Emma Zunz

Emma Zunz: Adapted from the short story by Jorge Luis Borges



EMMA and her friend, CLARA, walk on  with their lunchboxes. They sit down and  take out their sandwiches.


CLARA: Chicken with mustard.


EMMA: Meatloaf with catsup.


CLARA: Do you want to trade?


EMMA: No. But I’ll have some of your lemonade.

(Holds out her cup, Else pours. Enter CONSUELA and

LUISA, also with their lunchboxes. They join CLARA

and EMMA.)


LUISA: Do you think the strike will come off?


CLARA: It all depends.


EMMA: Depends on what?


CONSUELA: On Manolo, of course.


LUISA: He’s with us. I know.


EMMA: How do you know?


LUISA: From Maria who got it…


CLARA: …from the mouth of the horse.


LUISA: Loewenthal thinks it’s a bluff.


CONSUELA: Loewenthal sucks.


CLARA: Loewenthal doesn’t pay his workers enough.


CONSUELA: He keeps a gun in his desk.


CLARA: A pistol. I know.


LUISA: In the front left drawer.


EMMA: How do you know?


CONSUELA: From Maria who got it …


CLARA: … from Manolo who got it …


LUISA … from the mouth of the horse!


EMMA: I hate violence.


CLARA: It makes no sense.


LUISA: If they call in scabs….


EMMA: Let’s talk about something else.


CLARA: What’s at the movies?


CONSUELA: (looking in her paper) Sailing to Zanzibar.


LUISA: (over her shoulder) “A turbulent drama of passion and betrayal.”


EMMA: Thank you, I’ll pass.


CLARA: Who is the star?


LUISA: Zabeta Tomas.


CONSUELA: Maria looks like Zabeta Tomas.


CLARA: Manolo is sweet on Maria.


CONSUELA: She comes in late –


LUISA: She isn’t to blame.


CONSUELA: Misses a day –


LUISA: It’s all the same.


CONSUELA: I wish I looked like Maria!


EMMA: Consuela. For shame!


LUISA: Her looks are great.


CONSUELA: She’s beautiful.


LUISA: It must be heaven. That’s what heaven is.


CLARA: Heaven is sleeping late.


EMMA: In heaven there is justice.


(They look at her oddly)


TRIO: Emma does not sing.



If I could be anything else and still me

I’d be beautiful beautiful beautiful

that’s what I’d be

A gull on the wing is a heavenly thing

a beautiful girl is more heavenly still

A peacock in spring is a heavenly thing

but beautiful eyes

[beautiful hair

beautiful skin]

are more heavenly still



The looking-glass eye is a readymade lie



The looking-glass eye is a karmic charm



The looking-glass eye is marred by a stye



The cold of the glass by breath is made warm



The looking-glass eye will wink you to death



The glass is made glad by beauty’s sweet breath

The gold in the sun is a heavenly thing

the gold in a ring is more heavenly still

If I could have one –



Husbands! We will!

We just have to wait until we are older



I’d trade the looking-glass eye for the eye of the beholder.


(The factory whistle blows. They pack up their lunchboxes.)


LUISA: Until Sunday at three?


CONSUELA: We’ll meet in the park.


CLARA: But we haven’t decided what movie to see.


CONSUELA: Tomorrow we have a half day at work.


LUISA: Then we’ll decide.


CONSUELA: All right.


CLARA: All right.


CONSUELA: See you inside.


(LUISA and CONSUELA leave.)




CLARA: Emma, you’re so quiet. Aren’t you feeling all right?


EMMA: I’m fine.


CLARA: Are we going to join the gym tonight?


EMMA: Yes. I’ll meet you there at eight.


CLARA: They have strict rules of hygiene.


EMMA: What do you mean?


CLARA: There’s a physical exam.


EMMA: I know. It’s disgusting.


CLARA: But if you’re a swimmer…


EMMA: I am.


CLARA: And you want to use the pool –


EMMA: I love to swim. I used to swim every summer

in the river near our house in –


CLARA: Where?


EMMA: Never mind.


CLARA: You know Emma, with a little more care …


EMMA: Yes?


CLARA: Some lipstick, for example…


EMMA: Yes?


CLARA: Some shadow, some eyebrow pencil …..


EMMA: Yes?


CLARA: You’d outshine us all.


EMMA: (leaving) Boys don’t interest me.


CLARA: (calling after) But you’re almost eighteen.


EMMA: (almost off) I’ll grow into it I guess. …(afterthought) You know what though …


CLARA: What?


EMMA: Bring me your makeup. I’ll give it a shot.


CLARA: You mean it?


EMMA: Why not?


CLARA: Good. What do you want?


EMMA: I don’t know. Lipstick. Liner. Bring it all.


CLARA: All right….. You let something fall.


EMMA: (she turns) What?


CLARA: (picking it up) You dropped a letter … it’s from Brazil.


EMMA; (lunging for the letter) Give me that!


CLARA: (holding it back) What makes you so rude?


EMMA: I don’t know. Let’s not fight.


CLARA: You’re in a strange mood.


EMMA: Sorry. You’re right.


CLARA; (handing it back to her) I didn’t know you had friends in Brazil.


EMMA: I don’t. It’s nothing. A misaddressed bill.


(Freeze on CLARA. Flashback: EMMA opens the letter for the

first time, and reads it. VOICE over)


Dear Ms. Zunz: I am writing to inform you that Emanuel Maier, who was a boarder of mine, was found dead last Wednesday of an overdose of Veronal. He had been released from prison only recently and was not in a positive frame of mind. I found your name and address on an envelope among his few posssessions which I am forwarding to you under separate cover. Sincerely …


EMMA: (dropping the letter) Emanuel Meier…. Manuel Zunz.


Father Father

What have you done?

Where have you gone?

Why have you left your daughter alone?


(SHE picks up the letter and puts it in her pocket. Then she

opens the box and goes through its contents. Takes out a

watch. Winds it.)


Time has stopped ticking

Time has stopped ticking the way it did then

Time has stopped ticking at twenty past ten


The river’s stopped flowing

The river’s stopped flowing the way it did then

the river’s stopped flowing like ink from a pen


Who will nail down the lid to the coffin

What can make the lid of the coffin stay shut

like a shutter banging in the wind

like a gate swinging on its hinge

the lid on the coffin will not stay put


(SHE sets the watch aside; takes out a photograph):


Mem’ries go drifting

Mem’ries go drifting like clouds through the blue

Mem’ries go drifting of me and of you


Who can bring back one day of the summer

What can make me carefree the way I was then

like a leaf floating on the stream

like a wish buried in a dream

the long light of summer slips out of ken


(Further flashback #l):




Emma, where are you?

Oh, there you are.

Stand with your father

in front of the car.

A little big closer.

There. Give a big smile.

Hold it! Terrific!

Now don’t go too far.

I’ll pack up the picnic.

We still have awhile.




The long days of summer [run on and] blend into one.

The long days of summer are never done.



Go get your father! It’s time to come in.

Go get your father! The food’s getting cold.



Go get your mother! We’ll go for a spin.



Happy Birthday, Emma. You are twelve years old.



The long days of summer [run on and] blend into one

The long days of summer are very soon done.


EMMA: Look, Father: I found a four-leaf clover!


FATHER: That’s good for one wish.


EMMA: I wish – I wish summer would never end.


FATHER: That’s impossible. But it will come back again.


EMMA: Will it? Sometimes I get frightened.


FATHER: Whatever for?


EMMA: I don’t know. I love you so much, Father. Perhaps it is wrong, and I’ll be punished for it.


FATHER: Punished for loving? What nonsense.




ARIA: EMMA:  A Catalogue of Lovely Things


There’s no where I would rather be

when you are with me, Father.


There’s nothing that can bother me

when you are with me, Father.


[When you are with me, Father

the world is right and good.

When you are with me Father,

should turns into is, and is is always should.]


When you are with me, Father

The world is full of good and lovely things:


bells that ring, folk who speak,

birds that sing, boards that squeak,

water running silent in a creek


The world is full of good and lovely things:

trees that grow, light that spills

worms that glow, food that fills

thunderstorms, pampa grass, the distant hills

candlesticks [and] postage stamps

rocking chairs [and] table lamps

dragonflies [and] finger paints

bicycles [and] pillar saints


FATHER: Pillar saints?


EMMA: Yes, pillar saints.


FATHER: What do you know about pillar saints?


EMMA: They’re in the Encyclopaedia. Another good and lovely thing –


Who can count the good and lovely things:


Earth below, sky above

minds that know, hearts that love

Endless things I’ll never tire of

When you are with me, Father.


(Return to first flashback: EMMA in her room with the box

of her father’s effects. SHE puts aside the photograph.

Takes out a Bible. Opens to a marker. Reads):


Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips and from a

deceitful tongue.


(Further flashback #2):


MOTHER: There was another poisonous letter this morning.


FATHER: Tear it up.


MOTHER: Did you see the headlines?


FATHER: Embezzlement scheme exposed at Tarbuch textile mills.


MOTHER: How can I face the neighbors? The shame…..


FATHER: Emma, I have to talk to you.


EMMA: I know. Something’s wrong.


FATHER: How do you know?


EMMA: The whispering. Your face. That letter that came.

FATHER: I’ve lost my position; it won’t be long

before I lose my freedom as well.


EMMA: Why, Father? What for?


FATHER: For a crime

I did not commit.

For another man’s wrong,

I will sit in a cell.


EMMA: What crime?


FATHER: Stealing.


EMMA: What man?


FATHER: You must give me your word never to tell.

By all that is sacred, swear.


EMMA: By all that is sacred, I swear.

Who is it, father? Who is the guilty man?


FATHER: The manager: Loewenthal. Aaron Lowenthal.


EMMA: How can they say it is you?


FATHER: I’m the cashier.

I had the temptation.

What could be easier?

I was there.


EMMA: But you’re innocent.

Why don’t you tell the police?


FATHER: He is a very clever man, Emma.

He is far more clever than I.

I have no proof, and he knows it.

And he has managed the thing

so the evidence points to me.


EMMA: It’s wrong! Wrong!

If they take you away, I’ll die.


FATHER: Don’t say that. You’re strong.

You’ll manage without me. You’ll see.



The cup of sorrow is passed among us

by a hand that is unseen

And then one day it stops, it is carried to

your lips

And you must drink it down,

drink it to the last bitter drop

no matter who you are:

a humble cashier or a mighty king or queen


An unseen hand has passed me sorrow’s cup

Now I must drink the portion I am served

I must drink it down,

drink it to the last bitter drop

deserved or undeserved:

This is how things are

for each of us, great and small:

This is how things are.

Be patient, child:

Patience carries far               EMMA


Child, do not sorrow          Grief in my marrow

Wait until tomorrow            Grief in my bone

This too will pass                I am alone

This night will never pass


VOICES: Are you Manuel Zunz?




VOICES: You are under arrest.


EMMA: No. Don’t! Don’t take him yet.


VOICES: Sorry, miss.


EMMA: Father, I won’t forget.

Father, I’ll never forget.


(Further flashback #3: Hammer strokes are heard as the house

is boarded up. Mother and daughter stand looking on.)


Elegy for Lost Childhood


Enchanted skies

enchanted grass

enchanted world beneath the glass

of memory

enchanted world – gone, alas!

enchanted world – gone, alas!


Goodbye house. Goodbye Eden. Goodbye Golden Age.


(Spoken through music)


EMMA: What will become of us, Mother?


MOTHER: We must throw ourselves on God’s mercy.


EMMA: And if God should have none?


MOTHER: Then we must trust to his Justice.


(Fade out, return to First Flashback: EMMA is still

holding the Bible)


EMMA: God has no mercy. Let me be the instrument of his Justice.


[ variations on this couplet:


My body is my shield my body is my sword

I will destroy him in the name of the lord.]


(End of flashbacks. Return to factory.)


CLARA: Emma, are you coming?


EMMA: Don’t wait for me. I have to make a phonecall.


(CLARA leaves.)


3. EMMA alone.


EMMA: Hello? Mr. Loewenthal?


LOEWENTHAL: Yes, who is this?


EMMA: Emma Zunz, sir.




EMMA: Yes, sir. I’m in the dye works.


LOEWENTHAL: It’s a name I seem to recall.

What do you want?


EMMA: I want to speak to you…




EMMA: In private, sir.


LOEWENTHAL: Can’t you speak to the manager?


EMMA: No. It’s for the owner’s ears alone…

Something you need to know, only….


LOEWENTHAL: What is it about?


EMMA: I don’t want to take any risks, you understand …

If the other girls were to find out..

You see, it’s in regard to the strike .


LOEWENTHAL: Oh….. Come to my office

this evening after work.


EMMA: Tomorrow would be better, sir.

I could come in the evening, around eight.


LOEWENTHAL: All right, tomorrow then. And don’t be late.


EMMA: Yes, sir. I’ll see you then.


(SHE hangs up and repeats)


Yes sir. I’ll see you then.


(SHE takes out the letter, sings.)


Father, father,

before the earth has turned again

turned once again

around the sun

I will complete

what I’ve begun


Father, father,

before the earth has turned again

turned once again

around the sun

It shall be done

It shall be done


(SHE tears up the letter and throws it in the trash. Blackout.)


4.The next day at noon. The Factory gate. Whistle is heard. EMMA is leaving work with CLARA, LUISA, and CONSUELA.


LUISA: Tomorrow at three then.


CLARA: “Sailing to Zanzibar.”


CONSUELA: Unless Emma changes her mind….

How about it, Emma. Will you?




CONSUELA: How stubborn you are.


EMMA: I’ll take a raincheck.


LUISA & CONSUELA: All right. Let’s go.

So long, girls.


EMMA & CLARA: So long.


CLARA: Here’s my makeup kit.


EMMA: Good. You remembered.


CLARA: I still can’t get over it. I mean that you said yes.


EMMA: Sometimes, I’m too inflexible. I know.


CLARA: Like with the movie just now.


EMMA: Romance is so heavy. I prefer something light.


CLARA: You’re probably right. See you tomorrow, Emma.


EMMA: Goodbye, Clara.


4. EMMA alone.


(She goes over to a kiosk.)


A copy of La Prensa, please.


(She pays for it, opens to shipping news.)


Pier four. Pier four. The Nordstarjam.

Leaving tonight.

Leaving tonight for Norway’s fjords

and Sweeden’s frozen coast

By you I will steer

By you I will steer, my guiding polar light.


She crosses to a cafe, disappearing inside. The flat turns reveal-ing on the other side


5. A bar: Three sailors sit drinking. The jukebox is just coming to the end of a popular tango.


RED: Friggen tango. I’m sick of ’em.



I done a bad thing in Mandelay

and the devil knows, but the cops don’t care

I broke a gal’s heart and she’s crying all day

And I’m never gonna go back there


Oh, lock up m’bones in Davy Jones and throw away the key

and that’ll be the end of me

and that’ll be the end of me


I done a bad thing in Zanzibar

and the devil knows, but the cops don’t care

I trashed the whole bar, and I wrecked my pal’s car

and I’m never gonna go back there


Oh, lock up m’bones in Davy Jones and throw away the key

and that’ll be the end of me

and that’ll be the end of me


Oh, lock up m’bones in Davy Jones and throw away the key

and that’ll be the end of me

and that’ll be the end of me


BJORN: What’s your ship, friend?


RED: The Brisbane.


BJORN: Australia, right?


RED: Right, mate.


I done a bad thing in Mazatlan

and the devil knows, but the cops don’t care

I popped a few pills and cut up a man

and I’m never gonna go back there


Lock up m’bones in Davy Jones, and throw away the key

That’ll be the end of me



C’mon. Sing with me: That’ll be the end of me.


They sing together:


That’ll be the end of me

That’ll be the end of me.


BJORN: I’m on the Nordstarjam, out of Malmo. So’s m’pal here.


RED: Red’s my name.


BJORN: Bjorn. This is Sven. (mighty clap on the back: in Swedish*)

This is Red. He’s on the Brisbane. (to RED). He can’t speak the lingo.


SVEN: (in Swedish or Finnish, which ever sings better)

Ask him if he’s ever sailed to Borneo.


BJORN: You ever sailed to Borneo?


RED: Sure.


SVEN: (in Swedish) Ask him if there are cannibals in Borneo.


BJORN: Are there cannibals in Borneo?


RED: You bet your friggin’ ass.


SVEN: (in Swedish, followed by uproarious laughter:) Ask him if he

got eaten while he was there.


EMMA walks in. She is heavily made up. She goes to the jukebox and puts in a coin. The same popular tango starts up.


BJORN: Look what just walked in.


RED: Too skinny.


BJORN: (in Swedish) Red here thinks she’s too skinny.


SVEN: (in Swedish): A cunt’s a cunt.


BJORN: She looks good to me: (goes over) How about a dance, sweetheart.


(EMMA shakes her head. She doesn’t know how to dance.)


A drink then? May I buy you a drink?

(They go to the bar. She stands next to SVEN.)


What’ll it be? Whiskey? Gin?


EMMA: What are you drinking?


BJORN: Half and half.


EMMA: (staring at SVEN) I… What is your ship?


BJORN: The Nordstarjam. That’s my mate, Sven. He only speaks Swedish.



(To EMMA, in Swedish) C’mon, girlie. Let’s go.


(EMMA nods. He grabs her arm and hustles her out.)



It looks like you just got the shaft.


BJORN: (shrugs) The sea is full of fish.


Lights dim. The flat revolves to the outside again.


6. PANTOMIME In the shadows SVEN backs EMMA into a doorway and brutally yanks up her skirt. Black out.


7. Lights up. EMMA is alone. There is money in her hand. She looks at it with disgust and drops it. She walks over to a fountain and wets her handkerchief to wipe off her makeup.


The dirt still clings

the dirt still clings

to the roots of my hair

between my legs

beneath my nails

my body broken

like a bowl

who did this thing

[who did] this vile atrocious thing

forgiveness fails

nothing can make me clean

nothing can make me whole


As she leaves she doubles up:


It’s killing me

It’s killing me

there’s a purpose still

there’s a purpose still

to fulfill.




8. The Factory: LOEWENTHAL is standing at the window of his office, looking out. He looks at his watch.


LOEWENTHAL: Eight o’clock. Where is that confounded girl?


(He walks around the office nervously. Straightens a calendar on the wall.)


A year has gone since Minna died.


(Walks back to the window.)



Minna, my dear, I mourn your passing.

I mourn your passing

but even now I am not alone;

remembering you,

I remember always

I remember always

the textile mill I own.

The mill is with me, it fills me to brimming

at the hour of dusk, when I miss you most, my Minna.

How lovely you were the day we married

the day we married;

your dowery was more lovely still

remembering it,

I remember always

I remember always

you helped me to the mill.

The mill is with me, it fills me to brimming

at the hour of dusk, when I miss you most, my Minna.


(The dog starts barking in the courtyard. He calls down.)


It’s alright. He can’t get off the chain. Come right up.


(He drags a chair in front of the desk. Dusts off his cuffs.

Sits down facing the door. EMMA walks through the door.

She looks exactly as she did before the episode in the bar.)


LOEWENTHAL: Miss Zunz is it? Please sit down.


EMMA: Are you sure we’re alone, sir?


LOEWENTHAL: Yes, yes. Quite alone.


EMMA: If it got out I would die….


LOEWENTHAL: You can rely on me.


EMMA: No one would speak to me again.


LOEWENTHAL: Come come. What, is it girl?


EMMA: Well, you know…. about the strike…


LOEWENTHAL: Yes, yes, the strike.


EMMA: This isn’t easy… The foreman, Monolo….


LOEWENTHAL: Yes yes Monolo …


EMMA: Could you get me a glass of water?


LOWENTHAL: A glass of water?


EMMA: It would help calm my nerves. Please.


LOEWENTHAL: (humoring her) All right. Just a minute.


(He gets up and disappears behind a screen: The sound of running

water. She goes to his side of the desk, opens the top left drawer

and pulls out the revolver. He returns with the water glaas.

He stops dead in his tracks as she confronts him with the gun.)


LOEWENTHAL: What are you doing?


(as he advances, she shoots. He staggers and falls.

The glass falls and shatters)


LOEWANTHAL: You bitch! You bitch out of hell!


EMMA: That’s for my father. That’s for six years locked in a cell.


(He reaches out, she shoots again)


And that’s for me.


LOWENTHAL: Fry! Fry in hell, you bitch!


EMMA: The shame!


LOEWENTHAL: Zunz! Emanuel Zunz!


ENNA: The dishonor!


LOWENTHAL: Now I remember the name!


EMMA: Die! Die for it!


(She shoots a third time: he is quiet. The dogs starts barking.

She disarranges the divan, unbottons his jacket, takes out his glasses,

puts them on the filing cabinet.)


Operator? Get me the police…. Police? Yes. My name is Emma Zunz. I am a worker at the Tarbuch and Loewenthal Textile Mills. Mr. Loewenthal had me come to his office tonight on the pretext of the strike. He violated me and I killed him… yes. Please come at once.




9. Lights up. Police, reporters, etc. crowding through the door. The cameras flash. EMMA sings in triumph and outrage, pointing at the corpse:



The dirt still clings

the dirt still clings

to the roots of my hair

beneath my nails

between my legs

my body is broken

like a bowl

he did this thing

[he did] this vile atrocious thing

forgivenesss fails

nothing can make me clean

nothing can make me whole

black is his guilt

black is the guilt on his soul