The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 4, No. 4

Who's On Top

by Elizabeth Dewberry

COURTNEY, early-to-mid twenties
MICHAEL, early-to-mid twenties, a little more starched-shirt than COURTNEY

We are in MICHAEL and COURTNEY's small apartment, which is decorated in shabby chic. Wedding gifts, both wrapped and unwrapped, are everywhere. Five blenders sit in a row on, say, the coffee table. COURTNEY picks up a rather large wrapped gift and reads the card.

COURTNEY: "Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Evans."Who in the world are they?

MICHAEL: I have no idea.

[She unwraps another blender.]

COURTNEY: Whoever they are, they're not very original.

MICHAEL: [an old, mutual joke] Probably friends of your father.

COURTNEY: [less amused than MICHAEL] Very funny. [She takes the blender out of the box to put it with the others.] What do all these people think they know about married life that we don't?

MICHAEL: You figure after the wedding we're going to find ourselves going on uncontrollable blending binges?

COURTNEY: We'll take all the leftovers in the refrigerator, reduce them to glop, and call it sauce. Pour it over chicken.

MICHAEL: O you domestic goddess.

COURTNEY: Why does it feel ominous, that we have the power to puree six times over?

MICHAEL: [playfully, seductively] We can froth, we can whip . . .

COURTNEY: And crush and grind.

MICHAEL: And liquefy?

COURTNEY: You can lick-quefy me anytime.

MICHAEL: Yeah? And do I push your pulse button?

COURTNEY: Ooh, yes. [Beat. The sexual tension dissolves in the silence.] Sorry. We're out of settings. Where do you go after pulsing liquefaction?

MICHAEL: I can't answer that one. [He hands her another gift.] Here.

COURTNEY: [reading the card] "Love, Aunt Sue and Uncle Todd"?

[She looks at MICHAEL as if to say, Who are they?]

MICHAEL: My mother's sister and her alcoholic husband. They live in Michigan and hate my parents.

[She pulls out the present, but doesn't really notice it.]

COURTNEY: [responding to the news that they hate MICHAEL's parents] Well, they seem to have good taste.

MICHAEL: Be nice.

COURTNEY: It was a joke. Now we're even. My father's unoriginal friends?

MICHAEL: Your father's an accountant. For accountants, originality is illegal.

COURTNEY: Compared to your mother? Do you know how many times she's quoted Emily Post since we started planning this wedding? She can't move without consulting Emily Post. I keep getting this image of her on her wedding night: she's in the bathroom, she's just put on her white lace nightgown, and she's desperately searching through Emily Post, going, "What am I supposed to do now?"

MICHAEL: All right. Let's just leave parents off-limits, even when we're joking.


[Beat. He picks up another present and hands it to her.]


[She begins to open it.]

COURTNEY: Candy called today, asked me to go shopping with her. She's upset because all mother-of-the-bride dresses make her look old and frumpy. So I told her, "Too bad they don't make former-mistress-of-the-bride's-father dresses."


COURTNEY: I shouldn't have said it, I know, but she wants to show up looking ten times better than my mother, which she will, no matter what she wears, and just thinking about it, Mother's put on ten pounds. I'm so scared of ending up like her.

MICHAEL: Like Candy or your mother?

COURTNEY: Like either one of them. Like a married woman.

MICHAEL: Well, I'll be a married man.

COURTNEY: Totally different thing. You'll be forbidden fruit. I'll be . . . canning fruit.

MICHAEL: Is that some kind of sexual slang? [amused but disgusted] Canning fruit.

COURTNEY: Forget it.

[She pulls out the present and looks at it like, What is this thing?]

MICHAEL: That, we'll give to Candy for Christmas.

COURTNEY: We just have to hope she doesn't ask what it is.

MICHAEL: We'll tell her it's art.

[COURTNEY picks up a thick envelope and reads the return address.]

COURTNEY: This should be interesting. It's from your mom.

[She hands it to him.]

MICHAEL: Oh please be money.

BOTH: [a joke incantation they've done before] Money, money, money.

[He rips it open and pulls out a folder. He reads what's inside.]

COURTNEY: Is it money?


COURTNEY: Plane tickets?


COURTNEY: A honeymoon cruise?


COURTNEY: Theater tickets? A gift certificate? Coupons?



MICHAEL: It's . . . she's provided for our burial needs.


COURTNEY: Did you just say what I think you said?

MICHAEL: I think so.

COURTNEY: Your mother bought us burial plots?

MICHAEL: Not exactly. [Beat. He's still reading.] She got us a lawn crypt.

COURTNEY: A lawn what?

MICHAEL: It's a crypt.

COURTNEY: Of course. A lawn crypt. My friends will be so jealous.

MICHAEL: You have to admit, it's not in Emily Post.

COURTNEY: Wait. A crypt. As in one crypt for one person? Is that her way of saying this'll never last?

MICHAEL: No, it's a double--one of us on top of the other.


MICHAEL: We'll be next to my parents.


MICHAEL: [reading from the brochure] It's the newest thing in . . . burial technology.

COURTNEY: It's creepy as hell, is what it is. It's like a big, incestuous orgy, except we'll all be dead.

MICHAEL: It'll look like a regular cemetery, with grass and headstones and everything, but it's all aboveground.

COURTNEY: Then where's the grass?

MICHAEL: [gesturing from bottom to top] There's a concrete floor, then the crypts, then the roof, then . . . grass, all surrounded by a retaining wall and decorative fencing--

COURTNEY: Like a landfill?

MICHAEL: There's a state-of-the-art water-drainage system. We'll be high and dry.

COURTNEY: And dead.

MICHAEL: Well . . . yeah. Death is not my mother's fault, you know.

COURTNEY: So on the surface, everything will look completely normal, but underneath, I'll be surrounded by your family without air to breathe or a space to call my own.

MICHAEL: Are you talking about your life or your death?

COURTNEY: I don't know. I'll just get to my thank-you notes now. "Dear Ann, Thanks so much for the lovely crypt. Michael always prefers to be on top, so I guess that's how we'll do it for eternity. We look forward to enjoying your thoughtful gift for many years to come, and we'll think of you every time we . . . practice."

MICHAEL: You don't have to write my mother a thank-you note.

COURTNEY: Is that really the point you think I'm making?

MICHAEL: I have no idea what point you're making.

COURTNEY: When I die, I want to be buried, in the ground, six feet under, by myself.

MICHAEL: Okay, fine. Do things the way your family has always done things. Don't try anything new.

COURTNEY: Try something new? You try something new. Try making your own decisions for once instead of letting your mother run your life. And your death.

MICHAEL: See? You're not even arguing with originality. Mothers running their sons' lives are total clichés.

COURTNEY: We'll get cremated.


COURTNEY: Not how either family does things.

MICHAEL: You really should have had your nipples pierced when you were sixteen.

COURTNEY: Excuse me?

MICHAEL: You should have done the teenage rebellion thing when you were a teenager. But I'm not going to get cremated just to help you prove a point.

COURTNEY: [moving from sarcasm to anger] Actually, the very latest in burial technology is to die with a little whimsy. Like you could put your ashes in a golf bag, or divide them up into paperweights. A beer can! Why don't we have them put us both in a blender? That's a stirring thought.

MICHAEL: You'd rather spend eternity in a blender than admit that my mother had a good idea?

COURTNEY: Okay, be buried--or compartmentalized--wherever you want. But I . . . Your mother, she talked me into registering for the same china pattern she has so we could share at parties. Like I would ever have a formal dinner party for twenty-four people. What a nightmare.

MICHAEL: She suggested it. You thought it was a good idea at the time. So now she can't even make suggestions?

COURTNEY: Look, I don't want to be buried next to your mother. I don't want to be buried under you.

MICHAEL: Okay, you be on top. I'm flexible.

COURTNEY: No, I don't want this--the arguing, the manipulating, the feeling that I'm being . . . boxed in.

MICHAEL: Then take the damn china back to the store and pick out whatever the hell you want. What do you want?

COURTNEY: I don't know.


MICHAEL: [asking a bigger question now] Courtney, what do you want?


COURTNEY: I don't know. [Pause.] I want the same things you do. I want to be happy. I want to be part of a family. I want to share my life with you. But I also want some independence. And I look around, and that almost seems like too much to ask, like we either blend into glop, or we don't blend at all. [Beat. She picks up another present and tears into it.] I want another present--retail therapy. A Dustbuster. Great. Whatever you don't like, this'll suck it up. And what's left is

. . . [referring to other wedding presents and freaking out] matching silk napkins and matching His and Hers towels and matching lamps and matching knives and forks and glasses--have you ever seen so many of the same glass? It's like . . . everything's perfect.

MICHAEL: What is your problem?

COURTNEY: I'm sorry. I had a bad day at work.

MICHAEL: That's not it.

COURTNEY: Okay, I'm hungry. I'm tired. PMS. Take your pick.

MICHAEL: Do you want to be with me until death do us part?


COURTNEY: Yes, I want to. What kind of jerk goes into a marriage wanting it not to last?

MICHAEL: But do you expect it to last?

COURTNEY: Well, half the time it doesn't. What makes us think we're so extraordinary that we can beat those odds? I mean, if it were an investment where you only had a fifty-fifty chance of making money . . .

MICHAEL: My parents have been married for thirty-two years, and there's nothing extraordinary about them.

COURTNEY: Your parents hate each other.

MICHAEL: They do not.

COURTNEY: They do, but neither of them is willing to move out of that castle they spent ten years decorating, and this way your father doesn't have to make a commitment to his girlfriends as long as he's technically married, and your mother can be a member of the country club and a doctor's wife, which is all she wants out of life, as long as she's married to your father, so they stay together, they just don't speak to each other. And the really terrible thing is, you're right--that's not extraordinary at all.

[The phone rings. MICHAEL looks at his watch.]

MICHAEL: Check Caller ID. If it's the office, don't answer it.

[She checks.]

COURTNEY: It's your mother. You answer it. [Beat. She's ready to stew while he talks, but he turns off the ringer.] What did you just do?

MICHAEL: I turned off the ringer.

COURTNEY: It never occurred to me to do that.


[Awkward pause.]

COURTNEY: She's just ringing away, but we don't have to listen to her.

MICHAEL: Nope. [Beat. A brief, sneaky smile.]

COURTNEY: I wish I'd known that when Candy called.

MICHAEL: Well, you will now.

COURTNEY: Wow. It's like . . . a phone crypt. Just stack those callers up.

MICHAEL: Let the grass grow over them.

COURTNEY: [referring to herself, with relief] Rest in peace.

MICHAEL: I love you. That's all I can tell you. Maybe, down the road, whatever happened to our parents will happen to us, but maybe it won't. Maybe, if we watch out, we'll see it coming and . . . change roads.

COURTNEY: You'd change roads for me?

MICHAEL: I'd drink out of glasses that didn't match for you . . .

COURTNEY: And towels?

MICHAEL: [joking] What? You don't like these towels?

COURTNEY: It's the idea of reading "Hers" on the towel every morning, like we're living in the third person, under constant observation by an omniscient narrator.

MICHAEL: [as narrator] Chapter three--in which Michael and Courtney decide who will be on top. And gesturing to the hot tub, said, "Shall we try something different tonight, my dear?"

COURTNEY: [as narrator] Delighted, she replied, "Oh, most definitely. Do you have anything in mind?"

MICHAEL: [as narrator] "Perhaps," he said, "something involving a blender."

COURTNEY: "But whipped cream is such a cliché. Do let's try to be original," she said.

MICHAEL: "Right you are. We'll have to give the matter some serious thought as we froth."

COURTNEY: "And with that, they picked up their His and Hers towels . . ."

[She grabs the towels.]

MICHAEL: ". . . and the blender . . ."

[He grabs a blender.]

COURTNEY: ". . . and retreated to the hot tub."

MICHAEL: "Where they lived happily ever after."

COURTNEY: [vulnerably, almost a prayer] I hope.

[They kiss.]