A House Not Meant to Stand by Tennessee Williams


  [The following five lines overlap each other.]

  CHARLIE: Stacey, Mom’s had a—

  STACEY: Blessed, oh, Blessed! Defender of us from evil!

  CHARLIE: Accident on the—

  STACEY: Mom, kneel with me!

  CHARLIE: Don’t excite her!

  STACEY [beside herself]: Let’s pray for peace in this house which is attacked by demons! All together, pray with me! WE ARE LOST LITTLE SHEEP, ERRED AND STRAYED FROM THY WAYS, BROKEN YOUR HOLY COMMANDMENTS, ENGAGED IN FORNICATION. HAVE MERCY UPON US THAT YIELDED TO THE TEMPTATIONS OF THE FLESH, YES, JESUS, WE IMPLORE THY FORGIVENESS! THY DIVINE MERCY, CHRIST! MAKE US FIT FOR SALVATION! DESERVING OF LIFE ETERNAL, LAWD, LAWD, SHOW US THE WAYYYYYY!

  CORNELIUS: Shudderup, goddamn it!

  BELLA: Honey, let’s pray QUIETLY together.

  CHARLIE [kneeling with Stacey]: Stacey, Mom says quietly.

  BELLA: It don’t have to be quite so loud!

  STACEY: OH, IT IS COMIN’ ON ME! WAIT, IT’S COMING, I FEEL IT, THE GIFT OF TONGUES! WHAHOOOOOOO! BE-BE, YAIS, BAH! OH, BLESSED! BE, BE, BE, BE, LIEVE! ALL, ALL, ALL COME FORTH! BAH! BOW! WALLAH, YAIS WALLAH! SALVAREDEMPTION IN ME, DEEP, DEEP SALVAREDEMPTION, GLORY IN ME, AH, GLORY, GO DEEP IN ME IN GLORY, AH, AH, GAH, WALLAH, WOMB! WOMB! WOMB . . . [As if arrived at orgasm, she falls back onto the carpet.]

  BELLA: Charlie, I think she’s in labor, hope she don’t drop the baby. Excuse me, honey. [She steps over Stacey.] Call the hospital for her.

  CORNELIUS [at the phone]: I’m callin’ the POLICE!

  BELLA: Wha’s that man say, Charlie?

  CORNELIUS: POLICE! QUICK! TWENTY SEVEN SOUTH ELM!

  [There are no further sounds from Stacey as she lies as if in post-orgasmic exhaustion. Charlie wrests phone from Cornelius.]

  CHARLIE: Police? Ignore that call! Cornelius McCorkle is— [He jiggles the hook.]

  CORNELIUS: Is what? Say it. I want to hear it!

  CHARLIE: Vicious, crazy ole man!

  CORNELIUS: Said it! —Confounded—!

  CHARLIE: Destroyed a son, a daughter! Persecuted us all!

  STACEY: Amen.

  [A relative quiet descends. Stacey lies spread-eagled on her back.]

  CHARLIE: —Stacey, can you get up?

  STACEY [moans]: Nooo.

  BELLA: How long is she been—?

  CHARLIE: Seven months. Or more.

  BELLA: I better make her some cocoa.

  CHARLIE: You said the milk’s sour, Mom.

  BELLA [inspired]: Call the Moose Lodge and ask for someone to come over. Several if—

  CHARLIE: The police had hung up before! —

  BELLA: The Moose Lodge will come over.

  [The soft yap and scratch at the door of the dog, Peppy, has gone unheeded. It pushes its way in and slinks warily to its basket. Stacey has noticed only the opening of the door. She is repossessed by rapture.]

  STACEY [springing up, arms aloft]: CHRIST COME IN THE DOOR! Enter this—

  CHARLIE: Stacey, no, no.

  STACEY: BLESSED SAVIOUR HAS VISITED THIS HOUSE!

  CORNELIUS: Goddamn it!

  [Stacey rushes blindly toward the audience. Charlie clutches her just before she falls off the stage.]

  BELLA: Hold on to her, son.

  CHARLIE: Tryin’ t’ hold her, Mom.

  BELLA: Careful, don’t hurt the baby!

  [Charlie wrestles her to the carpet and straddles her swollen belly. From outside, there is the sound of a car approaching, screeching to a halt in front of the house. A car door slams. This activates Cornelius. He stumbles over Charlie and Stacey in his arthritic charge out the door.]

  CORNELIUS: Officer! Officer!

  OFFICER [from outside]: Okay. What’s goin’ on?

  BELLA: It was all a mistake, everything is all right here.

  CORNELIUS [from outside]: Yais, I’ll tell you the problem! We’d just got back from a fam’ly fun’ral in Memphis when we discover the other one, Charlie, had brought a pregnant lunatic here in our absence, that’s the—

  [Charlie charges out. The following lines take place outside.]

  CHARLIE [from outside]: Wait a minute! That ain’t the problem a-tall, I’ll tell you the problem! This sick, crazy ole—

  CORNELIUS [from outside]: You goddamn whelp with your whore. Intends to marry a pregnant demented prostitute in the—

  STACEY: I’m comin’ to you, Jesus. [She goes out the front door.]

  CHARLIE [from outside]: He’s talkin’ about my fiansay who was respectably employed at—

  SECOND OFFICER [from outside]: Awright, all in the car, can’t wake up the whole neighborhood.

  CORNELIUS [from outside]: Look here! I’m Cornelius McCorkle, candidate for congress in this district!

  OFFICER [from outside]: Yeh, yeh, get your names at the station.

  CORNELIUS [from outside]: Be goddamned if I get in a police car with a Jesus-freak of a whore!

  CHARLIE [from outside]: SAID THAT TOO OFTEN!

  [There is a blow and Cornelius’ yell of pain.]

  OFFICER [from outside]: Let’s get out a here before—

  CORNELIUS [from outside]: Broke my dentures!

  SECOND OFFICER [from outside]: Before he files claims against my friend Charlie here, why don’t we stop by the Moose Lodge. My Dad’s there tonight. This thing can all be—

  FIRST OFFICER [from outside]: Awright, Pee Wee, the Moose Lodge first, okay, okay.

  STACEY [from outside]: Keep praying! Pray! Jesussss!

  [Sounds subside with the departing squad car. During the entire scene outside, Bella has executed a slow, bemused and tottering return to sofa. For a few moments she sits there as if senseless. Then her eyes focus on a small bottle of sedative pills that were given to her by Dr. Crane after she fell on the street. She lurches forward to remove it from the low table that fronts the sofa. Clumsily and exhaustedly she gets it open and spills the contents on the table. She collects several pills and puts them in her mouth, is unable to swallow but notices a beer bottle on the table and washes the pills down with beer.]

  BELLA: Mmmmm . . . . [Apparently the beverage hasn’t displeased her. She takes several more swallows. A synergistic reaction occurs. Gradually the apparition of Chips becomes visible behind the transparency of the dining room. The apparition stands motionless for a while before Bella lifts her clear, deeply innocent eyes to him.] Oh, son, Chips! [She attempts to rise unsuccessfully.] Where’ve you been so long, such a—

  [The apparition never speaks, but his recorded voice is projected over speakers.]

  APPARITION OF CHIPS: Clock.

  [There is a pause as she tries again to get up.]

  APPARITION OF CHIPS: Clock.

  [Delicate music is heard.]

  BELLA: —Long, long time, ohh, I—

  APPARITION OF CHIPS: Clock.

  BELLA: Long trip back . . .

  APPARITION OF CHIPS: Clock. Clock. Clock.

  [With a slow, dance-like motion the apparition of Chips turns and the light behind the transparency dims out. Pause. A soft cacophony of late highway street sounds is heard. Bella draws a deep breath and staggers to the hat rack by the front entrance. She fumbles a large envelope out of her bag.]

  BELLA: Terrible storm. Little Joanie.

  [There is a knock at door and it swings open. Jessie enters.]

  JESSIE: Bella, it’s me, Jessie.

  BELLA: Yes.

  JESSIE: Dr. Crane said he thought you might be alone here and he suggested I come over and see how you are. What a night this has been! You took a fall on the street, nearly run down by a truck? Oh, Bella, and your door was unlocked with that sex-fiend still at large on the Gulf Coast highway. [She hangs her transparent raincoat on the hat-rack. She is attired in a frilly pastel negligee.] Emerson Sykes removed to Foley
’s, was it violent, Bella, did he put up a fight?

  BELLA: Emerson? Was here, but I think he left now.

  JESSIE [to audience]: The situation between us had come to a head, no longer tolerable. His removal to a closed ward at Foley’s was all that was left to do.

  BELLA: What? What?

  JESSIE [to Bella]: Never mind— [She touches Bella’s forehead.] —Fever? I think a little. Ahhh . . . . [To the audience.] What a lot we’ve been through! With probably more to come . . . [To Bella.] —What’s that envelope you’re holding, Bella?

  BELLA: Jessie, I got a letter from Little Joanie. You remember my Little Joanie?

  JESSIE: Of course I do. Who could forget little Joanie?

  BELLA: This letter was in the mailbox when we got back from Memphis. I pretended like it was just an advertisement. Or Cornelius would’ve torn it right up. Joanie’s in a hospital, State Hospital Number Three.

  JESSIE: Why, that’s the—

  BELLA: Lunatic asylum, I know. Uncle Archie has been there thirty years now.

  JESSIE: How did this happen to Joanie?

  BELLA: I don’t know. I haven’t opened the letter. Can’t, just can’t. I wonder if you would read it first and prepare me for it a little?

  JESSIE: Bella, I’ve switched to contact lenses and have removed them for the night. Can’t read without them. But give me the letter. I’m going to open it for you. You got to know the contents and the sooner the better.

  [She opens the letter and hands it to Bella.]

  BELLA: —Oh, my God!

  JESSIE: Bad as that?

  BELLA: There are—terrible details.

  JESSIE: If you want my advice on how to handle the problem, you’d better read it to me.

  BELLA: “Dear Mom, don’t commit me. They can only hold me ten days without your permission or Pop’s. He would give it I know, but I know you wouldn’t. All I had was a little nervous break down after that sonovabitch I lived with in Jefferson Parish quit me and went back to his fucking wife.” —Excuse me, Jessie, she seems to have picked up some very bad langwidge somehow.

  JESSIE: Never mind, read it all. Nothing shocks me since Emerson started talking in his sleep.

  BELLA: “That black motha, he quit me without a dime. Honestly, I was much better off at Miss Lottie’s where I last was, would’ve gone back there but the place was shut down because Miss Lottie stopped paying off somebody to keep it open and it was election time. Well, Mom, I know you got lots of problems of your own. Cheer up. That’s my philosophy always. I swear I’m okay, never felt better in my life, so if you get papers, refuse to sign them and say nothing about this to Pop. I’ll get back on my feet, can either return to Miss Lottie’s or get my old job back at the Pizza King on the highway. I know the manager can’t wait to get me back there. So, don’t let nothing upset you, things will work out for the best. Love, your little Joanie.”

  JESSIE: Yes, it contains some terrible details, but she does say she never felt better in her life. And that is probably because she’s landed in the right place for her. There’s no way you can conceal this from Cornelius. If they don’t hear from you, they will get in touch with him—for humanity’s sake. You forget it tonight. It’s going to take care of itself, one way or another and—Oh! I guess I’d better check up on Emerson’s admission to Foley’s. Have you still got that phone on the landing Cornelius installed when he was running for Mayor with arthritis? [Bella nods vaguely. Jessie goes to stair landing. The phone call is audible.] Operator, would you please connect me with the Horace Dean residence? Mary Louise, this is a night to remember! Emerson Sykes is hauled off to a nursing home under restraint. Two men required. It happened here at the McCorkles’, apparently he put up a terrible fight and will continue to do so. No chance, no way, in to stay! We’ll discuss it later. Must lower my voice. —Poor Bella’s received a letter from the State asylum and it comes from her daughter that she calls “Little Joanie,” and little Joanie is in the state bin, sitting, and claims she never felt better in her life. [She cackles.] Isn’t that a riot! [There is a loud knock at door.] Somebody’s at the door. I’ve got to see who—talk later . . . [Jessie descends from the landing, calling out in her social voice— ] Who is there please?

  MALE VOICE: Officer, ma’am.

  JESSIE [hoarse whisper, fluffing out hair]: That’s a dead give-away, no name, just “Officer, ma’am”? Who’s fooling whom? [To the audience.] Mary Louise Dean’s niece claims that she was assaulted when she answered the door after dark alone in the house. Says she admitted this attractive young man, well-dressed and polite as pie, till all of a sudden . . . [She makes a growling noise.] Of course, Mary Louis likes to embellish a story, and as for the niece, a bleached blond from Tuscaloosa, well, there’s contradictory rumors.

  [The knocking at the door has continued.]

  JESSIE [to audience]: Whoever you are at the door, identify yourself, please. Knocks at the door are not an identification.

  MALE VOICE: Police officer, ma’am.

  JESSIE [to audience]: Maybe so, maybe not so. [She goes to the door.] Who’s there please?

  MALE VOICE: Officer Jackson.

  JESSIE: Here on what business, hammering on the door?

  MALE VOICE: To check on a disturbance reported in the home of Mr. Cornelius McCorkle. Deposition from Mrs. McCorkle is needed before we can file a complaint, ma’am.

  JESSIE: I really don’t know what you’re talking about.

  BELLA [loudly]: What is it, Jessie?

  MALE VOICE: Mrs. McCorkle, is that Mrs. McCorkle?

  JESSIE [attaching the door chain]: Bella, let me handle this. This is not a matter for you to get involved in.

  MALE VOICE: I got to speak to the lady of the house.

  JESSIE: May we see your credentials? Otherwise the door is going to stay latched. Just show your credentials, if any.

  MALE VOICE: Can you see this badge?

  JESSIE: I’m not going to look out there and get a gun stuck in my face and neither is Mrs. McCorkle. You hear my voice and I hear yours, so just ask Mrs. McCorkle if she’s got anything to say about what happened here. I wasn’t personally present, not in the residence and not on the street. I was having my rose garden bath. But Mrs. McCorkle was. However, I’m not sure she is in a condition to make what you call a—what? A what did you call it?

  MALE VOICE: Deposition.

  JESSIE: What shall I say, Bella?

  MALE VOICE: Goddamn it! I’ve got to talk to Mrs. McCorkle. [He puts his foot in the door.]

  JESSIE: Profanity is not called for. Stop holding door open!

  MALE VOICE: Just a crack so she can talk to me through it, because otherwise, Charlie McCorkle’s ass is going to be in a sling.

  JESSIE: How dare you talk like that! No police officer would express himself to ladies in such language!

  MALE VOICE: Mrs. McCorkle!

  JESSIE: Bella, say you know nothing!

  BELLA: Know? —Nothing. Just a terrible stawm.

  JESSIE: Did you hear that? She said she knows nothing except a terrible stawm. That’s exactly what she said to me. A terrible storm blew the door open and everybody went out.

  MALE VOICE: Ladies, I’m sorry but if you want to help Charlie, I’m a good friend of Charlie’s, Mrs. McCorkle knows that. You tell her I am Police Lieutenant Bruce Lee Jackson. Was called Pee Wee at school, she probably just knows me as Pee Wee Jackson, who want to school with Charlie.

  BELLA: Did he say Pee Wee Jackson? Little Pee Wee Jackson? Invite him in, he’s probably cold and hungry.

  JESSIE [unlatching and opening door]: You should have identified yourself in the first place.

  [The Officer enters wearing a mackintosh.]

  JESSIE: Oh. —Allow me to—

  [He removes hat and gives it to Jessie. The name Pee Wee is hardly suitable to his present stature and appearance. He is ha
ndsome and strapping. Jessie is impressed and there is now a touch of coquetry in her manner.]

  JESSIE: Excuse the way I’m—not dressed. We were so alarmed when you knocked. I mean I was. Bella hasn’t heard about the rapist. —Surely they don’t call you Pee Wee anymore.

  OFFICER JACKSON [crossing to the sofa.]: No, they don’t anymore. Now, Miss McCorkle, I know you don’t want Charlie put in jail by your husband.

  JESSIE: It would be totally unsuitable now. Surely they call you—didn’t you say Bruce? Bruce Lee?

  OFFICER JACKSON: Excuse me. I can see that Mizz McCorkle’s not feeling good but I do have to try to get her to make a statement, or otherwise, Mizz McCorkle, that’s just what’s gonna happen, your husband— [He speaks slowly, leaning toward Bella.] Your husband, Cornelius McCorkle, I don’t want to speak against him to you, Ma’am, but he’s always had a reputation for being rough on his children.

  BELLA [nods slowly with a sad look]: —Children. Three!

  OFFICER JACKSON: Yes, all three.

  BELLA: Three—yes, three . . .

  OFFICER JACKSON: I drove Charlie and the ole man to the Moose Lodge but he insists, now, that his son Charlie be put under arrest and he keeps making awful remarks about your folks. Hate to tell you so but he won’t let up on the subject of your folks and those being the circumstances, I’m sure you’ll be glad to say that if Charlie hit Mr. McCorkle it was in self-defense and in defense of his wife. Huh? Understand, Mizz McCorkle?

  JESSIE: —Well, as you see, Bella is not in a condition to make a statement right now.

  BELLA [to audience]: Cornelius McCorkle’s only int’rest is money to run for office . . .

  OFFICER: Mizz McCorkle just made a statement and I am taking it down.

  BELLA: Chips, you remember Chips?

  OFFICER: Yes, Ma’am, but—

  BELLA: And Joanie? Little Joanie? Little Joanie and Chips and Charlie?

  OFFICER: Charlie best, Mizz McCorkle. We double-date a lot and he wants me to stand up for him at his wedding tomorrow.

  BELLA: You knew little Joanie?

  OFFICER: Yes, she was very well known, a very well-known girl.

 
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