SHERI REYNOLDS | Orabelle’s
Gwendolyn—60s, white; Promise #2, #7
Little Pug—60s, white
Rubie—40s, black; Promise #3, #5
Jack Flanagan—60s, white; Promise #1, #4, #6
*Alternative—one female actor can play Promises
#2, 3, 5, and 7.
Outskirts of a small town in South Carolina. Summer.
The play needs minimal scenery, with suggestions
of spaces rather than full sets. Locations include Leona’s porch
and Orabelle’s porch, a yard, a field, a kitchen/living area. Outdoor
scenes might suggest green overgrown trees and plant-life, shady dirt
roads, abandoned farm equipment. Indoor scenes could incorporate farm-house
decor—box fans, fly-swatters, afghans thrown over rocking chairs.
Scene changes come quickly, with sections of the
stage representing different places at the same time. Lights shift from
one area to the other rather than blacking out.
(ORABELLE enters, pushing
a wheelbarrow, humming to herself. She wears a motley assortment
of clothes, mismatched patterns, colorful shoes. Offstage, a car-engine
Hey, slow that truck down! The road’s washed out around that curve.
(Offstage, brakes screech. A small roll of chicken-wire
is thrown onto the stage, as if it bounced out the back of a truck.)
Can’t say I didn’t warn you.
(Orabelle picks up the chicken-wire, puts it in
And the moral of the story is: drive like hell, and
you’ll get there faster!
(She laughs, holds the wire up to the audience,
looks at them through it.)
Or maybe there ain’t no moral. Maybe I just
needed a piece of chicken-wire today and didn’t know it.
(She flexes the wire, holds it open.)
Piece of chicken-wire like this, flimsy as it is,
separates you from me. Wind can blow right through it, but there’s
still no mistaking what’s on one side and what’s on the other.
(Orabelle places the wire around her wheelbarrow.)
RUBIE (offstage, calling out)
Granny? Hey, Granny!
There you are! I told you to wait for me.
(Orabelle tosses the chicken-wire into her wheelbarrow.)
I’m perfectly capable of taking my evening stroll without a chaperone.
You told me this morning you were coming with me to Leona’s! Don’t
you remember? We missed her mama’s funeral. I thought you wanted to pay
Far as I’m concerned, paying respects is something you do when people
(Rubie takes her arm.)
Just walk with me, Granny. Where else you gotta be?
(On the other side of the stage, LEONA sits in
a rocking chair and studies a piece of paper. Rubie and Orabelle slowly
move towards her.)
It’ll be easier for Leona now that her mama’s passed. I heard at
the Senior Center that Sadie’s mind was shot. Last time she went to the
doctor, she wore Little Pug’s underdrawers, poor old thing!
I wonder if Leona’ll stay in that house with Little Pug and Gwendolyn
now that her mama’s gone.
Hard to say. But it’s good you going to see her, Sugar. I’m sure
she could use a friend.
I don’t know if Leona considers me a friend anymore. I’ve only
seen her a time or two since I moved back home, and then it seemed like she
barely tolerated my company. I think she still holds a grudge that I left town
in the first place.
You got deployed. That’s the most acceptable kind of leaving.
There she sits. I expected she’d be on the porch on a night like this.
(Orabelle stops. Rubie turns back to her.)
Reckon I’ll visit with the squirrels a little. Catch up on what’s
happening with the crickets. You go ahead and talk with your friend.
Suit yourself. Hey, Leona!
(Leona stashes the paper in her pocket and rises.)
Well, look what the cat dragged in.
(They greet one another, then settle in rocking
chairs. LIGHTS SHIFT to Orabelle, who pokes at something in her wheelbarrow.)
Hey, You! Yeah, you! Sit up and look around. You been sleeping all day.
(She motions out to the audience.)
You see all these fields? I spent my whole life in
these fields, marching up and down the rows gathering tobacco.
(She points towards Leona and Rubie.)
You see that house? I worked there fifty years! I
was in that house the night that gal’s mama was born. Then when
Gwendolyn and Little Pug come along years later, I was the one who cut
the cords and burned the bloody rags.
(She laughs and points in the other direction.)
See that barn, yonder? Them two girls were digging
doodlebugs together ‘neath that barn shed ‘fore either one
of ‘em could walk. What? You don’t know what a doodlebug
is? Hop out here and I’ll show you how to dig a doodlebug.
(Orabelle offers her hand to the invisible thing
in the wheelbarrow, then stoops and begins doodling on the ground.
LIGHTS SHIFT to Leona and Rubie.)
So . . . we’re broke—and I didn’t even know it.
How could you not know it? Didn’t you look at the bank statements?
Never seen a one. Mama always handled the bills and kept the family files.
When her mind started to go, Gwendolyn helped out some—
Lord, I can’t believe you’d trust Gwendolyn with it.
I had to. She’s my aunt.
(Rubie makes a face.)
I didn’t trust her exactly. Just didn’t
realize how bad Mama’s mind had got. I had so much on my plate—
ORABELLE (singing loudly)
Doodlebug doodlebug go so fast. Doodlebug doodlebug, run outta gas!
(Leona stands, peers out into the night.)
I didn’t know Miss Orabelle was with you! We should invite her up on
Nah, she’s all right. You were telling me about your financial—
I knew we hadn’t farmed the land in a real
long time, but I didn’t know the leases had all run out. And nobody’d
renewed ‘em. Don’t know why I didn’t notice.
When I first moved back in with Granny, I saw that the fields weren’t
planted. But I didn’t think much of it. So many farmers have moved on
to other things—
Then today, this come.
(She pulls the bill out of her pocket, shows Rubie.)
If dying gets any more expensive, we gonna have to live forever.
We’re already in collections for some other debts. If we declare bankruptcy,
they’ll take the house and farm both. Then I reckon I’ll be stuck
in a homeless shelter with Gwendolyn and Little Pug. Can you imagine?
(Rubie shakes her head. Across the stage, Orabelle
suddenly jumps up.)
Hey! Where you going?
(Orabelle runs to the wheelbarrow, peers inside
Rubie, that little sucker’s run off again.
I gotta find him.
(Leona looks puzzled.)
It’s okay, Granny. He’s hiding over here in these azaleas. He’s
just teasing with you.
(Orabelle picks up a stick and goes to the bushes
and whacks at them again and again. Leona gets up from her chair and
hides behind it.)
You get back in that wheelbarrow. Go on, now. Get! It’s too late for
games this time of night.
(She heads back to the wheelbarrow, escorting
an imaginary thing.)
What does she see?
Just some promises.
Granny keeps other people’s broken promises.
(They go over to the wheelbarrow and look inside.)
He weren’t too hard to round up. He knows how to listen. He ain’t
a bad feller.
(She pulls moss out of her wheelbarrow and acts like she’s rumpling someone’s
hair, caressing the moss.)
LEONA (to Rubie)
Does she have Oldtimer’s Disease, too?
I don’t think so.
ORABELLE (noticing Leona)
Well, hey there, Honey-girl. I’m sure sorry about your mama.
(Orabelle takes Leona’s hand and holds it.)
Good to see you again, Miss Orabelle.
I know you gonna miss her. Your mama had a heart of gold. You ready to get
(Orabelle digs around in the wheelbarrow.)
You got something of my mama’s? In there?
Oh, yes. She left a promise with me—years and years ago. I got it right
in here with the others, if I can just find it. Guess it’s part of your
inheritance, ain’t it?
(Leona looks stricken. Orabelle stirs around. Things
LEONA (to Rubie)
Is she crazy? You don’t see anything in there, do you? Just some flowers
It’s too soon, Granny. You need to keep that promise a little bit longer.
Oh—all right then.
(She starts pushing her wheelbarrow away. Rubie
LEONA (to Rubie)
Wait. Where does she get those . . . promises?
(Rubie and Orabelle both stop.)
They just find Granny. She don’t go looking for them.
Miss Orabelle, do you remember much about my mama—when she was a girl?
Before I was born?
Oh yes, honey, and I was honored to keep the promise she made to your daddy,
cause I know how much it meant to her.
My Daddy? I didn’t—I don’t—
Now, Granny, hang on—
Mama made a promise to my daddy?
I’m sorry, Leona. It’s late. We probably oughta—
(Leona fans her face with both hands. Orabelle
turns her wheelbarrow around and heads back.)
Lord, my head’s a’spinnin’ in a thousand ways—
Grief’ll do that to you. But you needn’t worry ‘bout that
promise. I been keeping it safe for a long time. It’s in good hands.
Tell me more?
Ain’t a whole lot more to tell. It’s just an ordinary old broke
promise. Your mama promised your daddy her heart. Then she took it back. I
got a hundred others just like it in this wheelbarrow. Sometimes on a hot night
like this one, I throw ‘em a pool-party.
(Orabelle looks off towards the porch, puts her
hand on her hip, stomps her foot.)
Looka there! He took off again. He’s yonder
under the doorsteps.
It’s all right, Granny. He knows the way home. We need to let Leona rest.
I reckon so, but I can’t hardly sleep unless all my promises are accounted
Do you know if—
We gotta run, Leona. Granny’s tired, and I’m tired—And your
mama’s promise is probably tired, too. I think we all need some
(They begin to leave.)
Honey, if you see that promise, tell him to hurry on home. Supposed to rain
We’ll talk soon, Leona.
(They exit. Leona stands there perplexed.)
Well, I swear! You’re both crazy, both of you! Weren’t nothing
in that wheelbarrow!
You shouldn’t talk about my Mama, not when
(Leona hears something, stops, listens. She goes
towards the doorsteps, peeks down.)
Is somebody there?
(She looks around nervously.)
Who’s there? Little Pug, is that you?
(Leona listens, looks over her shoulder, then
hurries offstage as PROMISE #1 creeps out of the dark. He wears a mask
made of moss. The promises should all wear masks made from things in
Orabelle’s wheelbarrow: sticks, leaves, pinestraw.)
PROMISE #1 (hollering after her)
Wait! Don’t be afraid. I know how you feel cause I lost somebody I love
not too long ago.
And just before she died, I broke a promise.
(He shrugs, turns and addresses audience.)
We were married forty years, me and my wife. Loved
to go fishing together. She was every bit as at home on the river as
she was on land. She could maneuver our little boat into places only
the trout knew about! Every Saturday we were out there. Sometimes after
church on Sundays, too.
When she was near eat-up with the cancer, she still
wanted to be out on the river. Didn’t have the strength by then
to walk very far, but I’d carry her and put her in the boat. We’d
float around and listen to the mudfish jump. One day she said, “Promise
me that no matter how bad it gets, you won’t put me in a home.” And
I told her I wasn’t about to put her in a home! I told her I could
take care of her myself.
But taking care of her wasn’t the problem.
The problem was watching her suffer. The family helped out, but Lord,
it was a slow dying. Towards the end, everybody told me to put her in
a nursing home. She was on morphine by then, in and out of consciousness,
so I did it, but I made sure she was in a room with a window that opened.
I promised her I’d take her on the water again soon as it warmed
up. But she didn’t last that long.
Whenever I go fishing now, I drive all the way to
(LIGHTS DIM. From offstage, Leona shines a flashlight
out at Promise #1.)
I don’t know who’s out there, but you better get away from here!
This is private property.
(Promise #1 exits. Leona enters with flashlight.)
It’s gonna rain. Get on home . . . whoever
(Leona drags rocking chairs offstage as LIGHTS
SHIFT to GWENDOLYN. Dressed in a black tutu and pillbox hat, she runs
around as if she’s chasing chickens. Squawks can be heard, and
LITTLE PUG takes off after Gwendolyn, throwing feathers. Gwendolyn
flicks her wrist in circles, like she’s wringing a chicken’s
neck. Little Pug runs behind her, picking up feathers and throwing
them again, frenzied.)
I swear! Seems like a chicken’s neck gets longer and longer as you wring
These are Mama’s chickens, Gwendolyn. Quit killing ‘em.
I’m gonna have me a chicken bog tonight.
You don’t need but one hen for a chicken bog. You’ve already killed
Sometimes it seems like the head’s pulling outta the body, and sometimes
it seems like the body’s flying away from the head. Ain’t that
That one over there—run her towards me.
(Little Pug makes a move like he’s running
a chicken. Gwendolyn grabs it.)
How many chickens you planning on killing?
I’m gonna kill ‘em all. I hate a chicken.
(She spins and tosses a chicken to the ground.)
Ain’t it pathetic—how they flap their
wings a time or two before they give up?
You can’t kill ‘em all. Mama’ll turn over in her grave.
Might turn over, but she can’t get out. I’m in charge now, and
I hate a chicken.
(She turns to Little Pug.)
Run me that one over there.
(Little Pug races around, wild-eyed.)
Please quit it, Gwen.
Please quit it, Gwen.
(She drops the hen and wipes her face.)
Chickens are stupid and ugly and shit-up the yard.
I’m done with ‘em, Leona. We’ll kill ‘em off,
and then Little Pug can keep that damned dog of his in the coop.
Naw, now, Gwendolyn. Boy-Dog’s just a baby. He’s gotta sleep with
You heard what I said.
How can you do this so soon after Mama’s passing—and knowing how
much she loved ‘em?
(Leona chokes. Little Pug crouches where he’s
standing and begins to cry onto his knees.)
Well, look at me, Leona. I’m still grieving her, too. I’m still
in my funeral clothes. You been wearing your ordinary wardrobe for a week already!
You know I loved your mama.
LITTLE PUG (child-like)
Me, too. I’m gonna miss her the most.
I don’t know how we’ll survive without her.
(Gwendolyn goes to Leona and hugs her, with a
chicken still in her clutches.)
We’ll get by—or else we’ll die in a pile.
Can’t we keep some of the chickens, just to remember her by?
(Gwendolyn considers this.)
We got plenty of other things to remember her by.
No, we don’t need these chickens. Your mama
was a fool to love chickens in the first place. She was my sister, and
I’ll always love her, but she was a fool just the same.
Naw, now, Gwen. Sadie weren’t no fool. She was the smartest of the bunch.
(Little Pug sucks on the back of his hand.)
Don’t you talk about my mama that way! And don’t you kill another
I’ll talk about her however I want, and you can’t do nothing about
it, can you?
(Little Pug runs off stage.)
It ain’t no surprise, you know, that Sadie
loved birds. Her brain was about the same size, Leona, and I doubt yours
is much bigger. I loved Sadie, but she was a lot like a chicken. ‘Specially
like that red one over yonder with her back tail-feathers all snatched
out. Kept teasing with the roosters, you know? That’s how you come
Don’t say that.
But Sadie didn’t mean no more to the roosters than that old red hen does.
Just something to hop on and flap about.
That’s not true. What happened to my daddy?
GWENDOLYN (immediately angry)
You ain’t got no daddy. You ain’t never had no daddy.
Yes, I did. Miss Orabelle told me.
When’d you talk to Orabelle? I thought she was dead.
I saw her yesterday. Why didn’t anybody ever tell me about my daddy!
You gone believe an old nigger woman over me?
(She grabs another chicken.)
Please, quit it.
(Gwendolyn wrings its neck, throws the bird at
Leona, takes off running down another one.)
Stop killing ‘em . . . or I’m gonna leave here and not never come
Oh, no you won’t. Just cause Sadie’s dead don’t mean you
can run off.
Besides that, wouldn’t nobody else have you.
We’re family. We’re blood. That’s all in the world
you can depend on.
(Leona slumps down. Gwendolyn wipes her face and
Little Pug! Little Pug?
(Little Pug peeks out, clearly scared.)
You need something, Gwendolyn?
Roll out Sadie’s wheelchair for me. She sure don’t need it no more,
and my back’s sore from all this stooping.
(Gwendolyn takes Leona’s arm and yanks her
up. She shows no signs of a weak back.)
I need you to scald these birds and pluck ‘em.
Then Little Pug can help you clean ‘em, and we can freeze what
we don’t need.
(Little Pug rolls out the wheelchair, parks it
directly behind Gwendolyn. She drops into it and sighs.)
I’m gonna go watch my soap opera, cause my
legs have done give out on me.
(Little Pug pushes her away. Leona begins cleaning
the mess on the stage.)
GWENDOLYN (calling back)
You ain’t going nowhere, Leona. You hear me?
(Gwendolyn and Little Pug exit. Leona picks up
You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my Mama. I don’t
have to listen to you!
(Little Pug returns with a battered hand-held
vacuum and helps Leona clean up the feathers.
LIGHTS SHIFT to Orabelle who enters with a bushel
basket of butterbeans. Rubie brings in a rocking chair and a pan. Orabelle
scoops beans into her pan, sits, and begins shelling. Rubie pulls up
a second rocker, also takes a pan of beans and begins shelling. Leona
comes over with a fly swatter. Throughout the scene, she kills flies.)
You sure you don’t want me to help you finish shelling?
Oh, no, honey. I wanna hear this story! I had no idea they kept your daddy
such a secret.
We’re almost done anyway. Just work on these blasted flies.
Well—for a while I figured he died in the war.
Lots of people were dying in the war at that time. Makes sense you’d
I went looking in Mama’s jewelry box to see if she had his war-pins there.
When I didn’t find any purple hearts, I told myself she kept his commendations
in a private place.
Did you ever ask her outright?
One time at school, we had to draw our family tree, and I asked her then. I’d
already done half my tree, but it looked lopsided, like the ones cut off by
the electric company so the branches don’t touch the wires. So I asked
Mama to help me fill out the other side.
What’d she do?
Didn’t say a word. Gwendolyn said, “I told you this day would come,” and
then Mama ran off and locked herself in the bathroom.
Then at one point, I decided my daddy’d been
a sea captain who’d gone down with his ship.
You wrote an essay about it. I remember.
Well, I swannee—
And I read it to the whole school at assembly on career day!
(Leona smacks a fly.)
When Mama found out, she gave me a whipping I’ll
never forget. And she told me not to never mention my father again. So
I shut up about it.
And you kept all that confusion inside you, bless your heart.
That’s why it surprised me so much the other day when you mentioned Mama’s
broken promise, Miss Orabelle.
I reckon it did.
You know, your mama was supposed to marry your daddy,
but that just didn’t work out. Your mama took care of the younger
children, almost like they were her own. Little Pug was always sickly
and never did walk right after he got over the polio. And Gwendolyn was
prone to fits—screaming and kicking and biting and crying! Gwendolyn
was mad at the world. When your mama got engaged, Gwendolyn said if Sadie
left, she’d holler and never shut up. So Sadie stayed right there.
That’s so sad.
It’s sad, all right, but Sadie shoulda left.
Sounds to me like she couldn’t leave!
It woulda been hard, but you reckon her life coulda got any harder than the
one she lived?
(Orabelle looks into Leona’s eyes.)
How are you getting along with Gwendolyn and Little
Pug these days?
We’re all right. I’m just trying to be agreeable, for the time
being, til I can figure out what to do next. It’s best not to get Gwendolyn
That’s for sure.
(Orabelle pushes away her beans and gets up.)
You’re living out the consequence of your mama’s broken promise.
But now, your heart’s the one hurting. You ready to get it,
Sweetie? My wheelbarrow’s right outside.
I’m not sure. Is it big?
(Leona looks surprised.)
Weighs a ton. You might need to come back one day
with a trailer. Them promises, they get heavier and heavier, unless the
one who breaks ‘em finds some way through the guilt.
(Orabelle gets her wheelbarrow from just offstage.)
How do you push ‘em around in that wheelbarrow, then?
They ain’t too heavy to me, cause they ain’t no relation. I reckon
all my old promises gone and jumped in somebody else’s wheelbarrow.
You got lots of promises you’re keeping?
All shapes and sizes, from all over this county! Come look.
(They cross to the wheelbarrow. Orabelle reaches
in and pulls out a leaf.)
Now this one here, this is a child’s promise. Buy me a stereo and I’ll
never cuss again.
I don’t see nothing but a leaf.
Open your mind, child!
(Orabelle puts the leaf back in the wheelbarrow
and pulls out a stick.)
And this one here, this is “I’ll guard
it with my life.” This promise was made by a man from over the
swamp who was looking after his friend’s chainsaw. He let somebody
else borry it, and it broke all to pieces.
That promise—it looks a lot like a twig.
Don’t let that fool you. Things aren’t always what they seem.
Granny straightened me out a while back, Leona. Taught me to see beyond the
obvious. You hang around her long enough and you’ll start doing it,
But you know what bothers me? Some of these promises
don’t sound serious enough for people to suffer the guilt all their
lives. A girl who said she wouldn’t cuss and then did? How bad
(Leona shakes her head.)
Ain’t up to us to judge the weight of another’s promise.
(Orabelle reaches back into the wheelbarrow and
pulls out a dried flower)
This one is “I’ll love you till I die.” That’s
a serious turn-of-phrase, cause you just never know what love will do.
But I tell you what—people say it all the time. “I’ll
love you till I die!” Then some bigger love comes along and swallows
up the littler love, and they can’t do nothing about it. If you
ask me, we’d all be better off saying “I’ll love you
long as I can.” ‘Course, that kinda love don’t make
people feel too secure.
(Leona backs away from the wheelbarrow. She looks
Oh, Lordgod . . .
You all right?
I just about saw that one. I just about saw it!
That’s how it works. You start to see ‘em when they hit home. Did
you tell somebody you’d love ‘em till you died and then quit loving ‘em?
No, ma’am! I certainly did not! I just got dizzy cause I thought
for a second I saw that promise!
Well, don’t act so surprised, Darling. Did you think I was making this
Maybe you saw it cause it’s a kindred promise—like
It’s getting late. I should go. I told Little Pug I’d take him
to the flea market.
The flea market ain’t even open today, child.
Maybe you saw that promise cause you so much like
your mama, confusing love with responsibility just like she did.
Really, I gotta go. I can take Little Pug to the dumpsters behind the dime
store. You know how he loves to look for vacuum cleaner parts.
Let her go, Granny.
She can go if she wants to, but there ain’t no need to make up stories
about flea markets and dumpsters! I don’t think she likes my promises,
I do like your promises. But they make me kind of—sad.
Sad? They shouldn’t make you sad. They should make you proud to be an
(Rubie rolls her eyes.)
Here in America, we’re free to break
our promises! Sometimes it’s a real good thing!
(She digs around in her wheelbarrow.)
Who’ll explain it to her? Where’s the
teacher? I know the teacher can make her understand!
(PROMISE #2 enters, looking uncomfortable.)
Go ahead. Tell ‘em what you did!
Well, my first year teaching, I had a third-grade class at Sunnybrook Elementary.
Most of the students came from loving homes, but there was one girl who was
a raggedy mess. Nobody combed her hair, and her clothes were stained and
dirty. I never met her parents. I think they were on drugs. They never came
to the PTA.
So one day when she had the croop and I had to keep
her in at recess, I asked her to help me clean out the coat closet. There
was a sweater in there with little bluebells embroidered all around the
collar. I’d made it myself, but the arms shrunk up when I washed
it. So I gave it to her and told her it was left over from the year before.
She nearly coughed herself to death trying to thank me, and when I asked
her how she got so sick, she said it was a secret.
I told her I could keep a secret. And she said, “Promise?” and
I crossed my heart without even thinking about it. . . . Then she said
that she’d sassed at her father, and he’d locked her out
of the house in just her pajamas. She’d spent the night beneath
the trailer, curled up on some blankets with the dog! I had to call social
services, of course. They put her in foster care, and she didn’t
come back to my class after that.
I went to visit her once, and she was wearing my
sweater. She had her knees pulled up, and the sweater stretched over
them. She wouldn’t talk to me at all. But those bluebells I’d
embroidered around the collar, they just gaped at me—Seems like
they accused me of unthinkable things.
Oh, honey. You did the best you knew.
(She offers the promise her arm, and they begin
their exit with the wheelbarrow.)
You did the best you knew!
(Rubie and Leona begin clearing the stage.)
I always thought of broken promises as clear-cut. Like a man leaves his wife
for another woman.
Yeah, but it’s not always that simple. Sometimes you think you’re
doing right, when maybe you’re not—
(Rubie gets the pans and baskets of butterbeans
Like when you left here and broke your promise to open a flower shop with me?
Rubie? Are you trying to apologize for that?
(LIGHTS SHIFT to Little Pug who examines a vacuum
cleaner. He pushes it around, then turns it upside down and runs his
hand over the rollers. Leona approaches.)
Hey-oh there! Got me some work. Jack Flanagan dropped off his vacuum. Ain’t
What’s wrong with it?
There’s a lot can go wrong with a vacuum. This one here is from his mobile
home dealership. They vacuum every mobile home on the lot twice a week. So
it might be plum wore out. Or it might have something to do with this little
blue cord that’s all knotted up around the roller.
(Little Pug hands Leona the end of the blue cord
and she tugs it.)
Jack Flanagan’s pushing her around in the wheelchair.
Got no idea. Maybe they’re a’courtin’.
(The blue cord gives a bit and Leona stumbles.
Little Pug giggles. Leona coils up the cord and begins pulling again.)
Jack’s a married man.
Well, I know that, but every time one of his commercials comes on the television,
Gwendolyn cries and says she was supposed to be his wife. You never
know. Jack Flanagan could be stepping out.
Little Pug, do you remember Mama ever having a boyfriend?
Did he come around a lot?
All the time. Went hunting with Pop on Saturdays, too.
Why didn’t you ever tell me?
You never asked.
Did he—love Mama?
I don’t know if he loved her, but he bought her a blue French hen out
of a catalogue. Come in a wooden crate and had the funniest looking beak you
You reckon he was my daddy?
The blue hen? Nah.
I mean the boyfriend.
(The blue cord finally comes free. Leona balls
it up while Pug spins the roller on the vacuum.)
How come they didn’t get married?
Cause she didn’t need a husband.
(Laughter is heard from offstage.)
She had us.
(JACK FLANAGAN pushes Gwendolyn in from the side.
He spins her in the wheelchair, zig zags her around.)
Oh, me. Oh, Jack. You just tickle the stuffing out of me.
Well, honey, it tickles me to tickle you! Now if you need me to drive you to
the chiropractor again, all you have to do is call. You got my beeper number?
It’s right here.
(She pats her bra.)
I always keep your card where I can reach it.
(Gwendolyn and Jack both notice Leona.)
Hey there, Dollbaby. How you getting along?
Jack, you want some cake? Leona can get you a piece.
Nah, I gotta get back to work. We got a shipment of brand new double-wides
coming, and I gotta make space on the lot. Got some of the prettiest double-wides
you ever seen—just loaded, some of ‘em with jacuzzi tubs.
Oh, I love a jacuzzi tub.
(Leona rolls her eyes)
One day when you’re out and about, stop by the lot and have Cynthia page
me. I’ll give you a private tour.
You think about my proposition now, Gwendolyn, and we’ll talk.
(Jack kisses Gwendolyn on the cheek.)
Thank you for checking that vacuum for me, Pug. I’ll
stop back by in a day or two.
Yep. all right.
(Jack exits. Little Pug removes the vacuum cleaner
hose, peers inside it.)
What kind of proposition is he talking about?
A lady don’t have to share her private business.
Come on. Tell us.
Not about to!
Did he put the moves on you, Gwen?
Ah, Pug. You know better than that. Jack Flanagan’s a gentleman from
LITTLE PUG (mischieviously)
You reckon a gentleman gets hair-balls?
(Gwendolyn puts both hands over her mouth.)
You bring out the devil in me, Little Pug. Let’s see what kinda clogs
(She claps her hands, then addresses Leona.)
Get us a fresh Ziplock. I’d get one myself,
but my legs are so weak.
And bring back our prize-winners so we can compare ‘em!
(Leona hesitates. She’s about to say something,
but doesn’t. She exits. Little Pug reaches into the hose, then
gets a stick and pokes it in.)
Be careful now. Don’t break it.
(Little Pug performs delicate surgery, his tongue
stuck out the side of his mouth as he works. Leona returns, gives the
bags to Gwendolyn.)
Which ones did you bring?
(She reads like a first grader, broken.)
Clog from Buster Peavey’s Hoovervac, 1994.
Lily Gresham’s cat-hair wedge, 2001.
I just about got it.
(Leona holds open a bag, her face turned away.
Little Pug pulls out the thick, matted clog and drops it in.)
Woo-wee. It’s a beauty. Hand it here.
(She admires the hairball.)
That Jack Flanagan—his wife’s not much
of a housekeeper, is she? You know, if it hadn’t been for you,
Little Pug, I’d have married Jack Flanagan. But I couldn’t
leave you. I knew my priorities.
You ain’t never took care of me, Gwendolyn. And Jack Flanagan ain’t
never had no use for you.
(Leona hands the bag to Gwendolyn and dusts her
I’ll have you know Jack Flanagan was my first date. He took me to the
Park ‘n Blow and ordered us a vanilla milkshake with two straws.
That’s a flat-out lie. You ain’t never been on a date in your life.
Shut up, Little Pug!
(Little Pug begins sucking the back of his hand.
Leona helps him put the vacuum back together.)
One time when we was teenagers, me and Jack played Mary and Joseph in the Christmas
Pageant. Did you know that, Leona?
(Leona shakes her head.)
You a’lyin again, Gwendolyn.
GWENDOLYN (through gritted teeth)
You startin to aggravate me. I’m warning you.
Jack Flanagan didn’t like you. He made fun of you like everybody else.
(Gwendolyn jumps out of the wheelchair as if she’s
going to attack Little Pug. Leona gets between them, holds up the front-plate
of the vacuum like a shield.)
I’m gonna beat him till he bleeds. I’m gonna kill him.
(Gwendolyn opens up the ziplock and dumps the
hairball on the floor. Then she jumps on it and flattens it. Little
Pug inhales rapidly.)
That’s what I think of your hairballs. You
hear me? You ain’t nothing but a hairball yourself. A pathetic
little wedge of trash!
(Little Pug takes his vacuum and darts off stage.
Gwendolyn studies the mashed hairball.)
Well looka there!
(Gwendolyn gets down on her knees, begins looking
through the mess.)
What is it?
I don’t know. A little pink sparkly thing. Must be one of Jack’s
granddaughter’s play-things. But it’d make a pretty ring, wouldn’t
(She holds it up for Leona to see. Then she licks
the sparkly thing and sticks it to her finger. Leona winces. Gwendolyn
walks back over to the wheelchair and sits down.)
I now pronounce you Man and Wife.
(She laughs and holds her finger out for Leona
That’s how it should’ve been, Leona.
That’s how it should’ve been.
(Gwendolyn show off her fake engagement ring to
imaginary admirers as Leona pushes her offstage. Little Pug comes out
and vacuums up the dirt. LIGHTS SHIFT to Orabelle and Rubie who set
up a card table and some chairs. Leona joins them and they sit at the
table playing Rummy.)
Rummy on the board!
(She picks up the cards and makes a play.)
If I had a dollar for every time you threw out a
card that plays, I’d be a rich woman. What’s got you so distracted,
Yesterday we got seven calls from bill collectors! I keep telling Gwendolyn
not to answer the phone, but she likes to talk to ‘em. ‘Course
she denies that we owe ‘em any money.
(Leona shakes her head.)
I don’t know what to do with Gwendolyn. I’ve
tried to stand up to her. Then I’ve tried to be nice to her. But
nothing works. And she won’t even admit that we’re broke.
I need to get a job.
Maybe you could apply at that garden center over in Conway.
It wouldn’t pay enough to help.
Might help a little.
If it wasn’t for somebody’s broken promise, I might be
a wealthy flower shop owner right this minute.
I know you not gonna blame it on me that you don’t have a job!
You were supposed to open a flower shop with me! Then you up and left on graduation
night, hopped a Greyhound to Lord-knows where—
To bootcamp—And it wasn’t graduation night, either. It was two
You see! I told you she was still mad about that.
Ah, Rubie, she reeled you right in! And you let her. You gotta do a better
job of listening to what’s behind the words. Otherwise, you’ll
always be a sucker.
(Leona and Rubie both look surprised. Leona draws,
then discards quickly. Orabelle addresses her.)
And you gotta quit feeling so sorry for
It was one of the biggest disappointments of my life.
It was a game, Leona. Just like this. I was eight years old when I told you
I’d open a flower shop with you.
It was more than a game to me. Remember those hollyberry wreaths we made? All
the arrangements of daisies in Co-cola bottles?
(Orabelle draws, studies her card.)
You never even apologized.
There’s nothing to apologize for!
Y’all quit acting like children.
(Orabelle lays out her cards.)
I’m out. I’m the Rummy-Queen again!
If you need a job so bad, you oughta think about
driving a school bus. I hear they’re hiring for the fall.
I could do that, I reckon—
(She gathers the cards, starts shuffling them.)
I could see you being a bus driver. You remember that day on the bus?
(Leona smiles, lays the cards back down.)
We had this substitute bus driver one time who wanted
to segregate the bus, Granny. She had better sense than to try to divide
it front and back, but she wanted to sit the white children on one side
and the black children on the other.
But Rubie’d already sat down with me. The driver told her to move, said
the bus weren’t rolling until Rubie was on the other side.
Seems like I do remember—
When I didn’t get up, she came huffing down that aisle like an old bull,
and said, “Move over, chocolate-chip!”
And Rubie said, “You can’t make me move! There’s laws against
And then I said, “I’m sitting with Leona. She’s my cousin.”
I hate to admit it, but when you said you were my cousin, I felt the tater-tots
I’d had for lunch rise up sour in my throat!
What else could you have felt? Look where we grew up. But you didn’t
deny it or try to push me off the seat.
I wouldn’t have never pushed you off the seat.
Family ain’t just about blood. Family ain’t really about blood
That’s not what Gwendolyn says!
You believe everything Gwendolyn says? You give her too much power, Leona.
You a grown woman. Time you started acting like it.
(Leona nods, goes over and hugs Orabelle. LIGHTS
DIM. They begin to exit, taking chairs with them. Orabelle cackles.)
I’ll whip you again!
(In dim-light, Gwendolyn enters, pushes her wheelchair
to the table, then sets up a free-standing TV and a rug to make a family-room.
She takes her seat in the wheelchair. LIGHTS COME UP on Leona standing
by a table and arranging rollers by size. She combs Gwendolyn’s
Sorry. I’ll go easier.
You must think my head’s made of leather. I don’t see why I couldn’t
just go to the beauty parlor. They don’t yank my head around like you
We’re broke, Gwendolyn. The beauty parlor charges fifty dollars to do
it, and I’m free.
You exaggerate everything. We ain’t broke. I got a whole checkbook full
of checks in there.
I’m gonna give you the beauty shop experience right here. Fix you up
If it looks good, I might go to church tomorrow. Maybe Jack Flanagan’ll
be there. You reckon they got a wheelchair ramp at the church?
You know, I been studying the family files.
I know you have, and I don’t like it a bit. You used to have more respect!
You got no business looking at the files til me and Pug’s both dead,
and that’s a long way off, Missy! Owie!
We’re low on money, Gwendolyn. We need to sell some of this land.
You don’t need to worry about that.
I’m gonna get a job, too. I been looking in the papers.
You got a job already. You gotta take care of us. You gave us your word, Leona.
You’re perfectly capable of taking care of yourself.
What if something happened? I can’t get around, with these poor old twisted
vertebrae. What if Little Pug’s dog dropped his mess in the floor and
I drove my wheelchair through it. Who’d clean it up?
The car insurance comes due next month. Only thing I can figure is that we
can turn off the air conditioner. We might save enough on electric to cover
We ain’t turning off the AC, I’ll tell you that right now. You
know what I hate the most? Hot toothpaste. I’d rather not brush my teeth
at all than use hot toothpaste.
We can put the toothpaste in the fridgedaire.
My disability comes every month—and Little Pug’s disability.
It’s not enough.
You can fill out some new forms, and they’ll send us more money. Now
that my legs don’t work, I oughta get more disability.
It don’t work like that—
I’ll figure it out. I got some ideas.
Just listen to me. Tilt your chin down.
(She begins to roll the back of Gwendolyn’s
We’ve got a total of fifty-eight acres right
No, I just looked at the files. This farm’s got forty-eight, and then
the Junior Baskins farm’s got another ten.
(Gwendolyn undoes a roller.)
You gotta redo this one. It’s pulling.
(Leona rolls it again.)
And check your math. The Junior Baskins farm’s
got twelve acres.
Granny sold two acres to Miss Orabelle back in ‘79, remember?
That ought not count. Probably weren’t even legal.
(Leona jerks Gwendolyn’s head.)
It was perfectly legal.
I bet you when she died and crossed the River Jordan, Jesus Christ himself
was waiting to give her forty lashes for selling land to a nigger. You ‘member
how mad he got when the Philistines gambled in his temple that time?
(Leona jerks her head again)
I’d hoped you’d changed your attitude by now.
Ain’t nothing wrong with my attitude.
Tilt your head down.
(Leona begins applying the permanent solution.)
I was thinking we might sell the ten acres on the
Junior Baskins farm, and that’d give us money to get back on our
feet. We could get three-thousand an acre. I’ve been looking in
the newspapers at the real estate section.
I’m gonna take that newspaper away from you. Hand me that rag.
(Leona passes a rag to Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn mops
her face and neck.)
The land does nobody no good just sitting there.
Our family has always owned this land. We ain’t selling it.
Well I hope these growed-up fields can comfort you when they cut off our lights
and you can’t watch your soap operas.
You’re just trying to terrorize me to get your way. They won’t
cut off our lights, cause our family has a name. They know who we
They don’t care who we are.
(Leona tucks cotton around Gwendolyn’s hair
How ‘bout if we sold part of the Junior Baskins farm? Just a
couple of acres.
I told you no!
I already got a buyer, Gwen, preapproved for financing. And if we sell some
land, there might even be enough money for us to go on vacation.
(Little Pug runs in.)
Disneyworld. Disneyworld. I want to stay in a motel with Daffy the Duck.
I ain’t never stayed in a motel. Always wanted to.
Come here, Boy-dog!
(He slaps at his thigh.)
We could just sell a little bit—and none of the land we live on. So you
wouldn’t really even know the difference.
I reckon we don’t need all this land. The Junior Baskins is red-clay
anyway. Who’d buy it?
Rubie Drake? Are you shitting me, Leona? You pulling my leg? Didn’t you
just hear me say what I thought of selling land to niggers? And to a lady faggot
nigger at that!
At Disneyworld, you get to shake the hands of the greatest cartoon characters
ever walked the face of this earth. And that’s where Cinderella lives,
Gwendolyn, in a castle in the clouds. And all them firecrackers going off
every night in the sky!
You expect me to sell land to a nigger woman who wears a uniform? I know you’ve
lost your mind.
(Leona wraps Gwendolyn’s head in a plastic
bag and pins it up.)
I can’t even take you seriously anymore. It’s
a good thing me and Pug are still alive to keep you in line, ain’t
(Leona pushes Gwendolyn to the living area, facing
the TV. Little Pug sits down on the rug, begins playing tug-of-war
with a dog toy.)
Just think about it.
You beat all I’ve ever seen, do you know that? I don’t know whether
to slap you or to laugh in your face. Turn it to channel four.
And Boy-Dog can stay at the Disneyworld Pet-Motel and play with Goofy and Bambi
and the little skunk. Ain’t there a little skunk?
If we go on vacation, we’ll have to leave your dog in the chicken-coop,
Nah, now, Gwendolyn. Boy-Dog wants to ride on an airplane, too. Can we ride
on an airplane, Leona?
We might can, if we go ahead and sell the land.
LITTLE PUG (to Boy-Dog)
You can play with the little skunk.
You can tell Rubie Drake to look elsewhere for land. She can buy land from
somebody else, but she ain’t buying it from me.
(Leona crosses back to table and begins to clean
up the permanent stuff and fold up rags. Gwendolyn addresses Little
You keep that dog away from me, you hear?
He ain’t bothering you!
GWENDOLYN (hollering back)
My head’s a’burning.
Do you act like this at the beauty parlor? Just hang on.
I can’t stand it! Wash this mess outta my hair.
(Leona checks her watch.)
You don’t have but a few more minutes.
Get that dog away from me, damnit!
He ain’t hurting nothing.
(A dog cries out. Leona runs to them.)
What’d you do?
(Little Pug is on hands and knees, looking behind
She kicked his guts out. Why’d you kick his guts out, Gwendolyn?
The little bastard deserved it. He was eating my Isotoner.
Come here, Boy-Dog. Come here, little buddy.
He bit me!
He’s just teething.
Don’t you mock me! If you’d felt them little needle teeth, you’d
a’kicked him too.
He ain’t hurt. His pride might be hurt, but I ain’t hurt him.
(Leona goes over and examines the dog.)
He’s sleeping outside from now on. You hear
me? Get him out of this house right this second!
I’m not putting up with this anymore! It’s Little Pug’s house
too, and he can keep his dog wherever he wants.
Little Pug will do what I say. And so will you. You used to have more respect,
before you started hanging out with the niggers. If I could make these legs
walk, I’d kick you, Leona. I’d stomp you right through the floor.
That’s some back problem you got. Them legs won’t work for you
to walk to the kitchen, but when the dog plays with your bedroom-shoe, they’re
strong enough to kick him across the room.
(Gwendolyn jumps up from her wheelchair. She and
Leona stand face to face.)
You better be careful. Cause I’ll leave that
permanent in til you don’t have a hair left in your head.
(Gwendolyn reaches up and touches the plastic
on her head. Then she begins crying loudly.)
I’ll take him out. Gwendolyn, do you hear me? I’ll take him out
Get him out! I can’t stand that dog. I don’t never want to see
(Leona wipes the spit off her face.)
Don’t be upset, Gwendolyn. I’m gonna take him out right now.
LEONA (to Little Pug)
This ain’t about your dog, Pug. It’s about selling the land to
I ain’t selling no land to Rubie and I don’t never want to hear
another word about it.
Quit that hollering!
Don’t tell me what to do, you ugly little bastard.
(Gwendolyn puts her hands over her ears and begins
You don’t have to never see him again, Gwendolyn, I promise.
(Leona shoves Gwendolyn down into the wheelchair.
Gwendolyn is surprised and stops screaming. Everything is silent except
for a buzzer. Gwendolyn reaches up and touches the plastic bag on her
GWENDOLYN (whimpering, child-like)
My hair. You gonna ruin my hair.
Boy-Dog can sleep outside from now on.
LEONA (to Little Pug)
Run get her a nerve pill. They’re in the bathroom cabinet.
(Little Pug exits, grabbing the table as he goes.
Leona pushes Gwendolyn’s wheelchair away.)
You gonna burn my hair up.
It’s all right. Let’s wash it out.
(They exit. LIGHTS SHIFT to Orabelle who is holding
up things from her wheelbarrow and tending them. Leona enters, and
Orabelle shows her several things—a rock, a bug, a shell.)
No offense, Miss Orabelle, but this is depressing. Why do I have to keep hearing
about all these promises? Is this supposed to make me feel better or worse?
I can’t tell.
There’s no desired outcome, Sugar. They’re just here to keep you
You mean you’re not ready to break your promise yet? I thought you’d
come to leave it.
I just came to see Rubie and tell her that Gwendolyn won’t sell her the
land. I’m gonna have to think of some other way to keep us out of bankruptcy.
Well, never mind then.
Don’t look at me like that, Miss Orabelle. I haven’t broken any
promise! When I agree to something, that means something to me. Back when I
was in high school, I volunteered to be a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army
at Christmas-time, and I’ve done it every year since. I don’t even
know whether the Salvation Army is a good cause or not. I ring that bell anyway,
because I said I would!
Well, that’s pure silly, Leona. Sometimes promises have to be broke.
Sometimes there’s a good reason.
You’re just saying that to defend Rubie—cause she broke her promise
to me to stay here and help me open that flower shop!
(Orabelle shakes her head, fiddles with promises.)
She probably broke a promise to you, too, didn’t
she? When she went away and left here, traveled all over the place for
all them years and left you by yourself? You’re probably mad at
Now don’t go confusing your anger with mine! If Rubie’d stayed
here, she would’ve been hell to live with, cause she wanted to roam.
You can’t expect somebody to do for you before you let them do for their-ownself.
They expected it of me! Mama and Gwendolyn and Little Pug—the whole lot
Don’t fall back in that sad-sack rut, Leona! Promises change. They grow
into new promises—or what do you call it? They evolve. You gotta be respectful,
give’em room to develop. You ever seen a woman with her titties squished
into a too-little bra? They just pop out around the edges. Can’t force ‘em
into something that use to fit. I believe in bra-burning. Always have.
You make it sound like breaking promises is a good thing.
Ain’t no good or bad to it. And once you break a promise, it don’t
just go away. You gotta live with a broken promise as surely as you live with
one you keep.
(She points out into the audience.)
Look ayonder! That’s a new promise coming now.
(Leona peers out.)
Right there! See it? Oh, that one’s coming hard and fast.
(Orabelle takes Leona’s arm, prepares to
Back up, Honey. That one’s gonna have a hard
(LIGHTS SHIFT to Jack Flanagan and Gwendolyn. Jack
wears a top-hat and tuxedo jacket. He tips his hat at Gwendolyn, bows.
On the other side of the stage, in the darkness,
there’s a loud crash, like something heavy hitting the wheelbarrow,
and a groan.
Jack and Gwendolyn both look in the direction of
the wheelbarrow, shrug at each other, and then a waltz begins. Jack
dances Gwendolyn around in her wheelchair, spinning her, moving her
across the stage. Gwendolyn laughs, sighs. When the music ends, Jack
faces Gwendolyn, bows again, and pulls papers from his pocket, which
Gwendolyn signs on several pages. She holds her copies of the papers
to her chest as Jack walks away. He has his copies rolled into a scroll,
and he holds them up and shakes them victoriously. On the way offstage,
he tosses his top-hat to the ground. Orabelle picks it up.
LIGHTS SHIFT to PROMISE #3, who stands behind Orabelle’s
Never, never, never again! I swore I’d never let it happen again!
I was done pretending to be somebody I wasn’t. I was done with painting
my fingernails to look more ladylike, done with highlighting my hair. Done
with bringing home my gay friends to stand in as my boyfriend so Mother could
dream about my wedding. I was done with listening to my little cousins calling
each other queers, and watching Papa do his droopy-arm pansy walk. I was done
with church, where every description of Hell included murderers and homosexuals.
Cause I’m not a murderer, do you get it? I’m not into bestiality
or incest or porn or devil worship, and I’ve got better things to do
than convert you or your children. Is that clear?
Preach it, sister.
The deception is eating me alive. My mother would rather I married a hateful
man than live with a loving woman. Can you believe that? Cause if it looks right,
it IS right to her.
But it ain’t right to you.
It’s a shame.
Excuse me? Did you break some kind of promise?
PROMISE #3 (crumpling)
I lost my nerve.
My nephew was playing the violin in church, and he
asked me to come hear him. I couldn’t very well leave when the
music was over, with my whole family sitting there, so I stayed through
the sermon. As an illustration of the scriptures, the preacher told a
story about how his son had been given a birthday present—a shirt
made by some famous designer. The son really liked the shirt, but the
preacher made him take it back to the store and exchange it because the
designer’s a fag, and Christians don’t support that lifestyle
or wear the clothes made my people who do.
You gotta understand, the gay-bashing wasn’t
even the topic of the sermon. It was incidental—just an illustration
of some bigger point. And I sat there with my family, sweaty and cold
at the same time, and I didn’t say a thing. I didn’t stand
up. I didn’t speak up. I didn’t even leave. I sat right there
and watched that preacher and listened to my mother say, “Amen.”
(Promise #3 and Orabelle exit as LIGHTS SHIFT to
Gwendolyn, who is now waltzing with her copies of the papers Jack gave
her. She is no longer in her wheelchair, and she’s doing some
impressive dance moves. Leona crosses over to her, and Gwendolyn grabs
her arm and tries to dance, but Leona just stands still.)
We going to Disneyworld after all. I’m sorry I called you a ugly little
bastard. You ain’t really all that ugly. I was just mad.
The contract. I already signed it. I already got the check!
What are you talking about?
I sold the property to Jack, and we’re rich! I signed my name and Little
Pug signed his name and Jack signed his name and the notary public put a stamp
on it. Jack’s taking it to the courthouse now.
Show me the contract.
You can look at it later. You gotta take me to the bank to put the check in.
Hand it here!
(Gwendolyn gives it to her and Leona begins to
See, you think you’re the only one who knows how to do business, but
I know how to do business too. And you weren’t gonna get but thirty-thousand.
I got eighty!
(Little Pug enters looking dejected, sucking on
the back of his hand.)
LEONA (to Pug)
Did you sign your name?
GWENDOLYN (to Pug)
Did you do what I told you to?
No, not yet. But—
Go do it. And hurry up. We gotta get to the bank, and after that, we’re
going to the travel agent. Do we have a travel agent?
I can’t do it, Gwendolyn.
(Leona holds up the papers.)
Little Pug, do you know what this means?
(He pulls his cap down hard over his eyes.)
You wanna go to Disneyworld, don’t you?
Then go do it! And don’t come back in here again til you do!
(Little Pug exits. Leona sits down and continues
to flip through the papers. She looks faint.)
How did Jack Flanagan get this together so fast?
He’s been wanting to buy the property for ages. That day he took me to
the chiropractor we talked about it. I told him I wasn’t ready to sell,
but he was welcome to draw up the paperwork and make me an offer. He got somebody
to come out and take pictures. A survey, I believe they call it. Didn’t
you see all the little orange flags?
Rubie was gonna pay us thirty-thousand for the Junior Baskins Farm. That’s
just ten acres. You sold Jack all the land—every bit of it—for
(Leona continues to read.)
Eighty thousand dollars is a lot of money!
Gwendolyn, you sold him the house! And all the out-buildings.
Yeah, but flip on over—see there? He’s giving us a double-wide
trailer with one of them jacuzzi baths for my back! Brand new. I’ve been
living in this old drafty farm-house my whole life, and now I’m gonna
have a double-wide that nobody’s ever lived in before.
Where you gonna put that trailer?
In the backyard, I reckon. Jack’ll move into this house, and then we’ll
have his little grandchildren playing in the yard. It’ll be nice. We
can have Thanksgiving together. Maybe his wife’ll throw a blood-clot.
I hear her cholesterol’s out the roof.
Jack’ll put the trailer somewhere else.
No he won’t. We got lifetime rights to stay on the land. You think I’m
a fool? I wouldn’t have signed his papers if he could get rid of me!
This is bad, Gwendolyn. We gotta call a lawyer, get it annulled or something.
We ain’t gotta do nothing! And don’t tell me it’s bad. How
bad can it be when I got a check right here for eighty thousand dollars? You
just jealous cause you didn’t make the deal yourself. You’re like
a little girl sometimes, ain’t you? Scared to death. We’ll take
care of you, Leona. Don’t worry. We’ll make sure it’s a three-bedroom
(Offstage there’s a gunshot. Then a short
pause and another gunshot. Leona jumps up.)
Where’s Little Pug?
(Another offstage gunshot.)
I’m allergic to that dog. That’s what’s been wrong with my
legs. Finally figured it out.
(Little Pug enters, head down, dragging a shotgun.)
What have you done?
Two times I missed. But then I didn’t.
(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
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 flying everywhere—
PROMISE 2 (sneezing)
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.
(She 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
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 notice.)
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
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
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 I get 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.)
LITTLE PUG (flatly)
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 coop?
My dog died. I buried him in here. Just wanted to be near him. He was the sweetest
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
(LIGHTS SHIFT to Leona and Rubie and their chicken-wire
LEONA (as cheerleader)
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 side.
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 track team.
(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
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 the assumptions—
You think a rose-bud has assumptions?
You never listen. The whole time I talk, you just plan what you’re gonna
(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
LITTLE PUG (sing-song, quietly)
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 shakes it.)
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.
LITTLE PUG (loudly)
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—
LITTLE PUG (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 next week.”
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,
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
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
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 it.
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
(They rock in silence, with cucumber slices over
their eyes. Gwendolyn peeks again.)
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
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 to do.
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
Hell no. Don’t indulge him. Sooner he gets wet and cold, sooner he’ll
(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
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 it out.)
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 a ringworm!
(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
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
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,
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 the road.
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 Orabelle!
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
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. Little 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
LITTLE PUG (quietly)
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
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
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
ORABELLE (to audience)
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.
RUBIE (to Jack)
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
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 landlord?
(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.)
LEONA (to Gwendolyn)
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
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 for.
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, Pug?
(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 back
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 team.
(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 staying long.
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
Think of it like walking in the fog. Just cause you
can’t see where you’re heading don’t mean the ground’s
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’d
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 works?
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 more money.
Seems like I oughta put something in that wheelbarrow
now, don’t it?
(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
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 to me.
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 life anew?
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.
LITTLE PUG (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 anyway.
(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 table.)
(Leona steps closer and looks at the flowers as
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
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 drive itself.
(Orabelle picks up the flower arrangement from
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.