(Adapted from Harold Pinter’s Story of the same name)
The time: early sixties. A house in North London, where live the following:
Max, seventy; a retired butcher. He is a robust man, still fairly strong. Is loud and enjoys his drink. He stays in the house with his brother and two sons.
Sam, sixty three; a chauffeur. Quiet, soft spoken.
Teddy, thirty-five; Max’s eldest son. He has lived in the United States for many years, and teaches philosophy there.
Lenny, thirty-two. He claims to do “this-and-that”. His main source of income is pimping.
Joey, twenty-five: A well-built young man who works in the demolition squad.
Ruth, thirty; Teddy’s wife of six years and mother of three children.
Teddy comes to London to meet his family after six years. The family hasn’t known of his marriage, and three children with Ruth, and there is an obvious uncomfortable silence as they try to adjust to this fact.
Post the lazy Sunday lunch, the men light their cigars. Teddy hands over one to Ruth as well. Soon there is a cloud in the dining area. The men are comfortable in the weekly ritual, but Teddy has been gone too long. He coughs and wheezes as the strong cigar smoke invades his lungs. The cigar goes out.
Lenny sniggers: Looks like Teddy’s light got out quick! They all laugh out loud. Max looks at the five-ten Ruth and says: Teddy, Ruth’s a big girl; are you keeping her happy? Teddy mashes his cigar in the ashtray. I’m going to get some sleep. Come on up, Ruth.
But Ruth is like as if Teddy is non-existent. Her disregard for Teddy is complete. She is enjoying the heavy smoke laden atmosphere. The family of “bachelors” in London has eyes for her only. She basks in their attention. Cigar smoke curls out of her delicate nostrils. She flicks the ash off the cigar that lands on Teddy’s boot.
Teddy feels dismissed. He slowly, deliberately, climbs up the steps. Has his family missed him? It doesn’t seem so. Their eyes are not on him.
As Teddy slams the bedroom door, Ruth relaxes and leans back on the sofa. She has a cigar lit too. She props one leg on a knee. The calf muscle bulges noticeably. She is a very big woman. Her shoulders are broad and her legs look powerful. Even though she’s a mother of three children, she is not fat. In fact, she moves like a panther.
She blows a puff of smoke at Lenny – Say, do you guys here dance or what? Lenny scurries over to the old gramophone. He winds it up and places a record. Night and Day – a Sinatra song plays. Ruth steps behind Lenny and puts a hand on his waist. She turns him round and holds his left hand. He tries to move into the dance rhythm, but Ruth’s firm grip on his waist indicates who is in control of the dance. Lenny puts his left arm on her shoulder and begins to match his steps.
Max exclaims: I’ll be damned! Thought you had your whores in control all this while. She’s dancin’ with ya like you’re some golliwog doll! Lenny is uncomfortable. As a pimp, he has always had his whores (his bitches as he calls them) under control. They would hop at his command. He hasn’t hesitated to use violence either.
But Ruth is something else. She is his pimp. He feels like a half dressed woman, shivering on the streets as she waits for her clients. He gets a hard on, and pulls away from Ruth. She doesn’t let go of him, and for the first time ever, he feels helpless.
Ruth laughs loud as she twirls him around. She then lets him go. Redfaced, he pulls down his sweater and sits down on the sofa. Joey, why don’t ya try her, she’s a tart!
Huh? I don’t dance, says Joey. He is a solidly built bloke. Broad shoulders, broad brow. He is training to be a boxer.
Let’s see what you’re made of, Joey; says Ruth. I don’t dance, he says. I jus take my wimmen, an’ they usually scream. But when I’m done with them, they like it a lot!
Joey tries to grab her, but Ruth just pushes him down onto the couch.
You are big, boy.
She puts her hand on his shoulder, feeling the hard muscle near the collar. You must be lifting heavy stuff, Joey.
Yeah, I do the blackworks. The foreman says I’m good.
She grabs the hard ridge of the muscle and squeezes. Joey winces. Ruth’s grip is strong. He tries to move away, but she keeps him on the couch, smiling all the while.
Let’s see what you are made of, Joey… she leans ahead and kisses him. They kiss, and after a while, they move together to the small bedroom.
Sam smiles. Reminds me of Jessie. She knew how to control us boys, she did.
Max says: Yeah, that bitch of mine was a hard one. Wish she were alive; the boys would be better men now. I can’t be a mom and dad all together, you know.
Sam recalled how Jessie, Max’s wife, was the one wearing the pants in the house. War time was hard on London and its inhabitants. She was the one who held the family together. She earned the most money as well as ran the household.
When Jessie was alive, Max scarcely earned (meat was scarce), while Sam was a war time driver, mostly driving supplies between London and Dover. Jessie held the family together like glue. Sundays were meant for family, regardless of how bad the finances were or how grim the Battle of Britain fared. Jessie would hold the kids and tell them to be brave when the sirens went off. The dull thump of the bombs would make Sam crave for the warmth and comfort of Jessie’s bosom.
In the bedroom, Joey had given up trying to seduce Ruth. She was not one to be cowed down by force or intimidation. Ruth was only playing with him. She would push him away if he got too close. Her strong fingers would pry away his arms if they tried to grab her. And she was way too strong even for him, to even be pushed down on the bed.
Ruth simply teased him. She ran her fingers over his hairy chest, pinching his belly fat, tickling him on the sides. Joey got so frustrated that he tried to roll over his bulk on her, but she simply pinned his wrists by the side of his head. As he struggled, she clamped her thighs on his lower body. Joey couldn’t move. Ruth’s thighs and calves were strong and hard. They bit into his soft body, crushing him into acquiescence.
Joey couldn’t believe how strong this woman was. She had actually forced a 200 pound man onto the bed, and pinned him down like a weak girl. He remembered how he had once cornered a young girl in a narrow alley, and had actually pinned her down the way he was being handled by Ruth. Joey had muffled her screams and raped her there, leaving her sobbing when he was finally satisfied.
Ruth held him in that grip for nearly an hour. All the while, she kept teasing him, making him beg to let him go. Ruth wouldn’t have any of it, though. She kept squeezing, until Joey had no strength left.
When Ruth finally let him go, Joey grimaced as the blood rushed back to the extremities of his limbs. It took him a while to get up. Ruth just smiled at him, as Joey, beaten, rushed out of the room.
The next day, Max proposes to Ruth that times are hard, and Ruth must ‘earn’ her stay here.
What do you propose, Max?
Why don’t you work the Soho streets? A big fine lady like you could bring in the pounds.
If I do that, why should I share the money with you?
Because you would get to live in this house.
Why would I like to live here? With little boys and an old man? I could earn comfortably to live in Fulham, maybe Marylebone.
I am not old! He says, and steps up to Ruth. And you will work the Soho streets.
I can stay all alone, you know. She puts her hand on Max’s forehead and pushes him back. Max falls into the sofa.
Please, Ruth! Don’t leave us. He has tears in his eyes.
Lenny says: Maybe I can take Ruth as my woman, and we can live together. He gives her a nervous smile.
Maybe I can take you, Lenny. Ruth’s sharp comment makes Lenny shrink visibly.
Teddy gets ready to leave for the airport. He knows Ruth won’t come.
Don’t forget the family, Teddy… says Ruth.
Ruth sits in grand sofa, basking in the warmth of the fireplace. Lenny hands a goblet of wine to her. Max, Joey and Sam sit and look at her expectantly. They look upto her now.
She is the head of the family.