A Play in One Act
By G. L. Horton
copyright © 1999
On a brisk bright Saturday morning in October, JANET is half
humming/half singing "Autumn Leaves" to herself as she
rakes the fallen leaves into a pile in the yard of her big old
house in suburban Boston. Janet is a fiftyish woman with gray
streaked hair and a comfortably padded figure who wears faded
jeans and a green flannel shirt for gardening. ALICE, a neatly
dressed accountant in her mid-to-late twenties who favors beige
silk and linen, enters carrying an armload of flowerpots and some
withered plant material.
Hi. I ummI can see that you're-- I've got this plant
stuff. To recycle. Can I ...?
JANET (with a welcoming smile)
Sure. Just add it to the pile. When I'm done raking, I'll stuff
it all into the special bags.
The special bags?
JANET (shows her one of the bags)
The town sells these special bags for yard waste. Turns into compost,
bags and all.
Are dead houseplants yard waste?
Sure. Throw em right in. Wait--! What about your potting
They don't allow dirt?
Dirt's fine. But don't you want to save it?
No, thanks. I'm giving up on plants.
Some are a lot easier than others.
ALICE (holding out dead flowers)
Not for my brown thumb. Would you believe this stuff used to be
a bouquet? I was supposed to put it in water. I feel embarrassed
telling you, your garden is so pretty
Don't think of them as failed flowersthink compost!
From my kitchen window I can see those tall pink and purplish
JANET (indicates bed where cosmos are growing)
Cosmos. Your pink cosmos were a big reason I moved in here.
JANET (bowing graciously)
Were they? Well, flower lovers are particularly welcome.
But I kill them!
JANET (melodramatic recitation)
"Each man kills the thing he loves". Don't worry. Flowers
I thought bouquets all came sealed in little plastic water tubes.
Do they, now? It's been so long --
(handsome, well-built DANNY, about ALICE's age, comes jogging
by. He glances appreciatively at ALICE, not noticing JANET. JANET
G'morning, Danny. Gorgeous day!
DANNY (slows down, turns back to give a little wave)
Uh-- hi. (jogs on by)
Do you know Danny?
I may have seen him...
Every sunny day Danny brightens up our lives by running around
the block in his skimpy shorts. At least so far he has: May to
October. Surely you've noticed him. With a body like that--?
I only moved here in July.
A hundred times around, and you haven't met him yet?
I tend to work late.
Well, Dan'll be back here in no time, I'll introduce you. This
might be your last chance-- the last of the perfect days. The
weatherman is predicting rain, followed by sleet and a hard frost.
Weathermen love that. Like they are the weather, masters of the
universe--. (ALICE kicks gently at some leaves, looks up at the
The leaves are almost all gone, and I never came out to appreciate
You're out now.
Too much of my life is cubicled.
Cubicled! Right. Too much of my life was kitchened. I didn't know
what I was missing, all those years my husband did the leaves.
Raking's lovely, a kind of harmonious activity. Like rowing, or
waltzing. The slanted sun, the intense October colors, the tang
in the air. And when you gather up an armload of leaves, the smell's
so ripe--! I feel so alive I can barely stand it.
I feel sort of guilty. As if I should be in school.
A late fall day like this is a gift. No guilt allowed. You know
in your bones that winter's coming; it's not far behind.
The farther the better. Winter, everything just gets harder.
I wouldn't think you were of an age to notice that.
How could I not notice? Longer commute, double the work load,
my boss gets Seasonal Disorder. On top of that my class will have
Class? Then you are in school!
I never said guilt feelings made sense.
So many shoulds, so little time-- . You know what I miss? The
smell of burning leaves. When I was a girl, the men and boys would
rake all the neighborhood leaves into a huge pile, and make them
into a bonfire.
Wasn't that dangerous?
Maybe. Though the worst I can remember is some singed grass and
a toasted trouser cuff or two. Still, the pollution--Oh, it's
so hard to think of that glorious smell as pollution! Smoke so
rich and strange, it turned our shabby suburb into an Indian campground,
our scrubby woods into the forest primeval. We kids'd grab a branch
out of the bonfire and dash around like dragons, spewing smoke
and sparks and shrieking like banshees.
Sounds dangerous to me.
No more than leaf-messing: jumping and dancing and sliding and
throwing leaf balls and trying to stuff em down each other's
The grown-ups didn't freak?
Guess not. Of course, kids who were caught red handed had to clean
it all up. Or if somebody was hurt, maybe they got a spanking.
Try it today--
When I think of the way we used to play in the woods! Where the
grown-ups never came to bother us. Trees: chopped and carved and
swung down flat. Traps set, pits dug, streams dammed. Of course,
all that no man's land is now subdivision. The trees are all in
parks and gardens. Today, we'd be vandals. I feel so sorry that
DANNY (enters, jogging a second round)
Hey there, Mrs. E!
Hey yourself, Dan.
Great day for a run, eh?
I'd say perfect. But you're the expert.
Perfect. A really great day to be out.
Your friend here was warning me that this may be one of the last.
Winter is a cumin' in.
Fine by me. I got my skis, got my snowboard.
Danny's the wee braw lad in my third floor front.
Hidden in the landlady's attic. Except when I'm out running around.
This nice young woman is our new neighbor. We haven't exchanged
name rank and serial, though, so I can't introduce--.
Sorry. I'm Alice Notsinger. I have the second floor apartment
DANNY (shake hands)
Daniel Reeb. Danny. So, how do you like the neighborhood?
I think it's great. All these well kept lawns and old houses.
It's like, stability.
Who would guess they've all been cut up into flats? Or that the
average tenant turnover is two point one years?
The important thing for me is that it really feels safe. Living
alone, driving up to park after dark or coming home late on the
train--- safety's my first consideration.
Yeah, I can appreciate. There are a lot of places around where
you'd be looking over your shoulder. Course, those places offer
you more space for less rent. But a good looking single woman
who has to work late...that's how you said, right? You work long
Usually. But not always. Accounting's seasonal.
Seasonal's like what? Christmas and New Year's?
The kind I do, yes.
So that's what you do.
Uh huh. (pause)
Alice is going to school, too.
In the off season.
Taking what kind of classes?
But you said you're already--?
To get my CPA.
That's --uh-- that's the way. To-- uh--.go. Way to go.
She's ambitious, huh?
Yeah! Still. S'lotta work, accounting.
From January first to April fifteenth it is.
Fourteen hours a day.
You must really like numbers.
But-- I mean, that much?
What I really like is money.
Oh yeah. Money! (they all laugh)
Great stuff, money. If you also got time for spending it.
Oh, I will. One of these days.
But not any time soon.
Well, I guess it's time to do another go-round. Work up a little
sweat before I head for the shower. Nice meeting you, uh-
Alice. (turns to go)
Danny? (DANNY turns back) Have a nice day.
DANNY (smiles, waves)
You too, Mrs. E. (runs off, while the women watch him appreciatively)
What's the E stand for?
Elkin. Janet Elkin.
Have you always lived here?
My husband and I bought this place in sixty nine. For the schools.
It was a duplex then. When Allen died I figured out that 2 roomers
on the third floor would just about take care of the mortgage.
Are your roomers all like Danny?
Male roomers come in three sorts: bitter just divorceds, lonesome
foreigners, and happy go lucky overgrown boys.
Most of my roomers are women, though. Women with safety their
first concern. Serious women, who are temporarily on a limited
budget. In my opinion, they are too serious. But maybe when they're
with their own age they're different.
(JANET begins filling one of the special bags with leaves)
I doubt it. That is, if they're serious around you
laughs, embarrassing ALICE) I didn't mean--! Can I give you some
help with that bag?
Not in those clothes.
How should we be different? We serious ones?
Oh, I don't know. Spend a little time in useless beauty? Notice
nature's seasons as well as the IRS's? Maybe even make safety
secondary? But your whole generation--. When I was young, women
didn't have careers, they had "interests". Picked up
smatters of everything. All superficial, of course. Men were the
serious ones-- but Lord, were they boring. Nothing but work, work,
It's a different world, the new economy. Women especially. We're
expected to be totally focused on the job, -- but have one eye
out looking for the next one.
Makes me crosseyed just thinking about it.
(holding a leaf up to admire the effect of light on its coloration)
All work and no play---
ALICE (primly, with folded arms)
Well, all play, like your roomer there--
Danny'd better get focused, or he'll be forty and living in a
JANET (batting the leaf away)
Oh, Danny's focused. He's scanning for playmates. Career girls
and landladies don't show up on his screen.
Well, besides that he's clueless, he's awfully young. So why should
JANET (businesslike, back to stuffing leaves into the bag)
If I were Danny's age, and he were mine,-- then should I care?
What do you mean?
A fiftyish man attracted to a twenty something woman.
Men! I'd say grow up and get over it.
Fifty may feel it has something to share.
What randy old guys "share" is the loot they've piled
up: a lifetime of better jobs at higher pay.
JANET (throws her armful of leaves at ALICE, laughing)
So cynical, so soon? Lighten up, young lady!
Mrs. Elkin! What are you doing--?
JANET (dumping leaves from bag, throwing them up to rain down)
Playing! I'm playing. While there's still time.
(threatens to stuff leaves down ALICE's silk shirt)
Stop that! (JANET laughs, backs off and gently tosses leaves at
JANET (singing, while dancing and laughing at the same time)
"The leaves belong to everyone. The best things in life are
JANET (trying to calm down and stop laughing)
Janet! I'm Janet. Don't be offended! Please, Alice. Forgive me.
You'll be the better for it.
You're so--. You took me by surprise.
I didn't mean to scare you. I know we're all supposed to pretend
we're grown-ups. Especially past fifty. I understand, and I try.
But on an autumn day like this, so perfect, and maybe the last--!
It's too much. Inside, like you, I'm still fifteen.
Fifteen? Fifteen was terrible! (pause. Decides) Will you let me
Sure. If eleven's what you really are.
ALICE (picks up a handful of leaves)
You promise cross your heart never to tell! OK? Then, you're it!
(hits JANET with leaves, runs tag-fashion, laughing)
DANNY (-- how long has he been watching?-- joins in)
Hey! Hey, I want to play, too! Can I play too?
(They all run and romp as the lights fade.)