Mother’s Day by J. B. Prestley
Page 33,34 and 35 …
Mrs. Pearson’s well-appointed house has a living room having furniture, doors and a fireplace –all in the right places. At the centre there is a table with four chairs, two on either side. Mrs. Fitzgerald has dropped in for a quiet causerie with the landlady, Mrs. Pearson. Although she is the mistress of the house, Mrs. Pearson is weighed down by the burden of running the household. Her harried face bears testimony to her inner torment. On the contrary, Mrs. Fitzgerald is cool, and confident. The two ladies sit down over tea to play cards. The visitor has come to show off her skill as a clairvoyant.
Mrs. Peterson starts the conversation gracefully, wondering if the visiting friend had learnt her sooth-saying skills in the East.
Mrs. Fitzgerald says that she had learnt the skill while living in the East with her husband – a senior army officer. It had taken the duo 12 years to master the craft. In a boastful way, she says she is ahead of her husband in this craft.
Mrs. Fitzgerald knows her friend’s owes. She knows how an insensitive household is robbing her of the dignity she deserves as the key anchor of the family. Mrs. Fitzgerald implores her friend to assert her position in the family and not tolerate the slights, barbs, and aloofness of other family members.
Mrs. Peterson is a soft, loving and docile person. Doing anything acerbic to others simply does not come to her. She, therefore, has chosen to take the humiliation lying down.
Mrs. Fitzgerald belongs to a different breed. She is forthright and superbly confident of herself. She loves Mrs. Peterson very much. She can’t stand the way her friend has been at the receiving end all her life – unable to counter the emotional torture inflicted by her near and dear ones. So, Mrs. Fitzgerald persists. She coaxes her friend to be determined once and for all, and put a strong foot down to stop the hurtful behavior of her family members.
Mrs. Fitzgerald is unrelenting in her persuasion. She tells Mrs. Peterson how her husband, grown-up son and daughter take her for granted. They expect the senior-most woman in the family to fetch things, cook food, do the chores, and keep an eye on the house when the others go out to have fun. It should be the other way round, argues Mrs. Fitzgerald. She presses her point further saying that a husband should know that his ageing wife needs rest, and the children must learn to share the burden of the house with their mother.
Mrs. Peterson is, as expected meek and feeble in her reply. She says that she has in fact brought her plight to the notice of her indifferent family members.
It annoys Mrs. Fitzgerald to see her friend’s inscrutable submissiveness. She demands that Mrs. Peterson deal with the situation more sternly to force her near and dear ones to mend their ways.
Mrs. Peterson agrees to her friend’s strong suggestion. But, she says she does not like any unpleasantness in the family that can result from her asserting her authority. She says she has many times decided to bring up the issue with her family members, but, on the spur of the moment, has stepped back choosing to remain silent. Mrs. Peterson looks at her watch and jerks herself to action. She remembers she has to cook food for the family so that she could serve them promptly as soon as they arrive home. In case they plan to go out, any slight delay in eating their food must not inconvenience them, feels Mrs. Peterson. She begins to get up. Mrs. Fitzgerald is indeed as surprised as she is sorry. She gets up to pin her friend down onto her chair.
Mrs. Fitzgerald is unusually adamant. She asks her friend to listen to her first even if others come and find no cooked food. Let them fend for themselves, says she.
Mrs. Peterson is in a quandary. She can’t be rude to her sympathetic friend whose heart weeps at her predicament. Nor she can summon the courage to precipitate matters so that her family members change their attitude towards her. She dreads offending them in any way. She values harmony in the family much more than her own wellbeing. She pleads with Mrs. Fitzgerald to appreciate her helplessness, and not harp on the matter.
Her meek resignation to her fate upsets Mrs. Fitzgerald. She is a dour and determined woman. She says that she would confront Mrs. Peterson’s family members herself.
Mrs. Fitzgerald’s strident stance leaves her mild-mannered friend aghast. She is horrified at the prospect of the intervention of an outsider in her family matter of such delicate nature. Exasperated with the suggestion, Mrs. Peterson pleads with her friend to desist from intervening in the matter. She tells her friend that her husband and children would never listen to her. Instead, the confrontation could lead to very undesirable consequences.
Mrs. Fitzgerald chuckled to see her friend’s predicament. She comes forward with a novel solution that flummoxes her friend still trying to regain her composure.
She says that through a sleight of hand she will impersonate Mrs. Peterson by interchanging their external looks. This trick will be just for one day. As a result, Mrs. Fitzgerald will have her friend’s exterior shrouding her own steely interior, and vice versa. Mrs. Peterson is incredulous, and utterly confused.
Mrs. Fitzgerald coolly proceeds to clear the air. She says she learnt such magic when she was in the East. Mrs. Peterson is still convinced about how the trick would work out practically and ethically.
Page 36, 37, 38, 39, 40
Mrs. Fitzgerald proceeds to demonstrate her magical prowess. She holds her friend’s hand and utters some very unintelligible rhyming words. On being queried by Mrs. Peterson clarifies that these are some magic mantras that she learned in the East.
The magic casts a spell on both of them. Both are benumbed as if life has deserted them. But, the spell soon fades. They come back to life looking radically different. Mrs. Peterson looks like Mrs. Fitzgerald, and vice versa.
Mrs. Peterson is no longer Mrs. Peterson—the meek, sulking character. She has become the assertive Mrs. Fitzgerald. She snatches the cigarette from her friend’s hand.
Mrs. Fitzgerald is quite taken aback at the way the magic worked. She sighs in relief.
Quite strangely, Mrs. Peterson, in her new avatar, is cool and not the least disconcerted.
Mrs. Fitzgerald (with Mrs. Peterson’s body and soul) appears nervous. She dreads the prospect of facing George and the children.
Mrs. Peterson, in the garb of Mrs. Fitzgerald, is nonchalant. She says she will deal with them effortlessly.
Mrs. Fitzgerald (as Mrs. Peterson) is apprehensive and wary. She asks her friend if they could swimmingly revert to their own forms smoothly. Otherwise, the consequence could be disastrous.
Mrs. Peterson (as Mrs. Fitzgerald) is relaxed. She advises her friend that changing back would be easier. With a suppressed chuckle, she says that her life is not un-livable, after all. It would be more enjoyable, she advises.
After a bit of chat, Mrs. Fitzgerald (as Mrs. P) prepares to take on George and the children, advising her friend to hang around stealthily.
As expected, Mrs. Fitzgerald (as Mrs. P) is nervous and Mrs. Peterson (as Mrs. F) is confident.
The former makes a quick exit out of the house, and the latter, quite uncharacteristically) puffs away her cigarette, and sits down to play cards.
Doris Pearson, the pampered twenty-plus pampered daughter comes in and asks her mother (Mrs. F in disguise) to iron her yellow silk dress which she would wear that night. However, she is taken aback to see her mother indolently sitting at the card table.
She finds her mother surprisingly assertive as the latter replies firmly that she is doing something, after all.
Doris can’t fathom the sight of her mother smoking. She protests. Her mother is unapologetic.
Doris asks if they were going to have tea in the kitchen. She gets angry to see her mother the least interested in making tea.
Mrs. Peterson ( The real Mrs. F) says she had had her tea and could go out for dinner at the Clarendon.
It rattles Doris. She finds her ever-obliging mother rather unusual and a bit arrogant.
The mother stands her ground and behaves as if she does not care.
Doris is upset. She chides her mom for being so recalcitrant. She demands her tea and her yellow dress ironed.
Doris is angry because she can’t go out with her man Charlie Spence with the yellow silk dress.
She says she has every right to go out with Charlie, and her mother can have no objection to it. Instead, she must do her duty, and iron the silk dress.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) decides to rub salt on Doris’s wounds by speaking derisively about Charlie referring to his buck teeth and coarse intelligence.
Doris protests vigorously.
The mother continues her tirade against Charlie saying in her young age, she would never have fallen for a guy like Charlie.
Doris explodes in indignation and rage. She storms out.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) is unruffled. She continues to play cards.
Page 39 …Cyril comes in to ask if his tea is ready.
As expected, he hears a ‘No’.
Cyril wants to know if his mother is indisposed or something.
Mrs. Peterson is calm and gives an impression that she does not care. She says she feels really good, as she had never felt in her life.
Cyril wants to jerk his mom to action and commands her to make tea. He says he is in haste, and prepares to leave the place when Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) stop him.
Cyril again reminds her that he has a busy night ahead. He inquires if she has taken out his clothing.
Mrs. Peterson (as Mrs. F) acts as if she is hardly concerned.
Cyril sternly reminds her mother that he had told her in the morning itself to take out his clothes and check them if they needed any mending.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) says she no longer likes mending.
Cyril is irritated. He his back saying such rudeness would invite more rudeness from other members of the family.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) is adamant. She says she can’t be forced to do chores she does not like. Just as Cyril’s Union protects his right to refuse jobs he dislikes, she has decided not to do things she loathes.
Cyril is confused to see his mother talking so assertively.
Doris comes in with a crest-fallen face and sullen mood. She wears an ordinary dress.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) comments that even a dull man like Charlie wouldn’t like his girl to wear such an un-attractive dress.
Doris is hurt and distraught. She blames her mother for spoiling her mood.
Unaware of what had gone on between his sister and mother some time ago, he asks Doris if anything was wrong. Doris asks him to stay off.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) gets up to look for some stout (a very strong beer) in the kitchen. Cyril is quite surprised to see his mother, otherwise a very sober lady, craving for such hard drink.
Both Doris and Cyril are surprised to see their mother behave so unusually. They exchange notes about their strange experience with their mother. It was so un-motherly!
Both the siblings are totally confused to find their soft, patronizing and obliging mother behave so differently and indifferently, refusing to do the tasks she had been doing for years.
Doris wonders if she is having a hang-over of some hard drink she had earlier.
The brother and sister laugh loudly imagining how their daddy would react on seeing their mother with such a strange demeanour.
Around that time, Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) enters the scene with the bottle of stout and a half-filled glass. Doris and Cyril instantly fall silent.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) appears aloof and conceited. She chides her two grown-up children to stop behaving like kids and do things themselves. Saying this, she sits down on the sofa contentedly.
The siblings protest mildly. They say why they can not share a laugh. The mother retorts saying they can always do so if they can make their mother share the fun.
Doris says she wouldn’t understand the jokes of young folks.
Page 42, 43, 44 and 45
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) has more scorn to pour on her children. She says their jokes are stale and boring.
It irritates Doris more (as intended).
The mother says she can’t be at their beck and call all the time.
Cyril is annoyed. He says if she does not make him a cup of tea, he will manage it anyway.
His mother, sipping the stout, asks him to go ahead and do his things himself.
Cyril protests saying it was insensitive as he had been at work all day.
Doris claims she too was busy the whole day.
Cyril rubs the point again saying he had worked for eight long hours.
The mother says she too had already put in eight hours.
Both her son and daughter are not ready to give her the credit.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) asserts it is going to be 40-hour week for her too from now on. She says she would be resting and enjoying her time this week end – like her ‘working’ son and daughter.
The mother’s stern declaration stuns Doris and Cyril. They exchange glances and gape at their mother. The latter is unruffled.
Cyril goes into the kitchen to get something to eat. He is resentful and resigned to his fate.
Doris is baffled by the unfolding scenario. She proceeds to her mother and demands to know if indeed she was going to keep away from chores on Saturday and Sundays.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) gets the opportunity she was looking for. She says she can do some small chores like doing up the bed etc., but only if she is asked very politely and thanked sincerely for her magnanimity. Any indication of ordering or demanding would see her going out of the house for two days for outdoor recreation, she averred.
Doris is completely flummoxed to hear her mother threatening to go out for two complete days.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) refuses to change her stand. She maintains she is as entitled to her weekly offs as anyone else in the family.
It leaves Doris more worried. She is apprehensive about her mother’s strange new ways. Quite perplexed, she demands to know where her mother would go and with whom.
The mother snapped she would choose her place and her companion the same way Doris chooses.
Doris contends that she is young, and so, she deserves the freedom.
Her mother counters it saying her age and experience in life enables her to make the right decision about the place and the friend for the outing. Doris’s lack of maturity could make her err and then repent for choosing a wrong person to go out with.
Doris asks inquisitively if she (her mother) had ‘hit’ (found) a companion.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) shows her true colours. She blurts out that she would ‘hit’ Doris with something if she didn’t stop asking such silly questions.
The rudeness of her mother hits Doris like a storm. She is as perplexed as she is humiliated. Doris protests strongly.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) reprimands her daughter strongly. She says if Doris considers herself matured to choose Charlie Spence, she should show the same maturity in behaving decently with her mother.
George, the father and master of the house, appears in the scene. He wonders why there are so many sparks flying.
Doris sobs to invite sympathy from him.
George tries to understand why there was so much rancor between the mother and the daughter.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) bluntly asks him to find out from his daughter.
George looks around vacantly until his eyes fall on the bottle of stout in his wife’s hand.
Page 44 ..
George is puzzled. He wants to know why she was drinking stout at such an odd time of the day.
His wife says she just likes it.
Addressing his wife by her first name Annie, George says it was so unusual for her to drink stout like this.
She declares that it is going to be her habit from then on.
George does no attempt to conceal his utter disgust at Annie’s (Mrs. Peterson) new fad.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) retorts that he should not expect her to be perfectly agreeable always.
George can’t understand what his wife means.
She decides to rub her point further saying he is in for nastier surprises.
George says he dislikes being subjected to surprises. Then he proceeds to say that due to some function in thye club, he was not going to drink tea.
Pat comes the reply from his wife that there was no tea, after all.
George is somewhat surprised. He asks if she had not made tea for her.
Mrs. Peterson has no apologies for not making tea.
George is hurt and unable to figure out his wife’s reply. He wants to know if he had needed tea, what would have happened.
Mrs. Peterson virtually explodes with disapproval. She unilaterally abrogates the family’s right to make tea for each of them, including George, the master of the house. She asks her husband if he could expect such blind compliance at his club. She says his getting annoyed at tea being kept ready for him (when he didn’t want it) was totally uncalled for. His club people would not like such show of anger, she quipped.
George is distraught.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) fires another salvo at her husband reeling from her earlier show of defiance. She says such bad temper would invite more ridicule for him at the club – worse than what he is facing now.
George does not believe that his club people will have any occasion to laugh at him.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) makes a deliberate attempt to belittle her husband. She says that they call him all sorts of names behind his back because they don’t like his pompous and bloated personality. She even says that they call him Mr. Pompy-ompy Pearson.
George protests quite visibly.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) does not cease4 her tirade. She wonders why her husband spends such long hours at the club. Even she accuses him of going with another woman.
Soon Cyril enters the scene with a glass of milk and a cake on a plate.
George uses his son as a witness to counter his wife’s derogatory assertions. He urges his son to tell his mother that the club people never ridicule him either openly or covertly.
Cyril makes a startling revelation. He states that they, in fact, they do caricature him at times.
George leaves in a huff. His son’s statement comes as a bolt from the blue. He is indeed very hurt.
After his father leaves, Cyril pulls up his mother for having broached the matter so insensitively.
His mother has no sense of guilt. On the contrary she exudes happiness at having called a spade a spade. Quite snidely, she says that his father is inviting ridicule at the club by hanging around there too long and too often.
Cyril does not quite agree.
Page 46 ..
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) takes a pot shot at his son. She says he is too flippant a character to merit much recognition. She accuses him of spending too much time and money on silly pastimes like dog races and dirt tracks etc.
Cyril resents his mother’s critical remarks. He maintains that he needs some avenue for his own recreation.
His mother, however, is convinced that such entertainment is worthless and vacuous.
Some vigorous knocking at the door is heard.
Cyril says it could be for him and hurries off.
He renters saying it was Mrs. Fitzgerald, their neighbor. He wonders why the woman wants to come in.
He is pulled up by his mother for being so offensive towards her good friend. She asks him to be more respectful towards her wise friend.
Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) comes in and says she wants to know if everything is fine.
Cyril replies in the negative.
His mother asks him to shut up. She hurls very nasty abuses to Cyril.
Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) appears a bit embarrassed and sorry for Cyril.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) sternly tells her friend Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) to stop intervening in her family matters.
Cyril is almost at breaking point after such pummeling from his mother.
Page 47 …
Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) recoils in horror on seeing the salvos her friend is firing and the rancor being created in the household because of that.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) is not the least worried. She assures her friend that she is undoing what she has done for years trying to pander to everyone’s wishes.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) boastfully tells her friend how she reproached her husband George for frequenting the club so often despite being called names at his back.
Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) is nervous to hear this.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) brushes aside her friend’s apprehensions and asserts that all her family members will soon be cut to size and soon capitulate before her meekly.
George enters the scene. He looks angry and unhappy. He is somewhat discomforted to see his neighbor seated by his wife.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) continues to behave as rudely as she could. It is a deliberate attempt to humiliate her husband as much as she can. Quite derisively, she asks George if he considers himself as the Duke of Edinburgh.
George blurts out the list of insulting behavior his wife has shown to him and Doris.
Page 48 …
Utterly embarrassed, and unprepared for the position she has found herself, Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) breaks down.
She faces the fury of George who asks her to leave.
As she prepares to leave, Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) stops her. She tells very sternly to George that he must show minimum courtesy to her friends when they come. He can not be rude to them.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) continues her belligerent stance towards George. She taunts her husband suggesting that he should go off the club that evening and stay there overnight. The people in the club can entertain themselves at his cost by passing derogatory comments.
George is hurt and humiliated. Shedding all his inhibitions, he growls at his wife and asks her why she has been so abrasive in her manners towards everyone in the family.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) roars back at her angry husband. Countering fire with fire, she threatens to slap her husband if he continues his aggressive manners.
Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) intervenes to calm things down. Inadvertently, she calls her friend as Mrs. Fitzgerald instead of Mrs. Peterson. This gaffe leaves George angrier. He tells his wife to behave herself.
There is no remission in Mrs. Pearson’s (Mars. P) thunder. She throws a counter challenge at her husband.
George is on the point of exploding.
Doris enters and is greeted by the visitor. She is crestfallen.
As if adding insult to injury, Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) asks if she is going out with Charlie Spence that night.
She protests only to be pulled up by Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F). She sharply rebukes her daughter for being so uncouth to the elderly neighbor.
Doris looks at her father for sympathy. In despair, he says he has already given up.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) admonishes her daughter, Doris. With a very commanding voice, she makes Doris to speak to Mrs. Fitzgerald politely. Doris says she had to abandon her plan to go out with her boyfriend as her mother spoiled her mood by criticizing her boyfriend. She gets the customary sympathy from the visitor.
A verbal duel erupts between the two elderly women as Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) intervenes on Doris’s behalf. The two ladies exchange sharp words over this matter.
George wants to pull up his wife for her coarse behavior towards her friend.
Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F) targets her jibe at her husband. Quite sarcastically, she advises George to go to club where he can spend his leisure. She cautions Doris to stop whining.
Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) stands up in disgust. She says she has had enough.
Doris and her father look perplexed.
Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) stares at George and Doris. She says she wants to have some private conversation with her friend Mrs. Peterson (Mrs. F). While saying this, she was about to call her friend as Mrs. Fitz.., but corrected herself in the nick of time.
George looks relieved to find that the unbearable situation could come to an end through the neighbour’s help. Doris also leaves.
Now the two ladies sit together at the table.
Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) is restless to go back to her original form. She feels she things have come to a head, and they must retrace their path.
Her friend feels the family members are already reeling under the onslaught, but need some more dressing down.
Mrs. Fitzgerald (Mrs. P) pleads with her friend to see the all round misery, and return to their original forms. She coaxes her friend to agree.
Finally, her friend relents. The two ladies chant the magic mantras to undo their conversion. They return to their original avatars smoothly.
Mrs. Fitzgerald cautions her docile friend not to re-adopt her earlier soft attitude to her family members.
Page 51 …
Mrs. Fitzgerald feels that the family members were let off too soon. Some more drubbing was in order, she quips.
Mrs. Peterson hopes her husband and children will mend their manners, but she worries thinking how she will explain what has happened that far.
Mrs. Fitzgerald reprimands her friend and virtually commands her not to let the cat out of the bag. Now that they have been cut to size, Mrs. Peterson must not let them ride roughshod over her feelings, suggested Mrs. Fitzgerald.
Mrs. Fitzgerald advises her good-natured friends to let her family members do some chores themselves and give her a helping hand in cooking. In the free time, she could do anything to please herself – like playing rummy.
With her firm advice to assert her authority in the household, Mrs. Fitzgerald begins to leave the house.
George, Doris and Cyril walk in calmly looking apprehensively at the mistress of the house.
Page 52 …
Chastened by her earlier brush with her mother, Doris begins to talk softly and warmly to her mother.
Mrs. Peterson reciprocates the new warmth and tells her about the work she could do as she is staying back in the house.
Mrs. Fitzgerald gives a stern parting glance to her friend to remind her.
Mrs. Peterson proposes to play a game or two of rummy with her family members after which the son and daughter could prepare supper. She says she has to talk to their father.
All of them agree without a whimper. Good humour seems to pervade the family.
Mrs. Fitzgerald leaves as all of them bid her a warm good bye.