By Stealth or Guile

by Robert Winter


EXT: HOSPITAL (DAY)

FLORA stands just outside the glass doors to the hospital.  She is an elderly woman with an amiable if somewhat distracted expression.  Her clothes give the impression of having been rumpled on the day they were bought.

She carries an enormous straw PURSE.   Protruding from its top are the head and front paws of an ancient, fleabitten CAT.

Flora stands poised, watching the activities of the nurse behind the reception desk.  The nurse answers a phone, then begins to dig through a file drawer behind her.  Flora pushes the cat down into her purse and darts through the door.

CUT TO

INT: HOSPITAL HALLWAY (DAY)

An orderly mopping the linoleum gives Flora a perfunctory nod and half-smile.  Flora nods and smiles back somewhat stiffly.

Flora's purse begins to move.  She veers suddenly down an intersecting hallway.

CUT TO

INT:  HOSPITAL ROOM (DAY)

TIGHT ON FLORA'S FACE as she ducks into the room, closes the door behind her, and listens to the sounds outside as she catches her breath.

PULL BACK TO REVEAL

The BACK of a MAN in a bathrobe, watching Flora.

MAN (V.O.)

Something wrong with the knockers?  Or did I put that wrong?

CUT TO

ARTHUR, front view.  His bathrobe sports a monogram;  his pajamas are pressed;  his hair is impeccably groomed.

ARTHUR

Very peculiar place here.  Women come dashing into my room before I'm dressed...

Flora' s eyes silently implore him while she tries to catch her breath.

ARTHUR

And look at the way you're panting!   Has someone been writing exaggerated claims about me on the walls of the ladies' room again?

Flora does not answer.

ARTHUR
(pauses, then extends his hand)

Ah, well.  Arthur McCracken’s my name.  What's yours?

Flora still says nothing.

ARTHUR

You get around well enough, anyway.   What do they have you here for?

(squints at her)

Hmmm!  Have you been writing your shopping lists in your checkbook?  Beating your rugs with the toilet brush?   That sort of thing?

The door opens, bumping and startling Flora.

NURSE

Mr. McCracken, it's time for your—
Why hello, Mrs. McCracken!  Nice to see you.

FLORA
(hiding her purse behind her)

Mm-hmmm ...

NURSE

Well, Mr. McCracken has already had his breakfast this morning.  Finished all his orange juice... and he got almost all of the staff's names right!

FLORA
(to Arthur)

That's very good, dear.

ARTHUR

Deer?  Dear?  Have I sprouted antlers, or do you intend to take further liberties with me than you already have?   You know, in my day, young ladies cultivated the art of being coy.

FLORA

Dear...

NURSE

I’ll, uh, be just down the hall...

The door closes.

FLORA

Look who I've brought to see you.

She pulls the cat out of her purse and holds him in Arthur' s direction.  Almost involuntarily, Arthur takes a half-step backward.

ARTHUR

Oh--ah, nice big fellow, isn't he?

FLORA
(stroking the cat energetically)

Come on;  say hello to Chauncey.   He's missed you!

ARTHUR

Ah... uh...

FLORA
(still petting vigorously)

Poor Chauncey dear, his daddy's being so...

ARTHUR

...Choo!

FLORA

...mean to him.  Arthur, please say hi to Chauncey, won't you?

ARTHUR
(snuffling)

But I--

Flora pushes the cat right next to Arthur, stroking furiously now, raising a veritable tornado of cat hair.

ARTHUR

I--CHOO!--can't take the...

FLORA

Nice, nice kitty...

ARTHUR

The fur!  (SNUFF)  You know I can't take-CHOO!--the--AH., AH.... CHOOOO! AH-CHOO!

Damn it!  (SNUFF)  How many times have I told you to (SNUFF) keep that cat away from me, Flora?!

CUT TO

Flora's eyes, widening.

CUT TO

The CAT PLUMMETING to the floor from Flora's suddenly-limp hands.  He stalks off in a stiff-legged display of affronted dignity.

CUT TO

Arthur's face.  He is trying desperately to concentrate.  He is bewildered, and more than a little scared.

ARTHUR

Flora?  (SNUFF) I mean...uh….

CUT TO

Flora putting a gnarled finger, in a gently hushing gesture, to his lips.  She leans her head against his chest, puts both arms around him, and holds on very tight.

COPYRIGHT 1985 ROBERT WINTER.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.