Author: Tanja Dückers
Translator: Marilya Reese
Playwright’s Summary: The events take place in a senior living facility in Münster. A female resident, Frau Sieben, meets the gallant and eccentric Herr Hazatérés, a native Hungarian with a colorful past who gives an unvarnished account to Frau Sieben regarding the two loves of his life: a woman and a man. Having unburdened his heart, he continues to meet with Frau Sieben in the facility’s café, Café Melodie, where he continues his monologue. Herr Hazatérés knows that Frau Sieben will recall nothing of it all due to her dementia, and will be unable to use it against him in the facility–where no one knows that his roommate is also his lover. Frau Sieben reacts to Herr Hazatérés’ liveliness and passion with manifest torpor, but does not reject him either. In reality, Frau Sieben’s dementia permits him a form of expression that he has been longing for. With his flowery, poetic voice, Herr Hazatérés also simultaneously possesses aspects of a figure in a dream —a transformation or a distorted reminder of Frau Sieben’s first love, Konrad.
Female pensioner in senior living facility:
Male pensioner in senior living facility:
Facility Staff Members
Setting: A Senior Living Facility in Münster
‘ Today: ‘Summer Fashions for Seniors’
Frau Sieben (looking upward, as if at a model):
Boring. It’s all boring. We used to call it square. Not showing any leg or nothin’. Konrad….always bought me v-e-r-r-r-y racy dresses. Wine red or gentian blue and a décolleté down to there! I never left the house without my feather boa…
When I was young, I had a dreamboat at my side, a real dreamboat…! My Konrad…
He didn’t want to marry me. But no one else got him either! He only went to sea…he loved the ocean…and the sailors…them especially…
An old man with the appearance of an elegant gangster/charming dandy, hands her a glass.
May I offer you a beverage? It’s elderberry juice.
Oh that’s so nice of you. What is it?
Elderberry juice. What’s your name, if I may ask?
Schildberg…um…no that’s not right anymore. ‘S my maiden name. Scuse me….
Herr H (formally):
Not a problem, Frau…uh…..pleased to make your acquaintance!
Sieben is what my name is, right, Frau Sieben! I remember anything from long ago.
Pleased to meet you, Frau Sieben. Hazatérés is my name. It’s a hard one. It’s Hungarian. Ha-za-té-rés. It translates as “Coming Home”. Isn’t that lovely?
I’ll just remember it as “Coming Home”.
As the lady wishes.
Aren’t we having the most awful weather? Nothing but rain.
Frau Sieben (looks upward):
Just as Our Lord wishes.
Herr H bows:
I do not want to appear presumptuous, but…may I perhaps ask you to tea at “Café Melodie?”
With pleasure. Nobody really asks me to tea. My granddaughter comes to visit then spends the whole day reading comics.
They sit down at a table with a nosegay of plastic roses.
This is a nice spot, Herr…..Home!
Isn’t it though! Let’s take a seat.
(He pulls out the chair for Frau Sieben)
Ah, Frau Sieben…I would like to make you my confidante. Would you care to listen to my story for a bit? I would be very grateful to you if you would. Where do I start?
52 years ago, I was 24, I met Vera. For three months and three weeks I called her up, took her out to cafés, invited her to the opera. Do you know the Budapest Opera? You need not reply, I too am watching the rain.
Vera had long red hair that she wore loose, and read Expressionist poetry. She was different than most women of her time, and I too was different. I wrote letters to Max Ernst which he unfortunately never answered, and gave the whores more money than they demanded, because I admired them. But when I met Vera I knew that I could never desire anyone else. In the end, my persistence impressed her, my pride and my unpredictability, because I never undertook the steps she expected me to do next. You should take redhaired women by surprise! I didn’t buy her any roses, but instead a parrot, I didn’t take her out for wine but instead to go swimming—you know, Frau Sieben, the Hungarian thermal baths that submerge everything in fog and steam so that you can’t see the other person, only sense them—they have an effect that far surpasses that of alcohol…!
Ja…thermal baths…’s so nice.
Vera was … how should I put it…a very modern woman, she had no truck with it only being the man, you, Frau Sieben I can tell you everything….it rained without ceasing today, didn’t it? …
Vera rejected the idea that only the man would be the one satisfied. When they started talking about these things in the Sixties, I had to laugh, I had heard it all before: Vera in a tattered uniform sitting astraddle me, Vera, her long red hair wrapped around my, well, you know, wrapped, and then singing softly, Vera in her winter coat on the staircase slowly pressing my hand beneath her skirt and wishing that we could just, right then and there…
Winter coat, what has become of my winter coat…? Ah, Sewing Class…
Herr H continues:
Vera’s friends became my friends: there was Vladimir, a displaced Russian who told us many things about astrology and palmistry, then Elena, an opera singer whom we admired on stage whenever she was not on a binge, and in the end after we’d emigrated to Germany, Miriam and Josef. Ja, our emigration, that is a chapter unto itself…we had skeletons in the closet as they say and were no longer welcome in Budapest, nor in Debrecen, in Komló, in Halimba, or Bábocsa. Nowhere. And so we went to the other side, not just of the Donau, but of the world. …But I do not wish to speak of the world now. The rain simply won’t quit today, Frau Sieben, do you love the rain? You need not answer me. It is late…I must excuse myself, must leave for choir practice. Where may I escort you?
What do I have today? Ah ja, Pool Gymnastics!
They don’t give you a minute’s peace here. I thought I would feel lonely in my old age…not a bit of it…water color painting, basket weaving, pool gymnastics, we take each other’s hands and then…will that make my mem’ry better do you think?…Thank you thank you Herr Home, I’m fine, I’m fine (allows herself to be led by him)
Ah there you are Frau Sieben. This way to Limber Up Your Back Class!
Herr H. and Frau Sieben exit, accompanied by Staff Member.
Herr H. and Frau Sieben return to the stage (dressed differently, new day)
Good morning, Frau Sieben!
G’m’rning, Herr Here!
Where are you off to in such a hurry?
I don’ exactly r’member right now…
If you have a moment’s time, we could go to what has become our regular little spot.
They sit down at the table with the nosegay of plastic roses
Now where did I leave off the last time?
Frau Sieben cannot recall.
Frau Sieben, do you see the busy patterns that the raindrops create as they run down the windowpane? That’s how my life seems to me…those sudden obstacles—without us comprehending why, the drop rolls two centimeters to the right and horizontally instead of downward. Sometimes it seems to simply not obey gravity, but rather some other power. What one could that be?
Surprisingly, Frau Sieben replies:
Well, it’s love!
Herr H. nods:
In the beginning I believed that our friends Josef and Miriam—he was an archaeologist and she, the editor of an art journal—were horribly reserved. But then I soon noticed that they were simply very discreet and that the sign language of their love was rich. They were the only couple I knew who—at this point they had long been living in the same apartment—wrote each other letters regularly. The address of the sender and the recipient were always identical. At some point, when Miriam and Josef came to visit us again, Miriam suggested a ‘chat just among the ladies”. As we found out later, it was not about us men at all, though we first amusedly assumed it was. At any rate, an unplanned boys’ night ensued. Frau Sieben, are you dozing? The rain is so monotonous, and my words, have they woven a curtain over your senses? Even if you no longer remember a thing half an hour after I’ve said it, I am still glad for the moment, the brief moment, in which my thoughts are allowed to filter through your soul, in which you permit my words access before they are swallowed up like slowly falling rain by something grand and dark. So yes, by gravity. The corners of your mouth are drooping so much today, are you sad that your granddaughter had to leave again today? She will return, believe me, she is still young and has get out and move around.
Miriam and Josef. Miriam an’ Josef. An’ Baby Jesus. Something’s wrong, though. Miriam an’ Josef..? Hm.
At any rate, that evening in Budapest, Josef and I went ahead and cooked something splendid. I don’t remember what, I’m getting old too, but I remember our rolled-up sleeves. After the rich meal and the intense conversation I was tired and showed Josef to the guest room. Vera had called up by then that she would be staying the night at Miriam’s. I retired to the bedroom, planning to read a bit, but must have dozed off, because I was startled to see Josef standing in the doorway. He made a mild gesture of apology. He was tall, lanky, not so much anymore nowadays, and actually always quite punctilious.
Very lanky, ja, Albert was v-e-r-r-y lanky. If you turned him sideways, that husban’ o’ mine.
As he sat down on the edge of the bed, he spoke these words: Don’t be alarmed, but one question plagues me: how do you deal with the fear of death? His eyes slowly raised to meet mine. Only then did I grasp the delicacy of the situation. Suddenly I felt a wave of liking for this serious and erudite man, who never viewed the world cynically but always with a quiet warmth.
It was the merest and a thoroughly unconscious motion that caused my coverlet to slide off. Josef appeared to struggle with something, he lowered his head, then he stretched his hand out across the blanket. All at once the fingertips of the man who had just been preoccupied with the question of death touched my arm.
Frau Sieben (harshly)
With a man? You must be crazy. We must both be. Fine kettle of fish!
(chiding) Now, now. (coquettishly) Life has various sides…allow me to continue.
Josef. –Here in the facility, everyone thinks we are old friends who moved in together after the death of their wives, but we share more than just just ketchup and newspapers. –Don’t give me that astonished look, Frau Sieben, you should listen, not judge! That is why I have given you my trust: because for me your soul has the color of rain, transparent, supple and transient. My wife was loud and domineering, red looked fantastic on her, she could dig the heels of her boots into my feet whenever she felt misunderstood, and could pour her dark wine quite accidentally over the pages in my typewriter…my Vera. Back then I was of the opinion that even men could service one another, a pecadillo so to speak but I never dreamed of boys, or found myself desiring them, never. But Josef was different. He never approached me as like to like as did the fellows where a certain kind of—forgive my directness—mutual masturbation took place. Josef embraced me from the heart, and I was speechless.
The grandfather clock strikes.
Ja, those fellows. Aren’t they something! My Albert also did that a lot.
(ignoring her remark)
Frau Sieben,—you have to go to Memory Care Training now and I am off to Spanish Class. Many thanks to you for your ears, do not overexert yourself, your head does n-o-t have to be a museum any longer, think only of the fact that there are supposed to be thunderstorms this evening…!
Herr H. bows.
Staff Member approaches:
Frau Sieben, you haven’t already forgotten your training?
Frau Sieben (harshly):
They don’t give you a minute’s peace here. All I want is….to sit on my sofa and stare into space. Big, big space. The space in life is what’s nicest…!
You’re not allowed to want nothing…!
Frau Sieben and Herr H exit.
Both return to the stage (new day).
The grandfather clock strikes again.
How lovely that you’re so punctual, you’re quite the Prussian lady, did you know that? Don’t shake your head, I can see that the caregiver brought you right here but by birth you are the daughter of an officer and you used to be always ‘at your service’. Forgive me. How was your Memory Care Training? Where do you have to be later? At Yeti-Yoga or Nordic Walking?
No, no….I have to…where do I have to go? I don’t have to go anywhere else today!
I am genuinely glad for you.
I will spend a moment here in the presence of faded photographs of bygone castles and these dulled watercolors illustrating my stories for you, only to have them fade more than those items.
The name of Josef will mean nothing more than something Biblical to you, which is fine. Soon our good old couples’ friendship reestablished itself. When Vera and I went over to the West, the two of them took great care of us, for there were many more adjustment difficulties than one could have imagined beforehand. They took us to a language school where we improved our German and later learned English, helped us orient ourselves in our daily lives. I felt rather inferior to Josef, because I had to rely on him for help, but he never treated me that way. The years passed. Never did we speak of our experience. It remained a secret.
At some point Miriam was diagnosed with breast cancer. On the day of her operation I stopped by to see Josef. I cooked Hungarian food for us and tried to cheer him up. At midnight, I got up to go—well, I stayed.
Miriam got out of the hospital, and our friendship took its established course once more. But I recall moments of confusion: Josef’s hand on my thigh when we were watching Klaus Mann’s ‘Mephisto’, Josef’s expression when I passionately kissed Vera on New Year’s Eve and spilled champagne on his shoulder in doing so. Ten years passed, so much time that I no longer expected any recurrence of a night of love. But when Vera was visiting a friend in Vienna once, Josef came over again. Vera and I were still living quite happily together, the passion of our initial years had remained in a milder form.
After this third night, Josef asked me if I could imagine living with him when our wives were no longer around. I countered that women usually lived longer than men and the likelihood was greater that Vera would end up living with Miriam than he with me!
Miriam died two years later of lymphoma, and Vera died tragically in a private plane belonging to friends.
The sudden solitude, the deficit in physicalness took its toll on me. I aged more rapidly within a few months than in the years prior. I was in my early 70s. Josef came by more and more frequently and I allowed myself to be loved by him. Sometimes I envisioned a woman’s body in my mind but I was no longer capable of making any new conquests. So Josef stayed with me, and I cannot say to this day if it all is not a huge misunderstanding. When he developed a kidney disorder and I became incontinent, we decided to go into a facility. Here we are now, we watch TV together and study the list of classes available.
Frau Sieben has dozed off.
Herr H. (amicably)
Frau Sieben, please listen to me. You with the golden ears. Those purely decorative ears. Those l’art pour l’art ears, you … there’ll be time enough for sleeping, my aimless words need your harbor, your gate. Your pathway to nowhere. Having a destination means everything. Wanting nothing means might as well being dead.
Frau Sieben awakens once more.
Frau Sieben, now you have a golden aura once more. You are as aglow as a lamp, without realizing it.
I am not a lamp…
Here we sit in “Café Melodie”— how nice that we didn’t meet fifty years ago, for we might have never spoken a word to each other, Frau Officer’s Daughter. But now nothing matters, we are sitting here and can tell one other our greatest of mistakes, our most unsettling stories, perhaps your husband killed my relatives in Hungary, perhaps the lover of Elena, that opera singer so devoted to alcohol, was a spy in your country—all of that is now immaterial and of interest to no one any longer…it just keeps raining all day today again.
Frau Sieben (tiredly)
This rain reminds me of the rain recently..when I went to school and was slapped because the ink in my copybook was all smeary.
Herr H. kneels before Frau Sieben, laying his hands gently on her knee. Mozart’s Requiem (last movement= Lux Aeterna) is audible.
Frau Sieben, in your eyes I dissolve like back then in the foggy mists of the thermal bath, I am able to release everything I want to recount, everything oppressing me. I become lightweight and you do not become heavy, but remain light!
Do you hear the music of Frau Terz over there? Do you hear this divine music?
Do you know what the last part of Mozart’s Requiem is called?
Frau Sieben (lost in thought, but turned toward Herr H.):
Konrad, let’s get a li’l glass of somethin’ during intermission.
Herr H. (shakes his head):
There are words, sharp-edged like crystal and suspended like lights in a fog—dark like the opposite of fire and bright like the eye of eternity…
Frau Sieben (brusquely):
Herr Here, that’s enough. “Lux Aeterna” is name of the piece, period.
And where I do have to go now?
Music grows louder.
© Tanja Dückers