Stain is the story of two women. One hopes for reconciliation and understanding, one hopes to not repeat the mistakes made in her past and create a better future for her children. Both are damaged by the actions of someone they love.
Jean Jackson, a single mother of six in her late thirties, heads home after a long shift at the hospital where she works as a nurse’s aide. Her firstborn, an enlisted soldier in the Army, is off fighting in Vietnam. It is the fall of 1972. Jean has stopped to pick up some groceries before arriving home. She enters her house, her refuge, puts the bags down, removes her coat and relaxes with a cigarette. Shortly, a knock breaks her brief moment of reverie. She answers the door. It is Bernice. From that moment on, life will never be the same.
Bernice is in her mid-twenties and very pregnant. She is engaged to be married to the proverbial “nice” gentleman, Mr. Bellamy. The problem is: she is unsure whether the baby is his. She feels alone, confused, and frightened of this possibility because the man with whom she is having an affair is white and married. She has come to Jean because there is nowhere else to turn.
Jean questions Bernice as to why she has come to see her. Surprised, Bernice has no definitive answer. It doesn’t take long before old wounds begin to surface and Jean’s continual resentment toward Bernice and Bernice’s mother surfaces. Jean’s father, a porter and Civil Rights activist, had an affair. The woman was white, and the affair nearly ripped the family apart. Bernice was a result of that affair, which was considered scandalous at the time because of race. Jean, the youngest of seven, saw first-hand the damage done. She sacrificed her future becoming caretaker to her mother, and her desire to live and experience the world meant the loss of her innocence. She conceived at 16, her first born, Josiah.
Through the trials and turbulence of the 1950s with her father’s work as an example, Jean was very socially conscious and aware. As the 1960s came and left with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, she saw the world not as it could be, but for what it was. A sense of radicalism and nationalism grew in her, and she began to turn away from Dr. King’s American dream of racial inclusion and equality, instead opting for advancement for Black Americans separate of the status quo. Whites were no longer friend, but foe, determined to undermine Blacks in any way, by any means, including sympathizing with “the cause”. This, coupled with her father’s inter-racial affair, moved her even more from white alignment, and she makes it clear to Bernice in no uncertain terms that Whites are not to be trusted.
Holding on to the guilt of her mother’s role in the destruction of Jean’s family, Bernice tries to understand Jean’s point of view and offers hope for her to reconcile her feelings of anger and disappointment in her father. She also knows that the knowledge of her own affair and the pregnancy could potentially destroy yet another family. She shares the humiliation of being the fodder for gossip and unkind acts with Jean. Jean, armed with a defensive sass, belittles the choices Bernice is making. The two go back and forth and in a heated moment Bernice finds her voice, defending not only her mother but herself.
This power shift opens the door for Jean’s vulnerabilities to show and eventually she vents her frustration over her father’s mistake, disappointment in the “movement”, and how to her nothing’s changed. She states, “… all because them white men run this world. They do. They use us up like we nothing but mules for labor. Slavery’s gone but we still yoked. And now Nixon’s got us in this goddamn war and my Josiah’s over there fighting for God knows what and I can’t even afford to buy coffee.”
With this release Bernice has gotten what she came for, the truth. She sees her sister for the person she is and is able to let go. Time might not heal all wounds as Jean still has more burdens to bear, but it’s a start. The two promise, if Bernice’s baby is a girl, she can be a sister to Jean’s youngest, her only girl. As the two women finally stop to hear each other and relate, in their final moments they realize they have more in common than just a father.