ALICE: I’ll kill you before you can breathe!
FREDA: It’s me, Al. It’s only me. It’s your Freddy.
ALICE: Fred? Now what were you doing that for? That’s a stupid thing to do-
FREDA: -Wasn’t stupid. Just having some fun. Been with my mama all day today- [FREDA struggles to get up.]
ALICE: -Lord, your mama’s an old pigface-
FREDA: I wouldn’t mind if she was just crazy, that’d all be interesting, like your mother, but my mama’s just a big bore and my, you look particularly lovely today. [Silence. ALICE stands, transfixed.] That’s sweet, you’re having a fit. You know, your fits help me see more of your eyes, all popped open by the awe, the “Mmmmm, Fred’s so gorgeous, she jams up my veins and makes me forget how to blink!”
ALICE: I’d blush if I knew how.
FREDA: I’ll teach you how to blush. I’ll teach you fineness and elegance and all the proper body functions like cooin’ and flutterin’ and for¬getting how to sweat.
ALICE: [Clearly in on it now.] No ma’am. I ain’t doin’ it. Sweatin’s my best thing. I’m the best sweater in these here parts and I ain’t givin’ up my title! [ALICE and FREDA laugh. FREDA grabs ALICE by shoulders and kisses her hard. ALICE accepts, ALICE suddenly breaks it.]
FREDA: No Al, please, don’t stop me.
ALICE: What time is it?
FREDA: [Looking at her pocketwatch.] Seven. Please Al, let me show you how much I-
ALICE: -Didn’t feel real-
FREDA: -You embarrassed? Who all’s gonna see?
ALICE: Felt like a play kiss.
FREDA: Look, they put us apart ’til the next world takes our souls. So if our being together is an impossibility, we’re not really here, right? And if we’re not really here, doing naughty things can’t be dangerous, right?
ALICE: You just playacting for the squirrels and the trees and the colors. I know the difference.
FREDA: Fine. I’ll find a cloud for us and we can kiss there. No, no, then we’d be entertaining the angels, and God might pop in too, so forget it, we’ll have to find somewhere else, maybe under the river?
ALICE: Don’t you know what tomorrow is?
FREDA: Course I do. Your family’s moving to Chattanooga tomorrow. On account of you and me. Our little mess. I know it. But I don’t want to think on it right now. Can’t we just be here with the river and the air and us and leave the thinking to, I don’t know, the goldfish maybe? [ALICE laughs.] You love me, Al? ‘Cause I just adore you.
ALICE: No you don’t. You just talking sweet ’cause you think you ain’t going to see me again. What time is it?
FREDA: The same time. Now how could you say something so terribly awful like that? I love you now and always will. Not just when you’re in Memphis but everywhere, no matter where you’ll be. [Pause. FREDA strokes ALICE’s hair. ALICE crosses to her bag. She pulls out a man’s business suit.]
FREDA: Whatcha doing now? Oh Al, you brought¬
ALICE: -You going to shield me?
FREDA: Well you can’t just take off your clothes … [ALICE removes her dress.]
ALICE: Thought we could play, you know, one last time. For now. [FREDA hustles to shield ALICE.]
FREDA: Men’d find you pretty, if you let them.
FREDA: If you ask me, it’s a little uncharitable how you act to all those nice men. I am never rude, not to Willie Watkins or Jimmie Lynn or Ashley Roselle-
ALICE: -Specially not to Ashley.
FREDA: Well, Ashley’s the nicest of all. You’d like Ashley too, if you gave him half a chance.
ALICE: I’m sure I would. Here, help me with this.
FREDA:… wait Al. I know this suit.
ALICE: It’s my Daddy’s.
FREDA: How’s that, Al? Or should I say Alvin.
ALICE: Take your pick. [ALICE whips out a shaving brush, cup and a straight razor.]
FREDA: Oh Al, this ole thing scares me to no end!
ALICE: I’ll get the lather going.
FREDA: I’m not so good at it.
ALICE: Every good wife grooms her man. That’s her privilege. Now, let’s go, and watch my nose, I only got one.
ALICE: A man don’t like to be shaved in silence. Makes him suspicious. Like the barber’s got thoughts.
FREDA: Well Al, what should I say?
ALICE: Sing, Fred. Sing for me. [Beat.] I said sing!!!! [Soft.] Please. It’s my comfort. [FREDA stops, approaches the stump and resumes the shave while humming a beautiful Irish lullaby. When she finishes shaving:]
ALICE: What time is it, Fred?
FREDA: A shave and a kiss later. Why you so interested in the time?
ALICE: Not a lot of time left, that’s all. Now walk a few paces and tell me if you can see it, under my nose.
FREDA: We can just pretend it’s there, Al. That’s the beauty of pretending. Things are only as real as you want them to be. You don’t need an hon¬est mustache, just one you see in your head.
ALICE: I’ve shaved it three times this week. Swear it’s going to come in fuller than the Senator’s.
FREDA:. Can’t you make your family stay in Memphis forever? Then at least we could go on like this, indefinitely. We’d have our times, plain and simple. Wouldn’t matter what else happened in our lives, what we did or who we did it with, we could always come back to each other, here by the river under the moon, or before the day-
ALICE: -Our times is when it’s dark out? [Short beat.]
FREDA: And even if I was to marry¬
FREDA: -Or get in some sort of permanent¬
ALICE: -Who you marrying, Fred?
¬FREDA: -situation, -You, you could get swept off your feet¬
ALICE: -Tell me, it’s Ashley-
FREDA: -Not what I’m talking about, Alice. All I’m saying¬ is that if you want something bad enough, you got to figure out how to give in a little. Compromise. Now it’s too late. Your par¬ents carting you off cause you let them believe the truth about us. You let them just swipe our truth from your hands, you gave it to them, ‘stead of protecting it.
ALICE: I brought you something, Fred. [ALICE crosses to her bag and pulls out a wedding dress.]
FREDA: It’s gorgeous! It’s the most gorgeous old thing I ever seen! [Pause.] Oh, Gawwwd, I’m putting it on! [FREDA changes quickly as ALICE watches for others, occasionally peek¬ing at FREDA, who speaks the following while changing:] Now a dress like this cannot be worn by any old one. You, Al, perfect as you may be, could not do this dress justice. Wouldn’t work, no ma’ am. Cause you don’t believe in it. You don’t believe in finery, but you appre¬ciate it on me. Oh, if only I had a mirror. Oh, did I get caught there, no. Al, do up the back, do it up! [ALICE crosses and adjusts FREDA’s dress.] Now where’s the veil?
ALICE: I’m sorry. I couldn’t find it.
FREDA: [Very upset.] I would never, ever get married without a veil! It’s practically in the Bible, Thy bride shalt wear a veil, oh you don’t know it because you’re something of a heathen. The wedding’s called off. I’m incomplete!
ALICE: You’re much too beautiful to hide behind a veil. [Pause.]
FREDA: Oh! In a Memphis wedding, the bride and groom walk down the aisle sweeter than in any other city in the world. And just before they kiss, they’re supposed to feel God’s Divine right hand pushing the smalls of their backs. If the cou¬ple can feel His Divine right hand, they know they’re truly blessed. The pressure of God’s hand pushes them together, and their lips lock in a holy partnership, protected from all bad, all sadnesses, for a long, long time to come. If I could choose my life . . . I love you, Al.
ALICE: I see things, Fred. A future¬ There’s a way to what we both got to have … I made a way, Fred. For us to be together.
FREDA: Now, Alice, the whole town knows you Mitchells are up and moving tomorrow,
ALICE: I’m not going. I got choices. Plenty. So do you, if you’d stop and think on it.
FREDA: It’s cast in stone, Al. Your mama and daddy’s made up their minds, they’ve got to follow it through, told my folks and everything. They feel it’s their duty to save you-
ALICE: *Judge Kettlerson’ll* marry us, as long as we go away and never come back. Just like we said before-
FREDA: -When, we never said it-
ALICE: -Course we did, many times- We played it in your room, downstairs in your daddy’s store, in the attic over the church, here-
FREDA: -Just playing, not for real! My God, Alice. Leave here? [Beat.] Where would we go?
ALICE: St. Louis first. The packer’s setting off at eight. Then to New Orleans. That’s why I keep asking you about the time. I got tickets and everything. [She takes them out and shows them to FREDA.]
FREDA: And how’re we going to live, Al, betcha didn’t think for a sec¬ond about that.
ALICE: I’ll be Alvin Mitchell, that’s why I’m aiming for that mustache. If I’m a man, I can get work doing all sorts of things. Start small, maybe a clerk for the railroad, maybe working with my hands.] We’ll get a little spot to live in New Orleans. Every Saturday night we’ll make din¬ner for lots of friends, different than the kind we got here. You can sing, maybe we’ll get a piano- [Softly] Marry me, Fred. Now, right here. The Memphis cere¬mony you dream about.
FREDA: And be happy?
ALICE: It could be us.
FREDA: But you don’t know for sure.
ALICE: In my heart-
FREDA: -No! Not your damned heart! I need evidence. Proof that things go that way, someplace. New Orleans. Proof. [Pause.]. ALICE and FREDA stand looking at each other. FREDA, scared and ashamed, gazes away and begins to unbutton the back of her dress:]
FREDA: I’m just going to take this beautiful gown off right about now. Save it for another time. [ALICE grabs her by the arm and squeezes in silence.] You’re hurting me. [Pause.] I can’t feel my fingers, Al. [Pause.) I can’t feel my fingers!
ALICE: Keep it on.
FREDA: I can’t go back into town like this.
ALICE: You’re going to marry me now, Fred. You’re scared but that’s fine because I told you over and over, I’ll protect you, that’s why I’m wear¬ing the suit.
FREDA: I want to take this dirty old dress off! Now!!! [ALICE crosses to FREDA and tears the dress off her. FREDA remains standing. Silence.]
ALICE: There. You’re free now. [FREDA begins to remove the rest of her dress, then puts on her regular clothes.]
FREDA: I know you’re angry. Wedding breaks down right in front of your eyes, you’ve got good reason to hate me and everybody else in the world. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate your planning, I do, I swear, it’s the sweetest thing I ever heard and I wish, I so do wish I could accom¬modate you. But I can’t.
ALICE: I understand.
FREDA: You do? You truly do? [She hugs ALICE, and sits her down next to her.) My Lord, that’s a relief. ‘Cause I’d hate to be a bad spot in your thoughts, ‘specially when, for a while, that’s the only place you’ll see me, in your thoughts.
ALICE: It’s hard. For us. People and all. Too hard.
FREDA: I was meant to walk in the lights of Memphis, Al. Loved and cared for. Walking down an aisle carrying wildflowers or roses, proud of who I grew up to be, proud of who I’m marrying because the world is admir¬ing us … you can’t understand because it never crosses your mind Al, it’s not part of you, and that’s fine, it really is fine for you. But I can¬not imagine anything else for me.
ALICE: You marrying anybody Freda?
FREDA: I’d marry you Al, but like you said, it’s just too hard.
ALICE: You marrying anybody, Freda?
FREDA: Stop it, Al.
ALICE: Are you marrying anybody Freda? Are. You. Marrying. Anybody. Freda?
FREDA: [Screaming.] Ashley Roselle! [Pause. With great calm:] Ashley Roselle asked me to marry him, and I’ve accepted his proposal.
ALICE: Hunh. [ALICE begins to clean up, putting things back into her bag, but leaving the razor for last. She pauses, looks up:]
FREDA: My folks are giving me a second chance. I’ve decided to take it is all. I wanted to tell you right away, but you’ve always been so edgy when it comes to Ashley, and what with your going away, I thought I’d write it in a letter.
ALICE: A letter. Hunh.
FREDA: He asked me several times, Ashley wore me down. [ALICE picks up the razor.]
ALICE: Funny, if I was a man, I don’t think I’d ever shave off my whiskers. I’d let the hair grow. Let it grow til it reached the ground. Nobody’d say nothing to me about it. Not a word. [ALICE opens razor and, at first, gently brushes it across her neck, from the bottom up.]
FREDA: Sweet Jesus, what are you doing Al?
FREDA: Oh. But you don’t have any … Alice! You’re cut! [ALICE has drawn blood on her neck and up toward her chin.]
ALICE: My blood’s cold. Just like they say.
FREDA: [Racing over to stop her.] Don’t kill yourself Alice. , Not over me! [FREDA tries to grab razor away from ALICE. ALICE gets her in a head¬lock and holds the razor to FREDA’s throat.]
ALICE: Can you feel God’s right hand now, Fred?
FREDA: Yes, Al. I feel it!
ALICE: Can’t live in this world if you’re with somebody else. Wouldn’t be able to think, Fred, think smart things like how the fish are and “Don’t kill yourself, Alice!” Can’t live here if I know your best thoughts are going to somebody else.
FREDA: You stopped loving me, is that it? If that’s so, then kill me, do it now, I’d like that. [ALICE moves to cut FREDA, but stops herself] Or are you too selfish to love me entirely, in the real world and all? I thought more of you, Al. Thought you had strength of charac¬ter. Thought you gave freely to what you cared most about. If you changed that much, then maybe the world’s gone dark. And I should¬n’t live in it. If that’s so, then kill me, do it now.
ALICE: You, you lied-
FREDA: -But if you got a ounce of feeling in you, a ounce of what I feel for you, then you’ll- [ALICE drops FREDA to the ground. FREDA sobs for a second, then recov¬ers, pulls herself up, gathers her belongings, starts to leave, then looks at ALICE, who has crumpled to the ground. FREDA takes out a handker¬chief, crosses to ALICE, and starts to wipe her neck. ALICE fights back screams of pain.]
ALICE: [Finally starts to sob.]-You can’t leave me. You can’t leave me.
FREDA: Got to. Got to have my life. And you got to have yours.