Marsha Norman: EIE (Ni-ENFj) [Harmonizing subtype]
Characters in 'night, Mother --
Thelma ('MAMA'): ESE or SEE or EIE
- from Ďnight, Mother [A play by Marsha Norman (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1983)]; back cover: ďIt gleams with wisdom, reeks of observed and comprehended reality. It is something to feel, think and talk about. It will force you to re-examine new and old beliefs, fresh and stale convictions. It will relentlessly confront you with your own and other peopleís humanity; it will do what only the profoundest things Ė philosophy, religion and art Ė can do for human beings, which may not be much but is all there is.
ďThe play combines the lucent objectivity of a case history with the sublime subjectivity of language, style, art; it does not wrest forced, factitious tears from you, and it scrupulously, fastidiously refrains from telling you what to think.Ē
--John Simon, New York
ďIf there is such a thing as a benign explosion, this play is it: it detonates with startling quietness, showering us with truth, compassion and uncompromising honesty . . . Marsha Norman pours her sensibility into the domesticated apocalypses that make up most lives and she thereby restores to them the fullness of humanity and the power of art . . . Her play is not a tract for or against suicide; itís an unblinking look at human extremity. This is writing that comes from deep inside, that hasnít hedged its bets or faked its effects.Ē --Jack Kroll, Newsweek
- front book flap: ďIn Ďnight, Mother the most prominent clock on the wall (the set has three) is a spidery starburst that silently ticks down to the final, terror-stricken moments in Marsha Normanís devastating play, which is told in just under 90 minutes. What happens within that short passage of time is a drama of such compact eloquence that itís impossible not to be drawn into the center of the playís pain and defeat. Marsha Norman is writing here about a young woman who Ďlooks out at the world and sees: Not Fair.í Disappointed in herself, in the woman she has become, she methodically plans her suicide. And achieves it.Ē
--The Boston Globe
ďIt is a moment that must happen; yet we continue to believe that it wonít, as in the highest tragedy. Ďnight, Mother proceeds with the relentless force of a juggernaut, displaying not a single moment of artifice or contrivance or self-consciousness. In the absolute truthfulness of her treatment and dialogue, in the unforced poetry of her modern speech, and in her capacity to create major climaxes out of petty quotidian affairs, Miss Norman has followed the path of Chekhov, who believed that the great stakes of modern drama must emerge from under the trivial course of the daily routine.
ďNothing reinforced oneís faith in the power and importance of the theater more than the emergence of an authentic universal playwright, one who speaks to the concerns and experiences of all humankind . . .Ē
--Robert Brustein, The New Republic
- from ĎNIGHT, MOTHER [A play by Marsha Norman (Characters); p. 2: As a rule, Jessie doesnít feel much like talking. Other people have rarely found her quirky sense of humor amusing. She has a peaceful energy on this night, a sense of purpose, but is clearly aware of the time passing moment by moment. Oddly enough, Jessie has never been as communicative or as enjoyable as she is on this evening, but we must know she has not always been this way. There is a familiarity between these two women that comes from having lived together for a long time. There is a shorthand to the talk and a sense of routine comfort in the way they relate to each other physically. Naturally, there are also routine aggravations.
THELMA CATES, ďMAMA,Ē is Jessieís mother in her late fifties or early sixties. She has begun to feel her age and so takes it easy when she can, or when it serves her purpose to let someone help her. But she speaks quickly and enjoys talking. She believes that things are what she says they are. Her sturdiness is more a mental quality than a physical one, finally. She is chatty and nosy, and this is her house.
- p. 4: There will be no intermission.
- pp. 9-12 Ė MAMA: What do you want the gun for, Jess?
JESSIE (Not returning this time. Opening the ladder in the hall): Protection. (She steadies the ladder as MAMA talks)
MAMA: You take the TV way too serious, hon. Iíve never seen a criminal in my life. This is way too far to come for whatís out here to steal. Never seen a one.
JESSIE (Taking her first step up): Except for Ricky.
MAMA: Ricky is mixed up. Thatís not a crime.
JESSIE: Get your hands washed. Iíll be right back. And get Ďem real dry. You dry your hands till I get back or itís no go, all right?
MAMA: I thought Dawson told you not to go up those stairs.
JESSIE (Going up): He did.
MAMA: I donít like the idea of a gun, Jess.
JESSIE (Calling down from the attic): Which shoebox, do you remember?
JESSIE: The box was black?
MAMA: The shoes were black.
JESSIE: That doesnít help much, Mother.
MAMA: Iím not trying to help, sugar. (No answer) We donít have anything anybodyíd want, Jessie. I mean, I donít even want what we got, Jessie.
JESSIE: Neither do I. Wash your hands. (MAMA gets up and crosses to stand under the ladder)
MAMA: You come down from there before you have a fit. I canít come up and get you, you know.
JESSIE: I know.
MAMA: Weíll just hand it over to them when they come, howís that? Whatever they want, the criminals.
JESSIE: Thatís a good idea, Mama.
MAMA: Ricky will grow out of this and be a real fine boy, Jess. But I have to tell you, I wouldnít want Ricky to know we had a gun in the house.
JESSIE: Here it is. I found it.
MAMA: Itís just something Rickyís going through. Maybe heís in with some bad people. He just needs some time, sugar. Heíll get back in school or get a job or one day youíll get a call and heíll say heís sorry for all the trouble heís caused and invite you out for supper someplace dress-up.
JESSIE (Coming back down the steps): Donít worry. Itís not for him, itís for me.
MAMA: I didnít think you would shoot your own boy, Jessie. I know youíve felt like it, well, weíve all felt like shooting somebody, but we donít do it. I just donít think we need . . .
JESSIE (Interrupting): Your hands arenít washed. Do you want a manicure or not?
MAMA: Yes, I do, but . . .
JESSIE (Crossing to the chair): Then wash your hands and donít talk to me any more about Ricky. Those two rings he took were the last valuable things I had, so now heís started in on other people, door to door. I hope they put him away sometime. Iíd turn him in myself if I knew where he was.
MAMA: You donít mean that.
JESSIE: Every word. Wash your hands and thatís the last time Iím telling you.
- pp. 17-18 Ė (MAMA goes directly to the telephone and starts to dial, but JESSIE is fast, coming up behind her and taking the receiver out of her hand, putting it back down)
JESSIE (Firm and quiet): I said no. This is private. Dawson is not invited.
MAMA: Just me.
JESSIE: I donít want anybody else over here. Just you and me. If Dawson comes over, itíll make me feel stupid for not doing it ten years ago.
MAMA: I think we better call the doctor. Or how about the ambulance. You like that one driver, I know. Whatís his name, Timmy? Get you somebody to talk to.
JESSIE (Going back to her chair): Iím through talking, Mama. Youíre it. No more.
MAMA: Weíre just going to sit around like every other night in the world and then youíre going to kill yourself? (JESSIE doesnít answer) Youíll miss. (Again there is no response) Youíll just wind up a vegetable. How would you like that? Shoot your ear off? You know what the doctor said about getting excited. Youíll cock the pistol and have a fit.
JESSIE: I think I can kill myself, Mama.
MAMA: Youíre not going to kill yourself, Jessie. Youíre not even upset! (JESSIE smiles, or laughs quietly, and MAMA tries a different approach) People donít really kill themselves, Jessie. No, mam, doesnít make sense, unless youíre retarded or deranged, and youíre as normal as they come, Jessie, for the most part. Weíre all afraid to die.
JESSIE: Iím not, Mama. Iím cold all the time, anyway.
MAMA: Thatís ridiculous.
JESSIE: Itís exactly what I want. Itís dark and quiet.
MAMA: So is the back yard, Jessie! Close your eyes. Stuff cotton in your ears. Take a nap! Itís quiet in your room. Iíll leave the TV off all night.
JESSIE: So quiet I donít know itís quiet. So nobody can get me.
MAMA: You donít know what dead is like. It might not be quiet at all. What if itís like an alarm clock and you canít wake up so you canít shut it off. Ever.
JESSIE: Dead is everybody and everything I ever knew, gone. Dead is dead quiet.
MAMA: Itís a sin. Youíll go to hell.
MAMA: You will!
- pp. 22-25 Ė MAMA: If youíre mad about doing the wash, we can get Loretta to do it.
JESSIE: Oh now, that might be worth staying to see.
MAMA: Sheíd never in her life, would she?
MAMA: Whatís the matter with her?
JESSIE: She thinks sheís better than we are. Sheís not.
MAMA: Maybe if she didnít wear that yellow all the time.
JESSIE: The washer repair number is on a little card taped to the side of the machine.
MAMA: Loretta doesnít ever have to come over here again. Dawson can just leave her at home when he comes. And we donít ever have to see Dawson either if he bothers you. Does he bother you?
JESSIE: Sure he does. Be sure you clean out the lint tray every time you use the dryer. But donít ever put your house shoes in, itíll melt the soles.
MAMA: What does Dawson do, that bothers you?
JESSIE: He just calls me Jess like he knows who heís talking to. Heís always wondering what I do all day. I mean, I wonder that myself, but itís my day, so itís mine to wonder about, not his.
MAMA: Family is just accident, Jessie. Itís nothing personal, hon. They donít mean to get on your nerves. They donít even mean to be your family, they just are.
JESSIE: They know too much.
MAMA: About what?
JESSIE: They know things about you, and they learned it before you had a chance to say whether you wanted them to know it or not. They were there when it happened and it donít belong to them, it belongs to you, only they got it.
- pp. 27-29 Ė MAMA: You donít like it here.
JESSIE (Smiling): Exactly.
MAMA: I meant here in my house.
JESSIE: I know you did.
MAMA: You never should have moved back in here with me. If youíd kept your little house or found another place when Cecil left you, youíd have made some new friends at least. Had a life to lead. Had your own things around you. Give Ricky a place to come see you. You never shouldíve come here.
MAMA: But I didnít force you, did I?
JESSIE: If it was a mistake, we made it together. You took me in. I appreciate that.
MAMA: You didnít have any business being by yourself right then, but I can see how you might want a place of your own. A grown woman should . . .
JESSIE: Mama . . . Iím just not having a very good time and I donít have any reason to think itíll get anything but worse. Iím tired. Iím hurt. Iím sad. I feel used.
MAMA: Tired of what?
JESSIE: It all.
MAMA: What does that mean?
JESSIE: I canít say it any better.
MAMA: Well, youíll have to say it better because Iím not letting you alone till you do. What were those other things? Hurt . . . (Before JESSIE can answer) You had this all ready to say to me, didnít you? Did you write this down? How long have you been thinking about this?
JESSIE: Off and on, ten years. On all the time, since Christmas.
MAMA: What happened at Christmas?
MAMA: So why Christmas?
JESSIE: Thatís it. On the nose.
(A pause, MAMA knows exactly what JESSIE means. She was there, too, after all.)
- pp. 30-36 Ė JESSIE: I read the paper. I donít like how things are. And theyíre not any better out there than they are in here.
MAMA: If youíre doing this because of the newspapers, I can sure fix that!
JESSIE: Thereís just more of it on TV.
MAMA (Kicking the television set): Take it out, then!
JESSIE: You wouldnít do that.
MAMA: Watch me.
JESSIE: What would you do all day?
MAMA (Desperately): Sing. (JESSIE laughs) I would, too. You want to watch? Iíll sing till morning to keep you alive, Jessie, please!
JESSIE: No. (Then affectionately) Itís a funny idea, though. What do you sing?
MAMA (Has no idea how to answer this): Weíve got a good life here!
JESSIE (Going back into the kitchen): I called this morning and canceled the papers, except for Sunday, for your puzzles; youíll still get that one.
MAMA: Letís get another dog, Jessie! You liked a big dog, now, didnít you? That King dog, didnít you?
JESSIE (Washing her hands): I did like that King dog, yes.
MAMA: Iím so dumb. Heís the one run under the tractor.
JESSIE: That makes him dumb, not you.
MAMA: For bringing it up.
JESSIE: Itís O.K. Handi-Wipes and sponges under the sink.
MAMA: We could get a new dog and keep him in the house. Dogs are cheap!
JESSIE (Getting big pill jars out of the cabinet): No.
MAMA: Something for you to take care of.
JESSIE: Iíve had you, Mama.
MAMA (Frantically starting to fill pill bottles): You do too much for me. I can fill pill bottles all day, Jessie, and change the shelf paper and wash the floor when I get through. You just watch me. You donít have to do another thing in this house if you donít want to. You donít have to take care of me, Jessie.
JESSIE: I know that. Youíve just been letting me do it so Iíll have something to do, havenít you?
MAMA (Realizing this was a mistake): I donít do it as well as you. I just meant if it tires you out or makes you feel used . . .
JESSIE: Mama, I know you used to ride the bus. Riding the bus and itís hot and bumpy and crowded and too noisy and more than anything in the world you want to get off and the only reason in the world you donít get off is itís still fifty blocks from where youíre going? Well, I can get off right now if I want to, because even if I ride fifty more years and get off then, itís the same place when I step down to it. Whenever I feel like it, I can get off. As soon as Iíve had enough, itís my stop. Iíve had enough.
MAMA: Youíre feeling sorry for yourself!
JESSIE: The plumberís helper is under the sink, too.
MAMA: Youíre not having a good time! Whoever promised you a good time? Do you think Iíve had a good time?
JESSIE: I think youíre pretty happy, yeah. You have things you like to do.
MAMA: Like what?
JESSIE: Like crochet.
MAMA: Iíll teach you to crochet.
JESSIE: I canít do any of that nice work, Mama.
MAMA: Good time donít come looking for you, Jessie. You could work some puzzles or put in a garden or go to the store. Letís call a taxi and go to the A&P!
JESSIE: I shopped you up for about two weeks already. Youíre not going to need toilet paper till Thanksgiving.
MAMA (Interrupting): Youíre acting like some little brat, Jessie. Youíre mad and everybodyís boring and you donít have anything to do and you donít like me and you donít like going out and you donít like staying in and you never talk on the phone and you donít watch TV and youíre miserable and itís your own sweet fault.
JESSIE: And itís time I did something about it.
MAMA: Not something like killing yourself. Something like . . . buying us all new dishes! Iíd like that. Or maybe the doctor would let you get a driverís license now, or I know what letís do right this minute, letís rearrange the furniture.
JESSIE: Iíll do that. If you want. I always thought if the TV was somewhere else, you wouldnít get such a glare on it during the day. Iíll do whatever you want before I go.
MAMA (Badly frightened by those words): You could get a job!
JESSIE: I took that telephone sales job and I didnít even make enough money to pay the phone bill, and I tried to work at the gift shop at the hospital and they said I made people real uncomfortable smiling at them the way I did.
MAMA: You could keep books. You kept your dadís books.
JESSIE: But nobody ever checked them.
MAMA: When he died, they checked them.
JESSIE: And thatís when they took the books away from me.
MAMA: Thatís because without him there wasnít any business, Jessie!
JESSIE (Putting the pill bottles away): You know I couldnít work. I canít do anything. Iíve never been around people my whole life except when I went to the hospital. I could have a seizure any time. What good would a job do? The kind of job I could get would make me feel worse.
JESSIE: Itís true!
MAMA: Itís what you think is true!
JESSIE (Struck by the clarity of that): Thatís right. Itís what I think is true.
MAMA (Hysterically): But I canít do anything about that!
JESSIE (Quietly): No. You canít. (MAMA slumps, if not physically, at least emotionally) And I canít do anything either, about my life, to change it, make it better, make me feel better about it. Like it better, make it work. But I can stop it. Shut it down, turn it off like the radio when thereís nothing on I want to listen to. Itís all I really have that belongs to me and Iím going to say what happens to it. And itís going to stop. And Iím going to stop it. So. Letís just have a good time.
- pp. 38-46 Ė MAMA: Iím serious! Agnes Fletcherís burned down every house she ever lived in. Eight fires, and sheís due for a new one any day now.
JESSIE (Laughing): No!
MAMA: Wouldnít surprise me a bit.
JESSIE (Laughing): Why didnít you tell me this before? Why isnít she locked up somewhere?
MAMA: ĎCause nobody ever got hurt, I guess. Agnes woke everybody up to watch the fires as soon as she set Ďem. One time she set out porch chairs and served lemonade.
JESSIE (Shaking her head): Real lemonade?
MAMA: The houses they lived in, you knew they were going to fall down anyway, so why wait for it, is all I could ever make out about it. Agnes likes a feeling of accomplishment.
JESSIE: Good for her.
MAMA (Finding the pan she wants): Why are you asking about Agnes? One cup or two?
JESSIE: One. Sheís your friend. No marshmallows.
MAMA (Getting the milk, etc.): You have to have marshmallows. Thatís the old way, Jess. Two or three? Three is better.
JESSIE: Three, then. Her whole house burns up? Her clothes and pillows and everything? Iím not sure I believe this.
MAMA: When she was a girl, Jess, not now. Long time ago. But sheís still got it in her, Iím sure of it.
JESSIE: She wouldnít burn her house down now. Where would she go? She canít get Buster to build her a new one, heís dead. How could she burn it up?
MAMA: Be exciting, though, if she did. You never know.
JESSIE: You do too know, Mama. She wouldnít do it.
MAMA (Forced to admit, but reluctant): I guess not.
JESSIE: What else? Why does she wear all those whistles around her neck?
MAMA: Why does she have a house full of birds?
JESSIE: I didnít know she had a house full of birds!
MAMA: Well, she does. And she says they just follow her home. Well, I know for a fact sheís still paying on the last parrot she bought. You gotta keep your life filled up, she says. She says a lot of stupid things. (JESSIE laughs, MAMA continues, convinced sheís getting somewhere) Itís all that okra she eats. You canít just willy-nilly eat okra two meals a day and expect to get away with it. Made her crazy.
JESSIE: She really eats okra twice a day? Where does she get it in the winter?
MAMA: Well, she eats it a lot. Maybe not two meals, but . . .
JESSIE: More than the average person.
MAMA (Beginning to get irritated): I donít know how much okra the average person eats.
JESSIE: Do you know how much okra Agnes eats?
JESSIE: How many birds does she have?
JESSIE: Then what are the whistles for?
MAMA: Theyíre not real whistles. Just little plastic ones on a necklace she won playing Bingo, and I only told you about it because I thought I might get a laugh out of you for once even if it wasnít the truth, Jessie. Things donít have to be true to talk about Ďem, you know.
JESSIE: Why wonít she come over here?
(MAMA is suddenly quiet, but the cocoa and milk are in the pan now, so she lights the stove and starts stirring)
MAMA: Well now, what a good idea. We shouldíve had more cocoa. Cocoa is perfect.
JESSIE: Except you donít like milk.
MAMA (Another attempt, but not as energetic): I hate milk. Coats your throat as bad as okra. Something just downright disgusting about it.
JESSIE: Itís because of me, isnít it?
MAMA: No, Jess.
JESSIE: Yes, Mama.
MAMA: O.K. Yes, then, but sheís crazy. Sheís as crazy as they come. Sheís a lunatic.
JESSIE: What is it exactly? Did I say something, sometime? Or did she see me have a fit andís afraid I might have another one if she came over, or what?
MAMA: I guess.
JESSIE: You guess what? Whatís she ever said? She mustíve given you some reason.
MAMA: Your hands are cold.
JESSIE: What difference does that make?
MAMA: ďLike a corpse,Ē she says, ďand Iím gonna be one soon enough as it is.Ē
JESSIE: Thatís crazy.
MAMA: Thatís Agnes. ďJessie shook the hand of death and I canít take the chance itís catching, Thelma, so I ainít cominí over, and you can understand or not, but I ainít cominí. Iíll come up the driveway, but thatís as far as I go.Ē
JESSIE (Laughing, relieved): I thought she didnít like me! Sheís scared of me! How about that! Scared of me.
MAMA: I could make her come over here, Jessie. I could call her up right now and she could bring the birds and come visit. I didnít know you ever thought about her at all. Iíll tell her she just has to come and sheíll come, all right. She owes me one.
JESSIE: No, thatís all right. I just wondered about it. When Iím in the hospital, does she come over here?
MAMA: Her kitchen is just a tiny thing. When she comes over here, she feels like . . . (Toning it down a little) Well, we all like a change of scene, donít we?
JESSIE (Playing along): Sure we do. Plus thereís no birds diving around.
MAMA: I hate those birds. She says I donít understand them. Whatís there to understand about birds?
JESSIE: Why Agnes likes them, for one thing. Why they stay with her when they could be outside with the other birds. What their singing means. How they fly. What they think Agnes is.
MAMA: Why do you have to know so much about things, Jessie? Thereís just not that much to things that I could ever see.
JESSIE: That you could ever tell, you mean. You didnít have to lie to me about Agnes.
MAMA: I didnít lie. You never asked before!
JESSIE: You lied about setting fire to all those houses and about how many birds she has and how much okra she eats and why she wonít come over here. If I have to keep dragging the truth out of you, this is going to take all night.
MAMA: Thatís fine with me. Iím not a bit sleepy.
JESSIE: Mama . . .
MAMA: All right. Ask me whatever you want. Here.
(They come to an awkward stop, as the cocoa is ready and MAMA pours it into the cups JESSIE has set on the table)
JESSIE (As MAMA takes her first sip): Did you love Daddy?
JESSIE (Pleased that MAMA understands the rules better now): I didnít think so. Were you really fifteen when you married him?
MAMA: The way he told it? Iím sitting in the mud, he comes along, drags me in the kitchen, ďSheís been there ever sinceĒ?
MAMA: No. It was a big fat lie, the whole thing. He just thought it was funnier that way. God, this milk in here.
JESSIE: The cocoa helps.
MAMA (Pleased that they agree on this, at least): Not enough, though, does it? You can still taste it, canít you?
JESSIE: Yeah, itís pretty bad. I thought it was my memory that was bad, but itís not. Itís the milk, all right.
MAMA: Itís a real waste of chocolate. You donít have to finish it.
JESSIE (Putting her cup down): Thanks, though.
MAMA: I shouldíve known not to make it. I knew you wouldnít like it. You never did like it.
JESSIE: You didnít ever love him, or he did something and you stopped loving him, or what?
MAMA: He felt sorry for me. He wanted a plain country woman and thatís what he married, and then he held it against me the rest of my life like I was supposed to change and surprise him somehow.
- pp. 48-49 Ė MAMA: He felt sorry for you, too, Jessie, donít kid yourself about that. He said you were a runt and he said it from the day you were born and he said you didnít have a chance.
JESSIE (Getting the canister of sugar and starting to refill the sugar bowl): I know he loved me.
MAMA: What if he did? It didnít change anything.
JESSIE: It didnít have to. I miss him.
- pp. 55-61 Ė MAMA: Nothing I ever did was good enough for you and I want to know why.
JESSIE: Thatís not true.
MAMA: And I want to know why youíve lived here this long feeling the way you do.
JESSIE: You have no earthly idea how I feel.
MAMA: Well, how could I? Youíre real far back there, Jessie.
JESSIE: Back where?
MAMA: Whatís it like over there, where you are? Do people always say the right thing or get whatever they want, or what?
JESSIE: What are you talking about?
MAMA: Why do you read the newspaper? Why donít you wear that sweater I made for you? Do you remember how I used to look, or am I just any old woman now? When you have a fit, do you see stars or what? How did you fall off the horse, really? Why did Cecil leave you? Where did you put my old glasses?
JESSIE (Stunned by MAMAís intensity): Theyíre in the bottom drawer of your dresser in an old Milk of Magnesia box. Cecil left me because he made me choose between him and smoking.
MAMA: Jessie, I know he wasnít that dumb.
JESSIE: I never understood why he hated it so much when itís so good. Smoking is the only thing I know thatís always just what you think itís going to be. Just like it was the last time, right there when you want it and real quiet.
MAMA: Your fits made him sick and you know it.
JESSIE: Say seizures, not fits. Seizures.
MAMA: Itís the same thing. A seizure in the hospital is a fit at home.
JESSIE: They didnít bother him at all. Except he did feel responsible for it. It was his idea to go horseback riding that day. It was his idea I could do anything if I just made up my mind to. I fell of the horse because I didnít know how to hold on. Cecil left for pretty much the same reason.
MAMA: He had a girl, Jessie. I walked right in on them in the toolshed.
JESSIE (After a moment): O.K. Thatís fair. (Lighting another cigarette) Was she very pretty?
MAMA: She was Agnesís girl, Carlene. Judge for yourself.
JESSIE (As she walks to the living room): I guess you and Agnes had a good talk about that, huh?
MAMA: I never thought he was good enough for you. They moved here from Tennessee, you know.
JESSIE: What are you talking about? You liked him better than I did. You flirted him out here to build your porch or Iíd never even met him at all. You thought maybe heíd help you out around the place, come in and get some coffee and talk to you. God knows what you thought. All that curly hair.
MAMA: Heís the best carpenter I ever saw. That little house of yours will still be standing at the end of the world, Jessie.
JESSIE: You didnít need a porch, Mama.
MAMA: All right! I wanted you to have a husband.
JESSIE: And I couldnít get one on my own, of course.
MAMA: How were you going to get a husband never opening your mouth to a living soul?
JESSIE: So I was quiet about it, so what?
MAMA: So I should have let you just sit here? Sit like your daddy? Sit here?
MAMA: Well, I didnít think so.
JESSIE: Well, what did you know?
MAMA: I never said I knew much. How was I supposed to learn anything living out here? I didnít know enough to do half the things I did in my life. Things happen. You do what you can about them and you see what happens next. I married you off to the wrong man, I admit that. So I took you in when he left. Iím sorry.
JESSIE: He wasnít the wrong man.
MAMA: He didnít love you, Jessie, or he wouldnít have left.
JESSIE: He wasnít the wrong man, Mama. I loved Cecil so much. And I tried to get more exercise and I tried to stay awake. I tried to learn to ride a horse. And I tried to stay outside with him, but he always knew I was trying, so it didnít work.
MAMA: He was a selfish man. He told me once he hated to see people move into his houses after he built them. He knew theyíd mess them up.
JESSIE: I loved that bridge he built over the creek in back of the house. It didnít have to be anything special, a couple of boards would have been just fine, but he used that yellow pine and rubbed it so smooth . . .
MAMA: He had responsibilities here. He had a wife and son here and he failed you.
JESSIE: Or that baby bed he built for Ricky. I told him he didnít have to spend so much time on it, but he said it had to last, and the thing ended up weighing two hundred pounds and I couldnít move it. I said, ďHow long does a baby bed have to last, anyway?Ē But maybe he thought if it was strong enough, it might keep Ricky a baby.
MAMA: Ricky is too much like Cecil.
JESSIE: He is not. Ricky is as much like me as itís possible for any human to be. We even wear the same size pants. These are his, I think.
MAMA: Thatís just the same size. Thatís not youíre the same person.
JESSIE: I see it in his face. I hear it when he talks. We look out at the world and we see the same thing: Not Fair. And the only difference between us is Rickyís out there trying to get even. And he knows not to trust anybody and he got it straight from me. And he knows not to try to get work, and guess where he got that. He walks around like thereís loose boards in the floor, and you know who laid that floor, I did.
MAMA: Ricky isnít through yet. You donít know how heíll turn out!
JESSIE (Going back to the kitchen): Yes I do and so did Cecil. Ricky is the two of us together for all time in too small a space. And weíre tearing each other apart, like always, inside that boy, and if you donít see it, then youíre just blind.
MAMA: Give him time, Jess.
JESSIE: Oh, heíll have plenty of that. Five years for forgery, ten years for armed assault . . .
MAMA (Furious): Stop that! (Then pleading) Jessie, Cecil might be ready to try it again, honey, that happens sometimes. Go downtown. Find him. Talk to him. He didnít know what he had in you. Maybe he sees things different now, but youíre not going to know that till you go see him. Or call him up! Right now! He might be home.
JESSIE: And say what? Nothingís changed, Cecil, Iíd just like to look at you, if you donít mind? No. He loved me, Mama. He just didnít know how things fall down around me like they do. I think he did the right thing. He gave himself another chance, thatís all. But I did beg him to take me with him. I did tell him I would leave Ricky and you and everything I loved out here if only he would take me with him, but he couldnít and I understood that. (Pause) I wrote that note I showed you. I wrote it. Not Cecil. I said ďIím sorry, Jessie, I canít fix it all for you.Ē I said Iíd always love me, not Cecil. But thatís how he felt.
MAMA: Then he shouldíve taken you with him!
JESSIE (Picking up the garbage bag she has filled): Mama, you donít pack your garbage when you move.
MAMA: You will not call yourself garbage, Jessie.
JESSIE (Taking the bag to the big garbage can near the back door): Just a way of saying it, Mama. Thinking about my list, thatís all. (Opening the can, putting the garbage in, then securing the lid) Well, a little more than that. I was trying to say itís all right that Cecil left. It was . . . a relief in a way. I never was what he wanted to see, so it was better when he wasnít looking at me all the time.
- p. 62 Ė MAMA: I think your daddy had fits, too. I think he sat in his chair and had little fits. I read this a long time ago in a magazine, how little fits go, just little blackouts where maybe their eyes donít even close and people just call them ďthinking spells.Ē
- pp. 68-80 Ė JESSIE: Itís not the fits! You said it yourself, the medicine takes care of the fits.
MAMA (Interrupting): Your daddy gave you those fits, Jessie. He passed it down to you like your green eyes and your straight hair. Itís not my fault!
JESSIE: So what if he had little fits? Itís not inherited. I fell of the horse. It was an accident.
MAMA: The horse wasnít the first time, Jessie. You had a fit when you were five years old.
JESSIE: I did not.
MAMA: You did! You were eating a popsicle and down you went. He gave it to you. Itís his fault, not mine.
JESSIE: Well, you took your time telling me.
MAMA: How do you tell that to a five-year-old?
JESSIE: What did the doctor say?
MAMA: He said kids have them all the time. He said there wasnít anything to do but wait for another one.
(Now there is a real silence)
JESSIE: You mean to tell me I had fits all the time as a kid and you just told me I fell down or something and it wasnít till I had the fit when Cecil was looking that anybody bothered to find out what was the matter with me?
MAMA: It wasnít all the time, Jessie. And they changed when you started to school. More like your daddyís. Oh, that was some swell time, sitting here with the two of you turning off and on like light bulbs some nights.
JESSIE: How many fits did I have?
MAMA: You never hurt yourself. I never let you out of my sight. I caught you every time.
JESSIE: But you didnít tell anybody.
MAMA: It was none of their business.
JESSIE: You were ashamed.
MAMA: I didnít want anybody to know. Least of all you.
JESSIE: Least of all me. Oh, right. That was mine to know, Mama, not yours. Did Daddy know?
MAMA: He thought you were . . . you fell down a lot. Thatís what he thought. You were careless. Or maybe he thought I beat you. I donít know what he thought. He didnít think about it.
JESSIE: Because you didnít tell him!
MAMA: If I told him about you, Iíd have to tell him about him!
JESSIE: I donít like this. I donít like this one bit.
MAMA: I didnít think youíd like it. Thatís why I didnít tell you.
JESSIE: If Iíd known I was an epileptic, Mama, I wouldnít have ridden any horses.
MAMA: Make you feel like a freak, is that what I should have done?
JESSIE: Just get the manicure tray and sit down!
MAMA (Throwing it to the floor): I donít want a manicure!
JESSIE: Doesnít look like you do, no.
MAMA: Maybe I did drop you, you donít know.
JESSIE: If you say you didnít, you didnít.
MAMA (Beginning to break down): Maybe I fed you the wrong thing. Maybe you had a fever sometime and I didnít know it soon enough. Maybe itís a punishment.
JESSIE: For what?
MAMA: I donít know. Because of how I felt about your father. Because I didnít want any more children. Because I smoked too much or didnít eat right when I was carrying you. It has to be something I did.
JESSIE: It does not. Itís just a sickness, not a curse. Epilepsy doesnít mean anything. It just is.
MAMA: Iím not talking about the fits here, Jessie! Iím talking about this killing yourself. It has to be me thatís the matter here. You wouldnít be doing this if it wasnít. I didnít tell you things or I married you off to the wrong man or I took you in and let your life get away from you or all of it put together. I donít know what I did, but I did it, I know. This is all my fault, Jessie, but I donít know what to do about it now!
JESSIE (Exasperated at having to say this again): It doesnít have anything to do with you!
MAMA: Everything you do has to do with me, Jessie. You canít do anything, wash your face or cut your finger, without doing it to me. Thatís right! You might as well kill me as you, Jessie, itís the same thing. This has to do with me, Jessie.
JESSIE: Then what if it does! What if it has everything to do with you! What if you are all I have and youíre not enough? What if I could take all the rest of it if only I didnít have you here? What if the only way I can get away from you for good is to kill myself? What if it is? I can still do it!
MAMA (In desperate tears): Donít leave me, Jessie! (JESSIE stands for a moment, then turns for the bedroom) No! (She grabs JESSIEís arm)
JESSIE (Carefully taking her arm away): I have a box of things I want people to have. Iím just going to go get it for you. You . . . just rest a minute.
(JESSIE is gone. MAMA heads for the telephone, but she canít even pick up the receiver this time and, instead, stoops to clean up the bottles that have spilled out of the manicure tray
JESSIE returns, carrying a box that groceries were delivered in. It probably says Hershey Kisses or Starkist Tuna. MAMA is still down on the floor cleaning up, hoping that maybe if she just makes it look nice enough, JESSIE will stay)
MAMA: Jessie, how can I live here without you? I need you! Youíre supposed to tell me to stand up straight and say how nice I look in my pink dress, and drink my milk. Youíre supposed to go around and lock up so I know weíre safe for the night, and when I wake up, youíre supposed to be out there making the coffee and watching me get older every day, and youíre supposed to help me die when the time comes. I canít do that by myself, Jessie. Iím not like you, Jessie. I hate the quiet and I donít want to die and I donít want you to go, Jessie. How can I . . . (Has to stop a moment) How can I get up every day knowing you had to kill yourself to make it stop hurting and I was here all the time and I never even saw it. And then you gave me this chance to make it better, convince you to stay alive, and I couldnít do it. How can I live with myself after this, Jessie?
JESSIE: I only told you so I could explain it, so you wouldnít blame yourself, so you wouldnít feel bad. There wasnít anything you could say to change my mind. I didnít want you to save me. I just wanted you to know.
MAMA: Stay with me just a little longer. Just a few more years. I donít have that many more to go, Jessie. And as soon as Iím dead, you can do whatever you want. Maybe with me gone, youíll have all the quiet you want, right here in the house. And maybe one day youíll put up some begonias up the walk and get just the right rain for them all summer. And Ricky will be married by then and heíll bring your grandbabies over and you can sneak them a piece of candy when their daddyís not looking and then be real glad when theyíve gone home and left you to your quiet again.
JESSIE: Donít you see, Mama, everything I do winds up like this. How could I think you would understand? How could I think you would want a manicure? We could hold hands for an hour and then I could go shoot myself? Iím sorry about tonight, Mama, but itís exactly why Iím doing it.
MAMA: If youíve got the guts to kill yourself, Jessie, youíve got the guts to stay alive.
JESSIE: I know that. So itís really just a matter of where Iíd rather be.
MAMA: Look, maybe I canít think of what you should do, but that doesnít mean there isnít something that would help. You find it. You think of it. You can keep trying. You can get brave and try some more. You donít have to give up!
JESSIE: Iím not giving up! This is the other thing Iím trying. And Iím sure there are some other things that might work, but might work isnít good enough anymore. I need something that will work. This will work. Thatís why I picked it.
MAMA: But something might happen. Something that could change everything. Who knows what it might be, but it might be worth waiting for! (JESSIE doesnít respond) Try it for two more weeks. We could have more talks like tonight.
JESSIE: No, Mama.
MAMA: Iíll pay more attention to you. Tell the truth when you ask me. Let you have your say.
JESSIE: No, Mama! We wouldnít have more talks like tonight, because itís this next part thatís made this last part so good, Mama. No, Mama. This is how I have my say. This is how I say what I thought about it all and I say no. To Dawson and Loretta and . . . epilepsy and Ricky and Cecil and you. And me. And hope. I say no! (Then going to Mama on the sofa) Just let me go easy, Mama.
MAMA: How can I let you go?
JESSIE: You can because you have to. Itís what youíve always done.
MAMA: You are my child!
JESSIE: I am what became of your child. (MAMA cannot answer) I found an old baby picture of me. And it was somebody else, not me. It was somebody pink and fat who never heard of sick or lonely, somebody who cried and got fed, and reached up and got held and kicked but didnít hurt anybody, and slept whenever she wanted to, just by closing her eyes. Somebody who mainly just laid there and laughed at the colors waving around over her head and chewed on a polka-dot whale and woke up knowing some new trick nearly every day, and rolled over and drooled on the sheet and felt your hand pulling my quilt back up over me. Thatís who I started out and this is who is left. (There is no self-pity here) Thatís what this is about. Itís somebody I lost, all right, itís my own self. Who I never was. Or who I tried to be and never got there. Somebody I waited for who never came. And never will. So, see, it doesnít much matter what else happens in the world or in this house, even. Iím what was worth waiting for and I didnít make it. Me . . . who might have made a difference to me . . . Iím not going to show up, so thereís no reason to stay, except to keep you company, and thatís . . . not reason enough because Iím not . . . very good company. (Pause) Am I.
MAMA (Knowing she must tell the truth): No. And neither am I.
JESSIE: I had this strange little thought, well, maybe itís not so strange. Anyway, after Christmas, after I decided to do this, I would wonder, sometimes, what might keep me here, what might be worth staying for, and you know what it was? It was maybe if there was something I really liked, like maybe if I really liked rice pudding or cornflakes for breakfast or something, that might be enough.
MAMA: Rice pudding is good.
JESSIE: Not to me.
MAMA: And youíre not afraid?
JESSIE: Afraid of what?
MAMA: Iím afraid of it, for me, I mean. When my time comes. I know itís coming, but . . .
JESSIE: You donít know when. Like in a scary movie.
MAMA: Yeah, sneaking up on me like some killer on the loose, hiding out in the back yard just waiting for me to have my hands full someday and how am I supposed to protect myself anyhow when I donít know what he looks like and I donít know how he sounds coming up behind me like that or if it will hurt or take very long or what I donít get done before it happens.
JESSIE: Youíve got plenty of time left.
MAMA: I forget what for, right now.
JESSIE: For whatever happens, I donít know. For the rest of your life. For Agnes burning down one more house or Dawson losing his hair or . . .
MAMA (Quickly): Jessie. I canít just sit here and say O.K., kill yourself if you want to.
JESSIE: Sure you can. You just did. Say it again.
MAMA (Really startled): Jessie! (Quiet horror) How dare you! You think you can just leave whenever you want, like youíre watching television here? No, you canít, Jessie. You make me feel like a fool for being alive, child, and you are so wrong! I like it here, and I will stay here until they make me go, until they drag me screaming and I mean screeching into my grave, and youíre real smart to get away before then because, I mean, honey, youíve never heard noise like that in your life. (JESSIE turns away) Who am I talking to? Youíre gone already, arenít you? Iím looking right through you! I canít stop you because youíre already gone! I guess you think theyíll all have to talk about you now! I guess you think this will really confuse them. Oh yes, ever since Christmas youíve been laughing to yourself and thinking, ďBoy, are they all in for a surprise.Ē Well, nobodyís going to be a bit surprised, sweetheart. This is just like you. Do it the hard way, thatís my girl, all right. (JESSIE gets up and goes into the kitchen, but MAMA follows her) You know who theyíre going to feel sorry for? Me! How about that! Not you, me! Theyíre going to be ashamed of you. Yes. Ashamed! If somebody asks Dawson about it, heíll change the subject as fast as he can. Heíll talk about how much he has to pay to park his car these days.
JESSIE: Leave me alone.
MAMA: Itís the truth!
JESSIE: I shouldíve just left you a note!
MAMA (Screaming): Yes! (Then suddenly understanding what she has said, nearly paralyzed by the thought of it, she turns slowly to face JESSIE, nearly whispering) No. No. I . . . might not have thought of all the things youíve said.
JESSIE: Itís O.K., Mama.
(MAMA is nearly unconscious from the emotional devastation of these last few moments. She sits down at the kitchen table, hurt and angry and desperately afraid. But she looks almost numb. She is so far beyond what is known as pain that she is virtually unreachable and JESSIE knows this, and talks quietly, watching for signs of recovery)
- pp. 86-89 Ė JESSIE (Standing up): Itís time for me to go, Mama.
MAMA (Starting for her): No, Jessie, youíve got all night!
JESSIE (As MAMA grabs her): No, Mama.
MAMA: Itís not even ten oíclock.
JESSIE (Very calm): Let me go, Mama.
MAMA: I canít. You canít go. You canít do this. You didnít say it would be so soon, Jessie. Iím scared. I love you.
JESSIE (Takes her hands away): Let go of me, Mama. Iíve said everything I had to say.
MAMA (Standing still a minute): You said you wanted to do my nails.
JESSIE (Taking a small step backward): I canít. Itís too late.
MAMA: Itís not too late!
JESSIE: I donít want you to wake Dawson and Loretta when you call. I want them to still be up and dressed so they can get right over.
MAMA (As JESSIE backs up, MAMA moves in on her, but carefully): They wake up fast, Jessie, if they have to. They donít matter here, Jessie. You do. I do. Weíre not through yet. Weíve got a lot of things to take care of here. I donít know where my prescriptions are and you didnít tell me what to tell Dr. Davis when he calls or how much you want me to tell Ricky or who I call to rake the leaves or . . .
JESSIE: Donít try and stop me, Mama, you canít do it.
MAMA (Grabbing her again, this time hard): I can too! Iíll stand in front of this hall and you canít get past me. (They struggle) Youíll have to knock me down to get away from me, Jessie. Iím not about to let you . . .
(MAMA struggles with JESSIE at the door and in the struggle JESSIE gets away from her andó
JESSIE (Almost a whisper): ĎNight, Mother. (She vanishes into her bedroom and we hear the door lock just as MAMA gets to it)
MAMA (Screams): Jessie! (Pounding on the door) Jessie, you let me in there. Donít you do this, Jessie. Iím not going to stop screaming until you open this door, Jessie. Jessie! Jessie! What if I donít do any of the things you told me to do! Iíll tell Cecil what a miserable man he was to make you feel the way he did and Iíll give Rickyís watch to Dawson if I feel like it and the only way you can make sure I do what you want is you come out here and make me, Jessie! (Pounding again) Jessie! Stop this! I didnít know! I was here with you all the time. How could I know you were so alone?
(And MAMA stops for a moment, breathless and frantic, putting her ear to the door, and when she doesnít hear anything, she stands up straight again and screams once more)
(And we hear the shot, and it sounds like an answer, it sounds like No.
MAMA collapses against the door, tears streaming down her face, but not screaming anymore. In shock now)
Jessie, Jessie, child . . . Forgive me. (Pause) I thought you were mine.
(And she leaves the door and makes her way through the living room, around the furniture, as though she didnít know where it was, not knowing what to do. Finally, she goes to the stove in the kitchen and picks up the hot-chocolate pan and carries it with her to the telephone, and holds on to it while she dials the number. She looks down at the pan, holding it tight like her life depended on it. She hears Loretta answer)
MAMA: Loretta, let me talk to Dawson, honey.