American Life and Casualty
by Stuart Flack
This play is copyrighted by the author and may not be reproduced or performed without his permission. Please contact him at the address below.
Stuart Flack, 2440 Lakeview, Apt. 4b, Chicago, IL 60614
Wallace Stevens' office at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity. Stevens, a huge man, elegantly dressed in a dark suit, vest, white broadcloth shirt, and red tie, sits behind his massive desk pouring over documents. Willard, a clerk in his early 20s', stands in the doorway and fidgets. Stevens continues to work, oblivious to Willard's presence. Inadvertently, Willard makes a noise. Stevens looks up and sees him.
STEVENS: Ah, come in, Willard. Come in.
WILLARD (Willard enters tentatively): Thank you, sir . . . I . . . I'm sorry that I'm late.
STEVENS: No matter. I was engrossed.
WILLARD: I was very sorry to hear about your brother.
STEVENS: Thank you, Willard, I'm afraid it finds us all. At least the weather was pleasant. Rain lends a certain acuity to funerals, don't you think?
WILLARD: . . . well . . . I was very sorry to hear it.
STEVENS: I hadn't seen the fellow in twenty years you know.
WILLARD: I see. (Pause) Have we settled the claim?
WILLARD: Have they settled?
STEVENS: I was doing the contract.
STEVENS: Willard, my boy, do you know what day this Saturday is?
WILLARD: It's the twenty-first, sir.
STEVENS: Yes. That's true. It is. And do you know what is happening on the twenty-first?
WILLARD: If it's overtime for a case, Mr. Stevens, I can do it. I'll check citations. I'll Shepardize. I'll work all weekend if need be.
STEVENS: I know you will. You are a very dedicated young man.
WILLARD: Thank you, sir
STEVENS: And I aim to repay you for that dedication. This Saturday you and I will be riding the rails to Cambridge to watch the fall classic.
WILLARD: We will?
STEVENS: Yes indeed my friend. The most exciting Saturday of the entire year. The forward pass. The end around. The cheering crowd. The rum and cider. And I would love to have you join me.
WILLARD: Mr. Stevens?
STEVENS: Yes, Willard?
WILLARD: I don't know what the fall classic is.
STEVENS: . . . Willard . . . Willard . . . Willard . . . this Saturday is the Harvard-Yale game. I've booked a berth on the train for us. Lunch at the Parker House with their lovely Parker House rolls. Baskets full And two tickets right there on the fifty yard line to watch the Crimson battle. Always the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
WILLARD: This Saturday?
STEVENS: It will be the best afternoon of your life. I'll send my driver by your home at 6:15 sharp. You must wear a tie, something crimson if you have it, but dress for the weather. And bring your heartiest appetite!
WILLARD: . . . I promised my girl a stroll in Elizabeth Park.
STEVENS: I see.
WILLARD: And seeing as I visit my grand folks on Sunday, well . . . Saturday was gonna be the day.
STEVENS: I see.
WILLARD: I don't mean to cause you any trouble.
STEVENS: Trouble? Why, no. I'll go alone. I do every year.
WILLARD: It does sound great.
STEVENS: I just thought it might be nice to have some companionship. Spend the afternoon with your girl. She is far more important than your boss.
WILLARD: It's just that I've been promising her since . . .
STEVENS: No, no, Willard, I won't hear any more. Stroll in Elizabeth Park with your girl. I simply should not have presumed.
WILLARD: I really appreciate the offer though . . . you know, I've never even been out of Connecticut.
STEVENS: You're young. Don't worry. There's nothing to see. Thank you for coming down, Willard.
WILLARD: You are very welcome Mr. Stevens. (Pause )
STEVENS: You would have come to work though?
WILLARD: Of course.
STEVENS: What about your girl?
WILLARD: I guess she'd have no choice. A fella has to do his job if he wants to get anywhere in the world these days.
STEVENS: Well . . . thank you for your time. I'm sorry that you cannot accompany me this Saturday.
WILLARD: Maybe next year. (Willard leaves. Fade to black.)
The semi-private cabin of a train. Two banks of seats facing each other with a window between and luggage rack overhead. Stevens enters carrying a crimson pennant with "Harvard" written across it, the porter is carrying his suitcase behind. He removes his hat, a black fedora with a brilliant crimson band and hooks both it and the pennant on the corner of his seat. The porter helps him off with his light-weight overcoat. He helps the porter lift the suitcase onto the luggage rack. He reaches into his pocket and takes a bill from his bill-fold. He hands it to the porter.
STEVENS: Beautiful, blond fall weather. It is a shame to have to return home so soon.
PORTER: Yes it is sir, thank you. (The porter exits —Stevens sits and gazes out the window for a moment. Rises and removes his suitcoat and drapes it carefully over the seatback. He sits and stretches. He picks up the pennant and waves it in a faint cheer. He looks at his watch and sighs. Off stage a clamor is heard. Stevens looks around. It is the porter arguing with someone.)
PORTER: (O.S.) But it is our policy.
VOICE: (O.S.) You! You! It is up to you! Celebrate the unity of all things.
PORTER: (O.S.) But first class passengers are entitled to . . . (They enter the compartment. The voice belongs to Charles Ives. Fifty, tall, thin, with an aged, floppy brown hat and a tweed suit which hangs off him like a scarecrow's clothes. In one hand is a blue pennant with "Yale" on it and in the other, a blue suitcase with a giant white "Y" on its side.)
IVES: Don't speak to me of entitlement, unless you mean by it the entitlement we each have to soar and be free. No, I will not have it. Get your hand off my valise! Turn you attentions to some one less fortunate than myself. The passengers in steerage, they require your help. Go and be quick about it!
PORTER: This is a train, we don't have steerage. Steerage is on a ship .
IVES: Convention. I will not be bound by mere convention!
PORTER: At least let me help you put it on the rack.
IVES: No, no. It is not necessary. I am perfectly able.
PORTER: But sir . . .
IVES: To you I say this: poke your head out of the train, feel the last few minutes of the sun, think a pleasant thought, of your lovely wife perhaps, and then if you feel the pressing need to jump to someone's assistance, which by all means you should, let it be one of the earth's more downtrodden. How about it? (Pause.)
IVES (cont'd): Ahh! I am truly an oaf. (He digs through his pockets and produces what he takes to be a dollar bill.) This is for your trouble.
PORTER: A napkin?
IVES: Ahh! So it is. Digs through his pockets again and gets a crumpled bill. He hands it to the porter.) The real McCoy. If it was a dog, it would have jumped up and bit me.
PORTER: Thank you sir.
IVES: I was wondering if maybe you could warn me when my stop comes . . . I'm Danbury.
PORTER: And you sir?
PORTER: Have a good trip gentlemen. (The porter exits.—Ives looks at his suitcase. He looks at the luggage rack. He looks back at his suitcase.)
IVES: You wouldn't be so kind as to . . .
STEVENS: Don't mention it. (Together they lift the suitcase. Stevens taps the giant "Y" on its side with his finger.) The corpse of the vanquished enemy. (Ives lets go of the suitcase and it falls narrowly missing Stevens' foot.) Maybe you'll get us next year.
IVES: Indeed we will sir. (In one mighty motion, Ives heaves the suitcase onto the rack all by himself. Brushes off his hands.) Indeed we will —Charles Ives. Yale class of 98. A pleasure. (The most vigorous, manly handshake imaginable.)
STEVENS: Wallace Stevens. Harvard class of 1900. A thrill. (They sit.)
IVES: I've never seen drop kicking like that fella Whitehall does it. Goes a mile. And that Yale line, tough as a nickel steak every one of 'em. The problem is, you see, that they are lacking an overall-mind-concept for the game.
STEVENS: You mean plays?
IVES: Not the plays themselves, but the overall-mind-concept for the plays. Each man merely doing his part is not enough. Each man needs to see himself as sharing equally in one eleventh of the passing, blocking, kicking, catching, and running and not just doing his job. Just doing your job is never enough!
STEVENS: You are quite a fan Mr. Ives.
IVES: Not really.
STEVENS: And quite a student of the game I might add.
IVES: I see myself as a student of the world, Mr. Stevens. And on the one Saturday each year that Yale plays Harvard, well . . . that IS the world.
STEVENS: Don't you mean Harvard plays Yale?
IVES: It breaks my heart to see the Elis lose. The proud blue trampled beneath the hoof of the Crimson hun. But what is a man to do? Weep? Just lash himself to the mast and listen for the alma-mater! What a game! What a team! Goooo Elis!
STEVENS: See that trophy, / See it shine. / Come on Crimson, / Hold that line! Wasn't it just astonishing the way O'Callahan ran that one back?
IVES: Runback? When?
STEVENS: He danced 75 yards.
IVES: Danced? More like . . . limped . . . more like . . . crutched!
STEVENS: I didn't see anybody tackling him, did you?
IVES: How could they with all that holding going?
STEVENS: Holding? At Harvard we call that "blocking."
IVES: Well at Yale, where we value truth and honesty, we call that "holding."
STEVENS: The Harvard line values truth and honesty. The truth is that we won and quite honestly it wasn't much of a contest.
IVES: Those bums you call the Harvard line couldn't pick garbage off the streets of New Haven.
STEVENS: I have to disagree; they couldn't help but do it. There is nothing BUT garbage in New Haven.
IVES: And just what is that supposed to mean?
STEVENS: It means that I would not send my dog to Yale.
IVES: Well Mr. Stevens I do not have a dog but I would gleefully purchase an entire kennel just so I could NOT send even the lowliest of its occupants to the place you call Harvard. (The porter sticks his head in.)
PORTER: Would either of you gentlemen care for a drink?
IVES: Get me out of here, this man went to Harvard!
PORTER: I am terribly sorry, but the train is full.
IVES: I'll stand in the hall. I don't care.
PORTER: That would be against regulations.
IVES: I'll stand between cars. I want to leave.
PORTER: It's raining sir.
STEVENS: And it was such a lovely day.
PORTER: I can't do anything about the weather. I can't do anything about your seat. What I can do is get you a drink.
STEVENS: Scotch please.
IVES: This is an abomination! This is unconscionable! This is exactly what they teach the boys at Harvard.
PORTER: I didn't go to Harvard.
IVES: Well he did.
PORTER: That's one scotch. And for you sir?
IVES: A new seat.
PORTER: Rules is rules. Have a pleasant trip gentlemen. (Porter exits.)
IVES: Why do they have to hold these damn games in Cambridge anyway? Travel all that way just to have your face ground into the dirt and then all the way back and be humiliated on the train by some baggage toting half-wit!
STEVENS: The Blue did play a good first half, though.
IVES: I've heard enough about rules do you hear me? I have heard enough from the short-sighted and feeble minded of this world and their goddamn rules!
STEVENS: And a fine third quarter, all in all.
IVES: It makes me boil! Do you hear me? Boil! In a country full of such fine people we got a goddamn depression on our hands, we got a goddamn lunatic over there in Germany, we got idiots running our railroads and all they make is . . . RULES ! (Ives flies up out of his seat.) You know they drove my poor dad crazy with those rules. Why not let the folks decide for themselves? You take that away from a man and you just leave him there naked!
STEVENS: Maybe you should write a letter.
IVES: Letter?!! Wrote a million letters in my day.—Take a gander at this. (Ives pulls a folded piece of paper from his pocket.)
STEVENS: The 20th Amendment?
IVES: "Congress may not wage or declare war without the consent of the people given directly in a referendum." Sent about 20,000 of em out. Folks think I'm throwing my money away, but they've thrown their democratic rights away. Now you tell me which is easier to get back.
STEVENS: But you don't think they'll pass this?
IVES: Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you give it a few years . . . till the people of this country wake up . . . then there's gonna be some fire works!
STEVENS: Mind if I keep it?
IVES: That's what it's for. Got a suitcase full of 'em.
STEVENS: Thank you.
IVES: People now have such a limited experience of the world. Sure they're educated and travel here and there, but the world is a tiny place to them . . . everything's been done . . . been seen, like there is no possibility left in the world for an authentic experience . . . like the world is small, and feeble.
STEVENS: Not without cause.
IVES: But the world is not small and feeble. They asked Thoreau if he had traveled. And he told them, "Yes, I have traveled extensively in Concord." Daily life, the business of living is a wonderful thing. There is so much to do, so much in need of expression.
STEVENS: Yes, but modern life is filled with empty gestures.
IVES: Empty? . . . Mr. Stevens, nothing is empty. I'm an insurance man, Mr. Stevens. I guarantee the future. I let a man sleep nights because he knows that his family is protected from the random cruelties of this world. Can you call that empty?
STEVENS: Insurance? Did you say that you were an insurance man?
IVES: Yes, indeed. Ives and Myrick, agent for Mutual Life . . .
STEVENS: Well, I'll be damned. I'm with Hartford. Surety claims.
IVES: Well there you have it! Doesn't it all just tie together somehow? I'm a stranger. You're a stranger. You don't know me from Adam nor I you. Just talking football on a train. It's all just peas and carrots, right? . . . peas and carrots . . . peas and carrots . . . Saw a man today at the half-time I hadn't seen in 35 years. Frederick Wyndhall Foster-Laycock. "Remember that cute little blond, used to come up on a visit from Boston all time?" I say, "wonder whatever became of her?" I say. "You must mean my late wife, Maggie "—There is no such thing as small talk Mr. Stevens. That's because nothing is small. Everything is large! Everything enormous!
STEVENS: No man's life is to be taken lightly.
IVES: A life is a big thing Mr. Stevens. But sheerly from laziness, most folks will just shrink it down and down and down until it's just a featureless little bean that they can throw in the pot for Sunday supper. And this is their own life. Think what they do to the lives of others? If a man is famous then each detail of his life takes on gigantic proportion. How Babe Ruth takes his coffee in the morning has got more weight, more reality, than the lives of 100 farmers or factory workers, or insurance executives! Well it shouldn't be! It is a crime of degradation against the human spirit!! It is the ultimate crime! It is a form of spiritual slavery!!!
STEVENS: Open the gates and let the prisoners run free!
IVES: But think of the simple reality of a Connecticut afternoon. How the valley throws itself together for you when you climb to the top of the hill. And how the light and shade and sound play scatter tag with one another across the town green among the swirling leaves and Indian Corn decoration placed on each and every light post by the children from the third grade, let out early from the grammar school. Or the work of Emerson, or Hawthorne.
STEVENS: Yes! Reality is an activity of the most august imagination!
IVES: No, Mr. Stevens, reality is an activity of the collective imagination!!! (Ives rises to his feet, shaking his finger at the heavens like an Old Testament prophet.) Who is going to teach men to sing about the world again!! Oh my God . . . Harmony . . . (Ives collapses on the floor, gasping for air. Stevens rushes to his side and cradles him in his arms.)
STEVENS: Porter!! Porter!! (The porter runs in with Stevens' drink )
PORTER: I am sorry about the delay sir, but . . . my God in heaven . . .
IVES: (Gasping) Harmony . . . Harmony . . .
STEVENS: Call an ambulance, tell them to meet us in Hartford.
PORTER: Yes sir.
STEVENS: And for godsake find a doctor on this goddamn train and get him in here immediately.
PORTER: Yes sir. (Porter exits.)
IVES: Harmony. Harmony . . .
STEVENS: (Continues to cradle him.) I know just how you feel. (Fade to black.)
The den of Stevens' house. Sound of key in lock. Enter Stevens' wife Elsie. She is pretty in a dower sort of way. She wears a cloth coat, gloves, and hat. She looks around, exasperated. Stevens descends the stairs in shirt sleeves rolled up and tie slightly undone.
STEVENS: Elsie . . . Where in the world have you been all this time?
ELSIE: Wallace? Oh my God, Wallace!!! Where have you been? I've been all over Connecticut looking for you. They said you had to be taken from the train, that there'd been some kind of accident. Somebody had collapsed. I thought you were languishing somewhere in a ditch. I thought you'd been killed!!
STEVENS: Now, dear . . . calm down . . . there is nothing to fret over . . . I just . . .
ELSIE: We went to all the hospitals!
STEVENS: Elsie, please. I'm fine. You see . . .
ELSIE: I was waiting there with Namaan just as we'd planned, with the car, and the man told us you were dead! That they took someone off the train in Chicopee!
STEVENS: Yes, they did. But no one is dead, dear. Everything is fine.
ELSIE: Wallace, what was I to think? You should have sent a cable.
STEVENS: I apologize, Elsie. I didn't mean to cause you any distress.
ELSIE: Well, my God. I didn't know where you were. I thought . . . I didn't know what to think. Namaan drove me all over the state.
STEVENS: There now. Don't you worry.
ELSIE: The man said something happened
STEVENS: Elsie, something did happen . . . a man from Danbury had an attack of some kind. We took him off in Chicopee. In a very fragile state. An insurance man. Just like me. A fine, nice gentleman from Danbury.
ELSIE: Is that ALL that happened?
STEVENS: Do I look like something happened?
ELSIE: Your tie is loose.
STEVENS: (Buttoning his shirt collar and tightening his tie.) So it is. (He rolls down his sleeves and buttons his cuffs.) There now. Everything is fine. Just fine.
ELSIE: Wallace, what's wrong?
STEVENS: Nothing's wrong.
ELSIE: Good. Then I'm going upstairs to take a bath.
STEVENS: No, Elsie. You mustn't.
ELSIE: Why not? Why can't I go upstairs?
STEVENS: Actually, you can go upstairs.
ELSIE: Good. Then I'm going.
STEVENS: Armed of course with the knowledge that he is here.
ELSIE: (She stops.) Who is here?
STEVENS: The gentleman I was speaking about. The gentleman from the train.
ELSIE: A stranger?! A total stranger! Here in our house!
STEVENS: Now, Elsie. there's nothing to get alarmed about.
ELSIE: Wallace, you know I don't like people here. You know that. You know how I feel about people.
STEVENS: Yes, Elsie. Of course I know.
ELSIE: Well, he can't stay here. He just can't stay here.
STEVENS: Dear, he can't be moved. His condition is very fragile. Dr. Joffey said the slightest excitement could set off another attack.
ELSIE: Wallace we don't know who this man is. He could be a murderer!
STEVENS: What do you expect me to do?
ELSIE: He could rise up and strangle us in our sleep.
STEVENS: You're being absurd; he's a very pleasant fellow.
ELSIE: What is his name?
STEVENS: Charles Ives. Now that's not so bad is it? A good Yankee name like that?
ELSIE: Oh. Wallace.
STEVENS: Follow me. (They go up the stairs.)
ELSIE: (From offstage) Oh my God in heaven.
ELSIE: You know you ought to hang your head in shame for doing this to me, Wallace.
STEVENS: This has nothing to do with you Elsie.
ELSIE: It's my house, isn't it? It's my life that's being disrupted?
STEVENS: I didn't ask him to have a heart attack, you know.
ELSIE: You brought him here.
STEVENS: He collapsed at my feet. Should I have just ignored him and walked away?
ELSIE: Wallace, you could have taken him to a hospital. You could have visited him every day if you wanted. For hours and hours if you wanted. You could have lingered . . .
STEVENS: Elsie, please.
ELSIE: I think I am making a valid point. A sick man belongs in a hospital.
STEVENS: That is not the point.
ELSIE: How can it not be the point? The man is ill. He needs to be under the care of a physician.
STEVENS: Elsie, you will never understand how I feel about these things. (Pause.)
ELSIE: But I want to understand, please tell me. (Pause.)
STEVENS: I couldn't find the old comforter. So I just stacked up the blankets.
ELSIE: The back-hall closet.
STEVENS: I thought I looked there.
ELSIE: At the top?
STEVENS: The top?
ELSIE: It's right up at the top.
STEVENS: I thought I looked at the top. (Pause.) He does look comfortable, doesn't he?
ELSIE: Yes, he does.
STEVENS: You should have seen him. He was railing at the heavens all the way here in the ambulance. They had that little mask over his face and he kept pushing it off. It was really something to see. I was trying to soothe him on the way over here by telling him all about my meal at the Parker House this afternoon, and he was particularly interested in the pancakes. You see, they were thicker than blini but thinner than what you'd call the "typical American pancake," you know, that doughy sort of Pennsylvania Dutch pancake we're used to.
ELSIE: Yes . . . I think so.
STEVENS: They were not that type of pancake at all. No. They make different types of pancakes altogether over at the Parker House in Boston. But Mr. Ives said the most amazing thing. "Think about the fella that makes those pancakes," he said. "Everyone comes to the Parker House wants rolls, but this fella is determined to change their ways. He's making pancakes."
ELSIE: I don't understand.
STEVENS: You do what you have to do Elsie, and the fella at the Parker House, he just has to make his pancakes.
STEVENS: That's it . . . he makes wonderful pancakes at a place where everyone eats rolls.
ELSIE: But the Parker House is known for its rolls.
STEVENS: Well of course it is. That's just the point.
ELSIE: That the Parker House is known for its rolls?
STEVENS: No! That the fella makes pancakes!
ELSIE: I'm sorry, Wallace. You don't have to shout at me.
STEVENS: I'm sorry, Elsie. The point is that the man is laboring in obscurity.
STEVENS: Within the kitchen of the Parker House, where the roll is king, he has his own tiny fiefdom. Pancakes are not even on the menu there. It is almost a sort of secret club. And the pancake maker occupies this special, secret territory. With his own griddle, way in the back somewhere . . . and Mr. Ives had the oddest thought . . .
ELSIE: I see. How awful for that poor pancake maker. (Long pause.)
STEVENS: I almost forgot. I called Mr. Ives' wife. She was out of town but she'll be coming soon.
ELSIE: I see.
STEVENS: It was the first thing he asked me.
STEVENS: To bring his wife.
ELSIE: That's a lovely thought.
STEVENS: Yes, it is, isn't it? (Pause.)
ELSIE: You know, I really thought it was you that had the attack.
STEVENS: Not me. I'm fit as a fiddle.
ELSIE: I had a feeling something awful was going to happen, and that I was going to lose you forever.
STEVENS: Well, that just goes to show you, doesn't it?
STEVENS: Just how wrong your feelings can be.
ELSIE: (Pause.) I'll be in the bath. (Elsie goes up the stairs. Fade to black )
Stevens sits behind his desk in his office at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity. As always, dressed in the charcoal gray, three piece suit. Willard, stands nervously across the desk from Stevens.
WILLARD: I mean some of it doesn't quite fit.
STEVENS: Was the drive pleasant?
WILLARD: Yes it was.
STEVENS: I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you doing this for me.
WILLARD: If you ever need another special project done.
STEVENS: I appreciate the thought Willard. (Stevens hands him two small packages wrapped in plain brown paper.)
STEVENS: These are my way of saying thank you. I hope you don't mind.
WILLARD: Mind? Oh no, I couldn't.
STEVENS: I hope you enjoy them.
WILLARD: I don' t know what to . . .
STEVENS: Just tell me what you've found.
WILLARD: (As Willard speaks, he fumbles with the packages inadvertently unwrapping them.) His great-grandfather Isaac started a hat business in Danbury county. And he had the first flush toilet in Fairfield.
WILLARD: Grandfather George had the first savings and loan. And his son, George Edward Ives, was Charles' father. George was something of a musician. His father, George senior, took him all the way to The Bronx, New York for music lessons. And young George formed the town band when he got home from the Civil War and . . . oh my god! Ants! (One of the packages has opened from his nervous tampering and its contents, loose tea, begins spilling out.)
STEVENS: It's Russian Black Tea.
WILLARD: Oh. (He somehow manages to get the package under control.) Thank you very much sir. (He looks quizzically at the second, half opened package.)
STEVENS: They're pears. Dried, Bosque pears.
WILLARD: Oh, pears Mr. Stevens.
STEVENS: Have one, Willard. Have a pear.
WILLARD: (Takes a large bite.) Thank you. Please have one. I insist.
STEVENS: Thank you. (Takes a pear.) Now about young George?
WILLARD: Right, well, that's it. Something of a failure. Just the music. Never amounted to much of anything . . . these pears are wonderful, Mr. Stevens. Absolutely wonderful.
STEVENS: Thank you. (Pause.) This is young George. Charles' father?
WILLARD: Like I said, never held a steady job. Just all this weird music nobody seemed to care for. —But, when you get to this Charles Ives, it all falls apart. East 74th Street town house. Wall Street office. Largest exclusive insurance agent in the Northeast. 60 million dollar volume and then this music thing comes up again. He thinks . . . he . . . he . . . thinks . . . .that he's . . .
WILLARD: That he is a composer. That he can write music. But you should hear what people say. Like fingernails on a blackboard. Like sheep being tortured. I think it's some kind of joke personally. Doesn't seem to me the artistic type.
STEVENS: An artist and an insurance man . . . good God!! Have you heard this music?
WILLARD: No . . . but I got some titles. There's one called "Three Places in New England," "The Housatonic at Stockbridge," "The Concord Sonata," and you're not going to believe this, one is called "Central Park in the Dark."
STEVENS: "Central Park in the Dark."
WILLARD: They tell me he has got stacks and stacks of the stuff, prints it up himself, and nobody famous plays it, but he thinks he's John Phillip Sousa all the same.
STEVENS: Yes . . . "Central Park in the Dark" . . . have an other apricot Willard . . .
WILLARD: Pears Mr. Stevens.
STEVENS: So they are . . . (Intercom buzzes.)
SECRETARY: (O.S.) Outside call Mr. Stevens . . . It's a Mrs. Ives.
STEVENS: Thank you. (Picks up the phone.) Hello? Yes . . . it was nothing really Mrs. Ives. He is very comfortable . . . everything is going to be ok . . . It is a black sedan and it should be at you door in about 30 minutes . . . No, I am completely at your disposal . . . My wife? . . . she . . . she's thrilled! She loves company more than anything else in the world . . . He was very chipper this morning when I left . . . Please, no trouble at all. Have a safe trip and we'll see you this evening . . . Good-bye Mrs. Ives.
WILLARD: That's his wife? Ives' wife?
WILLARD: Well, you re not going to believe this.
WILLARD: Her name is Harmony Ives.
STEVENS: Harmony Ives . . .
WILLARD: Now how do you figure that?
STEVENS: Harmony. (Black out)
The den of the Stevens' home. Elsie sits on the couch with Harmony Ives. She is in her fifties and pretty in a simple way. A Connecticut minister's daughter.
HARMONY: . . .and it's very funny because he hasn't had an attack since last spring.
ELSIE: Don't you feel he ought to be under a physician's care?
HARMONY: I can manage. I'm trained as a nurse you know.
ELSIE: Is that so?
HARMONY: Oh yes, of course. I called the doctor from our home in as soon as I heard from your husband. He described Charlie's condition to me and I gave him Charlie's medical history. We chatted and concurred on the treatment: calm peaceful bed rest. It's what we've always done.
ELSIE: I see.
HARMONY: So there is really nothing to worry about. Other than what prompted the attack. (Pause.)
ELSIE: Tell me Mrs. Ives?
ELSIE: Where do you think a man is most comfortable?
HARMONY: Comfortable? I'm not quite sure I understand.
ELSIE: You know, where he's at peace. Where he can best find calmness.
HARMONY: I suppose, that if a person is really happy he can find peace and calmness anywhere. Think of the martyrs after all; they found peace and calmness in the most horrible situations, don't you think?
ELSIE: But what about the average man, where can he best find peace and calmness?
HARMONY: I don't really see the difference.
ELSIE: Of course there's a difference.
HARMONY: Charlie would say, there no such thing as the average man.
ELSIE: Mrs. Ives, I have a theory . . . an average man can best find peace and calmness in the one place where everyone loves and admires him: his happy home.
HARMONY: I suppose.
ELSIE: Well, there you have it Mrs. Ives! My point exactly! Your husband Charlie should be in one place and one place alone to recuperate. And what is that place? Why it is his happy home!
HARMONY: Well, I . . .
ELSIE: Is it safe for him to travel?
HARMONY: In an ambulance, but I'd really . . .
ELSIE: Then there we have it! A man belongs in his home. It is safe for him to travel. Let's call an ambulance!
HARMONY: If it's not a problem, Mrs. Stevens, I'd just as soon he'd stay put for a few days.
ELSIE: A problem? Of course not. It's my pleasure.
ELSIE: But my pleasure is not what is at issue here. We must think of the patient.
HARMONY: I appreciate your concern Mrs. Stevens.
ELSIE: We have the most lovely ambulances here in Hartford you know. I'll call one. You'll see.
HARMONY: You don't have to go to any trouble on . . .
ELSIE: No, no, no. I insist. Please. Allow me. I'll call the ambulance you'll see just how lovely it is and then you can decide. (Elsie picks up the phone and dials.) Yes? I'd like an ambulance sent to 118 Westerly Terrace in Hartford, please. That's right, and they are going to . . . (To Harmony ) Danbury?
HARMONY: It isn't really necessary.
ELSIE: Just a precaution. (Into the phone.) We are going to Danbury . . yes . . . thank you very much. (Hangs up.) There now, at least we have the option. I don't believe in closing off options. Always keep your options open, that's what I say . . . Well now . . . isn't it such a lovely day . . .
HARMONY: Do you know what they were discussing?
HARMONY: Our husbands. When Charlie had the attack.
ELSIE: No idea.
HARMONY: We try to keep newspapers and magazines away from Charlie you know.
ELSIE: You do?
HARMONY: Current events tend to rile him up.
ELSIE: How odd.
HARMONY: Quite worrisome really. I try to screen whatever comes Charlie's way, just to keep him on an even keel, but lately he seemed to have gotten some of his resistance back. So I was letting him out of the house with his nephew Horace or his partner Mike. I let him go to New York City last week and he was fine. The color was back in his face and the spring was back in his stride.
ELSIE: I'm sure everything will be fine Mrs. Ives.
HARMONY: What could they have been up to?
ELSIE: Wallace didn't mention it.
HARMONY: Very puzzling . . . I thought Charlie had finally gotten over this. I thought he'd changed. I'd have never let him go to the game if I knew this was going to happen. I can assure you of that. You see, Charlie takes everything so personally. He takes the whole world to heart. He lives with life pressed right up there against his face like the pane of glass in a department store window. It can be terrifying. He has to step back. He has to relax. A little remove is not such a terrible thing you know, if it's for one's health and well being . . . Sometimes, I worry.
ELSIE: Would you care for a cup of tea, Mrs. Ives?
HARMONY: Oh yes, that would be most welcome indeed.
ELSIE: I'll put it on to boil. It won't be a minute. (Elsie exits. Voice off.) I so wish you could stay on.
HARMONY: If it's not too late to . . .
(Sound of key in lock offstage. Door opening. Stevens strides in. He bellows.)
STEVENS: Good afternoon one and all! (Spots Mrs. Ives.) Mrs. Ives, a pleasure. An absolute pleasure. (They shake hands.)
HARMONY: Lovely to meet you Mr. Stevens. Thank you so much for taking care of my husband.
STEVENS: I won't hear of it. I will not hear of it.
HARMONY: No, no. I'must thank you for your kindness.
STEVENS: Just the beginning Mrs. Ives.—Maybe I should peek in on the patient.
HARMONY: We just put him to bed you know.
STEVENS: Well maybe just for a moment.
ELSIE: (O.S.) Wallace is that you?
STEVENS: Ah, my wife. Good afternoon dear, what are you up to in there?
ELSIE: Tea Wallace. Out in a minute.
STEVENS: (Sits.) I do love having company, and my wife you know is one of the great entertainers in Hartford. (Elsie enters.)
ELSIE: (Sets down a tray of cookies.) The water will be up in just a minute. Wallace got me one of those electric kettles that the English use.
STEVENS: Then I'll just slip upstairs and poke my head in on the patient.
ELSIE: We really ought to let him get up his strength for the ride.
STEVENS: The ride?
ELSIE: Oh silly me. I forgot to tell you.
STEVENS: What ride?
ELSIE: Mrs. Ives and I were concerned about her husband recuperating in a strange environment, so we called an ambulance to take them back to Danbury. (Pause. Stevens is dumbfounded.) He's on his way. Even as we speak. (Pause.) Wallace why don't you tell us about those lovely pancakes you had at the Parker House? He was just in Boston you know. (Pause.) Wallace?
STEVENS: He is staying here do you understand me? He is staying here!
ELSIE: Now I'm sure Mrs. Ives knows what's best for her husband.
STEVENS: Now Mrs. Ives, he is in a fragile condition. Each and every one of the doctors took great pains to stress to me that your husband's very life is in peril. He is in a frail state. His resistance is low and he must not leave this house until all danger has passed and he has regained his strength and vigor and the natural processes of healing have taken place!
ELSIE: You'll have to excuse my husband. He gets a little carried away with things.
STEVENS: I am not carried away with anything dear.—You will have to excuse my wife Mrs. Ives, she tends to enmesh innocent people in her perverse machinations.
STEVENS: But I want to stress to you the fragility of your husband's condition.
HARMONY: But your wife suggested that . . . (Stevens glares at Elsie.)
ELSIE: I was only doing what I thought best for the patient.
STEVENS: He is staying here and I am caring for him. (Doorbell rings.)
ELSIE: Well what do you know? That must be the ambulance! (She pops out of her seat. Stevens cuts her off.)
STEVENS: Don't trouble yourself dear. I insist that you entertain the guests. (The sound of the kettle whistle from the kitchen.) Your kettle is on the boil dear, why don't you make us a nice cup of tea? Have a cookie Mrs. Ives. (Elsie exits into the kitchen. Stevens gives Mrs. Ives a cookie and goes to answer the door. Mrs. Ives sits perplexed. Offstage, the sound of the door opening.) (O.S.) Yes?
VOICE OFF: Ambulance.
STEVENS: (O.S.) He got better, thank you. (Stevens shuts the door and re-enters.) Well now Mrs. Ives, what do think of our little town of Hartford? (Elsie enters with a tray and full tea service.)
ELSIE: Wasn't that the ambulance?
STEVENS: We sent them away.
ELSIE: Wallace, the man is sick he needs to go home. (The doorbell rings again.)
VOICE OFF: Ambulance!
ELSIE: Hold this dear. (Before Stevens can refuse, Elsie thrusts the tray and tea service into his hands. She makes a beeline for the door. Offstage she opens the door.)
ELSIE: (O.S.) That was my husband, he has quite a sense of humor. Come right in. (Elsie crosses with the ambulance attendant in tow.)
ELSIE: (Shouting up the stairs.) Mr. Ives, are you decent? It's time to take a little trip!!
HARMONY: (She stands up. She speaks very firmly, but does not shout.) Stop this! Stop this immediately! (All freeze. Pause.) My husband requires peace and quiet. (She goes to her hand bag and removes a bill from her wallet. She gives it to the attendant.) This is for your trouble. Thank you very much.
ATTENDANT: You won't be needing me?
HARMONY: The patient will remain here under my care. I was a nurse, you see. If we need you we will call you.
ATTENDANT: Have a good day all. (He exits.)
HARMONY: (Pause.) I am quite exhausted from my traveling today, I hope you don't mind if I go upstairs and freshen up a bit?
STEVENS: No, not in the least Mrs. Ives. (Harmony exits. Pause. He looks at Elsie; she looks away.) Elsie, I thought we agreed.
ELSIE: But I was only doing what I thought you'd want. You were so concerned about his health and I just wanted him to recuperate.
STEVENS: We agreed that he would stay on.
ELSIE: I'm sorry.
STEVENS: How could you do such a thing?
ELSIE: I was trying to help. Really. I was. I was trying.
STEVENS: I know you were.
ELSIE: You said things to me in front of the guests. I just don't know what to do when you say those things to me. I was trying to please you Wallace. I only wanted what was best. I'm sorry if I'made a mess of things . . .
STEVENS: Oh, Elsie . . . (He puts his hand on her shoulder.) I shouldn't have gotten cross with you. I'm sorry. (Pause.)
ELSIE: Maybe we should do something special for dinner.
STEVENS: Well yes, that is a splendid idea.
ELSIE: I saw a lovely salmon in the window at Maarsten's this morning. Why don't you stroll over and see if it's still there?
STEVENS: Oh, a salmon. Yes. Wonderful.
ELSIE: We can serve in the dining room, Wallace. It's been so long since we've served in the dining room.
STEVENS: Is there anything else we need?
ELSIE: We need vegetables, but I'll take care of it . . . we're going to have a party. (Pause.) There was a letter from your publisher today. They want you to read a few of your poems at the Columbia University Commencement.
STEVENS: I'll just put everybody to sleep.
ELSIE: I used to love it when you read aloud . . . it stirs me Wallace . . . deeply.
STEVENS: Oh Elsie.
ELSIE: Oh Wallace . . . you never read to me any more.
STEVENS: Elsie, I . . .
ELSIE: It stirs me . . . I find it moving.
STEVENS: Unfortunately, you are in the minority.
ELSIE: Maybe you'll read for our guests?
STEVENS: (He thinks it over long and hard.) I might.
ELSIE: Oh Wallace!
STEVENS: I said I might. (A small hug.)
ELSIE: Oh, those Iveses are the loveliest people! (Black out. End of Act I)
The Stevens' living room. It is empty. Ives comes down the stairs in a bathrobe with the Yale class of '98 cap on his head.
IVES: Mr. Stevens? Mr. Stevens? (No reply.) Anybody home? (No reply. Ives walks around the den. He looks here and there. He sees the piano and walks over to it. Nonchalantly he hits a note. He listens to the sound. He hits a second note. He sits, throwing his robe back in a parody of a tuxedo jacket. He launches into the first movement of the Concord Sonata. Elsie comes in the front door with an arm load of groceries. She stands by the door listening, but unseen.) Harmony hears the music and comes down the stairs. Neither she nor Ives knows Elsie is by the door listening.
HARMONY: Charlie! (He stops playing.) For your health Charlie! You promised!
IVES: I'm sorry
HARMONY: (She goes to his side.) I can't even close my eyes for a nap without you getting yourself into some kind of trouble.
IVES: No, you're right. You re right. I shouldn't play. I know that. (She kisses him.)
HARMONY: Where are the Stevenses?
IVES: I was going to ask you the same thing.
HARMONY: Maybe they stepped out for a bit of air. (Pause. ) Charlie what were you and Mr. Stevens talking about?
HARMONY: When you had the attack.
IVES: Life, Harmony. We were talking about life. We were talking about work and you know Harmony, I have been thinking . . . I want to go back to work. I'll call Mike the first thing in the morning.
HARMONY: Now Charlie.
IVES: Remember the testament he wrote for me? Page two of the East Coast Underwriter!! Page two Harmony!! I was a pioneer. I made that business spin like a top.
HARMONY: Your health is too fragile, Charlie. Maybe a bit more time.
IVES: But it's been seven years.
HARMONY: You need your rest.
IVES: But I've changed. I'm different. I'm calm. I'm placid. I want to go back to work!
HARMONY: Well maybe we can call Mike in a few weeks and see what he has to say.
IVES: He's an old woman. What does he know?
HARMONY: He was your partner.
IVES: A man has to work. He can't just loaf around all day. Look at Mr. Stevens.
HARMONY: Why does he have to work like Mr. Stevens?
IVES: To live. To be alive. To support his family.
HARMONY: You do all those things.
IVES: But to stay in the world. I am slipping away. Please don't let me slip away. I want to be a business man again. I liked having an office on Wall Street. I liked going to meetings.
HARMONY: I know you did Charlie.
IVES: I want to teach my agents to sell. I want everyone to be protected. I don't want anyone to ever have to worry again.
HARMONY: So they can play your music.
IVES: And their own music if they like. Whatever they want. No one should be ashamed. (She hugs him.) Mr. Stevens has made such a success of himself, you know. He's a vice-president. In charge of a whole department at the Hartford.—Do you think he might take a dim view of me if he knew what I did now?
HARMONY: Don't bother yourself Charlie.
IVES: He has the bearing of success about him. Here I am retired for seven years at age fifty-five and he's still making his contribution. Bigger and better ever day. He's teaching. He's inspiring others by the fine example he sets.
HARMONY: Now Charlie.
IVES: I know what that's like Harmony. I want to go back to it. It's what men are supposed to do. I want to embrace it again. Stevens would think I was a sissy if he knew. He is a Harvard man. He goes fishing. He drinks Scotch.
HARMONY: Charlie, you mustn't say that.
IVES: I want to go back into business.
HARMONY: But you know you can't.
IVES: My life feels so hopelessly out of balance. I want to contribute. (Pause.)
HARMONY: Charlie . . . I could have married any of Dave's friends from Yale. Tall, handsome and well to do. But instead, I married the son of a band master from Danbury.—You made a fine living. You ran a fine business that keeps on growing because of the hard work you put in. You spent half your life contributing to the security of the world and your family and the other writing music that people will be playing and listening to until the sun burns out, and that is as balanced a life as I know of —I think it's time that you got some rest.
IVES: Do you really think they will?
IVES: Listen to my music, people like Mr. Stevens and his wife? Eventually?
HARMONY: I know it's your nature, but you can't fret of Mr. Stevens' success as a business man and what he may or may not think of your life. You are as grand a success as this century has produced.
IVES: Oh Harmony.
HARMONY: Everybody's life has to have its own shape and balance and sometimes that point of balance moves. We just have to find it again.
IVES: I suppose.
HARMONY: When Mr. Stevens retires from his office at the end of the day, he only has his life to occupy him. You have your music.
IVES: And I have you.
HARMONY: And you have me . . . yes. (Pause. )
IVES: I was a damn good insurance man, wasn't I?
HARMONY: You were the best! (They kiss. —Elsie slams the front door as if she has just come in.)
HARMONY: Mrs. Stevens.
ELSIE: We're going to have a bit of a dinner party in your honor. Wallace and I were out stocking up the larder. We didn't want to disturb you.
HARMONY: Oh you needn't trouble on our account.
ELSIE: Oh please, please, please, Mrs. Ives. (Elsie goes into the kitchen. speaking from top of stairs) I have to put these things away or they'll spoil. (The door opens. Enter Stevens with a large fish-shaped package draped across his arms.)
STEVENS: Les fuits de mer son ici, tout le monde! (Elsie re-enters from the kitchen.)
ELSIE: Don't you just love it when men speak French?
HARMONY: I think you should come upstairs for a bit of rest.
IVES: But, Harmony . . .
HARMONY: And then I will come back down to help set up things for supper.
ELSIE: Thank you very much Mrs. Ives, but that won't be necessary.
HARMONY: No, no. I insist.—Come now Charlie. (She takes him upstairs.)
ELSIE: And you, monsieur, into the kitchen with that fish. (Elsie leads Stevens offstage. Blackout.)
The dining room. After dinner. Elsie and Harmony are putting the china away in the china cabinet.
HARMONY: That salmon was absolutely lovely. And the sauce was just like velvet.
ELSIE: Oh it was nothing.
HARMONY: I have never seen Charlie gobble up his dinner with such fervor.
ELSIE: Thank you very much.
HARMONY: With a talent like yours, you must be cooking all the time.
ELSIE: Every now and again.
HARMONY: I just don't have the knack for it. I suppose my hobby is reading.
ELSIE: Oh, well, I don't really find time for books or magazines, but I do love to read the backs of seed packets. Very carefully for the instructions. How to plant. Where to plant. When to cultivate. When to fertilize. How much and how often to water. They tell you everything you need to know. And of course I look at the pictures on the front to see how they'll turn out. What they will grow into. Imagine whole bunches of them everywhere. In vases. In rows. By the walk and in the window pots. So beautiful. (Picks up a dinner plate.) Tell me, what do you think of this china pattern?
HARMONY: Oh, I think it's lovely.
ELSIE: No really. Tell me honestly. What do you really think of it?
HARMONY: I think it's wonderful.
ELSIE: They are from Wallace's side, you know. I find them a bit garish.
HARMONY: Oh no, not in the least.
ELSIE: Well, say what you will. They are certainly not my first choice. With all those designs, you can't even tell if there is food on your plate. But I have gotten used to them. And as I say, they are nothing like what I myself would have chosen, but there you have it. Garish china.—Personally, I prefer a subtle pattern. Just around the border perhaps. Or maybe even plain white, but I was not given any choice, then was I? No, of course not. I had this gaudy china thrust upon me on my wedding day and what was I to do? Refuse? How could I refuse? I couldn't. So there we are. Gaudy china. Nothing to be done. Water under the bridge . . . you know Harmony, I have spent the last 33 years of my life with plates, cups, saucers, creamers, tureens, ladles, casseroles, and gravy boats that make me sick to the very pit of my stomach. (Pause.)
HARMONY: I find them quite attractive.
ELSIE: Really Mrs. Ives, I know they are putrid. You don't have to humor me. I have learned to deal with it perfectly well over the course of time. (Holds up a plate, pointing at the design.) Take this one for example. What in the name of God are these people doing?
HARMONY: (Looking intently at the plate.) It looks as if they are frolicking .
ELSIE: Yes . . . well, who wants to look at that while they are eating. A bunch of people frolicking . . .I mean really. What a silly idea.
HARMONY: Don't you find it pleasant and cheery?
ELSIE: Not in the least. I find it pointless and stupid. A bunch of people frolicking like that. I find it graceless and unseemly.—Sometimes it is all I can do to keep from just shattering each and every one of these hideous things. Just smashing them all to bits right here in the middle of the den and leaving the shards in a heap for all the world to see.— But as you can see, I resist that urge. I have grown accustomed to Wallace's dishes. I have learned to live with their inadequacies and their eccentricities. Learned not to expect to much from them. Learned even to love them if such a thing is possible . . . and all in all, you know, we are really quite happy, in our own sort of way. (Pause.)
HARMONY: I wonder how the men are doing up stairs?
ELSIE: They're big boys, I am sure they are doing fine.
HARMONY: Let's finish up and pay them a visit.
ELSIE: Splendid! What a splendid idea. (They continue putting away china in the cabinet. Elsie holds a piece of crystal.)
ELSIE: Tell me Mrs. Ives., what do you think of these goblets? (Blackout.)
The guest bedroom. Ives is sitting up in bed. Stevens sits beside in a wing chair.
STEVENS: . . . and I remember one winter I was at the "Long Key" fishing club. Coconut palms. White sand like cake flour. And these little yellow cabins each named after a local fish. All connected by a board side walk worn smooth as ice from the heels of who knows how many fishermen.
IVES: Which fish were you staying in?
STEVENS: (Thinks.) . . . yes . . . the Bonito. I was staying in the Bonito. Just a simple little shack, it was . . . So, it was late in the evening, but with the full moon beaming down like noontime and I have already made quite an indelible mark on a case of scotch and somehow I find myself on that board side walk in the moon light searching for my cottage and who should confront me, but none other than Ernest Hemingway, a frequent visitor to the same fishing camp. He blocks my way with his stocky body and demands that I apologize to his sister.
IVES: His sister? What did you say to his sister?
STEVENS: Well I don't have the slightest idea who his sister even is, let alone what I might have said, let alone why he is confronting me. And I am sort of swaying in the breeze at this point and he repeats, "Apologize to my sister." And I think, "have I met Hemingway's sister?" Because according to this pugnacious bearded fellow before me I did, and I must have said something to offend her. But before I can clarify the thought, he squares up like John L. Sullivan and starts to stalk me. (Stevens squares as if to box.) So I get him in my sights and rear back . . . and WHAM!!! I'm down. Hemingway had a vicious left from down low and it caught me square in the temple. "You want more Stevens?" He shouts to me. So I get up and prepare to do him in with my own vicious left. After all, I am twice the man's size. I plant my feet, lead with a left and WHAM AGAIN!!! It's an overhand right and I'm in the sand for a second time.
IVES: Shoulda used the uppercut. Step right in and get him with the uppercut.
STEVENS: I was exhausted.
IVES: Get inside on him. Keep the guard up. Keep the chin back. Keep the feet pumping. Keep the . . .
STEVENS: Well now, I compose myself and work back up to my feet, but this time I have a plan. "Mr. Hemingway," I say. "I rather liked those Nick Adams stories of yours." And he says, "Really?" And I let loose with an uppercut square to the jaw and Hemingway goes flying!
IVES: Let him have it!
STEVENS: It was a real haymaker. Got all my weight behind it.
IVES: Right in the kisser.
STEVENS: Well, things are just wonderful until I feel this pain in my arm and realize that I have broken my hand on his bearded chin. So I say "Look, I am deeply sorry whatever it was I said to your sister." And he leans against the coconut palm and says, "O.K., just don't let it happen again."—To this day I don't know what I said or even who his sister is for that matter, but you see, that is just the kind of magical thing that can happen down there . . . you really must join me this coming winter.
IVES: This man you fought with. This "Ernest Hemingway"?
IVES: Is he with American Life & Casualty? (Pause )
HARMONY: (Entering the guest room with Elsie behind.) Charlie, are you all right? I thought I heard a ruckus.
STEVENS: Ruckus? Lord no, Mrs. Ives.
IVES: We were just chewing the fat.
STEVENS: That's right. Chewing the fat.
IVES: Nothing to worry over.
HARMONY: (To the Stevenses.) I'must thank you both for a lovely evening.
STEVENS: The night is young Mrs. Ives.
HARMONY: But we are not, Mr. Stevens.
ELSIE: Come now Wallace. I think it is high time we all got some rest too.
STEVENS: Rest? But I'm not even tired.
ELSIE: All the better.
STEVENS: Well, I suppose it's goodnight. ("Goodnights" all around.) I'll see you in the morning on my way to work.
ELSIE: Come now Wallace. It is time for bed..
(She leads him out. They exit. Harmony tucks Ives in. Fade to black.)
The Stevens bedroom. Separate beds. Stevens, in pajamas and robe, is gazing out the window. Elsie enters ready for bed. She has made herself pretty. She sits on the corner of her bed.
ELSIE: Wallace? (He puts his hands in his pockets and rocks lightly, gazing out the window.)Wallace, I am thinking about the spring of 1898. (Pause.) Do you remember the spring of 1898? (Pause.) It was the coolest spring on record, after what was not such a terribly chilly winter. But the spring made up for it with its coolness. Don't you remember? It was unseasonably cool. We wore sweaters until the middle of June. We wondered aloud when it would begin to get warm. We waited and waited. (Pause.) You were all bundled up when I first met you. In a Harvard sweater. With a flannel shirt beneath. Buffalo plaid. Green and black. With a woolen undershirt. With a button at the top. With your hands in your pockets. Rocking. From foot to foot. From side to side. Like a nervous, college boy. And you said. You told me, how it was most likely even cooler in Cambridge because spring always came later rather than sooner to areas near the water. And I asked you, "Is Cambridge near the water?" And you said, "Of course it is Miss Katchel, where else would it be?" And then I blushed. (Pause.) You were a Harvard man. You pulled a thread from the cuff of your sweater. You tied it around the ring finger of my left hand and you told me, "Miss Katchel, you are the prettiest girl in all of Reading, PA." With the wind blowing the loose end of the thread and tickling my ring finger. (Pause.) Wallace, you are the best insurance man I know.
STEVENS: (Still gazing out.) Mmmmmmm? (Pause.)
ELSIE: You certainly seem to be enjoying our guests.
STEVENS: (He turns to her.) I had Willard get me a book of his songs you know.
ELSIE: Whose songs?
STEVENS: Mr. Ives. He writes. Music.
ELSIE: Does he now? Well.
STEVENS: 114 songs to be exact. In the book that is. And I brought them with me to the Canoe Club the other day when I was by for lunch. I gave them to Ernie, the piano player. I wanted to hear the music while I ate. So I ordered my martini, and I ordered my lunch and I waited. Lunch arrived, a rare roastbeef, openface with gravy and a great mound of fried potatoes, but no music, just Ernie hunched over this book, hands poised above the keyboard. Trembling. I ate a nice wedge of pie. Had a bit of brandy too. All in silence.
STEVENS: And Ernie says to me when I walk over, "Mr. Stevens, I am very sorry, but I looked at each and every song in this book and they can't be played. The human hand is not meant to go that way."
ELSIE: Yes, I know. (Stevens sits down next to her.)
STEVENS: I stayed at the Canoe Club until almost a quarter past three, and eventually with the aid of four or five good, stiff scotches I convinced old Ernie to crack that book again. The bar was empty and Ernie was nice and loose and he just tore into a particular song entitled "The Celestial Highway." And it was remarkable. Just chord after chord. With all these runs and stops in between, sweat is pouring off his brow, he's battling this piece of music for all he's worth. He's squinting and grimacing like a weight lifter at the harmonies. And pounding his foot in rhythm. Like a hymn, but with the stamp of reality right there in the service . . . when this stuffy, old curmudgeon toddles into the bar and announces that this music is interfering with the process of his digestion. I apologize. Ernie turns beet red. Took three more drinks to calm him down.
ELSIE: Oh my.
STEVENS: Elsie it is just so real. It sounds like the entire world, singing. Not just the people, but the objects and the ideas too! Plato was wrong, art is not an imitation of essence. It is the song of essence! All the ideas singing at once in a tumult!
ELSIE: . . . yes, that's so wonderful.
STEVENS: Elsie, you see, he writes music that fights you when you play it. Just like the world. He creates a unity of dissimilarity out of all the elements at his disposal, no more and no less orderly than the world which confronts him. All in a perfect miniature on those five lines of the musical clef. Do you see? Can you see it?
ELSIE: Well . . . yes. I think maybe I can.
STEVENS: It all coheres. Music. Insurance. Poetry. It's all just striking the gong in a different place and hearing what sound you produce. Elsie, think of the lilies of the field, they toil not, neither do they spin! But what music it all makes! A celebration of things eternal!
ELSIE: Yes, I see it. I see it. (He embraces her.)
STEVENS: Oh Mr. Ives, Mr. Ives, Mr. Ives . . . (Pause.) Elsie, I feel . . . alive. Completely and utterly alive!
ELSIE: Me too Wallace. I feel alive.
STEVENS: It feels real!
ELSIE: Yes it does Wallace. It certainly does. We're alive. We're awake. It's all happening right now. Right here. I'm giddy!
STEVENS: Yes! I'm giddy too. Giddy with delight! I'm free!
ELSIE: I haven't felt this way since you put that thread around my finger and told me I was the prettiest girl in Reading.
STEVENS: (Pause.) Really?
ELSIE: When we met Wallace and you put the thread from your Harvard sweater around my finger.
STEVENS: Did I do that?
ELSIE: And you told me I was the prettiest girl in Reading . . .and how you used to read to me . . .
STEVENS: (Pops up.) I've got it! I'm going to give him a book of my poetry. I'm going to give him Harmonium.
ELSIE: Will you read to me Wallace?
STEVENS: I don't have time now, can't you see that? (Pause. She sinks.) .. . . Yes, I will let him read my poems. And I'll have him play for me on our piano.
ELSIE: (Collecting herself.) If that is what you want dear.
STEVENS: (He stops.) You don't think I should?
ELSIE: No, no. Go ahead. I think it's a fine idea.
STEVENS: You think maybe he won't like them?
ELSIE: I didn't say that Wallace.
STEVENS: He' s an artist himself. He writes music. How could he not embrace a fellow artist? A fellow poet.
ELSIE: Yes, but Wallace, music is so robust. And poetry . . . is so . . . well . . . sissy. (Pause. Stevens sits.) But for all I know, maybe Mr. Ives doesn't think that poetry is sissy. And there's only one way to find out you know and that's to give him the book. (Pause. She tucks in beneath her covers and flicks out her bedside light.) Goodnight dear. Sleep well. (He stares into space. Blackout.)
Stevens' office at the Hartford. Stevens sits behind his desk, vest unbuttoned, tie loose. Willard sits across form him, pad in hand.
WILLARD: The performance guarantee is as follows, we receive payment from the city of Philadelphia each Monday for the work done in accordance with the bond and then distribute in turn that money firstly to the laborers and secondly to the material furnishers until the completion of the job, at which time we divide the remainder between Mr. Fellberg and any secured creditors in chronological order of the debt. (Willard waits for a reply. Pause.) Do I have that right Mr. Stevens?
STEVENS: Excuse me?
WILLARD: The terms of performance, do I have them right?
STEVENS: . . . Fine, Willard . . . whatever you say . . .
WILLARD: We pay the laborers first and then the material furnishers?
STEVENS: Yes, fine. Pay everyone.
WILLARD: But the laborers are furnishing a portion of their own materials, should they be compensated in their capacity as laborers or material furnishers? And as if that weren't problem enough, the unsecured creditors are owed for the pipe by the laborers who initially . . .
STEVENS: You know Willard, this surety bond we've written? It's like the Declaration of Independence. Today is like the Fourth of July.
WILLARD: I . . . I . . . I don't understand.
STEVENS: This surety bond of ours. Think about what it really means. How elegant and noble a thing it is!
WILLARD: This surety bond?
STEVENS: Think about Mr. Fellberg. We are guaranteeing his freedom to do business and provide service to his fellow man. We are vouching for his character. We are facing any man who might decry against him. (Stevens rises to his feet.) Herman Fellberg. Honest. Hard working. Good intentioned man. A plumbing contractor among . . . (Catches himself. Sits.) I'm sorry Willard, I don't know quite what came over me.
WILLARD: Not at all Mr. Stevens.
STEVENS: Been a long day.—Maybe we should break for lunch soon.
WILLARD: . . . well, uh . . . uh . . .
STEVENS: Yes Willard, out with it.
WILLARD: It's only 10:15.
STEVENS: Is that so?
WILLARD: I'm afraid it is sir. (Shows him his watch.)
STEVENS: So it is. 10:15. (Pause.)
WILLARD: Seems a lot later though.
STEVENS: So . . . we were talking about the Ives case, weren't we?
STEVENS: Of course Willard, we were just speaking about the performance guarantee in the Ives . . . (Stops.) . ..the Fellberg case.
WILLARD: Exactly, sir. There was this problem with the material furnishers.
STEVENS: Yes, as I was saying. The Fellberg case. Why don't you begin by reading aloud the performance guarantee? (Blackout )
The den. Afternoon. Ives sits on the couch, Harmony at his side. Stevens in a wing chair.
ELSIE: (Voice off.) Lunch time! (Elsie enters.) It is not every day that Wallace is home from the office for lunch. In fact, he's never been home from the office for lunch. I don't know if I even recognize him at this hour of the day. Wallace, is that you?
STEVENS: That's very funny Elsie.
ELSIE: Well now, we have some lovely ham salad with lettuce and tomato. And some tuna salad with mayonnaise. And some left over roast beef . . . rare I think. And some. . . what's in this one? Oh yes, some egg salad with cucumber.
HARMONY: The sandwiches look delicious Mrs. Stevens. Really they do.
ELSIE: It is so seldom that we entertain. I'm afraid I get a bit rusty. Wallace doesn't care for having people over.
ELSIE: Why shouldn't they know the truth?
HARMONY: Well, they look so very good indeed.
STEVENS: Mr. Ives, I've been meaning to ask you, when do you think you might like to join me in the Keys this February?
HARMONY: Well I . . .
STEVENS: Health permitting of course.—Will the week of the 23rd be convenient?
ELSIE: Oh, and I almost forgot. I brought the newspaper if anyone would like to keep up on their current affairs.
ELSIE: Says here that they're taking a rather dim view of this fellow Hitler.
HARMONY: I'll take the ham salad!
ELSIE: It seems he's annexed the Sudetenland.
HARMONY: And Charlie will have the tuna fish!
ELSIE: (Reading from a newspaper) . . . Adolf Hitler, architect of the Nazi movement and one time house painter, today announced that . . .
IVES: House painter?! That son of a bitch, I'll paint his house!
ELSIE: See for yourself. (She tosses the paper to Ives, but Harmony jumps in and intercepts it.)
IVES: Harmony! (The sound of a low flying airplane passing close overhead.)
HARMONY: Oh my God . . . (Ives jumps to the window, shaking his fist at the skies.)
IVES: That's right! Get out of here with that noisy machine of yours! Go fly it where there ain't nobody around to hear.
HARMONY: Charlie, don't worry. Go back and sit down.
IVES: You think you own the skies?!?!
HARMONY: He hates low flying planes.
IVES: Son of a bitch! Ruins the whole atmosphere of things with that racket!
HARMONY: Charlie, please, sit back down! (She leads him back towards the couch.)
IVES: And don't think they can't fall straight out of the sky every so often and right on some innocent person with a family to support. That's what I used to tell my salesmen. It may be one in a million, but what do you do when you're that one? I'll tell you what you do if you're smart? You collect. You collect because you bought the proper kind of policy.
ELSIE: You know, Hitler flies his planes very low. Twenty feet from the ground. Dropping bombs and firing bullets everywhere. (Spreads out her arms and begins to mimic a plane.)
STEVENS: (Pushing her arms to her sides) Elsie!!
ELSIE: I've seen the pictures! They come swooping down out of the sky like bats pouncing on the peaceful unassuming towns of the Sudetenland.
IVES: (Restrained by Harmony) Why that no good rotten . . .
HARMONY: (With surprising force.) Enough! (Pause )
STEVENS: Elsie, why don't you go show Mrs. Ives your greenhouse. She's forcing some tulips, you know.
ELSIE: But we're all having such a good time here.
STEVENS: I'm sure she'd love to see them. (Catches Harmony's eye.) You go. We'll be fine here. Nothing to be worried about.
HARMONY: Yes. of course. Thank you.
STEVENS: The fresh air will do you a world of good Elsie.
ELSIE: I suppose if you really want to see them . . .
HARMONY: Oh, yes.
ELSIE: Well then, the greenhouse is this way.
HARMONY: Good-bye, Charlie. I will be right outside if you need me.
IVES: I'll give a holler.
ELSIE: Shall we? (Elsie and Harmony exit. Ives looks out the window and watches the two women exit. A long pause.)
IVES: (Ives crosses to the window and looks out.) What an odd coincidence. My grandfather Isaac had those very same shrubs back the old Ives house. He made all the hats in Danbury, you know. I was born smelling the tiny white flowers at my grandmother Ives' kitchen window.
STEVENS: You'll have to come back in the spring to smell them here.
IVES: My cousin Amelia who is a painter did a lovely one of that old house with the old pear tree that they built the house around, so as not to harm it. Can you imagine them doing such a thing now? They'd go and chop it right down, wouldn't they? That pear tree is gonna outlast us all. It is the oldest living member of the Ives family! Must be 250 years! (Pause.)
STEVENS: How were the pears?
IVES: Come again?
STEVENS: From the tree? Were the pears sweet?
IVES: Actually they were lousy. Moss and I, my brother, used to throw them at each other. And they made wonderful projectiles because they were those small, stout, kind of pears. Nearly round. Catch it in the head with one of those things and the whole town knows!
STEVENS: How so?
IVES: The scream for one thing. And then the lump. Sticks way out like this.— I learned the curve ball with those pears. Just rest the index finger right on that old stem and SNAP! She drops right off the end of the table!
STEVENS: Wonderful . . . you know Mr. Ives, the oddest thing happened to me yesterday while I was in New York City. I was browsing, as is my custom, in a rare and used book store near Gramercy Park, on twenty-third street, and to my astonishment and knowing the proprietor was from Danbury, I asked if he knew you. He said he didn't, but he showed me a book by Charles Ives. And of course out of curiosity I bought it. A book of songs! 114 songs! (Ives turns and looks at him)
IVES: Oh my, you didn't?
STEVENS: I most certainly did.
IVES: Well, I . . . I . . . I'm an insurance man by trade you know.
STEVENS: Exactly . . . I thought . . . My God! What a coincidence that you and I should both be . . .
STEVENS: Oh, just that . . . that you wrote music. And of course, out of curiosity, I bought the book. And since I happened to have it with me when I was having lunch at my club, the Canoe Club. And the piano player, Ernie, was there, and, again, just out of curiosity, I gave them to him to play.
IVES: You did?
STEVENS: Yes, I did . . . and he said that the human hand wasn't meant to go that way!
STEVENS: Yes. That is exactly what he said! But Mr. Ives, I think the songs are brilliant!
IVES: You do?
STEVENS: Yes, of course I do. Brilliant and noble.
IVES: Mr. Stevens, music is a public art form! It's done right out there in the open at a town meeting, or a church, or a men's club or some kind of public event. And if it makes the folks there break stride and experience something new, a new perception of the world . . . I just have to thank you for giving that piano player my book of songs!!
STEVENS: Much obliged.
IVES: By God, you made them put down their forks and listen. Why should music be constrained by the way we are taught to hear? There are a million ways to hear the world sing and you showed those fellas a new one. Course I write music, but who am I, some European professor of musicological something-or-other . . . no, I'm a damn Yankee Mr. Stevens, with a grandpa in the hat business! I sold insurance and lots of it too! And let me tell you I am as proud of every policy I sold as I am of every note that I write. I've yet to write a chord that resolves as well as a sale when it closes, with that signature right on the line. We get a commission, and the customer gets peace of mind. Now that is indeed a beautiful thing.
STEVENS: Money is a form of poetry.
IVES: Yes . . . that's a good one . . . it is a form of poetry isn't it?
STEVENS: You know, Ives . . . we have more in common than you think.
IVES: We do?
STEVENS: More than just the insurance business.
IVES: Well . . . we're both damn Yankees.
STEVENS: Pennsylvania Dutch actually.
IVES: You don't say? Have a real way with the egg noodles, the Pennsylvania Dutch do.
STEVENS: I suppose we do.
IVES: I'm working on a thing now I call the Universe Symphony.—Imagine a valley with the town chorus right there at the bottom by the stream. And a band or an orchestra on every hill top. Ten orchestras! Twenty brass bands! And each has its own theme. The chorus is singing and the stream rushes past the rocks and the leaves rustle in the wind. And in the next valley the same thing. Orchestra. Band. Chorus. Stream. Leaves. And in every town. And in every state of the union. And every country in the world. Until the music would swell up like a rosebud and burst into outer space, bathing the moon and all the stars with its euphony! (Pause)
STEVENS: Play it for me.
IVES: I promised my wife that I'd stay away from the piano.
STEVENS: Just a bar, a few chords?
IVES: Well. I . . .
STEVENS: Mr. Ives, I beseech you. Play for me. I want to hear that music flowing from its source! (Ives sits at the piano.)
IVES: I'll do the pianissimo, so she won't hear. (Ives plays. Stevens listens, transfixed and in ecstasy. Ives finishes. Silence.)
STEVENS: Mr. Ives, there is something I want to give you. (Stevens goes to the book shelf and removes a volume of his poetry. He hands the book to Ives who reads the spine.)
IVES: You went and wrote a book of poems! Well don't that just take the beef out of your jerky. (Ives leafs through the book.) Why don't you read me one?
STEVENS: I'm not much for performing.
IVES: Performing? By jingo, it's a poem Stevens! A poem's got to be read aloud. You can't catch the spirit of the thing if it ain't read aloud. Now can you?
STEVENS: Well I . . .
IVES: No-siree-bob. A poem is man addressing the world, not a musty, old book. Authors are actors and books are a stage. Declaim. Orate. Emote. Pretend you're Homer. Pretend you're the blind poet Milton. (Ives leafs through the book.) Here . . . here you go. This one is perfect. "Poet be seated at the piano." And here I am. Seated at the piano. Now read it to me, slow and easy.
STEVENS: (Reading from the book, mumbling.)
Poet be seated at the piano.
Play the present . . .
IVES: (Jumping up.) No ! No ! No ! Read it like you mean it!
STEVENS: I do mean it.
IVES: Then read it that way.
STEVENS: I thought I was.
IVES: No, no, no . . . you sound timid. Go after that poem.—From the top.
STEVENS: (With marginally more energy) Poet be . . .
IVES: No, no, no.— I got it. (Ives stands up.) I'm not gonna sit til you convince me to sit down.
STEVENS: What's that got to do with anything?
IVES: Look here in the poem. The fella keeps asking the poet to be seated. He wants the poet to sit down at the piano, but obviously the poet does not want to sit down. Something is keeping this poet from sitting and we are going to find out what it is.
STEVENS: We are?
IVES: So I am not going to sit down, until you convince me to sit down.— Here I am. Standing up. Make me sit down. Read me your poem!
Poet, be seated at the piano.
Play the present, its hoo-hoo- hoo,
Its shoo-shoo-shoo . . .
IVES: Come on, you gotta make those sounds.—Don't look at me that way . . . I didn't write it.
STEVENS: You don't really want me to . . .?
IVES: You're darn tootin' I do.
STEVENS: It's embarrassing.
IVES: So is being alive.
STEVENS: (Weakly.) Hoo-hoo-hoo.
IVES: That's pathetic.
STEVENS: I said I wasn't a good reader.
IVES: Nonsense. Nonsense!
STEVENS: (Marginally better.) Hoo-hoo-hoo.
IVES: Do it like you mean it! Hoo-hoo-hoo!!!
IVES: Nooo! You sound like an owl with congestion! Hoo!-hoo! hoo!
IVES: There you go, that's more like it!
IVES: Now we're talking'.
Its shoo-shoo-shoo, its ric-a-nic.
Its envious cachinations.
IVES: There you go ! Full steam ahead!
If they throw stones upon the roof
While you practice arpeggios,
It is because they carry down the stairs
A body in rags.
Be seated at the piano.
IVES: Hmmmmm . . . I'm not convinced.
That lucid souvenir of the past,
IVES: Nope .
That airy dream of the future,
The unclouded concerto . . .
IVES: Just stretch out the old legs..
The snow is falling.
Strike the piercing chord.
(Pause. Ives looks at the chair.)
IVES: Almost had me. (Stevens reads. Ives resists the impulse to sit. Stevens doubles, triples, quadruples his efforts with each line. He must make Ives sit, but Ives remains steadfast and standing, drawing forth a rhetorical intensity from Stevens that all but lifts Ives off the floor and deposits him at the piano bench.)
Be thou the voice,
Not you. Be thou, be thou
The voice of angry fear,
The voice of this besieging pain.
Be thou that wintry sound
As of the great wind howling,
By which sorrow is released,
In a starry placating.
We may return to Mozart.
He was young, and we, we are old.
The snow is falling
And the streets are full of cries.
(Pause. Their eyes meet.)
STEVENS: Be seated thou. (Ives collapses into the seat, clutching his chest. Stevens runs to him.)
IVES: Harmony . . . Harmony . . . (Fade to black.)
The Stevens' bedroom. Elsie is sitting up in bed with a cloth across her forehead. Stevens at her side.
ELSIE: The house seems freer don't you think? More open and relaxed? And just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. It was getting so congested with all those guests going this way and that. (Pause.) I'm glad he's going to be fine. I knew it was nothing serious (Pause.) And don't go blaming yourself Wallace. There was nothing you could do. The poor man is just in a frail state. How were you to know that you'd nearly kill him? You couldn't know.
STEVENS: There is nothing to feel sorry about Elsie. Mr. Ives is made of sterner stuff than the average fellow. He is going to recover like that! (Snaps finger. Pause.) Elsie?
STEVENS: Do we still have that letter?
ELSIE: (Takes the cloth away from her forehead.) The letter?
STEVENS: From Columbia, to speak at the commencement.
ELSIE: Why yes we do. It is right here at our bedside.
STEVENS: I was afraid you'd already turned them down.
ELSIE: Well . . . with all the hubbub . . . it must have slipped my mind entirely.
STEVENS: I was thinking . . .
STEVENS: Maybe I will take them up and read a few after all.
ELSIE: To read?
STEVENS: Just a brief one or two perhaps.
STEVENS: If they haven't already booked T.S. Eliot or somebody like that.
ELSIE: Oh Wallace . . . I am going to have to be pinched. Pinch me.
STEVENS: Elsie, that's scandalous.
ELSIE: Wallace this is our bedroom.
STEVENS: Where shall I pinch?
ELSIE: Any where you like dear. It is your prerogative.
STEVENS: Hmmmmmm . . . (Pause. Stiffly, he reaches under the sheets and gives an awkward, little pinch.)
ELSIE: Oh Wallace.
STEVENS: There we are.
ELSIE: Will you practice on me?—Uh, reading the poems, I mean.
STEVENS: I suppose I may have to practice a bit, won't I?
ELSIE: Oh Wallace . . . I will write them in the morning. (Pause.)
STEVENS: I have to go to the office.
ELSIE: But it's night.
ELSIE: To write poetry?
STEVENS: With all the hubbub, I've fallen days behind in my case work. I may never get out from under it.
ELSIE: I'll wait up.
STEVENS: That's silly.
ELSIE: I will.
STEVENS: I may be very late.
ELSIE: No matter.
STEVENS: I think you should sleep.
ELSIE: I will not be able.
STEVENS: (Sighs.) I will see you as soon as time permits.
ELSIE: Good night Wallace.
STEVENS: Good night Elsie. (Small, formal kiss good night. He exits. She sits up in bed. Fade to black.)
Stevens' office. It is night. Willard sits behind Stevens' desk, which he has piled with law books and papers. He is working intently.—The doorknob turns. He jumps. He looks around. He does not know what to do. Stevens enters with hat, coat and scarf as before.
WILLARD: I'm sorry Mr. Stevens. I didn't know . . . (He tries futilely to gather up his things.)
STEVENS: What have you got there Willard?
WILLARD: This? (Pointing to the desk.)
STEVENS: Yes, these piles.
WILLARD: My last exam sir.
STEVENS: Now what have we here . . . (Stevens leans over his shoulder to look at the books and papers.) First year contracts course . . . hmmmm . . .
WILLARD: The final.
STEVENS: You using the study sheets I made for you?
WILLARD: Got 'em right here.
STEVENS: Easiest thing in law school. You stick to those basic concepts. You keep your cool and go methodically through every factor and you follow each line of reasoning all the way to the end just like I showed you on the Fellberg case last week. That was the real thing Willard, and you did just fine. (Stevens pats him on the back.) Good luck. (Stevens waits for him to leave.)
WILLARD: I thought if I worked in your office, a little something might rub off.
STEVENS: Aren't you afraid it might be my disposition?
WILLARD: I'll take my chances.—Maybe I'll write some poetry.
STEVENS: No . . . you don't want to do that. Too damn much trouble.
WILLARD: I've been trying my hand.
STEVENS: Study Willard.
WILLARD: I am sir.
STEVENS: You know there is nothing magic about this office. It's a place just like any other. Four walls, a window, a door.
WILLARD: Oh . . . you re wrong Mr. Stevens . . . it has a special quality to it, your office does. A glow. A man can think here. He can work here. He can shut out his trouble and do what needs to be done . . . that is at least I can.
STEVENS: As persuasive as that might be Willard . . .
WILLARD: Please let me stay Mr. Stevens. Please. I won't bother you a bit. I promise.—I really enjoyed that black tea you gave me.
STEVENS: I'm glad.
WILLARD: And I drank it with the jam like you suggested.
STEVENS: How was it?
WILLARD: Took some getting used to.
STEVENS: Things do.
WILLARD: You know, I really liked the new one that Mrs. Baldwin was typing out for you the other day.
STEVENS: (Smiling.) You did, did you?
WILLARD: I certainly did. It's the first one of yours that I ever understood. It's a song! It's an old man, all alone with a banjo, booming out a song! Here . . . I'll show you . . . (Willard takes a sheet of paper out of his pocket.)
STEVENS: (Amused.) Where did you get that?
WILLARD: It's a carbon Mrs. Baldwin did for me.
STEVENS: I thought you just read my legal writing?
WILLARD: Well . . . you know what they say . . . sausage or bacon, it all comes from the pig. (Stevens chuckles.)
STEVENS: Is that what they say? (Willard stands, clears his throat theatrically, and in an exuberant and playful style, reads the poem out loud, miming that he is strumming on a banjo. Stevens is heartily amused and thrilled by the performance.)
The mulberry is a double tree.
Mulberry, shade me, shade me a while.
A white, pink, purple berry tree,
A very dark-leaved berry tree.
Mulberry, shade me, shade me a while.
A churchyard kind of bush as well,
A silent sort of bush, as well.
Mulberry, shade me, shade me a while.
It is a shape of life described
By another shape without a word.
Mulberry, shade me, shade me a while—
With nothing fixed by a single word.
Mulberry, shade me, shade me a while.
(Stevens laughs and applauds.)
WILLARD: It's an old man making music all by himself under a tree. They're listening, they're not listening. He doesn't care. He's just singing away under that old tree. (Pause. Stevens smiles.) What are you doing here this time of night Mr. Stevens?
STEVENS: Just clearing the decks for tomorrow.—These exams are gonna be tough, you know.
WILLARD: Is there anything else you'd suggest?
STEVENS: Well . . . as a matter of fact yes . . . the first thing I'd suggest is that you pull a chair in from outside and put it right here at the side of my desk for yourself . . . and while you are out, you take these keys . . . (Hands Willard some keys.) Go down to the kitchen and brew us a nice strong pot of that black tea you like so much now. And bring up some raspberry jam.
WILLARD: Yes, sir.
STEVENS: And don't you dawdle either, because we both have a long night ahead of us. (Willard exits in a hurry.—Stevens eases back into his chair. He taps his finger-tips lightly on the desk top. He looks out into space. He sighs; a long, slow, weary exhalation. Slow fade to black.)