Lights up. PETER, a gentleman, sits, writing on a legal pad. Facing him is an empty chair. A clang in the distance. Footsteps coming closer. A key rattles in a lock, and a bolt is withdrawn. JOAN enters through the door, wearing a prison smock. She takes in the room with a glance, and sits slowly. The door is locked behind her.

 

Joan stares at Peter. Peter continues to write on the legal pad, not acknowledging her. At length, he puts down his pen and removes a folded newspaper from beneath the pad.

 

They’re calling it… the “Cat And Mouse Act”. (Reading from the paper) “Should a prisoner, as the result of hunger strike, be deemed too ill for state care, they are to be released into family recognizance, wherein upon their recovery to health, they are to be readmitted into the penal system to resume the measure of their sentence.”

 

(He resumes writing) While I appreciate the press’s morbid enthusiasm, I must say I find the intention inwardly admirable… from a purely legal point of view. Where this leaves you is anyone’s guess. There is a certain… inconsistency… in the courts as to exactly where this places you, in a legal regard, that is yet to be established. Suffice to say, there is no small level of conflicted opinion in the public sphere as to how your fellow prisoners are to be treated… although what the public thinks is hardly the problem here…

 

Are you done, Peter?

 

Pardon?

 

Are you done treating me like your client?

 

I’m merely making sure you grasp the gravity of our “situation”.

 

I grasp it well enough. We’re refusing to eat, and they don’t want to deal with it. Too much bad press.

 

Not merely press; they’re afraid of being responsible for your deaths.

 

No, Peter, they’re afraid of us being martyrs.

 

And what, in your estimation, is a martyr, Joan?

 

He looks at her. She returns his looks coldly. He resumes writing. Beat.

 

Do excuse the ghostly countenance. There has been a shortage of rouge, but we soldier on.

 

Had I but known, I’d not have toiled so long on the pie with the iron file in it…

 

I trust the oven survived the balance?

 

It is in quite a state. Grace had a stern word or two to say to me, I’ll have you know.

 

Unfortunately, we’ve bred children in our image. Bullish and without mercy.

 

Peter chuckles. Joan smiles. Beat.

 

(Writing again) I hope you’re being sensible.

 

They’re doing something very noble, Peter.

 

I didn’t mean /

 

Imprisoned as we are, it’s still a fight, Peter. What we’re doing in here is important. Not only that, it’s vital. We didn’t think it would be easy. We chose the word “suffragette” for a reason.

 

I’m sure the owners of the shop fronts you destroyed would have a different idea of suffering…

 

Collateral damage is to be expected.

 

You blew up a post box.

 

That was Sarah, actually. But I second the motion.

 

Are you all right in here, is what I’m asking.

 

Never better.

 

A silence. Peter writes, annoyed. Joan notices the folded newspaper on Peter’s lap. She attempts to get his attention. No success. She clears her throat loudly. He looks at her. She asks for the paper silently. Peter, annoyed, hands it over. Joan looks over the newspaper. She takes an inordinate amount of time. Peter becomes impatient, returning to his paperwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Perusing) I see The Times have been lax with their usual standards. This picture of Ms. Pankhurst is at least a year old… “Prisoners will be released into family recognizance… upon recovery of their health… wherein they are to be readmitted into the penal system to resume the measure of their sentence”. Well well. To hear them say it, you’d think we were inconveniencing them!

 

Do you suppose the measures you’ve forced are of similar inconvenience?

 

Don’t be obtuse, Peter. They did it to Edith. (Beat. Peter has stopped writing) I saw it happen, we all did. First they strapped her down, so she couldn’t move. Then they put that feeding tube down her throat, and poured half a damn kettle of porridge into her stomach. (Beat) They must have nicked something when they pulled it out. I’d never seen blood the color of treacle before.

 

(Disturbed) And you still wonder why they’ve taken such methods?

 

We’re not criminals, Peter.

 

The law makes no distinction, Joan.

 

The method may differ but intention remains the same. They want nothing less than to silence us totally – preferably with the minimal amount of guilt.

 

Silence. Peter has had a horrible thought, but can barely bring himself to voice it.

 

They haven’t [to you], have they…?

 

Not yet. (Beat) The position of my husband afforded me a level of… deference.

 

Joan’s silence suppresses unspoken rage. Peter can feel it. He has something else on his mind. He closes the legal pad he’s been writing in.

 

That same… deference… is what has brought me here today, actually. An opportunity has arisen, Joan, that may go some way towards bettering our… circumstance.

 

I don’t entirely see what’s ours about it / 

 

Do not be intolerable, Joan! You may have managed to reconcile this horror, but I have not, God help me. So listen, please. (Beat) One of the senior partners holds a chair on the board of St. Jude’s – he has agreed to provide me a letter intimating you may leave prison custody in exchange for medical supervision, providing such medical supervision is required for treatment…

 

Don’t you dare, Peter /

 

Thereafter, once your condition has been… medically verified… you will be released into my custody, and come home, Joan. To your family.

 

(Suspicious) And what would such a condition entail?

 

Physical signals, easily alluded… (Reading from the file) Faintness, a shortness of breath, sleeplessness… that, together with an inconsistency of humor, and the results of psychological distress, conform to the rudimentary symptoms of Conversion Disorder.

 

Silence. Joan stares at him, shocked.

 

You want me to fake a case of hysteria, Peter?

 

Not entirely. Not… permanently. Two weeks at the most, I’d imagine, just to let the legalities of the… arrangement… carry some water. (Beat) Of course, it goes without saying, a condition of your admittance would be to relinquish all involvement with continued criminal activities.

 

Silence. She is staring at him. He cannot meet her eye.

 

Get out, please.

 

What?

 

Out. You’re taunting me, surely!

 

I’m trying to help you, Joan.

 

No, Peter, you’re making a mockery of everything we’ve fought for…

 

Oh am I? Your glorious fight – your hunger strikes, your stone cells. A wonderful fight with casualties on all sides…

 

Wars aren’t won with casualties alone, Peter. You must know that; you’re a lawyer; the fight for justice is a moral fight as much as a physical one. One new thought in the minds of a jury may tip the scales of antiquity into a ruling they know to be right…

 

And your body is an acceptable causality, I take it?

 

One body, one mind, may make all the difference. The angry mob is not a creature whose might comes from its whole, but the sum of its mobile parts. Take them away, and you have nothing but animals, scared to confront the fears they alone cannot face.

 

You know, I came here to talk to my wife, not listen to recitations of Miss Pankhurst’s speeches…

 

Strange that a lawyer would not find value in words of such great truth. On the other hand, it’s hardly strange at all!

 

Beat.

 

Do you think nothing of the fears of your children then?

 

Don’t do that, Peter. It’s inelegant.

 

[What is?] That your children might fear to never see their mother in good health again, or at all?

 

Oh yes Peter, let us go home together, right this instant, and be home in time for Christmas, and peddle around Bright Beach, and pick cockle shells, and carol…

 

Silence.

 

You’re putting me in a difficult position, Joan.

 

More difficult than mine? Where the housewives and I return to the parlor, and you bring us tea, and rather than converse over changing people’s minds, we only ever discuss a change of the drapery?

 

I would gladly bring you tea again, as I always have! It’s not me you have to fight!

 

But you’re asking me to stop. It’s deeds not words that matter, Peter. Deeds not words. (Beat) You want to know what a martyrs is, do you? You are a martyr, Peter – martyrs die protecting values long since dead. We will not be martyrs, for even imprisoned, our cause is strong – in the letters we right, and the songs we sing, and the plans we make, and the minds we change /

 

You’re talking like you actually enjoy it in here…

 

I don’t, Peter /

 

Then how can you speak as if this torment is tolerable?

 

Because you only see the events of one tomorrow. From where I stand, I see a hundred tomorrows to come.

 

Silence.

 

Then you’re certain I’ll not change your mind?

 

No.

 

Silence.

 

Very well.

 

Peter picks up his briefcase and stands. Joan does not look at him. Silence. He walks to the door and opens it. Silence.

 

The doctor’s name is Steward. He’ll be here to collect you at ten tomorrow.

 

Peter leaves, closing the door behind him.

 

Joan is alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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