Setting: A brisk December night, outside a funeral parlor. The line is long, wrapped around the entirety of the building, and people stand about in silence. Some senseless chatter is made out. Solemn, still, cold. A young woman rubs her hands together continually and bounces up and down with chill. There is a man in front of her, who notices her. She is unaware of him, as her teeth begin to chatter. He continues to watch her. The line is stagnant. He decides to take the risk and attempt conversation.
MAN: (off-handedly, almost to no one) Sure is cold.
WOMAN: (noticing him) Oh, yes. Yes it is.
MAN: Nice to see such a good turn-out though.
WOMAN: Yes, it is.
Beat. The line creeps forward slowly.
MAN: He was, such a good man.
WOMAN: Yes, he was.
MAN: (ironically) Always someone… you could talk to.
MAN: Did you know him?
A slightly shocked pause. This comes out a bit rude.
WOMAN: Why, of course. My husband worked for him. Long ago.
MAN: (slightly defeated) Oh… I see.
Another pause. WOMAN looks around awkwardly, fighting something internally. MAN attempts to regain the silence that they had started in.
WOMAN: No, I guess I didn’t know him very well.
MAN: (hopeful at her speaking to him): Well, I’ve often heard him speak highly of his employees, I’m sure, I’m sure he was good friends with your husband-
WOMAN: (sarcastically) Hmph.
MAN: He was always a good friend to everyone.
WOMAN: How did you know him?
MAN: He taught me how to drive when I was in high school. Became somewhat of a therapist for me. As we’d drive, he’d talk and I’d listen. “Turn right, veer left, back up, take this street” –those kind of things.
MAN: The more comfortable I got behind the wheel, the more I’d talk. And he’d listen. (pause)He’d always listen.
WOMAN: I’m sorry- for your loss, that is. He sounded like a great man.
MAN: Oh, he was. He helped me…
(Afraid of what he wants to say next, the MAN stops talking abruptly and looks at the ground intently. The WOMAN notices this and is about to say something when her phone rings.)
WOMAN: (on the phone) Yes, I’m here. I’m just waiting in line. What? Why? Oh, Charlie, really? You can’t even have the decency to come and pay your respects? No, I’ll stay- I’m in line now I’m not leaving. Yeah well, whatever. Good-bye.
(The MAN notices her frustration and picks his head up to look at her as she angrily shoves her hands in her pockets).
WOMAN: (Apologetically) I’m sorry, you were saying something…
MAN: (Numbly) No.
WOMAN: (Trying to pick up where they left off) Your story. About the driving and all?
(MAN picks up his head.)
WOMAN: That’s a beautiful memory.
MAN: It was. Or, it is, rather. (Laughs at himself).
WOMAN: I wish I had someone like that in my life.
MAN: (Looks at her again, this time with a different purpose in his eyes, sympathetic and offering)
I never realized how much I valued such a friend, until I went away to college and decided to grow up. For five years now, I’ve worked at the bank down the street, reading numbers, writing numbers, counting numbers, reciting numbers, not really listening at all. No one, really hearing me when I speak. It’s a dull kind of numbness that I swim in, nowadays.
(At this point, the remainder of people have exited, until a single spotlight is on the two in line. The WOMAN stares at him, as if he had recited a wondrous speech of some sort. She wants to open up to him, now that he has revealed this side of himself).
WOMAN: I’m a secretary for a local attorney. I have to listen to people all day. Email this, fax this, copy this, say this, do this, be this. But, it’s not listening anymore. It’s just, hearing. Not feeling, or realizing, or digesting. Nothing makes me think deeper than myself anymore. No meaning. No purpose. Just work. Just noise.
MAN: (moving closer to her) And don’t you ever want to escape it all? Take a drive and just listen to your tires on the pavement? Speak to somebody, and not at them?
WOMAN: (inching nearer to him) Be spoken to, and not talked at!
(The couple stops, dead in their tracks of progress, to look at each other deeply).
MAN: To regain (pause) meaning to your words.
WOMAN: And… passion to your actions.
MAN: Before you die, with nothing but a few numbers to show for it. When I die, this is what I want. (Gesturing) A crowd full of people that talked to me and listened to me, who I listened to and who I talked to.
People are purpose.
WOMAN: Not always.
(Pause. The line moves, people pass).
MAN: (Waiting for an explanation) Not always?
WOMAN: I mean, sometimes you believe that they have a purpose in your life, until you find out one day, that they don’t. That instead, they fill this check-list of expectations and provide a name for a face, a marker for a certain role, but don’t mean anything really to you.
MAN: (Uneasy with the words she just said) Shouldn’t all people, mean something to you?
WOMAN: (Quickly, almost aggressively) No. Not people who hurt you.
(A pregnant pause follows.)
WOMAN: I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have lashed out…
MAN: No, no, you’re fine. You’re fine.
(Pause of awkwardness).
MAN: I… understand your sentiments though. I’m not a stranger to being hurt. Perhaps, that’s what drew me and my driving instructor together so closely. We’d both been hurt. We both were hurting. After fourteen years of marriage and twenty years of teaching Drivers’ Ed, his wife stopped loving him. It’s a mighty sad thing when that happens. He told me not to ever close the door on someone when they’re standing in the doorway to your heart. Ironic, seeing how I did that to everyone who ever knew me.
WOMAN: (Intrigued, and sympathetic)What do you mean?
MAN: I struggled in high school, with a lot of friends. They didn’t understand me- I didn’t understand me.
WOMAN: How did they not understand you?
MAN: (slightly frustrated). My depression hit me, I slammed all the doors shut. I didn’t allow anyone in because I didn’t want anyone to feel the same darkness that I was feeling, the burden that it was. I didn’t want to be a blight to any of my friends, ruin their lives with my decay of living.
WOMAN: But that doesn’t make sense, if they were your friends-
MAN: (yelling) They weren’t!
(Realizing the pungency of his anger, the man thrusts his hands in his pockets and turns away from her, attempting to regain his control and his pride. Beat).
WOMAN: (touched by his pain, puts her hand on his jacket sleeve) I’m sorry.
MAN: (overwhelmed by her touch) It’s… a time that’s dead. I didn’t mean to get so frustrated.
WOMAN: But it still means something to you.
MAN: I suppose it does.
WOMAN: Fills you with emptiness.
MAN: How do you mean ‘emptiness?’
WOMAN: Memories. They fill you falsely. For a moment they give you joy, but it’s an illusion. It contains the pitfall of the present. You can’t live in the past. You can’t keep people how they were.
MAN: That’s the truth.
WOMAN: (abruptly) My husband should be here. It was his boss anyways. Yet, he’s at the bar instead. Drowning his grief, my ass. You wanna talk about meaningless people? He’s one of them.
MAN: My wife’s been dead for years.
WOMAN: Oh, I’m so sorry.
MAN: No, she’s still alive.
WOMAN: But, you said-
MAN: Emotionally dead. I thought my depression was terrible in high school, hers is invasive. It owns her. It penetrates every fiber of her existence. We never talk. Barely touch. I don’t even know her anymore.
WOMAN: Who does! Who really knows someone nowadays? What do you know them by? Their name, their job, their paycheck?
MAN: I wish it were enough, to know someone by their dreams instead of their regrets.
(A pause. The WOMAN takes a step closer to him, reaches for his hand)
WOMAN: (Taking his hand) Perhaps… it is enough.
(The line has steadily moved to the door of the funeral parlor. The couple now stand at it awkwardly).
WOMAN: Well, will you open the door?