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Summary of A Dream Deferred

by Angela Stockton
edited by Elizabeth Angela

In My Sister's Bookstore, Judy and Lily are having a spirited discussion about an unlikely topic:

Judy: "Aw, c'mon, it'll be fun....Empires have been built on coffee."

Lily: "I don't want to sell coffee, or brew coffee, or contribute to this insane obsession with coffee!"

Taking advantage of Lily's and Judy's momentary inattention, a teen-age boy furtively slides a book into his bookbag. But Lily, who has seen him, stops him at the door, and orders him to give her the book.

"What book?" he bluffs, but as she stares him down, he meekly surrenders the book and begs Lily not to tell his parents. To Lily, this appears to be an open-and-shut prank shoplifting which calls for her "We're a small store, what if everybody did this?" lecture -- until she glances at the title. Her manner softens immediately, and she asks the boy how much money he has with him. She takes the money he holds out, tells him to bring the balance the next time he comes to the store, and allows him to leave with the book.

Judy is incredulous until Lily shows her another copy of the book entitled, How Do I Know I'm Gay?, and insists that the boy was too embarrassed to buy it. Lily is confident that the boy will return and pay up. Unconvinced, Judy sarcastically suggests that they give away all their books.

Lily insists that Judy also would have given the book to the boy. With a conciliatory smile, Judy doesn't disagree, but says that she would have made him suffer more.

Judy wants to ask an artist friend who moonlights as a carpenter to come to the bookstore. When Lily asks her how the bookstore can afford to add a coffee bar when it can't afford to give away books, Judy replies, "Because the purpose of a coffee bar is to actually make money."

[In an interview, Lily recalls that Judy once struck her over the head with a Monopoly board when she suspected Lily of stealing Monopoly money. She concedes that she may have "lost" some play money since a few bills were later found under the sofa.]

Since Judy intends to lock up for the night, she can't understand why Lily insists on staying late, until Rick walks in and Lily reacts with a Cheshire-cat smile and a girlish flick of her hand through her hair. Judy greets him with a smirking "Hi, Rick!", a playful punch to his chest, and an exaggerated "apology" for leaving so soon.

Enfolding Lily in his arms, Rick backs her against a bookcase, then they slide down to the floor (the deceptive camera angle makes them appear to be moving in the opposite direction). Between kisses, Risk asks in a breathy voice, "Have I ever told you my librarian fantasy?"

"I can imagine," Lily murmurs.

["After that, I said, 'Judy, you be the banker,'" Lily continues in her interview.]

Some time later, Rick and Lily are sitting on the floor, Rick watching Lily as she straightens her sweater. Blushing, she confesses, "That's the most decadent thing I've ever done." She wonders why making love on the floor is considered sexy; to Rick, it means they can't wait.

Something is on Rick's mind: Does Judy hate him? Lily finds the idea absurd. "Disapprove? Contemptify?" he suggests, searching for the appropriate synonym.

Lily tells him that before he arrived, she and Judy were arguing about building a coffee bar, which she dismisses as an idea born out of Judy's boredom, and too expensive anyway. Judy's mood is nothing personal, she reassures him.

["I hate what money does to people, even Monopoly money," Lily concludes her reminiscence.]

Rick wonders aloud if a food-service business has ever operated at the bookstore site; if so, there might be electrical and plumbing lines already existing which would cut the cost of a coffee bar. Lily tells him a carpenter is coming the next day, and she plans to at least listen to his estimate. Rick advises her to approach the project from the other direction and give the carpenter a budget instead.

As they're about to leave, Rick holds up a copy of A Tale of Two Cities and, gazing fondly at Lily, asks how making love among classic literature can be decadent.

Next morning, A Tale of Two Cities is lying on Lily's chopping block as she prepares breakfast. Grace strolls into the kitchen and seeing the book, asks to borrow it for an extra-credit reading assignment. But when she picks it up and sees the flyleaf, she exclaims, "Oh, gross!" and sets it back down. Clearly, whatever is on the flyleaf is something that Charles Dickens himself never wrote. Grace grumbles that if "he" is going to write things in books, her mother shouldn't leave them lying around where anyone can see them.

In the adjacent laundry room, the washing machine overflows, and while the girls are mopping up the spill, the telephone rings. Lily's end of the conversation indicates that it concerns Jake. As soon as she hangs up, she dials and leaves a message on Jake's answer machine: the mortgage company called, and the mortgage payment is fifteen days late. She asks him to call her.

When Lily arrives at the bookstore with Rick, Judy is bantering with Marty, the young artist/carpenter, who jokes that the coffee bar could be built as a free-standing faux cart with "faux wheel drive." Rick asks technical questions which Marty cannot answer. [In her interview, Judy recalls that when she was a child and had a school project, Lily's offer to help invariably ended with Lily taking over.] When Lily diplomatically proposes that she and Judy prepare a budget, Marty leaves in a snit.

Later, Judy and Lily are shopping for Halloween decorations for the store. Both are testy, with Judy complaining about Lily's taking over the coffee bar project, and Lily needling Judy about her interest in Marty.

At home, Lily again telephones Jake but must settle, again, for talking to his answer machine. Her clothes washer acts up again. While she is mopping up, Rick calls. He has gone to the Zoning Commission and looked up old plans which show that the bookstore was once an ice cream parlor, confirming his hunch about the usable plumbing and electrical lines.

When Rick, Marty, Lily and Judy meet again at the bookstore that night, further questioning by Rick exposes Marty as totally unqualified to build the coffee bar. After Marty leaves, Rick insists that he wasn't attacking Marty personally when he used the word "criminal."

Miffed at both Rick and Lily, Judy also leaves, carping that "you two obviously want to have sex anyway." From their awkward smiles, she infers that not only is this facetious comment true, but that they've made love in the bookstore before. Wagging her head, she declares that this isn't the Lily she knows.

Lily laughs off Rick's concern that Judy is still angry at him, insisting that she and Judy have always fought, and this is nothing new. Rick looks around the bookstore and comments that he can build the coffee bar cheaply himself and have fun doing it. Though skeptical, Lily can't bring herself to shoot down his boyish enthusiasm.

The next morning, a repairman takes apart Lily's washing machine and glumly calls it "more and more heartache" waiting to happen. Over lunch, Zoe shocks Lily by asking why Daddy hasn't paid the mortgage, and if they'll have to move. Zoe doesn't know what a mortgage is, but she's overheard enough to worry. She tells Lily that one of her classmates moved into a rat-infested apartment after her parents divorced. Lily promises that the Mannings won't have to move.

At that moment, Jake finally calls Lily and says that the mortgage payment is taken care of. He seems more upset that the mortgage company called Lily than that he fell behind on a payment.

[Lily says her father loved making money, Jake loves spending money, and between them, they made sure she never had to think about money.]

That same day, Judy takes Grace shopping. Over lunch at a sidewalk cafe, Judy talks about the coffee bar project. Grace reacts to Rick's name with distaste, although she has yet to be formally introduced to him. Judy tries to convince Grace, and herself, that if Lily cares for Rick, "there must be something great about him." A sullen Grace replies that her mother once cared about her father. Suddenly Judy is hailed by an old friend, Ian Solomon, a filmmaker, who is shooting a TV commercial in front of the cafe.

When she brings Grace home, Judy tells Lily about Ian, and adds that he has offered her a job on his next commercial shoot. She doesn't plan to accept, even though -- as Lily reminds her -- in college she dreamed of making films. Unwittingly, Lily insults Judy by recalling that it was one of many career dreams Judy has had. To Judy, this is a reminder of all the times her family has called her a "flake."

The following day, Mali has a discouraging prospectus for Judy and Lily: the bookstore can't pay for a coffee bar out of cash flow and, in fact, it has stayed solvent only because Lily has not been drawing a full-time employee's salary. She warns Lily that before loaning money to the bookstore, a bank will require that she and Jake have a separation agreement.

[Lily admits that before she had children, she kept track of the bills -- that is, she wrote checks promptly but didn't always stamp and mail them promptly. After the children were born, she became an even worse procrastinator, until Jake finally took over that chore.]

The meeting with Mali over, Lily admits to Judy that she does not have a separation agreement with Jake, and she's afraid to approach him about it. However, she understands that she can't depend on him to support her forever, and that the bookstore alone can't support herself and the girls. Since the coffee bar now seems like an extravagance, Lily asks Judy if they can postpone building it. Sympathetic to her sister's financial worries, Judy readily agrees.

Lily must tell Rick that he can't build the bar. But when she visits his office, she finds him cheerfully loading his SUV with construction materials, and bragging that he's going to build the bar for no more than $5,000.00. Every time she tries to interrupt, gung-ho Rick keeps babbling until she loses her nerve.

When she meets Naomi -- ironically, at a coffee bar -- they calculate what My Sister's Bookstore might earn from coffee sales and conclude that even their most optimistic projections can't justify all the trouble and expense. "Then why am I building it?" Lily wonders. "To make everybody happy!" Naomi replies wryly.

When Lily tries to discuss her misgivings with Judy at the bookstore, Rick arrives, eager to start working. While he and Judy pull books off shelves, Lily calls the mortgage company. She learns that Jake did not make the payment, but asked for a deadline extension instead.

Lily calls Jake and demands that he meet her at the house immediately. In this meeting, rather than level with Lily about their financial situation, Jake says defensively that he's always taken care of his family, that he doesn't want to be treated like a deadbeat dad, and that there's no problem with the mortgage. But when she asks to buy a new washing machine with his credit card, his bravado crumbles. Although clearly worried about the expense, he finally agrees.

Within days, thanks to Rick, the bookstore resembles a bomb crater. Customers are irritated by the cluttered aisles, the plaster dust, the ubiquitous plastic sheeting, and books stacked haphazardly on tables. Judy rips her skirt on a protruding nail, Rick destroys shelves to tear out a wall, and a hammer blow punches a hole in a water pipe. Judy's nerves are visibly fraying.

Late one night, Judy tells Lily that Ian wants to hire her. Lily, unimpressed, voices her opinion that the bookstore is just another line of work that Judy has dabbled in and tired of. Judy responds that the bookstore isn't big enough for them both, and accuses Lily of trying to take it for herself, with Rick as her ally. She all but calls Lily a backstabber.

Lily returns to the bookstore, where Rick is working late. Lily asks bluntly, "Why are you doing all this?" -- which baffles Rick, because as he sees it, she asked him to build the coffee bar. Lily disagrees: "I asked you for advice. I didn't ask you to take over my life." Offended, Rick asks "Is that what I'm doing?" Lily immediately admits her accusation isn't true. Struggling to retain her composure, unable to meet his gaze, she says she has to go home to her children. She leaves him there alone.

Lying on his bed later that evening, Rick idly plays with a football. [In an interview, he reminisces about Karen, and the knee injury she suffered two weeks after they'd met. As a result, he had to carry her around and do her household chores, which he not only didn't mind but even found romantic: "There is something about the idea of rescuing a woman." He falls silent while pondering this insight into his own character.]

Lily, her copy of A Tale of Two Cities alongside her on her bed, calls Rick and contritely asks to see him the next day.

In the morning, when Jake arrives to pick up the girls, he pours a glass of Lily's orange juice and, toasting himself, announces that the mortgage payment has been made. Lily's statement that she wants a financial agreement sets off an acrimonious argument in which he protests that their finances are complicated at this time, and she retorts that it was he who made their lives complicated. "Other marriages survive affairs!" Jake shouts, and accuses Lily of being "too committed to being a victim." Coldly, she replies that if that were true, she'd still be with him. After saying that if she wants one, they can make their own financial agreement without lawyers, he stalks out.

Rick and Lily meet in a park, both looking tired and drawn. Rick says he'd like to apologize, but he doesn't feel sorry; all he's done is try to give her something that, by "flashing 'help me' like a ship's beacon," she asked him for.

Lily complains that people have always called her manipulative, but that for her daughters' sake and her own, she has to learn to take care of herself. She asks Rick not to try to rescue her, not to charge in on his white horse even if she seems to need help. Then what, Rick asks, should he do when he sees her flailing away?

"Just hold me," Lily answers. "That's too easy," he complains good-naturedly, wrapping her in a tight hug, not releasing her even when she worries aloud that if he knew what a mess her life is, he'd get on his white horse and ride away. They kiss and walk off side by side, his arm around her.

At the Manning home, the repairman delivers a washing machine that he claims is identical to Lily's old one, but it does not fit in the same space. When Lily wonders how that could happen, the repairman -- unaware that he is coining a metaphor -- suggests that Lily's walls are closing in on her.

Lily is at work in the bookstore when Judy arrives. They have an air-clearing discussion in which Judy says she wants to help Lily and all she ever wanted was to be Lily because her sister always had everything.

Lily admits to being afraid of the future, but says that if Judy really wants to help, it's not enough to merely tell her sister not to worry so much; before Judy can help, she has to be there, not off somewhere else. The epithet "flake" hangs in the air, but remains unspoken. Judy points out that for all the times she's threatened to take off, she's always come back, just as she has now come back to the bookstore. Having reached a truce, Lily leaves Judy in charge of the store and goes out to run an errand.

In her mind, Judy sees herself and Lily as children, splashing happily in the spray from a lawn sprinkler. Playing together was so natural then; Judy seems to wonder why working together is so difficult now.

The end.

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