Adapted for the stage from Out of Here: A Senior Class Yearbook, by Sandy Asher, Dutton/Lodestar, 1993 . This script is one of three one-acts about teenagers published under the title Dancing With Strangers. The amateur and stock acting rights to this work are controlled exclusively by The Dramatic Publishing Company without whose permission in writing no performance of it maybe given. All inquiries concerning these rights should be addressed to The Dramatic Publishing Company, 311 Washington Street, Woodstock, IL 60098(telephone 815-338-7170).
Copyright 1994: Sandra Fenichel Asher. Used by permission.
Tara Owens, a high school senior
Lizzy Owens, her mother
Jim Owens, her father (may be double cast)
Dub Colby, a classmate of Tara's
Time: An April morning, and remembered times in TARA'S mind
Setting: TARA'S bedroom. Bed and nightstand RC. A vase with a few daffodils and hyacinths is on the nightstand. Dressing table and chair LC, arranged so that TARA is facing audience as she looks into the mirror. An imaginary window DL in fourth wall, toward audience. Kitchen and Smokey's Barbeque, locations in TARA'S memory, are on raised areas UR and UL and dimly lighted as needed. JIM, LIZZY, and DUB never face TARA or talk to her directly.
Before Rise: Rock music is heard, playing loudly.
At Rise: TARA is seated at her dressing table, a radio nearby, playing MUSIC. JIM and LIZZY are UR, arguing. Busy brushing her hair, TARA turns the radio louder and louder -- by force of habit -- until it blots out the angry voices. The voices are irritating, but she is really thinking of other things;now and then a smile plays across her face.
Jim, please, I keep trying to tell you --
Tell me what? That they don't give you any money? And I'm supposed to believe that?
Would we be living like this if they --
Have you got a roof over your head? Where'd that come from? Huh ? Tell me about that , why don't you? Or can't you think up a lie fast enough this time?
(TARA turns the radio off, coolly listens to the voices for a moment)
If I had it, I'd give it to you. You know that, Jim.
I don't know anything anymore, Lizzy! I'm just tired, you hear me? Worn out. Tired of working for blowhard jerks who think they're better than I am. And tired of your miserable whining!
(There is a sound of glass crashing to the floor and shattering as JIM mimes knocking pitcher off a table and pushes LIZZY aside.)
Stop it! Jim! Don't go!
(JIM exits. TARA sits quietly, listening, then calmly resumes brushing her hair as she speaks to audience.)
A water pitcher. That's my guess. Probably the pitcher she uses now and then to torture her scraggly old plants. Just when they're about to die in peace, she remembers and practically drowns them. Then the stupid things revive, just barely, one green leaf pushing out among the brown. Ever hopeful that this time Lizzy Owens really means to do right by them.
(a pause, during which a giggle builds up inside her)
Today, it does not matter.
(She stands, takes a frilly nightgown off, looks at it, tosses it on to bed.)
Look at this. Who but Lizzy Owens would give her daughter a see-through nightgown with all this fluffy pink crap on it? Well, it figures. Who else would name her kid "Tara"?
(delighted with the name)
What kind of person names her child after a plantation?
(She tucks her nightgown into a drawer.)
Same kind of person who would open the door and let him in. My father. Six o'clock in the morning, he's pounding on the door -- on his way to yet another job, maybe, or on his way home from drinking all night. And she lets him in. After all they've been through: the slaps, the screams, the neighbors peering out from behind their curtains in the middle of the night.
(after a pause)
Then comes the parade: Police. Ministers. Social workers. And groups -- oh, the meetings, the hugs and hand-wringing and tears and confessions. You would not believe what people will tell absolute strangers who just happen to be seated in a circle with them.
After all that, she opens the door and lets him in.
(JIM reenters UR.)
(obviously upset or depressed)
(A pause, she looks in mirror and grins slyly.)
Well, it doesn't matter. Not any more. There's color in my cheeks this morning, you know? Kind of a sparkle in my eyes, too. It's like knowing a joke and keeping it to yourself because you aren't ready to share it with anyone, aren't quite finished giggling at it in private.
I used to water them myself, the plants. I felt sorry for them. But no more. They are not my problem. If the police and ministers and social workers and groupies have done nothing else, they've shown me one man and one woman who will never do right by me or each other or any body or any plant, no matter how many times they promise they will, until they are ready.
(after a pause, then, with regret -- )
And they may never be ready.
(another pause, then with determination)
So -- I am on my own. And those dumb plants are on their own, too. If they insist on sending up their pathetic, hopeful green shoots, that is their problem, not mine.
Oh. Yah. Sure. Thanks.
My mother has no business trying to keep things around the house, husband, plant, or child. She can't even keep herself more than half alive most of the time.
Doesn't matter. Not today.
(JIM suddenly turns and exits.)
Jim! Wait a minute! Don't go!
(mimes looking out of window, DL)
Rain must have stopped.
But it was pouring rain, Tara. Honey? I couldn't leave him standing out therein the rain, could I?
No, Ma, you couldn't.
It's okay, Ma.
(after a pause, with real concern)
Can I get you anything?
No. I'm all right.
I'll be all right.
(Lights fade on LIZZY as she exits.)
I wonder, sometimes, how she's made it this far, how she's survived thirty-eight years, drifting through time and space like those little dust flecks in the air. Is it possible to grow up, get married, give birth, get divorced, eat, sleep, fight and break a million promises without ever actually noticing ?
(with a "maybe so" shrug)
If anyone could, it's Lizzy. That she's barely noticed me, her own daughter, her only child, for the seventeen-plus years I've been around, I can at test to for a fact.
(a long pause; this memory is painful)
Years ago, strangers came to this house -- a man and woman, both in suits, I can still see them -- and commented on the odor from my diapers. Maybe they thought I wasn't old enough to understand and be embarrassed -- but I did understand. And I was embarrassed.
(brushes the memory away)
By third grade, I was washing and ironing my own clothes. Meals we ate cold from boxes or cans. If Lizzy ever did fix one, it was half-cooked or burned. And she never noticed. Just plopped the stuff on a plate, nibbled a little, and wandered off. I did the dishes. Stood on a chair to reach the sink.
(a pause, reflecting)
What dream, what vision of paradise, what other reality blinds those big cow eyes of hers to everything that's right here and now?
(notices flowers, picks them up and breathes in their aroma)
April. April already. Hyacinths and daffodils, now. Redbuds and dogwoods in no time.
(laughs out loud, replaces vase)
In one month, one month , I will graduate from Oakview High School and get a full-time job and find an apartment and --
(another thought strikes her)
How weird! I haven't thought about Dub Colby today! He hasn't even crossed my mind once !
I could tell him. Wonder what he'd say if I told him? What would he do? What would I want him to do?
(a pause, then dreamily -- )
He could just smile. He could put his arms around me and pull me close and his face could kind of light up --
(snapping out of it)
Bull. I know better than that. Nothing . That's what I want him to do. Just stay out of it. Don't even notice me walking by.
(Lights come up on DUB, UL, who enters and sits on a chair facing R.)
He did all the noticing he needed to do the night of the Sweetheart Dance at school. He turned up at Smokey's Barbeque -- where I work nights --just as I was about to get off.
(speaking as if DUB were in front of her)
I couldn't believe my nerve, saying hi to him like that. I'd never have done that at school. Never.
Do I know you?
Tara Owens. I'm in your Earth Science class.
Oh, yeah, yeah. Hi. Can I get a sandwich and some fries?
(mimes starting order)
So -- you didn't make it to the dance, huh?
Me, neither. Had to work.
Why I was bothering with him at all, I had no idea. Dub is kind of scary. Always so gloomy-looking. He never says a word in class. Sits way in the back and sleeps through it, sometimes. He's not somebody I'd pick for a friend, if I were interested in friends. I don't know, maybe it was the dance going on at school and the two of us left out of it.
You wanna take in a movie or something?
I said, do you want to go to a movie?
(surprised again, then nervous, then-)
(She comes out from behind table, turns chair to face forward, sits at center and speaks to audience.)
I wasn't sure I wanted to be alone with him, but I said yes anyway, before I'd even thought it through. After my shift, I followed his banged-up VW bug in my pickup. He hardly spoke a word in the theater. I bought my own ticket, my own popcorn, my own soda. He said he didn't want anything when I offered.
(a pause, remembering)
After the movie, I followed him to the liquor store and waited, freezing in my pick-up -- no heater, of course -- while he stood out on the parking lot, near the store entrance, slapping himself with his arms, cursing, breathing steam like a dragon. It took four tries, but he finally talked some college kid into buying him a couple of six-packs. Then --
(a longer pause; this is difficult to tell)
-- we went to his house. It was a lot like mine -- old and dark, worn out. Except no one was home. Someone is always at home in my house -- good old Lizzy. If I don't drive her somewhere, she stays put. I asked Dub where his folks were. He just shrugged. Then he drank maybe three or four beers to my one, not saying a word the whole time. He sat on the lopsided sofa, and Is at across the room in an itchy arm chair, waiting for him to boil over like my father when the beer hit bottom, and wondering if I'd get out of the house fast enough when he did and why I'd come in the first place.
(a pause; the next memory evokes a kind of wonder and tenderness in her)
But he didn't boil over; at least, not like my dad. He started to cry. Tears slipped from under his eyelashes and ran down his cheeks. I'm not much of a crier, myself, but those tears seemed... familiar. You cry like that when you know no one's ever going to hear you. I guess your body goes on making tears long after they can do you any good. Now and then, they just fall out, and you can't even think why.
(She crosses to bed and sits down.)
For the first time all evening, I felt -- I don't know -- comfortable. I went over and sat down beside him, and I touched his hand. I wanted him to know I kind of understood.
(a pause, then quietly, with pain -- )
He never said a word, not before, not during, and not after. When he was... finished, he just got up and left the room. I pulled my clothes together, let myself out of the house, and drove home, wishing I could feel something. But I didn't know what to feel.
(stands, shakes off that memory, continues ruefully)
That Monday morning, in the hallway at school, I said "Hi" to him again. He said "Hi," back -- and looked confused. He still didn't know who I was.
(a pause as her happiness takes over)
Doesn't matter now.
(shyly at first, and, finally, exulting)
I'm late. I've never been late before, never had any reason to be late. But I'm late now. Two months. It took me five days to work up the nerve to do the test, five days of worrying that it could somehow say no, that it could change what I knew, take it away from me. But this morning, I did it. While old Lizzy and Jim were screaming bloody murder, I said, oh, what the hell, and I slipped into the john and did it. And nothing else matters now. I will get out of school in one month, find a real job, get my own apartment -- and have my baby. All by myself.
And I'll tell you what -- this baby will be loved, and this baby will love me back. It will know me, notice me, care about me. I can already see its little face lighting up at the sight of me, its baby arms reaching out for me every time I enter a room.
(a pause, as she enjoys the sight)
It'll be a girl, a girl with a soft name, a pretty name, nothing as foolish as "Tara." Allison, maybe. No. Michelle. Amanda? No. Laura! Yes! Laura. And she will be... perfect .
(Lights dim on her radiant face. Curtain.)
Author of numerous novels and the recent short story collection, Out of Here: A Senior Class Yearbook , Sandy Asher wrote the short story, "Last Chance Language Arts" for The ALAN Review in the Fall 1993 issue.