Sundown on a Gilded Heart, or The Emergency Room

Characters

  • Mylene Guillemette; beautiful, damaged and Quebecois
  • Dr. Foster; middle-aged and living with the constant, low-key frustration of a man slightly more intelligent than everyone he has ever met

Setting

  • The emergency room of Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre. It is midnight on July 17, 2009.

Lights up on a hospital bed surrounded by a curtain. On the bed sits Mylene, looking distant, beautiful and sad. She is wearing a shawl and a long dress, softly humming a lullaby. Her tune is interrupted by the sound of sliding curtain rings as Dr. Foster enters, head down and staring at his clipboard. 

FOSTER

Sorry to have kept you waiting Ms… “Gill-eh-mett.”

MYLENE

Guillemette.

FOSTER

“Guy-uh-mett.”

MYLENE

Just Mylene is good.

FOSTER

First name. Fine. My name is Dr. Foster. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, Mylene. I mean, notwithstanding the fact that it’s the middle of the goddamn night, which apparently means someone rang the dinner bell for the crackheads to start bashing each others’ heads in.

MYLENE

I understand.

FOSTER

Do you?

MYLENE

Hm?

FOSTER

Because I don’t. Whole world’s going fucking bananas outside my emergency room doors and that — I’m not gonna lie — gets me wondering about anyone who walks into my emergency room.

MYLENE

I guess I don’t understand.

Dr. Foster grunts affirmatively before he begins examining Mylene’s pupils.

FOSTER

Have you been using any drugs, prescription or otherwise, tonight?

MYLENE

No.

FOSTER

And you were complaining of chest pains?

MYLENE

That’s right.

Dr. Foster removes a blood pressure cuff from the wall and applies it to Mylene’s arm.

FOSTER

Do you have a family history of cardiac-related illness?

MYLENE

Not that I’m aware of.

Mylene is about to speak, but Dr. Foster shushes her, indicating the cuff.

FOSTER

Last night, I get a kid in here, he’s out of control. Fanning at his chest like he’s having a heart attack. “Doctor,” he says, “my chest’s empty. My chest’s empty!” He keeps going, I keep trying to get him to tell me what’s going on. Of course his friends are no help, they’ve all bolted out of the emergency room lobby the second he’s in. Finally, I get a good look at his pupils and, sure enough, kid’s just stoned. Just really, really high. Smoked his first joint, freaked out and he ended up in the emergency room. Can you believe that? Clearly he needed some stronger sedation. Fucking kids.

Once the pressure has been released, he removes the cuff and notes the result.

MYLENE

I don’t have an empty feeling, no. The opposite, actually.

FOSTER

A sharp pain?

MYLENE

Yes. Acute.

FOSTER

You seem fairly calm.

He places one palm on her back, the other on her solar plexus and begins gently pushing. He looks to her for a reaction, gets none.

MYLENE

It’s getting very familiar.

FOSTER

And you said you didn’t have angina?

MYLENE

What does that mean?

FOSTER

It means you’ve never had a heart attack.

MYLENE

I haven’t.

Dr. Foster begins writing on his chart.

FOSTER

But you have had recurring chest pains?

MYLENE

Yes.

FOSTER

Would you describe this pain as sharper than the other times?

MYLENE

Definitely.

FOSTER

And approximately when did these begin?

MYLENE

Oh, I don’t have to be approximate. July 17, 2007.

FOSTER

That’s awfully specific.

MYLENE

Awfully, yes.

FOSTER

Did you experience any other symptoms?

MYLENE

I cried.

FOSTER

From the pain?

MYLENE

Yes.

Mylene coughs, covering her face. She has clearly coughed something into her hands, but takes pains to conceal it. She drops it on the upstage side of the table. Dr. Foster ignores everything, absorbed in his notes.

FOSTER

Anything else? Shortness of breath? Dizziness? Any numbness?

MYLENE

Oh yes, all of those.

FOSTER

And the pain has been recurring…

MYLENE

Yes. Constantly.

FOSTER

Constantly?

MYLENE

Is that the wrong word? Persistent?

FOSTER

It hasn’t stopped?

MYLENE

No.

FOSTER

You’ve had sharp chest pains—

MYLENE

Yes.

FOSTER

—for the last two years?

MYLENE

Has it been that long?

FOSTER

Jesus Christ.

MYLENE

It doesn’t sound right. I think you should have carried a one or…

FOSTER

Mylene, do you know how my time works?

MYLENE

Yes. One minute after another, after another, after—

FOSTER

Yes. And every one of those minutes belongs to people who really need my help.

MYLENE

I know that.

FOSTER

Oh? Because right now you’re wasting my time.

MYLENE

I’m sorry?

FOSTER

You’re wasting my time, Mylene. I’ve palpated your chest and you didn’t react, your pupils are normally dilated and your blood pressure is a little low, but normal.

MYLENE

I’ve always felt a bit like I was floating. Do you think that could explain my blood pressure?

FOSTER

Mylene, you come to the emergency room in the middle of the night complaining about an acute pain that you say you’ve been experiencing constantly for exactly two years—

MYLENE

I’m still don’t think it can have been that long.

FOSTER

I’m sorry, but I don’t have the patience for any crazy French—

MYLENE

Quebecois.

FOSTER

—bullshit tonight.

MYLENE

I thought something could be done.

Dr. Foster begins to leave.

FOSTER

Talk to a psychologist—

MYLENE

About the cage in my chest.

FOSTER

What?

Mylene removes her shawl and slides away her shoulder straps to reveal a pair of doors inset in her chest. Opening them, she reveals her beating heart inside a Victorian bird cage. A stunned beat from Dr. Foster.

FOSTER

I thought that was scar tissue.

MYLENE

I suppose that’s what it is.

FOSTER

No, for fuck’s sake! Scar tissue is just… those are hinges! That’s a brass bird cage!

MYLENE

Yes.

FOSTER

In your chest!

MYLENE

Yes.

FOSTER

And you’re saying someone put them there?

MYLENE

It couldn’t have been me. I’ve always been terrible with my hands.

FOSTER

My God… Shut them, for Christ’s sake.

MYLENE

I was hoping you could do something.

Dr. Foster moves closer to Mylene, reaching as if to shut the doors himself. He can’t bring himself to do it.

FOSTER

Your chest cavity is an open wound. The risk of infection—

Mylene closes the doors and grabs her sweater to wrap herself in, ready to leave.

MYLENE

I knew it would be like this.

FOSTER

You can’t leave.

MYLENE

Yes, I can.

FOSTER

We need to get you into an operating room, we need—

The sound of a bird chirping.

FOSTER

Please tell me you don’t have a live animal in there too.

MYLENE

I don’t.

The bird chirps again.

MYLENE

I mean, not there.

FOSTER

Did you bring a bird into my emergency room?

MYLENE

Not on purpose.

Mylene reaches behind the bed to produce a small bird, showing it to Dr. Foster.

MYLENE

It’s an allouette.

FOSTER

Like the football team?

MYLENE

Like the bird. My Matthieu always loved birds.

FOSTER

Who?

MYLENE

My husband.

FOSTER

Is that who did this to you?

MYLENE

I suppose.

FOSTER

Jesus. How?

MYLENE

I don’t know.

FOSTER

How can you not know?

MYLENE

He left me.

FOSTER

Listen, I don’t know you handle divorce in Quebec—

MYLENE

He didn’t divorce me. He died.

FOSTER

Oh, I’m sorry.

MYLENE

He died. And just like that the earth changed. Such a small thing to change an entire world, but there you go. I never felt so empty.  The next morning, the day after his funeral, I woke up with a sore throat. It was so painful that I couldn’t speak to anyone for a month. I tried everything: tea, lozenges, drugs. Nothing. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t work; I was trapped. I stayed in my house all day for a month. I’m sure they fired me, but of course I never bothered to find out. And then one day, one month after Matthieu had… I just coughed. And deep in my throat I feel something scratching its way out. Out it came, a bird. Wet. Frightened. And it just flew away. Out a window I didn’t even remember opening. And you know, the pain in my throat was gone. There was a fresh one, even deeper. And when I looked, I found these doors. And the cage. And my heart, which I’d never seen before, now that I think of it. They have been with me since.

Pause

FOSTER

And when you cough, a bird crawls out of your throat.

MYLENE

I think it must be the same one.

FOSTER

Why?

MYLENE

It feels the same. Every time.

FOSTER

Jesus Christ.

Dr. Foster slowly eases himself onto the table beside Mylene and sits with her. A pause.

FOSTER

All right. All right. As I see it, Mylene, what we have here is a triage situation. We are faced with two very… very unconventional problems, which I’m having trouble keeping in my head at the same time. So. This… bird condition, it’s bizarre. But at this point the only concern I have is that it might abrade your throat on its way out, or be a vector for disease.

MYLENE

They’re not like pigeons. You’d never see an alouette going through the trash.

FOSTER

Well, great. Good news. That’s something. As for your… cage. Not only am I very concerned that you seem to have brass wire embedded in sensitive tissue, I would consider any direct opening into your chest cavity at deadly risk for infection. I think I might have also seen some rust, which could have caused the sudden intensity in the pain. So what I’m going to do is send you to surgery immediately. I’m sure a bone saw could probably cut through brass, though I’ve never actually—

MYLENE

I was actually hoping you could do something for the pain.

FOSTER

What?

MYLENE

I’m not sure I’m ready to have it removed just yet. I just don’t want the pain.

FOSTER

Christ. Do you understand that this thing does not belong in your chest? It’s surrounding your heart.

MYLENE

I’ve already lived with it for this long.

FOSTER

Which makes you a woman whose luck is worn right out. That isn’t surgical steel, it’s brass.

MYLENE

It could be copper.

FOSTER

Mylene!

MYLENE

Yes?

FOSTER

If it becomes infected, if the wire bites into any of that tissue or arrests the regular movement of your heart you will die. Do you understand?

MYLENE

Yes.

FOSTER

Good.

MYLENE

I don’t care.

FOSTER

Mylene—

MYLENE

No, I won’t. I won’t let you tell me what I should do and I won’t let you take him.

FOSTER

It.

MYLENE

What?

FOSTER

The cage. It’s an “it.”

MYLENE

What did I…? It doesn’t matter. Don’t you think I tried to make it go away? I left Montreal with a suitcase, I never looked back. I’ve been all over the country, always moving. I mean, I came to… Calgary for God’s sake. But it stays.

FOSTER

You can’t run from this, Mylene. It’s not a fucking metaphor.

MYLENE

I don’t think you understand.

FOSTER

No, I do. I’m not sure how or why I’m trying, but I think I do. I understand that this means something to you. That this is all supposed to mean something. But in the end, it means this: you have a foreign body lodged and rusting in your chest. And one day, probably sooner than later, it will kill you. I’m sure it will kill you with an appropriately poetic amount of pain, by the way, but it will certainly kill you. And when they finally pull it out of you, it will be rusted and ugly and useless. And it won’t have meant a goddamned thing. If, on the other, we remove the cage, you’ll live. You can carry around your grief and show it to everyone. And if you insist, if you really have to have it, I’m sure they can keep the cage fragments and give them back to you. In your hands, where they belong. (Beat) And of course it will leave a scar.

Pause.

MYLENE

That’s important to me.

FOSTER

I thought it might be.

Pause.

MYLENE

Will I have to go in a wheelchair?

FOSTER

That’s policy, yes.

MYLENE

I’d rather walk.

FOSTER

Of course you would. Can I ask why?

MYLENE

I would just like to walk. Alone.

FOSTER

Fine. Surgery’s… do you see those lines on the floor?

MYLENE      

Yes.

FOSTER        

Just follow the red one. I’ll call ahead, they’ll know you’re coming.

MYLENE      

Thank you, Dr. Foster.

Mylene touches Dr. Foster’s arm and rises, humming her lullaby. She turns and begins to exit.

FOSTER        

Mylene!

Mylene turns.

MYLENE      

Mmm?

FOSTER        

I should take your bird. I don’t want that thing shitting in the OR.

Mylene looks into her hands and finds them empty.

MYLENE      

Ha. Look at that.

Mylene draws her arms wide apart, as If she was letting a live bird fly away. She smiles, and drawing her hands back together on either side of his head she kisses Dr. Foster softly on the lips. Smiling, she exits.

Dr. Foster turns, stops and sits heavily on the bed. A beat. Eyebrows furrowing, he reaches an open palm to his mouth, which he opens. From inside his mouth, he produces a bird. A beat, with Dr Foster staring at the bird.

FOSTER

Fucking Quebecois…

Lights slowly down with Dr. Foster still holding the bird in his hand.

End.