Once and Again...Once Again
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Summary of Strangers and Brothers
by Sue Kaliski
edited by Elizabeth Angela
Alone in the darkened hospital room, Lily walks to the bed and reaches into the bag labeled "Patient's Personal Belongings." She pulls out her dad's watch and holds it to her ear, listening intently.
In the Mannings' foyer, Judy greets arriving guests. Zoe, peering into the hallway from the kitchen, comments to Grace about all the "weird" people. Her sister says they're not weird, "just old." Every inch of space in the kitchen is covered with platters of food. Grace offers her mom's explanation -- people eat a lot when someone dies, "like a reflex." The Tannenbaums arrive, remembering the veal chops Phil made for them every Thursday "off the menu." Zoe then asks Grace if she has cried yet.
The girls hear the back door shut and go over to hug Lily, who sighs "We're gonna miss him so much." Amazed at all the food, she wonders how Grandma is doing. To see for herself, Lily works her way through the crowd, receiving praise and respect for Phil as she goes. She joins her mother on the sofa as Judy moves in on the left flank. The sisters gently tell their mother that they have to talk.
Barbara Brooks sits at the kitchen table a few moments later while Lily and Judy bring up the need to make arrangements. "Look at me," says Barbara. "I'm one of those women now, in an empty chair." Her daughters exchange a worried look and try to take charge. There are decisions and calls to make, and Judy needs to prepare their brother Aaron. Barbara recoils from the suggestion that the Tannenbaums speak and, when Lily mentions music, takes offense at the thought of a Brigadoon-type display. Lily assures her that all will be dignified and, moving on, suggests Rabbi Rosen. Her mother reports that he left his wife and bought a houseboat. She says, "You girls decide," and leaves the room.
Judy needs to go to Aaron but Lily stresses that they still need a Rabbi. Rick enters the kitchen carrying food. He greets Judy, offering condolences, then sits next to Lily, who cuddles close. On cue, he offers that he knows a Rabbi, a nice guy who lives in his building. Grace and Zoe hurry in to report that people are coming upstairs. When Zoe asks her mom if it's okay that she hasn't cried, Lily soothes her, saying there are lots of ways to be sad.
As Rick sidles through the crowd, guests help themselves to food from the platters he carries, waiter-style. He finds himself face-to-face with Jake, to whom he offers sympathy. Lily joins them briefly before Rick moves off carrying Jake's platter as well. Hugging Lily, Jake hears his name and greets "Marvin! Veal chop -- nothing's gonna change." As Jake goes to find his daughters, Rick returns, at last setting down the platters. He and Lily stand close for a moment and she holds his face in her hands. He asks if he can go, and she reluctantly agrees.
Glancing into the living room, Lily sees Jake comforting her mother. Barbara Brooks touches his face in gratitude.
In Lily's bedroom a short time later, Barbara handles one of Phil's shirts and remarks that she doesn't want him buried in a hospital gown. Lily and Judy offer to take care of this. The talk turns to Aaron, with Barbara thinking that he can't survive a funeral. Judy retorts, "He survived 20 years in the mental health system." Their mother leaves the room, telling her girls to do what they have to do, "you've always known best." Judy hugs Lily, then also leaves.
Sighing, Lily sits on her bed. A moment later, she is surprised when Manny -- Phil's friend and lawyer -- steps in. Hugging her, Manny speaks of the day Lily was born, how Phil "never knew there was love like this." As they sit, he informs her that her father liked Jake but didn't trust him. With Barbara owning 40% of the restaurant and Lily and Jake 60%, Lily herself controls 30%. If she is ever unhappy with how Jake runs the restaurant, she and her mother can vote to fire him. "Fire Jake?" Lily can't believe it. Manny says this is what Phil was prepared to do if the divorce took a difficult turn. Lily can't fathom what Jake would do without the restaurant.
[In a black and white segment, Barbara gaily recounts a fantasy she and Phil shared: they would break into the Smithsonian to steal the Spirit of St. Louis, then fly halfway to Paris and jump. It would be hard on the girls, but she and Phil would die together.]
Barbara, reminiscing in the entryway, looks up to see Lily and the girls coming down the stairs. As Jake goes to get the car, Barbara protests Zoe's choice of dresses, saying Grandpa loved her in the blue velvet. Lily firmly ends this discussion, but Zoe wonders aloud if anything's wrong with her. Her mom assures her that she looks just fine.
Outside the chapel, Rabbi Ben Josephson greets the family and escorts Barbara inside, saying he's there as she needs him. She is first to approach the open casket, and bends to kiss Phil one last time. [In black and white, Lily relates how Zoe arrived early. Since she couldn't find Jake, her dad went with her to the hospital.] Lily breaks down and sobs next to the casket. [Also addressing the camera, Jake speaks of Phil being the first grownup he knew who didn't look worried when he walked in the room. "He liked me."] Jaws clenching, Jake looks down at Phil, followed by a tearful Grace. As Zoe moves up, the sight of her dead grandfather makes her suddenly feel sick. Lily asks Jake to take their young daughter outside.
Lily emerges from the chapel, face wet with tears, and sees Judy waiting with Aaron. Walking over, she greets her brother softly. Aaron Brooks is slight of build and, though unshaven, has a handsome face. He doesn't meet her gaze, but after a moment says that he's really lucky to have his sisters, "We're a team." Speaking rapidly, he talks of Roger from his group home (who "stinks") and Shelley, "the Babe Ruth of case managers." Judy observes to Lily that their brother is a little nervous, and Lily admits that she is, too. "I feel better seeing you," she says. At this, Aaron's eyes finally meet hers; Lily pulls his head close and thanks him for coming. "Daddy would be so happy." [In black and white, Judy speaks of how beautiful they were, "this single beautiful brother/sister..." She looks a little rueful.]
As Barbara joins them, Aaron turns away in fear. She tries to touch him, but he cowers against the wall. When he expresses "We're a team, Phil Brooks," his mother weeps silently.
Mourners gather for the graveside service. Rick walks up to greet Lily, then Jake. A series of alternating scenes follow, shifting between the graveside and the Mannings' living room following the funeral. Speakers pay tribute to Phil while his favorite song, I Can't Get Started, plays. Rabbi Ben's voice blends perfectly with that of singer Bunny Berigan as the casket is lowered. Family members spade dirt onto the casket. Grace speaks of how funny her Grandpa was -- "When you were with him, you were funny, too."
The trumpet's final notes melt into the smoke Barbara Brooks slowly exhales. It is night, and Lily finds her mom on the front step, guiltily putting out her cigarette. Lily hugs her then coaxes her inside to say goodnight to Aaron.
Inside the kitchen, Judy and Lily softly urge their mother to tell Aaron how she feels. Barbara approaches, saying she hopes he has a good night, but he backs away. When she says she understands how hard it is for them without Dad, Aaron cries out in pain. "I'm definitely feeling nervous today!" As Judy leads him out, he repeats "We're a team..."
Later that evening, Judy, Lily, Barbara and Jake sit in the Manning living room as Manny breaks the ice by citing the last time anyone read a will -- page 11 of David Copperfield. He notes that 60% of the restaurant was sold to Lily and Jake, but adds that Phil recently wanted his heirs to "retain individual rights over the disposition of the estate as a whole." When Judy asks what this means, Manny explains that Phil knew people may disagree on running the restaurant. At these words, Jake's head sinks into his hands. He translates for Judy that the other partners can vote him out. Jake claims that Phil would not have taken this position, but Manny reminds him that Phil's wishes are in writing. He stresses to Jake that this is just a possibility, but Jake has heard enough. Shaking off Lily's request to stay calm, he abruptly rises, puts on his jacket, and says curtly, "Just decide what you're gonna do, really."
The next morning in the kitchen, Zoe asks what "shiva" means. Barbara, who is not Jewish, tells Judy to explain, then interjects that though she offered to convert, but Phil liked her as a "shiksa." Judy explains to Zoe that "shiva" is a ritual when people sit with the family of the "dead person" for seven days. "They eat you out of house and home," adds Barbara. Lily suggests that her mom not rush back to Florida, and Judy shares a private look of concern with Grace. Judy reminds her mom of all the feelings with which she'll be dealing, but Barbara yells at her not to talk about feelings. As Lily tries to maintain peace, they hear the Tannenbaums come in the front door. Truly annoyed, Barbara says that's it with "the shiva business" and goes to greet her visitors. Regretting that she brought up the subject at all, Zoe apologizes for asking. The doorbell rings again, and Grace steels her nerves by announcing "Show time!"
In the living room, Judy and Grace sit crushed between two women, one of whom shares her cigarette smoke with them. The house is crowded once again. Grace and Judy smile and take turns excusing themselves. Judy then walks outside, climbs into the Mannings' SUV, shuts its door and lets out a scream of frustration.
Similarly, Grace escapes to the kitchen to let out her scream. She turns and is startled to see Aaron sitting at the table. Apologizing, she tells him she thinks all the "old, boring" people are just there for the food. Aaron smiles at this and, when Grace asks if he's had lunch, says "Lunch sounds like a plan!" She brings plates and the turkey platter over, telling him about a boy named Aaron at school who plays the trombone. She remembers her uncle used to play an instrument? "Trumpet," he replies, but these days "my fingers aren't necessarily my own." When Grace comments that sometimes she feels her "extremities are borrowed," Aaron gazes at her in wonderment. They dig in to their turkey and soda with zest.
Outside, Lily joins Judy in the SUV. Their tears start again, Lily observing "All day, off and on," as she passes the tissues. Judy wonders if Lily meant it about Mom staying, and her sister admits that this just fell out of her mouth, "like a tooth I didn't know was loose." They blow their noses in unison, and Lily departs. Shiva doesn't count "if you spend it sitting in a car."
As lunch continues, Grace asks Aaron if he remembers anything before he was sick. "Lots!" he replies happily. He remembers Lily worrying about whether she could be pretty and good, and he remembers specific beaches. He would also like to remember a job one day. Grace wonders what kind, and he says "Useful... I keep staying unnecessary." He also needs a plan, quoting his father as saying, "Aaron, your plan is your road..." Grace commends these ideas, and Aaron continues, "When my dad was my dad and I played the trumpet, the song was I Can't Get Started." Smiling, Grace remembers this song from yesterday -- "It was beautiful." She covers her uncle's hand with hers and tells him how wonderful it is to talk to him. Very moved, he lowers his head to kiss her hand.
Barbara sits alone on the sofa where Jake joins her, offering a glass of wine. She remembers how, even in Florida, people would always follow Phil home. Jake regrets that things will be different now, but then -- sensing an opportunity -- impresses upon her that the restaurant is working. "We're there, we're making money.." "Like before," Barbara interjects, remembering earlier successes. He assures her it will be better, and urges her to let him do this, "for all of us.." She smiles and says, "Jake..."
I Can't Get Started plays as Lily runs across her front yard and into Rick's arms. She pulls him into the playhouse and, a moment later, they sit huddled together on the floor. Lily wants it to be 1967 again, she wants to be at the restaurant with Aaron, who would be wearing his Cubs hat. Rick smiles, and noting Jake as architect, observes that the playhouse is "well-built."
Back in the kitchen, Zoe and Grace press close to Aaron, sharing old Brooks' family photos. He begins to feel overwhelmed with all the chatter. Lily comes in with Rick, whom she introduces to her brother. As Zoe tells Aaron he should shave, Barbara walks in from behind. When she reaches in to quiet the girls, Aaron freaks out and ducks over to the other side of the kitchen. Jake moves in to try to take Aaron outside, and pandemonium ensues. Lily and Judy sharply call him off, so Jake stalks out. The sisters console their brother on the floor.
Jake sits on the front step of the playhouse. Rick, exiting the house, sees him and the men raise hands in greeting. Jake wonders if Rick has a cigarette, but Rick hasn't smoked in 15 years. Jake observes that Phil was "a big, loud, aggressive schmuck," but he liked him. Rick offers a smile, and Jake goes on to say that he built this playhouse. Rick nods in understanding.
That evening, Lily and Judy sit at the dining room table with Aaron and his case manager, Shelley. She speaks of how well he's doing, really, with the staff at the home, with his sisters, with the father who never gave up on him. Phil used to bring Aaron to the restaurant every Thursday, she says, and sit in the front booth. She prompts Aaron, who quotes his dad as saying, "I want you to meet my son, Aaron." Lily and Judy enjoy this story very much.
Later, Judy returns from taking Aaron home and reports to Lily and her mom that he is okay. Barbara makes no comment and Judy mutters, "Not that anyone cares.." Barbara lights into Judy about her perception that the mother doesn't care about the son. "You don't know the years of my life that live in that boy!" She includes Lily and says neither of them know anything about her. They follow their mother into the living room as she continues, "You shut me out!"
Lily pleads that they love her, and Judy points out that they never knew her "right way of doing things," they had to protect themselves. Crying, Barbara says she never punished them or gave cause that they had to protect themselves. "I am a human being with feelings!" When she says she's lost Phil and Aaron, Lily tells her she has them. "I'm supposed to count on you now?" She thanks God for Jake, and this is like a slap to Lily. Her dad couldn't uderstand this fact but she forces it on her mother -- she is divorcing Jake, "He is out of my life!" Suddenly quiet, Barbara plaintively asks, "Where does that leave me, Lily?"
The next day the two sisters huddle in the SUV, and Lily guns the heater. She believes that Mom was right the previous evening -- they don't know her, they've just "known what's useful." Now, with Dad gone, Judy understands they might have to know her. Lily jokes that maybe Mom could move in with her sister. "We could double-date," says Judy. Their smiles turn into tears and tissues again, as Lily's cell phone sounds from the back seat. It's Rick, so Judy takes her leave. To Lily's surprise, Rick reveals that he saw Jake as he was leaving yesterday -- and that he'd never seen anyone look so sad. It was the first time Jake had seemed real to him -- "You know what he's lost." Lily silently digests his words.
It's quiet in the house as Lily walks over to Phil's hospital bag on the counter. She pulls out his watch and listens again, seeming to come to a decision.
Upstairs in her bedroom, Lily finds her mom packing. Barbara plans to go home the next morning. When Lily asks why, Barbara explains that Phil made 9,000 friends in Florida, and she has to do something that's not thrown together. Lily reiterates that her mom can stay as long as she needs or wants. "I know that, darling," says Barbara. "But don't you think I need to go home?" Lily spells out that she, Judy, Aaron, and the girls are her home, and Barbara notes how sweet Lily's daughters girls are. Lily adds that they're stronger all the time. "I raised really strong girls, Mom. I think I learned that from you." Barbara demurs, saying she wanted to do much better, citing Phil's example. Lily claims it was her -- "Dad wasn't there -- he was out making 9,000 friends!" Barbara laughs softly. Lily speaks of her own inner strength gained during the previous year, and this leads to her observation that her mom trusts Jake "because he's a man." "Jake cares about me," points out Barbara. Lily, though aware of his "wonderful qualities," says Jake cares about himself. "I care about you," says she. "You have to trust me." After a moment, Barbara asks Lily to help her with the suitcase -- then covers her daughter's hand with her own. Their eyes fix on each other, peaceful at last.
At the restaurant, Lily enters the kitchen and finds who she's looking for -- Jake. Surprised to see her, he offers to fix Lily a burger. She declines, and tells him Mom's leaving tomorrow. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" he asks. When Lily says she talked to her mother, Jake turns away, knowing what's coming. "She gave me her proxy," says Lily, "So I can fire you any time." But, she adds, she's not doing that now. Jake looks at her, questioning, as she tells him that she wants him to keep his promise -- to make it work "for all of us." She wants to be able to bring her brother, sister, and children there because it's the family's place. Lily takes her father's watch out of her pocket and says, "I want you to have it." Obviously touched, Jake recites Phil's words, "Always set your watch 15 minutes slow, so when people are late for their reservation, they're really on time...and you're glad to see 'em." Lily smiles, then sighs.
The next morning, Grace and Zoe escort their Grandma down the stairs. Barbara needs a big hug "to help hold up the plane," and Zoe tells her that Grandpa always said that. Grandma lifts Zoe up in a hug.
Judy comes in the front door and tells her mom "he's ready." Barbara asks how she looks, and Judy replies, "You look beautiful, Mom." They walk out.
Aaron waits with Lily out front. Barbara walks up to her son and gently tells him she's going back to Florida, she has things to do there. "OK!" says Aaron. When Barbara mentions the memorial "for your Dad," Aaron stuns her by saying "I want to come!" Nervously wondering if she left her tickets upstairs, she hears him say, more insistently, "I want to come." Barbara is tearful, understanding he wants to come "for your Daddy." Aaron says, "Mommy... I want to come for you." With Judy and Lily looking on, Barbara says, "Oh, Aaron..." Shifting gears, he starts to ramble about Roger's vice-presidential aspirations, finally recalling his Democratic affiliation. Barbara smiles through her tears and says, "It hardly matters...It's a lousy job anyway." When she tells Lily she's "ready if you are," her son pipes up "I'm ready!" with a big smile. After a long last look at her son, Barbara heads off with Lily, as Aaron and Judy wave goodbye.
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