Cast of Characters
Joe: A middle-class, middle-aged man with three children
Geena: His wife, a part-time real estate broker
Pete: Joe's younger brother
Junior: Joe's and Geena's eldest son, a software engineer, twenty-two years old
Harley: Joe's and Geena's middle child, a college freshman
Kaitlyn: Joe's and Geena's youngest, a high school freshman
Brooklyn: A special guest from up North who attends college with Harley
Dolly: Geena's mother who lives with her and Joe
An interior of an over-decorated family great-room in a middle-class Southern home. Over the mantle is a large photo of a family standing in front of a plantation house with matching t-shirts – a family gathering, but not a family homestead. A large table is set in this room in traditional Thanksgiving colors, and a large centerpiece with a ceramic turkey is flanked with glitter-sprayed autumn leaves. Downstage of this table is a sofa and a coffee table.
There are two exits: a front door, which may or may not be visible on stage, and a passageway (possibly toward the back of the stage on the opposite side of the scene) that leads deeper into the interior of the house.
(At rise: BROOKLYN and HARLEY enter. HARLEY is an athletic, pretty girl with classic features, long blonde hair, and dressed in preppy clothing. BROOKLYN is a girl with much more urban tastes. She has spiked up hair in multiple colors and wears a torn, feminist-slogan t-shirt.)
BROOKLYN (Entering): Okay! Next room!
HARLEY (Entering behind her laughing): This is like Pokemon Go without phones! What kind of second-wave old-school consciousness-raising vegan yoga game are you trying to rope me into, Brooklyn?
BROOKLYN: Self-care and self-awareness, not second-wave whatever you said, you hayseed!
(BROOKLYN hugs HARLEY and nuzzles her neck.)
BROOKLYN: Don’t be embarrassed! I want to understand! You know I am crushing on everything about you, byotch! Tell me.
HARLEY: Okay. My earliest memory in this room is...It was summer. I couldn't have been more than two. I was crawling on the floor, and a big ol' white possum lumbered through the doggie flap on that door over there and was sniffing me. It wasn’t scared of me at all.
BROOKLYN: What? A possum? Like a rat that goes to sleep if it gets scared? That's so creepy! Was it sniffing your diaper like dogs sniff each other’s butts?
HARLEY: No, you perv! It was sniffing my face. We were about eye-to-eye. I remember I could feel its whiskers tickle me. And then Momma came out the kitchen, and she screamed, "Harley!" like I was about to die. I sat up. The possum didn't move, just stared at me, and then daddy, hearing Momma scream, he came out with a revolver and shot the thing right on the floor. Its brains busted out all pink and chunky all over the rug! I remember there was even a little puff of smoke out of its head. I howled at the top of my lungs. Momma screamed at daddy because she thought at first the bullet had grazed me, but there was never any danger of that. The DuPont family, we’re all excellent shots! I was safe. And daddy was right. That thing might’ve been rabid.
BROOKLYN: Holy shit! Your dad just blew that rat’s head off right in front of you? Were you scared?
HARLEY: No! I was mad! I wanted to play with the possum, and my daddy just killed it. He broke my toy!
BROOKLYN: That is so messed up! So when you say DuPonts are good shots, does that include you?
(HARLEY pantomimes shooting.)
Holy shit! You own a gun?
HARLEY: Don’t act so surprised! Everyone around here owns guns, Yankee!
BROOKLYN: So you’re a good shot?
HARLEY: I won a 4H marksmanship medal when I was fifteen.
BROOKLYN: You are such a badass! Would you protect me if some gangland shit went down around here?
HARLEY: Gangland? That sounds more like your home than mine. But sure I would, darlin', if you treat me right!
BROOKLYN: So okay – back to the exercise – your first memory is the dead possum. And so what is the cosmic lesson of this room for you?
HARLEY: It's that…
(She ponders this for a moment before responding.)
HARLEY: It's that I'm am not afraid of anything natural. I am afraid of what people think about nature. Okay, I'm over this! This exercise is lame! You're trying to be all analytical and deep, but instead of me learning about myself, I learned something about you.
(HARLEY grabs BROOKLYN’S hand.)
That's right! All y'all Yankees might be gun-control-obsessed, but you like it that I can shoot a gun! You think it's hot! Don't deny it! Want to see me knock a can off a fence post across the yard?
BROOKLYN: Hell, yeah!
(HARLEY and BROOKLYN run out the door together. A moment later, KAITLYN enters in a cheerleader uniform looking for her father. JOE speaks to her from offstage.)
JOE (Off): Yes, baby?
JOE (Off): Yes, baby?
KAITLYN: Meemaw says you gotta drive me to practice. Her knee is acting up again.
(Enter JOE in full Confederate Colonel uniform carrying a Confederate battle flag.)
JOE: What's that, sugar pie?
KAITLYN: Daddy! Don't you drive me to cheer practice looking like that! You look like a plastic army man from the diorama they made me do last year in social studies!
JOE: I can't drive you, anyhow! Guess where I'm headed?
KAITLYN: A time machine? No, I know. Well who’s gonna drive me?
(Enter GEENA, in a tailored dress and pearls, hair tidily hair-sprayed, low-heeled pumps.)
GEENA: Why are you still here, Kaitlyn? Yo'’re already late! Where's Meemaw?
KAITLYN: Her knee is acting up, and Daddy can't drive me 'cause he's for sure gonna win the Civil War this time.
JOE: In this house today, young lady, you will call it the War of Northern Aggression!
GEENA: I'll drop her off.
(GEENA heads for the door. JOE smacks her behind. She turns.)
JOE: Where you headed looking like you're fixing to break somebody's heart?
GEENA: Who wants to know? Some Confederate Colonel long since dead and buried, or my hunka hunka burnin' love?
JOE: I'll show you who's dead and buried!
(He grabs her and holds her tightly.)
JOE: Don't think I couldn't bury some Confederate right now!
KAITLYN: Eew! TMI! This is why Harley says I need therapy!
JOE (To KAITLYN): She says that, does she?
(In a lower voice, to GEENA)
JOE: I told you she didn't need to go to some East Coast liberal seven sister school! Her school doesn't even have a football team!
(To both of them)
Joe: And no cheerleaders, neither! Therapy? Therapy! What was she talking about last night at dinner?
KAITLYN: Trigger warnings?
JOE: Now what in the Sam Hill is a trigger warning? I got two triggers on these authentic era mother-of-pearl-handled pistols, but I got no warnings. Seriously, Geena, why didn't she go to LSU and pledge Chi-o like you and your sister did?
GEENA: Harley is not the Chi-o type, legacy or no legacy.
KAITLYN: Momma, can I be a Chi-o at LSU when I get there?
GEENA: Well, you know you can, honey! I would love that! What sorority in the whole SEC could resist your golden curls and your Leapin' Lora?
KAITLYN: Momma, did you know I tried to borrow Harley's hairspray to set these pigtails, and Harley says she tossed out her hairspray because spraying my pigtails makes the polar bears drown up in Alaska? She's so weird! Are y’'ll sure she wasn't switched at the hospital when she was a baby? There's a YouTube that shows how that happens!
GEENA: Come on, now! Enough YouTube and polar bears! You're late! Scoot!
(Exit GEENA and KAITLYN. JOE pulls out a cellphone from one of his gun holsters and takes a selfie. He posts it online.)
JOE: Hashtag battle of Atchafalaya Creek!
JOE: Where the hell are, ya, Pete? Well, hurry up, will ya? The battle ain't gonna reenact itself.
(He hangs up. Enter JUNIOR in a red cap and a camo t-shirt.)
JUNIOR: Hey, Daddy! You and Uncle Pete ain't out on the field yet?
JOE: Sure wish I could tell you we're waiting on you to finish putting on the greys to join us!
JUNIOR: Ain't the South lost the war enough times without me? I’m going four-wheeling with Scooter and Slim.
JOE: Don’t your heritage mean nothing to you?
JUNIOR: It's close to eighty degrees out there, Daddy! How y'all are flannelled up in the mud without getting a heat rash, boy, I don't know. If I’m gonna end up all blotchy and red, it’s gonna be when I’m bit by mosquitoes when we go gator hunting in June.
JOE: Your generation got no respect for the dead. That writer Faulkner I told you about says the past isn't dead, that it ain't even past. I saw some young fellas out there putting on the old Confederate uniform. You got more than all the old-timers like me. You sure we can't order you a uniform from The Dixie Shop for next year?
(Enter PETE awkwardly moving on a false peg leg in a Confederate Sergeant's uniform. He almost falls over on his way toward JOE and JUNIOR.)
JUNIOR: Hey there, Uncle Pete!
(PETE hobbles while nodding to each of them.)
PETE: Junior! Colonel!
JOE: You sure took long enough! We're losing already! The Yankees are already posting battle pictures to Instagram!
(PETE stands on his peg-leg foot, so his false peg sticks straight out of his knee at a 90 degree angle.)
PETE: You try driving a truck with this ol' pegleg! It kept hitting the hazard light button while I was going down LA-28!
JOE: That's why you might coulda put it on when we got there.
PETE: Now that would be what you call inauthentic! If we ain't doing this for the authenticity, what are we doing it for?
JOE: If we were being real authentic, they'd get us some actual Yankees to shoot!
(All of them laugh.)
PETE (To Junior): Boy, you should come with us! I know a boy who got too fat for his Corporal uniform, about your height. It's just sitting in his closet. He's even got a battle bugle to go with it! Weren't you in the band at church, Junior? Did they make you play the trumpet for the angels heard on high at the Christmas pageant?
JUNIOR: Yes, sir. It's just not my weekend plan. I'm fixing to meet Scooter out in the swamp for some four-wheeling and maybe shoot at some ducks.
JOE: Help me out here, Pete! This boy don't seem to understand why we're putting on the greys the day before Thanksgiving every year since before he could crawl!
PETE: Didn't your daddy tell you the story of Atchafalaya Creek? It ain't as glorious as Bull Run, but it sure was a helluva fight!
JUNIOR: You know he did, Uncle Pete. He made me memorize it one year.
JOE: Go on, boy! Humor your old father! Tell us the tale of Atchafalaya Creek like you did when you was ten!
PETE: Come on, son! Tell us what happened!
JUNIOR (Respectfully, but without enthusiasm): Um, okay. It was November 26, 1862, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, you told me, Daddy – but I looked it up, and until 1939, Americans celebrated Thanksgiving in October, according to Google, anyhow.
JOE: Do what now?
PETE: The boy’s right, Joe. They ain’t had no fourth Thursday in November tradition until FDR. I saw that on the History Channel.
JOE: So those boys weren't shooting at each other the day before Thanksgiving?
PETE: Well, they were shooting, but I reckon not, Joe.
JOE: Well, I'll be a son of a bitch. Tell the story anyhow, Junior!
JUNIOR: Okay, then. Um. The Creole Rangers were patrolling around here, and, um, um they come across some Yankees bivouacking on a hill.
JOE: That’s Miller's Hill, boy! Tell it right!
JUNIOR: Okay. Miller's Hill, and, um, then they commenced to shooting at the Yankees, but they didn’t see until it was too late that the Yankees had reinforcements coming out of the swamp, and they done surprised the Creole Rangers, shooting our ancestor in the leg, but he got away. Even so, a whole mess of Rangers was lost.
PETE: How many, boy?
JUNIOR: The North lost thirty-four soldiers, mostly at the beginning of the battle, and the South lost eighty-nine and had to retreat.
JOE: You say all that, but you say it like you were reading a list of names of people you didn't know, boy! Where’s your pride?
JUNIOR: Well, sir, I respect your commitment to this reenactment stuff, but I –
JOE: Reenactment stuff? Stuff? Boy, this ain't stuff! This ain't no junk from your Meemaw's attic. This is your heritage, son! How can you call Atchafalaya Creek some stuff?
JUNIOR: I mean no disrespect, Daddy. I know you and Uncle Pete live for this the way I used to live for baseball before I busted my elbow senior year. But Daddy, this just ain't no way for me to feel my heritage and mean it like you do.
JOE: What the hell would make you feel any prouder about who you are, son? Ain't you a proud Creole?
PETE: Choose your words carefully, boy.
JUNIOR: Sure I am. I love the South sure enough. But the South you go out and reenact is a South that lost.
PETE: I told you choose carefully!
JOE: They might have lost, boy, but they lost fightin' with valor, with honor, with a true-blue manhood that you don't seem to know nothin' about!
JUNIOR: I mean no disrespect, sir, but Daddy – what’s the honor in jumpin' on some Yankees in the middle of their happy meal and gettin' their asses handed to them because they couldn't hear nobody trudging through the rushes?
JOE: Boy, I tell you, if you weren't twenty-two, I’d swing you over my knee and give you the red ass! Them's the tactics of war!
PETE: That's right, Junior! Ain't no Baptist League ice cream social when you're at war!
JOE: You don't see how this is our family's manhood at its best?
JUNIOR: Daddy, don't make me contradict you, sir. I'm trying to show you respect. But you're pushing me.
JOE: What fault are you going to find with Atchafalaya Creek, boy? Our men shed their blood on Miller's Hill for you and for our way of life down here.
JUNIOR: Daddy, I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t want that way of life. You know what that "way of life" was? They were fighting to keep the slaves, Daddy! That's not the South I belong to, and I don't want to belong to that South!
PETE: Now, boy, you gone too far! The war wasn't about slavery!
JUNIOR: It was! Our ancestor with the bullet in his leg owned slaves! He made misery for the folks who cut his cane! Now, I can't change the past, but sir, I sure won't reenact it on Thanksgiving as if it were some kind of glory road! It ain't no tickertape parade! We lost! What's more, we needed to lose! Elsewise, we couldn't build no different kind of South!
JOE: How dare you talk –
JUNIOR: Now, you got me started, Daddy, and I have wanted to tell you this for years, so I am going to say my say! You can't defend the Confederates without defending slavery! Are you –
JOE: The Yankees took our land! We don't live in no big house anymore! We just live here! Yankees did that to us!
JUNIOR: Well, I say Hot Toddy Yankee Doodle Dandy, because I don't want no part of no slave state! Daddy, I work as a coder, not a planter! I don't sip no mint juleps while my field hands pick on the banjo and sing me a spiritual – because all that is UN-spiritual, Daddy!
PETE: Google done Yankee-fied him, Joe!
JUNIOR: Listen, Daddy – ain't nothin' wrong with this house with no sugar cane fields. I learned right from wrong at this address. You taught me more about honor, duty, and courage than the Confederates ever did. I watched you go to work at a job you sometimes hated so that I could get to LSU. You taught me how to throw a curve ball even though I weren't no good at it at first. When the baseball scholarship fell through, you sweated overtime to get me to college anyhow. Sir, I honor you. I feel it every day in the pit of my gut. When I have boys of my own, I'll know how to be a good father all because of you. But I'm raising my future boys in the twenty-first century, and there ain't no Civil War going on now.
PETE: But the liberal fake news –
JUNIOR: Uncle Pete, you know I don't vote Democrat, but you believe every conspiracy theory they got on the Internet these days! The Yankees ain't coming no more.
PETE: But that deep state –
JUNIOR: Uncle Pete, sir, you are misinformed. I respect you, too, just like I do Daddy. You're the one who taught me how to duck hunt.
(He pulls out a revolver from his belt and handles it carefully.)
JUNIOR: Sir, you gave me this old kit gun for my twelfth birthday, and I ain't never had a finer gift. I take it whenever I go huntin', and I remember how you taught me to shoot it and clean it. You make me proud to be your nephew and a Southerner, but you can't go believing nonsense about Clinton, or Kennedy, or what-not. None of that serves you, sir. I say this with respect and in love. I am a Southern man, but maybe I just ain't exactly your kind of Southern man. Yours, neither, Daddy. You taught me how to be a man, but I'm a twenty-first century man. I don't need to reenact, and I don't see why you think you need to. The Confederate dead are dead. I got to live now.
(JUNIOR puts his gun back in his belt and exits.)
PETE: If I didn't have my peg leg on, I'd still put that boy over my knee, Joe!
JOE: Come on, Pete! Let's git!
(PETE and JOE exit. Enter HARLEY and BROOKLYN. They crash through a side door while kissing passionately, ultimately leaning against the large table. HARLEY catches her breath for a second and looks around the room.)
HARLEY: My God! I never imagined I would make out on my family’s Thanksgiving table!
BROOKLYN: You want to be the most subversive Southern belle in history and mess around where the turkey goes?
HARLEY: Hush! Somebody’s coming!
BROOKLYN (Half-whispering): Play your cards right, it could be you!
(Enter DOLLY, using a cane.)
DOLLY: Aren’t you girls sweet, helping your momma set the table for tomorrow. I had to use the walker because when I woke up, my gout was up again! I hate this thing. It makes me feel old.
HARLEY: You need some help there, Meemaw?
DOLLY (Making her way to the sofa and sitting): No help, girls, but I sure would like some company. I was hoping to see you. We haven’t had a good chat since you left for Massachusetts in August. Sit down right next to me and tell me all about your big city college.
(BROOKLYN and HARLEY exchange a glance and then sit next to DOLLY.)
DOLLY: What's it like?
HARLEY: Well ma'am, I'm really enjoying being a psychology major. We're reading Sigmund Freud and his critics right now, and I feel like I'm learning a lot.
DOLLY: Sigmund Freud? Well, I am so glad they are making you read his critics. Why do you know I heard he says a lot of things about S-E-X? That can't be the kind of thing a young lady should learn about in school. Are there boys in your psychology class?
HARLEY: No, ma'am. It's a women's college.
DOLLY: Oh, that's right. I forgot. Well, that sounds like it's safer for a young lady if she's going to read Freud. You know, your great-great grandma attended Newcomb College in New Orleans back when it was all-ladies, not part of Tulane. I remember her. She was a proud Chi-o, such a lady. She never let anybody outside the family see her true feelings, even when she was hurting real bad. When my grandpa died, she held a repast for the whole parish, and she didn’t let herself shed a tear in front of people while she poured them punch. Later on, my sister and I found her in the tool shed, eating a piece of pecan pie she had made and sobbing into her monogrammed napkin. What a lady she was. Can you imagine having so much self-control that nobody sees your private self like that?
HARLEY (Glancing furtively at BROOKLYN): I think I can imagine it just a little.
DOLLY (Turning to BROOKLYN): And how about you, young lady? Are you a psychology major as well?
BROOKLYN: No. I'm actually a gender studies major.
DOLLY: Gender studies? What is that, now?
BROOKLYN: They used to call it women's studies.
DOLLY: Oh! Well, that’s just lovely! I am so glad that young ladies up North are learning traditional women's topics like I did back years ago. Do they make you sew your own dresses? When I was at Charleston, they made all the girls learn to sew a ballgown for our annual white cotillion. Do they make you learn how to stitch lace onto a bodice?
BROOKLYN: No. We study about how heteronormativity has been used as a tool of oppression to narrow people's minds.
DOLLY: Do what now?
HARLEY (Elbowing BROOKLYN): No ma'am. They don't make dresses. They learn abstract topics about the way men and women act.
DOLLY: Oh! We had a class like that, too! They called it deportment.
(She looks BROOKLYN over carefully.)
I suppose it's good that they still teach classes like that at your ladies' college. Is this your first time in the South, Miss Brooklyn?
BROOKLYN: Yes, it is.
DOLLY: What is your impression of us? I hear Yankees all think we're a bunch of hicks!
(DOLLY laughs. HARLEY looks at BROOKLYN nervously.)
BROOKLYN: Well, Harley is from the South, and she's a very smart person. I haven't seen a lot yet.
(Brooklyn winks at HARLEY. All of their dialogue for the next few lines consists of double entendre.)
Brooklyn: I'm hoping that Harley can show me a Deep South that I have a real thirst to explore.
DOLLY: Well, isn't that nice! This part of the South has a lot of swamp country.
BROOKLYN: Yes. I want to explore the wetlands I keep talking about with Harley.
DOLLY: Maybe you can take Miss Brooklyn on a Jean Lafitte swamp tour with Junior's friend Slim, Harley! Junior's friend has a fan boat and takes tourists for a ride.
HARLEY: I think Brooklyn and I will take a wetlands tour on our own, Meemaw.
DOLLY: Well, maybe you can also drive her by the reenactment of the battle of Atchafalaya Creek! That would make your daddy so proud! (To BROOKLYN) One of the important but lesser-known battles of the Civil War was fought not ten miles from this house. Harley's daddy is one of the organizers of the reenactment of it. Our boys courageously defended the region, though they were outnumbered and ultimately massacred in a Yankee ambush, if you'll pardon my saying so, Miss Brooklyn. Mr. Joe's great-great-great grand uncle was the original Colonel of that battle, Colonel Reinhard Kirkpatrick DuPont of the Louisiana Company G, the Creole Chargers. He got shot in the thigh in that battle, but survived the war long enough to see his sugar cane fields confiscated by Yankees under Reconstruction. It was a great injustice! He actually had to produce sugar for the Yankees for their profit against his will. Can you believe that?
BROOKLYN (Ironically): Imagine a group of people in the South during the Civil War era forced to work for no money against their will. Who ever heard of such a thing?
DOLLY: You're quite right, Miss Brooklyn. It was a scandal around here. Were your people in the War between the States?
BROOKLYN: We were living in Poland back then. We got to America around 1900.
DOLLY: I see. Well, Harley, why don't you take your college friend out to watch the reenactment? After they finish shooting at each other, and the Rebs surrender, they serve everybody biscuits and gumbo.
(HARLEY helps DOLLY back to her feet.)
DOLLY: It was sure nice chatting with you girls. It's always so nice to talk to young people with lots of energy. You give me hope for the future. If you will excuse me, Miss Brooklyn, I have to go feed my cockatoos down the hall. Have you taken a peek at Davey and Goliath? They're the most lovely tropical birds, but they are exacting. If I don't feed them their tangelos and sunflower seeds at precisely ten o’clock, they squawk until midnight.
(DOLLY exits. BROOKLYN holds HARLEY in a tender embrace.)
BROOKLYN: Bae, I had no idea how hard it must have been for you growing up here. I'm so sorry.
HARLEY: What do you mean? It's not so bad here.
BROOKLYN: It's like they can't even see you.
HARLEY: I'm not sure I want them to see me, exactly. Everyone around here gossips so much. You don't know what it's like to live in a small town. If somebody farts near city hall, everybody in town knows who cut the cheese because we recognize each other's stank.
BROOKLYN (Laughing): Okay, but come on. I came out to my parents at age fourteen. I went to my first Pride at sixteen. Your parents don't even know who you are.
HARLEY: We don't do all that down here.
BROOKLYN: Would your parents disown you?
HARLEY: I don't think so. Maybe. I don't know. Nobody talks about it.
BROOKLYN: How many members of your family are in the Klan, anyway?
(HARLEY gasps and punches BROOKLYN in the arm.)
BROOKLYN: That you know of, right?
BROOKLYN: But your grandmother normalizes the history of racism down here, and your father is reenacting the Civil War right this minute, only he's fighting to keep slavery! What's up with that?
HARLEY: I don't think he sees it like that. He sees everybody as super noble and brave. He thinks our Confederate ancestors were like the knights of king Arthur or some shit.
BROOKLYN: Knights? That's straight outta the original Birth of a Nation, that old silent film I told you about from Film History with Mr. Perez? "Knights" is the first K of the KKK!
HARLEY: My dad never says the n-word. He's not like that.
BROOKLYN: Oh, okay. Spent a lot of time campaigning for Obama, did he?
HARLEY: Well, no, but –
BROOKLYN: Open your eyes, bae. They've brainwashed you.
HARLEY (Pulling back from BROOKLYN): I can't believe how smug and holier-than-thou you’re being about my family.
BROOKLYN: But you're not like them. If they knew who you were, they might disown you.
HARLEY: Even if they did, they'd still be my momma and daddy, so back off!
BROOKLYN: Okay. Whatever. I didn't think you were one of them.
HARLEY: You don't know shit. Come on. Let's go see the battlefield and gumbofest. You can Snapchat it, and maybe you'll get it that these guys are decent.
BROOKLYN: With racist, patriarchal views. Whatever.
HARLEY: Quit being a bitch. You've never even had gumbo or crawfish!
BROOKLYN: Okay, Scarlett freaking O'Hara. Feed me some gumbo at the battle of go-sniff-a-goat, or whatever you call it. I will act polite. You're just lucky you're the baddest byotch in the whole universe! I can't resist you.
HARLEY (Laughing): No, you're the one who's luckyI'm the bad byotch belle.
(She grabs BROOKLYN and shoves her toward the front door when GEENA opens it and is surprised.)
HARLEY: Hi, Momma! I thought you had to show some folks a house.
GEENA: They took a spin around and hated it. No sale today. Everybody else has probably started their cooking. I need to get cracking. You taking your Yankee friend to watch your daddy?
He'll like that. Honey, you just got in last night, and I want a word before you go, a word in private.
HARLEY: Okay, Momma.
(She tosses the keys to Brooklyn.)
HARLEY: Momma wants to talk. Give me a minute.
(Brooklyn nods and exits.)
GEENA (Pacing nervously): Have a seat, honey. I wanted to have this talk with you before you went off to Mount Holyoke, but I didn't know what to say, and I didn't want to get it wrong. I thought how damaging it could be if your own momma got something like that wrong, and if she called you a name you couldn't live down, and how much therapy – you were talking about therapy last night – you would need if your momma said you were something, but you weren't that something.
HARLEY: Momma, Brooklyn is waiting for me in the car, can this wait until –
GEENA: No! Let me say this now, when we're the two of us alone. I don't want it to stay a secret between us! I mean – you used the purple glitter baton I bought you when you were eight as if you were a ninja fighter, not a LSU majorette! You tore off the Miss America Mardi Gras costume I sewed you because you wanted to be an astronaut instead. Honey, I know you. I know you better than anybody on Earth, even though you have always wanted to leave the planet in your own private space capsule and float away from me. I know you!
(GEENA pause, fidgets.)
GEENA: Of course, a mother has her dreams. When you were born and were so pretty, I wondered if you might not be the first lady one day. With those cheekbones and your high marks in school, I thought I was looking at the next Ladybird Johnson. I told myself you might meet a boy at West Point if you went up North, a cadet with political aspirations. You are so beautiful and so talented, but that's just not where you want to go. You still want to be an astronaut. Look at the space creature you brought home with you for Thanksgiving. She's got an earing sticking out her nose and hair sticking up in all different colors. And I know that's your chosen companion, not just your classmate. No. She means something to you, darlin'. I can see that. And when I add it all up, I understand, honey. I’m your momma. You can never keep a secret for long from me. Harley, I know.
HARLEY: I don't know what you’re talking about, Momma.
GEENA: I know, baby. I love you anyway. It doesn't matter to me. You're still my brilliant little girl. You know I already suspected, don't you? Why do you think I fought your daddy tooth and nail to get you across the Mason-Dixon Line to get to a school up North where they might understand you, honey? Your daddy and I, we might have seen an Oprah show or two, but we don't know people who live like you want to live. How could we help you? What could we say to protect you? That's why I sent you North, so you could be where they talk about things we just don't talk about around here.I knew you needed that, because this place might just crush you the way it is, even though the people here in this house all love you.
HARLEY: Momma, I don't know what impression you got of me. You have made a mistake. Brooklyn is my lab partner in biology, just like I told you. She was never in the South before, so I invited her. I was being hospitable, just like you and Meemaw taught me to be.
GEENA: Well, this is an invitation from me to you to talk about it without any more secrets. I love you. I'm telling you I love you anyhow.
HARLEY: I can't believe you thought anything like that about me, Momma! I was always a tomboy, but you put a dress on me every Sunday to head off to church, didn't you? I don't want to talk about this anymore, Momma. Now, I'm taking my lab partner to meet the boys in grey at the Gumbo cookout. Please don't talk to me about this again.
(HARLEY exits. GEENA goes to the sideboard and pours herself a glass of bourbon.)
GEENA: I would have thought she... how can it be that she... Lord, it's a bigger mystery than I thought.
DOLLY: What time should we start making the pies and the side dishes?
GEENA: Hey, Momma, you need any help?
DOLLY: I’ll be just fine. When you want to start chopping apples and mixing up pumpkin? Do you want me to start washing the Brussels Sprouts now?
GEENA: Momma, you've done plenty for years. I was just going to drink this one glass of courage before going up to change out of this suit and get ready for the stink of onion juice on my apron.
DOLLY: The one who needs to change out of that monkey suit he's in is your husband. Why does he keep wanting to play his ancestor every year? That ancestor of his might've made it to a battlefield, but I read about him at that library archive room downtown. He cheated at cards and messed around with the women in the slave shacks. He doesn't need to pretend to be a scalawag like ol' Colonel Reinhard.
GEENA: Oh! Don't get me started! It's "Glory" this, and "Chivalry" that! You would think that old colonel was Christ Himself the way Joe goes on about him! (They both laugh.) I think what he really likes about it, Momma, are all the death scenes. There’s something he likes about shouting over good ol’ boys with Confederate uniforms on! Have you noticed that every year, he shouts, almost like he’s crying, "Why did they have to die so young, Lord?"
DOLLY: Then he and I have more in common than I reckoned. That's why I like watching that bull riding competition out of Vegas on TV with all the pretty, young cowboys. They all look skeered half to death when they climb on that bull, and they give each of em a close-up, and I gasp and fan myself, thinking, "Oh, Lordy! He’s so young and pretty! What a shame he's about to get himself gored to death!"
GEENA: Oh, Momma! That's horrible!
DOLLY: I know I need prayer. But death is alluring, almost like a cowboy with a wicked smile.
DOLLY: Oh, don't listen to me. I'm just old enough it doesn't matter what I say anymore. Let me shock you just a little bit! You know, back in the days of Atchafalaya Creek, a lady wasn't allowed to burp in public, of course, until she got to be about my age. Babies get burped, Geena, and old ladies get to burp. Don't mind me. I'm just burping.
GEENA: Would you mind helping me peel some apples for the pie, Momma? That's something we can do sitting down.
DOLLY: Of course, darlin'!
(Geena grabs a bowl, a bag of apples, and a couple of peelers from the kitchen. The two of them sit and get to work.)
GEENA: Did you get a good look at Harley's friend, Momma?
DOLLY: She's something to look at, now isn't she? (Both women laugh.) It's a good thing that girl is at a ladies' college where they teach her deportment and such because, my word!
GEENA: You know I worry about Harley, don't you? She's so far away, and I think to myself, what if she starts to hate me for raising her to be an old-fashioned girl, not a girl like her classmate? She's always been so different than everybody around here. I can't help but think she'll blame me when she gets older and realizes she doesn't understand the whole wide world because I raised her here in the bayou.
DOLLY: That's nonsense! I watched you do what she wanted when she asked to go up North. You gave her an airplane ticket. Joe sulked for a week, but you gave it to her anyhow. You literally gave that girl wings. If that girl hates the bayou, she can live away, but always come home to visit and give her momma a hug.
(GEENA’s cell phone rings. She answers.)
GEENA: Hello? Yes, this is she. Oh! Oh!
(GEENA stands up and grabs her purse and car keys.)
GEENA: Momma, I need you to make the pies. I might be a while.
DOLLY: What’s wrong? What happened?
GEENA: I’ll tell you when I get back!
DOLLY: Why you’re white as a ghost! Tell your momma what’s going on, Geena! Lord have mercy!
(GEENA runs out the door. DOLLY watches her leave, worried. After a moment she returns to peeling apples while she sings "I Surrender All." Then she hears a loud ruckus outside the door.)
BROOKLYN (Off): No, seriously, you're a crypto-fascist phallocratic hypocrite!
HARLEY (Off – and sobbing): You don’t understand anything! This is my home! You just took a crap on our whole identity, you smug pseudo-intellectual witch!
BROOKLYN (Off – and screaming at the top of her lungs) Witch? What are you? The Spanish Inquisition? How many times do I have to tell you? I'm not a witch! I'm WICCAN! WICCAN, you rape-culture apologist!
(HARLEY opens the door, with BROOKLYN behind her. They look startled to find DOLLY there at the table.)
HARLEY (Wiping her eyes): Meemaw, I’m sorry you just heard us.
BROOKLYN: Whatever. You go ahead and be sorry.You don't even see how offensive you are.
DOLLY: Baby, don't worry about it. Come on, you two! I need your help! Your momma had to run out in a hurry and left me to make the pies.
BROOKLYN: Pies? Nah. I'm packing and Ubering!
HARLEY: You are so rude! I can't believe you're giving me attitude like this!
(BROOKLYN heads for the door leading to the rest of the house.)
BROOKLYN: Well, since I'm just your Yankee lab friend from college, I don't think you'll miss me much if I suddenly need to get out of this swamp, will you?
HARLEY: Quit twisting everything I say! You are such a –
(She looks at DOLLY and omits the word she was thinking.)
HARLEY: Such a lady part!
BROOKLYN: Right back at you, lady part DuPont! I'm out!
(Brooklyn exits, and HARLEY runs after her.)
HARLEY: You come back here! You"re twisting everything I said!
(HARLEY exits. Audience can hear indistinct sounds of their quarrel. DOLLY listens for a moment, then returns to singing. This time she sings, "Jesus loves the little children." Offstage, we hear glass shattering, and HARLEY shouts something the audience cannot distinguish exactly, with BROOKLYN cursing indistinctly in response. DOLLY sings louder. KAITLYN enters, this time with her pigtails all messy and a scowl on her face.)
KAITLYN: Momma forgot me!
DOLLY: Do what now, honey lamb?
KAITLYN: Momma forgot to pick me up! I stood there with all the other girls, and their mommas came to pick them up!
(She starts to snivel.)
KAITLYN: I was so humiliated! I had to walk three whole miles home! A creepy old man in a pickup truck offered me a ride and called me sexy, but I was so mad I threatened to kick him in the balls if he didn't git! And when he drove off, he splattered my skirt with mud! See?
DOLLY: Oh, come here my precious little baby! Let me hug your precious neck!
(They embrace, and KAITLYN wails. The noise offstage of HARLEY and BROOKLYN arguing continues.)
DOLLY: Don't you know I had to walk to school and back every day four miles? I'm glad you didn't get in the truck with a bad man, but that language isn't proper, and you know it. Well, he sure deserved the threat, anyhow. Your Momma ran out of here in a big hurry, and I suppose it was for work or some such. I guess it just slipped her mind.
KAITLYN: The worst part was that I'm the only girl on the squad who doesn't have her own cell phone! I could have called if I had one.
DOLLY: Now, ever since we all saw that 20/20 on sexting, I can't say as I blame your parents for telling you no about a phone.
KAITLYN: But everybody else is textin.! Nobody has ever sent me a text in my whole entire life, and nobody ever will.
(She wails as if this were the worst thing that could ever happen to her, and finally, she hears the fight taking place upstairs.)
KAITLYN: Is Harley fighting that Yankee girl? I thought they were like besties!
DOLLY: I'm guessing that Miss Brooklyn will not be staying for Thanksgiving supper.
KAITLYN: It's not fair! Harley can drive, and she has a phone, and I can hear her cursing up a storm! Why isn't she grounded like I would be?
(She starts to cry again. BROOKLYN enters with a suitcase, and HARLEY follows her. Brooklyn turns to DOLLY and KAITLYN)
BROOKLYN: Later, ladies!
(The word “Ladies” sounds like an insult when she says it.)
BROOKLYN: It's been real!
(BROOKLYN heads for the front door, and HARLEY follows her.)
HARLEY (Screaming): Get back here! They don't even have Uber around here!
(HARLEY and BROOKLYN exit out the front door.)
KAITLYN: It's not fair! They can download ride apps and take revenge selfies and everything! Harley is so lucky!
DOLLY: Honey, thou shalt not covet. Now I want you to dry your eyes. You're crying over a great big nothing. I'm sure your momma will be sorry she got distracted and forgot your pickup time. And the walk didn’' tire you out too badly. The mud will come out of your skirt. And if that creepy old man swings by here, well, bad knee or not, your Meemaw will kick him in the balls, just to make you smile!
(KAITLYN laughs, astonished her grandmother said something so unladylike, but she quiets as GEENA enters being propped up at either elbow by HARLEY and BROOKLYN. GEENA looks like she is on the verge of collapse.)
DOLLY (Standing): What on Earth?
HARLEY: It’s Junior!
GEENA: I got to the hospital just before they had to put him under to operate. I held his hand and told him it was gonna be okay, but it’s not okay!
(She stifles a sob, and breaks away from HARLEY and BROOKLYN. Her posture straightens, and her face looks determined.)
GEENA: He needs clean clothes. The others are covered in blood. I need to get him a night shirt or some such. Harley, you and Brooklyn gather a big ol' t-shirt and your daddy's bathrobe. Then you two drive over to his place and get him some drawers, his shaving kit, and his toothbrush, I guess. Get him a shirt he likes and a pair of shorts for when they send him home.
(She starts to sob. HARLEY and BROOKLYN rush offstage together to start gathering the things GEENA has mentioned.)
GEENA: When he comes home? If he comes home! The doctor said he might have to amputate! He lost a lot of blood!
DOLLY: My God, my God! What happened?
GEENA: He was out four-wheeling with his buddies in the mud near Atchafalaya Creek deep in the bull rushes when they hit a rut, and that stupid ol' kit gun his half-wit uncle gave him was in his pocket, and it went off! The bullet went through his thigh, and it cut through an artery. Slim hit his head on a rock, and he got knocked unconscious. Scooter twisted his knee up pretty bad, but he limped out to the Interstate where he could finally get a signal to call 911.
(Enter JOE, still in his Confederate uniform, breathlessly.)
JOE: I got your text! Shouldn't we be at the hospital?
GEENA: Don't you dare go to the hospital now! Not after all you’ve done!
GEENA: I brought that beautiful boy into the world, and I bled all over that emergency room when I was in labor, and I'll be damned if the person who might near take him out of this world with his stupid obsession with war and guns goes there while I go pray for his life and for his leg!
JOE: His leg? What?
GEENA: You're so proud your Colonel DuPont got shot in the leg near Atchafalaya Creek? Well, history repeats itself around here every year, don't it? They're trying to save his leg, that leg that I pushed out of my body to bring into the world, and I’ll be damned if you go there, especially (GEENA gestures indicating JOE’s uniform) in that horrible memorial to getting shot in the leg, as if it were some kind of honor, to watch the doctors try to save it!
JOE: They might have to cut off his leg?
GEENA That's right, you monster! I am so mad at you, I can't look at you! You keep trying to grab some kind of power from that stupid battle, but there are battles enough for us here! And I will never forgive you for shooting off guns around here as if it weren't a deadly thing to do, right in front of my babies, and warping their minds with your love of a stupid old war!
(Enter HARLEY and BROOKLYN with the items that GEENA asked them to fetch.)
JOE: Honey, you can't blame me for this!
GEENA: Shut up! Shut up! I hate you right now! I hate you like I never hated anybody! You stay here and pray my baby pulls through surgery, and if he does, we can talk about whether I'm going to keep hating you for the rest of my life. (To DOLLY) Momma, please watch Kaitlyn and get her some supper. If you feel like feeding anybody else, well, that’s on you. (To BROOKLYN and HARLEY) Girls, come with me.
(Exit HARLEY, BROOKLYN and GEENA. JOE sits on the sofa and puts his head in his hands. DOLLY and KAITLYN stand and look at him.)
DOLLY: Folks always want to blame somebody for hardship, even when things just can't be helped. Don't you pay any mind.
JOE: No ma'am. She's right in her way. What have I been thinking?
KAITLYN: Daddy, Junior's going to be okay, right?
JOE: No. Ain't nobody here that's okay.
(Standing, he takes off his Confederate uniform jacket and holds it up to stare at it.)
JOE: I’ve always been so proud of this ol' Creole Rangers coat. I'd never sewn a stitch before, but I embroidered a patch with their insignia right here. What was I thinking? My boy was right today. It's gone. Ain't nobody going to get that back by pretending. Does anybody grow to be a bigger hero by pretending to be one once a year?
DOLLY: Geena loves you. She's just out of her mind with worry. She's wrong to blame you, Joe. You never hurt anybody with your reenactments! She's going to take back what she said. Wait and see.
JOE: It's like I've been in a loop.
KAITLYN: Do what, daddy?
JOE: It’s like ever since I was a boy, I felt like I was less than, you know? And I blamed that on this old war. I keep looping and looping around it, but I'm like a dog circling back to lick its own vomit. I kept making myself play-act losing to get to where I could feel some victory. But it never did work. This is my fault. The guns – my fault.
DOLLY: I'm telling you, my boy, you are taking too much on yourself. You didn't put that gun in his pocket! You didn't put the rut near the creek! Look at me – you didn't do anything wrong. This is just awful luck. God has a plan. God is in control.
JOE: No. I was in control, at least partial control.
DOLLY: Look at me, son! You need to stop this right now, or you will lose your mind. You did the best you knew how to do. You raised three lovely children. They love you. They respect you. I couldn't have asked for a better husband for my daughter. You have blessed me, too. Listen to me. This was an accident. Don't think any more about this loop of yours!
JOE: My boy got shot in his leg near the creek. He got caught in a rut. I was out marching around in this old costume as if it weren't no relic. I ain't never gonna escape this. I'm a man on the losing side forever, ain't I? And I cursed my boy by forcing him to memorize an account ledger of our losses! He might be losing a limb right now!
DOLLY: Don't you think this way, Joe! You're not making sense! My daughter loves you! I know it! You don't throw away twenty-seven years for one difficult day, even a day as bad as this one. Geena never loved any beau but you. She loves you now.
KAITLYN: Daddy, please stop crying! Momma loves you! Junior will be okay! I love you!
(JOE pulls out his mother-of-pearl encrusted revolvers he mentioned earlier in the play and holds them up to the light.)
JOE: I used to love these things. Looking at them now I'm remembering something I read a long time ago in high school – a thing like if you don't remember the past, you are doomed to repeat it. I forget who said that. But whoever it was, it wasn't a Southern man. The past gets repeated because we remember it around here. I should have forgotten more and lived more in this time for you, Kaitlyn.
DOLLY: Why don’t you give those two antiques to me, Joe? I’ll put them in that glass case of the family heirlooms.
(DOLLY tries to reach for them, but JOE steps back, a slightly wild look in his eye.)
JOE: No ma’am.
DOLLY: Come on, now, Joe, you’re fixin’ to frighten me!
(DOLLY lunges forward, and in doing so, she startles JOE, who accidentally pulls the trigger. A loud shot occurs. KAITLYN and DOLLY scream.)
JOE (Distractedly): Don’t worry, girls. These are reenactment pistols. They just have blanks in them.
(JOE gasps and falls to his knees and sobs.)
JOE: My God! All this time, I been shooting shadows at shadows! I’m no man this way! God! Blanks! My poor boy! So young!
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