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Schönbrunn Damen

a one-act monologue
by Paola Moretti
Translation from Italian by Kay McCarthy

This play was one of the winners in the monologue section [“Parlare da soli” (Speaking to Oneself)] of the “Il teatro delle dieci” Theatre Festival held in Turin in collaboration with the National Trade Union of Playwrights.

The Setting: the interior of the Schönbrunn Palace’s public toilets, ladies’ section. The whole place is perfectly clean and tidy, revealing maniacal attention to hygiene and order. In the little store-room, which the protagonist, Kerstin, will open frequently during the play, the audience can catch glimpses of packs of paper, soap, detergents, towels all arranged in perfectly symmetrical rows and piles.

The Character


Kerstin – a lean, stiff, forty-year-old woman.

Kerstin(during the whole monologue she continues, mechanically, to set things in order)
I’m late… for the first time ever. There was a party yesterday at the palace… some kind of anniversary, I think. Mozart in the Hall of Mirrors. Hope they’ve tidied everything up. The tourists mustn’t get even the slightest whiff of intimacy They might get the idea that everything’s allowed… and yield to supposition… leading to unforeseeable coups de théâtre … coups d’état… which of the two? Words come to me with such an effort … as if drawn from chaos… the end of one is the beginning of another…
(she halts, dubious) Soap? (going into the storeroom she browses over the rows of soap, then picks out a bar)
Yes, round, fits better into the holder… all you must do is wet it, just enough.
(sniffing the soap) Lavender?
(reading the wrapping) Rho-do-den-dron (sniffing again)
But rhododendrons have no smell … when I had dealings with them they had no perfume whatsoever.

Kerstin – When they … certainly, that must have been ages ago… there may have been a mutation since then… There was a party last night, an entire orchestra in the Imperial Salon and we could hear the music even down here … the odd note…snippets… depending on the direction of the wind… Little clusters of notes… Mozart… I’m not sure … maybe Strauss the Younger… Yes, the tourists lap up that kind of music … I could hear their applause… furious… merry … angry. I was here, waiting for them to deposit their excrements, the last ritual of a perfect day . For them … and for me too …
(she unwraps the soap and looks at it in disgust)
Blue? Absolutely out of the … rhododendrons are red, at most pink or pale purple… there are some things that can be stated with the utmost certainty… on the other hand it’s more than reasonable to wash oneself with blue… red doesn’t remove … (she smiles) passion… the flame of instinct … It’s incredible how many words I have retained. (articulating the words) the flame of instinct… I thought these were lost, had died,

Kerstin – dissolved. And yet, there they are, hovering around me, who knows for how long now, as close as blood-suckers, ready to suck the sap of life to their heart’s delight, making me believe that … no, I never believed it. Yesterday there was a party at the palace … Mozart or Strauss the Younger … all obliged to work until the dead of night … he too… yes,… he too. (picking up a glass, she places it against the wall using it to listen) Hasn’t arrived yet… takes it easy … to the very end… doesn’t know what’s in store for him… no sense of duty, never one minute early… if anything, late…disgusting fellow (listening avidly) Probably at the bar … stuffing himself with wurst … I saw him, once … the pieces falling from his mouth… laughing and spraying sausage and bread all over the place … the mustard dribbling brazenly, squashed between those filthy hands of his… those hands
(she trembles at the thought and steps away from the wall)
I dreamt about him one night. We were … He and I were in this boat on the Danube and a white royal swan, splendid… all swans are splendid and white when you don’t know them well , don’t know their vicious, corrupt

Kerstin – nature…their urge to kill … urge to … to have no further urge …Can that be? (lost in her thoughts) No matter. This swan followed us, singing, swimming calmly in the realm of death. The elves came to the edge of the forest to look at it, moved and silent… ineffable sweetness… ineffable boredom … which of the two ? (passing a hand over her brow) Last night… music by Hayden perhaps … it’s hard to judge exactly from the alternation of notes and total silence … hopeless voids … waiting for some key to recognition… could hold me up for days. Last night too… amid one cluster of notes and the next…insurmountable silence. . hard to believe one is alive… (she looks at herself in one of the mirrors)
I once knew a girl … light-blue eyes and blond hair in two plaits, so light that they rose like petals on the breeze… is that true? Doesn’t matter. The little girl used to go and hide among the reeds near the pond, to catch the ducks that came to swim there in the early afternoon. The reeds used to lash her legs and the vapour from the damp earth fill her mouth with the scent of death. (rapt) From a distance a woman’s voice used to call her, a voice that has long remained unheard. (hard)

Kerstin – Just as well. Then I knew I was alive … the anxiety of the chase took my breath away… tenderness of those warm feathers … the quickening of that heart, so like my own, that little heart crowned with thorns, the sacred heart of a duck … stiff and angry… unable to convince itself that it had lost its freedom just because it had come to the pond, one summer’s afternoon, when the scent of the countryside hid no foreboding omen. She’d let it go again, having absorbed all its warmth … trembling as if contact had been unbearable, difficult to assimilate… I’d watch it fly off, my sacred heart full of nostalgia… dripping with blood … because I’d failed to be loved…
(a loud knocking on the wall. kerstin picks up the glass and places it to the wall and listens)
He’s arrived, taking his shoes off … no socks… barefoot in the mire… How can anyone be so primitive? … And he expected me… expected me to . . (listening) That whistle … no, that creak. What can produce such a strange noise? I asked him, I think I did.

– What’s that whistle?
– What whistle, Fräulein?
– The one coming from your sector before …

Kerstin – Ah that. Nothing escapes you, Fräulein. Just screwing … my prosthesis, sorry if I disturbed you.
– Ah, your …
I looked him over as much as I could: wooden leg? No, he swayed on both of them, shifting his weight from one to the other… sadistic , just to confuse one . . A glass eye? No, identical, merry, carefree, perhaps one of them a slightly darker green than the other, just a shade, nothing glassy about it.
– Sorry if I disturbed you…
I think I smiled, he moved me so … certain words placed in the proper order … I smiled and reassured him: the whistle in itself didn’t disturb me, it was not knowing what he was screwing … but it didn’t matter… seeing he was so courteous…
– Frau Kerstin, during the lunch break I’d like to invite you for a walk as far as La Gloriette.
– But we’ve got no break, your proposal is out of the question.
– Are you sure Frau Kerstin?
Swaying on those suspect legs of his, rolling his eyes, tossing his hair. Rocking and rolling, a kind of movement

Kerstin – capable of tearing the earth from its axis … any additional element would have been catapulted out…
– You’re a liar, you’ve got no prosthesis!
– All I said was that I was screwing it, Fräulein. But if it interests you so much we can speak about it during the break
– I’m telling you again that there is no break!
– Then we’ll invent one, Fräulein.
– My dear colleague, I wish to remind you that we are the custodians of the Schönbrunn toilets, not just any public toilets! You change 10 schillings for entry, 5 for the paper, 5 for the soap: 20 schillings to walk in a stinking swamp and wash with putrid scales of re-heated soap… And you receive the tourists smoking, filthy, disgusting, dressed in rags … I’d prefer to be dead than be seen around with you!
(pause. she sighs. in the background a viennese waltz)
It was a warm morning, not a puff of wind … no, I think the beginning was different… The sun was setting … no, that’s not it either, but it doesn’t matter, at this point anything goes, cold, heat, light, darkness… it’s all the same… perhaps we really walked, holding hands, as far

Kerstin – as La Gloriette. I imagined the whole thing for days on end… so intensely… I was fed up before even beginning … He held me close to himself whatever the time, my heart stood still to listen to the beat of his, the grass bent beneath his open hands, close to the lake, prehistoric sea-gulls… and the memory grew hazy as we rolled in the primordial waters … That’s what you read, that’s what they write, that’s how I imagined it would be. One should tear the memory to shreds and throw it into the fire like a dry twig, even if it’s still green and squeaks, crying with rage , unable to invent stories. (pause)
We walked hand in hand … I was beautiful, to the very limit … perhaps I went beyond it and it would have taken a mere detail to fall into the opposite state: a speck of dust in my eye, a drop of sweat somewhere… My beauty was meant to freeze, turn to stone like that of the angels.
He had taken no pains … no cleaner, not even his trousers buttoned, the usual pieces of sausage stuck between his teeth. No matter, I could stand that. But that toneless voice… Would you like to have something to

Kerstin – eat? Would you like to sit down? What would you like to do? What would you not like to do? An insipid litany that needed no reply. Only fragments… those, yes, they smiling from their dens, in their own way, encouraging. I was wearing a new dress, I’d dyed my hair, awaited the lunch break, deafened by the pounding of my heart…… patient expectation, like the little girl at the pond … the taste of death in my mouth on a summer’s day.
– Have you screwed your prosthesis properly?
– I only need my prosthesis when I work, fräulein.
– But if you keep screwing it all the time won’t you risk breaking it?
– On the contrary. Each twist improves its performance. How good of you to worry about me … I know you have a low opinion of me, my way of working cannot compare with yours at all.
(she closes her eyes, then uses her hands to mime what she describes)
His filthy, big, delicate hand … on my hair, as if by chance… descending slowly… my neck… one of my shoulders… halting a moment… gaining strength… before the entire universe exploded in a shower of fire.

Kerstin(speaking softly, her eyes still closed, she immerses herself in the scene)
– We could become better friends, Frau Kerstin… being close to each other we could begin resembling one another.
– But I love cleanliness, order, light, perfection in things…- If you really loved those things you’d never have come out with me. Look, now you stink of sweat, covered in mud, there’s a piece of sausage on your lips… and yet the world works better now than before.
(opening her eyes, she stares coldly into empty space)
The world was still working, but in the usual way. He was weeping and kissing my hands … the management had sent him a letter of warning, if I didn’t help him he’d be sacked, and what could he do then but throw himself into the Danube? Wasn’t I his good angel, his propitious divinity …
… we went to La Gloriette ,… in the early afternoon… while the sea-gulls rested among the flower beds. I was lovely, with my new dress, my freshly-dyed hair and a deafening pounding in my heart. (pause)