FLORA. And, was there an answer?
PEARL. By dint of hard work, indeed there was.
VICTOR. What was it?
PEARL. Oh Victor, luminiferous ether, of course.
He’s never heard of it, nor has FLORA.
VICTOR. Pearl, is it not just possible that this time art is leading the way?; hinting to us that your quest for “substance” might be entirely beside the point. Look at the impressionists–
PEARL. I’d rather not.
VICTOR. Then look at Mother’s painting. Observe the brush strokes; each shimmering with possibility. Like a series of suggestions. Draw back and flux yields to stasis. A man, a woman, two children, solid and certain. Draw near and you lose the edges, so gradually do the colours blend one into another; as though they might give rise to any number of different pictures. Nearer still and they appear disconnected; a collection of random daubs, bald facts, meaningless. Until finally they are mere atoms that seem to dance before one’s eyes. Light turns to matter, and matter to motion. Are we seeing the painting itself, or only one possibility of itself? Is the picture emerging? Or is it fading?
PEARL. I can’t tell, it’s too blurry.
VICTOR. So is life. Mother may have been years ahead of her time.
PEARL. She may have been short-sighted.
FLORA. Ay, she had a stigmata.
VICTOR And what of the composition? Is it intentionally unbalanced as a comment on our family? Or did Mother mean to add another figure before she died?
FLORA [slightly alarmed]. What other figure? There is no other figure.
VICTOR There’s you, Auntie.
PEARL. It’s clear enough to me: Mother never finished anything either.
VICTOR [reasonable]. You can’t see Mother’s painting because you’re looking for vulgar likeness. As in your photograph.
PEARL. Don’t compare Mother’s painting with my photograph. One is art, such as it is, the other is science.
VICTOR. Your photo isn’t science, it’s just bad art.
PEARL. In which case, Mother’s painting is worse science.
VICTOR. Not if science proves that reality is a blur after all.
PEARL. Mother painted what she imagined. I photograph what is there. Art is subjective. Science is objective.
VICTOR. There’s no such thing.
PEARL. Sir Isaac Newton and his apple; gravity; the heliocentric movement of the planets; heat expands, cold contracts, facts. Facts, facts, facts. The scientific method yielding real answers.
VICTOR. Who’s asking the questions? What did they have for breakfast?
VICTOR. “To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.”
PEARL [intrigued]. Who said that?
VICTOR. Oscar Wilde.
PEARL [dismissive]. Another of your Irishmen.
VICTOR. There is nothing more contrived than realism.
PEARL. “Ism” be hanged, my photo is a true and perfect record.
VICTOR. Your photo may be a record. But Mother’s painting is a map.
PEARL. Of what? The murky recesses of her psyche? What’s the good of that?
VICTOR. Why does it have to be good for anything? Why can’t it simply be beautiful and good for nothing? Like me.
PEARL [returning to her camera, chipper]. Stand up straight now, Victor, and try to look dignified, you’re about to become extinct. Ah, I’ve got it. Get Mother’s bagpipes down, Vickie, and make as though to woo Fate with the mournful tones.
VICTOR [suddenly terribly offended]. That’s no’ funny Pearl.
PEARL. What, I’ve always called you Vickie.
VICTOR. There’s nothing humorous in Mother’s bagpipes.
PEARL. Victor, I am not the mocker of the family. You are the one rendering risible one half your ancestry; I am attempting to immortalize it.
VICTOR [verge of angry tears]. Well you can’t immortalize it, sister dear, because it’s already dead.
He exits through the window.
FLORA. Now Pearl, you know he’s sensitive about his mother.
PEARL. He never knew his mother, Flora.
FLORA. That’s it, dear; she haunts him.
PEARL. I don’t believe in ghosts.
FLORA. That’s of nay concern to the ghosts.
VICTOR’S kilt comes flying in through the window.
FLORA. Poor Victor will catch his death of cold out there on the moor. [Picking up the kilt.] He’s ne’er been strong i’ the lungs.
PEARL. It’s not his lungs that are exposed to the elements, Auntie.
An elderly man enters, slowly, carrying a silver tray with lid.
MAN [to PEARL]. You rang, Miss?
FLORA. Young Farleigh; any sign of the good doctor?
YOUNG FARLEIGH. No’ yit, M’um.
PEARL. Oh yes, the note. Take this to Mr Abbott in town as quickly as possible. [a beat] Perhaps I’ll just run it in myself on my bicycle.
YOUNG FARLEIGH. Ay, Miss. [Slowly goes to exit.]
PEARL. Young Farleigh, who’s the tray for?
He looks at the tray as though noticing it for the first time. FLORA comes to his rescue:
FLORA. It’s for Victor.
PEARL. Well don’t waste your winkles, Victor’s gone off them.
YOUNG FARLEIGH [bewildered]. Winkles? I’ve no’ winkled in years, Miss.
FLORA [pointedly]. Nonsense, you were out half the nicht. [to PEARL] The Farleighs are all great winklers.
PEARL [lifting the lid]. Mmm, kippers and … boiled sweets. I’ll have the fish in my study, you can give the gobstoppers to Victor.
YOUNG FARLEIGH. Is the lad come haim, then, Miss?
PEARL. I thought you said the tray was for –
FLORA. That will be all, Young Farleigh.
PEARL. Wait. I wish to consult you about a dog.
FLORA and YOUNG FARLEIGH exchange a look.
I want you to find a puppy for my brother. A black one, about yea tall, with a flat head for patting.
YOUNG FARLEIGH. Ay, Miss.
Exit YOUNG FARLEIGH. PEARL lights a cigarette.
FLORA. Must you, Pearl? It’s so unladylike.
PEARL. Flora. [Attempting a casual tone.] Did Mother love me?
FLORA. Of course she did, sweetheart.
PEARL. She’d’ve loved Victor more.
FLORA. Your mother had love enough for a dozen bairns. But she’d scarce laid eyes on Victor’s wee squallin’ face ‘afore she … was carried off.
PEARL [critical]. Mother was always weak.
FLORA. She was a great beauty. “Régine, Régine, my Highland Queen.”
PEARL. I’ll make it up to him with the puppy. Auntie, don’t let Dr Reid leave without looking in, I’ve a question to put to him.
FLORA. Ay, pet.
PEARL [pausing at the exit]. Why have you sent for the doctor first thing in the morning? [worried] You’re no’ ill?
FLORA. Not at all. It’s Young Farleigh. [As though complicity Ay, he’s confused.
PEARL. Well, little wonder; it would appear that of late, no one gets a winkle of sleep under this roof. [Exit.]