Act 1, Scene 1
Setting: A dingy jail cell side-by-side with another cell already filled with one inmate.
DOTTIE PERKINS, a tough-looking, stocky, large-breasted correctional officer drags FRANKIE HART, an inmate, into an empty cell center-stage. Prisoner JOHNNY RUEBENS is already located in an adjoining cell, though the prisoners can’t see each other because a wall separates them—they speak through the cells. FRANKIE is resisting getting tossed in the cell.
DOTTIE: (Tossing FRANKIE into the empty cell) Here you go Frankie. Back again none too soon. Couldn’t resist coming back could you? Is it my smile? Or my size that keeps you coming back to jail? (Laughs)
FRANKIE: (Crashing into the cell and settles as it closes) I tell you what Dottie, you gotta smile only a mother could love. Your size is a different story. (Looks over her breasts seductively)
DOTTIE: (Looks over her shoulder as she turns away) That’s Miss Perkins to you Frankie Hart. (Laughs) Quick-fix Frankie. I knew you’d be back. (Exits stage left)
FRANKIE:(Starts to settle in his cell, make his bed to lie in…) Dumb broad. One of these days if I even get out of this mess… (Cocks his head to listen for someone on the other side of the cell wall) Psst! Hey, anyone over there?
JOHNNY RUEBENS, a fellow prisoner lounged back in his bed staring up at the sky smoking a cigarette and blowing smoke rings.
JOHNNY:Yeah Frankie, it’s your boy, Johnny. Johnny Ruebens from East Terrace. (Gets up off his bunk and walks to the cell bars) What brings you back so soon?
FRANKIE: Aw Johnny. Johnny…Johnny…When I get outta this cell and outta this mess. I’m gonna get back at every one of those bozos they call “correctional officers.” Corrections my ass. Just a bunch of goddamn overpaid babysitters if you ask me. Hey Johnny, got another smoke?
JOHNNY: Sure thing Frankie (Hands Frankie a lit cigarette though the cell bars) Wow, Quick-fix Frankie, didn’t you just get out the other day? What brings you back so soon, And please don’t say that it’s Double-D-Dottie.
FRANKIE: (Inhales his cigarette and deeply exhales) Aw man Johnny, Johnny. They got me for homicide, first-degree, second-charge this week, third-strike and I’m out Johnny. This is no joke. This is serious. This is a mistake…a mistake you hear me?! (Shouts loud enough so that Miss Perkins can hear him)
JOHNNY: Calm down Frankie. Now quiet. I believe you Frankie. But yelling ain’t gonna make no bit of difference.
FRANKIE: Aw Johnny, you’re right It’s just this bum charge they got on me. Homicide! Can you believe it? Some eighty-year-old woman knocks her own self and I get stuck with the charge. Damn cops don’t know the truth if it bit them on their ass. (Yells loud enough so that Dottie can hear)
DOTTIE: (Enters stage left) Quiet down in there you. From what I hear you wouldn’t know the truth if it bit your ass either! (Rattles her baton on the cell bars) An eighty-year-old grandmother all alone! How could you? Oh, you’re gonna fry for this one. Three-strikes Frankie and you’re out. No sunshine for where you’re headed. (Exit stage left)
JOHNNY: Whoa Frankie. Sounds pretty serious. (Pauses) So did you do it?
FRANKIE: What kind of question is that? Of course I didn’t do it. She did it herself the ol’ broad. I knew I shoulda’ stayed with her just a little longer.
JOHNNY: Whadya mean, “a little longer?”
FRANKIE: (Pauses. Considers telling his story, then inhales) It’s like this… (Lights dim and shine only on Johnny’s face as he begins to tell his story. Top stage-right second level, ETTA MARQUIS begins rocking in her chair in an even continuous pace. Lights shine on her as she looks out into the distance and onto the audience)
FRANKIE: I was going through the lower parish area, just checking out abandoned houses, lookin’ for survivors, aw just looking for anything really. And I come upon a little ol’ Granny, jus’ rocking in her chair all by herself.
ETTA: (Speaking to the audience) Don’t need to be quiet now. I heard you when you opened the door.
FRANKIE: (Speaking to JOHNNY) She was just rocking back and forth, 1ike she was watching television or looking out the window onto the street. Her room was real neat with those doilies and whatchamacallits everywhere. I swear to God I thought the place was empty.
ETTA: Look here boy. I got things to do so just take what you want and get out of here and let me be.
FRANKIE: (Still speaking to JOHNNY) I wasn’t gonna hurt her or nothin’, jus’ look around a little, and be gone.
ETTA: You’re wastin’ your time boy. Everybody’s done gone but me and there’s nothing here worth taking. Go on now.
FRANKIE: I saw she had a pill bottle on the side table with an envelope against it. Ol’ dame was about to do herself in with some straight reds. Those monsters’ll kill a goddamn horse!
ETTA: (Pointing a finger at the audience) Mind yourself now. This is my house and I won’t hear the Lord’s name taken in vain. You hear me boy? Watch your tongue. (Snickers) You probably going to hell anyway, but I don’t wanna hear that kind of talk. (Straightens her apron) And don’t go worryin’ about what’s wrong with me. I’ll be fine once you’re gone.
FRANKIE: But I couldn’t just leave her like that all alone so I tries to talk her outta killin’ herself or get her calling for some family.
ETTA: Don’t go lyin’ like that. I’m too old and I’ve heard all the stories from people a lot better at it than you. You a thief boy and you come thievin’ for something.
FRANKIE: So she tossed me her wedding ring, just like that, and told me to take it.
ETTA: (Gasps. Eyes wide. And holds her hand up to the audience, fingers spread) The ring’s all that I got left. I’ve had it on for forty-three years. Forty-three years of memories with Marion and you go and snatch ‘em like that. Don’t matter anyhow. You don’t take nothin’ to heaven with but your soul anyway. Which is more than what I can say for you, young man.
FRANKIE: I got to reading her letter and Grandma spelled it out all right there.
ETTA: “I am tired of being alone and I feel like a stranger on this earth. This is the last time I’ll cry. By Jesus this is the last time.”
FRANKIE: And while she’s crying there right in front of me I try and get her to talk some—you know, let it all out.
ETTA: Day after the storm hit my son asks me if I wanted to go, but I said that this was my home and I wasn’t leavin’. Marion Junior, that’s my son, he threatened to carry me down the stairs, but Jeanette, that’s his wife, she told him to just leave me alone, She said I was old and tough enough to do what I wanted. Took the children and drove off on Monday.
FRANKIE: And they left her just like that. Gone and drove up to Baton Rouge without her, sayin’ that they was comin’ back. Poor thing. That’s when I noticed her .38 caliber pistol beside her lap, cocked and ready to go.
(Lights dim on ETTA, still rocking)
DOTTlE: (Enter stage left with a police baton) Is that the murder weapon you’re talking about Frankie? Thirty-eight caliber sure-shot pistol, straight in the ol’ lady’s chest. And what’s this about a suicide letter? Police never found none such letter lying around. You’re a cold piece of work Frankie Hart. (Exits stage left)
JOHNNY: Don’t listen to her Frankie. I believe ya.
FRANKIE: Because it’s the truth is what I’m tellin’ you The truth, you hear that? (Shouts loud enough for DOTTlE to hear. Inhales cigarette deeply)
(Lights brighten on ETTA, still rocking)
ETTA: The truth? I’ll tell you some truths young man. You work all those years raisin’ kids and taking care of everything. Bought this home with Marion Senior to raise a family. And then they go off leavin’ you and promisin’ to come back. You wanna know the truth boy? The truth is a lie told backwards inside-and out. Thank about it. (Nods her head and continues rocking)
(Lights dim out over JOHNNY. Lights shine on ETTA and FRANKIE only)
FRANKIE: So I thought about it and I realized just how much the same Granny and me were. Why bother to keep goin’ if your life ain’t nothin’ but a big, black sink hole that’s suckin’ you under all the time like some undertow out there in the Gulf? I’m scrapping around looking for anything that I can find worth living for and here Grans is just giving up while grabbing onto the edges with her goddamn finger nails to keep from fallin’ in.
ETTA: Didn’t I already tell you once boy, I told you a hundred times. You keep the Lord’s name out of this. He’s got nothin’ to do with you pointing guns at old ladies in their own home.
(Lights briefly shine upon JOHNNY)
JOHNNY: You had a gun on her?
FRANKIE: No man, listen to me: Grans had her own gun, same as mine. Thirty-eight caliber.
DOTTTIE: (Enters stage left) Is that the story you’re spinning Frankie?
FRANKIE: (Appalled) You calling me a liar? I tell you there was a note, a letter to her children—didn’t the cops find it? A letter, some pain killers and a gun. I knew I shoulda’ talked her out of it. She was in so much pain after I left her.
ETTA: (Still rocking in her chair) Ain’t about somebody else’s pain boy, it’s about your own. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. It’s about being alone with everythin’ behind you and nothin’ in front. You the one who got it wrong. My family left me but you still gotta chance, to make somethin’ of yourself.
FRANKIE: (Lights go out over JOHNNY, DOTTIE and dim over ETTA, who continues rocking) Make something of myself? (Speaks to audience/looks at audience) It’s so bad now, so bad. I could tell you what I just did over in Mobile to get some money but it don’t matter what I did. Not anymore. I like your style, Gran, but there’s a problem. Wouldn’t work your way, the way you got it planned right now. Goin’ out like that wouldn’t make your kin hurt the way they need to hurt for leavin’ you like this. They figure you’re old and killin’ yourself was the natural thing to do. That’s what old people do, you know? Like they don’t want to be a burden. Leaves the family with a clear conscience, like they really didn’t have nothin’ to do with it. How would they even feel the same pain that you’re feeling right now if you go and just kill yourself like this? Where’s the guilt? Where’s the sorrow? I know a way that’ll show ‘em Grans. A way that’ll have them always remembering how they left you like this.
ETTA: (Lights shine upon her as she is rocking still) Let me help you, boy. We both got pain and we both need someone to care. We can show ‘em together. Let me help you.
FRANKIE: (Still looking at audience as if speaking though the audience to ETTA) Help me? Grans you can’t even help yourself. You got the right idea about makin’ ‘em hurt, but you just ain’t gone far enough. Let me help you…
(Gunshot blast heard as ETTA’S eyes widen at being shot, and stops rocking)
(Lights go out over ETTA and come on upon FRANKIE, JOHNNY and DOTTIE. FRANKIE speaks to JOHNNY)
FRANKIE: And that’s when it happened—she did it. I knew that I should’a stopped her. I got scared, took the ring, and now I’m here. But I didn’t kill her.
DOTTIE: Great story Frankie. But that’s not the way the police are telling it. (Exits stage left)
FRANKIE: I swear to God Johnny. You think I’d make up a story like that, just so the ol’ Grans will always be remembered? Just so her family feels more pain?
JOHNNY: (Nodding and grinning slyly) I believe your story Frankie I believe you.
FRANKIE: Good because how could I help the ol’ lady if I couldn’t even help myself? If the truth is a lie told backwards and inside-and-out, then I must be a liar.
(End of scene. Lights go out)