Issue Twenty - Summer 2012

The Root People

By Maria Brandt

Scattered leaves cover the stage floor, the suggestion of roots and trees nearby. We are in a forest clearing, the river not far away. Two girls, 16. ELIZABETH guides a blindfolded SAMANTHA, called SAM.

SAM
I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.

ELIZABETH
Shhh.

Brief pause. They stop walking.

We’re here.

She removes Sam’s blindfold.

That’s it.

Sam walks over to the roots, touches them gently.

SAM
What is it?

ELIZABETH
It’s called Taxodium Ascendens, Swamp Cypress. Those are its roots.
They help it breathe.

Sam straightens.

SAM
You blindfolded me and took me into the forest so you could show me a tree?

Elizabeth laughs.

ELIZABETH
Away from the river, the tree doesn’t do this. It’s normal, like other trees.

Sam looks at Elizabeth, then sits by the roots.

SAM
Okay….

Sam takes out a tube of lipstick, applies color to her lips, and puckers. Elizabeth sits next to her. Awkward.

ELIZABETH
Do you think I could borrow some of that?

SAM
Sure!

She gives it to Elizabeth, who puts it on.

SAM
I stole it from my sister.

Elizabeth laughs. Sam shrugs.

She won’t notice.

Pause. Awkward.

What time is it?

ELIZABETH
I don’t know. Why?

Pause. Awkward.

SAM
I thought we were going down to the river. I thought that’s where you were taking me.

Elizabeth looks away.

Everyone’s gonna be there. (Beat). What?

ELIZABETH
Nothing. Yeah, we should go.

SAM
What?

Pause. Awkward. She takes the lipstick and stands.

Clare knows I took it. She watched me sneak out and it’s not like I tried to hide it later. I made sure she saw me wear it. She doesn’t care. (Beat). I mean, she doesn’t care about the lipstick. So?

Pause. Awkward.

What is it?

ELIZABETH
Sam. I saw you. (Beat). Kissing him. (Beat). Oskar.

SAM
Oskar? Is that why you brought me here? This is stupid. Let’s
go to the river.

She doesn’t move.

ELIZABETH
This isn’t stupid. You know that.

SAM
You blindfold me. You show me some roots. You talk to me about
being normal, and—

ELIZABETH
This isn’t stupid. (Beat). Do you remember when I moved here? (Beat). Sam?

SAM
Yeah.

ELIZABETH
We were in sixth grade. Still played hopscotch. Someone threw a rock
at me, a boy.

SAM
You had blood….

She extends her hand to touch Elizabeth’s face. Elizabeth turns away.

ELIZABETH
And I came home and wanted to talk to my mother, not about the rock
but about the boy and about everything but she was on the phone with
my father and I remember knowing that she wasn’t listening to me.
And I just stopped talking. I was invisible.

She looks at Elizabeth, who is still sitting among the roots.

SAM
You’re not—

Elizabeth blushes.

You just need to find ways to stand out more.

ELIZABETH
I know.

SAM
And be normal. That’s the trick.

ELIZABETH
I know.

SAM
Give me that blindfold.

Elizabeth gets up and gives it to her. Sam puts the blindfold on Elizabeth.

What do you see?

ELIZABETH
Nothing. Sam—

SAM
Come on. What do you see?

ELIZABETH
I—I don’t know. Spots.

Sam removes the blindfold.

SAM
Spots. We really should go.

ELIZABETH
(Rubbing eyes)
Bright red spots. Like lips…. Like people….

She stops rubbing and sits. Sam waits, then sits. Elizabeth takes back the blindfold. Awkward.

SAM
Did I ever tell you about my fight with Clare?

ELIZABETH
(Laughing)
Sam, you fight with Clare every day.

SAM
No, the fight.

ELIZABETH
I don’t know. I don’t think so.

SAM
She was kissing herself in the mirror. Ignoring me. And I kept asking, What are you doing? Can you show me? But she pretended I wasn’t there. So.… You won’t tell anyone?

Elizabeth gives Sam a look.

So I stole a pair of her underwear, planted them near the river, went for a walk with Mom, and made sure she found them.

ELIZABETH
Whoa.

SAM
Yeah. Things got kind of crazy. Clare started crying, saying she had no idea how that happened, how it wasn’t her, how could Mom think it was her, all that kind of thing.

ELIZABETH
And what did you say?

SAM
I started calling her, River Whore. “River Whore! River Whore!”

She laughs.

She turned and looked at me. Like she knew. I thought I was watching
the world from under water.… She moved toward me, grabbed me by my
collar, pulled me up to her eye level, puckered her face into this, terrible, tightly-clenched little ball, tilted her head back, and there it was.

ELIZABETH
What?

SAM
Spit. Right in my face. (Long Beat). Your turn.

Silence.

I’ll spit!

Elizabeth laughs. Brief silence.

ELIZABETH
My face was still swollen from the rock—

Sam touches Elizabeth’s face. After a beat, Elizabeth moves away.

ELIZABETH
—when it started. My parents were unpacking, we just had moved…
and I went to the bathroom.…

Sam gets it.

SAM
You got your period? When we were ten?

Elizabeth looks at Sam. Sam covers her flat chest by folding her arms.

ELIZABETH
I could hear my parents in the other room. It’s like they were glad I was gone, just for a minute, his hands down her—

SAM
Elizabeth!

ELIZABETH
And I wiped myself—

SAM
Geez—Elizabeth!

ELIZABETH
And there they were. Bright red spots on the toilet paper. I could still hear them but I also could see the spots and I felt like, wow. This is big. So, I walked out there, pants around my ankles, the paper in my hand, just to show them.

SAM
(Sincerely)
Sure.

ELIZABETH
I must have stood there ten minutes. My butt hanging out, dirty
toilet paper in my hand—

SAM
(Understanding)
Invisible. My sister’s lipstick all over my face.

ELIZABETH
(She looks at Sam, then looks away.)

And they didn’t…they didn’t even stop. See? It’s like I wasn’t there.

Sam takes the lipstick out and puts more on.

ELIZABETH
I waddled back into the bathroom. Threw out the toilet paper. Pulled
up my pants. Turned on the water. Washed my hands. Turned off the
water. Opened the medicine cabinet. Took out my mother’s sleeping
pills. Opened the bottle…. Before I knew what I was doing, I took
every pill. Do you remember, Sam? Swallowed each one down until
I was swimming in red spots.

Sam moves closer to Elizabeth and puts more lipstick on her. This is tender.

When I got out of the hospital, do you remember? I came here. I come
here a lot, Sam. These roots, they stick up like that, where you can see them, to help the tree breathe. And I’ve thought about that, and about hard it is for me to breathe, and that maybe I need roots, too. By the river. That people can see. So, I’ve studied these roots and when the light is just right, I swear to God, they’re not roots anymore, Sam. They’re people.

She gestures through this.

This is the old woman. Oldest woman in the village. She’s the healer. And here are the children. And there’s the pretty girl who works at the store who wants… And here’s the priest—see, you can tell because of the way he holds his arms out. And they’re all broken but they’ve all gathered around the old woman, waiting to be healed.

SAM
Elizabeth…

ELIZABETH
They know me. They share their lives with me and I share my life with
them.

Sam stands. Elizabeth remains sitting.

ELIZABETH
That’s not all.

SAM
They’re roots, Elizabeth. They’re not people.

Elizabeth rubs her eyes.

That lipstick looks great on you.

She takes Elizabeth’s hand.

Come on. Let’s go down to the river.

Elizabeth takes back her hand and begins crying softly.

ELIZABETH
That’s not all.

Silence. She takes a deep, rattled breath.

They’re people, Sam. And they’re filled with my secrets: boys with
rocks and blood on my underwear and swimming in pills and so many
secrets. I tell them my secrets and then, like the Taxodium Ascendens, I can breathe. And I wanted, Sam, I wanted so badly to tell you, maybe even back then, that day with the rock. I wanted to tell you. But I came here instead, and then I brought him with me here, and he touched me, and it was like the way my parents touch each other, normal, but they don’t see me, no one sees me, and he didn’t see me, and I’ll never be normal. But we did it, Sam. We did it.

SAM
Who?

ELIZABETH
We did it, Sam. Right here. We did it with the Root People watching.
And then I saw you. I watched you kissing, and I decided I would tell you, they would tell you. I would blindfold you and take you here and you would know and we could breathe together, and it wouldn’t matter, even when the Root People were, even when the Root People were—

SAM
Who?

ELIZABETH
Him.

SAM
WHO?

Beat.

ELIZABETH
Oskar.

SAM
You had sex with Oskar? (Beat). Here?

She slaps Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH
But it didn’t work. So I came back in the middle of the night last night with a knife.

SAM
My God.

ELIZABETH
And I cut them. The Root People. I cut them and I took their broken
parts home and put them under my pillow and I dreamed about you and
the next morning, this morning, this morning, Sam.

Beat.

I did it with Oskar, but I still couldn’t breathe. So, I killed them. I killed the Root People. And now I’ll never breathe again. And I had to tell you. I had to tell you because—and I think you already know—Sam—

Silence. Sam understands.

SAM
I’m glad.

ELIZABETH
What?

Still standing, she leans down and kisses Elizabeth deeply, tenderly.

SAM
I’ll see you at the river?

Elizabeth breathes.

ELIZABETH
Yeah.

Sam exits. Slow fade to black.

Copyright Brandt 2012

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