hero, with a small case.

hero, with a small case was performed in the pottery gallery at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, 9th November 2019 as part of Museum Pieces, the culmination of the Sunderland Stages Writing Project. The play was directed by Cinzia Hardy, produced by Helen Green, and was performed by James Hedley and Jake Jarratt.

hero, with a small case

By 

Ray Hopkins

Copyright ©️ 2019 Ray Hopkins, All Rights Reserved.

The kitchen of the Smythe family, just before dinner time. A small table sits in the room with three chairs round. There are various items placed around room; bag, clothing etc. EDWARD SMYTHE, 21, enters fast, as if he’s been racing, red faced, panting, big grin on face, He goes to table and sorts out some food/bread for himself to eat. He notices a commemorative pot on the table; he straightens it up, making sure it is in the correct position/place. He smiles at it. A few seconds later his younger brother JACK, 17, bursts in, breathless and laughing, as if he has been racing. They are dressed for work, flat cap and boots. They catch their breath as they take their hats and coats off, looking at each other with huge grins on their faces. EDWARD raises his arms up in triumph, victorious, and laughs loud. JACK shakes his head and gives his brother a playful punch on the arm before going to sit down at the kitchen table, shaking his head, pointing at his brother.

JACK

You cheated.

EDWARD

Rubbish. Where you been?

JACK

How long you been back? You must’ve took cut?

(Shouts to offstage, eyes aiming upstairs.)

Mam!

EDWARD

Give over.

JACK

You should be ashamed of yourself if you can’t race without being like that.

EDWARD

Like what? You need to grow up, Kid, stop making excuses for coming last, again. Face facts, your biggest brother is the boss round here.

JACK searches room for something, grabs a bag from behind chair.

JACK

Biggest cheat more like.

EDWARD

Aye, keep making excuses.

JACK

As if I do. Where’s mam?

(Goes to shout again)

Mam.

EDWARD

Hey lad. You’ll wake neighbours. Tansy’s on shifts, you know.

JACK

Thought some dinner would be done. Rushing now.

EDWARD

She’s gone visit Uncle Malcolm. It’s Friday, remember.

JACK stops and thinks, realising his brother’s probably right.

JACK

Aye. Should hope he gets out soon. Anyway, need to see her, need to tell her.

EDWARD

Malcolm may do well to get out this month, he’s not… Tell mam, about what?

JACK

Finnegan made me that offer, this morning, that’s where a was, the one I talked about last week. But they set off this afternoon, need to get things sorted.

JACK moves around kitchen, finding items of clothing and putting them into his bag.

EDWARD

You’re not serious? This afternoon!

JACK

Aye, I am, and why not? It’s a good chance.

EDWARD

Why not! I thought I’d told you? It isn’t a good chance. He takes lads on and treats them like muck. Sailing in all conditions as long as the glass gets delivered. And you, you’ve not got sea legs, piss your pants halfway up your

first wave.

JACK

Give over, look where they go, all round world.

EDWARD

Yeah, and each have their own rat for company.

JACK

See who I bumped into yesterday down docks, Bendy Walker, was in my class at school. Said he’d been all over, and the money is good.

EDWARD

Bendy Walker tells lies for fun.

JACK

Does not.

EDWARD

Why do you think they call him Bendy? I heard he spent his first week aboard crying for his mam.

JACK

It’s you who tells lies, and cheats at racing.

EDWARD

I do what it takes to win, there’s a difference.

JACK

Anyway, Finnegan come by the yard today, said they’re headed Portugal and Italy and they’re short, needed hand. Offered me it, I said aye. So if Mam’s not back by time I’m off, you’ll have to tell her.

EDWARD

What? You have one conversation with Bendy Walker and Finnegan’s got you wrapped round his finger with his false promises and you’ve made your mind up? You know how Mam feels about going off to sea, especially after what happened.

JACK

I know, but that’s just it, what we supposed to do, stop living? He went away and didn’t come back. Doesn’t mean it’ll happen to one of us.

EDWARD

That’s not how Mam sees it.

(Goes to look at commemorative pot, touching written words.)

We don’t want her making another visit to Scott’s, can’t afford to do that again.

JACK

So what do I do? You know what I’m about. I’ve got this urge, you know it, even said it yourself, I’m just like dad. And what if I don’t go, I’ll always be wondering?

EDWARD

There’ll be other opportunities. And you’re not like Dad, you’re you. Be you.

JACK

Be me? That’s what I’m trying to do. But everyone tells me to wait. What am I meant to do? Put it off, and put it off, and put it off. Until what? I end up like Uncle Malcolm?

EDWARD

Don’t say that.

You’re not going

JACK

Well it’s true.

Bloody am. Doing a job like that at his age, no the wonder he fell.

EDWARD

Was an accident, could’ve happened to anyone.

JACK

Aye, like Dad.

EDWARD

Not like Dad, don’t say that.

JACK

Get in early, he said, while you’re fit, earn a few bob then get out. Climb the ladder. He told us that when we were boys. Otherwise you’ll end up with… what did he call it?

EDWARD

That’s not the point.

JACK

Well I’m not sure what he said, but I know what he meant.

EDWARD

That’s not the — Look, Jack, Dad said a lot of things he didn’t mean.

JACK

No, but how…

EDWARD

Made a lot of promises he didn’t keep.

JACK

How can you say stuff like that about him? What’s your problem anyway? You stand there touching that, (points to bowl) yet you didn’t even want Mam to have it made, argued against it.

EDWARD

We couldn’t afford it.

JACK

It cost money, aye, but it was a good thing to do. It eased Mam.

EDWARD

It was a waste of money, may as well have gone down the river and thrown it in.

JACK

You were all for it when the idea was first mentioned. Thought it was a great idea. You pushed for it, saying it would be a fine tribute. Then all of a sudden you changed.

EDWARD

Rubbish.

JACK

Yes you did. One minute, “Great idea,” next minute, “Don’t bother chucking your money away, Mam, he’s gone, forget him.”

JACK

Like the wind – that’s how you changed.

EDWARD

Got to be realistic, we’re not well off, Jack, soon as you get that inside your head the better.

JACK

Which is why this is a good chance.

EDWARD

You’re wrong.

JACK

And why be like that? Mam was in pieces when you said that. Reckon you wanted the money for yourself.

EDWARD picks up the pot and raises as if threatening to smash it.

EDWARD

Take that back or I’ll smash this over you’re nut.

JACK

What was it? Buy a fancy woman some nice clothes?

EDWARD

(Pointing with pot)

Was nowt to do with money, and you know that.

JACK

No I don’t, though, do I? You’ve been keeping things hid for ages, I’m not daft, I know something’s up.

EDWARD

You’re not daft, eh? Look at you, think you know everything but you couldn’t be further from the truth. Mammy’s boy who thinks he’s gonna grow up to be just like his daddy – some sort of hero. Not likely.

(Shakes pot in Jack’s face.)

Is this what you want, is it? Your name on the jug we wash grime off our mitts with, eh?

JACK

He was a hero though.

EDWARD

No he’s not.

JACK and EDWARD stare at each other, Jack giving his older brother a questioning look.

JACK

No?

EDWARD

No. He is no hero.

JACK

If he were here now he’d give you a clout round the ear for saying stuff like that.

EDWARD

No, he wouldn’t.

JACK

He was a hero.

EDWARD

was a coward.

They hold another stare as each other’s words land. Then both stand and square up to each other. Neither willing to land the first blow, but neither backing down.

JACK

You shouldn’t say that.

EDWARD

A big—

JACK

No—

EDWARD

Useless—

JACK

Don’t say that—

EDWARD

Coward.

JACK grabs EDWARD by the shirt collar, threatening to punch him. EDWARD stands firm, tensing himself.

EDWARD

Hit me as hard as you like, won’t make him anything other than what he is.

JACK

I’ll knock your teeth out.

EDWARD

Thirteen year old you were when it happened. You didn’t know him. Just a kid.

JACK

Oh, and you did, ey? Bollocks! You’re all out of sight out of mind. I’m surprised you can even remember his name.

EDWARD

Well if I ever do forget, all I need do is go wash myself and I can read all about him on the side of this jug.

EDWARD pushes his face into JACK’s.

“The sailor lost on stormy seas – though far his bark may roam – still hears a voice in every breeze”

JACK forcefully pushes EDWARD away.

JACK

You’re a disgrace…

EDWARD

“That wakens thoughts of home – he thinks upon his distant friends – his wife his humble cot”

JACK

I’m telling on you. Edward, stop being a bastard.

EDWARD

“And from his inmost heart ascend – the prayer, forget me not.”

JACK

I should punch you in the face.

EDWARD

Yeah, you should,

EDWARD feigns to throw the pot at JACK, who ducks away, but then carefully places it on the table.

but you won’t. Yeah, duck, wonder where you get that from? Even if you did throw a punch you’ll feel no better, you know it. Cos that feeling, it’ll still be there, that feeling you get inside when you think of him. I get it, strange the way things turn.

JACK

What you on about? You go on like you’re the keeper of all knowledge round here, you really get on my nerves. Everything I try to do you’ve already done it, and it was bigger or it was better. And everything I want to do is too stupid or too dangerous or it isn’t going to work or it’ll upset mam because she hasn’t gotten over what happened. And there’s you, doing what you like whenever you like cos you’re the man of the house round here now, bossing everyone around, even Mam. And here we go again with you having a little bit knowledge that no one else has, is that it?

EDWARD visibly stays quiet, it’s clear his brother is hitting nails on heads.

Is that what’s got you all big and bullish, a little bit of something that you know and we don’t? A way to make you feel big, eh?

EDWARD

Pipe down, sunshine. He knew he shouldn’t a gone.

JACK

Aye, I’ll pipe down, can’t have the big man getting talked bad at. Can’t have someone else knowing what he knows cos then he’ll not be the big man anymore. We can’t have you losing that, can we, Edward, that power…

(Pause)

… can we? Big man.

EDWARD

Mind your mouth, Jack, you know nowt. There’s some things you don’t need to—

JACK

But it’s fine for you to know them?

EDWARD

Some things you’ll not understand. About why he went.

JACK

Not understand? You don’t even— why he went? I know why he went, and I know the pressure he was under. And just cos he wouldn’t say boo to a goose, it don’t mean he wasn’t a hero, and if I’m wrong then no, I don’t understand. And I never will if I’m always kept in the dark.

EDWARD

You were kept in the dark cos you were a kid.

JACK

(Picks up pot)

I was old enough to figure what this means.

EDWARD

Put that down.

JACK

(Waves pot around recklessly)

And that’s not the only thing I was old enough to figure.

EDWARD

Watch what you doing with that.

JACK

What do you care, means nowt to you. Why should it?

EDWARD

You’re gonna get such a crack.

JACK

With your big secrets that you like to keep to yourself cos you think no one else can deal with the truth. Like mam and Malcolm – yous lot must think am daft, man—

EDWARD

What about Mam and Malcolm?

JACK

And you justify it as…

(JACK jabs pot pointedly at EDWARD)

You know what I mean about them. And you justify it like you’re protecting us, but you’re really just looking out for yourself, keeping yourself top. Well not anymore, I’ve had enough. That’s why I’m taking this chance, mam’ll understand. And you, with your secrets, keep them, stick them where no sun shines.

EDWARD

Come on, what’d ya know about mam and Malcolm?

JACK

You know…

EDWARD

What?

JACK

About Malcolm…

EDWARD

Aye?

JACK

That he’s…

EDWARD

Go on.

JACK

Your dad.

EDWARD stands silent.

JACK

It’s one thing having secrets, but the idea is you keep them to yourself, even the fact there’s anything to know. But you, you go round threatening people with the fact you know something they don’t, using it as a lever, a power to hold over someone. But there’s something more powerful than that. It’s an attitude.

I don’t care.

You’re only my half brother – I don’t care, love you anyroads.

Uncle Malcolm’s really your dad – I don’t care, he’s a good fella, mam looks happy when she sees him. That’s a good thing.

I know you didn’t find out until after Dad, these walls are not thick enough in places, and some people talk too loud. And I know you didn’t like it when you found out.

EDWARD

It’s not… it’s just…

JACK

And I know what you’ve got against Finnegan, I know it were him who made dad go on a ship not fit to sail. Was a choice he made; he got it wrong. Was a hard time for everyone.

EDWARD

You don’t know what it was like.

JACK

I saw you. I saw what it did to you. The anger. Throwing yourself about. I know I was a bairn but that didn’t make’us immune. I felt it too. Just different.

EDWARD

Just that.

JACK

I know…

EDWARD

just, you know

JACK

Dad?

EDWARD

Yeah. We didn’t even get to say goodbye to him; didn’t get to bury him. I still remember that morning when he went away, walked down dock with him, helped carry his stuff – he knew I liked that.

JACK

You did…

EDWARD

And then when we heard about the boat going down…

JACK

And then being told about Malcolm…

EDWARD

Aye, and that…

JACK

That’s still not reason for telling Mam to not get the pot made.

EDWARD

Yeah, well…

JACK

And if the same happens to me? Would you tell her not to bother? Cos I’m going, and that could happen.

EDWARD

Don’t be daft.

JACK

Cos it’s in me, Ed.

(They both fall silent, staring intensely at each other for a few moments.)

And like you said – be me. So that’s what I’m gonna be – it’s what I’ve got to do. And you can’t stop me, or Mam, or Uncle… no one. Not even Finnegan.

Here, catch.

(JACK throws pot across room into EDWARD’s arms, he catches it.)

Look after that.

(EDWARD stares at pot for a few moments before gently placing it back on the table.)

Cos for all your big words and threats of a good hiding, I know it means more to you than anyone.

(JACK finishes packing his bag and prepares to leave.)

Look, this job, it’s two weeks. Maybe I’ll not be suited, I don’t know, but if I don’t go today then I’ll never find out.

EDWARD

You will be, you know you will. You’re just like him. Well, a bit more gobby, perhaps. But you are, more than you know. You’ll probably not come back.

JACK

Well…

EDWARD

So what you want wrote on your pot?

They both smile at each other, almost breaking into a laugh.

JACK

You know, Dad, he… we both know, Dad, he was a hero. He took that job cos we were struggling, needed the money. He knew it were dodgy but did it anyways. Just cos he were a quiet man and didn’t chuck himself about means nowt. He’d do out for us, for Mam. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, Edward, big brave and loud; heroes with a capital H. But sometimes not; sometimes it’s just a little auld man from Hendon, quietly doing what he thinks is best for family. But he’s still a hero.

JACK throws his bag over his shoulder and walks to the door.

JACK

Give Mam a hug. See ya later.

EDWARD

Look after yourself.

(JACK leaves. EDWARD watches him through the kitchen window then returns his attention to the pot. He picks it up, holding it high…)

To Dad, lost at sea, age 43…

(… then raises other hand pointing to where JACK had just stood to say goodbye.)

… and my brother, Jack, age 17, lost at…

(He brings both hands around to hug pot.)

Ah, man.

The End.

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