SHERI REYNOLDS | Orabelle’s
(ORABELLE enters, pushing a wheelbarrow,
humming to herself. She wears a motley assortment of clothes, mismatched
patterns, colorful shoes. Offstage, a car-engine revs loudly.)
Hey, slow that truck down! The road’s washed out around that curve.
(Offstage, brakes screech. A small roll of chicken-wire is thrown onto
the stage, as if it bounced out the back of a truck.)
Can’t say I didn’t warn you.
(Orabelle picks up the chicken-wire, puts it in
And the moral of the story is: drive like hell, and
(She laughs, holds the wire up to the audience, looks at them through
Or maybe there ain’t no moral. Maybe I just needed a piece of
chicken-wire today and didn’t know it.
(She flexes the wire, holds it open.)
Piece of chicken-wire like this, flimsy as
it is, separates you from me. Wind can blow right through it, but there’s still no mistaking
what’s on one side and what’s on the other.
(Orabelle places the wire around her wheelbarrow.)
(offstage, calling out)
Granny? Hey, Granny!
There you are! I told you to wait for me.
(Orabelle tosses the chicken-wire into her wheelbarrow.)
I’m perfectly capable of taking my evening stroll without a chaperone.
You told me this morning you were coming with me to Leona’s! Don’t
you remember? We missed her mama’s funeral. I thought you wanted
to pay your respects.
Far as I’m concerned, paying respects is something you do when
people are alive.
(Rubie takes her arm.)
Just walk with me, Granny. Where else you gotta be?
(On the other side of the stage, LEONA sits in a
rocking chair and studies a piece of paper. Rubie and Orabelle slowly
move towards her.)
It’ll be easier for Leona now that her mama’s passed. I heard at
the Senior Center that Sadie’s mind was shot. Last time she went to the
doctor, she wore Little Pug’s underdrawers, poor old thing!
I wonder if Leona’ll stay in that house with Little Pug and Gwendolyn
now that her mama’s gone.
Hard to say. But it’s good you going to see her, Sugar. I’m
sure she could use a friend.
I don’t know if Leona considers me a friend anymore. I’ve
only seen her a time or two since I moved back home, and then it seemed
like she barely tolerated my company. I think she still holds a grudge
that I left town in the first place.
You got deployed. That’s the most acceptable kind of leaving.
There she sits. I expected she’d be on the porch on a night like
(Orabelle stops. Rubie turns back to her.)
Reckon I’ll visit with the squirrels a little. Catch up on what’s
happening with the crickets. You go ahead and talk with your friend.
Suit yourself. Hey, Leona!
(Leona stashes the paper in her pocket and rises.)
Well, look what the cat dragged in.
(They greet one another, then settle in rocking chairs. LIGHTS SHIFT
to Orabelle, who pokes at something in her wheelbarrow.)
Hey, You! Yeah, you! Sit up and look around. You been sleeping all day.
(She motions out to the audience.)
You see all these fields? I spent my whole life in these fields, marching
up and down the rows gathering tobacco.
(She points towards Leona and Rubie.)
You see that house? I worked there fifty years!
I was in that house the night that gal’s mama was born. Then
when Gwendolyn and Little Pug come along years later, I was the one
who cut the cords and burned
the bloody rags.
(She laughs and points in the other direction.)
See that barn, yonder? Them two girls were
digging doodlebugs together ‘neath
that barn shed ‘fore either one of ‘em could walk. What?
You don’t know what a doodlebug is? Hop out here and I’ll
show you how to dig a doodlebug.
(Orabelle offers her hand to the invisible thing
in the wheelbarrow, then stoops and begins doodling on the ground. LIGHTS
SHIFT to Leona
So . . . we’re broke—and I didn’t even know it.
How could you not know it? Didn’t you look at the bank statements?
Never seen a one. Mama always handled the bills and kept the family files.
When her mind started to go, Gwendolyn helped out some—
Lord, I can’t believe you’d trust Gwendolyn with it.
I had to. She’s my aunt.
(Rubie makes a face.)
I didn’t trust her exactly. Just didn’t
realize how bad Mama’s mind had got. I had so much on my plate—
Doodlebug doodlebug go so fast. Doodlebug doodlebug, run outta gas!
(Leona stands, peers out into the night.)
I didn’t know Miss Orabelle was with you! We should invite her
up on the porch.
Nah, she’s all right. You were telling me about your financial—
I knew we hadn’t farmed the land in a real long time, but I didn’t
know the leases had all run out. And nobody’d renewed ‘em.
Don’t know why I didn’t notice.
When I first moved back in with Granny, I saw that the fields weren’t
planted. But I didn’t think much of it. So many farmers have moved
on to other things—
Then today, this come.
(She pulls the bill out of her pocket, shows Rubie.)
If dying gets any more expensive, we gonna have to live forever.
We’re already in collections for some other debts. If we declare bankruptcy,
they’ll take the house and farm both. Then I reckon I’ll be stuck
in a homeless shelter with Gwendolyn and Little Pug. Can you imagine?
(Rubie shakes her head. Across the stage, Orabelle suddenly jumps up.)
Hey! Where you going?
(Orabelle runs to the wheelbarrow, peers inside
Rubie, that little sucker’s run off again. I gotta find him.
(Leona looks puzzled.)
It’s okay, Granny. He’s hiding over here in these azaleas.
He’s just teasing with you.
(Orabelle picks up a stick and goes to the bushes and whacks at them
again and again. Leona gets up from her chair and hides behind it.)
You get back in that wheelbarrow. Go on, now. Get! It’s too late
for games this time of night.
(She heads back to the wheelbarrow, escorting an
What does she see?
Just some promises.
Granny keeps other people’s broken promises.
(They go over to the wheelbarrow and look inside.)
He weren’t too hard to round up. He knows how to listen. He ain’t
a bad feller.
(She pulls moss out of her wheelbarrow and acts like she’s rumpling someone’s
hair, caressing the moss.)
Does she have Oldtimer’s Disease, too?
I don’t think so.
Well, hey there, Honey-girl. I’m sure sorry about your mama.
(Orabelle takes Leona’s hand and holds
Good to see you again, Miss Orabelle.
I know you gonna miss her. Your mama had a heart of gold. You ready to
get her promise?
(Orabelle digs around in the wheelbarrow.)
You got something of my mama’s? In there?
Oh, yes. She left a promise with me—years and years ago. I got it
right in here with the others, if I can just find it. Guess it’s
part of your inheritance, ain’t it?
(Leona looks stricken. Orabelle
stirs around. Things clatter.)
Is she crazy? You don’t see anything in there, do you? Just some flowers
It’s too soon, Granny. You need to keep that promise a little bit
Oh—all right then.
(She starts pushing her wheelbarrow away. Rubie follows.)
Wait. Where does she get those . . . promises?
(Rubie and Orabelle both stop.)
They just find Granny. She don’t go looking for them.
Miss Orabelle, do you remember much about my mama—when she was a girl?
Before I was born?
Oh yes, honey, and I was honored to keep the promise she made to your
daddy, cause I know how much it meant to her.
My Daddy? I didn’t—I don’t—
Now, Granny, hang on—
Mama made a promise to my daddy?
I’m sorry, Leona. It’s late. We probably oughta—
(Leona fans her face with both hands. Orabelle turns her wheelbarrow
around and heads back.)
Lord, my head’s a’spinnin’ in a thousand ways—
Grief’ll do that to you. But you needn’t worry ‘bout
that promise. I been keeping it safe for a long time. It’s in good
Tell me more?
Ain’t a whole lot more to tell. It’s just an ordinary old
broke promise. Your mama promised your daddy her heart. Then she took
it back. I got a hundred others just like it in this wheelbarrow. Sometimes
on a hot night like this one, I throw ‘em a pool-party.
(Orabelle looks off towards the porch, puts her hand on her hip, stomps
Looka there! He took off again. He’s
yonder under the doorsteps.
It’s all right, Granny. He knows the way home. We need to let Leona
I reckon so, but I can’t hardly sleep unless all my promises are
Do you know if—
We gotta run, Leona. Granny’s tired, and I’m tired—And
your mama’s promise is probably tired, too. I think we all need
(They begin to leave.)
Honey, if you see that promise, tell him to hurry on home. Supposed to
rain before day.
We’ll talk soon, Leona.
(They exit. Leona stands there perplexed.)
Well, I swear! You’re both crazy, both of you! Weren’t nothing
in that wheelbarrow!
You shouldn’t talk about my Mama, not when she’s
(Leona hears something, stops, listens. She goes towards the doorsteps,
Is somebody there?
(She looks around nervously.)
Who’s there? Little Pug, is that you?
(Leona listens, looks over her shoulder, then
hurries offstage as PROMISE #1 creeps out of the dark. He wears a mask
made of moss. The promises
wear masks made from things in Orabelle’s wheelbarrow: sticks, leaves,
(hollering after her)
Wait! Don’t be afraid. I know how you feel cause I lost
somebody I love not too long ago.
And just before she died, I broke a promise.
(He shrugs, turns and addresses audience.)
We were married forty years, me and my wife. Loved
to go fishing together. She was every bit as at home on the river as
she was on land. She could
maneuver our little boat into places only the trout knew about! Every
Saturday we were out there. Sometimes after church on Sundays, too.
When she was near eat-up with the cancer, she still
wanted to be out on the river. Didn’t have the strength by then
to walk very far, but I’d carry her and put her in the boat. We’d
float around and listen to the mudfish jump. One day she said, “Promise
me that no matter how bad it gets, you won’t put me in a home.” And
I told her I wasn’t about to put her in a home! I told her I
could take care of her myself.
But taking care of her wasn’t the problem. The problem was watching
her suffer. The family helped out, but Lord, it was a slow dying. Towards
everybody told me to put her in a nursing home. She was on morphine by then,
in and out of consciousness, so I did it, but I made sure she was in a room
with a window that opened. I promised her I’d take her on the water again
soon as it warmed up. But she didn’t last that long.
Whenever I go fishing now, I drive all the way to the ocean.
(LIGHTS DIM. From offstage, Leona shines a flashlight out at Promise
I don’t know who’s out there, but you better get away from
here! This is private property.
(Promise #1 exits. Leona enters with flashlight.)
It’s gonna rain. Get on home . . . whoever
(Leona drags rocking chairs offstage as LIGHTS
SHIFT to GWENDOLYN. Dressed in a black tutu and pillbox hat, she
runs around as if she’s chasing
chickens. Squawks can be heard, and LITTLE PUG takes off after Gwendolyn,
throwing feathers. Gwendolyn flicks her wrist in circles, like she’s
wringing a chicken’s neck. Little Pug runs behind her, picking
up feathers and throwing them again, frenzied.)
I swear! Seems like a chicken’s neck gets longer and longer as you wring
These are Mama’s chickens, Gwendolyn. Quit killing ‘em.
I’m gonna have me a chicken bog tonight.
You don’t need but one hen for a chicken bog. You’ve already
killed a dozen.
Sometimes it seems like the head’s pulling outta the body, and sometimes
it seems like the body’s flying away from the head. Ain’t that
That one over there—run her towards me.
(Little Pug makes a move like he’s running
a chicken. Gwendolyn grabs it.)
How many chickens you planning on killing?
I’m gonna kill ‘em all. I hate a chicken.
(She spins and tosses a chicken to the ground.)
Ain’t it pathetic—how they flap their
wings a time or two before they give up?
You can’t kill ‘em all. Mama’ll turn over in her grave.
Might turn over, but she can’t get out. I’m in charge now, and
I hate a chicken.
(She turns to Little Pug.)
Run me that one over there.
(Little Pug races around, wild-eyed.)
Please quit it, Gwen.
Please quit it, Gwen.
(She drops the hen and wipes her face.)
Chickens are stupid and ugly and shit-up the
yard. I’m done with ‘em,
Leona. We’ll kill ‘em off, and then Little Pug can keep that
damned dog of his in the coop.
Naw, now, Gwendolyn. Boy-Dog’s just a baby. He’s gotta sleep
You heard what I said.
How can you do this so soon after Mama’s passing—and knowing
how much she loved ‘em?
(Leona chokes. Little Pug crouches where he’s
standing and begins to cry onto his knees.)
Well, look at me, Leona. I’m still grieving her, too. I’m
still in my funeral clothes. You been wearing your ordinary wardrobe
for a week already! You know I loved your mama.
Me, too. I’m gonna miss her the most.
I don’t know how we’ll survive without her.
(Gwendolyn goes to Leona and hugs her, with a chicken still in her
We’ll get by—or else we’ll die in a pile.
Can’t we keep some of the chickens, just to remember her by?
(Gwendolyn considers this.)
We got plenty of other things to remember her by.
No, we don’t need these chickens. Your mama was a fool to love
chickens in the first place. She was my sister, and I’ll always
love her, but she was a fool just the same.
Naw, now, Gwen. Sadie weren’t no fool. She was the smartest of
(Little Pug sucks on the back of his hand.)
Don’t you talk about my mama that way! And don’t you kill another
I’ll talk about her however I want, and you can’t do nothing
about it, can you?
(Little Pug runs off stage.)
It ain’t no surprise, you know, that Sadie loved birds. Her brain
was about the same size, Leona, and I doubt yours is much bigger. I loved
Sadie, but she was a lot like a chicken. ‘Specially like that red
one over yonder with her back tail-feathers all snatched out. Kept teasing
with the roosters, you know? That’s how you come along.
Don’t say that.
But Sadie didn’t mean no more to the roosters than that old red
hen does. Just something to hop on and flap about.
That’s not true. What happened to my daddy?
You ain’t got no daddy. You ain’t never had no daddy.
Yes, I did. Miss Orabelle told me.
When’d you talk to Orabelle? I thought she was dead.
I saw her yesterday. Why didn’t anybody ever tell me about my daddy!
You gone believe an old nigger woman over me?
(She grabs another chicken.)
Please, quit it.
(Gwendolyn wrings its neck, throws the bird at Leona, takes off running
down another one.)
Stop killing ‘em . . . or I’m gonna leave here and not never
Oh, no you won’t. Just cause Sadie’s dead don’t mean
you can run off.
Besides that, wouldn’t nobody else have you. We’re family.
We’re blood. That’s all in the world you can depend on.
(Leona slumps down. Gwendolyn wipes her face and hollers out.)
Little Pug! Little Pug?
(Little Pug peeks out, clearly scared.)
You need something, Gwendolyn?
Roll out Sadie’s wheelchair for me. She sure don’t need it no more,
and my back’s sore from all this stooping.
(Gwendolyn takes Leona’s arm and yanks
her up. She shows no signs of a weak back.)
I need you to scald these birds and pluck ‘em. Then Little Pug
can help you clean ‘em, and we can freeze what we don’t need.
(Little Pug rolls out the wheelchair, parks it directly behind Gwendolyn.
She drops into it and sighs.)
I’m gonna go watch my soap opera, cause
my legs have done give out on me.
(Little Pug pushes her away. Leona begins cleaning the mess on the stage.)
You ain’t going nowhere, Leona. You hear me?
(Gwendolyn and Little Pug exit. Leona picks up feathers.)
You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my Mama. I don’t
have to listen to you!
(Little Pug returns with a battered hand-held vacuum and helps Leona
clean up the feathers.
LIGHTS SHIFT to Orabelle who enters with a bushel basket of butterbeans.
Rubie brings in a rocking chair and a pan. Orabelle scoops beans into
her pan, sits, and begins shelling. Rubie pulls up a second rocker, also
takes a pan of beans and begins shelling. Leona comes over with a fly
swatter. Throughout the scene, she kills flies.)
You sure you don’t want me to help you finish shelling?
Oh, no, honey. I wanna hear this story! I had no idea they kept your
daddy such a secret.
We’re almost done anyway. Just work on these blasted flies.
Well—for a while I figured he died in the war.
Lots of people were dying in the war at that time. Makes sense you’d
I went looking in Mama’s jewelry box to see if she had his war-pins
there. When I didn’t find any purple hearts, I told myself she
kept his commendations in a private place.
Did you ever ask her outright?
One time at school, we had to draw our family tree, and I asked her then.
I’d already done half my tree, but it looked lopsided, like the
ones cut off by the electric company so the branches don’t touch
the wires. So I asked Mama to help me fill out the other side.
What’d she do?
Didn’t say a word. Gwendolyn said, “I told you this day would
come,” and then Mama ran off and locked herself in the bathroom.
Then at one point, I decided my daddy’d been a sea captain who’d
gone down with his ship.
You wrote an essay about it. I remember.
Well, I swannee—
And I read it to the whole school at assembly on career day!
(Leona smacks a fly.)
When Mama found out, she gave me a whipping
I’ll never forget.
And she told me not to never mention my father again. So I shut up about
And you kept all that confusion inside you, bless your heart.
That’s why it surprised me so much the other day when you mentioned
Mama’s broken promise, Miss Orabelle.
I reckon it did.
You know, your mama was supposed to marry your
daddy, but that just didn’t work out. Your mama took care of
the younger children, almost like they were her own. Little Pug was
always sickly and never did walk
right after he got over the polio. And Gwendolyn was prone to fits—screaming
and kicking and biting and crying! Gwendolyn was mad at the world.
When your mama got engaged, Gwendolyn said if Sadie left, she’d
holler and never shut up. So Sadie stayed right there.
That’s so sad.
It’s sad, all right, but Sadie shoulda left.
Sounds to me like she couldn’t leave!
It woulda been hard, but you reckon her life coulda got any harder than
the one she lived?
(Orabelle looks into Leona’s eyes.)
How are you getting along with Gwendolyn and Little Pug these days?
We’re all right. I’m just trying to be agreeable, for the time being,
til I can figure out what to do next. It’s best not to get Gwendolyn
That’s for sure.
(Orabelle pushes away her beans and gets up.)
You’re living out the consequence of your mama’s broken promise.
But now, your heart’s the one hurting. You ready to get it, Sweetie?
My wheelbarrow’s right outside.
I’m not sure. Is it big?
(Leona looks surprised.)
Weighs a ton. You might need to come back one
day with a trailer. Them promises, they get heavier and heavier, unless
the one who breaks ‘em
finds some way through the guilt.
(Orabelle gets her wheelbarrow from just offstage.)
How do you push ‘em around in that wheelbarrow, then?
They ain’t too heavy to me, cause they ain’t no relation.
I reckon all my old promises gone and jumped in somebody else’s
You got lots of promises you’re keeping?
All shapes and sizes, from all over this county! Come look.
(They cross to the wheelbarrow. Orabelle reaches in and pulls out a
Now this one here, this is a child’s promise. Buy me a stereo and
I’ll never cuss again.
I don’t see nothing but a leaf.
Open your mind, child!
(Orabelle puts the leaf back in the wheelbarrow and
pulls out a stick.)
And this one here, this is “I’ll guard
it with my life.” This
promise was made by a man from over the swamp who was looking after
his friend’s chainsaw. He let somebody else borry it, and it
broke all to pieces.
That promise—it looks a lot like a twig.
Don’t let that fool you. Things aren’t always what they seem.
Granny straightened me out a while back, Leona. Taught me to see beyond
the obvious. You hang around her long enough and you’ll start
doing it, too.
But you know what bothers me? Some of these promises don’t sound
serious enough for people to suffer the guilt all their lives. A girl
who said she wouldn’t cuss and then did? How bad is that?
(Leona shakes her head.)
Ain’t up to us to judge the weight of another’s promise.
(Orabelle reaches back into the wheelbarrow and pulls out a dried flower)
This one is “I’ll love you till I die.” That’s
a serious turn-of-phrase, cause you just never know what love will do.
But I tell you what—people say it all the time. “I’ll
love you till I die!” Then some bigger love comes along and swallows
up the littler love, and they can’t do nothing about it. If you
ask me, we’d all be better off saying “I’ll love you
long as I can.” ‘Course, that kinda love don’t make
people feel too secure.
(Leona backs away from the wheelbarrow. She looks woozy.)
Oh, Lordgod . . .
You all right?
I just about saw that one. I just about saw it!
That’s how it works. You start to see ‘em when they hit home.
Did you tell somebody you’d love ‘em till you died and then
quit loving ‘em?
No, ma’am! I certainly did not! I just got dizzy cause I thought
for a second I saw that promise!
Well, don’t act so surprised, Darling. Did you think I was making
Maybe you saw it cause it’s a kindred promise—like
It’s getting late. I should go. I told Little Pug I’d take him
to the flea market.
The flea market ain’t even open today, child.
Maybe you saw that promise cause you so much like your mama, confusing
love with responsibility just like she did.
Really, I gotta go. I can take Little Pug to the dumpsters behind the
dime store. You know how he loves to look for vacuum cleaner parts.
Let her go, Granny.
She can go if she wants to, but there ain’t no need to make up
stories about flea markets and dumpsters! I don’t think she likes
my promises, Rubie.
I do like your promises. But they make me kind of—sad.
Sad? They shouldn’t make you sad. They should make you proud to
be an American!
(Rubie rolls her eyes.)
Here in America, we’re free to break our promises! Sometimes it’s
a real good thing!
(She digs around in her wheelbarrow.)
Who’ll explain it to her? Where’s
the teacher? I know the teacher can make her understand!
(PROMISE #2 enters, looking uncomfortable.)
Go ahead. Tell ‘em what you did!
Well, my first year teaching, I had a third-grade class at Sunnybrook
Elementary. Most of the students came from loving homes, but there
was one girl who was a raggedy mess. Nobody combed her hair, and her
clothes were stained and dirty. I never met her parents. I think they
were on drugs. They never came to the PTA.
So one day when she had the croop and I had
to keep her in at recess, I asked her to help me clean out the coat
closet. There was a sweater
in there with little bluebells embroidered all around the collar. I’d
made it myself, but the arms shrunk up when I washed it. So I gave it
to her and told her it was left over from the year before. She nearly
coughed herself to death trying to thank me, and when I asked her how
she got so sick, she said it was a secret.
I told her I could keep a secret. And she said, “Promise?” and
I crossed my heart without even thinking about it. . . . Then she said
that she’d sassed at her father, and he’d locked her out
of the house in just her pajamas. She’d spent the night beneath
the trailer, curled up on some blankets with the dog! I had to call social
services, of course. They put her in foster care, and she didn’t
come back to my class after that.
I went to visit her once, and she was wearing
my sweater. She had her knees pulled up, and the sweater stretched
over them. She wouldn’t
talk to me at all. But those bluebells I’d embroidered around the
collar, they just gaped at me—Seems like they accused me of unthinkable
Oh, honey. You did the best you knew.
(She offers the promise her arm, and they begin their exit with the
You did the best you knew!
(Rubie and Leona begin clearing the stage.)
I always thought of broken promises as clear-cut. Like a man leaves his
wife for another woman.
Yeah, but it’s not always that simple. Sometimes you think you’re
doing right, when maybe you’re not—
(Rubie gets the pans and baskets of butterbeans and exits.)
Like when you left here and broke your promise to open a flower shop with me?
Rubie? Are you trying to apologize for that?
(LIGHTS SHIFT to Little Pug who examines a vacuum cleaner. He pushes
it around, then turns it upside down and runs his hand over the rollers.
Hey-oh there! Got me some work. Jack Flanagan dropped off his vacuum.
Ain’t sucking right.
What’s wrong with it?
There’s a lot can go wrong with a vacuum. This one here is from
his mobile home dealership. They vacuum every mobile home on the lot
twice a week. So it might be plum wore out. Or it might have something
to do with this little blue cord that’s all knotted up around the
(Little Pug hands Leona the end of the blue cord
and she tugs it.)
Jack Flanagan’s pushing her around in the wheelchair.
Got no idea. Maybe they’re a’courtin’.
(The blue cord gives a bit and Leona stumbles. Little Pug giggles. Leona
coils up the cord and begins pulling again.)
Jack’s a married man.
Well, I know that, but every time one of his commercials comes on the
television, Gwendolyn cries and says she was supposed to be his wife.
You never know. Jack Flanagan could be stepping out.
Little Pug, do you remember Mama ever having a boyfriend?
Did he come around a lot?
All the time. Went hunting with Pop on Saturdays, too.
Why didn’t you ever tell me?
You never asked.
Did he—love Mama?
I don’t know if he loved her, but he bought her a blue French hen
out of a catalogue. Come in a wooden crate and had the funniest looking
beak you ever seen.
You reckon he was my daddy?
The blue hen? Nah.
I mean the boyfriend.
(The blue cord finally comes free. Leona balls it
up while Pug spins the roller on the vacuum.)
How come they didn’t get married?
Cause she didn’t need a husband.
(Laughter is heard from offstage.)
She had us.
(JACK FLANAGAN pushes Gwendolyn in from the side. He spins her in the
wheelchair, zig zags her around.)
Oh, me. Oh, Jack. You just tickle the stuffing out of me.
Well, honey, it tickles me to tickle you! Now if you need me to drive
you to the chiropractor again, all you have to do is call. You got
my beeper number?
It’s right here.
(She pats her bra.)
I always keep your card where I can reach it.
(Gwendolyn and Jack both notice Leona.)
Hey there, Dollbaby. How you getting along?
Jack, you want some cake? Leona can get you a piece.
Nah, I gotta get back to work. We got a shipment of brand new double-wides
coming, and I gotta make space on the lot. Got some of the prettiest
double-wides you ever seen—just loaded, some of ‘em with
Oh, I love a jacuzzi tub.
(Leona rolls her eyes)
One day when you’re out and about, stop by the lot and have Cynthia
page me. I’ll give you a private tour.
You think about my proposition now, Gwendolyn, and we’ll talk.
(Jack kisses Gwendolyn on the cheek.)
Thank you for checking that vacuum for me,
Pug. I’ll stop back
by in a day or two.
Yep. all right.
(Jack exits. Little Pug removes the vacuum cleaner
hose, peers inside it.)
What kind of proposition is he talking about?
A lady don’t have to share her private business.
Come on. Tell us.
Not about to!
Did he put the moves on you, Gwen?
Ah, Pug. You know better than that. Jack Flanagan’s a gentleman from
You reckon a gentleman gets hair-balls?
(Gwendolyn puts both hands over her mouth.)
You bring out the devil in me, Little Pug. Let’s see what kinda
clogs he’s got!
(She claps her hands, then addresses Leona.)
us a fresh Ziplock. I’d get one myself, but my legs are so
And bring back our prize-winners so we can compare ‘em!
(Leona hesitates. She’s about to say something,
She exits. Little Pug reaches into the hose, then gets a stick and
pokes it in.)
Be careful now. Don’t break it.
(Little Pug performs delicate surgery, his tongue stuck out the side
of his mouth as he works. Leona returns, gives the bags to Gwendolyn.)
Which ones did you bring?
(She reads like a first grader, broken.)
Clog from Buster Peavey’s Hoovervac, 1994. Lily Gresham’s
cat-hair wedge, 2001.
I just about got it.
(Leona holds open a bag, her face turned away. Little Pug pulls out
the thick, matted clog and drops it in.)
Woo-wee. It’s a beauty. Hand it here.
(She admires the hairball.)
That Jack Flanagan—his wife’s not much
of a housekeeper, is she? You know, if it hadn’t been for you,
Little Pug, I’d have married
Jack Flanagan. But I couldn’t leave you. I knew my priorities.
You ain’t never took care of me, Gwendolyn. And Jack Flanagan ain’t
never had no use for you.
(Leona hands the bag to Gwendolyn and dusts her hands.)
I’ll have you know Jack Flanagan was my first date. He took me
to the Park ‘n Blow and ordered us a vanilla milkshake with two
That’s a flat-out lie. You ain’t never been on a date in
Shut up, Little Pug!
(Little Pug begins sucking the back of his hand.
Leona helps him put the vacuum back together.)
One time when we was teenagers, me and Jack played Mary and Joseph
in the Christmas Pageant. Did you know that, Leona?
(Leona shakes her head.)
You a’lyin again, Gwendolyn.
(through gritted teeth)
You startin to aggravate me. I’m warning you.
Jack Flanagan didn’t like you. He made fun of you like everybody
(Gwendolyn jumps out of the wheelchair as if
she’s going to attack
Little Pug. Leona gets between them, holds up the front-plate of
the vacuum like a shield.)
I’m gonna beat him till he bleeds. I’m gonna kill him.
(Gwendolyn opens up the ziplock and dumps the hairball on the floor.
Then she jumps on it and flattens it. Little Pug inhales rapidly.)
That’s what I think of your hairballs. You hear me? You ain’t
nothing but a hairball yourself. A pathetic little wedge of trash!
(Little Pug takes his vacuum and darts off stage. Gwendolyn studies
the mashed hairball.)
Well looka there!
(Gwendolyn gets down on her knees, begins looking through the mess.)
What is it?
I don’t know. A little pink sparkly thing. Must be one of Jack’s
granddaughter’s play-things. But it’d make a pretty ring,
(She holds it up for Leona to see. Then she licks the sparkly thing
and sticks it to her finger. Leona winces. Gwendolyn walks back over
to the wheelchair and sits down.)
I now pronounce you Man and Wife.
(She laughs and
holds her finger out for Leona to admire.)
That’s how it should’ve been, Leona. That’s how it
(Gwendolyn show off her fake engagement ring to imaginary admirers
as Leona pushes her offstage. Little Pug comes out and vacuums up the
dirt. LIGHTS SHIFT to Orabelle and Rubie who set up a card table and
some chairs. Leona joins them and they sit at the table playing Rummy.)
Rummy on the board!
(She picks up the cards and makes a play.)
If I had a dollar for every time you threw
out a card that plays, I’d
be a rich woman. What’s got you so distracted, Leona?
Yesterday we got seven calls from bill collectors! I keep telling Gwendolyn
not to answer the phone, but she likes to talk to ‘em. ‘Course
she denies that we owe ‘em any money.
(Leona shakes her head.)
I don’t know what to do with Gwendolyn. I’ve tried to stand
up to her. Then I’ve tried to be nice to her. But nothing works.
And she won’t even admit that we’re broke. I need to get
Maybe you could apply at that garden center over in Conway.
It wouldn’t pay enough to help.
Might help a little.
If it wasn’t for somebody’s broken promise, I might be a
wealthy flower shop owner right this minute.
I know you not gonna blame it on me that you don’t have a job!
You were supposed to open a flower shop with me! Then you up and left
on graduation night, hopped a Greyhound to Lord-knows where—
To bootcamp—And it wasn’t graduation night, either. It was two
You see! I told you she was still mad about that.
Ah, Rubie, she reeled you right in! And you let her. You gotta do a better
job of listening to what’s behind the words. Otherwise, you’ll
always be a sucker.
(Leona and Rubie both look surprised. Leona draws, then discards quickly.
Orabelle addresses her.)
And you gotta quit feeling so sorry for yourself.
It was one of the biggest disappointments of my life.
It was a game, Leona. Just like this. I was eight years old when I told
you I’d open a flower shop with you.
It was more than a game to me. Remember those hollyberry wreaths we made?
All the arrangements of daisies in Co-cola bottles?
(Orabelle draws, studies her card.)
You never even
There’s nothing to apologize for!
Y’all quit acting like children.
(Orabelle lays out her cards.)
I’m out. I’m the Rummy-Queen again!
If you need a job so bad, you oughta think
about driving a school bus. I hear they’re hiring for the fall.
I could do that, I reckon—
(She gathers the cards, starts shuffling them.)
I could see you being a bus driver. You remember that day on the bus?
(Leona smiles, lays the cards back down.)
We had this substitute bus driver one time who wanted to segregate the
bus, Granny. She had better sense than to try to divide it front and
back, but she wanted to sit the white children on one side and the black
children on the other.
But Rubie’d already sat down with me. The driver told her to move,
said the bus weren’t rolling until Rubie was on the other side.
Seems like I do remember—
When I didn’t get up, she came huffing down that aisle like an
old bull, and said, “Move over, chocolate-chip!”
And Rubie said, “You can’t make me move! There’s laws
against that now.”
And then I said, “I’m sitting with Leona. She’s my
I hate to admit it, but when you said you were my cousin, I felt the
tater-tots I’d had for lunch rise up sour in my throat!
What else could you have felt? Look where we grew up. But you didn’t
deny it or try to push me off the seat.
I wouldn’t have never pushed you off the seat.
Family ain’t just about blood. Family ain’t really about
blood at all.
That’s not what Gwendolyn says!
You believe everything Gwendolyn says? You give her too much power, Leona.
You a grown woman. Time you started acting like it.
(Leona nods, goes over and hugs Orabelle. LIGHTS DIM. They begin to
exit, taking chairs with them. Orabelle cackles.)
I’ll whip you again!
(In dim-light, Gwendolyn enters, pushes her
wheelchair to the table, then sets up a free-standing TV and a
rug to make a family-room. She
takes her seat in the wheelchair. LIGHTS COME UP on Leona standing
by a table and arranging rollers by size. She combs Gwendolyn’s
Sorry. I’ll go easier.
You must think my head’s made of leather. I don’t see why
I couldn’t just go to the beauty parlor. They don’t yank
my head around like you do.
We’re broke, Gwendolyn. The beauty parlor charges fifty dollars
to do it, and I’m free.
You exaggerate everything. We ain’t broke. I got a whole checkbook
full of checks in there.
I’m gonna give you the beauty shop experience right here. Fix you
up so pretty!
If it looks good, I might go to church tomorrow. Maybe Jack Flanagan’ll
be there. You reckon they got a wheelchair ramp at the church?
You know, I been studying the family files.
I know you have, and I don’t like it a bit. You used to have more
respect! You got no business looking at the files til me and Pug’s
both dead, and that’s a long way off, Missy! Owie!
We’re low on money, Gwendolyn. We need to sell some of this land.
You don’t need to worry about that.
I’m gonna get a job, too. I been looking in the papers.
You got a job already. You gotta take care of us. You gave us your word,
You’re perfectly capable of taking care of yourself.
What if something happened? I can’t get around, with these poor
old twisted vertebrae. What if Little Pug’s dog dropped his mess
in the floor and I drove my wheelchair through it. Who’d clean
The car insurance comes due next month. Only thing I can figure is that
we can turn off the air conditioner. We might save enough on electric
to cover the insurance.
We ain’t turning off the AC, I’ll tell you that right now.
You know what I hate the most? Hot toothpaste. I’d rather not brush
my teeth at all than use hot toothpaste.
We can put the toothpaste in the fridgedaire.
My disability comes every month—and Little Pug’s disability.
It’s not enough.
You can fill out some new forms, and they’ll send us more money.
Now that my legs don’t work, I oughta get more disability.
It don’t work like that—
I’ll figure it out. I got some ideas.
Just listen to me. Tilt your chin down.
(She begins to roll the back of Gwendolyn’s
We’ve got a total of fifty-eight acres
No, I just looked at the files. This farm’s got forty-eight, and
then the Junior Baskins farm’s got another ten.
(Gwendolyn undoes a roller.)
You gotta redo this one. It’s pulling.
(Leona rolls it again.)
And check your math. The Junior Baskins farm’s
got twelve acres.
Granny sold two acres to Miss Orabelle back in ‘79, remember?
That ought not count. Probably weren’t even legal.
(Leona jerks Gwendolyn’s head.)
It was perfectly legal.
I bet you when she died and crossed the River Jordan, Jesus Christ himself
was waiting to give her forty lashes for selling land to a nigger.
You ‘member how mad he got when the Philistines gambled in his
temple that time?
(Leona jerks her head again)
I’d hoped you’d changed your attitude by now.
Ain’t nothing wrong with my attitude.
Tilt your head down.
(Leona begins applying the permanent solution.)
I was thinking we might sell the ten acres
on the Junior Baskins farm, and that’d give us money to get back on our feet. We could get
three-thousand an acre. I’ve been looking in the newspapers at
the real estate section.
I’m gonna take that newspaper away from you. Hand me that rag.
(Leona passes a rag to Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn mops her face and neck.)
The land does nobody no good just sitting there.
Our family has always owned this land. We ain’t selling it.
Well I hope these growed-up fields can comfort you when they cut off
our lights and you can’t watch your soap operas.
You’re just trying to terrorize me to get your way. They won’t
cut off our lights, cause our family has a name. They know who
They don’t care who we are.
(Leona tucks cotton around Gwendolyn’s
How ‘bout if we sold part of the Junior Baskins farm? Just a couple
I told you no!
I already got a buyer, Gwen, preapproved for financing. And if we sell
some land, there might even be enough money for us to go on vacation.
(Little Pug runs in.)
Disneyworld. Disneyworld. I want to stay in a motel with Daffy the Duck.
I ain’t never stayed in a motel. Always wanted to.
Come here, Boy-dog!
(He slaps at his thigh.)
We could just sell a little bit—and none of the land we live on. So
you wouldn’t really even know the difference.
I reckon we don’t need all this land. The Junior Baskins is red-clay
anyway. Who’d buy it?
Rubie Drake? Are you shitting me, Leona? You pulling my leg? Didn’t
you just hear me say what I thought of selling land to niggers? And to
a lady faggot nigger at that!
At Disneyworld, you get to shake the hands of the greatest cartoon characters
ever walked the face of this earth. And that’s where Cinderella
lives, Gwendolyn, in a castle in the clouds. And all them firecrackers
going off every night in the sky!
You expect me to sell land to a nigger woman who wears a uniform? I know
you’ve lost your mind.
(Leona wraps Gwendolyn’s head in a plastic
bag and pins it up.)
I can’t even take you seriously anymore. It’s a good thing
me and Pug are still alive to keep you in line, ain’t it Pug?
(Leona pushes Gwendolyn to the living area, facing the TV. Little Pug
sits down on the rug, begins playing tug-of-war with a dog toy.)
Just think about it.
You beat all I’ve ever seen, do you know that? I don’t know
whether to slap you or to laugh in your face. Turn it to channel four.
And Boy-Dog can stay at the Disneyworld Pet-Motel and play with Goofy
and Bambi and the little skunk. Ain’t there a little skunk?
If we go on vacation, we’ll have to leave your dog in the chicken-coop,
Nah, now, Gwendolyn. Boy-Dog wants to ride on an airplane, too. Can we
ride on an airplane, Leona?
We might can, if we go ahead and sell the land.
You can play with the little skunk.
You can tell Rubie Drake to look elsewhere for land. She can buy land from
somebody else, but she ain’t buying it from me.
(Leona crosses back to table and begins to clean up the permanent stuff
and fold up rags. Gwendolyn addresses Little Pug.)
You keep that dog away from me, you hear?
He ain’t bothering you!
My head’s a’burning.
Do you act like this at the beauty parlor? Just hang on.
I can’t stand it! Wash this mess outta my hair.
(Leona checks her watch.)
You don’t have but a few more minutes.
Get that dog away from me, damnit!
He ain’t hurting nothing.
(A dog cries out. Leona runs to them.)
What’d you do?
(Little Pug is on hands and knees, looking behind the TV.)
She kicked his guts out. Why’d you kick his guts out, Gwendolyn?
The little bastard deserved it. He was eating my Isotoner.
Come here, Boy-Dog. Come here, little buddy.
He bit me!
He’s just teething.
Don’t you mock me! If you’d felt them little needle teeth,
you’d a’kicked him too.
He ain’t hurt. His pride might be hurt, but I ain’t hurt
(Leona goes over and examines the dog.)
He’s sleeping outside from now on. You
hear me? Get him out of this house right this second!
I’m not putting up with this anymore! It’s Little Pug’s
house too, and he can keep his dog wherever he wants.
Little Pug will do what I say. And so will you. You used to have more
respect, before you started hanging out with the niggers. If I could
make these legs walk, I’d kick you, Leona. I’d stomp you
right through the floor.
That’s some back problem you got. Them legs won’t work for
you to walk to the kitchen, but when the dog plays with your bedroom-shoe,
they’re strong enough to kick him across the room.
(Gwendolyn jumps up from her wheelchair. She and Leona stand face to
You better be careful. Cause I’ll leave that permanent in til
you don’t have a hair left in your head.
(Gwendolyn reaches up and touches the plastic on her head. Then she
begins crying loudly.)
I’ll take him out. Gwendolyn, do you hear me? I’ll take him
out right now.
Get him out! I can’t stand that dog. I don’t never want to see
(Leona wipes the spit off her face.)
Don’t be upset, Gwendolyn. I’m gonna take him out right now.
(to Little Pug)
This ain’t about your dog, Pug. It’s about selling the land to
I ain’t selling no land to Rubie and I don’t never want to hear
another word about it.
Quit that hollering!
Don’t tell me what to do, you ugly little bastard.
(Gwendolyn puts her hands over her ears and begins to yell.)
You don’t have to never see him again, Gwendolyn, I promise.
(Leona shoves Gwendolyn down into the wheelchair. Gwendolyn is surprised
and stops screaming. Everything is silent except for a buzzer. Gwendolyn
reaches up and touches the plastic bag on her head.)
My hair. You gonna ruin my hair.
Boy-Dog can sleep outside from now on.
(to Little Pug)
Run get her a nerve pill. They’re in the bathroom cabinet.
(Little Pug exits, grabbing the table as he
goes. Leona pushes Gwendolyn’s
You gonna burn my hair up.
It’s all right. Let’s wash it out.
(They exit. LIGHTS SHIFT to Orabelle who is
holding up things from her wheelbarrow and tending them. Leona
enters, and Orabelle shows her
several things—a rock, a bug, a shell.)
No offense, Miss Orabelle, but this is depressing. Why do I have to keep
hearing about all these promises? Is this supposed to make me feel
better or worse? I can’t tell.
There’s no desired outcome, Sugar. They’re just here to keep
You mean you’re not ready to break your promise yet? I thought
you’d come to leave it.
I just came to see Rubie and tell her that Gwendolyn won’t sell
her the land. I’m gonna have to think of some other way to keep
us out of bankruptcy.
Well, never mind then.
Don’t look at me like that, Miss Orabelle. I haven’t broken
any promise! When I agree to something, that means something to me. Back
when I was in high school, I volunteered to be a bell-ringer for the
Salvation Army at Christmas-time, and I’ve done it every year since.
I don’t even know whether the Salvation Army is a good cause or
not. I ring that bell anyway, because I said I would!
Well, that’s pure silly, Leona. Sometimes promises have to be broke.
Sometimes there’s a good reason.
You’re just saying that to defend Rubie—cause she broke her promise
to me to stay here and help me open that flower shop!
(Orabelle shakes her head, fiddles with promises.)
She probably broke a promise to you, too, didn’t she? When she
went away and left here, traveled all over the place for all them years
and left you by yourself? You’re probably mad at her too.
Now don’t go confusing your anger with mine! If Rubie’d stayed
here, she would’ve been hell to live with, cause she wanted to
roam. You can’t expect somebody to do for you before you let them
do for their-ownself.
They expected it of me! Mama and Gwendolyn and Little Pug—the whole
lot of ‘em.
Don’t fall back in that sad-sack rut, Leona! Promises change. They
grow into new promises—or what do you call it? They evolve. You gotta
be respectful, give’em room to develop. You ever seen a woman with
her titties squished into a too-little bra? They just pop out around
the edges. Can’t force ‘em into something that use to fit.
I believe in bra-burning. Always have.
You make it sound like breaking promises is a good thing.
Ain’t no good or bad to it. And once you break a promise, it don’t
just go away. You gotta live with a broken promise as surely as you live
with one you keep.
(She points out into the audience.)
Look ayonder! That’s a new promise coming
(Leona peers out.)
Right there! See it? Oh, that one’s coming hard and fast.
(Orabelle takes Leona’s arm, prepares
Back up, Honey. That one’s gonna have
a hard landing.
(LIGHTS SHIFT to Jack Flanagan and Gwendolyn. Jack wears a top-hat and
tuxedo jacket. He tips his hat at Gwendolyn, bows.
On the other side of the stage, in the darkness,
there’s a loud
crash, like something heavy hitting the wheelbarrow, and a groan.
Jack and Gwendolyn both look in the direction of the wheelbarrow, shrug
at each other, and then a waltz begins. Jack dances Gwendolyn around
in her wheelchair, spinning her, moving her across the stage. Gwendolyn
laughs, sighs. When the music ends, Jack faces Gwendolyn, bows again,
and pulls papers from his pocket, which Gwendolyn signs on several pages.
She holds her copies of the papers to her chest as Jack walks away. He
has his copies rolled into a scroll, and he holds them up and shakes
them victoriously. On the way offstage, he tosses his top-hat to the
ground. Orabelle picks it up.
LIGHTS SHIFT to PROMISE #3, who stands behind
Never, never, never again! I swore I’d never let it happen again!
I was done pretending to be somebody I wasn’t. I was done with
painting my fingernails to look more ladylike, done with highlighting
my hair. Done with bringing home my gay friends to stand in as my boyfriend
so Mother could dream about my wedding. I was done with listening to
my little cousins calling each other queers, and watching Papa do his
droopy-arm pansy walk. I was done with church, where every description
of Hell included murderers and homosexuals. Cause I’m not a murderer,
do you get it? I’m not into bestiality or incest or porn or devil
worship, and I’ve got better things to do than convert you or your
children. Is that clear?
Preach it, sister.
The deception is eating me alive. My mother would rather I married a
hateful man than live with a loving woman. Can you believe that? Cause
if it looks right, it IS right to her.
But it ain’t right to you.
It’s a shame.
Excuse me? Did you break some kind of promise?
I lost my nerve.
My nephew was playing the violin in church,
and he asked me to come hear him. I couldn’t very well leave
when the music was over, with my whole family sitting there, so I stayed
through the sermon. As an
illustration of the scriptures, the preacher told a story about how his
son had been given a birthday present—a shirt made by some famous
designer. The son really liked the shirt, but the preacher made him take
it back to the store and exchange it because the designer’s a fag,
and Christians don’t support that lifestyle or wear the clothes
made my people who do.
You gotta understand, the gay-bashing wasn’t
even the topic of the sermon. It was incidental—just an illustration
of some bigger
point. And I sat there with my family, sweaty and cold at the same time,
and I didn’t say a thing. I didn’t stand up. I didn’t
speak up. I didn’t even leave. I sat right there and watched that
preacher and listened to my mother say, “Amen.”
(Promise #3 and Orabelle exit as LIGHTS SHIFT
to Gwendolyn, who is now waltzing with her copies of the papers
Jack gave her. She is no longer
in her wheelchair, and she’s doing some impressive dance moves.
Leona crosses over to her, and Gwendolyn grabs her arm and tries
to dance, but Leona just stands still.)
We going to Disneyworld after all. I’m sorry I called you a ugly
little bastard. You ain’t really all that ugly. I was just mad.
The contract. I already signed it. I already got the check!
What are you talking about?
I sold the property to Jack, and we’re rich! I signed my name and
Little Pug signed his name and Jack signed his name and the notary public
put a stamp on it. Jack’s taking it to the courthouse now.
Show me the contract.
You can look at it later. You gotta take me to the bank to put the check
Hand it here!
(Gwendolyn gives it to her and Leona begins to read.)
See, you think you’re the only one who knows how to do business,
but I know how to do business too. And you weren’t gonna get but
thirty-thousand. I got eighty!
(Little Pug enters looking dejected, sucking on the back of his hand.)
Did you sign your name?
Did you do what I told you to?
No, not yet. But—
Go do it. And hurry up. We gotta get to the bank, and after that, we’re
going to the travel agent. Do we have a travel agent?
I can’t do it, Gwendolyn.
(Leona holds up the papers.)
Little Pug, do you know what this means?
(He pulls his cap down hard over his eyes.)
You wanna go to Disneyworld, don’t you?
Then go do it! And don’t come back in here again til you do!
(Little Pug exits. Leona sits down and continues to flip through the
papers. She looks faint.)
How did Jack Flanagan get this together so fast?
He’s been wanting to buy the property for ages. That day he took
me to the chiropractor we talked about it. I told him I wasn’t
ready to sell, but he was welcome to draw up the paperwork and make me
an offer. He got somebody to come out and take pictures. A survey, I
believe they call it. Didn’t you see all the little orange flags?
Rubie was gonna pay us thirty-thousand for the Junior Baskins Farm. That’s
just ten acres. You sold Jack all the land—every bit of it—for eighty.
(Leona continues to read.)
Eighty thousand dollars is a lot of money!
Gwendolyn, you sold him the house! And all the out-buildings.
Yeah, but flip on over—see there? He’s giving us a double-wide
trailer with one of them jacuzzi baths for my back! Brand new. I’ve
been living in this old drafty farm-house my whole life, and now I’m
gonna have a double-wide that nobody’s ever lived in before.
Where you gonna put that trailer?
In the backyard, I reckon. Jack’ll move into this house, and then
we’ll have his little grandchildren playing in the yard. It’ll
be nice. We can have Thanksgiving together. Maybe his wife’ll throw
a blood-clot. I hear her cholesterol’s out the roof.
Jack’ll put the trailer somewhere else.
No he won’t. We got lifetime rights to stay on the land. You think
I’m a fool? I wouldn’t have signed his papers if he could
get rid of me!
This is bad, Gwendolyn. We gotta call a lawyer, get it annulled or something.
We ain’t gotta do nothing! And don’t tell me it’s bad.
How bad can it be when I got a check right here for eighty thousand dollars?
You just jealous cause you didn’t make the deal yourself. You’re
like a little girl sometimes, ain’t you? Scared to death. We’ll
take care of you, Leona. Don’t worry. We’ll make sure it’s
a three-bedroom trailer.
(Offstage there’s a gunshot. Then a short
pause and another gunshot. Leona jumps up.)
Where’s Little Pug?
(Another offstage gunshot.)
I’m allergic to that dog. That’s what’s been wrong
with my legs. Finally figured it out.
(Little Pug enters, head down, dragging a shotgun.)
What have you done?
Two times I missed. But then I didn’t.
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