(A middle-aged man with a mustache steps in front of the curtain at center stage. He wears a porter’s uniform and takes off his cap to hold it in both hands.)
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
The year is 1926. The place is New York. This is an apartment house with eight floors and though it’s after midnight not everybody in it is asleep.
Act I: Scene I
Time: Just after midnight.
Scene: A flat in aforementioned apartment house. It looks well lived in and comfortable – and much like every other flat in the same apartment house. In the corner, stage right, is a liquor cabinet with a few half empty bottles on its shelves. Continuing to the back is a window that leads to the fire escape, and even further in the back a door that leads into the kitchen. There is a couch centrally located. A table sits before it, which is decorated with flowers and magazines, carefully arranged. There is an arm chair to its right and a chair to its left. At the back wall there is a book case to the right of the entrance door. To the left is a chair which is covered with a light overcoat. Stage left is another door that leads to the bedroom, which is part of the stage, in its back there’s a door which suggests the bathroom. The bedroom is furnished with a double bed and a desk with a chair to the front. There is also a closet door to the right.
The entrance door is opened from the outside; we see the number on it, 111, as two women enter. One is dressed in a not quite knee length skirt and a blouse, her hair is short; the other one wears a man’s suit that is too big for her, she pushes the hat out of her eyes as the other woman, the hostess, closes the door behind them.
Midge (approaches her visitor and pushes the men’s jacket off her shoulders): Make yourself comfortable, honey.
Annabelle: Hmmmm. This is nice. (She giggles) What do you think the porter thought of me? Did he think me a guy?
Midge (laughs): I think he did suspect something, not that it matters. Want a drink?
Annabelle: No, just…
(They kiss again, more passionately this time. When they part Midge stumbles over to the couch. She is a little tipsy and falls rather ungraciously into the cushions.)
Midge (she beckons): Come here.
(Annabelle pushes her hands into her pockets and swaggers over. She flops down next to her hostess and grins smugly.)
Annabelle: And what would you want with me here?
(Midge smiles and loses Annabelle’s tie. Then she opens the first button on her visitor’s shirt.)
Midge: Isn’t that better, dear?
Annabelle: Much better, thank you.
Midge: I wondered all evening how you breathe in something like this.
Annabelle: And I wondered all evening how you walk in something like these.
(Annabelle points down to Midge’s shoes.)
Midge: I’ve seen you wearing heels, honey. You never seemed to mind them much.
Annabelle: There are heels and then there is what you’re wearing.
(Midge puts her legs over Annabelle’s.)
Midge: Wanna take them off?
(Annabelle loses the buckle of Midge’s high-heels and takes the shoes off her. She places them carefully in front of the couch and starts kneading Midge’s feet through the confines of her pantyhose.)
Midge: Hmmm-hm, that feels good.
Annabelle: You’re welcome.
(Midge leans back closing her eyes and lets her feet being massaged by the other woman for a couple of minutes. When she opens them again she also sits up, reaching for Annabelle’s hands.)
Midge (kissing Annabelle’s hands): Such strong hands. (Kisses their palms) Such tender hands.
(Midge opens the cuff of Annabelle’s sleeve and places another kiss, this time onto the wrist. Annabelle pulls her arm back, not strong enough, though, for Midge to lose her hold on her.)
(Annabelle looks down onto her wrist where Midge has just kissed her and Midge follows her friend’s gaze. She sees a fine white vertical line on the wrist, a scar. She stares at it for some time.)
(Annabelle looks away, shamefaced.)
Annabelle: I was young.
Midge: You are still young.
Annabelle: I was younger. I was stupid.
(Midge puts her hand to the other woman’s face and turns it to her. She caresses a cheek. She kisses her softly on the lips.)
Midge: What did it feel like?
Annabelle: It hurt. A lot.
End of Scene I
Act I: Scene II
Time: About a quarter to 1 a.m.
Scene: Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Humphries enter their apartment; again we see the room number before he closes the door: 207. They don’t talk as they make their ways through the living room and into the bedroom. Edith takes off her earrings, Edgar his cufflinks. They are both in evening attire.
(Edith turns on her bedside lamp.)
Edgar: You are very quiet tonight.
Edith (in a mocking tone): As opposed to usually?
Edgar (flinches): Just quiet, dear.
(She doesn’t answer but instead walks into the bathroom. Edgar looks after her then starts undressing. We hear the rustling of clothes from the half open bathroom door, then the unmistakable noises of someone getting ready for bed. Edgar is taking off his dinner jacket, continues with his tie and shirt. As he sits down on the bed to open his shoes Edith reenters in a bathrobe and her dress over her arm. She puts it on a hanger.)
Edgar: Is everything alright? I thought you liked Shakespeare, but you haven’t said much at all about how you liked the play.
Edith: Oh, I liked it just fine.
(Edith hangs her dress on the bathroom door and crosses over to her bed. She takes off her robe and he takes the time to look at her in her negligee until she slips under the covers, sitting against the hardboard.)
Edgar (takes off his shoes): You didn’t think the acting was over-the-top? I thought that was what you said to Larry.
Edith: Oh, you know Larry, he goes on and on about acting and I just had to say something to irk him a little. The acting was alright.
Edgar: Just alright?
Edith: It was good.
(Edgar goes into the bathroom. Again noises of water running.)
Edgar: I liked the one who played Ophelia.
Edith (to herself): Oh, you would.
Edgar: What was that, dear?
Edith (louder now): I said she was very good.
Edgar: Yes, she was.
(More running water, then again rustling of clothes indicating that Edgar is changing. Edith meanwhile looks pensive. Edgar reenters in his pajamas.)
Edgar: Do you want to sleep already? Or maybe, we could… (He smiles then indicates the small gap between the two single beds)
(Edgar looks put down but nods. He looks at his hands for a moment then starts pulling his covers free and slips into bed. He takes a long moment making himself comfortable, waiting for his wife to change her mind.)
Edith: Have you ever thought about it?
Edgar (confused): Thought about what?
Edith: Ophelia. How she… took her life. Drowning herself.
(Edgar looks up at his wife, her tone making him uncomfortable.)
Edgar: Why would I? I have a beautiful wife, a home, and a job. I’m a happy man.
Edith: Not about taking you own life, Eddie. About… drowning.
Edgar: I don’t understand. What is the difference?
Edith: To sink into bottomless black, freezing, not being able to breathe…
Edith: No, I just thought, it must be cold.
Edgar: Are you sure, you’re alright?
Edith: Of course, dear. I’m alright.
(Edith leans over the bed and after a moment Edgar does the same and they kiss each other.)
Edith: G’night, Eddie.
Edgar: G’night, dear.
(Edith turns off her bedside lamp.)
Edith (murmurs): So cold.
End of Scene II
Act I: Scene III
Time: Ten after 2 a. m.
Scene: Room 314. Judith sits in an armchair in the darkness of the living room, sipping her drink. Eric, her husband enters.
Eric: What are you doing?
Judith: I was thirsty.
Eric (walking over to her): When one is thirsty one goes into kitchen for a glass of water, not… (He takes her glass from her and sips.) … a gin fizz?
Eric: What is going on, it’s not like you to drink so much?
Judith: That’s probably why I feel dizzy already. Maybe I should go back to bed.
(Judith tries to stand but staggers and Eric takes her arm, sitting her down in her chair again, while he kneels before her.)
Eric: Please tell me what is wrong, darling.
Judith: But I already did.
Eric (confused): You… What, the thing about your colleague? But… that was two weeks ago.
Judith: He’s dead, Eric. He’s dead… and… it’s so selfish to think this but… it could have been me. Did you realize that? It could have been me.
Eric (takes Judith into his arms): Oh, darling. Poor darling.
Judith (shakes her head): No. Not poor me. I’m still alive, but Steve… he used to flirt with me. Not seriously, you see, he was married, too, just easy banter. He always asked me if I would have lunch with him but I always told him no, you know, because of the rumors. They talk about everybody and everything at the lab and it wouldn’t have taken some of them long to say that we were having an affair and that would have been dreadful, but maybe…
Eric: But maybe, what?
Judith: Maybe that would have been better than him being dead, now. I would have gone to lunch with him if I had known that he would die so soon.
Eric: Of course, you would have.
Judith: But if I had known he would die I would probably have warned him to… to open that canister.
(Judith starts crying silently and puts her arms around her knees. Eric stays silent.)
Judith: What a way to die. I dreamed… I dreamed that I died like that and…
(Tears overcome her and she weeps. Eric holds her.)
Eric (murmurs into Judith’s ear): Shhhh… poor baby… it’s okay. You’re not going to die, not these fifty years at least.
Judith: How do you know? I could die tomorrow.
Eric: I won’t let you, darling.
(Judith shakes her head and rubs at her tears.)
Judith: You couldn’t do anything about it, Eric. You wouldn’t even be there.
End of Scene III
Act I: Scene IV
Time: 3 a.m.
Scene: The clock on an end table next the couch strikes three, but it is hardly heard over the sound of music from the gramophone. One couple dances in a corner, most of the other people in the cramped room are talking, drinking and smoking. It’s a party.
Young man: So, he walks up to me and says: have I seen you dancing with my girl? And I say: No way, must have been your girl dancing with me. I thought he would smack me then, but he just…
Young woman: Don’t tell me, he invited you to a drink, cause that’s how all your stories end, Peter.
Another young woman: I never realized that, but she’s right, isn’t she? You do always end your stories with somebody buying you a drink.
Young Man: Well, that’s probably because that’s how I would like every day to end: with somebody buying me a drink.
Young Woman: Silly Petie.
(The young woman named Hildy gets up and walks on wobbly legs to the bar where another young man, Gary, is mixing martinis.)
Hildy (takes two glasses): One for me and one for the road, thank you, Gary darling.
Gary: Wait a minute, sweet. I make you another if you stay and talk to me a minute. Please?
Hildy: Oh, Gary, really, I only got two hands, so what should I do with a third drink, balance it on my forehead?
Gary: If anyone was capable of doing that it would be you, dear.
Hildy: And I’m not even sure if that was a compliment.
Gary: Oh, it was. It is. And here’s another: I have never seen you quite as beautiful as tonight.
Hildy: Must be the lighting, Mildred bought that new lamp over there after the other one broke at the party last week.
Gary: I dare say it’s not the lighting, Hildy. I think it’s just you.
Hildy (smiles): Or maybe you have inhaled too much alcohol.
Gary: I inhaled something, alright.
(Gary makes a show of looking around him and then produces a paper sachet.)
Hildy: Oh, Gary, not… Mildred told you not to bring that stuff over.
Gary: Yeah, but Mildred doesn’t have to know, now, does she? Come one, Hildy, it’s been so long since we have had that kind of fun. And it has always been fun, hasn’t it.
Hildy: Oh, great fun, until I nearly died. No way, Gary. Put it away or leave.
Gary: Hildy, come on, it’s not that bad if you are careful.
(Gary smiles but Hildy just stares at him. He holds up his hands in a defensive manner.)
Gary: Well, okay. If you don’t want to have fun you don’t want to have fun.
Hildy (takes up her martinis): Just not that kind.
Gary (pointing to her glasses): And you don’t think that stuff will kill you sooner or later?
Act II: Scene I
Time: Half past four.
Scene: A telephone is ringing, after the fourth ring a bedraggled young man is entering the living room and picks up the receiver.
Mr. Burns: Yes?
Mr. Burns: Yes, this is Edward Burns.
Mr. Burns: Sure, I take the call. … Yes, Ma, is that you? Ma?
Mr. Burns: Yes, I can hear you.
Mr. Burns: Well, it’s awfully late here, Mom. And I have been sleeping, already.
(Edward listens some more.)
Mr. Burns: Oh, come on, Mom, you know, that there are time zones, there. Of course in Italy it’s already morning.
(Edward listens again.)
Mr. Burns: Well, what is it then?
Mr. Burns: Well, that’s awful. How…
Mr. Burns: How dreadful. Where did he get the gun?
Mr. Burns: You know how it’s illegal to carry guns around in New York, Mom. I was just wondering. It’s not really important, I guess.
(Edward listens again.)
Mr. Burns: So, when exactly is the funeral.
Mr. Burns: Friday, yeah, I guess I could make it. Elinor must be devastated.
Mr. Burns: Yes, I will give her your condolences. That’s so horrible, I can hardly believe it.
(Edward listens again.)
Mr. Burns: I just meant that it’s unbelievable, not that I thought you were lying, Mom. I never said that. He was such a young man, hardly any older than me.
(Edward listens some more.)
Mr. Burns: Ten years isn’t such a long time, Ma. And that he…
Mr. Burns: No, of course, I won’t tell anyone, if she told you in confidence. That’s certainly not something one wants to spread around. Just thinking… what was that you said?
Mr. Burns: Sure, I’ll bring flowers… a what?
(Edward listens and shakes his head.)
Mr. Burn: How do you think I will afford that? I’m only a clerk, Mom, not some big shot lawyer, or anything. I’ll bring a nice bouquet.
(Edward listens again.)
Mr. Burns: Yes, I will do that. And I will talk to Elinor afterward and tell her not to worry.
(Edward listens and this time nods.)
Mr. Burns: Well, of course, it wasn’t her fault. I mean, he was always kind of… unstable, I would say.
(Edward listens again.)
Mr. Burns: No, I said unstable, Mom. He had moods, you know. Though he was a nice fellow when you met him in the right one.
Mr. Burns: Yes, indeed.
(Edward listens some more.)
Mr. Burns: I won’t forget, Mom. It was nice talking to you. I hope you are having a nice vacation.
Mr. Burns: Well, make the best of it, alright? I’ll see you in a week. Bye, Ma, bye.
(Slowly Edward puts the receiver down and stares at it for a moment.
Mr. Burns (murmurs): Poor fellow.
(Edward turns and walks back into his bedroom to get some more sleep.)
End of Scene I
Act II: Scene II
Time: Just after 5 a.m.
Scene: A man in a trench coat enters, he takes off his hat as he steps up to three other men who are equally attired and talking among themselves.
Lt. Mayer: What do we have?
(He looks down onto something which is hidden among the other men and then up where a piece of rope hangs from the ceiling.)
First Detective: Attempted suicide, Lieutenant.
Lt. Mayer (points at the body on the floor which is still obscured by the policemen): What do you mean attempted? He looks pretty dead to me.
Second Detective: Yeah, but I bet he didn’t mean to kill himself by breaking his neck on that coffee table.
(All men are contemplating this a moment.)
Lt. Mayer: So, it was an accident, not an attempted suicide.
First Detective: You can hardly say that hanging oneself is an accident, now, can you, sir?
Third Detective: Only, the noose wouldn’t hold his weight. Should have known it, the poor fellow. This is not even any good to hold a dog, much less a man of his…
Lt. Mayer: … stature.
Third Detective (turns away shamefaced): Right.
Lt. Mayer: What was his name? Did he have any family? Friends?
First Detective: If he had he probably wouldn’t have tried to kill himself, would he?
Second Detective: He didn’t just try, Hank.
Third Detective: Name was Bruce Handerson. There was this photo on his nightstand, probably his… well, maybe she’s his sister but I would say it’s the girlfriend.
(Third Detective shows a framed photo to the Lieutenant.)
Lt. Mayer: That’s Greta Garbo.
Third Detective: Who?
Lt. Mayer: Don’t go to the movies much, eh?
Third Detective: My wife thinks it’s devil’s work.
Lt. Mayer: So, he was probably single and liked to go to the movies. And he killed himself.
First Detective: Didn’t you say it was an accident before?
(Mayer just looks at him.)
Lt. Mayer: Try to find out if he had family in town. If you find them you might as well go ahead and tell them the news. Not over the phone, though.
First Detective: What should I tell them how he died?
(Mayer looks down at the corpse again, thinking.)
Lt. Mayer: Tell them he fell and broke his neck. An accident.
First Detective: Fair enough.
End of Scene II
Act II: Scene III
Time: Near six in the morning
Scene: Apartment 701. An elderly lady in a nightgown enters; her long white hair is tied back in a braid. She looks over at the couch, where another woman lies asleep slightly snoring. Her sister walks over to her and shakes her awake.)
Mary: Lu, wake up. Come on, honey, it’s time for bed.
Louise (sleepily): What… where…? I couldn’t sleep.
Mary: Well, seems you can on the couch but you shouldn’t. You know, how your back will hurt in the morning, so get up.
Louise: I made myself a cup of hot milk and honey. It’s the best when one can’t sleep.
Mary: I know it is, Lu. But… it’s awfully stuffy in here, and what’s that smell?
(Louise looks sheepishly at her sister.)
Mary: Don’t tell you’ve been having beans again at Martin’s. You could at least show some mercy, Louise, after all, I am the one who is sharing a bed with you, not your good-for-nothing boyfriend.
Louise: We didn’t have beans, I swear. It was mushrooms.
Mary (opening a window): Well, mushrooms don’t give you gas, now, do they?
Louise: Not that I know.
Mary (still standing at the window): Look at that, they were again having a party. Those kids from downstairs… always drinking and smoking and what not.
(Louise walks over to her sister and looks out, too. There is a group of young people standing on the sidewalk, talking and laughing.)
Louise: They are just trying to have a good time, now, Mary. Can’t blame them, really. You remember those dances we had? Everything was so formal and stuffy and now they have jazz and short dresses… I wish we had some of that.
Mary: You can’t honestly mean that! It’s scandalous how they show their legs to everyone who would look.
Louise: They are pretty girls.
Mary (closes the window and the curtain): Hmph. It still smells. You sure your boyfriend didn’t mix the mushrooms with beans?
Louise: Please, Mary, I know how beans taste and…
(Louise lets out a small scream, frightening her sister. She starts running into the kitchen.)
Mary (follows Louise): Louise, what is it? Is… Oh, goodness, don’t tell me… not again, dear…
(The women are not seen yet heard from the kitchen.)
Louise: I’m so sorry.
Mary: Sometimes I think you’re doing it on purpose. This is the third time this month that you left the gas on. Are you trying to kill us?
Louise: No, honestly, I don’t know how that always happens. I’m so sorry.
Mary: Well, you will be even sorrier when you wake up and find that we are dead and that you did it through carelessness. Really, Lu, try to concentrate on what you are doing for once.
(Mary reemerges from the kitchen. She waits for her sister at the light switch. Louise enters with slumped shoulders and a contrite look on her face.)
Louise: I really am sorry.
Mary: No more talking tonight, Lu, or I might just say something you wouldn’t want to hear. Just think of one thing before you go to sleep.
Louise: What’s that?
Mary: When we are dead through your fault think of what our mother will say when we meet her up there.
(Mary turns off the light and they shuffle off to bed.)
Louise: Now I surely won’t be able to sleep.
Mary: Don’t even think of making yourself another cup of hot milk, Lu.
End of Scene III
Act II: Scene IV
Time: Not yet seven a.m., the sun is about to come up.
Scene: A man is sitting on the fire-escape to his apartment; he’s wearing corduroys and an open shirt. A second man approaches; he holds a cigarette and leans out the window.
Luke: Why are you always doing this? I thought you were afraid of heights but whenever you get up in the middle of the night I find you out here.
Christopher (smiles): It’s such a beautiful morning. I couldn’t resist.
(Luke looks up at the sky although he can only see a piece of it between his boyfriend’s apartment house and the one next to it.)
Luke: What little you can see of it.
(Christopher laughs. Then he looks down into the alley eight floors below. As he feels himself getting dizzy he leans back and closes his eyes.)
Luke: Stop doing that, you only make yourself sick.
Christopher: I know but I just can’t help it. It’s tempting in a way.
Luke: In what way, Chris?
(Luke looks earnestly at his friend. He doesn’t look especially happy.)
Christopher (opening his eyes again): What?
Luke: You said it was tempting in a way and I asked you what way? How is it tempting you?
(Christopher is silent for a moment.)
Christopher: You don’t think… Heavens, Luke, why would I think about something like that?
Luke: I don’t know, you tell me.
Christopher: Well, I don’t. Think about it, I mean. Can’t you tell; I’m happy!
(Christopher reaches out for his friends hand and grabs it in a strong, confident grip. Luke tries a smile.)
Luke: Why don’t you come back to bed, then?
Christopher: In a minute, schatz.
(Luke leans over to his friend and kisses him on the forehead.)
Luke: Don’t be too long.
(Luke walks back into the bedroom while Christopher remains sitting. After a moment he leans forward again and looks down.)
Christopher (murmurs): I should really try to get something on the 1st floor. Maybe Midge will switch.
(Christopher climbs back through the window into his apartment and shuts it after him.)