The Verge

by Susan Glaspell

Previous Chapter Next Chapter


Late afternoon of the following day. CLAIRE is alone in the tower—a tower which is thought to be round but does not complete the circle. The back is curved, then jagged lines break from that, and the front is a queer bulging window—in a curve that leans. The whole structure is as if given a twist by some terrific force—like something wrong. It is lighted by an old-fashioned watchman's lantern hanging from the ceiling; the innumerable pricks and slits in the metal throw a marvellous pattern on the curved wall—like some masonry that hasn't been.

There are no windows at back, and there is no door save an opening in the floor. The delicately distorted rail of a spiral staircase winds up from below. CLAIRE is seen through the huge ominous window as if shut into the tower. She is lying on a seat at the back looking at a book of drawings. To do this she has left the door of her lantern a little open—and her own face is clearly seen.

A door is heard opening below; laughing voices, CLAIRE listens, not pleased.

ADELAIDE: (voice coming up) Dear—dear, why do they make such twisting steps.

HARRY: Take your time, most up now. (HARRY's head appears, he looks back.) Making it all right?

ADELAIDE: I can't tell yet. (laughingly) No, I don't think so.

HARRY: (reaching back a hand for her) The last lap—is the bad lap. (ADELAIDE is up, and occupied with getting her breath.)

HARRY: Since you wouldn't come down, Claire, we thought we'd come up.

ADELAIDE: (as CLAIRE does not greet her) I'm sorry to intrude, but I have to see you, Claire. There are things to be arranged. (CLAIRE volunteering nothing about arrangements, ADELAIDE surveys the tower. An unsympathetic eye goes from the curves to the lines which diverge. Then she looks from the window) Well, at least you have a view.

HARRY: This is the first time you've been up here?

ADELAIDE: Yes, in the five years you've had the house I was never asked up here before.

CLAIRE: (amiably enough) You weren't asked up here now.

ADELAIDE: Harry asked me.

CLAIRE: It isn't Harry's tower. But never mind—since you don't like it—it's all right.

ADELAIDE: (her eyes again rebuking the irregularities of the tower) No, I confess I do not care for it. A round tower should go on being round.

HARRY: Claire calls this the thwarted tower. She bought the house because of it. (going over and sitting by her, his hand on her ankle) Didn't you, old girl? She says she'd like to have known the architect.

ADELAIDE: Probably a tiresome person too incompetent to make a perfect tower.

CLAIRE: Well, now he's disposed of, what next?

ADELAIDE: (sitting down in a manner of capably opening a conference) Next, Elizabeth, and you, Claire. Just what is the matter with Elizabeth?

CLAIRE: (whose voice is cool, even, as if herself is not really engaged by this) Nothing is the matter with her. She is a tower that is a tower.

ADELAIDE: Well, is that anything against her?

CLAIRE: She's just like one of her father's portraits. They never interested me. Nor does she. (looks at the drawings which do interest her)

ADELAIDE: A mother cannot cast off her own child simply because she does not interest her!

CLAIRE: (an instant raising cool eyes to ADELAIDE) Why can't she?

ADELAIDE: Because it would be monstrous!

CLAIRE: And why can't she be monstrous—if she has to be?

ADELAIDE: You don't have to be. That's where I'm out of patience with you Claire. You are really a particularly intelligent, competent person, and it's time for you to call a halt to this nonsense and be the woman you were meant to be!

CLAIRE: (holding the book up to see another way) What inside dope have you on what I was meant to be?

ADELAIDE: I know what you came from.

CLAIRE: Well, isn't it about time somebody got loose from that? What I came from made you, so—

ADELAIDE: (stiffly) I see.

CLAIRE: So—you being such a tower of strength, why need I too be imprisoned in what I came from?

ADELAIDE: It isn't being imprisoned. Right there is where you make your mistake, Claire. Who's in a tower—in an unsuccessful tower? Not I. I go about in the world—free, busy, happy. Among people, I have no time to think of myself.


ADELAIDE: No. My family. The things that interest them; from morning till night it's—

CLAIRE: Yes, I know you have a large family, Adelaide; five and Elizabeth makes six.

ADELAIDE: We'll speak of Elizabeth later. But if you would just get out of yourself and enter into other people's lives—

CLAIRE: Then I would become just like you. And we should all be just alike in order to assure one another that we're all just right. But since you and Harry and Elizabeth and ten million other people bolster each other up, why do you especially need me?

ADELAIDE: (not unkindly) We don't need you as much as you need us.

CLAIRE: (a wry face) I never liked what I needed.

HARRY: I am convinced I am the worst thing in the world for you, Claire.

CLAIRE: (with a smile for his tactics, but shaking her head) I'm afraid you're not. I don't know—perhaps you are.

ADELAIDE: Well, what is it you want, Claire?

CLAIRE: (simply) You wouldn't know if I told you.

ADELAIDE: That's rather arrogant.

HARRY: Yes, take a chance, Claire. I have been known to get an idea—and Adelaide quite frequently gets one.

CLAIRE: (the first resentment she has shown) You two feel very superior, don't you?

ADELAIDE: I don't think we are the ones who are feeling superior.

CLAIRE: Oh, yes, you are. Very superior to what you think is my feeling of superiority, comparing my—isolation with your 'heart of humanity'. Soon we will speak of the beauty of common experiences, of the—Oh, I could say it all before we come to it.

HARRY: Adelaide came up here to help you, Claire.

CLAIRE: Adelaide came up here to lock me in. Well, she can't do it.

ADELAIDE: (gently) But can't you see that one may do that to one's self?

CLAIRE: (thinks of this, looks suddenly tired—then smiles) Well, at least I've changed the keys.

HARRY: 'Locked in.' Bunkum. Get that our of your head, Claire. Who's locked in? Nobody that I know of, we're all free Americans. Free as air.

ADELAIDE: I wish you'd come and hear one of Mr Morley's sermons, Claire. You're very old-fashioned if you think sermons are what they used to be.

CLAIRE: (with interest) And do they still sing 'Nearer, my God, to Thee'?

ADELAIDE: They do, and a noble old hymn it is. It would do you no harm at all to sing it.

CLAIRE: (eagerly) Sing it to me, Adelaide. I'd like to hear you sing it.

ADELAIDE: It would be sacrilege to sing it to you in this mood.

CLAIRE: (falling back) Oh, I don't know. I'm not so sure God would agree with you. That would be one on you, wouldn't it?

ADELAIDE: It's easy to feel one's self set apart!

CLAIRE: No, it isn't.

ADELAIDE: (beginning anew) It's a new age, Claire. Spiritual values—

CLAIRE: Spiritual values! (in her brooding way) So you have pulled that up. (with cunning) Don't think I don't know what it is you do.

ADELAIDE: Well, what do I do? I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about.

HARRY: (affectionately, as CLAIRE is looking with intentness at what he does not see) What does she do, Claire?

CLAIRE: It's rather clever, what she does. Snatching the phrase—(a movement as if pulling something up) standing it up between her and—the life that's there. And by saying it enough—'We have life! We have life! We have life!' Very good come-back at one who would really be—'Just so! We are that. Right this way, please—'That, I suppose is what we mean by needing each other. All join in the chorus, 'This is it! This is it! This is it!' And anyone who won't join is to be—visited by relatives, (regarding ADELAIDE with curiosity) Do you really think that anything is going on in you?

ADELAIDE: (stiffly) I am not one to hold myself up as a perfect example of what the human race may be.

CLAIRE: (brightly) Well, that's good.

HARRY: Claire!

CLAIRE: Humility's a real thing—not just a fine name for laziness.

HARRY: Well, Lord A'mighty, you can't call Adelaide lazy.

CLAIRE: She stays in one place because she hasn't the energy to go anywhere else.

ADELAIDE: (as if the last word in absurdity has been said) I haven't energy?

CLAIRE: (mildly) You haven't any energy at all, Adelaide. That's why you keep so busy.

ADELAIDE: Well—Claire's nerves are in a worse state than I had realized.

CLAIRE: So perhaps we'd better look at Blake's drawings, (takes up the book)

ADELAIDE: It would be all right for me to look at Blake's drawings. You'd better look at the Sistine Madonna, (affectionately, after she has watched CLAIRE's face a moment) What is it, Claire? Why do you shut yourself out from us?

CLAIRE: I told you. Because I do not want to be shut in with you.

ADELAIDE: All of this is not very pleasant for Harry.

HARRY: I want Claire to be gay.

CLAIRE: Funny—you should want that, (speaks unwillingly, a curious, wistful unwillingness) Did you ever say a preposterous thing, then go trailing after the thing you've said and find it wasn't so preposterous? Here is the circle we are in.describes a big circle) Being gay. It shoots little darts through the circle, and a minute later—gaiety all gone, and you looking through that little hole the gaiety left.

ADELAIDE: (going to her, as she is still looking through that little hole) Claire, dear, I wish I could make you feel how much I care for you. (simply, with real feeling) You can call me all the names you like—dull, commonplace, lazy—that is a new idea, I confess, but the rest of our family's gone now, and the love that used to be there between us all—the only place for it now is between you and me. You were so much loved, Claire. You oughtn't to try and get away from a world in which you are so much loved, (to HARRY) Mother—father—all of us, always loved Claire best. We always loved Claire's queer gaiety. Now you've got to hand it to us for that, as the children say.

CLAIRE: (moved, but eyes shining with a queer bright loneliness) But never one of you—once—looked with me through the little pricks the gaiety made—never one of you—once, looked with me at the queer light that came in through the pricks.

ADELAIDE: And can't you see, dear, that it's better for us we didn't? And that it would be better for you now if you would just resolutely look somewhere else? You must see yourself that you haven't the poise of people who are held—well, within the circle, if you choose to put it that way. There's something about being in that main body, having one's roots in the big common experiences, gives a calm which you have missed. That's why I want you to take Elizabeth, forget yourself, and—

CLAIRE: I do want calm. But mine would have to be a calm I—worked my way to. A calm all prepared for me—would stink.

ADELAIDE: (less sympathetically) I know you have to be yourself, Claire. But I don't admit you have a right to hurt other people.

HARRY: I think Claire and I had better take a nice long trip.

ADELAIDE: Now why don't you?

CLAIRE: I am taking a trip.

ADELAIDE: Well, Harry isn't, and he'd like to go and wants you to go with him. Go to Paris and get yourself some awfully good-looking clothes—and have one grand fling at the gay world. You really love that, Claire, and you've been awfully dull lately. I think that's the whole trouble.

HARRY: I think so too.

ADELAIDE: This sober business of growing plants—

CLAIRE: Not sober—it's mad.

ADELAIDE: All the more reason for quitting it.

CLAIRE: But madness that is the only chance for sanity.

ADELAIDE: Come, come, now—let's not juggle words.

CLAIRE: (springing up) How dare you say that to me, Adelaide. You who are such a liar and thief and whore with words!

ADELAIDE: (facing her, furious) How dare you—

HARRY: Of course not, Claire. You have the most preposterous way of using words.

CLAIRE: I respect words.

ADELAIDE: Well, you'll please respect me enough not to dare use certain words to me!

CLAIRE: Yes, I do dare. I'm tired of what you do—you and all of you. Life—experience—values—calm—sensitive words which raise their heads as indications. And you pull them up—to decorate your stagnant little minds—and think that makes you—And because you have pulled that word from the life that grew it you won't let one who's honest, and aware, and troubled, try to reach through to—to what she doesn't know is there, (she is moved, excited, as if a cruel thing has been done) Why did you come here?

ADELAIDE: To try and help you. But I begin to fear I can't do it. It's pretty egotistical to claim that what so many people are, is wrong.

(CLAIRE, after looking intently at ADELAIDE, slowly, smiling a little, describes a circle. With deftly used hands makes a quick vicious break in the circle which is there in the air.)

HARRY: (going to her, taking her hands) It's getting close to dinner-time. You were thinking of something else, Claire, when I told you Charlie Emmons was coming to dinner to-night, (answering her look) Sure—he is a neurologist, and I want him to see you. I'm perfectly honest with you—cards all on the table, you know that. I'm hoping if you like him—and he's the best scout in the world, that he can help you. (talking hurriedly against the stillness which follows her look from him to ADELAIDE, where she sees between them an 'understanding' about her) Sure you need help, Claire. Your nerves are a little on the blink—from all you've been doing. No use making a mystery of it—or a tragedy. Emmons is a cracker-jack, and naturally I want you to get a move on yourself and be happy again.

CLAIRE: (who has gone over to the window) And this neurologist can make me happy?

HARRY: Can make you well—and then you'll be happy.

ADELAIDE: (in the voice of now fixing it all up) And I had just an idea about Elizabeth. Instead of working with mere plants, why not think of Elizabeth as a plant and—

(CLAIRE, who has been looking out of the window, now throws open one of the panes that swings out—or seems to, and calls down in great excitement.)

CLAIRE: Tom! Tom! Quick! Up here! I'm in trouble!

HARRY: (going to the window) That's a rotten thing to do, Claire! You've frightened him.

CLAIRE: Yes, how fast he can run. He was deep in thought and I stabbed right through.

HARRY: Well, he'll be none too pleased when he gets up here and finds there was no reason for the stabbing!

(They wait for his footsteps, HARRY annoyed, ADELAIDE offended, but stealing worried looks at CLAIRE, who is looking fixedly at the place in the floor where TOM will appear.—Running footsteps.)

TOM: (his voice getting there before he does) Yes, Claire—yes—yes—(as his head appears) What is it?

CLAIRE: (at once presenting him and answering his question) My sister.

TOM: (gasping) Oh,—why—is that all? I mean—how do you do? Pardon, I (panting) came up—rather hurriedly.

HARRY: If you want to slap Claire, Tom, I for one have no objection.

CLAIRE: Adelaide has the most interesting idea, Tom. She proposes that I take Elizabeth and roll her in the gutter. Just let her lie there until she breaks up into—

ADELAIDE: Claire! I don't see how—even in fun—pretty vulgar fun—you can speak in those terms of a pure young girl. I'm beginning to think I had better take Elizabeth.

CLAIRE: Oh, I've thought that all along.

ADELAIDE: And I'm also beginning to suspect that—oddity may be just a way of shifting responsibility.

CLAIRE: (cordially interested in this possibility) Now you know—that might be.

ADELAIDE: A mother who does not love her own child! You are an unnatural woman, Claire.

CLAIRE: Well, at least it saves me from being a natural one.

ADELAIDE: Oh—I know, you think you have a great deal! But let me tell you, you've missed a great deal! You've never known the faintest stirring of a mother's love.

CLAIRE: That's not true.

HARRY: No. Claire loved our boy.

CLAIRE: I'm glad he didn't live.

HARRY: (low) Claire!

CLAIRE: I loved him. Why should I want him to live?

HARRY: Come, dear, I'm sorry I spoke of him—when you're not feeling well.

CLAIRE: I'm feeling all right. Just because I'm seeing something, it doesn't mean I'm sick.

HARRY: Well, let's go down now. About dinner-time. I shouldn't wonder if Emmons were here. (as ADELAIDE is starting down stairs) Coming, Claire?


HARRY: But it's time to go down for dinner.

CLAIRE: I'm not hungry.

HARRY: But we have a guest. Two guests—Adelaide's staying too.

CLAIRE: Then you're not alone.

HARRY: But I invited Dr Emmons to meet you.

CLAIRE: (her smile flashing) Tell him I am violent to-night.

HARRY: Dearest—how can you joke about such things!

CLAIRE: So you do think they're serious?

HARRY: (irritated) No, I do not! But I want you to come down for dinner!

ADELAIDE: Come, come, Claire; you know quite well this is not the sort of thing one does.

CLAIRE: Why go on saying one doesn't, when you are seeing one does (to TOM) Will you stay with me a while? I want to purify the tower.

(ADELAIDE begins to disappear)

HARRY: Fine time to choose for a tête-à-tête. (as he is leaving) I'd think more of you, Edgeworthy, if you refused to humour Claire in her ill-breeding.

ADELAIDE: (her severe voice coming from below) It is not what she was taught.

CLAIRE: No, it's not what I was taught, (laughing rather timidly) And perhaps you'd rather have your dinner?

TOM: No.

CLAIRE: We'll get something later. I want to talk to you. (but she does not—laughs) Absurd that I should feel bashful with you. Why am I so awkward with words when I go to talk to you?

TOM: The words know they're not needed.

CLAIRE: No, they're not needed. There's something underneath—an open way—down below the way that words can go. (rather desperately) It is there, isn't it?

TOM: Oh, yes, it is there.

CLAIRE: Then why do we never—go it?

TOM: If we went it, it would not be there.

CLAIRE: Is that true? How terrible, if that is true.

TOM: Not terrible, wonderful—that it should—of itself—be there.

CLAIRE: (with the simplicity that can say anything) I want to go it, Tom, I'm lonely up on top here. Is it that I have more faith than you, or is it only that I'm greedier? You see, you don't know (her reckless laugh) what you're missing. You don't know how I could love you.

TOM: Don't, Claire; that isn't—how it is—between you and me.

CLAIRE: But why can't it be—every way—between you and me?

TOM: Because we'd lose—the open way. (the quality of his denial shows how strong is his feeling for her) With anyone else—not with you.

CLAIRE: But you are the only one I want. The only one—all of me wants.

TOM: I know; but that's the way it is.

CLAIRE: You're cruel.

TOM: Oh, Claire, I'm trying so hard to—save it for us. Isn't it our beauty and our safeguard that underneath our separate lives, no matter where we may be, with what other, there is this open way between us? That's so much more than anything we could bring to being.

CLAIRE: Perhaps. But—it's different with me. I'm not—all spirit.

TOM: (his hand on her) Dear!

CLAIRE: No, don't touch me—since (moving) you're going away to-morrow? (he nods) For—always? (his head just moves assent) India is just another country. But there are undiscovered countries.

TOM: Yes, but we are so feeble we have to reach our country through the actual country lying nearest. Don't you do that yourself, Claire? Reach your country through the plants' country?

CLAIRE: My country? You mean—outside?

TOM: No, I don't think it that way.

CLAIRE: Oh, yes, you do.

TOM: Your country is the inside, Claire. The innermost. You are disturbed because you lie too close upon the heart of life.

CLAIRE: (restlessly) I don't know; you can think it one way—or another. No way says it, and that's good—at least it's not shut up in saying. (she is looking at her enclosing hand, as if something is shut up there)

TOM: But also, you know, things may be freed by expression. Come from the unrealized into the fabric of life.

CLAIRE: Yes, but why does the fabric of life have to—freeze into its pattern? It should (doing it with her hands) flow, (then turning like an unsatisfied child to him) But I wanted to talk to you.

TOM: You are talking to me. Tell me about your flower that never was before—your Breath of Life.

CLAIRE: I'll know to-morrow. You'll not go until I know?

TOM: I'll try to stay.

CLAIRE: It seems to me, if it has—then I have, integrity in—(smiles, it is as if the smile lets her say it) otherness. I don't want to die on the edge!

TOM: Not you!

CLAIRE: Many do. It's what makes them too smug in allness—those dead things on the edge, died, distorted—trying to get through. Oh—don't think I don't see—The Edge Vine! (a pause, then swiftly) Do you know what I mean? Or do you think I'm just a fool, or crazy?

TOM: I think I know what you mean, and you know I don't think you are a fool, or crazy.

CLAIRE: Stabbed to awareness—no matter where it takes you, isn't that more than a safe place to stay? (telling him very simply despite the pattern of pain in her voice) Anguish may be a thread—making patterns that haven't been. A thread—blue and burning.

TOM: (to take her from what even he fears for her) But you were telling me about the flower you breathed to life. What is your Breath of Life?

CLAIRE: (an instant playing) It's a secret. A secret?—it's a trick. Distilled from the most fragile flowers there are. It's only air—pausing—playing; except, far in, one stab of red, its quivering heart—that asks a question. But here's the trick—I bred the air-form to strength. The strength shut up behind us I've sent—far out. (troubled) I'll know tomorrow. And I have another gift for Breath of Life; some day—though days of work lie in between—some day I'll give it reminiscence. Fragrance that is—no one thing in here but—reminiscent. (silence, she raises wet eyes) We need the haunting beauty from the life we've left. I need that, (he takes her hands and breathes her name) Let me reach my country with you. I'm not a plant. After all, they don't—accept me. Who does—accept me? Will you?

TOM: My dear—dear, dear, Claire—you move me so! You stand alone in a clearness that breaks my heart, (her hands move up his arms. He takes them to hold them from where they would go—though he can hardly do it) But you've asked what you yourself could answer best. We'd only stop in the country where everyone stops.

CLAIRE: We might come through—to radiance.

TOM: Radiance is an enclosing place.

CLAIRE: Perhaps radiance lighting forms undreamed, (her reckless laugh) I'd be willing to—take a chance, I'd rather lose than never know.

TOM: No, Claire. Knowing you from underneath, I know you couldn't bear to lose.

CLAIRE: Wouldn't men say you were a fool!

TOM: They would.

CLAIRE: And perhaps you are. (he smiles a little) I feel so desperate, because if only I could—show you what I am, you might see I could have without losing. But I'm a stammering thing with you.

TOM: You do show me what you are.

CLAIRE: I've known a few moments that were life. Why don't they help me now? One was in the air. I was up with Harry—flying—high. It was about four months before David was born—the doctor was furious—pregnant women are supposed to keep to earth. We were going fast—I was flying—I had left the earth. And then—within me, movement, for the first time—stirred to life far in air—movement within. The man unborn, he too, would fly. And so—I always loved him. He was movement—and wonder. In his short life were many flights. I never told anyone about the last one. His little bed was by the window—he wasn't four years old. It was night, but him not asleep. He saw the morning star—you know—the morning star. Brighter—stranger—reminiscent—and a promise. He pointed—'Mother', he asked me, 'what is there—beyond the stars?' A baby, a sick baby—the morning star. Next night—the finger that pointed was—(suddenly bites her own finger) But, yes, I am glad. He would always have tried to move and too much would hold him. Wonder would die—and he'd laugh at soaring, (looking down, sidewise) Though I liked his voice. So I wish you'd stay near me—for I like your voice, too.

TOM: Claire! That's (choked) almost too much.

CLAIRE: (one of her swift glances—canny, almost practical) Well, I'm glad if it is. How can I make it more? (but what she sees brings its own change) I know what it is you're afraid of. It's because I have so much—yes, why shouldn't I say it?—passion. You feel that in me, don't you? You think it would swamp everything. But that isn't all there is to me.

TOM: Oh, I know it! My dearest—why, it's because I know it! You think I am—a fool?

CLAIRE: It's a thing that's—sometimes more than I am. And yet I—I am more than it is.

TOM: I know. I know about you.

CLAIRE: I don't know that you do. Perhaps if you really knew about me—you wouldn't go away.

TOM: You're making me suffer, Claire.

CLAIRE: I know I am. I want to. Why shouldn't you suffer? (now seeing it more clearly than she has ever seen it) You know what I think about you? You're afraid of suffering, and so you stop this side—in what you persuade yourself is suffering, (waits, then sends it straight) You know—how it is—with me and Dick? (as she sees him suffer) Oh, no, I don't want to hurt you! Let it be you! I'll teach you—you needn't scorn it. It's rather wonderful.

TOM: Stop that, Claire! That isn't you.

CLAIRE: Why are you so afraid—of letting me be low—if that is low? You see—(cannily) I believe in beauty. I have the faith that can be bad as well as good. And you know why I have the faith? Because sometimes—from my lowest moments—beauty has opened as the sea. From a cave I saw immensity.

My love, you're going away—
Let me tell you how it is with me;
I want to touch you—somehow touch you once before I die—
Let me tell you how it is with me.

I do not want to work,
I want to be;
Do not want to make a rose or make a poem—
Want to lie upon the earth and know. (closes her eyes)
Stop doing that!—words going into patterns;
They do it sometimes when I let come what's there.
Thoughts take pattern—then the pattern is the thing.
But let me tell you how it is with me. (it flows again)
All that I do or say—it is to what it comes from,
A drop lifted from the sea.
I want to lie upon the earth and know.
But—scratch a little dirt and make a flower;
Scratch a bit of brain—something like a poem. (covering her face)
Stop doing that. Help me stop doing that!

TOM: (and from the place where she had carried him)

Don't talk at all. Lie still and know—
And know that I am knowing.


Yes; but we are so weak we have to talk;
To talk—to touch.
Why can't I rest in knowing I would give my life to reach you?
That has—all there is.
But I must—put my timid hands upon you,
Do something about infinity.
Oh, let what will flow into us,
And fill us full—and leave us still.
Wring me dry,
And let me fill again with life more pure.
To know—to feel,
And do nothing with what I feel and know—
That's being good. That's nearer God.

(drenched in the feeling that has flowed through her—but surprised—helpless) Why, I said your thing, didn't I? Opened my life to bring you to me, and what came—is what sends you away.

TOM: No! What came is what holds us together. What came is what saves us from ever going apart. (brokenly) My beautiful one. You—you brave flower of all our knowing.

CLAIRE: I am not a flower. I am too torn. If you have anything—help me. Breathe, Breathe the healing oneness, and let me know in calm. (with a sob his head rests upon her)

CLAIRE: (her hands on his head, but looking far) Beauty—you pure one thing. Breathe—Let me know in calm. Then—trouble me, trouble me, for other moments—in farther calm. (slow, motionless, barely articulate)

TOM: (as she does not move he lifts his head. And even as he looks at her, she does not move, nor look at him) Claire—(his hand out to her, a little afraid) You went away from me then. You are away from me now.

CLAIRE: Yes, and I could go on. But I will come back, (it is hard to do. She brings much with her) That, too, I will give you—my by-myself-ness. That's the uttermost I can give. I never thought—to try to give it. But let us do it—the great sacrilege! Yes! (excited, she rises; she has his hands, and bring him up beside her) Let us take the mad chance! Perhaps it's the only way to save—what's there. How do we know? How can we know? Risk. Risk everything. From all that flows into us, let it rise! All that we never thought to use to make a moment—let it flow into what could be! Bring all into life between us—or send all down to death! Oh, do you know what I am doing? Risk, risk everything, why are you so afraid to lose? What holds you from me? Test all. Let it live or let it die. It is our chance—our chance to bear—what's there. My dear one—I will love you so. With all of me. I am not afraid now—of—all of me. Be generous. Be unafraid. Life is for life—though it cuts us from the farthest life. How can I make you know that's true? All that we're open to—(hesitates, shudders) But yes—I will, I will risk the life that waits. Perhaps only he who gives his loneliness—shall find. You never keep by holding, (gesture of giving) To the uttermost. And it is gone—or it is there. You do not know and—that makes the moment—(music has begun—a phonograph downstairs; they do not heed it) Just as I would cut my wrists—(holding them out) Yes, perhaps this lesser thing will tell it—would cut my wrists and let the blood flow out till all is gone if my last drop would make—would make—(looking at them fascinated) I want to see it doing that! Let me give my last chance for life to—

(He snatches her—they are on the brink of their moment; now that there are no words the phonograph from downstairs is louder. It is playing languorously the Barcarole; they become conscious of this—they do not want to be touched by the love song.)

CLAIRE: Don't listen. That's nothing. This isn't that, (fearing) I tell you—it isn't that. Yes, I know—that's amorous—enclosing. I know—a little place. This isn't that, (her arms going around him—all the lure of 'that' while she pleads against it as it comes up to them) We will come out—to radiance—in far places (admitting, using) Oh, then let it be that! Go with it. Give up—the otherness. I will! And in the giving up—perhaps a door—we'd never find by searching. And if it's no more—than all have known, I only say it's worth the allness! (her arms wrapped round him) My love—my love—let go your pride in loneliness and let me give you joy!

TOM: (drenched in her passion, but fighting) It's you. (in anguish) You rare thing untouched—not—not into this—not back into this—by me—lover of your apartness.

(She steps back. She sees he cannot. She stands there, before what she wanted more than life, and almost had, and lost. A long moment. Then she runs down the stairs.)

CLAIRE: (her voice coming up) Harry! Choke that phonograph! If you want to be lewd—do it yourselves! You tawdry things—you cheap little lewd cowards, (a door heard opening below) Harry! If you don't stop that music, I'll kill myself.

(far down, steps on stairs)

HARRY: Claire, what is this?

CLAIRE: Stop that phonograph or I'll—

HARRY: Why, of course I'll stop it. What—what is there to get so excited about? Now—now just a minute, dear. It'll take a minute.

(CLAIRE comes back upstairs, dragging steps, face ghastly. The amorous song still comes up, and louder now that doors are open. She and TOM do not look at one another. Then, on a languorous swell the music comes to a grating stop. They do not speak or move. Quick footsteps—HARRY comes up.)

HARRY: What in the world were you saying, Claire? Certainly you could have asked me more quietly to turn off the Victrola. Though what harm was it doing you—way up here? (a sharp little sound from CLAIRE; she checks it, her hand over her mouth. HARRY looks from her to TOM) Well, I think you two would better have had your dinner. Won't you come down now and have some?

CLAIRE: (only now taking her hand from her mouth) Harry, tell him to come up here—that insanity man. I—want to ask him something.

HARRY: 'Insanity man!' How absurd. He's a nerve specialist. There's a vast difference.

CLAIRE: Is there? Anyway, ask him to come up here. Want to—ask him something.

TOM: (speaking with difficulty) Wouldn't it be better for us to go down there?

CLAIRE: No. So nice up here! Everybody—up here!

HARRY: (worried) You'll—be yourself, will you, Claire? (She checks a laugh, nods.) I think he can help you.

CLAIRE: Want to ask him to—help me.

HARRY: (as he is starting down) He's here as a guest to-night, you know, Claire.

CLAIRE: I suppose a guest can—help one.

TOM: (when the silence rejects it) Claire, you must know, it's because it is so much, so—

CLAIRE: Be still. There isn't anything to say.

TOM: (torn—tortured) If it only weren't you!

CLAIRE: Yes,—so you said. If it weren't. I suppose I wouldn't be so—interested! (hears them starting up below—keeps looking at the place where they will appear)

(HARRY is heard to call, 'Coming, Dick?' and DICK's voice replies, 'In a moment or two.' ADELAIDE comes first.)

ADELAIDE: (as her head appears) Well, these stairs should keep down weight. You missed an awfully good dinner, Claire. And kept Mr Edgeworth from a good dinner.

CLAIRE: Yes. We missed our dinner. (her eyes do not leave the place where DR EMMONS will come up)

HARRY: (as he and EMMONS appear) Claire, this is—

CLAIRE: Yes, I know who he is. I want to ask you—

ADELAIDE: Let the poor man get his breath before you ask him anything. (he nods, smiles, looks at CLAIRE with interest. Careful not to look too long at her, surveys the tower)

EMMONS: Curious place.

ADELAIDE: Yes; it lacks form, doesn't it?

CLAIRE: What do you mean? How dare you?

(It is impossible to ignore her agitation; she is backed against the curved wall, as far as possible from them. HARRY looks at her in alarm, then in resentment at TOM, who takes a step nearer CLAIRE.)

HARRY: (trying to be light) Don't take it so hard, Claire.

CLAIRE: (to EMMONS) It must be very interesting—helping people go insane.

ADELAIDE: Claire! How preposterous.

EMMONS: (easily) I hope that's not precisely what we do.

ADELAIDE: (with the smile of one who is going to 'cover it'.) Trust Claire to put it in the unique and—amusing way.

CLAIRE: Amusing? You are amused? But it doesn't matter, (to the doctor) I think it is very kind of you—helping people go insane. I suppose they have all sorts of reasons for having to do it—reasons why they can't stay sane any longer. But tell me, how do they do it? It's not so easy to—get out. How do so many manage it?

EMMONS: I'd like immensely to have a talk with you about all this some day.

ADELAIDE: Certainly this is not the time, Claire.

CLAIRE: The time? When you—can't go any farther—isn't that that—

ADELAIDE: (capably taking the whole thing into matter-of-factness) What I think is, Claire has worked too long with plants. There's something—not quite sound about making one thing into another thing. What we need is unity. (from CLAIRE something like a moan) Yes, dear, we do need it. (to the doctor) I can't say that I believe in making life over like this. I don't think the new species are worth it. At least I don't believe in it for Claire. If one is an intense, sensitive person—

CLAIRE: Isn't there any way to stop her? Always—always smothering it with the word for it?

EMMONS: (soothingly) But she can't smother it. Anything that's really there—she can't hurt with words.

CLAIRE: (looking at him with eyes too bright) Then you don't see it either, (angry) Yes, she can hurt it! Piling it up—always piling it up—between us and—What there. Clogging the way—always, (to EMMONS) I want to cease to know! That's all I ask. Darken it. Darken it. If you came to help me, strike me blind!

EMMONS: You're really all tired out, aren't you? Oh, we've got to get you rested.

CLAIRE: They—deny it saying they have it; and he (half looks at TOM—quickly looks away)—others, deny it—afraid of losing it. We're in the way. Can't you see the dead stuff piled in the path? (Pointing.)

DICK: (voice coming up) Me too?

CLAIRE: (staring at the path, hearing his voice a moment after it has come) Yes, Dick—you too. Why not—you too. (after he has come up) What is there any more than you are?

DICK: (embarrassed by the intensity, but laughing) A question not at all displeasing to me. Who can answer it?

CLAIRE: (more and more excited) Yes! Who can answer it? (going to him, in terror) Let me go with you—and be with you—and know nothing else!

ADELAIDE: (gasping) Why—!

HARRY: Claire! This is going a little too—

CLAIRE: Far? But you have to go far to—(clinging to DICK) Only a place to hide your head—what else is there to hope for? I can't stay with them—piling it up! Always—piling it up! I can't get through to—he won't let me through to—what I don't know is there! (DICK would help her regain herself) Don't push me away! Don't—don't stand me up, I will go back—to the worst we ever were! Go back—and remember—what we've tried to forget!

ADELAIDE: It's time to stop this by force—if there's no other way. (the doctor shakes his head)

CLAIRE: All I ask is to die in the gutter with everyone spitting on me. (changes to a curious weary smiling quiet) Still, why should they bother to do that?

HARRY: (brokenly) You're sick, Claire. There's no denying it. (looks at EMMONS, who nods)

ADELAIDE: Something to quiet her—to stop it.

CLAIRE: (throwing her arms around DICK) You, Dick. Not them. Not—any of them.

DICK: Claire, you are overwrought. You must—

HARRY: (to DICK, as if only now realizing that phase of it) I'll tell you one thing, you'll answer to me for this! (he starts for DICK—is restrained by EMMONS, chiefly by his grave shake of the head. With HARRY's move to them, DICK has shielded CLAIRE)

CLAIRE: Yes—hold me. Keep me. You have mercy! You will have mercy. Anything—everything—that will let me be nothing!


Return to the The Verge Summary Return to the Susan Glaspell Library

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.