Written by Joe Janes
168 of 365
Mr. Brown, 50s
(Lights up on a park bench in the downtown square of a small town in Ohio. Seated on the far end of the bench is LILLIE, 18, casually and conservatively dressed. Sitting on the other end is MR. BROWN, late 50’s. He wears a sports coat, khakis, a blue button down shirt and a Looney Tunes necktie. He is holding a manila envelope. She looks pensive.)
MR. BROWNDid you hear what I said?
LILLIEYes. Yes, I heard.
MR. BROWNI know that’s not what you expected to hear, Lillie.
LILLIEMr. Brown, you lied to me.
MR. BROWNI have it right here. I was hoping you’d come to your own conclusions…think about what’s best for everybody.
LILLIEI have good grades. A scholarship. I can’t throw that away.
MR. BROWNYou’re smart. Smart as a whip. You think things through. People like you, students and teachers. You’re a good egg. We need you here, Lillie.
LILLIEBut it’s what I want, Mr. Brown.
MR. BROWNHoo, boy. I have seen and heard this so many times. Not from you. Over the years as the high school guidance counselor. I was the same way, too, at your age. It was all about me and what I wanted. No thought to the community. It’s like rats jumping off a sinking ship. That’s why I wanted you to meet me here.
LILLIEIn beautiful downtown nowhere, Ohio.
MR. BROWNIt’s a joke to you. It’s a joke to all you young people. I guess I don’t blame you. But you can change it.
LILLIEThis place is dead. It even smells like old people.
MR. BROWNYou see this?
(He points to the armrest in the middle of the park bench.)
LILLIEIt’s an armrest. So?
MR. BROWNAn armrest. On a park bench? Do you really think that’s necessary? Know why it’s really here?
LILLIETo rest one’s weary arm.
MR. BROWNSo homeless people don’t bunk on it. Wouldn’t want to offend the little old ladies with such an unwholesome sight. Especially right here near the courthouse. It wasn’t always like this. Not so long ago, and I know I sound like an old fart saying all this, that plumbing and heating
supply store over there used to be a movie theater. That’s why their sign looks like a marquee. I took my wife there when she was your age. You know that flea market on the weekends out on Route 2. It used to be a drive-in. Took my wife there, too. We didn’t watch too many movies there, though.
LILLIEThanks for the walk down memory lane and the horrible image of you and your wife now burned into my brain. I guess I’ll have to send in my own college applications.
MR. BROWNI’ll send it in Lillie. You can even walk with me over to the post office and watch me do it. But, please, just listen to me for a second. This town used to be alive. Since the gypsum plant closed and the Wal-Mart opened, the downtown barely has a pulse. Look at you, young and alive and full of dreams. We need you here. This town needs you to breathe life into it. This town needs to dream. People didn’t used to leave. They’d marry after high school and settle down and raise a family. I sit in my office every day and I see bright young people leave and never come back. Used to be you’d leave to go join the military, but you came back. You came back and got a job at a factory or at the hardware store or the grocery store. If you went to college, you came back with a degree and you put up a shingle as a lawyer or a doctor. Or whatever. No one comes back anymore. They leave and they never come back. The class sizes get smaller and smaller every year. What religion are you?
MR. BROWNCatholic, maybe? I’m Episcopalian. Go every Sunday with my wife to St. Thomas. I help out, too, as an usher. Me and Virgil Turkington are the ushers. And every Sunday, it surprises me that he shows up because he’s just so damn old. When I was a kid, it would be packed. Last Easter, there was barely a dozen people. No one in that church was under thirty. Maybe even forty. They don’t even have a regular reverend anymore. They send in some woman from Cleveland once a week. A woman. Nothing wrong with that, just a little weird is all.
LILLIESome people stay. Not everyone wants to go to college, like me. Tom Heinemann, Lori Letterhos, Steve Gurtz. They’re all staying.
MR. BROWNNot exactly the pick of the litter. In fact, any self-respecting hound would have eaten them at birth.
LILLIEThey’re not that bad.
MR. BROWNWe’ll see. But the ones who stay, don’t have a choice. They usually turn out becoming cops or criminals. Mostly the latter.
LILLIEMr. Brown. I’m sorry. I know this town is important to you. If I stay here, I’ll die. I’ll be like my mother. The walking dead in homemade Christmas sweaters.
MR. BROWNHow about this? This college is five states away. How about sticking closer to home? Go to State. You could commute.
LILLIEHave you met my mother? Five states away is still too close.
MR. BROWN (standing up)I’ll mail your application, Lillie, but will you at least think about what I said. Maybe after you graduate college, maybe even after a few years of being a doctor, you’ll come back here. Share your gifts with us. Bring us some children to play around here, again.
LILLIEI’ll think about it. I will. But if I stay here, now, it will be like a death sentence.
MR. BROWNYeah. I suppose it would.
(He exits. Lights fade.)