[IMAGE: HIGH SCHOOL HERO.]
TOM: And so the following evening I brought Jim home to dinner. I had known Jim slightly in high school. In high school Jim was a hero. He had tremendous Irish good nature and vitality with the scrubbed and polished look of white chinaware. He seemed to move in a continual spotlight. He was a star in basket-ball, captain of the debating club, president of the senior class and the glee club and he sang the male lead in the annual light operas. He was always running or bounding, never just walking. He seemed always at the point of defeating the law of gravity. He was shooting with such velocity through his adolescence that you would logically expect him to arrive at nothing short of the White House by the time he was thirty. But Jim apparently ran into more interference after his graduation from Soldan. His speed had definitely slowed. Six years after he left high school he was holding a job that wasn't much better than mine.
He was the only one at the warehouse with whom I was on friendly terms. I was valuable to him as someone who could remember his former glory, who had seen him win basketball games and the silver cup in debating. He knew of my secret practice of retiring to a cabinet of the washroom to work on poems when business was slack in the warehouse. He called me Shakespeare. And while the other boys in the warehouse regarded me with suspicious hostility, Jim took a humorous attitude toward me. Gradually his attitude affected the others, their hostility wore off and they also began to smile at me as people smile at an oddly fashioned dog who trots across their path at some distance.
I knew that Jim and Laura had known each other at Soldan, and I had heard Laura speak admiringly of his voice. I didn't know if Jim remembered her or not. In high school Laura had been as unobtrusive as Jim had been astonishing. If he did remember Laura, it was not as my sister, for when I asked him to dinner, he grinned and said, 'You know, Shakespeare, I never thought of you as having folks !'
He was about to discover that I did.
LEGEND ON SCREEN: 'THE ACCENT OF A COMING FOOT'.
Friday evening. It is about five o'clock of a late spring evening which comes 'scattering poems in the sky.'
A delicate lemony light is in the Wingfield apartment.
AMANDA has worked like a Turk in preparation for the gentleman caller. The results are astonishing. The new floor lamp with its rose-silk shade is in place, a coloured paper lantern conceals the broken light fixture in the ceiling, new billowing white curtains are at the windows, chintz covers are on chairs and sofa, a pair of new sofa pillows make their initial appearance.
Open boxes and tissue paper are scattered on the floor.
LAURA stands in the middle with lifted arms while AMANDA crouches before her, adjusting the hem of the new dress, devout and ritualistic. The dress is coloured and designed by memory. The arrangement Of LAURA's hair is changed; it is softer and more becoming. A fragile, unearthly prettiness has come out in LAURA: she is like a piece of translucent glass touched by light, given a momentary radiance, not actual, not lasting.]
AMANDA [impatiently]: Why are you trembling?
LAURA: Mother, you've made me so nervous !
A M A N D A: How have I made you nervous ?
LAURA: By all this fuss ! You make it seem so important !
AMANDA: I don't understand you, Laura. You couldn't be satisfied with just sitting home, and yet whenever I try to arrange something for you, you seem to resist it. [She gets up.] Now take a look at yourself. No, wait ! Wait just a moment - I have an idea !
LAURA: What is it now?
[AMANDA produces two powder puffs which she wraps in handkerchiefs and stuffs in LAURA's bosom.]
LAURA: Mother, what are you doing?
AMANDA: They call them 'Gay Deceivers'!
LAURA: I won't wear them !
AMANDA: YOU Will !
LAURA: Why should I?
AMANDA: Because, to be painfully honest, your chest is flat.
LAURA: You make it seem like we were setting a trap.
AMANDA: All pretty girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be !
[LEGEND: ' A PRETTY TRAP']
Now look at yourself, young lady. This is the prettiest you will ever be ! I've got. to fix myself now ! You're going to be surprised by your mother's appearance ! [She crosses through portières, humming gaily.]
[LAURA moves slowly to the long mirror and stares solemnly at herself. A wind blows the white curtains inward in a slow, graceful motion and with a faint, sorrowful sighing.]
AMANDA [off stage]: It isn't dark enough yet. [LAURA turns slowly before the mirror with a troubled look.]
LEGEND ON SCREEN: ' THIS IS MY SISTER: CELEBRATE HER WITH STRINGS!' MUSIC.]
AMANDA [laughing, off]: I'm going to show you something. I'm going to make a spectacular appearance I
LAURA: What is it, Mother?
AMANDA: Possess your soul in patience ? you will see !
Something I've resurrected from that old trunk! Styles haven't changed so terribly much after all.
[She parts the portières.]
Now just look at your mother !
[She wears a girlish frock of yellowed voile with a blue silk sash. She carries a bunch of jonquils - the legend of her youth is nearly revived.]
[Feverishly]: This is the dress in which I led the cotillion, won the cakewalk twice at Sunset Hill, wore one spring to the Governor's ball in Jackson !
See how I sashayed around the ballroom, Laura?
[She raises her skirt and does a mincing step around the room.]
I wore it on Sundays for my gentlemen callers ! I had it on the day I met your father I had malaria fever all that spring. The change of climate from East Tennessee to the Delta - weakened resistance I had a little temperature all the time - not enough to be serious - just enough to make me restless and giddy I Invitations poured in - parties all over the Delta! - 'Stay in bed,' said mother, 'you have fever!' - but I just wouldn't. - I took quinine but kept on going, going ! Evenings, dances ! - Afternoons, long, long rides! Picnics. - lovely! - So lovely, that country in May. - All lacy with dogwood, literally flooded with jonquils! - That was the spring I had the craze for jonquils. Jonquils became an absolute obsession. Mother said, 'Honey, there's no more room for jonquils.' And still I kept on bringing in more jonquils. Whenever, wherever I saw them, I'd say, "Stop ! Stop! I see jonquils ! I made the young men help me gather the jonquils ! It was a joke, Amanda and her jonquils ! Finally there were no more vases to hold them, every available space was filled with jonquils. No vases to hold them? All right, I'll hold them myself - And then I - [She stops in front of the picture. M U S I C.] met your father ! Malaria fever and jonquils and then - this - boy....
[She switches on the rose-coloured lamp.]
I hope they get here before it starts to rain.
[She crosses upstage and places the jonquils in bowl on table.]
I gave your brother a little extra change so he and Mr O'Connor could take the service car home.
LAURA [with altered look]: What did you say his name was?
LAURA: What is his first name?
AMANDA: I don't remember. Oh, yes, I do. It was - Jim !
[LAURA sways slightly and catches hold of a chair.
LEGEND ONSCREEN: ' NOT JIM !']
LAURA [faintly]: Not - Jim!
AMANDA: Yes, that was it, it was Jim ! I've never known a Jim, that wasn't nice !
LAURA: Are you sure his name is Jim O'Connor?
AMANDA: Yes. Why?
LAURA: Is he the one that Tom used to know in high school?
AMANDA: He didn't say so. I think he just got to know him at the warehouse.
LAURA: There was a Jim O'Connor we both knew in high school - [Then, with effort.] If that is the one that Tom is bringing to dinner - you'll have to excuse me, I won't come to the table.
AMANDA: What sort of nonsense is this?
LAURA: You asked me once if I'd ever liked a boy. Don't you remember I showed you this boy's picture?
AMANDA: You mean the boy you showed me in the year book?
LAURA: Yes, that boy.
AMANDA: Laura, Laura, were you in love with that boy?
LAURA: I don't know, Mother. All I know is I couldn't sit at the table if it was him!
AMANDA: It won't be him! It isn't the least bit likely. But whether it is or not, you will come to the table. You will not be excused.
LAURA: I'll have to be, Mother.
AMANDA: I don't intend to humour your silliness, Laura. I've had too much from you and your brother, both !
So just sit down and compose yourself till they come. Tom has forgotten his key so you'll have to let them in, when they arrive.
LAURA [panicky]: Oh, Mother - you answer the door !
AMANDA [lightly]: Ill be in the kitchen - busy !
LAURA: Oh, Mother, please answer the door, don't make me do it !
AMANDA [crossing into kitchenette]: I've got to fix the dressing for the salmon. Fuss, fuss - silliness ! over a gentleman caller !
[Door swings Shut. LAURA is left alone
LEGEND: ' TERROR!'
She utters a low moan and turns off the lamp - sits stiffly on the edge of the sofa, knotting her fingers together.
LEGEND ON SCREEN: ' THE OPENING OF A DOOR !'
T0M and JIM appear on the fire-escape steps and climb to landing. Hearing their approach, LAURA rises with a panicky gesture. She retreats to the portières.
The doorbell, LAURA catches her breath and touches her throat. Low drums.]
AMANDA [calling]: Laura, sweetheart ! The door !
[LAURA stares at it without moving.]
JIM: I think we just beat the rain.
TOM: Uh - huh. [He rings again, nervously. JIM whistles and fishes for a cigarette.]
AMANDA [very gaily]: Laura, that is your brother and Mr O'Connor ! Will you let them in, darling?
[LAURA Crosses toward kitchenette door.]
LAURA [breathlessly]: Mother - you go to the door !
[AMANDA steps out of kitchenette and stares furiously at LAU R A. She points imperiously at the door.]
LAURA: Please, please!
AMANDA [in a fierce whisper]: What is the matter with you, you silly thing?
LAURA [desperately]: Please, you answer it, please !
AMANDA: I told you I wasn't going to humour you, Laura. Why have you chosen this moment to lose your mind?
LAURA: Please, please, please, you go !
A M A N D A: You'll have to go to the door because I can't !
LAURA [despairingly] : I can't either !
LAURA: I'm sick!
AMANDA: I'm sick, too - of your nonsense ! Why can't you and your brother be normal people? Fantastic whims and behaviour !
[Tom gives a long ring.]
Preposterous goings on ! Can you give me one reason - [Calls out lyrically] COMING! JUST ONE SECOND! - why you should be afraid to open a door? Now you answer it, Laura !
LAURA: Oh, oh, oh ... [She returns through the portières. Darts to the victrola and winds it franticallly and turns it on.]
AMANDA: Laura Wingfield, you march right to that door !
LAURA: Yes - yes, Mother !
[A faraway, scratchy rendition of 'Dardanella' softens the air and gives her strength to move through it. She slips to the door and draws it cautiously open.
TOM enters With the caller, JIM O'CONNOR.]
TOM: Laura, this is Jim. Jim, this is my sister, Laura.
JIM [stepping inside]: I didn't know that Shakespeare had a sister!
LAURA [retreating stiff and trembling from the door]: How - how do you do?
JIM [heartily extending his hand]: - Okay !
[LAURA touches it hesitantly with hers.]
JIM: Your hand's cold, Laura !
LAURA: Yes, well- I've been playing the victrola....
JIM: Must have been playing classical music on it! You ought to play a little hot swing music to warm you up !
LAURA: Excuse me - I haven't finished playing the victrola. ... [She turns awkwardly and hurries into the front room. She pauses a second by the victrola. Then catches her breath and darts through the portières like a frightened deer.]
JIM: [grinning]: What was the matter?
TOM: Oh - with Laura? Laura is - terribly shy.
JIM: Shy, huh? It's unusual to meet a shy girl nowadays. I don't believe you ever mentioned you had a sister.
TOM: Well, now you know. I have one. Here is the Post Dispatch. You want a piece of it?
TOM: What piece? The comics?
JIM: Sports ! [Glances at it.] Ole Dizzy Dean is on his bad behaviour.
T0M [disinterested] : Yeah ? [Lights cigarette and crosses back to fire-escape door.]
JIM: Where are you going?
TOM: I'm going out on the terrace.
JIM [goes after him]: You know, Shakespeare - I'm going to sell you a bill of goods !
TOM: What goods?
JIM: A course I'm taking.
JIM: In public speaking! You and me, we're not the warehouse type.
TOM: Thanks - that's good news. But what has public speaking got to do with it?
JIM: It fits you for - executive positions !
JIM: I tell you it's done a helluva lot for me.
[IMAGE: EXECUTIVE AT DESK.]
TOM: In what respect?
JIM: In every ! Ask yourself what is the difference between you an' me and men in the office down front? Brains? No! - Ability? - No ! Then what? Just one little thing
TOM: What is that one little thing?
JIM Primarily it amounts to - social poise! Being able to square up to people and hold your own on any social level!
AMANDA [off stage]: Tom?
TOM: Yes, Mother?
AMANDA: Is that you and Mr O'Connor?
AMANDA: Well, you just make yourselves comfortable in there.
TOM: Yes, Mother.
AMANDA: Ask Mr O'Connor if he would like to wash his hands.
JIM Aw, no - no - thank you - I took care of that at the warehouse. Tom-
JI M: Mr Mendoza was speaking to me about you.
JIM: What do you think?
JIM: You're going to be out of a job if you don't wake up.
TOM: I am waking up
JIM: You show no signs.
TOM: The signs are interior.
[IMAGE ON SCREEN: THE SAILING VESSEL WITH JOLLY ROGER AGAIN.]
TOM: I' m planning to change. [He loans over the rail speaking with quiet exhilaration. The incandescent marquees and signs of the first-run movie houses light his face from across the alley. He looks like a voyager.] I'm right at the point of committing myself to a future that doesn't include the warehouse and Mr Mendoza or even a night-school course in public speaking.
JIM: What are you gassing about?
TOM: I'm tired of the movies.
J IM: Movies!
TOM: Yes, movies ! Look at them ? [A wave toward the marvels of Grand Avenue.] All of those glamorous people - having ,adventures - hogging it all, gobbling the whole thing up ! You know what happens? People go to the movies instead of moving! Hollywood characters are supposed to have all the adventures for everybody in America, while everybody in America sits in a dark room and watches them have them ! Yes, until there's a war. That's when adventure becomes available to the masses ! Everyone's dish, not only Gable's ! Then the people in the dark room come out of the dark room to have some adventure themselves Goody, goody! - It's our turn now, to go to the South Sea Islands - to make a safari - to be exotic, far-off ! - But I'm not patient. I don't want to wait till then. I'm tired of the movies and I am about to move !
JIM [incredulously]: Move?
TOM: Soon !
JIM: Where? Where?
[THEME THREE MUSIC SEEMS TO ANSWER THE QUESTION, WHILE TOM THINKS IT OVER. HE SEARCHES AMONG HIS POCKETS.]
TOM: I'm starting to boil inside. I know I seem dreamy, but inside - well, I'm boiling ! - Whenever I pick up a shoe, I shudder a little thinking how short life is and what I am doing! - Whatever that means, I know it doesn't mean shoes - except as something to wear on a traveller's feet ! [Finds paper.] Look
TOM: I'm a member.
JIM [reading]: The Union of Merchant Seamen.
TOM: I paid my dues this month, instead of the light bill.
JIM: You will regret it when they turn the lights off.
TOM: I won't be here.
JIM: How about your mother?
TOM: I'm like my father. The bastard son of a bastard! See how he grins? And he's been absent going on sixteen years !
JIM: You're just talking, you drip. How does your mother feel about it?
TOM: Shhh! -
Here comes mother ! Mother is not acquainted with my plans!
AMANDA [enters portières]: Where are you all?
TOM: On the terrace, Mother.
[They start inside. She advances to them. TOM is distinctly shocked at her appearance. Even JIM blinks a little. He is making his first contact with girlish Southern vivacity and in spite of the night-school course in public speaking is somewhat thrown off the beam by the unexpected outlay of social charm.
Certain responses are attempted by JIM but are swept aside by AMANDA's gay laughter and chatter. TOM is embarrassed but after the first shock JIM reacts very warmly. Grins and chuckles, is altogether won over.
IMAGE: AMANDA AS A GIRL.]
AMANDA [coyly smiling, shaking her girlish ringlets]: Well, well, well, so this is Mr O'Connor. Introductions entirely unnecessary. I've heard so much about you from my boy. I finally said to him, Tom - good gracious! - why don't you bring this paragon to supper? Id like to meet this nice young man at the warehouse! - Instead of just hearing you sing his praises so much!
I don't know why my son is so stand-offish - that's not Southern behaviour !
Let's sit down and - I think we could stand a little more air in here ! Tom, leave the door open. I felt a nice fresh breeze a moment ago. Where has it gone to?
Mmm, so warm already ! And not quite summer, even. We're going to bum up when summer really gets started. However, we're having - we're having a very light supper. I think light things are better fo' this time of year. The same as light clothes are. Light clothes an' light food are what warm weather calls fo'. You know our blood gets so thick during th' winter - it takes a while fo' us to adjust ou'selves! - when the season changes ...
It's come so quick this year. I wasn't prepared. All of a sudden - heavens ! Already summer! - I ran to the trunk an' pulled out this light dress - Terribly old! Historical almost! But feels so good - so good an' co-ol, y' know....
AMANDA: Yes, honey?
TOM: How about - supper?
A M A N D A: Honey, you go ask Sister if supper is ready ! You know that Sister is in full charge of supper! Tell her you hungry boys are waiting for it.
Have you met Laura?
AMANDA: Let you in? Oh, good, you've met already! It's rare for a girl as sweet an' pretty as Laura to be domestic! But Laura is, thank heavens, not only pretty but also very domestic. I'm not at all. I never was a bit. I never could make a thing but angel-food cake. Well, in the South we had so many servants. Gone, gone, gone. All vestige of gracious living ! Gone completely! I wasn't prepared for what the future brought me. All of my gentlemen callers were sons of planters and so of course I assumed that I would be married to one and raise my family on a large piece of land with plenty of servants. But man proposes and woman accepts the proposal ! - To vary that old, old saying a little bit - I married no planter! I married a man who worked for the telephone company! - That gallantly smiling gentleman over there! [Points to the picture.] A telephone man who - fell in love with long distance I - Now he travels and I don't even know where ! - But what am I going on for about my - tribulations?
Tell me yours ? I hope you don't have any ! Tom?
TOM [returning]: Yes, Mother?
AMANDA: Is supper nearly ready?
TOM: It looks to me like supper is on the table.
AMANDA: Let me look - [She rises prettily and looks through portières.] Oh, lovely ! - But where is Sister?
TOM: Laura is not feeling well - and she says that she thinks she'd better not come to the table.
AMANDA: What? - Nonsense ! - Laura? Oh, Laura !
LAURA [off stage, faintly]: Yes, Mother.
AMANDA: You really must come to the table. We won't be seated until you come to the table !
Come in, Mr O'Connor. You sit over there, and I'll Laura - Laura Wingfield !
You're keeping us waiting, honey ! We can't say grace. until you come to the table !
[The back door is pushed weakly open and LAURA comes in. She is obviously quite faint, her lips trembling, her eyes wide and staring. She moves unsteadily toward the table.
LEGEND: ' TERROR!'
Outside a summer storm is coming abruptly. The white curtains billow inward at the windows and there is a sorrowful murmur and deep blue dusk.
LAURA suddenly stumbles - she catches at a chair with a faint moan.]
AMANDA: Laura !.
LEGEND: ' AH!']
[Despairingly] Why, Laura, you are sick, darling ! Tom, help your sister into the living-room, dear !
Sit in the living-room, Laura - rest on the sofa. Well !
[To the gentleman caller.]
Standing over the hot stove made her ill ! - I told her that was just - too warm this evening, but -
[Tom comes back in. LAURA is on the sofa.]
Is Laura all right now?
AMANDA: What is that? Rain? A nice cool rain has come up!
[She gives the gentleman caller a frightened look.]
I think we may - have grace - now ...
[Tom looks at her steadily.]
Tom, honey - you say grace !
TOM: Oh ...
'For these and all thy mercies-'
[They bow their heads, AMANDA stealing a nervous glance at JIM. In the living-room LAURA, stretched on the sofa, clenches her hand to her lips, to hold back a shuddering sob.]
God's Holy Name be praised
THE SCENE DIMS OUT