Salvation, page 2
tune never hurt anyone.
He rises from his knees and looks at her, approaches her, makes eye contact and points at his head.
DEIRDRE. Is something wrong with your head?
Aidan continues to tap his head and point at Deirdre's hair.
DEIRDRE. Speak to me.
She approaches him but Aidan dodges her and continues to tap his head and point at her hair, she then realises that there must be something in her hair. She removes the flower and places it on a slab.
DEIRDRE. A flower?
AIDAN. The scamp Peter Doyle.
DEIRDRE. How did he put it there?
AIDAN. You can never turn your back on him.
DEIRDRE. Shows he is getting better. Good. He might be first to catch the fever here and not die from it. Margaret Finney looks to be getting better too. Our good work is finally reaping rewards.
AIDAN. God bless Margaret Finney! Good news at last!
DEIRDRE. I think I can say that we are in the early stages of the end of this fever.
AIDAN. How many have it now?
DEIRDRE. Twenty at most. No deaths since I have been here. I want to keep it that way. Why are you not working with lime?
AIDAN. It cannot be afforded. Money has been going missing, I heard. New shipment next week.
DEIRDRE. We need lime to keep diseases away. Deirdre Jacob is my name.
Beat. Aidan is a little surprised by her compassion.
AIDAN. Aidan Kirwan.
She sticks out a hand to shake his, he is reluctant but eventually shakes back.
DEIRDRE. Pleased to finally meet you. I've seen you about. You work hard.
AIDAN. Where have ye seen me?
DEIRDRE. The chapel, at mass time, and cleaning the hallways. Have you not noticed me?
AIDAN. I…I'm afraid not. I normally keep meself to meself. You're not from around here?
DEIRDRE. In a manner of speaking I am. I was born here, in Dungarvan. I went to England when I was young.
AIDAN. What made you return?
DEIRDRE. A few reasons. Beautiful country, for one. Not blemished by the industrial work they've had over the water. I love waking up and not having the smell of smoke filling my nose.
AIDAN. You must be mad for wanting to come back. Did the English let you return? (Excitable) Is the fever finished in England? Who told you about us?
DEIRDRE. (Smiling) One question at a time!
AIDAN. Sorry, sorry, it's just, I never get chance to speak to many people.
DEIRDRE. The English told me I was no longer required. The fever in England is not finished but it's not as bad as here. And an inmate I was treating for infection in the city workhouse told me about this place.
AIDAN. You were in the city workhouse?
DEIRDRE. For two months when I first came back to Ireland.
AIDAN. Did he live? (Beat) The inmate you treated?
DEIRDRE. He…he lived, yes.
AIDAN. (Joyously) You are here to save us!
DEIRDRE. I'm here to do my very best.
AIDAN. How was England?
DEIRDRE. When it was discovered that I was born in Ireland…well…they didn't seem to want me around any longer.
AIDAN. The English with their high and mighty ways. They have forgotten us. They don’t have an idea what’s happening here.
DEIRDRE. They have an idea. They're just refusing to do anything about it.
AIDAN. We should fight them. Start a war.
DEIRDRE. With your washcloth?
AIDAN. (Taking the joke) I could be a mighty warrior!
DEIRDRE. I'm sure you could be, wash them all away.
AIDAN. I could blind their eyes with lime and drown them in me bucket.
DEIRDRE. (Laughing) There is a little fire inside you. (Pause) You could start a fight, whatever means necessary to get you out of here. (Aidan is curious about this) You don’t know much about the goings on outside of this place, do you? I'll tell you one thing a lot of inmates here and in England don't understand: nobody wants you to stay in the workhouses.
AIDAN. (Suspiciously) Why?
DEIRDRE. No food. Closed quarters. Mass graves. You're split up from women and children. You wash a floor day in, day out and the entire building is haunted by disease. The smell! You think the Poor Law Commissioners would build a place like this to make you stay? (He doesn’t respond) They want you to leave! To find work! To make a life for yourself!
AIDAN. I’ve been here a long time.
DEIRDRE. Have you ever thought of leaving?
AIDAN. This is my life.
DEIRDRE. Think: roast lamb, ales, heat, warmth.
AIDAN. Mary Morrissey beats me whenever I talk of leaving.
DEIRDRE. Do I know the woman?
AIDAN. She works in the infirmary.
DEIRDRE. (Knowingly) She thinks God will save us before medicine.
AIDAN. There was a time I was meant to leave to become a stable boy. Mary put a stop to it.
AIDAN. She told Guardian Power that I am the only good washer of the floor and that I should do what I'm good at.
DEIRDRE. Surely others can wash the floor.
AIDAN. This room is always clean because of me! I am the strongest and fittest here, save from Paddy. Need good arms to keep this room clean. I have good enough arms to pick you up!
He approaches her to pick her up - she backs away.
DEIRDRE. You are fit and strong, I can see that. You would work well as a labourer on the quay.
AIDAN. (Stops) You really believe that?
AIDAN. Let me show you me strength.
DEIRDRE. You've no need, I can see from here.
He approaches her, puts his arms around her waist.
AIDAN. Let me pick you up!
DEIRDRE. Aidan! No!
He tries to lift her, fails.
Tries again, fails.
Deirdre is giggling, trying to wrestle free.
DEIRDRE. I am too big for you!
AIDAN. Not at all! I like the way you look.
DEIRDRE. It seems to me as if Mary has some sort of rule over you.
AIDAN. (Puzzled) Some think she’s my mother. She isn’t but she has taken care of me for many years.
DEIRDRE. Where are your parents?
AIDAN. (Shrugging) I don't know. I arrived with them but I never saw them again after we got split up.
DEIRDRE. Do you wonder about them?
AIDAN. No. Mary looks after me, I am content with that.
DEIRDRE. It doesn’t bother you?
DEIRDRE. That your parents magically disappeared?
AIDAN. Never thought about it.
DEIRDRE. Never? Don’t be ridiculous.
AIDAN. I don’t talk about it.
DEIRDRE. (Understanding) You've never had anyone to talk to about it.
DEIRDRE. You are like a prisoner. Have you ever been to the city?
DEIRDRE. Would you like to go?
Aidan withdraws, refuses to answer this.
DEIRDRE. I do not mean to cause offence Aidan, but you will need to start making decisions for yourself. Mary won't be here forever. (Beat) Have you nearly finished the wash?
AIDAN. It's never completely finished.
DEIRDRE. You're doing a fine job.
AIDAN. (Surprised) Thank you, thank you… (He can't remember her name)
DEIRDRE. (Placing her hand on Aidan’s forehead) Memory loss is a symptom of the fever. (She removes her hand) Quite hot. Lift up your shirt.
AIDAN. (Stunned) Wha'?
DEIRDRE. You're not shy are you? It won't hurt. Lift up your shirt.
DEIRDRE. How many years is that?
AIDAN. Eight. I'm twenty one, or twenty two.
DEIRDRE. What a funny man, not knowing your age. Now lift your shirt.
DEIRDRE. I understand. You’re nervous about taking your shirt off in front of a lady.
AIDAN. Not at all! Ye have some fancy calling yourself a lady!
Deirdre tries to grab Aidan but he wrestles away and runs across the room. She is having fun and runs after him. The running is intertwined with laughter until, eventually, Aidan trips over his bucket. Deirdre takes advantage of this and lifts his shirt.
DEIRDRE. Got you!
She takes out a wooden tube, a nineteenth century stethoscope (not dissimilar to an ear-trumpet) and checks him.
AIDAN. (Beat, Deirdre takes the stethoscope away) All is well?
DEIRDRE. (Concerned) Are you drinking enough water?
AIDAN. What water?
DEIRDRE. The Guardian doesn't seem to be taking very good care of you.
AIDAN. I would agree.
DEIRDRE. Guardian Power, is he married?
AIDAN. Yes, but there be stories about his duties to Mrs. Power.
AIDAN. He enjoys the company of the female inmates.
DEIRDRE. Only the inmates?
AIDAN. He thinks he owns them. Uses them for his pleasure. 'Tis only what I hear now, stories is all.
DEIRDRE. His duty should only be in protecting you.
AIDAN. We don't question it. Neither should you, sure, that's the way we live.
DEIRDRE. He's a tyrant.
AIDAN. (Grabbing her arm, quietly) Careful! Now, I wouldn’t want to be stepping out of line by offering advice to a staff member but you're new here so, take care, if ye were heard saying that…
She holds Aidan's hand.
Paddy, bare-footed, enters with sheets.
DEIRDRE. (Snapping away from Aidan) Drink all the water in the world today, Mr. Kirwan. (Beat) I'll be back tomorrow, I hope you have a new tune for me!
She leaves, Paddy watches her go.
PADDY. Looks like you've made a friend, Mr. Kirwan?
AIDAN. (Smugly) Never been called that before.
PADDY. Tell ya boy, she has a lovely…
Aidan stamps on his foot.
PADDY. Me toes! Me toes! Me poor little toes! 'Walk'! 'Walk'! Is all I was