Dramatic Texts >> William Saroyan >> COMING THROUGH THE RYE
COMING THROUGH THE RYE by William Saroyan
 
 
CHARACTERS
 
The Voice
Butch, age 9
Carroll, age 70
Steve, age 27
Miss Quickly
Roosevelt, age 3
Alice, age 5
Larry, age 7
Pedro Gonzalez, age 8
Johnny Gallanti, age 9
Henrietta, age 13
Hastings, age 27
Peggy

 

 
A LARGE ROOM, beyond which is visible, in varying degrees of light and movement, infinite space. Sun, moon, planets, stars, constellations, and so on.

The room is one of many. It is The American Room, and is so marked.

Each person here has been conceived and is waiting to be born. Each possesses his ultimate physical form and ego. Ultimate, that is, in the sense that here, in this waiting room, he is the way he shall be the day he begins to die, or the day he dies, in the world.

The faces of the unconceived appear to be a white cloud of a summer afternoon.

A solemn but witty VOICE speaks.


 

 
THE VOICE
OK, people. Your time has come. You are now going to enter the world. Youíll find it a strange place. There are no instructions. You know your destiny now, but the moment you are in the world, breathing, you shall forget it. You can thank God for that, let me tell you. Good things, and bad, are ahead for each of you. The world is still new, and the idea of sending you out there for a visit has not yet proved itself to be a good one. It may in time, though. Your destination is America. (A phrase of patriotic music) Itís an interesting place. No better and no worse than any other place, except of course superficially, which the Americans make a good deal of, one way or the other. The climateís fair everywhere, excellent here and there. Everything you do, you shall imagine is your own doing. You can thank God for that, too. You shall live as long as you shall. No more. You will find noise and confusion everywhere, even in your sleep. Sometimes in sleep, however, you shall almost, but not quite, return to this place. Nothing in the world is important. Many shall seem unimportant. In a moment you shall begin to be human. You have waited here nine months of the worldís time. A few of you a little less. From now on you shall be alone in body, apparently cut off from everything. You shall also seem to be alone in spirit. That, however, is an illusion. Each of you is the continuation of two others, each of whom was a continuation of two others, each of whom Ė and so on. (blithely) I could go on talking for two or three years, but it wouldnít mean anything. OK, now here you go! Take a deep breath! (dramatically) Hold it! You will exhale in the world. OK, Joe, let Ďem out!

 
(A few chords of music. Some PEOPLE go out. BUTCH, a boy of nine, and MR. CARROLL, a man of seventy, comes in. BUTCH is thoughtfully bouncing an old tennis ball.)

 
BUTCH
Well, weíre next, Mr. Carroll. Do you like the idea of being born?

 
CARROLL
Why, yes, of course, Butch. Thereís nothing like getting born and being alive.

 
BUTCH
I donít know whether Iím lucky or unlucky. Steve says Iím lucky because I donít have to stay in the world very long, and Miss Quickly Ė she says it ainít fair.

 
CARROLL
What ainít?

 
BUTCH
Me having to get born, just for nine years. Before I get a chance to turn around Iíll have to come back, so whatís the use going? Iím the way Iím going to be when I die, and youíre the way youíre going to be when you die. Iím nine, and youíre an old man.

 
CARROLL
Butch, my boy, those nine years are going to be wonderful.

 
BUTCH
Maybe. Miss Quickly says itíll take me five or six years just to begin. Gosh, that only leaves three. I wonít even get a chance to see any big league baseball games.

 
CARROLL
Maybe you will.

 
BUTCH
Heck no. How am I going to get from a little town in Texas to New York?

 
CARROLL
It may happen.

 
BUTCH
Boy, I hope it does, but Miss Quickly Ė she told Steve it wasnít fair.

 
CARROLL
What wasnít?

 
BUTCH
My father dying before Iím born and my mother being poor, and dying a year later. She says I may have to go to an institution. What the heckís an institution?
 
CARROLL
Thatís an orphanage, I guess. Now, listen, Butch, donít you go worrying about anything. Everythingís wonderful out there.

 
BUTCH
Howís it really going to be?

 
CARROLL
Well, the minute youíre out there youíre alive, the same as here, only different. Out there you begin right away.

 
BUTCH
Begin what?

 
CARROLL
Living Ė and dying. Theyíre both beautiful, Butch. (happily) Living and dying in the world. That great big little tiny place. And from the first breath you take you begin being somebody: yourself.

 
BUTCH
Iím myself right now.

 
CARROLL
Thatís because youíre here waiting. Youíve started at last. It takes a long time to get started. It took me Ė well, I donít know how long exactly in the worldís time Ė but it was a long time.

 
BUTCH
Steve says the world stinks.

 
CARROLL
Now, Steve is a young fellow with ideas. Heís a nice boy, but heís wrong about the world. Itís the only place for us, and any of us who get to go out there are mighty lucky.

 
BUTCH
What happens when we leave the world?

 
CARROLL
We come back.

 
BUTCH
Here? And wait some more?

 
CARROLL
Not here, exactly. We wait here, after weíve started. When we leave the world we go back to where we were before we came here.

 
BUTCH
Where the heckís that?

 
CARROLL
Itís not exactly any place, Butch. And itís not exactly waiting either. This is where we wait.

 
BUTCH
Oh, well, I guess itíll be all right. But nine years. What the heck chance will I have to see anything?

 
CARROLL
Butch, one day out there is a long time, let alone nine years. Twenty-four hours every day. Sixty minutes every hour.

 
BUTCH
What are you going to be out there, Mr. Carroll?

 
CARROLL (Laughing)
Oh, a lot of things, one after another.

 
BUTCH
Well, what?

 
CARROLL
Well, letís see. (He brings out a paper and studies it.) It says here, Thomas Carroll. Mother: Amy Wallace Carroll. Father: Jonathan Carroll. Will be, at birth: Son, brother, nephew, cousin, grandson, and so on.

 
BUTCH
Brother?

 
CARROLL
Yes. I guess Iíve got a sister or brother out there, maybe a couple of sisters and a couple of brothers.

 
BUTCH
I thought we were all brothers. I thought everybody was related to everybody else.

 
CARROLL
Oh, yes, of course, but this kind of brotherhood is closer. Whoever my brother is, he has my father and mother for his father and mother.

 
BUTCH
Well, what the heckís the difference? I thought we were all the same.

 
CARROLL
Oh, we are, really, but in the world there are families. Theyíre still all really one family, but in the world the family is broken down to the people you come from, and the people that come from you. It gets pretty complicated.

 
BUTCH
But everybody is one family just the same, though, ainít they?

 
CARROLL
Well, yes, but in the world everybody forgets that for a while.

 
BUTCH
(Bringing out his paper, which is a good deal smaller than CARROLLíS) What the heck. I never looked at this. What do I get to be? (reading the card) James Nelson, also called Butch. By gosh, there it is right there. Also called Butch, but my real name is James Nelson. Letís see what I get to be. (reading) Son. Newsboy. Schoolboy. (reflectively) Son. No brothers?

 
CARROLL
Well, I guess not, Butch.

 
BUTCH
Why the heck not?

 
CARROLL
There will be all sorts of kids out there in Texas. Theyíll all be your brothers.

 
BUTCH
Hones?

 
CARROLL
Sure.

 
BUTCH (Reading)
Newsboy. Whatís that?

 
CARROLL
Well, I guess youíll sell papers.

 
BUTCH
Is that good?

 
CARROLL
Now donít you worry about anything, Butch.

 
BUTCH
OK. The heck with it. (He puts the paper away.)

 
CARROLL (Affectionately)
Give me a catch, Butch.

 
BUTCH (Delighted)
No fooling?

 
CARROLL
Why, sure, Iím going to play second base for the New Haven Orioles.

 
BUTCH (Throwing the ball, which CARROLL tries to catch)
Who the heck are they?

 
CARROLL
A bunch of kinds in my neighborhood. (He throws the ball back.)

 
(STEVE comes in. About twenty-seven, sober, serious, but a drunkard. BUTCH holds the ball and watches STEVE. Then goes to him.)

 
BUTCH
Steve? Tell him about the war Ė and all that stuff.

 
STEVE (Looking at CARROLL, smiling)
I was talking to the old lady Ė

 
BUTCH
He means Miss Quickly.

 
STEVE
Yeah.

 
BUTCH (To CARROLL)
If everybody is everybody elseís brother, what the heck do they have a war for?

 
CARROLL
Well, now Butch Ė

 
STEVE (Laughing solemnly)
Iím afraid you wonít be able to find a good answer for that question, Doc.

 
BUTCH (Delighted)
Honest, Steve?

 
CARROLL
Now, Steve, you know the world is a wonderful place.

 
STEVE (Simply)
Iím sorry, but I think it stinks. I think the human race is unholy and disgusting. I think putting people in the world is a dirty trick.

 
CARROLL
No. No. No, it isnít, Steve.

 
STEVE
What is it, then? Youíre called out, everybodyís a stranger, you suffer every kind of pain there is, and then you crawl back. A little tiny place that got sidetracked in space and began to fill up with terrible unclean animals in clothes.

 
CARROLL
Those animals have created several magnificent civilizations, and right now theyíre creating another one. Itís a privilege to participate.

 
BUTCH (Delighted)
You mean the World Series?

 
STEVE (Wearily)
OK, Doc. Anything you say.

 
CARROLL
Excuse me, Steve. Can I ask you a question?

 
STEVE
Anything at all.

 
CARROLL
Whatís ahead for you?

 
STEVE
A number of things.

 
CARROLL
Wontí you tell me what they are?

 
STEVE (To BUTCH)
How about it, kid? Come back in a few minutes.

 
BUTCH
Ah, shucks. I want to listen. Iím not born yet.

 
STEVE
This is nothing. Iíll be seeing you.

 
BUTCH (Obedient, going to one side)
OK, Steve.

 
CARROLL
What is your destiny, Steve?

 
STEVE (Pause)
Murder.

 
CARROLL (Amazed)
Murder?

 
STEVE (Slowly)
Yes, I am going to murder another human being.

 
CARROLL
Oh, Iím sorry, Steve.

 
STEVE
Heís here, too.

 
CARROLL
Here? Who is he?

 
STEVE
I donít know if youíve noticed him. I have. His name is Hastings.

 
CARROLL (Shocked)
Ralph Hastings?

 
STEVE
Thatís right.

 
CARROLL
Why, heís a nice young fellow. Are you sure itís not a mistake?

 
STEVE
No, itís not a mistake.

 
CARROLL
Well, good Lord. This is awful. But why? Why do you do it?

 
STEVE
Itís a lot of nonsense.

 
CARROLL
What do you mean, Steve?

 
STEVE
You know heís rich. Well, he does a number of things that I think wreck the lives of poor people, so I Ė If heís going to wreck lives of people, whatís he born for? If all Iím supposed to do is kill him, what am I born for?

 
CARROLL
Iím sorry, Steve. Of course youíll never know once youíre out there.

 
STEVE
Thatíll help some, of course, but I just donít like the idea. What do you do, Doc?

 
CARROLL
Oh, nothing really

 
STEVE
Do you kill anybody?

 
CARROLL
No, I donít Steve. I do a lot of ordinary things.

 
STEVE
Do you raise a family?

 
CARROLL (Delighted, but shyly)
Oh, yes. Three sons. Three daughters. All kinds of grandchildren.

 
STEVE (Sincerely)
Thatís swell. Thatíll help a little.

 
CARROLL
Help? Help what?

 
STEVE
Help balance things.

 
CARROLL
Do you marry, Steve?

 
STEVE
Not exactly.

 
CARROLL (A little shocked but sympathetic)
Oh?

 
STEVE
I get a lot of women, but not a lot of them. I get a year of one, though. Thatís toward the end. Sheís here. (smiling) Iím a little ashamed of myself.

 
CARROLL
Why should you be ashamed?

 
STEVE
Well, sheís Peggy.

 
CARROLL (Shocked)
Peggy?

 
STEVE
Sheíll probably be all right for me by that time.

 
CARROLL
Peggyís really a good girl, I suppose, but she seems so Ė

 
STEVE
I donít know here very well.

 
(MISS QUICKLY enters, with SEVEN KIDS, ranging in age from 3 to 13: ROOSEVELT, black, aged 3. ALICE, aged 5, LARRY, aged 7. PEDRO GONZALEZ, Mexican, aged 8. JOHNNY GALLANTI, Italian, aged 9. BUTCH, HENRIETTA, aged 13.)

 
MISS QUICKLY
Now, children, whatíll it be? Singing or play-acting?

 
SOME
Singing.

 
SOME
Play-acting.

 
ROOSEVELT (Emphatically, as if with a grudge)
Nothing.

 
MISS QUICKLY
Nothing, Roosevelt? Now, really, you want to sing, donít you?

 
ROOSEVELT
No.

 
MISS QUICKLY
You want to act in a play, donít you?

 
ROOSEVELT
No.

 
MISS QUICKLY
You want to Ė

 
ROOSEVELT
No. I donít want to o nothing.

 
MISS QUICKLY
But why, Roosevelt?

 
ROOSEVELT
Because.

 
MISS QUICKLY
Because what?

 
ROOSEVELT
Because I donít.

 
MISS QUICKLY
Donít you want to have fun?

 
ROOSEVELT
No.

 
MISS QUICKLY (Patiently)
But why, child.

 
ROOSEVELT
Because.

 
MISS QUICKLY
Oh, dear.

 
STEVE (Calling)
Come here, Roosevelt.

 
ROOSEVELT (Going to STEVE)
Sheís always making us do stuff.

 
MISS QUICKLY (Gaily, to STEVE)
Oh, thank you, Steve. All right, children, weíll sing.

 
ROOSEVELT (getting up into STEVEíS arms)
Theyíre going to sing! Sheís always making people sing, or something. (looking at MISS QUICKLY) Shame on you!

 
STEVE
You stick with me, pardner.

 
ROOSEVELT
Wants Ďem to play act.

 
MISS QUICKLY (Sharply)
All right, children! (She blows the pitch) Beautiful Dreamer by Stephen Foster. Ready. One, two, three: Sing!

 
(MISS QUICKLY and the CHILDREN sing the song.)

 
That was fine, children. Now, Roosevelt, donít you want to sing?

 
ROOSEVELT (Opening his eyes)
Shame on you Ė talk to me that way!

 
MISS QUICKLY
My gracious! Come along, children!

 
(They go to one side. RALPH HASTINGS comes in, looks around. He is a well-dressed, decent sort of fellow, same age as STEVE, but younger looking. He looks at ROOSEVELT, runs his hand through the kidsí hair.)

 
HASTINGS
Howís the boy?

 
ROOSEVELT
No.

 
HASTINGS (Laughing)
No, what?

 
ROOSEVELT
No, everything.

 
STEVE (Comforting him)
OK, kid.

 
ROOSEVELT (With anger)
Only Steveís my pardner.

 
HASTINGS
Sure.

 
ROOSEVELT
Steveís the best man everywhere.

 
HASTINGS (Smiling at STEVE)
Sure, he is.

 
CARROLL (Studying the two young men sadly)
Well, Mr. Hastings, here we are.

 
HASTINGS
By the grace of God, here we wait for the first mortal breath. Are you please, Mr. Carroll?

 
CARROLL
I canít wait to begin.

 
HASTINGS
You, Steve?

 
STEVE (Simply)
Iím here.

 
HASTINGS
And so am I. (pause) Well Ė

 
STEVE
Look. I donít know if you know, but if you do Ė

 
HASTINGS
As a matter of fact, I do know, but what the hell Ė !

 
STEVE
I want you to know Ė

 
HASTINGS (Cheerfully)
Itís all right.

 
CARROLL (Thoughtfully)
There must be some mistake.

 
HASTINGS
No, thereís no mistake. Everythingís in order. Iím sorry, Steve. Iíll have it coming to me, I suppose.

 
STEVE
I donít think so.

 
HASTINGS
These things all balance. I must have it coming to me.

 
STEVE
Thatís why I say the world stinks.

 
HASTINGS
It depends, I guess

 
STEVE (Sincerely)
Thanks. (to CARROLL) Right now heís the way he is the day he dies, and Iím the way I am that day. Itís obvious itís not him, and not me, so it must be the world.

 
HASTINGS
Weíre not human yet.

 
STEVE
You mean weíre not inhuman yet.

 
CARROLL
Now, boys.

 
HASTINGS (Cheerfully)
Of course, Mr. Carroll. (to STEVE) I have a lot of fun, after a fashion, as long as it lasts. How about you?

 
STEVE (Laughs, stops)
Itís OK.

 
(PEGGY comes in, looks around, comes over to the three men. She simply stands near them.)

 
You know Ė I like you, Peggy. Even here, youíre lost.

 
PEGGY
Oh, itís boring Ė thatís what burns me up. Nothing to do. No excitement. I want to get started, so I can get it over with. I want to dance...

 
(CARROLL and HASTINGS move away.)

 
STEVE
Ah, now, Peggy Ė sure you do.

 
PEGGY
All I want to do is get it over with. Iím in a hurry. When do we start?

 
STEVE (He puts ROOSEVELT with the other kids)
Any time, now Ė any minute. They just go rid of another mob. Weíre next. (pause, while he smiles at her) Near you, Peggy, Iím in a hurry myself. (He takes her by the shoulders.)

 
PEGGY (Shocked a little)
Here?

 
STEVE
Whatís the difference? Iíve waited a long time for you. (He takes her and kisses her.) You see, Peggy, youíre no good, and I love you for it. Because Iím no good, too. I donít know why, but itís so. Now, before we know it, weíll be separated, and I wonít be seeing you again for a long time. Remember me, so that when we do meet again, youíll know who I am.

 
PEGGY
Iíve got a poor memory, but I guess Iíll know you just the same.

 
STEVE (Kissing her again)
Youíll remember, donít worry.

 
(They stand, kissing.)

 
THE VOICE
OK, people! Here we go again! Iím not going to go through the whole speech. Youíre going out whether you like it or not, so get going, and good luck to you!

 
(Everybody goes. Only STEVE and PEGGY stand together, kissing.)

 
OK, you two Ė get going!

 
(PEGGY tries to move, but STEVE wonít let her go.)

 
Come on, come on, you American lovers, get going!

 
(PEGGY struggles. STEVE holds her. She falls. He holds her terribly.)

 
PEGGY (Whimpering)
Let me go Ė please let me go!

 
(They struggle passionately for some time.)

 
THE VOICE
Whatís this? What goes on around here?

 
(A whistle is blown, like a police whistle, but STEVE clings to PEGGY. At last PEGGY breaks away from him, gets to her feet, turns and runs. STEVE gets up and looks around, smiling wisely. He straightens out. As he stands, a newborn babe begins to bawl, as if it were himself being born. He looks around, turns easily, and walks out.)

 
STEVE
OK, OK. Iím going.

 

 
The End
 

 

 

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