Dramatic Texts >> Raffi Arzoomanian >> Lady Esther

LADY ESTHER by Raffi Arzoomanian
 
Characters
LADY ESTHER
MILLIGY
ACEY DUCEY
CONNIE
 

ACT I
 
LADY ESTHER's basement apartment. Junkpile at rear of stage. Radio and television sit on pop cases. Cart is a conveyance that LADY ESTHER uses to collect metal scrap. There is a sign on the cart which reads, "Lady Esther Republican Metal Scrap Company." There are four poster-type pictures of Lincoln, Hoover, Eisenhower and Roosevelt. The picture of Roosevelt is upside down. In the apartment are "a car seat" sofa, a rusted safe, makeshift cupboard, a cot, table with two chairs, and a compartment under the stairs where LADY ESTHER stores the cart. The walls of the apartment should be concrete or cinder. It should be decidedly makeshift. ACEY sings the strains of "Someone to Watch Over Me" in the background as LADY ESTHER enters her apartment. She pulls the junk-cart noisily down the stairs, looks up at Acey's voice and begins emptying her junkcart. She examines each piece and puts it into a separate pile. Coils, springs, car parts, etc. She looks again at Acey's voice and speaks.
 
LADY
Ya think it's easy! (ACEY's voice diminishes slightly, ESTHER goes to the table, empties her bag of cigarette butts and a couple packages. Fills each package with a number of butts. As she does, she peers at a cigarette and mutters.) Goddamn lipstick. Used ta be so you could rub it off. Aah . . . (She throws it away and sighs with weariness as she goes to the safe and puts in her day's earnings. Then she focusses on the pictures.) Welfare, huh? I ain't no bum and I don't need it-I never needed it! I'm a republican and what's all ya speeches gettin ya now? Herbie, Abie, Ike, just love ya, just love ya. (ACEY gets louder.) I hear ya, bigmouth! (ACEY subsides. She stands and looks about her in silence, breathes deeply, goes to the radio and puts it on.) "The president today ordered a standby alert for the Gintano Islands and is drawing up new appropriations for" (She shuts it off.) Ain't gonna waste no money on no Gintano Islands. Kill the wop bastards and get it over with! Ya won't get me on no alert, I'll tell ya. (She goes to the television and clicks it on.) I ain't ever seen a man on television that wasn't no homo sexy so let's see what we got today. "One, two, three, four, yes, yes, yes, up, down, up down, up down, exercise, exercise, exercise." (She shuts it off.) Oh, no, you ain't no homo sexy, ya just the opposite, mister sexy homo. (Puts the TV back on softly.) Whattya know about bein a man, ever work to a sweat in your life? Fifteen, eighteen hours a day like my Turk? Call those muscles? My Turk had grapefruits in his arms, you ain't even got prunes. Wanta hear another jerk? Hey you up there, start singin. (ACEY sings.) How do ya like listenin to each other? Hey, shaddup! (ACEY stops and she shuts off the television.) Watta any of ya know about bein a man. (The following suggests her boredom.) Coulda worked anotha hour if the sun stayed out . . . Goddamn television . . . Goddamn radio . . . Goddamn Acey Ducey singin upstairs . . . Oh, Goddamn, wish you'da kept the sun out so I coulda worked some more. Ya keep the sun out all ya want in the summer. Who the hell wantsa work when it's hot! I ain't no Afican! (Five o'clock whistle goes off.) Guess it's time to eat ... Stew, stew, I love you, I love you, new blue stew-screw you stew. (Throws down can of stew, takes some bread from cupboard and puts it on the table.) I ain't that hungry anyway. (Sits at table, eats some bread and taps fingers on table as she chews and looks about the room. LADY ESTHER is able to chew an inordinate amount of food and her mouth distorts as she eats. After a few counts she goes to the safe, takes out urn with Turk's remains and puts it on the table across from where she sits. She sits facing the urn, chews on her food, and holds the urn with one hand.) My Turk, been dead twenty-five years and the bottle's still hot! (She bites off another piece of bread.)
 
ACEY
(Off-stage.) Lady Esther?
 
LADY
Whattya want, Acey?
 
ACEY
I'm afraid I made too much soup for supper. Would you like me to bring some down?
 
LADY
Naah, Acey, got a coupla steaks workin down here.
 
ACEY
I see.
 
LADY
You oughta be more careful, Acey, always makin too much for yourself.
 
ACEY
I know... You're sure you've got enough, Esther?
 
LADY
Couple steaks do me fine, Acey. Then I'm gonna watch some color television and do some more redecoration.
 
ACEY
Are you satisfied with the way it's going, Esther?
 
LADY
In a way of speakin. It ain't easy when you gotta match the colors on the color television.
 
ACEY
Why, I'd never thought of that Esther!
 
LADY
Well, you ain't never had no color television, Acey.
 
ACEY
That's true, Esther. Gee, I must see the apartment when it's finished.
 
LADY
Now if ya don't mind, Acey, don't like my meat too brown, ya know?
 
ACEY
Have a nice supper, Esther.
 
LADY
(She nods and takes a large bite of her bread and chews on it.) Went down to the square taday, Turk, but there wasn't much business. Garbage Joe came through aheada me and you know how much Garbage Joe leaves behind'm, so I went over ta the junkyard while Goldstein was eatin lunch, snuck me a couple tires and sold'm back for four bits apiece. Dumb Kike, lookin at me like he was beatin me outa somethin. (Pause.) You know what I'm gonna do tomorry, I'm gonna go back, get those same two tires and sellum again! Aah, it's nice to talk to ya, Turk. You shoulda seen Shebunka Malone today, tryin ta give me a swig outa his smelly beer - but I knew what he was afta and I took that beer and dumped it down his draws. You shoulda seen him jump, Turk, and you shoulda heard what I tole Widda Magoonie when she tole me she was lookin for anotha man. I said, if ya had a man in the first place, you wouldn't be needin one now. That's what I tole her, Turk, and she couldn't say nothin cause everybody knows the way I stuck by ya all these years. (She rises, gets a bottle of pop, opens it and sets it on the table.) You woulda been president if ya didn't croak, all they hadda do is put your bareass on television and you woulda been president! (She nods thoughtfully, has nothing left to say, looks about the room.) Hope I get sleepy 'fore long . . . been a tough day, ya know? (Knock at the door.) Screw ya bum, who needs ya!
 
MILLIGY
It's me, Lady Esther.
 
LADY
Who?
 
MILLIGY
Me, Milligy Jenks.
 
LADY
Milligy, huh, well double screw, yabum!
 
MILLIGY
Don't say that, Lady, it's important.
 
LADY
Nothin you got ta say's important, beggar.
 
MILLIGY
Now how can ya say that, Esther?
 
LADY
Cause I swore off ya five months ago. You was my brother's best friend and I got ya the best corner in the neighborhood.
 
MILLIGY
I know, but-
 
LADY
And I tole that democrat that if he didn't give ya that corner ta beg on, I was gonna tell everybody about him humpin in the back seat with Big Ass Millie.
 
MILLIGY
Lady, I can hardly breathe!
 
LADY
So I get ya the corner and whattya do? Ya beg there for a couple days and then ya take off!
 
MILLIGY
Now I been meanin ta -
 
LADY
So a couple days after ya go, I see the democrat and he looks me in the eye and says, "Oughta learn howda pick friends, junkie."
 
MILLIGY
I'm sorry about that, Lady and I -
 
LADY
Never been so embarrassed in my life. I ain't always doin things for other people, Milligy, but I did it for you cause you was Brownie's best pal and because we always been keepin in touch.
 
MILLIGY
Christ, I'm dyin out here and ya don't even care!

LADY
Ya nothin but a selfish beggar, Milligy, always out for a good time. Didya have a good time where ya been for the last five months?

MILLIGY
No, I didn't - Now ya happy?

LADY
Becausa you? (Laughs.) Are you kiddin?

MILLIGY
I came to see ya, Esther!
 
LADY
So? 

MILLIGY
Ya mean ya'll keep me out here?

LADY
After what you done, yes!

MILLIGY
I never hearda nothin like this in my life! I need to talk to ya, Esther, It's a matter of life and death!
 
LADY
Screw ya lousy bum! 

MILLIGY
Where's ya dignity! 

LADY
Well it ain't on my knees like some people I know!
 
MILLIGY
(Begins gasping and groaning.) Heart attack. I'm havin a heart attack . goin fast. . . bleedin from the ears ... let me have one last look at ya, Esther . . . Oh, I'm finished, finished . . . God bless ya, Esther . . , God bless ya.
 
LADY
Ya forget, Milligy. Ya tried that one the night ya wanted me ta buy ya the popcorn wagon.
 
MILLIGY
(He suddenly recovers.) Two miles I ran, two miles with the God-damn crutch slowin me up. Two miles and ya don't let me in! Ya cruel, that's what ya are, cruel. How can ya be that way when -
 
LADY
Ya damn right, I'm cruel.
 
MILLIGY
When the worse thing in the world's happened!
 
LADY
If usin ya head is cruel, I'm cruel.
 
MILLIGY
Esther, the worse thing in the world!
 
LADY
I'll never let ya in, beggar!
 
(MILLIGY begins to howl. Following lines overlap).
 
LADY
Ya crazy or somethin!
 
ACEY
Lady, Lady, you all right, Lady?
 
LADY
Stop it, Milligy, the landlord's gonna hear ya!
 
ACEY
Is that the landlord, Esther!
 
LADY
Willya shut up, Acey!
 
ACEY
What did you say, Esther?
 
LADY
It's that goddam Milligy! He's gonna get us both thrown outa here! Shaddup crazy! (She opens the door-the moment she does, MILLIGY stops howling and laughs sheepishly, LADY slams the door in his face and he begins howling again.) You ain't gettin in that easy, Milligy Jenks, sing ya song and then I'll let ya in! (MILLIGY stops.) Sing like ya did that night you, me and Brownie went to the river. The night ya sang and made us laugh till the sun came up.
 
MILLIGY
Crissake, Esther, I didn't come here ta sing. I came here for somethin life and death! I mean it, Esther, all foolin aside, I'm scared somethin awful, somethin awful!
 
LADY
Sing ya song or ya ain't gettin inside!
 
MILLIGY
Anythin ya say, Esther. (Sings.)
Give me, give me, give me a dime,
So I'll, so I'll have a good time.
I don't, I don't have my own pot.
Give all, give all, give all you got.
(She opens door and MILLIGY enters.) Got me singin at a time like this. Oh, Esther, I wish I was dead, I wish I was a miscarriage, I wish I never seen the lighta day! Lookit what they done ta me! (Hands her the warrant.)
 
LADY
(Looks over the warrant and hands it back.) I ain't interested.
 
MILLIGY
You ain't interested??? It's a matter of life and death, death and life!!
 
LADY
Milligy, you ain't laughin the same as usual.
 
MILLIGY
Esther, ya couldn't make me laugh if ya goosed me with a crowbar, how canya talk about laughin when I'm - Esther, willya read it! Ain't ya interested in what they done ta poor Milligy!
 
LADY
I ain't interested in readin no magazines.
 
MILLIGY
It ain't no magazine, it's a police warrant, can't ya read, Esther?
 
LADY
No. I can't, now ya happy! (She turns away embarrassed.)
 
MILLIGY
Esther, Esther, I didn't know, I didn't mean nothin. Esther, if I read it to ya, willya promise ta help me, Esther, do ya promise?
 
LADY
Last time I did somethin for ya, Milligy, ya took off on me and I been avoidin the democrat ever since. You don't know how much trouble -
 
MILLIGY
Oh, you don't know, Esther, you don't know. All my life I been afraid of one thing. Every time we talked about it in town I'd get scared and sick ta my stomach cause I was afraid it'd happen ta me. And the older I got the more I got afraid, and now it's happened, Esther, now it's happened!
 
LADY
You ain't talkin about croakin, are ya?
 
MILLIGY
It ain't croakin, Esther, it's worse, worse!
 
LADY
Worse!
 
MILLIGY
That's why ya gotta promise ta help me, Esther.
 
LADY
Milligy, If ya croak, I can't help ya and if ya do somethin worse than croak, I sure as hell can't help ya.
 
MILLIGY
But ya can help me, Esther, and I'm scared ya won't. Ooh, I feel like a cockroach, a cockroach. I shoulda gone ta college, I shoulda got me some kids that woulda taken care of me when I got old, I shoulda done a lotta things I didn't do. I shouldn'ta lived alone all my life cause look what it got me. The cage, it got me the cage, Esther, the cage!
 
LADY
The cage! You!
 
MILLIGY
Whattya think! Fa Crissakes, willya read it and see for yaself!
 
LADY
I think ya forgot I don't read so clear, Milligy.
 
MILLIGY
Well, I'll read it to ya. "Milligy Jenks, you are ordered by this court ta report daily to its Welfare Division for fourteen days and if you are unable by the end of the two-week period to prove adequate means of support you will become a ward of the court and assigned to a governmental home. Any confis-s-cation or loss of this warrant will automatically obvee-ate the waiting period and you will, upon loss of warrant, be asked to certify support or be assigned to the appropriate agency for processing." In other words, the cage, Esther, the cage!
 
LADY
But how come they give ya this now, Milligy?
 
MILLIGY
I screwed up, Esther, I was beggin outside St. Mary's church and they seen me.
 
LADY
Come on, Milligy, they more than just seen ya. What else ya do?
 
MILLIGY
The song.
 
LADY
The song, there's nothin wrong with the song!
 
MILLIGY
I changed some of the words.
 
LADY
Like what, Milligy?
 
MILLIGY
(Sings this tearfully.)
I am, I am, a good Cathlick.
Give here, give here, n'you won't get sick.
I don't, I don't, have my own pot.
Cathlicks, Cathlicks, give all ya got. . . aah-men.
And the cops caught me, asked me some questions, got my name, and then this. I shouldn'ta took off on ya, Esther, I should kept that corner ya got me and stayed there.
 
LADY
When didya get this order, Milligy?
 
MILLIGY
An hour ago, Esther. I came right to you, right to you. I don't wanna go to the cage, Esther.
 
LADY
Milligy, you oughta be glad, they give ya three squares and a place ta sleep.
 
MILLIGY
Three squares and a place ta - Lady, you're a jerk, a jerk. Don't ya know what it's like? Don't ya know anything about the cage?
 
LADY
And neither do you.
 
MILLIGY
But I heard, Esther, all my life I been hearin plenty. They whip ya, Esther, if ya don't eat all your food they whip ya.
 
LADY
Whip ya!
 
MILLIGY
All of your food, every bit, even cabbage. And they got a shock chair. Oh. no, it don't kill ya completely, just give ya enough juice ta make everything on ya stand up.
 
LADY
You sure about that?
 
MILLIGY
Remember when they took Franny Engels? We got reports from inside, later. I don't wanna go, please. The slappin machine's givin me nightmares.
 
LADY
Slappin machine!
 
MILLIGY
If ya don't do what the boss tells ya, they put ya in front of this ex-pug called The Slappin Machine and he gives ya fifteen slaps, and ya know what else?
 
LADY
What, Milligy?
 
MILLIGY
They got a hole and if ya don't get ta bed on time they put ya in this hole, put a cover over the hole and leave ya there for a couple days. You know me, Esther, I'm gonna screw up, and look what I'm gonna get. The shock chair, slappin machine, the hole, the parachute jump! Jesus, Esther, I can't go through that, please!
 
LADY
What's the parachute jump?
 
MILLIGY
They take ya up on top of a buildin and put a parachute on your back, only thing is the parachute never opens and when ya jump it ain't far enough ta kill ya, just far enough ta break ya legs.
 
LADY
Break your legs?
 
MILLIGY
Oh, they try ta kid ya, Esther, they put on army boots and everythin, but what good's army boots when the parachute ain't gonna open! Oh, Esther, the cage's the end of the road, end of the road!
 
LADY
Milligy, do ya think they're gonna make you do the parachute jump
when ya already got a bad leg?
 
MILLIGY
Don't ya see my bad leg guarantees me the parachute? They'll put me on top of the buildin, put on the army boots and say, "Okay, Jenks, we're lettin ya use the crutch ta balance off ya bad leg, and don't forget ta yell Geronimo." Oh, I ain't got a chance, Esther, not fallin fifty feet with a crutch and no parachute. What the hell's the crutch gonna do me? All it's gonna do is break my armpit in half and finish me off sure.
 
LADY
If ya threw the crutch away when ya jumped it might do some . . .
 
MILLIGY
Esther, Esther, it's all because I'm old and alone. If I wasn't alone I wouldn't have ta show the court nothin and I wouldn't have ta go to no cage. I wanna be free, Esther! I don't wanna live with a bunch of croakers I don't even know. I wanna live with people I been knowin all my life . . . like you, Esther.
 
LADY
Like me? (She turns away.)
 

MILLIGY
Yes, you, Esther... Esther, I can already see the ground coming up fast on the parachute jump... I can see it comin up and me conkin out and puttin me in a stretcher and takin me into a hospital and a doctor looking over me and shakin his head and... (He screams.)
 

LADY
Take it easy, Milligy, it's all a bunch of bullcrap!
 
MILLIGY
No, no, it's the truth!
 
LADY
Beggars talk, that's all it is.
 
MILLIGY
Franny Engels wasn't no beggar, he was a janitor.
 
LADY
He tell ya all this himself?
 
MILLIGY
He told everybody.
 
LADY
You hear it yourself?
 
MILLIGY
Fat Joe told me about it and it's true, Esther. Once they cage a guy he never comes back, never!
 
LADY
Sounds fishy ta me.
 
MILLIGY
Fishy? Whippins, shock chairs, the hole, parachute jump, and all you can say is it's fishy? Don't ya think it saves the government money not ta have ta support ya?
 
LADY
(Pause.) The democrats! Sure the democrats! Say they're takin care of all these people when they're killin 'em off!
 
MILLIGY
Oh, Esther, don't let the democrats get me, please.
 
LADY
Well, they ain't gettin me, I'll tell ya. I'm makin sure of that.
 
MILLIGY
But me, Esther, how about me!
 
LADY
Ain't puttin no parachute on me -I got enough in that safe ta . . .
 
MILLIGY
But I'm the one that's goin ta court, Esther, not you!
 
LADY
(Laughs.) I beat the democrats again.
 
MILLIGY
Me, Esther, me!
 
LADY
You, what?
 
MILLIGY
The democrats are gettin me!
 
LADY
Well, they ain't gettin me, Milligy, ain't ya glad?
 
MILLIGY
Glad?
 
LADY
No matter what they do ta ya, you'll always know that I out-smarted them. When they put ya up on the parachute jump just think of me, Milligy, and when ya jump yell my name, they'll know what you're talkin about cause they want me worse than anybody.
 
MILLIGY
But they'll get me, Esther, they'll get me.
 
LADY
Damn democrats ... we gotta think of somethin.
 
MILLIGY
Ya mean you'll help me, Esther?
 
LADY
I mean I ain't givin them any satisfaction. (Pause.) I got it! I got it!
 
MILLIGY
Ya mean we got the same idea, Esther?
 
LADY
You work!
 
MILLIGY
Work?
 
LADY
If ya got a job they can't touch ya!
 
MILLIGY
That's a lousy idea.
 
LADY
Sure, a job!
 
MILLIGY
I wish ya wouldn't talk that way, Esther, I can't work.
 
LADY
Why not?
 
MILLIGY
My...leg.
 
LADY
Milligy, there ain't nothing bad with your leg and you know it! So it ain't perfect, but it ain't no polio, either.
 
MILLIGY
But whatta people in the neighborhood gonna thinka me, Esther. They been givin me money fa thirty years and they ain't gonna like the idea of me gettin better all of a sudden.
 
LADY
You too damn lazy.
 
MILLIGY
I ain't lazy. I'm old. old! Can't ya see the way they'd look at me if I went lookin for work? Esther, Esther, this ain't no time ta talk silly. I don't wanna work, I wanna stay here, with you!
 
LADY
With me!
 
MILLIGY
I'm so afraid ta ask ya, Esther, ya might say no and that'd kill me!
 
LADY
Ask me what, Milligy?
 
MILLIGY
If ya'd. you know, like tell the court ya'd . . . take care of me -I won't be no bother, Esther, I won't -
 
LADY
So it's my money after all.
 
MILLIGY
That ain't true, Esther! Ever know somebody for years and all of a sudden they got sick and you found out you cared about um more than ya thought ya did? (With great sincerity.) Esther, I liked Brownie a lot more after he croaked than I did when he was alive. And you was Brownie's sister and I never knew how much ya meant to me until I found out they was puttin me away where I wasn't gonna see ya again ... It ain't money, how canya thinka money!
 
LADY
Important thing is I got it by hard work and sweat - by runnin my own business - not beggin.
 
MILLIGY
Important thing is I been knowin ya all my life! Esther, I'm the closest thing ya got to a family! In fact, Brownie once tole me there was a resemblance . . . from bein together so much . . . yeah . . . me and Brownie, Esther . . . all those years.
 
LADY
All those years...
 
MILLIGY
(Taking her cue and speaking reminiscently.) Known each other a long time - you just said it and it's true, Esther. Remember how we used ta swim at Coal Dust Docks?
 
LADY
The beach, ya mean.
 
MILLIGY
Well, that's what you always called it - and we used ta swim around until the cops kicked us out.
 
LADY
And the water was so nice and clean.
 
MILLIGY
Yeah, when the ships wasn't comin and dumpin all their oil and garbage in it - which was all the time.
 
LADY
And after we went swimmin we'd lie down and get dried off -
 
MILLIGY
Until Brownie got a ratbite. Remember how he went back the next day with a beebee gun?
 
LADY
Then we'd go downtown and walk around . . . lookin at pictures of Bette Davis in fronta the movies.
 
MILLIGY
And then we'd run home cause it was dark and we was afraid. Sorta reminds me of today, ya know?
 
LADY
We always had things ta do when we was kids.
 
MILLIGY
Because we was together - that's why we oughta be together now.
 
LADY
You, me and Brownie, all the time.
 
MILLIGY
Too bad he couldn't see us together.
 
LADY
Remember the nice funeral we gave um, Milligy?
 
MILLIGY
... Nice?
 
LADY
We gave um respect, Milligy.
 
MILLIGY
Ya damn right.
 
LADY
Everybody there saw that.
 
MILLIGY
I guess ya mean Joe the Preacher, Esther. Remember how he looked at ya and said "Sorry we gotta put him down standing up, Bertha." And I said that's the way Brownie wanted it. Brownie always used ta pass out standing up when he was alive and that's the way Brownie wanted it when he was croaked. Remember me sayin that?
 
LADY
I guess so.
 
MILLIGY
Well, maybe the old days weren't so hot after all, when ya don't have no cash for the movies and ya hadda swim with rats and ya hadda bury Brownie in a box instead of a coffin.
 
LADY
No, it was a coffin, Milligy.
 
MILLIGY
(Hesitantly.) But they don't give out coffins on Booze Island, Esther.
 
LADY
But it was a coffin, Milligy, don't ya remember?
 
MILLIGY
(Slight pause.) Sure! Of course -I almost forgot!
 
LADY
Course ya did.
 
MILLIGY
And what's the difference so long as we're together like we always was and . . . well, Esther ... no use beatin around the bush, ya know why I came taday?
 
LADY
(Still in the past.) Why?
 
MILLIGY
Fa marriage, that's right, ain't it great! I'm gonna make an honest woman outa ya, Esther. I don't care if ya shacked with Turk or not, that was a long time ago and I forgive ya, Esther.
 
LADY
You sayin you wanta marry me?
 
MILLIGY
If ya'll have me, Esther. If ya'll give up your title and be plain Bertha Jenks.
 
LADY
And wattya think Turk'd thinka this?
 
MILLIGY
But ya gotta forget about Turk the way ya forgot about the rats and docks and coal dust, Esther -
 
LADY
Turk was a gentleman and the only guy I ever loved.
 
MILLIGY
Yeah, I know, but -
 
LADY
I been his all my life, Milligy.
 
MILLIGY
Christ, he's been dead twenty- five years!
 
LADY
And they wouldn'ta thought a puttin him in no cage!
 
MILLIGY
He ain't all ya say, Esther.
 
LADY
Whattya mean about that?
 
MILLIGY
I mean he was no gentleman.
 
LADY
What'd you say!
 
MILLIGY
I said he was no gentleman, Esther, unless you call a guy that strangles cats a gentleman.
 
LADY
He was the only man I ever had, Milligy, and I ain't ashamed to say it!
 
MILLIGY
Maybe Turk's the only guy you ever had, but you ain't the only broad Turk ever had.
 
LADY
You take that back!
 
MILLIGY
It's the truth, Esther.
 
LADY
(Crosses away shaken.) When he died nobody claimed him... If he had so many girls, how come nobody claimed him?
 
MILLIGY
(Dryly.) Ain't much action left in a dead man, Lady.
 
LADY
I claimed him and I gave him a funeral and a cremation and he's been here ever since. My Turk. (Laughs softly to herself.) Milligy, he used ta pinch me when other people be lookin and make fun of all the guys on the corner. "Anybody wanta fight for my girl," he'd say and bend those big muscles till he had their eyes poppin outa their heads. When Turk and me was together it was like there was always a party goin, a party with noise and laughin and ... I couldn't wait ta get up in the mornin cause I knew I was gonna have fun!! Now I don't care if I get up or not. You think you can fix it so I can't wait ta get up in the mornin, Milligy? Don't make me laugh.
 
MILLIGY
So ... that's what ya want, Lady.
 
LADY
It ain't what I want cause I never want what I'm never gonna get.
 
MILLIGY
Don't say that! See, my memory ain't what it was, Esther. I'll admit I done some forgettin, like about the Turk. Sure he was a gentleman and he knew howda throw parties, everybody knew that - but so can I, Esther, and if I made ya happy like the Turk ... if I wasn't the kin-da guy you was ashamed of...
 
LADY
Milligy, I ain't the kind that runs with two guys at the same time.
 
MILLIGY
Then don't run with me, just give me a place ta sleep - I'll be like a butler - a butler that's always throwin parties.
 
LADY
Nobody could touch me like the Turk used ta touch me.
 
MILLIGY
But I don't wanna touch ya, Esther, I wanna get those bastards off my back!
 
LADY
A man can put his hand on your shoulder and wake up everythin in ya-
 
MILLIGY
But they're puttin me in the cage, see? And -
 
LADY
And you ain't a man, Milligy.
 
MILLIGY
(Pause.) Did you know that I had me four broads by the time I was ten?
 
LADY
Only room in here for -
 
MILLIGY
But I didn't come to grab ya, Esther.
 
LADY
Because ya can't and if ya can't I don't want ya!
 
MILLIGY
But ya gotta want me, Esther, you gotta want me!
 
LADY
No!
 
MILLIGY
Yes!
 
LADY
No!
 
LADY
No, ya beggin mutt!
 
MILLIGY
(Resolutely.) You don't even know me, Lady, beggin don't have nothin to do with my sexiness. (Towards her.)
 
LADY
Whattya gettin at?
 
MILLIGY
You'll see, Esther.
 
LADY
Milligy Jenks . . . Milligy.
 
MILLIGY
When I yet through with ya, you're gonna use Turk's bottle for aspirins. (He grabs her shoulder. She gets away, pulls the cart out from beneath the stairs and uses it to fend him off. On her third thrust, he avoids the cart and catches her around the chest.)
 
LADY
No, Milligy, No!
 
MILLIGY
A Turk ya want, a Turk ya get! (Picks her up.) Din't think I was so strong, huh? (Starts hopping to sofa.) Here comes Milligy cotton tail, comin down the - (Loses balance as she screams for ACEY to help!) Lady, Lady, watch out, Lady! (She screams as they topple over on the stairs. She kicks him in the leg.) My leg! Oh, ya killed me, Esther, killed me!
 
LADY
Now get outta here and never come back!
 
ACEY enters out of breath.
 
ACEY
Esther, are you all right?
 
LADY
Whatta you doin down here! (She looks about her room in fear.)
 
ACEY
You called me, Esther, is there anything wrong?
 
LADY
No, no, just dancin, that's all - fell down, see?
 
ACEY
Are you all right, Milligy?
 
MILLIGY
Yeah.
 
ACEY
(Down the stairs past Milligy.) This is the first time I've ever been here, Esther, and it's so quaint! (Looks at junk pile.) The nicknacks are marvelous! And the color TV.
 
LADY
Hadda fix the color television so they left me that one fa now. Just happened, Acey, see?
 
ACEY
Color television or not, Esther, the apartment is just you. I can't get over it.
 
LADY
Glad ya like it, coupla things ain't finished yet —
 
ACEY
Wouldn't know it by me, Esther! My apartment is so, so average, Esther. A little dresser, a lamp, a radio - it's quite dull, to be honest. I like to see things, Esther, things! Like at the hardware store. Things are all over the place and that's why I don't mind working there -but my room, it's so average. And you may ask, why do I stay there when it's so average? Acoustics, Esther, the acoustics are perfect. This is terribly important to me as an interpretive vocalist because I try to get every shade, every nuance, and you simply can't without acoustics! About acoustics, I guess you can hear me pretty well down here . . . and since you're the only one that's ever heard me sing, I was wondering . . . well ... if you think I've got a nice voice… really and truly… please, Lady, it’s important to me.
 
LADY
Well, I'll tell ya-
 
ACEY
I know you holler at me all the time but who wants to hear singing when you’re coming home from work, see? And I'm getting ready for the talent show at the Plaza Hotel and they've got a ten dollar prize over there … Pretty soon I'll be ready! What do you think?
 
LADY
You shown a lotta improvement the last coupla years, Acey . . .
 
ACEY
Lady, if you don’t mind - when you're talking about my singing I wish you'd use my singing name, Duke Grable.
 
LADY
Duke Grable, seein as you got a taste for my redecorating, suppose I tell ya I’ll let ya come down here and sing for me some time!
 
ACEY
No kidding!
 
LADY
When I’m ready
 
ACEY
Why, this is my first real break!
 
LADY
Now if ya don’t mind, Acey, Milligy and me-
 
ACEY
Of course, Esther … and thanks for everything. I’ll see you when I’m ready!
 
LADY
All right, Duke.
 
MILLIGY
Take it easy, Acey.
 
ACEY
Hope you’re feeling better, Milligy. Think I'll go upstairs and hum a little. (Exits.)
 
LADY
Now you, ya beggin bum, ya belong in the cage!
 
MILLIGY
Humiliatin, that’s what it is.
 
LADY
Turk woulda had my clothes off after a minute!
 
MILLIGY
Okay, don't rub it in.
 
LADY
And besides, I wouldn'ta been fightin so much if it was Turk.
 
MILLIGY
Okay, okay, help me up, willya?
 
LADY
I oughta leave ya there ta die, Milligy. If ya wasn't my brother's best pal, I'd sic the cops on ya.
 
MILLIGY
Just help me up so I can get the hell outa this dump. (LADY takes his arm.) Pull harder, willya? (She buckles and he pulls her down, their bodies perpendicular to each other.)
 
LADY
Milligy, no no!
 
MILLIGY
I never was any good on my feet, Esther, but down here, I'm tops! (Kisses her.) Now that wasn't so bad, was it?
 
LADY
I ain't that kinda woman!
 
MILLIGY
I ain't lettin ya up 'til I get to ya a little! (Kisses her again.) Ya need wakin up, ya cold tomato! (Screams out wildly and she goes limp.) That anythin like Turk, Esther?
 
LADY
(Softly.) Let me up, Milligy.
 
MILLIGY
No, Esther, not till ya tell me ya keepin me from the cage.
 
LADY
But Milligy ... I ain't sure —
 
MILLIGY
But ya din't give me a chance ta give ya a good time! Ya talk about
good times like they was all that was and ya don't even give me a chance!
 
LADY
I’ll give ya a chance if ya-
 
MILLIGY
Ya will?
 
LADY
If ya let me up.
 
MILLIGY
All right, not just promise me, Esther.
 
LADY
I promise. (Lets her up.)
 
MILLIGY
Gee, that’s great!
 
LADY
Now I want to be alone, hear me, I wanta be alone!
 
MILLIGY
Yeah, sure, don’t get mad… I’m your pal, Milligy. Esther, I’ll show ya the best time ya ever had in your life – like ya had in the…old days, Esther.
 
LADY
Tomorrow, Milligy.
 
MILLIGY
I’m promisin ya that, and just ta make sure everythin goes perfect, I’m gonna get Connie!
 
LADY
Connie the pimp!
 
MILLIGY
Got the happiest cathouse in town, Esther, that’s all Connie knows is a good time. Only the best for you, Esther!
 
LADY
Okay, tomorrow.
 
MILLIGY
And if I give ya a good time, ya'll have me, Esther?
 
LADY
(Expediently) I ain't had many good times lately, Milligy.
 
MILLIGY
I'm gonna make it just like ya said, Esther, so ya can't wait ta get up in the mornin. (She looks at him impatiently.) I'll go, Esther, got a long night aheada me ... afraid ta sleep, ya know? No hard feelins, honey?
 
LADY
No, Milligy.
 
MILLIGY
(Long cross, kisses her softly on the cheek.) I'll think of ya all night, all night. (Walks to top of the stairs.) Hey, Acey, sing a nice one for Lady Esther.
 
ACEY sings as MILLIGY exits.
 
LADY
(She sits a few seconds, goes to the safe, takes out Turk's bottle and feels it. She puts down the bottle, rubs her hands and then feels it again.) Ya warm, Turk, must be asleep, huh? Don't you worry, Turk, you ain't gonna share me with no beggar - no, you ain't! (She puts bottle back.) Wake up tomorrow, please? (Closes safe, goes to sofa, sits down and looks up towards voice of ACEY DUCEY as lights fade and act comes to an end.)
 
End of Act I

 


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