Once and Again...Once Again

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Summary of Unfinished Business

by Angela Stockton
edited by Larramie Kertis

Morning at the Manning house is more hectic than usual: Grace and Zoe are preparing for school, Lily's father is temporarily in residence, and Lily must plan her day around two job interviews, a novelty to which she's still adjusting.

On the front step, she explains that she and Grandpa will drop the girls at school, she will go on to her interviews, and Grandpa will pick them up in the afternoon. When the girls wonder what will happen to them after school if Lily goes to work, Lily answers that they are old enough to take care of themselves in the afternoons. Accustomed from birth to Lily's hovering attention, Grace and Zoe are caught off-guard by their sudden promotion to latchkey children.

Hurrying to catch up, Grandpa Phil bustles down the front walk, bellowing "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!" from the "mad" speech of King Lear. He pesters Grace to recite something, even one line, from the play. To placate him, she drones Cordelia's "Good my lord, you have begot me, bred me, loved me, I return those duties blah-blah, something-something," like a boring classroom exercise.

After delivering the girls to their schools, Lily and Phil have breakfast at a diner, where Lily's straw -- chewed, tapped, and twirled -- betrays her pre-interview jitters. Trying to buck her up, Phil snorts, "Who wouldn't want you?"

"Four companies so far," she replies. Appalled, Phil warns her that a negative attitude will ruin her chances.

[In a black and white segment shared by Lily and Phil, she recalls that he loved to help her with school projects, but never knew where to stop; he blusters, "What, a man can't help his daughter?"]

As Lily sits with hands primly folded in an office at pagesAlive.com, Christie Parker, the twentyish interviewer, glances at Lily's résumé and recalls her as "the one with the bookstore." She compliments Lily on the valuable service she provides by selling books. Lily replies, "Yes, only no one's buying them from bookstores any more."

"I know, I order all my books online," Christie agrees absently. Displaying a remarkable tin ear and an encyclopedic ignorance of business etiquette, she stares at Lily with frank admiration, comments on her beauty, asks the name of her hairdresser, whether she has children, talks about her own personal life and, calculating Lily's age by her graduation date, expresses amazement that Lily's 41-year-old face is not yet sagging.

While she has reservations about Lily's editing experience (too long ago and too brief), Christie's main concern is Lily's apparent lack of computer savvy. With newfound spirit, Lily counters that her abilities are the same whether practiced on paper or on computer, that her work at the bookstore is harder than what Christie needs, and that her work as a mother is harder still. She asks for the opportunity to show what she can do.

Afterward, Lily visits Rick's office where, pacing and fuming, she recounts the whole interview for him. "Can you believe she said that?" she asks incredulously. "Well, you ARE old," Rick teases her, provoking a playful swat from Lily. Warmly, he assures her that she's capable and amazing, and any company would be lucky to have her. She wonders why the same words made her angry when they came from her father. "I'm not your father," Rick responds.

Having to "audition" for Christie by submitting synopses of articles, Lily prepares them, that night, on her home computer while Phil reads over her shoulder and "helps." Resenting his interference, she is relieved when he is called away to drive Grace to a rehearsal of King Lear. For Lily, listening to Phil's affectionate, lavish praise for Grace's interpretation of Cordelia is like watching a replay of her own childhood.

While Lily types, Zoe plays with Judy's hair and complains that she isn't allowed to braid her mother's hair "because she's interviewing." This comes as a mild surprise to Judy, who seems unaware that Lily is finally doing more than just talking about finding another job. Lily brings her up to date, mentioning that she has interviewed at pagesAlive.com. "Cutting edge!" Judy remarks, impressed.

With entertaining her father, job hunting, meeting with her lawyer and accountant, and pinching pennies, Lily's life has been very hectic. Throwing herself onto the sofa, she sighs, "I want one week where absolutely nothing happens."

"You can have my life," Judy offers. The sisters lighten the mood with an impromptu pillow fight.

At the rehearsal, Grace delivers her lines mechanically along with frequent prompting. Phil, bursting with more pride than this uninspired performance deserves, mouths the lines along with her until he dozes off in the darkened auditorium. When rehearsal is over and Grace wakes him up, she notices that he seems unsteady on his feet. He shrugs off her concern and quickly changes the subject.

On the way home, Phil regales Grace with tales of his own student acting career, and of his ill-fated romance with a co-star. Wrapped up in his story, not watching the traffic, he drives into the path of another car. Grace's scream of "Grandpa!" is cut short by squealing brakes and crashing metal.

Lily is still at her computer when her telephone rings. She answers and finds a stranger on the line. "What kind of accident?" she asks anxiously.

Lily and Zoe race to the emergency room, where a shaken Grace throws herself into her mother's arms. Zoe's first question is whether anyone died. Phil is brought out in a wheelchair, chatting so animatedly with his doctor and nurse that Lily suspects he's on drugs. When Jake arrives, Phil's chief concern is that Jake has left the restaurant unattended.

Late that night, Rick telephones Lily at home. With black humor, Lily theorizes that, since Phil will be staying at her house while he recuperates, the accident must have been part of an elaborate plot to allow him to take over her life.

In the morning, as they are preparing for school, Zoe with her ever-morbid curiosity asks Grace if her life flashed before her eyes during the fender-bender. Lily's wake-up phone call to her father leaves her confused and anxious, since no one at the hospital seems to know where Phil is. She is dumbfounded when her back door opens and Phil, on crutches and with a cast on his leg, hobbles in, followed by Judy, who explains that he called her for a ride at 6:30 a. m. There was no way, Phil grumbles, that he would "wait around for what they call breakfast" at the hospital.

Trying to make his own breakfast, in spite of his crutches, Phil only manages to spill a carton of yogurt. Since Judy must leave to open up the bookstore, Lily resignedly picks up a frying pan and warns the girls that they'll be late for school.

While everyone else is out, Phil is ensconced on the sofa, watching television. When Rick stops by, Phil plays the stern father, greeting him with, "So, Rick Sammler, what are your intentions?" "Bad as ever, Phil," Rick quips.

Lily returns home and does a double take when she sees Rick. She invites him to dinner, but he declines, citing "kid duty tonight." While she is in the kitchen, Jake lets himself in by the front door, and Lily does another double take when she returns to the living room to find her husband and her lover shaking hands and making polite conversation. Their "modern" behavior -- Jake even invites Rick to bring Lily to the restaurant -- fascinates both Lily and Phil.

["I like men, I really do. They're like these big messy creatures...who just have to act like everything is OK all the time," Lily says brightly, arms swinging in a rah-rah motion.]

While Lily is seeing Rick out, Jake and Phil start a conversation which continues through Lily's dinner preparations. Grace, keeping her mother company in the kitchen, studies her copy of King Lear and asks in a martyred tone why Shakespeare wrote such long speeches.

After Jake leaves, Phil immediately badgers Lily to drop her plan to put the restaurant into receivership, claiming that it will destroy the business. He insists that he can work out a settlement for her with Jake. Exasperated, Lily reminds Phil yet again that he does not know all the details of her marriage, and that her dealings with Jake are none of his business. "It's forty percent my business!" Phil shouts, alluding to his ownership interest in the restaurant. He also reminds Lily that he paid her attorney's retainer. Lily shouts back that for the time being, his job is to let her take care of him, and she's tired of him trying to run her life.

[Continuing her black and white segment, Lily said that when she was young, she'd fight with her father, but only in her head and never aloud. Then she'd feel compelled to "make up" with him for fear that he'd stay mad at her.]

After a restless night, Lily crawls out of bed at 4:00 a. m. and goes downstairs. Finding the sofa empty, she looks in her kitchen, where she is horrified to see Phil lying on the floor, unresponsive. After screaming for Grace, she calls 911.

The family gathers at the hospital where Grace, distraught, blames herself for Grandpa's condition because she hadn't told anyone about his dizzy spell. Both her parents assure her that she did nothing wrong, that if she had spoken up about the incident, Grandpa would have laughed it off.

A doctor informs the family that Phil has had a stroke. Though his condition is stable, he warns them that what happens from this point is unpredictable. They are allowed into his room, where he is conscious, although his speech is slurred.

[Lily recalls that she learned to love books when her father read to her, a ritual he continued long after she could read on her own.]

Later, while Lily is sitting with Phil, he asks for a pen and paper. He scrawls the number 100,000 on the pad and croaks something that sounds like "Lend Jake." "Lend Jake a hundred thousand? Are you crazy?" Lily exclaims. Before she can question him further, her mother (Barbara Brooks) -- having just arrived from Florida -- walks into the room.

When the family disperses for the night -- Judy, Lily, Barbara and Zoe to the Manning house, Jake to the restaurant -- Grace insists on keeping vigil at Grandpa's bedside. He mumbles a request that she recite her lines from King Lear. As she did twice before, she rattles them off in singsong fashion. But as devoted granddaughter Grace begins to identify with devoted daughter Cordelia, the language she scorned as archaic the previous night becomes achingly relevant. Tears course down her cheeks and the words pour from her heart.

At home, Lily puts Zoe to bed. Zoe wonders, in one breath, if anyone is praying for Grandpa, and in the next breath she debates what she should wear to her friend Megan's party. Jake arrives at the hospital to find Grace snuggled alongside her grandfather. With Phil now asleep, Jake gently leads her away.

Lily and Barbara fall asleep in Lily's bed, Judy on the sofa. In the morning, Lily stumbles downstairs and asks Judy, "Is there any coffee?"

"Not unless elves made it," Judy wisecracks. Tired from a night of listening to Barbara grind her teeth, Lily lies beside Judy on the sofa. Judy sniffs the sheets and remarks that the sofa smells like their father.

Over breakfast with Judy, guilt-ridden Lily recounts her argument with their father. "I guess that's why it happened," Judy scoffs. "I've been fighting with him since I was four."

On Lily's answering machine there is a message from Christie, saying that everyone at pagesAlive.com is intrigued by her synopses, and asking her to call. Encouraged by Judy, Lily postpones her return to the hospital to visit pagesAlive.com, where she learns that the job she's being considered for is not assistant editor, but assistant to the editor, who is Christie.

Lily arrives at the hospital in the middle of a conversation on her cell phone. She says she's inclined to take the job, even though it doesn't pay much and involves being "assistant to a child." But when she turns a corner, the anguished faces of Judy and Jake stop her cold. "It's bad, Lily. It's really, really bad," Judy sobs.

Jake tells her that Phil has had another stroke. The doctor explains that the left side of Phil's brain is not receiving oxygen, that he is on life support, and, that if the life support is removed, he will die quickly. Barbara is silent and remote, standing off to one side.

Urged by the doctor to decide what to do, the four adults move into a conference room. Judy asks bitterly if this is the room set aside for deciding to kill one's relatives. When Jake tries to speak in favor of removing Phil's life support, Judy disagrees and rudely says that he shouldn't be there since he won't be part of the family much longer. Barbara, clutching a pair of gloves, is lost in her own thoughts. When her daughters and Jake turn to her, she emotionlessly tells them to keep talking and leaves the room.

Lily meets Rick, bringing coffee and sympathy, at the hospital's emergency entrance. When she asks how he handled losing his father at the age of fourteen, he corrects her: "Who says I handled it?" He walked around in a daze for a week afterward, he admits. They agree that no one, no matter how old, is ever prepared for the death of a parent. Lily confesses that she can't accept that her father is dying, and she doesn't know what to do. Rick silently holds her.

Returning to Phil's room, Lily talks to the father who is no longer able to hear her. She tells him that she got the pagesAlive.com job, and that she now has many decisions to make. She gently scolds him for leaving her unprepared to make difficult decisions because, with the best of intentions, he always made them for her. Meanwhile, in a waiting room, Jake and Judy sit together. When Jake breaks down and cries, Judy clasps his hand, shared grief overcoming their long animosity.

Grace relieves Lily at Phil's side. Later, rejoining her mother, she tells Lily that the person in the hospital bed is not Grandpa any more, and not merely because his rosy skin has faded and the sparkle in his eyes has dimmed. All her old Sunday-school lessons now make sense to her: the soul she learned about, but doubted the existence of, is a real entity. Grandpa, she says, is not the same Grandpa because his soul is gone.

Hearing her daughter's insight, Lily shakes off her indecision and tells Jake and Judy that they have to shut off the life support. When Judy tearfully protests that she can't bear it, Lily replies that out of respect for their father, they must.

Leaning on each oher for support, Lily and Judy go looking for their mother, dreading what they must say to her. But Barbara reappears, grief-stricken yet dignified and resolute, and announces that she has already given the order to disconnect Phil's life support. The discussion of what to do about Phil had been for her children's benefit, not hers: Barbara, his wife of 43 years, was the only person who could make the decision, she reminds them, and she made the only decision that was fair to Phil. Of one mind at last, mother and daughters go to Phil's room to say their final good-byes.

[In the final interview segment, Phil talks about what he looks forward to in his retirement: sitting in the sun, enjoying the companionship of his family, and having time, "Time to do the really important things," he says, beaming his megawatt smile and throwing his arms wide as if to bear-hug the world.] The earthly time he craves is lost forever, but Phil Brooks, irrepressible bon vivant, loving and beloved family man, will live on in the memories of all who knew him.

The end.

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