Ghosts

Max Frisch (1911–91) was a Swiss novelist and playwright. Biography: A Game is published by Seagull Books.

seagullindia.com

Pace your own intelligence

Centre stage are various pieces of furniture which, under the stage lights, suggest a living room.

DIRECTOR: Please.

Director goes back to his desk.

Herr Kürmann, where would you like to start again?

KÜRMANN: When the clock strikes two.

Neon light on.

FEMALE ASSISTANT: "Actually, I just wanted to hear your old musical clock again. Musical clocks have always fascinated me – these figures that always make the same gestures every time it goes off..."

Director takes off the jacket and gives it to Kürmann, who puts it on and then enters the scene.

DIRECTOR: Please.

Stage lighting.

Antoinette is sitting in the easy chair again and Kürmann stands where Director was when the clock struck two.

KÜRMANN: I have to work tomorrow.

ANTOINETTE: What do you do?

KÜRMANN: It's two o'clock.

Director slams his hand on the desk.

DIRECTOR: Where are the clock chimes!

MALE ASSISTANT steps forward.

M.A.: Which clock chimes?

DIRECTOR: Two o'clock.

M.A.: Why is it two o'clock again?

DIRECTOR: We are going back again.

M.A.: I'm sorry.

Exits.

DIRECTOR: And the jacket!

Kürmann gives the jacket back to Antoinette.

That's exactly what Kürmann wants to change! We must avoid him taking off your jacket and you becoming his wife.

ANTOINETTE: I'm sorry.

DIRECTOR: That's the whole point!

Antoinette puts on her jacket.

ANTOINETTE: I see.

DIRECTOR: Kürmann doesn't want you to stay...

ANTOINETTE: I see.

KÜRMANN: I have to work tomorrow.

ANTOINETTE: What do you do?

The clock strikes two.

KÜRMANN: It's two o'clock.

ANTOINETTE: Are you still expecting someone?

KÜRMANN: On the contrary.

ANTOINETTE: You are tired.

KÜRMANN: Exhausted, yes.

ANTOINETTE: Why don't you sit down?

Pause.

DIRECTOR: Keep going!

Antoinette takes out her compact case.

ANTOINETTE: Is that correct? Or should I rather take a cigarette? If he wants me to leave, then I almost think it's better if I take my compact...

DIRECTOR: As you wish.

Antoinette powders her face.

ANTOINETTE: Actually, I just wanted to hear your old musical clock again. Musical clocks have always fascinated me – these figures that always make the same gestures every time it goes off, and each time it's the same song, and yet you're anxious to see it again.

KÜRMANN: I know.

ANTOINETTE: Aren't you?

Kürmann goes to the musical clock and winds it. A cheerful jingle is heard. Kürmann keeps winding the clock barrel until the song is finished.

KÜRMANN: Is there anything else I can offer you?

He goes over to the house bar.

Unfortunately, there's no more whisky.

ANTOINETTE: That's okay.

She takes out a cigarette.

What do you think of Wittgenstein?

Kürmann pours himself some whisky.

KÜRMANN: I have to work tomorrow.

ANTOINETTE: What do you do?

Kürmann drinks.

DIRECTOR: Why don't you say it?

ANTOINETTE: What do you do?

KÜRMANN: Behavioural research.

He drinks.

DIRECTOR: Keep going!

KÜRMANN: Frau Hubalek comes in at eight.

ANTOINETTE: Who's Frau Hubalek?

KÜRMANN: My housekeeper.

DIRECTOR: Stop!

Work lights.

You can't say that, Herr Kürmann. As soon as you see a young lady in your apartment at two in the morning, you're already thinking of the fact that at eight your housekeeper comes in?!

KÜRMANN: Let's start again!

DIRECTOR: Then you announce that you ran out of whisky – and after you've lied to her, you grab another bottle and pour yourself a whisky!

ANTOINETTE: I didn't even notice that.

KÜRMANN: Let's start again!

DIRECTOR: From the top?

KÜRMANN: Yes, please.

DIRECTOR: As you wish.

KÜRMANN: Why is she not wearing glasses all of a sudden?

DIRECTOR: That is entirely up to the lady – you have no control over that, Herr Kürmann. What you can choose here is your own behaviour. Try to remain casual, never mind the horn-rimmed glasses. And stop thinking, "I know what's going to happen next." You come in, whistling away, a man at the top of his career. You've just become Professor...

KÜRMANN: I know.

DIRECTOR: Your friends have thrown a party to celebrate, a surprise party, and you're meeting your wife for the first time – totally casual.

KÜRMANN: Easy to say.

DIRECTOR: Totally casual, totally relaxed.

Kürmann exits.

ANTOINETTE: From the top?

DIRECTOR: If you would.

Neon light off.

ANTOINETTE: Should I wear the horn-rimmed glasses or not?

Stage lighting. Voices offstage, laughter, then silence; shortly after, Kürmann enters the room, whistling to himself until he sees the young lady in the easy chair.

Continues in the print edition. Order now.

Translated by Birgit Schreyer Duarte.

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