Romance Script posted September 12, 2021 Chapters:  ...14 15 -16- 


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The Telephone Call

A chapter in the book Genius in Love

Genius in Love, Scene 16

by Jay Squires


Thumbnail Sketch of the Previous Scene: Cornelius is escorted by the school aide to Mr. Hallows's office. Cililla is with him. Upon seeing his mother and Mrs. Jax there, Cornelius is led to his seat. Urged on by Mr. Hallows, he Looks at Mrs. Jax's eyebrows and says "Howdo you do, Mrs. Jax," but follows it with, "Where's Jennie?" Not getting an answer, he begins to express his obsessive idea that it was because of his piano playing that Mr. Jax was keeping Jennie from him. He begins to unravel and wanders the room asking, "Where's Jennie?" Cililla manages to bring him under control and urges him back to his seat. Trying to calm him, Phyllis Jax creates a fictional account of how Jennie went with her father to New Mexico to bring back some supplies from their previous home and .promises that Jennie will return within a week. Cornelius can't contain his happiness, bouncing about on his seat, with an uncharacteristic grin on his face. Wanting to extend the joy of the moment, Mrs. Jax asks Cornelius for a hug: Cililla is there to convince him to do it. Noticing the look on his mother's face, Cililla urges him to give his mother a hug as well. He does, and when Toloache realizes the hug has gone its course and tries to pull back, Cornelius continues hugging her.

CHARACTERS DESCRIPTION: Found in “Author’s Notes”

SETTING: Phyllis Jax’s modest apartment, clean, uncluttered, only modestly furnished. On the wall, a family portrait, painted by Phyllis Jax in which her now-deceased son is included. There is a flowered, upholstered couch (typical of the 50s) and an identically upholstered armchair facing it. Next to the couch is an end table with a telephone, message pad, and pen on it.

Time: Spring, 1952

At Rise: TOLOACHE and PHYLLIS occupy the small couch. They are staring straight ahead at the painting on the wall. A coffee table separates them from MR. HALLOWS, sitting in the armchair, contorting his body to look at the same painting.


 

TOLOACHE:
(With just a slight edge of cool distance to her voice)
You’ve got an astounding talent, Phyllis. … And that—was your son?

PHYLLIS:
Yes.

TOLOACHE:
The cut of his jaw. The way he stands—he’s the spitting image of Gary.

PHYLLIS:
Ohhhhh, I miss him so much, Toley.

TOLOACHE:
I know you do, Phyl.

MR. HALLOWS:
Good looking lad.

[There follows one of those prolonged silences that occurs when an uncomfortable subject has been exhausted.]

PHYLLIS: 
I’m glad you could come.

(Frowning down at her hands in her lap, she takes a deep breath and looks up at TOLOACHE)
Toley, you were right not taking me home from Mr.—from Jeff’s office, Wednesday.

TOLOACHE:
(Looking everywhere but at PHYLLIS)
Well, it would have been a disaster after what you … said.

MR. HALLOWS:
I didn’t mind taking you, Phyllis.

PHYLLIS:
It was kind of you Jeff … but that’s still not the point.

(Beat)
Toley, I just want to say—

TOLOACHE:
(Flattening both palms in front of PHYLLIS’S face)
No, Phyllis, don't say any more!

PHYLLIS:
You’ve got to let me apologize, Toley!

TOLOACHE:
No, I don't! I’ve already put out the fire, damn it! and I don’t want to be digging through the ashes with you now.

PHYLLIS:
What I said to him was stupid.

TOLOACHE:
Yes, it was!

MR. HALLOWS:
(Waving his hand dismissively)
Oh, I wouldn’t be so quick to call it stupid, Phyllis. Rash, perhaps. You have been under a lot of—

TOLOACHE:
(Interrupting)
No, Jeff, someone can’t just make undeliverable promises. Not to a child like Cornelius. She's not the one who lives with him.

PHYLLIS:
I know, Toley. Geez, I’m—

 

TOLOACHE:
Excuse me—you keep saying you know. I know! I know! Geez, I know! But I don’t think you do know. He’s not like other kids. He’s not resilient. He won’t bounce back.

PHYLLIS:
Of course, Toley—and I feel horrible about it. You have every right to be furious.
(To MR. HALLOWS)
That’s why I invited you over here tonight, Jeff—Toley and you. I wanted to apologize face-to-face, not over the phone. I let everyone down. The only one I can’t apologize to is Cornelius. And—and ironically, he’s the one I owe the biggest apology to.

TOLOACHE
Jesus, Phyl, it’s not a question of you apologizing or about us accepting it.

(Touches PHYLLIS’S forearm)
Phyllis, I do know the strain you’re under. All three of us know that the promise you made was as much for you as for Cornelius, right? Well, wasn’t it? You convince yourself that by saying it, it’s gonna happen …
(Shaking her head in response to PHYLLIS’S head bobbing in agreement)
but damn it all!  Cornelius is counting the days. What if she doesn't come back in a few days? Or a week?
(Beat)
What if she doesn't come back, Phyl? What if she does not ... come ... back?

MR. HALLOWS:
Toley!

TOLOACHE:
Oh, God! I didn't mean it that way! Phyllis ... that was stupider than what you are trying to apologize for.

MR. HALLOWS:

(Blanketing TOLOACHE’S burst of emotion)
So … So—now listen, Toley. I know you’re of two warring minds: one who wants to forgive Phyllis, but—but the other which has to deal with daily realities.

TOLOACHE:
Don’t say “has to” like it’s something I dread.

MR. HALLOWS:
(Quickly)
I know—we do know that, Toley … Phyllis and I know.

TOLOACHE:
It’s not been easy, but it’s something I’ve accepted from day one… wholeheartedly.

MR. HALLOWS:
And you’ve done a smashing job of it, Toley. The lad couldn’t have gotten where he is today without you being a kind of … what? A guardian at—at the gate of his mind.

TOLOACHE:
Well, that seems kind of—I don’t know—dramatic.

MR. HALLOWS:
But you are! Listen, you’ve had to be … but in the office there, when Phyllis kind of sneaked past your defenses …

(Placating)
Innocently, but, but still—with her promise—well … it’s understandable.

TOLOACHE:
But I’ve said my piece. I’ve finished with it. It’s done. It’s past ...

(smiling, patting PHYLLIS’S arm)
... as long as you will forgive me for what I said. Of course, Jennie's coming back. It's just the timing of it that I'm dealing with.

PHYLLIS:
Of course. Let's be here for each other.


MR. HALLOWS:
Right! Mistakes were made. We’re human. The lad was teetering. 


TOLOACHE:
Besides, something good did come of it. Until you made your promise … he was teetering. He was beginning to spiral out of control. But as soon as you said that Jennie was coming back … even adding all that stuff to make it more believable … about your sister missing her and that she wanted to visit with Jennie; still, the moment you said Jennie’d be back in a few—


PHYLLIS:
But Fawnelle is there. She’s my big sister, Toley. And she does love Jennie. I was just so goddam wrong in promising …


MR. HALLOWS:
We've agreed that’s all in the past. Now we’re in damage control.

(Beat)
Did you—tell me, did you give Mr. Maneses the information about Fawnelle?

PHYLLIS:
Oh, yes! As soon as he told me Jennie’s school transcripts had been transferred from here back to Socorro, I gave him all Gary’s and my contacts there. I told him about Fawnelle, sure … she’s my only kin there. 
(Beat)
Oh, and I forgot to tell you ... Mr. Maneses has a contact in Albuquerque. That’s only an hour and a half away from Socorro. He put him on the case. He’ll snoop around our old house—it hasn’t sold yet
and that's probably where Gary and Jennie are.

MR. HALLOWS:
That’s good news. He can keep his distance from the house and still see that the power had been turned on. Yes, that is promising. It doesn't seem like your husband's trying to cover his tracks.

(To TOLOACHE)
And you know what, Toley? What you said about Cornelius … You were right. Something good did come of it. I admit, I was starting to get a little shaken when Cornelius was, like you said, beginning to spiral …

TOLOACHE:

Good, then you saw it, too.

MR. HALLOWS:
Yes! Like the way he bounced around on his chair? Laughing, crying at the same time? Being giddy?


TOLOACHE:
Yes, yes, that for sure! But, even more than that ...

(Struggling)
something more …. I’ve never doubted that Cornelius loves me—in his way—but there’s always been that distancing, that separation. You’ve seen how he is. With you two, with—his teacher, with his classmates, even with Jennie. It's like he's there, but he's not there.

PHYLLIS:
(Who had begun shaking her head the moment TOLOACHE started describing CORNELIUS’S behavior)
No, I honestly just thought he was really, just really shy.

TOLOACHE:
Oh, for Pete’s sake, Phyllis!


PHYLLIS:
Well, I did only meet him twice…. But he was so polite. And what kid says “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Jax,” at twelve years old? And then, the way he played the—


TOLOACHE:
Oh, please, Phyl, that’s not what I meant!


PHYLLIS:
I’m just saying …


MR. HALLOWS:
Oh, I can assure you, Phyllis, Cornelius is not your normal child. On the one hand, he’s brilliant. The Stanford-Binet IQ test scores him in the highest quartile. He’s aced every written test we’ve given him here at Zachary Taylor, yet …  and here is the other hand …. Each of the schools he has attended—I’ve studied his transcripts—has found innovative ways of working around grading him for his social skills.

(To TOLOACHE)
But Toley, all of that about his social skills—doesn’t it all seem to fly in the face of what we heard Cornelius say, there in my office? Truly, I’d love to have a picture of the look on my face when I heard his words.
(Squaring his shoulders, thrusting out his chin, and saying with pride)
“How do you do, Mrs. Jax.” I mean, really, Toley, could it be our boy might be growing out of it?

TOLOACHE:
I couldn’t believe my ears, either! Even though I heard it twice before—and couldn't believe it then!—when he said it the other night, first to Phyllis and then to Gary.

(Beat)
But you know what? Each time …
(Tearing up)
Each time … I …

[MR. HALLOWS & PHYLLIS in tandem]
What? Each time what?

TOLOACHE:
It—it—I hate myself for saying it, but each word ... Pleased. To. Meet You ... was like a-a dagger driven in my heart!

(Beat)
Each time I felt somehow … cheated by all that. Can you?—do you know what I mean? I’m his mother, Phyllis! His mother!

PHYLLIS:
(Pulling TOLOACHE into a hug)
I didn’t—I never thought—


TOLOACHE:
Of course. You had nothing to compare it against. But-but-but the way he looked directly at you when he said it. That really tore me apart. 


PHYLLIS:
(Pulling to arm's-length from TOLOACHE but her eyes still riveted to her)
Oh, you poor dear. Oh, Toley.

TOLOACHE:
(By now, tears are streaming down her cheeks)
And then … and then, all it took was for you to simply ask him for a hug … and—Goddamn it!—he just falls into your arms like it's the easiest thing in the world to do?

PHYLLIS:
How could I have not seen—
(Pulling her back into a hug)
Oh, I’m so sorry, Toley.

MR. HALLOWS:
But then he hugged you, Toley. Don't forget that! He hugged you.


[Simultaneous with TOLOACHE’S response to MR. HALLOWS, the telephone rings.]

TOLOACHE:
Yes! Oh yes …  He did! And that made all the difference!


MR. HALLOWS:
(Distracted by the phone still ringing)
It was a hug of love, that’s for—
(Puzzled)
Phyllis? Shouldn’t you get that?

PHYLLIS:
(Pulling back again, her eyes darting first to MR. HALLOWS, then to TOLOACHE)
It’s after nine o’clock.

MR. HALLOWS:
But still …


PHYLLIS:
…Of course.
(Fumbling with the receiver)
Hello.
(Covering the mouthpiece, she whispers)
It’s Mr. Maneses. 
(Beat)
Yes. I’m sorry. It’s a party line. Can’t afford a private one. Is everything—What? Have I heard what?
(Her free hand flattens against her chest)
You’re my only call, Mr. Manes—But what—tell me, what is it?
(Her fingers flutter about her throat, and her face blanches)
Oh, my sweet Jesus—nooooooo!
(Her body slumps over onto TOLOACHE’S shoulder, and the receiver drops from her hand and settles between her and the arm of the couch)

TOLOACHE:
(Cradling the dead weight sagging against her, looking desperately at MR. HALLOWS)
She’s fainted! What the hell’s going on! Phyl—Phyl, are you all right?

MR. HALLOWS:
(Extricating the phone’s receiver, standing and holding it to his ear)
Jeff Hallows here. Yes, we spoke at the school. No … I’m afraid whatever you—she-she fainted.
(Bending, looking down at PHYLLIS, and over at TOLOACHE, then straightening back up)
No, no, she was sitting down. I know … that’s why they say that, huh?
(Rolling his eyes, clearly impatient)
Now … not being nosey, but … Mr. Maneses, sure, I know … under ideal circumstances, confidentiality and all, but … Yes—that’s what I’m getting at. She’s not likely to get beyond whatever you told her. If she has to make any decisions, she’ll need to know all the facts.
(Looking at TOLOACHE and shaking his head)
Listen to me, Mr. Maneses. In a minute or so, she’s going to come out of it. Please, Sir, help us be in a position to help her, to at least comfort her.
(Beat)
Sure, I’ve got a pad here and a pen, Sir—go on.
(Begins writing on the pad, then stops; his face seems to collapse; he shoots a glance at TOLOACHE, and then back to the pad)
Ohhhhh—say again, Sir. Oh, no ... that’s ... horrible. Now, I can see why—Oh, the poor dear ….
(His lips puff out with an exhale, then slowly shakes his head)
There’s only so much the human mind can absorb before it shuts down. 
(Puts the pen tip to the pad)
Yes, Mr. Maneses, I’m writing it all down.

 
End of Scene 16


 



Recognized

#1
September
2021


TOLOACHE [Pron: Toh-loh-AH-chee] PLUMB: Cornelius's mother; former off-Broadway actress and bit player in daytime soaps, she now owns a small, borderline-successful acting studio. She glows with love for her son and protects him with much the same fierce devotion and duty as a knight would protect his kingdom.

PHYLLIS JAX: Jennie's mother; a housewife, married to an unstable novelist, Gary Jax, who has recently abducted their daughter and moved to New Mexico.

JEFF HALLOWS: Principal of Zachary Taylor Middle School. Age 45. A true empath. He understands Cornelius from within the social and educational construct better than anyone. Is there a dark, troubling secret to which the administration and he are privy?

CORNELIUS PLUMB: An autistic, musical genius child, age 12. He is uncommonly handsome, well-groomed, well-dressed. His speech is clipped, with a beat, between each word, as though he is forcing himself to slow the flood of experiences bubbling from inside. His best friend is Jennie.

CILILLA QUEEZ: An actualized part of Cornelius's deeper mind, there to guide him through rough emotional patches. Only Cornelius can see and hear Cililla.

Thanks to Jason Rosewell on Unsplash for the photo.
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