CHILD’S VOICE (off stage)
SCENE: A furnished room west of Eighth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. On a folding bed lies a
MAN in crumpled underwear, struggling out of sleep with the sighs of a MAN who went to bed very drunk. A WOMAN sits in a straight chair at the room’s single window, outlined dimly against a sky heavy with a rain that has not yet begun to fall. WOMAN is holding a tumbler of water from which she takes small, jerky sips like a bird drinking. Both of them have ravaged young faces like the faces of children in a famished country. In their speech there is a sort of politeness, a sort of tender formality like that of two lonely children who want to be friends, and yet there is an impression that they have lived in this intimate situation for a long time and that the present scene between them is the repetition of one that has been repeated so often that its plausible emotional contents, such as reproach and contrition, have been completely worn out and there is nothing but acceptance of something hopelessly inalterable between them.
MAN: (Hoarsely) What time is it? (THE WOMAN murmurs something inaudible.) What, honey?
MAN: I know it’s Sunday. You never wind the clock.
(THE WOMAN stretches a thin bare arm out of the raveled pink rayon sleeve of her kimono and picks up the tumbler of water and the weight of it seems to pull her forward a little. The MAN watches solemnly, tenderly from the bed as she sips the water. A thin music begins, hesitantly, repeating a phrase several times as if someone in a next room were trying to remember a song on a Mandolin. Sometimes a phrase is sung in Spanish. The song could be Estrellita.)
(Rain begins, it comes and goes during the play; there is a drumming flight of pigeons past the window and a child’s voice chant outside ——)
Child’s Voice: Rain, rain go away!
Come again some other day!
(The chant is echoed mockingly by another child farther away.)
MAN: (finally) I wonder if I cashed my unemployment. (THE WOMAN leans forward with the weight of the glass seeming to pull her, sets it down on the window-sill with a small crash that seems to startle her. She laughs breathlessly for a moment. The MAN continues, without much hope.) I hope I didn’t cash my unemployment. Where’s my clothes? Look in my pockets and see if I got the cheque on me.
WOMAN: You came back while I was out looking for you and picked the cheque up and left a note on the bed and that I couldn’t make out.
MAN: You couldn’t make out the note?
WOMAN: Only a telephone number. I called the number but there was so much noise I couldn’t hear.
MAN: Noise? There?
WOMAN: No, noise there.
MAN: Where was “there”?
WOMAN: I don’t know. Somebody said come over and hung up and all I got afterwards was a busy signal . . .
MAN: When I woke up I was in a bathtub full of melting ice cubes and Miller’s High Life beer. My skin was blue. I was gasping for breath in a bathtub full of ice cubes. It was near a river but I don’t know if it was the East or the Hudson. People do terrible things to a person when he’s unconscious in this city. I’m sore all over like I’d been kicked downstairs, not like I fell but was kicked. One time I remember all my hair was shaved off. Another time they stuffed me into a trash-can in the alley and I’ve come to with cuts and burns on my body. Vicious people abuse you when you’re unconscious. When I woke up I was naked in a bathtub full of melting ice-cubes. I crawled out and went into the parlor and someone was going out of the other door as I came in and I opened the door and heard the door of an elevator shut and saw the doors of a corridor in a hotel. The TV was on and there was a record playing at the same time; the parlor was full of rolling tables loaded with stuff from Room Service, and whole hams, whole turkeys, three-decker sandwiches cold and turning stiff, and bottles and bottles and bottles of all kinds of liquors that hadn’t even been opened and buckets of ice-cubes melting . . . Somebody closed a door as I came in . . . (THE WOMAN sips water.) As I came in someone was going out. I heard a door shut and I went to the door and heard the door of an elevator shut . . . (THE WOMAN sets her glass down.) —– All over the floor of this pad near the river — articles—-clothing—–scattered . . . (THE WOMAN gasps as a flight of pigeons sweeps past the open window.)—-Bras! —–Panties! —-Shirts, ties, socks—- and so forth. . .
WOMAN: (faintly) Clothes?
MAN: Yes, all kinds of personal belongings and broken glass and furniture turned over as if there’d been a free-for-all fight going on and the pad was —- raided . . .
MAN: Violence must have—-broken out in the—-place . . .
WOMAN: You were—-?
MAN: ——in the bathtub on—–ice . . .
WOMAN: Oh . . .
MAN: And I remember picking up the phone to ask what hotel it was but I don’t remember if they told me or not . . . Give me a drink of that water. (Both of them rise and meet in the center of the room. The glass is passed gravely between them. He rinses his mouth, staring at her gravely, and crosses to spit out the window. Then he returns to the center of the room and hands the glass back to her. She takes a sip of the water. He places his fingers tenderly on her long throat.) Now I’ve recited the litany of my sorrows! (Pause: the Mandolin is heard.) And what have you got to tell me? Tell me a little something of what’s going on behind your—- (His fingers trail across her forehead and eyes. She closes her eyes and lifts a hand in the air as if about to touch him. He takes the hand and examines it upside down and then he presses its fingers to his lips. When he releases her fingers she touches him with them. She touches his thin smooth chest which is smooth as a child’s and then she touches his lips. He raises his hand and lets his fingers slide along her throat and into the opening of the kimono as the Mandolin gathers assurance. She turns and leans against him, her throat curving over his shoulder, and he runs his fingers along the curve of her throat and says—-) It’s been so long since we have been together except like a couple of strangers living together. Let’s find each other and maybe we won’t be lost. Talk to me! I’ve been lost! —– I thought of you often but couldn’t call you, honey. Thought of you all the time but couldn’t call. What could I say if I called? Could I say, I’m lost? Lost in the city? Passed around like a dirty postcard among people? — And then hang up . . . I am lost in this—-city . . .
WOMAN: I’ve had nothing but water since you left! (She says this almost gaily, laughing at the statement. The MAN holds her tight to him with a soft, shocked cry.)—- Not a thing but instant coffee until it was used up, and water! (She laughs convulsively.)
MAN. Can you talk to me, honey? Can you talk to me, now?
MAN. Well, talk to me like the rain and — let me listen, let me lie here and — listen … [He falls back across the bed, rolls on his belly, one arm hanging over the side of the bed and occasionally drumming the floor with his knuckles. The Mandolin continues] It’s been too long a time since — we levelled with each other. Now tell me things: What have you been thinking in the silence? — While I’ve been passed around like a dirty postcard in the city … Tell me, talk to me! Talk to me like the rain and I will lie here and listen.
WOMAN. I —
MAN. You’ve got to, it’s necessary! I’ve got to know, so talk to me like the rain and I will lie here and listen, I will lie here and —
WOMAN. I want to go away.
MAN. You do?
WOMAN. I want to go away!
WOMAN. Alone! [She returns to window] I’ll register under a made-up name at a little hotel on the coast …
MAN. What name?
WOMAN. Anna — Jones … The chambermaid will be a little old lady who has a grandson that she talks about … I’ll sit in the chair while the old lady makes the bed, my arms will hang over the — sides, and — her voice will be — peaceful … She’ll tell me what her grandson had for supper! — tapioca and — cream … [THE WOMAN sits by the window and sips the water] — The room will be shadowy, cool, and filled with the murmur of —
WOMAN. Yes. Rain.
WOMAN. Anxiety will — pass — over!
MAN. Yes …
WOMAN. After a while the little old WOMAN will say, Your bed is made up, Miss, and I’ll say — Thank you … Take a dollar out of my pocketbook. The door will close. And I’ll be alone again. The windows will be tall with long blue shutters and it will be a season of rain — rain — rain … My life will be like the room, cool — shadowy cool and — filled with the murmur of —
WOMAN. I will receive a check in the mail every week that I can count on. The little old lady will cash the checks for me and get me books from a library and pick up — laundry … I’ll always have clean things! — I’ll dress in white. I’ll never be very strong or have much energy left, but have enough after a while to walk on the — esplanade — to walk on the beach without effort … In the evening I’ll walk on the esplanade along the beach. I’ll have a certain beach where I go to sit, a little way from the pavillion where the band plays Victor Herberg selections while it gets dark … I’ll have a big room with shutters on the windows. There will be a season of rain, rain, rain. And I will be so exhausted after my life in the city that I won’t mind just listening to the rain. I’ll be so quiet. The lines will disappear from my face. My eyes won’t be inflamed at all any more. I’ll have no friends. I’ll have no acquaintances even. When I get sleepy, I’ll walk slowly back to the little hotel. The clerk will say, Good evening, Miss Jones, and I’ll just barely smile and take my key. I won’t ever look at a newspaper or hear a radio; I won’t have any idea what’s going on in the world. I will not be conscious of time passing at all … One day I will look in the mirror and I will see that my hair is beginning to turn grey and for the first time I will realize that I have been living in this little hotel under a made-up name without any friends or acquaintances or any kind of connections for twenty-five years. It will surprise me a little bit but it won’t bother me any. I will be glad that time has passed as easily as that. Once in a while I may go out to the movies. I will sit in the back row with all that darkness around me and figures sitting motionless on each side not conscious of me. Watching the screen. Imaginary people. People in stories. I will read long books and the journals of dead writers. I will feel closer to them than I ever felt to people I used to know before I withdrew from the world. It will be sweet and cool this friendship of mine with dead poets, for I won’t have to touch them or answer their questions. They will talk to me and not expect me to answer. And I’ll get sleepy listening to their voices explaining the mysteries to me. I’ll fall asleep with the book still in my fingers, and it will rain. I’ll wake up and hear the rain and go back to sleep. A season of rain, rain, rain … Then one day, when I have closed a book or come home alone from the movies at eleven o’clock at night — I will look in the mirror and see that my hair has turned white. White, absolutely white. As white as the foam on the waves. [She gets up and moves about the room as she continues] I’ll run my hands down my body and feel how amazingly light and thin I have grown. Oh, my, how thin I will be. Almost transparent. Not hardly real any more. Then I will realize, I will know, sort of dimly, that I have been staying on here in this little hotel, without any — social connections, responsibilities, anxieties or disturbances of any kind — for just about fifty years. Half a century. Practically a lifetime. I won’t even remember the names of the people I knew before I came here nor how it feels to be someone waiting for someone that — may not come … Then I will know — looking in the mirror — the first time has come for me to walk out alone once more on the esplanade with the strong wind beating on me, the white clean wind that blows from the edge of the world, from even further than that, from the cool outer edges of space, from even beyond whatever there is beyond the edges of space … [She sits down again unsteadily by the window] — Then I’ll go out and walk on the esplanade. I’ll walk alone and be blown thinner and thinner.
MAN. Baby. Come back to bed.
WOMAN. And thinner and thinner and thinner and thinner and thinner! [He crosses to her and raises her forcibly from the chair] — Till finally I won’t have any body at all, and the wind picks me up in its cool white arms forever, and takes me away!
MAN. [presses his mouth to her throat] Come on back to bed with me!
WOMAN. I want to go away, I want to go away! [He releases her and she crosses to center of room sobbing uncontrollably. She sits down on the bed. He sighs and leans out the window, the light flickering beyond him, the rain coming down harder. THE WOMAN shivers and crosses her arms against her breasts. Her sobbing dies out but she breathes with effort. Light flickers and wind whines coldly. The MAN remains leaning out. At last she says to him softly —] Come back to bed. Come on back to bed, baby … [He turns his lost face to her as —]
THE CURTAIN FALLS
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