Fiction: Charity Suffereth
(A One Act Play, Not For Acting)
Characters: Derry Mant, a girl
Daughter of the Woman
Men, Women, Youths, and August Personages
(A tidy and quite respectable kitchen. The midmorning sun dances on polished appliances. A middle-aged woman is engrossed in a telephone conversation. As she talks, her fingers idly play over the surface of a wall plaque which reads GOD BLESS OUR HOME. A teen-age daughter dawdles in the corner, intent upon picking up what she can of the intercourse.)
WOMAN: (hanging up the phone) She’s coming back
DAUGHTER: Who is?
WOMAN: (explosively) After all she’s done, she’s got the gall to come back.
DAUGHTER: What did she do?
WOMAN: I don’t want you to associate with her, understand? Don’t even talk to her. Ignore her completely.
DAUGHTER: Who, mother, who?
WOMAN: Derry Mant, that’s who.
DAUGHTER: (thoughtfully) So she’s coming back.
WOMAN: Mrs. Vapine says she saw her. She hasn’t changed, still all made up. She’s of the world, that’s all. You haven’t heard the half of it. At the sale yesterday I had my ears filled, I’ll tell you that.
DAUGHTER: I know more than you think. Don’t worry, we get around too, you know.
WOMAN: I think it’s just terrible that we get somebody like her back in our church. Somebody should do something. (muses to herself) Tessie wasn’t at the sale. I wonder if she heard. I’d better call her. (The woman picks up the phone and begins dialing. Shakes her head)
(Twilight. A group of young people stand in front of an auspicious church. All are absorbed in the excited discourse of the Daughter. A thin, bespectacled boy makes his way diffidently past the group in order to enter the church. As the Daughter’s voice rings out above the general babble, he stops.)
DAUGHTER: And my mother said that she even . . . (The girl breaks off as she sees the boy. She views him disdainfully.) Derry’s coming back.
BOY: (nervously) That’s what I’ve heard.
DAUGHTER: (oozing scorn) That’s what you heard. You asked her out already.
BOY: Something else your mother told you, no doubt.
DAUGHTER: She’s no good. Don’t you care about your reputation? (Bolstered by the group’s muttered acquiescence, the Daughter intensifies her indignation) Don’t you regard what people say about you?
BOY: Some people.
DAUGHTER: Everybody knows about her.
BOY: (bitterly) I shouldn’t wonder. (pauses, as if to continue, thinks better of it and with obvious effort remains silent)kl
DAUGHTER: (shrilly) Well, we’ll show her what we think of her. Just wait. (The boy’s face darkens with anger. He spurts up the steps and enters the building. The heavy door slams behind him.)
(A wooded park in late afternoon. Tables are readied for a meal. The women are beginning to gather in their husbands. Clusters of young people exude jollity and friendly banter. Here and there august personages, evidently of rank, stroll benignly.
At the end of one of the tables, the woman and two young housewives peer fixedly at a longe figure, carrying a picnic hamper, which approaches them.)
HOUSEWIFE: Look at that black hair. I think it’s Derry.
HOUSEWIFE: It is. (amazedly) She’s coming to the picnic.
(The girl is scarcely twenty. Tinted black hair is piled high on her head. Her rigid body and set face reveal both determination and extreme agitation. She marches up to the table and sets her hamper on it. The Boy, who has been watching from a distance, edges toward the spot)
DERRY: Is this place reserved?
HOUSEWIFE: (utterly confused) Yes, I mean no, it’s not. You may have it. (glances at the Woman and scurries away with the Second Housewife.)
WOMAN: What are you doing here?
DERRY: The bulletin said that there was going to be a picnic. So I came. (The girl’s voice cracks. She is perilously close to losing her enforced composure. More and more people gather silently in the background.)
WOMAN: (coldly) This place is reserved.
DERRY: I’m sorry. I’ll find another place (Eagerly, she retrieves her hamper and walks toward another table. She sees the crowd and halts. Desperately, she scans people and tables. The Boy steps toward her but as the hostility of the crowd sweeps over him, he retreats again.)
DERRY: (too loudly Is there a place which isn’t taken?
WOMAN: It’s pretty full.
DERRY: Then I’d better go. (Uncomprehendingly, she takes a step backwards and, for the first time, sees the Boy. Frantic hope flickers across her face. The Boy drops his eyes to the ground and begins searching for something. As his back turns to her, Derry breaks into great, shuddering sobs. She grips the hamper with both hands and begins to run. The Woman’s grim smile of satisfaction follows her as she fades into the distance.)
BOY: (in a frenzy) Who made you God’s avenger? I want to know. When did God tell you to kill?
WOMAN: That made-up hussy got what she deserved. Good people don’t associate with her kind.
BOY: Good people? Good people? Are murderers good people? Men who kill the body, hang. (dazedly) What punishment is reserved for us? (covers his face with his hands) I stood here like Saul of Tarsus and she died. And all the while, we thought we did God a favor. (his voice trails off into a whisper)
WOMAN: (steely with outrage) What are you saying?
BOY: Where was love? We say we’re Christians and we had no love. We’re phantoms, we’re appearances with no content, facades with no structure, we seem but we are not. (pauses) Except that a man must be something. (groans) Lord, what are we?
WOMAN: I acted with love, I tell you. Not sloppy sentiment but the real and the deep love. (her voice crescendos) Love that remembers sin, love that punishes, love that is pitiless, love that repudiates mercy, love that implacably denies forgiveness. I tell you, I loved.
BOY: (gasps) But that’s hate.
WOMAN: Do you mean that Derry’s conduct in the past was pure? Do you mean that our daughters ought to live like that?
BOY: (hoarsely) I don’t say she was right. I said we were wrong.
WOMAN: My love is the love of true Christians. (suspiciously) Maybe you’re not a true Christian. Maybe you don’t believe that love is hate. Maybe you don’t belong either.
(The boy seems not to see the woman. In the dusk several august personages bend intently towards him but he cannot tell what they are thinking. The Boy’s face distorts in shock, the terrified shock of a lad plumbing the depths of self, unable to fathom what he finds there. The crowd presses in to catch his answer. His thin frame shudders continuously.)
WOMAN: (harshly) Answer me. Are you apostate/
BOY: (aloud, but addressing himself) Am I? Me, a rebel? Is my love really hate and their hate really love? (ringingly) I don’t know, oh, I don’t know. (begins to cry) I was wrong, I was wrong. I’ll hate. (throws himself to the ground in front of the Woman and continues to cry over and over as the crowd melts) I’ll love. I’ll love. I’ll love.
(Intense darkness. A sound like the relentless grinding of millions of molars. In the distance, muted wailing. Slowly, an area, seemingly a room, is illumined by lurid red rays which flicker everywhere but have no noticeable source. Three dark blotches are hazily seen to be seated around a table.)
FIRST BLOTCH: We did our work very well.
SECOND BLOTCH: She’s ours, make no mistake about that.
THIRD BLOTCH: And the Crisis will never occur again, that’s certain.
FIRST BLOTCH: Those sillies constantly prate against television. I’ll take the telephone any day.
SECOND BLOTCH: Let the women keep silent in the church. Just so long as they talk at home.
THIRD BLOTCH: The young ones need not meet me in theaters if they invite me into their communal life.
(The blotches stiffen in expectancy. They hush. From the left appears a Figure, pure and softly white. With an oath, it discards what seems to be a white cloak revealing itself to be so intensely black that one realizes, nominalists notwithstanding, that here is Blackness. The Figure dominates not by height nor by breadth but by the bristling intensity of unbounded egotism. The rays deepen in hue and fairly quiver)
FIGURE: Hast conquered?
FIRST BLOTCH: Her place has been prepared. She should be here any time-less.
FIGURE: (puzzled) Place? She?
SECOND BLOTCH: The girl. We won her. (whining) Not that it was easy. The Boy hung on for dear life.
THIRD BLOTCH: (proudly) But he couldn’t cope with our methods, shall we say? Ah, what sweet victory. To snatch away by means of, and not merely in opposition to.
FIGURE: Had you not added that, you raft of worthless fools would taste my rage in briny pools. I care not for the girl. What you discard as means, were my intent. (The blotches cower. The Figure expands manically, one would almost say “Devilishly.”) Not for the one you snatched, but them who her repelled would I have places made in this abysmal hell.
BLOTCHES: (in unison) We didn’t know your purpose but the end’s the same. She was rejected before she rejected.
FIGURE: And they’re mine. He says, ”love,” and they hated. And in the choice, they chose me. And they who choose me get me. It’s only just.
(The four wait with anticipation. The rays whip and dance. Suddenly, the Figure crumples into an insignificant heap upon the floor).
FIGURE: (whimpers incredulously) And He even forgives that?
Midmorning in a tidy and quite respectable kitchen. A familiar Woman talks briskly into the telephone)
WOMAN: It’s done, at any rate. The Boy will mature. But say, do you know what Mrs. Vapine told me? She said that her cousin told her that . . .