HILLARY CLINTON: the Democratic nominee in the 2016 US Presidential Election
BILL CLINTON: her husband, the 42nd US President (1993-2001)
CHELSEA CLINTON: their daughter, recently a mother for the 2nd time
ROBERT REICH: US Secretary of Labor, 1993-1997, a family friend
The scene is a large student room in Helen’s Court (left), deep within University College, Oxford. While still recognisably studenty in certain ways, it is clear that extras have been added for VIP visitors. There is a TV and DVD player, with a modest collection of well-known films to hand, including Groundhog Day. There is stereo equipment and a collection of CDs of ’60s and ’70s music, including the Rolling Stones. There are newspapers and board games, including Monopoly. There are bottles of wine and glasses, various other drinks, a fridge with beer in it, etc. There are books on shelves, a sofa and two other comfy chairs, a small table, etc. There is a single outside door, through which characters come and go.
It is around 11.45 p.m. on Thursday, 29th December 2016. Whenever the door opens, we hear the cold, wintry wind blowing.
Before the action, we hear the Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, especially these lines:
‘I stuck around St Petersburg when I saw it was a time for a change.
Killed the Tsar and his ministers; Anastasia screamed in vain.’
Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton and Robert Reich enter through the outside door, shedding a variety of winter clothes and putting them on pegs. Chelsea has a tiny carry-cot which she parks on a side-table. While talking, the two men pour themselves a beer from bottles they find in the fridge. Chelsea explores the room while Hillary flops down into an armchair.
CHELSEA: (as she deposits the carry-cot) Aidan is sleeping beautifully but I bet he’ll have me up in the night.
BILL: Do babies suffer from jet lag?
CHELSEA: We’ll find out the hard way. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Oxford so deserted.
ROBERT: No wonder the college is officially shut between Christmas and the New Year. We should have a quiet night. This was a terrific set of rooms you had, Bill.
CHELSEA: Weren’t all the Rhodes Scholars in Helen’s Court, Robert?
ROBERT: Not me. I had the pokiest room imaginable, right on the High Street, just along from the Shelley Memorial. I was so envious of the folk in Helen’s Court, tucked away here, far from prying eyes.
BILL: Yes, that first year at Univ was quite something.
CHELSEA: The happiest days of your life, eh, Dad?
ROBERT: I remember coming to see you one day, round the back of the library, through the tunnel. Like travelling into another world. Mind you, I could already hear the Rolling Stones belting out. I’m amazed you didn’t get sent down just for that.
BILL: Sent down? (laughs uneasily) Certainly ideal for us now, security-wise, with a couple of men on the gate and another one on the tunnel. (to Hillary) You can sleep safe in your bed, honey.
ROBERT: It’s perfect. You said you wanted to get away from all the razzmatazz, the hoopla, the press scrutinising your every move, Hill. Well, our plane seems to have lost them, good and proper. No one knows we’re here.
HILLARY: (coldly) Well, that’s nice.
BILL: Are you all right, love? You hardly touched your food…
HILLARY: I’m still on New York time. It feels like the middle of the afternoon, not dinner time.
CHELSEA: We can eat when we like, sleep when we like while we’re here. Just say no to jet-lag, Mum.
HILLARY: It’s all right for you. I’m 69.
ROBERT: Well, you’ve made a big mistake getting that new job, then. You may find there’s quite a bit of travel involved over the next four years. You’ll be sending us postcards from Moscow, Damascus, Kabul, Beijing…
HILLARY: Yes, lucky you gave me a new fountain pen for Christmas, Robert. If only I could take the bottles of ink on all those planes!
BILL: You’ll love it, Hill. And I’ll be right behind you every step of the way, making helpful comments. Like the Duke of Edinburgh.
HILLARY: No, you won’t. When I’m President, I’ll have all past and future leaders and rivals locked away, just to be on the safe side. For you, as an act of clemency, it will be house arrest in Little Rock.
ROBERT: I see no reason for clemency.
HILLARY: And don’t you think you are safe, Professor Reich, just because you’ve been hiding out in Berkeley for the last nineteen years. History books tell me you were Secretary of Labor from 1993-1997. How do you plead?
ROBERT: Guilty as charged. But I’m not planning my own presidential bid until 2044 when I’m 98, so you are safe from me.
HILLARY: I need you now, Robert. Someone on the left who really understands the economic choices we will have to make. You don’t have to sign on the dotted line. Just half an hour on the phone once a week.
ROBERT: At my hourly rate? It would bankrupt the economy. But my latest book on saving capitalism is only 20 dollars, now that it’s been remaindered.
BILL: That’s capitalism for you.
CHELSEA: Look we had a deal, folks. No politics. We’ve come to Oxford to get away from all that. Just for two days. Let’s play a game of something, like normal folk.
BILL: No, you’d insist on being the Bank and giving away all the reserves of cash to anyone who said pretty please. I should know…
ROBERT: I think you’ll find those history books say that the first Clinton administration set the benchmark not just for social welfare but also for economic growth. It was only in the second Clinton administration…
BILL: When you’d thrown all your toys out of the pram…
ROBERT: … that things started to go downhill. Still, in the third Clinton administration …
HILLARY: The first Rodham administration, you mean? That will be my first decree after Jan 20th.
CHELSEA: You wouldn’t ditch the name of the family firm, would you, Mum?
HILLARY: Sorry, Chelse, but you were the only one of us who was actually born a Clinton. I wouldn’t have minded taking the name Blythe. But Roger Clinton was a step-father straight out of the Grimm fairy tales. Who would want to be named after him?
BILL: You really feel like that?
HILLARY: (getting up) No, I’m just a bit under the weather. I might get some fresh air.
CHELSEA: But you just had some fresh air. It’s dark. And it’s the middle of winter.
HILLARY: You’ve talked me into it. (putting on her coat again) The middle of winter is exactly what I need.
BILL: (reaching for his coat) Yes, a spot of exercise wouldn’t…
HILLARY: On my own. I may be gone for some time.
BILL: (as Hillary exits) Hill! Honey-pie!
CHELSEA: Do you think she’s all right, Dad? She was in a funny mood even before we landed at Kidlington. It’s not like Mum to go off for a walk on her own at this time of night.
BILL: (busy texting) She’ll be fine. Dwayne will keep an eye on her. I don’t think there’s any ISIL or Trump supporters waiting to ambush her outside the Radcliffe Camera. Is-is, maybe …
ROBERT: The river Isis, you mean? I gather it’s burst its banks in West Oxford. But we’re on slightly higher ground here, I believe. The ox ford. How did these rooms suit you, Chelsea?
CHELSEA: Just fine. I could lock myself away and stick my head in a book. The porters did a good job of keeping the paparazzi out.
ROBERT: Surely they left you in peace here?
CHELSEA: I wish! Serves me right for having a notorious father. It’ll be even worse now. I should sue both my parents for violation of my privacy. I’ll need the pay-out for when my own children sue me.
BILL: Do you think you’d’ve grown up a well-rounded human being with a different upbringing?
CHELSEA: I suppose not. Not with my genes. Say, would you settle out of court, Dad?
BILL: I’ll talk it over with your mother, honey. She’s the one to go to for legal advice. Just as soon as she comes back from her walkabout, that is.
CHELSEA: Being the daughter of the President is not going to make it easy for me at the Foundation. Maybe I should just stay home and look after Aidan and Charlotte. God, I’m missing Charlie already. And Marc, of course. Still, without the Foundation work, I guess I’d have a bit of time spare for my first love. History.
ROBERT: History? You got that from your mother. Look at the titles of her books – her autobiography, Living History, and the one she did about the White House, At Home with History. You’ve got history in your genes.
CHELSEA: And it’s what I did at Stanford. I loved it. This place has quite an interesting history, you know.
BILL: Not surprising – it’s the oldest college in Oxford.
CHELSEA: I mean in terms of rogues and vagabonds.
ROBERT: I hope you’re not including me in that list, Chelsea.
CHELSEA: Of course not. As Secretary of Labor, you robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. Dad, on the other hand…
BILL: I gave him the job and the keys to the Treasury. How was I to know he’d take advantage of the trust I placed in him and actually do a good job?
ROBERT: Did I? I’m not sure you mentioned that at the time. I was just following the example of other great Univ left-wingers like Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson.
BILL: But England’s different. Politics has a left wing here. There’s no such thing in America. You’re either right or far-right. You were lucky not to get lynched.
CHELSEA: So how come Mum got elected?
BILL: Yes, it is a bit of a mystery, isn’t it? Congress will have to get a strait-jacket made to measure for the female form.
ROBERT: She’s gonna do great things, Bill. So, what can you tell us about the history of University College, Chelsea?
CHELSEA: Well, there’s Shelley, of course. Have you read any of his stuff? ‘Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! Bird thou never wert, That from Heaven, or near it, Pourest thy full heart.’
ROBERT: Ode to a Nightingale?
CHELSEA: That’s Keats. The blithe spirit is a skylark.
ROBERT: Do you think Shelley’s blithe spirit haunts the college?
CHELSEA: Blithe? Not after the college sent him down for his pamphlet on atheism. He was not a happy bunny.
ROBERT: And Blythe was the name you were christened with, eh, Bill? William Jefferson Blythe the third. A happy coincidence?
CHELSEA: There’s more. Shelley’s best friend at college was Thomas Jefferson Hogg. Jefferson, as Shelley called him. Are you beginning to detect a bit of a theme here? Hogg too was sent down. Spent the rest of his life propositioning Shelley’s wives and girlfriends.
BILL: Shelley can’t have been too happy about that!
CHELSEA: On the contrary. He encouraged it. It was the women who wouldn’t play ball.
BILL: Was Shelley related to the Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein?
CHELSEA: That was his second wife. They got married on December 30th 1816.
ROBERT: Seriously? Two hundred years ago tomorrow? Cool! We should find some blithe spirit and drink a toast to Univ’s most notorious old boy. This English beer sucks.
BILL: There’s quite a selection of alcoholic beverages left for our delectation. What do you fancy, Chelse?
CHELSEA: (inspecting the bottles) What about this Madeira?
BILL: Why not? (opens it with a corkscrew, finds glasses, pours and distributes drinks)
CHELSEA: This was pretty much the only wine you could drink in Shelley’s time, thanks to the Napoleonic wars and various trade embargoes.
ROBERT: (spluttering) It’s a bit sweet for my tastes.
CHELSEA: That’ll be the delicate tang of the bodies of the slaves used to transport the stuff over to England. That’s what cask-conditioned meant in those days.
BILL: Mmm, that’s rather good! We’ll be blithe in no time.
ROBERT Blotto, more likely.
CHELSEA: And, of course, Madeira was used to kill Rasputin …
ROBERT: So it was! Prince Felix Yusupov, Univ’s other notorious old boy!
CHELSEA: That’s the one. Univ is so proud of the murderous plutocrat that they’ve named an IT room after him. And, by happy coincidence, felix means blithe.
BILL: I see where this is heading. By being christened William Jefferson Blythe the third, I was destined to combine the names of the atheists and murderers who had darkened these doors in days gone by. The third in the Univ line. I’m deeply honoured.
CHELSEA: And you are drawn back here on the anniversary not just of Shelley’s wedding but also the night Yusupov and his gang murdered Rasputin.
ROBERT: You’re joking!
CHELSEA: The night of 29th-30th December 1916.
ROBERT: That’s bizarre. Yusupov committed his dastardly deed a hundred years to the very day after just about the most famous wedding in English literary history? Surely there should be some sort of commemoration here in college?
BILL: I don’t think there’s anything on.
CHELSEA: I doubt if the college has even spotted the connection. (Picking up a newspaper from the table.) But it does figure in this crossword in today’s Daily Telegraph. At least someone has noticed.
ROBERT: They say history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy the second time as farce.
CHELSEA: Karl Marx wasn’t too far wrong about that. Rasputin’s assassination was pretty farcical, for sure, the way they chased him round the snowy grounds of the Moika Palace.
BILL: Has anyone checked this Madeira isn’t laced with arsenic? If the second time is farce, what would the third time be? And I’m beginning to get seriously worried about Hillary. Perhaps I’ll head out and find her before she catches pneumonia again, like she did in September. It wouldn’t do to be spluttering her way through the inauguration ceremony in three weeks’ time … (starts putting his coat back on)
ROBERT: Does Hillary’s term of office start on the first day of Hilary Term? Just a thought. And the name Hillary means cheerful or merry, from the Greek hilaros. Hillary Blythe would have been a tautology. Roger Clinton saved us from that, at least.
CHELSEA: Fingers crossed Mum will do better than Shelley and Hogg who didn’t make it through to the end of their first Hilary Term. The Tea Party certainly view her as a dangerous atheist. When asked whether they’d written the pamphlet, Shelley and Hogg effectively pleaded the fifth amendment of 1791, that an accused person may not be compelled to reveal any information that might incriminate them. It didn’t cut much ice in the kangaroo court here in Univ. But America is a more civilised country, of course.
BILL: It didn’t do me much good when I was impeached.
ROBERT: But you won! Otherwise you might have been in Guantanamo Bay ever since!
BILL: Well, there’s a thought. Don’t ever take up politics, Chelsea.
CHELSEA: You’ve been telling me that all my life. Too bad you didn’t tell Mum the same thing.
BILL: I did, believe me! But you know what she’s like.
CHELSEA: Indeed I do. If she’d been born a man, she’d have been President at least thirty years ago. As a woman, it’s taken a little longer to batter down the walls.
ROBERT: Yes, she was always the one with the brains and the balls, if you’ll pardon my French. Even when I first met her, back in ’66, that much was obvious. She should have been the one winning the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, not us.
BILL: You speak for yourself. I was worth a place on chutzpah alone, telling the Rhodes Committee that I wanted to prepare for life as a practising politician. (The others snort with derision) But the Rhodes was open only to men until 1977 so Hillary was at a slight disadvantage in that respect. Do you think it opened doors for us?
ROBERT: Of course it did. These days the Rhodies risk being thrown on a bonfire. But back then, we felt like ambassadors. Coming to Oxford was the most important moment in my education. Even though I nearly died on the boat crossing.
BILL: Yes, yes, until I brought you some life-saving soup. And you’ve been dining out on that soup ever since.
ROBERT: And so have you! My big mistake at Univ was to spend too much time studying. That was not an error you were likely to make while there were drugs to be snorted and women to be chased.
BILL: It was hard work! The ratio of men to women in Oxford was ridiculous in those days! Just five women’s colleges!
ROBERT: I’m sure you worked your way steadily and alphabetically through all of them.
BILL: Hang on, didn’t you meet Clare here? Didn’t you decide to direct a play simply on the off-chance that she would come along and audition and you could give her the part?
ROBERT: A musical, actually – the Fantasticks. With no women at Univ, what was a poor boy to do? (sighs) Clare was just seventeen.
CHELSEA: Cradle-snatching! How old was Mum when you took her out?
ROBERT: Shush, Chelsea, I’m not sure your father knows about that one (the men laugh). Let’s see … I guess we were about 19, 20 in 1966.
BILL: And he took her to see a film called Blow-Up.
ROBERT: Ah, yes, that was a bit of a mistake. At least, for a first date.
BILL: Antonioni, an art-house classic. Just slightly too much nudity?
ROBERT: Possibly. For 1966. I think she’s almost forgiven me now. Still, just as well I failed dismally, eh? Or the entire course of Western history might have been different.
BILL: On the contrary. If she’d been your girlfriend visiting you in Oxford, I would have considered it my duty to steal her off you, so we’d have got together a lot earlier.
ROBERT: Did the fact that she was my ex have any bearing at all on your eventual stalking of her? Just asking.
BILL: Ha. Don’t flatter yourself, Professor Reich. I stalked her despite the fact she’d had such poor taste in men hitherto. I pursued her because she was the cleverest girl I’d ever met.
ROBERT: And because she kept saying no.
BILL: Yes, OK, I admit it. It was the thrill of the chase. Hillary was the most unobtainable woman at Yale Law School. Even now I’m still not quite sure I’ve managed to pin her down.
CHELSEA: I think you’ve managed to pin her down all right, Dad.
ROBERT: What about you, Chelse? Were any of the callow youths of Univ after you with their butterfly nets?
CHELSEA: (laughing) Seriously! They couldn’t get near me. If the minders didn’t put them off, the bullet-proof vest was a deal-breaker. I showed up here a few days after 9/11. I might as well have had a bull’s-eye tattooed to my forehead.
ROBERT: You felt you were being targeted?
CHELSEA: No, but everybody else did. There were a lot of people saying I should be cowering in some sort of post-apocalyptic bunker, waiting for the crisis to pass, instead of walking the streets of Oxford.
BILL: She’d have been in that bunker if I’d had my way. My precious daughter. Who knew what those bastards would do next? If they could target the Twin Towers and actually bring them down …
ROBERT: An astonishing feat, when you think about it …
BILL: … then it wouldn’t have been too difficult to sneak into college and … God, it doesn’t bear thinking about, even now.
CHELSEA: Are we any safer now? I don’t think so. But you can’t live your whole life worrying about who’s out there.
BILL: That’s the spirit! I remember Robert and I came to Univ a couple of months after the shooting of Bobby Kennedy. Didn’t we, Bobby?
ROBERT: I stopped being Bobby in June ’68. Robert seemed safer and more grown-up.
BILL: I was just beginning to think about a career in politics. But it was a time when it seemed like the end-game for any democrat was assassination. JFK, Bobby, George Wallace in Maryland …
ROBERT: Yes, the guy who shot Wallace, Arthur Bremer, is walking the streets today. A cheery thought.
BILL: And yet here we still are. I guess we’ve been lucky. Or maybe no one takes politicians seriously any more.
ROBERT: I blame it on that chap from Arkansas. What a comedian he was. How did he get in? I guess the Democrats had no one left who hadn’t been shot.
BILL: Teddy Kennedy would have been the heir apparent if he hadn’t driven his secretary off a bridge.
ROBERT: That was halfway through our time at Univ.
BILL: A few days after the Stones played Hyde Park.
ROBERT: (with heavy irony) I can’t believe I missed that. Did they get all three chords right?
BILL: It was a cultural landmark. Half a million people turned up.
ROBERT: That’s because it was free.
CHELSEA: No, Dad’s right. It must have been quite an afternoon. Mick Jagger flouncing on and reading a whole page of Adonais.
CHELSEA: The Shelley poem.
ROBERT: A whole page of Shelley? The punters must have loved that. Even here in Univ, his old college, Shelley was considered unreadable.
CHELSEA: It was Jagger’s way of paying tribute to Brian Jones, the Stones guitarist, who had just drowned. Right, Dad?
ROBERT: So the guitarist was dead? Maybe three chords would have been a bit over-optimistic in the circumstances.
BILL: You can mock. I’ve always had a bit of a phobia of drowning. Ever since my own Dad … you know …
ROBERT: Sure. Sorry, Bill. It just sounds like there was a bit of an epidemic of drowning in the summer of ’69.
CHELSEA: I wonder if Mick Jagger realised quite how ironic that whole Shelley thing was?
ROBERT: What do you mean?
CHELSEA: Well, there he was reciting Shelley a few yards from the very spot where Shelley’s first wife was fished out of the Serpentine.
CHELSEA: Harriet Westbrook. Met her in his Univ days, eloped, had a couple of children, ran off with someone younger and prettier. So she drowned herself there, in Hyde Park. And that’s not the only Univ connection.
BILL: I never realised you were so well up in college history!
CHELSEA: When the Stones played Hyde Park, Mick Jagger was just in the process of trading in Marianne Faithfull for his new girlfriend, Marsha Hunt. Both women were just a few yards from the stage. You’d have been four million rows back, Dad, but they were VIP guests. But who would Mick go home with that night?
ROBERT: Bianca? Jerry? L’Wren?
CHELSEA: Marsha Hunt. Who was married to another musician, Mike Ratledge of Soft Machine.
ROBERT: The Softs? No! Even I listened to some of their stuff. Jazz-rock. The other end of the musical spectrum from the Stones.
CHELSEA: … and Ratledge had not long graduated from Univ where he’d read PPP. Just as Jagger himself might have done if he’d been brighter and aimed a little higher than the LSE. Two Kent grammar school boys. Anyway, Jagger made off with Ratledge’s wife …
BILL: And Marianne Faithfull didn’t take the news too well, did she?
CHELSEA: She and Mick flew off to Australia the next day because he was filming Ned Kelly. Marianne took an overdose. Nearly died. And he was still sending love letters airmail to Mrs Ratledge.
ROBERT: Charming. The Shelley of his day, obviously. Except he never quite got round to drowning himself. No, the only time I saw the Stones play was at your 60th birthday do at the Beacon Theater.
BILL: They were hot, weren’t they?
ROBERT: No, they were not. How much did they pay you to let them perform? Four old men shuffling across the stage with their zimmer frames while a bunch of session musicians created this wall of noise.
BILL: (sighing) It was a shame Ahmet Ertegun didn’t have a zimmer frame.
ROBERT: Does tragedy follow the Stones everywhere they go? Altamont – wasn’t that them?
CHELSEA: The day the music died. Or was that when Jagger went back to Australia and L’Wren Scott killed herself?
BILL: Give him a break, will you? Mick is a lovely man and a close personal friend.
ROBERT: Dial him up. Tell him to bring his guitar over. If he can play one, that is. The night is yet young.
The college bell sounds twelve times.
BILL: (looking at his watch) Midnight! Mick’ll have been tucked up in bed with his Horlicks and his bedsocks hours ago. Look, I’m beginning to get a little worried here …
CHELSEA: Me too. What on earth is Mum doing?
BILL: All this talk has got me very nervous. What if she’s slipped on some ice and fallen in the Isis? I wish she carried a phone …
ROBERT: Give Dwayne a call. Make sure he’s still got her in view.
BILL: (pressing a couple of keys on his smartphone) Good idea … Dwayne? … Dwayne, what’s she up to? … you lost her? … how could you lose her? … Jeez … the cunning so-and-so … (very angry) well, find her again … I’m not interested, Dwayne. Find her and bring her back here. NOW! (he prods the phone and ends the call)
CHELSEA: (close to panic) What’s happened, Dad?
BILL: Nothing’s happened. She’s just given Dwayne the slip, that’s all. She’s a grown woman, although sometimes I have my doubts. She can look after herself.
CHELSEA: But it’s gone midnight and she doesn’t know Oxford like we do. What if she’s got lost, or …
BILL: Or what?
CHELSEA: I don’t know, do I? I’ll go and find her …
BILL: No, you won’t. It’s my job. You have a baby to look after. (puts on coat and begins to exit while making another call) Porter’s Lodge? … Yes, Bill Clinton here. Fine thank, you. … Mrs Clinton hasn’t been by, has she? …. Let us know if … (voice trails away)
Robert pours himself another drink and relaxes while Chelsea checks the baby and paces up and down.
CHELSEA: Amazing how she sleeps through anything. So how well did you know Dad while you were here at Univ?
ROBERT: Well enough.
CHELSEA: But you didn’t really hang out together, did you?
ROBERT: I realised pretty quickly that I couldn’t keep up with him.
CHELSEA: I’m guessing you don’t mean intellectually.
ROBERT: The dope-smoking. The sleeping around. The loud rock music. It wasn’t really my “scene” as we would have said. I just wasn’t a groovy kind of guy. Bill grew up listening to Alan Freed and I grew up reading Milton Friedman. He had a lot more fun.
CHELSEA: Not once he got his call-up papers at the end of Hilary Term. That must have been a frightening time. Surely you were in the same boat?
ROBERT: To Vietnam? I knew what my role would be, a skinny little kid like me – tunnel rat. I’d’ve been down there under the jungle, trying to sniff out the Viet Cong. Except they’d have sniffed me out first. GI tunnel rats had the life expectancy of … well, of a tunnel rat. Luckily, I failed the medical. But nearly all of us dodged the bullet, one way or another.
CHELSEA: The Rhodes Scholars, you mean?
ROBERT: Yeah, the black kids from Harlem couldn’t pull the same strings as Rhodies like me and Bill. That’s just the way it was.
CHELSEA: (still pacing) Godammit, where has Mum got to? … It doesn’t sound like Dad spent much time here in his second year?
ROBERT: No-o …
CHELSEA: You don’t sound too sure.
ROBERT: I don’t think he spent any time here in his second year. He dossed down at the commune in Leckford Road once in a while but I don’t think he set foot in college again after July ’69.
CHELSEA: Why was that?
ROBERT: You’ve seen the stuff on the internet. Or that turncoat Gary Aldrich’s book. I think your father went a bit off the rails after he got the call-up papers. Felt that nothing mattered because he wasn’t coming back. There was a girl, I think, and the college would have taken a dim view of all that.
CHELSEA: You think he was …
ROBERT: Kicked out? I think he might have been if he hadn’t told them he’d been conscripted anyway. But you couldn’t simply kick out a Rhodie – there was a lot of politics involved. I think there was just a quiet agreement that Bill and Univ would go their separate ways.
CHELSEA: Something that could be conveniently forgotten when he became President and arrived back on his triumphal chariot?
ROBERT: Someone is probably chiselling the white marble statue as we speak. This is a college that has had to eat a lot of humble pie. Especially when Bill came back here in June 1994 as President. That gave him a lot of pleasure, with the college big wigs bowing and scraping before him.
CHELSEA: King of kings? Dad?
ROBERT: (looking at her quizzically before he continues) It was “yah boo sucks, you’re not kicking sand in my face now!” It was fifty years to the very day since D-Day and the moment Bill Blythe the second had marched into Rome with the 5th Army. They’d kicked out the Germans and were enjoying the spoils of victory. Bill went to Rome first and then Oxford in the first few days of June 1994. It was like a second triumphal occupation. He gave a speech here about history, saying “history does not always give us grand crusades” but do you know the one thing your father asked for at that second coming? A private session in this very room with the porter, Douglas, who had made most fun of him.
CHELSEA: Yes, why was that, do you think?
ROBERT: (laughing) Because Douglas was the only one left who knew where the bodies were buried. I just hope Douglas drove a high price! (noises off) Is that your mother I can hear?
As Hillary comes in with Bill not far behind, Chelsea rushes to embrace her mother.
CHELSEA: Mum! At last! You had me so worried! Did Dad find you? Where did you get to?
HILLARY: (having to fight her off) Nowhere! Look, I haven’t got Alzheimer’s just yet, have I? Can’t I be trusted to go out on my own any more?
BILL: (sighing) I found her down by the Shelley Memorial. I thought she might have gone there, after our earlier conversation.
HILLARY: I was just enjoying the silence for a moment. All the lights in the corridor were off but the statue was bathed in light from above. Beautiful.
BILL: And then I came along and spoiled it. Sorr-ee!
HILLARY: (laughing) The story of my life. But I had a little time to think. And you know what?
BILL: I’m not sure we’re going to like the sound of this …
ROBERT: You’ve decided to offer me the vice-presidency after all?
HILLARY: In your dreams, Robert. (calmly, after a pause) I can’t go through with it.
There is a moment of icy silence.
CHELSEA: Can’t go through with what?
HILLARY: The inauguration.
BILL: But how can you be President if you don’t …
HILLARY: I mean, I can’t be President. I can’t do any of it.
They look at each other for a moment or two.
BILL: You’re joking. After everything you’ve been through this year? You’ve been working towards this moment all your life.
BILL: Not just you. Hundreds, thousands of people have dedicated a large part of their lives to getting you elected.
HILLARY: Sorry. I’m grateful, truly I am, but …
BILL: Your country needs you. The world needs you.
HILLARY: Tim Kaine can do it. Or Bernie. He ran me pretty close in the primaries after all and the public likes him more than me anyway. Or Julián [Castro]. Or even Joe [Biden] – I said history wasn’t done with him.
BILL: History is not done with you.
HILLARY: I’m 69. I’m too old to be starting out as President.
BILL: 69 is nothing these days – this is the summer of 69. You tell her, Robert!
ROBERT: Sorry, it’s not my call.
HILLARY: I’m tired. I thought I could do it. But all that campaigning, all that infighting, the dirty tricks, the debates, the vitriol that enemies like Trump throw at you – it wears you down. I’ve got nothing left and I’d be letting my country down if I failed to recognise it. This is not some vanity project. I don’t care about my place in history or the Clinton “dynasty”.
CHELSEA: (an arm round her shoulder) You know what, Mum? You’re absolutely right. If your heart is no longer in it, it’s the brave thing to do.
HILLARY: Thank you, Chelsea. Your support means a lot to me.
BILL: And mine doesn’t, I suppose!
HILLARY: Oh, Bill, Bill! I will need your support now, more than ever! A ton of shit will rain down on me from all sides. From my own party who will feel betrayed. From Republicans who want a re-run of the election. From women who feel I have let women down by being weak and feeble. From men because I am a woman and I dared to take on this challenge in the first place.
CHELSEA: You won’t have let anybody down, Mum. And all that will pass. You don’t owe your country anything. You did a fantastic job as Secretary of State – God knows what a mess the world would be in now if you hadn’t. You earned the trust of the American people and now their votes. They will respect your decision. What will you do instead?
HILLARY: Nothing. I’m history.
CHELSEA: If there’s one thing you can’t do, it’s nothing. You’re simply not capable.
HILLARY: OK, I’ll rewrite history. That’s what winners get to do, don’t they? I’ll rewrite my own Living History.
ROBERT: Funnily enough, we were talking about that earlier while you’d gone walkabout.
HILLARY: Surely, at my age, I’ve learned the lessons of history. Except we never do, do we? If history teaches us one thing, it’s that we never learn the lessons of history. Otherwise it wouldn’t keep repeating itself in ever more bizarre and painful ways.
BILL: If there’s one person I know who is strong enough to break the shackles of history and really make a difference, it’s you. Besides, you have made history, the first woman President.
HILLARY: Well, then I can unmake it again. There’s been so many times this year when it’s felt like 1992 and 1996 all over again. Do you remember, a few days after you got in the first time, we went to see Groundhog Day? Well, this whole year has felt like Groundhog Day, ever since I woke up to confirmation of those first Iowa results back on February 2nd. The alarm clock ringing at the crack of dawn and I’m somewhere on the campaign trail, Pittsburgh, Punxsutawney, wherever, saying the same old things, making fun of Donald Trump, singing for my supper. History is Groundhog Day without the happy ending. America has had one Clinton as President. Does it really need two?
BILL: It does. You know I will back you in whatever you decide to do, Hill, but that doesn’t seem like enough to make you throw away something you’ve worked all your life towards.
CHELSEA: What is it, Mum?
HILLARY: I think you know, Chelse. You all do. This hasn’t been a “normal” campaign. It hasn’t been politics as usual. How much humiliation and abuse is one woman supposed to take? You’ve seen me up there with Donald Trump. That wasn’t politics. That was the Roman Coliseum, a fight to the death. He made my skin crawl. Sharing a stage with that man implied that we were somehow equals. Just shaking his hand was torture. He wanted me in gaol; he wanted me stripped naked and begging for mercy; he wanted me dead and there were times when I wanted to die, right then and there. When he brought those women along, for instance.
BILL: (trying to reach out to Hillary but she brushes him away) I’m sorry, love. It’s my fault.
HILLARY: I felt his clammy hands on my body, my mind, my very soul. Many women before me have been damaged by contact with that man and I am damaged too. Right now I think I’m in a state of shock. It may take years to come to terms with the shock, the sense of violation.
CHELSEA: Like a rape victim?
HILLARY: (in tears now) Yes. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that I had to beat him. God, it was close. Two million votes sounds a lot but do you know what? If we hadn’t axed the old Electoral College system, I might even have lost! If I’d failed and that monster had somehow become President, I would never have forgiven myself. But that’s no longer necessary. Donald Trump will never be President.
BILL: The whole world is grateful for that. But I beg you not to do anything too hasty.
HILLARY: I’ve had a lot of time to think about this.
BILL: Not just a few seconds spent looking at a ghastly old statue while suffering from jet-lag?
HILLARY: No, that was merely the moment I felt certain I was making the right decision. Maybe it was reading the inscription: ‘Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, stains the white radiance of eternity.’
CHELSEA: ‘Until death tramples it to fragments.’ They left that bit out.
HILLARY: Well, eternity will be my judge anyway. What sort of stain would I be if I took this job, knowing I needed to heal myself first and my heart wasn’t really in it?
CHELSEA: You know, if I was going to choose just a few Shelley lines to sum up my life-history, seeing my two parents do all the things they’ve done, it would be the last few lines from ‘Ozymandias’.
The others look blankly at Chelsea.
ROBERT: Remind us.
CHELSEA: It’s a sonnet about a traveller who comes across the shattered remains of a statue of an old pharaoh in the middle of the desert. He reads the inscription: ‘“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.” Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.’
ROBERT: (nodding) Things that seem important now will be but specks of sand in the great scheme of things?
BILL: But this is bullshit. We only have one planet. The President of the United States is just about the most important person on that planet.
ROBERT: The king of kings?
BILL: Whatever. The decisions the President makes matter not just to her and her family and her story, but to billions of other folk. It’s not something to be settled by a bit of old doggerel that you might find in a Christmas cracker!
CHELSEA: Of course not, but history rarely works out quite the way you expect, does it? A hundred years ago tonight, Felix Yusupov and his cronies murdered Rasputin, an act they expected to save the Romanov monarchy, aid Russia’s war effort and stave off the threat of revolution. It had exactly the opposite effect. We make our choices. We can never know what would have happened if we’d taken a different path. But for what it’s worth, Mum, I think you’re making the right choice. I for one will sleep a lot easier in my bed.
BILL: Don’t you think that’s just a little bit selfish?
HILLARY: It’s part of my thinking – I can’t deny it. The worst thing about our lives has been the world it has created for our only daughter. Me being President would only mean that the goldfish bowl is even smaller, with the world gawping at every little circuit Chelsea and her children swim.
CHELSEA: Mum! It’s not so bad. I’ve never known any other way. Even if you retired to a nunnery, I wouldn’t suddenly be able to lead an ordinary life, would I?
HILLARY: I’m sorry, love. Your father and I have a lot to answer for.
CHELSEA: No, you haven’t. You’re not just my parents, you’re my heroes. C’mon, it’s time for a team hug, I think! (Bill and Hillary move to embrace her) You too, Robert! (Robert joins in somewhat reluctantly). One for all, all for one, right?
BILL: All for one.
HILLARY: So you’ll let me do this?
BILL: (sighing) It’s not for me to … to lay down the law. This is not about me. But can I ask just one thing?
HILLARY: What’s that?
BILL: Sleep on it. You don’t have to do anything right now, today.
ROBERT: It’s the middle of the night, after all.
BILL: Think about it through tomorrow and New Year’s Eve. And if, on Sunday morning, New Year’s Day, it’s still your resolution, then we’ll tell the world and I’ll back you every inch of the way.
HILLARY: You promise? But I don’t need that long. I will make a final decision by tomorrow morning and, if the decision is to quit, announce it then, before the year-end. Will you still support me?
BILL: I will. I’ll even take the blame. You heard it here first – I accept Hillary’s terms.
HILLARY: (embracing Bill again) My hero! OK, I’ll do just that. I’ll give it some serious thought. Who knows, maybe by the morning the jet-lag will have gone, the batteries will have recharged a bit and I’ll be ready to face the new year and my new job. If so, history will never know I had this little wobble. I doubt it but you never know. Time will tell.
BILL: I love you, you ridiculous woman. Keep us all in suspense and then tell us the worst. But for now, let us be blithe. (He grabs the bottle of Madeira and starts pouring.) Let us drink a toast to the greatest President that America might – or might not – ever have!
They raise their glasses and drink.