American Girl

A one-act play by Amy Brannon, written and performed at the University of North Florida. 2007

(Dim lights on a cluttered 80’s kitchen in the modest home of single working mother. Male with acoustic guitar sings first verse of ‘American Girl,’ by Tom Petty.)

Well she was an American girl

Raised on promises

She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there

Was a little more to life

Somewhere else

After all it was a great big world

With lots of places to run to

Yeah, and if she had to die

Tryin’ she

Had one little promise

She was gonna keep

Oh yeah,

All right

Take it easy baby

Make it last all night

She was

An American girl

(Lights out.)

(Lights on to BETTY (40) alone in the kitchen, wearing some self-improvement gadget, watching Dr. Phil while washing Ziploc and bread bags. There is a desk with three phones on it, and a pad of paper by each phone.

One of the phones is her home phone, on which she receives personal calls as well as calls from her night job and calls for her cosmetics sales. The other two phones are answering service for two different offices. BETTY misses the parts of the conversation that happen while she’s on the phone.

There are badly played tunes from an electric guitar in the background. Guitar stops, and JONATHAN (20) enters with an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth, carrying an electric guitar, which he plunks on (now without the amp) throughout the scene.)

JONATHAN

Still no sign of her?

BETTY

Did you really expect her on time?

JONATHAN

Why is she even coming? Doesn’t she have class in the morning?

BETTY

Mm hm. But she said this is big news… it can’t wait.

(Phone Two rings)

BETTY

Can you finish these for me?

JONATHAN

(cleaning bags)

Why do you do this?

BETTY

Tell you what… ask me that when you’re paying the bills. Why do you do that?

JONATHAN

You rather I light it?

BETTY

Good evening, Dr. Slaughter’s answering service, may I take a message?

(carries on a muffled conversation while she writes down the message. AMELIA (18) bursts in with great excitement, jumper cables hanging around her neck.)

AMELIA

Yo Bro! Quitting again?

(they hug)

JONATHAN

Thought you ran out of gas already.

AMELIA

I did. But you know I can milk another 10 miles on fumes.

JONATHAN

Yeah, well, quit calling me when you break down.

AMELIA

Don’t worry… you will never have to rescue me again.

JONATHAN

Yeah, right.

(looking at her figure)

What happened to your Thunder Thighs?

AMELIA

(patting her hips)

All gone. You like? Would you believe I’m down to a three?

JONATHAN

Is that an adult size? Here ... fatten up.

(He offers her a donut, she takes a bite and tries to swallow, but gags on it and spits it out. JONATHAN stares at her.)

BETTY

(finishes her message and hangs up the phone)

Geez Amelia. Have you been eating?

AMELIA

(Kisses her)

Nah ... been saving my appetite for these donuts… and the champagne and caviar that are waiting for me.

BETTY

Please tell me you’re eating.

AMELIA

‘Course I eat. Jonathan, got a surprise for you in the car.

JONATHAN

No thanks. Don’t want any more yard sale clothes.

AMELIA

Okay… ignore those… it’s the box on the front seat. You’ll like it.

JONATHAN

That’s what they all say.

(exit)

BETTY

Love the scarf.

AMELIA

(throws the jumper cables on the table)

Oh yeah. Ya’ll can have these back now. Won’t be needin ‘em anymore.

BETTY

You got it fixed? Halleluiah!

AMELIA

Better! I’m getting a whole new car.

JONATHAN

(coming back in the door)

Uh, where’s the Taco Wagon?

AMELIA

It’s at the stop sign.

JONATHAN

Ran out of fumes after all?

AMELIA

(makes a funny face)

JONATHAN

I knew it.

(sits down)

BETTY

Tell me! Tell me!

(AMELIA starts to answer, but Phone Three rings, and BETTY goes to answer it.)

BETTY

Good evening, Calli-Bration’s answering service, may I take a message?

(carries on a muffled conversation while she writes down the message)

AMELIA

(frustrated that the phone interrupted her)

You don’t know nuthin’.

JONATHAN

Shit… I know you better than you know yourself.

AMELIA

Think so, huh? What do you think’s in the box?

JONATHAN

Something used, I’m sure.

AMELIA

You got me there... it’s your payback for the gas money.

JONATHAN

A box of money! Hot dog!

AMELIA

It’s my textbooks. You can sell them at the Book Rack… should get about a hundred bucks for ‘em.

JONATHAN

Selling your books? Don’t you need ‘em for school?

AMELIA

Nope… all done with school.

JONATHAN

All done… as in, dropping out?

AMELIA

As in starting my career now.

BETTY

(hangs up the phone)

Okay, what car?

AMELIA

Company car. Executive.

BETTY

No way!

AMELIA

Way!

BETTY

Eeeeeee!

(they hug and jump around in a circle together)

JONATHAN

Congratulations. But I suggest you get the Taco Wagon out of the intersection before a cop sees it.

AMELIA

Here ya go… all yours.

(tosses keys)

JONATHAN

Hell yeah! It’s about time it made its way to me.

BETTY

Wait a minute … Beachnutts has a company car?

AMELIA

Oh yeah. Didn’t you know? The beer-mobile. No silly. I got a new job.

BETTY

Oh… wow… what is it?

AMELIA

Get this... Driving a race car.

BETTY

Whaaaaat?

JONATHAN

(drops his unlit cigarette)

AMELIA

(picks up the cigarette and breaks it)

Is that a hoot? Oh, don’t worry... I won’t really race ... it’s just for publicity. It’s safe. Mom, it’s awesome! I get an apartment ... a company car ... I have ARRIVED!

BETTY

You won’t really race?

AMELIA

I’m so sure! It’s just for show. There’s no danger. But Mom, EVERYTHING is paid for. Even braces and a nose job!

BETTY

Sweetie, I’m not sure about this--

(Phone Two rings, she goes to answer it.)

Good evening, Dr. Slaughter’s answering service, may I take a message?

(carries on a muffled conversation while she writes down the message.)

AMELIA

What’s to not be sure of? I’m getting paid to just be there… how much safer can you get?

JONATHAN

Wear your seatbelt.

BETTY

(hangs up the phone)

Sweetie, I think you’re getting your hopes up –

AMELIA

-- hopes up hell! It’s a done deal.

(pulls two tickets out of her back pocket and hands them to her)

Whaddaya call this?

JONATHAN

Daytona 500!

AMELIA

(to BETTY)

One for me. One for you.

JONATHAN

Hey now!

AMELIA

Sorry… maybe I can get one more.

BETTY

Where’d you get these?

(Phone One rings, distracting BETTY and she misses AMELIA’s next line)

AMELIA

My new boss. He gave me an extra one… wanted you to see it’s okay.

BETTY

Good Evening, Betty Sam--Oh hi Gordon…

JONATHAN

He wanted your mom to see its okay? Who is this guy?

AMELIA

A business man.

BETTY

… another runaway? oh … really? How far along is she?

JONATHAN

You’re not exactly business material.

BETTY

…Wow… we have to help her…

AMELIA

He’s helping me be a professional woman.

BETTY

…yeah, it’s okay… make her comfortable… I’ll be there at eleven.

AMELIA

Mom, it IS okay. I’ve already checked out the company.

BETTY

What company?

AMELIA

Sports marketing firm.

JONATHAN

(rubs his hands together)

I smell club seats – wait – since when does Ocala have a sports marketing firm? Since when does Ocala have a sports market?

AMELIA

This hick town? It’s in Philadelphia.

BETTY

Philadelphia?

JONATHAN

Pennsylvania?

AMELIA

No – cream cheese, Sherlock.

BETTY

So ... how did you check it out?

AMELIA

Went there... hellooo.

BETTY

You went to Philadelphia?

AMELIA

Yep. Just got back this morning. It’s sooo nice. I can’t WAIT!

JONATHAN

There’s no way the Taco Wagon made it that far…speaking of, I think there’s a can of gas out here.

(exits)

BETTY

How did you get there?

AMELIA

Well, I missed the first flight by five minutes. Can you believe that? The lady at the gate actually pointed at the airplane driving off. Story of my life, huh?

BETTY

You flew to Philadelphia? Without telling me?

AMELIA

Uh ... yeah ... I AM eighteen, you know… Why are you looking at me like that? I didn’t have a chance to call you ... but it was sooo cool. I stayed at the Four Seasons ... right on the historic square downtown ... out my window was this giant swan fountain in the middle, art museum here, some copper dome, Basilica something or other over here... and when I woke up in the morning, there was a marathon starting in the square ... millions of people with tags on their shirts ... as far as I could see down the street ... it was the most unbelievable sight ... I wish you could have been there with me.

BETTY

Me too ... Wish I even knew… What is this company again?

AMELIA

It’s outside of Philly ... ‘bout half an hour ... on a hill. There’s a business department ... art department ... conference room ... My own office even! Right next to the boss.

(Phone One rings, BETTY goes to answer it, while AMELIA tries the donut again, and gags again.)

BETTY

Good evening, Betty Sampson-Taylor, Mary Kay Beauty Specialist. May I help you? …Hello Mrs. Edgar, thank you for returning my call…

JONATHAN

(enters)

Four gallons of gas and the piece o’ shit still won’t start.

(picks up jumper cables)

What’d you do, get the Philly want ads?

AMELIA

Nope. Personal offer from the boss.

JONATHAN

Personal? How’d you meet this guy?

BETTY

We have a special this week…

AMELIA

Last week at Beachnutts…

BETTY

…on the Age-Defying products.

AMELIA

…his name is Daniel! Show some respect, would ya? Matty had me waiting tables cuz it was so slow. He let all the servers go home.

JONATHAN

You met him at a bar! Classic.

AMELIA

We sat in his car talking for a long time.

(BETTY finishes her conversation and hangs up the phone)

AMELIA

He was visiting his parents here in town. He’s super nice. Besides, Laura’s coming with me. There’s a job for her, too, and she can live with me.

BETTY

Laura? I thought you were moving in with Ricardo.

AMELIA

Yeah well… we just want different things in life ... it’s not gonna work out.

BETTY

Whoa! Hold on a minute here... last week you’re talking wedding ... and now... Does Ricardo know about your trip?

AMELIA

MOM! Could you please pay attention? I told you I didn’t get a chance to tell anyone. And don’t tell him. Daniel wasn’t too keen about it.

BETTY

About what?

AMELIA

Ricardo.

BETTY

Coming with you?

AMELIA

Living with me.

BETTY

That doesn’t sound right…

JONATHAN

Let me get this straight... you’re offered a job in a different state ...

AMELIA

Yes.

JONATHAN

Car ... apartment ... plastic surgery ...

AMELIA

Yes.

JONATHAN

By a guy at a bar...

AMELIA

Oh, get over that.

JONATHAN

Who is covering living expenses ...

AMELIA

It’s part of the job!

JONATHAN

For you and your girlfriend ...

AMELIA

So?

JONATHAN

But your boyfriend is out.

AMELIA

Did anybody ask for your input?

JONATHAN

To drive ... a race car?

(He tries to stifle it, but slowly breaks out into full laughter. BETTY hesitantly joins him.)

AMELIA

STOP LAUGHING AT ME YOU TATTOO’D LOSER!

(the room falls silent)

Who the hell do you think you are!? Sitting in your filthy bedroom at your mother’s house … wailing some shit on a guitar you don’t know how to play… you can’t even keep a job … and you’re gonna put down mine? THAT is classic!

BETTY

Honey … calm down … let’s think about this.

JONATHAN

Unbelievable!

BETTY

Excuse me?!

JONATHAN

Ya’ll make me sick. She’s full o’ shit, and you’re oblivious.

BETTY

What are you talking about?!

JONATHAN

Know what? Go sleep your way to the top. It’ll do you good.

AMELIA

MOM?!

(Phone One rings)

BETTY

Jonathan, stop it. Good evening, Dr. Slaughter’s answering service, may I take a message?

AMELIA

(to Jonathan)

You’re out of your mind.

BETTY

Oh, hello Mr. Franklin… yes, Gordon called me... I’ll be there soon…

JONATHAN

Oooh, yeah … play dumb … that looks better.

BETTY

Tuesday? Oh… um… sure… that sounds lovely… Olive Garden… 12:30…got it. See you then.

(Hangs up the phone)

AMELIA

I’m not playing dumb… I know what I’m doing.

BETTY

You do? And what exactly is that?

AMELIA

Taking advantage of a great opportunity.

BETTY

I see... Who is paying for this apartment?

AMELIA

The company is ...or, he is... whatever.

BETTY

Then he’ll have a key, right?

AMELIA

So?

BETTY

And he’ll be able to come in whenever he wants, right?

AMELIA

God Mom! It’s not like he’s going to barge right in without permission.

BETTY

Are you going to give him permission?

AMELIA

I’m not sleeping with him, if that’s what you’re getting at.

BETTY

Are you going to tell him ‘no’?

AMELIA

You’re damn right! I’m not believin’ this . . the best thing that ever happened to me ... Why are you making it into something dirty?

BETTY

Because it is. This deal involves sex.

AMELIA

Maybe for him... not me.

JONATHAN

I like how Jack Nicholson explained women in that movie…

BETTY

Do you think he’ll buy that ... after he sets you up and all?

JONATHAN

(imitating Jack Nicholson)

I think of man…

AMELIA

He’ll have to.

JONATHAN

(imitating Jack Nicholson)

and take away reason, and accountability.

AMELIA

Shut UP!

BETTY

Okay ... say he comes over ... let’s himself in –

AMELIA

--I’ll tell him to leave.

BETTY

And if he doesn’t?

AMELIA

Then I’ll leave.

BETTY

What if he blocks the door?

AMELIA

So I call the cops. GIVE IT A REST!

BETTY

And what will they think?

AMELIA

They’ll think what I tell them.

JONATHAN

(spits out his drink)

BETTY

Honey, it doesn’t work that way.

AMELIA

What else would they think?

JONATHAN

Let’s see ...a man is in an apartment that HE pays for ... his name’s on the lease ... he has his own key... love shack… paid piece – cut and dry.

AMELIA

But that’s not true.

BETTY

Isn’t it?

AMELIA

MOTHER! What do you think I am!?

BETTY

I guess that depends on what you do.

AMELIA

Mom! Of all people… you KNOW me!

BETTY

I thought I did…

AMELIA

You do! You know I am not that kind of girl… If he thinks he can use me, he’s got another think coming… I’ll use him.

BETTY

Use him?

AMELIA

Yes! I’ll get the job… I’ll prove myself… everyone will like me… I’ll have the car, the apartment… be on company payroll… he can’t say anything.

(Phone One rings, BETTY goes to answer it)

BETTY

Betty Sampson-Taylor, Mary Kay Beauty Specialist. May I help you? Hi Gordon… no, it’s okay…

AMELIA

God! Every time you try to talk to her she leaves!

JONATHAN

There’s some runaway at the crisis center.

(Starts to leave with the jumper cables.)

What’s with all the clothes and pictures in your car?

AMELIA

I told you… Daniel’s picking me up here… and she doesn’t have time to hear about it.

JONATHAN

Holy shit! Are you serious?

BETTY

Oh wow…no, I wouldn’t give her that when she’s pregnant… NO, absolutely no phone, we don’t need the boyfriend showing up… yeah… just hang on, I’ll be there soon… okay… yes, the crisis center.

(hangs up the phone)

JONATHAN

Mom… you got a crisis right here.

BETTY

Do you need a ride to school tomorrow?

AMELIA

I’m not going back.

BETTY

WHAT?

AMELIA

You’re not listening! You won’t have to help me any more… I’ll be helping YOU soon.

BETTY

Quitting school is helping me? Out of the question.

AMELIA

That would be MY decision, thank you.

BETTY

And that was MY car I gave you… for school… thank you.

AMELIA

You can have it back now. I found a better way.

BETTY

Better… this is a better way… how did I raise you?

AMELIA

Holy Crap! I am woman, here me ROAR… I can be whatever I want… doctor, lawyer… what a joke!

BETTY

You can’t be whatever you want?

AMELIA

Oh, sure I could… if I had parents like the other students… school paid for… gas cards… visas… a car that works. But no…I’m blessed with a mom who can barely take care of herself, let alone put me through school… and you’re never there.

BETTY

Watch it! I am doing the best I can… I sacrificed a lot…why do I get all the blame? Where’s your dad in all this?

AMELIA

Good question… where is my dad? Oh, that’s right… my sacrificial mom jumped in bed with someone else when things weren’t peachy at home--

BETTY

AMELIA!

AMELIA

--so now I have a dad who doesn’t look back… I don’t know what you thought you were raising, but it sure as hell wasn’t a college graduate… ‘cept the school of hard knocks.

(Phone Three rings)

BETTY

Good evening, Callibrations Ans--…Oh, I’m sorry, Dr. Slaughter’s answering---

(slams the phone down)

JONATHAN

Hard knocks! What do you know about hard? Chicks always know they can find some dude to take care of them. Just shake your ass and you get what you want.

AMELIA

Mom, I BUST my ass for everything I’ve got… while Jethro here barely lifts a finger, and he’s better off than me! It’s not working.

(car horn honks)

JONATHAN

Your chariot awaits, Princess... I’ll go load your stuff so you can get the hell out of here.

(exit with jumper cables)

BETTY

What chariot? What’s going on?

AMELIA

Daniel’s here to pick me up.

BETTY

(show sign of terror)

Amelia… Oh please God…

AMELIA

I have no choice. I can’t go back.

BETTY

WHAT is so bad that you can’t go back to?

AMELIA

I’m DYING ... just dying... I can’t do this.

BETTY

Dying?

AMELIA

(picks up the donut)

I go so long without food ... I can’t even swallow this... same thing last week ... when Tina and Denese took me out to eat...

BETTY

Why don’t you eat?

AMELIA

I’m always broke!

BETTY

What about your paycheck?

AMELIA

Yeah - how ‘bout it? Three roommates breathing down my neck for rent ... gas tank’s always empty ... 350 bucks to that scumbag mechanic ... books another 250 ... 25 for a taxi when the car won’t start ... don’t even work at Gap anymore – you have to wear their clothes, and I can’t buy any ...how about that paycheck, eh mom?

BETTY

(gets her purse)

I’ll loan you money. GIVE. GIVE you the money…Here… here’s a hundred… it’s yours. I’ll give you more on Friday…

AMELIA

Again? And again? It’s not just that ... I have an F in Biology because I didn’t have time to study for the midterm ... AND I keep missing class because my car ... my teachers hate me ... my boss hates me ... my roommates hate me ... I just want to be…FREE.

BETTY

Free? Do I have to remind you? I wanted you to stay here for free… go to CFCC. I’ll pay for your tuition… remember? Yes, you’d have to get a part-time job… but you could live here rent FREE… all the FREE food you could possibly eat… it’s all still here. Take a semester off if you need to… just DON’T GO OUT THAT DOOR!

AMELIA

Moving back home is for failures.

BETTY

What’s quitting for? Winners?

(AMELIA is silent)

Do you know when I first wanted to be a counselor?

AMELIA

Just before the divorce.

BETTY

Try just before the marriage.

AMELIA

If you wanted it that bad, you’d have done it by now.

BETTY

That’s what I thought… but a husband… a house… it was all so comfortable… school could wait. Then kids… school HAD to wait. When you guys got older, I went back… but your dad didn’t like it… I think he was threatened.

AMELIA

Oh, please… don’t blame it on him… it was your decision…

BETTY

Yes, you’re right… it was my decision. But it was hard… he was always mad.

AMELIA

So… what… you hit the hay with someone else?

BETTY

That is none of your business… You wanna know what quitting is? I quit again and again… kept going back… took me SEVEN years to get my two-year degree… And then, when I was finally ready for the university, he pulled the plug.

AMELIA

How could he pull the plug?

BETTY

Easy… I registered for classes, and he stopped payment on the check. He even took my name off the account.

AMELIA

Can he do that?

BETTY

Sure. Whoever pays the bills calls the shots.

AMELIA

Oh my God… what did you do?

BETTY

What could I do? I gave up.

AMELIA

You gave up? Just like that?! After all those years? Just bowed down?

BETTY

I guess you could say that…I felt dead… and alone… worst year of my life.

AMELIA

Was that when I was in 8th grade?

BETTY

That’s about right… why?

AMELIA

That’s when I was Homecoming Queen… Mrs. Tyler helped me through it… you weren’t… there… sort of.

BETTY

Honey… I’m so sorry… I have pictures… where did that dress come from?

AMELIA

She rented it.

BETTY

Did we pay her back?

AMELIA

No… I did some work for her.

BETTY

Honey, I’m sorry… I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer… you… or anyone else.

AMELIA

Apparently there was one person you had something to offer.

BETTY

You’re right… he liked me just the way I am… thought I was getting even… it’s scary how out-of-control you can feel when someone else controls you.

AMELIA

I know what you mean.

BETTY

You do?

AMELIA

That night in Philadelphia… he was talking about sex… this old man… dad’s age…

BETTY

Oh my God.

AMELIA

I wanted to go home… didn’t have any money… no way to get home…

BETTY

Why didn’t you call me?

AMELIA

I don’t know… just cried myself to sleep.

BETTY

Nothing happened?

AMELIA

No.

BETTY

Absolute miracle.

AMELIA

I don’t get it… you quit… but you’re a counselor now.

BETTY

Sort of… without the title… or the degree… or the license… or the pay.

AMELIA

Was it worth it?

BETTY

Of course not… I miss our life.

AMELIA

I miss my allowance.

BETTY

And… to be honest… I still love your dad.

AMELIA

I thought you hated him.

BETTY

Both… weird, huh?

AMELIA

I think he’d take you back.

BETTY

I think so, too… if I didn’t work… didn’t have access to money… did whatever he said… that’s something I can’t go back to. I’d rather miss him from here… Why do you think I have all these jobs? I’d rather work nights… share a car… re-use Ziplocs… get my clothes from yard sales…can’t beat these Liz Claibornes – eight bucks.

(car horn honks)

BETTY

What! He doesn’t even have the decency to come to the door? …Baby, listen…you said you wanted to be free… that’s exactly what I want for you. Is that what this guy is offering?

(JONATHAN enters with sports paraphernalia, throws the jumper cables on the table, gets two more beers.)

JONATHAN

Hey, this guy’s not so bad. Mom, come meet ‘im.

(AMELIA picks up the jumper cables and looks at them as the life she wants to leave, then drops them on the table and exits.)

(BETTY stares at the door in disbelief, then starts hyperventilating.)

BETTY

What have I done? I should’ve paid more attention… I should’ve kept the family together… we should’ve sent you both to college…

(Sound of car driving away. Second verse of “American Girl” by Tom Petty plays, while BETTY runs to the door and cries. JONATHAN is confused, and awkwardly comforts her as the lights dim. The Tom Petty song resumes:)

It was kind of cold that night

She stood alone on her balcony

She could hear the cars roll by

Out on 441

Like waves crashin’ on the beach

And for one desperate moment there

He crept back in her memory

God its so painful

Something that’s so close

And still so far out of reach

Oh yeah, all right

Take it easy baby

Make it last all night

She was an American girl

(As the song dies out, AMELIA enters slowly in a lone spotlight, dejected at having to give up the dream. JONATHAN puts his arm around her.)

JONATHAN

I know.

AMELIA

No… you don’t.

BETTY

I do.

AMELIA

(she hugs BETTY)

Thanks mom.

Repeat first verse of “American Girl”

Well she was an American girl

Raised on promises

She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there

Was a little more to life

Somewhere else

After all it was a great big world

With lots of places to run to

Yeah, and if she had to die

Tryin’ she

Had one little promise

She was gonna keep

Oh yeah,

All right

Take it easy baby

Make it last all night

She was

An American girl