Never Been Close
Like most of us, some things about Deb Rainshaw are obvious. Late thirties, well preserved, well dressed - a woman who knows how to look good in baggy shorts or an evening gown. She appears reasonably well-off but there’s an edge about her – just a hint of brittle confidence that makes us wonder…
In her late model car, on her mobile, she shows both tension and a streak of self-centredness. She has left an invitation at her office and has to ask her secretary for the address for her Uncle Harold’s wake – and her Aunt’s name. She justifies this by reminding her secretary she hasn’t seen her Aunt in more than 30 years. When a creditor calls, she lays on the charm – then swears when she’s hung up. The third call is to her husband, Ron. She’s running late. She’ll get the check but they won’t have time to bank it this afternoon. There’s more than a hint of friction in the brief conversation.
She arrives at the wake just as everyone’s leaving.
At first glance, Deb’s Aunt Gladys is a sweet little old lady, a grieving widow, a well-liked person with a close circle of friends. With Deb’s appearance, we catch a glimpse of something blacker beneath. Her eyes follow Deb’s entrance – with calculation, not pleasure.
Deb rehearses her own ‘grieving demeanor’ in the bathroom – then reappears to find everyone’s left the wake. She’s alone with her aunt.
Deb tries to hide her discomfort – Gladys tries to hide her glee.
These two strangers stand in the debris of the wake. Deb is genuinely awkward, her attempts at condolences forced yet almost endearing.
Gladys tries almost too hard to assure Deb she doesn’t have to stay. She knows how busy she is…
Deb is trapped.
Following her Aunt into the kitchen, she is stunned to find the woman in tears. Deb has an act for every occasion – but not this.
Slowly, Gladys dries her tears and collects herself – and insists once again that Deb needn’t stay. In fact, Gladys shoos her out of the kitchen – she’ll be fine…
Deb stands at the restaurant’s front door, biting her lip.
In the kitchen, Gladys waits. She doesn’t look quite so tearful now. Of course, Deb appears at the door.
The first true words are spoken between the two of them as Deb asks if there isn’t something she can do and Gladys answers there really isn’t. However – how about a quick drink?
A little of Deb’s tension eases as they sit in the courtyard area. Gladys starts her well-rehearsed approach to the topic of Harold. Deb is suddenly apologetic – she doesn’t even know how her Uncle died.
Aunt Gladys points to a stain on the kitchen ceiling – all that’s left of her husband. A faulty gas stove, Harold’s usual ‘she’ll be right’ and – boom.
All pretence falls from Deb as she takes this in. Gladys continues to reminisce – did she realize how closely Harold followed her career? From her look, we know Deb did not. She’s amazed – she hasn’t seen either of them since she was an infant…
For a moment, the two of them are like any family members talking about the old days. Gladys even brings out an old family album. Deb’s eyes widen when she spots her uncle as a young man. What a looker! Gladys’ response is less enthusiastic – yes, he was. Briefly, Deb remarks on a missing photo.
Over a second glass of wine, Deb decides they have to remove Harold from the ceiling!
It is while Gladys holds the ladder and Deb scrubs that we see the same ‘shedding of tension’ from the old lady. She watches her niece - not with calculation but real interest.
They decide another drink is needed.
They’ve come this far, we see the two of them wandering how they can get to the point. They have just begun to talk of Harold’s death when Deb’s mobile rings. It’s her husband, obviously not happy. Deb covers as best she can and cuts the call short but Gladys isn’t dumb. She bridges the awkward moment by asking after Deb’s mother Anne. Once again, Deb’s stung into an apology – her mother would have come except…Gladys sweeps the excuse aside. Anne’s the most self-centred, uncaring person she knows. Gladys tempers her remark by smiling sweetly and adding she’s sure Anne feels the same about her. Deb takes this opportunity to ask something she’s always wanted to ask – what is the problem between the two of them? That sharp look comes back to Gladys – but she shrugs it off – something that happened years and years ago.
Another drink. Gladys pretends to suddenly remember Harold’s bequeathal. Deb’s embarrassed – she didn’t come just for the money.
Another drink. Gladys is the first to loosen up. She looks torn between two emotions when she tells Deb that Harold was very, very fond of her. Deb doesn’t understand. Another drink. Gladys asks about Ron. The stiffness returns to Deb’s face. As though she’s wanted to say it all along, she says their business is in a bit of financial trouble. Just temporary…
Gladys has to laugh – with Harold, temporary was a permanent thing – till she took over the running of the restaurant. Something seems to twig with Deb – has she had this same thought of her husband? Gladys goes on – surely her wealthy mother is able to help them out? The two look at each other with a new understanding – they both know the answer to that one. To get back to neutral ground, they return to the photo album. Families, eh? Memories and secrets. Talk moves naturally to children – most especially Deb’s lack of. This is harder and Deb fobs it off by asking if Gladys had any children. Their closeness moves another notch as Gladys admits she couldn’t. Deb comments that the only thing that separates their family from mediocrity is her unknown father. Gladys waits for her to say more. Deb waits for Gladys to comment. Deb gives in first and asks her aunt if she knew her real dad. Gladys thinks before saying she did. Deb is desperate for her aunt to say more. The brittle businesswoman is gone – the little girl wants to know.
The turning point for Gladys – this is the revelation she’s waited to make. And she can’t. She covers – she and Anne may hate each other but a promise is a promise…
Deb doesn’t like this at all – and at last her real bitterness towards her mother comes out. She’s the ‘mother who wasn’t’ – wasn’t loving, wasn’t there, wasn’t supportive – wouldn’t even give Deb the chance to know her real dad. Gladys steers the conversation away from this. Is Deb thinking of kids? Deb bravely pours another glass of wine and declares she is not. Gladys studies her niece – and perceptively tells her that bad motherhood isn’t hereditary.
The dance of these two women has ended. It is Deb who cries – why couldn’t her mother have been more like her!?? Watching her niece, Gladys makes the comment that underscores her turning point – ‘just for a moment, you didn’t look like your mother at all…’
The two women finally see what binds them – hatred of Anne. This moment is broken by the shrill call of Deb’s mobile. Gladys goes to the kitchen and pulls a brown envelope from the till. Inside there is a check, a photo – and a card. On the card is written ‘To my daughter.’ Gladys looks at it sadly, takes a deep breath, apologises to the splot on the ceiling which is Harold and holds the card over the flame.
In the courtyard, we hear a new tone to Deb’s voice. There’s food in the fridge and a stove near the sink – maybe Ron can put the two of them together? She hangs up and stifles a giggle. Overhearing this last part of the conversation, Gladys smiles.
Deb stands – she really does have to go. Once again, she’s awkward as she apologises for never visiting her and Harold. She may not be much but she wants Gladys to remember she is family. She hugs her aunt and heads for the door. Gladys smiles. Calls to her quietly and holds out the check. Deb laughs in shock – she’d forgotten it! Gladys holds her warmly and gives her a final gift – the old photo we saw before. Baby Deb and her Uncle Harold, an odd likeness in their smiles. Deb turns it over, looking for some message. There is none so Gladys supplies it – ‘He loved you, Deb.’