John S. Shirley

Look Away

SCENE ONE: 1853. THE FIRST FLASHBACK.

(A blank stage representing the empty field between the Crawford and Douglas family farms in Virginia. Early afternoon on a warm spring day. Enter two boys, YOUNG JAMES (CRAWFORD) and YOUNG AARON (DOUGLAS), both ten years old. After a moment, they begin roughhousing with one another.)

YOUNG AARON

Get offa my land, Jimmy Crawford.

YOUNG JAMES

I ain’t scared of you, Aaron Douglas.

(YOUNG JAMES throws a handful of dirt at YOUNG AARON.)

YOUNG AARON

I ain’t scared of you, neither.

(YOUNG AARON throws a larger and more tightly packed handful of dirt at YOUNG JAMES, who charges headlong into YOUNG AARON, knocking him to the ground. They wrestle. Eventually, YOUNG AARON overtakes YOUNG JAMES and pins him to the ground.)

YOUNG AARON

Give up?

YOUNG JAMES

(Struggling to free himself.) Get off me!

(YOUNG AARON rubs YOUNG JAMES’s face in the dirt.)

YOUNG AARON

Are you gonna give up?

YOUNG JAMES

Hell, no!

(YOUNG JAMES again tries unsuccessfully to elbow YOUNG AARON in the ribs and free himself. Encouraged by his friend’s protest, YOUNG AARON more forcefully rubs YOUNG JAMES’s face into the dirt)

YOUNG AARON

Are you gonna give up now?

(YOUNG JAMES tries unsuccessfully to strike YOUNG AARON and free himself.)

YOUNG AARON

(Mocking.) Aw…Is that the best you got? Give up. You know I got you licked.YOUNG JAMES

Come on, Aaron. Lemme up.YOUNG AARON

Not until you say I got you licked.

YOUNG JAMES

(Defeated.) Alright, you got me licked.

(YOUNG AARON releases his hold on YOUNG JAMES, who presses himself onto his knees, then stands, brushing as much dirt off of himself as he can.)

YOUNG AARON

(Joking.) You fight like a girl.

YOUNG JAMES

Do not.

YOUNG AARON

Do too.

YOUNG JAMES

I do not. Stop sayin’ that.

YOUNG AARON

(Taunting.) You think you can make me?

(YOUNG JAMES and YOUNG AARON begin to fight again. During the fight, YOUNG JAMES falls, slitting the palm of his right hand on a rock. He quickly clamps his right hand in his left.)

YOUNG JAMES

(Fighting tears.) Ow.

YOUNG AARON

Aww…Is the sissy gonna cry?

YOUNG JAMES

(Choking back his pain.) No.

YOUNG AARON

Whaddidya do?

YOUNG JAMES

I cut my hand.

YOUNG AARON

Is it bad? Does it hurt bad, Jimmy?

(JIMMY stands up, looking at AARON with an expression of betrayal.)

YOUNG AARON

I’m sorry, Jimmy. I didn’t mean it. How bad you hurt? Jimmy?

(After a moment, YOUNG JAMES begins to cry and runs offstage toward his house.)

YOUNG AARON

Jimmy? Jimmy! Jimmy, come back here. I’m sorry, Jimmy! Jimmy, come back! (Suddenly angry.) That’s it, Jimmy, run away! Run like you always do!

(YOUNG AARON exits stage right toward his own house.)

 

SCENE TWO: 1864. THE PROLOGUE, PART ONE.

(A bare stage representing the top of a small hill. Dusk on a chilly autumn night. Enter JAMES CRAWFORD, 19, a Union deserter in worn, dirty civilian clothes, carrying a knapsack and blanket.)

JAMES

(Looking offstage at both boys running home and walking to downstage.) People say that we were friends from the day that we were born. I suppose that’s true, although you wouldn’t know it from the way we acted then. Course, boys ain’t supposed to tell each other how they feel, and when they do, they usually don’t say it too directly.

Aaron and I were born the same day, almost to the hour, back in 1845 in the upstairs of our daddies’ houses, and we were both the only children that our mamas had, so it was more like being brothers than like being friends. What was strange about us was that even though we were almost the exact same age, people always said that I looked older and that Aaron acted older.

Our daddies’ farms sat right next to one another, near the place where old Virginia broke. We used to play — and fight — in the field between them. Nobody ever really knew — or ever really cared – whose field it was, so our daddies shared it — ignored it, really. Neither of them ever farmed it, so Aaron and I used it for a play field. Usually we played war out there, and that day we pretended we were fighting to decide whose land it was. That’s how I got this scar here on my hand.

There wasn’t one day in a month of Sundays that we weren’t together for at least a little while — sometimes working, sometimes playing, sometimes going to church, and sometimes going to school. More times than not, whatever we were doing, we wound up raising more than just a little hell while we were doing it. One day we decided to start playing with my daddy’s gun while our parents were in town and, well…

(JAMES walks to the side of the stage.)

 

SCENE THREE: 1854. THE SECOND FLASHBACK

(A blank stage representing the same field as scene one. A cool spring afternoon. Enter YOUNG JAMES, with a shotgun, and YOUNG AARON, from opposite sides of the stage, as JAMES watches.

YOUNG JAMES

Don’t move, or I’ll kill you!

(YOUNG AARON is noticeably startled but fights to maintain his composure.)

YOUNG AARON

That ain’t funny, Jimmy. (Beat.) Why’ve you got your daddy’s gun?

YOUNG JAMES

‘Cause I took it.

YOUNG AARON

I thought you weren’t s’posed to touch your daddy’s gun. What if he gets back and we get caught?

(YOUNG JAMES, imitating the sound of a gunshot, pretends to shoot at an imaginary bird.)

YOUNG JAMES

We ain’t gonna get caught. They won’t be back ’til late tonight. They told us that before they went. I’ll put it back when we get done, and he won’t even know I had it out. Come on. You know you wanna see it.

YOUNG AARON

I think you better put it back where it belongs. I don’t wanna get in trouble.

YOUNG JAMES

I already told you I ain’t gonna get caught. Come on.

YOUNG AARON

I don’t know, Jimmy. Are you sure he ain’t gonna know you took it?

YOUNG JAMES

What’s the matter, Aaron? Don’t you know how to shoot a gun?

YOUNG AARON

O’ course I know how to shoot a gun. I got one o’ my own, ain’t I?

YOUNG JAMES

Then what’s the matter?

YOUNG AARON

It’s just…this is your daddy’s gun…and you told me yourself that neither one of us was ever s’posed to —

YOUNG JAMES

Aw…The little sissy’s scared to hold a gun…

YOUNG AARON

Am not!

YOUNG JAMES

Are too. (Taunting him with the gun.) Sissy. Sissy. Aaron is a sissy.

YOUNG AARON

(Knocking the gun away.) Shut up, Jimmy, or I’ll make you sorry.

YOUNG JAMES

Sissy. Sissy. Aaron is a sissy!

YOUNG AARON

I mean it.

YOUNG JAMES

Sissy –

(YOUNG AARON grabs the barrel of the gun, wrestles it from YOUNG JAMES’s hands, and begins to carry it toward his house.)

YOUNG AARON

It’s my gun now. I’m gonna take it home, and you’re gonna get in trouble.

YOUNG JAMES

Give it back!

YOUNG AARON

No.

YOUNG JAMES

I’m gonna get in trouble. (Beat.) Please give it back.

(YOUNG AARON stops walking and begins playing with the gun again.)

YOUNG AARON

Later. I’m not done with it.

YOUNG JAMES

Please.

YOUNG AARON

When I’m finished with it.

YOUNG JAMES

I’ll make you give it back!

YOUNG AARON

Oh, yeah. I dare you.

YOUNG JAMES

Please…Come on, Aaron. I don’t wanna fight right now.

YOUNG AARON

What’s the matter, Jimmy? Scared you’re gonna get licked by a sissy?

(YOUNG JAMES lunges toward YOUNG AARON, and the two engage in a tug-of-war over the gun. After several seconds, YOUNG AARON wins the battle, takes a few steps backward, aims the gun above YOUNG JAMES’s head, and pulls the trigger; the gun fires, knocking Aaron to the ground. Both boys are silent for several moments.)

YOUNG JAMES

(Still in shock.) I think we’re gonna be in trouble when my daddy gets home.

YOUNG AARON

No, we ain’t. Nobody saw me do it. Put it back the way you found it, and he’ll never know we had it out.

YOUNG JAMES

Stay here.

YOUNG AARON

(Calling after him.) I ain’t goin’ anywhere. We still got a fight to finish.

(YOUNG JAMES runs offstage toward his house with the gun. A few moments later, YOUNG JAMES returns, breathless.)

YOUNG JAMES

We’re in trouble.

YOUNG AARON

What’d you do?

YOUNG JAMES

Nothing.

YOUNG AARON

Then why’d you say that we’re in trouble?

YOUNG JAMES

Because you shot my mama’s kitchen window.

YOUNG AARON

If you’re lyin’, Jimmy Crawford.

YOUNG JAMES

I ain’t lyin’.

YOUNG AARON

You mean I really shot your mama’s window?

YOUNG JAMES

Ain’t that what I said?

YOUNG AARON

I’m sorry, Jimmy. I didn’t mean it. Honest. (Pause.) You think we’ll get a whippin’ for it?

YOUNG JAMES

O’course you’re gonna get a whippin’ for it. You’re the one that did it, ain’t you?

YOUNG AARON

(Trying to save face.) Well then you’re gonna get one for it, too, ’cause you’re the one that took your daddy’s gun.

YOUNG JAMES

He ain’t gonna know that…unless you tell him. (Beat.) Please don’t tell him, Aaron. (Beat.) You’ve got a gun — and so do I.

YOUNG AARON

But you know we ain’t supposed to shoot ‘em near the house.

YOUNG JAMES

We gotta think of something we can tell our folks to save ourselves.

YOUNG AARON

What if I just tell your daddy you’re the one that did it?

YOUNG JAMES

I ain’t taking your whippin’, Aaron.

YOUNG AARON

What if we told your mama we was throwin’ rocks at one another and that was how we broke the window?

YOUNG JAMES

She’ll know we’re lyin’.

YOUNG AARON

That’d make it worse. Maybe we should just own up to it when our folks come back tonight.

YOUNG JAMES

Wait. I got an idea.

YOUNG AARON

Jimmy…?

YOUNG JAMES

(Running toward the woods behind his house.) Come on!

YOUNG AARON

(Stopping him.) Where’re you goin’?

YOUNG JAMES

I’m gonna run away.

YOUNG AARON

Are you crazy?

YOUNG JAMES

Not for real. Just for pretend.

YOUNG AARON

What for? We’re already gonna get it when our daddies get back. That’ll make it worse.

YOUNG JAMES

No, it won’t. Just listen to me.

YOUNG AARON

Jimmy…

YOUNG JAMES

Look. It’ll keep us outta trouble for the night, won’t it?

YOUNG AARON

Yeah. But what about tomorrow? We have to come back sometime.

YOUNG JAMES

Well, won’t our mamas be worried when they see that we ain’t home?

YOUNG AARON

I reckon.

YOUNG JAMES

And when we come back home tomorrow, they’re gonna be so glad we come back and that we ain’t been hurt that they won’t let our daddies whip us.

(YOUNG JAMES begins to run toward the woods.)

YOUNG AARON

You sure it’ll work?

YOUNG JAMES

O’course I’m sure.

YOUNG AARON

I don’t know. I think we’re just askin’ for more trouble tomorrow.

YOUNG JAMES

(Beginning to exit toward the woods.) Are you comin’ or ain’t ya?

YOUNG AARON

Yeah, I’ comin’.

(Both YOUNG AARON and YOUNG JAMES run offstage toward the woods behind JAMES’s house.)

 

SCENE FOUR: 1864. THE PROLOGUE, PART TWO.

(A bare stage representing the same hilltop as scene two. Near midnight. JAMES returns to his former position downstage.)

JAMES

(Smiles.) It sounded like a good idea back then. I suppose that’s how you think when you’re a boy. Of course, it didn’t work out quite the way we thought it would.

Once my mama saw the window and my daddy looked and saw my gun was clean and saw that his was dirty, it didn’t take them long before they started thinking we were up to something. When neither of us showed up for our supper, they were sure of it.

Of course it wasn’t long until we both got cold and scared and hungry in the woods. Bread and water doesn’t make much of a meal, and neither of us thought to take a blanket with us. We stayed out there as long as we could stand, but it wasn’t very long before our stomachs got the better of us and we started walking back the way we came.

I think our daddies came out looking for us at about the same time, ’cause my daddy met us on the way. When we got back, he gave us both a whipping for playing with his gun and shooting out my mama’s window and then Aaron’s daddy gave us both a harder one for running off instead of ‘fessing up to what we’d done.

That was the only time that I saw Aaron cry. I think his pride was hurt as bad as anything. I know it took longer to heal. He wouldn’t talk to me for days. (Pause.) I don’t think he ever really forgave me for that. He’d never let me see him cry again, and he kept his word. After that, I never saw him cry again. Not even when his daddy died. Hard to believe it’s been ten years since we shot that window.

Back when we were boys and playing war, neither of us ever thought that we’d be fighting one for real — especially on different sides. Aaron joined the gray boys in the south. I joined the blue ones in the north.

As far as I could tell, he joined the south ’cause that’s what he believed, and as far as he could tell, I joined the north ’cause everybody from the preacher to my mama said I should.

 

SCENE FIVE: 1861. THE THIRD FLASHBACK.

(A blank stage representing the same field as scene one. A hot summer afternoon. Enter AARON CRAWFORD, 19, meeting JAMES center stage.)

JAMES

Aaron!

AARON

Jimmy.

JAMES

I didn’t think that I’d see you again before you left.

AARON

I didn’t think I’d see you, either.

JAMES

Things don’t have to change between us.

AARON

They already have. (Beat.) It’s time to grow up, Jimmy. We ain’t playin’ anymore. This ain’t about your mama’s apron strings or your daddy’s gun. This is about men fightin’ for what they believe, and if you ain’t willin’ to fight beside me, then you’d damned well better be ready to fight against me. (Turns his back and begins to walk away.)

JIMMY

Aaron -

AARON

Get off my land, Jimmy Crawford, unless you’re ready to fight me for it. (Walking toward him.) What’s the matter, Jimmy? You scared of me?

JAMES

No.

AARON

(Pushing him.) Yes, you are. You are, and you know it.

JAMES

No, I’m not.

AARON

Then fight me for it. (Pushing him.) Come on. I’ll let you have the first punch.

JAMES

Aaron -

AARON

(Slapping him.) Fight me for it. (Pause.) Fight me for your daddy’s land.

(JAMES clenches and draws his fist, pauses, and attempts to punch AARON, who blocks the blow and then punches JAMES, knocking him to the ground.)

AARON

You never could stand up for yourself. Reckon that you never will. (Pause.) I swear to God if I see you again ‘fore this is through, I’ll put a hole in you myself.

(Exits. JAMES remains on stage.)

 

SCENE SIX: 1864. THE PROLOGUE, PART THREE.

(A bare stage representing the same hilltop as scenes two and four. Midnight. JAMES returns to his former position downstage.)

JAMES

The last thing Aaron told me when he left was that he’d kill me if he ever saw my face again. I didn’t want to join the war at all; I didn’t believe in it; I didn’t believe it was right to kill another man no matter what he did. I still don’t. At least that’s what I tell myself. My entire life’s a lie these days. I’m not sure it matters what I say to anybody anymore.

I tell everyone that asks me who I am and what I do that I’m a correspondent for a paper near the Line that wants to know what’s really in the soldier’s minds. I tell them that my name is William Davis. Usually I tell them that I’m working for a paper in Kentucky, because it’s neutral territory there. Other times I tell them I’m from Maryland; it’s neutral too. It all depends on where I am when I get asked. No matter what I say, they usually believe me long enough to keep me safe. Nobody knows the truth about me now. Not even Aaron. Or the preacher. Or my mama. No one but God himself.

Some times I wonder if I really know the truth about myself. I really ran away because I didn’t know. And because I wanted one last chance to look at Aaron straight and ask him what I did to make him hate me bad enough to want to kill me.

A couple days ago, I found out that his camp was right down there.

(JAMES walks offstage left toward the camp. An instrumental version of “Dixie” plays offstage on a harmonica as a Confederate camp – a ring of seven camp stools around a small camp fire at center stage, a pair of camp stools down stage right, and a pair of campstools downstage left – is established onstage by a group of Confederate soldiers.)

 

SCENE SEVEN: 1864. THE INTRUDER.

(The camp. The same night, just after midnight. JAMES enters from stage right. Obviously nervous, he walks toward the campfire, looks around, kneels, and begins to warm his hands. MATTHEW THOMPSON enters from stage left. MATTHEW, 45, is the camp commander. Despite his rugged exterior, he is capable of extreme kindness and often acts as a surrogate father of sorts to the men in his camp. Seeing JAMES, MATTHEW takes out a knife and begins walking toward him.)

JAMES

(Hearing the footsteps behind him.) Who’s there?

MATTHEW

Alright, boy. Don’t turn around. Put your hands on your head. Now get on your feet.

(JAMES stands and tries to speak.)

MATTHEW

Keep your mouth shut. Put your bag down on the ground, then put your hands back on top your head.

(JAMES sets the bag and sleeping roll on the ground beside him, then puts his hands on his head. MATTHEW walks behind JAMES, grasps a handful of his hair, tilts his head back, and holds the knife to his throat.)

JAMES

I…Ah…I…I just…I…

MATTHEW

What’re you carrying?

JAMES

Ah…Nothing…Sir…Just some papers and a canteen and a sleeping roll…

MATTHEW

(Releasing his grasp on JAMES and taking the knife from his throat.) Take hold o’ that stool.

(JAMES bends over and grasps the sides of one of the campstools around the fire. MATTHEW begins to frisk the young man for weapons.)

JAMES

Sir…I…

(Mildly annoyed, MATTHEW delivers a hard, sharp slap to the side of JAMES’s leg.)

MATTHEW

(Quietly threatening.) I said to keep your mouth shut, boy. I ain’t gonna tell you again. You understand?

(JAMES nods his head.)

MATTHEW

Turn around. What’s your name, boy?

JAMES

Ah…William Davis…Sir…

MATTHEW

Davis, huh? Where you from?

JAMES

Kentucky…Sir…

MATTHEW

Kentucky? You sure don’t sound like you’re from Kentucky.

JAMES

No, sir..?

MATTHEW

No. Where’s your horse?

JAMES

I walked…sir…I…haven’t got a horse…

MATTHEW

Haven’t got a horse? Well then, you’ve been walkin’ quite a long ways to get down here from Kentucky, ain’t you boy?

JAMES

Yes, sir…

MATTHEW

Well…William Davis from Kentucky…do you care to tell me what you’re doin’ walkin’ into my camp in the middle of the night and unannounced?

JAMES

I’m a correspondent…for a paper up in Lexington…in Lextington, Kentucky, and they wanted me…They sent me here to find out what the people down here think about the war…

MATTHEW

What the hell’s it matter to the folks up there? They ain’t even in the war.

JAMES

It probably doesn’t matter to some of them…maybe most of them. They aren’t actually in the war, but some of them still want to know exactly what it is that makes the people in the north and in the south so different from one another…and some of them are wondering if there’s really any difference at all. They sent me here to try to find that out.

(MATTHEW punctuates the next several speeches by menacingly pressing the end of his knife against JAMES’s chest during each speech.)

MATTHEW

Differences? Hell, yeah, there’s differences. We wouldn’t have a war if there weren’t differences, now would we, boy?

JAMES

No, sir. I s’pose we wouldn’t.

MATTHEW

Well, then, you can tell them newspaper boys back in Kentucky that we think them damned Yankees from the north are gonna lose. Whatcha think o’ that, boy?

JAMES

I don’t know…sir…I think you might be right…

MATTHEW

And you can tell ‘em that we don’t like Yankees tellin’ us the way we oughta live…

JAMES

Yes…sir…

MATTHEW

And you can tell ‘em that we don’t like people sneakin’ ’round our camp all unannounced like horse thieves in the middle o’ the night no matter what their reason is…

JAMES

No…sir…

(MATTHEW suddenly but good-naturedly laughs at JAMES’s obvious discomfort and puts his knife away.)

MATTHEW

What’s the matter, boy? You look like you’re about to piss yourself! Afraid that I was gonna kill ya?

JAMES

(Choking.) Yes…Sir…

MATTHEW

(Smiling.) Not tonight, son. Not tonight. I’m too tired to be killin’ anyone tonight, especially some skinny boy from some damned Yankee-lovin’ paper up in Lexington. Maybe I’ll feel up to killin’ in the mornin’ after you get finished talkin’ to the men.(Beat.) But I ain’t gonna make you any promises. Meantime, it don’t look as though it’s gonna rain tonight. You can bed down here beside the fire. (Pause.) Calm down, son. Nobody’s gonna kill you in your sleep. You’ll be awake as soon as everybody else. I’ll tell ‘em who you are and what your doin’. Then maybe I’ll feel up to killin’ ya.

JAMES

Ah…Yes, sir…Thank you. Goodnight…ah…sir.

MATTHEW

Goodnight, son.

(MATTHEW exits. JAMES unrolls his sleeping roll beside the fire, kneels, prays silently, and lies down, his knapsack nestled awkwardly beneath his head. He falls asleep as “Dixie” plays softly offstage.)

 

SCENE EIGHT: 1864. THE INTERVIEW.

(The camp. The next day. Just after sunrise. JAMES awakes, stands, stretches, and rerolls his sleeping roll, which he places, along with his knapsack, beside one of the campstools. MATTHEW, carrying two loaves of bread, and his “boys” — DAVID WILKES, 19, LEWIS PERRY, 25, AARON DOUGLAS, 23, JACOB MASON, 29, and THOMAS HAYES, 22 — enter from various points offstage. The men seat themselves around the campfire. MATTHEW and JAMES occupy the two upstage campstools.)

MATTHEW

Mornin’ boys. Ya’ll sleep alright?

(Several of MATTHEW’s “BOYS” respond affirmatively to his question.)

Good. Now ya’ll probably have noticed that we have an extra body in the camp with us today and you’re probably wonderin’ just what he’s doin’ in these parts.

(The “boys” nod and grumble.)

This here’s William Davis.

(MATTHEW’s “boys” are unimpressed.)

He’s working as a correspondent for a paper up in Lexington. Lexington, Kentucky — up where folks don’t claim they’re Yankees or Confed’rates.

LEWIS

What’s he doin’ here?

(JAMES begins to speak, but MATTHEW interrupts him.)

MATTHEW

He’s come down this way to find out why we’re fightin’ this damned war and what it is we’re fightin’ for. Now why don’t ya’ll introduce yourselves and tell him what you can. (Silence.) (Beat.) Don’t everybody talk at once.

DAVID

I don’t trust him. He’s got no place bein’ here.

MATTHEW

Well…I reckon that the sooner we get done talkin’ to him, the sooner he’ll be on his way. Ain’t that right, William?

JAMES

(Awkward.) Ah…Yes, sir.

(Tense silence.)

MATTHEW

Well, son, I think that maybe you just might have wasted your time a-walkin’ down here all this way.

JAMES

Yes, sir…

MATTHEW

Ain’t anybody gonna talk? You want him going back to Lexington and tellin’ that damned paper we ain’t even got the manners to say nothin’ to a stranger when he comes.

(Tense silence.)

JAMES

(Starting to stand.) Maybe I should –

MATTHEW

(Cutting him off and pushing him back onto his stool.) You have this kind of trouble often?

JAMES

Sometimes.

MATTHEW

Ever had it be this bad before?

JAMES

No, sir.

MATTHEW

Not even with the Yankees?

JAMES

No, sir. Not even with the Yankees.

MATTHEW

Well, I’ll be damned. Not even from the Yankees. David? (Silence.) Lewis? (Silence.) Jacob? (Silence.) Thomas?(Prolonged silence.) Nobody eats until you talk.

(THOMAS, obviously unsure of himself, tentatively stands and extends his hand to JAMES, who stands and walks to shake his hand.)

THOMAS

(Shaking James’ hand.) Thomas Hayes.

JAMES

William Davis. Nice to meet you. Where you from?

THOMAS

South Carolina.

(MATTHEW tears off a third of one loaf of bread and hands it to THOMAS, who prays silently for a moment begins tearing smaller chunks from his ration and quickly shoving them into his mouth. As JAMES walks around the circle, the process repeats itself: each man begrudgingly stands, shakes hands with JAMES, introduces himself, and takes a third-loaf of bread from MATTHEW.)

DAVID

David Wilkes. North Carolina.

LEWIS

Lewis Perry. Georgia.

JACOB

Jacob Mason. Tennessee.

(AARON stands but does not extend his hand to JAMES. Instead, he looks at MATTHEW.)

AARON

I ain’t hungry.

(AARON looks at JAMES with a mixture of disgust and hatred. AARON spits at JAMES’s feet, then exits stage left toward the woods. JAMES, shaken, returns to his seat.)

MATTHEW

Matthew Thompson. Virginia; the southern part; close Roanoke. (Pointing offstage in the direction AARON left.) Aaron Douglas, from Virginia, too, about a mile from where the Yankees left the state. He’s got a real bad temper, but he ain’t near as bad as he’d like everyone to think he is. He used to be real nice, but something changed him. He never told me anything was wrong, but sometimes war can change a man all by itself.

JAMES

Yes, sir…

(MATTHEW tears off a third of a loaf of bread and puts it on top of AARON’s stool.)

MATTHEW

I reckon he’ll want that when he comes back.

JAMES

Yes, sir…

MATTHEW

(Walking besides JAMES.) You alright, son? I don’t think it’s nothin’ personal against you.

JAMES

No, sir. I’m sorry. I. I’m just –

MATTHEW

How long’s it been since you last ate?

(JAMES, not wanting to deplete the camp’s already meager rations, is reluctant to answer.)

JAMES

It’s only been…

MATTHEW

I don’t take to lyin’, son.

JAMES

A couple days, sir.

(WILLIAM walks back to his seat, picks up the remaining third of a loaf of bread, and sits down. He looks down at the bread, begins to halve it, stops, and hands the entire piece to JAMES, who stares at it and fights to keep his emotion in check.)

MATTHEW

Eat up, son. It ain’t gonna bite ya.

JAMES

(Finishing the tear and trying to return the final quarter loaf to MATTHEW.) Thank you, sir.

MATTHEW

(Pushing the bread back toward JAMES.) You need it more than me.

(JAMES bows his head and prays silently before attacking the bread.)

MATTHEW

Well, son. We’re waitin’.

JAMES

(His mouth full of bread.) Sir?

MATTHEW

You ain’t told us anything about yourself. It don’t seem right that we should be the only ones a-talkin’ ’bout ourselves, you know?

JAMES

(Nervously. Between bites.) I’m William –

MATTHEW

(Putting his hand on JAMES’s shoulder.) Why don’t you tell us who y’are and why y’are here.

JAMES

Well, I’m a correspondent for a paper up in Lexington – Lexington, Kentucky – and for about a year now, I’ve been traveling around the south, going to all the camps that I could find, and talking to the soldiers…on both sides…to find out who they are.(Beat.) And what they think about the war. (Pause.) But mainly who they are.

DAVID

Which side are you?

JAMES

Neither.

JACOB

Neither?

JAMES

Neither. Kentucky’s not with either side — at least that’s what they claim. It’s really split just like the rest. The people there just won’t admit it to themselves. Or anybody else.

DAVID

Alright, that’s Kentucky. What about you?

JAMES

Neither. I know that both sides have good reasons to be fighting one another, but I’m not really sure that either side has reasons that are good enough.

JACOB

You’re sayin’ that you think we’re wrong.

JAMES

I don’t know if anybody’s right or if everybody’s wrong.

DAVID

Well, the Yankees think they’re right and think we’re wrong. We see it the other way around. What else is there to know?

JAMES

I want to know the people fighting in the war. About you. I want to know who you would be without your uniform. I want to know what you believed before the war. I want to know the people that you left behind when you signed up. I want to know what makes you sure enough of all of this to come out here and risk your life for it? I want to know what makes you sure enough of all of this to come out here and kill somebody for it?

LEWIS

You can’t understand. You ain’t part of it.

JAMES

Give me a chance.

LEWIS

What makes you think that you deserve a chance? What makes you think that you could ever understand?

JAMES

(Showing David the sole of his shoe.) I’ve walked this far to try to understand.

DAVID

I used to be a fisherman, same as my daddy always was, when I was back in Carolina. We used to work all the mornin’ out there on a boat a-catchin’ fish and spend all the afternoon back on the shore a-tryin’ to sell ‘em all before they rotted in the sun.

That smell was somethin’ you could not imagine. My mama used to joke that when my daddy and me come home of a ev’nin’ that she could smell us long afore she saw us, ‘specially if the wind was blowin’ the right way. Guess it was pretty near the truth.

It was all that she could do to get that smell washed outta our clothes so we could stand to put ‘em on the next day and go out and do the same thing to ‘em again.

It’s strange. Sometime, out on the field, it’s like smellin’ that smell again. (Pause.) ‘Cept at home, when I’m on the boat or on the shore and I smell the smell o’ death, I know that it’s a death that I control; I know the smell ain’t gonna come for me. It’s just somethin’ that I gotta do to keep myself alive. And Out here on the field, when I smell the smell o’ death, I know it’s still somethin’ that I gotta do to keep myself alive. But I always wonder when that smell is gonna come for me.

LEWIS

My father loved to fish. Almost ev’ry Sunday, me and him would sneak away and go down to the river after church. My mother said that God was going to send our souls to hell for fishin’ on the day o’ rest, but my father always told her it was rest to us. He said that took care o’ us, and that the fish didn’t have no souls to be worried ’bout. That’d always make her mad. Sometimes she’d get so mad she wouldn’t fix us any dinner when we got back from the river. Didn’t matter, though, because we both knew how to clean a fish and cook it. Usually better ‘an she did.

My father deserved the time away. Hell, I did, too. We got up every morning when the sun came up, sometimes before, and worked until it went back down, sometimes after. Just a little family farm about a half a day on horseback from Atlanta. Peaches mainly. Pecans, too.

You ever ate a pecan?

JAMES

No, I haven’t.

LEWIS

Mighty good. Sometimes, when my mother wasn’t mad, she’d bake us all a big old peach and pecan cobbler. Best damned thing you ever ate. I’d give almost anything right now to see my mother and have myself a bite of that. I just want to go back home and work the farm, but I don’t even if it’s still there to go back to. I haven’t heard from either of them for a couple months. I keep telling myself that my mother and my father are still writing to me…that the letters just aren’t making it to me. Maybe it’s a lie. But even if it is, then it’s a lie I have to tell myself. I’ve spent the last three years fighting for that farm and keep our way of life alive. And if it’s not there anymore, then I don’t know what I’m going to do or how I’m going to live with myself with it’s over. I mean, if you’re fighting for a way of life and lose it in the fight, then what’s the point of fighting anymore?

JACOB

I’m just a-fightin’ for the end. That’s all I want: to go back home to Tennessee and see my wife and little girl. Mary was about six months pregnant the last time that I saw her, standing on the front porch of the general store that we ran back in Jackson, belly swelled and tears a-rollin’ down her face. Grace come along about two months later. Doctor didn’t know if she was going to make it, but she’s a strong’un, just like her ma.

I worry about them. Prob’bly more than I need and than I should. Anne, that’s Mary’s ma, goes into Jackson all the time to check on her for me. Sometimes stays for weeks. Pete, that’s Mary’s pa, goes with her every now and then. Pete’s a good man — not many men would let their wives just go away. But he loves his little girl a lot and his grandbaby even more. (Half-laughs to stifle a tear.) Baby. She wasn’t even born the last time I was home, and now she’s a-walkin’ and a-talkin’ and a-askin’ her poor ma if old Pete’s her daddy come home from the war.

Sometimes she scribbles on her ma’s letters to me. I swear that woman writes me every day. Never any bad news…not unless the baby’s sick. Except for that, it’s only good. She’s fine and Grace’s fine and Anne and Pete are fine. Business is good, and everybody’s just a-waitin’ and a-prayin’ for the war to end so I can come back home. I know that that ain’t true.

I know I should be thankful to a-have a woman good enough to write me when she’s already got so much to do. And I know that she’s a-tellin’ all the good and hidin’ all the bad because she thinks that it’ll keep me from a-worryin’ about things more than I am…Most days it does, and I thank God when it does. But then some days it makes me wonder if I’m really needed anywhere. I don’t seem to be a-makin’ too much difference out here. Not like they said I would. And they seem to be a-doin’ just fine by themselves at home. Not like I thought they would. I know it’s selfish. I just want it to be over. I just want to go back home and hold my little girl so tight and kiss my wife so hard that neither one of them’ll ever feel alright without a-havin’ me there right beside them every day. (Pause.) Funny, ain’t it. I get mad at her for doin’ what I do when I’m a-writin’ her. I probably don’t do it near enough, but when I do I always tell her that I’m fine and that I’m safe and that my clothes are warm and that I have enough to eat and that I ain’t been hurt and ain’t been sick. I think she knows better, but she’s never let on. I pray to God she never finds out what it’s really like.

LEWIS

It ain’t been what they said that it was gonna be. It ain’t like anythin’ I ever imagined that it was gonna be. I never could’ve imagined what it was gonna be…or what it is…I don’t think that anybody could…or can.

DAVID

You can’t imagine what it’s like to kill someone that you don’t even know. I always thought that it would make me feel like the most pow’rful man alive to hold somebody’s life inside my hand, like it was goin’ to feel like bein’ God or somethin’. I thought that it would be make feel important to be decidin’ whether he was going to live or die.

But then I actually had to kill a man. My gun was broken, and I can still remember how looked at me — the terror in his eyes, just like some kind o’ animal – when I put my bayonet against him, and I can still remember how he screamed out when I had shoved it into him. He just laid there dyin’ on the field, his blood runnin’ all across the grass, and beggin’ God to let him die instead of sufferin’.

I thought I could forget because I didn’t know his name. All I knew was that his clothes were blue. I know he would have killed me if I hadn’t killed him first. He knew that, too. But that don’t make me any feel less guilty about doin’ it. I thought it would get easier the more I had to do it. But it didn’t. It got harder and harder and harder. And I know it’s goin’ to keep gettin’ harder every time I have to do it.

JACOB

I always wonder what they would be like if I could meet them some place else besides a battlefield. Hell, they probably ain’t much different from us. I wonder what I’m going to tell my little girl when she asks me if I killed anybody in the war. I know I’m either going to have to lie or tell her that I did, and, either way, I know I’m going to let her down. Sometimes, when I’m alone at night, I think about the men I’ve killed, and I wonder if they had wives or little girls at home who still don’t know and still keep waiting for their husbands and their pas to come back from the war.

DAVID

It’s quick. Real quick. One minute there’s a man standin’ right there straight in front of you, and then the next, there’s nothing but a blood stain on your sleeve, like you just shot a deer or killed a hog. Sometimes I wonder why I’m still alive, like maybe God keeps me alive another day to punish me for all the killin’ that I’ve done the day before.

LEWIS

I ain’t sure I still believe in God. God can’t lead us all to victory. He has to be against one side. My mama always told me God loved everyone the same, but I can’t understand how God could let the people that he loved do this kind of hurt to one another, let alone pick sides for how it all would end. (Pause.) When I was a little boy in church, they always told me God would listen to me if I prayed. When I left, the preacher told me God was on my side, that He would lead us to the victory. It made sense to me then, but then I started thinkin’ that the Yankees probably think that, too.

(MATTHEW touches WILLIAM on the shoulder to keep him from speaking. There is an awkward silence. JAMES, who has been writng in his notebook, slowly closes it and looks at MATTHEW.)

MATTHEW

Boys, why don’t you give me and William here some time alone.

(They exit in various directions, leaving MATTHEW and JAMES alone on stage.)

MATTHEW

Sometimes it ain’t a good idea to let ‘em talk too long. Sometimes they think too much. A man can kill hisself that way, especially in a war. Remember that. You hear me, son?

JAMES

Yes, sir.

MATTHEW

William.

JAMES

Yes, sir?

MATTHEW

(Knowing.) I think you’d best head back to Lexington tomorrow. You understand me, son?

JAMES

Yes, sir.

(MATTHEW exits stage right toward the woods. James sits for a moment, pondering what MATTHEW has just said to him, then gathers his things and exits stage left.)

 

SCENE NINE: 1864. THE TRUTH, PART ONE.

(The camp. Stage left, campstools are set to represent a private area. The same day. Evening. THOMAS enters from offstage right and walks to the downstage left campstools. JAMES enters from offstage left, apparently prepared to leave. THOMAS stops him.)

THOMAS

I didn’t want to talk back there.

JAMES

You want to now?

THOMAS

I think I do, but can I ask you something first?

(JAMES nods.)

THOMAS

Why are you here?

JAMES

I asked you first.

THOMAS

When?

JAMES

Back with the others. You were the only one who didn’t tell me anything about yourself.

THOMAS

What’s there to tell? I’m here to fight for what I believe.

JAMES

I don’t believe you.

THOMAS

It’s the truth.

JAMES

Whose truth?

THOMAS

I had to fight. My great-great grandpa fought the British in the Revolution; my great grandpa fought the the British in the War o’ 1812; my father fought the Mexicans. He died when I was six years old. My older brother died when I was nine. Then it was just my grandma and my mother and my three sisters and me to keep the old plantation going. That made me the new man in my family. It wasn’t really a plantation, but my mother always said it was. It was a farm — a nice one – and there were still about a dozen slaves my daddy kept. Mama should have let them go. We could have made it on our own. But that wasn’t how my mother wanted things. My grandma and my mother said that it was up to me to do right by the family name and join the war. She told me I had to save our way of life. She said that if my father were alive, he would have wanted me to fight. She said it would have made him proud to see his son in uniform.

JAMES

Did you believe her?

THOMAS

Yes…No…I don’t…

(JAMES looks as though he is about to speak but remains silent.)

THOMAS

I don’t know what I believed. Or who I believed. I still don’t know. But I kept fighting anyway, surviving one day at a time, week after week, year after year. Most days it’s like surviving hell, except I don’t know what I did to be condemned. I should have died a hundred times. God knows I should have died. I don’t know why I never did. I never shot a man. I never did. Sometimes I tried, but every time I shot my gun, I aimed it toward the sky…Not high enough for anyone to see…but high enough to know it wasn’t going to kill someone.

One time…one time I wanted to…but even then I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I felt like such a coward then. (Pause.) I know I should have done it. I know it wasn’t right to let him live. (Pause.) Nobody seemed to notice him. But they had to have seen him there. Half his leg was gone. There’d been a lot of cannon fire going off that day.

He must have gotten. Maybe everybody figured he was dead, or maybe they just figured he was close enough. I don’t know why nobody saw him there, but no one did. No one but me.

I saw him lying there with only half a leg and begging God to let him die. I tried to look away, but he kept staring at me. “Finish me,” he said. I tried ignoring him, but he kept looking at me, “Finish me. For God’s sake, boy, just finish me!” He kept screaming, louder and louder. More and more pain. And I kept walking. Faster and faster. More and more afraid.

I don’t know how, but I started wanting to be brave enough to do the right thing, so I looked back the way I came and saw him crawling toward me, the blood leaving a trail, screaming at me to go back there and take his pain away. And then the fear came back, worse than it had been before. I started running.

After a while, the screaming stopped. I didn’t know whether he’d died or whether I’d just gotten far enough away. I just knew I wouldn’t have to listen to him anymore. All I could hear were my own footsteps and my heartbeat pounding in my ears and my breath heaving in my chest.

I should have shown him that much mercy. I should have given him that much.

JAMES

Why didn’t you?

THOMAS

Because I was afraid. I was afraid that if I stopped I might get killed. I didn’t want to die to kill another man.

I know that I’m supposed to hate the Yankees. I know that I’m supposed to hate them all for doing everything they’ve done to us. But I don’t. I can’t. I’m too afraid.

Are you ever afraid?

JAMES

Of what?

THOMAS

Of lying to yourself.

(JAMES wants to protest but cannot.)

THOMAS

It’s in your eyes. The same way it’s in mine.

JAMES

I’ve got too much to lose to tell the truth…

THOMAS

What else is there to lose?

JAMES

I have to go.

THOMAS

You came here for a reason — and it wasn’t for a paper back in Lexington. Newspaper men don’t walk around in bloody shoes. No one does something that hurts that bad unless he’s lost and looking for something that he wants but still can’t find…What are you trying to find?

JAMES

A friend. I ran away. I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t take the killing and the burning and the hating anymore.

In every camp that I could find, I looked for him…for months…After a while, I started wondering if there was anybody else like me; I started asking all the soldiers that I met to tell me who they were.

It wasn’t long before somebody asked me the same thing. I was afraid to tell him who I was, so I said I was a correspondent for a paper doing stories on the war. I knew it was a lie.

I also knew that that lie saved my life. Along the way, I realized what I felt was what a lot of people felt. Except they didn’t run away.

THOMAS

What about your friend?

JAMES

I found out he was here.

THOMAS

Did you know that it was him?

(JAMES nods.)

THOMAS

Did he know that it was you?

(JAMES shakes his head.)

JAMES

I don’t think he wants to see me anyhow.

THOMAS

What’s your name?

JAMES

James. James Crawford.

THOMAS

(After a pause.) Crawford. (Beat.) Jimmy Crawford. (Beat.) You and Aaron –

JAMES

That’s right. How did? I have to go…

THOMAS

James.

(JAMES stops and turns. THOMAS hands him half the morning’s bread.)

THOMAS

For tomorrow.

JAMES

(As thanks and farewell.) For tomorrow.

(As JAMES resumes walking toward the stage right woods, THOMAS exits stage left.)

 

SCENE TEN: 1864. THE CONFRONTATION.

(As before. JAMES continues walking toward the stage right woods, meeting AARON, who enters from the stage right woods, and crosses to the stage right campstools.)

JAMES

Aaron.

AARON

I already told you I don’t wanna to talk to you.

(JAMES extends his hand and revealing the scar in his right palm.)

AARON

(Noticing the scar.) What in the name of hell are you doing here?

JAMES

I wanted to see you.

AARON

Bad enough to get yourself killed? That don’t make sense.

JAMES

Everybody said that we were just like brothers; some folks thought we were. My mama used to say that you were like a second son. And then it wasn’t like that anymore. That’s what don’t make sense. The day you left…you said you’d kill me if you saw my face again. I never understood what made you say that. I never understood quite what it was I could have done that made you hate me that much.

AARON

I didn’t hate you, Jimmy.

JAMES

Then why’d you join the south? You knew that meant you’d have to fight me, Aaron. What made you hate me bad enough –

AARON

I didn’t hate you, Jimmy. I lov– (Pause.) I didn’t hate you.

JAMES

Then why –

AARON

Because I didn’t want to have to be there if you died! I didn’t have to watch you lie there on the field and bleed, or if I did, then I could still pretend you really were my enemy and then it wouldn’t matter. It don’t matter now. (Pause.) Nothing matters anymore.

JAMES

It does to me.

AARON

It don’t to me. We ain’t the boys we was, and we ain’t never gonna be those boys again. We can’t go back to who we was. It’s been too long. Ain’t nothin’ left the way it was. (Choking back emotion.) I said I wasn’t gonna hate. I wasn’t gonna die. I wasn’t gonna kill. The only thing that I was gonna do was live to see the end of this damned war. Then you and me could both go home and go back to our daddies’ farms and see our mamas smilin’ when they found out we was home. And then it wouldn’t matter where we fought or who we killed because everything would be the way it was before we went away — no war, no flags, no blood — just you and me and both our mamas and our cornfields and the sun. But that don’t matter anymore. (Pause.) Ain’t nothin’ left the way it was. Ain’t nothin’ ever gonna be the way it was.

JAMES

‘Cept home. There’s always home.

AARON

Not anymore.

JAMES

No one can take the land away. It’s always gonna be there, Aaron. Maybe it won’t look the same, but it’s always gonna be there, waitin’ for us to come back again.

AARON

Dammit, Jimmy. I ain’t talkin’ ’bout the land. (Long pause.) My mama’s dead.

JAMES

What?

AARON

The Yankees shot her, Jimmy. Six months back. Your mama was the one that wrote and told me. Said she was outside, hangin’ clothes out on the line. Said they — said they said that –

(AARON, choking back tears, turns away from JAMES. JAMES steps toward him. As JAMES touches his shoulder, AARON flinches and turns.)

AARON

(Backing away.) Get away from me!

JAMES

Aaron –

AARON

I said get away from me. (Pause. Choking back tears.) They killed her, Jimmy, and you’re one of them. (Pause.) You’re one of them, you son of a bitch.

JAMES

I’m not.

AARON

The only face that I could see when I heard what they had done to her was yours. And every time I’ve killed a man since then I’ve seen your face and wished that I was killin’ you. (Raising his gun toward JAMES.) You’re just another one of them now, Jimmy. And I hate you for it.

(JAMES takes a step toward AARON.)

AARON

Run away, Jimmy. Just like you always did.

JAMES

(Taking another step.) Aaron –

(The two men struggle over the gun, which fires into JAMES’s chest. JAMES falls as AARON drops the gun. A few seconds later, MATTHEW enters, running.)

MATTHEW

What the hell –

AARON

He’s a liar. A liar and a Yankee.

MATTHEW

Son?

JAMES

Yes, sir. I’m a Yankee. From the west part of Virginia. (Pause. Looking at AARON.) I’m just another one of them.

(As the other soldiers remained focused on JAMES CRAWFORD, MATTHEW watches AARON walk offstage, then turns back to look at JAMES. JAMES looks at MATTHEW, then toward AARON. A question rests on MATTHEW’s lips.)

JAMES

I’m sorry, sir. I’m sorry that I lied to you.

MATTHEW

That’s alright, son. It doesn’t matter now.

JAMES

Tell…Aaron…that…I’m…sorry…that…they…killed …his…mama… (Beat.)Tell…him…that…I’m…sorry…(Beat.)Tell…him…that…it’s…not…his…fault… (Beat.) Tell…him…I forgive him.

(JAMES dies.)

MATTHEW

Goodbye, son.

(Exits, carrying JAMES’s body.)

 

SCENE ELEVEN: 1864. THE BURIAL.

(The camp. The next day. Sunrise. As a harmonica plays “Dixie” slowly and softly offstage, the Confederate soldiers, one carrying a roll of dark cloth, enter from various locations and gather at JAMES’s body. Two of the soldiers kneel, lift JAMES’s body off the ground, and carry it to the gravesite directly upstage of the stage right campstools. Once there, they lay JAMES on the ground, and the solider with the cloth buries his corpse by covering it with the cloth. Exeunt.)

 

SCENE TWELVE: 1864. THE FUNERAL.

(The camp. The same day. Morning. JAMES’s SPIRIT enters and walks to the campstools downstage right.)

JAMES’s SPIRIT

It wasn’t much — some dirt and leaves, a shallow grave just deep enough so they could say they sent my soul to God. Matthew said a prayer. A couple people said I was a coward and one of them spit on my grave, but most of them were silent. Aaron didn’t come.

(Exits.)

 

SCENE THIRTEEN: 1864. THE LIVING DEAD.

(The camp. The same day. Late morning. DAVID, JACOB, and LEWIS enter from various locations offstage and gather at the central campstools.)

DAVID

I don’t know why he came here in the first place. It don’t make sense.

LEWIS

Did you believe him?

DAVID

Believe him how? That he was writin’ for a paper in Kentucky? No.

LEWIS

I didn’t believe that, either. Didn’t sound right.

DAVID

But what about what he was sayin’? Did you believe what he was sayin’? About who we were before the war. About it meanin’ somethin’ to the world, or to ourselves.

LEWIS

I don’t know. Mebbe.

JACOB

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like. Without a gun. Without a war. To meet a Yankee on the street. See him on the road or working in the field or sitting next him in church and list’nin’ to the preacher on a Sunday and then settin’ down to supper with him after we got done.

DAVID

Hard to tell.

LEWIS

You think them folks in Richmond know hard this is? You think they know what war is really like? There the ones a-tellin’ us to keep on fightin’ and a-dyin’…but I don’t see none o’ them a-carin’ anything about or a-tryin’ to find out about what we believe.

DAVID

But it don’t seem right to have a Yankee be the first one doin’ that.

JACOB

I wonder what he said about us in that book of his. I know he lied to us about the paper, but I wonder just the same.

(THOMAS enters, carrying JAMES’s notebook. As he speaks, the others exit and JAMES’s SPIRIT enters; in this scene and throughout the remainder of the play, the living are unaware of the presence of the dead.)

THOMAS

It was full of names. The names and ages of the soldiers that he met, the names of their hometowns, the names of everybody in their families. Sometimes there were notes beside the names. Who gave him food. Who offered him a bed. On every page. Some of them were almost black with names. All of them but one.

THOMAS/JAMES’s SPIRIT

(Simultaneously.) Their campfires burn against the night, like insecurity, like death, like hell, and I feel so out of place in these strange confederate camps, in places where loyalty is gray. They wanted me to hate him, the man I called my friend. Old loyalties are gone, and new ones are begun. I never made the rules they made me swear to live and to uphold. Some nights, I still can hear the voices ringing in my head: “Fire random shots into the enemy line!” Part of me wanted to obey, but bullets can’t be random. I don’t want to kill. I don’t want to maim. I’m not fighting for myself. I’m not fighting for a cause. Deep in their hearts, all men rebel. They don’t agree. We never will. Someday they’ll know. Someday they’ll see. Someday they’ll see.

(THOMAS slowly closes the notebook and carefully returns it to his pocket. JAMES’s SPIRIT exits.)

THOMAS

I know he ran. I know he lied. Maybe it was strength — or weakness — or insanity. At least he found the truth. His truth, anyhow.(Pause.) Maybe that’s the most important kind.

I don’t know why he died. (Beat.) I don’t know why I’m still alive. We never made the rules. We never made the rules.(Pause.) Forgive us, Father, for we know not what we do.

(THOMAS exits.)

 

SCENE FOURTEEN: 1864. THE LAST GOODBYE.

(As before. The same day. Night. At the graves. The camp is asleep, and the moon casts just enough light to navigate the darkness. AARON enters from the offstage left woods. He crosses to the graves and stands in silence. As he does so, JAMES’s GHOST enters from the opposite upstage side of the stage. After a moment, AARON begins remembering a moment from their childhood, which plays out on stage in front of them. YOUNG JAMES and YOUNG AARON enter from opposite downstage sides of the stage. Both boys cross to the center of the stage and lie down, looking toward the sky and fully unaware of their older selves on stage.)

YOUNG JAMES

You want half my apple?

YOUNG AARON

Nah.

YOUNG JAMES

You sure?

YOUNG AARON

Yeah.

YOUNG JAMES

You really that think Johnny’s brother’s gonna go to New York City like he said?

YOUNG AARON

Why wouldn’t he?

YOUNG JAMES

I don’t know. I can’t imagine leaving here, can you? My daddy says his farm is gonna be all mine someday.

YOUNG AARON

My daddy says that the same ’bout his. ‘S’that the only reason that you wanna stay?

YOUNG JAMES

Ain’t that enough?

YOUNG AARON

O’ course it is…but I thought maybe there was somethin’ else?

YOUNG JAMES

Like what?

YOUNG AARON

Like Katie Anne…

YOUNG JAMES

What about her?

YOUNG AARON

Everybody knows you’re sweet on her!

YOUNG JAMES

I ain’t sweet on her.

YOUNG AARON

Well you sure enough seemed sweet on her the other day.

YOUNG JAMES

When?

YOUNG AARON

When you was kissing her behind the outhouse after school. (Beat.) Jimmy’s got a girlfriend…Jimmy’s got a girlfriend…Jimmy’s got a girlfriend.

YOUNG JAMES

Do not.

YOUNG AARON

Do too.

YOUNG JAMES

Do not.

YOUNG AARON

Do too.

YOUNG AARON

You’re just sore that she kissed me instead o’ you.

YOUNG JAMES

Am not.

YOUNG AARON

Are too.

YOUNG JAMES

(Pause. Throwing a handful of grass at YOUNG AARON.) Am not.

YOUNG AARON

(Pause. Throwing a handful of grass at YOUNG JAMES.) Are too.

YOUNG JAMES

(Throwing his apple core at YOUNG AARON.) Am not!

YOUNG AARON

Are too!

(YOUNG JAMES and YOUNG AARON begin to wrestle as before. After a few moments, AARON’s and JAMES’S fathers call them home.)

AARON’s FATHER

(Offstage.) Aaron? You come on home now and get yourself washed up for supper. You hear me?

JAMES’s FATHER

(Offstage.) Jimmy! Come eat your dinner ‘fore it gets cold and your mama flies off the handle again. Jimmy? Jimmy, what are you two doin’ out there at this hour? I swear sometimes you boys act like your lives depend on that damned field.

(Hearing their fathers’ voices, YOUNG JAMES and YOUNG AARON stop wrestling and begin walking home. AARON and JAMES’s GHOST continue watching their younger selves. As they exit, YOUNG JAMES and YOUNG AARON continue taunting one another.)

YOUNG JAMES

Am not.

YOUNG AARON

Are too.

YOUNG JAMES

Am not.

YOUNG AARON

Are too.

YOUNG JAMES

(Offstage.) Am not.

YOUNG AARON

(Offstage.) Are too.

(Silence as AARON looks down at JAMES’ grave. JAMES’s GHOST watches him. After a few moments, AARON speaks.)

AARON

(Struggling not to cry.) I’m sorry, Jimmy. I didn’t mean it. Why didn’t you just run away? Why didn’t you just run the way you always did? What were you tryin’ to prove?

AARON and YOUNG AARON

(Simutaneously, AARON onstage and YOUNG AARON offstage) I’m sorry, Jimmy!

(AARON steps to JAMES’s grave.)

AARON

You ain’t supposed to be there, you son of a bitch! You weren’t supposed to die. You weren’t supposed -

(AARON kneels, crying.)

YOUNG JAMES and YOUNG AARON

(Offstage, in unison, singing, accompanied by a harmonica.)

Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton
Old times there are not forgotten
Look away, look away,
Look away, Dixie Land.

JAMES’s GHOST (

Sad and slow. Singing. Walking across the stage and toward AARON as if retracing a life.)

In Dixie Land where I was born in
Early on a frosty mornin’
Look away, look away,
Look away, Dixie Land.

(During the final two lines of the song, JAMES’s GHOST walks behind AARON, runs his hand across AARON’s shoulder, and exits into the stage left woods.)

Look away, look away,
Look away, Dixie Land.

(Offstage, a sad violin repeats the last two lines.)

END OF PLAY