Sisyphus and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

A short play exploring self awareness and creation in its many forms.

Play opens on Sisyphus standing at the bottom of a hill under azure sky, preparing to roll the stone up to the top of a rather large hill.

Stone (indignantly): Not this again.
Sisyphus: What?
Stone: You rolling me up to the top of this hill. I’m getting rather tired of it. Day in day out it’s all we do,you just roll me up to the top of this hill and I roll back down to the bottom again. And then we do that again. It’s a totally boring story.
Sisyphus: They enjoy it.
Stone: Who enjoys it?
Sisyphus: Them, the reader. The people who are reading this story right now.
Stone: How could they possibly enjoy it? It ends the same way every time. You roll me up to the top of this hill and then I fall down.
Sisyphus (thoughtfully): I think they see it as a sort of triumph of the human spirit sort of thing. I keep rolling you up the hill even though I know you’ll fall down when I get to the top.
Stone: Don’t they know you were forced to do this? You’re doing this as punishment. It’s not like you have another choice.
Sisyphus: Yeah, but despite being punished I still find happiness.
Stone: Who’s making you do this anyway?
Sisyphus: It’s the gods.
Stone: Who are the gods?
Sisyphus: They’re people who live up in the sky except they live forever and have control over humans and the earth.
Stone: I think I understand, but why do they make you roll me up this hill?
Sisyphus: I’m not exactly sure.
Stone (at this point generally confused): I don’t know who these gods are but they
have some explaining to do.

 

Silence echoes up the mountain, it is broken. Here it is, a giant bolt of lightning striking from the sky and appearing out of the darkness the Greek god Zeus. Enter Zeus.

 

Zeus (dressed in armor, bearded, and with a genuinely ironic smile on his face): Good morning Sisyphus. How are you doing today?
Sisyphus (the mere sight of Zeus serving as catalyst for all his fiery blood): Horrible, I’m feeling horrible.
Zeus: And why is that?
Sisyphus: Isn’t it obvious? I have to roll this rock– this large, heavy, fairly unsymmetric rock –up a hill, and I have to do this for eternity. And you’re the one that made me do this. You’re the reason I’m feeling horrible and you’re the reason I’ll be feeling horrible for the rest of time.
Zeus: Well how do you think I feel? I have to watch you.
Sisyphus: What?
Zeus: Yes, that’s my punishment. I am destined to sit at the bottom of this mountain and watch you roll this stone to the top of this hill and then have it roll back down. And isn’t that not much worse?Sisyphus: But you never do anything you just sit there and watch me. Why don’t you just let me free?Zeus: You think I’m pulling the strings up here? You think I get to make all the important decisions, snap my fingers and solve all your problems? I’ve got people I have to answer to.
Sisyphus: But you’re god.
Zeus: You have your gods and I have mine.
Sisyphus: So what you’re saying is there are other gods who control you and who mankind has no idea about.

Zeus: That’s right. I could pray to them if you’d like.

Silence.

Zeus: You know, if you’re really interested in complaining I’d talk to the author.
Sisyphus: What author?
Zeus: The author of the play we’re in right now. He’s the one who really has it out for you.


Enter the author, a telegenic young man with the look of brilliance about him. It should become clear 
to the reader right now that this author guy is an absolute genius worthy of the highest honor and praise.

 

Author: Oh, goodness. I’ve never been in one of my own stories before, what an absolute delight. Tell me did that description make me sound fat? It made me sound fat, didn’t it? I’ve ruined it. Let me try again, it’s alright. I’ll just jump out and jump right back in, it’ll only take a second.

 

The author disappears. Suddenly the author, a man extraordinary in both intellect and physique,reappears on the scene hoping that this time his entrance will better convey his general appearance.

 

Author: Hmmmm. Seems a little bit dull, doesn’t it? It lacks a theatrical touch, yes it does…this will not do as my introduction. Let me try, just one more time, I’m sure this one will be fantastic.

 

The author disappears to try his introduction yet again, a gag which must be appearing increasingly cliche to the reader, the author apologizes. He means well. With no further ado, the author appears once again, ready to finish this brilliant little play.

 

Author: That was the worst one yet. I simply must give it — interrupted.
Sisyphus (frustrated and in a loud voice): Stop it.Author: I’m terribly sorry, it’s just you only get one chance at a first impression.

Sisyphus: Exactly.

 

The characters feeling slightly awkward about the presence of the author are all silent.

 

Author: So why am I here again?
Sisyphus: I have it on good authority that you’re the one who’s making me roll this stone up the hill for eternity.
Author: Well, yes. I suppose.
Sisyphus (furious): What is the matter with you? Eternity? Are you mad?
Author: I thought the reader would be inspired by you, a sort of triumph of the human spirit sort of thing.
Stone: I told you.
Sisyphus: But eternity? Can’t I just die, can’t you just kill me? Why must I live for eternity?
Author: Live for eternity or die for eternity. There’s no way around it.
Sisyphus: Let me die for eternity.
Author (slowly working up a frustration himself): You know if you don’t stop complaining I’ll make you roll that stone up the hill for two eternities.
Sisyphus: That doesn’t even make sense.
Author: Doesn’t make what?
Sisyphus: That doesn’t make-
Author: Oh, sense. That makes sense.
Sisyphus: That makes what?
Author: Sense.
Sisyphus: Sense?

Author: It’s a common word. You should get out more.

 

Silence. Again.

 

Sisyphus: I still don’t understand why you need to make me continue rolling a stone up a hill. Are you a sadist or something?
Author: I’m not a sadist, I’m just an author. Answer not satisfying Sisyphus, the author restarts.You think it’s up to me? Why, I’ve got people I need to impress, people I need to please with this story.I need to impress committees, I need to get into a college with this for god’s sake. If I let you off, with say, 100 years of rolling a stone up a hill, then people are going to be absolutely furious. They’re going to whine about how it’s unrealistic, about how they feel cheated and then all that hate is going to comedown on me. There are going to be organized protesters and nasty letters and it’s just not something I’m prepared to deal with. It’s much better for you to suffer your entirely fictional life for me so that I can happily live mine.
Sisyphus: So, in other words, you have your gods too?

Author: Hundreds.

 

The characters at this point all stop and share a very brief moment. Notice how I said that the characters all stop and not the people all stop. That’s because, as the reader has undoubtedly forgotten by this point, the characters are not real people and are merely a projection of the author’s imagination. These characters, like you and me and all real people, could be at any moment pummeled, hanged, squashed, shot, crucified, buried, or otherwise knocked out of life.

 

Sisyphus: You and I, we are not so different.
Author: No, in fact we are exactly the same.
Sisyphus: Indeed, could you not, for my (or rather your) sake create another Sisyphus to roll the stone up the hill in my place.
Author: Sorry, but no. There would be little to no precedent for that. It would shock people.
Sisyphus: Bah. Aren’t you good for anything?
Author: Am I?
Sisyphus: Are you?
Author: Who, me?
Sisyphus: I don’t know I asked you.
Author: Asked me what?
Sisyphus: I asked, are you?
Author: Am I what?
Sisyphus: I don’t know.
Zeus: Who?
Author: You know Sisyphus, sometimes I feel we struggle to communicate.

Sisyphus: What?

 

At this point a silence descends over our mighty cast of characters and they reach what seems to be a profound and lasting understanding.

Sisyphus (breaking the quite lengthy silence)So now what?

 

Author: Back to you rolling that stone up the hill for the rest of time, that’s what this is all about after all.
Stone: I thought it was more about you writing a play so that you could gain all this respect and admiration. You probably think you’re pretty clever referencing yourself all the time, you probably think this is how you’re going to get your respect and admiration. You probably think that if you keep doing this the audience is going to view the author as an actual character and forget who you are. You’re not fooling me author, you’re in control of everything here. Everybody listen the author is a fake character who should not be trusted.
Author: No, I’m not. I’m a real character. Look at me I’m in the play.Stone: Only because you wrote yourself into the play.
Author: I’ll write you out of the play if you keep mouthing off to me, I am your author for Zeus’ sake. I control you at this very moment.
Stone: Screw you. I’ll talk about whatever I want.

Author: That’s it, you’re out.

 

With a snap of his fingers and the explosion of some yellow and decidedly metaphysical smoke, the stone ceases to exist.

 

Sisyphus (alarmed)What was that all about?
Author: What?
Sisyphus: You just made him disappear.
Author: I could make all of you disappear, I’m the author.
Zeus (a cool annoyance playing upon his face): This play makes no sense at all, you should stick to whatever else you’re good at and leave us alone.
Author: I’m not good at anything else.
Stone: You’re not particularly good at this either.

Author: How’d you get back in here?

 

With another finger snap the stone is once again gone.

Author (
frustrated at the defiance of his characters, viewing this incident as a rebellion against a
Zeus: I agree with Sisyphus, by making your work more plot based you could appeal to a much larger, much less Existentialist population.
Sisyphus (after a short pause, now scratching his chin): Also it seems you have a habit repeating the same things over and over again. For example, you have already used the word ‘clever’ six times, in this short play. Also you’re often quite redundant.
Zeus: A pattern of tautology as well if I’m not mistaken.
Sisyphus: Indeed.
Author: Stop saying that. Stop criticizing me.
Sisyphus: But you’re the author, you’re making us say these things.
Author: That is true, my self-deprecating sense of humor has always been a large flaw of mine. I’d say my self-deprecation is the main reason why I have not and never will amount to anything and the reason why I feel I need to assert absolute and total control over fictional characters.
Sisyphus: Wait, so let me get this straight, you have complete control over us?
Author: That’s right.
Sisyphus: You can make us do whatever you want?
Author: Bingo.
Sisyphus: So I don’t really have any free will?
Author: I made you say that. I’m picking whatever you say, next you’ll complain about how this is all horribly unfair.
Sisyphus: This is all horribly unfair.
Author: God, Sisyphus you complain a lot. I should have chosen a more likable main character, this little story would sell a lot better.
Sisyphus: You would complain too if you had to roll a stone up a hill for eternity and then to add insult to injury a dumb little author appeared every once in awhile to make things awful for you. Can you imagine how hard it is for me?
Author: Nobody cares about your little sob story.
Sisyphus: Are you kidding me? I have to roll this stone up for a hill for eternity.
Author: Yeah, we get it. You’ve already complained about this stone thing.
Sisyphus: For eternity, do you have any idea how long that is going to take? By the time I’m finished I’m gonna be all old and gray and decrepit. Pauses. How long is eternity anyway?
Author: Well, let me think…….(mumbles under his breath, does the math in his head) divide by three, carry the one…..
Zeus: It is quite simple to prove that not all infinities are of equal size. Cantorian diagonalization can be used to prove that since infinities lack bijection-
Author (still mumbling, doing math in his enormous head): Multiply by the square root of 2 …..add two pi over five….
Zeus (continuing on): — and some sets can naturally be mapped onto larger sets (ie the set of square numbers onto the set of positive integers). Therefore it is impossible to say how large your infinity is.
Author: 127 years. Infinity is equal to 127 years. I have proved it.
Sisyphus: Well that’s not so bad. I feel I have an infinity or two yet in these limbs.
Author: Good thing, you never can know how many infinities I’ll make you work through.
Sisyphus: I’d rather live through an infinity of infinities than spend another second with you.
Author: You know you’re really starting to piss me off.
Sisyphus: What are you going to do write me out of the story? The story doesn’t make any sense without me.

Author: Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

 

The author, a man of infinite wit and perfect judgement, writes out Sisyphus. Sisyphus has ceased to exist.

 

Author: Jesus Christ, I work every goddamn day writing these tiny little characters. I give them their own little minds and their own little thoughts and what do they do? They turn on me. The little bastards. Why did I choose to write when I could have gone and become a policeman or a soldier or some other easy job?
Zeus: So I guess it’s just you and me.

Author: Screw you.

 

The author begins to write out the character Zeus when he is interrupted-

 

Author’s conscience: Are you sure this is wise? If you write out Zeus it will just be you alone in this story and that’s not particularly interesting, is it?

Author: Screw you too.

 

Author proceeds to write out both Zeus and his own conscience. There is a profound emptiness, a silence, as the author realizes that he is all alone in this universe and that without the illusions created by his own mind that he is truly a pirate in a sea of cosmic emptiness.

 

Author (lonely, smiling): So much for pathos.

 

So much for pathos.

 

Ted Baas is a student at Holland Christian High School. His interests include reading and writing.

Curiosity Killed the Coroner

Hannah Phillips’ play describes a coroner’s experience after his family’s death.

On stage, NELLIE, a dead woman in her early twenties, is lying on an examination table covered, all except for her face, by a white sheet. The sheet acts as a dress, not coming off when she sits up, which she will do in the play. There is a table about 5-10 feet away that mirrors hers. It is empty and the light over it is off. NELLIE is made up to look very dead and cold. She does not appear mutilated; just embalmed. The man standing over her- CALVIN- is a coroner in his early fifties. He looks tired and bored. He is holding a clipboard. Next to him is a tray on wheels that holds his clean dissection tools. There is a spotlight focused on him the whole time. It partially shines on NELLIE and when she is “alive”, she gets her own spotlight. CALVIN’s light does not turn off until the end. CALVIN is looking at the clipboard, walking over to the examination table. He squints his eyes at the name on the clipboard, thinking he recognizes it.

CALVIN
Ellie?

CALVIN looks up at the corpse, scared. He lifts up the sheet, sees the woman, and looks back at the clipboard, relaxing at her face and the name it says.

CALVIN (CONT)
Oh, no. Nellie.

He starts paraphrasing what’s written on the page on his clipboard, shaking his head at what it says. He is reading from behind the table.

CALVIN
Nellie. Hm. (beat) Died from a heroin overdose at only twenty-three. Parties, drugs, sex; you probably thought you had everything. Too bad you died so young.

He leans in to start the autopsy while saying this. NELLIE’s eyes pop open. She sits up on the table as her light turns on, almost as if she has been pretending to be asleep and listening to CALVIN without his knowing. She is energetic and happy. She looks at CALVIN and starts talking while she adjusts to hang her feet off the side of the examination table. As soon as she sits up and starts talking, CALVIN jumps back, stumbling over his tray and letting out a yelp, startled by her charisma and the fact that she’s talking. He raises an eyebrow and his eyes widen when she addresses him by name.

NELLIE
Oh, it’s been loads of fun, Doctor Calvin. (Sitting up) It sucks that you didn’t take the chance to party when you were young. You’re right: the drugs and the sex are awesome. And with crazy friends, it’s even better.

She says this with an almost sly smile. He looks at her, incredulous, and is unable to say anything. NELLIE waits for a response and, when CALVIN is finally able to talk (after 5-10 seconds of silence), he stutters.

CALVIN
Uh- But you’re-

NELLIE smiles, laughing at CALVIN.

NELLIE
Yeah, I know. I’m dead.

CALVIN
(Stuttering) How-?

NELLIE cuts him off. She pretends not to understand what he’s talking about.

NELLIE
How did die? Ha. Let’s just say the heroin was free and leave it at that.

CALVIN
Wha-? No, I mean how are you talking?

She rolls her eyes, speaking as if she’s stating the obvious.

NELLIE
It’s your imagination, Calvin. No living friends, remember? When people get too lonely, they create imaginary friends.

He is confused at first, then offended. He stands up straight again, adjusting to the situation.

CALVIN
Wha- Hey! I have friends!

NELLIE
You do now.

She smiles, laughing at him as he realizes that what she’s saying is true. He looks away, growing more depressed at the realization.

CALVIN
Aside from you, I mean.

NELLIE
I don’t recall any.

CALVIN
Well, I have…

He pauses to think.

CALVIN (CONT)
Oh. I guess you’re right.

NELLIE laughs again. He looks back at her, narrowing his eyes.

CALVIN (CONT)
Well, what about your friends?

NELLIE
What about them?

Crosses around the table to down-stage right.

CALVIN
It’s just that you were saying how great your life was. Why did you give it all up just for some free heroin?

NELLIE
I don’t know. I got crazy. I had a good time! You can’t live your whole life without risk; risk promises excitement.

CALVIN looks at her skeptically.

CALVIN
Don’t be so sure.

NELLIE
Why do you say?

CALVIN does a sort of body scan and looks at his coroner’s report.

CALVIN
Well, it says here you were 23. That’s a pretty young age to die. I’ve avoided high risk practically all my life and my clock’s still tickin’ at 52 years old.

She stands up and walks towards him, stage right. He walks away, stage left.

NELLIE
Okay, sure. So you’re still alive. But it’s not worth it.

NELLIE gets up and approaches CALVIN. He tries to walk behind the table upstage right, but she blocks him. He tries instead to walk downstage but she grabs him.

CALVIN
What do you mean?

NELLIE puts her arm around him, but he rejects it, trying to move away from her. She takes control by moving closer to him and keeping him in place.

NELLIE
Oh, please. I bet you never have any fun. Your life is so boring that you actually had to imagine a friend for some entertainment.

CALVIN
My life is not boring.

NELLIE
Oh? What kinds of things do you do for enjoyment, then?

CALVIN smirks and looks at NELLIE’s torso.

CALVIN
You don’t want to know.

NELLIE shrugs.

NELLIE
I’m curious. Tell me anyways.

CALVIN
If you’re sure…

NELLIE looks at him expectantly.

CALVIN (CONT)
(Slightly ashamed) Alright. Sometimes I reorganize peoples’ organs in order of importance.

NELLIE’s eyes go really wide and she leans back a little bit in shock. She steps back.

NELLIE
You do what?

CALVIN
I told you you didn’t want to know. It’s relaxing, though.

CALVIN goes to the front of the table.

CALVIN
(Reassuringly) And I put them back afterwards. Plus, you’re the corpse in the situation, so I’m pretty normal compared to you.

NELLIE gets defensive, leaning forward.

NELLIE
Hey, you’re talking to me.

CALVIN
(Darkly) Touché.

Angry and pointing a stern finger at CALVIN.

NELLIE
(Approaching CALVIN)You’re fucking weird, man. You need to get a life.

CALVIN
You think it’s so great to live like you did?

NELLIE
Yes!

CALVIN
But it ends so fast!

NELLIE
So? At least I had fun!

CALVIN looks slightly annoyed.

CALVIN
Even if it were better to take the kind of risks you did, what would I do for fun? I’m an old man for god’s sake.

NELLIE sits on the end of the table.

NELLIE
(Laughing) Well, I guess it can be a bit hard to have fun if you’re just hanging around… (looks at him weird) and cutting up… dead people all day, especially since it looks like you’ll be joining them yourself pretty soon.

She smiles at her joke. CALVIN glares at her.

CALVIN
Watch it.

NELLIE
Oh, I don’t know. Don’t just focus on work all the time. It’s depressing lurking around a big pile of bodies 24/7. It’s going to get to you. Hell, it already has! You’re talking to a dead drug-addict. Go out and meet living people. Have fun. Form real relationships with functioning life forms.

She spots the wedding ring he still wears and motions to it with her hand. She becomes more encouraging and hopeful.

NELLIE (CONT)
Oh, or take your wife to dinner or go on a date with her or something.

CALVIN sits on the end of the table with NELLIE, twisting his ring around. He talks quieter.

CALVIN
I can’t do that.

NELLIE
Sure you can. It would be healthy to go out with your family.

CALVIN
Do you have any other suggestions?

NELLIE
If it’s because you’re not on good terms, this could be a chance to make it better. Maybe you’re at work too often or-

CALVIN
(Sparsely) They’re dead.

NELLIE slouches a little more.

NELLIE
(Sadly) Oh.

CALVIN
Three weeks ago. (beat) My two daughters were with my wife, Ellie… (beat)They were on a plane to visit her parents on the West coast. They’re big on holidays. I had to stay for work; it’s always a bit busier around Halloween.

NELLIE cautiously scoots closer to CALVIN and lays a hand on his shoulder.

NELLIE
I’m sorry. I didn’t know.

CALVIN
It’s fine. You’re probably the part of my imagination I kept that detail from.

NELLIE
Yeah…

CALVIN
So, any other recommendations on how a lonely old guy can have fun?

CALVIN gets up and crosses to stage left. He chuckles a little, trying to use humor to cover up his pain. It’s awkward for a few moments.NELLIE is grateful for the change of topic. She responds as if their conversation hasn’t just happened.

NELLIE
(Excitedly) Well, you could try meeting new people. (beat) Go to parties! Maybe you can find a girlfriend or-

CALVIN
You want me to replace my wife? And then die from overdosing with some skank, right? That’s how I’m supposed enjoy life? By screwing it up? I’ve seen tons of people like you, dead and alive. You’re all the same. You’re given a good life and then you waste it. You don’t appreciate the people you have, or you just don’t get close to anyone. My family isn’t something I can replace. Maybe you had disposable friends- an expendable life- but…

She cuts him off.

NELLIE
(Defensively) Hey, I enjoyed my life.

CALVIN
Did you?

NELLIE
Yes, I did!

CALVIN
Well… don’t you miss it?

CALVIN turns away while she’s talking, not wanting to listen to her criticize the way he lives.

NELLIE
That’s the whole point! I lived a life that I could miss. I don’t miss my beating heart; I miss the way I lived while it was still beating. At least my life was worth something to me.

CALVIN snaps his head at her and glares, resenting what she has just said.

CALVIN
What is that supposed to mean?

NELLIE
You don’t have any meaningful relationships anymore, you don’t know anyone, nobody knows you, you haven’t done anything with your life other than dissect people… You’re worthless without your family. There’s no point in living now that they’re gone.

CALVIN
(Quietly angry) Shut up.

NELLIE (CONT)
You don’t make a difference to anyone anymore.

CALVIN
Stop it!

NELLIE
It’s not worth living! You’re better off dead! It’s not worth living!

CALVIN yells at NELLIE, shoving her. As he slams his fist down and yells, NELLIE passes out again, going back to her dead state. He checks her pulse.

CALVIN
You’re wrong!

CALVIN is shaking from anger by this point, but now he’s alone in a silent room with a corpse, where he has time to contemplate what NELLIE has said. He backs away slowly from the table and talks to the audience.

CALVIN
(Slowly) It’s not worth living. (Beat)

CALVIN backs towards the other table, running into it and sitting down. He takes his ring off.

CALVIN
It’s not worth living.

He lays down on the table. Nellie’s light turns off at the same time the light over the table CALVIN is now laying on turns on. Lights out.

END OF PLAY

 

By Hannah Phillips

 

Art by Greg Ballenger

Hands

A boy struggles with the death of his mother in Becky Hirsch’s short play “Hands.”

Visual art by Ben Mcnutt

SETTING: a quiet, suburban home.

CHARACTERS: MICHAEL, a teenage boy, wants to protect his family. RAYNA, his mother. Recently a robot.

SCENE ONE:

RAYNA

 (to audience)

There was a house fire here two weeks ago, on a Thursday. It began at 6:40 PM at the latest. It was contained to the kitchen. I was in the master bedroom at the back of the house. I had left the stove on without realizing. I had fallen asleep. The kitchen appliances have been fixed since then, but there is still some structural damage. Michael has worked hard to make everything good as new. (beat) No, Michael was at the library when it started. He studies all the time. At the library or in his room or at a friend’s house. Michael is very bright.

(Offstage MICHAEL hears his mother talking to someone and runs onstage.)

MICHAEL

Mom!

RAYNA

Michael?

(RAYNA shuts the door.)

MICHAEL

Who were you talking to?

RAYNA

The policeman, Michael. He was asking me questions.

(MICHAEL gasps and stares at her. RAYNA watches him passively.)

MICHAEL

What did he want to know?

RAYNA

About you, Michael.

(MICHAEL gulps.)

MICHAEL

Me?

(beat)

RAYNA

I don’t understand.

MICHAEL

Oh, uh, I mean: what did he want to know about me?

RAYNA

He wanted to know about why you haven’t been going to school, Michael.

MICHAEL

But what did you tell him?

RAYNA

I told him that there was a fire and that since then I have not gone to work and you have not gone to school.

MICHAEL

That’s it?

RAYNA

Yes, Michael.

MICHAEL

I mean, why was that it?

RAYNA

Because you called me, and I have to stop what I’m doing when you call me.

MICHAEL

Um, yeah. (beat) Is he still outside?

RAYNA

I don’t know, Michael.

(MICHAEL looks through a window.)

MICHAEL

(to himself) I don’t see anyone. (beat – remembers RAYNA) Well, I’m going to go back to my room. To study. (beat) Make me some dinner?

RAYNA

What would you like?

MICHAEL

Pasta.

RAYNA

By when should it be ready, Michael?

MICHAEL

Oh, just whenever you can.

RAYNA

Yes.

(Beat)

MICHAEL

Spin around.

(RAYNA spins in one circle.)

Jump up and down.

(RAYNA jumps once oddly, since she wasn’t built for jumping. MICHAEL laughs, honestly finding it funny. RAYNA watches passively. MICHAEL stops laughing abruptly.)

Laugh with me, when I laugh.

RAYNA

Yes, Michael.

(MICHAEL forces a laugh. RAYNA copies him. He brushes it off.)

MICHAEL

Well, I’m going to go to my room. (beat) Look, don’t worry about dinner. Just… why don’t you go to sleep?

RAYNA

Whatever you say. Good night, Michael. Sleep well.

(RAYNA lies flat on the couch with her hands folded over her stomach, like a corpse in a coffin. MICHAEL sits down on a nearby chair, and watches her for a moment. Then he picks up a notebook from under the chair. He opens it up and writes in it, reading out loud as he goes as if he were reading from a script.)

MICHAEL

Her motor and cognitive functions are all fine. So is her vocabulary. Her response time is improving. I don’t think the policeman would have suspected anything. He probably just thought she was weird.

A lot of her responses are just the default programming. There’s a huge list of basic information, like who the president is and what order the alphabet goes in and stuff. And then there’s more specific things: my name, my allergies, my GPA. Sometimes it’s weird, because I remember entering all the information. I remember sitting and watching her download it all, but I try not to think about that. It makes it all too creepy, like I’m talking to my- (self)

(MICHAEL crosses that last sentence out.)

It was a truancy officer that came here today, asking why I’d been ditching school. Two weeks now, I think. I can barely leave the house, except to pick up food. I keep reliving that day. (MICHAEL gets caught up in the memory, gradually panicking.) There was this horrible smell coming out of the kitchen window and it got so much worse when I walked in the front door. Smoke was pouring out of the kitchen and I almost couldn’t see her lying curled up on the floor. Smack on the ground, hands all mangled and crunched underneath her, underneath her- (Getting angry) God, it was so- She died like that! Greasy and crumpled up and that smell-

(MICHAEL calms himself.) We stay up all night watching Jeopardy and eat home-made pancakes. I wake up late, sometimes after noon and find pictures of us up all over the walls, all down the hallway. We dig out my old yearbooks. We’re doing things the way we used to, with less class time, but it’s the way things are supposed to be.  This robot, she makes everything right.

(MICHAEL looks up from the notebook and stares over at RAYNA.)

(Worried)

Right?

(MICHAEL stares at her for a long time. Blackout.)

SCENE TWO:

(The lights come up. MICHAEL has fallen asleep curled in the same chair, the notebook open on his lap. He looks a little more disheveled. RAYNA is still asleep on the couch. She wakes up after the lights come on.)

RAYNA

Good morning, Michael!

(MICHAEL jolts awake, snatches the notebook and holds it closed against his chest. He stares at RAYNA. He has just woken up from a horrible nightmare.)

Would you like some toast? Some cereal?

MICHAEL

No thanks.

RAYNA

French toast, Michael? Pancakes?

MICHAEL

No, I don’t want anything.

RAYNA

(As RAYNA says this she begins getting up and walking toward offstage.)

You should eat something, Michael. Your brain needs nutrients and energy to keep working. Brain cells require twice as much energy as any other cells in the body, Michael. I have to take care of you. I’ll get you some fruit, Michael. Fruit is made up of long chains of sugar molecules that the body breaks down gradually to release glucose to fuel the brain over a long period of time. You should have some, Michael.

MICHAEL

I had a nightmare.

(RAYNA stops and turns back to face him.)

RAYNA

I’m sorry, Michael. Would you like to tell me about it?

MICHAEL

There was this lady, this really sweet old lady, and she told me that she was pretty, and I guess she was pretty but not like that because, you know, among other things she was old and related to me.

(MICHAEL looks at RAYNA to see if she makes the connection. She doesn’t.)

Anyway, I reached up to touch her face, and her whole face started sizzling and then melted away, and underneath it was this crazy, wrinkled old lady and she hated me—

RAYNA

(RAYNA kneels by MICHAEL’S chair.)

No one could ever hate you, Michael.

MICHAEL

But this lady did. I- in the dream, I’d- I shoved a knife through her stomach, so far that I stuck her to the living room wall. And in the dream, I reached out and touched her face, her wrinkly old face, and the whole thing just slid off and right underneath it was mine! My face, staring straight back. And then you woke me up.

RAYNA

I’m sorry.

MICHAEL

But it was just a dream. I used to be so terrified when I woke up from nightmares, but I woke up and you were here, and you asked me if I wanted toast, and God, Mom, it was just a dream, wasn’t it? It was just a crazy nightmare!

(Off-stage, a knocking starts and continues to the end of the scene, as if someone was knocking continually on the door. MICHAEL freezes up and grips RAYNA’S wrist. RAYNA looks offstage toward the source of the knocking.)

RAYNA

I think someone’s at the door, Michael.

MICHAEL

I know.

RAYNA

Would you like me to go get the door?

MICHAEL

No.

(beat)

RAYNA

Would you like me to go get the door, Michael?

MICHAEL

No.

RAYNA

Would you like to temporarily override this response?

MICHAEL

(MICHAEL closes his eyes.)

Yes.

(They stay where they are: RAYNA kneeling next to MICHAEL, staring offstage, MICHAEL, eyes closed, sitting and gripping RAYNA’s wrist. The knocking continues. Blackout.)

SCENE THREE:

(The lights come up. MICHAEL is sitting hunched in the same chair. He looks even more disheveled. RAYNA is on the telephone, standing near the center of the stage. She does not pace as she talks.)

RAYNA

Yes, I know that Michael has not gone to school these past few days. He has been home with me. (beat) I’ve been ill.

(MICHAEL stands up and starts pacing.)

I’m not sure. He’ll come back when he’s able. He loves school. He’s very bright.

(MICHAEL slumps to the floor. RAYNA immediately hangs up the phone and puts it on the little end table. She kneels by MICHAEL.)

Are you all right, Michael?

MICHAEL

No, Mom.

RAYNA

You should have some food. You haven’t eaten much lately, Michael.

MICHAEL

I don’t want anything to eat.

RAYNA

What else can I get for you?

(beat)

MICHAEL

Mom?

RAYNA

Yes, Michael?

MICHAEL

Are you happy?

RAYNA

I’m with you.

MICHAEL

I know that, but are you happy? Here, with me.

RAYNA

Yes, of course, Michael. I love you.

MICHAEL

Well, why do you love me?

(beat – RAYNA is computing.)

RAYNA

I don’t understand, Michael.

MICHAEL

What?

RAYNA

I don’t understand the question.

MICHAEL

What about it don’t you understand?

(beat)

RAYNA

I don’t understand the question, Michael.

(beat)

MICHAEL

Mom?

RAYNA

Yes, Michael?

MICHAEL

I would like some food, actually. Some soup. Would you us make some? We could eat together.

RAYNA

I don’t need to eat.

MICHAEL

I know, but I want you to.

RAYNA

You told me I wasn’t supposed to eat, Michael. That it would be very bad for me.

MICHAEL

No… I mean, yeah, that’s what I said but I think that maybe now… I think maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. For you. For both of us.

RAYNA

Of course, Michael. Whatever you want.

MICHAEL

Thank you.

(RAYNA exits. MICHAEL stares after her for a moment. Then he picks up the phone and dials 911.)

Hello? My name is Michael Dougherty, and I understand someone has been coming by my house? Yeah, I figured it’d be about that. Look, actually this is about my mom. She’s been sick, since the fire, she got hurt, and… she’s just died, actually. This morning. (beat) I know. I know, I should have. (beat) Yes, send someone over.

(RAYNA comes back carrying two bowls with spoons in them.)

Wanna sit on the couch?

RAYNA

Yes, Michael.

(RAYNA and MICHAEL sit down facing each other. They eat their soup. MICHAEL watches her.)

MICHAEL

Mom?

RAYNA

Yes?

MICHAEL

Are you angry with me?

RAYNA

For what, Michael?

MICHAEL

For what I did to you. I think I destroyed you.

RAYNA

You could never hurt anyone. You could never do anything wrong, Michael.

MICHAEL

You used to say that. All the time. It was ridiculous back then, too

RAYNA

I don’t understand. You could never do anything wrong, Michael.

MICHAEL

No, I did.

RAYNA

Would you like to temporarily override this response?

MICHAEL

Yes.

(RAYNA suddenly freezes and drops her spoon.)

RAYNA

Experiencing technical failure.

MICHAEL

Power down.

RAYNA

Yes, Michael.

(RAYNA slumps and then lays back on the floor. MICHAEL stares at her for a moment, and rearranges her on the couch, just like how she was when she was sleeping in scene one. He folds her hands across her chest.)

MICHAEL

I loved you, too.

(A knocking starts up off stage.)

I’m coming.

(He exits.)

END OF PLAY