End of Previous Scene: Robert was wondering aloud to Fanny whether: “Aunt Pikki’s breach of Elizabeth’s secret on the train would have been enough to totally transform your Miss Juniper?” And it was followed by Robert’s final words of the scene: “Miss Fanny … Did your Juni tell her uncle Peter … that, before her stroke, Elizabeth—his own sister—had planned to kill Thurston Flourney?”
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, 4:20 PM, Sunday, August 11, 1929
AT RISE: As with the previous scenes, FANNY and the REPORTER sit facing each other.
# # #
I don’ spect as so. I don’ ’spect my Juni knowed anythin’ ’bout her mama’s plans ’til she seed her uncle Peter.
(Glancing up and to the right, as though dragging down words and images to her mind)
My Juni say she seed Peter swoop down on her like he be a hawk an’ she be a-a lone nestin’ critter. He seed her standin’ alone from where he be conversatin’ with a bunch o’ theys kin a'ter the fune'ral broke up—prolly Ain’t Pikki be there with ’em—an’ he swoops down on Juni, an’ he plops down ’aside her, an’ ...
(introducing her thin shoulders into an eruption of tremors)
an' kindly-like shakes out an’ ruffle his feathers.
You like that image of him, don’t you, Miss Fanny? A hawk. A killer. You didn’t like the man, did you?
’Til the day he died, Glory be to God, I din’t. I het th’ man—Thet be th’ truth! I het th’ pwoison he dripped in her—the—the pwoison what got inside her an’ dried up all her beaut'ful inn’cence an’—an’—
[She suddenly thrusts both hands to just below her neck and clamps her eyes shut, her chest heaving]
(Leaping to his feet, tablet and album sliding to the floor, and glancing over his shoulder, frantically)
Okay, that’s enough! I’m calling the doctor!
(Dropping her hands, pleading)
No! You turn back ’round, Robert! We’s so close—so close! I jes go through me some angwishin’—us wimmen, we do thet. Ain’t nothin’ wrong. Doc Hayhurst jes’ laugh at y’all fer worryin’! Now, sit y’sef down an’ give me back my album. I bes’ be pertectin’ it, meself.
(Retrieving the album and giving it to her with a concerned look on his face, he sits, shaking his head)
I don’t want to be the one to give you a heart attack …
Oh, pshaw! Now y’all jes’ lissun t’me an’ what my Juni tell me.
(Her chest is still rising and falling, though, with deep, but rhythmic, breaths)
Th’ ol’ black hawk, he be standin’ by my Juni with th’ pwoison jes’ drippin’ from his—his—
Thet be it! See? Y’all’ll make a dec'nt writer yet.
So, my Juni, she be tellin’ me how ’as Peter be preachin’ to her like it be th’ Gosp’l ’bout th’ law o’ man and the law ’bout what be right—an’ all th’ time he be lookin’ all o’er her like he be hankrin’ fer the bestes’ place to sink in his beak.
(Speaking jerkily, struggling with the dilemma of wanting to get the story right, but fearing to engage FANNY’S emotions)
I’m sorry, but—Miss Fanny—but-but were you thinking Peter was trying to-to—trying to be more than an Uncle to Miss Juniper?
No! I don’t think thet. But I do know as how if’n Peter was hank’rin fer thet kind o’—whatcha call it?—prey … thet my Juni woulda follered along like thet inn’cent nestin’ critter an’ … an’ never knowed what ’as happ’nin’ till it ’as too late. A-a charmin’ black hawk he be … a-a-a slurpin’ back his pwoison at jest th' right time so as no one be th’ wiser.
An’ he tells her, “They be da law of man, and den they be da law what be right. They be a whole tangle o’ laws, afore abulishun what ’llowed the white massur to own slaves, but thet cain’t be the law o’ what be right. Cain’t be! Ain’t no man should own another. Ain’t thet right, Juniper? Thet’s what he say, “Ain’t thet right, Juniper?” An’ my Juni be bobbin’ her haid, an’ lookin’ up at him like a teeny peeper, waitin’ fer him to drop thet pwoison worm in her beak.
Let me just get that. “ … drop that poison worm in her beak.” Honestly, Miss Fanny, it must be your years of entertaining, but you could be a poet. Please, though, don’t lose your connection with Miss Juniper and Peter.
Well, sir, firstus he tells her ’bout those two kinds o’ laws an’ then … blamed if’n he din’t throw in another law. “Den they be th’ law thet ’llowed da Army o’ Uriel mob what lynched yo’ daddy—who be my sist’rin’s law-’bidin’ husband—to go skat-free. Oh, I seed the papers! Oh, yeah, I readed ’em all. An’ I readed ’bout you bein’ at da trial—you be all growed up now, but you be a chil’ then with yer rag baby ... an’ I cried fo’ you, Juniper.”
(Interrupting herself with a comment)
An’ slip-dang if he din’t sneak a pulluva nose-hair or some sech trick, ’acause gets his own tears a’flowin’ in the tellin’ … an’ he say:
Oh, yeah, I cried fo’ you … an’ I cried fo’ ’Lizabeth, too—yo mama, an’ th’ sistrin I din’t ev’n know. Oh, yeah, an’ I cain’t tell ya how proud I was thet yo’ mama was fixin’ to right thet wrong what snaitched her husban’—what snaitched yo daddy ’way.”
An’ then—an’ then th’ black hawk, he say,
“Do you be proud o’ yo mama too, Juniper?”
(Cautiously, and yet with conviction)
Okay, but don’t you agree that we should take your belief that Aunt Pikki wouldn’t have told Peter about Elizabeth’s plot off the table right now, Miss Fanny? It’s obvious she did, regardless of what she told you. Can we just accept it that Aunt Pikki had her weaknesses?
Well … she swawn she din’t—an’ she took it to her grave.
Okay … but anyway … Peter was proud that his sister would seek the only justice left to her, that of murdering her husband’s murderer. I’m sorry—I don’t want you to get upset again, but can you go on from there?
No … if I be frownin’ it be ’acause I be tryin’ to rec’lect what my Juni tol’ me from her conversatin’ with her uncle Peter at th’ fune’ral—which I ’member so well acounta I repeat ever word near a hun’ret times to try to git to Uncle Peter’s pow’r o’er my Juni. But then they’s the letters my Juni showed me what he sent her a’ter th’ fune’ral.
Yees, th' letters ... So, it's like they's two pwoisons. Theys th' pwoisons from th’ fune’ral an’ then they's the pwoisons from th’ letters—they be like two flocks o' butterflies
(holding her hands up on either side of her head and wiggling her fingers, first of her right hand, then her left)
… a flock comin’ from here an’ a flock comin’ from there and theys both flocks be aimin’ to own th’ same flower. Pretty soon, they’s jes’ one flock an’ ya cain’t rightly tell which is which.
But I ’member this from my Juni’s mouth. Uncle Peter, a’ter he say how proud he be, he say, “An’ den I got angry, my purty li’l niece, I got blist’rin angry when I heered thet yer mama's plans got cut short by two strokes what leaves th’ fire in her gut, but takes ’way th’ arms an’ legs she be needin’ to carry out her plans.” An’ then he finished with, ’Don’ thet make you blist’rin angry, too, Juniper? Huh, don’ it?”
You’re right though. It sure sounds like uncle Peter was trying to recruit his niece ….
It do. Now, the next, I knowed come from one o’ Peter’s letters, not from my Juni’s recollectin’. I knowed, ’acause I keeped it here in my album. He sended it on accounta … well, see, ever since she come home all rattlesnake-eyed an’ fired up fer doin’ this, I’d be tryin’ to talk sense into my fool Juni’s haid, thet this warn’t her fight. An’ I do b’lieve she be comin’ ’round an’ I knowed she tol’ him so in a letter, ’cause o’ his letter thet he sen’ back.
(She fishes the letter from the album and holds it out to the REPORTER)
(Reading aloud but slowly, having difficulty with spelling)
My Dear Juniper.
I get ur letter. I see u startin to dout my truth-tellin. So, I best show you agin what the truth be. I wisht u is here. It be hard cuz the truth be here in my eyes. But U cant see my eyes, can U? So jus U try to pitcher in yer mind talkin direct to my face here.
Littul Juniper, U seed the truth here afore U leaved and U hold it there inside U a spell. How be it difrunt now? U say U be proud of the truth my daid mama fight fer. An U say U be redy to fight fer her truth now—even tho she be daid. Truth be truth! How be Ur mamas truth diffrunt?
Juniper, lissun to Ur oncle. Back near tweny year ago, durin the War of the Rebelyun, theys a lotta Yankee boys, yunger then U, be givin theys lifes—I mean dyin, Juniper—fer the truth. They be in the mud an freezin, an they bones be aken. An sumtimes they fergit why theys evun here. Sumtimes. So, they rekalect fer each othur. Kindly like I be rekalectin fer U now. An like as how the soljurs, they be rekalectin theys fightin an theys dyin fer the truth thet slavery is evul—U need be rekalectin thet Ur daddy be linched by Thurston Flourney, an Thurston Flourney be evul. An evul need be done way with. Evul need be kilt. That be Ur mamas truth, Juniper. An U be dammed—U be dammed an U be burnt in Hell if it aint gon be Ur truth too!
[In the silence that ensues after the REPORTER finishes the letter, he folds it and stares at FANNY, slowly shaking his head]
To think that this letter was written by an uneducated, illiterate man, Miss Fanny. As far as rhetoric goes—as far as the manipulation of half-truths goes, he was a genius!
(Hands the letter back to FANNY)
Why would he do thet? Why would he do thet to my Juni?
Aw, Miss Fanny … probably because he could!
(Reaching over and patting her hand)
Maybe for the same reason he stayed away from his mother and only returned for her funeral … because he was only truly alive when he was outside of her shadow. If I’m right, Miss Fanny, then your Miss Juniper was simply an opportunity for his genius to flourish. Without a formal education … unable to read and with just the rudiments of writing, he was, nevertheless, a brilliant and dangerous man.
Miss Fanny, while all the time you tried to dissuade Miss Juniper … did Elizabeth ever catch on to Juni's transformation that was happening right under her nose, as it were?
END OF SCENE 6