KUNO KNEEL– a young man of 21 in the opening scene, he is 57 when the play ends.
LIZZY KNEEL– a young woman of 18.
MARIE KNEEL– a woman in her late thirties.
ANNALISA KNEEL– a woman of 24.
ELLEN KNEEL– a woman in her late twenties.
TAMARA KNEEL– a woman in her early twenties.
ROSE KNEEL– a young woman of twenty.
Setting: The play opens in Bloomington in spring, 1876. The couple, KUNO and LIZZY, is in a small, sparsely furnished parlor. The parlor has a couch, a hassock and an armoire with a black and white picture of Lizzy and Kuno on it. There is also a single picture of Lizzy on the wall behind it. Lizzy is pregnant to the extreme.
Enter LIZZY and KUNO. LIZZY walks to the couch supported by KUNO who helps her sit and then arrange pillows for her. KUNO sits on a low hassock beside her.
KUNO: Oh, Lizzy, my darling Lizzy! You get more beautiful every day! I can’t tell you how happy I am to start our family.
LIZZY: Kuno, Kuno, Kuno, I love you so. I think the baby will make our life perfect. Finally, after all our years of waiting we are truly getting to start our own family. I will make you so proud.
KUNO: When I look at you I fear for my soul as I am already so filled with pride. No man could have a sweeter, more patient, more loving wife than you. I told you that waiting would be worth it and look; now we have everything a young couple could possibly need to find a world as close to heavenly paradise as any man could ever dream. We are going to be parents very, very, soon.
LIZZY: Your tongue has always been able to win my heart. But young did you say? I’m practically nineteen! My friends were all married and mothers years ago. Oh, the years I spent moping waiting for you to come back and take me as your bride.
KUNO: But it was worth the wait, wasn’t it? Look where we are, look what we have! You didn’t marry some struggling farmer but rather a man of business. Our son will grow up knowing that he comes from finer stock than your dirt poor friends back in Saginaw. Those girls who taunted you for waiting while I began our life here would swoon from jealousy if they could see you now. Why, even my grandfather said I have a burgeoning new business here and that soon the world will be at our feet. Our feet, Lizzy, yours, mine and our son’s!
LIZZY: My feet could use something, that’s certain. Are you sure that we won’t need a doctor to help deliver our baby?
KUNO: Doctors cost money. You know all of our money is tied up in the business. Women have been becoming mothers since Adam and Eve without a doctor’s help and I know we’ll do just fine. Old Selma will help with the delivery; she’s been helping babies be born for decades around here.
LIZZY: Well, you know best. You’re so sure that we’ll have a son, are you?
KUNO: You know what my brother Greg always says, “Strong men have boys as their first born, weaklings have girls!” His first child was a son and look how much stronger I am than he. I know we’ll have a boy!
LIZZY: I hope for your sake it is a boy but I just want our baby to be healthy. If this one’s a girl we’ll have lots more chances for a boy later.
KUNO: He’ll be healthy alright and he’ll be a he! You just wait and see; things are going our way!
LIZZY: I’m so glad that our waiting turned out so well. Four years apart and all my friends marrying year after year had me practically afflictive. Sometimes I worried that one of us would weaken and I would hear from you that you had found someone new and that our betrothal was over: All that worrying seems silly now, but oh, how my heart did practically break from loneliness.
KUNO: You need never worry about my heart. You are the only girl for me and you always will be. Everything I’ve done, everything I’ve started to make I did for you, so that you would be proud of me and proud to be my wife.
LIZZY: None of it was to prove to those grandparents of yours that you’re every bit as good as they? I do not understand how anyone as sweet as your mother could have been born and reared by those two snobs. Oh, I’m sorry; I should not say such things of our kin.
KUNO: No; no you shouldn’t, but I do understand how they can get a bit under the skin. Papa said they didn’t treat him quite so aloofly after the panic of ‘73. He said they were happy to come to his table on Sundays and leave with a full belly. It’s funny how pride can be swept away if a man’s hungry enough.
LIZZY: I never understood why they don’t like your pa anyway. He’s a good, hardworking Christian.
KUNO: You know Pa wasn’t born in this country and that he’s a Catholic to boot. Ma’s people are descended from John Wesley and they didn’t cotton to her marrying Papa and converting from Methodism. It was hard on them seeing what in their eyes was their daughter marrying beneath her but it looks like things have taken a turn for the better. Why, they’re even talking of all four of them going to the Worlds Exhibition in Philadelphia together. Wouldn’t that be a sight to behold?
LIZZY: Do you think we could go?
KUNO: I don’t see how that’d be possible with the business just starting to take off. Besides, a World’s Fair is no place for a new baby, now is it? Give it time; we’ll see more wondrous things.
LIZZY: [Grunts in pain] I think a more wondrous thing is about to happen. It’s time, I’m sure it’s time! Oh, how I wish my mama and sisters were here!
KUNO: Hush now, hush. I’ll run and get Selma! Everything will be alright.
LIZZY: Don’t leave me alone! I’m afraid!
KUNO: Hush, hush. I’ll be just a minute. Let me run and get Selma and then everything will go just as we planned. Here, read Genesis while I’m gone. [Hands her a bible]
LIZZY: Hurry, hurry! Come back to me!
KUNO: I won’t be but ten minutes. You’ll be fine.
KUNO exits and lights go out. LIZZY exits moaning under darkness.
Setting: The parlor but the date is December 31, 1876. The furnishings are the same but now include a love seat and on the armoire are a crystal decanter with whiskey and cut crystal high-ball glasses. Next to Lizzy’s picture is a photo of Marie. There is also a photo of Marie and Kuno in wedding attire on the armoire.
LIZZY carries in and sits in a straight back chair far up right out of any direct lighting. She sits silently, motionlessly holding her baby girl as she sits in chair. MARIE sits very erect on the couch. She is primly dressed in staid, formal clothing. Her lips are pursed as she does needle point. KUNO enters hurriedly, wiping snow from his hat and coat.
MARIE: Ah, so there you are. I was beginning to worry about you. [She offers her cheek without standing]
KUNO: So sorry. The roads are the very devil tonight. I didn’t mean to worry you but business was surprisingly swift today. I believe I’ll have to hire a few more clerks! Your friends can’t seem to get enough of my offerings.
MARIE: I am so pleased to hear it. I was certain that they and the associates of my late husband would find you as charming and irresistible as I. I hate to sound as though I’m trivializing Carl’s and Elizabeth’s deaths but serendipity truly seems to have smiled upon us after such terrible circumstances. I know I, for one, feel blessed.
KUNO: I’m not sure how I would have gone on if you hadn’t made your feelings known. I was despondent when I lost Lizzy and the baby. She was a sweet child and I’ll always hold her dear in my heart but you gave me a reason to keep living. Perhaps that old saw about God opening a window when He closes a door is true; I know I am thankful to Him for giving me you.
MARIE: You always were sentimental. I think that and your drive are the two things I find most irresistible in you. Did you make any headway in landing Mr. Lucre’s account?
KUNO: Yes, actually. I think I have him convinced that dealing with someone locally rather than a Chicago firm is in his best interest. There was one thing that was rather strange though. He kept talking about his family; particularly his little girls. They all have names that begin with the letter T. Don’t you find that a bit odd? I mean, a business man talking on and on about his children? Plus the same first letter thing. In any case, the fact that I had a large infusion of capital and a growing client base helped seal the argument. I think he’ll become one of my most profitable accounts.
MARIE: Well I’m sure we’ll be able to help him with his business and that will only lead to our landing even more and larger clients.
KUNO: Right; we. Of course when I speak to my clients I say “I” as it would not do for them to think otherwise. We wouldn’t want them thinking that there was anything but a strong hand at the wheel, now would we? The financial backing from Carl’s inheritance that you’ve invested in our future has put us on the fast-track to success but I don’t think our clients need to know all the details of our business.
MARIE: I quite agree. I’m sure everyone thinks that you rose from a complete unknown to a local powerhouse in less than five years completely on your own. We shall continue to let them think this. After all, I’m certain that with enough time you would have reached this position of power even without my backing. It is, however, important that we remember that ours is a partnership in the fullest degree. I realize that no mere woman could own and run a company such as ours but it is important that we remember that I do contribute quite a bit to our success. Wouldn’t you agree, darling?
KUNO: That goes without saying. I was in no way belittling your contributions. I was merely expressing my excitement over our escalating success. Please forgive me if I was boorish.
MARIE: Forgive you? Oh, darling you could never be boorish. Just as you said, excitable. It’s part of your boyish charm and another of your endearing attributes. Speaking of excitement, am I confused concerning the date?
KUNO: I’m sorry? I don’t understand what you mean.
MARIE: Well, it is New Year’s Eve. I was under the assumption you would want to take your new wife out and show her off on such a special night?
KUNO: Are you serious? I’ve been at work all day, the weather is atrocious, and I’m done in. Do you really mean to say that you expect me to engage in frivolities on a night like this?
MARIE: I expect you to show Bloomington the regard that you feel toward me. Is that too much to ask? If it is I wish you had said something earlier, I could have made other plans.
KUNO: Other plans? I don’t think I like the sound of that. I certainly don’t want anyone thinking that I am not capable of attending to my wife. Did you have something in mind?
MARIE: Truly I had hoped that you had put some thought into this but as it appears you have not perhaps I may make a suggestion. We could visit either the Vrooman’s or the Davis’ as each is hosting galas tonight. I was certain that you had planned an evening out for us.
KUNO: I had not. I apologize for this oversight but I have been extremely busy with work of late.
MARIE: Darling, this is work. The Vrooman and Davis households are more prestigious than even the Lucre. I understand how very hard you are working but it is essential that we always look for opportunities to better ourselves and our circle of friends. If we wish for the people of Bloomington to include our name among the list of the town’s most prestigious members then we must become associated with those very people. These parties are certain to be written about in the society page of the newspaper.
KUNO: You are right of course, as usual. I was not looking far enough into the future. I have heard it said that a man who is working in his business is not working on his business. I will try to act accordingly. Just allow me to get the carriage ready and to change into evening clothes and we can be on our way if that is what you wish. You do know that it is snowing rather heavily, don’t you?
MARIE: I have complete faith in your ability to keep us safe. Now, do hurry, we need to arrive before midnight or the fun will be ruined.
KUNO: Yes, my love. I am at your disposal.
MARIE: Oh, my darling little, little boy. We shall make a man out of you yet.
Exit MARIE. LIZZY gets up from chair and speaks to her baby while playing with her.
LIZZY: I had never known a more magnificent boy than Kuno. I had seen him around school for years before but the first time I noticed him was on my last day of eighth grade. He had graduated three years earlier but Miss Markey was still tutoring him as he could ill afford to continue on to high school. He walked into her room and my heart stopped. He was ambitious, kind, sweeter than molasses and he had plans for a better life. He told me he wanted to get married which I agreed to right away; but then he said we had to wait until he was “established.” I didn’t know what that meant but I waited. I waited for three years and then we were married and before I knew it I was in a strange town 500 miles from home. Our baby was a blessing but Kuno said we couldn’t afford a doctor. I wanted to go back to Saginaw and have my baby or to have my mother or big sister here to help with the delivery. He said no, we can’t afford such frivolity and that he would see to my care. I died because of his ambition and thrift. Our baby didn’t survive the birth and neither did Kuno’s sweetness: Only his ambition remained.
LIZZY returns to chair. Lights out
Setting: The parlor in 1894. There is a third picture on the wall of Annalisa and a picture of KUNO and Anna in formal wedding attire on the armoire.
The lights come up on LIZZY who remains silently, motionlessly sitting in her dark, right chair with her baby while MARIE brings in a chair and sits motionlessly, silently in a chair she places far up left also out of the light. The two ghosts look at one another, smile, nod and return to their silent vigils. KUNO smilingly clasps a necklace around ANNALISA’S neck from behind.
KUNO: So my lovebird, how do you like your birthday gift? [He kisses her neck]
ANNALISA: Oh, my darling, Otec it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. If you keep this up you will spoil me! [She turns to him and offers her cheek. He kisses it.]
KUNO: Nonsense, child! One only turns 24 once in a lifetime. If my work can’t bring you things to let you know what a dear joy you are to me then why should I labor? For almost 17 years I concentrated on virtually nothing but work. You have brought joy back to me. You have made me want to live life to the fullest.
MARIE: [From chair to LIZZY] My marriage to Carl had never been loving. I saw the way Kuno doted on you and I wanted that in my life. Carl was thirty years my senior and he had married me for my father’s money. He was my chance to start again.
ANNALISA: You have made my time with you so precious. I had no idea how ideal marriage to you could be. I hate to sound selfish but even though your losses brought you such pain I am glad that because of them we were able to wed.
KUNO: That was long ago and our two years together have dulled the pain of the memories: Poor Lizzie, dying because that quack of a doctor and his incompetent assistant could not even perform a simple delivery. And Marie, losing her after so short a time to that terrible carriage accident simply because some fool can’t keep our streets safe; it convinced me that I was a curse to women. I vowed to never wed again, but what good is a vow in the face of your charms and beauty?
ANNALISA: Well, as we have now been married for over two years I hope your silly misgivings have been laid to rest: Though it was so sweet of you to worry for my sake. I am sure ours is the most idyllic of marriages.
MARIE: [Walks over to LIZZY] With Kuno’s ambition and my guidance I knew we could forge a marriage of steel. Too soon I learned it was his heart that had turned to iron. He concentrated all our resources and all his time into that business.
KUNO: You make me feel young again.
ANNALISA: Feel? Oh, Otec, you are young. What is that quaint little saw you used to trouble yourself with? “A man should never marry a woman who is not at least half his age plus seven?” Well, I find you the acme of a spouse, absolutely superlative.
KUNO: My, what elocution. Mama was right when she told me that your family embodies what the Daughters of the American Revolution think are great in our country. Blue blood, hard work, Christian values, patriotism and getting the right people in positions of power. We’ll make this country the envy of the world, you mark my words!
ANNALISA: I always mark your words, my dear one. It is divine decree that our mothers should have met while creating the DAR. Women have contributed to the creation of our country just as men have; we have an obligation to help fulfill its manifest destiny.
KUNO: My darling, you are an extraordinary girl, there is no doubt of that.
ANNALISA: I hope to convince the DAR to help promote women in gaining the national franchise.
KUNO: I beg your pardon?
ANNALISA: You know; votes for women. I am certain that if women were to have the ability to vote that there would be far fewer wars and injustice in the world. Don’t you think so?
KUNO: I think that what you are proposing is preposterous. A woman could never understand the intricacies of getting the right people in power. Surely you understand that the family must be represented by the male leader. After all, it is the ordained natural order of things.
ANNALISA: You believe that a woman voting is against God’s decrees? How medieval of you. Clara Barton has proven that women can change the world for the better and Elizabeth Stanton and Susan Anthony are further proof that women have an obligation to make our country great.
KUNO: Medieval? Lovely way for a wife to speak to her husband. They are in league with that negro Douglass. I need say nothing more on this account. I am certain that these types of outrageous, anarchist sentiments are contrary to the values with which you were reared and I certainly will not have them in my home. America is great because the men that lead her are great. We’ll have no more talk like this.
MARIE: [She walks to behind couch] He took my money, my guidance and my standing in the community and he grew our business. At first I was proud but then I realized I had gone from one sterile marriage to another. I wanted love, children and position in our community but he seemed only interested in the business and my barren womb stood in testament to time ticking away.
ANNALISA: Is this not my home as well? I thought you were proud of the DAR and my and our mothers’ membership in it. This is simply furthering the same-
KUNO: I believe I said that was enough. If you are going to act like a petulant child I shall be forced to treat you as one. Am I clear?
ANNALISA: Only too clear. You are behaving as a beast and I shall not tolerate it.
KUNO: [Shouting] Are you deaf? You shall not tolerate it? This is my home, I am master here and you shall do as you are told. This is exactly why women should receive neither an education nor the vote. You are not capable of understanding the horrors that will be loosed upon the earth if we abandon the simple, divine rule of law that we now have. Stop you’re blathering or I shall stop it for you.
ANNALISA: It is men that have created the horrors that run rampant in this world and it is women-
KUNO: [Slaps her. ANNALISA falls to couch.] Stop you’re blathering! Oh, now what have you made me do? I am sorry my dear. If you had not argued so this never would have happened. I am sorry. [ANNALISA looks up silently.] I said I was sorry. Now what have you to say?
ANNALISA: I don’t know what to say.
KUNO: Well an apology on your part certainly wouldn’t hurt.
ANNALISA: An apology on my part? Whatever for?
KUNO: Have you lost your wits as well as your mind? It was you who antagonized me. Had you done as I said we would never have come to harsh words, yet alone the other unfortunate action.
ANNALISA: Unfortunate action? This is what you call violence against your wife? And on her birthday? I don’t think I really know you at all.
KUNO: Stop being melodramatic: Violence against my wife! “Spare the rod spoil the child,” that’s the problem here.
ANNALISA: Are you saying that my parents should have beaten me more or that you are now my father and not my husband?
KUNO: You should stop there or you may learn what violence truly is.
ANNALISA: I believe you have shown me all I need to know.
KUNO: Excellent. Then shut up, sit up, and mind your manners.
ANNALISA: Yes, Otec.
KUNNO: And never call me that stupid name again!
ANNALISA: I thought you liked it?
KUNO: Well I don’t. You may call me Kuno, darling, or sir, but I do not wish to hear your stupid Czech prattling for father. Is that clear?
ANNALISA: Yes, sir: Perfectly.
KUNO: Good. Now go and wash your face and make yourself presentable. We have plans for the evening and I don’t wish to be late.
ANNALISA: Yes, sir. As you say. [ANNALISA exits]
KUNO: Lord in heaven! Votes for women, idolizing those that lobby for defying the natural order of racial superiority: I see now that I have been far too lax in the ruling of my household. “Violence against my wife!” What insipid nonsense. Annalisa! Are you nearly ready? Come back down stairs immediately!
ANNALISA: [Offstage] I am coming as quickly as I can.
KUNO: See that you are, or things shall become far less pleasant!
ANNALISA: I said I am coming!
KUNO: I will not accept that tone from anyone. [He exits following ANNALISA. There is the sound of heavy footfall on stairs.] [All is offstage] When I say to hurry I mean it! Now come!
MARIE: When our carriage overturned on that New Year’s Eve Kuno was thrown clear while I was pinned beneath. Barely conscious I felt the life seeping from my being.
ANNALISA: [Offstage] You are hurting me!
MARIE: When I felt his presence next to me I joyously thanked God for sending me my husband to save me.
KUNO: [Offstage] Get down the stairs now!
ANNALISA: [Offstage] Kuno! Stop! You are hurting me! I’m going to- [Sound of a body falling down stairs.]
MARIE: Wordlessly I slipped away as he stared down at me coldly, piteously casting me aside and waiting for my death to give him what he wanted: Money, power, prestige and the appearance that he had created it all on his own.
KUNO: [Offstage] Christ all mighty! Now what have you done! Get up! Anna! Anna!
[KUNNO reenters. LIZZIE holding the baby follows KUNO as he re-enters the room: MARIE and LIZZIE stand on either side of KUNO and silently look at him knowingly.]
KUNO: Oh, dear God! What has she done! Oh, not my Annalisa! Not my dear, dear Anna! Why do the women that I love keep leaving me? Anna!
Setting: The Parlor in 1900. Furnished much the same but a bit more resplendent. The requisite picture of Ellen has been added to the wall while the bride’s and groom’s sit on the armoire. There is a large table in front of the couch and love seat. Incense burns around the room. Lizzie and Marie sit motionlessly.
Lights up. LIZZIE again sits far right and MARIE left while ANNALISA brings in a third chair and sets it up center. The ghosts are no longer shrouded in darkness. ANNA walks to ELLEN who is busily opening window shades and windows.
ANNALISA: Kuno was a peacock among cackling hens when I first encountered him in Chicago. He attended the first national meeting of The DAR to be held in the Midwest and he was there to give support to his mother who, along with our family, had been instrumental in establishing this patriotic, civic group. I pointed him out to Mother who was efficacious in discovering his eligibility. When I learned that he had lost not one but two wives to the negligence of others I felt moved to end his lonely solitude.
ELLEN looks dartingly around the room for signs of her previous activity. Her head searches for the source of a sound she can barely perceive, though the audience can hear every word.
ANNALISA: I chased him until he caught me and ours was an idyll of marriage. I had seen his temper flare with others but never had it been directed toward me.
KUNO: Please don’t tell me that I smell incense again!
ELLEN: Why, whatever do you mean my darling?
KUNO: Let’s not play insipid games. You have had another séance in here, haven’t you?
ELLEN: Don’t be angry! I feel as though there are malevolent spirits in this house. I tell you, they are here!
KUNO: Evil spirits! Why would there be evil here? I live here. You live here. We are not evil.
ELLEN: I feel angry spirits whenever you are here. It is as though you make them angry. I want to know who is here and why. This is why I hold the séances: For you!
KUNO: Stop it! Why would there be evil spirits here? Besides, the mother church forbids séances! We have had Father O’Blivion here and he has told you that you put your soul in jeopardy by doing these ridiculous atrocities! Additionally you make me look like a fool and you are wasting untold money on nonsense. I must insist for the last time that you quit this insanity, or else.
ELLEN: But it isn’t nonsense. I can feel their spirits in this room. Can’t you feel them waiting and watching us? I feel their presence all the time.
LIZZY walks to ELLEN’S side and watches her piercingly.
KUNO: The only thing I feel is frustration at having a wife who can’t understand that this whole spirit world is ridiculous. Our own church tells us so. You must either put an end to this clap-trap or you will come to understand what it means to defy me and the church.
ELLEN: Oh, I don’t mean to defy you. Really I don’t. I just don’t understand how you can’t feel what I feel so strongly.
MARIE walks over to KUNO with a half-smile on her lips.
KUNO: What I feel so strongly is my patience coming to an end. Either you abandon this ridiculousness or you will know what it is to be an unmarried woman.
ELLEN: An unmarried woman? You can’t divorce me! I have always been faithful to you!
KUNO: Divorce? What kind of protestant prattling is that? I would never divorce you. Our marriage shall be annulled.
ANNALISA: I thought he would embrace women’s suffrage as he had the DAR but instead he flew into a rage when I shared my desire to pursue this noble right for females.
KUNO: Yes. Surely you have heard of annulments. The marriage shall never have happened in the eyes of God nor church.
ELLEN: I know what an annulment is but how can ours be annulled? We have been married for nearly three years.
KUNO: So it would seem. But Father O’Blivion tells me that if you were insane when we married then our marriage was never binding. He assures me that with him as my representative and some penance in the form of financial contributions I can prove that this insanity of yours dates back to before we were supposedly married thereby making our vows null and void.
ELLEN: But I am not insane! I have been a good and faithful wife to you! I have tried to make you happy even at the cost of my own happiness. Surely no man would reject me now; no church would be in collusion with such nefariousness!
KUNO: Collusion with nefariousness? You are insane. You can no more be my wife than you can help yourself from trying to contact the dead. Against God’s will! Our false marriage shall be annulled and there is nothing you can do about it!
ELLEN: No, it’s not so! It can’t be. I’d rather be dead than have our marriage annulled! You are all I have! I do these séances to see why you are haunted. Please, don’t reject me!
LIZZY walks to the other side of KUNO framing him with MARIE.
KUNO: The process has already been initiated. Perhaps it would be best if you were to stay in the carriage house until you can find more permanent accommodations. I’ll have one of the girls fix a bed for you and attend you for a day or two. You’ll be fine.
ELLEN: I won’t do it! I won’t live a lie! Our marriage is real! Real! [She pulls a small derringer from her sleeve. The ghosts form a horse shoe around KUNO.]
KUNO: Put that blasted thing away! Give it to me. Now! [KUNO advances toward ELLEN.]
ELLEN: No! No, I won’t! Can’t you feel the spirits? They’re in the room! They’re watching you! They know! [She points the gun at KUNO.]
KUNO: Stop it I said! [He lunges for her. They struggle, the gun goes off and ELLEN slips to the floor.] Insane: If only I had ended this earlier the poor woman might still be alive. Evil in this house! Spirits! Insanity.
ANNALISA: When he grabbed my wrist and pulled me toward the staircase I knew he intended to kill me. My darling, my Otec, my protector was nothing other than a bully, a cad, an abuser of women and oppressor of the weak.
The ghosts help ELLEN up and gently embrace her. LIZZY and MARIE help her to the couch where she appears dazed but not in pain.
ANNALISA: Had he not killed me I would surely have died from shame. Upward mobility was important to him when weak but abhorrent from his position of strength.
Setting: The Parlor in 1905. There is a fourth chair up left where the ghost of ELLEN sits along with her three predecessors in their accustomed places. The chairs are lit as the rest of the room and the ghosts silently react to KUNO and TAMARA. The wall has Tamara’s picture on it and the armoire the picture of KUNO and Tamara in wedding finery. Ellen’s séance table and incense have been removed. The lights come up to the four ghosts sitting in their chairs while ELLEN speaks to them.
ELLEN: I knew of Kuno’s previous marriages but I was certain that with me his luck would change. There was never a doubt in my mind that something was haunting him but I always assumed it was something otherworldly and an entity apart, not a vexation from within. After you died, MARIE KUNO began to attend mass daily. As secretary of the parish office I would see him on his knees in penance and my heart would break.
TAMARA enters bearing a simple cake which she has made. It is lopsided and inelegant but she is pleased with her creation. She sets it on the armoire and primps herself. She waits on the arrival of KUNO with pleasured anticipation.
ELLEN: Ours was a slow and deliberate courtship and I knew that I could bring peace to this shattered man.
KUNO enters carrying a ledger which he places on the armoire.
TAMARA: Dumpling! There you are! I am so glad that Poppie has come home to his little girl! Birthday kisses! [TAMARA air kisses both his cheeks while squealing with delight.]
KUNO: Birthday kisses indeed! You are looking lovely as usual my pet. And what is this? You have made a cake just for me?
TAMARA: Yes, I’m afraid that it didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted. It’s a bit lopsided.
KUNO: Anything you make for me fills me with joy. You did have cook make another for the party, didn’t you?
TAMARA: Of course. I know you still want to impress Daddy.
KUNO: Your father was one of my first big clients. I think it would be rude if we don’t show our appreciation for all the joy he’s given us. After all, knowing you has made my life more pleasant from the day you were born plus he gave you to me, and that is a debt I can never repay.
TAMARA: You say the loveliest things sometimes.
KUNO: Expressing my love for a creature such as you is an easy task.
TAMARA: I suppose you and Daddy will have to steal away and talk business?
KUNO: You know your father; he’s going to want to take a look at his books while he’s here.
TAMARA: I assumed that was why you had brought the other set home with you.
ELLEN: [Approaching within inches of KUNO] When I first visited his home I commented on the hushed whispers that seemed to seep from the walls. When I asked him about this his eyes flew wide but upon learning that I could not make out a single word from the noise he assured me that he heard nothing.
KUNO: I beg your pardon?
TAMARA: The other set. I noticed that you brought home the set from the office with you plus we have the set that you keep here.
KUNO: My dear, what are you talking about?
TAMARA: Daddy’s books. I noticed the set that you keep in your desk and I was looking at them. You must keep two sets so that you can work on them at home or at work. That is very sweet of you keeping two sets so you are always looking out for Daddy.
LIZZY and MARIE look at one another, sigh silently and take places near TAMARA.
ANNALISA rises from her seat but does not venture near the living.
KUNO: Yes. That’s correct. I keep a set here so that I can look after your father’s affairs day and night. So, you have been reconnoitering in my desk have you? That’s not something I would have you do you know. I would hate for you to lose something or unintentionally see something that is confidential between a client and me. You haven’t been looking at the books have you?
TAMARA: Only Daddy’s. One thing that Daddy always insisted was that I be able to fill out a ledger. You know Daddy, “The books must balance!” Daddy would try to get me to understand and at first I couldn’t make heads or tails of accounting. It used to be that I would see debits and credits floating in my head at night until I finally understood “owner’s equity equal assets plus liabilities.” Now I can read a ledger easier than I can a Harriet Beecher Stowe novel.
KUNO: How lovely. And you’ve had a chance to glance at his books?
TAMARA: Oh, much more than just a glance. I love being able to talk business with Daddy, it’s the only time he takes me seriously!
KUNO: Well perhaps your father and I had better work things out on our own. After all, we wouldn’t want any distractions.
TAMARA: I won’t be a distraction. Besides, I’ve probably studied his ledgers even more than you seeing how I haven’t had anything else vying for my time.
KUNO: I’m sure you’re correct. Why don’t we have a drink to celebrate my birthday!
TAMARA: But the champagne’s still cooling.
KUNO: We could start with the whiskey.
ELLEN: I learned to ignore the lamentation which seemed to subside when he left home and to become a cacophony upon his return. Year after year I heard the mutterings and finally, after gaining no help from Father O’Blivion on the subject, I enlisted the help of a spiritualist.
TAMARA: I don’t think so. I really have never understood what you see in that. Give me the bubbly and I’m happy as a lark but whiskey holds no enticement for me.
KUNO: Surely you won’t deny me the simple pleasure of a birthday drink with me.
TAMARA: I suppose, if you insist. [KUNO pours one small glass for himself and a larger for Tamara. ANNALISA goes to TAMARA’S side.]
KUNO: Drink up! It isn’t every day that a man turns fifty!
TAMARA: [Drinking] Forgive me but this is dreadful!
KUNO: Nonsense! You simply have to develop a taste for it. All you’ve ever had to drink has been fit for children. This is what adults drink. Here, finish that and have some more. You’ll find it quite enticing if you get it a chance! [Refilling her glass]
TAMARA: I don’t know that I should. Isn’t this quite a bit stronger than champagne?
KUNO: [Tilting her glass to her mouth] No, that’s a myth. A drink is a drink. Whiskey does have a more adult flavor but a shot of whiskey is no more potent than a glass of wine. Drink up!
TAMARA: [Wincing] Yes, my dear.
KUNO: See? Now you’re getting the hang of it! One more small glass and I’ll be primed for our celebration! [He pours a finger for himself and a glass for TAMARA] Drink.
TAMARA: [Drinking] I don’t know that this was such a good idea. I’m not feeling well. The room is spinning!
The ghosts form a horseshoe around KUNO and TAMARA.
ELLEN: Séance after séance the only message the mediums could receive was a claxon of danger; a warning which I ignored except that I began to carry a small derringer. Little good the tiny gun did for me.
KUNO: It must be the excitement. [Sets their glasses on the armoire] Here, sit down on the davenport.
TAMARA: That’s not helping much. I feel a bit nauseated. I will be quite embarrassed if Daddy and Mother see me like this.
KUNO: Nothing to worry about my pet. They won’t. Turn over and lie on your stomach if you are nauseated. You won’t feel a bit woozy in just a minute.
TAMARA: I’m so sorry, Poppie. I don’t know what’s come over me.
KUNO: [Stroking her head] That’s alright my pet. I forgive you. Everything will be fine in just a minute. [He pushes her head into the pillow and holds it there. The ghosts look on in horror and disgust.] No, no. Everything will be fine. Poppie forgives you. No one need ever know of your indiscretion. Just a few more minutes and everything will be over. You won’t feel any more pain. There will be no sadness. See? Things are getting light and easy. Let it go. Go my dove. Fly away. Fly. Goodbye.
KUNO releases her, lifts the pillow and places it under her head. When she does not stir he gently rolls her to her side and kisses her cheek. The ghosts go to TAMARA, help her to sit up and comfort her. KUNO walks to the armoire and pours his whiskey into her glass, wipes his glass clean and returns it to the armoire. He then places the whiskey bottle and her glass next to TAMARA on the floor.
KUNO: Holly! Holly! Come quickly! Something dreadful has happened!
Setting: The same small upper class parlor in 1912. The room is furnished with the love seat, couch and the armoire. On the armoire are two crystal decanters of whiskey, cut crystal high-ball glasses and a black and white photo of Rose and Kuno. On the wall behind the armoire are half-a-dozen similar photos including Rose and Kuno’s previous wives. There is a fifth straight back chair up center for the ghost of Tamara along with the other four dead wives along the back wall of the room. The ghosts occupy the couch and love seat and are truculently and actively watching Kuno and whispering to one another derogatory comments about him in each others ears.
KUNO is standing in front of the armoire with his arms folded and his lips pursed. He has been alone, waiting in the room for what he considers to be a long time.
ROSE enters hurriedly and appears flushed and excited. In the breast pocket of her dress is a folded note that can be seen poking out the top. The ghosts smile as ROSE enters the room.
KUNO: Ah. Well, I see you have decided finally to come home?
ROSE walks up to him and gently kisses his cheek, which he has not offered her.
ROSE: Oh, my darling! Have you been waiting for me? I had no idea that you would be home before my return. I am dreadfully sorry that I was not here to greet you when you arrived!
KUNO: Are you? Well, how fascinating to know. Perhaps it is too much to expect that your actions and your desires would coalesce about so unimportant an event as keeping our home in order while I am out attending to business. Perchance in the future I should lower my expectations of just what to expect from you.
ROSE: Are you to be cross with me? I was, I was visiting a dear friend in town concerning a little matter and thought to return home long before seven O’clock and to be waiting in hushed anticipation of your arrival. Why, you are never home before seven. My watch must be off; I only have 6:45.
KUNO: I don’t believe your watch is off but surely your reasoning is none too strong. As I am here now it is clear that I return to my home when I see fit. I arrived at 6:40 and was told by Holly that you had been driven to town for a luncheon and had not yet returned. Subsequently, I have been waiting for you for over five minutes; something to which I am unaccustomed and to which I have no plan to become accustomed. Have I made myself crystal clear?
ROSE: Eminently. I am so sorry to have caused you worry.
KUNO: Worry? Well, yes, I suppose there is that as well. If you must know I left the office a tad early because my client base seems to be dwindling a bit. I believe Lucre is maligning me. If I could prove slander I would sue him.
ROSE: The Lucres always seem hospitable to me whenever I see them. They inquire about your health and ask how I am. I can’t imagine them maligning you.
TAMARA: [Speaking to the other ghosts] Kuno was a part of my life from before I was born. As a child he was always “Uncle Kuno” but when “Aunt Ellen” died our relationship changed. Daddy encouraged me to spend more time with him and soon our fellowship was transformed from one of cordial accompaniment from function to function to one of affection. When we began courting I stopped calling him Uncle and instead called him Poppie.
KUNO: We have been married for almost a year now. You are no longer a child but rather a wife. As the wife of one of Bloomington’s leading citizens it is imperative that you act always with decorum and with the interests of our marriage at the forefront of your thoughts. The Lucres chose not to be our friends when they extracted their business from my care. I had served old man Lucre faithfully for nearly thirty years. They insist on believing that I was responsible for poor Tamara’s death, and I know they are spreading that ridiculous lie about town. They are not to be trusted. Really, I had hoped that you had learned this by now.
ROSE: Oh, I have, really I have. It was just that I was preparing, uhm, that is to say I assure you that being the kind of wife that you deserve is always in my heart: Why it is what I live and breathe for. Truly, you’re not angry with me? Remember my darling that being a wife is still new to me. Oh, I am trying so hard to do for you just what an obedient, loving, good wife should. Surely you can find it in your heart to forgive me?
KUNO: Yes, yes my pet: Stop being maudlin. I will forgive you with my usual gracious good humor. Now, fix me a drink.
ROSE: Oh, yes! Thank you my darling! Right away.
ROSE walks to armoire where KUNO is standing and pours him a drink.
TAMARA: He began plying me with gifts: Trinkets for the most part but always something a bit dazzling on special occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries. Mother was standoffish at first but Daddy kept insisting that he and I were made for each other and that together we could all help watch out for one another’s interests.
KUNO: What I need is predictability. When I arrive home I expect my house to be in order and at the top of that list is you waiting for me, no matter what hour I return. You have no idea how cut-throat the world can be and how I look forward to the sanctuary of home. An obedient wife should anticipate her husband’s desires and act on them before they have even given voice inside his never resting, all-encompassing mind. When I walk through our doors I expect to find you eagerly awaiting my return with a warm smile on your lips, a soft word upon your tongue and a strong drink in your hand.
ROSE: Oh, I know. I fully understand the importance of a strong drink. Her you are my weary warrior.
ROSE hands KUNO the drink.
KUNO: That hits the spot! Just the way I like it, straight up! It is good to see that there are certain domestic tasks to which you are capable of attending.
ROSE: Oh, yes. Oh, Kuno, I do so try.
KUNO: Yes, yes, I know. But at times it can be so trying. I don’t remember married life being so difficult.
ROSE: Please, you have to give me more time. I know that I can be as good a wife for you as any woman.
KUNO: Well, we’ll see about that. I certainly hope today is an aberration and not an indication of how you value your domestic duties. With whom were you lunching, anyways?
ROSE: Oh, no one really: Just an old friend.
KUNO: An old friend? Here in Bloomington? I thought you had left all of your childish acquaintances back east in New York?
ROSE: Oh, well, she has just, just moved here. Surely I had mentioned Lyndee would be settling here in Bloomington with her new husband?
KUNO: No, no I don’t believe you did. Who is this Lyndee? Someone with a good background and from proper society I am sure? Have I met this husband of hers?
ROSE: Well, no, I’m sure you haven’t. Lyndee’s husband is a laborer. Lyndee was the daughter of one of Mummsy’s kitchen staff.
KUNO: Are you insane? You kept me here fuming, in my own home, while you were off slumming with some char girl and her illiterate husband? Rose, I had no idea your level of ineptness. I find it inconceivable that anyone could do something so incredibly stupid. Truly you have brought shame on our house!
ROSE: Stop! What right have you to speak to me in that way! I know that I’m not always the wife I should be but I am not your dog to whip.
TAMARA: Daddy found it quaint that his youngest daughter had a head for numbers so he taught me the basics of accounting and then provided me with whatever texts on the subject caught my eye. I thought my abilities would be an asset for Kuno’s business and that I could prove my worth by paying such close attention to Daddy’s books. Little did I know that he was cheating Daddy and would decide that my life was a small price to forfeit in order to keep his duplicitousness a secret from the world.
KUNO: Don’t be stupid. You are mine to do with as I choose. We two are alone here. Your precious family is a thousand miles away and you now belong to me. Any wife of mine must know that and act accordingly.
ROSE: How can you say such things! Why, now I am not sure what to, what to…
KUNO: What to do? You’ll do as I say and you’ll be glad for it. There are plenty of pretty girls who would love to be in your shoes.
ROSE: Plenty of pretty girls? Is that what you think of me? I am your wife.
KUNO: Yes, you are my wife. You are my wife as long as I say that you are. And know that no wife of mine defies me, keeps me waiting, nor goes slumming with loose girls that should be left behind and never mentioned again.
ROSE: Loose girls! Do you really think that I was involved in anything improper? If only you knew what I had really been doing today-
KUNO grabs ROSE by the shoulders are shakes her. The ghosts spring from their seats and crowd around the couple unable to help.
KUNO: What! What does that mean? If only I knew what you had really been doing today? Where were you! Tell me and be quick!
ROSE: No! No, I won’t! Leave me alone! I had no idea you could be so beastly or I never would have… Never mind what I never would have done. Just leave me alone! You’re hurting me!
KUNO: You don’t know what hurting is. Telling me what you’ve been doing you little tramp! Tell me!
KUNO slaps ROSE.
ROSE: Stop! Stop! I beg you! I was just-
ROSE: I was doing nothing wrong! I am your wife! Stop!
KUNO shakes ROSE again but she slips out of his hands and falls against the armoire, striking her head.
KUNO: You never would have what!? Get up! Get up I say!
ROSE lies dead. The letter has fallen from her breast pocket. The dead wives form a horseshoe around and silently face KUNO. ROSE remains on the ground.
KUNO: Now what have you done, you stupid girl? What is this?
KUNO picks up the letter and reads it aloud.
KUNO: “Mr. Thomas Frisch, White Star Lines, London England, New York office, March 15, 1912.
The ghosts help ROSE to her feet and then sit with her on the couch and love seat.
KUNO: Dear Mrs. Kneel,
As per your request we have reserved a State Room for you and your husband aboard the Titanic, the queen of The White Star Line, for her New York to London transatlantic voyage on Friday, the 19th of April, 1912. An additional berth has been reserved for two of your servants.
We are pleased to keep your travel matters confidential as you have put your trust in us to deliver this surprise first anniversary present; a resplendent voyage which is fit for royalty. We shall send all correspondence to the law firm of….”
KUNO: God in heaven, what have I done? I’ve killed my beautiful Rose, and all she wanted was to surprise me for our anniversary. Oh, Rose, Rose, I will never forget your beauty and your sweetness: My darling, my lovely Rose. [Picks up picture from armoire and indicates others hanging on wall.] I will put your picture here, with the others and hold you forever in my heart, my darling. Oh, my sweet Rose.
ROSE: [Rising from the couch and approaching KUNO] Mother arranged my marriage with Kuno. She confided in me that due to Father’s recent downturn in business that I was assuredly not going to find a top tier husband in New York. Mother branched out and found Kuno who was, as she said, “Just a short stop away from Chicago.” I was aghast. He was born the same year as Father and was old enough to be my grandfather. Decorum was a word with which he brutalized me. While I wanted to live our lives as a modern, well-to-do couple of the twentieth century he was starchy and living in the centennial! I did all that I could to make a life for us. I tried to strike up acquaintances with the well off in Bloomington and Chicago but Kuno wanted none of that. I felt as though I were a nursemaid more than a wife. Luckily he paid little interest to my feminine charms after our first month of marriage. I pined for New York and society but was determined to make the best of a difficult situation: After all, I would have a long life ahead of me and one never knows what chance might bring. I so wanted to be the best wife that I could but instead was brutally killed for my efforts.
KUNO makes himself another drink.
KUNO: I wonder if this will cause a delay in the dinner hour?