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by Ann Wuehler

PHOEBE: Thirty or so, on the run from the law. Average-looking.
RUTH: Older than Phoebe, anywhere from thirty-five to forty-five. Average-looking.

Beside Highway 50, somewhere in the middle of Nevada. A map of Nevada has been painted across the road, the rocks, etc... Light is early morning, summer. Time is now.

[ At rise: PHOEBE stands by the side of the road, a backpack stuffed full of items at her feet. She is past the first bloom of life, facing the long decline into middle adulthood. She wears jeans, a dark vest over a lightweight plaid shirt not tucked in. She bends down, digs through backpack, finds a broken candy bar, begins to eat it. Phoebe enjoys every last bite. RUTH enters from left, dressed in jeans and an old, soft worn shirt. Ruth stops, studies Phoebe.]

RUTH: You from here?

[Phoebe shakes her head, sneaks peeks at Ruth, who is now looking off into distance, shading her eyes.]

RUTH: Break down? Nearest town is...

PHOEBE: Look. I don't want to be rude--leave me the fuck alone.

[Chews contentedly. Ruth nonplussed but not offended.]

RUTH: What did you do?

[Ruth waits. Phoebe stares ahead.]

RUTH: Murder? Armed robbery? Break someone's poor little heart? Regicide?

[Phoebe frowns at this.]

RUTH: Ah, that's the murder of a king. Did you murder a king down in Vegas?

PHOEBE: Yeah. I murdered a king.

RUTH: Fabulous.


RUTH: I left the dishes in the sink.

[Phoebe does not react.]

RUTH: I left a chicken out to defrost. I left the TV on. If I get going now, my husband'll never know. He won't suspect a thing. Except for something I left in the microwave! It's a humdinger. If I leave now, nothing will happen that I can't take back.

PHOEBE: I really don't care.

RUTH: That's okay.

PHOEBE: Then don't go back. Keep walking. Decision made!!

RUTH: Oh but just imagine my husband coming home to the stink of rotting chicken. To dishes with soap scum on them! To a house not cleaned. Bed not made. Other problems of a domestic nature.

PHOEBE: Boo fucking hoo.

RUTH: Yes indeed.


[Silence as Phoebe stares into distance. Ruth sighs, rubs at her neck.]

RUTH: I love this old highway.

PHOEBE: Great. Enjoy it.

[Phoebe hefts up her backpack, begins walking off, halts. Ruth notes this with interest. Phoebe stops.]

PHOEBE: I was here first. Get lost.

RUTH: Can't we share? If I had known someone was going to be here, in this spot, which is just perfect for almost seeing my house, I would have made cookies. Or at least brought some water.

PHOEBE: I picked this spot. It's mine.

RUTH: I can stand over here...

PHOEBE: Don't you speak English!?!

RUTH: I always wanted to speak German. My grandmother was German.

PHOEBE: Was she a Nazi?? Did she bake Jews like casseroles?

RUTH: No. She was crazy, though. Not as crazy as my great-grandmother-- she loved Himmler. Had a picture of him on her second floor landing in Nebraska--she would talk to it, have long conversations with it.

PHOEBE: Fabulous. I'm really glad you told me that.

RUTH: You're not. You want me to go. You want to be alone.

PHOEBE: Does a bear shit in the woods?

RUTH: Of course it does.


RUTH: So we both want to stay here but for different reasons. You want to be alone. I want to be not so alone.

PHOEBE: I have a knife. It's dull but still a knife. Somewhere.

[Shakes backpack.]

RUTH: We're not men. We don't need to fight it out.

PHOEBE: I think we do.

RUTH: I'll stand over here. You stay there. Surely that's enough space, even for you.

PHOEBE: Why are you here?? It's the middle of nowhere! There hasn't been a car by for an hour! An HOUR! How can you thumb for a ride if the ride never shows up??

RUTH: I live just down the road.

[Phoebe's attention caught by something in distance off left. Turns attention back to Ruth.]

PHOEBE: Where that long column of smoke is?

RUTH: [Unperturbed.] You betcha, sweetie.

PHOEBE: Don't you think you should go put it out?

RUTH: Just burning some trash.

PHOEBE: What if it gets out of hand? It's very dry here.

RUTH: Not my problem. Nevada was meant to burn.

PHOEBE: Air pollution, destruction of property, loss of life? Really--go take care of that fire.

RUTH: It'll burn itself out.

PHOEBE: Not without some help.

RUTH: So falsely caring. Obvious.

PHOEBE: Yeah, you got me. Is that even your house? Why burn it down? That's cool--I can respect a firebug.

RUTH: Honestly?

PHOEBE: Oh sure.

RUTH: You respect me?

PHOEBE: I'd respect you MORE if you checked on that fire.

RUTH: There'll be traces of memory on the air now.

[Silence. Phoebe starting to fume. Ruth calm.]

RUTH: Traces of love and hate and indifference.

PHOEBE: Okay, lady...

RUTH: Oh my, call me Ruth. You wouldn't happen to be Naomi, would you?

PHOEBE: Was that an explosion?

[Cups hand to ear, very cartoonish and exaggerated.]

RUTH: Never mind. I'm Ruth. No last names today. Nothing that links us to anyone or anyplace, except this bit of Highway 50, which we can both share. And who are you? Other than fierce guardian of the blacktop.

PHOEBE: I don't have a name.

RUTH: Because you murdered a king.

PHOEBE: Of course.

RUTH: So I can call you whatever I want. Naomi it is.

PHOEBE: No, I hate that name.

RUTH: Too bad, Naomi.

PHOEBE: I said no.

RUTH: Does anyone listen when a woman says no, Naomi?

PHOEBE: Apparently not.

RUTH: That's the first honest thing you've said. Bravo.

PHOEBE: Honest Abe, that's me.

RUTH: Apparently not. I've burned my house down, Naomi, so what have you done?

PHOEBE: Quit calling me that hateful name.

RUTH: Am I to guess? Naomi?

PHOEBE: Don't you go to jail for burning your house down?

RUTH: Oh sure, if they catch you. What did you do? Just curious. No judgments here. God knows I've killed and buried my share of enemies and friends alike.

[Silence. Phoebe shrugs, remains mum, though it's costing her.]

RUTH: I've always loved this view. I can barely see where I live, or used to live now.

[Phoebe begins digging through her backpack.]

RUTH: So what are we to do now?

PHOEBE: Where is it??

RUTH: Do you want me to help you look, Naomi?

PHOEBE: No. [Now has a small canister of pepper spray in hand.] I don't want your help. I don't want your company. I don't want you here in my spot. Go away. How more clear can I make this?

RUTH: Oh dear.

PHOEBE: That's right. Get moving, lady.

RUTH: It's Ruth.

PHOEBE: Ruth, Duluth, whatever.

RUTH: Fine. I can take a hint, subtle as you are, dearie. But here's my price-- you have to tell me what you did. Only fair!! I shared, now...it's your turn. Otherwise, I'll just keep following you. [Smiles. Phoebe struggles with this, but Ruth has no pity.] Well, Greta? You can almost smell the smoke. Almost.

PHOEBE: You'll really go?

RUTH: Sure, Greta.

PHOEBE: Did you really burn your house down? It's not Greta.

RUTH: I put a coffee cup full of gasoline in the microwave.

PHOEBE: That's just your word.

RUTH: Believe me, Naomi or Greta or Junebug or...

PHOEBE: It's Phoebe, goddamnit!


PHOEBE: How can I believe anything you say?

RUTH: Phoebe. What a beautiful name. Phoebe. I don't have the answer to that.

PHOEBE: Then what's the point??

RUTH: Two strangers on a road less traveled-- that's the point. I told you something, gave you my trust. I've just confessed to arson. As you pointed out, a punishable offense. Especially when you left three children tied up in the kitchen. Watching the microwave.


RUTH: That annoying border collie puppy my husband insisted on buying for five hundred dollars. Five hundred dollars!! I haven't had a pair of new pants for three years and he goes and buys a five hundred dollar dog. People dump free dogs around here all the time. It was too much.

PHOEBE: Ah...okay.

RUTH: I'm not crazy. I'm probably going to get caught. Fingerprints. DNA evidence, who knows what they got. And now--this confession. I'm not a very good criminal.

PHOEBE: Are you...serious?

RUTH: [A long silence. A show down.] Yes.

PHOEBE: I could turn you in for a reward.

RUTH: What?

PHOEBE: A reward. For the baby-killing, puppy-frying lady arsonist.

RUTH: But...that takes time. They would have to charge me. I'd have to escape in a blaze of gunfire or I could throw rocks, I don't have a gun...

PHOEBE: Fine, whatever. You wanna know what I did? [Takes a deep breath.] I beat the hell out of the skank my boyfriend was banging. I put her in the hospital. You know what? She DIED. The bitch never woke up. I got real problems, you psycho weirdo. I'm not making this up. Not like you. Nobody burns their kids and their dog up. Nobody.

RUTH: I don't think it's a new idea, Phoebe. Such a nice name.


RUTH: Will you take him back? Your kind always does.

PHOEBE: Take him back?? No.

RUTH: You will. You'll get lonely on the run. Come back to Vegas, sniff around, cause you got that itch that you mistake for true love when it's really just an itch. You'll crawl back to him and you'll forget. And you'll grow blind again and deaf again, because it's love and nobody understands him, nobody makes you feel like he does...

PHOEBE: Shut up.

RUTH: You're already thinking he needs to be forgiven. After all, the other girl's dead, right?

PHOEBE: You said you'd leave if I told.

RUTH: I did, didn't I? Or...we could hook up, go on a cross-country spree of some kind. We've both killed, so maybe robbery.

PHOEBE: Goodbye, Ruth.

RUTH: The secret to getting away with a crime is not to tell anyone-- at least, not leave anyone alive who knows what you did. [Ruth smiles.] My memories are burning, now I'm free. We've got this stretch of nowhere to get lost in. And this fine morning. It was nice talking to you.


RUTH: Until the next man and the next one...

[Ruth trails off with a shrug. Phoebe holds up pepper spray. Attention caught by far-off fire.]

RUTH: Free until then. Will I keep my promise?

[Ruth exits right. Phoebe waits but Ruth does not return.]

PHOEBE: Nobody burns up their kids and dog. Nobody...

[Sound of a car approaching. Phoebe sticks out her thumb. Lights fade to black.]


Copyright © 2006 by Ann Wuehler

CAUTION: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that Traces of Memory 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 annwuehler@yahoo.com



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