The Volunteer, The Ranger, and Margot
National Park Service Volunteer (aka the Volunteer)- a bald man in his 60s. He has no hat, and he is wearing a grey shirt, adorned with a patch and embroidered words. His hands are rough from a lifetime of working outdoors as a fisherman. He retired several years ago after sustaining a back injury. His brows are constantly knit in a furrowed expression.
National Park Service Ranger (aka the Ranger)- late 30s, has a blond beard and long blond hair. He is wearing the uniform and carrying a large backpack with hiking shoes dangling from the back. He is absolutely enchanted with the island and knows the inlets like the back of his hand. He talks a lot, but is not a chatterbox.
Margot- 12 years old, has thin dark brown hair that is usually in two braids. She has a basic understanding of the wilderness through camping trips she used to take with her parents. Margot lives on the island in a community called Water Island, which is relatively secluded. Out of the three, she is the most talkative and has a bubbly personality.
Setting: The Sunken Forest at Fire Island, Summer 1976
AT RISE: The National Park Service Volunteer and the National Park Service Ranger are sitting together on a bench on the first ferry from Bay Shore to the Sunken Forest. It is a brisk, chilly morning with the smell of saltwater in the air.
Ranger You know, I was talking to the cashier at the store today before I got to the docks. Grabbed a couple of stuff to get us through the day.
Volunteer Yeah? The one on Grove? Thank God. That snack stand on the island ain’t got nothin’ but corn dogs and hot dogs. (mutters) Too many goddamn dogs.
Ranger Yeah. She asked me where I was heading off to so early in the morning. (laughs) I told her to look at my patch and she said “ Sunken Forest Fire Island”, where’s that? (beat) I couldn’t believe it. I mean, how can someone live so close to one of the most beautiful places on Earth and not know what it is?
Volunteer Ah (scoffs) those folks never knew what they were talking about. They don’t care about nothin’. The goddamn Grand Canyon could be five minutes and they’d never know it cause they were too lazy to get up from their armchairs and TV dinners. I’m tellin’ you, these people are losing curiosity, you know, their will to live. Sooner or later they won’t give a damn about anythin’. (beat) Ever been to New York?
Ranger Maybe once or twice as a child, but never liked it. It was so loud, I’d cover my ears until the day we were on the train home. Everyone in town is always so enchanted by that city but if you look at it straight, it’s just a pile of concrete.
Volunteer Air is so disgusting there it might as well be like breathing into a smokestack.
Ranger See that’s why I’d always wanna come back. The city might have all the galleries and shows, but out here… It’s always better. I like the bay when it’s calm. It seems to freeze over in an icy trance, even on the hottest days.
Volunteer Nah, I like the water rough. After the storms in the ocean, though, it did have some kinda eerie stillness. Never liked it, ‘specially when we were hauling in the catch. Seemed like something was gonna happen.
Ranger I guess that’s what made you the best fisherman on Fire Island! (laughs) My mother would always call you that. You were some kind of a local hero.
Volunteer (laughs heartily) Damnit I hated that name. It’s like I was some kinda wimp who needed a trophy to prove himself. I wasn’t a wimp. No sir, I’d be the first to dive in the waves.
Ranger You enjoyed it, though? Even with the nor’easters and the floods, the winds and the winters...
Volunteer You take it cause it’s part of the job. It was our duty to protect the island, you know? To live off it and make a living. It was our pride. I loved it, the whole thing. My dad was a bayman, my grandad was a bayman. We’ve been here for a long time.
Ranger Why’d end up moving to Bay Shore?
Volunteer (long pause) In the end, the island always wins. Nearly took my life couple of years back. We were haulin’ in the catch and outta nowhere this storm comes and the waves were big... They nearly washed me into the ocean. I thought I was a gone man.
Ranger (pause) I lived in Saltaire until I was about 20. I wanted to be a fisherman or a baymen, somethin’ of the sort. Then... (sighs heavily) I guess being a ranger is as close as I’ll get, huh?
Volunteer It’s better than being one of them brainwashed crooks.
(They both stare out into the bay. Finally, the Ranger sighs and stands up. The Volunteer follows suit. They slowly make their way to the lower level of the ship, where they would soon be docking).
(Footsteps are heard and the Ranger and the Volunteer are seen coming up the stairs at the front of the stage. They stand at the doorway, and the rest of the stage is dark. The Ranger unlocks the door (mimed or real unsure yet) , and finds the light switch. The lights illuminate the small, cramped space, and the Ranger and Volunteer enter the small National Park Service Sunken Forest shack. They start checking the windows and open areas to see if the nightly rain had found a way in (for it always does). They are completely oblivious to the green sleeping bag on the floor, until the Volunteer turns around to walk to the center of the room and feels that he stepped on something rather soft. In disbelief, he looks down, then looks up.)
Volunteer Hey, (motions to the bag) this here last night?
Ranger (turns around from a leak he was repairing) ...No?
Volunteer (mutters) We’ve got someone here then.
Ranger Looks like it. (beat) Should we… I dunno...Find the intruder?
Volunteer (shrugs) I guess.
(There is a banner on the back wall which reads: National Park Service- 1916-1976: 60 Year Anniversary. The two start look around the space. There isn’t much room for one to hide in the shack. There’s a couple of bookshelves and brochure stands. The only significant pieces of furniture of the shack are the two counters: one in the back of the shack, and one at the side. They hear the opening of some plastic wrapping, which seems to be coming from behind the side counter where we see a girl with her knees drawn up to her chest, hiding )
Volunteer Hey, (motions to the counter) back here
(They both stealthily go around and find Margot crouching behind the counter. She has two braids, and in one hand was an opened granola bar and in another was a small pendant. After several moments of silence, she smiles)
Margot Mornin’, fellas!
(The Ranger and Volunteer slowly squat down to either side of her.)
Margot Uh.. Sure is nice out there this mornin’, huh? ‘Specially after that squall last night, huh?
(Neither the Ranger nor the Volunteer dare say a word)
Margot (looking at the windows) You guys have a real leaky cabin, huh? (forced laughter from Margot. When she sees that her joke caused no reaction, she sighs) I was patching up the leaks all night long. I would have been in knee deep water if I hadn’t. Luckily my dad (she pauses, and takes a deep breath), that’s right he taught me how to patch up leaks in the old cabin. (she smiles to herself as she reminiscences)
Ranger (to himself) This is gonna be a long day.
Margot Hey,( she snaps out of her day dream) I can hear you. (turns to the Ranger). What’s your name?
Ranger I don’t have one.
Margot (baffled) Everyone ‘s got a name. What’s yours?
Ranger Don’t have one. I’m just the Ranger.
Margot It’s real hard to imagine that. I honestly cannot even imagine how hard life must be if you don’t have a name. (she laughs)... And you? Don’t tell you don’t have one either!
Volunteer Now wait a second there, miss. Before you get all smart with me, you gotta tell us who you are, and so help me God if you don’t.
Margot (laughs again) I’ll tell you exactly who I am. I’m Jan Brady and I’m part of the Brady Bunch. I ran away from the family ‘cause it was just too much to handle. All that fame, you know? It’s real tough bein-
Volunteer We ain’t foolin around here, miss. If we don’t find out in the next 10 seconds your name, age, and where you’re from, I’ll have to call the police. Of course, if the wires ain’t tangled from those winds last night.
Margot (a long sigh, then finally she starts speaking) My name is Margot, I’m 12 years old, and I can’t tell you where I’m from.
Ranger Well.. why not? I don’t understand.
Margot You’ll send me back if I tell you...
Volunteer Send you back where?
Margot ...Or you’ll start screaming and you’ll call the child protection services and then I’ll be an orphan forever! (she springs up from her hiding place)
Volunteer You sure talk a lot for a girl your age… Now tell me where you’re coming from and we’ll try our best to send you back home.
Margot (shaking her head) I can’t go back.
Volunteer What are you? Some kind of activist that can’t go back to their home country? You tell us-
Ranger I hope you know that reference went completely over her head.
Volunteer Well I ain’t too sure of that she’s pretty goddamn smart.
Ranger (turning to Margot) First of all, tell us, are you in some kind of grave danger?
(There’s a moment of silence. Margot shifts around a bit in her spot. The Ranger and the Volunteer make eye contact and confused expressions, after all the situation is extremely bizarre and neither of them know what to do. )
Margot Well, not exactly. See I, uh, went away. I didn’t run away, so you don’t have to call child protection services because the situation at home ain’t bad or somethin’ like that-
Volunteer Miss, I still don’t understand. What do you mean by “went away”? You know, if your mom don’t know about it, they call it runnin’ away.
Ranger Hush, she hasn’t finished.
(Margot looks down at her feet and walks to one of the windows, where she continues to stare off into the distance. She seems to be worried about something, but she has on a mask of coolness in effort to impress the Ranger and the Volunteer)
Volunteer (taking the Ranger to the side) What the hell are we gonna do with this girl?
Ranger Hey, there now, she seems alright.
Margot (still staring into the window) It looks like it’s gonna rain again.
Volunteer Take it easy back there
Ranger Don’t you have grandchildren?
Volunteer Not when you haven’t seen them in 7 years.
Ranger (sighing) Well we have quite a situation in our hands. I dunno, maybe we should call the office or the island police. .
Volunteer We can’t do that ‘cause we ain’t got no information about this girl. They’ll laugh in our faces if we tell ‘em we got some 12 year old girl and we know nothin’ else. Besides, the island police ain’t interested in you unless you got a lead on a drug bust.
Ranger Yeah that‘s very true. You know they just had one a couple of days ago in the Fire Island Pines?
Volunteer They‘re always trippin‘ on acid over there.
Ranger So what do we so about her?
Volunteer (sighs) I guess she can hang around here while we figure somethin’ out. Meanwhile we gotta get all the brochure stands and benches outside.
Ranger Yeah well get ’em out there. (looks to Margot) Hey, Margot. Wanna help us out?
Volunteer (looks at the Ranger in a puzzled manner) Are you kidding me? She’s as skinny as a stick. She ain’t gonna be able to pick up those benches, we can hardly do it ourselves.
Ranger I pick up the benches, you stand there rolling a cigarette.
Volunteer (shrugs) I got a bad back but you know, I’m there for the emotional support.
Ranger (sighs) Well let’s get them out there.
Margot (runs over) Hey you guys called me over?
(She’s standing there with her eyes sparkling. Margot is fidgeting a bit while the Ranger and the Volunteer stand on either side of her. The stage goes dark, and occasionally there are flashing lights from the back that illuminate their silhouettes that indicate the movement of the benches. The banjo accompaniment of “This Land is Your Land” starts to softly play. The three characters start to hum along whilst moving the benches as indicated with the flashing light. After around 1 minute, the stage lights slowly come back, and we can see that there is a bit more room in the shack ).
(When the lights come back on, we see that they are sitting together at the counter in the back)
Margot (shifting around on her stool) Is it always this slow around here?
Volunteer (looking through drawers) Depends.
Margot Well aren’t there usually more people coming over here?
Ranger I think the clouds are scaring the people. After all, they don’t want to be rained on at the beach.
Margot Come on, there’s so much more to this island than just the sand! I mean, look at the trees and the dunes. The birds and deer. I really don’t understand those people.
Ranger You took the words right out of my mouth.
Margot Then there’s the people coming from the shore areas who come over with their jaws on the ground, sayin’, (in an exaggerated and funny voice) “MY GOD, Margaret! Who would’ve known that such a beauty was only 20 minutes away by boat?!” and then the wife would say, ( high pitched) “Oh Tommy you’re such a genius! Thank you for getting us out here to eat sandwiches, throw Coke bottles in the sand, and swim like a baby afraid of water!”
(The Volunteer and Ranger are laughing heartily, and Margot smiles)
Volunteer (recovering from his laughing fit) You’re a sharp whip alright. (muttering with a smile) Swimming like a baby afraid of water. (grumbling) Jesus Christ where are those matches?
Margot Whatcha lookin for?
Ranger Hey, I thought you were trying to quit.
Volunteer (smiles) The habits of the sea don’t die so easy.
Ranger You’re a sly man. (takes the matches from the drawers on his side of the table) Here you go.
Volunteer (laughs) See without my pipe, this rotten cabin wouldn’t have that rural feel-
Margot (interjects) My dad used to smoke a pipe.
Volunteer Really? What kind of a pipe did he smoke?
Margot How am I supposed to know?
Volunteer Well… (pauses) I suppose you could describe it to me.
Margot I don’t remember it much. It’s been...kind of a long time.
Volunteer Mhm. Well, my pipe is called the half bent taper because it bends slightly right here at the stem.
Margot (pretending to be interested) Huh.
Volunteer I used to smoke a quarter bent squat bulldog, but then after the accident I decided to change my habits a bit. I thought I didn’t have much time left, so I threw my pipe away. Big mistake on my part, cause I realized-
Margot (loudly) Someone’s coming to the door!
Ranger (straining to see) That should be… Randy, I believe.
( Randy comes into the small station. He is a retired bayman who now owns his own boat dispatch business, but he often delivers the morning papers to the island communities. He’s a tough 85 year old man with a chipped tooth)
Randy Mornin’ fellas. How’d you weather the storm?
Volunteer Can’t call it much of a storm, can ya? (they laugh, and the Volunteer comes from behind the counter to hug him) How’ve you been holdin’ up?
Randy My wife’s finally found the stash. Bless her soul, she was so angry.
Ranger Well looks like you made it out alive.
Randy You can count your lucky stars on that one today. Who knows what’ll happen when she finds the other stash (they all start laughing and Margot sits quietly at the counter, trying to cower away from sight).
Volunteer Got the papers then, Randy?
Randy Always got ‘em. 100 Fire Island Gazettes fresh off the press. (he places them in the small stand next to the counter and looks up to see Margot staring at him) Who’s this?
Ranger Ah (he rubs his hand on the back of his neck in a flustered manner) That... is (beat) Margot.
Randy Margot, huh. (turns to Margot) And where’d you come from, Margot?
Margot Water Island. (she instantly remembers too late that she was trying to keep her origins a secret, and looks to the floor sheepishly)
Randy God that’s real far.
(The Volunteer and Ranger groan)
Randy What’s the matter?
Volunteer Oh God Almighty (sighs heavily) we’ve been trying to get that information out of her ever since she got here and now she just blurts it out to the first stranger that passes by. (turns to Margot angrily) Dont’chya trust us? (he is fuming)
Ranger Hey, easy now. (turns to Margot) Hey, Margot (beat) why didn’t you...tell us where you were from? You know we...are trying to help you.
Margot (looks around skittishly) I kind of... forgot that I didn’t tell you? (The Ranger and the Volunteer are visibly disappointed) It’s just that Randy reminds me so much of this man at Water Island who used to go out on a skiff every morning with my dad. I dunno, I guess I thought it was him.
Randy I actually was a bayman but I retired fifteen years ago. I used to work with (gestures to the Volunteer) this man over here. Damn good catcher, he was.
Volunteer Ah, stop it would’ya. You weren’t so bad yourself. Now look at ya, ownin’ a business ‘n everything.
Randy It ain’t so bad. Besides, it makes good money. And lemme tell you, it comes in handy when your wife wants to redo the livin’ room for the fourth time.
Margot A bayman traps the fish in the Long Island Sound, right?
Randy (laughs) Oh it’s much more than that.
Volunteer (reminiscing) yeah, it was quite the life. (beat) I miss the water everyday.
Randy Well if you ever feel like workin’ with water again, you can always call me.
Volunteer And to be stuck with you for thirty more years? No thanks Randy I think I’ll pass (laughs)
Randy What a joker. Oh (he turns to the Ranger) By the way, Lauren is examining the boardwalk right now to the beach. She’ll be comin’ up in a couple of minutes.
Ranger Has it already been a month? I thought she came last week?
Volunteer Nope it’s been a month, pal. (pats him on the back) Better get the books then.
Randy Mind if I wait around outside for a little while? I’m takin’ her from station to station for the monthly check ups. (looking at his watch) She’s throwin’ me off my time schedule, though. I have papers to deliver.
Ranger Sure thing. I think they might have coffee at the snack stand at the docks.
Randy They don’t make their coffee they way I like it. (sighs) I’ll try to knock some sense into their watered down shit--
Ranger Ahem (nods his head towards Margot, still sitting at the counter)
Randy Oh god, I’m sorry. (sways awkwardly side to side) Well, I’m gonna head out.
Volunteer See ya, Randy.
Margot Bye, Randy!
Randy Nice meeting ya, Margot! (nods his head to Ranger) See ya.