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Inspired by Violet

September 15, 2021

Okay, I know it’s been a while, but that, I am afraid, is the down side to visitors: they leave. And then I feel down. For quite some time.

That’s not to say I haven’t done any writing at all. Au contraire. Wish I could say I’d suddenly been inspired to get cracking on one of those barely started novels, but, alas, no. I’m as dried up there as I have been for years.

Last weekend I took a play writing workshop. Yes, I may have written a one-act play that was a finalist a couple of years ago in the Canadian National Play, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things I can’t learn. And actually I learnt quite a lot.

Going in, I knew that between the Saturday morning session and the Sunday afternoon session we would all be required to write a scene between a protagonist and an antagonist. I was a bit worried about that, what with my muse currently coming and going as she pleases, but I figured if it came to it, I could always pull something out of  An Unhelpful Complication.

The first exercise we did involved creating a character. The character we came up with, thanks to Nicky, a professional actress in our midst, was Violet, an 86-year-old woman, long widowed, whose most treasured possession was a tube of lipstick and whose dearest wish was to have one last kiss with her dead husband. Uh, oh. Turns out that was the protagonist about whom we were supposed to write, with everyone free to invent their own antagonist. So, no cheating with Maggie and Jack.

Came home and played several games of Freecell. For once it wasn’t totally unproductive time. I used the time to think. Who should my antagonist be? I came to the conclusion it should be the ghost of her dead husband. And once I knew, the writing came surprisingly easily. I thought it was a rather obvious (perhaps too obvious) choice, but the next day, when we read a few of the scenes, others had gone for a daughter-in-law, a neighbour and a shady medium. 

Mine was one of the scenes read and I’m pleased to say it seemed everyone really liked it. Here it is, for (I hope) your reading pleasure.

RUBY RED LIPSTICK

Scene 6

Violet sits in a chair in her livingroom. The room contains another chair, with a small table in between. On the table there is a glass of what could contain whiskey. There is a mirror on the wall. James enters. He is in his mid-thirties and dressed in clothes that suggest he’s just come from a 1970s disco.

JAMES I’ve been trying to ignore you for months now, but you just won’t stop trying to conjure me up. What do you want, Violet?

VIOLET You know what I want, James.

JAMES I never knew what you wanted, Violet.

VIOLET What went wrong?

JAMES You know.

VIOLET I don’t. What did I do?

JAMES You know what you did. Or couldn’t stop yourself doing.

VIOLET It was sex, James. Between a husband and wife.

JAMES It was shameful.

VIOLET Not in the beginning. Not when you said you loved me.

JAMES It was always shameful. Unnatural. You were wanton.

VIOLET I was wantin’ to have sex with my husband.

JAMES “Be fruitful and multiply.” But you couldn’t, could you?

VIOLET Oh, yes, let’s bring the Bible into it again, shall we? How about: “”Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” Proverbs 5:18-19.

JAMES Violet – 

VIOLET Or how about 1 Corinthians 7:3-4? “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” 

JAMES You conjured me forty-five years later to have the same argument?

VIOLET “With my body I thee worship”, James. I heard you say it.

JAMES It was unseemly. Once you knew you were barren, you should have known it was wrong. Marital relations are not for physical gratification. They should be solely motivated by procreation for God’s glory. 

VIOLET God’s glory? Really? You turned me into a goddamn nun, James. No make-up, no party frocks, certainly no more ruby red lipstick. Certainly no more curling up together naked in bed. Five years of sleeping in the same bed, wearing a Victorian nightgown with a man who wouldn’t even give me a goodnight peck on the cheek. That’s what was barren, James, our marriage. For five years until you drove into that tree.

JAMES You drove me into that tree.

VIOLET What?

JAMES I said you drove me into that tree.

VIOLET What are you talking about?

JAMES You. It didn’t matter what you wore. It didn’t matter how demurely you tried to behave. People pitied us because we didn’t have children, but they also envied me my perfect wife. But all you had to do was roll over in bed and touch me by accident.

VIOLET (beat) And what? (James does not respond) What happened if I rolled over in my sleep?

JAMES You know.

VIOLET No, I don’t, James. I spent five years feeling like a wife in The Handmaid’s Tale. 

JAMES A what?

VIOLET What?

JAMES What did you say you felt like you were in?

VIOLET Margaret Atwood novel. After your time. It doesn’t matter. What happened if I rolled over in my sleep?

JAMES (beat) I was… I was aroused.

VIOLET Oh, you silly, silly man. We could have adopted. Babies were going begging in those days. We could have been happy, but, oh, no, you wanted the fruit of your own loins. And when I couldn’t deliver, as it were, you let your family’s joyless version of religion destroy our marriage. (She reaches for his hand.) Oh, my. I can actually touch you… I didn’t “conjure” you, as you put it, to have the same argument. 

JAMES Then why?

VIOLET Because it’s true what they say. After a while the bad things fade away and all you remember are the good things. And lately I find myself remembering that first kiss, the moment when I knew I loved you. Do you remember it?

JAMES Yes.

VIOLET Fondly?

JAMES Yes. It was the moment I knew I loved you.

VIOLET When did you stop loving me?

JAMES Never.

VIOLET Oh, James. (There is a prolonged silence as they look at one another.) Well, I suppose I should let you get back to Heaven.

JAMES In this outfit?

Violet for the first time fully takes in his disco outfit.

VIOLET It is quite a departure from your old suits. (beat) Oh, my God. You haven’t been in Hell, have you?

JAMES Turns out purgatory does exist.

VIOLET You’ve been in purgatory for forty-five years? (James nods.) Why? Because you drove yourself into that tree?

JAMES No. Turns out suicide’s not the big deal everyone says.

VIOET Then why?

JAMES (beat) Because I won’t admit you were right and I was wrong.

VIOLET Well, you’re not the first, St. Augustine.

JAMES Oh, no, he’s in Hell

VIOLET Is he? Well, that’s cheered me up.

JAMES May I kiss you?

VIOLET Can you?

JAMES I think so.

VIOLET Just a second.

Violet struggles slightly to stand up. She moves to the mirror, reaches into her pocket and pulls out a tube of lipstick, which she applies. It is ruby red. She pulls a tissue out of her pocket and blots the lipstick, turns to James. 

JAMES Is that the same – ?

VIOLET No, but close. I bought it on impulse two years ago. I was hoping you’d turn up. I expect I look like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

JAMES You look beautiful. 

VIOLET Now you flatter me.

JAMES You do.

They move tentatively towards one another. James touches her cheek, then leans in for a kiss. It is long and lingering. Before they draw apart there is the sound of a Heavenly chorus.

VIOLET Is that you out of purgatory?

JAMES I believe it is.

VIOLET Do they allow kissing in Heaven?

JAMES Yes. But not much else. We’re supposed to be above all that by the time we get there. 

VIOLET Kissing’s fine. I don’t know about “above it”, but I’m certainly beyond it.

James listens to something Violet can’t hear.

JAMES I have to go.

He leans in to give her a shorter kiss.

VIOLET I’m glad you came.

JAMES Me, too.

James exits.

VIOLET I’ll see you soon.

Violet sits down, reaches into her pocket and pulls out a bottle of pills. She pours pills into her hand, picks up the glass with her other hand, starts swallowing the pills.

THE END

NB: I knew my mate Tom, who was also taking the course, would enjoy the St. Augustine joke. If you don’t know who Augustine was, he was the 4th century asshole who came up with women as the root of all evil. If you’re interested, there was a good article about him in the New Yorker a couple of years ago. 

One of the least likely of the half dozen places that claim to be the final resting site of Augustine is in Canterbury in the ruins of an old monastery. Mike and I visited this site about 20 years ago. Normally I’m not one for renting the audio guide, but Mike was, so I got one too. At one point, Mike, who was further along in the tour than I was, turned around and gaped at me. “What are you doing?” he asked. I pointed to the ground underneath me. “In the unlikely event that this really is the final resting site of Augustine,” I told him, “I am dancing on his grave.”

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