SCENE: The living room of a comfortable, middle class home in Westchester Country, New York
CHARACTERS: Martha, aged 101, any ethnicity
Zena, aged 103, her elder sister
Elaine, anywhere from 30-70, a reporter, any ethnicity
TIME: The present.
AT RISE: MARTHA SITS ON MAT ON
ZENA: (offstage): Can you get that, Martha?
MARTHA: No! I just got into this position, and God knows how long it’ll take me to get out!
ZENA: (offstage): I’m covered in flour!
MARTHA: Well, wipe off your hands! (DOORBELL RINGS AGAIN.) Hold your horses!
MARTHA LABORIOUSLY UNTANGLES HERSELF, LIFTS HERSELF UP, AND HEADS FOR THE DOOR, JUST AS ZENA RUSHES IN, WEARING AN APRON AND LIBERALLY SPOTTED WITH WHITE FLOUR. ZENA STOPS SHORT.
ZENA: I thought you were tangled up like a pretzel and couldn’t move!
MARTHA: Well, I untangled. Thought you were covered in flour—oh, you are covered in flour. Are you expecting somebody?
ZENA: I don’t remember. What day is this?
MARTHA: (GUESSING) Tuesday? Or Monday? No, I think it’s Tuesday. (DOORBELL RINGS AGAIN, A LITTLE INSISTENTLY. THE SISTERS IGNORE IT.)
ZENA: It can’t be Tuesday. I don’t bake on Tuesday. I bake on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Bread on Wednesdays, cookies or cakes on Thursdays.
MARTHA: What are you baking? You haven’t baked cookies in forty years—ever since you got mad when the mailman said my coconut cookies were better than yours.
ZENA: Of course I’m baking. Look at me. And anybody that would like coconut cookies drenched in rum shouldn’t be working for the U.S. Government. Probably too drunk to read the addresses correctly.
MARTHA: Any fool knows that coconut cookies need rum. Too dry otherwise. That was our best mailman, too. Got here on time. Not like that woman we’ve got now. Mail shows up any old time. Course it doesn’t matter what time it gets here—it’s all junk anyway.
ZENA: Well, who’d write to us, anyway? Everybody we know is dead or senile. (DOORBELL RINGS. A BIT LONGER)
MARTHA: Who the hell is that bothering us, ringing the damn bell like that?
ZENA: Don’t curse like that! You’re so old you could die any second—don’t want to go with a curse the last thing out your mouth.
MARTHA: I’m two years younger than you, and I’ll always be two years younger than you. Don’t plan on dying before my time—which will certainly be after your time.
ZENA: Well my time won’t be for a long time, so don’t get your hopes up. I plan to live to at least 90!
MARTHA: Lord, Zena, you’re well past 90.
ZENA: I am? Are you sure?
MARTHA: Of course I’m sure. You’re one hundred and three years old.
ZENA: Good Heavens! How did I get to be so old? (DOOR
MARTHA: Are you going to answer the damn door or not?
ZENA: (MUTTERS) Probably some drunk mailman, wanting cookies. (SHE GOES TO DOOR, OPENS IT. ELAINE IS STANDING THERE. ZENA IS SUDDENLY ALL CHARM AND SMILES) Well, hello! Won’t you come in?
ELAINE: (HESITANTLY) Ms. Lambert? I’m Elaine Sloane? From The New York Times? We’d agreed to meet today?
ZENA: Do come in! I apologize. I thought you were coming on (PAUSE) Friday. I don’t bake on Fridays.
ELAINE: Today is Friday. If it’s not convenient, I can come back next week, on Monday or Tuesday.
ZENA: No. I deep fry on Mondays. French fries mostly, some fish, hushpuppies, chicken, stroffole, twinkies, that sort of thing.
MARTHA: Stink up the house with grease you mean. I keep telling you fried food’s no good for us old people. I can feel my arteries clogging just from the grease in the air.
ZENA: Daddy loved fried chicken. And he thought French Fries were God’s gift.
MARTHA: He wouldn’t have thought that if he’d tasted those greasy things you make. Don’t know why they call them French Fries, anyway. They’re not French. The French have more sense than to do that to a decent potato. You can’t beat a good baked potato.
ELAINE: You must be Dr. Lambert. I’m Elaine Sloane, from The New York Times . . .
MARTHA: Heard you the first time. I’m not deaf, just old. And I don’t want the New York Times. Too many ads. I get my news from NPR, and from The Guardian online. If I wanted the Times delivered, I’d have ordered it when we moved here in 1950. Sorry to waste your time.
ZENA: Lord, Martha, she’s not selling The New York Times.
MARTHA: Now who needs to watch her mouth? I would if I was as old as you.
ZENA: If you’d just pay attention. I told you The New York Times called, wanted to interview us for a series about old folks.
MARTHA: Never said a word. First I’ve heard about it. Why would anybody be interested in us, anyway? I’m too ornery, and you can’t remember what day it is, let alone when you’re supposed to be baking. What are you baking, anyway? If it’s Friday, you shouldn’t be baking anything.
ZENA: I know it’s . . . Friday! I was baking cookies to serve Miss . . . (SEARCHING) Slate here when she interviewed us. And I did so tell you. Last night, while we were watching “Six Feet Under.” Or was it “Queer as Folk”?
MARTHA: Those shows aren’t on any more,. And they never were on Thursdays anyway, if today really is Friday. We didn’t watch television last night. We were reading. You’re still on that dumb Harry Potter book, and I wish you’d finish it so I can get to it. All I had to read was Shakespeare, and I’m sick to death of that stupid Hamlet. Fool can’t make up his mind when it’s plain as day that Claudius is the damn murderer.
ZENA: Are you sure? Well, maybe you’re right. I have to keep starting that Harry Potter book all over again. I can’t remember which wizards are evil, and who the good ones are.
MARTHA: Of course I’m sure. Doesn’t the ghost tell him at the start? What kind of cookies are you making? Your famous dry-as-dust coconut ones?
ZENA: Martha! We have company! Miss . . ., Miss . . . (SEARCHES FOR NAME)
ELAINE: (HELPFULLY) Sloane. Elaine Sloane. If this isn’t a good day, I can come back—
MARTHA: Today’s as good as any day. And when you’re over 100, you don’t make long range plans, you know what I mean? Did you say The New York Times? Are you going to make us as famous as the Delany sisters?
ELAINE: I hope so. Are you as charming and winsome as they were?
ZENA: Well, I certainly am. Or least all my beaus told me so, back when I had beaus, in the 1920s—or maybe it was the 30s? At least I think they did. Harry certainly did. Or was that Lester? Somebody called me charming. Think it was about the time of that Sacco-Vanzetti business. Can’t speak for my sister. She’s certainly not winsome. I don’t think it was Harry; after all, he ran off with Phoebe, and she was a battleaxe.
MARTHA: We’re neither of us charming or winsome now, even if some fool told my sister she was a century ago. And I’m not going to spout forth advice and memories for any fool to read. People want advice, they should go to a fortune teller, or call a psychic hotline.
ELAINE: Our readers are very interested in learning about life in
MARTHA: They want to know what life was like a hundred years ago, they should read a book. I saw what happened to the Delany sisters. Reporters, all kinds of people bothering them. Answering dumb questions from dumbasses like Regis Philbin. And at their age! Should have known better. You can talk to my sister. I’m going upstairs and read Harry Potter, since she’ll be busy. (MARTHA EXITS. THERE IS A STRAINED SILENCE.)
ZENA: You know, it probably wasn’t the 1930s. Everybody was real depressed then! (LAUGHS) Depressed!! 1930s?? Depressed!!! (PAUSE. ELAINE DOESN’T RESPOND) Depressed!! (PAUSE) Why am I depressed? Am I depressed? What were we talking about?
ELAINE: Your beaus?
ZENA: Beaus! I haven’t had any beaus for seventy years! Look at me! I’m an old hag.
ELAINE: I want to interview you and your sister about your wonderfully long lives and the changes you’ve . . .
ZEMA: (INTERRUPTING) Gracious! Where are my manners? Won’t you sit down? Would you like some tea, Miss . . . Slute? And I’ll just put the coconut cookies in the oven. (ZENA EXITS. ELAINE STANDS UNCERTAINLY, THEN TAKES OUT A CELL PHONE AND DIALS. SHE DOESN’T NOTICE MARTHA PEERING INTO THE ROOM.)
ELAINE: Max? This won’t work. The younger one’s a raging bitch, and the older one has the memory of a cocker spaniel. I’m going to try the two sisters in their 90s in
ZENA: Where did she go?
ZENA: Wasn’t there a young woman just here? Something about the Delany sisters?
MARTHA: She left. Decided we weren’t winsome enough. Did you put those cookies in the oven? You better get them out before you burn them again.
ZENA: Oh, I threw the dough out. Too dry. The coconut was sale anyway. Do you want some tea? And are you reading my book?
MARTHA: I’ll have some tea, thank you. And yes, I’m reading Harry Potter; I’m tired of waiting for you to figure out who the good wizards are before you can finish the book. I want to know how his fourth year at school goes.
ZENA: (POURING TEA, HANDS CUT TO MARTHA) Well, I’ll just read Shakespeare again. I know I’ve read Hamlet, but I’ve forgotten what happens to Ophelia. Having memory loss has its good points. You get to reread good books, and it’s always a surprise what happens. (SHE SITS, PICKS UP BOOK.) Here it is. What day is it? Somebody’s supposed to come visit on Friday.
MARTHA: It is Friday. They came. They left.
ZENA: Oh. Did we have a nice visit?
MARTHA: Well, it was short. And to the point.
ZENA: Oh, good. I’m too old to spend a lot of time with young people. They’re exhausting.
MARTHA: Yes. (SIPS TEA. THEY READ, CONTENTEDLY. MARTHA LAUGHS) Muggles! What a good word to describe fools!
END OF PLAY