FLOR-ALA: A One-Act Play
By Michael Martin
FANNY Eighties. Spry mind, dying body.
LITTLE RAY Thirty-five. Fanny’s oldest grandson. College Professor. Lives two states away with wife, kid.
CLAY Thirty. Little Ray’s brother. Laborer. Lives near Fanny, alone, in double-wide trailer.
Action of play takes place in Fanny’s living room. She has lived all her life in Flor-Ala, Alabama, a tiny town straddling the Alabama-Florida border, in the same house where she was born. Full magnolias surround the house, planted by some long-ago ancestor.
Present. Friday in September. Exactly noon.
At curtain, Fanny enters stage right, still in her robe, doing what she does every morning, which is fiddle with the framed photographs that cover every inch of every living room wall. Car door slams. Fanny stops. Little Ray enters through kitchen screen door, stage left, carrying a leather overnight bag. He slowly takes in the room; pleased to see the many dozens of moving boxes everywhere. He drops bag, hugs his grandmother.
LITTLE RAY You’ve gone and done it, girl! Good God, you’ve done it!
FANNY (Folds arms, walks to back window.) All those summers as a child, running barefoot through the white clover out there. Never once did I step on a bumble bee. Not once. Never had to look down to see where the bees were. I just knew.
LITTLE RAY Never thought I’d see this day, Fanny.
FANNY (Turns toward Little Ray.) I bet that’s a hard thing for a man like you to get. Knowing where the bee isn’t.
LITTLE RAY What a day. Can you believe this day?
FANNY Your mother was the same way, you know. Never fearful of where she stepped.
LITTLE RAY Where is he? It’s noon. Didn’t we agree on noon? I’m sure I told him noon.
FANNY Know what I think? I think if you and Clay had told her you loved her once in a while she would have stayed around this house more. Stayed away from all the trouble out there. You could have said something, being the oldest and all. One would expect—
LITTLE RAY You can’t mean that.
FANNY Oh, but I do mean that. Why, it’s getting to where I mean everything I say.
LITTLE RAY Where is he?
FANNY (Pause.) You know, when your brother was a little thing—how old was he, hard to place his age—oh, whatever, a little thing for sure, he was standing there at the window and he goes, ‘Hawk.’ Why it was barely a whisper. ‘Hawk.’ Well I tip-toed over to him like we were about to share some secret and there it was, a big red-tailed hawk, just sitting out there on the fence. Had to have been a female. Huge! And it was snowing. Yes, snowing. The majesty of it! And that boy wouldn’t tear himself away from the window until he saw that hawk fly off. He said he wanted to see its wings spread out. I told him to fetch a chair, but he wouldn’t leave the window. Afraid he might miss the moment. So I carried a chair over to him and for two hours— and I swear on your mother’s grave—two hours that boy sat waiting for his hawk to leave the fence. And when it finally did, your brother just stood up, put the chair back, and walked away.
LITTLE RAY You made that up.
FANNY Ask him.
LITTLE RAY (Opens fridge.) I need a beer. You wanna beer?
FANNY Nothing... Empty.
LITTLE RAY There’s a few way in the back.
FANNY The boxes. Empty.
FANNY Oh, son. I tried. I packed pictures. Packed my clothes. Her clothes. And I felt good about it. Real good. Everything you told me I would feel, I felt—
LITTLE RAY (Softly.) Damn. (Opens and kicks around a few of the empty boxes.)
FANNY But that feeling didn’t stay, and the other feeling came back. So I put everything back where it was.
LITTLE RAY (Softly.) I knew it.
FANNY (Kisses Little Ray on mouth.) But you’re here! After ten years! And your brother is going to walk through that door any minute. And we’ll all be together.
LITTLE RAY I drove a long way—
FANNY Look at the cardinals out there, son. Why, it’s noon and they’re still pecking away at the ground. What a wonder!
LITTLE RAY Cancelled classes—
FANNY And now you’re home!
LITTLE RAY I’m in Flor-Ala! On Flor-Ala Street. A block from Flor-Ala Circle; two blocks from Flor-Ala Park. Every building, every stinking filling station has some Flor-Ala on it. What kind of town names itself after two states! What kind of place wants to remind you that you don’t know where the hell you are!
LITTLE RAY No one knew a dead general to name the place after?
FANNY We have Lake Jackson.
LITTLE RAY Why not call it, ‘Hawk-ville’ or ‘Old People Who Need To Leave Their Haunted House Because They Can’t Take Care Of Themselves Anymore—’
FANNY You just got here—
LITTLE RAY Or, ‘A Yard Full Of Bumble Bees’—
FANNY (Softly.) Hurry, Clay.
(Sound of screen door slamming. No sound of car. Clay enters stage left.)
LITTLE RAY What happened to the car I bought you?
LITTLE RAY You walk?
CLAY What, I look Mexican?
LITTLE RAY (Sneering.) Jesus.
(Pause.) (Little Ray stands in front of Clay.)
LITTLE RAY She’s not leaving.
LITTLE RAY I’m not lying, little brother.
CLAY (To FANNY.) You making up stories, Fanny?
LITTLE RAY She’s not.
CLAY I biked downtown. Got your new keys—
LITTLE RAY She doesn’t care.
CLAY Ground floor.
LITTLE RAY Won’t matter.
CLAY Next to the nurse’s station. You prayed for that.
LITTLE RAY Makes no difference.
CLAY Big walls for your pictures, Fanny.
CLAY (To LITTLE RAY.) Tell me this isn’t happening.
LITTLE RAY Oh, it’s happening, brother. It’s happening all over the fucking place.
FANNY Flor-Ala got a new library, Little Ray.
CLAY I didn’t know we had an old one.
FANNY Oh, Clay. You’ve read a book or two—
LITTLE RAY Ronnie Reagan’s biography I’d bet.
CLAY American hero, pal... Reagan saved like seventy people from drowning. He was a lifeguard as a kid.
LITTLE RAY What did he do, walk on water?
(Little Ray returns to fridge. Retrieves three cans of beer. Opens one and hands to Fanny. Walks over to Clay and slowly raises a can near his face. The brothers look deeply at each other. Clay raises his hand to take the beer, but Little Ray withdraws it and walks away.)
CLAY You hate me, don’t you?
LITTLE RAY No reason to.
CLAY ‘No reason to.’ You sound like fucking John Wayne. Big man. Sends checks home to his crazy grandma. Sends money to his dumb redneck brother. You ride in on a white horse? John Wayne... Shit. You’re way more like that Christmas movie dude.
LITTLE RAY Jimmy Stewart.
CLAY What a puss. Bitchin’ and moanin.’ It’s a wonderful life, my ass. That’s one dark movie, brother. But that’s you alright. But without the angel.
FANNY Be glad I’m not a hoarder, boys.
LITTLE RAY Or cat lady.
FRANNY Or doper.
CLAY Whatever gets you through the night.
LITTLE RAY Day... Night... This.
FANNY Onward, Christian soldiers!
CLAY Carpe diem!
FANNY We shall overcome!
CLAY Keep on keeping on!
FANNY Don’t a come a knockin’—
CLAY, FANNY (Together.) If the van is a rockin’!
CLAY We need beer. Don’t we need more beer?
LITTLE RAY Keys in the car. (Pulls money out of wallet. Tries handing bills to Clay. Clay shoves Little Ray’s arm away. Out screen door. Sound of van driving off.)
FANNY I quit once, you know. It was awful. I hadn’t had a single dream in years and then when I stopped drinking it was like a spigot got turned on at night. Hello, dreamland! Sometimes I was flying. I’d wake up every morning feeling queer. Sit for hours out in the clover. Looking at nothing, really. And out of nowhere my friends start showing up again! All these old farts sitting around drinking my beer saying things like, ‘Last night I had a dream about you, Fanny,’ or ‘You sure have been in my dreams lately.’ I was dreaming and being dreamt of! About scared me to death.
(Pause. Fanny finishes beer.)
FANNY The dreams stay away. People don’t come around; don’t have to watch my step. Call it what you want, boys. I’m not going anywhere.
(Fanny walks to a wall of framed pictures.)
FANNY You know the first book I read after she was murdered? In Cold Blood. Can you believe it?
LITTLE RAY Murdered?
FANNY In Cold Blood. Our Truman. They got a whole shelf of detective books at the library. Read ’em all.
LITTLE RAY You said murder.
FANNY I spent a long time thinking I’d never told anyone about it, then one day I walk out to the mailbox and look down the length of road and think, ‘When did I go and tell the whole damn world?’
LITTLE RAY Suicide.
LITTLE RAY In the backyard. Me and you under that magnolia out there watched Clay bring her back down to the ground.
FANNY Drunk already?
LITTLE RAY (Grabs Fanny’s shoulders.) You have to listen to me, Fanny. Clay and I are going to pack everything up and tomorrow we’re going to take you downtown to Assisted Living. And then I’m going to rent a bulldozer and level this god-forsaken place. It will take about twenty minutes. I researched it.
FANNY I don’t think that’s legal. Tearing down your own house—
LITTLE RAY After that, I’m going to kiss you goodbye. Then I’m going to kiss Clay goodbye. And then I’m never coming back.
(Sound of Clay pulling into driveway.)
FANNY One day they’ll find the man who stabbed my baby. You watch. (Walks off to her bedroom, stage right.)
(Clay enters with bags of beer. Little Ray grabs his t-shirt and yanks him close. Bags fall to floor. Beers explode.)
LITTLE RAY (Desperate.) Help me, brother.
CLAY How did she die today?
(They pick up some of the beers. Drink.)
CLAY She’s been strangled, shot, hurricaned, tornadoed, earthquaked, terrorized and run over by a train. She’s never going to kill herself, though.
LITTLE RAY (Stands in front of wall of pictures. Incredulous.) Who the fuck are these people?
CLAY I get over here most every night. We drink and make shit up until she falls asleep.
LITTLE RAY (Takes framed picture off wall.) Lies.
CLAY Lies? Oh yeah, lots of lies. They seem to get the heart of things for us. I used to be a facts guy. Like you. It was me who took down all the pictures of her and burned them out in the fire pit. I thought, Enough! I thought, This is reasonable. Fanny was passed out on the couch. She wakes up and acts like she don’t notice. She says, I smell smoke, and then just goes to bed. Know what? In a week this place was filled up with pictures again. I’d take one down and say, ‘Who’s this?’ ‘Why Clay, that’s your mama’ and I’d be staring at a picture of a fat Mexican girl.
LITTLE RAY Where—
CLAY She stole them. The library. Flor-Ala Special Collections. Get up close and have a look. There’s even some blacks.
LITTLE RAY How did you do it? You know, cut her down. God you were a tiny thing...
(Silence. No answer.)
LITTLE RAY You don’t remember?
LITTLE RAY The neighbors. Didn’t they see it all?
CLAY If they did, they didn’t want to—
LITTLE RAY Christ! (Throws beer can at CLAY.) You don’t remember a thing, you little prick!
CLAY You remember everything. Fanny remembers nothing—
LITTLE RAY And you?
LITTLE RAY (Louder.) And you!
(CLAY sits on floor in middle of room.)
LITTLE RAY I was fifteen. You’re ten. We wake up and she’s hanging from a tree. You climb up the tree with a knife and cut the rope and bring her down. Ten. A Boy Scout knife. You laid her in the grass. Didn’t put a mark on her bringing her down. What do I have to do, paint you a fucking picture!
LITTLE RAY (Softly.) Listen. (Pained. Discombobulated.) Clay... I’m going to clean this mess up. You stay there. I’ll fix everything nice. Then I’ll go away. I’ll go home.
CLAY I thought you cut her down.
LITTLE RAY I fell out of the fucking tree!
CLAY So I could. You couldn’t. I did, you didn’t. That’s why, isn’t it?
LITTLE RAY Why...
CLAY You hate me.
(LITTLE RAY walks slowly around living room and kitchen. Says nothing. Lightly kicks at beer cans that are scattered on floor. LITTLE RAY and CLAY begin to talk softly.)
LITTLE RAY I smell dead flowers.
CLAY She’s got old funeral roses hidden around here—
LITTLE RAY Maybe we’re smelling them for the first time—
CLAY It stinks.
LITTLE RAY It stinks bad.
LITTLE RAY The sun was out.
CLAY Was it hot? I think it was hot, Little Ray—
LITTLE RAY So bright out there.
CLAY No clouds.
LITTLE RAY A lot of birds.
CLAY I hated pajamas.
LITTLE RAY You were buck naked. How did you do it? Get to her so fast?
CLAY Are you sure about all this?
LITTLE RAY What, you don’t like being the hero? Everybody wants to be a hero.
CLAY You want to be a hero.
(CLAY slowly gets to his feet. Closes eyes. Hands that were clinched, now open.)
CLAY Bees. I hear bees. You hear bees?
LITTLE RAY So many bees, brother.
CLAY I can see you down there.
LITTLE RAY And I see you.
CLAY I’ve never climbed this high before. I’m way up here.
LITTLE RAY Are you afraid? I’d be afraid. You’re almost there.
CLAY Where’s Fanny?
LITTLE RAY Fanny. She’s right here with me. In the clover. Waiting for you. (Silence.)
(LITTLE RAY begins tidying up, slow and deliberate as CLAY curls up onto couch, falls asleep. LITTLE RAY picks beer cans off the floor, drops into an empty moving box. He notices a blanket nearby and covers CLAY with it. FADE OUT .)
Michael Martin's first collection of poetry, Extended Remark: Poems From A Moravian Parking Lot, was published in 2015 by Portals Press (New Orleans). His poetry and fiction have appeared in Gargoyle, New Orleans Review, Booth Journal, Carolina Quarterly, Chattahoochee Review and Berkeley Poetry Review, among many others. He co-founded the literary magazine Hogtown Creek Review and for a decade lived in Holland, where he was a feature writer with Amsterdam Weekly. In 2010, he edited the anthology Rules of the Game: The Best Sports Writing from Harper's Magazine.