About 1915. Late morning. Salinas, California. Three children _ same actors who were Susanna, Judith and Hamnet in Scene Two at Stratford_ standing beneath a window, calling ``John! John!'' No response. The boy _ Herb _ throws a pebble at the window. A large, gawky boy in a flannel shirt and jeans comes to the window. Pushes it open. It is John Steinbeck, age twelve or thirteen, big for his age, but emotionally immature and unsure. Big ears, baggy clothes.
JOHN (Worried): Shhh!
YOUNGER GIRL: Come on, John, let's play!
OLDER GIRL (Almost at the stage of flirting): Come out, John.
HERB: We're going to play some baseball!
JOHN: Mother won't let me, you know that.
HERB (Loud): Aw come on, John, make a break for freedom!
JOHN: Herb! If Mother hears! (Looks behind himself, sigh of relief.) Anyway, you know I'm not good at baseball.
YOUNGER GIRL: That's true. John can't hit. He drops the ball and last week he fell in the outfield.
JOHN (Turning red): Well, I lost the ball in the sun . . .
OLDER GIRL: Who wants to play baseball anyway? (Flatteringly.) If John fell down, that's because he's getting bigger; he's the biggest boy his age in Salinas. And when a boy grows that much sudden like, strange things happen to his body, isn't that so, John? (John looks away.)
HERB: Well, if you don't want to play baseball we can always go across the tracks to the China Town.
YOUNGER GIRL: Are you crazy? If my mother knew I went to the China Town she'd lock me up all summer!
JOHN (Climbing out the window): I wouldn't mind going to China Town.
OLDER GIRL (More flirtatious): I'd go to China Town with you, John.
HERB: We can make fun of the old men. (Sing-song.) Ching-Chong Chinaman! Ching-Chong Chinaman!
JOHN: I wouldn't do that, Herb, make fun of the Chinese.
HERB (Eagerly): Because of the Tong? Because the Tong would get after us, John?
JOHN: Well, I don't know about the Tong. I don't think there are any Tong in Salinas. But Andy made fun of an old Chinaman just last week in Monterey, down on Cannery Row, and, boy, was he sorry.
HERB: What happened?
JOHN: The old man looked at him! That's what Andy said – just stared right at him! Right through him so's Andy thought he'd been hit in the gut with a basket of fish or something and you know Andy's a pretty tough guy.
HERB: Basket of fish or something – was that like a Chinese hex?
JOHN: No, he just looked at him, that's all. Andy said all he could see was these eyes.
JOHN: Herb, I don't think the Chinese have hexes. Andy said he never felt such a big dunce. He said you won't find him doing that again
HERB: Feeling like a dunce sounds like a hex to me.
JOHN: Andy said he felt sorry and a dunce.
HERB (Nodding vigorously): Sure, John, feeling sorry, that's what I mean _ that's a hex for sure.
JOHN: I'm telling you it wasn't a hex, Herb _ it was a look, that's all.
OLDER GIRL (Impatiently): I don't care if it was or it wasn't. Let's go on a picnic.
JOHN (Interested): To where, Alice? Where would you ike to go for a picnic?
OLDER GIRL: I don't know _ maybe the Salinas River? . . . We sit around all day and soon the summer will be over . . . We can spread a blanket on the bank and hide in the rushes and swim and you know.
YOUNGER GIRL: Swim naked?
OLDER GIRL: Well, that's not what I meant, but I don't care. I might if I feel like it. You can if you want.
YOUNGER GIRL: I don't know _ people say the snakes are coming out now! A man was bitten near the river down by San Ardo! I wouldn't want to be bitten by a snake when I was naked.
HERB: Who says a man was bitten by a snake near San Ardo?
YOUNGER GIRL: It was in the paper, in The Californian, on page one. A bindlestiff was found by the river dead. They said he was bit by a rattlesnake, maybe more than one cause there were bites on his arm and his legs.
JOHN (Thoughtfully): Well, it's true the snakes are probably there, cause they've been coming down to the Salinas River for at least a million years, coming out of the hills in the late spring and summer to beat the heat and get some water, but if we're careful . . .
HERB: I don't know . . .
JOHN: We could look for frogs. You like looking for frogs, Herb.
HERB (A little worried): So do rattlesnakes, I'd guess. But it's hotter down by San Ardo, so more snakes, I think, than in Salinas, don't ya think, John?
JOHN: Maybe that's so – it's really hot in San Ardo. Mother talks about how hot it used to be in King City when she was little and that's near San Ardo
YOUNGER GIRL: They said his body was stiff and sprawled out like this! – with his arms this way and he was found with his mouth open and his tongue sticking out to the side, like this – and I don't want that to happen to me, no thank you. There was an opened can of Boston beans on the ground, too.
HERB: Was he dead?
(A woman, Olive Steinbeck, appears in the window, not noticed
by the children. She steps back, into shadow, watches.)
YOUNGER GIRL: Of course he was dead! You think his tongue would be sticking out if he wasn't dead? You think he'd waste those beans if he wasn't dead?
JOHN: That's a nice story, Mary. I like that story.
OLDER GIRL (Jealous and incredulous): A nice story, John? Someone's mouth like this . . . isn't nice. I wouldn't want to kiss anyone with a mouth like that, would you?
(Olive Steinbeck slips away, out of sight.
JOHN (Backtracking): Well, maybe his mouth wasn't nice. I agree that probably wasn't nice.
OLDER GIRL: Then what _ his body being stiff? I can't imagine that'd be very nice.
JOHN: I don't know, Alice . . . there was just something about the way Mary told that story.
OLDER GIRL: Well, she got it from the newspaper so I don't see what she's got to be proud of.
JOHN: Well, she still told it nicely.
YOUNGER GIRL: I might be a writer someday, I'm seriously thinking about it. And I won't only write about snakes.
HERB: I thought you said you couldn't go anywhere today, John.
JOHN: Well, the river . . . that's a different matter, Herb. I like the Salinas River. It's only one of two rivers in the world that flows from south to north, and the other is the Nile River in Egypt. And that must be important – flowing south to north _ because the Valley Nile and the Salinas Valley are the two most fertile valleys in the world.
HERB (Impressed despite himself): Too bad we can't turn the other rivers around.
JOHN: I guess. So I was thinking maybe we could tell Mother you need to do a summer book report and you want me to go to the library with you and help you select a book because you're only ten . . . and I'll help you with the book and the report. She might think that's OK. She lets me go to the library sometimes.
HERB: That's a pretty complicated lie, John. Can you write it down for me?
JOHN: Sure, but you shouldn't have any trouble since we did it before. And anyway, it won't really be a lie because we'll go to the library first.
HERB: We did it before?
JOHN: Sure, remember `Huckleberry Finn'?
HERB: Oh sure, I remember _ I remember getting in trouble for reading it because I was only nine – and you picked it out for me!
OLDER GIRL: But we'd still be going to the river for a picnic, wouldn't we, John?
JOHN: Sure, if you and Mary could scrape up some food. And Herb can convince Mother.
HERB: I don't know. She looks right through me. Some moms you can get away with stuff, your Mom's the toughest mom I know.
(Olive Steinbeck comes around the side of the house –
she is played by the same actress who plays Anne Hathaway.
Her hair is up, somewhat severe, but she is easygoing
while firm. She carries gardening tools in a basket.)
OLIVE: I'm not so tough, Herbert Henderson. Don't I give you cookies sometimes?
HERB: Yes, Mam!
OLIVE: And didn't I tell your mother you are welcome at our house any time?
HERB: Yes, Mam!
OLIVE: Well, then, don't tell stories. I hope you're not getting that from John. Your mother won't let you come over anymore. I do worry about you children.
OLDER GIRL (Curtsies): Hello, Mam.
OLIVE: Hello, Alice, you're getting bigger. Hello, Mary.
YOUNGER GIRL (Curtsies): Mam.
OLIVE: Well, since you're all here anyway, feel free to have anything you want to eat in the kitchen. We have lemonade and cold pickles. John will help you.
OLIVE (Archly): Yes, John?
JOHN: Herb's been assigned a summer book report –
OLIVE: Have you, Herbert?
HERB: Yes, Mam. (Olive smiles at him.)
JOHN: So I thought I might help him again.
OLIVE (Dry): Oh, yes, I recall that turned out very well.
JOHN: I thought maybe Brett Harte this time – some tales of California, you know.
OLIVE: That sounds better than `Huckleberry Finn.' So?
JOHN: Well, I'd go to the library with Herb and we'd read together.
OLIVE: This afteroon?
JOHN: Yes, Mam, with your permission.
OLIVE: What a delightful idea! Would Mary and Alice come with you?
JOHN and HERB (Cautious): Yes, Mam, no, Mam. (They look at each other.)
OLDER GIRL: Yes, Mam.
MARY (After a moment): Yes, Mam.
OLIVE: I see . . . I think . . . Children . . .
JOHN: Yes, Mam.
OLIVE: . . . As John will tell you, I grew up at on a farm at the foot of the Gabilan Mountains near King City. ( beat.) That is not far from San Ardo. (Pause for effect.) And every summer the rattlesnakes would come down out of the hills to find water in the river bed. I have seen cattle staggered and killed by the bite of a rattlesnake. Mary, I saw that story in the newspaper, too. The poor bindlestiff . . . Probably a city hobo who had no idea about snakes and look what happened to him. (Pause, looks at them all.) Now, if you'll all run along – to your homes, I would suggest, not to the river to swim naked.
THE THREE (Embarassed): Yes, Mam, yes, Mam.
OLIVE: And if I might mention, John has duties and studies to attend to this summer. I'm sure you'll all get together again when school resumes. (They give a look to John, leave. John shifts his feet self-consciously. Olive approaches slowly and kisses his forehead.) You can help me in the garden, if you wish. I'll be in the back.
(She leaves. John looks in the direction of the leaving
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...