A family man who served in the military and later retires to he and his wife’s hometown
(at ages 5-, 14-, and 18 -years old)
Daughter and oldest child of BRUCE and his wife, EVE, Adores her father.
Typical military spouse who manages her family during BRUCE’s many and long deployments.
A New York State Trooper that comes to visit the Joneses.
Youngest child, son of BRUCE and EVE.
[The stage is initially dark except for a light on the main character, BRUCE JONES, dressed in a green canvas coat and wearing a brown fedora, looks at the audience to the side of the stage. ]
BRUCE: (Begins slowly, reminiscing) I still remember it. I was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio. I would drive for nearly two hours south to find public hunting lands to hunt squirrels. (He sighs.) There was this one little church on the way—outside of Hillsboro—small, white-washed. Nothing spectacular. It had a marquis out front, and there was always some clever saying on that sign. I can’t recall any of those witticisms except for one. One early fall day, it read, “Regret looks back. Despair looks down. Hope looks forward. Faith looks up. That was a long time ago. ”
(BRUCE changes coats and removes his fedora—now wearing a military style field jacket and hat. The lights turn up, and there is his wife, EVE, dressed in a nightgown, looking down into a crib.)
EVE: She’s beautiful. Our first child. She’s so tiny and perfect.
BRUCE: (smiling) Just like her mother.
EVE: (Turns briefly to look at Bruce) Suck up. (Turns back to the child.) We talked about several names for her, but I like the name, “Susan.”
BRUCE: (Nodding) Susan it is then.
(They continue staring at the bassinet when Eve turns back to Bruce.)
EVE: Will you deploy again to Iraq or Afghanistan soon?
BRUCE: It’s a certainty. They’ll only give us a couple of months to get settled with Susan, but after that, I’ll have to pull my weight. It’s a long time till retirement, but someday, we’ll head back home. Back to our little farm, and I can chase raccoon with our hounds and Dad again. Or should I say Grandpa now?
EVE: (Laughs weakly) Yes—both our fathers are now technically “Grandpas.” (Not sounding overjoyed) I understand about you leaving again. But at least you’ll be around for a little while, helping me change diapers and midnight feedings.
BRUCE: Of course. What’s facing enemy sniper fire after changing stinky diapers?
EVE: (She looks back at the bassinet.) She’s so peaceful. . . Now.
BRUCE: (He looks up.) I think it’s going to be a sunny day.
Lights dim on Eve and the bassinet. Bruce steps into the light again, still wearing his military jacket.
BRUCE: The next five years were filled with many deployments overseas for me. Eve and our little Susan endured many long separations, bravely, as I left them, time and again. But then, one day, we had another wonderful new addition to our family. . . .
The lights turn on the crib again. Eve and 5-year-old Susan stare at the crib. Susan is wearing a red dress, white stockings, and shiny black shoes.
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: (Scrunches up her face) He’s all wrinkly!
EVE: (Laughing) Honey, all babies are wrinkly.
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: Was I wrinkly?
EVE: Yes, dear, even you were wrinkly when you were born. (Eve looks away.)
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: (Tugging on Bruce’s arm) Is that true, Daddy? Was I all wrinkly like that?
[Bruce shakes his head until Eve looks at him, and then he quickly nods. When Eve turns back to looking at the bassinet, Bruce begins shaking his head again for Susan to see. Susan smiles back and winks at Bruce.]
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: (Leaning into Bruce, one hand to the side of her mouth, in a loud whisper) But I’m still your favorite, right, Daddy?
BRUCE: (With a big smile) Mmm-hmm. Always.
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: Promise?
BRUCE: I promise. Cross my heart.
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: (Turning to Eve) What’s wrinkly bottom’s name, Mommy?
EVE: We’re going to name him, “Liam,” dear.
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: Did you say, “Leave him,” Mommy? Why, we just got him!
EVE: (Eyes narrowing as she looks at Susan) You’re not fooling anyone, young lady. You heard me perfectly well. His name is Liam, which is the shortened Scottish version of William.
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: (Looking in the bassinet) He certainly is short!
EVE: (Turns to Bruce) Another deployment?
BRUCE: Yeah, I’m afraid so. Nearly halfway to retirement now. Dad cleared some acreage for us back home. We’ll have that log cabin we’ve always dreamed of! Horses, and cows, and--
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: (Interrupting) And coonhounds! Right, Daddy?
BRUCE: (Smiling) Oh, yes! We can’t forget them now, can we?
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: Can I go with you coon hunting with you? Into the woods? At night? I mean, girls can go chasing ringtails, too, right?
BRUCE: Of course, girls can go!
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: But what about scary things in the dark?
BRUCE: There’s nothing there at night in the forest that isn’t there in the day.
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: That’s what I mean, Daddy! There’s a lot of scary things in the forest during the daytime, too, you know! Tell me more about going coon hunting, please.
Eve looks away from the bassinet for a moment, with a knowing smile, and then turns her eyes back to infant Liam. Bruce sits in a nearby chair, and Susan kneels nearby, putting her hand atop her chin on Bruce’s leg.
BRUCE: It’s a magic of sorts—being out there in the forests with your hounds at night. When your hound first strikes a raccoon, his voice filling the night air, the blood rushes from your head while your air rushes away from your lungs. . .
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: (Interrupting, shaking her head) That doesn’t sound healthy, Daddy.
BRUCE: (Laughing) Oh, I assure you, dear, there’s nothing more exhilarating! And then the dog begins tracking the raccoon, trail barking all the way until he finally finds the tree where the raccoon climbed up. And on a cloudless night, you can see so many, many stars, away from the lights of the city. Closer to God really.
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: You miss going out in the woods, huh, Daddy? But I’m still afraid of what goes bump in the night!
BRUCE: (laughing) I do miss it. Very much so. Someday, I’ll do it again. And don’t worry, it’s the coon hunters who are the ones that go bump in the night.
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: (Face scrunched up) Why? Do you fall down a lot?
BRUCE: (Laughing with a nod) Sometimes. I have to go now. I’ll be home soon.
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: (Looking sad) Come back soon, Daddy. Promise?
BRUCE: I will. I promise. Cross my heart.
The lights go down.
[When the lights go back up, there are two small desks with chairs, backs to each other. In one chair, Bruce is wearing a military coat and sitting, writing a letter on the desk. In the other chair, a now 14-year-old Susan, wearing a long-sleeved red shirt and black shoes, is also writing.]
14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Writing) Dear Daddy, Mom says that you were promoted to Major while you were in Afghanistan. Is that true? So proud of you! By the way—Mom says she still outranks you.
BRUCE: (Also writing) Dear Susan, yes—they had a lovely ceremony for me over here. A general actually pinned on my oak leaves with a camel in the background! And your mother will always outrank me.
14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Giggling) So, I guess that makes you a major pain in the butt now, huh?
BRUCE: (Laughing) Yeah, I guess, so.
14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: Dear Daddy, did you see the pictures of my new nail polish? Did you like that color?
[A small boy, Liam, runs on stage and whispers something into Susan’s ear. He then immediately runs off stage.]
BRUCE: (Hesitating) Dear Susan, Uhm . . . About that neon green nail polish . . . I would have to say . . .
14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Interrupting) Dear Major Daddy, Do I have pretty eyes? Liam says I don’t.
BRUCE: (Sighs) Why, yes! Yes, you do. Tell Liam that he’s wrong. Major Daddy says so.
14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: Daddy, Liam is asking questions about girls. He wants to know if he can write and ask you about girls? He’s so silly.
BRUCE: (Smiling confidently as he begins to write) Why of course! Well, when it comes to girls. . .
EVE: (Walks in right at this moment, looks over Susan’s shoulder at the letter.) Your father doesn’t know anything about girls. (She walks off stage.)
14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Writing) Never mind. Mom says you don’t know anything about girls.
Clearly frustrated, Bruce drops his pen, throwing his hands in the air.
14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Writing again) Daddy—can I ask you about boys?
BRUCE: (Smiling confidently again, picking up his pen ) Well now, when it comes to boys . . .
EVE: (Walks in again, looking over Susan’s shoulder, whisper in her ear) Don’t bother. He doesn’t know anything about boys, either. (Eve walks off stage again.)
Simultaneously, 14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN (writing and reading aloud) and BRUCE (reading): Never mind, Mom says you don’t know anything about boys, either.
Again, Bruce drops his pen, throwing both hands in the air, leaning back in his chair.
14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Writing) It’s been nearly a year now, Daddy, since you deployed. Mom says you put in your retirement paperwork. Is that true?
BRUCE: (Writing again) Yes. I think it’s time that I spent some time with our family. I’m not getting any younger, and the Air Force will do just fine without me.
14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Writing) Daddy, promise me that you’ll come home soon. I miss you. Love, Susan. P.S. I’ve counted. I’ve written you 106 letters while you’ve been deployed.
BRUCE: I promise. Cross my heart. I’ll see you, soon. I miss you, too. Love, Dad. (Bruce stands and looks as if out a window.) I can see the horizon. P.S. You’ve written 109 letters—you must have forgotten the three letters you sent me while I was in Qatar.
[The lights go dim. The chairs are pulled away to show a couch with end tables. 14-year-old Susan walks off stage. Bruce doffs his military jacket and hat and puts on a green canvas coat and sits on the sofa with Eve stands nearby. Now, 18-year-old Susan walks onto the stage. She wears a short-sleeved red blouse and jeans.]
EVE: Susan! My, you’re up early this morning!
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Hugging Eve) Morning, Mom! It’s Rebecca Doherty’s birthday today, and they’re having a party for her tonight. (Sheepishly looking around Eve at Bruce.) Is it okay if I go to the party, Dad?
BRUCE: Well, where is this party?
EVE: It’s out at Smith’s pond.
BRUCE: Smith’s pond? I remember that place when I was a boy! That’s out in the middle of the woods. (Eyes narrow.) Aren’t you still afraid of what goes bump in the night anymore?
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (With a wry grin) Wouldn’t that just be you falling down in the forests chasing behind your coonhounds?
BRUCE: (Head falls for a moment) Where is Liam, this morning?
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: Oh, Liam’s just lifting weights out back again. He lifted up his shirt to show me his stomach. He said he has six pack abs—and he really does! (She looks closely at BRUCE.) And you Dad—you have a keg!
(Bruce’s head falls again.)
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: So, can I go, Daddy?
BRUCE: You’re 18, so I suppose so. When do you want me to drop you off?
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: Well, Bobby Winston said he would take me, so I thought. . .
BRUCE: (Interrupting, eye narrowing) Bobby Winston? The Bobby Winston?
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Turning away with her arms folded across her chest) Yes, Dad, the Bobby Winston. (Susan shakes her head.)
EVE: What’s the problem here? Wasn’t he the nice young man who took you to the prom a few months ago?
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: Yes. But Dad asked Bobby if he’d ever been coon hunting before!
EVE: So, had he?
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Turning to face Eve) No!
EVE: So, what’s the problem? He certainly wouldn’t have had to go coon hunting to take you to the prom!
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: That’s not it, Mom! Dad told him that if I were back so much as one minute after 10 o’clock, he’d take Bobby coon hunting with him.
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: So-o-o-o, Dad explained there were plenty of places to hide a body in these woods where it would never be found!
EVE: (Turning to Bruce) Bruce Jones! You didn’t!
BRUCE: (Smiling broadly) Oh, but I did.
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Pleading) Is it okay if he takes me to the party, Daddy?
BRUCE: Well, all right. But tell Bobby that mandatory coon hunt is in effect is he brings you back after. . .
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: Midnight?
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: Eleven?
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Wincing slightly) Ten . . . thirty?
BRUCE: (Sighing) Ten-thirty, then. Promise?
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: I promise! Thank you, Dad!
(Susan rushes off stage.)
BRUCE: (Yelling after her) And not ten thirty-one!
[The lights go down. There’s a loud knocking. Bruce crosses the stage, to greet a man dressed as a New York State Trooper.]
BRUCE Yes, officer, can I help you?
TROOPER: My name is Trooper Brown. Are you Mr. Bruce Jones?
BRUCE: (Fearfully) I am.
TROOPER BROWN: Sir, there’s been a terrible car accident tonight. The driver, Bobby Winston, is alive, but your daughter, Susan . . . She. . . She didn’t make it, sir. I’m so very sorry for your loss.
Bruce drops to his knees, head bent.
TROOPER BROWN: Sir, we’ll need you to go down to the hospital to identify her.
[The lights on Trooper Brown fades.]
[A light comes on a table with a blanket draped over a motionless figure. Bruce and Eve walk to the table, but to opposite ends. They both stare at the blanketed figure for several moments.]
EVE: (grasping blanket to pull it away to show face of 18-year-old SUSAN, sobbing) It’s her. That is our daughter.
BRUCE: (Grasping the other end of the table, pulling back the blanket to reveal the 5-year-old SUSAN) It’s her. That’s my little girl.
The lights fade, Eve walks slowly off the stage.
BRUCE: (Alone on the stage, falls to his knees) There is no more looking up. No more looking forward. I endure. I exist. But I’m not alive. A husk filled with only memory. [He pauses.] I can only look down now. I can only look back.
[The lights fade.]
[Bruce stands, dons his green coat, a headlamp, and holds a walking stick. A black and tan coonhound joins him on stage, and he holds the coonhound’s leash. He takes a few steps forward. He looks down and back.]
5-year old Susan, dressed in her red dress and black shoe, walks on stage in front of him, but he won’t face her.]
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: I’m still here, Daddy. (She kneels, and the hound goes to her as she strokes his head.)
BRUCE: (Still looking back) I can sometimes hear you in the forests here, you know.
5-YEAR OLD SUSAN: I know you can. Daddy. You have to look this way to see me.
BRUCE: I miss you.
5-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: I know, Daddy. But you have to look forward.
BRUCE: There is only shadow ahead. Only rain now from above
5-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: No, Daddy—that’s not true! I’m here. Cross my heart.
[5-year-old Susan walks off stage. 14-year-old Susan walks on stage, red shirt and black shoes. 14-year-old Susan tries to get in front of Bruce, but he turns away again. She kneels to pet the hound.]
BRUCE: (Looking down, voice breaking) I failed you. I wasn’t there when you needed me.
14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: You were always there when I needed you. Maybe not always physically thre, but there were the many moments together that I so cherished. And there were the letters.
BRUCE: (Nodding slowly, the slightest of smiles emerging) Yes, there were the letters. I remember them well. I have them all, still. One hundred nine of them.
14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: I know. Can you still see the stars at night, when you’re out here coon hunting, Daddy?
BRUCE: I’m not sure if they are there. I don’t look up anymore.
14-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: Oh, but they are there, Daddy! (She starts to walk off the stage but turns back quickly.) P.S. I still love you.
14-year-old Susan walks off stage as 18-year-old Susan walks on stage, red blouse, black shoes.)
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: You have to look up, Dad. (She looks up at the sky.) You were right—the heavens are so beautiful at night.
BRUCE: (Lifting his head slightly, giving a passing glance up) Are they . . . Still?
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: Yes, they are! And, you really did know about boys. You were certainly right about Bobby Winston. . . .
BRUCE: (Turning his head halfway see her, eye narrowing) How right?
18-year-old SUSAN (arms behind her, toeing the ground with one foot, laughing nervously) Let’s just leave sleeping dogs lie. Okay?
BRUCE: I can still take Bobby on a coon hunt . . .
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (exasperated) Dad!
They both laugh.
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Walking closer) Dad—you have so much more to give in this life. There’s Mom, and yeah, wrinkly butt Liam, too. But you can’t live your life looking down and looking back. You’ll run into things that way.
BRUCE: (Shifts slightly toward Susan) What sort of things?
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Softly) Your past.
BRUCE: (Turning away again) But you’re in the past. You’re only in my memory. That’s the only place where I can find you. The only place I want to be.
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: No, Dad! That’s where you’re wrong. I’m ahead of you—not behind! I’m just waiting where you can’t see me. Someday, though, we’ll be together again.
18-YEAR-OLD SUSAN: (Smiles) I promise. Cross my heart
18-year-old SUSAN waves goodbye, exits the stage, leaving Bruce alone with his hound.
(Bruce miles slowly with a few nods, first looking to the hound, sighs, and then looks up to the sky. He removes his headlamp, smiles at his hound for a moment, donning his beaten fedora)
BRUCE: Dawn’s coming. You know, I think I can see the sun starting to rise.
Fade to black.
It must have been over forty years ago, he reckoned.
With his headlamp turned off, the coon hunter stood alone in the cool, nighttime woods, listening for his black and tan hound, Tye, to open on a raccoon’s trail. He waited patiently, for here was something he’d not seen in a very long time.
In the silver moonlight, the middle-aged man could see an old foundation with its stones aligned so perfectly. It was right where his father had told him it would be. The full moon had also shone on that fall’s night decades previous, offering a warm familiarity, when he’d been but a boy.
His memory rebuilt the stone foundation that had supported three wooden walls of a long-abandoned, two-story hotel. The fourth wall had fallen to reveal the inner rooms that even back then had not seen a paying guest in many years. His father had explained the hotel had once served as a way station for teamsters to get fresh horses for their wagons as they traveled from nearby Watkins Glen with their produce bound for the markets in Corning.
Then, as he was now, they’d been coon hunting. Their bluetick hound, Duke, searched through that ancient inn’s rooms on both floors. As the boy’s flashlight beam played on the interior, his father had explained that raccoon had likely been playing in the old building and perhaps even called it their home. Duke, nose down, traipsed through the dilapidated structure, trying to sort it all out.
Further, he recalled there had been a decaying wooden sign nearby. Its faded letters were still legible back then and read, “Bridge Out, April 1917.” He could recall the deteriorating bridge, then spanning the creek across stone abutments. Tonight, only the abutments and some rusting steel girders, fallen into the creek bed nearly thirty feet below, acted as a final remaining testament that the bridge had ever existed.
A ghostly echo of Duke’s triumphant voice sounded in his mind as the bluetick finally figured the track out. The older man smiled, remembering the wonder of it all. He wasn’t sure how long he’d stood there with that resurrected night from his youth, but the long hunter sensed something by his side.
The present had come calling on four legs.
The coon hunter looked down to see Tye, who had returned to ensure all was okay. The nearly eight-year-old hound brushed up against the man’s leg, unsure of what had caused his partner’s delay to follow down the trail.
The man gently placed a hand on his coonhound’s head. “I found a memory, Tye. Go find a ringtail. I’ll be along shortly.”
Satisfied everything was fine, the faithful dog ran into the night—his image absorbed by the darkness beyond the moonlight’s reach.
A short while later, Tye’s barrel voice rang out in the nighttime, breaking the man’s reverie and reminding him that it was time to honor the commitment and follow his hound wherever that might be.
With a flip of a switch on his helmet, he turned on his headlight and started toward Tye’s beckoning, walking deeper into those woods, each step returning to the present.
It was going to be a good night.