The Family Occasion
Nataliya Oryshchuk (Massey University, New Zealand)
EMMA – 25-50, female.
Lights up, dimmed.
An old-fashioned living room overstuffed with souvenirs and old photos; the table covered with a white embroidered cloth. There is a tea set, a birthday cake and a vase with autumn flowers.
Emma is sitting with her back to the audience in one of the chairs. She is completely still.
There is the distant sound of the wind. Emma keeps sitting very still for several moments.
Suddenly, the cuckoo clock chimes five times. The lights brighten and the sound of the wind fades out. Emma energetically gets up.
EMMA: (chattering fast, full of nervous energy): Goodness me, I am running late! Uncle Robert likes his orange squash cold… Though for the life of me I can’t imagine why he must have squash if we have tea, but that’s another matter…
She starts setting the table for a party, then looks at the cake.
EMMA: (worriedly) I hope it won’t crumble too much. Will Mother be very upset if it crumbles? I suppose she will… I hope it won’t crumble. Two eggs, a cup of sugar, a cup of flour…
She keeps arranging the table as she speaks.
EMMA: … a cup of raisins, and just a pinch of cinnamon. Did I use too much cinnamon?
She pauses over the cake again.
EMMA: Maybe I should cut a tiny bit and taste it. Or maybe I shouldn’t? Maybe they’ll notice?
She sits down on the chair, anxious. The cries of the seagulls in the distance.
EMMA: (quietly) I won’t serve any seaweed. (she jumps up) Why did I say “seaweed”? I didn’t mean to say it. I didn’t mean to think about it. How rude, how rude… I won’t mention the seaweed, of course not.
Emma looks at the family photographs, then takes one into her hands. She is very still for a moment.
The clock chimes quarter of an hour. Emma quickly puts the photo back and is frantically active again.
EMMA: No, I won’t cut the cake! Not until they come. They always come.
She picks up a flower from the vase.
EMMA: Chrysanthemum is fine. They always liked autumn. And autumn flowers. And sailing in the autumn sea… (crushes the flower in her hand). But no, no. I’ll talk about my cake and the cinnamon and how I hope it won’t crumble and how I hope… how I… how I…
She pauses, still holding the crushed flower.
EMMA (quietly): How I wish they never went sailing that day. But… (busies herself with the table again) … but it’s my birthday! It’s family time… It’s only right to be together. Wishing me many happy returns… and… I won’t tell them about the seaweed. I wish they didn’t smell of it so badly. Uncle Robert…. I’ll thank him. I’ll thank him when they come. I’ll be polite. I like seashells. I really do. And they always bring me seashells. And seaweed, of course, but they can’t help it… I mean, I like seashells, but I wish they could bring something else… But it’s a gift so I will be grateful. It is nice to spend your birthday with family. It’s nice.
She looks around the room.
EMMA: And I will never move away from here. Ever. The sea is endless and it doesn’t care, but I won’t betray our home. Mother will be pleased. I must make sure the tea is hot and the squash is icy. Though I can’t fathom why Uncle Robert always must…
She readjusts the cups and the cake.
EMMA: (speaks faster and faster) Mother will say: “How nice to see you, dear! Happy birthday. You look a bit pale”. And I will say: “Not at all, dear Mother, I am perfectly fine. Look, I baked a cake, I used your favourite recipe”. And Uncle Robert will say: “A birthday cake! Isn’t it lovely?” and Mother will say: “It is indeed! Does it crumble?” And I will say… and I will say…(screams) not the seaweed! Not the seashells!! Take them back to the deep water, take them back! Stop coming, stop talking to me, go back to where you came from, go AWAY!!
Enraged, she pulls the tablecloth off the table. The tea set and the cake smash onto the floor.
EMMA: I don’t want any birthday parties! I don’t want any family visits! Do you hear me? I hate you and your seaweed and its smell, and…
She slows down and stands still, looking at the chaos. Then she picks up the cake and watches it crumble through her fingers.
EMMA: And my cake does crumble, Mother.
The sound of the wind. Emma sits into the chair with her back to the audience.
Originally from the Ukraine, Nataliya is a graduate from the Kiev State Institute of Theatre Arts and the University of Canterbury. She is a current student in Master in Creative Writing programme at Massey University, and director of NO Productions Theatre Company based in Christchurch, New Zealand.