It’s a rather curious room but somebody thought it was beautiful, I suppose. It’s so complicated that a lot of human thought must have gone into it for some reason. It’s really hardly anything save pearly walls and devices, all of them metallic, gleaming and ultra-modern. Just arbitrarily, it’s in New York. It could just as well have been in New Orleans or Detroit or the capital of Arizona—but New York makes it more cosmopolitan. We do love the centre of things—you feel the motion so much less. There’s a man, one of the oldest men in the world, sitting with his feet in a steaming pail—at least it’s a champagne bucket. He looks very feeble and unpleasant. He’s our Uncle Andrew Messogony, Esquire, and he’s so rich that he thinks a depression is something caused by heart trouble. The man at the phone is the butler. He’s terribly chic even for a butler. He’s one of the most elegant people you ever met in your life. Uncle is speaking to him in a creaking, croaking voice. Uncle’s voice croaks and Uncle is about to follow suit. But it’s not a bit depressing. It’s very gay and fashionable, the scene of Uncle’s death. That’s because he’s so cranky that the significance of life has never been able to penetrate his crabby exterior.
BAFFLES: (Arranging Uncle in his chair) There, Mr. Messogony, are you quite uncomfortable?
UNCLE: As much so as could be expected. As a matter of fact, it feels rather wonderful to be nearing the end of life.
BAFFLES: I should think so, sir. Is there any last thing I could do for you?
UNCLE: For fifteen years, your job has been to keep me bored.
BAFFLES: Yes, sir. There’s nothing like a surfeit of life to keep a man from restlessness.
UNCLE: I’m getting a little bit nervous about going to heaven. I never went in for excursions.
BAFFLES: Shall I do the tricks to keep you quiet, sir? They’re very sedative.
UNCLE: We had the cards Friday. You’re no good at it any more—one of them came out right as I remember.
BAFFLES: Then I’ll just try the silk hat, sir. Which do you dislike the most, rabbits or baby chickens?
UNCLE: I can’t abide rabbits.
Baffles extracts from a cupboard in the cocktail bar a silk hat, a silk bandanna, and begins the hocus-pocus.
BAFFLES: Rabbits it is, sir, within my powers.
Waving his hands, Baffles taps emphatically on the top of the hat, lifts the handkerchief, and lo and behold! There is nothing!
UNCLE: What is it, Baffles?
They stare dumbfounded.
BAFFLES: I’m sure I believed it would be a rabbit.
UNCLE: Well, what is it?
BAFFLES: It seems to be a leprechaun, sir.
UNCLE: What do they do, Baffles. Leprechauns?
BAFFLES: I don’t know, sir—but they must be considered undesirable.
UNCLE: Ask him.
BAFFLES: He says, sir, he’s used for causing troubles.
UNCLE: What kind?
BAFFLES: Troubles, sir, resultant on changing people from one thing into another. I suppose he means in this instance from a silk hat into—well, voices.
UNCLE: I didn’t hear anything. (Suspiciously) Can you speak leprechaun, Baffles?
BAFFLES: Kitchen leprechaun. I never learned it when I was young and had to pick it up from the maids.
UNCLE: What shall we do with him?
BAFFLES: Shall I just phone the lawyer?
UNCLE: That’s an idea. Have him put it in my will.
BAFFLES: Along with the forty million dollars, sir?
UNCLE: Of course. I can’t leave all that money to a man without some guarantee that he’ll have troubles enough to make him turn out all right.
BAFFLES: (Picking up the phone) Hello. Abyssinial three hundred nine times six. Hello. Is that you, sir? Well, Mr. Messogony’s got round to his dying at last and—(Respectfully to Uncle) The lawyer would like to speak to you about your death, sir.
UNCLE: Tell him I can’t answer the phone. (Looking at his watch) My time came a long time ago.
BAFFLES: (In phone) He says he’s dying, sir. You don’t believe it? Very good, sir. I’ll tell him.
UNCLE: How does he know whether I’m dying or not? I hoped that by now the world had dispensed with the sentimentality of keeping alive.
BAFFLES: He’s located your nephew, sir.
UNCLE: Well, what sort of a person is he?
BAFFLES: (In phone) About young Mr. Andrew, sir—have you investigated his character? (Pause) Oh, dear! Well, there must be something with which to redeem it.
Baffles hangs up the instrument distastefully and approaches Uncle.
The lawyer was very upset. It seems that young Mr. Andrew has turned up in the country. In short, a farmer.
UNCLE: Then he’s sure to be a nincompoop!
BAFFLES: The lawyer says he’s a very good man at heart—weak, but good.
UNCLE: That’s enough to incapacitate him for living! If I could think of some way to develop him—but there’s so little time left.
BAFFLES: The constructive possibilities of evil have been greatly neglected, sir.
UNCLE: Experience is what he needs.
BAFFLES: The young people don’t seem to know how to misbehave any more—except by accident.
UNCLE: We must all have some possibilities for evil, if we can just look on the wrong side of things.
BAFFLES: Don’t you think, sir, that life will correct the good in Mr. Andrew?
UNCLE: I’d like to have had him a strong character, able to stand on his own feet.
BAFFLES: Well, sir, according to the will, he doesn’t assume control of the money until he knows how not to use it. That ought to be an incentive.
UNCLE: You’ll have to see, Baffles, that my nephew gets all the disadvantages.
BAFFLES: Yes, sir. There’s more room for improvement in vice than anywhere else.
UNCLE: Categorical sin at collectors’ prices would be the idea.
BAFFLES: To the best of my impossibilities, sir.
UNCLE: See that he keeps irregular hours.
BAFFLES: I understand, sir—and no spinach.
UNCLE: (Sighs) A farmer! I never thought such a thing would touch the family!
BAFFLES: We’ll smooth it over, sir. You’ve done so much to upset humanity already it may place you quite with the great uplifters.
UNCLE: I hope there’ll be a smooth crossing on the Styx.
BAFFLES: Can’t I put some more gin in your bucket before you leave?
UNCLE: Please. Just a touch.
Baffles measures gin carefully into the pail.
Are you sure that’s the good gin? I seem to be shriveling up.
BAFFLES: The same as we always use. I made it purposely weak in view of your condition.
UNCLE: It wouldn’t look right to be dying with pickled feet.
BAFFLES: No, sir. Shall I put the Cinzano in your hair?
UNCLE: I’m too far gone to discuss serious matters. Be flippant, Baffles.
BAFFLES: This business of your death, sir——
UNCLE: Ah! That’s better.
BAFFLES: Do you think I should have the mattress re-covered?
UNCLE: What mattress?
BAFFLES: The one on which they will accuse you of having lain.
UNCLE: You are better able to misjudge that than I.
BAFFLES: Everything shall be as you wish. Are you sure you’re all ready?
UNCLE: As well as could be expected. But I don’t seem to be able to die with the leprechaun thing in the room.
BAFFLES: Just don’t think about it, sir. Mind over matter, you know—makes a neurosis.
UNCLE: All right. I’ll try. Do you like me in this position?
Uncle assumes a Gibson Girl attitude.
BAFFLES: The other way was better. With your hands on your ears, sir.
UNCLE: Like this?
Uncle strikes an idiotic pose reminiscent of the Goldberg cartoons.
BAFFLES: That’s perfect. Just right, sir. Now all you have to do is go ahead.
UNCLE: Well, Baffles, my man, it’s been very nice to have made your acquaintance.
BAFFLES: The same to you, sir.
UNCLE: And if you are ever dropping around heaven, be sure to look me up.
BAFFLES: I’ve got some good addresses from the cook. But I’m always glad to see an old employer.
UNCLE: Well, don’t forget. And be sure to spend all the wooden nickels you take.
BAFFLES: (Laughing affectedly) I will, sir.
The two men shake hands in a business-like manner, Uncle standing elaborately in his tub and Baffles wringing his hand emphatically.
UNCLE: I won’t see you any more.
BAFFLES: No, sir.
UNCLE: Well, that’s all right.
Uncle falls back in the tub abruptly and sits there staring blankly about like a wax dummy. Baffles bends over him, covers his head with the silk hat and the handkerchief, and taps. Nothing happens. He taps again.
UNCLE: Quit it! I told you I was dead. Can’t you take a fellow’s word for it?
BAFFLES: Excuse me, sir, fashions change so in things like that, I just wanted to be sure.
Leaving Uncle thus covered, he goes to the phone.
I want Preposterous two hundred and eighty thousand point six. (Pause) Hello, is this Mr. Messogony’s lawyer? Well sir, he seems to have died, after all. I suppose it is one of the first consistent things he ever did, but you know, sir, he always was eccentric. May I come right over with a rather special package for his nephew? Thank you, sir. I will. . . No, it’s not Scotch.
Published in 1980.