Plays: David Ervin
The Tree Thing
JOE, 30, stands next to a tree in a school yard. He holds a slip of paper.
A woman approaches him.
WOMAN Can I help you?
JOE Hmm? No. I’m just waiting.
WOMAN This is a school yard.
JOE I know.
WOMAN Are you a parent?
JOE No. Well, yes, but my kid is two. She’s not in school yet.
WOMAN So what are you waiting for?
JOE Does it matter?
WOMAN I can’t allow you to just hang out in a school yard.
JOE Can’t allow me? What are you, the principal?
JOE I’m not hurting anything. I’m here for an appointment.
WOMAN Well, you’ll have to call your appointment and tell them
you’ll meet up at some other time.
JOE I’m not a child molester or anything.
WOMAN Good day, sir.
JOE No, you see, I’m waiting to see if someone else will show up.
For the tree.
WOMAN Excuse me?
JOE The tree. I went here when I was a kid—k through fifth. In third grade,
Ms. Johnson’s class, we planted this tree.
JOE Yeah—we, uh, got this slip of paper. See? (He hands it to her.)
WOMAN (reads) We plant this tree with little hands
Little women little men
In twenty years the seeds we’ve sewn
Will have blossomed, will have grown
We’ll meet again on this same day,
At this same time in this same way
In twenty years beneath this tree
How much we’ve grown we all shall see.
(To JOE)That’s sweet.
JOE Yeah, so—what time is it, 3:05? I’m a little late. You think everyone
WOMAN You’ve kept that paper all these years?
JOE Yeah. (Beat) Who’m I kidding? I’m thirty years old. Everyone else
in Ms. Johnson’s class is thirty years old. They’ve got better things
to do with their time.
WOMAN I knew Ms. Johnson.
JOE Oh, yeah?
WOMAN She became Mrs. Gray. Retired about five years ago.
WOMAN She did this with her class every year.
JOE What, the tree thing?
WOMAN Yeah. That one there—class of ’94. That one—class of ’91.
That one over there—’88.
JOE I don’t see one over there.
WOMAN That’s because it’s a Walgreens.
JOE That’s sad. Well, maybe I’ve got the wrong tree.
WOMAN There’s no one else here. In fact, I don’t think anyone’s ever actually
come back to see their tree.
WOMAN Most people lose the slip of paper after twenty years. Or forget. Or don’t care.
Don’t you think?
JOE That’s pessimistic.
WOMAN I suppose.
JOE Look how small it is. I mean, it’s not tiny—but I expected it to be a lot
bigger. Maybe this is the wrong tree.
WOMAN She put a little plaques next to them. (Kneels down and digs a little with
her hands.) There.
JOE Nineteen eighty-five. This is the tree. There were twenty-four of us in that
class. (Looks around) Thought it’d be bigger.
WOMAN It’s a nice tree, Joe.
JOE I guess. (Beat) Did you just call me Joe?
JOE How do you know my name? (Beat; he looks closer) Amber Sullivan?
JOE I sat across from you.
AMBER You used to kick my shins under the table.
JOE You came. I can’t believe you came. You’re the principal? Wow.
AMBER I’m not the principal.
JOE You lied?
AMBER I wanted to make sure you weren’t a child molester.
JOE I’m not. (Beat) I lied, too. I don’t have a daughter.
AMBER Why would you lie about that?
JOE I don’t know.
AMBER So where do you live now?
JOE Yeah. Where do you live?
AMBER Right across the street. I lived next door to Mrs. Gray. Ms. Johnson.
AMBER She passed away last year. (Beat) So you came all the way from Chicago
just to see the tree?
JOE No, no. Family reunion—you know.
JOE So are you married?
AMBER Divorced. You?
AMBER What do you do?
JOE Accounting. I’m an accountant.
JOE No it’s not. What do you do?
AMBER Bank. Customer service rep.
JOE Oh, that’s—
JOE You look great. I hardly recognized you.
AMBER I was an ugly kid.
JOE No, I didn’t mean—
AMBER It’s okay, I was. You look good, too.
JOE I got fat.
AMBER No, you look nice. (Beat) If you didn’t recognize me I wasn’t going to fess up.
To coming to this.
JOE Why not?
AMBER I don’t know. It’s kind of embarrassing.
JOE You think you’re embarrassed? You crossed the street for this thing. I flew
in from Chicago.
AMBER Well, it’s nice to see you. (She reaches in her pocket and pulls out the paper.)
I still have my slip, too. What a terrible poem, huh?
JOE I actually wrote it.
JOE I thought it was pretty good for a third-grader, but—
AMBER So you were a poet?
JOE Once upon a time.
AMBER Hey—once a poet always a poet, huh?
AMBER I used to write, too. When I was a kid. No idea when I stopped. Or why.
JOE This is depressing. Ms. Johnson had to know what she was doing.
The only people who show up to stuff like this are the ones who haven’t
done much blossoming. If I’m all grown up and happy and standing big and tall
like a tree then why would I come all the way back to it twenty years later
to meet up with some kids I knew way back when? The ones who’ve actually got
something to show for the last twenty years have better things to do than meet
under a tree.
AMBER Wow. What do I say to that?
JOE I’m sorry. I didn’t mean you—but—
AMBER No—you’re right. I mean, when I was nine years old I stood here digging a little
hole, and twenty years later I’ve moved exactly fifty yards to a little place
across the street. Haven’t stopped digging.
JOE Didn’t you think that thirty would feel a lot older?
AMBER I’m still 29. I may never reach thirty.
JOE Believe me, it’s a relief when you do. Hearing the footsteps behind you can be
more terrifying than the actual thing. But I don’t feel grown-up, you know?
AMBER I thought by now I’d have all the answers.
JOE I thought by now I’d have a family.
AMBER I thought by now I’d have fallen in love.
JOE I thought by now this damn tree would have been a lot bigger.
AMBER How long are you in town, Joe?
JOE Couple of days, a week—forever.
AMBER You don’t know?
JOE I lost my job last month. Since I lost my job I lost my apartment. My mind
is next on the list, right? I just wanna get out of the city. Start over.
AMBER Is that why you came back? To your old home? To this tree?
JOE I don’t know why I came.
AMBER I do.
JOE Oh yeah?
AMBER So you could have coffee with me.
JOE You think so?
JOE Maybe you’re right.
(They share a smile.)
AMBER But you have to promise me you won’t kick my shins under the table.
JOE It’s a deal.
AMBER It’s a nice tree, Joe. It really is.
DAVID ERVIN is a playwright from Mansfield, Texas. He has recently received his M.A. in Creative Writing from Boston University. His work has been produced throughout Texas and in the Boston area.
(c) copyright 2006, David Ervin; author retains all rights.