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THE BRIARHOPPER ATONES - Brent Watts

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THE BRIARHOPPER ATONES

by Brent Watts

(Setting: The place between the hills and the valleys.  

Time: Right before you wake up, when the world is still a dream.) 

THE MOUNTAINS 

It has been a while. The last time we spoke like this was many years ago. 

THE BRIARHOPPER 

Yep. I reckon that’s true…How are you? 

THE MOUNTAINS 

Spare me the niceties.  

THE BRIARHOPPER 

I’m sorry.  

(A beat.)  

THE MOUNTAINS 

No, I’m sorry. It was wrong of me to lash out like that. I often forget how you and your kind take pleasure in such formalities. Forgive me. 

(A beat.) 

Are you angry with me?  

THE MOUNTAINS 

I was. For a long while.   

THE BRIARHOPPER 

Are you still? 

THE MOUNTAINS 

No. Now, I’m just hurt. I’m still hurting. All of us are. 

 

THE BRIARHOPPER 

Yeah, well, you ain’t kidding.  

THE MOUNTAINS 

What do you mean by that? 

THE BRIARHOPPER 

Look, I know you’re hurting. I know your family and your friends, they’re hurting too.  And I know, in some ways I guess, that it’s my fault. Our fault. But I’m hurting too. My family, my friends, my neighbors—we’re all hurting.  

 

THE MOUNTAINS 

I know this.  But you speak the truth. In many ways, the blame falls to you and your kin. I entrusted you with my care, Briarhopper. I offered myself up to you. Allowed you to shape me as you saw fit. A great responsibility, to be sure, but I knew you were capable. I had confidence in you.  

(A beat.) 

I still think I was right to have such faith in you.  

THE BRIARHOPPER 

I’m sorry I let you down. I—I don’t know what else to say.  

THE MOUNTAINS 

Say nothing. I know too well the contents of your heart, so I know that what you say is true. But your words, your feelings—they are not enough. Nor will they ever be.   

(THE BRIARHOPPER does not speak; their silence is enough of a reply.) 

THE MOUNTAINS 

You feel guilty. As well you should, for not only have you mistreated me, but I hear the things you say. You and your kind speak of me with shame. You have no gratitude for all that I have done for you, no respect for the bond we once had. You take and take, but never give. You abandon me.   

THE BRIARHOPPER 

Well, why shouldn’t we leave you? You’re the reason we’re like this. Isolated, distant—a hundred years behind the rest of the world. You have nothing for us now. The world is different. Where else are we supposed to go? What else can we do?  

THE MOUNTAINS 

That’s truly what you think, isn’t it?  

THE BRIARHOPPER 

You already know that it is. Your great geographies have protected us, shielded us from harm, yes—but they have smothered us, confined us just as much.   

THE MOUNTAINS 

Perhaps you are right. Perhaps in seeking to protect you, I have made you isolated, and lonely. For that I apologize. But you are wrong to blame me entirely. You know that don’t you? 

(A beat.)  

THE BRIARHOPPER 

I do. I know it.   

THE MOUNTAINS 

What has happened to us is not entirely your fault, nor is it mine. The blame falls also to the Outsiders, who came like plagues of locusts with their ill intentions. They changed us both; manipulated you, fed you lies, led you astray. You turned your back on me, and on others of your kind; you allowed hate and fear to warp your mind. You grew selfish and cold, mistrustful and paranoid, and I became afraid. In your care, I became a victim, powerless to make a difference.  

THE BRIARHOPPER 

I was wrong to let them lead me astray. I know that now.  

THE MOUNTAINS 

You were, but I suppose that is the nature of the human heart; although fickle, its great capacity for change is part of what makes your kind so special.  

THE BRIARHOPPER 

You’re preaching to the choir, buddy. It ain’t the least bit easy. Sometimes I even get mad at myself for being like I am. Truth is, I don’t even know what I’m after half the time. I don’t think anyone does. We’re all just trying to make it. 

(A beat.)  

THE MOUNTAINS 

Perhaps I have been too hard on you.  

THE BRIARHOPPER 

Yeah, maybe a little. We did used to be friends, you know.  

 

THE MOUNTAINS 

Forgive me. I know not the burden of a human heart, so at times I am as ignorant and inconsiderate as I am old. But do not let this guilt weigh too heavily upon you, my friend. I have lived many eons, so believe me when I tell you that guilt will only get you so far.  

THE BRIARHOPPER 

What should we do then?  

THE MOUNTAINS 

I’m afraid there is no “we” this time. I will do what I can, but I am weak and frail. The responsibility is entirely yours.  

THE BRIARHOPPER 

But what about what you just said? This isn’t entirely my fault. It can’t be.  

 

THE MOUNTAINS 

That’s true. It isn’t. But fault and responsibility are two very different things. Unlike fault, responsibility is an honor and a privilege. I trust you know that by now.  

THE BRIARHOPPER 

I do. 

THE MOUNTANS 

(As THE MOUNTAINS talk, they move around the space. By the end of their speech, they should be making their exit.)  

Good. Then listen well, before I go. Unkind forces, among you and elsewhere, are still at work. Many will stay and many more will come. You must fight now with your wit, your resilience. Survival is tough, but for you it comes natural. Yes, the world is different. To dwell too long on the past is to ignore the wolf at the door. But ou must not look to the past with shame or disdain; take what was good of the old and join it to the good of the new. Time marches on, steady and constant; a new world dawns not with every sunrise, but with every tick of the clock.  

(A beat.)  

Take care, old friend. Until we meet again.  

(THE MOUNTAINS exit. THE BRIARHOPPER is left all alone as the sun begins to rise behind them, shining through the Appalachian foothills. A beautiful orange glow illuminates everything.) 

END PLAY 

What do you do when you’ve hurt someone you care about and how do you move forward afterwards? Who do you blame for your problems—yourself, or others? Are you ashamed of where you’re from?  

Who/what are you responsible for? Who/what are you responsible to? What’s the difference between responsible for and responsible to

Brent Watts is a theatre artist and linguist from Breathitt County. He graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2018 and is enrolled in its Master of Arts in Linguistic Theory and Typology program.  

This column is brought to you by Our Breathitt, a community arts and health experience bringing together artists and Breathitt Countians from across Kentucky. Project is organized with IDEAS xLab (an artist-led nonprofit), and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Starting in August 2019, five collaborating writers, each with their own perspectives and ties to the county, will offer weekly columns and audio stories for radio and podcasts. Contact us at 859-397-1317 to join this conversation by leaving a voicemail with your response to the questions we raise and adding thoughts of your own! You may hear your responses incorporated into future posts and narratives! You can also email at ourbreathitt@gmail.com. We hope you will mark your calendars and join us at the Our Breathitt Summit, October 11-12 in Jackson, Kentucky. Information at www.ideasxlab.com/ourbreathitt