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The play opens on a summer afternoon in Linda’s backyard. Betty, Linda’s college-aged sister, has her back to the audience, staring over the six-foot high fence behind her. She gets on her tip-toes, trying to get a better look. Linda, a legal clerk in her late twenties, arrives home from work. She knocks her sister on the back with her briefcase.
Hey, you’re home! You got out early.
No I didn’t.
Betty frowns, puzzled. She checks her watch.
A quarter to. Geez, I must have lost track of time.
Well you waste enough of your time already. Is this all you’re going to do with your summer break?
Is what all?
Just sitting around in the backyard, zoning out in some Zen fashion. Really. You could be doing that at Mom and Dad’s house.
Oh, Mom and Dad...
She rolls her eyes.
Well, they have a backyard, too. I’m sure our parents would let you perform your Feng-Shui there.
Linda, you know there’s more to my summer than that.
Unfastening her top button:
Just today, your new neighbor stopped by to say hello.
I have a new neighbor?
Yeah, some guy. Right over the fence here. You know, when he first started talking, I thought he was nervous or something.
How long was he here?
Just a few minutes. Anyway, I said, “Hi, my name is Betty,” and when he responded, he sounded pretty nervous. Then he talks a little more, and I can clearly hear his stutter.
Linda gives Betty a “why-do-I-care” look.
He had a stutter. I guess it was just really a stopping thing. It was pretty noticeable. I thought it was fascinating. I tried to get him to talk some more, but then he seemed to get even more nervous. After that, he left.
What did he say his name was?
Oh... I forget.
Well how about your day? Meet anybody at the firm?
Take a wild guess. Ensley and Moher is the slowest place I have ever seen. In the rare instance that we do get a case, we always try and settle out of court. I seriously don’t think anybody in the office has seen a trial.
So you’ve told me...
I get so mad about it because it would help me. I know Judge Hall and half the people down at Municipal. I could do so much in a court case. Instead I just shuffle back and forth the same papers all day. That’s not what I want.
Linda turns to see Betty looming over the fence again.
Betty, is this all you’re going to do with your summer? You’ve been in the backyard all the time for the last two weeks, and now you’re practically in the new neighbor’s backyard! What’s so interesting?
Why does he stutter?
I couldn’t tell you...
There has to be some reason...
Betty, really, he probably was born that way.
That could be... That definitely could be... A stutter is always genetic. But just because you get the gene doesn’t mean you’ll stutter. And he told me that no one in his family stuttered.
You asked him about his stutter? God, Betty...
No, no! I asked him something, he tripped over the words, then he apologized and explained what he had.
But he didn’t explain why?
If no one in his family stuttered, it must mean that they somehow learned to talk around the gene. But he must have learned differently. That’s where you leave genetics. That’s where you enter psychology.
I’m pretty sure something happened to this guy that just switched him back to that stuttering gene. He went through something in his life. He’s got issues, and it’s affecting his speech.
You really think so?
It’s a guess. I want to know his story. I really want to know what happened to him.
Rolls her eyes:
Oh, a noble summer project. If you want to waste your days obsessing over the neighbors, be my guest.
Brian, Linda’s boyfriend, enters. He is wearing a large blue work coat over what seems to be a shirt and tie. He approaches Linda.
How was your day?
He holds up a hand, shaking it for emphasis:
It was horrible... It was frustrating... It was just like every other day this month! We had been planning to replace the elevators in the building for three months now. Every time we get close to actually doing it, though, the shipping company jerks us around!
So you are the manager of a building with faulty elevators?
Not faulty. The elevators are up to code, but they’re an older model, and the only things in the building that haven’t been replaced in two decades. Anyway, after months of wrangling, we finally got the new elevators today. We disassemble the older ones, then we find that the shipping company sent us the wrong model! The new elevators don’t fit! We won’t get the right elevators for a week! So now it’s going to take twice as long, and we’re stuck with three empty elevator shafts.
He sighs, then smiles.
But how was your day?
The firm is as incompetent and as boring as ever. I tell you, if we ever get some decent work in there I will jump right on it. But comparatively... I had a great day.
Good. So what are you doing—
Brian stops as Betty bumps into him. Betty has been inching along the fence, looking to the other side. She collides with Brian, swings outward, and sandwiches Brian between her and the fence. Brian gasps. Betty jumps off and hits the ground. She stands in front of Brian and looks at the ground.
Betty! What are you doing?!
Oh, Brian! I didn’t—
What kind of greeting was that?! I don’t come here to get sneak attacked!
Brian, I wasn’t-
What? Wasn’t what? Betty, why were you on the fence?!
I was looking over.
Looking over the fence? Why?
Apparently I have a new neighbor.
A new neighbor... And he lives there?
Oh, I see...
Linda, do you remember Steve? Big guy? I play poker with him?
He was here last week?
I remember. He seemed a little off.
I bet. But that was no fault of his own. It was all because of your sister here.
She stops, figuring she should remain silent.
Now, Steve has just a little thing on germs. When we played poker here, Betty was hanging all over him. He’s the new guy. Your sister was just so close and so annoying, that now Steve isn’t gonna play any more games over here.
He turns to face Betty.
I’m not saying it to be mean. But Betty, you did scare him away. Now you’ve got a new neighbor, and you’re going to do the same thing!
I never knew that Steve—
She stops again. Brian continues.
Betty. Stop! If not for the neighbor, if not for your sister, then... for the property values...
I’m... I’m sorry...
Betty looks at Brian, and begins to exit offstage left. Brian looks at Linda and sighs.
I vented at her...
He steps closer to Linda.
But you know, your sister is insane.
He stands behind her and begins to massage her shoulders. She sighs.
She holds Brian’s arm.
But I have no complaints...
Oh, this is going to be a slow summer...
That can be a good thing...
I mean work...
Linda, remember what I was talking about before?
Why don’t you take a few days off work, and we’ll go up to the lake together?
Oh, Brian, I don’t know...
Come on. Last time you said you wanted to wait for it to get warmer. It’s warmer.
I know, but Betty just got here. She’s got to get adjusted for the summer.
Aw, she’s a big girl. You can leave her here a while...
But she doesn’t know anyone...
How about the neighbor?
Linda breaks away from the massage and faces Brian.
Brian, I really don’t think it’s the time. Can we put it off to another week?
He checks his watch.
Oh, I’ve got to call Steve. Listen, I’m not done badgering you. I’ll see you later. Bye.
He pecks her on the cheek and exits stage right. Linda sighs and picks up her briefcase. She begins walking stage left toward the house, when she hears a raking sound. She looks toward the fence, and through it sees her new Neighbor, slowly raking his yard. The scene ends.
The scene opens on the backyard a few days later. Linda and Betty are playing catch with a football. Betty is wearing a different outfit and Linda is wearing a summer jacket.
So it’s murder?
It’s murder; that we’re sure of. But we have to prove that this guy did it. Or at least, had something to do with it.
But isn’t murder criminal?
I would hope so.
No, I mean that your firm only does civil cases. Isn’t this murder case a criminal trial?
No, that’s the problem. This guy was cleared of murder charges, so now he’s being sued in civil court for wrongful death.
Isn’t that double jeopardy?
Yes. But it’s only the Constitution; we don’t care.
But this is finally a real case, right?
Oh yeah. It’s real. There’s no way we can avoid taking this one to trial. The firm is going to face Judge Hall, and the firm is going to need me to do it.
She claps her hands.
Finally some action!
Beat. The football is tossed.
Say, you don’t know what tonsure is, do you?
I’m a little unsure.
Your neighbor was talking about it. He said the trees in the backyard needed it if his garden was going to get enough sunlight.
He’s got a garden?
Yeah, Warren has a really neat setup back there. He’s spent the last few days working with the soil, planting things, bringing in mulch...
She throws the football. It goes high. Linda stares at Betty and lets the ball go.
He’s been bringing home bags labeled “Living Treasures” all week. Living Treasures is some new home and garden place. But I’m sure it’s almost an hour’s drive!
There’s something about that garden, Linda. I wonder if that’s another psychological thing like the stutter...
How did you know his name is Warren?
Did he come back over here?
No, no... Actually, I almost forgot to tell you...
I picked up his mail... by mistake... It was in with our mail...
Really? I’ve never had that happen before.
I put it right over here.
Betty crosses to a small bench upstage left. She picks up a stack of letters.
I really almost forgot I kept it. Here you go.
Taking the letters:
It’s all of his mail? How did they mess this up?
I don’t know; it could be a new person thing. I mean, he just moved here. Maybe they’re having trouble redirecting the mail.
Linda eyes Betty.
So... I guess we should return the letters to Warren?
That would be the legal thing to do.
Great. He’s usually home by now, so I guess we could go right away.
Betty gives a quick look over the fence. Linda looks critically at Betty.
Tell you what. I’ll take the letters over to Warren in a little while. You don’t have to. You’re... you’re creepy.
Betty, you are seriously showing signs of obsession here! You’re staring over his fence. You wait for him to come home. You steal his mail!
It got mixed with ours!
Betty! Everything you’ve done today has centered around the new neighbor. You have to stop looking at Warren and do something else. Get a job!
Well you don’t try very hard when you’re sitting in the backyard!
That’s not fair! Linda, you’ve seen me filling out applications; you know I keep taking the classifieds.
Yeah, I know. I know that right now there are three applications sitting on top of the microwave. They aren’t going to do a lot of good unless you get them back to the stores!
But I have done that! Once...
It was a week ago. I put in an application at the sporting goods store.
Yes. I’m just waiting for them to call back. That’s all I can do.
Huh. Well if you want practice, you can start by putting that football away. Then see if we have those coupons, and call out for dinner.
She picks up the football and heads offstage left. Linda exhales sharply and flips through the mail.
Under her breath:
Betty Betty Betty...
As she flips, Warren comes in from stage right. He holds a hoe, and is dressed for gardening in jeans and a flannel shirt. Warren is about 10 years older than Linda and appears tired. He is always smiling, but his eyes give the appearance of “deer-in-headlights”.
Looks up sharply:
Huh? Oh, hello!
She puts the letters to her side and extends her hand.
With slight difficulty:
Hi, I’m Warren. I’m your neighbor—just around the corner.
Oh, hi! I’m Linda. Nice to meet you!
Yeah. I saw your car in the driveway and I thhought I’d stop by. I met your—your sister before...
Oh yeah, Betty...
She rolls her eyes.
Well, she’s home from college for the summer...
Yeah... So what do you do for a living?
I am a clerk at Ensley and Moher... It’s a law firm. How about you?
Semi-retired. I—do a little gardening now. I’m fixing up the backyard.
He holds up the hoe for emphasis.
Oh wow. You must really enjoy gardening.
Well... it’s gardening!
He shrugs, then smiles.
Oh, you know what Warren? I think I have your mail...
Really? I wouldn’t thhink they have it redirected by now.
Linda shuffles through the stack.
Well they showed up in my mailbox, and Betty told me they belonged to you, so I was going to bring them over later. I guess it’s good that you—
She stops. She fingers one letter and stares at it intently.
So that’s mine?
Oh. Oh yeah, here you are.
Linda hands the stack to Warren, except for the one letter she has found. As she turns it in her hand, it becomes obvious that this letter has been opened.
He points at the letter.
And—what’s that one?
She holds up the letter.
Oh, this was mine.
She holds the letter down and puts her hands behind her.
But yeah, if we get any more of your mail, we’ll let you know.
Listen, it was really nice meeting you!
I’m sure I’ll see you around.
Yeah. Have a nice night!
He waves and exits right. Linda looks off at him, then back at the letter. She calls out.
Betty, get out here!
Betty walks outside.
Yeah, what’s wrong?
This is what’s wrong!
It’s a letter!
It’s a letter, Betty, and it’s an open letter! It—
She glances over the fence and lowers her voice.
It’s Warren’s open letter! Betty, you’re opening his mail!
Betty says nothing and shrinks down.
I... I just...
Take a look at who it’s from.
Linda looks at the envelope.
“Saint Oliver Memorial Hospital...”
She looks at the letter inside.
It’s a bill...
You see? Linda, I thought this might explain something. The letter could have shown what was wrong with Warren.
Betty, I’m more interested in what’s wrong with you! This is criminal! I just met the guy, and you’re upset because he doesn’t yet fit your romantic description of a scarred man!
You talked to him? Then you see what I mean!
Betty, he has the stutter... and it is kinda...
Betty, you’re still wrong.
I always am...
Examining the letter:
All right, when the mail comes tomorrow, I’ll say this one showed up. I’ll tape it, somehow, and—
She stops and looks closer.
That’s pretty high.
This bill. Warren paid for some pretty expensive procedures.
It doesn’t say, but even without insurance, regular visits shouldn’t cost that much. That’s really odd...
Linda studies the bill intently until she notices that Betty is peering over her shoulder. Linda frowns and turns.
But seriously, this needs to be returned. Betty, dinner’s gonna be here soon. You should... go wait for it.
Betty slowly starts back inside. Linda sighs and sits down on the bench. She runs her fingers through her hair, and her attention goes back to the bill. She looks at it critically, then looks up in thought. Very slowly, she gets up and turns to the fence. She attempts to casually peek into Warren’s yard. She stops herself. But curiosity wins over, and she pulls the bench over to the fence, climbs on it, and looks over. The scene ends.
A week later. Linda is once again looking over the fence. She leans over for a better view.
Linda whirls around to see Warren holding a department store clothing box. She gasps and walks briskly away from the fence and toward Warren.
Warren! Oh my God, hi! Why are you here?
Warren lifts a rose from the box and hands it to her.
Here you go!
Warren! It’s beautiful!
Mmm. Yeah; It—it’s from the old garden. I figured I’d I’d bring them around the neighborhood.
The whole neighborhood?
Yeah. I just finished my block. I’m gonna see how far...the rest of this box can go.
Wow, you’re growing them and going door to door with them? That has to take up a lot of time.
Yeah. Yeah, but it—it’s part of the hobby. Everybody needs a hobby.
Warren, this really is a beautiful flower.
Thhanks. That’s a real compliment. I’m still pretty new at this, but I try. I try to keep them—keep them alive.
No, this is so professional looking. Thank you.
You’re wel... No problem. I’ll see you later!
Warren exits stage right. Linda watches as he goes. Betty walks on from stage left, wearing a work shirt. She touches the flower in Linda’s hand.
So how is the world of sporting goods?
It’s the world of sporting goods.
She sits on the bench, sighs, and stares up at Linda.
What’s today’s Warren Report?
Oh. It isn’t much. He got up at his usual time, then around 10 he had a pretty long phone call...
Oh, that reminds me. Your law firm called for you this morning. Again.
Yeah. I can call them back...
So what was the conversation about?
Warren’s phone conversation?
Right. I couldn’t tell. But then an hour later a white van pulls up, and Warren gets in. He seemed like he knew the driver.
A white van? You mean like a maintenance van? Like a hospital?
I don’t know exactly. But it was obviously some guy he knew from before.
A white van, wow...
She takes the flower from Linda, puts it down on the bench, and gets up. Betty smiles.
Hey. I didn’t tell you what I did last night.
No, you didn’t. But you’re going to.
Alright. Well, Warren left for the garden store at 8:30 last night—
—and while he was gone, I made a trip over the fence...
Linda, there’s only so much we can see from the backyard. If we want to find out about Warren, we’ve got to dig a little deeper...
Linda pauses and wrings her hands. She looks up.
So what did you do?
I looked around the garden a little bit. He has an amazing setup back there. Not much is growing yet, but everything is set apart and labeled, though I couldn’t read it cause it was dark... He’s hanging onto this garden.
This garden is important to him. Maybe it’s his escape from whatever caused him to stutter. I tried to figure that out, but I left after a little while.
You didn’t see anything else?
No, just tools and seeds. Not even a dead body in the shed.
Oh yes. Apparently, Warren doesn’t lock his shed.
She looks down at the ground and speaks quietly.
Warren doesn’t lock his car, either.
Linda reaches into her pocket and pulls out a pine-tree car air freshener. Betty is astonished.
Linda! When did you—
When the van pulled away, I went right over to his car.
His car! I can’t believe it! What did you find?
Well, not much...
Well, his car has a lot of miles on it, but that’s no surprise considering how often he drives back and forth.
His car is pretty clean. No ashtray, no CDs in the car. The glove compartment didn’t have much, either. Registration, manual... Actually, there was one weird thing.
All of the registration identification that he had, he had made photocopies of. That’s not odd, but usually you keep the photocopies someplace different.
And he didn’t?
He even had it set aside in an envelope labeled “Registration”. And get this: The label was written in a woman’s handwriting.
A woman! Warren’s woman!
Betty, this really is a puzzle, you’re right...
Oh. What about that air freshener?
Oh, don’t worry. I found this underneath his passenger side floor mat. He probably never knew it was there.
Let’s hope so...
Betty, we’re still being careful enough. Hey, I even wore gloves!
Gloves! Oh my God!
I knocked Warren’s gloves off of the rack when I was looking around his shed. Has he been in there yet today?
Oh, Geez... I’m going to have to go back over there, put his gloves back in case he notices.
Hurry up! Warren’s out right now, but he’ll be back soon!
She runs offstage right. Linda goes to sit down on the bench. She brushes the rose onto the ground and sits. She admires the air freshener as Brian comes in, perturbed, to say the least.
Explain something to me. I was just in the elevator with two lawyer types. They were arguing with each other about some case, about how it wasn’t prepared or whatever. And they were ready to come down hard on whoever was responsible.
He steps in front of her.
Linda, those were Ensley and Moher guys. They’re ready to come down on you. What’s wrong? Why haven’t you prepared this case?!
Oh, Brian... I’ve just had things come up.
Linda, you’re almost getting fired, you’re not talking to me... Something’s wrong!
You’re doing something to yourself... I just want you to explain.
Brian, it’s nothing. Betty and I have—
Oh, Betty! Don’t get me started on her. You know what I just found out?
Brian is interrupted by Betty’s entrance. She runs in, on the verge of tears, both frightened and saddened by something. She nearly crosses the stage, then turns to Linda.
Oh, Linda! We’ve been wrong! We’ve been terrible!
Betty, what is it?
Warren! His garden! It’s—it’s—
Betty stops and her eyes go wide as Warren enters. He still holds his box of flowers. Betty struggles to keep her composure.
Nice seeing you again-Brian!
She gives a quick glance at Betty, then turns back to Warren.
Yeah. I had a few leftover flowers, and then I remembered—I missed somebody...
He approaches Betty.
He hands her a rose. Betty gives a pained look.
And Betty bursts into tears. Warren looks at her.
Betty! Are you... are you all right?
Hiding her concern:
Oh, she—she’s had an exhausting day.
Well, I—I guess I’ll take that as a thank you...
Warren, you really did a beautiful job.
Aw, hey— It’s what I do. Hey—take care of her...
Brian crosses to Betty, approaches her cautiously, but goes to comfort her.
We will! See you later!
Warren exits. Linda turns to Betty, cocking her head. Betty, still upset, begins walking gingerly toward her sister.
Linda... I, I think— I changed my mind... Linda, I’m going to stay with Mom and Dad this summer.
I really have to. Linda, after what we did— I just need to...
She is lost for words.
I’m gonna pack...
She runs for the house. Linda looks on, astonished.
Linda shakes her head.
I think I know what’s going on here, and I don’t like it...
Linda turns to him.
Linda, what was it that you and Betty were doing that was so wrong? And be honest.
Linda exhales sharply.
Betty and I were trying to find out why Warren stutters.
Brian’s eyes narrow.
And this was why Betty was always peeking over the fence?
And I don’t suppose you ever tried to ask him?
Brian, that’s not exactly how it works.
Brian looks down.
Linda, I just had a conversation with Warren. I asked him about the sign on his shed.
There’s a sign on his shed?
Yeah. It’s on the other side; you can’t see just by looking over. Linda, the sign reads “Alice’s Garden”.
Alice was Warren’s wife. Alice was the gardener of the family. Alice was shot when their house was broken into. She went into a coma and eventually died. That left Warren speechless, literally. He told me he’s had trouble speaking ever since.
Can you blame him?
That’s it? And you just asked him?
That’s it! It only takes a conversation! It doesn’t take the sneaking around that Betty—and apparently you—have been doing!
Linda, it disgusts me that at the expense of your job, everything, you spent weeks stealing what I got from one conversation. That’s not the way to deal with people! You can’t expect to get to know them by sneaking around. What they give says more than what you take.
Linda is motionless, gears turning in her head.
If his wife was killed in a break-in, why doesn’t he lock his doors?
Brian’s response is cold and flat.
What else does he have to lose?
He stares at Linda.
Linda, I don’t think the guys are coming over for poker this week. I know I won’t.
He begins to exit right. He turns to her.
I’ll see you.
Brian exits. Linda looks after him, thinking hard. She stands, unsure of what to do. Finally, she walks over to the bench. Linda picks up both the air freshener and the rose she has swept to the ground. She walks center, the rose in one hand, and the air freshener in the other. She looks critically at both. Linda sighs, and throws the air freshener over the fence. With the rose in her hands, she exits toward the house. The lights fade.