© 2013 Leigh Hazelbaker Straub
Ext. Gloomy, cloudy late fall Afternoon in an ohio cemetery.
A black limo pulls up to the curb and stops. The door opens, ANNE, a woman in her early twenties, steps out and stands, so we see her young, solemn face. She turns and slowly walks up the hill toward the crowd of people gathered beneath a few trees. The MINISTER is speaking in the background as he eulogizes the deceased, FREDERICK EUGENE ASTONWALL III.
Today we mourn the loss of a wonderful man, generous philanthropist and community leader. Taken too soon, he will be sorely missed…we entrust him now to you God…(he continues talking as camera closes in on ANNE)
(muttering just loudly enough for us to hear)
Look at these fools. Good people duped by the public him. If only they knew…
Several people quietly greet her, nod to her, or touch her hand as she walks through the group and sits down in an empty chair by the gravesite. Before her stands an ornate casket, ready to be lowered into its grave. It is draped in a blanket of expensive flowers, which is a stark contrast to the gloom of almost-naked trees, branches bending in the chilly breeze.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…
The casket is lowered into the ground. The funeral goers process through the ritual of tossing a handful of dirt as they walk by. They calmly walk away, then hurry to their cars, anxious to flee the depression of death and the gloom of this chilly, cloudy day.
ANNE stays seated until everyone is gone. She is staring at the casket, seemingly emotionless. A young man, about 15, approaches her. As he gets closer, she raises her head and looks at him.
You know who I am?
You look just like him. (he hesitates, then smiles).
I do, don’t I? It’s weird. (they pause, looking at each other.)
(she motions for him to sit down next to her) How are you?
I’m (he stammers), I’m okay. I’m 15 now you know. I play football, and soccer and I sing in the choir…I left practice early to come here today. I read about it in the paper. I wanted to meet you–hoped I would meet you.
(she smiles at his effort to sell his worth)
(looks at the casket) You know he never came to see me? Never called. Never saw me practice, or play, or sing. How could he do that? How could he just pretend that I don’t exist? Especially when I look just like him.
(wants to say something, but doesn’t know what to say. Instead, she looks at him while she reflects)
Dissolve to: int courtroom several years ago
Frederick Eugene Astonwall III sits on the stand in the private courtroom, his ex-wife, Lauren, and their pre-teenaged daughter sit at the table for the defense. Their attorney stands up to speak.
Your Honor. We are here today to argue against additional visitation Mr. Astonwall has requested with his daughter. I just have a few questions.
Isn’t it correct that for the last twelve years, you have consistently fought for more visitation time, compelling your ex-wife to comply, yet you haven’t used the time you’ve got? Instead, you cancel at the last minute or don’t show up and don’t call to cancel. Then, you file complaints against her, asking the courts to jail her for noncompliance for time that you have NOT spent with your daughter.
Or, on the rare occasions when you do visit with your daughter, she has testified that you either send her to your secretary’s home so that you’re free, or you leave her home alone while you play golf or socialize? Isn’t this true? (silence)
Mr. Astonwall? Isn’t this true?
I’m a very busy man, counselor. When circumstances dictate that I must work or attend a function, I do so. Now could you please move this along to the pertinent issues. Your Honor, could we please get to the matter at hand?
Sir, this IS the matter at hand. Now that we’ve established that you do not even utilize the visitation that this very court has already granted you, let’s move on.
Mr. Astonwall, isn’t it true that you have another child besides your daughter? Isn’t it true that you actually have another child, sir, a son?
And this child of yours would be a son–approximately 10 years old–isn’t that correct?
I don’t know how old he is. But yes, you are correct. The child is a boy.
Yet, you have no interaction with your son from a different mother. Why is that?
(hesitation in the courtroom)
Sir? Why is it that you do not acknowledge your other child, a son?
Mr. Astonwall, please answer the question. Why is it that you have no interaction with your son?
He’s a bastard child, that’s why.
(various gasps are heard throughout the courtroom)
Mr. Astonwall’s attorney jumps up out of his seat.
Attorney for the plaintiff
Move to strike Your Honor. Move to strike.
I’ll allow it. Counselor, please continue.
Excuse me sir? Did you say…because he’s a bastard child?
Yes, I did. He’s a bastard child and his mother’s a tramp–neither one worth my time and money. I’ve paid my dues. Now, can we please move on?
Your Honor. I think we’ve established an accurate assessment from Mr. Astonwall. Defense moves to dismiss the request for more visitation time with my client.
The bench rests. Case dismissed.
DISSOLVE TO: present moment, graveside
Oh Cameron, how do I tell you? Where do I start?…
(interrupting) I used to imagine him in the stands watching me. Sometimes I’d even look to see if he was there. Wanted him to be there. But he never came. And now he never will.
(he turns to look at the casket. She puts her hand on his and he turns to look at her, tears fill his eyes. He swipes at his tears, embarrassed to be showing any emotion)
Tell me what it was like to have a Dad. A dad who cared about you. Did he spend time with you? Teach you things?
Cameron, it wasn’t like that. He wasn’t like that. He wasn’t what you think, what they all think.(she waves her hand towards the crowd that has now disappeared) In fact, he was NOTHING like what ANYONE thinks.
She reflects on her last conversation with her father, before his untimely death.
Dissolve to: int evening her Father’s estate
Dad, I’m just saying I’d rather go to law school than business school. That’s all.
(yelling, out of control) You testified against me! Now you’ll pay. No tuition or help in any way.
It’s not like you’ve helped me in the past anyway.
(red faced, and angry) That’s enough! (he kicks over a cocktail table) This conversation is over. Now see yourself out.
Dissolve to: present moment, graveside
You don’t realize how lucky you are. At least he left you alone.
Left me alone? (he’s crying now, choking back tears) He ignored me! I even went to see him once. I looked him up, knocked on his door. He answered and stood there, staring at me. “May I help you?” He asked, as if he didn’t even know me. “Hi Dad, it’s me, Cameron.” As soon as I said that, he stepped outside, closing the door behind him. He took me by the shoulder and walked me to the driveway. He said, “you shouldn’t have come here. Don’t ever come here again. I sent your mother money, took care of my obligation. Don’t come back here again. Do you understand me? I have a business, a reputation, a life. And there’s no place in it for you.” NO PLACE IN IT FOR YOU. How does a father say that to his son, his ONLY son?
(shakes her head) I don’t know. I don’t understand it anymore than you do. How he could turn away from you and treat me so badly too. We’ve both suffered, for different reasons. He neglected you and emotionally abused me. And now he’s gone. For good. We’ll never know why. You’ll never get the past back, or the dad you always wanted, but there’s one thing. From now on, you’ll always have me.
(she stands up, then he stands, looks her square in the eye with tears running down his face. We see in his eyes the pain, the excruciating pain. She holds out her hand)
Come on now, I’ll take you home.
He takes her hand, and they walk away from the casket, down the hill, towards her waiting car. As they go, she turns, softly smiles at him, and he smiles back at her. In the background, we see one glimmering shaft of setting sunlight peek through the clouds.