The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 5, No. 4


by Joe Borini

DAN, twenties, United States Navy seaman
MARY, twenties, Dan’s wife
MIKE, a serviceman
IRMA, Dan’s cousin
FRANK, Irma’s husband
WHITCOMB, a doctor

Scene One

A modest home. Visible are the front door, kitchenette, dining area. Offstage leads to an unseen bedroom.

Time: September 1945

[MARY is working in the kitchenette. The door opens quietly and DAN, a sailor in the United States Navy, enters silently. He carries a large duffel bag. At first, he thinks he’ll sneak up on his wife and surprise her, but upon seeing her he stops, overwhelmed, and says her name softly.]

DAN: Mary.

[She whirls around, startled, rushes to him and embraces him. They stay locked and silent for some moments.]

MARY: Dan! You’re home!

DAN: I made it, baby. I made it home.

MARY: Oh God.

[They continue the embrace, overwhelmed by the moment.]

DAN: You’re beautiful, so beautiful.

MARY: You almost gave me a heart attack. Why didn’t you write to me you were coming?

DAN: I didn’t know when I’d get here. After the surrender, everything happened so fast. All I could think about was coming home to you, holding you in my arms again.

MARY: I missed you so much.

DAN: Every night I prayed to God to see you again...

[FRANK, in his boxer shorts, enters groggily from the bedroom and crosses in front of DAN and MARY.]

DAN: ...I took your picture with me wherever I went...

[FRANK stops, scratches.]

DAN: ...I whispered your name softly to myself over and over again until I’d fall asleep...

[FRANK noisily rummages around a drawer and gets a pack of cigarettes and lights one.]

DAN: ...At Guadalcanal, I wasn’t afraid of dying. I was afraid I would never be able to tell you how much I love you....

[FRANK groggily crosses back past DAN and MARY, and goes into a coughing fit as he exits to the bedroom. FRANK can be heard from offstage trying to clear the phlegm from his throat. He can be heard during DAN’s next line.]

DAN: [trying to make himself heard above FRANK’s hacking] My one wish, the only thing that kept me going, was the hope that someday I’d come home to...OK, who’s that?

MARY: [whispering] That’s Frank.

DAN: What’s he doing in our bedroom? In my shorts?

MARY: Sleeping. He’s very tired. He had a busy night.

DAN: Who the hell is he!?

MARY: Watch your language.

DAN: Watch my language!?

MARY: You’re not aboard ship here, mister. This is our home.

DAN: Whose? Yours and mine or yours and Frank’s?

MARY: I’m not going to allow that filthy language in here. This isn’t the Navy.

DAN: Who is Frank?

MARY: I’m not speaking to you until you apologize.


[She stays silent.]

DAN: OK. I’m sorry. Who is Frank, and why is he here?

MARY: The Army wouldn’t take him. He has flat feet, and he works the night shift at the plant. If I had known you would be home so soon I wouldn’t have had him here.
DAN: Why is he in my home?
MARY: He lives here.

DAN: What!?
[A baby starts to cry.]

MARY: Now you’ve woken the baby.

DAN: Baby!

[MARY goes off, gets the baby, and rocks it.]

DAN: How old is the baby?

MARY: Two months. Isn’t he cute?

DAN: But I haven’t been home in three years.

MARY: Silly. He isn’t yours. He’s Frank’s, of course. His name is Dan. Frank insisted he be named after you.

[MARY hands DAN the baby as she goes to get a bottle.]

DAN: Hold it!

[She returns with a bottle.]

MARY: Oh don’t be mad, darling. It’s only for a little while. And after all, he is family.

DAN: He’s not my family.

MARY: He is now.

DAN: How exactly is Ol’ Frank related?

MARY: A cousin.

DAN: A cousin. Cousin Frank.

MARY: Yep.

DAN: You don’t have a Cousin Frank.

MARY: I know. You do.

DAN: No, I don’t.

MARY: You do now.

DAN: How did Ol’ Frank get to be my cousin?

MARY: He married Irma.

DAN: Irma! Irma is in a convent!

MARY: She got out.

DAN: She’s going to be a nun!

MARY: Apparently she changed her mind.

DAN: Irma got married? Irma the prude? She wouldn’t let a man within fifty feet of her.

MARY: Irma got married. I wrote you.

DAN: No, you didn’t.

MARY: Oh, yes I did. You must’ve forgotten.

DAN: I have kept all of your letters. I have read each one so many times I know them all by heart. You never mentioned Irma got a husband.

MARY: Well, then, you must not have received that particular letter.

DAN: And the baby?

MARY: Frank and Irma’s.

DAN: When did they get married?

MARY: A year ago.

DAN: So what’s he doing here?

MARY: After the fire...

DAN: What fire?

MARY: The one that burned down their house. After the fire they had no place to go. So I said they could live here. It’s working out all right. We all work different shifts, so there’s always someone home to watch the baby, and they help out with expenses.

DAN: Irma is living here?

MARY: I let them have the bedroom. They have the baby and all. I sleep on the couch. I don’t mind. Sweetie, can we talk about this later? I’ve missed you so much.

[He hesitates. Then sweeps her up in his arms and is about to carry her off.]

DAN: I guess it’s time to tell Cousin Frank to go for a walk.

[There is a knock. MARY goes to the door. DAN watches.]

MARY: Could you come back later? My husband just got home from the Pacific.

[She closes the door and jumps back in DAN’s arms.]

DAN: Who was that?

MARY: Nobody.

DAN: A soldier.

MARY: Bill.

DAN: What’d he want?

MARY: It’s kind of a long story.

DAN: Try me.

[There is a knock. DAN opens the door. There is a serviceman, MIKE.]

MIKE: Hi. Mary? Is now OK? Oh, I’m sorry. You’re ahead of me.

MARY: You’re early.

MIKE: I know. I was in the neighborhood. [To DAN] Are you going to take long?

MARY: Gee, Mike, could you come back later? My husband just got home.

MIKE: Oh yeah?

MARY: He was all over the Pacific. Three years.

MIKE: Hey, welcome back, sailor.

[He shakes DAN’s hand warmly.]

MIKE: I guess I’ll come back later.

[He winks and leaves.]

MARY: That was Mike. Nice guy. One of my steadies.

DAN: I see it all now.

MARY: I just do it to bring in some extra money.

DAN: Sure.

MARY: I didn’t think it was such a big deal.

DAN: Have you lost your mind?

MARY: Well, you weren’t here so I figured why not? Oh, please, Dan, can I keep working? I know you’re home now, but I won’t neglect you. I promise. And it brings in an awful lot of money, and I really like it.

DAN: You’re crazy.

MARY: Oh, please. It’s just a few shirts.

DAN: Shirts.

MARY: Yeah. Shirts.

DAN: Oh. You take in laundry.

MARY: Just shirts.

DAN: Old Mike wasn’t bringing any shirts.

MARY: He was picking up.

DAN: Where was his ticket?

MARY: It’s still a new business. I haven’t gotten that far yet.

DAN: Do you wash Ol’ Frank’s dirty linen, too?

MARY: Irma does that.

DAN: Sure.

MARY: Darling, can we talk about this later? I’ve missed you so much.

[She hugs him. He remains motionless, then relents.]

MARY: Whoops. Almost forgot.

[She goes to a drawer and takes out a condom and goes back to DAN, who is shocked. He goes to the drawer and picks up a fistful of condoms.]

DAN: Mary, why are there hundreds of rubbers in this drawer?

MARY: Because you men are so careless.

DAN: I see.

MARY: I find them all the time. My customers leave them in their shirts.

DAN: The shirts you wash.

MARY: Yes.

DAN: Why don’t you just give them back their rubbers?

MARY: I tried that once. The guy was so embarrassed he never came back, so now I don’t say anything. I can’t afford to lose my customers.

DAN: Customers for what!?

MARY: Stop yelling at me! [beat.] I’m not well.

DAN: What’s the matter?

MARY: The doctor...

DAN: Doctor!? Mary, you never go to a doctor. My God. Is it serious?

MARY: The doctor was going to put me in the hospital.

[He goes to her.]

DAN: Oh, Mary. What do you have?

MARY: A lot you care. Ever since you’ve been home you’ve been mad at me. You grill me about Frank and Irma and the baby. And I explain to you I take in shirts.

DAN: I’m so sorry. Mary, I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ve been away so long and saw so many terrible things. Forgive me, darling. I trust you. My God. There’s never been anybody else for either of us. Since high school we’ve been together. You wouldn’t let me kiss you until we were engaged. At the movies you blushed when Clark Gable kissed Vivien Leigh. On our wedding day, when you walked down the aisle, you looked like an angel. My sweet, beautiful Mary. Tell me, what do you have?

MARY: [nuzzling him] Syphilis.


MARY: Shhh!


MARY: Just a touch.


MARY: Quiet! Do you want to tell the whole neighborhood?


MARY: From the toilet seat at the plant.

DAN: Oh, come on, Mary!

MARY: No, really. It’s very unsanitary. Marcie, Sadie, and Betty all got it from the same toilet.

DAN: You didn’t cover the seat with paper?

MARY: Are you kidding? It’s rationed. There was a war on, or hadn’t you heard.

DAN: You can’t get syphilis from a toilet seat.

MARY: Well, I sure did. Just a touch.

DAN: I have been in the Navy three years. I have shared a head with thousands of the horniest sailors who have screwed every whore between Pearl and Tokyo Bay. I never got syphilis, the clap, a chancre sore, crabs, psoriasis, athlete’s foot, or a cold from a toilet seat.

MARY: I hope you used paper.

DAN: Mary, what’s been going on?

MARY: I don’t know what you mean. What’s the matter with you?

DAN: What’s the matter with me!? YOU HAVE SYPHILIS!

MARY: Just a touch.

DAN: There’s a strange man sleeping in my bed. There’s a strange baby named after me but doesn’t look like me. Servicemen are lined up for my wife. And you have syphilis.

MARY: Just...

DAN: I know, I know. Just a touch. I never would’ve thought it of you. My sweet, beautiful Mary. You were the only girl I ever loved. It’s always been just us. There’s never been anybody else. On our wedding night we were both virgins. And now I come home to this.

MARY: Hey, wait a minute. You think I...

DAN: Come on. Let’s not play games.

MARY: How could you think that I...

DAN: I was such a sucker. I’m out there getting my ass dive-bombed while there’s some 4-F fuck in my kip, balling the shit out of my slut of a wife as she gives birth to his baby. Servicemen from every branch of the armed forces traipse up here with their rubbers. And she has syphilis. I wish the Japs got me.

[He picks up his duffel.]

DAN: You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to get drunk. So drunk that I can barely walk.

[There is a knock.]

DAN: Then I’m going to find a whore. The dirtiest, ugliest whore in the city. And I’m going to fuck her until her stench comes out of every one of my pores.

[There is another knock.]

DAN: Then, I’m going to the docks and blow my brains out. You filthy, syphilitic slut of a whore.

[Another knock.]

DAN: That’s it! This is fucking it!

[He bolts to the door, cocks his fist back, and opens the door. He is handed a pile of shirts. He brings them to MARY.]

DAN: No starch. Tuesday. Jack says hi.

[He feels something in the pocket. He takes out a condom.]

DAN: A rubber.

[He puts it in the drawer with the others. Enter IRMA.]



IRMA: You’re home!

[She throws her arms around her shocked cousin.]

IRMA: We missed you so much! We prayed every day you’d be safe.

DAN: But the convent...

IRMA: Aren’t you going to congratulate me? See my ring? Did you see the baby?

DAN: Uh-huh.

IRMA: When did you get home?!

DAN: Uh, just a...I just got in.

IRMA: Ohhhh, I see. Well, I think Frank and I will go for a little stroll with the baby.

[She winks at MARY and goes off to the bedroom. MARY stares at DAN stonily. IRMA returns with a baby carriage and FRANK, who groggily comes up to DAN.]

IRMA: This is my husband, Frank. Frank, this is my cousin, Dan.

[Overwhelmed, FRANK embraces DAN.]

FRANK: Welcome home, sailor. I’m real glad to meet you. Your wife is a saint. I don’t know what we’d do without her. Honey, now that Dan’s home, don’t you think it’s time we ask them?

IRMA: We’d be honored if you two would be godparents to little Danny.

DAN: Uhh, sure.

IRMA: Great. I’m so happy. Let’s go, Frank. I’m sure Dan and Mary want to be have sex.

[She squeals with laughter.]

DAN: Irma!

IRMA: Oh, don’t be such a drip.

[IRMA and FRANK head for the door.]

FRANK: Hey, does he know she has...

[IRMA punches his arm to let him know he should shut up. They leave. There is a pause.]

DAN: There’s still the syphilis.

[There is a knock. DAN opens the door. Enter WHITCOMB.]

DAN: You’re picking up your shirts?

WHITCOMB: What? No. Mrs. Walker?

MARY: Dr. Whitcomb!

WHITCOMB: Uh, Mrs. Walker, I have to see you about your tests.

MARY: It’s all right, Dr. Whitcomb. This is my husband. He knows everything.

WHITCOMB: Oh, so you’re the little lady’s husband. I’m honored to meet you. You guys did a hell of a job out there.

DAN: Yeah, and this is the thanks we get.

WHITCOMB: Your wife is one special woman.

DAN: Seems like every guy in town knows that.

MARY: Doctor, would you tell my husband that it’s possible to get syphilis from a toilet seat?

WHITCOMB: I’m afraid that’s impossible. That’s just an old wives’ tale.

DAN: A guilty wives’ tale.

MARY: Then how did I get it?

WHITCOMB: That’s just it! You don’t have syphilis at all!

MARY: Not even a touch?

WHITCOMB: Not even a touch. You have a bladder infection. I’m sorry for putting you through so much agony. I had to come here personally to tell you the good news and apologize. There’s so much syphilis going around that the records got fouled up. We got your results mixed up with someone else’s. By the way, is Irma here?

MARY: She just stepped out. Gee, does that mean the other girls at the plant have bladder infections?

WHITCOMB: ’Fraid not.

MARY: But if you can’t get syphilis from a toilet seat, how did Marcie, Sadie, and Betty get it?

WHITCOMB: They moonlight as hookers. Well, I’m sorry again. I guess I’ll leave you two alone.

[He winks and leaves. MARY stares, hurt, at DAN.]

DAN: [whispering] I’m sorry.

[DAN quietly picks up his duffel and leaves.]

MARY: Dan?

[There’s a pause, then a knock. She opens the door.]

MARY: Dan!

DAN: Hi, honey. War’s over. I’m home.

[He kisses her and sweeps her off to the bedroom.]