The Night of the Amber Moon
Norris Van Fleet
A Play in One Act
Clarence McDonough, A man of about seventy-five, of average height and build and having a full head of thick white hair, a ruddy complexion and sparkling blue eyes. He speaks slowly and in a heavy southern drawl.
Miss Eleanor Landereaux, Age approximately seventy-three. Slim and buxom, she is of fair complexion with dark brown hair worn in a style of soft mid-length curls, framing delicate and well-defined features. Her rosebud shaped mouth is perfectly outlined in a dark crimson lipstick, while green eye shadow and black mascara, highlight her overly made-up appearance. Despite the years, she wears her age exceeding well and appears as flirtatious and desirable, as women half her age. She also speaks in a thick southern accent, carefully emphasizing her words and drawing out her sentences.
Marvin Lindenthal, Age 30-35. Male Attendant. An employee of an assisted living facility, he does not need to speak in a localized dialect.
TIME : The year is 1971, in the month of August. Itís 8 pm
PLACE: The veranda of a stately former antebellum mansion now converted to a Rest Home for senior citizens, on the outskirts of Oxford, Mississippi.
SETTING: A large white painted veranda, longer than it is wide with a roof overhang held up by two pillars, of the same color. Three or four steps nearly half the width of the porch with railings on either side, line up with the double screen doors framed in wood and painted dark green, leading into the house. On either side of the entrance are two tall wood pane windows flanked by dark green wooden shutters. Above the entry is a sign in white, with bold black lettering that readsÖ. SERENITY ON THE MOUNT All Are Welcome. Several dark green wicker armchairs are scattered about the porch on either side of an old fashion wicker settee. In between two chairs at one end, a small oblong white wicker table holds a clear glass vase with a cluster of artificial pink and purple petunias. A few colorful paper Japanese lanterns are strung across the overhang, casting a warm glow. From inside the screen doors can be seen in the vestibule, a small antique marble top table, upon which is a small antique lamp covered with an amber glass shade. Overhead is a large brown paddle fan, turning slowly. The light is subdued.
[Itís early evening and though itís cooled down a bit from the heat of the day, the weather is still hot and oppressive, as the humidity hangs in the air, like an ominous overhead cloud. The occasional sound of crickets can be heard in the distance. A woman is seated on the veranda in a wicker chair, next to a small oblong white wicker table. Her legs are crossed and sheís holding a fancy cigarette holder, from which she intermittently takes a puff. Sheís wearing a pink fuchsia linen sheath with a high jewel neck collar, thereís a white magnolia flower in her hair, above one ear. Around her neck is a long black shiny beaded necklace and around one wrist are two black wide bangle bracelets. On her feet she has on a pair of two inch black patent leather pumps. On the table is a small black patent clutch purse left unclasped and from which can be seen a pack of opened Salem cigarettes.
A man exits from inside the house onto the porch. Despite the heat, heís attired in a white three-piece suit that closely matches his white hair. Under his buttoned up vest, he has on a light blue dress shirt, accented by an emerald green and white polka dot bow tie. A white handkerchief neatly folded is visible from his outer breast pocket, along with a cellophane wrapped cigar. His jacket is open and his clothes hang loosely, as if a size too big. He has an obvious limp and walks with a fancy cane]
ELLIE: Enjoying the evening are you, Mr. McDonough?
CLARENCE: Indeed I am Mizz Landeraux, indeed I am. And a nice night for it, wouldnít you agree? A short walk and a long cigar, a man my age takes his pleasure where he can find it.
ELLIE: Is that so, look around you Mr. McDonough? If a man your age were as perceptive as he still ought be, then surely heíd see there are still many avenues for pleasure than those youíve already enumerated.
CLARENCE: If I didnít know any better Mizz Ellie, Iíd say you were flirting with me. Either that, or youíre offering my affections to one of the others?
ELLIE: Why would I do such a thing Clarence, I am not in the business of matchmaking. Though I must say the prospect does seem somewhat intriguing, considering my past endeavors. As you are well aware.
CLARENCE: (Ignoring her comment) Mind if I sit for a while? The heatís a little more than Iíd anticipated.
ELLIE: (Somewhat aloof) Suit yourself and sit where you like. As far as I know, itís still a free country. That is unless without our knowing, weíve suddenly been over taken by those slant-eyed communists, fighting a war we shouldnít be in.
CLARENCE: (He joins her at the wicker table; wiping his brow with his handkerchief and then returning it to his pocket) Not a chance of that happening. Mr. Nixon and the boys in charge of the conflict, most likely will see to that.
ELLIE: Evidently you have more faith in him than I do.
CLARENCE: (Changing the subject to something without political implications) We could really use some rain. I canít remember when weíve had a dry spell lasting this long.
ELLIE: The weatherman on television the other night predicted there might be a break in a day or two. Something about cold air, moving in from the north.
CLARENCE: Mizz Ellie, you donít even break a sweat. How is that and me here dripping like a swine being led to slaughter?
ELLIE: Small pores I should think.
CLARENCE: Could beÖ.. (Reflecting and reminiscing) You were so lovely back then. Your make-up always on perfect and your nails painted bright red. And greeting your gentlemen callers with a welcoming smile and a fair amount of encouragement. I can picture it as if it were yesterday. (He sighs with nostalgic remembrance)
ELLIE: (Slightly amused) Can you?
CLARENCE: You favored a long blue gown with ruffles along the bottom. And tucked neatly between your ample bosoms was a big white corsage of magnolia blossoms in full bloom. Yes, I remember it well.
ELLIE: Is that so Clarence? That is surprising, since for most memory becomes like a little bird fleeting swiftly toward the hollows of time. And the dress you spoke of, it was white with a trailing skirt. The vision as pure as the winter of our discontent, symbolic in its implication and yet deceptive in its reality. For virtue was thing of the past, long forgotten. And the flower that you spoke of, an American Beauty red rose. Flawlessly perfect and unparalleled in its scent.
CLARENCE: Then I stand corrected. Your hair the color of newly fallen chestnuts was piled high atop your head, curls like tiny ringlets framing your exquisite face. You were a sight to behold Mizz Ellie, fresh and lovely, not yet hardened by the life you had chosen over the one that had been offered. And I desired you then, more than any man had a right to.
ELLIE: I couldnít have been with just one man back then Clarence, tied down and doing the things that were expected of a married woman. God as my witness, I would have liked for it to have been otherwise. There was many a night I lay awake in bed and prayed to be transformed into someone, for whom you could be proud. If weíd gone through with it, youíd have grown to hate me. Iíd have brought unimaginable shame to our marriage and torment to our lives.
CLARENCE: You disappeared without a trace Mizz Ellie, I was beside myself with anguish and grief, it nearly drove me out of my mind it did. If you needed to wander, I would have gone with you. Iíd have followed like a junkyard dog, nipping at your heels for a few scraps of rancid meat.
ELLIE: Why is it, you cannot see, nor accept what should by now have become evident? I have evilness in me Mr. McDonough; it runs through my bones like an inherited curse, or an accident of birth. Perfect on the outside and yet just underneath the surface, the blood runs cold as a northern winter before a bitter storm.
(He stands up and stretches, then grabbing hold of his cane he begins to pace up and down the length of the veranda)
CLARENCE: For awhile after youíd left I took to the bottle, drowning my sorrows in old Kentucky bourbon and then gradually, after getting back on my feet, I went down to the recruiting center and enlisted in the army. The war was starting and I wasnít sure Iíd ever return and I almost didnít. Got shot up pretty bad, took a bullet in my spine that nearly crippled me, grateful that it didnít. Though I must tell you, it left me with a certain amount of pain. Though at least I could walk, while so many others couldnít, or didnít return at all, dying a heroís death on the battlefield of war.
(She stands and walks over to where heís now leaning against one of the pillars and lightly brushes her hand across the middle of his back, in a gesture of friendship and compassion)
ELLIE: Iím sorry you had to suffer so Clarence, it was not my intention to cause you pain, quite the opposite. I had heard of your being in the army, word of your heroic deeds spread throughout the region and it filled me with a sense of pride.
(Walking over toward the settee, she sits down and adjusts her hemline)
CLARENCE: I met a woman while I was recovering from my wounds, an army nurse. Carolyn Caruthers, a redhead with green eyes and skin the color of white porcelain and the healing touch of an angel. She brought me back to health and when I was discharged from the hospital and sent home, I brought her with me and we got married. Moved to Tupelo and settled down to raise a family. She was a good woman, kind and considerate, you would have liked her, had you the chance.
(A sandy haired young man appears in the doorway, carrying a fly swatter in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Heís dressed in what appears to be green cotton hospital scrub, with a prominently displayed nametag in black with white lettering above his breast pocket. The screen door closes loudly behind him, as he puts the paper down on one of the chairs and then proceeds to swat at what appears to be several invisible mosquitoes)
MALE ATTENDANT: Good evening Miss Landereaux, Mr. AimsleyÖ. Itís nice to see folks out enjoying the warm night air. Can I get either of you a cold drink, Miss Mabelís just made up a pitcher of orange mango tea?
ELLIE: You know that does sound nice Mr. Lindenthal. What about you Clarence, a tall glass of ice tea, to whet your palate before bedtime?
CLARENCE: I can think of a few other things Iíd rather whet my palate with than a glass of freshly brewed ice tea. But seeing as thatís all thatís available, Iíll have whatever Mizz Ellie is having.
ELLIE: Make that two ice teas, would you and if itís not too much of a bother, could you have Miss Mabel add a sprig of mint to each, along with a few extra heaping teaspoons of sugar?
MALE ATTENDANT: No bother at all, Miss Landeraux.
ELLIE: Clarence, why did that young man refer to you by some other name?
CLARENCE: A case of mistaken identity, I should imagine.
ELLIE: I suppose youíre right, but you should have corrected him. Now continue with what you were telling me about your wife.
(He walks toward the settee and sits down next to her, keeping a safe distance)
CLARENCE: Yes wellÖ eventually we moved back here and I went to work for my father in the textile mill. Carolyn presented me with two sons and a daughter. Both boys grew into fine men with families of their own. The girl unfortunately passed at sixteen, after falling from a horse and breaking her neck in several places.
ELLIE: Iím so sorry Clarence; I hadnít known any of this and your wife, what of her?
CLARENCE: She passed also; a year after the girl, consumed by grief, not unusual under the circumstances Iíve been told.
ELLIE: And youíve been alone all this time, a widower as handsome as yourself. Itís hard to imagine another woman wouldnít have caught your attention.
CLARENCE: I can assure you Mizz Ellie, many have tried, but a man thatís had his heart twice broken is not as likely to try again. Iíd lost the only two women Iíd ever loved; I couldnít endure that again.
ELLIE: Please accept my belated condolences Clarence, for both your losses. And I too have had my share of sadness, though perhaps not as great as yours, but painful none-the-less Ö (Hesitantly) Ö There was a baby.
CLARENCE: Youíd given birth to an offspring, I do declare, a boy or a girl?
ELLIE: A child yes, a boy, healthy and strong, the image of his father, perfect in every way.
CLARENCE: And where might I ask, is your son today Mizz Ellie?
ELLIE: Iím afraid that is a question I cannot answer. I wasnít fit to be a mother; do you understand what Iím saying? The life I had chosen and bearing the curse for which Iíd been branded, I had to dispose of the newborn before the wickedness could spread to his tiny little body invading it with the venom that I carried.
CLARENCE: Dear God in heaven, please tell me you didnít do something unspeakable with that infant?
(She gets up and walks over toward the table and takes a cigarette from the pack in her purse and places it in the holder. Then walks back to the settee and sits down beside him. He takes a lighter from his pocket and lights it for her)
ELLIE: No Clarence, noÖ.even I am not that evil. I gave him up, left him on the steps of the foundling home, wrapped in a blue bunting. I knew it wouldnít be long before the Sisters of the Good Sheppard discovered that tiny living thing and found him a good home with a loving family. Sometime later, through the kindness of one of my gentlemen friends, Iíd heard that a police officer and his wife, a childless couple from Shiretown, had adopted him.
CLARENCE: God have mercyÖ
ELLIE: I told you then Clarence, I was different from most other women. Cursed with powerful urges I could neither explain nor control. If I hadnít run away when I did, Iíd have brought unrepented sin to our marriage and strangers to our bed. After Iíd left, I moved back home and then the war came and soon after, we lost the crops. There was no money, the drought caused the cotton to go to seed and I saw no other way out. We needed to put food on the table and then papa took sick with some kind of lung disease. I went to work at Miss Averyís Place down on Front Street; hiding my pregnancy right up until the last month, then taking a little time off after that before returning to work. The money was more than I could have ever hoped for. You might say I took to my recent employment like a bee takes to honey. And little by little, I managed to save up enough to open a place of my own.
CLARENCE: Miss Eleanorís Down by the River Ö and a beautiful house it was.
(The young man reappears carrying a small tray with two filled glasses, each with a wedge of lemon and a sprig of mint)
MALE ATTENDANT: (Looking up in the sky) Itís an orange moon - that usually means itís going to be another scorcher tomorrow. (He carefully unloads the tray and places the glasses down on the table) Enjoy the rest of the evening folks. (He exits)
ELLIE: An amber moon.
CLARENCE: Whatís that, Mizz Ellie?
ELLIE: Amber, not orange. A stone derived from nature, promoting luck and success and possessing the ability to change negative energy into positive.
CLARENCE: Then Iím to interpret that as good sign, Mizz Landereaux?
ELLIE: As you wish, Mr. McDonough.
(They both rise and walk over toward the table situated between the wicker chairs, where the two glasses of ice tea have been placed.)
[Two glasses remain on the table where they were, one half full has traces of lipstick, the other is empty. Both Clarence and Ellie are seated back on the settee. He goes to embrace her and plant a kiss on her lipsÖ she gently pushes him away]
ELLIE: Clarence, Clarence, you sweet dear man, whatever has gotten into you?
CLARENCE: Iím afraid you have Mizz Ellie and forgive the intrusion; it appears Iíve made a fool of myself once again. You see Iíve never stopped loving you. Ever since you let me pull your pig tails down by the wisteria bush, behind the old white church. And you flirted with me just like we were grown-ups. Do you remember that day?
ELLIE: I do indeed, clear as bell. I thought you were sweet but mischievous and when you laughed, your blue eyes sparkled like a million tiny stars in the midnight sky. And then you took my hand and asked me if I would join you on the swing with the trestle over the top.
CLARENCE: What were we then, fifteen, and seventeen?
ELLIE: Iíd say more like twelve and fourteen. What does it matter now? But if it means anything to you Clarence, youíve always remained as a loving memory, as much as I am capable of such feelings.
CLARENCE: If you donít mind me asking Mizz Ellie, why are you here, a woman of your means living in a place like this? Serenity on the Mount hogwashÖ serenity my behind. Itís about as serene around here, as a lunatic asylum.
ELLIE: Well Clarence I might ask you the very same question?
CLARENCE: But I asked you first, ladies before gentlemen.
ELLIE: All right then, Iíll tell you. As you are probably aware, being an astute observer of people and a successful businessman yourself, things are not always what they seem. Competition moved in, lower prices, instant gratification. And then, too, those college boys didnít seem to crave the romance the way their daddies once did. My girls knew how to cater to a man, make him feel like a king. And then there were a few bad investments and one thing led to another and before long, I was forced to close Miss Eleanorís. After Iíd paid the creditors and gathered together what little I had left, this was all that was open to me.
CLARENCE: Iím sorry to hear of your misfortunes.
ELLIE: And you Clarence, Iíd heard youíd sold the mill a while back and made quite a sum. Why then would you have to resort to spending your twilight years in a place like this, though Iím sure there are worse?
CLARENCE: Well this may come as a bit of a shock Mizz Ellie, but you are speaking to the new proprietor of this facility.
ELLIE: Why Clarence you old rogue, you always did have a trick or two up your sleeve, if youíll pardon the pun. But why do you choose to remain here, when you could reside anywhere?
CLARENCE: I have a home elsewhere, several in fact. But after I got word of your having taken up residency here amongst the other guests, I checked in under an assumed name.
ELLIE: So thatís why Marvin has been referring to you by that other manís name.
CLARENCE: Guilty as charged. As I was saying, it was my hope that eventually weíd get to talk, like we are now. Mizz Ellie if you couldÖ(He starts to stutter a bit and then cough, putting his hand over his stomach, faltering and then reaching into his pocket takes out a small bottle of pills, popping one in his mouth)
ELLIE: Clarence what is it, is everything all right, do you need a doctor?
CLARENCE: No, that wonít be necessary, Iíll be fine, just give me a minute.
ELLIE: Those pills, if you donít mind me asking, what are they for? Iíve observed you taking them before, in the corridor the previous night and the other evening during dinner.
CLARENCE: (Ignoring her question) Bear with me pleaseÖ. seeing as things have changed for us both over the years, Iíve got a proposition for you Mizz Landereaux. If youíd be kind enough to accept an old manís last wish and allow me to take care of you? Monetarily that is.
ELLIE: What is it youíre saying Clarence?
CLARENCE: I promise you I wouldnít demand much, my needs are small. A little affection, a kind word here and there, some shared laughter and youíd be well provided for. Think it over Mizz Ellie and I know itís come suddenly, but the truth is I havenít got much time left. Nothing would please me more than to spend it with the only woman Iíve both loved and lusted after.
ELLIE: Clarence I am both humbled and saddened at what youíve just told me. Youíve given me a lot to think about. Until now Iíd always thought life was about moving forward, not turning in the other direction.
CLARENCE: Move in with me Eleanor and let me take you away from here. Iíd make no rules, impose no restrictions, youíd have all the freedom youíd need. If youíd have me, if you could stand me, it wonít be for long I imagine. The pain is coming more frequent now, six months maybe a year. Itís in the good lordís hands now.
ELLIE: Hush up Clarence, stop talking like that.
CLARENCE: If youíd allow me, Iíd wrap my arms around you so that I might feel your supple body pressed against these brittle bones. It does an old man good to feel the warmth of a woman, as he breathes the scent of her perfume into his nostrils. And feels the softness of her hair as it brushes against his cheek in the amber glow of a moonlit night.
ELLIE: Clarence, thereís something I havenít told you. (She hesitates, then blurts it out) The boyÖhe was yours.
CLARENCE: Somehow I suspected as much, the way you left in such a hurry.
ELLIE: Do you hate me?
CLARENCE: How could I ever hate you? I worship the ground you walk on, did then and still do. A love like that doesnít leave so easy; once it grabs hold. We were meant to be together you and me, donít you see that Eleanor?
(She allows him to embrace her, they kiss gently at first and then with more intensity. He sniffs her hair, as if inhaling the scent of shampoo and perfume and as the kiss ends, he presses his head into her bosom and she cradles him close in a rocking motion. The moon darkens, eclipsed by a rain cloud. We hear a loud clap of thunder, followed by a flash of lightning in the distance. From inside the house we hear the soft sounds of the first few verses of a recording of ďYou Go To My HeadĒ by Billie Holliday.)
CLARENCE: Looks like a stormís approaching. I guess we should be getting inside Mizz Ellie. It seems itís not such a good night for a stroll after all. (He stands and leads the way, offering her his arm)
ELLIE: After you Mr. McDonough, after you. (They walk arm in arm through the wood frame double screen doors)