“Eating with Lola”: A Theatre Piece25 min read

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Lights change. Grace answers her cell phone.

GRACE: What? What do you mean, mom? Can she talk? Can she move? Holy shit. I mean…Wow. This is…what do you mean? Why does she have to move into our house? Isn’t she surrounded by…you know…people her own age? Isn’t keeping her in our house just as expensive? Where will she fit? Pause. In my room? With me? Are you kidding me? If you do that, I’m moving out. Pause. Because that’s stupid, mom! Who’s gonna take care of her? Who’s gonna be there to do things with her? Not me! No. I don’t want to. I don’t even know her. She was weird when I was a kid. Now how is she going to be? Forget that. Pause. I’m not crying. I’m just…I hate this. I don’t know why you couldn’t have asked me.

Grace hangs up the phone. Lights up Lola in bed in the family home.

FAMILY VOICES OFFSTAGE: Will you be alright, Lola? We’ll be back soon, okay? There’s food in the fridge for you. Just grab it and put it in the microwave. I’ll have my cell phone on. You call me anytime. Bye, Lola! Bye! See you soon, okay? Bye. Bye Lola. Lola, bye! See you? Ingat! Bye!

A door shuts. Lola stirs. Silence all around. She sees her teeth next to her bed in a glass. She looks around at the empty house. She looks again at her teeth. She tries to get up and go to her teeth. She moves from one piece of furniture to another like a sloth. She finally gets to her teeth. She places it in her mouth.

She moves to the kitchen. She finds food in the fridge. She tastes it. Grimaces and spits out the food. She looks for fresh food. She finds onions, garlic, eggs. She finds ground beef. She–still moving like a sloth–begins to cook, troubleshooting with her weak arms. She finds the spoon Manuel made her. A moment. She manages to make herself a torta. She smells her creation. Success. Just as she is about to take her first bite the crumbles of beef fall from her mouth and fall to the ground. She moves to the sink for a cloth to clean it up. She bends down, she falls. She is suddenly in pain. Failure.

Lights change. Morning sun to afternoon glow.

GRACE: What’s so wrong with a pizza pop? I eat pizza pops. As if she ate well in the nursing home. Whatever mom. If her body just absorbed bags of liquid food, I don’t get why all of sudden she wants to just eat “good food.” And I don’t get why I have to cook it for her. Sure mom. Everyone has to pitch in. But who comes home first from school? Who gets to work all day and leave me with it all? Pause. Sarah said she can smell me. She can smell Lola on me. It’s gross. She’s gross. Pause. No. I’m not crying. I hate this. And she hates me. She hates the way I cook. She zips around holding a plate. Lola looks at the plate. I made corned beef, Lola. LOLA: Too dry. Needs more tomatoes. GRACE: zips around with another plate: Sardinas? LOLA: Too fishy. Needs more onions. GRACE: zips around with another plate: Spam? LOLA: Too crispy. GRACE: zips around with another plate: Spam?

LOLA: Too soft.

GRACE: zips around with another plate: Spam?

LOLA: The slices are too thick.

GRACE: Looooolaaaa! Enough. Here. It’s called a pizza pop. Put it in the microwave for 2 minutes. I’m doing my homework. If you need something, call mom. I’m sick of this.

Grace leaves in a huff.

LOLA: As a whisper to herself: Maybe I should cook.

Lights change. Lola rolls herself over in bed. We see Mrs. Boyle appear above Lola, a memory.

MRS. BOYLE: Rufina! Maybe you should cook…

LOLA: What? Just name it, Mrs. Boyle and I will make it.

MRS. BOYLE: Hmmm…You know what’s my favourite?

LOLA: You always say that.

MRS. BOYLE: What do you mean?

LOLA: You always say that it’s your favourite.

MRS. BOYLE: That’s because everything you make is my favourite. Oh I know! Can you make me some…what is it called? The ox tail?

LOLA: Kare kare.

MRS. BOYLE: Yes! But with more vegetables than meat, remember? Lots of peanut butter in the sauce. Would you mind? Lola nods no. Pause. Rufina, is there something wrong?

LOLA: I have something to tell you.

MRS. BOYLE: What is it? You can tell me anything, Rufina.

LOLA: After the war, my mother was very poor. The Japanese killed my father and we had no money. So when you hired me…I would come into the kitchen very early. I would go into your fridge. I would take out the steak. The steak you asked me to cook for the dinner that night. And I would cut the bottom off. And feed it to my family. It was just a small piece. But I had to. They were all so hungry. I’m so sorry, Mrs. Boyle. Please forgive me.

MRS. BOYLE: I know. I always knew. That’s why I always gave you more than enough money to buy food at the market with instructions to use every penny. I always knew.

Lola lowers her head in shame. Mrs. Boyle raises Lola’s head.

MRS. BOYLE: Don’t you be ashamed. I would have done the same thing. I loved every bite, Rufina. Every bite was heavenly. Look at me. I obviously loved it. It was worth every extra penny.

LOLA: Do you want me to make something for you tonight?

MRS. BOYLE: Can you make your famous pianono?

LOLA: Yes, ma’am.

MRS. BOYLE: With extra icing sugar. Grace enters with tray in hand.

GRACE: Lola? Lola? Who are you talking to? Lights out on Mrs. Boyle.

LOLA: No one.

GRACE: Listen. I…I went on the Internet and I found this recipe for sinagang. I know it’s not the easiest to make…but I thought that…I thought that it’d be easier to chew on, as long as the beef was tender.

Grace helps prop Lola up. Grace takes a bit of the soup and places it into Lola’s mouth. Long pause.

GRACE: Well?

LOLA: This is very good.

GRACE: Are you serious?

Lola answers by opening her mouth wide for another bite. Grace gives Lola another bite. All of a sudden Lola starts to chew a bit more thoughtfully. Grace gets worried.

GRACE: What?

LOLA: It just needs one more thing.

GRACE: What? Tell me. I’ll get it and add it in. Just tell me.

LOLA: I love it when the sinagang is very hot but then you add a scoop of cold rice. It helps to make the tamarind less salty, diba?

GRACE: I’ll get it. Just wait here. Mom put some in the fridge yesterday. Just give me a second.

Grace leaves the room. Lola turns over in bed. Grace returns to the room with rice in a bowl. She puts it into the soup and stirs it.

GRACE: Here. Okay. Try it. Let me know if it’s better, okay? Pause. Lola? Lola?

Lola lies in her bed. No response. Grace knows.

GRACE: Lola? Lola?

Grace watches a butterfly fly from Lola’s body into heaven. Lights change. Grace stands facing the audience. Lola’s funeral.

GRACE: Lola loved all of us. That’s why we loved her back. That’s why she came back to us. So that we could have more time to know how to love her. Lola was the mother of my mom, Mila, my Tito Hector and Tito Reynaldo. She lived long enough to see 12 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren come into this world. Lola died beside me while telling me a story about how much she loved us. I know if she was here today, she wouldn’t like what I made here today. I just know it. I’m the one who cooked the laing. Grace turns to someone in the audience. You don’t have to eat it. I know. It’s horrible. Pause. Anyway…Lola loved cooking. With this very spoon. She shows Lola’s spoon. I thought about keeping this for myself. But I know that wherever she is, she’d want to have this. Lola: I hope you’re cooking something amazing right now. I wish you a big fridge with lots of your favourite foods. And a table full of your favourite people at each seat waiting to find out what you’ve made next. Mahal kita.

Grace places the spoon on her Lola’s body.


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