A House Not Meant to Stand by Tennessee Williams


  EMERSON: Heh-heh. So?

  CORNELIUS: So, I do object to being called an ole hound-dawg in public.

  EMERSON [grinning]: —What’s your objection to it? —Strikes you as too familiar?

  CORNELIUS: Em, you know that I am a man in politics now.

  EMERSON: Heh heh, no.

  CORNELIUS: Then what did you think I was in?

  [The phone rings. Cornelius hobbles to the phone.]

  EMERSON: Retirement, Corney.

  CORNELIUS [into the phone]: McCorkle residence. —Yes, he is, Mrs. Sykes, he just arrived here. —I’ll tell him. [He hangs up.]

  EMERSON: Jessie! —Tell me what?

  CORNELIUS: You left your key so you’ll have to stay till she’s back from Mary Louise’s.

  EMERSON: Pair of bitches, constantly together.

  CORNELIUS: So! —You consider me in retirement! Well. I am in retirement. [Addressing the audience.] From the vice-presidency of the Pascagoula Ice Plant despite being offered the presidency of it by T. C. Wallow after his second stroke immobilized him so completely. Even took to going there on Sundays and—yep, Saturdays and Sundays had his boy deliver him at the ice plant, opened up the deserted building, staggered back to his chair and stared out the window till it was totally black. Sometimes the boy fawgot to pick him up and he would consequently remain there all night, unable to git to the tawlit or not bothering to. Oh, there’s a lot of terrible details about the last years of T. C. Wallow which I don’t care to go into. He’s well out of it now. Retired from existence too late to avoid what I call the disposition of the living remains.

  [Thunder and rain are heard.]

  CORNELIUS: —However— [He turns to Emerson.] You just indicated to my astonishment, Em, that you had no idea that I was in politics now. Very surprising and alarming oversight on your part since I’ve run several times for office and assumed you’d voted for me.

  [Emerson gives Charlie a puzzled look.]

  CHARLIE: Mr. Sykes, Pop’s just come back from a funeral in Memphis.

  EMERSON: Sure, sure, I understand your Pop, Charlie. How you doin’, boy?

  CHARLIE: Fine, thank you, Mr. Sykes, set down.

  EMERSON: I seen your lights on, I just dropped over to see if I could be of any assistance.

  CHARLIE: Been out huntin’ in this wet weather?

  EMERSON: Heh heh, naw, just a pretext to fool the old lady. They had stag movies at the Lodge tonight. [He winks.] Corney, I’m mighty put out with Jessie right now. She come into some money from her oldest brother who finally died. That money could of been useful in financin’ the motel over at Gulfport. Could of been but wasn’t. Goddamn if she didn’t blow the whole wad on—Jesus! —a series of operations she thinks has returned her youth to her—I ain’t spoke much to her since. —Could you spare me some a that beer?

  CORNELIUS: Sure, sure, but why dontcha put your gun down—unless y’come over with homicidal intentions, ha ha. Charlie, set his gun down. Hey, Charlie. Can you hear me?

  [Charlie takes Em’s gun and sets it against the wall beside the what-not shelves.]

  CORNELIUS: Charlie’s got his mind upstairs with some female he snuck home with him from Yazoo City.

  EMERSON: Did he now? Nothing wrong with that. That’s understandable, Corney.

  BELLA [coming out of the kitchen]: Lucky I discovered more eggs in the ice-box since I burnt the first batch. [Bella crosses through the dining room.] Why, that’s Emerson Sykes in here!

  EMERSON: Yes, I come to express my sympathy, Bella.

  BELLA: ’Scuse me, got eggs frying. I’ll come in later. [She returns to the kitchen.]

  CORNELIUS: Probably devoured that first om’lette herself. You hungry, Em?

  EMERSON: Naw, naw, had a big barbecue supper, I could use a beer though.

  CORNELIUS: Charlie, go get a coupla cold beers from the frig.

  [Charlie glances up at the stair landing as Stacey’s head appears, then crosses in a deliberate manner and goes into the kitchen.]

  CORNELIUS: Set down, Em.

  EMERSON: My clo’s are damp.

  CORNELIUS: Probably dryer than the furniture. Wow, imagine! —Bella’s fryin’ up more food.

  [The repetitive and somewhat confused long-winded speeches of Cornelius can be used as a comic dynamic: they should be delivered with an unctuous drawl. Although a certain sympathy exists between Corney and Em through long association in a small town, they have really stopped listening to each other.]

  CORNELIUS: Y’know I used t’ let ’er walk to the Kwik-Chek.

  EMERSON: Didja?

  [Emerson glances up at Stacey as she pops her head around the turn of the stairs. She does this periodically to see if the stage is set for her appearance. Bella has come out of the kitchen and is always dimly visible in the dining room area.]

  CORNELIUS: Yep. Just two blocks and a half from the house. They say a little exercise is beneficial to overweight people with cardiac asthma like Bella, you know, long as it ain’t a climb but on level ground.

  EMERSON: So Charlie come home with a young lady. Must be serious. Is she a looker?

  CORNELIUS: Gettin’ into her clo’s. [There is a considerable, gloomily ruminative pause.] —What was I talking about?

  EMERSON: You said she’s getting into her clo’s.

  CORNELIUS: Naw, naw, Em, you just don’t listen! I was talkin’ about the—whadaya call it? Market, market, chain market? Funny how familiar names slip your mind sometimes like this—aw, KWIK-CHEK!

  [Bella enters from the dim dining room.]

  BELLA: All right, Cornelius. Where’d I put my coat, just let me get into my coat.

  CORNELIUS: Bella, you going out somewhere?

  BELLA: I thought you said the Kwik-Chek. Is it time?

  [Cornelius gives Emerson an incredulous look. Then leads Bella to a position facing the blank-faced clock.]

  CORNELIUS: Can you see the clock, Bella—BELLA, CAN YOU SEE THE CLOCK?

  BELLA: —Twelve! —You should’ve called me, Cornelius.

  CORNELIUS: For what?

  BELLA [panicky]: Kwik-Chek?!

  [Charlie stands center stage, opening and closing his fists.]

  CORNELIUS: Kwik-Chek? After midnight?

  CHARLIE: Pop, you gotta take it easy on Mom. [He places an arm about Bella.] Mom, why don’t you get you some sleep? Why don’t you stretch out downstairs tonight and Pop an’ Mr. Sykes can talk in the kitchen where the beer is? Huh?

  BELLA: One thing I won’t stop doing is shopping for the house. [To the audience.] When I can’t go out shopping, why, then I better give up, I—

  EMERSON: This is not a usual sort of night. You got to consider that, Corney.

  CHARLIE: Mom, let’s go back in the kitchen. You can stretch out on the cot that old Hattie used. I’ll bring it outa the woodshed.

  BELLA: Woodshed? [She returns to the kitchen with Charlie following.]

  [Cornelius moans.]

  EMERSON: Corney, you’re tired out from the trip to Memphis, I know, but even before then, for some time now, I notice you’ve got into a habit of saying a thing and then repeating it not just once but two or three times more.

  CORNELIUS [cutting in]: You want to know why I repeat myself a couple of times when I am talking to you, Em? It’s because you don’t hear me the first time. Your mind is distracted by some problem with this motel which Mosley, the vice-president of the bank, told me you’re likely to—hate to tell you this but this is what he told me! —you took out a loan at that ridiculous twenty percent interest rate and Mosley says that he don’t see how you can meet the payments on it.

  [This gets through to Emerson, who draws himself up.]

  EMERSON [cutting in]: Corney, do you realize that it’s no goddamn business of yours to discuss my financial affairs with—

  CORNELIUS: D
idn’t discuss ’em! Mosley brought up the subject to me at the last Progress Club meeting and asked me if I could warn you.

  EMERSON: Awright, you have delivered this warning. Now let me assure you and that asshole Mosley that never in my life as a highly successful realtor, owner of Sykes and Sykes Refinery and now as owner-to-be of the outstanding motel chain on the Coast, never once have I failed to pay off every goddamn cent that I’ve—

  CORNELIUS: I will tell Mosley—

  EMERSON: Tell Mosley nothing! I’ll call Jack Saterlee in the mawnin and assure him that if there is any anxiety over my ability to pay off that loan, I will pay it off at once, six months before due!

  CORNELIUS: Em, I sincerely hope and pray that Black Jack Saterlee don’t take you up on that offer if you’re such a fool as to make it. In order to secure that loan you had to submit a complete list of your assets, such as they were or would be in your opinion. He knows ’em, the existing ones, down to your three-year-old, naw, naw, five-year-old Caddy, and wasn’t it bought second hand? “Show me a man in a second hand Caddy, a 1977 Caddy in 1982, parking in the Gulf Coast Bank and Trust lot, and I’ll show you a man that’s about to perpetrate a con compared to which the Pidgin Drop and the Jamaica Switch is innocent child’s play.” Em, I’m quoting his exact words because I think you should know them.

  CHARLIE [coming from the kitchen to the dining room arch]: Not so loud, Pop. Mom is feeling anxious and confused.

  EMERSON: Tell your Mom, son, she’s got every reason to be anxious and confused Her husband is—a little touched.

  [There is noise from the kitchen.]

  CORNELIUS: Is what?

  CHARLIE: Just not so loud, huh, Pop, she’s stumbling around in circles in the kitchen, knocking things over.

  STACEY [from upstairs]: Charlie—will you please bring me up my suitcase?

  [Stacey sticks her head around the stairs. Emerson sees her and winks.]

  CORNELIUS: Go back there and set her down. I am trying to talk some sense into Emerson Sykes. Now—DO I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION? WHY ARE YOU STARING UP THOSE STAIRS, YOU WANTA GO TO THE TAWLIT OR TAKE A GANDER AT CHARLIE’S GIRLFRIEND, THE OVERNIGHT GUEST FROM YAZOO CITY?

  CHARLIE: FOR CHRISSAKE, DAD, SHUDDUP!

  CORNELIUS: Git your ass out of here and bring in the rest of the beer.

  [Charlie goes into the kitchen.]

  CORNELIUS: Em? —EM!

  EMERSON: Now what?

  CORNELIUS: Mosley has also been interested in your preceding enterprises and is trying to check them out. Right now it’s his impression, and frankly everyone else’s, that you went broke at both, at least declared bankruptcy.

  EMERSON: BROKE YOUR ASS! ME? WINT BROKE? GODDAMN IF MOSLEY DARES TO MAKE AN ASSERTION LIKE THAT IN MY PRESENCE I’LL HAUL HIM TO COURT FOR—

  [Charlie appears in the dining room archway.]

  CORNELIUS [staggering up and gripping Emerson’s shoulders]: Let’s talk this over quietly like old neighbors and Lodge Brothers, not, not shout about court which is what you better try to keep out of. However—

  [Charlie starts toward stairs with remaining six-pack.]

  CORNELIUS: Charlie, where are you haided with them beers? Upstairs to Miss Yazoo City? Bring those beers right here. One for Mr. Sykes, one for me, and set the rest down.

  [Charlie hands them the beers. Cornelius and Emerson sit. Charlie goes back into the kitchen.]

  EMERSON: Corney, there’s a difference between going broke and declaring bankruptcy. There happened to be tax-advantages in declaring these firms bankrupt when I had awready decided to convert all capital assets into this chain of motels I’m planning. Corney, you’ve never been involved in the manipulation of large sums of money. Money is a thing that any successful business man knows has to be manipulated skillfully.

  CORNELIUS: If by skillfully you mean illegally in any way, don’t enlighten me on it. I desire no knowledge of any manipulations in sums of money large or small or none whatsoever as the case may be.

  EMERSON [standing]: MONEY.

  CORNELIUS: What about money? Aside from losing all value?

  EMERSON: MONEY. M-O-N-E-

  CORNELIUS [standing] : Hell, I know how to spell it!

  EMERSON: MONEY!

  CORNELIUS: Awright, money, continue from there.

  [Both men resume their seats.]

  EMERSON: I don’t want to talk about my financial operations with you, Corney, or with anyone not experienced with large-scale operations such as—Sykes and Sykes Realtors, Sykes and Sykes Refinery and—

  CORNELIUS: Did you say refinery?

  [There is a pregnant pause. Emerson is disconcerted]

  EMERSON: Refinery, yais, refinery, Sykes and Sykes Refinery.

  CORNELIUS: Sykes and Sykes. Don’t you realize, Em, that nobody on the Gulf Coast knows who this other Sykes is and some suspected and expressed the suspicion that he does not exist and did never?

  [Emerson fixes him with a silent, astonished stare as the living room area dims slightly.]

  BELLA [emerging from kitchen with Charlie]: —So dark in here, son. Switch the lights on, please.

  CHARLIE [touching switch]: They don’t come on. —Maybe it’s the fuse.

  BELLA: I didn’t catch that.

  CHARLIE: Check it later. Right now I’ll light the candles.

  [Bella refers to a badly tarnished candelabra on the dining room table]

  BELLA: Yes, please do that, Chips.

  CORNELIUS [from his chair]: Hear that in there, Em? Imagine living continually with a woman out of her mind! Alone in a house with a woman out of her mind! Dangerous! Never know when a lunatic will turn violent . . .

  [Charlie strides quickly to dining room arch as light brightens on living room.]

  CHARLIE: If Mom is in a bad mental condition, after the funeral—

  CORNELIUS: Long, long before.

  BELLA [crossing into living room, eating something in a bowl.] WHAT’S—

  [Bella sways. Charlie places an arm about her.]

  CHARLIE: Set down in the dining room, Mom. I want to say something privately to Pop.

  CORNELIUS: Do you? Well, say it!

  [Bella has gone back into the dining room area. Picks up the candelabra and staggers about the table, gazing around with an air of disbelief and loss past enduring.]

  CHARLIE: —I—I

  STACEY [poking her head around the upper stairs]: Charlie! Suitcase! —Cain’t find it.

  CORNELIUS: You’re being paged by your Yazoo City import. There’s an embargo against her kind here in my house.

  CHARLIE: You! —Later, I’ll talk to you later . . . [He returns to Bella, in the weirdly candle-lit dining room.]

  EMERSON: Your boy was almost cryin’, Corney, there was tears in his eyes.

  CORNELIUS: I don’t respect tears in a man, and over-attachment to Mom, Mom, Mom. Very strange. He and Chips had a lot in common except for the sex thing. Oh, both insatiable for it, but him one way, Chips the other . . .

  [Bella picks up the candelabra.]

  CORNELIUS: ’Scuse me.

  EMERSON: Going?

  CORNELIUS: Just for a look at the weather. [He hobbles onto the forestage, clutching his abdomen and bends over. Lights go down in living room, and up in dining room.]

  CHARLIE: You lookin’ for something, Mom?

  [Holding the tarnished candelabra, Bella continues to stare about in a bewildered way.]

  CHARLIE: What are you lookin’ for, Mom?

  BELLA: —Life, all the life that we had here!

  CHARLIE: —But nothing in particular?

  BELLA: The life. —In particular? Yes, something. —See? —Just two chairs at the table since you children been gone. Cornelius insisted the other chairs go out, said the empty chairs at the table—depressed—unnecessary—removed them. Well, now, I w
ant them all back here. I want five chairs at this table. They are out in the woodshed—I want them back in here! This fam’ly is returned! All! —Chips? Let Charlie do it. You are tired tonight, son, after—

  CHARLIE [abruptly]: Mom? I’m Charlie. Not tired—I’m perfectly able to bring in the chairs from the woodshed. [He goes into the kitchen.]

  BELLA: Not, not—t’night, rest up from your—long trip.

  CORNELIUS [on the forestage]: Terrible—abdominal—distress. Maybe another Donna— [He fumbles in his pocket, finds the Donnatel tablets, spills them on floor.] —Hell’s—fire! [He descends slowly, groaning, to his knees.] Collect others—later . . . [He takes a tablet and returns to the living room.]

  EMERSON: Something wrong, Corney?

  CORNELIUS: Something—I got to get accustomed to, Em.

  [Bella, holding the black and silver speckled candelabra, wanders to the arched dining room entrance.]

  CORNELIUS: —You looking for something, Bella?

  BELLA: Yes—No . . . Em . . . [She turns back into the dining room. A faint phrase of music is heard as she stands still a moment, a phrase from a childhood game entering the slow drift of her mind.] Heavy, heavy—hangs over the head—or the heart? —and what shall the owner do—to redeem it . . . !

  [Cornelius opens a beer.]

  EMERSON: Huh?

  CORNELIUS: Common experience begins to seem—

  EMERSON: Strange . . .

  CORNELIUS: —My father Chipton McCorkle put me through college—Loyola? —Did. I wonder if education is practiced much anymore.

  [Emerson rises.]

  CORNELIUS: —Naw, don’t go . . .

  [Emerson resumes his seat.]

  CORNELIUS: Drink your beer, Em. Did Charlie ever bring a opener in?

  EMERSON: Opener? For screw-top bottles?

  [Light goes down in the living room, up in the dining room.]

  BELLA [recalling other phrases of games]: —Dog takes the cat, cat takes the rat, rat take the cheese—and the? —cheese stands alone . . .

  [There are sounds from kitchen. Charlie enters lugging a couple of dining room chairs.]

  BELLA: Oh, you found—!

  CHARLIE: Yes, Mom.

  BELLA: Don’t, don’t strain, get a—rupture—all three chairs?

 
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