‘Two in Torquay’

Alan Bennett

The lounge of a large seaside hotel. A middle-aged Miss Plunkett sits in an upright easy chair, the chair beside it is empty. A middle-aged Mr Mortimer approaches her.

MR MORTIMER: Is this anyone’s chair?

MISS PLUNKETT: Not this minute.

MR MORTIMER: And I’m not … trespassing on your preserves? ‘Invading your space’, as I believe they say nowadays?

MISS PLUNKETT: No.

MR MORTIMER: Good. Well I’ll bag it while I can. These chairs at the window are always at a premium.

MISS PLUNKETT: It’s the sea.

MR MORTIMER: I beg your pardon?

MISS PLUNKETT: It comes in, it goes out. Anything else and it would be called shilly-shallying.

MR MORTIMER: Ye-es. (Pause) Still thinking about raining. Can’t seem to make up its mind.

MISS PLUNKETT: My point exactly. More indecision.

MR MORTIMER: First the sea, now the sky. You seem at odds with the entire universe.

MISS PLUNKETT: Perhaps I am.

(Pause)

MR MORTIMER: Alone today?

MISS PLUNKETT: I beg your pardon?

MR MORTIMER: No ‘boss lady’?

MISS PLUNKETT: Lying down. We had a walk on to the clock tower. She overdid it. She often overdoes it. Are you two acquainted?

MR MORTIMER: One nods. We smile. A fellow guest. She is a handsome woman.

MISS PLUNKETT: Yes. ‘Very good for her age’ is a frequent comment. ‘She looks after herself’ is the other.

MR MORTIMER: But is that true? It is you who look after her.

MISS PLUNKETT: I’m glad someone has noticed.

MR MORTIMER: How could one help but notice . . . the drudgery, the devotion, the readiness always to fetch and carry. It warms the heart.

MISS PLUNKETT: Not mine.

MR MORTIMER: Well, you see, I’m old-fashioned. Sentimental even. There are so few of your sort left. Once a feature of our spas and seaside resorts, those selfless, mild-mannered, often (as I’m sure in your case) highly intelligent ladies trailing in the wake of their more well-to-do employers, carrying their impedimenta . . . they’re nowadays seldom come across.

MISS PLUNKETT: I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.

MR MORTIMER: Dear lady, look at yourself. The knitting bag, the shapeless cardigan, the self-effacing attention to your employer’s every whim. Like the horse trough and the drinking fountain, you are a piece of social history. You are that thing of the past – the companion.

MISS PLUNKETT: The companion! The companion? I am not the companion. Mrs Plunkett is not my employer. She is my mother!

MR MORTIMER: Oh.

(Pause)

MISS PLUNKETT: And anyway my cardigan is meant to be shapeless. This sort is very fashionable now. Mother says it suits me.

MR MORTIMER: Do forgive me. Of course I see the resemblance now.

MISS PLUNKETT: No you don’t. And even if there was a resemblance you wouldn’t see it. Because, unlike my mother, I don’t spend every other afternoon at the hairdresser’s. I’m not dolled up to the nines in dresses designed for a woman half my age. And I don’t spend every moment of my waking life thinking of me, me, me, me.

MR MORTIMER: I seem to have touched a raw nerve.

MISS PLUNKETT: How? I have no nerves. No feelings, no emotions. After forty years of servitude there is nothing left in my heart that could even be called human.

MR MORTIMER: Surely, Miss . . . it is Miss?

MISS PLUNKETT: (Venomously) What do you think?

MR MORTIMER: Surely, Miss Plunkett, things aren’t as bleak as all that?

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