by Edward Crosby Wells


AT RISE: The setting is high in the Rocky Mountains in a former silver mining camp town known as Little Mercy. There is a table with a single burning candle flanked by three chairs, a couple barrels and somewhere a crucifix hangs. Somewhere there is a shovel, a pail and a hammer lying about. The characters are three nuns, MARY MADELINE, PRECIOUS LITTLE and AMBROSIA who are seen sweeping, scrubbing and generally cleaning. They are whistling (perhaps something from The Sound of Music).

MARY: (On her knees scrubbing the floor. Stops whistling.) Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I don’t remember signing on for this kind of manual labor.

PRECIOUS: (Cleaning something.) What kind of manual labor did you sign on for?

MARY: Something more useful to God, I should suppose.

AMBROSIA: Indeed, you should. Get off your knees, Mary Magdalene, and get closer to God.

MARY: Madeline. It’s Mary Madeline. (Rising.) If you call me Mary Magdalene again I’ll—


PRECIOUS: Beat her with your rosary?

AMBROSIA: Not the rosary, Sister Precious Little—it was blessed by the Pope himself.

PRECIOUS: That’s her story.

MARY: It certainly was—when he came to Denver.

AMBROSIA: I don’t remember the Pope coming to Denver.

MARY: Because you were doing penitence for having a conversation during the shrill murmur of Holy Silence.

PRECIOUS: Ah, yes—we both were.

MARY: Precisely. It takes a minimum of two to have a conversation. You were both caught whispering behind the Shrine of Mother Cabrini.

AMBROSIA: Another martini for Mother—

MARY: Don’t start.

PRECIOUS: Does there really have to be two to have a conversation?

AMBROSIA: At least.

PRECIOUS: So, when we talk to God are we having a conversation?

MARY: Some of us are.

AMBROSIA: And some of us aren’t. Some are just blowing stinky hot air out their behinds.

MARY: Sister Ambrosia, I never—

AMBROSIA: Of course you have. Every time Sister Flatulence cooks her cabbage casserole.

MARY: (Giggles.) I love her cabbage casserole. I always have seconds.

AMBROSIA: (Snickering.) We know.

PRECIOUS: How can you tell?

AMBROSIA: If she always has seconds?

PRECIOUS: If talking to God is having a conversation.

AMBROSIA: If you’ve got to ask, Precious Little, you’re probably talking into a vacuum.

PRECIOUS: Surely, you don’t mean—

AMBROSIA: An empty space—an abomination in the eyes of God.

PRECIOUS: Honestly. I know what a vacuum is. I’m not as dumb as all that.

AMBROSIA: That's your story.

MARY: I thought it was Mother Nature who abhorred an empty space?

AMBROSIA: Mother Nature is not a member of our Order. Besides, I’m not so gullible as to believe for a moment that Sister Mary Magneto had a private audience with the Pope.

MARY: Believe what you want. The Pope blessed this rosary and that’s all I’ve got to say in that regard.

PRECIOUS: Didn’t stop her from trying to strangle Mother Bernardino with it.

MARY: Mother Bernardino is a witch!

AMBROSIA: Whatever she is or is not, your vile behavior got us banished to—where in perdition are we? It sure ain’t home—is it, Sisters?

PRECIOUS: Little Mercy. We have been sentenced to Little Mercy, Colorado where the air is thinner than—air.

AMBROSIA: Air? Where the air is thinner than air?

PRECIOUS: Why not?

AMBROSIA: Hot air and hooey maybe. That’s like saying water is wetter than water.

PRECIOUS: My point. Surely, there is something wetter than water.

AMBROSIA: Sister Mary McMuffin’s Depends.

AMBROSIA and PRECIOUS giggle, do a high-five and a little jig.

MARY: I don’t wear Depends, Sister Ambrosia.

AMBROSIA: I remember differently, Sister Margarita.

MARY: Once. Just once, back in the convent—when I had that bladder infection. I haven’t needed them since. (After a pause.) I suppose you two dancing penguins think you’re funny. Unlike you, Precious Little, I don’t suffer from short-term memory loss. So, let me repeat it once more before I do something, ladies, that all the Hail Marys said on all the beads in all the universe can’t rectify: My name is Mary Madeline. Not Magdalene, mandolin, Metamucil, Magellan, magnesium or any other M-word you can conjure. Get it?


MARY: Good.

PRECIOUS: (Looking about—after an uncomfortable pause. ) Has anyone seen Brother Francis?

MARY: He’s back at the convent where you left him.

PRECIOUS: No, I packed him.

MARY: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Sister Precious, but Mother Bernardino confiscated him. I would have said something but she makes me afraid—afraid I just might accidentally kill her.

AMBROSIA: (Aside.) Uh-huh. Let’s hope the Pope didn’t bless any of her cutlery.

PRECIOUS: No she didn’t confiscate him.

MARY: She certainly did. He was missing an eye and she said he looked demonic—probably possessed—and since our Order no longer performs exorcisms, she thought it best to burn him.

PRECIOUS: Demonic? She burned Brother Francis?

MARY: At the stake.

PRECIOUS: You’re making this up. Please tell me you’re making this up.

MARY: I’m so sorry.

AMBROSIA: I was there too—hiding behind the tree with Mary Magnet as Butch Bernardino danced in the altogether ‘round the burning bear.

MARY: It wasn’t a pretty sight.

PRECIOUS: I could cry.

MARY: You could. I would.

AMBROSIA: You certainly could. Why don’t you?

PRECIOUS: I just might.

MARY: We ought to be cleaning, Sisters. As old Bernardino would say, “Let’s have a little less jaw work and a little more claw work!”

AMBROSIA: Stop sucking up to Jesus, Mary!

MARY: I’m not sucking up to Jesus. What a terrible thing to say. The sooner we clean this . . . this . . . I don’t know what to call this.

AMBROSIA: Try hovel . . . beaver hole . . . Satan’s shanty—

PRECIOUS: Don’t you know that a one-eyed bear is good luck?

AMBROSIA: Not for the bear.

PRECIOUS: Well, how am I supposed to get to sleep, huh? I can’t sleep without Brother Francis.

MARY: You could always count sheep, I do. They’re so cuddly—sheep.

PRECIOUS: Are there sheep in Little Mercy?

AMBROSIA: The air is—

MARY: Thin? Sheep need meadows.

AMBROSIA: You might see a mountain goat every now and again.

PRECIOUS: I’ll be sure to keep my distance.

AMBROSIA: Then don’t go spelunking, Precious.

PRECIOUS: They have horns—and cloven feet.

MARY: So does Mother Bernardino.

PRECIOUS: I need Brother Francis or I shall never sleep. I want my Frankie bear! MARY: You mean teddy bear.

PRECIOUS: Whatever.

AMBROSIA: I hope you remembered to pack your lithium.

PRECIOUS: They’re in the barrel.

MARY: The whole barrel?

PRECIOUS: Except for a few personal items, yes. (There is a SILENCE as the other nuns stare at her.) Well . . . we are going to be here for six long months, aren’t we?

AMBROSIA: Thanks to Sister Mary Margarine.

MARY: I have heard it said that ambrosia is the food of God and all His saints and angels. Before I go to sleep tonight I’ll pray to Jesus that He may find you deliciously edible!

PRECIOUS: He’d get a stinky behind after that!

AMBROSIA: Sister Precious, you’re like a watch that runs backwards—every time one looks to you for the time it’s much earlier than one thinks?

PRECIOUS: What’s that supposed to mean?

MARY: Yeah, I don’t get it, either.

AMBROSIA: Which one of you was bounced on your head in the marble baptism fount?

MARY: I don’t remember. Was it you, Precious?

PRECIOUS: Mine was a baptism in a wading pool.

MARY: Was it inflatable?

PRECIOUS: I believe it was. Well, it could have been. It was yellow with little blue dolphins—and it was wet and blessed.

AMBROSIA: So was Mary Marshmallow’s rosary when the Bishop had to unwrap it from around Mother Bernardino’s throat. The beads had sunken so deep into her flesh, the blind could read their Hail Marys on her neck for weeks.

MARY: (Fingering her rosary.) I will pray to the Blessed Virgin to forgive you for that.

AMBROSIA: Why? You’re the one holding the smoking gun, the object of terror, the blessed garrote—blessed by the Pope and drenched in the blood of the Holy Mother. That temper of yours needs . . . tempering.

MARY: Were I not a bride of Jesus, I think I might want to rip your heart out and stuff it up that never-used orifice of yours.

PRECIOUS: Sister Mary! Remember yourself! You are a bride of Jesus and that orifice belongs to God!

AMBROSIA: We’re here to be disciplined, Sisters. May I suggest we get to cleaning this pathetic rat hole before winter sets in.

MARY: Remember your vow of poverty, Ambrosia. Embrace nothing and there’s nothing to embrace.

AMBROSIA: Why don’t you embrace your inner nothingness, Sister Mango?

MARY: I’m simply reminding you that this humble cottage is only as bad as you make it.

PRECIOUS: Humble cottage? Mary, if I had brought more lithium I’d be glad to share it with you.

AMBROSIA: Since when has a vow of poverty included an outhouse abandoned by untold scores of silver miners doing God knows what behind the door.

PRECIOUS: You mean—

AMBROSIA: I certainly do.

MARY: Bless us and save us.

AMBROSIA: They’re men being men, after all.

PRECIOUS: And men being men means—

AMBROSIA: They stand. And they don’t always lift the seat and when they do they leave it up.

MARY: You don’t need to worry about that. There are no seats in the outhouse—just a weathered old hole.

PRECIOUS: Oh my, I didn’t know we had an outhouse.

MARY: We’ve been here for three days.

PRECIOUS: I’ve been holding it.

MARY: There’s something shiny down there.

PRECIOUS: Down where?

MARY: You know—down below the weathered hole.

AMROSIA: You looked?

MARY: Something was catching the sun between my legs.

AMBROSIA: Stop! Stop right now! Not another word!

MARY: It’s true. There was something reflecting up from down in the—the doodoo.

PRECIOUS: So you stuck your head in there?

MARY: Well, kind of. It looked silver. Lots of it—piles of it.

AMBROSIA: (Mocking.) Piles of it all right.

MARY: I’ll check it out again later—see what’s down there.

AMBROSIA: You do that, Sister Mary Manure.

PRECIOUS: I’ll go with you, Sister Mary. We’ll climb down there together.

AMBROSIA: (To the heavens.) Oh God! Deliver us! We’ll never make it six whole months. (To MARY.) This is your fault! We could all be back enjoying a nice bowl of hot soup and cabbage casserole, instead of cleaning this filthy shack.

MARY: It’s not all my fault. The two of you goaded me on. I’m sorry, Sister Precious, but the truth is the truth. None of us are perfect. The two of you were like the cheering section from asunder shouting, “When you can’t transubstantiate, strangulate, strangulate, strangulate!”

PRECIOUS: I thought it sounded reverent—considering the nature of what was going on. The Bishop was leaving for Rome. You were strangling Mother Bernardino. Then a stray dog wandered over and was doing something unspeakable to the Bishop’s leg.

AMBROSIA: He didn’t seem to mind.

PRECIOUS: It was such a nice day—for awhile anyway.

MARY: I only wanted to show Mother Bernardino how mad she made me. She’s always picking on me and I had enough. But you two had to egg me on. What choice did I have but to try and kill her? It really wasn’t my fault. Now, the two of you are condemned to share in my penitence—serves you right.

AMBROSIA: Well, what are we going to do for the next six months?

MARY: We could try behaving like the brides of Jesus we are.

AMBROSIA: That sounds somewhat hypocritical coming from the Butcher of the Abbey.

MARY: Put a muzzle on it, Sister!

PRECIOUS: Any of you ever think of getting a divorce?

MARY: You mean—

AMBROSIA: Leaving the—



AMBROSIA: Watch your tongue, Sister.

MARY: Careful what you say while wearing the habit. He will hear you.

PRECIOUS: The problem is that when I hear Him instead of myself we can get this marriage consummated, or annulled. We’re condemned to here for whether we like it or not. Didn’t you say it takes two to have a conversation?

MARY: Yes.

AMBROSIA: Of course.

PRECIOUS: Well, I’m tired of doing all the talking.

AMBROSIA: Mary Mandolin, what does she mean?

MARY: I think she means she’s tired of doing all the talking.

AMBROSIA: Mary Maudlin, this would be a good time to honor your vow of silence.

PRECIOUS: I think I want an annulment.


MARY: I’m worried for your precious soul, Precious.

PRECIOUS: Every time I pray to God I find that I am talking to myself.

AMBROSIA: If you’d shut up long enough and listened—

MARY: That’s perjury.

AMBROSIA: You mean blasphemy, don’t you, Mary Marxist?

A flash of LIGHTNING followed by a loud clap of THUNDER.

MARY: I think we should get on our knees and pray for God’s forgiveness.

The nuns fall to their knees, fold their hands, lift their heads heavenward and pray.

PRECIOUS:(After a long pause.) I don’t hear anything.

MARY: Listen with your heart, Precious.

PRECIOUS: I’m trying.

MARY: Well, what do you hear?

PRECIOUS: Thump, thump, thump.

AMBROSIA: Silver! This is an old silver mine, isn’t it?

PRECIOUS: Abandoned years ago.

AMBROSIA: That’s what the reflection was on Sister Mary Madeline’s thighs—a sign from God in the outhouse?

MARY: That doesn’t seem right.

AMBROSIA: We’re rich! There’s silver in the bottom of the well.

PRECIOUS: Hardly a well, Ambrosia. More like the pit of hell.

MARY: I can smell the sulfur now.

AMBROSIA: You’re going to be smelling something else and it ain’t gonna be sulfur. Let’s go ladies! We’re rich!

The nuns run about. AMBROSIA grabs a shovel and a pail. After a moment to consider, she hands off the pail to MARY, her new best friend.

AMBROSIA: Follow me, Sisters! (She heads for the door followed by MARY. They exit.)

PRECIOUS: (Grabs a hammer and starts for the door, turns back and looks heavenward.) Thank You, God. Thanks for the sign, even if it was between my legs. We don’t need to have a conversation—I know You’re there. (Moves to exit then turns around again.) Oh, and God, please take care of Brother Francis. He's only got one eye, but he sees better than most with two. And one more thing, if You don't mind, would You kindly take Mother Bernardino to Your bosom sooner than later. Thank you. (She exits.)




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