A park bench along a pathway. A lamppost and trash bin at stage right of bench. Green grass, trees and shrubbery behind the scene against a backdrop of city scape/tall buildings. Blue sky, warm spring day. A young woman is sitting on stage right of the bench, reading a book.
A man enters from stage left and walks toward the bench.
MAN: (gesturing to the empty space on the bench) Mind if I sit down?
WOMAN: (looks up from her book briefly) No, go ahead.
MAN: (sits and stretches out a bit) Perfect day, right?
WOMAN: (doesn’t look up from her book but rolls her eyes, doesn’t want to talk) Mmm-hmm
MAN: (ignoring her annoyance) My favorite season, Spring. All the fresh air and people walking about.
WOMAN: (adjusts in her seat, keeps reading)
MAN: (glances around for a bit, lights a cigarette)
WOMAN: (notices the smell of the smoke and looks up irritated) I’m sorry, do you mind?
MAN: (confused) What? Oh, would you like one? (offers her the pack)
WOMAN: No I don’t. And I’d appreciate you not smoking either. I don’t like the smell.
MAN: (doesn’t put out the cigarette) Yeah, it’s an unfortunate side effect. I suppose I’ve gotten used
to it to some degree. They say that happens you know. (takes another drag but blows it the opposite direction)
WOMAN: (annoyed, closes her book and gathers her things to leave)
MAN: (notices the book cover) Hey! Thistles in the Darkness. Good read. What part are you on?
WOMAN: (somewhat flustered) Um, Cairstine just met Niall at the drawbridge.
MAN: Ah, so you haven’t read about the battle yet?
WOMAN: (puts her hand up to silence him) No! Please don’t say anything else! I want to read it for
myself. (sits back down on the bench)
MAN: (chuckling, takes another drag off the cigarette) I won’t spoil it for you. It’s worth finding out on your own.
WOMAN: (eyeing the man a little more closely now) It seems like an odd choice of book for a guy…
MAN: (speaking with the cigarette pursed in between his lips and reaching into his pocket) Hey,
there are no rules anymore. If girls can go to war, why can’t dudes enjoy the occasional historical love story?
WOMAN: To each his own I suppose.
MAN: (hands woman a card) I’m just kidding with you. I’m not typically into romance novels. I write reviews for a literary publication, but I’m not that good so I have to read whatever crap comes across my desk. (chuckles) Most of it makes me want to staple my eyelids shut, but occasionally something worthwhile comes my way.
WOMAN: (takes his card, looks at it and sticks it inside the book) Well, thanks for the tip. It’s not always clear which books might give you the urge to self-harm. (sarcastically)
MAN: (chuckles) Very true. Do me a favor. If you do feel the urge, use the card. I can talk you down off the ledge.
WOMAN: (smiles) Good to know, thanks.
MAN: So, what do you do? No, wait. Let me guess. I have an uncanny knack for people and professions. (puts out cigarette and turns towards woman on the bench) Reading on a park bench in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday…casually dressed…comfortable shoes…Ah! Got it! Dog walker.
WOMAN: (laughs) Nice try, but you’re missing one crucial piece of the puzzle there. Do you see a dog anywhere? I’d be the worst dog walker in the entire city if that were the case.
MAN: Hmmm, I guess I missed that little detail. Ok, hang on. Let me try again. (gestures like he’s thinking hard) Oversized Louis Vuitton purse…manicured nails…Independently wealthy socialite?
WOMAN: (laughs harder) Oh boy. I would strongly suggest you do not quit your day job. Not even close!
MAN: (sighs) I guess I’m having an off day. Ok, I give up. What’s your story?
WOMAN: (turns her knees towards him in conversation) I’m a student, actually. Finishing up my Master’s in social work. I don’t normally have manicured nails. I just came from a place. It’s, um, my birthday today actually.
MAN: Ah! Well, Happy Birthday...um…sorry, I didn’t catch your name. (puts out his hand)
WOMAN: (grasps his hand) It’s Leah.
MAN: Happy Birthday Leah. Paul. Nice to meet you.
LEAH: (chuckles) I don’t normally sit on park benches either. (more seriously) I was supposed to meet my husband for lunch but it appears he has been otherwise disposed. I was just killing time.
PAUL: And what is it that your husband does?
LEAH: Good question! (laughs) No, he’s in finance. He works downtown, but with the current economy, there is no such thing as a normal 9 to 5 anymore.
PAUL: Ah, yeah. That makes sense. (stretches out and lights another cigarette) Well, his loss is my gain.
LEAH: (smiles at his complement in spite of herself)
PAUL: So, how long you been married?
LEAH: Uh, about nine years.
PAUL: (whistles) That’s a long time. You must be happy.
LEAH: (uncomfortable, shifts slightly in her seat) It’s not that long, but yeah, I suppose we are happy.
PAUL: Well, don’t sound so convincing. People might think you’re not telling the truth. (winks, takes another drag off the cigarette)
LEAH: (offended) That was rude. You don’t know me.
PAUL: I didn’t mean any offense. I’m sorry. I’m sure you are happy. I…was just thinking what a shame it is that you’re alone on your birthday. I can’t imagine what could possibly keep me away from spending a beautiful day with a beautiful woman is all.
LEAH: (considers leaving but stays put) No. You’re right. I’m sorry. I was wondering the same thing actually. Well, not the beautiful woman part, but the other part about not showing up. The first birthday I had after we got married, he rented a little house on the lake for a weekend. I’m not even sure when the last time we spent an entire day together was.
PAUL: (puffs on his cigarette) Well, it’s a shame. I’ve only spent ten minutes with you and I can assure you that you are quite lovely to be with. (smiles)
LEAH: (laughs) Oh boy. So does that normally work for you? This, ‘flattery will get you everywhere’ approach?
PAUL: It might not get me everywhere, but I do okay. Grandma once told me, (in an exaggerated southern accent) ‘Pauly, looks only go so far, and yours are in short supply. You’re gonna need to figure another way in if you don’t want to be the only one pullin’ on yer pecker.’
LEAH: (laughing) Oh my god! That’s terrible!
PAUL: Yeah, well, classy may not have been her thing, but you can’t say she wasn’t honest.
LEAH: (still laughing) I’m sorry, that’s hilarious…and incredibly messed up!
PAUL: (chuckling) She was married five times so she was well-versed.
LEAH: Oh, man. (shaking her head) So, what about you? Married?
PAUL: Once. A long time ago. She, uh. She got cancer two years into our marriage. Sometimes the
death in ‘til death do us part’ comes sooner than you’d expect. (leans over his knees, reflective, smoking)
LEAH: (leans closer into Paul, instinctively puts had on his leg) I’m so sorry.
PAUL: (looks down at Leah’s hand)
LEAH: (pulls hand back sheepishly)
PAUL: (adjusts back to his seat on the bench) It’s okay. What can you do? Like I said, it was a lifetime ago.
LEAH: (a long pause) Sometimes I wish my husband would die.
PAUL: (looks at Leah)
LEAH: It’s awful. I know. (runs her hands through her hair) It’s just…this is nothing like I thought it would be. Sometimes I just want to hit the restart button on my life. He’s a good guy. I love him. But when he canceled today, I wasn’t terribly disappointed. (pauses, reflecting then looks at Paul) What kind of marriage is it when you prefer to be alone?
PAUL: (holds her gaze)
LEAH: Oh, god. I’m sorry. I can’t believe I just said that to you! Here you are talking about your dead wife and I just blurt out the most awful response. I should go. (gathers her things to leave)
PAUL: (reaches out to stop her) No! No, stay. It’s okay. (they both settle back on the bench, Paul puts out the cigarette) My wife…I loved her. And losing her so quickly was hard. You know, people want to believe the best of themselves. That they are somehow immune from the terrible things or terrible choices that happen every day. That their marriage will last. That they will always choose the higher road. That those fairy tale fantasies from childhood will somehow manifest into their own happy endings. And I’ve just found that isn’t the case. Jenny never got to the acceptance part of the grief process. She was firmly locked into anger until the moment she died. And who could blame her? Preparing for your own death at the time when you should be preparing for a child’s birth, that just sucks. But the thing is, the closer to the end that she got, the angrier she became. And I don’t know if it’s because I was there or if she resented that I was still going to have the chance to do all the things we hoped to do together, but she was most angry at me. When Jenny finally died, do you want to know what the first thing I felt was? (looks at Leah)
PAUL: Relief. Not sadness. Not depression. Certainly not anger. Just relief that it was over and that I wouldn’t have to bear the brunt of her resentment anymore.
LEAH: (leans over and kisses Paul on the lips, pulls back, covering her mouth in shock and stares at him for a moment) I’m, I’m, uh, sorry.
PAUL: I’m not.
LEAH: (leans back in and they kiss again briefly, they separate and sit in silence on the bench for several moments) I don’t know what came over me. I’ve never done anything like that before.
PAUL: (laughs) It’s the sob story. Gets ‘em every time. (winks and nudges Leah with his shoulder)
PAUL: I guess all I was trying to say is that we can live in the fantasy of how we think things should be or how we think we should feel, or we can live in the reality of it. The hard, brutal, often unpleasant truth that life isn’t always what you hoped it would be and people don’t always turn out the way you think they should be. Are you happy? Maybe. Maybe you’re not. But you’re not really going to be able to do anything about it unless you can answer that question honestly for yourself.
LEAH: Well, this birthday may not have gone as planned, but it certainly will be memorable. (laughs) I should probably get going. (gathers her book and purse and turns toward Paul) I’m really glad to have met you Paul. (sticks out her hand)
PAUL: (shakes her hand) Happy Birthday Leah. It was nice to meet you too.
(Leah walks off stage right, Paul lights another cigarette, lights go down)