A plainclothes detective in casual attire and an NYPD windbreaker uncuffs the prisoner.
DANNY Good evening ... I'm Danny, and I'm the author and narrator of this story. I call this a story because truth is elusive, subjective, and fleeting. I also call this a story 'cuz I was high like Ned the Wino through a lot of it ... However, I'm not trying to hide behind any of that "unreliable narrator" bullshit. No. This is me. My story. I'm not interested enough in storytelling to try and make shit up. Up at Otisville, I got a counselor named Mr. Benedek. He's a good man. One day he made the "suggestion" that me telling my story might be helpful to me. I thanked him for the suggestion, then asked if he'd sign my sheet so I could go to the yard. That's when he broke it to me that what he was asking wasn't a suggestion. So here I am ... One more thing: some very few of you out there may know me as a writer. I'm not a writer. The only reason I wrote a book was because someone told me once, "You should write a book," so I did, and then I felt a little less like a loser, and people paid a little more attention to me, like, cooler people and girls — and then the IRS ... People should be strong enough to be who they really want to be — not what the world or their family thinks they should be. Which brings me to why I'm here ... (Clears his throat) Once upon a time, there was a little girl who could roller-skate over rooftops ...
MAGNOLIA and ESPINOSA enter hurriedly with an old woman, unconscious on a gurney. It is very dark and very late. Trailing behind them is a ghost named FRANCIS JAMES who hovers throughout and from a distance. They take no notice of him. The old woman — THERESE MARIE — is hooked up to an IV, and wears an oxygen mask and a cervical collar around her neck. There are two beds in the room. One is occupied, but curtained off. The other is empty. ESPINOSA and MAGNOLIA are preparing to transfer the old woman to the empty bed.
ESPINOSA (midstream) I'm tellin' you, Magnolia — that ol' bitch in 11A —
MAGNOLIA Miss Nathanson?
ESPINOSA I swear ta God — I'm gonna get me a santera to put a spell on that ol' bitch, make her drop dead from a fuckin' coronary like she shoulda done ten years ago!
MAGNOLIA You evil, Mr. Espinosa.
ESPINOSA Yo, I ain't the one that's evil! That ol' bruja — know what she is? — she's the face of the diabolical — das what she is! She a cotton-ball bitch!
MAGNOLIA Oh, I see. 'Cuz she report you for smoking, right?
ESPINOSA Das right. "'Cuz she report me for smoking"!! C'mon now: bitch is 159 years old, dyin' of, like, eighty-seven debilitating illnesses, she's gotta be worried about a little fuckin' secondhand smoke?? After all I do for that no-toof bitch?
MAGNOLIA (with a nod) Okay, quiet now.
ESPINOSA For what?
MAGNOLIA (re: the patient behind the curtain) Miss Halzig.
ESPINOSA Miss Halzig?! That bitch couldn't hear a hydrogen bomb go off if they blew that shit off the top of her forehead! She don't even know her own name! Watch! (Pulls back the curtain to MISS HALZIG'S bed.) (to MISS HALZIG) BOO!! GODZILLA!! OSAMA BIN LADEN!! (to MAGNOLIA) You see?
MAGNOLIA That's not funny.
ESPINOSA Then why you laughin'?
MAGNOLIA I'm laughin' at a fool, Mr. Espinosa.
ESPINOSA Is that right?
MAGNOLIA Dat's right. Laughin' at a Puerto Rican fool gonna lose his job.
ESPINOSADominicano, mami! No Puerto Rico! Dominicano! And yeah: for eight-fifty an hour and no benefits, they can take this job, stick it in a fuckin' catheter, and pump that shit up they peeholes all I fuckin' care! All them mothahfuckahs! Nurses. Doctors. This lady right here! Sixteen hours straight, four a.m., and I still got a pepperoni pizza in my locker I ain't eaten 'cuz EMS had to roll in with this mystery bitch! ...
DANNY ... Last spring, on the night my mother disappeared, I was in a drug rehab in Scottsdale, Arizona, dropping a half dozen hits of acid and smoking uncut rock with a buxom young Republican state senator's daughter from Butte, Montana, named Nadine Powers. Nadine had snuck into my room, and we were pretending we were the last two survivors on earth, and it was our mission to repopulate all species of man, beast, and bird:
NADINE (nearing intense orgasm) Oh God, Danny! Fuck me like an ostrich, Danny! Bury your head in my sand! —
DANNY (approaching nirvana) — I'm an ostrich, Nadine! I have feathers and they're flapping! I'm a pumping, pluming ostrich! — "NeeYeet!" "NeeYeet!!"
NADINE (virtually vibrating) "Wabeeeechu! Wabeeeeeechu!" Oh, Danny — (terrariums, Johnny Depp, the boys who raped me) — kiss me with lollipops, Danny! Flap me, peck me, ride me south!
DANNY (a towering inferno) Oh, Nadine, I wanna fuck you now like a lovely but fierce llama from an ancient and sacred South American nation, Nadine!
NADINE (as a llama) Baaa!
NADINE (an imminent tidal wave) You have pretty eyes, Llama Lover Man —
DANNY (ecstatically transforming) Baaa —
NADINE (the earth shaking) — like a pretty cartoon cat from cartoons on the cartoon channel! Like cinnamon toast with sugar and compassion and Technicolor with all love and no commercials!
DANNY (the heavens aligning) You're the only one who understands me, Nadine!
NADINE I wanna fuck you on the floor of the Montana state senate, Danny!
DANNY (to audience) And then the phone rang — "Hello?"
JUSTINA (a ferocious hysterical tsunami): Shriek!, shriek!, sob, sob! DANNY!/Shriek, shriek!, wail, wail! MOMMY GONE!!/Howl, howl, sedative, sedative, get on a fuckin' plane selfish addict fuck!/Hysteria, hysteria, gasp, moan, cry, asthma onset — your fuckin' fault!! Sniffle, sniffle, passive-aggressive silence — the world is fucking ending/Sniffle, sniffle, Valium, Seconal, airport now!/Moan, moan, audible gasp. At work. Can't talk. I do everything. Ready to slit my throat with carving knife./Cry, cry, bellow, bellow MOMMY GONE MOMMY GONE MOMMY GONE. I hate you! Cry cry wail! Wail — indecipherable threats — JetBlue motherfucker — book that shit! — slam. Click. Dial tone.
NADINE ... Who was that?
DANNY I think the world is ending.
NADINE I'll get my things.
The lights cross-fade back to the hospital room.
DR. SHANKAR Is this the Jane Doe, Esther?
MAGNOLIA Yes, Doctor. The police, they took a fingerprint, she don't have no wallet, no identification, nothing. She got a plastic bag with some small articles there.
ESPINOSA All she got in there is some mints, a book of crossword puzzles, and some Chessmen cookies.
DR. SHANKAR Vitals?
MAGNOLIA Body temperature indicates hypothermia; electrolyte disturbances in the blood, very low oxygen levels, and she has substantial instability in her back and neck. EMS say she sustain a fall, Doctor, down the stairs in her wheelchair at the Cloisters —
DR. SHANKAR Cloisters?! Call Columbia Presbyterian, have them pick her up.
MAGNOLIA EMS reroute her from them to us 'cuz they got heavy intake in the ER over there — Project Fire, something, they said.
DR. SHANKAR Right, like we're so overstaffed and under -emergencied. Okay, I'll run an antibiotic stat. Let's see if we can get an ID by morning.
MAGNOLIA Doctor, she not conscious now, but she was moving and shifting before and she was speakin' crazy like she have a lot of pain. Grave pain, Doctor. She need a morphine drip, I think.
DR. SHANKAR We don't want medication masking consciousness. Give her some liquid Tylenol and keep me apprised.
DR. SHANKAR begins exiting.
MAGNOLIA Doctor, this lady need morphine, Doctor.
DR. SHANKAR Esther, do you have something in writing that tells me this woman isn't allergic to morphine? Or that any morphine we give her won't induce respiratory arrest?
MAGNOLIA Allergy to morphine — that's very rare, I think.
DR. SHANKAR Yes. And so are Jane Does with no medical histories to draw from. Do you remember the patient in 13B last year?
MAGNOLIA Yes. But if this patient here, she expire from shock because she was not adequately sedated, Doctor?
DR. SHANKAR Then she expires. Let's hope she doesn't. (Beat.) Good night, Esther. Espinosa.
ESPINOSA She ain't Esther, Doc. She Magnolia.
DR. SHANKAR ... Yes, of course you are — it's just — you and Esther — anyway —
ESPINOSA Esther's four times her size, Doc. Put her in a diaper and slick her hair back, she could wrestle sumo.
DR. SHANKAR Uh ... Yes.
ESPINOSA They look nothing alike.
DR. SHANKAR In any case —
ESPINOSA — Now, Doc: we was here when this patient arrived. Now, I ain't got no diplomas hangin', you know, by the fireplace —
DR. SHANKAR — Espinosa, there's a bedpan in 11A. Tend to it.
ESPINOSA I'm just saying.
DR. SHANKAR Bedpan.
ESPINOSA Fine. (under his breath) Fuckin' Papa Smurf ...
DR. SHANKAR Yes, I am Papa Smurf — and you are Clean Up Bedpans Smurf, okay, my friend?
ESPINOSA (under breath) Ma-mow. (Exits.)
DR. SHANKAR Now, look: you're a good nurse, that's very evident —
MAGNOLIA Doctor —
DR. SHANKAR This woman is unconscious. Her vitals are fading despite our best efforts to stabilize her. Should she revive, I will address the patient's pain management situation at that time and with her consent and not a minute before. Do you remember Mr. Jenkins? Wandered off to the roof, got himself locked out, and froze to death? The man never had a visitor in months — but I still have a ten -million-dollar negligence suit on behalf of the family on my desk.
MAGNOLIA Yes, Doctor.
DR. SHANKAR This woman doesn't need morphine — she needs a priest. Liquid Tylenol. Nothing more.
MAGNOLIA Yes, Doctor.
DR. SHANKAR Very good then. Carry on, Mongolia.
The doctor exits.
THERESE MARIE stirs slightly, then fades again.
MAGNOLIA turns down the lights and sits by the old woman's bedside, holding her hand.
DANNY Magnolia Jarvis kept my mother alive that night.
MAGNOLIA I didn't do nuthin' special.
DANNY You held her hand.
MAGNOLIA 'Cuz I liked her face.
DANNY You were there when she woke up.
MAGNOLIA Christian charity.
DANNY You didn't take offense when she mistook you for Jackie Robinson:
THERESE MARIE (to MAGNOLIA) ... Jackie Robinson? Oh, my! Is that you?
MAGNOLIA I am Magnolia, miss, you're in a hospital —
THERESE MARIE Oh, I was just over the moon for you, Jackie — OVER THE MOON — you know, "loopy"? — listening to your games on the radio! Stealing those bases!
MAGNOLIA Let me dry your eye.
THERESE MARIE Oh, I'm ashamed I'm crying, but you lifted me, Jackie. Lifted! And when that Dixie Walker tried to make the Dodgers go on strike until the owners removed you — God help me — I heard Dixie on the radio and I shouted, I shouted right at the radio, "Go to hell, Dixie Walker, you redneck so-and-so, who in the hell needs you anyway?" Oh, that sonuvabitch!
MAGNOLIA Rest now.
THERESE MARIE Do you see Pee Wee Reese much, Jackie? Oh, I adored him! Adored him. A little fireplug, no bigger than a table lamp, but he had fire! Oh, I loved that little Pee Wee! Do you see him much, Jackie? Do you?
MAGNOLIA ... Sometimes, yes.
THERESE MARIE Oh, that's nice. He stood up for you, that little gnat of a man, didn't he?
MAGNOLIA What's your name, miss?
THERESE MARIE ... Oh, Jackie, I'm sorry, but I'm in an awful lot of pain right now.
MAGNOLIA Won't you just tell me your name? I could sign a football for you?
THERESE MARIE Football? Jackie, don't be silly, you played baseball.
MAGNOLIA Yes. Baseball. Would you like a little water?
THERESE MARIE Oh yes, please.
MAGNOLIA holds the cup. THERESE drinks.
THERESE MARIE Is there anything you can give me for pain?
MAGNOLIA You have a drip going into your arm. See?
THERESE MARIE I'm sorry.
MAGNOLIA Sorry for what?
THERESE MARIE I'm sorry ...
MAGNOLIA Rest now. Okay? You rest.
The ghost, FRANCIS JAMES, appears to THERESE MARIE.
THERESE MARIE Poppa?
MAGNOLIA What, miss?
FRANCIS JAMES speaks sign language to her. His signs are emphatic. He also speaks with his voice, but since he's deaf, his voice is low and guttural.
FRANCIS JAMES You are not the boss of this house! You are not the boss of this house! Now pick it up and throw it all out! All of it!
THERESE MARIE signs back and speaks.
THERESE MARIE But, Poppa —
MAGNOLIA What you doing, miss?
THERESE MARIE (to MAGNOLIA) My father. My father. (to Poppa, signing and speaking) I'm — sorry — Poppa. I'm — sorry.
MAGNOLIA Sorry for what?
THERESE MARIE The pictures on the table. He doesn't understand about Tyrone Power. (reacting to her father's blows) Oh! Oh! Oh!
MAGNOLIA What's the matter, miss?
THERESE MARIE Oh. Oh. He doesn't mean it ... Oh ... He's a good, decent man ...
MAGNOLIA Yes he is.
FRANCIS JAMES disappears.
THERESE MARIE A fine man, a decent man.
THERESE MARIE From the pope, a handsome plaque, my poppa. My books ...
THERESE MARIE (nodding out) ... I'm ready. Father Lander, the textbooks ... Ready ... Tell Poppa ... (Drifts off.)
DANNY And then — my mother flatlined.
We see circus lights and hear sirens, and sounds vaguely reminiscent of a street fair or carnival. Doctors and nurses descend upon the dying woman with screens and contraptions and surgical clip lights. FRANCIS JAMES looks on as we hear the medical team's harried voices:
NURSE 1 Blood glucose. Infected wounds. Heart monitor — stat!
SURGEON 2 Morphine pump's not encoded. Smashed coccyx — stat!
NURSE 2 Sewed bones, grafted bones, sewn together, ripped apart. She's fading again! ...
DANNY My grandfather Francis James was loved by many and admired by all. My grandfather went hungry so his children could eat. My grandfather was an alcoholic who suffered from occasional outbursts of temper.
The lights continue to blare and whirl, and the doctors continue at a frenzied pace, and the sounds of hospital hardware mixes with those of organ grinders and carousels and Irish saloon singers playing out-of -tune pianos.
SURGEON 1 Depression. Stat!
NURSE 1 Probable concussion. Stat!
SURGEON 2 Head smashed into the boiler. Stat!
NURSE 2 A good decent man. Stat!
DANNY One violent, chaotic night, when my mother was nine years old, she made the decision that someone had to protect her mother and her little sister.
We now see the backlit vague impression of an old tenement building — and in the shadows of the tenement we see and hear a young girl's screams, and a deaf woman's cries, and the dull thud of a nine-year-old head being repeatedly smashed into a boiler.
NURSE 1 Locked in the basement! Stat!
SURGEON 1 More oxygen! Stat!
NURSE 2 Asphyxiation! Stat!
SURGEON 2 He can't hear you! Stat!
DANNY My mom confronted my grandfather and made him a promise. She promised him that if he ever touched her mother or her sister again that she would be awfully sorry, but she would have to fetch the police and telephone Uncle Barney immediately.
THERESE MARIE Poppa!
SURGEON 1 Waves of pain! Stat!
NURSE 2 "Can't take the heat, get outta the kitchen!" Stat!
SURGEON 1 Secret garden! Stat!
NURSE 1 Momma just stood by. Stat!
DANNY And so from that day on, Francis James never touched her sister or her mother again.
THERESE MARIE Poppa!
SURGEON 2 We're losing her!
DANNY Instead, he would only beat her.
THERESE MARIE is suddenly upright and conscious and weeping like a terrified child. The chaos continues around her.
And then a handsome black man in a World War II air force uniform enters amid the tumult. And though chaos remains onstage, he is suddenly all we can really see and hear.
JIMMY STEWART (singing) You're nobody till somebody loves you.
THERESE MARIE I know you!
JIMMY STEWARTYou're nobody till somebody cares.
They dance. Music, replacing JIMMY STEWART 's vocals. A series of spins, as —