Early in their married life, my grandparents and their young family lost everything in a flood in the country outside of Youngsville. My mother told me the story many times of how my Uncle Ray had been raising rabbits and he placed them caged, high on an armoire inside the house to save them when they evacuated to the area here which was where my great grandparents lived. When my grandfather went back to the property to check on it, he tied a rope to his waist and tied the other end of the rope to a bridge rail so that if he drowned, they would be able to find his body. The rabbits had drowned. That was how high the water was. I wrote a play about it titled “Waterline” after Katrina, for Acting Up (in Acadiana), and it was performed in Lafayette, New Orleans, and New York City as part of a larger work, called “Sustained Winds.” Here I post the play in its entirety. The character of Toby was changed to a female character played by Kara St. Clair. Bambi DeVille Engeran played the Grandmother. I believe the name of the young character was changed to Leslie. This was what was in my old file.
Written for Sustained Winds: Before During After Now Later
By Clare L. Martin
Grandma—blind, elderly, and shut-in grandmother of Toby. She lives alone and relies on a family and neighborhood support system to live. She is unable to evacuate and the hurricane dissolves her network of caregivers.
Toby—Teenage grandson unwillingly separated from his parents who were evacuated after the hurricane to unknown parts. Toby sought out his grandmother when his parents were bused out.
Scene— The setting is Grandma’s house. Toby’s brushing his grandmother’s hair.
Grandma: Slower. Do it real gentle now. Don’t hit my head when you brush me.
Toby: (brushing his grandmother’s long hair) Every time I hear a siren, I jump.
Grandma: There’s a car coming up the driveway.
Toby: No there isn’t.
Grandma: It will. Give it time. Since I lost my seeing, I see more clearly.
Toby: Every time a car passes I think it is them—or about them.
Grandma: Give it some time.
Toby: I begged the soldier to put me on that bus. I lost my shoes running for them. She was wearing red. Dad had his Saints cap on.
Grandma: When your daddy was nine, your grandpa bought him four rabbits to breed. When those floodwaters were rising, your grandpa tied a rope to his waist and the other end to the bridge over the coulee. He tied himself like that so we’d find his body if the waters took him.
Toby: (stops brushing) Please don’t. Please don’t tell me that story, Grandma.
Grandma: The rabbits—your daddy put them in a cage on the top of the armoire, but they still drowned. That’s how high the waterline was.
Toby: Maybe they’re in Texas. The soldier said the bus was going to Houston. Dad has a friend in Houston. I can’t remember his name. They used to work together. He used to live here.
Grandma: Toby, do you look like your mama or your daddy? I’ve never seen you since you were a baby.
Toby: Mom says I look like dad and dad says I look like mom.
Grandma: (reaching for Toby) Let me feel you. (Grandma feels Toby’s facial features) You have your mama’s bones and your daddy’s flat nose. That’s the Guidry in you—that nose. I pray you don’t have the Guidry ears. You could fly with those ears. Fix us something to eat, son.
Toby: (opens the powerless refrigerator) I—I don’t know what we have left.
Grandma: What do we have left?
Toby: (peering into the refrigerator) I think we have to throw away the chicken. Cheese.
Grandma: (bolts up from her sitting position) Fool! Are you standing with the icebox open? You don’t stand there with the door open. You’re losing all the cold. Did you forget what was in there since the last time you looked?
Toby: (closes the refrigerator door) There’s no cold left. The cheese is soft, Grandma, and the chicken stinks.
Grandma: Then throw it to the cats in the street. They got two that holler all night. That mess will shut them up.
Toby: What can we eat?
Grandma: Open a can of something and bring us each a fork. We’ll take turns taking bites.
Toby: (opens the cabinet) A can of what?
Grandma: Now, it really doesn’t matter, does it? Open a can of food. Whatever’s in there. Don’t let the hot out of the cabinet.
Grandma: That was a joke, boy.
Grandma: (rocking herself) I miss TV. Of course I can’t see people on it but I like the voices. It is a good thing you made your way to my house, because I can’t stand quiet. You’re a good boy. Did you find my medicine?
Toby: (looking at bottles) Which ones do you need to take?
Grandma: I don’t know because I can’t see the labels. Tilda next door reads them for me. You can read, can’t you? Read one and tell me what it says.
Toby: (looking at a bottle) Gly-bu-ride. Take once a day in the morning.
Grandma: That’s it. That’s the one for my diabetes. How many are left?
Toby: There’s ten left, Grandma.
Grandma: Toby that’s ten days I’m going to feel good. I take two pills a day. What’s the other one?
Toby: That bottle’s empty. Do you have another bottle in the bathroom?
Grandma: No—no matter. Check the jug of ice in the freezer and see if it’s water.
Toby: (Toby hands Grandma a glass of water and then picks up the phone receiver) The phone still doesn’t work. They should fix that first.
Grandma: They usually fix the first things last and the last things you need first. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that phone rings any minute with your mama calling. Now brush my hair again, softly. (Toby starts brushing his grandmother’s hair again)
Grandma: You opened that icebox and now that chicken is stinking up the whole house. Get rid of it, Toby. Give them nasty cats a nasty treat.
Toby: (returns from stepping out the back door) Those cats sure love that rotten chicken. They’re tearing it up.
Grandma: Lock the door! Do it now! There’re strange people on the streets. They’ll take the nothing we have and the nothing we don’t have. It is a good thing I’m blind because I’d hate to see the hell that’s come. Lock the doors. Do it quick. And talk low. Don’t light any candles tonight. I heard them knocking when I was in my bed. Did you hear it?
Toby: (hurriedly locks the door) No. I didn’t.
Grandma: If you weren’t here I’d be scared out of my wits. I hear the streets. Last night I smelled gas and smoke and somebody was knocking. You didn’t hear the knocking?
Toby: No. I slept hard for the first time since the hurricane. I dreamed I was in my house in my own bed and that music was on in another room. I smelled bacon and coffee. I didn’t wake up for anything, until the heat woke me. The sun beat in on me from the window and I heard your cane on the wood floor. You were praying.
Grandma: I know my house. Every morning I walk and say a Rosary. Sometimes I walk and say two. Depends on how my knees feel. If it’s raining I sit in my rocker and pray. My knees can’t take wet weather. When I’m finished I kiss the head of that Mary. Tilda brought her in from my garden before the storm. She didn’t want her broke. When the winds hit, I said an hour straight of Hail Marys and I prayed to St. Joseph for my house to stand up and it did. He was a builder. He taught Jesus a trade. What trade you learning? You should know by now. Your daddy still doesn’t know what he’s gonna be when he grows up. He’s never grown up. He plays at everything. (Grandma turns her face to her grandson) So you listened? Did you pray too?
Toby: I prayed the phone would ring this morning. I prayed that bus would wait for me. I got in line for water and dad was holding my place in the bus line. I got hit and someone took all the bottles. I ran but it was too late. I prayed I could get to your house without being killed or worse. I’m still praying but I don’t know the right words, I guess.
Grandma: Just talk. Or don’t talk or think. Listen. See? (Grandma brushes her own hair) Long strokes. Fifty strokes, and then start all over again.
(Grandma and Toby bow heads and the scene ends)
Toby leaves Grandma to get help and search for food and water. He is forced by circumstances to join a group of looters and steals a loaf of bread. A voice calls out “Stop!” and Toby is shot. He dies in the street.
Two days have passed since Toby left. Unaware that Toby is dead, Grandma waits in her home, praying the Rosary. She is waiting for Toby to return. Some services are restored.
Grandma: (Opens her bottle of pills, feels them with her fingers. Takes one and sips water.) Eight left. Toby’s been gone two days. What else could he do? What else could we do? I couldn’t do nothing for him, or myself. He’s a good boy. Toby’s a good boy. Dear Lord, keep him safe in the streets. I stayed up all night again to wait for him. (She gets angry) I’m talking to you, Lord! He’s my good boy!
Grandma: (excitedly speaking on the phone) Oh, Bobby, thank God! Y’all are safe? Yes. I couldn’t reach you. He’s not here. He was here but we needed—. We’ve got water and phone now, no power and no food. Y’all come soon, please. Good. Hurry. Two days he’s been gone. He’s a good boy, Bobby. You’ve raised him right. Y’all come soon. He’s my good boy….
Grandma hangs up the phone and clutches the Rosary to her heart. She bows her head. Prays tearfully. Becomes silent.
Copyright Clare L. Martin 2016