By the Beautiful Sea

by Phyllis Green

(The boardwalk at Santa Cruz, CA on a Saturday in June, 1967. A MAN, WOMAN and SMALL CHILD holding a yellow balloon sit on a bench with backs to audience.)

MOTHER OF SMALL CHILD

Let’s ride on the merry-go-round now. Do you want to ride the merry-go-round?

SMALL CHILD

No.

(PAUL and MARTHA, both 58, enter. They have good looks and a certain dignity in carriage and clothes (Paul in a suit and carrying binoculars—Martha in a dress).

MARTHA

They still have the cuckoo-birds in the window.

PAUL
Uh-huh.

MARTHA

From last week. You remember. You thought they were in vile taste. Purple and pink china cuckoo birds. Not real china I’ll bet. Just cheap and vulgar.

PAUL

Oh.

MARTHA
God, Paul. Don’t you remember seeing them last week? See? There?

PAUL

Wonder if they caught any sharks today?

MARTHA

Bloody sharks I don’t mind. Just warn me if someone catches an abalone! How you can eat them! I’ll never know. I saw one caught twelve years ago.

PAUL

When in Santa Cruz, you eat abalone.

MARTHA

When in Rome? Well, lamb chops for me, sir. It has been twelve years! We’ve been coming to the seashore every Saturday for twelve years!

PAUL

We’ll have a drink before dinner tonight to celebrate.

MARTHA

Remember when all we used to do on Saturdays was chase parades? We went to every parade in California! Every little drum and bugle corp. We knew them all. Big time parades. Shrine parades. Spanish mission parades. Even the little ones with the cubs and brownie scouts marching.

PAUL

Those were the days.

MARTHA

But the seashore is more relaxing. The seashore is definitely what I enjoy now. Do you know sometimes back in Milpitas, during the week, my skin actually crawls because it’s so long ‘til Saturday, so long ‘til we can come here,

SMALL CHILD

I want an ice cream cone!

MOTHER OF SMALL CHILD

You’ll get an ice cream cone after you go to the bathroom.

SMALL CHILD

I don’t have to go!

MOTHER OF SMALL CHILD

You’ll go or you won’t get an ice cream cone.

PAUL

Can I have an ice cream cone?

MARTHA

If you play your cards right you can have a lot more.

PAUL

Oh ho ho. Tonight’s the night, is it?

(MARTHA giggles. They fumble at a kiss or two. MARTHA breaks away gently and stands looking out to sea.)

MARTHA
There’s dog doo on the beach again.

PAUL

Yeah, they still can’t read. See over there. It’s plain as the nose on your face. NO DOGS ALLOWED ON BEACH. Can’t read worth a darn.

(MAN takes SMALL CHILD by the hand and quietly leads him off-stage to go to the bathroom and get an ice cream cone. WOMAN reads a book.)

MARTHA

Did you notice the man back there, the strange resemblance?

PAUL

What man?

MARTHA

The man with the little boy with the balloon. You know.

PAUL

The blue balloon?

MARTHA

I think it was pink. No yellow.

PAUL

So many balloons. So many little boys. So many fathers.

MARTHA

I thought you had noticed. He looked like Harvey Cook.

PAUL

(Annoyed and realizing what this was leading to) No.

MARTHA

A curious resemblance. So like Harvey.

PAUL

Jesuschrist.

MARTHA

It could be Harvey’s son. And if things had turned out differently, my son.

PAUL

Why don’t you go back and call him “Sonny”.

MARTHA

Thinking of Harvey takes you back, doesn’t it? Wasn’t it something how he chased me? I mean, he was so determined. You were never half as determined as Harvey and yet, you got me. Mother told me she thought I married you just to see the reaction I’d get from Harvey. If he’d kill himself or something.

PAUL

(Looking through binoculars) A tanker. One of Getty’s.

MARTHA

I remember that night like it was yesterday. Mother had made my dress, a perfect copy of a French original. It was the softest green, set off the glow of my green eyes. Are my eyes still green?

PAUL

Must be five miles out at least.

MARTHA

Paul, are my eyes still green? Am I still your little green-eyed lover?

PAUL

(Looks at her through binoculars) Little green eyes.

MARTHA

You were green eyes that night. Green-eyes with jealousy when you took me to the dance and Harvey took me home. Mother was furious. She said I was impolite. She said only bad girls went with one date and came home with another. But she was wrong. I was pretty clever at balancing things, pretty clever, date one early, date one late, don’t mix up names, and don’t mix up times. Don’t mix up how far you let each one go.

PAUL

(Quoting) “As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.”

MARTHA

It’s a good thing we had a short engagement.

PAUL

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

MARTHA
If it had been any longer, Harvey would have busted a blood vessel. He certainly out-sat you the night before the wedding.

PAUL

“God save the ancient mariner. With my crossbow I shot the Albatross.”

MARTHA

You stomped home in a blue funk. And Harvey stayed on. Mother thought he’d never leave.

PAUL

All the above please credit to Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

MARTHA

He thought he would out-sit you and he did.

PAUL

Coleridge gets all the credit. Whoever credits Paul Merwin? No, I am constantly plagiarized. I remember when I first said—“Boy I’m tired. I think I’ll go to bed.” That was a great line.

MARTHA

He tried to lick my lipstick off.

PAUL

One of my more famous lines was, “Hey Mac, watch where you’re going.” But nobody gives me credit.

MARTHA

I was crazy about Harvey but you seemed more decent and I always strived to be decent. I come from proper stock and even though Daddy lost our money and went away, Mother brought me up to do the right thing and the right thing seemed to be you, Paul Merwin, and I don’t think you even care right now that I did choose you and not old Harvey Cook.

PAUL

(He focuses binoculars on her chest) Wowie! Woo! Woo!

MARTHA

(Has to laugh.) Stop that. People are watching.

PAUL

(PAUL hands binoculars to MARTHA) Look, what do you see?

MARTHA

(Looking through binoculars.) Nothing.

PAUL

C’mon. What do you see?

MARTHA

Nothing. There’s nothing out there.

PAUL

That’s sad, Martha. There’s everything out there. That’s why we come here, isn’t it? To see all that we can see. And you see nothing?

MARTHA

Well you can’t see anything if there’s nothing there.

PAUL

Well, let’s move on. Walk. Breathe. Soak up the sun.

(MAN and CHILD return to bench, CHILD eating the last bits of an ice cream cone.)

MARTHA

Did I tell you I almost fell over that needle-nosed Mrs. Duncan at the Thrift Shop Thursday? I had my wig on and sunglasses and everything but I was terrified she would recognize me so just to make sure I pretended I was one of the society women who work there. I acted like I had donated the dresses I was holding.

PAUL

Why do you go there if it embarrasses you? You could go to Penney’s or Sears. Don’t make me feel like I can’t support you.

MARTHA

I want nice things. Society things.

PAUL

Buy yourself a nice slacks outfit at Sears.

MARTHA

You know I wouldn’t be caught dead in slacks from anywhere!

PAUL

Where do you get your big ideas?

MARTHA

Paul, you know very well when I was young we were well-off and I had the very best clothes and advantages and Mother had a maid and a cleaning lady. A maid, and don’t you forget it.

PAUL

But your father left when you were eight.

MARTHA

It doesn’t mean I don’t remember the good life. It doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to it. I’m just as good as those society ladies.

PAUL

But to go through their old cast-offs just to get a labeled dress. How can you lower yourself? I would think it would be more honorable to live within my salary at Sears.

MARTHA

I live within it at the Thrift Shop. Are you saying I don’t? Could anybody do a better job of living within your measly salary than I do? Could they? Could they?

PAUL

No.

MARTHA

I’m class and I know it. Most people are born nothings and don’t mind living that way. But I was someone. I was Martha Ann Swanson and I’ll always be Martha Ann Swanson.

PAUL

Funny, I thought you were Martha Merwin.

MARTHA

You know what I mean.

PAUL

What time is it?

MARTHA

(Looks at watch.) It’s five.

PAUL

Better head for the restaurant then.

MOTHER OF SMALL CHILD

(Stands and smiles at PAUL and MARTHA as they pass by) Enjoying the weather?

PAUL

(Nods.) Nice day.

MARTHA

(Whispers.) Paul, we don’t talk to strangers!

PAUL

C’mon. (He patiently takes MARTHA’S arm and exits stage right.)

SMALL CHILD

(Tugs at the MAN’S arm.) You said we’d build a sand castle.

MOTHER OF SMALL CHILD

(Watching the departing PAUL AND MARTHA) What a sweet couple! (Looks at MAN and smiles dreamily.) That could be us someday.

(Curtain.)


green2Two of Phyllis Green’s radio plays were produced on Wisconsin Public Radio and two stage-plays (“Deer Season” and “Physically Handicapped Singles Dance”) performed on Off-Off Broadway. Her one-woman play, “Acapulco Holiday,” was staged in Portland, Oregon. She received a playwriting fellowship from the Wisconsin Arts Board. Phyllis recently received a nomination for a Pushcart Prize for her story, “Provisions” in Prick of the Spindle 5.1.

The full-length “By the Beautiful Sea” had a rehearsed reading at Theatre at St. Clements in New York City directed by Nancy Alexander and featuring Scotty Bloch as Martha and William Severs as Paul.

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