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Cowboys Don't Look Down



Cowboys Don't Look Down

John Biggs

Cast of Characters

ROGER BARR

MAYE BARR

LUANNE BARR

MARK HERNAN

The play is set in an Ohio town. The scene is a kitchen, large and lit only from above by a weak light and a bright fluorescent tube over the stove. There is a table left and the refrigerator right. It is nearly 4:00 on a fall afternoon, with a pervading feeling that it is raining outside. The play opens with Roger at the table reading going through a stack of long books, yearbooks. Maye enters left.


Act I, Scene i

MAYE

Did you get the gutters done, Roger?

ROGER

I didn't get a chance to.

MAYE

It'll be raining heavier soon, and they'll start to back up.

ROGER

I know.

MAYE

Want something to eat?

ROGER

A little later, Maye.

Maye moves to her husband and tousles his hair.

MAYE

Are you alright, hons?

ROGER

Fine as ever, Maye. Just feeling quiet now, that's all.

MAYE

Seems lately you've been quiet all the time...

ROGER

Gettin' old, I guess.

MAYE

That isn't an excuse. Do you want some aspirin? You really need to get out more. Just because you lost the job doesn't mean you can't find another one.

ROGER

I look, Maye. Trust me.

Maye looks distant.

MAYE

Luanne's going to college, soon. We'll need some money.
ROGER

All I need: more money troubles. Ain't I got enough already?

MAYE

Knew that would get a rise out of you.

ROGER

I don't know about it all, Maye. She's hiding something.

MAYE

Hiding something... you're gettin' so the whole world's after you. Sure you don't want some dinner? You're getting thin, Roger.

ROGER

Some chicken would be alright, if you got it handy. Not too spicy. It hurts my stomach.

Enter Luanne with a purse and empty book bag. She enters the kitchen, pauses to kiss her mother, and sits at the table. Maye busies herself with cooking. Roger begins to read the paper.

MAYE

School alright?

LUANNE

Fine, like always.

MAYE

Stay to watch the practice again?

LUANNE

Yeah. Mark...

ROGER

Now don't be getting ideas about that Mark.

MAYE

Roger! Hold your tongue. A girl's heart ain't for no man to steer.

LUANNE

No ideas, Daddy, none yet. We're looking at things slow and easy, just biding our time. He wants to get a football scholarship and go to Ohio State.

MAYE

He's got ambitions, Roger. Just like you.

ROGER
(under his breath)

Look where I ended up.

LUANNE

So he's coming over and we're going to fill out his application.

MAYE

Would you be going with him?

LUANNE

I don't know. That's seven months down the road, a lot can happen in that long a time. We might not even go to Ohio State. We might just go and live somewhere's.

Roger seems to wince but Maye does not seem to notice this or Luanne's last remark.

MAYE

I won't be that long a time, dear. You got a lot of thinking to do.

ROGER

Let's have a look at those gutters, Maye.

MAYE

Why the change of heart?

ROGER

We're going out to go look at the gutters.

Roger and Maye exit, left. Luanne gets up and starts to bring things out for dinner. A few moments later, a doorbell rings and there is a knocking.Luanne puts a pot on the stove and exits, right. She can be heard saying 'Coming...' or some such thing, and she reenters with Mark in tow. He drops his large duffel bag on the floor and kisses Luanne, a kiss that lasts a bit too long.

MARK

Have you been thinking about it?

LUANNE

All the time.

MARK

If we're going to do it, we have to leave tomorrow night. My cousin can only hold the apartment another day.

LUANNE

I've already started packing.

MARK

Oh, Luanne, this is going to be so... great.

LUANNE

Say you love me?

MARK

I love you. Got anything good to eat?

LUANNE

Oh yeah, some chicken, and Mom made a pie. Here, let me get you a little something. I love you...

MARK

What kind of chicken?

LUANNE

Fried.

MARK

Sounds ok. Where's old Stackabones?

LUANNE

Please don't call him that.

MARK

Ok, ok, but he has been getting a little thin, lately. I walk by his picture all the time in the weight room. Hell of a build back when he was in school.

Enter Maye, left.

MAYE

Mark! So, how's school? Looking forward to college? Heard you were in the running for a football scholarship.

MARK

Uhh... still just applying, Mrs. Barr. But I have a good chance. My coach says I'm one of the best players he's seen in a long while. Said your husband and me were to two best the school's had.

MAYE

Good that somebody remembers him down there. He's been thinking about those days a lot lately. The best years of your life, kids. Don't forget that...

LUANNE

Oh, they'll be the best, alright. I can tell.

MAYE

Luanne, that chicken was for your father.

LUANNE

But Mark said he was hungry.

MAYE

Fine, give it to him. I'll make him something else. So, Mark, what do your parents say about all this?

MARK

They're behind me one-hundred and ten percent, Mrs. Barr. That's for sure. They know I'll get a good education, like I should. But footballs my [stumbling over word] pri-or-it-y.

MAYE

Are you planning to take our Luanne down with you?

MARK

Oh, I never put to much thought into it. We'll see how it all works out in the end. That would be... great...

Enter Roger, left, holding his hands out in front of him. He reaches for a towel and wipes them off.

ROGER

Dead bird in the catch up there. I need a little shovel or something.

MARK

Hello, Mr. Barr.

ROGER

And an old spoon, if you got one, Maye.

LUANNE

Daddy, he said hello to you. Why can't you be sociable for once. You're so...

Fuming under a false calm.

ROGER

Hello, Mark. We're going to talk a little later, girl. When he's gone.

MAYE

Come on, hons, lets go out and look for a shovel for you. I'll hold the ladder, too.

Exit Roger and Maye, right. Luanne begins storming around the kitchen, finally succeeding in shattering a glass on the floor.

LUANNE

I hate him! I hate him! For a year now he's been like that, quiet like an angry scarecrow, collecting mud and filth out in some field all his own.

MARK

Easy, easy. Tomorrow it will all be different.

Excited

LUANNE

Tomorrow? No, it'll be tonight. We'll leave tonight...

MARK

But... I'm not ready.

LUANNE

We'll go over to your place, pack what you need right now, and then drive it all back here and load up my stuff. Tonight.

MARK

Are you sure?

LUANNE

Yes. Do you love me?

MARK

The chicken smells like its burning...

Luanne rushes to the stove and the lights go down.


Act I, Scene ii

The scene opens with Roger in the kitchen alone. His emotions move from calm and accepting to wild and nearly mad yet still holding onto his sense of sadness and weariness. Now he thumbs some yearbooks and tries to read the paper. A few moments later tears the paper from the table, crumples it, and throws it to the ground. He gets up and notices the shattered glass on the floor

ROGER

Maye. Maye!

Enter Maye, dressed in her nightgown.

MAYE

Yes, hons?

ROGER

Its only six and already you're ready for bed?

MAYE

I wanted to do my hair tonight. What did you want?

ROGER

Broken glass all over the floor. I think Luanne busted it. I thought I heard something but I didn't notice it till now.

MAYE

I'll clean it up.

Maye grabs a broom and dustpan and cleans up the glass. As she does this Roger looks on, then begins to focus on the far wall, as if deep in thought.

ROGER

Why'd you marry me, Maye?

MAYE

Cause I loved you.

ROGER

Do you still love me.

MAYE

Now what kind of question is that.

ROGER

Did you marry me because you thought I had all those good plans?

MAYE

No, I married you because I love you.

ROGER

You married me because I had a future.

MAYE

Oh course you had a future; everybody does. What's eating you, Roger.

ROGER

I don't know. Lot's of things are eating me. Problem is I can't name half of them and the ones I can name come around from a long, long time ago. I was going to play football. Or if I couldn't do that I was going to be a contractor, with my own business. You remember that?

MAYE

Just barely.

ROGER

And I was going to BE somebody. I had plans, all writ out. I think I still have them. I was going to do something with my life, not end up like my Dad, drunk and then dead.

MAYE

You ain't touched a bottle since high school. Now you know you're better'n all that.

ROGER

I know. Maybe I should have taken to the bottle, though. Would've been easier. You know the first time I knew I loved you? You just came out of the gym, in your shorts and short sleeved shirt, and you were so pretty, long legs, head just looking around like a little bird, your eyes bright like diamonds.

MAYE

Roger... do you still think I look like that?

ROGER

Yeah, I think so.

MAYE

You come up a little later. I'll take care of what's eating you. You'll always be somebody to me.

ROGER

I know.

As Maye exits.

Sometimes that's not enough, though.

Enter Luanne who goes to the refrigerator. She glows with excitement that she is trying desperately to hide.

ROGER

Sit down, girl, we got to talk.

LUANNE
(pausing, faltering)

'Bout what? I got some homework to do...

ROGER

Your satchel was empty. I saw it. You ain't got no homework. So sit down.

LUANNE

Fine, Daddy.

They both sit.

ROGER

Where you headed, Luanne?

LUANNE

Back upstairs...

ROGER

School wise, future wise...

LUANNE

I don't know yet. That's a long ways off. I was thinking Ohio State or Bowling Green.

ROGER

You applied yet?

LUANNE

Filled out the applications. I'll need some money for the fees.

ROGER

I want you to end up better'n your mother and I are.

LUANNE

What?

ROGER

When I was your age I had some dreams. I still remember them clear as the day when I thought of 'em. I wanted to be somebody. But I lost that, and got humble and accepted what money I could get. I never asked to be somebody special though. Do you think I ever have, Luanne?

LUANNE

No, daddy.

ROGER

But I wanted to be somebody, just somebody. But when I lost the job, when they laid us all off, I wasn't somebody, I was something. No that ain't right, and it hurts me more'n you and momma know.

LUANNE

You are somebody. You done a lot better than a lot of people in this town. You hit some bad luck.

ROGER
(mumbling)

The bad luck came on me when I fell in love with you mother.

LUANNE

What?

ROGER

Nothing. The bad luck came when I was your age. It's killed me now.

LUANNE

Daddy, don't say that.

ROGER

All I want you to remember, Luanne, don't do what I done. BE somebody, do something worthwhile with your life. Don't work for food, that's the saddest place you can ever get into. You listening to me?

LUANNE
(angrily)

Yes, Daddy.

ROGER

Remember, Luanne. Don't do what I did.

LUANNE

I'm not you! What I do will be different. I'll be somebody, alright, but not because you asked me too.

ROGER

You're still a girl, Luanne. And I'm scared of what's going to happen to you.

LUANNE

You worry about yourself. I'm fine.

ROGER

Yeah, I know. Go do your damn homework.

Maye begins to storm out and Roger sinks into the chair. From that point on, Maye begins to grow hysterical, her words high and stringent as if she were about to burst into bitter tears, which she does near the end. Roger maintains a dumb calm.

ROGER

Luanne, come on back in here.

LUANNE

What.

ROGER

When I was in high school, I had it all figured out. And I was just sure as anything about where I was going to go and what I was going to do. Then I married your mother. We had so many problems I lost all my dreams. I know the other kids in this town are hitching up faster'n you can count a cat, but I want you to have a future.

LUANNE

I will have a future, Daddy. I'm going to college next year, like I said. Why are you telling me all this?

ROGER

Cause I can read you like an open book. You and Mark will be married by the end of July, by my figurein'.

LUANNE

You are crazy.

ROGER

Don't say that.

LUANNE

It's true.

ROGER

I guess it is. I thought I raised a better daughter, though.

LUANNE

Maybe you did, and you just won't accept it.

ROGER

What do you mean by that?

LUANNE

I done better'n you in school, and I'm going to college next year. More'n you'll ever do.

ROGER

If you only knew what I had to do around here to keep us under this roof.

LUANNE

Some roof...

ROGER

Don't shit where you sleep, girl.

LUANNE
(quietly, giggling)

Stackabones.

ROGER

What'd you say?

LUANNE

I said Stackabones. That's what you are.

ROGER

That's what they called your grandfather when he was dying of cancer. You don't even think of putting that on me. I'm not dying yet.

LUANNE

Sure looks like you are.

Roger stands, almost raging, yet there is still the dumb calm that overshadows his movements.

ROGER

You two are pushing me further'n I can stand.

Enter Maye, with a smile that melts into anger. She looks at her crying daughter and her husband who collapses to the table, shaking like a dog in a thunderstorm.

MAYE

What are you two doing in here. Just what in God's name...

ROGER

The girl won't listen, and I'm trying to stop her from making the same mistake I did.

MAYE

What mistake is that.

LUANNE

Marrying you...

ROGER

Now I didn't say that...

LUANNE

He did, Momma. He did... he said he didn't want me marrying too young.

MAYE

Now this is all the biggest foolishness I've seen in a long while. You, Roger, shaking like a leaf and your daughter all hot and bothered saying you ain't never should've got married. I thought this family had more sense than that.

LUANNE

We don't, looks like. Or at least Daddy lost all his.

MAYE

Now don't go making this worse. Go on to your room, girl.

Luanne exits, shaken.

ROGER

I never said I made a mistake marrying you...

MAYE

I know, hons. I don't know what's coming over her nowadays.

ROGER

I wasn't this way back then, was I? When I was on the team? How long has it been?

MAYE

Seventeen years. We had Luanne the first year we were married.

ROGER

And remember how it was? You and me living in your room in your momma's house? How bad it all was?

MAYE

Wasn't bad, just a little poor. We're a lot better off than then, just like you said we would be.

ROGER

What?

MAYE

In bed, the night we found out about Luanne, you said it was going to be alright. You said you were going to rope cattle in Texas and I was going to be your little filly and the baby would be the Rodeo Clown to keep us laughing.

ROGER

I said that?

MAYE

Sure did.

ROGER

But I didn't mean it. I wanted to be contractor...

MAYE

Don't. You're only bringing yourself more worry. You done the best you could. You didn't close down the factory, wasn't your fault...

ROGER

But we ain't got any money.

MAYE

Well, we don't have to act like we don't. You not eatin' doesn't help it out any.

ROGER

You know I can't eat too much. It burns...

MAYE

Doctor said if you watched what you ate and didn't worry as much everything would be ok. He didn't tell you to go fasting.

ROGER

I was going to be a cowboy... I don't even remember that...

MAYE

You sure did, hons. I remember... you were so handsome, my cowboy... I love, hons...

Maye starts singing, high and peaceful. As she sings, climbs onto Roger's lap, stares at him seductively, and tries to kiss him with a passion alien to her personality. As this happens, the light slowly fades.

Mommas don't let your babies
Grow up to be cowboys
Cause they're always alone
And they're never at home
Safe with the ones that they love.


Act II, Scene i

The kitchen is dark, lit only by what appears to be an outside lamp. Luanne enters with a largish suitcase that she carries with difficulty. She rolls it left, out of sight, evidently onto the porch. She leaves the stage for a moment, right, and returns with a smaller bag. She looks frightened yet elated. A moment passes and a noise to the left startles her. Mark enters quietly.

LUANNE

Scared me...

MARK

Why? A little edgy? We're staring a whole new life, baby.

Embraces her.

LUANNE

It's hard starting a whole new life. I had to leave so much behind - back upstairs. I got butterflies is all.

MARK

By tomorrow you and me will be in Indiana in a nice apartment with me in a job that's gonna do me good.

LUANNE

Good thing your cousin set up that job.

MARK

Well, now, he just found the apartment. He just mentioned that they got a lot of construction places lookin. I'll find a job right quick after we settle in.

LUANNE

But...

MARK

Easy, easy your head. I'll have a job. Don't you worry about that.

LUANNE

But you said you was all set up down there, with a job and everything.

MARK

I thought I was, too. But it turns out he just mentioned it and it weren't nothing for sure.

LUANNE

I'm scared, Mark.

MARK

You know, when I was scared, when I was smaller...

LUANNE

What was you scared of?

MARK

I got bit a mutt up Memorial Park that one summer when I was six. You remember... I told you... they couldn't find it against so I had to get rabies shots that hurt like fire in my stomach?

LUANNE

Yeah...

MARK

And when I got scared then my momma always used to say "Just pretend that everything is going just wonderful and that what you're afraid of is just part of things being fine." Somehow that meant something to me. I think that was the last good thing my momma ever said to me. So when they gave me those shots I kept telling my self that everything was just fine and as long as I didn't let it pull me down I'd be ok. Still follow that today.

LUANNE

But what if things aren't ok?

MARK

They always are, baby. Don't you worry about a thing...

Noises from left, as if someone is stumbling through the room connected to the kitchen.

LUANNE
(whispering urgently)

Shhhhh... quick, in back!

Exit Mark, right. Luanne goes to the window and starts hissing out it. Enter Roger, left.

ROGER

What you doing, girl?

LUANNE

Cats outside, brawling. I was hissing them away.

ROGER

Why ain't you in bed?

LUANNE

I couldn't sleep. I just couldn't get a chance to change into my nightdress. I... I been thinking a lot.

Roger sits at the table.

ROGER

'Bout what?

LUANNE

College and all. A lot of kids ain't even going.

ROGER

Well, you are going.

LUANNE

I know that. I was just thinking how some kids going away, getting married, leaving town. This town is dying anyway, with the steel plant closing...

ROGER

That isn't the truth, Luanne, and you know it. This town ain't dying. It's the people in it that're dying. I had dreams like you, of going away and doing on my own. But those never worked out, and I'm still here, just like everybody else. Only way to break out is to go college, get a good education and a good job.

LUANNE

What were you going to do?

ROGER

You know; a contractor. Working for the government, maybe. Running my own business. But I up and spoiled that.

LUANNE

By marrying mom.

ROGER

It ain't that simple. I wanted to run away. Told your mom we was going west, going to live on a ranch or some lie. Ended staying right here, not going nowhere.

LUANNE

Maybe dreams sometimes come true.

ROGER

Only in Disney, Luanne.

Luanne builds in anger and spirit as Roger wanes. He looks pale and wasted in his loose pajamas, but he is still a man.

LUANNE

Why are you like that?

ROGER

Like what? I came down here for a bit of milk, I don't need...

LUANNE

Why're you always so down all the time. Down on ideas and down on wanting to get out of here any other way. I mean, why can't you accept that maybe I'm different, maybe Mark's different, and that we could make it on our own if we went and lived somewhere without college or nothing. I seen it happen before, there are people from this dead old town that come back to life without spending thousands on some college somewhere.

ROGER

It don't have to be college, but you can't leave this town and still keep a heart without easing into everything. Used to be that small towns like this one were the places where you learned about life and how to live. Nowadays that's the city. And it ain't gonna do you to move to the city without some kind of pre-pa-ration or education.

LUANNE

I think it's possible. I think it is, Daddy. I've learned a lot, and I know how to take care of things that need to be done. I can work hard and I'm pretty intelligent...

Goes to the refrigerator and removes the milk carton. She pours a glass.

ROGER

You think you can get anywhere with your prairie school-house education. You don't know nothing about how things are.

LUANNE

I think I do, daddy. I think I do. Here's your milk...

ROGER

You'll learn, Luanne. You leave next summer and you'll learn.

Roger takes his glass and exits left, limping a little and clutching his stomach as he sips from the glass. He pauses in the shadows and stares at his daughter.

ROGER

You know the last time I cried? The day you was born. After that I was froze and couldn't even smile. You do what you want but if you ever want to cry again, or if you ever want your boy Mark to cry again, you'll listen to me. It's so hard, Luanne, to live like this. I got a little knot inside me that pinches every nerve in my body, and its eating me up; turning me into Stackabones. I'm empty. When I was your age I was as full of life and ideas as this glass here. Now all I am is a rock, sitting at that table without a job or anything to love anymore.

Before Luanne can reply Roger turns and exits. Luanne sits down and places her hand on her head. A few moments later, Mark re-enters.

MARK
(whispers)

Let's go.

LUANNE

Yeah.

MARK

You ok? Old Stackabones sure said a mouthful.

LUANNE

You going to love me when you get to Pennsylvania?

MARK

Sure... why...

LUANNE

Shh... I need to know. You going love me as much as I love you?

MARK

I guess...

LUANNE

This is going to be a good thing? This is all going to turn out real good?

MARK

Yeah. I love you, Luanne. He reaches for a kiss but she moves to the window and looks out.
LUANNE

Go start the car.

Mark exits and Luanne crosses to the table. She sits and begins to thumb through her father's old yearbooks. After a while she begins to look distant and hums to herself as she stands to leave the kitchen. Before exiting she looks around one last time. Lights fall.


Act II, Scene ii

It is still dark. Maye enters with a harried expression on her face and she rushes to the window and then to the left exit to lookout of the back porch. Suddenly she begins wailing "Roger, Roger!" like some Mid-Western banshee. Her loose nightshirt expands like a sail as she runs across the room when Roger enters a minute later, after much agitation on Maye's part.

MAYE

Roger! Roger! She's gone! I heard a car start up in the driveway and I ran to the window and then to her room and her drawers were empty and...

ROGER

Hush, woman.

MAYE

But our little girl. She's gone. She was supposed to go to school tomorrow. Now she's gone and can't and now...

ROGER

I know, darling. I was sure it would happen but I didn't know it would happen so soon.

MAYE

What are we going to do? Get the police, Roger. Get the police! Bring her back! We've got to have our baby back.

ROGER

Bring the bottle of J.D. I got under the sink. We'll have a sip of that...

MAYE

You don't drink. That ain't going to help...

ROGER

I know I don't drink, but there's a first time for everything. We just going to take it easy from now on out. Everything's going to be ok.

MAYE

Roger?

Maye stops moving and looks at her husband. She stares into his eyes. If the actor is able to cry on cue, this is the time.

ROGER

What...

MAYE

Why your eyes so red?

ROGER

Cause there's something new to see now. Let's head upstairs, darling. Sing to me...

MAYE

Roger, I'm scared...

ROGER

Mommas don't let your babies Grow up to be cowboys...

Lights fall and the curtain closes.

THE END

 

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