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Lyman Felt asleep in a hospital bed.
Nurse Logan is reading a magazine in a chair a few feet away. She is black. He is deeply asleep, snoring now and then.
LYMAN, his eyes still shut: Thank you, thank you all very much. Please be seated. Nurse turns, looks toward him. We have a lot of ... not material ... yes, material ... to cover this afternoon, so please take your seats and cross your ... Nono ... Laughs weakly.... Not cross your legs, just take your seats....
NURSE: That was a lot of surgery, Mr. Felt. You're supposed to be resting ... Or you out?
LYMAN, for a moment he sleeps, snores, then ...: Today I would like you to consider life insurance from a different perspective. I want you to look at the whole economic system as one enormous tit. Nurse chuckles quietly. So the job of the individual is to get a good place in line for a suck. She laughs louder. Which gives us the word "suckcess." Or ... or not.
NURSE: You know, you better settle down after all that surgery.
LYMAN, opens his eyes: You black?
NURSE: That's what they keep telling me.
LYMAN: Good for you. I've got the biggest training program of any company for you guys. And the first one that ever put them in sales. There's no election now, is there? Eisenhower or something?
NURSE: It's December. And he's been dead since I don't know when.
LYMAN: Eisenhower dead? Peers in confusion. Oh, right, right! ... Why can't I move, do you mind?
NURSE, returns to her chair: You're all in acast, you broke a lot of bones.
NURSE: You. You smashed your car. They say you went skiing down that Mount Morgan in a Porsche.
She chuckles. He squints, trying to orient himself.
LYMAN! Where ... where ... I'm where?
NURSE: Clearhaven Memorial Hospital.
LYMAN: That Earl Hines?
LYMAN: That piano. Sounds like Earl Hines. Sings an Earl Hines tune. Laughs appreciatively. Listen to that, will you? That beautiful? Jimmy Baldwin ... long, long ago when I was still a writer ... used to say, "Lyman, you're a nigger underneath." Chuckles; it fades. Now with some anxiety.... Where?
NURSE: Clearhaven Memorial Hospital.
LYMAN, it is slowly penetrating: Clearhaven?
NURSE: Your wife and daughter just arrived up from New York. They're out in the visitors' room.
LYMAN, canniness attempt, but still confused: ... From New York? Why? Who called them?
NURSE: What do you mean? Why not?
LYMAN: And where is this?
NURSE: Clearhaven.I'm from Canada myself, I only just started here. We've still got railroads in Canada.
LYMAN, a moment of silent confusion: Listen. I'm not feeling well ... why are we talking about Canadian railroads?
NURSE: No, I just mentioned it, as there is a storm.
LYMAN: Now what ... what ... what was that about my wife ... New York?
NURSE: She's here in the waiting room ...
LYMAN: Here in the waiting ...
NURSE: ... And your daughter.
LYMAN, tension rising with clearing of mind; he looks at his hands, turns them over: ... Would you mind?Just ... touch me? She touches his face; he angers with the fully dawning fact. Who the hell called them, for God's sake? Why didn't somebody ask me?
NURSE: I'm new here! I'm sorry if I'm not satisfactory.
LYMAN, high anxiety: Who said you're not satisfactory? What is this ... endless ... verbiage?not verbiage, for Christ's sake, I meant ... Panting. Listen, I absolutely can't see anyone and they have to go back to New York right away.
NURSE: But as long as you're awake ...
LYMAN: Immediately! Goget them out of here! A jab of pain. Ow!Please, quickly, go!Wait!There's no ... like another ... you know, woman out there?
NURSE: Not while I was out there.
LYMAN: Please ... quickly, huh? I can't see anybody. Bewildered, Nurse exits. Oh, poor Theohere! My God, what have I done! How could I have gone out on that road in a storm! Terrified of self-betrayal. Have you lost your fucking mind?! Frozen in anguish, he stares straight ahead as music is heard. His mood changes as he is caught by his catastrophic vision. Oh, dear God, this mustn't happen.
His wife, Theo, and daughter, Bessie, are discovered seated on a waiting room settee. A burst of weeping from Bessie. He is not looking directly at them but imagining them.
Oh, Bessie, my poor Bessie! Covers his eyes, as Bessie weeps. No-no-no, it mustn't happen!think of something else!
His vision is forcing him out of the bed in his hospital gown. Music fades out.
THEO, touching Bessie's hand: Darling, try not to.
BESSIE: I can't help it.
THEO: Of course you can. Be brave now, dear.
LYMAN, moving into the range of the women: Oh yes! My Theo! That's exactly what she'd say! What a woman!
THEO: Try to think of all the happiness; think of his laughter; Daddy loves life, he'll fight for it.
BESSIE: ... I guess I've just never had anything really bad happen.
LYMAN, a few feet away: Oh, my dear child ...!
THEO: But you'll see as you get oldereverything ultimately fits together ... and for the good.
LYMAN, staring front: Oh yes ... good old Episcopal Theo!
THEO: Now come, Bessie.Remember what a wonderful time we had in Africa? Think of Africa.
BESSIE: What an amazing woman you are, Mother.
Nurse Logan enters.
NURSE: It'll still be a while before he can see anybody. Would you like me to call a motel? It's ski season, but my husband can probably get you in, he plows their driveway.
BESSIE: Do you know if he's out of danger?
NURSE: I'm sure the doctors will let you know. Obviously changing the subject. I can't believe you made it up from New York in this sleet.
THEO: One does what one has to. Actually ... would you mind calling the motel? It was a terrible drive ...
NURSE: Sometimes I feel like going back to Canadaat least we had a railroad.
THEO: We'll have them again; things take time in this country but in the end we get them done.
NURSE: Don't hesitate if you want more tea.
THEO, turns to Bessie, smiling painfully: Why'd you start to laugh?
BESSIE, touching Theo's hand: It's nothing ...
THEO: Well, what is it?
BESSIE: Well ... I mean things really don't always get done in this country.
THEO, disengaging her hand; she is hurt: I think they do, ultimately. I've lived through changes that were inconceivable thirty years ago. Straining to laugh. Really, dear, I'm not that naive.
BESSIE, angering: Well, don't be upset!They certainly are very nice people around here, aren't they?
THEO, managing to pull her mood together: I'm sorry you never knew small town lifethere is a goodness.
BESSIE: I'm wondering if we should call Grandma Esther.
THEO, dutifully: If you like. Slight pause. Bessie is still. She gets so impressively emotional, that's all. But call ... she is his mother.
BESSIE: I know she's a superficial woman, but I can't help it, I ...
THEO: But you should like her, she adores you; she simply never liked me and I've always known it, that's all. She looks away.
BESSIE: I mean she can be awfully funny sometimes. And she is warm.
THEO: Warm? Yes, I supposeprovided it doesn't commit her to anything or anyone. I've never hidden it, dearI think she's the center of his psychological problem ...
THEO: ... But I suppose I'm prejudiced,
Lyman laughs silently with a head shake of joyful recognition.
I used to think it was because he didn't marry Jewish, but ...
BESSIE: But she didn't either.
THEO: Darling, she'd have disliked any woman he married ... except an heiress or a sexpot. But go ahead, I do think you should call her. Bessie stands. And give her my love, will you?
Lyman issues a cackling laugh of appreciation of her nature.
Leah enters. She is in her thirties; in an open raccoon coat, high heels. Nurse enters with her.
LYMAN, on the instant she enters, claps his hands over his eyes: No, she mustn't! It can't happen! She mustn't! Unable to bear it, he starts to flee, but stops as ...
LEAH: After all the money we've put into this hospital it seems to me I ought to be able to speak to the chief nurse, for Christ's sake!
NURSE: I'm doing my best to get her for you ...!
LEAH: Well hurry, will you? Nurse starts to exit. I'm only asking for a little information, dear!
Nurse exits. Pause.
LYMAN, imploring himself, his eyes clamped shut: Think of something else. Let's see nowthe new Mercedes convertible ... that actress, what's her name ...? But he fails to escape; and scared, slowly turns his head toward ...
Leah, who sits, but quickly stands again and moves restlessly. Theo and Bessie observe her indirectly, with polite curiosity. Now their eyes meet. Leah throws up her hands.
LEAH: The same thing when I had my baby here, it was like pulling teeth to get them to tell me if it was a boy or a girl.
BESSIE: Is it an emergency?
LEAH: Yes, my husband; he cracked up the car on Mount Morgan. You?
BESSIE: My father. It was a car, too.
LYMAN, eyes heavenward, hands clasped: Oh please, please!
THEO: The roads are impossible.
LEAH: I can't imagine what got into him, driving down Mount Morgan on ice ... and at night yet! It's incomprehensible! A sudden explosion. Damn them, I have a right to know what's happening! She charges out.
BESSIE: Poor thing.
THEO: But she knows how busy they are ...
Silence now; Theo leans back, closing her eyes. Another sobbing fit threatens Bessie, who downs it, covers her eyes. Then suddenly she breaks down and weeps.
Oh Bessie, dear, try not to.
BESSIE, shaking her head helplessly: ... I just love him so!
Leah returns, more subdued now. She sits tiredly, closes her eyes. Pause. She gets up, goes to a window, looks out.
LEAH: Now the moon comes out!everybody smashes up in the dark and now you could read a paper out there.
BESSIE: You live around here?
LEAH: Not far. We're out near the lake.
BESSIE: It looks like beautiful country.
LEAH: Oh, it is. But I'll take New York anytime. A great sob suddenly bursts from her; she chokes it back. I'm sorry. But she weeps again, helplessly into her handkerchief. Bessie is affected and begins weeping, too.
THEO: Now really ...! Shakes Bessie's arm. Stop this! She sees Leah's indignant look. You still don't know how serious it is, why do you carry on like this?
LEAH, rather unwillingly: You're probably right.
THEO, exultingto Bessie as well: Of course! I mean there's always time to despair, why should ...?
LEAH, sharply: I said you were right, I was agreeing with you! Theo turns away stiffly. I'm sorry.
Now the women go motionless.
LYMAN, marveling: What strong, admirable women they are! What definite characters! Thank God I'm only imagining this to torture myself ... But it's enough! Starts resolutely toward the bed, but caught by his vision, halts. Now what would they say next?
The women reanimate.
BESSIE: You raise things on your place?
LEAH: We grow most of what we eat. And we're starting to raise a few thoroughbreds now, in a small way.
BESSIE: Oh, I'd love that ...
LEAH: I envy your composureboth of you. Really, you make me feel better. What part of New York are you in?
BESSIE: East Seventy-fourth Street.
LYMAN: Oh no! No no!
LEAH: Really! We often stay at the Carlyle ...
BESSIE: Oh, it's practically around the corner.
THEO: You sound like a New Yorker.
LEAH: I went to NYU School of Business for three years; I loved it but I was raised up here in Elmira ... and my business is here, so ...
THEO: What sort of business do you have?
BESSIE: That's what Daddy does!
LYMAN, knocking his knuckles against his head: No-no-no-no-no!
LEAH: Well, there's a million of us. You in it too?
BESSIE: No, I'm at home ... take care of my husband.
LEAH: I'm hoping to sell out in a couple of years, get a place in Manhattan somewhere, and just paint morning to night the rest of my life.
BESSIE: Really! My husband's a painter.
LEAH: Professionally, or ...?
BESSIE: Oh yes. He's Harold Lamb.
Lyman rushes over to the bed and pulls the covers over his head.
LEAH: Harold Lamb?
Leah ceases all movement, staring at Bessie. She turns to stare at Theo.
THEO: What is it?
LEAH: Your husband is really Harold Lamb?
BESSIE, very pleased and proud: You've heard of him?
LEAH: You're not Mrs. Felt, are you?
THEO: Why yes.
LEAH, her puzzled look: Then you ... Breaks off, then ... You're not here for Lyman, are you?
BESSIE: You know Daddy?
LEAH: But ... Turning from one to the other ... how'd they come to notify you?
LYMAN, sits up in bed and raises a devout, monitory hand to heaven, whispering loudly: Stop it, stop it, stop it ...!
THEO, uncomprehending, but beginning to take affront: Why shouldn't they notify me?
LEAH: Well ... after so many years.
THEO: What do you mean?
LEAH: But it's over nine ...
THEO: What is?
LEAH: Your divorce.
Theo and Bessie are struck dumb. A silence.
You're Theodora Felt, right?
THEO: Who are you?
LEAH: I'm Leah. Leah Felt.
THEO, a haughtiness begins: Felt!
LEAH: Lyman is my husband.
THEO: Who are you? What are you talking about!
BESSIE, intensely curious about Leah, she angers at Theo: Well don't get angry, for heaven's sake!
THEO: Be quiet!
LEAH, seeing Theo's genuineness: Well, you're divorced, aren't you?
THEO: Divorced!who the hell are you!
LEAH: I'm Lyman's wife. Theo sees she is a serious woman; it silences her.
BESSIE: When ... when did you ...? I mean ...
THEO, in motion again: She's insane!she's some kind of a nut!
LEAH, to Bessie: It was nine years this past July.
THEO: Really. And who performed this ... this event?
LEAH: The Reno City Hall clerk, later a rabbi here in Elmira. My son's name is Benjamin, for Lyman's father, and Alexander for his great-grandmotherBenjamin Alexander Felt.
THEO, with a weak attempt to sustain mockery: Really!
LEAH: Yes, I'm terribly sorry if you didn't know.
THEO: Didn't know what? What are you talking about?
LEAH: We have been married a little over nine years, Mrs. Felt.
THEO: Have you? And I suppose you have some document ...?
LEAH: I have our marriage certificate, I guess ...
THEO: You guess!
LEAH, angrily: Well I'm sure I do! And I know I have Lyman's will in our safe deposit box ...
THEO, helplessly mocking: And it names you as his wife!
LEAH: And Benjamin as his son. Theo is halted by her factuality.... But I guess you have more or less the same ... is that right? Theo is still as a stone. There really was no divorce?
BESSIE, with a glance at her stricken mother ... softly, almost apologetically: ... No.
LEAH: Well, I guess we'd better ... meet, or something. And talk. Theo is staring into space. Mrs. Felt? I understand your feelings, but you'll just have to believe it, I guesswe have a terrible problem. Mrs. Felt?
THEO: It's impossible, nine years ago ... To Bessie: That's when we all went to Africa.
BESSIE: Oh, right!the safari!
THEO, to Leah, with a victorious, if nearly demented laugh: We were never closer in our lives! We traveled through Kenya, Nigeria ... As though this clinched everything.... we even flew to Egypt!
Nurse enters. It instantly galvanizes all of them. She glances from one to the other.
NURSE: Doctor Lowry would like to see Mrs. Felt now.
For one instant no one movesthen both Theo and Leah rise simultaneously. This actualization of Leah's claim stiffens Theo, forcing her to start assertively toward the Nurseand she sways and starts to fall to the floor.
LEAH: Catch her!
Nurse and Bessie catch Theo, then lower her to the floor.
LEAH, over her shoulder: Help here, someone's fainted! Where the hell is a doctor, goddammit! To the air: Is there a doctor in this fucking hospital?!
OUR SECRET CONSTITUTION OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy
By GEORGE P. FLETCHER
Copyright © 2001 George P. Fletcher. All rights reserved.