MAISIE’S DEAD: Act One, SCENE 6

Maisie’s  Dead: A Comedic Tale of Love and Marriage

Copyright © 2007 by William D. Coffey, All rights reserved

 

Act One, SCENE 6:   Thursday evening, the kitchen

 

The kitchen.  John & Frieda move distractedly around the table, variously seated, standing, moving about.  Frieda is mad, John is defensive.

 

 

 

FRIEDA

It could NOT have been eight weeks, John!

 

JOHN

I know that!  But I keep asking you, what does it matter?  It didn’t affect me!

 

FRIEDA

She left you in AugustShe married him the first of October.  That’s what he said!  Count, John!  From the first of August to the first of October is only eight weeks.  And you claim she didn’t even leave until the middle of August!  That only leaves six weeks before the first of October!  I never in my life heard of a divorce happening that quick.   SHE COULD NOT HAVE BEEN DIVORCED FROM YOU WHEN SHE MARRIED HIM!

 

JOHN

Honey, how can I remember exactly when she left?  That was thirty five years ago!

 

FRIEDA

You said she left the middle of August!  Why would you say that if you didn’t remember it?!  Are you just making up things to say?  And I’ll bet you didn’t run right out and see a lawyer the very next day – you fooled around a while, so we’re down to maybe two or three weeks!  And lawyers always take their sweet time!  How long did yours fool around before filing divorce papers with the court?

 

JOHN

Why would I care when she married someone else?   I – John – I successfully got divorced from her! For the umpteenth time, what does this detail matter to you?

 

FRIEDA

DetailDETAIL INDEED!  That is BIGAMY, John!  BIG-A-MY!!  Let me spell it out!  Marrying a person before you are legally divorced from another person means that you are married to two different people at the same time.  And that is bigamy!!  And that is illegal!  Not to mention disgraceful!  Totally DISGRACEFUL!!

 

JOHN

Be-JEE-zus, Frieda, I did not do that!!  I did not marry someone else before I was divorced from Maisie.  I did what I was supposed to do.  I filed for divorce.  I paid for the divorce.  I got the divorce.  I am without blame.  What do you want from me?

 

FRIEDA

I want the document, John!  That divorce document! What, exactly, was the date on which your divorce was final?  I want to know the legal date!  Produce the proof, John.

 

JOHN

Honey, at this moment I could not produce my fishing license. I don’t know where in this house to lay hands on my military discharge, my high school diploma, my Social Security card or birth certificate.  I’m not even sure where our marriage license is.

 

FRIEDA        [serenely smug]

I am.

 

JOHN

You are?  Where?

 

FRIEDA         [self righteous and pure]

In my cedar chest.  Wrapped in my bridal veil.    Wanna see it?

 

JOHN

No.  I mean not necessary.  I just don’t see why you’re upset with me because of the possibility that someone else – who is NOT me – may have put a cart before a horse.

 

FRIEDA

What if I’ve been married to a bigamist all these years?  Does that make me a bigamist too, just from being married to one?

 

JOHN    [at wits end]

That is ridiculous!  You and I weren’t even married until four years after she left!  Four years!!  By then the divorce had been final for nearly four years!  Why would you think her bad timing somehow made me into a bigamist?  This is just too irrational.

 

FRIEDA

Irrational, is it?  How do you know what the truth is – the historical record of fact — if you can’t even find the divorce decree and show me what it says?  Were you really divorced?  How can I know you remember anything the way it really happened?

 

JOHN

Frieda, are you accusing me of lying about this?

 

FRIEDA

Not deliberately.  I just don’t know if you remember things the way they really were.  And I specifically want to know the official date of your divorce from that hussy!

 

JOHN

C’mon, Frieda…

 

FRIEDA

Now you’re defending her!

 

JOHN

No, no, no, a thousand times no!  Honey, I have turned this house upside down but that divorce paper eludes me.  By tomorrow I will find it and you can see for yourself.  But I still cannot for the life of me see why it matters so much to you.

 

FRIEDA    [calmer but still mad]

John, it may not matter to you.  It may not matter to that man Smokey out there, who undoubtedly married a bigamist whether he knew it or not.  It may not matter to any of those other ex-Maisie husbands crammed into our barn.  But it matters to my mother, it matters to her friends, and it matters to ME!

 

[knock on door]

 

CLYDE    [sticks his head in]

Hullo, it’s me Clyde.  Alright if I come in?

FRIEDA

Come in, Clyde.  You’ll make good company just now!

 

CLYDE   [helps himself to a seat at the table]

Smokey and Preach turned in early.  Preach got the other half of my bed and Smokey got the floor. I ain’t sleepy, so here I am. You folks have a little night cap b’fore you turn in?

 

FRIEDA   [she produces cups and a coffee pot]

Tonight, yes.  Here, this decaf coffee is still hot.  You two can finish it off.

 

CLYDE          [he pours some]

Coffee?  Never had coffee this time of night, but what the heck.  [loud knock on the door] I’ll get it.   [He bolts to the door; Frieda throws up her hands]    … Hullo, who’s this?

 

HERB’S VOICE

Does John Welford live here?

 

CLYDE

Yeah he does.

 

HERB’S VOICE

Is he home?

 

CLYDE

Yeah he is.

 

HERB’S VOICE

Uh…  are you him, or what?

 

CLYDE

No, I ain‘t him.  Course not.

 

HERB’S VOICE

Well then … dammit… reckon can I see the man his self?

 

CLYDE   [returning to seat]

Sure.  No need t’get snuffy.  John, some guy here wants to see you.

 

JOHN         [goes to door]

I’m John Welford.  Can I help you?

 

HERB’S VOICE

Yessir.  My name’s Herb Stoll.  I got this phone call from a lawyer named Smith, and…

 

FRIEDA

Well, he’s made it this far, John, invite him on in.

 

CLYDE

I’ll be damn if that don’t make five.  Five husbands!  Anybody else out there in the dark?

 

HERB’S VOICE

Say what?

 

JOHN

I think you’d better come on in, Mister Stoll.  There’s something you need to know.  I assume you were married to Maisie?

 

HERB    [enters carrying large string-tied box]

I used to be married to Maisie.  That fellow there who don’t know how to greet a man at the door – what’d he mean about five husbands?

 

FRIEDA

What he means, sir, is that every man present in this room has been married to Maisie at some time in the past.  And there’s two more out in the barn.

 

HERB

Every man…?   [looks around]   …Two more?     [his face twitches]    …Five husbands?   You mean Maisie was married to four other men and she didn’t tell me?

 

CLYDE

I don’t know what she didn’t tell you, pal, but she didn’t tell us a lot more.  The rest of  us has been a little surprised to learn about each other.  Seems like Maisie liked bein’ married, but she didn’t go out of her way to mention her previous husbands to her current husband.  John here, he’s number uno, married her way back.  Smokey and Preach are asleep out in the barn.  They married her too.  I mean one at a time.

 

Then there’s you in there somewhere.  I am under the belief that I am probably the most recent husband she had, but since I ain’t seen her since early this year I am beginnin’ to harbor some uncertainty.  This here lady is John’s present wife Frieda.  [she glares]   My name’s Clyde.  Pleased to meet you.

 

HERB  [quite taken aback;  looks around]

Well. [pause]   Well, well. [twitch]    I guess I can live with that.  Just a little surprised, that’s all.  Pleased to meet you folks too.  When’s the funeral?  I’m not too late am I?

 

JOHN

The memorial service is Saturday.  I still don’t know if anyone else will show up.

 

HERB

Man, man.  This sure puts a little salt on the corn.  Five husbands, huh?  And they all dropped everything to get here.…  I reckon they must feel like I do.  Anyone who ever knew Maisie – knew what a fine lady she was — would just have to attend her funeral.  Especially if he’d been married to her.  Man just couldn’t not be here.

 

FRIEDA      [sarcastic]

I’m sure.

 

CLYDE

That bein’ so, this could turn into a crowd.  Ain’t none of us really knows what Maisie did when she weren’t married to us.  Way that gal got around, no tellin’ how many guys might show up here.  Just look at what her will said:  All them others!

 

HERB

What are you talkin’ about?

 

CLYDE

Why, very first thing in her will, says I should call John Wel-ford.  That’s John here.  I ask myself, says I, who is this John Wel-ford that Maisie knows and I don’t?  Then she tells me.  In her will, I mean.  She says:   John is my first husband I was ever married to.

 

HERB

She never told you about him while she was alive?

 

CLYDE

Hell no.  Never mentioned you neither.  Anyways, I do what she wants, just like always, which means I call John.  Had his phone number right there in the will, she did.

 

FRIEDA and HERB

She did?

 

CLYDE

She did.  Of course, John wonders what I’m callin’ him for.  So, quick like, I read him the part that says she wants him to set up her funeral.

 

JOHN

Memorial service.  She asked that I arrange a memorial service to celebrate her life.

 

CLYDE

Yeah that. Said she wanted him to find “a decent place,” in her old hometown, to celebrate her life. Maisie’s been celebratin’ her life long as I’ve knowed her, so it wouldn’t be natural not to hold one last hoo-rah on the same subject.  Naturally, John wants to know why she wants him to do it, bein’ as he ain’t married to her no more.

 

HERB

Kinda wonderin’ that my self.  And you still ain’t said what is “all them others.”

 

CLYDE

I’m comin’ to that.  What she said – in her will I mean – here’s what she said:  “John’s a responsible person and I know he can be depended on to see that it gets done right.”

 

HERB     [blinks his eyes once; twitches]

So who’s the chopped liver?  How come she don’t want all this done by the husband she’s married to now, which seems to be you?

 

CLYDE

Damn good question ain’t it.  But that ain’t all.  Very next thing she says is  “…unlike all those others I was married to.”   [he pauses, stares]   Ain’t that somethin’?

 

HERB

Yeah.  Real compliment.  Nobody knows exactly how many others is “all those others?”

 

CLYDE

No, but John here has got some lawyer workin’ on it.  The one who called you.

 

HERB

Five husbands.  Puts me in mind of Pearlie Jean Wigglesworth back down in Iuka.

 

CLYDE

Pearlie who?  Eye-You-what?

 

HERB

Eye-U-ka.  Biggest little town in northeast Miss’sippi.  My home town.  Pearlie Jean Wigglesworth.  That gal truly did live up to her name.  By actual count, our office issued ten different marriage licenses to Pearlie and her miscellaneous husbands.

 

CLYDE and JOHN

Ten?

 

HERB

Ten.  Different husband ever’ time but one.  She married one guy twice.  Spaced ‘em out over some years, y’know.  Pearlie Jean held the record for the whole state of Miss’sippi.

 

FRIEDA

What a coincidence that you’re from Iuka, Mississippi, Mister Stoll.  That’s where my parents were married. You say your office did marriage licenses.  What office was that?

 

HERB    [proudly]

Office of the Justice of the Peace.  We stayed real busy with marriages.  Lovey-dovey couples from Tennessee to Texas come to I-uka to get married.  It was real popular for E-lopers, too. Young things’d get all hot and bothered, they knew if they came to Iuka they didn’t have to wait long. What year did your folks marry, ma’am?

 

FRIEDA

Nineteen fifty-four. You don’t look old enough to have married my parents.

 

HERB

Oh, ma’am, I never married nobody!  I wasn’t even in charge.  My third cousin Reuben, he was Justice of the Peace, see.  Twenty years older’n me.  I was his assistant Justice of the Peace. You say nineteen fifty-four was your mama and daddy’s year?

 

FRIEDA

Yes.  So would your cousin have been the one who married my parents?

 

HERB

Most likely, ma’am.  Reuben did all the marryin’.  Soon’s I got old enough he hired me to issue the marriage licenses.  No waiting period.  Twenty-two dollars, cash.  They paid him and he paid me.  We done all right.  You did say nineteen fifty-four, right?

 

FRIEDA

Yes, that’s right.  Why?  Is there something unusual about nineteen fifty-four?

 

HERB

Well, I was just tryin’ to remember —  that’s before I went to workin’ for him – but I do believe that’s the year Reuben got in trouble for all them illegal marriages.

 

FRIEDA

Illegal marriages?  Whatever on earth do you mean?

 

HERB

Well, it’s kind of a funny story, see.  When it finally got out, everbody was laughin’ it up — except them as got married by Reuben while he was illegal them two months.  They was not laughin’.  Couple of real unhappy little brides drove back down from Tennessee, brought their big old boys with em — thought for a while there they was gonna drag Reuben off and kill him.  After that he laid pretty low for a while.

 

FRIEDA    [she grows progressively snappish]

The Justice of the Peace who married my parents  was illegal for two months?!  Which two months!?   What do you mean he was illegal!?

 

HERB

Oh, he wasn’t sure he was illegal. He thought he might still be legal. It was the judge’s trip to Europe done it, see.  Ole Judge Sidebottom – he’s dead now – his wife – she’s dead now too – his wife always wanted him to take her on a big trip to Europe.  She nagged Ole Judge for years…

 

FRIEDA

Never mind thatWhy was your cousin illegal for two months?

 

HERB

Why because Reuben’s reappointment come due the day after Ole Judge and Gertrude set sail for Europe – Gertrude, that’s his wife, see – she was my second cousin —

 

FRIEDA

TELL ME WHY your cousin was illegal for two months!!!

 

HERB

W-e-l-l-l,  Ole Judge had told Reuben he’d swear him in for his new term before he left for Europe.  But he forgot, see.  I guess what with all the pressure of gettin’ ready…

 

FRIEDA     [incredulous]

He forgot to swear in the Justice of the Peace for his new term?  Therefore the Justice of the Peace was not legally qualified to marry anyone for two months?  Is that right?

 

HERB

Pretty close, ma’am.  But… if he had quit marryin’ people, he would not have collected that twenty-two bucks per marriage.  See what I mean?  Anyways, Ole Judge swore Reuben back in the very next day after he got home and things was back to normal.

 

FRIEDA

After he got back!?  My word!  Did they just ignore all those people who thought they were married while he wasn’t legal?  What did they do about that?

 

HERB

W-e-l-l-l…  Ole Judge knew well enough there’d be hell to pay if anybody found out.  So he just pulled Reuben aside and told him if anybody ever found out and complained, he Reuben had damn well better take care of it and keep Ole Judge out of it. So years went by, and nobody ever mentioned that little matter.

 

FRIEDA

You mean he just left them thinking they were married?  He didn’t tell them?

 

HERB

Not right then. But it was Reuben’s own wife caused the problem.

 

FRIEDA

Has this story no endWHAT problem?

 

HERB

Ten years went by, see, then Ole Judge, he up and died.  Out catfishin’ one day and…

 

FRIEDA

Tell me about the PROBLEM!

 

HERB

Right.  Why Junebug – that’s Reuben’s wife, see – Junebug got a big case of conscience.  Told Reuben it wasn’t right not to tell those people who thought they had got married but was really livin’ in sin.  Said she thought a letter ought to be sent out tellin ‘em, so they could get married againif they wanted to.

 

FRIEDA

Well I should think so!

 

HERB

But no, Reuben he ain’t havin’ none of that!  Says to let a dead a’sleep horse just lay there… or somethin’ like that.  But it’s done too late, see.  Junebug —  she worked in the JP office too, see, kind of a family thing y’know – well, her bein’ so damn efficient like she was, she had done mailed out two dozen letters to some of them people before Reuben knew anything about itHOO-WEE!   And, she had sorta told ‘em they might want to come back in for a second round, so to speak, on account of this little “uncertainty” about the JP’s status when he married ‘em.   “JP” – that means Justice of…

 

FRIEDA

I KNOW what JP means!  What I want to know is exactly which were the two months when your stupid cousin was not legally qualified to be marrying people?

 

HERB

Well ma’am, I’m just not rightly sure I can remember that.  I was still just a kid, see.  I do remember Reuben was fit to be tied.  Wouldn’t let Junebug send no more letters. Took on about how the next judge might swear in his own man… that was  foresight, actually…

 

FRIEDA

Before you leave this town I want to know what those two months were, you hear?!  If there is any doubt about the legality of my parents’ marriage, my mother will most certainly want to know!  The very idea!!  And don’t tell anyone else about this!  Just tell me and only me!  You promise!?   [she walks to stage right, faces wall, fuming]

 

HERB

Oh yes ma’am, I will. That I certainly will.  Yes.   Ma’am.

 

CLYDE

Well I’m turnin’ in.  Wanta join me and t’others out in the barn?  It’s real nice out there.

 

HERB

Uh…  If it’s all right with these folks.  It’s a little late for tryin’ to find a park bench.

 

JOHN   [ever the gentleman, as if it’s nothing]

Sure, make yourself at home.  Just watch, there’s somebody sleeping on the floor.

 

HERB

G’night then.

            [Clyde and Herb exit.  Frieda turns to face John]

 

FRIEDA

John … listen to me, John!  How could you DO this to me?  How could you do this to our marriage?  Do we even have a marriage?  Count them, John, FIVE HUSBANDS! My lord!  And you were actually one of them! You started a landslide, John!  It has slid right into my life and I don’t like it ONE BIT!  Four oddball strangers living in our barn, for goodness sake!  What a sorry lot – and that last one has raises a question about the legality of my parents’ marriage!  Just wait till Mama hears about this!!

 

[her ire builds] These ex-Maisie husbands are tracking all over my back yard and tracking dirt into my kitchen and they’re all broke and half starved and all they can talk about is “poor dead Maisie!”  I Am Already Sick To Death of poor, dead Maisie!    

 

[she grows more grim]      One more day like this and there’s going to be FIVE of Maisie’s ex-husbands sleeping in the barn, you hear me John?  The town gossips are having a field day and it’s only going to get worse when I tell Mama about this bird from Mississippi and JOHN, ARE YOU REALLY, ABSOLUTELY SURE YOU GOT DIVORCED FROM THAT WOMAN?  Oh damn!  How can a dead person dump so much disruption into my life?   Damn it,  Damn it,  DAMN it!!    I don’t want it, I don’t like it and WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT??!!! 

 

 

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  END OF ACT ONE  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

INTERMISSION

 

 

…to be continued…

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