A House Not Meant to Stand by Tennessee Williams

CHARLIE: Two, Mom, and the cot for Hattie.

  BELLA: Is she—? —Hattie . . .

  CHARLIE: Hope there’s some dry sheets in the house so you can sleep on it, Mom.

  BELLA: Remember how we joked about Hattie coming from Hattiesburg, Charlie?

  CHARLIE: Yeh. Named for it or it was named for her.

  BELLA: Just two chairs, not three?

  CHARLIE: Other’s out there, I’ll git it.

  BELLA [her mind drifting]: Chips, it broke my heart when Cornelius drove you an’ little Joanie out of the house. Try to forgive but can’t. You’re wet, baby, change into dry things right away, always caught cold so easy.

  CHARLIE: Yep, did, easy, I’ll bring in the other chair. [Charlie goes into the kitchen.]

  BELLA: —Good . . . Something else that’s missing, something else—been removed— [There is a pause. Her breath is audible, she is clutching the edge of the table.] —Most precious thing we ever had in this house. Can see it with my eyes shut, every detail nearly, getting clearer and clearer, so clear!

  CHARLIE [entering]: Here’s the other chair, Mom.

  BELLA: Chips, the picture of Gramps and Grannie’s Gold Anniversary Picnic, summer of 1930!

  CORNELIUS [from the living room]: Another commotion, endless . . .

  BELLA [at the arch, to Cornelius]: You! Did you put it away because Chips loved it so much, because it was so much admired by all the children you concealed it, did you?

  [Emerson coughs self-consciously. Cornelius addresses Charlie.]

  CORNELIUS: Get her settled somewhere. Don’t know what she’s talkin’ about and doubt that she does either. It’s long overdue—commitment.

  CHARLIE [shepherding Bella back into the dining room again]: I remember it, Mom, just noticed it in the woodshed.

  BELLA: Him in there, he committed it to the woodshed. Did you hear him say commitment? Long overdue?

  CHARLIE [as he exits to the kitchen]: Set tight, Mom, I’ll git it.

  STACEY [forlornly, from upstairs]: Cain’t find my suitcase.

  EMERSON [in the living room]: No lights in that room?

  CORNELIUS: Burnt out . . .

  EMERSON: Burnt?

  CORNELIUS: Out.

  EMERSON: Oh.

  CORNELIUS: Em, I’ll need some witnesses to her condition to git her removed and I count on you to stand by me.

  CHARLIE [enters the dining room from the kitchen]: Here it is, Mom.

  BELLA: The nail is still in the wall, hang it back up, Chips, honey.

  CORNELIUS [in the living room]: Make a note of it. Refers to Charlie as Chips.

  EMERSON: I couldn’t stand by you in putting that woman away—no more’n you’d stand by putting me away or me stand by putting you away. There is too much putting away of old and worn-out people. Death will do it for all. So why take premature action?

  [Meanwhile, in the dining room—]

  BELLA: Need my glasses, in purse . . .

  [Charlie enters the living room.]

  CORNELIUS: Well?

  CHARLIE: Mom’s purse. Aw. Here. [He returns to the dining room, and removes the glasses from her purse. Bella takes them and drops them from her trembling hands.]

  BELLA: Oh, God, broken?

  CHARLIE: No, Mom. [He puts them on her.]

  BELLA: Thanks, baby. Now just bring me the candles. A little bit closer. [The large tinted photo is lighted.] Ahhhhhh . . . . [She bursts into tears.]

  CHARLIE: Set down, Mom.

  BELLA: Heart-breaking! Picture’s so dim it’s hardly visible, Chips . . .

  CHARLIE: Aw. I see the problem. [He removes a tissue from her purse, wipes lenses of glasses.]

  CORNELIUS [in living room]: Em, are you observing?

  EMERSON: No. I don’t approve of it.

  CORNELIUS: Then fuck off.

  EMERSON: Fuck off, yourself.

  CORNELIUS: Sorry. Excuse. ’nother beer?

  STACEY [from upstairs]: Charlie, Charlie, you down there?

  EMERSON: When is she going to grace us with her appearance?

  CORNELIUS: Her up there? A prostitute in my house?

  CHARLIE [in the dining room]: —Can you make it out now?

  BELLA: Yes, this is it, not in perfeck condition—whole Dancie family, summer of 1930, the Gold Anniversary picture. See? See? —My eyes keep clouding over with—time . . . 1930 to what? Years? Now? [She removes her glasses.]

  CHARLIE: Much later, Mom—fifty, fifty-two years . . .

  BELLA: Impossible to imagine such passage of time . . . [Voice gathering a rhapsodic power.] All, all, all gathered together about—old Gramp’s skatterbolt we called it.

  CORNELIUS [from the living room]: Delirious shouting!

  BELLA [swaying like a religieuse]: See the number, the many, present for the occasion, the Gold Anniversary of it, not all of ’em Dancies, but girlfriends and boyfriends attended! —All embracing, so happy, that long ago— [Gasps.] Time . . . [Gasps.] Committed? [Gasps.] No. Not a one of them . . . Reported falsely by gossip. There, there is Grannie Dancie, look at her smiling!

  CORNELIUS: Grinning like a possum eating shit.

  BELLA [turning her back to him]: What was that remark about Grannie Dancie he made?

  CHARLIE: Nothing I’d repeat to you, it was too dirty.

  BELLA: Don’t! —That man is full of hate as the Dancies was full of love!

  CORNELIUS [getting up]: And moonshine money, that’s what the Dancie’s were full of!

  EMERSON: Easy, easy with Bella. Wonderful woman, much loved here.

  [Cornelius comes to the archway.]

  BELLA: Chips, call me a cab. Jessie Sykes told me he wants me removed from this house not fit to stay in. “Committed’s” the word. Out I go! To Pass Christian and fam’ly at once, hat, coat, pocketbook, out, no return here!

  CHARLIE: No, Mom! I’m putting Pop out! [He has pushed Cornelius into the living room.]

  CORNELIUS: Out by you never! —Whelp of—

  [Bella has collected a variety of articles, none of which she called for above.]

  EMERSON [ineffectually attempting restraint]: Now, now, no, no, Bella. Awful weather outside.

  BELLA: INSIDE WORSE!

  CORNELIUS: Hold onto her, Em! This will make us a scandal!

  [Bella thrashes about for the door, knocking things over: her state of delirious passion stuns the men into immobilization. She somehow locates the door and throws it open to driving rain. There is the sound of an approaching car.]

  STACEY [from upstairs]: Charlie, is something going on down there?!

  [Bella has staggered out the front door.]

  BELLA [from outside]: Stop, stop, cab! Here! Stop!

  [There is a loud screech of brakes, etc. Charlie rushes out. Cornelius hobbles after him. The door is blown shut. Alone in the living room, Emerson moves about in confusion ’til his attention is focused on the appearance of Charlie’s girlfriend, Stacey. She has descended to the landing, holding before her a large and fantastic beach towel that shields her body from view from shoulders to knees. The faded towel is patterned with beautiful, stylized creatures of the sea: fan-tail fish of many colors, sea-horses, crustaceans, shells, etc. Her face has an ingenuous wide-eyed charm.]

  STACEY [in a deep Southern accent]: Sounded like a disturbance goin’ on down here.

  BLACK OUT—INTERMISSION

  ACT TWO

  There is no passage of time.

  STACEY [in a deep Southern accent]: Sounded like a disturbance goin’ on down here.

  EMERSON: Yes, a disturbance, now over. Come on down, little lady.

  STACEY: My clothes are drainched, the upstairs is litterly flooded. —Has this house been unoccupied for a long time, Mistuh—McCorkle?

  EMERSON: Naw, just neglected, honey, and I am not McCorkle. You see, Corne
lius McCorkle who just went out for a while, he cares about nothing but what he imagines to be a political career.

  STACEY: Charlie, is Charlie out, too?

  EMERSON: Yeah, temporarily, honey. You are safely with me, an old Lodge brother of Corney’s.

  STACEY: Cain’t locate my suitcase with dry things in it. Think it was left downstairs. Charles knows where but don’t seem to hear when I call.

  EMERSON: Ho, ho, Charlie is Charlie. Corney and wife just returned here from a funeral in Memphis which is responsible for the disturbance you heard.

  STACEY: Aw. Charlie said nothing of it. Who died? Someone important?

  EMERSON: Everyone is important, but some more than others. [He advances to foot of stairs and extends his hand.] Allow me to interduce myself to you, honey. I’m Emerson Sykes. You’ve probably heard of my enterprises known as Sykes and Sykes.

  STACEY: No, suh—nothing.

  EMERSON: Surprised to hear you haven’t since I’m known state-wide as the most prominent corporation head on the Gulf Coast, I assure you. [His voice is quivering with the hunger that possesses some of the elderly for the young and lovely.]

  STACEY [looking about from the landing]: —Oh . . .

  [Emerson mounts one step.]

  EMERSON: Are you int’rested in employment in this area, honey?

  STACEY: No, suh, not at present.

  EMERSON: Then what is your present interest here on the Gulf Coast?

  STACEY: Mr. Sykesand, I come here with Charlie McCorkle who is my only interest.

  EMERSON: Oh, now, Charlie. No young lady’s int’rest could be exclusively Charlie’s.

  STACEY: Will you kindly remain downstairs and locate Charlie. Tell him I must have my suitcase.

  EMERSON: Tell me where you left it and I will bring it up to you, baby.

  STACEY: Mr. Sykesand, you are too free with expressions like honey and baby. I want Charlie and Charlie only to bring my suitcase up here, nobody else. [She calls out.] CHARLIE, CHARLIE!

  EMERSON: What is your name, young lady?

  STACEY: Never mind. Just get Charlie.

  EMERSON [mounting another step]: Charlie is out because of the disturbance and him being out, I think you ought to know of his reputation around here. You understand what I mean when I tell you that Charlie’s notorious in Pascagoula as the local young stud? Shiftless of character, honey, unable or not willing to hold down a job?

  STACEY: Charlie held down a job a good while in Yazoo City.

  EMERSON: A job he got through family connections.

  STACEY: I don’t like the way you talk of him. You appear to be drunk and you got the shakes, which I can see by your hands and hear by your voice.

  EMERSON: Sweetheart, I’m just reacting to the excitement of your—beautiful—presence—up there . . . [He puts one foot a step higher.] Oh, I know my appearance ain’t youthful, but you’d be amazed at my fitness. Medical science provides a man my age with the vigor of youth plus the more appreciative and responsible attitude that comes with time and experience, yais, for instance, I take a thing by injection called depo-testosterone once or twice weekly along with one thousand units daily of vitamin E—to keep my virility up.

  STACEY: Now, why would you imagine I’d be int’rested in such details as that?

  EMERSON: I realize your infatuation with Charlie, you’re drawn to the young. But, honey, look in his wallet and if it contains as much as a ten dollar bill, I would be surprised. —Now, can you see the denomination of the bill I just removed from my pocket? A century note, one hundred dollars, never step outa my house without one in my pocket just in case I should happen to run into a beautiful young lady in reduced circumstances like you brought here by Charlie.

  STACEY: This sounds like you are mistaking me for a whore! Don’t you dare to climb up one step higher or I will—

  [Emerson is seized by a slight cardiac attack. He staggers down the steps, fumbling in his pocket for nitro-glycerin tablets. He spills them, then falls to knees to recover a tablet, puts it in his mouth and washes it down with beer.]

  STACEY: There! There! You’ve got a seizure, awful, pitiful, you better call for a doctor! Charlie! Charlie!

  [The door opens. Wildly disheveled, suggesting an element of nature, Bella staggers in. Gasping for breath: her clothes are wet and mud-stained, a knee is bandaged. Charlie follows—slams and bolts door.]

  STACEY: Charlie!

  [Charlie catches Bella as she is about to collide with a chair. He shepherds her into the dining room. Stacey goes back up around the corner of the second landing.]

  CHARLIE: Set down till— [He gets her into a dining room chair.]

  BELLA: Can’t bend this knee, son.

  CHARLIE: Better use another chair to support the laig you injured. [He raises injured leg to the seat of another chair.] Now just rest like that while I unfold that old cot of Hattie’s in the kitchen.

  BELLA: —Hattie not been around lately.

  CHARLIE: Naw, been gone a long time, but I got her cot in the kitchen for you to lie down on.

  BELLA: Lie down? No. No, I sleep sitting up. Oh, I—musta hurt my knee.

  CHARLIE: Yeh, but the truck didn’t hit you. And Dr. Crane was home, he bandaged your knee.

  BELLA: Yes, he—

  CHARLIE: He speaks highly of you, Mom. Said to me your mother’s a great-hearted woman and that if Pop ever threatens again to put you away, he will put away Pop with support of entire community.

  STACEY [from upstairs, loudly]: Charlie!

  CHARLIE: Comin’ honey. Mom had a little accident on the street. [Then, to Bella.] Now just rest, Mom. Pop’s locked outa the house.

  STACEY [from above]: My suitcase, Charlie.

  CHARLIE: Yeh, yeh, got it. [He rushes upstairs with it.]

  [There is loud banging at the front door.]

  CORNELIUS [from outside]: Somebody open the door of this house for me, goddamn it.

  EMERSON [a hand to his chest]: You outside still, Corney?

  CORNELIUS [from outside]: Would I ask to get in if I wasn’t!

  [Emerson admits Cornelius who looks like an outraged and bedraggled old monster. There is a pause.]

  EMERSON: Sorry, I—didn’t know you—had a accident out there.

  CORNELIUS: WHO? BOLTED? DOOR ON ME? HOLY GOD!

  [Emerson supports Cornelius feebly to his overstuffed chair and opens a beer for him. Cornelius slobbers the beer and chokes on it a bit.]

  CORNELIUS: Bella fell—forced a truck off highway to—avoid—hitting . . . her . . .

  [There is a crash of thunder. The lights go out for a couple of moments.]

  CORNELIUS: —Power? Failure? —Where’s Bella?

  EMERSON: In the dining room. —Sitting.

  CORNELIUS: Reckon you could help me with this chair. Under a leak.

  [Emerson is collecting spilled nitro tablets—he ignores the question.]

  CORNELIUS [moving his chair]: Awlright. Just put a pail under it or the room’ll be flooded.

  [Emerson ignores the suggestion.]

  CORNELIUS: Let it go, let it come down. [To the audience.] —Sinister these times. —East—West—armed to the teeth. —Nukes and neutrons. —Invested so much in every type of munitions, yes, even in germs, cain’t afford not to use them, fight it out to the death of every human inhabitant of the earth if not the planet’s destruction—opposed by no one . . .

  EMERSON [indifferently]: No shit.

  CORNELIUS [to audience]: I noticed a piece yesterday in the Times-Picayune infawming us that a—how’d it go?

  EMERSON: Yes.

  CORNELIUS: Unusual storm of rays indicate there’s been a mysterious catastrophe somewhere in space . . .

  EMERSON: Somewhere.

  CORNELIUS: Em, are you mentally present? You seem distracted by something.

 
; EMERSON: Need to pee, but Charlie’s got him a bad-tempered woman up there.

  CORNELIUS: Then go in the yard.

  EMERSON: Raining.

  CORNELIUS: Then use one of the buckets—unless you sit down to pee.

  EMERSON: Then I’ll go upstairs. [Then loudly.] She better stay outa my way. [He mounts the stairs slowly.]

  STACEY [from upstairs]: Remain where you are till I have locked my door, Mr. Sykesand!

  EMERSON [responding to Stacey]: I hope to avoid any second encounter between us. Lock your door before I go to the bathroom.

  [We hear a bolt slamming into place. Emerson continues above the landing.]

  CORNELIUS [to audience]: —Confusion? —Yais. —Common experience begins to confuse and bewilder . . . [The phone rings.] Will somebody answer that phone? Ringing after midnight! —No? —Well, fuck it. [Picks up the phone.] McCorkle residence . . . Still here, yes, gone up to the bathroom . . . confused? Yes, very, shocking state of confusion . . . you want to hear and observe? . . . Why not at his house or your whatever, why here tonight in my house? . . . Hmmm . . . Highly irregular procedure. Hmmm—Now? Here now? All right.

  EMERSON [upstairs]: Corney, no lights up here in the toilet . . . Jesus!

  CORNELIUS [hanging up]: . . . Christ . . . [To the audience.] Mortgaged property owned joint by him and that bitch Jessie—I reckon that fixed his wagon . . . well . . . I want no involvement, nope, not involved in it, no way . . .

  [There is a knock at door.]

  CORNELIUS: There’s somebody at the door, but I am not going to it. I said there is somebody at the door!

  CHARLIE [entering]: How’d you git back in here?

  CORNELIUS: This is my house, nobody is locking me out!

  [Charlie goes to door and opens it.]

  CORNELIUS: Better now, Bella?

  BELLA [from the dining room]: Stay out!

  [Two men enter. Charlie closes the door behind them and returns to the dining room.]

  CORNELIUS: You gentlemen are from . . .?

  FIRST MAN: Foley’s

  SECOND MAN: Sorry to disturb you but we have been instructed to observe Mr. Sykes a short while before we remove him.

  CORNELIUS: He has gone up to the bathroom a minute. Why don’t you wait for him in there? —I want no involvement in this . . .

 
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