Prelude to Act One: (Drunken Rumba)
Lights go to black on set. In the dark, very sultry Mexican rumba music comes up. A white spotlight hits the couple of Henry Moss and Conchalla wrapped in a tight embrace, cheek to cheek. They are amazingly drunk and yet synchronized in tight, fluid coordination with only the occasional stumble and foot crunch to give them away. They begin extreme down left on the apron in front of the set and careen their way across the stage, doing a couple twirls and deep waist bends along the way. Their cheeks stay pressed together the whole time, and they seem oblivious to the world. The dance is brief and somewhat shocking. They disappear off right. Spotlight goes to black, then lights ease up on set to begin Act One.
Scene: Night. A run-down adobe dwelling on the outskirts of Bernalillo, New Mexico. The roof is open; just bare, rough-plastered walls. A mesquite door with black iron hinges in stage right wall. A deep-silled window up right. A single cotlike bed set horizontally into a small alcove, center of upstage wall with a small barred window directly above it, like a jail cell. There is a blue curtain on a rod in front of the bed that can be opened or closed by hand and sometimes mechanically. The curtain is open for now, revealing the corpse of Henry Moss, a man in his late sixties. He lies face up on the bed with the crown of his head toward stage right. A heavy Mexican blanket in yellow and red designs covers him from the forehead down to his ankles. Over the blanket a white sheet has been spread smoothly. Only the top of Henry's head and his bare feet are revealed. Nothing is seen of his face. There is an old-style bathtub with claw feet upstage left of the bed. A sink, gas stove and small refrigerator are set against upstage wall; all very run-down and dirty. Extreme downstage left of center is a simple round Formica table with two metal S-shaped chairs set across from each other; one upstage right, the other downstage left. Earl Moss, Henry's oldest son, sits in the downstage chair with his back partially to audience, thumbing through an old photo album of Henry's, studying the pictures. Ray Moss, Earl's younger brother, stands upstage of the table, facing audience and idly going through an old red tool chest of Henry's placed on the table in front of him. A bottle of bourbon sits in the center of table with two plastic cups. An ashtray; cigarettes. Nothing else. Long pause after lights come up as Earl thumbs through album. Ray fiddles with tools.
earl: [Thumbing through album.] Well, you know me, Ray--I was never one to live in the past. That never was my deal. You know--You remember how I was.
ray: Yeah. Yeah, right. I remember.
earl: But, these days now--I don't know. Something like this--Outta the blue. [He nods toward Henry's corpse.] Maybe it's age or something.
ray: Whose age?
ray: Oh. I thought you meant his.
earl: No--me. Gettin' older. You know. I mean at eighteen, nineteen, my mind was going in a whole different direction. You remember how I was. [He suddenly sings.] "Gonna tie my pecker to a tree, to a tree. Gonna tie my pecker to a tree." You remember that? [Pause. Ray just stares at him.]
earl: Well, do ya?
ray: I thought that was him. I remember him singing that.
earl: That was me!
earl: 1956, '57? When was that?
earl: When I used to come home singing that.
ray: I don't know. Musta been later.
earl: Not that much later. Couldn't a been. Ripple wine and Mexican Benzedrine! Those were high times, Ray! High old times. [Pause.]
ray: I remember you leaving. That's all I remember.
earl: [Looking up at Ray.] What? When?
ray: When you first left. When the big blowout happened.
earl: Big blowout?
ray: You know what I'm talkin' about. [Pause. Earl stares at him.]
earl: Ooh--that. Way back.
earl: Way, way back.
ray: That's still very vivid with me. Like it happened yesterday.
earl: [Going back to album.] You shouldn't let that stuff haunt you, Ray.
ray: I remember the windows exploding.
ray: Blown out. Glass everywhere.
earl: Ooh--yeah. That was him [Gestures to Henry], not me. That was him doing that.
ray: Yeah. Him.
earl: You're getting me mixed up with him.
ray: No I'm not. I know it was him.
earl: Well, don't get me mixed up with him.
ray: I'm not. I know it was him.
earl: Good. [Pause. He thumbs through album.] He was the one breaking windows. Not me.
ray: I know that. [Pause.] What brought it on exactly? That was never very clear to me.
earl: Oh, come on, Ray--
earl: You mean after all this time--after all these years--you still don't know?
ray: No. I never knew.
earl: She locked him out of the house. You knew that, didn't you?
ray: Um--I don't know. Yeah, I guess.
earl: Set him right off. Went into one of his famous "Wild Turkey" storms. You knew all about that.
ray: I remember it like a war or something. An invasion.
earl: Yeah, well things get embellished over the years. You were a kid.
ray: So were you.
earl: Yeah, but there was a certain--maturity about me. I was coming into my own back then.
ray: Explosions. Screaming. Smoke. The telephone.
earl: Explosions? There weren't any explosions, Ray.
ray: People running. You were one of them.
earl: I never ran!
ray: Mom was running.
earl: He had her trapped in the kitchen! Under the sink! How could she run? Huh? How could she possibly run? You've really got this screwed up, Ray. You oughta get it straightened out, you know. It's time you got it straight. It's no good carrying the wrong pictures around with you the rest of your life. They're liable to get more and more warped as time goes on. Pretty soon you'll start to forget how it really was.
ray: You ran. I watched you.
earl: I never ever ran!
ray: You climbed into that '51 Chevy and took off. That was the last I saw of you for seven years. Things like that you don't forget. They mark time. For me they do.
earl: [Returns to album.] Yeah, well--I never ran. I'm not a runner. Never have been. [Pause.]
ray: Seven years. Thought I'd never see you again. I thought about you all that time but I bet I never once crossed your mind. Never once.
earl: That's not true.
ray: Maybe once.
earl: Once or twice.
ray: Once, maybe.
earl: I sent you something every Christmas. Most every Christmas, I did.
earl: Socks. T-shirts. Rubbers. I sent you Camels once.
ray: Tokens. Tokens of guilt.
earl: [Looking up.] Guilt? Look--buddy boy, I had a lot on my mind back then.
earl: I was heading somewhere. [Long pause. Earl goes back to album. Ray fiddles with tools.]
ray: What should we do with his tools?
earl: You want 'em? You might as well keep 'em.
ray: I don't work with my hands anymore.
earl: Oh? Since when?
ray: I don't know. It just faded.
earl: That's a shame, Ray. You were good with your hands. You used to be under a car all day long.
ray: What car?
earl: Some car. I don't know what car. Some car or other.
ray: I never had a car.
earl: Well, whose car was it, then, you were always working under?
ray: It was his car.
ray: It wasn't my car.
ray: Well, it wasn't. I never had a car. You were the one with the car.
earl: All right! It was his car, it wasn't your car! Who gives a flying fuck whose car it was! I just seem to remember, Ray, that you always liked working on cars and I thought you might like to have the tools in case you wanted to pursue that. That's all. Simple as that. [Long pause. Earl goes back to album. Ray handles tools.]
ray: [Handling tools.] Looks like they're all pretty cheap anyway. Taiwan steel. Swap meet stuff.
earl: You oughta keep 'em, Ray. For his sake you oughta keep 'em.
ray: For his sake?
ray: He's dead.
earl: I know he's dead.
ray: So why should he care?
earl: He won't care, Ray.
ray: So it'd be for my sake, not his sake.
earl: Yeah. For your sake. You never can tell when the urge might come up again.
ray: What urge?
earl: To work with your hands! That urge! The urge to be useful again! [Pause.]
ray: [Looking at tools.] They're not worth diddly.
earl: That's not really the point, is it, Ray. I mean nothing he's got is worth diddly. Not like we're inheriting a legacy here.
ray: Ratchet's pretty nice. [Ray picks up a very large ratchet wrench and fits a socket onto it.]
earl: Why don't you keep that, then? He'd like that, Ray.
ray: Keep the ratchet?
earl: Yeah. Keep the ratchet. It's a nice one, right?
ray: A single big-ass ratchet? What am I gonna do with a single ratchet?
earl: Work on your Buick! I don't know.
ray: I don't have a Buick.
earl: Goddamnit, Ray!
ray: Well, I don't. You want me to say I have a Buick just so you can feel good about giving me these crummy tools? They're not your tools anyway. You don't own the tools.
earl: I know I don't own the tools!
ray: They're his tools.
earl: I know that.
ray: They're not yours to give away.
earl: They're not yours either!
ray: They're nobody's tools! [Ray slams the wrench back into toolbox. Long pause. Earl goes back to album. Ray turns upstage and stares at Henry's corpse, then turns back to Earl.]
ray: Well, don't you think it's about time we notified someone? We can't just sit around here. Who're you supposed to call first? The cops?
earl: The cops? What're you thinking about?
ray: Who, then? The mortician? The chamber of commerce? Who?
earl: [Back on album.] I'm not ready yet. [Pause.]
ray: You're not ready?
earl: No. I'm not.
ray: Well, how long are we gonna wait?
earl: [Looks up.] What's the rush? Huh? I'd like to spend a little time with him if you don't mind.
earl: Yeah, time. Before he's rushed off and processed into the funeral business. Before they apply the makeup and formaldehyde and dress him up in his air force khakis.
ray: Well, how much time do you need, Earl?
earl: I'll let you know.
ray: Haven't you been sitting here with him for a long time already?
earl: I'll let you know, Ray.
ray: What've you been doing just sitting here with him all this time?
ray: Have you been talking to him, Earl?
earl: He's dead.
ray: Yeah, but when you're alone like this--just sitting here--just the two of you--You can start to make stuff up.
earl: What stuff?
ray: Stuff in your head. You can start--imagining things.
earl: Like what?
ray: Well, like for instance--you could imagine that he's still alive; he can still hear you--Maybe it's even better that way.
earl: What way?
ray: Imagining. I mean that might be even better than if he were actually alive because now you can really tell him things. You can tell him all kinds of things that you couldn't tell him before because now he's dead and you're imagining him to be alive and there's nothing he can do about it but listen.
earl: I wasn't talking to him, all right! I wasn't imagining anything! I was just sitting here! Alone. With him. Just sitting here in the dark. Alone. [Pause. Ray turns upstage and starts to move slowly toward Henry's body.]
ray: We can't just bury him ourselves, huh? Just dig a hole and do it ourselves? That's illegal, isn't it?
earl: Yeah, every death has to be reported these days. Unless you kill somebody.
ray: We could report it after we bury him.
earl: They'd just dig him back up.
ray: I mean that's what you'd do with a dog--
ray: Just dig a hole and bury him.
ray: So how come you can't do that with a father? [Moves in closer to Henry's corpse. Earl pours himself a drink, smokes and keeps thumbing through album.]
earl: I don't know. I don't know the answer to that, Ray. I don't know why that is. Nobody cares about a dog. I guess that's it.
ray: [Getting very close to Henry.] Nobody cares about a dog.
earl: Well, they don't.
ray: You mean outside the dog's little circle of friends? His little family.
earl: Yeah, nobody cares. [Ray reaches out to touch Henry's corpse. Earl stands suddenly.]
earl: Don't touch him! [Long pause. Ray stares at Earl.]
earl: Just don't touch him.
ray: Why is that, Earl?
earl: Just--don't. It's not a good idea. [Pause. Ray looks at corpse, then back at Earl.]
ray: Am I gonna catch something--some disease?
earl: Just--get away from him.
ray: Have you touched him?
ray: It's not gonna hurt anything, is it? [Ray goes to touch the corpse again, but Earl makes a strong move toward him.]
earl: Don't touch him, Ray! [Ray backs off.]
ray: What're you so jumpy about?
earl: I'm not jumpy.
ray: Are you superstitious or something?
earl: I just don't think it's a good idea to touch him.
ray: Afraid he might come back to life?
earl: That's pretty funny. [Pause.]
ray: He's starting to stink, Earl. I think he's starting to stink.
earl: I can't smell it.
ray: Yeah, well, you've been with him too long. You've grown insensitive to it.
earl: Insensitive. Me, insensitive?
ray: Yeah. There's a stink in here. There's definitely a stink and you can't smell it.
earl: That's right.
ray: How long's it take before things really start to rot. You know--
earl: How should I know? I'm no expert on death. [Earl returns to table, sits and goes back to album.]
ray: I mean really bad--turning to maggots.
earl: We're not gonna wait that long, for Christ's sake! Just try to relax a little, Ray. All right? Just relax. Feel honored that we have this small time alone with him. Try to treasure it. [Pause.]
earl: That's right, honored. Somebody else could've discovered him first. Anybody. A total stranger. The taxi driver or that crazy chick--what's her name--or--anybody. They'd have called the cops right off the bat. The mortuary boys would've been here already with a body bag and hauled him off. And there we'd be. We'd be the last ones notified. No privacy. All kinds of questions. Forms to fill out. We'd never have had two seconds with him by ourselves. [Pause.]
Copyright © 2002 by Sam Shepard. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.