Two women are in a bedroom. One is playing with her rubber gloves, alternately fanning her arms and folding them again. This greatly irritates the other woman, who finally yells, in an exaggerated fashion, “Those gloves! Those eternal gloves!” She continues yelling at her maid, insulting her, accusing her of trying to seduce the milkman. She tells her maid to take the gloves and leave them in the kitchen, which the maid does.
The younger woman—Madame—sits at the dressing table, calling for the maid—Claire—to lay out her clothes and jewels. Madame again taunts Claire about the milkman. When Claire spits on the shoes to polish them, Madame expresses her disapproval and remarks that Claire hates her, that Claire is smothering her with attention and flowers.
Madame then drops her overexaggerated tragic tone and briefly speaks to Claire as an equal about the milkman, who despises them. Just as quickly, she recovers her tone, demanding her white dress. Claire refuses and explains why. In her explanation, she mentions Monsieur, who is Madame’s lover, and widowhood. This brings up the fact that Madame has denounced Monsieur in a letter to the police, although he is only imprisoned, not dead. She declares her devotion to him, swearing that she will follow him even to Devil’s Island, and therefore she should wear white, to mourn like a queen.
As Claire helps Madame into her dress, Madame complains that Claire smells like the servants’ quarters. Madame says that it is more difficult to be a mistress, because she has to be both a mistress and a servant, containing all the hatred of a servant and her own beauty.
Claire, inspired by Madame’s confession, begins raving and tells Madame how much she hates her. During her tirade, she spits on Madame’s dress and accuses her of wanting to steal the milkman. Madame loses control, and Claire slaps her face to prove they are on the same level. Her talk becomes more and more ominous, as she speaks of rebellion and hatred that emanates from the maids’ quarters, from the kitchen.
Suddenly, an alarm clock rings, and the two women grasp each other. The woman who is impersonating Madame starts removing her dress. She complains that the woman who is impersonating Claire does not finish. The real Claire puts on her maid’s outfit. The two begin straightening up the room and waiting for the real Madame to return. That night is special, since Claire actually has written the letter leading to Monsieur’s arrest.
Solange, Claire’s older sister, begins taunting Claire about her dressing up at night and pretending to be a queen. Claire counters that Solange is scared of having put Monsieur in jail. Solange declares that no one loves them, but Claire disagrees. She says Madame loves them. Solange says Madame loves them “like her bidet,” and that they, the maids, can love no one because filth cannot love filth. She calls her spit her spray of diamonds.
Claire wants to talk of Madame’s kindness. Solange points out how easy it is to be kind if you are beautiful and rich. Otherwise, you have to act like Claire, dressing up in Madame’s clothes and parading around the bedroom. Claire points out that it is Solange who is so taken with the idea of following her lover to Devil’s Island when it is her turn to play Madame. Claire tells Solange that she will not disturb her fantasy; she hates her for other reasons. Claire tells Solange that she knows her sister tried to kill Madame, but symbolically it is Claire she is trying to kill. Solange admits to the attempt, but claims she did it to free Claire from Madame’s bittersweet kindness, even though she knows Claire will denounce her. When Solange sees the figure of Madame, however, she is unable to carry through with her plot. She compares her own dignity to Madame’s, and remarks how Madame is transfigured by grief.
The phone rings; it is Monsieur calling...
(The entire section contains 1166 words.)
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