IN SWIRLY LETTERS

By Johnny Culver


CHARACTERS

 

Flossie

Lucibelle

Delaney

Stanley

Mother

Arnie

 

The waiting area of a local auto repair center.

A wet summer day in the 1970’s. About 2pm.


 

The door blows open.

Flossie and Lucibelle enter from the street.

 

LUCIBELLE

(Shaking off her umbrella)

Good lord, all that rain. I am going to have to put these shoes by the radiator in the bathroom when I get home.

 

FLOSSIE

(Stands in raincoat and hat)

It is summer, Lucibelle; the radiator in the bathroom isn’t turned on. What is this filthy place?

(Takes paper clock from door and tosses it aside)

Lousy clock.  It has the wrong time.  If it was that time, that time the clock says, I’d be home, writing up my cosmetic orders. Getting them ready to mail in. I have a mail order beauty care business, you know.

(Looks around, and takes clock off door)

Who buys a clock made of lousy cardboard? It’s gonna get ruined in all this rain. What kind of people use a lousy cardboard clock.  Why does an auto repair center sell cardboard clocks?

(drops clock to floor)

Good thing I’m not selling my cosmetics, door to door today. They would all wash right down the lousy drains! All those cosmetics right down the sewers. The storm drains.

 

LUCIBELLE

Pick up the clock, Flossie and put it back. It’s not a clock, anyway. It’s there to tell the customers when Stanley, the repairman, will be back from lunch. The repairman who has been working on my Pinto.

(Looks around)

Where is my Pinto? Stanley? Maybe we should take a number…

 

FLOSSIE

Repairman, huh?

(Picks up clock)

Maybe he’d like to buy come of my cosmetics. Bet if he works here, he may NEED cosmetics. Ugly people work in places like this. I wish I had my sales kit with me. My…valise.

(drops clock)

But you had to make me lock it up in the trunk of your Pinto. Who is going to steal a cosmetics sales kit? A …valise?

 

LUCIBELLE

Don’t start, Flossie…let’s just get the Pinto and get back home. Maybe Stanley has fixed that noise. That banging and thumping.

 

FLOSSIE

It is not easy selling from my sales catalog. Lucibelle, I told you how hard it is. Times are hard for everyone.

 

LUCIBELLE

Don’t start with that silly cosmetics catalog again…this is an Pinto repair center, they have no need for cosmetics…let’s just get my Pinto back and…oh; look they have the morning newspaper here.  The Poughkepsie Press. With the TV listings!

(Takes the newspaper)

Ever since they moved Tattletales and Mike Douglas, I have not been able to find them anywhere on the dial…anytime! Anytime I am home, that is.

 

FLOSSIE

(Sadly)

I’d really like to put an advertisement in that morning newspaper…”Cosmetics by Flossie Arena”…all in swirly letters… near the TV listings…maybe a photograph of me, holding my…valise.

 

LUCIBELLE

Your name is not Arena, it is Litsky. Flossie Litsky. Where is my Pinto?

 

FLOSSIE

(Sadly)

The once soon to be Mrs. Arena. Mrs. Arnold Arena. Mrs. Arnie Arena.

 

LUCIBELLE

Please, Flossie, don’t start with Arnie again……

 

FLOSSIE

We used to sit at his kitchen table, Arnie and me, and he’d read to me from his Readers Digest–

(Loudly)

Enlarged Type. He smelled so nice with his English Leather Cologne. He certainly kept the mosquitoes away.

(Tries to undo her scarf)

Oh this lousy scarf is in a knot! If Arnie was here, he would have untied it, so thoughtful he was

 

LUCIBELLE

You told me. Thoughtful and kind. But you didn’t really know too much about him, did you? If you knew more about him, maybe he wouldn’t have left town, abruptly. Maybe Poughkeepsie ran out of English Leather cologne. At the rate he was using it…

 

FLOSSIE

(Tugs at scarf)

None of that mattered to me. When he would read to me the rules of the Draw Sparky contest from his Readers Digest –

(loudly)

Enlarged Type.

(Normal voice)

It’s as though I could see little Sparky right here, in my heart. Arnie squinted, just like little Sparky, because of his eye problem. Arnie’s, not Sparky’s. But now Arnie is gone…he left so quickly.

(Takes out box of candy)

 

LUCIBELLE

 (Looks around)

Maybe my Pinto is out back…in the rain…then I won’t have to get it washed. Flossie, you’re eating candy? Where did you get that candy?

 

FLOSSIE

I found them. In Mother’s room. She’s been away so long, it seems; I didn’t want the candy to go stale. Funny that Mother didn’t take the candy with her when she went to visit her sister, Bedelia, in Syracuse. It’s been a few days…

 

LUCIBELLE

Mothers’ leaving was…unexpected. Bedelia had fallen and hurt herself. She’s not young…Bedelia. We haven’t seen her in so long! All alone on that cow farm. I wish Mother would write or telephone…she’s never been out of Poughkeepsie…I’m a little concerned.

 

FLOSSIE

Bedelia loves candy so, as I remember. She likes my cosmetics too. I should mail her a cosmetics catalog, one day. To Syracuse. Maybe I’ll mail Arnie a cosmetics catalog, too. Just to make sure he hasn’t forgotten about me. Maybe the post office is forwarding his mail to…wherever he is now.

 

LUCIBELLE

Don’t start...

 

FLOSSIE

I learned so much from him. Whenever I was with him, it was like I was attending…Arnie U! Those beautiful two years. Arnie would have had the sense not to drag me out in this rain. Like you did this afternoon. Arnie wouldn’t have brought me to some lousy Pinto repair shop!

(Starts to cry)

Oh Arnie….we were supposed to attend the July Poughkeepsie lawn disco…together!

 

LUCIBELLE

I have to get back to work. What time did that clock say? When the repairman will be back. Stanley, I think? Pick up the clock.

 

FLOSSIE

I don’t want to talk about Arnie any more, it’s so difficult everywhere I look, I see him.

(Goes to mirror and pulls at scarf, looks away, startled)

See, I just saw him, in the mirror. I am trying to untie this lousy scarf. Undo the knot in the scarf that Arnie gave me.  And I saw his face! Those squinty eyes…

 

LUCIBELLE

Don’t start on that again, Flossie.

(Looking around)

Is anyone going to wait on me? I only have an hour for lunch. I have to get back to Woolworths and my register. My register is the busiest. Everyone wants their candy weighed!

(loudly)

I have to get back to weighing and bagging candy!

Stanley and a policeman enter.

Oh, finally! Stanley! Is my Pinto ready? I took a number!

(hands him the number)

I have to get back to Woolworths. Officer Delaney! What a surprise. I usually see you on the other side of my counter.

 

DELANEY

Lucibelle, you may want to use the telephone on the wall and let Woolworth’s know that you won’t be going back to work this afternoon.

 

FLOSSIE

Is it raining that badly? If Arnie were in town, I could have telephoned him and he would have come and pick us up. And you’re not that ugly, Stanley.

 

LUCIBELLE

Arnie didn’t drive, Flossie. He could barely see two feet in front of him. What are you talking about, Officer?

 

FLOSSIE

He would have come in a taxicab. Or taken the crosstown bus. From the other side of Poughkeepsie.

 

LUCIBELLE

Never mind…were you able to fix my Pinto, find out what that noise was? That banging and thumping?

 

FLOSSIE

Maybe it was my cosmetic sales kit, in the trunk.

(Tries to look sophisticated for Stanley)

My…valise. I hope my samples aren’t broken. Are they, Stanley?

 

DELANEY

It’s a little more than that, Flossie. A little more.

 

STANLEY

I found out what the banging and thumping was…

 

LUCIBELLE

Where is my Pinto!

 

STANLEY

It’s in a safe place, for now, Lucibelle, up there on the lift.

(Points up and off)

It’s a…

(Tries to sound official)

…crime scene.

 

LUCIBELLE

A crime scene? But I have to get back to work!

 

DELANEY

Call your job. Tell them you’re going to be pretty late getting back there. Maybe that old lady from the dress pattern department can take over for you. What’s her name?

 

STANLEY

Betty Hooker. Her name is Betty Hooker. She was my music teacher in school. She gave everyone A flats.

 

FLOSSIE

No one in their right mind would buy a dress pattern in this wet weather. It would be soaked by the time you got it home, and since it is summer and the radiators aren’t turned on, you could never dry it out, and before you know it, the July Poughkeepsie Lawn Disco has come and gone, and left you behind because you never made a new dress and wasted all those yards of pretty blue lightweight jersey knit polyester you bought …all because it was raining today.

 

LUCIBELLE

Oh shut up, Flossie.

 

DELANEY

Here’s a dime for the telephone.

 

STANLEY

I’ll unlock it for ya. The telephone. Gotta keep it locked. Can’t trust people these days.

 

LUCIBELLE

I’ll be right back. I never…!

(She marches off with Stanley)

 

FLOSSIE

Well, I had better be going. Officer, could you give me a lift back to my home? On Beech Street? 130 Beech Street?

 

DELANEY

Miss Litsky, may I ask you a few questions?

 

FLOSSIE

(flurting)

Call me Flossie. That’s what Arnie called me.

 

DELANEY

Arnie?

 

FLOSSIE

An old flame of mine…Arnold Arena. He wasn’t good enough for me, so I had to let him go. Send him on his way. He just wasn’t up to my lifestyle. Not much fun, either. All he ever wanted to do was read the Readers Digest…

(loudly)

…Enlarged type. I lead a very busy life, you know. I have a cosmetics business.

 

DELANEY

Yes, I know. I’ve seen you around town with your makeup case.

 

FLOSSIE

It’s a…valise.

 

DELANEY

Flossie, when did you last see your mother?

 

FLOSSIE

(Snaps out of it)

My mother? What? Well, I don’t know. When she went to visit her sister, Bedelia. In Syracuse. Maybe a few days ago. I don’t remember. Maybe if you gave me a ride home in your squad car, I could remember a little better.

 

DELANEY

Did she ever get to Syracuse?

 

FLOSSIE

Well, I don’t see why not. The Greyhound bus goes to Syracuse. Mother must have been on the Greyhound bus. So she got to Syracuse. It makes perfect sense. And why would Bedelia tell us that Mother was not there. She had fallen and hurt herself. Mother said so. She said it to us “Girls, Bedelia fall down, go boom.” That’s just what she said.

 

DELANEY

So Bedelia telephoned your mother?

 

FLOSSIE

Now that’s silly. How could she telephone if she had fallen and hurt herself? She lives alone. 0n that cow farm. The nearest telephone is a mile away from her. In Mayfield, the smallest town you ever did see. The post office is also the filling station, and the bank is also the dry cleaner -

 

DELANEY

Then she wrote to your mother? A letter?

 

FLOSSIE

That’s even sillier. Those cows on her farm can read and write better than she can. .Plus, the closest post office is in Mayfield…a mile away…

(thinks)

…then, just how did Mother know that Bedelia had fallen and hurt herself? I may need my cosmetics…valise…to figure this out.

 

DELANEY

Flossie, Bedelia passed away two years ago. It was all over the Syracuse newspapers. She was a very wealthy woman.

 

FLOSSIE

What? I don’t believe…Bedelia…gone? But how? It must have been those cows. Bedelia always said they looked at her strangely when she was milking them. They took…revenge!

 

LUCIBELLE

(Entering with Stanley

Well, that must have been the last straw. The manager at Woolworths told me to report to the dress pattern department tomorrow morning. I bet they gave my job weighing candy and nuts to that Betty Hooker from the dress pattern department…I want my Pinto back!

 

FLOSSIE

Lucibelle, Aunt Bedelia is dead! The cows took revenge! The killed her, took her money and are living the high life.  Munching on the best grass in Syracuse! Content as cows!

 

LUCIBELLE

Oh shut up, Flossie. Mother is with Bedelia right now, nursing herself back to health…she fall down, go boom, remember?

 

DELANEY

That’s not quite the case, Lucibelle, and I think you know it.

 

LUCIBELLE

Then…where is mother?

(From offstage and above stage we hear MOTHER)

 

MOTHER(off)

For God’s sake Lucibelle, can’t you ‘fess up to anything? I think that stale candy at Woolworths has more gumption than you do!

 

LUCIBELLE

Mother? Where…where are you?

 

MOTHER (off)

Up here, Lucibelle Litsky, you good for nothing halfwit.

 

LUCIBELLE

I can’t see you. Where?

 

FLOSSIE

Mother?

(Looks up, then out)

Oh no, the cows got to Mother, too! Trampled into the afterlife by a herd of greedy cows. Curse you, bovines!

 

MOTHER (off)

Flossie Litsky, you ninny. .I am up here, in the trunk of your cowardly sister’s Pinto!

 

LUCIBELLE

Oh, Mother, what on earth are you doing in there?

 

FLOSSIE

Is my …valise…all right up there? Every sample in place?

 

MOTHER (off)

 I don’t know, Flossie. Here, take a look!

(We hear the trunk open and Flossie’s valise drops to the floor from above)

Get me down!

DELANEY

Lucibelle, Mother Litsky told me how she got in that trunk of yours.

 

LUCIBELLE

She did? Now maybe she can tell me, too.

 

FLOSSIE

My Valise…good, not a scratch…

(Opens case)

Oh my goodness! What’s this? Oh the horrors!

 

LUCIBELLE

What now, Flossie? This really isn’t the time to…

(Looks in case)

…oh, my…

 

FLOSSIE

Someone has been nibbling on my cosmetics samples! My lipsticks, my powders! How horrible! My cosmetics career is over!

 

MOTHER (off)

If you think that’s horrible, you should see the spare tire up here…not to mention my teeth. I’ll have to soak them for a week to get the stains off…get me out of this trunk. Down from here!

 

DELANEY

Lucibelle, Mother Litsky said you locked her in the truck and were going to take her down to the Hudson River to drown her.

 

LUCIBELLE

What? Why on earth would I want to do that?

 

FLOSSIE

Cause you hate her and would do anything to get her out of your life. That’s what you always tell me.

 

LUCIBELLE

I never said that!

 

FLOSSIE

You said it on the way over here. You said you hope she would stay at Bedelia’s farm forever and never come back. You didn’t care how many times Bedelia had to fall down, go boom.

 

LUCIBELLE

Just because I say something. Doesn’t mean…Officer Delaney, I don’t know how Mother got in the trunk. Why didn’t she scream or yell. I would have heard her from the front seat.

 

MOTHER (off)

Because I was bound and gagged. My best Arbor Day hanky…stuffed in my mouth, so I couldn’t talk.  I’ve kept that hanky for years and years. Now it’s ruined. Stained for life.

 

FLOSSIE

Bound and gagged? That’s terrible! Lucibelle, how could you …

(Thinks)

…how could anyone…

(Thinks)

…nibble on my cosmetics if they were bound and gagged? How could they open my …valise? I think you’re lying, Mother! Lying about being bound and gagged.  My…valise doesn’t lie.

 

LUCIBELLE

Mother, you had better get down here right this instant! Stanley, lower that Pinto. Harriet Litsky, I want a work with you!

 

DELANEY

I think you had better do as she says, Stanley.

 

STANLEY

Yes, Officer. And I’ll lock the door, so no one tries to …escape.

(He goes off)

 

LUCIBELLE

Of all the silly things to ever happen.  Never in my life have I ever experience such silliness.

We hear the car being lowered

 

FLOSSIE

I may have to stop by the Woolworths on the way home to get some white shoe polish. Look at the scuffmarks on my…valise. Maybe I’ll stop by the candy counter and say hello to Betty Hooker. Care to join me, Officer?

 

LUCIBELLE

Shut up, Flossie. Stop flirting. You are shameless.

(Mother appears, disheveled)

All right, Mother, what were you doing the trunk of my Pinto?

 

MOTHER

What trunk? What Pinto? I’m feeling a little dizzy.

 

LUCIBELLE

Cut the crap, Mother. What is going on? God’s sake, being around you is like being around a child. Always getting into trouble. I don’t have one younger sister, I have two younger sisters!  You wonder why I spend so much time working at Woolworths? To keep away from you two!

 

DELANEY

That’s no way to talk to your mother, Lucibelle. My apologies, Harriet.

 

STANLEY

I’d never talk to my mother that way.

 

LUCIBELLE

Butt out, you two.  Mother what were you doing in the trunk of my Pinto?

 

MOTHER

Could I really pass for your sister? Arnold always said I- oops, well, let’s go home dear.

(Looks off nervously)

We’ll laugh and forget about this all by dinnertime.

 

FLOSSIE

Arnold…Arnie…just hearing his name…makes it feel like he is right here….with me, reading to me from his Readers Digest –

(loudly)

Enlarged Type. I can hear his voice…smell his English Leather Cologne.

 

LUCIBELLE

I can’t take another…shut up, Flossie!

 

MOTHER

Listen to your sister, Flossie.

 

FLOSSIE

No, I can really smell his cologne…it’s so strong, so close…

(Sniffs the men one by one)

Texaco motor oil and dial soap…jelly donut and cigarettes….you should try a little Dial soap, too, Officer…

(Sniffs Lucibelle)

Roasted peanuts, candy apples and…Oh, Lucibelle, I’m sure it’s cocktail hour somewhere.

(Goes to Mother and sniffs)

Aha! Mother, you smell just like Arnie’s cologne! His English Leather.

(Looks off nervously)

 

LUCIBELLE

Mother?

 

FLOSSIE

Mother, has Arnie been reading to you from his Readers Digest –

(whispers)

Enlarged Type?

 

MOTHER

Of course not, I can read my own Readers Digest. Let’s go home.

 

LUCIBELLE

With my Pinto-

 

FLOSSIE

(Looking about)

Arnie? Arnold Arena! I know you’re here. It’s me, your lovely bride to be, the future Mrs. Flossie Arena! You’ve come back to me! Back to me and my…valise.

 

ARNIE

(Entering)

Harriet, you were right, both your daughters are a little off. Now let’s blow this joint and have a little fun! Hey, Flossie, baby, long time no see. Well, gotta be moving on, I got places to be and people to be with. Still carrying that stupid suitcase full of junk, I see.

 

STANLEY

How did you get in here? The place is locked. Officer, we have an intruder! Arrest him!

 

MOTHER

There is no need to arrest anyone. Arnold is here …with me…in the trunk…

 

LUCIBELLE

I don’t believe this.

 

FLOSSIE

(Looking about)

I don’t believe this either, Arnie. You came back for me!

 

MOTHER

Flossie, you ninny. He didn’t come back for you. He’s been here all the time…with me…

 

LUCIBELLE

In the trunk of my Pinto?

 

MOTHER

If our plan had worked, you wouldn’t have your Pinto right now. We were planning on heisting that pile of bolts and rubber and head up to Syracuse…together…Bedelia left her farm and her cows to me.

 

ARNIE

But you had to ruin it, Lucibelle. A few days ago, Harriet and I were, er, giving the back seat of your Pinto a little test run, and you came into the garage a little unexpectedly, so we pulled down the back seat and slipped into the trunk.  Someday, I hope they invent a trunk that opens from the inside. For special moments like this. For two days we’ve been cooped up in there. With nothing to do.

 

MOTHER

Oh, we had plenty of things to do.

 

FLOSSIE

Then I was right. You didn’t visit Aunt Bedelia! See, Lucibelle, I’m not so stupid after all.

 

ARNIE

No Flossie, you really are pretty stupid. You see, I never told you where I was from, where I came from, two years ago…

 

MOTHER

Arnold, No!

 

DELANEY

Let em talk, Harriet, we gotta hear all sides –

 

STANLEY

 - of the story.

 

FLOSSIE

You said you were a drifter, riding the wind.

 

ARNIE

I rode the wind all the way from Mayfield, upstate, where I found out two years ago that your Aunt Bedelia kicked the can –

 

FLOSSIE

 - I thought the cows did that.

 

ARNIE

I worked in the filling station, which also served at the post office. One day I was sorting mail and I caught a glance at a letter from your Aunt Bedalia’s lawyer, saying that Harriet here –

 

MOTHER

Call me…Hattie…

 

LUCIBELLE

Can you just get to the point to I can get back to work before Betty Hooker takes over my job…weighing candy and nuts?

 

STANLEY

I always thought you were a little thumb heavy on the scale, Lucibelle. This may be a perfect career switch for Betty Hooker, since she don’t got no thumbs.

 

FLOSSIE

She used to be the music teacher over at the high school. .Playing that Zither for thirty years sure wreaked havoc on her thumbs. I hear she keeps them in a jar next to her cold cream on the windowsill in her kitchen-

 

LUCIBELLE

Shut up! Never say THUMB again! Can you all just focus on one thing at the time? Arnie! Speak!

 

ARNIE

..That Hattie here was left the farm, the house, the cows…she was rich. So I Went over to the highway, stuck out my, sorry Lucibelle, thumb, and hitched wall the way down here to Poughkeepsie.

 

MOTHER

All the time he was serenading you with his Readers Digest, Flossie, he was really thinking about me. Why did you think I sent you out selling your cosmetics so often? So Arnold and I could be alone. And we would be alone together, forever if we had only gotten away in your Pinto.

 

LUCIBELLE

But you don’t drive; Mother and Arnold here can’t see two feet in front of him. How were you going to get to Bedelia’s farm?

 

ARNIE

You get behind the wheel of that jalopy and put the pedal to the metal, Lucibelle. There some good money in it for your chauffeuring services. I think we got a few job openings at the Woolworths in Mayfield, which is also the fire station and the funeral parlor.

 

LUCIBELLE

And leave Poughkeepsie?

(thinks)

You got yourself a deal, Mr. Arena!  You see, Officer Delaney, no crime has been committed. If you don’t mind, Stanley, I’ll just take my Pinto now, if you please. We’ll head back home, pick up a few things, and be on the farm by nighttime!

(goes to Flossie)

Well, Flossie, goodbye. I am sure one of these kind gentlemen will give you a lift home. Best of luck in your cosmetics career. Come on, Mother. Stanley?

(She and mother and Stanley leave)

 

FLOSSIE

(to herself)

No crime has been committed…I guess this is goodbye, Arnie, I’ll think of you often. I could have been Mrs. Arnold Arena…in swirly letters…but now I’m all alone…

 

ARNIE

See ya round town, Toots…not!

(he laughs and starts to walk off)

Hattie, where are you, I can’t see too well, you know.

 

FLOSSIE

…no crime has been committed, huh?

(She picks up her valise)

Oh Arnie, just one more thing before you go.

 

ARNIE

(Turns)

Now what?

(Flossie takes her valise and swings it as hard as possible, and lets go, flying it in the air, knocking Arnie to the ground)

 

FLOSSIE

Oh look, Arnold Arena fall down go boom…you can take me home now, Officer. After we stop by the Woolworths. I hear there’s a job opening in the Dress Pattern department. Perhaps my name tag will be…in swirly letters…

(She takes Delaney’s arm and they walk off, leaving Arnie out cold on the floor)

 

END OF PLAY