A script based on the short story
CAST OF CHARACTERS
WILLIS P. ARMSTRONG
ARLENE LIGHTNING BUG
EXT: SIDEWALK OUTSIDE OF SAM’S COFFEE SHOP
Sam’s Coffee Shop is a storefront on a small-townish Main
Street, brown around a large dirty plate-glass window and a
narrow door on the right-hand side. The door has a cheap
‘Open’ sign hanging on it. The words “Sam’s Coffee Shop” are
painted in chipping old yellow above the big picture window.
Behind the grime can be seen a few square brown cloth-less
tables inside the diner with cheap metal chairs around them.
The place has an aura of nausea about it. You wouldn’t want
to eat there unless it was the end of the world and the only
place left open.
WILLIS P. ARMSTRONG, an unusually well-dressed young man,
quite urban-looking in a light lime-colored suit, maroon tie
and shiny brown shoes, looking out of place in this small
town setting, is walking by when he comes to a sudden halt,
apparently attracted by the coffee shop. He turns to face it
directly, tilts his head first one way, then the other, then
cautiously approaches, still staring. We can see nothing in
the window besides the crappy interior of the diner. WILLIS
rubs his chin, walks right up to the window, stretches out
his hand but pulls it back as if he was about to do
something rude. Abruptly, he turns away from the window and
strides to the restaurant door. He goes in.
INT: SAM’S COFFEE SHOP
The coffee shop is as dirty and nasty inside as expected. It
is also fairly dark and quiet. It boasts a long counter with
occasional sugar and salt shakers distributed before
red-plastic covered bar stools, with the open dining area
and its four or five tables on the left. SAM, a short, fat
middle-aged man, is standing behind the yellow formica
counter top, rubbing the greasy stove top with a filthy rag.
JOSEPHINE, his wife, is in the back of the diner, holding a
broom, but not doing anything with it. She is the same
general shape as SAM, but displays a luxurious head of fake
black curls (a wig) in contrast to her husband’s utter
baldness. At the counter, one lone customer sits, BARNEY, an
old drunk hunched over with his head on the table and a half
a cup of something in front of him.
WILLIS enters, and immediately turns around to inspect the
front window from the other side. He throws up his hands and
speaks in a loud voice, pointing at the window.
Who is that? What is that?
(walking over to the counter
but still glancing backward)
That girl. Is it some kind of
trick? You have a projection
machine or something? It’s good,
whatever it is.
(turning to face him)
Son, I have no idea what you are
No idea? That girl! In the window!
The blond? Why, she’s beautiful.
That must drive ’em in like crazy.
Wonder why nobody else ever thought
of it first.
What girl? What window?
Why, she’s right there! Right there
in your own front window. Are you
telling me you’re not putting it
(pointing at the front)
That window? My window?
Of course! She’s facing the street.
From here you can see her from
behind, which is a helluva view
too, by the way. It works for me, I
can tell you.
(calling to his wife)
Jo? Come up here for a second, will
Josephine reluctantly picks up her broom and shuffles to the
front of the restaurant, still carrying it. She has yet to
display any expression at all on her face except extreme
Tell her what you told me
(looking around the whole
diner as if searching for
You people! It’s got to be some
kind of trick, it has to be. You’re
beaming that image from somewhere,
I know it.
(in a monotone and some sort
of accent. German?)
The girl. The young lady. That
glorious vision right there in your
Why, she’s perfect. Young, blond,
blue eyes. So shapely!
(modestly gesturing an
hourglass figure with his
Up here, and down here. She’s
wearing a light blue sun dress, and
At the mention of the dress, JOSEPHINE’s expression
radically changes to one of alarm, even fear. She drops her
broom and it clatters on the floor.
(turning to her husband)
Barney said so too!
(gesturing at the drunk at the
Yeah, right, says he.
It’s that girl!
(to her husband still, not
looking at Willis)
That poor dead girl!
The last thing that girl looks is
(turning on him and hissing)
She died right there, not two
months ago now. Poor thing. Walking
along minding her own business and
then this truck …
Yes? A truck?
(after a moment of silence,
spits out bitterly)
Some drunk drove his pickup up on
the sidewalk, smashed my fucking
window too! And the girl, she never
had a chance. Died on the spot, the
ambulance driver said. Didn’t feel
a thing. Fucking drunks! Uninsured
of course. I’m out two grand nearly
for that glass. You think I’ll ever
collect? Not a chance. Not me. No
luck at all. No fucking luck at
(shrugging and gesturing at
her husband, says to WILLIS)
He thinks HE has no luck, but what
about that girl. Seventeen she was.
A beauty queen too. Homecoming girl
what they call it.
(whistling and ogling the
I believe it! From what I can see.
She sure is something. You sure
you’re not pulling a fast one on
me? There’s a machine somewhere in
It’s no machine. It’s that girl.
It’s her ghost. Barney saw it too.
(shaking her head)
Not a thing. I don’t see nothing.
Tell you what the trick is! It’s
Barney, isn’t it? How much did he
pay you? I know what he’s like. Go
on, fun’s over. Get out of here.
I swear I’m not up to anything. I’m
just here for the day on business.
Tell you what, though. If that
really is a ghost, if that’s
something other people can see then
believe me, you’re going to have
your hands full. A girl like that.
WILLIS starts to leave but stops at the door, turns around
and comes back and hands SAM a business card.
If that’s what she says it is, you
might need some help. I know a
person. Take this, just in case.
Call me if you need to.
SAM takes the card and tosses it into the empty tip jar on
the counter. He snorts loudly as WILLIS exits the
INT: SAM’S COFFEE SHOP
The place is packed, with men. They are everywhere –
occupying all the tables and all the seats at the counter,
with several left standing as if on a crowded bus. Most are
facing the front window, while chatting with each other from
time to time. Loud conversational sounds fill the room, with
occasional snatches audible, mostly lewd observations and
suggestions concerning the ghost, her body and her age.
JOSEPHINE is by at the cash register in the front corner of
the counter, next to Barney, who has raised his bleary-eyed
What you’d expect.
Me? What I’d expect is a little
respect, not to mention it’s a
That … is not a child. And she
seems to like the attention. You
see? She’s smiling.
I don’t see, and by law she was. A minor! And these,
these filthy …
Her name. You remember her father,
Gary. Used to come in here.
Another old drunk, like you.
Not old, not like me. He only
looked it. Man was young once too,
like that, like her. Good-looking
he was but never a chance. No way.
Why’d you say that?
Born that way. Dead loser from the
moment his lips touched beer.
You men always have an excuse.
We always need one.
SAM appears at the cash register corner, out of breath and
huffing. He is wiping his sweaty brow and growling.
How’m I supposed to do it, huh?
Tell me that! All this rabble. And
of course they want service.
They’re wanting food and drinks,
like rats they are.
It’s a damn diner after all.
I want it back the way it was. I
can’t take it like this.
Maybe we should sell. Be a good
time for that.
Sell? Sell MY business? Never!
Then I guess you got to make it
What I got to do is get rid of that
So you believe me now?
Must be something there, the hell!
I can’t see nothing, but some of
Just the men, did you notice? Not a
girl or woman can ever see the
Hey, that’s true.
Damn thing’s a curse. What’d I do?
Did I drive the damn truck? No! Did
I deserve all this?
So hire some help. Most people
wouldn’t complain about money
I don’t want any help. I don’t want
any of their damn money, pouring,
dripping, drizzling or otherwise.
Look at ’em all! Even out there on
the sidewalk still.
It’s the cops who make ’em come
inside. Most would rather be out
front, where the view is, how to
Where you can see the damn thing’s
You put it!
All at one the crowd disperses rapidly, all pushing past
JOSEPHINE and out the door.
Right on time, there they go.
Morning viewing time is over.
Why? I’d like to know. Every day at
10 and 4, half an hour each time.
Who can explain it to me?
Who can explain any part of it?
It’s a mystery.
It’s a goddamn pain in the ass. Now
look at this. I got to clean up all
these cups and plates.
So? I get to do the tables and
floor. It’s our coffee shop,
remember? It’s what we do, what
we’ve done for god how many years?
You hear that? Twenty-seven years.
Don’t I know it. I just want it
back the way it was, the way it’s
supposed to be.
What about that fellow the other
What fellow? One of that crowd?
No, the first one. First one after
me I mean. Came in here all suit
You were passed out if I remember
(pointing at his skull)
Barney sees and knows.
(rummaging in the still nearly
empty tip jar)
Left his card here, didn’t he? Said
he knew someone. Ah, here it is.
Willis P. Armstrong. Los Angeles.
Shit! That’s long distance!
(searching his pockets)
Think I got a dime in here
Keep your dime. I’ll make the call.
EXT. SIDEWALK OUTSIDE SAM’S COFFEE SHOP
It is early morning and the coffee shop is not yet open. The
sidewalk is deserted except for two people: WILLIS P.
ARMSTRONG and ARLENE LIGHTNING BUG. WILLIS is extremely well
dressed, in a light blue pastel suit, purple tie and shiny
brown shoes. ARLENE is a contrast, a short, dumpy
black-haired woman of indeterminate age (forties through
sixties), covered in layers and layers of black lace
wrappings and wearing heavy black combat boots. Her
wide-brim black cowboy hat is also draped in lace. This
color scheme is only broken up by a string of large turquoise
beads around her neck. They are looking straight forward –
the glass-plated front of the coffee shop would be where the
audience is. Arlene is pointing directly a little to the
(in a crackly voice)
So that’s where she is?
No Arlene, there.
WILLIS guides her arm to point straight ahead, and we notice
that ARLENE is, if not completely blind, at least mostly so.
Ah! Yes. I can feel something, yes.
(takes a step back)
Just tell me what I can do
(waving him off)
It’s all right now. I’ve got a fix.
Now, where did I put my tinctures?
ARLENE feels through her robes and after a search brings
forth a clutch of small vials. She rubs them together
between her hands and then, one by one, she shifts a bottle
to one hand while still holding the others in the other
hand, and brings it to her nose and sniffs briefly, until
she has identified all of them by their smell. Then she
slowly kneels down on the sidewalk and carefully places them
in a half-circle pattern in front of her. Alternately
muttering and chanting, she begins to open the bottles and
splash some of each onto a different spot on the sidewalk in
front of her. Each bottle contains a different colored
(speaking out loud now)
You see, Willis, life is sticky.
Whatever comes to you, stays with
you, until you shake it off. Shake
ARLENE throws her arms around wildly as she says the second
“shake it off” and then begins to laugh in a crazy-sounding
cackle, very witch-like.
Sometimes it sticks so hard it
nails you down, right to the spot!
You can’t get away no matter how
hard you try. You are this, and
this you are.
She was such a pretty girl.
Everybody says so. I asked around.
Even as a very little girl, it was
always “oh how pretty she is”.
“Isn’t she precious?” A baby beauty
queen! They dressed her up in those
pageants, you know. Later on, the
whole thing, cheerleader, of
course. Prom Queen.
And now this.
Practically a tourist attraction.
So, we set her free then.
You think you can?
Yes, it’s almost time.
A businessman arrives and inspects the two newcomers with a
(pointing at ARLENE)
Excuse me, but that’s my spot.
Not today, pal.
I don’t know who YOU are, but that
IS my spot.
(sniffing the air)
And what’s that awful smell?
Tools, my friend.
I’m not your friend, and that’s my
I’ll give it back. I promise.
The BUSINESSMAN sighs and takes up a position just behind
and to the left of ARLENE. Other men begin to arrive, greet
each other familiarly, and take up their own positions in
what has clearly become a morning ritual. Many of them have
coffee cups and breakfast rolls in their hands. There is a
lot of chatter and banter as the day brightens, time passes
as the sidewalk fills, and then the scene quiets down as the
men begin to shush each other and a sort of awe comes over
their transfixed faces. Gloria has appeared in the window.
ARLENE reaches into her folds and brings out a box of wooden
kitchen matches. She begins to light them, one by one,
tossing each onto one of the little stains she had created
on the sidewalk. As they land, the matches flare up in
bright colors like little fireworks, followed by vivid curls
or smoke in the color of the various liquids rising from
those spots. The expression on the men’s faces change as
some form oohs and aahs and there are mutterings about how
“she’s never done that before,” and “what’s going on?”.
Their eyes lift (apparently moving from Gloria’s chest to
her face). WILLIS smiles with satisfaction and looks at
ARLENE, who puts away the matchbook and brings out a mirror
which she holds up facing directly ahead. She speaks in a
steady, quiet voice now.
This is what they see.
ARLENE pauses. We see, in the mirror only, the image of the
beautiful young woman as described earlier, but only
faintly. The image vanishes as ARLENE adjusts the mirror
slightly. This is the only glimpse of GLORIA throughout.
(slowly, and pausing several
seconds between each sentence)
This is what they see, and this is
what they think they see. This is
what they know, and this is what
they think they know. This is who
you are, and this is who you think
you are. This is what you were, and
this is what they thought you were.
This is what’s within you, and this
is what they think you are.
WILLIS starts to move forward but ARLENE holds out one arm
to keep him back. The other still holds the mirror forward.
There is utter silence.
(as before, incanting and
pausing between phrases)
This is what I was, and this is
what they thought I was. This is
what I am, and this is what they
think I am. This is how I looked,
and this is how they saw me. This
is how I look now, and this is how
they see me now. This is what’s
within me, and this is what they
think I am. This is what’s within
them and this is what they know
The men around ARLENE become uncomfortable and start to
shift in their places. One by one they show embarrassment and
turn their faces away. Like ‘the wave’ at a ballpark, it is
as if they are each in the spotlight in turn, as if GLORIA
is looking at each of them now and not in a good way.
(her voice still calm and
You are not your body. You never
were. No one is. You are not your
hair. Your are not your face. You
are not your legs. You are not your
breasts. You are not the surface of
As she lists the various body parts, some of the men begin
to back away, to turn away. Unexpectedly, the BUSINESSMAN
opens his mouth and speaks, but not in his voice. He speaks
in GLORIA’s voice.
What am I, then?
(as ever, pausing between
You, like each of us, are one
expression of an infinite. One
shade. One light. One moment. One
truth. You are your self.
A murmur ripples through the crowd as various voices are
heard saying things like “Where’d she go?” “What happened?”
“What did the old woman do?” “Where is she?”. “I guess she’s
gone”. “It’s over”. “Do you think she’ll be back”? As the
men are saying these things, WILLIS comes forward and takes
ARLENE’s arm (she has put the mirror away), and they walk
off to the side. One by one, the men disperse until the
sidewalk is back to normal again, just people passing by
(If a film, the scene could circle around to show SAM’S
COFFEE SHOP, its picture window vacant, and no one inside
except a smiling SAM, a slumped over BARNEY, and a grumpy
JOSEPHINE, as in the beginning).