Harbinger Vignette 1



The fireplace hearth and mantel exhibit the sentiments of autumn. Bundles of dried corn ears, pumpkins, pine cones, and acorns share the space with the stuffed portrayal of a proud turkey. 

MOM (early 60s ) sits at one end of a couch with a leg tucked under, watching ice skating competitions on television as she knits a fisherman’s sweater in preparation for the cooler months ahead. Off to one side is a game table where JOSEPH (mid 20s ) is playing cribbage with his DAD (mid 60s). Dad starts COUGHING deeply.


You’d better quit smoking. Those things will kill you.

DAD (Smirking)

You know I quit before you were born. And your mother doesn’t think that’s funny.

Dad scoops up a handful of cocktail peanuts and swigs from his frosted mug of beer as Joseph counts his crib and moves the back peg forward a few holes closer toward a win. Mom takes a puff from a cigarette that was resting in an ashtray on the side-table next to the couch.


Okay, besides, if anything, it’s from all that dust you inhale while sanding and reapplying marine paint to the boat. 

Dad lets out a CHORTLE and starts up a COUGHING fit, peanuts still in hand.


Seriously, don’t you think you ought to see someone about that before you lose a lung?

Joseph picks up the card deck and SHUFFLES the cards briskly watching his father eventually return to normal breathing.



Joseph is seated at the kitchen table inattentively sifting through his mail. Dad is slowly pacing near the table to the extent that the cord from the wall-mounted rotary phone allows. He doesn’t quite know where to position himself while SPEAKING on the phone.


I was calling to tell you before you heard it from someone else that they found a bit of something in my lung. They’ll be able to treat it with a little procedure. Nothing major…

Joseph taps his Dad on the shoulder and points to himself, then holds his hand to the side of his face like a phone, then points upstairs. Dad nods. Joseph then hurries toward the stairs leading up to the bedrooms.


No, no, you don’t need to come home for this. It’s nothing to worry about. 


Joseph picks up the phone receiver from the small table in the hallway at the top of the stairs just outside the bedrooms and bathroom.

DAD (Off-screen)

Ah, your brother wants to talk to you. I think I just heard him pick up. Here you go…Okay, yeah I love you, too. 


Hey James.

Phone CLICKS as Dad hangs up kitchen receiver.


JAMES (mid 20s) – dirty blonde haired, pale blue eyes like his father, athletic build, youngest sibling to Joseph. JAMES is pacing more nervously than his Dad and holding a portable phone with a telescopic antenna to his head.


Is dad downplaying this as usual? Should I come home?

JOSEPH (Voice-Over)

Despite what he told you, it’s definitely not nothing. It’s a 3 inch tumor. 

JAMES halts, lowering his head and then rubs his face with his free hand assessing the new reality.



They’re going to have to take out half his lung and follow up with radiation treatments. They hope that will contain it, but they aren’t certain.


It’s up to you whether it makes sense to move your family back here or not.


James slumps, defeated, into a nearby couch. He starts petting a medium sized dog laying on the couch beside him. The dog gives a few wags in appreciation.

JAMES (Breaking)

Okay I’ll arrange some things. I’ll be home soon.


Mom will be happy to see you all – she’ll appreciate the support. I mean, we all will…



Mom is busy watering an eclectic set of plants burgeoning from various pots along the deep sills of the casement windows.


I have a favor to ask. Do you mind talking to your father about something to distract him from how he feels? 


Mmm. It must get tiresome, being asked how you’re doing all the time when it’s only getting worse.

Mom SIGHS deeply and stops to look back with glassy eyes. A bit of water spills from the watering can. She reacts with a TSK and hurriedly blots up the mess with a tissue from her pocket.


He needs something to keep his mind busy and not feel like such a burden.


Okay, yeah, I guess I could ask him about computers or something…

Joseph heads down the hallway toward the back bedroom and lightly RAPS on the door, peering around the edge of the partly open door. It’s a windowless room, with a side lamp providing most of the illumination. Uncomfortable BREATHING and COUGHING accompanies the movement of a gaunt and aged version of Dad, preparing himself for a guest.

DAD (Weakly)

Com-come in.


Hey Dad. How’s it going?

Instant regret on Joseph’s face. He quickly changes gears.


I was wondering if you have any tips on how to manage finances on your computer.


You mean to help your Mother. After I’ve gone…(hacking)

Joseph responds with an feeble shrug of acknowledgment.


Well, it’s not very sophisticated the way it’s set up on that old machine. Just need to save a backup copy each month and update it with the statements from the banks and print a copy for record keeping.

Deep, phlegmy HACKING forces Dad to reach for a tissue to spit out what might just be a small bit of his lung. He wipes his ashen face and bluish lips clear of any remnants, folds up the tissue, and sets it aside in a nearby waste bucket.


Well, I was thinking like, how did you decide what to invest in to make sure there’d be enough for you and Mom in retirement?

DAD (Incredulously)

Oh. You really want to know about that stuff?


Yeah. I mean we never talk about how you did it all. And I figure if I do half as well as you, that’d be a real accomplishment.


I’m sure you’ll do fine. Don’t give me too much credit.


What are you talking about? You made everything look easy! This 5 bedroom house is paid for. You put all 4 of us kids through college. You’ve had the sailboat since I was a teenager. And we’d go out for dinners twice a week once the girls left the house.


Well, you know it wasn’t always like that.

Dad pauses to clear his throat and sip some water from a glass kept on a bedside table. He positions himself more upright, bolstered by many pillows.


When you were all little we barely had enough to get by. Your Mother kept things under control, of course, and was a good bargain hunter…plus it helps that you 4 are the youngest of all the cousins.


Yeah, I do remember a lot of hand-me-downs.


You were wearing some of those in your early school pictures because they were the best looking things we had for you.


So, how’d you make it work? Before I start a family I’d like to know how to make it work. And I’d rather learn from you than pay someone else I don’t know for their questionable advise.

DAD (Smiling broadly)

You sound like me. And that’s a lesson I learned from my father. Never pay anyone else for something you can do yourself or can get for free.


Got it – easy enough – especially since I don’t have much money anyway! So how many of these lessons are there? Do I need to write them down?


No, no need to bother. There are really only a few of them that I can think of. Another one I learned from my father was never buy anything until you absolutely need it and never more than you need.


Okay, that seems practical. But you bought a sailboat…. Did we need that?


Actually, yes. We couldn’t afford to take time off for long vacations or even install central AC in the house. So putting in the above ground pool and getting a used day-sailer were ways to keep the entire family entertained and cooled off during the summer.


I had no idea…was it really cheaper though? 


Maybe not in the long run, but it was one way to convince your Mother that we should have a boat. I’m pretty sure she knew better and just played along to make me happy.

JOSEPH (Smiling)

Any other pearls of wisdom I should know?

DAD (Intently)

You and June are going to do just fine, son. 


Yeah, I hope so…


I’m sure you will. Because the most important thing is this: choose your partner well. That makes all the difference in the world. Give each other support when times get tough and keep each other grounded when things seem too good to be true.


And from what I can tell, that’s what you found with June. Just like I found with your Mother.

Dad pulls out another tissue to COUGH into and wipe his face again. After tossing aside the used tissue, he slumps back into a more prone position, exhausted from the brief interlude.


So, marry well. After that, everything just sort of takes care of itself.

JOSEPH (Softly)

Well, then, we should do just fine.



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