A Play in One Act
By G. L. Horton
copyright © 1998
CAST OF CHARACTERS
PAULETTE, a serene woman in her late 30s, casually dressed.
GRACE, an angry woman in her 50s, outfitted for battle.
(The telephone rings in an empty living room. An answering machine
clicks on. PAULETTE enters looking puzzled, and a bit worried.
She listens to the machine.)
MALE VOICE ON MACHINE: Hi. This is Richard. Paulette and I can't
come to the phone just now. Leave your number and we'll get back
GRACE: I know you're there, Paulette: I'm calling you from the
hall. When I knock again, youd better let me in. (PAULETTE
starts to leave the room, hesitates, changes her mind and goes
toward the door. When there is a loud knock, she opens the door
GRACE: Good choice. I wouldn't have gone away.
PAULETTE: You know I don't answer when I'm working.
GRACE: This is urgent.
PAULETTE: All right, then. Come in. (PAULETTE steps back, and
Has there been an accident?
GRACE: No. No accidents.
PAULETTE: Richard's mother?
GRACE: Nobody's dead or in the hospital.
PAULETTE: But it's an emergency, yes?
GRACE: Urgent. An urgent errand.
PAULETTE: Yes. But-- (Pause). Grace, sit down. Can I get
you something to drink? I have that grapefruit spritzer that you
GRACE: You keep that on hand just for me?
PAULETTE: It's left over from Marnie's birthday.
GRACE: Marnie's nineteenth birthday. The last gathering of the
one big happy family.
PAULETTE: Would you like it over some ice?
GRACE: No thanks. This isn't a social call.
PAULETTE: Well, I hope you don't think that--
GRACE: Not during your work hours, hours when Olga is on duty.
Expensive Olga, but worth it. Only the best--for darling Arthur.
PAULETTE: I'm more or less through for today, anyway.
GRACE: Such important business.
PAULETTE: Well, it's important to me, yes? I may not make much
money yet, but
GRACE: Lucky you haven't needed to, eh? Richard doing so well?
PAULETTE: Grace, what is it you want? As you say, this is my time
GRACE: This is business. Family business.
PAULETTE: Marnie's not here, you know.
GRACE: Anything odd about that?
PAULETTE: No. Not really. I was expecting her, but she called
to say she was staying over another weekend. It's all right, who
can blame her? Her friend's cottage is right on the beach, and
with this unseasonable weather --
GRACE: Leave it to Marnie to stay well away from trouble.
PAULETTE: Stay away from--? (laughs) Oh, yes, Richard's
got you pegged, Grace. Rampant paranoia, projected outward. Marnie's
fine. She called me, she sounded fine. Come back on Monday, you'll
GRACE: Not bloody likely.
PAULETTE: Yes, Marnie'll be here then, and I'm sure she'll--
GRACE: I don't think you should count on Marnie, Paulette. Even
when she was a little girl, Marnie had a way of keeping us at
a distance. Screening us out. By us I mean mothers
and step mothers and such. Hates scenes, Marnie does.
PAULETTE: Grace, you were over this, yes? Because you're the one
hurt by it.
GRACE: You think I don't know my own daughter?
PAULETTE: Yes, I-know Marnie is grateful whenever you are gracious
GRACE: Gracious? After you stole her! To see my own daughter I
have to act like a Good Old Grace: Grace the civil. Keep a civil
tongue in my head, or else.
PAULETTE: I think you'd better go.
GRACE: Not till I've done my errand. Actually, Marnie was supposed
to. But given our girl's distaste for unpleasantness--.
PAULETTE: What in the world are you talking about!
GRACE: Richard's things.
GRACE: I've come to pick up Richard's things.
PAULETTE: Why would Richard send you? He'll be home himself in
GRACE: Don't count on it, Paulette.
PAULETTE: If he weren't going to be home, he'd have called.
GRACE: Such a well-trained husband.
PAULETTE: Yes. Yes, he is! One of us has to drive Olga home at
six, after she comes back here with Arthur. If Richard can't drive
her, he'd call.
GRACE: Oh? When was the last time?
PAULETTE: The last time what?
GRACE: When Richard was too busy to drive Olga home?
PAULETTE: Ages ago!
GRACE: Three or four months, at least?
PAULETTE. Yes. He's been an angel.
GRACE: Ah. Richard's reformed. So very very different from when
he was married to me-- and screwing you.
PAULETTE: I don't know what kind of game you're playing
GRACE: You haven't a clue, do you?
PAULETTE: Yes, yes I do. Your old tricks. I never took Richard
away from you, Grace. You just want a target for your
PAULETTE: Yes! Your menopausal panic, your pointless
PAULETTE: -- ugly rage. You pushed Richard away long before I
met him. You alienated your own daughter. By jealousy, by tantrums.
Can't you see--
GRACE: You were just a bystander?
PAULETTE: Yes! I was! Essentially!
PAULETTE: Yes! If you hadn't been blind with rage you would have
realized that. And made friends with me, as I tried with you,
for Marnies sake. Your terrified, shattered, almost destroyed
little Marnie, who looked to me to help her pick up the pieces
GRACE: Of the family you broke up
PAULETTE: No, you broke! The way you smash everything. With your
GRACE: So I'm insane? I was never betrayed--?
PAULETTE: In your own mind, maybe
GRACE: Never lied to, cheated? You know Richard's cheating--
PAULETTE: You see enemies where ever
GRACE: He trashed me! Threw me out, for a smug little slut!
PAULETTE: Look at you! Any sane person would run away.
GRACE: So run. Go ahead, slut! Run!
PAULETTE: This is my house! You run.
GRACE: Aren't you afraid of me?
PAULETTE: Of course! Who isn't? That doesn't mean
GRACE: I've taken up karate. Did you know that? Kick boxing. Got
my belt. A belt or two from my fist of iron--
PAULETTE: Get away from me!
GRACE:--or my heel of steel! (kicking) Hwa! Hwa!
PAULETTE: (squeals) Yeek! (brandishes chair) Get out of here,
GRACE: Or you'll what? (shoves chair aside)
PAULETTE: I'll-- I'll call the police.
GRACE: Go right ahead. (PAULETTE goes to phone, begins to dial
GRACE: Pow! (kicks phone away from PAULETTE, who screams and
ducks behind furniture) Hold off on the phone call, OK? Till
I've done my errand. Wouldn't want to disappoint Richard. Would
we, Paulette? (Threatening) Would we?
PAULETTE: Y-yes. I mean, no. What is it you--?
GRACE: Shirts and socks and--. (consulting list) Let's
(GRACE goes off into the bedroom to rummage. Noises issue from
the bedroom as GRACE searches for whatever is on her list, during
which GRACE keeps up a running commentary for PAULETTE's benefit.
As soon as PAULETTE decides that it is safe to come out from where
she is cowering behind the furniture, she begins to inch her way
toward the telephone.)
GRACE: Does Richard still keep his socks in the left-hand
drawer? Ah ha! He does. How predictable that man is. You can't
imagine how much I'm enjoying this, Paulette. From the moment
I saw it coming. (GRACE re-enters with Richard's suitcase in
one hand and a pile of underwear in the other. PAULETTE backs
away from the phone. GRACE tosses the suitcase down, causing PAULETTE
to flinch. GRACE neatly stows the underwear in the suitcase)
GRACE: From that blessed moment, every nasty little dig, every
smug little wifey pifey bit of psychological dog turd you tossed
at me, (GRACE tosses a pair of socks, hits PAULETTE,
who squeals) became a secret source
of amusement. What a relief it is, Paulette-- after all these
years, to be able to laugh at you! You'd have seen it coming too,
you fool, if you hadn't been so smug. The evidence-- (Holds up
lacey bra.) This isn't yours, is it? Size 34 D? (GRACE tosses
the bra at PAULETTE, who catches it automatically, looks at it
as if it were a dead rat, and flings it on the floor. Grace laughs,
and, consulting her list, exits to rummage in the bedroom again.)
You never noticed a pattern to Richard's excuses? Familiar
alibis? The Case of the Missing Dick, Part Two. (GRACE returns
with shirts, which she folds and packs.)
First quickies, one night stands-- somebody hangs up if you answer
PAULETTE: Somebody who's you.
GRACE: They can't all be me. I've got better things to do.
PAULETTE: Like what?
GRACE: A mysterious rash of car trouble? Or, Daddy, volunteering
for a committee at Marnie's school? Did you ever check? To back
him up, Richard turns Daddy's little girl into Daddy's little
liar, naturally. The final stage is really frightening: the suddenly
devoted spouse. (GRACE again exits into bedroom)
PAULETTE: Richard couldn't possibly--. Even if he took pity, he
GRACE: (offstage) Always on time, now, is he? Calling when
there's a change of plan? Oh, and an advocate of abstinence! How's
that for incredible? Do I hear one of your famous yesses, Paulette?
(enters) I can't find Richard's robe. Is it in the laundry?
Or the other bath? (PAULETTE stares, speechless. GRACE shrugs,
exits to search) The big giveawayfaking abstinence.
Of course I never noticed, back when I was young and foolish.
But then,-- (PAULETTE snaps out of her stupor, moves shakily
to pick up the phone just as GRACE reappears with the bathrobe.)
I didn't have the example of a first dump to learn from. (GRACE
swiftly grabs and breaks the telephone, slaps PAULETTE, who collapses
as GRACE shakes her like a rag doll) But
you're too stupid to learn, Paulette Too smug and too stupid.
Can't even do the math. Desire plus a decade or so equals Dump,
Paulette. Randy old Richard? Though rapidly reeling downhill from
half a century, Dickie-kins is still Prince Charming. Charm as
in boyish. As in boys and girls, not boys and old women. A wife
who's pushing forty is far too old for a perpetual twenty-something
like Dickie-boy. Isn't that how it went the last time, Paulette?
Back when I was a wife and you were the girl?
PAULETTE: (mystified) But I'm his wife, now. I'm not a
GRACE: Of course not: that's the point! Don't you get it? Richard,
sexy thing that he is, doesn't age. Time cannot wither him. But
one day our boy notices that the stupid girl he married is ripe
for the junkyard. She, of coursemeaning stupid old Grace,
or stupid you-- notices no such thing. Poor fool, the wife never
knows what time it is. Time for a new model girl. Someone fresh,
unspoiled, and close at handsomeone like Olga.
GRACE: Never saw it coming, did you?
PAULETTE: But Olga's a child. Younger than Marnie.
GRACE: Olga's as much younger than you are as you were younger
than me. Perfect, isn't it? Oh, I saw it coming. Savored all the
signs. And I knew that if I wanted to be here and enjoy this look
on your face, this perfect moment when you realize you're dumped,
I'd better make up with old Dicky-boy. And do you know, Richard
was eager! More than willing to pour all your spousal shortcomings
into my sympathetic ear. Amazing man, Richard-- such confidence
in his own charms that it never occurred to him to wonder why
after all these years I would want to be his friend. ( laughs
and picks up the bathrobe, packs it in suitcase, goes to get ties)
PAULETTE: Why would anybody? (GRACE carries the ties to the
suitcase. PAULETTE grabs one) Don't take that!
GRACE: Let go! (they struggle in a tug-o-war over tie)
PAULETTE: His anniversary present! Never worn!
GRACE: Don't be an idiot
PAULETTE: I can return it!
GRACE: You're (the scarf rips in two) --- tearing it. (pause)
PAULETTE: Oh, well. At least he won't have it, the bastard.
(PAULETTE throws her half of the scarf into the suitcase. Pause.
GRACE throws her half scarf in, too. PAULETTE gingerly takes one
of Richard's shirts out of the suitcase, watching out for an attack
from GRACE, and begins to tear it. GRACE picks out something and
begins tearing it herself.)
PAULETTE: Bastard!! Bastard!! Take that, Richard, you shit faced
prick! (etc ad lib. PAULETTE dashes around in a frenzy: smashing,
screaming, tearing, cursing, and destroying as many of Richard's
possessions as the prop department can afford. GRACE sits quietly,
laughing as she tears up her ex-husband's clothes.