A Thousand Horses

By Nadine Laughlin


Anne has been overly protective of her handicapped son to the detriment of her marriage. She herself has reached the breaking point when she finds help from an unexpected source.


ANNE: A woman in her forties who is devoted to her special needs son.
TODD: Her husband.
BETTS: Anne's 30 something younger sister who is noticeably pregnant.
BILL: Betts's husband.
WALT: Father of Anne and Betts.
SYLVIA: Walt's wife of 30 years. Stepmother of Anne and Betts.


Mid-summer. A lake town in the interior of British Columbia where Bill and Betts and Walt and Sylvia live. Anne, Todd, and their son Dookie have come from Vancouver to stay with Bill and Betts for a few days. The action takes place in the kitchen. There is a large window or French doors through which people in the kitchen can see and communicate with people in the backyard (although the audience doesn't see the people in the backyard). A dog bed, food dish, etc. feature in the kitchen. A more ambitious set could have the privacy of a bedroom for Anne and Todd's dialogues in Scene 2 and Scene 4, or a simultaneous set could be used.


A slash symbol, /, indicates overlapping lines. When one actor reaches the slash, the following actor begins to speak.



(MORNING. Betts is in the kitchen finishing breakfast, making coffee, reading the paper, etc. Anne enters.)

ANNE: Where's Dookie?

BETTS: In the yard.

ANNE: (RUSHES TO WINDOW) What! I ask you to watch him for a few minutes and/you can't even…

BETTS: I said he could take Tillie for a walk. He loves that dog.

ANNE: Dookie! I can't see him.

BETTS: He's okay, Anne. Relax. He's not a little boy anymore. Have some coffee…

ANNE: I don't drink coffee.

BETTS: …or ginseng or wheatgrass or whatever it is you do drink.

ANNE: He's a child.

BETTS: Tillie's probably taking him for a walk. She's 105 in human years you know. She plods along that path to the stables and back every morning like a little robot.

ANNE: There he is. (CALLS) Dookie! Mummy's here!

BETTS: We all need time to ourselves, Anne. Even Dookie. (SHE PICKS UP A TENNIS BALL AND THROWS IT OUT THE WINDOW) Here, Dookie. Tillie loves to play fetch. (TO ANNE) Even couples. (SIPPING HER COFFEE) You know, Bill and I were talking and we thought you and Todd could use the condo in Maui this winter for a week or two, you know, our timeshare. Have a real break. Someone could stay with Dookie and you and/ Todd could…


BETTS: Actually Mum and Dad said they'd be happy to look after/ Dookie while you…

ANNE: Mum?

BETTS: Our father's wife for the past 30 years. The wicked stepmother. (BILL AND TODD ARE HEARD ARRIVING HOME) Oh, here's the boys.(BILL AND TODD ENTER. THEY'VE BEEN GOLFING. TO BILL) Hey hon…how was golf?

TODD: He wiped me. I'm no good on a dry green. I need soggy grass and a steady Vancouver drizzle.

ANNE: I'm just going to check on Dookie.

BILL: He's fine Anne. He's giving Tillie a run for her money though.

ANNE: Thanks Bill, but I need to check. (EXITS)

TODD: And how's the happy family getting along?

BETTS: Not too good. Sorry Todd. I mentioned Maui and it didn't go over too well.


BILL: Hey you two! Come on in. How are you Walt? (HUGS AND KISSES ETC. ALL AROUND)

WALT: If I wasn't me I'd want to be me!

SYLVIA: I've brought some goodies.

BETTS: You didn't need to do that Mum.

WALT: The woman loves to bake.

TODD: Listen, Anne's outside with Dookie. Let me get them.

WALT: Let me, Todd. I want to see that grandson of mine. I've brought him something. A badminton set. Thought we could bat the old birdie around a bit this afternoon. D'ya think he'd go for badminton? You girls used to love it, didn't ya Betts…

TODD: You can try him Walt.

BETTS: Sure did Dad.


SYLVIA: I guess we three outlaws better stick together.

BILL: Did I hear the word 'goodies'?

SYLVIA: Sure did. (PROCEEDS TO UNWRAP, CUT AND SERVE BANANA BREAD.) Banana bread. Still hot. Just took it out of the oven.

BILL: (EATING) Mmm. You are the best mother-in-law in the world.

TODD: (EATING) I second that.


BILL: Sylvia, what is it?

BETTS: (HUGS HER) It's Anne, isn't it? Don't mind her, Mum. There, there.

TODD: She's worn out with Dookie. I thought it'd be a break up here…

SYLVIA: And so it shall be Todd, I'll see to it.

TODD: She won't hear of respite care…she's stuck on this notion that she has to do everything for him. She barely lets me help.

BILL: Well, tomorrow Dookie's going fishing with us whether Anne likes it or not.


ANNE: Whether Anne likes what or not?

BILL: I just said that the guys are going fishing tomorrow, bright and early. I hear a big old trout calling my name. There is definitely gonna be fish on the grill tomorrow night.

SYLVIA: Hello, honey. How are you?

ANNE: I'm fine thanks, Sylvia.

SYLVIA: How's Dookie?

ANNE: Oh, he's fine. Dad's trying to teach him badminton, but Tillie keeps going after the birdie.

BETTS: Oh let me put her in the garage. (EXITS)

SYLVIA: You know, honey, anytime, Dad and I could stay with Dookie, and you and Todd could/ have a nice……

ANNE: I can look after my own son.

SYLVIA: Well I know you can and you do a fine job; it's just that/ Dad and I thought…


WALT: Dookie wants the dog back. He says Tillie's more fun than me.




TODD: Dookie sure loves that little dog. Ya got to admit Tillie's cute. Come on, admit it. (GRABS ANNE AND TICKLES HER) Tillie's cute, isn't she?

ANNE: OK, OK, cut it out. Tillie's cute. But cute's not enough to balance all the inconvenience of having a dog.

TODD: Maybe we should get Dookie a dog.

ANNE: No way.

TODD: But he wants one. He begged me.

ANNE: I've got enough to do with Dookie without looking after a dog, too. We've been over this before. And dogs live so long. I mean Dookie could, could … anytime, you know that, and we'd be stuck with a dog that would probably live on and on.

TODD: I think we should get him a dog. The doctor thought it was a terrific idea.

ANNE: Are you going behind my back?

TODD: I can discuss my own son with his doctor.

ANNE: Everyone in my family talks about me behind my back.

TODD: Maybe because you get all riled up when we try and talk to you.

ANNE: That's not true.

TODD: Isn't it?


TODD: Look, I don't want to argue. Forget the dog. You're probably right. Hey, we've had a pretty nice day, haven't we hon?

ANNE: I guess so. You were the one off playing golf.

TODD: Anne, what would you say to selling our house in Vancouver, and moving up here to the lake?

ANNE: Are you nuts?

TODD: Be near your folks. Be good for Dookie to be near family.

ANNE: You know that's impossible. Dookie needs to be near the hospital.

TODD: There's a hospital here.

ANNE: Children's Hospital. You know that.

TODD: Well I love it up here. You have a great family; your dad's good with Dookie. So's Sylvia.

ANNE: What are you saying?

TODD: They really care about him.

ANNE: But can they care for him. That's the difference. Dookie has special needs that must be/ seen to …

TODD: I have needs too.

ANNE: I have to check Dookie.

TODD: I'll do it.

ANNE: No, I'll/ go…

TODD: (FORCEFULLY) I said I'd do it.




BETTS: Bye guys! Catch some big ones or there'll be no dinner tonight! (SHE CLEANS UP DINING TABLE AS SHE TALKS-FOLDS TABLE CLOTH. TO ANNE) Now quit worrying about Dookie. He's fine. He's with his father, his uncle, and his grandfather. He's in good hands.

ANNE: No, you fold it the other way.

BETTS: What's the difference?

ANNE: So it's the right way up next time-see-no it still isn't right, the creases don't match up…

BETTS: I can't see how it matters….

ANNE: You fold along the creases that are already there-no sense making new ones…

BETTS: Like folding a map, I guess….

ANNE: Exactly. (PICKING UP A JACKET) Dookie's jacket. They forgot Dookie's jacket.

BETTS: Oh, it's okay. He'll be fine.

ANNE: Trust Todd.

BETTS: It's not going to be cold today. Dookie'll be fine.

ANNE: It's cold out on the water.

BETTS: It's August, Anne. It's hot and sunny.

ANNE: I could drive down to the lake.

BETTS: Oh don't be ridiculous. Whaddya gonna do? Canoe out and give him the jacket?

ANNE: It's my son. If Todd wasn't such an idiot he'd have remembered Dookie's jacket.

BETTS: Aren't you a bit hard on Todd? Look, let them do their guy thing and we'll go out and do our girl thing as soon as Mum gets here…

ANNE: I hate it when you call her Mum.

BETTS: Give it up, Anne. She's the only mum I've ever known.

ANNE: I can remember our real mum.

BETTS: Well I can't. What did you want Dad to do? Stay a widower forever?

ANNE: No. She's just not Mum to me, that's all. We have absolutely nothing in common.

BETTS: Except Dad. You do realize he's been married to Sylvia twice as long as he was married to our 'real mum'. (MAKES FINGER QUOTES)

ANNE: (PICKING UP JACKET) I feel a breeze.

BETTS: Stop worrying. Dookie 'll be fine.

ANNE: Dookie won't be fine and you know it! My son is dying.

BETTS: We're all dying, Anne.

ANNE: But/ he's …

BETTS: We're all dying. Name me one person who isn't going to die. My husband is going to die one day, but I'm not mourning him yet. Don't mourn the living, Anne. Let Dookie live the life he has. Let him be a kid. Let him be a boy. And when the time for mourning comes, so be it. Ever since Dookie was born it's like you've shut everyone out, like you're the only one who loves him.

ANNE: Aren't I?


ANNE: How could anyone love a child like that? He's… (DROPS VOICE) … grotesque…

BETTS: What?

ANNE: Grotesque. My son is grotesque, okay?

BETTS: Anne, Dookie matters, and it has nothing to do with what he can and can't do, or what he does or doesn't look like, and everything to do with God's grace.

ANNE: That's easy for you to say. Sometimes I wish…you know … oh I shouldn't be talking to you like this … you're going to have a baby and it's going to be perfect…


BETTS: …it's okay.

ANNE: The doctor said that too. It's okay…you can try again in a year or two, and we'll do amniocentesis because it's genetic and if there's a problem you can have a D & C and try again. You mean an abortion, I said. That's not an option for me, I said, and then I thought if I'd known about Dookie, I mean how he was when I got pregnant, before he was born, would I have had an abortion?

BETTS: Be thankful you didn't have to make that decision, Anne, be thankful for that.

ANNE: And then I think I wish I had known, and I could have had an abortion.

BETTS: Don't wish about the past Anne/…

ANNE: If wishes were horses, beggars might ride…

BETTS: …don't wish at all. Wishes are useless things at the best of times.

ANNE: I needed Mum, Betts.

BETTS: I know. I know.

SYLVIA: (KNOCKS) I'm here, girls.

BETTS: Oh, Mum, come on in. You don't have to knock. I think we're just about ready to leave…

SYLVIA: I heard you talking. I heard what you said, honey, and I'm deeply sorry.

ANNE: Why? Do I shock you? Nice Anne, the good one, the spiritual one, wishing her son had never been born? And you have no idea how disgusting that makes me feel. No idea.

SYLVIA: I'm sorry because my daughter's hurting.

ANNE: Step-daughter.

SYLVIA: No. No. I legally adopted you, remember…I won't have that, /you…

ANNE: Well no-one asked me if I wanted to be legally adopted. Maybe I didn't want to be. You just went ahead and did it.

SYLVIA: I want to help you, Anne. You've had difficult decisions to make,/ I want to…

ANNE: And what would you know about difficult decisions? Hmm. 'Poached or over easy? Tea or coffee? Mashed or baked? Wall-to-wall or hardwood? Anne or Elizabeth.

SYLVIA: (PAUSE) Anne. When your dad asked me to marry him, there were two conditions - - the first was that I legally adopt both of you, and the second was that he didn't want any more kids, felt it wouldn't be fair to you two. I agreed because I would have agreed to anything he said, I loved him that much … for his part I think he just wanted someone to take care of you girls…

BETTS: Dad loves you Mum.

SYLVIA: …there were you two girls and I thought it would be enough, a ready-made family, but the funny thing was that loving you two, mothering you two awakened something in me, made me want to have a baby more than ever, but your father was adamant, he said 'no', you know how stubborn he can get, and then one sweet day I found out I was pregnant. He was furious, thought I'd planned the whole thing, tricked him. He blew up, said I had to get rid of it or leave.

BETTS: Dad would never say that.

SYLVIA: I'm telling you he did say it, and what's worse I believed him, so I talked to my doctor, she ordered a D&C; they tied my tubes at the same time. Problem solved.

BETTS: I can't believe you.

SYLVIA: He signed a consent form.

BETTS: My father hates abortion.

ANNE: He did say it. I heard him. I was listening. I was afraid you were going to leave us …like my mother did.

BETTS: Why didn't you leave?

SYLVIA: I had two daughters who needed me.




TODD: Better hurry. I've booked the horses for eight o'clock. Did you pack my boots? (LOOKS FOR BOOTS) Here's Dookie's jacket. (HANDS JACKET TO ANNE)

ANNE: Eight o'clock! Why so early?

TODD: Best part of the day.

ANNE: I hate getting up early when I'm on holiday.

TODD: I'll fix you breakfast. How's that?

ANNE: You'll have to wear your runners, I forgot the boots.

TODD: You forgot my boots? Well, if they're not here, they're not here. Look, if you don't get dressed, I'll dress you myself and put you on the horse. Here's your jeans. Dookie's sure excited about going riding.

ANNE: Tell me about it. It's all he talked about all last night.

TODD: Then you're not going to be stubborn about getting ready.

ANNE: Oh, I'll be ready before you most likely. It's just you could have booked the horses for a more civilized hour.

TODD: You could have remembered to pack my boots.

ANNE: Pack your own clothes next time. (PAUSE) Am I that stubborn Todd?

TODD: You're a strong woman, that's for sure.

ANNE: Oh, come on. Am I stubborn?

TODD: It's 7:00 o'clock in the morning, Anne. I haven't had my coffee yet.

ANNE: Answer me.

TODD: Let's just say you have strong opinions sometimes, but that's not all bad.

ANNE: Quit it and tell me.

TODD: Yeah, you're stubborn, just like your old man. You know how bullheaded he can be; you know how he won't quit playing monopoly until he wins, and how we let him win so we can quit and go to bed.

ANNE: I never saw myself as being quite like that … that's pathetic.

TODD: It's what I love about you. If you think something's right, you lock on…you're unwavering and steadfast. Like when Dookie was born, I knew it was going to be all right, because of you, Anne. If anyone can cope it's you…but stubbornness is a weakness. I can be strong for you, Anne, if you give me a chance. I can be strong for both of us…you don't always have to be the strong one.

ANNE: What's the difference between being bullheaded, and being steadfast?

TODD: Pride. Self-will. Where steadfastness ends, self-will begins.

ANNE: Where does self-will end?

TODD: On our knees.

ANNE: Todd, about getting Dookie a dog…maybe you're right…

TODD: I get to be right about something?

ANNE: …when we get back from our trip though. I don't want to saddle Mum and Dad with a puppy as well as Dookie. I want to ask them to come and look after him so we can go away in January, just the two of us.

TODD: Anne.

ANNE: I mean if you want to go. If we haven't forgotten how to be alone together.

TODD: Never. Ever. (AS HE EXITS) Poached or fried?

ANNE: What?

TODD: (POKES HEAD BACK ON STAGE) Your eggs. How do you want them?

ANNE: Surprise me. (PAUSE. CALLS AFTER HIM) And you'd better wake that son of ours. (PAUSE. SHE'S HOLDING THE JACKET) That boy loves to sleep. (LIGHTS DOWN EXCEPT SINGLE SPOT ON ANNE) My son.



Copyright Nadine Laughlin, all rights reserved. This play may be performed free of charge, on the condition that copies are not sold for profit in any medium. The playwright would appreciate being informed of when and for what purpose the play is performed. She may be contacted at nady50@shaw.ca