Headless Horseman Case B6
One-Act Play for One or Two Performers
Characters: Mama and Lady Baby
Notes: This one-act play or one-woman show is built to be a flexible plaything, but uniformity within and commitment to each choice matters. Perfect for the Halloween season, the tone can play like comedy, horror, or somewhere in-between with surreal and minimal to detailed and realistic use of props, lights, sound, set, costuming, etc. Although inspired by Washington Irving’s character from Sleepy Hollow, this piece is largely meant to play outside of any one time, place, or folklore. The changes in “dialect” are simply meant to help differentiate the two characters. Each time the monologue switches from Mama to Lady Baby, it should be considered a new scene. There might be a brief blackout or some sweeping gesture to reset the space. At the beginning of each new scene, the performer might redirect focus to a new part of the audience as if addressing audience members as the interviewer ~ or an additional player might be a silent interviewer present onstage with back to audience like a faceless body. At the director’s discernment, a few eerie pauses might be taken to suggest the interviewer’s questions, unheard and unknown to the audience. During dialogues, the few lines from Damion Gardener, Mr. Gardener, and the man with a zesty accent can all be delivered by the two female characters ~ or played by voiceovers. If as voiceovers, please allow the complexities of the male characters to come across; for example, the voice of Damion should belong to a man with deep, warm eyes and his voice as a child should be that of a shy boy who loves to play outdoors. Damion is violent much in the way we may think of the animal kingdom as violent at times – impersonally driven toward a certain kind of survival not at all void of its own kind of compassion. Lastly, to further blur the lines between reality and imagination, the text may be introduced more fully as a transcript in a larger file through the program and/or an announcement right before curtain. If you would like to incorporate this element, simply use:
“Headless Horseman” Damion Luke Gardener [B6/1]
“Mama” Leah Odessa Gardener [B6/7]
“Lady Baby” Keturah J. Coos [B6/8]
“The Women Who Love Him” Woven Transcript
Glass of goat’s milk for you?
Take water at the least?
Suit yourself. Go on, then, let me hear what you be needin.
Childhood. I swear unto God he had a dear boyhood. He were sweet, you can know. Course, what mother fails to think such of her own?
Sweet as in, well, when he be round bout twelve, he stopped catchin fish. He’d still go off with Daddy, yet the Lord didn’t seem to bless his basket. Then, Daddy got to watchin him put worms on hooks – pretend to put worms on hooks be what I’m sayin to you. My boy be piercin worms to fix it so metal caught light to warn fish not to bite! He didn’t want to catch em by then, you see, such be his gentle spot. And it be round that time he says to me, “Do a rainbow feel sad to leave his stream that drips of sky?”
I could of guessed his empty baskets to be his doin as he got to carryin on so and as I found him in the pantry rubbin at the silvery scales of a dead rainbow trout, cryin cause the silk of it had turned to grit. He’d get on to fussy as that at times.
Fussy and sensitive, as when he kissed my cheek – his lips dawdled. Not long mind you, yet when you figure a child’s kiss tends to last only one instant, one extra instant be a linger. Don’t you agree to it? It were as if he knew what it meant to arrive and go, and he wanted to extend that press of be. Sweet as a tree.
At summer times, he’d stare at clouds so long that I’d see their white bellies in his eyes, glidin his blue eyes bluer still. And sun would be in his puffy cheeks, oh Lord, he’d come home glowin as day. You’ve never seen such a reflective face. Every night, I pray to see him that way in my dreams.
Yes, and it be one of God’s good mercies every time.
Bout the kissin? Just recalled it, memory being a funny thing.
I often think on em fish. He’d a fondness for God’s natural world. He hadn’t a real pal, no brother nor sister, and we lived way out. He made a schoolyard friend or two yet his best pals proved to be squirrels he fed – and grains and horses – our ducks. Daddy were a quiet man – figured they’d settled into a kind of silence with each other. When he helped in my garden, couldn’t get him talkin no more than a carrot. At times, as now, I regret lettin some things go on, yet he be a good boy, tidy and mannered, didn’t tend toward a lie.
Hair? What’s to say bout hair? Looked as his daddy’s head, at times when I saw the two of em out in the fields, I’d laugh cause they’d look as two scarecrows with loose stuffin. Blond, you can know.
Course, I’d rather not make mention of his nose.
Lady Baby was his name for me. It is what he called me the night we met, and it happened to suit. He had a head full of confidence that first night, all audacity. Even his inconsistencies shone like an aroma of charm that night. You might say that I have befriended my share of characters, so I did not think twice about his slipping accent. It was simply about Cognac. Not drunkenness, I do not drink to be drunk. You can put that in your little file.
Besides, Cognac is not about being drunk. It is about scent and taste. It is about noticing that you are alive, like raspberries and cream, but sharper, somehow smooth and bitter all at once, a dry wetness. Cognac is as full as two tongues in one mouth.
I was ready for bed. I had settled into a corner table with the hum of conversation from a few local customers falling on me like a lullaby. My tender at the time had things running smoothly all by himself, so I was just about to go upstairs when my darling came in wearing a high-neck, navy sweater with blue eyes that carried the color up into his face like a splash. He looked fresh. A few different types of fresh, the Cognac bottle open in one of his strong, relaxed hands.
I had just finished cleaning the floor in the kitchen by the freezer where mud gets carried in from the back. My knees looked it. Silly not to use a mop, I know, but I like the way it feels to be there with my whole body rocking my arms under the motion of my torso and hips. The floor there and there and there and there like an endless body, firm and uncompromising, always meeting me, steady motion for motion.
But, I drift.
Cognac. He came right up to me. I tucked my dirty knees under the table as soon as I saw him aimed in my direction. I was not the best looking or the youngest in the room, but what can I say? It was me he wanted from the beginning. As I felt his body nearing mine, there I sat, adjusting my skirt beneath the table to hide the mud and pretending that it was the most interesting thing in the world to do.
“I remember you at last,” he cooed with a zesty accent as he slid into the long booth across from me, pinning me with his soft blue eyes. He set the Cognac down on the table and nudged it toward me like an offering. “My dear Lady Baby,” he exclaimed with sugary familiarity, “your laugh is full of its twin yet doesn’t drift any less sweet for its heaviness. Your backside knows how to make the most of where it lands. Your hands are full of soil …”
“Have we met?”
He was lying. I think. He had probably been there before with other heads. Maybe it is not fair to call it lying. His memory was a strange thing. What he remembered and forgot faded in and out like tides without a moon. Not that it mattered that night, not with eyes that shade of blue.
“I have never worked in soil,” I lied in response.
“You are made of it,” he insisted as his plush lips tucked, just ever so slightly, into a lick. When they separated again, they seemed a fuller red. His eyes, which had not left mine since he sat down, took on a deeper shade like twilight fluttering into night.
“Well, then, what, may I ask, are you made of?” I was ashamed by a giggle as the words poured out.
His eyes dimmed and fell for a moment. “Shadows,” he smiled shortly as he looked back up at me, his voice a soft drawl. “Shadows fill themselves with whatever they find themselves cast upon. I am those casual becomings.”
He slowly lifted a finger to his lips. It was a gesture to be quiet, yet it rested there so lightly that it seemed an accidental message. His eyes lightened with mischief as he leaned in toward me, not hungry the way some men do, but smooth and slow, reserved and attentive. You can tell the type of lover a man is by the way he leans.
“Now listen,” his words slid around his finger draped again with an accent mixed like pepper in butter. My body was already tilting toward his when he continued, “we can talk here, or me and this Cognac and you and your laughter can find out what happens in the type of darkness that makes shadows one, less than one, obsolete.”
His nose were a normal enough lookin thing as far as noses go. Oh, I feel a fool. Well then, Lord, this story might as well be told in tellin. His nose. His nose be a huntin nose. One night, he bout seven, he had that look on his face, nose upward, eyes squinted. Sniffin at the air he says, “We best to sleep in the cellar.” As it be past dusk, the barn were already shut tight – him and Daddy made a habit of that resultin from tramps who be comin by at times. As he started to gather up from round the kitchen, Daddy smiled a bit. I went to the window, saw the moon calm as it be. Yet we listened, got to the cellar, and come early morn woke to the sounds of a storm in a tantrum.
You know what never failed? When I cooked muffins or such, those grams he loved, I’d turn from the oven with em and there he’d be, grinnin with his nose up. He might have been gone hours, yet there he’d be! I’d call him home that way at times. Oh, dear. I shouldn’t smile and carry on so, forgive me. For, yes, you can know that if there be one thing bout him that knew his fate, knew what he be born to be, it were that nose.
I know he be without it now, and has been, yet it be of no matter. Once you live a thing out, it burrows deep in your gut to inform your very flesh – I’m tellin you true now. There be things a body knows.
My boy had sharp instincts, he were taught to fish and hunt from his young days – though he never killed more than were needed or of the strongest creatures, else us be in a deep bad way, that’s how our people live, with respect – understand? Even with greeneries, as we all do, he knew not to take too much from one plant.
He’d often be comin home with things he found – feathers, antlers, teeth, skeletons … all kinds of scraps. He had a box under his cot, and he’d take out em pieces and rebuild em as new creatures – which weren’t common inside my house, I kept us a tidy house.
I recall a turtle’s shell he had a fondness for. Have you ever held a turtle’s shell?
Well, if you do, flip it over. Peek in at the curve – you will see the spine still be in the shell.
The rest of the details from that first night are ours alone, but they matter. They matter because his body belonged to us. If he really could not remember, I would nibble into his collarbone, cup his buttocks in a long sweep, or clamp one of his knees between mine, and he would know me then. He would know me sure, so it mattered. His body is how I knew him, could always spot him. His oxen shoulders stood out even from a distance. His body was how I reclaimed him again and again all those years. Our bodies have memories, loves, fears, destines … I cannot explain it to you, not that I really care to, as you are here uninvited.
I don’t wish to tell how he lost it – his head. My only child, he loved em woods. Loved em. Daddy didn’t even know the truth of it, though I got on to try in tellin him more than twice. You certain to believe? If I tell?
I will take you at your word, as we are both children of the same good God.
It be the owls who took it. They being mighty creatures. Course, here we don’t get the giants. Cross the river waters, where I were a girl, they come with horns. Yet size is not all there be, you can know. Tawny owls may be no bigger than pigeons, yet they be gatekeepers nonetheless. I know it be tawnies cause their squeakin filled that night – the night we lost our boy – their callin filled that terrible night as I’ve never known. It sounded as if the stars were shoutin. No, don’t note that. Not the stars, the space between stars. The space between be full of screeches as if all that blackness were a stacked choir of open throats.
Why? Lord himself and only knows, for I hate to make mention of the dark one as we seek a way through shadowed valleys.
My boy belonged to em woods, in darkness more than ever. At times of his life, I’d wake to check his cot only to find it empty till dawn when I’d brush twigs from his blond, dusty hair. Right bout the time he were gonna be seven years on God’s good earth, he started up with those night walks. Daddy and I worried bout it, you can know. At first we blocked the door with a table, yet he climbed out the window. Daddy fastened the window from the outside with twine and then we woke to him howlin as a dyin thing, clawin at em shutters. Oh, sweet Lord, what a sight, his nails bloody. So we let him go. Always come home safe as the day he were made by our Trusted Creator, until the tawny owls took him back, took part of him back.
You look in the eyes of a night owl to see no eyes. They be black and full. Those creatures are filled. They be gatekeepers. Gatekeepers of the middle ground, the space between, and the shores on both sides. Eyes black as all the colors mixed together. And reflective too – mirrors to look to, just as my baby’s summer face.
Much as I hate the blood in this, I forgive em owls. They kept his head, yet they keep it well. As long as they go on keepin it, my boy’s gonna keep on livin, wherever he be now. That be my sin, lovin the keepin of him, wantin him to live despite it all. For who be we to question by our own narrow lenses? I don’t have God’s telescope on loan, yet I pray for my boy’s salvation, you can know. I wish for his hand in mine even now for it be my milk in his veins and a soul I love upon his bones.
I believe him to be alive, yes. Or someone has hunted him – a thought that churns me as butter. Is that what you be up to? Learnin to hunt?
Stop. No … don’t tell me.
If you be reckonin his age, he were born near fifty-six years back. Keepin on, those owls took him right as he were fixin to be a true man, fifteen years on God’s earth, and he were with em owls eight long years when he killed his daddy. That be when I saw him last – him wearin the head of his daddy, and he were twenty-three years of age. He be an inch and a half taller with hands a size bigger though his shoulders had yet to fill out the way his daddy’s had, yes, he were yet to grow the long and wide shoulders of a ripened Gardener man, Lord, sweet Lord.
He would come looking for me. I had this diner on the edge of town, same way you see it now, and he would come around. He never treated me as uppity. He valued the dependable depth of my mind. Plus, he did not try to beat me down for knowing things like some lovers looking for a barmaid with no brain, never mind that I own this place! The type of man that appreciates a strong woman is rare enough, so, even though the times between were sometimes long and the situation obfuscated, I was loyal. I trusted he would come back, and I liked saving my body since, in some ways, my body was all I had to offer him. Besides, loyalty made his touches all the more intense. His touches were like thunder rolling in soft and landing with resolution. He had a loving way, a reserved passion like the blue part of a flame.
His eyes always managed to maintain a pierce, even when he was holding me as gently as a nest full of precious eggs. Even when he ran his fingers like cooling rain on my back, his eyes burned. He would take me into his arms with such a powerful and yielding strength that I finally understood tango, fierceness supported by grace. Maybe you can understand tango, too. I hope it for you. Only because I hope it for everyone. I never had a lover like him before, nor in the years since he has been gone. I do not expect to meet the likes again.
Anyway, loyalty, sometimes it was hard. This establishment is part inn after all, got a few extra rooms upstairs by mine. Plenty of men come and go.
He warned me never to go into the forest around the new moon. I stayed clear, but one time, around the time of a full moon and during the day, I figured it would be safe enough to go looking for him. Full moons were often at the heart of our time together, and I had not seen him for five months, it was one of the longest bits without him. I was lonely and worried … and curious.
I found him with a young girl’s head with cheeks made like cranberries and hair as puffy as unspun wool. Her beautiful head capped his body when I found him staring into the river. He – she – was on the other side of a narrow piece of river with his black stallion. I knew his stallion by sight, but never by touch. That stallion’s very presence felt like some kind of awful dare. From my side of the river, I saw them, about forty feet away, and that was as close as I had ever been, or wanted to be, to that stallion. When my love came to stay with me, the beast would ride wild in the forest. Around the time of each new moon, it would come back, and, so, my darling would kiss me good-bye and walk out to meet its gallops. I almost never went to a window to watch, the animal so terribly chilled me.
Yes, that is how it was. I came upon them sitting on the bank. That damn stallion stared at me with iron apathy, and my darling stared into the water as if trapped in a dream. The light was coming through his hair as it pillowed up from his head – her head. The mess of curls looked a bit like a clumpy nest. It reminded me of the type of nests that owls sometimes make in high branches. Altogether, he looked like frozen voltage, like a zap that could not shake. Near where he was sitting, there was a ribbon of sand running beside the river for several yards, and he seemed to be building a kingdom of sandcastles with a moat encircling it. It made me shudder to see the care that had gone into it, a child’s pride. Well, I backed-up as quietly as I could and never went looking again. It haunted me to see him that way, and I felt for the girl and her family, wept over it if you must know. I had never thought about a child … even now it makes me ill to think about. I never went looking for him again.
A few weeks later, he came back around with a bouquet of wild irises and the weather-worn head of an old man. He was gentle then, and we walked. That is mostly what we always did, walked, well, walked and loved into each other. When his body was occupied, he seemed to stabilize. He spoke of his childhood but never of the years after he became what he was. I never dared to ask how much he realized or what became of his beloved parents. I only know he grew up somewhere far west of the plains, in the highlands, but he had been gone from those parts for years.
He knew the rhythms of the seasons. He was a master farmer who did beyond his share to feed the folks around here through my doors by way of the garden out back. You may see it when you leave, but keep in mind that it is merely a sketch of what it was under his care. I have tried with it, even hired some help for a year to try with it, but it is not the same. He loved to guide me beyond the trails to see things like a special bloom or berry patch or ancient tree. He almost always had some small adventure for us. I think he was most at peace when he walked through the high grasses loosening their seeds through his palms. During the summer, when he touched me, I could feel the husky dust from those seeds between us as if we were a strange meadow.
And there was plenty strange about it, like when he moved through the high grasses or over snow, he never imprinted the earth. Weightlessly, it was almost as if he was not there at all, but, of course, he was. He cast a shadow and watched it whenever he could, as if it was a kind of proof. He loved to be in the sun.
One month he was quite a poet, and we cleared a few tables from the center of the diner, this here bar area I mean, to serve as a kind of stage. He put on a whole performance just for me. He was not much for social situations as you might imagine, not wanting to be recognized, and considering the mixing of personalities, well, it would have been awkward to say the least.
Somehow the people he became never seemed alarmed or acted as if my presence or their location were odd, they simply were who they were in those moments, deeply present, there with me. So present, it was as if all of time happened at once for them, even their own memories seemed to sway like a blur.
The old man with the irises told me about his three daughters. He had one son who he lost. Gentle like he was, he made a little thing out of it, a small mention, but I could tell by the way he talked about his grandsons that he was the kind of man who valued a boy. I could tell in the not mentioning, the talking around, that the death of his son was like a bullet in his own … well, I was going to say heart. Funny thing to lose a body. I had not thought of it before, but maybe he did not show the loss of his son very loudly because he had only a mind to miss him with.
Anyway, he adored singing old tales with rich harmonies, and his songs, pouring from my beloved’s throat, were a wonder. I did not know my darling could sing! When the man’s mind would fade out and my love’s spirit would rise up, I would sing the songs back to him, and we would dance slowly or laugh softly at the oddity of it all. Those were splendid moments, when my beloved would rise to the mouth he was wearing and remember me like the only thread he recognized in an ocean of quilts. I knew in those moments how much it meant to him to be with me. Those were the times when his eyes would take on a deeper shade, and he would look at me the way leaves on a broken branch curl as they brittle.
I knew that he was lost, knew that he yearned to be found in me.
Those years come on long, so very long, you can know. Some years bloody, others tending toward quiet. Lord, may Thy mercy rule, all those neighbors and neighborly people.
Stories of a “headless horseman” got to be whispered – yet what’s one to make of such talk? – most didn’t believe such rubbish … if only it were rubbish. Those folks who did believe never suspected our lost child, no one knew to hate or fear us. Course, we knew, Daddy and I and the empty cot.
God, help me now if you want me to finish this. I just be myself, and an old woman, too.
The Clarks from just up our old road lost their eldest, Paul. And Daddy had known em Clarks, both Abby and Merv, from the time when they were kids, and we’d all watched their children grow. Their eldest boy, well, he fought the teachers as a fool when he still be poor in years, yet he’d been growin up to be a tree with good wood.
We lost Paul and the last of our resolve with him. It had to end. It had to stop, God please forgive us. So Daddy went out on the darkest night, not wantin to be seen. He went out lookin for our very own and only with a shotgun in his hands.
A week went to sour before I set out. I set out with my own blood and tears under my fingernails in the middle of the day not carin who saw – what did it matter by then? I screamed for him through em woods, screamed and screamed, my wide pacin may have lasted for days, such be the feelin.
It were a warm day of harvest season. As my voice wore hoarse and stale, my legs took to aimless wanderin and grasshoppers startled at my feet. Grasshoppers hittin dry grasses and leaves sounded as hollow as my parched tears, as if em woods be mournin round me, foldin silent wails into wails with jumpin stitches. With dry lips, I kept tryin to repeat a verse, failin at words. Yet I recall it now: “O my God, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, not as I will, yet as thou wilt.”
When he came to me wearin the head of his daddy, my lips froze in their torn prayer.
I best say the rest fast, before I lose all air. He be leadin a horse black as sin. Even though it were late autumn and the leaves were brittle on the ground, they made no sound, I recall it to be so, I swear it to be true, though the horse be mighty, those leaves did not pucker. His horse held back as he came on. He fell to his knees near me, yet leaves failed to stir as if time had died.
“Mama,” he looked up at the growin bareness of the trees, their stillness matchin the way he be. He spoke with his voice, except that his drawl had weakened. There were a thin scar along his chin that traced back toward both ears. “How can I tell you what I be?” He looked at me. Daddy’s blue eyes were dark and deep. I don’t figure breath could find me.
“I’d rather not understand it myself,” he continued, “yet with every black moon, I molt my head, become a body thoughtless until I wake again.” He rushed on, “We all see color different, did you know it? You can’t imagine how many shades our sky can be.”
Despite it all, it be as sweetened cream to hear his voice, I closed my eyes and felt my heart pound with his voice in my ears.
“And we hear different,” he pressed on, as if readin me. “At times, I hear crickets before the sun be even half set and their slidin chirps be just as gold as the hour. Other times, night be a silence sticky as molasses, yet even silence can hum as deepness in a lake hums. After each new moon, I wake to a new … I don’t know what to be sayin … landscape, a new landscape of memory and thought. I wake as a dreamer who can’t escape or act … somewhere in the … background …” He were trippin on words.
Then he reached for me, my eyes flashed open as I felt his fingertips and then his warm palms on my elbows and biceps – far too certain. His eyes were lighter, approachin blue. “Leah? Weepin? What is this? Lord, you look a mess,” and, at this, my husband threw back his head and laughed the boyish, rich laugh of the man I love. “Are you after more mushrooms for your soup? Don’t be so timid bout mother.” It be the voice of my husband, and it tore through my chest as sandpaper.
I pushed him hard, back off his haunches onto his backside, his face snapped into a look of confusion as I screamed, or maybe it were a whisper, “Enough! Go! I be comin to tell you and to hear only that spoken between us. Go! Go! Go! Go. Go … go, go, please, go.” He stood and took a small step back, as if he understood. The space round him seemed so still, too still. I can’t explain it. I mean, I can’t …
I don’t recall anymore.
Please don’t make me try.
I may have been in that spot for days. If it weren’t a sin, I’d wish that I had died there. After, they told me that a couple of our town’s little ones found me and went for help. When I woke, I be in the minister’s house. By the pity and mercy of our kind God, my neighbors kept their doors open. Yet I couldn’t stay, and so I come to be here.
Mushroom soup were one of my mother-in-law’s favorite dishes, yet it had been many a year from the time when she were livin to compliment it. I don’t know why it be on the tip of his tongue that day. I dare not make it, you can know.
Yes, couldn’t forget a word if I tried. I’ve tried. I never saw him again. He must of moved on. Deaths stopped. So did my heart, you can know. Now that my time with the Lord be comin for me, I’m glad, even one day be too long a day at times. Yet I pray for the strength not to question the good in our Lord’s plan.
That’s all I’m at to say. You got wrote down all you need? Maybe it’s better said, maybe.
Show yourself out, please – won’t you be so kind? Let me try to rest.
I was never bored. In all those years, I enjoyed the company of many men’s minds, and the sweet body and soul of only one, a man of earth and night and need.
Now, hold it. I have questions, too. What will you do with what I am telling you? The stories and myths, which parts are true? How many trapped men are there? How do they come to be? Could I meet …
Right, so typical of you stiff collars! Just questions and demands.
Save it. I can already imagine you have stories of your own to justify your entitlements, and I can almost understand under the circumstances, but you fail to really see because it is all about control and precast judgements with you people.
I have had enough of this little chat. Two more questions, and then we are done, court order or no court order.
Certainly, if you send an artist, I will describe each face the best I can. He would want the families to have some peace, he truly would, and so do I.
Well, if you must know, there was not much of a parting between us. Last time I saw him he had the head of a rugged drunk, few teeth, and sour breath. The personality of that poor man brought out the burning edge in my lover in terrible ways. As soon as I got the lice out of his hair, he started drinking all the vodka in my diner and acting a real brute, so I told him to go away. Not that he would have taken my words all too seriously the month that followed, we had other tiffs throughout the years. It was just his time to go. The reason for his moving on should be clear enough. If you look at our old headlines, you will notice it was about that time they started hunting a so-called “headless horseman,” as if somebody can be reduced to such a name, a mere monster.