2008 Grand Prize Winner: The Mistress of Wholesome

CAST

3 FEMALE / 0 MALE

MARGARET, a cardiologist’s wife (F-late 30s)

GWEN, a cardiologist’s mistress (F-30s)

CONNIE CALLARD, an adoption agent (F-20s) 


SETTING

The entire play takes place on the lower story of Margaret & Leland’s upscale, Washington D.C. condominium:  a living room with attached kitchenette.  Sliding glass doors run along the back wall of the condo, opening onto a spacious patio; while most of the patio cannot be seen, one might consider placing a few potted plants behind the glass to remind the audience of what lies beyond.  A front door opens at stage right.  The living room is furnished in the modernist style (sofa, coffee table, Barcelona chairs, end table with lamp and telephone), but the space appears cold and austere, with few personal effects.  It should mirror the state of Margaret and Leland’s marriage.  In one corner of the living room, a framed painting conceals a wall safe; alternatively, a free-standing safe is visible.  The kitchenette appears immaculately clean and well-ordered, as pristine as a model kitchen in a showroom.  As the play progresses, the condo slowly descends into chaos.              
              

(Curtain rises:  It is mid-afternoon.  Gwen appears outside the sliding doors in a trench coat, carrying an oversized handbag, appearing both sexually alluring and world-weary—the sort of woman who has been around the block so many times, she has worn down the pavement. Gwen knocks on the glass.  She waits, but nobody answers.  She peers into the condo, holding her hand above her eyes like a visor.  Then she tries the lock.  Finally, she picks up a nearby shovel and bashes a hole in the glass, reaches inside and unlocks the door. She turns on the table lamps and admires the condo.  Next, she enters the kitchen and rummages through the drawers until she finds a scissors.  She leaves the drawers open and uses the scissors to sever the telephone lines in both the kitchen and living room.  She looks at her watch, visibly impatient.  Finally, she rifles through the refrigerator/freezer and removes a pint-sized container of ice cream.  When she opens the lid to serve herself, jewelry pours out of the container.  No ice cream!  She returns to the refrigerator/freezer several times and removes additional food packages (a box of popsicles, a carton of cereal), but each contains only more jewelry.  Gwen is glaring at the jewelry with mounting hunger and frustration when Margaret enters the condo through the front door.  Margaret is the quintessential suburban matron, deeply concerned with appearances; her body clings desperately to its last vestiges of youth, while her soul is already well-entrenched in middle-age.  All that Margaret’s tableau lacks is a child following at her heels.  Or possibly five.   At first, Margaret does not notice Gwen.  She removes her jacket and hangs it on a hook.  When she does see Gwen, she tries to mask her concern.) 
   

MARGARET

May I help you with something?

GWEN

You’re out of ice cream.

    MARGARET

Let me try that again:  Who are you and what are you doing in my kitchen?
                   

GWEN

Is that any way to treat a guest?  Honestly, the least you could do is offer me a snack….
                   

MARGARET

Do I know you?

 GWEN

That’s beside the point, isn’t it?  You have a house guest on the brink of keeling over from starvation.  Most people would find me something to eat. 
                   

MARGARET

You’re not my guest.  You have to be invited to be a guest.  If you were a guest—
                   

GWEN

—I’d settle for a blueberry muffin and a cup of tea—
                   

MARGARET

If you were a guest—someone I had invited into my home—I would certainly offer you a snack….a cup of tea, or even a cocktail, and an assortment of Italian pastries, and I’d ask after our mutual friends and acquaintances.  But we don’t have any mutual friends and acquaintances, because you’re not my guest, because I don’t know you….Do I? 
                   

GWEN

If you were my guest, I’d certainly offer you something.
                     

MARGARET

My husband didn’t bring you back here, did he? 

(Shouting)

Leland!   Goddamit, Leland!  Get your philandering ass our here and explain yourself.  
                   

GWEN

I’m all alone….And for the record, if you were my guest, I wouldn’t start accusing you of things before I’d even offered you a cup of tea and a blueberry muffin.
                   

MARGARET

I’ll bear that in mind.  Now kindly explain what you’re doing here.
                   

GWEN

You should be thankful I’m not a burglar.   Who still hides jewelry in the freezer?   This is the twenty-first century.   If I were a thief, that’s the first place I’d look.
                   

MARGARET
(Obviously lying)

Who would want these old things anyway?  They’re paste—every last one.  Not worth a pint of ice cream.
                   

GWEN

Then why hide them in the freezer?

MARGARET

Why hide them in the freezer….?  I’m afraid that’s none of your business….Now you have exactly ten seconds to account for your presence in my house or I’m going to telephone the police.  Am I making myself clear?

GWEN

You wouldn’t believe how famished I am.  I always get hungry when I’m nervous.  Do you really have Italian pastries? 

                (Gwen returns to the refrigerator and empties the contents
haphazardly onto the countertop.  She finds additional
valuables—maybe gold watches, silver candlesticks, even

MARGARET
(Her frustration increasing.)

For Chirst’s sake, this is not a soup kitchen.  Could you please stop making a mess of my things?  I’m expecting company.

(Margaret begins repacking the jewelry into the food
 cartons as Gwen continues to empty the cabinets.)

We had the cleaning lady in this morning….And now everything’s ruined!  Ruined!  

(Margaret gives up repacking the jewelry, unable to keep
 up with Gwen’s plundering .)

Goddammit!  Would you mind telling me how you got in here?   

GWEN

I picked the lock….

                (Margaret notices the shattered glass. Now she is more
 visibly alarmed.)
MARGARET

So you are a burglar!

GWEN

Please calm down.   I’m sorry about the door…. 

MARGARET

Do you know how much those panes cost?  That’s Italian glass!

GWEN
(Gwen topples pots and pans from the shelves.)

You don’t even have any crackers or canned fruit.  What would you do in an emergency?  If you were trapped here during an influenza pandemic or a nuclear attack.  How would you eat?

MARGARET

This really is too much.  My husband will be home soon….

GWEN

I thought you were going to phone the police.

MARGARET

He’s a large man—a large, muscular man who always carries a concealed handgun…..

GWEN

There’s no point in lying to me, Margaret.  You’re a terrible liar. 

MARGARET

You’re forcing my hand…..Ten…Nine…Eight….

(Gwen joins in the counting)
MARGARET & GWEN

Seven…Six…Five…

(Margaret stops counting and glares at Gwen.)
MARGARET
(Angrily, after a pause)

….One…Zero.
(Margaret reaches for the telephone; she attempts
desperately to secure a dial tone
.)
Operator?  Operator? 

GWEN

Don’t bother.  I already cut the lines.

MARGARET

You what?!

GWEN

It’s not a big deal.  They do it  all the time in movies.

MARGARET

Very well.  There’s a donut shop on the corner…..I’m going to go get the police….
(Margaret retrieves her jacket.)

GWEN

I thought you were expecting company.
(Margaret realizes that if she leaves the apartment, she
may miss her visitor.  She returns the jacket to the hook.
)

MARGARET

What do you want from me?

GWEN

From you?  Nothing.  But I do have bad news for you, Margaret….

MARGARET

What sort of bad news?  And how do you know my name?

GWEN

Very bad news.  Do you really want to know the truth?

MARGARET

If it means that you’ll leave before my visitor shows up.

GWEN

Brace yourself for this….I’m your sister.

MARGARET

Fiddlesticks.

GWEN

No, really.   I was born the year after you, but our mother couldn’t handle two babies, so she put me up for adoption…..

MARGARET

That is complete and total bullshit.

GWEN

Listen to me, Margaret Claypool….Whether you like it or not, I’m your long lost baby sister and I tracked you down because I was recently diagnosed with a rare, often fatal genetic illness, and the odds are that you’re suffering from it too….I felt a duty—a familial obligation—to warn you.

MARGARET

I need to sit down.

(Margaret sits down.)

I’m feeling a bit dizzy.

GWEN

Can I offer you a cocktail or an Italian pastry?

MARGARET

You’re really my sister? 

GWEN

No.  That was complete bullshit.  I just made that up to frighten you.

MARGARET
(Suddenly enraged.)

Enough already!  I don’t know who you are or what you want, but my husband will be here at any moment, and he’s a “shoot now and ask questions later” kind of guy.

GWEN

Leland?  Leland couldn’t shoot a wild boar if it attacked him in his own bed.  He’s far too indecisive….

MARGARET

Since when are you an authority on my husband?

GWEN

I’m his mistress.           

MARGARET
(Shocked, but determined to save face.)

Nonsense!….My husband is as faithful as a sheepdog.

GWEN

A moment ago he was a philandering ass.

MARGARET

That was just a figure of speech…..

GWEN

I’ve been sleeping with your husband for eleven years, Margaret.  That’s a lot more than a figure of speech.

MARGARET

Goodness…..Leland’s mistress….

GWEN

Gwen Ermont….It’s so good to finally meet you after all this time.

(Gwen extends her hand, but Margaret ignores it.)

I’ve heard so much about you….All good….Or almost all good.  If it were all good, I suppose Leland wouldn’t be sleeping with me….Anyway, if you don’t mind my saying so, you’re extremely fortunate to be married to a man who thinks so highly of you.

MARGARET

(Slowly recovering)
Leland’s mistress?  Why didn’t you say so?….But you’re so…. 

GWEN

You expected someone younger?

MARGARET

Yes….And prettier.

GWEN

That’s not a pleasant thing to say to the woman you’re sharing a husband with.

MARGARET

You really do have to leave.  Immediately.

GWEN

I will.   As soon as we’ve had a brief heart-to-heart chat.

(Gwen continues to remove food packages from shelves,
periodically discovering more valuables.  Still no food.)

Don’t you have anything at all to eat in this house?

MARGARET

We order a lot of take-out…..Leland often won’t come home until very late.

GWEN

Because he’s detained at the hospital…?

MARGARET
(Refusing Gwen’s bait)

That’s the life of a cardiologist.  Even with the sun down, hearts still need mending…. What kind of wife would I be if I begrudged him his time at the hospital?

(Margaret returns some jewelry to the freezer.)

Can you please stop making a wreck of things? 

GWEN

Don’t you have any leftovers stashed away somewhere?  Or gourmet items?  Gift-wrapped chocolates?  Easter confections?

MARGARET

No.  We don’t.  And you really must go.  Come back tomorrow and I’ll prepare you a steak dinner or ham-and-eggs or whatever you want—you can bash open the eiderdown pillows and pour condiments onto the bed linens for all I care—and we can talk until your tongue swells up so large that you asphyxiate on it—but right now you’ll have to leave.  I have an extremely important appointment this afternoon.  A private appointment.

GWEN

Aren’t you even the slightest bit curious about my relationship with Leland?  Don’t you want to know how we met—or what he sees in me that he doesn’t see in you?

MARGARET

Write me a note….Do you have stationery?

(Margaret stuffs a stack of stationery into Gwen’s hands)

Here you go.  My own monogrammed writing paper.  From Veronica’s on M Street. Why don’t you write me a tell-all letter and bring it back tomorrow…?  Or better yet, mail it….I’ll get you a stamp.

(Margaret searches her purse for a stamp, but finds none.
 Eventually, she deposits several coins on the kitchen table.
)

Here’s forty-one cents.  That’s the best I can do.

GWEN
(Gwen continues to ransack the cabinets for food
while she speaks.
)

It started the summer after I finished my acting degree at Vassar.  We were sitting next to each other on a plane, flying back from Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Leland had been rendezvousing with a pharmaceuticals salesgirl he’d met at a diabetes convention—I think you were at your aunt’s funeral that weekend, if I remember it correctly—and I was returning from putting the finishing touches on the National Dwarf Hall of Fame…. That’s what I do for a living.  I’m a curator-for-hire.  A museum mercenary.   

MARGARET

Please listen to me.  This is no ordinary visitor.  I really must make a good impression.

GWEN

Tom Thumb was born in Bridgeport.   You know, the tiny guy from the P. T. Barnum circus.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s as fitting a place for a Dwarf Hall of Fame as any, although—if you want get all technical about it—Thumb wasn’t actually a dwarf.  He was a midget. 

MARGARET

This could be the most important appointment of my adult life.  What can I do to convince you to leave?

GWEN

Small difference, if you ask me.  But these little people get all worked up about these things….My point is that I started talking to your husband, and I fell for him so quickly that when he told me he was a cardiologist, I pretended to have a heart attack. Right there in the main cabin.  And it worked, too.  It’s the only time in my life that my acting degree ever paid off….After we’d made an emergency landing in Philadelphia, Leland rode with me to the hospital in the ambulance….It was only later—once we’d fallen in love—that he admitted he knew I was faking.  That’s what I admire about Leland:  He’s the sort of man who lets you fake a heart attack for him.

MARGARET

I’m glad you and my husband are so happy together.

GWEN

But we’re not happy.  Not any more…

MARGARET

Then I’m sorry you and my husband aren’t happy together.

GWEN

(Growing desperate.)
You have to help me.  Please.  I’m begging you.

MARGARET

How can I possible help you?

GWEN

May I speak to you candidly:  mistress to wife?

MARGARET
(Margaret sweeps up the broken window glass.)

I’m going to put all of my cards on the table:  Leland and I are trying to adopt a baby.  A social worker from the adoption agency will be arriving here in less than ten minutes to see if our home is fit for a child—to evaluate our parental suitability.  She doesn’t want to hear about how you met my husband.  

GWEN

I think Leland is falling out of love with me.  I’m afraid he’s already fallen in love with another woman….

MARGARET

Look, I’m sure you’re just imagining things.  My husband doesn’t have a cheating bone in his body—or at least not that many of them.  But in any case, all of this is between you and Leland.  I want absolutely nothing to do with it.  I don’t want to hear about it.  I don’t want to know about it. 

GWEN

Please, Margaret.  I’m not sure where else to turn….and even though this is the first time I’ve ever met you face to face, I guess I feel like we’re old friends….I remember how I sat up beside the telephone past midnight when you had your gallbladder surgery, waiting for Leland to let me know that you were okay….and that time you sliced your finger open on the rusty faucet and you thought you’d contracted tetanus…

MARGARET

You know about all that?

GWEN

Leland tells me everything.

MARGARET

Well, Leland tells me nothing.  Which is how I prefer it….And you and I are not old friends.  This is not a social relationship….Wives do not have social relationships with their husband’s mistresses—at least not if they’re aware of it.

(A long pause.)
GWEN

Doesn’t it bother you?

MARGARET
(Feigning ignorance)

Doesn’t what bother me?

GWEN

That your husband thinks about me when he’s having sex with you. 

MARGARET

I thought he was thinking about a third woman when he has sex with both of us.

GWEN

How can you be so detached?

MARGARET

How can I not be?  You don’t think I realized a long time ago that Leland has been less than faithful.  The wife always knows—even if she chooses not to admit it….Women who claim they’re shocked when they discover that their husbands have other wives and children in different states are lying through their teeth….or they’ve tricked themselves into not knowing what they actually do know….Deep down they always know.  They’re just reluctant to tamper with the status quo, because they’re afraid things might get worse….That they might end up with nothing at all….In any case, I gave up on controlling my husband’s more unpleasant urges a long time ago….What I want now is a beautiful bouncing baby girl from China who looks absolutely nothing like her father.   Leland owes me that.

GWEN

There is no third woman.  That’s the worst part.

MARGARET

But you just said—

GWEN

It’s you, Margaret.  I think Leland has fallen back in love with you.

MARGARET

My husband?  In love with me?

GWEN

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?  But when you started planning to adopt the baby, you put a lot of crazy ideas into his head.  About reforming himself.  About becoming a model parent and all that bullshit.

MARGARET

Did Leland really tell you that?

GWEN

You don’t know what I’ve been going through, Margaret.  Leland and I have been together for eleven years.   That’s a third of my life.  And now he expects me to stand idly by while he throws everything away for some stranger’s baby?

MARGARET

Wait a second—

GWEN

No, you wait a second!  I’ve played fair by you all these years.  I never asked Leland to leave you—I’m not that kind of woman.  I respected what was yours, and I trusted that you’d respect what was mine.  The way I thought about it was that we each had our own niche.  Like different species of birds who share different portions of the same habitat.  Leland wanted one woman who was sensuous and magnetic and exhilarating in bed….and another who kept her pearls in the freezer and used expressions like fiddlesticks….It all felt very mature, very civilized, almost French….You should be ashamed to leave me out in the cold like this!  After all I’ve done for you!  After all we’ve been through together!

MARGARET

I’m not doing anything to you.  Is it my fault if Leland’s had a change of heart?

GWEN

It’s unfair, I tell you.  Why should love be first-come, first-served?  Like waiting in line for a sandwich at the deli.  What right do you have?  Do you really think you own him just because you started sleeping with him before I did?   I love him more than you do.  That’s what should matter. 

MARGARET

So what do you expect me to do?  Leland’s a grown adult.  He’s capable of making his own decisions.  Honestly, I don’t understand why you’ve come here.

GWEN

I’ll tell you why.  Because I want Leland to love me again….I need Leland to love me again.  And you’re going to find a way to make that happen.

MARGARET

How am I supposed to do that?  I can’t even get Leland to tuck in the shower curtain.

GWEN

You’ll find a way.  He is your husband.

(Gwen removes a musket  from her handbag.)

And if you don’t—Well, let’s just say you will….

MARGARET

You’re not really threatening to shoot me with that?

GWEN

You bet I am.  But only if I have to….It allegedly belonged to Paul Revere.  I borrowed it from Special Exhibits at the Smithsonian.

(She loads the musket with grapeshot and powder.)

As guns go, it may be not glamorous—but rest assured, it’s one-hundred percent functional.  A woman like me doesn’t have much access to sophisticated weaponry on a daily basis.  She’s got to take her arms where she finds them.

MARGARET

Let me get this straight:  If I can’t convince my husband to fall back in love with you, you’re going to shoot me with a Revolutionary War musket.

GWEN

Right between the eyes.  And then I’m going to shoot myself….If I can’t have Leland, nobody will.

MARGARET

Look, Gwen.  I honestly wish I could help you.  But you know how stubborn Leland can be….Once he’s made up his mind, there’s nothing to be done about it.

GWEN

Well, you’d better figure something out.  I’m telling you, I’m desperate.

MARGARET

Leland’s going to be here any minute.  I’ll talk to him….We can all sit down together sometime soon and hash this out…..

GWEN

Leland’s not coming. 

MARGARET

Oh, he’ll be here.  He wants this baby as much as I do…. 

GWEN

He can’t come.

MARGARET

What do you mean:  ‘He can’t come’?

GWEN

He has a competing obligation.

MARGARET

What sort of ‘competing obligation’?

GWEN

He’s in the trunk of my car…..

MARGARET

You’re joking again.

GWEN

He stopped by the International Barbecue Museum this morning….that’s where I’m setting up the vintage grill exhibit….and I was afraid he might break things off with me, so when he turned around, I swatted him over the head with President Johnson’s personal spatula and wrapped him up in Katherine Hepburn’s garden hose.

MARGARET

Leland is really in the trunk of your car??

GWEN

Don’t worry.  It’s a large trunk.  He’s got enough air to last him several hours.

MARGARET
(Looking at her watch)

So he’s going to miss our appointment.  That bastard!

GWEN

It’s not his fault.   

MARGARET

Like hell, it’s not his fault.  I ask only one thing of him.  One small request.  I don’t complain when he works late at the hospital.  I don’t pressure him to have his sperm examined by a specialist, even though my eggs are Olympic quality and we still don’t have a baby.  I don’t even argue with him about the toothpaste tube or the toilet seat or whether to close the windows in the bedroom on nights when it’s ten zillion degrees below zero.  But he owed it to me to be here this afternoon.  And instead, he’s lazing around in the trunk of some floozy’s car!   This is rich.  Really rich.  What an asshole! 

(The doorbell rings.)
MARGARET

That’s her!

GWEN

Don’t answer it.

MARGARET

Like hell I’m not going to answer it.

GWEN
(Gwen elevates the musket.)

I’ll swear I’ll shoot.

(The doorbell rings again.)
MARGARET
(Shouting)

Coming!

(To Gwen)

You don’t seem to understand.  I’m nearly forty years old.  I gave up teaching three years ago when we started trying the fertility treatments.  My parents are dead.  I’m an only child.  My husband is a philandering bastard who can’t keep an appointment.  Quite frankly, if they don’t give me this baby, it won’t matter to me if you shoot me.

   (Margaret walks toward the door.  Gwen aims the musket
 at Margaret.  Margaret turns around and faces Gwen.)   

Besides, dear, you don’t want to shoot me.  Trust me on that.  Because once you see the blood oozing out of my naked flesh, you’re not going to have the courage to turn the gun on yourself.  But by then it will be too late.   I’ll be a martyr.  Permanently young, forever beautiful—at least in Leland’s mind—while you’ll grow withered and flabby until you look like a bloated prune with eye slits.  So I dare you!  Put a bullet in my back.  Pump me full of buckshot.  The moment you murder me, Leland will love me forever.

GWEN

Is that meant as a threat?

MARGARET

It’s just a friendly observation, dear.  You need me.  I’m your only hope of ever getting Leland back.           

GWEN

So will you help me?

(The doorbell rings repeatedly.)
MARGARET
(Shouting)

Just a moment!

(To Gwen.)

I haven’t decided yet….How far away are you parked?

GWEN

Practically across town.  I couldn’t find a space.  Why?

MARGARET

Then we’ll have to make do without Leland….and give me that!

(Margaret grabs the musket from Gwen and stuffs it under the
 sofa cushions.)

Try to look innocent.    

(The doorbell rings again.  Margaret opens the door. 
Connie Callard enters.  She is the antithesis of Gwen:  a pure,
 well-meaning soul in a highly-tainted world.
)
CONNIE

I’m Connie Callard from Family Services.  I’m looking for Dr. and Mrs. Claypool.

MARGARET

I’m Margaret Claypool.  I’m afraid Dr. Claypool has gotten a bit tied up.

CONNIE

Nothing serious, I hope.

MARGARET

Oh, no.  Just some car trouble….
Please do come in. 

(Connie follows Margaret into the living room.  She
 examines the mayhem in the apartment—the open
 refrigerator, the counters piled with pots and pans and
 food packages.
)

Sit down.  Make yourself at home.           

(Connie attempts to sit down on the sofa—on top of the
musket.  Margaret stops her, shouting.)   

Not there! 

(Recovering.)

I mean:  These chairs are much better for your back.

(Connie seats herself in a Barcelona chair.  Gwen sits
opposite her on the sofa.  Margaret remains standing.)

We’re a very health-conscious couple, Leland and I…..And sciatica is nothing to take lightly.  I don’t think I could live with myself if I caused you any back pain….

CONNIE               

Thank you.  That’s very considerate of you.

(Gwen coughs audibly.)
MARGARET

This is my sister, Gwen Ermont.         

CONNIE

How do you do?

GWEN

Not well.  I was just diagnoses with a rare genetic illness.

CONNIE

Goodness!

GWEN

It’s highly fatal and runs in families.

MARGARET

But fortunately not ours.  Because it was a misdiagnosis….Thank heavens!  

CONNIE

I’m so glad you’re all right.  You must be very relieved…..

MARGARET

My sister is still recovering from the shock…..Maybe she’d like to lie down in the bedroom.

GWEN

Oh, no.  I’m feeling fine now.

(Gwen and Margaret glare at each other.)
MARGARET

May I offer you anything, Connie.   Some tea?  A cocktail?

CONNIE

Some tea would be delightful.

MARGARET

Then tea it shall be.  I always make a point of offering my houseguests a bite to eat.  I like to set a positive example.  I want my daughter to grow up with good manners.

(Margaret opens the safe and removes a complete tea
 service, a fully-stocked mini-bar and a platter of Italian
pastries.
)
GWEN

I don’t believe it.

CONNIE

What a strange place to keep food.  Is there much crime in this neighborhood?

MARGARET

It’s a trick I learned from my mother.  If you leave food in the safe for the burglars—with a warm, welcoming note—sometimes they feel too guilty to steal anything.

(Margaret serves the pastries and sets the water to boil in
 the kitchen.
)
CONNIE

That’s rather eccentric, don’t you think?  You’re not an eccentric woman, are you?

MARGARET

Oh, heavens no!  I can’t abide eccentricity

CONNIE

I’m glad to hear it.  Because I wouldn’t want to leave Baby W. with an oddball…..

MARGARET

Of course you wouldn’t….That was a joke about welcoming the burglars.  There’s no crime at all in this neighborhood.  None at all.  Not so much as a jaywalker….I just lock up the food so Leland can’t get to it.  Otherwise, he’d fill his pockets with cannolis.

CONNIE

Is your husband impulsive?

GWEN   /  MARGARET
(Simultaneously)
        Yes!                         No!
MARGARET

What my sister means is that Leland often has impulses, but he rarely acts upon them.

CONNIE

I see.  Can I ask you a rather blunt question, Mrs. Claypool?

MARGARET

Anything.

CONNIE

Is your husband an honest man?

(The tea kettle whistles.  Margaret pours and serves
 the tea.
)
MARGARET

I’ve never met a man more honest.

CONNIE

What I mean is:  He’s not the type of man who would sell a baby on the black market?

GWEN
Why?  Are you trying to buy one?

MARGARET

Please ignore my sister.  She’s not well….And I assure you, whatever you’ve heard about my husband, he is the embodiment of integrity.

 
CONNIE
(Aggressively.)

Are you certain?  What I’m asking is:  Is Dr. Claypool the sort of man who would cheat on his wife for nearly a decade while supporting a pair of mistresses he picked up at pharmaceuticals conventions and then adopt a baby in China in order to sell it on the black market to an undercover cop so he could to pay to have one his mistresses rubbed out?  Hypothetically speaking, I mean.

(Connie breaks into tears.)
MARGARET

There’s no need to cry, dear.  What’s upsetting you?   

CONNIE

I’m sorry.  I had a bad experience with my last placement……I’m on probation.

GWEN
(Gwen gorges herself on pastries.)

Have an éclair, Connie.  Nothing like cholesterol to cheer you up.

CONNIE

I love what I do, Mrs. Claypool—Margaret.  What could be more rewarding that pairing unwanted babies in Asia with loving couples here in the United States?  But I’m afraid I’m not very good at what I do.

MARGARET

You’re probably much better than you think.

CONNIE

No, I’m really not.  I’m far too trusting.  I have far too much faith in my fellow human beings.  I never recognize them for the self-interested, scrupulously dishonest, bottom-dwelling scum that they are.  But if I screw up one more time, I’m out of a job. 

(Connie begins to sob again.)
MARGARET

That’s right, dear.  Let it all out….

GWEN

Are you sure you don’t want that last éclair?  Because I’m going to take it…..

MARGARET

It’s important not to lose your perspective.  I can tell this job means a lot to you, but it is only a job…..When it comes to employment, we’re all always on probation.   Some of us just don’t realize that until it’s too late.

CONNIE

You don’t understand…..I grew up in an orphanage.  I was that shy, awkward girl who everybody praised but nobody ever took home….I remember the day I turned eighteen and they sent me out into the world all alone—with only a bus ticket and a new pair of men’s shoes, as though they were releasing me from prison—they were all out of women’s shoes in my size—and as I wandered the city in those hideous over-shined shoes, I swore that I’d devote the rest of my life to making certain that no other children ever had to endure what I did.  So I worked my way through college and social work school—And I finally landed my dream job at Family Services….and then, before I’ve even had a chance to hang up the photographs in my office, my first placement ends up on the black market.    

(Gaining confidence.)

Which is why I’m not taking any changes this time.   My next placement is going to be perfect.  I’m waiting for a couple as wholesome as apple pie and Leave It To Beaver and Flag Day all rolled into one.  A family to out-Cleaver the Cleavers.

MARGARET

Then you’ve come to the right place, Connie.  We’re the most wholesome family you’ll ever meet in your life.

(Margaret looks pointedly at Gwen.)

GWEN

I’m the mistress of wholesome.

CONNIE

I do hope so.

GWEN
In high school, I was voted most wholesome girl in the senior class.  Two years in a row.

MARGARET

We’re all very wholesome.

GWEN

I think that’s what Leland likes about me.  That I’m so wholesome.

MARGARET

Leland and my sister have a very close relationship….

GWEN

Intimate.

CONNIE

How nice.  So may people don’t get along with their in-laws….

MARGARET

Leland and Gwen are unusual in that way….but not too unusual, mind you.  Nothing eccentric.

GWEN

It’s far more common than you think.

CONNIE
(Connie wipes her eyes and removes a clipboard from her
 bag.
)

May I ask you a few more formal questions?

MARGARET

Our lives are an open book.

CONNIE

Any weapons in the house?  Daggers?  Grenades?  Muskets?

MARGARET

Certainly not.

CONNIE

What about all of these pots and pans?  Is your kitchenware usually strewn about like this?  And why is your refrigerator open?

MARGARET

We were doing our spring inventory.  Weren’t we, Gwen?

GWEN

We have nineteen pots, twelve pans, nine sets of earrings, two gold chains, a man’s wrist watch, assorted brooches, an ice cream carton full of pearls, and nothing to eat.

CONNIE

All of these open cabinets make me nervous…..Hygiene is health’s handmaiden, you know.  Cleanliness is godliness.

MARGARET

That’s exactly what I’m always telling Leland.  Cleanliness is godliness.

CONNIE

Why?  Does he need reminding?

GWEN

Are there any more pastries left in that safe?

MARGARET
(Losing her temper)

For God’s sake, Gwen!       

(Regaining her composure)

For God’s sake, I’m so glad you could be with me this afternoon.  To give Connie here a better sense of how much we all love each other.  How wholesome we all are.

CONNIE

When do you expect Dr. Claypool to return home?

MARGARET

I honestly don’t know.  There’s a possibility he might not make it at all…..Sometimes he gets stuck at the hospital for hours….You know how it is.  Saving lives and all that. 

CONNIE

I thought he was having car trouble.

MARGARET

Car-diac trouble.  He was trying to fix a broken heart, but it wasn’t going too well….

CONNIE

I could have sworn you said—Well, never mind.  I suppose I’ll have to come back another time…..

MARGARET

Can’t you just approve us based on this visit?

CONNIE

I’m afraid I couldn’t do that.

MARGARET

Because Leland works crazy hours.  He can be very difficult to pin down.

GWEN

Usually he does the pinning.

CONNIE

Excuse me?

MARGARET

My sister was just saying Leland’s hours have gotten worse ever since he started doing pinning at the hospital.  It’s a new procedure.  They stick pins into the heart to keep it from coming loose. 

CONNIE

It’s amazing what modern technology can do.

MARGARET

But Leland wants this baby so much….I would just hate to think that someone might have to go without medical care so that he could be here for a routine meeting….

CONNIE

It does seem a bit unreasonable.

MARGARET

Lives are at stake, Connie.  You don’t really need to come back here again.  Do you?

CONNIE

I don’t know….

GWEN

If I wanted to order more pastry, do you think the neighbors would let me use their phone?

CONNIE

Is something wrong with the telephones?

MARGARET

There’s a problem with the lines.  Nothing major.

GWEN

Well, it can’t hurt trying, can it?  The worst they can do is say no.
(Gwen stands up to exit and walks toward the door, but the sofa cushions catch on her coat and she drags them with her.  The musket is exposed.)

CONNIE

What’s that?

MARGARET

It’s an electric toothbrush.  For people with very large mouths.

GWEN

It’s a Revolutionary War musket.  I work at the Smithsonian.

CONNIE

I thought you said you didn’t have any weapons.

MARGARET

That’s the only one.  I swear.

CONNIE

I think I’d better come back tomorrow to meet Dr. Claypool.

MARGARET

But he might not come home for weeks.  Months.  Sometimes he spends the entire summer in the emergency room, just in case.  Trying to help the downtrodden and to earn a few extra dollars in anticipation of our baby girl….Because once Baby W. arrives, he’ll want to spend as much time at home with her as possible.
(A long pause.)

CONNIE

Oh, I get it.  You two are a couple, aren’t you?

MARGARET

What?

CONNIE

She’s not your sister.  She’s your partner, isn’t she?  You don’t actually have a husband.

MARGARET

I don’t know what gave you that idea, but—

CONNIE

It’s okay.  I won’t tell…

MARGARET

There’s nothing to tell.

CONNIE

You know what gave you away?  The bickering!  You have to love someone an awful lot to bicker with them like that….But you can’t pull the wool over my eyes.  I’m not nearly as naive and clueless as people seem to think.

GWEN

But we’re not a couple. 

CONNIE
(Knowingly)

Of course, you’re not.  If you were, Family Services wouldn’t allow you to adopt a baby….But anybody who’s willing to go to such lengths of deception to acquire a child must really want one.  Besides, I’ve been reading up on black-market babies.  Women are much less likely to sell children.

MARGARET

So she’s ours?

CONNIE

You mean yours and Leland’s.

MARGARET

Of course.

CONNIE

I’ll put in the paperwork tomorrow morning.

MARGARET

How can we ever thank you?

CONNIE

Don’t thank me.  Just treat the baby well…..

(Connie glances at her watch)

I’d better get going.  But it you don’t mind my saying, you seem like a very loving couple.  You’re so fortunate to have found one another.  I wish I could find someone to argue with like that.

(Connie exits through the front door.)
GWEN

I can’t believe it.  She really thinks we’re a couple.

MARGARET

You don’t have to sound so insulted….I have my share of admirers…. 

GWEN

Oh, of course you do.  Some men are into stability….consistency….the sort of men who wear belts and suspenders simultaneously….But what about Leland?  You’ve got your baby.  Now are you willing to help me?

MARGARET
(A long pause.)   

Sure, I’ll help you….I should have left that twit ages ago….Thanks for reminding me that love doesn’t lock you in like a mortgage.  Just because I wanted to be with Leland twelve years ago doesn’t mean I have to stay with him now.

GWEN

You really don’t want him?

MARGARET

He’s all yours, honey.  Trust me:  After I get through with him for missing this meeting, he’ll run when he hears the sound of my voice…..Okay, maybe not run.  More like hobble away with his legs crossed.

GWEN

Thank you.  I knew we’d become friends…. I suppose we should get him out of the trunk.

MARGARET

I’ll come with you….

GWEN

Have you seen my car keys?

MARGARET

Don’t tell me you lost them.

GWEN

I know they’re in here somewhere…..They probably fell out of my pockets when I was searching for a snack….

(Both women scour the piles of kitchenware for Gwen’s
car keys.  Gwen rifles though the freezer, periodically
dropping more food containers onto the floor.)
GWEN

Can I ask you something?  If you really think Leland’s such a twit, why didn’t you leave him ages ago?

MARGARET

You’ll think this is pathetic.  I used to tell myself that even a twit is better than nothing.  And then we decided to adopt the baby—and they won’t give babies to single women…. But I suppose one woman’s twit is another woman’s treasure….Although I usually think one woman’s twit is another woman’s twit-in-waiting.

GWEN

Look what I found!

MARGARET

Keys?

GWEN

Ice cream!

(Gwen removes a carton of ice cream from the freezer.)
You want some?
MARGARET

Sure?

GWEN

Chocolate or vanilla?

MARGARET

Both.  I’m feeling adventurous.

(Gwen serves the ice cream in matching bowls.  Both
 women sit at the kitchen table, eating side-by-side.
)
GWEN

What about Leland?  We should probably get him before he runs out of air.  It’s not that big a trunk.

MARGARET

Let him wait a few more minutes.  It’ll do him good.

(Margaret and Gwen continue to eat and laugh and
converse joyfully as the curtain falls.)


END OF PLAY

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