UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES by C. Rosalind Bell

Setting: The play takes place in two locales in: Tacoma, Washington and New Orleans.The stage is split down the middle representing either city.

Characters:
Josephine Cohen
: 45-55 yr old Southern Jewish American author of mid-list fiction. Tightly wound, acerbic, big hair (70s style), small physical frame, allergic to everything, afraid to gain a pound, when aggrieved holds grudges with a vengeance. And friend and mentor to…

Amanda Brown: 35-45 yr old African American writer/chef seeking a publisher for her short stories.  Easy going, friendly, loves everybody,brown-skin, modern dress/look, into forgiveness, fondness for feng shui or any so-called life- enhancing trend. Inventive cook

Josephine lives in New Orleans, Amanda used to but moved to Tacoma a few years before.

ACT I

Scene 1

Lights up on AMANDA’S Tacoma house. There is a knock at the door. She answers it, looks down to see a small package. She picks it up smiling, brings it indoors.  While unwrapping it, all giddy, she dials her friend, JOSEPHINE.

Lights up on JOSEPHINE’S New Orleans home.

 AMANDA has unwrapped a book. 

AMANDA

Guess what I’m holding in my hand?! Guess what I’m holding in my hand?

JOSEPHINE

So the mail does get out to the hinterlands at decent intervals.

AMANDA

My hinterlands will beat your backwater any day. Come on guess.

JOSEPHINE

Oh, I don’t know…a man? Six foot two with…

AMANDA

eyes period. I wouldn’t be on the phone with you I can tell you that.

JOSEPHINE

Umm…let me see.

AMANDA

Ask me if it’s bigger than a bread basket.

JOSEPHINE

Who are you, Art Linkletter? You’re not old enough to know.. I don’t understand your proclivity toward…

AMANDA

It’s called cable…and then there’s this truly spectacular invention called the internet.  No separation of the ages. Shhh it’s a secret.

JOSEPHINE

So you got it, huh? Whadda you think? Frankly, my stomach burns every time I glance at the cover.  Of course those fucking bastards in the PR department didn’t listen to me…I mean who the hell am I?  Just the goddamn writer that’s all! Fucking twits. Did you see the cover?… Jackson Pollack on steroids. The PR people are younger than you are! Pierson! Turn it down or turn it off! I mean what do splotches have to do with my book, I asked the underage bimbo …probably the sex slave of my new editor…she gives me some retarded shit about they were not splotches but were symbols emblematic of the vitriolic spewing of the main character and were artistically rendered expressions of the detritus that remains on a surface after a sneeze. My book is titled COUGH not SNOT you   fucking idiot!  Excuse me a minute, Amanda, this demon son of mine! Pierson! Turn down that god-awful crap so I can hear myself talk!

AMANDA grabs a book from her bookshelf, comes to a marked page.

JOSEPHINE

Go jump in the pool or something! Just off with that noise! Pierson! I swear I’ll come in there and toss the damn thing! Sheesh! I’m back…don’t forget…whatever you do…have no kids and for the life of Brian , do not get married! Oh promise me…when all about you are losing their minds…you’ll keep yours!

AMANDA

Still got the book…listen..

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

 But they were fucked up in their turn

 By fools in old-style hats and coats,

 Who half  the time were soppy-stern

 And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.

 It deepens like a coastal shelf.

 Get out as early as you can,

And don’t  have any kids yourself.

The last is said in unison.

JOSEPHINE

“And don’t have any kids yourself!”

The share a laugh.

JOSEPHINE

Ah…dear, dear Phillip Larkin. This Be The Verse. If only I could get you to believe him or me.  You’re already saddled with one terrible affliction…having to write is enough of a burden for anybody. But at least it chose you…you didn’t choose it. Non-negotiable. Marriage is choice driven. I ought to steal all the Pro Life and Pro Choice propaganda and twist it: “Choose Life Over Marriage.” And “Choice: You Have It If You Don’t Say ‘I Do.” I’m telling you,  you do not want to get married. Pierson! This is the last time…

AMANDA

Bitter Jewish Woman.

Mookie the cat comes into JOSEPHINE’S eyesight.

JOSEPHINE

And take your demon spawn with you. Bitter Jewish Woman = Realist.

SHE whispers into the phone.

JOSEPHINE

I swear my cat is trying to kill me.

AMANDA

You’re just looking for excuses to get rid of it.

JOSEPHINE

You want it? You can have it…but you have to take my demon child with it. Jesus Christ, Mary, Joseph, Solomon and Sadie.

AMANDA

No thank you. Sadie? Who’s Sadie?

JOSEPHINE

What do you know?  I’m a bigger Christian than you are and I’m a Jew.

AMANDA

Well, I’m a bigger Jew than you are since you practice diddly squat.  And your brother’s a rabbi. I know they must shake their heads behind your back…wag their fingers. Shame shame.

JOSEPHINE

Don’t get me started on my favorite CHEWS.

AMANDA

CHEWS…you’re funny.  I don’t think the cover’s as bad as you think it is.  It is a little abstract…but that’s not bad.

JOSEPHINE

I told the fool Escher. Or Or Escher-like. They don’t care if sell ten books…in fact that’s what’ll probably happen.

AMANDA

People love your writing, Josie.  You know I do. Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus…either great or favorable reviews.

JOSEPHINE

Where are these people?!

AMANDA

Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus…either great or favorable reviews of all your books…all 5 of them.

JOSEPHINE

Who reads those besides Industry Egg heads?

AMANDA

Me.  I do.

JOSEPHINE

You’re in the industry, egghead.

AMANDA

You know you get like this whenever a book tour is up-coming or you have a speaking engagement or…

JOSEPHINE

Or my boy child is growing more insane by the hour, I’m so- called critically acclaimed yet my publisher wants to drop me and my boyfriend broke up with me.

AMANDA

Whoa! Wait a minute.  I knew something was going on. When did that happen?

JOSEPHINE

Two weeks ago.  Ten minutes ago…doesn’t matter…he’s gone.

AMANDA

And you didn’t tell me?  You weren’t going to tell me?

JOSEPHINE

I knew you were on deadline…and nobody understands writers’ deadlines but other writers.  And you know you…any excuse to get up from the writing table is all you need. A paper bag blowing down the street will have you going into rescue mode.  And besides…I’m a big girl.  I can handle it…I called my therapist and asked her to add some Xanax to my mix. I’ll be fine.  I’ve always told you pain pills were wasted on pain.

AMANDA

But you’re in pain.

JOSEPHINE

No I’m not.  He was a loser.

AMANDA

I know.

JOSEPHINE

What do you mean you know…you never met him.

AMANDA

Through you, silly,you told me…you liked his..his..

JOSEPHINE

Miss Goody Two Shoes can’t even say the word.  Damn those Catholics did a number on you.

AMANDA

Methodists.  Remember my parents just sent us to Catholic school.  The Methodists got to me first…but really, I don’t know a single religion that promotes talking about the anatomy of the opposite sex.

JOSEPHINE

Jews!  What with circumcision tantamount to holding hands with God…peni are all over the place.

AMANDA

Peni?  That’s great…I’ll have to use that one.  Anyway you said he was good in the sack.

JOSEPHINE

Nope.  Great in the sack.

AMANDA

So…

JOSEPHINE

What to do with those other 23 and ½ hours?

AMANDA

Sleep 8.

JOSEPHINE

10..So there’s 13 ½ left.

AMANDA

Eat…say 2.

JOSEPHINE

3…so there’s 10 ½ left.

AMANDA

Work 8.

JOSEPHINE

2 ½ left…

AMANDA

That’s nothing.

JOSEPHINE

A fucking eternity if you’ve run out of stuff to say to one another. It was like talking to a load of bricks. He hated Jeopardy.  Hated it.

AMANDA

But you said he broke up with you.

JOSEPHINE

That’s my MO…I can’t stand to hurt people’s feelings. Anyway, that’s that…something about him though, boring but…oh I don’t know…he also didn’t read.

AMANDA

Couldn’t or didn’t.

JOSEPHINE

Didn’t…I haven’t gone all the way caveman yet. But look at Pierson’s father…reads all the time, a PhD and is an A # 1 hole with an ass.

AMANDA

I’m sorry, Josie.

JOSEPHINE

You should be…all that telling me to move my furniture around to attract love.  And look where it got me.  You and your cut-rate Feng Shoo ee.

AMANDA

Feng Shui.

JOSEPHINE

Nah…I believe you gave me Feng Shooo eee.  I’m kidding you. Don’t be sorry, it’s not your fault…he’s one in a long line of “Damnit to hell what was I drinking?”  But…now I don’t have to march into the kitchen and act like I know what the hell I’m doing.  My cook is back and we’re all happy now…one big kind of happy family. No more boyfriends.  No more husbands.  I’m free!

AMANDA

You need a break, Ms Feminist. Why don’t you come here…I was going to surprise you…but I’m working on a few things…if they…

JOSEPHINE

Which book?

AMANDA

MARILYN STOPPARD…that’s the one you’re touring next, right?

JOSEPHINE

Oh, I thought it was COUGH. I want some press on that…but It’s with a different publishing house and wont be in stores until the fall damn it.

AMANDA

Well, if you come out here for MARILYN, meet some fans, make some new ones, meet Rick and Karen at Elliot Bay Books…I mean I’ll use all my contacts…

JOSEPHINE

Hold on…not so fast!  It’s COUGH I really want to concentrate on. I’m telling you the publishers wash their hands of me soon as they print  damn thing…that’s the final gallies that I sent you by the way..I know you’re keeping all those unedited versions.

AMANDA

Thank you. I know you’re anxious…and we’ll get to that…if you let me sell MARILYN STOPPARD to my Seattle folks. I love that book…I’m sure I’ll love (she coughs) COUGH too. Which might I remind you…I just received so haven’t had a chance to even thumb through it…but I can start talking it up.  Why? Because look who wrote it! (coughs).

JOSEPHINE

Very funny.  (she coughs too).   Oh, I thought I’d already sent you my dear COUGH’S galleys.

AMANDA

No…you said you would…or have the publisher send it..just  never got around to it…maybe it was during Pierson’s school crisis.

JOSEPHINE

Ha! Which one? I don’t know what to do with that little bastard. I’m fucking tearing my hair out. And the shit he has for a father is a waste of tissue and bone.  He’s gonna die when he reads COUGH…fucking die…him and his sleaze bag mama.  Ooh baby! Ooooooh baby!

AMANDA

Wow…you really hate that guy.

JOSEPHINE

Um huh. And that cesspool who gave him life.

AMANDA

It’s doing you more harm that it is them.

JOSEPHINE

A price I’ll gladly pay.  They made my life a living hell!  My turn! There it is for all the world to see.

AMANDA

I know.  I know.  But it’s time to let it go.

JOSEPHINE

You’re an innocent. A protected little innocent. You don’t know shit about the real world. Those people nearly sucked the marrow out of my bones..I can’t forget what they took from me. I’m not about to forget.  And meanwhile he’s at Xavier…writing God-awful books about black people,your people for crying out loud…teaching African American literature and he spits shit from sun up to sundown in the privacy of his privacy…you haven’t seen a bigger racist than that clown… that entire clan. Evil people. Evil.

AMANDA

Is that clan with a “C” or clan with a “KKK”?

JOSEPHINE

Same thing in that family. Same thing.  Ah, now they get to reap what they’ve sown. And Fuck you, Thomas Wolfe, I am going home  again…one more time to that place …holy shit!   Something’s burning…Pierson!  I got to go…when you finish reading, let me know, okay. Boy! I know you hear me! And Amanda, I want you to know I heard your feminist crack.  Thing about us older feminists is that we really know how to bring home the bacon fry it up in the pan…Pierson!

AMANDA

 AMANDA tries to talk over the yelling.  Okay…got you. Hey, I’m not going to be able to get to it right away though…deadlines for the manuscript and a new play.

JOSEPHINE

I’ll be waiting with fish baited breath. Gotta run. Pierson! Pierson! Murder remains my option! Pierson!  Answer me!

AMANDA

Josie? I’m not going to be able to get …Josie?

AMANDA hangs up when she realizes JOSEPHINE is gone.

Lights go down on the scene.

ACT I

Scene 2

Scene

AMANDA is on phone with Seattle librarian NPR regular and author, Nancy Pearl.

AMANDA

Hello.

NANCY PEARL

Hello, this is Nancy Pearl looking for Amanda Brown.

AMANDA

Oh,  Ms. Nancy Pearl, thank you so much for getting back to me.  I told you in my letter how much I love your show. I haven’t had a chance to read even half of your recommendations… but they are on my lust list.

NANCY PEARL

So you’ve read my Book Lust sounds like. And please call me Nancy.

AMANDA

Indeed I’ve read it…marked it up.  You’re so naughty with that title: Book Lust…I love it. Have you had a chance to read Josephine Cohen’s book, MARILYN STOPPARD yet?

NANCY PEARL

I’ve got to tell you,you are one persistent PR marketer.  Your author friend is lucky to have you working on her     behalf…and my apologies to you for taking so long to get back to you.  It’s just that with all..

AMANDA

Oh, that’s okay, I understand.  I’m just grateful you took a look at her work.  So…what do you think?  I’m holding my breath…crossing my fingers, toes, eyes…are you going to review it on your  KUOW show?

NANCY PEARL

She’s a very skillful writer…no doubt about that…It’s just that this is not my usual cup of tea.  An unreliable narrator has to be my least favorite protagonist in the entire world of literature.  However, you have been so patient with me, and so…so…tenderly persistent in nudging me to read it…and I did find the story fascinating…if annoying…so yes, I will review it.

AMANDA

Oh my goodness!  Thank you, Nancy Pearl!  Thank you!

NANCY PEARL

No, thank you…I’ll probably have it on my KUOW program In about a month or so.  I’ll email you with the exact date and time.  Bye for now.

AMANDA

Okay, good bye and thank you again. (AMANDA hangs up the phone, jumps in the air and yelps.) Up next..the Seattle Book Festival…Now if I can just get her  to agree to it she could come for a visit!

Lights out on scene.

ACT I

Scene 3

Lights up on each residence. AMANDA AND JOSEPHINE are speaking with one on the telephone. AMANDA is in the tub.

AMANDA

You sound down. Are you sure you’re not missing Mr. Haven’t Read A Book Since Seventh Grade?  I’m telling you this Pacific Northwest air ought to be bottled and sold. It’ll cure whatever ails you.

JOSEPHINE

You’re such a traitor.  Everything’s the Pacific Northwest…And why can’t you just say the northwest or Tacoma…it’s so…so Northwest Passagey…the Pacific Northwest.  Do you go on salmon bakes? Run into Lewis and Clark often?

AMANDA

That’s the Oregon Trail and it’s Sa mon silly…

JOSEPHINE

I’ll bet you didn’t grow up eating Samon cakes..you ate SaLmon cakes just like everybody else here in Louisiana

AMANDA

Talking about good too…from the can…at least that’s how I remember it…being good.I don’t think I had had a fresh samon until I came here the first go round. Kinda crazy because we had every kind of fresh Calcasieu River and Gulf of Mexico seafood, at our house…you name it, oysters, shrimp, catfish, perch, bass, snapper, trout, crabs…fresh as they want to be…but I still loved me some salmoncakes made from the can.

JOSEPHINE

I’d forgotten you were not new to the Pacific Northwest.

AMANDA

It’s been so long, it feels new.  You ought to come on out, I’m telling you…I went ahead and sent a copy of your MARILYN STOPPARD to our local NPR station.

A librarian does reviews every week and  drum roll please.I She jumped at the chance to review MARILYN STOPPARD!

JOSEPHINE

I wish you were handling all the PR and marketing…these New York Bozos wouldn’t know a well-designed tour from a box of hair…still I have to kiss their asses if I want any little bit of exposure for MARILYN STOPPARD or for COUGH,

AMANDA

Which brings me to my next question..so, say I was able to line up an event or two here, would you come?

JOSEPHINE

To the Evergreen State?  Leave my precious City That Care forgot for some granola sprouting, coffee drunk  tree kissing mountain worshippers?

AMANDA

Yes! Yes! It’s amazing, the streets are clean here! There’s no trash on the street.. Litter Bugs have gone the way of what….the typewriter…the phone book…they’re extinct.

JOSEPHINE

So we have some what you call litter. What’s wrong with a little litter?

AMANDA

It is litter…and New Orleans doesn’t have just some! It has tons!  A veritable plethora.

JOSEPHINE

Veritable plethora my keyhole! That so called litter is how we calculate the success of Mardi Gras…we know by the tonnage how much the city profited and how many suddenly crazed Iowans or your vaunted Pacific Northwesterners dotted our landscape with their litter.

AMANDA

You do a crafty job of distracting and deflecting.

JOSEPHINE

None better.

AMANDA

I just think it would do your heart some good…get away from Pierson…

JOSEPHINE

He falls hard when I’m gone…I ‘d be flying over Missouri and get a message to come home because he’s done some outrageous something to somebody.  And you know I do not travel well under the best circumstances.

AMANDA

But you hired me to help you market your book!  Readers want to meet the author.  Plain and simple.

JOSEPHINE

It’s so unfair. First I have write the damn thing then schlep all over the country hoping and praying somebody will show up at my reading… Do you see clothes designers going from city to city meeting their constituencies?

AMANDA

Uh huh…I do..runway shows.

JOSEPHINE

Not your average, run of the mill hourly wage worker like me you don’t.

AMANDA

So now you do piece meal work…you’re a day laborer?

JOSEPHINE

Yep.  After all these years…where do I end up..as a mid-list writer…Authors who consistently publish acceptable but not bestselling books are referred to as Midlist authors.

AMANDA

Well, the strength of your writing more than guarantees that you’ll keep being published.

JOSEPHINE

Am I supposed to take comfort in that? You’re the only writer I know who does not want to be famous.  And I have to tell l you until I got to know you I thought you were lying.  I mean “Double Bubble, toil and trouble…  What writer wants to labor in the trenches in the unknown trenches of obscurity and dereliction for time immemorial?  Besides you I mean? Why you’re slumming it is beyond me…you have more writing talent and moxie than half of those well-known hacks you escort around town.  And just how’s the escort business, by the way?

AMANDA

Loving it.  We were made for one another.

JOSEPHINE

Ever wonder what your mama and daddy would have thought of your job?

AMANDA

That their daughter is an escort?  Oh, they’d have been asked to be brought to the cemetery and buried alive.

JOSEPHINE

My mother would have asked me if I worked as an escort  for blind and feeble men.

AMANDA

Once they knew it was all about the book…and not sex then it would have been fine. I’d always have to say Literary Escort every time. Sex, especially illicit sex is not funny to black teacher Methodist parents. There is no joke there.

JOSEPHINE

Yes, yes..I guess so…anybody interesting lately?

AMANDA

All the time…that’s why I love it, I never know what the personality of the author is going t o be. Until I get to the airport…I can almost tell from looking them over at baggage before they see me…I can almost tell if I’ve got a nut, a loner, a perv, a looney (and there is a difference between nut and loony) or a potential friend. And that photo on the jacket cover may as well be of a kangaroo cuz it generally looks nothing like the real person. Man I’ve had some doozies…but mostly really cool people. The owners give all the WooWoo, as you call them, authors to me…and the CookBooks, and the truly literary ones…cuz I’ve requested them…the over the top famous, they usually keep for themselves..I did have Margaret Cho once…that was fun and easy…all I did was ride around in her chauffeur-driven Town Car escorting her up to her appointments.  Usually it’s just me and the author and my Honda…off to the radio station, the tv station, the newspaper…drop them off at the their hotel, then pick them up in the evening for Elliot Bay. They’re generally spent by the evening, but they come alive in front of the crowds…and you will too

JOSEPHINE

Hey I’m jealous…you’ve made so many writer friends since you’ve been escorting…all your famous friends now you’re going to forget about your poor little mid-lister writer friend me.

AMANDA

Never.

JOSEPHINE

You know my Chews take that word very seriously…

AMANDA

I know.  Wish my people had the same kind of refrain for  us…God knows we have to keep the thing uppermost in our minds…thing is some people do not want to be reminded.

JOSEPHINE

We don’t have that problem…we tell anybody who’ll listen..or even if they don’t want to…it’s our mission statement. Comes with birth certificate:  “Never again.” Yeah, I’m kidding…but in a way…I’m not…we know from birth…maybe it’s in the tittie…I do not know…but it’s in us.

AMANDA

Maybe I can start one for us…it’s never too late…maybe that could be it: It’s never too late.

JOSEPHINE

Ehhhh…too namby pamby…sounds like the boat already sailed…

AMANDA

I know you just didn’t say “boat” and “sailed.”

JOSEPHINE

Sorry…but you need something declarative  “Never again”  means something.  We’ll kick the living shit out of you or shoot you into tomorrow..but we’re not doing a next time.  Entebbe ring a bell?

AMANDA

Well look at you…all animated and stuff about Jewry.  You of all people.  Well I never dreamed…I thought you didn’t identify.

JOSEPHINE

I don’t but look at me…I don’t have to identify somebody would do it for me…it’s written all over my face.and besides…I do not do well in crowds or death marches…so. . . “Never Again.” Sign me up.

AMANDA

How about I sign you up for the Seattle Book Festival…it’s huge, Josephine…I got you in!.

JOSEPHINE

Oh no!

AMANDA

Oh no!  What do you mean, Oh no!

JOSEPHINE

 I keep telling you I’m the world’s worst traveler.  All those crying babies and people’s flesh falling over me on the seat next to me…an unholy germ box  floating across the sky.  I don’t know…I can’t see it…nobody’s going to show up for my book anyway.

AMANDA

They will show up and you’ll show up…You’re also on a panel.

JOSEPHINE

Jesus Fucking Christ are you mad, woman?! A panel? Me on a panel?  Without an oxygen mask?  There’s not enough valium in the world.

AMANDA

You told me you wanted exposure.  MARILYN STOPPARD is a brilliant book…you, it deserve exposure…The Seattle International Book Festival will guarantee you that.

JOSEPHINE

I can’t do this. I’m a wreck.  Can’t you tell? I’m a wreck.

AMANDA

You just need to believe in yourself.  Breathe deeply…I keep telling you to try yoga or Tai Chi

JOSEPHINE

I keep telling you to go fly a kite.  I ride my exercise bike to stay in shape. Keep the fat at bay.

AMANDA

That’s your body…I’m talking about a mind/body connection.

JOSEPHINE

WoooWooooowooooWooooo…that damn Northwest has really gotten to you…and here I thought California was WimpTown.

AMANDA

What chu talking ‘bout, Willis?  You’re the wimp…Can’t even accept a “yes” when people are telling you they like your work and are inviting you to  participate.

JOSEPHINE

Must be some sort of catch.

AMANDA

A little one. It’s in 2 weeks.

JOSEPHINE

Holy shit!

Lights down.

ACT I

Scene 4

Lights up on AMANDA’S residence.  AMANDA is dancing to some old school Motown. Singing her heart out.  SHE does not hear the phone ring.

Lights up on JOSEPHINE’S residence. JOSEPHINE is on pedaling her stationary bike.  SHE has a cast on her left arm. It is awkward for her to maneuver much.

JOSEPHINE

Damn.  Answer the phone, Amanda. The music stops.  AMANDA answers the phone out of breath.

AMANDA

Hello, Amanda speaking.

JOSEPHINE

Great.  I thought you were gone. You sound like you’ve been having sex.

AMANDA

You sound like you wish you’d been. You’re obsessed you really should see someone.

JOSEPHINE

You’re the one with pimples.  You’re the one with ‘want some’ bumps on her face…not me!

AMANDA

Remind me to not tell you anything again, okay?  Jeez. You’re Just like a man; sex on your brain 24/7…you’re quite abnormal.  Look, glad you called.  Hold on…I have all your arrangements for the festival. Hold on.

AMANDA puts down the phone and gets her notebook.

AMANDA

Okay, you come in Wednesday, the 27th…I can email you all of this, but I want to tell you, I’m sooo excited…okay you get in Wednesday at 2:55..we’ll just miss the I-5 parking lot.  Thursday I’ve arranged for you to do a signing here in Tacoma at Borders and the Library is partnering with UW and you’ll do one there as well.  Then Friday morning we’ll drive to Seattle for the Festival…

JOSEPHINE

Amanda…

AMANDA

Hold on…here’s the kicker…you’re going to be on the platform with Barry Lopez and David Long, he’s a local fiction author, very good, you’ll like him…he had a story published in The New Yorker which is a very big deal to a lot of folks. He’s like you way underrated.

JOSEPHINE

At least he’s fiction..what’s Barry Lopez doing in there?

AMANDA

Beats me…something about the environment that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me…like each of you has aspects of the environment in your books that is central to the character…some gobbledeegook like that. He’s kinda a god-like figure in these here parts.

JOSEPHINE

Amanda, I broke my elbow.

AMANDA

Your what?  Your elbow?  Ouch…how’d you do that?

JOSEPHINE

Three guesses and the first two don’t count.

AMANDA

Pierson.

JOSEPHINE

I think he was trying to hit me.  So I reached back, overextended and with a force I didn’t know I had hit the wall.

AMANDA

So now he’s trying to hit you? You’d better be careful

JOSEPHINE

Now you tell me.  He’s with his father for a few days…we need

a cooling off period.

AMANDA

Well good, this trip couldn’t have happened at a better time.

JOSEPHINE

That’s why I’m calling…I don’t think I should come now.

AMANDA

They’ve already bought your ticket, Josephine.  All the materials are printed…with your name on them…all these interviews I’ve set up…the readings…

JOSEPHINE

I know.  I’m going to pay you for all your hard work.  I don’t think I should fly with my infirmity.

AMANDA

Says who?

JOSEPHINE

You’re making this too hard, Amanda.  Pierson needs me.

AMANDA

He does not.  He can stay with his daddy or your sister. Or his sister, Wren.

JOSEPHINE

God help us all.  My sister needs somebody to watch her.  No thank you. And Wren…she’s taking my ‘Do as I do not as I say’ class…and being quite the model student.

AMANDA

Give me more.

JOSEPHINE

She’s leap-frogged over about half a dozen perfectly good and sane men to hitch her wagon to a certified nut.  I can’t leave my boy child in a situation I’m trying to get her out of. I just see this as a sign.

AMANDA

Oh so now you’re going all WoooWooo all of a sudden.

JOSEPHINE

Well, I do have my health to consider…There’s no spring in this chicken. I do not think it’s good to fly with broken limbs.

AMANDA

It’s not…not in the first 48 hours, Josephine.  You have five whole days until flight time.  You cannot do this to me.

JOSEPHINE

I’ll bet you haven’t even read COUGH yet have you? I know because all the attention has gone to MARILYN STOPPARD … And before you start, I’m not criticizing you..but COUGH is my Magnum opus, that’s the book that’s got my heart in it…I don’t ever have to write another book, Amanda…that’s the one that I need and want you to market, okay? I can wait until next time or when you can market that one.

AMANDA

I’m feeling a little blackmailed, you know. And it does not feel good. Did you even have any intention of coming?

JOSEPHINE

So now you’re doubting my elbow’s even sick? You’ll eat crow shit when I step off the plane…just you watch…I’ll have it all warmed up for you.

AMANDA

Wait? So now you’re coming?! Josephine!

JOSEPHINE

I do not want to come…I have a broken elbow…my family is going straight down the tubes with me in the lead, but…what the hell…I don’t want a bunch of crazed Scandinavians going after you…who might kill you with a butter knife or a pot luck dish.

AMANDA

Ha ha. You can’t believe everything you hear from Garrison Keillor, you know.  Well, I hear you about the family and I Appreciate that you’re coming. This will help you, I believe.  And you’re right, I have not yet read COUGH.

JOSEPHINE

So will you promise me…

AMANDA

guess I could promote it at the same time…

JOSEPHINE

That’s my girl! You could be promoting it at the same time.  So you promise me you’ll read it and I’ll promise you this old, poor, decrepit, uni arm, writer will come to Pleasantville. Deal?

AMANDA

Deal.  (THEY hang up the phone.  AMANDA takes a deep breath, looks around for COUGH…makes a comfy chair…pours some water and begins to read.  Her face goes from placid, to questioning, to puzzlement to disbelief as she begins to quickly turn pages.  She puts the book in her lap…clasps her hands…looks around the room with brow furrowed…stands up, the book falls, she doesn’t notice..she goes to the window, opens it, takes a deep breath, shakes her head, goes back to the book, thumbs through it for confirmation. Drops it. All the while shaking her head.)  Oh my god.

End of ACT I

ACT II

Scene:1

Lights up on JOSEPHINE’S and AMANDA’S places.  THEY are talking on the phone.

JOSEPHINE

And guess what, before I board the plane to “Where have all the freaking car horns gone,” Maple Street Bookstore is  having me do a reading…yes, that’s right…the uppity snits of the local Smith Alumni chapter have finally decided I’m alive after all and actually do live and write books in New Orleans so they want to honor me for some strange reason after all these years of active ignoring…maybe I’m going to die on the plane.  I’ve sent them enough money over the years to endow my own chair…it’s about time they do something on my behalf. Hold on a minute. (SHE puts down the phone and lets out a whale of a wail. Takes a deep breath, shakes It off goes back to phone.)  With my little juvenile delinquent gone it’s waaay too quiet in here. Eerily so.I’m trying to do a gazillion things before getting on that casket in the sky. Including making sure my boy is okay.  He said he hates me so I know he’s fine. Told him I hate him more.  And was going to make him stay with his  daddy while I was gone to prove it.  (AMANDA laughs a very small, almost inaudible laugh…might even be considered a grunt.) Are you okay? You’ve hardly said a word. What’s going on with you? Do I need to hurry there with a can of whup ass and kick  some lumberjack butt? You’re not sick are you?  All that rain and lack of sun is DE pressing I keep telling you. I think I will do an intervention when I’m there and kidnap you… bring you home. You’re not sick are you? Oh no!  Don’t tell me your used to be is making moves?

AMANDA

Nope, I’m okay. Not sick. I’m okay.

JOSEPHINE

Nah…you’re doing that Prarie Home Companion   Scandinavian thing Keillor’s always talking about…say one thing mean the total and complete opposite: “How’s the Roast beef, Inge?” “OH, it’s tasty, Lars, your cooking is right up there with Julia Child,” and then spits it out the first chance she gets and tells all her friends she thought she might die.  What’s going on with you? We’ve got to figure that out so that we can get to the heart of the matte, the real reason I called; see if you kept your promise and find out how you liked my book.

AMANDA

That’s what’s wrong with me.

JOSEPHINE

What’s wrong with you?

AMANDA

That.

JOSEPHINE

That what? Jeez Amanda, give me a break…what is wrong with you?

(AMANDA is trying to hold it together.) Amanda.  Are you still there? What’s going on?

AMANDA

The book.

JOSEPHINE

My book?  COUGH?

AMANDA

Yes.

JOSEPHINE

What, you didn’t like it? Oh shit…didn’t see this coming.(No response from AMANDA). Amanda, it’s okay… you don’t have to like everything I write…you’re my friend…just tell me you didn’t like it…

AMANDA

It’s worse than that Josephine…it’s way, way worse than that.

Lights down on scene.

ACT II

Scene 2

AMANDA is in her bedroom fixing her hair in a mirror. SHE speaks to herself.

AMANDA

What white folks need is a holiday…just like in Toni Morrison’s book Sula.  Well, not exactly like in Sula…but kinda like in Sula. Reminiscent of Sula.  (SHE grabs Sula from her bookshelf and thumbs through it.)  Ahh…Toni Morrison…I do love you. Here it is…National Suicide day…”On the third day of the new year, he walked through the Bottom down Carpenter’s Road with a cowbell and a hangman’s rope calling the people together.  Telling them that this was their only chance to kill themselves or each other.”  (AMANDA dials her phone)  Hey JC,  what’re you doing, you got a minute? Okay, good, listen to this…you know how much I love me some Toni Morrison…well, I remembered the scene in SULA when Shadrack chartered National Suicide Day…well, I’m thinking that that’s what white people need.  No…silly, not a Suicide Day…a National Day of Saying “Nigger.”  No I’m not kidding. It would be just one day when they get to swing open their doors, yell from the roof tops…yeah yeah . . . yeah! Exactly!  Like Peter Finch in NETWORK! Just yell it from the top of their lungs…from all the secret places it’s hidden…in folds of their hearts, the creases of their lower intestines, the crevices between their toes…get in there and drag that bad boy out into daylight one night a year…I know. I know…some will claim they have never said that word, that it wasn’t allowed in their house…and they could never utter such a nasty, vile, reprehensible utterance.  Balderdash! It’s every white person’s not so secret weapon…and time and time again some lunatic reminds us that it’s sitting here (she sticks her   tongue out and points to its rear)…on the back of some tongues, to be, sure…but I believe if you look carefully in all the nooks and crannies, it’s there, ready to strike. So let’s give them a state-sanctioned platform.  You want it?  Well, baby you’ve got it! One day a year!!!!

Lights down on scene.