arts / Drama / writing

March 1: A radio play


In Henry’s Diner

A play for radio inspired by scenes from the writings of Ernest Hemingway: primarily Men Without Women and A Farewell to Arms

(GRAMS: Dooley Wilson. “As Time Goes By”)

(Subdued chatter in the diner. Ping and noise of traffic in the street outside as the two men enter. Chatter and music stops abruptly)

GEORGE

Afternoon, gents. What’s yours?

MAX

I don’t know. What do you want to eat, Al?

AL

I don’t know. I don’t know what I want to eat. Say, what time do you have, Max?

MAX

Goddam watch has stopped. Clock there says it’s twenny-past five.

(To George)

I’ll have a roast pork tenderloin with apple sauce and mashed

potatoes.

GEORGE

It isn’t ready yet.

MAX

What the hell do you put it on the card for?

GEORGE

That’s the dinner. You can get that at six o’clock. It’s only five now.

AL

The clock says twenty minutes after five.

GEORGE

It’s twenty minutes fast.

AL

Give me the chicken croquettes with green peas and cream sauce and mashed potatoes.

 

GEORGE

That’s the dinner.

AL

Everything we want’s the dinner, eh? That’s the way you work it?

GEORGE

I can give you ham and eggs, bacon and eggs, liver . . .

AL

I’ll take ham and eggs.

MAX

Give me bacon and eggs.

AL

Got anything to drink?

GEORGE

Silver beer, bevo, ginger-ale.

AL

I mean you got anything to drink goddammit? Scotch? Rye?

GEORGE

Just those I said.

MAX

This sure is a hot town. What do they call it?

GEORGE

Summit.

AL (to Max)

Ever hear of it?

MAX

No.

AL

What do you do here nights?

MAX

They eat the dinner. They all come here and eat the big dinner.

GEORGE

That’s right.

AL

So you think that’s right?

GEORGE

Sure.

AL

You’re a pretty bright boy, aren’t you?

GEORGE

Sure.

MAX

Well, you’re not. Is he, Al?

AL

He’s dumb

(Shouts)

Hey you, at the end of the bar. What’s your name?

NICK

Adams.

AL

Another bright boy. Ain’t he a bright boy, Max?

MAX

Town’s full of bright boys.

I’ll have ham and eggs.

Just a bright boy.

(Quiet for moment, then. . .)

What are you looking at? You, behind the bar.

GEORGE

Nothing.

MAX

The hell you were. You were looking at me.

AL

Maybe the boy meant it for a joke, Max.

(George laughs, humourlessly)

MAX

You don’t have to laugh. Nothing’s funny. You don’t have to laugh at all, see?

GEORGE

All right.

MAX

So he thinks it’s all right. He thinks it’s all right. That’s a good one.

AL

Oh, he’s a thinker.

(They continue eating.)

What’s the bright boy’s name down the counter?

(Shouts)

Hey, bright boy. You go around on the other side of the counter with your boyfriend.

NICK

What’s the idea?

MAX

There isn’t any idea.

AL

You better go around, bright boy.

NICK

OK, OK.

GEORGE

What’s the big idea?

AL

None of your damn business. Who’s out in the kitchen?

GEORGE

The cook.

AL

Tell him to come in.

GEORGE

What’s the idea?

AL

Just tell him to come in, goddammit!

GEORGE

Where the hell do you think you are?

MAX

We know damn well where we are. Do we look stupid or what?

AL

You talk silly. What the hell do you argue with this kid for?

Listen, you, just tell the goddam cook to come out here.

GEORGE

What are you going to do to him?

AL

Nothing. Use your head, bright boy. What would we do to a goddam cook?

GEORGE

(Shouts)

Sam, come out here a minute.

SAM

What was it?

AL

All right, nigger. You stand right there.

SAM

Who’re you calling a nigger, goddammit?

GEORGE

Just do what the man says, Sam.

SAM

Yes, sir.

AL

I’m going back to the kitchen with the nigger and bright boy.

Go on back to the kitchen, nigger. You go with him, bright boy.

MAX

Well, bright boy, why don’t you say something?

NICK

What’s this all about?

MAX

(Shouts)

Hey, Al, bright boy wants to know what it’s all about.

AL

(Voice from the kitchen)

Why don’t you tell him?

MAX

What do you think it’s all about?

GEORGE

I don’t know.

MAX

What do you think?

GEORGE

I wouldn’t say.

MAX

(Shouts)

Hey, Al, bright boy says he wouldn’t say what he thinks it’s all about.

AL

No need to shout, Max. I can hear you, all right. If we keep the hatch open we can hear each other fine.

Listen, bright boy. Stand a little farther along the bar. You move a little to the left, Max.

MAX

You gonna take a snapshot, or what?

Talk to me, bright boy. What do you think’s going to happen?

(George does not answer.)

I’ll tell you. We’re going to kill a Swede. Do you know a big Swede named Ole Andreson?

GEORGE

Yes.

MAX

He comes here to eat every night, don’t he?

GEORGE

Sometimes he comes here, yeah.

MAX

He comes here at six o’clock, don’t he?

GEORGE

Yeah, if he comes.

MAX

We know all about that, bright boy

Let’s talk about something else. Ever go to the movies?’

GEORGE

Once in a while. I got to be here, most nights.

MAX

You ought to go to the movies more. The movies are fine for a bright boy like you.

GEORGE

What are you going to kill Ole Andreson for? What did he ever do to you?

MAX

He never had a chance to do anything to us. He ain’t never even seen us.

AL

(From the kitchen)

And he’s only going to see us once.

GEORGE

What are you going to kill him for, then?

MAX

We’re killing him for a friend. Just to oblige a friend, bright boy.

AL

(From the kitchen)

Shut up, Max. You talk too goddam much.

MAX

Well, I got to keep bright boy amused. Don’t I, bright boy?

AL

You talk too damn much. The nigger and my bright boy are amused by themselves. I got them tied up like a couple of girl friends in the convent.

MAX

I suppose you were in a convent?

AL

You never know.

MAX

You were in a kosher convent. That’s where you were.

I see you lookin’ at the clock, bright boy.

Anybody comes in, you tell them the cook is off, and if they keep after it, you tell them you’ll go back and cook yourself. Do you get that, bright boy?’

GEORGE

All right. What you going to do with us afterwards?

MAX

That’ll depend. That’s one of those things you never know at the time.

GEORGE

It’s a quarter past six. People be coming in for a meal any time now. Matter of fact, here comes one now.

(Door pings. Brief burst of traffic noise.)

Hiya Joe!

JOE

Hello, George. Can I get supper?

GEORGE

Sam’s gone out. He’ll be back in about half an hour.

JOE

I better go up the street. I only gotta short supper break before I’m back on.

(Door pings as before. Brief burst of traffic noise.)

MAX

That was nice, bright boy. You’re a regular little gentleman.

AL

He knew I’d blow his fool head off.

MAX

No, It ain’t that. Bright boy is nice. He’s a nice boy. I like him.

What’s the time by your fool clock, bright boy?

GEORGE

Six fifty-five. He’s not coming.

MAX

Bright boy can do everything. He can cook, tell the time, and everything. You’d make some girl a nice wife, bright boy.

GEORGE

Yes? Well your friend, Ole Andreson, isn’t going to come.

MAX:

We’ll give him ten minutes.

(A pause.)

It’s seven o’clock, now. Come on, Al. We better go. He’s not coming.

AL

Better give him five minutes.

(A customer enters)

CUSTOMER

What’s good tonight, George?

GEORGE

Nuttin’. Cook’s sick.

CUSTOMER

Why the hell don’t you get another cook? Aren’t you supposed to be running a lunch-counter?

MAX

Come on, Al.

AL

What about the two bright boys and the nigger?

MAX

They’re all right.

AL

You think so?

MAX

Sure. We’re through with it, here.

AL

I don’t like it. It’s sloppy. You talk too much.

MAX

Oh, what the hell. We got to keep ourselves amused, don’t we?

AL

That’s the truth. You ought to play the races, bright boy.

(They leave. Doorbell pings and traffic noise rises as the door opens, then dies down as it closes.)

GEORGE

Sit still, you two, while I untie you.

SAM

I don’t want any more of that. I don’t want any more of that.

NICK

(With false courage)

What the hell!

GEORGE

They were going to kill Ole Andreson. They were going to shoot him when he came in to eat.

NICK

Ole Andreson?

GEORGE

Sure.

SAM

They all gone?

GEORGE

Yeah, they’re gone now.

SAM

I don’t like it. I don’t like any of it at all!

GEORGE

Listen, Nick. You better go see Ole Andreson. Tell him two guys are lookin’ fer him. Killers, most like.

NICK

All right!

SAM

You better not have anything to do with it at all. You better stay way out of it.

GEORGE

Don’t go if you don’t want to.

SAM

Mixing up in this ain’t gonna get you anywhere.

You stay out of it.

NICK

I’ll go see him. Where does he live?

SAM

Little boys always know what they want to do.

GEORGE

He lives over to Hirsch’s rooming-house.

NICK

I’ll go up there.

(Doorbell tings and street noise rises as Nick leaves the eating house.

(Enter a young couple. They are talking as they enter.)

GIRL

I feel like a drink.

MAN

Me too.

GIRL

What should we drink?

MAN

It’s pretty hot. Let’s drink beer.

(To George)

Dos cervezas, por favor.

GEORGE

Two beers?

MAN

Si, señor.

GEORGE

Big ones?

MAN

Si. Two big ones. Cold ones.

(To the girl)

What’re you lookin’ at, darling?

GIRL

I’m looking out the door. See that line of hills. They’re white in the sun but the country is so brown and dry.

They look like white elephants.

MAN

(As he drinks his beer)

I’ve never seen a white elephant.

GIRL

No, you wouldn’t have. They have them in Siam, sacred animals.

MAN

Well, I might have seen them. Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.

GIRL

I’m looking at this bead curtain. They’ve painted something on it. What does it say?

MAN

Anis del Toro. It’s a drink.

GIRL

Could we try it?

MAN

If you like.

(Shouts)

Listen.

We want two Anis del Toro.

GEORGE

With water?

MAN

Do you want it with water?

GIRL

I don’t know. Is it good with water?

MAN

Yes, with water.

GIRL

It tastes like liquorice.

MAN

That’s the way with everything.

GIRL

Yes. Everything tastes of liquorice: Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for; like absinthe.

MAN

(Irritated)

Oh, cut it out.

GIRL

You started it. I was being amused. I was having a fine time.

MAN

Well, let’s try and have a fine time.

GIRL

All right. I was trying. I said the hills looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?

MAN

That was bright.

GIRL

I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks?

MAN

I guess so.

GIRL

They’re lovely hills. They don’t really look like white elephants. I just meant the colouring of their skin through the trees.

Should we have another drink?

MAN

All right.

(Changing the subject, dropping his voice almost to a whisper.)

It’s really an awfully simple operation, honey. It’s not really an operation at all.

GIRL

I think I’d rather not talk about it. Makes me sick, just thinking about. Specially here, where people can listen in. It’s a very private thing.

MAN

I know you wouldn’t mind it, honey. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.

I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.

GIRL

And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy.

MAN

I know we will. You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people that have had it done.

GIRL

So have I. And afterwards they were all so happy.

MAN

Well, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.

GIRL

And you really want me to?

MAN

I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to.

GIRL

And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?

MAN

I love you now. You know I love you.

GIRL

I know you do. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like hills look like white elephants, and you’ll like it?

MAN

I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I get when I worry.

GIRL

If I do it you won’t ever worry?

MAN

I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.

GIRL

Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.

MAN

What do you mean?

GIRL

I just don’t care about me.

MAN

Well, I care about you.

GIRL

Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine.

MAN

I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way.

(High heels walking from left to right)

Hey, where’re you going?

GIRL

Just looking, that’s all. I can see fields of grain and trees along the banks of the river. Then far away, beyond the river, there are mountains. There’s the shadow of a cloud moving across the field of grain and I can see the river through the trees. The sun’s going down and I expect the moon’ll be up, real soon.

MAN

Yeah, the sun’s going down. It’ll soon be dark, and we won’t see anything.

GIRL

(Ignoring his interruption)

We could have all this. We could have everything.

MAN

Yes.

GIRL

And every day we make it more impossible.

MAN

What did you say?

GIRL

I said we could go everywhere.

MAN

No, you didn’t. And no, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more.

GIRL

It’s ours.

MAN

No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back.

GIRL

But they haven’t taken it away.

MAN

But they will. Just you wait. Just you wait and see.

GIRL

You’re just saying that to make me feel bad. And I was enjoying the view, the hills like white elephants and all.

MAN

I don’t want you to feel bad. Come on back from the window, into the shade. You mustn’t feel that way.

GIRL

I don’t feel any way. I just know things.

And I know you want me to . . .

MAN

(Interrupting her)

I don’t want you to do anything that you don’t want to do.

GIRL

Nor anything that isn’t good for me. I know. Could we have another beer?

MAN

All right. But you’ve got to realize . . .

GIRL

I realize fine. Can we please maybe stop talking about it?

I’m going to sit down here at this table and I’m going to look across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and you . . .

MAN

Yes?

GIRL

Oh, I dunno. You get me so mixed up. Do what you want for God’s sake!

MAN

You’ve got to realize that I don’t want you to do it if you don’t want to. I’m perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you.

GIRL

Doesn’t it mean anything to you? We could get along.

MAN

Of course it does. But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else. I don’t want anyTHING else. And we both know it’s perfectly simple.

GIRL

Yes, you know it’s perfectly simple.

MAN

It’s all right for you to say that, but I do know it.

GIRL

Would you do something for me now? Please, pretty please?

MAN

I’d do anything for you.

GIRL

Would you please shut the fuck up about it? Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?

Would you do that for me. Please?

MAN

Yes, I’ll do that for you. I’ll pick up our bags and cross over to the train station and put them on the train.

But please remember I don’t want you to do it, not necessarily. I don’t care anything about it. Please remember that.

GIRL

I’ll scream.

MAN

Please don’t. I’m taking the bags over to the other side of the station.

GIRL

Yes, please do that small thing for me. All right, OK? Then come back and we’ll finish our beers.

MAN

What about the anis?

GIRL

The licorice? You can finish it if you like. It makes me feel nauseous.

MAN

Will you feel better then?

GIRL

I feel fine. There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.

(Doorbell pings, traffic noise rises and subsides as the Priest enters with Rinaldi)

RINALDI

(In the middle of a conversation)

He thinks he has syphilis. I don’t think he has it, but he may have. Some of these dames . . .

PRIEST

I don’t want to know about dames.

RINALDI

(Laughs)

No, I suppose you don’t, Father. You could say a prayer for him.

PRIEST

Here?

RINALDI

Why not? Doesn’t it say to pray at all times and in all places?

PRIEST

I think that’s the Protestants. We have to do it when we say mass.

RINALDI

I don’t think he goes to mass.

PRIEST

He should come to confession. You, too, Rinaldi.

RINALDI

I lost my faith at Hue.

PRIEST

Was that tough?

RINALDI

Rugged. Charlie was all over us. Lost a lot of buddies.

PRIEST

They say there’s no atheists in foxholes.

RINALDI

Not true. That’s where God looked away.

PRIEST

Don’t be like that. He never looks away.

RINALDI

Sometimes I wish he would. I seen things . . .

PRIEST

So how are you, really?

RINALDI

Tired. I’m so fucking tired.

PRIEST

Is it the war?

RINALDI

Who can say? It just goes on and on. As if it will never end.

PRIEST

I think it will end soon. I don’t know why, but that’s the way I feel.

RINALDI

I forgot. You were out there too.

PRIEST

Yes. People here can’t understand the way it’s been.

RINALDI

I can’t understand the way it’s been. I mean, why do we want that fucking country – saving your presence, Father, but I get so worked up, just thinking about it – what the hell are we doing there?

PRIEST

Hell is right, my son.

RINALDI

So you think it will end soon.

PRIEST

One thing for sure. It can’t go on this way much longer.

RINALDI

So what will happen?

PRIEST

They will stop the fighting.

RINALDI

Just like that?

PRIEST

Just like that.

RINALDI

Won’t there have to be some kind of a peace conference?

PRIEST

No need. They’ll airlift everyone out. Finito!

RINALDI

But the TV says we’re winning.

PRIEST

Believe me, no one is winning. But they have taken the outer suburbs. You can’t go there nights. They control the roads in and out of town.

You see, it is only in defeat people become Christians. When there is nowhere else to go. Like your friend with his syphilis. It is a sickness.

RINALDI

But Christ’s disciples ran away when he was taken.

PRIEST

True enough. Peter was a broken reed. I sometimes ask myself, would it have been any different if he’d fought to stop them taking Jesus in the garden?

RINALDI

And?

PRIEST

I don’t think it would have been any different. But this war, this is different. Those peasants, they are defeating the most powerful army on the planet. We are beaten, Rinaldi, like your friend with his syphilis. He’s got to stop going with whores, and our army has got to stop trying to defeat peasants fighting on their own land.

Listen, we were defeated when we relocated them, took them off their farms and imprisoned them in camps.

RINALDI

That was out strategy for victory.

PRIEST

The peasant has wisdom because he is defeated on the day he was born. Give him a sub-machine gun and his wisdom bursts out of his gunbarrel. He thinks he’s an atheist but he isn’t. Atheists can’t be defeated, because they think they know everything.

RINALDI

Like your pope, they’re infallible. Forgive me Father, but that’s the way I see it.

PRIEST

No need to apologise. I thought the same way back then, when I saw them loading the body bags on to the helicopters. Those peasants, they think they’re Buddhists, but they’re children of God. Like you and me, Rinaldi, like you and me.

RINALDI

And they’re winning?

PRIEST

Not really. But we are losing.

RINALDI

I think you’re right.

GEORGE

Will you take a drink, Father? On the house.

PRIEST

No. Thank you my son,  but I got to be out on my rounds first thing. Up at six, crack of dawn.

RINALDI

I’ll have a beer, please.

GEORGE

Coming up.

PRIEST

Good night, my son.

(Door pings, traffic noise as before as Nick re-enters the diner.)

NICK

Excuse me, Father. I didn’t see you.

GEORGE

Hey, Nick. How’d you get on? Did you see Ole?

NICK

Yes. He’s in his room and he won’t come out.

SAM

I don’t even wanna listen to this. Those guys were bad news.

GEORGE

Did you tell him about them?

NICK

Sure I did. I told him but he knows what it’s all about.

GEORGE

What’s he going to do?

NICK

Nothing.

GEORGE

They’ll kill him.

NICK

I guess they will.

GEORGE

He must have got mixed up in something in Chicago.

NICK

I guess so. It’s an awful thing.

I wonder what he did?

GEORGE

Double-crossed somebody. That’s what they kill them for.

NICK

I’m going to get out of this town.

GEORGE

Yes. That’s a good thing to do.

NICK

I just can’t stand to think about him waiting in the room and knowing he’s going to get it. It’s too damned awful.

GEORGE

Well you better not think about it.

NICK

Yeah.

GEORGE

So what’d he say?

NICK

Not much. Just lay on his bed, face turned to the wall.

GEORGE

Didn’t he know about the killers?

NICK

He knew all right. I don’t think he thought there was much he could do about it.

GEORGE

He could of got out of town. I know I would.

NICK

I told him I’d been up here at the eating house. Two fellows came in. They tied me up and the cook too, said they were going to kill him when he came in to supper.

GEORGE

What’d he say to that?

NICK

Said there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

I said I could tell him what they looked like, their brown derbies and tight topcoats and stuff.

GEORGE

And?

NICK

Said he didn’t want to know what they looked like.

GEORGE

You could of told him to go to the police for protection.

NICK

I did tell him that. Said it wouldn’t do any good.

GEORGE

Perhaps it was just a bluff, those two guys pulling our chain.

NICK

Yeah, I told him that, but I didn’t really believe it.

GEORGE

No more did I.

NICK

He said it wasn’t a bluff.

GEORGE

It was me, I’d be out of town on the next train out. Hitch a ride if I couldn’t raise the fare.

NICK

He said he was through with running.

GEORGE

So he was just laying there, waiting for the killers to pop him in his bed.

NICK

Yeah, said he was trying to make up his mind to go out, but it didn’t seem like he could get up the effort. Just lay there on his bed, face turned to the wall.

Thanked me for coming round was all.

GEORGE

Did you see that broad owns the flop, that Mrs Hirsch?

NICK

Nope. I saw this other woman, called herself Mrs Bell, looked like a cleaning lady. She looks after the place while that Mrs Hirsch’s away.

GEORGE

What she say about old Ole?

NICK

Said he was a nice guy. Used to be a prize fighter.

GEORGE

Could have been a contender.

NICK

She didn’t say that, just that he used to fight. Talked about the way his face got messed up in the ring.

GEORGE

Yeah. Bet he was a handsome Swede, that blond hair and all, before he got all punched up.

NICK

She said, this Mrs Bell, she said:

WOMAN’S VOICE

He’s been in his room all day. I guess he don’t feel well. I said to him: “Mr Andreson, you ought to go out and take a walk on a nice fall day like this,” but he didn’t feel like it.

NICK

So he’s just lying there on that bed, waiting to die.

GEORGE

Well that’s all we can ever do, come to think of it, Nick. In the end we’re all fixin’ to die.

NICK

That’s a pretty grim philosophy, George.

GEORGE

But ain’t it the truth?

NICK

Guess so. “All fixin’ to die”. Guess so.

CUSTOMER

If you guys have finished shooting the breeze, perhaps you could put a nickel in the jukebox.

CHORUS OF CUSTOMERS

Play it again Sam.

SAM

I don’t do the jukebox. I’m the cook.

GEORGE

Go on. Play it, Sam.

SAM

OK George, just for you.

NICK

And for Ole Andreson, laying on the bed at Mrs Hirst’s flop, fixin’ to die.

GEORGE

Yeah.

(GRAMS: Dooley Wilson. “As Time Goes By”)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s