(Kristen Miller logo design)
Don’t Leave Me Just Yet, adapted by J. Courtney Reid, with permission, from Fred Chappell’s novel, Farewell, I’m Bound to Leave You.
Place: A mountain community
Annie, the grandmother
Cora, her daughter
Robert, Cora’s husband
Jesse, their 15 year old son
Silent Woman, Angela Newcombe, Neighborhood Woman, Figuring Woman,
Lexi Cortland, Chancy Gudger. Chancy’s Husband, McPheeter, Talbot and Sarah Lucas
Don’t Leave Me Just Yet
A Play in One Act
The stage is divided into three sections: A bedroom with one small window, one single bed, and a chair; a living area with two chairs by a woodstove and kitchen table with three chairs; and an open area, where different scenarios are enacted. Some scenes in the open area require a chair or stool.
The play opens with Annie, the grandmother, in bed. She is dying. Her daughter, Cora, is sitting next to her. The bedroom is dark. The window casts light into the room. It is a simple room. A bare light bulb, with a gold pull chain, hangs from the ceiling.
Jesse, age 15, and his father, Robert, are in the living room, sitting on separate chairs in front of a woodstove. Robert sits in a rocking chair; Jesse on a straight back chair. The furnishings are simple. It is a small, clean cottage.
The living room has four separate time pieces lined up on a mantel shelf behind the wood stove. Each clock has a distinct style: a tall wooden clock, with fancy gold-leaf and roman numerals and a gilt pendulum, a plain bell jar clock, a nondescript electric clock, and a large silver watch, placed in a velvet box, showing its face. Each clock says a different time, the discrepancy visible to the audience. The silver watch reads 12:12.
The play opens up with the sound of the clocks ticking.
The four characters form a momentary tableau before the conversation begins.
The conversation between Jesse and his father, in the living room, and between Cora and Annie, her mother, in the bedroom, happens simultaneously. They do not talk over each other; their words form a contra-punctual conversation.
The play is structured so that there are times when scenes or conversations, happening in the separate sections of the stage, are verbally or physically choreographed to weave together and create parallel stories.
It is 1960. A rural, mountain family and community.
Annie (these words are her thoughts, not spoken to Cora): I had better not be thinking about Johnnie Harper. I had better start getting ready to meet my maker.
Annie and Cora (together; they are thinking out loud): Don’t leave me yet.
Cora (her thoughts): Mama is lying down to die. I hate that word. Die. It must be very hard for her. It goes against her nature to do anything selfish. Like die.
Annie (to Cora): Light.
The light in the window brightens slightly.
Cora: What do you mean, Mama? Do you want the light turned on?
Annie: (to herself) Light – in the window there. Was it a flash? Is there a storm? But it wasn’t sharp like lightning. It was golden. Like a great glow. Like the surge of a flood on the river. (to Cora): Light.
Cora: (to Annie): I don’t know what you want. I don’t know what you mean.
Annie: (to herself): What time of day is it? What time of year?
Jesse: (in living room) What’s the matter with the clocks? Look what is happening. All the clocks have changed time. Except for grandfather’s time piece.
Robert: The wind has got into them. It has blown the hours away. It might be that time is getting ready to stop.
Robert: Yes, time is getting ready to stop. At least for our family. Like your grandfather’s watch. It stopped when he died.
Jesse: I don’t understand.
Annie: (to herself) I thought I was lying here by myself, in silence, with my daughter, Cora, doing the best she can to go partway with me up this stony path that I am traveling. I lie down. She’s doing the best she can but there is nothing she can do. This is a lonesome road. I’ve got to travel it on my own.
Cora: (to Annie) I don’t understand. Do you want the light on? I thought it was hurting your eyes.
Annie: (to Cora) No.
Robert: I don’t understand either. Except that if we lose your grandmother, if Annie Barbara Sorrells dies, a world dies with her. Our time will be different.
Cora: (to Annie) I didn’t think you wanted the light on. It shines right down into your eyes. (to herself) This old fixture. Just a bare bulb. I can hardly bare to look at her with that light on. It makes her look like a dead person, with her eyes all sunken in and her skin all blotched. It makes her hair look even duller. I wish I could wash her hair for her.
Robert: You can see for yourself. Look at the clocks. We are losing time.
Jesse: I see but I still don’t understand.
Annie: (to herself) This path is getting steeper. It is hot and dry and there is no water.
Cora: Would you like another sip of water? Let me raise you up a bit.
Jesse: Is grandmother going to die?
Robert: Your mother thinks so.
Jesse: What do you think?
Annie and Cora: (together, their thoughts) Don’t leave me yet.
Annie: (to herself) Voices are calling my name. But I can’t tell which shadow they are calling from. This path is full of stones. Are you here, Cora? (to Cora) Co?
Cora: It’s me, Mama. I’m still right here. Here. I’ll put some water in my hand. Try just a sip. There. That’s fine. Now I’ll let your head down.
Annie and Cora (together): I need to rest and breathe a little.
Robert: I can’t bear it.
Jesse: Neither can I. What are we going to do?
Annie: (to herself) It is cruel how the power of time is only to separate.
Annie and Cora: We only want to be together a little while longer.
Robert: Your granddaddy built a solid house but can you feel it trembling in this wind? The wind is getting into the clocks.
Jesse: What are we going to do?
Cora: (to herself) I can’t go much further, Mama. I have to stay with Robert and Jesse.
Annie: (to herself) I would not be struggling away if I could help it. But I feel the darkness or light, I don’t know which, pulling at me with such powerful strength that I cannot go anywhere but toward the window with its light or darkness.
Cora: Mama, what will I do without you?
Annie and Cora: Don’t leave me just yet.
Robert: We will listen to the wind and hear the stories that your mother and grandmother told you. We will hope that this house stays rooted to its earth and is not carried away into the icy spaces beyond the moon.
Jesse: Do you think that can happen?
Annie: (to herself) This path is steep and rocky and burning and it hurts my knees and palms to be crawling along it.
Cora: Just you rest now.
Annie: (to herself) In the burning silver rocks, there is the sound of women weeping.
Robert: I don’t know.
Annie: (to herself) In the blue rocks, it is the sound of children who have lost their mothers.
Cora: (to herself) I don’t know what we’ll do with Mama gone. It will be an empty sky above my head. I’ll be a stranger inside my own life.
Robert: I’m going to hang on here as tight as I can.
Annie: (to herself) The red rocks are loudest and hottest. The red rocks are the moans of those who have lost their way in life.
Cora: (to herself) After you are gone, it will make it easier for me to die.
Annie: (to herself) No matter how much you are with me, I am alone. It is the same for everyone.
Annie and Cora: Don’t leave me yet.
Jesse stands up and moves to sit at a small table in the living room. Robert joins Cora in the bedroom, embracing her. Annie joins Jesse at the table. She places a basket of apples in front of him. And a bowl. They begin peeling the apples together. This can be done in pantomime. They work for several seconds in silence.
Annie: Silence. Silence is a good thing. Women have been blamed for talking, but I don’t know that if that’s fair. If we’re gossipers and tattlers and trot our tongues endless, why I can say the same about plenty of men. I can name some that have embraced the vice more than any female I have known. Cam McInnery. That man loved to tell tales so much that he even spread rumors about himself. He must have known his wife would get wind of these nasty whisperings. When I hear men folk accuse women of loose tongues, Cam McInnery comes to mind. Selena Mellon comes to mind too. But for an exact opposite reason.
Selena Mellon walks on stage, into the empty area.
Annie: In a gathering of people, you might not notice her at first.
A neighborhood woman walks onstage and stands next to her.
Annie: She was not tall or bold or striking. Well, not loud striking. After a while she’d be the one person you did see. She’d draw your gaze the way candlelight does.
Jesse turns to look at Selena. Annie joins the neighborhood woman.
Annie: When she looked at me, I wouldn’t meet her eyes. I would turn my face away. I was young and shy.
Neighborhood woman: That’s how it was for me. What I saw in her face and eyes was so different from what I saw in anybody else that it overcame me.
Annie: The same thing happened with big, red-faced, loud, proud men. When her gaze rested on them, they grew quiet.
Neighborhood woman: There was no malice. There was no harm in her. She just took you all in, not in a warm fashion, but not unfriendly.
Annie: When she took notice of you, you felt you had changed. Not worse or better. You felt known. (to Jesse) Maybe I’m not making myself clear, Jesse. She was of medium height with black hair and a strong widow’s peak. She was pale and would always wear a light blue dress with a touch of white embroidery. Her hands were small and white and soft as white cotton.
Neighborhood woman: Her face was round and her expression was never lively. Sometimes she gave just a small smile or frown. But an orator shouting and waving his arms on a platform appeared dull beside Selena.
Annie and Neighborhood woman: But she never spoke.
Annie: I’m serious, Jesse. No one had ever heard her utter so much as a lonesome syllable.
Neighborhood woman: She must have had a grave secret.
Annie: Like the one that caused Aunt Chancy to lose her mind.
Neighborhood woman: She must have taken a vow of silence, maybe for religious reasons. Or for reasons of the heart.
Annie: It usually doesn’t take long for vows of the heart to wear off.
Neighborhood woman: She was alone in the world.
Annie: You should understand, Jesse, that it takes strength of character to make silence mean something.
Neighborhood woman: Her mother died of consumption and then her father died of something they couldn’t name. Living with her grandfolks until she turned eighteen in that gloomy stone two story house. I expect she didn’t hear six words spoken from Sunday to Sunday.
Annie: Her grandfolks had lived so long together, they looked alike. He had a greenish face; she had a greenish face.
Neighborhood woman: Like they had mildewed from being so long out of the light of the sun.
Annie: There was something wrong in the head with both of them and they stared at Selena like she was a creature from another world.
Neighborhood woman: Nobody ever cared much for either of them.
Annie: You can see how Selena came by her strength to be alone.
Neighborhood woman: We accepted her ways. We invited her to parties and weddings and funerals. She seemed to have a pleasant time. Someone might try to crack her rule of silence. But they wouldn’t try again. She would look at them and they’d change their mind about deviling her again.
Annie and Neighborhood woman: Except Lexie Courtland.
Lexie Courtland, a tall, loud, wild-haired woman, walks on stage into open area..
Neighborhood woman: Lexie liked to make trouble. She liked to rake up the coals just to see the sparks fly. Widowed twice, divorced at least once.
Annie: Those circumstances are bound to work damage on a woman’s spirit.
Neighborhood woman: It was just her character to be the way she was.
Lexie: I am no hypocrite. I don’t care who knows how I drink my whiskey. I am ready for any man and I don’t mind who the man is or who they’re hitched to. If he happens to come my way and I like the looks of him and the jingle of his purse, I’m after him. I’ll snatch any old corn pone that crosses my path.
Neighborhood woman: She was a scandal to behold! Any man with good plain sense ought to see the warning: Rough road ahead! It was their own foolish fault if they tried to keep up with that good-time girl. No man could keep up with Lexie Courtland and she warned them.
Annie: Wouldn’t you hate to be some old buzzard that dragged himself home to his wife after a rowdy time with Lexie Courtland? You’d feel as low and shame-faced as a red worm. I hope you’ll remember that, Jesse, in your days to come.
Annie walks back to the kitchen table and sits with Jesse. Lexie walks over and stands next to Selena. The Neighborhood woman exits the stage quietly during Lexie’s next speech.
Lexie: I hear there’s somebody at this party who thinks she’s too good to talk to the rest of us. Who could that stuck-up person be, I wonder?
Annie: When she said that, the other women drew away. They knew Lexie and her need to confront and they truly didn’t want it to happen to Selena, whose soul was more pure and noble than any of them possessed. But they knew better than to cross Lexie. She was not above hair pulling, that one. Lexie knew we believed that Selena’s spirit and mind was clear of fear or darkness.
Lexie: Maybe this certain someone doesn’t say anything because there’s nothing in her head except air. (pause) Maybe she’s just lazy. I’ve heard of lazy but somebody being too lazy to talk, that’s a new one on me. (pause) Lazy? Dumb? Too good for the rest of us? One of God’s chosen?
Lexie finally turns to face Selena and looks her in the eyes.
Lexie: (fists on hips) Which one is it, Selena Mellon? Fess up.
Silence as the two women look at each other.
Annie: Everyone gave a different account of what happened next. Some say that Selena looked upon Lexie with a compassion that would melt the heart of the hungriest ox. Others say that Selena looked at her with a cold contempt that would freeze water in a steaming kettle. Some saw anger; some read friendliness in her expression. Others said her expression never changed. Selena stayed as calm and placid as the small mountain lake. Lexie’s face, however, was easy to read.
Lexie shows howling rage. She is furious. Her eyes get wild. Her fists clench and unclench. It is an immediate, fast fury and then Lexie crumbles, drained and spent. Lexie falls to the ground in front of Selena and begins to weep. Quietly. And then loudly. The sobbing continues for a time. The Neighborhood woman comes back on stage and watches. Selena bends down and pulls Lexie back to her feet. She hugs her and pats her gently on the back. Lexie quiets down. Selena joins arms with Lexie and they exit the stage.
Annie: Like everybody else that Selena took notice of, Lexie understood that she was, for the first time in her life, known. Her body and spirit were understood and accepted. Nothing was seen of Selena or Lexie for a good month. What they did, Jesse, was set up a life together. Lexie Courtland had discovered her true friend. She finally found what she had been looking for with all her unbridled behavior. She had found a real chance to be happy and stop toying with those puny-spirited men that were but as chaff in the wind.
Lexie returns to the stage.
Lexie: Living with Selena brought a contentment I had never known.
Neighborhood woman: But what is it like living with someone who never speaks?
Lexie: It is the most graceful existence.
Neighborhood woman: But how do you know when Selena needs something? How do you know Selena’s wants?
Lexie: It doesn’t take long to pick up slight signals if you observe someone attentively.
Neighborhood woman: But how do you talk about important topics, like politics or religion? How do you know if you agree with each other?
Lexie: When you live in silence for a good while, you learn not to bother much with trivial matters.
Neighborhood woman: But if religion and politics are trivial, what is there that has importance?
Lexie: Quietness. Silence has its own mysteries. And we explore the mystery together, sitting side by side.
Annie: (she is still seated at the table with Jesse) You’ve changed, Lexie.
Lexie: Oh, I am a different person. I was impulsive, bullish, and rude. Now, I’m steady. I’m serious. I know things now I didn’t know before. Selena taught me.
During Annie’s next line, Selena returns to the stage and lies down on the floor.
Annie: They lived together for more than thirty years. Selena died first.
Lexie sits next to Selena, on the ground.
Lexie: She got the cancer and it began to eat up her insides. The pain didn’t break her spirit. Until the end. A wail brought her into the last peaceful time before the very end, and she spoke. She turned to me. She said, ‘Farewell’.
Annie joins the neighborhood woman and they drape Lexie in a black mourning shawl. Selena remains on the floor.
Annie: After a time, Lexie did a most surprising thing. She asked a few ladies over to their house.
Lexie: I thought you might like to see the house and the rooms where Selena and I lived together.
Annie: She showed us all the rooms and I’ll spare you the details, Jesse, except to say that everything was scrubbed clean and neat and without the least touch of luxury. There was a little sewing room that must have been a favorite place.
Lexie: You see how we lived. As quiet as mice. No Quaker every lived more quietly. Now I know you have all been curious about us and I’m here this afternoon to answer any questions you care to ask.
Perhaps slightly embarrassed by her enthusiasm to participate, the Neighborhood woman, as she represents all curious women, doesn’t want to miss her chance.
Neighborhood woman: Is it really true that Selena never talked? That she never said a word, even when you were alone in the house?
Lexie: She never said a word.
Neighborhood woman: Why was it that she never spoke?
Lexie: I’m not sure.
Neighborhood woman: Was she afraid of something? Did she bear a deep grudge?
Lexie: She never held a grudge against a living soul. I’m not real sure why she didn’t talk. A guess is the best I’ve got and I don’t have any idea whether it’s close.
Neighborhood woman: What, then?
Lexie: I believe there was something she wanted to say but didn’t trust any words she knew to say it for her.
Neighborhood woman: What was it she wanted to say?
Lexie: It wasn’t words. It was more like a picture.
Neighborhood woman: What do you mean?
Lexie: One evening we were sitting in the sewing room. Selena was knitting. She put her knitting aside and closed her eyes for a spell. She would do that. And she wasn’t just resting her eyes. There was a matter came to her mind at these times and I could feel the silence deepen all around. I thought that maybe if I closed my eyes and think real hard I could see in my mind what Selena was seeing in hers. It was an experiment worth trying. I shut my eyes and concentrated with all I had in me.
Neighborhood woman: Did it work?
Lexie: There’s no way to know for sure. I only know that a picture entered my mind that had never seen before. It was a powerful image. I thought it had to be Selena’s picture.
Neighborhood woman: What was the picture?
Lexie: I’m going to tell you. Have patience. But I can’t make much sense of it or know if it was the same one in Selena’s mind.
Annie and the Neighborhood woman lean in closer to Lexie.
Lexie: I saw this little girl. She is about five years old. She is naked and her lips are purple with cold. She is sick but I don’t know what illness. She is lying on a heap of smelly old rags in a dark place. She has been lying there for a long time. She cries sometimes but when she does, a green-faced creature comes out of the shadows and puts it claw hands on her and in her. So she tries not to make a sound. She does not move. She will go on lying in this foul place forever and her suffering will never end.
Annie: Who is she?
Lexie: I don’t know.
Annie: Is she anybody we know?
Lexie: I don’t think so. She is in a far away, strange land that is cold and dark. It is a picture I cannot get out of my head. I wish I could. And now you’ve heard my last word on the subject. I’ll never mention it again. And I’ll thank you not to ask me about it.
Neighborhood woman: But we want to hear more about the little girl. Where do you think…
Lexie: No. You’ve heard my last. No use asking. Would you like some tea and sugar cookies?
The Neighborhood woman leaves. Lexie lifts Selena from the floor and they walk off the stage together. Annie joins Jesse back at the table.
Annie: (stopping Jesse from speaking) No. I don’t understand it, either, Jesse, not anything about it. Lexie never spoke about it again. Lexie is gone now. And most of the women of that generation are gone and their loss is a destruction for all of us. They were good and faithful company and the generations that have come after don’t seem to have their hardiness or savor. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I’d like to think I am.
Annie leaves the kitchen area and returns to her bed. Cora enters the kitchen.
Jesse (to his mother as she enters): I wanted to say ‘No, I don’t think you’re wrong.’ But even that felt like too much.
The sound of the wind rises on the stage. The sound grows stronger. In the wind sound is a cacophony of other sounds: words and music, barely distinguishable. A chair is placed in the open space.
Cora: I have a number of duty calls to make. Would you like to accompany me?
Jesse: Duty calls?
Cora: I want to visit the Cloud Woman and the Fire Woman. We must stop in on the Moon Woman who lives on the far side of the mountain. I hear she is ailing so we mustn’t stay long but I want to visit her. There is the Happiest Woman and the Deer Woman…but I most particularly want to see the Wind Woman. Will you come with me? I want you to meet the Wind Woman.
Jesse: Why is that?
Cora: Well, the other day I saw that you were writing in one of your notebooks. I don’t know what you were writing about, but if you want to write about our part of the earth, about the trees and mountains and streams, about our friends and neighbors, then you must meet the Wind Woman, for you’ll never write a meaningful word until you do.
Jesse: Who is she? I’ve never heard of her. Where does she live?
Cora: Have you been living in a hole? She lives on Wind Mountain. I thought everybody knew at least that much.
Jesse: Not me.
Cora: If you really want to write, you must call on the Wind Woman and open your heart to her.
Jesse: Oh no. I don’t think I could do that.
Cora: I used to write poetry when I was a girl. About the affairs of my heart.
Jesse: I’d like to read them.
Cora: Oh no. Nobody can read them. I wrote with pokeberry juice on the petals of morning glory flowers and dogwood blossoms. Then I threw them all in the river. I can still seem them floating away down current, like a flotilla of butterflies.
Jesse: So, nobody ever knew you wrote.
Jesse: I’ll bet they were good poems.
Cora: There is a difference between a young girl writing about love and writing true about things in the world. The Wind Woman will help you with that. If you open your heart to her.
Jesse: Oh no. Please.
Cora: I’m not sure you have a choice. I had a chance. I went to visit her but I was too shy and when she pressed against me, I ran away.
Jesse: Did you talk to her at all?
Cora: No, not really.
Jesse: And you expect me to?
Jesse: Will you go with me?
Cora: You’ll need to mind your manners. She’s a special person.
Jesse: What kind of special?
Cora: Well, you mustn’t ask her any questions. She has many valuable secrets and if she wishes to tell them to you, she’ll do it in her good time. But you mustn’t pry.
Jesse: That won’t be hard.
Cora: And you must answer her questions truthfully and fully. Some of them might be embarrassing. She might ask you things you don’t want to think about or say out loud. If you are not open with her, the visit is of no use.
Jesse: Well, now, I’m not sure about this. Will you be with me when she asks these questions?
Cora: Now why do you ask? Do you have secrets from your mother?
Jesse: Not exactly.
Cora: Then why shouldn’t I stay through your visit?
Jesse: No reason, I guess.
Cora: I probably won’t. She probably won’t invite me to stay. And another thing. Don’t eat anything. No matter how often or how sweetly she offers, don’t take a drink of milk or eat a biscuit or anything. And don’t stare. Some people – especially young people – find her appearance unusual. She’s likely to take offense if you gawk.
Jesse: You have moved me from being uncaring about this visit to being skeptical and terrified. Now you have raised my curiosity to a towering pitch.
Cora: Good. Because we’re here. Go on in.
Jesse jumps up, petrified.
Jesse: I can’t go in alone.
Cora: Sure you can. She wants just you.
The sound of the wind slowly picks up. Jesse walks over to the open section of the stage and knocks on the Wind woman’s cabin. There is a pause. He turns back to look at his mother. Cora has turned her back on him. He knocks again. The wind sound grows louder. He enters the cabin. He sits upright in the lone chair. The wind sound increases. In the sounds are nonsensical words, screeching musical instruments, eerie singing, barking dogs and other animal sounds. An overwhelming cacophony of disturbing and disharmonic sounds reaches a crescendo. Jesse shuts his eyes and leans back into the rocking chair. Slowly, the words become meaningful and lyrical. There is the sound of a woman crying. A man sings a slow ballad (like Barbara Allen). The music becomes beautiful and joyous. There are drums and harps. The wind sound becomes gentle. Jesse claps his hands over his ears and the sounds stop abruptly. The room darkens and a soft light shines on the boy as he lowers his hands and looks out at the audience. Jesse returns to the kitchen area. The light remains on the chair.
Chancy Gudger, the madwoman, enters the stage and sits in the chair, under the light, which brightens. She begins to howl, like a wolf howling at the moon. Chancy is wearing a big black felt hat. Her gray and white hair sticks out from underneath it. She is wearing overalls. Her hands make a constant sawing motion when she speaks.
Chancy: Away. Away. Away. He is a mean man. But as long as there are pistols, no man will beat on me. They want me to move. But I won’t. I heard someone said I was a witch. There’s a dead possum over there. A snake shed its skin. It’s dried and lonesome in that corner. A witch can whip on a man and make him rise up beyond himself until he explodes. And then cut it off. Cutting it off with the rustiest blade to be found would be a pleasantry.
Cora: (crossing over to Chancy) When I was a girl, I thought I would go visit her. I thought some music might cheer her up. I thought I would sing to her – not that I have the best voice in the world – but, without thinking, I felt the need to do something. Chancy Gudger used to be the prettiest woman in this town and I felt bad for her. I knocked on her door. She was sitting, with her hands making that constant motion and she barely looked at me. First I hummed real quietly and then I sang: Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter/all away, you rolling river/ and so farewell, I’m bound to leave you,/Away away,/ I’m bound away/ ‘Cross the wide Missouri.
Chancy howls as the song ends. She darts up from her chair and attacks Cora blindly.
Cora: Stop, Chancy! It’s me, Cora! Stop!
Chancy: (angry, bitter, broken, spit dribbling out of her mouth) Where’s my Johnnie? What have you done with my Johnnie?
Annie: (from bedroom) I’d better not be thinking about Johnnie Harper.
Cora: Johnnie Harper caught the fancy of every woman. He left our parts when he was sixteen and followed a romantic life around the globe. He returned when he was twenty five, dark from the tropical sun and seas, with thick curly black hair.
Annie: I’d better not be thinking about Johnnie Harper when it’s my time to think about meeting my maker.
Cora: He caught the fancy of my mother.
Jesse: Grandmother Sorrells? But wasn’t she married to Granddaddy already? She must have been.
Cora: Indeed she was. I was fourteen years old and had girlish thoughts about Johnnie Harper myself.
Jesse: But if grandmother was married –
Cora: They don’t poke your eyes out when you recite the wedding vows. There was nothing to it, I can assure you. Johnnie wouldn’t have had the least inkling of her sentiments. My mother was a tiny bit sweet on him and I was moony about him and all the girls and women looked at that fellow like he was a stick of peppermint candy.
Jesse giggles. Chancy giggles.
Chancy: I hadn’t laughed since the first week of my marriage. Lots of women would have been worn down after the six years I had lived through and let the man have his stinking brutal ways, but I wouldn’t. An explosion was bound to happen soon. Then my eye lit upon a handsome young man who told adventurous tales and sang pretty songs from faraway. He helped me to laugh again. He brought back my sweet, shameless laugh.
A male voice singing ‘Oh Shenandoah’ is heard in the distance.
Cora returns to the kitchen.
Jesse: Why didn’t she just divorce her husband if he was so bad?
Cora: Divorce? Folks in that time and place had never heard the word divorce. When you got married, you made a vow and you kept it whatever the cost.
Jesse: Sounds like the cost could get awful high.
Cora: You took the vow and you kept it.
Chancy stands tall. She takes off the old black felt hat, places it behind the chair, smooths her hair down and exits the stage, smiling. The music ‘Oh Shenandoah’ diminishes. Chancy’s husband walks onto the open stage. He is wearing a white straw hat. He sits in the chair and pulls the hat down over his eyes. He is carrying a rifle and lays it across his lap. Chancy enters a corner of the stage, stops when she sees her husband, braces herself, walks towards him, and stands next to him, looking down on him as he sits in the chair with his hat pulled down over his eyes.
Husband: (from beneath his hat) Chancy, back in the corner of the closet shelf is an old black felt hat that used to belong to my daddy. I want you to dust if off and brush it up and bring it to me.
Chancy retrieves the black hat, brushes it down, and places it on top of the rifle on her husband’s lap.
Husband: (stands up and looks Chancy in the eyes. One hand holding the rifle, the other holding the hat.) I’m going hunting. Alone. I’ll be gone the whole night. I expect I’ll make my kill, but there ain’t no way to be certain. You’ll know, though, when you see me walking up the road whether I done good. If I’m wearing my daddy’s black hat, I’ve struck my mark and no more needs to be said. If I’m wearing my white hat, I missed, and there’ll be a matter to discuss with you.
Cora: She stood there a long time after he was gone, looking down the empty road.
Jesse: What happened?
Cora: Nobody knows for certain. There are only two facts. Johnnie Harper disappeared. There have been no clues to his whereabouts. Chancy’s husband disappeared, too. The only trace of him was the ugly black hat on Chancy’s head.
Chancy places the hat back on her head. She sits down and begins the sawing motion with her hands.
Cora: One other matter. Chancy’s mind was gone.
Chancy laughs a cackling laugh. She howls. She screeches: Away. Away. Away. She gestures a repetitive motion. .
Jesse: She killed him. She killed her husband because he killed Johnnie Harper.
Cora: There was never any proof.
Jesse: What happened to Chancy?
Cora: She died within a year. Her tortured heart came apart. They did find something nasty underneath that hat she wore. Nobody was sure what it was. It looked like a shriveled and dried up finger, I was told.
Jesse: That’s a scary story.
Chancy lets out one more painful howl and moan and walks off stage.
Cora walks into the bedroom. Annie joins Jesse in the living room.
Jesse: Tell me another story about Sherlie Howe.
Annie: I don’t know a lot of boys your age who would take such an interest in old folks and past times.
Jesse: I didn’t last year.
Annie: Something changed?
Jesse: I have begun to learn that the past might contain secret messages meant for me.
Annie: Might be. What kind of a story do you want to hear about Sherlie Howe?
Jesse: One where’s she’s smart. One where she figures out things nobody else can.
Annie: There are lots of stories like that. She was the best at figuring things about. She was a figuring woman. One of the smartest people you’ll ever meet. Folks came to her for help. She had a gift for listening and she spoke so softly sometimes you’d have to hold your breath to hear her. She couldn’t solve every problem but her near misses were full of value. I heard you used to like ghost stories. Are you tired of them yet?
Jesse: No, ma’am.
Annie: I was there, right in the room, when Talbot and Sarah Lucas paid a call on Sherlie Howe. I was only seventeen years old. I had brought a cake over to share and we were sitting there, having tea.
Annie crosses over to the open stage. She brings a chair with her. Sherlie Howe joins her. There is a gentle knock on the door.
Sherlie: Come in! Come in to the house.
The Lucases enter. They are a shy, reserved couple, unused to seeking help from anyone. Talbot is much older than Sarah.
Annie: I was so surprised I couldn’t speak. Talbot stood there with his old dented brown hat on his head and Sarah stood behind him, hidden. Talbot and Sarah Lucas! I had never known them to step out of their own territory.
Sherlie: Come in. We’re just having tea and cake. There’s plenty for all of us. Please sit.
Talbot: No thank you. I hope we’ve not come at an intruding time.
Sherlie: No, not at all. Please sit.
They remain standing.
Sherlie: (quietly) Well, then. What can I do for you?
Talbot and Sarah stiffen and remain silent, distressed.
Talbot: It’s a hant. It’s a hant come to vex us in our house.
Annie: (to Jesse – like an aside) A hant!
Talbot: It comes every night. We’ve got to make it go away.
Sherlie: It’s not easy to lay ghosts. I’ll do what I can to help.
Talbot: It’s got to the point where we don’t know what to do.
Sherlie: Tell me about this hant you see. What does it look like?
Talbot: It’s a woman. All dressed in silver and shining bright. She has long blond hair that reaches to her waist.
Sherlie: Do you see this hant, too, Sarah?
Sarah nods, without looking up.
Sherlie: Do you see the same one Talbot sees? Because, you know, sometimes ghosts will appear different to different people.
Sarah: (looking at Sherlie) I thought it was an angel. It’s the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen.
Talbot: It ain’t no angel. We found that out pretty quick.
Talbot: It dances. It twirls around in the air and that thin silver dress floats up all around it. It dances for an hour or more.
Talbot: In our bedroom, where we are trying to sleep.
Sherlie: Do you hear music? Does it dance to music?
Talbot: There ain’t no music.
Sherlie: Does it ever talk to you?
Sarah: She signs to us.
Sherlie: What kind of signs?
Sarah: She makes gestures. Like she wants me to follow her into her world.
Sherlie: Would you like to go there? Would you like to journey to the world to come?
Sarah: It makes me scared to think of dying. But when I see her, I don’t think it would be so bad.
Sherlie: Does this apparition threaten you?
Sarah: I’m getting used to her – it – but it scares me to look.
Sherlie: How about you, Talbot?
Talbot: I don’t know. I just know I don’t want no hants in my house. I want to be rid of it for good. You never know what time of night it will show up.
Sherlie: You say there are no sounds that accompany it. What about smells? Sometimes a ghost will bring an odor into the room with it, a smell that reminds you of something you might of forgot.
Talbot: There ain’t no smell.
Sarah: Why, Tal, there is a smell. It’s the smell of apple blossoms, plain as day.
Talbot: I never noticed no smell.
Sarah: (shyly, afraid to contradict) Well, it’s there. Plain as day.
Talbot: Have you ever heard of a hant like this one?
Sherlie: Not exactly. Most hants are unrequited spirits. That’s been my experience. Lovers who never got the man or woman they wanted and the waste of their life makes them suffer so they can’t rest proper. Some hants are revengeful spirits from days long ago, a wayward ancestor you’ve never heard of. To get rid of their spirit you have to find their secret and bring it to light. Now and again, if somebody, a widower or a widow woman, gets married again, a spirit will come to haunt them out of jealousy.
Talbot: You mean Little Mary.
Annie: (to Jesse) Little Mary was Talbot’s first wife. She was just like Sarah, quiet and shy. She died young and some say she worked herself to death – or he worked her to death.
Talbot: Sarah and me have talked about that, but she don’t have nothing to do with it.
Sherlie: How do you know?
Talbot: If you saw this spirit, you’d understand exactly. It is tall and shining. Little Mary was small and…covered. This hant is a natural woman.
Sherlie: What do you mean?
Talbot is too embarrassed to answer. He looks away.
Sarah: Because sometimes when she twirls around, her thin gown flies up and you can see.
Sherlie: Oh my.
Sarah: It ain’t nothing bad. It’s like she don’t notice what has happened. She don’t mean any more by it than a four-year-old playing in the yard. It’s just natural to her.
Talbot: I’m not sure about that.
Sarah: (hesitantly) It’s the kind of thing a woman will know and a man might misinterpret, if you understand what I mean.
Sherlie: I think I understand. Sarah, when is your birthday?
Sarah: My birthday?
Sherlie: Just the date. I don’t need the year.
Sarah: June the fifteenth.
Sherlie: And when was Little Mary’s birthday?
Talbot: I don’t remember.
Sherlie: That’s bad. Little Mary’s birthday is something you should remember.
Talbot: I remembered it when she was alive. But now that I’m with Sarah, it is gone from my mind.
Sherlie: Are you sure you remembered it when she was with you, Talbot Lucas? Might there have been some years when you’d forget?
Talbot: (irritated) Might be.
Sherlie: Maybe it will be all right. Maybe we don’t have to get the exact day.
Talbot: What are you talking about?
Sherlie: Here’s what I advise you to do. It involves Sarah first. And maybe you should get Annie to help you if she’s willing.
Annie: I’d be might glad to help in any way I can. (to Jesse) I wasn’t going to miss out on any part of this adventure, you could wager on that.
Sherlie: All right. This Sunday, you two must go out and gather armfuls of apple blossoms and take them up to Little Mary’s grave. Clean up the grave and decorate it real nice with wreaths of the apple blossoms. Strew the petals around and make it look as pretty as you can.
Annie: Shouldn’t Talbot go with us? She was his wife.
Sherlie: I don’t think so. Not this first time, anyhow.
Talbot: Will it work? Will decorating Little Mary’s grave make the hant go away?
Sherlie: No. But it is the first step.
Talbot exits. Sherlie stays. Annie and Sarah wrap shawls around their shoulders, link arms, and walk to the front of the stage.
Annie: (to Jesse) That was the day Sarah and I became good friends.
During the next conversation, Sarah and Annie mime cleaning up Little Mary’s grave and arranging apple blossoms and throwing petals on the ground. The girls are happy.
Sarah: Would you like to know more about the hant? Have you ever seen one?
Annie: Never. But I believe in the spirit world.
Sarah: If you saw this, you wouldn’t have to believe. You would know. It is like it is inside the room and out among the stars at the same time. At first, I was scared and pulled the covers way over my head but then I saw how beautiful it was. And that it was a woman. A happy, free woman. I came to admire her.
Annie: Does Talbot admire her?
Sarah: Oh no. She makes him real nervous and mad. It’s kind of funny to see him so scared of it. Course I don’t let him know I think it’s funny.
The two girls hold hands and admire the grave. Annie begins humming the hymn, Amazing Grace. Sarah joins her. They sing a verse together and turn around and return to Sherlie’s. Talbot joins them.
Talbot: Is my house shut of that shameless spirit?
Sherlie: Not yet.
Talbot: That’s what I thought. That hant ain’t got nothing to do with Little Mary. It don’t look like her and it sure don’t act like her. Little Mary was a quiet, hardworking woman. She weren’t no half-naked dancing devil.
Sherlie: Talbot Lucas, there’s one more thing you need to do. On Sarah’s birthday, which is coming up soon, you must take her to the store and buy her something pretty. A silk ribbon for her hair or some lace or maybe a little gold locket.
Talbot: What? A gold locket? You must think I’m some sort of millionaire. We got all we can do to make ends meet.
Sherlie: I understand that. But we’re not talking about spending a fortune. Just a little bit of money once a year to achieve your piece of mind.
Talbot: Every year?
Sherlie: On her birthday. You’ll do a little something to put some color and joy in her life. And every year, at apple blossom time, you two will go together and decorate Little Mary’s grace.
Talbot: I don’t believe this is about Little Mary. If you’d known her and see this hant, you wouldn’t believe it either.
Sherlie: If you do these two things, then all will be well in your house. If you don’t, then you had better welcome the shimmering ghost woman anytime she appears.
Sarah: I don’t have no need of ribbons or frilly whatnots. It’s tight for us with money. Tal is saying the truth.
Sherlie: I know it’s hard for you to ask for anything like this for yourself. Think of this little bit of joy on your birthday as a bitter medicine you have to choke down one way or another.
Talbot: It ain’t Little Mary.
Sherlie: You asked what I thought and I’ve told you. It’s your choice now.
Talbot: Are you sure about all this? Dead certain?
Sherlie: Oh no. It’s a kind of guesswork. But it’s the best guess I’ve got and the best advice, wrong or right, that you’re going to get.
Talbot and Sarah exit. Annie goes back to Jesse. Sherlie remains on stage.
Jesse: That isn’t the end of the story, is it?
Annie: It’s the limit of what I know for certain.
Jesse: But what happened? Did the Lucases follow the Figuring Woman’s advice? Did the ghost go away?
Annie: I think they did. Not long after, Sarah was wearing a gold locket necklace. She showed me how she kept a picture of Little Mary in that locket. And she never mentioned the hant again.
Jesse: Then it must have been the spirit of Little Mary. How come it didn’t look like her? How come Talbot Lucas, her own husband, couldn’t recognize her?
Sherlie: Because he never had recognized her.
Jesse: What do you mean?
Sherlie: If you are a healthy, good-looking young woman from a free-spirited family, when you close your eyes, you can be anything you want. Little Mary didn’t have that way of life. But in the secret night time she saw herself as graceful as a willow tree and as free as the wind. A shining woman grew in her little by little and when she died, that spirit was set free.
Jesse: What else did she say?
Annie: She told me that as I grew older, there would be a shining woman that would appear in me. It would represent my youth that has gone away, but it would never be powerful in me like it was in Little Mary.
Jesse: Did that come true?
Annie: Can you see me as a tall blond spirit dancing in the air and showing her fanny?
Jesse: Yes. I can see it in my head as plain as anything.
Jesse and Annie laugh together.
Annie: (smiling slyly) I think somebody ought to take a stick to you.
Jesse gets ready to run out, laughing. Cora catches him and pulls him back to the table. She is carrying a basket of beans to snap. Robert enters the bedroom and stands next to the (empty) bed.
Cora: Put some of that joy into helping me string these beans.
Jesse: Didn’t we just do a whole bushel yesterday?
Cora: It’s a good year for beans. Sit. Now tell me what was getting both your tickle bones?
Annie: I was just thinking about the virtues.
Cora: What’s funny about the virtues?
Annie: I was just thinking that I admire charity the most. Of course, they are all worthy – patience, fortitude, kindness – but charity has captured my attention because it requires all the virtues and then some.
Cora: (to Jesse) And that thought gave the giggles.
Jesse: No, ma’am! (He begins giggling again.) It was something else. A picture in my mind.
Annie: Never mind that.
Cora: (to Jesse) Maybe you best picture yourself doing some charity – like stringing beans. (to Annie) Is there somebody you’re picturing when you think of charity?
Annie: Oh, lots of names come to mind. There’s Emmaline, Dovey, Flora (Cora nods with each name) – and even the young woman blessed with the name – Charity.
Robert: Notice, Jesse, how no men folk come to mind. I can’t think of one either. Doesn’t say much for our species. Something for you to remember.
Annie: (shaking her head) But Emmaline, Dovey, Flore, even Charity, eventually failed the test, didn’t they? They had their limits.
Cora nods in agreement.
Annie and Cora: (quietly, together) Angela Newcombe.
Annie: Lord have mercy on that poor soul.
Jesse: Who is Angela Newcombe? I’ve never heard of her.
Jesse settles himself into stringing beans.
Cora: Was. She has gone onto her reward.
Annie: In heaven.
Cora: Oh yes. No doubt she is in heaven.
Annie: And if the streets are paved with gold, I feel sorry for the poor angel that has to keep them clean.
Cora: Because that angel will have a lot of help.
Annie: All the help that could ever be needed.
Cora: Well, it’s because Angela Newcombe was overflowing with charity. Folks called her the Helpinest Woman. She never missed out on a chance to give aid and comfort to kinfolk or neighbors or pure rank strangers. If you had a touch of flu and needed someone to run an errand for you, Angela was right there. If you needed someone to watch your children, she’d stay at your house all day and have a hot meal on the table when you came home for dinner. If she was here right now, she’d be stringing the beans with us and then she’d wash them in the sink and then sweep the floor and mop it.
Annie: She’d help us untie our aprons.
Cora: And hang them up for us in the hallway.
Annie: And offer to wash and iron them.
Cora: But first she’d find a small rip in them and offer to work her needle after walking five miles to the store to get the exact color thread to match these shabby aprons.
Annie: And then help us with the cooking and canning.
Cora: And she was just a little mite of a woman. Just reaching five feet tall and hardly a hundred pounds.
Annie: But she never gave up, never sat down to rest.
Cora: She was a white blur of speed. Her eyes were the brightest blue you ever saw. Her blond hair was turning silver when I knew her. But her hands – her hands were soft and sweet.
Annie: Everyone remarked about how her hands never grew rough and red or coarse and hard.
Cora: Trouble was, she didn’t have any family. They had all died.
Annie: And everyone knows charity begins at home. Because she didn’t have a home, the gift of all her charitable feelings and helpful goodwill was…bestowed …upon the community.
Cora: I thought you were going to say inflicted upon the community. Because that was more the way it was. I don’t want you to think, Jesse, that folks were ungrateful for all the things that Angela did for them. They felt grateful…
Annie: And beholden to her. All the time. And if you tried to pay her back, like gifting her with a sack of beans because her beans had been eaten by deer, she was already back at your house, dusting the furniture or pulling in your laundry from the line. When you can’t pay favors back and they keep on piling up, it gets to be a ponderous burden.
Cora: You get a little aggravated and then you get to where you dread to see the good woman and you are not even sure you like her.
Annie: You had to like Angela though.
Cora: Do you understand what we’re saying, Jesse? Angela Newcombe was a wonderful woman and a sore trial. Some folks came to believe there’s such a thing as too much charity.
Annie: Remember that time Melissa Carter wrenched her back? Angela moved right into the house and took the place of Melissa. Melissa was out of commission for two months and Angela took over her every duty.
Cora: Took over a few too many. There came a day Melissa heard some uncustomary sounds from the front room and crawled painfully out of bed, crept to the door, cracked it, and saw her husband and Angela with neither of them hardly a stitch on and just having a high old time on the red sofa.
Angela walks onstage.
Angela: Alfred seemed in such straits. He was deprived of the home comforts for so long. I thought it was my duty to my friend Melissa to ease his burden. It wasn’t something I enjoyed doing. It was my Christian duty.
Annie: And then she went on to help William McPheeter.
Robert: (speaking as he crosses over from bedroom, through living room area, to open space area) McPheeter tumbled off his tractor and it rolled over his legs so gruesome, they had to cut both of them off. After a year in the hospital, he came back in a wheelchair, where he would be for the rest of his life. The accident turned him into the bitterest, angriest person.
Angela retrieves a wheelchair and meets Robert, who assumes the persona of McPheeter, with it. He sits and she covers his legs with a blanket.
McPheeter: God damn woman, stop fussing with me. Where’s my bottle of whiskey?
Angela hands him a whiskey bottle.
Angela: Can I get you a glass?
McPheeter: I don’t need anything from you. Chances are you’d drop the glass and the broken shards would slice up my spine.
Angela: Oh, William. Here. Here’s a glass. Now see, I didn’t break it.
McPheeter: A man can’t even fetch his own whiskey glass because some poorly made piece of shit tractor don’t know how to mow up a hill field without rolling over.
Angela: Oh, William. It was a terrible accident.
McPheeter: It weren’t no accident. It was the god damn rocks in the field and the stupid asshole who designed the tractor.
Angela pours him some whiskey.
Angela: Oh William. I don’t think you can blame anything or one. Accidents happen. God works in mysterious ways.
McPheeter: This didn’t happen to me because of some god damn God working in mysterious ways. If I could blame God I would, but there ain’t no God, if you ask me. No God would do this to a man.
Angela takes a wash cloth to his face and begins to gently rub his forehead.
Angela: Now, Will, think of all you have.
McPheeter swats her hand away, violently.
McPheeter: Take you probing hands off me.
Angela: A cool cloth always does wonders for me when I’m feeling blue.
McPheeter: Blue? (He spits and then grabs her arm.) Listen to me, you whore. Do you think I want you in this house? I don’t need…
Angela: Oh my. I think it’s time to change that bedpan. Just move aside a bit, Will. Now, there’s a gentleman.
Annie: It was a case of finding out which was most powerful, the red rage and fury of the maimed William McPheeter or the patient sweetness and watchful care of Angela Newcombe.
Cora: Three years she stayed with him. It was a slow process. But by and by, his feelings softened and his temper sweetened.
McPheeter: (a bit gruffly) You’ve really done too much today. You need to sit a spell.
Angela: You’re a kind man, Will. A kind man. And I will sit as soon as I finish these dishes and move you over to the window and wash your sheets. While they are hanging on the line, I might sit for a bit if you’ll let me read to you while I sit.
McPheeter: (to the women and Jesse in the kitchen) I had moved out of my dark despair. I felt a great debt of gratitude to that little woman. She saw me through a bad, bad time. But a different kind of despair overtook me. Almost deeper. I was ashamed. Ashamed at the way I had treated her.
Annie: He felt so obliged to Angela that he was miserable. Every time she laid a meal on the table, every time she cut his hair or gave him a scrub bath, every night she turned down his bed and helped him over into it, he felt like the lowest of the low. Fouler than a hog-pen rat.
McPheeter: (to Angela) I know that God has forgiven me for my blasphemies. Can you forgive me, Angela?
Angela: I can’t forgive you because there is nothing to forgive. It was your fearsome wounds that spoke, I reckon, and not William McPheeter.
McPheeter: I am so obliged to you.
Angela: No. I am obliged to you. I have never been the in the presence of such a noble man.
McPheeter covers his face with his hands.
McPheeter: It got to the point where I thought that if I saw her perform one more act of charitable goodness, I would find a way to hang myself. Then, hallelujah, God saved me. Angela showed me how to let God back into my heart and He saved me from her.
Angela: (puts her arms around William, crying) I’ve been called away, William. I can barely speak of it. There is someone who needs me more.
McPheeter: Yes! I mean, yes?
Angela: Elsie Twilley. Over on Coleman Mountain. Hamish, god rest his soul, has died at the age of 85. There’s no one to take care of Elsie. She’s isolated and devastated. 68 years they were married.
McPheeter: You must go to her!
Angela: My only regret is leaving you.
McPheeter: There are others who will help.
McPheeter: But no one can replace you, Angela.
Angela: I’m afraid I can’t stay. They say Elsie won’t even get out of bed. She won’t eat. And winter’s coming.
McPheeter wheels himself off stage in glee, smiling out at the audience as he leaves.
85-year old Elsie Twilley walks onstage. She falls into Angela’s arms, weeping softly. Her knees buckle and she falls to the ground. Angela holds her as she falls. She pulls her up and walks her over to the chair. She sits her down and rubs her head, gently. Elsie gradually stops crying and looks up at Angela, with pure appreciation.
Angela: We’ll figure this out together, Elsie
Elsie: Hamish. I miss Hamish.
Angela: Oh yes. Oh yes.
As Angela soothes and Cora speaks, Elsie’s eyes close.
Cora: Over the months, Elsie gained a bit of energy. Her spirits warmed. From the first she saw Angela, she loved her as the daughter she never had. But even that was not enough. She lingered, clinging to the angel that had come to attend to her. But that angel couldn’t pull her through.
Jesse: That can’t be the end of the story!
Annie: There’s more.
Elsie stands up and walks to the edge of the stage. She lies down and crosses her arms. Angela walks over to her and joins her in the same position.
Cora: It was six months of a long hard winter before anyone could get up to the Twilley cabin to check on the women. The Preacher finally got there and told us he had a dread feeling when he saw the cabin. Everything was still. The earth was shriveled and dry. No garden had been scratched up. There was no smoke from the chimney. They had both passed away, as he reckoned.
Cora, Jesse, and Annie walk over to the two woman and look down at them.
Cora: Elsie was lying on her bed. Her face was as calm and peaceful as any pleasant dream would make it. The bed was clean and unrumpled. Angela was lying next to her on the floor on a pallet of leaves and soft pine needles. The Preacher figured they had been dead a good while, maybe even weeks, judging from the layer of dust in the house.
Annie: The odd thing was that no rats or varmints of any kind had molested them. The pine needles were still green. Nor had any corruption overtaken their bodies. They were as fresh and untainted as sleeping children. They had passed away quietly together, at the same time.
Jesse: How could that happen?
Cora: I’ve studied on it. Close your eyes, Jesse, and see if you see it the way I do.
Jesse: All right.
Cora: I see the two women alone there in that dreary, isolated cabin. I hear the wind soughing and swooping in through the cracks and shivering the two of them by night. I see Angela watching as Elsie grows weaker. I see Elsie lying down to die in spite of everything Angela does for her. I see Angela deciding that if death was going to enter the room and take away a life that it ought to be her and not the dearest love she has ever known. I see her lying down and praying for the doom to be her own and not her friend’s.
Jesse: You mean she wanted to die instead of Elsie Twilley?
Cora: That’s what she wanted. But nobody can go that journey for another.
Annie: Somebody might try to go with you. It would have to be somebody real special. But they can’t go far.
Cora: You still have your eyes closed, Jesse?
Jesse: Yes, ma’am.
Cora and Annie are looking at each other.
Cora: Death entered the cabin and one of the women must go on the long journey. But the other woman is there, too, and offering to take the place of her friend. But it can’t be done. So, if they can’t trade places, then she will keep her friend company every step of the way to the end. Do you see what happens next?
Jesse: I’m not sure.
Jesse opens his eyes.
Cora: That story makes me sad. I don’t often like to think of it.
Annie: Well, daughter, I have a different feeling. Whenever I think of their story, I feel comforted.
There is the sound of a strong, moaning wind and the sound of the clocks ticking as Cora and Annie return to the bedroom and take their positions from the opening scene. Robert and Jesse return to their places from the opening tableau. Angela and Elsie remain lying on stage during this last scene.
Jesse: All right. Now I’m scared.
Robert: I can’t blame you. I’m pretty scared myself.
Jesse: It is just too hard. I can tell. I can hear them talking together or thinking together all the way from the bedroom.
Cora and Annie: Don’t leave me yet.
Robert: Yes, so can I.
Annie: I do not wish to think of Johnnie Harper at this fateful hour. I must think of Frank, my husband. I have been mostly good with my thoughts, but now I can’t.
Cora: You mustn’t blame yourself, Mama. Thoughts come and go. You can’t help that.
Annie: I need to be steadier in my mind so I can go before the dawn breaks.
Cora: Oh, Mama.
Jesse: I don’t understand.
Robert: Neither do I. I know that the way time and space and matter are built together makes death inevitable. But I don’t understand.
Jesse: Maybe they’re built wrong. Maybe it was a bad plan.
Robert: Maybe so. Have you got a better one?
Jesse: It’s too hard on Mother.
Jesse: I don’t understand how we can hear them all the way down that dark hall with the door shut.
Robert: We can’t hear them. We only know what they are thinking or saying. We are not hearing with our ears.
Jesse: How, then?
Robert: It is the way of families. But only at certain times.
Jesse: What times?
Robert: Hard ones, mostly. We need to listen now. Something cold is coming. Can you hear it? We need to be brave.
Annie: Farewell, daughter.
Cora: Don’t leave me in this world without you.
The stage darkens. The window in the bedroom lightens. The wind dies down.
Robert: Cora is trying to come down the hallway. It is too dark and she can’t find the way and she is frightened. If you and I don’t go to meet her, she may not make it back to us. Are you ready to go with me into the dark hallway and bring your mother back here to the living room?
Jesse: No, I am not ready. But I’ll go with you anyhow.
Robert and Jesse stand up. Cora turns to them. The lights dim completely.
Performed at the Unchained Theatre Festival, Long Island City, 2012 .
Lezlie Dana, Director
Mary Cae Asay, Stage Manager and Understudy
And these incredible actors (some who got to play more than one part): Margaret French, Barbara Miner, Jim Post, Miguel Vicente Gonzales, Jeanne Wiley, Giovanna Smith, Carol Pines