things in order. You know. The doctor said you shouldn’t strain yourself. (Pause.) I suppose you moved this chair by yourself.

ELINOR
But it was easy, dear. I wanted to look out the window, so it was easy. Don’t you see? (Pause.) When you want something, it’s easy to take it. That’s the joke. We spend our lives trying for things we don’t want anyway. (Pause.) Take your marriage, for instance—
(GRACE frantically looks around and grabs the sheets.)

GRACE Let’s talk about Milly’s visit instead.

ELINOR I just don’t understand why you ever married that man.

GRACE I thought it would be nice to put clean sheets on the guest bed.

ELINOR You got married, but you didn’t want to. Now it’s over. Just think how much easier it would have been if you’d simply skipped the wedding in the first place.

GRACE But I couldn’t do that. I mean, it was—well, planned. Arranged.

ELINOR Plans. Phooey. Plans are for bones.

GRACE Bones?

ELINOR The grave. Everybody spends their lives arranging things. Then it’s time to die.

GRACE You’re thinking about what the doctor told you. (Pause.)

ELINOR I don’t need a doctor to tell me what’s going on.

GRACE You need to rest. That’s why you hired me. You might, I mean, your heart might just—

ELINOR —quit.

GRACE —and then I’d be here with these sheets, and your favorite niece—

ELINOR —Milly.

GRACE —that’s right. Milly would appear, and I’d be—

ELINOR —Her train. It must be time for her train.

GRACE —out of place.

ELINOR Just be yourself, dear.

GRACE That’s what I’m afraid of.

ELINOR I wrote to her about you in a letter. I explained how you’re taking care of things.

GRACE It’s just—(She looks at the sheets.) I mean, I remember Milly from third grade. She was always so…oh, what’s the word?

ELINOR I didn’t know you and Milly were classmates.

GRACE We weren’t friends, really. I mean, I don’t think she even knew I existed. I…well, not that I wanted her to know—(Pause.) And then my daddy made us move 50 miles away just a year later. (Pause.) Still, I remember her. She was always so… what is that word? Rambunctious. That’s it. Milly was always so rambunctious in school.

ELINOR I think you’ll find she hasn’t changed much. (Pause.) Let me see those sheets. (GRACE shows them.) I think she’ll like this set the best.

GRACE Really? I would have thought—

ELINOR Milly loves sheets. They were her favorite toy when she was a little girl—

GRACE I’ve never heard of sheets being toys. Didn’t they get dirty?

ELINOR Mostly they got wrinkled—exactly how she likes them.

GRACE See? I was right. Rambunctious.

ELINOR She grows on you. Like the leaves on that tree.
(GRACE stares out the window.)

GRACE Leaves always happen before you know it.

ELINOR It’s summer. Trees are full of life in the summer.

GRACE One day those trees are bare limbs, and the next they’re full of leaves. I always miss the switchover.

ELINOR You mean spring?

GRACE I missed it.

ELINOR Probably your husband’s fault.

GRACE I don’t like missing important events.

ELINOR Your marriage or the spring?

GRACE I think we should get back to you and that chair.

ELINOR Moving this chair is the best thing I’ve done in years.

GRACE Did you tell Milly about your heart?

ELINOR I sent along a train ticket.

GRACE And your heart?

ELINOR No, dear. I kept that right here.
(ELINOR pats her chest. She laughs.)
Some things I just can’t let go of.

GRACE Humor is good. The doctor says—

ELINOR —spare me, dear.

GRACE
I think you’re just feeling out of place.
(MILLY enters from outside, wearing canvas high-top tennis shoes, baggy trousers, and an oversized shirt. Her long hair, pulled back, lets loose wisps around her face that suggest a softness. She drops her duffel bag.)

GRACE (To MILLY.) You startled me!

MILLY (To GRACE.) Well, hello there.

ELINOR She’s Grace.

MILLY Grace, huh?

GRACE It’s just… I expected—

MILLY Didn’t Aunt Elinor tell you I was coming?

ELINOR I did, Milly. But Grace… well, she’s startles easily.

MILLY Relax, Gracie, people say I grow on them.

GRACE It’s just… I expected some warning. You know—a bell, a knock—something.

MILLY Hell. You mean I’m not enough warning?
(MILLY looks out the window with ELINOR.)
It even looks hot, doesn’t it?

ELINOR I was looking at the shade.

MILLY Yeah?
(MILLY leans down to kiss ELINOR’S cheek. ELINOR kisses MILLY on the neck.)
Watch it, I’m pretty sweaty.

ELINOR I can taste your youth, Milly.

MILLY Hell, it’s just summertime.

GRACE We were talking about the seasons before you came in. (To ELINOR.) Weren’t we?

ELINOR We were talking about the tree.

GRACE The leaves. (Pause.) We were talking about the leaves. How they just appear. (Pause.) One minute it’s winter, and all the limbs are bare—the next minute it’s spring, and all the limbs are full.
(MILLY smiles at GRACE.)
I know it’s silly. Of course, the change happens every year. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.
(MILLY lifts a small potted plant.)

MILLY (About the plant.) Speaking of trees, this one’ll never make it.

GRACE Maybe some water would help.
(GRACE exits to the kitchen.)

All writings © Jan Donley 1985-2017
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