Retta Charlotte Again
by Mary Brunini McArdle
A Play in One Act
part 1 of 2
Setting: East Louisiana in the 1930’s
Characters: Young Retta Charlotte, Old Woman, Eddie Williams, The Ghost of Retta Charlotte Again
Young Retta Charlotte: (to audience) They ruined everything when they made us go to that dance — the grownups, I mean. Didn’t they know Eddie Williams and I were friends? Papa said it was time I learned to be a young lady. So I had to wear this pink thing, sticking out all around, with ruffles on the hem, and Mama curled my hair and put pink ribbons in it. Papa bought me some slippers and white silk stockings in Tallulah.
Eddie and I had known each other since we were three years old. He was the only kid my age that lived within two miles of our farm. In good weather we could walk that two miles, and we spent all our time together. He didn’t care that I was a girl.
He would climb the peach tree if my skirt caught in the branches. “Retta Charlotte?” he would shout. “I found a ripe one — ready to fall off — right this minute! Want it?” “Sure, Eddie,” I would answer. Then Eddie would throw the piece of fruit to me and scramble down the tree and we would sit together and share the peach, bite by juicy bite.
Eddie let me help feed the Williams’ pigs and round up horses. At home I collected eggs, but mostly I was supposed to help in the kitchen and with the laundry. It was a lot more fun to hang around with Eddie. In the summers we went fishing. We’d usually end up in a water fight, and I would have to wait till my clothes dried before I went home.
But it wasn’t the same — at the dance. We were twelve, going on thirteen, Eddie and I, and had always been as comfortable together as a couple of ears of corn. But when we saw each other like that, all dressed up, Eddie with his hair slicked back and me in that pink stuff — our throats dried up. Eddie’s Papa made him ask me to dance and we did, but we couldn’t say a word, either one of us. It was like we were two different people. And I knew, that night, that it would never be the same.
(Young Retta Charlotte retreats into the shadows, stage center, and sits down. Old Woman rises from rocking chair and ambles to stage center. Shaking her head, she addresses first Retta Charlotte, then audience.)
Take care, Retta Charlotte — there’s a chasm before you... with the breach ever widening and the turns hidden from you. You can’t see your path and you’re destined to be torn between crossings and the home that you love. (Old Woman nods.)
She was right — that it would never be the same. It wasn’t that Eddie and Retta Charlotte never talked to each other, but girls are denied entrance into the world of thirteen-year-old boys. Eddie ignored her unless she asked him for advice or what he thought about something, and then he answered her in a mean tone of voice. She was devastated not to be allowed to share in his new-found masculinity. Hadn’t she shared everything else? (Pauses to wipe away tear) Oh, but before! Before that dance, every moment was precious, every memory mine!
(Old Woman walks slowly back to rocking chair, stage left, and sits down. Lights up, stage center. Young Retta Charlotte is joined by Eddie.)
Eddie: Retta Charlotte, do you think you’ll have to go away in the fall this year? To that boarding school in Vicksburg, I mean.
Retta: Oh, naw. I don’t think so. Papa didn’t make enough money again. Every year he and Mama talk about it, but he never makes enough money. I’ll be going back to Tallulah, just like you.
Eddie: That’s good. If anything about going to school is good.
Retta: We have the afternoons, until it gets dark. And the weekends. It won’t get cold before Christmas, thank goodness. I hate being indoors.
Eddie: Yeah, but we’re gonna have chores.
Retta: I have to wash up after supper and then do my homework. If I get the laundry hung out, I can play before supper. And you get through with your chores some days, Eddie — you know you do.
Eddie: So you’re pretty sure you won’t get sent to Vicksburg?
Retta: I told you to quit worrying about it. That discussion’s been going on for five years and it never happens. Heck, Eddie, I probably won’t even get new shoes.
(Eddie reaches over and snatches the ribbon off one of Retta’s braids, then dances around the stage laughing as she chases him.)
Retta: Eddie, give it back! Mama’ll get mad!
Eddie: As if you didn’t come home every day with a ribbon missing or mud all over your dress, Loretta Charlotte!
Retta: Don’t call me that! (Trying to retrieve ribbon.)
Eddie: It’s your name, ain’t it?
Retta: (Yelling) Nobody calls me that! Nobody ever called Mama that, and nobody calls me that!
(Eddie runs offstage, Retta Charlotte in pursuit. Old Woman rises, goes to stage center, and addresses audience.)
Old Woman: I suppose you’re wonderin’ who I am. Why, I’m the Retta Charlotte who stayed in Louisiana and married Eddie Williams. I’m the Retta Charlotte who kept the farm. (Pauses, and laughs; speaks in stage whisper.) About that boarding school — I didn’t tell Eddie the nuns would have made some sort of arrangement, but Mama didn’t want me to be a “charity case.” I think she was worried about my clothes, too, and how I would fit in with the other girls.
(Old Woman goes to Stage Right, sits down in elegant chair, and picks up wine glass. She looks slyly at audience. She has unobtrusively donned glittery rings.)
Old Woman: Of course, I didn’t say I actually stayed on the farm, did I? What if I had followed my dreams? I did have dreams, you know, big ones. What if I had left? Then I’d be the Retta Charlotte who didn’t, stay. But oh! I forgot to tell you about — well, you’ll see. The dance is long over, more than a year. Retta Charlotte and Eddie are almost fourteen.
(Lights up, stage center. Young Retta Charlotte enters with a bowl in her arms, sits down, and begins preparing snapbeans. Eddie sneaks up behind her and pulls on her braids. She slaps at his hand without turning around.)
Eddie: Hey, stupid, whatcha doin’?
Retta: What does it look like? You really are rude, Eddie. What’s the matter — nothing to do? School’s out — can’t find any girls but poor little me?
Eddie: Oh, hell, Retta Charlotte.
Retta: You watch your language, Eddie Williams!
Eddie: Listen, did you know Luke Warner can see the future? Can you beat that?
Retta: That’s the silliest thing I ever heard. How can anybody see the future? We don’t know how many times we might change our minds about what we’re gonna do next week.
Eddie: Luke says that doesn’t matter. It’ll all end up the same way. We could let him tell our fortunes, Retta Charlotte.
Retta: Now you see here, Eddie. I didn’t want to say this cause it’s embarrassing. Haven’t you figured out yet I talk to the other girls at school? We all know Luke Warner tells fortunes so he can make girls believe he’s gonna marry them and then he can get them in a hayloft or the back seat of a car!
Eddie: (stuttering) Oh — gee — uh — Retta! Aw, gee, Retta —
(In desperation Eddie pulls Retta Charlotte’s braids again. She puts down the bowl and stands up with her hands on her hips and faces him.)
Eddie: Hey — Retta — Retta Charlotte — you’re getting big — up there. (He points to her chest.) You don’t look the same. Not a bit the same.
Retta: Well, if you paid any attention at all, Eddie Williams, you might have noticed I’m nearly fourteen.
Eddie: Have you got on lipstick?
Retta: So what if I do?
Eddie: You look — kinda pretty, Retta Charlotte.
Retta: (shyly) Really?
Eddie: Real pretty. (He pauses.) Oh, hell. (He turns and darts offstage.)
Retta: For goodness sake! (Stands in place looking down at herself as lights dim.)
(Lights up, stage center. Eddie enters and addresses audience.)
Eddie: Jesus Christ! Girls! If anybody’d asked me last week what I thought of them, I’d have said the same as the other fellows — girls are silly creatures meant to be taken care of and not worth two minutes of our attention. Except maybe for Retta Charlotte, who doesn’t count. I mean, she’s never been like a girl, exactly. She was more like one of the fellows.
Of course I wouldn’t let on at school how much time Retta Charlotte and I spend together. Think I’m some kind of a fool? Nobody at school would have believed how she could handle horses and feed pigs and beat me swimming — and I’d never have admitted to that last part anyway. Both of us live so far out in the country the fellows at school have no way of knowin’ about Retta Charlotte and me.
But now everything’s changed. I don’t think I’d tell the other fellows about it — not unless one of them confided in me first regarding such things. Last night — oh, hell. All of a sudden she was beautiful. And she made me feel like — like I wanted to yank her close to me, yank her inside myself. I felt hot and cold and even sort of sick, but I kept wishing there was a mountain in Louisiana so I could climb it and yell Retta Charlotte’s name over and over at the top of my lungs. Do you suppose most fellows feel like this sooner or later? Maybe so. Only it better be over some other girl, not Retta Charlotte.
(Eddie exits. Lights up, stage right.)
Old Woman: Well, what do you think now? Eddie’s going on fourteen too, and he’s finally noticed Retta Charlotte. But wait — it’s not that easy. A few months later and Retta Charlotte’s had a disagreement with her Papa. She wanted to go on a trip with a church group and her Papa wouldn’t let her. That little spat brought some strong feelings to the surface.
Copyright © 2007 by Mary Brunini McArdle