The following is an excerpt from Linda Rosenkrantz’s Talk, a novel made out of recorded conversation from three friends in the summer of 1965.
Emily: I’m putting a little gorgonzola into the salad dressing to brighten it up. Is there any sour cream or anything like that?
Marsha: Nothing of that nature.
Emily: The salad has to marinate.
Marsha: It’s marinating in water at this moment.
Emily: Could you limp it out of the water, helper that you are? Marinating in water, pretty funny.That’s one of your real cul-de-sac remarks. Hey, I haven’t told you about the big breakthrough I had last week. I had a very big breakthrough.
Marsha: What was the breakthrough?
Emily: I did a scene in class, that’s what it was really all about. I had to do a monologue and I picked the end of La Notte, where she reads the letter. And it was fantastic, it was the best work I’ve ever done for myself. I was able to beat a problem that I’ve never been able to beat before. I won’t go into the whole complicated nature of it, but it had to do with like when you’re all alone and you have certain kinds of private thoughts, maybe you read a love letter and you cry, in a way you could never cry if anyone was with you. Well I was able to do that on the stage, with all those people watching me, absolutely purely, with no concern for the audience. It was an incredible thing—I think very few actors ever do it. You see, as I read the letter, I personalized it as if it was from Philippe, I recreated our little apartment in Paris. The scene starts and as I read this letter, the tears begin to fall down my face, it was the most intimate private thing. Acting-wise it was a very big break- through and everybody loved it. They had tears in their eyes too. I was marvelous, not marvelous the way I might be at a party, but pure, private and pure, simple and moving. And what I did was right scene-wise, it was right for the interpretation of the character and everything else. So anyway, the next night I went to a party where Michael Christy was, and I was completely calm. And then I realized what it was all about. It wasn’t that I had suddenly gotten healthier, it was that in the acting I was able to put my feelings where they belonged. Those feelings, those hysterical feelings for Michael Christy, they’re not really frantic, hysterical feelings. They’re damaged, abused love feelings about Philippe, and I brought them to my acting, I was able to feel them at the right place about the right things, about Philippe, so they weren’t repressed, neurotic, to be pushed into other channels and played out with Michael Christy. It was the first time I was able to do it on the stage and it had a real effect on my life. It’s not as moving to translate it verbally.
Marsha: Yes it is.
Emily: So how do you like my big breakthrough story?
Marsha: I like it. And I love this salad dressing.
Emily: You and your love, love this and love that.
Marsha: Hello this, hello that. Can I take this wing?
Emily: Yes, it’s for you. I was going to give you both of them but then I got interested in one myself. I’m getting interested in myself myself lately. You promised to discuss that with me. When you masturbate, how do you do it?
Marsha: Some dinner talk. All right, I lie on my stomach, I have to be wearing some clothing.
Emily: You do? Why?
Marsha: I don’t know, I can’t stand my naked flesh.
Emily: That’s so sweet. You have to have a nightie on or something?
Marsha: Anything. If worse comes to worse, I use the sheet.
Emily: And what do you do? You rub your clitoris until you have an orgasm? How many times can you do it in a day?
Emily: I can do it up to ten times.
Marsha: I can’t even do it once anymore. It bores me, I cut off. Except sometimes when I’m reading something sexy in a book, I have to make a dash for the bed.
Emily: That happens to me constantly.
Marsha: It does? Do you have to have some inspiration?
Emily: Like what?
Marsha: Literature or something.
Emily: Never. I don’t even use fantasies, I don’t need a thing.
Marsha: I used to look at Zeke’s picture. How do you do it?
Emily: I do it any way at all.
Marsha: Yeah, even on the toilet.
Emily: I masturbate on the toilet, when I’m wiping myself I get all hot and I masturbate. Everybody does, more or less. I masturbated at Philippe’s parents’ once. I went to a dinner party at their house and I got horny for no reason at all, went to the bathroom and jerked off one two three. Standing up.
Marsha: Girls don’t jerk off.
Emily: I did.
Marsha: You know what was the sickest thing I ever did? I must have told you.
Marsha: On Eliot Simon’s bathroom rug. There were some other people there, we were sitting and talking, and suddenly I got a fantastic, powerful wave.
Emily: To masturbate.
Marsha: To anything. I went into the bathroom and—I never did this before or after—it was a small bathroom with this red shag rug on the floor, and I lay down on it and masturbated. And the horrible thing was that when I got up, I was full of that red shag. It was very embarrassing. I couldn’t pick it off, it would have taken an hour. And I kept thinking how will they think she got the rug on her?
Emily: Fell down.
Marsha: Fell down! And then rolled all over?
Emily: You fell down and you liked it there. Let me think. On the train to Paris when Kennedy died, I masturbated. I masturbate sitting in a chair talking on the telephone, I masturbate in bed, on my side, on my back, on my front, any way at all.
Marsha: On the telephone? What do you say? Excuse me please while I come?
Emily: I don’t say a word.
Marsha: You keep the conversation going while you’re having an orgasm? Must be some wracking experience!
Emily: No, I keep the conversation going while I’m masturbating, then I shut up while I’m having the orgasm.
Marsha: I don’t believe you. How often have you done it?
Emily: Maybe twice.
Marsha: With who?
Emily: I don’t remember.
Marsha: If you’ve ever done it talking to me, I’m hanging up.
Emily: Never did.
Marsha: You have an orgasm every time you masturbate?
Emily: I wouldn’t masturbate without having an orgasm. But how long does the whole thing last anyway?
Marsha: Well I’m sorry, I have to concentrate. I can’t even have the radio on.
Emily: I’d say it lasts about three seconds, that’s all.
Marsha: I have to have the utmost concentration. You leave the radio on and everything? I can’t stand the rhythms of the music.
Emily: Marsha, do you think there’s anything sick about our friendship?
Marsha: It’s unusual.
Emily: It is unusual, it’s unique. I’ll tell you what my sister said; she said if you meet a man and have a relationship with him, do you think you’re going to share it with Marsha and Sick Joan? I said the nature of my life is to share a lot, I share almost everything.
Marsha: Yeah, but you won’t share as much then as you do now about someone you’re not having a real relationship with.
Emily: What do you mean?
Marsha: I mean that you can share more about a Michael Christy this way than if you were living with him. Your loyalties would switch.
Emily: Not the loyalties, the needs.
Marsha: The loyalties too. You should have a deeper loyalty to the man. You can’t go running around telling everything, that he’s impotent or this or that.
Emily: You’re right, I can’t. I remember you never talked about how Zeke was in bed.
Marsha: That was something else, I wasn’t as close to you then, darling. I was willing to tell anyone who would listen.
Emily: No, when we were close, when we got close again, you didn’t want to talk about it.
Marsha: When I was seeing Zeke, you were very sick.
Emily: How sick was I?
Marsha: I couldn’t talk to you, man.
Emily: Could you talk to me woman?
Marsha: Woman to woman, one to one.
Emily: You couldn’t talk to me? But you were calling me and making sure I was okay when you were with Zeke and making spaghetti sauce. His children were there, you were spreading the tablecloths for them.
Marsha: So I called you, so what? You never knew the depths of what was happening to me… . What’s on this? Just butter? Great. Do you like cabbage?
Emily: Adore it. I didn’t even know you liked it.
Marsha: It’s underplayed.
Emily: Definitely. And fantastically healthy, that’s what I like about it.
Marsha: It is?
Emily: Oh God, it’s the healthiest thing in the world. You know it’s interesting, I can’t get over the relationship of three human beings, you, Vinnie and me. The only three people I know who I really think might possibly be able to do something together. What can you do in three? Take a trip or something like that?
Marsha: I don’t know if we could.
Emily: I don’t either. We’re all so difficult.
Marsha: I’m much more comfortable alone with either one of you. I don’t really like it in three.
Emily: Really? I love being with you and Vinnie. But then you’re always more comfortable in twos.
Marsha: I really am. Are you finished with the eating?
Emily: No, I have to have a little more cabbage. You know I just realized something about Vinnie. With certain exceptions, Vinnie surrounds himself with inferior people.
Marsha: The exceptions being me, Nico and you?
Emily: Yeah, he has very ineffectual friends that he completely dominates.
Marsha: I would say that there are three major relationships in Vinnie’s life. Do you know who they are?
Emily: His analyst aside, right?
Emily: You and Nico. I’m putting myself aside also, because I’m too recent.
Marsha: Yeah, now what’s the third key relationship? Do you know?
Emily: Would I know? Should I know?
Emily: It’s not an ex-lover?
Marsha: It is.
Emily: Then it’s Clem?
Marsha: Right, Clem is still one of his key relationships. He has so much love-hate left for Clem, Clem calls him on the phone and no matter what happens, he’s shaken up for three days—by Clem’s successes, Clem’s failures, every action of Clem’s is fantastically important to him. He might even be more important than Nico or me in the effect on his life. You know Clem thinks of himself as one of the great sado-masochists of our time.
Emily: You mean as a Genet?
Marsha: Yeah, he has a real Genet image of himself. He’s got in a way a very criminal mentality, he’s very death oriented. He picks up these rough truck-driver types and they have ménages à any number you can mention.
Emily: He seems very vain.
Marsha: Very vain, very bright, and he’s funny, he’s talented.
Emily: Is he good?
Marsha: You mean is he a good person? I don’t know. He’s vulnerable.
Emily: Vinnie’s very vulnerable too.
Marsha: I don’t want to get into Vinnie for the moment.
Emily: But does he want to get into you? The one thing I don’t understand is his relationship with Nico. You don’t either, do you?
Emily: I just don’t get it, Marsha, so help me God. Listen, have you seen anyone out here so far who’s available?
Marsha: No one.
Emily: If I find out about an interesting-sounding party tonight, are you interested in going?
Marsha: What about Vinnie? Did he say he was coming over?
Emily: No, I think he wants to be alone with his Nico before the weekend guests arrive. Look, Marshie, we’re two beautiful women and we have to start making inroads.