“Tar Beach” by Tammy Ryan

Tar Beach Monologue

REENIE: Pretend this is a dream. This is a dream you’re having about me. About a girl you don’t know. It’s okay—you don’t have to understand everything right now. This is only the beginning. It’s the only way I can tell this story.


It is July 12, 1977. It’s hot and I’m sitting in my mother’s closet where she stores all of her things. Winter clothes are jam packed in here. And boxes and boxes of stuff. Memories. Photographs, drawings and homemade cards, like the little soap fish my sister made in Brownies. My parents’ wedding pictures, all of our baby pictures, every school picture since kindergarten, the red construction paper Valentine’s Day hearts on white doilies. Stuff like that you save forever. There is a ladder in here, too, if, we want to get out.

(She stands suddenly.)

Like if there was a fire, we could escape onto the roof. We could jump roof to roof to roof until we got to safety—or Atlantic Avenue—whichever came first. Except—there’s not always enough warning, before things catch on fire.

(She pushes her way through the closet.)

Reaching through her scratchy coats and polyester pants suits I find the ladder. Yank it open, then climb hand over hand pulling myself up out of quicksand to get to the top, then both hands flat against the ceiling PUSH as HARD as I CAN to OPEN it—

(SOUND of a trap door lifting as THE LIGHT from the closet shines straight up into the night sky. She walks to the edge and takes a deep breath.)

Down there, it’s like you’re trapped on the A train, in the tunnel, under the river, packed with people and it’s a hundred and fifty degrees with no air. My Father doesn’t believe in air conditioning. Okay, he believes in air conditioner. And it’s in their bedroom, where it’s so loud you can hear it, but they’re the only ones who can feel it.

(WE HEAR the sound of the elevated TRAIN rumble past, distant SIRENS, a couple SHOUTING at each other, and then distant WAVES crashing softly onshore.)

Up here, I can breathe even though it’s like a hundred degrees out and so humid we might as well be under water…. Sometimes if I concentrate, I can smell salt from the ocean… if there’s a breeze.

(She looks up as the SOUND of an AIRPLANE flying overhead.)

There were never any stars in the sky. Okay: Star. Sometimes there’s one. But no,
that’s an airplane…

(She follows the plane, looking out over the neighborhood.)

…if I could fly… I’d be gone.

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