Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012); The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015); and Invocation (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015). His poems have appeared in many publications, including Commonweal, North American Review, Rattle, Sunken Garden Poetry, 1992-2011 (Wesleyan University Press, 2012), and upstreet. Garrison Keillor recently read a poem of Swist’s on the national radio program The Writer’s Almanac.
The Torn Shirt
(One Act Play)
By Wally Swist
Saorise Kelly: Red-haired 8th grader, dressed in a white blouse, plaid skirt, green tights, and penny-loafers.
Slim Jim: Blonde-haired 8th grader, wearing a button-down Ivy League arrow shirt, khakis, and wingtips.
Bazooka Joe: Brown-haired 8th grader, athletic build, wearing black t-shirt, denims, and desert boots.
Domino: Black-haired 8th grader, portly but not obese, wearing a flannel shirt, blue jeans, and high-top black and white sneakers.
The scene takes place outside of a middle school gym. The two side doors to the gym are open, and the “Exit” signs are in plain view. The students are standing outside of the open gym doors.
Saorise Kelly: That’s a pretty nice shirt you’ve got on Jim.
Bazooka Joe: His name is Slim Jim, Saorise. Maybe if he wasn’t so skinny, he would have made the baseball team.
Slim Jim: I would have made the t–t-t-team if I had been able to c-c-c-commit to summer league, and my s-s-s-step-mother said she absolutely wouldn’t drive me to the practices, never mind carting me to the games.
Domino: Poor Slim Jim . . . and he always tries so hard.
Saorise Kelly: (Blushing) See you guys later. I just saw Sue Ellen Kingsland over there in that crowd of girls, and I want to talk to her about her being chosen for the cheerleading squad next year. I wish I were half as pretty as she is.
(Saorise Kelly then walks away.)
Bazooka Joe: What’s wrong cowboy? Does Saorise Kelly make you nervous, Slim Jim? Is all that red hair too much for you?
(Bazooka Joe rumples Slim Jim’s hair with one of his hands.)
Domino: Maybe he wore that fancy shirt for his girlfriend, Saorise Kelly?
Slim Jim: You guys stop that. She’s not my g-g-g-girlfriend. I’d like her to be, b-b-b-but she’s not. My stepmother gave me the shirt for my birthday. That’s why it’s brand new.
Bazooka Joe: It looks like a college boy shirt to me, Slim Jim. But it doesn’t look like you’ll make it college. You were on the honor roll all last year, but not with that “D” in English this year.
Slim Jim: That’s because I don’t participate in c-c-c-class. It’s because I s-s-s-stammer.
Domino: It’s because Saorise Kelly is in that class, and she sits in the front and Jimbo here sits in the back . . . he’s shy, too.
Bazooka Joe: Slim Jim, that’s not a stammer. What you are is a stutterer. Try saying it, Slim Jim . . . stutterer.
Domino: Oh, he is just closing up on us now. Maybe what we need to do is open him up a little bit.
(Domino takes both of his hands and starts to rumple Slim Jim’s shirt.)
Bazooka Joe: No, Domino, not like that . . . like this.
(Domino backs away. Bazooka Joe rips open Slim Jim’s shirt with both hands, sending the buttons flying.)
Slim Jim: (Attempting to back away.) Hey, that’s my shirt! My stepmother is going to kill me.
Bazooka Joe: Well, Slim Jim, now you have something to stutter about. But let’s make sure that you’ll not have to worry about that shirt anymore . . . (He takes his hands and tears the shirt in several places.)
Slim Jim: (Trying to back away further.) Hey, how am I going to be able to come back to class after this? What am I going to wear? Look at what you did!
Bazooka Joe: (Laughing.) Maybe you’ll just have to wear your gym shirt, Slim Jim. Maybe that will impress your girlfriend, Saorise Kelly? (Bazooka Joe walks away.)
Domino: You can’t go back into English class this way, Slim Jim. Besides if Ms. Keyhole asks what happened to you, and you tell her that Bazooka Joe did this to you, he’ll never let you forget it.
Slim Jim: Why are you g-g-g-guys being so mean to me? I was just standing here. I never did anything to either of you.
Domino: I was just teasing you, because . . . well, you just always try so hard . . . at everything.
Slim Jim: Then what about B-B-B-Bazooka Joe? Why did he do this to me?
Domino: He was teasing you, too. Well, but . . . it’s like he has a lot on his mind. You know his father was sick . . .
Slim Jim: I had heard he was ill . . . yeah.
Domino: His father came back from Afghanistan, from the war. You know he hadn’t been wounded, but he was sick . . .
Slim Jim: You mean he had P-P-P-PTSD. That’s the illness that some of the vets coming home are diagnosed with . . . because of the trauma they’ve been through.
Domino: Well, yeah, that’s it. But did you hear that Bazooka Joe’s father died a month or two ago.
Slim Jim: No, I hadn’t. I am s-s-s-shocked. Why didn’t he tell us?
Domino: He’s pretty tight-lipped about how he feels about things. He’s like his father was. His father’s death hit him hard. You know he killed himself. He shot himself in the head.
Slim Jim: Oh, God. I hadn’t known that. How did he find out?
Domino: He came home from practice one afternoon, and his father’s girlfriend was at home, when she is usually at work, and the cops were there.
Slim Jim: What happened?
Domino: His father had driven down to the end of Depot Road . . . you know where there is nothing but swamp at the dead end?
Slim Jim: Yeah, I know.
Domino: Well, he just parked the car, and shot himself in the head. That’s where they found the body.
Slim Jim: I’m so sorry . . . t-t-t-to hear about that. God . . . that’s tough.
Domino: Hey, look, Bazooka Joe is coming back. Why don’t you go into the locker room, take off that shirt and put on your gym shirt before we go back to class.
Slim Jim: I better do it fast before the bell rings for us to go back to class . . . I feel so foolish. (He leaves to go through the two open gym doors to go to the locker room.)
Bazooka Joe: Hey, Domino, where did Slim Jim go? Did he find a corner to curl up in and cry like a girl?
Domino: You shouldn’t be so hard on him. He’s not a bad kid. Slim Jim could do so well, but he just tries too hard . . . all of the time. If I tried half as hard as he does, my parents wouldn’t be sending me to the Tech High School next year.
Bazooka Joe: At least you made the baseball team, along with me, and we’ll be playing in the summer league together, too.
Domino: Well, you know Coach wouldn’t have cut Slim Jim if he’d only been able to play summer ball. That’s his rule. You make the team, you play summer league. Did you know that Slim Jim’s stepmother locks him out of the house if he doesn’t come back from school with the other kids on the bus?
Bazooka Joe: No, I didn’t know that. Where’s his father when that happens?
Domino: I think he works second shift at Pratt & Whitney. By the sound of things, I think Slim Jim’s stepmother drinks.
Bazooka Joe: Sounds like it. Well, where does Slim Jim go when he’s locked out?
Domino: I don’t know. Who knows?
(Slim Jim reenters through the gym doors. He is wearing a faded and wrinkled gym shirt.)
Bazooka Joe: Well, look who’s here? He looks pretty dapper, don’t you think, Domino?
Domino: He looks like one sorry puppy, Bazooka Joe.
Slim Jim: I should have brought this gym shirt back home to wash last week. It s-s-s-smells.
Bazooka Joe: Poor Slim Jim in a smelly gym shirt . . . what is Saorise Kelly going to think about that. Maybe that’s why she sits in front in Ms. Keyhole’s English class and lover boy, here, sits in the back.
(The bell rings indicating that students should file back to their classes.)
Domino: I’ve got to go back to Math class.
Bazooka Joe: I’m going back to History, with Mr. Dominguez.
(Domino and Bazooka Joe each raise a hand in the air, and they give each other a high five, then leave. Slim Jim stands alone beside the gym doors.)
Slim Jim: I just wish they didn’t tear my good shirt. I feel so naked. I’m so embarrassed about this.
(Saorise Kelly enters from stage left, sashaying as she walks, and carrying an armload of books in one hand against her chest.)
Saorise Kelly: Hey, Slim Jim, what happened to your shirt? Why are you wearing you gym shirt?
Slim Jim: Oh, it’s a long story, Saorise. It’s okay. We’ve got to get back to English class.
Saorise Kelly: I just love sitting up front in all my classes, but especially Ms. Keyhole’s class. You know that this is her first year teaching. She’s just right out of college, and she is so pretty. I just love the way she always dresses so fashionably. Why do you always sit in the back of the class, Slim Jim?
Slim Jim: I guess I’m just shy, that’s all.
Saorise Kelly: Oh, get over it, Slim Jim. You’d do better if you sat up front like I do.
Slim Jim: I’ll think about it, Saorise. I’ll think about it.
[The Curtain Falls.]