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The Mistress of the House: Two plays by Lincoln Allison

(These are two “one act” plays in traditional terms. Women are the central characters in both; the stories and characters are intended to be related in complex ways quite apart from the very slight connection between the plots. The source of the first play is easily traceable to an interview I once did with a Georgian journalist which was published in the UK in the New Statesman. On the source of the second, no comment. I never got round to attempting to find any form of production: the producer I happened to know read them and wasn’t much interested, though he did say that one would tempt him more than the other. One should bear in mind Hazlitt’s judgement that some plays are better read than produced because no actors could ever equal the creatures of one’s own imagination. He included A Midsummer Night’s Dream in that category, so I don’t really agree.)

 

The Former Mistress of the House

There is the sound of tank artillery which then stops.There are two women in a living room.

Katia: Is it still there?

Nina: It is still there, but I think it’s very full. It will leave soon.

Katia: The guns have stopped.

Nina: Does that mean it’s over. If it is we must go . . . now, we must go.

Katia: We can’t. I can’t. I agreed to meet Nana here . . . I can’t leave her.

Nina: Look, if the war’s over . . .or if the ship is full . . . the captain will leave. Nana probably couldn’t get here . . . If she’s any sense . . . and she’s plenty of sense . . . she’ll be on the ship now. We must go. Get your bag! We’ll go up your road until it becomes the path to the mountains; then it crosses another path and it goes down to the port. I know it well. I didn’t have a car like you . . . It should be safe.

Katia tries the telephone.

Katia: Nothing. I wish we had those personal phones like they do in the West.

Nina: Of course there’s nothing. Our phones need lines and they must have been destroyed. We must go! You do not want to be here when they arrive. Some of the things they did in Bataisi . . .

Katia: I heard those stories . . . But this is my home . . . since I was nineteen. If I leave I may never see it again.

Nina: If you stay you may never see anything again . . . I must . . I am going . . . . You must follow . . . But what can I say? Katia?

They embrace. Nina leaves with her bag. Katia puts a favourite folk tune on the battery operated record player. She paces, looks out, looks at her watch, listens to a vehicle in the distance and shows increasing awareness that she has made the wrong decision. A vehicle gets closer. She jumps when there is the sound of an AK47 fired just outside followed by a knock on the door. Vlad’s voice is heard shouting, “If there is anyone in there come to the door and raise your hands. Or we’ll shoot on sight . . .”. Katia goes and returns with three men, Vlad, Miki and Zako. The latter speaks Russian – here represented by English – much less well than the others.

Vlad: Sit down, please.

She does so.

You are the occupant of the house?

She nods.

The only one?

She nods. Zako has found the picture of a man.

Zako: Who is this?

He pokes her with his AK47.

Katia: That is my husband . . . my late husband.

Zako: Dead, yes? He die fighting against us?

Katia: No. He was not involved in the fighting.

Vlad: So how did he die? And when?

Katia: Last year. He used to be in charge of the garage. When things . . . changed he bought an army tanker . . . and brought petrol to the city. He sold it out on the Bataisi Road . . . straight from the tanker. People needed petrol to live their lives. One day he was coming back, the fighting . . . the front . . . was in a different place . . The tanker was hit by a shell. They say he died instantly . . . It was a huge explosion

Zako has found another photograph.

Zako: Who is this?

Katia: That is my son, Ruslani.

Zako: He fight against us?

Katia: No, he’s in Germany . . . for three years.

Zako: So we no find him upstairs, hiding under a bed?

Vlad: Zako is right to ask these questions. We will not harm innocent people, but if you lie to us you are not innocent.

Miki: I’m going out . . . see if I can get radio contact . . . find out what’s going on.

He leaves. Vlad has found another photo.

Vlad: And the girl?

Katia: My daughter.

Vlad: She lives here?

Katia: She did . . . I think she left on the boat . . . I hope so.

Zako pushes his AK47 into her neck.

Zako: Kash’oud dresht ak sih ebuli asak?

She is frightened and bewildered. He speaks louder.

Kash’oud dresht ak sih ebuli asak?

Vlad: Oh, for Christ’s sake, Zako, give me that gun.

He takes the gun, removes the magazine and hands it back.

There, he can’t shoot you now. And Zako – you already know that most people in Potochi do not speak Azurian.

Zako: I ask her why she have such a beautiful house. She lives in most beautiful house in capital of Azuria and she no speak Azurian . . . . My father, honest Azurian peasant, work all his life, fight in Soviet army . . . cannot dream about house like this with beautiful walnut and fig trees . . . view of the sea.

Vlad: Yes! Miki told me about your father: he’s a drunken idiot . . . If you’d have given him a house like this it would have fallen down by now.

Zako moves aggressively towards Vlad who gestures with contempt.

Zako: For one person . . . for two persons to live in house like this is against regulations.

Vlad: Those were Soviet regulations. We are going to be the government now . . . We will make the regulations. How thick can you get?

Miki returns.

Miki: They took the Hotel Azuria without a fight. The manager is on our side, apparently. They’re pulling out all the stops. There’s going to be some serious eating and drinking tonight . . . . And who do you think is going to have this house? . . . Only Commander Astambor!

Vlad: Astambor? Are you sure?

Miki: Russett paint, olive green balcony, steel roof tiles . . . . Only this one, I think. We’d better get the hell out of here.

They begin to leave.

Katia: What should I do? Should I go or should I stay?

Vlad: (Shrugs) Not really our problem. It will probably all amount to the same thing in the end.

Katia: And a man called Astambor will come?

Vlad: Yes, I believe so. A man called Astambor will come.

Katia: What is he like?

Vlad: Oh, he’s civilised enough if you don’t shoot at him. He went to law school; he’s not at all like Zako.

Miki: Ask him to give you a ride to the border in his Mercedes.

They leave. She remains, frightened and depressed.

 

Scene 2

Folk music plays. Katia paces nervously, looks out, checks her bag and her watch. There is a loud knock on the door; she jumps.

Astambor’s voice: Madame Nademi. We wish to speak with you. Please open the door.

Katia leaves and returns with Astambor and his wife. He is around 40, in a sort of military uniform with a pistol in a holster. She is much younger, pretty and demure. They look around.

Madame, you must understand . . . We mean no harm to your person, but we intend to live in this house. I have to stay in Potochi as a member of the provisional government.

Katia: So you can just steal my house?

Astambor (laughs): Not technically stealing. Today we occupy this house in conditions of war . . . call it billetting, requisitioning . . . . Tomorrow, the provisional government will meet and . . . . who knows? . . . I may be awarded the indefinite occupation of this house. Eventually, there will be a recognised democratic government of Azuria which will set up a commission on the property issue and resolve any disputes. You – or your representatives – may put your case. It is, frankly, unlikely that you will get the house back, but if everything is in order you should receive compensation.

Katia: So you will buy my house? How can you buy if I do not wish to sell?

Astambor: It is called “compulsory purchase”. You will find it in every legal system in the world. Even the Americans, with their vast spaces and their rhetoric about private property . . . even they have it. They call it by a fancy name, “eminent domain”, the ultimate right of the state to take what is needed for roads and airports and military camps.

Katia: You are a lawyer?

Astambor: Among other things, yes.

Katia: And lawyers have words for stealing?

Astambor: (laughs) Such as “due process” and “just compensation”.

Katia: What reason will your government give for taking my house?

Astambor: I imagine they will refer to the recent deterioration of relations between ethnic communities and the consequent need to re-allocate housing stock. I assume you have documents to prove your ownership?

Katia: Yes . . . I don’t know . . . in the City Hall . .

Astambor: Sadly destroyed by artillery fire on Thursday . . . . Anyway, you have more urgent problems than that: the big boat has left. There are no more boats.

Katia: Those men . . . who came before . . . they said you might give me a ride.

Astambor: (laughs) Did they, indeed? Easy for them to say, but not possible at this time. I am needed here . . . . We don’t fully control that area . . . . And at the moment I don’t even have enough petrol to go the 60 kilometres there, let alone get back.

Katia: How do I get there?

Astambor: (shrugs) As I understand it when you follow this very road to the east it becomes a path . . . used by recreationalists, mountaineers . . . It goes all the way to Taku . . . .there will be other refugees . . . it is shorter on the path than on the coast road.

Latia: No!

Astambor: What do you mean, “No!” ?

Latia: I mean you cannot ask . . . tell . . . her, a woman, alone, to go out there. There are wild people . . . men . . .If the border is unsettled for you, it is unsettled for her.

Astambor: So what do you suggest?

Latia: There are enough rooms here for all of us . . . and the children can still have one each when they arrive.

Astambor: So: the former mistress of the house, whose opinion it is that we have “stolen” her house, stays on? What is to stop her murdering us in our beds?

Latia: She will promise . . . not to murder us in our beds.

Astambor snorts.

Katia: I promise I will never murder anyone . . . in or out of bed.

Latia: There! You see!

Astambor: So how long would this go on?

Latia: I don’t know. Till tomorrow, obviously. Till you know it’s safe, perhaps . . . Also, where there are things we want and she does not, we must agree to pay for them.

Astambor thinks.

Astambor: Very well. For the moment.

Pause while Astambor contemplates the peculiarity of the situation.

Former Mistress of the House, please show us the upstairs rooms.

 

Scene 3

Katia is sorting through some of her things when Latia returns with shopping in old canvas bags.

Katia: You were able to get everything?

Latia: Not everything. It is still a ghost town . . . after a month. Maybe when things are settled . . .

Katia: But bread?

Latia: Oh yes, bread. That baker, just off the corner of the square . . . I don’t think he ever closed. He has his supply lines, I suppose.

Katia: Expensive?

Latia: It is OK for me because I have American dollars. He gives me five small puri for one dollar. But if you have no dollars, it would be more difficult. He bargains with people . . . If you have wine, one bottle of Ladhekhian red buys you three days of five puri each day . . . If you have champagne, five days of five puri . . . But the way he looks at those bottles (she imitates and laughs) examining the label, the cork, the foil . . . (in reply to Katia’s quizzical look) . . . you see, they are forging wine now, putting rubbish in good bottles . . . They say it is even dangerous, some of it.

Katia: And is there meat?

Latia: There is some, just farmers selling their own. And hunters: I could have bought a wild goat. But I only bought cheese and eggs. There are some kiosks, but they have mostly cigarettes and drink . . . and some old books and magazines. You must come down . . . perhaps tomorrow?

Katia: Perhaps it is not safe for me?

Latia: I think it is safe now. And Astambor is making a document for you . . . from the provisional government. It says you have the right to live here and to travel.

Katia: That is kind of him, but I must leave some time.

Pause.

I have a question for you . . . Why do you always call him Astambor? He must have a first name.

Latia: Djemi! But everyone calls him Astambor. It is an old name, well known in Grukia.

Katia: How did you meet him? You are not from the same place.

Latia: No. It was when trouble first started in the mountains, when I was twenty one. The police and the army stopped coming to our village. People were taking the land . . . the collective farm . . . and treating it as their own. Then a “people’s militia” arrived and Astambor was their commander. He paid special attention to us because my mother was a widow and I have no brothers. (Laughs)
It was a blessing. There were only four unmarried men in that village and they were . . . let’s say “unattractive”. Of course I “fell in love”! Otherwise I would have been an old maid.

Katia: I doubt it. You are a pretty girl.

Latia: But it is so difficult up there. If a man even touches you then others would not be interested. They say in the magazines that some women in Russia – and, of course, in the West – make love with many men before they get married. Make love! Not just kiss! Do you think we could ever become like that?

Katia: I cannot imagine it. People here will not change their ways.

Latia: I have a question for you.

Katia: Go on.

Latia: How did you buy this house? How much did you pay?

Katia: I don’t know about any prices. It was my grandfather’s house. He was a friend of Lenin.

Latia: Not Stalin?

Katia: No, before that. Lenin. When the Russians came back . . . I think in the 1920s . . . I think we lived here from then. It is a very old house, built in Tsarist times.

Latia: So who lived in it before?

Katia: I don’t know. People said they were German.

Latia: If they were German, maybe they had to flee . . .

Katia: I don’t know anything about that.

There is the sound of a car arriving.

But here is your husband.

Asdtambor enters carrying a bottle of sparkling wine.

Astambor: A kiss for my wife! (Does so.) And something better for the former mistress of the house. We have people in Taku. They have located your daughter, Nana. I have been trying to find her for some time, but she was not in any of the apartments set aside for refugees. It turned out that she was with a cousin, in the suburbs. She is not just alive – and well – she has a job in an office. Here: a letter for you. She knows your news.

Katia is overjoyed and touches Astambor affectionately as she receives the letter.

Katia: Thank you! Thank you! Yes, she would get a job. She is a bright girl – good typist, good with figures.

Latia: (Embraces Katia) This is wonderful news. We must celebrate!

Astambor: Of course. (Waves wine bottle.) What do you think this is for?

Latia: Is it genuine?

Astambor: Of course! You don’t think they would dare sell me that fake rubbish, do you?

Katia: I must go. Tomorrow.

Astambor: We must be careful . . . and check out the conditions. Maybe they have no room for you there.

Latia: Maybe you could visit there . . . and come back here. The children will miss you if you go.

Astambor: After all, they have no grandparents.

Latia: Astambor!

Astambor: Well, they have one. Latia’s mother, the mad woman of the mountains, whom they have hardly ever seen. She is a difficult woman.

Latia: She has had a very hard life.

Astambor: In any case, decisions are for tomorrow.

He opens the bottle and begins to pour.

Now we celebrate.

 

Scene 4

Katia and Latia are preparing the table for a meal when Astambor enters.

Astambor: My apologies! But the news is good: I am confirmed as Minister of Justice .

Katia: Minister of Justice ! ?

Latia: We must celebrate. It is good that you came now – the food is ready. Special food: Noriki Caucasi.

Katia exits.

I went to the women’s group you asked me to go to. It was all right. So for the first time Katia has prepared our food on her own. It is the goat dish from Rusticia – I bought the goat in the town – with figs and walnuts and aubergines.

Katia comes back carrying a casserole.

Astambor: Very interesting.

Pause.

Would the former mistress of the house like to taste the food?

Pause. Then Katia throws the food on the floor.

Katia: Does the Minister of Justice not know that his own children have already eaten from this dish? Would he like to go and look at them to see if I have murdered them? Does he think that is the sort of person I am? Does he look at me and see a mirror of his own soul?

Pause.

Astambor: I am sorry. Of course not. It was a stupid joke . . . We live in difficult, stupid times . . . There are people who are trying to kill me.

Katia: Do you know how many times I have sat in this room, talking? I used to talk all the time with Mrs. Kuznetsev, who was originally Ukrainian. There was Mrs Kambor: she actually spoke Azurian – her Ladakhian was poor. There was Mrs. Laria who, like me, was of Rustician parentage. There was Mrs. Tsatsaridou, who was Greek – on the one side, at least. Do you imagine that we quarreled about politics? Do you think we ever imagined we would have to flee down to the harbour to escape those who would kill us in the name of Azuria? Do you think there was “ethnic tension” between us? What world were you living in when I was living in that world?

Astambor: I am truly sorry. It was a stupid, stupid thing to say . . . Of course, I think you are a good person . . . I live in a bad world . . . I have become very nervous . . .

Pause.

Look, the Noriki is gone, but please let everything else remain . . . our friendship . . . I would never again suggest . . .

Latia sobs.

Katia: I must leave . . . I must go . . . My bag is packed . . . I knew this was wrong.

Latia approaches Katia and touches her arm.

Astambor: What can I say?

Katia: Nothing. There is nothing to say.

 

Scene 5

Katia is alone on the stage with her shopping bag.

Katia: I go to the market every day. When there is nothing to buy. When I had no money, I went. I need the space. And to be alone.

Pause.

He took me to the border in his car. There were two other men, both with guns. Because it was him they let me through and took nothing from me. I had to walk seven kilometers to the other border and across the bridge to the Ladhekhian side. They robbed me: my own side in this war. They took my jewelry and some cups.

Pause.

The rest was easy. There were buses to Taku and I found Nana easily enough. At least here I can walk freely in the streets . . . and nobody thinks I am trying to poison their children.

I suppose my movements are very regular . . . predictable. Three times when I went to the market a hooded man approached me.

Enter hooded man; he gives Katia an envelope which she opens. He leaves.

Two hundred and fifty dollars. With a note from Latia that said it had nothing to do with the house as such – it was for the use of the furniture. The money made life a lot easier.

Pause. The hooded man enters again and whispers to Katia and then leaves.

He told me that Commander Astambor was dead. He had many enemies, but none of them killed him. An old man, a drunk driver, killed him on a mountain road. After all he had been through. I was sad.

The hooded man comes again and whispers.

The third message was from Latia. She asked me to return . . . said it could easily be arranged . . . through Russia . . . . She said that she and I needed each other . . . and that the children missed me.

Of course, I thought about it. My own house. A much nicer room. Better conversation.

Pause.

But I did not go. Nana is doing well and she has a boyfriend now – they find them for themselves these days. Who knows what could happen? Ruslani is talking about coming back. We must carry on.

Exits.

 

The Future Mistress of the House

Tom Anderson and Dave Beaumont are talking to each other on their mobile phones.

Tom: Dave, mate, are we going out tonight?

Dave: At some stage I actually have to write this essay. Plus – I’m running out of money.

Tom: I’ve got to get out of this house. Otherwise the BENG will get me. She tries to talk to me and cook me meals and stuff.

Dave: What the hell’s a beng?

Tom: B-E-N-G! Big Evil Nazi Goddess. Her!

Dave: Most men . . . boys . . . male persons who are not gay . . . would quite like to be locked up in a house with her.

Tom: Well, not me. French bitch!

Dave: She’s not French. I’ve seen her on telly.

Tom: Yes she is. CARTEREH: it’s French.

Dave: CARTERETT!

Tom: It’s a French name.

Dave: What’s my name, Tom?

Tom: That would be Dave, Dave.

Dave: Surname?

Tom: Bowmont.

Dave: Yeh – spelled B-E-A-U-M-O-N-T. But I don’t go round calling myself Davide Beaumohn ‘cos I’m English. Half the names in England are originally French. How about Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice? That’s Duh Arcy, Duh? There’s wave after wave of French people come over here: Normans, Huguenots, Aristos, investment bankers. We go over there for the wine and cheese and they come over here for the peace and quiet – that’s what my Dad says.

Tom: And the battles and the good weather.

Dave: Though not at the same time. Anyway, have you googled her.

Tom: No, I have not.

Dave: Pretty impressive. (Summarises)“After winning the girls singles’ title at Wimbledon Jessica Carteret eschewed – that’s a good word, isn’t it? – “eschewed” – What shall I eschew today? Anyway, she eschewed a career in tennis in favour of taking up a scholarship at King Alfred’s College, Oxford where she represented the University in five sports and won academic prizes in two subjects . . . How do you do two subjects?

Tom: Well, you can do philosophy, politics and economics together . . . for instance.

Dave: . . . since leaving university she has never been in regular employment (eschewed the job market as well, I guess) but has appeared regularly on British television – we know that – and writes a column in The Times. Her contract as the face of Gloriana is said to be worth half a million pounds a year.

Tom: Tits.

Dave: What do you mean, “tits”?

Tom: She’s the tits of Gloriana. How would you like it if your stepmother-elect flashed her tits all over the country?

Dave: But she doesn’t flash her tits, does she? She flashes Gloriana bras – “for the goddess, not the princess”. It would be pointless if she took the bra off.

Tom: She flashes the top half of her tits.

Dave: That is not the same thing, mate, and you know it.

A door bangs and footsteps are heard.

Tom: Beng alert. I’m coming round your place.

Dave: If you must.

Jessica Carteret enters carrying a large trophy.

Jess: Tom, Tom . . . just a minute . . . about supper . . .

Tom: Got to go . . big rush on . . .

And he is gone. Jess’s phone rings. It is Gina Hallstrom.

Gina: Hi, Jess. I was trying to get you yesterday, but your phone was off.

Jess: Yes, I was involved in a foursome . . . pretty well all day.

Gina: Bloody hell, Jess . . . You live in a different world. I knew you’d done threesomes. . . . Is that three men and you?

Jess: (looks at trophy) In this case it was, but it doesn’t have to be.

Gina: Do they just . . . take turns?

Jess: You play the same ball alternately. Unlike a fourball where only the better of the two counts.

Pause

Gina: I knew it was golf, really. I suppose a fourball would be a threesome? (Giggles) How did you get on?

Jess: We won. But then I was partnering the world number one. It was a charity thing. Anyway, I don’t suppose you rang me to ask about the golf since you didn’t know I was playing golf.

Gina: No, it was . . . Did you see the papers yesterday?

Jess: No, but I think I know what you’re talking about . . . I was described as a “raunchy man-eater”. My Dad rang and told me . . . The incident in question was two and a half years ago, before I met Graham. I don’t know why whatsisname has chosen to talk about it now when I’m just about to get married.

Gina: When is Graham back?

Jess: Not till next weekend.

Gina: And how are you getting on with the boy?

Jess: Not! It’s as if I was a cat and he was a mouse: if I appear he disappears. I cooked for him last night. He ignored it and sneaked off to MacDonald’s.

Gina: Cooking’s not your strong point, though, is it?

Jess: I’ll remind you that I was on Celebrity Masterchef.

Gina: You didn’t last long, though, did you?

Jess: That was because of presentation issues, not flavour. Anyway, there are at least three things I can cook well and this was one of them: rigati in a rich tomato sauce with chilly and chorizo.

Pause

I can’t get near him at all . . . We’re like one of those couples you read about who live separate lives in the same house.

Gina: Still, he’ll be off to university before too long. Then you can be alone together.

Jess: His mother died when he was seven, you know.

Gina: And you want to take her place?

Jess: No, of course not. I know you can’t do that . . . I do want to be somebody’s mother, though. . . . You know Sarah – my sister, Sarah – has had another baby and I didn’t go to see them at the weekend to wet the baby’s head . . . thus incurring potential thoughts, at least, that I’m a stuck-up celebrity bitch. And do you know why?

Gina: No, why?

Jess: Because I couldn’t bear to hold a baby . . . I can’t pretend . . . I want a baby so much . . . Maybe it’s because I have lived such a “relentlessly trivial life” as Graham once put it.

Gina: I’m sure he didn’t mean it.

Jess: Actually, he probably didn’t, but it’s true.

Gina: Is Graham . . . OK about babies?

Jess: Absolutely . . . He’d love to be a father more than once. We’re already trying . . . when he’s here.

Gina: Good for you, Jess. I hope it goes well.

Jess: It’ll have to . . . I’m 36 in two weeks time . . . Anyway, if you can think of a way of breaking the ice with a 17-year-old boy . . .

Gina: Oh, I don’t know. Give him a blow-job!

Jess: What!?! And then he’d be able to tweet about it . . . That would be falling into the stereotrap.

Gina: Is that a word – “stereotrap”?

Jess: It is now. I made it up for a piece in The Times. It means . . .

Gina: It’s obvious what it means. Anyway, I was only joking. Obviously! But a 17-year-old boy . . . and a woman who looks like you . . . I mean there is bound to be sexual tension . . . On his part, obviously. . . . Did you know that stepmother relieving tension for stepson is the third most popular theme for internet porn?

Jess: No! How on earth do you know that?

Gina: Adrian is researching a prog for Channel 4 about it.

Jess: Well that’s a way for concerned middle-class people to get a bit of porn. What’s the most popular?

Gina: Second place is sassy cheerleader gets spanked – and some – by the coach. And I think man-who-comes-to-mend-the-fridge-turns-out-to-have-a-whopper is still number one after all these years.

Jess: Well, you live and learn.

Gina: One of the ones about stepmothers is hilarious: fairly well-endowed middle-aged American lady with rather severe specs on comes into the boy’s bedroom , removes her dressing gown and says (imitates extremely solemn American voice) “The tension between us is unbearable, Kevin” – he would have to be called Kevin, wouldn’t he? – “I am going to have to masturbate you. You may fondle my breasts as form of stimulation.”

Jess: And does she?

Gina: Of course. But she never removes her specs and he keeps his baseball cap on throughout . . . Hang on, they’re back . . I’ll have to get the tea ready.

Jess: At least you’ve got someone to make it for. Bye.

 

Scene 2

Tom is trying to leave quietly, but Jess determinedly intercepts him.

Jess: Tom, I want a word with you.

Tom: Yeh, well. I was just leaving.

Jess: I cooked some food for you last night . . . I had told you I would, but you chose to pay for junk food.

He is completely passive.

And there are other things to talk about. Have you started the essays? . . . especially the long one: it’s going to require quite a lot of hours . . . and you’re beginning to run out of time.

Tom: This is not exactly your problem, is it?

Jess: Well it is actually. There were several things your father asked me to do before he left. They included getting you up in the morning, trying to get on with you, getting you to tidy your room . . . we can skip that one. Tidiness is the first step towards madness so far as I am concerned.

Tom snorts involuntarily.

But the one I’m going to succeed with is the essays . . . because it matters.

Pause.

Whether you like me or not doesn’t matter. I’m rather used to being disliked . . . but the essays are non-negotiable.

Pause.

So: why don’t I get you up tomorrow morning, we’ll go for a run . . . and then you can settle down and work on the essays.

He begins to move away.

And that pasta I made for you is still in the fridge . . . You only have to warm it up in the microwave or the oven.

Out of patience, she leaves. Tom’s phone rings.

Dave: Tom! I’ve just been to the dentist’s. There was a magazine . . . a thing about the wedding . . . Dave Green the comedian is going . . . He’s a friend of hers, apparently . . . and the head of the International Monetary Fund . . . I wish my parents knew people like that.

Tom: I’m not going.

Dave: What do you mean, you’re not going?

Tom: I mean I’m not going.

Dave: What do they say about that?

Tom: Not much. Not much they can say.

Dave: What if . . . what if she bought you a Ferrari? She could afford to. Would you go then?

Tom: No.

Dave: Tom, mate, you are officially mad.

 

Scene 3

Jess has returned from her morning run and is suitably attired.

Jess: (shouts) Tom – are you still in there?

Pause.

Come on, get up now!

Pause.

I’ll forgive you anything, Tom, except wasting your life, lieing in bed all day on your own. It’s quite interesting out here in the world, actually.

Pause.

I’m coming in there.

They face the audience and tell their stories.

Tom: What can she do? I’ll just lie still under the covers.

Jess: So annoying. So frustrating. I can’t stand being ignored.

Tom: My God, I think she’s going to attack me.

Jess: I don’t have this . . . thing . . about not touching people. I only meant to scrag him, tickle him . . . .

Tom: It just popped out of the slit in my boxer shorts.

Jess: It just popped out of the slit in his boxer shorts . . . and before you could say the Lord’s Prayer: WHOOSH.

She steps aside and impersonates a prosecuting barrister.

Miss Carteret, did you or did you not deliberately manipulate the penis of your fiancé’s son?

Not “deliberately”. No deliberation was involved. Perhaps “instinctively”? Or “habitually”? When a mature woman finds an erect penis in her hand . . .

FROM THE BENCH: Exactly how many erect penises have you manipulated, Miss Carteret? You may include those handled for temporary and instrumental purposes as well as those where a climax was effected.

I’m afraid that figure is not available, Mi’Lud.

Tom: I just got wanked off by a person with their own entry in Wikipedia! That makes me someone, doesn’t it?

Jess: A brief chemical event without significant consequences. There are, of course, immediate consequences as mopping up has to take place.

Tom: She removes my clothes and then applies tissues . . . followed by warm, damp flannels . . . She is strong and calm and gentle . . . But what does my head in is her smell: a scented animal . . . My reaction is visible . . .

Jess: Such virility. When they are naked and needy and below me like this I don’t just like men – for a moment, I actually love them. It’s what makes me a true slut, I suppose.

Over my knee.

Tom: Am I completely mad?

I now understand how history works!

You get told to do something and you do it.

However crazy.

I am nakedly, abjectly in her power

Suffering the power of her mighty forehand.

This is the most unreal thing that has ever happened to me

And the most real

And it really hurts

I catch my breath in a great sobbing sigh

He does so.

And she stops.

Jess: Am I completely mad?

Like a cabinet minister cottaging on Clapham Common

I risk career and reputation and love

For a fumble.

But a voice says it is the fumble that matters’ and that voice says

Career and reputation and love are mere prisons.

Lie back!

Tom: I obey

The goddess is in me and I am in her.

She has removed my brain, the thinking part.

I am a mere collection of sensations.

Subsiding pain and various mounting pleasures

Of kinds I did not know about.

Previously, a small band had played down there

Now it is Wagner’s orchestra

Reaching a crescendo

Ah-ah-ah-ah – I have utterly defiled the goddess

Jess: At least he was an appreciative audience. I did this once – the deluxe version – for an investment banker who’d had a very tense meeting and he fell asleep.

Pause.

Mind you, the meeting was in New York.

(to Tom) I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.

Pause.

You’re supposed to say, “I think I did” if you want to grow up to be James Bond.

They lie down, not touching. There is silence.

Jess: I was lieing there thinking that I might threaten you with death if you ever told anyone . . . and lingering death if you released the information on any so-called social media . . . Or alternatively – you wouldn’t believe a death threat, would you? – I could claim that you assaulted me . . . But I couldn’t do that because I can’t tell lies. Paradoxically, nobody would believe me anyway as I am an official celebslutbitch.

Pause.

And actually, if you’d made up an allegation about me everyone would believe you so I’m glad of what happened as I’d rather go down for something I’d done than for something I hadn’t.

Pause.

I’m rambling, aren’t I? . . . Of course, it could be our little secret: that’s what we paedophiles say, isn’t it.

Tom: I’m above the age of consent.

Pause.

You hit me quite hard.

Jess: I did, didn’t I? That was out of frustration.

Tom: You mean . . . sexual frustration?

Jess: No, no. I mean personal frustration. Trying to get to know you. Desperately hoping you might like me. Desperately unleashing my ultimate weapon. I find the physical solution easier sometimes. You’d be surprised how many men I’ve slept with because their conversation was so boring . . . and I was hoping to find some area of competence.

Tom: Do you mind me asking . . . would it be very rude . . . ?

Jess: How many men?

Tom: Yes.

Jess: Well there is a measure in these things called a Heinz – fifty seven varieties and all that. Certainly got there. Under a hundred though – I think. Purely amateur, of course. A certain arab prince did offer me ten million in the bank the minute I accepted his engagement ring, but amateur status means a lot to me.

Tom: Doesn’t Dad mind?

Jess: That I’m such a slut? I don’t think he does. He’s a grown-up geezer, your dad. I don’t think he was in the market for a virgin.

Tom: I won’t tell anyone. I absolutely promise.

Jess: But will you do your essays? Maybe I can arrange a celebration if you do.

Tom: It’s all about the essays, isn’t it?

Jess: Yup! It’s all about the essays.

 

Scene 4

Graham enters, equipped for executive travel. He shouts “Jess”. She enters; they embrace.

Jess: You’re early.

Graham: You’re not complaining?

Jess: Certainly not. Always glad to see you back from dealing with those awful people.

Graham: It was a peace conference, Jess. People tend to behave fairly well at peace conferences in order to establish how reasonably peaceful they are.

Jess: So – how were the Azurians?

Graham: Preposterous as usual . . . Actually, slightly less preposterous. They’ve been sitting out there for two decades recognised by only three countries and I think they’re getting a little bored. Some of them would rather bugger off and see the world or maybe live the quiet life somewhere . . . That’s where I come in as a banker . . . Also, they had rather pushed their luck by printing their own US dollars. The Americans tend to get a bit cross about that sort of thing . . . So we did actually make a bit of progress, especially on border crossings and property rights . . . the latter a little bit theoretical, I’m afraid.
Anyway, I want to forget about all that! How are things here?

Jess: Things here are excellent. Couldn’t be better.

Graham: Crucially, has that boy done his essays?

Jess: I believe he has. Anyway, ask him yourself.

Tom enters, says “Dad” and there is a “man hug”.

Graham: Have you really done all your essays?

Tom: Certainly have!

Graham: Can I see?

Tom retrieves the copies from the surface on which they are lieing and hands them to Graham. Graham looks and nods appreciatively.

Tom: There you go. Three short ones and the long one: “A Comparison of the Political Implications of National and Ethnic Identity in Ladekhia-Azuria with those in Ireland.”

Graham: Presentation’s good, anyway. That’s always a good start.

Tom: I’m going to the shops, Jess. Is there anything you want?

Jess: Just some nice crusty bread. I think we’ve got everything else for the moment.

Tom leaves, then Jess does while Graham looks at the essays. Time passes. Jess re-enters.

Graham: It’s good. Was it your idea to compare Ladekhia and Azuria with Ireland?

Jess: No. He got the Irish stuff from school and ideas about the rest from you and the internet. The influence might be the other way round – I might use some of the ideas for a piece if there are events to peg it on. We did talk about it . . . though I probably did most of the talking because we we were running up the top of the Common at the time and he didn’t have a lot of oxygen to spare.

Graham: You got him to run! Things do seem to have changed round here. “Is there anything you want, Jess?” . . . You two didn’t seem able to give each other the time of day before.

Jess: That isn’t entirely fair. You mean he couldn’t give me the time of day . . . and I don’t blame him: he’s had you to himself most of his life . . . or he’s been with his grandparents. The suddenly he finds himself sharing a house with me. And I’m afraid I’m the sort of person about whom one might be teased at school.

Tom enters with a bunch of flowers.

Tom: I got the bread. It’s in the kitchen. And I got you these – they’re in season.

He hands Jess the flowers and she kisses him on the cheek

Jess: Thank you, Tom. That’s lovely.

Tom: I’m off to have a sandwich.

He leaves.

Graham: What have you done to that boy? It’s like a miracle! You must have put a spell on him.

Jess: He’s a teenager. They change overnight.

Graham: I’d still like to hear about it . . . Describe the breakthrough . . . what actually happened . . . to me.

Jess: Oh, all right. I used a psychological technique I read about. It’s called Mesmer-pointilism. You hypnotise the subject, then you get them to concentrate their anger into a smaller and smaller space until it is the size of a full stop. Then you flick the dot into the waste paper basket.

She flicks.

So now he realises that his anger was nothing, based on nothing. He had no right to be angry at his mother for dieing, nor at you for being busy and important . . . and certainly not at me.

Graham: Really, Jess? That sounds just like the sort of psycho-babble that you’d be the first to condemn.

Jess: No, not really. It’s bollocks, a joke.

Pause.

What really happened is that I gave him a blow job.

Graham: (laughs) Yes, of course you did. You have to live up to your image, don’t you?

Jess: (laughs, then pauses) Except, that I actually did give him a blow job. Though to be strictly accurate, it was more of a hand job with blow job elements included.

Graham: Are you serious?

Jess: You can ask him if you like. Except, he’ll probably lie. I didn’t swear him to secrecy – he swore himself to secrecy.

Graham: Why would you tell me this? You’re seriously standing there and telling me that you have sexually abused my son?

Jess: Well, that’s not the word I would use to describe it “Abuse” should rest on some idea of harm, shouldn’t it? You’d have to ask him . . .

Graham: You have no moral sense whatsoever, have you?

Jess: No, of course not. I operate purely on lust and self-interest, without scruple in the pursuit of whim . . . (pause). . . On the other hand, I would like to point out that I don’t tell lies, I don’t break promises and I don’t bear malice . . . and I haven’t done any of those things in this case. Incidentally, if I promised to be faithful to you . . . in whatever form . . . I would keep that promise.

Graham: You committed an indecent act with the boy about to become your stepson! That is totally beyond the Pale. You must see that?

Jess: I see that a lot of people would be shocked. I see that quite clearly.

Graham: You will have to leave. There will be no wedding now.

Jess: Fine! Right! I’ll go . . . I’m a witch, really . . . a Jacobean witch . . . Nobody can agree on anything any more about morality . . . The old certainties have gone . . . But we can still agree that witches have to be burned, so let’s make a big fuss of that.

Graham: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Jess: Yes, you do. You may be only a bloody economist, but you know I’m talking about thinking about morality rather than just accepting it.

Graham: You abused a seventeen-year-old child.

Jess: He’s not a child. And let me tell you something about “abuse”. When I was fourteen I was thought – wrongly as it turned out – to have contracted some new form of flu. So I was put away in the sani on my own. I had a visitor: Miss Hibberd – Catherine – my English teacher. She consoled me and kissed me on the cheek. Then she lifted my nighty and touched me very intimately. I had my first orgasm in the presence of another human being. She seemed quite calm and she remained fully clothed. When she left she just said, “You’re a very beautiful girl, Jess – just remember that.” I knew her throughout my time at school. She wrote my reference for Oxford and I considered her a good friend. Actually, she wasn’t a “lesbian” – she married the local rugby captain and bore him three sons. That brief incident was lovely. It made me feel important and it made the world seem more interesting.

Graham: So the cycle of abuse continues.

Jess: As does the cycle of clichés.

Tom enters.

Tom: Hi, guys. I’m going out again . . . By the way, Jess, I ate that pasta. It was brilliant – really tasty . . . It’s just that I’ll be passing the hire place . . . for the wedding suit, you know . . . I could get measured.

Graham: I though you weren’t going to the wedding?

Tom: I was just being childish. Of course I want to see you and Jess get married.

He leaves; Graham calls after him.

Graham: Well don’t part with any money.

Jess: Mr. Scottish Banker, (imitates) “Well don’t part with any money.” I’m leaving. You can explain to him. Try and tell the truth.

Graham: What if he’s fallen in love with you?

Jess: He hasn’t. People don’t; I am treated as a phenomenon of a different sort. Except by you . . .

Graham: Where will you go?

Jess: I’ve got a house of my own – and work to do. And I’ll revert to Plan A. You were Plan B, by the way.

Graham: So what was . . . is . . . Plan A?

Jess: I find myself a suitable breeding male and become a single mother. I can afford it, after all. There’s a rather attractive, reasonably intelligent French footballer who texts me. And a professor of philosophy who writes pieces for the rag – he’s awfully keen. I don’t suppose the actual sperm transfer would be much fun in his case, but one is trading five mildly distasteful minutes against a lifetime of an intelligent child. But, then, I actually think mixed race is the way of the future . . .

Graham: And I was Plan B? What, exactly, was Plan B generically?

Jess: Oh . . . you know . . . love and marriage, horse and carriage . . . baby makes three . . . I’m very conservative at heart – if the option were available. You were the only man I ever loved by the way.

Graham: Were?

Jess: Are! I’m more rational than most, but I can’t turn my emotions on and off.

Graham: Actually, you’re the only person I’ve ever loved – apart from Tom.

Jess: And Fiona?

Graham: No. Including Fiona.

Jess: You didn’t love Fiona?

Graham: I thought I did. We were childhood sweethearts. Everybody assumed that we belonged together and I . . . at least . . . just absorbed that assumption. I felt attached to Fee . . . I admired her and respected her . . . I thought she was nice looking . . . and about as exciting as a bottle of still mineral water . . . I was not faithful to her.

Jess: God, Graham, you’re a sinner like me!

Graham: Worse: you broke no promises.

Jess: So you and Fee . . . ?

Graham: Death parted us, but only before we did ourselves.

Jess: Well, that was interesting, but I’d better go.

Pause.

Before I go, I want to tell you something about my parents.

Graham: Go on.

Jess: When we were kids . . . maybe I was around ten . . . I don’t think they were getting on very well. Dad was away a lot . . . my mother was jealous, frustrated . . . They used to quarrel and sulk, not talk for three days. Then – Dad told me – they decided – I think it was his idea – that unless you were prepared to leave there and then you should waste no time quarreling and sulking and you should show each other the maximum of physical affection immediately, whatever the level of disagreement . . . The bottom line is that however angry you are you should cuddle. You want to try it. You don’t have to say anything.

After some hesitation he moves to her, embraces her and then they exit. Tom enters talking on his mobile.

Tom: . . . I’ll be round later. I have to do a couple of things and buy some stuff for the GISM.

Dave: The Gism?

Tom: Yeh. G-I-S-M.

Dave: Would that be the artist formerly known as the B-E-N-G?

Tom: Yeh, it would, actually.

Dave: What does it stand for?

Tom: Work it out.

Dave: And what do you have to buy?

Tom: She keeps feeling nauseous and throwing up. I have to supply her with weak tea with lemon and thin toast with Marmite.

Dave: Marmite?

Tom: Yeh, Marmite.

 

THE END   Copyright Lincoln Allison 2015