a comedy in two acts
by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller

Mid-60’s. Once a radio comedienne, for the past 30 years a corporate wife. Fair-skinned, short frizzy hair, heavy-set. Very energetic, with sudden mood swings. Swedish lineage, raised in Philadelphia.
Mag is a female Bert Lahr: a face of rubbery, cherubic innocence that can light with a brilliant inner glow, then fill instantly with the violence of a clown. She’s a born comic, reacting without censoring herself, speaking before she thinks, never checked by logic. Her cruelties are terribly cruel, but never calculated. She’s a lonely, confused child, except when she’s telling a story.

Late 50’s. Part-time bookkeeper. Angular, big-bosomed, tanned from canoeing and hunting. Dark hair, gray roots. Milwaukee Polish descent.
Rae’s face is described as “carved out of driftwood with a dull hatchet,” and her mind works the same way: straight-ahead, blunt, literal. She’s shaped by her struggle to survive, so she reacts with vehemence to questions of money and class. Still, she has vestiges of herself as a tiny girl. That’s why she loves Mag.

The present. September to April.

A large, sprawling living-dining room of an executive’s lakefront house in northern Wisconsin. The lake attracts people during summer and hunting season, but it’s not yet a commercial resort; expensive lakefront dwellings and simple cottages stand side-by-side. The room has the appearance of being designed and built piecemeal by its owners over the course of many years.

The dining room leads to an offstage kitchen. Opposite, a foyer leads to the front door and stairway. Heavy, upholstered furniture mingles with painted wicker: 30 years’ accumulation. Upstage, a large dining table with carved sideboard and liquor cabinet. Downstage, two chairs: a couple’s place to sit watching the lake through an imaginary plate-glass window.

© 1988 by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller. All rights reserved.
For production rights, contact WordWorkers at 800-357-6016 or E-mail.
Scene One
Late morning in early fall. Disordered living room, with dining area upstage, in sprawling lakefront house. Stacks of boxes. Two worn wicker armchairs, looking out picture window onto lake.
Mag, in a loose house-dress, bustles about, unpacking a box of knickknacks, dispersing them chaotically, while sipping from a coffee cup she carries. She reacts to a large brass cow, covers it with a doily. Slaps mosquito.
MAG: Bugs. “It’s an air raid, Ole!”
Carries a box to the table, starts to unpack, then changes her mind, stuffs its contents back in. Picks up the phone, dials impatiently, talking to herself:
Where are you? Get over here. I’m going nuts.
Realizes. Plugs phone into wall. Dials, hangs up in mid-dial.
What’s that smell? Call the plumber. No, he’s dead, lazy old fart. (calling) Pooh! Where’s the damn dog? Pooh! Come here and let me kill you! Oh Warren, help! Warren, Warren, Warren. . .
Sips from cup. A knock at screen door.
Who is it?
RAE: (off) Me!
MAG: Who?
RAE: (off) Rae.
MAG: Rae! Where are you?
RAE: (off) Back door.
MAG: I tried to call you.
RAE: (off) Well I’m here.
MAG: Well come in!
RAE: (off) Screen door’s locked.
MAG: The dog’ll get out.
RAE: (off) Well I can’t get in.
MAG: Well what am I supposed to do about it?
RAE: (off) Let me in.
MAG: Oh.
Shambles to the door. Opens it. Rae appears.
“Don’t lock your cellar door, Mrs. Grimsley!”
RAE: Huh?
MAG: That’s a line I remember. Don’t let the dog out.
RAE: Where’s the dog?
MAG: I think she made a stink. What are you standing there for?
RAE: I made you a cake.
MAG: Cake? What for?
RAE: Welcome to Okiboji.
MAG: Come on in.
Rae comes in, puts a cake on the table.
Busy busy. She made a stink and you made a cake.
RAE: Welcome to Okiboji.
MAG: Stop saying that.
Slaps mosquito.
Did you call the bug man?
RAE: Mosquitoes?
MAG: They’re coming by land, sea and air.
RAE: He’s dead.
MAG: The plumber’s dead. Is the bug man dead? What’s going on up here?
RAE: Plumber’s not dead. He sent me a bill.
MAG: Dead as hell.
RAE: Tipton?
MAG: Sandler.
RAE: He’s dead.
MAG: I told you he’s dead.
RAE: He’s not the plumber.
MAG: Who’s the plumber?
RAE: Tipton.
MAG: When’s he gonna die? I’ll send him a card.
Licks frosting from her finger.
Why the cake? I’m not a newcomer here. It’s thirty-seven years.
RAE: Well, summers, that’s not the same as years. Now you really live here. Aren’t you happy?
MAG: Happy as hell.
RAE: What’s that stink?
MAG: “Oh Gott, Ole, we made an awful smell!”
RAE: What?
MAG: That was my mother’s line. She said it four thousand times, never missed. Have some cake. It’s a present from somebody.
RAE: No, I got an appointment in town.
MAG: Where?
RAE: Straighten out some stuff at the bank.
MAG: Well go. There’s nothing to drink. My groceries are in Chicago.
RAE: Where’s Warren?
MAG: He’s with the groceries in Chicago. And the realtor. And the factory. Getting us retired from Consolidated Box. Ten years, every other word, “Just wait’ll I retire,” but then he flies off to Dallas or Buffalo to consolidate another box. Now he’s got my groceries and he won’t be here for three days.
RAE: There’s groceries in Okiboji. People do eat in Okiboji.
MAG: Don’t get offended.
RAE: I’m not offended.
MAG: They all eat slop.
Gets up, shouts:
Pooh! Where’s the dog? Wasn’t there a play about some old bag that lost her dog?
RAE: Wizard of Oz.
MAG: I’m worried about the dog. You musta let her out.
RAE: Mag, I don’t look out for your dog. Your dog don’t look like a dog—
MAG: I don’t like your dog either—
RAE: Yapping little powderpuff—
MAG: Mangy Democrat. How is it?
RAE: She sags lower than she did.
MAG: So do you. You look awful.
RAE: So do you.
They laugh.
MAG: That’s the good thing having your husband gone. You can look awful and it’s ok.
RAE: Well you got the advantage there.
MAG: What?
RAE: Yours is alive.
MAG: Sit down, I’ve got to talk business.
RAE: No, I gotta get down to the bank—
MAG: I need help. Sit down. (calling) Pooh!
RAE: I got business down there—
MAG: Oh God I’m so happy I won’t have to do this over and over every year. “Summer at the lake.” Everything in two places, rat-race to drive up here, call the bug man, squirrels in the closets, mildew on the sheets, lose the keys, forget the dog—
Stops dead.
My God I forgot the dog. I never brought the dog.
RAE: Mag—
MAG: Warren’s got the dog.
“Bjorn, I think we got a special kind of dog.” I only remember the punch lines.
RAE: Better’n nothin.
Mag sits in a chair by the window. Rae remains standing at the table.
MAG: You’ll have to put up with me all winter now.
RAE: It’ll be wonderful, Mag. It’s lonely in the winter, You’re here, what, twenty, thirty summers—
MAG: Thirty-seven—
RAE: And every time I hate to see you go.
MAG: By God I’m gonna get my friends up here. My friends. The ones that aren’t all dead. Burke, Eleanor, Mildred, Mary and Jimmy, I haven’t seen’em for so long. I had this place, before I married Warren—
RAE: Little cabin—
MAG: Little cabin then. They all came up. We had sleeping bags under the table, and Mildred sat up and whacked her head— I remember this stuff. Mary asks, “Where’s the bathroom?” “Anywhere you like.” The look on Jimmy’s face when he tried to gut the fish. We’re going to go out fishing!
RAE: Yeh well. Henry and John were up a week, they did good.
MAG: You still didn’t paint your canoe.
RAE: It floats.
MAG: Rustoleum splotches. . . Did you all get drunk?
RAE: Well you know how we do.
MAG: I sure do. Sit down.
RAE: What’s in the cup?
MAG: Coffee. You wanta smell?
Takes one to know one.
RAE: Gin? I can’t stand gin. Got a cup?
MAG: You had an appointment.
RAE: I kept’em waitin this long.
MAG: You have to ask me nice.
Rae goes to kitchen, returns with a cup, goes to cabinet: locked. Looks at Mag, no response. Rae reaches up, takes key out of vase. Unlocks cabinet, takes bottle, pours.
RAE: How’s Sally now?
MAG: Sally who?
RAE: Your daughter.
MAG: She’s awful. She’s coming up for a visit, bringing her baby. Babies stink like hell.
RAE: You don’t know how lucky you are.
MAG: I don’t notice you having kids.
RAE: Mag, if you’ve had a snort I better not. We’ll just get in a fight.
MAG: Of course I’ve had a snort. Snorts plural. I’m here all morning, you sit over there baking a cake—
RAE: I don’t sit—
MAG: Waltz around baking a cake, and I’m swatting bugs and smelling a stink and calling my dog in Chicago—
Stops abruptly. Looks out at the lake.
It’s beautiful.
RAE: Beautiful out there. Fall colors.
MAG: I dreamed all winter. I hope Warren can stand it. He’s a city man.
RAE: He’s always happy here.
MAG: He says he is. But I worry about him, Rae. He’s having spells.
This last year, he’s set to step down, all the parties, banquets, drop-ins, drop-deads, these swarms of stuffed shirts and flunkies. I look at them, I think, these are the people I spent thirty years smiling at? These aren’t my people. Just get us up to Okiboji, I’ll call my old friends—
RAE: Sure—
MAG: Burke and Eleanor, Mildred, Mary and Jimmy. . .
RAE: They never make enough boxes to put all the junk.
MAG: Plastic’s better. You buy it, you can’t get it out, so you never have to use it.
RAE: Oh at the Super Save, I saw it said on the bottom “Consolidated Box,” I thoughta you. It’s like knowing a celebrity.
Mag gestures for a refill. Looks out window to the lake.
MAG: Oh we went out on the beach. . . The reeds and dragonflies. . .
RAE: You need more sand. It’s washing away.
MAG: Let it wash. It’s so peaceful. I’ll die right here. “No dammit, not on the rug!”
RAE: I’m not on the rug—
MAG: I’m not talking to you! It’s a punchline. If I could just sit here and listen to the wind in the pines, and have the lake—
RAE: Now you can.
MAG: I miss it here.
RAE: Well now you got it.
They look at the lake.
MAG: I need help.
RAE: Well you need something.
MAG: I tell you Rae, I’m too old.
RAE: Everybody is.
MAG: Warren, he’s no help. He runs around doing everything.
RAE: Warren’s wonderful.
MAG: Dearest man that walked the face of the earth, and don’t you forget it!
Silence. They drink.
Although I miss Bud.
RAE: I miss him a lot.
MAG: He was a good husband to you.
RAE: Yes he was.
MAG: He was a hell-raiser though.
RAE: He was ok.
MAG: Don’t you miss him?
RAE: Course I do.
MAG: Well act like it.
They drink.
I don’t know how you put up with him. He was a fine-looking man. Looked like Clark Gable.
RAE: Nothing like Clark Gable.
MAG: Mustache.
RAE: (offended) Clark Gable, those big jug ears—
MAG: Well they’re both dead.
RAE: Mag!
MAG: I was talking about Clark Gable. I never said a word about Bud. However, he is dead too.
RAE: I am acquainted with that fact!
Long silence. They drink.
MAG: Ole’s dying. He motions his wife. “Inge, there’s an old trunk in the closet—” “Yes, Ole.” “In the trunk there’s a quart of whisky—” “Yes, Ole.” “Bring it here—” “Yes, Ole.” “Prop me up—” “Yes, Ole.”
She laughs, then stops.
My mother had a way of saying “Oo-lee.”
RAE: What’s the joke?
MAG: I forget.
RAE: You drink too much.
Rae gets up, goes to cabinet, brings bottle back, sits.
It’s quiet up here without you.
MAG: Not any more. Did you get mushrooms this year?
RAE: Not so many.
MAG: Give me some?
RAE: Maybe.
Rae pours for both. They drink.
Mag, just as friends I give you some advice. You drink too much.
MAG: I give you advice. Take care of your hair. You’ve got gray roots.
RAE: It’s natural.
MAG: It’s embarrassing.
RAE: I do all right.
MAG: You don’t do all right. You don’t go to the hairdresser. You don’t manage your money. You drink it away and party it up and give to the Catholic Church.
RAE: Don’t get on the Church.
MAG: You and the Pope.
RAE: What about the Pope?
MAG: He’s a wonderful man. He’s rich. That’s more than you can say. What are you doing with the bank?
RAE: What bank?
MAG: Having trouble with the bank?
RAE: Who says?
MAG: You said.
RAE: None of your damn business.
MAG: They’re breathing down your neck?
RAE: It’s nothing to you! You don’t ask what I need. I shoot that deer and give you a hind quarter, and that’s just fine, you’ll take it, you don’t ask if I need it, you don’t even say thanks, you just—
MAG: Ahh!
RAE: What’s wrong?
MAG: That smell.
RAE: What?
MAG: I unplugged the freezer.
RAE: Who?
MAG: When we left, we emptied the freezer.
RAE: Sure.
MAG: And then you brought us the deer.
RAE: And I plugged it back in.
MAG: And I unplugged it.
Both look in direction of freezer.
You poached that deer.
RAE: You knew that.
MAG: It’s illegal. Take it back.
RAE: It’s a present.
MAG: Putrid corpse?
RAE: It wasn’t then.
MAG: It is now.
How do I get rid of it?
RAE: Play Jingle Bells and lure it out.
MAG: This is one hell of a vacation.
RAE: This isn’t a vacation. This is life.
MAG: (suddenly resolute) Well that goes to show. I need help.
RAE: Well you do.
MAG: I can pay for what I need.
RAE: Lotta people looking for work.
MAG: Warren gets dizzy spells.
RAE: Hire some woman to come in.
MAG: I had Ellie in Chicago, she did floors, windows, toilets, everything—
RAE: Why sure—
MAG: You do part time stuff—
RAE: I do. I keep books for Melchers down there—
MAG: You were cleaning for the lawyer’s—
RAE: Sometimes—
MAG: Windows and that—
RAE: Paid ok—
MAG: And I need help—
RAE: I’m happy to help—
MAG: No, I mean help.
RAE: (beginning to realize) Help?
MAG: I need a woman to come in here. I don’t want some stranger. Clean, take care of the dog, and you can quit that other stuff. Work for me. You’re just over there cross the lot, I’ll call you when I need you, just walk across the woods. Don’t even have to dress up, except not those shorty shorts and your bosoms hanging out. You can start tomorrow. That’ll solve all your problems. What’s the matter?
RAE: I thought we were friends.
MAG: We are friends. I’m doing you a favor.
RAE: You are the most insulting person—
MAG: You work for the lawyer and won’t work for me?
RAE: Employers and friends are not the same!
MAG: You are working class and I need to hire somebody from the working class. I’ll pay fifty dollars a week.
RAE: We are friends!
An old pattern: suddenly they are very drunk, angry, no holds barred.
MAG: Face facts, Rae, we’re from different worlds.
RAE: I am a neighborhood resident. I am your neighbor.
MAG: That’s not my fault. We built this house up, we put money in this house, we put in thermopane! This is a three hundred thousand dollar house, and you squat over there in a ratty little wigwam with five men in your bed.
RAE: My house is a cottage. It is a lakeside cottage—
MAG: I choose my friends from a certain class. Invite you to my daughter’s wedding, what a mistake. You looked ridiculous.
RAE: You didn’t look so hot when you fell in the cake.
MAG: Seventy-five a week!
RAE: You are beyond the whatever—
MAG: You drink in taverns! You carouse in taverns!
RAE: You’re the drunk!
MAG: I’m not as drunk as the Pope!
RAE: We better drop this.
MAG: We better.
Mag gets up, locks the gin bottle in the cabinet, locks it, deposits the key. Turns to Rae, attempting logic.
Now I need help. My daughter’s coming to visit, I give her hell about her place, I can’t have this in a mess. You need money. You’re in trouble with the bank, you told me that. I’ll give you a hundred dollars a week or else get out.
RAE: Well I will.
MAG: Well then take your big fat Polish ass out of here. Go back there, drink, do stuff with your hunters.
RAE: With pleasure.
MAG: You don’t care if some man looks at your legs.
RAE: I do care. I like it.
MAG: Somebody sees your canoe—
RAE: My what?
MAG: Your canoe. Rustoleum. It’s a disgrace. It’s not civilized.
RAE: Civilized, hell. I work for a living. You’ve never worked—
MAG: I worked twelve years in radio—
RAE: That’s not work, that’s entertainment.
MAG: I worked hard—
RAE: Pay people to smell your stink, and then you do dirt to your friends!
MAG: (working herself up to tears) I choose my friends. My friends are educated. They have opinions. If it’s not correct, it’s just an opinion, so you shouldn’t get upset by anybody’s opinion, unless it’s correct, which it is.
RAE: You’re a horrible woman. I’ll never come here again.
MAG: Don’t die of anything serious!
Rae goes out, slamming the door. Mag rampages, knocking over boxes, mumbling angrily:
Now you be grateful! You’re broke and you’re Polish, don’t try to fool me. You’re nothing. You’re just nothing. We’re two of a kind.
At last, frustrated, she dials phone. Waits. Goes to door, shouts out:
Scene Two
Late evening, a month later. Mozart on the radio. Mag and Rae stand at the table wrapping baby presents. They are pleasantly inebriated.
MAG: Where’s the scissors? Hand me those bows. Turn that little monkey off. He must’ve stuttered, he always goes da-da-da-da-da.
Rae turns it off.
RAE: I don’t like that classical stuff.
MAG: You don’t have to like it. It’s great music. It’s good for you.
RAE: I like Hawaiian guitars.
MAG: They didn’t have Hawaii then. They ran around naked in Hawaii.
RAE: We’re all naked. We just don’t admit it.
MAG: You better stop drinking. Where’s my drink? Why can’t I find anything? Wrap it all up. Then she can unwrap it, and she won’t like it, and the baby won’t wear it— Why don’t we just wrap the baby?
Surveys package Rae has wrapped.
It looks pregnant. Oh why does she have to come visit?
RAE: You been on her to come. You scream on the phone, “I wanta see the baby!”
MAG: Well she should know better. Babies belong in snapshots. All I want is to sit and listen to the trees. I feel like a big pile of leaves.
RAE: You be thankful. You always had the good life.
MAG: I always had Warren. Where is he? Damn him, he’s supposed to be here.
RAE: You said he has business—
MAG: He’s not supposed to have business. He had business all his life. He’s supposed to stop having business. They call him up, “Can you come to Chicago?” I’m gonna throw the phone in the lake. Here it’s halfway through fall, and he hasn’t even gone hunting. Call him back to Chicago, he goes, then he comes back he’s too tired. They hired this kid to run the company, he doesn’t know a damn thing about boxes. They found him in a box.
RAE: Mag, if they didn’t make boxes, we couldn’t wrap the presents.
Radiator knocks.
MAG: You better stop drinking. Check the radiator.
RAE: I did.
MAG: Check it again.
RAE: I shut it off. I know when it’s off. It’s off.
MAG: It’s banging.
RAE: We have to bleed the others too.
MAG: I don’t want a flood.
RAE: You won’t have a flood if you watch it. You go off ten minutes and watch “The Young and the Restless” and you see what happened.
MAG: It got you over here fast enough.
RAE: You screamed like the Titanic.
MAG: Well I am.
Pause. They laugh.
I can’t stand you over there sulking. Stay holed up over there four weeks. One two three four. Four weeks. How you think I feel? You say terrible things to me, and then you walk out and try to make me feel bad. (whimpering) Rae, be good to me.
RAE: I try, Mag.
They continue wrapping presents.
MAG: You’re supposed to like me. I’m a character.
Picks up ribbons.
I was a character. Once.
Struck by a sudden memory.
Oh my God. . . My dress with the ribbons, and Mildred, that floozie, said, “Whose birthday present are you?”
You’re not the only one that showed her legs.
RAE: Welcome to the human race.
MAG: You never knew me.
RAE: I know you, Mag—
MAG: You never knew me. You never moved up here till twenty years ago—
RAE: Twenty-three—
MAG: I was here thirty-seven summers—
RAE: So you told me—
MAG: But you never saw me then, like I was then. You never knew me. I was a hellraiser. I loved to dance. I had good legs, I loved to show’em off. It was hard because of wartime, but I would have the occasional silk stocking.
RAE: I bet you would.
MAG: Before I met Warren. Oh I was flashy. I was never pretty. Pretty people are polite, and I was not born polite.
RAE: Don’t say.
MAG: But they loved me. They all came up here, summers, this little cabin—
RAE: Cabin—
MAG: It was a little cabin then.
RAE: I know.
MAG: With an outhouse. Now we’ve got sewers.
RAE: That sewer assessment, that just about knocked me flat—
MAG: You can’t pee for free. You pay to pee. That’s progress. And we tacked on these rooms, ten rooms, so all our friends could come.
RAE: Well they seem nice, the ones I’ve met.
MAG: Not those! Not Warren’s friends! Hogs in brown suits married to cows in corsets. They drink their gin with Peptobismol.
RAE: Then who you talking about?
MAG: My friends. My friends.
RAE: From show business?
MAG: (with accent) “What, and quit show business?”
Oh my friends were on the fringe. People in radio, actors, musicians in dance bands. A couple of boys, they were chorus boys, nowadays nobody’d be shy to say they were “gay” but of course then you didn’t make that public knowledge. And it was great fun to go out with them because there was no harm to a woman, and they’d advise me how to dress, and they were full of wonderful scandalous gossip, and they were two of my best friends. Of course now I don’t approve of people like that.
One time we went to a nightclub, we smuggled animals in—
RAE: (recognizing the story) Oh yeh—
MAG: This high-class snooty supper club. We had a pig, small enough it fit in a doctor’s bag but it could run like hell. And a chicken. Four or five things, the only thing that flew was the chicken. And a briefcase full of bullfrogs. Put’em under the table and opened the latches, then we all went to the bathroom.
Fit of laughter.
One time Rodney dressed up as a nun—
RAE: Oh yeh—
MAG: He did a wonderful nun. He went to a fish market, going through piles of flounders, and said that she, he, she was looking for a Catholic flounder. Explained to the fish man which were Catholics and which were not, and how nuns could never eat Lutheran fish.
Laughter. Relapse to silence.
Then I married Warren. And I had other friends.
RAE: Bud’s friends were all boozers.
MAG: There wasn’t any future in nuns. And Warren was big and funny. He’d do completely unexpected things. Like a month when he sent me flowers every single day. I must say I was swept off my feet. That wasn’t part of my intent.
RAE: Bud just grabbed ahold.
MAG: Don’t talk dirty. (indicating package) What’s that?
RAE: Feels soft.
MAG: Give me that. I want to do that one.
Takes package, starts to wrap it.
I had this little stuffed lamb. When I was little. Tried to find one like it.
RAE: I had a Raggedy Ann.
MAG: That’s what I hung onto. My parents were still in vaudeville, we traveled all over, oh I hated it then. Either I was back in the dressing room, or hotel, or stayed with my rancid relatives while my folks were on tour. I couldn’t watch’em on stage. I thought, “Ohhh, that’s Mommy and Daddy being silly.”
RAE: I went to vaudeville once. My uncle took me, in Milwaukee. I wanted to go back, but it cost too much.
MAG: It was cheap. Everybody went.
RAE: For us it cost too much.
MAG: Polacks drink up their money.
RAE: (slamming down a box) Mag!
MAG: So do Swedes.
Tense silence. Then they laugh.
But they were good, I had to admit. Mom and Dad. They really loved it, but then they raised hell when I started to work.
RAE: But they got you started.
MAG: No!
RAE: You told me they—
MAG: Started! No, they were going to make me into a lady. They sent me to this damn Lutheran girls’ college for Swedish dumplings. When I got let out of there, I came to Chicago. I had this boyfriend who was crazy about me and his father was something in radio. So I called myself Maggie McGonigle and I auditioned and I had a smart mouth, I was hired for a comedy show. Whose special guests on my second week were. . . Mommy and Daddy! They farted sparks for a month.
But I was back in the world I knew. I was home. So I was the most surprised woman on earth when I fell for exactly what my parents wanted for me, an out-and-out decent, solid, stodgy businessman.
Sudden outburst:
Where is he? I want him here!
RAE: Mag—
Mag grabs package from Rae, throws it on the floor.
MAG: That’s ugly. It’ll scare the baby.
RAE: What are you doing?
MAG: I’m wrapping this box.
RAE: That’s the box of ribbons.
MAG: She can string one around the baby.
Tangles an arm’s-length piece of tape.
Ahh! Kill it!
Rae helps her untangle. Mag goes to chair by window, suddenly depressed.
Preacher preaching the sermon. Two hours, three hours. Helga leans over, whispers to Swen, “Swen, what’s he talking about?” Swen says, “He won’t say.”
RAE: You’re pretty drunk, Mag.
MAG: (automatically) But she’s prettier sober.
RAE: That must have been some life.
MAG: My mother dated Jack Benny.
In despair:
What’s wrong with me?
RAE: What?
MAG: Give away the dog.
RAE: Well I don’t know—
MAG: All I remember, we were at the Detweilers, I had a little drink and Mrs. Detweiler looked startled when I called Pooh a fur-lined handbag for dogshit, and when I called Warren, he said, “Oh you gave the dog away.”
RAE: Mag, you drink too much.
MAG: Now there’ll be a baby here. Same stuff, less hair.
RAE: I mean you drink too much. You’re a drunk.
MAG: Doctor tells Ole he has to stop drinking, he has an ear infection, he’ll lose his hearing. (with accent) “Well Doc, I only listen to the news. And I like what I’m drinkin a lot better than what I’m hearin.”
RAE: No, cause it puts pressure on the brain. That’s what happened to Bud. Blew up his brain. He’d forget he’d done stuff too. Spend money and forget. I still got debts. . .
Tries to knot a ribbon. The whole package comes undone. She gives up, finally comes out with what’s bothering her:
Mag, sure, I got debts, but that’s none of your business. I do housework for money, but that’s not friends. You hurt me awful. I just wanta be a friend, and come over and visit you and Warren and your daughter and the baby— I’ll be so glad to see Sally.
MAG: (surly) I don’t know if there’ll be time.
RAE: What do you mean?
MAG: We’ll be busy.
RAE: Doing what?
MAG: Fighting. You still got your lodgers there?
RAE: They left last week.
MAG: That’s a little house. I always wondered where you slept.
RAE: I got two bedrooms. What’s that—
MAG: People talk.
RAE: Who?
MAG: A lot.
RAE: What about?
MAG: You and your lodgers, damn it! What do you do over there?
RAE: I live there!
MAG: And what else?
RAE: I go fishing!
MAG: And what else?
RAE: Whatever else is in my own house, and which has four walls.
MAG: Well this is my house. I have standards to maintain. There are moral standards that you have to maintain around babies. No smoking—
RAE: I won’t smoke—
MAG: No low morals—
RAE: Mag—
MAG: You don’t touch the baby. You’ll drop it. You’ll bounce it off the floor. What’s the matter? Don’t you know when you’re being insulted?
RAE: I know, Mag. I know real well.
She puts the last box on top: a ragged heap. Surveys the mess.
I think we coulda done this better.
MAG: (very drunk) Ole’s arrested for arson. Comes in front of the judge. “Arson,” says the judge. Thinks a long time. “Hokay! There’s been entirely too much arsin’ going on around here and that young man is just gonna have to marry that girl.”
Tries to laugh. No response. Leans her head heavily into her hand.
Rae, be good to me. . .
RAE: I try, Mag.
Pause, then she musters will to try once again to reach this impossible woman:
I been so looking forward to have you here. South Side Milwaukee, yeh, where I come from, Fifth and National, we fight and yell and hit each other, so I know. . . But that’s family. It’s ok if it’s family. How long does it take to be family?
Mag snores. Rae looks at her.
I love you, Mag. You old bitch.
Scene Three
Late afternoon. Sounds of vigorous dinner preparation, pans and dishware clattering. Voices from kitchen.
MAG: (off) Get away from the oven.
RAE: (off) I’m taking out the turkey.
MAG: (off) It’s not done. Leave it in.
RAE: (off) It don’t wanta be cremated.
MAG: (off) It’s my turkey. For my husband. In my oven. Go soak your head.
RAE: (off) Settle down.
MAG: (off) Now when he gets here, we’re not going to drink so much. Go easy on the drinking.
RAE: (off) Right.
MAG: (off) Too much drinking here.
RAE: (off) Way too much.
MAG: (off) Set the table.
RAE: (off) Warren’s not here yet.
Rae comes into the dining room with a stack of plates and silver, sets it on sideboard. Goes to liquor cabinet with cup, takes out bottle, pours.
MAG: (off) Come back here, I need you. The stuffing’s all over the floor.
RAE: How’d you do that?
MAG: (off) I thought it looked nice there.
Rae puts bottle back, returns to kitchen.
RAE: (off) Whatta you doing?
MAG: (off) I’m putting it back in the bowl.
RAE: (off) Offa the floor?
MAG: (off) Warren likes stuffing. They starve him in the hospital.
RAE: (off) They have to for the tests. They see what happens if you don’t eat.
MAG: (off) You die.
RAE: (off) Well don’t make him eat off the floor.
MAG: (off) That’s where I keep my leftovers.
Mag appears with lace cloth for table. As they continue talking, she goes to liquor cabinet with coffee cup, takes out bottle, pours, drinks.
RAE: (off) Good thing he’s getting home. Try to manage you, it’s like one of those hockey games. I’m ready for tests myself.
MAG: Cut you open they’d find something. What are these cigars?
RAE: (off) Sally brought’em.
MAG: He quit cigars. No more booze in this house and no cigars!
RAE: (off) Well she didn’t know.
MAG: She’s trying to kill him.
RAE: (off) Mag!
MAG: Who set’em out here?
RAE: (off) You did.
MAG: Well he likes to take one and chew it. That doesn’t hurt. Stop talking about Sally.
RAE: (off) I’m not.
MAG: Little bitch.
Puts bottle away.
Warren should be here. Where are they? I should have gone to pick him up. I’m the wife.
RAE: (off) Warren wouldn’t let you.
MAG: Why not?
RAE: (off) Not after last time.
MAG: I didn’t do anything. I started screaming. People scream in hospitals. It’s the traditional thing.
RAE: (off) Earl’s a good driver, he’ll get him here.
Mag stands in the kitchen doorway.
MAG: Don’t salt that stuff. Warren can’t eat salt.
RAE: (off) You told me.
MAG: I have to watch you. You don’t think.
RAE: (appearing in door with pot) Mag—
MAG: What?
RAE: What’s this?
MAG: What does it look like? Beans.
RAE: Beans and ham.
MAG: “That horse can count, Mrs. Muldoon!”
RAE: You’re cooking country ham with the beans.
MAG: I always do.
RAE: Warren’s not sposed to eat salt.
MAG: I know that. So I’m using ham. It’s gotta have flavor, and I can’t use salt, so I put in pieces of ham for the flavor.
RAE: But ham is salty. That’s what the flavor is.
MAG: Yes! Then I take out the ham!
Pause. Rae goes back into kitchen. Mag takes candlesticks, pinecones, and ceramic birds from sideboard, arranging them as a centerpiece.
I want him to enjoy this. This is special. We’ve paid for this. We’ve paid thirty years.
RAE: (off) Yeh Mag—
MAG: They stick him there a week. They think they own him. I’m in there every day, and they don’t listen to a word I say, the nurse wouldn’t even get me a glass after I’d brought the bottle. Thursday I walk in there, see him lying there, he looked so . . . small. Damn him!
RAE: (off) Mag, settle down!
MAG: I went to pieces. He’s not supposed to be there. He’s supposed to be here. He’s retired. We’re supposed to sit by the lake and eat good food and have all our friends and little stinky grandkids. The Christian Scientists have the right idea: just die.
RAE: (off) Are you drinking in there?
MAG: No I’m not!
Finishes drink. Goes to kitchen door.
What are you doing?
RAE: (off) I’m trying to get the giblets out. You didn’t take the giblets out.
MAG: I couldn’t. It was frozen.
RAE: (off) They’re in a little bag in there.
MAG: Don’t pry its legs like that. It’s indecent.
RAE: (off) How long did you cook that thing?
MAG: Six hours. Four. Three. No— Are we on daylight savings?
RAE: (off) It looks like hell.
MAG: (going into kitchen) He likes it brown.
Rae comes out with a cake. Clatter in kitchen, oven door banged shut. Rae goes to cabinet, pours.
When did Earl take off?
RAE: Time enough.
MAG: (off) Is he a good driver?
RAE: He’s fine.
MAG: (off) How long’d you know him?
RAE: Bout ten years.
MAG: (off) You sleep with him?
RAE: Mag—
MAG: (off) It was just a question! It was a casual question. I was making conversation. Does he think he’s invited to dinner?
RAE: It might be nice, since he’s doing you a favor.
MAG: (off) Nobody needs to do me a favor.
RAE: Then I’ll just go.
MAG: (off) You need to, but nobody else does.
RAE: He’s not my damn boyfriend. He’s a lodger.
MAG: (off) “Oh Mrs. McClafferty! Breakfast in bed!”
Rae sits in chair, steaming. Mag appears.
He had to borrow our car. That’s a valuable car. Why couldn’t you let him use your car?
RAE: It’s outa commission.
MAG: What’s wrong?
RAE: The sticker’s expired.
MAG: I’ll pay for it.
RAE: Go to hell.
MAG: “Tried it, didn’t like it.” Here.
Takes wad of money from purse, hands it to Rae. No response.
I try to help you out. You sit over there, you’re gonna lose that place. Take it!
RAE: Go to hell.
MAG: Bud left you all those debts—
RAE: Why I ever told you that—
MAG: And the sewer assessment—
RAE: And you signed the damn petition!
MAG: We needed the sewer—
RAE: For your property values. You don’t care about the little guy—
MAG: Septic tanks stink.
RAE: You’re crazy.
MAG: Stuff carries. When Bud was alive, it was disgusting. I could hear you two all the way over here.
RAE: You never heard anything.
MAG: You were either fighting or doing something dirty.
RAE: Mag, you’re disgusting. You’re the most dirty-minded—
MAG: Well he’s dead.
RAE: Yes he is.
MAG: Wonderful man.
RAE: Yes he was.
MAG: Left you with those debts.
RAE: He’s dead.
MAG: Well that’s nothing to be proud of.
She puts money on the table.
I’m putting this money right here. It’s a decoration. I think I’ll have a little snort.
RAE: I don’t drink before dinner.
Mag goes to the liquor cabinet, pours.
MAG: You need money, I’ll help you monetarily. I can make you a loan, or I can give it to you. Just act like you’re grateful.
RAE: If I ever get under your thumb. You beat your daughter over the head with being grateful—
MAG: Don’t insult my daughter—
RAE: Tell me I’m lower class, you’re too good for me—
MAG: Well don’t believe everything I say.
RAE: Why are you so mean?
MAG: I’m old. I’m supposed to be mean. My real friends like me the way I am, drunk and funny. How much will they put up with: that’s the definition of a friend.
They put up with me for Warren’s sake.
RAE: We better set the table.
Rae gets up, starts to set the table. Mag comes down, looks out at the lake. This time Mag’s story is to herself.
MAG: Mrs. Munson brought two pies to the church social. On the crust she’d marked in the dough “T.R.” “Eleanor,” says the Reverend Ericson, “What do the letters mean?” “Well you know, Reverend, that some do like rhubarb pie, and other poor souls do not. So I marked the one pie ‘Tis Rhubarb and the other ‘Taint Rhubarb.”
I told that in 1942. Eddie Cantor did the same joke blackface. Somebody did it Irish, Irish or Italian. I forget everything. Everything must go.
Rae pours herself a refill.
There’s nothing wrong with Warren. He was all right when my damned daughter and her big shaggy husband and her stinky little baby were here. He was all smiles.
RAE: He just needs rest.
MAG: I’m so glad he could see the baby, Rae. His face just lighted up.
RAE: Sally seems happy.
MAG: Well she’d better.
RAE: I was glad they stopped over to my place.
MAG: I would have invited you over here, but Warren, it’s not good if there’s too many people around, so I didn’t invite you over, for Warren’s sake, he can’t stand crowds.
RAE: I know, Mag.
MAG: You know what?
Silence. As if speaking to Sally:
Oh honey, I love that baby. I’m happy you had that baby—
Stops abruptly.
I’m glad she had the baby. I never could stand babies, but it’s a cute little thing. It laughed when we opened the presents, and the little stuffed lamb, and Sally cried, and then we had a fight. I don’t know what inspired her not to use a bottle, it’s disgusting, but I guess that’s the newest thing. Warren doesn’t mind it, he was raised on a farm, he grew up around animals.
RAE: Well I appreciated her stopping over.
MAG: She was there all afternoon.
RAE: Maybe an hour.
MAG: I was worried.
RAE: Why?
MAG: If your dog might lick the baby.
I told her to shape up. You think she will? She’ll forget about that baby, put the baby down on a chair and sit on it. Get it mixed up in the laundry. She used to write. The most wonderful letters, they were full of lies but they were wonderful. I write letters every blessed week, it’s my lifeline to other people, and they write back, the bastards, and that’s manners. She’s got a baby now so she can shape up and learn manners and write to me. And she can take pictures of that baby, with color film. I want to see that baby in color and I want to see it smile. I’ll give her two weeks to see that baby smile! I told her to be nice to me and be nice to her father. I said, “He’s planning on making you very happy when he dies—”
RAE: You’re just running off at the mouth.
MAG: I’m scared to death.
RAE: Table’s set. I’ll get the food on. They’re late.
MAG: Well talk about something important.
RAE: What?
MAG: Whatta you think of the President?
RAE: I think he’s nuts.
MAG: Whatta you know about it?
Rae goes into kitchen. Mag stands motionless, speaks very quietly.
I’m afraid for Warren, Rae. I’m afraid of losing him. Warren’s alive and Bud’s not. Maybe if you don’t have him so much, you have him longer. Rae!
RAE: (off) What?
MAG: Nothing.
Mag goes to table, starts clearing away plates. Drinks. Rae appears with beans.
RAE: What are you doing?
MAG: Setting the table.
RAE: I set it.
MAG: It’s wrong.
RAE: What’s wrong?
MAG: Plates.
She gets other plates from cabinet. Rae goes back into kitchen.
We’re going to get this table set! We’re going to get food on it, and get Warren here and feed him so he’s alive. And then we’ll get you paid up so you don’t have to poach deer, and get me some household help, and we’ll stop all the drinking and boozing and getting drunk, and then we’ll sit down and relax and have a drink! This will be a beautiful meal for Warren, and once we finish this beautiful meal, life will be beautiful.
RAE: (appearing) The turkey’s black.
MAG: It’s brown. I turned it up. He likes it brown.
RAE: It’s black.
MAG: Don’t be so stubborn. Oh my God they’re here!
RAE: Is that the car?
MAG: There’s ham in these beans.
RAE: You put it there.
MAG: Take it out.
RAE: You take it out.
Rae goes back into kitchen. Sound of garage opening. Mag takes out pieces of ham, throwing them on floor.
MAG: That’s the goddamn garage door, and he can’t have salt, and he can’t have cholesterol, or sugar or anything. Where’s the cake? I have to scrape off the frosting. I want this perfect!
RAE: Turkey’s stuck to the pan.
MAG: (going into kitchen) Here!
RAE: Look out!
MAG: Give me the tongs. No, the oven mitts!
RAE: It’s ruined, Mag.
MAG: Hold onto the pan, I’ll pull it out. I hear Warren. Lock the door.
RAE: Mag—
MAG: Got it.
Mag emerges from kitchen. She carries a blackened turkey in her oven-mitted hands. Rae follows with the serving plate.
There’s no plate!
Mag tries to put the turkey on the plate, drops it straight onto the floor.
RAE: Catch it!
MAG: Come here, you little bastard!
She moves to pick it up, slips on the bits of ham, accidentally kicks turkey. It skids across the floor.
Kill it!
RAE: What’s Warren gonna think?
MAG: (bellowing) Warren who?
She throws oven mitts at the turkey, as Rae picks it up with forks. In frustration, Mag brings her fist down directly into the cake.
I’m frosted!
Mag grabs tablecloth to wipe her hand: everything slides to floor. Rae lets the turkey drop. Silence. Mag surveys everything.
I don’t think you’re a good influence on me. I have to give our friendship some serious thought.
RAE: You’re right.
Sound of offstage kitchen door. Warren’s voice, off: “I’m home!” Mag brightens.
MAG: (calling to him) Supper’s on!
Scene One
After breakfast. Mag sits at the table with a stack of get-well cards, writing on note paper. She carries on a running monolog to people she’s writing, but little is being written: rarely more than two lines, in a large scrawl. She sips from a cup of tea.
MAG: Put a hose between here and the bathroom. Damn tea goes right straight through.
Leafs through address book.
Who’s next? Eleanor, you old tart, how’s Burke? Warren’s terrible. I miss you, damn it. You still paint? You’d love to paint here. It’s wonderful up here, I try to get you here, you haven’t come up here for twenty-five years, you stuck-up old floozie, I miss you. My girl was up with that stinky little baby. Better off without kids. You had one, I had one, that little miserable lump, it whines at one end and stinks at the other. It’s cute, but my God aren’t they awful! I’m so glad she’s got it. Warren is so happy, he’s been dying for grand-children. Wrong word, Eleanor, I don’t use that word. Never said that at all.
Drinks tea, grimaces.
Three weeks. I have not had a drink, I have not had a snort or a nip or a toot in three weeks. Ever since Warren got sick. Now Burke’s retired, that means you’re retired. You come up here and tempt me and then I can drink. We’ll talk dirty and insult everybody. What’s your address? That’s not right, that’s old. . .
Mildred, I’m not gonna write to you, Mildred, not after what you did to Helmer. Cross that off.
Mark and Eileen. Hello teenagers. Still driving around in your Thunderbird? Using the Grecian Formula? Still eternally young? I’ve got a surprise: it gets you sooner or later. (sipping tea) You come visit me. I’m drinking this goddamned tea. You come visit me. You have no idea what it’s like here, it’s wonderful, go out, sit on the porch, gray sky and big stacks of clouds, watch the waves. Foam washes up on the beach and the frost, it’s grand. Come see Warren. Come to Okiboji.
Picks up card.
Oh Mary, Mary, Mary. . . You still playing piano? Do your fingers still work? How is Jimmy? Dear Jimmy? Jews are all crazy. Him and his violin. Oh God honey we used to have some times. You still pretending you and Jimmy are brother and sister? You want to see Warren you better come up here. You better come up. You better come right now. Take good care of Jimmy. Give him a swat on his old fanny. I need a drink.
Starts to get up.
The hell I do. Warren’s upstairs. “Be a good girl, Mrs. Mulrooney!”
She sits. Rae enters with a handful of mail. She sees Mag, stops.
And I picked up the most gorgeous walnut sideboard you ever saw. Hand-carved, heavy as a horse, black as sin, and these people, these bohunks up here, they’re just trash, I got it for a song.
Picks up a letter.
No, I won’t write her. No. Oh honey, come back and see your daddy. Bring your little baby—
Sudden startle.
RAE: It’s me.
MAG: You scared me! Don’t make so much noise, Warren’s asleep.
RAE: That’s why I didn’t knock.
MAG: Well now it’s too late. Banging in here, screaming—
RAE: You did the screaming.
MAG: Well no wonder.
RAE: I brought in the mail.
MAG: More cards. It’ll wear him out just reading the cards. Stop tap-dancing. Sit down and shut up and talk to me. Warren’s upstairs.
RAE: He needs rest.
MAG: You want some tea?
RAE: No. I brought in the mail.
MAG: Stay with me.
RAE: You do better talking to yourself.
MAG: I have to talk so I know what I think.
RAE: I think you’re crazy.
MAG: I want somebody to come visit. Why doesn’t my daughter come back and see her father? He was so glad to see the baby, Rae. His face just lighted up. She didn’t even come for Christmas.
RAE: Cause you told her not to. You said “You’ll tire him out.” You said “Stay the hell away.”
MAG: First time she ever did what I told her. I want my friends to come. My daughter doesn’t count.
RAE: How you expect to have friends when you make these nasty cracks?
MAG: I don’t make cracks. I cheer things up.
RAE: When you says to me, “Don’t step on your tits when you’re crossing the street—”
MAG: That was friendly advice.
I read this weight-loss program. You crawl into a bag.
RAE: “All these bohunks up here,” huh, “all this trash—”
MAG: I wasn’t talking about you—
RAE: You’re crying for all your friends. You thought they’d come up to the lake. But they don’t. So you got me. I’m what’s left. I’m trash.
MAG: There’s nothing wrong with trash. If we didn’t have trash, we’d have nothing to rise above.
RAE: So you write to your rich bitch friends—
MAG: Those aren’t my friends. These are my friends. I loved them and we had wonderful times. And one by one I traded them for the stuffed shirts. “No, sorry, Mary, we have the convention next weekend, and we’re meeting Governor Gasbag—” “Warren’s wife’s really something! Is she drunk?” “Well she used to be in show business. They’re like that.” I want my real friends back. Mildred and Helmer, Eileen, Burke, Eleanor, Mary and Jimmy, they were so funny. They love me. They know I’m crazy. You’re no help. You get mad at me. You drink.
RAE: So do you.
MAG: Not till Warren’s well.
RAE: Where’s Warren?
MAG: Upstairs. He’s dizzy. He has these funny spells, where he’s numb on one side. That must mean something.
RAE: Well he was in for tests. He’s got high blood pressure.
MAG: He already knew that.
RAE: Now they’ve proved it.
MAG: He’ll be talking, then all of a sudden he stops.
RAE: People do.
MAG: His feet are like ice.
RAE: Well—
MAG: I’m not drinking.
RAE: What’s that got to do with it?
MAG: We’ve got six dozen get-well cards. Doesn’t that mean something?
RAE: It means a lot of people care.
MAG: I care!
Silence. She looks at the mail.
I wrote a card to my daughter, I asked, very politely, “I just would like you to tell me, honestly, as daughter to mother, what the hell’s the matter with you.” She won’t say. Mail these letters.
Rae takes letters.
First Christmas we had here. I thought we’d have a big tree, and lots of friends. And then Sally wouldn’t come, because I told her not to, and we had that dinky little tree in the bedroom. And nobody. Nobody.
RAE: Well I appreciated your having me over. That was a good Christmas dinner.
MAG: Took me an hour to get him back upstairs.
RAE: I woulda helped.
MAG: He hasn’t been downstairs in a week. He hasn’t been outside since Christmas. Cold air makes him cough. They want him back in the hospital, but I won’t let him. He was going to do woodwork, and fishing, and walk by the lake. Reading, he’s even too tired to read. People, he loves people, if people would visit, but I chased’em all away. I want to be up there with him, spend time with him, but I can hardly stand to go up when he’s just lying there, I can’t sit there and see him like that. I want him down here to look at the lake. I want a drink, and I can’t.
RAE: Mag, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t make a bargain about it, some kind of voodoo. I know what you’re going through. I been through it. You better have a little snort.
MAG: No! I know what you’re trying to pull. Get me drunk, bring me down to your level. You don’t know me. You have nothing in common with me. Live in a shack over there that reduces—
RAE: It’s not a shack—
MAG: That reduces the property values. I’ll buy it and tear it down.
RAE: (flaring up) You just as well! You sign all these petitions. They clobber me with that sewer assessment, they raise the property tax, now they’re paving the lake road—
MAG: They have to pave it.
RAE: What’s wrong with gravel?
MAG: It’s low class.
RAE: Oh my God. Why the hell’d you come here in the first place? You barge around with the big shots, tart up the lakefront, wipe your ass on the little guy. Then sell it all to the stuffed shirts and cows and gasbags. Move’em all in! Right next door!
MAG: Oh go home and bury your dog.
RAE: She’s not dead.
MAG: Then stomp on her.
RAE: (very angry) I get your groceries, I mail your mail, run to the bank, the drycleaner, help you with Warren, I haul out the garbage cause you’re scared to leave the house, and to you I’m trash.
MAG: Let’s have a real fight. The main event.
Acting it out as a routine, very rapidly, off the top of the head:
Here come the clowns. “What are you so mad about?”
“You’re drunk.”
“So are you.”
RAE: Mag, it’s not funny—
MAG: “And you’re fat.”
“So are you.”
“Call me fat? When you got married they arrested your husband for bigamy.”
“Fat? Your snapshots all say To Be Continued.”
“Fat? You have two bathtubs, one for the water, one for you.”
“Fat? You were the poster girl for Save the Whales.”
“What are you drinking?”
“Coffee and gin.”
RAE: (starting to laugh) You’re crazy, Mag—
MAG: “The turkey’s done.”
“That’s not the turkey. You baked your dog.”
“That’s not the turkey. You basted the baby.”
“That’s not the turkey. You paved the cake.”
“Mag, you are just crazy.”
Suddenly, a bit too sharp:
“Rae, you are just trash.”
Rae stops laughing. Mag looks at her. Awkward pause.
Bet you know why the Polack wore blue jeans to Christmas dinner.
RAE: To cover up her ass.
Deeply hurt:
Oh Mag, you mean ugly old bitch.
MAG: (a little girl, whimpering) Rae, take care of me. I’m scared.
Muffled sound from upstairs.
It’s Warren. You woke him up.
RAE: I don’t want to wear out my welcome.
Rae hands her letters, starts to door.
MAG: (terrified) Rae!
Rae halts. Sees what she’s thinking.
RAE: He’s ok. He just dropped a book or something.
Both are silent. After a moment, Rae goes to alcove, calls up the stairs.
Warren? Warren, it’s Rae. You all right?
I’ll go up and check. (calling) I’m coming upstairs. You decent?
Rae goes upstairs. Mag stands motionless, holding the letters, then goes unsteadily to window, looks at the lake, bewildered.
MAG: (almost inaudible) Warren? . . .
Rae appears. Mag turns to her.
No response. Mag flails her arms up like a small child. Looks at handful of letters. Distracted:
I’m gonna have to write these all over.
Drops letters. Stumbles to Rae. They embrace. Fade.
Scene Two
Evening. Rae sits posed, occasionally drinks from glass. Mag sits at an easel, painting.
MAG: Warren. . .
RAE: Hm?
MAG: Never told me to stop.
RAE: Stop what?
MAG: Painting.
Straighten your nose out.
RAE: I grew this way.
MAG: Sit still.
RAE: This take much longer?
MAG: Like painting pig knuckles.
RAE: I don’t look in the mirror. I don’t care how I look as long as it all works. Bud said I was carved outa driftwood with a dull hatchet. I always felt lively, I guess that’s attractive, maybe. I’ve had my share of men.
MAG: Don’t talk dirty.
RAE: No, I do all right. I buy good lipstick and nail polish, and I get good suntan stuff for my skin, I really hate to put cheap crap on my skin.
MAG: You look fried.
RAE: I’d rather look fried than poached.
MAG: I can’t do this. I can’t remember how.
RAE: You will. Why you did beautiful paintings. Your uncle, that was so real. Beautiful colors.
MAG: You don’t know anything about art. It’s supposed to make me feel better.
RAE: Well how do you feel?
MAG: Ducky.
RAE: I have to go pretty soon. I got work tonight.
MAG: What work?
RAE: I got Carpenter’s books to balance.
MAG: After three drinks?
RAE: Figures are figures. If you don’t have the figures right they don’t balance. That’s double entry bookkeeping. It was invented by the Italians, and if you ever knew any of them—
MAG: Keep track of the Pope.
RAE: Let’s don’t get onto religion.
MAG: I’m not saying the Pope in a religious sense. I’m saying the Pope when he first gets up in the morning.
RAE: Just paint my picture.
MAG: Don’t smile. It’s not a snapshot.
RAE: Mag—
MAG: Oh Rae, goddamn it, let me be mean. I’m a mean old cow. Just sit still and take it.
Warren looked wonderful, didn’t he?
RAE: Yes he did.
MAG: For being dead.
RAE: I will say it was a wonderful turnout. He had a lot of friends.
MAG: All the stuffed shirts. “Oh Mag, it’s so tragic. Could you suggest a nice restaurant?” “He looks so peaceful. Is there a good hairdresser in town?” The old bulls button on their pot bellies and waddle in, grunt, shake hands, and then they waddle out. I thought if the funeral was up here, all my old friends would come up here, to the lake, they loved the lake, and the stuffed shirts’d stay away. It was the other way around. Surprise.
RAE: Want a drink?
MAG: What a funeral. I told the damn preacher not to talk about God. Don’t blame it on God. He can’t control himself. He was a sweet little man. Unitarian. I think they’re all gay.
Begins to be caught up in the energy of storytelling.
How’d you like Mutt and Jeff? Mr. Pickleby or something like that, he’s one of the company’s suppliers. The little smarty-mouth mouse with the big pasty nylon polka-dot wife.
Pause. Continues energetically:
Warren’s secretary. Helga the She-wolf. The new president, Warren’s successor, how can you have a red-haired president? He wears neckties with dogs and ducks. Wait till hunting season, they’ll shoot him. Mr. Philpott, the lard-bottom from Public Relations. He brought a photographer. In case I buried Warren in a Consolidated Box.
RAE: Well it’s done.
MAG: All the stuffed shirts. And none of my friends. Not one. Except you.
And that little man with the mustache, you see him? Mr. Hlavacek, Havalchek, something. I was glad he came. He’s a refugee, Hungarian. Warren gave him a job at the plant, he’s a machinist. He loved Warren. “Ach, Missus, I vish to offer my condoliments.” Condoliments. I need condoliments, Rae.
RAE: I try.
MAG: Why don’t you smile a little?
RAE: I was smiling. You told me not to, cause you didn’t have the right yellow for my teeth.
MAG: It wasn’t my idea. Somebody told me to stay busy, my daughter or some idiot, and that’d make me feel better. So I dug this stuff out. Why didn’t she stay?
RAE: Who?
MAG: My daughter.
RAE: She wanted to.
MAG: I told her not to.
RAE: So then she didn’t.
MAG: Why not?
RAE: Mag, she was here a week. She was wonderful to you. And you know it was hard for her—
MAG: Smile.
Warren never told me to stop painting. He loved it. He never told me to quit radio. I just thought well it was time to grow up. Once you learn how to play the piano then you don’t have to play the piano again. You do it and then you can say you did it, and then it’s done.
RAE: But that’s your advantage. You’re cultivated. You played the piano. Foreign languages, how many, three, at least to say hello. You told me, “Those words are beautiful.” And here you are, you get out your paints, you paint, that’s wonderful.
MAG: The tubes are dried up. Why don’t you drink that? Your fingernails keep itching over to it.
RAE: How bout you? You don’t look natural without one. I miss you, Mag. You’ve got a whole life ahead of you.
MAG: Where?
RAE: Come on, tell me a Polack joke.
MAG: You’re the Polack joke. Shut your mouth and smile! Look like you’re happy.
RAE: I’m not happy, I’m miserable. Oh Mag, stop it!
Rae bursts into tears.
MAG: Don’t you cry! It’s a fake!
RAE: I can’t help it—
MAG: You have no right to cry!
RAE: That’s the way I am—
MAG: You don’t deserve to cry!
Rae recovers, stands, tight-lipped, suppressing deep hurt and rage.
RAE: I have to go. I can’t afford the time. I’ve been coming over, and from you I don’t expect appreciation. But I haven’t worked regular for two weeks. They get you on the ropes, they don’t let up, they go for the knockout. Sewers, roads, taxes, now they’re trying to re-zone. Stop me from taking in lodgers. You have to be a Holiday Inn.
I’ll tell you one difference between us. Warren left you well fixed. And I loved Bud, but he was a sneak. He died and then the bills came in. Ten years, I’m still scared to open the mail.
MAG: He was a wonderful man.
RAE: He’d go on a toot, I’d find debts, clothes he bought, some trip I didn’t know about. Car falling apart, and then the house, I thought we had that clear, and I find out he took a second mortgage on it. He’d let the insurance go, I’m still paying the hospital. I had to go have that cyst removed, you know how much they charge for that? I’m three months behind to the bank, not that it’s any of your damn business—
MAG: Money doesn’t buy happiness. What about the lawyers? Their money doesn’t make them happier.
RAE: Their money would make me happier. People with money, Jesus. The lawyer’s, they’re so determined to prove they got money. Why in the name of God put in a swimming pool twelve feet from the lake? Green plastic stuff, like walking on chickenshit. Put that tennis court in: that used to be the most beautiful stand of Norway pine, that was my sighting point coming across the lake, and they took every one of those trees out for the tennis court, and they don’t even play tennis. Tear up what God made, so it will never be the same again, and look down on people that work. People who’ve never had to work, they look down on people who do. In your eyes I am trash if I stick my hand down the seat of the car to feel if a nickel dropped down. Yell at me for crying. I loved Warren too. He was the sweetest man that walked the face of the earth. Everybody said, “Mag’s taking it so well.” No wonder. He left you pretty well fixed, huh. You ever work a day in your life?
MAG: I worked. I worked twelve years. Wonderful people. I loved it.
RAE: I worked forty years. Bastards. I hate it.
MAG: I didn’t have men friends coming in at night.
RAE: Too bad. You missed something. I have to go.
MAG: You can’t go.
RAE: I have to.
MAG: Sit down there! Stay!
RAE: I’m not the damn dog.
MAG: You want money you can take my money!
Digs in her purse, wads bills, throws money at her.
You take that! You take that money! You take that money and stuff it in your mouth and swallow it!
RAE: Mag—
MAG: Stay still! I know how far in the hole you are. I opened your mail—
RAE: You read my mail?
MAG: I read it. I went out and took it out of your box by mistake and I read it. You are eight months behind, and they’re taking that house away from you and you can’t do a thing. So you sit there. I’m going to buy that house and I’ll tear it down because it’s ugly! And I’ll buy your canoe and sink it because it’s ugly. And you can work for me and take care of me because I’m ugly and old and alone and I want to die!—
She breaks down, weeping. Rae stands at a distance, wanting to go to her, but confused. Long silence as Mag recovers.
RAE: You couldn’t put it off forever, Mag.
MAG: You moved. . . You messed it all up. . .
RAE: You hurt me awful, Mag. . .
MAG: (weeping) I don’t want to be an ugly old drunken bitch. . .
RAE: (gently) Well you are. That’s what you turned out to be.
MAG: Warren. . .
RAE: Sure. . .
Mag takes the painting from the easel, leans it against the table. Very quiet, very lost:
MAG: Painting, that’s leftovers. You know what you look like, why rub it in? . . . Nothing’s worth nothing if it doesn’t make you laugh, and all my audience died. Warren had such a laugh. One of my friends, he’d played at some trade show, he met Warren, brought him to a broadcast. And I had a hangover, and the middle of the show I dropped my script, it’s all over the floor—
RAE: You told me—
MAG: And I said the first thing that came into my head: “I woke up this morning and there was snow all over my asters.” Not a sound. And then this one big high-pitched honking “Haw haw haw.” And the whole audience laughed at him laughing. I looked at this man, and he was all silly, simple sunshine, with this enormous, preposterous laugh that was the truest promise I ever had. If I could tell Warren, "No, honey, I made my own choice, and I don’t blame you for your idiot boring friends. I just want to be a tired old lady that loves you and sits here and looks at the lake and yells. . .
Shouting in rage:
Stops. Recovers. Quietly, with accent:
“He won’t say.”
Scene Three
Late afternoon in April. Mag, in a bathrobe, sits looking out window to the lake. She appears older, subdued, but with bursts of her old energy. She plays solitaire absently, looks down at the cards, impatiently shuffles them. Rae enters, stands at the door.
RAE: I’ll say goodbye.
MAG: Who?
RAE: Me. I’m gonna say goodbye.
MAG: Where the hell have you been?
RAE: I been packing.
MAG: I needed to see you. I called you.
RAE: Well I’m here. I’m leaving today. I just come in to say goodbye.
MAG: Goodbye. Don’t let the dog out.
RAE: You still on that dog?
MAG: Did you run into Bloody Mary?
RAE: Who?
MAG: My housekeeper. I call her Bloody Mary. She’s got whiskers all over her nose. She traps cats in the garage for experiments.
RAE: I didn’t see her.
MAG: You wouldn’t. I pay her to live in and take care of me and watch soap operas on the upstairs set to see what real life is like.
RAE: I brought you some candy.
MAG: I’m not sposed to have candy.
RAE: Then I won’t.
MAG: Give it to me. Don’t be selfish. Sit down.
RAE: Well Herb’s coming to pick me up.
MAG: Who’s Herb? One of your boy friends?
RAE: He’s giving me a ride.
MAG: They all give you a ride.
RAE: (indicating cards) You laid that out wrong.
MAG: Don’t tell me that. I’m trying to cheat. What do you need a ride for?
RAE: I sold my car. They got buses in Milwaukee, my sister said.
MAG: Why haven’t you come over?
RAE: I had stuff to do. One thing after another. Took a lotta time with the bank, I had to keep signing my name, they had to get blood from a turnip. They wanted to see every wart on my bee-hind. I had to clean the damn oven so they could take it away from me. Damn surveyor, the bank sent him out to measure the lot, and he found that from side to side it was right, but from the road to the lake it was shorter, and they thought I took it. Now they’re done with me, they got the house, I had to sell the furniture, I tried to sell the canoe and nobody’s bought the damn thing—
MAG: You were mad because of the picture.
RAE: Picture?
MAG: I didn’t finish your picture.
RAE: I wasn’t mad. I was busy.
MAG: Well stop being mad. That was two months ago.
RAE: I’ve been over—
MAG: That was February.
RAE: I’ve been going through hell—
MAG: You’d better.
RAE: I was over last week—
MAG: Three weeks.
RAE: It hasn’t been three weeks.
MAG: Three weeks Wednesday.
RAE: This is Wednesday.
MAG: Next Wednesday.
RAE: What do you hear from your daughter?
MAG: Nothing. I told her “Don’t write me because I can’t read it, my eyes don’t focus so just don’t write.”
RAE: She don’t write?
MAG: Not for a week.
RAE: Well the baby keeps her busy.
MAG: Baby, hell. The baby’s grown up.
RAE: Mag, he’s one year old.
MAG: That’s all the older they ever get.
Starts to lay out cards.
She hires me housekeepers. Boxcar Bertha. The Bag Lady. Carry Nation, she hid all my bottles. Now we’ve got Bloody Mary. I insult’em they leave.
RAE: No wonder.
MAG: I love my daughter.
RAE: I know you do.
MAG: Little bitch.
RAE: I have to go, Mag. Herb’s taking me down to the bus station, then I’ll stay a while in Milwaukee with my sister, and look for a job. I hope it’s not factory work. I told you my cousin’ll be up next week to pack up the rest. I couldn’t bear to see it all in boxes. There’s a kid maybe wants to buy the canoe. (pointing) You can’t put the jack on the ten.
MAG: This is a variation.
You can stay.
RAE: I’d been thinking I could. Find a room in town. Hang onto my job and my friends and. . . And you. I couldn’t do it. Keep thinking the lake’s out here, some sonofabitch in my cottage in place of myself and Bud—
So I’ll go back to where there’s more Polacks around. I can fart in church.
MAG: They better pray hard.
RAE: I have to go.
MAG: You can stay.
RAE: Stop saying that.
MAG: I thought Sally would call on the fifteenth. Warren died on the fifteenth. But people don’t pay attention to birthdays, so what can you expect? We get along fine except when we talk. I made the point that she’s totally worthless, and she agrees, but she keeps forgetting, so it’s not up to me to remind her.
RAE: If you’re playing that game you oughta play it right.
MAG: Tell it to the Pope.
I have a hard time to stop talking like that.
RAE: No need to stop now.
MAG: I insulted my friends, I ditched the dog.
RAE: Long time ago.
MAG: You clean out the freezer? That awful stink?
RAE: Long time.
MAG: I want Warren.
RAE: I know.
MAG: Don’t go.
RAE: I have to go.
MAG: You don’t want to.
RAE: Want to or not.
MAG: What’s that card?
RAE: That’s the joker. You got the joker.
MAG: Ah! (throwing it down) It messed up the game. I was winning.
RAE: You were cheating, so what’s the difference?
MAG: Cheating has rules.
Reshuffles. Silence.
Over on the table.
RAE: What?
MAG: There’s an envelope.
RAE: So?
MAG: Bring it here.
RAE: I’m not your maid.
MAG: Could you bring me the envelope . . . please . . . Rae?
RAE: Why sure.
Gives it to Mag.
MAG: You open it up there.
RAE: Open your own mail.
MAG: This is yours.
RAE: What?
Opens envelope. Looks at papers.
What is it?
MAG: That’s your house.
RAE: They took the house away.
MAG: Well look.
RAE: Well they sold it.
MAG: Well who bought it?
RAE: Who did?
MAG: Well who?
RAE: You bought it.
MAG: You bought it.
RAE: There’s your name.
MAG: It’s made out to you.
RAE: Where?
Looks at deed.
What the hell is all this? Did you buy my goddamned house?
MAG: Whose is it?
RAE: Mine!
MAG: That’s right!
RAE: It says on the deed.
MAG: It was up for sale. It’s right next to us here. I don’t want some lawyer that puts in a hot tub. They do! So I bought it. I don’t have any use for it so I gave it to you. That’s the deed.
RAE: What do I do with it?
MAG: Live in it. Burn it down if you want. That’s your problem.
RAE: Mag—
MAG: Be quiet, I’m busy. Put the nine . . . in the trash.
RAE: (speechless) Mag, I’m not saying I don’t appreciate this. But you’re from one class, and I’m from another, as you have always said and I agree. I work for a living, I pay my own way, and I have some pride even if I’ve had to swallow a lot of it— It’s not my practice— It’s not the people I’m talking of’s practice, to take what doesn’t belong to them even if it does. I mean I don’t know—
MAG: Oh go lay an egg.
RAE: You trying to humiliate me?
MAG: No.
RAE: Hire me for a housekeeper?
MAG: Hell no. You can’t keep house. You’re a total loss.
RAE: You trying to— What the hell are you trying to do!
MAG: Get all my kings in a pile!
I never performed by myself. I was never a solo. When I had a partner, then I could shine. Yes I did that to keep you here. I would like to buy a friend, if that’s the only way. I never planned to be old and ugly and mean: I was a St. Olaf’s girl. I never think the toes I step on are human until they walk away. And Warren lied. Dear, sweet man, but he told me a terrible lie. He said he’d never leave me. “Wait thirty years, darling, and then we’ll sit by the lake.” I don’t know how to do this, Rae. I’m alone and I would like to buy a friend.
RAE: I been here twenty-three years, Mag.
MAG: Then I want to give a present. To my friend. Never mind the ribbons.
RAE: What’s the catch?
MAG: The catch is. . . Laugh at my jokes. Get me a drink and tell me to quit. Paint your canoe. Sink it. Bake me a cake. Drop it on the floor. Prop up your tits. There’s no damn catch, Rae. Forget it. We’re past the feature presentation. We’re not upper class or lower class any more, we’re two old ladies drunk as skunks. We float on the lake.
RAE: You want a snort?
MAG: Not now.
RAE: You want to go out in the boat?
MAG: No.
RAE: It’s not so easy, Mag.
MAG: No.
RAE: You want a snort?
MAG: Not now.
Rae stands a moment, then sits, shuffles cards. They start to play.
RAE: I done some fishing.
MAG: Catch anything?
RAE: Two or three. Herb doesn’t count.
MAG: You dirty old bag.
RAE: Hunting season’s coming up.
Laughs. Mag throws cards at her, mumbles, then laughs.
MAG: Quarrel starts in a tavern about Norwegians and Swedes—
RAE: Oh yeh—
MAG: So they ask Ole, who’s half Swede and half Norwegian. “Ole, who drinks more, a Norwegian or a Swede?” Ole thinks a while. Takes a drink, with his right hand. Another drink, with his left. Right. Left. Finally says, “A Swede.” Great uproar. “How can you tell?” And Ole looks, and he thinks, and he scratches, and he burps, and he says. . .
Long silence. She forgets about the story, looks at the lake. Long pause.
It’s beautiful.
RAE: Beautiful out there.
MAG: Beautiful.
Fade. Curtain.