My Papa’s Waltz
A Sober and Graceless Dramatic Interpretation by Andy Havens
Hell’s Kitchen, New York. The tiny kitchen you expect in the tiny apartment you never stop seeing in movies. A tiny table is clean and tight against the tiny wall. Two burner stove, a few open shelves stacked with dishes and pans, and a sink squarely balanced on its pipes. Enter Papa, well past supper time, dirty from work. Mother sits at the table, expectant and displeased.
PAPA: Any whiskey in the house, m’darlin?
MOTHER: (Talking in the direction of the clock) I don’t guess you need any, the way you smell already. And listen to ya talkin!
PAPA: You know I can’t help but me and the boys stop in for a turn or two at the Old Russet after a Friday shift. It’s a long week in the shop, and Mickey lost three fingers in the die cutter today. And hey, it ain’t even yet eleven o’clock!
MOTHER: Three more fingers?
PAPA: Am I speakin’ Gaelic? Three fingers, sure as I’m standin here.
MOTHER: Poor Mickey musta been born with near two dozen, by my count. And yer barely standin’ there at all, anyway. Lean up against somethin’ already.
Enter the son, eight years old and yawning in his pajamas.
PAPA: I’ll lean up against my boy!
SON: Hi, Papa!
PAPA: Sorry if I woke you up! Lemme just wolllltz ya back to bed! Mother, sing us a tune!
Mother most decidedly does not sing them a tune.
PAPA: Well, then turn up that Lefty Frizzell!
MAMA: We don’t have a radio.
PAPA: We don’t need one! (Singing) “My daaaaad was a poor, hard-workin’ Saginaw fishermannnn…”
Papa takes the boy by his hand and begins a clumsy dance around the tiny kitchen. The boy wraps his remaining three limbs around papa and hangs on like a cowboy. He might be smiling.
PAPA: We’ll start with a box-step!
MOTHER: A what now?!
This first move sends a cast iron skillet from a shelf to the linoleum floor, and rattles a couple of tin mugs. There’s a glassy jangling of milk bottles inside the refrigerator. A large cat skulks dejectedly out to the fire escape.
MOTHER: See now? You’ve even chased off Ulysses!
PAPA: I’m sure he’ll just go up and get some fish guts from Joyce. Now, boy, like I taught you, the telemark!
MOTHER: (Rising a little, shouting and incredulous) THE TELE-WHO?! Where did you learn to-
PAPA: No time for talkin m’darlin, we’re coming to a tricky sp-
Papa slips a bit on the polished floor. The son makes a brief exclamation and rubs his ear, as it was scraped by Papa’s belt buckle. A neighbor pounds on his ceiling from below. Mother’s portrait of Kathleen Lynn goes a little crooked on its nail.
PAPA: Sorry, son! We’re all jammed up here widdout any room. Can’t be helped! Now remember the next move, boy. It’s called the wing! Let’s dance you back to bed on a “wing” and a prayer! Hang on to something!
Mother is rooted to the spot.
The son grabs two tiny fistfuls of Papa’s dirty cotton shirt and holds on for the scant six feet of movement from the kitchen to the one small bedroom they all share. Papa tucks him in.
SON: Nice moves tonight, papa. You really like to dance.
PAPA: I have to dance, bud. We all have to. I only really like to dance when I do it here. Sweet dreams, now.
The bedroom light turns off. From the kitchen comes the sound of a burner igniting on the stove and a cast iron pan sliding from the shelf. A glassy jangling of milk bottles in the refrigerator. A large cat struts self-assuredly in from the fire escape.