May, Eddie, and the Old Man are on stage when the lights come up—the Old Man separated physically from May and Eddie either on a different platform or another dividing convention of the set. In a low-budget motel room on the outskirts of the Mojave Desert where May has been living, Eddie and May sit without speaking to each other—she with her head between her knees over the side of the bed, and he in a chair. The only sound is that of Eddie fidgeting with his glove and bucking strap. The Old Man sits in rocking chair next to a bottle of whiskey. Though he eventually talks to the actors, the Old Man only exists in May and Eddie's minds.
Eddie tries to get May to speak to him. He talks soothingly to her and offers to get her something soothing to drink. He reassures May that he is staying with her and will not leave her again. May hold on to Eddie's legs desperately but will not speak. He tries to gently push her off of him and she lashes out on him punching his chest with her fists. May is torn between wanting Eddie to leave and to stay. She accuses him of having an affair with a rich woman. Eddie denies it. Eddie asks for sympathy from May by telling her how far he drove to see her and that he missed her desperately. May is slightly moved by his feelings but then remembers his affair with the woman she calls "the Countess." Eddie admits taking the Countess out to dinner once, and then twice. May accuses Eddie of sleeping with the Countess regularly. Eddie denies this but May does not fall for it, saying she will believe the truth because, "It's less confusing." This is the first in a series of matters in which May and Eddie's interpretation of the truth will contradict.
Eddie presents to May a dream that they will move back into the trailer together to Wyoming where he has moved it and live a pleasant country life with chickens, a vegetable garden, and horses. May has heard this story before. It does not seduce her. Eddie suggests that he will leave. May lets down her guard and kisses Eddie. Just as they seem to allow their passion to overwhelm their differences again, May knees Eddie in the groin. He doubles over on the floor.
May exits triumphantly to the bathroom as Eddie suffers on the floor and talks to the Old Man who has watched the play until this point. He asks Eddie if he is basically a "fantasist" or someone who makes things up. Then the Old Man asks Eddie to look at an imaginary picture on the wall. Eddie looks at it, playing along with the Old Man's game. The Old Man claims that the picture is of Barbara Mandrell and that he is married to her. He asks Eddie if he would believe that. Eddie says no. The Old Man says that in his mind he is married to her. He calls that "realism."
The Old Man, May, and Eddie begin the play together without entrances. The play begins after Eddie has undermined May's new life by unexpectedly appearing at the hotel room where she now lives. Shepard does not show May's initial reaction to Eddie's entrance but instead shows us her reaction to the realization of what his appearance means to her. The first moment of the play is the sound of Eddie's bucking strap squeaking in the dark. The play repeats several non-human sounds that act as rhythm and percussion sections to the blues and rock and roll riffs and tiffs of the lovers. May sits with her head and torso hanging over the bed between her knees. She sits in a crumpled position with her hair over her face as if she is protecting herself from seeing, hearing or acknowledging Eddie's arrival. From Eddie's pleading, we can tell that he has been soothing May and encouraging her to accept his presence for some time. May is in a state of denial. Her emotions are so contradictory and deeply felt that she stays idle, perhaps to protect herself from opening herself up to the pain and the desire she feels towards Eddie.
The Old Man is silent, rocking in his rocking chair and drinking whiskey from his Styrofoam cup. It is up to the director how to stage the Old Man, but whatever their choice may be, the Old Man will not be in the hotel room. This lends a sense of surrealism to the play and an added dimension that contributes to the dream-like quality of the piece. The play represents a psychological and emotional landscape of Eddie and May's minds, symbolized in the presence of the Old Man whose past is intertwined with Eddie and May's present consciousness.