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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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These Two

By James Baldwin
Illustrated by Harold Altman

The Magpie, January 1941, v. 25, n. 1, p. 19.

A Play in Six Scenes

Scene 1.—A cold wet alley about serve A.M. Day is just breaking. We hear the swish and patter of heavy rain. Drunkard stumbles into alley. He is completely intoxicated.

DRUNKARD—Gosh . . . shure ish dark . . . (He stumbles over something and mutters inaudible curses.) Wha'sh devil . . . deshent man can't even git home peashful. (He stumbles again and falls.) Well I'll be . . . ish two men . . . heyT wake up. Hey! wake up . . . ish rainin' . . . (He attempts to lift one body which is lying atop the other. Suddenly he lets it drop, recoils yells.) Hey! They're dead—dead. (He stumbles to the mouth of the alley). Moider! Moider! Help, police! (We hear windows slammed up.) Moider! Moider!

(Now we hear voices from the windows.) "Hey! What's all the racket down there? . . . What's wrong? . . . Shut up down there!"

DRUNKARD—Ish two dead men down here! Moider! (And he is off again.)

(We hear the voices from the window.) "He said it's a murder . . . murder? . . . Yep . . . Aw, he's stewed. He's probably seein' things . . . He said they're dead. . . . Call the police, somebody . . . . " (Two policemen enter the alley.)

1ST POLICEMAN—What's the matter here? What's wrong?

DRUNKARD—(Points to bodies.) They're dead. offisher.

1ST POLICEMAN—You know anything about this?

DRUNKARD—Honest, offisher, I don't know nothin'. I was just goin' home an' came through here for a short cut . . . I foun' 'em.

(Day has broken. The alley begins to fill with people.)

1ST POLICEMAN—Is that all?

DRUNKARD—That's all I know, offisher....

(Now the crowd has increased. A buzz arises.) "I wonder what happened? ... Gee they look young.... They're both dead ... "

1ST POLICEMAN—Go call the morgue, Jim. And tell the chief I think we've got the guys who robbed that store last night.

(The hum of conversation grows stronger. 2nd Policeman leaves.)


Scene II.—Tom is leaning on an ancient table in an old tenement. Dave is seated near the open window, glumly smoking. From the sidewalk three stories below we hear the usual street noises.

TOM—Now it's like this. We'll rob ol' Schmidt's grocery store real late Saturday night—see?—just at closin' time, 'cuz nobody'll be there then.

(He looks at Dave, who nods. Tom continues.)

Now listen . . . after we get the money, we'll tie him up an' scram. We'll stay in Jersey till things blow over. How's that?

(A pause . . . then)

DAVE—Suppose somebody is in there?

TOM—(Sharply) Well?

DAVE—Suppose . . . we kill the old man . . . by accident?

TOM—What the devil are you talking about? What's eatin' you?

(He crosses to Dave.) We ain't aimin' to kill nobody.

DAVE—(Persistently) But, suppose we do?

TOM—Well, if we do, so what? Ain't nobody gonna' be able to prove it was us did it.

DAVE—(Looks at him turns again to window.) I don' wanna kill nobody.

TOM (Exploding:) Well, for Chris' sakes, who said we wuz gain' to kill anybody? Here we are plannin' a small job and you start bellyachin' about killin' somebody. What's wrong with you? Ya' yella'?

DAVE—(Slowly) Nah! It ain't that. Jus' I never figured on this. I mean . . . I kinda wanted somethin' different. Like bein' a priest or a doctor . . . I mean to kinda help people . . . I mean not to hurt them . . . (with indescribable longing) . . . I mean (a wave of his arm which takes in all of the little flat and the street) . . . better'n all this. (He pauses) You know?

TOM—(After a pause—jeering.) Why sure! Go right ahead, little Davie! G'wan. They'll be glad to get you! (a venomous imitation) No, I never studied medicine, it all comes natural-like. C'mon, I'll pick your nose for you. It's a certain technique, see? Like this . . . (He thumbs at Dave then dropping his pose, glares.) Sure, g'wan, be a doctor, be a priest . . . (in a voice thick with feeling) G'wan, ya' yella', half-baked slob! I dare ya'. Be whatever ya' want. I don't care. I'd like to see you tryin' to be a doctor! (His voice rises.) I'd like to see you studyin' an' eatin' an' livin' on nothin'. Well, you can if you wanna! But not me, see! Not this baby! I'm gonna go out an' I'll fight an' I'll swear an' I'll steal till I git what I want from the guys what got it! One thing you never reamed, see? You never reamed that when you want a thing ye' gotta go out an' git it. You never learned that, see! You think if you sit aroun' and wait for it, if ye' ask for it polite, you'll git it. You try it! Me, I'm gonna take what I want. I'm gonna take it.

(There is a pause . . . He looks at Dave standing silently at the window.)

G'wan start been' a doctor, why don't ye'?

(He goes to Dave, puts his hands on his shoulders. peers into his face, utterly confounded.) God Almighty! He's cryin'!


Scene III.—(Schmidt's grocery store. As scene opens, Tom is standing, gun in hand, in front of the counter. Dave is beside him, also gun-laden. Schmidt is behind the counter. We hear heavy rain outside, and Dave and Tom are drenched.)

TOM—Alright, gran'pa, reach for heaven, an' come from behind the counter.

SCHMIDT—(An old man— —terrified.) But, boys....

TOM—(Hits him across the face.) C'mon! Make it snappy! We're in a hurry.

(Schmidt slowly begins to come from behind the counter. Roughly, Tom grabs him and throws him to the floor.)

Don't move! Don't open your mouth!

(Keeping his gun trained on the inert Schmidt, Tom motions to Dave.)

Git the cash, Dave!


Scene IV.—A telephone booth. A Man is talking.

MAN—Hello? . . . Hello? . . . Is this police headquarters? Police headquarters? . . . I want to report a robbery . . . yes . . . yes . . . a grocery-store. Huh? . . . Oh! . . . at Twenty-fifth and Grand. Yes . . . please hurry . . . What? . . . Oh yes . . . That's right. Twenty-fifth and Grand. You're welcome . . . Good night!


Scene V.—(Schmidt's grocery-store. The cash-register is rifled. Dave is sticking money into his pockets. In one hand he still holds his gun. Tom is still over Schmidt.)

TOM—(menacingly) Ya' got any more money hid any place?

SCHMIDT (whining) No ... no. I am a poor man....

DAVE—(pleading) Leave him alone, Tommy. Let's scram.

(There is the sound of a police-siren far down the street. Tom stiffens. Dave's eyes widen with fear.)

TOM—Christ! Somebody tipped off the cops!

DAVE—Jeeze' . . . Let's get outta' here! C'mon!

(The siren has stopped . . . Outside we hear a car slithering to a stop.)

DAVE—(panic-stricken) C'mon! . . . C'mon, Tommy . . . please! The cops are outside ... the cops....

(Tom turns. As he and Dave dash for the door, two officers block their way.)

1ST POLICEMAN—(with drawn revolver) Not so fast, not so fast. What's the rush?

(Without hesitation Tom fires into the officer's abdomen. He crumples. 2nd policeman fires at Tom. Tom, clutching his side, spins to his knees. 2nd policeman lunges for Dave. Dave screams.) No! . . . No!

(He fires twice. The cop chokes and falls.)

DAVE—(Terror-stricken . . . trembling.) Tommy! . . . Tommy! . . . They're dead! They're dead! Let's get outta' here, Tommy! They're dead! . . . Oh, Tommy....

(He helps the wounded Tom to his feet. and half-drags half-carries him out.)


Scene VI.—The cold wet alley we began with. Now it is about 1 A.M. The rain is coming down in torrents. We can hear the water gurgling down the sewer. Tom is leaning against the wall. gasping. Dave is standing near him sobbing.

DAVE—Tommy . . . we killed 'em! We killed 'em! Both of 'em. Oh my God!....

TOM—(gasping) Hush! Keep quiet, man! Look what they did to me.

DAVE—We killed 'em. Lord God Almighty.... We killed 'em.

TOM—Look, man! They got what was comin' to 'em, see? They had it comin ....

DAVE—(uncontrollably) God! . . . we killed 'em . . . oh, God . . . have mercy....

TOM—(fiercely) Dave, snap out of it. Stop it! Stop it!

DAVE—We killed 'em, Tommy. We killed 'em....

TOM—(Expanding his waning breath with one yell.) Shut up! Shut up! I know we killed 'em. Look what they done to me ... Christ....

(He sinks hack, exhausted.)

DAVE—(hesitant) Tommy, don't you think that . . . that . . . God . . . wherever He is ... Don't you think He ... He ... sees us?....

TOM—(Panting heavily . . . He is sinking fast.) God? . . . Who is God? . . . He never done nothin' for me . . . He didn't give me food when I was starvin' ... I don't know Him....

DAVE—(fearfully) My mother . . . she used to say . . . she said . . . she said . . . bad folks . . . they went to Hell . . . She said they never stopped burning.

(He stops, his eyes widen, suddenly he begins to weep again . . . this time a violent storm of tears . . . which makes his meagre body shake uncontrollably.)

Tommy! . . . Tommy! . . . I keep seein' 'em . . . the blood . . . the blood .. Oh, Tommy!....

(His voice is lost in his sobs.)

TOM—(His face is white, his eyes are closed . . . weakly) Sh-sh, Sh-sh. It's over now ... All over ... Forgit it....

DAVE—(His hands are at his chest . . . in a strangled voice) I can't fergit. Tommy . . . I keep seein' the blood . . . An' how they fell . . . 1. . . I can't stand it....

(Tommy opens his eyes, cries out . . . but, too late. Dave fires into his chest . . . and falls on his face, in the mud of the alley, his face between his arms.)

TOM—(Weeping . . . begins to sink.) Davie . . . oh, Davie boy. . . .

The End

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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