A play by
Edward Crosby Wells
© COPYRIGHT 2000, 2011 EDWARD CROSBY WELLS
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Internationally acclaimed playwright EDWARD CROSBY WELLS has had his plays produced from coast to coast in the U.S. and in Canada, Scotland, England, Ireland, Spain and Australia; including 3 Guys in Drag Selling Their Stuff which has had over two dozen productions worldwide, and counting. He is the winner of several international playwriting awards including the Spotlight On Best Play Award for Excellence in Off-Off Broadway Theatre for three consecutive years. His work is published by Greyridge Press, Cyberpress, StagePlays, Meriwether Publishing Ltd., Production Scripts, Smith & Kraus, Inc., and Samuel French, Inc. Edward is currently working on a novel and a new play.
SYNOPSIS: (4W, One Set, Full Length.) Set in the formerly oil-rich desert Southwest, Desert Devils explores the lives of three generations of women living under one roof. The story centers on Jo who, after her father dies, takes in her feisty mother. Jo’s daughter, Leota Ruth, a self-mutilating poet approaching middle-age, is also in her mother’s care. The dialogue between them and with a long-time neighbor is, at once, outrageously funny and heart-breakingly tragic. These women tear and rip into one another’s psyche with reckless abandon and something barely resembling love. The cookies in question may or may not be poisoned, but just beneath the surface these women hide a more potent poison—the deadly venom accumulated over years of unfulfilled dreams mixed with the sudden and bitter acceptance of a life unrealized.
THE SETTING: Jo’s kitchen/dining room. A lower middle-class motif. Extremely clean and well organized. Lots of plastic: a plastic napkin holder, salt and pepper shakers, food storage containers, canisters and plastic mixing bowls, plastic ornaments on the walls, plastic fruit in a plastic bowl. And little wooden do-dads: A wooden memo pad holder, a wooden rack from which to hang keys – a souvenir from some past summer vacation. More souvenirs of questionable worth, although of an utilitarian nature: A toothpick holder from Carlsbad Caverns, a straw dispenser from Corpus Christi, and a bread box from El Paso. On the walls hang scenic plates: An oil well from Midland, Texas, the White House and the Alamo. There is one plate with the face of Jesus painted on it and another with the face of Elvis Presley. Downstage – looking out over the audience – the curtained window of the kitchen hosts no live potted plants; organic life other than human would only serve as breeding ground for germs and other things considered by Jo as “dirty.” However, a neat arrangement of plastic flowers with glitter glued on their petals sits fading in the center of the dining table. Somewhere stands an ironing board and near it is a plastic basket bulging with clothes to be ironed.
THE PLACE: Hobbs, New Mexico—a small city in southeastern New Mexico, a mile from the West Texas border.
THE TIME: Late 1980s—mid-morning on a Monday in August. The weather is sunny and hot.
JO: A woman in her fifties or sixties.
BILLIE: Jo’s friend and neighbor, the same age as Jo.
LEOTA RUTH: Jo’s daughter, late thirties to early forties.
MAMMAW: (pronounced ma’am-ah) Jo’s Mother.
AT RISE – Perhaps “Don’t Be Cruel” sung by Elvis Presley is playing on the radio.
BILLIE, a large bulk of a woman with her hair in rollers is seated at the kitchen table, painting her toenails and sometimes knitting.
JO is slender and bony by comparison and prone to move about the kitchen bird-like—pecking here and there, searching for something to clean or polish, something to do. In JO’s forever-scrutinizing eyes it is her duty as a housewife to see that all the household chores are done and when they are, it is her duty to create new ones; however mundane they may be. She wears a cobbler’s apron filled with all sorts of cleaning supplies that she uses, more often than not, throughout the course of the play.
JO: (Running her hands down along the curtains hanging on the kitchen window – sighs, nodding her head negatively.) I don’t know. Honest to God, I really just don’t know.
BILLIE: (Stops polishing her toenails.) Well . . . what kind of material did you have in mind?
JO: Don’t know that I had any kind in mind, Billie. (Crosses to turn off radio.)
BILLIE: You’ll be wanting something cheery.
BILLIE: All right . . . you want something gloomy and dingy and ugly as sin, right? (Picks up her knitting.)
JO: You go to such extremes.
BILLIE: You want my input or not?
JO: Input? I don’t even like the sound of that! (Dusts something.)
BILLIE: Input is a perfectly good word. It means putting in ones—
JO: Two cents?
BILLIE: (Unruffled.) Putting in one’s . . . ideas about a thing.
JO: You mean opinion.
BILLIE: Well, yes. You could say that.
JO: Then, why didn’t you?
BILLIE: What’s wrong with the ones you got, anyway?
JO: Whoever said there was anything wrong with them?
BILLIE: Excuse me, but I’m sure I heard somebody say not two minutes ago in this very room that she wanted to change out the curtains in that there window.
JO: That don’t mean there’s got to be something wrong with them. I’m just tired of looking at them, that’s all.
BILLIE: (Studying curtains.) Hmmm . . . oh . . . well . . . maybe you’re right, Jo. I don’t know—
JO: (Polishing something.) You don’t know what?
BILLIE: I don’t know if I’m tired of looking at them or not.
JO: Why should you be?
BILLIE: I see those curtains often enough, don’t I?
JO: Not half as much as me.
BILLIE: No . . . not nearly so much.
JO: Then, who cares? I’m the one who’s got to look at them day and night. Not you. You can go next door and look at your own curtains. You don’t got to live with them like I do.
BILLIE: No . . . not like you do. (Rises and goes to cabinet, searching for something.)
JO: Who cares? That’s all I’ve got to say . . . who cares. (Watching BILLIE.) Now what?
BILLIE: Something to nibble on with my coffee—acid. One should never drink too much coffee all on its own—too much acid.
JO: (Reaches into a nearby cabinet and removes a plastic container filled with sugar cookies – handing BILLIE the cookies.) Here. I made them yesterday. BILLIE: Sugar cookies! My favorite!
JO: You say that about all cookies.
BILLIE: I do not.
JO: You do too. Last week peanut butter cookies was your favorite. The week before that it was tollhouse.
BILLIE: I love tollhouse.
JO: See what I mean?
BILLIE: Well . . . next to tollhouse, sugar cookies are my absolute favorite.
JO: Rats’, too.
JO: That’s what I put down for the rats. (Gets coffeepot.)
BILLIE: You feed your rats?
JO: I don’t have any rats . . . not anymore. Coffee?
BILLIE: Please. (Polishing off a cookie.) Delicious. You must give me your recipe.
JO: (Pouring coffee.) The one for people or the one for rats?
BILLIE: The one for people, of course. I don’t have rats.
JO: You don’t?
BILLIE: No. The very idea—
JO: They had to come from somewhere.
BILLIE: If you’re hinting that I have rats and that they somehow carpet-bagged their way over here under my fence, you’re sadly mistaken. What about Clara on the other side? They could’ve come from her, you know.
JO: As clean as she is? Don’t be silly.
BILLIE: Well, I don’t have rats. I never did have rats. And, I certainly don’t intend to get any! But, if I did, I wouldn’t be feeding them cookies. Poison. I’d feed them poison. (Pauses to examine cookie.) Jo, what’s the difference between the people recipe and the rat recipe?
JO: Margarine instead of butter.
JO: Imitation vanilla extract.
BILLIE: Smart. Why waste the real thing on rats.
JO And an extra cup of sugar.
BILLIE: They like them sweet, huh?
JO How would I know? The extra sugar counteracts the taste of the poison.
BILLIE: How would you know that? I mean, it could be sweet already. It seems to me, if you’re going to make a poison, you’re going to make it attractive to the thing you wanna kill.
JO: You think so, huh?
BILLIE: Maybe the extra sugar counteracts the taste of the cheese.
JO: What cheese?
BILLIE: In the rat poison.
JO: There ain’t no cheese in the rat poison.
BILLIE: How do you know? Did you taste it?
JO: No. I didn’t taste it.
BILLIE: (Pause.) Well, you ought to. (Beat) I bet it tastes like cheese.
JO: It could taste like chicken fried steak, for all I care.
BILLIE: That’s it. I’ll make chicken fry for dinner. Thanks, Jo.
JO: Don’t mention it.
BILLIE So, instead of sugar on the top, you sprinkle on a little rat poison. .
JO: No. I mix it in with the batter—a lot of rat poison.
BILLIE: (Spitting out cookie. Soggy crumbs fly across the table.) What?
JO: Look at the mess you’re making. You don’t really think I’m going to feed my best friend cookies I baked for the rats, do you?
BILLIE: (Thinking.) No. I guess not.
JO: Then stop acting like a retard. Look what you went and did. You got coffee and crumbs all over my arrangement. (Examines the arrangement of plastic flowers setting on the table.) Something else to clean.
BILLIE: I’ll do it.
JO: You just stay put. (Rises and crosses to drawer under counter.) I’ll take care of it . . . just like I have to do everything else around here.
BILLIE: Whatever. (Removing the rollers from her hair. After a pause.) Any news about H.O.?
JO: (Searching through drawer.) Nothing more than I told you yesterday. (Removes metal Band-Aid container, closes drawer.) They’re going to send him home tomorrow. That’s all I know. (Crosses to table, sits and removes Q-tips from container – begins to clean plastic floral arrangement, meticulously.) Ugh. What a filthy mess.
BILLIE: That’s not all me.
JO: Billie, did I say it was?
JO: Then don’t go putting words in my mouth.
BILLIE: Did they find out what made him take such a fit?
JO: Some kind of stomach thing, that’s all I know.
BILLIE: Well, something ain’t right. I mean, a man just don’t start foaming at the mouth in the middle of Tootie’s and take to ripping all the plastic off all the chickens in the meat case.
JO: He said he wanted to set them free.
BILLIE: Free? Free to do what?
JO: I don’t know! Fly away, maybe.
BILLIE: Jo, chickens can’t fly away.
JO (More to herself.) I suppose H.O. will be moping around the house all week, expecting me to wait on him hand and foot.
BILLIE: They hop.
BILLIE: Hop, hop. Chickens kinda run and hop. I’m sure they don’t fly. (Demonstrates.)
JO: What on Earth are you talking about?
BILLIE: Chickens. You said ol’ H.O. took the plastic off so they could fly away.
JO: I didn’t say any such thing.
BILLIE: Oh, I could’ve sworn—
JO: ‘Sides, they was quartered.
BILLIE: Quartered? That pretty much puts an end to hopping, too, don’t it?
JO: What is wrong with you this morning? You take a stupid-pill or something?
BILLIE: No. Took a water pill . . . bloat.
JO: Well, you better be careful. You’re liable to end up with brain-rot!
BILLIE: I know you don’t mean to hurt me, Jo, but you do sometimes. You know that, don’tcha? (No response.) Jo, is something bothering you this morning? I mean, more than usual.
JO: (Returns to table and sits – resumes cleaning plastic floral arrangement with Q-tip.) Ain’t nothin’ bothering me.
BILLIE: Well, you’re not yourself.
JO: Who am I?
BILLIE: Don’t you know?
JO: I know I’m someone who’s tired. Just tired.
BILLIE: I didn’t sleep well last night, either. Sanford dog barked all night. Did
you hear it?
BILLIE: When Georgie’s home, dogs don’t bark all night.
JO: Course they do.
BILLIE Oh, no. Georgie gets out there and yells once and you don’t hear another yap all night.
JO: Well, it ain’t got nothing to do with sleep. I’m just tired. Tired of taking care of people. Tired of living. Tired of not living. Tired. Just tired. Don’tcha get it?
BILLIE: How dense do you think I am, Jo? I understand more than you think.
JO: When’s my turn, huh? I thought when we retired we were gonna do things—travel maybe. Visit some of H.O.’s folks up north.
BILLIE: You can still do that.
JO: Sure, with mother to take care of—
BILLIE: Mammaw can take care of herself. She’s got more energy than any two people I know.
JO: And then there’s—poor thing—Leota Ruth. Couldn’t tie her own shoelaces on a bet.
BILLIE: Of course she can.
JO: It’s a figure of speech, Billie. Honestly. She’s been three times over in that mental health unit this year alone.
BILLIE: Maybe she’ll have no cause to go again.
JO: A lot you know. Once you got it you got it for life. All you can do is medicate it.
BILLIE: What exactly has she got?
JO: She’s crazy, Billie. She sees things and hears things that don’t exist.
BILLIE: Maybe she’s one of those psychics.
JO: You mean psychos.
BILLIE: No. I mean, like special extra-terrestrial gifted or something like that.
JO She ain’t no such thing! Where do you get your crazy ideas?
BILLIE: There’s solid proof that people like that exist.
JO: Not in Hobbs, New Mexico.
BILLIE: Well, maybe she’ll meet someone real nice, get married, and move on.
JO: Yeah … and maybe Publisher’s Clearing House will give me ten million dollars.
BILLIE: Stranger things have happened. You never know.
JO: (Disregarding the last.) And, Howie Boy—sending him all our extra money so he can eat and pay his rent.
BILLIE: He’s over forty, Jo. He hadn’t ought to be drainin’ you so.
JO: He’s a songwriter. It takes time to break into the business.
BILLIE: Still, he’s too tied to his mama, if you ask me.
JO: (Warning.) Ain’t no one asking you, Billie.
BILLIE: Sorry. You got all the cotton plumb wore off that Q-tip. (JO frowns and takes out a fresh Q-tip. A pause.) What do you suppose the “Q” stands for?
BILLIE: The “Q” in Q-tip. What do you suppose it stands for?
JO: It don’t stand for nothin’.
BILLIE: It’s gotta stand for something.
JO: Why? Because you say so?
BILLIE: Quick. Quick-tip, that’s it!
JO: I got things to do, Billie. I can’t sit around all day like some people I know.
BILLIE: What is that supposed to mean?
JO: What is what supposed to mean?
BILLIE: You think I sit around all day and do nothing, don’tcha?
JO: Why does the world always have to revolve around you, huh? You always think I’m talking about you. There are other people walking around this planet, too.
BILLIE: Then, who? Who, Jo? Who? Who did you have in mind?
JO: I don’t know who. Honest to God! Miz Astor. That’s who. (Rises and throws Q-tip onto table.)
BILLIE: You meant me. You had me in mind.
JO: (Squirts back of chair with cleaner taken from out her cobbler’s apron – proceeds to wipe chair dry.) I didn’t have nobody in mind, Billie. Nobody. H.O.’s coming home tomorrow and there’s things to get done. You know how men are. Get a little tummy ache and it’s “get me this” and “get me that.” There ain’t nothing more helpless than a grown man outta sorts.
BILLIE: Still, it’s nice to have a man around the house.
JO: Why don’t you just die and stay stupid!
BILLIE: You’re not as humorous as you think, Jo. You can abuse me all you like, but what goes ‘round comes ‘round.
JO: So you say.
BILLIE: It’s a fact, Jo. As ye sow so shall ye reap.
JO: Don’t you quote to me, missy. You wanna do that kind of thing you go down the street corner and quote to somebody who cares. Not to me—not in my house.
BILLIE: (Demurely.) Elvis would have agreed.
JO: How dare you? How dare you?
BILLIE: Well . . . he would have.
JO: Don’t you ever disgrace the name of Elvis Presley while you’re sitting under my roof again! Elvis was a saint! (Crosses to ‘Elvis’ plate.)
BILLIE: For God’s sake, Jo, he weren’t nothin’ but a singer.
JO: A singer? A singer? (Holding ‘Elvis” plate – with maniacal restraint.) An instrument of God, Billie! A saint among men, martyred! Taken to the Lord’s
breast in his prime . . . murdered!
BILLIE: Nobody murdered him, Jo. He did it to himself.
JO: How dare you?
BILLIE: Drugs, Jo. He took drugs.
JO: He was murdered! Cut down by the American Medical Association—a branch of the Mafia!
BILLIE (Resigned.) All right. Whatever you say.
JO: No. No, it’s not all right because I say it. It’s all right because it’s the truth! (Dusts ‘Elvis’ plate.)
BILLIE: Okay, okay.
JO: Don’t you ever disgrace the good name of Elvis Presley in this house ever again.
BILLIE: All right. I’m sorry. Okay?
JO: Never again. (Replaces the ‘Elvis’ plate and gives the ‘Jesus’ plate a quick flick of the duster, almost as an afterthought.)
BILLIE: (Anxious to change the subject.) I found a penny head’s up this morning. That’s good luck, isn’t it?
JO: (Returning to table – sits.) It ain’t nothin’ but superstitious junk. How a grown woman can believe in that kind of nonsense is beyond me.
BILLIE: I never said I believed in it. (Gathers up her knitting and hair rollers.) I think I’ll be heading home.
JO: Why? Got something better to do?
JO: I’m sure it ain’t housework.
BILLIE: (Dropping her belongings back onto the table.) Jo, my house is my business! You can clean, scrub, make a fool of yourself all you like. I don’t care. Who’ve I got to clean for? Georgie ain’t home but three or four days a month.
JO: Well, that’s what you get for marrying a rodeo man.
JO: But, since you bring it up, you can’t exactly eat off your kitchen floor, can you?
BILLIE: I don’t know. Do you need an answer right away?
JO: You can eat off mine.
BILLIE: Yes, Jo. You can eat off yours. I’ll stay at the table if you don’t mind.
JO: It’s just a figure of speech.
BILLIE: (Stands.) Of course it is. It’s your quaint, not to say “bitchy”, way of telling me I’m dirty.
JO: I never said any such thing.
BILLIE: Not directly, no. You don’t know how to be that honest.
JO: (Stands – face to face.) Honest? You want honest? Your house is a pigsty.
BILLIE: That’s not honest. That’s cruel, unnecessary, and rude. (Sits.)
JO: You asked for it. (Sits and starts cleaning flowers with Q-tip.)
BILLIE: This compulsive addiction you have for housewifery is a sickness, don’tcha know.
JO: So is living in filth.
BILLIE: Look at yourself polishing that there bunch of plastic flowers with a Q-tip. That’s sane?
JO: It’s my job.
BILLIE: Only because you make it so. Why don’tcha just dump it in the sink and run water over it?
JO: Because that’s not the way it’s done.
BILLIE: That’s the way I’d do it.
JO: Well, that’s your problem, isn’t it?
BILLIE: (Suddenly.) Cushion!
BILLIE: Cushion-tip! That’s what the “Q” stand for—cushion-tip.
JO: Cushion don’t start with a “Q”. It starts with a “C”, stupid.
BILLIE: Oh, that’s right. I wonder what I could’ve been thinking of?
JO: There’s no telling.
(LEOTA RUTH enters from outside with the laces of her walking shoes dragging along the floor, untied. There is something fragile, haunting, and haunted about her. She appears as a frightened animal – always on the lookout for some hidden, silent predator. Whatever she is wearing must have long sleeves. She is carrying a bouquet of wild flowers.)
BILLIE: Well, I’m sure I was thinking of something.
LEOTA RUTH: (Announces.) Getting warm out there. (Looks for confirmation. None comes.) Three dimensional. Almost surreal. Silent . . . except for the sound of dragonfly wings . . . and the unremarkable sounds of uncaring, unknowable distance. And in the silence rocks languish while life spins and sputters by. They do nothing. They know nothing. They are rocks.
JO: (Sotto voce.) Oh, for God’s sake.
LEOTA RUTH: (Turning to BILLIE. After a pause.) Morning, Missus Patterson. And how are you today?
BILLIE: (Through a nervous, forced smile. She is not comfortable around LEOTA RUTH.) Fine, thank you.
LEOTA RUTH: (Finding a tall water glass for the flowers. After a pause.) And I am fine, too, thank you. (Arranging flowers in glass.) Do you think flowers feel? Do they scream with pain as you gather them up into a bouquet? (She looks about the room for an answer. There is only SILENCE.) No. I suppose not. How could they? They are too beautiful. Beautiful things do not feel. (No response. After a pause.) Others feel for them. Do you think?
JO: Leota Ruth, you know I don’t want those filthy things in the house!
LEOTA RUTH: They are not filthy, mother. They are as clean as something proverbial. Honest. I shook them really well. I will put them in my room where they cannot bother you with their untamed and natural essence.
JO: Don’t you have enough junk in your room already?
LEOTA RUTH: Is that rhetorical?
BILLIE: (Suddenly.) I know! I was thinking of quiet. Quiet-tip! You know, like cushion-quiet?
JO: Oh, for God’s sake! I live in a loony bin.
LEOTA RUTH: That is inspired, Missus Patterson. (Creating a poem extemporaneously.)
The calico cat
On cushion-quiet feet
Leapt into her waiting heart
Looking for love
But love was never there
And the calico cat died of despair
(BILLIE and JO share a hopeless look. After a pause.) Perhaps, it should be leaped into her waiting heart. No one says leapt anymore. What do you say, mother?
JO: About what?
LEOTA RUTH: Leapt or leaped?
JO: Did you take your medication today?
LEOTA RUTH: Yes. With my orange. Leaped is, of course, more prosaic, isn’t it?
JO: I don’t know what on Earth you’re talking about.
LEOTA RUTH: Maybe I’m not talking about anything on Earth. Just abstractions. Wild things. Divine things. Ultimately, beauty is an affliction and the consciousness of it cannot endure its own demise. How sad.
JO: For the love of God, Leota Ruth, they ain’t nothin’ but stupid old weeds!
BILLIE: No. I was right the first time. Quick-tip. I bet the “Q” stands for quick.
LEOTA RUTH: You can only grow a weed in a garden, mother. In the desert there are only flowers—free and wild.
JO: Are you sure you took your medication?
LEOTA RUTH: Quite sure.
JO: I didn’t see you.
LEOTA RUTH: One seldom sees more than one wants. Is that not right, Missus Patterson?
BILLIE: Excuse me?
LEOTA RUTH: My shoes. They seem to have come untied. (While holding the glass of flowers, she puts her foot on the chair next to BILLIE.) Would you mind? My hands are full at the moment. (BILLIE ties the shoelace.) Thank you. Thank you so much. (Switches feet.) This one, too, I’m afraid. (BILLIE ties the other lace.) Sometimes, mother worries needlessly. I mean, I know how to tie my own shoes, of course. But, I must be a constant source of doubt for her, nonetheless. Sometimes, when your hands are full, you need the help of others. Do you think? (BILLIE forces a smile.) I worry so, too. I worry that I will trip over my own laces one day, step outside of time and space, and life will stroll on down that endless and tedious road without me—forgetting I was ever here. Not a trace. Gone. Where does it all go, Missus Patterson—those little variations in time and space we call our lives?
LEOTA RUTH: Time. The times of your life. (After a pause.) Do you ever remember the future, Missus Patterson?
BILLIE: Well, I . . . I don’t see how that’s possible.
LEOTA RUTH: Most people don’t. (Crosses to window.) But it is possible. Quite possible.
JO: Will you stop bothering Billie with your silliness.
LEOTA RUTH: Are we going to the fabric store this morning?
JO: I don’t know. I haven’t made up my mind.
LEOTA RUTH: Nor I. But, I don’t think so. I cannot remember clearly. Maybe it’s the fabric store, or maybe it’s somewhere else. I wonder what that means—to make up ones mind.
JO: For pity’s sake, Leota Ruth, it means you make a decision and you stick to it. It don’t mean nothin’ more than that.
LEOTA RUTH: Is that a good thing?
JO: Look, if you need me to call your doctor, I will.
LEOTA RUTH: Why, mother?
JO: Well, you seem . . . troubled.
LEOTA RUTH: Do I trouble you, mother? Are you afraid I am going to slash my wrists again?
JO: (Irritated.) That’s not what I meant.
LEOTA RUTH: (Looking out window.) There’s a whole lot of nothing out there. Nothingness stretching into the horizon—unaware, unknowing, uncaring. There is so much in life that has nothing to do with life. One wonders why it exists. (Crosses to exit to her room with the glass of flowers.) You needn’t worry, mother. I shall put a towel under the flowers to collect anything you might find disagreeable. (She exits.)
JO: (Watches her exit. After a pause.) She does it on purpose.
JO: Goes out of her way to make me feel guilty.
BILLIE Guilty of what?
JO: (After a scrutinizing pause.) Is that a trick question?
BILLIE: No, Jo. You said you felt guilty.
JO: Well, I’m not! I’m not guilty of anything!
BILLIE: We’re all guilty of something.
JO: Speak for yourself, Billie. (After a pause.) She gets crazier by the day.
BILLIE: Oh, I don’t think so. She’s just . . . well . . . a bit peculiar, that’s all.
JO: I suppose slashing her wrists is just a bit peculiar, too, huh?
BILLIE: That was nearly a year ago, Jo. I thought you said the doctor said she was all right now.
JO: Are you deaf? Does she sound all right to you?
BILLIE: Well . . .
JO: She carves on herself with razor blades.
JO: You heard me. She carves on herself with razor blades—her arms, her legs.
BILLIE: Jo, I can’t believe—
JO: Why do you think she dresses the way she does—covering her arms in this heat?
BILLIE: I’m sure I don’t know, but—
JO: I’m telling you. A few weeks ago I walked into her room and caught her. She was sitting on the end of her bed with a razor blade, carving on her arm.
BILLIE: What kind of razor blade?
JO: What does it matter what kind of razor blade? A razor blade, Billie!
BILLIE: Well, that sort of thing is hard to see. Maybe you were mistaken.
JO: I wasn’t mistaken.
BILLIE: What did you do?
JO: I dropped her laundry and ran out.
BILLIE: What did she say?
JO: Nothing. She never mentioned it. It was like she was in a trance or somethin’ and never even seen I was there.
BILLIE: Didn’t you confront her about it?
JO: No. She’d only deny it anyway.
BILLIE: But the proof is there. It doesn’t matter if she denies it. Did you call her doctor?
JO: What good would that do, huh? All that bitch doctor does is help her find more excuses to hate H.O. and me—more ways to make us guilty for her craziness. I swear, Billie, the next time she takes a razor to her wrists I won’t care if she . . .
BILLIE: (Stopping her.) Don’t say it, Jo.
JO: Why not? It’s the truth, ain’t it?
BILLIE: No. It’s not the truth. You’re her mother.
JO: Am I?
BILLIE: Well, of course you are. I was there, remember?
JO: (Disregarding the last.) Sometimes I wish I was dead.
BILLIE: No, you don’t. Life’s too short for those kinds of thoughts, Jo.
JO: Why don’t you just shut up? I’m sick to death of your stupid sayings. I’ve heard them all a thousand times before.
BILLIE: Well, maybe you needed to hear them a thousand times. (JO glares. After a pause.) You’re turning into an old lady, you know that?
JO: Look. I’m fixing to say something spiteful. ‘Sides, I am an old lady. (Crosses to ironing board – begins ironing a pair of H.O.’s boxer shorts.)
BILLIE: By choice. You don’t need to be. (Bites into cookie, sips coffee.) You were the sweetest thing in grade school.
JO: Weren’t we all.
BILLIE: (Resumes knitting.) No, Jo. You were different. Everybody liked you . . . then. And in high school you were a regular hell-raiser and, still, everybody liked you. All those boys chasing after you. You. Not me. You . . . always you. I didn’t even have a date for the prom.
JO: Yes, you did. H.O. took you, as I recall.
BILLIE: I took him.
JO: Same difference.
BILLIE: No, it’s not. Do you know how humiliating that was? I had to buy my own corsage.
JO: He was broke.
BILLIE: He was saving up to marry you come the end of June.
JO: You knew we was engaged. And if I hadn’t broke my leg falling off the running board of that Packard of yours, you wouldn’t have had H.O. to go with.
BILLIE: Well, who asked you to go and try to jump on it just as I was pulling out of the driveway?
JO: You always put on the brakes before.
BILLIE: Maybe I was in a hurry that time.
JO: Ain’t never been in a hurry before.
BILLIE: We’ve been over this time and again and we already decided it was your fault.
JO: I’m not saying it wasn’t and I’m not saying it was.
BILLIE: Well, it was.
JO: I’m just saying, be thankful you had somebody to go to the prom with. I mean, considering. You know, Billie, you ought to count your blessings. ‘Sides, if you had the good sense to push yourself away from the table a bit more often, maybe some of the boys might’ve taken a keener interest . . . if you know what I mean.
BILLIE: Oh, I know what you mean all right. Maybe I just didn’t want to end up an old lady, waxing and polishing and Q-tipping my life away.
JO: You married George Patterson, didn’t you?
BILLIE: He’s different. We’re more friends than anything else.
BILLIE: That’s right . . . friends.
JO: Billie, a husband ain’t supposed to be your friend. He’s supposed to be someone you cook for and clean for. Wash and iron for. Mend for. Call the boss up for and lie for. Raise children for. Get your hair done for. If you want friends, you join the Mormons!
BILLIE: Georgie never expects anything from me but me.
JO: And that’s how you picked up your filthy ways.
BILLIE: He doesn’t want a house-slave, if that’s what you mean.
JO: Is that what you think I am?
BILLIE: Well, I wasn’t referring to the Queen of England.
JO: Humph. You’re dumber than the day you were born.
BILLIE: Then, so are you!
JO: (After a pause to glare, she turns toward the window.) Yellow.
JO: Yellow! Yellow! Something wrong with your hearing? I think I want something in yellow.
BILLIE: What? A dress?
JO: No, stupid. Curtains. We was talking about curtains, weren’t we?
BILLIE: Oh. Well, yellow’s nice.
JO: That’s what I said, isn’t it? (The TELEPHONE RINGS.)
BILLIE: (After it rings a couple times.) Telephone.
JO: I got ears, don’t I? (Crosses to telephone.) I wonder who could be botherin’ me now?
BILLIE: Maybe it’s H.O. calling from the hospital.
JO: (Into telephone.) Yeah? Yeah . . . Yeah . . . No . . . No . . . No. Wouldn’t you like to know! Suppose I don’t want to have a nice day? Goodbye to you, too! (Slams down telephone.)
BILLIE: Who was that?
BILLIE: Didn’t think it was H.O. What did it want?
BILLIE: What kind of information?
JO: The nosy kind!
(MAMMAW enters. In spite of her age – maybe because of it – it is her spunky youthfulness that strikes us. LEOTA RUTH follows her.)
MAMMAW: (Entering from the direction of her room. To LEOTA RUTH.) Now watch if she don’t lie about this one. (To JO.) Was that for me?
JO: Was what for you?
MAMMAW: The phone.
JO: No, mother. It wasn’t for you.
MAMMAW: (To LEOTA RUTH.) She wouldn’t tell me if it was.
JO: You know that’s a lie, mother.
BILLIE: Good morning, Mammaw.
MAMMAW: (To JO.) You never tell me when Howie Boy calls. (To BILLIE.) Mornin’. Stuffin’ your face again, I see. (To LEOTA RUTH who is staring out the kitchen window.) She never tells me when your brother calls.
JO: I do too! Only sometimes he don’t ask for you. Sometimes he only wants to speak to his mother.
LEOTA RUTH: Did Howard call?
JO: No, he didn’t call.
MAMMAW: Funny thing when a boy don’t want to talk to his Mammaw.
JO: Well, sometimes he’s in a rush.
MAMMAW: (To BILLIE.) That’s her story. Gained some weight since I seen you last.
JO: It ain’t a story, mother!
BILLIE That was only yesterday. I took a water pill. I lost some since yesterday.
MAMMAW: That’s your story. (To JO.) Then, who called? (To LEOTA RUTH.) See if she don’t lie about this.
JO: For your information it was a computer that called.
MAMMAW: Did it ask for you?
JO: No, mother. It didn’t ask for nobody.
MAMMAW: Then how do you know it wasn’t for me? (To BILLIE.) She does this all the time.
JO: No, I don’t, mother.
MAMMAW: (To BILLIE.) She hoards all the mail what comes for “occupant.” (To JO, while going through discarded mail in waste basket.) Now don’t lie about that, sister.
JO: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
MAMMAW: That’s never stopped you before. (To BILLIE.) She’s got something to say about everything. Don’t know a dang thing—never did. Thinks she knows more than Dan Rather, she does.
LEOTA RUTH: Mammaw met some aliens up in Roswell.
JO: There’s aliens all over, Leota Ruth. You don’t need to go up to Roswell. Just go to the supermarket. They’re generally the ones usin’ food stamps.
LEOTA RUTH: Not that kind of alien. Real aliens. The kind that come from outer space—or maybe from another dimension right here on Earth.
BILLIE: (Making fun.) Really? Little and green?
MAMMAW: That shows how much you know, Miss Smarty Always Feeding Her Face. They was yellow—like a ripe banana. They smelled a bit ripe, too.
LEOTA RUTH: Tell them what they wore, Mammaw.
JO: Am I the only sane person in this house?
LEOTA RUTH: Tell them, Mammaw. Tell them.
MAMMAW: Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses.
JO: Aliens don’t wear Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses.
MAMMAW: How do you know? You ever seen one?
JO: No, of course not. But if there was such a thing, they ain’t gonna be wearin’ Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses.
BILLIE: Well, maybe sunglasses, Jo.
JO: Shut up, Billie!
LEOTA RUTH: They were incognito. They were trying not to be conspicuous.
MAMMAW: That’s right. (To JO.) Tryin’ to hide from nosy people like you, sister.
BILLIE: When was this, Mammaw?
JO: For pity’s sake! Don’t egg her on!
MAMMAW: Now let me think. Summer of ’57, I believe. Yeah. I was helping Rosie and Kirby at the truck stop. That was the summer Rosie dislocated her shoulder. No . . . hip. Somethin’ anyway. She was always dislocating something.
JO: Mother, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
MAMMAW: Don’t tell me. She stepped into a prairie dog hole and liked to fall to China. Threw her back out—got dislocated.
BILLIE: That’s terrible.
MAMMAW: They always was lousy rodents.
BILLIE: Aunt Rosie and Uncle Kirby?
MAMMAW: Prairie dogs.
BILLIE: Mean little buggers.
MAMMAW: That ain’t the half of it. I saw a family of ‘em chew the leg off a hobo once.
MAMMAW: Prairie dogs. But that was over in Brownfield. Stupid man. He was doing some day labor for Burty Babcock who paid him in prickly pear moonshine. Drunk as a skunk, he was. Anyway, ten years earlier some of their friends crash-landed somewhere ‘round Roswell and they was sent to find them.
BILLIE: Rosie and Kirby?
MAMMAW: Aliens. You really ought to learn to pay attention.
LEOTA RUTH: Ten years and they still hadn’t given up. One could learn a lot from the compassion of an extraterrestrial. They must have come from a very caring civilization.
JO: (To LEOTA RUTH.) They didn’t come from no such place. There ain’t no such thing as a caring civilization. Out of your Mammaw’s head, that’s where they came from.
MAMMAW: (To JO.) Sister, I know what I saw. I was the one to wait on ‘em. They ordered pancakes with a side order of Rosie’s gut-buster chile. (Nudging BILLIE. ) You’d like that ‘stead of those poison cookies of sister’s.
MAMMAW: They was . . . Leota Ruth, what’s that called when people can talk to you inside your head?
LEOTA RUTH: Telepathy?
JO: (To BILLIE.) Told you it was in her head.
MAMMAW: (Ignoring the last.) That’s right. Telepathy. We had this long conversation using telepathy ‘cause they didn’t have any mouths. Just a little slit not big enough to stick your pinky in.
BILLIE: What about the pancakes and chile?
MAMMAW: What about ‘em?
BILLIE: Well, if they didn’t have any mouths, why did they order pancakes and chile?
MAMMAW: You got me. Maybe they was just bein’ polite. Anyway, after they left Rosie snarfed it up. That ol’ gal could eat anything you threw at her. Know what I mean? (Pours some coffee. After a pause.) Pit bulls are eating people up left and right, don’tcha know.
BILLIE & JO: WHAT?
MAMMAW: Munchin’ people up to beat the band.
JO: Mother, they ain’t doing any such thing.
MAMMAW: Don’t tell me. I got eyes don’t I? (To BILLIE.) She thinks I’m senile. She’ll be senile long before me, I’ll tell you that. (Pulls her “special” chair to the table and sits.)
JO: You never saw a pit bull eat nothin’ or nobody. You don’t even know what a pit bull looks like.
MAMMAW: (To BILLIE.) See how she talks to me? Showed the kid being eaten right there on TV—in front of God and everybody!
BILLIE: Really? Why didn’t somebody do something about it then?
MAMMAW: They was busy takin’ pictures. That’s show biz, don’tcha know.
JO: No, mother. They never showed anything like that on TV.
MAMMAW: How do you know? Were you there? They show people gettin’ eaten up by all kinds o’ things all the time on TV. (To BILLIE.) It was on the news last night.
JO: I saw the news last night and there wasn’t anything about pit bulls eating people.
MAMMAW: You got up.
JO: No, I didn’t.
MAMMAW: (Sips coffee. To BILLIE.) She got up.
LEOTA RUTH It was me. I got up. I always get up during the news. It’s very unbalanced, you know.
JO: Ain’t the only thing unbalanced around here. ‘Sides you weren’t even there. You was busy in your room writing your poetry.
LEOTA RUTH: Yes, that’s right. (Recites.)
I reach into rarefied air
Embrace the evening clouds so fair
Upon the horizon with fingers bare
Pulling at the hem of God Who doesn’t care
He cannot care for He is not there
As I reach into His rarefied nothingness
JO: (After a pause. To LEOTA RUTH.) I don’t know why you have such thoughts.
LEOTA RUTH: I don’t know either, mother. I just do.
JO: More’s the pity.
LEOTA RUTH: It is called Alone.
JO: I figured somethin’ like that.
BILLIE: I think it’s beautiful. (Looking at JO who frowns disapprovingly.) Really. Honest. I know that feeling.
LEOTA RUTH: Then you might need some of my medication, Missus Patterson.
JO: She don’t need none of your medication!
MAMMAW: (Undaunted. To BILLIE.) She got up.
JO: I didn’t get up.
MAMMAW: You got up and went to relieve yourself.
JO: I did not relieve myself during the news, mother.
MAMMAW: Oh, you relieved yourself all right . . . just when they was about to show them pit bulls eating that little kid. Now, don’t tell me different ‘cause I know better.
BILLIE: Seems to me I heard something about that.
JO: Don’t you start!
BILLIE: Up in Roswell, wasn’t it?
MAMMAW: That’s right. And then there was that ball player what got himself hit by a bolt of lightning and it never did come back out.
JO: Mother, for the love of God, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
MAMMAW: I do too!
JO: I saw it too, mother. They took him off the field where he was playing that there new kind of game they got . . . soccer, they call it.
JO: No, mother. They don’t kick a baseball.
MAMMAW: That’s right. They use a bat. And they got him under lock and key just in case that lightning decides to come back out and strike a nurse or something.
LEOTA RUTH: (While looking out window.) There are devils in the desert.
JO: Leota Ruth, you’re scaring Billie.
MAMMAW: She don’t look scared to me. Are you scared, Billie?
BILLIE: No, Mammaw. I don’t believe in devils.
MAMMAW: You believe in angels?
BILLIE: Well, maybe.
MAMMAW: If there’s angels there’s devils.
BILLIE: I’m not going to get scared about something I can’t see.
MAMMAW: Big ol’ horny things—devils. You ought to be scared—fat as you are.
JO: For the love of God, mother!
LEOTA RUTH: The love of God. Some say the only thing that separates us from Hell is the love of God. Without it, this planet would surely be Hell . . . some say.
MAMMAW: (To BILLIE.) And what do you say?
BILLIE: Some say it already is.
JO: Well, it ain’t! It just feels that way. And it gets worse. The older you get the worse it feels.
BILLIE: Now I’m scared.
LEOTA RUTH: (Looking out window.) There goes one.
JO: There goes one what, Leota Ruth?
LEOTA RUTH: Desert devil.
JO: What on Earth are you talking about?
BILLIE: A dirt devil. Isn’t that what you mean, Leota Ruth, a dirt devil?
JO: (To BILLIE.) That’s a vacuum cleaner, stupid.
BILLIE: Dirt devils. Little whirlwinds of dirt—like tiny tornadoes.
LEOTA RUTH: Without love we just torture one another like devils in the desert stirring up sand and dirt—blowing it into our faces—blinding us. Desert devils stirring up trouble and sin. Little twisters of hot air blowing us all to Hell.
MAMMAW: Amen! (Rises and searches about.) I’ll tell you, the moral fiber of America is worn thin and that’s the truth!
JO: What are you prowling around for?
MAMMAW: (Finding a loaf of bread.) Something to eat. (To BILLIE.) She never feeds me.
JO: Oh, for pity’s sake.
BILLIE: Would you like a cookie, Mammaw?
MAMMAW: I don’t eat rat food. (Sits – peels the crust from a slice of bread.)
JO: It ain’t rat food, mother.
MAMMAW: It’s why H.O.’s in the hospital, ain’t it?
JO: (Through clenched teeth.) No, it isn’t, mother.
MAMMAW: (To BILLIE.) I wouldn’t eat those cookies if I was you.
BILLIE: (Rises.) Excuse me.
JO: Where are you going?
BILLIE: To the bathroom.
JO: There ain’t nothing wrong with those cookies, Billie!
BILLIE: It’s the water pill. (She exits to bathroom.)
JO: Now see what you’ve done.
MAMMAW: I don’t know what you’re talking about, sister.
(From offstage we hear the SOUNDS of BILLIE throwing up. LEOTA RUTH crosses to sit on stool.)
JO: You made her sick.
MAMMAW: (Rises – crossing to window.) Well, you make me sick.
JO: Sometimes I could strangle you with my bare hands!
MAMMAW: You could chew on a Brillo pad for all I care. (Examining curtains.) Thought you was going to change out these here curtains today?
JO: Yes, mother. Billie and I are going to the fabric store soon as I get ‘round.
LEOTA RUTH: Me too . . . maybe.
MAMMAW: Can I come?
JO: If you want.
MAMMAW: No. I’ll just stay to home . . . in my room . . . all alone.
JO: Do what you want, mother.
MAMMAW: You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Leave me alone so I can fall and break my bones while you’re out gallivantin’. Maybe I’ll be stretched out on the floor dead . . . or worse.
JO: Then come with us for God’s sake!
MAMMAW: The way you drive? Be safer on roller skates.
LEOTA RUTH: I’ll stay with you, Mammaw.
MAMMAW: (To LEOTA RUTH.) You’re the only one who cares about old Mammaw, aren’t you?
LEOTA RUTH: (Nervously.) I am sure that I am not the only one.
JO: Mother, how can you be so ungrateful?
MAMMAW: I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about. (Looking out window.) Tut! That ol’ Tom’s in the backyard again. Shoo, shoo! (A beat.) Remember the McGreevy boy?
JO: Bobby Lee?
LEOTA RUTH: Tommy Lee.
MAMMAW: That’s the one. He died of cat fever.
JO: He had the croup.
MAMMAW: From sleepin’ with cats.
JO: You don’t get the croup from sleeping with cats.
MAMMAW: Are you a doctor now?
JO: He had weak lungs, mother. He was born with weak lungs and that’s what killed him. Weak lungs.
MAMMAW: Sleepin’ with cats didn’t help. (Out window.) Shoo, shoo! Go home! Scat! Tut! There’s that nigger boy. Shoo, shoo! Don’t you go climbin’ over that fence! I’ll get the police on you. See if I don’t! (Turning back to JO who is crossing to window.) Call the police, sister.
JO: (Looking out window.) Oh, mother, he’s just getting his ball.
MAMMAW: He ought to keep his balls on his side of the alley!
JO: There. He got it.
MAMMAW: What’s that hangin’ outta his pocket?
JO: I don’t know, mother. Looks like a stick.
MAMMAW: Bet it’s a jackknife!
JO: It’s not a jackknife, mother.
MAMMAW: Looks like a jackknife to me. Liable to cut your throat in the dead of night.
JO: For God’s sake, mother! Nobody’s gonna cut anybody’s throat. There. He’s gone now.
MAMMAW: He’ll be back. And the next time he’ll bring the whole gang with him.
JO: What gang?
MAMMAW: They run in packs don’tcha know. Robbin’ and killin’ and rapin’. Wanna get raped?
JO: No, mother, I don’t want to get raped.
MAMMAW: Some folks do, you know.
JO: Well, not me!
MAMMAW: No. Who’d wanna rape you? You better call the police before he gets back here with his gang.
JO: Where do you get this stuff from?
MAMMAW: It’s the truth. Tut! There’s that ol’ Tom again—doin’ his duty. Better be careful when you go to hangin’ out the wash, sister. Pile of cat shit big enough to bury your shoes in.
JO: What are you talking about?
MAMMAW: (Pointing out the window.) There. See it?
JO: I don’t see nothin’.
MAMMAW: Maybe you don’t know what cat shit looks like.
JO: Of course I do. I just don’t see it.
MAMMAW: That’s ‘cause you’re blind.
JO: I ain’t blind.
MAMMAW: Blind as a bat, sister. Always was. Don’t know where it comes from. Not my side of the family, I can tell you that. We got eyes like hawks . . . my side of the family.
JO: Mother, I’m really tired. (Goes for paper towels, a plastic bag, yellow rubber gloves.) You’ve never had a good thing to say about me in your entire life.
MAMMAW: Of course I have.
JO: When? When was the last time you told me something good about myself, huh?
MAMMAW: I don’t know. My memory’s not as good as it used to be.
JO: Could’ve fooled me.
MAMMAW: Better hurry, sister, ‘fore the flies start to swarm.
JO: (About to exit house.) Leota Ruth, I don’t suppose you could make yourself useful.
LEOTA RUTH: Yes, mother. I suppose I could.
JO: (Indicating one of the piles of clean laundry.) Then suppose you separate what don’t need ironing of yours and put them away.
LEOTA RUTH: Okay. (JO exits. Crossing to laundry basket. After a pause.) Mammaw, did you really see aliens from outer space?
MAMMAW: I can’t really say for sure. What do you think?
LEOTA RUTH: I think you enjoy being provocative.
MAMMAW: (Crosses to help LEOTA RUTH.) I like to get her goat. But all that about Rosie steppin’ in the prairie dog hole I remember true as true. Don’t you go and let anybody tell you different. Nasty little buggers.
LEOTA RUTH: (While sorting through clothes.) Sometimes I wish I were from another planet. It sure would be convenient. It would explain a lot of things, wouldn’t it?
LEOTA RUTH: The way I feel.
MAMMAW: How’s that?
LEOTA RUTH: Alienated. Removed. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. In fact, I’ve become used to it. It’s this terrible sense of self. Not really a part of anything . . . especially anything around here.
MAMMAW: Ain’t nothin’ around here to feel a part of, darlin’. ‘Sides, everybody feels that way from time to time. You don’t gotta be from outer space to feel those things.
LEOTA RUTH: No, but it would be beneficial—give me an explanation. It’s a shame to feel so separate and apart while knowing that you are home. Home is the last place you should feel those things. Maybe, this is the last place. Sometimes, I think I might as well be invisible or dead.
MAMMAW: That’s a bad way to think.
LEOTA RUTH: Do you think I am crazy, Mammaw?
MAMMAW: It doesn’t matter what I think.
LEOTA RUTH: Of course it matters. Please. Tell me the truth.
MAMMAW: I don’t always know the truth. It keeps on changing the older you get. But, I do believe that you don’t always act in your own best interest.
LEOTA RUTH: Sometimes I feel I must be crazy—stark raving, loony mad.
MAMMAW: Sometimes you are.
LEOTA RUTH: I know. Other times, I feel everybody around me is and I am the only one who is not. That is when I realize I must be because I cannot be the only one. That would mean I really am. But, somewhere inside me, underneath it all, I am sure that I am not.
MAMMAW: You’re not?
LEOTA RUTH: Crazy—all the time.
MAMMAW: Well, there you go. You answered your own question. You got the gift. I think you’re one of those artists who hasn’t found a way to express herself.
LEOTA RUTH: You mean, I haven’t found my medium?
MAMMAW: I guess. You got all kinds of wonderful things in you. I don’t know where they all come from. Not from your mother, that’s for sure. And H.O., well his side of the family’s a bit slow. Good people—just slow. You need to get away from this house—this dried-up, God-forsaken desert before you end up mean and bitter just like sister.
LEOTA RUTH: I would never—
MAMMAW: No, I don’t suppose you would.
LEOTA RUTH: Where could I go?
MAMMAW: Go to Lubbock.
LEOTA RUTH: Why Lubbock?
MAMMAW: Then, try Dallas.
LEOTA RUTH: What’s in Dallas?
MAMMAW: More of the same. But, you could have a home of your own.
LEOTA RUTH: A home? I wouldn’t know how to act. Besides, my doctor is here in Hobbs. I must have my medication.
MAMMAW: Bull. You haven’t taken your pills in two, three months that I know of.
LEOTA RUTH: How do you know that?
MAMMAW: True, ain’t it?
LEOTA RUTH: Maybe.
MAMMAW: Ain’t no maybe about it. Give your old Mammaw a little credit. I see things.
LEOTA RUTH: I see things, too, Mammaw.
MAMMAW: Of course you do. But, that’s not exactly what I meant. (They BOTH chuckle.)
LEOTA RUTH: I’m afraid.
LEOTA RUTH: I don’t know.
MAMMAW: Life and shadows, maybe?
LEOTA RUTH: Maybe. I don’t know much about life.
MAMMAW: Who does? It just happens and you go along with it. Fight it and you run into all kinds of complications.
LEOTA RUTH: I just question it, that’s all.
MAMMAW: That ain’t livin’ it.
LEOTA RUTH: (After a pause.) Do you think we are really going to die?
LEOTA RUTH: Die. I am pretty much resigned to the fact that our bodies are going to die, but I mean us. That thing that makes us us
MAMMAW: Us us?
LEOTA RUTH: I think all life is connected and that on some level, some deep level of consciousness, we all share the same “I” and that “I” is eternal. God, maybe.
MAMMAW: Does that include your mother?
LEOTA RUTH: Yes, of course.
MAMMAW: Then it ain’t God.
LEOTA RUTH: Do you really hate mother?
MAMMAW: She’s my daughter, ain’t she?
LEOTA RUTH: That’s not an answer.
MAMMAW: It’s all the answer you’re gonna get.
LEOTA RUTH: Please. You never talk to me about what happened between you and mother.
MAMMAW: Ain’t nothin’ happened. I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about—always pryin’.
LEOTA RUTH: I’m sorry.
MAMMAW: Sometimes you just got to leave well enough alone. (After a pause.) Too much “yes.”
LEOTA RUTH: Excuse me?
MAMMAW: Too much “yes.”
LEOTA RUTH: I don’t understand.
MAMMAW: There was always too much “yes” goin’ on ‘tween your Pappaw and your mother. The only one either of them ever said “no” to was me. Too much “yes” ‘tween them. It wasn’t natural. And, I don’t wanna know nothin’ more than that.
LEOTA RUTH: Are you saying that mother and Pappaw—
MAMMAW: I ain’t sayin’ nothin’. You understand? Nothin’.
LEOTA RUTH: Yes, Mammaw.
LEOTA RUTH: (After a pause.) Well, maybe it’s all a dream anyway.
LEOTA RUTH: This. Life. Maybe, we just go on and on from one dream into another.
MAMMAW: Leota Ruth, what in blue blazes are you talking about?
LEOTA RUTH: Life. Maybe it’s just a dream like the song says.
MAMMAW: Sweetheart, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Look at this body. Look at me. Old. Flesh hangin’ like on one o’ those Chinee dogs. Do I look like a dream to you?
LEOTA RUTH: Well, since you put it that way.
MAMMAW: Ain’t no other way to put it.
LEOTA RUTH: (After a pause.) I had the telephone dream again last night. Its been coming now about two or three nights a week.
MAMMAW: It’s just a dream. Put it out of your mind.
LEOTA RUTH: I don’t seem able. It is really scary.
MAMMAW: Ain’t nothin’ scary ‘bout telephone dreams. Telephone bills, now that’s a whole other story.
LEOTA RUTH: (Disregarding the last.) It is as though I am lost. Far from home. I think I need a ride—a way back—a way home. So, I pick up a telephone and try to call you, daddy, mother—somebody at home. Home. But, I keep forgetting the number. And, when I do remember the number I am all thumbs. I dial it wrong. Over and over and over I dial it wrong. I cannot make a connection. Lost. I cannot reach anybody however hard I try—someone who can come and take me home. (Cries.)
MAMMAW: (Hugging her.) Shhh. Just a dream, child. Just a dream. You’re gonna be right as rain. I promise. (After a pause. Indicating clothes.) Suppose you get these here things into your room before your mother has herself a hissy fit.
LEOTA RUTH: Mammaw, if I was of a mind to leave Hobbs—for Lubbock or Dallas—how would I go about it?
MAMMAW: Well, to start with, you’ll be needing the money I got hidden in the back of my closet.
LEOTA RUTH: Really?
MAMMAW: Yup. There’s enough to get you started anywhere you wanna go.
LEOTA RUTH: Where did you get it?
MAMMAW: Cashed in my life insurance.
LEOTA RUTH: But, mother thinks she is going to—wasn’t that for mother?
MAMMAW: Yup. Won’t she be surprised. (Hearing something in the direction of the bathroom. To LEOTA RUTH.) Put this stuff in your room, in a drawer or in a suitcase. It’s all the same to me. I got a rat to catch.
LEOTA RUTH: A rat?
MAMMAW: A big fat rat. Now, you hurry along.
LEOTA RUTH: (Starting toward her room with an armload of clothes.) Thank you, Mammaw. (Exits.)
MAMMAW: (Speaking towards bathroom.) You can come out now! I hear you standin’ back there wheezin’ like a buffalo with asthma!
BILLIE: (Entering.) Who? Me?
MAMMAW: No. Flora Dora the one-legged fan dancer. You breathe one word of what you heard to sister and it’ll be the last time the fat lady sings.
BILLIE: Whatever do you mean, Mammaw?
MAMMAW: Don’t play innocent with me, missy!
BILLIE: You don’t have to worry about me saying anything, Mammaw, because I happen to think her leaving would be for the best all ‘round.
JO: (Enters. MAMMAW heads for the window, BILLIE stands with a guilty look etched into her face. There is a long SILENCE while JO removes her rubber gloves. To BILLIE.) Well, don’t you look like the cat that ate the rat.
MAMMAW: Found rat hair in the cat shit, did you?
JO: No, mother.
BILLIE: (Nervously.) Do you have any Lysol?
JO: Now what did you do?
BILLIE: A little accident.
MAMMAW: Rat food.
JO: Honest to God! If it ain’t one thing it’s another! (Turns and exits.)
MAMMAW: (After a pause.) Is she gone?
BILLIE: (Sits at table.) Yes.
MAMMAW: (Crossing to BILLIE. Urgently.) They beat me.
BILLIE: (Incredulous.) No.
MAMMAW: (Showing BILLIE the bruises on her arms.) See these? They didn’t get there by themselves.
BILLIE: That’s from the Prednisone.
MAMMAW: Prednisone my ass!
BILLIE: Yes, Mammaw. It’s a side effect of the Prednisone. You don’t really expect me to . . . I mean, I can’t believe . . .
MAMMAW: (Cutting her off.) Believe it. It’s true. Call the police.
MAMMAW: Does that stomach of yours affect your hearing?
BILLIE: Of course not.
MAMMAW: Then, call the police.
BILLIE: I can’t do that.
MAMMAW: Fingers gone bad? Arthritis, huh?
MAMMAW: Oh, don’t talk to me about arthritis. Look at these. (Showing BILLIE her fingers.) Sometimes they like to get knotted somethin’ awful. I’ll never play the harp, I’ll tell you that! Let me see yours. (BILLIE holds out her hands.) Fat little piggies, ain’t they? Call the police!
BILLIE: Mammaw, if what you say is true, why don’t you call the police?
MAMMAW: I did. They don’t believe me. Some know-nothin’ woman cop came to investigate and ended up siding with sister. When you reach my age you don’t have any rights, don’tcha know?
BILLIE: Well, what makes you think they’ll believe me?
MAMMAW: You’re my witness.
BILLIE: But, I never saw them beat you.
MAMMAW: That don’t make no nevermind. Tell them you did.
BILLIE: That would be a lie, Mammaw.
MAMMAW: Have it your way. One day when you come over here, stuffing yourself with rat food, I’ll be lyin’ in my room all beat up and broken—dead, maybe. How are you gonna feel then?
BILLIE: I’d feel . . . is this the truth?
MAMMAW: You want it on the Bible?
BILLIE: No, of course not.
MAMMAW: Don’t believe in the Good Book, huh?
BILLIE: I’ll have a word with Jo about it.
MAMMAW: What good do you think that’ll do?
BILLIE: I’ll ask her if she’s ever done what you said.
MAMMAW: Sure. Go ahead and sign my death warrant!
BILLIE: I won’t ask her directly, of course.
MAMMAW: Directly or not, I’m telling you they beat me! They kick me! They punch me! They slap me! They . . . (JO enters with Lysol and bucket.) Have a nice day.
MAMMAW: I said, “Have a nice day.”
JO: (Hands BILLIE Lysol and bucket.) Here.
BILLIE: Sorry. (Exits to bathroom.)
MAMMAW: She’s sorry all right. If that ol’ gal had to haul ass, it’d take her two trips.
JO: Now, mother, she’s a child of God just like you and me.
MAMMAW: If you’re a child of God, sister, I’m throwin’ in with the one downstairs!
JO: Did you ever love me, mother?
MAMMAW: Did you ever love anybody but yourself?
JO: The problem is I love everybody too much.
MAMMAW: That’s a problem, all right. All those Air Force boys you took in as boarders. You loved every one of them, didn’t you?
JO: If you mean I loved them like they was my own boys—then, yes. Yes, I did love them.
MAMMAW: (After a pause.) They drown female nigger babies in Africa.
JO: What are you talking about?
MAMMAW: Unwanted offspring. They drown ‘em in Africa.
JO: Well, thank God they don’t do that in America.
MAMMAW: Yeah . . . aren’t you lucky.
JO: Mother, what exactly are you saying?
MAMMAW: Got time to give me a perm this week, or do I got to go to that sissy-man on Gibson? (Goes to ironing board and refolds JO’s ironing.)
JO: You don’t need a permanent. You only had one a month ago. (Gets scissors and magazine, clips coupons.)
MAMMAW: Grew out.
JO: It didn’t do no such thing!
MAMMAW: It did. I always was a fast hair grower.
JO: Oh, mother! Your hair grows like everybody else’s.
MAMMAW: No, it don’t!
JO: It most certainly does.
MAMMAW: It grows faster when you’re older. The older you get, the faster it grows.
JO: Then, how come mine don’t? I’m getting old, too, mother.
MAMMAW: You ain’t normal, that’s why. When you’re normal it grows faster. Maybe yours is retarded.
JO: It ain’t retarded, mother!
MAMMAW: They say when you get old enough you can hear it growin’. (Crosses to counter, searching.) It don’t even stop when you’re dead. Hair’s awful funny that way.
JO: Are you looking for an excuse to be silly this morning?
MAMMAW: No. I’m looking for my teeth. Where did you hide them?
JO: I suppose they’re where you left them, mother . . . in the bathroom.
MAMMAW: She probably threw up on them.
JO: She didn’t throw up on them.
MAMMAW: People do, you know. (Returns to ironing board.)
JO: She didn’t throw up on your teeth, mother.
MAMMAW: How do you know? Were you there? That doctor in Juarez what fitted me with those teeth said not to get foreign objects on them.
JO: You put foreign objects in your mouth everyday, mother.
MAMMAW: I do not! Have you gone daft?
JO: Your teeth are just fine! When Billie comes out you can go in there and get them.
MAMMAW: Make me sick! (Spits on iron.) This ol’ iron ain’t puttin’ out steam again. (Looking up toward ceiling.) And that seems to be all that ol’ swamp cooler’s puttin’ out—steam.
JO: When H.O. gets home I’ll have him take another look.
MAMMAW: What about the iron?
JO: I’ll have him look at that, too, mother.
MAMMAW: That’s all he ever does is look. He ain’t mechanical minded, I’ll tell you that. Run some vinegar through the iron. That ought to break down the corrosion. (A pause to scrutinize.) What did you poison him for?
MAMMAW: You heard me.
JO: It was an accident!
MAMMAW: That’s your story.
JO: I did not poison H.O.!
MAMMAW: Somebody did.
JO: Now you stop that! I didn’t do no such thing!
MAMMAW: He got into the rat food just like you intended.
JO: (Appearing hurt.) How can you say such a thing?
MAMMAW: True, ain’t it?
JO: No! It isn’t true!
MAMMAW: How’d they get switched, then?
JO: Suppose you tell me. I’m not the only one who lives in this house.
MAMMAW: You’re the only one in all of Hobbs who bakes cookies for rats.
JO: To get rid of them, mother, not for them.
MAMMAW: What’s the difference?
JO: There’s no use trying to make sense with you.
MAMMAW: No. Not when you’re retarded. (Re-ironing and “correcting” all of JO’s ironing and folding.)
JO: I am not retarded!
MAMMAW: Doc Sears said you was.
JO: Then, Doc Sears was a quack!
MAMMAW: Oh, you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, sister. Poor man killed himself. Treated Dickie Keefer for hemorrhoids—big as grapes, they were—then he went into the closet and hung himself. Tongue swelled up like an eggplant, big and purple. Terrible thing—hemorrhoids. That’s why I don’t eat eggplant.
JO: You don’t eat eggplant because it gives you gas, mother.
MAMMAW: There was this travelin’ show with a two-headed rattlesnake come through while I was carryin’ you and it liked to scare me to death! Give me nightmares, it did.
JO: Oh, mother, you’re making this up.
MAMMAW: Am not! It had two heads big as your fist!
JO: Well, what’s that got to do with me?
MAMMAW: Told you. It marked you and that’s why you’re retarded.
JO: I am not retarded, mother!
MAMMAW: Not all the time, no. Just some of the time—like when you poisoned H.O.
JO: I didn’t poison H.O.
MAMMAW: Tell it to the judge.
JO: You stop it! Stop it right now! (Stops clipping coupons. Rises and, with scissors in hand, crosses towards MAMMAW.)
MAMMAW: Sure is lucky Tootie ain’t gonna sue. All that good chicken gone to waste. What a shame.
JO: You’re crazy!
MAMMAW: And you’re a murderer!
JO: (Shaking her fist, with scissors, at MAMMAW.) Sometimes I could . . . could (BILLIE enters.) . . . kill you!
MAMMAW: (To BILLIE – with satisfaction.) There . . . see?
BILLIE: Jo, what’s going on?
MAMMAW: Don’t you say you didn’t see that, Billie Patterson! (Slams down iron and starts to exit – turning back.) There better not be puke on my teeth. (Exits to bathroom.)
BILLIE: What was that all about?
JO: (Staring out window. After a pause.) I don’t know. Honest to God, I just don’t know.
BILLIE: You don’t know what, Jo?
JO: Curtains. We was talking about curtains, weren’t we?
(BILLIE and JO stand staring at each other as the LIGHTING slowly FADES revealing LEOTA RUTH standing near the entrance to her bedroom.)
Deep within our soul burns an eternal flame
Through primordial mire it nurtures our Becoming
Till the end-times it lights our consciousness
Steering us toward the hidden beyond
Into galaxies more numerous than
The sum of all of us
And all who ever were
And all who will ever be
We are guided and driven toward the stars
Towards other hearts beating across the universe
Like lonely orphans abandoned
We wait and we listen
For the soul of God and all that
The LIGHTING continues to FADE to BLACK.
END ACT ONE
AT RISE – BILLIE and JO stand frozen as they were at end of Act One. LEOTA RUTH is standing near the entrance to her bedroom, unseen and unheard by the others. Her invisibility will apply throughout the remainder of the play with the exception of a brief passage in flashback.
When night falls into deepest sleep
I float tethered from silver threads
As a flame fears the approaching moth
I fear the burning of a brilliant truth
To guide me on my journey home
Heavenward towards God
Where promises are kept
And words left unsaid
Are heard and understood
Then morning comes and my astral form
Slides back into me as I awaken
Famished for the Love that feeds the spirit
and gives us strength to sail the midnight air
(She disappears into her bedroom.)
JO: (Suddenly animated.) Curtains. We was talking about curtains, weren’t we?
BILLIE: (Nervously. Showing concern.) Yeah—sure. Yellow, wasn’t it?
JO: That’s right . . . yellow. (Pause.) I didn’t poison H.O.
JO: She blames me.
BILLIE: Who blames you?
JO: Mother. She blames me for trying to murder H.O.
BILLIE: (After a pause.) You’re not serious?
JO: Of course I’m serious. Mother thinks I poisoned him.
BILLIE: Did you?
JO: You can go lay down on the highway right now, Billie Patterson!
BILLIE: I don’t mean on purpose.
JO: On purpose or otherwise, I did not poison H.O. (After a pause.) I’m going to tell you something and I don’t want it to leave this house. You better brace yourself.
BILLIE: This has something to do with the rat poison in the cookies, doesn’t it? (Sitting.) What? What are you going to tell me?
JO: I think my mother switched the cookies.
BILLIE: Oh, my God! I’m going to die, aren’t I?
JO: No, stupid! Not on you—on H.O.
BILLIE: Then, I’m all right?
JO: Yes, Billie. You’re perfectly fine. I already threw the poisoned batch out. (A beat.) She’s trying to kill me, Billie. She wants me dead.
BILLIE: But, I’m all right?
JO: Of course you’re all right. It’s me she’s trying to kill, not you.
BILLIE: Jo, I can’t believe that.
JO: Believe it. She’s been trying to kill me for over fifty years!
BILLIE: Well, she couldn’t have been trying very hard.
JO: Would you shut up and listen to me! I think she switched the cookies around, knowing I like a snack every now and again. Only, she didn’t count on H.O. getting into them since he’s always braggin’ about not having a sweet tooth.
BILLIE: Surely, they would have discovered that at the hospital, wouldn’t they?
JO: Not if they weren’t looking for poison.
BILLIE: What are you going to do?
JO: I don’t know. I can’t go to the police because she’s my mother. ‘Sides, I’m the one who baked them in the first place. She’s an evil woman, I’m telling you that.
BILLIE: Oh, I’m sure it’s all just an innocent mistake.
JO: You really want to die stupid, don’tcha?
BILLIE: I am sick to God with the way you talk to me sometimes.
JO: You love it.
BILLIE: No, I don’t. In fact, I wonder why we’re friends at all.
JO: Because I’m it! You don’t got anybody else.
BILLIE: What a terrible thing to say. I had lots of friends, Jo. Lots.
JO: Not in this lifetime.
BILLIE: (Undaunted.) But, one by one, you drove them all off with your jealousy.
JO: Bull shit.
BILLIE: If somebody took the slightest interest in me, you had to put the kibosh on it. Jealous. Jealous and afraid you were going to be shut out—left alone.
JO: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
BILLIE: Of course you do.
JO: ‘Sides, there ain’t a thing to be jealous about when it comes to you, missy. I can tell you that.
BILLIE: Does cruelty really come that easy to you?
JO: If you lost any so-called friends, it weren’t because of me.
BILLIE: You butt in, you take over, then you run everybody off. My God, Jo! What happened to you?
JO: Nothing’s happened to me, Billie. Nothing. That’s what’s happened.
BILLIE: You strike out at the least little thing. Remember Lennie?
JO: Ain’t never knowed any Lennie.
BILLIE: You most certainly did! Lennie King. My God! You tried to kill her with a pair of pruning shears.
JO: I don’t remember.
BILLIE: Oh, yes you do. That’s not something one would likely forget.
JO: I said, I don’t remember.
BILLIE: You can be as selective as you like with that memory of yours, but it was my birthday party and I’m not about to forget it anytime soon.
JO: When did you ever have a birthday party?
BILLIE: Last year, the year before, the year before that.
JO: More like last minute back yard get-togethers than parties.
BILLIE: Lennie came all the way over from Amarillo to spend my birthday with me. She was my friend and you were jealous.
JO: Well, like I said, I can’t imagine of what.
BILLIE: It was when somebody remarked how much prettier the birthday cake was over any they could remember. She had just finished that decorating course and was so proud and you had to go and ruin it.
JO: Ah, yes. Now, I remember.
BILLIE: Thought you would.
JO: And who was it made your birthday cake the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that all the way back to Moses?
BILLIE: You know perfectly well who.
JO: But what thanks did I get? I don’t remember having to force-feed anybody.
BILLIE People were just being kind to Lennie.
JO: At my expense.
BILLIE: I don’t think anybody meant it that way, Jo.
JO: (After a pause.) Honest to God! The things you choose to remember.
BILLIE: Jo, the shears went an inch deep into my new siding.
JO: It was still under warranty, wasn’t it? I seem to recall that Sears came out and took care of it. Free of charge.
BILLIE: That’s not the point.
JO: Then what the hell is the point, Billie?
BILLIE: Friends. Every time someone shows me the slightest bit of interest—some small token of affection—you either insult them or try to kill them!
JO: You really do exaggerate.
BILLIE: I don’t know why I’ve remained your friend all these years. I really, truly don’t. Nobody deserves all your abuse.
JO: You do! You stuff yourself with food till you’re fat as a heifer! Nobody could begin to abuse you as much as you abuse yourself! You love abuse. You thrive on abuse. You marry a man who’s never to home and when he is home you say he’s more a “friend” than anything else. When was the last time you had sex with a man, Billie Patterson?
BILLIE: You go too far! I think we’ve known each other too well for too long! I think we’re too familiar—at least, you certainly are. I think we don’t really like each other. We don’t know how to be friends. And, what is worse, we don’t know how not to be friends. It’s like we’re condemned in Hell with each other.
JO: (After a pause.) Did somebody die and leave you their subscription to Reader’s Digest?
BILLIE: (Not amused.) Maybe I’ll put my house up for sale.
BILLIE: You heard me. Georgie and I have been thinking about moving to Amarillo. Got some friends in Amarillo . . . not to mention Lennie King.
JO: Fine. Good riddance to you.
BILLIE: I mean it, Jo.
JO: Me, too! (After a pause.) Well? Shouldn’t you be home packing?
BILLIE: Why are you like this?
JO: Like what?
BILLIE: Mean. Ornery.
JO: Look, Billie! My mother is trying to kill me. My husband is in the hospital from something I believe my mother did. My son can’t find himself and I can’t afford to help him keep up the search. My daughter has up and gone to another planet. And you’re acting like the ninny of the month. I don’t have time for your silly nonsense. You ain’t selling your house. ‘Sides, who’d buy that pigsty? And you ain’t going to Amarillo. You were born in Hobbs, America and you will die in Hobbs, America!
BILLIE: Oh, joy. So, what are you telling me? You fed me poisoned cookies and now I’m about to keel over dead? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?
JO: I already told you that you’re perfectly fine.
BILLIE: I don’t feel fine. I feel much maligned. I feel like I’m having some dark and awful hallucination brought on by rat poison and you’re in it. You’re standing over me with a whip and you’re drooling blood.
JO: The only hallucination around here is the appearance of everyday normality.
BILLIE: Well, that’s about as profound as anything I’ve ever heard you say. (After a pause.) So, do you really think she switched the cookies?
JO: I most certainly do. She wants me dead.
BILLIE: Well, what proof do you have?
JO: She murdered my father. What more proof do you need?
BILLIE: Jo, Pappaw (Pronounced Pap-paw) died of heat stroke.
JO: Who knitted him that sweater in the middle of July, huh?
BILLIE: That’s hardly murder.
JO: Not in the eyes of the law, maybe. But, murder just the same. She knew what she was doing.
BILLIE: I think you’re being a bit unfair.
JO: You think so, huh? Daddy always loved me better than her and she knew it. She knew it and that was her way of getting back at me.
BILLIE: Jo, you’re being stupid.
JO: You think so, huh?
BILLIE: I’ve heard you say some pretty dumb things, but that takes the cake, the blue ribbon and the best of show, hands down.
JO: Side with her all you like, it don’t change a thing.
BILLIE: I’m not siding with anybody, Jo.
JO: As soon as H.O. gets out of that hospital she’s going in a home. I don’t care if it takes every last cent we’ve got. She’s not staying here!
MAMMAW: (Enters – followed by LEOTA RUTH.) My mouth tastes like Lysol.
JO: What are you on about, mother?
MAMMAW: Those motor vehicle people took my license away!
JO: What has that got to do with anything?
MAMMAW: I could get in the car and get out of here, that’s what! Go somewhere where people don’t go throwing up on other people’s teeth. (To BILLIE.) I drove a covered wagon ‘cross Texas and now they won’t even let me drive across the street.
JO: It’s for you own protection. You’d only get yourself killed like you almost did last time.
MAMMAW: Because you went and bought me them slippy shoes for my birthday. I told you they was no good. Slipped right off the brakes and onto the gas pedal. Who told you to buy me them anyway?
JO: Nobody, mother. I just thought I was doing something nice.
JO: What do you mean, “Why?”
MAMMAW: You ain’t never done nothin’ nice in your whole life.
JO: How can you say such a thing?
MAMMAW: Read my lips, sister. You want me dead, don’t tell me different. You bought me those slippy shoes on purpose.
JO: I bought you those shoes because you was complaining about how you didn’t have any shoes to wear.
MAMMAW: I had plenty of shoes.
JO: That’s what I told you.
LEOTA RUTH: (To no one in particular.)
This is how it starts time after time
The cycle of our lives
There seems no way to break
This spinning wheel existence
Living day to day on hand-me-down thoughts
And hand-me-down beliefs
Where words are stuffed into our mouths
Then forced to repeat time after time
Never changing yet pushing us onward
Toward ends with neither rhyme nor reason
Toward ends of inarticulate suffocation
JO: (Ignoring the last.) Only you went on and on about how nobody ever does anything for you.
MAMMAW: Well? Do they?
JO: I’ve given up my life for you, mother, and I’ve had about all I can take!
MAMMAW: (To BILLIE, who is nervously knitting.) They was cheap, slippy, catalog shoes. ‘Sides, they never fit me right, anyhow.
JO: (To MAMMAW.) Can’t you let me love you?
MAMMAW: Now you stop that! You stop that right now. You hear me, sister?
LEOTA RUTH: (To no one in particular. With all the gravity of sincerely.) Can’t you let me love you? I just want to love you. (Recites.)
You cannot stop me from loving you
You cannot stop me from touching you
Once I sail forth upon my invisible fingers
Reaching out to touch your Humanity
You cannot stop the embrace
Of one you do not know exists
JO: (Pleading.) I just want to love you.
MAMMAW: Stop it, I said! Don’t you go play-actin’ for Billie’s sake. She knows better.
JO: I gave up my life for you.
MAMMAW: And I gave you life. Remember that, sister.
JO: (Holding back tears.) Then, why are you trying to kill me?
MAMMAW: You ain’t shed a sincere tear in your life, sister. So, forget about it. Ain’t nobody gonna buy it. ‘Sides, you got it backwards. (To BILLIE.) Don’t let her kid you. She knew they was slippy shoes when she bought them.
JO: I didn’t know any such thing, mother!
MAMMAW: That’s your story.
JO: What is going on around here! Are you all trying to drive me insane?
MAMMAW: Sister, you can stand there and lie all you like. It don’t change a thing. God knows how you hate me. (Crosses to window.)
JO: (To MAMMAW.) I don’t hate you.
MAMMAW: Oh, yes, you do. Ain’t no doubt about that.
LEOTA RUTH: (To the open air. To no one in particular.) Sometimes there are dueling voices in my mind . . . rattling swords . . . screaming for attention . . . vile and hateful. Noise. There is a mirror up ahead. I think I ought to be reflected in it. But, the noise of those voices gets in the way and keeps me from seeing where I am—who I am. The noise is thick and dense and leaves a dark, sap-like stain deep inside me. I cannot see myself clearly. There is too much noise. Just too much noise. Am I the reflection?
MAMMAW: (Shouting out window.) Get outta that apricot tree, you Mexican hoodlum! Go! Shoo, shoo! Damn wetbacks!
JO: (Crosses to window.) That’s the Martinez boy, mother.
BILLIE: Dorella’s boy?
JO: That’s the one.
MAMMAW: I don’t care if it’s the boy on the milk carton! It’s still a wetback!
BILLIE: Oh, no. Dorella’s a teacher.
JO: No, she ain’t.
LEOTA RUTH: (Aside.) But, of what? Of what am I a reflection?
BILLIE: Yes, she is.
JO: You’re thinking of Manny’s wife. (Crosses to ironing board and proceeds to once again fold the laundry that MAMMAW had previously refolded.)
BILLIE: No, I’m not. Manny’s wife is a secretary over at the high school. Dorella teaches.
LEOTA RUTH: (Aside.) There is God in unlikely voices.
MAMMAW: (Yelling out window.) Go back to Pango Pango!
JO: Mother! Will you stop making a spectacle of yourself.
MAMMAW: Thievin’ hoodlum!
JO: He ain’t but six or seven years old.
MAMMAW: They teach ‘em young. They got three-year-old pickpockets roaming the streets of Juarez. Steal everything you got if you don’t keep an eye on ‘em. Knife you for a chew of bubble gum.
JO: Nobody knifes anybody for bubble gum, mother.
MAMMAW: No? (To BILLIE.) What do you say?
BILLIE: Well, I think that’s a bit extreme, Mammaw. Don’t you?
MAMMAW: If I did, I wouldn’t have brought it up. (Sits and rearranges the order of JO’s coupons.) Remember the Flowers girl?
JO: Peggy. Peggy Flowers.
BILLIE: No. It was June. I’m absolutely certain.
MAMMAW: Christie Mae. Christie Mae Flowers.
BILLIE: Ah, yes, that was her name.
JO: Well, whoever! Died of scarlet fever.
JO: Scarlet fever.
MAMMAW: Bubble gum. She swallowed bubble gum.
JO: Oh, mother!
MAMMAW: She did! She swallowed bubble gum. Got herself bound. All stuck up. Died. Some say it was suicide. (To BILLIE.) What do you say?
BILLIE: I don’t know enough to say anything, Mammaw.
MAMMAW: Of course you don’t. Never thought you did.
JO: Mother, why don’t you go and lay down for awhile?
MAMMAW: No! You’re gonna sneak off to the fabric store while I’m not looking.
JO: No, I’m not, mother. Please, just for a little bit while I fix us some lunch.
MAMMAW: I don’t want any lunch.
JO: Then, lay down anyway!
MAMMAW: I might not wake up.
JO: Of course you’ll wake up.
MAMMAW: You don’t know that.
JO: (Crossing towards MAMMAW.) Go and lay down!
MAMMAW: (Rises. Backing away.) No! I’m afraid.
JO: There’s nothing to be afraid of.
MAMMAW: People die in their sleep. I’m not going!
JO: Nobody’s gonna die in their sleep, mother.
MAMMAW: (Crosses to ironing board.) How do you know? Are you a fortune teller now? (Proceeds to, once again, refold the ironing.)
JO: Oh, for God’s sake— (BILLIE rises.) And just where do you think you’re going?
BILLIE: (Obviously feigning an excuse to get out of the room – away from the mounting tension.) Well . . . I . . . I thought . . . ah . . . the bathroom.
JO: Sit down!
BILLIE: I . . . I took a water pill and I—
JO: I don’t care if you took an enema!
MAMMAW: She’s not going to pee on the floor, is she?
BILLIE: I really need to—
JO: SIT DOWN! (BILLIE sits.) Thank you.
MAMMAW: Sister, if she’s got to pee, let her pee.
JO: She doesn’t have to pee.
BILLIE: I do. I really, really do, Jo.
MAMMAW: You hear? She does. She really, really does.
JO: She don’t!
BILLIE: I do.
MAMMAW: Best to believe a bloated woman, sister.
JO: She don’t gotta pee! She wants to get away from you! You’re making her crazy. (Sits and proceeds to rearrange the order of the coupons.)
MAMMAW: (Crossing to BILLIE.) Am I making you crazy?
BILLIE: No, Mammaw. It’s these water pills I’ve been taking for the bloat.
MAMMAW: See, sister? Bloated like a blimp. It’s those water pills making her crazy.
JO: It’s not the water pills. It’s you!
MAMMAW: I ain’t never, in all my life, made anybody have to pee! Remember Harvey Monroe? He had bladder problems, too. They had to hook a plastic bag to him.
JO: Mother! Go and lay down!
MAMMAW: No! And you can’t make me.
BILLIE: What’s that poem called?
JO: What poem?
BILLIE: Leota Ruth’s. The one about the devils.
LEOTA RUTH: (Aside.) The poem is called Desert Devils and it is dedicated to God.
BILLIE: (To JO.) Devious Devils—something like that. Do you remember that poem? How did it go?
Desert Devils spin round the buried Soul
While the Mind flies on Ancient wings
And the Body by Gravity bound
Wanders chained to the desert ground
Mother, Goddess of the Earth, let her soar
Where Time is stopped and Space is naught
But the spinning fibers of her thought
Father, God of the invisible Mind
Teacher of revelations Divine
Let her drink deep the atmosphere sublime
Then take away Space
Then take away Time
Take her to where thought upon matter revels
To the tune and to the dance
Of the Desert Devils
BILLIE: I don’t know what made me think of that poem, but—
MAMMAW: Sister used to write poetry.
JO: I ain’t never wrote a poem in my life.
MAMMAW: You used to come home with poems all the time. There was one about roses and violets, and then there was one about the three men in a tub. (To BILLIE.) When sister was a little girl she was just full of poetry.
JO: I was never full of poetry, mother.
MAMMAW: Sure sounded like poetry to me.
JO: Well, it wasn’t!
MAMMAW: She was full of somethin’. You can go to the bank on that. Leota Ruth’s poems were very beautiful and I’m sure God was pleased.
LEOTA RUTH: (To no one – just the air.) Thank you, Mammaw.
JO: Mother! Go lay down!
MAMMAW: No! You just don’t want me around when Howie Boy calls.
JO: Howie Boy ain’t gonna call today
MAMMAW: How do you know?
JO: ‘Cause it’s Monday. Howie Boy never calls on Monday. ‘Sides, he called last night.
JO: He called last night, mother.
MAMMAW: Liar. He didn’t call last night.
JO: He did too. After you went to bed.
MAMMAW: You called him.
JO: No, I didn’t.
MAMMAW: Yes, you did.
BILLIE: (Trapped between them.) I have to pee.
MAMMAW: You thought I was asleep, but I wasn’t. You called him.
(LEOTA RUTH goes to cabinet and begins to search.)
JO: Well, he had a right to know that his daddy was in the hospital, didn’t he?
LEOTA RUTH: (To herself.) My medication. Where is my medication?
(LEOTA RUTH finds the full bottle of pills. During the dialog to follow, she fills a glass with orange juice and then – still unseen by anyone in the kitchen – proceeds to take the entire bottle, one pill at a time.)
MAMMAW: You waited for me to go to bed so you could have him all to yourself.
JO: That’s not true.
MAMMAW: It is so true. You don’t want him to talk to his Mammaw.
LEOTA RUTH: (To audience.) The funny thing about my particular kind of illness is that during those times of pure lucidity—of sane and normal consciousness—the afflicted person wants, more than anything, to be once again engulfed in the illusions of the disease. It is of rare and ironic comfort to the tormented party. (Ingests some pills.)
MAMMAW: You don’t want him to talk to his Mammaw because you know he loves me more than he does you! Just like your daddy loved you more than he did me!
JO: How can you say such a thing? You’re sick!
MAMMAW: I’m not the one that’s sick around here, sister.
LEOTA RUTH: (To audience.) To be sane in a sane world is difficult enough, but to be sane in an insane world—well, there’s the rub. (Continuing to ingest pills.)
BILLIE: (Rising.) Look, I really need to . . .
JO: (Stopping her.) Sit down! (BILLIE sits.)
MAMMAW: (To BILLIE.) Remember all those Air Force boys sister used to take in after Howie Boy left for college?
BILLIE: Yes, Mammaw.
JO: Don’t listen to her, Billie.
MAMMAW: I can’t tell you how many times poor, stupid H.O. would come cryin’ to me whiles sister was doin’ somethin’ nasty with one of those boys.
JO: That’s a filthy lie!
MAMMAW: Don’t talk to me about filthy, sister! Ol’ H.O. got to be the weakest man alive or the biggest fool for love I’ve ever known.
JO: You don’t know what you’re talking about! They was boarders. We were just trying to make ends meet. I loved them like they was my own sons.
MAMMAW: You’ll get no argument from me, sister. (To BILLIE.) Do you know why Howie Boy never comes around?
LEOTA RUTH: (To audience.) You might not want to listen to this. It gets a little scary. I generally tune out. But, then I’ve heard it all before.
BILLIE: I just want to go to the bathroom, Mammaw.
JO: (To MAMMAW. Warning.) Mother, stop it. (To BILLIE.) Go to the bathroom.
MAMMAW: Stay put! (Blocks BILLIE’s way.)
JO: She’s got to go to the bathroom.
MAMMAW: I don’t care if she’s got to go to the emergency room. Sit! (BILLIE sits.)
JO: Mother, I’m gonna have you put away.
MAMMAW: Put a zipper on it, sister.
LEOTA RUTH: (To audience.) Fair warning. There is much violence of the spirit to follow.
MAMMAW: (Picking up plastic floral arrangement – to BILLIE.) See this ugly flower thing?
MAMMAW: Well, I’m gonna bust it over your dumb skull if you budge one inch! Now, do you know why Howie Boy never comes around here anymore?
BILLIE: (Resigned.) No, Mammaw. Why?
JO: That cinches it! You’re going today!
LEOTA RUTH: (Sotto voce.) Please stop.
MAMMAW: (Putting floral arrangement on table.) He told me.
JO: Mother, stop it! Stop it right now!
(JO and MAMMAW begin a pattern of going around the table – like two cats about to pounce. LEOTA RUTH appears more and more frightened - more stressed.)
MAMMAW: Told me how sister runs around in front of him in her under things.
JO: That’s not true!
MAMMAW: In front of a grown man in her bra and panties.
JO: That’s a lie!
LEOTA RUTH: (In pain.) Please stop. You’re hurting me. (Frantically, takes the remainder of the pills.)
MAMMAW: Trapping him in her bedroom.
JO: You goddamned liar!
MAMMAW: Seducing her own son.
JO: You’re crazy.
MAMMAW: Crazy like a fox, sister. No wonder he prefers men to women.
LEOTA RUTH: I can’t breathe.
JO: You don’t know what you’re talking about!
MAMMAW: Oh, I know what I’m talking about all right. (Sits.)
JO You’d do anything to get between us! You was always interfering—trying to poison him against his own mother—just like you tried to poison daddy against me. Well, he’s my son, not yours. You wanted a son, but you had me and you couldn’t stand that, could you? So, when I had a son you tried to take him away, poison him against me—make him your own.
MAMMAW: You had a daughter, too.
JO: I never had a daughter! I had another retard just like you!
(LEOTA RUTH walks to the window.)
MAMMAW: And you were so busy telling her that. No wonder Leota Ruth killed herself.
JO: (After a long, uncomfortable SILENCE.) That had nothing to do with me.
MAMMAW: Nothin ‘ ever does. Murderer!
JO: STOP IT!
MAMMAW: Murderer! Murderer! I should’ve drowned you!
JO: I know. You’ve been telling me that all my life. Why didn’t you, huh? Why, mother, why?
MAMMAW: Because you’re my daughter.
LEOTA RUTH: (Looking out the window. Almost a chant.) Take away time. Take away time. Take away time. (She produces a razor blade and carefully examines it.)
JO: Since when has that ever meant anything to you?
MAMMAW: You ain’t nothin’ but an ingrate.
JO: Me? Me? Who takes care of you, mother? Who took you in when daddy died? You sat over in that old drafty shack and didn’t eat a thing for nearly a week. You’d be dead now, if it weren’t for me.
MAMMAW: It weren’t no shack. It was good enough for you at one time, wasn’t it?
BILLIE: (Timidly.) Can I go now?
JO: Shut up! (Crosses behind MAMMAW who is seated at the table.) I should have left you there to die.
MAMMAW: Like you did Leota Ruth?
JO: You goddamned bitch! (Grabs towel and begins to strangle MAMMAW.) I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!
LEOTA RUTH: Take away time. (She raises her arm and slowly, carefully, begins to carve on her flesh. Each “Take away time” is punctuated by a fresh slash to her arm.) Take away time. Take away time. Take away time. Take away time . . .
(The action freezes. JO has the towel wrapped around MAMMAW’s throat. BILLIE is about to jump up and stop JO from strangling MAMMAW. LEOTA RUTH, her eyes glazed over, ceases to cut herself. The LIGHTING FADES while LEOTA RUTH is bathed in her own “special” LIGHTING.)
LEOTA RUTH: (Taking on the persona of a thirteen-year-old.) Mommy, mommy! Come quickly!
JO: (Moving out of the frozen shadows, comes down to the window and to her daughter. She takes on the persona of a much younger woman.) What is it, sweetie?
LEOTA RUTH: (Looking out window.) Look. Isn’t it beautiful?
JO: Oh, yes.
LEOTA RUTH: I knew you’d like it.
JO: I do.
LEOTA RUTH: Isn’t that about the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen?
JO: I believe it is. Yes, I think it is. Now, isn’t it about time you got yourself ready for bed?
LEOTA RUTH: Soon. Let me just look until it goes down—until it is all over.
JO: All right, just a little while longer.
LEOTA RUTH: Just till when it is all over.
JO: Yes. When it’s all over. You look and I’ll finish putting up the supper dishes. But as soon as the light fades, you go to bed. Okay?
LEOTA RUTH: Stay with me. Please. Just until the light fades.
JO: I’ve got work to do, sweetie.
LEOTA RUTH: I know. But, it is very, very sad to look at something beautiful when you are all alone without anybody to share it with. Ugly should be seen when you are all alone, but beauty has to be shared.
JO: You say the strangest things sometimes. (They BOTH stare out the window as the LIGHT shifts on the faces. After a pause.) There. See? It’s almost over.
LEOTA RUTH: Not yet. (After a pause.) Why couldn’t it always be like this?
JO: Like what, sweetie?
LEOTA RUTH: Like now. Full of love and kindness.
JO: You think there is no love and kindness?
LEOTA RUTH: Oh, yes. Yes, I do—now. (A sigh.) But now will not always be.
JO: Won’t it?
LEOTA RUTH: No. That’s why I have to leave, mommy.
JO: You’re a strange duck. And exactly where will you be going?
LEOTA RUTH: I don’t know exactly. Somewhere. Outside of time, I expect.
JO: And just how does my little girl plan to do that?
LEOTA RUTH: The sun. I’m going to leave with the sun.
JO: (Kisses LEOTA RUTH on the forehead.) You’re such a strange little creature. But, I love you.
LEOTA RUTH: (Begins the metamorphosis back into the woman she is.) I love you, too, mother. If only we were able to continue loving . . .
JO: (Reverting back into the woman she is.) You changed. You’re not my little girl anymore. I don’t know who you are, Leota Ruth.
LEOTA RUTH: Why don’t you look? Why don’t you try, mother?
JO: I don’t like what I see.
LEOTA RUTH: What do you see?
JO: Something I’m ashamed of.
LEOTA RUTH: What, mother? What?
JO: I don’t know! I don’t want to know! It’s in your eyes and I don’t want to be reminded of it.
LEOTA RUTH: Who do I remind you of, mother?
JO: (After a pause. Tearfully.) All that I rejected in my own life. You remind me of all that I struggled against becoming. You remind me of who I can no longer be—what I threw away a long time ago.
LEOTA RUTH: Goodbye, mother.
LEOTA RUTH: I need to follow the sun now.
JO: Then follow the sun. I won’t stop you.
LEOTA RUTH: (As the LIGHT fades on their faces.) Mother?
LEOTA RUTH: Be careful. There are devils in the desert.
JO: I know, Leota Ruth. I know.
(The LIGHTING fades and LEOTA RUTH exits outside of Time, outside of Space. The LIGHTING slowly rises as JO returns to where MAMMAW sits frozen with the towel still around her neck. JO grabs the towel. The LIGHTING is back to where it had originally been. The SOUND of BILLIE’s and MAMMAW’s screams!)
JO: (Strangling MAMMAW with towel.) I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!
MAMMAW: (Sinking to the floor.) Help . . . help . . . (Obviously struggling to breathe.)
BILLIE: (Pulling JO from off MAMMAW.) Jo! Stop it! You’ll kill her! (The TELEPHONE RINGS.) Stop it, Jo! Stop it! (Manages to get JO away from MAMMAW.)
(BILLIE comforts MAMMAW. JO staggers around in a rage. She grabs the plastic flowers and hurls them across the kitchen. She throws the folded ironing in all directions. Things fly – the laundry, the iron, the ironing board, this and that, etc. The TELEPHONE continues to RING.)
JO: (While in her rage.) When’s my turn, huh? When’s my turn?
MAMMAW: (To BILLIE.) She never was any good. Now, will you call the police?
(The TELEPHONE continues to RING.)
BILLIE: Nobody’s gonna call the police, Mammaw.
JO: Oh, she’s had the police here before, don’t think she hasn’t.
BILLIE: Are you all right, Mammaw? (Helping her back into the chair.)
JO: Is she all right? Is she all right? What about me, huh? What about me? Jesus Christ! What about me?
BILLIE: (Grabs JO in an effort to calm her.) Jo, get hold of yourself. (JO pulls away.) Why don’t you answer the phone, Jo?
JO: When I’m good and ready! I’ll answer the goddamned phone when I’m good and goddamned ready! (Crosses slowly to telephone. Answers.) Yeah?
BILLIE: (Comforting MAMMAW.) Do you want to go to your room?
MAMMAW: No. Now do you see what I have to put up with?
BILLIE: Yes. Mammaw. Do you want something to drink—to eat?
MAMMAW: Is that Howie Boy she’s talkin’ to?
BILLIE: I don’t know, Mammaw.
JO: (Into telephone.) When? Are you sure?
MAMMAW: I bet that’s Howie Boy. (To JO.) If that’s Howie Boy, you better let him talk to his Mammaw!
JO: (Into telephone.) Yes, I understand.
MAMMAW: Don’t you hang up that phone without me talkin’ to him!
JO: (Into telephone.) Thank you. (Hangs up telephone.)
MAMMAW: (To BILLIE.) See? She did it again!
JO: Did what, mother?
MAMMAW: Talked to Howie Boy and pretended I didn’t exist.
JO: That wasn’t Howie Boy, mother. It was the hospital.
MAMMAW: Was it for me?
BILLIE: (To JO.) Is everything okay?
MAMMAW: I bet it was for me.
JO: It’s H.O. They’re operating on him right now.
MAMMAW: Now what did you do to him?
JO: I didn’t do anything, mother. That stomach thing turned out to be appendicitis. Will you drive me to the hospital, Billie? My nerves have had all they can stand for one day.
BILLIE: Certainly. You want to go right now?
JO: If you don’t mind, yes.
MAMMAW: Since you’re not driving, can I come?
JO: Yes, mother. If you want to come, come.
MAMMAW: (Rises to exit.) Just let me get my bag. Remember Piggy Smith?
JO: No, mother. Who’s Piggy Smith?
MAMMAW: Oh, just someone I knew once. He used to charge a nickel to let you see his appendix scar.
MAMMAW: All right, all right. I’ll just be a minute. (Exits to her bedroom.)
BILLIE: (Gathering up her knitting and her hair rollers.) Is H.O. going to be all right?
JO: Yes, I think so.
BILLIE: And you?
JO: I’m fine, Billie, just fine. Let’s go. (BOTH start to exit. JO turns back and looks toward the window.) Maybe we’ll wait till the spring, Billie.
BILLIE: The spring? What are you talking about, Jo?
JO: Curtains. We were talking about curtains, weren’t we?
BILLIE: Yes. Yes, we were, Jo.
JO: Well, we’ll hold off on new ones. For awhile, anyway.
BILLIE: Sure, Jo. Anything you say.
JO: Leota Ruth, bless her soul, picked out the material for these curtains. (Pause.) Why did she have to go and kill herself?
BILLIE: I don’t know, Jo. Why does anybody?
JO: Sleeping pills, ripped arteries, slashed jugular. Why, Billie, why?
BILLIE: I don’t know, Jo. (A pause.) We best be going.
BILLIE: Yes. (After a pause.) I always liked those curtains. (A pause.) Well, I’ll go get the car. (Exits.)
JO: (She crosses to the window and gently touches the curtains. LEOTA RUTH enters and gently rests her hand on JO’s shoulder. Perhaps, JO feels her presence.) Maybe. Maybe in the spring. I mean, they’re not bad—not really—not all bad. A little worn, perhaps. A little frayed. But, they’re familiar—comfortable. Easy to come home to. Easy on the eye. I mean, they still have some wear in them—some life. Don’tcha think?
Slow FADE to BLACK perhaps to the MUSIC of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel.”
END OF PLAY