Category: Plays (Page 2 of 3)

#gunsense

by: Clarinda Ross

CAST LIST

(Roles may double. If not specified, any ethnicity or gender can play a role.)

C.A., Caucasian, 55, a college professor, a Southern gentleman, educated family man, a sportsman and a gun collector, a lifetime member of the NRA and president of his local gun club. He is all about safety. Would never leave a gun unattended.

APRIL, Caucasian, his daughter, plays ages 14-33

Restraining Order or God Is Among Us

MAGGIE, a mother and a part-time waitress of Mexican descent

MANNY, her soon-to-be ex-husband

SONIA, Maggie’s sister and owner of the diner of Mexican descent

RAUL, from Central America, a fry cook

Why are you shooting me?

ANDREW, 30-60, mentally disabled Caucasian or Hispanic

KENNETH, late ’20’s – 30’s, a behavioral therapist African-American

2 POLICE OFFICERS, any age, any gender, any ethnicity

ilysm

CARL, 40-55; a family man, in his car

DEBBIE, 40-55; a lioness mom, all flying thumbs

TERRY, 12; a smart kid, at middle school, either gender

Shooting Fugue #4

POLICE OFFICE

FEMALE REPORTE

DISTRAUGHT MOTHER

Various recorded voices.

They did a good thing today

LITTLE C.A., 5 or 6 years old, either gender

Production Note:

Real guns may be used as props. However, if real guns are used, please no blanks, no live shots, no pyrotechnics. GUNSHOTS should be depicted theatrically, with movement, lights, or sound. TEXT MESSAGES should be projections, distinguished by individual “text tones.” If projections are not feasible, TEXT MESSAGES could be read by actors and played as prerecorded sound cues at the discretion of the creative team.

for Daddy

C.A./APRIL

Time: February 1976

Place: An outdoor shooting range.

C.A., stands legs apart, wearing protective ear- and eyewear.
On the ground beside him is a backpack and maybe some ammo cases.

He aims his PISTOL down the center aisle. He is in deep concentration.
He fires three SHOTS in rapid succession.

C.A.: All clear!

He opens his gun, checks to see that the
chamber is empty, reloads, and puts on the safety.

APRIL (14 years old) in pigtails, enters, runs past her father.

C.A. picks up his shell casings and pockets them.

C.A. (CONT’D): How’d I do?

APRIL: (O.S.) Pretty good, Daddy. All inside the circle.

April returns with a paper target and gives it to him.

C.A.: Your turn.

He places earmuffs and eyewear on her. He carefully
hands her the pistol, nose down, stands behind her,
helps her get the proper stance, then steps back. She takes aim.

C.A. (CONT’D): Waaaaait. Check right—

APRIL/C.A.: (speaking in unison) Check left. Look front. Look back. See any living thing?

APRIL: No, Daddy.

She resumes her stance. She pulls the trigger. Nothing.
She drops the nose of the gun toward the ground.
She looks at him, perplexed. He walks over and reaches for the gun.

C.A.: Safety.

He removes the safety. She smiles apologetically.
She takes her firing stance.

C.A. (CONT’D): Use that bottom hand to support. Shoulders back. Find your sight. Soften your knees. Deep breath. Relax. Go when you get still.

She takes a deep breath, focuses, then fires a few shots.

C.A. (CONT’D): Good job.

She points the gun toward the ground
and moves toward him. He holds up his hand.

C.A. (CONT’D): Wait. What do you say?

APRIL: All clear!

She hands him the gun, careful to keep it nose down.

C.A.: Pick up your shells.

She picks them up. He checks the gun to make
sure it is empty and then puts on the safety.

C.A. (CONT’D): Run and see how you did.

She gleefully exits While she’s gone, he packs up
the gun in its case and gathers his thermos.
She returns waving a paper.

APRIL: Daddy. Daddy! Look! I got one in the middle.

C.A.: Let me see that.

She proudly hands him the target.

C.A. (CONT’D): Well, how about that.

She beams with pride.

C.A. (CONT’D): You’ll be besting me soon.

APRIL: Naw, Daddy, you’re pulling my leg.

C.A.: Am not. Women are better shots than men. Everybody knows that.

She looks at him, disbelieving.

C.A. (CONT’D): It’s true. Women have got better aim. You keep practicing, I’ll enter you in a tournament.

APRIL: Really?

C.A.: Yes, ma’am.

APRIL: But I thought that it was just boys at the gun club.

C.A.: Just boys ’til now. You keep pulling like you did today and they’ll elect you president.

APRIL: Unh-unh.

C.A.: You keep on just like that. You’ll see.

APRIL: But, you are the president.

C.A.: (winking) Well, I am the president of the gun club—for now, ’til some little gal beats me. out.

APRIL: Daddy, do you think a woman will ever be the real president of America?

C.A. :Well, sure. Why not? Sure. There definitely will be. Could be you.

APRIL: Ha. Ha. Ha.

C.A.: I’m not joking. America’s behind the times. There’s Golda Meir in Israel. Indira Gandhi over in India. Nobody tougher than her. Be good to shake things up. I reckon men been running it a long time.

She smiles, basking in the glow of her father’s confidence.
Lights down.

The Shooting Fugue #1

The Shooting Fugue scenes work like the movements of a symphony. This first scene is fast-paced or Allegro.

Time: Now

Place: Any suburb in America

In DARKNESS, we hear a rapid barrage of SOUNDS;
static, radios, police scanners, cellphones buzzing, ringing, and VOICES.

NEWS ANNOUNCER: (V.O.) Breaking news, there has been a shooting at Rolling Oaks High School.

POLICE DISPATCHER: (V.O.) All units to Rolling Oaks High. We have an active shooter. Approach with caution, all units.

NEWS ANNOUNCER: (V.O.) Rolling Oaks is a suburb just northwest of (name of nearest large city). Police and rescue vehicles are on scene—some students fled on foot, but many remain inside the school. Some terrified students have been texting their parents.

VOICES fade, as the SOUNDS of Police
SIRENS and SCANNERS, CELL PHONE
tones and RINGS distort growing in speed and
intensity until all SOUND SLAMS OUT.

SILENCE. LIGHTS UP.

SOUND gentle wind, leaves, birds.

C.A./APRIL

Time: Spring 1978

Place: The woods, near a creek

Nature sounds of birds and babbling water.

C.A. wears blue-jeans and a holster containing his PISTOL.
He sits on a folding camp chair reading a thick history book.
April (now 16) lays on an old army blanket, looking at a magazine.

C.A.: You want some boiled peanuts?

APRIL: Sure.

He gets out a bag of boiled peanuts and a thermos.
He sets up another empty paper bag for the shells.

They eat in silence for a bit, sucking down peanuts
and dropping the shells in the paper bag.

He pours lemonade into the lid of his thermos
and offers her a sip. She drinks, then hands it back to him.

APRIL (CONT’D): Thanks, Daddy.

He drains the rest of the lemonade.

She lays down and looks skyward following some birds.

Restraining Order or God Is Among Us

An empty diner in West Texas.
A cold, dry Wednesday, between breakfast and lunch.

A waitress, MAGGIE, is filling saltshakers.

The cook, RAUL, can be partially seen
through a pass-through to the kitchen.

The radio plays country music.

MANNY enters wearing a plaid wool jacket.
He stamps his feet. Maggie stops her work.

She remains stock-still, waiting, watching. He takes a seat.

MAGGIE: Why?

MANNY: Why what?

MAGGIE: Why are you here, Manny?

MANNY: Cain’t a man get some by-God breakfast?

MAGGIE: You can get breakfast but that’s it. No crap okay?

He takes a seat.

MAGGIE (CONT’D): We’ve got a restraining order.

MANNY: Yeah. Yeah. I know all about the restraining order. It’s for the house. This ain’t the house, is it now, Maggie?

MAGGIE: No. It is not the house.

MANNY: So, I can come here and eat; can I not? Because THIS is NOT the HOUSE. MY by-God house that I paid for, that y’all get to live in.

She goes to the counter to get a set-up and a glass of water.

MAGGIE: Nobody owns that house but the bank, Manny. Been working doubles to pay the mortgage on my own.

MANNY: Lucky you got a job. I don’t have a sister giving me hand-outs. Where is she?

She sets his place. He eyes her; she is careful.

MANNY (CONT’D): I asked you a question—where’s Sonia?

MAGGIE: Bank.

MANNY: Where are they?

She does not respond. She gets a cup and the coffeepot.

MANNY (CONT’D): They ain’t been home in three days. I got a right to know the whereabouts of my kids—

MAGGIE: —after the way you behaved in front of them—

MANNY: What the hell? A man, a father, has got no rights?

MAGGIE: Manny, if you could control your temper, you’d get your “rights” back . . . the supervised visits will be over soon.

He makes a guttural noise.

MANNY: They at your mama’s, ain’t they?

MAGGIE: Please don’t, Manny. You’ll see them on Sunday. We will meet you in the church parking lot. It’s all in the agreement.

MANNY: What the fuck do you mean, agreement?

MAGGIE: The restraining order.

MANNY: Well, that’s an order not a fucking agreement. Agreement. Shit. I got zero say-so. Fucking “family” judge. That woman was a piece a work, a real cunt—

MAGGIE: C’mon, Manny, don’t.

MANNY: Do they even ask about me?

She does not respond.

MANNY (CONT’D): What the hell are you telling ’em? Telling I don’t want to see them?

MAGGIE: No. I tell them that we have decided not to be married anymore, but we will always love them. That’s what I tell them.

MANNY: Yeah, right. You and your bitch of a sister and your bitch of a mother are over there singing my praises, I’m sure.

MAGGIE: You gonna order?  You better get some breakfast and move along before Sonia gets back.

He turns over the coffee cup. She pours coffee.

MANNY: Move along? I’m not a fucking bum.

She waits, struggling not to get upset.
She holds her pad and pencil with determination.

MANNY (CONT’D): (sickly sweet) Ain’t you gonna get me the by-God menu?

She turns away, irritated; he knows the
damn menu by heart. He’s testing her.

She gets a menu, then pushes it across the table,
careful not to get too close. He opens it, taking his time.
She waits for a reasonable amount of time.

MAGGIE: Are you ready to order?

MANNY: (angry) I will tell you when I am by-God ready!

She retreats and resumes filling saltshakers.
She finishes a tray of shakers and distributes
them to the remaining tables.

While she goes about her business, Manny is
eyeing the room, checking the exit options.

Maggie hands a bus pan filled with dirty
dishes through the opening to Raul.

MAGGIE: Raul? Mas sucios. Por favor. Gracias.

Raul takes the bus pan. Manny clears his
throat loudly. Maggie doesn’t respond.

MANNY: Hey!

MAGGIE: You ready?

MANNY: Yes, I am by-God ready, if you ain’t too busy speaking a foreign language in the United States of America.

MAGGIE: Chill. Why are you like that? When your own grandma is Mexican.

MANNY: Not anymore she ain’t. She became an American when she married my grandpa. She sure wadn’t like—

Shouting toward the kitchen loud enough for Raul to hear.

MANNY (CONT’D): —these motherfuckers coming up from Central America!

MAGGIE: Why do that? He just wants a better life, Manny. Sends all his money back there. What’ll it be?

MANNY: Ham and eggs. Over easy. And tell him not to break the yolk.

MAGGIE: Grits or hash browns?

MANNY: Grits.

MAGGIE: Toast or biscuits?

MANNY: Biscuits!

MAGGIE: Okay.

MANNY: Where’s the ashtray?

She points to a “No Smoking” sign behind the register.

She pins up the ticket in the cook’s window.
Raul reaches for the ticket, but it slips out of
his hands and falls to the ground.

RAUL: Señora? Disculpame.

Maggie picks up the ticket and hands it to Raul.

MAGGIE: De nada.

Meanwhile, Manny has lit a cigarette and
is using his coffee saucer as an ashtray.
She smells the smoke, walks over with the coffeepot.

MAGGIE (CONT’D): Refill?

MANNY: Sure thing, sweetheart.

MAGGIE: You need to go outside with that cigarette.

MANNY: Why? Ain’t nobody else in here.

MAGGIE: I’m here and Raul’s here.

MANNY: Well, I sure as shit don’t count him.

MAGGIE: Be nice. You can’t smoke in here. Sonia will have a fit. Go outside, have your smoke. I’ll come and get you when your eggs are up.

Manny makes a big production out of
getting up and putting on his coat,
he pushes a chair out of his way with a loud screech.

MANNY: What the hell is happening to this country? No goddamn freedom anymore!

She retreats behind the counter.

MANNY (CONT’D): Can’t do nothing, can’t smoke, can’t see my own damn kids. All ’cause of you—

He opens the door and slams out.

MANNY  (CONT’D): (O.S.)—BITCH!

As soon as he exits, Maggie dials the phone.
SOUND: a truck door slamming offstage.

MAGGIE: (on the phone) Hey, Mama, listen Manny’s in here—take the kids out somewhere. He’s getting breakfast so you have a minute but hurry on. I’m afraid he’ll try and come over there. Where’s Daddy? Okay. Okay. Bye.

SOUND: car arriving, car door slamming.

SONIA enters from the kitchen, carrying a
zippered change bag from the bank.
She is older and braver than Maggie.

SONIA: Maggie, what the hell? Why didn’t you call me?

Raul rings the bell. Eggs are up.

Sonia marches straight to the door and calls out into the parking lot.

SONIA(CONT’D): (calling off) What in the hell are you doing here?

SOUND: truck door opening.

MANNY: (O.S.) Are you talking to me?

SONIA: (calling off) Yes, asshole. Why can’t you leave her alone? You can’t come around here—

GUNSHOT. Sonia is hit. She falls. Maggie screams.

MAGGIE: Sonia! Aaaaaah! NO!

Manny enters, stepping over Sonia.
He holds a pistol, a cigarette
is hanging out of his mouth.

He starts casually shooting around the diner
hitting salt- and sugar shakers like they are targets.

He’s counting the number of shots he takes.
He does this calmly, even happily.
Glass bursts and sugar runs out.

Maggie is terrified, crying, backing toward the kitchen.

Meanwhile, Sonia, who is bleeding,
manages to quietly crawl off, unbeknownst to Manny.

Once he’s busted the sugar shakers,
he turns on Maggie. He raises his gun and takes his aim.

MAGGIE (CONT’D): No. No. NO! Manny. Don’t. Don’t. Please, the kids!

MANNY: I can’t see them. So what does it matter?

MAGGIE: (pleading) Please, please, don’t do this, Manny. Please, they need their mama. Please I—

Manny fires. Maggie falls behind the counter out of sight.

Raul makes a break for it.

RAUL: Dios mio!

SOUND: back door slamming.
Raul’s footfalls are heard running,
crunching across the gravel lot.

Manny follows to the door. Raul can be heard screaming—

RAUL (CONT’D): (O.S.) Ayuda! Ayuda!

Manny fires two shots. No more screaming.

Manny puts the gun in his pocket. He takes a drag off his cigarette.
He stubs it out on the floor. He steps over Maggie’s body.

He picks up his plate of eggs, goes back
to his table, sits, and eats. He takes his time eating.
He knows this is his last meal.

From behind the counter, we hear Maggie,
who is gurgling, gasping; then she is quiet.

Manny eats for several minutes. Slowly,
there are noises from outside encroaching.

Sonia has reached the neighbors.
Police have been called. The jig is up.

Manny knows it. He finishes his plate.
He drinks his coffee. He calmly reloads his gun.

He waits.

VOICES rise: “Go ’round the back. I got a visual. Going in, etc.”

SOUND: Back door opens. Manny puts the gun in his mouth.

BLACKOUT. SOUND: a GUNSHOT.

C.A./APRIL

Time. Summer. 1980 Place. Outdoors.

April (now 18) and her dad sit on a log
and watch birds. A shotgun leans beside C.A.
He laughs quietly to himself.

APRIL: What?

C.A.: (snickering) I was just thinking of this story your granddaddy told me when I was home.

APRIL: What?

C.A.: You know my daddy, is always telling it—

APRIL: —Granddaddy’s ghost stories are the best. The one about the lights going around him on the road and him holding out his claw-hammer. Ooooh.

C.A.: Yeah, that’s a good ’un. But this story he tole struck me ’cause it was about hunting and I like hunting.

APRIL: Yeah.

C.A.: Lemme see if I can tell it like Daddy did . . . Ahem.

He assumes “Granddaddy’s voice” and
demeanor, with a more pronounced country accent.

C.A. (CONT’D): Did I ever tell you the one about the best bird dog in the world?

APRIL: Naw, Granddaddy, why don’t you tell me about the best bird dog in the world.

C.A.: Alrighty, I wuz workin’ for that ol’ boy Davis. You know he’s got more money than sense. Has to have the best of everything. Anyhow, I’ve trained a couple a dogs for him so he can show off when his city friends come up here to go hunting. Well, ol’ Davis heard tell of this codger in Tennessee that claimed to have the best bird dog in the world. An’ Davis just could not stand it, he wuz just gonna have to have that par-tic-u-lar bird dog. So, he gives me the ol’ boy’s name and address, it wuz a ways over yonder, in Tennessee, near Copper Hill, and Davis tells me I can spend up to $1,000 dollars to buy this prize bird dog off of the ol’ boy. So, I go up into Tennessee, and find the man. His house was a way up in a holler. I parked down on the road and walked up a dirt trail and yelled a “Howdy” up to him—you know, stating my business so he’d know I was all right, that I wasn’t the law or nothin’. The man yells back, “C’mon up here.” Now, he’s standing on the porch with a old 22, you know, real old, with the outside hammers on it, and I told him why I’d come. He asked me to sit down thar with him and I told ’im that I was there to see his famous bird dog.

We talked for a bit, then he whistled and the flea-bitten-est dog you ever saw, came a- running out from under the house. I asked if we could see her hunt. So, we go over to the cornfield back of his house, ’bout an acre. That dog started running in great big circles, and her circles kept getting smaller and smaller. Then I figured out that this dog was herding a covey of quail, that were out in the corn patch. She runs around tighter and tighter. They wuz this hole in the ground where they wuz trying to pull up a stump, and the birds all hid down in that hole underneath the stump and then the dog ran up to the stump and lo ’n’ behold if she didn’t hunker down over the hole, at the top at that stump. That dog was crouched down there stock-still, panting, and waiting. The ol’ codger turned to me and said, “What’ll be? Singles or Doubles?”

He laughs like this is the funniest story ever told.
She looks incredulous.

APRIL: Are you telling me the dog was gonna let the birds out one or two at a time?

C.A.: (laughing) Yep. On his call.

APRIL.: That ain’t so.

C.A.: (laughing) Well, you better ask your granddaddy if you don’t believe me.

They sit for a minute, sun on their faces, watching the birds,
listening to the water of a nearby brook,
not talking, just enjoying the day for a full minute.
Then he dusts his hands and gets up.
He picks up his gun holster and straps it on.

C.A. (CONT’D): Well, reckon we better git on. Your mama will give us out.

He puts his backpack on one shoulder and stretches
out his hand to pull her up. She lingers, a moment,
looking out over the creek. She extends her hand,
he pulls her up, and they exit, his arm around her shoulder.

ilysm

TIME: December 2, 2015

PLACE: Various locations in and around San Bernardino, California.

The majority of the lines in this scene are text messages. When texting, the Actors will speak their texts outloud. They are dictatin.

Sound design should include some opera music and a plethora of appropriate beeps and text tones.

DEBBIE, CARL, and TERRY are never in the same physical space.
The family is spread out, in different locations
amid the suburban sprawl of San Bernardino, California.
The characters should be separated by pools of light.

LIGHTS up on DEBBIE. She sits alone reading
over a report in a bland conference room of
the Inland Regional Center, a governmental agency
that provides services for the disabled.

Offstage, sounds of Regional Center workers
drift in as they prepare for a party that is to take place that evening.

LIGHTS up on CARL, he’s driving in heavy traffic
on the 210 freeway just outside of Los Angeles.
Carl speaks into the hands-free technology of his late-model luxury car.

CARL: Text Debbie. Where are you? Send.

Debbie’s purse buzzes on the table. She retrieves her phone
from her giant ‘mom’ bag, dictates her text messages
and occasionally manually fixes an auto-correct mistake
in her messages before she hits send.

DEBBIE: At the Regional Center. Waiting to start Clara’s meeting.

CARL: Reply. Can you pick up Terry from school? Send.

DEBBIE: Sure. Should be done here in about an hour. xo D.

CARL: Reply. I’m just leaving Pasadena, it will take me a while to get home. What are we doing about dinner? Send.

LIGHTS up on TERRY on the sidewalk in front of
the middle school, phone in hand. S/he waves to offstage friends.

TERRY: (speaking to offstage friends) Bye! See you guys! (dictating into the phone) Hi, Mom. Builder’s Club meeting until 4:30. Can we go to Staples after? I need colored markers for my project.

DEBBIE: Sure. I’ll have Clara with me, so I’ll give you money and you’ll have to run in.

TERRY: Don’t forget tonight’s school fund-raiser @ Pieology, can we please go? Sissy can come too she loves pizza. 🙂

DEBBIE: Okay. But tomorrow night all of us are all sitting down together, as a family, for dinner—at home. See you. We’ll go to Staples. Then meet Dad & Frank @ Pieology. xo M.

TERRY: Emojis of Smiley faces and green creatures and hearts and three thumbs-up signs, the American Sign Language hand symbol for “I love you” and the letters I, L, Y in ALL CAPS followed by an exclamation point.

DEBBIE: ILY! What’s that mean?

TERRY: I love you.

DEBBIE: Yeah? Is it just because I am giving you pizza?

TERRY: Not just that. I’d ily you w/o pizza.

DEBBIE: Awww. Thanks hon. & ily. Right back @ you.

TERRY: & if you really really mean it you say ilysm = I love you so much!

DEBBIE: ilysm!

She hits send. Types again.

DEBBIE (CONT’D): New language skills! See you after Clara’s meeting. ilysm my beautiful boy/girl. xoxo 🙂

Debbie hits send and puts her phone down.
It immediately buzzes. She picks it up again.
Lights shift to Carl in his car.

CARL: Reply. I just got a text from you ilysm? What’s that? & What about dinner? Send.

DEBBIE: That was for Terry, I’m told it means “I-love-you-so-much” but ilysm to you too. Could you pick up Frank from practice? Then head to Pieology? Tonight is a fund-raiser for Terry’s school. I have the coupon. Should be there by six, give or take, with traffic.

CARL: Reply. Ok. We will be there as soon as we can. XO Send.

Lights fade on Carl and Terry.

Debbie puts her phone down on the conference table.
She walks upstage, waves to an offstage social worker.

DEBBIE: (speaking offstage) Hi Angela, I snuck in the back so Clara wouldn’t see me. Ready whenever you are.

ANGELA: (O.S.) Give me five minutes, the therapy dogs just arrived.

DEBBIE: Oh, that is so great. Those dogs are the highlight of Clara’s world! No rush. I’ll just check my emails. Better anyway if Clara doesn’t see me until we’re done with the meeting. Oh, do you know if Amy is coming?

ANGELA: (O.S.) Amy?

DEBBIE: Amy Cress, the occupational therapist.

ANGELA: (O.S.) Yes, of course. She can’t come in today, but she sent her treatment notes.

DEBBIE: Sorry she can’t come but . . . we will plow ahead.

Debbie sits back down and scrolls through
her phone for a few moments then—

GUNSHOTS. At first it sounds like firecrackers,
a few pops, then SCREAMS, then a deafening barrage
leaves no doubt about what is happening.

Debbie moves toward the door. BLACKOUT.

More GUNSHOTS.

Time passes.

In DARKNESS, we hear a cacophony of SOUNDS;
screaming, dogs barking, children crying, calls for help,
moans, phones ringing, then sirens, and at last
the sounds of police scanners and police on loud speakers
giving instructions. Doors are being opened.
Sounds of the injured being evacuated.

LIGHTS slowly come up and we see half of
Debbie’s body, the other half is offstage as if
she’s fallen in a doorway, her legs are visible.
Blood and matter are visible.

Debbie’s PHONE lies near her motionless body buzzing constantly.

In another area, lights come up on Terry
still waiting at school. S/he dials the phone.
Listens to the recording of Debbie’s outgoing message followed by a BEEP!

DEBBIE: (V.O.) Hi, this is Debbie, mama to Clara, Frank and Terry. Sorry, I missed your call but I am rooting around here, oh, shoot, I cannot find my phone inside this giant purse in time to answer your call. I know it’s a pain but please leave me a message and I’ll get back to you just as soon as I can. And, be comforted by the fact that if we’re ever stranded in a snow storm together, we could live for a week off all the things in this purse—PowerBars, mints, cough drops, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, you name it. Have a great day and I’ll call you back just as soon as I find my phone.

TERRY: (leaving a message) Mom! Where are you? It’s 4:45. I’m gonna call Dad.

Terry hangs up and dials.
Lights up on Carl in his car answering the call.

CARL: Hey. What’s up?

TERRY: Daaaaad. Mom’s not here and she said she’d pick me up and we could go out to eat.

CARL: No worries, kiddo. I’m sure she’s still in her meeting. I’ll try her, you just sit tight. Do some homework. What’s the best advice your father ever gave you?

TERRY: Always carry a book.

CARL: That’s my guy/girl. See you.

Carl and Terry hang up. Freeway noise.

CARL (CONT’D): Text Debbie. Hey, hon. Hope you are almost there. Terry just called me, worried. Are you stuck? I’m still on the 210. Traffic is insane. Something must be going on. I’ve seen a lot of cops and paramedics. Send.

Lights shift.

Terry tries mom’s number.

Debbie’s phone rings and rings and rings.
Terry hangs up and dictates a text message.

TERRY: Mom, I called Dad and he is still really far away. When will you be here?

Carl tunes the radio in his car.

NPR ANNOUNCER: (V.O.) We have some breaking news, there has been a mass shooting, at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. Police have blocked off the area surrounding the Center—

CARL: Text Debbie. I just heard the news. Are you okay? Are you still in the building? Send.

TERRY: Moooooooooom! Where are you? It’s getting dark and almost everyone has left my school.

CARL: Call Debbie.

Carl grows frantic as he listens to Debbie’s
outgoing message followed by a BEEP!

DEBBIE: (V.O.) Hi, this is Debbie, mama to Clara, Frank and Terry. Sorry, I missed your call but I am rooting around here, oh, shoot, I cannot find my phone inside this giant purse in time to answer your call. I know it’s a pain but please leave me a message and I’ll get back to you just as soon as I can. And be comforted by the fact that if we’re ever stranded in a snow storm together, we could live for a week off all the things in this purse—PowerBars, mints, cough drops, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, you name it. Have a great day and I’ll call you back just as soon as I find my phone.

CARL: Oh, my God. My God. Deb, please just be okay. Are you in there? Call me! Oh, my God. Did you get out? What about Clara? Oh my God. Please. Please be okay. Hang on. I’m coming to get you both. I love you. I’ll be there soon. Oh God. I love you so much.

Debbie’s phone continues to BUZZ and RING as the lights come down.

C.A./APRIL

Time: Feb. 4, 1987

Place: Upscale living room.

LIGHTS up on C.A. locking his GUN SAFE. April is watching TV.
She is now twenty-six years old and visibly pregnant.
She sits with her feet up. C.A. joins her and drinks
from a large mug that reads Best Grandfather in the World.

TV ANNOUNCER: (V.O.) Good Evening. Today, February 4, 1987, the Brady Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress for the first time. Sarah Brady, wife of White House Press Secretary James Brady, is working to make the passage of the Brady Hand Gun Bill their top legislative priority. Some NRA members argue that a thirty-day waiting period is a violation of their Second Amendment rights.

C.A.: Nonsense. Psssh. That doesn’t make a bit of sense. I’m a lifetime member of the NRA and there’s not a gun in the world I cannot wait thirty days to have.

APRIL: You waited longer than that for the one I got you.

C.A.: That I did, and that was the biggest surprise I ever got for Christmas. Well, until you gave me this mug.

He holds up his MUG. She pats her belly.

APRIL: Were you surprised?

C.A.: Yes I was. In a good way.

APRIL: You’ll be a fine granddaddy.

C.A.: Oh, I intend to be—nothing more I’d aspire to.

APRIL: You’re a good history professor.

C.A.: Hope so.

APRIL: Think you’ll ever retire from teaching history?

C.A.: No, I’ll never retire. I’m just gonna be Emeritus.

They laugh. LIGHTS.

The Shooting Fugue

Allegro

Time: Now

Place: Any suburb in America

In DARKNESS, we hear a rapid barrage of SOUNDS;
static, radios, police scanners, cellphones buzzing, and ringing.

Lights up. The REPORTER and her CAMERA- PERSON
stand behind a barricade or tape.

A uniformed POLICE OFFICER rushes in with a bullhorn.

POLICE OFFICER: (on bullhorn) We need to clear this area. We ask that you clear the area for your safety. Parents, if you are looking for information about your student, please go to the community center on Sunset.

Officer exits.

FEMALE NEWS REPORTER: (to her cameraman) Did you get that? We ready?

FEMALE NEWS REPORTER (CONT’D): (to camera) Leslie Queen live outside Rolling Oaks High School, where there are reports of shots fired. We are being asked to stay back by police. A hundred or so students fled the school on foot. However, many students remain inside on lockdown. Earlier, I spoke to a student who says she saw the shooter. Can we roll that?

Video of a prerecorded student.

STUDENT: (O.S.) I saw him. He had two guns. I think they were like, like assault rifles. He was just spraying bullets! Spraying bullets everywhere. Like water from a hose!

Distraught mother enters.

FEMALE NEWS REPORTER: Parents are swarming the area awaiting news. Some are texting with their children inside the school. Ma’am, can you tell me what you know?

DISTRAUGHT MOTHER: She thought it was a DRILL. My daughter, my BABY, she’s a freshman. She’s hiding in the bathroom. Look at these TEXTS.

MOTHER shows her phone to the reporter.

FEMALE NEWS REPORTER: (to her cameraman) Can you get a shot of this?

DISTRAUGHT MOTHER: What is wrong with our world? Whhhhhy? Why is this happening over and over to our CHILDREN?

FEMALE NEWS REPORTER (CONT’D): (to mother) When was the last text? Is there a time stamp?

MOTHER bursts into tears.

DISTRAUGHT MOTHER: OH MY GOD! I – I – My BABY is hiding in a bathroom telling me GOOD-BYE! What is happening? OH my GOD, what is wrong with our world? Oh my God.

The REPORTER instinctively holds her while she sobs.

SOUND: Police SIRENS and SCANNERS,

CELL PHONE tones and RINGS distort growing
in speed and intensity until all SOUND SLAMS OUT.

SILENCE.

APRIL

They did a good thing today

Time: 1994

Place: Living room, Walnut Creek, CA

During the final scene. All actors (except for April and her child) gather on the edges of the stage, or in the aisles. They are the FAMILY MEMBERS of the mass shooting victims, silently waiting for news of their students. They do not acknowledge the April scene. The hold vigil, sometimes hugging, checking their phones, waiting in the DARKNESS.

LIGHTS rise on April’s six-year-old child
playing with puzzles. CNN is on TV. April folds laundry,
but as the report goes on, she is drawn in and sits beside her child.

BERNARD SHAW: (V.O.) “Good evening. It’s September 13, 1994. Following a close 52–48 vote in the Senate, President Bill Clinton signed into law The Federal Assault Weapons Ban; officially the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibits the manufacture, for civilian use, of semiautomatic firearms defined as assault weapons, as well as certain “large capacity” ammunition magazines. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California is the bill’s author and says it is a watered-down version of the original. Former presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan all wrote in support of the legislative ban on semiautomatic assault- style weapons.”

APRIL: Well, isn’t that great?

LITTLE C.A.: What is great, Mommy?

She silences the TV.

APRIL: They did a good thing today.

LITTLE C.A.: What good thing?

APRIL: The good thing is, they made a really good law today. Offices, malls, and schools will be safer. Which is a really good thing since you just started (insert appropriate grade for the child actor i.e. – kindergarten or second grade)!

LITTLE C.A.: I love my school. I got double strawberries from Mrs. Dworin. Wanna see?

S/he runs to backpack and comes back with two
bright red, strawberry-shaped pieces of paper.

APRIL: Two strawberries. That’s great, honey. You’re such a good student. Just like my dad.

LITTLE C.A.: I wanna be a teacher just like Granddaddy.

APRIL: Awww, really?

LITTLE C.A.: Mm-hmm.

APRIL: That would make him happy. He would have been so proud of you and of your two strawberries.

LIGHTS fade on April and her child.

In the shadows, FAMILY MEMBERS hold their breath.

BLACKOUT.

End of play.


Clarinda Ross is a mom of three, an actress, a writer, a special-needs advocate, a yogi, a lover of cats, a maker of lists, a worrier, and a daddy’s girl. She was born in Georgia and raised in North Carolina. Her plays have been produced at several Equity theaters and published by Applause Theatre Books and The Kenyon Review. Her first play, From My Grandmother’s Grandmother Unto Me just had its thirtieth production. She lives in L.A. with her husband, actor/producer Googy Gress. She is becoming increasingly sure that greed is the problem.

Winter 2018


Rob Bowman
Fiction Downstream

Jon Epstein
Nonfiction | Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime Blues — Hollywood or Bust

William Cullen Jr.
Poetry The Creek

William Doreski
Poetry | If You Want to Get Along, Trapped in the Matrix, & One Too Many Incidents

Isaac Gomez
Drama Still Hungry

Leath Tonino
Nonfiction | Big Canyon

Rachel Smith
Fiction Hotels

Maia Evrona
Poetry | The Symphony of Sickness

Clarinda Ross
Drama | #Gunsense

Larry Narron
Nonfiction | Island of the Blue Dragons

Agnieszka Krajewska
Poetry | The Gate of Pinecones & El Camino Del Mar at Dusk

Ben Loory
Fiction | Just a Thought about the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile

B.W. Shearer
Poetry | Jaunty

Gus Vishnu
Poetry | The Kitchen Scene

Eli Ryder
Fiction | Nicky Heads Home

Christie Tate
Nonfiction |Tin Drum

Marne Wilson
Poetry | U.S. Highway 85

Courtney Taylor
Drama | Lights in the Sky

Maggie May Ethridge
Fiction | Stray Cats

Terry Barr
Nonfiction |I Didn’t Have That

Natasha Deón
Interview | TCR Talks with Natasha Deón

The Coachella Review is a literary arts journal published by the University of California, Riverside–Palm Desert Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing & Writing for the Performing Arts.

 

KICKING: A Coming-of-Age Tale of Two Fetuses

By Karina Cochran

 

CHARACTERS:

HAROLD (any age, any gender)

FRANK (any age, any gender)

(the names Harold & Frank are placeholders; they never say each other’s names)

SETTING: A small space (chairs, pillows, blocks) all pink, representing a womb.

 

(HAROLD and FRANK sit in two chairs next to each other. Harold is sitting on top of a chair, his feet resting on the seat. Frank is sitting in the chair with his feet solidly on the ground. Harold is slightly hunched, reaching toward Frank’s body. Frank is leaning over the chair against Harold’s legs. They are each entangled in pink ropes, surrounded and holding pink cushions.)

Read More

TCR Talks with James Comtois

BY A.E. Santana

James Comtois has long been a fan of horror and is a skilled and adventurous storyteller, writing dramatic, thoughtful, and frightening onstage scenes. As the cofounder and co-artistic director of New York–based theater company Nosedive Productions, where he also served as resident playwright, Comtois was involved with creating original and fantastically bizarre plays. He has produced more than twenty plays, including the award-winning titles The Awaited Visit and Mayonnaise Sandwiches. He is an accomplished reporter and reviewer.

Just in time for Halloween, The Coachella Review talks with Comtois on horror, crafting scripts in this genre, and his experience writing the acclaimed vampire play, The Little One.

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Kennedy’s Acolytes

by Jack Gilhooley

It’s the evening of November 22, 1963, in rural Ireland. Three mid-teenage girls grapple with the news that U.S. president John F. Kennedy has just been assassinated.

CHARACTERS: Deirdre, Moira, and Eileen all speak with a brogue
PLACE: A basically empty town square (A bench? A streetlamp?). There’s a shabby sign reading “Doyle’s Public House” inconspicuously situated far left or right. The pub itself is offstage.
TIME: Evening, Nov. 22, 1963.

Deirdre and Moira are heavily dressed. Each carries an unlit flashlight (“torch”).

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Jared Sampson’s Mom

 by Dallas Woodburn

CHARACTERS (in order of appearance)

GRACE:A college student and the play’s main character/narrator                 YOUNG JARED SAMPSON: A typical eighth-grade boy—not a dork, but not particularly cool either.
JASMINE:Grace’s roommate, also a college student. Self-absorbed and showy.
SASHA:Grace’s roommate. An art student in college.
JARED SAMPSON’S MOM:An attractive, pleasant middle-aged woman wearing bright red lipstick and flower-patterned capri pants.
YOUNG HENRIETTA:Grace’s best friend in eighth grade.
YOUNG GRACE:A typical eighth-grade girl—pretty, well-liked, but not one of the fashionable popular girls.
YOUNG JARED’S FRIENDS:Two or thre eighth-grade boys.
SCOTT:A college student. Grace’s boyfriend.
BECKY:A college student. Scott’s friend. Pretty and flirtatious.

SETTING:An apartment shared by three college girls. Center stage is a couch, perhaps also a coffee table littered with magazines, textbooks, empty water glasses, an empty take-out container or two. The apartment is not filthy but has a lived-in feeling to it.

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Partner Of —

 By Rachael Carnes

CHARACTERS

SALLY (Born Sarah) — 14 years old.

ELIZABETH (Called “Betty”) — Sarah’s mother.

SUSANNA — Sarah’s grandmother, a ghost.

(These three women should be played by African-American performers.)

SETTING: Underneath Monticello, in the mansion’s south wing — In a cold, windowless room laid with plaster and brick.

TIME:  2018 and 1787

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Poetic Statement

By: Remi Recchia

Cast of Characters:

REMI #1, 22, male, an alcoholic writer. REMI #1 should not be wearing shoes.

REMI #2, 22, male, an alcoholic writer. REMI #2 should wear a ridiculously large black beret.

REMI #3, 22, male, an alcoholic writer. REMI #3 should carry an outrageously pretentious pipe and an enormous lighter.

REMI #4, 22, male, an alcoholic writer. REMI #4 should not exist.

All four characters should wear matching nametags without numbers throughout the play. All four characters should also be holding amber bottles.

Time and Place:    Nowhere in no place. Never in the present.

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The Incident

By: Carol Guess

Anika—A woman in her thirties.

Officer—A man in his forties.

Security—Anyone in uniform.

Setting

A dingy, windowless room with one door, bare except for a metal table and two metal chairs.

ANIKA appears to be alone onstage, sitting in a chair, talking to herself.

ANIKA. The girl was so good in the car. Sometimes the dog barked, but the girl never cried. Well, not never. Once. Jenny and I were yelling at each other, yelling the old way, the way we thought the girl would fix, and she started crying, this high-pitched siren. Like she couldn’t fix the broken thing. We’d gone to the zoo, I mean the day Jenny and I started fighting again. We hadn’t had a fight in months. But it had all just gone underground. We’d been so busy with the girl, with living. We’d been too busy to fight about Chris.

Light illuminates the man sitting across from ANIKA.

OFFICER. Chris?

ANIKA. I’m sorry.

OFFICER. Chris?

ANIKA. The person Jenny was sleeping with. Out in the open. Everyone knew. I wanted Jenny to stop sleeping with Chris. It’s like breaking your diet. Once you start, you might as well keep going. Not that I diet, I mean, I resist those cultural messages. I’m going to teach my—

OFFICER offers coffee-stained napkin to ANIKA.

ANIKA. (Brushes the napkin away.) The fight at the zoo wasn’t important. It was just the day we started fighting again.

OFFICER. I understand. On the day of the incident, Jenny took a different route to work.

ANIKA. You keep calling it “the incident.”

OFFICER. What would you like me to call it?

ANIKA. Isn’t that your job? To name things?

OFFICER. It’s my job to—

ANIKA. Make up stories about Lizard.

OFFICER. Lizard was your daughter’s nickname?

ANIKA. What do you think? That we named her Lizard? You’re looking for more evidence of what terrible mothers we were.

OFFICER. I’m gathering information about the incident.

ANIKA. “The incident” again. Why don’t you call things by their names?

OFFICER. Is there a word you’d rather use?

ANIKA. It was an accident. Call it that.

OFFICER. I understand.

ANIKA. You can’t possibly understand.

OFFICER. I understand. I mean, I understand that I don’t understand.

ANIKA. Thank you for not understanding.

OFFICER. Did the explosion on Greenwood Avenue factor in? Difficulty sleeping, stress?

ANIKA. After the explosion we thought we were safe. Like our bad luck got used up on that one thing.

OFFICER. Would you say you were a careful parent?

ANIKA. I was bad cop, Jenny was good cop. Oh. Sorry.

OFFICER. No offense, ma’am. I consider myself a good cop. How did you approach—how did the two of you go about having a child?

ANIKA. Do you want to start with the egg? You want to start with the sperm.

OFFICER. I’m sorry if I asked—

ANIKA. We got pregnant in Florida. Jenny wanted to bring home a lizard, sneak it through security. For good luck. Like a lizard’s a souvenir, a t-shirt, or a postcard. Like a lizard’s not a living thing. So I said no, and we had a fight in the hotel, and she stormed off to a bar, and that’s where—

OFFICER. Jenny was the real mother, then?

ANIKA. We were both real mothers.

OFFICER. Birth mother, I mean. I’m sorry. I’m not up on the lingo. Continue? Please.

ANIKA. Jenny fucked some guy, a stranger, and got pregnant with Lizard in a bar in Palm Beach.

OFFICER. Was your wife—

ANIKA. “Wife” still sounds strange. I bet you say it all the time.

OFFICER. Was your wife—

ANIKA. Do you say the word “wife” without thinking about it? Does it slide off your tongue?

OFFICER. Was your wife—

ANIKA. Your wife. What’s her name?

OFFICER. That isn’t … Marie.

ANIKA. We were domestic partners, and the state rolled us over. The state made our partnership into a marriage after DOMA was repealed. We woke up and we were wives. We didn’t create it. It happened to us.

OFFICER. On the day of the incident—

ANIKA. Did you have a registry? You and Marie?

OFFICER. On the day of the incident—

ANIKA. Wine glasses, blender, those little forks for stabbing corn?

OFFICER. On the day of the incident—

ANIKA. I love it when people say “no gifts,” and everyone brings money in a silver envelope decorated with bells. Did you and Marie—

OFFICER. Stop asking about Marie.

ANIKA. Sorry. Officer.

OFFICER. On the day of the incident, Jenny’s car was in the shop. She took Lizard’s—what was your daughter’s proper name?

ANIKA. Taylor Astrid.

OFFICER. Taylor.

ANIKA. Astrid. Astrid was mine.

OFFICER. Taylor Astrid. It’s a beautiful name.

ANIKA. No, it’s not. They cancel each other out. “Taylor” and “Astrid” don’t belong to the same person. She was torn in half, there at the naming. She didn’t have a chance. Astrid was my Swedish grandmother’s name. She lived in Trosa. “Trosa” means “women’s underpants.”

OFFICER. I see.

ANIKA. I come from Swedish chicken farmers. We get up. We feed the chickens. We drown our kittens in the well.

OFFICER. Would you say that your daughter added joy or stress to your life?

ANIKA. My daughter was my life.

OFFICER. Would you say that your marriage added joy or stress to your life?

ANIKA. I used to watch Jenny read at night, hair falling in her eyes. Watch her lips move. I never stopped feeling that way. At the trial I still—I still wanted to be close to her. But she sat by herself.

OFFICER. On the day of the incident, Jenny’s car was in the shop. She took Taylor’s car seat—

ANIKA. Call my daughter by her name.

OFFICER. Of course. Which name do you…okay. She took Astrid’s car seat, and put it in the rental car.

ANIKA. Car-A-Mile. It sounded like candy.

OFFICER. Carmel.

ANIKA. No, sweeter. “Mile” sounds sweeter than “mel.”

OFFICER. Mile. Mel.

BOTH. Car-a-Mile. Car-a-mel.

ANIKA. Sweeter.

OFFICER. I see your point. On the day of the incident, Jenny took the car seat and put it in the back of the Car-A-Mile. Then she drove to work, but she took Aurora instead of Greenwood because construction was still blocking traffic on Greenwood, due to the pipeline explosion a few weeks earlier.

ANIKA. That’s right.

OFFICER. It says here, that Jenny called in late to work. Your address was 523 Dayton, correct?

ANIKA. Yes.

OFFICER. You’d been out of town for a week on business, scheduled to come back that night—

ANIKA nods her head.

OFFICER. And someone stayed with Jenny while you were—

ANIKA. No one stayed. Just Jenny and Astrid.

OFFICER. Someone named Chris.

ANIKA. Chris came to our house? That day?  

OFFICER. No, Chris arrived the evening of the day you left—

ANIKA. And stayed.

OFFICER. Sometimes after an incident—

ANIKA. Accident. Accident, Astrid, Aurora. You’re missing all the A’s.

Officer: On the morning of the accident, Jenny called in late to work because—

ANIKA. Chris saw her, then.

OFFICER. Her car wouldn’t start. Then Jenny took the rental car with Astrid—

ANIKA. You think you know someone. Chris said goodbye to my daughter after I did. Chris was the second-to-last person to see her alive.

OFFICER. New information—

ANIKA. What good does knowing do? How do I go back?

OFFICER. Maybe Chris wanted—

ANIKA. It’s like those women who marry serial killers—the white dress, the house in the suburbs. Then one day, the sheriff shows up with a backhoe. You think you know someone. Then you learn they’re in love with their BDSM play partner. Then you learn what a BDSM play partner is. Then your daughter dies, and you pull out all your hair, and start eating dirt.

OFFICER. Once I left my gun at Starbucks. The barista ran into the street and almost got hit by a truck. Double homicide later that day, but not with my gun, and my coffee was perfect.

ANIKA. It’s not funny.

OFFICER. Sometimes the joke is just telling the truth.

ANIKA. It was an accident. It could happen to anyone. A few years ago, there was an increase in accidents. Because child safety laws changed. Air bag deaths when kids sat in the front. So everyone put their kids in the back, in car seats, faces turned away. Sometimes we forget what we can’t see. Different parts of the brain compete. The part that remembers competes with the part that has to forget, that needs to forget in order to focus. In order to drive, to navigate all the details we take for granted—stop signs, lights, red, yellow, green. How many minutes ahead we’ve set the clock on the dash. The name of the client at our first meeting. If the boss likes coffee black. There’s a push now for safer cars. For an alarm that goes off if your child is still in the car seat after you’ve turned off the engine. But it’s slow, the movement. Slow because people don’t want to admit it could happen to them. But everyone makes mistakes. Everyone forgets and later, remembers. What happens after that is random, good luck or bad. People forget, but the weather holds and nothing happens. Nothing at all. People forget, and their kids sleep in their car seats, don’t even wake up, never know, and maybe it goes unspoken. People run red lights, slip on ice, make peanut butter sandwiches, and kill other people. I can’t blame Jenny for something I might’ve done, you might’ve done. An accident.

OFFICER. You filed for divorce a year after it happened.

ANIKA. I filed for divorce because Jenny loved Chris. Loves Chris. Present tense. I lost my daughter and I lost my wife. She offered to stay. To split her time between me and Chris. Thought she was being generous when she offered me weekends. Jenny always had a plan. But I couldn’t live with half a marriage. I’d rather be alone. So you know what her version of our story is?

OFFICER shakes his head.

ANIKA. That I left her. “I can’t believe you left me,” she said. She said, “I would never have left you.” Because she offered me half the week. Because loving someone else, fucking someone else—somehow, that didn’t count as leaving. I wouldn’t have left her even though she killed our daughter. At first, my anger swallowed me alive. I tried to find out where Chris worked. I didn’t know anything about this person, this person Jenny loved. Loves. Who she was. Is. If Chris even existed. Exists. I wanted to kill her. Kill myself. And then, I realized, I was angry at Jenny.

OFFICER. So now you’re angry at Jenny. Not at Chris.

ANIKA. Being angry at Chris is like licking frosting off a knife. But I’m not angry at Jenny now, either. I can’t stay angry. If I let myself feel my anger, I’d destroy the whole fucking world. Can I tell you something? Something I’ve never told anyone?

OFFICER sips coffee.

ANIKA. Sometimes, I mean, it’s only happened once or twice, three times—sometimes I think I made the whole thing up. Not just Chris and Jenny, but Lizard, too. Like my life was never real. It always seemed too good, like I didn’t deserve it. After the accident I drove to Amit’s house. My high school boyfriend. I showed up on his doorstep and knocked and knocked and his mother answered and I asked about prom. I guess my brain just took a vacation. Like Palm Beach in winter. Can you imagine? I’m standing on the stoop, knocking on his door, waiting for my corsage, my first dance under fake stars. The theme was Cornucopia of Constellations, which makes absolutely no sense.

OFFICER. Themes never do.

ANIKA. I talked to his mom and kept asking where Amit was, why I couldn’t see him. “He has a job,” she said, like that explained it. While I was talking she dialed 911. At first, they thought I was drunk. Then they realized I was that lady. The one on the news, screaming in the parking lot. I dream about Lizard, wake up thinking she’s still alive. Sometimes I try to call her on the phone, as if she could talk, as if she ever spoke, but she was too young, and now she’s dead.

OFFICER. Eleven months—

ANIKA. I got off work early. Because it was Friday, and the first hot day. Everyone was headed to Gas Works Park or Alki Beach, but I didn’t care about the view. I just wanted to surprise my Lizard. My little girl. I drove to the daycare and parked and knocked on the door—it was yellow. Everyone’s always so pleased with the sun, but I like the rain, blue-gray swells on the Sound. The door was yellow. Tasha came out holding Jason on her hip. Dante stood behind Tasha and Jason, holding Sierra’s hand.

He said, “Hey, Anika, we missed Lizard today. We missed her, didn’t we Sierra?”

And I said, “Lizard’s here.”

Dante said, “I don’t think so, but let me check with Tasha.”

Tasha was standing right there, holding Jason. She looked confused. “No Lizard.”

“She’s here.”

“Lizard’s not here. Is she with Jenny?”

“She’s here. Jenny dropped her off.”

Tasha said, “No.”

Dante said, “Sorry.”

And I knew.

I knew.

So I just left. Didn’t say anything else. I think they knew, too. I think we all did. They came to the funeral, Tasha and Dante, and they came because they knew in the same moment I did. We all felt it. There’s a knowing, a place you enter. A room. Later, I wondered why I didn’t stop it. Why I didn’t think of something else. I mean, the knowing felt so firm. My fault, as if just knowing was what made her go. Later, I wondered whether maybe, if I’d thought of something else, some other reason, like Take Your Daughter to Work Day, or Jenny home sick, or even Jenny leaving me for Chris, Jenny and Chris and Lizard all kidnapping each other in the Car-A-Mile—later I wondered whether maybe if I’d thought some other thought, it might’ve come true. I worried I killed her by thinking I knew. But I did. We all three felt it. So I raced out of there, so fast, I don’t remember but they tell me how fast, and I drove to TechSound. Looked for the Car-a-Mile. So many. Like five or twenty. I had to park in the guest lot and walk to the main parking lot. But I ran. Ran to the first one, blue—not that one—ran to the second one, gray—another blue one—fourth one—fifth one. It was the sixth. The sixth car was red. I think I knew she picked a red one. The sixth one was red. My daughter inside. By then five hours. The sun. All day. It never does, the sun never shines here. All it does in Seattle is rain. Gray skies might’ve saved her. I could see, but I couldn’t touch. So I dumped my bag on the ground and searched for the spare key to Jenny’s car, forgetting it wasn’t Jenny’s car at all. Forgetting. And I tried the key to Jenny’s car, kept trying to unlock. Wrong key. Wrong car. Kept trying to unlock the door. It was so hot that I stopped breathing. Screamed, they tell me. I don’t remember a thing after that.

OFFICER. A gun.

ANIKA. What gun?

OFFICER. A gun goes off. And sometimes the kickback is all you remember.

ANIKA. I’ve never owned a gun. But I had a daughter.

OFFICER. Forgetfulness can be a gift.

ANIKA. A gift? I want to see. I’d give anything to see her face.

OFFICER. Sometimes we forget what our bodies can’t handle. Our brains protect it. Store the memories inside.

ANIKA. A gift? What the fuck is wrong with you, gifting? I can’t remember what she looked like. All I can see is the red car, and keys, and someone breaking the window. And Jenny, running out the door—

OFFICER. A gun goes off. Someone shoots a gun and the bullet hits, but the shooter feels numb.

ANIKA. We make assumptions all the time. We assume we’ll see the ones we love again, but we don’t know.

OFFICER. We don’t. Marie—

ANIKA. I keep trying to remember. If I forget, it’s my fault, too. If I can forget my daughter’s face, I could’ve left her in the car. I’m no different. It’s my accident, too.

OFFICER. I just went numb when the gun went off.

ANIKA. What are you talking about? There’s no gun in this story.

OFFICER. When I’m in a room, there’s always a gun.

ANIKA. This is a story about me and my wife. The daughter we had and the life we lost.

OFFICER. You speak as if it’s your fault, somehow. If I were you, I’d be angry at Jenny.

ANIKA. Angry?

OFFICER. It was an accident, but you have every right to your feelings.

Door opens. SECURITY enters.

SECURITY. How’s it going in here?

OFFICER. We’re fine. We’re getting the job done.

SECURITY. May I speak with you for a minute?

They step outside. ANIKA takes out a pack of cigarettes. Looks around nervously. Lights up, smokes. Waits a moment, then grabs his notebook. The notebook is blank. She’s confused.

ANIKA. Nothing at all. White on white. (ANIKA hears noise, puts notebook back.)

They enter the room.

SECURTIY. Well, then, I’ll leave you to it. Just making sure everything’s in order.

OFFICER. Of course. Thank you.

SECURITY leaves.

ANIKA. Why haven’t you written anything down?

OFFICER. No smoking inside the station.

ANIKA stares at him.

OFFICER looks down.

ANIKA hands him the cigarette. OFFICER takes a drag, then stubs it out on the table.

ANIKA. Why haven’t you written anything down?

OFFICER. I don’t need—

ANIKA. Who uses a notepad anymore? Where’s your computer? This doesn’t feel right to me.

ANIKA gets up, walks to door, puts hand on doorknob.

OFFICER. Wait.

ANIKA. It’s just not right.

OFFICER. Okay, I can explain.

ANIKA. I’m not a prisoner. The door’s unlocked. I can leave anytime.

OFFICER. Of course, you can. Just a follow up interview. Strictly voluntary.

ANIKA. Voluntary?

OFFICER. You’re free to leave at any time.

ANIKA. Voluntary? You asked me here to talk about the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, every parent’s worst fear, the most horrific—you asked me here to talk about it all over again after three years of nightmares and pills and—this is me doing you a favor. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to remember. It’s been almost three years and I want to forget. I want five minutes where I don’t think about a fistful of keys.

OFFICER. I can explain. It’s not what it looks like.

ANIKA. It doesn’t look like anything. You called me here. You said this was part of the file on Jenny. I don’t love her anymore, but I did love her, and what she did was an accident. An accident. And the judge was right to let her go. Anyone can forget. You, me, Marie—

OFFICER. No more about Marie.

ANIKA. Why did you call me?

OFFICER. It’s part of my plan.

ANIKA. A man with a plan. Is this some sort of experiment to see how much pain you can put me through before I snap? Are you even a cop?

OFFICER holds up his badge.

ANIKA. That looks fake.

OFFICER. Because it’s real.

ANIKA. You should’ve called Jenny. It was always about her anyway: her guilt, her grief, her loss. Because she’s the birth mother and birth mothers mourn. Are you in AA? Are you making amends?

OFFICER. I’m on probationary desk duty. They took my gun. I called because I need help. Can’t sleep, can’t drive. Marie says—Marie says if I don’t get help—

ANIKA. You think I’m the help?

OFFICER. It sounds wrong when you say it.

ANIKA. Your notebook’s blank because it’s not about me.

OFFICER. Sometimes I can’t breathe. Marie says—

ANIKA. My wife killed our daughter. I tried to save her. Tried to break the windows of the car. When I got to the hospital my hands were bleeding. My nails were torn. I’d scraped the keyhole with my fingers. Pounded the windows. I attacked the car like it wanted to take me. My daughter. Inside.

OFFICER. I know how it feels to want to go back—

ANIKA. You have a gun. I’m just a mother.

OFFICER. Marie—

ANIKA. Stop talking about Marie. You have no idea about marriage. How it feels to be denied, over and over. How your relationship means nothing. Not a goddamn thing. For so long. And then suddenly, boom, gunshot goes off and you’re married. And everything’s supposed to be easy. You’re supposed to know what to do. How to be a wife, how to be a mother. And then how to divorce. How to untangle ties you didn’t choose. We were together in a different way. The old way. The way queers have always—you wouldn’t understand. There was a community. We loved each other and we fucked. But we didn’t do this thing called marriage and look where it got us. Everyone’s getting divorced, all my friends, none of us were made for this—this thing. You made this thing. And you kept it from us, and then strangled us with it.

OFFICER. I have no idea what you’re talking about.

ANIKA. A gun goes off. Someone falls to the ground. You outline the body in chalk, in white. And when they move the body, the outline stays. After Lizard died, Jenny and I were just empty, hollow. An outline. We didn’t know how to be married. But Jenny had Chris. At least she had that. So, I let her, I just—I didn’t even try to stop them.

OFFICER. But it’s not like you were really—you know—

ANIKA. Really what?

OFFICER. Together. I mean, you were just—

ANIKA. Friends?

OFFICER. You said yourself you weren’t really married.

ANIKA. We were really together. We loved and we fucked. And our daughter is dead.

OFFICER. I’m not a bigot.

ANIKA. I’m not saying you are. I’m saying that marriage wasn’t the structure we chose. We had ways of loving that were outsider ways. And the state changed us. Made us more like you. You and Marie. Your wife. That word.

OFFICER. Everyone’s an outsider somewhere. They know, the guys. I used to be one of them. But now I’m just a paper pusher. A secretary, like I’ll start wearing a skirt.

ANIKA. Did you hear what you just said?

OFFICER. They look at me funny. But that’s not why. That’s not why you’re here. It’s the grief—the guilt—

ANIKA. Who did you shoot?

OFFICER. I can’t—

ANIKA. Why not? You’ve read my file. You know where I live, my dead daughter’s name.

OFFICER. Pending investigation.

ANIKA. Have you talked to anyone?

OFFICER. You wouldn’t understand.

ANIKA. Try me.

OFFICER. Marie says if I don’t—If I don’t get help she’ll—

ANIKA. Leave.

OFFICER. If she leaves I can’t—

ANIKA. Marie loves you. She loves you, that’s all. She’s sending you a message. A message and you have to reply. Like when someone texts. You don’t leave them hanging. You text back, little bubbles, and they see them, and they know you’re there.

OFFICER. I stand in the kitchen—

ANIKA. She wants to know you’re there—

OFFICER. I forget where I am—

ANIKA. And not a chalk outline—

OFFICER. I took the tablecloth once. It was white, white cotton. She says I pulled it off the table and put it on the floor. I was shaking. I covered the body but, when she lifted the cloth there was nothing there.

ANIKA reaches for his hand.

OFFICER. (Pulls away.) I don’t deserve your compassion. You’re innocent. You’re on that side of the line. Once you’ve crossed it, you can’t go back. I’m not supposed to say I’m guilty. But I can’t forget.

ANIKA. You’re not a monster. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s been three years. Why did you call me?

OFFICER. I asked you because I need to forget. And in order to forget I need your forgiveness.

ANIKA. Why me?

OFFICER. You forgave Jenny, so you’ll forgive me.

ANIKA. I don’t even know you. I have no idea what you did, or why, or if it was justified. I don’t even know what justified means. But forgiveness is supposed to be unconditional. I mean, if I can forgive Jenny, I can forgive you. Officer—wait. What’s your name?

OFFICER writes it down, slides the paper across the table.

ANIKA. (Looks up at him, back down at the paper.) Your name is Chris?

Fade to black.


Carol Guess is the author of eighteen books of poetry and prose, including Darling Endangered, Doll Studies: Forensics, Tinderbox Lawn, and With Animal (co-written with Kelly Magee). In 2014, she was awarded the Philolexian Award for Distinguished Literary Achievement by Columbia University. She teaches in the MFA program at Western Washington University and lives in Seattle.

Watchwomen

By: Carolyn Núr Wistrand

Cast Requirements:

*Multiple roles for 3 men and 6 women/Diverse Casting

CHARACTERS

ANODIWA DIKO — South African student

BIG BERTHA — American corrections officer

CHILD BRIDES — Funani, Ifu, Icici, Botswanian teenagers

GAMBUSHE — Botswanian peasant farmer

OLD MAN — Botswanian village man

JUDGE TALISON — Immigration judge   

MS. HOPKINS — US Attorney

UN AIDS WORKER — Health official

T-KNICK — American informant/pimp

NATASHA — American escort  

NURSE — American nurse at 4th Street Clinic

DESTINY — American escort

VICKY HILL — American television journalist

CAMERAMAN — American camera journalist

TENDI — South African truck driver

JACOB — South African truck driver

DOCTOR — Doctor at Botswanian border clinic

NURSE — Nurse at Botswanian border clinic

TIME AND PLACE

Time: Now

Place: The action occurs in an urban American city and the memories of four African women.  

Scene One
US Prison Cell

(ANODIWA stands with hands on bar cells. CHILD BRIDES [FUNANI, IFU, and ICICI] sit, stand, and lie in adjacent cell.)

ANODIWA. I used to think if I could just get to America. That was my dream. I would lie on my bed and walk up the walls in my mind. When I got to the ceiling, I opened the roof. Each star was a city in America I wanted to know. The music, the fashion, the place that was better than heaven.  

BIG BERTHA. All right, Diko, let’s go.

ANODIWA. What?

BIG BERTHA. Step out here.

ANODIWA. Why?

BIG BERTHA. Immigration judge wants to see you.

ANODIWA. I wasn’t given a court date.

BIG BERTHA. You don’t decide when. Get your ass out here. You got anything in your pockets?

ANODIWA. No.

BIG BERTHA. Put your hands on those bars.

ANODIWA. I need to shower.

BIG BERTHA. Judge said to bring you over now.

ANODIWA. They didn’t give me legal counsel.

BIG BERTHA. America doesn’t owe you a damn thing.   

ANODIWA. But they are required to give me legal counsel.

BIG BERTHA. Why don’t you go back to Africa and get one?

ANODIWA. I am not prepared to see a judge!

BIG BERTHA. You don’t make the rules, bitch. Shut up and move.

CHILD BRIDES. Anodiwa holds her head with dignity. But she forgot to wrap Africa in palm leaves and oil before she swam the ocean. Mother held a chamber in Anodiwa’s heart—American streets hurled her tender soil into shattered cracks of concrete. Drunken whispers ate at her breast—we were left on the shore.

ICICI. Do you remember the night we left?

IFU. Yes.

FUNANI. I was sixteen. You were fifteen, Ifu.

ICICI. I was twelve.

CHILD BRIDES. The old man was rich. He had fifteen rams and a herd of Nguni cattle.   

ICICI. But he was unclean.

FUNANI. He needed a virgin.

IFU. He came to see our father.

OLD MAN. Gambushe these are not good days.  I have buried my wives, children, and grandchildren. And now the oldest son of my first wife has gone to work in the mines. Who will be left to bury me?

GAMBUSHE. I will bury you, Chief. With my bare hands I will tear the dirt and honor you.

OLD MAN. (Coughing.) You will not bury me, Gambushe!

GAMBUSHE. No, Chief. You will outlive us all.

OLD MAN. The medicine the doctors give me is not strong.

GAMBUSHE. How can you be sure?

OLD MAN. (Coughing.) I am still sick!

GAMBUSHE. What can be done?

OLD MAN. I need a virgin. You have three in this house. Is it not so?

GAMBUSHE. The oldest one, Funani, is sixteen.

OLD MAN. Why have you not married her?

GAMBUSHE. She has her heart set on Fareke, but he can’t pay the bride price.

OLD MAN. And the middle one?

GAMBUSHE. Ifu is fifteen.  

OLD MAN. I will pay you the bride price for all three.

GAMBUSHE. My youngest, Icici, is only twelve.  

OLD MAN. She is ripe. You are poor. The bride price for all three will make you a rich man. With a ram, two goats, and four cattle your belly will be full.

GAMBUSHE. Funani! (FUNANI steps out of jail cell.) Ifu! (IFU steps out of jail cell.) Icici! (ICICI steps out of jail cell.) This is a blessed day. You will marry into the same house and be wives and mothers. Come and bow before your husband.

OLD MAN. Bring them to me on Thursday so we can prepare a wedding feast.

ICICI. Do you see them standing there?

FUNANI. The memory is bitter.

ICICI. I was the youngest.  

IFU. And the most stubborn.

ICICI. But it was you who ran away, Funani!

FUNANI. Did I cut off your feet and drag you with me?

IFU. In the village or the city every demon has its own bite.

CHILD BRIDES. America must decide if all children belong to the same sky.  

(JUDGE TALISON enters in robes and sits at table followed by MS. HOPKINS, US Attorney, who stands to one side of the table. BIG BERTHA brings in ANODIWA, who stands at the opposite end of the table.)

JUDGE TALISON. Am I to assume there is no defense counsel for the alien?

MS. HOPKINS. She has not secured one, Your Honor.

JUDGE TALISON. Are you ready for the preliminary hearing?

MS. HOPKINS. We are, Your Honor.

JUDGE TALISON. Then let’s begin. Where is the interpreter? And where are we shipping this alien?

MS. HOPKINS. I am not in possession of her full file yet, Your Honor. The United States is requesting that she be detained in the Maximum Security Women’s Detention Facility until we can process all of her papers.

JUDGE TALISON. You know every day the United States makes that request we have to pay to house and feed her?  

MS. HOPKINS. We are aware of that, Your Honor.

JUDGE TALISON. My thought is that you should have prepared your case for deportation.

ANODIWA. I don’t know why I am being subject to deportation.

JUDGE TALISON. Did you just say that?

ANODIWA. It is true. No one has explained why I was arrested and sent to this prison.

JUDGE TALISON. This is a detention facility. . .not a prison.

ANODIWA. Then why am I in a maximum-security cell with bars?

JUDGE TALISON. All right, that’s enough. Another outburst and I will send you right back there. It seems we don’t need an interpreter. (Rummaging through files.) Here it is: Anodiwa Diko; born December twenty-four, nineteen eighty-nine, South Africa. Student visa issued November 2013. So, you have been in the United States two years?

ANODIWA. Yes.

JUDGE TALISON. Attending college?

ANODIWA. Until they brought me here.

MS. HOPKINS. We have reason to believe she entered the country HIV positive and has been transmitting the virus sexually.

JUDGE TALISON. Are you prepared to bring criminal charges against her?

MS. HOPKINS. We are, Your Honor, once we have our case in order.

ANODIWA. She is lying!

JUDGE TALISON. Stop your outburst! Listen to me—the United States is just like any other country in the world—it has laws! You don’t apply for a visa knowing you have a contagious disease that could kill other people through sexual transmission.

ANODIWA. I am not HIV positive.  

MS. HOPKINS. The United States is requesting that her F-1 visa be revoked.

ANODIWA. You have made a mistake.

MS. HOPKINS. Your Honor, I would like to submit these papers to the court. The 4th Street Clinic administers swab and blood tests. She is HIV positive and came to the United States knowing she was sick.

ANODIWA. I took a wellness test at the clinic.

JUDGE TALISON. Why?

ANODIWA. As a measure of prevention.

JUDGE TALISON. So, you admit you are HIV positive?

ANODIWA. No. . .

MS. HOPKINS. Here is my report based on information from the clinic.

JUDGE TALISON. (Reading.) “Weight loss, profuse night sweats, swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, diarrhea, sores in the mouth or genitals, pneumonia, red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids, memory loss, depression, other neurologic disorders.” How are you even standing here?

ANODIWA. She is misleading you, Judge! Those are the symptoms of someone who has not taken HIV medication and suffers from a weakening of the body’s immune system. People infected with HIV may have some or all of those symptoms. She copied that straight from the pamphlet at the clinic.

MS. HOPKINS. May I remind the court that the United States government is not on trial here?

JUDGE TALISON. But the burden of proof is on you, counselor.

MS. HOPKINS. As we are aware, Your Honor.

JUDGE TALISON. How do you know so much about AIDS, Ms. Diko?

ANODIWA. I am a nursing student. I work at the clinic as an intern.   

MS. HOPKINS. She has been stealing medication from the clinic and administering it illegally to prostitutes throughout the city.

ANODIWA. That is another lie!

JUDGE TALISON. Enough! Do you have substantial proof for this allegation?

MS. HOPKINS. The clinic has been under investigation for over six months. We will prove that Anodiwa Diko is an infected alien employed by C&S, an escort service, which covers for prostitution, to illegally administer medication to sex workers in this city. Because of the public health risks involved we are requesting that her F-1 visa be revoked and papers issued for her deportation.

JUDGE TALISON. I have heard enough. I am setting the court date for three weeks from today. Will that give the government enough time to prepare the case?

MS. HOPKINS. Absolutely, Your Honor.

JUDGE TALISON. In the meantime, I want her in isolation.

ANODIWA. Am I not entitled to legal defense?

JUDGE TALISON. Are you mentally ill?

ANODIWA. No.

JUDGE TALISON. Then it is up to you to secure legal defense. Remove the defendant.

ScEne Two
Rural village in Republic of Botswana

Sound of trucks comes up. CROWD enters as a UN WORKER on loudspeaker calls out.

UN WORKER. We invite you, we encourage you to come and get tested. We have come a long way, so you can protect your family. It is time. We invite you, we encourage you to come and get tested. We have come a long way, so you can protect your family. It is time.

FUNANI. Does it hurt?

UN WORKER. Less than a scratch. It takes ten minutes. Who is ready?

FUNANI. My sisters.

UN WORKER. And you?

FUNANI. You can test me first.

ANODIWA enters with portable HIV testing materials.

UN WORKER. (To CROWD.) Please step back! Testing will be done inside our mobile unit. Take out your identification cards.

FUNANI. These are my sisters. We would like to be tested together.

ANODIWA. Are you married?

FUNANI. An old man paid for all of us.

IFU. We need to know our status.

ICICI. If we have the virus or not.

ANODIWA. Everything that takes place at this testing unit is confidential. Does your husband know you came here?

CHILD BRIDES. No.

ANODIWA. What will he do if one of you is positive?

IFU. We don’t know but, we will stay together.

ANODIWA. I can only test you one at a time.

FUNANI. I am ready.

ANODIWA. Your sisters must wait outside. It won’t take long. I am just going to prick your finger. We will collect a few drops and place it on this testing strip.  

ANODIWA draws blood from FUNANI’S finger and places drops on strip inside testing pan, then covers the lid.

ANODIWA. Now we wait.

FUNANI. There are many sick women in our village.

ANODIWA. This is why we came.

FUNANI. How many hours did you travel to reach us?

ANODIWA. Four. Our clinic is on the border. Have you had other partners?

FUNANI. No. I was promised to someone who couldn’t pay the bride price.

ANODIWA. Is it so bad to be with one who provides for all of you?

FUNANI. That old man smells like goat piss. He takes turns with us—six days a week. Thursday is the only day of peace.  

ANODIWA. Are you his youngest wife?

FUNANI. No, my sister, Icici, is twelve—she is the youngest.

ANODIWA. Is your husband in good health?

FUNANI. No. There is blood in his cough and black sores in his mouth.    

ANODIWA. Go ahead. Open the lid.  

FUNANI. (Lifting the lid and staring at the strip.) Positive. (She covers her face.)

ANODIWA. It is not a death sentence. But you must start antiretroviral therapy. One pill a day will allow you to live.

FUNANI. How do I get these pills?

ANODIWA. You must come to the clinic. We need to do additional tests to supply you with a monthly prescription.

FUNANI. It is impossible.

ANODIWA. There is a man with a cart and a donkey. It’s nineteen hours but he can get you to the border. Your sisters could go with you.

FUNANI. Will you be there, at the clinic?

ANODIWA. This is my last trip with the mobile unit. I am leaving for America.   

FUNANI. America.

ANODIWA. To study medicine.

FUNANI. Please—I want to see my sisters.

ANODIWA rises and motions for IFU and ICICI to enter.

IFU. Is it positive?

FUNANI shakes her head.

ICICI. Test me.

IFU. No. I am going next. She should test us in the order he made us sick.

ANODIWA. This goes quickly.

ANODIWA pricks IFU’S finger, draws blood, then places it on strip inside testing pan and covers the lid.

Scene Three
US Attorney’s Office

T-KNICK. (Entering on his cell.) I’ve got something.

MS. HOPKINS. (Taking out her cell.) All right.

T-KNICK. There is an African girl over at 4th Street Clinic asking a lot of questions.  

MS. HOPKINS. What kind of questions?

T-KNICK. How many sexual partners patients have, if girls are using female condoms, what kind of symptoms they have . . . a bunch of shit.  

MS. HOPKINS. Who is she?

T-KNICK. I don’t know—some African girl.   

MS. HOPKINS. Does she work there?

T-KNICK. Something like that.

MS. HOPKINS. I am preparing a brief.  Don’t use this phone unless you have something legitimate.

T-KNICK. She shook up two of my girls.  

MS. HOPKINS. That is not my problem. Where are we with the Romanian girls?

T-KNICK. On track.  

MS. HOPKINS. Has Meder contacted you again?

T-KNICK. He’s still in London.

MS. HOPKINS. Then you’re wasting my time.

T-KNICK. Hold on, you are the Immigration lawyer. I’m giving you a solid tip. This African girl is a prostitute infecting our city with AIDS.

MS. HOPKINS. You just said she worked at the clinic!

T-KNICK. That’s her day job. A cover-up. I think she is stealing medication out of that clinic and giving it to the street prostitutes she is working with.   

MS. HOPKINS. How did you come up with that?

T-KNICK. She gave herself a swab test with one of my girls sitting in the room. What kind of a nurse does that?  She was way too friendly. These whores have their own language when they are looking for action.

MS. HOPKINS. What does this have to do with our case? You better remember why the government gave you informant status. Your job is to hand over Meder when he brings those Romanian girls into this country.

T-KNICK. I just told you we were on track. But this could mess up my operation.

MS. HOPKINS. How so?

T-KNICK. That African knows every whore in this city. Thinks she’s a black Mother Teresa.

MS. HOPKINS. You are paranoid.

T-KNICK. She gave the name of one of my girls to that bitch reporter from Nightwatch working her stupid story on prostitution and AIDS over at 4th Street Clinic.

MS. HOPKINS. You were supposed to have that under control.

T-KNICK. This bitch don’t work for me. I don’t know who she is talking to.  

MS. HOPKINS. As soon as we have Meder in custody, your job is done.

T-KNICK. In the meantime, you need to lock her up.

MS. HOPKINS. Just make up a charge? Is that what you’re saying?

T-KNICK. I am telling you to get her loose lips off the streets before we have a domino effect.    

MS. HOPKINS. Dealing with you is nothing but trouble.

T-KNICK. The government needs T-Knick to do its dirty work—so don’t disrespect me.  

MS. HOPKINS. I’m hanging up.

T-KNICK. You figure out a way to lock that African bitch up or I will blow this whole operation.

Scene Four
4th Street Clinic, USA

ANODIWA. (Drawing blood from Natasha.) You remind me of someone.

NATASHA. Someone in this clinic?

ANODIWA. No—a beautiful girl from my country.

NATASHA. I hope she didn’t have AIDS.

ANODIWA. There has been progress in prevention and treatment all over Africa.   

NATASHA. I did something kind of messed up.  

ANODIWA. Anything you say is confidential.

NATASHA. I had sex with this guy I didn’t know.

ANODIWA. Did he use a condom?

NATASHA. Yeah, it was latex. I mean, I saw him take it off and it was fine, but there was a small discharge stain on my bed when he left. . .a small brown spot. Now I have got bad sinus problems.

ANODIWA. Protected sex means risk-free if you are sure the latex condom did not break.

NATASHA. No, I am sure it didn’t break. But that brown spot on my bed.

ANODIWA. I can’t speak to that, but HIV cannot permeate intact latex.

NATASHA. I should have mentioned it last week when I was in here.

ANODIWA. When was this encounter?

NATASHA. About a month ago.

ANODIWA. Do you have frequent sinus problems?

NATASHA. About a month ago.

NATASHA. Constantly.

ANODIWA. I doubt there is a correlation, but you were smart to come back to the clinic.

NATASHA. It was my first time doing something stupid like that. I feel like I can’t wash him off me.  

ANODIWA. Have you tried a female condom?

NATASHA. I tried once but, couldn’t figure it out.

ANODIWA. Well, a female condom would give you added control. We have a video here you could watch.

NATASHA. It is not like I am having sex with different men all the time.

ANODIWA. I didn’t say you were.

NATASHA. But you were thinking that, right? I only see a select group of men. It’s not like I work for C&S. Those girls are on their backs more than their legs.

ANODIWA. We should have the results in two days.  

NATASHA. I thought I would know in 30 minutes!

ANODIWA. Not with the standard test. The laboratory will have the results in two days.

NATASHA. I can’t handle waiting another two days.

ANODIWA. I am sorry.

NATASHA. I have been a nervous wreck since I took that swab test last week.

ANODIWA. That is why we asked you to come back—to be sure. Do you want to see a counselor?

NATASHA. What is she going to ask me? No. I don’t want to see anybody.

ANODIWA. It might help you.

NATASHA. What did you mean, I remind you of some African girl?

ANODIWA. She was beautiful.

NATASHA. Was? That’s a shitty thing to say when you know my other test was positive.

NURSE. (Entering with pan.) We will have your results in two days, Natasha.

NATASHA. She told me.  

NURSE. Get the results before you see any clients.

NATASHA. I thought everything I said in here was confidential.  

NURSE. There are serious risks involved.

NATASHA. (Walking out.) You think I don’t know that?  

ANODIWA. She is angry.

NURSE. Do you need a break or are you ready for the next patient?

ANODIWA. Send them in.

NURSE. Destiny you can come in.

DESTINY. I just puked my guts out over at the diner.

ANODIWA. Do you need to vomit again?   

NURSE. I brought a pan—just in case.

ANODIWA. Thank you.

NURSE. (Taking vial of blood.) I will send this over to the lab.

DESTINY. (Coughing.) I need some antibiotics. Feels like I have walking pneumonia.

ANODIWA. I need to ask you a few questions first.

DESTINY. Like what?

ANODIWA. Have you had any recent weight loss?

DESTINY. I haven’t weighed myself in ages.

ANODIWA. Night sweats?

DESTINY. Yeah, my pillow has been drenched.

ANODIWA. Diarrhea?

DESTINY. It has been coming out both ends for three days.

ANODIWA. Let me check a few things. (She feels the lymph glands under Destiny’s armpits.) Open your mouth. (Checks gums, nose, eyes, and throat.) How long have you had these sores in your mouth?

DESTINY. They are just canker sores. I get them all the time.

ANODIWA. Your lymph glands are swollen, and I am concerned about two of the sores in your mouth. We should do a swab test.

DESTINY. A swab test? Isn’t that for AIDS?

ANODIWA. No, we are testing for HIV. We can’t give you the proper medicine if we don’t know what is wrong with your immune system. Do you want the test?

DESTINY. I want to shoot myself in the head.

ANODIWA. It is your choice.

DESTINY. You are just going to stick that in my mouth?

ANODIWA. It is not painful. Do you want me to show you?

DESTINY. That would help.

ANODIWA. (Rubs swab in the inside of mouth.) You see? There is nothing to be afraid of.

DESTINY. That’s all there is to it?

ANODIWA. That’s it.

DESTINY. All right, go ahead.

ANODIWA rubs swab inside DESTINY’S mouth.

ANODIWA. You can have a seat out in the waiting room. Take this pan with you. We will have your results in thirty minutes.

Scene Five
Truck Stop on border between Republic of Botswana and South Africa

TENDAI and JACOB stand with BORDER OFFICIAL reviewing their papers. WOMAN sits on ground stirring meat in pot.

CHILD BRIDES. (In short skirts, tank tops, and spiked heels, putting on makeup with broken mirrors.) Three ghosts in the back of a donkey cart fled the goat that bled their heart. Medicine is cheap on the border if your purse has American dollars. One hundred and twenty cash can buy you a year. But we were three. Do you open your coffin or bury your sister? Last week we laid with fifty men at the truck stop between Botswana and South Africa.

FUNANI. Poor

IFU. Hungry

ICICI. Outcast

CHILD BRIDES. HIV positive.

TENDAI and JACOB hand money to BORDER OFFICIAL, who stuffs it in his pocket and walks away.

JACOB. Six days I have been waiting for him to process my papers. Now he adds this new expense to park my truck. Holes will be the only thing left in my pocket.  

TENDAI. It is true. There are more officials with rooster feathers on this border than sex workers laying eggs.

JACOB. My ears are crammed full of dung from the sound of their crooked tongues.

TENDAI. Those who have our money join hands with the guards.

JACOB. And charge us for their bullets and guns.

TENDAI. Let’s eat something.

JACOB and TENDAI approach WOMAN cooking food.

JACOB. Two plates.

JACOB and TENDAI hand WOMAN cash. WOMAN places stewed meat and rice on plates. WOMAN hands them plates.

TENDAI. (Shoving plate back at woman.) Put some meat on this.  

JACOB. (Taking out a knife.) We are not paying for sauce, you old whore!

WOMAN slaps meat on both plates. JACOB and TENDAI walk around eating.

TENDAI. How many girlfriends have you found here?

JACOB. Three since Tuesday. Last month I brought my wife. She saw all these girls moving around. She doesn’t mind if I use a condom.

TENDAI. I won’t cap it for anyone.

JACOB. They always break.

TENDAI. That is why I don’t bother.

JACOB. What can we do but drink and find girlfriends in this congested place?  

FUNANI. We want to do business with you.

TENDAI. All three of you?

IFU. Whatever you like.

TENDAI. (To FUNANI and IFU.) You two.

IFU. Pay my sister.

TENDAI. (Handing money to FUNANI.) My truck is over there.

IFU. Do you have a condom?

TENDAI. I only do business with flesh!

FUNANI. What if we have the virus?

TENDAI. Do you?

IFU. It is possible.

TENDAI. (Shoving plate at ICICI.) Finish this. (Grabbing and fondling FUNANI and IFU.) Bittersweet. I don’t give a damn about the virus. Come on. (Walks to truck with FUNANI and IFU.)

FUNANI. (Walking off on TENDAI’S arm.) You have to pay extra if you don’t use a condom.

ICICI. Let me be your girlfriend.

JACOB. Beat it. I am still eating.

ICICI. (Touching JACOB.) My plate is empty.

JACOB. (Throwing a few scraps of food on her plate.) Does your father know where you are?

ICICI. My father gave me to an old man.

JACOB. All you sex workers blame somebody else.

ICICI. You can have me.

JACOB. How old are you?

ICICI. Sixteen.

JACOB. More like twelve.

ICICI. Does that concern you?

JACOB. No. (He throws plate on the ground.)

ICICI. What if I have the virus?

JACOB. It doesn’t matter. I already gave it to my wife.

Scene Six
Outside of 4th Street Clinic, USA

VICKY HILL stands speaking into a rolling camera.

VICKY HILL. It has been thirty years since the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States. Since then, more than half a million Americans have died of the disease and 1.1 million people are currently living with HIV. Recently, the Obama administration has attempted to reinvigorate the domestic response to the HIV epidemic by developing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Tonight, we are live at the 4th Street Clinic to talk with healthcare officials and people living with HIV. This is Vicky Hill for Nightwatch. All right cut it.   

Scene Seven
Truck Stop on border between Republic of Botswana and South Africa

CHILD BRIDES. Our bodies carry a weapon. We kill because it is in our blood. When we spread our legs, the virus crawls from the man’s trunk to the village wife, babies are born with no milk to feed tomorrow.

Scene Eight
4th Street Clinic, USA

ANODIWA and VICKY HILL are in the middle of an interview.

VICKY HILL. It must be difficult to work at this clinic, coming from Africa where AIDS is such an epidemic.

ANODIWA. No, I am passionate about health prevention. That is why I came here—to study medicine.

VICKY HILL. But the AIDS virus is ravaging the African continent.

ANODIWA. There is no AIDS virus.

VICKY HILL. I am not sure what you mean.

ANODIWA. HIV is the virus we associate with AIDS. In this clinic we are testing for HIV. If one tests positive, we want to ensure the virus does not damage their immune system to the point AIDS develops. You see, AIDS takes myriad shapes with infections and diseases.

VICKY HILL. Thank you for that. In 2002, Kofi Annan said that women are the face of AIDS in Africa. Is this still true?

ANODIWA. It does not discriminate. But, yes—the new cases are disproportionately young females.

VICKY HILL. Will you go back?

ANODIWA. At some point.

VICKY HILL. I would like to turn to the United States. Do you see similarities between female sex workers in Africa and prostitutes in America?   

NATASHA. I left my cell phone in here.

ANODIWA. There it is.

VICKY HILL. I’m Vicky Hill with Nightwatch.

NATASHA. I know who you are.

VICKY HILL. I am doing a story on this clinic. I would be very interested in speaking with you.

NATASHA. No.

VICKY HILL. It could be strictly confidential.

NATASHA. What about no do you not understand?  Did you say anything about me?

VICKY HILL. Of course, she didn’t.

ANODIWA. Your name was not mentioned, Natasha.

NATASHA. You just said my name!

VICKY HILL. I can pay you for the interview, and I won’t use your name since that seems to be such an issue.

NATASHA. You are just trying to make a name for yourself off of sick people. This is not reality TV—I am a real person who needs privacy. I come to this clinic because it is a safe place.    

VICKY HILL. Are you HIV positive?

NATASHA. Is that camera still going? You bitch! (Grabbing VICKY HILL.)

ANODIWA. Natasha, stop!

NATASHA. (Grabbing camera and throwing it on the floor.) This is not your story, asshole—it’s my life.

CAMERAMAN. What the hell are you doing?

NURSE. What is going on in here?

NATASHA. I came back to get my cell phone and she had that camera going.

NURSE. Miss Hill, we talked about this. You can’t record patients without their consent. I am going to have to ask you to leave.

VICKY HILL and CAMERAMAN walk out.

NURSE. Are you all right, Natasha?

NATASHA. No! Why would you allow a reporter in here?

NURSE. Because we still need HIV and AIDS awareness in this country.

NATASHA. She told her my name.

NURSE. Why would you do that, Anodiwa?

ANODIWA. I was trying to calm her down—she was agitated.

NURSE. Natasha, a national news story promotes funding to keep this clinic open.

NATASHA. You sound like a whore—you all are no better than me.

NURSE. No one said we were—but we are trying to keep people healthy.

NATASHA. Really? You might know how to read an HIV test, but you have no idea what it feels like to be positive.

NURSE. That can’t be confirmed until your report comes back from the pathologist.

NATASHA. You don’t think my body has been talking to me? I already know. (Looking at ANODIWA.) She knows too. I remind her of some dead girl. (Walking out.)  

NURSE. Make sure you come back in two days, Natasha. . .

NATASHA. That bitch reporter better not be in here if I do come back. (Exits.)

NURSE. She is probably texting her pimp. These girls play Russian roulette with their bodies every day. They want to blame us when the gun is loaded? Bullshit. What about Destiny? Do you have her results?

ANODIWA. Positive.

NURSE. God, I wish this day was over.

ANODIWA. But we still have to face tomorrow.

Scene Nine
Truck stop on border between Republic of Botswana and South Africa

JACOB drags ICICI twisting her arm.

JACOB. (Dragging ICICI.) I would have been better fucking a goat!  Their teats are bigger than your breasts! Give me my money back!

ICICI. Let me go.

JACOB. Your father should have beaten the whore out of you.

ICICI. Stop! You are breaking my wrist!

JACOB. I am not paying for bad sex.  

ICICI. That is mine!

JACOB. (Walking off.) Go find some clean work. You shame the father that gave you life.   

ICICI. Wait! My shoes and pants are in your truck.

JACOB. (Pulling out a knife.) Get over to the camp before I call the guard.

ICICI. But I am half-naked.

JACOB. Move out of here. There is nothing between your legs to satisfy a man.

JACOB walks off. ICICI takes off her outward blouse and attempts to tie it around her waist as TENDAI, FUNANI, and IFU walk in, drinking and laughing.

TENDAI. Hey, where are your shoes, little sister?

FUNANI. Did that trucker hurt you?

ICICI. He wouldn’t pay and took my pants and shoes.

FUNANI. That was your friend.

TENDAI. Forget him.

IFU. But he didn’t pay and took her clothes.

TENDAI. This is how it goes with business out here.

FUNANI. We gave you a good time.

TENDAI. And I paid you! Now don’t spoil it or I will find some new girlfriends.

FUNANI. Take my shoes and go back to camp.

ICICI. I am bleeding sister.

Scene Ten
US Attorney’s Office

MS. HOPKINS. (On her cell phone.) It’s done. You have three weeks to secure contact with Meder.

T-KNICK. This isn’t my calendar. I have to wait for Meder to contact me.

MS. HOPKINS. The immigration judge is expecting me to present a case against this girl in three weeks.

T-KNICK. Tell him you need a delay.

MS. HOPKINS. No, this is spiraling out of control.

T-KNICK. I’ve got two sick girls on my hands because of her. I want her gone.

MS. HOPKINS. I don’t give a damn what you want, T-Knick. This is not some illegal who crossed the border. She is a nursing student who came to America to study medicine. She has been over at that clinic ten hours a day and worked with a UN mobile unit in African villages. This has got me sick. I am going to ask for her release when I go back in front of that judge.

T-KNICK. You do that, and the deal is off.

MS. HOPKINS. I’m done—I mean it.

T-KNICK. She better not go back to the clinic.

MS. HOPKINS. Or you’ll do what?

T-KNICK. As long as she stays away from the clinic, we can move forward.

MS. HOPKINS. Contact Meder—I want this over.

Scene Eleven
US Prison Cell

CHILD BRIDES. Ten fingers can’t heal two continents. When you planted your legs in the soil of America, did you forget our faces?

ANODIWA. America wrapped her arms around me. Even when her people hated me—America loved me.   

BIG BERTHA. Diko, are you talking to yourself?  Be careful—a lot of girls crack up in isolation.

ANODIWA. Three weeks is not a long time for one who knows the bush.

BIG BERTHA. Lights out.

CHILD BRIDES. You were the final drink from clean water, the last eyes that saw three brides. We took the donkey cart to the border clinic and asked for Anodiwa, but you had gone to America. With no money for medicine, not every doctor has hands you can trust. When the trucks ran us over, we became three dangling spirits watching a memory.

Scene Twelve
Clinic on border between Republic of Botswana and South Africa

FUNANI and IFU carry in ICICI.

NURSE. Where are you coming from?

FUNANI. The truck stop.

NURSE. Are you sex workers?

FUNANI. She is only twelve.

NURSE. Has she been tested?

FUNANI. We are all HIV positive.

DOCTOR. There are no open beds in here.

FUNANI. Please just stop the bleeding.

DOCTOR. Nurse.

NURSE. Bring her over.

ICICI. I am freezing.

NURSE. When did her legs start swelling?

FUNANI. I don’t know—she was with a trucker tonight. He left her half-naked. I think he caused this bleeding.

NURSE. Doctor.

DOCTOR. She has swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, face, and hands. Swallow for me. Does it taste like metal?

ICICI. Yes.  

DOCTOR. (Feeling her back.) Is there pain here?

ICICI. Yes.

DOCTOR. (Feeling her side.) Here?

ICICI. Yes.  

DOCTOR. Get an IV ready.

FUNANI. You have to save her.

DOCTOR. We can do something for the pain tonight—but she is bleeding out.

IFU. What does that mean?

DOCTOR. Her kidneys are shutting down. The closest hospital is a hundred miles. She would never make it.

FUNANI. What are you telling us?

DOCTOR. She only has a few hours.

NURSE brings IV.

ICICI. Funani? Ifu?

NURSE. She needs to be moved to that corner.

ICICI. I am so cold.

FUNANI. Do you have a blanket?

NURSE. There are not even open beds. Give her your jacket and try to keep her calm.  

ICICI. What does it mean?

FUNANI. We are not going back to the truck stop.

ICICI. I hate them.

IFU. They won’t hurt you again.

ICICI. I am so cold.

IFU. Here, let me hold you. (Lies down and holds ICICI.)

FUNANI. Please, you must be able to do something. This is all my money. Take it.

DOCTOR. Go back to your sister.  

Scene Thirteen
US Prison Cell

BIG BERTHA. Get up, you got a visitor.

ANODIWA. What?

BIG BERTHA. They are letting you out.

MS. HOPKINS. Ms. Diko, the United States is dropping all charges against you.

ANODIWA. I can leave now?

BIG BERTHA. Your papers have to be processed first.

ANODIWA. How long will that take?

BIG BERTHA. By tomorrow.

ANODIWA. And my visa status?

MS. HOPKINS. Everything will be in order. When the government obtains false information, we try to correct it as quickly as we can. I know this has been a nightmare, and I feel personally responsible—I want you to know that.

BIG BERTHA. You are getting a lucky break, Diko.

ANODIWA. I never stole medicine out of that clinic, and I am not HIV positive.

MS. HOPKINS. We are well aware of the mistake. The clinic contacted my office today. They were adamant about your release.

ANODIWA. Who gave you this false information?

MS. HOPKINS. Ms. Diko, my office is flooded with all kinds of these cases. The United States has a responsibility to investigate and take action on every lead it receives, to protect its citizens.

ANODIWA. So, because I am on a student visa, you have no obligation to protect me? You just lock me up and then do your investigation?

BIG BERTHA. Diko, watch your mouth—you haven’t been released yet.

MS. HOPKINS. Our investigation has cleared you of all charges.

ANODIWA. There was so much sacrifice for me to come here. All of the market women in my village gave part of their earnings. Now I wonder why I ever came to this country.

MS. HOPKINS. I regret that you were placed in this difficult position, Ms. Diko.

ANODIWA. You did this to me.

MS. HOPKINS. I am going before the judge in the morning. You will be released by noon.

MS. HOPKINS and BIG BERTHA walk out.

CHILD BRIDES. Do you remember us, Anodiwa?

ICICI. My sisters buried me with the money for our medicine.

IFU. An aneurism exploded the moment a saline IV entered my veins, so they dragged my body to the morgue.

FUNANI. I took the longest to die. My stomach grew as my arms and legs shriveled. The police arrested me for possession of a condom. They threw me in a prison cell, where a baby was born, and my dead sisters found me.

ANODIWA. Did I sacrifice village girls to walk up the walls to America? I stepped down from the roof and entered the city where the taste of metallic prison bars stings my tongue with no familiar in the heart. How do people look from the sky? Are we all the same in our apartments, houses, and huts? Medicine sits silently on warehouse shelves. Without American dollars, is there value in an African child?

CHILD BRIDES. The virus works guerilla tactics to shoot bullets at your organs. Leaving the earth isn’t difficult when your body is a war zone.

ANODIWA. I would have to walk the stars to get to the place on my birth certificate. I have touched the tips of fingers in villages and cities—it is always the same, hands craving to sustain life. African rhythms are in American blood. We just have to hear them.

END OF PLAY


Carolyn Núr Wistrand’s plays include She Danced With A Red Fish ( 2018 Winner of the Inkslinger National Playwriting Competition, Southeastern Louisiana University); Rising (Winner of the Mario Fratti-Fred Newman International Political Playwriting Award, Castillo Theatre, New York City); 9 Steps from St. Ann Street (New Perspectives Theatre, New York City); Even the Dirt Bleeds (Around the Coyote, Chicago); Tic Toc, Watchwomen, Lit (Savannah State University); Magdalena’s Crossing (Wordsmyth Theatre, Houston; Echo Theatre, Dallas; Runner-Up Female Playwright of the Year, Bridge Initiatives, Phoenix; and the Negro Ensemble Company in New York City). She is a recipient of a MCACA/NEA Award and NEH Fellowship in Greek Drama. Her plays have been published with One Act Play Depot, Canada, Contemporary Drama Service, Denver, Africa World Press, and Carmel Publishers, India. Carolyn lectures online for the Dept. of Africana Studies, UM-Flint and is an Assistant Professor of English at Dillard University in New Orleans.

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