Setting: An artist’s studio in Paris, France
Time: Christmas Eve in the late 19th century
Character: JOANNA HIFFERNAN, 25 years old, artist and model. For six years Joanna was the Irish mistress of painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
Do I want him to come? Well, I do…and then maybe I don’t… I’m expecting “the curse” an I feel like a piece of stretched elastic…and I’m that mad at him. Who the hell does he think he is ranting and raving at me like that? Maybe he has some little whore’s melt lined up somewhere whose only too happy to put him up these last few nights
(She vigorously brushes her hair) The best thing my Da did for me—the red hair…the only thing…the drunken ole shite! Though, it has to be said…I’ve never met the like of him…and he does stir me up so! His lovemaking isn’t all talk like some I could mention! I suppose you can’t blame the fellas back home, what with the priest and their mammies breathing down their necks and them afraid they’ll be hauled before the parish priest and condemned from the pulpit for immoral and debauched behavior with a girl of “uncertain” character! If it wasn’t for me Ma, I’d have been carted off to one of those homes for women—where they keep you in slavery washing sheets and scrubbing floors. What would the good people of Ballyjamesduff make of me now? I could be living at home with nothing better to do than saying a Novena to the Blessed Virgin. I wouldn’t go back if they paid my fare and threw in a hundred pound! Glory be to God, I’d go out of me mind and be sent off to the looney bin like Mary Henderson!
(Church bells ring out 11 o’clock as she climbs onto the bed)
Worse still, there’s Mags Talbot who should have taken the boat like meself but got “caught” and now is tied down with a clatter of kids and a “ne’er-do-well” who only has to put his trousers over the back of the chair for her to be “up the pole” again. What a life! No thank you very much… All the things she’ll never do…climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower…sit outside a café on a starry night…dance in the Tullerie Gardens!
(She lies there reflectively. Her voice slows)
Or lie on a studio bed while your very own artist paints the sweet lips of your wet and swollen flower. His brush caresses each stroke as he spreads the luscious paint across the cloth… (Joanne looses herself in reverie) …and adds a highlight here and there to bring the essence to the fore. The scene built up to reach an exquisite piece—a work of art…
(Church bell rings out the half-hour)
Will he come back tonight? I have to confess, I miss him this Christmas Eve…
Mam would have put together the dried fruits, the Jameson and she mixing the Christmas pudding and the smell wafting all over the house. The roar in the chimney this night would soften the sound of the wailing wind in the fields beyond the road. I’d be wedged in beside the range scalding my chilblains and waiting for the kettle to boil to make the cup of tea before we’d all head off for midnight mass. Later, after the loud singing and the quiet tinkle of the altar boys bell was done, I’d follow the crowds out the church door with the smell of incense in my nostrils. I can hear me Ma shouting against the wind to get a move on home before we catch our “death o’ cold.” Maybe Johnny Moran would try to steal a kiss under the arch…the smell of porter on his breath and his eye peeled for the priest out trawlin’ the roads…ready to break up any bit of warmth he found.
Then we’d wait up for “Captain Costigan” to roll in. Ma would be praying he’d not spent all the money got for the bullock in McGuilligan’s. The childer after hanging one of his ole holey socks from the mantle hoping for an orange and maybe a sweet and a pencil on Christmas morning if they were lucky.
(She sings) Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat…
please put a penny in the ole man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny a ha’penny will do.
If you haven’t got a ha’penny God bless you…
(Laughs, then pauses)
“Have you no shame,” says he to me and him fit to be tied. “Courbet painted the cunt of Whistler’s tart,” the headline said. “The Origin of the World,” says he “has made me a laughing stock.” I told him, “How could anyone tell who it was when all you can see is my pussy?” He frets half of Paris is ridiculing him. But here I am and it’s been three days and two nights and he had to lay his head somewhere. If Jim came in now and ran to the bed and threw himself on his knees—I’d turn the other way.
But… if he said in his darlin’ voice “Jo…I’m such a fool. You are my life…forgive me, Jo.” I’d say, “Let’s put everything behind us…it’s Christmas.” He’d kiss me and ask me to heat some water for a shave and I’d be out of the bed in a flash and the water on the range and his shaving things ready. I love to watch a man lathering up and scraping the day’s wear and tear from his face. And when his face was as smooth as a baby’s bum, we’d nestle under the covers and make up!
(Church bells ring out 12 o’ clock)
Christmas morning! If he doesn’t come soon I’ll lock the door and that’ll be the end of it…he can clear off for good! Whist…is that someone mounting the stairs I hear? Oh Jim, please God!
(Fade to black)
copyright © 2010 Deidre Dowling. All rights reserved. _________________________________________________
Deirdre Dowling’s plays have been produced and stage-read at theatres in New York City and the Hudson Valley. While most of her work-to-date relates to Irish subjects, she believes the themes have a universal resonance. She co-authored the screenplay A Love Divided, a full-length feature film released in Great Britain, Ireland, and screened in New York City.