Friday, September 23, 2011
Kennedy Center honors prison writers in competition - including Mr. Richardson
Corey John Richardson
Frankie Hart Male Prisoner (Alphons Dupart)
Etta Marquis Female Guard (Ms. Calhoun)
The stage is pitch black.
The gunshot echoes as Frankie startles from sleep with an animal cry.
“Hey, keep it down.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“Piece o’ shit.”
A panoply of voices comes from up and down death row along with a few men banging on the bars.
“Dammit, Frankie… Every night?” comes from an adjacent cell on the block.
A light opens on the center stage where Frankie in his prison cell on death row sits up on his metal cot. He coughs roughly. He is behind bars and there are cells on either side of his.
“God, I need a cigarette,” Frankie mutters as he seems to try to rub his face off of his head, exhausted and frustrated. He coughs again, this time deeply as if he were ill. “AAhhh, Fuck!”
A white female guard eases up to the cell, then suddenly taps a bar with a large key. “So, Frankie. Hard time?” Silence. “Getting to ya.”
“Listen rat, I …”
“Watch ya mouth.”
Frankie wonders how far to take this. Does he want trouble? “I hear ya.”
“What ya looking at Dupart…” asks the guard. The man in the next cell has moved near the bars and is filling his sleepy eyes with the female’s body.
Both men pull up against the bars so they can talk as the guard walks away. She knows they are watching her leave. They continue to stare down the hall as they talk.
“I hate that bitch,” mutters Frankie.
“Yeah, there is something she hates about you, but I love that ass.”
“Yeah,” Frankie chimes in sincerely and mostly as an afterthought. “Ya gotta cigarette over there? Al, I know you do.”
“No, man. Hitting bad.”
“Al, I smell smoke last night.”
“No, Frankie, I’s hitting bad. But catch this. See how’s she lookin’ in my cell like that? She may just wanna slip into the ol’ shower one day when Dupart is sudzing up the anaconda. No, I mean it. I watches her check me out. Don’t be su-prised none if Ms. Calhoun has a nice brown baby boy in 9 months.”
“It’s too early Alphons.”
“She seems to hate us, but those tha ones – I tell ya, those tha ones…” Dupart lies back down and Frankie weaves his fingers around the bars to face the audience.
“They do hate all us – no, not hate – despise. Look down their trailer park noses at our poor asses sitting here, year after year. Us hoping for a funckin’ miracle – hoping to just stay alive a few more years. But me…. Yeah. They get to dog hate me for real. They love to say I murdered some poor ol’ woman who never done no body no harm. Yeah, to these rats I’m a special treat. I’m no baby raper, but it takes a real special piece of shit to murder an ol’ defenseless woman.
“Even my public pretender as’d me, ‘Frankie, son, why?’ Why? Why what? That what ever’body in the whole wide world always as’: Why we here, why you do that, why not, why now?” Frankie scoffs. “Well, I always had to make my way. That’s why I did ever’thing I ever done. I got no breaks like the rest of these muthafuckas. Like you in ya nice comfortable seats, an’ ya full bellies, an’ya fat wallets. Sittin’ there while I scrapped each day to get by, and now sittin’ here year after year waitin’ to die.
“See, I had to claw my way up an out since the day I fell out of tha snatch. That’s why. Every dime, every red cent, they been hard to come by. First, I was a door shaker with my ma’s boyfriend when I was just thirteen. I ‘member I just got out of juevie for stabbing a boy in the eye - making fun of my shoes. We’d run ‘round to hotels and such, apartments, find an unlocked door and go to town taking all we’s could carry. ‘Fore long got caught and then right back to jail. By then I was on junk, oh sorry ya nice people...heroin.
“That first time back to the county was a bad time coming off the shit. Me, sweating and twisting and junk sick, an’ a bunch of old men looking at me like I was dinner… (mock tone) ‘Yeah, Sal, ain’t she sweet’ and such shit. So, from then on, I knew I was on my own, learned to spot the right places to hit, an’ always tried to keep a small bag of smack under my nuts ‘case I gets caught.
“‘Oh, ur a thief?’ Yeah. Most have more than they ever need anyway, and half don’t know it when it’s gone, no how. Sitting in a shed or dragging it round in tha back of their car year after year. An’ they just as crook’d as me. They wheel an’ deal an’ don’t pay their share, and know they can charge more than ya got. Then they talk interest, and fees, and some such shit – Well, I takes it. Now what? There’s ya interest.
“Yeah, it could have been sweet for ol’Frankie Hart. They could have treated Frankie like a man. Gave a little respect. But they kick ‘im ‘round and treat ‘im like a dog, then wonder why he robs. But ya don’t give a shit about that. Ya wanna know ‘bout tha ol’ woman. Well, I didn’t murder that ol’ woman. She was a good woman who gave, and gave, and gave, and didn’t ask for nothin’ but some kindness. No, she was nice lady. I would’ve kilt for that woman. I would’ve give my life for her.” He thinks about what he has said with a reflective pause.
As Frankie is about to move back to his bed to lie down, “Etta. Etta Marquis. What a name. That’s a showgirl name, not somebody’s gran. She had that sparkle still under all those years of living.”
Not far from the cell block, a light opens on an old woman. Prim in her Sunday Best blue gingham covered by a pressed white apron. She is rocking slowly by a table with a pill bottle. She seems at peace and yet there lies a spark in her – a secret smile. A laugh about to come forth. He voice is very polite and proper, but still creole, as she has a conversation with the audience:
“I always thought the same about my name. A little too flashy for me. I was no showgirl. No liquor runner’s wife. The boy said that and a mess ‘o nonsense that day, but he knew better. Sweet nonsense. And some sad nonsense too.
“Well, as a girl I was too careful to live it up. I married the first decent boy who asked me – that’s Marion, Sr. – and we lived a nice quiet life. Raised our children in the church, though like most today ya can’t tell none. Then, I buried my husband and waited for my time to come. An’ waited. But is was a long time a comin’. A real long time. I kept the house, ‘tended socials, kept the grandbabies, and still it didn’t come. Well, who woulda thought.” She smirks, “I wondered if I would go at all. It was such mighty long time.
“Then that last storm come. Ms. Katrina. Pretty name for such a mean storm. I was feelin’ so bad then. Well, it felt like Ms. Katrina was comin’ from inside ‘a me. Life had got so black and dark, an’ I goes to church an’ sing His praises, but it’s someone else be singing. My joys left long ago. Well, that storm come, an’ I knew my boy would come ‘round, an’ I thought, ‘Well, I won’t go. I seen storms my whole life. But this was a mighty bad storm an’ I knew they would make me. They’d go on an’ pack me up, an’ we’d go on up north a bit.
“But after I says no, well, that was that. They gone an’ left with the rest, an’ I knew it deep down in my bones, I got nobody. I don’t even have my boy no mo’.
“Well, child, I had ‘nough. Oh, I was mad. I saw ‘em drive away an’ I walked ‘bout the place a bit. I didn’t even know if I could sit down in my own home no mo’. Then I knows all I needs to. I put on my coat an’ went straight down to the drug sto’. That man at the counter don’t care none what he fills anyhow. I tells ‘im, ‘I want that strong stuff the young men get who wear their pants down low. He looks at me with this look, like ‘I know what you want, Ms. Etta.’ He knowed me all these years and knows I don’t play none with his kind, and jus’ said, “Yes ‘em. Pills or liquid?”
“I calmed down some, but the weather, she didn’t. I thought, ‘Etta, you don’t need to worry none ‘bout that bottle. No, the Lord’s done gone an’ seen a solution for all ya problems. No more loneliness, no more bills, no more worries none.’” She laughs a little harder than she should.
“But I weathered it like always. The water rose right up an’ covered the folks’ place ‘neath me. All the way up to where I could touch it from up right here.” She points to the window next to where she sits. “But then it stopped. I always told Marion, Sr., the stairs were no bother none. Up’s here keeps out the thievin’, but it keeps out that water too.
“So, here I is. It real quiet now. Never in all my days had this neighborhood been that quiet. I’s the only one here. I might hear a helicopter go over at night, but it’s just Etta now. An’ it gets so heavy on me. Why was I here? Not here in this house. But here in this world.” She draws a deep sad breath. Then near tears, she says with a quiver, “I pulls out a piece o’ paper an’ writes it all down. Let ‘em know why.
“An’ then I feel free. I says, ‘Etta, you is free now.’ Freer than a bird. Like how ya feel after a long day’s work done. It washes over me that day like Gulf out there washin’ on tha shore. I went ‘bout fixin’ my home jus’ right. Even though I had no water comin’ out tha faucet, I fixed myself up as if I had company a comin’ on Sunday.”
She takes a thoughtful breath, “An’ I figure I did in a way. I’s a good woman and the Lord would still come for Etta. He’d overlook my a leavin’ this way. Then I sits right here and hummed a few bars of hymns. My heart was right, an’ I had those pills all set. I was ready. I was just waiting for, well, I don’t knows what. A sign, or courage to say goodbye, or maybe my boy to come back in that door.
“Then I heared a noise coming in, an’ I thought, ‘Oh Thank God, It’s my boy come back for me,” she smiles, “an’ me ‘bout to take these here pills like an ol’ fool.
The face pinches up once again. “And there he was. Draggin’ the mud in on my clean rugs. Goin’ through my things. Takin’ my dead husband’s clothes even. I seen it ever’ time. The hurricanes come an’ tha power goes, an’ then they come out like roaches. Theiving ever-thing in sight. I says, ‘Etta, he’ll be gone in a minute, an’ you can get on with your bidness.”
In the back ground the light opens behind Etta onto Frankie in his blue jumpsuit. He is rummaging through a room in the old woman’s apartment. Under the mattress, the drawers, the closets. He finds a bright yellow Walkman. Apparently dissatisfied, he places it in his back pack nonetheless. He finds some men’s clothing which he puts on, though they are ill-fitting. The lights dim on that room as he moves to the next room. Etta’s room. He searches the room with no luck. Disappointed, he moves into the living area to where Etta sits with her eyes closed. He is quietly startled and looks to make his escape.
“Don’t need to be quiet now. I heard ya when ya opened the door,” she says calmly and with the authority that comes from age.
“Hey, gran, you heard me, huh? Ya hear pretty good for someone so old. Now, I’m not gonna hurt you or nuthin’. Just here to look ‘round a little, and then I’ll be gone.”
“Wastin’ your time, boy. Ever’body’s done gone but me, and there ain’t nuthin’ here worth takin’. Was I you, I’d on down to Magazine Street maybe where the water didn’t get in. Ya fit in better over there. You so lily white, the cops see ya down here they gonna know ya up to somethin’.”
“Look, Gran, I don’t mean ya no harm. I just… “
“You a thief, boy, and theivin’ always means harm, so don’t go lyin’ to me like that. I’m too damn old, and I’ve heard all tha stories from people a lot better than you. So, why don’t ya go ahead and take what ya want and get out of here and let me be. I got things to do.” Her eyes turn toward the table with the pills and the envelope.
Frankie edges closer to the old woman and then grabs the pill bottle, studies it. “Goddamn, Gran. I don’t know what sickness ya got, but it must be a monster if they give ya straight reds for it.”
“This is my house, boy. And I won’t hear the Lord’s name taken in vain. You hear me. Ya do what you want to me, but ya watch your tongue.” She pauses as the man takes this in. “Ya probably going’ to hell anyway, but I don’t wanna hear that kind of talk. An’ don’t ya worry none ‘bout what’s wrong with me.”
“Okay, Gran. I’m sorry. I just got outta jail, and I’m not used to bein’ ‘round people yet. I haven’t seen any of these here in a long while.” He places the bottle back on the table and quickly snatches the envelope as Etta makes a feeble attempt to prevent him. With a tinge of sarcasm, Frankie asks, “Ya got a little cash in here, Gran? That it? That why ya got so grabby all a sudden.”
Impatiently, Etta replies, “Ain’t got no money in here, boy. I done told you. What ya got there is private ‘tween me an’ family. That’s all.”
“Let’s jus’ see what we got. Old as ya is, you might have stuck a few dollars in here and forgot all about it.” Frankie pulls out the letter. Slowly the lights dims on all but Etta.
Her harshness softens as she speaks to the audience with a half smile, “Rotten that boy. Wanderin’ in here, an’ then all of a sudden I felt like he needed a momma. Maybe I needed a son. Well, anyhow, Lost. That’s what he was. An’ I don’t mean he need directions none. His soul was lost. Just plain lost. Now, there’s a good heart in there…if ya can find it.” The old woman lightly chuckles. “But I could tell that he cared. Tha way he read that note I left to my boy about wanting to go ahead, leave this world. Well, that thievin’ boy even cried a tear. Sure ‘nuff, that tear was for his self, but it started with Etta.”
From off stage, Frankie’s voice reads, “I am tired and alone and I feel like stranger on this earth.”
Etta sits quietly looking at the window as her own words wash over her.
Me too, Gran. Me too.” Frankie now asks, “So, they just left you here all alone?”
The light fades on Etta as she sadly looks out the window.
The light opens back on Frankie in his cell again with his jumpsuit on by the bars. “I can’t believes I cried that day. It touched me. I’s this horrible person out there taking from ever’body, spent most my life in jails and prison, and there they are, these fine, upstanding folk who abandon this poor sweet woman like she was a dog.”
Frankie’s voice grows more agitated as he continues. “She wipes their asses, feeds ‘em, clothes ‘em, work hard all her life to make a way for ‘em. And what for? To be dumped like trash. And I’s the bad guy? There’s the crime for ya, and still out there like they tha victims. Ha!”
Frankie quiets. “Yeah. That old woman. Heart of gold. If I had had a granny like that growing up, my life woulda been different. I wouldn’t ever leave her like that. An’ they call me trash.
“How ya ‘member a day like that for always. It stays with you. You can’t wash it off. Ya go ‘bout your day and ya act the same. And maybe ya is the same. I don’t know. But ya changed too. It’s inside ya. That one day changed ever’thing. It marks ya.
“Ahh. I don’t know what I am saying. I guess I’m saying I ‘member that day all the time. It became more me than my own name.
“And that woman, she didn’t just say – Get out, boy – she weren’t scared none. She was lonely. She wanted me there. I heared it in her voice. An’ she kept talking to me like I existed. Well, shit, nobody talks to Frankie Hart like that. Nobody decent. It’s been ‘Stand here, Hart.’ Or ‘Where you goin’?’ or ‘ Hey, boy, what you up to?’
“Yeah, only one other person ever wanted Frankie ‘round: Mrs. Nagel. She was the best teacher in the world. Cared for a boy, didn’t whip ‘im or talk down to ‘im like some poor bastard. Yeah, I screwed that up too when I stabbed that little fucker for laughin’ at me.” Frankie takes a sigh. “Hope some S.O.B. stabbed out his other eye.”
“Chow!” The guard rolls the trays down the walk stopping at each cell to pass the meals. Alphons and Frankie wait at the bars. She fills their juice cups as well. After giving Alphons his juice and moving toward Frankie, her demeanor grows a little harder. Her face pinches and her voice gains an acidity to it. “Hart. Got ya favorite. Liver. Yeah, knows ya love liver.”
Hart is motionless as she fills the juice cup.
“Come on, Hart. Take it.”
“What’s your problem with me?” Hart barks as he grabs the bars.
“What? What’d ya say?” She talks to Frankie like she would a child. Clearly the guard is ready for this fight. Itching to tell Frankie what she thinks about him, though it breaks all the rules.
“Your problem?” Frankie asks again.
“I got no problem with you.” She quickly gains some control of herself now confident that she will finally get to tell him what she thinks - if he will only pull it out of her.
“Yeah, ya do. Everyday you gotta say something to me. I’s no different than any other man on this walk.”
She jumps on these words quickly. “Yes, you are. They kilt for somethin’. Not you, Hart. Actin’ so high an’ mighty behind these bars when ya’s nuthin’ but a piece of scum. Yeah. I gotta problem with ya. We all got a problem with ya. I knows ya case. What ya did to that poor woman.” She pauses and begins again.
“Ya kilt that ol’ woman for nuthin’. Nuthin’ at all, but to kill her.” Then her voice grows cold and sarcastic. She has waited years to tell Frankie what she thinks. Had it all planned out. Now is her chance. “What kinda man kills an ol’ defenseless woman? We all thought we knowed you all these years. In and out of prison, year-in, year-out. Sure, we knowed ya no good like the rest. Worthless, just like tha rest. Yeah, you a thief. Thievin’s wrong, but just an’ shiftless thief.
“But, no. We had ya all wrong. You is dirt, Hart. Dirt. Kilt an ol’ woman fer nuthin’. That’s a special low-down. Now, keep it up. Say somethin’ else to me. Go on. Jus’ one more word, an’ so help me I will have back-up run in on you so hard that ya won’t a tooth left in ya mouth.”
Frankie doesn’t say word. He knows that she is dead serious about having him injured by the male guards. They both stand motionless on either side of the bars.
“Ya want this liver or not.”
“You eat it.”
As the guard wheels away, Alphons jumps from the shadow of his cell. “No. No. No. Frankie grab that shit and give it ta me. Ahhhhh, damn, my brother. My stomach’s on my back.” Alpons finishes a bite of bread in his hand.
Alphons continues, “So, Frankie. Why did ya do it? I always wanted to know. I bet that old woman was sittin’ on a stack of money an’ wouldn’t give it up. It’s buried out there. I’s right, huh?”
“No. No money.”
“What? Jewelry then? Somethin’?”
“No. Alphons. Nuthin’.”
“Ya mean ya murdered that ol’ woman fo’ nuthin’?”
Angrily and suddenly Frankie barks back, “I didn’t murder that woman – ya hears – I didn’t murder her.”
“Oh. Was it an accident then? Gun just went off?”
“No. No accident.” Frankie is obviously still irritated, but calming down as he sees the guard look up from her table.
Alphons drops his voice. “Nobody kills an ‘ol woman fo’ no reason.”
“Yeah, you’re right. There’s always a reason,” but the words are barely a whisper.
““Well, is it something else?”
“Fuck off, Alphons,” Frankie says dismissively.
“The word is ya told ‘em you done it when tha got ya. I mean, ya hardly denied it. Now, ya here on death row with the res’ of us. I mean, we gotta chance, but Frankie… ya time is up.”
“I know it. I wished I cared more. Ya see,… no reason to go on anyway. I mean what’s the point. I got no life. Never had. Never had love. Not even from my momma. Some just knows that there’s none of it for ‘em, and see it’s best to move on.”
“Man, what’s you talkin’ ‘bout? That’s crazy talk. Love. I could always buy love, and in the mornin’ just keep movin’. ” Alphons walks back to his rack, his voice fades as he weaves some lie about his sexual conquests. Frankie looks over at a light opening upon Etta in her rocking chair.
“Love did move on, and Ol’ Etta wanted to moves on also,” the old woman chimed as the light begins to fade on Frankie’s cell. “Seemed like ever’ passing year, I growed more and more tired, likes I coulda just lied in bed all day long, but couldn’t get no real rest to ease this soul of mines. I always said, ‘Etta, you’s still got your family, an’ that boy of yours. He’s a good boy. You gotta be here in this world for ‘em. Well, when they left, it was done.”
From out of the dark, Frankie’s voice begins again as he walks toward Etta and then sits in a ladder-back chair opposite her dressed in her husband’s clothes. “They just left ya here all alone? Your own son just packed everybody up and hauled ass and left ya here, with no money, no food, no nothin’?” He embarrassingly wipes a tear from his eye.
Etta nods, now eager to tell her story to someone – even this thief. “Day after tha storm hit. As’d me once if I wanted to go, but I said this was my home and I wasn’t leavin’. Marion, that’s my son, he threatened to carry me down the stairs, buy Jeanette, that’s his wife, she told him to just leave me be. Said I was old and tough enough to do what I wanted. Took the children and drove off on Monday.”
“And they left, just like that?” Frankie looks down again at the letter. “And drove up to Baton Rouge?”
“Guess so. The phone ain’t been on none since.”
“But they promised to come back for ya.”
Etta sits back now and folds her hands in her lap. “That’s what they said. But I could sees somethin’ else in they eyes. They ain’t gonna come back. Don’t matter now anyhow.” Etta’s voice hardens, “‘Preciate it if you’d just put that back where ya got it and go on with your stealin’and leave me alone.” Etta closes her eyes and lays her head back on her chair’s cushion.
He spies the ring on her finger and drops the letter on the floor. “Goddamn, gran,” he says softly as he eyes the simple gold wedding ring on her finger. She opens her hand for him to take the ring.
“The ring’s all’s I got left.”
Frankie is checking the inside of the ring as the light fades on the two and opens onto Alphons’ cell.
“Hey. Frankie. Keep it down over there. Ya hear me. Ya doin’ it again. Makin’ all that noise. Some of us tryin’ to get some sleep ‘fore they stick tha needle in.”
The light widens a little to show Frankie’s cell also. “What time is it?” asks Frankie, but we can’t see his face yet.
“Hell, I don’t know. About five or so in the morning. I heard the chow cart down on the other walk. You been going all night. Thought you had a whole mess of folks over there, the way you be talkin’ to yourself. I can’t sleep no ways. Gotta visit from my girl today.”
“Yeah. Must be nice.” Frankie eases up to the bars.
“Don’t ya have nobody?”
“No. Have no idea where my ma is.” Frankie wipes his eyes and awakens a little. “She wouldn’t come see me if she were ‘round no how. Never came to see me even when I’s in juvie.”
“My people like that too. Couldn’t spare a nickel when I got locked up, but sho’ nuff when I’s out there, ‘Alphons, boy, help ya mamma with this, help ya uncle move again, come take care ‘a that boy next do’ bothering, ya po’ mamma .’ Oh, yeah. Everybody need somethin’ then.”
Frankie weakly smiles.
“Now, this one I gots now. She a winner. Oh, man. She got an ass on her. Let me tell ya. She got a mess ‘a snotty kids, one half-white. Still she brings ‘em all down. They run all over and dirty up the glass, drop food on tha flo’. Tha guard always tell her, ‘Maam, quiet those kids. Keep them off those chairs. Miss, we can’t have none of that.’ Ha. I love to see it, but I can’t talk to my girl much over the noise and a runnin’.”
“Never met a girl I’d keep no how, an’ no chance now.”
“Well, you never know. Appeals go through sometimes, even in Louisiana.”
“Not mine. You know it and I know it.”
“Man, Frankie. Ya didn’t try to cover it up none. I mean ya did it, didn’t ya?”
Frankie looks up suspiciously. Although Alphons can’t see his neighbor, the pause in the conversation says it all.
“Never mind. I don’t mean ya have to tell me nuthin’. Hell, we all innocent, right?”
“Listen. I tol’ ya. She was a fine ol’ woman and I woulda never have hurt her. I mean, she showed me a little kindness and she deserved more than this world gave her.”
The guard is nearby with a pad of paper writing down something, but as she overhears the conversation she abruptly interrupts. “You mean she deserved more than you gave her. Don’t play games and expect the res’ of us to buy it. Ya murdered that woman for a cheap ring and some old clothes. I know it, her family knows, and you know it. The papers told it all. Alphons here may buy this – I cared about that woman nonsense – but we know the truth. Don’t we, Hart.”
“Listen, you don’t know shit about it.”
“I know enough. I know they didn’t offer you a deal because they had you. I know the papers said you had her wedding ring and her husband’s clothes. The bullet was in that poor woman from a gun you stole. Still had the gun when they caught ya, didn’t ya? I know that. Say you’re not a murderer. Well, you’re a liar. Ya murdered her.” The guard, disgusted, turns her back and walks away.
“No. It wasn’t like that,” calls out to her.
“Yeah. Ms. Calhoun. I have been talking to Frankie fo’ months now. I can tell. He liked that ol’ lady. It’s not just loose rap.”
Now, she is getting visibly irritated as she turns back around. “I know exactly what he is. Jus’ another man ‘fraid a’ dyin’ an’ trying to save his skin. I seen it, again and again. All this innocence and regret and I’m such an angel. That’s how ya are on death row. Writin’ people all over. I’s innocent as a babe. Done nuthin’ to no one. You this way the first day on the death row an’ ya this way on tha last. An’ your last is comin’ soon, Hart. I bet that poor old woman was ‘fraid when ya took her life. But she don’t get no second chances now like you want. Do she? Big man with a gun. Made ya feel like a man to kill that poor thing. Didn’t it?”
Frankie is visbly shaken. “Ya don’t know the first thing ‘bout it.” The words creak out like an old rusty door.
“Oh, don’ I? I work here goin’ on near fifteen year, and I seen it all. Tears, and ‘I’s sorry’, and, ‘Why can’t I have a few more minutes to say goodbye to my people.’ Well, none of ya feel bad. Ya got caught’s all.” She pauses and adds sarcastically, “Got ya Bible handy in that cell, do ya? Found God, all a’ sudden.”
Frankie bursts out, “No, I ain’t found God. And He ain’t found me. All’s I found in this world is worthess sons-o-bitches like you who live off misery and see bad wherever ya look. That’s all I’s ever seen in this world. And you don’t know shit about me. I didn’t murder that woman – her family did. The people about her who saw her every day and left her to die. They did. People like you, did who think they so perfect, but don’t care a bit about no one but themselves.”
Alphons confused tries to break in. “What ya mean, Frankie? Someone else kilt that ol’ woman after ya left? Ya found her dead.”
The guard practically spits at Frankie. “Her family??? I heared many a story of innocence, but never this one. Her family? Her neighbors? They kilt her? People like me? That supposed to save ya?”
“I don’t wanna be saved.”
The guard overwhelmed, leaves.
“Ya didn’t kill her. I knows ya didn’t. Everyone knows Frankie. Railroaded. I knows it. Railroaded ya, huh? Probably beat the confession outta ya.”
Frankie doesn’t respond to Alphons, but stares off toward the area of the stage where Etta has been. “I knows what I did. Look at us now, Gran.” The light opens on her as it fades on the walk, but Frankie can still be heard talking. “Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, Gran, what’s the use? I mean, you bust your ass all those years, raisin’ kids and taking care of ever-thin’. Ya ain’t got much of a house here, but at least it’s yours, and ya made it nice, and then off they go, leavin’ ya like ya were dirty laundry and promisin’ to come back when they knew it was a lie. It’s like nobody really cares what ya think ‘bout nothin’.”
Frankie steps out of the dark in the ill-fitting clothes once again and places his hand on Etta’s rocker. “When I was in school… well, I didn’t last too long, but I ‘member this one teacher I had, name of Nagel. Well, all the other teachers I had used to tell me how dumb I was, always getting’ in trouble and not doin’ my homework, stupid shit that I knew I’d never use in the real world. So, Ms. Nagel she pulled me up and didn’t tell me nuthin’. She asked me what I thought ‘bout things and what I wanted to do. Ya believe that, Gran? A teacher who actually asked and gave a fuck what a kid thought?
“’Scuse me, Gran. Didn’t mean to cuss. All the jail time, you know. Plus, I ain’t used to bein’ ‘round ladies.” He takes his seat on the ottoman beside Etta. “So, that’s what ya are for me, Gran, believe it or not. Right now. Sure, you’re nearly dead and all, but ya showed me somethin’, an’ in your way, ya asked me somethin’, too.”
“Didn’t ask you nothin’, boy. Already knows all I needs ‘bout white trash like you.”
“Don’t know, do ya? Well, I’ll tell ya. Ya sorta as’d me the same question ya as’d that no-good ‘scuse of a son: why bother to keep on goin’ if ya life ain’t nuthin’ but a big, black sinkhole that’s suckin’ ya under all the time like some undertow out there in the Gulf, and it’s all ya can do to grab onto the edges with ya goddamn fingernails to keep from fallin’ in? That’s what ya as’d me. And ya know what, Gran? Ya gonna show the bastards, by God. I mean, ya got them pictures a King an’ Jesus in ya bedroom, but when get right down to it, just like we are now, ain’t neither of ‘em gonna help either you or me. Ain’t no damn body gonna help us, an’ that’s why we gotta do things for ourself.”
Frankie picks up the pill bottle and examines it again. “Yeah, you gonna show ‘em, alright. Ya show ‘em, people like us, we don’t need nobody, an’ when we’s get ready to check out, cain’t nobody stop us. This’ll give ‘em somethin’ think about.”
Etta just stares at Frankie as she continues to ever-so-slightly rock. Frankie picks the letter off the floor, places it back in the envelope, and with the pill bottle puts it back on the table beside Etta. He then walks to the kitchen, finds some liquor and two shot glasses in a cabinet, and brings them back into the living room. Frankie sets one glass on the table beside Etta and fills it, then sits on the ladder back chair across from her. He then reaches into his back pack and pulls out the thirty-eight.
“I like your style, Gran, but there’s a problem. Wouldn’t work your way, the way ya got it planned right now. Goin’ out like that wouldn’t make ya kin hurt tha way they need to hurt for leavin’ ya like this. They figure ya ol’, and killin’ yourself was tha natural thing to do, sorta tha way they expected when they pulled out.”
After reflecting, Frankie continues, “That’s what ol’ people do, ya know? Like they don’t wanna be a burden. Leaves tha family with a clear conscience, like they really didn’t have nuthin’ to do with it. But there’s another way, see? How I sees it, this other way means they gotta live with leavin’ ya here all’s by yourself. That’s the difference, Gran. Ya got the right idea about makin’ ‘em hurt, but ya just didn’t go far enough.
“What happens if ya didn’t do it yourself, but somebody else did it to ya? Ya see what I mean? That will give ‘em the right knda hurt for the rest of their lives, because tha papers and tha TV and everybody who knows ‘em won’t ever let ‘em forget , ‘specially when they catch me and I tells ‘em ‘bout how I found ya by yourself and helpless and all after ya family done run off and left ya.”
With seriousness, Etta points at the gun. “What about you and what ya got to live with?”
Silence. And then from Frankie, a whisper. “It’s so bad now. I could tell ya ‘bout that time over in Mobile, tha time I really needed some money and what I had to do to get it, but it don’t matter none what I did. Not now.”
“It always matters, boy,” Etta softly pleads. “You sayin’ it don’t change it.”
Frankie dismisses the comment with a look and a slight wave of the hand. “Ya know, Gran, me and you got a lot in common. Bet ya never stole nuthin’ in ya whole life or shot dope, but we still kin in a way. See, I got nobody who gives a good goddamn ‘bout me neither, and sure ‘nuff wanna make some people hurt in this world.”
“Ain’t ‘bout somebody else’s pain, boy,” Etta softly offers. “It’s ‘bout your own. That’s what I’m tryin’ to tell ya. It’s about bein’ alone with everything behind ya, an’ nothin’ in front o’ ya. You the one got it wrong.”
Frankie shrugs. “Maybe. Seems to me like you and me both pretty much fucked up. I got nuthin’ and nobody ‘cept this gun, and nuthin’ to look forward to ‘cept getting’ dope sick and lookin’ for somethin’ to steal or sell.
“Here’s to you, Gran, I owe ya one,” Frankie says a little too cheerily as he drinks a toast. Etta ignores her drink and continues to look at Frankie expectantly.
Frankie continues, “I’ll always ‘member that part ‘bout havin’ nuthin’ in front o’ ya, an’ nuthin’ behind. [You and Mrs. Nagel best teachers I ever had.]” Frankie raises the gun and aims directly at Etta. The lights go out and the gun blasts and then echoes.
The sound is quickly followed by a smattering of angry voices on the death row walk and some banging on the bars.
“Fuck, Hart, keep it down!”
“Goddamn it, Hart!”
Alpons calls over, “You a’right, Frankie. Hey, Frankie, you a’right?”
The light opens on a shadow of man in Frankie’s darkened cell with his head in his hands.”
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