An Unfinished Play
In Andrei Platonov’s unfinished play from 1938, two young orphans seek out their promised land.
DUSYA, an orphan
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA, DUSYA’s aunt
ARCHAPOV ARKADY, the aunt’s husband
MITYA, an orphan
A YOUNG WOMAN, the uncle’s girlfriend
(A room in the small old house of a tradesman. A dresser. Above it are photographs of the owners’ relatives; on it stand aging souvenirs and knickknacks from the nineteenth century. Furniture that had once been a part of the wife’s dowry—plush sofas and chairs, now threadbare; a trunk; a table covered by a tablecloth; one or two windows with ornate curtains cut from paper; pots with flowers on the windowsills; a mirror on the dresser—and any other bits and pieces that an old, thrifty couple might have possessed. The door between this room and the kitchen is open: in the kitchen can be seen a scoured kitchen table, plates, and a Russian stove in one corner. ARCHAPOV is in the room, sitting at the table and eating from a little bowl. TATYANA FILIPPOVNA, his wife, is in the kitchen; leaning on a large stove fork, she looks out at her husband.)
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA Full yet?
ARCHAPOV (Wipes his moustache) Bring me some more.
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA Sure that wasn’t enough?
ARCHAPOV Too watery. Make it thicker.
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA All right, have all you want! You’ll feel it later, though.
ARCHAPOV Go light the samovar.
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA You’ll be sweating after all that tea, won’t you? You’ll sweat and sweat—and then you’ll catch cold . . .
ARCHAPOV And then I’ll get well again—don’t fret.
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA Oh, go on, eat and drink all you want. With you around we’ll never be putting any money aside—you’re a bottomless pit! No money to fix the roof—but we eat beef every day . . . . (She wipes away her tears with the edge of her apron.)
(A latch rattles against the door that opens from the porch into the kitchen.)
ARCHAPOV Are you going to open the door?
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA There’s no hurry. It could be a beggar woman . . .
ARCHAPOV A beggar—in this day and age?
(TATYANA FILIPPOVNA undoes the latch and bolt of the kitchen door. DUSYA enters barefoot and bareheaded. TATYANA FILIPPOVNA looks her over coldly and indifferently.)
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA What are you doing here?
DUSYA When my mother was dying, she told me to come to you. And now my father is dead too, and I’ve been living all alone . . . Dear Auntie, I don’t have anyone now!
(TATYANA FILIPPOVNA lifts the edge of her apron and wipes her eyes.)
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA No one in our family lasts long. And I’m no different—I only look like I’m doing OK, but I’m not in good shape . . . No, not in good shape at all . . . .
(Pause. TATYANA FILIPPOVNA cries. DUSYA watches her timidly.)
Oh, come on, have a seat here in the kitchen. There’s some herring on that plate over there—go and get yourself some.
(DUSYA takes a piece of herring from a wooden plate and eats it timidly. TATYANA FILIPPOVNA goes back out to her husband, into the main room.)
God relieves us of our own children—and what then? Then our relatives fling their children at us. There she is, Arkasha—my niece! She’s a true orphan now: she’ll need to be fed—not to mention new clothes and shoes!
ARCHAPOV (Sullenly) What more could we ask for!
(DUSYA comes out from the kitchen.)
DUSYA I don’t need to be fed, I’ve eaten all I want. I just want to sleep.
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA If you want to sleep, then lie down and sleep. There’s a trunk over there . . . When was your father’s funeral?
DUSYA It’s been seven days.
(DUSYA lies down on the trunk, her face to the wall; she curls her body closer into itself and tries to pull down her dress—she is growing out of it. ARCHAPOV taps his fingers on the table and looks at the clock on the wall.)
ARCHAPOV Bring me my food, I need to go to work soon.
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA Why the hurry? (A little more quietly) Maybe she’ll fall asleep soon, just wait a little.
ARCHAPOV I don’t care—he’s not my relative. I just want peace and order in my own home.
(TATYANA FILIPPOVNA goes to the kitchen, takes a pot and pan from the stove, slices some fresh bread, brings the bread to the table, goes back again, then bustles about between the stove and her husband, bringing things to the table one at a time—the salt shaker, a fork, a piece of bread. All the time, she keeps talking.)
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA In she comes—and makes herself at home just like that. Oh, my dear uncle and aunt, she says to herself, they don’t want for anything! They’ll feed me, they’ll give me clothes and shoes. They’ll find me a husband and give me a dowry!! . . . Here I am—what more could they ask for? A hungry, unwashed, barefoot, unhappy little orphan in a skirt she’s long grown out of. Soon, God willing, the two of them will kick the bucket—and then I’ll be the woman of the house. All they earned by the sweat of their brow—all mine to spend as I please! . . . Well, Dusya, you know what I think you should do? Find yourself bed and board down below with the devils! As for what’s mine, I won’t let you even blow the dust off them. And may my bread choke you! My man toils all day long—out in the wind and cold. I don’t sit down myself from dawn till dusk—and then along comes dear Dusya: “Here I am! Take good care of me! Love me and nourish me . . .”
(Short pause. ARCHAPOV eats. TATYANA FILIPPOVNA, irritated, hurries toward the trunk, where DUSYA, as before, lies facing the wall.)
Just look at her—how sweet and cosy!
DUSYA (Not turning over) I’m not asleep. I was listening to you.
(Short pause. DUSYA sits up.)
I’m going now. I’m not staying with you.
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA (With a sigh) All right, go. Seems you do, after all, have somewhere to go . . .
DUSYA Yes, I’m going to the Soviet Union of Republics.
ARCHAPOV You should say it in full: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
DUSYA You don’t need it in full.
TATYANA FILIPPOVNA Oh, she is sure of herself, she’s not one to be frightened! And she’s taken offense! . . . All right, go and live where you like—we’re not a roadside inn and we’re not a republic.
(DUSYA leaves in silence, without a glance at her aunt and uncle.)
(An apartment in a small building. Usual furnishings for a laborer’s or office worker’s family. Two large windows looking out onto a quiet, provincial street. Outside—the light of a sunny day; in the distance—two or three trees and a wide-open field stretching off into space. On the wall between the windows, facing the audience, is a large portrait of a smiling young woman; the portrait is decorated with pine branches and is bordered by black crepe. On the floor of the room—a rug; a boy, MITYA, sits on this rug, playing with some toys. It’s quiet everywhere—in the room and outside the building; all that can be heard is the heavy breathing of MITYA, who is intensely focused on his game. Solemn music suddenly starts up in the distance—Red Army soldiers or pioneers are marching somewhere. MITYA stops playing; he cries quietly and slowly and, sitting all alone on the rug, wipes his eyes with his hands. Eyes red with tears, he gets to his feet, walks up to the wall, looks at the portrait of the young woman, and begins speaking to her.)
MITYA Mama, why did you die? . . . Papa is out at work, Grandma Povanna lives far away in a little hut, she’s sick, she just lies there without ever dying—and I sit here on my own, weeping for you . . . Mama, please come back and live with us—it must be boring there with only dead people. We’ll be together again, and I’ll listen to you—and when I grow up, then you can die again, and we’ll bury you with music. Or better still, don’t die at all. . . . Come back now, Mama, even if it’s only for a minute, and then you can go away again.
No, I understand—you’ll never be here with me. Your eyes are shut, you’ve gone blind, and you’ve forgotten everyone. I’m the only one who remembers you now, and I won’t ever forget you.
(MITYA bows his head before his mother’s portrait and cries quietly. DUSYA appears a little way from the window. She stops a little way away, and then comes closer; she presses her face against the glass and taps timidly on the frame with one finger, but MITYA, absorbed in his grief, his head now resting on the table beneath his mother’s portrait, does not hear her. DUSYA looks around the room. She catches sight of the boy—seeing him through the single pane of glass, she taps more loudly. MITYA looks up, goes to the window, and looks at DUSYA with his back to the audience).
DUSYA Give me something to drink, I just ate some herring.
MITYA We only have plain water—you need to add some syrup.
DUSYA Sure, I’ll have it with syrup.
MITYA They sell it in a booth on the corner—go buy some and drink all you want.
DUSYA I don’t have any money.
MITYA Are you poor?
DUSYA Yes, I’m poor.
MITYA You’re lying—nobody’s poor. We were poor too, but not anymore. We have milk now, and meat.
DUSYA Just let me have a mug of water. Open the door for me.
MITYA I stay locked in. My father locks me inside with his key.
He’s away all day today—he’s gone to the brick factory—and I’m living all on my own, it’s boring . . . They won’t take me at the kindergarten, there’s no room, there are a lot of people being born, and there aren’t enough kindergartens. We had saboteurs and we had spies—half and half!
DUSYA If the building catches fire—you’ll burn to death. You’re still little.
MITYA I won’t. I’ll open the window and escape. My father’s taught me everything.
DUSYA Open the window for me.
MITYA I’m afraid—you’re a stranger.
(DUSYA presses her face firmly against the windowpane; her face flattens out, distorted to the point of looking ridiculous. Then she sticks out her tongue. MITYA laughs at her.)
DUSYA (Stepping back from the window) Open up, I’m exhausted. I’m not going to kill you.
MITYA Are you someone’s mama too?
DUSYA (Slowly tracing her finger across the glass) No, I’m not really anything much, I’m not a mama. My own mama died.
MITYA My mama died too . . . Only my mama wasn’t like yours.
DUSYA Yours was better?
MITYA Yeah, mine was better. Yours was an old, old woman, soon you’re going to be old too. My mama just died—she wasn’t sick. It was poison—she died right away. She was in pain, but not a lot. Now she just lies there and she’s not in pain.
(Pause. MITYA climbs onto the windowsill and, with some difficulty, pulls the bolt and the hook free from the window frame. The window opens. DUSYA climbs through the window and into the room. MITYA hands her a mug of water. DUSYA drinks. MITYA looks at her a little nervously.)
Don’t take any of our stuff.
DUSYA (In surprise) Of course not. Who’s taught you to say things like that? Do I look like a thief?
MITYA My uncle’s taught me everything I know.
(DUSYA sits down on the rug in the middle of the room and starts putting the toys in order. MITYA squats next to her, on his haunches, and eyes his guest.)
DUSYA Your uncle’s a fool. But where’s your father?
MITYA My father left us for a fat woman. Mama said he fell in love with some other woman because she was fat, and then he went off with her to distant parts. My father didn’t love Mama anymore. “You’re bourgeois,” he told her. “I’ve found happiness in someone else, in someone gentle and wonderful—and anyway you and I were never suited,” he said—and off he went. In his suitcase he put his coat, his jackets and pants, his handkerchiefs and everything, and the ashtray—he spilled the ash on the floor, what did he care now?—and he took all the money from the table, then he came back again and told Mama to give him the savings book. Mama gave it to him—and my father left us. He said to me, “Farewell, Mitya, study hard, be a pioneer, do what your pioneer leader says, be a young Communist, be an activist, be an honest citizen, read some classics, and don’t smoke.”
DUSYA And what did you say?
MITYA I said, “Papa, it would be better to stay at home and become suited to Mama again.”
DUSYA And what did he answer?
MITYA He said, “No, we’re strangers now.” And I said, “Well then, go and get yourself suited to that fat woman. And take your Short Course with you.” Papa’s only read two pages this year, though he tells everyone he’s been studying it deeply. But I’ve already spelled out every word in it.
DUSYA Did your mama live long after your father, after he left?
MITYA No, not long. He left, then Mama fell and began to cry. She loved him all the same and felt suited to him . . . After that, Mama was always silent. She would talk quietly to me, but never to anyone else, and then she died.
DUSYA How did she die?
MITYA (Distantly) She’s my mama, not yours. I’m the only one who knows how she died, it’s not for you to ask questions.
DUSYA But what did she die from?
MITYA She took poison. She loved Papa and couldn’t forget him. She would shout and call for him in her sleep.
(DUSYA takes MITYA and sits him on her knees.)
DUSYA Your mama shouldn’t have died. She didn’t pity you, she left you to live all alone.
MITYA That’s none of your business. You’ve had your drink—so go climb back out the window. (He gets up off DUSYA’s knees and moves away from her.)
DUSYA Your mother loved herself and her husband—your father—more than she loved you.
MITYA Wrong order. Papa more than anyone, then me—and herself least of all.
DUSYA Better if she’d loved you more than anyone, then she wouldn’t have wanted to die.
MITYA Better if it had been you who died, not Mama.
DUSYA (Standing up from the rug) Better . . . let me wash you, you look like a chimney sweep.
MITYA Are you going to be our cook and nanny?
DUSYA We’ll see.
MITYA Will you go out for a walk with me later?
DUSYA Yes, I will.
MITYA I’ll tell my uncle to hire you as a nanny. He’s been looking everywhere, with no luck. He says the cooks are all snakes—all studying to be pilots and scientists.
(Meanwhile DUSYA walks through the door, on the right or left, to the kitchen and comes back carrying a basin of water, some soap, a sponge, and a towel. She puts the basin on a chair, or a stool, then quickly pulls MITYA’s head down over the basin. She washes and soaps it.)
The water’s cold. Why didn’t you heat some up on the Primus, you snake? I can see why they didn’t want you to be a pilot.
DUSYA The water’s not that cold. You’ll be fine. It won’t hurt you . . . So when does your uncle come back?
MITYA How would I know? This evening or maybe tomorrow. There’s food waiting in the kitchen—lunch and supper. You can have some.
DUSYA Thank you.
MITYA Don’t scratch my head with those nails of yours! Rinse the soap away, did you hear me?
DUSYA I am rinsing it away. But who is your uncle?
MITYA A fool, you said so yourself. He runs around with different women, he wants to bring me a new mother. But when he does, I’ll leave home for an orphanage. I’ll just take Mama’s portrait and go . . . Hey, that got in my eyes. (Hoarsely) Damn you, you klutz!
DUSYA Just a moment. It’ll all be over soon. What’s your name?
MITYA Dimitry Avdotich.
DUSYA There’s no such name as Avdotich.
MITYA It comes from my mother. I don’t use my father’s name.
DUSYA Your mama and I have the same name.
MITYA My mama didn’t scratch me when she washed my hair.
DUSYA I won’t scratch you again. All over now.
(DUSYA wipes MITYA’s head with the towel.)
MITYA Let’s have some food. Will you eat?
DUSYA After you.
MITYA If anything’s left.
(MITYA goes into the kitchen and comes back carrying a pot with two spoons inside, their handles sticking up from within, and he puts the pot on the table beneath the portrait of his mother.)
Let’s have some kasha. Take a spoon. I’m not going to eat on my own.
(MITYA and DUSYA eat kasha out of the pot. In the course of this scene the view from the windows has changed: it is getting dark outside.)
(Pointing his spoon at the window) My grandma lives in a little hut out there. It was Mama she loved most—and now it’s me. May she live on.
DUSYA Is she old?
MITYA She’s a hundred.
DUSYA She’ll die soon.
MITYA No, she can’t die. Her time’s come, but she can’t.
DUSYA Why not? Does death not come to her?
MITYA No, death comes, but Grandma’s afraid to leave me in the world alone. How would I look after myself, she asks. So she doesn’t die. She’s waiting till I grow up and get old and come to live with her in her little hut. Then she’ll die. She wants me to shut her eyes. And I will.
(Outside the windows it is now completely dark—a late blue twilight; crickets in the neighborhood have started chirping.
(Pointing into the far distance) That’s where my grandma lives—far, far away. Too far away to see.
(In the distance, a lonely, humble little light flares in the blue darkness.)
That was Grandma lighting her lamp. She can’t come to me—her legs don’t go.
(Far off, around the light, a little hut with a porch, faced with planks or boards, gradually becomes apparent; it has two windows lit from the inside; near the hut stand two old, bent willows.)
I’m going to Grandma’s. We’ll have some compote right now, and then I’ll go.
(MITYA fetches a pot of fruit compote from the kitchen, then puts it down on the table.)
DUSYA You have it good, your grandma loves you. It’s because of you she won’t die.
MITYA And it’s because of her that I won’t die . . . When Mama died, I wanted to lie down beside her. I wanted to lie there on the table and stop breathing, because she wasn’t breathing either. But then I felt sorry for Grandma—it would be boring for her without me.
DUSYA (Thoughtfully) I wonder where my own grandma lives?
MITYA My grandma can be half yours.
(Evening has turned into night, but the light of the little hut in the distant field shines still brighter in the darkness; the light from its windows, along with the light of the stars, makes more apparent than ever the vision of the little hut and the two willows dozing beside it. Two people appear outside the open window: MITYA’s UNCLE and a YOUNG WOMAN.)
UNCLE (Excited and merry) Mitya! Feeling bored in there? I’ll open up for you and let you out for a walk. I’ve brought you a new mama!
(Sound of the door being unlocked from outside; the door opens; in come the UNCLE and YOUNG WOMAN.)
UNCLE (Gesturing toward the smiling young woman) Here you are, Avdotich, your new mama. Better than the old one. She’s going to live with us now. So you’d better listen to her, or else! Understand? (He looks closely at DUSYA.) And who do we have here? . . . Wait, stop! Nobody move! (He looks at the YOUNG WOMAN, then back at DUSYA, comparing the two of them.) Stop! I see! (To the YOUNG WOMAN) There’s been a mistake. Go back, my love, off you go.
YOUNG WOMAN: You trash! Don’t think I’ll ever marry you, not after this. I’m a citizen in my own right—I do light work and I get four hundred rubles a month for it! You know what you get for seduction of powerless women? (She grabs something fragile off a bookcase and throws it on the floor. It shatters.) I’ll teach you how to respect a woman! (She sits down in a chair.) I’m not going anywhere—and that’s that. You brought me here—and now you’ll be living with me for the rest of your life! I’ll be the one running things from now on, and that includes you! I’ll humble you once and for all!
(MITYA presses closer to DUSYA. DUSYA takes him by the hand.)
DUSYA But I’m . . . I’m already married. I’ve got an uncle and an aunt. You can’t marry me. No, you can’t marry anymore!
UNCLE Oh, why were you in such a hurry? You should have waited!
MITYA She’s my mama now! . . . (He squeezes DUSYA’s hand with both his own hands.) Let’s run away to my grandma.
DUSYA Come on, Dmitry Avdotich, let’s go.
(DUSYA takes MITYA in her arms and climbs out the open window.)
MITYA The compote! Get the pot of compote—we didn’t finish it!
(DUSYA lowers MITYA to the ground—both are already outside—then comes back into the room through the same window, picks up the jug and the spoons, and climbs out through the window again. And DUSYA, putting the jug in MITYA’s hands and then taking him in her arms, sets off toward his grandmother’s shining little hut.)
UNCLE Mitya’s grandmother lives a long way away. (At this moment, the light in the little hut goes out; outside the windows, it is now pitch-dark.) They’ll never get there.
YOUNG WOMAN: What’s it to you if they get there or not? Good riddance! (And she starts to untie her boots.)
From Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays, edited by Robert Chandler. Forthcoming 2017 from Columbia University Press. Translation © 2017 by Jesse Irwin. By permission of Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.