Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Maids & Deathwatch

Two Plays

by Jean Genet

“The absurdist style of Jean Genet’s The Maids, with its detours and mystifications, is taken over and consumed by its extraordinary perception of pain, concentrated and focused as if under a burning-glass. It is one of the most unremittingly moving works in the modernist repertory.” –Richard Elder, The New York Times

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 168
  • Publication Date January 01, 1994
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5056-1
  • Dimensions 5.63" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date December 01, 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9430-5
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

The two plays collected in this volume represent Genet’s first attempts to analyze the mores of a bourgeois society he had previously been content simply to vilify. In The Maids, two domestic workers, deeply resentful of their inferior social position, try to revenge themselves against society by destroying their employer. When their attempt to betray their mistress’s lover to the police fails and they are in danger of being found out, they dream of murdering Madame, little aware of the true power behind their darkest fantasy.

In Deathwatch, two convicts try to impress a third, who is on the verge of achieving legendary status in criminal circles. But neither realizes the lengths to which they will go to gain respect or that, in the end, nothing they can do—including murder—will get them what they are searching for.

Praise

“The absurdist style of Jean Genet’s The Maids, with its detours and mystifications, is taken over and consumed by its extraordinary perception of pain, concentrated and focused as if under a burning-glass. It is one of the most unremittingly moving works in the modernist repertory.” –Richard Elder, The New York Times

“Genet’s printed dramas . . . have a shocking power and fascination. It lies in the impression they create that here is the complete and unshackled expression of an utterly evil and decadent mind, set down with a kind of grotesque pride and in entire honesty.” –Richard Watts, New York Post

Excerpt

THE MAIDS
Madame’s bedroom. Louis-Quinze furniture. Lace. Rear, a window opening on the front of the house opposite. Right, a bed. Left, a door and a dressing table. Flowers in profusion. The time is evening.
[CLAIRE, wearing a slip, is standing with her back to the dressing table. Her gestures–arm extended–and tone are exaggeratedly tragic.]
CLAIRE:
Those gloves! Those eternal gloves! I’ve told you time and again to leave them in the kitchen. You probably hope to seduce the milkman with them. No, no, don’t lie; that won’t get you anywhere! Hang them over the sink. When will you understand that this room is not to be sullied. Everything, yes, everything that comes out of the kitchen is spit! So stop it! [During this speech, SOLANGE has been playing with a pair of rubber gloves and observing her gloved hands, which are alternately spread fanwise and folded in the form of a bouquet.] Make yourself quite at home. Preen like a peacock. And above all, don’t hurry, we’ve plenty of time. Go!
[SOLANGE’s posture changes and she leaves humbly, holding the rubber gloves with her fingertips.

CLAIRE sits down at the dressing table. She sniffs at the flowers, runs her hand over the toilet articles, brushes her hair, pats her face.]
Get my dress ready. Quick! Time presses. Are you there?
[She turns round.] Claire! Claire!
[SOLANGE enters.]
SOLANGE:
I beg Madame’s pardon, I was preparing her tea. [She pronounces it “tay.”]
CLAIRE:
Layout my things. The white spangled dress. The fan. The emeralds.
SOLANGE:
Very well, Madame. All Madame’s jewels?
CLAIRE:
Put them out and I shall choose. And, of course, my patent-leather slippers. The ones you’ve had your eye on for years. [SOLANGE takes a few jewel boxes from the closet, opens them, and lays them out on the bed.] For your wedding, no doubt. Admit he seduced you! Just look at you! How big you are! Admit it! [SOLANGE squats on the rug, spits on the patent-leather slippers, and polishes them.] I’ve told you, Claire, without spit. Let it sleep in you, my child, let it stagnate. Ah! Ah! [She giggles nervously.] May the lost wayfarer drown in it. Ah! Ah ! You are hideous. Lean forward and look at yourself in my shoes. Do you think I find it pleasant to know that my foot is shrouded by the veils of your saliva? By the mists of your swamps?
SOLANGE [on her knees, and very humble]:
I wish Madame to be lovely.
CLAIRE:
I shall be. [She primps in front of the mirror.] You hate me, don’t you? You crush me with your attentions and your humbleness; you smother me with gladioli and mimosa. [She stands up and, lowering her tone] There are too many flowers. The room is needlessly cluttered. It’s impossible. [She looks at herself again in the glass.] I shall be lovely. Lovelier than you’ll ever be. With a face and body like that, you’ll never seduce Mario. [Dropping the tragic tone] A ridiculous young milkman despises us, and if we’re going to have a kid by him–
SOLANGE:
Oh! I’ve never–
CLAIRE [resuming]:
Be quiet, you fool. My dress!

SOLANGE [she looks in the closet, pushing aside a few dresses]:
The red dress. Madame will wear the red dress.
CLAIRE:
I said the white dress, the one with spangles.
SOLANGE [firmly]:
I’m sorry. Madame will wear the scarlet velvet dress this evening.
CLAIRE [naively]:
Ah? Why?
SOLANGE [coldly]:
It’s impossible to forget Madame’s bosom under the velvet folds. And the jet brooch, when Madame was sighing and telling Monsieur of my devotion! Your widowhood really requires that you be entirely in black.
CLAIRE:
Eh?
SOLANGE:
Need I say more? A word to the wise–
CLAIRE:
Ah! So you want to talk. . . . Very well. Threaten me Insult your mistress, Solange. You want to talk about Monsieur’s misfortunes, don’t you? Fool. It was hardly the moment to allude to him, but I can turn this matter to fine account! You’re smiling? Do you doubt it?
SOLANGE:
The time is not yet ripe to unearth–

CLAIRE:
What a word! My infamy? My infamy! To unearth!
SOLANGE:
Madame!
CLAIRE:
Am I to be at your mercy for having denounced Monsieur to the police, for having sold him? And yet I’d have done even worse, or better. You think I haven’t suffered? Claire, I forced my hand to pen the letter–without mistakes in spelling or syntax, without crossing anything out–the letter that sent my lover to prison. And you, instead of standing by me, you mock me. You force your colors on me! You speak of widowhood! He isn’t dead. Claire, Monsieur will be led from prison to prison, perhaps even to Devil’s Island, where I, his mistress, mad with grief, shall follow him. I shall be in the convoy. I shall share his glory. You speak of widowhood and deny me the white gown–the mourning of queens. You’re unaware of that, Claire–
SOLANGE [coldly]:
Madame will wear the red dress.
CLAIRE [simply]:
Quite. [Severely] Hand me the dress. Oh! I’m so alone and friendless. I can see in your eyes that you loathe me. You don’t care what happens to me.
SOLANGE:
I’ll follow you everywhere. I love you.

CLAIRE:
No doubt. As one loves a mistress. You love and respect me. And you’re hoping for a legacy, a codicil in your favor–
SOLANGE:
I’d do all in my power–
CLAIRE [ironically]:
I know. You’d go through fire for me. [SOLANGE helps CLAIRE put on her dress.] Fasten it. Don’t pull so hard. Don’t try to bind me. [SOLANGE kneels at CLAIRE’s feet and arranges the folds of the dress.] Avoid pawing me. You smell like an animal. You’ve brought those odors from some foul attic, where the lackeys visit us at night. The maid’s room! The garret! [Graciously] Claire, if I speak of the smell of garrets, it is for memory’s sake. And of the twin beds where two sisters fall asleep, dreaming of one another. There, [she points to a spot in the room] there, the two iron beds with the night table between them. There, [she points to a spot opposite] the pinewood dresser with the little altar to the Holy Virgin! That’s right, isn’t it?
SOLANGE:
We’re so unhappy. I could cry! If you go on–
CLAIRE:
It is right, isn’t it! Let’s skip the business of your prayers and kneeling. I won’t even mention the paper flowers . . . . [She laughs.] Paper flowers! And the branch of holy box-wood! [She points to the flowers in the room.] Just look at these flowers open in my honor! Claire, am I not a lovelier Virgin?
SOLANGE [as if in adoration]:
Be quiet–
CLAIRE:
And there, [she points to a very high spot at the window] that notorious skylight from which a half-naked milkman jumps to your bed!
SOLANGE:
Madame is forgetting herself, Madame–
CLAIRE:
And what about your hands? Don’t you forget your hands. How often have I [she hesitates] murmured: they befoul the sink.
SOLANGE:
The fall!
CLAIRE:
Eh?
SOLANGE [arranging the dress on CLAIRE’s hips]:
The fall of your dress. I’m arranging your fall from grace.
CLAIRE:
Get away, you bungler! [She kicks SOLANGE in the temple with her Louis-Quinze heel. SOLANGE, who is kneeling, staggers and draws back.]
SOLANGE:
Oh! Me a burglar?

CLAIRE:
I said bungler; and if you must whimper, do it in your garret. Here, in my bedroom, I will have only noble tears. A time will come when the hem of my gown will be studded with them, but those will be precious tears. Arrange my train, you clod.
SOLANGE [in ecstasy]:
Madame’s being carried away!
CLAIRE:
By the devil! He’s carrying me away in his fragrant arms. He’s lifting me up, I leave the ground, I’m off . . . . [She stamps with her heel.] And I stay behind. Get my necklace! But hurry, we won’t have time. If the gown’s too long, make a hem with some safety pins. [SOLANGE gets up and goes to take the necklace from a jewel case, but CLAIRE rushes ahead of her and seizes the jewels. Her fingers graze those of SOLANGE, and she recoils in horror.] Keep your hands off mine! I can’t stand your touching me. Hurry up!
SOLANGE:
There’s no need to overdo it. Your eyes are ablaze.
CLAIRE [shocked astonishment]:
What’s that you said?
SOLANGE:
Limits, boundaries, Madame. Frontiers are not conventions but laws. Here, my lands; there, your shore–
CLAIRE:
What language, my dear. Claire, do you mean that I’ve already crossed the seas? Are you offering me the dreary exile of your imagination? You’re taking revenge, aren’t you? You feel the time coming when, no longer a maid–
SOLANGE:
You see straight through me. You divine my thoughts.
CLAIRE [increasingly carried away]:
–the time coming when, no longer a maid, you become vengeance itself, but, Claire, don’t forget–Claire, are you listening?–don’t forget, it was the maid who hatched schemes of vengeance, find I–Claire, you’re not listening.
SOLANGE [absent-mindedly]:
I’m listening.
CLAIRE:
And I contain within me both vengeance and the maid and give them a chance for life, a chance for salvation. Claire, it’s a burden, it’s terribly painful to be a mistress, to contain all the springs of hatred, to be the dunghill on which you grow. You want to see me naked every day. I am beautiful, am I not? And the desperation of my love makes me even more so, but you have no idea what strength I need!
SOLANGE [contemptuously]:
Your lover!
CLAIRE:
My unhappy lover heightens my nobility. Yes. Yes, my child. All that you’ll ever know is your own baseness.
SOLANGE:
That’ll do! Now hurry! Are you ready?

CLAIRE:
Are you?
SOLANGE [she steps back to the wardrobe]:
I’m ready.–I’m tired of being an object of disgust. I hate you, too. I despise you. I hate your scented bosom. Your . . . ivory bosom! Your . . . golden thighs ! Your . . . amber feet! I hate you! [She spits on the red dress.]
CLAIRE [aghast]:
Oh! . . . Oh! . . . But . . . .
SOLANGE [walking up to her]:
Yes, my proud beauty. You think you can always do just as you like. You think you can deprive me forever of the beauty of the sky, that you can choose your perfumes and powders, your nail-polish and silk and velvet and lace, and deprive me of them? That you can steal the milkman from me? Admit it! Admit about the milkman. His youth and vigor excite you, don’t they? Admit about the milkman. For Solange says: to hell with you!
CLAIRE [panic-stricken]:
Claire! Claire!
SOLANGE:
Eh?
CLAIRE [in a murmur]:
Claire, Solange, Claire.
SOLANGE:
Ah! Yes, Claire, Claire says: to hell with you! Claire is here, more dazzling than ever. Radiant! [She slaps CLAIRE.]

CLAIRE:
Oh! . . . Oh! Claire. . . . You. . . . Oh!
SOLANGE:
Madame thought she was protected by her barricade of flowers, saved by some special destiny, by a sacrifice. But she reckoned without a maid’s rebellion. Behold her wrath, Madame. She turns your pretty speeches to nought. She’ll cut the ground from under your fine adventure. Your Monsieur was just a cheap thief, and you–
CLAIRE:
I forbid you! Confound your impudence!
SOLANGE:
Twaddle! She forbids me! It’s Madame who’s confounded. Her face is all convulsed. Would you like a mirror? Here. [She hands CLAIRE a mirror.]
CLAIRE [regarding herself with satisfaction]:
I see the marks of a slap, but now I’m more beautiful than ever!
SOLANGE:
Yes, a slap!
CLAIRE:
Danger is my halo, Claire; and you, you dwell in darkness . . . .
SOLANGE:
But the darkness is dangerous.–I know. I’ve heard all that before. I can tell by your face what I’m supposed to answer. So I’ll finish it up. Now, here are the two maids, the faithful servants! They’re standing in front of you. Despise them. Look more beautiful.–We no longer fear you. We’re merged, enveloped in our fumes, in our revels, in our hatred of you. The mold is setting. We’re taking shape, Madame. Don’t laugh–ah! above all, don’t laugh at my grandiloquence . . . .
CLAIRE:
Get out!
SOLANGE:
But only to be of further service to Madame! I’m going back to my kitchen, back to my gloves and the smell of my teeth. To my belching sink. You have your flowers, I my sink. I’m the maid. You, at least, you can’t defile me. But! But! . . . [she advances on CLAIRE, threateningly.] But before I go back, I’m going to finish the job. [Suddenly an alarm clock goes off. SOLANGE stops. The two actresses, in a state of agitation, run together. They huddle and listen.] Already?
CLAIRE:
Let’s hurry! Madame’ll be back. [She starts to unfasten her dress.] Help me. It’s over already. And you didn’t get to the end.
SOLANGE [helping her. In a sad tone of voice]:
The same thing happens every time. And it’s all your fault, you’re never ready. I can’t finish you off.

CLAIRE:
We waste too much time with the preliminaries. But we’ve still. . . .
SOLANGE [as she helps CLAIRE out of her dress]:
Watch at the window.
CLAIRE:
We’ve still got a little time left. I set the clock so we’d he able to put the things in order. [She drops wearily into the armchair.]
SOLANGE [gently]:
It’s so close this evening. It’s been close all day.
CLAIRE [gently]:
Yes.
SOLANGE:
Is that what’s killing us, Claire?
CLAIRE:
Yes.
SOLANGE:
It’s time now.
CLAIRE:
Yes. [She gets up wearily.] I’m going to make the tea.
SOLANGE:
Watch at the window.
CLAIRE:
There’s time. [She wipes her face.]

SOLANGE:
Still looking at yourself . . . Claire, dear . . . .
CLAIRE:
Let me alone. I’m exhausted.
SOLANGE [sternly]:
Watch at the window. Thanks to you, the whole place is in a mess again. And I’ve got to clean Madame’s gown. [She stares at her sister.] Well, what’s the matter with you? You can be like me now. Be yourself again. Come on, Claire, be my sister again.
CLAIRE:
I’m finished. That light’s killing me. Do you think the people opposite. . . .
SOLANGE:
Who cares! You don’t expect us to . . . [she hesitates] organize things in the dark? Have a rest. Shut your eyes. Shut your eyes, Claire.
CLAIRE [she puts on her short black dress]:
Oh! When I say I’m exhausted, it’s just a way of talking. Don’t use it to pity me. Stop trying to dominate me.
SOLANGE:
I’ve never tried to dominate you. I only want you to rest. You’ll help me more by resting.
CLAIRE:
I understand, don’t explain.
SOLANGE:
Yes, I will explain. It was you who started it. When you mentioned the milkman. You think I couldn’t see what you were driving at? If Mario–
CLAIRE:
Oh!
SOLANGE:
If the milkman says indecent things to me, he does to you, too. But you loved mingling. . . .
CLAIRE [shrugging her shoulders]:
You’d better see whether everything’s in order. Look, the key of the secretary was like this [she arranges the key] and, as Monsieur says–
SOLANGE [violently]:
You loved mingling your insults–
CLAIRE:
He’s always finding the maids’ hairs all over. the pinks and roses!
SOLANGE:
And things about our private life with–
CLAIRE:
With? With? With what? Say it! Go on, name it! The ceremony? Besides, we’ve no time to start a discussion now. She’ll be back, back, back! But, Solange, this time we’ve got her. I envy you; I wish I could have seen the expression on her face when she heard about her lover’s arrest. For once in my life, I did a good job. You’ve got to admit it. If it weren’t for me, if it hadn’t been for my anonymous letter, you’d have missed a pretty sight: the lover hand-cuffed and Madame in tears. It’s enough to kill her. This morning she could hardly stand up.
SOLANGE:
Fine. She can drop dead! And I’ll inherit! Not to have to set foot again in that filthy garret, with those two idiots, that cook and that butler.
CLAIRE:
I really liked our garret.
SOLANGE:
Just to contradict me. Don’t start getting sentimental about it. I loathe it and I see it as it really is, bare and mean. And shabby. But what of it! We’re just scum!
CLAIRE:
Ah! No, don’t start that again. Better watch at the window. I can’t see a thing. It’s too dark outside.
SOLANGE:
Let me talk. Let me get it out of my system. I liked the garret because it was plain and I didn’t have to put on a show. No hangings to push aside, no rugs to shake, no furniture to caress–with my eyes or with a rag, no mirrors, no balcony. Nothing forced us to make pretty gestures. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to go on playing queen, playing at Marie Antoinette, strolling about the apartment at night.
CLAIRE:
You’re mad! I’ve never strolled about the apartment.
SOLANGE [ironically]:
Oh, no. Mademoiselle has never gone strolling! Wrapped in the curtains or the lace bedcover. Oh no! Looking at herself in the mirrors, strutting on the balcony at two in the morning, and greeting the populace which has turned out to parade beneath her windows. Never, oh no, never.
CLAIRE:
But, Solange–
SOLANGE:
It’s too dark at night for spying on Madame, and you thought you were invisible on your balcony. What do you take me for? Don’t try to tell me you walk in your sleep. At the stage we’ve reached you can admit it.
CLAIRE:
But, Solange, you’re shouting. Please, please lower your voice. Madame may come in without making a sound. . . . [She runs to the window and lifts the curtain.]
SOLANGE:
All right, I’ve had my say. Let go of the curtains. Oh, I can’t stand the way you lift them. Let go of them. It upsets me; that’s how Monsieur did it when he was spying on the police, the morning he was arrested.
CLAIRE:
So you’re scared now? The slightest gesture makes you feel like a murderer trying to slip away by the service stairway.
SOLANGE:
Go on, be sarcastic, work me up! Go on, be sarcastic!
Nobody loves me! Nobody loves us!

CLAIRE:
She does, she loves us. She’s kind. Madame is kind! Madame adores us.
SOLANGE:
She loves us the way she loves her armchair. Not even that much! Like her bidet, rather. Like her pink enamel toilet-seat. And we, can’t love one another. Filth . . .
CLAIRE:
Ah! . . .
SOLANGE:
. . . doesn’t love filth. D’you think I’m going to put up with it that I’m going to keep playing this game and then at night go back to my folding.cot? The game! Will we even be able to go on with it? And if I have to stop spitting on someone who calls me Claire, I’ll simply choke! My spurt of saliva is my spray of diamonds!
CLAIRE [she stands up and cries]:
Speak more softly, please, please. Speak-speak of Madame’s kindness.
SOLANGE:
Her kindness, is it? It’s easy to be kind, and smiling, and sweet–ah! that sweetness of hers!–when you’re beautiful and rich. But what if you’re only a maid? The best you can do is to give yourself airs while you’re doing the cleaning or washing up. You twirl a feather duster like a fan. You make fancy gestures with the dishcloth. Or like you, you treat yourself to historical parades in Madame’s apartment.

CLAIRE:
Solange! You’re starting again! What are you trying to do? We’ll never calm down if you talk like that! I could say a thing or two about you.
SOLANGE:
You? You?
CLAIRE:
Yes, me. If I wanted to. Because, after all. . . .
SOLANGE:
All? After all? What are you insinuating? It was you who started talking about that man. Claire, I hate you.
CLAIRE:
Same to you and more! But if I wanted to provoke you, I wouldn’t have to use the milkman as an excuse. I’ve got something better on you and you know it.
SOLANGE:
Who’s going to get the better of who? Eh? Well, say something?
CLAIRE:
Go on, start it! You hit first. It’s you who’re backing out, Solange. You don’t dare accuse me of the worst: my letters. Pages and pages of them. The garret was littered with them. I invented the most fantastic stories and you used them for your own purposes. You frittered away my frenzy. Yesterday, when you were Madame, I could see how delighted you were at the chance they gave you to stow away on the Lamartiniere, to flee France in the company of your lover–
SOLANGE:
Claire–
CLAIRE:
Your lover, to Devil’s Island, to Guiana. You were delighted that my letters allowed you to be the prostitute kneeling at the feet of the thief. You were happy to sacrifice yourself, to bear the cross of the impenitent thief, to wipe his face, to stand by him, to take his place in the galleys so that he could rest. And you felt yourself growing. Your brow rose higher than mine, it rose above the palm trees.
SOLANGE:
But what about you, just before, when you were talking about following him. . . .
CLAIRE:
Right. I don’t deny it. I took up where you left off. But with less violence than you. Even in the garret, amidst all the letters, you started swaying back and forth with the pitching of the boat.
SOLANGE:
You didn’t see yourself–
CLAIRE:
I did. I’m more sensible than you. You’re the one who concocted the story. Turn your head. Hai If only you could see yourself, Solange. Your face is still lit up by the sun setting through the virgin forest! You’re planning his escape! [She laughs nervously.] You certainly do work yourself up! But don’t let it worry you; it would be cruel to disturb your blissful voyage. I hate you for other reasons, and you know what they are.
SOLANGE [lowering her voice]:
I’m not afraid of you. I know you hate me and that you’re a sneak, but be careful now. I’m older than you.
CLAIRE:
So what ?–Older! And stronger too? You’re trying to put me off by making me talk about that man. Hmph! You think I haven’t found you out? You tried to kill her.
SOLANGE:
Are you accusing me?
CLAIRE:
Don’t deny it. I saw you.
[A long silence.]
And I was frightened. Frightened, Solange. Through her, it was me you were aiming at. I’m the one who’s in danger. When we finish the ceremony, I’ll protect my neck. [A long silence. SOLANGE shrugs her shoulders.]
SOLANGE [with decision]:
Is that all? Yes, I did try. I wanted to free you. I couldn’t bear it any longer. It made me suffocate to see you suffocating, to see you turning red and green, rotting away in that woman’s bitter-sweetness. Blame me for it, you’re right. I loved you too much. Had I killed her, you’d have been the first to denounce me. You’d have turned me over to the police, yes, you.
CLAIRE [she seizes her by the wrists]:
Solange. . . .
SOLANGE [freeing herself]:
What are you afraid of? It’s my concern.
CLAIRE:
Solange, my little sister, she’ll be back soon.
SOLANGE:
I didn’t kill anyone. I was a coward, you realize. I did the best I could, but she turned over in her sleep. [Rising exaltation] She was breathing softly. She swelled out the sheets: it was Madame.
CLAIRE:
Stop it.
SOLANGE:
Now you want to stop me. You wanted to know, didn’t you. Well, wait, I’ve got some more to tell you. You’ll see what your sister’s made of. What stuff she’s made of. What a servant girl really is. I wanted to strangle her–
CLAIRE:
Let me alone. Think of what comes after.
SOLANGE:
Nothing comes after. I’m sick and tired of kneeling in pews. In church I’d have had the red velvet of abbesses or the stone of the penitents, but my bearing at least would have been noble. Look, just look at how she suffers. How she suffers in beauty. Grief transfigures her, doesn’t it? Beautifies her? When she learned that her lover was a thief, she stood up to the police. She exulted. Now she is forlorn and splendid, supported under each arm by two devoted servants whose hearts bleed to see her grief. Did you see it? Her grief sparkling with the glint of her jewels, with the satin of her gowns, in the glow of the chandelier! Claire, I wanted to make up for the poverty of my grief by the splendor of my crime. Afterward, I’d have set fire to the lot.
CLAIRE:
Solange, calm down. The fire might not have caught. You’d have been found out. You know what happens to incendiaries.
SOLANGE:
I know everything. I kept my eye and ear to the keyhole. No servant ever listened at doors as I did. I know everything. Incendiary! It’s a splendid title.
CLAIRE:
Be quiet. I’m stifling. You’re stifling me. [She wants to open the window.] Oh! Let’s have some air!
SOLANGE:
Get away from the window. Open the anteroom and the kitchen doors. [CLAIRE opens both doors.] Go and see whether the water’s boiling.
CLAIRE:
All alone?

SOLANGE:
Wait, all right, wait till she comes. She’s bringing her stars, her tears, her smiles, her sighs. She’ll corrupt us with her sweetness.
[The telephone rings. The two sisters listen.]
CLAIRE [at the telephone]:
Monsieur? It’s Monsieur! . . . This is Claire, Monsieur. . . . [SOLANGE wants to hear too, but CLAIRE pushes her away.] Very well. I’ll inform Madame. Madame will be overjoyed to hear that Monsieur is free. . . . Yes, Monsieur. . . . Very well. . . . Good-by, Monsieur. [She wants to hang up, but her hand trembles, and she lays the receiver on the table.]
SOLANGE:
Is he out?
CLAIRE:
The judge let him out on bail.
SOLANGE:
Well, you’ve done a fine job. My compliments. Your denunciations, your letters, it’s working out beautifully. And if they recognize your handwriting, it’ll be perfect.
CLAIRE:
Please, please, don’t overwhelm me. Since you’re so clever, you should have managed your business with Madame. But you were afraid. The bed was warm. The air thick with perfume. It was Madame! We’ve got to carry on with the same kind of life. With the same old game. But, you poor wretch! Even the game is dangerous. I’m sure we’ve left traces. We leave them every time. I see a host of traces I’ll never be able to cover lip. And she, she walks about in her tamed menagerie. She unravels the clues. She points to our traces with the tip of her pink toe. She discovers us, one by one. Madame jeers at us. And it’s your fault. All’s lost because you lacked strength.
SOLANGE:
I can still find whatever strength I need.
CLAIRE:
Where? Where? You’ve been outstripped by me. You don’t live above the treetops. A milkman passing through your mind gets you all flustered.
SOLANGE:
It was because I couldn’t see her face, Claire. Because I was so close to Madame, so close to her sleep. I lost my strength. In order to get at her throat, I’d have had to lift the sheet from her heaving bosom.
CLAIRE [ironically]:
And the sheets were warm. The night dark. That kind of thing has to be done in broad daylight. You’re incapable of it. It’s too terrible a deed. But I can manage it.
SOLANGE:
Claire!
CLAIRE:
Where you botched it, I’ll succeed.
SOLANGE [she runs a comb through her hair]:
Claire, don’t get carried away, don’t be rash–

CLAIRE:
What makes you think I’m being rash? First of all, don’t mix your hairpins up with mine! You. . . . Oh! All right, mix your muck with mine. Mix it! Mix your rags with my tatters! Mix it all up. It’ll stink of the maids. So Monsieur won’t have any trouble discovering us. And we’ll die in a flood of shame. [Suddenly calm] I’m capable of anything, you know.
SOLANGE:
The sleeping pills.
CLAIRE:
Yes. Let’s talk calmly. I’m strong. You tried to dominate me. . . .
SOLANGE:
But, Claire–
CLAIRE [calmly]:
I beg your pardon, but I know what I’m saying. I’ve made up my mind. I’m ready. I’m tired of it all. Tired of being the spider, the umbrella-case, the shabby, godless nun, without a family! I’m tired of having a stove for an altar. I’m that disagreeable, sullen, smelly girl. To you, too.
SOLANGE:
Claire . . . we’re both nervous. [Anxiously] Where’s Madame? I can’t stand it any more either. I can’t stand our being so alike, I can’t stand my hands, my black stockings, my hair. I’m not reproaching you for anything, my little sister. I understand that your strolls through the apartment helped ease the strain.
CLAIRE [irritated]:
Ah! Stop it!
SOLANGE:
I want to help you. I want to comfort you, but I know I disgust you. I’m repulsive to you. And I know it because you disgust me. When slaves love one another, it’s not love.
CLAIRE:
And me, I’m sick of seeing my image thrown back at me by a mirror, like a bad smell. You’re my bad smell. Well, I’m ready. Ready to bite. I’ll have my crown and I shall stroll about the apartment.
SOLANGE:
That’s not reason enough to kill her.
CLAIRE:
Really? Why, please? For what other reason? Where and when could we find a better excuse? Ah, so it’s not enough, not enough to be raped by a milkman who goes blithely through our garrets? Tonight Madame will witness our shame. Bursting with laughter, laughing until the tears roll down her face, with her flabby sighs. No. I shall have my crown. I shall be the poisoner that you failed to be. It’s my turn now to dominate you!
SOLANGE:
But I never. . . .

CLAIRE:
Hand me the towel! Hand me the clothespins! Peel the onions! Scrape the carrots! Scrub the tiles! It’s over. Over. Ah! I almost forgot! Turn off the tap! It’s over. [Exalted] I’ll run the world!
SOLANGE:
My little baby sister!
CLAIRE:
You’ll help me.
SOLANGE:
You won’t know what gestures to make. Things are more serious, Claire, and simpler too.
CLAIRE [exalted]:
We’ve read the story of Sister Holy Cross of the Blessed Valley who poisoned twenty-seven Arabs. She walked without shoes, with her feet all stiff. She was lifted up, carried off to the crime. We’ve read “the story of Princess Albanarez who caused the death of her lover and her husband. She uncorked the bottle and made a big sign of the cross over the goblet. As she stood before the corpses, she saw only death and, off in the distance, the fleet image of herself being carried by the wind. She made all the gestures of earthly despair. In the-book about the Marquise de Venosa, the one who poisoned her children, we’re told that, as she approached the bed, her arms were supported by the ghost of her lover.

SOLANGE:
Baby sister, my angel!
CLAIRE:
I’ll be supported by the sturdy arms of the milkman. I’ll lean my left hand on the back of his neck. He won’t flinch. You’ll help me. And, far away, Solange, if we have to go far away, if I have to leave for Devil’s Island, you’ll come with me. You’ll board the boat. The flight you were planning for him can be used for me. We shall be that eternal couple, Solange, the two of us, the eternal couple of the criminal and the saint. We’ll be saved, Solange, saved, I swear to you! [She falls on Madame’s bed.]
SOLANGE:
Be calm. You’re going to sleep. I’ll carry you upstairs.
CLAIRE:
Let me alone. Turn out the light. Please turn out the light.
[SOLANGE turns out the light.]
SOLANGE:
Rest. Rest, little sister. [She kneels, removes CLAIRE’S shoes, kisses her feet.] Be calm, my darling. [She caresses her.] Put your feet on my shoulders. There. Close your eyes.
CLAIRE [she sighs]:
I’m ashamed, Solange.
SOLANGE [very gently]:
Don’t talk. Leave things to me. I’m going to put you to bed and, when you fall asleep, I’ll carry you upstairs, to the garret. I’ll undress you and put you into your little cot.
Sleep. I’ll be here.
CLAIRE:
I’m ashamed, Solange.