Seneca and Nell Discuss Native American Legends
(January 1976)

Nell looking at the mask

(It is the middle of the night and Nell is sitting alone in the dark in front of the fire, looking at some kind of mask. Seneca comes into the room, presumably from bed.)

SENECA: Couldn't you sleep?

NELL: (turning to him, startled) Oh, I'm sorry if I disturbed you.

SENECA: No, no, I woke up and you were gone. (pointing to the mask) Will your friend mind if I join you?

NELL: No. But he was your friend first.

SENECA: You know, it's really interesting that you should have him with you here tonight.

NELL: Why?

SENECA: Well, the Seneca New Year's ceremonies are being performed somewhere right this very minute.

NELL: (smiles) Ah, the Dance of the Husk Faces. The bringers of joy and abundance leave their marvelous country to encourage us to live with joy in ours.

SENECA: You've got it.

NELL: The country where everyone is happy and prosperous, the country with the strange name.

SENECA: The Land of the Burnt Stumps.

NELL: It all sounds so desolate to me.

SENECA: Oh no, no, no, see, in order to get sun to the crops, the Senecas bring up patches of forest, so that a country of burnt stumps was really farmland, a country of peace and fertility. And since corn was the most important crop, it was natural that the spirits that lived in the Land of the Burnt Stumps had faces made of corn husks.

NELL: It looks a bit like a sun face too, doesn't it?

SENECA: Yeah, I think it's supposed to.

NELL: Hmm...I wrote your mother and told her that you had given it to me. I just got an answer back today. I meant to show it to you. It's in the other room.

SENECA: (smiles) She didn't object?

NELL: No, she was pleased, she said she hoped it would help. I've been sitting here, holding it, thinking of the person who made it from the green corn leaves with the sun, and the sun still in it, celebrating the fall and grateful for food, knowing that winter was coming, that in January when it was cold and dark, he'd need to feel close to a spirit, who could prove that summer would come again. That's what I want to feel, and I can't. It's bad tonight, Seneca, it really is.

(He puts his arm around her, and pauses before responding.)

SENECA: Did I help?

NELL: (sighs) No, I don't think so. Your mother's letter didn't help, Maeve Ryan couldn't help, (smiles) "my friend" can't help, and I don't seem to be able to help myself.

SENECA: To do what, Nell?

NELL: Oh, to feel something, anything other than sadness. That's all that's there and I can't get around it or get through it.


NELL: I can't. I wish I could.

(She puts her head up against his.)

SENECA: You know in the ceremonies, some of the spirits chant, but people who wear this (picking up the mask) they don't speak. All they can do is a kind of lone whisper, like the wind in the corn. So they have to bring hope and encouragement without words. I wish I knew how they did that.

(She kisses his cheek.)

NELL: Thank you anyway.

SENECA: (looking at the fireplace) The fire's just about out. Come on, let's go back to bed.

He helps her up

(He helps her up and they go into the other room, him with his arm around her shoulders. After they are gone, the background music stops and the camera focuses on the mask, lying on the floor. In the next scene, they are lying in bed, asleep. He suddenly wakes up and sits up, screaming her name. She wakes up.)

NELL: It's alright, darling, I'm here.

SENECA: You were on the bridge.

NELL: I'm not on the bridge, I'm right here next to you.

SENECA: Come closer.

(He puts his arm around her, then they lie down next to each other.)

NELL: Here I am. Is that better? (pause) What bridge?

SENECA: I don't know. It was over the Log(?) Stream back home, only the stream was a black river and the trees went all the way down to the bank. It was all very dark. You were on the bridge.

NELL: Where were you?

SENECA: I was in the forest.

NELL: Waiting for me?

SENECA: No, no, you were leaving without me.

NELL: What happened? Don't you want to tell me?

SENECA: Well, you didn't want to cross the bridge, you were afraid of it. (She sighs.) I didn't want you to go either.

NELL: Well we all know what that was about, don't we?

SENECA: Nell, Nell, it was a snake bridge.

NELL: A what?

SENECA: It's a story of my mother's, I used to lie awake at night imagining it. I dreamed it once or twice. It was always myself on the bridge, yelling for my father to make it stop.

NELL: It was a Seneca story that made you dream about a bridge?

SENECA: No, no, it's a Plains Indian story, I think. The bridge was only a part of it. It's a death legend.

NELL: Tell me.

SENECA: You sure?

NELL: Yes. Maybe if you talk it out you won't have to dream it again.

SENECA: Well, when a member of the tribe died, he was buried with all the things one would have on a journey of life. And after the death of the body, the soul started on a path westward. It traveled on until it came to the bridge, which was over water. Now, the bridge was a moving and sinking thing, it was a very very difficult thing to cross, because it moved and it rolled and it sank. When the traveler got to the other side safely, he saw why, because in reality the bridge was a huge serpent swimming the river and moving and twisting its coils in the water.

NELL: And I was on that bridge in your dream?


NELL: What happened to the traveler then?

SENECA: Well, he went on four days and four nights across the vast plain until he finally came to the Land of the Spirits, and then he found all of his relatives and his ancestors since the beginning of time. They greeted him with great rejoicing and dancing and singing. They live there - live there forever - in a beautiful country of lakes and fields and fruit and wild game.

NELL: I like that part.

SENECA: Yeah, I did too.

NELL: Seneca? What happened in the dream? Did I make it across the bridge?

(There is silence for a while.)

SENECA: You fell.

NELL: What happened to me then?

SENECA: (pauses, then nods) I don't know.


(She hugs him tightly.)

NELL: Oh, my love!

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