Friday, 4 March 2011

Enza - Scene Two.

This isn't going to make much sense unless you start reading from the beginning - Enza - Scene One.


(Phyllis at home. Mrs. Taylor is darning some clothes on the dining table.)

MRS. TAYLOR. I boiled those handkerchiefs like you asked me to.

PHYLLIS. Oh good. Thank you.

MRS. TAYLOR. A lot of unnecessary fuss and bother if you ask me. Boiling a handkerchief!

PHYLLIS. Any precaution that we can take is worth a bit of effort.

MRS. TAYLOR. It’s not you that has to slave away over the stove.



PHYLLIS. It isn’t especially for my sake, Mother, but for Caroline. She is still a child, and you know how much more prone little children are to infectious diseases.

MRS. TAYLOR. Not such a little child any more. She can go to the shops for me and write a letter now. It’s when they’re babies that you worry about them. So helpless. Crying and waving their little fists and you don’t know what to do to help them.

PHYLLIS. Do you remember being a baby?

MRS. TAYLOR. What a question! I can remember you being a baby, bawling and trying to tear your sheets. A real demon, you were. Not like Maude. She was a lovely happy little thing.

PHYLLIS. Well, we have all changed since then, Mother. But don’t you remember being a baby yourself?

MRS. TAYLOR. It’s not my nature to go moping on trying to remember the distant past.

No! What ever would be the good of being able to remember being a baby? I can remember being at school from time to time, I suppose.


MRS TAYLOR. Now, what’s bought this on, then? A vacancy for a midwife? Thoughts of a




PHYLLIS. I’ve noticed… When people are about to die, they seem to go back to the pram.

They smile when the sunshine reaches them, or if you show them some attention.

MRS. TAYLOR. Well, when you’re old and bedridden, not being able to look after yourself must be like being a baby again.

PHYLLIS. It’s the same with young soldiers too, though, even when they relapse suddenly. I can see it in their eyes and the way that they move their heads.

MRS. TAYLOR. Miserable sort of life you lead being a nurse. I do want you to be happy, Phyllis.

PHYLLIS. I’ve been trying to remember what it was like to be a baby.

MRS. TAYLOR. I don’t suppose that you can remember when an ember from the chestnut sellers’ brazier set fire to your pram? You wouldn’t stop howling!

PHYLLIS. With good reason, so it would seem. No, I can’t. I have often wondered how that pram got warped, though. I can remember the feel of the feathers in my pillow, and snowflakes, reaching my hands out to touch the snowflakes, the freeze and the fluff of them.

MRS. TAYLOR. I wouldn’t have kept you out in the snow.

PHYLLIS. Here comes Father.

MRS. TAYLOR. Don’t you disappear, young lady.


(Enter Mr. Taylor. Mrs. Taylor divests him of his coat, hangs it up, etc.)

MR. TAYLOR. Good evening, dear. Phyllis.

PHYLLIS. Father.

MR. TAYLOR. When shall dinner be ready?

MRS. TAYLOR. At seven.

MR. TAYLOR. Reliable as always. That leaves us some time to have our talk, Phyllis.

PHYLLIS. Yes, Father.

MR. TAYLOR. No, don’t leave us, dear. We should all talk as a family.

MRS. TAYLOR. Oh. Well, if that’s what you deem it best.

(Mrs. Taylor clears the table before Mr. Taylor sits at it.)

MR. TAYLOR. Now then, Phyllis. No, do sit down. And for how long have you been back?

PHYLLIS. A quarter of an hour.

MR. TAYLOR. And you left the house for work at seven.

PHYLLIS. Yes, Father. I always do.

MR. TAYLOR. And how do you feel about your job?

PHYLLIS. It’s exhausting. Repetative. I always feel worried. I have to look as though I know what I’m doing all of the time, but you can’t know what to do.

MRS. TAYLOR. You’ve always been a worrier.

PHYLLIS. I have a lot to worry about, Mother. I was working on a ward today when one patient was having a seizure at the same time that another was fighting for breath. I was on my own. If I had gone to fetch somebody else, then neither of them would have been attended.

MRS. TAYLOR. As long as people can see that you’re trying your best, then -

PHYLLIS. But it’s not like that, Mother. If I do something wrong -

MR. TAYLOR. Don’t interrupt your Mother! Do you -

MRS. TAYLOR. I was going to say: As long as people can see that you’re trying your best, then you’re doing the best that you can.

PHYLLIS. If I do something wrong, then a patient could die. It’s not about trying your best, it’s about doing the correct thing.

MR. TAYLOR. You’ve been trained.

PHYLLIS. Training will only - An officer told me about his firearms training. He said that in his group there was one marksman who had the most accurate aim and the most dexterous responses. The other officers all called him Jesse James and got him to perform tricks for them. And he was the first of them to die. He was shot in the first battle that he fought in. He didn’t realise that it was going to be different once he was really in combat.

MRS. TAYLOR. You’re not a soldier.

PHYLLIS. I do work with people who are in great pain and danger.

MR. TAYLOR. And do you think that it is helping your care of them, your living at home with your sisters and us?

PHYLLIS. I am employed as a day nurse.

MRS. TAYLOR. You spend the night there too, sometimes.

PHYLLIS. That’s when I’m put on night duty, Mother. I’m not sleeping when I’m there.

MR. TAYLOR. Do you want to continue as a day nurse?

PHYLLIS. It’s a day’s work. I suppose that I’m making myself of some service.

MRS. TAYLOR. Why can’t you find yourself a husband? You can be a pretty girl when you smile.

MR. TAYLOR. You’ve told us that some of the nurses board. Wouldn’t you want to do that?

PHYLLIS. Sometimes I think that I do. But, I’ve been there, it isn’t a pleasant dormitory where they live. And after a few years, the nurses there… they sort of dry up

MRS. TAYLOR. I suppose that you might become a Matron.

PHYLLIS. Well, I could. It would be a lot of hard work.

MR. TAYLOR. Life is supposed to be hard work - there’s no escaping from that.

PHYLLIS. I’ve never met a Matron whom I’ve thought of as being the sort of woman who

I’d like to become.

MRS. TAYLOR. Oh, that’s just you being young.

PHYLLIS. Mother I am a working woman. I see men die almost every day. I’m twenty and I feel like I’m forty.

MRS. TAYLOR. You won’t feel like you do now when you are forty, my girl!

PHYLLIS. I’m not some flighty girl like Maude.

MR. TAYLOR. Yes. Why did you not inform me when your sister went outdoors last night?

PHYLLIS. You were asleep.

MR. TAYLOR. That was no excuse.

PHYLLIS. It wasn’t my fault.

MR. TAYLOR. Maude is thirteen and you are twenty. In what way can it not be your fault?

If you wish to carry on living here then you must accept your responsibilities. Your mother and I have plenty of work to do and much to worry about, and the least that we expect in return for your living here is for you to share some of that burden.


MRS. TAYLOR. Your father’s right, you know. Just because you go out to work, that doesn’t stop you from having to help at home, too.


MRS. TAYLOR. And do try not to have that sulky look on your face. It’s no wonder that you find life so glum if you go about looking so miserable.

(Phyllis smiles unconvincingly.)

MR. TAYLOR. Your mother and I are both very disappointed in you. When you choose to continue to live with us as a grown woman, we expect you to assist us with the care of your sisters. Yet you not only show no assistance, but you actively aid Maude in deceiving us. I do not understand how you can possibly think that you can continue as you do presently.

PHYLLIS. I do pay you for my lodgings with most of my wages, father.

MR. TAYLOR. Do you think that money absolves you of responsibility for your sister? You are our daughter, not a lodger, Phyllis.

MRS. TAYLOR. Why didn’t you tell your father about Maude, Phyllis? It wouldn’t have been you that he would have been angry with.

PHYLLIS. You say that, mother, but -

MR. TAYLOR. Don’t be rhetorical! Answer your mother, don’t debate with her.

PHYLLIS. But you would have been angry with me, father. You expect me to be responsible for my sisters, but when I am attempting to sleep and Maude is awake, I can’t… I’m not strong enough. All day at work I show responsibility and strength. I am capable and civil and considerate, but I am not any of these things in my heart. I want to escape and just collapse.

MRS. TAYLOR. In your heart. What conceited nonsense. If you manage to do things well, then you can manage to do things well. You are what you do.

PHYLLIS. If I’m woken up by some headstrong madam -

MR. TAYLOR. This is what you call your child sister!

PHYLLIS. - I am not strong enough to stop her from going outdoors if she’s determined to do so. I think that - in her wilful moods - Maude would have no scruples about biting or scratching me if I stood in the path that blocked her from whatever she had set her mind upon.

You must understand -

MR. TAYLOR. Rhetoric again! You are a young lady, not the Prime Minister.

PHYLLIS. I want to recuperate at some stage. I can’t… I can’t cope.

MRS. TAYLOR. Oh, don’t be so wet, girl. You do cope! The way that you speak, anyone would think that it had been you who’d been fighting in trenches for four years.

PHYLLIS. At least the war-wounded get a bed to themselves! I envy my patients sometimes - how wretched am I?

MRS. TAYLOR. You’re not wretched at all, just full of self-pity. Really, you youngsters don’t know that you’re born. You have a roof over your head and money in your purse. What more could you wish for? I can’t imagine what my mother would have said if I’d have spoken to her as you do to me.

MR. TAYLOR. Returning to the matter in hand: You tell us that you feel incapable of caring for your young sisters, yet you expect to continue living here with them. You tell us that your child sister is a wilful and obstinate girl, yet you yourself refuse to either take responsibility for her, or report her transgressions to me. You constantly complain of your work to us, yet when I suggest that you might wish to improve your position in this work, you respond without ambition or enthusiasm. I do not understand how you expect me, as your father, to treat you. This is all most troubling to me, I am sure. You must not expect to live with us, and I strongly implore you to seek alternative accommodation.

(Phyllis sneezes.)

MRS. TAYLOR. Oh good lord, I left that cabbage boiling! It must be mush by now. Oh no, oh no, you will distract me with your family discussions! Now, Phyllis, you’ll do as your father says, and let that be an end of it.

PHYLLIS. Yes, Mother.

MRS. TAYLOR. And do try not to look so sour in future.

PHYLLIS. No, Mother.

MR. TAYLOR. Ought we not to reach a conclusion?

MRS. TAYLOR. If we do, we’d end up eating cold meat and pulped vegetables. No, that’s quite enough bother for one day, thank you, dear. Now lay the table and fetch your sisters like a good girl.

PHYLLIS. Of course.

(Mr. Taylor takes out his evening paper and sits out of Phyllis’ way to devote his attention to that. Phyllis starts to clear the table.)

PHYLLIS. Work, cope, work, cope, work, cope…

Next - Enza - Scene Three.

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