HE WHO OPENS THE DOOR
A black comedy for a theater of national tragedy
Translated by Anatole Bilenko
1st Woman, Natalia, aged 30-32
2nd Woman, Victoria, aged 25-26
The action takes place in a morgue during a cold season in present-day Ukraine.
Reception room of a morgue. Doors on left and right. There can be a couple of cots in the room. In the middle of the room a woman sits at a desk, singing a popular song coming from a player; she leafs the pages of a magazine, probably a magazine intended for women.
1st Woman: What things they invent here – makes you either gasp or cry. Now, that looks good and erotic, I’d say. But it fits her like the saddle a cow. It would fit me, though. (Tidies her hair and takes a critical look at her own figure). But, begging your pardon, for what occasion could I wear it – to entertain the dead? Pfui! In this dratted morgue it’s the only thing that comes to your mind. (Turns over the pages of the magazines). Oh, exercises for breasts. That’s just what I need, because soon I’ll be able to see my boobs only through a microscope. (Leaves the desk and begins exercising). Good, but how am I supposed to bring those breasts into motion? (The sound of something creaking comes from behind the stage. She listens intently). Are my breasts creaking, or what? (Again the creaking sound). Oh no, it must be mice. (The creaking sound grows stronger). Mice they might be, but they’re carrying on like some clamorous pigs. I must poison them with something: mightn’t get rid of them, but it’ll surely undermine their health. What if they’re rats? (Again the creaking sound). I was told that this would be a cushy job, quiet and clean, with a peaceable clientele with no complaints into the bargain. The only unpleasant thing would be the smell. Enough of that! Mice or rats, let’s relax. (Puts on earphones).
In that instant a door opens on the right side of the stage. A half-naked woman wearing a tag on a foot appears in a weird light. The 1st Woman lets out a stifled cry and collapses in a faint. The 2nd Woman cautiously enters the room and looks around. She is nice-looking but with traces of a recklessly spent night. At first she does not notice the 1st Woman.
2nd Woman: Hey, where am I? Looks like a shoddy office to me. Or is it a sobering-up station? And where is everybody? Could I be the only drunk in town? Or is the Dry Law in force? I, for one, like dry wine. Why is it so cold in here? (Only now notices that she is almost naked). Good gracious, they could’ve have covered me with something at least. (Sees a pile of bed sheets, wraps a sheet around herself like a Greek tunic). I’ll be dressed in “antique” style. (Sees a ledger on the table). Ledger of Morgue No.5. Oh my, this is a morgue! Dear girl, you’ve been drunk up to your waterline. Your memory’s a blank, with bits and pieces of intellect still intact. Halloo, anyone alive in here? What a stupid thing to ask in a charnel house, isn’t it? (Sits down on a chair and notices the 1st Woman). Oh, and could that be a … (Takes a closer look). Doesn’t seem to be breathing. Now what charnel house is this? It’s a pigsty, not a charnel house, what with corpses lying around at every step in the way of living people and all sorts of drunkards gadding about, although I’m almost sober by now. I must move her to some other place, because it’s somehow inhuman leaving her in this place.
Drags the 1st Woman to the cot. Just then the 1st Woman opens her eyes. The 2nd Woman starts in horror and retreat to a safe distance.
2nd Woman: Begone! Stay were you are and don’t come near me.
1st Woman: (Bewildered). Oh, excuse me, but you seem to be a corpse.
2nd Woman: What? I’m hearing that from a corpse myself.
1st Woman: But you died. How come you are talking? What’s this, a dream?
2nd Woman: Certainly not, although it could be a dream of the eternal variety. You’re seeing me because, beg your pardon, you, too, gave up the ghost.
1st Woman: Where am I?
2nd Woman: What an insolent lot those corpses are nowadays. Here’s she kicked the bucket and asks such questions. You’re in the sweet by-and-bye, in the afterworld as it were.
1st Woman: So who are you then?
2nd Woman: There could be several options: still a corpse, already a corpse, or simply a corpse.
1st Woman: Do you mean that I’m already a …? How come?
2nd Woman: Because you ceased to live.
1st Woman: No, I don’t want to … (Tears well up in her eyes).
2nd Woman: (Approaches and comforts her). Everyone has to go through that. No need to be so upset about it. Living nowadays is an expensive pleasure, what with having to buy this and that. But all a corpse needs is a coffin.
1st Woman: (Through tears). Do you know how expensive coffins are today?
2nd Woman: It won’t be you buying it, but your hubby. You’ll be just lying in the coffin in peace and quiet, without worrying about clothing and feeding your mortal flesh. He’ll be bringing flowers to your grave. Did he give you flowers frequently during your lifetime?
1st Woman: Oh, but I didn’t bid him farewell. It’ll be such a blow to him.
2nd Woman: A blow you say? Oh no, he’ll heave a sigh of relief. Imagine a man having to stick to one skirt all his life. You enjoyed yours, so let him enjoy his as a free man.
1st Woman: Wait a minute! How did it all happen? I was healthy, after all.
2nd Woman: You just said it, lady – in the past tense. What kind of health do you expect in such an environment as ours? The soil is filled to bursting with pesticides and herbicides. The air, beg your pardon, stinks of shit to high heaven. H20, in the true sense of the formula, doesn’t seem to exist at all. Once you’re filled with that shit up to your gills, it’s curtains.
1st Woman: But I did exercises to keep my breasts in good shape, didn’t indulge – well, almost – in drinking, and regularly took all those health pills.
2nd Woman: What a waste of money! Usually, it all ends in a thumping heart attack – and you turn up your toes.
1st Woman: My God, what language you use. How can you joke at such a time? Don’t you really have anything to regret?
2nd Woman: Right now I do. But what’s the sense of bawling? Whom are you trying to move to tears? That freakish dame with the braids who dreams of becoming a prime minister? She doesn’t care a straw about you or anyone else. No, I’d rather meet her with a stiff lip and rosy cheeks instead of a bluish pale face.
1st Woman: (Rushes to a mirror to have a look at herself). By the way, I don’t look like a corpse at all, and there’s nothing of a bluish pale face you mentioned.
2nd Woman: Did you expect an immediate effect? That’ll take a couple of days. You’d better take care of something more essential. Do you have a place at a cemetery?
1st Woman: No.
2nd Woman: What about relatives? Nowadays you can be put to bed with a shovel together with some relative.
1st Woman: (Sighs). No, regrettably, they all are still alive.
2nd Woman: So the next stop would be a crematorium.
1st Woman: To be burned alive just like that?
2nd Woman: First, not alive but dead. And second, why not? It’s better to burn up quickly than, beg your pardon, rot away boringly for a long time.
1st Woman: Brrrr! … listen, don’t you have any other subjects to talk about? Why are we sitting here just like that? Where’s the Paradise, Hell, the light at the end of a tunnel, or at least anything similar to a decent afterlife?
2nd Woman: We’re probably waiting for someone to take care of us. Just imagine what a lot of people are doddering off life’s stage! Probably there must be a long waiting line.
1st Woman: Will you be the last in the line?
2nd Woman: Could be.
1st Woman: I’ll be the next in line then. Right now I’m nervous.
2nd Woman: Nothing to be nervous about, because you’ve got everything behind you already.
1st Woman: So what should we do now?
2nd Woman: Doing anything now is out of place. Relax and … how should I put it? … oh yes, find repose. By the way, what about getting acquainted? After all, we’re on our last trek together. My name’s Victoria, and what’s yours?
1st Woman: Natalia… Natalia Heorhivna.
2nd Woman: Na-ta-lia He-or-hiv-na… Imagine how nice the first name and patronymic would look in gilded letters on granite? And under all that the epitaph: “From the sincerely grateful descendants!”
Natalia: But I don’t have any descendants.
Victoria: So be it: “In memory. Honor and glory be yours for ages to come.”
Natalia: Amen… I won’t live that long.
Victoria: Sure, you’ll die much earlier. Here’s another version of an epitaph: “You’ll live in our hearts” period.
Natalia: It lacks warmth and sounds too formal to me.
Victoria: My, my, are you difficult to please. Do you have a nice photograph for the tombstone?
Natalia: No, except the one for a passport. I’m not too photogenic and my figure is not …
Victoria: You’ve got a good enough figure … for a coffin. And the main thing is that it has some economical advantages: a narrower coffin, less expensive, and less fabric for dressing you up.
Natalia: Indeed, I have nothing decent to wear. Truth is, I came by a fur coat not so long ago.
Victoria: Oh no, wearing a fur coat in a coffin is indecent and, perhaps, it would be too warm in it.
Natalia: I also bought a brand new swimming suit, a colorful one with flowers.
Victoria: No, flowers won’t do. You’ll need something black or dark blue. What a lingering Soviet habit we indulge in by putting off everything for later on.
Natalia: But death came so unexpectedly.
Victoria: It’s something everyone is being warned of today … in advance. We seem to have been taught everything. Want to drive a car? Good, take a three-month training course, pass exams, and only then you’ll be issued a driving license. But nobody is being prepared for death. I think there should be some courses and exams for this purpose. If you failed to take a course, don’t be in a hurry to pay the debt of nature.
Natalia: That’s exactly what I’d string along with. I’m still a greenhorn in this respect. What if I won’t be accepted?
Victoria: Why ask me? I know as much as you do…
Natalia: But you seem to know all the facts of life … as if you died dozens of times.
Victoria: Know why? It’s because of my logical thinking. For some reason I’ve got a headache right now. What if thinking too much is harmful for corpses?
Natalia: For corpses nothing is harmful anymore.
Victoria: A sober thought, I’d say. I have to take something against the headache (looks for some pills on the desk, swallows a couple, sits down at the desk and falls asleep).
Natalia: Let me have some, too. All these weird happenings have made my head spin (also takes some pills). Their taste reminds me of my soporific… Maybe I’ll find some repose … (goes to a cot and lies down).
Natalia: (wakes up, gradually gets on her feet, rubs her eyes, takes in the room, notices Victoria, walks up to her, and coughs slightly to wake her up). Excuse me, but what are you doing here?
Victoria: (half-awake, not understanding what’s going on). Where am I? Now wait a minute… I went out with Tolik. Do you know him?
Natalia: (irritated) I don’t and I don’t want to.
Victoria: Good for you. He’s a rare scum – made me drunk and then walked out on me. Or was it the other way around? When I came to me senses, it was cold. Then I saw corpses all around … and you seemed to be one of them. Now I’m recalling it all. Your name is Natalia.
Natalia: Right, and yours is Victoria. So it wasn’t a dream, was it?
Victoria: What dreams are you talking about? Look at me. In my eyes there’s frost, on my leg is a tag, and I’m a typical representative of the family of corpses. You don’t look any better.
Natalia: This is absurd. Me, a corpse?
Victoria: No, you were simply gadding about nearby and decided to drop into Morgue No.5 – a wonderful attraction sight with such a refreshing cool!
Natalia: Morgue No.5? But that’s the place I work at as a medical orderly. Does it mean that I’m alive?
Victoria: Why then were you lying around like an ordinary corpse?
Natalia: I wasn’t lying around. I just fainted at your sight, taking you for a ghost, although this is a morgue and live corpses are a rarity around here. You’re the first one I’ve seen.
Victoria: I’m really thrown out of gear. Am I alive, a corpse, or a ghost?
Natalia: We could pinch each other (pinches Victoria).
Victoria: Ouch, it hurts!
Natalia: Of all the people to complain.
Victoria: Let’s suppose we’re alive. But how have we come to be here?
Natalia: Wait a minute. You mentioned about a booze-up. Maybe you became dead drunk, got chilled to the bones in the street, and they picked you up as a corpse.
Victoria: How then did a medic confirm my death?
Natalia: It’s a wonder how he didn’t confirm his own death yet. He goes on a bender at his workplace and everything else then runs by autopilot.
Victoria: Why do they keep such people?
Natalia: Nobody’s every complained about it. You’re the first one. Thank God that you landed here, but not in a crematorium. You’ll have to drink less.
Victoria: I didn’t get into the habit yet. So we’re alive, aren’t we?
Natalia: Thank God we are. All is well that ends well.
Victoria: I’d even say all that doesn’t end. (Both laugh). Oh, but I must phone back home lest they worry…
Natalia: Don’t tell them, though, where you’re phoning from.
Victoria: May I? (Tries to phone, but fails). The line seems to be dead.
Natalia: How come? Let me try (tries to phone, but fails as well). That’s strange, not a single buzz. Never mind, there’s a public telephone around the corner.
Victoria: (Goes to the door where she stops short). Oh my, but I can’t go outdoors in such a wear. I’d be lucky not be be hauled off to a nuthouse or raped.
Natalia: Wait! The clothes are in the outer room. You were dressed upon arrival, I hope?
Victoria: Sure, once upon a time. It’s a striped suit.
Natalia: (pushes the door, but it proves to be closed). What the hell! It’s closed. Or is this somebody’s foolish joke? Wait! There’s an emergency exit here. (Runs to the opposite door, tries to open it, but it’s also closed). Why are you standing there rooted to the floor? Give me a hand. (Both try to open the door, but all in vain).
Victoria: Well, well, that’s a pretty pass. I wonder how long we’ll be stuck in this hole? By the way, what time is it?
Natalia: (produces a watch). It stopped. Must have hit the floor when I blacked out. Do you have a watch?
Victoria: The only thing I got is a tag (raises her foot and inspects the tag). Just what I thought – it’s got the number 13 on it. With such a number they even won’t let you die in a human way.
Natalia: What should we do now? And the main thing, what does it all mean?
Victoria: What about breaking down the door?
Natalia: It’s hopeless. The door’s steel-plated.
Victoria: What a stupid country to live in. Why should a morgue have steel-plated doors? To keep out the body snatchers? Or to prevent the dead from running away?
Natalia: No, that’s not the reason. This used to be a bomb shelter in case of a nuclear, chemical or such like attacks. Somewhere there’s an instruction on this point.
Victoria: (finds the instruction). Here it is (studies the instruction, Natalia joins her).
Natalia: (reads). In case of danger of an attack, the security system is activated and the door is blocked…
Victoria: Do you meant that …?
Natalia: I don’t mean anything. I just read what’s written here. Maybe it’s something incidental.
Victoria: And the dead telephone line – is it also incidental?
Natalia: Good Lord, it gives me the creeps. I just can’t believe it.
Victoria: When the nuclear power station at Chornobyl blew up nobody believed it either.
Natalia: What if it’s blown up again?
Victoria: Who knows. In any case going outdoors is dangerous. Anything could be out there: chemical contamination, radioactive fallout, epidemics…
Natalia: Where could that garbage have come from? Everything seemed to be quiet…
Victoria: The explanation is simple. The Americans got sick of China’s expansionist ways and hit it with a nuclear rocket. The Russians stood up for their Chinese comrades and retaliated. So the Americans put on a nuclear missile attack on Moscow. Now all that radioactive shit is raining down on our heads.
Natalia: I’m surely down on my luck to have landed in Morgue No.5 at such a time. I believed this would be the end of my professional ambitions, but now it might be much worse than that.
Victoria: Depends how you look at it. At first we seemed to be dead, while everyone else was alive, but now it’s perhaps the other way around.
Natalia: Do you really believe that we’re the last people on earth?
Victoria: It could be a possibility. Who knows.
Natalia: Why would Gold leave just two females alive? Makes no sense to me. Noah, for one, brought on board his ark a pair of each creature. Of what use can the two of us be?
Victoria: The ways of God are truly unfathomable. What if thereby He wanted to put an end to all wars? Once I saw a film where girls were reared in test tubes. You any good at biology? What’s artificial insemination?
Natalia: I’m a medic, after all. Artificial just means artificial, but you still need a man to achieve the desired outcome. (Presently the telephone rings piercingly. The sound makes the women start).
Victoria: Pick it up! This is supposed to be your workplace.
Natalia: (Picks up the phone and responds in an expressionless voice). Hello… yes … yes … (replaces the receiver, keeps silent).
Victoria: Well, who phoned?
Natalia: I don’t know …
Victoria: Was it at least a man’s or a woman’s voice?
Natalia: A man’s, it seems.
Victoria: Thank God, one man’s still alive. What did he say?
Natalia: They just left and will be here soon.
Victoria: Are they coming to pick up a corpse?
Natalia: No, in that case they would’ve said it differently. They’re coming for me, or for us?
Victoria: And what would that mean?
Natalia: If I only knew…
Victoria: At least the telephone has been switched on (picks up the receiver). Hey, it’s off-line again.
Natalia: Maybe it’s done intentionally to have the phone operate only one way. A weird hocus-pocus, I’d say.
Victoria: Now let’s mull it over logically: if we’re alive, so it’s somebody’s nasty joke and we just have to wait out until it runs its course.
Natalia: And what if we’re … not alive?
Victoria: The more reason to wait. There’s nothing else we can do.
Natalia: (sits down, waits for a while). But I can’t be sitting and just twiddling my thumbs! (Jumps to her feet). Let’s do something!
Victoria: Do you have any cigarettes?
Natalia: Yes. So what?
Victoria: You said that we should do some. So let’s have a smoke (Natalia produces two cigarettes, lights one and the other, and then crumbles hers). What’s the matter?
Natalia: I won’t smoke. What if all this is real … and there’ll be the Last Judgment? Smoking is a sin.
Victoria: If it’s real, you’ve already sinned up to the hilt. So it won’t help you any. You can just as well give yourself up to all the joys of life – oops, beg your pardon – of death.
Natalia: (produces another cigarette and lights it). Sounds convincing.
Victoria: One cigarette more ore less doesn’t make any difference. You’d better be concerned about something more serious… Say a pray, if you are a believer.
Natalia: (assumes a prayer’s pose and barely moves her lips in a prayer). And why don’t you repent?
Victoria: I see no sense in it. Whether I repent or not I’ll land down there (points to the floor). I failed to abide by God’s commandments. No sooner did I marry than my marital life became sour and we parted, I was kicked out of college, and what followed was a merry-go-round of living. But then I got crammed to the scuppers with all the ups and downs of life.
Natalia: Still, if you repent sincerely… Maybe this place is a sort of purgatory. They didn’t come for us on purpose so as to give us another change.
Victoria: You say so because you’re more than a match for me – working hard all your life from sunup to sunset, living with one man, probably never deceiving him, eh?
Natalia: Not a lot you know about me, do you? I would’ve have been better off had I deceived him than this ….
Victoria: This what? (Pause). All right, if you don’t want to say it, don’t.
Natalia: Listen, what if I repent to you? It’d be like confessing to a priest.
Victoria: Just a minute (stubs out her cigarette). Now repent.
Natalia: To make a long story short, I had two abortions … in my salad days, so to speak. I got pregnant from a boy I met by chance …
Victoria: That’s enough for an explanation. What about the second?
Natalia: That’s when I was already married. We were renting one room and lived in such squalor that I decided against childbirth. Later on I saw my baby boy in my dreams. You know, it seemed like a snowstorm was raging and somebody knocked on the door, saying quietly, “Mommy, let me in, I’m scared…” I opened the door, but there was nobody outside… That would rouse me from sleep and make me weep bitterly. I was told that any abortion spells the end of a marriage. A woman has to pay for interrupted childbirth, for life, let alone for everything else that follows.
Victoria: And for a child as well. Almost everybody is resorting to abortions. That’s what’s life like. But with me it was much worse than that. When I was pregnant, my mate deceived with me a broad and so I send him packing. He left, all right, but my baby girl was born dead – got herself entangled in the umbilical cord. They say that once it feels guilty of something, it hangs itself.
Natalia: Can they really understand such things “there”?
Victoria: Better than we. You know, it would have been better had I done an abortion – less suffering for both me and my baby girl, especially for her…
Natalia: Listen, a lot of sins are forgiven for suffering.
Victoria: Makes no difference to me after all I’ve been through. (The telephone rings, both of them freeze).
Natalia: Pick up the phone, quick! But this time ask everything in great detail.
Victoria: No, you do it. It’s your turn. (Pause). Pick it up or it’ll stop ringing.
Natalia: (picks up the receiver). Hello… who’s there? Yes… I just want to … (replaces the receiver).
Victoria: What did he say?
Victoria: “Don’t worry, we’ll be there soon,” he said and added not to take any thoughtless steps and keep out of harm’s way.
Natalia: Wait a minute! If we’re to keep out of harm’s way, doesn’t it mean that we’re alive?
Victoria: Indeed, what steps, the more so thoughtless, can a corpse take? It’s clear as daylight.
Natalia: Sounded to me like the assurances of a medic: please, don’t worry, everything will be all right, and if your leg will be cut off up to your ears, you don’t need it anyway, do you? Got the drift? Did you get plastered often?
Victoria: Only now and then.
Natalia: But I was a real boozehound. Delirium tremens – that’s what we’re suffering from, my dear.
Victoria: What? You must be out of your mind.
Natalia: Of course, I am. My job’s a nervous affair with a lot of stress and fatigue. So there’s never enough glue to keep me in one piece.
Victoria: What are you raving about? Do you mean that we’re some screwballs?
Natalia: There might be two options: either we’re screwballs, or the screwballs out there are much worse than we.
Victoria: Let’s assume it’s so… Why then did they lock us up here?
Natalia: Because we’ve got the manic-depressive syndrome. We’re sort of publicly dangerous types.
Victoria: Why not in a nuthouse, but in a morgue?
Natalia: It’s an on-the-job method of treatment, I guess.
Victoria: But I’m not performing any work here!
Natalia: It might also be a temporary arrangement.
Victoria: What then does the phrase “keep out of harm’s way” mean?
Natalia: So that you won’t ram your head against a wall and destroy public property?
Victoria: My head’s public property?
Natalia: No, the wall, or those dratted doors (rushes to a door, but stops short).
Victoria: (thoughtfully). What kind of a screwball am I, if I can think soberly?
Natalia: You’d better keep mum about your sober thinking. Whose obsessive idea about the nether world was it, but not yours?
Victoria: And who carried on about a nuclear winter around one separately taken morgue?
Natalia: Well, as far as I can make out, you’re a typical schizoid paranoiac, while I’m a paranoid schizophrenic.
Victoria: Good Lord, sounds so idiotic … it seems to be true. Listen, you’re a medic and must be knowing the ropes. I’m aware that I’ve got a loose screw, but tell me how and when it became loose.
Natalia: Well, I’m not a psychiatrist. Did you ever have a feeling that someone was pursuing you?
Victoria: (tries to recall). It happened. Whenever I put on a mini skirt, some stud would stick to me and dog my footsteps all the time.
Natalia: And what about a long skirt?
Victoria: Depends how long. Whenever with a deep cleft, the effect was the same.
Natalia: See: obtrusive ideas with persistent associations.
Victoria: Oh, mommy, I don’t want to land in a loony bin.
Natalia: Don’t be so wrought up. The patients are always better off than the medical personnel – all you do is lounge around and rest. It’s the nurses that have to be pitied, since they’re on the move all the time, attending to the complaints of the crazies. Why do you think I got a job at the morgue? Everyone here is happy and doesn’t complain. Dead patients are a hundred times better than the living ones.
Victoria: Hey, I know what you’re sick of! Necrophilia.
Natalia: Are you out of your rocker? I’ve never touched them so much as with a finger.
Victoria: So it’s platonic necrophilia. Phase One.
Natalia: I think that with you it’s the last phase of wackiness. (Pause, quiet). Listen, I know what we should do to have them let us out of here. Let’s pretend that we’re on the way to recovery, understand?
Victoria: (nods in agreement, says loudly) I’ll never drink again!
Natalia: And I’ll never come near a corpse. I’ll quit this dead house tomorrow. No, right away today!
Victoria: Just the smell of liquor makes me sick.
Natalia: And I get sick of the smell of these stiffs.
Victoria: To prove my point, I’ll join a sobriety society.
Natalia: And I’ll make the worst move by joining an ambulance team, or else work in analyses reception instead of this charnel house. (As the telephone rings, says quietly) What if they heard us?
Victoria: Come on, pick up the receiver and talk to him like a medic to a medic.
Natalia: Hello… yes (pause). Excuse me, but won’t you tell me … (replaces the receiver).
Victoria: Well, what did the doctor say?
Natalia: I think it wasn’t a doctor. He said that they were late and that we should make up our minds…
Victoria: Make up our minds about what?
Natalia: I don’t know. But if they consider us schizos, they would’ve said something else. Schizos don’t make up their minds; it’s something that’s done for them by others.
Victoria: Exactly… make up your minds… sounds like an appeal on a ballot slip.
Natalia: Hey, you hit upon a good idea. What if it’s a coup?
Victoria: What coup?
Natalia: A political coup d’éta, of course. While the higher-ups are locked in a power struggle, the masses have been cooped up in their homes lest they pull a different way. Therefore we have to make up our minds whether we support “our side” or “their side.”
Victoria: But where is this “our side” and “their side”?
Natalia: Does it make any hell of a difference to you? It won’t be any worse than it is now.
Victoria: Why so?
Natalia: Or they might at last put this country in order by jailing some, wasting others – enough to make us breathe easier.
Victoria: And what if they jail or waste us?
Natalia: Why us, and what for?
Victoria: If they knew what for, they would’ve done it a long time ago. We were told to make up our minds, which means we have to find out who the Left and the Right are.
Natalia: Can’t you put it more clearly?
Victoria: What a feather-brained character you are. The Left are for making everyone much the same and be equally bad off, and for an all-out unification with different fraternal peoples, while the Right are a peculiar breed of patriots who want us to be bad off as well, but selectively, and for them the fraternal peoples are the ones with the fattest bank accounts.
Natalia: Which means that everyone will be down at the heels?
Victoria: Who knows. So if we don’t make up our minds, everybody will be under the screw, especially you and me. Is that clear enough?
Natalia: Just about. Most likely the freaks we’re dealing with are from the Left.
Victoria: Shush … (says quietly) mind what you say. They might be eavesdropping on us.
Natalia: (loudly) I’m, too, for a bright tomorrow … or, still better, for a bright today… when everyone – on a per capita basis – will have equally a yacht, villa, and a Mercedes car.
Victoria: (quietly) What are you raving about? What Mercedes car?
Natalia: If that’s not to your liking, let it be a bicycle for everyone or, still better, a skating board … of a red color! It’s less expensive and will take care of the fitness problems. Also, there’s absolutely nothing we’ve lost in NATO. Why should we have to be losers all the time?
Victoria: Imagine some nice Western troops entering the picture. Oops – I wanted to say some friendly fraternal troops. We’d be living in clover then.
Victoria: When all those dratted nightclubs, casinos, discothèques and other capitalist survivals are razed from the face of the earth.
Natalia: Right you are, because they rob you of sleep. With our failing health we’re the least fit to be whirling and twirling the whole night through.
Victoria: And winning anything in a casino is like milking a he-goat into a sieve. The bastards are rigging the machines, cogging the dice, and double-crossing the gamesters. A lot of times I tried to win – all in vain. Those swindlers should be thrown behind prison bars.
Natalia: Instead of casinos we should have theaters, concerts halls, or picture galleries!
Victoria: Right. Also, prostitutes should have fixed working hours – either in the daytime or at night. And they should have a trade union to care of their days off, sick leaves, vacations, and everything else working people should be entitled to.
Natalia: It wouldn’t be bad to send them off on indefinite leave. For all time to come! Enough of that whoredom! A husband should bring his wages to his family instead of spending them on floozies. As it is, our money’s not worth a fig nowadays.
Victoria: Money is not the main thing, though.
Natalia: Not even when you got a lot of it?
Victoria: The main thing is for the heart to sing.
Natalia: Hey, that’s a fine idea. Let’s sing a revolutionary song. (Gives Victoria a wink and says under her breath) Once they hear it, they’ll be moved and let us free.
Victoria: Let’s strike up the The Internationale (sings quietly) … Arise, you prisoners of starvation! Arise, you wretched of the earth! For justice thunders condemnation: a better world’s in birth! That’s all I remember. (March around the room, singing la-la-la instead of the lyrics, then stop marching). We could also build a fire and … (whispers) burn all the compromising capitalist trash like, for instance, this typical porno magazine. (Picks up the magazine, but Natalia tries to take it back).
Natalia: It’s not a porno but a usual women’s magazine (snatches the magazine out of Victoria’s hands).
Victoria: What about this broad stringed with what should look like a swimming suit?
Natalia: Is she supposed to wear a fur coat in summer? (Hides the magazine in a desk drawer). It just entered my mind that it’s not the Left we’re dealing with…
Victoria: Who then?
Natalia: Try to recall how the man addressed you.
Victoria: He said Pani1. Yes, he did, and in Ukrainian besides.
Natalia: See. It’s the Right, of course. The Left wouldn’t be torturing their tongues to squeeze a Ukrainian word out of their mouths. Makes me sick listening to those benighted members of Parliament who can’t piece together a simple phrase in Ukraine. The tongue of the Russkies is the only one they seem to know.
Victoria: Uh-hu, and with a lot of cant. Yes, we’re dealing with the Right…
Natalia: Oh my, what a flood of gibberish we had let loose here.
Victoria: No, a bright future of the communist variety would make a hash out of our lives.
Natalia: Yes, we’ve had enough of that friendship of peoples. And, apart from everything else, you won’t get far on a skating board.
Victoria: People in the West have a decent life. Perhaps we, too, might come into something decent one day. The main thing is to advance in the right direction.
Natalia: For a starter let’s shape the image of a genuine Ukrainian woman.
Victoria: Do you have any embroidered blouses by any chance?
Natalia: Do you think that embroidery is a favorite pastime among the dead?
Victoria: Oh, how sarcastic we are. I was just curious. All right, let’s have a closer look at the main things – our ancestry, for one. What’s your surname?
Natalia: Varletenko, by my husband’s name.
Victoria: (laughs) What a husband with such a surname to bump into. Did it take long to find him? (Says seriously) For our situation, though, it’s an ideal surname. It captures so beautifully the national character, so to speak. And what’s your maiden name?
Victoria: Oh, that’s a worse case.
Natalia: Not at all. It’s part Latin of what means jimsonweed.
Victoria: Sure, and also goes as a hallucinogen. Has a Jewish ring about it, too. Are there any Jews among your ancestors?
Natalia: None as far as I know… Will they be really filtering my ethnic background so much?
Victoria: You bet! Right down to seven generations. I knew one a character who was always asking everyone whether he was a Ukrainian. Once I invited him to hear Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Opera. “Is he a Ukrainian?” he asked. “Who,” I said, “Verdi or Rigoletto?” Said he: “Both.” Funny, isn’t it?
Natalia: Not at all. And what’s your surname?
Victoria: (Picks up the morgue ledgers) I might as well be a corpse, temporarily, with a stamped document to confirm it.
Natalia: You needn’t be a corpse temporarily, but for a much longer time. (The telephone rings, both women freeze). Pick it up, it’s your turn now. Try to guess by his voice what party be belongs to.
Victoria: And the color of his boxers, yes? (Picks up the receiver). Hello… (long pause). Whoa, we’re stuck …
Natalia: Already? Where? Are they of the Left or the Right?
Victoria: I don’t know. We got stuck here, while they got stuck in a traffic jam. We were told to be prepared for everything, perhaps even for the worst.
Natalia: For the worst? Good God, what could be worse than the mess we’re in? We’ve been dead, went for screwballs, and lived through a nuclear war and two coups. For how long yet will they be driving us up the wall?
Victoria: Mind you, it’s we who cooked up all this.
Natalia: This damned uncertainty – I can’t stand it any longer. I’d do anything just to get out of this dump.
Victoria: Anything, you say? All right, strip then.
Natalia: Have you gone off your rockers for good?
Victoria: No, just got an idea that has to be checked. Do you want to crack this puzzle? (Natalia recoils). Don’t be so shaky: I’m a square as far as sexual orientation is concerned.
Natalia Victoria: What did you think up? All right (begins to undress), though it’s cold in here.
Victoria: Never mind, soon it’ll be hot for you.
Natalia: What do you mean?
Victoria: (looks her over critically). You’ve got a nice enough figure, with everything in its proper place.
Natalia: How much longer will I be freezing like that? What don’t you explain what’s up at long last?
Victoria: You can get dressed now. We invented the hell knows what, while everything has a simple and banal explanation. Look at it this way: a nice chick like you or me, for instance, suddenly lands in an out-of-the-way place. Why pay the broads anything? Lock up a stray woman, build up a psychological pressure for a couple of hours, and she’ll do anything to get out of here, just like you said.
Natalia: You know … that muffled voice sounded very much like a hood’s … Mommy dear, what are we to do now?
Victoria: There’s only one way out …. you know what I mean.
Natalia: Are you seriously suggesting that we…
Victoria: I’d hate it , of course, but when it’ll come to…
Natalia: We have to get out of here.
Victoria: That we tried already. Is there any place we can hide in here?
Natalia: Probably only among the corpses. But I won’t join their company. Anyway, finding us among them will be easy.
Victoria: I won’t join them either. So there’s no choice for us.
Natalia: I’ll resist, yell, put up a fight. In the end, I’ll threaten to call the police.
Victoria: What a foolish frame of mind. You might as well yell your head off and nobody will hear you. Don’t you ever read the papers? If it’s done on the quiet, they carry off their dirty job and scram. But once there are any threats, you’re bumped off and curtains. One corpse less or more makes no difference – it’s stuck into a cooler and no one’s the wiser.
Natalia: You’re wrong on that point. We keep strict records.
Victoria: Would that make you any happier? Better endure half an hour of unpleasant feelings than turn into a stiff. I can’t boast much about a school of hard knocks, but what I’ve gone through here is enough for me.
Natalia: But I can’t make myself do it with the first man I come across.
Victoria: Listen, lady, this won’t be a visit to the dentist. All you’ve got to do is simply go through the motions.
Victoria: Once a rake offered to do something nice-nice to me. I said that I had another partner for this purpose, to which he suggested: “So just make believe that it’s him, not me. It won’t rattle me.”
Natalia: Did you agree?
Victoria: Of course not. But ours is a different case. There’s no reason to assume a negative posture. They mightn’t be some ugly apes, but nice-looking boys.
Natalia: A nice-looking one can find for himself a woman anyway. (The telephone rings)
Victoria: Will you pick it up?
Natalia: Let it be you. You know better what’s what…
Victoria: (picks up the telephone). Hello … (a long pause, replaces the receiver, goes rigid).
Natalia: Well, what did he say? (Pause). Why do you keep silent? (Pause). Don’t scare me. Was it what you thought? (Victoria shakes her head). What then? Who was it? Speak up, don’t torture me!
Victoria: I don’t know… He said that they changed their minds and won’t come.
Natalia: But why?
Victoria: He didn’t say, but added, “You can choose yourself – either leave or stay.”
Natalia: Well, I’ll be! Wait a minute. Do they know at least that we’re locked up?
Victoria: (still thoughtfully) It seems to me they know about us much more than we suspect. Maybe something we ourselves don’t know.
Natalia: So we’re back to reference point zero: we don’t know who we are, where we are, what’ll happen to us, and who and when will open the door.
Victoria: Just a moment: he suggested that we could leave. Try that door again.
Natalia: I’m sick of trying. All right, I’ll try so that you won’t have any doubts. (Pushes the door, it proves to be unlocked, and she almost tumbles outside). Well, I’ll be jiggered! There’s some tunnel and a light at its end.
Victoria: (runs to the second door, it’s open as well). I seem to see a street and the crack of dawn. Take a look at your watch, quick!
Natalia: But … (produces her watch and puts it to her ear). It’s ticking! Is it really the end of our plight? Are we really free?
Victoria: The end, you say? Nothing doing – it’s just the beginning.
Natalia: Yet another scenario? What beginning do you have in mind?
Victoria: The worst. Remember he mentioned about the worst?
Natalia: Why the worst?
Victoria: Don’t you understand? They gave you a choice.
Natalia: What’s so bad about it?
Victoria: They threw to us that choice like a bone to a dog. Here, take that freedom and choke on it! You can leave, or you can stay. You can be alive, you can be dead. It’s all a choice of your own. Nothing’s coming from above or from below. Mere nothing! There’s nobody you can complain about your troubles and mistakes. You don’t have to adapt to any circumstances. It’s you who’s creating these circumstances. Your words, your steps, your shadows – they’re all exclusively yours. We waited all the time for the one who’d open the door – in vain. And the most horrible thing of all is that the telephone won’t be ringing any more – they just passed us by. It’s the worst thing they could do…
Natalia: What will be with us now?
Victoria: I don’t know…
(Both women embrace each other firmly in the middle of the stage. The doors remain wide open. The light coming through them is different, like from different worlds. There is an illusion of a severe draft. The women stand still, uncertain what to do next. Slow fadeout).