Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson


A tragedy in 9 acts

Translation:  Alda Sigmundsdóttir

Reykjavík, 1995


  • Stephanie, homemaker
  • Ernest, Stephanie’s husband, head of department
  • Martin, Stephanie’s brother
  • Mary, Stephanie’s childhood friend
  • Donald, Mary’s boyfriend

Translator’s note:

On occasion place names will appear which may be adapted to suit the locality in which the play is being staged. The same goes for the emergency telephone number referred to in act I.


Stephanie:  It’s absolutely wonderful to see you!

Mary:  It’s so long since I’ve been here, I almost went to the wrong house! They look so similar around here, don’t they? Are you still working at the same place, Ernest?

Ernest:  The same place?

Stephanie:  Ernest still works at the place he did when you last saw him. However he’s been promoted to ....

Mary:  When I last saw him?

Stephanie:  Yes. At Easter last year.

Mary:  That’s right, Stephanie. We did meet at Easter last year.

Ernest:  That’s right. Das ist richtig!

Stephanie:  Anyway. Nice to see you.

Donald:  Don’t you get together much?

Mary:  Not enough, do we Ernest?

Martin:  In Sweden where I live you have to fill out a form in duplicate if you want to see someone.

Mary:  Is that so?

Martin:  And another one if you want to talk to them, too.

Donald:  Oh, you live in Sweden? My brother lives in Sweden, too! Small world, isn’t it? It sure is a small world. Where do you live in Sweden?

Stephanie:  Martin lives in Uddevalla. Goodness, it sure is great to see you, in spite of the circumstances.

Ernest:  Absolutely.

Donald:  Did we ... drop by at a bad time?

Mary:  No, we dropped by at a great time. Couldn’t be better.

Stephanie:  Mary.

Ernest:  You remember that we met at the mall on Christmas eve day?

Mary:  Sure I remember. How did it go with the dress?

Stephanie:  Dress? Were you going to buy me a dress?

Donald:  Uddevalla? Is that in the north?

Ernest:  There was one I thought was all right but Mary talked me out of it buying it, thank God.

Mary:  No, Ernest! The dress was fabulous. It was just too bad they didn’t have it in a bigger size.

Ernest:  Fit Mary to a tee.

Mary:  God, it was so hilarious when I was telling Donald about you and Ernest on the way over here. I didn’t know where he was headed!

Donald:  Well, over here of course. Hah! With you. Get it - she says I don’t know where he was headed and I just give it to her straight: over here! Hah!

Mary:  Donald likes to amuse himself.

Stephanie:  It must have made for dull listening. I mean, there’s not much to tell, is there?

Mary:  You’d be surprised at what I can come up with on the subject of you.

Donald:  There was nothing ....

Stephanie:  I mean, I’m nervous enough meeting people I don’t know without having to worry about the little Mary-tales you’ve told before they meet me ....

Donald:  I tell you, this girl can really tell a tale. She can spin a tale like ....

Martin:  She still has that talent, does she?

Mary:  Honey, you don’t think I’d reveal details about my childhood friend to just anybody? You should know me better than that. Ask Donald.

Stephanie:  No, I wouldn’t want to be inappropriate; he’s just arrived.

Mary:  So how do you like your job, Ernest? Lots of work?

Ernest:  I like my job. There’s always a lot of work to do.

Donald:  He’s been talking about getting me over there too, to visit. Just like that.

Stephanie:  Who?

Donald:  My brother. The one in Sweden. I also have one who lives in Hafnarfjördur.

Ernest:  It no big deal nowadays. Flight’s there in no time.

Donald:  It’s weird with this brother of mine in Sweden; see there are three of us but he’s the only one who lives abroad; it’s weird but the guy can do no wrong, everything always works out. My grandfather was like that too, they say. It’s one of these things that runs in the family, like a hereditary disease or something, this amazing luck, you know? I’m sure you’ve bumped into him there. He knows everybody, that boy.

Martin:  Not where I live. I don’t think he knows anybody where I live now.

Donald:  No maybe not, it all depends on where you live.

Ernest:  “Big brother’s watching you!” Remember that one?

Donald:  What? Big brother? Oh, I get it.

Martin:  You’ve done something to the living room, haven’t you? Changed something.

Stephanie:  No, why do you say that?

Martin:  There was a cupboard there.

Ernest:  He’s talking about the liquor cabinet.

Stephanie:  Yes it’s gone, that’s right.

Ernest:  We moved it.

Martin:  Where to?

Ernest:  Into the cellar; remind me to give you a tour later. Both you guys.

Martin:  He always had the keys on him. Never put them down anywhere.

Stephanie:  And we were so anxious to find out what he had in there when we were kids, mostly because it was locked, I think.

Martin:  He had other things to hide, not just the booze. That’s why one of those drawers was kept tightly locked, at least most of the time. Have you looked in there yet?

Ernest:  Where? In the cabinet? It was emptied out a long time ago. I don’t even remember if he did it or somebody else. Might well have been empty when I moved in, in fact I think it was.

Stephanie:  And I’ve had other things than worldly possessions to worry about since his death, honey.

Ernest:  You’ve been so brave, Stephanie. I tell you, this woman has been a rock.

Stephanie:  There are so many things weighing one down. You understand, Martin honey.

Ernest:  A rock. Positively.

Stephanie:  The funeral had to be arranged right away and the minister had to be spoken to and an announcement put in the paper and a million other little things had to be looked after. It all has to be taken care of whether one likes it or not.

Mary:  How did he die?

Ernest:  How?

Mary:  Somebody said you killed him, Martin.

Stephanie:  No, that must have been a misunderstanding, Mary. I believe I told you his heart gave out.

Mary:  In Martin’s room. Right?

Stephanie:  Right, that’s where he lay for the last few days. Just lay there, because he was ill. Martin wasn’t here yet so the room was not in use. He didn’t arrive until after ... well.

Mary:  How kind of you to take him in like that during his final days.

Ernest:  I don’t mean to be rude but I don’t think this kind of talk is very healthy for Stephanie right now, with her condition and all.

Mary:  What condition?

Stephanie:  What Ernest is trying to say is that it has been very difficult for me, for both of us really, even though he had moved out a long time ago he was still ... well, both of us are finding this very difficult to handle, all the same.

Donald:  Sorry but who are you talking about?

Mary:  Stephanie and Martin’s father. This was his house.

Donald:  Oh, I am sorry! My deepest sympathies. I thought this was some outside problem. Not a family problem. I mean, I suppose I could have guessed that it was somebody from within the family but it didn’t sound that way. Sounded more like an outsider.

Mary:  It wasn’t, unfortunately. I had forgotten how ugly the view is from here.

Stephanie:  No, do you really think so? I quite like it. You can even see the tree over there that we used to measure our height against, look how big it’s grown. It’s always so calm here, too. No storms, ever.

Mary:  I suppose you’re right. Stifling. I couldn’t possibly live here.

Ernest:  You never did plan to move back here, did you? Back to the old neighbourhood? Or have the neighbours been petitioning you to move back?

Mary:  Ah, Ernest. Your jokes will be the death of me someday.

Stephanie:  He can be so hilarious, Ernest can. Just so hilarious.

Martin:  A Swedish comedian killed himself the other day.

Donald:  Really? I hadn’t heard. They say they’re a total mess these comedians. All the big laughs are just a front, they say. They’ll start bawling in their dressing rooms backstage after they’ve had the audience in stitches all evening. The whole industry is just chock-full of paradoxes, or so I’m told.

Martin:  He’d been making jokes about it. Said he’d commit Swedish suicide using thumb-tacks. But in the end he just shot himself.

Donald:  An amazing thing happened to a friend of mine the other day. Last Wednesday, or was it Tuesday?

Ernest:  In the head, do you think?

Donald:  It was Wednesday.

Martin:  Into the mouth.

Stephanie:  God help the man!

Ernest:  This buddy of mine at work was telling me, his brother is a police force insider, he was telling me it has become by far the most common way to do it; if people are going to use a gun they almost always shoot themselves in the head.

Mary:  Yes, that’s hip again, I hear.

Donald:  He got this incredible urge to call his aunt who he hardly ever calls this guy so anyway he wastes no time and calls her but there’s no answer. Later that evening somebody tells him she died that day and nobody knows exactly when because nobody was around but you know where they found her?

Mary:  Naked down in the basement with flakes of dead skin under her fingernails?

Stephanie:  Dearest Mary, we’re speaking of a woman who is deceased.

Donald:  She lay beside the telephone and had obviously been reaching for it. Imagine. He will never get to know whether it was him or someone else calling right when she was giving up the ghost.

Ernest:  And that poor woman will also never know who was calling her.

Mary:  Not to mention what they wanted.

Stephanie:  But maybe she was going to make a call herself. Maybe she was calling the ambulance. Maybe she started feeling kind of strange inside and got scared and had no choice but to try to get help from somewhere but then suddenly started feeling much worse and just collapsed next to the telephone before she had been able to call the switchboard at the fire department, where all such calls are taken in order of priority, depending on their nature. Unless she had forgotten the emergency number under all that pressure.

Donald:  It’s 011, isn’t it?

Stephanie:  011? Are you sure?

Ernest:  It’s 911, I’m quite sure I think. 011 is the emergency number at the police station. Though of course it could be directly connected to the fire department because they dispatch the ambulances from there.

Donald:  They do, don’t they?

Stephanie:  I believe they do.

Ernest:  Their co-operation is very effective, insiders tell me.

Stephanie:  One thing is for sure and that is that because of her condition she would have been at the top of the priority list, that’s if she had gotten through, the poor woman. They would most definitely have assessed her condition as being very serious.

Ernest:  I know a lot of guys quite well up there at the fire department. They gave a seminar on fire prevention at our firm last year. I had a long talk with them.

Martin:  I counted three smoke alarms in the house.

Stephanie:  Yes, smoke alarms have proved their worth beyond the shadow of a doubt and saved many lives, as well as of course having prevented considerable damage to property in many cases.

Martin:  So you bought a smoke alarm last year?

Ernest:  Yes. They gave us a demonstration at the seminar. They sold them there, too. Special offer.

Martin:  But are they still with the original batteries?

Stephanie:  They are, aren’t they Ernest? We haven’t changed them, have we?

Martin:  Did they neglect to inform you that you have to change the batteries yearly in order to be completely certain that the alarm will go off if there really is a fire? Don’t these people care? Christ.

Ernest:  Our fire fighters can hardly be accused of not caring. They told me the batteries were OK as long as the red light keeps flashing and when they’re dead this little ... beep! ... beep! ... beep! goes off to remind you to attend to them. The fire fighters told me so themselves and I have every reason to believe them.

Mary:  For God’s sake make sure you notice them beeps! How dreadful it would be to lose everything after all the work you’ve put into this lovely home of yours.

Stephanie:  Oh, absolutely dreadful. I can’t bear the thought of it!

Ernest:  Yes, we have put a lot of work into this place, considering.

Stephanie:  You’re always so vigorous, Ernest, when it comes to our home. He is totally vigorous when it comes to home improvement, my Ernie is. Forever scraping windows and painting and goodness knows what else. With no thought as to his ill health.

Ernest:  Ill health?

Donald:  So, you’re a lot like my brother in Hafnarfjördur then. Every time I think he has his apartment just perfect, he thinks of something else to change or fix. And if he can’t think of anything himself, a faucet will give out.

Mary:  Oh, so that runs in the family too?

Martin:  My first job in Sweden was at a handicapped work centre. It was a small candle-making shop with just two of us in charge. Our employees were mentally handicapped and this one was autistic. I tell you, he bowled me over, right on the first day. This work-mate of mine was showing me around when this man walks in, fifteen minutes before the shift was supposed to start, pale, thin and with this bizarre silent way of walking that was especially strange considering how tall he was. He had on a pin-striped suit, had water-combed his hair and was wearing a tie. He was obviously in a rush to get to the staff room at the end of the hall but then all of a sudden he stopped right in front of me, looked me over and then gave me his hand to shake. Didn’t say a word. So I took it and these long, slender fingers wrapped themselves around my hand and our eyes met. Then he gave me this big hug and we were friends.

Stephanie:  He took to you right away, then. They say those handicapped people have a lot of insight into people’s personality.

Martin:  I have never met with such a desperate a need to have everything in order. After he had changed clothes in the morning - he was the only one who ever showed up in a suit - then he could proudly take his stand at his machine. His job was to mould outdoor candles. Observed the wax pot and the feeder. And I observed the wax pot, the feeder and him. And man, what an excellent worker!

Stephanie:  Yes, I’ve heard they’re really conscientious, those people.

Martin:  It was a lost cause for me even to try and contact him on his shift while he stood there with his back straight as a board and so proud and so wonderfully unaffected by the problems of the world. Like an overgrown innocent child who has been given some responsibility. Responsibility it can handle. And that child is prepared to sacrifice everything rather than fail in the line of duty. He just switched into a different mode when he started working. Never said a word and never looked up from the feeder. Not until the bell rang for coffee or lunch, then he would say, “Now we go have coffee,” or “Now we go have lunch".

Donald:  Don’t you think he ever got bored, just standing there like that?

Stephanie:  They say they don’t even feel it.

Martin:  Then six months later I’m in the same hall. The sun shining through the skylights and I’m watching him there, standing next to his pot. The light in the hall is amazing and the sun has made this shining halo around his greyish-white head and his torso is white as snow; it’s summer now and all the guys have their shirts off. It’s two minutes to twelve. That’s when it happens. Some ancient water pipe up near the ceiling pops. And when the first gush of water hits the burning hot wax there’s an explosion. The wax shoots off in all directions and the workers all scream and run for shelter, most of them unhurt. I do too. And the water keeps coming down and splattering the wax in explosion after explosion. And the steam is so thick that nobody notices that my old pal is still standing there beside the wax pot and doesn’t move. The clock has not yet struck twelve; his shift’s not over yet. He just stands there and lets the burning hot wax splash all over him, over and over.

Ernest:  Whad’ya do?

Martin:  Nothing. I was scared to go near him. I was afraid of getting burned.

Stephanie:  But somebody must have helped the poor man ... even though he was ... you know.

Martin:  My colleague finally saw him and was about to rush over to save him when the bell went off. And right away the old guy turns around and comes walking towards me. At first I thought he had somehow miraculously escaped but then I saw his face distorting with pain and saw him reeling. And before I really figured out what was happening he was upon me and the smell of burnt flesh filled my nose when he embraced me and whispered into my ear, “Now we go have luuunch".

Donald:  Goddamn! And then what? Did he live?

Martin:  No, but I made it through unhurt.

Mary:  You haven’t changed a bit, little Marty.

Martin:  Oh, really?

Stephanie:  In ten years? Sure he has ... hasn’t he?

Mary:  Let’s just hope the pipes hold in this house.

Stephanie:  What? What did you say?

Ernest:  Since Mary has begun speaking in riddles, I’ve got one for you!

Stephanie:  Yes, let’s have one, Ernest. He’s so hilarious when it comes to riddles and things like that, Ernest is. Just so hilarious.

Martin:  I remember you told me that once on the phone. “Just so hilarious when it comes to riddles and things like that"; you said that, word for word. But you couldn’t remember anything hilarious when I asked you to give me an example.

Stephanie:  No, I can never remember things like that. I just remember that they were hilarious.

Ernest:  Ready everyone? I’ve got arms, legs, a torso and a head. I can think, talk, see, hear, feel happy and feel sad. I am called man. What am I?

Stephanie:  No this one’s not for me. Ernest knows all about that, don’t you Ernest. That this riddle really is not for me.

Donald:  I have arms, legs, a head and what else did you say, a torso? That’s a tough one. Called man ....

Ernest:  Yes, it’s a tricky one, that one.

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Ernest:  You’re still working at the same place, aren’t you?

Mary:  No.

Ernest:  So, have you two known each other long?

Donald:  Seems like we’ve known each other forever, right sweetheart?

Mary:  I was eight when my Mama and I moved into the attic apartment on the corner. It didn’t take me long to run into Stephanie and Martin; the kids at number seventeen.

Stephanie:  Mary and I were quick to find each other out back and Martin soon joined us.

Martin:  We thought it was a perfect arrangement because Stephanie and I had no mother after our mother died and Mary had no father at that time so between us we had both a mother and a father.

Stephanie:  Also I’ll never forget how we met ... remember Mary? We were playing “Ring around the rosie” and after we had all fallen down I looked up into the face of a girl I had never seen. And that was Mary.

Martin:  Ring around the rosie ...

Martin and Stephanie:  ... pocket full of posie ...

Martin, Stephanie and Mary:  ... ha-tchoo, ha-tchoo, we all fall down!

Donald:  And your father? What about him?

Mary:  Who?

Donald:  Your father. I’ve never asked you what happened to him.

Mary:  Him? He got crushed.

Donald:  No way! I don’t believe it!

Stephanie:  Well it’s not quite true. She’s quoting her mother.

Mary:  Mama always said he’d been crushed when people asked what had happened to her husband. The truth is he developed a crush on an old girlfriend and moved in with her basically without warning.

Stephanie:  And so she and Mary had no contact with him after that and Mary has no idea where he is now, do you Mary? You don’t have any idea where he is now, do you?

Mary:  No.

Stephanie:  But I remember how great we got along as kids. We were fabulous together, forever playing games and then school of course and I don’t know what else.

Martin:  Until one day I wasn’t allowed to play any more.

Stephanie:  Nonsense, Martin dear. I seem to recall that you were always with us. Weren’t you always with us? I seem to recall that you were.

Donald:  Maybe you had to flee the country to get away from the girls, eh? That’s happened to me before, too much girl all at once. Almost OD’d, you know? Man.

Stephanie:  That’s a wee bit of an exaggeration, saying that he fled. Or if he did flee then he most definitely wasn’t fleeing Mary and me. Martin, you weren’t fleeing Mary and me, were you?

Martin:  I went to Sweden and now I’m back. Simple as that.

Stephanie:  But you always felt comfy with Mary and me. You were always with us and you were always so comfortable. We were always talking about things, the three of us, going on about this and that and going to the movies and always finding fun things to do like inviting each other over and playing records, Mary at our place or Martin and I at Mary’s, and Mary’s mother would call us into the kitchen and had maybe just finished baking scones or fixed sandwiches and it was all just so nice. And sometimes Mary borrowed my clothes or I borrowed Mary’s and Martin was sometimes all confused and didn’t know who owned what ... and one time you called me Mary, remember? We were lying with our arms around each other and talking just the two of us with the lights on. And you had your eyes closed and you said, “Hold me closer, Mary.” Remember?

Ernest:  Kids. They’re always confusing things like that.

Stephanie:  He was seventeen.

Martin:  I don’t remember.

Stephanie:  Don’t you remember, Martin, how we just lay and cuddled for hours on end sometimes? And Mary too? She would tell us stories, remember, and we called them Mary-tales. You must remember, Martin!

Martin:  That may be but I’ve definitely never got you and Mary mixed up.

Ernest:  No, I don’t think that would be possible, Mary being the way she is and you the way you are.

Mary:  Martin was never with us.

Martin:  I was never invited.

Mary:  Oh, how awful, were you never invited? Poor little Martin never got to join in the fun? All those years, did he have to wait for something that never came? Or did it come? I can’t remember.

Stephanie:  Listen, Donald! Since we’re talking about old times you would probably enjoy seeing some pictures of Mary, wouldn’t you?

Martin:  Plenty to choose from.

Stephanie:  And of us. Dad was always taking pictures of us, his “little nippers", as he called us.

Mary:  You’ve got the pictures?

Stephanie:  We’ve got all of dad’s pictures!

Martin:  Almost all.

Stephanie:  Didn’t I show them to you?

Mary:  I’m sure they’ll just bore him.

Donald:  No, I’d love to ... I mean, it’s always nice to look at pictures. Kind of.

Mary:  Oh, is it?

Ernest:  Yes, it is, do show him the pictures, Stephanie. He has to get to know us properly, right?

Stephanie:  Wait here, I’ll get a few.

Donald:  Yes, that would be fun, eh? Just to have a quick boo? Since you’ve got them there.

Stephanie:  Got them? We’ve got hundreds of them, if not thousands! (Exits)

Mary:  Tens of thousands, if I remember correctly.

Martin:  Stephanie once sent me this picture that dad had taken of you. It must be from about eight years ago. You’d just moved into our house.

Ernest:  Right you are! How awful.

Donald:  This is a fine picture. And this must be your father. He would have owned one of those automatic cameras, since he’s on the picture himself.

Martin:  Dad was a total fanatic about photography for a few years. Did his own developing in the cellar. He often got fanatical about things. He’d develop a burning interest in some isolated subject for a while and then it would be forgotten as quickly as it had appeared. His interest just disappeared and the stamps or the aeroplane models or whatever it was would get packed into a box and stuck up into the attic or given away. Possibly sold if it happened to be worth anything. And no-one would dare mention the subject again.

Ernest:  I’m a bit of a fanatic myself at times. At least that’s what my work-mates say. “You’re quite the fanatic", they say to me when I’m telling them about something I’m thinking about doing. I mean, I guess my way of thinking is a bit strange sometimes. Probably not the kind of thoughts people usually have. And then they’ll say to me, they’ll say: “You’re quite the fanatic.”

Donald:  I could tell as soon as I walked in here.

Ernest:  What?

Donald:  That you were a fanatic. I thought to myself right away, “Now there’s a guy who’s a fanatic if I ever saw one”. No offense, you understand. It’s just that I’m incredibly quick to see through people. It’s a natural talent I have; or maybe even an unnatural one.

Stephanie:  (Returns) Here’s a few, I decided not to bring them all at once because I hope you’ll visit us again, look, I believe this album is the oldest, let me see now, yes, look here we are, one of the first pictures that was taken of all three of us together after Mary moved into the neighbourhood. And look at this one. Look how beautiful Mary looks on this one ....

Donald:  Speaking of cameras, that reminds me of this great story, this amazing thing that happened to me a few years ago, about three or four years ago when I lived in Akureyri, I was working there one summer and had this girlfriend from there who had got me a job there that summer and I lived at her place, but what happened was that one day I have to go to Grímsey to do some surveying and so I take this ferry from Akureyri over to Grímsey, Drangur was the name of it then but I think they have another one now ....

Stephanie:  Look at this one.

Donald:  ... I could have taken a plane I think but anyway I didn’t and to make a long story short I get down to the dock with my bags, take the car which I had decided to leave in the parking lot which I do, first I take my bags down to the ferry and then drive the car over to the lot where I park it, at that time it wasn’t paved and it didn’t cost anything to park there so I didn’t have to worry about that and so anyway I get myself aboard the ferry real quick with my bags and everything is set to go and we sail out the fjord in this great weather and then dock somewhere, likely in Ólafsfjördur or whether it was Dalvík, I can’t remember exactly, not that it really matters, anyway in the end we get to Grímsey where I get off the ferry with a few other people and get right to work on what I was supposed to be doing ....

Stephanie:  Here we are again next to the same tree, a few years later. Amazing how time flies.

Donald:  ... and then it just so happens that I finish everything I have to do there and decide to take the next ferry back to the mainland and I do that, jump back on board with my bags and the ferry sets off and I’m feeling fine, feeling like I’ve had a good tour to Grímsey and so we sail on, back along the fjord again so that Akureyri’s getting closer and closer and of course we dock there according to plan and people start ambling off the ferry and me, I decide to take my bags and just wander up to my car where it’s parked there in the parking lot and what happens in a nutshell is that when I get to the car I get this really weird feeling and start feeling like I have to hurry home to the girlfriend, it’s like I sense something, even though I’ve never been psychic or anything, at least not that I know of ...

Stephanie:  Here we are next to dad’s car.

Donald:  ... so I toss my bags into the back seat of the car real quick and burn rubber all the way home, she lived up in the old Lundahverfi area, the one that was built around 1970, straight up from the Mýrarvegur road, to the south, so I drive the car up the ravine and am really boogying by now and I drive past the swimming pool, hit a green light at the corner of Thingvallastræti and again at the lights on Mýrarvegur road, so I take the corner on two wheels, really screaming, and turn sharply up Mýrarvegur road then left into Einilundur and then right into Espilundur where we lived and grind to a halt in front of the house, jump out of the car and guess what? Take a guess what I saw when I got out of the car. I know you won’t believe it! You won’t believe this but there on top of my car is my Minolta camera which I had laid on the roof of the car in the parking lot when I was tossing my bags into the car and I had forgotten all about it and it had been there on top of the car the whole time with me driving like a maniac all that way, just imagine! I mean, it’s unbelievable, just so absolutely unbelievable, I can’t get over how fantastic it is!

Ernest:  You’re no fanatic are you, Martin? Has that ever happened to you, that you develop a burning interest in something?

Stephanie:  Martin is very interested in people, aren’t you Martin?

Martin:  I’m interested in stories. Especially the kind that are many things at once; reality, fantasy ... fairy tales or recollections and told in such a way or in such a context that it is impossible to tell which of those they are, you know? And similarly why people sometimes talk about reality like it is fantasy and sometimes about fantasy like it is reality and sometimes about some recollection like it is the imaginary story of someone else.

Donald:  I see. Sort of surreal. Like Picasso.

Martin:  But I am most interested in reality. These days. I’m interested in the truth.

Ernest:  Well, that certainly is fascinating. Actually you told me about it that time you called and talked to me, remember? Stephanie was busy with something and couldn’t talk to you, remember? So I talked to you instead.

Martin:  I don’t remember having talked to you over the phone.

Ernest:  Yes but I do because I was standing over there by the telephone and the news was on and I noticed that there was a news report from Sweden while I was talking to you in Sweden. I remember how strange a coincidence I thought that was. That I was talking to you and watching a news report from Sweden at the same time. I mean, I could almost have been watching Martin on TV while I was talking to him on the phone. And then I started thinking about all those live broadcasts. Maybe in the end everyone will be on live broadcasts all the time. Playing themselves.

Stephanie:  Yes ... that’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? And then there’s the problems. You’re also really interested in people’s problems. Once upon a time Martin was going to be a social worker or a family therapist.

Martin:  That’s right! In fact I was quite interested in that. But I grew out of it.

Stephanie:  Yes, you’ve grown a lot, an amazing amount, I would say.

Mary:  Growth is unavoidable. It appears to affect people in various ways, however.

Donald:  You were obviously a very tight group when you were teenagers. But things must have changed when Ernest appeared. I can’t believe that everything stayed the same when a complete stranger moved in here?

Martin:  The smell’s changed.

Stephanie:  Has it really? I hadn’t noticed. Do you really think so?

Donald:  Don’t look at me.

Ernest:  Gee, thanks for reminding me. It’s probably the varnish in the cellar. C’mon boys, let’s go down and have a look.

Stephanie:  Are you all right, Ernie dear? You’re looking kind of pale.

Ernest:  No, I’m fine ... I think. (Exits)

Stephanie:  He always keeps up a brave front, that man, no matter how he’s suffering.

Martin:  Suffering ... Ernest. I met him yesterday for the first time. I headed straight for my old room last night and Stephanie came in and kissed me goodnight as though nothing had changed. Tonight if I’m very tired she’s going to help me get my pyjamas on.

Mary:  And I can tell that you are quite worn out already.

Stephanie:  Mary took it so well when I told her I was in love and they immediately got along so well she and Ernest. After all, you think he’s so hilarious and he thinks the same about you and what more can you ask of two people?

Mary:  He’s a hilarious guy all right. Just a load of laughs. And the best thing about him is that doesn’t bother anyone, especially not Stephanie and me.

Stephanie:  Ernest keeps to himself and never, ever gets involved in things that aren’t his business. He’s a considerate and sensitive man.

Donald:  Yes, I like Ernie a lot and I’m usually really quick to see through people, you know? People have even come to me on occasion to ask for help and I just read them like an open book, how important they are or how important they’re not, and ....

Mary:  Didn’t he want to show you something down in the cellar?

Donald:  In the cellar? Right, absolutely. He was going to show me something down in the cellar. (Exits)

Martin:  He doesn’t seem to mind the phone bills ... all the collect calls, I mean? He hasn’t said anything about them to me yet.

Stephanie:  Ernest won’t say anything. He can’t bear it when there’s disharmony between us, any more than I can. That’s why we never fight.

Mary:  Truly amusing man, Ernest. Both of you, in fact.

Stephanie:  He can be a lot of fun.

Ernest:  Martin, you coming?

Stephanie:  Yes, he’s coming! Go have a look.

Martin:  Trying to get rid of me?

Stephanie:  Martin honey, how could you think something like that? It’s just that Ernest wants so much to show you his room!

Martin:  Just something in the way you said it made me ... maybe I’d better have a look downstairs. I mean, this is our house, isn’t it, Stephanie?

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Stephanie:  Well.

Mary:  Sweet little Stephanie. Still shovelling the same shit.

Stephanie:  It’s not that bad. Could be worse. Could be a whole lot worse, you know? Much, much worse.

Mary:  Do you really think so?

Stephanie:  Yes. It is really hard but then of course it’s hard everywhere. One shouldn’t talk. One has no right to complain, really.

Mary:  Sure one does. Tell me what’s the worst thing.

Stephanie:  Oh, I don’t know. What I think is the worst today is maybe not that bad tomorrow, you know? You can’t trust it, just like everything else. One thing just leads to another and there’s no end to it all until I’ve just had it up to here.

Mary:  At least your old man’s had it ....

Stephanie:  All those nights of staying up with him had started to take their toll, I’ll admit that ... though it may be hard for you to believe.

Mary:  Not at all. I can’t think of anything more likely!

Stephanie:  It was like his drinking got totally out of hand when he moved out. I was his only anchor, you know? In life. I was the only person who understood him. Knew what he had gone through. Sure, there were lots of people who claimed they wanted to help him but he told me that their help was all about cutting him down and brainwashing him along with a bunch of losers who never owned anything and couldn’t even support a family. I mean, imagine ... dad! He built this house! He put in a decent day’s work like all other good citizens! And then these men come along who even had the nerve to claim to be his friends and claimed to have the answer to all his problems, just like that! I mean ... a detox centre! They certainly had no thought for his reputation. Or mine. And I could sense just how much they wounded him, even though he didn’t say much. Dad was just like that ... he didn’t show his feelings much. Most of the time he just sat silently and observed it all, then formed his own opinion, quietly.

Mary:  You have to forgive me Stephanie but I find it uncomfortable listening to you talk about him so much ....

Stephanie:  I know. Of course. I wasn’t thinking. Forgive me. And then there’s Martin.

Mary:  Yes. Then there’s dear little Martin.

Stephanie:  I’m so worried about him. You know, it’s just like he never met any people abroad, I think he’s always alone. But maybe that’s not so unusual. I’m told that it’s impossible to get to know those foreigners.

Mary:  Is that so?

Stephanie:  Apparently they’re always in a hurry. Sometimes I just don’t know how he managed over there without me. But that’s changing now. Have you noticed how intense he’s become? I mean he totally shocked me just then when he said “You’ve done something to the living room, haven’t you?” In that forceful tone of voice, somehow. Did you notice that? “You’ve done something to the living room". And he’s started cursing, too! That I find terribly offensive.

Mary:  Yes, really it is terrible. But your darling anchor in the cellar doesn’t curse, hm? How many years has it been now? Eight? Or eighty?

Stephanie:  What do you mean? Me and Ernest? Come on, you know all about that.

Mary:  And still lovey-dovey?

Stephanie:  I consider myself extremely fortunate to have met Ernest in that purely co-incidental way. Not to mention that he should take me in, considering my situation at the time, Mary.

Mary:  Co-incidental? As I recall you were virtually sucked in each other’s direction. You father gone walkabouts and poor Stephanie with a blocked pipe down in the damn cellar yet again, so utterly fed up with it all she makes yet another call to plumbing service company which has sent the same man with the same snake at least a hundred times that same year.

Stephanie:  Not a hundred, five, six times at the most.

Mary:  Both the blockage victim and the receptionist barely manage to conceal the irritation in their voices. Only this time the service vehicle is particularly quick to arrive. And instead of the hundred-trip nit-wit who never did manage to unblock anything in this house a new man springs from the car with a new and as yet unknown snake. He gets right to work and with just a glance is able to break through one block and then another inside the young lady so that she is finding it exceedingly difficult to control the moisture seeping from her body, exerting all her will-power as she stands there in the doorway, holding onto a tattered door frame with all her might so that her knuckles turn white and he has come right up to her and is standing close, saying, “You have a blocked pipe, ma’am, don’t you?"

Stephanie:  It didn’t happen like that, I didn’t think he was anything special at first.

Mary:  The young lady of the house sees right away that his movements are completely different from those of his predecessor. Without a moment’s hesitation he’s on the case, shoving the snake both faster and deeper into the drainage pipe than she had thought possible and when he at last reaches the blockage it’s like he hesitates for a moment but then exerts the final shove with previously unknown force; yes! yes!! YES!!!, the snake trembles and at the same instant there is a deep flushing away underneath their feet, the snake stiff and proud and the standing water is sucked down into the floor with wet sounds while they stand looking deeply into each other’s eyes, he with drops of perspiration on his high forehead and she with her feet aching, in fact her entire body is aching and when he rushes off in his car a short while later she believes it sounds like a four-legged stallion but then she realises that the sound of the hooves is in fact her own beating heart which is off on a mighty gallop after the man with the snake, ... gallop-gallop-gallop ... not asking permission from anyone, ... gallop-gallop-gallop ... certainly not from her best girlfriend, ... gallop-gallop-gallop ... who up until that moment has always been informed and been allowed to give her opinion of every situation ... gallop-gallop-gallop ... gallop-gallop-gallop ....

Stephanie:  Stop it! For God’s sake. You know the reality was totally different.

Mary:  Does that matter if the story is good?

Stephanie:  You always say that.

Mary:  And you always agree, my dearest Stephanie. So isn’t everything just the way it should be, then?

Stephanie:  Yes, as far as I know. If something has changed it has completely escaped me. That’s the truth. Yes, everything is the way it should be here. It’s best kept that way. At least I think so.

Mary:  But Ernest doesn’t agree.

Stephanie:  Ernest? Did I say that? No, I don’t think so. Doesn’t agree about what?

Mary:  He hasn’t been getting ideas, has he?

Stephanie:  Ideas? Oh, you mean that. No, Mary honey, you know we never discuss that, Ernest and I, because we find the subject unnerving and besides, I have my ways of stopping any accidents from happening. I told you that. I don’t know why you’re bringing it up now. Dad’s dead and Martin and I are about to bury him in two days and ....

Mary:  Forget it. You’ll never understand the connection between anything, anyway. You’re such a virtuoso in the role of the idiot that sometimes I think you really are the idiot you’re pretending to be.

Stephanie:  You don’t mean that. I know you don’t. I know you well enough to know that. Actually, I thought I saw your father at the Lion’s Club festival the other day with ....

Mary:  How many clubs are you in now, anyway?

Stephanie:  Three; the Lionesses, the women’s association and ....

Mary:  And Ernest?

Stephanie:  He’s been cutting down because he’s been so busy at work since he was promoted ....

Mary:  And I suppose playing in the cellar also takes time?

Stephanie:  Oh no, not really. He heads down there every now and again ....

Mary:  And plays with himself a bit. Sure, I know all about that.

Stephanie:  I have to say that I do not appreciate the tone of voice you use when you talk about Ernest. He has been a pillar of strength to me over the years and you never hear him complain. I don’t imagine I’ve been the easiest person to get along with but he has stood by me no matter what. And he really puts himself out to try and make me feel better when the bad feelings start weighing me down, like all those concerns over Martin, for instance, or my worries about dad after he moved out or even just things on the news, all that war can really get a girl down sometimes and then he’ll offer to take me for a drive in the car or up to the mall or something and he always says, “The main thing is to feel good. Then everything just works out.” That’s his motto. He has all the answers, somehow.

Mary:  I can’t stand men like that.

Stephanie:  Sounds to me like Donald has a few answers up his sleeve, though I haven’t really asked him anything, not directly.

Mary:  Donald? He’s another goddamn fool.

Stephanie:  And what does that make you, the one who chooses to be with him and all the other fools?

Mary:  The grand fool of them all! And I love it.

Stephanie:  Sometimes I think you rush into things way too fast. Aren’t you afraid of catching the plague?

Mary:  Afraid of catching the plague? Catching the plague is the goal! Didn’t you know that? I’ve slept with more rubber-less hairy-asses than you could let yourself dream of. Sometimes when I stagger home, devoid of underpants, I’m so hot and swollen that there’s smoke coming off me in the cold morning frost, whole billows of smoke coming from underneath my tight skirt.

Stephanie:  Shh. Not here. Not now.

Mary:  What? We’re not tired of listening to Mary-tales, are we? You haven’t had many lately.

Stephanie:  No, of course not. And I’ve missed them. But I’m not in the mood now.

Mary:  Endless descriptions of yummies that you’ll never have a taste of except through me because you believe I’m capable of everything, don’t you, things that I say just might be the truth, no? When we’re lying together with the lights out, helping each other get in touch with the story, just like it’s really happening, Stephanie, like you’re in the middle of all the filth, only you don’t have to risk anything except catching that spiritual disease that you were infected with long ago through that great big thrill down in the cellar. Right?

Stephanie:  Don’t, you make it sound so disgusting.

Mary:  Disgusting? But you are not exactly pure. Don’t kid yourself for a moment. You are totally disgusting! You disgust me. Want it now? Shall we have ourselves a little Mary-tale right now?

Stephanie:  No, they might come upstairs.

Mary:  Who cares? Come on ... just a short one. I want to.

Stephanie:  All right then, but just a short one.

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