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Walk-Through: A One-Act Play by Nancy Gessner

Walk-Through: A One-Act Play by Nancy Gessner

Drama, Vol. 4.4, Dec. 2010

SETTING
Time: Present, Summer Saturday Afternoon in Long Island, NY
Place: Room empty of furniture with a window seat.

CHARACTERS
TOBY: Early 30s. Celia’s husband
CELIA: Late 20s / Early 30s. Toby’s wife
LAURA Old woman, modern practical clothing

LIGHTS up on TOBY and CELIA entering upstage left. TOBY is staggering and panting heavily, she is breathing hard but clearly elated. TOBY drags himself to the window seat and sits.

TOBY

There’s no air in here.

CELIA

But it was worth it! Look at this place—it’s huge!

TOBY

It’s an attic.

CELIA

No, it’s just the third floor. The attic is upstairs.

CELIA exits stage right.

TOBY

Five minutes, okay Ceil? It’s a long drive back.

(Pause.)

What are you doing in there?

(Pause)

Ceil?

CELIA enters stage right.

CELIA

You have to see this—there’s a whole little kitchen up here!

TOBY

That’s weird.

CELIA

Not really—this house is so big, you could divide it up into apartments.

TOBY

You’d have to, to begin to afford the mortgage on this place. Then you have to worry about all the people coming in and out, and say you get some guy living alone, you know he’s going to have girlfriends—

CELIA

Or boyfriends—

TOBY

Whatever.

CELIA

This floor is where Frank and his mother lived during the Depression—his father was off somewhere working and sending money back and she did her part here by renting out the bottom floors to all kinds of boarders. Back then people did whatever it took. Do you want to see the kitchen? It’s really cute—if you add a little refrigerator and paint it—

TOBY

You were talking to Frank a long time.

CELIA

He’s interesting—can you imagine living one place, one house, your whole life?

TOBY

Not even—

CELIA

Of course if it was this house—

TOBY

Are you ready to go?

CELIA

We just got here. Look at that little stained glass window up in the corner! I didn’t notice that before.

TOBY

(Not looking)

Me either.

CELIA

I wonder if there are other ones I didn’t notice—what’s that?

Are you kicking the window seat?

TOBY

No, why?

CELIA

The thumpy noise.

TOBY

I’m not doing anything.

CELIA

Wait…there! Don’t you hear that?

TOBY

(Stands) I don’t know, Baby, come on—you wanted to see it, we’ve seen it.

CELIA

Just a few more minutes. Isn’t it amazing?

TOBY

Sure. C’mon, we have a lot of real places to see.

CELIA

Just wait. Sit down, take a load off, I just want to….

CELIA yanks a little notebook and pen out of her pocket and strides over to the wall, where she begins to slowly put one foot exactly in front of the other.

TOBY

Ceil, what are you doing?

CELIA

Measuring. Just to get a rough idea of the size. It’s hard to tell. When the room is empty it looks bigger. Maybe we could fit a love seat in here…or just a desk—

TOBY walks over to stand directly in the path of her next footstep so that she walks into him. He grabs her shoulders and gives her a slight shake

TOBY

Celia! Knock it off.

CELIA

(Steps away from him, rubbing her arm)

This would go a lot faster if you’d get out of my way.

TOBY

Look, I agreed to pop in to take a look since we were in the area but this is turning into a marathon waste of time. It’s 2:20 already.

CELIA

It’s a fabulous house though, isn’t it?

TOBY

It’s a lot of house is what it is.

CELIA

This floor is perfect—it’s so great to have the option if we did ever want to—I don’t know if I’d want to convert this into a renter apartment, but if anyone else ever lived here. It’s just like a dollhouse up here, with the little kitchen and bedroom, and the bathroom could be redone…it’s a perfect hideaway.

TOBY

Maybe he’d let us buy just the top floor, then.

CELIA

Oh Toby, stop it. Houses like this never ever come along—

TOBY

It’s stifling in here.

CELIA

I’m going to ask him how much he’d take.

TOBY

No you’re not.

CELIA

Why not?

TOBY

What difference does it make?

CELIA

Just to see how much it is. You never know.

TOBY

Sometimes you know. Just look at this place—condition aside, and the condition is very good, the sheer size of this place is seven times the size of anything else we’ve seen.

CELIA

You don’t even know what he’s asking, what he’d take—what does it hurt to at least make an offer?

TOBY

Now you’re making an offer? Two seconds ago you’re asking for kicks, now you’re negotiating?

CELIA

Just asking, just asking.

TOBY

Then what? You sound just like my father, exactly like him, never stopped to think about anything or do the math, just “I want, I want,” and next thing he’s in hock up to his eyebrows and—

CELIA and TOBY together

—died alone on his sofa a broke and broken man—

CELIA

I know, I know.

TOBY

And heartless. You’re heartless, just like him.

CELIA

But until he moved into that little apartment, didn’t you get to grow up in a wonderful big place with a big yard and room to run around?

TOBY

And look where it got him. The end of the story. I am not doing that, there is no way.

CELIA

You’re not like him, you know.

TOBY

Damn right I’m not. And you’re lucky I’m not. He’d have knocked you into next week for dragging him on this fool—

CELIA

It’s not a fool errand. I can see us in this house Toby, it—

TOBY

Yeah, my father saw us in the big house with the big yard, and his smile got tighter and tighter as the mortgage hung heavier around his neck, choking the air, choking the life—

CELIA

Nobody’s choking here, but how can you pass up this is one-of-a-kind opportunity to live in a beautiful old unique home with character and space and charm without even asking a few questions? Why can’t you even entertain the idea?

TOBY

This idea is not remotely entertaining. You could literally suffocate up here, my God….

(Tries to open a window. It won’t budge.)

CELIA

Just let me ask real quick, so I know for sure, just to get an idea so I can put it to rest. You sit here—

TOBY

Here in the airless—

CELIA

You’re all worked up. Just breathe, relax—

TOBY

Yeah right.

(Suddenly, a loud thump is heard from the window seat and he jumps back away from the window and she jumps toward him. They look at the window seat, then at each other)CELIA
What is it?

TOBY

How should I know?

CELIA

It’s in the window seat!

TOBY

I’d say so, yes.

CELIA

Are you going to open it?

TOBY

Should I?

CELIA

Let’s go.

TOBY

But—

CELIA

What if it’s some wild animal or something?

TOBY

Maybe it’s hurt.

CELIA

What are you going to do if it is?

TOBY

Well we can’t just leave it there.

CELIA

We don’t know what it is.

TOBY

I’m going to open it.

CELIA

Be careful….Toby….

TOBY

(He opens the window seat very slowly as they both peer over the edge, then he suddenly grabs her and yells. She screams. He laughs)

There’s nothing here.

CELIA

(Hits him on the arm)

I HATE that! Don’t EVER do that! You scared—

(She spins away from him and comes face to face with LAURA, who entered stage left. CELIA screams again then catches herself)

OH! Sorry—we had no idea anyone was up here.

TOBY

Who are you?

CELIA
Toby! That’s rude. I’m Celia. This is my husband Toby…we’re—

TOBY

Just looking—

CELIA

Looking at the house. We thought we heard something coming from the window seat.

LAURA

I’m Laura. I’ve known Frank since the day I was born.

CELIA

Then you’ve heard all the stories.

TOBY

There’s no air up here.

CELIA

Toby!

LAURA

I agree with you on that one. Window doesn’t open.

CELIA

That’s okay, we can get a fan.

TOBY

We’re just leaving.

CELIA

So you know this house?

LAURA

Like it was my own.

CELIA

It’s just marvelous. We’ve never seen anything like it.

LAURA

It’s something else. Lotsa history. Frank, he’s a kid when his mom rented the place out—lotsa people, lotsa things going on downstairs, people in and out. Frank overheard things, saw things—pretty mysterious.

CELIA

I love it. After all the soulless, cookie-cutter places we’ve seen, this is a home with enough space to live a civilized life. Once you’re in a real house it’s just impossible to conceive of some tiny living room with five doorways in it, trying to figure out where to angle the furniture in.

TOBY

There were not five doorways.

CELIA

Oh yes there were, each side of the fireplace, up the stairs, out the front door, down the hall, hardly enough wall space in there to call it a room. Might as well just stick a couple bar stools in the middle and enjoy the five-way breeze.

TOBY

All right, all right. I wasn’t totally sold on it either. I can’t imagine buying a house without a basement.

CELIA

You and your basements.

LAURA

This house has a big cellar in it, and that garage out back is half guest-house, with an attic too. Lots of places to keep stuff.

CELIA

I thought that was just a garage—there’s a whole other little house back there! Look, Toby!

TOBY

That guest house is bigger than most houses we’ve looked at.

CELIA

What a great view from up here.

LAURA

I love it too. Used to come up to this floor myself.

CELIA

It’s a great house for kids.

LAURA

Lots of places to hide.

TOBY

Hide and seek.

LAURA

Sort of.

TOBY

Well, we’ll get out of your way, we were just leaving.

CELIA

Actually we’ve been talking and I really didn’t get to look around. Do you mind if we poke around for a couple minutes?

TOBY

What else can there be to see? Come on now.

CELIA

Two minutes.

LAURA

Are you interested?

CELIA

Very.

TOBY

Academically, yes, but practically, it’s out of our league.

LAURA

Frank say that?

CELIA

We didn’t talk about price. He was telling us stories and we got to looking around—

TOBY

We were just looking, so—

CELIA

So we never really got to the asking price part.

LAURA

You might be surprised.

TOBY

I bet. A house like this.

LAURA

Funny thing about houses like this, they’re more than just the bricks and glass and wood—

CELIA

That’s exactly what I was just saying to Toby (turns to him). I can see us here. I can see us turning a room into your office and a room into my workroom and maybe a room or two into a nursery—

TOBY

Jesus, Ceil.

CELIA

You’re not listening to me.

LAURA

Listen, you guys should talk to Frank. Might not be as much as you think. You might be able to work something out.

CELIA

You were listening?

LAURA

Sound travels funny in these old houses.

CELIA

Where were you?

TOBY

Hiding?

LAURA

There’s no air up here.

TOBY

Celia—let’s go now…

(He starts for the stairs)

CELIA

Wait a minute, I want to hear what she has to say. Why do you think we can work something out?

LAURA

Some people around here know the stories—a real estate agent would have been required to tell you, so Frank decided to hold this open house on his own. He knew if people could see the house for what it was before it happened—

TOBY

Before what happened?

CELIA

Somebody died here. Is that it?

LAURA

Yes.

TOBY

(To Celia)

How did you know?

CELIA

Where was it?

LAURA

Right here, actually.

CELIA

HERE here?

TOBY

How?

CELIA

I don’t want to talk about it.

TOBY

I want to know.

LAURA

Makes some people edgy. Sends most of them out the door in a hurry.

CELIA

Well, I don’t blame them.

TOBY

What happened?

CELIA

It’s really none of our business—

TOBY

She offered to tell us—

CELIA

She did not.

LAURA

“She” doesn’t mind telling you at all. It happened a long time ago. Back when Frank was little. He and mama were living on this floor, renting the lower floors out to boarders—

CELIA

He was talking about that—

LAURA

And he had a little sister.

CELIA

Oh my God. He didn’t mention that.

LAURA

And one of the boarders took a liking to her. Too much.

TOBY

How old was she?

LAURA

Little. Just a little girl, five years old.

CELIA

Did he kill her?

TOBY

Go after her?

LAURA

He tried. To go after her I mean. Always hanging back around corners, trying to get her alone—

TOBY

Did he succeed?

LAURA

Once. He snuck up on her and grabbed her and twisted her head to make her kiss him, and who knows how far he woulda got if he hadn’t heard someone coming and let her go.

CELIA

Where was her mother?

LAURA

Too busy to notice, with a house full of boarders and the garden and cleaning…and the kids had their chores. Things like Bill never entered her head.

TOBY

Bill?

LAURA

The man always following her. Until one day she was helping clean up in the kitchen and she heard her mother scolding Frank from far away and realized they were outside, down in the garden. And then she heard footsteps slowly coming up the stairs—

TOBY

How do you know all this?

LAURA

And she knew it was Bill and so she went into the window seat to hide. She could hear him walking around, hear his footsteps. She held her breath, waiting until she could hear him leave. And then when she did hear him leave, she tried to catch her breath, but there wasn’t any air. Frank found her later. He thought she was sleeping until he realized she was never going to wake up ever again.

CELIA

Did they arrest Bill?

LAURA

They didn’t know to do it. Nobody knew anything, thought it was just a case of a little girl playing a game. Never knew she died choking on her terrified silence.

TOBY

How did Frank find out?

LAURA

I don’t think he ever did. I have to go now.

CELIA and TOBY start for stage left, but LAURA goes instead to the window seat, curls up inside and as she pulls the lid down, she looks at them and says “Shhhhhh…..” until the lid closes on top of her.

TOBY

Holy shit.

(Pause.)

CELIA

Is she crazy? What is she doing?

(Pause)

Toby.

TOBY

What?

CELIA

She’s not coming out.

TOBY opens the window seat. It is empty.

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