“Names Like Rain” is my short monologue that was produced for the 2011 Charlottesville Live Arts Playwrights Lab Summer Shorts Festival. Directed by Stephanie Pistello and starring Randy Clark. The text is below.
NAMES LIKE RAIN
a monologue by Sean M. McCord
(The stage is bare except for a lectern and a single chair. On the lectern is a pile of index cards; on the back of the chair is a man’s dark suit coat.)
(Enter THE SPEAKER. He is wearing a white button-down shirt, a tie, and dark slacks that match the suit coat on the chair. He walks past the chair and addresses the audience.)
I had the dream again last night, a misty memory from my childhood of an unceasing war and a man in a dark suit.
(As Speaker talks, he walks over to the chair, picks up the suit coat, and slowly starts to put it on.)
The man in the dark suit had joined the army right after high school, was a Young Republican in college. He got married, had kids, bought a house for his family in a solid working-class suburban town. He took a job as a reporter, but he never completely left the military behind.
(Speaker is now The Man in the Dark Suit.)
Like much of the country, though, he was coming awake. Across the nation, people were protesting the war. They were carrying signs and chanting, holding hands and singing songs. Turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. He wanted to say something about the war, but that wasn’t his style. Then, an event at a local college gave him his opportunity.
(Speaker turns to look at the lectern, then walks over and stands beside it.)
He stood at this lectern and looked around uncomfortably at the young men and women gathered to hear him speak. It mustn’t have seemed that long ago when he was their age, yet he sensed that they eyed him with suspicion. His own teenage son would be eligible for the draft in just a few years, so he was very much on their side, but they were the ones fighting this war.
Still, as they lounged on the grass in their jeans and t-shirts and vests, he must have looked just like “the man” as he stepped up to the lectern in his suitcoat and tie.
(Speaker stands now behind the lectern.)
Some in the crowd were listening, but many kept talking or laughing nervously. Too many speeches had already been given, and speeches had stirred action, and action had stirred violence, and so the time for speaking seemed past, yet nobody knew what action to take.
How had it come down to this? How had it become about right and might, peace and war, objectives and campaigns? How had people who looked like him — white men in suits with short hair — forgotten that they were sending young men who looked like them — young men of all colors with long hair — to a miserable spot halfway around the globe to fight a war against political forces that nobody really understood.
He knew that another speech about who might be right and who might be wrong in this conflict would accomplish nothing. He needed to make men who looked like him sit up and take notice, to comprehend the harm they were inflicting, and he needed young men who looked like them to realize that some men in suits understood.
In his hand he held a stack of plain index cards.
(Speaker picks up the cards from the lectern.)
The kind you would find in any office. Once he knew what he had to do, the information had not been hard to gather. He was a newspaperman, after all, he made his living writing words, but he understood deeply the importance of images.
He held up a card for the crowd to see.
(Speaker holds up a single card.)
Many of those who had been talking stopped and turned, the picture of this patient man in a dark suit holding a single white card catching their attention.
(Speaker reads from the card.)
“William Stearns, Washington High School class of 1966, killed in action January 1968.”
(Speaker throws the card away from the lectern like a frisbee.)
He sent the card sailing out into the crowd, watching it spin and flutter and finally nosedive into the grass just a few inches from a young man who picked it up curiously.
(Speaker holds up another card and reads from it.)
“Jeffrey Haines Jackson, Irvington High School class of 1965, killed in action November 1967”.
(Speaker throws the card, then reads from another.)
“Michael Klein, Hayward High class of 1966, missing in action in a fire fight, October 1967, presumed dead.”
(Speaker throws the card, then reads from another.)
“Albert Otomo, Mission High class of 1965, ground casualty, May 1967.”
(As Speaker speaks, he keeps throwing out cards.)
Another card, another name, another death. All young men from local schools, all shipped off to Vietnam, all killed or presumed dead, all coming to rest on the grass in front of the lectern.
Names, like rain, fell from the sky.
Some in the crowd picked up the cards, reading the names quietly to themselves, only to find another landing nearby. They hesitated, wondering whether to gather more, not wanting to let go of what they had. Others only stared, watching the cards sail down. A few wept.
Still they came. More names, more cards, more young men coming to rest. Soon, the cards outnumbered the gathered crowd, cards landed on cards, small piles resting ingloriously upon each other. His arm started to get a little sore, but his voice never wavered.
Another name, another name, another name…
There was mostly calm now, the crowd hushed by numbness, the weight of the cards too much to bear. At last he finished, one final card dropping fitfully down, the sudden stillness awful in its finality.
(Speaker has now tossed all the cards.)
And like the military man that he always was, he said nothing more.
(Speaker steps away from the lectern, gives a long military salute, and strides back to the chair.)
(His back to the audience, he removes the coat, places it back on the chair, then turns slowly around.)
I was seven years old that late summer day when I saw the names fall from the sky. The man in the dark suit was my father. I remember looking out at the sea of white on the ground, and as my father strode away, we bowed our heads in silence. All of us understood the terrible truth; that the man in the dark suit had not run out of names, he had only run out of cards.
(Speaker turns and exits as he came in.)