Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hellhound 21: All My Love's in Vain


Now signs of the town of Greenwood are visible in the distance. Johnson sits in the shade of a tree, picking out a tune on his guitar and keeping a watchful eye on the roadhouse. When Betty Mae appears and walks hesitantly toward him, he stands up.

BETTY MAE: I cain't see you, Robert. It's not right. (mournfully) Why are you here?

JOHNSON: Baby, I had to see you--I got things to say. You gone back to town, ain'cha? I walk you there.

He picks up his suitcase and starts in the direction of Greenwood. Betty Mae stands still for a moment, torn two ways, then when Robert stops and motions to her, she reluctantly moves forward, still keeping her distance from him.


The camera move discovers Ralph's face, inside his roadhouse, watching their departure. Tight on his face then, we see he imagines the worst: Betty Mae's old love has returned to steal her away. He shows a mixture of anguish and anger.


Robert and Betty Mae walk along the highway heading to Greenville. They walk in silence at first. When they do talk, they avoid each other's eyes--when one turns, the other looks away.

JOHNSON: I need you. I ain' know till now jes' how much. (after a pause) I got to ramble, it's in me. I alluz thinkin' I could run alone or wid some buddy, an' fin' woman love whensoever I want, wherever... But that kin' ain' nothin'--no better'n wind in the trees an' dust in the road. You lonelier'n if you was alone.

Betty Mae is watching him now, but Robert stares resolutely off into the distance.

JOHNSON: Bad luck doggin' me ever'where I go... I know I have done evil--I kill one man, an' I hurt some peoples, you mos' of all I 'spect.

Now Betty Mae looks away, resisting her impulse to comfort him.


His face as he continues.

JOHNSON: I was angry, an' I give you up that way, when what I shoulda done, I shoulda hol' on tighter. Ain' been no whole man no day since--juicin' an' foolin' aroun'. (bitter laugh) I been near drownin' in that stuff.


Now he stops and faces her, pleading.

JOHNSON: But i ain't in that fast life now. No more, Mae. I come for you now--you what I been try'na fin' all these years.

Betty Mae has her hands over her ears.

BETTY MAE (wailing): Stop it, damn you, Robert! Stop...

She backs away from him before continuing.

BETTY MAE: I love you, Robert. I do. But it's too many years. I'm married now. You cain't jes' come here...


Robert is thoughtful as he resumes walking; Betty Mae falls in step beside him.

JOHNSON: I ain' come here t' take you off, Mae. Onlies' thing that's set, I be playin' at Ralph's t'night. Well, tha's my life, ain' it?

BETTY MAE: Ralph loves me strong, Robert. He's a decent man, a hard-workin' man. But he won't accept anythin' between you an' me. He's proud, an' he hol's onto what's his. I won't leave him. 'Specially now...

JOHNSON: I ain't aimin' to do no one else wrong. I ain' so greedy, Mae, no more. I been playin' these blues long enough--I reckon I kin live 'em a mite longer.

Now Betty Mae grabs his arm, stops, and turns him toward her.


She is almost in tears.

BETTY MAE: It's forever, baby. I been tryin' to tell you--I got Ralph's child in me now.


His reaction: stunned amazement, followed by disappointment, and then somehow a visible acceptance. He nods, chuckles, and slowly walks on.

JOHNSON: Well, well... he's a lucky man. (quietly, almost an incantation) God bless the chile.

Now he takes Betty Mae's hand in his; she allows it now.

JOHNSON (smiling cheerfully): That's all right, mama. Nothin' bad between us. (singing a bit ridiculously) Got a house full o' chil'ren, ain' ne'er one mine...

He winks at Betty Mae, and she laughs in pleased relief. Then, hand in hand, more like old friends than ex-lovers, the two of them amble on down the highway towards Greenwood.

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