“Love Gerald,” a Short Play by j. Snodgrass

I was honored last month by the Off-Off-Broadway premier of my short play “Love Gerald,” produced by Love Creek Productions.  I actually wrote this about ten years ago, while taking a Seminary course about the literary origins of the Gospels (hopefully this short play is fun, but it was also a seminarian’s attempt to boil down hundreds of pages of John Crossan, Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar into an educational sketch/skit).  I would not normally post a play-script here, since I find them hard to read, but this one is pretty easy to follow, it just goes back and forth between two characters at a bus-stop.  And I believe this story fits in well with the themes and content of this site.

 

 

LOVE GERALD

By j. SNODGRASS

The Characters :

Sherry, 9

Rachel, 9

These girls are fourth-graders, but should be played by young adults.

The Setting : A Suburban Sidewalk, an early morning in September.

At Rise : SHERRY is standing there in a Catholic school uniform with her bright lunch-box and backpack next to her. She is reading from a beat-up spiral notebook, a childish drawing of a kayak on the cover with stars around it. She wears a necklace with a crudely carved wooden kayak on it. RACHEL walks over to her, also carrying a lunch-box and backpack.

RACHEL :

Sherry!

SHERRY :

Rachel.

RACHEL :

It’s so good to see you! Ready for the first day of fourth grade?

SHERRY :

I guess…

RACHEL :

When did you get back from camp?

SHERRY :

Two weeks…

RACHEL :

Two weeks! But you didn’t answer your walkie-talkie.

SHERRY :

I haven’t been taking calls…

RACHEL :

Oh. Well at least it must be nice…back in your own room again. With all your stuff.

SHERRY :

I haven’t been back to my old room. I told my parents I’ll be living in the attic. Stuff is just…stuff. Now I have this. And this.

(Shows RACHEL the notebook and necklace.)

RACHEL :

That’s a great necklace – you made it at camp?

SHERRY :

Yes.

RACHEL :

It’s a…banana?

SHERRY :

Oh, you of little understanding. It’s…a kayak… All the kids made them. Even after the counselors told us not to. “Arts and crafts is for crosses,” they said “Make another cross.” We carved these in secret…after lights-out…

RACHEL :

…But aren’t Christians supposed to…love crosses?

SHERRY :

Christians talk a big game about crosses, but have you ever seen them get on one? All my life I’ve listened to Father Houlihan talk about how he loves the cross, like he wants to spend the rest of his life hanging from it. But I’ve seen his hands. He’s never even tried.

RACHEL :

…All your life? Sherry, we’re nine years old.

SHERRY :

My birth certificate would say so. And the fact that I’m about to start fourth grade. But this summer, I’ve… This summer I’ve become a woman.

RACHEL :

Oh. I hope you didn’t do anything gross.

SHERRY :

No. …Actually, I did touch a dead bird with a stick, but what I really mean is… We’re friends, right?

RACHEL :

Best in the world. Except this last two weeks when you’ve been home but haven’t answered my calls…

SHERRY :

I’ve needed to be alone, dedicating myself… Rachel, something wonderful has happened…

RACHEL :

…Well?

SHERRY :

While I was at camp, one of the junior counselors…Gerald… He died.

RACHEL :

Oh my goodness.

SHERRY :

I know.

RACHEL :

And he was a jerk? And that’s why it’s good news?

SHERRY :

No, no of course not. He was…the coolest junior-counselor ever.

RACHEL :

Better than–?

SHERRY :

The best. Greatest. Coolest. And then one night, he… Well, it was hard to get details, but someone over-heard that he drank something and took a kayak on the river, and… And they found him the next morning…dead in the water…

RACHEL : (Hugs her)

I’m really sorry. This was right before you came home?

SHERRY :

What? No, it was our second week there. We had almost the whole summer to remember him, and think about him, make beautiful new words for old camp-songs…about Gerald…

RACHEL :

And you made kayak necklaces?

SHERRY :

All of us. Because we knew…he died for us… And all summer, the staff kept trying to tell us about Jesus who lived, like a million years ago in China or something. And we kept trying to tell them, now someone else has died. Right here, recently!

RACHEL :

But, I mean, didn’t Jesus…do special stuff?

SHERRY :

Gerald did special stuff. Stuff no-one else could do. Like on taco-night? He broke the all-time camp record by eating twenty-one tacos. We all saw him do it. And then he left the mess-hall, because he had to be alone. And I heard one of the other junior counselors say he was praying…to the porcelain god…

RACHEL :

Wow… What is it? The porcelain god. An idol?

SHERRY :

Nobody knows. Maybe his father…is one of those famous white statues…

RACHEL :

Well I guess that’s…pretty cool… Breaking the taco-record…

SHERRY :

And he could do more than just eat tacos. Once this little boy Jimmy fell down some stairs, and said his leg was broken? But Gerald touched it and said… “Yeah right, that’s not broken.” And then the little boy was fine! He even got checked out by the nurse – his leg was totally healed!

RACHEL :

Maybe it hadn’t broken in the first place.

SHERRY :

Well you can go ahead and explain it away with your fancy science. My dad said Jews like you never believe anything anyway. But I know what I know…

RACHEL :

…Jews like me? What’s that supposed to mean?

SHERRY :

Well…you know…

RACHEL :

No. I don’t.

SHERRY :

Well if you don’t know, then…then how should I know?

RACHEL :

I don’t know. But you’ve never said something like that to me before, and I’ve known you your entire life.

SHERRY :

That wasn’t my “entire life.” That was my past-life, my childhood, I don’t even think about those days anymore. My story started over because of Gerald. And I only told you about it because I thought you might understand.

RACHEL :

Well I want to understand. Because I haven’t seen you all summer, and now you’re acting different. And calling me a Jew – and you don’t even know what a Jew is.

SHERRY :

Of course I know. They killed Jesus and then tried to take over Germany or something, and then…went camping while everybody else fought a big war.

RACHEL :

Sherry, I can’t believe I need to say this, but… I’d appreciate if we would not discuss my religion.

SHERRY :

…Wow… Isn’t that what you said to Lindy last year on the playground?

RACHEL :

It’s what my parents taught me to say to anyone…who insults our people. And now you’ve made me say it to you…

SHERRY :

I…I can’t believe… I mean, you– We’ve always– You know what? You know what Gerald used to say? “Be chill.” That’s what he said. “Be chill.” And now I know you’ll never understand him, or me, because you can’t be chill. I have some reading I’d like to do. And when the bus comes, let’s… Let’s find separate seats, if there’s any left.

(SHERRY continues reading from the notebook.)

RACHEL :

Is that about…Gerald?

SHERRY :

I’m not talking to you. Not until you apologize.

RACHEL :

For what? You were calling me names.

SHERRY :

…Oh. Then I guess… Then I apologize. Yeah, it’s about Gerald. It’s the whole story. I mean, from the beginning of the summer until he…died…

RACHEL :

And you wrote it?

SHERRY :

We all wrote it. Everybody said what they remembered about him, and this one older kid wrote it all down and put it in order.

RACHEL :

But that’s your hand-writing.

SHERRY :

Yeah, we all had to make our own copies. Because the staff kept taking them away. Saying we should really be reading the Bible. But that book weighs a ton! And the words are so tiny! Who would sit down and say “Now I’m going to write this billion-page book, with little tiny letters no-one can read”?

RACHEL :

At least yours is in English. Another couple years, I’ll have to learn Hebrew. And people have always written it backwards.

SHERRY :

Alright.

RACHEL :

…Alright what?

SHERRY :

You tell me you don’t want to be picked on, and then you say you’ll have to learn to read backwards in another language.

RACHEL :

Tell me more about Gerald…

SHERRY :

I was just reading this chapter again, about the day before he died. We played Capture the Flag, and nobody realized it at the time, but really it was a game about how soon the whole country’s gonna be in on this.

RACHEL :

Worshiping Gerald?

SHERRY :

Yeah. Can’t you see? Capture? The Flag? And our team totally won, with Gerald as the captain, and afterwards we poured a pitcher of bug-juice over his head. Like they do at football games, to wash the coach from all his sins. And later Gerald…shared his whole collection of licorice jelly-beans with the team.

RACHEL :

Yuck. I hate licorice!

SHERRY :

He said he’d been putting them aside a long time. The pile didn’t look that big? Like maybe we’d each get one? But by the time he ran out we were practically all sick. He had enough for everyone…

RACHEL :

Probably because he hated licorice too.

SHERRY :

No, it was because… Because they were like a part of him, and eating them would have been…eating himself. It was our last meal together… And later that night, while we all slept, he snuck out of the cabin…

RACHEL :

This guy slept in a girls’ cabin?

SHERRY :

I meant he snuck out of the boys’ cabin, where he stayed. And he drank something called ‘the beast,’ and probably prayed to the porcelain god one final time, and then got into a kayak and said… “I’m doing this for kids everywhere. And life is like a river. And you can’t spell ‘children’ without ‘chill.’ And from now on, everyone who wears a kayak will remember me. And forgive people who don’t know what I’m doing.”

RACHEL :

…How do you know he said all that?

SHERRY :

Well, we had to use our imaginations a little bit, because no-one else was there. Actually there were a lot of ideas that didn’t get used. I thought he should’ve said something about how Santa and the Easter Bunny were secretly working for him all along, but then this kid Benny said there was no Santa and we got into this…like two-hour argument, all of us, anyway I wrote it into my copy. Here, along the side of the page… And if you like it, you could write it into…your copy..?

RACHEL :

My copy?

SHERRY :

Yeah, silly. That’s what we’ve been having this whole talk about. So you could learn to love Gerald too.

RACHEL :

Well Sherry, I don’t know…

SHERRY :

It’s a little late for not knowing. Why else would you have asked to hear the whole story? Or even talked to me in the first place?

RACHEL :

Because we’re best friends, and we always talk while we wait for the bus.

SHERRY :

You saw the kayak. This is all I talk about now. The new me.

RACHEL :

Yeah, I’ve noticed. The old you would’ve at least asked what I did this whole summer.

SHERRY :

I guess. But standing around talking about all that time would just be…living in the past. Gerald is all about the future. “I believe that children are the future.” I think that’s something he would have definitely said. As a matter of fact, that belongs in the book. All in favor? Aye. Okay. (Writes it in)

RACHEL :

When we were younger, we used to pretend we were aldermen, or hockey-players or fashion models. And that was fine, but… If we’re going to play pretend now, couldn’t we pretend something more exciting than…religion?

SHERRY :

Wait a minute. Are you calling my faith a ‘pretend religion’?

RACHEL :

…Well, I just watched you make something up and add it to the sacred scripture…

SHERRY :

Rachel, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… I would appreciate it if we did not discuss my religion.

RACHEL :

Alright, I get it. I’m sorry. So…we can talk about something else?

SHERRY :

Fine. Tell me about your summer. Catch any cool bugs?

RACHEL :

Well no, not if you say it like that. We spent the summer here, all except this one weekend me and the twins had to go stay with my aunt Leah. She eats a lot because she’s lonely, and she’s lonely because she eats a lot.

SHERRY :

Maybe if she knew about…tacos…

RACHEL :

When we got back, half the pictures on the wall, and half the furniture, and all of my Daddy were gone. Mom said he wanted to spend time with someone closer to my age. So I don’t know, maybe I’ll have a big sister soon.

SHERRY :

Where is he looking? Shouldn’t a sister come from your mom?

RACHEL :

We still see him. Every few days he comes by, saying he forgot something, like a book or something. And Mom says “Eli, you know full well you packed that book. If there’s something you need to say then say it. Otherwise go back wherever you’re staying.” And she acts mad, but then she closes the door and cries.

SHERRY :

That must be really sad, to watch…

RACHEL :

It is. Especially for the twins. Then Esther asks when he’s coming back and Mom cries some more.

SHERRY :

You know, when I first saw you this morning, I wondered… Why? After all his time, and how I’ve changed, why am I running into her again?

RACHEL :

…Because we live on the same block?

SHERRY :

Yeah, but in the meaningful sense. Why? And now I know. I can help you and the twins. Gerald wants me to. He sent me to you.

RACHEL :

Sherry…

SHERRY :

We tell our parents to set up a sleep-over, we don’t need to tell them anything else. And then after lights out, you and the twins and me, I’ll bring some bug-juice, find some black jelly-beans

RACHEL :

…What is bug-juice, anyway?

SHERRY :

I don’t know, I don’t think it’s made from bugs. But I brought a canteen of it home with me. And, I mean, you don’t have to pour a whole pitcher over your head, just a few drops. And then you and the twins can be full members of Gerald, like a beloved member of his body, and it’ll help you to be chill.

RACHEL :

Sherry, I know you’re serious about Gerald, but… My Daddy leaving home is sort of…more serious…if you understand…

SHERRY :

Gerald died. For us. What could be more serious than that? At least your Dad comes over to ask for books. Gerald…never asked for anything… Except more tacos… “Keep’em coming,” he said. Don’t you see?

RACHEL :

Yes, he ate a lot of tacos.

SHERRY :

But he also meant… More importantly he meant that more kids should come to believe in him. “Keep’em coming.” It’s like he looked into the future and saw you and the twins in a room, and me sleeping over and all of us accepting him as our junior counselor of light. Because he died for us…

RACHEL :

Nothing in your story says he died for anything, except the speech you made up.

SHERRY :

It’s true, we don’t know why he was in that kayak, only Gerald and the porcelain god know that. But he was probably on his way to get something for us, or find a new camp for us to settle in where we wouldn’t have to sing songs about blood. What’s important is that he was probably rowing against the tide, and that can mean all sorts of important things.

RACHEL :

Or maybe it doesn’t mean anything.

SHERRY :

That’s a matter of faith.

RACHEL :

But what can he do? Can he bring my Dad back home?

SHERRY :

He could be your new father. He understands all kinds of kid sadness. And if you start believing in Gerald, maybe… Maybe the porcelain god could be your father too. We’re still working out the exact relationship–

RACHEL :

But I don’t want some statue showing up at my soccer games…

SHERRY : (Pulls a kayak necklace from her pocket)

Rachel, the bus is almost here. I want you to take this…I made it, now I realize, for you…wear it, and just… Just see how it makes you feel…

RACHEL :

I… I can’t.

SHERRY :

Of course you can. And you can borrow my book, and read the story for yourself.

RACHEL :

No, Sherry. I’m sorry, but… I don’t think Gerald is what I need right now.

SHERRY :

He loves you.

RACHEL :

I appreciate it.

SHERRY :

I’ve dedicated my life to Gerald. And it’s made me everything I am.

RACHEL :

I’m happy for you.

SHERRY :

And if you can’t accept that… If you can’t accept Gerald into your bosom, then…I don’t see how we can be friends anymore…

RACHEL :

Then I guess when the bus gets here…we should find separate seats…

SHERRY :

I’ll be in the back, with the cool kids, harvesting a flock.

RACHEL :

I’ll be in the front with the sad kids whose parents split up this summer.

SHERRY :

Then I guess this is good-bye.

RACHEL :

Yes. I’ll miss you. The old you.

SHERRY :

And I’ll miss the you that…could have been.

(They embrace.)

THE END.

 

 

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