A House Not Meant to Stand by Tennessee Williams


  [There is an indistinguishable response from Charlie.]

  STACEY [from upstairs]: Don’t talk about it to no one. Makes a woman feel cheap. —CHARR-LEE!

  [Cornelius returns from the kitchen.]

  BELLA: Cornelius, did you say “Charlie”?

  CORNELIUS: Why would I say “Charlie”?

  BELLA: Somebody said “Charlie.”

  CORNELIUS: Me? In the kitchen? Getting’ myself a beer?

  [Cornelius falls into his over-stuffed chair with a growl that is reminiscent of the old MGM lion. Bella gasps loudly as she notices a pair of muddy boots by the fireplace.]

  BELLA: Cornelius! Look at what’s by the fireplace! Charlie’s boots, he’s back.

  CORNELIUS: Been fired again, I reckon.

  BELLA: This late he must be asleep. I’ll call him but not loud. [She goes panting up to the first landing calls.] Charlie? Charlie?

  CORNELIUS: Bella, you been warned to move slow.

  CHARLIE [from upstairs]: — ’Sthat you, Mom? Are you back?

  BELLA: Sweetheart, come down here, baby.

  CHARLIE [from upstairs]: Comin’, Mom—comin’.

  CORNELIUS [to audience]: Got him that job through my nephew in Yazoo City. Wrote to him, “Jasper, could you possibly make a job for my younger son Charlie in your hardware store? Wouldn’t ask this of you except the home situation is desperate with Bella going the Dancie way in her haid and Charlie being—”

  STACEY [from upstairs]: Charlie, go right down, I got to fix up a little.

  CORNELIUS: [to audience.] He’s got him a woman up there. [To Bella.] Brought some hooker here with him!

  BELLA: Cornelius, be nice, he didn’t expect us this early.

  CORNELIUS: This early is late, it’s midnight.

  [After a slight pause their younger son, Charlie, about twenty-five, appears on the landing with his undershirt around his neck, struggling into his Levis.]

  BELLA: Baby, baby, seen your boots by the fire, I knew you were home! [She embraces him, sobbing.]

  CORNELIUS: What’s detaining your lady friend upstairs?

  CHARLIE [detaching himself from Bella]: —Aw, yeh, her, Stacey, my steady in Yazoo City. [He calls up.] Come down an’ meet my folks, Stacey!

  STACEY [from upstairs]: Just a few minutes, hon. Have to git into my clo’s.

  CORNELIUS [to audience]: Getting’ into her clo’s?

  CHARLIE: Both of us was so tired we went straight to bed.

  CORNELIUS: I bet. —Couldn’t wait to.

  CHARLIE: How was the funeral, Mom? Did it go off all right?

  CORNELIUS: Yeh, perfect. —Grave dug. —Body interred.

  BELLA: We’ll talk about it tomorrow. I can’t discuss it tonight. —You all had supper? Want me to fix you some food? How about an om’lette? Haven’t checked the ice-box but think there’s eggs.

  CHARLIE: That would be wonderful, Mom.

  BELLA [crossing upstage to kitchen door]: With cheese and tomatoes an’ bacon. [She goes into the kitchen.]

  CORNELIUS: So you lost another job, huh? Discharged by your first cousin!

  CHARLIE: That job was misrepresented to me completely.

  CORNELIUS: You mean you found it involved some work?

  CHARLIE: I don’t object to work.

  CORNELIUS: As long as you don’t have to do it.

  STACEY: Psssst!

  [Stacey, Charlie’s girl, peeks around the stairs above the top landing, unnoticed except by Charlie who motions her back. She hovers just above the top landing, occasionally peeking around the corner. Her face has a childish appeal. Cornelius lumbers to his easy chair and flops exhaustedly into it, massaging his belly.]

  CHARLIE: —Y’look tired, Pop. How’re you feeling?

  CORNELIUS: Tired. Sit down, son. While I was in Memphis, burying y’r brother, I wint to a clinic about this chronic digestive trouble of mine. This time I got a genuine diagnosis. It’s something called pancreatitis.

  CHARLIE: They give you anything for that?

  CORNELIUS: Charlie, doctors don’t give you nothing but prescriptions and bills and a wagon-load of bullshit, in most cases. However this one impressed me as a possible exception, being a straight-talker. So. I filled the prescription, yep, here’s the bottle. —Ever see pills this size?

  CHARLIE: Green, huh?

  CORNELIUS: What the powder in ’em is made of is a revolting thing. It’s the dehydrated and pulverized pancreas of a hawg.

  [Charlie squints at the bottle and spells it out slowly.]

  CHARLIE: C-O-T-A-Z-Y-M-E.

  CORNELIUS: Pronounced cotazyme.

  CHARLIE: Never heard a that.

  CORNELIUS: Three before each meal. Topped off with one of these white tablets here called—what’s it say on the bottle?

  CHARLIE: D-O-N-N-A-T-A-L.

  CORNELIUS: That’s it. Three big greens and one of the little whites for abdominal distress. Offered me some relief but the expense is awful. When a man’s got to live off pills in the quantity at the price, extortionary, with only temporary relief at best, why, I say it’s time to quit hangin’ on, it’s time for a man to let go.

  CHARLIE: If you feel that way about it, why that’s your decision, huh, Pop?

  CORNELIUS: Damn right it is. And no concern of nobody but mine.

  CHARLIE: —Under these circumstances, Pop, I hope it ain’t true that you allowed your insurance to run out.

  CORNELIUS: With inflation completely out of control, I refuse to pay the new rates. People in this country have got to learn to refuse to pay more and more for ev’ry commodity or service which they purchase, including insurance rates.

  CHARLIE: You’ve got Mom to think of.

  CORNELIUS: You think a woman that pants louder’n an ole yard dog is going to outlive me? Doctor tole me privately that if she’d quit stuffin’ and bring down her weight, she could go on a year longer, but she won’t, no way, no way.

  CHARLIE: You got no concern for her, then?

  CORNELIUS: There’s cases in which continued existence is not desirable, Charlie. I mean when the mind is gone.

  [Bella appears behind the dining room scrim, setting silverware on the table.]

  CORNELIUS: A woman in her condition is not responsible for peculiar behavior and so you can’t blame her for it. Now, Charlie, excuse me for discussin’ your mother’s folks which is half yours, too, but a good deal of this is hereditary with Bella. [He moves to join Charlie on the sofa.] I mean, you know the Dancies. Ev’ryone on the Gulf Coast knows about the Dancies. Lunacy runs rampant among them, son. Was you old enough to remember that time your mother’s sister walked naked out of the house at high noon with just a hat on and the hat was a man’s? Sex confusion existed among them, Charlie, never among the McCorkles. Your just buried brother did not take after me, pathetic creature, typical of the Dancies.

  CHARLIE: Not so loud, Pop, Mom’s in the dinin’ room, list’nin.

  CORNELIUS: Charlie, I reckon you heard of the Dancie money?

  [Bella goes back into the kitchen.]

  CHARLIE: Yeh. —I heard that it was Confederate money—old Confederate bills.

  CORNELIUS: Well, it ain’t Confederate money and I know how it was made. By bootleg liquor durin’ prohibition, that’s how and when and it was made by Old Grannie Dancie in the pine woods back of the house. Old Grannie Dancie was the only one in the bunch had any get up an’ go.

  CHARLIE: So she got up and went into bootleg liquor, huh, Pop?

  CORNELIUS: Yep. Got to admire the ole bag, supported the whole tribe of ’em for a generation on money from bootleggin’. Never banked what was left of that money. Say she kept it in the house but bein’ conscious when she died of the Dancie sickness at eighty something—

  CHARLIE: Dancie sickness is what?

  CORNELIUS: Over indulg
ence either in food like Bella or liquor like Grannie Dancie. Over indulgence is the Dancie sickness. Your older sister, Joanie, indulged in too much fornication, such a scandal had to throw her out. Now Charlie? There is a rumor not unlikely at all that your Mom’s got the Dancie money.

  CHARLIE: Hell, she woulda mentioned it. How much is it?

  CORNELIUS: They say it’s a big wad of thousand dollar bills, at least a coupla hundred thousand dollar bills and it’s just possible that your Mom’s got it. More’n possible, Charlie.

  CHARLIE: —Where?

  CORNELIUS: I have tried to find out for fifteen years. Jesus! When I mention it to her she just looks sly. Oh, Bella knows how to be sly. That’s part of the Dancie sickness—crazy but cunning and sly. Now, Charlie. She couldn’t of banked it locally without me knowing, so she’s probably got it hid somewhere and it would be a terrible thing if she wint to her grave anytime now without passing it on.

  CHARLIE: —To who? —To you?

  CORNELIUS: Look. I supported her all these years, supported her stuffing, and the scandal of Chips and the scandal of Joanie, oh, I’ve earned the right to that Dancie money by patience past all belief, all reasonable endurance. Of cou’se some of it would natcherly go to you, Charlie.

  CHARLIE: —How much of it, Pop?

  CORNELIUS: After I git in office—

  CHARLIE: Aw, you want to throw it away on political campaigns that git you nowhere, Pop? Never did, never will!

  CORNELIUS: —Charlie, a man in Congress has many opportunities to make money outside of his salary. —My campaigns had no financial backing. This time, with the Dancie money . . .

  CHARLIE: But if the Dancie money exists and it’s in Mom’s hands, you want it, don’t you? Ain’t that what you’re after, Pop?

  CORNELIUS: Goddamn it, sure I want what’s rightfully mine. Now, Charlie. —You want a political job? —Something simple that you could handle without much effort? —You got it. —But first, Charlie, you got to persuade your Mom to tell you what she’s done with the Dancie money. Otherwise, by God, I’ll have to tear this house down board from rotten board to find where she hid it when she’s fallen victim to indulgence like the others. You know the Dancies over there in Pass Christian have torn that two and a ha’f story frame house apart tryin’ to find that wad of thousand dollar bills? The house is a regular shambles inside, no partitions at all, and they’re still at it. Why, it’s fifteen years since Grannie Dancie’s widower past on. They thought he had it cause he never removed his right hand from his pants pocket. He died in his pants, same pair, never changed. However. I happen to know that Bella was in the Dancie house when he died, alone in the bedroom with him, and he favored Bella. Shay-it! Sly? But you’re the only son, now. She knows she’s goin’. C’mon, get with it, Charlie. Be nice to your Mom and she will give it to you or tell you where it is.

  CHARLIE: For you to blow on runnin’ for Congress with no pancreas, Pop, an’ hobbling on a stick? Ha, no way, forget it.

  CORNELIUS: No patriotism in you? This Congressional district needs a McCorkle. —To disclose the lies that betrayed the Democracy into rich—Imperialism of about ten or a dozen of big families and conglomerates profiting from— [Lurches up from chair and hobbles to the audience.] WAR! —IMPERIALIST AGGRESSION AND YOU KNOW IT, THAT’S RIGHT, ALL OF YOU KNOW IT! —SUCKERS . . . [He returns to his chair, grumbling.]

  CHARLIE: Pop? —You’re a card, the funny card in the deck. I think you better shut up about runnin’ for awfice in Pascagoula, I think you better shut up about the Dancie money, too, ’cause even if Mom’s got it and told me where it was—think I’d let you know?

  [Bella goes back into the dining room to set napkins, etc. at the table.]

  CORNELIUS [placing an arm over Charlie’s shoulder]: —Son?

  CHARLIE: ’s too late to butter me up that “Son” crap. Mom had three children—you don’t acknowledge a one. —Chips was my brother, Joanie’s my sister—you’re no relation to me.

  CORNELIUS: —Not a McCorkle?

  CHARLIE: Rather be a Dancie.

  CORNELIUS: Awright, be a Dancie. But git the Dancie money out of your Mom before she kicks the—

  CHARLIE: Not so loud—Mom’s in the dining room.

  CORNELIUS: List’nin’ to her blood-pressure, son. She complains it roars in her ears like a stawm sometimes.

  CHARLIE: She’s leanin’ against the table in the dinin’ room.

  CORNELIUS: Never mind, she heard nothin’. Speak to her. You’ll see.

  CHARLIE: Mom? Are you all right in there, Mom?

  BELLA [leaning on the dining room table]: I grated some onions for the om’lette. I’ll bring it out as soon as—om’lette’s got to be watched—excuse me, won’t take long. [She starts back toward kitchen but staggers dizzily against wall.]

  CORNELIUS: Help her, seems to be— [He sits.]

  [Charlie enters the dim dining room area.]

  CHARLIE: Mom?

  BELLA: —Chips?

  CHARLIE: No, no, Mom, I’m Charlie.

  BELLA: Sorry—yes, you’re Charlie.

  CHARLIE: Go in front, set with Pop, he’s not well. I’ll take care of the om’lette.

  BELLA: I cook for my men folks and will till I die, son.

  CHARLIE: I know Mom, but tonight, I think you oughta go in front with Pop. He seems tired and depressed about something. So just go make yourself comfortable on the sofa and sympathize with Pop about—he’s got new medical problems. Are you all right?

  [Slowly, ceremonially, Charlie conducts Bella into the living room. He gently releases his hold on her before the sofa. She falls onto it as if struck dead.]

  CORNELIUS: Bella? Bella?

  [Scene freezes a moment or two.]

  CORNELIUS: Can you hear me, Bella?

  BELLA: I hear a terrible stawm. Chips insisted I let him prepare the om’lette, sweet.

  CORNELIUS [to audience]: Chips insisted! You hear that?

  BELLA: Always such a sweet boy. [She picks up a large, leather framed, hand-tinted photo of Chips, hair blond in ringlets, long neck, wide baby-blue eyes.] Remember when he was voted the handsomest boy at Pascagoula High?

  CORNELIUS: I remember when he was voted the prettiest girl at Pascagoula High. That I remember clearly.

  CHARLIE: Pop, you know the, the—editor of the class annual just, he—got it mixed up, a—accidental mix-up.

  BELLA: What’s that? I didn’t unnerstand that, Chips.

  CORNELIUS [slowly and loudly]: Bella, do you realize you’re talkin’ to Charlie, not Chips, whose funeral we attended a day ago in Memphis?

  [There is a slight pause.]

  BELLA: Charlie? Not Chips? —Tragedy, long trip. No sleep.

  CHARLIE [sitting next to her]: Confused you a little, Mom.

  BELLA: I only know I got three precious children to thank God faw. Oh, the om’lette could scawch! Not sure if . . . [She gets up from the sofa.]

  CORNELIUS: Charlie, you reckon you could get her back to the kitchen where she seems to be headed? —Did you hear me, Charlie?

  [Bella goes back into the kitchen.]

  CHARLIE: You know, I think we need somebody to help her out, a—a able-bodied young woman to—

  CORNELIUS: What people need and what people can afford are two diff’rent things.

  CHARLIE: Well, if I got married, for instance—

  CORNELIUS: Unemployed? —First get a job you can hold, then think about matrimony.

  CHARLIE: Pop, I know your retirement pay was adequate when you received it, but hasn’t kept up with this run-away inflation.

  CORNELIUS: Hell, what could keep pace with it except a hawss that won the Kentucky Derby by ten lengths?

  CHARLIE: Some people think we’re haided into depression. ’Sthat your opinion?

  CORNELIUS: Opinion, no, conviction, yais. [To the audience.] I
t’s not the President’s fault but the fault of the system which don’t adjust to the population increase, here and world over, too many stomachs to feed. Why, I read somewhere that by the year 2030, which you might survive to enjoy, world population will have doubled. I’m glad I’ll be departed. Oh, they tole me when I run for Mayor of Pascagoula on the Independent ticket, I hadn’t the chance of a fart in a wind-stawm with a radical opinion such as that, but I don’t compromise with principles and convictions and so got only ten votes out of two hundred at the Moose Lodge. [To Charlie.] Why, even your Mom said she couldn’t git to the polls though offered transportation and still in reasonable health.

  CHARLIE [suppressing a grin]: Ten votes only for Mayor of Pascagoula. Sorry about that, Pop.

  CORNELIUS: I don’t regret it. Who needs political office in times like this? Only crooks that line their pockets with bribes.

  CHARLIE: Might have been profitable to you. However this house is a piece of Gulf Coast property, Pop.

  CORNELIUS: This house is held up, why it’s literally supported by termites!

  CHARLIE: House, maybe, but not the grounds. What would it be worth if we was obliged to sell it when you, if you ever—after you’ve—

  CORNELIUS: Departed? —Why are you so int’rested in my value as a cadaver?

  CHARLIE: You misunderstand me completely. It just seem to me—

  [There is knock at the door.]

  CORNELIUS: Charlie!

  [Another knock at door—pause.]

  CORNELIUS: See who’s at the door, just across the room there.

  CHARLIE [bristling]: You tellin’ me where the door is?

  CORNELIUS: Thought you might not’ve noticed its location.

  [The door is still slightly ajar. A sharp, sly-featured old man about the age of Cornelius stalks in. He is in rubber boots and hunting clothes.]

  EMERSON: Never mind gettin’ up. The door wasn’t shut. —Well, —How is the old hound-dawg?

  CORNELIUS [stopping short with displeasure]: —Em, we been neighbors and Lodge brothers for a long time.

  EMERSON: Yep, we sure have, um-hmmm.

  CORNELIUS: Em, I don’t mind you addressin’ me as the ole hound-dawg in private, however lately you have taken to callin’ me that in public.

 
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