Home / Issue 34 / AWAY UP NORTH

AWAY UP NORTH

By Zac Thompson

CHARACTERS:

 

 

LINDSEY             would-be writer; gone off up North; late twenties

 

BETH                Lindsey’s sister-in-law; remedial ed. teacher; visiting from out of town; mid thirties

 

 

SCENE:              the tiny bedroom of Lindsey’s tiny apartment on the north side of Chicago

 

 

SYNOPSIS:           Lindsey, who has left her small town to pursue her dream of being a writer in the big city, hosts her sister-in-law, Beth, who’s in town for work. After a night out, each woman discovers the other carries her own private burden of disappointment.

 

* * *

 

A bedroom. BETH is performing her nightly pre-sleep ritual, but this isn’t her room. As she applies moisturizer, makes adjustments to the bed, and such, she casually, almost absentmindedly, snoops around.

 

A knock at the door gives her a guilty little start.

 

                         BETH

          Oh! Come on in!

 

The door opens and LINDSEY appears.

 

                         LINDSEY

          Hi, sorry. I just wanted to make sure you’re all set in here. And I need to grab a pillow.

 

                         BETH

          Oh, of course! Take whatever you need.

 

LINDSEY takes a pillow.

 

                         BETH, cont.         

          I feel so bad about kicking you out of your bed like this!

 

                         LINDSEY

          It’s no trouble at all.

 

                         BETH

          I could have stayed at the hotel where they’re having the conference. That’s where all the other teachers               are staying. A hotel full of remedial ed. teachers –- can you imagine? 

           

                         LINDSEY

          No, I don’t think I can. But I’m glad you’re here.

                         BETH

          You’re sweet, but nobody wants to shack up with their ol’ sister-in-law. And I just hate kicking you out of               your bed like this!

                         LINDSEY

          It’s totally fine —- really.

              

                         BETH

          I don’t know why I assumed there’d be another bedroom. I always forget how itty bitty these city                             apartments are.

                         LINDSEY

          Yeah, sorry about that . . .

                         BETH

          I’m sure you city gals get used to it.

This is embarrassing, so an awkward pause descends.

                         LINDSEY

          Right. . . .

                         BETH

          I had so much fun tonight. Your friends are great!

                         LINDSEY

          Those were just some people from work . . .

                         BETH

          Well, they were great. And so sweet to take a little country mouse like me out on the town! What was the               name of that area where we went?

                         LINDSEY

          Lakeview?

                         BETH

          See, I was going to guess Wrigleyville. The Cubs stadium was right there.

                         LINDSEY

          Well, Wrigleyville is part of Lakeview. It’s like a subsection?

                         BETH

          Oh goodness. I don’t know how you all keep these things straight. I’d be calling Lakeview Wrigleyville and             Wrigleyville I don’t know what.

                         LINDSEY

          Yeah, it can be confusing I guess . . .

              

                         BETH

          I do like how much character the neighborhoods have up here, though. It’s just so nice to see some                         diversity for a change.

                         LINDSEY

          In Lakeview?

                         BETH

          It’s a far cry from home, I can tell you that. You should hear some of the things people say –- even some of           the other teachers at school! I’m like, “We’re supposed to be educators!” What kind of kids are we going to             be raising if we’re still talking like it’s before the Civil War, you know?

                         LINDSEY

          Yeah, I mean, you’re right.

                         BETH

          That’s why it’s so refreshing to see such diversity, such a blending of, of . . .

                         LINDSEY

          There’s a little of that, but it’s still a very segregated city.

                         BETH

          Oh, I don’t think so. I think it’s just right. Especially compared to home. You want to talk about segregated               cities, we can talk about segregated cities. And just years of entrenched, just deep-seated –- You should               hear some of the things my own father says when he gets all riled up on Fox News.

                         LINDSEY

          Does Mr. Miller watch Fox News?

                         BETH

          Are you kidding? They all do! Every one of them. You turn 50 back home, and it’s like you sign a contract to           spend six hours a day sitting in front of Fox News and railing about immigrants. I mean it –- the very same           day you turn 50. It’s like getting your AARP card.

                         LINDSEY

          My parents don’t watch it, do they?

                         BETH

          Tom and Linda? Oh goodness no. Your mother says cable news is racket and you know your mother: She               can’t stand racket. Even if the racket is coming from her own grandchildren. Poor Collins and Halsey have             to sit there on her couch like they’re in Sunday School, terrified of making a peep.

                         LINDSEY

          Well, she says she has sensitive ears . . .

                         BETH

          It’s like I tell your brother, who never could stand up to her as you know -- like I tell Nathan, it would just be           nice if --

She stops herself.

                         BETH, cont.

          But anyway. I actually don’t hear much political talk of any sort from Tom and Linda, now that I think of it.             So maybe they’re the exceptions and they don’t watch Fox News. But I don’t know what they talk about                 with their friends at church or wherever because everybody else that age watches it just nonstop. And                   even a lot of the people our age feel the same Fox-Newsy way, even if they don’t watch Fox News. They’re             just Fox News watchers-in-waiting. Lord, the uniformity of it!

                         LINDSEY

          That used to drive me crazy, too. The way everybody seemed to be in complete agreement about                             everything. Everybody but me, I mean.

               BETH

          Tell me about it! That’s what I mean by how refreshing it is to see such diverse . . . you know, groups —                   What was the name of that guy we were hanging out with tonight? Roberto? He’s so funny!

              

                         LINDSEY

          You mean Robert? I think some of his friends call him Roberto sometimes as a joke, but I’m pretty sure it’s           just Robert.

                         BETH

          Well but yeah, but he’s Latino, right?

                         LINDSEY

          Right . . .  

                         BETH

          You see, that’s what I mean! So refreshing! To see a group of friends with such diversity --

                         LINDSEY

          Okay, but as I said, he’s not like a close friend or anything. Just somebody I know from work. All those                   people were just people I know from work. They were going out tonight anyway and since I knew you’d be             in town -- To tell you the truth, it hasn’t been the easiest thing to break into like a preexisting group of                   friends here. I never know where you’re supposed to meet new people.

                         BETH

          I just think it must be so cool, living on your own in the big city, doing your writing thing and, I don’t know,             going to bars and brunches and all. You’re still doing your writing thing, aren’t you?

                         LINDSEY

          Here and there. When I have time . . .

                         BETH

          See? That’s what I mean! What’s the name of that newspaper where you work?

                         LINDSEY

          I don’t –- I’m temping at the law firm. With the people you met tonight?

                         BETH

          Oh I know, but don’t you also –-

              

                         LINDSEY

          Sometimes –- In the past, I’ve written some stuff for the alt-weekly –- just a couple quick Q&As and a                     profile of this outsider artist –- but that was all freelance.

                         BETH

          See, I don’t even know what half of those words mean! That is so neat.

                         LINDSEY

          It’s really no big deal. Actually, my writing, it –- Well, that’s another area where I’m not really making as                 much progress as I would have liked.    

                         BETH

          Oh, you’re too modest. You’ve always been too modest. You never could take a compliment.

                         LINDSEY

          I just didn’t want you to get an inaccurate picture –-

                         BETH

          I don’t have an inaccurate picture –-

                         LINDSEY

          -- and then go back home and –-

                         BETH

          I wouldn’t! I’m just saying it’s cool is all. To have a thing you want to pursue and then to come up here and             pursue it. I think it’s admirable. I really do.

                         LINDSEY

          You talk like I’m curing cancer or –- It was a 500-word profile of that outsider artist. And it had been edited           beyond recognition by the time it finally came out. And you’re a special ed. teacher, Beth! What’s more                   admirable than that?

                         BETH

          Remedial ed. And big whoop. I help some confused kids stumble their way through school for a while so               they can MAYBE graduate and get jobs at Walmart. Or get addicted to opioids. Or both. Did I tell you they                 took away Lexi Davis’s twins?

                         LINDSEY

          No! Are you serious?

                         BETH

          She OD’d right there at one of their gymnastics meets. Family services had no choice.

                         LINDSEY

          Lexi was in Nathan’s year. She was always so pretty.

                         BETH

          You wouldn’t think that now. She weighs about 11 pounds and there’s just nothing behind the eyes. I’m                   telling you, Linds: The options are very limited back home nowadays. That’s why you’re lucky.

                         LINDSEY

          I know. I am. It’s just . . .

                         BETH

          Just what?

                         LINDSEY

          I don’t know. Lately I’ve been thinking . . . They have these accelerated nursing programs where if you go               full time, you can finish in a year.

                         BETH

          Full time? But what about your job?

                         LINDSEY

          Well, that’s the thing: I’d probably have to move back home for a while –-

                         BETH

          What?!

                         LINDSEY

          -   just until I finished the program. I wouldn’t be

          able to afford it otherwise. There are pretty good nursing courses at Weston and that’s only 15 minutes                 from Mom and Dad’s house. And then afterwards, I could decide whether I wanted to move back here or               maybe stay home or –-

                         BETH

          Stay home? What are you saying?

                         LINDSEY

          It’s not such a bad place to be.

                         BETH

          Our hometown? The one with the meat processing plant that makes everything smell like slaughtered                   hogs?

                         LINDSEY

          It has plenty of positive qualities, too. And anyway, it’s where I’m from. Where we’re both from.

                         BETH

          I cannot believe what I’m hearing! What about your writing, your life here in the city, your friends and the               brunches and everything? You’d be willing to give all that up for some, what, accelerated nursing program           at the community college back home? That sounds like something my dumb sister would register for and             then drop out of after six weeks because she has to take her boyfriend’s kid to physical therapy –- Did I tell           you Rodney got in an accident on his four-wheeler?  

                         LINDSEY

          I’m not sure you’re listening to what I’m telling you, Beth.

                         BETH

          And I’m not sure you’re listening to ME. Lindsey, you are bound for bigger things – a fuller life – than what             we have back there, I promise you.

                         LINDSEY

          I don’t think so, Beth. I mean, I guess DID think so. Once. My mom says the whole reason I went away in the           first place was because I was always “acting superior.” And maybe I was. But now that I know I’m NOT                   superior, what am I supposed to do? Stay on here in mediocrity forever, piling up disappointment after                   disappointment?

                         BETH

          Well, that does sound like something your mother would say. But do you know what I think this is?                         Homesickness. That’s all in the world it is. And it’s

                         BETH

          completely natural to get homesick from time to time. I mean, I imagine that to be true. I wouldn’t really                 know. But I imagine it to be true.

                         LINDSEY

          Okay, but I think it’s more than that.

                         BETH

          But it’s not though! Because to suggest otherwise would be to suggest that our town is a place worth                     missing. To be honest, you should be glad you’re homesick because it means you got away. You’re not                   stuck at home. Better to be homesick than stuck-sick, right?

                         LINDSEY

          Is that how you feel? Stuck-sick?

                         BETH

          Me? Oh, of course not. I don’t have time to feel any kind of sick, what with teaching and shuttling the kids               between lessons for stuff they’re never gonna need in real life –- Did I tell you Halsey made first chair in               orchestra?

                         LINDSEY

          Did she really?

                         BETH

          Yeah, the girl she takes lessons from over at the university says she has real talent. Though it’s hard to tell           how much of that is just blowing smoke. What’s she gonna say? “This child is a worthless clod and I won’t             accept any more money from you no matter how much you beg”? Let’s not forget I have some experience             in the blowing-smoke-at-parents department myself. Lord knows I’ve done my share of putting a positive

          spin on the educational prospects of various illiterate pyromaniacs I’ve had the pleasure of teaching long             division to.

                         LINDSEY

          Well but it sounds like Halsey is getting pretty good?

              

                         BETH

          She is. She’s good. I didn’t mean to make it sound like . . . It’s just that kids take so many lessons. You                     know? Musical instruments, gymnastics, Mandarin Chinese. It’s like they’re preparing for these full and                 exciting lives, when the truth is that the full and exciting parts are over for most of us before we’re old                   enough to vote. Maybe it’s the parents who should be taking lessons. I wouldn’t mind learning Mandarin               Chinese.

                         LINDSEY

          That’s my point. I feel like I’ve spent my whole life getting ready to be this person I’m never going to be. 

                         BETH

          No but you’re different, Linds. Compared to the rest of us? You got out. You don’t get out and then go back             in. That’s just -- You can’t do that. Can you?

They think about this for a moment.

                         LINDSEY

          Sometimes I wonder if . . . Beth, do you think anybody is happy? Like anybody at all? Like on earth?

                         BETH

          Of course I do! Plenty of people are happy!

Beat

                         BETH

          But do you mean like long-term happy?

                         LINDSEY

          Yes.

                         BETH

          Oh.

Pause

                         BETH, cont.

          Well, in that case, no.

LINDSEY thinks about this. BETH goes back to her moisturizer.

End