ALTERATIONS - Jan Edwards

A short play in 1 act


CHARACTERS:

ALICIA 15 years old. She wears a school uniform that is very large for her.
GILLIAN Her mother, 40ish, dressed in shirt and slacks, also very large for her.
LAUREN Gillian's sister 45-50, Alicia's aunt. A smaller woman than the other two, however her clothes fit.

SETTING: A kitchen with somewhat oversized table and chairs.

TIME: Late afternoon, now.

ACT I SCENE 1

(A modest kitchen, after school. Gillian is standing on a step stool washing dishes at the sink, wearing oversized clothing. Her sleeves and cuffs are rolled up. Gillian scans the radio channels for news, but snaps the radio off when she hears the screen door slam. Alicia enters. Her school uniform is very large. The plaid skirt is almost to her ankles with a large safety pin holding in the waistband. Her white shirt looks like a nightgown. She tosses her giant saddle shoes onto the floor.)

ALICIA
These stupid shoes fell right off my feet. What the hell is going on?

GILLIAN
I don't know. I called your dad, but it keeps going to message.

ALICIA
(pulling at her skirt's waistband)
Just look at this! Whatever happened must be really awful.

(Alicia drops her backpack and flops into a chair. Her feet don't touch the floor. She quickly leafs through the newspaper on the table.)

I don't see anything. What about the radio?

GILLIAN
I couldn't find anything. Maybe there was a sudden downturn or crash, something to do with the recession.

ALICIA
No, when it's the recession it hits everybody. Every kid at school shrinks. But today it was just me. Damn. I was already the shortest in my class.
(With a dramatic sigh, Alicia puts her head on the table.)

GILLIAN
Come on, all the scholarship students are short. You know what they say: The shorter the smarter.

ALICIA
Well it's humiliating. I wish I could just go back to public school with the other lowlifes.

(Alicia crosses to a doorjamb and backs up against it.)

Measure me!

(Gillian shakes her head no)

I mean it. Measure me.

GILLIAN
(Gillian reluctantly takes a ruler from a nearby nail, holds it on top to Alicia's head and makes a pencil mark.)
I don't know why you insist on doing this to yourself. Size is not the most important thing in life.

ALICIA
4 inches! Do you see this? Here I was on Monday and now I'm here. It's the biggest drop ever.
(She fishes her cell from the backpack. She listens to the recorded message and then, sarcastically.)

Hi, Daddy. This is your loving daughter Alicia. What the hell is going on?

GILLIAN
(Snatching the phone from Alicia and turning it off.)
Hey. The last thing your father needs is to hear that kind of talk right now. You're acting like this is the first time it ever happened. Don't be so dramatic.

ALICIA
Want to hear something dramatic? I was walking down the hall and my skirt fell completely off and then I tripped over my shoes and fell flat on my face.

GILLIAN
I'm sorry, Honey. But I'm sure nobody noticed.

ALICIA
No? A crowd of boys were standing over me laughing and calling me a shrinker until the vice principal broke it up. He told them, quote: it's cruel to make fun of the downwardly mobile. But you're right, I must be overreacting.

GILLIAN
Sit down and have some coffee. I made biscotti.

ALICIA
Biscotti? You made biscotti? Look at yourself. Your pants are rolled up 6 inches and you have to use a step stool to reach the sink. We're obviously in the middle of a crisis and you decide it's time to whip up some biscotti. What's wrong with you? Are you on something?

GILLIAN
Just a half a Valium. Here take the other half.
(Alicia stares at her mother then shrugs and holds out her hand. Gillian hands her the pill and a mug of coffee. Alicia takes a sip to down the pill. A car pulls into the driveway.)

ALICIA
Hey, what's that? Is he home?
(They both peer out the kitchen window)

Oh great, Lauren. What a surprise. Why do you always have to call her?

(Before Gillian can answer, Lauren enters dragging a heavy portable sewing machine. Shorter and chattier than the other two, she is dressed in bohemian style clothes which more or less fit. She drops the machine by the table.)

LAUREN
I got here as fast as I could. My god, the traffic! Come here, Ali Cat.
(She hugs Gillian and then Alicia who accepts reluctantly)

ALICIA
Hi, Aunt Lauren.

LAUREN
Look at you. You call this small? Both of you still have 3 inches on me. My god, I thought you were an inch high the way you made it sound on the phone. Did you figure out what happened?

GILLIAN
No. Haven't heard from Rick yet. I'm guessing his hours got cut.

LAUREN
So it was just the one drop?

ALICIA
One giant drop! We never had such a big one. Not all at once like this.

Coffee? I made chocolate biscotti.

LAUREN
Great I'm starved. And cheer up, Ali Cat. Be glad you don't have real troubles like my downstairs neighbor. You remember Mrs. Browning, right below me?

GILLIAN
We're out of milk.

LAUREN
Black's fine. She's 84 years old and all she has to her name is a handful of penny stocks. They bounce up and down all day long and she goes right along with them. It's giving her the vertigo. I told her, Lois you should just dump those shares, but she won't hear of it. She's taken to wearing a mumu now. It's the only thing that can handle that much volatility. But she always has a smile on her face.

ALICIA
The stock market isn't our problem.

LAUREN
Thank goodness for that. Give me a hand with the machine, would you sweetie?
(Alicia helps lift the sewing machine onto the table and Lauren begins to set it up.)
You know you really should learn how to sew. I'd be more than happy to teach you. Everybody needs alterations these days. It's a growth industry. I'm busy as a beaver.

ALICIA
Yeah, they all need alterations but they don't have the money to pay.

GILLIAN
Alicia!

ALICIA
What? That's what Lauren said last time she was here. Didn't you?

LAUREN
Well, these are tough times. I saw in a magazine that 5 is the new 10, but just look around. Nobody's 5 feet tall anymore. Try 2 maybe 3 if someone in the family still has a job with benefits. And those scams that promise you'll gain 3 inches in a week are just rip-offs that leave you shorter than you started. Now up on the chair. We've got to get to work on that skirt before school tomorrow.
(Alicia stands on a chair. Lauren marks the hem with pins)
All the women in our family tend to be short. Your second cousin Amanda is a poet so she's really down there, I'm talking under a foot some months. We start out somewhere near the middle and just seem to shrink as we get older. It's nothing to worry about. Just the way things are. There you go, hop down.

ALICIA
(Alicia rolls her eyes. Stepping down from the chair she slips out of the skirt, handing it to Lauren: this is something they do all the time. Her shirt is long enough to cover her.)
Don't cut it, okay? Just tack it up. This is only temporary.

LAUREN
I don't know if I can, Ali Cat. This skirt already has a big hem from last month when your mom took a week off work with that flu. If I take it up another 3 inches it won't hold the pleats. And I really have to take some fabric out of the waistband.
(Alicia crashes her head onto the table top, pouting.)
Okay, okay. I'll see what I can do without cutting any fabric off.

ALICIA
Thanks. I don't care about the pleats just as long as the damn thing doesn't fall off. And Mom, what am I going to do about shoes? Lauren can't take them in.
(Gillian fusses around the kitchen. Lauren picks out the hem on the skirt.)

LAUREN
The Salvation Army near my place is open till seven. They have racks and racks of shoes. I'm sure we can find you something.

ALICIA
Gross. No offence, but I don't get why Lauren always comes over when stuff like this happens. It doesn't make any sense. Why don't we just call Aunt Emily?

GILLIAN
Emily is so busy these days with her practice and besides, your dad doesn't like her getting involved in our finances.

ALICIA
Why the hell not? What is she like 20 feet tall or something? She could just toss us one of her extra credit cards and make this all go away.

GILLIAN
You know how your dad feels about handouts.

ALICIA
Yeah, I know. Meanwhile Aunt Emily has a humongous mansion all to herself while we live in this rundown shack. Soon we'll be living in a cardboard box.

LAUREN
I have an idea. Why don't we all just shrink ourselves down till we can fit in your old Barbie Dream House. You always used to say you wanted to live there, so let's do it. We can save on rent and the closet is already full of fabulous outfits.
(Gillian laughs but Alicia is still upset.)

ALICIA
This isn't funny. It's real and it's bad.

LAUREN
How do you know it's bad? It could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you.

ALICIA
Oh man, please don't start on that again. I'm sick of hearing how cool it is to be short. If it's so cool why do the hottest women wear the highest heels.

GILLIAN
Alicia, don't talk that way to your aunt, after she comes all the way over here just to fix your clothes for you. Lauren has always stood up for the little guy. Height is not the only way a person will be judged. Remember all the saints were short. Some were so small they could dance on the head of a pin.

ALICIA
Seems like all the preachers these days are pretty damn tall.

LAUREN
You know most of the famous artists were tiny when they were alive. The great painter Gauguin lived for years in a coconut shell on the beach in Tahiti. And they say Cezanne was so little he used to sneak into the Paris salons in the coat pocket of his patron. Did I ever tell you about the time Dylan Thomas passed out on the floor of a pub and was dragged off by a cat who thought he was a mouse?

ALICIA
Yeah, yeah and Toulouse-Lautrec fell into a bottle of absinthe and almost drowned. I know. So what? I don't want to be an artist or a saint.

GILLIAN
Well that's why you need to stay at Country Day and study hard. Then you can go to a good college and become as tall as you want. The sky's the limit.

LAUREN
Why do you keep telling her those stories, Gillian? She's old enough to know the truth. Open your eyes, Ali. Can't you see how things are? The tall get taller and the small get smaller.

GILLIAN
You know we don't like that levelist talk in this house. Rick and I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. This is the country of opportunity.

LAUREN
Oh right. "Anybody can grow up to be 100 feet tall if he just puts his mind to it." That was Grandpa's line, remember? That poor old man worked like a slave his whole life and never once got to 4 feet. He was so small when he died we could have buried him in a shoe box.

ALICIA
Aunt Emily says that top grades are the way up.

LAUREN
Your aunt Emily married into a gigantic family then bailed out with a huge settlement. Plus she never had kids.
(Gillian gives her a glare so she backtracks)

But I'm not saying a good education doesn't give you a step up, it's just not the sure thing it once was. And if you aren't careful with the student loans they'll drag you down so far you'll never get out from under them.
(Gillian makes a slashing gesture across her throat)

But I'm sure you'll be the exception. You will rise to the top of the class, Ali Cat, the top of the world.
(The phone rings. Alicia dives for it but Gillian grabs it.)

GILLIAN
(Gillian walks downstage to talk. Alicia and Lauren eavesdrop.)
Hello, Rick? Oh thank god, how are you? Yes. Oh my god, you're kidding, why? India? Oh my god. Well, of course. Of course. You take your time. We'll be here.
(She hangs up and sits down at the table)
Rick's job is going to India.

ALICIA
What? We're moving to India? I'm not going. No way.

GILLIAN
No. They're only moving the plant to India. They're leaving the workers. Your dad's been downsized.

ALICIA
Downsized? Like laid off?

GILLIAN
Yes. Permanently.

ALICIA
But he'll just get another job, right? Like the other times.

GILLIAN
Of course he will. He'll find something I'm sure. It might not be in his field, he may have to take lower pay…we might need to move,…but your dad's the kind of guy who will always…land on his feet.
(Gillian's voice trails off as she stares into the unknown.)

ALICIA
(Alicia walks away dialing her cell phone.)
Aunt Emily, it's Alicia. Hey, I wonder if you could come get me after work. I need to get some shoes at the mall. For school. No she's cool with it. Then, we could go for sushi and I could even stay over at your place tonight if that's okay with you? No, I'm sure they won't mind. Great, see you soon.

LAUREN
Gillian. I hate to say it but under the circumstances…?
(Lauren holds the skirt and a pair of scissors up to Gillian and pantomimes cutting.)

GILLIAN
( nodding sadly)
Cut.

(Blackout)

The End

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