Issue #61

Winter 2017

Knitting

a one act play by B E Turner

CAST:
BERTHA: Deprived.
ROSE: Bertha’s caregiver. Depraved.
POTTZ: Old and cracked and may be Mrs Pottz.

SET: It is a faded Edwardian lounge, cluttered, dingy and threadbare. There is an old high-backed easy chair or a couch upon which Bertha sits throughout. A small occasional table. A small seat or cottage chair which may be used by the other actors if desired.

NOTE : Taihape (Tie-Happy) is an inland New Zealand town in the middle of nowhere and the last place you would want to go for a holiday. Overseas productions might wish to choose a similar local town.

     When the curtain opens Bertha is on stage knitting. This knitting is shapeless, patchy and incompetent. It does not matter if the actress does not know how to knit.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two. (Pause) Knit two. Purl two. (Pause) She's packing up. (Listens - there is no sound) Yes, she's packing up. I can hear her packing up. Knit two. Purl two.

     Enter Rose.

ROSE: I've been packing up.

BERTHA: Have you?

ROSE: Yes. (Pause) Have you had breakfast?

BERTHA: Breakfast?

ROSE: I suppose I'll have to get it. Do you have to continue with that knitting? I find the noise of those needles clicking together quite annoying. (There is no noise)

BERTHA: I'll try to keep it down.

ROSE: What is it you've got there anyway?

BERTHA: A scarf.

ROSE: Doesn't look like much of a scarf. Anyway mouse for breakfast.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: I'm packing up.

BERTHA: Packing up? Is it holiday time again?

ROSE: Yes.

BERTHA: Where are you going this year?

ROSE: Taihape.

BERTHA: Are you going swimming?

ROSE: You are stupid aren't you? You're just a stupid women. You know what happens to stupid people don't you. They have to eat things they don't like, or else they starve. If people can't cook for themselves they have to get someone else who's smarter to do it for them and then they have to eat what's served up. If they don't they'll starve. And if they say stupid things they get what they deserve.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: Just keep the noise down. I'm going into the kitchen. (Exit).

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two. (Pause) Knit two. Purl two. (While she does this she is listening for noise made by the needles. There is none. Enter Pottz.) Hello Mr Pottz.

POTTZ: You haven't got a drop of sugar have you? He just come over to see if you've got a drop of sugar. (He has an empty sugar bowl.)

BERTHA: Do you want a drop of sugar Mr Pottz?

POTTZ: Yes, he wouldn't mind a small drop of sugar if you happen to have one handy.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: You never know when a drop of sugar will come in handy. You can put it in your tea with a teaspoon and stir it up and that makes it sweeter.

BERTHA: I went to the shop and bought a pound of sugar once.

POTTZ: Did you now? You never know when a drop of sugar can come in handy for putting in your tea and stirring it up and making it sweet. That's what he uses sugar for. Putting in his tea and stirring it up and making it sweet.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two. I went down to the shop and bought a pound of sugar. The man behind the counter had a lot of sugar in a sugar bag. He took his scoop and he scooped it out and weighed it in a paper bag and he gave it to me.

POTTZ: (Impressed) Did you pay him for it?

BERTHA: I gave him sixpence and he gave me some change so I bought some lollipops with the change.

POTTZ: He must say that's an impressive bit of shopping. When did you do that?

BERTHA: When I was a little girl.

POTTZ: Ah, that explains it.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two. Did you tell?

POTTZ: Tell what? What was he supposed to tell?

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two. I told you. Last Friday.

POTTZ: Oh that? Well he tells lots of things but what he knows he cannot tell. And what he tells he can't always remember.

     Enter Rose with a covered dish.

ROSE: So we are honoured by the presence of Mr Pottz again.

POTTZ: He just called in to see if he could borrow a cup of sugar. It's handy to have a drop of sugar around the house. He gets a spoon and he dips it in the sugar and he puts it in his tea and he stirs it up and that makes it sweeter.

ROSE: I don't need your stupid explanations as to why you want a cup of sugar. We're out of sugar. See if some other neighbour has got some.

POTTZ: She went down to the shop and the man behind the counter scooped out a pound of sugar and put it in a brown paper bag...

ROSE: Have you been telling stories again?

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: She's been telling stories again. I certainly know when she's been telling stories. Well she knows what happens when she tells stories. She has to take the consequences of telling stories, there's not doubt about that. She knows what the consequences are doesn't she. Telling stories and making noise. She's telling lies Mr Pottz. Don't believe a word she says. We're out of sugar.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: He'll have to go and see Mrs Wattz and see if she's got a drop of sugar. It's good to have a drop of sugar, he puts his little spoon into it... (Goes)

ROSE: I've got something nice for your breakfast. (Puts the covered dish down on the small table beside Bertha.)

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: Now you make sure you eat it and don't let it get cold.

BERTHA: (Looks at the dish with apprehension. Rose smiles with satisfaction.) Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: Aren't you going to look at it?

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: That's right. I spend all morning over a hot stove cooking her up something nice for her breakfast and she won't even look at it. That's gratitude for you. Well she knows what happens to people who don't show gratitude doesn't she, they get punished, that's what happens to people who don't show gratitude.

     Bertha looks apprehensively at the dish. She lifts the lid so that she can see what is under it but the audience can't.

BERTHA: I'll eat it later.

ROSE: She's going to eat it later is she? Well we'll see about that, we certainly will. We know what happened before when she said she'd eat it later didn't we? Once we found it in the fire and once we found it hidden under the rug.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: There's a dead rat under the stairs. I saw it there three weeks ago. Should be getting ripe by now...

     Enter Pottz

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: What do you want Mr Pottz? What have you come here for Mr Pottz?

POTTZ: He’s come to pay a visit Miss Rose.

ROSE: Well you visit her. I haven't got time for visits. What with cooking breakfast in the kitchen and packing up for holidays I haven't got time for visits. And you keep an eye on her. Make sure she eats her breakfast.

POTTZ: He’s just come to pay a short visit Miss Rose.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: Well let us hope it is a short visit Mr Pottz. She's very delicate you know. She has to be looked after. She's an invalid you know. I'm the one that looks after her. I'm the nurse.

POTTZ: He thought he'd come to pay a visit and do a bit of looking after Miss Bertha.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: Don't you listen to her gossip Mr Pottz. She tells lies. She tells lies all the time. She sleeps in that room over there. (Pointing to the floor.) She sleeps in a single bed all by herself. Sometimes she goes in the middle of the night. When that happens I punish her. I make her sleep in it for a week, then I make her clean it up herself. She doesn't like doing work. She doesn't like cleaning things up. I make her do it because I don't like the smell.

POTTZ: Nothing like a good bit of work. Leads to love of God, that's what he says, leads to love of God.

ROSE: Well now you know the truth Mr Pottz. Don't listen to her lies. I haven't got time for visits. What with cooking breakfast in the kitchen and packing up for holidays I haven't got time for visits. And you keep an eye on her. Make sure she eats her breakfast. (Exit)

BERTHA: (Pause) Knit two. Purl two. (Pause) Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: How's that knitting getting on Miss Bertha.

BERTHA: Very well Mr Pottz.

POTTZ: That looks like an impressive bit of knitting Miss Bertha. How long have you been at it now?

BERTHA: Five months.

POTTZ: That certainly looks like a mature bit of knitting. His Aunt Millicent used to do knitting. Yes his Aunt Millicent was a pretty good knitter. Knit two. Purl two. That's what she used to say too. Knit two. Purl two. She knitted him up a good pair of gloves. They had holes at the end of the fingers. Nothing like a good pair of gloves knitted up by Aunt Millicent. Nothing like a good pair of gloves knitted up by Aunt Millicent for keeping the frost off his fingers. That's what he says.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two. If they had holes at the end of the fingers you'd feel the frost.

POTTZ: Nothing like holes in gloves at the ends of the fingers to make him feel the frost. That's what he says. Nothing like holes at the ends of the fingers.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: Used to do a bit of knitting himself when he was a young lad. Nothing like a good bit of knitting when you're a young lad. Leads to love of God, that's what they say. Leads to a love of God. Knit two. Purl two. That's what he used to say. Knit two. Purl two. Can't do it any more. Arthritis. That's the problem. Arthritis. Not able to love God any more, that's the trouble. God gave him arthritis. Didn't want love any more.

BERTHA: Did you talk to Mrs Wattz?

POTTZ: Did he talk to Mrs Wattz? Yes he talked to Mrs Wattz, and he talked to Mrs Mottz, and he talked to Mrs Hottz and he talked to old man Lottz. He even talked to Miss Fittz.

BERTHA: What did he talk to them about? Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: What did he talk to them about? Well he talks about a lot of things but what he says he cannot tell. And what he tells he can't always remember.

BERTHA: Meals on wheels?

POTTZ: Oh yes, he certainly talked about wheels on meals, yes he certainly talked about that. It certainly was a topic of conversation.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: Yes it's all organised. Meals on wheels. Nothing like having a meal on a wheel. He used to have them all the time when he was a lad. Later on he got arthritis. Couldn't have a good meal on a wheel any more. Yes he told it all, but what he told he cannot say.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two. (Listens) I think I can hear her listening.

POTTZ: (Loud stage whisper) Nice to come and visit you Miss Bertha. Yes it's very nice to be able to come for a visit.

BERTHA: (Normal voice) What about the other thing?

POTTZ: (LSW) Oh that? Well he tells lots of things but what he knows he cannot tell. And what he tells he can't always remember.

     Enter Rose

ROSE: Are you still visiting Mr Pottz?

POTTZ: Ah yes he's still paying a visit he is. Miss Bertha and him were having a nice talk about knitting, weren't we Miss Bertha?

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: Do you know something about knitting Mr Pottz?

POTTZ: Oh yes, he knows something about knitting. Used to do a bit of knitting himself when he was a young lad. Nothing like a good bit of knitting when you're a young lad. Leads to love of God, that's what they say. Leads to a love of God. Knit two. Purl two. That's what he used to say. Knit two. Purl two. Can't do it any more. Arthritis. That's the problem. Arthritis. Not able to love God any more, that's the trouble. God gave him arthritis. Didn't want love any more.

ROSE: That's very interesting Mr Pottz.

POTTZ: Oh yes, knitting is a very interesting subject.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: She can't knit can she? Look at it. I'd be ashamed if I knitted something like that. Wouldn't you Mr Pottz? I would be. Anyway did you keep a good eye on her? Did she eat her breakfast?

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: No she didn't. She hasn't touched it. I just had a look at that rat under the stairs. Full of maggots. Wriggling and squirming. That'll be a bit ripe soon. Are you going to stay here visiting Mr Pottz? Are we going to be graced by your company for some length of time?

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: Well he thought he might just stay here for a small length of time and have a bit of a visit.

ROSE: Well you stay and visit then. I'm packing up now. I'm going away to Taihape for a holiday for two weeks.

POTTZ: Taihape? Going to do a bit of swimming are you?

ROSE: She has to starve when I'm away. She hasn't got anyone to cook for her so she has to starve. Have a good fast. It doesn't do anyone any harm to fast for two weeks. Does them good. Cleans out the system. There's plenty of water in the kitchen tap. That's if a possum hasn't fallen into the rainwater tanks. Let's hope a possum hasn't fallen into the rainwater tanks. Drink water for two weeks, that'll keep you alive.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: A good drink of water is always good for keeping someone alive.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: Well you keep on with your visiting Mr Pottz. I'm just in the next room packing up for my holiday in Taihape. I haven't got time for visits myself. (Pause) And you just keep the noise of those knitting needles down. Don't worry I can hear you. I can hear every word you say. (Goes)

BERTHA: Are you going to carry on with your visit Mr Pottz?

POTTZ: Yes. He thought he might just carry on with his visit.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: Yes. He thought he might just carry on with his visit for a little bit.

BERTHA: Did you tell them then?

POTTZ: He tells lots of things but what he knows he cannot tell. And what he tells he can't always remember.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: What he remembers he tells but what he tells he cannot remember.

BERTHA: She sleeps in a bed.

POTTZ: Ah yes, she sleeps in a bed. Lots of people sleep in a bed. Beds are very good for sleeping in. He knew a woman who slept in a bed once. She had dreams about being awake at night. Hottentots sleep in beds. That is when they are not sleeping on clay floors. He once knew a Hottentot that slept in a bed.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: What about sleeping in a bed?

BERTHA: I told you. Knit two. Purl two. A double bed.

POTTZ: Ah yes. A double bed. He once knew a woman who slept in a double bed. Very comfortable sleeping in a double bed. Do you know a woman who slept in a double bed?

BERTHA: I told you about it. Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: Oh yes she told him about it. She told him everything about it. He knows all about it. He remembers what she said. And what he remembers he cannot tell. He talked to Mrs Wattz, yes he talked to Mrs Wattz, and he talked to Mrs Mottz, and he talked to Mrs Hottz and he talked to old man Lottz. He even talked to Miss Fittz. But what he talked about he cannot tell.

BERTHA: You can tell me Mr Pottz.

POTTZ: Oh yes he can tell her, he can tell her all about it, he can tell her about the woman who slept in the double bed.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: He can tell Mrs Wattz? Yes he can tell Mrs Wattz, and he can tell Mrs Mottz, and he can tell Mrs Hottz and he can tell old man Lottz? He can even tell Miss Fittz?

BERTHA: And you'll get the man to come and make the key?

POTTZ: Oh yes he knows all about that. He can remember all about that. He can remember but he cannot tell. He knows all about getting the man to come and make the key.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: Well it's been a nice visit. He must say it's been a nice time visiting you Miss Bertha. It's been a very nice time paying you a visit, but he has to go now.

BERTHA: You will remember?

POTTZ: Oh yes, he will remember.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: Well it's been a nice visit. he must say it's been a nice time visiting you Miss Bertha. It's been a very nice time paying you a visit, but he has to go now.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: Well it's been a very nice visit. It's been a very nice time paying you a visit, but he has to go now.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: It's been a very nice time paying you a visit but he has to go now.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: Good-bye. It's been a very nice visit.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: Very nice indeed. (Goes)

BERTHA: At last.

POTTZ: (Pokes his head back in.) Thanks for the visit. (Goes)

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two. (Pause listens) Sounds like that packing has finished. (Pause) Knit two. Purl two.

     Enter Rose.

ROSE: Have you finished up your breakfast yet?

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: Well it doesn't matter, you'll eat it eventually. You'll have to.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: I've packed up now. I've finished all my packing up. Now I'm going off to Taihape this very minute. Well she hasn't finished her breakfast has she? Well don't worry about that, she have to eat it eventually because she'll get very hungry. There's still that rat under the stairs. That'll be spicy in a few days time.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: Well you haven't asked me how long I'm going for.

BERTHA: Two weeks?

ROSE: No. I'm not going for two weeks. I'm going away and I'm not coming back.

BERTHA: To Taihape?

ROSE: Do you know why I'm not coming back?

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: Do you want to know why I'm not coming back. It's because you have been talking you have. You've been talking behind my back. You know what happens to people who talk behind my back. Well you know don't you?

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: Well do you know? Answer me.

BERTHA: No. (Pause) I don't know.

ROSE: They get punished.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: They get locked in a house with nothing to eat but a rat under the stairs. And do you know why? Do you know what she said?

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

ROSE: She said we sleep in a big double bed didn't she. Now all the neighbours know. And they look at me and won't talk to me. That's why I'm going away forever and leaving you locked up in this house until you starve to death. (Exit)

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

     Rose trundles a big suitcase across the stage. She has a big key in her hand. Exit through other door.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

     Bertha puts down her knitting. She lifts the lid off the breakfast. It is a dead mouse. She puts down the lid.

BERTHA: Meals on wheels. (Pause) The man with the key. (Pause) She's gone at last. (Pause) Knit two. Purl two.

     Enter Pottz with an empty butter dish.

POTTZ: Hello Miss Bertha, he thought he'd come to borrow a bit of butter. Nothing like a drop of butter for spreading on your bread. He likes to have a drop of butter around the house.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two. How did you get in Mr Pottz? Did the man come and make the key?

POTTZ: No. He forgot about the man with the key. What he knows he cannot tell and what he tells he cannot remember.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: He thought he'd borrow a bit of butter. Nothing like a drop of butter for spreading on your bread. He likes to have a drop of butter around the house so he can spread it on his bread and put a bit of jam on it.

BERTHA: He forgot about the man and the key. Did he forget about meals on wheels?

POTTZ: Yes, he forgot about the meal on a wheel. What he knows he cannot tell and what he tells he cannot always remember.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: He thought he'd like to borrow a little bit of butter. Nothing like having a little drop of butter around the house for spreading on your bread. He likes to have a little drop of butter around the house so he can spread it on his bread and put a bit of jam on it. Sometimes he might put marmite on it.

BERTHA: Did he talk to Mrs Wattz, and did he talk to Mrs Mottz, and did he talk to Mrs Hottz and did he talk to old man Lottz? Did he even talk to Miss Fittz? Did he tell them about the double bed?

POTTZ: Yes, he talked to Mrs Wattz, and he talked to Mrs Mottz, and he talked to Mrs Hottz and he talked to old man Lottz. He even talked to Miss Fittz. He told them all about it.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two. How did you get in?

POTTZ: Miss Rose let me. Miss Rose had a big key and the put it in the lock and she turned it round and the door opened.

BERTHA: Go and get the meals on wheels. Go and get the man with the key. (He goes to the door and then comes back as she says:) Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: He can't open the door. Somebody must have locked the door. He was very good at locking doors when he was young. Nothing like a good bit of locking doors when you're a young lad. Leads to love of God, that's what they say. Leads to a love of God. Click clock. That's what he used to say. Click clock. Can't do it any more. Arthritis. That's the problem. Arthritis. Not able to love God any more, that's the trouble. God gave him arthritis. Didn't want love any more.

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two.

POTTZ: He can't open the door. Somebody must have locked the door.

     (He sits on the seat.)

BERTHA: Knit two. Purl two. (Long silence) Knit two. Purl two. (Long silence) Knit two. Purl two. (Long silence)

POTTZ: Is he waiting for his meals on wheels?

BERTHA: (Silence) Knit two. Purl two. (Silence) Look under the stairs.

FAST CURTAIN


from Knitting by B E Turner
From a recent production by Playbox Theatre; photo credit: Mark Perry.

First performed Stagecraft Theatre, Wellington, New Zealand, 1995
Directed: Leigh Cain
Bertha: Christine Hunt
Rose: Jan Lippert
Pottz: Joan Foster

Author Bio

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B E Turner (previously known as Brian E. Turner) is a playwright, novelist and publisher living in New Zealand. His short short, "His Exegamination of Poelemtics as Addressed to the Audience," appeared in Issue #3 of The Cafe Irreal; "Three Short Plays" appeared in Issue #9; "Comedy of Art" in Issue #11; "surd person circular" in Issue #14; "A Tram Ride" in Issue #18; "The Procession" in Issue #28; "A Thread of Embroidery" in Issue #37; and "Snow" in Issue #48.