©1984 Marie-Lynn Hammond
CORINNE, a Franco-Ontarian woman about 60
ELSIE, an English Canadian woman in her late 50s
MARIE-LYNN, their grand-daughter, mid 30s
CORINNE is in her kitchen in Lowertown Ottawa; ELSIE is in the living room of her Montreal apartment. But while these spaces can be hinted at, the set shouldn’t attempt realism. It should be a relatively abstract space in which the three characters can move about freely.
For CORINNE and ELSIE, the spring of 1944 (except for the phone call section of the prologue which is a flash forward to about one year later). For MARIE-LYNN it is the present (mid 1980s).
Act II Scene Two
But it wasn’t just my running away of course, or even running away with a flyer. No. What people found really galling was the fact that I myself had decided to learn to fly. And flying was about the last thing someone of my position was expected to take up. Women had barely earned the right to smoke in public, let alone fly. Back then, flying was adventurous, glamorous too, but also considered rather – how shall we say – bohemian? Well, it was the flyers you see. They swaggered. They drank. They wore silk scarves and wonderful boots. They were – oh let’s face it they were damned sexy, and that was the problem. Still, that day, when I saw the pilot fly under the bridge, I didn’t care a fig for what anyone thought. I’d made up my mind to learn and that was that. Shortly after though, the war ended. Douglas came home, I became pregnant and had a baby instead. Arthur Barnard. Barney. A lovely baby; all dark curls and blue eyes. For a while I thought he’d be enough. But then one evening, (piano begins underscoring with tango theme) Douglas and I went to a party. It was rather a dull affair, and I’d already caused a flap simply by showing up in a cerise-coloured dress; but I had the devil in me that night, so at one point I said quite loudly: “By the way Douglas, did I mention that I’ve decided to learn to fly?” There was dead silence for a moment, then the men began to snort and chuckle; “Hey Elsie”, laughed one of them, “in that case you ought to meet Lieutenant Dobbin here. He’s a flyer.” Douglas later accused me of flirting, but I swear I wasn’t, because at first glance this fellow Dobbin wasn’t my type at all. He was short, almost stocky, with a rough and ready manner and an insolent grin. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Hammond. I’ve been admiring your outfit. It isn’t everyone that can carry something like that off.” “Why, thank you. I’m afraid we women must seek adventure in whatever small ways are open to us.” “Listen, are you serious about this flying business? It’s dangerous – a lot more dangerous than wearing a red dress.” “I don’t care. I think flying is the most marvellous thing on earth!” Then I told him about the pilot I’d seen flying at the Victory rally. “Well”, he said, grinning, “Under the bridge you say? That was none other than myself.” “I don’t believe you! You’re just like all the other men here, you don’t take me seriously at all.” Then he stopped smiling and looked me straight in the eye: “On the contrary, I take you very seriously. In fact, I’m going to make you an offer. Some fellows and me we’ve bought a couple of Curtiss Jennies, and we keep ’em out near Brown’s Pasture. If you want to come out someday, I’ll take you up for a ride. And if you still want to learn to fly after that, I’ll teach you.” (piano tango finishes with a flourish) Well, I was thrilled. The next day Ted just turned up out of the blue, took me by the arm and said “Come along Elsie – today I’m giving you your first flying lesson.” And I should have learned then, shouldn’t I? But I didn’t. Why? Because I made the mistake of falling in love with my instructor. And once you fall in love with a man, they’ll never teach you anything. First they get critical, then they lose their patience, and finally, they become so insulting that you’re scared they won’t love you anymore and you cry out, “Stop! You’re right. I’m slow, I’m stupid, and we needn’t do this again, ever! Now let’s go and have a drink at the Chateau, please!” Then they take you in their arms and murmur, “Darling, I didn’t mean to be hard on you. I just hate to see you wasting your time, that’s all!” Men. Well it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Ted loved me and I loved him. Besides, I went with him on countless flights, and saw the world in ways I could never have imagined. Sometimes he’d let me take the controls – swearing of course that we’d all be killed – but planes were a lot simpler in those days, and I did just fine. (guitar begins soft vamp on “Elsie” theme) So I never did get my license. I never did fly solo. Because once I was with Ted I didn’t care to anymore … I mean, why go alone when you can go together? Never did fly solo. But really, I’ve … no regrets.
Act II Scene Three
So me what I want to know is, what is it really like in Heaven? What are they doing there right now, Moise, Calixte, maman, papa, my babies Lucien and Isabel? No one seems to know that much about it, hein, except that people are very happy there because at last they are with le Bon Dieu. Mais l’enfer! [But Hell!] Monsieur le curé là , he can talk for hours about the eternity of pain and torture, the flames so hot they would make your furnace seem like a block of ice, and the terrible screams of the damned because the devils force them to eat hot coals – ah! (SHE SHUDDERS). But one thing I don’t understand – how come the nuns and priests know so little about heaven, and so much about hell? Ca a pas d’bon sens, ca! [That doesn’t make any sense!] Anyway, it frightens me to hear them talk like that, because ever since I saw the angel (SHE CROSSES HERSELF) I know heaven and hell are as real as this – table! Bien sûr, you don’t believe me, no one did, they said I was dreaming, but I was never the kind to have my head in the clouds. H–mf! St. Therese d’Avila can well have seen her visions, what else does a nun have to do all day? But me – I was much too busy for that. Oh – I knew there were angels, I just never thought I would see one! But that summer night, there was mon p’tit Lucien – he was very sick, so crippled he could not walk, lying in a cot at the foot of my bed, so if he made a sound I was by his side, et tout d’un coup [all of a sudden] I find myself wide awake and sitting up in bed, for no reason, because everything is quiet. Then I see a pale light at the window, and something moving there. The light becomes a shape, like a man, a woman, or both together, and all silvery, the colour of moonlight. At its back, wings like a swan, and the face – ah! So strong, so peaceful. The angel moves over to the cot and gently, tenderly, he picks up Lucien, and oh! I will never forget as long as I live the sight of his poor little legs dangling over the angel’s arm as they flew out into the darkness! Night filled the room again, I ran to the little bed, and oh I was so glad to see that Lucien was still there. (PAUSE) But when I touched him, mon Dieu! Y’etait mort! Y’etait mort! [He was dead!] Ah, when your mother or your husband dies, it is terrible, yes! But your own child! Ca c’est le pire, ça…[That’s the worst.] For a while, all I could think of was the moment when I touched that cold, still little body. But then, I thought about the angel and I knew – Lucien is in heaven, and in heaven he can run and play like he could never do here on earth. So there is a real heaven, and my son is there. I saw the angel. And I know.
Sings “Le coffre à jouets” [here are the lyrics from the CD MLH/Vignettes CD]