living well is the best revenge. (randlepmcmurphy) wrote in winterproject,
living well is the best revenge.
randlepmcmurphy
winterproject

Life's Work

LIFE’S WORK
by Cory Tamler

Had I but died an hour before this chance,
I had lived a blessed time.

–William Shakespeare, Macbeth

CHARACTERS
THE NURSE
THE PAINTER
THE HUSBAND

SETTING
The house of the owner of the painter’s most famous and applauded painting.

20 December 2006

THE NURSE wheels THE PAINTER into the room in a wheelchair.

THE NURSE
It’s refreshing, miss, to see.

THE PAINTER
What’s that?

THE NURSE
I work with a lot of people who are...

THE PAINTER
Terminally ill.

THE NURSE
Yes. But I’ve never met anyone so...

THE PAINTER
Ready to die?

THE NURSE
Not ready, no, miss. It isn’t that you’re ready. Just unafraid.

THE PAINTER
I’m not that.

THE NURSE
Content, then. All right with it. Settled.

THE PAINTER
Ah. Shift me to the right, please.
(THE NURSE shifts THE PAINTER; now she can see the painting better)
Better. Though the light in here is abominable.

THE NURSE
Should I let in some sunlight?
(THE NURSE goes to draw the curtains)
And, miss, what makes it even more extraordinary, you aren’t even that old.
(THE PAINTER laughs)
What I mean to say is, comparatively, you’re young.

THE PAINTER
Yes. Are you asking me something?

THE NURSE
No. I don’t think so.

THE PAINTER
Well, then.

THE NURSE
I’ve just always admired your work, miss. And now that I meet you, under these circumstances...I expected it to be awful, you miserable –

THE PAINTER
Dehumanized?

THE NURSE
Torn down, afraid. No dignity. But here you are, and here I am, admiring you more than ever.

THE PAINTER
It’s not a great feat. When everything feels as final as it does –

THE NURSE
You mean, the knowing’s helped.

THE PAINTER
No, I mean how it all fits. Every moment, every little thing. From this vantage point I have had to look back on my life and take stock.
(Squinting)
Ah, it’s no use, you’ll have to hand it to me.

THE NURSE
Hand you what?

THE PAINTER
My painting. I can’t see, this is just an awful room. Those high oak ceilings swallow up all the light. Too many curves, not enough angles. I hope that fellow who owns it doesn’t display it in here ordinarily. One moment –
(She coughs painfully into a handkerchief)
All right, now.

THE NURSE hands THE PAINTER her painting.

THE NURSE
It’s a great one, miss.

THE PAINTER
Yes. The greatest.

THE NURSE
So this is why, then.

THE PAINTER
Why what?

THE NURSE
Why you’re all right. You’ve done this. The painting. The representative work of art of our generation. That’s what they all say.

THE PAINTER
That’s part of it. Yes.

THE NURSE
It’s so much. I saw it, in the original display, the gallery in Berlin –

THE PAINTER
Really? You look so young.

THE NURSE
Not so young. I was very young then, though.

THE PAINTER
Knowing that I did this, that I’ll leave this behind – that is wonderful.

THE NURSE
The biggest thing. It made such an impression, even then.

THE PAINTER
But there are other things. I married the man I was supposed to be with and he loved me all my life.

THE NURSE
I haven’t met him, your husband.

THE PAINTER
It’s been such a short time since you replaced Susan. And he’s been out of town on business.

THE NURSE
But, I mean, I’ve never seen a picture of him. Or anything. I’ve been a great fan of yours ever since I was small, and I wouldn’t know your husband if I passed him on the street.

THE PAINTER
He likes to keep a low profile. Fame isn’t for him. He’s the humblest person I’ve ever met – but I won’t talk about him too much; I don’t know how to leave him yet. I don’t know how I found him in the first place. Loved me and only me, wonderful always, never untrue a day.

THE NURSE
You’re so sure.

THE PAINTER
I know it. Otherwise it doesn’t fit. That’s what it’s all about, that everything in my life has fit together. One moment –
(Painful cough into handkerchief)
Excuse me.

THE NURSE
Don’t talk so much, miss. You’d better drink some water.

THE PAINTER
No. I’m fine. This is how it all fits. Husband, the work I have done to raise money for the institute –

THE NURSE
The art school that your foundation built?

THE PAINTER
That. Yes. Everything I went through, as a child, with my father, my school, not understanding my art. Not understanding what it meant to be a child in love with art. Losing my daughter to drugs...and that was hard...but in the end, you know, it fits in, too, because I had to learn that children can be lost, and I had to learn that there are ways to save them. That art school: see how it makes the puzzle pieces fit together? These things happened, but they had to happen. That’s why. You tell me what the doctor says, you tell me he says who knows how long I’ll live – hours, days, but certainly not longer than a week – and I have to come here, I have to see my painting, because this is proof of the whole puzzle coming together. Without everything that’s happened, I’d never have made this. Never have found what I found with my husband. The school wouldn’t ever have been built.

THE NURSE
It was so young.

THE PAINTER
The school? Very young. And I know I won’t live to see the fruits of my labor – obviously. But it’s made a great start and I know –

THE NURSE
Then – miss...you didn’t hear?

THE PAINTER
Hear what?

THE NURSE
About the – no, I...shouldn’t tell you.

THE PAINTER
Tell me what? Tell me. Tell me.

THE NURSE
The school. The fire. Yesterday. I was sure someone had...I was sure someone would have told you.

THE PAINTER
How bad was the...
(Pause)
I see.

THE NURSE
They’ll build it again. They’ll build another.

THE PAINTER
No, they won’t. There’s no money left.

THE NURSE
They’ll raise it. You did it.

THE PAINTER
There will be no one left to care.

Enter THE HUSBAND. THE NURSE sees him first.

THE NURSE
Charles – what are you doing here?

THE HUSBAND
You’re – what are you doing here?

THE PAINTER
Do you know each other?

THE NURSE
Why – yes, he’s...we’re...well, I suppose you could say we’re dating, on and off for a few months, but...I have no idea what he’s doing here, I’m so sorry, miss, I –
(Pause)
Do you know him?

THE PAINTER
He’s my husband.

THE NURSE
Oh, no. He can’t be. Charles is an ophthalmologist at...we met in a café...sitting under one of your paintings, in fact, and we bonded over our – avid enthusiasm for – you...

THE PAINTER is hugging her painting tightly to her chest, without noticing it. Long pause.

THE PAINTER
Charles.
(Beat)
Charles, Larry? You know I hate that name.

THE HUSBAND
I’m...I don’t know what to...

THE NURSE
No, no, no, no, I can’t have – no – he can’t be –

THE PAINTER
Shut up, both of you.

THE NURSE
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t – I didn’t know.

THE HUSBAND
Stop talking, will you, you’re making it –

THE PAINTER
Shut up, both of you!

There is such force in this that THE NURSE runs off. Beat.

THE HUSBAND
Are you...?

THE PAINTER
Go away.
(Beat)
Everything still fits. It fits, it’s all here. I need nothing but this. Get out of here, will you? I still have something no one can ruin.

THE HUSBAND
I love you.

THE PAINTER
Fuck you, I’m dying, fuck you, fuck you, I don’t have time to wonder what happened.

THE HUSBAND
I didn’t mean for –

THE PAINTER
Go away!
(THE HUSBAND leaves, slowly. THE PAINTER is still clutching the painting to her chest. Beat. Beat. Beat. She realizes that she is cradling the painting like this and begins to pull it away from her body, but there is a tearing sound: the canvas has caught on her buttons)
No, no, no...

She tries to disentangle it. There is more tearing. Becoming frantic, she begins to cough harshly. She pulls the painting violently away from her body. It tears violently in response. It’s free now, but the canvas is hopelessly mangled, and she continues to cough, painfully, loudly, hopelessly, blood and phlegm coating the ruined canvas. THE PAINTER coughs to shatter the windows. The painting falls from her lap to the ground and she leans back, gasping for one more breath, and then one more. Lights fade.
Tags: plays, prompt 3, responses
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