The Crackerman, Story Synopsis

The Script
Part One


FADE IN

A NIGHT SKY

WE HEAR the THUMP of a distant explosion and the far off WHINE of a skyrocket. A SHARPER CRACK and a dazzling cascade of light falls through the darkness. Clusters of purple and gold. Another THUMP, and shining crystals of light are flung across the sky melting into silver rivers and spilling to earth.

A WOMAN


In the field by her house, GLORIA TURNER is transfixed by the rainfall of light. She's 33, with a quiet beauty that she often hides.
It's not hidden tonight. This evening, the light, from within and without, makes her radiant.

As the glow from the falling rocket fades, her lips part, she closes her eyes. The moment plays just barely in slow motion, like a memory. WE HEAR her VOICE OVER.

GLORIA (off)
Glad I saw that day. Time was, I never thought it'd come... And time was, I never thought I'd live to see it pass.

AN ALABAMA FIELD

A burst of light and color outlines a small farmhouse against the night blue sky. As the fireworks drop and dim, the scene...

FADES TO BLACK

FADE UP ON THE PIG PEN

As Gloria dumps a bucketful of feed for a litter of squealing piglets. The runt's been crowded out, and with a willow branch, she switches his brothers and sisters out of the way to make a space for him at the trough.

She's dressed for work, and has been hard at it in July's 98 degree weather. It's 1947, and the clothes and the setting reflect it.

GLORIA
Little man, we do this every day. When you gonna learn? Come on and get yourself some.

He finds a place.

GLORIA
That's better.

She drops the bucket into a waiting wheelbarrow and trundles toward the barn.

GLORIA (shaking her head)
Hard to say much to a pig.

AN OLD GATE Stubbornly guards the entrance to the barn. Gloria wrestles it open, wincing at the SCREECH of the hinges.

GLORIA
But now Gate, you always got somethin' to say.

She rolls the wheelbarrow inside and struggles the gate almost back in place.

GLORIA
But I'm about tired of you fightin' me every day. Tomorrow you're gettin' fixed, and I don't want to hear no more.

She closes it with a last hard kick, an insult it protests with a SCREECH that makes her laugh.

CUT TO:

THE YARD As she crosses down to an old man in a rocking chair in the shade of an apple tree. She calls out.

GLORIA
Grandpa, wake up now, honey, let's get you some supper.

GRANDPA
Great-grandpa, actually. Two days shy of 100.

He jerks out of his doze.

GRANDPA (shouting)
Who goes there?

Bright blue eyes shine out of a mass of wrinkles, but the world they see is a jumble of scenes from times long past --like a book with the pages mixed.

GLORIA
Handsome-est man around and he don't remember my name. (smoothing his hair) It's Gloria, Grandpa. Time for supper.

Light and shadow play across his face as he looks up at her. There's brief smile of recognition before his gaze goes past her. He waves. Gloria turns. Leaves, glow in the slant of afternoon sun and flutter in the breeze.

GRANDPA
Wish them damn things 'ud speak up.
 

GLORIA
They can't shout the way I can. Come on now.

He looks back to her.

GRANDPA
You alone?

GLORIA
Not as long as I got you, Grandpa.

He connects for a moment and grins.She pulls him gently from his chair and maneuvers him into a red wagon she's converted for the purpose.

GLORIA
Come on, sweetie let's get you fed
.

GRANDPA
What's the meanin' of this?

GLORIA
Today, Grandpa, it's supper.

He grins again, and they head to the house.

CUT TO:

A SMALL FLAME
At the end of a sliver of kindling. GLORIA Lights a kerosene lamp, adjusts the wick, and sets it on the kitchen table where she and Grandpa have finished supper. Somewhere, A RADIO PLAYS and further off, crickets BUZZ.

GLORIA
One hundred years old. There's gonna be big doin's, Grandpa. Big doin's. Just a couple of days off. You think I'm gonna get all those candles on the cake this year? Last year, it just about looked like a damn porcupine.

There's a bucket of water on the stove, and Gloria opens the grate tosses in the small piece of kindling, and picks up a poker. Grandpa watches, eyes twinkling.

GLORIA
You ready?

GRANDPA
Fire in the hole!

She stirs the embers which spark and explode with a loud POP.

GRANDPA
Cover your rear! Dammit to hell, that 'un was close.

GLORIA (laughing)
Now we gotta think up somethin' special for your birthday this year.

GRANDPA
Fire away!

GLORIA
That's right. Man don't live to be a hundred without somethin' special to mark the day.

She clears the last glasses.

From the RADIO, THREE TONES mark the hour and lush MUSIC swells under the ANNOUNCER'S VOICE.

RADIO ANNOUNCER (off)
This is Clifton Fedderman for the Mutual Radio Network with another evening of dance favorites from the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom.

Gloria comes around to Grandpa's side of the table and waits as he slowly gets to his feet. Stiffly, he holds up his hands in a dancer's pose, she steps into them, and --as every night- they begin to dance.

GLORIA
Now you got a date for your birthday party or you goin' with me?

GRANDPA
You the momma or the girl?

GLORIA
I'm the girl, Grandpa.

GRANDPA
Where's the momma?

GLORIA
Been gone. Momma and Daddy went in a wreck ten miles away nine summers ago.

GRANDPA
Got kilt? They leave anything behind?

GLORIA
Yes sir. They left this farm, that truck out there, and you Grandpa. Most special thing of all, they left me you.

GRANDPA
You're a pretty girl. I'll take care of you.

GLORIA
Well, thank you sir. You can start tomorrow. Shall we get you to bed?

GRANDPA
A gentleman don't deny a lady.

Gloria curtsies as well as overalls will allow.

CUT TO:

A COLLECTION

Of old photographs on the living room table. A few stand out: a teenage soldier in Confederate Gray, circa 1862; a pretty woman with a quilt at the foot of a four-poster bed; a cavalry officer, bristling with pistols and medals, astride his horse; a handsome man, party hat askew, helping his daughter blow out the candles on her birthday cake. The radio's there too, STILL PLAYING.

RADIO ANNOUNCER
... for Proctor and Gamble and the Mutual Radio Network, thank you, and goodnight.

Gloria lowers the volume.

GLORIA
How's that? Can you hear it?

GRANDPA'S

Sitting on the side of the bed, he nods. That bed, the same four poster we saw in the photograph, is in the living room, not so much part of the decor, but in the middle of it. A gray cap hangs on the post, as does a pistol, and three or four medals. She gives him a drink of water, and like a child, he slides his feet under the sheet.

GLORIA
Good night, Grandpa. You sleep well, hear?

He's asleep when his head hits the pillow. Gloria tucks him in and kisses him on the forehead.

GLORIA
You ain't no more 'n bundle of sticks, but you been handed down to me an' I'm gonna keep you as good and happy as you can be.

CUT TO:

THE PORCH

Just off the kitchen. From inside, a kerosene lamp casts its glow out into the evening. Off, Grandpa's radio PLAYS SOFTLY, along with the CRICKETS. Gloria swings the bucket off the stove and backs out through the screen door, careful to close it softly behind her. She sets the bucket on the porch bench, and from beneath it, pulls a washbasin out onto the floor.

A sponge and a small pitcher lie in the bottom of the basin. Her overalls fall into heap, and she steps barefoot out of them. Settling herself on the bench, she dips the pitcher and streams water down her legs. This moment's been awaited, and as the water spills across her skin, a sigh of relief escapes her.

She works her way out of her khaki shirt, and reveals a simple cotton camisole. When she presses the sponge against her shoulder, rivulets caress her arm and stream from her fingertips. The sponge follows the path of the water, then returns, tracing the hollow of her throat, the lines of her neck. She leans over. Her hair swings forward and a fall of water darkens it and pulls it straight. Fingers knead the muscles at the nape of her neck as she rubs a lather into her hair. Water sluices it clean. She leans back, slicking her hair away from her face. A night wind stirs, raises the skin on her forearms, and she turns and stretches to its cooling touch. From a distance, the white glow of her camisole is all that moves in the dark blue shadow of the porch.

CUT TO:

THE TOP TWO BUTTONS


Of Grandpa's shirt as Gloria finishes with them. He's dressed, and propped up in bed. She wedges a pillow behind his back and takes a last sip of morning coffee. No overalls today. Her shirt's pressed and the pants faded but creased and clean.

GLORIA
Goin' into town, Grandpa. Don't you get busted up while I'm gone. You stay put 'til I get back. Don't you go roamin' around, you hear? I'll see you 'fore lunch.

CUT TO:

THE TRUCK

Under the tree that shades the front of the house. What once was once forest green has long since faded, blistered, and been covered with patches of gray primer. Gloria comes down the front steps toward the truck, hefts the hood open.

GLORIA
Okay truck...

She tinkers with something deep in the engine, then reaches in the driver side window to push the starter. The engine turns over: RRRR, RRRR, RRRR.

GLORIA
One more time truck. Come on... Come on truck.

It catches, coughs and settles into a rough idle.

GLORIA
Oh, thank you.

She lets the hood down, and drops it the last few inches, WHANG.

GLORIA
Maybe you got another year in you.

She climbs in, grinds into first, and heads off.

CUT TO:

A HUGE OAK TREE

That spreads its limbs over a field of new mown grass. The morning sun, still low, filters through. From the lower branches hangs a rope swing. The field borders the road and we hear the RATTLE of Gloria's truck before it rolls by, a plume of red dust in its wake.

CUT TO:

THE TRUCK

As it rolls past the store fronts of Main Street and pulls into a place in front of the General Store. We're a day away from the Fourth of July and the town's bright with flags and bunting. With the engine running-- GLORIA Steps from the cab, walks to the front of the truck and raises the hood. She pulls at something, and the engine coughs to a stop. Dropping the hood, she turns to the store, purposefully rolls down her sleeves, fastens the cuffs, and buttons her shirt to the top.

CUT TO:

A CASH REGISTER RINGING
up a sale. Dollar bills and change go in and out of the drawer. CHERRY JACKSON, H.C.'s wife, has been behind that cash register for most of the 30 odd years of her marriage. Her bright red hair is rivaled only by the color of her lipstick, and both play second fiddle to her disposition. She counts change into the hand of LILA TAMBLYN.

CHERRY
Nothin' better 'n lavender to cool and soothe on a hot July evenin' --trust me, Lila-- I 'bout tried 'em all, an' lavender's just the thing for summer weather --now, winter's another matter-- but right now a drop or two'll make you feel like a new woman, an' wake up that ol' husband of yours too --tho' it'd take the grace of Jesus t' get Crawford off the porch-- but you might find that miracle right here, an' if you do, you name that next child after me, hear?

She laughs and Lila joins her. Both turn as Gloria walks up. Cherry barely misses a beat.

CHERRY
Gloria Turner come to town! You still hidin' back on that farm? You know Lila, don't you? Lila, this is the Gloria Turner I was tellin' you 'bout last week an' how you should introduce her to your brother-in-law.

Lila and Cherry turn to appraise Gloria.

CHERRY
Pretty thing, hardly looks her age, does she? (to Gloria) What is it now, 35?

Gloria opens her mouth to speak, but--

CHERRY
Lila, isn't that just a year or so shy a' Mason? (eyebrows raised to Gloria) Who was widowed January last, an' come down from Atlanta for the holiday-- (back to Lila) --an' only a bit shorter 'n she is, don't you think? They'd make a handsome couple, Lila, I swear. (to Gloria) Especially in one of those new summer dresses we got in from Montgomery. Just don't go wearin' heels, darlin'. Now those pigs and that great-grand pa 'a yours can't keep you busy all the time.

Cherry and Lila turn to Gloria. Beat.

GLORIA
Miss Cherry, I'm still workin' the farm. I'm 33 years old, Mason's been a foot shorter 'n me since seventh grade and Grandpa's fixin' to be 100 years old come the Fourth. (she points behind the counter) Ma'am, I need four boxes of birthday candles, a half a dozen sparklers and some new hinges for my gate. I'll just go on back and see H.C. 'bout the hinges. Miss Lila, please tell Mason I said hey.

Gloria heads to the back of the store.

CUT TO:

A LARGE SCYTHE

That hangs from the low rafters of the store. Axes and sledges hang too, as well as other heavy farm tools, all glistening under a light sheen of oil. The array forms an imposing curtain. From below, rise boxes of nails, small drums of paint, oil stained crates of tractor parts; and from somewhere within comes

THE RUMBLE OF MEN'S VOICES.

H.C., heavy, florid, tilts back in an old wooden chair, feet on a spool of fencing wire. He's reading the paper aloud to PUTT --slender, ferret faced-- behind the counter, and BO --round and red headed-- alongside it. H.C. --who, Montgomery police said, offered no excuse for what eyewitnesses say was the unprovoked shooting of her husband and his dog. She will remain in custody pending- H.C. looks up. Gloria has entered the sanctum. Putt and Bo follow H.C.'s gaze. Gloria returns the look.

GLORIA
Gentlemen.

Putt and Bo look at H.C. He gets to his feet. Bo straightens up too.

H.C.
Miss Gloria, ma'am. What can we do for you today?

GLORIA (stepping up)
I need new hinges for my gate, an' bolts to set 'em.

H.C.
Putt, will you help the lady?

He smiles slyly, testing, but doesn't move an inch.

PUTT
That'd be an off-set hinge, or a piano, or a strap, or a butt?

Gloria colors at the challenge.

GLORIA
Three galvanized, ten-inch, strap hinges.

PUTT
Did you bring in the old hinges so we could be sure?

Gloria just looks at him. He stands, spreads his hands.

PUTT
I don't want you to have nothin' you can't use.

GLORIA
Putt, that's exactly what I need, and two and a half inch bolts to set 'em.

PUTT (still smiling)
Bolts? No ma'am, I don't think so. Wouldn't you be wantin' screws?

GLORIA
Putt, we been playin' this game for five years, and you don't know any more 'n you did the first day I walked in here-- H.C.'s seen it before and it makes him chuckle. But it doesn't pay to lose a customer.

H.C.
Putt, get the hinges. Miss Gloria, how's your great-granddaddy?

GLORIA
He's doin' fine, Mr. Henry, thank you. I was just tellin' Miss Cherry, he'll be 100 years old come the Fourth of July.

BO
I ain't never heard a' nobody bein' a hundred years old --

Putt lays hinges on the counter, leans over on his elbows, and picks up where he left off.

PUTT
That'd be lag bolts, carriage bolts, square head--?