By Justīne Kļava
Translated from Latvian by Ieva Lākute
Volume 9, Issue 3 (Spring 2023)
Translator’s Preface: Rooted in Justīne’s personal experiences, the one-act family drama Dāmas (Ladies) was first staged in April 2016 by Teātris TT. After a sold-out season, it went on to receive five nominations at the Latvian National Theatre Awards, including winning best original dramaturgy of the year. Translated into Estonian by Contra (Margus Konnula), the play was later staged by Endla Teater.
Filled with tragicomic moments, Ladies explores the affectionate and strained relationship between three generations of women who try to assert their independence while sharing a small flat in a decrepit district of Riga. Despite their best intentions, the grandmother Mary (born during World War II), the daughter Slava (born during the Soviet occupation), and the granddaughter Kitty (born the year the Iron Curtain fell) are in constant conflict with each other. It escalates when Kitty returns home late one night, and a gun falls out of her back pocket.
Since I know the playwright on a personal level and I had her full trust, it was somewhat easier for me to identify with the voice of the characters and translate them into English without losing playfulness in the dialogue and the translation process itself. However, I still encountered certain challenges. For example, how do you translate the punchy, dark humour and get the comic timing just right in English? And how do you find an equivalent word for such Latvian cultural staples as kotletes (a type of meatball), which were ironically central to the action of the play?
These questions led me to apply for the Theatre Translator Mentorship with the London-based theatre company Foreign Affairs. From the first reading of the play with the other mentees to a full reading with professional actors and the final showcase rehearsals, I heard and saw my translation come alive. I considered, on a much deeper level, how seemingly unimportant words may give away a character’s social status. I also learned the concepts of “foreignization” and “domestication” that helped me to make more conscious choices about which Latvian words and expressions to translate directly, and which to adapt. I was pleasantly surprised to hear other mentees say that the play “felt relatable and foreign at the same time” during some of our feedback sessions. And, of course, to hear their laughter—in places where I had intended it.
Justīne Kļava is one of Latvia’s most celebrated contemporary playwrights and dramaturgs. Since 2014, she has been writing plays for Latvia’s leading state and experimental theatres, mostly focused on psychologically realistic representations of generational clashes and the impact of history on the everyday lives of eastern Europeans. Loved by audiences and critics alike, her plays have received numerous awards, including the Latvian prize for the play of the year in 2016 and 2017. In 2020, she was appointed as the head dramaturg of the largest professional theatre in the Baltic states: Dailes teātris in Riga, where she worked for two years. She has since written an original gothic comedy for the JRT (New Riga Theatre) and finished a modern adaptation of what she believes to be one of the best novels ever written: Бесы (The Devils) by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Ieva Lākute has worked freelance as a writer and literary translator since graduating from Bath Spa University with an MA in Creative Writing. Her short stories and literary translations have received several awards, including the longlist of the 2020 John Dryden Translation Competition. Her love for theatre and cross-cultural collaboration led her to complete the 2020 Theatre Translators Mentorship with the London-based theatre company Foreign Affairs. She has since completed the Emerging Translator Mentorship with the UK’s National Centre for Writing. Her portfolio of translations includes several other plays by Justīne Kļava, Lauris Gundars, as well as the bestselling Latvian novels Mans Nabaga Pirāts (My Poor Pirate) by Jurģis Liepnieks and Sestā Sieva (The Sixth Wife) by Inga Grencberga. She has also translated for NATO and the Latvian National Opera. Her dream is to see more plays from the Baltics staged by anglophone theatres.
By Justīne Kļava
Translated from Latvian by Ieva Lākute
STANISLAVA OR SLAVA (42) – Mary’s daughter
KATHRYN OR KITTY (17) – Stanislava’s daughter
A large pre-war apartment in Riga, Latvia. Midnight. MARY (66) is stood by a gas stove, wearing a dressing gown. Her hair is done up with rollers. Her eyes dart between the stove-top kettle, the clock on the wall, and the kitchen door.
Before the kettle starts to whistle, Mary turns off the gas and pours the boiling water in to a coffee mug. She takes the mug and tiptoes towards the kitchen unit, bashing into a stool. The stool hits a bucket. Several plastic tubs spill from it, making a loud noise. Mary tries to push the stool aside, but her leg kicks the bucket again. The noise is even louder this time.
Listening out for someone coming, Mary tries to open the door of the kitchen unit quietly. She takes out a pack of cigarettes and matches and tiptoes towards the window. But just before she reaches the window, she steps inside the cat’s bowl. An even louder noise echoes throughout the kitchen.
Loud, hurried footsteps are approaching.
Mary manages to stuff the cigarettes and matches inside her dressing gown pocket just as SLAVA (42) enters. She stands in the kitchen doorway, wearing a similar dressing gown and rollers in her hair.
SLAVA. Don’t even think about smoking inside.
MARY. Oh, I just can’t take it anymore. It’s gone midnight. Where is she?
Slava walks towards the stove and lifts the kettle. It’s almost empty, so she walks over to the sink to fill it back up. Instinctively, Mary rushes over to help her. While Mary talks, she tries to yank the kettle out of Slava’s hands. Slava doesn’t let her.
MARY. Don’t stay up for her, darling. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll have another headache tomorrow. And all because that airhead won’t come home at a godly hour. Oh, my sweet angel, if you can’t get to sleep, I’ve got some sleeping pills. Shall I fetch them for you? Just a quarter of a dose.
Slava doesn’t reply. Mary is still trying to yank the kettle out of Slava’s hands.
MARY. What tea would you like Mummy to make you?
Slava tries to fill the kettle with water from the tap, but Mary doesn’t let go.
MARY. Now, now… It’s ok, everything’s fine… Here, let me… I’ll help you, my angel.
SLAVA. I can do it myself!
MARY. I said, I’ll do it for you! Go and sit down.
They fight over the kettle. Slava finally gains the upper hand.
SLAVA. I said – I can do it myself!
MARY. Oh, for God’s sake… the times we live in… My own daughter won’t let her mummy treat her to a nice cup of tea… All that pride won’t do you any good. You should let people do nice things for you from time to time.
SLAVA. Mum, go to bed.
MARY. Would you like a pastry? Oh, they’re so nice. With raspberry filling, made fresh this morning. I bought them from that bakery on the corner.
SLAVA. Go to bed!
MARY. You know very well that I won’t be able to get to sleep until Kitty has got a decent meal in her. That poor child walks around hungry for days on end. Skin and bones, she is. Oh, I made these yummy meatballs earlier. Would you like a bite?
SLAVA. Don’t start coming at me with your meatballs again.
MARY. I made them from this lovely, juicy pork belly. Would you like some fried potatoes too?
SLAVA. Mum, I have a gastric ulcer! How many times do I have to tell you that I can’t have anything fatty or fried?
MARY. Don’t worry, darling. I wasn’t going to use much oil. Just a teensy-tiny bit, enough to heat it up. They’ll just melt in your mouth, you’ll see!
SLAVA. I’m not going to have meatballs at half past one in the morning! Do you really want me to die?
MARY. There’s no need to raise your voice. I was just offering, that’s all. And you’re the one who said you went out to the Lido restaurantlast week and had meatballs for lunch. Can’t have been as good as mine, that’s for sure.
Slava pours herself some tea. She takes the mug and goes to her room, but Mary rushes over to help.
MARY. Here, I’ll carry that for you, sweetheart.
Slava doesn’t give her the mug. Mary continues to pull it towards her until the mug falls on the floor. The scorching water catches Slava’s hands.
SLAVA. Why do you always have to rip things from my hands? I can’t even touch a saucepan without getting your permission first.
MARY. That’s what happens when you try to do things for yourself. It’s always better to let your mother take care of you. Come, darling, let’s run some cold water over your hands.
Mary takes Slava by the hand and leads her to the sink, but Slava breaks free.
SLAVA. Can’t you see it hurts?
MARY. Shh, Mummy will make everything right again. Oh, my sweet angel, how did this happen? Let me make you another cup of tea.
The front door slams. KITTY (17) walks into the kitchen, dressed in nothing but bra and joggers, holding an open bottle of lager in her hand. She takes off her trainers, ready to go to her room.
KITTY. Hey! Got any grub?
SLAVA. Kathryn, come here right now.
Kitty steps back, but Slava grabs her by the hand and pulls her into the kitchen.
SLAVA. Where’s your top?
KITTY. Haven’t got one.
SLAVA. What do you mean: you haven’t got one?
KITTY. It split.
MARY. (Sighs in mock exasperation.) Give it to me, I’ll mend it.
KITTY. Haven’t got it. I chucked it.
MARY. You threw away that nice T-shirt I gave you? It wasn’t some cheap rag, you know. I bought it from a brand store.
SLAVA. Mum, stay out of it.
KITTY. Yeah, chill, Nan. I’ve got other tops I can wear.
MARY. Where exactly did you chuck it? I’ll go and find it.
SLAVA. (To Mary.) Calm down.
MARY. I buy her a nice, pretty T-shirt from my pension, and she goes off and ‘chucks it’ at the first opportunity! So she can prance around half-naked like some hooker! At this rate, I’m surprised you’ve still got trousers on, my dear.
SLAVA. (To Kitty.) What’s that in your hand?
KITTY. Lager. Obviously.
SLAVA. Give me that.
KITTY. No way! Go to the petrol station and get your own.
MARY. Darling, I have half-a-bottle of cognac in my room, if you need something to help you get to sleep.
SLAVA. No, I don’t want any alcohol.
KITTY. Well, I do.
MARY. You don’t deserve my expensive cognac. Carry on drinking that shit. Did you know they only sell moonshine in the shops these days? Aidis Tomsons was talking about it on Channel 1 just the other day. That’s right. I might be old, but I like to keep my finger on the pulse.
SLAVA. (To Kitty.) Where were you?
KITTY. Stuck in my own arse. (Burps loudly.)
MARY. (To Kitty.) Right. You should eat something first. What would you like, darling – I’ve got meatballs with some fried potatoes, and a nice raspberry pastry to go with it…
KITTY. Meatballs with pastry.
Mary starts fussing around the gas stove energetically.
SLAVA. (To Kitty.) Why did you switch off your phone? I was worried sick.
KITTY. So you’d leave me alone? Thank fuck Nan doesn’t have a smartphone. I’d literally kill myself if she did.
MARY. Don’t you have any pity for your poor mother? She can’t get to sleep while you’re out.
KITTY. She can’t get to sleep because you’re up all night, keeping a watch.
MARY. Someone has to while you’re getting up to God-knows-what.
SLAVA. Stop shouting, Mum. It’s the middle of the night, for Christ’s sake.
MARY. Well, I’m only saying the truth.
KITTY. How many times do I have to say that I’m totally fine?
MARY. And how are we supposed to know that?
KITTY. You just have to know, that’s it.
MARY. Oh, you just wait until you have your own children. Then you’ll see.
KITTY. I’m not going to have any.
MARY. Because you’re selfish. Just like your father.
SLAVA. (To Mary.) Don’t start harping on about it…
MARY. We had nothing back then, not even a shower. I had to carry water up the staircase to our flat. And I asked him…
KITTY. Nan, stop stirring.
MARY. … to help me – and he keeps saying I will in a minute but he sits by his books all day, doing nothing. Just like you. Your mother tells you to come home at a godly hour, and you keep saying I will in a minute. Next thing you know, it’s one in the morning. Well, I guess you don’t love your mother. Just like your father never did.
SLAVA. Mum, go and fry your meatballs, and stop talking rubbish.
KITTY. Just because I love her doesn’t mean I have to do every stupid thing she tells me.
SLAVA. If you’re not prepared to do “every stupid thing I tell you” then go and live with your father.
KITTY. Argh. You’re such a demagogue!
MARY. What’s a demagogue?
SLAVA. Mum, I told you to stay out of it.
MARY. How can I, when we share the same roof? We should be able to discuss everything together. And in case you’ve forgotten it, I’m the grandmother around here; you’re my flesh and blood.
KITTY. You know I can’t just go and move in with Dad.
MARY. That’s right. Because he doesn’t give a flying fuck about you.
SLAVA. Mum, can you even hear yourself? Of course, he does. Victor is a very busy person, that’s all.
MARY. He’s an arsehole, if you ask me.
KITTY. Nan, how many times do I have to tell you to stop saying stuff like that about my dad? It drives me mental!
MARY. Can’t believe you still call that man a dad… If he were a decent father to you, he would have taken you to Brussels by now. He lives all by himself in a four-bedroom flat. And he has the nerve to stroll in here once a year, beaming with pride and a box of Belgian chocolates as big as my fucking wardrobe, then gobble up half of it himself. Who does he think we are – some charity case? That we can’t afford to buy chocolates for ourselves?
KITTY. You’re not the only one around here who’s allowed to stuff people to death with food.
SLAVA. Not this drama again… Have you both forgotten that tomorrow is a working day, and I need to be up early?
KITTY. Then why are you still here? Go to bed and let me eat my dinner.
SLAVA. I’m not going to sleep until you tell me exactly where you’ve been.
KITTY. What do you mean? I was out.
MARY. She was out drinking.
SLAVA. Do you really want to get arrested again?
KITTY. I don’t give a shit.
SLAVA. You don’t ‘give a shit’? Fine. In that case, from now on, I won’t be ‘giving a shit’ either. I’ll just leave you in your cell to rot.
KITTY. Perfect. Can’t be any worse than home.
MARY. If I spoke to my mother like that, she would have beaten me with a wooden pole.
SLAVA. I guess you don’t ‘give a shit’ about Nan either. A frail, elderly woman who’s been sitting by that window for the last two hours, worrying about you.
KITTY. Then don’t wait up for me! I don’t have the energy for all this drama again. Are the meatballs ready yet?
SLAVA. Well, I’m not going to bed early, just to be woken up in the middle of the night by a call from the police telling us to come and fetch you from the station. I couldn’t go through that shame a second time, and pay all that money to get you out… What’s wrong with you, why don’t you get it?!
KITTY. No, you don’t get it. LET ME LIVE MY LIFE!
MARY. I just finished watching this heavy drama. The awful things some people do to young women… If Kitty’s out late, all these dark thoughts start swirling around in my head….
SLAVA. (To Mary.) Mum, you’re frightening her. She’ll have nightmares again.
MARY. Well, if she does, it will be from drinking. Her entire organism is drenched in spirits. Women become alcoholics much sooner than men, you know.
KITTY. Can you just give me the meatballs and leave me the fuck alone? What’s the big deal?
MARY. (To Slava.) People didn’t drink so much, back in my day.
SLAVA. Yeah, right.
MARY. It’s true. Shops would only sell alcohol after 2pm. And people didn’t go round partying in the streets like they do now. Because there was always a cop from ‘militsiya’ sat at the end of the street. If he saw anyone wandering round, he’d catch them and take them straight to a drunk tank to get their stomach pumped. Right, that’s it. Kitty, you’ll get a sore throat from drinking a cold beer.
Mary reaches to take the bottle from Kitty. She takes a step back and threatens to down the drink if Mary comes any closer.
MARY. Haven’t you had enough? (Smells Kitty’s hair.) And you’ve been smoking too. Come, let me get you a glass of compote instead. (To Slava.) You better pay attention to this – your daughter will turn into an alcoholic, just like my mother. Give me that shit!
SLAVA. Mum, it’s pointless. She’ll just go out and buy another one.
With Kitty still drinking, Mary tries to wrench the bottle from her hands. Despite Kitty’s best efforts, Mary manages to seize the bottle. While they fight, a gun falls out of Kitty’s joggers.
MARY. Sweet mother of Jesus!
Mary tries to pick up the gun, but Kitty’s reaction is quicker. She stands up, holding the gun in her hands.
SLAVA. Is that a real weapon?
KITTY. No. It’s a fucking pencil.
SLAVA. Where did you get it from?!
MARY. I bet she bought it with your money. I told you that you’re spoiling her with all that pocket money, but you never listen, do you? And now look – look at what`s happened!
SLAVA. (To Kitty.) I am talking to you. Where did you get this weapon from?
KITTY. From Christian. The pigs got him.
MARY. Thank God for that!
SLAVA. What did he do?
KITTY. He shot some guy.
SLAVA. He… he shot someone?
MARY. What’s so shocking about that? The boy is a scumbag. It was clear from the start, when I saw him walking around with those trousers, with half his ass hanging out. What good can possibly come from someone who wants to look like they’ve shat themselves?
SLAVA. What happened to them?
KITTY. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything negative about your friends, Nan. Even though Velta wears a nappy.
MARY. Velta had a stroke. Do you want me to slice some tomatoes for you?
KITTY. Please. With sour cream.
MARY. And a pinch of salt.
SLAVA. Kitty, what happened to them?
KITTY. Nothing. He called the pigs.
SLAVA. Did you call the ambulance?
KITTY. Relax. It’s just an airgun. (Swings the gun around.) If you wanted to stuff real bullets in here, you’d have to cut a bigger hole.
SLAVA. I’m not even going to ask you where you got that information from.
MARY. Nowadays, you can find everything on the ‘intranet’.
KITTY. Look, pepper balls are totally harmless. Just stings like a bitch when you’re hit. But at least he won’t be bothering you again.
KITTY. Oh, you know… That creep who was harassing you. Our neighbour.
SLAVA. Who are you talking about?
MARY. Surely, you don’t mean Maigurs? From flat five. Late Zigrid’s son.
KITTY. Yeah, that’s him. But we call him Marshmallow. Because his name sounds like that marshmallow brand Maigums. Like, Maigurs – Maigums – Marshmallow…
SLAVA. Your ‘gang’ shot him, because you thought he was harassing me?
MARY. Oh, big deal. You’re turning this into an inquisition while the food is getting cold. Bon appetit!
Mary puts a plate of meatballs on the table.
SLAVA. No one is going to eat right now.
MARY. Wha… What do you mean?
SLAVA. Kathryn, go to your room. We’re going to have a serious chat about what happened.
MARY. But you don’t even know when she had her last meal!
SLAVA. Kathryn. Go to your room!
KITTY. Oh, get off my case, Mum. Seriously, what’s your problem?
MARY. Let her eat; you can have your ‘serious chat’ afterwards.
Slava picks up the plate with meatballs and smashes it against the wall.
KITTY. Have you lost your fucking mind?
Mary bends down to pick up the meatballs, but Slava stomps on them.
MARY. (To Kitty.) I was breastfeeding her for a whole year. And look at how she repays me!
Slava looks around her, grabs the glass of compote and smashes it against the wall.
MARY. So much love went into making it. (Starts to cry.) They always say that it’s best to live with strangers than your own flesh and blood. When I was making beetroot soup for Velta — with soured cream — after she had a stroke, she was full of thanks… So kind and grateful. Meanwhile, my own carnal daughter stomps all over my food.
KITTY. Granny, it’s ok. Come on. Stop crying.
Holding onto the airgun with one hand, Kitty tries to soothe Mary. She embraces her.
MARY. No one needs me around here.
SLAVA. I’m so sorry, Mum.
KITTY. We do, Granny. We need you a lot.
MARY. No. You’d all rather have me dead.
KITTY. Nan, what are you talking about? Stop crying, ok?
SLAVA. I didn’t mean it, Mum.
MARY. I can’t speak my mind anymore without you smashing up my plates. Oh, all my little ceramic vases… all smashed to pieces. We won’t have any plates left, at this rate.
SLAVA. I’ll buy you a brand-new set of tableware, Mum.
MARY. (To Kitty.) Come. Let’s eat in my room. I’ll heat up some fresh meatballs for you. And then we’ll have a nice, soothing fag out of my window.
Kitty and Mary walk towards Mary’s room.
SLAVA. Kitty, stay.
MARY. (To Slava.) You haven’t the faintest idea what poverty is. That’s why you feel like you can just play with your food like that.
KITTY. Granny, stop it. Everything’s ok, init?
SLAVA. Kathryn, we haven’t finished our chat.
KITTY. Fuck off! You’re an idiot. Look at what you’ve done. You’ve made Nan cry.
SLAVA. I’m your mother, you little shit, and you will not speak to me like that!
Slava grabs Kitty by the arm and pulls the girl towards her.
KITTY. Let go of me, Mum!
MARY. Let the child go!
Mary grabs Kitty by the other arm (which is still holding onto the airgun) and drags her towards her room.
SLAVA. Everyone else has nice, normal kids. Why can’t you be like them? I hate both of you! I can’t stand the sight of you!
MARY. Let go of Kitty, you witch!
SLAVA. She’s my daughter and she’ll do as I say!
MARY. Don’t forget that she’s also my granddaughter!
KITTY. Mum, let go! (They fight.) It hurts!
Slava grabs Kitty by the hair and pulls her towards her room. Kitty screams.
MARY. Oh, you, little cunt…
Mary is preparing to hit Slava when Kitty fires the airgun. A loud gunshot echoes throughout the kitchen, filling the room with pungent smoke. The airgun falls on the floor. Coughing, they crawl around the floor, with tears stinging their eyes.
SLAVA. Everyone alive?
MARY. Oh, my lovely girls… why are we always acting like this? There’s no harmony in this house! We used to get on so well, when dear Antons was still alive — God rest his soul. Oh, what happened to us?
SLAVA. It’s because he always did as you said.
MARY. Well, we did have the occasional argument, of course…
Mary is the first one to crawl to the sink. She opens the tap and rinses her eyes.
SLAVA. It’s because you’re incapable of keeping your mouth shut.
MARY. Well, yes. I do feel the need to voice my opinions. So what? And don’t we always have a good laugh afterwards? Come here, girls, I’ll help you rinse your eyes.
Kitty and Slava crawl towards the sink.
MARY. Right. I’ll get everything sorted. Then we’ll put on some Nivea creme and have a few pastries. (To Slava.) Darling, would you like one? With a nice, soothing cup of tea?
SLAVA. No, thank you.
MARY. Oh, go on – one little pastry won’t hurt.
SLAVA. No. Thank you.
MARY. As they like to say these days – no means no! Oh, Kitty, you poor child, you didn’t get to eat your dinner. Just hold on a minute, I’ll get it sorted. (About the floor.) Argh, I’m going to have to clean up this mess too. (To Slava.) You’re never the one cleaning up. That’s why you feel like you can just go around, smashing all my ceramics.
SLAVA. I’ll clean it up.
MARY. Oh, it’s fine. I’ll do it, darling. Don’t you worry.
SLAVA. I said I’ll do it.
MARY. Sit down!
Slava sits down. Mary starts cleaning the kitchen.
SLAVA. (To Kitty.) Are you ok?
KITTY. At least I’ve never pulled you by thehair.
SLAVA. I’m so sorry.
MARY. (Picks up the gun from the floor.) Right. We’ll just put this over here… (Puts the gun in the kitchen cupboard.) Away from sin.
KITTY. (To Slava.) Why do you get so worked up every time I stay out late?
SLAVA. Kathryn, do you really want to end up in prison?
MARY. The food has gone completely cold, I’ll have to heat it up again.
KITTY. I’m not going to end up in prison.
SLAVA. That’s what everyone says. It always starts with petty crimes, vandalism…And now this (points towards the gun). What’s next, Kathryn?
MARY. Next time, your dad can come and get you from the police station. Let him try and raise you for once.
KITTY. (To Slava.) It’s not fair. You’re the one who said Maigurs was harassing you, and now you’re having a go at me?
SLAVA. When did I say that?
KITTY. Well, not to me exactly. But you said it to Nan.
MARY. Yes. You did.
KITTY. We noticed you’ve been coming home late. And yesterday, Nan told me you had a chat about it.
MARY. (To Slava.) And then I said, is there a man in your life? and you said – Yes. Maigurs. Oh, don’t give me that look. How was I supposed to know that she’d go off to shoot him? (To Kitty.) In fact, Kitty, that’s not very nice of you. I tell you something in private, and now everyone is mad at me. As usual.
KITTY. Come on, Mum… Don’t be like that. Everything’s ok.
MARY. Oh, darling, he didn’t deserve you anyway, so there’s really no need to get upset over it.
SLAVA. According to your standards, the Pope himself wouldn’t deserve me.
MARY. It’s just that… Maigurs… how should I put this… He’s always been a bit… strange.
SLAVA (sarcastically). Of course he has…
MARY. Would I lie to you, my own flesh and blood? Dagnija – you know, the girl from the pharmacy? She told me that Maigurs stores his urine in glass jars! And each jar even has its own label. I swear to God.
KITTY. Do you really want to be seeing a guy who drinks his own piss?
MARY. God only knows who your mother would be seeing by now if I didn’t intervene.
SLAVA. Probably no one, because you’d send my daughter off to shoot them.
KITTY. I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to scare him a bit, so he’d stop harassing you.
Mary puts the dinner on the table.
MARY. Right – bon apetit!
Kitty sits down at the table and eats.
KITTY. Thank you.
MARY. (To Slava.) Are you sure you don’t want anything?
SLAVA. No, thank you.
MARY. We have some yoghurt…
SLAVA. No – thank you!
MARY. Fine. I was only offering.
KITTY. I told Maigurs to leave you alone, because you’re still married to my dad. You just happen to live separately, because Dad works at the embassy in Belgium. He made it out like he didn’t get what I was saying. And then he said – how can they still be together if they got divorced ten years ago?
SLAVA. And I wonder where he got that information from…
MARY. Well, yes, I did talk to his late mother about it… Back when Kitty’s father was lurking under our windows, bawling his eyes out for you.
SLAVA. Of course you did.
KITTY. Then Christian hit him, just once. And then he held him down, so I could shoot him. But when the pigs got there, Christian said that he was the one who fired the gun.
SLAVA. So it was you who fired the gun?
KITTY. Chill. It’s no big deal. It’s just an airgun. I mean, we’re ok, init?
MARY. The smoke is scratching my throat a bit.
SLAVA. And what if it hadn’t been an airgun?
KITTY. Well… then it wouldn’t have been an airgun.
SLAVA. You would have killed someone, Kathryn!
KITTY. But I thought he was harassing you!
Suddenly, Slava bursts out laughing.
KITTY. What’s wrong with you?
SLAVA. This is so ridiculous. I’m going to have to start taking Corvalol again.
MARY. Oh, darling. Just a minute. I’ll put a few drops on a sugar cube for you.
KITTY. She’s got a stomach ulcer, Nan. She can’t have any sugar.
SLAVA. That ulcer can… fuck off! (Laughs louder and louder.)
KITTY. Mum, are you ok?
Mary puts a few drops of Corvalol on a sugar cube and spoon-feeds it to Slava, who swallows it like a helpless baby.
KITTY. Why are you laughing? He might be some kind of maniac.
MARY. Oh yes. He definitely looks like one…
KITTY. Did he ever try to drag you into his flat, and put something in your drink?
MARY. Like in the Streets of Broken Lights, that Russian TV series? There was an episode just like that.
SLAVA. I’ve never even spoken to him.
There’s a moment’s silence, then Mary starts laughing, too.
SLAVA. (To MARY.) You asked me why I’ve been coming home so late; if there was a man in my life… What a ridiculous thought! Maigurs was taking his dog out for a walk that day. He was the first thing that came to my mind.
MARY. (Laughs even louder.) Oh, dearie me! How funny is that!
They both laugh like crazy.
KITTY. (Looking at both of them, confused.) But, Mum… Why did you lie?
MARY. And Maigurs, of all people!
SLAVA. I know!
MARY. And I just fell hook, line and sinker. Swallowed your every word.
SLAVA. How did I come up with something so stupid?
MARY. At first I thought – with Maigurs? But you’re total strangers. Well, neighbours, saying this and that, hello, goodbye. Ok, I thought. Maybe you’ve caught each other’s eye? But how would I have missed it?
SLAVA. I know!
MARY. Oh, you clever little fox. You’re just like my mum. But come to think of it, he’s actually a decent chap.
KITTY. He’s a moron.
MARY. Moron or not, at least he’s a pianist. He used to teach piano at the Riga Music High School.
SLAVA. Oh my word, how crazy is that…
MARY. I was a bit suspicious; you know. He might actually fancy you. You just don’t know.
SLAVA. Mum, stop fantasizing.
MARY. It could well be true. I’ve never seen him with a woman though. That’s a bit odd.
SLAVA. That’s because he’s gay.
MARY. Is he?! At least he’s well-mannered. When I was coming home from the shops the other day, he held the door open for me and said good morning, how is your daughter doing?
MARY. Ok, maybe he didn’t use those exact words, but he left me with a good overall impression. Right. We’ve had a good laugh, haven’t we? And Kitty has finished her dinner – would you like anything else, darling?
KITTY. (Shakes her head.) No, thank you.
MARY. Right, then we can all finally go to bed. I’ll wash up tomorrow morning. (To Slava.) Listen, I bleached your white smock and hung it up in thewardrobe, so you can wear it to work tomorrow.
KITTY. (To Slava.) Does that mean you’ve been coming home late because you’re going over to the other flat?
Slava and Mary look at each other.
MARY. What other flat?
SLAVA. Kitty, we’ll discuss it tomorrow.
KITTY. You said you were going to sell it.
MARY. Are you saying that you want to move out?
SLAVA. Mum, you know perfectly well that I do.
MARY. But you don’t have to do anything around here. Laundry is done, dinner made… And Kitty’s sorted. Looked after and fed. How did you like those meatballs, darling?
Kitty nods her head in approval.
MARY. (To Slava.) This is your home. You’ve both grown up here. Remember how you used to sit outside, under that big chestnut tree with my mum? Oh, or the time she cut her nose? You were both just sitting there, pretty as a picture, when this storm came out of nowhere. She was so scared that you’d get soaked and catch a cold that she rushed you both inside. She tripped over the first step and fell over like a log. I was in hysterics.
KITTY. (To Slava.) You promised we wouldn’t move.
SLAVA. We’re not going to discuss that now. We’re all far too tired for this.
MARY. Yes, morning is wiser than the evening.
KITTY. I’m not going to live in that horrible place.
SLAVA. But Kitty… can’t you see it with your own two eyes?
MARY. See what?
SLAVA. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I keep putting it off. But after tonight’s events it’s crystal-clear. We just can’t go on like this.
MARY. Oh, my baby… What are you saying?
SLAVA. Kathryn and I are moving out.
KITTY. I told you I’m not living in those stupid Soviet blockhouses!
SLAVA. It’s okay, Kitty. We don’t have to move right away.
MARY. What blockhouses?
SLAVA. I’ve found an amazing two-bedroom flat in Jugla.
MARY. In Jugla?
KITTY. I’m not going to live there. I’m not.
SLAVA. But you haven’t even seen it yet. There’s a forest and a lake, literally on our doorstep. It’s so lovely and cosy. I know you’ll take one look at the place and fall in love with it.
KITTY. I’m not going to live there.
SLAVA. But look at what’s happening to us here! The three of us just don’t get on. It might be easier, if it’s just the two of us.
KITTY. I’m staying here.
SLAVA. It’s not far from here. Just a few stops on the bus. We’ll come and visit. We’ll all go for a nice, long walk in the forest when Nan comes over. Come on, think about it. It will be better for all of us.
MARY. I’m sorry, but I don’t think you fully understand what you’re saying.
SLAVA. Oh, I’m the one who doesn’t understand?
MARY. You want Kitty to live in a Soviet blockhouse? Don’t you know how toxic they are? Or is the health of this poor child no longer your concern?
SLAVA. Oh, please! The cigarettes you give her are toxic.
MARY. Do I give them to her? She buys her own fags, with the money you give her, and you know it. Do you think she’ll just magically quit smoking once you’ve moved?
SLAVA. Ok. Whatever. Let her smoke then. There’s a balcony.
MARY. (Sarcastically.) There’s a balcony, how lovely.
SLAVA. Kitty, you can smoke on the balcony.
MARY. And what is she going to do in the winter? Have you even thought about that? Go out in the cold and catch the flu? At least here, she can smoke by the wood burner.
SLAVA. Well, of course, she can smoke by the wood burner here, because no one around here cares about me. I’ve had to breathe your toxic fumes my entire life – yours, Anton’s and Nana’s. And now that they’re dead, you can’t wait to get your hands on my child.
MARY. My mother didn’t die of smoking: she poisoned herself with carbon monoxide. Those are two completely separate things.
SLAVA. She fell asleep with a cigarette in her hands!
MARY. Of course. She was bladdered. That’s why I keep telling you that you shouldn’t allow Kitty to have any alcohol.
KITTY. That’s none of your business. I’m not going to stop drinking just because you tell me to. And the more you try, the more I’ll drink.
MARY. Listen to this! Stubborn as a goat. Just like her father.
SLAVA. Of course, naturally she inherited all her bad qualities from her father. Your child is sorted; looked after and fed… While I’ve been at work, you’ve put something in Kathryn; something I never wanted her to have.
MARY. Oh, what a terrible granny I am. Forcing you to flee your own home because of my evil ways.
SLAVA. And how are you helping exactly? By forcing cigarettes on everyone and stuffing our faces with your carcinogenic meatballs?
MARY. What did you call them?
SLAVA. At least the saucepan is half-decent, thank God. You used to insist that we change the oil once a year. No wonder Anton’s ended up in Riga Forest Cemetery so quickly.
MARY. What are you trying to say?
SLAVA. That you’re not leading a particularly healthy lifestyle either…
KITTY. Why does everything always have to be perfect with you?
MARY. Hold on a minute, let me get this straight… You’re saying that I killed my own mother, then I killed my husband and now I’m just waiting for the right opportunity to get my greedy hands on you and Kitty? Is that what you’re trying to say?
SLAVA. No. I’m just saying that it’s not healthy to use the same cooking oil twice when you fry meatballs, because that can cause cancer. But you never listen to me, do you? You just go on and on with the same old rubbish.
KITTY. Everything on this fucking planet can cause cancer. And what should we do about it? Stop breathing?
MARY. (To Slava.) How dare you… During the war, my mother would have traded her last pair of knickers for a drop of oil or a blob of butter, and you’re saying that it’s ‘carcinogenic? You should be ashamed of yourself. Going around like that, spreading your disgusting lies. Saying that I’ve… my husband… my own mother.
SLAVA. You’re the one who gave Nana cigarettes in bed.
MARY. I didn’t give her the fags.
SLAVA. Oh, come off it, Mum!
MARY. It wasn’t me!
SLAVA. I remember exactly what happened.
MARY. Oh, you really deserve to be put in a straitjacket. All you do is go around spreading vicious lies about me. I loved my mother like no one.
SLAVA. Like no one. Exactly.
MARY. Don’t put words in my mouth! Maybe I can’t express myself as eloquently as you, the educated lot. But I cared for my mother until her dying breath!
SLAVA. Oh, yes. That’s all you’ve ever wanted — to be surrounded by people who are completely incapable of looking after themselves. So that you can smother them in ‘your love’.
MARY. Well, I would like to see your manicured fingers changing a dying person’s nappy. When she broke her hip, you wouldn’t come anywhere near her room. It stinks in here, it stinks! Well, of course, it’s going to stink, if someone’s forced to shit in bed. You try and care for someone who’s dying, and then we’ll talk about the meaning of love.
SLAVA. And I will, if I have to.
MARY. I won’t be holding my breath.
SLAVA. I will.
MARY. You can’t even make a sandwich without my help. How are you going to care for anyone?
SLAVA. That’s because you never let me. You always know what’s best. And I’m so stupid that I can’t even…
MARY. Have I ever called you stupid?
KITTY. She is stupid though.
MARY. Don’t talk about your mother like that!
KITTY. But if my mother really is stupid, do I have to pretend like she’s not? Wouldn’t that make me a liar? And I thought you said lying was wrong.
SLAVA. Why are you doing this to me, Kitty? What have I ever done to you?
MARY. Right. That’s it. We’re going to end this presentation. Let’s all go to sleep. Your beds have been made. Come on. (To Kitty.) Your mother has to get up early.
KITTY. (To Slava.) You’re always so prim and proper. It makes me sick to my stomach. I’m not moving in with you. Nothing exciting ever happens in your life.
MARY. Shh, shh. Calm down now.
KITTY. (To Slava.) Every day after work, all you do is sit in that chair watching some crap on TV. I don’t want to end up like you. I want to live! I want to drink, I want to smoke, I want to party all night long! You seem to think that this street is full of disgusting alcoholics, but this street is my whole life! And, by the way, I was the one who gave fags to grandma Olya.
KITTY. I gave the fags to grandma Olya.
SLAVA. But why?
MARY. Just drop it. Kitty was only six, she didn’t know any better.
KITTY. She asked me to. She said that no one would give them to her. She said that you didn’t love her.
MARY. No point talking about it. She was long gone in her alcoholic delusions by then.
KITTY. She told me where I could find them, so I took the fags and brought them to her.
SLAVA. Oh, yeah, that’s so clever: to keep a packet of cigarettes in a place where even a six-year-old child can easily reach them. Ok, I’m done here. Good night.
MARY. Once again, this just goes to show that you’ll find any excuse to start an argument with me.
SLAVA. I’m not trying to start an argument. I’m trying to explain that you shouldn’t label my flat as ‘toxic’, because it can’t be any more toxic than a life spent with you.
MARY. It’s not my fault that you’ve stopped watching the news, but last night on Channel 1, Aidis Tomsons said…
SLAVA. I don’t care what Aidis Tomsons said, because I have a flat in Jugla, and I’ve almost finished renovating it. I was thinking about fixing it up and selling it… But after tonight, my mind is completely made up. We’re moving out. In the next couple of days.
MARY. In the next couple of days?!
KITTY. But you promised me.
SLAVA. In fact, let’s get a cab right now. Kathryn, get dressed. Where are your things?
KITTY. I’m not moving out.
MARY. Have you lost your marbles? It’s the middle of the night!
SLAVA. I don’t care. Where’s my black duffle bag?
MARY. It’s on the top of your wardrobe. Don’t climb up there, it’s too heavy for you. You’ll hurt your back again.
SLAVA. (Talking as she walks towards her room.) I have these white, floral curtains there. And this pretty, floral wallpaper. (To Mary.) The type you’d absolutely hate. (To Kitty.) We’ll have such a wonderful time together.
MARY. It’s worth listening to the elderly from time to time, you know. I understand a few things about life at my age.
SLAVA. No, you don’t. The flat is mine. Mine. And there’s nothing else for you to understand.
Slava leaves the room. Noises can be heard as she packs her bag in her room.
MARY. Fine. Leave then. Run away. Abandon me.
MARY. It’s ok, let her leave. I’d like to see it all working out for her.
SLAVA. I am leaving.
MARY. Go on! You’ll be stepping on the same rake as me.
Slava enters the kitchen again, carrying a black duffle bag, stuffed full of clothes.
SLAVA. Just because you couldn’t survive five minutes without your mother by your side, doesn’t mean the same will happen to me.
MARY. (To Kitty.) I had an apartment on Doe Street. How eerie it was! I couldn’t wait to move back to our cosy home. And I had everything there. A bathtub, and even an indoor bog.
Slava continues to pack.
MARY. (To Slava.) Your father used to visit me there, we’d always have cognac together. But I just couldn’t settle in. That place was too creepy. Like there was always someone stood behind the window, watching me.
SLAVA. If you choose to turn your flat into a love nest for yourself and a married man, then there might well be someone watching from behind the window.
MARY. The whole time I was there I was so afraid. Yeah, Kitty, I really was.
SLAVA. You were afraid that my dad might go back to his wife.
MARY. Now, you, with one failed marriage under your belt, are not exactly in a position to lecture me on what kind of men – married or unmarried – I should be seeing.
SLAVA. You gave birth to a child just to keep your man. But he left you anyway.
SLAVA. You heard me. You’ve never loved me. You wanted to get an abortion, but you were too far along. Now let me live my life!
KITTY. Mum, you promised you’d never mention it.
MARY. (To Kitty.) You told her?
SLAVA. Oh, please. It’s always been so obvious anyway.
MARY. (To Kitty.) I trust you with my precious secret, and you tell the whole world?
KITTY. Well…. I just thought… if she knew where you were coming from, then maybe you wouldn’t be fighting all the time, and we’d all be able to live together.
SLAVA. Right. I’m calling the cab.
MARY. Oh God, I can feel my blood pressure going up.
KITTY. What am I going to do there all day by myself? I’ll start freaking out.
SLAVA. Not this again. You’re not a five-year-old.
MARY. Go on then! Go! Leave your poor mother all alone.
KITTY. Yeah, but when I’m alone, I get this thing… Whenever Nan goes out to the shops, I have to turn on the music ‘coz I’m scared. I feel like there’s someone breathing down my neck.
SLAVA. Darling, it’s because the energy around here is so toxic. It will be completely different in our flat. The furniture is nice and light…
MARY. Of course. My furniture. That’s the root of all evil now. You should have seen the queue I had to survive in Soviet times, just to get my hands on this cabinet. And now you’re blaming my furniture.
SLAVA. (To Kitty.) You can go for a walk in the woods whenever you like.
MARY. Everyone knows those woods are full of maniacs. Aidis Tomsons was saying just the other day…
KITTY. I’m not going anywhere!
SLAVA. Kitty, try to understand… The reason you were so afraid when we lived with Dad in his flat was because we argued all the time.
MARY. No. There was always something eerie about that place. They built it over a swamp. I remember saying to Victor: it’s none of my business, of course…
SLAVA. And yet you made it your business.
MARY. …but whatever you do, don’t buy a flat in that blockhouse. And I was absolutely right. Kitty was always getting ill, while we lived there. A child can always sense when something isn’t right.
SLAVA. She was getting ill because you put too many layers on her.
KITTY. Whatever you say, I’m staying here. I’ll live in late Zigrid’s shed if I have to. Or I’ll move in with Maigurs, ha.
SLAVA. Stop talking nonsense.
KITTY. I’m not moving to a place that’s full of devils.
SLAVA. What devils are you talking about?
MARY. Oh, yes. Remember, how I said you should get a priest. And did anyone listen to me? Of course not.
SLAVA. Mum, don’t encourage her.
KITTY. But I saw them. With my own eyes.
MARY. Of course you did. And that’s the least of all evils you’ll see in those flats. Priest Mitskevich said…
SLAVA. Mitskevich should be locked up for brainwashing people. My own child believes that devils exist. That’s his doing.
MARY. That’s because you and Victor didn’t baptize Kitty. I bought this pretty little gold crucifix; said it was time; but he just laughed in my face and threw it across the table. I won’t let my child believe in superstitions.
SLAVA. That’s why I fell in love with him. Because, as opposed to everyone else around here, he at least has some brains.
MARY. And now he’s all by himself in his four-bedroom apartment. Just him and his brains.
SLAVA. Kitty, you have a vivid imagination. That’s why you can write poems and fairy-tales, and draw. Living under such stressful conditions, any child would start visualising things that aren’t there. Kitty, remember what the doctor said? It’s all in your mind, that…
KITTY. But what difference does that make?
SLAVA. …none of it is real.
KITTY. But if I see devils, then they are real to me. Even if no one else can see them, they are still real to me.
SLAVA. Then you need to start taking meds.
KITTY. Why don’t you get it? All those flats are like little cardboard boxes. It feels horrible, like I’m being crushed. And these sharp corners you can always see, and it looks like someone is sat there.
MARY. The owners had left a kopek in each corner. Or as I used to say, they left their sorrows to us… Of course, I went straight to the church to light a candle for them. But when I lit it…
SLAVA. I’m sick of hearing about your candle.
MARY. … it flared up, fell on the floor and went out, just like that. (To Kitty.) That’s why your parents’ marriage broke down so quickly.
SLAVA. It broke down because you were always getting in the way!
MARY. I was what?
SLAVA. Victor was trying to finish his dissertation, but you just kept coming at him with your meatballs. Who invited you anyway?
MARY. Well, I’m not just going to sit around and wait for an invitation, if I know my child is being abused.
SLAVA. Oh, God, here we go…
MARY. Only someone as heartless as you can remain quiet when Christian is shouting at Kitty.
SLAVA. It’s their relationship. I’m not getting involved.
MARY. If someone raised their voice at my child, I don’t care if they had three master’s degrees, or if they’d… invaded Mars! I’m not going to stand back and take it. Remember the way he used to walk… so arrogant, with his nose poking the clouds! Like you couldn’t even approach him. How could anyone live with him? And you were so unhappy, darling, crying your eyes out for that man…
KITTY. (To Mary.) Stop blaming Dad for everything. She was being stupid as well.
MARY. (To Kitty.) Oh, you try living with your dad and you’ll soon be saying otherwise.
SLAVA. (To Mary.) Stop talking about it like it was your marriage.
MARY. But you’re my child!
SLAVA. But Victor was not your child, nor your husband. You shouldn’t even be talking about him.
MARY. Then why did you divorce him, if he’s so perfect? Why didn’t you take him back, when he came here, begging on his knees? And was I the one who insisted on you staying at home? No. He did. He was the one who laughed at your idea of getting a job. And that’s the truth. That scumbag left you when you were pregnant with Kitty, just so he could finish his studies. I was the one who helped you. I came to all your medical appointments; I took care of everything. Me. Not him.
Slava starts tearing up.
MARY. And when you had that depression? All sorts of dark thoughts used to swirl around your mind. It was very serious. But he just laughed it off: oh, not this female hysteria again.
Slava is crying.
MARY. Oh, darling, come here… (Embraces Slava.) How could I just sit back and watch it all happen to you? It broke my heart. We always had such harmony in our house. Such laughs…
SLAVA. I wanted the same for me and Victor. (Embraces Mary tightly, like a child.)
MARY. …on birthdays, on New Year’s Eve. It was weird when he was there. He always walked around like a mute.
SLAVA. That one Christmas, when you and Victor were shouting at each other, I thought I was going to jump under a car and end it all.
MARY. Shhh, darling. There, there. It’s ok, it’s all ok. Don’t cry. He just wasn’t from our basket. What can you do, eh? Kitty, your dad’s not a bad person really. He’s just different. He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, but something was definitely wrong with him. (Slava stops crying.) Tissue? (Slava blows her nose.) Truce?
MARY. Truce, Kitty? Oh, come here, with us.
Kitty comes closer, they all hug for a moment.
MARY. Shh, shh, come now. It will all be ok…
SLAVA. Okay, the truth is… I haven’t even got any beds ordered yet.
MARY. Of course, darling, where would you even sleep?
SLAVA. I’m going to order the beds before we move.
KITTY. But I thought we were staying?
MARY. Of course, you’re staying, darling.
KITTY. We just made up!
SLAVA. And for how long?
MARY. Let’s live and see, eh?
SLAVA. No, Kitty. I don’t know when, but we just have to move out.
KITTY. But that place is so far from here. How will I get home in the evenings? And you’ll sit around worrying every night.
SLAVA. We don’t have enough money to buy an apartment in the city centre.
KITTY. You’re just saying that because you want to live as far away from Nan as possible.
SLAVA. We can call the priest, if you like. He can come around and bless the flat. We won’t fight anymore. And it’s closer to school.
KITTY. Er… I don’t go to school anymore.
KITTY. I no longer go to school.
MARY. This wasn’t the right moment to break the news to your mother. She’s stressed as it is.
SLAVA. (To Mary.) You knew about this?
MARY. Well, depends how you put it.
SLAVA. Don’t play stupid. Did you know – yes or no?
KITTY. She knew.
SLAVA. Since when?
KITTY. Since she was admitted to the hospital.
SLAVA. You mean the mad house.
KITTY. The hospital.
SLAVA. The mad house!
KITTY. The hospital!
MARY. Kitty and I used to call it ‘the white house’.
SLAVA. (To Kitty.) Were you planning on telling your mother about it?
KITTY. No. Why should I tell you anything? And you never went to see Nan.
SLAVA. Sarkandaugava isn’t on my commute. I didn’t have enough time to get there after work.
KITTY. As if I did. But I went to see her anyway, every single fucking day. We’d have a fag in the garden…
SLAVA. Of course! It’s not a day well spent, unless you two have had a fag somewhere.
KITTY. And we’d read books to each other. It was way more fun than being at my stupid school.
MARY. Dreiser and Galsworthy. Incredible writers.
SLAVA. (To Kitty.) You’ve been lecturing me about your fear of devils for the last half an hour. When the real reason you don’t want to move is because you’re bunking off school, so you can read your Dreiser and Galsworthy all day.
MARY. But it’s really hard for her at school.
SLAVA. It’s hard for me at work. What should I do about it – go jump off a bridge?
MARY. You shouldn’t pressure her into it. Studying isn’t for everyone. I only finished seven grades and managed to get by just fine. And I’ve read a lot of books in my lifetime.
SLAVA. (To Kitty.) And what’s your plan?
KITTY. In what sense?
SLAVA. Well, when people make big decisions, they usually have a plan for the future. What’s yours?
KITTY. I’ll become a writer.
SLAVA. Right. Just as I thought. Anyone who can’t be arsed to do any actual work, dreams to become a writer.
MARY. Her writing is really good. As someone who’s read a lot of books in her lifetime, I can say that…
SLAVA. Yes, we know that you’ve read a lot of books in your lifetime; you don’t have to repeat it every minute of every day.
MARY… she writes really well.
SLAVA. Oh, does she now? Then there’s no reason why she couldn’t continue writing well when we move to our new flat.
KITTY. You can move. I’m staying here with Nan.
SLAVA. But you can’t stay with Nan because I’m moving out.
KITTY. Why? I’m staying here.
MARY. Would you like another meatball, darling?
SLAVA. But, Kitty, you’ll just be fighting all the time. And I’ll worry the whole time because I won’t be able to tell what’s going on.
KITTY. You just hate the fact that I like Nan more than you.
MARY. (To Slava.) Don’t raise your eyebrows at me. You too loved my mother more than you loved me. Obviously until the moment you had to start clearing up her shit…
SLAVA. We’re not going to be discussing shit at the dinner table.
KITTY. At least I can talk to Nan. And she always has something interesting to say.
SLAVA. Ha. You can always talk to Nan! And what a cool Nan you’ve got! While I’ve been out working like a slave, she’s taught you how to smoke, stuffed your face with her carcinogen meatballs and helped you to quit school. What a fantastic granny! You’re going straight back to school tomorrow to hand in your documents.
KITTY. But I burned them.
SLAVA. Excuse me?
KITTY. I burned the documents.
KITTY. Nan helped me. The cover of my secondary school diploma wasn’t burning very well. So we had to pour petrol over it.
SLAVA. Kathryn… Why? Excuse my language, but why the fuck did you do that?!
KITTY. Because I hate school.
SLAVA. Because she hates school… And why, if I may ask, do you hate school so much?
KITTY. Don’t act like you don’t know. Every time I get a bad grade, they take me to the therapist – ah, yes, she’s from a divorced family, it all makes sense now… I hate it! I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to spend years studying maths only to say to announce to everyone that the reason I still can’t work out the square root in a basic maths equation is because I come from a divorced family.
SLAVA. Kitty, your dad and I will never get back together. You know that, don’t you?
KITTY. I’m not saying you should get back together.
SLAVA. Dad has his own life now.
KITTY. I’m not saying that you should get back together, for fuck’s sake! Don’t you get it?
SLAVA. Your dad has a complex personality. He’s very well-educated…
MARY. Basically, they’ve fucked up their marriage to the point of no return.
SLAVA. You can’t just quit school… How could you even come up with the idea? Oh, God…
KITTY. Françoise Sagan left school and wrote her bestseller Bonjour Tristesse.
SLAVA. But you’re not Françoise Sagan! You’re just a spoilt little brat who can’t be arsed to study!
KITTY. I do! But I want to study things I like, not some bullshit. It’s not fair. Why do I always have to do what others tells me to do?
MARY. You don’t have to do what others tell you to do.
SLAVA. (To Kitty.) While you’re living under my roof, you’ll do as I tell you.
KITTY. I’m not going back to school.
SLAVA. We’ll see about that.
KITTY. I’m not going back to school!
MARY. (To Slava.) You’ve no idea what it’s like for her at school.
SLAVA. I don’t care!
KITTY. You never do. I don’t want to graduate from a school or a university, just to end up unhappy like you and Dad!
SLAVA. That’s it, we’re leaving. (Takes her bag.) We’ll come for the rest later. (Takes her phone and dials a number.) Can I order a cab to 70 Chaka Street please?
KITTY. Everyone says that I’m too aggressive and they all feel sorry for me – oh, it must be so painful when your parents get divorced, let us give you a hug…. Like there was something wrong with me. But I’m totally fine, ok? I’m fine! I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.
MARY. Of course you are, darling. (Embraces Kitty.) Don’t worry. Everything will be ok. Granny’s not going anywhere.
KITTY. I’m fine, Granny. I’m fine.
MARY. Yes, you are, my darling.
KITTY. Never mind that I only get to see Dad twice a year; never mind that I can’t work out the square root of…
MARY. It ok if maths isn’t your thing. I wouldn’t have a clue how to work out a square root either, and look at me now – a retired shopkeeper with thirty years of experience under her belt!
KITTY. The teacher; that stupid maths teacher, she… She took my notebook; she saw I’d been writing poems in there, and she crossed them all out with her fucking red pen!
MARY. There, there, my angel.
KITTY. If I don’t want to, I don’t have to go to school.
MARY. Of course, darling.
SLAVA. Kathryn, you can cry as much as you like, but we’re still leaving.
KITTY. Then leave!
SLAVA. If you’re not coming with me, I’m going to have to call the police.
MARY. (To Slava.) Calm down! What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see what state she’s in?
SLAVA. You’re manipulating with her emotional state just to prove your point.
MARY. I’m the one who’s manipulating? You can’t just tear her away from her home whenever you please. All her friends are here.
SLAVA. Friends? Oh, you mean those alcoholics, drug addicts and prostitutes she hangs around with?
MARY. Well, take Christian, for instance. All else aside, he did tell the police that he fired the gun at Maigurs. He took the blame for her sake.
KITTY. (To Slava.) They may be alcoholics, but at least I have friends. You don’t have any!
SLAVA. You’re my friend, Kitty.
KITTY. If I was your friend, you wouldn’t be leaving Nan all by herself.
SLAVA. But you can come and visit her whenever you like. (Kitty is silent.) Fine. Then you go out there, in the real world, and start making your own money. It seems that mine will no longer be of any use to you.
MARY. (To Kitty.) Don’t worry, I’ll give you some from my pension.
SLAVA. If you can prance around half-naked and play with guns like a big girl, then there’s no reason why you couldn’t get a job.
KITTY. And I will!
SLAVA. You can get up early, earn your own money and live wherever you like.
MARY. But she’s never done a day’s work her life.
SLAVA. (To Mary.) What about that story you always like to tell, about your mother who tended cattle when she was only five? Kitty is no different to her.
Slava’s phone rings.
VOICE ON THE PHONE. Your taxi is here.
SLAVA. Thank you.
MARY. I have cancer.
MARY. Yes. I wasn’t going to say anything. But it’s true. I have cancer.
SLAVA. How dare you?
KITTY. Nan? Nan? Are you being serious?
SLAVA. Oh, yeah?
SLAVA. What type of cancer is it?
MARY. Same as the one Antons had. From my meatballs.
SLAVA. Stop talking nonsense.
MARY. I’m not.
SLAVA. How can you manipulate with a child in such a pathetic way? Do you really think that this ‘revelation’ will make her stay?
KITTY. Mum, Nan is ill. We can’t just leave her.
SLAVA. She’s fine. Well, physically. I’m not talking about her mental state.
KITTY. She’s not fine.
SLAVA. (To Mary.) Then show me your scan! Have you done an MRI?
MARY. God will make you pay for this. My own flesh and blood…
KITTY. Nan, have you seen an oncologist?
MARY. I have.
SLAVA. Of course she hasn’t. Why would she? To offer her meatballs?
MARY. Fear hell, my daughter. Fear hell.
SLAVA. After a lifetime spent with you, dear mother, I’m no longer afraid of hell.
KITTY. (To Mary.) What did the oncologist say?
MARY. He said it wasn’t looking good.
KITTY. But what did he say exactly?
SLAVA. She’s fine. (To Mary.) I went to see Dr Kārkliņa yesterday to collect prescriptions for all your tranquilizers and she said – your mum’s in robust health, such rigour, so much energy, it really pleases me to see!
MARY. I asked her not to disclose it to you. You have enough worries on your mind as it is.
SLAVA. How dare you lie like that, looking straight in the eye?
The taxi horn beeps outside.
KITTY. Don’t worry, Nan. I’m not leaving you by yourself. I’ll take care of you.
MARY. Oh, don’t worry about me. I’ll get by… somehow. (To Slava.) You should be thinking about Kitty. What are you going to eat there? You’ll starve to death, is that what you want?
KITTY. Nan, let her go, if she wants to go. I’ll stay here with you.
MARY. And who’s going to pay for maintaining two apartments? Rates for electricity and firewood are going up by the day. And there’s a boiler here.
Slava’s phone rings.
SLAVA. Okay. Kitty, if you move in with me, you won’t have to go to school, seeing as you hate it that much. And the three of us can all go to the cinema – you, me and Christian. If you stay here with Nan, you won’t able to see him.
MARY. And why ever not?
SLAVA. (To Mary.) Because you loathe him. (To Kitty.) She calls him a ‘bum’ and a ‘shithead’ behind your back.
MARY. Well, yes, I did use those names when referring to him. But that’s because he wouldn’t have any of my stuffed cabbage rolls. Naturally, I’m going to call him a shithead after that display. (To Kitty.) Every now and then, if you want to, Christian can even stay overnight. I’m not against it, since you seem to be on friendly terms.
SLAVA. Jesus… (To Kitty.) Kitty, if you really want to, Christian can move in with us.
KITTY. I don’t care. I’m staying.
SLAVA. And you expect me to stay here? (About Mary.) She doesn’t love me. She just wants everyone to love only her.
MARY. I bleached all the collars on your white smocks with my own bare hands! I could have used the washing machine, but I wanted to help you save money on electricity. How can you possibly say that I don’t love you?
SLAVA. How can you possibly call it love?
MARY. I’m looking after you!
SLAVA. You’re ruining my life!
MARY. I work so hard around the house I don’t even have time to sit down sometimes. All for you. And you’re saying I’m ruining your life?
SLAVA. I’m forty-two years old, and I don’t even know how to boil an egg!
MARY. You’re a physiotherapist, not a housewife, darling. Why would you have anything to do with eggs? I… I’m the keeper of the hearth.
SLAVA. But maybe – just every now and then – I actually want to be a housewife? Has that never crossed your mind? I want to cook what I like on my days off.
MARY. All right. (Points at the gas stove.) Please, be my guest. I’ll even wash up the saucepans when you’re done.
SLAVA. Mum, are you even listening to me? This isn’t going to work.
Slava’s phone rings again. She picks it up.
SLAVA. (On the phone.) Just a moment, yes, I’m coming. (To Kitty.)It just isn’t going to work if we stay here.
KITTY. I know. But I’d like to hope that it will. Am I allowed at least that?
SLAVA. You won’t be able to live with her. You’ll see it for yourself.
KITTY. I don’t care. I’m staying.
SLAVA. But I don’t have anyone else except you.
KITTY. It’s the same for her.
SLAVA. Ok… Fine… Do as you wish. I… I… Kitty, I will put your clothes over here. (Takes Kitty’s clothes out of her bag and leaves them on the table.) I’ll come and get the rest of my stuff some other time. I’ll leave the books for you.
KITTY. Stop acting like you’re moving to Australia. It’s only Jugla. Twenty minutes on the bus. I’ll come and visit you.
SLAVA. Yes, yes, okay.
KITTY. Please don’t be mad.
SLAVA. I’m not mad at you. I’m just sad.
KITTY. Stop that, too.
SLAVA. Bye. (Kisses Kitty.) Bye, Mum. (Gives Mary a quick peck on the cheek and leaves.)
The door slams shut. Moments later, the taxi can be heard driving off. Mary and Kitty sit in silence for a moment, then Mary pulls out a packet of fags from her dressing gown pocket. She gives one to Kitty and takes one for herself. They sit together and smoke.
KITTY. Why did say you had cancer?
MARY. Like a blind man asking for directions. You know why I had to.
KITTY. There are people whose kids live abroad.
MARY. I don’t care about them.
KITTY. But if we did end up leaving one day, what would you do?
MARY. Stop sprouting nonsense.
KITTY. But, Nan, if it did happen, and we couldn’t take you with us, what would you do?
MARY. Let’s cross that bridge when we get there, darling.
KITTY. I’m just saying, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. It’s not like your life would be over if we left you.
MARY. But, darling, you two are my entire life. I’ve sacrificed everything for you.
KITTY. Did anyone ask you to do it?
MARY. What do you mean – did anyone ask?
KITTY. I mean, everyone has a right to live their own life.
MARY. Their own life… You’re talking about people with big families. There’s just three of us. I was sitting here one day, thinking – if I hadn’t gone through with all those abortions, I would have had three children by now. A big household. But now… The first time you two went on holiday abroad, I was so terribly lonely. I’d walk around the flat in the evenings, looking through photos of you, when you were still little, Kitty. It was so quiet around here, and I realised that time has flown by so fast…
KITTY. Why didn’t you invite your girlfriends to come over? Why didn’t you go out to the theatre? I remember when you used to go with Velta and Skaidrīte.
MARY. Oh, we only went a couple of times.
KITTY. Yeah, but still.
MARY. What girlfriends are you talking about anyway? Velta can’t walk since she had a stroke, and Skaidrīte has gone blind after her eye surgery. Where do you think we could all go, in their condition? I’m blessed to be alive. At least I can help your mother. I can wash the bedsheets and bring her some lunch.
KITTY. Nan, why do you always do that?
KITTY. Are you atoning for your sins? With all your helpfulness and self-sacrifice? Is that what it is?
MARY. When your mother was born, I had to go out and work. I was earning money.
KITTY. No one is making you do anything around here.
MARY. I was earning money. I’d come home exhausted every night…
KITTY. Are you even listening to me?
MARY. …I’d come home exhausted and go straight to bed. But I was so happy that I could afford those pretty import dresses from abroad for your mum. And I bought this beautiful, light dressing gown for my mum. I was proud of myself; that I’d been able to buy something valuable. Then I bought a bed and a Czech crystal vase. You’ve no idea how amazing it felt to have my own money. Then one day, it was someone’s birthday party, I can’t remember who it was now, but we were all standing around, taking photos. I hugged Slava for the photo, but she turned around and said – I want mummy. She thought that my mother was her mum. It makes sense, of course – my mother was always at home, looking after her. What could I do? Someone had to go out and work.
KITTY. But Nan… can’t you see that all this helping and offering is ruining your relationship? You know how much she hates it. But you just keep on offering your help.
MARY. But why can’t I offer my advice? Should I swallow my tongue?
KITTY. Ok, I’m going to my room.
MARY. You’re not going to have anything else?
MARY. Right. Then I’ll put all this away in the fridge. Thank God, Jugla isn’t too far away. Look at this little box here, just the perfect size for stuffed cabbage rolls! I can take them to her tomorrow. What will you like to eat tomorrow?
KITTY. I don’t care.
MARY. Kitty… help me decide.
KITTY. I don’t know. Some sorrel soup?
MARY. But your mother doesn’t eat sorrel soup.
KITTY. I’m sure she’ll figure something out.
MARY. She has that stomach ulcer. Oh, I do worry about her… how is she going to manage all by herself?
KITTY. She’s an adult, Nan.
MARY. But I’m scared it will get worse. After all, it’s a serious condition. And I’ve no idea what she eats when she’s alone! What did you eat on your last holiday?
KITTY. It’ll be fine. I’m going to my room.
MARY. You can sleep in your mum’s room, if you like. It’s much comfier, at least the bed is bigger. Don’t even think about moving in though. She’ll need a place to stay when she comes crawling back eventually.
KITTY. She won’t be coming back, Nan.
MARY. Well, you never know. She might stay over, for birthdays or parties…
KITTY. Good night, Granny.
MARY. Good night, my angel. Thank you for being in my life.
Mary embraces Kitty. They kiss.
Kitty goes to her room.
Mary clears the table.
KITTY. (Calls from her room.) Nan?
MARY. Yes, darling?
KITTY. Have you seen my notebook?
MARY. Which notebook?
KITTY. The red one.
MARY. Oh, yes. I have.
KITTY. Where did you see it last?
MARY. I gave it to Antra.
MARY. I gave it to Antra.
KITTY. Who the fuck is Antra?
MARY. She works at the publishing house. She’s a professional linguist, so I asked her to take a look, suggest a few edits… Who knows, you might end up with a published book.
KITTY. You gave my notebook to a complete stranger?
MARY. Oh, but she’s not a stranger. She used to read lectures at the university when I worked in the canteen.
Kitty starts to cry.
KITTY. Why did you do it, Nan?
MARY. Darling, what’s the matter? Why are you crying?
KITTY. Why did you give my notebook to her?
MARY. Kitty, how do you expect to get anywhere without connections?
KITTY. But that notebook was mine. You weren’t supposed to touch it.
MARY. Antra and I are old friends – I used to give her pastries on the sly or dish up potato salad while no one was looking. And now she’s returning the favour. That’s how life works. What? Did I do something wrong?
KITTY. No, Granny, of course not.
MARY. We can do something nice for each other from time to time, can’t we?
KITTY. Yes, yes, we can.
MARY. What are families for, eh?
KITTY. Of course, Granny. Of course.
MARY. In fact, she said you’re very talented. Except for all those swearwords you put in. But I said that’s normal for your age.
KITTY. You could have asked me first. I would have given you that stupid notebook.
MARY. But you were out, my angel. Probably prancing around topless somewhere. (Laughs.)
KITTY. Why did you have to go in my room?
MARY. And who’d dust in there if I didn’t?
KITTY. It doesn’t have to be sanitised. It’s not a surgical ward! It’s my room! Mine.
MARY. Fine. It’s your room. Except I’m always the one who has to clean up the mess.
KITTY. How many times do I have to tell you that it’s not messy! Everything I have is in perfect order! On the floor, on the bed… It’s all in order! My order!
MARY. But if I’m washing the floors anyway, why can’t I take the mop and slide it across your floor? Would you rather have it all sticky, as if we were living in a homeless shelter?
KITTY. No, Granny. Thank you for washing my floor, thank you for giving my notebook to… what’s her face…
MARY. Anytime, my angel. Oh, you’re so sweet! My little sunshine. Granny is always right, isn’t she?
KITTY. Yes, Granny.
MARY. Would you like a nice cup of tea with a pastry?
KITTY. Yes, Granny.
MARY. Go to bed, darling, I’ll bring it to you.
KITTY. Granny, I love you so much.
MARY. Oh, my angel, I love you too.
KITTY. I love you both so much, but you both drive me absolutely mental!
MARY. There, there. It will be ok. We’ll have a nice, fresh pastry. Oh dearie me! Look at the time. I better start making breakfast. Hang on, I’ll get it all sorted. I won’t be a minute, ok? (Starts to busy herself with the teapot.)
MARY. Yes, my darling?
KITTY. Don’t be mad at me, ok?
MARY. Whatever for, darling?
KITTY. Forgive me, ok?
MARY. But my angel, you’ve done nothing wrong. (Kitty embraces Mary tightly.) Oh, what would I do without you?You’re my whole life’s joy and happiness.
Kitty kisses Mary and exits. Noises can be heard coming from Kitty’s room as she opens and shuts the cupboards.
MARY. What are you doing in there? Do you need me to help you? Kitty? Don’t start playing games now! Where are you planning on going in the middle of the night? Kitty? Kitty, I meant well! Ok, maybe I do too much sometimes, or I say things you don’t always like to hear… But… But… I’m sorry that I took your notebook without your permission. I will go and get it back. I shouldn’t have done it. Kitty, I’m so sorry. Will you forgive me? Please?
KITTY. (From the other room.) Okay.
Mary takes out the pastry, starts making tea. The outer door slams shut.
MARY. Kitty? Kitty?
Mary looks into the hallway, then examines all the rooms. There is no one there. She walks towards the window. Kitty’s sobs can be heard outside the window, as she runs across the yard.
MARY. Kitty! Kitty! Where are you going? I made you some tea! Kitty! With a nice pastry. With a… with… Kitty! It’s fresh… the pastry… I bought it this morning… from the bakery on the corner….
Mary continues to stare out of the window for a long time, then turns towards the kitchen and looks around again, confused. There’s a cup of steaming tea on the kitchen table, next to a fresh pastry.
 Jugla (pronounced Yoogla} is a tranquil region of Riga situated next to Jugla lake, some 20-30min drive from the city centre.