Excerpt from: The Death of Pollyanna, Veralyn Warkentin’s one-act play

Characters:

Anne, in her late sixties; she speaks only through the messages she leaves on her answering machine which end with the familiar ‘beep.’

Anne’s son, and only child, Matthew, late-30’s

Their Neighbour, Mrs. Elsie Hildebrandt, nearing ninety, has a thick German accent; used to live next door to Anne, now in personal care home

The Friend – Anne’s lifelong friend, she is also in her late sixties

Additional voices (as described) are messages left ‘after the beep’ at the radio station call-in show.

 

ANNE:                        If I don’t answer, I’m probably in the garden and why aren’t you outside on such a glorious day?  If you leave a message, I’ll call you in November when I’m snowed in.  [BEEP]

MATTHEW:               I think that was my favourite of her messages – the one about calling you back in the winter. I have the mini-cassette tape with all the messages she left on her good old answering machine in the last year or so. She only gave up her rotary dial when she needed touch tone for library book renewals. That let her spend more time in the garden.  She was terrible with technology, pretty good with people, and amazing with plants. I think she finally accepted my wife only because her name is Fern.

NEIGHBOUR:           My vegetable rows were straight like a yard stick. And I had rhubarb coming out of my ears.  I made a garden to put food on the table. But Anne – her garden was just for beauty.  My Abe and me, we used to tease her they were so perfect, we could sleep in her flower beds. It was like living next to a park. We had the river there in the background with a wooden wishing well her husband – Al he was called – made when little Matthew was born. I was the favourite baby-sitter. Matty called me “Mrs. HildeBond” – it was so cute! That house, their life – it was like a picture postcard.

FRIEND:                    I remember overhearing her one day apologizing to a bunch of spider plant shoots she’d snipped off before dropping them into the compost. She loved her plants. She loved life. Grabbed onto the day with both hands and squeezed out every glorious minute.

NEIGHBOUR:           Since I sold my house and moved in here, Anne visits me so often that Mrs. Reichman next door in 3B, asks if she’s my daughter.  I tell her “No, Anne is my neighbour”. I have to say it really loud of course, because Mrs. Reichman is deaf like a doornail.  I got talking to Anne when she was my neighbour because I wanted to bring someone to the Lord. But most everyone I know was from church already.

FRIEND:                    You’ve probably seen Anne cycling to work on that old five-speed in her long skirts, never once wearing a helmet! It was crazy-dangerous.  But Annie would say:  “Don’t worry – you’ll get wrinkles. It’s the same commuters every morning – they know me by now. I get my exercise and no helmet hair.”   Once I said, “Pollyanna was hit by a car, you know.” But she just smiled that big smile.  I started calling her PollyANNIE in school after we saw that movie with Haley Mills. Her glass was always half full. 

NEIGHBOUR:           So I bring over to her some cucumbers – what would a person ever do with so much cucumber?  –  I explain we have this “Alpha Program” at church and would she like to come and maybe learn some Bible things? She stands there with her hand shading her eyes from the sun and says: “I don’t believe in God, or a Creator or whatever you want to call it. Never have, never will.” And my mouth is just hanging open. Never have I heard a person say such a thing!  “I also don’t believe that you can argue with personal experience. If faith makes your life better, that’s good.  So if you don’t mind that I’m not a Christian, I won’t mind that you are, and we’ll just be good neighbours, okay?”  And I am nodding and shaking my head at the same time.  Didn’t take long we were good friends but I never understand how she couldn’t see God in that garden. 

MATTHEW:               Last year Mom told Mrs. Hildebond – I mean Hildebrandt – that she was sick. We still try to visit Mrs. H every few months. I’ll try to take the boys over one of these days. I was going to a while ago, but that weekend Fern said there was some virus or something going around the nursing homes.  I feel bad ‘cause Mrs. H. is all alone and she was really good to me when I was a kid.  She made the best perogies ever. Those Sunday lunches I had at her house sometimes were epic.

NEIGHBOUR:           Mrs. Reichman, you know from 3B, she shuffles into my room and says, “I think that’s your neighbour talking on CJOB. Your friend with the son and that wife. She’s on the radio talking. Says she’s sick or something.”   So I say, ‘So lots of people get sick – why should she be talking about it?’   And Mrs. Reichman says, “Maybe she’s sick and tired of being sick and tired…” Sometimes she thinks she’s a comedian, Mrs. Reichman– “How should I know why she’s talking? Switch it on for yourself.”

FRIEND:                    Anne was everywhere. Radio, 6 o’clock news, both local papers and even the national newspapers picked up the story. She wanted everyone to be talking about it. That she had to leave the country for the right to die with dignity by her own hand. ‘Self-deliverance’ she called it – plus help from a compassionate doctor. I wonder how poor Matthew is coping with all the publicity.  I tried to call – but Fern must have got them an unlisted number.

BEEP. Older Man’s voice:

                                    Yes, healthcare is costly. But if we give doctors the okay to ‘hasten’ death how long will it take to go from the right to die to the duty to die?  Aren’t we opening Pandora’s Box here?