The Bluegrass of God

CHARACTERS: ALITA, a small and deformed and living in an abandoned barn. About twenty or so. Wears a simple dress made from gunny sacks.

PAULA, a social worker, expectant mother, thirties.

SETTING: The old abandoned barn in the middle of nowhere. A storm is overhead, the light dim at best. A nest downstage left, made of rags, old rugs, old blankets that should have been burned or tossed. Time is now.

[ Lights up on Paula prodding at the sleeping Alita. Sound of wind heard, lonely and as if through trees not seen on stage, trees just outside unseen walls. Alita stirs sluggishly and Paula draws back, her big purse hanging from her shoulder. Paula wears slacks and a loose pretty yellow blouse under a light sweater. ]

PAULA

Alita. You can’t stay here. The owners are very upset. I can get you into a shelter but you have to come with me now, they’re holding it just for a few hours, it was the best I could do, what, with all the cuts and budget trimming.

[ Alita sits up, wearing a half mask over her face. Her hair is wild and snarled and filthy. ]

Come on now, you can’t stay here.

ALITA

Shhh. Listen. It’s my favorite sound in the world.

[ Alita turns her face upward, smiling at the sound of the wind. ]

The bluegrass of God.

PAULA

I have so much to do today. I am doing this as a favor to you…

ALITA

What about tomorrow? Where will I sleep tomorrow? That’s God’s fiddle in them trees. I was dreaming. Dreaming about hot water.

PAULA

You can take a shower at the shelter. We’ve been over this.

ALITA

Miss Paula– I like it here.

PAULA

That’s too bad.

ALITA

Nobody looks at me here, nobody expects me to take off my mask. My dad, he told me to wear it always, that my face had been slapped by the Devil, that was right before he tried to cut off my head with that chainsaw.

PAULA

Nobody at the shelter will make you take your mask off. I explained about it, it’s all been explained.

ALITA

You have to get home and make dinner.

PAULA

Yes, I do. You like riding in my car. You like to change the CD’s. I got some new ones, ones with rain and the ocean on them.

ALITA

Oh! But…I’m tired, Miss Paula. I’m real tired. And…and I watch the mice at night. The owls come in through the roof. There’s this big ole gray cat that comes around now and then, he’s not friendly. He scratched me–

[ Shows arm to Paula, who nods with complete unconcern. Alita slowly pulls her arm back into her body. ]

You’re going to be a horrible mother.

PAULA

Why would you say that? That’s mean. You’ve been very mean lately.

ALITA

Cause you don’t care. That guy just wants to get the freak out of his old nasty barn. You just want to get home to your nasty old husband. The one who cheated on you with that checker at…

PAULA

You’re not a freak, don’t say that. Of course I want you out of this barn. It’s falling down, they’re going to tear it down as soon as you leave. They can’t do that with you in here, now can they? You don’t belong here. And who told you those things about me? They’re not even true.

ALITA

They are so. The social worker that smells like vanilla and beer told me.

PAULA

Vanilla and beer? Someone is drinking…oh my God, I told that to him in strict confidence. That sonofabitch.

[ Stops herself, turns away from Alita who rises slowly, adjusting her clothes, pushing back her hair, fixing her mask more firmly in place. ]

I am sorry Mr. Ken was so unprofessional. But you seem to like him and actually listen so…but

PAULA

okay, that won’t happen again, he won’t be assigned to you anymore, not if I have anything to say and I do. Now get your things and let’s go. We can get you a hamburger.

ALITA

No no no, Mr. Ken said you kicked out the nasty husband. How can I be an example if I put up with that shit, it’s what Mr. Ken said you said. How can I help anyone if I’m such a weak, stupid, female…

PAULA

You two must have had quite a conversation.

ALITA

Oh sure. He doesn’t like you. He was happy. Happy you were so sad. That’s a kind of music, too, being happy when others are sad, that’s the real devil’s music. Are you sad?

PAULA

This is not the time or place and that is not an appropriate question.

ALITA

I should be sad. But I got that wind out there for company. I got owls at night sometimes. You’re sad all the time. I got this face and my leg don’t work, it don’t bend right. I ain’t going to that shelter. Last time that old man climbed on top of me and whispered he wanted to play pig. I kicked him and hid in the bathroom. Nobody wants to play pig here.

PAULA

I am sorry about all that, there’s just no money anymore, nobody remembers others are suffering worse than they are, charity is dead. Charity is fucking dead.

[ Silence. Paula moves away, rubs at her face. ]

I didn’t mean to swear. Why didn’t you tell me this? Is that why you won’t go back? I can take you to a different shelter or…

ALITA

It’s part of it. But. He won’t be there. He died, he died doing some heroin I heard, or doing a heron, I didn’t quite catch it all. Everybody talks real soft around me at the shelters, like this face makes me deaf. Like this leg doesn’t let me hear all the whispers. Psss psssss psssss. Like little birds in a nest, that psss psss psss all around me. You’re sad. And Ken said you was going to have another baby.

PAULA

Alita. That is none of your business.

ALITA

You get to know everything about me.

PAULA

That is my job. It’s what they pay me the big pennies for.

ALITA

I think dishwashers make more than you.

PAULA

I think they do, too. But. That’s neither here nor there. Now get your stuff, like I asked. Mr. Bendal, the OWNER, wants to call the cops. We don’t need the cops here, do we? You know you can’t stay here. My patience is about gone.

ALITA

In the shelter, you can’t hear this wind. It’s been trying to rain for days now, and it’s just wind, just this wind and a few drops now and then. Can’t you…can’t you drop me off on the side of the road, like, by some trees? I don’t mind getting rained on. Or being cold. It’s not winter.

PAULA

No. I am not dropping you off by the side of the road!! What are you, an unwanted puppy? You’re a human being! You deserve better.

[ Stops, takes a breath. Alita moves to the edge of the stage, listening intently. ]

You need a bath. You need some hot food. When was the last time you ate anything that didn’t come out of a garbage can?

ALITA

I stole a candy bar.

PAULA

Yes, that’s why I’m here, too. You can’t go in that store anymore, they won’t put up with stealing. You can’t just take things. You can’t just take things that aren’t yours, you have to pay for the candy bars. You have to pay.

ALITA

Like he paid, your nasty husband? Mr. Ken said it’s because you’re such a bitch. Like that’s a bad thing. I was hungry and it was  on sale, I took a sale candy bar, a Baby Ruth. Nobody ever eats them. They were three for a dollar. I only took one.

PAULA

Whatever that Ken said to you, you need to stop repeating. And taking just one is taking one too many. I would have bought you one. And we wouldn’t be in this trouble. You steal all the time. It’s not just candy bars. If you want to get placed in a home, you have to stop stealing.

ALITA

This is my home. That guy’s just gonna tear all this down, right? Well…can’t he just leave it alone? What’s he gonna put here?

PAULA

I am really trying to be patient here. I am really trying.

ALITA

I know. But. But I want to stay here.

PAULA

Well, you can’t.

ALITA

But it’s safe here.

PAULA

Uh…no, it’s not. Anyone could walk in here and really hurt you. You could fall down and break something and no one would know about it until it was too late. You could get sick, you’re always getting that stomach rot, as you call it, cause you eat out of the garbage. You eat bad food and you get sick, do you want to get one of those attacks here? In the middle of nowhere?

ALITA

Well…no, but…

PAULA

[ With triumph, going to Alita, about to take her arm. Alita does not allow this at all. ]

Well nothing. We are out of here. What? Is something wrong with your arm?

[ Alita limps away a few steps. Paula watches her, rather like a scientist would study a lab rat. ]

Someone hurt you? Did you fall down? I’ll have to put it in my report, might as well be accurate.

ALITA

You don’t care. I don’t want your fingers on me, it’s…it’s horrible.

PAULA

[ Nods. ]

Fine. That’s okay. And you think I don’t care? Would I be here if I didn’t? I would have let Mr. Bendal call the cops if I didn’t care. . I would have let the cops handle you. They would have kicked you out of here, and you’d be out in the storm tonight, the storm they keep predicting but never comes, it just goes around to the south or north, it never hits here.

ALITA

So. Let this guy call the cops. Go home. Go make dinner. Wait…wait a minute–

PAULA

Get your stuff. Please, Alita, stop making this so hard.

ALITA

Who are you making dinner for? Who are you rushing home to make dinner for??!!

[ Laughs, points at Paula. ]

It’s the nasty husband, you took him back, you’re…

PAULA

[ Rather grim, not really looking at Alita. ]

Again. None of your business. And it’s my sister. My sister is in town. Okay? Please get your backpack…where is your backpack?

ALITA

No, your face got all weird.

PAULA

It did not. I am not…

ALITA

You are, you’re lying.

[ Both stare at each other, something of a stand off. ]

It’s okay. I lie all the time. I took two candy bars. And some gum.

PAULA

I can get on my cell and call the police.

ALITA

Maybe. Maybe you should. I’m not going. This is my home. It smells good here. And nobody stares at me or goes psss psss psss. God plays his bluegrass here. I can’t hear it nowhere else. I can’t hear it.

PAULA

I really don’t give a shit anymore. I have plans. I don’t have time for this. I got you a warm bed and a warm meal. I moved heaven and earth to do it. That place is full up right now, full up until God blows that trumpet and it’s all over except for the crying. Got me?? You’re stealing, you hit that old lady, oh yes, I know all about that, you are trespassing on private property and somehow I have to fix all that, I have to fix it, cause God forbid you take any responsibility for your actions.

ALITA

She had it coming. She told me my face was like this on purpose, that it was part of a plan. So I smacked her. And her teeth flew out of her mouth, it was awesome. Just like in a movie.  I didn’t know I could hit so hard. I ran, I hid.

PAULA

It’s assault. And she didn’t have it coming. I can’t run interference anymore. There can’t be a next time. You can’t take up residence on private property.

ALITA

I have nowhere to go. I have nothing. Only pretty people matter, I know that. I know it from the bottom of my heart. Just tell em I wasn’t here and go make smoochies with your nasty husband. But you’re getting back something broken, something that’s been in the garbage.

PAULA

I don’t even know where to start with all that crap.

[ Silence. Alita looks upward. ]

Get your backpack. Make sure you gather all your little things…

ALITA

I buried all my things. In my backpack. I buried my past. It was nice. I said a little prayer and I think God heard me cause I found this place and the wind, it blows through like fiddle music, and it don’t care, it don’t care that I’ve been slapped by the Devil. So you see, Miss Paula…I can’t go with you. My past is buried nearby and it might, it might just burst out of the ground like a rocket. Just like a rocket.

PAULA

You buried your past? You had pictures of your mother, you had a doll you…

ALITA

Yep. I dug a hole with this spoon I found.

PAULA

But. But you loved that backpack. You knew exactly what was in it, to the last scrap of paper.

ALITA

It was time, that bluegrass wind said. I finally gave in. Like you. You’re going home to your nasty husband, it’s written on your lying face. It’s okay. You once told me you were an only child. I remember things.

[ Taps temple and smiles widely. Paula backs off, crosses arms over chest. ]

I like you better now. Cause you’re just like me. A little ugly inside, a little dirty and used and smelly. Just go home. What a word. Home. I finally…it’s here, home is here, in this barn. I finally get it. They’re going to have to shoot me. With the cop guns. Then I’ll be a ghost. I see em all the time. I like em. They don’t want to play pig. They don’t want anything.

PAULA

Fine.

[ Reaches into her purse, pulls out her cell phone, calls the police. She does this deliberately, putting on a show for Alita. Makes appropriate pauses and such. ]

Hi, this is Paula Parker, I need to report a trespasser. Yes. Ummm-huh. Alita Smack, that’s the only name I have for her. She’s living in an old barn out on Boat Landing Road, I think the number here is 2785 Boat Landing Road. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. I’ve tried talking with her, she’s a client of mine but she’s not listening and oh– she’s getting a little belligerent. She might do with a seven day in psych.

PAULA

[ Alita looks horrified. Shakes head. But Paula continues, smug now. ]

Oh sure, I’ll stay until you get here. I don’t think she’ll hurt me. Sure. You bet. Great. See you in a little bit.

[ Paula ends the call. Silence. Then the sound of wind heard. ]

I warned you. I keep my promises.

ALITA

I thought they cut the budgets.

[ Presses this home. ]

I thought there was no money left for charity and poor people and nutcases. Who’s paying for the seven day? Who’s got the dough to pay for that? They don’t keep me more than a night. If that. I’m not crazy, I don’t have robots in my head or ants crawling out of my bellybutton.

PAULA

Fine– you don’t want to go and get probed and prodded,  then you get in my car and we go to the shelter. And I will call back the cops and tell them not to come. They said it would be a while. They got real emergencies.

ALITA

I hope your baby doesn’t need you to be nice. Or understand. I hope it comes out all baked and frosted.

PAULA

And I hope you.

[ Stops, turns away at once. Breathing deeply. ]

ALITA

Yeah. I know.

PAULA

I don’t need this. You were supposed to hop in my car, I’d get you a burger, I’d drop you off and it would be over. I could go home and…and everything would be good. But oh no, not you. You have to set up shop in this goddamned rickety barn. You have to dig in your heels. Today. Today!! I have worked too hard to put my life back together to have it ruined again because I couldn’t get home by four. He said if you are not there by four, I am gone. Don’t you understand, Alita? God damn it.

ALITA

Life really sucks. It really sucks.

PAULA

The police are coming. I have to go. I can just make it if I leave now.

ALITA

Digging through garbage gets to be a habit. You could sit here with me.

[ Sits. Curls up in her nest. ]

And listen to that bluegrass wind.

PAULA

I screwed up. It wasn’t him. It was me. I love him.

[ Sighs, takes out cell phone. Alita does not watch this or acknowledge Paula at all. ]

You’ll be safe in the shelter. And you can get placed in a home. I’ll make sure of it. I’ll do my best. It’s just the wind, it’s not some special kind, it’s just the wind.

ALITA

Better call. Tell him you’re on your way. And. And the cops. They’ll have to shoot me. I’m not going.

PAULA

No, they’ll drag you out of here in restraints.

ALITA

No. Boom boom.

PAULA

Restraints. No matter what, you are leaving. There is no winning here for you.

ALITA

We’ll see. No winning for you, either. Ha ha.

PAULA

I have to go. Good luck. I’ll do what I can with the police later– I can’t stay here and deal with this anymore. You are on your own.

[ About to exit when Alita speaks up. ]

ALITA

Yep. I hope they shoot me. I’d rather be shot than restrained. Make him  a milkshake. I like milkshakes.

[ Paula exits. Alita pulls a blanket over herself. ]

I like milkshakes. They’re nice.

[ Sound of the wind, perhaps sound of thunder. Alita waits for the police as the lights fade to black. End of play. ]


Ann is a native Oregonian who’s traveled to China, Europe and Honduras. Oregon Gothic, a collection of her short stories published by Kensington Gore, came out in 2015.  City Theatre, Miami,  awarded her play, the Mating Season of Flying Monkeys, for Short Playwriting Finalist, 2015.  The Mating Season of Flying Monkeys can also be found in 2017’s Winter edition of the Santa Ana River Review. Her short plays, The Next Mrs. Jacob Anderson and The Care and Feeding of Baby Birds, are included in the volumes, Ten Ten-Minute Plays, Volumes II and III. My play, Traces of Memory, has been made into several short films by now. Ann also hold a BA in Theatre, from Eastern Oregon University and an MFA from UNLV in Playwriting. Her Twitter handle is A.R.W. @malheurwoman

 

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