1620 BANK STREET by C. Rosalind Bell (an excerpt)

 

(The lights come up on the Greene’s dining room. It is 6:30 p.m., a late southwestern Louisiana August. A nervous energy permeates. MR. GREENE/Drew is reading aloud from the newspaper, his daughters, YVETTE, 8 years old and CLARESSA, 12, set the table. MRS. GREENE brings in platters from the kitchen. They finally all sit. MRS. GREENE pops right up from her chair.)

MRS. GREENE

I forgot the rolls!

CLARESSA

What?

  1. GREENE

What? What?

CLARESSA

Why are you looking at me like that?

  1. GREENE

Like what?

CLARESSA

Like that? Mama! Come on! I’m starving!

  1. GREENE

I’m looking at my baby.

CLARESSA

Daddy, stop it . . .

YVETTE

Yeah, daddy, stop it.

  1. GREENE

 Oh you’re my baby, too, my itsy bitsy teenie weenie baby.

YVETTE

Yes, I am!

CLARESSA

Good for you because I am nobody’s baby. Mama! Come on! I am 12 going on 13! I am closer to 18 than I am to 12.

YVETTE

No you’re not, you’re 12, CLARESSA, how could you be . . .

CLARESSA

Shut up little, bitty baby! I’m talking in terms philosophical.

MRS. GREENE

What’s all the commotion? Dinner is not the place for argument, young lady.

CLARESSA

See, Mama knows I’m a young lady.

MRS. GREENE returns to the table.

MRS. GREENE

Mama also knows that you know the dinner table is reserved for us to go over our day . . .  pleasantly, might I add.

SHE nods to MR. GREENE.

  1. GREENE

In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy path.

YVETTE

The Lord is My Shepherd I shall not want.

MRS. GREENE

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

CLARESSA

Let there be peace on earth.

  1. GREENE

Can’t argue with that.

(MRS. GREENE takes tops off the platters of food: steaming, carrots/peas, catfish, mustard greens, hot rolls.)

CLARESSA

Mama, this should be on the cover of Good Housekeeping. Yeah! Catfish!

YVETTE

I thought you said you didn’t like meat, remember Daddy, she said she wasn’t going to eat meat anymore?

CLARESSA

What is wrong with you? Fish is not meat!

  1. GREENE

That’s okay, CLARESSA, you do not have to eat meat anymore, there’ll be more rib eyes for the rest of us.

YVETTE

And hot dogs! And hamburgers!

CLARESSA

Like I’m supposed to give a care? Mama, can we go downtown tomorrow, better yet, is it okay if I go to Riff’s and bring some clothes home on approval? Only 18 days before school starts. Reynaud Junior High School—here I come! (She does a “V” with arms stretched out.)

MRS. GREENE

(Looking at MR. GREENE but talking to CLARESSA.) Honey, there’s something we need to talk to you about.

CLARESSA

Yes? What? You want me to go to Muller’s instead? That’s fine . . . I just thought that . . .

YVETTE

You’re not going to Reynaud.

MRS. GREENE

Yvette!

  1. GREENE

Poll Parrot.

CLARESSA

Shut up, Yvette!

YVETTE

Can’t make me. You’re not going to the Negro school.

CLARESSA

What a retard! It’s Afro American, stupid.

MRS. GREENE

That’s enough of the two of you. And we do not call each other names at this house, do I make myself clear? Honey (She looks at MR. GREENE) go ahead, you tell her.

CLARESSA

Tell me what?

  1. GREENE

Your mother and I love you very, very much.

YVETTE

Me too, you love me very, very much.

  1. GREENE

Of course we do Little Petunia Head. Claressa, your mother and I have hardly had a good night’s rest since this integration thing came to Lake Charles.

MRS. GREENE

Closing down your daddy’s school, might I add. And sending our kind hither, thither and yon . . . And don’t think . . .

CLARESSA

I don’t understand what’s that got to do with me

MRS. GREENE

We’ve deliberated long and hard . . . what’s best for our child? Where would she fare better? You’ve gotten to an age . . .

CLARESSA

Mama, No!

  1. GREENE

Listen to your mother, Claressa, hear us out.

CLARESSA

I don’t get this, nobody talked to me, you never said a word to me about this!

MRS. GREENE

We’re doing this for your own good

CLARESSA

No you’re not! You wouldn’t be doing this to me!

YVETTE

You’ll have to wear a uniform, like a nun, my sister will be a sister.

CLARESSA

Catholic School! You’re sending me to Catholic School! What have I done to deserve this? Daddy, you hate the Catholics? Somebody please tell me what I’ve done to deserve this? We’re not even Catholic! This is crazy!

  1. GREENE

I disagree vehemently with Catholicism, Claressa. But I’ve never, ever said I hated them. Vast difference, young lady. and you have the emphasis in the wrong place: ‘We’re not Catholic.’ What you should be saying is “they’re not Methodists.” But I’ll forgive them for that—as long as they don’t try to indoctrinate you. They have a long history of that.

CLARESSA

I won’t give them the chance cause I’m not going.

MRS. GREENE

Because, not ‘cause.’ I do not need you to go lax with your enunciation. These white people are always looking for some way to belittle you, or shake their head to one another like “um huh, see there, I told you,” so you need to take special care with your speech around them . . . don’t give them any excuse.

CLARESSA

Huh?

MRS. GREENE

You know exactly what I’m talking about.

CLARESSA

I’m not going . . . daddy, please!

  1. GREENE

Sometimes you need to just listen to your parents, Claressa. I know it’s hard to believe, but we really do know something of how the world works. And on this subject we need you to not buck us.

MRS. GREENE

Try to see this from our view.

YVETTE

It’s all girls, too! No boys like at Reynaud!

(MR. and MRS. GREENE look at each other, puzzled.)

  1. GREENE

All right, Dick Tracy, where on earth did you get this information?

YVETTE

You told Mr. Conley when he delivered the mail and Mr. Conley told Miss Annabel, next door. And she said Dad you told her CLARESSA was accepted at the white school.

(MRS. GREENE rolls her eyes at MR. GREENE, shaking her head.)

  1. GREENE

It is the Catholic School—not the white school—at least not anymore it won’t be. One day you will understand this CLARESSA and thank us.

(CLARESSA looks at him like she could choke him and bats her eyes tightly.)

I’ll tell you this, I’ll not have my children going through the world with their feet on backwards—this is a new day. We want you to realize that you are just as good as any of them. Just as smart, just as full of bloom.

CLARESSA

I already know all of that! What I don’t know is why you’re doing this to me! I know who I am!

MRS. GREENE

Claressa, this integration is causing all sorts of craziness. Our people, as usual are getting the short end of the stick. Your cousin Pearl . . . well, they’re putting her back into the classroom and she can’t do a thing about it. Been a principal for twenty-seven years . . . yet and still they see fit to close her school and relieve her of her position. It’s that kind of thing we’re up against in the public school.

  1. GREENE

Your mother’s right, honey. All your life whatever school you’ve been to, kindergarten through 6th grade, either your mama was at that school or your were at my school or in the case of kindergarten, well, we knew all of your teachers. Those days are over. We don’t know what kind of white people they’ll send to Reynaud.

MRS. GREENE

And I’m not willing to find out. That’s why we can’t take a chance. These white folks are not taking this thing like a cake walk. Fighting it every way they can.

CLARESSA

You don’t know the teachers at the Catholic School . . . they’ll be white. You don’t know those white people either.

MRS. GREENE

Ah, but you’re half right. We don’t know the folks at St. Charles Academy like we do your past teachers, but we feel certain that what you’ll experience at the catholic school will be light years away from what you’d have to go through at Reynaud.

  1. GREENE

You see, if I know anything about Catholics it is this: They understand money . . . so we’re paying . . .

MRS. GREENE

Dearly . . .

  1. GREENE

We’re paying tuition for you to attend. That way, any hint of shenanigans, anybody look at you crooked, they’ll nip it in the bud.

MRS. GREENE

Sister Therese assured us of that fact. Gave us her word.

CLARESSA

What just happened to my life? What did you do with my life? Just like that, no questions asked you’ve come and rearranged my life . . . what about my friends, did you all think of that? What about Pat, and Ronnie and Angelina?

  1. GREENE

You make friends easily, CLARESSA, you’ll make new friends.

CLARESSA

You go then, daddy. You go make new friends! I want to be with my friends. This is crazy . . . Pat an Ronnie are Catholic and they’re not going . . . nobody’s making them go!

  1. GREENE

Honey their parent’s do not have the . . .

CLARESSA

A uniform! I have to wear a uniform! All girls! Nuns! White people! Oh my god! Mama, I’ve caught up on all my chores. I stayed within my allowance this month . . . I just don’t understand why I’m being punished like this! You hate me! What have I done?! I tell you I do not want to go! I’m not going! (Crying she gets up from the table, dabbing her eyes with the napkin.) And you can use your dear money to buy me a casket after I slit my throat.