Table Service

SCENE::  Small Café (circa 1956)  There are tables, chairs etc. and up right a one-way mirror which separates the kitchen from the public area.

 

As the play opens the Café is deserted.  DORIS enters from the back, looks about and purses her lips.  She goes round giving a quick flip to the tables with her cloth then returns behind the one way.

HENRY enters, meekly, searching for anonymity, and selects a table up centre.  He methodically takes off his coat which he hangs on the coat stand just behind him, then his scarf which he folds carefully onto the chair.  He then puts his umbrella precisely into the centre of the umbrella stand.  He is now ready to sit down. But he is still wearing his hat.  His hand goes up to his head and he removes the hat and lobs it to the top of the coat stand. It misses. He picks it up and places it carefully on top of his scarf.  DORIS who has emerged from the kitchen has been watching him with a touch of condescension.  He smoothes his newspaper, clears his throat and starts to read.

 

DORIS  re-enters and does a circuit of the restaurant before coming to Henry. She plonks the menu in front of him. She wears a dark dress under a frilly floral pinafore. She is heavily made up, a bit frightening, but the floral pinny avoids the stark waitressy affect.

 

 

DORIS: There’s Mushroom, Tomato or Minestrone.

 

(She stands poised, impatient, staring upwards and slightly to one side of him as though she has a packed restaurant waiting for her attention)

 

Henry goggles at the menu feeling intimidated. Doris intervenes.

 

DORIS: (firmly but not unkindly) Have the minestrone.

 

HENRY: Yes well. If you recommend)

 

DORIS: It’s very nice, Elsie’s very good with Minestrone.

 

HENRY: Elsie….

 

DORIS: Our Chef

 

Henry takes in the word chef with slight surprise.

 

DORIS: Roll and Butter?

 

HENRY: Y-yes a glass of…of

 

DORIS: Whaite wine?

 

HENRY; N-no – No wine

 

(As HENRY speaks DORIS whips a paper serviette from the glass on the table with one hand, picks up a jug of water from a side table with the other, and pours as he speaks.  It is her party piece.  She then picks up a roll and butter and plate from the side table, and, spinning on one foot, places it before him. A piece of ballet.  She preens herself, noticing him noticing her).

 

HENRY: ….Water – yes – Thank you —

 

DORIS: And to follow?

 

(She begins to establish control of their relationship and feels a little more relaxed.  Her pad and pencil are poised, head slightly on one side, looking down at him.  HENRY fumbles with the menu).

 

HENRY: . .er . .er

 

(DORIS leans over him and points with her pencil)

 

DORIS: No that’s lunches (she twists the menu) There’s dinners.

 

HENRY: I…er..er

 

DORIS: (Relaxing further)   Yes, well, you just be looking at the menu) and I’ll go and get your soup.

 

HENRY: (still fumbling) Thank – yes – yes . . . . .I’ll

 

DORIS: (Almost coy)   Won’t be a tick.

 

(Doris exits with a flourish turning with a little smile and a wave.   Henry tries to get back to his paper. Doris re-enters  from the other side carefully preparing what she is about to say)

 

DORIS: There you are then.      Nice and hot.

 

HENRY: Yes, yes,  I do like  –  Hot

 

DORIS: (Benignly)   That’s it . . . . Warms you through.

 

(As he eats she moves round behind him.  It is making him nervous.  Suddenly she darts back, smoothing the cloth in front of him).

 

DORIS: (With great care)   Pardon the liberty, but just now when you walked in well, I could have sworn you was someone else . . .

 

HENRY: Someone else (trying to read his paper).   No I’m not, I’m ….

 

DORIS: Y-Yes…Someone else

 

HENRY: No-no – I’m…

 

 (He looks up at her helplessly)

 

DORIS: The splitting image!   Oh you did give me the quivers.

 

HENRY: Oh I’m so sorry – I didn’t –

 

DORIS: (Still darting round him)    I’d have sworn my last oath – as I came out from that kitchen with your soup . .  Here, let’s have a better look.   Oh the similarity!   You’d  never  believe!   I don’t mind telling you I just stopped myself in time.   I was going to walk past and give you a quick little flick with the tea cloth – like I always used to do.

 

HENRY: When? Gracious me – I’ve never been – I’m so sorry.

 

DORIS: Well, it’s hardly your fault is it?

 

(She stands with her arms folded looking down at him.

 

DORIS: Is it?

 

HENRY: Oh, no, no. no

 

He tries to get back to the paper and the soup

 

DORIS: Splitting image.

 

HENRY: I-I’m really (sip) most terribly (sip) sorry.

 

DORIS: Well, you weren’t to know, were you?

 

HENRY; No no. I wasn’t – I’m (sip) so extremely —

 

DORIS: No.   You  weren’t  to  know.   I thought to myself (dramatically) it’s him I thought!   He’s come back.   The head and the hair and the nape of the neck

 

(she reaches out and almost touches him).  

 

DORIS: After all these years!

 

HENRY: I’m afraid you’re mixing me –

 

DORIS: Curly hair.  Always a sharp bend in the collar where it’s been ironed flat.   I could hardly believe my eyes.   The same way of sitting slightly stooped.   Just like yourself.  (She moves round to look from a different angle).   Oh it was a surprise.

 

HENRY: I really am so awfully….

 

DORIS: Sorry? No, you don’t have to say . .. .it’s me should apologise for taking the liberty – You can’t do anything about it can you?

 

HENRY: No!  No, I can’t!

 

DORIS: I mean – not being him, can you?  Well, I mean, you can’t

 

HENRY: No, no – yes – No, I can’t.

 

(He finishes the soup and pushes the plate away)

 

HENRY: The soup was…was…

 

DORIS: Yes, Elsie’s always good with Minestrone

 

HENRY: Yes, yes.  Well

 

DORIS: I mean after all it’s been such a long time… Well, you could have knocked me down . . . . .

 

HENRY: It’s very good for you

 

(slight pause)

 

DORIS: Is it?

 

HENRY: Minestrone.  Good for you

 

DORIS: Oh Minestrone! Yes… yes, oh yes ….  Not that I was going to say anything, well not at first…. After a while. I might have just said “wherever have you been?  –  All this time – all this time” – That’s all!   I was never one for bearing grudges.   (She walks away and then turns back)  I’d have been bound to pass a remark – just a remark though, wouldn’t I?   I  mean, if you had been you – yourself. Him.   You’d have expected it.  Wouldn’t you?  A girl has to speak out, you know – there’s things must be said – I’m not a rag doll – – just picked up and shaken and cast aside again…..

 

HENRY: Oh no – no, of course not

 

DORIS: No

 

HENRY: I’m so dreadfully sorry . . .

 

DORIS: (scornfully)    Sorry!  Oh you’ll make my sides ache.   After all this time.

 

HENRY: I really must say I don’t quite understand.

 

DORIS: Understand!   Yes (nodding to herself)  Selfish they are, all of them. Understanding indeed.   Precious little understanding – I should think – I mean I’d have to be a saint.

 

HENRY: Oh dear, Oh dear, dear, dear.

 

(slight pause  Henry makes to get up)

 

HENRY: Perhaps I’d better go?

 

(he gets up)

 

DORIS: Oh yes, go.   That’s right!   Pick yourself up and go. – All these years and not so much as a how d’you do (She reaches over his shoulder for the soup plate effectively pinning him down).   Not the faintest flicker.  Every Tuesday and Friday for four years and I’m just supposed to just stand there- I’d have to be made of stone!

 

HENRY: Well really.   I’m so – you see – I don’t – Well, it’s quite beyond – Look, there’s been some sort of mistake.

 

DORIS: Mistake!   Oh you can say that again.   I should say it was a mistake. Four years devoted attention!   If only I’d never clapped eyes.

 

HENRY: Four years – it’s… a long time – I can see that ….

 

DORIS: Every Tuesday and Friday, you could set your clock.

 

(she looks him over and a quick glance at the hat stand)

 

DORIS: Always wore a hat.   Dark coat.    Umbrella summer and winter . . . . . Nicely brushed hair – that’s what I always liked – every hair perfectly in its place.

 

HENRY: (meek but determined)  I think I had better go.

 

DORIS: (brusquely) Sit down!   (He stops half way, gives in and sits down again).

 

DORIS: (wheedling) You’ve barely finished your soup.   There!  (She gives the table a flick)  That’s it.   Regular.

 

HENRY: I – I like a – regular man.

 

DORIS: We looked forward to it – Tuesdays and Fridays, me and Else  Pass the time of day   – little laugh – little joke – made the weeks go by.

 

HENRY: Yes.  It’s so important. – Being reliable.

 

DORIS: You see we always knew.

 

HENRY: I see what you mean.

 

DORIS: Regular as clockwork.

 

HENRY: Things shouldn’t have to change.

 

DORIS: Yes, that’s why – I mean it’s a shock isn’t it?

 

HENRY: I suppose it is – What?

 

DORIS: Went right through me.

 

HENRY: Gracious!

 

DORIS: I don’t mind telling you – I nearly dropped my tray!

 

HENRY: I do wish I – if there were something I could do . . . . .

 

DORIS: Do?   You?   Do?   Well no – it’s not as though you were him is it?

 

HENRY: No! Oh no!

 

DORIS: I mean, if you were – of course I’d have to ask a few questions

 

HENRY: About? Me? Questions?

 

DORIS: Well   I mean I couldn’t just let it go like that, could I?

 

HENRY: (Almost a touch of sarcasm)   No, I don’t suppose you could.   (he gives a hint of laugh but stops abruptly – very nervous)

 

DORIS: (stalking round)   mind you, I can still hardly believe.   It’s the curly hair and that little bit of grey.   Short back and sides – would you call it?  A… military bearing?

 

HENRY: Clean.

 

DORIS: Yes.

 

HENRY: Clean – clean appearance.

 

DORIS: And the selfsame moustache . . And there was this ridge in his nose from the glasses.

 

SLIGHT PAUSE

 

DORIS: Naw…No, you’re really quite different.  Now I truly come to look

 

HENRY: I – do wear spectacles…Sometimes…

 

DORIS: It’s different, totally different. Different colour eyes for a start

 

HENRY: …For reading…

 

DORIS; And look at your ears! I mean they’re bigger, much bigger

 

HENRY: I’ve always had – rather large ears – They used to call me…

 

DORIS; Much bigger…But from the back!

 

HENRY; …Dumbo, because of my ears

 

DORIS; Of course, it was Elsie seen you first – credit where it’s due -see she sees everything from back there. She’s got  the advantage of the one way mirror

See, she can see out, but they can’t see in

 

HENRY; Elsie?  They?

 

DORIS; The customers, of course!

 

HENRY: Ah, the customers

 

DORIS: We often watches them when Elsie’s not busy . . Some of the things you’d never believe….Well, Elsie was just putting the pealed Pacific prawns on the morning gathered lettuce and all of a sudden she cried out:

: Doris! (shrieking) It’s your Fried Plaice no Tartar Sauce. come back!

 

HENRY: I thought heard a shout…Was that Elsie in the kitchen?

 

DORIS: Every Tuesday and Friday.    Regular as clockwork.  Always the same. Fried Plaice no tartar Sauce!   Never changed.   Elsie looked forward to it almost as much as I did.   Of course, she hardly had to do with the customers being in the Kitchen but she still looked forward to it …She used to say to me. (Shrieking) Don’t forget to keep a Plaice for you-know-who.

 

HENRY: A place yes. (tapping a chair)

 

DORIS: Fried.   As though I’d forget!   We used to get a lot of regular gentlemen …. There was always a sausage and liver and a home baked steak and kidney used to come in just before.. I’d be helping Elsie with my back to the window and she’d call out:  “There’s your sausage and liver!”  and a little while after:  “There’s your home baked steak and kidney!” And as soon as she said that I’d know to tidy myself up and we’d put the Plaice in the pan….

 

SLIGHT PAUSE

 

(Henry looks up shyly)

 

HENRY: I’m afraid I’ve never been a fish person myself

 

DORIS: Well there’s those that are and those that aren’t

 

SLIGHT PAUSE

 

HENRY: Was it his religion perhaps?

 

DORIS: Religion?

 

(slight pause)

 

HENRY: The fish, on Fridays

 

 

 

DORIS: Oh no, there was Tuesdays too.>>And always the plaice. Never the haddock or the grilled dover. Always the plaice without…Oh, I tried..See he’d be sitting there where you are and I’d stand like this with my hand on my hip (she poses flirtatiously) and I’d say How about a nice Baked Toad with some new?  Or a charcoal grilled with baked jacket  Cream and Chives

 

HENRY: He wouldn’t?

 

DORIS: I should’ve saved my breath!  Once Elsie was a bit short on plaice an’ she was saving one for one of her gentlemen. I said to her: “Never mind Elsie” I said  “I’ll persuade my gentleman to have the baked cod, or maybe even a grilled gammon with – or maybe even a charcoal grilled

 

HENRY: Slice of pineapple on the gammon!  Yes, lovely –

 

DORIS: (enacting it flirtatiously) “Bit low on plaice tonight, I says to ‘m- So why

not try the fried cod with butter mushrooms?  Veree naice? Or the honey

glaze; – french fries an’ new seasons peas?”  Well, you should have seen his

face

 

HENRY: Oh dear – not pleased?

 

DORIS: Black as thunder

 

HENRY; It isn’t everybody’s taste

 

DORIS: Wasn’t ‘is  – Oh no,

 

HENRY: Well, you can’t please cod and gammon

 

DORIS: Cod and gammon?

 

HENRY: A joke. Just my joke

 

DORIS: For a moment I thought we was going to lose him. I know he had it in his mind to get up and go – If it hadn’t been for upsetting me – (enacting it)No! he says No! and he bangs the table, very firm.   If you don’t mind I’ll have the Plaice Without, he says.  Same as usual.

 

HENRY: Yes (nodding)   That’s right. Same as usual.

 

DORIS: Same as usual.   Plaice without. Tartar sauce   I went straight back to the Kitchen:  Elsie, I said, Quick!   Put the Plaice in the pan.

 

HENRY: And that’s what she did?

 

SLIGHT PAUSE

 

DORIS: Straight in the pan!   She could see I’d had a shock

 

HENRY: That was – kind – of Elsie.

 

DORIS: (airily)   Oh, Elsie knows what’s what

 

HENRY: She knew her place..  Ha-ha

 

He covers his mouth immediately

 

HENRY: Sorry.

 

(Doris looks back at the one way and then turns dramatically)

 

DORIS: And – when I brought it out to him!   My hand was – trembling – I can tell you – I gave the table a special dust before I put the plate in front of him.   Oh dear –  Those eyes – steely grey his eyes – bored right into me – straight into my face – No, let me look. .(she looks)   No, No, not your colour at all. Different entirely.

 

HENRY: Hazel –

 

DORIS: No Doris

 

(Slight pause)

 

DORIS: No, no, quite different.

 

HENRY: My eyes.   Hazel.

 

DORIS: Mm, quite different.   But from the back . . . Ooh (girlish giggle) you  gave us such a turn.

 

HENRY: It’s the light.  The light can make –

 

DORIS: I was telling you –  Straight at me:  I always has the Plaice without he says  Though he could see I was upset – He patted my hand – With his hand – Never mind, he says.  Never mind. But please remember Doris, I always has the Plaice.

 

(She flutters her eyelashes)

 

DORIS: That was the first time he called me Doris.

 

SLIGHT PAUSE

 

HENRY: No Tartar Sauce.

 

DORIS: (nonplussed)   Eh?

 

HENRY: No Tartar Sauce.  Plaice without.

 

SHE PAUSES

 

DORIS: Yes….That’s right

 

SHE PAUSES

 

DORIS: After that, no matter how busy we was – I always saw to him the first. Never kept him waiting; well almost never – Cos, he expected it didn’t he? Of course,  he always came the quiet time; quarter past eight, summer and winter. Sometimes it’d be only me and him and… Elsie looking out from the one way

 

HENRY: Quiet

 

DORIS: (artfully)…like it is now….

 

HENRY: Quiet…Nice and quiet.

 

DORIS: Yes, pardon?

 

HENRY: That’s …how I like it

 

DORIS: …Lovely times…

 

HENRY: Mm…

 

DORIS: I’d stand and watch him eat ‘is plaice without followed by a macedonie fruit with cream or a spotted dick and custard…

 

SLIGHT PAUSE.  ( Henry fumbles with the menu again.   He is about to say something but each time Doris quells him)

 

DORIS: …..Wonderful times . . . . .

 

HENRY: …..To follow….I —

 

DORIS: He used to look up at me sometimes and catch me watching him and he’d say:  Hmmmph!  – Hmmph – Nothing better to do?

 

HENRY: Oh, do you think

 

DORIS: Naw –

 

HENRY Maybe he  —

 

DORIS; Naw – Just ‘is little joke

 

HENRY: Oh, well if you –

 

(slight pause)

 

DORIS: I knew all his little ways.

 

HENRY: .Hmmph

 

DORIS: Memories, eh?  Memories?

 

(Henry waits for a moment then tries again)

 

HENRY: …..Well, I suppose I’d quite like…….

 

DORIS: See, we tried to make it nice for him, didn’t we? Me and Else.  Did our level best  – Even if every seat was full – the once or twice – He hated sharing:  couldn’t abide to share, so I’d put a hat on the chair opposite, or a tray, and once I even took the chair away! Couldn’t abide anyone near…Once I had two lamb chops, a grilled gammon with egg, a sausage toad and a haddock all crammed round one table rather than have him share….

 

HENRY: (cautiously) You’re a very feeling person –  Anyone can see that

 

DORIS: And always the same:   On his own.  Like yourself – if you don’t mind me saying so –

 

HENRY: Mind?  Why should I mind? No I don’t mind.  I like being on my own

 

DORIS: Always the same table…And always the Plaice without

 

HENRY: Well it takes all sorts. Now me myself – Myself -I’ve never been a fish person. Myself.

 

DORIS: Yes it takes all sorts. Doesn’t it?

 

HENRY: Not that I don’t like fish. Oh no, no. no. no. no.

 

DORIS: Well no one says you got to like it

 

HENRY: No. . . I –

 

DORIS: Everybody’s different.

 

HENRY: Yes. In fact, Yes (looking at the menu)   I’m quite fond of steak pudding.

 

(Doris takes the menu (timing carefully)  marks it and hands it back to Henry)

 

DORIS: Steak pudding’s off!

 

HENRY: (double-take, timing)  Oh – off – Oh – Ah, yes – well, then.

 

DORIS: Been a very busy day for steak puddings – In fact, I’ve had two of my grilled gammons and a lamb chop both on steak puddings lunch time –

 

HENRY: Ah –

 

DORIS: Well it isn’t everybody’s fancy, you know.   Oh no,.   See all the regulars turned up today.   Though they’re quite unreliable the steak puddings.

 

HENRY: Ah – Ah – yes.

 

DORIS: Mm . . . .

 

(slight pause)

 

HENRY: . . . . . . yes . . . . .

 

DORIS: No need to worry.   Plenty of time . . . . .

 

(HENRY takes off his glasses and rubs his nose)

 

HENRY: Oh dear . . . . . .

 

Doris darts back in astonishment

 

DORIS: Ooh, you said that —-

 

HENRY: (gasping)   Yes?

 

DORIS: . . . . just like him.

 

HENRY: Oh dear?

 

DORIS: That’s it again!   Exactly like . . . . .

 

HENRY: Your gentlemen?

 

DORIS: I remember him coming in once when we was nearly full (acting it)  He looked around as he took off his coat and he said:

 

HENRY: Oh dear?

 

DORIS: There, you’ve done it again!

 

HENRY: Oh e-ew

 

DORIS: Oh you did give me . . . . . .

 

HENRY: A lot of people say Oh Dear

 

DORIS: Here (weakly)   Ooh er –  (She holds on to the table for support)

 

HENRY: Oh dear . . . . .

 

DORIS: Oh! Oh! It’s it exact!   I remember you’d come in sometimes and you’d take off your glasses and you’d rub your nose where the bridge had pinched – Just like you

 

(she comes round the tables and peers into his eyes)

 

DORIS: You are sure aren’t you?  I mean the colour of the eyes. They can’t change…Can they?

 

HENRY: (startled) You said you – You mean him, just now, about coming in and        taking off his glasses – It wasn’t you, I mean me -I mean it was him!

 

DORIS: That’s all right.  You’re quite different really – don’t get worried

 

(slight pause. She touches his shoulder. He half rises, slightly panic stricken)

 

DORIS: Ooh!  That was just how he used to look . . . . . . .

 

(She nudges him and he falls back into the chair.  He picks up the menu)

 

HENRY: (desperately)  LIVER? Liver, yes? What…. about the liver?

 

DORIS: Liver with?

 

HENRY: With?

 

DORIS: (dreamily) Grilled Spanish onions ; new seasons  peas – French fries –

 

HENRY: That’s it!  That’s it!  Liver with!

 

DORIS: Yes..(coming down to earth)   Well, I’ll ask Elsie shall I?   You can’t be too sure with livers.  Ups and downs (severely)  You see it’s late for livers.

 

HENRY: Oh I’m so –

 

(as he speaks she moves towards the Kitchen but comes back with just a glance back to the one way)

 

DORIS: (confidently)   It’s funny, when we’re quiet like this Elsie almost knows before I do what the gentlemen are going to have.  The moment I go back she’ll say:  It’s a sausage toad creamed and carrots, or Medium rare baked jacket and chives! She’s got an instinct for it Elsie has.   I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already got your liver in the pan .

 

HENRY: – er, the onions – Done brown

 

DORIS: It’s sort of telephony.

 

HENRY: …and… another – a glass of water.

 

(She pours the water from high up, again doing her ballet)

 

DORIS: She’ll have guessed by now you aren’t you.  Or I’d have said!

 

(she pauses, waiting, he sips the water)

 

DORIS: Shall I see about your liver?

 

(He picks up the menu, puts it down Picks up the paper, puts it down.   She only moves one step away and stands behind him.   He almost jumps out of his skin as she interrupts)

 

DORI Sure you wouldn’t sooner have the baked lambs hearts,                                      Norfolk spring greens and new?

 

HENRY: (with asperity)   I – I – If you don’t mind –

 

DORIS: No.   All right, I’ll ask Elsie.

(she walks towards the Kitchen, then turns back)

 

DORIS: See I don’t have much to do with the Kitchen – I’m out here with the public. (confidentially)  Each to his own I say!   Mind you, I won’t say that sometimes Elsie doesn’t get a bit (mouthing spelling) j e a l o u s

 

HENRY: Jealous?

 

(Quick glance over her shoulder)

 

DORIS: Sshh!

 

HENRY: (Picking up the menu again) If you really think – the baked hearts?

Perhaps?

 

DORIS: (ignoring him)   You see – she sees me out here with all the gentlemen – And of course…

 

HENRY; Not too much gravy

 

DORIS: Gravy?

 

HENRY: With the baked hearts

 

DOORIS: (Ignoring him) And,  I’ve always kept myself very smart.

 

(She preens herself.   Inviting him to look her over)

 

HENRY: (shyly) Yes, you’re a neat woman.   Anyone can see that.

 

DORIS: (delighted)   I’ve always tried to, you know – Well, I don’t mind to have to tell you that once or twice – me and Elsie – we’ve had words –

 

HENRY: Elsie?  Oh dear.

 

DORIS: Well she gets a bit sulky, doesn’t she?

 

HENRY: Oo-er

 

DORIS: Not so’s the customers can hear of course – but once or twice after we’ve closed, I’ve had to speak my mind:: Elsie, I’d say,  you were a bit slow (pronounced sloo-ow) with that double-portion-pie-cabbage-and-new … Oh yes! And once, for one of my gentlemen there was evaporated milk all over the trotters…

 

SLI GHT PAUSE

 

DORIS: Mind, you give her her due, it’s only when she’s tired, she gets – a bit – well… -It’s hot in there and when we’re busy – I mean you can’t expect ..never to have words.

 

HENRY: Oh, no –

 

DORIS: I mean, it’s for her own sake as much as mine…I tell you – Once or twice well,  she’s good as suggested we change over places – Her out here and me behind the one way (aghast)

 

HENRY: Ah! But you didn’t….?

 

DORIS: The idea!

 

HENRY: Ah – no, I can see that you –

 

DORIS: Doesn’t come into it?   Does it? My feelings.  I mean the gentlemen would never stand for it, would they?   Elsie’s hardly the type:  Not for the front.

 

(she pauses, wound up)

 

DORIS: Oh, no.   Oh dear dear no.

 

HENRY: I understand.  Oh yes….

 

DORIS: No.   Oh No!   She doesn’t have the education, for a start.  Not Elsie.   She wouldn’t know how to-to….Converse… Not the type at all.

 

HENRY: I do understand

 

DORIS: You mean that.  I can see that.

 

(From behind the one-way there comes a slight banging.

A voice calls but we can’t make out what is said)

 

DORIS: Oh no.    (she glances over her shoulder) Skuse me!

 

(She disappears with quick little steps into the kitchen. We hear

the sound of Doris’s voice engaged in a slight altercation. HENRY is left alone.  He is agitated.  He jumps up, puts on his coat and scarf.  But then he hears Doris returning and swiftly takes them off and sits down again)

 

(DORIS marches to the table)

 

DORIS: Quick,  look over there for a moment – pretend you’re whistling!   That’s it! Don’t turn round.   She lip-reads you know.   She can understand  every word you’re saying back there… What was I saying?

 

HENRY: You were talking about Elsie.

 

DORIS: Ssh.   Oh yes.   Elsie.   Ssh.   No don’t let her see.   Ssh.  They say listeners never good of themselves.  You see, Elsie’s very good and we’ve hardly had a cross word these many years.   I mean, I won’t hear a bad word said

against her but you have to know she is inclined to get a bit (spelling out but turning towards the one-way so that Elsie can see)  J E A L O U S.

 

HENRY: Jealous?

 

DORIS: Ssh.  Ssh.   Don’t let her see!   You see I’ve always tried to keep myself naice.

 

HENRY: – Oh yes . . . . yes.

 

 Pause

 

DORIS: Well, of course… That’s what happened with my gentlemen, wasn’t it?

 

HENRY: Oh…the other – Oh, I see what you mean. Your man…she was… ah …she

 

DORIS: Shh!   Yes Shh!   Oh I know it was wrong of him to make himself strange –

but he had his reasons …I mean would he have gone off like that without so much as a toodle-oo.

 

Doriis Toodle-oo!  Oh… No…

 

DORIS: After all those years . . . . I mean would you?

 

HENRY: Me?   Oh, gracious.   Me?   Certainly…Not – I mean…No, no. Oh, you must have been very.. er very…

 

(DORIS dabs her eyes with a napkin.  She is sobbing but also carefully watching HENRY)

 

DORIS: Well it was much as I could do to carry on. Waiting, waiting, week after week ….Plaice all fried up crisp and golden brown.

 

SLIGHT PAUSE

 

DORIS: They were unhappy days.

 

HENRY: You’ve been…harumph…..

very brave.

 

DORIS: Oh I’ve thought and thought and thought… but no – Wouldn’t have happened but for Elsie – I meant he good as I said:  I’m making myself strange he said because I don’t want to cause trouble between you and Elsie.

 

(long pause)

 

HENRY: He actually said that?

 

DORIS: Well not in so many words; but I knew

 

Slight psause

 

HENRY: Sad

 

DORIS: Not even a toodle-oo.

 

HENRY: Upsetting, I can see… You’ve

 

DORIS: Didn’t even turn back!

 

HENRY: You’ve been very brave

 

DORIS: I went behind the one way and said: Elsle!  See what you’ve done!   You’ve lost me my gentleman.

 

HENRY: Elsie?  Elsie yes …   I must – er – say I don’t – er – quite see what she – er did?    Elsie?

 

DORIS: Elsie?   Well, I haven’t told you, have I?  You’ll be shocked!

 

She speaks slowly and deliberately.  Holding back her emotions.

 

DORIS: She brought out his plaice without, didn’t she?

 

Slight pause.  She wipes away a tear

 

That very evening… She’d never done anything like that before!

 

Slight pause

 

Straight out from the kitchen!  On the plate!  Like.that – Oh dear or dear….

 

For a m,oment she is overcome.  She sits down at the table and puts her

hand on Henry’s arm

 

I was lost for words! It was my job bringing out ‘is plaice. ‘ers was the cooking of it… But that night,  ‘stead waiting for me… Straight from the kitchen! She plonked it down in front of him.  Herself!

 

HENRY: Oh dear…that wasn’t very! I don’t know what! Good gracious.

 

DORIS: See, consumed she was.    All these years.    Consumed.  I should have known it!

 

Slight pause

 

He was sitting where you are now

 

(She pauses, and glances carefully  back at the one way)

 

DORIS: Not that I couldn’t understand her feelings!   See, once or twice I’d had to check her when he came in…Let’s have a nice warm plate Elsie, I’d have to say.  Or let’s have a nice fresh slice of lemon. Remember Elsie, I’d say.   This is my gentleman..

 

slight pause – She sheds a few more tears

 

I don’t know what came into her. There was me in the restaurant.  Busy as usual I was just looking after a grilled dover and a mushroom vol-au-vont –

 

Slight pause

 

Oh you could see it on her face!   Consumed . . . . She come out from there in her kitchen overalls and plonked the plate in front of him – not even a dust!  And you know what she says

 

HENRY: Er – N-no…

 

DORIS: ‘There’ She says ‘There’s your plaice without’- She says….. Cooked

special to a golden brown’

 

sl;ight pause

 

Would you believe it?

 

Henry shakes his head

 

DORIS; …Well!.. Well, I was turned to stone!   Elsie!   I said, and my

voice was trembling, I can tell you:  Elsie,  I said.  Get back behind the one                          way, I said.     This gentleman is my gentleman.   Don’t you have the liberty,                           I said.   “Excuse me,” I said – to all the gentlemen in the restaurant,

“Excuse me!   Elsie doesn’t know any better.”

 

(Pause   she waits.   He shifts uncomfortably)

 

HENRY: It – er – it – it must have – er – jbeen – er – a shocking experience.    Yes…I think I’ll have …(he tries to get back to the menu) What did you say?

 

DORIS: ( sobbing ) Oh . . . . . . Oh . . . . . .

 

HENRY Oh dear —- oh dear —- dear – dear dear.   Now let me see (tutting to himself but looking at the menu)

 

DORIS: That’s a day I won’t forget . . . . .

 

 PAUSE

 

HENRY: Mm — yes, I think I will have the liver . . . . .

 

DORIS: And Elsie!   Well if I tell you you’ll never believe it! She was standing where I am now!   Go back, I says to her, go back behind the one-way where you belong! And you know what she says? (slight pause)   “

 

HENRY: No!  You’re going to tell me!

 

DORIS: She says.    “You go back” she says. “You common bit”  she says.

 

HENRY: That wasn’t nice! No that wasn’t nice!

 

DORIS: That wasn’t all:   “Making up to all the gentlemen” she says   This gentleman doesn’t come here for you” she says “He comes for the crisp fried golden plaice without”!

 

HENRY: I’m so sorry

 

DORIS: Oh yes. Then she turns to him: “Which do you want”?: she says “Her with the powdered face or me with the golden fried”?

 

SLIGHT PAUSE

 

DORIS: And she gives me this look … of course she knew she’d done wrong.  She went straight back to the kitchen and cried ’til closing time.

 

HENRY: Oh dear, dear, dear, dear, dear (slight pause)

 

DORIS: Right until closing time. I went in to comfort her but when I came out –  There ‘e was… gone

 

HENRY: Your gentleman?

 

DORIS: Gone forever

 

PAUSE

 

HENRY: The er – soup was… very nice –

 

DORIS: We waited . . . . week after week.

 

HENRY: Maybe?    He just?

 

DORIS: Oh no, he’d never have left but for Elsie …After four years?

 

HENRY: It isn’t a day.

 

DORIS: (pensively, quietly, making a picture)   He liked the quiet life, you see.   He wasn’t looking for no trouble . .  I mean, I never bothered him – Just a few remarks – A little laugh and a joke Word or two about the weather…P’raps a little touch of his hand when I  put the spotted dick in front of him . . . I’m sure he appreciated our little… intimacies… Well almost as much as I did.

 

PAUSE

 

He was a very quiet gentleman –  he liked just to sit and let me do the talking… Never said much, but sometimes just before he went he used to say:  Thank-Yew!  Thank-Yew! Very quick, just like that (dreamily)   And I know he,,, appreciated everything I’d done for him – just in those few words.

 

HENRY: It’s  all you need.

 

DORIS: Yes.

 

HENRY: – A… few words.

 

DORIS: And sometimes he’d sigh . . .

 

HENRY: . . . It can say everything.

 

DORIS: Oh you’re a feeling man, I can see that – Oh if only you wore glasses.

 

HENRY: For reading – and close work

 

DORIS: Shame about the colour of your eyes.

 

HENRY: They’ve always been –

 

Slight pause.  She spins on her heel and goes towards the kitchen.

 

DORIS: I’ll just see about your liver.

 

HENRY: Done soft.

 

Thank you.

 

Doris half returns

 

DORIS: I won’t forget . . . You sit and make yourself comfy… Only be a tick . .

 

(She exits behind the one way.   He settles back to the paper.  She returns and comes up suddenly behind)

 

DORIS: Well, your liver’. It’s off –

 

HENRY: Oh, dear, dear, dear . . . . .

 

DORIS: Been a busy day for livers

 

(He blinks up at her, picks up the menu again)

 

HENRY: Ah yes . . . . Arahumph —-

 

DORIS: (artfully)   Elsie – ah, she – er – doesn’t recommend the baked hearts.

 

HENRY: Not?

 

DORIS: Not the baked hearts, no.   Over-baked.   In the oven too long.

 

HENRY: Umph – yes – over-baked . . . . Er – well

 

DORIS: You can’t leave hearts –

 

HENRY: No . . . oh . . . well . . .

 

DORIS: No no you can’t leave hearts.

 

HENRY: Ah . . .

 

(She pauses, timing carefully)

 

DORIS: The plaice is very nice . . . .

 

HENRY: I’ve never been …

 

DORIS: . . . . Fried to a golden brown . . . . .

 

HENRY: … a fish person …(he sighs and picks up the menu)

 

DORIS: Well it takes all sorts.

 

(He looks at the menu again)

 

DORIS: That’s it – have a look.   It’s all on where I’ve marked!    Not the Irish stew, that’s only Thursdays – (pause)    You gave her a shock as well you know, Elsie, when you came in. She was all agog.   Waiting: Her eyes were like that! She couldn’t be certain, only really knowing the back…

 

HENRY: (wriggling)   Grilled gammon – what about –

 

DORIS; She was so excited!

 

HENRY; Slice of pineapple?

 

DORIS: Oh Dot, it’s him,!   she was saying.   Tell me it’s him!  She’d hardly touched the washing up – by rights it should have been out of the way by now   See with the one way though you can look out, you can’t hear well .  Look, turn round for a bit so’s she can see your face.  That’s it! Look up!   Up!    There at the glass!  See.    She’ll be nodding away to herself.  Oh she’s a fair old nodder! Dot, she was saying, Oh Dot, tell me it’s him . . .

 

(She pauses, and gives a vengeful look at the one way)

 

DORIS: So I told her.   No, I said, it’s not him, Elsie, nor never will be.  We’ve lost our gentleman, I said, we’ve lost him for good.

 

(She comes in closer)

 

DORIS: Go on, give Elsie a bit of a wave, eh?   She doesn’t have much of a life back there, poor thing.   That’s it.   Wave.

 

  (He waves weakly)

 

Go on, say Hello Elsie with your mouth ..You don’t have to speak – She lip reads.   Go on.

 

He mouthes at the one-way – “Hello Elsie”

 

DORIS: (excited)   That’s it.   Oh I bet she’s going on back there – That’s why I don’t like to leave her out – In the old days, of course, she might have popped out for a moment…But not any more . . . . . .

 

SLIGHT PAUSE

 

DORIS: She wouldn’t get up to those tricks again.

 

(She watches him waving, standing behind his shoulder)

 

DORIS: (suddenly)   Here that’s enough!   Here you can’t see her, can you?

 

(She glares at him and feeling somewhat ridiculous he returns to the

 menu)

 

DORIS: Gammon with a slice?

 

HENRY: Oh good –

 

DORIS: We’re out of pineapple.

 

HENRY: Pineapple!   Oh, ah, Pineapple . . . . .

 

(She ignores the order, but steps back to look at him)

 

DORIS: (shaking her head) She says your ears aren’t bigger –

 

HENRY: No?

 

DORIS: No

 

HENRY: I’ve always had . . . .

 

DORIS: – no, same size, she says –

 

HENRY: …rather large ears.

 

DORIS: ­She says they’re the same!    Listen,  I said.    They are bigger and I’d know wouldn’t I,  serving him all these years?    Yes,  she says, but you’ve been looking at the front, she says.   Who’d see them better than me, she says, looking from the back. Here, turn your head sideways so’s she can get a better look. There . . . .

 

(she puts her hand on his head and twists it sideways)

 

HENRY: (twisting)   The gammon . . . . . . ?

 

DORIS: It’s a big shame you don’t wear glasses . The gammon?

 

HENRY: (earnestly)   – But – But I do – for reading (voice rising)  Gammon without pineapple. It doesn’t matter.

 

DORIS: Quick, put ’em on!

 

(puts on his glass)  

 

That’s it!   No, don’t take them off – let Elsie have a look.

 

(They both turn to the one-way then back again.   There is a knocking sound)

 

DORIS: Quick, she’s knocking on the window, let her look again.

 

(He turns back)

 

DORIS: Oh, she will be pleased.

 

HENRY: Good.   Er’m – Er’m – now, if you don’t mind.

 

DORIS: Oh that’s it!   Just like him.   Always in a hurry.   Just like all the men.

 

HENRY: Well, I do have to get on.

 

DORIS: Yes.   He was just like that.   Sometime he’d come in and sit down without so much as smile or a how-do-you-do.   Not even a look.   He’d just rustle his paper and glare.

 

HENRY: That wasn’t nice.

 

DORIS: Of course it wasn’t.     Well I had my own little ways of showing him . . . . (slight pause)   Well,   A girl’s got her self respect you know!   Even if we are just waiting on, it doesn’t mean we haven’t got feelings.   I said to Elsie, “Elsie, I said, he’s got to learn I said – he’s got to learn to treat us with respect – We’re not old leaves to be trod in the mud beneath his feet “-

 

HENRY: Oh, of  course; of course not –

 

DORIS: Oh, I soon got him round . . . . Hour and twenty five minutes I once kept him waiting.

 

HENRY: An hour and twenty five!

 

DORIS: ‘Cos he didn’t say hello (giggling)   Oh yes.   Every time I came near his table and he was about to speak I dodged away again.

 

(She nods to herself)

 

DORIS: He was so angry.   Red in the face!   Elsie thought it was too long.

 

HENRY: Perhaps Elsie was —

 

DORIS: Elsie?

 

HENRY: . . . . . Right?

 

DORIS: Elsie . . . . oh no – I mean – What would she know?

 

(she pauses for a moment suddenly vulnerable.   She draws up her shoulders reassuring herself.    She looks up at the one-way and then at Henry)

 

DORIS: Oh no – I wasn’t wrong –  I mean, we never had a cross word after that did we?   Used to look up at me, straight away, the moment I came over to him!   He’d give me a smile!  That’s how I knew he cared . . . . . .

 

Slight pause

 

HENRY: – er – I’ve decided on the gammon – yes without pineapple . . . . . . . .

 

Slight pause. . . . (She times her approach carefully)

 

DORIS: You’ll . . You’ll upset Elsie . . . . . .

 

HENRY: Elsie?

 

DORIS: Well . . . She’s got the plaice in the pan, hasn’t she?

 

HENRY: The plaice. Oh …

 

 

 

 

DORIS: Almost force of habit she says – perhaps I shouldn’t tell you. Moment you came in her heart gave a leap and she reached for the plaice.

 

PAUSE  (He looks at the menu then back to her again doubtfully)

 

HENRY: I’ve – er – I’ve never been a fish ..

 

DORIS: No . .It does take all sorts . ..

 

HENRY: I – I won’t say that I never like it . . .

 

DORIS: Crisp and golden brown?   Elsie’s very good with plaice.

 

HENRY: Sometimes . .it – can be – very . . . .

 

DORIS: You’ll be giving so much happiness…

 

HENRY: Well . . . . . .

 

DORIS: Call me Doris.

 

(He pauses, carefully)

 

HENRY: Er – Well Doris.   I will have the fried plaice.

 

(She smoothes her apron and picks up her order pad with great care.   The relationship is established, she is delighted but she does not show it)

 

DORIS: Fried Plaice sir . Yes, I’ll tell Elsie straight away.

 

She exits behind the one-way

 

 

(The  lights  suddenly  fade  to  single  spot  above  HENRY.    He blinks and stumbles up staring out front.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HENRY: (to audience)  My name is Henry Chambers.  I’m chief

;yhounts clerk at a paper merchant’s in the City.  Bin there all my working life.  I was married once but my wife was  injured in the blitz  It was while I was in the army. A bomb came straight down our chimney an’ exploded in the fireplace. She was pregnant at the time. She wasn’t killed, though we lost the kid.  She couldn’t have no more.. That was twenty year ago…She died. last year.

 

He collapses back into his chair.  Lights come up.

 

Doris returns, ready with her pad.

 

DORIS: Will sir have the plaice with tartar sauce or without tartar sauce?

 

 (He glances quickly up at her then back to the menu)

 

HENRY: …Er … no, no.   No tartar sauce – I never did like tartar sauce -.

 

 

END