by Jess Hyslop
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Rosamond exits through the green-curtained doorway. We hear the sound of a bolt being drawn.
Rosamond, offstage, says ‘open it, then’. A man’s voice answers: ‘Open it?’
Mrs. PRUE: Who’s that? Who’s that? Rosamond? It’s not Catherine?
ROSAMOND: (still offstage) Just come in. And make sure you close it behind you.
Rosamond re-enters through the curtained doorway, shortly followed by a young man, Joe.
Mrs. PRUE: Who are you? You’re not Catherine!
JOE: Catherine’s sick today. They sent me instead. Sorry.
ROSAMOND: (coldly) They might have warned us.
Mrs. PRUE: Yes, they might have warned us! And me in my night things. At eleven! And a man in the house!
JOE: Sorry, sorry.
ROSAMOND: Well, you’re here now. (She turns away and goes to settle Mrs. Prue’s cardigan more snugly around her shoulders) Do you know what to do?
JOE: To do?
ROSAMOND: Didn’t Catherine tell you?
JOE: Catherine? No, no. She’s sick. She’s sick. I’m new here.
ROSAMOND: New. Wonderful!
Mrs. PRUE: Oh, Rosamond, will we be all right?
ROSAMOND: Of course, Auntie, don’t worry.
Mrs. PRUE: Only you know how I get. If things aren’t done right.
ROSAMOND: I know, Auntie, I know.
Mrs. PRUE: I get... I get... (She tears up) I’m worried, Rosamond, I’m scared. What if it leaps up at me? What if... what if the skies get in?
ROSAMOND: I’ll take you to your room.
Mrs. PRUE: (peering suspiciously at Joe) Yes, maybe that’s best.
JOE: Can I... Can I help at all?
ROSAMOND: I can manage. Thank you.
Rosamond helps Mrs. Prue out SR.
Mrs. PRUE: (confidentially, to Rosamond, but it is obvious Joe can hear) You make sure he gets it right. You make sure!
ROSAMOND: Yes, yes, Auntie.
Joe stands awkwardly behind the sofa, glancing about the room, whilst the women are gone. He removes his jacket and places it over the back of the sofa. Rosamond re-enters.
JOE: Is she all right? Is—
ROSAMOND: Mrs. Prue.
JOE: Mrs. Prue, yes, yes. Is she all right?
ROSAMOND: She will be fine.
Spotting Joe’s jacket, Rosamond plucks it briskly from the back of the sofa and proceeds to hang it on the coat-rack.
JOE: Oh, I’m sorry.
ROSAMOND: Didn’t Catherine tell you anything?
JOE: I’ve never met her. I’ve just moved from Bedford. They told me the basic things.
ROSAMOND: The basic things.
JOE: (gesturing helplessly) About the windows.
ROSAMOND: Not the door, though.
JOE: No, not the door. Sorry.
ROSAMOND: Well, if they didn’t tell you, they didn’t tell you. The windows are the most important.
JOE: Yes, yes.
ROSAMOND: We’ve got a leak or two.
ROSAMOND: The light. You said they’d told you.
JOE: Yes, yes, they have. Leaks, I see.
ROSAMOND: She won’t go in the kitchen until they’re fixed. They’re too high for me. I don’t want to go clambering about on the counters.
JOE: (on firmer ground) I can do that for you.
ROSAMOND: I hope so. That’s your job.
JOE: Well, technically it’s a little more than that. I’m specialised, you see. They transferred me from Bedford.
ROSAMOND: (ignoring him) Catherine does the windows and then we do a quick brief of Mrs. Prue’s condition.
JOE: Yes, yes. I’m here to help.
Rosamond goes to the cabinet and gets out a roll of bin-liners and some black tape. She gives them to Joe.
JOE: For the windows.
ROSAMOND: That’s right. (She indicates the exit SL) Through there.
JOE: Right. (He hesitates) My name’s Joe, by the way.
JOE: It’s nice to meet you, Rosamond.
ROSAMOND: (turning away) Through there.
Joe exits SL. Rosamond sits on the sofa and, with a glance SR, gets out a book from underneath the coffee table. Its cover shows a country scene. Scarcely has Rosamond started to read, when there is a crash from the kitchen. Rosamond quickly hides her book as Joe enters, sheepish, holding a broken teacup. The teacup has a pattern of flowers round it.
JOE: I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.
Joe offers the teacup to Rosamond. She stares at it but does not take it. Joe hesitates, then turns with it towards the kitchen again.
ROSAMOND: Wait! Here, please...
She holds her hands out for the cup. Joe tips it into them.
JOE: I really am so sorry. I’m so clumsy. I didn’t see it there, on the side, you know?
ROSAMOND: (sitting down with the teacup) It’s all right. It’s only a teacup.
JOE: Still... Sorry. I’ll be more careful.
Joe hesitates, looking at Rosamond, but she is intent on the cup in her hands. He exits again SL.
Rosamond sits in the same position until we hear the sound of tape being unrolled and bin-liners rustled in the kitchen. Then, slowly, Rosamond puts the pieces of the teacup on the coffee table and attempts to put them back together. They won’t stay in place.
She gets up and goes to the window, hovers; she seems about to draw a corner of the curtain and, maybe, attempt to look out. We hear Joe make a satisfied noise from the kitchen. This wakes Rosamond from her reverie. Flustered, she rushes to the table, sweeps the broken cup up and drops it in the wastepaper basket. Joe enters as Rosamond turns back to the room.
JOE: I’m done.
JOE: Do you want to check?
ROSAMOND: No, no. Thank you.
Mrs. PRUE: (calling from offstage) Rosamond! Rosamond!
ROSAMOND: I’d better—
JOE: Do you want me to—
Rosamond exits SR. Joe glances about him, then puts the bin-liners and the tape down on the coffee table. Rosamond re-enters.
JOE: She’s all right?
ROSAMOND: She’s fine.
JOE: I’d like to be able to help.
ROSAMOND: Thank you, but we’re fine here. Apart from the windows. I can’t reach.
JOE: Does she... does she treat you well?
ROSAMOND: What kind of question is that?
JOE: Well... (He becomes suddenly decisive) I suppose you do most of the work around here.
ROSAMOND: (defensive) Of course! She’s... She’s sick, she can’t.
JOE: You’re not sick.
ROSAMOND: (confused) Exactly! What do you mean, I’m not sick? What does that matter? She’s sick. She’s sick.
JOE: Does she let you outside?
ROSAMOND: (incredulous) Out... outside? Don’t you know? Haven’t they told you anything?
JOE: She doesn’t let you out.
ROSAMOND: Of course not! She’d... she’d... she’d die! Can you imagine? She’d have a heart attack!
JOE: Would she?
ROSAMOND: You know why she’s sick, don’t you?
JOE: I know what the matter is. I know how it affects her. But I don’t know what it’s like.
ROSAMOND: (frustrated) What do you mean?
JOE: I know why the windows are blacked out and the door is closed. I know why Mrs. Prue has her turns. What I don’t know is what it’s like for you. What I don’t know is what you’re... what you’re doing here.
ROSAMOND: She’s my Aunt.
JOE: Yes, yes, I know that.
ROSAMOND: She’s my Aunt and I’m looking after her.
JOE: Yes, but you needn’t.
ROSAMOND: She needs looking after!
JOE: Yes, but it needn’t be you.
ROSAMOND: It has to be me! (She is unsettled and angry)
JOE: I don’t mean to upset you. I’m just saying... Catherine visits once a week, but other than that, it’s just you.
ROSAMOND: I manage fine.
JOE: Yes, you do, you do. But, I’m saying... I’m saying... She’s damaged.
ROSAMOND: I know that. I’m very aware of that. I live here. All the time. You just came in today. You just walk in and say she’s damaged. I live here and I told you, she’s sick. She needs me.
JOE: I’m trained for this.
ROSAMOND: For this!
JOE: Lots of people have been damaged. She’s not the only one. Lots of houses have blacked-out windows. The delivery services are out non-stop.
JOE: You’ve been stuck in here. How would you know?
Rosamond is silent. Joe has shocked her. He is aware of this.
JOE: They’ve made things much better, out there. It’s not how you think. Living with the older generations, it... it warps perspective. I’m here to help you, not her. You’ve been living with her memories, nightmares, inside them. But it’s in her head.
ROSAMOND: (quietly) I know that.
JOE: But although you know, you haven’t had proof. Really. Have you?
ROSAMOND: She tells me it’s burning. That it’s red and black.
JOE: You know it isn’t, though. Not any more. You know.
JOE: What do you tell her?
ROSAMOND: I tell her it’s yellow. I tell her there are sunflowers. In here, it’s yellow, it’s sunflowers.
ROSAMOND: (defensively) That’s all I know!
JOE: I’ve helped other people like you. It’s better, really, in the long run. You cut yourself off in here. You’re young. The old... it’s like a tyranny. Stifling.
Rosamond is silent. She is half-angry, half-frightened.
JOE: What I’m saying is, that it’s not fair on you. To live here, behind bin-liners.
Rosamond remains silent.
JOE: Catherine could stay here with her. It needn’t be you. You can’t make her better. And you could do something different, outside.
JOE: You can live, out there.
Rosamond makes a sudden grab at Joe’s hands.
ROSAMOND: (violently) What’s it like? Tell me what it’s like!
Joe, used to moments such as this, sits with her on the sofa.
JOE: It’s open. There’s lots of open space. You can see to the horizon in most directions. The houses are small, low. The tall ones... there aren’t many tall ones. So you can see a long way. Great open plains. The wind ripples their surface like water. Fluid, always changing. Beautiful.
ROSAMOND: The sun...
JOE: (quickly) Yes, you can see the Sun. (Continuing) And there are people about, a lot of people, but not as many as we’d like. Young people, mostly. People your age, our age. With jobs, and things to be busy with. Productive things. We have factories and offices and libraries and schools. (Excited) They’re small at the moment, but we’re rebuilding, we’re moving up, accelerating. Though we need more people. There aren’t enough to really get things going. We need people to venture out, to come back out, into the open. With more people we can really bring it all back to life.
ROSAMOND: What colour is it?
JOE: (taken aback) What?
ROSAMOND: Is it yellow?
JOE: (realising, reluctant) Oh...
ROSAMOND: Is it yellow? The sun, is it yellow?
JOE: It’s... It’s not... (He looks at the lampshade) It’s not that yellow. The ash, you see...
Mrs. Prue enters SR, and overhears.
ROSAMOND: What do you mean? What do you mean it’s not that yellow?
JOE: The ash—
Mrs. PRUE: (shrill) What’s he telling you? Rosamond! What’s he telling you? What are you telling her? How dare you, how dare you tell her things!
JOE: Mrs. Prue—
Mrs. PRUE: You criminal, you felon, you... bastard!
Mrs. PRUE: How dare you walk into my house and... and tell her things!
JOE: (desperately) Mrs. Prue, if you would just calm—
Mrs. PRUE: Who are you? Who are you? I don’t believe they sent you! Where’s Catherine?
JOE: Catherine’s sick, as I told you, Mrs. Prue. I moved from the Social Centre at Bedford. Other towns are doing better. They needed help here. I’m trying to help, I’m trying to help your niece. If you would listen—
Mrs. PRUE: I don’t believe you! You’re some kind of criminal! You’re trying to steal her, to lure her out! Don’t you understand, I need her, I need her!
Mrs. Prue pauses, exhausted, wheezing. Rosamond rushes to help her. Mrs. Prue grabs her.
Mrs. PRUE: You mustn’t listen to a word he says. Not one word, not a sneeze! It’s people like him who brought this upon us in the first place. Progressive people. Young people. Criminals! It’s a crime to be progressing like that. Look what it brought upon us! We don’t want that again. We don’t want to be messing around like that again. Best to stay quiet, stay still. Stay indoors!
JOE: She’ll waste away.
Mrs. PRUE: (overriding him) Progressive people! I don’t want you mixing with those type of people.
ROSAMOND: But, Auntie—
Mrs. PRUE: It’s dangerous out there—
JOE: It’s not dangerous!
Mrs. PRUE: It’s dangerous, what they’re doing. It will be dangerous if he has his way!
ROSAMOND: I asked him, Auntie, I asked. I want to know—
Mrs. PRUE: (almost a scream) I won’t let you out!
Pause. Rosamond freezes, staring at Mrs. Prue. She backs away from her aunt.
JOE: (moving forward) May I suggest, Mrs. Prue—
Mrs. PRUE: Get away! Get out of my house!
ROSAMOND: Auntie, stop this! I asked him!
Mrs. PRUE: (to Joe) You! You and your talk! Making her ask things!
JOE: She has a right to know!
Joe moves away decisively, to the curtains. He grasps them.
Mrs. PRUE: No!
Joe rips the curtains open. Mrs. Prue screams, but all it reveals is the bin-linered window.
JOE: It’s really for the best.
Mrs. Prue’s anger has turned to terror.
Mrs. PRUE: Oh, don’t! Oh, don’t! My heart! I’m going! Don’t touch that window! I’ll die, I’ll die!
JOE: You will not die, Mrs. Prue.
Mrs. PRUE: Skies of fire! I see them, I see them, they’re real! They’re here! Skies of fire! I can’t stand it, Rosamond, help me!
Rosamond does not go to her aunt.
ROSAMOND: It’s in your head. Remember, Auntie, it’s memories. You know it is. The fire, everything. It’s gone now.
JOE: (to Rosamond) There’s no fire now. Nothing awful. Really. There’re people. Life!
ROSAMOND: Show me!
Reaching for the bin-liners, Joe hesitates.
JOE: But... Rosamond... It’s not... the ash...
ROSAMOND: Show me!
Rosamond rushes to the window, barging past Joe, and grabs the bin-liners.
Mrs. PRUE: Rosamond! (She tries to stop Rosamond, but Joe restrains her) How can you? You’ll burn, we’ll all burn! The clouds, can’t you hear, can’t you hear them crackling, crackling, up there in the skies! Skies closing over! Stifling. Stinging, it’s stinging, my cheeks, smoke in my mouth. Feel that, it’s rumbling, from the skies and down into the ground and up into me, myself, I’m thundering, I’m burning! People burning! People burn...
As Rosamond rips the bin-liners from the window, Mrs. Prue screams, her words fizzling out. She turns away and covers her eyes. A cold grey light fills the stage; it is all the audience can see through the window.
Rosamond stares into it, blankly. Her back is to the audience. Mrs. Prue struggles and Joe lets her go. She collapses against the sofa, whimpering. Pause as Rosamond stares outside.
JOE: (quietly) Someone will be along later. They’ll look after her. Catherine will be back tomorrow.
Pause. In the pauses the audience hear snatches of Mrs. Prue’s whimpering, repeating her memories.
JOE: It’s not much at first, but wait until you’re out there.
JOE: Do you need anything?
ROSAMOND: I knew it wasn’t red and black.
ROSAMOND: But... I didn’t think it would be so grey.
Fade to blackout. The last image the audience see is Rosamond framed against the dull grey glow from the window.
Copyright © 2011 by Jess Hyslop