Our Mother Who Art on Earth by Ana Istarú

Our Mother Who Art on Earth

By Ana Istarú

Translated from the Spanish,

Madre nuestra que estás en la tierra,”

with permission,

by Linda Ledford-Miller

 

SETTING

The living room and dining room of a house with quality furnishings now out of date. Over the period of the play the gradual decay of the house and its furnishings is evident. Doors toward kitchen and bedrooms, but rooms are not seen. Occasional music.

TIME

At Christmas time, at three five year intervals.

SYNOPSIS

A play in three acts. On Christmas Eve, three generations of women gather to prepare the festivities. Also present is the great Grandmother Eva, who is seen by the audience but not by her descendents. Amelia is a docile grandmother who obeyed all her husband’s wishes, ignoring her own desires. Dora is a domineering mother to her daughter Julia. A widow whose husband died young and unexpectedly, leaving the family without economic resources, her only desire for her daughter is marriage so that Julia will have the financial stability she herself lacks. The tension between Dora and Julia deepens as Julia grows up. In Act One, she is only fourteen, and a compliant daughter. In Act Two she is a somewhat rebellious twenty year old, but the ameliorating presence of her grandmother Amelia softens the tension between mother and daughter. By Act Three Amelia has died, taken off stage by her own mother Eva, and Julia is non-compliant but also deeply unhappy. In this stifling context, Eva, a spirited woman who resisted the conformity imposed upon her and managed an independence atypical for her time, presents the possibility of a more satisfying and satisfactory life. The play ends with a kind of reconciliation between Dora and Julia, and hope for Julia’s future.

PRODUCTION HISTORY, etc

The play has been produced in Spanish many times. It is published in the anthology, Dramaturgas latinoamericanas contemporáneas (Editorial Verbum, 2nd edition 1991, editors Elba Andrade and Hilde R. Cramsie).

The translated play premiered at the University of Scranton, Scranton, Pennsylvania, in December 2007. The translation was also used for supratitles for a performance in Spanish at the Teatro de las Américas in Oxnard, California, in January 2008.

Ana Istarú is a poet, playwright, and actress who lives in San José Costa Rica, where she won the Costa Rican equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for literature. As a Latin American woman who is also a feminist, her play deals with “the human cost of enforcing rigid social roles.” She has also been recognized with two international awards in Spain: in 1995, the María Teresa León from Directors’ Association of Madrid; and the Machado Brothers’ Theater award from the city of Seville. Her plays have been staged in Costa Rica, Spain, Mexico, and the United States (in English and Spanish). Her play has received critical attention as well, in “Questioning Motherhood,” in Latin American Women In/On Stages (Margot Milleret, Suny Press, 2004), pp. 85-152.

Cast of Characters

EVA–spirit of the great grandmother, 30 years old, dressed in the style of 1910

AMELIA ––grandmother, 65 years old at the beginning of the play

DORA ––mother, around 40

JULIA –– daughter, adolescent of 14 in the first act

The action develops in the dining room of the family home, with traces of traditional architecture of San José, Costa Rica; stucco walls, high ceiling, and arch divisions. It could be located in the Aranjuez neighborhood, or some areas of San Pedro or Sabanilla. There is a hint that at one time of was a house of a certain class that has deteriorated over time, a deterioration that will be more visible over the course of the play.

The furnishings are also out of style, with the prettiest ones a lovely wooden umbrella stand with a mirror and a grand armoire from the days of the grandmothers.

The public is to the left and the right. A sideboard dominates the back of the scene, with two candelabra, a lamp and some decorations on it. To the extreme right, the door to the kitchen. To the left, next to the sideboard, the door to the street, which when open gives on to threshold of the house, a wall, or bushes in the background. On the extreme left, access to the bedrooms, indicated by a small division that goes half way up the wall and ends in an arch. In the angle created by the archway, a Christmas tree almost completely decorated and with colored lights.

In the center of the room, a little to the left, a small sofa, an old rocking chair and a coffee table covered with decorations and doilies. On the left-hand wall, next to the Christmas tree, the umbrella stand, and almost next to the entrance. a window with a small piece of furniture beneath it, with a rather modest record player on it. A small chair, for a child, next to it.

In the center right, a round table with four chairs. On the right-hand wall, the armoire, and to the side near the public, a small table near the hallway/entrance. The house is decorated for Christmas.

The First Act takes place during the preparations for the Christmas Eve celebration.

The Second Act takes place five years later, the same date, approximately at dinnertime.

The Third act occurs five years later, in the early morning hours of December 25th.

First Act

(AMELIA –, in a house dress, with apron and slippers on, is seated at the table. She chops stalks of celery while taking sips of coffee from time to time. On the table are an assortment of bottles and cans of olives, pimentos, capers, some greens, a cleaning cloth, along with a box of ornaments for the Christmas tree.)

AMELIA

(Singing)

“For you I lost my faith

For you I lost the glory

For you I am left

Without God, without glory, and without you.”

JULIA

(Entering from the kitchen. Dressed someone childishly and rather plain.)

The chickens are burning! Should I take them out of the oven? Shall I turn off the oven?

(She doesn’t wait for an answer and returns to the kitchen.)

AMELIA

I’m coming.

(She exits. Some noise from the kitchen, trays falling, the oven door closing. They return to the living room together.)

It’s nothing. A little brown. Even tastier.

JULIA

— Mom is going to be furious. She’ll say it’s dry.

AMELIA

(Returning to her task.)

Well, tell her they got tanned.

JULIA

Tanned nothing. They look dead from over-exposure.

(She takes some shiny Christmas balls and hangs them on the tree.)

She’s going to get mad and today I need her to be in a good mood.

AMELIA

Oh yes? Why?

JULIA

I’m going to ask her for something.

AMELIA

About the trip to the beach?

JULIA

No! That’s nothing. It’s something very important.

AMELIA

And what could that be?

JULIA

It’s something I’ve wanted for months, but I’m afraid to mention it.

AMELIA

Not even to me?

JULIA

And if I tell you and it brings bad luck and then doesn’t turn out?

AMELIA

Tsst. What foolishness.

JULIA

Every since I got up today I’ve felt tense.

(She touches her throat.)

Maybe she’ll let me have it because it’s Christmas, right?

AMELIA

With Dorita you never know, but tell me and maybe between the two of us . . .

JULIA

If she says no, she’s going to ruin my Christmas Eve.

AMELIA

What has you so upset? At my age you understand that it’s not worth it to want something too much. It was the first thing I learned when I got married. I used to love to go to the movies, well, that’s all there was then. But Nacho–may your grandpa rest in peace, but what a character; he thought going to the movies was a waste of time and money. Of course, he always fell asleep. But for me, those films thrilled me. And they weren’t like they are now, with talking. No way. There were some musicians who played and depending on if the theater was prestigious, they added or subtracted an old man to play flutes.

JULIA

(Swiping raisins or olives from the table, while taking some more ornaments)

You used to like going to the movies?

AMELIA

Mama got us used to it. Movies fascinated her. Mama was special! She was a well-traveled woman. Of course, before the coffee crash the family was very powerful. All my uncles went to Europe to study, and that’s no story.

JULIA

And Grandma Eva too?

AMELIA

Oh, no. The uncles of course. Mama no. Besides women didn’t use to study. They wouldn’t send a señorita alone. And in Europe everything was so beautiful, lots of beautiful buildings, lots of opera, beautifully dressed people, but it also had its dangers. There were anarchists, dissipated people and women of bad habits, you can’t imagine.

JULIA

And how did Grandma Eva manage to travel then?

AMELIA

As a married woman. Ay, how she loved the cinema. So much so that Sundays she would go to the four o’clock show at the America Theater and sometimes she wouldn’t go to mass. But she said that mass was better celebrated by going to see a film, that such a grand invention was the best proof of God on earth and she wasn’t going to waste her time listening to Father Astúa talking nonsense and embellishing the whole sermon because of some famous stained glass windows he had brought from Italy. Well, the Father heard about it and got her between the eyes. To no end––mama started saying what she could do to a priest who just by the look of him was a mama’s boy who pees sitting down.

JULIA

And then? They didn’t excommunicate her?

AMELIA

Well, very nearly. And on top of it all she started reading a hairy guy by the name of Krishnamurti, and going to the talks of the Theosophical Society, or to the sessions of the Masons. In those days it wasn’t very acceptable.

(Pause)

Isn’t it time to put the water on to boil for the tamales?

JULIA

No, there’s plenty of time.

AMELIA

Talking about the cinema–since Nacho wouldn’t let me go out, I suffered a lot and wanted and wanted to go to the movies. And I said, oh, Virgin Mary, take these desires away from me, take away these thoughts. Then I made a vow and prayed the nine Tuesdays of St Anthony and heavenly remedy––I never thought again.

JULIA

I don’t think I can stop wanting something by praying. The other morning I prayed and prayed that I wouldn’t want to linger in bed, but I still got to school late.

AMELIA

Aren’t you going to tell me what you want?

JULIA

Okay, but don’t say anything. Vivian is going to take cello lessons and I want to learn too.

AMELIA

What’s that?

JULIA

Violoncello. Like a big violin that you stand up to play.

AMELIA

And why in the devil would you want to learn that?

JULIA

It’s beautiful, a very sweet sound. And Vivian is the best of the class and knows a lot and she showed me the record of cello music she has. And besides, she’s my best friend.

AMELIA

And is it expensive? (JULIA — stays quiet.) Because that’s where it hurts Dorita. How much does it cost?

JULIA

They give me the instrument. But the professor has to be paid.

AMELIA

Who knows.

(The doorbell rings. AMELIA straightens up expectantly, while JULIA observes her. JULIA opens the door. Enter DORA –, carrying packages, and her hair full of confetti. She is carefully and severely dressed and has the appearance of a woman of a higher class.)

DORA

Hi, my daughter. Sorry, but I couldn’t reach my key.

(They kiss.)

JULIA

Hi, mama.

(DORA plops down on the sofa without letting go of her packages.)

DORA

Ay, my feet. San José Street is crazy. They almost grabbed my wallet. And it’s easier to shoot yourself than get a taxi.

AMELIA

So, are little Gutierrez and his wife coming to dinner?

DORA

Oh yes, don’t even mention it. I’m going to check on how the dinner’s coming along.

(She disappears through the kitchen door.)

JULIA

(After a pause)

You thought it was him, didn’t you?

AMELIA

Yes. I always think he’ll come, or call, at this time of year.

JULIA

I wonder where he is now?

AMELIA

Far away. But let’s not talk about him. A son is a son.

JULIA

Why did he leave?

AMELIA

Your grandfather was a very hard man–a good father, but very hard. He demanded a lot of him. In short–men are gone with the wind. Only little women are really yours.

JULIA

Perhaps he believes you haven’t forgiven him.

AMELIA

I’ll always forgive him.

JULIA

And wouldn’t you like to find him? To see him again?

AMELIA

(Shaking her head)

I already prayed the nine Tuesdays of St. Anthony.

JULIA

(After a pause, turning on the Christmas tree lights)

How does it look?

AMELIA

It’s a beauty. It really turned out pretty.

JULIA

What I like about Christmas is the scent of cypress.

(They both contemplate the tree. DORA comes out of the kitchen, with fewer packages, and goes immediately through the door that goes toward the bedroom)

JULIA

I remember when we went to Monte de la Cruz with papa, we ate in the field and then he cut a tree and we put it in the car. I felt so proud as we drove down the street.

DORA

(Entering with a calculator, a notebook and some bills. She has her glasses on. She sits on the sofa, concentrating on her accounts.)

We’re going to have to raise the rent in January. With the pension Francisco left us we would die of starvation.

AMELIA

But the gutters of the little house would have to be fixed. The tenant complains a lot.

DORA

Oh no. Forget it. Everything costs twice as much as last year. Let him try to find a house like that for that price.

AMELIA

JULIA finished decorating the tree.

DORA

(Seeing it for the first time)

Lovely, my daughter. It turned out lovely.

AMELIA

Really?

JULIA

Thanks.

DORA

How did the sewing go this month?

AMELIA

In December there are always lots of orders. Yesterday they finally paid me for the two petticoats and they turned out so well that I’m sure they’ll order another in January.

DORA

(Calculating)

Good.

(Looking around)

We have to rinse the dishes, they’re full of dust.

(To JULIA, who has been standing idly)

JULIA, why don’t you help your grandmother?

JULIA

Okay mama.

(She sits at the table and begins to peel potatoes. AMELIA finishes with the celery and stands up.)

AMELIA

Okay, then I’ll go to the kitchen. Where is the platter for the cake?

JULIA

In the cupboard on the right.

(AMELIA takes the plate out of the cupboard and goes to the kitchen.)

DORA

The tablecloth has to be stretched out and touched up with the iron.

JULIA

Yes mama.

DORA

And have things on a tray.

(Raising her voice)

Mama, in the end is Aunt Inesita coming?

AMELIA

(From the kitchen)

She called to say that she still doesn’t feel well, so she’s going to stay home.

DORA

(To herself)

Better yet. The truth is that she only criticizes everything. But the Gutiérrezes are coming and I want everything in its place.

(She gets up. She moves the rocking chair a little, to see the effect it produces in the room. Se moves it back. She changes its location, while talking. To JULIA.)

Then take out the linen napkins for me, the white ones, not the cream, because they have two stains on them. And look for the little silver spoons for the salt cellars.

JULIA

There’s only one left. The other disappeared.

DORA

What a disaster, I had forgotten. Let’s not put salt on then.

(She checks her watch.)

Good heavens, it’s late.

(Coming toward the table).

And the salad isn’t even started yet.

JULIA

I’m going.

(She hurries.)

DORA

(Changing around the doilies and small figurines on the table in front of the sofa, in all possible combinations, then changing them again.)

Christmas always makes me nervous.

JULIA

It makes everybody nervous I imagine.

DORA

What are you going to wear for dinner?

JULIA

I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.

DORA

You’re so odd. You’re almost fifteen and you dress like you just got released from reform school. And they say that this is the age of vanity.

JULIA

Shall I wear the good dress?

DORA

No, wear the last one your grandmother made for you.

JULIA

(Reluctantly)

That one?

DORA

Half the metropolitan area has already seen you in the other one. Where did you put the wrapping paper?

JULIA

On my shelf. Shall I bring it to you?

DORA

And the things I bought.

(JULIA leaves. DORA takes a cleaning cloth that’s on the table and dusts the record player and every possible surface in the room that can be dusted. JULIA returns and puts the things on the table.)

Thanks.

JULIA

(Returning to her task)

I tidied up the room and I brushed your gray shoes.

DORA

Oh yes. Thanks a million my dear.

(She sighs)

Another year gone by.

(Seeing herself in the mirror of the umbrella stand.)

Another year on top of me.

JULIA

Mama, you look real good.

(DORA laughs, incredulous.)

Did I tell you that Marita and Vivian and some other school friends are going to the beach over the holidays?

DORA

Oh ,yes?

JULIA

They’re going with Marita’s parents, some to their house and the others in a tent. It’s very safe. They’re going well supervised. And it doesn’t cost them anything because they’re going to take their food and the parents are buying the gasoline.

DORA

Marita’s parents? With that old guy Vargas? With that satyr and they’re going to be safe?

JULIA

Mama!

DORA

That degenerate who has two mistresses?

JULIA

You’re not going to believe Aunt Inesita!

DORA

Don’t even dream that I’ll let you go. That’s all I need. Locking that hawk up with a farmyard full of chicks.

JULIA

Mama, I . . .

DORA

And he’d be happy, with a bunch of pimply girls served up on a platter.

JULIA

Mama, how could you think that I . . .

DORA

You don’t know your head from a hole in the ground.

JULIA

Yes mama.

DORA

(Upset with herself)

If it were with someone else, but with that vicious old man …

(She pauses. She sits at the table and from the package takes out a pair of slippers similar to the ones AMELIA is wearing. She starts to wrap them in wrapping paper.)

That’s that.

(Silence. She looks sideways at her daughter.)

I’ve been thinking about what would be best for your fifteenth birthday. I would like to find a decent place for the party. The house is too small. It could be in a club, but they’re so expensive. Or in a tea salon.

JULIA

I don’t mind having it at home.

DORA

Mama can make you a something out of Vogue, something real attractive in a pastel color.

JULIA

Of course.

DORA

I saw some divine paper maché flowers, like for the tables.

JULIA

How nice.

DORA

And I’m thinking about writing the name of the guests on place cards with spangles.

JULIA

That’s a lot of work, mama.

DORA

So what? You only turn fifteen once. We could invite your little girlfriends and their mamas. But maybe not, a dance might be better. That’s it, so they bring their brothers.

JULIA

Wouldn’t that be really expensive?

DORA

I’ll take care of it.

(Examining her)

And you’ll have to dress up like a young lady. You look like a kid. JULIA, stand up straight.

(She does)

You’re becoming a hunchback. Nobody is going to ask you to dance. But yes, a decent dance, not like these days when they press so tight together it’s as if they were strangling each other. (JULIA half laughs)

I’ll take you to the hair salon so they can style your hair and make you like new.

JULIA

Oh, not that! The last time they made me look fifty years old!

DORA

Don’t contradict me. You’ve done nothing more than reject everything I’ve proposed!

(AMELIA, hearing the noise, peeks out the door of the kitchen.)

Do you have any idea how much this party is going to cost me and how much I sacrifice for your happiness? But no, the little lady doesn’t like how they style her hair. You’re just furious because I won’t let you go to the beach so that that pestilent pig can violate you.

AMELIA

Dorita, today is…

DORA

(In the same tone) Mama, is that consomé ready?

(AMELIA withdraws. DORA continues, enraged) And of course, because I can’t pay for nice vacations at the beach and we have to stay planted here, while everyone else is sunbathing belly up, you want to shove it in my face. Because, what are you thinking? That I would like to pay for a hotel or have a little house on the sea where I could relax my bones once in a while? I’ve had it up to here with your lack of consideration!

(She sobs, frightened).

You see what you’ve done? I’m dizzy.

JULIA

I’ll get your pills.

DORA

(Breathing with difficulty)

In the little cupboard in the middle.

(JULIA goes to the kitchen. DORA pouts. JULIA returns with a glass of water and the pills. AMELIA comes with her.)

DORA

Someday I’m going to have a stroke.

(She takes the medicine)

AMELIA

You get so heated, my daughter. You can’t play with high blood pressure.

(JULIA touches her mother’s forehead.)

JULIA

You’re sweating.

(AMELIA and JULIA observe DORA in silence.)

DORA

I’m sorry.

(She pauses)

I already said I was sorry. Stop looking at me as if I were Cruella De Vil.

JULIA

It’s over. It’s not important.

DORA

It’s this damned Christmas.

AMELIA

Dorita!

DORA

It attacks my nerves.

(She arranges the collar of JULIA’s blouse as a gesture of affection.)

You know that all I want is to give you a good future, studies, a husband as God commands. I don’t want you to have to go through what I’ve gone through.

JULIA

We’re not so bad off.

AMELIA

There’s no cause to offend God.

DORA

I don’t want JULIA to have to calculate how long a box of detergent will last. I know what it is to end up as nothing more than the widow of an insurance agent.

(All three are pensive)

AMELIA

By the way, the gardener told me that you offered him Francisco’s jacket.

DORA

(Shrugging her shoulders) It’s Christmas. He asked me for some clothes. What good will the jacket do us?

(She gets up and takes it out of the closet. She looks at it.)

It’s still in good shape.

(She smells it. She leaves it on the sofa with disappointment.)

I’ll leave it there. He’ll be by for it any time.

AMELIA

That why Christmas is so difficult. If someone’s missing, it’s more noticeable.

JULIA

How big papa was.

DORA

Not so big; you were very small.

JULIA

It’s so strange to think that someday I’ll be older than he was, an old woman, and he will always be young and strong.

DORA

That’s how things are. But we have to move on.

AMELIA

(To JULIA)

Sweetheart, I still have to hem your dress. Would you put it on?

JULIA

Okay.

(To DORA)

The potatoes are ready.

(She exits)

DORA

(Looking at the clock)

Time’s running out. I’d better make the appetizers.

(She begins to gather some of the food from the table and take it to the kitchen. She puts the package of gifts on a chair.)

AMELIA

(Lost in thought, sitting on the sofa.)

That’s how things are. Men leave and they’re gone. They go out go buy cigarettes and never come back. They leave on a ship, or in a coffin. But they always manage to leave. They look at us fixed in photographs, and we know that they existed because they left behind a tie, or shaving cologne.

(She touches the jacket)

The surname.

(JULIA returns with the dress on, which is rather pretentious and a bit loose on her. She also has a pin cushion in her hand. DORA has seated herself at the table and is spreading some crackers with something creamy.)

DORA

Mama, you’re talking to yourself.

AMELIA

Pardon me.

(To JULIA)

Climb up on the sofa.

(JULIA does. AMELIA kneels down and begins to pin the hem which she will later baste.)

DORA

It looks good on you.

AMELIA

She looks a lot like my mama, dressed like that.

JULIA

What was grandmama Eva like?

DORA

Completely bonkers.

AMELIA

Good heavens Dorita! Poor mama.

JULIA

Was she pretty?

AMELIA

She was very elegant. A real lady. Of course sometimes she liked to annoy people.

DORA

She put a ton of baking soda in the toilets and when people urinated in the dark a bunch of foam rose up and the old ladies shouted, I’m dying, I’m dying! I’ve been poisoned!

(JULIA laughs)

AMELIA

That’s when she was really young.

DORA

One day there was a formal dinner at the house, with guests and everything, and she came in barefoot, dressed like a peasant.

AMELIA

But they wanted to marry her to a local political boss. That’s what the dinner was for. But she said she would never change those clothes if they married her to that old man against her will.

JULIA

And did they marry her to him?

AMELIA

No, but they punished her by making her work in the kitchen for a year. Hold still!

DORA

Are there any crackers left?

(She gets up with two little plates of appetizers. She puts them on the sideboard. She opens the door to the kitchen and holds it open with her foot.)

AMELIA

Let’s see, where did I put them?

DORA

(She picks up the little plates, without leaving the door.)

If not, I can make little toasts out of loaf bread.

(At that moment, Eva, the great grandmother, appears in the open door to the kitchen, splendidly dressed in the style of 1910. She walks very slowly, absorbed in reading “El Diario de Costa Rica” or some newspaper of the period. She is calmly smoking a cigarette. She sits down in the rocker without looking at anyone, breathing in deeply. She is young, beautiful, and imperturbable.)

DORA

(Tired of waiting for AMELIA to remember)

Never mind, I’ll look for them.

AMELIA

What bad lighting. It’s hard for me to see.

(DORA with more crackers.)

DORA

It smells like…

AMELIA

Like what?

DORA

It smells like…. cigarette smoke.

JULIA

I don’t smell anything.

DORA

How can you not notice?

AMELIA

Impossible. No one in this house smokes.

DORA

(Pause)

Julita, so, are you going to ask for a birthday present?

JULIA

(Doubtfully)

I’m thinking about it.

AMELIA

How exciting! A dance! I would have like to go to a dance.

JULIA

You never went?

AMELIA

Very rarely. You had to dress up and my wardrobe wasn’t up to snuff.

DORA

It still smells–stinks–of tobacco.

(She looks at JULIA)

JULIA

Don’t look at me.

AMELIA

There, it’s done.

(Eva has finished her cigarette and makes a new one with paper and tobacco that she takes out of a little package.

AMELIA

Does the length look good?

DORA

Perfect.

(JULIA examines herself in the mirror of the umbrella stand.)

JULIA

Thanks, grandmother.

AMELIA

You’re welcome, sweetheart.

(She hugs her. She picks up the pin cushion and thread and puts them in the pocket of her apron. She goes to the kitchen. DORA continues with the crackers.)

JULIA

(looking at herself in the mirror)

I feel skinny in this dress.

DORA

What?

JULIA

Nothing.

DORA

And ?

JULIA

Who knows what the new year will be like.

DORA

Yes. Who knows. Nobody knows. What strange things you say, girl.

JULIA

It’s just that sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. What I’m going to study. What I really like.

DORA

You already have that problem solved. You get married and that’s it. It’s okay to have a profession, something to defend yourself with. But a woman needs a home. And for that she needs a husband.

JULIA

(Sitting down on the sofa)

Sometimes I don’t know why we do the things we do. Saving to paint the house, sewing, going to school, going to mass on Sundays, making guayaba paste, watching television.

DORA

What more do you want? To take a cruise in the Caribbean?

JULIA

No. But there must be something else. We’re not going to live just to wait for Sunday lunch.

DORA

I can already see you coming.

(Eva lifts her gaze from her newspaper from time to time and follows the conversation with some attention.)

JULIA

Why?

DORA

You’re going to come out again with some idea of being a scientist or a ballerina. I’m surprised you don’t want to be a pilot.

JULIA

What did you like to do most when you were my age?

DORA

I don’t remember. But I can assure you I didn’t want to be a pilot.

JULIA

I don’t know who will want to marry me.

DORA

(Irritated)

Why not? You’re not defective, or abnormal. Or a scarecrow. It makes me mad when you act so foolish. You’ll never be a beauty, but you’re attractive and above all a decent girl. They don’t marry the pretty ones, believe me. They want them for other things. For the weekend. But a girl with good manners is nothing to sneeze at. And as a last resort, if you’re too timid to dare to get married, I’ll take care of it.

JULIA

Yes mama.

DORA

That’s why we live, my daughter: to eat. We have to live; we have to eat. That’s how it’s always been. And if you’re to feel like becoming an astronaut, okay, but there’s not a chance you’ll earn the same salary as a man. When have you seen women managers of architects or Presidents of the Republic?

(Eva gets up, because what DORA is saying has piqued her interest. She comes closer to the table and calmly eats a couple of snacks.)

JULIA

Well, there are women doctors and lawyers.

DORA

But no one trusts them. Do you think I would go to a woman doctor and let her put her hands on me?

JULIA

Why not?

DORA

Well, it’s just not the same.

(Thinking)

You see? A doctor. That would be a good husband. But a woman shouldn’t be handling the dead in order to become a doctor.

(Eva lights a new cigarette. She observes them.)

JULIA

I’m scared of blood.

DORA

Better yet.

(She gets up with what’s left of the paté and the last tray of crackers.)

JULIA

Can I try them?

DORA

Just one.

(JULIA takes one.)

Careful! You’re going to mess them up!

(Still standing, DORA rearranges the crackers.)

JULIA

You know what? It looks like they’re going to give Vivian cello lessons.

DORA

What?

JULIA

Cello

DORA

Oh, really? Bunch of pretentious people! They’re going to make a musician of the girl? They’ll get what they deserve.

(Eva taps her cigarette ashes over the hors d’oeuvres, with obvious antipathy toward DORA.)

DORA

Idiots. Throwing money away like that! Giving classes on an indecent instrument that has to be played with the legs spread! Nice thing for a girl to be doing!

(Eva puts out her cigarette, burying it in the paté, and goes towards the bedrooms, leaving the newspaper behind on the sideboard.)

JULIA

Yes…, just imagine.

(DORA enters the kitchen. JULIA remains frozen, containing herself. Eva has gone.)

DORA

(Shouting furiously from the kitchen.)

What happened to these chickens? Who let them burn up? What in the devil are we going to do now?

(She peeks out the door.)

JULIA! Perhaps you thing that I can grab money off the trees in the patio? What’s with you today? Did you get up stupid? Who’s going to be interested in you, useless thing, if you don’t even know how to cook an egg?

(AMELIA looks out the door)

JULIA

And you on the other hand knew how, didn’t you? A lot of good it did you.

DORA

What are you saying?

JULIA

(Crying)

In the end you married a miserable insurance agent. That’s all papa was for you, right?

DORA

(With blind anger)

Don’t disrespect Francisco so easily you insolent kid!

(She makes a gesture as if to hit her, but restrains herself.)

AMELIA

DORA! That’s enough! Wait until I’m dead to treat each other like that! Please, it’s Christmas Eve. Oh, sweet Virgin, what’s happening to them?

DORA

(Complaining to AMELIA and then disappearing into the kitchen.)

What have I done to you, for her to treat me like this? You heard the horrible things she said to me. And nobody touches my dead. As if I hadn’t been a good wife, as if even once Chico had anything to complain about me. And I’ve never even opened my mouth to say anything like that about my poor husband!

(She leaves.)

AMELIA

JULIA.

(JULIA whimpers. AMELIA pats her on the back.)

What a disaster. I’m going to give you orange blossom spirits, see if you can calm down. I think I’ll take some too.

(She leaves. JULIA crouches on the sofa and cries with her face buried in her father’s jacket. She hugs it, making a fist with it. She gets bored with crying, as children do, and distracts herself from her sadness by looking at the buttons and other details of the jacket. She touches it, examining it with melancholy. Finally she folds the garment carefully and lies down on it as if it were a pillow. AMELIA enters with a glass in her hand.)

AMELIA

Take this, my pretty one.

(JULIA obeys. AMELIA takes a package of sparklers from the pocket of her apron.)

Look what I bought.

JULIA

(Smiling)

Grandma, I’m grown up.

AMELIA

Not to me.

(DORA enters apparently looking for something on the sideboard, but when she realizes they aren’t aware of her presence, she listens to them.)

When you’re old enough to wear high heels then I’ll give you permission to be all grown up. But we can still enjoy things for a while, right?

JULIA

Are we going to make wishes?

AMELIA

What do you think?

(JULIA smiles)

We make wishes every year.

JULIA

Did you invent this?

AMELIA

No señorita. You did.

JULIA

Me?

AMELIA

You were about four years old. We were eating dinner and someone saw a falling star through the window and made a wish and everybody commented on what good luck it was. Then you got up crying that you wanted a star too. And a minute later you came along with a sparkler.

(She takes a candle and matches out of her apron pocket.)

JULIA

Are you going to light them here?

AMELIA

We’d better not. We might burn DORA’s table.

DORA

(From behind)

It doesn’t matter.

(They both look at her.)

AMELIA

I’ll bring a plate.

(She leaves. JULIA and DORA are uncomfortable.)

JULIA

(After a pause)

I’m really sorry about the chickens.

DORA

It’s not anything serious.

JULIA

I was having so much fun decorating the tree that I forgot them.

DORA

Let’s not talk about it anymore.

(Silence)

JULIA

I’m still not used to papa not being here.

DORA – Nobody gets used to it.

JULIA – I’m sorry.

DORA

What can we do?

(AMELIA returns with the candle carefully stuck to a plate. She puts it on the floor, next to the little seat by the record player, and lights it.)

DORA

I’ll turn out the lights.

(She does. The room is in darkness with the exception of the light from the candle and the Christmas tree.)

AMELIA

Okay . . . Who wants to make a wish?

(She offers the sparklers.)

But come closer first.

(She pulls the rocker closer and sits down. The others finally come closer together. DORA sits on a little chair and JULIA on the floor. Each one takes a sparkler and lights it. They talk while the sparklers burn. When one burns up, they light a new one.)

AMELIA

Let’s see. This year I wish … I wish … for a canary like the one I had that died. A white shawl. That the lily I planted would take hold. An end to the plaque of insects eating my begonias. … I don’t know what else.

JULIA

I wish that I’d have a different math teacher this year. Some red shoes like the ones Marita has. Mmmmm…for Carla to get a bad grade in English…

AMELIA

Why?

JULIA

She always makes fun of my pronunciation.

AMELIA

That wish doesn’t count.

JULIA

Let’s see. Okay… I wish I could be five years old and return to the Flower Fair.

(She rests her head in her mother’s lap. DORA caresses JULIA’s hair somewhat timidly.)

DORA

I wish for new upholstery on the furniture. A floor lamp. For a rich uncle to die and leave us a fortune.

JULIA

Do we have rich uncles?

DORA

No, but I can ask for what I want. I wish a mature foreign couple would rent the house. I’d like an expensive perfume. Two expensive perfumes. I wish I didn’t have migraines.

JULIA

(daydreaming)

I’d like to take a European tour, go to Egypt and New York.

DORA

Is that all?

JULIA

And Rio de Janeiro.

DORA

And you, mama?

AMELIA

I can’t think of anything.

(Lost in though)

To rest. Not to have to do anything for a whole week.

DORA

(Also falling into a state of fascination)

An apricot. I want to eat one before I die.

JULIA

And to touch snow.

AMELIA

Ay… To sleep while a heavy rain falls.

JULIA

(Shaken)

To be five years old. To go back to the Flower Fair with papa, riding piggy back on his shoulders. To have him go on the Ferris wheel with me and never have to come down ever.

AMELIA

To sleep.

JULIA

And to hear only cello music.

(Eva, by the doorway, lights a match that reveals her presence to the public. With the match she lights a candle on the little table by the doorway. With the candle she lights a sparkler and then the cigarette that she has in her mouth. She regards the women with a distant sympathy. The three women daydream.)

CURTAIN

ACT TWO

(Same set design. Below the Christmas trees are some gifts. On the table are a couple of apples, the remains of a chicken and some eggnog in glasses. The three women are eating the Christmas cake and all are in a good mood.)

AMELIA

But listen up, so you can see what your aunt was like. It happened that one day Inesita, may she rest in peace, was going with her husband and family to Puntarenas. Because the car was really small they put the suitcase and a bunch of bundles on the roof of the car, because Ines was a fan of taking along whatever thingamajig she had. As if they were on their way to Europe. Okay. They were already passing Greece when they looked back; everything had flown off and all they could see was underwear and panties and shirts and Ines’s good bras and the whole kit and caboodle. Miguel turns around furious, scolding Inesita: “Damn it, now we have to pick all this up and it’s your fault!” and just then a bunch of kids show up and begin to gather Ines’s panties and bras with a stick.

(She laughs)

And they carried them to the car and say, “Miss, Miss. Are these yours? And Ines, who’s crying in anguish, covers her face and says, “No, that’s not mine. It’s not mine!” And Miguel, enraged, sticks his hand out the window and grabs the panties: No, you bastard, they’re mine!”

(The three women laugh.)

DORA

Poor Aunt Ines!

AMELIA

Who could believe it? I’m the eldest and she dies first.

DORA

The last time I saw her was for JULIA’s 15th birthday party, and that’s already almost five years ago.

AMELIA

That’s how life goes.

JULIA

You always were healthier, Grandma.

DORA

This cake is delicious. Pity it doesn’t have any raisins.

AMELIA

It did turn out well, didn’t it? Too bad no one came.

DORA

I don’t even miss them.

AMELIA

I would have liked …

(JULIA makes gestures to indicate that AMELIA shouldn’t broach the subject.)

DORA

Why? So they could leave a bad taste in my mouth and go out the door criticizing everything, how cheap we are, and what boring, pathetic tamales?

AMELIA

Those are your ideas, Dorita.

DORA

Even if they didn’t say anything I’m not about to explain to anybody how short of money we are, not that we’re so cheap.

AMELIA

There are people with less.

DORA

Great! I just don’t want anyone to know, that’s all.

JULIA

Can I have some more eggnog? (She passes her glass.)

DORA

By the way, I’m surprised that Erick hasn’t invited you to dinner.

JULIA

Mama, I’ve already told you forty times that we’re aren’t serious yet.

DORA

Well he grabs you as if you were.

JULIA

Besides, it seems that his mother is very formal.

DORA

Exactly. A young man of such a proper and so well known family. How long have you been going out with him?

JULIA

I haven’t kept track.

DORA

Because if he hasn’t asked to come in, it’s not up to me to invite him to dinner. God help me. Who knows what they would eat in this house.

AMELIA

Why? Are they very well to do?

DORA

Mama, haven’t you seen the car he drives?

AMELIA

I don’t see very well.

JULIA

Mom, did you peek out the window?

DORA

What do you think? I have to know who my daughter is going out with.

AMELIA

What did he give you for Christmas?

JULIA

Perfume. Here it is.

DORA

Very fine quality.

AMELIA

And you?

DORA

Nothing. She’s not supposed to give him anything.

JULIA

I gave him flowers.

DORA

What nonsense!

JULIA

He must have thought the same thing, because he laughed.

AMELIA

In my day it was the opposite.

JULIA

Can we talk about something else?

DORA

Why hasn’t he introduced you to his mother?

JULIA

I don’t know if he likes me well enough.

DORA

JULIA! You’re incredibly lucky. I wish I’d had such an admirer. What are you thinking? Are you Brigitte Bardot, to dismiss such a suitor? It’s not like you have others.

(She thinks)

I don’t know who you take after, to be so clumsy. Maybe your father’s sisters.

JULIA

(With irony) No doubt.

(She pauses)

Erick must be nuts, going out with a poor, ugly secretarial student.

AMELIA

The devil take you. Stop fighting!

DORA

No one’s fighting. It’s just that this girl doesn’t understand me.

JULIA

This girl is an adult of twenty.

AMELIA

I’m happy and I don’t know why. Even if you two are bickering. The cake turned out great this Christmas, and that means the New Year will be good.

DORA

It always turns out well and we’re heading toward bankruptcy.

AMELIA

Are we in such bad shape?

DORA

Mama, don’t you know? Everything is really expensive. Eating is a luxury. The pension stays the same and doesn’t cover much. There’s only the income from renting the cottage, which isn’t much either. And on top of that we have to pay for repairs, pay for JULIA’s studies, the medications. And I’m no magician who can invent money.

AMELIA

Yes, and I can’t sew anymore.

DORA

No one is reproaching you, of course, it’s hard for you to see, but it is one less source of income.

AMELIA

How ugly it is to get old, my God. My legs tremble. I barely see. But inside I feel just the same. The same as when I was four years old. Sometimes I see myself in the mirror and I see a wrinkled old woman and I say, “Well, AMELIA, what happened to you? You’re a very old little girl. Let’s see, let’s bath the little girl, let’s comb the little girl’s hair.” As if I were my own mother.

(She laughs)

DORA

Oh, mother.

AMELIA

What happened?

DORA

Nothing.

AMELIA

Oh, the money. Dorita, don’t worry. I’m going to tell you a secret. I have some money saved. (DORA and JULIA look at each other.)

DORA

From where?

AMELIA

Oh, from household savings. I sell old newspapers and any bottles I come across to the old man with the cart and I’ve already saved 853 dollars. They’re there; if you need them they can get us out of a tight spot.

DORA

(Upset about her mother’s senility)

Okay, mama. Thanks a lot.

JULIA

Grandma, you’d better save your cash and not worry. We’re fine.

DORA

(Reluctantly) Yes, fine.

AMELIA

See how easy that was?

JULIA

This year is over, Mom. And if necessary, I can start working early. I can finish my studies later.

DORA

It’s just not worth it. Let’s not discuss it, or my migraine will come back. A man is what this house needs! A man to support it like God commands, Damn it to hell!

AMELIA

DORA, what language is this?

DORA

(Collecting the plates)

Mama, I’ve been talking like this for over forty years.

AMELIA

And I’m still not used to it.

DORA

Anyone want coffee?

JULIA

Oh, no. I can’t sleep.

AMELIA

Me either, daughter, thanks.

(DORA heads toward the kitchen)

DORA

(Looking at the doorframe)

This wood is loose. Someday it’s going to hit someone on the head. Someday this whole damn house is going to crush me!

(She leaves)

AMELIA

There she goes with that language again.

JULIA

(Hitting the glass with a fork) Ding, ding ding! The meeting of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank is called to order. Today’s topic of discussion: the same as the last one hundred and forty five years. The calamitous ruin of doña Dorita and her unmarried daughter. Find out how an honorable family of San José fell upon hard times.

AMELIA

Quiet, she’ll hear you!

(DORA returns)

DORA

(Irritated, with the broken glass in her hand)

Mother, what happened to this glass?

AMELIA

(Softly, to JULIA)

Watch out, she found it!

JULIA

(Getting up and turning on the radio of the stereo)

It’s almost midnight! The baby Jesus is born now!

(She tunes in a Christmas carol and turns up the volume)

Let’s dance, grandma!

(AMELIA declines, laughing, but finally gives in and dances with JULIA, who leads the dance, while something like the “Bells of Bethlehem” a cheerful song, is heard. DORA still tries to get an explanation for the broken glass, but no one pays any attention. She sets it on the sideboard.)

DORA

(Shouting)

Turn that thing down!

(JULIA lets AMELIA go and grabs DORA, to her surprise, but she dances with her until JULIA finally turns down the volume.)

JULIA

Okay, now we have to open the gifts.

(She begins to take them out from under the tree)

AMELIA

(Excited)

Now the baby Jesus is born. I am so happy, and I don’t know why.

(Listening)

Listen, fireworks.

(JULIA turns off the radio. They hear some fireworks explode.)

DORA

(To AMELIA)

Where did you leave the Christ child, so we can put him in the doorway?

AMELIA

(Without hearing her)

The Virgin is going to give birth. Julita, my son must be thinking about me.

JULIA

(To DORA)

In the button box.

AMELIA

Wherever he may be, he’s remembering us, I’m sure of it. I also had a baby, and I’m not sad anymore. A wee little baby.

JULIA

Grandma, don’t think about it anymore.

AMELIA

(Severely)

Why not? I’m very happy!

(Everyone has settled in the living room)

JULIA

(Reading the label on a gift)

From DORA for Mama with much affection.

(She hands it to AMELIA, who opens it.)

DORA

And why shouldn’t she be happy? She lives with a daughter with loves her and watches out for her. And not with someone ungrateful. She’s always thinking about that irresponsible son of hers! And what about me? Haven’t I broken my back …?

AMELIA

Some slippers!!

(They’re just like the ones in Act One, but a different color. She kisses DORA.)

Thanks, honey. They’re wonderful and I needed some.

(She puts them on)

DORA

(Contentedly)

I’m happy you like them.

JULIA

To mama with all her love from JULIA.

(She hands it to her and kisses her. As they receive the gifts they open them)

To Julita with her love always from her beloved Grandma AMELIA.

(She unwraps a box of cookies.)

Oh, Granny, thanks, what a treat!

AMELIA

Every year I give cookies, but it’s just that… Well…

JULIA

But we like them so much, Right Mom?

(JULIA reaches out to give her mother hers; she opens it)

DORA

Of course.

(She scatters kisses to the right and the left).

JULIA

Another one for Grandmama, from Mama. For me.

(She opens it)

A piece of fabric!

(The fabric is rather conservative for a young woman).

AMELIA

And another for me.

DORA

For an outfit for the street.

AMELIA

Very pretty.

DORA

Julita, this necklace is gorgeous!

JULIA

What luck!

(There are only a couple of gifts left to open. Fireworks and some bells ringing can clearly be heard. JULIA looks at her watch.)

JULIA

Midnight! He’s already born!

(She runs to open the door to the street. Eva is in the doorway, watching the fireworks, having fun.)

JULIA

Come on! You can see the fireworks from Zapote!

(The other two women peek out)

AMELIA

Where is it?

DORA

Oh, Mama, right in front.

AMELIA

Oh, okay.

JULIA

Merry Christmas!

(TheY wish each other happiness and kiss each other again. AMELIA coughs and rubs her arms. The three feel the cold of the night.)

AMELIA

How pretty. Look, look, there goes another one!

(She indicates a light)

JULIA

(To someone passing in the street)

Merry Christmas!

AMELIA

Let’s go in. It’s drizzling.

(She enters)

DORA

I’m going to looking for the baby Jesus.

(She does. The others enter and JULIA closes the door. Eva takes an apple and eats it. She remains near the table.)

JULIA

For Granny from her granddaughter.

(AMELIA opens it. DORA returns and puts the baby in the stable.)

AMELIA

A bear! A teddy bear!

DORA

Can I see?

AMELIA

It’s beautiful, fantastic! Come to mama!

(She hugs the bear.)

He reminds me of my teddy Florián. The only one I ever had.

JULIA

What a shock. I didn’t know you’d like it so much.

AMELIA

Of course, honey. Poor Florián. I was just little and because there was a parish fair, I went with mama to see the festivities. The clowns came out and a poor devil was shooting and began to run around me and another kid. And I lit out of there for home. I didn’t think about mama or my grandmother. I got away from there and barely had time to lock the door. But I dropped Florián who knows where and forget ever finding him again. How I cried. Of course, there were too many of us in the family and they couldn’t buy me another one.

(To the bear)

Hey, Florián, where have you been? Let’s snuggle so he’ll go to sleep.

(She rocks him).

JULIA

Another present for me!

DORA

I hope you like it. I think it goes well with the fabric.

JULIA

(Doubtfully)

Oh…yes?

(She opens it slowly. Meanwhile Eva approaches the Christmas tree and removes from around her neck a magnificent diamond necklace/choker, finely made, that she is wearing. She’s about to place it at the foot of the tree when she realizes that’s not proper, and draws back. She puts the choker in her pocket and looks sadly at JULIA, who has just opened the present and takes out the choker we’ve just seen on Eva.)

Mama! It’s marvelous!

DORA

(Astonished)

That’s not what I bought!

JULIA

No?

DORA

No!

JULIA

Well, it’s beautiful.

(She tries it against her neck. Eva, perplexed, pulls out of her pocket what she just put in, and finds a rather childish hair clip with a ribbon. She examines it with surprise, and understands the swap.)

DORA

I bought you a hair clip. We’ll have to return it.

JULIA

Why? If they had given you a safety pin and you took it to the complaints department, the shop employees won’t return anything to you.

AMELIA

(Waking up, because she had fallen asleep)

What’s happening? What’s that?

JULIA

Mom gave it to me.

AMELIA

What elegance!

(She pauses)

I’ve seen that choker before.

DORA

Okay. The baby Jesus sent it to you.

(Eva smiles)

Mama, you were sleeping, weren’t you. Let’s go to bed. It’s all over now.

(She tries to get her up.)

AMELIA

We still have to clear the table. Oh, go slowly, I’m all numb. How my feet hurt!

DORA

Mama, you put your slippers on backwards.

(She switches them for her)

JULIA

Well, until next year. I’ll clear the table. Good night.

(They say goodnight and kiss each other one last time. When DORA and AMELIA have disappeared through the door to the bedrooms, JULIA turns out the light in the room. The only lights on now are from the Christmas tree and the lamp on the sideboard. She hears that nobody is around, and cautiously goes to the furniture with the stereo on it. She picks up a cassette box from which she takes a cigarette. From another compartment of the furniture she takes out matches and lights the cigarette. Eva, standing near the sideboard, observes JULIA. JULIA smokes clumsily, take the necklace and observes it with ecstasy. She coughs. She deposits the ashes in another empty cassette box. Eva smiles. She takes one of her own cigarettes. JULIA coughs again. Eva breathes deeply and exhales the smoke toward the lamp on the sideboard, which goes off. She withdraws slowly through the space between the cupboard and the division that separates the kitchen from the living room. Before disappearing she looks at JULIA again, and the hair clip DORA had bought which she has in her hand, and gives a satisfied smile. She leaves. JULIA puts music on the stereo, Simon and Garfunkel’s version of “Are you going to Scarborough Fair?” She extinguishes her cigarette on the sole of her shoe and deposits the butt in the cassette box. She goes in front of the mirror of the umbrella stand and puts the necklace on. To better appreciate it, she unbuttons the first button of her blouse. She examines herself carefully with a serious expression. She readjusts her hair. She unbuttons a second button, staring at her image, as if hypnotized by the jewelry. She slowly unbuttons the rest of her blouse and looks at her chest with a mixture of rapture and seriousness. She is still, very pretty, and her fascination becomes almost a state of self-indulgence. She extends a hand delicately toward the mirror, which she caresses with her fingertips. She finally withdraws and for the first time she smiles, content with herself. She moves about, modeling the necklace. She is very happy. She buttons her blouse part way and lights a second cigarette. She flops down on the sofa. Meanwhile the music is repeating over and over. DORA, who returns wrapped in a robe, turns on the light.)

DORA

JULIA! What are you doing?

JULIA

Nothing. Just listening to music.

(She tries unsuccessfully to hide the cigarette.)

DORA

(Turning off the stereo)

You’re smoking. My daughter is smoking in my own house!

JULIA

Don’t talk so loud, you’ll wake up grandma.

DORA

Where do you hide them? Give them to me!

JULIA

No! They’re mine!

DORA

Yours? What money did you use to buy them? And who gave you permission to smoke here or anywhere else?

JULIA

I bought them with my own money. And I don’t need anyone’s permission.

DORA

With what money? I manage the money for your education by taking noodles out of our soup, and this is how you repay me? Disobeying me, as if I were mental defective that anyone could ignore? What would your boyfriend say if he saw you smoking, like any tramp?

JULIA

Mother! Smoking is not immoral!

DORA

If a woman smokes, it’s immoral behavior. Where are they?

JULIA

Women professors smoke, women economists, salespeople, film artists.

DORA

And that’s why the world is in the shape it’s in.

JULIA

There are even grandmothers who smoke.

DORA

And they die of cancer.

(Pauses)

Just try to deny that. Come. Give them to me. I’m tired.

JULIA

Anyway, Erick is not my boyfriend.

DORA

Well it’s about time that he should be, or he’s going to lose respect for you.

(Softening)

JULIA, a boy like that won’t pop up twice in a lifetime. I’m telling you from my heart. He’s a good kid, he has a future. He’s from a decent family.

JULIA

And he’s rotten rich.

DORA

Yes, so what? Isn’t that another blessing on top of everything else? What’s bad about that? Anyone else would grab on to such happiness with both hands. But you’re half rattled. Tell me, what is it you want? What kind of boyfriend would you like?

JULIA

I don’t know. I don’t know!

DORA

JULIA, don’t think you’re going to have many choices. Life isn’t like that.

JULIA

Obviously! Especially if I’m scrawny and hunched over and ugly. And really ugly.

(Upset)

I don’t want a boyfriend! I talk to him and it’s like talking to a wall! He doesn’t hear me, I’m not important to him! I’m never going to be able to walk like those prissy rich girls, twisting their butts!

(She imitates them)

“Hello, my dear, you look simply divine!”

DORA

Fine, in spite of that he chose you and not them.

JULIA

(On the verge of tears)

You don’t understand anything!

DORA

How so? Don’t talk to me as if I were an idiot!

JULIA

If you want a boyfriend so much, why don’t you find yourself one and leave me in peace?

DORA

Is that how you talk to me? Is this the daughter I raised? For this I take the bread out of my mouth?

JULIA

Mama, we’re fed up with your misery!

DORA

Oh yeah? Perhaps I’m making it up? Perhaps we’re swimming in abundance?

(Furious)

Perhaps it’s not true that I do nothing but make sacrifices?

JULIA

But stop making me pay for it. I do what I can! Sure, it’s true, we’re poor. But there are worse things in life. I’ve told you in every way I can, that as soon as you can’t manage, I’ll go to work.

DORA

We women weren’t born for this.

JULIA

Well you should have had a son!

DORA

(Dryly)

That’s what I’ve told myself a million times.

JULIA

(Wounded)

Oh, yes? What a pity. If you want money, earn it. Grandma is a woman, and she has worked like a mule. And you, are you from some other race?

DORA

It’s not my responsibility.

JULIA

Of course, it was papa’s responsibility, and he was as clumsy as I, right? So clumsy that he died and you’re never going to forgive him his lack of consideration.

DORA

It’s true you look like your father.

JULIA

Well I’m glad.

DORA

Now, are you going to give me those cigarettes?

JULIA

Why? After all, I don’t want to go out with Erick anymore, so what does it matter if I’m a tramp?

DORA

If you break it off, I’ll take you out of classes and put you to work.

JULIA

I thought it was sufficient that you wouldn’t let me go to college.

DORA

To study what?

(Silence)

What profession? You don’t even know what you want. Throwing money out the window when you don’t even know what you want. Of course I wouldn’t let you.

(Pause)

The cigarettes?

(JULIA hands them over. DORA opens the window, and after shredding them, tosses them out the window. She goes back to her room. JULIA takes the length of cloth and throws it out the window too. Then she closes it, exhausted. She listens to see if her mother has gone to bed, turns out the lights and leaves from the same side. The scene remains empty for a moment, illuminated only by the Christmas tree. AMELIA enters in her pajamas with the teddy bear in one hand. She can’t see anything and with difficulty finds the lamp on the sideboard and turns it on.)

AMELIA

What’s all this noise?

(She notices that the table hasn’t been cleared. She put the bear down somewhere and begins to pile the plates on top of each other and scrape the food scraps onto one of the plates. Suddenly she stops, breathing with difficulty. She sits down and rests her head on one hand. She recovers and continues with her task. Again she stops. She faints little by little, again supporting her head on her hand, until fully reclined over the table. She remains in that position a few seconds. Eva appears near the entrance hall.)

EVA

(Waking her)

Amelita, leave this.

AMELIA

Mama!

EVA

Come on, let’s go. It’s getting late.

AMELIA

Where are we going?

EVA – I have a new dress for you for the dance at the Aguirres house.

AMELIA

Really? How did it turn out? Is it pretty?

EVA

It’s gorgeous.

AMELIA

Is it really white? You remembered?

EVA

Of course, and it has pale blue lace flowers and a pocket of precious stones for the dance card.

AMELIA

(Emotionally)

And Herminia will loan me the embroidered hankie?

EVA

Of course.

AMELIA

Now I’m going to the dance!

(She gets up)

EVA

I brought you these silk gloves, let’s see how they fit.

(AMELIA examines them. Half asleep, JULIA wanders out from the bedroom.)

JULIA

Who turned on …

(She sees the chair that AMELIA and just left, and talks to her as if she were still there.)

Lilita! Lilita!

(She goes closer and touches the space occupied by her head.)

EVA

Shall we go?

JULIA

(Shouting)

Grandma. Mama! Mom, come quickly!

(Crying).

Lilita!

(She leaves to find DORA).

AMELIA

Okay, but I have to comb my hair. How can I go like this?

EVA

It doesn’t matter. You look lovely.

(She fixes her hair in front of the mirror)

See?

AMELIA

(Surprised, she touches her own face. She takes her mother by the waist).

Mama, I’m so happy.

EVA

(Opening the door to the closet)

Let’s go out this way.

AMELIA

What about the dishes? I haven’t finished clearing the table. And what will DORA and the little girl eat? I have to see if there’s any food left.

EVA

You’ve already done enough work. They can heat something up. Can’t you see that you left enough food for a month?

AMELIA

Yes, it’s true. Enough for a whole year.

(DORA and JULIA enter. DORA runs toward the chair and touches what would be AMELIA’s face. She examines it. She cries loudly, embracing JULIA. There is great agitation in contrast to the confident tone and beatitude of the other two women.)

EVA

(Showing her the inside of the closet)

Amelita, come on then. The coffee plants are already blooming.

AMELIA

(Seeing them)

The coffee orchard of Lico.

DORA

(Crying)

Mama, mama.

(She raises what would be AMELIA’s body and holds it in her arms. She closes her mother’s eye and begins to pray incomprehensibly. She can’t contain herself.)

Mama.

AMELIA

Mama, can I take Florián with me?

EVA

Get him quickly.

(AMELIA grabs the teddy bear. DORA leaves what would be her mother and stands up. She and JULIA pray and cry with hopelessness)

AMELIA

What’s going on with those two?

EVA

They’re tired.

AMELIA

(Looking worriedly at the table)

I didn’t finish.

EVA

(Seeing the interior of the closet)

The Aguilares are already on their way to the party.

AMELIA

(To DORA, who does not hear her)

Daughter, there’s a lot of soup left from dinner in the pressure cooker.

(She waits for an answer and then looks at Eva, who has disappeared into the closet)

DORA

We have to call someone. The doctor or someone.

(She leaves through the usual place, followed by JULIA. AMELIA turns to say good bye, but they’ve already left.)

AMELIA

Bye! They left.

(She approaches the table sadly. She takes a moment to arrange the last plates and shake out the table cloth. She turns toward the door, and since no one appears, she happily puts on the silk gloves and exits through the closet.)

CURTAIN

ACT THREE

(Stage in darkness. JULIA enters through the door from the street. She turns on the lamp on the sideboard. DORA is seated on the sofa, with a bottle of cognac and a glass, from which she takes small sips. She is perfectly sober. The house looks bleak and impoverished. There are no Christmas decorations, perhaps only the tree. There is no longer a stereo. DORA is wearing a faded bathrobe and has a neglected appearance.)

JULIA

(Surprised)

Mama! What are you doing?

DORA

Celebrating.

JULIA

May I ask what?

DORA

Can’t you see? I greet the Christmas of our Lord with rejoicing, surrounded by my loved ones.

JULIA

You’ll have to fight alone. I won’t get involved. I’m fed up.

DORA

For such a solemn occasion I decided to drain the remaining stock of cognac. The last of what I have left of better days. I won’t be able to buy another bottle. Want some?

JULIA

Stop it.

DORA

I hate cognac. It tastes like medicine. But at least it reminds me of good things. And how was your Christmas celebration?

JULIA

You had to stay awake this late just to ask me that?

DORA

I thought I would have to unlock the door for you. Then I remembered that you have a key, that you do what you damn well please and that you pay no attention to me.

JULIA

Then why didn’t you go to bed?

DORA

I wanted to know what it’s like to spend Christmas away from home.

JULIA

We’ve already talked to exhaustion.

DORA

I’m not tired.

JULIA

I had a nice time. Nobody interrogated me to find out why I’m still not married, or what I do with my money, or what surnames the single men in the office have.

DORA

May I know with whom you went out?

JULIA

No.

DORA

Don’t tell me: with number nineteen. Taking into account that the first one was Erick, and counting from there … Mama died five years ago… that means four per year, not counting this year, when you’ve only gone out with three. Of course, if you hurry, you can date them all before the 31st of December.

JULIA

Now you’ll tell me I’m a tramp.

DORA

You’re a tramp.

JULIA

Fine.

DORA

And you don’t even care.

JULIA

You don’t know anything.

DORA

I know.

JULIA

What?

DORA

Why no one wants to marry you.

JULIA

Oh yeah. That’s interesting.

DORA

(Pause)

No one wants a used girlfriend.

JULIA

(Hurt)

You screwed yourself, didn’t you? Your merchandise got damaged.

DORA

You threw your life away. If you had listened to me, you would have married that kid before this string of wretches handled you.

JULIA

They weren’t all wretches. The majority, yes. But not all of them. And if that’s what you’re worried about, Erick never intended to marry me. I learned later that he already had a fiancée for that, a good little girl that he could introduce to his mother.

(With difficulty)

With me he was content to stretch me out in the back seat of that car you admired so much.

DORA

How could you?

JULIA

I didn’t understand anything that happened, but he seemed to find everything to his liking.

DORA

Erick?

JULIA

Mama, it was so obvious. Besides, at least he has the decency not to get me pregnant.

DORA

That’s disgusting!

JULIA

(exploding with anguish)

Of course it’s disgusting! It’s disgusting to be nineteen years old and not know I had the right to say no.

DORA

Nobody made you do it.

JULIA

To tell you no, that I wasn’t going out any more with this shitty rich kid! That I didn’t want to rot in a secretarial office! That I don’t want to get married or be a decent woman!

DORA

I won’t listen to you anymore; you’re saying nonsense!

JULIA

I hate the decent women, who can’t cross their legs or go to the movies alone. I hate them!

DORA

Shut up right now!

JULIA

I don’t want to end up like you!

(Sobbing)

Or have daughters like me!

DORA

JULIA . . .

JULIA

I’m frightened. I don’t know who I am. Or what I want to be. I never knew. I spent my life obeying you, dragged along by your whims.

DORA

I never made you do anything.

JULIA

Oh no? And your horrible hair clips? And clothing for someone in mourning? And everything I did so you would love me? So that you’d forgive me for being ugly and clumsy?

DORA

I never said that.

JULIA

I tried to cook, to embroider, to make ceramic decorations. I spent half my life trying to please you.

DORA

And the other half contradicting me.

JULIA

Only to show you that I didn’t care if you didn’t love me. And now I don’t know what it was that I liked.

(She tries to remember)

Who was I going to be, my God?

DORA

JULIA, I never meant to hurt you.

JULIA

Well you did. A lot. So you can see that you owe me. You stole the JULIA I could have been. My twenty five years. My career as a cellist. Or a pilot, if I had wanted that. So you can stop giving me orders. The dictatorship is over.

DORA

(Enraged)

Neither you nor anyone else raises his voice to me! This is my house! The house I’ve maintained alone, for years, losing sleep, vision, doing these miserable accounts, counting penny by penny so I wouldn’t end up without these four walls.

JULIA

For four half rotten walls!

DORA

But they’re the only walls I have. And everything for what? To make you somebody, to give you a roof over your head, a future. Do you think I had anyone to worry about me? Who would care where I would fall down dead? I made myself! And I made your father, if you want to know.

JULIA

Leave papa out of this!

DORA

When I met him he didn’t even know how to greet people. He was a nobody without any polish, like a hick from the mountains.

JULIA

Leave him out of it I say!

DORA

When I married him…

JULIA

Your crown fell off. You know what? I don’t care. It doesn’t matter a damn what you think of him or of me. You alone, face it. You don’t’ see anyone. Heaven forbid that they should see how much less we have than others. No one calls you. No one loves you. If you died tonight, no one would even know.

DORA

Lies.

JULIA

Just me. That’s why you need me. And with the story that you threw your life in the garbage to raise me, you want me eternally tied to you. But no. Listen to me well: I did not ask to be born. So if you brought me into the world, you have no right to make me pay for it.

DORA

How could I ever have imagined…

JULIA

You would never have had me! Why didn’t you think of that before? In fact, why was I born? Why did you decide to have me? Or didn’t you decide?

(DORA is silent)

Why didn’t you have more children? I know you didn’t get married because of me. You’re incapable of such an atrocity. What I don’t know is why you got pregnant. Because you got pregnant on your own, right? Were you afraid he’d leave you?

(Furious)

Answer me!

DORA

Things weren’t going well and suddenly I found myself pregnant, but it wasn’t that easy to control back then. What did I know? It wasn’t like it is today. We didn’t even talk about it then.

JULIA

(Hurt)

Now I understand.

DORA

It’s not good to bring up such old things. What’s the point in talking about it?

JULIA

(Furious)

Right. Why talk about it? We have to be quiet! Anyone who enters this house is marked with a brand: Be quiet! Don’t talk, don’t question, and don’t complain! Well to hell with all that. I’m going to talk and you’re going to listen.

DORA

There’s no reason to shout!

JULIA

Let all the neighbors hear me. Because I have another question for you.

DORA

Lower your voice, damn it.

JULIA

Did you ever love me?

DORA

My God, what a stupid question!

JULIA

(Grabbing her by the neck of her blouse, on the edge of tears)

Did you even love me? Were you ever proud of me or happy with me even once?

DORA

JULIA, let me go!

JULIA

Why didn’t you love me? What did I do to you?

(Very upset)

Why am I ugly? Am I really ugly?

DORA

Obviously you’re not ugly.

JULIA

NO, NO, NO! You’re lying. You always thought I was ugly, clumsy. Well up yours. I’m not ugly, you hear me. I’m not clumsy! I’m worth a thousand of you. At my age you couldn’t even support yourself. So from now on I’m the one in charge here! I’ll come and go with who I please, when I please. After all, I pay for half of what we eat.

DORA

Fine, fine.

JULIA

And be grateful that I don’t grab my things and leave you alone. Because I could leave you and you’d be in trouble. But I feel too sorry for you. What would you do without me? You’d die of fear, disabled without your slave, right?

DORA

JULIA, no more please! I can’t stand any more. I wasn’t the mother I should have been. I made a mistake. I was always making mistakes! My whole life is one big mistake. A stupidity. When you were born I was terrified. I didn’t know how to take care of a baby, a little wrinkled animal crying all day. I believed that dressing you and feeding you were enough. And I never knew how to love. Because no one taught me. Papa was nothing more than a tyrant. He never recovered from the humiliation of having a daughter. In my house only my brother mattered. Papa, defending him from the reign of terror. But for me there was never any time. I don’t remember a single time in twenty four birthdays that they gave me something I actually wanted or knew what I had missed.

(She reflects)

And I did the same with you, didn’t I?

(JULIA is silent)

Julita, I want you to listen well to what I’m going to say. The only good thing I ever did in my life was to have you.

(She hugs her)

And I love you so much, even though I could never tell you before.

(Both are silent) You have no idea how sorry I am.

(Pause)

I hope that when time passes you’ll be able to forgive me.

(Pause. JULIA, who is seated at her mother’s side, has buried her head in her mother’s neck. She doesn’t move.)

And I’m afraid. I feel old and alone. It’s true; I must look like a crazy woman. When Francisco died you were all I had. I decided to dedicate myself to caring for you, to educate you well, so that you would have everything I couldn’t. I wanted to see you happy. I did it very badly, didn’t I? The dresses I didn’t have as a girl, you wore. That was enough to make me happy. Or the patent leather shoes when you were a kid. It never occurred to me that you wouldn’t like them.

JULIA

I liked the shoes.

DORA

You were so pretty with the little polished cotton apron and your braids.

(Pauses)

JULIA, I am very afraid that you’ll leave me.

JULIA

Everybody grows up.

DORA

I suppose so.

(Pauses)

JULIA, are you going to be able to forgive me someday?

JULIA

I imagine so.

DORA

Thanks.

(She looks at her daughter).

It’s true. You’ve grown up.

(She touches her forehead.)

I can still read your forehead. This scar is from when you ran into the cupboard in the kitchen. This little vein that stands out is just like your father had. And there’s the spot where you hit your head when you climbed out of your cradle. I could recognize you in a million people with my eyes closed.

(She becomes sad)

My God, how you’ve grown. Why didn’t any one warn me? I feel terrible. Was I always so frightful? Isn’t there anything good you can remember? Didn’t I ever make you candy or chocolate chip cookies? How I liked them. How are they made?

(Troubled)

I no longer remember.

JULIA

“La loba, la loba,

le compró al lobito

DORA

(cheering up)

un calzón de seda

y un gorro bonito.

La loba, la loba …

(she can’t remember any more)

JULIA

Se fue de paseo

con su traje rico.

Y su hijito feo.

(She smiles. She takes a sip of cognac from the bottle.)

How did the other one go?

DORA

“Por las calles de Buenos Aires

el padre y la niña van:

la niña todo le pide

el padre nada le da

–Papito, quiero bombones.

JULIA

no, niña, que te hacen mal.

Mira esa casa y no pidas.

DORA

Quiero esa casa, papá.”

(Pauses)

It’s strange. We are always sad at Christmas.

JULIA

Not Grandma.

DORA

She was made of other stuff. Perhaps … We can still do something.

(She gets up and lights a candelabra on the sideboard.)

JULIA

What?

DORA

Make a wish.

(She looks for the sparklers in the drawer of the sideboard.)

I hope these are still good.

(She brings everything and sets it on the coffee table.)

JULIA

Why should we make wishes? You saw how it turned out for the girl in Argentina. Wishes don’t help.

DORA

I thought you would like it.

JULIA

First I have to figure how who I am.

(Eva appears near the closet and stands behind the sofa, in a similar place to JULIA. While JULIA continues talking, Eva unbuttons the first button of her suit, which JULIA does immediately afterwards with the button of her jacket. Then Eva takes off her bracelet and puts it in her pocket. JULIA follows suit. Finally Eva lets her hair down, which JULIA also does. During JULIA’s monologue, the stage lighting brightens, until lighted by the dawn.)

I know that in some part of me there’s something alive, glowing, waiting for me. Shouting at me: Here I am. I can feel it. Maybe I’ll never end up doing what everyone expects of me: maybe I’ll never get married, never have kids. First I have to be my own mother, for me. Or do something I can be proud of, something no one can take away from me. You can’t spend your whole life begging for the love of a father or a husband. Or of a son, like Grandma. Better yet, some day someone will ask for my love. And on that day I can’t be empty-handed.

(JULIA becomes lost in thought. Eva smiles. She looks at the walls of the house with nostalgia, saying goodbye. She opens the door to the street. She goes toward the interior for the last time. Then she looks out, enjoying the fresh air. She leaves, closing the door.)

DORA

(Opening the window)

It’s morning already. Mama would be happy. The poinsettia has blossomed.

(She kisses JULIA)

You’re going to do everything you want. You’ll see. Good night.

(She smiles)

Good morning. We have to sleep.

(She goes towards the bedrooms)

JULIA

Mama.

DORA

Yes?

JULIA

Merry Christmas.

(DORA smiles and leaves. JULIA looks out the window. She finishes unbuttoning her jacket, showing the necklace that Eva gave her, which she caresses without realizing it. She looks at the sparklers left on the coffee table. She takes one. She moves closer to the candle, She is about the put the sparkler to the flame when the curtain Falls.

CURTAIN

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