General Script posted August 1, 2022 Chapters:  ...14 15 -16- 17... 


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The Fires of Purpose stoked in Juniper's Heart

A chapter in the book The Incomparable Fanny Barnwarmer

Incomparable Fanny Barnwarmer 16

by Jay Squires




 

End of Previous Scene: Fanny had just explained how Juni’s Aunt Pikki, on the train, en route to Sojourner Truth’s funeral, had disclosed to Juni what Elizabeth had sworn her sister to secrecy about, i.e., her intention to murder Thurston Flourney. Here are FANNY’S last words, closing the scene:  “They’s two wimmin, young man. … They’s two wimmin alone … on a long, hot, bone-rattlin’ train … an’ they’s headin’ fer a fune’ral. Dyin’ ’as in th’ air.”

 

ACT III
Scene 5

 

CHARACTERS:
Fanny Barnwarmer:
Eighty-five-year-old woman with plenty of spark and sizzle still in her. Has been performing at the Tavern for forty-four years.
Reporter: Mid-thirties. Works for the New York Times, on assignment in Brady, Texas to write a human-interest story on the famous Fanny Barnwarmer.

SETTING: Front porch of Fanny Barnwarmer’s home. Rocking chair, DOWNSTAGE RIGHT, facing kitchen chair, CENTER, and front steps behind, which descend to street level with a flowerbed to the side. OFFSTAGE LEFT, street sounds of traffic: of vintage 1929 cars, some horse whinnying, etc., that continue as a kind stew of white-noise background throughout the scene.

PLACE/TIME: Brady Texas, 4: 05 PM, Sunday, August 11, 1929

AT RISE: As with the previous scenes, FANNY and the REPORTER sit facing each other. 

 

REPORTER:
I gather you had to find out about …

(putting strong emphasis on the next two words)

Aunt Pikki’s disclosure from … Miss Juniper, herself?

FANNY:
(Seeming to have caught the inflection)
Reckon’ as how I din’t need to. I seed it in her face thet day they step off th’ train—thet she’s a—oh! she’s a diff’runt Juni from ’afore.
(Daubing her eyes)
T’ boot—T’other Juni, I knowed I’d ne’er git back agin.

REPORTER:
To this day, you feel the pain of it?

FANNY:
Seein’ her … thet be the beginnin’ o’ th’ pain, young man. Today jes’ be the reco’lectin’ of it.

(Bracing herself)
’Course, Ain’t Pikki—she seed th’ change too. Right off … an’ she feeled turr’ble bad ’bout bein’ th’ one what brung it on.

REPORTER:
(With the same curious inflection)
Good ol’ Aunt Pikki.

[FANNY cocks her head and stares, slack-jawed, at the REPORTER for a long moment. Then her eyes seem to unfocus in an odd manner. The REPORTER watches this with his head atilt]

REPORTER (Continues):
Are you okay, Miss Fanny?

FANNY:
(Using her frail arms to push her weight off her chair)
GAO ….

REPORTER:
(Putting album and tablet on the floor, he scrambles to his feet and stretches his arms toward FANNY)
Miss Fanny! What’re you doing?

FANNY:
(Sinking back heavily into the rocker, blinking, looking for the moment confused)
Thet …? Oh, thet be a-a stage trick fer when the crowd git sidetracked.

REPORTER:
(Still standing)
A stage trick?! No, no, Miss Fanny. I noticed—oh, fifteen minutes or so ago that you seemed pale, but then I thought it was my imagination, so I didn’t say anything. What—what can I do for you? Should I send someone for the doctor?

FANNY
I’s fine, young man. It be a trick—no more. Sit down.

REPORTER:
My story’s not more important than you are, Miss Fanny.

FANNY:
We’s almost there—now sit!

[The REPORTER reluctantly complies, replacing the album and tablet on his lap]

FANNY (Continues):
They’s one o’ Ain’t Pikki’s brothers at Sojourner Truth’s fune’ral thet my Juni meeted.

REPORTER:
That would be Peter …. It was a pity—after Sojourner Truth had won his freedom from slavery through the courts, and raised him to be a fine young man—that he took a job on a whaling ship and—and he only returned to attend his mother’s funeral.

FANNY
(Who had been staring at his mouth as he spoke, her own mouth a-gape.)
How ’d’y’all know more ’bout thet than I does?

REPORTER:
I’m ashamed of myself for not taking the time to tell you, Miss Fanny … but three days ago, at the end of my first evening with you—when I made the discovery that it was no longer going to be a story about your career as an entertainer, but would, instead, be about you and Miss Juniper ... well … I hope you understand, I had to do some … snooping.

FANNY:
 Snoopin ….

REPORTER:
 I had to lock down some facts. So that first evening, I telephoned my editor, Mr. Villard, and convinced him I had sniffed out a bigger story than the one I was sent to write. Miss Fanny, as colorful and important as your career was, it would end up being only a human interest story, and would soon be forgotten.

FANNY:
 Don’t need no sugar-coatin’, young man.

REPORTER:
 I know
now you’d feel that way, but I didn’t after the first day. Still, I phoned my editor anyway and what followed was twenty-four hours of intense research. You would not believe Mr. Villard’s connections … but I won’t go into that. Just know that I discovered some things that authenticate your and Juniper Albright’s background.

FANNY:
 Thet be what y’alls confessin’?

REPORTER:
 
(Somewhat bemused)
 Yes. But the net result of part of the research is this: Miss Fanny … there was no Aunt Pikki.

FANNY:
 Why … sure as I’s sittin’ here, they was! 

REPORTER:
Not by Isabella Baumfree.

FANNY:
Ya’ll’s sayin’ as how I ’as straytchin’ th’ blanket?

REPORTER:
 Stretching the …

FANNY:
That I’s lyin’?

REPORTER:
 I’m not drawing any conclusions. I’m just saying that Isabella Baumfree—Sojourner Truth—didn’t give birth to a “Pikki”. 
 
(Reading from his notebook)
 She had five children: James, Diana, Peter, Elizabeth, and Sophia. Four of the five were sired by a slave named Tom, one of the many slaves, including Isabella, owned by one John Dumont.

FANNY:
 Tell me ’bout t’chil’ what din’t have Tom as a daddy.

REPORTER:
 That would be Diana. Turned out Isabella Baumfree had been raped by her master, John Dumont, probably many times. One of them produced Diana.

FANNY:
 Diana. That be Pikki, then. I never knowed her given name. She’s alles Pikki to me, but I
did hear-tell they’s a white man somewheres guardin’ th’ woodpile.

REPORTER:
 I don’t understand …
guarding the woodpile ….

FANNY:
 Means Pikki ’as diff’ernt from th’ rest o’ her siblin’s. ’Bout her name—pshaw! What Mama’d name her chil’ Pikki, anyhows? Pro’ly seed Diana pickin’ at her nose or th’ like, an’ … she gived her th’ name an’ it jes’ stuck. Pikki, though, she be Diana, an’ Diana … she be Pikki.
 
(Beat)
 Now, what ot’er blanket y’all’s paper tryin’ t’ prove I straytched?

REPORTER:
(Grinning at her folksy language, he then gets serious)
I assure you, Miss Fanny, the paper’s research wasn’t aimed at pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes or stretching blankets, as you so colorfully put it. I just needed to be sure that the story I write is based on the rock-bed of truth. You don’t know how happy I am to put Aunt Pikki back in the narrative.
(Beat)
About the rest of the research … I
do want to tell you about that, believe me, I do—but before I tossed Peter’s name into your narrative about Miss Juniper meeting her uncle at the funeral, and it took us far afield, I have a strong feeling you were about to mention something important to our story. So … can we first —?

FANNY:
I heered this first from Ain’t Pikki, then theys gaps filled in by my Juni. See … Ain’t Pikki ain’t seed her brother ’afore neither, so they’s some acquantuncin’ goin’ on twixt them, too. But Ain’t Pikki … she seed thet lotsa folks at th’ fune’ral knowed ’bout Juni’s daddy’ lynchin’ … an’ they read ’bout the trial an’ all. Juni ’as like the sun t’ theys earth—they’s all pulled t’her. An’ Peter be no diffurnt, once’t he heerd ’bout it from t’others. He be pulled t’ her too. But much as Pikki could tell, no one knowed ’bout ’Lizabeth’s murd’rin’ plans— ’cause I ast her. 

(Beat)
Now, Pikki, herse’f … she’s lighter skinned then all her kinfolk—bout the color’ve a hik-rey nut … counta Massuh Dumont’s blood—But none’s lighter’n my Juni.

REPORTER:
So … are you saying she was
—I don’t know—was she persecuted by her own for her skin color? I mean this was the funeral for  one of the greatest champions of Negro rights and women’s rights.

FANNY:
Not so’s Ain’t Pikki could tell. Leastways, no one said it out loud. But she tells me theys a lotta headshakin’ an’ whispirin’ goin’ on.

REPORTER:
(Pausing to see if FANNY was going to continue, then seeing she wasn’t)
In all fairness, though, it could’ve been because they knew her daddy had been lynched.
(Beat) 
So … where does Miss Juniper’s uncle Peter fit in?

FANNY:
Ain’t Pikki seed as how he alles kept his eyes on Juni from a ways off, at first. Later—like as a big hawk—he swooped down on her.

REPORTER:
Oh, my!

FANNY:
Don’ mean it thet-a-ways. Keep y’all’s mind outten th’ horse droppin’s. Pikki … she be alles watchin’ from the side, an’ she seed how he be diff’runt, an’ all.

(beat)
Th’ rest I heered from my Juni, herse’—how Peter ’peared set apart from his kin, pro’lly accounta all th’ world he be seein’ made him diff’runt—

REPORTER:
(Carefully)
And what did you make of
your Miss Juni’s reaction to her uncle Peter? Aunt Pikki saw there was something different about him … how did Miss Juniper describe it to you?

FANNY:
She say he’s a big’un wit’ big arms an’ shoulders—prolly from his whalin’ work. He’s over six-foot, like his mama. But … but somthin’ more. In t’way he hol’s hissef up all higher’n everone—an’ his eyes—well dey jes’ throwed off sparks.

REPORTER
(Puffing out his chest and taking on the demeanor of a superior acting person)
He had a kind of swagger, then? Like he was proud?

FANNY:
Kindly like he’s better’n t’others, but without sayin’ it. An’-an’ … Juni say he make her feel better’n t’others, too. Soon … soon he be comiz’ratin’ ’bout ’Lizabeth.

REPORTER:
You mean—

FANNY:
’Bout her apop—’bout her stroke.

REPORTER:
And you’re sure he didn’t know about Elizabeth’s plans before he talked—?

FANNY:
He only knowed ’bout ’Lizabeth feelin’ too poorly to come. They all knowed thet.

REPORTER:
Aunt Pikki couldn’t have told him when they were getting acquainted as brother and sister? After all, She
did seem to find it hard to keep a secret.

FANNY:
Ain’t Pikki din’t tell nobody. Least ways she say she din’t.

REPORTER:
But he knew about it, just the same, didn’t he? Oh, Miss Fanny, please … Forgive me, but something—or someone—had to light a fire in Miss Juniper’s soul … that changed her into the driven woman she was when you saw her step off that train.

(Beat)
No one knew Miss Juniper as intimately as you. Do you think that Aunt Pikki’s breach of Elizabeth’s secret on the train would have been enough to totally transform your Miss Juniper? 

FANNY:
No … no, Robert … Seemed as sech Ain’t Pikki’s words be jest th’ tick what burruhed under my Juni’s skin—leavin’ jest an angwishin’ itch …

REPORTER:
(Slowly. Deliberately. Keeping his eyes fixed on FANNY’S)
Miss Fanny … Did
your Juni tell her uncle Peter … that, before her stroke, Elizabeth—his sister—had planned to kill Thurston Flourney?
 

[THE HEAVY CURTAIN ON THE STAGE GIVES A JUDDER … BUT STAYS OPEN]

 END OF SCENE 5




Recognized

#1
August
2022


As this scene has drawn to a close and I look out on your faces in the audience, I am more aware than ever before that I have failed you. You may have been counting on the curtain call at the end of today's scene. Your maid has prepared your food at home and it is sure to get cold before this play's final act-and you're allowed to leave the theater. (Oh, yes, the doors are locked and chained!)

Before I began writing this scene, I had every intention of covering all the bases, tying up all the loose ends, and leaving y'all a tidy package. I'd even told some of you that in my comments that attended your last reviews. In the ordinary course of playwrighting, my intentions would have been fulfilled. I'd have accomplished those ends in the editing process.

But looking at that blank screen I faced a week ago, I had to solve a couple of problems. Just being told by Aunt Pikki that her mother had planned on murdering Thurston Flourney, would NOT have been enough to bring about a complete transformation in Juni, and make her driven to kill Thurston Flourney. (And you'd have picked up on that, too.) It took something else. That "something else" was Peter, Sojourner's son. To make his presence that powerful, I had to make him a special entity. So, I got hung up on the character of Peter "Baumfree". He wouldn't let me go.

So, if you're looking for a scapegoat to blame for your cold dinner, blame Peter. Not me!
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