by Doug Dolcino
excerpt from Beast of Burden
Setting: Oswald’s apartment
Time: the present
Character: MRS. RASP, 40’s, a cleaning lady hired by Oswald’s stepsons.
MRS. RASP is sitting with Oswald—who sits nervously with a tape recorder on his lap.
Ain’t you gonna turn it on? I seen them machines before. I seen how they save voices. It can save my voice. My daughter Gracie tell me this voice got comfort. We’re of the same flesh. Her body is mine and mine is hers. It tell me what’s coming. It’s an omen that’s been shown to me. Good or bad. Oh, it’s funny. How do you account for it? Well, you can’t, see. You remember things when— Like a time my Gracie and me was paid to clean a big mansion. We got a key, let ourselves in for a look. There’s food on the carpet, cake on the walls, confetti all over the furniture. We think we’re alone in that mansion and we get to cleaning, we’re sweeping and scrubbing when the owner, a very big man in this community, he sneaks up on my Gracie and gives her a little pinch. Well, she complains to me ’bout it but all I say is: “Forget it, Gracie, just let it be.” But it goes on like that, one day after the next. My Gracie getting slapped, my Gracie getting tickled, my Gracie getting fondled in a nasty fashion, and each day she leaves that mansion whining to me ’bout the bruises all over her body. Well, my Gracie was young. What does she know? She don’t have the complete picture. “I made an oath,” I tell her. “He’s what I got. There ain’t nothing I can do.” After that my Gracie ain’t the same. She keeps asking for time off. She wants to go on a vacation; she knows I can’t afford none of it. But she gets them brochures of places and all she talks ’bout is registering under a fake name and just lounging ’round in a shammy all day, staring out of big windows. Well, that’s back a ways. A long time. Now things are different. My Gracie does okay. She don’t clean windows or scrub crappers or get pinched on the buttocks. No, she’s sitting up there where she works four hundred and sixty-seven floors above the street, watching… other people clean for her.
Someday my Gracie’s gonna visit me.
She got a square suitcase.
She don’t care much for traveling.
The suitcase got little wheels.
Someday my Gracie’s gonna visit me.
(MRS. RASP stares at him. OSWALD picks up the microphone.)
Your wife, she clean apartments. I remember seeing her ’round. She was nice, I guess. All us cleaning ladies, we heard ’bout the way she went. Burned, weren’t it? Trapped in a burning house? Dear God, don’t let me go that way, with smoke choking you and flames—
(OSWALD takes the recorder and jumps up. MRS. RASP follows him.)
Wait! I’m sorry. I don’t mean none of that.
(MRS. RASP touches his arm. OSWALD stands there.)
Sometimes I put my foot in it, that’s what I do.
(MRS. RASP sits down.)
My Gracie, she once tell me that.
(OSWALD sits down.)
She frets ’bout me. Sometimes my feet get the achies. I soak them in epsoms, my feet.
(OSWALD clutches the recorder on his lap. MRS. RASP moves closer.)
I don’t wear none socks. My John, he once say socks ain’t for a lady.
(MRS. RASP presses the record button. The spools turn. She takes Oswald’s hand, guides the microphone to her mouth and speaks.)
My John. (She sighes deeply) Now there was a man. When we was newlyweds, I used to sit on his lap as he smoked his cigars. I remember how the smell of that smoke, the smell of that smoke make me think— When I was young, I mean. The sunny, untroubled innocence of my maiden youngness when everything come open like… beautiful— Oh, he was wonderful, my big handsome John. He’d go chasing my Gracie ’round the house when she was just a little girl, blowing smoke in her face. He did it for laughs. Throw his head back and laugh and laugh and— At night? At night when we was alone he delighted in stroking every part of my body, first the ankles and then my calves, and then my thighs, and then my good strong— That your bedroom down there?
copyright © 2001 Doug Dolcino. All rights reserved. ___________________________________________
Doug Dolcino’s works have been presented throughout the country. Beast of Burden was chosen as a semi-finalist in the 2002 South Coast Repertory SCRIPTS Festival (California) and was a state winner in Portland Stage Company’s 2004 Clauder Competition for playwrights (Maine). His full-length play, Monument, was presented at the 2009 Inkubator Showcase in Washington, DC.