Dramatic Texts >> William Saroyan >>My Heart's in the Highlands

MY HEART'S IN THE HIGHLANDS by William Saroyan

 

THE PEOPLE

JOHNNY

His father, BEN ALEXANDER, the poet

Johnny’s grandfather

JASPER MACGREGOR, the man with his heart in the highlands

MR. KOSAK, the grocer

ESTHER, his beautiful daughter

RUFE APLEY, the carpenter

PHILIP CARMICHAEL, the young man from the Old People’s Home

HENRY, the morning paper route carrier

MR. WILEY, the mailman

MR. CUNNINGHAM, the real estate agent

The Young Husband and Wife, and Their Baby

Good Friends and Neighbors

A dog


THE PLACE

A house on San Benito Avenue in Fresno, California

Mr. Kosak’s grocery store


THE TIME

August and November 1914

 

ACT 1

Scene 1

An old white, broken-down, frame house with a front porch, on San Benito Avenue in Fresno, California.  There are no other houses near by, only a desolation of bleak land and red sky.  It is late afternoon of a day in August 1914.  The evening sun is going down.

JOHNNY, aged nine, but essentially ageless, is sitting, dynamic and acrobatic, on the steps of the porch, dead to the world and deep in thought of a high and holy order.  Far away a train whistle cries mournfully.  He listens eagerly, cocking his head on one side like a chicken, trying to understand the meaning of the cry and at the same time to figure out everything.  He doesn’t quite make it and when the cry ends he stops being eager.  A fourteen-year-old boy on a bicycle, eating an ice-cream cone and carrying newspaper bags, goes by on the sidewalk in silence, oblivious of the weight on his shoulders and of the contraption on which he is seated, because of the delight and glory of ice-cream in the world.  JOHNNY leaps to his feet and waves to the boy, smiling in a big humanitarian way, but is ignored.  He sits down again and listens to a small overjoyed but angry bird.  After making a brief forceful speech of no meaning, the bird flies away.

From inside the house is heard the somber voice of JOHNNY’S FATHER reciting poetry of his own composition.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER.

The long silent day journeys through the sore solemn heart, and – [Bitter pause] And – [Quickly] The long silent day journeys through the sore solemn hear, and – [Pause] No.  [He roars and begins again]  Crippled and weeping, time stumbles through the lone lorn heart.

[A table or chair is pushed over in anger.  A groan.  Silence.]

[The boy listens.  He gets up and tries to stand on his head, fails, tries again, fails, tries again, and succeeds.  While he is standing on his head he hears the loveliest and most amazing music in the world; a solo on a bugle.  The music is “My Heart’s in the Highlands.”  The bugler, a very old man, finishes the solo in front of the house.  The boy leaps to his feet and runs up to the old man, amazed, delighted and bewildered.]

JOHNNY

I sure would like to hear you play another song.

 

MACGREGOR

Young man, could you get a glass of water for an old man whose heart is not here, but in the highlands?

 

JOHNNY

What highlands?

 

MACGREGOR

The Scotch Highlands.  Could you?

 

JOHNNY

What’s your heart doing in the Scotch Highlands?

 

MACGREGOR

My heart’s grieving there.  Could you get me a glass of cool water?

 

JOHNNY

Where’s your mother?

 

MACGREGOR [inventing for the boy]

My mother’s in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but her heart isn’t.

 

JOHNNY

Where is her heart?

 

MACGREGOR [loud]

In the Scotch Highlands.  [Soft]  I’m very thirsty, young man.

 

JOHNNY

How come the members of your family are always leaving their hearts in the highlands?

 

MACGREGOR [in the Shakespearean manner]

That’s the way we are.  here today and gone tomorrow.

 

JOHNNY [aside]

Here today and gone tomorrow?  [To MacGregor]  How do you figure?

 

MACGREGOR [the philosopher]

Alive one minute and dead the next.

 

JOHNNY.

Where’s your mother’s mother?

 

MACGREGOR [inventing, but angry]

She’s up in Vermont, in a little town called White River, but her heart isn’t.

 

JOHNNY

Is her poor old withered heart in the highlands, too?

 

MACGREGOR

Right smack in the highlands.  Son, I’m dying of thirst.

 

[JOHNNY’S FATHER comes out of the house in a fury, as if he has just broken out of a cage, and roars at the boy like a tiger that has just awakened from evil dreams.]

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER

Johnny, get the hell away from that poor old man.  Get him a pitcher of water before he falls down and dies.  Where the hell are your manners?

 

JOHNNY

Can’t a fellow try to find out something from a traveler once in a while?

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER

Get the old man some water, God damn it.  Don’t stand there like a dummy.  Get him a drink, I tell you, before he falls down and dies.

 

JOHNNY

You get him a drink.  You’re not doing anything.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER

Not doing anything?  Why, Johnny, you know I’m getting a new poem arranged in my mind.

 

JOHNNY

How do you figure I know?  You’re just standing there on the porch with your sleeves rolled up.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [angry]

Well, you ought to know.  [Roaring]  You’re my son.  [Amazed]  If you shouldn’t know, who should?

 

MACGREGOR [blithely]

Good afternoon.  Your son has been telling me how clear and cool the climate is in these parts.

 

JOHNNY [bewildered, but eager to learn]

[Aside]  Holy Moses, I didn’t say anything about the climate.  Where’s he getting that stuff from?

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [the aristocrat, grandly]

How do you do?  Won’t you come in for a little rest?  We should be honored to have you at our table fro a bit of supper. 

 

MACGREGOR [the realist]

Sir, I’m starving.  I shall come right in.  [He moves to enter the house.  JOHNNY gets in his way, looking up at him.]

 

JOHNNY [the romantic]

Can you play “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes”?  I sure would like to hear you play that song on the bugle.  That song is my favorite.  I guess I like that song better than any song in the world.

 

MACGREGOR [the disillusioned]

Son, when you get to be my age you’ll know songs aren’t important, bread’s the thing.

 

JOHNNY [the faithful]

Anyway, I sure would like to hear you play that song.

 

[MACGREGOR goes up on the porch and shakes hands with JOHNNY’S FATHER.]

 

MACGREGOR [history in the making]

My name is Jasper MacGregor.  I’m an actor.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [delighted]

I’m mighty glad to make your acquaintance.  [The imperial giver of orders]  Johnny, get Mr. MacGregor a pitcher of water.

 

[JOHNNY runs around the house.]

 

MACGREGOR [dying of thirst, sighing, but telling the truth nevertheless]

Charming boy.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [ordinary statement]

Like myself, he’s a genius.

 

MACGREGOR [roaring, from fatigue]

I suppose you’re very fond of him?

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [delighted to be alive]

We are the same person – He is the heart of my youth – Have you noticed his eagerness?

 

MACGREGOR [delighted to still be alive]

I should say I have.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [proudly and with anger]

I’m the same way myself, although older and less brilliant. 

 

[JOHNNY, running, returns with a pitcher of water which he hand to the old man.  The old man throws back his shoulders, lifts his head, his nostrils expand, he snorts, his eyes widen, he lifts the pitcher of water to his lips and drinks all the water in one long swig, while JOHNNY and his FATHER watch with amazement and admiration.  The old man breathes deeply, looks around at the landscape and up at the sky and to the end of San Benito Avenue where the evening sun is going down.]

 

MACGREGOR [reflection, sadly; weariness, softly]

I reckon I’m five thousand miles from home.  Do you think we could eat a little bread and cheese to keep my body and spirit together?

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [Napoleon]

Johnny, run down to the grocer’s and get a loaf of French bread and a pound of cheese.

 

JOHNNY [the voice of doom]

Give me the money.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [statistics, poetic, with pride]

You know I haven’t got a penny, Johnny.  Tell Mr. Kosak to give us credit.

 

JOHNNY [the unwilling dutiful son]

He won’t do it.  He’s tired of giving us credit.  He says we don’t work and never pay our bills.  We owe him forty cents.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [impatient, irritated]

Go on down there and argue it out with him.  You know that’s your job.

 

JOHNNY [defending his rights]

He won’t listen to reason.  He says he doesn’t know anything about anything.  All he wants is the forty cents.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [Napoleon]

Go on down there and make him give you a loaf of bread and a pound of cheese.  [Gently, pleading, flattering]  You can do it, Johnny.

 

MACGREGOR [impatient and hungry]

Go on down there and tell Mr. Kosak to give you a loaf of bread and a pound of cheese, son.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER

Go ahead, Johnny.  You’ve never failed to leave that store with something or other.  You’ll be back here in ten minutes with food fit for a king.  [For his own amusement]  Or at least a duke of some kind.

 

JOHNNY

I don’t know.  Mr. Kosak says we are trying to give him the merry run-around.  He wants to know what kind of work you do.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [furiously]

Well, go ahead and tell him.  [The hero]  I have nothing to conceal.  I write poetry, night and day.

 

JOHNNY [giving in at last]

All right, but I don’t think he’ll be impressed.  He says you never go out and look for work.  He says you’re lazy and no good.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [roaring]

You go on down there and tell that great-hearted Slovak he’s crazy, Johnny.  You go on down there and tell that splendid scholar and gentleman your father is one of the greatest unknown poets living. 

 

JOHNNY

He won’t care, Pa, but I’ll go.  I’ll be my best.  Haven’t we got anything in the house?

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [mock-tragically, roaring

Only popcorn.  [To MACGREGOR]  We’ve been eating popcorn for days in a row now.  Johnny, you’ve got to get bread and cheese if you expect me to finish that long poem.

 

JOHNNY

I’ll do my best.

 

MACGREGOR

Don’t take too long, Johnny.  I’m five thousand miles from home.

 

JOHNNY

I’ll run all the way, Mr. MacGregor.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [for the amusement of the good Lord]

If you find any money on the way, remember we go fifty-fifty.

 

JOHNNY [delighted with the comedy]

All right, Pa.  [JOHNNY runs down the street]

 

The inside of Mr. Kosak’s Grocery Store.  MR. KOSAK is sleeping on his folded arms when JOHNNY runs into the store.  MR. KOSAK lifts his head.  He is a fine, gentle, serious man with a big, blond, old-fashioned moustache.  He shakes his head trying to waken.

 

JOHNNY [the diplomat, as it were]

Mr. Kosak, if you were in China and didn’t have a friend in the world and no money, you’d expect somebody over there to give you a pound of rice, wouldn’t you?

 

MR. KOSAK

What do you want?

 

JOHNNY

I just want to talk a little.  You’d expect some member of the Aryan race to help you out a little, wouldn’t you, Mr. Kosak?

 

MR. KOSAK

How much money you got?

 

JOHNNY

It’s not a question of money, Mr. Kosak.  I’m talking about being in China.

 

MR. KOSAK

I don’t know nothing about nothing.

 

JOHNNY

How would you feel in China that way, Mr. Kosak?

 

MR. KOSAK

I don’t know, Johnny.  What would I be doing in China?

 

JOHNNY

Well, you’d be visiting there.  You’d be hungry and five thousand miles from home and not a friend in the world.  You wouldn’t expect everybody to turn you away without even a pound of rice, would you, Mr. Kosak?

 

MR. KOSAK

I guess not, but you ain’t in China, Johnny, and neither is your Pa.  You or your Pa’s got to go out and work sometime in your lives, so you might as well start now.  I ain't’ going to give you no more groceries on credit because I know you won’t pay me.

 

JOHNNY

Mr. Kosak, you misunderstand me.  This is 1914, not 1913.  I’m not talking about a few groceries.  I’m talking about all them heathen people around you in China, and you hungry and dying.

 

MR. KOSAK

This ain’t China.  You got to go out and make your living in this country.  Everybody’s got to work in America.

 

JOHNNY

Mr. Kosak, suppose it was a loaf of bread and a pound of cheese you needed to keep you alive in the world, would you hesitate to ask a Christian missionary for these things?

 

MR. KOSAK

Yes, I would.  I would be ashamed to ask.

 

JOHNNY

Even if you knew you would give him back two loaves of bread and two pounds of cheese instead of one loaf and one pound?  Even then, Mr. Kosak?

 

MR. KOSAK

Even then.

 

JOHNNY

Don’t be that way, Mr. Kosak.  That’s defeatist talk, and you know it.  Why, the only thing that would happen to you would be death.  You’d die out there in China, Mr. Kosak.

 

MR. KOSAK

I wouldn’t care if I would.  You and your Pa have got to pay for bread and cheese.  Why don’t your Pa go out and get a job?

 

JOHNNY [swift abandonment of the intellectual attack for the human one]

Mr. Kosak, how are you?

 

MR. KOSAK

I’m fine, Johnny.  How are you?

 

JOHNNY

Couldn’t be better, Mr. Kosak.  How are the children? 

 

MR. KOSAK

They’re all fine, Johnny.  Stephan is beginning to walk now.

 

JOHNNY

That’s great.  How’s Angela?

 

MR. KOSAK

Angela’s beginning to sing.  How’s your Grandmother?

 

JOHNNY

She’s fine.  She’s beginning to sing too.  She says she’d rather be an opera singer than Queen of England.  How’s your wife Martha, Mr. Kosak?

 

MR. KOSAK

Oh, swell.

 

JOHNNY

I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear that everything is fine at your house.  I know Stephan is going to be a great man some day.

 

MR. KOSAK

I hope so.  I’m going to send him to high school and see that he gets every chance I didn’t get.  I don’t want him to have trouble all his life, too.

 

JOHNNY

I have great faith in Stepan, Mr. Kosak.

 

MR. KOSAK

What do you want, Johnny, and how much money you got?

 

JOHNNY

Mr. Kosak, you know I didn’t come here to buy anything.  You know I enjoy a quiet philosophical chat with you every now and then.  [Quickly, pleading]  Let me have a loaf of French bread and a pound of cheese. 

 

MR. KOSAK

You got to pay cash, Johnny.

 

JOHNNY

And Esther?  How is your beautiful daughter Esther?

 

MR. KOSAK

She’s all right, Johnny, but you got to pay cash.  You and your Pa are the worst citizens in this county.

 

JOHNNY

I’m glad Esther’s all right, Mr. Kosak.  Jasper MacGregor is visiting our house.  He’s a great actor.

 

MR. KOSAK

Never heard of him.

 

JOHNNY

And a bottle of beer for Mr. MacGregor.

 

MR. KOSAK

I can’t give you a bottle of beer.

 

JOHNNY

Sure, you can.

 

MR. KOSAK

I can’t.  I’ll let you have one loaf of French bread and a pound of cheese, but that’s all.  What kind of work does you Pa do when he works, Johnny?

 

JOHNNY

My father writes poetry, Mr. Kosak.  That’s the only work my father does.  He’s one of the greatest writers of poetry in the world.

 

MR. KOSAK

When does he get any money?

 

JOHNNY

He never gets any money.  You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

 

MR. KOSAK

I don’t like that kind of work.  Why doesn’t your Pa work like everybody else, Johnny?

 

JOHNNY

He works harder than everybody else.  My father works twice as hard as the average man.  [MR. KOSAK hands Johnny a loaf of French bread and a pound of cheese.]

 

MR. KOSAK

Well, that’s fifty-five cents you owe me, Johnny.  I’ll let you have some stuff this time, but never again.

 

JOHNNY [at the door]

Tell Esther I love her.

 

[JOHNNY runs out of the store.  MR. KOSAK swings at a fly, misses, swings again, misses, and, objecting to the world in this manner, he chases the fly all around the store, swinging with all his might.]

The house.  JOHNNY’S FATHER and the old man are looking down the street to see if JOHNNY is coming back with food.  His GRANDMOTHER is standing on the porch also eager to know if there is to be food.

 

MACGREGOR

I think he’s got some food with him.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER [with pride]

Of course he has.  [He waves at the old lady on the porch who runs into the house to set the table.  JOHNNY runs to his FATHER and MACGREGOR.]  I knew you’d do it.

 

MACGREGOR

So did I.

 

JOHNNY

He says we got to pay him fifty-five cents.  He says he’s not going to give us any more stuff on credit.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER

That’s his opinion.  What did you talk about?

 

JOHNNY

First I talked about being hungry and at death’s door in China.  Then I inquired about the family.

 

JOHNNY’S FATHER

How is everyone?

 

JOHNNY

Fine. I didn't find any money, though. Not even a penny.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER

Oh, that's all right. Money isn't everything. [They go into the house].

 

[The living- room. They are all at the table after supper. Macgreggor finds crumbs here and there which he places delicately in his mouth. He looks around the room to see if there isn't something more to eat.]

 

MACGREGOR

That green can up there, Johnny. What's in there?

 

JOHNNY

Marbles.

 

MACGREGOR

That cupboard, Johnny. Anything edible in there?.

 

JOHNNY

Crickets..

 

MACGREGOR

That big jar in the corner there, Johnny. What's delectable in there?.

 

JOHNNY

I got a gopher snake in that jar..

 

MACGREGOR

Well, I could go for a bit of boiled gopher snake in a big way, Johnny..

 

JOHNNY[defiantly, protector of animals]

Nothing doing, Mr. MacGregor..

 

MACGREGOR

Why not, Johnny? Why the hell not, son? I hear of fine Borneo natives eating snakes and grasshoppers. You haven't got a half dozen fat grasshoppers around, have you, Johnny?

 

JOHNNY

Only four..

 

MACGREGOR

Well, trot them out, son, and after we've had our fill, I'll play 'Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes' for you. I'm mighty hungry, Johnny..

 

JOHNNY

So am I, but I don't want anybody killing them innocent animals. They got rights the same as anybody else..

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER [to Macgregor]

How about a little music? I think the boy would be delighted..

 

JOHNNY [leaping to his feet]

I sure would, Mr. MacGregor..

 

MACGREGOR

All right, Johnny. Bread. Bread. My God, how savagely it quarrels with the heart.

 

[Macgregor gets up and begins to blow into the bugle. He blows louder and more beautifully and mournfully than anybody ever blew into a bugle. Eighteen Neighbours gather in front of the house and cheer when he finishes the solo, play 'Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes'.]

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER [delighted, for amusement].

I want you to meet your public.

 

[They go out on the porch.The house. The crowd is looking up at Johnny's father, Macgregor and Johnny.]

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER

Good neighbours, and friends, I want you to meet Jasper MacGregor, the greatest Shakespearean actor of our day. [Pause.] I believe.

 

MACGREGOR [the actor]

I remember my first appearance in London in 1851 as if it was yesterday. I was a boy of fourteen from the slums of Glasgow. My first part was a courier in a play, the title of which I have unfortunately forgotten. I had no lines to speak, but moved about a good deal, running from officer to officer, and from lover to his beloved, and back again, over and over again.

 

RUFE APLEY, THE CARPENTER [regretfully interrupting the great speech].

How about another song, Mr. MacGregor?

 

MACGREGOR

Have you got an egg at your house?

 

RUFE APLEY

I sure have. I've got a dozen eggs at my house.

 

MACGREGOR

Would it be convenient for you to go and get one of them dozen eggs? When you return I'll play a song that will make your heart leap with joy and grief.

 

RUFE APLEY

I'm on my way already. [He goes].

 

MACGREGOR [to the crowd]

My friends, I should be delighted to play another song for you on this golden-throated bugle, but time and distance from home find me weary. If you will be so good as to go, each of you to his home, and return in a moment with some morsel of food, I shall be proud to gather my spirit together and play a song I know will change the course of each of your lives, and change it, mind you, for the better.

 

[The people go. The last to go is Esther Kosak, who hears the speech out, then runs. Macgregor, Johnny's Father, and Johnny sit on the steps and remain in silence, and one by one the people return, bringing food to Macgregor an egg, a sausage, a dozen green onions, two kinds of cheese, butter, two kinds of bread, boiled potatoes, fresh tomatoes, a melon, tea, and many other good things to eat.]

 

MACGREGOR

Thank you, my friends, thank you.

 

[He stands solemnly, waiting for absolute silence, straightens himself, looks about him furiously, lifts the bugle to his lips and is irritated by the swift and noisy return of Esther Kosak, bringing an eggplant. When there is silence, he plays 'My Heart's in the Highlands, My Heart is not Here'. The People weep, kneel, sing the chorus, and go away.Macgregor turns to the father and son.] [Grandly.]

 

MACGREGOR

Sir, if it is all the same to you I should like to dwell in your house for a long time to come.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER [delighted and amazed]

Sir, my house is your house. [They go into the house.]

 

[The living-room. Eighteen days later, Macgregor is lying on the floor, face up, asleep. Johnny is walking about quietly in the room, looking at everyone. His Father is at the table, writing poetry. His Grandmother is sitting in the rocking chair, rocking. There is a knock on the door. Everybody but Macgregor jumps up and runs to it.]

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER [at the door]

Yes?

 

YOUNG MAN

I am looking for Jasper MacGregor, the actor.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER

What do you want?

 

JOHNNY

Well, ask him in anyway, Pa.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER

Yes, of course. Excuse me. Won't you please come in' [The Young Man enters.]

 

YOUNG MAN

My name is Philip Carmichael. I am from the Old's People's Home. I have been sent to bring Mr. MacGregor home.

 

MACGREGOR [wakening and sitting up]

Home? Did someone mention home? [Roaring.] I'm five thousand miles from home, always have been, and always will be. Who is this young man?

 

YOUNG MAN

Mr. MacGregor, I'm Philip Carmichael, from the Old People's Home. They have sent me to bring you back. We are putting on our annual show in two weeks and need you for the leading role.

 

MACGREGOR [getting up with the help of Johnny's Father and Johnny]

What kind of a part is it? I can't be playing young adventurers any longer.

 

YOUNG MAN

The part is King Lear, Mr. MacGregor. It is perfect for you.

 

MACGREGOR [the actor with a job again]

Good-bye, my beloved friends. [He returns from the porch.] In all the hours of my life, in all the places I have visited, never and nowhere have I had the honour and pleasure to commune with souls loftier, purer, or more delightful than yours. Good-bye.

 

[The Old Man and the Young Man leave the house. There is a moment of silence, full of regret and lonliness]

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER [hungry, loudly]

Johnny, go on down to Mr. Kosak's store and get a little something to eat. I know you can do it, Johnny. Get Anything.

 

JOHNNY [hungry, loudly, and angry]

Mr. Kosak wants eighty-five cents. He won't give us anything more without money.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER

Go on down there, Johnny. You know you can get that fine Slovak gentleman to give us a little something to eat.

 

JOHNNY [with despair]

Aw, Pa.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER [amazed, roaring]

What? You, my son, in a mood like that. Come on. I fought the world this way before you were born. After you were born we fought it together, and we're going to go on fighting it. The people love poetry but don't know it, that's all. Nothing is going to stop us, Johnny. Go on down there now and get us something to eat.

 

JOHNNY

All right, Pa. I'll do my best. [He runs to the door]

 

The house. It now has a large sign, For Rent. It is a moment before daybreak of a day early in November 1914. There is a suggestion of winter coming. High in the sky a flock of geese flying south make their call.

[Johnny is sitting on the steps of the front porch with his chin in his hand. He hears the geese, listening carefully, leaps to his feet and looks into the sky for them. The sound decreases, then ends.]

[Johnny goes back to the steps of the porch and sits down. As the sun rises, a big solemn smile comes over his face. He looks out of the corner of his eye at the morning's light as if it were a quiet friend with whom he was on terms of perfect understanding. As the light increases, this play between Johnny and the sun grows like a theme of music, bringing him to his feet, turning his face to the light. He lifts his arm, and very solemnly begins turning somersaults. He then runs around the house lickety-split and returns on the other side, almost dancing. A freight train goes by not far enough away not to make the earth tremble. The light of morning increases. A newspaper route carrier arrives on foot, whistling. He is the typical small-town morning route carrier, about thirteen years old. He is in that sombre and dignified state which comes over men who have done their work. His paper bags are empty. Night is over. His daily wage has been earned. The papers have been left at the doors of the readers. Another day has come to the world. He has walked two hours through dark streets to morning. The song he is whistling is soft and full of understanding. It is a song of his own composition, a morning song.]

 

JOHNNY [running down the steps]

Hello.

 

THE BOY [stopping]

Hello.

 

JOHNNY

What was that song?

 

THE BOY

What song?

 

JOHNNY

That you were whistling?

 

THE BOY

Was I whistling?

 

JOHNNY

Sure. Didn't you know?

 

THE BOY

I guess I'm always whistling.

 

JOHNNY

What was it?

 

THE BOY

I don't know.

 

JOHNNY

I wish I could whistle.

 

THE BOY

Anybody can whistle.

 

JOHNNY

I can't. How do you do it?

 

THE BOY

There's no how to it. You just whistle.

 

JOHNNY

How?

 

THE BOY

Like this. [He whistles a moment, obviously improvising, a tour de force of technique.]

 

JOHNNY[with admiration]

I wish I could do that.

 

THE BOY [Pleased and eager to make an even better impression.]

That was nothing. Listen to this. [He gives the melody a sort of counterpoint, two tones, and a bit of syncopation.]

 

JOHNNY

Can't you teach me to do that?

 

THE BOY

You can't teach whistling. You just do it. This is another way. [He whistles a little melody, the loud newsboy's style, but keeps it soft.]

 

JOHNNY [trying to whistle]

Like that?

 

THE BOY

That's the way to start. Keep it up and after a while your mouth'll take the right shape and you'll be whistling before you know it.

 

JOHNNY

Honest?

 

THE BOY

Sure.

 

JOHNNY

Is your mother dead?

 

THE BOY

How did you know?

 

JOHNNY

My mother's dead too.

 

THE BOY

Yeah

 

JOHNNY [with a sigh]

Yeah. She died.

 

THE BOY

I don't remember my mother. Do you remember your mother?

 

JOHNNY

I don't exactly remember her. Sometimes I dream about her, though.

 

THE BOY

I used to, too.

 

JOHNNY

Don't you any more?

 

THE BOY [disillusioned]

Naaaah. What good does that do you?

 

JOHNNY

My mother sure is beautiful.

 

THE BOY

Yeah, I know. I remember. You got a father?

 

JOHNNY [proudly]

Oh, sure. He's in the house now, sleeping.

 

THE BOY

My father's dead, too.

 

JOHNNY

Your father, too.

 

THE BOY [matter of fact]

Yeah. [They begin bouncing an old tennis ball back and forth to each other.]

 

JOHNNY

Haven't you got anybody?

 

THE BOY

I got an aunt, but she ain't really my aunt. I was brought up in an orphanage. I'm adopted.

 

JOHNNY

What's an orphanage?

 

THE BOY

That's a kind of place where kids that ain't got any mothers and fathers live until somebody adopts them.

 

JOHNNY

What do you mean, adopts?

 

THE BOY

Somebody who wants a boy or girl comes to the orphanage and looks everybody over and goes away with whoever they like. If they pick you, you go and stay with them.

 

JOHNNY

Do you like that?

 

THE BOY

It's all right. [The Boy puts away the ball].

 

JOHNNY

What's your name?

 

THE BOY

Henry. What's yours?

 

JOHNNY

Johnny.

 

THE BOY

Do you want a paper? There's a war in Europe.

 

JOHNNY

I haven't got any money. We aren't rich. We don't work. My father writes poetry.

 

THE BOY [giving JOHNNY the extra]

Oh, that's all right. Don't you ever have any money?

 

JOHNNY

Sometimes. I found a quarter once. It was lying on the sidewalk, right in front of me. Once my father got a cheque for ten dollars from New York, too. We bought a chicken and a lot of stamps and papers and envelopes. The chicken wouldn't lay eggs, though, so my grandmother killed it and cooked it for us. Did you ever eat chicken?

 

THE BOY

Sure. I guess I've eaten chicken six or seven times.

 

JOHNNY

What are you going to do when you grow up?

 

THE BOY

Shucks. I don't know. I don't know what I'll do.

 

JOHNNY [proudly]

I'm going to be a poet, like my father. He said so.

 

THE BOY

I guess I'll carry a paper route for a while. [He moves to go] Well. So long.

 

JOHNNY

Won't you come here again?

 

THE BOY

I go by here every morning about this time. I ain't never seen you up before, though.

 

JOHNNY [smiling]

I had a dream and then I woke up and didn't want to sleep any more. I wanted to get up and come out here. I saw my mother.

 

THE BOY

Maybe I'll see you again some morning when you can't sleep.

 

JOHNNY

I hope so. So long.

 

THE BOY

So long. Just keep trying and you'll be whistling before you know it.

 

JOHNNY

Thanks.

 

[The Boy goes, whistling. Johnny tosses the folded paper up on the porch, and sits down again on the steps. His Grandmother comes out on the porch with a broom and begins to sweep.]

 

JOHNNY'S GRANDMOTHER [In Armenian, which is the only language she speaks, with the exception of Turkish, Kurdish, and a little Arabic, which nobody around seems to know]

How are you, my heart?

 

JOHNNY [who understands Armenian, but hardly ever speaks it; in English]

Fine.

 

JOHNNY'S GRANDMOTHER

How's your Papa?

 

JOHNNY

I don't know. [Calling loudly to his father.] Oh Pa. How are you? [Pause. Louder] Pa. [Pause. Silence] I guess he's sleeping.

 

JOHNNY'S GRANDMOTHER.

Is there any money?

 

JOHNNY

Money [Shaking his head] No.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER [from inside the house]

Johnny

 

JOHNNY [jumping to his feet]

Pa

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER.

Did you call?

 

JOHNNY

Yeah. How are you?

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER

Fine, Johnny. How are you?

 

JOHNNY

Fine, Pa.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER

Is that all you woke me up for?

 

JOHNNY [to his Grandmother]

He's fine. [Louder to his Father] The old lady wanted to know.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER [in Armenian, to the old lady]

Good night, Ma. [To Johnny, in English.] What do you mean, old? She's not so old.

 

JOHNNY

I don't mean old. You know what I mean.

 

[Johnny's Father comes out on the porch, buttoning his shirt, nods to the old lady, looks out of the corner of his eye at the sun, exactly the same way Johnny did, smiling the same way, stretches all over, faces the sun, leaps down the steps and turns one somersault, not so good. The somersault leaves him flat on his back.]

 

JOHNNY

You ought to get a little more exercise, Pa. You're always sitting down.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER [on his back]

Johnny, your father is a great poet. I may not be able to turn a somersault as well as you, but if you want to know what kind of an athlete I am, just read the poetry I write yesterday.

 

JOHNNY

Is it really good, Pa?

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER

Good [He leaps to his feet, like an acrobat.] It's great. I'm going to send it to The Atlantic Monthly, too.

 

JOHNNY

Oh, I forgot, Pa. There's a paper on the porch.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER [going to the porch]

You mean a morning paper, Johnny?

 

JOHNNY

Yeah.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER

Well, that's a pleasant surprise. Where in the world did you get it?

 

JOHNNY

Henry gave it to me.

 

JOHNNY'S FATHER

Henry? Who is Henry?

 

JOHNNY

He's a boy who hasn't got a mother or a father, either. He sure can whistle, too.

 

 

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