writing

Calling Luis
A short play

DOROTHY sits in a chair with a telephone. There is another chair opposite her. She is giving herself a pedicure, and eating a bag of potato chips as she answers the phone. Phone rings.

DOROTHY
Yeah, pet psychic. Okay….ever used our services before? Well, she's pretty busy. Can I have her call you back? Oh. Okay, you need someone right away? Hang on, let me see if she's free.

She pushes the HOLD button and tends to her nails for a moment. Then she picks up the phone again.

DOROTHY
Yeah, she was on her way out the door but I just caught her. It's a madhouse here…you have no idea. Okay. She likes me to pass on some general information to new people. Ready? Okay. We don't guarantee that we'll be able to read your pet's mind. We don't read animal minds. We try to sense their general disposition and offer some clues to what's going on. We might be able to tell you that your iguana is suffering from general malaise, or that your budgie is plagued with emotional stress. But we're unlikely to be able to tell you something specific, such as "The cat wonders why dinnertime has changed from 4:30 to 6:00." See the difference? We don't do séances, we won't try to guess the number or gender breakdown of a litter that your pet is carrying, and we won't try to convince your pet to perform tricks for your enjoyment. We don't do walk-ins, so you always have to have an appointment. Also we like to see payment in cash up front and we charge $75 for broken appointments. So is this something you're interested in? Great. She's free tomorrow between 1:30 and 2. Who's the pet? A bull mastiff. Okay, that's a very large animal. Can you bring Binky into the office? Okay, that'll be a housecall, then. That's extra. $50. And what's the trouble with Binky? Just not acting like herself? Can you be more specific? Keeps trying to get into the refrigerator? Well, that seems normal. Oh…tail first. That is odd. Anything else? (taking notes) Whimpering in sleep, eating paper, staring out window. Yup, yup. Got it. Address? 212 Hudson. Yup. Okay. We'll see you tomorrow then.

A moment or two passes. The phone rings again.

DOROTHY
Yeah, Pet Psychic. Thanks, I'm happy with my long-distance service. Yeah, okay.

She hangs up, goes back to her nails. The doorbell rings, or a knock at the door. She ignores it. Knock or bell persists.

DOROTHY
Sorry. You need an appointment.

Knock/bell persists.

DOROTHY
We're CLOSED. Call and make an appointment.

A moment, then sobs are heard from the other side of the door.

DOROTHY
Aw, Jesus.

MAXINE (from behind the door)
Please. I just…need to talk to someone.

DOROTHY
You can't make an appointment? Why is that so damn hard for people?

MAXINE
This was…unexpected. My cat, he….(dissolves into sobbing)

DOROTHY
Okay. Just wait there a second.

DOROTHY tries to make herself and her office presentable, putting away bags of chips, nail polish, etc. She goes to the door and admits MAXINE.
MAXINE enters, carrying a box of tissues.


MAXINE
I'm sorry, I know you must be very busy –

DOROTHY
Sit down.

MAXINE sits down. DOROTHY does not say anything, and MAXINE seems unsure what to do. She shifts in her seat uncomfortably.

MAXINE
You see, my cat Luis –

DOROTHY (snorts)
Luis?

MAXINE (weeping)
I named him after the guy on Sesame Street. That's how long I've had him.

DOROTHY
Okay, and?

MAXINE
He died.

DOROTHY
How old was he?

MAXINE
He was eighteen. Eighteen and a half.

DOROTHY
Well, he had a good long life. So what's the trouble?

MAXINE
I just want to know…if he was happy, you know, when he went.

DOROTHY
I'm sure he was. There's really no way I can help you with that. I don't do séances. (She holds up her business card) See, says so right here. No séances, no walk-ins, $75 fee for cancelled appointments…

MAXINE
Can't you just…I don't know…

DOROTHY
Can't I just what? Wave my magic wand and tell you what your cat José –

MAXINE
Luis –

DOROTHY
What your cat Luis was thinking on his deathbed? I'm sorry. I can't do that. Animal spirits don't communicate that way. Believe me, I've tried and it doesn't work. Louie lived a good long life. I'm sure he was very happy.

MAXINE
But…last year I got a kitten, and I think he felt –

DOROTHY
-- Look, I'm sorry. I can't help you. Can you please just write down your name and address here?

MAXINE
Are you going to send me something? Some information?….

DOROTHY
A bill. Walk-ins, though technically not allowed, are $50.00.

MAXINE
But –

DOROTHY
Please. Understand. I'm self-employed. I pay for my own insurance, my own sick time, all the overhead. It adds up.

MAXINE
Um, okay.

Stunned, MAXINE collects her tissues and does what she's told.

DOROTHY
Good luck. Sorry for your loss.

MAXINE (dazed)
Yeah. Sorry. Goodbye.

MAXINE exits. DOROTHY begins getting back to her manicure, her chips, etc. The doorbell/knock again.

DOROTHY
Oh, Christ on a bike. We're closed! Call and make an appointment! The number's on the door.

MALE VOICE
Pizza delivery.

DOROTHY
I didn't order a pizza.

MALE VOICE
Somebody ordered a pizza.

DOROTHY
Well, there's nobody here but me.

MALE VOICE
You must have ordered it then.

DOROTHY
I didn't.

MALE VOICE
Are you sure? (pause)

DOROTHY
Yeah, I'm sure.

DOROTHY goes to the door and opens it. BRIAN walks in. He is about 17, with baggy clothes and a baseball hat.

BRIAN
Huh. Well, that's very odd. I got the address right.

DOROTHY
What kind is it?

BRIAN
Small, plain, with an extra side of red pepper flakes.

DOROTHY
That's uncanny.

BRIAN
What?

DOROTHY
It's just weird. That's exactly what I usually order. But I haven't ordered a pizza in a week.

BRIAN
Maybe your dog ordered it. Ha ha ha.

DOROTHY
I don't have a dog.

BRIAN
Oh. I thought I heard a dog. Anyway, I guess it's a mistake. You can have the pie if you want.

DOROTHY
Really?

BRIAN
Sure why not.

DOROTHY
Great. Thanks.

Dorothy takes the pie, looks at him, waits for him to leave. BRIAN clears his throat.

BRIAN
Aren't you, um….

DOROTHY
Oh, yeah. Sorry.

She pulls out some small change and tips him.

BRIAN
No…not that. I didn't expect a tip. You're well-known as a non-tipper, actually.

DOROTHY
What? How can that be? I always tip.

BRIAN
Okay.

DOROTHY
So…thanks for the pizza.

BRIAN
Dorothy.

DOROTHY (a bit off-balance)
Yes?…

BRIAN
Don't you recognize me?

DOROTHY
I'm sorry. I'm sorry I don't.

BRIAN
Dorothy. It's me.

DOROTHY
I don't know who you are.

BRIAN
God, I don't believe it. What's happened to you?

Brian sits down on the floor, exasperated.

DOROTHY
What are you talking about? I've never seen you in my life.

BRIAN
You really don't recognize me.

DOROTHY shrugs.

BRIAN
It's Hal.

DOROTHY
Hal who?

BRIAN
Oh come on. Hal. Hal. THE Hal.

DOROTHY
No. (she sits down.) Oh my God. It couldn't be.

BRIAN
I swear.

DOROTHY
Can you prove it?

BRIAN
Prove it? I shouldn't have to prove it. And I don't really have time. I'm so not supposed to be here. (pause) Okay. Here we go.

BRIAN jumps out of his chair, and, like a playful dog, smiles at her and jumps sideways. DOROTHY jumps sideways in the other direction and BRIAN/HAL follows suit. DOROTHY picks up a rolled-up newspaper and waves it in front of BRIAN/HAL, who follows it visually with his entire head, and then jumps for it. DOROTHY rewards him with a potato chip, which she holds over his head, and which he eats from her hand.

DOROTHY
It is you. I can't believe it.

DOROTHY throws herself at BRIAN/HAL.

BRIAN
Okay, alright, that'll do.

DOROTHY
How are you?

BRIAN
I'm fine. You know. This is who I am now. I'm starting college next year. I have a nice enough family –

DOROTHY
Pets?

BRIAN
No, sister's allergic.

DOROTHY
Oh…

BRIAN
Yeah, it really blows. But listen. Forget about me. This is an emergency and I'm here to talk about you. I really don't have a lot of time.

DOROTHY
What's the emergency?

BRIAN
What's the emergency? You're the emergency, Dorothy. You are.

DOROTHY
How much…how much have you seen? –

BRIAN
-- Everything I need to see. I knew you were in trouble, but today really took the cake. That poor woman. Oh, I gotta lie down.

BRIAN/HAL lies down, dog-like, with his chin on his hands.

DOROTHY
You mean the one with the cat? (BRIAN/HAL heaves a deep sigh.) Yeah. Okay. I was a little hard on her.

BRIAN (gets up)
A little hard on her? You were brutal. She was in pain. Don't you remember how you felt when I died?

DOROTHY
It was a long time ago. But of course I remember. I was a wreck. I was inconsolable.

BRIAN
And what's this about "Animal spirits don't communicate that way?"

DOROTHY
I tried calling you and you didn't answer.

BRIAN
How many times did you try?

DOROTHY
Once right after you died --

BRIAN
-- I was probably still in transit. And the other time?

DOROTHY
It was later. A few months later.

BRIAN
Who knows, maybe I was taking a leak. Maybe I didn't feel like talking. And that was it? Just those two times? So you decided that if your Hal wouldn't talk to you, then nobody was going to get to talk to their dead dog. Is that it?

DOROTHY
No. That's not it at all.

BRIAN
Close enough. Jesus. Where's your compassion? Where's your generosity of spirit? And I can't believe you don't tip!

DOROTHY
I do tip!

BRIAN
Look at what you gave me! Look at this! This is 37 cents! I gave YOU a free pizza, and you gave ME 37 cents. Me. You gave me, Hal, 37 cents. You're better than this. I think you are, anyway.

DOROTHY
But I didn't know…I didn't know it was you. I'm sorry. Do you still love me?

BRIAN
I'm your dog. I can't help it. (pause) I have to go.

DOROTHY (tearful)
Can I…can I call you?

BRIAN
Yes. But you can keep this 37 cents. Enjoy the pie.
BRIAN exits. Lights shift – a gray-out. Then a candle is lit, and lights come up slowly. DOROTHY is dialing the phone.

DOROTHY
Hi, can I speak to Maxine? Hi, this is Dorothy, the pet psychic? We spoke earlier. I wanted to tell you that I was able to reach Luis. Yes. I was. He came through loud and clear. Anyway, he wanted me to tell you that he had a little pain at the end but he's fine now, and he wanted me to thank you for everything. That's unusual in a cat. You must have been really good to him. Oh, no charge. Sure, I'll give him that message. Yes, I think he will understand. He's a very smart cat.

Lights down. End.