SCARLETT: a woman in her thirties.

LOVEY: a caring woman in her fifties.

VOICE OFF: Mother, a histrionic woman in her late sixties with early onset of dementia. She speaks in a voice ranging in a variety of moods from the past. She is shrill and sarcastic, sometimes melodramatic, but always brittle. A French accent would be a bonus.

VOICE OFF: Norma, a woman of mature age, Nurse Norma speaks in a voice off-stage from the past. She impersonates normality.




I had dreamed of loving—Robert Desnos.




Stage in darkness. Surf just audible in the distance.

Fade up to Scarlett centre-stage. She stands motionless in her red dress and red shoes, facing the audience. To her left, Lovey stands in a grey outfit and sensible shoes with her back to the audience. Lovey looks at Scarlett.




LOVEY  But she’s still your mother.


LOVEY  I said mother.

SCARLETT  Mother. Bother. Swap one letter for another.

LOVEY  Yes, but look at the state you’re in.

VOICE OFF  Scarlett! (With urgency.)

SCARLETT  Nothing to worry about.

LOVEY  It’s serious.

SCARLETT  Neither rhyme nor reason.

LOVEY  So, what’s to be done?

VOICE OFF  (Laughter.)

VOICE OFF  Where’s your brother?

SCARLETT  I don’t know.



VOICE OFF  Ted. Ted. Teddy. Teddee. Ee. Ee. Ee. (Laughter, getting more hysterical. Fracas.)




LOVEY  Speak to me.

SCARLETT  I can’t.

LOVEY  Come on. Say something.

SCARLETT  Don’t know what to say.

LOVEY  Tell me why she freaks you out, your mother.

SCARLETT  She doesn’t.

VOICE OFF  Who does she think she is?

SCARLETT  It’s just the words.

LOVEY  So why can’t you speak to me?

SCARLETT  Sorry, that’s the way it is.

VOICE OFF  Sss sss sss sss sss.

LOVEY  What am I to you?

SCARLETT  Don’t know. Neither ego nor alter. Nothing alters. Ergo. Mother, bother, brother. Bro. Mo… Mud.

LOVEY  Why can’t you make a choice?

SCARLETT  There is no choice.

LOVEY  As long as you’ve got a clear conscience.

VOICE OFF (Laughter.)

SCARLETT  What makes a conscience, anyway?

VOICE OFF  Do your duty.

SCARLETT  Nothing matters. No matter what.

LOVEY  Whatever happened to forgiveness?

SCARLETT  Forgiveness is God’s business.

VOICE OFF Speak to me.

SCARLETT  Sk sk sk sk sk…

LOVEY  Go on. Say it.


LOVEY  Scar?

SCARLETT  She made us in her own image. Scarred and scary.

LOVEY  Scared?

SCARLETT  Mud. Gag. Choke. Dot. Dotty. Barb. Ranting and raving until death ensues.

LOVEY  Come on.

SCARLETT  I’m not going anywhere.

LOVEY  What are you scared of?

SCARLETT  Cakes. Fruitcakes. Voices. Sentences.

LOVEY  Don’t see what you mean.

SCARLETT  Some words just choke me. Freak me.

LOVEY  Like?

SCARLETT  Speak to me for sentence makes me think of cakes and pains. And I remember.

LOVEY  What do you remember?

SCARLETT  I remember a scene when I said my mummy aches and lost my balance for ever. And I remember a photograph of my sixth birthday when my mother told me to shut my cake hole and smile. Then I remember a judge who asked me to speak up. I dismember telling him my mother’s unhappiness took the place of dreams.

VOICE OFF  Neither rhyme nor reason.

LOVEY  Quite a memory.

SCARLETT  I hate remembering. I hate recalling. I hate remembering all the cake I ate and not having it. I feel sick recalling my mother and sick at what a pain I was, sick at how she never spoke to me, but teased or yelled, and sick at how I could never speak to her, cramped up as I was, looking for a counterweight.

LOVEY  Now, you’re telling me stories.

VOICE OFF  What can you say?

SCARLETT  Stories. The truth. And nothing but.

LOVEY  Go on.

SCARLETT  My memory is a caked up snake, a cakey snake I hold upside-down not to see the head scoffing the cup-cake of my sixth birthday, the seed-cake sprouting, taking root, replicating itself in mud. I try holding memories at bay not to see the head, not to feel the head I can’t hack off. Oh, the headache.

LOVEY  Getting poetic now?

SCARLETT  I tell it like it was. Like it is.

LOVEY  Like?

SCARLETT  Is it a drawing you want?

LOVEY  Can’t you get to the point, Scar?

SCARLETT  OK. If I must.

VOICE OFF  (Laughter.)




SCARLETT  Shut your eyes.


SCARLETT  Shut your eyes.

LOVEY  But why?

SCARLETT  You tell me to speak to you. I tell you to shut your eyes. Go on.

VOICE OFF  Open shut them open shut them give a little clap.

SCARLETT Shut them.

VOICE OFF  She’s away with the pixies.

SCARLETT  Don’t stare at me.


SCARLETT Don’t. You look like my mother.

LOVEY  You’re raving.

SCARLETT  Shut up. Shut your eyes. (Screaming.)

LOVEY  There.

SCARLETT  Now picture this. Behind our bright red door, a drab room with the T.V. going. The couch is worn in and the stuffing is pushing through. A ray of morning sunlight creeps through a hole in the yellow curtain.

LOVEY  A hole?

SCARLETT  A hole. A tear.

LOVEY  Keep going.

SCARLETT  A little girl—


VOICE OFF  Where’s your brother?

SCARLETT Don’t know.

LOVEY  But is it you?

SCARLETT  No. A little girl. As in once a puny time a little girl—nearly ten, but small for her age, sits in the corner, crouched. She looks cold.

LOVEY  Cold? How do you know?

SCARLETT  Her hands are scrunched up in white fists and her eyes are wide.

VOICE OFF Don’t be such a pain.

SCARLETT  I spring on my feet, turn around and look at mud. She sits slumped away from the cot. Kate’s all scrunched up, like my hands. She’s crying like Teddy. Like she’s Tedee ee ee ee.

VOICE OFF  Bloody babies. Nothing helps.

SCARLETT  I go to the cot and try to pick up cake. Kate. Mum’s mad at me. I can tell. Her face is creased. Her arms clutch her stomach. When I pick up Kate, her arms flap loosely.

VOICE OFF  Leave her alone. (Screaming.) You’ll drop her.

SCARLETT  A lady in a navy suit comes in. She’s a nurse: Norma. She takes Kate from me.

NORMA VOICE OFF  Thanks Scarlett. How are you?

SCARLETT. My mummy aches.


SCARLETT  Norma takes my baby in her arms. She looks into Kate’s face. She speaks to her.

VOICE OFF  After all I’ve done.


SCARLETT  Tummy talks about her pains and us bloody kids. Kate grabs Norma’s earring and sniffles. Norma tries to put her back in her cot, but she cries again. Norma says she needs a buoy. A toy. I go and get her teddy bear. Kate spits her dummy out. She babbles and cuddles her teddy.

NORMA VOICE OFF  That’s a good girl.

NORMA VOICE OFF  Scary, you’re a good girl aren’t you?


NORMA VOICE OFF  So, why aren’t you at school?

SCARLETT  Mum glares at me. Her body twists, cramps up.

VOICE OFF  Speak to me. (Demanding and loud.)

SCARLETT  (Looks frightened.)

NORMA VOICE OFF  Come on, you can speak to me. (Coaxing.)


NORMA VOICE OFF  Go on. (Softly.)

SCARLETT  I’ve got a headache in my tummy.

NORMA VOICE OFF  Now, you’re telling me stories.

LOVEY  I’m beginning to see.




SCARLETT  Behind the bright red door, a dull room with the T.V. going. The couch is worn in.

LOVEY  Same one?

SCARLETT  Same one, but there’s a red blanket to cover the stuffing pushing through. A ray of vanishing sunlight creeps through a hole in the yellow curtain. This is all recorded on the photograph I have of my sixth birthday.

LOVEY  Any presents? A cake maybe?

SCARLETT  There is no record of the birthday girl opening her present on her  sixth birthday or blowing her candles or eating cake. But on top of the T.V., there’s a framed picture of this lad—this lass with her face caked in pink icing, her pig tails dripping with emergency oil, her hands behind her back. You can tell she’s trying hard to smile, but it is guilt she shows to the world.

LOVEY  You’re so wordy.

SCARLETT  Thought I was being clinical.


SCARLETT  The birthday girl has just raided her mother’s medicine cupboard.


SCARLETT  Emergency.

LOVEY  Emergency?

SCARLETT  The birthday girl remembers the day of her death. The day her brother Ted drowned. The day stuck with the smile on her dead brother Ted’s face under the blanket. Face caked with mud and blood the day the Emergency team brought him home saying he suffered no pain. The day she first saw herself split in the mirror stuck to the door of the medicine cupboard. The day with no words.

LOVEY  The day with no dreams?

SCARLETT  No dreams. No words. Just mud cakes and fruit-cakes.

LOVEY  And the birthday story?

SCARLETT Wait. The birthday girl drags a chair down the hall-way, puts it up against the vanity and climbs on it. She sees her face splitting in the mirror. Split off. Cut. She flings the doors open.

SCARLETT  What’s this?

VOICE OFF  This is emergency oil. If there’s an emergency, you pour it on your head and it fixes it.


VOICE OFF  It just does, you little squirt.

SCARLETT  Is it magic?

VOICE OFF  That’ll do.

SCARLETT The birthday girl stands there, trying to find her balance on the chair, and puts her fists on her hips.

VOICE OFF  What do you think you are doing?

SCARLETT  You’re lying, mud.

VOICE OFF  Can’t you ever shut this cake hole of yours? Mummy never lies. Try it.

SCARLETT  There’s no emergency now, silly.

VOICE OFF  There is. Watch.

SCARLETT  The birthday girl’s mother grabs the teddy on top of the linen basket and pulls its nose off. The birthday girl shrieks, jumps off the chair, and tips the contents of the bottle of Emergency oil on her head.

VOICE OFF  You do all you can and it’s never enough.

LOVEY  What can you say?

SCARLETT  And so you see why the birthday girl feels stuck on the day marking her birth. She does try to beam like her brother Teddy as she is meant to, but guilt is what pushes through her zipped cake-hole.

VOICE OFF  She’s away with the pixies.

LOVEY  Mother of a fruit-cake.




NORMA VOICE OFF  She’s coming back.


SCARLETT  Behind our drab red door, a bright December morning.



LOVEY  Something brighter?


LOVEY  But wasn’t there just then a glimmer?

SCARLETT  No. This will not do.

LOVEY  I’m sure I caught a glimpse. A tiny flash.

SCARLETT  Wham. Bang. Cut. Eweeeeee. Bye-bye mummy.

VOICE OFF  Hang on. (Fracas.)

SCARLETT  I give up calling out for mother. I can’t say I’m the sssum of my pieces, but at ssseventeen I feel grown up. My pockets full of acorns, I set out to unpiece my memory. I’m outward-bound. I embark on a train headed for the city. I disembark, sssnaking my way through the crowd, pushing through. I enter a bookshop, ssstuck in a train of thoughts. I browse through autofictions. I’m an automaton bound to recall. I steal a book called The Lover. I get a free ride in a police car. Next time I’ll do time. When I come out of the police station I can’t touch the ground. I lose my footing for good. I hang on to the bark of trees. I slip. Don’t know how to go on. I’m too busy thinking about taking a breath. I tie a noose to the lower branch of the first oak tree I pass. Piece of cake. I forget I’m in pain.

LOVEY  You’re in pain?

SCARLETT  Don’t take me to the letter. In fact, don’t take me anywhere. Leave me alone.

LOVEY  Fine.

SCARLETT  Don’t leave me.

LOVEY  Do you know what you want?


LOVEY  Speak up.

SCARLETT  Go away.

LOVEY  I’m here to stay.

SCARLETT  Then you will ask again why I can’t look after my own mother now that she’s old and too much of a fruit-cake to look after herself. Ask again why I have no moral poise. Ask me again to speak to you. And I will tell you I don’t know. I don’t know how to speak to you. Don’t know what to say.

LOVEY  Go on.

VOICE OFF  Bloody kids.

LOVEY  Speak to me.

SCARLETT  But you got it your little speech. And the moral is—


SCARLETT  What if there isn’t any?

VOICE OFF  (Groan.)

LOVEY  Speak up.

VOICE OFF  You call this a life?

SCARLETT  Where there’s death there’s hope.

LOVEY  You mean you’re not prepared for the sacrifice?

SCARLETT  There’s no such thing.

LOVEY  The easy way out.

VOICE OFF  What did you expect?

SCARLETT  All pain is gain.

LOVEY  But she’s your mother.

VOICE OFF  Where is your brother?


LOVEY  Watch your language.

SCARLETT  So much for speaking.

LOVEY. Speaking is remembering.

SCARLETT  Dismembering.

LOVEY  Still, speaking well’s a duty.

VOICE OFF  Don’t complain to me afterwards.

SCARLETT  I had dreamed of loving.

LOVEY  The secret is to speak well.