Old Wolf

By: Daniel Baumgardner

A Scene

*Based on the poem, Old Wolf, by Steven Cope. Excerpt of Old Wolf used with permission

 

Cast of Characters

ANN:  25 years old.

 

STEVEN:  63 years old.

 

OLD WOLF:  A wolf.

 

 

Place:

Appalachia

 

Time:

Night

 

 

Scene 1

 

Setting:  We are in the forest, littered with naturally fallen limbs and trunks. Leaves cover what is not layered with dirt and moss. The Appalachian mountains. We are in West Virginia. Or maybe Kentucky or Tennessee. The DSL corner of the stage is clear, however, of this debris, and instead has a desk with a coffee mug of pens and a desk lamp. Between the two is a piece of paper.    

 

At Rise:  In the darkness, a howl, a human's, but in the fashion of a wolf. As it dies, the sounds of a lazy forest surrounds the stage. Insects and animals alike find their way through the hills they called home. The desk lamp lights. Ann, not herself a mother, but motherly, sits at the desk and begins to write. She speaks to the audience, however, as if they are her paper, able to jot ideas and syntax just by speaking it. Her only breaks come from her conversations with Steven. She is younger, but her youth has brought a rare wisdom shrouded in innocence.  

 

Ann

            (To the audience. As she speaks, lights rise on the man. He wanders, searches, breathes.)

Late one night there was a man. I was the only one to have driven that dusty path since dusk and I saw a man, older, but upright. He walked on the road and I picked him up. It was dangerous, I know, being small myself there would have been no help, but out here there's a difference between hostility and hospitality. Only the faint glow of the moon lit his features, but it gave just enough. I placed him in his sixties, the lines on his face displayed even in the darkness. On his head sat a black leather baseball cap, under that a ragged black t-shirt, sprinkled with paint and mud, maybe blood, and under still hung torn jeans, with holes that were not paid for.

            (Beat)

This was a man. Some men stay boys, while others have been men their entire lives. This was a man. And yet I wasn't scared, he was an uncle, the cool uncle everyone says they have but never do.

            (Beat. With a laugh.)

I have that uncle.

            (She rises. They stand face to face.)

He looked in my window at me, kind, and spoke softly:

 

Steven

Why are you stopping for a stranger?

 

Ann

            (She walks about him. Learning, and knowing his features. He stays for a moment. Ann may return to her desk.)

I'd heard that voice before, not his in particular, but I could feel the mountains in his gravel. They've never understood. We're not the sweet, overdone, Georgian draw. There's no sugar on our lips. We speak Appalachian, plain and slow, but with as much love as you can have for speech. We don't know many, but the words we construct fall with care and ease. Even Shakespeare, though taken aback I'm sure, would find comfort in our own form of language. He began to walk away.

            (To Steven)

What's your name?

 

Steven

            (Still walking)

Steven.

Ann

And what are you doing out here this late, Steven?

 

Steven

My cat, I'm worried about the wolves. 

 

Ann

They're ruthless. 

 

Steven (quickly)

Not ruthless. They're alive.

 

Ann

A sadness crushed him, but it wasn't for a lost pet. No, it was much greater. Empathy, or even sympathy, for an animal that killed just to survive. Was he any different? Were any of us? I saw him change in that moment. 

            (They stare at each other, a long, pained beat.)

Can I help you?

 

Steven

Alright.

 

Ann

            (They begin to walk together.)

His voice was cold. I had lost him, already, and he never even asked my name.

            (To Steven)

Where are you from?

 

Steven

Here.

 

Ann

            (To the audience)

Here. In the mountains where he played as a child, loved as a young man, would die at an old age.

            (To Steven)

What do you do?

 

Steven

I'm a writer.

 

Ann

            (Again, analyzing.)

Not much to do out here but think and write. His gaze was slow but sharp. He seemed to see the world. He could see what many would never. The powers that be, the beautifuls and the talenteds could never witness what this man had, could never feel the earth like this man had. They would stare at their phones while he stared at the bark of a tree. Now who do you think is alive?

            (To Steven)

Do you have a family?

            (To the audience)

He chuckled at first.

 

Steven

All I have is family.

            (Beat)

My parents are still alive. I have a brother and sister both raising their children to be-

 

Ann

            (To Steven)

Do you have children?

 

Steven

Do you?

 

Ann

            (To the audience)

Being only twenty-five myself, I answered:

            (To Steven)

No.

            (Beat. To the audience)

We walked for awhile. Silence. And yet there was a symphony.

            (Beat. A cacophony that has been underscoring from the curtain is built around the players.)

He stopped, listened, and...

            (Steven rears back and howls, much like before.)

In the distance, an echo, a beautiful long tone.

            (To Steven)

What do you-?

 

Steven

Do you have a home?

 

Ann

            (To the audience)

Startled, I answered:

            (To Steven)

Well, I, uh, live in an...

            (To the audience)

He shook his head.

 

Steven

Do you have a home?

 

Ann

            (Beat. To Steven)

No. At least not right now.

            (To the audience)

He seemed to like that answer well enough. The symphony took precedence again.

            (They walk.)

When was the last time you saw your cat?

 

Steven

I let it out of the house. It likes the grass.

 

Ann

            (To the audience)

His peace had faded. Again I saw the empathy, and again I had lost him.

 

Steven

She never came back.

 

Ann

            (To Steven)

Who is she?

 

Steven

Pebble.

 

Ann (laughing)

Cute.

            (To the audience)

A smile ran across his face. Then he turned and once again listened. A howl broke the silence not a hundred feet from us. Terrified, I began to run, until he put a hand to my shoulder, eyes leveled and glazed.

            (Turning, the WOLF has entered, carrying in its jowls a small, furred creature.)

I stopped and stood, frozen. He, however, gracefully gathered a rock and walked toward the beast. 

            (Beat. The WOLF sees STEVEN and the two begin circling. The beast growls while the man sighs.)

 

There is a brotherhood between man and otherwise. We have not intruded, rather found a balance of survival and communion. The trees, our homes, decay slowly, our dead lie with the Earth's. Our God is Nature, regardless of the reverend's speeches. What, or who, lives and dies feeds the Divine.

            (The WOLF makes the first move. Ann sits at the desk, and although she has been a player, her role, for a moment, shifts solely to narration.)

 

The wolf crouched, eyes glaring into his. Its fangs shown like daggers beneath the faint moonlight. Breaths quickened, pulses liven, a man with fewer years ahead than behind facing a beast much the same. A lunge, a snap, and back again. No contact, only fear, only dominance. A quick jab and the beast falls for only a moment. A tackle, another, until...

 

            (Beat. The two combatants come together to mirror each other exactly. Ann stands and moves behind the two.)

 

The two are one. Which is the beast? Is it the one that attacks in rescue or protects in possession? Does passion, does love, does life have to choose the victorious, or can each moment be a victory we can rejoice in, or reprimand. This man, this man is the beast he fights. It is in his eyes, in his gait. Tonight...

            (Beat)

He loses...

(The WOLF pins STEVEN and bites at his throat. There is a quick struggle, the wolf remaining centered on his chest. Finally, a collected breath is taken by all players. The Gods are satisfied. STEVEN's struggle ends. The WOLF walks slowly, injured himself, and gathers his prize, the cat, cradles it in his lap, and begins his meal. ANN cradles STEVEN in much the same way. It is the visualization of victory on each side. A victorious wolf allows for a fed family, a victorious man allows for the returned love of a furred friend.)

 

Ann

            (To herself now, quietly, while the wolf eats. She begins to move back to the desk.)

Although wolves don't often come to howl outside my window,

Last night one did. Just one, while the others sat back on haunches

and watched his moves, his circlings, his years of experience.

A circle, trampled to the earth by his restless feet, 

Seemed a deep well from my upstairs window;

And he, unable to climb the snowy, wet walls of his prison

and, being old, too conditioned to admit defeat,

Paced and sat, always within the circle, and raised his nose in the exact same spot

and howled at the same moon above his head and mine

Until I slipped quietly down the stairs to peep around the curtain,

In full view of the truth.

Then he was a wolf.

Old wolves have faces marred by unrest and bad consciences.

But, after all, it's their life to kill, and mine to stay alive.

So I shot him, in full view of his starving family.

And they watched him growl and not back down, 

and felt him knowing that an old wolf must provide for his family, one way or another,

Himself or the man.

But I made him look like a failure.

            (Ann stands above the lamp, only the shadows gracing her face. She moves slowly to turn off the lamp. Silence, save the symphony, finally broken by one long, lone howl.)

 

CURTAIN