General Script posted September 24, 2022 Chapters:  ...19 20 -21- 

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The Utilitarian Poem

A chapter in the book The Incomparable Fanny Barnwarmer

Incomparable Fanny Barnwarmer 21

by Jay Squires




Reporter: Robert Holmdahl. Mid-thirties. Back in Brady, Texas from New York City where he works for the New York Times. It was but a week earlier that he had been on assignment in Brady to write a human-interest story about the famous Fanny Barnwarmer.
Thomas Maples: Owner and editor of the Brady Sentinal. The first person Fanny met when she moved to Brady City, in 1885. At age 89, he is thin and spry and walks without support.
The Spirits: The much younger version of Fanny and Juniper.

SETTING: Nearly dark, at the Brady Cemetery. DOWN-CENTERSTAGE, a long, wide rectangle of impacted dirt, slightly rounded. Some bouquets and stemmed flowers on top. Behind, and occupying the remainder of the stage, are tombstones and plots. As a backdrop, a silhouette of oak trees lines the cemetery, and a few oaks grow among the gravestones. 

PLACE/TIME: Brady, Texas, 7:00 PM, Saturday, August 17, 1929.

AT RISE: THE REPORTER and THOMAS MAPLES stand DOWNSTAGE CENTER in front of the freshly covered grave. The podium, chairs, ropes, and pulleys have been removed. All funeral guests have gone. FANNY and JUNIPER are still sitting, leaning together near where the podium had stood before. They fairly glow in their white gowns, billowing about them.

Thank you for standing strong against Parson Rabbins. Without you doing your work in the background, I doubt that he would ever have let this happen.

Well … no, I suspect he wouldn’t. I had some people working on it with me, though. The attorney Jenkins had his son check out the precedence. Double-occupied caskets had been done … usually when both mother and child die in childbirth. But all it takes is precedent to squelch it. Young Jenkins confirmed there have been no legal rulings against it federally, or on the state, county, or city level. Even so, it was new to Brady.

Still, I’ll bet Parson Rabbins didn’t take the news lying down—I mean, you know, without resistance. 

Reckon not. I knew he’d exert his power with his congregation. That’s him. He couldn’t let the funeral go on without a protest. But the bottom line is that he knows the power of the press, especially in a small town—most especially when there is only one newspaper.

(Shifting his balance from one leg to the other)
Mister Maples …

It’s Tom.

(Scratching behind his ear)
Sorry. It’s the way I was raised, I guess. I could never get past calling her …
(Dipping his head toward the fresh grave)

... Miss Fanny.

[FANNY and JUNIPER pull back and smile at each other, then lean their heads back together]

Well, she earned it. Now me … I’m just a tired old ink and paper man—an older version of yourself, probably. So, try the name on for size, Bob.

It’s kind of awkward just coming out and saying it now … Tom. Oh, and I prefer Robert.

Oh. So, what were you going to ask before we got sidetracked?

I was —well … it’s not important. Not really.

I think it was … from the way you’re fidgeting.

Back when you were speaking in front of the folks, talking about you and Miss Fanny… were you …? I don’t know—

Pshaw, Robert! Don’t you recognize posturing when you see it? I just borrowed from Fanny's act and dang well convinced every last one of 'em why Fanny and Juniper should be buried together.

[FANNY and JUNIPER pull away from each other to look up inquiringly at MAPLES]

(Studying MAPLES)
Hmmm. Gotta say, though, you sure brought it off well. The tears and all … I saw their faces. I don’t think a person there—

Good! It worked! Now … It’s starting to get dark. You wanted to see Flourney’s gravesite.

Then … we’re finished … here?

(Drifting to silence)

(Glancing first at the grave, then at the REPORTER, he takes in some air and lets it out through fluted lips)
Yes. It is over. Time to move on.

Tell you what. It won’t take me a moment. But how about if, first

(pointing OFFSTAGE LEFT)
I go over to that grassy spot there for just a few minutes? I’d like to organize my notes before we get to the other gravesite.

As you wish …

[MAPLES watches him turn his back and amble off, UPSTAGE LEFT and then OFFSTAGE. Then MAPLES looks back at the grave, turns, and takes the few steps to stand beside it. FANNY AND JUNIPER’S eyes stay fixed on him. Shoulders slumped, he looks down at the grave, then bending, plucks a stemmed flower from a bouquet and slowly spins it in his fingers continuing to stare at the mound. As if by silent agreement, FANNY gets up from the still-sitting JUNIPER and moves in behind MAPLES. Then, just as she begins to open her arms, he kneels down, with some difficulty, to the grave. FANNY’S gown blooms beneath her as she kneels, as well. MAPLES casts a quick glance at the REPORTER, and then places the flower on the grave and flattens his palm beside it. Breathing out something between a sigh and a moan, he falls face forward upon the mound and lies still, save for his shoulders, which are bobbing. FANNY watches him for a moment, then gently lowers herself until she’s lying obliquely across his back, her head next to his. For a long moment, they remain in that position, then FANNY slowly disengages, gets to her feet, and joins Juniper. MAPLES continues lying on the mound, very still.] 

Mister Maples—Tom!

(He enters, UPSTAGE LEFT, and sprints to MAPLES’ side)

(Jerking at the REPORTER’S voice, he pulls himself up, with quivering arms) to the hands-and-knees position)
I hear ya Robert—I’m fine. I’m fine. If you’ll just hoist me to my feet …

(Helping him up)
But are you okay? Did you fall? I thought you were dead? I don’t think I could endure another funeral here!

It’s these damn legs. Dead?! Oh, hell man—don’t be so dad-blamed dramatic!

You almost gave me a heart attack!

I told you I’m fine! Now … Robert … If we’re gonna see Flourney’s grave before it gets pitch dark, we’d best be heading out.

(Draping his arm across MAPLES’ back)
Let me help you. How far away is it?

It’s over yonder. Past where you were sitting.

(As they cross to UPSTAGE LEFT, MAPLES can be seen squirming to get out from under the REPORTER’S arm)
Quit being such a mother hen! 

[The two EXIT UPSTAGE LEFT, continuing to talk (extemporaneously). FANNY and JUNIPER follow behind and EXIT as the curtain closes]


[The curtain opens to a new setting: CENTERSTAGE is a huge statue that looms above all the small gravestones covering the rest of the stage. The statue sits within a ten-foot square of wrought iron fencing. MAPLES and the REPORTER enter DOWNSTAGE RIGHT, followed by FANNY and JUNIPER, who overtake them, arriving at the statue, where they turn, smiling, watching the others’ faces intently]

(Staring, mouth hung open, first at the stature, then at a grinning MAPLES)
What?! I see it but I can’t believe—is that—?

I wish Fanny could see your face.

It’s Flourney, all right, but I reckon it's unlike any Flourney you could ever imagine seeing. Fanny got an old newspaper cartoon from eighty-five … of Flourney with a judge hanging out of his pocket.

I know it! I know the one. So the stone carver made Flourney’s head in caricature from that cartoon.

Yes, but what I like is how he captured Flourney’s comical expression just after fate had unraveled the threads at the top of the gunnysack and had it fall to his shoulders. You can even make out one of the eyeholes—see it?—within the folds of gunnysack on his right shoulder. See…? It’s like Hemslin—that’s the carver I commissioned—caught Flourney’s face with the baffled look of someone who’d just been discovered! And now he can never hide behind his anonymity.

Genius! I can see why it would cost twenty-two hundred dollars!

But wait! Speaking of that … there would still have been better than nine-thousand dollars left in that account. 

You mean what happened to it?

Always the reporter! Yes, it’s about that amount. Fanny called what remained miscellaneous upkeep. As a matter of fact, I’m putting it all in the Brady Bank Monday morning. Might as well draw interest—pull it out only when needed.

But upkeep!

Yes! They’d just done the cleanup this morning, on account of today’s funeral. Usually, they’d wait until after the weekend to haul away the trash.

What! What trash? Why would there be— What are you —?

Just wait … You’ll see why soon enough.

(They move closer and he squints, leaning in)
What is that … a carved inscription…? I wish we had a flashlight. I can hardly make it out.

[FANNY and JUNIPER smile broadly, watching THE REPORTER read the words. It is already nearly dark, and as he reads, he moves his head to various angles to catch the last rays of the light, (the stage light dimming more and more as he progresses through the poem).]

(Standing at the base, the statue looming above him, he reads aloud, but with some difficulty in the nearly complete darkness.)

The world won’t soon forget you, Thurston Flourney
Although I’m sure you wish they would.
Eternity won’t let you conceal your journey
 ’Neath that scraggly gunnysack’d hood.

Oh, you’ll get your right-proper judgment someday
Where naked you’ll squirm and you’ll gnash your teeth.
But that will be private—leave our needs unallayed;
Down here we need something your deeds have bequeathed.

So, bold visitors! Raise high your rotted fruit—your spoiled eggs
And with nary a qualm, let them fly;
For any part that they hit will be gilding the dregs
Of a life I refuse to let die.

[By the time he finishes, the stage is completely dark, except for a powdery nimbus of light surrounding FANNY and JUNIPER, holding hands and watching, some distance away; only the REPORTER and MAPLES' laughter can be heard continuing on in the darkness]

REPORTER (Continues):
(A significant pause follows the laughter)
But wait! The poem! It’s the poem!

Fanny tore it off the bottom of what I recognized later as the ledger sheet and she gave it to me.

Written by Elizabeth Albright?


Seems like she’d always intended it to be an inscription—but not necessarily at the base of a huge statue.

We’ll never know. But even if she had … the idea of that unstatue-like Thurston Flourney face could only come from the twisted genius of our Fanny Barnwarmer.

[With all else in darkness, FANNY BARNWARMER within the nimbus of shimmering sight, touches the fingertips of both hands to her lips and offers a kiss out toward both men, consumed by darkness]

Hear, hear!

[FANNY bows deeply]





A million thankyous to those of you who stuck it out from the beginning. Looking back, I think I owe myself a huge congratulations for finishing it. With all its flaws, and they are there aplenty, I have pushed through till the final curtain. I have learned something about perseverance. I don't like it.

Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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