The ring rattled against the kitchen appliances.
“See who it is,” said Jerry.
His son, Scott, took a bite of his macaroni and cheese before tipping his chair back to look at the ringing phone.
“Looks like Mrs. Perkins,” he mumbled around his pasta.
“We should answer,” Mary said quietly as she plucked at her salad.
“Yeah, we should,” countered Jerry. He tried in vain to gather Mary’s eyes up from her plate, but his wife managed to deftly avoid the staring contest. Her attention remained firmly on dinner while the phone rang on. With a sigh, Jerry rose from the table and picked up the phone.
“Hello?” He turned and found both Scott and his wife watching him.
“Hello…Mr. Johnson?” Mrs. Perkins voice bubbled over the phone like yelps from a small dog.
“Yes,” said Jerry. He rolled his eyes and earned a pair of giggles from the duo at the table.
“This is Priscilla Perkins. My daughter Olivia is in Scott’s ninth grade class.”
“Yes. I remember meeting you at the last open house.”
“I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
Jerry leaned against the refrigerator’s stainless steel door. “Oh no, we’re just finishing dinner.”
“Dinner! Oh, you must have had a busy evening.”
“No,” said Jerry with a shrug, “we usually eat around 7.”
Jerry’s smile spread at the brief pause in the usual ceaseless banter.
“Did you need something, Mrs. Perkins?”
“Please, call me Priscilla.”
“Well, Jerry. I’m calling because of Mr. Armstrong.”
“Yes, the new drama teacher. I’ve heard he’s intent on doing these small, one act plays this year. Ones that the children write!”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Oh no no no. I know you and your family are new to Livingstone, so I can understand your confusion. You see every year the freshman class does a musical.”
“Really,” said Jerry. He pushed himself off the refrigerator and plopped back down into chair. Mary gave him a pointed look as he picked up his fork but her reprimand was softened by the curling smile on her lips.
“So you see,” continued Mrs. Perkins, “It’s tradition to have a musical and Mr. Armstrong needs to be set right. I’m starting a petition to have the children do the Music Man instead. My Olivia would be perfect for the female lead. You saw her in Cinderella last year didn’t you?”
“Oh, yes, Olivia was very…good.” Jerry’s mouth curdled as if he had swallowed a lemon.
“Yes, she was marvelous. I’m sure your Scott would fit into one of the Music Man’s smaller roles just wonderfully.”
“That’s why I’m gathering the names of supporters to keep Mr. Armstrong from implementing such a terrible ordeal. I plan to take the list to the next PTA meeting in order to remedy this ridiculous situation. I’m sure you can see where I’m coming from, Jerry.”
“Can I count on your support?”
“Um…well…I guess I’d be in favor of whatever would be best for the children.”
The pause on the other end of the line was palatable. “I’m sure you’d agree that a standard, traditional musical would be just that.”
“Perhaps, but sometimes shaking things up can be interesting. I mean isn’t that why they hired Armstrong to begin with?”
“But you know,” Jerry let out a nervous cough as Priscilla Perkin’s tone dropped a dangerous octave. “Really, whatever the majority decides would be great. The play’s the thing and all that.” He gave a nervous laugh.
“Of course,” Priscilla said tersely. “How about Mary?”
Jerry let out a relieved breath. “Well, perhaps you should talk to her yourself.”
Mary shot a glare over her salad.
“That would be marvelous. Is she available?”
“Oh she’s waiting here with baited breath.”
“Hold on one moment, Mrs. Perkins.”
Jerry dropped the phone from his ear and cupped his hand around the receiver.
“Your turn,” he said to Mary.
“I’ll do the dishes.”
Jerry shook his head.
He extended the receiver. “Take this off my hands and I’ll do all three.”
Mary stared at the receiver. Scott’s laughter earned him a quieting stare from both of his parents. He drowned his humor in a long gulp of milk.
Mary held out her hand and Jerry deposited the phone in her outstretched palm like a dirty diaper. She blew out a long breath and raised it to her ear.
“Hello, Mrs. Perkins.”
“Mary! Wonderful to speak with you. Has Jerry filled you in on the matter yet?”
“I’ve caught a bit – “
“Then you must agree. You of all people should understand the need for a traditional musical program. Mr. Armstrong needs to be stopped. Can I add your name to my petition?”
“Actually, I rather liked the notion of the smaller plays.”
Mary swallowed as Jerry winced around a mouthful of pasta.
“I would have thought, Mrs. Johnson, that with your background and as editor of the theatrical reviews in the Post, you would understand the value of such a program.”
“I do, I do,” Mary said slowly as if talking down a suicide jumper from the tenth story. “I thought the smaller pieces might provide more opportunities for the children, for your Olivia for example.”
Priscilla Perkins paused. “Do tell…”
“Well, everyone’s done the Music Man. Having that on any of the children’s college resumes would be wonderful, but what about staring in two or three plays within the time it takes to produce one?”
“Olivia could have multiple leading parts…”
“Possibly…” Priscilla for once fell silent. Mary surged on into the void.
“And they would be doing original works, plays never done before. Acting in parts that they can define and sculpt. I think that would be a wonderful challenge and one earning a bit more respect then tapping to the same old tune.”
“True…” murmured Priscilla. Mary could hear the other woman’s mind spinning across the line.
“So, I’m actually in support of Mr. Armstrong’s idea. It’s avant-garde and something many of the more artistic venues are working with these days.”
“Is that so?”
“Oh, yes. Just look at the dockets in the downtown theaters for the fall. They’re all smaller, in house pieces.”
“Of course,” Priscilla said in quick agreement then her voice wavered. “But the musical…”
Mary set her fork beside her plate and rubbed her temples with her free fingers.
“Depending on how this goes, maybe they could do it in the spring?”
“Oh the spring. You are brilliant Mary.”
“Ah…” Mary blinked at the sudden compliment.
“These smaller pieces can go off in the fall. Olivia can star in, oh, who knows how many.” Priscilla twittered on and Mary had the distinct impression she was no longer needed in the conversation. “Should Mr. Armstrong’s notion go well, he can repeat the process or I’ll have even more support for the musical. This will just be marvelous, don’t you agree?”
“Well…yes I guess I do.”
“Excellent! I’m so glad I can count on your support Mary. I do hope you can turn Jerry on to our cause.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Wonderful, wonderful. I’ll look forward to discussing the details with you at the next PTA meeting then.”
“Won-der-ful,” Mary managed through clenched teeth.