Mine Alone
a play by
Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
Ackerman — 75. Iowa farmer, Pennsylvania Dutch extraction.
Esther — 70, looks older. His wife. First signs of disturbed senility.
Don — 34. Their son. Salesman.
Wendy — 35. Don’s wife. Elementary school teacher.
Living room of an Iowa farm house.
Scene is represented by single rear wall. Faded print wallpaper. Window with white curtains and brown roller blind. Calendar.
Up right, near window, a worn armchair. Up left, near window, a rocking chair with a small table beside it.
Farther down stage, two straight chairs at a small dlning table. A braided rug under the table. No other furniture.
Far downstage, facing up, a small TV on a wire stand. Always on.
Spring to fall.
The Denver Center production was in a large arena, with the center dominated by a large family dining table. The room was unnaturally — but very effectively — expanded. In the Philadelphia production, the living room walls were 2x4 studs on all four sides. Monologs were at the downstage window frame.
Movement and business should be very selective and spare.
Sculptural realism.
Incidental music by Elizabeth Fuller, created for the Philadelphia production, is available on CD.
© 1990 Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
All rights reserved.
For production information, contact WordWorkers, 800-357-6016 or E-mail.
Four sit in chairs, rooted, waiting the end of a visit. ESTHER faces the TV. Silence.
ACKERMAN taps his hand on chair arm. DON shifts. WENDY giggles.
WENDY: Well.
DON: Well then.
ACKERMAN: I guess.
Silence. Faint sound of TV.
DON: Anybody watchin that?
WENDY: Oh maybe.
ACKERMAN: Watch what?
Silence. WENDY giggles at a memory.
WENDY: Oh I was just. . .
When I was a kid, I thought when people left, when I didn’t see them, they just went someplace and stood in corners.
They didn’t live. They just shut off. I was the one was alive.
I guess we proceed through life on that assumption.
ACKERMAN: I guess.
Silence. DON stands up to turn off TV. Doesn’t.
DON: I wish we talk some business, Dad.
No response.
What is it, the twenty-fifth?
ACKERMAN: Twenty-first.
DON: End of March. Rain, cold, wind cuts right through. Spittin sleet.
This goes on, you never get out in the fields, like this at the end of March.
ACKERMAN: Ain’t the end of March.
DON: The twenty-first. You can’t get out in the fields, there’s not any crops.
You bought steers? You ain’t bought steers, no crops, no livestock, how do you pay the bank?
WENDY: This weather, the kids are awful at school. They just get mean.
Course seventh grade they’re all mean, well not all, but at least seventh grade, the one nice thing about seventh grade is you don’t have to help’em in boots and snowsuits, kindergarten was awful.
But third grade, I really liked third grade. I wish I had third grade.
DON: Dad?
ACKERMAN: Glad you come to dinner.
WENDY: Well we’ll come more often, Don doesn’t have to travel now.
It was awful when you never knew if they were gonna send him off, and I just can’t believe you made that whole dinner yourself.
ACKERMAN: Never cook nothin till last October.
WENDY: No, it’s wonderful.
I’m an ok cook, I think, you’d have to ask Don, but whatever I cook it always tastes like it came out of a can.
ACKERMAN: Well I use cans.
DON: Dad, let’s talk.
ACKERMAN: You wanta listen? Here’s what they say in the paper.
“Bankruptcy courts must give weight to a farmer’s skill, a federal appellate ruling.” Where they tried to foreclose in Missouri.
“‘The Larsons’ farm operation skills are something of value if their farm was liquidated,’ said the opinion by Circuit Judge” and so on.
DON: That’s not to the point.
ACKERMAN: How’s your business then?
DON: Doing fine. Gettin off the ground.
ACKERMAN: Sellin boats to farmers.
DON: I don’t sell boats to farmers.
ACKERMAN: Who else in Cedar Spring?
DON: Small businessmen.
ACKERMAN: Damn small.
DON: We draw from Des Moines—
ACKERMAN: Least your wife’s got a job. Always a need for schoolteachers. People always gonna be dumb.
DON: We gotta go.
ACKERMAN: No, I was proud you married a school teacher.
Thought, hell, Rosie’s girl went to college, but Don’s got one as good.
Then her girl was killed, by the husband, they said, I thought hell, she thinks she’s bettern us, she got another think comin.
WENDY: We should count our blessings.
DON: Well we do.
I do anyway. I love my wife, and I honor my father and mother, I support the church, I do what’s right, and that’s the point.
We’re a family, and we all got problems, which if we can solve as a family we’re that much farther ahead.
Like Ohio there’s all those Aim-ish. Those sonsabitches, they drive the good farmers out, cause they don’t have debts, they all stick together.
ACKERMAN: They Christians?
DON: Mormons or somethin—
WENDY: No, they’re a German sect, and they retain all the old traditional values, like horses, it’s pronounced Ah-mish.
DON: The point is they’re damn good farmers, and they stick together, as a family, if somebody needs money, that’s the Christian thing.
They don’t make the bankers rich, or the IRS.
Cause I’m gonna have customers like crazy as soon as the economy picks up, but—
ESTHER: You know the power went off.
Startled, they look at her.
Some city. All of a sudden it’s dark. Right in bright day, first thing it’s dark.
They gotta have lectric light. Even daytime it’s all electric light.
ACKERMAN: Shut up.
DON: Dad, goddammit. Don’t talk to her like that. Yellin at her for thirty years.
ACKERMAN: Thirty-five.
DON: Damn German families. All the old men yell at the wives. Treat her like one a your sows. I’m so glad to be outa that.
ACKERMAN: Then go.
DON: Don’t think I won’t.
ESTHER: An they let this mass murderer go.
ESTHER: They go round one judge to another, keep him outa the chair.
Kill you soon as look.
WENDY: Yes, that’s really . . . the way it is.
DON: Dad, let’s talk.
WENDY: It’s so strange, the stuff people believe.
There was a station in Omaha did this thing, I think it was April Fools.
They ran this announcement that the phone company was cleaning out its lines, the telephone lines were full of soot, so they had to cleanem out, they asked everyone to put plastic bags on their phones, to catch the soot.
And people did. Even a college, a shopping mall, they thought the phones would blow soot.
No response.
But it was a joke.
DON: Wendy, just . . . shut up.
ACKERMAN: These big companies.
ESTHER: He’s always runnin down the country.
ESTHER: Belly-achin.
DON: That’s ok, Mom.
ESTHER: Don’t care who’s got the missiles.
DON: Well it’s a pretty fine country. Dad, let’s talk—
ESTHER: Better get some new missiles.
ACKERMAN: What the hell you talkin about?
ESTHER: Well you’re always knockin the country.
ACKERMAN: What country?
ESTHER: This country. United States. What other country is there?
It just takes a long time. They put springs, I read it.
Big spring down the silo, jumps it up to the top, they lose gravity, then they shoot off—
ESTHER: Then they hit you.
Silence. WENDY cuts a piece of cake.
WENDY: Well I guess they’re bringing back the blimp too, if I eat any more of this cake. That really is good. I’ll have to get the recipe.
ACKERMAN: I bought it.
WENDY: Then I’ll find out where.
She laughs. DON forces a laugh.
DON: That’s something I never thought. Dad making cakes.
WENDY: Why sure, we’re a couple of old gossips.
ACKERMAN: Old Buffington, he kidded hell outa me. “Ackerman’s cookin! Ackerman’s cookin the meals!”
WENDY: Well but that’s ok. I wish Don would.
DON: I cook eggs.
ACKERMAN: Do what you have to.
October she got the flu. Arthritis got bad.
I burned the bottom out of a pot.
WENDY: Boy, I’ve done a lot worse than that. After a day with seventh graders, boy, sometimes it isn’t easy.
DON: Sure it isn’t easy.
My business starts movin, sure, but till then it isn’t easy.
Damn bankers, we try to go in for a loan, not a loan cause I don’t like to borrow money, but what they call refinancin, cause we got a lotta debts.
They said flat no.
Cause we don’t have no equity, we just moved.
Myers at the bank, he said now if you got land, I mean land, that’s where the market is, development out here, out from Des Moines, the air base, they’re lookin for land.
ESTHER: Well what?
ACKERMAN: Feel ok?
ESTHER: Oh my hands.
DON: Dad, listen—
ACKERMAN: Aspirin.
He gets up, takes aspirin bottle from top of TV, takes out four aspirin.
ESTHER: I guess.
ACKERMAN hands her aspirin. She drops one. He picks it up, carefully wipes it off, gives it to her.
ACKERMAN: Get you water.
She swallows without water. He sits.
DON: She needs takin care.
ACKERMAN: Alla time.
DON: Which is my point, Dad—
WENDY: That’s a beautiful thing to see—
DON: That is not the point! Dammit, stop interruptin!
Honey, please, damn it, I mean would you not interrupt?
What I’m tryin to get to the point of— You got the problem takin care a her, which you never did before—
ESTHER: He don’t take care a me—
DON: And the problem a the farm.
Cause you got debts, I know you got debts, you’re not gonna last a year. There’s no money in farmin—
ACKERMAN: Don’t give a damn for the farmer—
DON: Nobody gives a damn. Right. They don’t need farmers now, they buy all their food in the supermarket. They make fun a you.
Pick up a newspaper: “Pest management news. We continue to look for corn borers. Not finding much activities. ‘Sudden death syndrome’ on soybeans. Plants fall over but stay green for a time before they kick off.”
Entertainment ads: “The Bloodmobile is comin.” Great entertainment. “Eileen Spracklin named Queen of the Shelby County Porkettes.”
Dad, it’s a joke!
Silence. Changed tone.
High school.
I was the best fullback they ever had. You said that. Any time they gimme the ball. I never didn’t make a touchdown, right?
Only they’d never put me in. Said I missed too much practice. Damn farm. They didn’t want a farmer in the backfield.
But they gimme the ball, I’d make a touchdown. I’m in three times, I made three touchdowns.
WENDY: Was it three?
DON: Want those bastards to come over, talk to me.
Fat kid, he’d come over, he thought I was great.
All the others, somebody makes a touchdown, they jump around, slap his back, jump around, huggin each other.
Hell, I made the touchdowns too.
WENDY: I wish I’d seen you play.
DON: That’s not the point.
ACKERMAN: They always knock the farmer.
DON: I’m not the damn farmer now.
ACKERMAN: You sell boats.
WENDY: He tries.
DON sits. WENDY pours coffee.
Good coffee too.
ACKERMAN: Have more cake if you want. Nobody eats it here.
ESTHER: Says you.
ACKERMAN: Shut up.
WENDY: I’ll just eat all the cake and nobody gets it.
ESTHER: (to TV) Turn that off?
ACKERMAN: It’s for you.
WENDY: Wouldn’t this be a great place for kids?
I mean I guess it was. When Don was little.
I was just thinking it’d be kind of a healthy, fun place for kids.
DON rises, paces.
DON: Dad, I thought I might go down, talk to a tax lawyer. In regard to the possibilities that might be advantageous.
You know if you was thinkin, well, there’s not much left of the farm economy, it’s time to see the options. You gotta look ahead, all the farms going bust, big ones.
I mean I’m ok, I’m sellin boats, they think maybe it keeps’em afloat.
WENDY: That’s a good line.
DON: We gotta look objectively.
You’re not getting any younger. It’s parta getting older. People get old and die. That’s a fact.
Don’t they say in evolution there’s a reason? People die off, and the human race gets younger. That’s a fact.
People are getting younger, and younger people have to live.
ESTHER: Whole house fulla guns. . .
DON: Look, I put off a church meetin, I put off a customer, just so we come over and visit. It’s not Sunday afternoon every day, I think you’d gimme some credit for tryin.
Fine, ok, fine. If this place goes bust and we never see a dime, that’s fine. Sit there, let it hit the fan, let her sit there, fine!
I’m doing ok. Boy, I don’t have sweat like that. I just sign my name. Money fallin off trees!
He runs out of steam. Silence. WENDY rises.
WENDY: Well I guess we better go. Tomorrow’s another day. They come in mean on Mondays.
No response. ACKERMAN, preoccupied, makes a vague gesture, grasping a distant memory.
ACKERMAN: One time. . .
Don made a doll out of a corn shuck. Corn shuck head.
Member that?
You was five.
He looks at them. Rises.
Glad you come over.
WENDY: You’ll have to come over and visit. Now we’re living close. I’ll bake a cake.
ACKERMAN: If she’s ok.
WENDY: She’s fine. Aren’t you?
DON: Aren’t you, Mom?
ACKERMAN: They’re askin you.
ESTHER: Oh yes.
Deliberately, ESTHER empties her cup onto the floor.
ACKERMAN: God damn.
Dim TV. ACKERMAN and ESTHER in motionless tableau. WENDY, in light, talking to us.
WENDY: I always act so stupid.
We don’t visit much, because for a while we weren’t close by, we’d come on holidays, and then I sit there and say something dumb.
It’s hard to marry into a farm family. He cooks for her, brings her an aspirin, but Don says all his life he’s just beat her down. Some people are almost not human.
I don’t understand people like that. We always had books in the house, and Dad was always cheerful, even despite tragic things, like my brother died. . .
The terrible dreams are. . .
There’s like a shadow there, outside your field of vision, you can’t make it focus. Or the water you’re swimming. . .
My seventh graders, they watch these movies, it’s all about something’s there, it’s coming, but nobody sees, but there’s fire inside the walls, and they flick a switch. . .
They really scare me.
My father was always cheerful. He was a dentist. He never talked about teeth.
Night. ACKERMAN, in long johns, pants and suspenders, eats cake with his fingers. ESTHER, in flannel nightgown, brushes her waist-length gray hair.
ACKERMAN: Whatta you talkin that stuff?
ESTHER: Brushin my hair.
ACKERMAN: They thought you was nuts.
ESTHER: Come snoopin here.
ACKERMAN: Missiles, mass murders, coffee on the rug—
ESTHER: These hands.
ACKERMAN: They think you’re nuts.
ESTHER: Feel arthritis five minutes—
ACKERMAN: Arthritis hell.
ESTHER: Eat the cake.
ACKERMAN: Good cake. Try it.
ESTHER: What for?
ACKERMAN: To eat it.
ESTHER: Why’d you chase him away?
ACKERMAN: He had business.
ESTHER: Says you.
Silence. At TV:
ACKERMAN: We turn that off?
ESTHER: What’s the weather?
ACKERMAN: More wet. They dunno. You can’t trust’em.
They got this radar and satellites, maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that, all mixed up.
ESTHER: Like it spits.
ACKERMAN: We turn that off?
No response. She stops brushing.
They left a casserole.
Don’s wife Wendy. Casserole, big ham, loaf a bread.
ACKERMAN: She left it.
ESTHER: What for?
ACKERMAN: To eat it.
ESTHER: You tell her do that?
ACKERMAN: Hell no.
ESTHER: Loaf a bread. He sets her on.
ESTHER: Your son.
ACKERMAN: An yours.
She brushes.
ESTHER: He maybe told her—
ESTHER: Bout the chicken house.
ACKERMAN: What chicken house?
ESTHER: He died in.
ACKERMAN: Dad? You talking bout Dad?
ESTHER: Where he died.
ACKERMAN: You’re nuts.
ESTHER: Old rooster.
ACKERMAN: It wasn’t a chicken house.
ESTHER: Fix it up—
ACKERMAN: It was a one-room house. Whole house for himself.
We scrubbed it out, we painted it, we took his meals out to him. It wasn’t a chicken house.
ESTHER: He thought it was.
ACKERMAN: He wouldn’t live in the farm house.
ESTHER: We wouldn’t let him.
ACKERMAN: We said you want to live here, you can’t mess all over, you gotta follow the rules. It was his choice. He coulda followed the rules.
It wasn’t a chicken house.
ESTHER: It is if you think it is, and you’re livin there.
ACKERMAN: Nuffa that.
Silence. He picks up aspirin bottle, puts it down. Picks up paper, wads it.
Makes me so goddamn mad.
ESTHER: What’s the paper?
ACKERMAN: That kid. Goes to a lawyer, tells me we oughta sell the place.
Writes it all down. Estate taxes, living trust, deferred payments, all that.
ESTHER: What’s the paper?
ACKERMAN: I just told you.
I know what they done. He went to the bank for a loan, they put him onto it, get me to sell the place.
ESTHER: What’s the big secret?
ESTHER: Why all the guns?
ACKERMAN: You try to get me riled?
He unwads paper, shows it to her. She glances, ignores it. He broods.
He never could handle money. His idea of money is Win the Lottery.
He was up spendin thirty, forty dollars a week, and once in a while he’d win five bucks.
Give’em a little hope, so they look at the ads they think “Well if I win the Lottery.”
Hell with savin up. Why save up? Never save up before inflation, or taxes, or insurance don’t cover. Why work? It all comes in little dribs and drabs.
Never enough, cause they got millions of people night and day makin you want for somethin. Want it and never get it.
An he says, “Dad, I never play the Lottery now. Maybe five, ten dollars a week.”
ESTHER: The two a you.
ACKERMAN: I never taught him that. He was like that.
His touchdown. He talks about his touchdown.
ESTHER: He made one.
ACKERMAN: He made a touchdown. Sure. But he wouldn’t play like you’re sposed to.
He run all over the field. He took the ball and run around, and they chased him, and then he made a touchdown.
Everbody laughed, cause he run all over the field, like a chicken.
ESTHER: Those touchdowns.
ACKERMAN: Shut up.
Silence. He picks up cake, holds it to her mouth. At last she eats.
I know you’re not feelin good. I do my best.
I’m worried with all the debts.
ESTHER: What debts?
ACKERMAN: Debts we owe money.
ESTHER: Who to?
ESTHER: What for?
ACKERMAN: Everthing. Seed corn, machinery, haulin, storage—
ESTHER: We can’t owe’em. We pay’em all the time.
ACKERMAN: We pay’em and we owe’em.
We stall’em along, we sold the brood sows, but there’s no money to plant, they won’t loan us money to plant—
ESTHER: Help me here.
ACKERMAN: Brush your hair?
ESTHER: My hands.
He takes brush, begins. She grabs it.
You’re no help!
ACKERMAN: What the hell do you want?
ESTHER: I want you to help!
Silence. He goes to TV, flips channels.
German family, the girls don’t amount to nothin.
My sister was always mad. They never hear you.
He folds and unfolds paper.
ACKERMAN: Damn bankers. You can’t do without farmers, people forget.
Get the food in supermarkets, Superman grows the food.
Eat this chemical stuff, I saw a headline, they’re all dyin, they can’t tell why.
ESTHER: You got chemicals.
ACKERMAN: Sure, for bugs. More damn bugs all the time. They shoot off these atom bombs and it changes the bugs.
ESTHER: You got guns.
ACKERMAN: Sure I got guns.
ESTHER: We gotta have atom bombs.
ACKERMAN: I shoot rabbits. You don’t hunt rabbits with atom bombs.
ESTHER: What about the Russians?
ACKERMAN: They don’t either. You don’t make damn sense.
ESTHER: Once they pushed me down to the sofa, and did it.
ESTHER: They did.
ESTHER: On the sofa.
I’m going outside and smoke a cigarette.
ACKERMAN: You bein funny?
I’m gettin sick a your jokes.
I’m gonna have the phone took out. You leave it off the hook, it starts beepin, that’s no good, beepin like that, they’ll charge us for that.
ESTHER: Leave it be.
ACKERMAN: I’ll have it took out.
ESTHER: I need it.
ACKERMAN: What for?
ESTHER: Call for help.
Case there’s a fire. You talk about fires. Old electric wires, or gasoline cans, you got gasoline cans, build up in the air it explodes.
Fumes, an the firemen get chest pains. They start fallin, it’s chest pains.
Like a twister. It’s comin. No place to run.
ACKERMAN: Esther, maybe you see the doctor.
ESTHER: Chiropractor.
ACKERMAN: Maybe a different doctor.
ESTHER: Arthritis.
ACKERMAN: You don’t make sense. You’re ok, then you have a spell, talk about guns, atom bombs, burnin things up—
ESTHER: It’s the pain—
ACKERMAN: Not just the pain—
ESTHER: What it’s like—
ACKERMAN: You talk funny stuff, talk about Russians—
ESTHER: Don’t tell me they’re not!
ACKERMAN: You see the damn doctor!
ESTHER: Help me braid!
He tries to braid. She takes his hands, trying to show how, then slaps his hands away.
ESTHER: Here! Over and under!
Takes one hand, tries to demonstrate.
Now under!
She slaps his hands away. Throws brush down. Long pause. He picks up brush, hands it to her. She stares at him, making no motion to take it.
ESTHER: Why you so nice to me?
ACKERMAN: I’m always nice to you.
ESTHER: Thirty-five years. Shovin me. Yellin.
Sit three days, never say nothin, then top a your voice, haul off and hit me—
ACKERMAN: I never hit you—
ESTHER: Time and again—
ACKERMAN: I never hit you hard—
ESTHER: Time and again—
ACKERMAN: Only when you deserved it—
ESTHER: An what did you deserve?
Very quietly:
An who hit you, an throw you cross the room, an call you bitch, an twist your wrist, and pull your hair, an stare three days like you’re dead, when you deserved it?
Long pause.
ESTHER: That did the arthritis. The elbow.
ACKERMAN: We better see the doctor.
ESTHER: We see the doctor.
ACKERMAN: Another doctor.
ESTHER: I’m watchin you.
ACKERMAN: Whatta you lookin at?
ESTHER: You gonna kill me.
ACKERMAN: My God, Esther—
ESTHER: Those guns.
ACKERMAN: Shut up!
ESTHER: Keep off!
She throws herself to the floor. Moans, badly bruised. ACKERMAN goes to her, helps her up to her knees, then to feet. He holds her in an embrace.
ACKERMAN: God help us!
Dim TV. ESTHER and WENDY in motionless tableau. DON, in light, talking to us.
DON: Stewardship.
Is a concept in the church, which if you’re on the stewardship committee, means takin care of the property, or the loot.
But which is a helluva lot more than that, because by stewardship, what they say, we create the material things that serve the spirit, whatever you call it.
Whatever you call it, God, or Love thy neighbor, that stuff.
Which I believe in, and we go to church, and I don’t always agree with some of the stuff they say, like how you should run your life.
That’s not the province of religion, I don’t think.
Religion is Jesus and God.
And stewardship. And the point is it’s the same with the farm.
These movies where the farmers are losin the farm, and they’re real noble, how they love the land. That’s not him. He took the farm away from his old man, let him die in the chicken house. Money-grabbin Pennsylvania Dutch.
But stewardship. . . There’s a point bein made here. . .
I have trouble thinkin. I get so damn. . .
The minister said like, “We’re the world.”
We are the world.
We’re impelled into ways which we’re not responsible for, because one generation and the next, it’s like a digestive process. You don’t think about digestin your food, it just happens. Mouth chewin. Big red mouth.
But we’re talkin stewardship. Major responsibility for the world.
Which I take on.
Morning. WENDY and ESTHER sit, waiting. Long silence. ESTHER’s lips move.
WENDY: Nice day today.
ESTHER: (unfocused) Said, “I ain’t gonna eat this.”
An he picks me up by the hair, hit me side of the face, throw me over cross the room, I hit the wall.
WENDY: When was this?
ESTHER: When I’m talkin about.
WENDY: Well that’s . . . something.
ESTHER: I knew better then.
WENDY: Isn’t it nice to see Don look healthy.
He was working so hard, I said, “Your mother’s gonna think I make you work too hard.”
ESTHER: All those fireworks. . .
WENDY: What’s that?
ESTHER: He’s got fireworks.
Every Fourth drive down to Tarkio, fireworks, an he’s got’em, but he won’t say, he says no.
Estimated resale five thousand dollars, you got’em eight inches long, all stored there, waitin.
WENDY: Don’s talking to him. They said, “Go way, we’re talking business.” That’s a man.
ESTHER: I been to the doctor.
WENDY: I’ll bet he charged.
ESTHER: Forty bucks. He didn’t say it was cancer.
Whatta you call it, uterous cancer, said it couldn’t be.
WENDY: It wouldn’t be.
ESTHER: He didn’t say.
WENDY: Cause they’d have you back in there.
ESTHER: Give me a paper.
WENDY: They’d have you in for tests.
ESTHER: Where?
WENDY: There.
WENDY: That’s the diagnosis.
ESTHER: Where?
WENDY: That’s what’s wrong.
WENDY: I don’t know.
ESTHER: They wrote that big word. You know those big words—
WENDY: I don’t know—
ESTHER: Nobody’d know—
WENDY: That’s the diagnosis of what’s the matter.
ESTHER: If you knew.
They look at the word.
WENDY: But if it was cancer, you’d know it. They’d tell you.
They wouldn’t just write down a word.
ESTHER: I spose.
WENDY: If it was cancer they’d make a big fuss.
ESTHER: You’d think.
WENDY: If it was cancer they’d charge more than forty bucks.
ESTHER gestures, trying to find a word.
ESTHER: Ah. . . Ah. . . Hey!
WENDY: What is it?
ESTHER: (almost shouting) Who are you?
WENDY: Wendy.
ESTHER: Wendy! I know that!
Pause. Whispering:
You’re a woman. You’re another woman.
WENDY: Well sure.
ESTHER: Gonna help me.
WENDY: Why sure.
ESTHER: He’s tryin to kill me.
You write my twin sister. Telephone, he hid the number.
She’s in Colorado. She’s tryin to sell a davenport, I says it’s mine, but she don’t listen.
He was always sweet on her. Went with me, but he was sweet on her. Kissed her on the mouth. He got me in trouble, an then blamed me I did it to catch him cause a my sister.
It wasn’t me. It was him. Got me in trouble.
Man spits up into you.
Set afire.
DON appears.
DON: You don’t have no sister, Mom.
He comes in, puts papers in briefcase.
Let’s get the hell outa here.
WENDY: Won’t he sign?
DON: He’ll sign. First he’s gotta raise hell.
WENDY: Honey, don’t get upset, it’s not good for you.
DON: He’s gotta sign. The bank won’t loan money for plantin. He’s too far in debt. They can’t do special favors.
He’s talkin bout he knows Myers, but Myers don’t make decisions any more.
Bank’s been absorbed. It’s all run outa Omaha, and Omaha’s run outa Chicago, and they don’t even know who owns Chicago.
And these problems here. He’s goin from doctor to doctor, they got her on drugs, he don’t know what the drugs sposed to do.
Goes one place, they give’em one, goes another another, then she puts it all in a pile and swallows it.
No wonder she’s crazy. (to ESTHER) Don’t you?
No response. To WENDY:
He comes in, don’t you talk. Let me talk.
Stands silent.
Hi Mom. Feel ok? Nice day today. Dad’s makin lemonade.
No response. He walks around room. Turns lamp on and off. Paces length of room, measuring.
WENDY: We could have a piano.
DON: Play music.
ACKERMAN enters with three glasses of lemonade. Gives one to WENDY, one to DON.
WENDY: What about Mother?
ACKERMAN: She dribbles it.
DON: She’s gettin pretty bad.
ACKERMAN: None a your concern.
DON: Sure it is. Honor thy father and mother.
ESTHER: I want lemonade.
ACKERMAN: Shut up.
DON: Don’t yell at her.
ESTHER: Gimme it!
DON: Mom, be quiet.
ACKERMAN: Actin crazy.
DON: She’s got abrasions.
ACKERMAN: Rug burns.
DON: You give her the Indian rub.
ACKERMAN: She starts to cluck. Funny sound with her tongue.
(to ESTHER) You sound like a chicken.
DON: She think she’s a chicken?
ACKERMAN: She drank a gallon of coke. Told me she can’t eat cause she don’t have guts. No intestines.
DON: Maybe she got a gizzard.
WENDY: I read where a man had a bus ticket in his ear. Fifty years. He couldn’t hear a thing.
DON: Bet they don’t let him on the bus!
DON laughs, stops. ACKERMAN stands, fixated on ESTHER.
ACKERMAN: We went in a cafe. She’s hungry. She orders this big plate of eggs and french fries. That’s what she said, eggs and french fries.
They brung’em. She looks like she don’t know it’s there. Like she met it once, but she don’t who it is.
I said “Eat your eggs.”
She looks at me, she says “I told thousands of people.”
“I told thousands of people.” I said “What?” I said “Told’em what?” “I told thousands.”
She looks at me. Fish eyes. “Eat your eggs!” “I told’em!”
We sit there. She pokes an egg. An she gets up and she walks out the door. Walks out to the sidewalk.
I go out, bring her back. She goes out. Out, back. Out, back. Everbody’s lookin. I haul off an hit her.
Hit her cross the face.
Owner come up, says “You gotta get out.” Kicked us out. Whole plate a eggs, didn’t eat nothin.
Walk out to the sidewalk, she’s cryin, I jerk round on her sweater, I’m so damn mad, cause she always wears that sweater fulla holes, and I yell “I am NEVER gonna buy you eggs again!”
Why’d I say somethin like that?
She can’t help it.
I’d buy her eggs again.
DON: I don’t think we can afford to be sentimental.
ACKERMAN hands her his glass of lemonade. She sips.
ESTHER: That’s good stuff.
DON: Dad, there’s a time for everything.
ACKERMAN: I said no.
DON: Time for livin and a time for dyin—
ACKERMAN: Goddammit no.
DON: Time for buyin and a time for sellin—
ACKERMAN: I told you specifically. I said no.
DON: Not specifically.
ACKERMAN: I said no.
DON: You didn’t say specifically no.
ACKERMAN: I forbid you to talk to the agent.
DON: But I went ahead and you didn’t say nothin.
ACKERMAN: I didn’t know you went ahead.
DON: How did I know you didn’t know?
ACKERMAN: You didn’t tell me.
DON: Somebody mighta told you. I figured, maybe somebody told you, but you didn’t say nothin, so I figured you didn’t care.
ACKERMAN: When I say no it means no.
DON: Well then stick to it.
Silence. WENDY tries to contribute:
WENDY: You know we were thinking about adopting.
Not to the exclusion of one of our own, but it’s the least we could do. Maybe a refugee.
DON: If you died in a house. And say there’s a couple dogs. What would happen?
ACKERMAN: I’d be dead.
DON: What about the dogs? They can’t eat. They can’t get fed. You know who you are then? You’re raw meat.
They’re not goin to give you the loan. They can’t do special favors. There’s a potential market for farmland.
ACKERMAN: You want it so you can sell it.
DON: I never said that.
WENDY: He didn’t say that, Dad.
DON: We’re thinkin about adopting.
WENDY: A refugee.
DON: But there is in fact a market.
ESTHER: Let’s go home.
ACKERMAN: Home? We’re home.
ESTHER: I wanna go home.
DON: Mom, you’re home.
ESTHER: He’ll stay and stay, I don’t have nothin to do. See me sittin over here.
There be a storm, big storm.
ACKERMAN: She tries to get in at my guns.
She says I’m tryin to kill her, that’s why I got the guns.
DON: You better get rid of the guns.
ACKERMAN: I need the guns.
DON: Whatta you need the guns?
ACKERMAN: Somebody breaks in. We get killed.
DON: She gets the guns, then somebody’s killed.
ACKERMAN: She could do all kind of things. Set the house afire.
Get rid a the guns, that guarantees we get killed in our sleep.
DON: If you’re asleep, they kill you with or without the guns.
ACKERMAN: The guns are there, I gotta stay awake.
ESTHER: Set afire!
Silence. ESTHER moves her chair directly in front of TV, sits staring. They watch her.
DON: Well, it helps to have some faith, Dad.
I got the number you can call someplace. Recorded message of the Word of God.
I know businessmen, they say their business has improved since they been prayin.
Chamber of Commerce has a prayer breakfast. Charlie Summers said “You eat that food, you better pray.”
WENDY: Don says “We’re the whole world.”
DON: Good lemonade.
Finishes his glass.
WENDY: It really is.
DON: Dad, ok, we do some business?
ACKERMAN: Businessman, huh?
DON: We’re not doin nothin funny. We’re askin to buy the place.
You need someplace for Mom. She thinks she’s a chicken.
ACKERMAN: How you buy the place?
DON: Money.
ACKERMAN: One dime.
DON: All I’m askin— I’m the son and heir— Look—
You loan us the money, then I pay it back. Then it’s all in the family, forget the bank. It’s good for you, it’s good for me.
ACKERMAN: How’s it good for me?
DON: You get paid. You get a good price. It’s a loan! Listen to me! Christ!
ACKERMAN: I loan you money?
DON: Look, you’re not out nothin. It’s for the house.
It’s not a loan. It’s in the family. So we got the house.
I’m takin the money to give it to you.
ACKERMAN: It’s my money.
DON: Sure it is. You get it right back. You get paid back, an you’re not out nothing.
ACKERMAN: I’m outa the house.
DON: That’s the point!
Look. You don’t think of you bein out. Think of us bein in.
Is a glass half empty or half full? It’s how you look at life.
What about it?
I’m not gonna let this lay. I went to Piper. Piper says it’s ok.
ACKERMAN: He’ll say what you pay him to say.
DON: Piper’s ok.
ACKERMAN: He’s no good.
DON: He helped you screw Buffington on that title.
ACKERMAN: Piper’s a crook.
DON: Well maybe crooks are ok.
Sometimes you gotta have a crook, the way the world is, I’d rather vote for a crook so he’s on my side.
Not everybody’s perfect. You’re sure as hell not perfect. I told him bout Mom. The stuff she did. And he asked me how you’re takin care of her.
And he said one thing: “It is important she gets took care of. That’s the law.”
ACKERMAN: She gets took care of.
DON: Those were his words.
ACKERMAN: I’m doin it.
DON: If the question came up—
DON: If somebody brought up the question—
DON: If you had to prove it in a court of law.
ACKERMAN: What court of law?
DON: Where they might bring up the question.
ACKERMAN: I take care a her. She’s my damn wife.
DON: She clucks like a chicken.
I mean if it got took to court, would they think that somebody that crazy—
ACKERMAN: Not crazy—
WENDY: Precarious—
DON: That precarious—
Senile, crazy, precarious, whatever— Can somebody who’s already old, never took care a nobody, burns the bottom off pans—
Can he give her the care she needs? Cause that’s the law.
ACKERMAN: You takin it to court?
DON: If it came into court, I’m sayin—
ACKERMAN: You takin it?
DON: Not necessarily.
But I don’t see why you’d wanta take it to court, and pay the expense of a lawyer. Piper says it’d cost a hell of a lot—
And hell, you’d lose. You’d lose.
Don’t say it’s my fault. It’s all on you. It’s all on you.
WENDY rises. Goes to DON, touches him. He pulls away.
WENDY: You know sometimes I can’t find something or something, I think I’m crazy, and then I find it in a logical place, and I think, you gotta be really crazy to think you’re crazy when you’re not.
ACKERMAN rises, fumbles.
ACKERMAN: You need somethin to eat? I was gonna make hot dogs.
No response. ACKERMAN looks at ESTHER.
DON: Dad, you know I love you.
ACKERMAN: I took her to the doctor. Sonofabitch, he sits there cool as a cucumber, says “Well she’s losin her mind.”
Just like that. “She’s losin her mind.”
Somethin fancy: Alzenheimer’s Symptom, somethin, like he’s scientific.
Losin her mind.
DON: That’s what I’m sayin.
ACKERMAN: That’s not what I mean!
DON: She’s scared a the guns.
ACKERMAN: Burn down the goddamn house!
DON: She thinks you’re gonna kill her.
ESTHER stands. They look at her. She walks slowly to DON, stops. He rises, goes to her.
DON: Mom?
ESTHER: Mad dog.
Suddenly ESTHER cries out, lunges at DON, claws at his clothing. DON pulls away. WENDY holds her. ESTHER struggles.
WENDY: Mom, it’s ok, Mom. I’m here, Mom, you got a daughter, I’m just like a daughter—
DON: What’s she grabbin at me? I’m tryin to help!
ESTHER: You help me.
WENDY: We’ll try.
ESTHER: Outa here.
DON: Christ!
ESTHER: Frank!
ACKERMAN hurries to support her. WENDY retreats to DON. ESTHER collapses into ACKERMAN’s embrace. Long pause.
I wanta know what’s happenin to me.
Frank? What’s doin?
ESTHER: Kill me.
She looks up at him.
Kill me, Frank.
End Act One
Act Two
Dim TV. ACKERMAN and ESTHER motionless, sitting across the table from one another. WENDY, in light, talks to us.
WENDY: They talk about fires in the walls when the wires go thin.
Sometimes I look at Don. “Who’s that?” Snapshot you can’t remember.
I try to keep things light.
I was a little clown. I wondered how we drive north to South Dakota.
Vacation, up the needle rocks, I remember mica.
Mountain roads, come round in the sun, it was tears all up the side of the mountain, I yell “Stop the car!” Cause I knew it had to be diamonds, gold diamonds, we’d be rich, my mom’d be rich, and they stop the car, I jump out the door and pick up the mica.
Little flakes. Scales. Piecrust.
All the great promise that’s never filled.
So I feel that if perhaps we adopt a child, perhaps a refugee, which are foreign but they aren’t classified as colored, they’re more like the Japanese, who aren’t white but they’re intelligent, maybe smarter than us.
We adopt a child, it’s like practice, you make mistakes on the first, but you learn by doing, and then we’re more experienced when we have a real one.
I don’t mean that like it sounds.
Evening. Dinner is set. Papers on table.
ACKERMAN: He says if I don’t give him the place, he’ll take it to court. Whatta you say?
No response.
Says I don’t take care a you.
No response.
Talk to me.
ESTHER: Oh yeh.
ACKERMAN: Carry on a conversation.
I’ll do your hair after dinner. Dinner’s ready. I got a good dinner now.
There. There’s a baked potato. Hamburger. We got ketchup. We got Roman Meal bread. You like that, that’s healthy. Why the hell am I talkin like that. . .
Then we’re gonna do your hair. We’re gonna make you beautiful. Make you beautiful, Esther. Do your hair.
You eat your Burger King, and we’ll do your hair.
She stares at food, rubbing her hands.
Now stay to that end. Don’t you get goo on the papers. These are official papers. It’s illegal to gum up these papers.
Stop rubbin your hands.
ESTHER: Buddie’s papers?
ACKERMAN: Don’s papers. He’s Buddie when he’s little. Now he’s big.
Take your pills.
No response.
Now the doctor said you take that. So you take it.
You hear me? You don’t be so bullheaded now. Take that, goddammit, I’ll stuff it down your throat.
I’ll call the vet out here, we’ll open up your mouth and shove it down. You act like a cow we’ll treat you like one.
No response.
I’m not gonna fix your hair no more. Chop it all off. Get a wig.
Try take you to the beauty parlor, you start yellin, run out the door. They don’t put up with that.
Can’t take you to Portsmouth no more, we’ll go over Cedar Springs where nobody knows us.
What you want? You want me to cut off your hair? Cut off your hair, get a wig? I saw some wigs over’t K-Mart, they look nice. They look like the beauty parlor.
We’ll cut off your hair, get you a wig. Then you won’t have no gray. I’ll have a nice young blonde. Call you Cutie Pie.
Silence. He puts on glasses, paces floor, looking at legal papers.
They write it so you can’t read it. I can’t read this stuff.
He thinks he’s got us over a barrel. Move us out to the chicken house.
What are you mumblin?
ESTHER: Somethin in his eye.
ESTHER: Buddie does.
ACKERMAN: No he don’t. He got it out.
ESTHER: You dope.
ACKERMAN: Well maybe so. Maybe I’m a dope. Maybe you’re Mrs. Dope.
Laughs. Then terrified.
Stop it!
ESTHER: Where he’s comin.
Clings. He untangles her, awkwardly.
ACKERMAN: Now that’s nothin the matter. Now eat your potatoes. I cooked it for you.
ESTHER: It’s raw.
ACKERMAN: It’s cooked.
Tries it with fork.
Mine was cooked.
ESTHER: You’re some cook.
She laughs. He joins in.
ACKERMAN: Ok. That’s enough. Now stop.
She laughs helplessly. He shakes her.
She continues, weakly, laughing and whimpering. Desperate to make her understand:
Esther, listen to me. It’s all on you.
I can stand up to him. Tell him go to hell. But you gotta stop bein crazy. You gotta show you’re ok, I take care of you ok. Else they’ll take it to court, they’ll kick us out, sell the place and put you in a home.
He says he’ll take it to court. That what you’re tryin to do?
Eat your dinner.
She shoves plate off onto floor. He stands still, then picks up plate.
Ok we’ll do your hair.
Doin your hair. Get your hair done they can’t say you’re not took care of. Now you help me out.
Silence. He finds hair brush, comes to her, unpins her hair, starts brushing. She talks randomly, unfocused.
ESTHER: Can’t tell the way he’s squintin. Somethin to hide. Like he killed the cat.
He did. He’s the one killed the cat.
Think you got a son. Oh boy.
ACKERMAN: Stop buckin round.
ESTHER: Fathers, they gotta have sons. Gotta have sons. Some son.
ACKERMAN: Shut your mouth now.
You had pretty hair. We could do hair color.
ESTHER: Yellow hair.
ACKERMAN: Red maybe.
ESTHER: Blackhead. . .
ACKERMAN: We’re gonna brush you good. Like a big horse. Stop the wiggle.
She rumples her hair.
That don’t help one bit.
ESTHER: I can’t sit this. . .
ACKERMAN: Hold still your damn head.
ESTHER: Train goin that way.
Where we goin? Think I don’t know—
ACKERMAN: We’re doin your hair—
ACKERMAN: Hold still—
ESTHER: I got you pegged—
ACKERMAN: Esther, please—
ESTHER: Shoot to kill!
He throws the brush, out of control. Starts to hit her, hits table. Silence. Recovery.
ACKERMAN: I’m takin care a you!
Now you gotta help. They hear you talk like that— They hear that, then—
They’ll come in here, take you out, put you in one a them homes. You wanta get put in a home? A home? You know what they do in a home?
She whimpers.
Let’s eat a potato. I’ll eat half. Here.
No response. After a while, he picks up brush, brushes her hair. She mumbles.
ESTHER: Bellies a workin women. . .
ACKERMAN: What about it?
ESTHER: Paper. . .
ESTHER: Bellies. What they mean by that.
ESTHER: Mean what the women got.
ACKERMAN: Nothin I need any more.
ESTHER: Workin the women—
ACKERMAN: Stop talkin crazy. You don’t have to do it. You tryin to make it hurt.
I feel like killin you—
ESTHER: Wanta kill me—
ACKERMAN: I don’t wanta—
ESTHER: You goin to—
ACKERMAN: Blow your damn head off—
Silence. Changed tone, grieving:
I want you to sit there and comb your hair and look beautiful.
I thought, some day she’ll have long gray hair, fall down to the waist, we both running fingers in long gray hair. . .
Sit there combin the hair, beautiful, sunset. . .
Silence. She starts to cry. He stands watching. She cries for a full ninety seconds. At fifty, she begins screaming through tears. During this, he picks up dishes and glasses, takes them offstage, returns, still holding brush. Stands, watches her as she stops. Puts brush down on table.
We’ll take you in, get your hair cut off. Get you a wig.
ESTHER: Guns. . .
ACKERMAN: I got’em locked. Guns locked up. Whole room locked up.
Esther, I’m tellin you.
You straighten out. You stop bein crazy. They’ll take me to court, they’ll put you in a home.
You gotta help out. You gotta look me in the eyes and . . . look me in the eyes and . . . look at me!
ESTHER: You Commie.
You answer. Know your name? Commie. Red Commonist. Red Commie.
Silence. Near the breaking point, he controls himself. Picks up legal papers, stacks them. Drained:
ACKERMAN: All right then Esther.
Can’t change the weather. It rains when it’s gonna.
We’ll get this took care of. I’ll talk to Don. Sign the papers.
He’s got a place for us. Take care a the farm for us. Take a load off our minds.
We be pretty happy. . .
ESTHER: He was gone when I had my baby.
Gone years at a time, it don’t differ.
Oh I felt the first time the leapin of my baby.
Then I was emptied out.
ACKERMAN breaks down, bellows like a bull in pain.
I’ve said it to thousands.
Empty room. WENDY, in light, talks to us.
WENDY: So then.
Then I dreamed that the movers came. But we hadn’t moved. They started carrying boxes in, but they weren’t ours. Somebody else’s stuff.
But we didn’t tell’em to take it back, we said “Over there.” Like winning the Lottery. Without even buying a ticket.
But there’s hundreds of boxes. Rooms jam full. We’re sposed to love it.
And then. Then there was a shotgun. I’d never had a gun. I never wanted a gun in the house. I said no. But there it was.
So I had to use it. I went hunting. In the house. This house. I went hunting our kids.
There were three, two girls and a boy, little boy, and they’re yelling “Mommy Mommy.” I wasn’t feeling anything. I was hunting.
And they’re trapped in the bathroom. I come in the door. They’re huddled down crouched in the tub. And I have the shotgun. And I have to use it.
I knew they’d do the same. If they had the gun.
I guess they crouched in the tub so it wouldn’t make a mess. Clean up easy, rinse it out. So I did it. All in color.
Isn’t that something to talk about? If I had suicidal tendencies, boy.
Lights up in room. DON enters.
DON: Ok.
WENDY: Did he sign it?
DON: Don’t hurry me. He said yes.
WENDY: He said yes, but does that mean yes?
DON: Yes.
WENDY: That’s what you said before.
DON: This isn’t a rational thing. Treat him like a little kid eatin his spinach, then he eats the spinach.
WENDY: I’m asking about signing the papers.
DON: You are so stupid. You’re sposed to be smart. I hear how smart you are. Why didn’t you take a course in a sense a humor? I’m makin a joke.
She stares at him.
Don’t gimme that little piggy squint.
WENDY: You’re very witty.
DON: I’m gettin sick of your attitude. You talk about havin kids—
DON: You know you have to do somethin to have kids? Do somethin every once in a while? Like it or not?
WENDY: And sometimes the man has to be there. Isn’t that the way they do it? Sometimes?
DON: What the hell you’re talkin about, you don’t make half sense.
WENDY: You want me to come out and say it?
DON: Sure! Whatta you say? What?
Dead silence.
WENDY: Nothing.
DON: You chickenshit.
WENDY: You’re so romantic.
Pause. She is shaking with rage, trying not to cry.
DON: Honey. Come on. Don’t. I didn’t say that stuff. I love you.
Come on. We don’t do so bad. Get this settled, we’ll take care a Mom and Dad, make it nice for them, and it’s gonna be a lot better.
You know, you have kids when it’s the right time. Like the preacher said, there’s a plan, God’s plan or whoever, and who knows what the hell it is.
WENDY: Don’t touch me!
DON: I’m doin it for you.
You think I’m gonna screw my own dad to the wall if it’s not for some good reason?
WENDY: Blame it on me—
DON: Not just you. It’s our kids. It’s—
What about all those refugee kids, orphans and stuff, it’s for them. What’s Dad ever done for refugees?
No, he’s gonna sign. Piper’s already got it witnessed.
That’s where it pays to get a good lawyer, get it witnessed before it’s signed. That’s against the law, but it’s legal. Depends on the lawyer.
WENDY: It’s not working out right, hon. This isn’t the way we talked. We’re doing something ugly here. We’re the villains.
Hon, it’s not right. We started out, it was gonna help your mom and dad, and we’d have a nice place to live, piano, rooms for kids. We weren’t the villains.
And now he won’t move and we have to force him, and you’re talking about getting the place to sell it—
DON: I never said that—
WENDY: And we’re screaming—
DON: I never said nothin about sellin the place—
WENDY: I feel rotten.
DON: You felt rotten before. You rather feel poor and rotten or rich and rotten?
Don’t tell me step down on the gas and then jam on the brakes. I’m tryin to make a life. Just thinka the refugees.
ACKERMAN appears in doorway.
ACKERMAN: What refugees?
DON: Starvin ones.
Dad, I tell you right now. This is for your own good. It’s not for me, it’s for you. And Mom.
No response. ACKERMAN helps ESTHER, who appears in doorway. She wears a cheap black wig, ill-fitting.
Hi Mom.
ACKERMAN: She’s not talkin.
WENDY: How you doing, Mom?
ACKERMAN: Sit down there.
Leads her to chair.
Wipe off your hands. You got mashed potatoes.
WENDY: Mashed potatoes are good. . .
DON: You ready, Dad?
No response.
Ok. Here’s the papers you sign. It doesn’t have to be witnessed, he already done that.
So this is the lines to look at, this is what you get, and the timetable, and you know my moral obligation.
It’s all legal, and on top of that there’s a moral obligation.
ACKERMAN: She don’t say a word.
DON: I tell you somethin, Dad. I don’t see how you stuck to her. I try, but I can’t.
ACKERMAN: You got born.
DON: Who says?
WENDY: That’s a good line.
DON: Dad, look it over.
WENDY: (to ESTHER) You look good with dark hair, Mom. Make all the girls jealous.
DON: Look it over, Dad.
ACKERMAN: (to ESTHER) Put your hair on straight.
WENDY: She needs pins. (to ESTHER) You need pins? Then we put your hair on straight.
DON: Get her some pins.
WENDY: Where’s the bobby pins?
DON: Look it over, Dad.
WENDY: (to ESTHER) You wait here, Mom, I’ll be right back. Get you some pins.
She goes out, trying not to cry.
DON: Sometimes I hate’em. They all got the same thing, like they got a secret. They got a little secret down there, what you’re tryin to reach inside, an you never touch it.
God, I hate’em sometimes.
ACKERMAN: We got married in a graveyard. Stones back of a church. She liked the scenery.
Both look at ESTHER.
She can’t control her bowels. I built a shower stall. She needs it, we go down there, stand her in the shower I get rid a the mess.
Took her to the clinic, mental clinic, she starts yellin, they strap her down. I come there, she’s strapped down, screamin. I can’t stand her layin there, screamin.
Took her outa there. Got up to go, she says “Which door we gonna go out?” I said “There’s only one door,” I says “You think we jump out the window?”
You’re lucky if you’re the first. If you stand in the stall and she cleans it offa you.
DON: Can’t you stick down the edges?
ACKERMAN: Somebody glued their eyes shut. I read it.
DON: Good idea.
ACKERMAN: Use the wrong bottle.
DON: What’s your name?
ESTHER: Esther.
WENDY: (returning) I found the pins.
DON: Pin her hair.
WENDY: We shall overcome. Is that what the colored say? We did a whole unit on that. We shall overcome.
We shall pin your hair.
DON: Just pin her hair. Dad, sign it.
WENDY pins ESTHER’s wig. ACKERMAN signs papers. At last, all signed, DON picks up the papers.
That’s good. That’s fixed up.
ACKERMAN: What is?
DON: The whole situation.
DON: Don’t keep askin me what. The situation.
ACKERMAN: What’s fixed up?
DON: That’s what I mean.
ACKERMAN: You tell me.
DON: Not if you talk like that.
Now with you, what we thought, only you don’t have to do it. So don’t react, cause you don’t have to do it.
Coleman’s Hotel, down on the square. They got single rooms, real nice, they got elevators, they come in once a week and make the bed. Carpets in the lobby, you ever been there?
Right on the square, go out, walk around if you feel like it. Sit by the window, you can look down, see people on the sidewalks, sit there all day. And they bring in the Meals on Wheels. Stuff like chicken pot pie.
You don’t have to go there if you don’t want to. It’s your choice. You do whatever you want.
ACKERMAN: I’m not goin there.
DON: Up to you.
ACKERMAN: What the hell!
DON: Ok—
ACKERMAN: Hell with that!
DON takes out a folder.
DON: Now for her, they got a good deal at Glenwood. Nursin home, I checked it out, just in case.
They got like regular and economy style. They’re both good, you just get more with one than the other.
But where she maybe don’t want people fussin over her all the time, if you’re on the economy plan, they maybe like let her more take care of herself. Except when she really needs it.
Picks up newspaper.
Look, they got a whole column here in the paper, they write all what they do. Here listen. Now listen.
“Monday Alvin Calhoun visited his aunt Sarah Lippold. Lydia Schmitz of Chicago visited her mother, Evelyn Schmitz. Tuesday, we fried doughnuts. They were delicious. Tuesday, Mrs. Carl Jacobsen and Mr. Loren Schroeder visited Lorraine Schroeder and Ray Jacobsen. Thursday we had a weiner roast, potato salad with all the trimmings, and fruit. Friday, they had a movie in the chapel. The title was HELLO DOLLY. It was back in the old days. Friday was resident’s council meeting. This is the time we bring our complaints, but we seem to be satisfied.”
Long pause.
It’s pretty cheap.
ACKERMAN: I’m stayin with her. We’re stayin together.
DON: Fine—
ACKERMAN: The whole point I sign there— The whole reason—
DON: That’s your choice.
ACKERMAN: What’s my choice?
DON: What I said. I mean that’s your choice. That’s the only choice I know you got.
It’s your choice, I mean, but it’s your only choice.
ACKERMAN: Hell with that. We’ll stay here.
DON: You can’t stay here.
DON: It’s up for sale.
ACKERMAN: You can’t put it up for sale.
DON: We did.
ACKERMAN: You can’t legally do that.
DON: We can legally do it. We did it.
WENDY: Hon, don’t say it’s for sale when it’s not.
DON: Who says it’s not?
WENDY: You said it wasn’t.
DON: I’m not gonna live on a goddamn farm.
WENDY: You told me we’re gonna live here. You told me we weren’t gonna sell it.
DON: You believe every damn thing you hear. Can I help it?
You wanted me to say it, I said it.
ACKERMAN: Trick me into signin somethin—
DON: You’re not competent. That proves it.
Sign somethin just like that, you didn’t even read it.
You better just thank the Lord it was us. Somebody else come along, told you some lies, they’d steal you blind.
Just thank God it was us. Thank God it was family did it.
ACKERMAN stares at DON. DON puts papers in briefcase. WENDY is at a total loss for words.
WENDY: I don’t think this sets a very good precedent. . .
I thought we could have a garden. . .
No response. WENDY tucks a piece of ESTHER’s hair.
ESTHER: I was there a week.
ACKERMAN: Shut the hell up.
WENDY: You’re right here.
ESTHER: Right here.
ACKERMAN: Shut up!
ACKERMAN starts to hit her aimlessly, without force, exhausted. DON grabs him in a bear hug.
DON: Stop that! Dad! You hear me! That’s Mom!
WENDY: Honey let him go—
DON: I oughta find some dogshit and rub your nose in it. Who’s the boss now? (sharp squeeze) Who?
WENDY: Let him go.
DON: Don’t tell me let him go. (sharp squeeze) Who?
WENDY: Let him go!
DON gives him a sharp squeeze, shoves him away. WENDY, shaking, near hysteria, speaks compulsively, as if quoting:
Violence is not necessary. One act of violence does not excuse another act of violence.
I’ve gotta say this. The worst you can do is bring up a child in an atmosphere of violence.
Two boys fight on the playground, we separate them, we put them in corners, and we all pretend they don’t exist. They do not exist. They’re not a part of my world as I prefer it to be. You don’t have to beat them to make them wish they’d never been born.
DON: What are you yellin about?
WENDY: I’m making a general point!
DON: What?
WENDY: Nothing!
Long silence. WENDY sits at a distance, regaining control of herself. At last, she speaks, upbeat.
Well hey. We got off on the. . .
I mean there’s more to life than. . .
I like happy endings.
There was a really funny article. Where was it? This bank robber tried to hand over a note, but he couldn’t spell, so they couldn’t understand what it said.
They got two or three people trying to figure out what it said, and they asked him, but he was scared to talk, and the bank guard walked over and shot him.
DON: Isn’t anybody gonna laugh? It’s a joke.
WENDY gets up, goes to ESTHER.
WENDY: Mom, hey, let me straighten your hair. Your hair’s really nice. Really chic.
Hey, things are gonna be ok, Mom. You know we love you. Give me a big hug.
Big hug.
Dad, you know we love you, you know we’re not gonna do anythin you don’t want. It’s all up to you.
But I think it’s gonna be nice. They’ve got Meals on Wheels, that’s better than what you do by yourself. Boy, I’d be so happy if somebody’d cook meals for me. Why are we so depressed?
Give me a big hug. Come on.
No response. She hugs him. Goes to DON. Stands silent for a while.
I don’t know what got said. I had a different impression. I think we have to talk about this.
Maybe you wanta list the place, that’s ok, as long as it’s our choice. If we get an offer. If it’s our choice.
Because it’d be so nice for kids. Haven’t we talked about kids?
DON: Sure.
WENDY: It’s gonna be nice, honey. We have rough times, but we make it through.
I think this is a whole new stage. I do.
DON: Love you too.
WENDY: It’s really a happy ending.
She embraces him. Fade.
Dim TV. ACKERMAN and ESTHER, motionless. DON, in light, talks to us.
DON: The rationale. . .
I met her, I had a sales job in Des Moines, and she was there at a state teachers’ conference, with a group at the bar at a Holiday Inn, and we start to talk, find out we’re from the same part of the state. People always comment how cheerful she is.
And I really like kids. I do. I remember Rollie, my cousin, I toss him up, pretend I wasn’t gonna catch him, he’d laugh.
But you think what if they die. Get sick and slip outa your hands like water.
An sometimes I see a kid, there’s parta me wants to take it and wring its little boney neck like a chicken. One foot on the head, hold the feet, throw it out in the drive to flop around. I got beat up every Sunday cause I wouldn’t eat the chicken.
The point is, that I’m makin is. . .
Like it’s poison. Microwaves, you got radiation, stuff in the walls, the water you brush your teeth, it picks up what they feed to cattle to make’em soft.
And women, you know all the eggs they’re ever gonna have are inside’em, and the chromosomes break.
It’s all in the Bible.
People don’t know it’s there or they’d burn the Bibles.
I have a hard time thinking. . . The rationale. . .
When I was a kid, everybody liked the same music.
There was only one kinda music.
There was just songs.
Morning. ESTHER and ACKERMAN stand looking at one another. She wears her black wig. ACKERMAN holds another wig, impulsively puts it on, holds hands in air, posing. She laughs.
ACKERMAN: Hey. Have a laugh. Sure. Don’t I look like somethin?
ESTHER: Huh. . .
ACKERMAN: I sure do. I don’t take chances with you.
Throw your wig out the car, now I got two, you throw one out I slap on another.
ESTHER: Huh. . .
ACKERMAN: Got you nice wig now. You get in the car, when they come, we go for a ride. Vacation. Disneyland.
ESTHER: Oh boy. . .
ACKERMAN: You look good today.
ESTHER: Huh. . .
ACKERMAN: You do. I like when you have a good day. Lemme straighten you.
Repins her wig.
Esther I won’t never hurt you.
The guns, that’s to protect us. Nothin to be afraid.
You say stuff like I’m tryin to kill you, that hurts awful. I’m tryin to be a husband.
Last two weeks, I had awful dreams. I don’t ever have dreams.
I made you coffee.
He goes out. ESTHER primps wig, walks as if modeling, barely able to balance. Waves, remembering Miss America. ACKERMAN returns with coffee cup.
Have some coffee.
He holds it to her lips. Coffee dribbles. He stops trying, sets it on table.
They’ll be here.
ACKERMAN: They’re doin us a favor. They’re givin us a ride. Cause I can’t drive and keep hold on you.
So you be good now.
ESTHER: Oh boy.
ACKERMAN: You know where you’re goin?
No response.
You’re goin to a center. It’s not a home. It’s like a home, but they don’t call it a home, they call it a center.
Don said it’s a nice place. They take better care than I can.
You know what I’m tellin you?
ACKERMAN: You know where you’re goin?
ESTHER: Ada. . .
ACKERMAN: Who’s that?
ESTHER: Sister. . .
ACKERMAN: You don’t have a sister.
ESTHER: Truck kill’er.
ACKERMAN: Nobody’s killed by a truck. You never had a sister. You saw it on TV.
ACKERMAN: Siddown there.
He seats her. Arranges her wig.
We done all right.
Moved in here, I built the whole back.
You member, the stairs was over there, didn’t go to nothin. I put somethin up to go to.
South field, I cleared that, they said you’ll never grow nothin, I made that grow. I stopped the wash-away.
You looked at this place, an Dad he never kept it up, you said “What you get me into? It’s an old Rag House.”
Member that? Old Rag House, cause it had up rags, papers, lath on the front, insulation. “What you get me into?”
I try to be good to you.
Time we went to that restaurant, they didn’t even have a counter, you couldn’t understand the waiter, some kinda Dago, five dollars for a shrimp? Member that? Walked outa there. Don was a little baby.
And you were in labor, it went on so long you said “Call the vet, he’ll just reach in.”
All little stuff. There in your head.
They say now you’re sposed to love each other. Don’t get married less you do. Then you don’t, you get divorced. Hit her cross the face, you get divorced.
I must never loved her. If I had, I’d left her when she got like that.
I took care. I bought her a wig. I fed her. I cleaned her off.
Won’t that do?
He embraces her.
ESTHER: Mad dog. . .
ACKERMAN: You member the dog.
ESTHER: Come up the lane. . .
ACKERMAN: You doin good today.
ESTHER: You shoot it. . .
ACKERMAN: You talkin good.
ESTHER: Shoot the baby.
ESTHER: Foam at the mouth—
ESTHER: Babies go mad.
ACKERMAN: Esther! Look me in the goddamn eyes!
ESTHER: Where?
Knock at door.
WENDY: (off) Hi there.
ACKERMAN: You’re outa your mind. You don’t feel nothing. You stay that way.
He stands waiting.
WENDY: Hi-i!
DON: Hi Dad? You there?
WENDY: Go on in. It’s ours.
They appear. DON is cheerful, WENDY tense, abrupt.
DON: Hi Dad.
WENDY: Is everybody ready?
DON: Is that all the stuff? Just two bags?
ACKERMAN: I don’t need nothin, she don’t want nothin.
DON: Anything else to do?
ACKERMAN: Guess not.
DON: So let’s go.
No response.
Let’s get going.
ESTHER: Go where?
DON: Didn’t you tell her?
WENDY: A nice new home, Mom.
ACKERMAN: She don’t understand nothin.
WENDY: Nice new curtains. You like yellow curtains.
ACKERMAN: She don’t understand.
WENDY: Don’t let her mess on that chair. We sold it.
Awkward pause.
DON: She means we got a friend, he’s lookin for a chair, and if you don’t need a chair, which you don’t, cause there’s lots of chairs, then he could buy the chair.
Unless you need it. You need it?
ACKERMAN: What else d’you sell?
DON: Nothin.
WENDY: We sold the furniture.
DON: Honey—
WENDY: We sold the contents.
DON: He don’t need to know—
WENDY: We sold the machinery.
ACKERMAN: You can’t do that—
WENDY: (vehemently) Read the agreement. We do what we want.
Mom, Dad, we just want what’s best— You can tell Mom what I’m saying.
It’s important to be honest. You can’t say we’re not totally honest. We’re telling you exactly what we do.
ACKERMAN: Whatta you doin?
WENDY: What’s best.
DON: We gotta get there. Let’s go.
WENDY: Dad, sometimes we have to make sacrifices.
DON: Wendy—
WENDY: We have to think what people need.
This’d be the most wonderful place. I had a dream, to fix it up, not change it, but just make it different.
And we could raise a family, kids of our own, or we could adopt, little refugee children, teach’em our way of life.
But we can’t. The property’s too valuable.
It has too high a net worth, or appraised valuation, it’s just too valuable, it’d be a sin to waste it.
Like Don talks about stewardship, we have a responsibility to use it to fill its maximum potential. . .
She runs down. Sick pause. Turns to DON, vehemently:
Why am I saying this stuff? You’re the one that said it, you say it.
DON: Say what?
WENDY: You smell a little money—
DON: We been through this—
WENDY: So you tell’em. Make me do your dirty work—
DON: All that stuff, refugees, hell. You say that to hear yourself say it.
Kids, hell. You’d rather have a closet fulla clothes. You know that. You’d rather have a fur-lined toilet seat.
WENDY: We have to go.
ACKERMAN: You ready?
ESTHER looks at him, grasps him with both hands, pleading.
You have to let go.
ESTHER: Where we goin?
WENDY: She’s talking good today.
ACKERMAN: You’re goin to the center.
WENDY: Where you?
DON: We been through that.
ESTHER: Take care a me.
ACKERMAN: I already did—
DON: She’s crazy—
ESTHER: Take care a me.
DON: She’s out of her mind—
ESTHER: They strap me down!
WENDY: No, Mom, at this place they don’t strap you down, at this place they’re nice—
DON: Shut up!
Right, they strap you down. Now don’t give me any more bullshit, because I’ll call up the sheriff, cause I got power of attorney, and he’ll come out here and strap you down.
You tell her what I said, so she understands.
ACKERMAN: She understands.
DON: Good.
ACKERMAN: I didn’t know she understood. I thought she’s out of her mind.
DON: No kiddin.
ACKERMAN: We ain’t goin.
DON: What the hell.
ACKERMAN: I can’t leave her if she knows.
DON: Oh you can’t.
ACKERMAN: We’re stayin here.
DON: Think so.
ACKERMAN: Together.
DON: Do tell.
ACKERMAN: You’re my son you do what I tell you.
DON: You’re tellin me. Why are you tellin me? It’s not up to me. We’re sellin it.
We got a pretty good deal. Sell it to Everts. They’re gonna develop this whole area.
Cause you know there’s not really country any more. What you’d call country. There’s property, but there’s not country.
Evert said there’s plans, with the Japanese and all, to build major cities in Montana. Million people, and restrict it to Whites and Japs. It’s a fact. He says sell while you can.
So anyway, we got a deal. There’s gonna be houses, homes for people, which is needed, and then a certain amount, they’re doin for waste disposal.
We’re not talkin massive development. We’re talkin houses, apartments. It’s not like turnin farmland over, cause it’s no good for farmin after they put in the landfill.
Gives us money to take care of you, and buy us a house, which we need, and if you think about it, a place to put our garbage.
For my money that’s stewardship.
Cause you know, Dad, that’s one thing about the church. You realize whatever you do, it must be the will of God, or else you wouldn’t do it.
ACKERMAN: Garbage dump?
DON: Takes you a while to catch on.
ESTHER: Frank.
He looks at her. She stands, whispers in his ear. He looks her a long time in the face. At last, to DON:
ACKERMAN: You gotta wait outside. I gotta change her.
DON: Change?
We’ll be out in the car. Hurry up.
DON goes. WENDY stops.
WENDY: Dad, it’s great, the way you stick with Mom, thick and thin, it’s a real lesson in love.
She waits. No response. Bitterly:
You know we’re people too.
She goes out. ACKERMAN looks at ESTHER. She pats wig.
ACKERMAN: If I was young I could figure somethin. Try to see it. I don’t even see to shave.
I thought about which way. You’re scared of the guns, ain’t you? The guns?
ACKERMAN: It’s easier with guns.
ESTHER: (cringing) Ahh—
ACKERMAN: No guns. You wait now. Wait here.
He goes out.
ESTHER: Frank. . .
He returns with five-gallon red gasoline can, full. Sets it down. She stares at it.
It’s just water. Special water. Take a bath.
Member Don? Buddie? You give him a bath. Splash in the tub? You said “splish splash.” He’d laugh.
ESTHER: Splish splash.
ACKERMAN: Sure. Water splash. Splish splash.
ESTHER: Buddie.
ACKERMAN: Sure. He likes Turkey Day.
ESTHER: Turkey Day.
ACKERMAN: Right, kids like Turkey Day.
ESTHER: Not the Jews.
ACKERMAN: Not any Jews.
ESTHER: Cept Jesus.
ACKERMAN: Turkey for Jesus.
ESTHER laughs. Car horn outside. He opens can.
Hold out your hand.
She holds out hand. He pours trickle over her hand.
ESTHER: Stinks.
ACKERMAN: Spic an span.
Now we’re gonna splash it. Splash over the couch. Table, the chairs, all spic an span.
Everwhere we had dinner, ever, Buddie give scraps to the dog.
ESTHER: Ol dog.
ACKERMAN: Member they buried Merna.
One of the eyes was open. Undertaker never noticed. All this pink lip stuff, like she’s doin a hootchie-kootchie, and one eye lookin up.
We don’t want that.
ESTHER: Splish splash.
Changed tone:
You’re a good wife.
You cooked good, roast beef, chicken, stuff.
You did everthing you’re sposed to.
You close your eyes now. Close your eyes. Sprinkle water. Make the grass grow green.
Car horn outside. DON and WENDY enter the room, holding hands, as if in another time. As DON speaks to us, ACKERMAN methodically pours gasoline from the can over the floor and furniture.
DON: We’re very appreciative for you to come to the service. They say people are really good at heart, and you find out it’s true.
An we’re all right as far as the settlement. You don’t want to think in terms of money, but in fact we come out pretty good.
The house wasn’t worth nothin, they’da had to tear it down, but the funny thing was in order to sell it it had to be insured, and it turns out they’re gonna pay. So we get money we wouldn’ta got. Really good deal.
He turns to WENDY. She squeezes his hand. ACKERMAN sits in chair, draws ESTHER onto his lap.
ACKERMAN: Now sit on my lap. We sit here. It’s just water.
ESTHER: Got rich.
ACKERMAN: Why sure.
ESTHER: Love I never dream.
ACKERMAN: That’s right.
ESTHER: Hundred people love.
ACKERMAN: We all do. Every one. Buddie does.
ESTHER: Buddie.
Car horn outside. ACKERMAN lets gasoline trickle over her hand. She giggles. DON talks to us.
DON: Which doesn’t make up for the tragedy. But I mean you take what you get. There’s somethin like that in the Bible. Accordin to the preacher.
I remember I played football, my hope was someday I play in the Rose Bowl Game. I truly believed that you decided what you’d do when you grew up, and then you do it. I’d play in the Rose Bowl.
And then I’d be a barber, if I could think what to call my barber shop. Don’s Barber Shop, maybe.
ACKERMAN: Know what? This might be the work a the Lord.
Lord calls Esther home. Trust the Lord don’t make mistakes, cause he don’t, cause he’s the Lord.
See the flash. You tell me when you see it.
Keep shut your eyes.
Car horn outside. She closes eyes. He raises can, lets gasoline run over them. She giggles, delighted.
DON: I don’t have to apologize. I did my best. What I thought was best.
Take comfort they’re with God in heaven.
WENDY embraces DON. ACKERMAN takes out cigarette lighter. Holds ESTHER in tight embrace. Slow fade to black. Light on WENDY, alone.
WENDY: Thanks very much for coming. I believe there’s coffee, and maybe ice cream, I think the mortician said.
I know Don feels it pretty strong, although he has a hard time saying. Your father and mother.
But it’s true that one generation passeth away. I think if we can grow from this, and maybe take whatever money we get, and make some kind of real difference to people.
If we love each other. And do some good. And change the world. Some way.
Teach third grade. Or have babies. Or buy something we really want.
They say money doesn’t make a difference. But now I’m pregnant.
Long pause.
I think I was five.
I was somewhere, and they let go a my hand.
And I was lost.