Peeling Oranges


Peeling Oranges

The lights go up on ESTHER FEIN, an observant Jewish woman in her 50s, and RICHARD CROSSETT, a non-Jewish male in his 50s. They are in Esther’s kitchen, and they are making an orange salad. Richard is looking around the area while holding an orange, and Esther is already peeling oranges.. He turns around for a moment to see what she is doing. She is peeling the oranges with her hands.

RICHARD

(still examining the area)

Where’s your citrus peeler?

ESTHER

The thing you use to peel oranges? They’re like, what, ten dollars each?

RICHARD

Yeah, you have one? Where is it?

 ESTHER

It’s in the ten dollars I saved not buying one.

She crosses behind Richard and grabs his orange.

ESTHER

In my house, our hands do the work for us.

She peels some of the orange with her hands, then puts it in Richard’s hands.

ESTHER
Now you try.

He smiles, but puts it down, and takes out a fork instead.

RICHARD

 (chuckling)

I gotta say, I admire your work ethic, Esther, but things are a lot easier when you have a citrus peeler around. Especially when you’re making a salad for a hundred people.

Esther does not look flattered by his compliment, nor interested in what he has to say. It’s quiet for a bit. Richard attempts to use the fork to peel the orange, but is having a hard time. He gives up and puts the fork down on the counter.

RICHARD

Maybe Martha and I will buy Steven and Jessie a citrus peeler as a wedding gift, eh, Esther?

ESTHER

I’ll take it from them-

RICHARD

(interrupting her, trying to get her to laugh)

-to use?

ESTHER

(unamused)

I’ll take it from them and I swear I’ll burn it. Money spent on trivial things like an orange peeler isn’t money that should be spent at all.

It’s quiet again for a little while. Richard tries to lighten the mood.

RICHARD

So...how’s your cat?

ESTHER

I don’t have one. I’m allergic.

RICHARD

The dog?

ESTHER

Allergic. Guess again.

RICHARD

The husband?

Esther glares at him.

RICHARD

Oh, come on! I’m just trying to make conversation, Esther!

No response.

RICHARD

Fine. If you want something done, you have to do it yourself.

Richard puts his hands in front of him like puppets and makes them talk to each other.

RICHARD

(as Esther)

So, how’s the wife, Richard? How’s Martha?

RICHARD

(as himself)

Oh, she’s fine. We’re living our best lives. She was really thinking about getting Steven and Jessie a new citrus peeler, though. I’d hate to have to tell her the bad news.

Esther stifles a laugh. Richard steps away from his preparation area and admires the area around him. He opens a cabinet, and sifts around for something.

ESTHER

What do you think you’re doing?

RICHARD

I’m just checking out your kosher kitchen here. I’ve seen things like these on the home and garden network.

Esther rolls her eyes.

RICHARD

You got your two sinks, your two...um... halves of a kitchen, your different colored bowls and plates... I only see one dishwasher, though.

ESTHER

(stepping in front of him)

Richard, if we’re going to be spending a lot of time with each other, you need to stay in line. I’m going to tell you my rules for the house, and you’re going to listen to them, got it?

RICHARD

(laughing)

Don’t worry about me. I’ve seen the home and garden network! I know your rules.

Richard opens a drawer and takes out a knife.

ESTHER

That’s fleishik.

RICHARD

Gesundheit.

ESTHER

Fleishik. It’s a Yiddish word. We use it to talk about meat, and meat utensils. That’s the meat drawer. That’s a meat knife. Rule #1- Don’t use fleishik utensils, plates, or cooking ware for pareve foods if you can help it.

RICHARD

Pareve?

ESTHER

Foods that aren’t milk or meat. Neutral foods, like oranges. They don’t pick a side. Rule #2-

RICHARD

Esther, Esther, I get it. No meat with milk, meat utensils are supposed to be for meat only. Par-erev-

ESTHER

Pareve?

RICHARD

Whatever. It’s neutral, neutral like-

BOTH

-oranges-

Esther nods her head in approval.

RICHARD

And you put your milk dishes in the milk dishwasher, and your meat dishes in the…

He looks around. Esther lightens up a bit.

ESTHER

(slightly smiling)

If you’re looking for a meat dishwasher, you’re gonna have to look somewhere else.

RICHARD

(trying to poke fun and go along with it)

Is someone cheating at being kosher?

Esther’s face drops. This is not funny.

RICHARD

I’ve seen the shows. The Jewish couple, they walk in, they need two of everything so it’s kosher. Including two dishwashers.

ESTHER

We don’t need two dishwashers. Do I look like I’m made out of money? We scrub the meat dishes!

She crosses behind him, picks up her stuff, and moves to another area to keep peeling oranges.

ESTHER

I don’t need a machine to do what two good hands can do for free.

It’s quiet again. Esther is furiously peeling at her oranges.

RICHARD

(irritated, digging a little deeper)

Esther, What kind of house do you think they’ll live in?

No reply from Esther.

RICHARD

(friendly tone, but condescending)

I mean, they’re doctors. Both of them. That’s probably not new for your family, right, Esther? They could afford a great place in Colorado. A place with enough room for two sinks, two dishwashers-

ESTHER

-I’m sorry?-

RICHARD

-a citrus peeler-

ESTHER

-They won’t need a big place, Richard.

RICHARD

They can afford it, Esther!

ESTHER

If they make enough money to sustain themselves, they can put the rest in their savings. For their children. For their future. A small house will do, maybe even a nice basement apartment.

RICHARD

Well, where are they gonna fit their kosher needs? Their sinks? Their different sets of plates and cutlery?

Esther rolls her eyes and keeps peeling, faster.

RICHARD

All the basement apartments  I’ve seen have low ceilings. How are they going to fit anything in there, Esther? How are they gonna do holidays with family? How are they gonna fit a Christmas tree in there?

Esther stops peeling. A long pause.

ESTHER

A Christmas tree?

RICHARD

You’re being selfish.

ESTHER

Selfish?

RICHARD

You’re isolating them from the outside world, Esther!  You’re not gonna let them have Christmas-

ESTHER

Richard, an apartment  would be suitable enough to raise a child or two in, and then once they’ve settled down and gotten a good grip on their family, they can maybe move into a bigger home to fit more children-

RICHARD

And they won’t be able to fit anything in the bigger house any way, right? On your side of the family, you have 8 kids each? No Christmas tree, no nothing. And all the money they’re saving up?

ESTHER

For their children, Richard, for the future-

RICHARD

I met you four years ago, Esther. In those four years, you haven’t changed at all. I admire so many things about you, your persistence, your...durability. I know Steven saw all the same traits in Jessie. And, I heard all those things, all those little stereotypes when I was growing up. I never believed any of them, I was a good kid.

He takes a breath. He has trouble getting the words out.

RICHARD

Most of them were cruel, those stereotypes about your people- it was right after the Holocaust, and I know you’re a good person- a great person. I know you’re kind. Some of your...characteristics never really stood out until now. Maybe they’re habitual. I don’t know.

He takes an orange and the meat knife from before. In his previous two lines, he was cautious, but now he shakes his head, laughs, then looks at them both, and slightly raises his voice as he says his next line.

RICHARD

Rule #1- Don’t use fleishik utensils, plates, or cooking ware for pareve foods if you can help it. Meat knife? Pareve orange?

He works the tip of the knife around the top of the orange as he speaks the next line, and he looks right at Esther as he does it. Esther is rapidly peeling oranges, looking down.

RICHARD

You’re being greedy, and you’re being cheap.

On the word “cheap”, the knife slips and goes through the orange. Richard stumbles back, realizing he’s gone too far, and puts the knife and the orange on the counter. He wipes his hands on his pants, and stares at the orange. Esther slowly puts her knife down.

ESTHER

Richard, my parents were Holocaust survivors.

Richard looks at her.

ESTHER

I grew up in a one bedroom apartment with my family. My parents had come to America only 5 years before I was born. Not all Jews have 8 kids per family, Richard. I was an only child. My family couldn’t afford me having brothers, or sisters. We had the bare necessities. We didn’t need two dishwashers, we didn’t even have one, and you can bet we didn’t need anything like a citrus peeler either.

RICHARD

Esther, I-

ESTHER

(raising her voice)

I want them to save for their future because that’s what my parents did, and that’s what I did. Call them stingy. They just wanted to be able to provide for their family! Call me cheap. I just wanted to do the same. I had to raise Jessica alone, Richard. I was left with no money, no husband, and-

Esther turns back to her station.

ESTHER

Oh, my god.

She turns to look at Richard.

ESTHER

I’m sorry. I wouldn’t expect you to understand.

RICHARD

I wouldn’t understand, Esther. I came from a...different family, with different values, and different...things in our house. Obviously, your parents went through some real trauma, and I’m sorry, but I didn’t have the same kind of experience in my family.

ESTHER

So you see that I just want them to be able to provide for their kids.

RICHARD

They’ll have no trouble being able to do that, Esther! We’re talking about Steven and Jessie here, Esther. They’re geniuses! They met at Yale! They’ll both have full-time jobs!

ESTHER

Richard, in case something happens, I want them to have a little bit of money to lean on! My parents couldn’t give me much, but what they had put away for the future saved my life.

RICHARD

Just in case what happens? In case Steven leaves Jessie?

ESTHER

Richard, I’m not saying that-

RICHARD

No, no. I understand! Your husband left you, I get it, but you don’t know Steven! He would never do anything like that, Esther!

ESTHER

In case anything happened, Richard. Anything.

RICHARD

You’re treating me like I’m the bad guy, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. With you, it’s always this or that. You’re born Jewish, or you’re wrong. You’re born Jewish, or you’re evil.

ESTHER

Richard-

RICHARD

All Martha and I have tried to be is supportive, and you still hardly look us in the eye.

A pause.

ESTHER

What do you mean?

RICHARD

Each time we’ve seen each other, Esther. The graduation party? The engagement? It’s like there’s something wrong with us, Esther. Your family, you all look at Steve and I the same way. You know what I mean.

ESTHER

I don’t.

RICHARD

(with growing intensity)

Every rule, every law, every meat knife, every citrus peeler feels like a strike against me! Like something every Jew knows, and every non-Jew doesn’t! Every time I’m at one of those gatherings, I feel like I’m not- I know I’m not supposed to be there! We’re human, Esther! I’m human! Steven’s human! He’d never do anything to hurt Jessie, and you think he would because you think he’s a-

ESTHER

Goy?

RICHARD

It’s a derogatory word for a non-Jew, I looked it up. I’ve heard them call me that word behind my back. They called Steven that word too.

ESTHER

Richard, it simply means “non-Jew”. It’s only considered derogatory when used in that kind of context, and I’m sure-

RICHARD

All we try to do is be supportive. And all we get is the privilege of being stared at, and being pointed at.

ESTHER

Maybe you should try a new way of being supportive, Richard!

RICHARD

I’m sorry?

ESTHER

Continually joking about my situation, and my rules, and my religion aren’t ways to make someone trust you!

RICHARD

I was just trying to make you laugh! I just wanted to be friends with you, I want our kids to be able to marry and not have to worry about us getting along!

Esther and Richard walk closer and closer to each other as they argue through the next few lines.

ESTHER

I just want Jessica and Steven to have a good life!  I don’t want it to be corrupted by any drama between my family and yours, but I want them to be able to provide for their children, and you know that doesn’t mean I want them to live in a cardboard box. (Richard begins his next line) I think you have a beautiful family, but what my family is concerned with is whether or not you’re willing to understand our religion-

RICHARD

-I didn’t want our family to lose our culture. I was worried, Martha was worried, the whole family was worried about losing things like Christmas and Easter if Steven married Jessica-

ESTHER

-I knew Steven was a good kid, but my whole family hated the idea of intermarriage. They hated the idea of losing their culture if Jessica married Steven-

RICHARD

-Jessica’s a great young woman, we were just afraid. We want the best for them, but with all of your rules, we were scared-

ESTHER

-We, my family and I,

Richard and Esther say their next line at the same time. On the word GOY/JEW, they look down.

                         ESTHER                                                           RICHARD

We were afraid because we didn’t                      We were scared, we didn’t want

      want her losing her family  for a GOY!           Steven losing his family for a JEW!

A long pause. Esther starts on peeling oranges again.

ESTHER

I’m sorry.

RICHARD

No, I’m sorry. You know, They had us peel the oranges for an orange salad so we could spend more quality time with each other.

He forces a laugh.

ESTHER

Well, we did.

RICHARD

And look how far that got us.

A pause. Esther sniffs, and wipes her eyes. Richard turns to her. She’s crying.

RICHARD

Oh, my god. I’m so sorry, Esther, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean-

ESTHER

No, no. It’s not you. It’s just, um…

She hesitates, and wipes her eyes again. She laughs through tears. When she speaks again, she speaks louder.

ESTHER

Oranges were Jessica’s favorite food when she was little. She used to bring them to me to peel them for her, no matter how old she was. I’d peel them for her when she’d come home wearing her little pigtails in kindergarten, and I’d peel them for her when she’d come home from breaks in college.

RICHARD

Steven loved oranges too. God, he was such a happy kid, but when he was sick...that was a different story, right? He’d be home in bed, and I’d always bring him orange flavored anything. Lollipops, ice cream, juice in the morning for breakfast- it just made him so much happier. Just like Jessie. I always make sure I have a bowl of them ready when he comes home.

ESTHER

It’s going to be hard for me to peel her oranges for her when she’s all the way in Colorado.

Esther turns away.

ESTHER

She had to deal with so much growing up. She’s the most amazing woman in the world. And since she is, I’m more than one hundred percent sure she picked the best man in the world.

RICHARD

He is.

Esther wipes a tear away, crying. She laughs.

ESTHER

He’d better peel her oranges for her.

A pause. Richard smiles.

RICHARD

I’m sure he will.

Esther returns to peeling her oranges, while continually wiping her eyes. Richard is about to cut one of his oranges, but puts his knife down. He watches Esther peel her oranges, and begins to peel his too.

END OF PLAY