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by Jeanette D. Farr

MARGE: 66 years old. Well-dressed, middle-class, white woman.
RUSSELL: 21 years old. African-American male. Wears baggy clothes and a baseball cap.

Small room in a police station. It somewhat resembles a doctor's waiting room, but not as comfortable. There is a row of 6 chairs and a counter. On the counter is a clipboard with a pencil attached with string and a "front desk" bell. Behind the counter is a computer generated sign that reads: "PLEASE SIGN IN".

[MARGE is sitting in a middle seat in the row of chairs. She is reading, doing a crossword puzzle, knitting - something to occupy her time. SHE has her purse on the seat next to her. RUSSELL enters, looks around notices sign, signs in, then moves to find a seat. MARGE, not looking up, moves her purse to the other side of her and tucks it close.]

RUSSELL: I saw that.

MARGE: Excuse me?

RUSSELL: I caught you.

MARGE: I don’t know you.

RUSSELL: When I walked in, you moved your bag.

MARGE: Please. I don’t want any trouble.

RUSSELL: I’m not-

MARGE: Because if you’re causing trouble, I can notify someone.

RUSSELL: I wasn’t-

MARGE: OK then.


RUSSELL: Do I make you nervous?

MARGE: I don’t even know you.

RUSSELL: Doesn’t matter. I can still make you nervous.

MARGE: Look, I was in the middle of something, if you don’t mind.

RUSSELL: Why did you move your bag?

MARGE: I was getting some gum.

[SHE searches for a piece of gum.]

RUSSELL: Can I have a piece?

MARGE: It’s Juicy Fruit.

RUSSELL: My favorite.

MARGE: I only have a stick.

RUSSELL: Can I have half?

MARGE: You’re bothering me.

RUSSELL: Ok. So I don’t make you nervous, but I bother you?

MARGE: I’m just not in the mood for... conversation.

RUSSELL: I think it’s something else.

MARGE: If you say so.

[MARGE goes back to her “project”]

RUSSELL: When I walked through that door you thought: Rapist, murderer, purse-stealer.

MARGE: I thought no such thing.

RUSSELL: But you moved your purse.

MARGE: I was just being polite by making more room. I would do that for anyone.

RUSSELL: I don’t buy it.

MARGE: It doesn’t really concern me if you buy it or not. That’s the reason.

RUSSELL: There are five empty chairs I could sit in.

MARGE: All right. [As if to satisfy him] You caught me.

RUSSELL: Unless you wanted me to come sit next to you.

MARGE: You sit where you’d like.

[RUSSELL sits in the chair farthest away from her.]

RUSSELL: This one’s too hard.

[HE moves to the third chair closest to her.]

RUSSELL: Nope. Not right either.

[HE gets two chairs away.]

RUSSELL: Damn uncomfortable!

[HE sits next to her.]

RUSSELL: Do you mind if I try yours? This one isn’t right either. How ‘bout you let me sit on your lap.

[MARGE goes to counter and rings the bell.]

RUSSELL: Wait, wait, lady! I was only joking. Sit back down!

MARGE: Will you leave me alone?

RUSSELL: I’ll be nice. I’ll even sit over here if it’ll make you happy.

[MARGE sits far away from RUSSELL.]

RUSSELL: Why are you here?

MARGE: Why are YOU here?

RUSSELL: I came to see my parole officer.

MARGE: Nice.

RUSSELL: Does that bother you?

MARGE: And you wondered why I moved my purse.

RUSSELL: But when I walked in you didn’t know I was coming to see my parole officer. You just saw me and assumed I was a criminal.

MARGE: I followed my instincts. When the fight or flight kicks in you should listen to that. What you just said about you being a criminal was exactly what my gut was telling me.

RUSSELL: So you moved your purse.

MARGE: Right.

RUSSELL: Wow. You knew. I guess I can’t go anywhere anymore. That must be why people cross the street when they see me comin’. It’s just like B.O. Nobody ever tells you that you have B.O. until it’s too late. Then you come home after realizing you forgot to put on deodorant and wonder why in the hell nobody has been talking to you. Thank you. Thank you for letting me know you can actually see or FEEL through your instinctual animal feelings that there is criminal written all over my face.

MARGE: I’m sure if you dressed a little better, that might help too.

RUSSELL: Maybe kick down a few bucks, get a nice suit or something....

MARGE: Clean yourself up a little.

RUSSELL: Sure. Thanks. You’ve really helped me uh... What’s your name?

MARGE: Why do you want to know my name?

RUSSELL: Well, I can’t tell all my “convict” friends that some nice lady helped me. I’d like to tie a name to a face.

MARGE: I don’t think you need to know my name.

RUSSELL: Come on.

MARGE: If I tell you, you’ll.... leave me alone?

RUSSELL: Cross my heart!

MARGE: Sheila.


MARGE: That’s my name. Sheila.

RUSSELL: Ok. [PAUSE] It’s a sin to lie.

MARGE: I know that.

RUSSELL: You feel ok being a liar.

MARGE: Who said I was lying?

RUSSELL: You don’t look like a Sheila. Sheila is a young beautiful lady’s name.

MARGE: Thank you.

RUSSELL: No, no, no - don’t take this wrong. But you ain’t a Sheila.

MARGE: You get a name at birth and you keep a name for life. Even beautiful young women named Sheila eventually grow older.

RUSSELL: Yeah, but they don’t grow up to look like you.

MARGE: How can you tell what a person should be called or not.

RUSSELL: You said I looked like a criminal.

MARGE: I did not.

RUSSELL: Did you or did you not just admit to me that I looked like a criminal. That you had a gut instinct - and you were right, weren’t you?

MARGE: Let’s just let it go, ok?

RUSSELL: Sheila?

[SHE doesn’t respond.]

RUSSELL: Hey, Sheila. That is your name isn’t it?


RUSSELL: For a minute there, I thought you didn’t know.

MARGE: What is it.

RUSSELL: I wasn’t exactly truthful with you a minute ago.

MARGE: Really.

RUSSELL: I’m not here to see my parole officer.

MARGE: That’s nice.

RUSSELL: I don’t even have a police record.

MARGE: Fine.

RUSSELL: Yet I look like a criminal.

MARGE: Well, what else was I supposed to think-


MARGE: Why what?

RUSSELL: Why did you assume that I was a criminal? Was it because of this?

[HE points to the palm of his hand.]

MARGE: Your hand?

RUSSELL: No. Closer. Look. Right here. See it?

[MARGE moves closer to his hand, she is curious. Just as she gets close enough he forms his hand into a fist.]

MARGE: I don’t see anything.

RUSSELL: Simple as that. [HE points to his fist.] Black. [HE points to her face.] and white.

[There is a long pause. Just as MARGE is about to speak, RUSSELL goes over to the counter, leans over, and looks around.]

MARGE: I haven’t seen anyone at that counter in a while. They told me to wait.

RUSSELL: Man. This is messed up. Always like the government. Keep you waiting as long as they want to. Unless of course you’ve done something wrong, then they’re up your ass with a microscope. I can’t be waiting all day. [Ringing the bell] Hey! Anyone there?

MARGE: The best thing is probably to just sit quietly and wait.

RUSSELL: I’m here on my lunch hour, man! [To himself] I can’t come back to work late, they’ll have my ass.

MARGE: Where do you work?

RUSSELL: Excuse me?

MARGE: Your job. Where do you have to go?

RUSSELL: I get it. [Pause] I have a job, so it’s ok to talk to me, now.

MARGE: I just wondered how far you had to walk.

RUSSELL: I drove myself down here. Jesus, lady! We LIBERALS have cars too, you know. Maybe not nice ones like you folks but at least it gets me from point A to point B, and I bought it with hard earned workin’ man’s money.

MARGE: I didn’t mean-

RUSSELL: You didn’t mean. Don’t tell me you didn’t mean. I may be what at least 45 years younger than you but I’m not stupid! I know what you meant.

MARGE: Please. Don’t be so sensitive, I-

RUSSELL: What. Am I wrong? Did I jump to conclusions about what you just said? Am I misunderstanding you?


RUSSELL: [Calm, direct, and to the point] Now you know how it feels.

MARGE: I don’t know what you are trying to prove here.

RUSSELL: I assumed things about you just like you assumed things about me when I walked through that door. I’m not trying to change the way you think, I’m just telling you how it goes. You can’t tell me that if an elderly white woman was sitting next to you instead of me that you wouldn’t be exchanging recipes and complaining about your arthritis or whatever the hell you all do. You certainly wouldn’t have jumped out of your skin like you did when I walked in here.

MARGE: Would it make you happy if I gave you my recipe for pot roast?

RUSSELL: Aw, man!

MARGE: I won’t give anyone that recipe you know. Not even my sister. The key is the marinade.

RUSSELL: Forget it.

MARGE: You say “that’s what we do” so I’m following through with it.

RUSSELL: I’m just saying you wouldn’t be so uptight if I was someone different.

MARGE: Uptight! The reason I’m uptight has nothing to do with who you are.

RUSSELL: Don’t bother apologizing for who YOU are. You don’t have to talk to me or trust that I’m not going to take something of yours. If that’s what you believe - then - way it goes.

MARGE: I don’t trust anyone at the moment! [Pause, having trouble getting this out] Somewhere between here and thirteenth street I’ve misplaced my wallet. The sad thing about it is it had a lot of money in it not to mention my driver’s license and pictures of my grandchildren. I don’t even care about the money, but the fact that someone out there knows my identity isn’t too comforting to me.  I came down here to file a report in hopes that someone would be honest enough to... What was I thinking? I’ve wasted half my day in here just for one chance that there is one honest person left in this world.

RUSSELL: I’m sorry. I’m sure someone will find it.

MARGE: Oh, I’m sure someone has found it by now and had a fine time maxing my gold card. I don’t know why I’m wasting my time.

[MARGE gets up to leave.]

RUSSELL: Hey, Sheila. Why don’t you wait a few more minutes. I’m sure if we make enough noise, someone will come out to help us.

[MARGE stops.]

MARGE: May I tell you something?

RUSSELL: Sure. [Pause] What is it?

MARGE: You did catch me.

RUSSELL: No sweat... I mean, I didn’t know.

MARGE: My name... it isn’t Sheila.

RUSSELL: Well whadaya know? Really? ‘Cause I was convinced that…

MARGE: Don’t be funny.  Actually it’s...


MARGE: What - How?

RUSSELL: You just LOOK like a Marge to me.

MARGE: [Amazed] You’re good at that.

RUSSELL: And...It says it on your license.

[HE reaches into his pocket and pulls out a ladies’ wallet.]


MARGE: You - Where?

RUSSELL: I tried phoning, but there was no answer.

[MARGE opens up her wallet.]

RUSSELL: You can count it if you want. I didn’t take nothin’.

MARGE: Come here.

RUSSELL: Aw, lady. I didn’t take any of it! I just found it like that-

[MARGE takes out a photo and shows it to RUSSELL.]

MARGE: This is my granddaughter.  THIS is Sheila.

RUSSELL: [Smiling.] She’s pretty. I can see the resemblance.

MARGE: [A beat - SHE stands] Well, no use staying around here if I don’t have to and YOU need to get yourself back to work. You’d better cross your name off that list. Don’t want some government employee working too hard calling your name.

RUSSELL: They have to do something.

[MARGE exits without her purse which she left on the chair. RUSSELL goes over to clipboard and crosses out his name. HE turns around, runs over to the purse and picks it up.]

RUSSELL: Hey, Marge, you forgot your-

MARGE: I forgot my-

RUSSELL & MARGE: [Simultaneously] Purse.

MARGE: [Taking her bag.] Thank you.



Copyright © 1999 by Jeanette D. Farr

CAUTION: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that Gray Matter is subject to a royalty. It is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, and of all countries covered by the International Copyright Union (including the Dominion of Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth), and of all countries covered by the Pan-American Copyright convention and the Universal Copyright Convention, and of all countries with which the United States has reciprocal copyright relations. All rights, including professional and amateur stage performing, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, television, video or sound taping, all other forms of mechanical or electronic reproduction, such as information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved.

Inquiries concerning all rights should be addressed to the author at jfarr@glendale.edu



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