This piece consists of three short thematically connected monologues which can be produced all together or any one separately.
Total running time approx. 8-10 minutes.
CAST: Penelope: 35-45 years old, rich, sophisticated, chic
Cassandra: 30-45 years old, African-American, middle class
Beth: 20-30 years old, middle America, blue-collar
SET: Three tall stools
TIME: The Ever-Present
Directing Note: I’m not wedded to the stage directions or stools, imagination is good in staging. However, I think it’s important they don’t touch or actively support each other. I see them as being still when not speaking.
(Three women sit on tall stools facing the audience but with faces directed towards their laps. Penelope stands up and addresses audience. The other two keep their faces down.)
“If I can’t have you nobody will,” he said. We were watching this late night talk show . . . “Has the romance gone out of your marriage?” Without thinking I laughed. I had been thinking a lot about how our marriage had gotten and I laughed out loud. My husband, George, is a powerful man, a politician . . . a politician with ambitions. “Why are you laughing?” he said in the quiet, powerful, controlled way he has. As if he was genuinely interested in the answer. He says things in a way that makes you believe him. Very controlled, my husband. Never a hair out of place, a wife out of line, or an emotion out of control. He never, for instance, hits me in public or where it will show.
“Why did you laugh? Has the romance gone out of our marriage?”
He was voted Man of the Year by the city fathers. I was voted Best Dressed by the local paper. Clothes by Armani, hair by Horst, fractured ribs by George. I went to the hospital and broke down crying on the examination table. It was gently suggested that I meet with a psychiatrist. I took several tests and he said I scored high on the paranoia scale. I asked what that meant. “It means you have an irrational fear that someone is out to get you.”
“Why did you laugh?” he asked again. Quiet, firm, insistent. I don’t know what I would do if I decided to leave. I don’t have money or a job. I dropped out of law school to marry him. “A good catch,” everybody said. Punched an old school friend of mine at our wedding. He’s a very jealous man. Or at least uses that as an excuse. He wouldn’t do that now, of course. Controls it. Waits until we get home . . . . “If you like him so much, why don’t you just go to a motel with him?” he’ll ask, his fingers digging firmly into my arm, my back pushed insistently to the wall. “If you ever leave me, I’ll kill you.”
Our kids are used to having things. They’re used to their schools, their friends, their clubs. How can I take them from that? What would we live on? Would they hate me? Would I even get custody? What would people say? That I ruined his career? I’m used to having things, I’m used to my friends, I’m used to my clubs. What would I do? Go to a shelter? Rely on the kindness of strangers?
I think, sometimes, of those Chinese women with bound feet. I feel close to them. Bound by wrappings . . . social . . . economic . . . physical. I feel as if I’ve had my feet bound from birth. So I stay. I perform as the happy politician’s wife, as the dazzling hostess, as the best dressed woman around town. I perform my “duties in the bedroom” as he calls them.
“Why did you laugh?” he asked. I said it was nothing. After a pause he said, “If you’re thinking about leaving, don’t. If I can’t have you nobody will.”
And I believe him.
(Penelope sits. Cassandra stands. Looks at Penelope and then addresses audience. Penelope watches her as she speaks, Beth keeps face down.
“I would never let that happen to me.” “Why doesn’t she leave?” “She must like it.” Damn I get tired of hearing that. You wanna know why I didn’t leave? Cause I was determined not to fall into that white folks stereotype of “Mama on welfare and a bunch of fatherless, delinquent kids.” I took the violence for years to avoid being that welfare mother white folks hated, only to have them turn around and tell me that I should have left long ago and applied for welfare.
I’m a strong woman. Finished high school, went to college. Had a nice home, a respectable job, and a husband who worked. Now am I mistaken or isn’t that the American Dream? Am I gonna give up all that and go on welfare with my three kids, become the white man’s burden, because my husband drink too much Colt 45 one night and shove me? Or slap me? Think about it. I got pride. I’m stubborn. I talked to my pastor ’bout it, ’bout the abuse he was putting me through. And pastor told me I need to turn the other cheek, that it was my cross to bear. Think of the family. Children need their father. Finally “their father” started beating on my oldest and I had him arrested. I went to court and I tried to explain to this judge that I wanted him punished so he knows it was serious but not so’s he lose his job. Cause then we’d just have another black man out on the street, plus we needed his support money. And the judge said I was wasting the court’s time and did I want him in jail or not? All the time my husband is saying he didn’t do anything. So I finally said, “Ok, put the bastard away for the rest of his life, I don’t care,” Then the man says, “Now, come on, he is your husband after all.” Finally I just said the hell with it. They give him probation.
First thing he came home he hit me with his fist cause I guess he figured he can get away with it now. And I hit him back cause that’s what I told myself I would do. Well he hit me again and that . . . that was a real wake up call. I called the cops. He said I hit him first. They arrested us both. Uh hunh, that’s right. Like I hurt him. Like I’m the batterer. He’s never been afraid of me. He doesn’t have to pay attention to what kind of mood I’m in when I come in from work. He doesn’t have to watch everything he says when we’re at a party because he’s afraid I’ll beat the shit out of him when we get home. It seemed like everywhere I turned in this thing I got police, social worker, lawyer, judge, and God, all wanting to tell me my business. You know who’s the only real expert on this thing? Me! And when I talked nobody listened.
(Cassandra sits. Beth looks up. Looks at Cassandra and then stands and addresses audience. Penelope and Cassandra watch her as she speaks.)
I always did what I was told. That’s the way it was in our house. My father would say, “A man’s home is his castle”. My mother would say, “Obey your father.” Bobby was like that song “misguided angel”? This misunderstood, misguided angel. My parents hated him. We ran away, got married, came home and right away Bobby started in on his improving Beth program. I had to be just so, the meals just so. Didn’t like my friends, didn’t like my parents, didn’t like my hair, didn’t like my attitude. And I obeyed. Honor and obey, right? I was focusing so hard on making sure that everything was perfect that I didn’t have room to think of anything else. Have his socks washed. Have dinner on the table at exactly 5:30. Of course, he didn’t always come home at 5:30, so I’d just sit by the stove and wait. I’m serious. Anything to avoid a fight.
My mother said, “Good husbands are made by God, good marriages by women.” My father said, “You made your own bed, now lie in it.”
So, Valentines Day, I wanted to make him happy, do it right, you know? So I copied this recipe out of about a ninety dollar cookbook at the Barnes and Nobles, prime-rib stuffed with lobster. It was the fanciest thing I ever made, took me all day. And . . . he never came home. I left it sitting there on the table with all the hearts and candles. Two a.m. he comes in, drunk, looks at the meat sitting there all congealed and says, “What is this? How much money did you waste on this shit?!” I started yelling at him and he hit me in the mouth. I never imagined anything like that, you know? I couldn’t believe that he was actually hitting me, that it was actually happening.
One time when I was a kid, we were all out playing in the park and this old blind dog came up to us. Its eyes were all glazed over and milky, just running around lost. But it was real friendly and you could see it belonged to somebody cause it had a collar. You’d call to it and it’d wag its tail like crazy and come running to your voice all trusting. Trusted you. Then these older kids came along and started calling the dog only they’d stand behind a fence or a tree and the dog would come running and run straight into the tree, hard. And they kept doing it over and over an laughing and the dog kept coming to the voice and wham into another tree, wham, into the slide, wham . . . finally the dog just stood there, shivering, afraid to move. I ran home crying and told my mother and my father came in and I told him and then he went out and shot that dog. Shot it. Said it was the kindest thing.
You ever feel like that dog? People call you, you jump up, wag your tail and wham, run head first into a goddamn tree. Wham . . . wham. I do. Sometimes I feel just like that dog.
(The other two women nod or react slightly. Beth sits back down. They all look at the audience. Lights snap out.)