Henry (A Short Play)


  (Seated at a round table are five males of ascending age, preparing to play a card game. Henry 1, the youngest, is 8.  Henry 5 the oldest, is 77.  Henry 4 shuffles a deck of cards, hands it to Henry 5, who gives it to Henry 1 to cut. Henry 5 proceeds to deal out the entire deck.) 

Henry 5: The name of the game is “I doubt it.”

Henry 4: We always liked games.

Henry 5: Here’s how it works. We proceed around the circle, starting at my right (Henry 1). He will put cards face down on the center of the table, announcing to us one to four aces. If one of us doubts the truth of his claim, we say, “I doubt it,” turning the cards over. If the doubter was correct, the one passing off the cards has to pick up — all the cards in the pile. If the doubter was wrong, he must pick up all of the cards. The next person does the same with twos, and so on around the circle. The object of the game is to successfully get rid of all your cards. The one who does so, wins.


Henry 1: When I was young, there were moments that would come to me when I would be alone in which everything would suddenly seem to be glowing. Like it was magical. I would look up at the clouds in the sky and imagine myself floating up there — it was like I could fly. I remember sitting on the back porch one time watching a storm blow in on a summer day. There was lightning. And thunder. I remember thinking, “This is so much better than t.v.” I said, “I am alive. Thank you, God.” (Henry 1 puts down two cards.)  Two aces.

(Henry’s mom enters, standing across the table from him.)

 Mom: Henry, come inside, Honey.

Henry 1: I want to stay, Mom.

Mom: No, Henry, it’s starting to lightning. Come inside where it’s safe, sweetheart.

(Mom exits, as Henry 1 stares off after her.)

 Henry 2: Two aces, huh? Well, I’ll let it pass this time.

I hated eighth grade. It was all about fitting in, and I didn’t. I had discovered girls, but they hadn’t discovered me. I got picked on in gym class, and school generally sucked. The only good thing I remember from that whole year was in my reading and writing class. We had this assignment to write about some time when we had been happy. Generally I hated homework, but for some reason I got into this assignment. I wrote about watching the clouds as a little kid. My teacher, Mrs. Robbins, came up to me in the library.

(Mrs. Robbins approaches, stands opposite Henry 2.)

 Mrs. Robbins: (Heartfelt.) Henry, I just wanted to tell you; I think your essay about watching clouds when you were a kid just might be the most beautiful piece of writing I’ve ever read. You have a real gift.

(Mrs. Robbins exits, as Henry 2 stares off afterwards. Finally he looks up from his reverie.)

 Henry 2: Three twos.

Henry 3: You expect me to believe that?

Henry 2: Go ahead, doubt it. I dare you.

Henry 3: I’ll let it slide. (Pause.)  I started out as a journalism major in college. During the summer, I got a job with the local newspaper, working the night shift. Writing articles about the town council meetings at 3 a.m. wasn‘t my idea of a good time. Back at school, I switched to Finance, because somebody told me that’s where the money was.

After graduating I took a job with this big corporation. Found out I had a gift for selling my ideas to the guys upstairs. Ended up in charge of this major account. I was in the fast lane, leaving the competition behind.

(Mr. Smith enters, looking over a report.)


Mr. Smith: Henry, my boy, this is nice work — very nice work indeed.

Henry 3: Thank you, sir.

Mr. Smith: I need a go-getter like yourself who’s not afraid to work as my right hand man. It would include a six figure salary. Think you could be that person, Henry?

Henry 3: I’m your man, Mr. Smith. (Mr. Smith gives thumbs up and departs, as Henry 3 watches. Henry places two cards down.)Two threes.

Henry 1: Horse manure.

Henry 3: Excuse me?

Henry 1: In other words, I doubt it. (Flips over Henry 3’s cards, which are exposed to be not what they were said to be. Henry 3 groans, and picks all the cards up.)Henry 4: In a blink of an eye, the years rolled by. I got married, bought a house, had a daughter, bought another, bigger house, and then a bigger house yet. Sent the daughter to private school. Turned 40, had an affair with my secretary, divorced my wife, married the secretary. Realized I‘d screwed everything up. My daughter helped me realize that.

(Daughter enters opposite her Henry 4.)

 Daughter: Dad, you are such a loser!

Henry 4: Excuse me?!

Daughter:  I said, you are such a loser!

Henry 4:  I got that the first time.

Daughter: Loser, loser, loser!!!

(Daughter exits, as Henry 4 watches.)

Henry 4: (Placing three cards face down on the table.)  Three losers — I mean “fours.”

Henry 2: I don’t doubt the “loser” part. It’s the “four” part I’m doubtful about, but I’ll let it slide.

Henry 4: Thanks, we losers need all the breaks we can get.

Henry 5:  So the marriage to the secretary fell apart too. My relationship with my daughter — well, I limped along with that as best I could. Sometimes I still think she considers me a loser, but she doesn’t mind my money.

I tried to retire twice, but couldn’t bear all the time on my hands.

Then one day I went for my yearly check up. The doctor found something he didn’t like. Sent me for more tests.

(Doctor enters, reading a lab report.)

Doctor: I’m not going fool around with you, Henry. It’s not good. You have leukemia, if we fight it, you might have two more years. Otherwise, you’ve got three months, tops. (Henry 5 watches as the doctor exits.)Henry 5: What am I up to?

Henry 4: I just did fours, It’s your turn to do fives.

Henry 5: (Dropping his whole hand of cards face down on the tables.) Four fives then. I’m out. I win.

Henry 1: That’s not fair!

Henry 5: You got that right. (Gets up from the table, and goes to sit on the stage. Henry 1 comes and sits beside him. They stare off into the distance, as if contemplating the clouds.)Henry 1: Aren’t they something?

Henry 5: They really are.

Henry 1: I like to imagine I’m up there flying.

Henry 5: I know, I remember. (Pause.) Those dark clouds rolling in — they’re so magnificent. (Sound of thunder is heard.) Lightning. Did you see that?

Henry 1: Sure did.

Henry 5: You think it’s safe for us to be out here?

Henry 1: I do indeed.


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