Clarabelle

Canicle, Kansas. Spring, 1849.

CLARABELLE is skipping through a field, swinging a stack of books held together by a belt. Her blue dress has patches in it of different shades of blue and green, and her long hair is moving in time with her skipping. She is humming along to “Be Kind to the Loved Ones at Home.”

CLARABELLE

(Melodically) For loving and kind had she been…

Splashing and children laughing is heard off stage. CLARABELLE slows to a stop. She bends down and picks a flower. She twirls it in her fingers before continuing her skipping.

She comes to the other side of the stage where a table and two chairs stand. She quietly sets her books on the table.

(Curiously) Auntie Sally? (Beat) I’m home.

CLARABELLE shrugs and walks off stage in search of her aunt.

SALLY

(From offstage where CLARABELLE walked toward) S’about damn time ya got yuh lazy self home. Ya know yer s’posed tuh come straight back from the school house.

CLARABELLE

Miss Angie kept me. (Beat) She wanted to talk.

SALLY

Yuh didn’t go cryin, didja?

CLARABELLE

No, ma’am. I was –

SALLY

(Aggressively) Good! Now go and make sure dem pigs gots plenty of food. And don’t forget dem chick’ns! Don’t want no wolfs gett’n holda dem again.

CLARABELLE runs back onto the stage. She is now wearing trousers and a shirt that is too big for her.

CLARABELLE

(Shaky) Okay, Auntie.

CLARABELLE stops by the table, and rubs her cheek as if she has just been hit. She picks up a bag, and slings it over her shoulders.

Oh, Susanna… (Begins humming “Oh, Susanna”)

CLARABELLE walks off the opposite side of the stage.

**

MISS ANGIE walks to the table with TUCKER and DIXIE ANNE. There are now 5 chairs at the table.

TUCKER

I just don’t get why this is important. What am I gonna use all these words ‘n numbers fo anyways as a ranch man?

MISS ANGIE

(Calmly) Now, Mr. Tucker –

DIXIE ANNE

(Interrupting impatiently) Oh, stop your whining, Tucker Jacob Dawson! Just cause you’re slower than the rest of us, don’t mean you should take it out on Miss Angie and learning as a whole. I can’t wait to be one of the first ladies to get a real education. You just wait and see!

MISS ANGIE

(More assertively) Okay, okay, you two. We’ll have no more arguing in my schoolhouse. Take your seats, and practice your reading. I bet you’re dying to find out what happens to Huck, right?

TUCKER and DIXIE ANNE go to opposite side of the table. TUCKER tosses his book onto the table before taking his seat. MISS ANGIE turns to write on a chalkboard.

TUCKER

(Under his breath) I bet Huck ain’t have to worry about no schooling, that’s for sure. I can whitewash fences with the best of ‘em!

A thud is heard from under the table. TUCKER jumps up.

Ow! Hey! (Angrily) Whatcha done that for, Dix?

DIXIE ANNE lifts her book to cover her laughing mouth.

MISS ANGIE

(Clearing her throat) Children?

TUCKER

(Yelling and pointing at DIXIE ANNE) I ain’t done nothin’!

MISS ANGIE

(Turning around) Excuse me?

TUCKER

But Miss…

TUCKER looks at DIXIE ANNE who looks deeply focused on her book.

Never mind. It was nothin’.

MISS ANGIE goes about preparing for the day. Laughter is heard from off stage.

RONNIE

(From offstage) C’mon Don! You’ll never catch up like that!

DONNIE

(Shouting) You just wait, Ron!

DIXIE ANNE

(Exasperated) Oh boy… (Annoyed) Looks like the Banner twins are here.

DIXIE ANNE closes her book, and makes a show of primping herself up.

How is anyone supposed to get any reading done with them around?

MISS ANGIE gives an over the shoulder look to DIXIE ANNE, but she does not see it.

DONNIE

(From offstage, but louder than before) HA! Told ya I could catch ya!

RONNIE

(Surprised) Hey! No way!

DONNIE

He’s rounding third base!

RONNIE

Oh, no you don’t!

DONNIE

Oh! (Beat) What’s this? It looks like the pitcher might be comin’ for ‘im! But, wait! He’s just out of reach!

DONNIE and RONNIE come running on stage. DONNIE is just ahead of RONNIE, who is more out of breath.

And he slides home! Heeeeeeeee’s safe!

RONNIE

(Trying to catch his breath) Shut up, Don!

DONNIE

And the crowd goes wild! Donnie! Donnie! Don – Ouch!

RONNIE has just tackled DONNIE to the ground.

Get off!

The two are wrestling around as MISS ANGIE wipes her hands together before walking over. She stops beside the pile of flailing limbs.

MISS ANGIE

(Clears her throat) Gentlemen. (Calmly) Ronnie. Donnie.

MISS ANGIE rolls her sleeves up, and smoothly reaches into the pile to grab an ear of each boy. They yelp and whine as they are forced to stand up.

Now, boys. What is rule number four?

RONNIE and DONNIE

(In unison, defeated) No rough housing or horse playing inside the school house.

MISS ANGIE

Thank you. Can we follow that rule, or shall I have my course of discipline prepared?

RONNIE

We’ll be good!

DONNIE

Yeah! No more rough housin’!

RONNIE

We was just foolin’!

DONNIE

Ma’am!

RONNIE and DONNIE

We promise!

MISS ANGIE

Wonderful.

She lets go of their ears, and claps her hands together.

Now, pick up your things, and take your seats.

MISS ANGIE walks offstage as if she is looking for something or someone.

DIXIE ANNE

DIXIE ANNE partially stands up and looks in the direction her teacher walked off toward.

Ummm. (Beat) Miss Angie?

TUCKER

Class’s not started yet! Ya gotta use the outhouse, just go!

All three boys start laughing.

RONNIE

Yeah, D.A.! We don’t need ta know!

DONNIE

Hey!

The laughter stops. Everyone looks at DONNIE.

(Sternly) Leave her alone! (Pause) It’s not her fault she has a tiny bladder!

Laughter begins again. All three boys laugh as DIXIE ANNE walks offstage.

MISS ANGIE

What’s so funny, boys?

The laughter dies as MISS ANGIE walks back on stage.

Has anyone seen Clarabelle? She is usually here by now.

DONNIE

Nah, Miss. Haven’t seen her since she told us no to swimmin’ yesterday.

RONNIE

Somethin’ bout her aunt bein’ cross.

MISS ANGIE

Okay, well go ahead and pull out your sentence books. Get some practice in before class begins.

DIXIE ANNE

(Screams from offstage) Miss Angie!

Everyone is frozen a moment before running toward the scream.

Before they can get off stage, DIXIE ANNE walks on with a limping CLARABELLE clinging to her.

MISS ANGIE

Clar…

She stops in front of the two girls and brings a hand to her mouth.

Wh – What happened?

MISS ANGIE supports the other side of CLARABELLE. The three walk slowly to one of the chairs to set CLARABELLE down.

DIXIE ANNE

(Slightly out of breath) She scared me. I was walking up the porch, and heard someone walking behind me. And there she was. She hasn’t talked yet.

MISS ANGIE

Clarabelle? Sweetie, can you hear me?

CLARABELLE is staring straight ahead and holding onto what looks like a sprained wrist.

Come on, Clarabelle. Talk to me.

TUCKER

What’s wrong with her?

MISS ANGIE

Ronnie, can you bring some water from the spigot out back? (Beat) Donnie, grab the blanket from by my desk.

DIXIE ANNE

(Worried) Clarabelle, come on. You don’t want to miss class, do you?

TUCKER

She don’t care ‘bout schooling, D.A!

DIXIE ANNE

(Annoyed) Not everyone is as stupid as you, Tuck!

MISS ANGIE

(Slightly annoyed, but still anxious) Enough, you two! (Beat) Clarabelle, look at me.

CLARABELLE turns toward MISS ANGIE, she lifts her uninjured arm toward MISS ANGIE’s face.

RONNIE

(Out of breath) Here, Miss Angie!

RONNIE sets a bucket of water at CLARABELLE’s feet. MISS ANGIE wets her handkerchief and begins wiping CLARABELLE’s face.

DONNIE

Why don’t we just pour it on her?

RONNIE

That’s how our mom wakes us up sometimes!

MISS ANGIE

Boys –

CLARABELLE

(Coughing) Miss…

MISS ANGIE

Shhh… it’s okay. Take it easy.

DIXIE ANNE

Who did this, Belle?

CLARABELLE

The chickens.

MISS ANGIE

(Confused) Chickens?

CLARABELLE

Wolves.

TUCKER

Was she hunted by wolves?

RONNIE

No, stupid! She ain’t got no bite marks!

MISS ANGIE

Clarabelle, take a breath. (Beat) Okay, now can you tell me what happened?

CLARABELLE

(Starting to cry) It was… I didn’t mean… Accident… Last night… After schools chores…

CLARABELLE is now crying.

This morning (Hiccup), there was so much blood. And feathers. I thought I locked it up good. But the rooster entrance was so old. They must have broken through the old wood. Not one left.

MISS ANGIE

MISS ANGIE sits next CLARABELLE, as the crying calms.

Did you try to fight them off?

CLARABELLE

(Shaking her head) She was so mad. When she saw the coop this mornin’. (Sniffles) It was all my fault.

DIXIE ANNE

Your aunt did this to you?

CLARABELLE nods twice and looks at her lap.

MISS ANGIE

Children, (looking around at the group), why don’t you all take your math books out onto the porch? I’ll come get you shortly.

The boys grab their books, and walk off stage.

DIXIE ANNE moves to sit in the chair on the opposite side of MISS ANGIE next to CLARABELLE.

You too, D.A.

DIXIE ANNE

But –

MISS ANGIE

If I’m not watching them, how will I know the boys are doing their work?

DIXIE ANNE

DIXIE ANNE stands up straight and straightens her dress.

Quite right. (Trying to sound like her teacher) Don’t worry Miss Angie! I’m on it.

Exits.

MISS ANGIE

Talk to me, Clarabelle. How did this happen? Was it Sally? Start from the beginning.

CLARABELLE

(Quietly, but without crying) I was doing my after school chores. Auntie wanted me to feed and make sure the animals wouldn’t get eaten. That was my job. Always is. So I did it.

MISS ANGIE

(Encouragingly) Keep going.

CLARABELLE

Her coop is so old. I should have fixed that back door ages ago, but it’s so high up. Anyways, (deep breath) when I went to get the mornin’ eggs, I saw it.

CLARABELLE looks past MISS ANGIE.

There was blood everywhere. The wolves got in there. Not one chicken was left. Not even the eggs. Nothing. So I had to go tell Auntie. I knew she would be cross. But I had to.

MISS ANGIE

What did your aunt say?

CLARABELLE

(Sad) She was so mad. I deserved it. She said, ‘I won’t make that mistake again.’ Then I cam here. I had to leave. Go to school. She’ll be so mad that I told you. She gets so mad. Mad all the time.

MISS ANGIE

Shhh, it’s okay. You’re safe now.

MISS ANGIE waits for CLARABELLE to start crying again, but she is only starring at the wall.

Everything will be okay, I promise.

**

There is a bed with a small table and two chairs beside it on stage right. MISS ANGIE and DIXIE ANNE help a sleepy CLARABELLE get into the bed.

MISS ANGIE

Thank you, D.A. You can go on home, now.

DIXIE ANNE

She looks at the already sleeping CLARABELLE.

How did you make her fall asleep so fast?

MISS ANGIE

My mother’s tea. Works every time.

Looks at CLARABELLE, worried.

She’ll be fine, Dixie Anne. I’ve got it from here.

DIXIE ANNE

But she always says she’ll get in trouble if she doesn’t go straight home.

MISS ANGIE

Yes, I know. That’s why I let class out early. She’s just going to take a nap. Then I will walk her home.

DIXIE ANNE

(Satisfied) Very well. See you tomorrow, then.

Exits.

MISS ANGIE

MISS ANGIE sits and watches the sleeping CLARABELLE.

(Nodding her head) Okay.

She gets up and walks off stage. Lights fade on stage right, and go up on stage left. AUNT SALLY’s home is set up again.

**

Knocking is heard offstage.

MISS ANGIE

(From offstage) Hello? Sally Foote?

There is no answer. MISS ANGIE slowly walks on stage, and stops at the table, looking around.

This is Clarabelle’s teacher. (Beat) Hello?

She walks around to the other side of the table. She starts looking around with a disgusted look on her face.

(To herself) What is that awful smell? (With disbelief) Poor Clarabelle has to live in this?

She walks offstage toward where CLARABELLE goes to see her aunt.

MISS ANGIE screams from offstage. She runs back on stage, and continues off the way she first came.

**

Lights come back on stage right, where MISS ANGIE’s house was set up. There is now a bed with a person under a sheet on it. There are random belongings around the floor. A man dressed as a DOCTOR is packing away a bag at the table next to the bed.

Enter MISS ANGIE and SHERIFF

SHERIFF

So the girl claimed her aunt caused the injuries?

MISS ANGIE

Yes, and when I came here to speak with her. (Beat) I found her like this. The smell was horrific.

SHERIFF

(Thoughtfully) Hmm…

MISS ANGIE

Could it have happened after Clarabelle left for school today?

DOCTOR

I’m afraid not. No. Ms. Foote has been deceased for at least 3 months.

SHERIFF

And the cause?

DOCTOR

Hard to say, really. This long after it happened. But. There are no physical signs of damage. It had to be internal.

SHERIFF

Angie, could you give me a moment to speak with Doc, here?

MISS ANGIE only nods and walks off stage.

I didn’t want to say this in front of the lady, but my boys found something.

He pulls a glass bottle out to show the DOCTOR. The DOCTOR grabs it and examines it.

DOCTOR

Where was this?

SHERIFF

This one was in here – next to her mug there on the table.

DOCTOR

And you think she did this to herself?

SHERIFF

Takes the bottle back. Looks at it.

No. As a matter of fact, I’m sure she didn’t. (Beat) There were a few more in the girl’s closet.

DOCTOR

(Shocked) Little Clarabelle?

SHERIFF

We asked her about what she does everyday. She was most proud about her cooking dinner for her ‘Auntie Sally’ every night. Starting about 4 months ago.

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