Taking Flight: a monologue.
Cast: Michelle: female, around 50 years
Scene: an airport departure lounge.
Props needed: trolley case, cigarettes, compact, phone.
Michelle enters towing small flight bag, hopping awkwardly as she adjusts her sandal.
Well, thank God that's done! I really thought I'd deck that woman.
Who does she think she is? How should I know why I set the blasted alarm off.
Have you got anything beneath your top, Madam, she says. Well not half as much as you have, love! Fat cow. Not that I said it, of course. Smiled sweetly and simpered, only my bra. I know the type - slightest whiff of sarcasm and she'd have the disposable gloves out. God, don't you just hate airports?
She sits down, checks her shoes again and looks all around her. Chews her thumb nervously. Addresses member of audience
Oh, don't mind me, sweetie – just having one of my rants. Never did like planes. A week before a flight I find myself staring up at some silver bird sailing across the sky and thinking... next Monday I'll be up there....(Shudders) Thirty-odd thousand feet and nothing beneath you but...nothingness.
But here I am - I suppose that says something. Of course my Julie doesn't approve. When her Dad died, she had it all worked out – I'd sell up and put the money – my money – into this detached house she'd seen with a granny flat. Well, excuse my language, but (puts up hand and silently mouths word) fuck that! Me put up half the money and live in a converted garage! She goes on and on about Molly and Alice really needing bedrooms of their own and there's me feeling like the wicked witch of the west!
Takes packet of cigarettes from her pocket, puts one in her mouth, then takes it out again with a sigh. Calming gestures to audience.
Yeah, calm down, I'm sorry. Reflex action. Yeah, course I know. Don't tell me you never...
I always meant to break it to Julie gradually, but this house business put me on the spot. I had to tell her I've got plans of my own - there's this man, I said, an old school friend, who's got a place in Spain and, well, I'm going out there for a few weeks. I thought Julie was going to burst something. So when were you going to tell us, she shrieks. My mother, the merry widow! Then Michael, that's my son-in-law, he tries to calm her down. Mum needs a break, Jules, he says, after all those years looking after your dad. You can't expect her to decide about the house just like that. Well I don't think it's fair to keep them dangling, so I say, You should both know that if it works out, I'm thinking of moving out there permanently. To Spain. Then Julie says – to Michael, mind, not to me - I don't see when she had time to meet this chap. I've never heard of him. I can't believe my mother's putting some bloke before her own flesh and blood.
I don't about you, but I'm not a teenager, I shouldn't have to justify myself, but I kind of laugh – nervously – and say, I need to have a man about the house.
Now I like Michael, he's a good sort and a lovely dad, but sometimes I wonder if he's wilfully naïve. (Laughs) Don't be daft, Mum, he says, if we got the house together, we'd all be on hand and I could do any little jobs you need.
Shakes her head
You have to be gentle with him. No Mike, I say, I (taps her chest) need a man around. But Julie doesn't do gentle. For heaven's sake, Mike, she's not talking about putting shelves up – my mother is talking about sex. And I can see it dawning on him - the glimmer of understanding, then the flicker of interest, and then that little backwash of distaste. So I watch until he closes his mouth, swallows and then asks Julie what's for dinner.
Gets up and walks to side as if to look at departure screen.
Made sure I got a window seat. You might think that's strange, with my nerves, wanting to look out the window, but it works for me. Seeing the clouds or the mountains or even those little fields and roads and how you can tell it's not England just from the pattern of them.
Ray was like that with medical things - always wanted to know exactly what his pills were supposed to do.
I know I should have seen it coming, marrying a man so much older than me - nineteen I was, to Ray's thirty-seven - but then I was the girl who'd scooped the jackpot. Nice apartment, no money worries. Of course people had their say. Old enough to be her father! Well I was the youngest of five and my dad was a lot older than Ray. When you're forty and want to go out dancing, he'll be needing his slippers. I just laughed, because we had better things to do than go out dancing, and Ray, well, if ever a man was in his prime he was.
Gets out a compact and inspects her make-up, spots someone in the mirror. Beckons to audience and leans forward.
Look, see that man behind me? No, don't stare. Chap in uniform, pulling the case, looks like a pilot? That could have been Ray when we were married, that's the calibre of man he was.
D'you know, when I was fifteen I wanted to be an air hostess.
Course they don't call them that these days, it's cabin crew now. I liked the uniform and those little hats. And I fancied the stopovers, staying in hotels all over the world. Then there were the pilots... Well that dream lasted about a year. Until our school trip to Rome when I had a panic attack on the tarmac and Mrs Jenkins had to frogmarch me onto the plane.
Twenty years before I got on another one and only after Ray paid for that special fear of flying course. But then, we went everywhere for a few years, Ray, me and Julie, like we were making up for lost time, only the lost time was still to come.
Takes out phone
I ought to call Julie. I really don't want to fall out with her. Perhaps I'll just text - she'll be driving the girls home now, couldn't answer anyway. I don't suppose she appreciates it, but I did always try to shield her, make sure she didn't lose out too much when Ray got ill.
Still in my early forties I was, so Ray was like, sixty one - sixty two, when he was diagnosed. I'd never even heard of it then. What did the doctors say? In your husband's case the disease seems to be following a particularly aggressive course.
What that meant was that he needed a lot of attention - washing, feeding, dressing and, you know (whispers) toileting. Julie didn't see the half of it, away at uni and then marrying Michael. Ray had this special bed, electric, like in hospital, helped him sit up, and me, well I had to sleep in Julie's old room.
Even when he was ill though, Ray was always the gentleman. Never mind for better for worse, he said to me, you never signed up for this, Michelle love. A respite, that's what you need. So we got this woman once a week, Sheila, nice person, came five till nine, made Ray's tea, read to him, said you go on out Mrs Turner, have a break.
I'm not a person with a lot of women friends. I went to the pictures a few times or sat on my own in a restaurant, and then I'd go home, pay Sheila, kiss Ray goodnight and go to bed in Julie's room. And then one day I was reading the paper and I started looking down the lonely hearts columns – just for a laugh – and I suddenly thought, why not?
I avoided the ones desperate for love - I was married to Ray, nothing changed that. And the ones who expected 'broad-minded fun'. Discreet friendship, that was more my line. Someone to share a film or meal with, to talk to about normal things and forget about illness and pills and appointments. I didn't plan for anything more...
I won't bore you with the mistakes. (Giggles) No, really, I can't. Bless them, what's that saying about having to kiss a load of frogs...?
Opens case and takes out photo.
Well, it was worth it because I found Terry. So now you know. He's not a old school friend, that was a little white lie, because I couldn't face telling Julie I'd answered an ad in the paper. He's actually the same age as me, so it's perfectly plausible. Terry's been divorced for six years so there wasn't any need for him to be discreet, but he respected my situation - with his business in Spain and travelling a lot, he wasn't looking for commitment either.
It suited me, I didn't like to get Sandra in more than once a week. As it was I'd come home and Ray, would pucker up best he could and say, Must've been a good film, you look like you've enjoyed yourself. I swear he knew, but he never asked me anything, that's the sort of man he was.
Twisting and playing with her wedding ring.
I know it sounds silly, but I always felt he meant to set me free. Of course you can't will a heart attack to happen, but he must have got some warning, he only had to cry out...
Don't look at me like that – God's truth I never heard him! I'd only had a couple of G&Ts. It was an awful shock finding him in the morning, knowing I should have been there.
I didn't know how Terry would react, me suddenly being free. But he's really keen for me to come out to Spain. We're going to be partners in his car hire business. (looks thoughtful) Course, he'll still have to come to England a couple of times a month, look after his interests here. But it'll be ok. I'm sure it will. Then Julie and Michael can bring the girls out for a holiday. They'll like that.
Looks up as if at departure board
My flight's up at last. See - Malaga, gate 46. Well, here goes. Be in Spain with Terry in a couple of hours. Sometimes you've just got to take your courage in both hands. Trust that things will be all right.
I think I'll send Julie that text now.
Exit with case, phone in hand.
This monologue was written for the 2105 Bard of Frome competition.
Why the Isle of Lewis chess set queen? I've always felt an affinity for her: she looks as if she can't remember if she turned off the oven.