First reading December 7, 2012 as part of SF Olympians Festival.
All dialogue, except where pauses are noted, should be rapidfire.
READER: Two women sit uncomfortably at a small table stacked with papers and small sculptures. They are in a large, gracious, but run-down salon piled high with books, tools, bolts of fabric, photographs, art supplies, partially-painted canvases, figurines, dress dummies, old musical instruments and record players, etc. Everything is dusty.
Themis: How is she doing?
Mnemosyne: As you would expect
T: This house smells like cat
M: Does it?
T: You don’t smell that?
M: I’ve been distracted.
T: by what? All the housekeeping you’re not doing?
M: Why are you here?
T: Can you actually be asking me that? I’ve read your letters.
M: I didn’t ask you for anything. I didn’t ask you to come.
T: It’s worse than you described.
M: You’ve always been so judgmental….
T: Honey, this is not ok. This is an episode of Hoarders. The porch is rotten, there are windows that won’t shut, the paint is peeling, and look at this clutter–why must you all keep so much junk here?-
T: And why have you not done as I advised?
M: Can you stop insulting—
M: I’m not putting her in a home.
T: You can’t take care of her-
M: I’m taking care of her-
T: She can’t even come downstairs; you said so in your letter-
M: Not “Can’t”—WON’T
T: What?–Well, can’t or won’t , it doesn’t matter
M: It matters. She’s a free woman and can do as she likes. What business is it of ours if-
T: It’s not normal. It’s not healthy
M: Look, she knows she doesn’t have all the time in the world left, and just doesn’t want to deal with…. Mundanities.
T: Mundanites? Like….her own house? Like other people? Like fresh air? Like walking up and down stairs? What are you taking about?
M: like distractions….all this is a distraction to her.
T: all this what?
M: the house… the bills..
T: the bills? …you mean the bills you forward to me and I take care of? along with the taxes thank you very much, and along with the lien notice. What the hell was that about?
M: you know I have no way of paying-
T: Yes, because you’re stuck here doing a half-assed job of nursing a dying woman-
M: She’s not dying-
T: She’s not dying? So she’s just holed herself up in a DIY pauper’s hospice as a what, vacation?
M: She’s working.
T: She won’t leave her room because she’s working
T: what is she working on?
M: I think she’s ….writing…
T: oh, so now she’s a writer? And what is she writing?
M: I’m not sure… I think it’s a history.
T: ..a history?…Of what?
M: um… us..
T: us? A history of us? Like, our family?…oh no….oh no no no no no no
M: Well I’m not entirely—I’m just guessing
T: Oh no. She can’t do that. She’s got to know—
M: She can do what she wants! Who are we to put the kibosh—
T: No- NO ONE can know about this—
M: Oh for heaven’s-
T: This will ruin us. Are you capable of thinking even five minutes into the future? What would happen if people knew? What would happen to my husband? To my daughters? To your daughters?
M: We are not ashamed. Of anything.
T: Grow up. How delusional are you? Do you really want people knowing what went on here? With this…place…suddenly under scrutiny? You think they’ll be kind to you? To us?
M: Would you rather be forgotten? Everything just getting dusty and disappearing?
T: Nothing disappears around here. It’s all stacked tits-high and covered in catshit. And now it will be news. You need to stop her writing, and put her in a home and sell this place and everything in it.
M: Now who’s delusional?
T: ..or burn it…
M: I think it’s wonderful that she’s making something out of this…out of our lives. Preserving it somehow-
T: IF she finishes; have you forgotten who we’re talking about?
M: Somebody should. I can’t write, or do anything practical, really, and you don’t need to be unkind and remind me of that. Anyway, it’s not my place to tell anyone not to do what they’re inspired to do…
M: Yes, inspired. I know inspiration doesn’t mean anything to you with your careful planning and your thinking and your facts, but some people create because they have to and they just do it and they don’t worry about whether it’s a good idea, and it’s beautiful. If you can’t appreciate that I pity you.
T: Oh save me from this reductive pap. This chaos is not the product of inspiration; it’s just the relics of a life of a spoiled, unfocused woman with lots of time and no attention span.
M: You just see it that way because that’s how you see everything, looking at the world through buzzkill-colored glasses.
Do you remember when she ordered the box of ladybugs from that gardening place? I think she assumed there’d be 30 or so in it, that she’d have a small colony for all her plants in the living room and corridor. You weren’t there when she opened the box; it must have been hundreds that swarmed out. First they hovered in place, a dense red cloud humming under the chandelier. Then the cloud seemed to explode, and these buzzing red dots just flew in every direction. I don’t think I’d ever seen a ladybug before, and now dozens were flying into my face, grazing my arms and legs, getting stuck between my toes and tangled in my hair. I remember thinking that the world had changed, that these furious little creatures would now always be with us, recklessly slamming their tiny, hard bodies into the windowpanes, alighting with a shudder onto our eyelids and noses when we lay down, crawling along every surface in our home so that it looked animated and we couldn’t walk or sit without hearing the startling crunch of their dotted shells under us. Somehow I don’t remember what she did after she released the insects into the room. I only remember standing alone in the swarm, blinking as they brushed past my eyelashes and tickled my ears. And then I went to your room. I imagined you’d know what to do, how to live with them. You were sitting on your bed with your arms crossed in front of your chest. The ladybugs were flying all around you and you looked so disgusted.
T: Of course I was disgusted. Who orders live insects for a few indoor potted plants? And doesn’t even check to see how many of them they’d get?! You were little; everything that didn’t make sense was magic and that was fine with you. But I was picking carcasses out of my shoes and backpack and pockets and hairbrush for the next two months. Can you tell me what is more depressing to a ten year old than a handful of dead ladybugs? Their legs all folded under and brittle and falling off… You don’t remember what mom did after that because she left you, literally crawling with insects, and went back to her studio. I’m the one who went around opening all the windows. I’m the one who spent the next four hours with a jar and a piece of paper trying to capture as many as I could and release them outside. I’m the one who had to pick bits of crushed exoskeleton out of the cat’s teeth for a week. Mom just unleashed this chaos into the house and pranced off! As usual.
M: But it was beautiful! For a moment.
T: Everything was beautiful for a moment. But then it just turned into something unfinished that no one was willing to deal with but me. No one but me ever wanted to think about the fallout of these caprices. We have a house full of half-painted, rotting canvases, heaps of unfinished mothworn dresses with the needles still stuck in the hems, we have a house itself that none of us can afford to keep and no one wants to sell.
M: That’s all it is to you? She wore those dresses all the time, they’re how I see her when I think of her when she was young. She left the hems unfinished so that we could wear them when we grew up; she knew we’d grow taller she. The canvasses are half-painted because she was trying to teach you to paint. She wanted you to pick up where she left off; she didn’t expect you to be so indifferent. Don’t you remember? This isn’t junk, and our home isn’t just something dirty and worthless to slough off.
T: It’s oppressive! It’s heavy. I can actually feel it on my chest at night, the weight of this detritus. A thousand dusty broken tchochkes that she looked at once and sighed and so now you can’t possibly ever part with them. This house will ruin you. It will either literally fall apart and crush you one day as you’re staring ponderously out the window while listening to Satie, or it will bury you under an avalanche of bills you will never be able to pay. What will you do? Sell the junk she couldn’t even get rid of in the fleamarket?? Are you gonna become a dealer in the unfinished work of an obscure dilletante? Take these rags to the snots at Buffalo Exchange and flounce off in a huff when they turn them down? Or will you ever actually wear them? Put to use all those sewing skills you learned from mom and make your living as a tailoress? Did she even teach you how to sew? Cook? Paint? Any instruments? languages? Did she teach you to balance a checkbook? Do you even have a bank account that she isn’t the primary holder on? Did she actually teach you to do anything? Or did she just heap her life’s hoardings on you and convince you that you could get by as a helpless bohemian woman-child and it would somehow all work out? No one’s going to pay you to be charming; we’re not living in Memoirs of a Geisha.
M: Maybe I’ll start collecting child support…
T: Fuck you.
M: Nervous, suddenly?
T: That’s another thing she didn’t teach you, birth control.
M: Yes, I can’t imagine why you all stopped at three. Whyever would you not want to spawn more of those sour-faced shindig shitting pedants? what a joy they must be, what a balm in your withering middle age, to have them goosestepping around the house, making sure no one farts too loudly—
T: Our house is functional! It works. I know you think that anything less chaotic than your circus of buskers couldn’t possibly be interesting enough to love, but my girls get things done. Important things. What are your girls doing to keep this place from descending into Gray Gardens, what are they doing to help their own grandmother who can’t clean up her own piss–
M: Can’t you leave them out of this? This house is not their problem and stop talking about her piss; nobody’s pissing themselves
T: Look, I didn’t want to have to bring this up. I was hoping we’d….agree on something. I’m not sure why I thought that would happen….I’ve received an offer on this place.
M: What do you mean offer?
T: to sell this property.
M: Sell? You’ve been shopping my house, our family’s home,–
T: I wasn’t shopping anything. Bettermalls has been buying up all the land around here. They want to put in a Megachicken and Faxmax and Spazzcoffee and a stadium and parking lot. This house and the gardens are right in the middle. They sent me an offer. It’s big.
M: Oh, so I get sent the liens and threats and the bills I don’t even know how to read properly and you get sent a big fuck-off bag of money for shitting all over your family
T: no one is shitting! I’d buy you all a duplex in south beach with the money. I’d put mom in the best care home in the city. I’d even pay to store all this crap you insist on keeping. We’d have more than enough. Look, I want you to want to do the smart thing. They need both our signatures, but i’m warning you, if you don’t agree to this, I’m not bailing you out again. Don’t bother sending me your bills. Don’t expect me sort out this quagmire of debts and violations and tax disasters you’re in for. You are on your own and good luck.
M: you’re blackmailing me?
T: oh shut up; it’s not blackmail if the person’s too stupid to choose it without being blackmailed
M: you’re threatening me with ruin if I don’t sign over our family home and throw our mother in some soulless institution.
T: and the manuscript. I want the manuscript.
M: the manuscript
T: whatever she’s done, i want it.
M: oh for god’s sake why
T: don’t be an idiot,
M: god, the sky will not cave in if people know you’re not perfect
T: The Senate’s premier fathers not just A love child but fucking nine children—nine bastards—with his wife’s sister—and you think they’ll just shrug and move on cuz “nobody’s perfect”? The sky will cave in. he’ll be finished. the money will definitely be finished. we’ll all be finished. We have to destroy the manuscript. and she has to be watched; she can’t write anymore. Put her in the home; she’ll be distracted with bingo and Matlock and spongebaths and not feel the need to destroy everything with some sordid lifetime channel tell-all…. give me the key to her room.
T: I have a right to see my mother
M: oh like you give a shit—you just want to get your hands on the manuscript
T: look I tried to make this easy; I gave you a choice that’s only difficult for you because you’re insane. But I obviously can’t trust you not to muck it up. I’m taking the manuscript and I’m breaking down the door if i have to. and you will sign on the sale and visit her in her posh care home with the nice nurses and the carefully chaperoned recreation hours and be fucking happy about it.
Themis starts to walk up the staircase
M: Don’t go up there.
T: I cant talk to you
M: DON’T GO UP THERE
T: WHY? TELL ME WHY. Do you have a reason or you just wasting my time,–
M: she’s not up there
T: she’s not. where is she
M: (pause) not there
T: FUCKING HELL where is she, what have we been talking about this whole time.
M: she’s nowhere.
T: nowhere. what do you mean.
T: …Tell me…
M: she died
M: she’s dead.
M: two weeks ago
T: two weeks….why did you not tell me?
T: My mother died and you just decided not to tell me
Ok, I’m going to hold off on indulging the emotional shit storm you just hurled at me, and try to deal with this…news intelligently. where the papers…what she’d written so far
M: “so far”?
T: yes, I assume there are papers? I assume our mother wasn’t typing her tome on the latest macbook air? and backing it up in“The cloud”??
M: no, she wrote it out with a pen, like in olden times
T: alright so where are the papers? We can’t trust that just because it’s unfinished it won’t still be an attractive property. A fraction of our story gets out and we’re doomed. we have to burn them.
M: actually…she did finish it.
T: She finished it?
T wow. (pause-genuinely moved) That’s a first.
M: she wrote the last chapter and lay down in bed with the completed story on her breast and her long, elegant hands crossed over it, and died peacefully in her sleep. Like a mystic. It was so beautiful.
T: oh for god’s sake-
M: and it’s amazing. the book is amazing. and we’re amazing in it
T: Oh, I’m sure.
M: You should be. She used your diary as a reference-
T: GIVE IT TO ME
M: I can’t
T: You can’t. why not?
M: I don’t have it
T: why….where is it….
M: not here
T: STOP BEING COY
M: It’s in the vault. at Schiller & Tyrone’s
T: Schiller & Tyrone’s… the publishers….
M: yeah, like where they kept the Harry Potter manuscripts until the release date. It’s staying there until they get orders from moi to print it…
T: I don’t understand
M: …which I will do the second I get wind of all you capitalist pig-dogs even thinking you can take away MY HOUSE.T: you’re…
M: That’s right, and from now I’m having ALL my bills sent straight to you. And you’ll pay them, because I have only to pick up the phone….
T: you’re blackmailing me. You! …
M: and I want a stipend. and a housekeeper.
T: Why are you doing this to yourself? Don’t you realize you lose either way? You’d do yourself and your daughters no favors by publishing. They’d be hounded by scandal the rest of their lives. and for what? So you all can just moulder away here in these…ruins. You could live so much better. Don’t you want that? for your daughters at least? For their future?
M: The past is the future. I’m keeping everything—everything!–right here. My daughters are happy here. This house, these mementos and relics that you’d throw away like trash, they are what feed us, what my girls make song and poetry from, they are why they’re funny, why they can piece together a story that has listeners enthralled for hours. They’re why my girls can create, and yours can only calculate. But go ahead, take it away and put us in some granite-topped minimalist nightmare. I’m sure the voters would love to get to know their premier and his mysterious family a lot better.
READER: Themis stares at her sister for a hard moment and then shifts her gaze up the staircase. Lights fade.