SHERI REYNOLDS | Orabelle’s
(LIGHTS COME UP shadowy blue and ghostly on
the wheelbarrow at center stage. The PROMISES can be offstage, or they
can be onstage moving around the wheelbarrow, but they should be unidentifiable.)
Promises aren’t solitary. Promises come in batches. They come in
families, they get passed along—
Like old silver.
They’re in the attic and in the cellar, in trunks with broken latches,
tied up with ribbon, smeared and faded. Their wax seals crumble away
to leave oily stains.
Promises at the courthouse and promises at the jailhouse. Promises framed
and hung on the wall.
A promise doesn’t only exist between consenting parties. Oh no!
It has an energy, a presence that disperses. A blown dandelion, fluff
A promise is polite. A promise says “god-bless-you.”
Sometimes a promise is rude.
A promise doesn’t only dress in black and white. Or if it does,
it wears a lime-green slip beneath.
A promise is imaginative. Theatrical. Fond of tightropes.
A promise will blow up on you. Ka-pow. Ka-pow.
Promises pass through prison bars. Promises pass along barrels of guns.
Promises push up through your throat like new flowers.
Promises cower beneath your tongue.
There are promises that break in one way or another. If you don’t
break them, your daughter might have to.
Your mother, your cousin, your lover.
There are promises to be kept another day, another lifetime. Promises
that crawl back from the grave, a skeletal inheritance—
(Promises exit. ORABELLE enters, approaches her
wheelbarrow, and LIGHTS COME UP. Orabelle wears a chicken-wire hat. Her
wheelbarrow is full of
objects made of chicken-wire.)
There’s a lot you can make out of chicken-wire besides a barrier.
tips her hat at the audience.)
Who needs a fence when you can have a sombrero?
(She sets the hat on the ground and does a little dance around it,
then laughs and puts it back on her head. LEONA and RUBIE enter. Leona
has pom-poms. Rubie holds a basketball. Orabelle hands them a figure
she pulls out of the wheelbarrow and they take it across the stage and
begin sticking orange crepe paper into the holes.)
When the children were in school, they used to make
floats for the Homecoming Parade, and they always started with chicken-wire.
(Leona and Rubie continue to work. LITTLE
PUG enters, sucking the back of his hand. He has a vacuum cleaner
hose around his neck like a noose.
He approaches Orabelle, reaches to tap her shoulder, but she doesn’t
People can be so thick-headed . . . thinking chicken-wire’s
only good for building pens.
(Little Pug tugs at Orabelle’s skirt.
She turns to him.)
Well, hello there, Pug.
(Little Pug pops his hand out of his mouth, making a loud sucking sound.)
Miss Orabelle, you reckon you could spare me some of that wire?
Why certainly, Son. It’s yours for the asking.
(She gives him a rolled up section of wire. Little Pug shuffles away
to another part of the stage and begins unrolling it.)
Poor feller. Shaping something with his own hands might do him good.
Always does me good. . . . Not that there’s anything wrong with
chicken-wire being used to make a chicken coop. I’ve had chickens
all my life, and a coop protects ‘em from wild dogs and foxes.
Sometimes it’s hard to know which side of the fence is better.
(Little Pug sits on the ground with the chicken-wire completely surrounding
him. He fiddles half-heartedly with the vacuum cleaner hose.)
But chicken-wire can’t keep out a snake! A snake’ll
crawl right in and run off a hen and eat her eggs one at a time till
out there with my hoe to chop its old head off!
(Orabelle grabs a hoe out of her wheelbarrow and
runs over to Little Pug.)
Go ahead. Chop me to pieces. I’d appreciate it if you would.
Well, Lord have mercy, Pug! What are you doing locked up here in this
My dog died. I buried him in here. Just wanted to be near him. He was
the sweetest old dog.
That’s terrible news, Son. And I’m sorry I just about whacked
you. I can’t see good as I used to.
You can whack me.
No, Baby. I thought that vacuum hose was a snake, and from way back there,
you looked like you might be a chicken.
Oh—well, you’re welcome to chop my old head off. Put me out of
You poor thing. Don’t you understand that some miseries you just
gotta go through?
(LIGHTS SHIFT to Leona and Rubie and their
Rah-rah, Ree! Kick ‘em in the knee!
I tried out for cheerleading three times in
high school and never made the team. Can’t recall now why I even
wanted to be a cheerleader—or if I wanted to. Just thought it was
something you were supposed
to do when you got to high school. Did you ever try out?
Are you kidding? Do you remember any black cheerleaders?
Wasn’t a black girl on the cheerleading
squad the whole time. Might not even be one now.
Yes, there is. Last year Mama thought she was supposed to be crowned
homecoming queen, so we went to the football jamboree. You should’ve
seen me trying to keep her off the field at half-time. We sat right
in front of the cheerleaders, and I saw a colored girl cheering. I
know I did.
One outta how many?
I don’t know. Why are you making such a big deal out of it?
Cause I want you to see that white people are treated different from
black people. If you’d been good enough, you could’ve been
a cheerleader. But no matter how high I jumped or how loud I hollered,
I wouldn’t have made the team. That’s why I couldn’t
stay around here and open a flower shop with you.
You didn’t even want to be a cheerleader.
That’s beside the point.
Why are you making me into the enemy? I’ve always been on your
But you won’t acknowledge the differences, Leona.
I’m not a racist! You know that! And white girls don’t get
to do everything colored girls do. A lot more colored girls are on the
(Rubie dribbles her ball.)
And don’t forget about basketball. Or the band—cause we
can sure play our horns!
That’s not what I meant!
There were places where I wasn’t welcome. Or places where I was
the token black.
I don’t see that at all. Plenty of people welcomed you.
We didn’t have the same opportunities. There were things I couldn’t
have done if I’d stayed.
You could’ve opened a flower shop with me, like you promised. You
think a daisy discriminates?
Don’t start that again—
You had the same opportunities as me.
(She takes the tiger-mascot and holds it up.)
You were Tiger-born and Tiger-bred, same as me.
Wrong again. The Tiger was the mascot at the white school. Before the
schools were integrated, we had a mascot, too. We were the Bears.
Don’t you even say that I think a tiger is better than a bear,
cause I don’t. We could’ve been the Bears for all I cared.
But we weren’t.
The Bears went extinct, just like that. The
Tigers didn’t. Not
to mention that everybody was mad at us for being a Tiger. I had to get
out of here. I had to go somewhere else, where people didn’t have
You think a rose-bud has assumptions?
You never listen. The whole time I talk, you just plan what you’re
gonna say back.
(Leona is stunned.)
You’re just like Gwendolyn! Manipulate
the shit out of a person.
That’s the meanest thing anybody’s ever said to me. I thought
you cared about me!
There you go again. Poor little victim, always hurt by the world. Let
me tell you something, Leona. You put yourself in the victim-role.
Then you blame everybody else around you.
(Leona inhales sharply. As they stomp off
in different directions, LIGHTS SHIFT to Little Pug in his self-made
coop. He rocks from side
to side, humming himself into a trance. Orabelle stands on the outside
trying to get his attention, but he doesn’t acknowledge her.)
I’m sor-ry, I’m sor-ry—
Hey, Pug! You quit that! You gotta pull yourself together.
I’m sor-ry, I’m sor-ry.
(Orabelle searches in her wheelbarrow.)
I need a volunteer. Somebody’s gotta distract him! Where’s
that politician? He’ll say anything!
I’m sor-ry, I’m sor-ry—
(PROMISE #4 enter, sticks a finger through the chicken-wire, and Pug
How do you do there, sir? Are you a registered voter? Do you attend your local
town council meetings? Give feedback to your county supervisors?
(He waits for Pug to respond, but Pug just resumes his rocking, humming.)
Yes, well, some years back, you elected me to be your mayor, and I vowed
at that time to put the needs of the people of this community first.
I believe government should have a friendly face.
(He gives a big grin to the audience, a big
grin to Little Pug. Little Pug doesn’t acknowledge him.)
I believe the way to lead the people is to listen to the people, and
so on and so forth.
I’m sor-ry, I’m sor-ry—
Come on, now! This ain’t a campaign speech.
When I was elected, I promised the people that I would lead through my
example. I took a salary cut because the people of my constituency
were paying higher taxes, and I wanted to demonstrate that we all must
make sacrifices for the higher good. Then I came into hard times, had
some “business associates” breathing down my neck, and
so I gave myself a loan out of the town budget. I had every intention
of paying it back, and—
(almost shouting his song)
I’m sor-ry, I’m sor-ry-
(Promise #4 hurries off as LIGHTS SHIFT to
Gwendolyn in a rocking chair, rocking maniacally. There’s
an empty rocker beside her. Leona enters.)
Where you been? One of the worst traumas of my life, and you missed it!
I was just sitting here minding my business when the mobile homes started rolling
in, one behind the other, and not even new ones! Used ones! Not even double-wides.
They came right down the driveway, hooked to big old trucks with hairy men
inside them, and you weren’t even here!
(Leona sits down.)
I went out there and asked the the first driver what he was doing, and
you know what he said to me? He said, “I’m parking my load.
Who the hell are you?” Well, I told him to mind his language, cause
I’m the daughter of the late Arthur Langford Harris, and he said, “You
better get that house packed up ‘cause they gone demolish it
Naturally, I started crying. And you were nowhere
in sight! I called up Jack Flanagan, and then I beeped him on his beeper.
I beeped him forty-leven-dozen
times, but he didn’t come.
He mighta changed his beeper number.
I’ll wring his neck if he changed it!
(Gwendolyn looks at Leona closely.)
Well, my god, you’ve been crying, too, haven’t
you? Your face is so swoll, it looks like you’ve spent the afternoon
(Leona looks away. Gwendolyn chuckles.)
What’s the matter?
My feelings are just so tender—Sometimes I miss Mama so bad.
(Leona buries her face into her hands.)
I do, too, honey. I do, too.
(Gwendolyn breaks down and cries loudly. Leona lifts her face and looks
over at Gwendolyn, who suddenly stops crying, sniffs hard.)
Nothing wrong with a good cry. A good cry is balm for your soul. Let
me get us a cucumber before our eyes swell shut. Looks like you needed
a cucumber a while back.
(Gwendolyn picks up a cucumber, slices four slabs, gives two to Leona
and puts two over her own eyes. The rest of this exchange is done with
their heads tilted back and cucumbers over their eyes.)
They’re setting up them trailers right in Sadie’s garden.
Right on top of her squash. I don’t even like squash, but it breaks
my heart to think of Sadie’s squash rotting underneath them trailers.
I wish I had a chance to talk to her one last time. There’s so
much I want to ask her.
If Sadie could talk to me now, she’d give me a tongue-lashing—and
one that I probably deserve. I’ve sold the family land out of my
passion for Jack Flanagan. I never told nobody that before, Leona. I
wouldn’t tell you if you didn’t have your eyes closed.
(Gwendolyn lifts the cucumber slices from
her eyes and peeks to be sure Leona’s eyes are shut.)
And I’ll never admit it if you repeat
Nobody for me to tell.
You were right. Jack Flanagan ain’t moving into this house with
his family. We gonna have trash for neighbors. They gonna rent these
trailers out to migrant workers.
(They rock in silence, with cucumber slices over their eyes. Gwendolyn
Well, don’t you have anything to say?
What are we gonna do with seventy-five migrant families in the yard?
We’ll get trick-or-treaters. Ain’t never had trick-or-treaters.
When did you start looking on the sunny side? Ain’t you worried
about the tomato pickers and their snotty little children running around
here and blathering in some language that ought not even be allowed in
these our United States?
I don’t know. I used to feel like the world didn’t give me
what I deserved. But maybe it does. Maybe we need some migrant workers
in the yard.
Well, I swear. That beats all—You wouldn’t court a wet-back,
would you, Leona? I don’t think that’s a very Christian thing
Jack could put our new trailer anywhere on
this land. Anywhere he pleases. You don’t reckon he’ll
put us in the swamp, do you?
I got no idea.
See there, it’s starting to thunder. Weatherman said it’s
gonna rain all week. I hope the mud swallows up all Jack Flanagan’s
used trailers. Maybe lightning’ll strike him.
Reckon I ought to take Little Pug a raincoat? He won’t come in
from the coop.
Hell no. Don’t indulge him. Sooner he gets wet and cold, sooner
he’ll come inside.
(They exit. LIGHTS SHIFT to Orabelle and PROMISE #5 at the chicken coop
with Little Pug. They huddle beneath umbrellas.)
See here, Pug. I’ve brought somebody to see you.
(As Promise #5 begins to speak, Leona joins them, but stands back.)
I’ve felt just as sad as you do, Mister Little Pug. I can look at your
face and tell that you’re suffering, too. All my life I promised myself
that I wouldn’t work at the grocery store. Seems like people who work
at the grocery store just get stuck there forever, scanning pickles and beets,
stocking pantyhose and bacon. I want more from my life. So I promised myself
I’d get a higher class job—even making xeroxes for a lawyer or answering
the phone. But this summer, I had to go to work, and the grocery store was
the only place hiring. I can’t hardly stand myself! And when I put on
that pink shirt with the Pork City logo, it makes me wanna hide my face!
That was a stupid promise for you to make.
(Little Pug perks up. Everybody’s surprised.)
Why, Leona! What’s got into you?
It’d be different if she was forty and still working in the grocery
store, but how old are you?
That’s what I thought.
See here, Miss Orabelle, I heard you when you
said not to judge the weight of another’s promise, but don’t you think there are
some promises that shouldn’t have been made in the first place?
Well, now . . . all kinds of broke promises are welcome in my wheelbarrow.
I try not to discriminate.
Sometimes you need to discriminate! It’s not always bad to discriminate!
She’s a teenager. Why should a shift at the grocery store be beneath
I was just trying to help Mister Little Pug.
Breaking that promise is probably the best thing you ever done.
(Promise #5 exits as LIGHTS SHIFT to Gwendolyn in her rocker, talking
on the phone.)
Jack Flanagan, you pick up that phone! Your big-trucks have tore up the
grass all over the yard, and there’s mudpuddles in all the tire-tracks.
If somebody slips and falls, I’ll sue the socks off you. And
my poor baby brother is so stricken with grief that he won’t
even come out of the chicken-coop. He’s gonna catch pneumonia,
and when he does, I’m sending you the hospital bill. Do you hear
me, Jack Flanagan?
(LIGHTS SHIFT to Leona and Orabelle, now wearing raincoats, standing
with Little Pug. Leona has a small folded tarp beneath her arm.)
Talk to me, Little Pug. Please talk to me.
(Leona shakes the chicken-wire, but Pug just
rocks himself and doesn’t
seem to notice.)
Oh, Miss Orabelle, he’s spent three days in the pouring rain.
I think he’s lost his mind.
(She gives Orabelle one corner of the tarp. They open it up and shake
Just cause his mind don’t work like yours don’t mean he’s
He won’t acknowledge me, won’t come in. And I know he’s
gotta be chafed from sitting in the mud like that. He’s gonna get
(They stretch the tarp over the coop, adjust it.)
There’s remedies for ringworm when the time comes.
(Orabelle pulls a bungee cord out of her pocket and hooks the tarp
to the wire.)
We gotta move, and I’m too distressed to pack. Gwendolyn just sits
around and sobs, and with Little Pug out here . . . I don’t know
what I’m gonna do. I wish I was more like Rubie and could just
leave when things get tough!
You think it’s easier to go than to stay?
Well, tell me this. Where would you go—if you could go anywhere
on God’s green earth?
I don’t know.
Hawaii? Alabama? Timbuktu?
Just make a decision, dear. What did you want when you were younger?
Did you want to join the military like Rubie did? Did you want to see
the Grand Canyon?
I just wanted to stay here and open my flower-shop.
What stopped you?
You know what stopped me!
I’m forgetful. Tell me again.
Well, first, Rubie left. And then I had to take care of Mama—and now
Gwendolyn and Little Pug. You can’t put your dreams before your
responsibilities, Miss Orabelle!
Sounds to me like you’ve used your responsibilities as excuses
for not doing anything else with your life. Ain’t you ever heard
of a home-health nurse? And they got a senior center not ten miles up
I can’t take Gwendolyn to the senior center. She might get mad
and beat up a veteran!
You’ve been an old lazy-butt, Leona. That’s the only reason
in the world you don’t have that flower shop.
(Little Pug giggles, then resumes his rocking.)
Your Mama would’ve agreed with me. She wouldn’t
want you living the same life she did.
How can you say that? Calling me a lazy-butt! That pisses me off, Miss
Being pissed off is better than feeling sorry for yourself, Sugar.
(LIGHTS SHIFT to Gwendolyn, who is stuffing clothes into a bag as she
talks on the phone.)
Quit a’lying to me. I know he’s there somewhere. Put Jack
on the phone!
I ain’t living in a migrant camp. I’m
a Harris. My family name means something.
How many bedrooms does it have? Cause he promised
me a three bedroom trailer, with a jacuzzi tub. I got it in writing,
so don’t think
you can scam me.
(Gwendolyn exits, taking chairs and props with her
as LIGHTS SHIFT to Leona, Orabelle and PROMISE #6—all dressed in rain-gear.
Pug remains in his chicken-wire enclosure.)
I never actually made a promise at all. I never took a vow or signed
an oath, or anything of that sort. Just tried to be a good neighbor.
My neighbor was an elderly lady who spent most of her time on her porch.
I lived across the street from her for seven years, and I helped her
get her groceries in, rolled her trash can to the curb, fixed the hose
on her washing machine when it blew out. The truth was, she drove me
crazy. Meddled in my business and called me on the phone three times
a day. I couldn’t even sit on my own porch without having to
get into a conversation. Sometimes I’d go over
and speak to her first, then settle in to read a paperback, and before I could
get through a chapter, she’d be calling, “Billy, can you come take
a look at the filter on my fishpond?” She aggravated the stuffing out
of me—but she was my friend. She tried to microwave me little frozen barbeque
sandwiches every time I stopped by
When she found out I was putting my house on
the market, she broke right down and cried. Tried to run off the realtor
when he put the sign in
the yard. So of course, I told her I’d stop by regularly and we
could visit just like old times. I’ve been moved from that house
three years next month. Haven’t even driven down the street since—cause
I know if she’s sitting on the porch, she’ll
wave me down and give me hell. But part of me’s scared if I drive
by, her rocking chair will be empty. I couldn’t stand that.
That’s just like me.
Hey, he said something. What’d you say, Little Pug?
Me and that feller there have something in common.
(He pops his hand back into his mouth, begins sucking hard.)
How’s he like you, Son?
I didn’t never tell Boy-dog I wouldn’t shoot him. Weren’t
no reason to say such a thing.
No, you were like me and my neighbor. You’d made yourself into
somebody your dog could depend on.
I didn’t take no oath, but that don’t matter.
Cause you still got a responsibility once you make yourself into somebody
a friend can count on. My poor old neighbor would’ve been better
off if I’d never took her trash out a single time. Then she wouldn’t
have expected me to be reliable.
Wait a minute, now. Just hold on. You still helped your neighbor out.
That doesn’t change. And before Little Pug killed Boy-dog, he
let him drink the milk outta his cereal bowl every morning!
I shouldn’ta done it. The little feller was wagging his tail when
I shot ’im.
That’s heartbreaking, Pug.
But Gwendolyn was allergic.
She was not. She just said that to get her way.
I never made an oath to Gwendolyn neither, but she’s family. She
depended on me. I owed her too.
You didn’t owe her your dog’s life!
Implied promises break just as surely as sworn vows. Sometime the implied
ones hurt the worst.
(Little Pug nods, cries.)
I had two-ply promises. I broke one, and I kept one.
Sometimes if your promises contradict one another, you gotta break one
to keep the other.
But what if he broke the wrong promise? What if he shoulda broke the
promise to Gwendolyn and kept the promise to Boy-Dog?
You think I broke ‘em backwards, Leona?
I don’t know. But Mama broke the wrong one, didn’t she, Miss
Orabelle? She broke the one to herself and kept the one to the family.
And look where that got her!
Where’d it get her? You think I broke the wrong one?
(Leona opens the coop up and gets into the pen with Pug. She hugs him.
Leona exits as LIGHTS SHIFT to Rubie who is looking out into the audience,
straining to see.)
Granny! Hey, Granny. Look what’s coming down the road yonder.
(Orabelle runs up. Peers out into the audience.)
Who is that? I don’t know nobody drives a little orange pickup
with flashing lights. Do you?
That’s a wide-load coming behind it. See? I knew you wouldn’t
wanna miss it.
And I didn’t, neither! I got my wheelbarrow and set off to the edge of
the yard. None of the promises had seen anything like it. That trailer was
cut slick in two, just like somebody’d took the scissors to it. They’d
covered the openings with plastic, but you could still see in. The kitchen
sink was in one half, and the stove was in the other! And them fellers drove
the two trailer halves right out into the middle of the next field, over on
the Junior Baskins property.
(JACK FLANAGAN enters, wearing a hard hat, and a whistle around his
neck. He blows his whistle two quick times.)
Right over there, boys. Steady. Steady. Whoa!
They put it square in the middle of that old red clay field.
Why don’t you back it on up the hill so they’ll have some shade?
Might help ‘em with their electric bill.
What business is it of yours, I’d like to know?
Ain’t none of my business, but it seems like you’d try to
make ‘em comfortable. You got ten acres to choose from, and you
gonna stick ‘em out in the middle of the field?
Can’t grow nothing on it, no way.
If you move it back a little, they’ll be up on the hill instead
of in this mud-puddle. Why in the world would you set their trailer down
where the drainage is this bad? No way they’ll be able to grow
shrubs here, or azaleas.
I ain’t worried about their bushes! Gwendolyn didn’t want
to be near the Mexicans, so I’m putting her here. You don’t
have no Mexican in you, do you?
Before you seal and underpin that thing, why don’t you at least
see if it suits them?
I’m gonna have a talk with your landlord, Miss. Who’s your
(They exit as LIGHTS SHIFT to Little Pug, Gwendolyn, and Leona. Little
Pug remains inside his chicken coop. Gwendolyn has suitcases in her hands.)
Get out of there right now! You gotta pack up your stuff. Jack’s
setting up our double-wide right this minute, and if you don’t
pack it up, all your stuff’s gonna get left behind.
None of it don’t matter to me no more.
(Gwendolyn kicks at the chicken-wire.)
What about your vacuum cleaners? Don’t they matter? And what about
your hair balls? It’d be a shame to lose your collection.
You can have my vacuum cleaners. And Gwendolyn can have my hair balls.
(Gwendolyn throws a valise.)
Don’t you want to pick out your bedroom
in the new trailer?
I ain’t particular.
(Gwendolyn kicks the chicken-wire from all sides. Little Pug winces.)
Stop it! You’re hurting him.
I ain’t hurting him. He’s hurting me. He’s trying to
keep me from getting the only thing in the world I want. I got a new
double-wide waiting for me, and Pug just wants to interfere with my happiness,
like he’s always done.
I ain’t interfering with your nothing.
If Daddy was here, you know what he’d say, Pug?
You know what he’d call you? If he could see you right now, sitting
here in your filth, crying over a dead dog?
Naw, now, Gwendolyn. Shut up.
He’d call you a little shit-ass. You always been a disappointment.
That’s the only thing we’ve ever been able to count on you
That’s enough, Gwendolyn.
(Little Pug convulses, rocks himself.)
I’m sor-ry, I’m sor-ry—
It’s the truth. When he was a little boy, Daddy gave Pug a rifle,
and Pug was scared to shoot it. Daddy wanted to make him a man. Told
him to go out hunting and not to come back till he’d shot the heart
out of a deer.
I didn’t want to kill no deer. I sat out in the woods a long time,
and the woods is full of deer-hearts. There’s deer-hearts under
the huckleberry bushes, still a’beatin’.
(Little Pug trembles and sucks his hand.)
When Pug come back, he told Daddy the deers had all run off to Canada,
and Daddy beat him until he messed his britches. You remember that,
(Little Pug rocks himself, sucks his hand.)
And you cried. Remember how you cried? You musta knew back then you wouldn’t
never be no man. And you still just as sissy and weak now as you were
Daddy finally let Pug come back in the house
when he brought home some birds he’d killed with that gun. Course everybody knew that Sadie’d
killed ‘em for him. I think that damned dog is the first thing
in the world Pug’s ever shot. Maybe you gonna be a man after all,
in your old age, Pug. Why don’t you act like a man and come out
of that chicken coop?
I ain’t ready to be a man yet.
It’s okay, Little Pug.
I can’t stand neither one of you. You’re both pathetic. The
sorry little shit-ass and the sorry little bastard. You make quite a
(Little Pug rocks and hums.)
You’re not helping things. Go on back to the house.
I’m sor-ry, I’m sor-ry—
Y’all are just dead-set on ruining my life in one place or the
other. Here or there. Don’t really matter. I wish I was up in heaven
with Daddy and Mama and Sadie. I wish I didn’t have to deal with
no more shit-asses and no more bastards. This life is too full of shit-asses
and bastards. That’s what I think!
(They exit as LIGHTS SHIFT to Rubie and Orabelle,
planting flowers around the new trailer. Orabelle’s wheelbarrow
is full of flowers.)
They might ever one die, but they’ll be pretty for a day or two.
I know where you can get some real nice plastic flowers, and I hear that
plastic flowers thrive just fine in old red clay soil.
(She cackles. Leona enters. When she sees them, she puts her hands
over her heart.)
Well, hey there, Sweetie. I thought you liked yellow flowers. But if
you want us to go back and get the purple ones, we’ll do it.
Yellow’s fine. Or purple . . .
So I hear we gonna be neighbors.
For a time, I reckon. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you better,
Rubie. I’m sorry for guilt-tripping you all your life. I sure don’t
want to do to you what Gwendolyn does—
It’s all right.
I’m sorry too. Not cause I didn’t
open the flower shop—cause I don’t love flowers
the way you do. But I’m sorry you were so sad about it.
I missed you all them years!
You could’ve called me. Or sent a card.
I wish I had. I’ll try to be a better friend from now on—
Now that you’re next-door neighbors, you can make up for lost time.
(Leona shakes her head.)
I don’t think I can stand to live here—
Ain’t that bad, now. We try not to play the music too loud after
Oh, Miss Orabelle, it’s not about you. It’s just that—
Well, I’ll bedogged. You’ve finally brought that promise.
I can’t keep on living with Gwendolyn and Little Pug.
Let me make some room in this wheelbarrow.
(Orabelle puts the plants on the ground.)
My life’s not mine. It’s never been mine.
Only thing that makes living next door to Gwendolyn tolerable is knowing
you’ll be here too. But it don’t sound like you gonna be
No longer than I have to. I got that job driving a school-bus, but it
won’t start for a while. If I find something better before—
Well congratulations! Let’s have a party!
Don’t feel much like celebrating. We gotta be out of the house
tomorrow. Jack Flanagan’s sending some workers with a ton-truck
to move our boxes, and I can’t even get my stuff together. Seems
like I’m in some kind of stupor or something.
Oh no, Honey. You coming outta your stupor!
You don’t have to figure everything out at one time. Just take
it piece by piece.
Think of it like walking in the fog. Just cause
you can’t see
where you’re heading don’t mean the ground’s not there.
I feel like such a failure—
Seems to me you oughta be proud.
Everybody breaks promises, Baby.
Specially me! How you think I became caretaker of all these promises
in the first place?
I’ve broke as many as the next feller, but there’s one in
particular that haunts me. Many years ago, we were under the barn shed,
stringing tobacco, when out of the blue, your granddaddy asked me if
I really believed a colored woman’s vote ought to count the same
as a white man’s. I reached right down, grabbed up another armload
of leaves and laid them on that stringer like nothing had happened. And
I said, “No Sir, Mister Arthur. Hard to believe they let a colored
woman vote at all.” Never missed a beat.
But all that afternoon my answer curdled in
my heart. And all that night, I tossed and turned, thinking over what
I guess you broke a promise to yourself?
Not just to myself, Sweetheart. To my children and their children.
That promise hurt your granddaddy, believe
it or not. Cause then he didn’t have any reason to doubt his
old backwards beliefs. So it hurt you—cause you grew up with a granddaddy
who thought a colored
woman’s vote ought not count. It hurt Rubie—cause I didn’t
do my part to change the world she grew up in either. You see how this
I think so. But Lord, that’s a lot of pressure. If every choice
is a kind of promise, how do you stand it?
You try to think about how things will play out down the road. Then sometimes
you mess up anyway. The mistakes just grow you into the person you’re
meant to become.
I hope the person I’m meant to become has more nerve than I do—and maybe
Seems like I oughta put something in that wheelbarrow
(She kicks off her flip-flops and throws them in the wheelbarrow.)
Why don’t me and Granny come help you pack?
I’d sure appreciate it.
(They begin crossing the stage towards Pug’s
Whenever I try to pack, I get so hot-headed!
I keep picturing myself cutting all the sleeves off Little Pug’s shirts and tying them
to the branches of a tree, just to watch ‘em fly. Now why you reckon
I want to tear up his shirts and not Gwendolyn’s?
You can’t help getting mad at people who need you to defend ‘em
all the time. We’ll help you with Little Pug’s stuff.
They gonna bulldoze his chicken coop. Might be already done it. I hope he gets
out the way.
We got a real nice coop he can use—course he’ll have to share
it with the chickens.
(LIGHTS SHIFT to Little Pug’s abandoned
chicken-coop. Leona, Orabelle, and Rubie arrive.)
He’s gone. Do you see him anywhere?
Old Pug’s done flew the coop! That’s a good sign, Leona.
Maybe he’s packing his own shirts.
What’s that there?
(Orabelle points to the ground inside the coop.)
That’s where he buried Boy-dog. That’s—You don’t
reckon he dug him up?
(They peer into the hole. Offstage, a gunshot rings out, then another.)
(Offstage there’s another gunshot.)
Was that coming from the house?
Little Pug? Gwendolyn?
(Little Pug enters, dragging his feet, carrying a shotgun and a box.)
Two times I missed, but then I didn’t.
(Leona approaches Pug, takes the gun.)
What have you done?
She was just so tired of the shit-asses and bastards. She wanted to be
up in heaven with Daddy and Mama and Sadie.
And she was allergic to Boy-dog.
(He opens up the box to show them. Rubie backs away, waving her hand
in front of her nose.)
I started packing, Leona.
(Orabelle takes the box from Little Pug and walks it over to her wheelbarrow,
placing it inside. Rubie and Leona take up the chicken-wire, put it around
Little Pug, and lead him offstage.)
They buried Gwendolyn in the family plot right next to Sadie. Leona went
ahead and ordered a double-wide tombstone, put Gwendolyn’s name
on one side and Pug’s name on the other, so that when he dies,
won’t be nothing left to do but fill in the date.
Jack Flanagan thought he could reclaim that mobile home and sell it
for new, but Gwendolyn and Pug both owned that trailer, and Leona didn’t
let him forget it
(LIGHTS SHIFT to Leona and Jack. Leona is showing him out of her house.)
I gotta tell you, I’m surprised at you, wanting to hold onto this
double-wide. Must be a constant reminder of the pain.
(Jack tries to put his arm around Leona. She slaps it away.)
Pug’s not dead, Jack. He still has rights. And when he dies, the
trailer belongs to me. The land belongs to you, but the trailer belongs
Come on, now, Dollbaby. Wouldn’t you rather have a little condo
by the beach, somewhere you can sit in the sun and read romances? Start
You’ve overstayed your welcome.
What happened to you, Leona? You used to be so sweet and nice. Now you’ve
turned into an old bitch.
(Leona shrugs. Jack exits. LIGHTS SHIFT to Orabelle.)
Little Pug may yet get out of the state hospital. When it came out in
court how Jack Flanagan swindled the Harrises, how Gwendolyn
talked Little Pug into signing over his part of the property, and how
Little Pug mourned it, spending night after night in the chicken coop,
the judge was lenient.
(offstage, high-pitched and laughing)
Being pissed off is better than feeling sorry for yourself, Sugar!
Experts testified that Pug was feeble-minded, and when it came right
down to it, everybody on the jury thought Gwendolyn needed killing
(Leona steps out front.)
But I don’t think that. I might have wished it a time or two, but
I’d take it back if I could.
On the surface, you might even think that Leona got her wish. With Gwendolyn
and Little Pug both gone, she didn’t have nobody left to take
care of, except herself.
It’s harder than I thought. I’m not sure yet how to do it.
But I’m gonna learn.
She inherited some money when Gwendolyn died. Forty-thousand buckaroonies.
So if she ever gets tired of driving her school bus and decides to
open a flower shop, she’s got the means.
(Orabelle gets a card-table from offstage, sets
it up at center.)
I always thought I couldn’t afford a flower shop. And I sure didn’t
have the time to run one! Now I’ve got money and time both, but
I see that there’s something else you gotta have—
(Rubie enters with an armload of flowers and a vase. She puts them
down on the table.)
Imagination. You gotta be able to picture yourself—in a little
brick building, with a courtyard out the side, ivy stretching along the
walls and flowers of every kind. Can you see it?
(Orabelle gets a fold-up chair from offstage, positions it behind the
(Leona steps closer and looks at the flowers as Rubie gestures.)
And inside, a refrigerated case spans the whole wall long—just
full of fresh cut roses and daisies and gladiolas in their tubs. And
you’re in there, Leona, making an arrangement.
(Rubie pulls out the chair and Leona sits.)
You’re adding in some greenery, and now a tiger-lily right in the
middle. Can you see it?
Not yet. Can you?
Well, sure. Just close your eyes and imagine.
(Leona closes her eyes. Rubie puts flowers into her hands, guides her
in arranging them. As Leona gets the hang of it, Rubie exits. Orabelle
pushes her wheelbarrow up front as Leona continues to shape the arrangement.)
A promise is kinda like a flower arrangement, you know? When you first
put the flowers together, they look and smell like heaven! But you
can’t foresee that the tiger-lily’s gonna drop all its
petals before the rosebud even opens. You might have to pull that lily
out in a day or two.
But I like the lily.
And it’s fine for today. Tomorrow—check it again.
The more I think about it, the more it seems like you can justify anything
(She removes the central flower from the arrangement.)
You can keep a promise, or you can break one,
and you can make yourself believe you did the right thing—or
the wrong thing. The more I learn about the nature of promises, the
more confused I get.
Why do we even bother making promises, Miss Orabelle?
(Leona rises. She pops the stem from the flower and
sticks it behind her ear.)
You want me to give you an answer, but there’s no one answer. And
no one to decide in the end whether what you do is wrong or right. There’s
just the tiger-lily and the rosebud and this day—
(A school bell rings, startling them both.)
I reckon it’s time for me to get moving.
(She goes over to Orabelle’s wheelbarrow
and takes out her shoes and puts them on.)
That school bus won’t
(Orabelle picks up the flower arrangement from the
Don’t forget your flowers.
(She hands them to Leona.)
Wonder if this vase will fit on the dashboard of my bus?
If you drive slow, you can use it as a hood ornament. Wouldn’t
that tickle the bees and the birds!
(As Leona heads offstage, PROMISE #7 enters,
in a hurry. They both stop. Leona pulls out a flower and gives
it to Promise #7. Promise #7
accepts it, then runs to Orabelle’s wheelbarrow and collapses
dramatically into it.)
Well, hey there, Baby. Make yourself at home.
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