Cast of Characters
Robbie: A young man in his early 20s, sent on a mission by his grandfather. Sensitive and intelligent, he is keenly aware of what could be the terrible product of his mission.
Betty: A woman in her mid-70s. She comports herself with dignity, without the vainglory often associated with it. At her core, she is honest with herself, which leaves her vulnerable to sadness over choices not made.
SETTING: In a small clearing near the crest of a mountain, Down Center. A large rock in center, sloping down the rear of it, with a crude seat carved in the front. The “seat” portion faces the audience, but angled left enough that the sloping rear can be seen. A path, behind the rock, meanders stage left, right and left again, on an incline to upstage where it steepens a few feet before the crest. Foliage (or the suggestion of same) can be seen on either side of the path on its winding way upstage. Since it is predawn, the stage lights should be dim and the actors’ flashlights will play more prominently.
The present, predawn
AT RISE: ROBBIE and BETTY are in a clearing, near the crest of the mountain.
(Shines her flashlight on the rock, with ROBBIE standing behind it, his hand upon the back of it.)
Let’s linger here a bit, young man, and in my flashlight’s yellow arc, I’ll rest and watch you lay one impatient finger-drumming hand upon the pocks of the rock’s gentler slope.
(ROBBIE comes around to the side of the rock and trains his light on her as she prepares with some labor to sit.)
And while you turn your light on me, I’ll delicately slot my seven decades of practiced poise into this perfect granite notch that the millennia of winter winds up the western slope have hollowed for today’s respite. You smile.
(She appears to study his smile)
It’s your Grandpa’s smile, you know. The way the corners upturn.
So I’ve been told.
Uncanny … Well, it was here we took our last breather then … just as we are now. With but two differences. There were no roads back then, braceleting the sides of the mountain, coiling higher and higher to the spot where you parked your car, leaving us a hike of a paltry mile to where we now relax.
(She pauses to give herself a cautious two-fingered prod above the knee then a tentative squeeze in the fleshier part of her thigh. Frowning, she continues.)
Ours, back then, were trim and muscular limbs, yes! But still it took two more hours to trudge with kerosene lantern for light, up from the meadowed baseline to this refuge, having the same goal as now: to reach the precipice before the dawn.
(She falls silent. But when her reverie hangs too long in the cool-darkened silence, the young man nudges.)
And the second difference, Your Honor?
Your honor, ha! In the town below, you may address me thus, and I swear I’ll glow with vagrant pride. But in these mountains, there is no protocol.
(Reaches down to pick up a piece of moss at her feet.)
Betty I was then and in these mountains, Betty I am still.
(In the beam of his light, she turns her head and eyes to him as she throws him the prod.)
You don’t seem to share Robert’s impetuosity. That is the other difference, you see. It was his impetuosity that urged him go without me those last hundred yards.
(She tosses her light beam past ROBBIE’S shoulder and beyond him)
From this rock to—see? —to where the trail there bends beyond the scrub and rises to the precipice.
(Following where her crooked finger points, then turns back his disbelieving eyes)
Grandpa left you? He wouldn’t—
Oh, but he would and did. But don’t misunderstand. It was not from lack of caring, but rather an opulence of caring that sent him on ahead alone to reaffirm that imagination’s canvas and palette were just as he’d left them the week before. Oh, young man, don’t frown! That part of him that was, at his core, authentic then, would be a blasphemy if not his now. He could no more not do it that day than he could on my parents’ porch swing entwine his hand with mine and drone a humdrum bramble of mundanities.
Grandpa’d been there first alone?
He had, and so enrapt he was by its grandeur that, despite my most staid and studied protestations, there on that porch swing, he obsessed that together we would climb this mountain the very next morning, and together would gaze across—
(Repeating to the twin mounds of spongy pine needles the toes of her shoes had formed and then carefully kept apart:)
—would gaze across …
(Studying her eyes sad vacancy, the young man half-whispers:)
Would gaze across that ancient spread.
I shouldn’t have.
Oh, but yes. It’s just as if—just now as if—as if I heard a voice from a half-century before. But you couldn’t have—I saw him throw it, wadded, over the edge.
I have it.
(Taps his temple)
I have it.
Oh, please then, the first lines. The lines I thought were carved in my memory and now that porous sponge oozes out just dum da dum da dum da dum.
The lines I think you’re searching for are:
Let us linger a moment more,
I promise then we’ll go;
A moment more to gaze
across that ancient spread. See?
Those distant and marvelous peaks?
See them there? Those peaks—
(With tear-brimmed eyes she recites with ROBBIE:)
Which eat endlessly the valley
Somewhere beneath the smoldering plain.
(Neither speaks for a long moment. She daubs her eyes with a square of linen she had drawn from her sleeve.)
Shall I go on?
Not now, please.
As you wish.
If you don’t mind, I’ll just have you pry me from the prison of this rock and if I succeed in straightening out these ancient legs and convince my egg-shell knees to bear my weight …
(ROBBIE moves, smiling, to the front of her and holds out his hands.)
… then I’ll let you be my crutch for the final hundred yards. When you’re eighteen—but you know this! —the step is truer, the lungs fuller, the trail leveler even when with forsaken, wounded pride you follow alone, mumbling and grumbling behind.
As you did then?
As I did then
(She lets him guide her toward the trail, gingerly over the soggy leaves and needles, her elbow as fragile as a bird in the nest of his palm. He glimpses the glances she tries, in the muted light, to hide.)
(SINS OF THE GRANDFATHER will continue with scene 2, tomorrow)