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The Glass Menagerie: Scene 8
[As Laura’s candles go out, Tom stumbles into a bar. The bar is dimly lit, its sparse interior emerging onstage exactly in sync with the end of his monologue. He is no longer in St. Louis, but he has not gone far. The bar is small and dank and as claustrophobic to the audience as it is to its own inhabitants. It is populated with the types of men who tend to populate bars. There is a lone woman who leans against the counter. She is beautiful in only the aural sense, and clearly distraught. She sports a startling hue of scarlet through nearly every conceivable medium: scarlet shoes, dress, lipstick. Tom buys a drink, the bartender gestures with his head toward the girl; Tom gives him a nod of acknowledgement. The girl is Betty, Jim’s fiancée. He walks steadily toward her, not yet drunk enough to physically waver—but not sober enough to know better.]
[Screen legend: Recognition!]
TOM: You look familiar. Do I look familiar to you?
[Betty stares blankly back at him, perhaps assessing him or perhaps pitying him. She takes a slow sip from her glass and swallows it pointedly.]
I know somebody told me about you someplace. I’m Tom.
[Betty shakes his outstretched hand, but her expression does not change.]
Tom Wingfield. You, young lady, look like you ought to be tied up to some train tracks somewhere. Waiting for a big ol’ man to swoop down and pick you up at the last moment.
BETTY: [Stoic] That last moment has already past.
TOM: Ha! Ain’t that just how it is for everybody?
BETTY: I guess that depends on which kind of everybody you’re talking about. For example, I know your last moment has passed because you got a drink from the bartender there without so much as opening that square little mouth of yours. And this here bar is full of your kind of everybodys: spitting on their mama’s graves without so much as a glance to the heavens to see if they could find some guiding light. You all just chuckle and assume that everybody’s got to the same place you’ve got yourselves, but they haven’t, and a lot of ’em are tryin’ real hard not to get there. They work their whole lives tryin’ to be pretty and they tell their mamas that they’re happy being pretty, and they watch the moments roll by like the smoke from their too-filtered cigarettes until they know the last one must be comin’ soon, but still they smile and still they smoke. And then that last moment comes, and they watch their lover walk out, and they find themselves surrounded by the wrong kinds of everybodys in the wrong kinds of places that they mamas warned them about, drinkin’ the whiskey that they swore they’d never drink. And they’re shoved into some conversation with some dope who thinks he can just sweep them up and stomp on they hearts because everybody’s been through that last moment, huh sweetheart, so why don’t you just come up to bed with me and we can have a quiet little funeral for every last piece of self-worth you ever carried on that pretty little shoulder? [Pause] What are you doing here, Tom Wingfield? Are you runnin’ away?
TOM: What am I doing here? Why I could ask you the same, couldn’t I?
BETTY: You’d be wasting your time, because I wouldn’t give you the courtesy of answerin’.
[Tom stares at Betty for a restless second. She nearly finishes her drink in one long, languid gulp, and reaches into her purse, spilling out a small notebook that is decorated with roses and has bright blue binding.]
TOM: Are you a writer, then?
[She notices that the notebook has fallen and quickly stuffs it back inside.]
I write, but that doesn’t make me a writer.
TOM: And I drink, but that doesn’t make me a drinker.
[He throws back the majority of his drink with a wry smile. Betty is amused only slightly, retaining her boorishness.]
What do you write about, most? Eluding men like me?
BETTY: I write about girls.
BETTY: Yes, girls. Girls of all sorts. I think that the only thing distinguishin’ one girl from the next is the way she can be written.
TOM: What do you mean by that?
BETTY: I mean—
TOM: And how do you feel about the story that’s been written for you? You seem to be drawn well enough. But then again, so did I.
BETTY: We all seem well-written enough until we notice the pen.
TOM: Well isn’t that elegant? You sure do have a head on you, Ms.—what was it again? What did you call yourself?
BETTY: There is no ‘again’, I haven’t told you my name. That brain of yours is so soaked in poison you can’t hardly remember what I’ve said and haven’t said.
TOM: [Takes another drink] That, or it’s so freed up and loose that it only remembers what it wishes had happened.
[Betty laughs. Briefly, sharply, and clandestinely. She quickly retracts it and zips her purse, moving to go. Tom puts his arm up, sloppily, and she returns to her seat.]
[Screen legend: Breakthrough!]
BETTY: [Extends her hand] I’m Betty.
[Tom takes her hand, gives it a firm pump, and bows before letting go.]
TOM: Pleasure to meet you. Now you never answered my question—do you wish you could rewrite your story, Betty?
BETTY: Oh, I suppose so. I’ve had it well enough until now, but I always took up the pen so that I could make something happen to me without suffering the real life consequences. Now something’s happened to me in real life and the consequence is that I can’t put the pen down.
TOM: The pen lost me my Goddamn job.
BETTY: I’ll drink to that!
[They click their glasses together in a moment of quiet exhilaration, sipping what remains and feeling the heat of sudden kinship.]
Listen, I’m sorry about that. What I said to you. You’re probably a real wonderful everybody. It’s just that not any given somebody is and a girl can’t afford to sift through them all.
TOM: Don’t mention it. I’m afraid if you got to sifting me, you wouldn’t much like what you found.
BETTY: I still think you’re running away. You’ve got that face on you. Maybe it’s been a week, maybe a month. You’re still lookin’ over your shoulder though, tryin’ to let whatever or whoever you’ve left behind know that you can only move forward or die right there on the spot.
TOM: It sounds like you know the feeling, Betty.
BETTY: I know a lot of things.
TOM: Do you?
BETTY: I do.
TOM: Well, you sure seem like you deserve a whole lot better than that. A smart girl like you, knowing how to write her way out of a world I can barely sprint from.
BETTY: It sure can sprint from me.
[Tom looks on inquisitively, she pauses, almost choking on the impending revelation.]
My fiancée of two years walked out on me last night. Up and out, like a key from an unlocked door. Went on about some girl and blue roses.
TOM: Blue roses, huh? Did he buy those for her?
BETTY: Of course he didn’t buy those for her. You can’t buy blue roses. You can’t even grow them. You can only find blue roses where you can find the last refrain of your high school promenade. It would’ve been just like him to chase after that.
TOM: Well he can have his blue roses, because I’ve found a beautiful red one—a real one—in his absence.
[Betty smiles shyly, finally showing us the girlishness she’s been trying so hard to hide. Tom puts his hand on hers, sliding both across the counter and toward his chest.]
Tell me, Betty, how long has it been since you went to the movies?
BETTY: The movies? Oh my; not since I was a girl. I don’t reckon I’ve set foot in a movie house since “City Lights”.
TOM: Good old Charlie. Always said more with his face than I could figure out how to with my hands.
BETTY: Why do you want to know about the movies?
TOM: That’s a funny question, Betty. A funny question indeed. A little while ago I decided that the only thing movies had to offer me were a static view of a moving world. Now I’m the static one. Come to the movies with me, will you Betty?
BETTY: There you go, running away again.
TOM: Maybe I am. But if I’m running away then I’m going to run into the dim holding place of ideas. I’m going to run and let stories be the ground beneath my feet.
BETTY: And what if they cause you to trip, Tom Wingfield?
[Tom takes his empty glass of scotch, hoists it into the air, and lets go, watching it shatter on the floor in his peripheral. Everyone in the room, bartender included, gasps and physically recoils at the sound. Betty sits, still smiling, unfazed by the cacophony.]
TOM: Well I suppose that’s what you’d come along for, isn’t it?
[Music cue: “Someday My Prince Will Come”]
[Screen legend: Superman returns!]
[The lights come up on a movie theater, lined with splashes of red and blue and possessing a nearly translucent visual pallet. There is a heavy curtain that frames the proscenium. The screen legend on the scrim fades out to reveal lethargic film images. It has become the film screen of the half-suggested movie theater. It is playing Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, vaguely out-of-focus. Laura and Jim enter and sit toward the front.]
LAURA: Oh, Jim. What are we doing here?
JIM: We’re doing here what we’ve both always needed to do; we’re leaving. I can’t stand to be sitting by in St. Louis for one more minute while I manufacture the soles that wear down on other men’s journeys. I’ve gotta start carving my own path, Laura. I can’t let Betty or your brother or anybody else tell me where I ought to go because I used to know, and all I really need is to remember.
LAURA: Okay, but mother—
JIM: Again with the inferiority! Sweetheart, look. We’re here. Your mother is not. She chose not to follow you and you deserve somebody that will. There’s a stage with a story played out ‘specially for us up there. How often are we or anybody else gonna be able to say they had that happen to them?
LAURA: Mother can’t do it without me.
JIM: Hell, she can’t! I can’t do it without you. She’ll deal. She’s not made of glass.
[They settle in. The lights fade on them, but the animated fairytale displayed before them marches on. Tom and Betty enter, sitting toward the back.]
TOM: I always hated this movie.
BETTY: Snow White. Whoever wrote that girl was as blind to the world as a bat to the tree.
TOM: I don’t know. She is beautiful.
BETTY: Beautiful? Ha! Look at her up there. First thing she does when she sees those little men of hers is pick that there broom up and go to work.
TOM: It’s conventional, ain’t it?
BETTY: Conventional or not, it ain’t right.
[Focus shifts back to Jim and Laura.]
LAURA: Look at the way she moves that broom. I’ll bet she got her fair share of gentlemen callers.
JIM: Can’t help but feel bad for that huntsman fellow though. What’d he ever do that was so wrong? Humanity in dire situations shouldn’t be punishable by death, now should it? Lord.
LAURA: I think the queen knows he can’t do it. I don’t think she wants him to. If she kills off Snow White, she’s killing herself, you know? She’s made them the same and she can’t prick one without the other one bleeding.
JIM: [Smiling, incredulous] Why, that’s the most you’ve spoken since we left St. Louis.
[Jim nestles his head into the crook of Laura’s neck. Back to Tom and Betty. They have noticed the backs of Jim and Laura’s heads, but they have no idea to whom they belong.]
BETTY: Fools. Look at those fools up there.
TOM: Now what is their crime if not optimism?
BETTY: Their crime is not knowing that optimism and foolishness occupy the same body.
[Tom stares into Betty’s eyes as he watches her brow furrow.]
TOM: I think I’m in love with you.
BETTY: I think you’re mistaken.
[The lights fade on the Movie Theater, and Tom delivers his final monologue downstage.]
[Screen legend: Welcome home.]
[Music cue: “The Glass Menagerie”]
TOM: I was, of course. I was terribly mistaken. But perhaps I’ve been mistaken the whole time. I couldn’t tell you how my sister felt about Jim O’Connor because the truth is I’m not sure she ever met him. She returned to St. Louis, the way we all kind of return to St. Louis. When she arrived, my mother was dead. Laura ran off with Jim and to my mother she’d as good as stolen her husband. She was buried in the summer, just outside of the art museum, beneath the window that overlooked the lake. My mother was funny like that, always finding her way to a big body of water. Sitting on a dock, taking drawn out baths that stretched for hours. I suppose she thought that somehow or another the water would carry my father back to her in a flurry of fate.
Betty told me in time that her rogue fiancée was, in fact, Jim, and that was enough for me right there. I’d created a whirlwind and an enigma in the way that my father had created a death march, but all I wanted was some plain and simple prose. I bid Betty goodbye and so I bid goodbye to the last stitch in my quilt of nostalgia.
[A voice comes from offstage]
VOICE: Tom, get in here boy!
TOM: Coming, father!