Popcorn at the Odessa

There are three characters in Popcorn at the Odessa—another play in the Pendragon cycle set in Armitage, Ohio—Becky, 22, fair and thin, John, 27, her husband, the son of Italian immigrants, and Jessie, a young woman in her late twenties.  John and Becky are sitting in their back yard, just behind their brick house, on a warm moonlit November night in 1949.  Becky comments on the warm November night and ask John if he is mad at her.  He says he isn’t and she says she thinks there is something wrong with the baby, their son Ben, who is different from the two girls Becky had previously.  Becky wonders if he may be possessed by the Devil.  She says she has powers and has always been fey.  She thinks it is nicer when the girls are gone with relatives out on the farm and she thinks they love John but hate her.  She says Ben hates her and John does, too.  He tells her he married her because he loves her but she says if he loved her he wouldn’t make fun of her being psychic or swear at her.  He says she keeps rearranging the furniture and she says it takes her mind off the screaming baby.  She doesn’t pick him up because she thinks Arthur Godfrey said on the radio that it was not good for them.  She says the girls know she didn’t really want them, that they just happened.  John says they tried for a very long time to make Ben happen, but when they stopped trying so hard, it happened.  She tells him that she wanted to have his baby but didn’t actually want a baby.  She says she has three children hanging around her neck like dead beavers and she’s never seen the world.  John says he didn’t see much of France when a bunch of Nazis were trying to kill him.  He tells her that she is not shallow nor as selfish as she likes to pretend.  She worries that Ben will grow up to be like her and tells John that she is afraid she will drop the baby on his head and tells John that she married him because she thought he was dangerous because he killed people in the war and because he was Italian.  But he is kind and patient and strong and her kids worship him.  She says she knows she’s going to screw things up and since she has something to lose she’s scared.  She realizes the baby is not crying and asks John to go check on him.  He leaves and Jessie appears in the moonlight in a dress that’s twenty years out of date.  Jessie says that everybody thought she was crazy but she had a good time and she wants Becky to have a good time.  Becky says she can’t because she killed her.  Jessie tells her that she went out dancing too soon after giving birth to Becky, started bleeding, got an infection, and died.  She says she can’t tell Becky who her father was but he was a good man and when he held her in his arms in the dark that was the only thing that was real.  Becky tells Jessie that she’s not even here, and Jessie says that the realest people in the world are inside our heads.  She tells Becky that John is a good man, like her father.  As Becky cries, Jessie says she used to take tickets and sell popcorn at the Odessa Theatre and still goes there late at night and talks to the ghosts.  She says everyone’s life is a movie that you don’t get to pick but you can choose how to play your part.  She tells Becky to just let people love her, that she will be here watching her movie, and urges her not to lose John as she walks off into the dark.  John appears and Becky says they should take the baby to the movies every week.  She says her mother used to work at the Odessa Theatre before they closed it and liked to sit in the dark and talk to ghosts.  She says she is going to look at the baby before they go to bed just to make sure he’s real.  She tells John to put the chairs inside and lock the doors and they’ll all be safe inside.  Then they’ll go to bed and he can hold her in the dark.  She kisses his hand as the light fades and goes out.

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