About the Play
The Other Half by Mark Cornell is the 2019 winner of SETC’s Charles M. Getchell New Play Contest.
SYNOPSIS: The Other Half is a love story. It centers around Michelle, a tough, but damaged young woman, and John and Luke, the identical twins in her life, one of whom she falls in love with. Set in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in Placerville, California, the play tells its story jumping backwards and forwards over a six-year period.
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
JOHN, late 20s to 30s
MICHELLE, late 20s to 30s
LUKE, late 20s to 30s, John’s identical twin brother and Michelle’s husband
(The characters of John and Luke will be played by the same actor.)
Various locations in and around Placerville, CA.
All sets should be minimal.
From 2011 to 2017.
Fall. 2017. Late afternoon. A living room in a small house in Placerville in Northern California. In glasses, MICHELLE, 30s, sits in one of two bad dining chairs. She’s in an uncomfortable, cheap, dark dress. She is distraught. She has a small bottle of something in one hand. She’s looking out at the room, the people in it (we can’t see them), unsure who they are. JOHN, 30s, in a disheveled dark suit, enters with two cans of Diet Coke.
JOHN: I brought you a Diet Coke.
He offers her the drink.
MICHELLE: I’m good.
Showing him her bottle…
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Your Uncle David made another batch of beer in his basement.
…she takes a swallow. He sits next to her.
JOHN: Don’t drink that shit. Have the Diet Coke.
MICHELLE: He told me I’d forget everything.
JOHN: Yeah, but you don’t want to forget everything.
MICHELLE: (looking out) Who are these people?
He looks where she looks.
JOHN: Artists from the studio, I think.
MICHELLE: I went to parties with Luke at the studio. I don’t remember these people.
JOHN: It’s a big studio.
MICHELLE: That woman over there in that stupid Bob Ross wig. The one with fistfuls of my pistachios. She hasn’t said a word to me. Not one.
JOHN: She probably doesn’t know what to say.
MICHELLE: Do these people not know somebody has died? That guy over there is wearing a fucking hubcap around his neck with a shitty painting of my husband on it.
JOHN: I think they’re honoring him somehow.
MICHELLE: Honoring him?
JOHN: He was an artist. Like them.
MICHELLE: He was nothing like them.
JOHN: That guy with the hubcap won’t even look at me. He’s not the only one.
MICHELLE: They’re just afraid. Looking at you is like looking at Luke.
JOHN: You’re not afraid, are you?
She doesn’t look at him.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) I hate this dress. I hate wearing dresses. I hate girls who wear dresses.
JOHN: You want something to eat? My mother made a run to Safeway.
MICHELLE: She did? I have food out. I have pistachios. I have Funyuns.
JOHN: She got some party plates.
MICHELLE: It’s not a party.
JOHN: She’s just trying to help.
MICHELLE: Where is your mom?
JOHN: Aunt Caroline gave her a Valium. She’s sleeping upstairs.
MICHELLE: Good. (beat) It’s good to see you, John.
JOHN: You, too, Michelle.
MICHELLE: Someone told me you drove here.
JOHN: Straight through. 52 hours.
MICHELLE: You guys always loved to drive.
JOHN: Yeah. But really it was just that I couldn’t fly.
Beat. He looks at her. Stares. He has something on his mind. It’s a long time before he speaks.
JOHN: (cont’d) I want to tell you something.
He just stares. She turns to him.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) John, what is it?
JOHN: Luke called me. On my cell. As the plane was going down.
JOHN: Luke called me as the plane was going down.
JOHN: Well, I guess if the plane gets low enough, your cell will pick up a tower and-
MICHELLE: What are you talking about? Why didn’t you tell me?
JOHN: I was going to tell you immediately, but everything was so crazy and then a couple days went by and-
MICHELLE: You actually spoke to him?
JOHN: I didn’t speak to him. I had an early shift at the casino. I didn’t see the call until later that day. He left a message.
MICHELLE: What did he say?
John pulls out his cell phone.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Jesus Christ, you have it right here?
JOHN: Do you want to hear it?
MICHELLE: Yeah, I want to hear it.
He presses some buttons and hands it to her. She listens. Little by little, she cracks. She gives him back the phone.
JOHN: I’m sorry, Michelle.
She tries to hold it together. Can’t.
JOHN: (cont’d) I shouldn’t have told you. I’m such an idiot.
MICHELLE: I’m glad you did.
JOHN: No, no, I-…and then let you listen to the call? Here? I should have-
MICHELLE: What, and kept it a secret?
She wipes her eyes. Hard.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Why do you suppose he called you?
JOHN: What do you mean?
MICHELLE: Why didn’t he call me? I’m his wife.
JOHN: There was no time, obviously, to make two calls-
MICHELLE: Yeah, OK, but why did he decide to call you and not me?
JOHN: He could have pressed any buttons given the circumstances.
MICHELLE: I heard the message, John. Luke knew who he was calling.
JOHN: So what?
MICHELLE: You have one call to make, I think who you choose says a lot.
MICHELLE: Hey, look, I know, OK? Your mother warned me.
JOHN: About what?
MICHELLE: When I married Luke, your mother pulled me aside at the church and said, “you’ll never come between the twins.”
JOHN: She said this at the wedding?
MICHELLE: In front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, which, I promise you, I won’t ever forget.
JOHN: That’s unbelievable.
MICHELLE: I think it was just her way of saying “be careful.” And she was right. Luke chose you all the time. I could never get where you were.
JOHN: Michelle, that’s not true.
MICHELLE: Oh, come on, John. Your whole lives have been totally intertwined. I’ve never seen any two people as close as you two.
JOHN: But I moved away. I’ve been in Maine for five years.
MICHELLE: So what? I saw his emails. Spam, then you, spam, then you, spam, then you, you, you. Zillions of texts. Every time he got a phone call, it seemed like it was you. Every day. Three times a day sometimes.
JOHN: But we talked nonsense. Stupid shit. Insulting each other. You two had a marriage.
MICHELLE: So? You two were a constant reminder that no matter how much Luke said he loved me, I was all alone in the world.
JOHN: Jesus, Michelle, we’re all all alone.
MICHELLE: Are we?
MICHELLE: Let me ask you, have you ever really felt alone? I mean, really alone?
JOHN: Except for these last six days.
MICHELLE: Oh, John. I’m sorry, I…I don’t know what I’m thinking.
JOHN: Hey, it’s been a rough time.
MICHELLE: I know, but…
JOHN: Forget it.
MICHELLE: I’m so sorry.
JOHN: We’re going to really need each other, Michelle. Forget it.
MICHELLE: It’s just…that phone call. Why did he call you and not me? I know that’s selfish, I know it. I can’t help it. I feel like being selfish right now. If I don’t think about how I feel I’m just going to absolutely lose it.
JOHN: Michelle, please-
MICHELLE: (hysterical) And don’t tell me to fucking calm down!
Beat. He looks around, as if the guests have heard her. She doesn’t care.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) I wish Luke and I had kids. Then I wouldn’t feel so goddamn alone.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Who would you call?
JOHN: What do you mean?
MICHELLE: You know what I mean.
JOHN: Let’s not do this, Michelle.
MICHELLE: You don’t have to answer. I know. It’s Luke. Of course it is.
JOHN: And who would you call if-
MICHELLE: Luke! Who do you think?!
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Can I listen to the message again?
MICHELLE: I want to hear it.
JOHN: No, I don’t think it’s a good idea.
MICHELLE: What do you mean “no?”
JOHN: I mean, no, you can’t listen to the message.
MICHELLE: I want to hear it again!
MICHELLE: Give me your goddamn phone! He’s my husband!
A little pissed, he pulls it out, punches some buttons, gives it to her.
She starts to listen. She presses a button.
JOHN: (cont’d) What did you just do?
MICHELLE: There. It’s gone now.
She gives him the phone.
JOHN: You deleted it?
MICHELLE: I can’t have his final moment be about you and not me! I will not let you come between me and Luke right here at the end!
JOHN: I’m not coming between you and Luke!
MICHELLE: I have news for you, your entire existence has come between me and Luke!
Beat. John gets up, to walk away. He doesn’t. He looks down at her.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) We don’t have to pretend, John. We both know the truth. He loved you more than he loved me.
He exits. She sits a moment. Then downs her beer.
Lights fade out.
A trail overlook. Late summer, 2011. Almost twilight. LUKE, now in his late 20s, is at his easel doing a painting of the scenery, which includes a crude, wooden bench by the lookout. The bench faces the audience and Luke is behind it looking towards the audience – we can’t see the front of the painting (the painting should be small, like 10” by 10”, on MDF board). He has a large backpack and supplies next to the easel. After a few moments, Michelle, now in her late 20s, appears, hiking. She’s in hiking shoes, and shorts and a t-shirt. She looks good. She walks past Luke to the bench, stops, catches her breath, then sits, as if taking a break on her hike. She is turned away from Luke and is looking out at the scenery. Luke stops painting. It is clear her presence should not be in the painting. He waits for her to get up and go, but she doesn’t. He goes to her, impatient, paint brush in hand.
LUKE: Excuse me.
MICHELLE: (re: the scenery) Beautiful, right?
LUKE: Uh, yeah, sure.
She turns to him.
MICHELLE: You don’t sound impressed.
LUKE: I am, trust me.
She turns back to the scenery.
MICHELLE: It almost doesn’t look real. That’s Pyramid Peak, isn’t it?
LUKE: How much longer are you planning to be here?
MICHELLE: You want it all to yourself?
LUKE: Yeah. I mean, no, but I’m painting the view, and this old bench, and now you’re here.
MICHELLE: (noticing the easel) Oh. You’re an artist?
MICHELLE: Long way for you to go just to paint.
LUKE: Sure is.
MICHELLE: And now I’m in the way?
LUKE: You’re in the painting.
MICHELLE: Oh. Well. Why don’t you just paint me into it?
LUKE: I can’t really do that at this point.
MICHELLE: Sure you can. I’ll sit and catch my breath.
LUKE: I’m not going to put you in the painting.
MICHELLE: What, I’m not pretty enough for you?
LUKE: No, I just hadn’t planned on you.
MICHELLE: So plans change.
LUKE: Sure, but you throw off the balance of the composition.
MICHELLE: I “throw off the balance of the composition?” I doubt that.
LUKE: This is an important piece for me, OK?
MICHELLE: What’s so important about it?
LUKE: It’s my first commission.
MICHELLE: Well, la-dee-da. A commission.
LUKE: Yeah. The Best Western off 50 down in Placerville. They’re going to put it in the lobby.
MICHELLE: Oh. Lobby art. That’s cool.
LUKE: Don’t mock lobby art.
MICHELLE: I’m not. Lobby art is, like, the pinnacle. In my mind.
LUKE: I know it’s not a big San Francisco gallery or some museum, and, yeah, I work at the Best Western, which is how I got the commission, but this is still a big deal to me. I don’t want to screw it up.
MICHELLE: Totally get that.
LUKE: Great. Are you going to leave?
MICHELLE: No. I still want to be in the painting.
LUKE: Listen, whoever you are, I’ve been coming here for weeks at twilight. This is a twilight painting. It’s twilight now. I have 30 minutes tops.
MICHELLE: You’re no fun.
LUKE: You have no idea what kind of person I am.
MICHELLE: I’m picking up some vibes, I can tell you that.
LUKE: I have other vibes, including the fun vibe.
MICHELLE: Prove it.
LUKE: (gesturing) Look, you can sit over there, or over there, or there, or there, or, really, anywhere in this half of the universe.
He shows her the half of the universe not in the painting.
LUKE: (cont’d) Can you just not sit right here?
He gestures to the bench.
MICHELLE: But I like this bench.
LUKE: All right. I’ll put you in the painting.
MICHELLE: You will?
LUKE: Yeah. You win. You are now in the painting.
MICHELLE: Booyah. Wait. You’re not one of those impressionist guys or whatever, are you? I don’t want my head to be a pumpkin.
LUKE: First of all, that would not be impressionism. It would be surrealism.
LUKE: And second of all, I’m a realist. I will paint you exactly as you are.
MICHELLE: I like the sound of that.
LUKE: But here’s the deal. I paint you, you can’t move.
MICHELLE: Can I breathe?
LUKE: Of course.
MICHELLE: Can I sit like this?
She leans over the back of the bench, looking at him playfully seductive.
LUKE: Absolutely not. Sit up. Sit on the right side. Face the overlook.
MICHELLE: You’re going to paint the back of my head?
MICHELLE: Why can’t I face you?
LUKE: You won’t be looking at the scenery then, will you?
MICHELLE: Why can’t me looking the other way be, like, ironic?
LUKE: I hate irony.
MICHELLE: There’s that no-fun vibe again.
LUKE: Sit facing out or no deal.
MICHELLE: But the back of my head? That’s disappointing.
LUKE: You won’t be disappointed when I’m done.
MICHELLE: Oh, my, we’re rather full of ourselves, aren’t we? You’re right. You do have other vibes.
LUKE: I’m a competent painter, all right? My brother is the real painter.
MICHELLE: Uh oh. Sibling rivalry?
LUKE: It’s not a rivalry when we both know he’s better.
MICHELLE: Is he out painting somewhere?
LUKE: Doubtful. He doesn’t do it much.
MICHELLE: Ooh, he’s good without trying. That must sting.
LUKE: I dominate in other areas. For example, I have a better outside jump shot.
MICHELLE: Well, that’s special.
LUKE: Let’s not do the comparison thing. People have been doing it all our lives.
MICHELLE: Why’s that?
LUKE: My brother and I are identical twins.
MICHELLE: (intrigued) Really?
MICHELLE: What are your names? Can I guess?
LUKE: No. It’s Luke and John.
MICHELLE: Like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Oh, that’s precious.
LUKE: My mother is Catholic. Like, should-have-been-a-nun Catholic.
MICHELLE: So you’re…?
MICHELLE: Luke. I’m Michelle. Can I see what you’ve painted so far?
LUKE: Sure. It’s not done, but you can look.
She gets up, goes behind the easel, looks.
MICHELLE: Holy shit. (beat) And your brother is better?
LUKE: Yeah. He’s crazy good.
MICHELLE: (re: the painting) The detail is kind of intense.
LUKE: Just don’t say it looks like a photograph.
MICHELLE: Wow, it looks like a photograph. Like high-res.
LUKE: Kill me, please.
MICHELLE: I’m just playing with you. Obviously, it’s not a photograph. I can see the brush strokes. How do you get the light like that?
LUKE: Practice. Can we start?
LUKE: Sit up, sit on the right side, face the overlook.
She sits on the bench, facing the audience.
MICHELLE: Bossy, bossy. (she takes off her glasses) How’s this?
LUKE: Perfect. Don’t move.
He starts. After about 15 seconds…
MICHELLE: How’s it coming?
LUKE: Well, so far, I’ve grabbed a round number five brush and I’ve mixed alizarin crimson with burnt sienna and a little titanium white on my palette.
MICHELLE: You haven’t started painting me?
LUKE: It’s been 20 seconds.
MICHELLE: Do I have to sit in silence?
LUKE: Depends on what noises you plan to make.
MICHELLE: Can we talk to each other?
LUKE: Sure. I can paint and talk. I am super skilled.
MICHELLE: So what’s it like being an identical twin?
LUKE: Well, we have magic powers.
MICHELLE: Come on.
LUKE: It’s true. We can read each other’s minds.
MICHELLE: Shut up. Really?
LUKE: Oh, yeah. We feel each other’s pain, too. Some mornings, when I wake up, I even think I’m him.
MICHELLE: Stop joking. Are you joking?
MICHELLE: (cont’d) You are joking. You’re evil. You must be the evil twin.
LUKE: Why do people freak out over twins? The staring. The double takes. “Oh, my God, they even sound the same!” The endless questions. It gets old.
MICHELLE: Have you ever swapped girlfriends?
LUKE: Another good one.
MICHELLE: Have you?
MICHELLE: You’ve never played tricks?
LUKE: No. Tricks just happen on their own. We get mistaken for each other all the time.
MICHELLE: That must be weird.
LUKE: Even our mother gets us confused. If our backs are turned, or, especially, on the phone. I call and it’s “Hi, Mom.” “Hello…Luke?”
MICHELLE: She doesn’t recognize your number when it comes up on the phone?
LUKE: She doesn’t have a cell. She has a rotary landline from the seventies.
MICHELLE: Does she play favorites?
LUKE: No. As kids she treated us as one person. Dressing us alike, assuming if he liked something, I would, too, and calling for us from the other side of the house, “Twins!?”
MICHELLE: So how deep is your identity crisis?
LUKE: Incredibly, I don’t have one. I have my life and he has his.
MICHELLE: So someone out there has your exact, like, genetic roadmap?
MICHELLE: So he is you and you are him.
LUKE: Something like that.
MICHELLE: So if he dies, or you die, the other half keeps the cells going.
LUKE: Let’s not obsess.
MICHELLE: But think about it. What a great gift. Your entire person lives in someone else.
LUKE: That’s quite deep. How is it you didn’t know the difference between impressionism and surrealism?
MICHELLE: I don’t hang out with art types.
LUKE: So, girl out hiking alone on a secluded trail. Summer day. No water with her. No anything with her. Darkness approaching. You’re not going to make the cover of Backpacker Magazine, that I can guess.
MICHELLE: I just needed some good, clean mountain air.
LUKE: Uh-huh. Right. So what’s your story?
MICHELLE: My story?
LUKE: Yeah, give me some highlights.
MICHELLE: OK. Let’s see. Parents gone, no siblings, friends are scattered, just lost my crappy job at REI, hometown leveled.
LUKE: Whoa, that’s nice and tragic.
MICHELLE: I am not defined by what I’ve lost.
LUKE: How are you defined?
MICHELLE: Oh, wouldn’t you like to know?
LUKE: I would, actually. Very much. Like to know.
MICHELLE: All right. This is me. Cute. No question, cute. Not afraid to be happy. Adaptable. (beat) Still finding my way. (beat) Damaged, but resilient, just like my hometown.
LUKE: What exactly happened to your hometown?
MICHELLE: Burned down. Six years ago. Labor Day.
LUKE: The whole town?
MICHELLE: Most of it. Small town, big fire. Beaver Creek is the name of the town. Up near Lassen.
LUKE: Fires are crazy in this state.
MICHELLE: Yeah, something like that leaves a scar. I have many scars. None visible, so don’t think you can paint them.
LUKE: I have ways.
MICHELLE: You cannot paint my inner scars without my permission, buster.
LUKE: Gotcha. How did the fire start?
MICHELLE: A hunter got lost. To signal for help, he tried to start a fire. It was a very windy day.
LUKE: What happened after that?
MICHELLE: The fire came roaring down out of the hills. I remember waking up to the smell of it. I had come home for the weekend. I went down the hallway and my parents were looking out the sliding glass door. Ash was falling like snow. There was an orange glow beyond the trees. We put wet rags to put to our noses and mouths, grabbed a couple things, and ran to the car. By then, the fire was on us. The flames looked like they were coming in all directions. The wind was knocking the car back and forth. Embers were blowing everywhere. It was like hell. Some of the neighbors were desperately watering their houses. Dad shouted at them as he drove us out in his Cherokee. You could feel the heat through the car. I thought for sure the car was going to catch fire. Mom was crying. 24 people died. The fire burned city hall, the only movie theater in town, one entire side of the street of downtown. We stayed in a high school gym 20 miles away. I wanted us to go to my apartment in Sacramento, but they wanted to be near Beaver Creek. So I stayed with them. Two days later, we went back to our neighborhood. It was all gone. My car was toast. Our house was a chimney. My father built that house himself. Mom and I couldn’t console him. I remember looking up at the hillsides. They were a ghostly grey. That day looked and felt like the end of the world.
He’s stopped painting. She’s lost in her story.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) My parents died three years later. My father got cancer. My mother died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas heater. One month apart they went. Isn’t that something?
LUKE: Yeah. It is.
MICHELLE: Sometimes you lose so much of what you started with that you don’t recognize anything anymore. You don’t even know who you are anymore.
She doesn’t move. He just watches her.
LUKE: You still live in Sacramento?
MICHELLE: No. I live in Placerville now.
LUKE: What brought you up here?
MICHELLE: A guy. (beat) But that’s over.
Lights fade out.
An art opening. 2012. Spring. Five months after Scene Two. There are a few small realistic paintings up (all at twilight). A large sign reads “Pilgrimage at Twilight, by Luke Harper.” Another sign: “Pacifica Art Gallery.” The light hum of classical music plays. Michelle stands, a little awkward. She’s in a dress, but not the same one as Scene One. She wiggles in it, uncomfortable. She hates the dress. John, in jeans and a button-down shirt, crosses from a table where wine bottles and empty glasses rest. He has two glasses of wine in his hands.
JOHN: Here you go, Michelle.
He offers her one of the drinks, which she takes.
MICHELLE: Thanks, John. This is my last drink, I promise.
JOHN: I don’t think they have a limit. Or anyone to serve the drinks apparently.
MICHELLE: You could step in, Mr. Casino Bartender Guy.
JOHN: Yeah, sure, there’s nothing I’d rather do than serve drinks on my day off.
He sips. She drinks.
MICHELLE: (looking out) Do you think Luke is doing OK?
John looks out, too, towards the audience, to Luke, who is unseen.
JOHN: He’s OK. Are you OK?
MICHELLE: I’m OK. Are you OK?
JOHN: I’m OK.
MICHELLE: OK, I’m lying, I’m not OK. I feel out of place, I’m nervous for him, and I stupidly unearthed one of my mother’s old wool dresses. You’re sure Luke is OK?
JOHN: He’s a little tense, sure. This opening is a big deal. It’s San Francisco.
MICHELLE: Pacifica is sort of south of San Francisco, isn’t it?
JOHN: Whatever. It’s the Bay Area. And a real gallery. This isn’t a Marie Callender’s in Fresno. Wouldn’t it be great if Luke didn’t have to work behind the desk at a hotel anymore?
MICHELLE: I wonder what he’s saying to those people?
JOHN: Probably something like “Yes, I know it looks like a photograph.” (beat) I’m going to guess the “Starry, Starry Night” tie was a gift from you.
MICHELLE: Sweet, isn’t it?
JOHN: He must really like you.
MICHELLE: God, it’s so freaky how much you’re like Luke.
JOHN: Is it?
MICHELLE: You stand the same way. You talk the same way. You laugh the same way.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Oh, my God, don’t do that! I wonder if you smell the same.
She leans in, playfully, like she’s going to smell him. He leans away.
JOHN: You’re adding to the freakiness.
MICHELLE: I can’t help it. Who was born first?
JOHN: He was by two minutes.
MICHELLE: You lose.
JOHN: It’s not a competition.
MICHELLE: Luke says the same thing, that you guys don’t really fight over stuff. I’ll get the truth from your mom tonight.
JOHN: She’s not coming.
MICHELLE: She’s not? You mean I didn’t have to wear this dress? Why isn’t she coming?
JOHN: It’s Good Friday.
MICHELLE: Oh. Right. Good Friday is one of the big ones, isn’t it? She’s very devoted, your mother. Especially to her two boys.
JOHN: Don’t let that scare you.
MICHELLE: Too late. Cool that your Uncle David came.
JOHN: Yeah. Business card in hand.
MICHELLE: What is “God’s Beer” exactly?
JOHN: Nobody knows. Welcome to the family.
She finishes her drink. She grabs another one off the table. She turns to the paintings on the wall nearby.
MICHELLE: So, did you two really live in all these houses?
JOHN: Our father was in the Air Force, so we moved a lot as young kids. I think that’s why we love to drive so much. (pointing to two paintings) That’s Kentucky. That’s Ohio.
John stops at one particular painting.
JOHN: (cont’d) Here’s my favorite piece.
She reads the placard.
MICHELLE: “Frozen.” How does he get the light like that?
MICHELLE: It’s so still. There’s no sense of anything moving. At all.
JOHN: Yeah. Like time has stopped.
MICHELLE: The snow is beautiful. So why is it your favorite?
JOHN: It’s our grandmother’s house. Up in Pollack Pines. Grandma’s gone. Mom lives there now. Has always smelled like cooked dates. A grandfather clock still ticks away. And you can’t see it in the painting, but at the bottom of her gravel driveway, my grandmother had nailed this basketball goal to a telephone pole. She had the backboard painted with a red stripe down the middle. So we each had a half. We played one-on-one forever and ever and ever.
MICHELLE: You and Luke?
JOHN: It’s funny, we shared basically everything, to the point that some things I remember as something only I did, or something that happened only to me, but he’ll be absolutely convinced it actually happened to him. (beat) Anyway, back then, this house was the one place that truly felt like home. And time just seemed to stop. Frozen.
They look at the painting a moment longer. She approaches another one.
MICHELLE: I like this one. Where is it?
JOHN: Base housing at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita.
She leans in to read the placard.
MICHELLE: “Monument.” What does that mean?
JOHN: That’s the house where we were when Dad left the Air Force. And left us. We were eleven.
MICHELLE: Sorry. That’s brutal. What’s the little red dot mean?
JOHN: Means it’s sold. Looks like he’s only sold one. Damn. Why does this have to be the only one that’s sold?
MICHELLE: Why does it matter?
He hesitates. He looks around, so as not to be heard.
JOHN: Because I did this one.
MICHELLE: What are you talking about?
JOHN: Luke asked me to do this painting.
MICHELLE: (a little too loudly) This painting is yours?
JOHN: OK, keep your voice down, all right?
MICHELLE: This painting is yours?
JOHN: I told Luke I would never do it again, and I know he doesn’t ever want me to do it again.
MICHELLE: Who else knows about this?
JOHN: You make three. I feel shitty, and dishonest, but if he had another week or so, he would have done it and it would have basically looked like this.
MICHELLE: Luke said you guys don’t play tricks. But it sure looks like you do.
JOHN: This is a one-time deal.
MICHELLE: Must make you wonder.
JOHN: Wonder what?
MICHELLE: This could be your show.
JOHN: I’m bagging the whole painting thing.
MICHELLE: Doesn’t seem like it.
JOHN: “Monument” is my last piece. Honestly, I don’t even think about art anymore.
MICHELLE: It’s all Luke thinks about.
JOHN: He wants to be a great painter. I never did.
MICHELLE: Why not?
JOHN: Your boyfriend and I are not the same person, Michelle.
MICHELLE: He said you’re better than him. I can’t tell, but he can tell. Can you tell?
A cell buzzes. John grabs it from his pocket.
JOHN: It’s a text from Luke.
MICHELLE: He’s texting you from across the room?
JOHN: (reading) “How bad does this Van Gogh tie look?”
MICHELLE: I thought he liked it!?
JOHN: (texting) “Michelle says it’s not as bad as your plaid sport coat with the denim elbow patches.”
MICHELLE: I didn’t say that!
JOHN: Doesn’t matter. It’s my plaid sport coat. (texting) “Why are you standing by the door?”
MICHELLE: He should send people back here. Half the show is back here and it’s empty.
John’s phone buzzes.
JOHN: (reading) Luke says “They want me to greet people as they come in. I’m going to start saying ‘welcome to Best Western’ and see if anyone notices.”
MICHELLE: I hope he’s kidding.
JOHN: (texting) “Tell the gallery owner to get off his dick and earn his 50 percent cut.”
MICHELLE: Can we not do this?
JOHN: Do what? He’s the one texting.
MICHELLE: You’re the one responding.
John’s phone buzzes.
JOHN: (reading) Luke says “I see your bullshit painting has sold.”
MICHELLE: Please, no more texts.
JOHN: Last one. (texting) “I see all your bullshit paintings haven’t.”
MICHELLE: That’s mean.
John’s phone buzzes.
JOHN: (reading) Luke says “You suck so bad.” (to Michelle) He means me, by the way. (texting) “YOU” capital letters “suck like the love spawn of Thomas Kinkade and-”
MICHELLE: (too strong) Put down the phone!!
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Sorry. I’m sorry. I think that was the dress talking. (beat) I don’t like the meanness.
JOHN: This is what we do. We rip each other.
MICHELLE: I don’t like it. I hope he doesn’t start ripping me when we move into together.
JOHN: No, he only does that with-…you’re moving in together?
MICHELLE: Yeah. He didn’t tell you?
JOHN: When is this going to happen?
MICHELLE: Next month.
JOHN: So are you getting a new place together or is he moving in with you or…?
MICHELLE: I’m moving in with…with him.
JOHN: Ah. So I’m getting a new place?
MICHELLE: We didn’t really talk about it like that. I mean, if you want to, you can still stay, of course, if you don’t mind me being around all the-
JOHN: No, I’ll move. No problem.
He goes cold.
MICHELLE: I wonder why he didn’t tell you.
JOHN: I’m sure he had his reasons.
MICHELLE: We’ll totally help you find something.
JOHN: Actually, it’s all good. I’ve been wanting to move back east for awhile now anyway.
MICHELLE: Oh, yeah?
JOHN: Yeah. This guy Luke and I played high school basketball with runs an AAU club in Maine.
MICHELLE: That sounds cool.
JOHN: I’ve been thinking about coaching for awhile. I miss basketball.
MICHELLE: What a relief. I hated the idea of just kicking you out.
JOHN: No, no, you’re not kicking me out. Hey, I’ll be thrilled to quit serving drinks to gambling addicts at the Red Hawk, so…this is the nudge I need.
MICHELLE: Maybe you’ll go out there and meet someone.
JOHN: Sure. Maybe. Who knows? Can’t wait.
She finishes her drink. By now, she’s a little drunk. At the table, she puts her glass down and starts for another one. But refrains. It’s not easy for her to refrain. She turns, feeling awkward, and stands next to John. The tension is palpable.
MICHELLE: (re: the background music playing in the gallery) Be cool if they killed the Mozart, right? Cranked a little Bon Jovi or something?
JOHN: Bon Jovi?
MICHELLE: I know I should be more hip, into indie bands and weird Pakistani coffees or whatever, but that’s not me.
Beat. Long silence between them.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) I think I’m in love with your brother.
Beat. John doesn’t respond.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Did you hear what I said?
JOHN: I heard you. That’s fantastic. It really, really is.
JOHN: Let’s hope he feels the same way. Because if he didn’t, that would be hard.
MICHELLE: Does he?
JOHN: I’m sure he does. Seems like he does. Maybe. But I don’t know. I can’t see into his heart.
MICHELLE: Can’t you?
JOHN: (lying) No.
They look out at Luke. Silence.
JOHN: (cont’d) I’m going to get some air.
He exits, downstage, towards Luke. She watches, worried. She waves. But it’s clear Luke doesn’t notice her. She feels very alone.
Three years after Scene Three. December. Late in the evening. Living room, Luke and Michelle’s apartment. A huge bag of chips is open and on a blanket on the couch. On the coffee table is an unopened bottle of wine. The TV is on. Wearing full winter clothes, Luke enters, destroyed. He drops his keys on the coffee table, and sits hard on the couch. He kills the TV. After a moment, a toilet is heard flushing. Another moment later, Michelle appears behind him, without her glasses. She’s in sweats and a button down shirt of his. She sees Luke and jumps.
MICHELLE: Oh, Christ! (beat) You scared the shit out of me!
Luke doesn’t react in any way.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Luke?
MICHELLE: Say something.
MICHELLE: Don’t be an asshole. Can you turn around and look at me?
MICHELLE: (cont’d) For a moment there, I thought you were John.
MICHELLE: First you sneak in, then you scare me, you don’t respond to me, or turn around, I got confused.
LUKE: (like she’s four years old) Why in the world would I be John?
MICHELLE: I don’t know!
LUKE: He moved out three years ago.
MICHELLE: I know that, Luke. But with your back turned, and you acting all weird, for a moment there, I couldn’t tell. Plus, I can’t tell you two apart without my glasses.
Getting her glasses from the coffee table, she puts them on.
LUKE: I’m Luke. OK?
MICHELLE: Why are you just sitting there in your coat and hat?
He takes off his coat and hat.
MICHELLE: What is going on? You’re super late.
MICHELLE: Were you at the open house at the studio this whole time?
LUKE: Pretty much.
MICHELLE: I thought it ended at 10.
LUKE: It did.
MICHELLE: It’s midnight.
LUKE: I thought you and what’s-her-name from the apartment downstairs were coming by.
MICHELLE: Where were you, Luke?
LUKE: I’m going to have to go back to work at the Best Western.
MICHELLE: What are you talking about?
LUKE: I’m going to have to go back and answer stupid questions, and hand out toothbrushes, and re-learn how to be peppy.
LUKE: Pacifica dropped me.
MICHELLE: What do you mean?
LUKE: I mean Pacifica dropped me. As an artist. They don’t want me showing in their gallery anymore.
MICHELLE: What? Why?
LUKE: I wasn’t selling enough.
MICHELLE: But they can’t just drop you.
LUKE: Actually, they can. And did. In a text. “Sorry, buddy, but buyers have gone cold. Have a great one!”
MICHELLE: That’s bullshit.
LUKE: I told John and John told Mom and Mom called me immediately and now she’s begging me to quit.
MICHELLE: Quit painting? Why?
LUKE: There’s no security in it, she says. The state of California is secure. God is secure. “I’ve been praying for you, Luke.”
MICHELLE: Praying for you? That’s kind of sweet, actually.
LUKE: Is it? My mother thinks art is when your nine-year old brings home a deformed clay elephant from school.
MICHELLE: How come you told John and you didn’t tell me?
LUKE: I was on my way home, I figured I’d tell you when I got here. I called John and then I just pulled into the Applebee’s parking lot and talked to him.
MICHELLE: That’s where you’ve been all this time?
LUKE: Yeah. He must have hung up with me and called Mom. I wasn’t even all the way to El Niño Avenue before she called.
MICHELLE: What are you going to do?
LUKE: Not listen to her, that’s what I’m going to do.
MICHELLE: I wouldn’t either.
LUKE: I’ll just work harder. Do more outdoor shows. Stop skipping Lake Front or Ann Arbor because I think they’re too far.
MICHELLE: I’ll work extra shifts at the museum.
LUKE: Mom’s like, “what keeps you doing this Luke?” “Because I like doing it, Mom! Because I believe the next painting is going to be better!”
Beat. Luke touches his nose. Blood.
LUKE: (cont’d) Ah, shit, my nose is bleeding.
LUKE: (leaning his head back) I’ve told you, it’s happened all my life.
MICHELLE: Let me get you a Kleenex.
She exits as he lies on the couch on his back. She returns quickly.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Here.
She hands him the Kleenex and he holds it against his nose. She sits next to him.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Why does this keep happening?
LUKE: Sometimes it just bleeds for no reason. Sometimes it bleeds because of the dry air in this apartment. I hate the dry air in this apartment. I hate that it doesn’t get enough sun, that it’s tiny, that the landlord won’t fix the dishwasher, that the guy above us loves Kanye, and that the ants are staging a hostile takeover.
MICHELLE: Did you sell anything at the studio tonight?
LUKE: Couple small things.
MICHELLE: Well, that’s something.
LUKE: Yeah, it’s something. (beat) You see the sky tonight?
LUKE: I know.
MICHELLE: Whenever I feel alone, I always look up. I am made of the same stuff all those stars are made of, and there are way more stars than all the people who have ever lived. Makes me feel really small, and really big all at the same time.
He looks at her, curious about what she has just said. Then he sees the wine bottle on the table.
LUKE: What’s with the wine?
MICHELLE: Luke, don’t police me.
LUKE: I’m not policing you.
MICHELLE: I walked down to the Shell Station.
LUKE: You walked all the way down to the Shell Station?
MICHELLE: The bottle’s not open. I didn’t open it. (beat) I couldn’t open it.
LUKE: What’s going on?
MICHELLE: I lost the baby.
LUKE: (confused) What?
MICHELLE: Our baby is gone.
LUKE: What does that mean? You’re pregnant?
MICHELLE: I was. 12 weeks it turns out.
LUKE: You didn’t tell me?
MICHELLE: I didn’t know. I had given up the idea. We both had, I thought. And now, without realizing it…a baby.
LUKE: What happened today?
He sits up.
MICHELLE: I was spotting a lot and went to the doctor.
LUKE: How did you get over there?
MICHELLE: Lupita took me.
MICHELLE: “What’s-her-name” from the apartment downstairs.
LUKE: Oh. And she stayed with you at the hospital?
MICHELLE: Yeah. Doctor told me I was pregnant. But there was no heartbeat.
LUKE: Oh, my God. Sweetie.
He hugs her. She doesn’t respond much.
MICHELLE: I called you. Several times.
LUKE: My phone was-
BOTH OF THEM: -off.
MICHELLE: I know. You turn it off when you go to these studio events. You turned your phone on to call your brother. You didn’t see my calls?
LUKE: No. I am so sorry you had to go through this alone.
MICHELLE: Just another scar.
LUKE: Here I am babbling on about a stupid gallery dropping me and you’re over here-
MICHELLE: Forget it.
LUKE: You must be crushed.
MICHELLE: What about you?
LUKE: Surprised. Disappointed. Sad. Worried about you. (beat) Wow. A baby.
MICHELLE: Your baby. My baby.
LUKE: So what happens now?
MICHELLE: With the baby? I will pass it.
LUKE: You mean…?
MICHELLE: Yes. I might go into a mini-labor, but they don’t know.
MICHELLE: It’s going to get all clumpy, they said. I might see the baby. I might not.
LUKE: You don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to.
MICHELLE: I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be so graphic.
LUKE: Don’t apologize. Please. I’m the one who has to apologize.
MICHELLE: No, you don’t.
LUKE: I do. You must be furious at me for not being here.
MICHELLE: No. I’m not. (beat) I didn’t know I was pregnant, Luke. I didn’t know. My periods have always been so crazy. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.
She starts crying.
LUKE: It’s not your fault.
MICHELLE: Yes. It is.
LUKE: Michelle, there are a lot of reasons why this could have happened-
MICHELLE: I did this.
LUKE: How? What did the doctor say?
MICHELLE: They said they didn’t know how it happened. That’s it’s usually some chromosomal mix-up.
LUKE: So what makes you think you did it?
MICHELLE: I know, OK? I know.
She sobs. He holds her. He turns to look at the bottle of wine. Stares at it. After a bit, she pulls herself together.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) At least now I don’t have to share you with anyone else. Ha ha. (beat) Happy Anniversary, for tomorrow.
LUKE: Hey. It’s been three great years being married to you.
MICHELLE: Yeah, we’re so on our way. I don’t want you to go back to the Best Western. I don’t want both of us to have shit jobs.
LUKE: You don’t have a shit job.
MICHELLE: I make eleven-fifty an hour. Excuse me, eleven-fifty four an hour. Talking to tourists about the gold rush.
LUKE: You enlighten people.
MICHELLE: They’re bored. And usually hungry. And just coming indoors to get some AC. Or heat.
LUKE: I’ll make it as an artist. I will. And we’ll get out of this ant hill of an apartment and buy a house. With a yard. Put a couple of Adirondack chairs between two redwoods. And we’ll sit together and look up at the moon. And the stars.
MICHELLE: And pick out constellations.
LUKE: All eternity right there in front of us. (beat) If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?
MICHELLE: What you have. You have a thing. The art thing. I don’t have that. (beat) When I was a little girl, like five or six, I wanted to be a ballerina.
LUKE: You did?
MICHELLE: Me, a ballerina? Seems stupid now.
LUKE: It doesn’t seem stupid at all.
MICHELLE: I had a pink camisole tutu. My mom was like so in love with that tutu. And so in love with me in it. Seems like a million years ago. Sometimes I wish I was still that little girl.
LUKE: Why don’t we take a road trip?
MICHELLE: We take road trips all the time.
LUKE: I’m not talking about one of my art show trips. A real road trip. Where we take the time to really look at the enormity of the sky, and smell the rain against the sage, and listen to the wind rushing across the prairie.
MICHELLE: OK. If you think the van can handle it.
LUKE: The van’s a workhorse. We’ll throw a mattress in the back and hit the road. Where do you want to go? I’ll go anywhere.
MICHELLE: Oh, I don’t know.
LUKE: We could take Highway 1 up the coast. Or go down and see the Grand Canyon. Or head east. To the Gulf. We just take a couple weeks and just go. And see where we end up.
MICHELLE: Yeah, I like that idea.
They smile at each other. Beat.
LUKE: You know there’s no one I love more than you in the whole world.
MICHELLE: I hope so, buster.
They smile at each other, and then hug. It’s a long, clingy hug.
Lights fade out.
Night. The evening of Scene One. A lamp from a telephone pole illuminates the scene. Also on the pole is a basketball goal nailed up with an old, wooden backboard that has a faded red stripe painted down the middle. This is Luke and John’s grandmother’s house. We hear the sound of a car approach. It stops, shuts off. A door opens, and closes. John enters, still in his disheveled suit he wore to his brother’s funeral, with a basketball under his arm. He looks up at the goal. Stares at it. Then he dribbles over to it and stands underneath it. He shoots. Scores. Grabs the ball again. Shoots. Scores. He grabs the ball, and steps back and shoots about a 10-footer (maybe he makes it, maybe he doesn’t). He gets the rebound. John takes off his jacket and tosses it on the ground nearby. He takes a few more shots, and then rolls up his sleeves. He dribbles the ball around, deftly, and drives to the basket and scores. He plays harder and harder, as if he’s trying to win a game of one-on-one. When he misses, he aggressively gets the rebound, and puts it back it. He shoots, and drives, and pump fakes, all as if someone is guarding him. He plays until he is breathing hard, and sweaty, and hot. He makes one final layup where he dribbles around, backs down, turns, drives, and reverses up and under the basket for the score. He raises his hands in the air, but he’s exhausted. He is not the man he used to be. He breathes hard. The ball bounces until it stops. He just stands there, not sure what to do next. He is lost. From a distance, a dog barks. Suddenly, John grabs at his nose. It’s bleeding.
JOHN: Ah, shit.
He leans his head back and gets down on the ground, on his back.
Light fade out.
In the black, thunder. Lights up. Day. Summer. 2016. In the van. Which is stopped on the side of a deserted road. Michelle, without her glasses, sits in the passenger seat. Her head is down. She seems lost. Luke hops into the van, phone in hand.
LUKE: That blew.
He wipes away the sweat. It’s hot.
MICHELLE: What happened?
LUKE: It’s way too bright out there.
Thunder rumbles again.
MICHELLE: Not for long. You couldn’t get any good pictures?
LUKE: I don’t know. Old bridges? Do I really want to do old bridges now?
MICHELLE: Why not? It’s Americana.
LUKE: Don’t say Americana. We’ve poisoned real Americana with fake Americana, which real estate agents or antique dealers or gift shop clerks will gladly sell to you with a fake smile and a fake “how do you do?”
MICHELLE: OK, so don’t do old bridges.
LUKE: But I like old bridges.
MICHELLE: OK, so do old bridges.
LUKE: Yeah, but bridges now? I did the houses thing, rivers, barns. Now bridges? My work is getting very…
LUKE: We need to come back at twilight.
MICHELLE: What is it about you and twilight?
LUKE: Twilight is mysterious. Half light and half darkness. It has a way of making the most mundane things seem interesting.
She takes this in.
LUKE: (cont’d) (looking through “windshield”) The storm coming our way is incredible. The clouds are just massive. Look at the colors.
He looks at her. She’s not looking at the clouds.
LUKE: (cont’d) How are you doing?
MICHELLE: How am I doing? I’m doing fine. Why do you ask?
LUKE: You seem a little…
MICHELLE: A little…what?
LUKE: A little…I don’t know. Not yourself.
MICHELLE: What does that mean?
LUKE: Honestly, you’ve kind of seemed that way most of this trip.
MICHELLE: I’m fine.
LUKE: Really? You don’t seem fine. You haven’t seemed fine, actually, since the…since the whole baby thing.
MICHELLE: Oh, really?
MICHELLE: And you’re just mentioning it now? Eight months later?
LUKE: Can we talk about what’s going on?
MICHELLE: There’s nothing going on.
LUKE: Right. It’s just that I’m right here, and it seems like you don’t know that I’m right here. And I’d like you to notice that I’m right here.
MICHELLE: What are you talking about?
LUKE: I’m talking about you and me.
MICHELLE: You and me what? That I’m not jumping all over you, is that it?
LUKE: I’ve been understanding.
MICHELLE: You have. And I appreciate it. You want a Nobel Prize?
LUKE: What can I do for you right now?
LUKE: You hungry? Let me see what we have.
He turns in his seat, gets on his knees and leans into the back to bags and a cooler and takes stock.
LUKE: (cont’d) We have some slightly stale fries from Hardee’s left. One and a half bagels. No cream cheese, though. A half-eaten cookie from Subway. You don’t want this salad. There’s a banana, but it’s kind of crushed. Barbecue potato chips. There’s one Diet Coke left. Sorry, food out on the road is pretty shitty.
Thunder again. The clouds move in. The bright sun dims.
MICHELLE: Forget it. Please.
He turns around and sits.
LUKE: When we get into town, let’s have lunch. A real lunch.
MICHELLE: When is the Triple A guy getting here?
LUKE: They said immediately.
MICHELLE: It’s getting really hot in here.
LUKE: Why don’t we open the doors? Get a little air.
They open the doors.
LUKE: (cont’d) You want more water? Might cool you down. The AC won’t work, of course, if the van won’t work.
MICHELLE: Are you sure the engine’s fried?
LUKE: I’m no mechanic, but I’m pretty sure.
MICHELLE: How are we going to get home?
LUKE: John’s going to have to send us money.
LUKE: Hey, we’ve always helped each other. When he was at Chico State for a year, he was always asking for money. Do you want to see if we can see a doctor when get into Taos?
LUKE: You can’t go the rest of this trip like this.
MICHELLE: Rest of what trip? The trip is over.
LUKE: It’s been good, hasn’t it?
MICHELLE: Sure. Yes. Long overdue, didn’t happen when you said it would happen, but, yeah, it’s been good.
LUKE: I mean Wyoming was ridiculous. The Tetons, come on. The Mississippi. Door County in Wisconsin. And look where we are now. Look at that sky! Look how huge it is!
He looks at her.
LUKE: (cont’d) You’re not looking. Why won’t you look?
MICHELLE: I can’t see anything without my glasses.
LUKE: When we get home, you’re going to the doctor.
MICHELLE: Our co-pay is nuts. How are we going to pay for it?
LUKE: I’m sorry I haven’t done better with the art thing.
MICHELLE: I don’t expect you to save us.
LUKE: (making light) I think I’d make a really good successful artist, too.
MICHELLE: (playing along) Meaning what?
LUKE: You know, appreciative. Humble. You would never hear me give some pretentious art quote in a magazine. Plus, I would totally give back.
MICHELLE: Would you?
LUKE: Like, totally. Senior centers and inner city youth clubs. Teach them all about focal points, and the color wheel. Because I have a big heart.
MICHELLE: That’s going to be the headline in the New Yorker. “Great art, big heart.”
They smile at each other. Thunder again.
MICHELLE: Look at us. Middle of nowhere. No other cars. Buzzards circling. Storm coming. I think we’ve reached the scary part of the trip.
LUKE: We’re in an old, white van broken down on the side of the road. We are the scary part.
MICHELLE: Scary us.
LUKE: What was that great scene in “Breaking Bad?”
MICHELLE: You’re going to have to be more specific.
LUKE: (imitating Bryan Cranston) “I am the one who knocks.”
MICHELLE: Your Bryan Cranston imitation needs a little work.
LUKE: Oh, really? “I am the one who knocks.”
MICHELLE: Yeah, you’re great. I’m, like, shivering.
LUKE: My point is, and I do have a point, my point is we are the ones who knock right now, OK?
LUKE: And we are actually in New Mexico, too, right now, so…
LUKE: So…you know, I am Bryan Cranston right now.
MICHELLE: Which part? The school teacher part? The dying of cancer part? Or the meth king part?
LUKE: The bad ass part.
MICHELLE: Right. Say, Bryan, could we dip into those millions because we are seriously broke right now. I hate being broke.
LUKE: Me, too.
It starts to rain.
LUKE: (cont’d) Here we go.
They close the van doors.
MICHELLE: What do you think of the name Bryan?
LUKE: What do I think of it? I don’t know. Seems to work for Bryan Cranston.
MICHELLE: I meant, you know, for a baby.
LUKE: Michelle, don’t do this to yourself.
MICHELLE: Do you think a person can die of a broken heart?
MICHELLE: I do. (beat) I could see it very clearly, Luke. It was about two inches long. Arms, legs, hands, feet. Its eyes were open. And looking at me.
He looks at her with complete compassion. She does not look at him.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Did you know that next week is the 11th year anniversary of the fire in Beaver Creek?
LUKE: No, I didn’t know that.
MICHELLE: I can no longer hear the sounds of my parents’ voices. (beat) I wonder what our baby’s voice would have sounded like.
LUKE: Like you, I hope.
The sound of a truck approaching.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) There’s the Triple A guy. To the rescue.
He gets out of the van. Exits. Into the rain. He starts off, turns around, goes back into the van, goes to her, and kisses her with everything he has. Then he gets out again, and disappears into the rain. Stunned, she watches him, and the tow truck driver (both are off stage), squinting. After a moment, she puts on her glasses. Looks at them again. Then she looks up at the sky. She is blown over by how immense and beautiful it is.
She gets out of the van, into the rain. She stands there, and opens her arms wide, embracing the sky. It’s all so beautiful, she can’t help but laugh. After a moment, she spins. And spins. Up onto her toes, like a ballerina.
Slow, slow fade out.
End of Act One
Fall. 2016. Bangor, Maine. Early morning. Front porch, John’s house. It’s very cold. And quiet. John sips kava. He’s in jeans and a sweatshirt (it says “Maine”). He’s in bare feet. He’s on his cell, on speaker phone, pacing.
JOHN: (on phone) No, dumbass, keep going.
LUKE: (on speaker) Keep going? Where the hell are you leading me?
JOHN: I’m leading you to the bridge!
LUKE: I don’t see a goddamn bridge.
JOHN: It’s that giant, rusty, metal thing.
LUKE: I see a giant, rusty, metal thing, but it’s an abandoned truck in the weeds.
JOHN: Are you the stupidest person who ever lived?
LUKE: Second stupidest. Guess who’s first?
JOHN: The bridge is straight ahead of you.
LUKE: I don’t see the bridge! I don’t see the…hold on, I see it.
Luke laughs into the phone.
JOHN: Jesus, you’re sad. You’d get lost walking out to the pitcher’s mound.
LUKE: Suck my ass.
JOHN: On the way back, if you get turned around somehow, I hope you like living in the North Woods, because that’s where you’d be headed. Moose, guns, and blueberries will be your only friends. (beat) Hello? (beat) Hello? Luke? Luke?
John looks at his phone.
JOHN: (cont’d) Ah, Christ.
Hanging up, John sits in a crappy, torn, old porch chair. His sips his drink. Michelle stumbles out in a long-sleeved shirt, sweat pants, socks, mussing her hair, yawning, rubbing her arms in the cold. She doesn’t have her glasses.
MICHELLE: That bed is way too small.
JOHN: I know.
MICHELLE: How’d you sleep?
JOHN: Not well.
MICHELLE: Me, either. There are weird lumps in the bed. Did you notice?
He turns to look at her. He considers her.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) (”What’s with the look?”) What?
JOHN: Did I notice the lumps?
MICHELLE: Yes, Luke. Did you notice the lumps?
JOHN: Last night? Not really.
MICHELLE: Maybe there’s nothing on your side.
MICHELLE: I am wiped.
JOHN: You should have pumped the brakes on the eight cans of Diet Coke last night.
MICHELLE: Whoa. Harsh.
JOHN: You’re in a post-binge soda crash.
MICHELLE: I like Diet Coke.
JOHN: Right. We all have our weaknesses.
MICHELLE: What are you doing up? Usually you’re a disaster the day after we fly.
JOHN: A disaster?
MICHELLE: The drugs don’t usually wear off right away.
JOHN: Well, I guess I’m just not my normal self today.
She looks at him a little sideways. She’s thinking “Luke is being weird.”
MICHELLE: (tapping behind her ear) I don’t have my glasses. Are you wearing your motion sickness Transderm patch thingy?
JOHN: It came off in the shower.
MICHELLE: You showered? How long have you been up?
MICHELLE: The air is nice out here.
MICHELLE: But it’s freezing. Warm me up!
She snuggles up to him. He doesn’t respond. She gets back up and moves away from him.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Oh, wait. I’m still pissed at you.
JOHN: From the Diet Coke dig?
MICHELLE: No. I’m talking about you getting all handsy in your brother’s bed last night.
MICHELLE: Yes, and I don’t care how long it’s been, or how beautiful you keep saying I am. It was John’s bed and he was only about 20 feet away in the next room, on the couch.
JOHN: Sorry. A man has needs.
She looks at him funny, for a moment, perhaps squinting, getting a strange vibe, then looks out.
MICHELLE: This place is drafty, and moldy, the doors barely close, there’s no hot water, and the kitchen smells.
JOHN: Glad you like it.
MICHELLE: John shouldn’t have to live like this.
MICHELLE: And where is all the furniture?
JOHN: Well, my ex-housemate owned most of it and he took it when he moved out.
She turns to him.
She squints at him. He grins.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Holy shit! John?!
MICHELLE: How could you do that?!
JOHN: I didn’t do anything.
MICHELLE: Why are you pretending to be Luke?!
JOHN: Again, I didn’t do anything. You walked out here and assumed. I just went along with it.
MICHELLE: Why did you go along with it?!
JOHN: How is it you can’t tell us apart?
MICHELLE: I don’t have my glasses! I can’t tell you two apart without my glasses!
JOHN: So where are they?
MICHELLE: I left them by your small, lumpy bed!
JOHN: I happen to like my small, lumpy bed.
MICHELLE: I could have done something really embarrassing here!
JOHN: Well, you kind of, sort of did. The snuggle and all.
MICHELLE: Yeah, but it could have been much worse!
JOHN: Could have.
MICHELLE: You’re enjoying this way too much!
JOHN: My sweatshirt didn’t give it away?
MICHELLE: Luke owns the same sweatshirt! You bought it for him last Christmas!
JOHN: Oh, yeah. Although, technically, the lettering is different.
MICHELLE: I can’t read the lettering!
MICHELLE: (cont’d) I’m glad you find this amusing!
JOHN: All right, I’ll stop. Sorry. Welcome to Maine, by the way.
MICHELLE: That’s so sincere.
He chuckles again. Stops.
JOHN: Listen, I wanted to tell you how sorry I was to hear about the miscarriage.
MICHELLE: Where’s Luke?
JOHN: He went to take some photos. There’s a bridge beyond the dead end.
MICHELLE: That sounds like the beginning of a Stephen King story.
JOHN: Well, Bangor is Stephen King country.
MICHELLE: What are you drinking?
JOHN: My ex-housemate left it behind. I didn’t have any coffee.
MICHELLE: What is kava?
JOHN: Some kind of powdered root. Supposed to be calming. Kind of numbs my mouth and throat a little. You want some?
MICHELLE: Yeah, no.
JOHN: At least it’s warm. There is still some in the kitchen.
MICHELLE: I’ll pass. How’s the AAU basketball thing going?
JOHN: I quit a couple weeks ago.
MICHELLE: You did? I didn’t know that.
JOHN: I told Luke.
JOHN: AAU is corrupt. It’s super intense. I don’t want intense. Which is why I have the kava.
MICHELLE: So what are you doing now?
MICHELLE: Is the house really going to be sold?
JOHN: It’s already been sold. New owners are going to tear it down. Put up some Colonial replica. So I’m looking for a place to live, too.
MICHELLE: Are you going to…to move back to California?
JOHN: No. I like it here. The people are white as hell, but they’re genuine.
MICHELLE: Sorry the AAU thing didn’t work out.
JOHN: It happens. At least you have good news.
MICHELLE: The collector guy?
JOHN: The collector guy.
MICHELLE: Like it fell out of the sky.
JOHN: The bridge painting he did in New Mexico was impressive, so I’m not surprised.
MICHELLE: Agua Calientes.
JOHN: (emphasizing the “s” in Aguas) Aguas Calientes. Aguas.
MICHELLE: Right. And now other collectors are sniffing all over him. It’s changed everything for us.
JOHN: I think it’s great.
MICHELLE: You’re not…?
MICHELLE: You know. Envious?
JOHN: Because I quit my job and am living in a house that should be condemned? It’s not a contest. I want him to do well.
MICHELLE: Sure. (beat) Funny how life is. Four months ago we were borrowing money from you, and now you’re in a slide.
JOHN: Thank God I have the kava. To numb my troubles.
MICHELLE: Look, if you need to borrow some money to carry you through-
JOHN: I’m good.
MICHELLE: We borrowed it from you.
MICHELLE: I know how broke you are right now.
JOHN: I don’t think you do.
MICHELLE: I’d be happy to give you whatever you need.
JOHN: Forget it, Michelle.
JOHN: (cont’d) Anyway. Glad you guys came out.
MICHELLE: I didn’t know we were. I thought we were just going to New York, and at the airport in Sacramento, he’s like “surprise!”
JOHN: Yeah. He didn’t tell me you were coming, either.
MICHELLE: I think his greatest regret was letting you move away.
JOHN: He’s never told me that.
MICHELLE: Not the kind of thing you guys talk about, is it?
JOHN: How long are you staying?
MICHELLE: I don’t know. Not long.
She squints at an easel leaned against a wall.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) What’s with the easel? That is an easel, isn’t it?
JOHN: It is.
MICHELLE: Can’t be Luke’s. Is it yours?
JOHN: Not sure where it came from.
MICHELLE: Are you painting again?
JOHN: It’s not mine, Michelle.
He’s lying and she knows it.
MICHELLE: When is Luke going to be back?
JOHN: Not sure.
MICHELLE: How far is the bridge beyond the dead end?
JOHN: A ways.
MICHELLE: Is there a trail?
JOHN: Define “trail.”
MICHELLE: If I tried to meet up with him, would I get lost?
JOHN: Hard to say. Just remember, if a bear charges, play dead.
MICHELLE: Why are you messing with me?
JOHN: Seems like great fun.
MICHELLE: I’m going to meet up with him.
JOHN: Okey-dokey. He’d like that.
She looks at him a moment, not too kindly, and then disappears into the house. He looks over at the easel. After a moment, she reappears in a coat (buttoning it), shoes, and her glasses.
MICHELLE: See you in a bit.
JOHN: Hope so. Happy birthday, by the way.
MICHELLE: My birthday is tomorrow.
JOHN: Oh. Right. Can’t wait to celebrate.
MICHELLE: I’m sure.
JOHN: I’ll bet Luke has big plans.
MICHELLE: I think coming here was his big plan.
JOHN: Well. Fall in New England? As good as it gets.
MICHELLE: All right, I’m taking off. Which way did he go?
JOHN: (pointing) That way. While you’re gone, I’ll brainstorm some ideas. Of things to do. While you’re here.
She exits. He sits. Watches her.
In the black, Bon Jovi rocks. “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Lights up. Night. Evening of Scene One. Living room of Luke and Michelle’s house. Michelle is there alone. She’s in her same cheap, dark dress. She’s half-dancing around, half-drunk, nursing one of Uncle David’s bottles of beer. The Bon Jovi song has come down and is now playing out of her iPhone, which she holds in her other hand. She is mouthing along with the words. After a bit, she eyes, on the wall, a framed old advertisement of Union Pacific railroad. She looks at it, then takes it down off the wall. She goes behind the couch and retrieves a painting. She puts it up on the wall. It’s the painting of the overlook where she and Luke met. She stands back 10 or 15 feet and looks at it. After a moment, she goes into a drawer of a side table, and comes out with a Sharpie. She goes to the painting and draws a stick figure sitting on the empty bench. She gives it hair matching her own. She puts the pen down and stands back again. She looks. She goes to the painting and draws another stick figure. A male. Her version of Luke. This figure sits next to the figure she drew of herself. She steps back. Looks a really long time. Lights slowly fade out. The music continues a little longer, then fades, too.
Luke and Michelle’s house. Bedroom. Late at night. Late summer, 2017. Eight days before Scene One. Luke is packing. Aggressively. He’s wearing a t-shirt with a picture of the painting “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth. Ready for bed, Michelle stands by the window, looking out.
MICHELLE: The redwoods we planted are really growing. Maybe before you go we could sit in the Adirondack chairs. Look up at the moon. And the stars.
He says nothing, packs, hard. Disappointed he didn’t respond:
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Or not.
She reaches down into a drawer and removes a couple of batteries. She turns away from the window and goes to the bed, sitting, where three smoke alarms are out. She starts putting the batteries in. He packs. Loudly.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Something bothering you?
LUKE: I don’t want to fly.
MICHELLE: I know. I’m sorry. Why don’t you come to bed?
LUKE: Makes me sick to my stomach.
MICHELLE: Gee, thanks.
LUKE: Not you. Flying.
MICHELLE: You still have any of those patches?
LUKE: The Transderm? I have one. And they only sort of, kind of work.
MICHELLE: They at least do something.
LUKE: They do, yes. They make me sleepy and dizzy. I’m going to be an absolute joy at the show.
MICHELLE: You always are.
LUKE: I should drive.
MICHELLE: Don’t do that. That’s silly. Waste a plane ticket?
LUKE: I don’t care about the money.
MICHELLE: Well, you should care about the money. The new water heater was almost a thousand bucks. And art collectors are fickle.
LUKE: I shouldn’t have agreed to fly. I can drive.
MICHELLE: This is panic talking.
LUKE: So? So what if it is? Panic is a great motivator.
MICHELLE: You can’t drive to Seattle. It’s 12 hours from here.
LUKE: It’s 11, if I drive through the night and avoid traffic.
MICHELLE: Drive through the night?
LUKE: Yeah, I could leave right now.
MICHELLE: That’s insane.
LUKE: What’s insane is having a fear of flying, but deciding to get on a plane anyway, and then for two hours, sitting like a man in a straight-jacket in those tiny, uncomfortable seats, getting nervous, and sweating, and claustrophobic, and nauseous because I still get motion sickness even though I wear a motion sickness patch behind my ear. That’s insane.
MICHELLE: Tell me you weren’t just on the internet in the living room looking at plane crashes on youtube.
LUKE: OK, I won’t tell you that.
MICHELLE: What is wrong with you? Why do you do that?
LUKE: Look, bottom line, I love to drive. Why am I not driving?
MICHELLE: The van has three hundred thousand miles on it. I’d worry the whole time.
LUKE: You’d worry? But not if I’m on a plane?
MICHELLE: Please, let’s not have the “cars are safer than planes” discussion.
LUKE: They are safer. Have you ever seen a car plunge from the sky at 550 miles an hour?
MICHELLE: This is a control issue, that’s all.
LUKE: I could take your Acura. It’s less than a year old.
MICHELLE: You’re not leaving me with the van to drive. Unless you want me to sell the van while you’re gone.
LUKE: We’re never selling that van. I love that van. You know, I don’t actually know if I do have a patch.
MICHELLE: I can check. Where are they?
LUKE: In my black bag, in the hall closet. Last time I flew was on your birthday trip back east.
MICHELLE: A year ago?
LUKE: Shit. Do you think they’re expired?
MICHELLE: I’m sure they’re still good. Let me get them for you.
LUKE: I should drive to Seattle. I love I-5.
MICHELLE: (off stage) You hate I-5.
LUKE: I hate it south of here. Between about Los Baños and the Grapevine. North of Redding, I love it.
MICHELLE: (off stage) How did we let this closet get to be such a mess? We’ve only lived in this house five months.
LUKE: If I drove, you could come with me. We could make a trip out of it. We don’t do enough driving trips. (beat) Michelle? Do you hear me?
She returns with the patch and a painting.
MICHELLE: Hey, would you look at what I found in the closet?
LUKE: Did you find the patch?
MICHELLE: This is the overlook where we met.
LUKE: What about the patch?
MICHELLE: I have it. Look.
He looks at the painting.
LUKE: Where did you find that?
MICHELLE: It was buried in the back of the closet. Wasn’t this supposed to go to the Best Western?
LUKE: I don’t know.
MICHELLE: This is the overlook where we met, right?
LUKE: Looks like it.
MICHELLE: Is this the painting you were working on that day? Wait. I’m not in this. I remember you painting me into it. The back of my head.
LUKE: You’re not in it because that’s not my painting. It’s John’s.
MICHELLE: He painted from that overlook, too?
LUKE: Of course.
MICHELLE: That’s weird.
LUKE: We both liked it up there.
MICHELLE: So I could just as easily have run into him as you?
LUKE: I guess so.
MICHELLE: Oh. (beat) I have a confession to make.
MICHELLE: That day you and I met up on the overlook was not the first time I’d been up there.
MICHELLE: I was up there the day before.
MICHELLE: And I watched you paint. For quite awhile. From a distance.
LUKE: I see. You’re a stalker.
MICHELLE: Is it possible that wasn’t you? OK, don’t answer that question just yet. I’m freaking out at little.
They look at each other.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Why are you not saying anything? Why are you not jumping in and immediately reassuring me that it was you that I saw.
LUKE: Probably it was me. Probably. Why didn’t you approach?
MICHELLE: I was too intimidated. Artist at work and all.
MICHELLE: But I worked up the courage and came back the next day in the hope you’d be there again.
LUKE: I was. Probably. I was up there a lot. But we’ll never know for sure. Who cares if it was him or me? You and I are here now.
She’s looking at the painting now. She turns it over. Looks. Then looks up at him.
MICHELLE: What is going on?
LUKE: What do you mean?
MICHELLE: “Best Western” is written on the back here.
LUKE: Give me the painting.
MICHELLE: This is the painting that went to the Best Western where you were working.
LUKE: Give me the painting.
MICHELLE: You said it wasn’t yours. You said it was John’s.
LUKE: I was wrong. Give me the painting, Michelle.
She turns it over and looks at the painting again.
MICHELLE: Why am I not in this painting?
LUKE: For God’s sake, give me the goddamn painting.
MICHELLE: I remember I was in it. Why am I not in it?
LUKE: I did many paintings of that overlook, Michelle.
MICHELLE: You painted over me, didn’t you?
He doesn’t say anything.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) That’s why you said it was his painting. You wanted to pass it off as his because you’re trying to cover for the fact that you painted over me.
He doesn’t say anything.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Why would you paint over me, Luke?
LUKE: I didn’t like you in it. You threw off the balance of the composition.
She stares at him. Stunned.
LUKE: (cont’d) I told you that, that day. But you insisted I put you in the painting. Insisted.
MICHELLE: So you hid it so I wouldn’t see it. Why doesn’t the Best Western have it?
LUKE: They did. After a month or so, they gave it back to me. I don’t think they liked it. I took it home, and painted you out.
MICHELLE: Why didn’t you sell it?
LUKE: I tried to sell it. No one would buy it.
MICHELLE: Why didn’t you just throw out the painting?
LUKE: I thought it was a good painting.
MICHELLE: It is.
LUKE: I never meant to hurt you with this, Michelle.
MICHELLE: Well, you did. You did hurt me. You put your art first.
LUKE: I’m sorry.
MICHELLE: I have to tell you, it always feels like you think I’m throwing off the balance of your composition.
LUKE: What does that mean?
She hands him the painting.
MICHELLE: Here’s your painting. I’m surprised you didn’t paint your brother into it.
MICHELLE: Take the patch.
She gives him the patch.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) You’re sleeping on the couch tonight. Don’t wake me when you leave in the morning. You can get to the airport on your own. Now get out of here.
He exits. She goes back to the bed. She sits. Then smashes the smoke alarms against each other, breaking them.
The morning after Scene Nine. An airplane cabin. Luke sits in a row alone. He has a small patch behind one of his ears. He has his head back against the seat, but his eyes are wide open. He’s a bit restless, a bit nauseous. He can’t get comfortable. There is slight turbulence, and every time there is a bump at all, he grabs at his stomach and the arms of the seat. He’s miserable. He touches his neck to be sure the patch is there, but frustrated that it doesn’t seem to be working. After a moment, he lifts his head and fishes his phone out of his pocket. It has ear buds already plugged in. He twists them into his ears and plays some music.
PILOT: (intercom) Hello, this is your captain speaking.
Luke yanks the plugs from his ears the moment he hears the pilot’s voice.
PILOT: (cont’d) We have reached our cruising altitude of 30 thousand feet. Flight time will be one hour and fifty-six minutes. The temperature in Seattle is 67 degrees currently. Right now, we have blue skies, winds out of the south at 10 miles an hour. Should be a smooth flight. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight. Thank you for choosing our airline.
LUKE: Fuck you.
Luke puts his ear buds back in. All is calm for about 15 seconds. Luke tries to relax. Can’t do it. He turns to the window. He sees something at a distance. He can’t quite make out what it is. It’s only mildly concerning for a moment, and then very concerning, and then, suddenly, there is a whooshing sound, followed by a thump as Luke jumps back from the window. His phone hits the floor.
LUKE: (cont’d) What the hell was that!?
The plane lurches, turns, wiggles. Then, suddenly, there is a…
LUKE: (cont’d) Jesus!
The plane plunges. There is a roaring sound. He grabs onto the seat. He’s thrown about. Some people are screaming. The lights flicker on and off, until they stay off. He hangs on as the plane rattles and shakes. Seeing his phone, he grabs it from the floor and turns it on. Waits.
LUKE: (cont’d) Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!
The phone is thrown from his hand. He unbuckles himself, and he is thrown to the floor, and bounced around. He grabs the phone and crawls back to his seat. The plane roars downward. He braces himself. He tries to unlock his phone. The plane is shaking violently and he is having trouble punching the numbers.
LUKE: (cont’d) Shit! Shit! Come on! 8! 9! 4! 6!
He then makes a call using “recent” calls. He puts the phone to his ear, looking frantically out the window.
LUKE: (cont’d) Michelle, it’s Luke, I-
He looks at the phone, realizing he’s accidentally called his brother and not his wife, and puts the phone back to his ear. The plane shakes, and so does Luke. He waits for John’s recorded greeting to finish, then:
LUKE: (cont’d) John, it’s Luke! My plane is going down! No bullshit! I’m on the plane to Seattle! Another small aircraft of some kind hit the side of our plane! There’s a fire! We are going down fast!
The plane rocks back and forth. Luke fights to stay on the phone.
LUKE: (cont’d) This is it, man! (beat) I wish Dad hadn’t left. I wish you hadn’t moved away. I wish you hadn’t given up painting. Go back to it, you stupid asshole. Do it! Mom always said you and I were gifts from God. You got a gift, too, John. Don’t waste it. Don’t waste it!
He grabs at his nose. It’s bleeding.
LUKE: (cont’d) Shit!
The plane dives.
LUKE: (cont’d) Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
The phone fumbles, again, from his hand and onto the floor.
PILOT: (over speaker) Passengers prepare for impact.
Luke doubles over, his head in his lap. The plane roars downward.
Sounds of the descending plane ease. The lights change, as if in a dream. Above, all the stars in the heavens appear. Across the stage, Michelle appears, in one of the Adirondack chairs, between the redwoods, in the backyard. She’s dressed in summer wear. Luke lifts his torso and looks up at the sky. Michelle looks, too.
MICHELLE: It’s stunning, isn’t it?
LUKE: It is. It’s like it goes on forever.
MICHELLE: What do you see, sweetie?
LUKE: I see Ursa Major.
MICHELLE: The Great Bear. With the Big Dipper.
LUKE: What do you see?
MICHELLE: Ursa Minor, of course.
LUKE: Small Bear. With the Little Dipper.
MICHELLE: I see Pegasus!
MICHELLE: (pointing) There!
They admire the view.
LUKE: It’s a dark night, isn’t it? You can see the Milky Way. It’s incredible.
MICHELLE: Yeah. It’s so big.
MICHELLE: They say there could be up to 400 billion stars in our galaxy. And at least a hundred billion planets. And that our galaxy is just one of a hundred thousand other galaxies that we know of.
LUKE: Wow. (beat) What do you think is more plausible? That something came from nothing or that the something has always existed?
MICHELLE: I don’t know. But I hope it lasts forever.
They keeping looking, in awe.
LUKE: My mother believes that God is in the heavens. Do you think that’s true?
MICHELLE: I only know what I can see. And I can see that one day the redwoods will get so big, we won’t be able to see the sky at all. One day.
He turns to her.
LUKE: You know what I see?
LUKE: I see you. And you look so beautiful.
LUKE: (cont’d) I wish I could be there with you right now.
MICHELLE: Me, too.
LUKE: I wish. I wish. I wish upon a star.
Light starts to fade on Michelle.
LUKE: (cont’d) Wait. Wait. Please. No. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
She is gone. Luke doubles over again, his head in his lap, as before. The roar of the descending plane returns.
One day after Scene One. Morning. Living room of Luke and Michelle’s house. A mess. Items from Luke’s life are piled everywhere. Boxes are out. Michelle, exhausted and hungover, stands awkwardly with John, who looks tired, too. She has just led him into the room.
JOHN: A lot of stuff.
MICHELLE: Yeah. Thanks for coming over.
JOHN: Are you sure want to do this? And right now?
MICHELLE: You’re in town now and I don’t know when you’ll be back.
JOHN: Hey, I’ll still come home.
MICHELLE: I hope so. (beat) You want anything to drink? I have some Diet Coke, I think.
JOHN: Nah. I’m good.
MICHELLE: You want some beer? I’ve been having some of your Uncle David’s beer.
She gestures to the bottles on a table.
JOHN: I’m good, and come on, Michelle, don’t drink that shit.
MICHELLE: I drink, John. Sometimes I drink the wrong thing. Sometimes I drink too early. Sometimes I drink too much. This is me. My scars are showing. (beat) How’s your mom this morning?
JOHN: Quiet. This is a big faith-tester.
MICHELLE: I’m sure. Sort of feels like everything makes a little less sense. When are you driving back?
JOHN: I don’t know. In a couple days.
MICHELLE: How’s it going out there?
JOHN: Who doesn’t love the night shift in a Hostess warehouse? But I did meet my girlfriend there.
MICHELLE: Girlfriend? Luke never mentioned a girlfriend.
JOHN: Well, we’ve broken up actually.
MICHELLE: Oh. Sorry.
JOHN: She and I weren’t, I don’t know…connecting. (beat) What are you going to do now?
MICHELLE: Keep working at the museum, I guess. Try and sell whatever Luke has left, and then after that, I don’t know. I hope I can hang on to the house. That’s what I really want. Just to hold on to what I have left.
Michelle’s cell rings. She doesn’t move.
JOHN: You going to get that?
MICHELLE: No. It’s just another media leech. I don’t want to share my grief with the world.
She kills the phone.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) I’m sorry about what happened yesterday. With the phone message.
JOHN: It’s OK.
MICHELLE: I shouldn’t have deleted the call.
JOHN: I waited too late to tell you about it. I think we can get past it. Don’t you?
MICHELLE: I hope so. (beat) Are we going to be friends, John?
JOHN: Yeah. Yeah, we are.
Beat. She turns to the mess.
MICHELLE: So, just start going through stuff. If you see anything you want, just take it.
JOHN: What if you want it?
MICHELLE: Then we’ll decide who wants it more. I can tell you, I’m not going to want his basketball trophies.
She gestures to a box.
JOHN: He’s got them? I was wondering where they were. Mine are probably in there, too.
MICHELLE: Take them. Take them all.
JOHN: I don’t want to lug them back to Maine. Maybe Mom will take them. She may want a lot of this stuff.
He starts going through things. She folds clothes. John comes across some old baby photos.
JOHN: (cont’d) Baby pictures. Wow, we look alike.
He shows one to her, framed.
JOHN: (cont’d) I can’t tell who’s who.
MICHELLE: I think you’re on the right.
JOHN: I think I’m on the left.
MICHELLE: Want to open the frame and see what it says?
JOHN: Nah. It doesn’t matter.
He puts the photo down on the coffee table, upright, visible. He goes back to a box.
JOHN: (cont’d) Jesus. VHS tapes. When the Kings were actually good. (beat) Look at all this. Books. CDs. Oh, my God.
He pulls out a paper mache head of Tyrannosaurus Rex.
JOHN: (cont’d) I think Luke did this. Or I did. I can’t remember. (he reads some writing on it) “Mrs. Fenkel. 6th grade.”
He holds it up.
JOHN: (cont’d) We were big into dinosaurs. I wonder why he kept all this stuff.
MICHELLE: It must have been important to him.
JOHN: Michelle, if you want to hold on to what you have left, why are you so eager to get rid of it?
MICHELLE: It’s for you. I’m trying to give it to you.
She pulls out a necklace. It has a small medal at the end of it.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Here’s a medal Luke never wore around his neck.
JOHN: It’s probably from Mom.
MICHELLE: Take it. I know your mother wanted a good Catholic daughter-in-law, but I was never that girl.
She hands him the necklace. He reads the medal.
JOHN: “St. Christopher. Protect us.” Yeah, I have one of these. I don’t wear it, either.
MICHELLE: “Protect us?” From what?
JOHN: If you wear it, it’s supposed to protect you, when you’re traveling.
MICHELLE: Maybe Luke should have worn it.
JOHN: Maybe. I’ll see if Mom wants it back. Or. I don’t know. I guess I could wear it for now.
He puts it on. She points to a collection of art supplies.
MICHELLE: There’s his canvas bag with all his paints and paint brushes.
MICHELLE: There’s a wooden box there with more stuff, too. There’s a couple of easels and a pile of birch wood over there. It’s yours if you want it.
JOHN: Why would I want it?
MICHELLE: I heard what Luke said in the phone message.
JOHN: Yeah. He wants me to paint. I know.
MICHELLE: You don’t have to work in a Hostess warehouse anymore, John. Don’t you miss painting?
JOHN: I made my choice. I moved on.
MICHELLE: Why did you really give it up?
JOHN: There was nothing I wanted more than to see my brother succeed at the thing he loved. And me doing it, too, was going to mess that up.
JOHN: He was always going to be in my shadow.
MICHELLE: You were really that good?
JOHN: He had his things. I had mine. One of mine just happened to be the one thing he wanted more than anything.
MICHELLE: He didn’t want you to give it up, did he? And he knew what you did for him, didn’t he?
John doesn’t respond.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) You’re a good brother.
JOHN: In junior high school, I remember we had a One-on-One contest and a HORSE contest, and we got to the finals in each one, and he let me win them, even though we both knew he was the better player. But he did it because basketball mattered more to me. I hated that he did it, but he did it. Luke was a good brother, too.
MICHELLE: He was a good husband. He was…
MICHELLE: (cont’d) I hate speaking in past tense.
She looks at him.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) You know, you’re kind of a miracle the two of you. In so many ways. So alike. So close. You two would tear into each other, but you never actually fought about anything. You never hurt each other. Forgiveness was irrelevant. (beat) I was so nervous to meet you. But I felt I knew you even before I’d met you, and when I did, I thought, wow, I now have someone else to love. (beat) The idea of knowing identical twins was such a strange thing for me at first. My God, there was someone who looked and talked and moved just like my boyfriend. But, after awhile, it wasn’t the similarities that were so amazing. It was your differences. (beat) I learned that all my secrets weren’t safe from you, if I told them to Luke. And I learned to be OK with that. (beat) It took me years to truly grasp how close you two were. And I admit I was very sad when I realized that no matter what, I was going to have to share my husband with someone else. (beat) I know you’ve moved away, and I know I had a hand in it, but I want you to know, that because of you, Luke will never really be gone. How beautiful is that?
They smile at each other. She opens up a folded t-shirt.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) You want any of his clothes? There are piles here. I’m sure they fit.
JOHN: I’m sure they do.
MICHELLE: You guys used to wear each other’s clothes all the time, didn’t you?
JOHN: As kids. Mom thought it was, you know, adorable.
MICHELLE: You want this?
JOHN: What is it?
She holds up the t-shirt.
JOHN: (cont’d) Looks like that Andrew Wyeth painting. “Christina’s World.”
MICHELLE: Yeah, I think it is.
JOHN: Something special about the t-shirt?
MICHELLE: He had this on the night before he left for Seattle.
JOHN: Maybe that’s not a good omen.
MICHELLE: Maybe it’s the best omen. It was the last time I saw him.
JOHN: Don’t you want to keep it, then?
MICHELLE: No, you take it.
She tosses it to him. He catches it.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Why don’t you try it on?
JOHN: (knowing what she’s doing) You want me to try it on?
MICHELLE: Just try it on.
MICHELLE: Just try it on, John. Please.
He puts it on. Looking at him, she tries to hold it together, but can’t. He knows what she sees when she looks at him.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Would you do me a favor?
MICHELLE: Would you say “You throw off the balance of the composition?”
JOHN: Come on, Michelle.
MICHELLE: Please, John.
He takes a moment.
JOHN: You throw off the balance of the composition.
She smiles. She tries not to break.
JOHN: (cont’d) What does that mean?
MICHELLE: Luke said it to me the first time I met him.
MICHELLE: At the time, he was talking about me in a painting, but it turned out to be much bigger than that.
JOHN: How so?
MICHELLE: I threw off the balance of the composition. Of you and Luke.
JOHN: No, you didn’t.
MICHELLE: I wanted with Luke what he had with you. But there was no place for me.
JOHN: That’s not true.
MICHELLE: Of course it is. I told you yesterday, I could never get where you were. Even after you left for Maine.
JOHN: Michelle…what Luke and I had belonged to us, but what you and Luke had belonged to you. It was all yours. And what you shared had nothing to do with me. It’s a sacred thing what goes on between two people. Nothing should ever get between them. Not you. Not me. Not even a plane.
She smiles. She likes this.
MICHELLE: You know, I never told him what I was really doing up there on that overlook the day I met him.
MICHELLE: I got fired from my job. At REI. For showing up drunk. It was a hard time. I was feeling really alone. And low. I only came to live in Placerville because I followed this guy I was dating. And he died. Fell down into a ravine. We had gone camping. Near Tahoe. The temperature dipped unexpectedly. We both got up to go get some firewood. I was holding the flashlight and he just stepped away, into the darkness. I didn’t love him, but he was a nice guy, and I just broke. About a week later, I drove my crappy car up 50 into the mountains. Pulled off. Near Twin Bridges somewhere, and I was just going to walk into the woods. And I was going to walk until I found a place to start a new life, and if I didn’t, I would walk until I couldn’t walk anymore. And so I started walking. And in a weird way it was so freeing to have the whole world open to me. The air felt so good in my lungs. And the sky was so big. And I walked, I don’t know, maybe an hour. And there your brother was. Or, at least, I think it was him. Maybe it was you. I don’t know. I watched for awhile, from a distance, kind of admiring what he, or you, was doing. I’ve never had that kind of talent. Not at all. And then I just walked on. Down into a valley. And I ended up, without realizing it, circling back to my car. Funny, right? I went home. And I started thinking that maybe, I don’t know, that guy I saw up on the overlook was where I was supposed to end up. I thought, you know, when I went walking, I’d find a town, or a ski resort, or some old sawmill where they’d take me on and I’d rent a room above the office. Or I’d just walk and one day they’d find my body inside the hollow of an old Ponderosa. I wasn’t thinking there’d be a guy. But there was. And so I went out the next day. To find him. And I said to myself, if I do find him, then I’m not letting him go. And I found him. And, yeah, I was thinking, he’s doomed, you know? For being with me. But he was so confident, and so skilled, and so passionate about his work. And he seemed to like me. And then one day went by, and he was fine, and another day went by, and he was fine, and then after awhile, I thought he would just be fine.
JOHN: It’s not your fault, Michelle.
MICHELLE: Why does this keep happening? Why does everyone I know die? (beat) Luke hated to fly. He was panicked about flying to Seattle. He wanted to drive. I talked him out of it.
JOHN: It’s still not your fault, Michelle.
MICHELLE: I’ve lost my other half, John.
JOHN: Yeah. Me, too.
MICHELLE: Will you do me another favor?
MICHELLE: Will you sit with me? And talk to me?
JOHN: What do you mean?
MICHELLE: I just want you to talk to me.
JOHN: I’m not Luke, Michelle.
MICHELLE: I know you’re not Luke. I know you’re not Luke, John. I’m not crazy. I just want to be with him. One last time.
MICHELLE: Can’t you just pretend to be him? For me? For just a moment? We’ll just talk. I won’t ever ask you again.
JOHN: Are you sure you want to do this?
MICHELLE: I just don’t want to be sad. Right now. I just want to be happy.
JOHN: OK, Michelle.
They sit down on the couch together. She takes off her glasses.
MICHELLE: Will you hold my hand?
He holds her hand. She looks at his hand, closely. She puts it to her face for a moment.
MICHELLE: Just talk to me. Tell me something.
JOHN: What do you want to hear, Michelle?
MICHELLE: Tell me you’re not going to get on that plane.
He hesitates. This is hard for him.
JOHN: I’m not going to get on that plane. (beat) I’m not going to get on that plane, Michelle.
MICHELLE: I am so sorry for making you fly.
They lean back, into the couch, and she puts her head on his shoulder. She grips him. He grips her. She inhales his smell.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) Tell me what our life would have been like.
He hesitates. He wants to say the right thing.
JOHN: Road trips.
MICHELLE: Yeah. Lots and lots of road trips.
JOHN: In our beat-up old white van.
MICHELLE: Just the two of us.
JOHN: On cross-country highways. Or back roads. All without a map.
MICHELLE: Where we take the time to look at the sky.
JOHN: The sky can be so big.
MICHELLE: And smell the rain.
JOHN: After a summer storm.
MICHELLE: And listen to the wind move across the prairie.
MICHELLE: Where would we go?
JOHN: Anywhere. Joshua Tree. And Memphis. And Miles City, Montana.
MICHELLE: And Door County in Wisconsin.
JOHN: And the Grand Canyon.
MICHELLE: The Gulf Coast.
JOHN: We could drive PCH from San Juan Capistrano to Mendocino County. Or do the Blue Ridge Parkway. Or take I-25 south from Pueblo to Santa Fe. There’s no road more beautiful in the whole world in the summer.
MICHELLE: Or we’d just stay home. And sit in the Adirondack chairs under the redwoods in the back yard.
JOHN: Look up at the moon.
MICHELLE: And the stars.
MICHELLE: Pick out constellations.
MICHELLE: All eternity right there in front of us.
JOHN: We would have been so happy. We would’ve had kids. We would’ve grown old together.
MICHELLE: A whole life.
MICHELLE: (cont’d) I’m going to miss you.
JOHN: I’m going to miss you, too.
MICHELLE: I love you, Luke.
JOHN: I love you, too, Michelle.
They hold each other. Lights fade out.