Monday, 7 March 2011

Enza - Scene Three.

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


(The sanatorium gardens.)

PHYLLIS. You have to be back by three?

MAVIS. I’ll start to go back at three.

PHYLLIS. It’s freezing, Mave. Let’s go back in.

MAVIS. In a minute. I just want to be in the sun.

PHYLLIS. We could be sitting by the fire. Drinking hot tea.

MAVIS. There’s nothing that I hate more than going to work in the dark and coming back home in the dark. November! Why can’t we hibernate? Stop moaning and have a greengage.

(When they eat Mavis spits out the stones onto the ground. Phyllis secretes them into her handkerchief.)

PHYLLIS. Look at that - the seam of my glove’s split right down my finger.

MAVIS. You can sew that back.

PHYLLIS. Once I get home. That’s my twenty minutes of peace and quiet to myself tonight gone. I’ll get frostbite.

MAVIS. Catch the influenza.

PHYLLIS. Merciful release. Oh! Forgive me- what a terrible thing to say.

MAVIS. You do look run down, dear.

PHYLLIS. Thank you. That’s what a patient told me yesterday. He’s got punctured kidneys and a ruptured spleen - and he tells me that I look ill.

MAVIS. Ruptured spleen… must have been Private Inglis. He was showing an interest,

Phyllis. That’s a good thing. You mustn’t discourage it. I do prefer the company of the soldiers. At least they’re civil and grateful, not like a lot of the normal run of patients. I think that the war has improved young mens’ manners. The company of the officers has taught them how to behave properly.

PHYLLIS. I would have preferred it if he’d have told me that I was looking well.

MAVIS. Honesty is a virtue. Anyway, we shouldn’t worry about catching the ‘enza, young and robust things that we are.

(Phyllis sneezes.)

MAVIS. Bless you, dear. We’ve got fifty years of life ahead of us yet.

PHYLLIS. Three score years and ten… Die in 1968. We work like packhorses, Mave. I’m tired all of the time.

MAVIS. It’ll ease off now that the war’s over. All of this lot of soldiers will either get better or die off and then we can get back to normal life. I’ll be leaving in the new year, anyway.

PHYLLIS. It doesn’t feel as though it’s ever going to stop or get better.

MAVIS. You’re just saying that. A day at the seaside’s all that you need.

PHYLLIS. When? And with whom?

MAVIS. Oh have a cigarette.

PHYLLIS. Thank you dear. Oh, look at this glove! Are you sure that you don’t want to go back inside?

MAVIS. In a minute.

PHYLLIS. Which is worse? November or December?

MAVIS. November. At least December’s got Christmas.

PHYLLIS. I don’t know how much I’m looking forward to Christmas this year. Caroline still really enjoys it; holly, paper chains, baby Jesus. It never feels much like a holiday. It’s always Mother and I that do the work. Father buys the capon and carves it, that’s a great display of expertise. He’ll set fire to the pudding and my Mother will disapprove - “Every year it’s the same. I spend hours making that pudding, only for your Father to spoil it.” I can’t imagine what sort of mood Maude will be in. I can see her making Father angry. I was glad to get back to work last year.

MAVIS. Why not work here?

PHYLLIS. I wanted to last year, but Matron wouldn’t hear of it. “No, no, Miss. Taylor, I couldn’t keep you from your family. There are plenty of other girls who I’d rather keep here.” A kindly thought, but a mistaken one. I’d much rather that she showed such largesse in July, say.

MAVIS. She means well.

PHYLLIS. Huh! Everybody means well. I’m sure that people in Germany think that the

Kaiser meant well.

MAVIS. Matron isn’t the Kaiser.

PHYLLIS. No. The late Queen Victoria, maybe.

(Phyllis shivers.)

PHYLLIS. I’m sorry, Mave. Did I hear you say that you were leaving?

MAVIS. I’m afraid so.

PHYLLIS. Another job? Your family?

MAVIS. No. Not my current family, anyway.

PHYLLIS. ? Another family?

MAVIS. Very soon.

PHYLLIS. You’re not becoming a governess, are you?

MAVIS. No! I’m going to be the family. A wife and mother, Phyllis.

PHYLLIS. I never knew.

(Phyllis shivers.)

PHYLLIS. Is the mother bit already set in stone?

MAVIS. Six months time if the ‘enza doesn’t see us off first. A May baby.

PHYLLIS. I would not have thought… You… You must be a… How did you find the time to court him? Where did you meet him?

MAVIS. A patient.

PHYLLIS. Is that ethical?

MAVIS. A former patient.

PHYLLIS. Oh. One never really thinks of the patients as potential suitors. I always like to imagine that my future husband will glow with rude health.

MAVIS. Patients do recover.

PHYLLIS. But that’s when we stop seeing them! Do I know him?

MAVIS. Private Simpson. Dudley.

PHYLLIS. But he’s only got one arm!

MAVIS. He still functions, dear.

PHYLLIS. Evidently.

MAVIS. Mr. Dudley Simpson and Miss Mavis Bryant would like to thank you for your delighted congratulations upon hearing the announcement of their engagement.

PHYLLIS. Oh Mave. I’m sorry. I’m so selfish. It is good news. It’s because you’ll be leaving and that you’re the best thing about working here that… I… This work! It’s made me so… pinched-in… grudging.

MAVIS. Moving to the country.

PHYLLIS. Far away from here, I suppose.

MAVIS. Chalfont. His brother-in-law has offered him a position as a clerk. A proper home of our own.

PHYLLIS. You have landed on your feet. Did you… When did… Did you start to see him when he was still a patient?

MAVIS. No. We get the same tram home. Half past six, opposite the cricket ground and that place where they make hatstands. After we’d been meeting for a month I found out that he was lying. He used to finish work at half past five and wait at the stop for an hour until I arrived, silly man. I spent all day looking forward to getting out of work, walking in the sunlight, seeing him waiting for me, seeing how his expression would change when he saw me. It is good to feel happy, Phyllis.

PHYLLIS. Yes. I can imagine. Why didn’t you tell me?

MAVIS. Oh, it’s taken me years to get Matron to trust me. “I only want my girls to be respectable young ladies, Nurse Bryant. And a respectable young lady might well be engaged to a suitable young man, but she must never be seen gadding about the town.”

PHYLLIS. I’m not Matron.

I would have liked to know.

I’m not a telltale.

I’m not a prude.

MAVIS. Sometimes it’s just good to have a secret. You’ll be the same when you have a young man.

PHYLLIS. When I have a young man I’m not going to submit to his grubby little demands and get myself into trouble.

MAVIS. It’s not like that. You’ll find out.

PHYLLIS. And he’ll have both arms, too!

MAVIS. It was me that made him do it. I wanted to get pregnant. And if you want to stay friends with me and my husband then you mustn’t make fun of him.


(Phyllis shivers.)

PHYLLIS. Well then, if it wasn’t grubby, where on earth did you find to do it? I can’t even find somewhere private to read my book and drink a cup of tea in for five minutes, let alone some… assignation like that.

MAVIS. I got him to borrow the keys to his uncle’s sweetshop. It was a Thursday. I felt so excited all day, knowing that in a few hours time I was going to… step off the edge of the world, praying that Matron wasn’t going to keep me in late. And then when we met at the tram stop and we walked to the sweetshop we were so scared that we had to hold each others’ hand. When we got there we were shaking so much that we couldn’t get the key into the lock at first.

PHYLLIS. Keep your voice down! Someone might hear!

MAVIS. We went into the storeroom. He wanted to switch the light off, but I told him to keep it on.

PHYLLIS. You’re very bold, Mave. Does it hurt?

MAVIS. With his stump and the shrapnel, do you mean?

PHYLLIS. No! Did it hurt you, you silly!

MAVIS. It is unfamiliar. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. No. Of course it doesn’t hurt.

Once we went into the storeroom then we went onto the counter.

(Phyllis is audibly speechless.)

MAVIS. Oh, come on. Nobody’s going to be looking in a sweetshop window at eight o’clock at night. It was still light. The sun was shining and then it was dusk. It was like… we were the only people on the earth… Adam and Eve. Everything has felt a bit different since.

PHYLLIS. Well, it would do. He got you pregnant.

MAVIS. It’s not just that.

PHYLLIS. I don’t… You know that… You’re doing something that I always hate. You’re saying that I’m less of a person because I haven’t experienced something. All my life, people have told me - you’ll understand once you leave school, or once you grow up, or once you get married or when you have children yourself. And it’s a lie. You leave school and you grow up and you don’t understand any better. And then you look around and you see that lots of idiots who have become husbands and wives and fathers and mothers haven’t stopped being idiots because they’ve got married or had children.

(Phyllis sneezes.)

MAVIS. Bless you. My husband and I shall not care to be called idiots.

PHYLLIS. But you weren’t in the first place.

MAVIS. Do you want a young man, Phyllis?

PHYLLIS. Of course I do. I want…

MAVIS. And how are you going to meet him?

PHYLLIS. Yes. Precisely! I used to enjoy the walk home after church on a Sunday, but then

Matron put me on Sunday mornings.

MAVIS. Phyllis Phyllis. You work with dozens of eligible young men every day.

PHYLLIS. Nursing an invalid is not conducive to falling in love.

MAVIS. They get well again.

PHYLLIS. Not all of them.

MAVIS. We can almost always tell who isn’t going to get better.

PHYLLIS. They don’t look at me. They look at Emily and Lillian.

MAVIS. They don’t just look at Emily and Lillian.

PHYLLIS. They look at Emily and Lillian first.

MAVIS. They are confined to bed all day. I can’t blame them for looking at us. This is a unique time, you know. Never again will you be in the company of so many eligible young men. It won’t last forever now that the war’s over.

PHYLLIS. They don’t look at me - me, Phyllis. They just look vacantly, like cows or sheep do.

MAVIS. You have to let them get to know you.

PHYLLIS. I can pass the time of day with them.

MAVIS. You don’t realise until you’ve been together with a man - Listen to me, it is true.

There’s this thing going on - men and women looking at each other, wanting affection and looking for people to show it to - and it’s going on all the time, like the way that you can feel the air when a storm is about to break. And once you’ve realised that this is going on, life is a lot more exciting.

PHYLLIS. I don’t believe that life can be exciting all of the time.

MAVIS. Often. Do you like Private Inglis, then?

PHYLLIS. He’s generous. He gave me two cigarettes.

MAVIS. So why are you smoking one of mine, then?

PHYLLIS. Here. Take one.

MAVIS. He likes you! He likes you!

PHYLLIS. Please be quiet, Mave. I don’t know that that’s really true. Anyway, he doesn’t know me.

MAVIS. He told you that you looked washed-out.

PHYLLIS. How romantic.

MAVIS. He noticed! He noticed! He offers you gifts, he cares about how you’re feeling -

This is splendid news. He’s on east wing, isn’t he?


(Mavis starts to gather things ready to exit.)

MAVIS. Why, that’s where you’re working this evening! What luck!


MAVIS. And it’s where I’m working, too, so I can keep an eye on the pair of you. Marvellous, marvellous. I predict that the next four hours of work might prove to be enjoyable after all. Let’s go to the lodge for that cup of tea now, shall we, flower?

(Mavis exits.)

PHYLLIS. (following) Mavis? Mave! Oh, you’re not going to embarrass me, please.

Next - Enza - Scene Four.

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