Uncle’s living room. Flower and Andrew Messogony, Jr., are sitting quietly before an elaborate fire. She is knitting; he reading. The scene is as domestic as possible in such an environment. Flower’s tall and boyish and tousled. She’s both careless and deliberate at once and she does everything she does after the manner of a lady giving a plate of bones to a hungry police dog. She’s fundamentally gay, but as fed up with life as a girl brought up in a convent. The chorus is wonderfully educative—that’s where Flower grew and grew—to perfect babyhood. Andrew’s apologetic approach to life has almost effaced his attractions—but they’re there. He’s a nice man, all brushed and washed and very, very likable, though you can see he will have to be taken care of.
ANDREW: You know, Flower, I’m crazy about you.
FLOWER: Isn’t it funny? So am I. We’ve been married a year, too.
ANDREW: I always thought I’d be scared of a Follies girl.
FLOWER: And innocent men gave me the horrors till I met you.
ANDREW: Uncle’s executors wouldn’t like our being in love after marriage.
ANDREW: I’m afraid they suspect. I haven’t been to the club in two nights.
FLOWER: They couldn’t, Andrew. I’m nearly always in Harlem. I’ve done exactly what they wanted about the—the dissolution.
ANDREW: They do, though. Baffles let on that we’d stayed home on Wednesday.
FLOWER: Oh well, they won’t be round before midnight even if they do come. I’d be so happy, Andrew, if we could have more hours like this.
ANDREW: I suppose we’d never have met if they’d known how domestic you were——
FLOWER: I wasn’t as bad as they made out—just enough to please the press agent.
ANDREW: You were supposed to be gay and frivolous.
FLOWER: I know—the most unsuitable companion available.
ANDREW: Imagine their falling on a girl like you. (He laughs contentedly)
FLOWER: A good girl.
ANDREW: (Alarmed) You mustn’t say that. The lawyers wouldn’t like it.
FLOWER: From the moment I saw you I knew I’d like to settle down like this.
ANDREW: (Nervously) We oughtn’t to be here this way, reading. It’s sure to get us into trouble.
FLOWER: It’s awful to have to sneak what innocent quiet we get out of life. I’d rather give up the money.
ANDREW: Flower! We couldn’t. I’d have to go back to the farm.
FLOWER: Hadn’t you rather be there?
ANDREW: But I want to hold on to you.
FLOWER: I once milked a cow——
ANDREW: It must have been pretty to see you.
FLOWER: Of course, it was a painted cow. We all had big pink sunbonnets and——
ANDREW: Sh—sh! You must never let the lawyers know.
FLOWER: Oh, all right. As far as that goes, you ought to be at your club.
ANDREW: I know. The executors will probably surprise us tonight, our first anniversary! Suppose they found out you’d spent it knitting?
ANDREW: You ought to be starting for Harlem, Flower.
FLOWER: I wish you’d give it up. I’m sure we could have a lovely time on a farm. Farms are so quaint.
ANDREW: We have to do what they want. They know so much more about going to pieces than we do.
FLOWER: If you’d only put your foot down so we wouldn’t have to sit around the nightclubs till I’m too old to care.
ANDREW: Don’t you begin arguing, too. I’ve got my hands full with my disintegration.
FLOWER: Oh well, as long as we’ve got each other I guess it’s all right.
ANDREW: Please hurry, Flower, or you’ll be caught at home. I’ll ask Baffles to get your coat.
FLOWER: Yes. (Flower rings) I s’pose we couldn’t go out together?
ANDREW: Of course not.
Baffles appears with coat.
FLOWER: Baffles, you needn’t wait up for me. If I lose my latchkey again, I’ll just wait till morning so as not to disturb you.
BAFFLES: Thank you, Miss Flower. I’ll see that your exemplary misconduct reaches the lawyers.
ANDREW: Do you think they will be here tonight?
BAFFLES: I couldn’t say, sir. (Reproachfully) You know you’ve refused your caviar for over a week.
FLOWER: There! Don’t worry, Andrew, I’ll try to think up enough trouble to pacify them.
BAFFLES: That’s right, Miss Flower. Sows’ ears can’t be made of silk purses for nothing.
FLOWER: What would you suggest for tonight, Baffles?
BAFFLES: 32 West Eighty-second, ask for Charles; 425 East Seventy-third, Mr. Bailey; 298 West Forty-seventh, mention Mr. Gray; 207 East Forty-fifth, by divine revelation; and the East River bottom, Miss Flower.
FLOWER: Thanks, Baffles. That’s quite a long list; I’ll have to begin if I’m to fit them all in before morning.
BAFFLES: Good night, Miss Flower. I’ll see that Mr. Andrew gets going as soon as I’ve administered the champagne.
FLOWER: Life’s hardly worth living. Nothing but orchids and a Rolls-Royce.
ANDREW: Good night, Flower. (Pleads) You won’t have a good time, will you?
FLOWER: No, Andrew. I promise. Good night.
Baffles busies himself with preparing Andrew’s wine, bustling solicitously about.
BAFFLES: I don’t want to criticize, Mr. Andrew, but don’t you think Miss Flower’s looking rather—well—well lately?
ANDREW: I think she’s just right.
BAFFLES: We can only hope, sir, that the improvement will pass unnoticed.
ANDREW: I like women with a little color in their cheeks.
BAFFLES: Revolutionary tendencies have no place in the Uncle’s program for you, Mr. Andrew.
ANDREW: Baffles, I think I won’t have any champagne tonight. I think I’ll stay home and think of my wife’s pink cheeks.
BAFFLES: Why, Mr. Andrew! Come now, after the first quart you won’t mind it at all.
Baffles measures the champagne for Andrew in a spoon and forces it down his mouth.
ANDREW: Do you think anybody would guess if we had beer instead? They look as if they belonged in the same family, don’t you think?
BAFFLES: No, sir—in this world we have to consider the labels, Mr. Andrew.
ANDREW: You shouldn’t let spelling make such a difference, Baffles.
BAFFLES: Expensive tastes are best appreciated when the bill comes in. Try to swallow it, sir, there’s only about four-fifths of the bottle left.
ANDREW: What else do we have to do?
BAFFLES: There’s the canapes. I’ve let you off for two nights already.
ANDREW: I told you it’s making me bilious, anchovies.
BAFFLES: Symptoms always go with a lot of money.
ANDREW: If I could only have just eggs.
BAFFLES: There, there—suppose the lawyers heard you. It wouldn’t sound nice, you know.
ANDREW: I really deserve a night at home.
BAFFLES: Here’s your silk hat, sir, and the cane.
ANDREW: Isn’t there anything at all to prevent my going? I’d like to brood about my wife a little.
BAFFLES: Who ever heard of a libertine in such a state over his wife, Mr. Andrew?
ANDREW: I’m a nephew. A very quiet and respectable nephew. I’m not a libertine.
BAFFLES: But you will be, sir.
BAFFLES: Because this is the provision life has made for you.
The bell rings. Enter Doctor and Lawyer. Lawyer examines watch.
LAWYER: Midnight! And you’re just now going out. Why the delay?
BAFFLES: If the executors will excuse me, there was another difficulty about the wine. Look what Mr. Andrew has left undrunk!
The two men help themselves.
LAWYER: Something gone wrong again! Maybe you’d better just look him over, Doctor.
DOCTOR: (To Baffles) Any other complaints, my man?
BAFFLES: Refused caviar. Requests eggs instead.
DOCTOR: Very irregular.
Jams funnel down Andrew’s throat and peers inside.
I don’t believe he has a future. Unless, of course, the lawyer could discover something illegal about him.
LAWYER: Futures never turn up till the autopsy. (To Baffles) Any inclination to gambling?
Andrew shakes his head in negation.
BAFFLES: I can hardly get him to the club nights, sir. (Lugubriously) He just seems to want to sit home.
DOCTOR: Then it’s probably physical after all. Will you kindly say “Boo” for me, Andrew?
ANDREW: I don’t want to play games.
DOCTOR: Oh but you’ll love it once you get started. Boo!
They laugh uproariously.
DOCTOR: (Replacing the funnel in Andrew’s mouth) I do wish I could persuade you to try our little trick.
LAWYER: Try him on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” Doctor. I love that poem.
ANDREW: There’s nothing the matter with me.
DOCTOR: My dear fellow, then why don’t you drink your champagne?
BAFFLES: It’s his wife, sir, if you’ll excuse me.
LAWYER: But she’s a nitwit, frivolous—every qualification for disrupting a life. What’s the matter with his wife?
DOCTOR: Then what’s she done to upset you so?
LAWYER: Well, maybe we can manage without any facts.
BAFFLES: I suspect Miss Flower of entertaining domestic proclivities, sir.
LAWYER: Good Lord! When did this begin?
BAFFLES: The very day of the wedding.
ANDREW: I won’t have anybody casting aspersions on my wife’s——
Doctor shuts him up with a thermometer.
DOCTOR: There. Go on.
BAFFLES: Sometimes they sit here in the evenings and talk to each other.
LAWYER: What about?
BAFFLES: (Despondently) Politics.
LAWYER: What do they say about politics?
ANDREW: We say how wonderful they are. What’s it to you?
LAWYER: Rather less than forty million dollars is to you, my boy.
DOCTOR: Haven’t you tried to prevent these conversations? They might induce a state of coma.
BAFFLES: Yes, sir. But my private belief is that Miss Flower has reformed herself.
LAWYER: Do you think it likely with a closet full of Poiret underwear and a past like hers?
BAFFLES: No, sir.
DOCTOR: No, sir.
LAWYER: No, sir.
ANDREW: Don’t say things like that!
DOCTOR: Then will you drink your champagne?
LAWYER: Come, be reasonable, or we may have to continue the investigation.
ANDREW: Only a little bit then, Baffles.
BAFFLES: Take the last drop, sir, just for me.
ANDREW: I can’t swallow the stuff, honestly. Maybe I ought to give up.
LAWYER: Baffles, is Miss Flower out as much as she should be?
BAFFLES: The house is conducted in strict accordance to the will, sir.
DOCTOR: And how does she dress when she goes out?
ANDREW: In pink mostly—you see, I like nice healthy col——
BAFFLES: Appropriately, sir. Like a boat that was sailing for foreign parts at midnight.
LAWYER: Is she alone when she comes in?
BAFFLES: I couldn’t say, sir, she returns so late.
ANDREW: Flower would’ve got home sooner but the taxis had stopped for the night when she started.
LAWYER: There, just as I hoped! And you still think, Andrew, that she’s behaving herself?
ANDREW: Stop it! You make me shake all over—sitting down, too.
DOCTOR: That’s f-i-n-e! My, how I love a collapse.
LAWYER: It’s not very promising, really. Rich, married, with full social irresponsibilities for over a year and he is just now beginning to feel upset.
DOCTOR: Champagne, ideas! That’s all he needs.
ANDREW: If I could only have peace and my wife.
LAWYER: Tut, tut. Isn’t there some little disagreement between Mr. Andrew and his wife that you can remember, Baffles?
BAFFLES: The incident of the hairbrush, sir. Miss Flower says it fell out of her hair on account of a shampoo the day before but it could be misconstrued to have been thrown into the rosebushes past Mr. Andrew’s head.
ANDREW: She’s not cruel. Oh, I’m so tired of this nagging!
LAWYER: Nagging with a hairbrush. That’ll do very nicely for a divorce brief.
ANDREW: You wouldn’t dare do such a thing! Flower and I get along perfectly except for this nagging——
DOCTOR: Of course, nagging is less stimulating than flagrante delicto.
ANDREW: I couldn’t live without my wife.
DOCTOR: Then maybe you’ll change your mind about the wine, Andrew——
LAWYER: Just for us. And read your uncle’s books. Have you learned them by heart?
ANDREW: (Picks up volume and reads) How to Bring Life to an Unprofitable End. Treatise on Preserving the Disgraces of Life. What good is that to me?
DOCTOR: There’re plenty of places to go with delirium tremens once you’ve got them.
LAWYER: The books don’t help you to forget your morals?
BAFFLES: Morals, sir, are the result of experience.
DOCTOR: Maybe it’s character that’s causing the trouble. Character is what people tell us about ourselves.
LAWYER: Has anybody been telling Mr. Andrew that he’s a good man?
BAFFLES: I’ve taken every precaution to avoid it, sir.
DOCTOR: Think of your poor uncle. How he did believe in devolution!
ANDREW: Didn’t he have any word about my being natural part of the time, anyway?
DOCTOR: Nature’s place is in nature, Andrew.
LAWYER: In the ash can, sir, in this case. I can’t have the Messogony disrepute going for nothing this way.
BAFFLES: In spite of my persistent cautioning Mr. Andrew fell asleep in his chair last night. I simply can’t get him to observe the improprieties.
LAWYER: Dreadful! We’ll have to correct that! Baffles, you must know something more derogatory about Mrs. Messogony that we could use to advantage.
ANDREW: I tell you, she’s turned over a new leaf!
BAFFLES: It’s new leaves or none with the ladies, Mr. Andrew—in life as in everything else.
ANDREW: Pretense! It’s all pretending!
DOCTOR: Late hours! French underwear! Nagging! Well, Andrew, I suppose if you put two and two together you’d know whether you got a four or a five?
LAWYER: Especially if five was expected of you.
BAFFLES: (Apologetically) Mr. Andrew’s a very poor mathematician, sir, and four is less of a burden to accumulate than five.
LAWYER: (Sighing) You make it so hard for us, Andrew. It takes considerable ingenuity to stay outside the law, you know.
ANDREW: I don’t seem to catch on. If you don’t know what to do, why don’t you call the police instead of dragging in Flower?
LAWYER: Police! This is no time for spiritual advice!
BAFFLES: The Borgias, sir, they would be the people to help us out!
DOCTOR: Psychopathic—but decidedly above the average.
ANDREW: What have they got to do with it?
DOCTOR: Just say to yourself, “All life is a play.” I had a patient who believed that so nicely before they took him off to Bloomingdale.
BAFFLES: Mr. Andrew will confuse life with reality, sir.
LAWYER: If you want to keep your money and your wife we’ll have to get down to the truth.
ANDREW: I hate the truth when it’s a lie! Flower’s just out masking her virtue the best she could.
Commotion among the three men.
DOCTOR: It’s love, all right. No use looking at the larynx.
LAWYER: Don’t you remember what it says in the books? “The function of love is to occupy our years of maturity with the extricating of ourselves from it!”
ANDREW: I call it demoralizing.
LAWYER: I’m afraid we’ll have to be more scientific to convince our client.
DOCTOR: Science! Our most ingenious defense of the unlikely! (Pours some wine and drinks the toast) Baffles, have you any idea where Mrs. Messogony might be—er—dislocated?
LAWYER: We’ll have the truth if it has to come out of our own heads.
BAFFLES: Here’s the list for tonight, sir. She might just be caught at something. At least she’s out.
ANDREW: It’s awful! To have my wife trailed like a common—common——
LAWYER: Now Andrew, don’t work our hopes up too high. It’s all very theoretical.
DOCTOR: Of course, we hope that things may be blacker than they look. There’s so much time to lose, why don’t we get under way?
BAFFLES: Yes, sir. It’ll soon be morning. Even dark colors have a way of fading in the professional sanity of the morning sun.
LAWYER: Are you coming, Andrew, to the expose?
ANDREW: I don’t want to go. I’m sure Flower’s never done anything wrong in her life no matter what she did before we were married.
DOCTOR: Which had you rather have—your wife, or your love for your wife—without her?
LAWYER: Think of your position! There’s no man in America in more enviable disrepute than yourself. Clubs! Notoriety! Trouble!
BAFFLES: There’s no accounting for human distastes!
ANDREW: Damn my uncle!
LAWYER: You mustn’t be Victorian about the situation—better even to be inhibited.
ANDREW: I just sound that way because I never went to college. Nobody on the farm thought I was Victorian.
LAWYER: Thinking we are incapable of our pasts is a necessity that gets a good many people into difficulties, my boy.
BAFFLES: Good night, sirs. I hope Miss Flower will not have undermined your faith in bad women.
DOCTOR: Don’t worry. Everything will be all wrong. You see, there must be some bad in the bad of this world.
ANDREW: Good night, Baffles. If Miss Flower gets home before I do will you tell her that I don’t mind if she takes the side of the bed with the light—just for tonight——
Andrew, as the three men depart, stuffs a picture of Flower under his coat. They might well have been the handsome trio you met that night in New York. They’ve gone out into the exhausting fastnesses of human relaxation—and left Baffles alone in Uncle Andrew’s stronghold of misdemeanor. Baffles looks lugubriously on a photograph of Uncle, dims the lights, confides to the audience:
BAFFLES: It’s far more comfortable to be an unwholesome sort of fellow like myself with at least a working knowledge of human foibles and furbelows.
He hasn’t had time to settle himself when the doorbell rings—ting, ting—apologetically as a tram conductor ringing up one fare when he knows quite well he’s collected two. It’s nearly morning outside the windows. What a nocturnal family, the Messogonys—or maybe it’s we who have no business snooping about after midnight. It’s Flower at the door.
FLOWER: What are you doing up at this hour, Baffles?
BAFFLES: Entertaining the company, Miss Flower.
FLOWER: The lawyer?
BAFFLES: And the doctor.
FLOWER: (Uneasily) Well, what were they doing?
BAFFLES: Testing, Miss. Performing chemical experiences on Mr. Andrew.
FLOWER: Oh! I hope they didn’t make Mr. Andrew feel bad.
BAFFLES: Mr. Andrew trembled, Miss Flower, until to look at him was as good as a trip to Luna Park.
Baffles smiles contentedly.
It was quite a success. It couldn’t have been worse.
FLOWER: Poor Andrew. Has he gone to bed?
BAFFLES: I hope not. They’ve taken him away.
FLOWER: Please tell me what’s the matter! You can’t be referring to the morgue!
BAFFLES: (Sleepily) Ahem!
FLOWER: Morgue, Baffles!
BAFFLES: Were you there?
FLOWER: Of course not. Where is my husband?
BAFFLES: I gave them the same list I’d given you, Miss Flower, so as to facilitate their finding you.
FLOWER: What did they want with me?
BAFFLES: They said as how the expedient thing would be to unearth you in an adequately compromising intrigue.
FLOWER: Gracious! So they’ve taken to shadowing me! I can’t believe that Andrew would allow it.
BAFFLES: Well, Miss Flower, he did take your picture with him to the expose.
FLOWER: To the what?
BAFFLES: You see, the gentlemen were hoping for flagrante delicto.
FLOWER: Baffles, would you believe that I haven’t so much as looked at a man since my marriage?
BAFFLES: I’m afraid I’d believe it, Miss.
FLOWER: (Flies to mirror) You needn’t hurt my feelings. Why would you believe it?
BAFFLES: Now, Miss Flower, I never was given to religious arguments.
FLOWER: I don’t think I’ve gone off as much as all that in a year. Do you?
BAFFLES: No, Miss Flower.
FLOWER: I just wanted to finish up that side of myself forever.
BAFFLES: Oh dear, Miss Flower!
FLOWER: Did Andrew just believe whatever they said?
BAFFLES: The executors thought it best that the master be a little more jealous and suspicious.
FLOWER: So they’ve determined to invent my misdemeanors for me—Andrew too!
BAFFLES: I believe Miss Flower is familiar with the constrictions of the will.
FLOWER: But Andrew ought to know better than to let them hang my past in my closet like an old suit of clothes too useful to get rid of!
BAFFLES: I’ve inherited more than one situation along with your uncle’s old ties, Miss Flower, and my advice is to try to give satisfaction any way the case may be.
FLOWER: You mean—to pretend that I’m whatever way they suspect me of being?
BAFFLES: Life without pretensions leaves us facing the basic principles, which are usually a good deal worse and harder to unravel.
FLOWER: But what of the consequences?
BAFFLES: Pronunciation has made many an innocent word sound like a doctor’s orders for a stomach pump, Miss Flower.
FLOWER: We’ve got to call things what they are, Baffles. Suppose I was caught?
BAFFLES: By their technical names, if Miss will excuse me.
FLOWER: (Dubiously) And if a spade becomes a steam shovel, what do we do when it’s time to spade the garden?
BAFFLES: We spade with the steam shovel, Miss, in a case of necessity. But necessity is one of the rarest things in the world.
FLOWER: Maybe you’re right, Baffles. I don’t know how to begin. I’m so settled down I don’t know any men.
BAFFLES: As to the matter of settling, down or up, according to what’s demanded of you, Miss, is always the most modern method.
FLOWER: If I only knew some man to call on. I can’t teach a lesson alone, Baffles.
Baffles respectfully hands Flower the telephone book.
BAFFLES: In my day there used to be a good many names in there, Miss Flower.
FLOWER: Are you suggesting that I—that I——
BAFFLES: Of course not, Miss. Good night, Miss Flower.
FLOWER: (Hesitantly) Good night, Baffles.
Baffles goes out and leaves Flower to the mercy of the dawn. You know what dawns are: an eerie, supernatural time exaggerating things and making the people awake feel very superior to the people asleep, and, from that lonely vantage point, turn the world into a very personal affair as if they had exclusive rights to everything under the unrisen sun. Flower sits down for just a minute in a quandary. It’s all right. She can swim. Dive, too, but there isn’t any tank. She thinks you should have gone to the Hippodrome if you wanted to see somebody diving. Then a look of surprise comes over her pretty face, as if she had just got an idea. Clutching the volume under her arm and whistling like a little boy who’s just discovered a loose tooth she goes to the telephone. Flower makes a big circle in the air with her finger and lets it fall anyplace in the directory.
Canape! I never could stand canapes.
She turns a page rapidly and tries again.
Cohen! I used to know a man named Cohen but he’s the one who died, I think.
So she has to try again.
Consequential! That’s a good name. Peter H., 1066 Park Avenue.
She picks up the phone and begins——
I want Anathema zero zero. Hello, is this the Morning Incubator? Well, I want to report something. No—I don’t think it would be the classified ads. Yes, sports would be better—you see, it’s scandal. All right then, give me the political editor.
Flower goes on whistling as she waits. Not many of us can whistle like that; it’s much better than a bird and nearly as good as a ventriloquist.
Hello! Well, I should say it is a scandal. Mrs. Andrew Messogony, Jr., and——
She reads the name under her finger carefully out of the phone book, address and all.
Mr. Peter H. Consequential of 1066 Park Avenue were routed together from a roadhouse by vice crusaders. The name of the roadhouse? The—the Martha Washington Tavern. Mr. Consequential was seen jumping through the window in a state of disarray as the arm of the law entered. The policemen were in formal dress attire. Mrs. Messogony, the last word in Paris chic in a black lace nightgown with a sweet little collar of pale blue charmeuse, received with retiring grace and dignity.
Flower smiles contendedly. She’s almost purring as she goes on deliriously.
A bunch of moss roses on the left shoulder greatly enhanced the ensemble. Mrs. Messogony, a striking blonde, who was Miss Flower Nectar of the Frantics’ Beauty-line before her marriage, convinced the participants that grace and delicacy are not exclusive with women brought down in social circles by her decorous reception of the detectives as they entered. Her hair was arranged in little ringlets—what? Of course I’m not joking! Of course it’s real. This is Mrs. Messogony speaking. All right then, send the reporters. And could you just send one of those photograph lights out by your men? I look so awful in a flashlight picture. It’s nearly as unbecoming as an X-ray. Thanks, that’s awfully sweet of you. I hope the pictures will be nice. I’ve always liked your paper. Of course I mean it.
Flower is cut off. She clinks the receiver up and down and eventually gets somebody on the wire. In a voice like a covey of beaten-up partridges, she expostulates:
No. I don’t know how many United Cigar coupons it takes to buy a coffin. Do you know the answer to this one?
She is laughing as the curtain goes down.
So was I, for the matter of that. I hope you were—a little.
Published in 1980.