Scene 4 A month later
May’s bed is gone and its place at right is now taken by three tables, each of slightly different size, placed end to end. These are covered by three spotless white tablecloths. Upon the center table, amidst a large array of papers, pens and a stack of manila folders there is a jug of water with a slice of lemon floating in it but no ice. Three glasses accompany the jug. Behind the tables sit Miss White, an attractive platinum blonde with white lipstick, wearing a peach summer dress, adorned with a necklace of white plastic beads. She is about twenty-five. To her right sits Mr. Green, a kindly white haired man of sixty who wears a white short-sleeved shirt and a tasteless broad tie. To his right sits Mrs. Brown, she is a graying, sour-faced, tightly corseted woman of forty. All three visibly perspire. There is a timid knock at the door.
Mr. Green : Enter. (The door opens to reveal May in her typical pose.) Ah, please come in. (May stands before them, head down as Mr. Green opens a folder.) Now, my dear is your name May or Emma-May? We seem to have both listed here. (He looks up hopefully but May remains silent.) Is your name May or…….
Mrs. Brown : (interrupting) Come along girl, which is it? (An impatient look follows as Mr. Green motions her to be quiet.)
Mr. Green : Well, we shall just have to call you May then. Right, now May we have been sent here by the new federal government. We are here to help you. Now some of the other girls have made serious allegations concerning Matron Koch. We would like to hear what you have to say. But please think very carefully about the answers that you give, as this is a very serious matter. (An awkward silence passes as they await an answer.)
Miss White : (gently) In your own time May, in your own words. (Silence)
Mrs. Brown : Mr. Green, once again I must protest. How much of the testimony of these, these girls can we believe, I mean really! Most of them are barely literate and many seem to be letting their imaginations run wild, and what is more, this facility has enjoyed an excellent reputation. We have been subjected to hearing outlandish accusations, there has been conflicting testimony or in this case nothing at all. My recommendation-
Miss White : We are merely here to ascertain the facts. It is up to the department and the minister to apportion-
May : I am! (The three are startled.) Yet what I am who cares or knows? (Puzzled looks cross the faces of the three.)
Mr. Green : Yes May, would you like to say something?
May : (slowly) Into the nothingness of scorn and noise, into the living sea of waking dream, where there is neither sense of life, nor joys but the huge shipwreck of my own esteem and all that’s dear.
Mrs. Brown : Is she in her right mind? She’s babbling. (Mr. Green motions her to be quiet.)
Mr. Green : (hopefully) Poetry is it! Do you like poetry May?
May : (Slowly and with head down.) I long for scenes where man has never trod, for scenes where woman never smiled or wept there to abide with my creator God and sleep as I in child hood sweetly slept.
Mrs. Brown : Sir, this is turning into a waste of time. The girl is quite plainly an imbecile. (Mr. Green ignores her.)
Mr. Green : Go on May. (May now raises her head and makes eye contact with Mr. Green. He smiles at her.)
May : Full of high thoughts unborn, so let me lie – the sand below, above, the vaulted sky.
Mr. Brown : That was beautiful May. Is it Wordsworth, William Wordsworth? (As May shakes her head slowly Mr. Green again smiles.) No?
May : Clare…. John Clare…. Sir.
Mr. Green : (encouragingly) Very good, my dear.
Mrs. Brown : Can we return to the task at hand please? (Mr. Green sighs and concedes.)
Mr. Green : May, can you tell us anything so that we might help you? Anything at all dear girl. (May drops her head again.)
Miss White : Did Matron Koch beat you May, did she punish you unfairly? Please tell us. No one will hurt you any more. (Silence)
(Mrs. Brown now picks up a paper and loudly rattles off the ‘standard’ questions. Pausing for two seconds between each and looking up at May each time. Miss White and Mr. Green wait, in obvious annoyance, as she does this but say nothing.)
Mrs. Brown : Have you been treated well by the staff here? (Silence) Have you had opportunities to learn and practice a trade? Have you been treated with courtesy, kindness and respect? Have the facilities here been hygienic and properly maintained? Have you been allowed sufficient time for recreation?
Mr. Green : Thank you, that will do Mrs. Brown.
Mrs. Brown : I merely wish to demonstrate that this girl is wasting our time Sir. (He raises a hand to quiet her.)
Miss White : May, efforts will be made to help you find your family. Would that make you happy? (May raises her head slowly upon hearing this.)
Mr. Green : Yes we shall certainly endeavour to do so, but you must understand my dear that our resources are limited and, well it may be, that they are now with God. You understand my dear I’m sure. (May drops her head again.)
May : (timidly) Sir?
Mr. Green : Yes my dear.
May : Sir…. What… what colour was Jesus? (Mr. Green exchanges quizzical glances with Miss White while Mrs. Brown rolls her eyes and proceeds to light a cigarette.)
Mr. Green : Er, well, Jesus was white. Yes, white. But you know May, white is made up of all the colours of the rainbow, even black. (He frowns, unsatisfied with his answer.)
May : (With head still lowered.) Thank you sir.
Mr. Green : Yes well, since you seem to have nothing else to tell us, you are free to go.
Miss White : But if you should think of something, we will be here for the next few days. (May exits, shutting the door quietly.)
Scene Five Many Years Later
The room is in ruins, the roof having partly collapsed. May enters, she is now in her fifties. Following her is her son Christian, aged about seventeen. They look around and Christian kicks some displaced floorboards.
Christian : So what happened to her, mum?
May : Before I was sent away from here nothing. Many years later when I was pregnant with you I traced her to a nursing home in Marleston, in Adelaide. St. Martin’s, a nice big old house.
Christian : (Wide eyed.) What did she say to you?
May : Nothing. The nurses there fed her, changed her, and brushed her hair. She didn’t recognize me, she didn’t even know her own name any more. But my search wasn’t a total waste of time. (From her pocket she produces the poetry book.)
Christian: (keenly) Where did you find it?
May : The nurses must have been reading to her from it. It was on the bedside table. For some reason she had kept it all those years. I took it when no one was looking. You’re the first person I’ve shown it to. (Smiles.)
Christian : Is she still there?
May : Oh no, she died about a month after my visit. (They reflect silently.)
Christian : (Slyly.) So what colour do you think Jesus is?
May : Hm, I’ve thought a lot about that.
Christian : And….
May : Well it wasn’t until after my ordination into the church that I came to the conclusion that Jesus is no colour at all. He’s above all that.
Christian : (Shaking his hear and smiling.) After all they did to you –
May : Oh come on, the church has changed a lot since then.
Christian : Ho! You can say that again, a black woman priest! Next you’ll get yourself appointed to St. Paul’s in London like on that A.B.C doco that we saw. (May smiles and runs her hand through his hair affectionately.) It’s hard to believe that you actually lived here. I mean, this place is like, in the middle of nowhere. And I thought the trip here was going to be boring.
May : Well, it was about time I told you I suppose.
Christian : Did she leave any family?
May : No, I don’t think so. She was all alone. The nurses at St. Martin’s were quite surprised that someone had come to visit her. I paid for the funeral, I was the only one there.
Christian : Poor woman. (May looks at him gravely then slowly nods.)
May : Come on, your father will be waiting for us. (Both exit.)
1. May’s book is “ The Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics” compiled by Francis Turner Palgrave. It was first published in 1906. She owns the 1955 edition. (With a glorious cover detail from Edward Burne-Jones’ painting “Sponsa de Libano.”)
2. Poems quoted in order :
(a) “The Woodcutter’s Night Song” by John Clare.
(b) “Break, Break, Break.” by Lord Tennyson.
(c) “When We Two Parted.” by Lord Byron.
(d) “For The Fallen.” By Laurence Binyon.
(e) “Written In Northampton County Asylum.” By John Clare.
3. In the line “the sand below, above the vaulted sky” I have inserted the word “sand.” In the original Clare has “grass.”