• Zoe Kerr

BRICK BY BRICK



JESSE, a slight woman in her 20s, and RALPH, her father clad in red, white, and blue, sit in his 2013 Land Rover.


RALPH is a little worn around the edges, but takes a moment to smile at JESSE.

JESSE returns the smile and shivers. Without a word, RALPH reaches and turns off the A/C. Jesse nods a ‘thank you.’


RALPH

Your mom made firecracker shrimp. Used to be your favorite.


JESSE

Yeah.


RALPH

And she got some stuff for mocktails. That, uh, what do you call it...the stuff that looks like champagne…


JESSE

Sparkling cider?


RALPH

Yeah, she grabbed that for you. And the rest of us, of course. We’re all gonna have mocktails.


JESSE

Thanks for doing that.


RALPH

You can thank her for that.


He undoes his seat belt and opens the car door a few inches before noticing JESSE frozen in place.

He gently shuts the car door. Turns on the radio, some nu-country station.


They sit for a long moment. JESSE stares straight ahead, lightly fingering the frayed edge of her sleeve. She’s tried to dress up. A blue denim jacket. White t-shirt. Jeans. Her dyed bright red hair with several inch long dark brown roots completes the Fourth of July trifecta.


JESSE

Did Jamie make his—


RALPH turns down the volume on the radio.


JESSE

Sorry.


RALPH

Did Jamie make his what?


JESSE

His, uh, sludge dessert. The one with the peanut butter and cocoa powder--


RALPH

Oh, Driven Snow! No, your mom forbid it. She said no one wants to eat dessert that looks like shit at a family gathering, no matter how good it tastes.


JESSE

I don’t think it’s a family gathering, it’s just dinner, right?


RALPH glances at her.


RALPH

Your mom didn’t tell you.


JESSE

Tell me what?


A hand knocks at the glass on RALPH’s side, and he and JESSE jump. RALPH lowers the window, and SHARON, RALPH’s sister, pops her head in.


SHARON

Ralphie! I was so confused, I didn’t realize you took Linda’s car--


She spots Jesse in the passenger seat.


SHARON

Oh my goodness, you are a sight for sore eyes! You look so good! Ralphie, why didn’t you mention how good she looks?


RALPH shifts in his seat and avoids looking at JESSE, who is visibly disturbed.


RALPH

Well, I only saw her about 2 hours ago so I figured she and I better catch up before I start bringing other people in.


SHARON

Jesse, sweetie! How are you, hon? You look fabulous, you got some color back in your cheeks!


JESSE

Hi, Aunt Sharon. I wasn’t expecting to see you.


SHARON

Well, honey, it’s the Fourth! Of course the whole family is here!


JESSE

You’re right. Why would I ever expect this to be a private occasion?


She looks at RALPH, who already appears remorseful.


SHARON

I gotta run inside and keep helping your mom, but I wanted to let y’all know that Rowdy brought some fireworks for us to enjoy after dinner!


RALPH

Thought I told that knucklehead to leave the explosives at home—


SHARON

There you go, being a downer!


She laughs before reaching a hand into the car, past RALPH and over to JESSE. JESSE takes it reluctantly.

SHARON

Sweetheart, I am so glad you’re home, even if it’s just for the weekend. I was praying for you every night. When Linda called and told me what happened, I just about lost my mind worrying about you. Rowdy wrote a whole song about it. It’s just beautiful. Oh gosh...sorry--


She wipes away a tear.


SHARON

Was not expecting that reaction! Ew! Why am I crying? This is a happy occasion!


A beat.


SHARON

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I am in awe of your strength.


JESSE

Thank you, Aunt Sharon.


She pulls her hand back and blows a kiss to JESSE. She jogs back to the house.


RALPH and JESSE sit in silence.


RALPH

You have every right to be angry. I thought your mom told you. I told her to tell you—


JESSE

Can you take me back? I’m not ready. I’m sorry, but I just realized I’m not.


RALPH

You don’t want to say hi to your mom first? Let her see how much better you are?


JESSE

She saw the photos.


RALPH

Jamie was really excited to see you and play video games. Keeps asking if you still like the one with the horses and the cowboys--with that guy, Andrew--


JESSE

Dad, I can’t do this. I wasn’t expecting a ton of people, and if all of them are going to react like—like that, then I don’t want to be here.


RALPH

I can tell them to be normal.


JESSE

That won’t work in this family.


RALPH

I’m sorry. I really thought she told you.


JESSE

I know. This isn’t your fault.


A long silence.


RALPH

You don’t even want to hear the song Rowdy wrote for you? It’s not half bad. Boys dumber than a bag of bricks, but he’s got an ear for songwriting.


JESSE

I’ll hear it when I’m better.


RALPH

You seem like you’re better. A lot better than before.


JESSE

Not hard to be better than—than that.


RALPH winces, an unwelcome memory flooding his senses.


JESSE

I just don’t want to be the fuck-up that died and went to rehab.


RALPH

I don’t think anyone sees you that way.


JESSE

Everyone sees me that way. Even Aunt Sharon, she’s being so nice but all I can hear is: ‘Fuck-up, fuck-up, fuck-up…’


RALPH

I don’t see you that way. You were in pain, and you found something that made the pain go away. Frankly, I’m shocked more people don’t do what you did, with how miserable everyone seems to be.


JESSE

I know a guy if you ever decide to go that route.


RALPH

I’m not miserable. I’m thrilled my daughter is home. If you want, I can make it a rule that no one’s allowed to mention what happened.


JESSE

Can you make it a rule that no one is allowed to call me strong?


RALPH

Not that I feel any sorta way about the word, but why do you feel so…


JESSE

(smiling a little)

Strongly about it?


RALPH

I was trying to not say it, but yeah.


JESSE

Everyone uses that as their default compliment. But I’m not strong. That’s why I’m in rehab.


RALPH

You could not be more wrong.


She looks at him, surprised.


RALPH

You stayed in the program. You decided to stay. You may not have asked for help in the beginning, but you sure as hell asked to keep the help you were given. I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I know a strong woman when I see one, and you are a strong woman. And I am so proud of you. No matter what happens.


He’s holding her hand. JESSE is crying.


JESSE

(desperately)

Why isn’t Mom proud of me?


RALPH

What do you mean?


JESSE

She never calls, she never reaches out to me, whenever we do talk, it’s because you practically forced her to take the phone...I just want her to see me trying but I feel she’s just got her eyes closed and I can’t pry them open.


RALPH

Your mom…She is proud of you. She’s just really hurt. And she’s awful at expressing it.


JESSE

I don’t feel any better.


RALPH

Okay. Let’s get you back. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready. And that is a-okay in my book.


He stretches exaggeratedly.


RALPH

Wish you’d decided on that before the two-hour drive over, but what can you do, huh?


JESSE shoves him good-naturedly.


RALPH

Let me run inside and use the facilities real quick. Then we’ll head out.


JESSE

What if they ask about me?


RALPH

I’ll say ‘Jessie who? Oh, that girl? Naw, haven’t seen her in weeks. Hear she’s doing really well though.’


She tries to smile. He gets out of the car. Slams the door shut. And he’s gone.


JESSE picks at her fingernails, and chomps at an especially annoying hangnail. It starts to bleed, and a droplet lands on her t-shirt.


JESSE

Shit.


She looks around for something to stop the bleeding. She clicks open the glove compartment and grabs a napkin peeking out from under a paperback book.


A copy of BRICK BY BRICK: SUPPORTING AN ADDICTED CHILD THROUGH THEIR RECOVERY spills from the glove box into Jesse’s hands. It is filled with a myriad of Post-Its marking certain chapters and pages.


JESSE thumbs through the worn-out copy, and sees dozens of notes filling the pages, all in a loopy, feminine handwriting. JESSE touches it lightly.


JESSE

Mom.


JESSE lands on a worksheet page, filled out in pencil.


The title says: IDENTIFY YOUR FEARS HERE.

The answers read:

  1. It’s my fault.

  2. I stifle her.

  3. I pushed her too hard.

  4. That I may have to plan my own child’s funeral.


JESSE closes the book and sets it down.


Another hand taps on the glass, this time on JESSE’s side. She doesn’t jump, but covers up the book with her arms.


LINDA, 40s, stands outside the car. This is JESSE’s mom. She looks like JESSE, but a lot softer.


JESSE rolls down the window. The women stare at each other.


LINDA

Hi, sweetheart.


JESSE

Hi, Mom.


LINDA

Your dad said you wanted to go back. That you weren’t ready. I...I know the drive is long, so I brought you some food to take with you.


She holds up a styrofoam plate covered in cling wrap. It’s full of Fourth of July staples, with some of JESSE’s favorite firecracker shrimp on the side.


LINDA

You don’t have to eat it. I just thought you might need something to settle your stomach.


JESSE

Thank you.


LINDA

I also just wanted to say that…


JESSE

Yeah?


A long moment between them.


LINDA

That I’m sorry you’re going to miss the fireworks. They were shaping up to be real pretty this year.


JESSE

I heard Rowdy was going to make it even better with his bootlegs.


LINDA

(sighing)

That child is going to get himself killed, I swear to God.


JESSE

Not if Dad doesn’t kill him first. He was really peeved when Aunt Sharon told him about it.


LINDA shakes her head. RALPH exits the house and sees JESSE and LINDA chatting. He watches. LINDA notices.


LINDA

(suddenly self-conscious)

Well. I better let y’all get going. I don’t know when check-in hours end…


JESSE

It should be fine. I don’t think they’ll leave me on the street, Mom.


LINDA

I know, I just worry--


JESSE

I know. I know you do.


LINDA steps back. RALPH gets in the car.


RALPH

Time for us to hit the open road!


LINDA

Call when you’re on your way back, Ralph. I’ll try to save you some food, but you know your side of the family--


RALPH

They’re a bunch of garbage disposals, I know.


JESSE

If there’s free food, wait five minutes.


LINDA/JESSE

Then there’s no free food.


They smile a little.


JESSE

Mom, tell Jamie I still like video games, okay? And that I’ll play with him as soon as I’m better.


LINDA

(a hint of a tear)

Sure.


JESSE

Bye, Mom. I’ll see you soon.


LINDA

Alright, sweetheart. Please be safe. Please.


JESSE nods. She rolls up the window. LINDA watches as they drive away.


RALPH turns up the radio. JESSE looks at the rearview mirror and sees LINDA still hasn’t gone inside. She reaches an arm out and grasps RALPH’s lightly—a silent plea.


RALPH

What’s wrong? You alright?


He catches her eyes. She is weeping.


RALPH

Jess.


She stares back at him. He nods. She understands.


She unclicks her seatbelt and hops out of the car. Begins to JOG. Quickly catches speed.


LINDA has started to walk back up the porch stairs, wiping her eyes, when she hears the crunching of feet on gravel. She turns and see JESSE RUNNING to her.


LINDA RUNS to her, and they scoop each other into a tight hug.


LINDA

Honey. Honey.


JESSE smiles through the tears and buries her face into LINDA’s shoulder.


END OF PLAY.


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