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ACT TWO
SCENE TWO

  A bedroom. In the rear, center, a door. A chair to left of door. In the left corner, a washstand. In the left wall, center, a small window with a torn dark shade pulled down. On the right, a bed. Ugly wall paper, dirty, stained, criss-crossed with match-strokes.

  When the curtain rises, the room is in darkness except for a faint glow on the window shade from some street lamp. Then the door is opened and a woman's figure is silhouetted against the dim, yellow light of a hall. She turns and speaks to someone who is following her. Her voice is heavy and slow with the strong trace of a foreign intonation, although the words are clearly enough defined. A man's figure appears behind hers. The woman is fairly young. Her face, rouged, powdered, penciled, is broad and stupid. Her small eyes have a glazed look. Yet she is not ugly—rather pretty for her bovine, stolid type—and her figure is still attractive although its movements just now are those of a tired scrubwoman's. She takes off her coat, hangs it on a hook, and removes her hat.

  The man is Michael. He is bare-headed, his hair disheveled, his eyes wild, his face has a feverish, mad expression. He stands in the doorway watching each movement of the woman's with an unnatural preoccupied concentration.

  WOMAN(having removed her hat and put it on the washstand, turns to him impatiently) Ain't you comin' in? (He starts and nods stupidly, moving his lips as if answering but not making a sound.) Come in! Shut the door. (He does so and locks it mechanically—then looks from her around the room with a frightened, puzzled glance as if he were aware of his surroundings for the first time.)

  WOMAN(forcing a trade smile—with an attempt at lightness) Well, here we are, dearie. (then with a sigh of physical weariness as she sits on the side of the bed) Gawd, I'm tired! My feet hurt fierce! I been walkin' miles. I got corns, too. (She sighs again, this time with a sort of restful content.) It's good 'n' warm in this dump, I'll hand it that. (a pause) I'd gave up hope and was beatin' it home when you come along. (a pause during which she takes him in calculatingly) How 'd you lose your hat? (He starts, passes a trembling hand through his hair bewilderedly but does not answer. A pause—then the woman sighs and yawns wearily—bored) Can't you say nothin'? You was full enough of bull when you met me. Gawd, I thought you'd get us both pinched. You acted like you was crazy. Remember kissing me on the corner with a whole mob pipin' us off?

  CAPE(with a start—evidently answering some train of thought in his mind—with a wild laugh) Remember? (He sinks on the chair with his head in his hands. There is a pause.)

  WOMAN(insinuatingly) Goin' to stay all night? (He glances up at her stupidly but doesn't answer. The woman insists dully) Say, you got ear-muffs on? I ast you, d'you wanta stay all night?

  CAPE(after a moment's groping, nods emphatically again and again, swallowing hard several times as if he were striving to get control of his voice—finally blurts out in a tone of desperation) Yes—yes—of course!—Where else would I go?

  WOMANHome. (indifferently) That's where most of 'em goes—afterwards.

  CAPE(with a sudden burst of wild laughter) Ha-ha-ha. Home! Is that your private brand of revenge—to go with men with homes? I congratulate you! (He laughs to himself with bitter irony—then suddenly deadly calm) Yes, I have a home, come to think of it—from now on Hell is my home! I suspect we're fellow-citizens. (He laughs.)

  WOMAN(superstitiously) You oughtn't to say them things.

  CAPE(with dull surprise) Why?

  WOMANSomep'n might happen. (a pause) Don't you believe in no God?

  CAPEI believe in the devil!

  WOMAN(frightened) Say! (then after a pause, forcing a smile) I'm wise to what's wrong with you. You been lappin' up some bum hooch.

  CAPE(jerkily) No. I'm not drunk. I thought of that—but it's evasion. (wildly) And I must be conscious—fully conscious, do you understand? I will this as a symbol of release—of the end of all things! (He stops, shuddering. She looks at him stolidly. A pause. He presses his hands to his forehead.) Stop thinking, damn you! (then after a pause—dully) How long—? What time is it?

  WOMANLittle after two, I guess.

  CAPE(amazed) Only that? (She nods.) Only two hours—? (a pause) I remember streets—lights—dead faces—Then you—your face alone was alive for me, alive with my deliverance! That was why I kissed you.

  WOMAN(looking up at him queerly) Say, you talk nutty. Been dopin' up on coke, I bet you.

  CAPE(with an abrupt exclamation) Ha! (He stares at her with unnatural intensity.) You seem to take it quite casually that men must be either drunk or doped—otherwise—! Marvelous! You,—you're the last depth—(with a strange, wild exultance, leaps to his feet) You're my salvation! You have the power—and the right—to murder love! You can satisfy hate! Will you let me kiss you again? (He strides over to her.)

  WOMAN(in a stupid state of bewilderment, feeling she has been insulted but not exactly knowing by what or how to resent it—angrily, pushing him away) No! Get away from me! (then afraid she may lose his trade by this rebuff) Aw, all right. Sure you can. (Making a tremendous visible effort he kisses her on the lips, then shrinks back with a shudder and forces a harsh laugh. She stares at him and mutters resentfully) O'ny don't get so fresh, see? I don't like your line of talk. (He slumps down on the chair again, sunk in a somber stupor. She watches him. She yawns. Finally she asks insinuatingly) Ain't you gettin' sleepy?

  CAPE(starting—with wild scorn) Do you think I—! (staring at her) Oh—I see—you mean, what did I come here for?

  WOMAN(in same tone) It's gettin' late.

  CAPE(dully, with no meaning to his question—like an automaton) A little after two?

  WOMANYes. (She yawns.) You better let me go to bed and come yourself.

  CAPE(again staring at her with strange intensity—suddenly with a queer laugh) How long have you and I been united in the unholy bonds of—bedlock? (He chuckles sardonically at his own play on words.)

  WOMAN(with a puzzled grin) Say!

  CAPETen thousand years—about—isn't it? Or twenty? Don't you remember?

  WOMAN(keeping her forced grin) Tryin' to kid me, ain't you?

  CAPEDon't lie about your age! You were beside the cradle of love, and you'll dance dead drunk on its grave!

  WOMANI'm only twenty-six, honest.

  CAPE(with a wild laugh) A fact! You're right. Thoughts keep alive. Only facts kill—deeds! (He starts to his feet.) Then hate will let me alone. Love will be dead. I'll be as ugly as the world. My dreams will be low dreams. I'll "lay me down among the swine." Will you promise me this, you?

  WOMAN(vaguely offended—impatiently) Sure, I'll promise anything. (She gets up to start undressing. She has been pulling the pins out of her hair and, as she rises, it falls over her shoulders in a peroxided flood. She turns to him, smiling with childish pride.) D'you like my hair, kid? I got a lot of it, ain't I?

  CAPE(laughing sardonically) "O love of mine, let down your hair and I will make my shroud of it."

  WOMAN(coquettishly pleased) What's that—po'try? (Then suddenly reminded of something she regards him calculatingly—after a pause, coldly) Say, you ain't broke, are you? Is that what's troubling you?

  CAPE(startled—then with bitter mockery) Ha! I see you're a practical person. (He takes a bill from his pocket and holds it out to her—contemptuously) Here!

  WOMAN(stares from the bill to him, flushing beneath her rouge) Say! I don't like the way you act. (proudly) I don't take nothin' for nothin'—not from you, see!

  CAPE(surprised and ashamed) I'll leave it here, then. (He puts it on top of the washstand and turns to her—embarrassedly) I didn't mean—to offend you.

  WOMAN(her face clearing immediately) Aw, never mind. It's all right.

  CAPE(staring at her intently—suddenly deeply moved) Poor woman!

  WOMAN(stung—excitedly) Hey, none of that! Nix! Cut it out! I don't stand for that from nobody! (She sits down on the bed angrily.)

  CAPE(with unnatural intensity) Do you know what you are? You're a symbol. You're all the tortures man inflicts on woman—and you're the revenge of woman! You're love revenging itself upon itself! You're the suicide of love—of my love—of all love since the world began! (wildly) Listen to me! Two hours ago—(Then he beats his head with both clenched hands—distractedly) Leave me alone! Leave me alone, damn you! (He flings himself on the chair in a violent outburst of dry sobbing.)

  WOMAN(bewilderedly) Say! Say! (Then touched, she comes to him and puts her arms around his shoulders, on the verge of tears herself.) Aw, come on, kid. Quit it. It's all right. Everything's all right, see. (as his sobbing grows quieter—helpfully) Say, maybe you ain't ate nothin', huh? Maybe soup'd fix you. S'posin' I go round the corner, huh? Sure, all I got to do is put up my hair—

  CAPE(controlling hysterical laughter—huskily) No—thanks. (Then his bitter memories rush back agonizingly. He stammers wildly) She confessed! She was proud of her hate! She was proud of my torture. She screamed: "I'll go too." Go where? Did she go? Yes, she must—! Oh, my God! Stop! Stop! (He springs up, his face distorted, and clutches the woman fiercely in his arms.) Save me, you! Help me to kill! Help me to gain peace! (He kisses her again and again frenziedly. She submits stolidly. Finally with a groan he pushes her away, shuddering with loathing, and sinks back on the chair.) No! I can't—I can't!

  WOMAN(wiping her lips with the back of her hand—a vague comprehension coming into her face—scornfully) Huh! I got a hunch now what's eatin' you. (then with a queer sort of savage triumph) Well, I'm glad one of youse guys got paid back like you oughter!

  CAPE(with dull impotent rage) I can't! I can't. I'm the weaker. Our love must live on in me. There's no death for it. There's no freedom—while I live. (struck by a sudden thought) Then, why—? (a pause) An end of loathing—no wounds, no memories—sleep!

  WOMAN(with a shudder) Say, you're beginning to give me the creeps.

  CAPE(startled—with a forced laugh) Am I? (He shakes his head as if to drive some thought from his mind and forces a trembling, mocking smile.) That's over. The great temptation, isn't it? I suppose you've known it. But also the great evasion. Too simple for the complicated,—too weak for the strong, too strong for the weak. One must go on, eh?—even wounded, on one's knees—if only out of curiosity to see what will happen—to oneself. (He laughs harshly and turns with a quick movement toward the door.) Well, good-by, and forgive me. It isn't you, you know. You're the perfect death—but I'm too strong, or weak—and I can't, you understand—can't! So, good-by. (He goes to the door.)

  WOMAN(frightenedly) Say! What're you goin' to do?

  CAPEGo on in the dark.

  WOMANYou better beat it home, that's what.

  CAPE(violently) No!

  WOMAN(wearily) Aw, forget it. She's your wife, ain't she?

  CAPEHow do you know? (He comes back to her, curiously attracted.)

  WOMAN(cynically) Aw, I'm wise. Stick to her, see? You'll get over it. You can get used to anything, take it from me!

  CAPE(in anguish) Don't! But it's true—it's the insult we all swallow as the price of life. (rebelliously) But I—!

  WOMAN(with a sort of forlorn chuckle) Oh, you'll go back aw right! Don't kid yourself. You'll go back no matter what, and you'll loin to like it. Don't I know? You love her, don't you? Well, then! There's no use buckin' that game. Go home. Kiss and make up. Ferget it. It's easy to ferget—when you got to! (She finishes up with a cynical, weary scorn.)

  CAPE(very pale—stammering) You—you make life despicable.

  WOMAN(angrily) Say! (then with groping, growing resentment) I don't like your talk! You've pulled a lot of bum cracks about—about—never mind, I got you, anyhow! You ain't got no right—What'd you wanter pick me up for, anyway? Wanter just get me up here to say rotten things? Wanter use me to pay her back? Say! Where do I come in? Guys go with me 'cause they like my looks, see?—what I am, understand?—but you, you don't want nothin'. You ain't drunk, neither! You just don't like me. And you was beatin' it leavin' your money there—without nothin'. I was goin' to let you then. I ain't now. (She suddenly gives him a furious push which sends him reeling back against the wall.) G'wan! Take your lousy coin and beat it! I wouldn't take nothin', nor have nothin' to do with you if you was to get down on your knees!

  CAPE(stares at her—an expression comes as if he were seeing her for the first time—with great pity) So—it still survives in you. They haven't killed it—that lonely life of one's own which suffers in solitude. (shame-facedly) I should have known. Can you forgive me?

  WOMAN(defensively) No!

  CAPEThrough separate ways love has brought us both to this room. As one lonely human being to another, won't you—?

  WOMAN(struggling with herself—harshly) No!

  CAPE(gently) Not even if I ask it on my knees? (He kneels before her, looking up into her face.)

  WOMAN(bewildered, with hysterical fierceness) No! Git up, you—! Don't do that, I tell you! Git up or I'll brain yuh! (She raises her fist threateningly over his head.)

  CAPE(gently) Not until you—

  WOMAN(exhaustedly) Aw right—aw right—I forgive—

  CAPE(gets up and takes her face between his hands and stares into her eyes—then he kisses her on the forehead.) Sister.

  WOMAN(with a half sob) Nix! Lay off of me, can't you?

  CAPEBut I learned that from you.

  WOMAN(stammering) What?—loined what? (She goes away from him and sinks on the bed exhaustedly.) Say, you better beat it.

  CAPEI'm going. (He points to the bill on the washstand.) You need this money. You'll accept it from me now, won't you?

  WOMAN(dully) Sure. Leave it there.

  CAPE(in the same gentle tone) You'll have to give it to him in the morning?

  WOMAN(dully) Sure.

  CAPEAll of it?

  WOMANSure.

  CAPEOr he'd beat you?

  WOMANSure. (then suddenly grinning) Maybe he'll beat me up, anyway—just for the fun of it.

  CAPEBut you love him, don't you?

  WOMANSure. I'm lonesome.

  CAPEYes. (after a slight pause) Why did you smile when you said he'd beat you, anyway?

  WOMANI was thinkin' of the whole game. It's funny, ain't it?

  CAPE(slowly) You mean—life?

  WOMANSure. You got to laugh, ain't you? You got to loin to like it!

  CAPE(This makes an intense impression on him. He nods his head several times.) Yes! That's it! That's exactly it! That goes deeper than wisdom. To learn to love life—to accept it and be exalted—that's the one faith left to us! (then with a tremulous smile) Good-by. I've joined your church. I'm going home.

  WOMAN(with a grin that is queerly affectionate) Sure. That's the stuff. Close your eyes and your feet'll take you there.

  CAPE(impressed again) Yes! Yes! Of course they would! They've been walking there for thousands of years—blindly. However, now, I'll keep my eyes open—(he smiles back at her affectionately)—and learn to like it!

  WOMAN(grinning) Sure. Good luck.

  CAPEGood-by. (He goes out, closing the door after him. She stares at the door listening to his footsteps as they die out down the stairs.)

  WOMAN(confusedly) Say—?

(The Curtain Falls)


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