Literary as hell.

“Exiting A Man’s Cave,” a One-Act Play by Holly Morse-Ellington

CHARACTERS

 

JUNEY, a college-aged female

 

GEORGIA, Juney’s mom, divorced, early fifties

 

CATHY, Georgia’s sister-in-law and neighbor, late forties

 

DAVIS, Cathy’s husband, late forties

 

SCENE

Present day, afternoon.

A middle-class family in a suburban neighborhood in Kentucky. A front door opens from the wings stage left into a kitchen. Center stage, a kitchen table with four chairs. Stage left, a “kitchen island.” Upstage right, a modest Christmas tree with lights lit.

 

Note: The use of a working “kitchen island” with built-in stovetop can be implied by a cabinet, no electricity to this cabinet is necessary. A real, pre-cooked packaged spiral ham, such as Kentucky Legend, is needed as a prop.

Play begins when JUNEY and GEORGIA return home from Sunday church service.

JUNEY and GEORGIA are carrying plastic bags of groceries looped around their wrists into the kitchen. JUNEY holds a pamphlet that had been wedged inside the screen door.

JUNEY

How do you view the Bible?

 

JUNEY sticks the pamphlet between her teeth as she and GEORGIA pile bags on the kitchen island.

 

JUNEY

(Pamphlet in her mouth.)

Wud you ay itz a boog uhv isdom?

 

GEORGIA

Get that out of your mouth, June. Shoo.

 

JUNEY

Would you say it’s a book of myths and legends? Or—wait for it—is it the word of God?

 

GEORGIA

Thought you’d had enough church for one year. Want to give me a hand here?

JUNEY hops onto the table to sit, facing AUDIENCE.

 

JUNEY

Says here, “All scripture”—that’s with a capital S—“is inspired by God.”

 

JUNEY unbuckles her heels, kicking her shoes onto the floor.

 

GEORGIA

You’re really starting to get on my nerves, girl.

 

JUNEY

Don’t see how they can go door-to-door interrupting perfectly good weekends. They can’t even make good on the promises they sell. There’s no more room in Heaven.

 

JUNEY shimmies her hands under her skirt and removes her pantyhose. She wads them up and tosses them onto the table.

 

GEORGIA

That’s what you took from the sermon?

 

GEORGIA pours eggnog and rum into two glasses and sprinkles nutmeg over the drinks.

 

JUNEY

Getting earlier and earlier around here.

 

GEORGIA

It’s going to go bad. (Beat.) You know, June, we can’t know an exact number of people God’s going to save.

 

JUNEY

Preacher said so. Something like the population of Lexington.

 

JUNEY hops off the table and grabs her phone.

 

JUNEY

(Speaking as she types.)

How many people will go to heaven? (Beat.) Yahoo says a hundred and forty-four thousand are getting in.

 

SOUND CUE: Doorbell rings.

 

Don’t answer that. They’ll talk our ears off.

 

GEORGIA

Relax. It’s Aunt Cathy. (Flicking her hand.) Get your underwear off the table.

 

JUNEY shoves her pantyhose in a grocery bag. GEORGIA opens the door. CATHY enters holding a basket of homemade rolls.

 

JUNEY

We thought you were the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

CATHY

I didn’t know they came around on Sundays.

 

GEORGIA

Don’t get her going again.

 

CATHY

(Handing basket to JUNEY.)

Fresh out of the oven.

 

GEORGIA

I’m never going to get this girl out of my house if you keep bringing food over.

 

CATHY pulls out a chair.

 

CATHY

Did you have these re-caned?

 

GEORGIA

I did. The Amish.

 

GEORGIA pours a drink for CATHY and refills hers and JUNEY’s. All three sit at the table, drinking.

 

JUNEY

Aunt Cathy did you know that only one hundred and forty-four thousand people will get into heaven?

 

CATHY

A hundred and forty-four? Couldn’t they make it a round number like 125 or 150? (Beat.) I’ll tell you someone who’s not going to make it. (To GEORGIA.) Your brother. (To JUNEY.) Cross him off your list of competitors.

 

GEORGIA

What’s Davis done now?

 

CATHY

Prostitutes.

 

GEORGIA goes to the island for plates and a butter knife.

 

GEORGIA

Really, Cath. We’re about to eat here.

 

CATHY

Y’all’ve seen the garage. You’ve got a view of it from your back window for crying out loud. See us driving cars in and out of there?

 

JUNEY

Is he bringing hookers there?

 

CATHY

He’s got more sense than to bring ‘em home. That garage is more like his communications hub. He lays on that couch in there, watching his games and scratching his balls. I guess he doesn’t’ know what else to do with himself when the game’s over but make a call and drive down there to Washington and 4th.

 

GEORGIA

Maybe you should talk about this with him.

 

CATHY

I have. For seven years.

 

GEORGIA

Seven years? Why bring it up now? The tree’s still up. Now every time I hang the ornaments I’m gonna associate ‘em with my brother’s, um—.

 

JUNEY

Balls, mom. Might be good for you to know you’re not the only woman who’s wanted to chop a pair off.

 

GEORGIA

Lovely, Juney. Another memory I’m trying to bury.

 

CATHY

Sorry, Georgia. I’d forgotten about that Christmas. At least he had the decency to leave.

 

GEORGIA

Wasn’t exactly the gift I’d asked for. Opening some skimpy underwear number and looking to him for the punchline.

 

JUNEY

I remember the punchline. It didn’t come from Dad.

 

CATHY

You did right, Georgia. Making him be the one to file. Why should we take the fall for them. You won’t find me on my deathbed asking for forgiveness because I got the divorce. He can do it. And he can’t claim loss of affection. I won’t give him grounds for that. I dangle my body like bait. Not that he’s biting.

 

JUNEY

You’re working hard as a girl scout on that martyr badge.

 

CATHY

I’m living by example.

 

JUNEY

That he can run around on you?

 

CATHY

Is there a choice?

 

GEORGIA

Come on Cathy. You must be exaggerating.

 

CATHY

Your Daddy would die all over again if he were here to see what’s goin on. (Beat.) He’s blown your Daddy’s money.

 

GEORGIA

So he went overboard on presents. He gets that from Daddy.

 

CATHY

Son of a bitch blew it all on shoes and hookers. He didn’t get that from Daddy.

(JUNEY takes a second roll. CATHY pats her hand.)

Good to see you eating, honey.

 

JUNEY

How many hookers are we talkin about?

 

GEORGIA

(To JUNEY.)

What’s your sudden interest in math?

 

CATHY

(To JUNEY.)

Enough that Colleen’s tuition check bounced. She can’t schedule her classes until the check clears.

 

GEORGIA

See Juney, your cousin’s not thinking about taking a semester off. And look at the odds she’s up against.

 

CATHY

We’ve all got our little problems, Georgia.

 

GEORGIA

Can’t say I’m surprised. Davis couldn’t keep his hands off my Barbies. Scalped every last one of them come to think of it. I’d find their little heads bobbing in the—

 

CATHY

He doesn’t hate women, Georgia. He’s crazy about ‘em. Like he wants to consume ‘em. He consumes everything these days but me.

 

GEORGIA

How long’s it been since, um, since, you know.

 

CATHY

Since we had sex? Bout as long as it’s been for you I bet.

 

JUNEY

That’s a looooong time.

GEORGIA

(Looking at JUNEY.)

I’ve had too much on my hands to add that to my list.

 

CATHY

He’s loaded up that man cave with possessions. Stacked boxes of shoes clear up to the ceiling. Never been opened. Not a one. Stuff’s still got the tags on it. He’s even got tents. Four of ‘em. Know how many times we’ve gone camping?

 

JUNEY

None.

 

CATHY

None.

GEORGIA walks to the island and takes packaged spiral ham from a grocery bag. The women continue to talk and drink.

 

JUNEY

Y’all have stuck it out this long. Seems like he wants to be with you, you want to be with him, right? So what’s the problem?

 

GEORGIA

(To JUNEY.)

What temperature do I set the oven to again?

 

JUNEY

Low. Any higher than 250 you’ll dry it out.

 

CATHY

The problem is urine.

 

GEORGIA

Urine?

 

CATHY

Urine, Georgia. I found jars of it in his man cave. He’s peeing in jars and hiding them behind the shoeboxes.

 

GEORGIA

Do I want to ask why?

 

CATHY

He thinks he has AIDS.

 

GEORGIA

AIDS?

 

CATHY

Did you miss the part about prostitutes?

 

JUNEY walks to the island and takes the packaged ham from GEORGIA.

 

JUNEY

I got this, Mom. You sit down.

CATHY

(Continuing.)

He thinks there’ll be some sign in his pee. Like a funny color or some shape or something.

 

GEORGIA

Shape?

 

CATHY

Like debris or something.

 

GEORGIA

Debris?

 

CATHY

Squiggled follicles or some shit.

 

GEORGIA holds her glass up, examining the flecks of nutmeg floating in the eggnog.

 

JUNEY

Why doesn’t he just get tested?

 

CATHY

Yeah, let’s run through that scenario. A married man, born and raised here, walks into the waiting room, surrounded by everybody he’s known since diapers asking him how the wife and kid are doing until his name’s called out and the doctor he played football with asks what brings him in and he says AIDS.

 

JUNEY

(Grabbing her cell phone and typing.)

You know, they have at-home tests. You can order them online.

 

GEORGIA

What do you know about this?

 

JUNEY

I’m only trying to help.

 

CATHY

Davis likes to handle things his way. Now that he knows that I know about the jars, he’s asking me if I think there’s anything funny looking in ‘em.

 

GEORGIA

The whole thing’s absurd, Cathy.

 

JUNEY

Absurd? Mom, you believe in that Bible prophecy prediction shit.

 

GEORGIA

Language, June.

 

JUNEY

Sorry. Shit was out of line. I meant bull-shit.

 

JUNEY takes a handle of bourbon from the island cabinet.

 

GEORGIA

Oh, June Bug. Don’t you think you’ve had enough?

 

JUNEY

It’s for the ham, Mom.

 

JUNEY pours brown sugar and bourbon into a skillet to simmer on the stovetop. She cuts the plastic seal on the ham, struggling to get the scissors to cut completely through the packaging. Juices gush from the opening in the package and run onto JUNEY’s hands and over the counter. JUNEY, ham juice dripping from her hands and pooling on the countertop, sets the ham on the countertop.

JUNEY pours a shot of bourbon into her eggnog glass. She kicks it back.

 

GEORGIA

(Clapping her hands together.)

Oh Cathy! You’re gonna love this ham. I’ve tried to make the glaze just like Juney does but it never turns out as good. I think she’s keeping some of her ingredients a secret from me.

 

JUNEY

I’m not keeping any secrets. I’ve told you time and again how to do it. If there’s a secret to it—

(JUNEY stirs the bubbling brown sugar and bourbon mixture. She is lost in thought as she stirs.)

The secret is in how you do it. You’ve got to feel it out. You can’t rush it. There’s a color and consistency I’m going for. I’ve never been able to measure the stuff out ahead of time. I add some cinnamon, then some bourbon, then more brown sugar. I know it’s right when I feel it. When I feel the sugar and juices thicken around the spoon just so.

 

GEORGIA

Didn’t know I raised such a ham prima donna, did you? (Beat.) So how do you think y’all will take care of Colleen’s tuition?

 

SOUND CUE: Exterior, fire truck sirens.

 

CATHY

Ebay. It’s lookin’ like our best option. The stuff’s never been used. Except to conceal a few jars of urine. Not like we have to tell anybody that.

 

GEORGIA

Never know. Might get you higher bids. There’s some twisted people out there. I read that a woman sold her half-eaten grilled cheese for thousands of dollars because she swore she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in the bread.

 

CATHY

Gives new meaning to Wonder Bread.

 

JUNEY

Numbers, numbers, numbers. Just look at this damn pamphlet. Gives three reasons for hope. Says to turn to Romans 15:4 when we have doubt. That the things written are written to give us comfort. That we can trust these words. Because the words are His words. Words already proven true. Words that “foretold the destruction of Babylon.” Words that warn what comes next. (Walking to the Christmas tree.) Do they really expect us to take comfort in that? In destruction promised and destruction delivered? (Taking ornaments off the tree and setting them on the table.) What are we supposed to do? Fall to our knees like children on a playground? Cry for Dad to save us? Is salvation really as simple as three bullet points? And what is it with the Bible and threes? Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane. For what? He was still arrested. Still hung on the cross. Thirty-three years old. Dead for three days. Dead for three nights. Dead is dead is dead. And Heaven is full. (Beat.) Does God ever make an exception to his numbers? Can’t he make room for one more? Just one more. (Glancing at the countertop.) What a mess.

 

GEORGIA

What is going on, June?

 

JUNEY

Nothing. I made a mess. I fucked up. I’ll clean it up. (Brushing her hands together.) There, all gone.

 

GEORGIA

(To CATHY.)

Do you know what’s going on? (Beat.) You do, don’t you.

 

DAVIS lets himself in without knocking. He enters the kitchen. He points behind him, stage left as he tries to catch his breath and speak. JUNEY stares front as if DAVIS’ entrance were calm. None of the characters gape at him with interest.

 

JUNEY

Uncle Davis did you know only one hundred and forty-four thousand people will get into Heaven?

 

CATHY

(To DAVIS.)

We were just saying how Juney doesn’t have to worry about you.

 

DAVIS

There’s been a fire.

 

CATHY

Did your shoes make it out okay?

 

DAVIS

How’d you know it was our house?

 

CATHY

I might have left the oven on.

 

GEORGIA picks up a roll and throws it at DAVIS’ head.

 

GEORGIA

You never were right in the head.

 

DAVIS

And who do I have to thank for that?

 

GEORGIA

You won’t get any sympathy from me.

 

DAVIS

(Coolly.)

From you. You know what I got from you. You want them to know what I got from you? (Looking at JUNEY.) Want her to know what I got from you? To know she isn’t the only one in her family to try to cover up something. That’s why you stopped at one. It’s why I stopped at one. Your firstborn came out a girl, like you. You saw you in her eyes, fifteen years down the road with a younger brother down the hall. (SOUND CUE: Fire engine sirens wail in the background.) Nights she’d be put in charge while her parents went out. Games she’d teach him to play with the dolls she’d outgrown sprawled across his bed. Best to stop at one. Am I making you uncomfortable? You want me to stop? Beg me to stop. ‘Cause my house is burning down and I can’t see a reason why I shouldn’t bring your house down with it.

 

GEORGIA

(To CATHY, picking back up where they left off as if DAVIS hadn’t interrupted.)

You should have told me. I’m her mother.

 

CATHY

She came to me.

 

DAVIS

She chose Cathy to hold her hand. Cathy wiped her tears.

 

JUNEY

One hundred and forty-four thousand people. That’s people not souls. There’s got to be an exception for souls.

 

JUNEY walks over to the tree and stares at the angel on top. She touches her stomach.

 

GEORGIA walks to the island and sprays a disinfectant on the counter, wiping up the ham juice.

 

GEORGIA

(Inhaling deeply.)

I do love the scent of brown sugar boiling in a skillet. It cuts the air, like the first snowfall of winter.

 

CATHY remains seated, staring out to AUDIENCE. DAVIS grabs a drink from the table and finishes it.  

JUNEY unplugs the Christmas tree lights.  

Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette’s version of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” plays as lights fade to black.

 


Holly Morse-Ellington is a playwright, songwriter, and essayist. Her work has appeared in Matador NetworkWanderlust & LipstickBaltimore Style, and elsewhere. She is currently directing a screenplay that she and co-writer Jason Tinney adapted from their original play Fifty Miles Away, winner of the 2015 Frostburg University One Act Festival. The film is scheduled for a 2018 release by Voyager Media Group. Holly is also an editor for The Baltimore Review. Connect with her @HMorseellington or www.hollyneat.com.

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