"A Private Conversation" by Maureen McGuirk
Cast of Characters
WOMAN: A woman in her late twenties.
GIRL: A 15-year-old version of the Woman.
OLD WOMAN: A 75-year-old version of the Woman.
SCENE: A bench in a park overlooking a river.
TIME: The present.
SETTING: A bench sits center stage. The background is of trees, blue sky, and swings.
AT RISE: The WOMAN sits on the bench looking out. She is in simple clothing, such as jeans and a nice top. She appears anxious. The GIRL sits to the right of the WOMAN, similar in appearance, only younger. The OLD WOMAN sits to the left of the WOMAN, also similar in appearance, only much older with white hair and wrinkles.
WOMAN: The day I knew what I wanted was the worse day of my life.
(Her gaze is cast downward, staring at the river at her feet.)
GIRL: Why’s that?
WOMAN: It was the first day it became unattainable.
GIRL: That can’t be true.
WOMAN: But it was; the more I wanted it, the further it slipped.
GIRL: I don’t know… (She runs her fingers through her hair.) I think there’s still time. There has to be.
(The OLD WOMAN on the left side of the bench smiles.)
OLD WOMAN: (To GIRL) For you, there always will be.
WOMAN: (To GIRL) You have that luxury. (Beat.) I remember--it seems so long ago, yet… (Looks to GIRL) …here you are.
(The GIRL looks to her left, making eye contact with the WOMAN.)
WOMAN: (Gestures to GIRL) And I remember that wistful expression, and I remember that unassuming smile. I even remember those thoughts--that I would do it.
GIRL: (Confused) What’s all this about? Don’t tell me this feeling doesn’t last.
OLD WOMAN: It changes. As most things change.
GIRL: I’m not sure I’ll like change. I enjoy the idea of prospect. (Fixes her posture) Anything can happen.
(The GIRL’S face lifts towards the sky. She closes her eyes.)
WOMAN: On the contrary, I find things that stay the same are often the most damaging. To sit in such a state and realize you are nowhere closer to your original desire--the same house, the same face, the same clothes…even the same daily routine. It goes on and on with no variation in sight. I pray for change but know it will never come.
OLD WOMAN: Be careful what you pray for. (Looks at the WOMAN) The change you long for could be more dreadful than your present.
(The WOMAN looks sharply at the OLD WOMAN, and takes a moment to study her face, as if searching for answers.)
OLD WOMAN: (Smiles) You know I’d tell you if I could. I wish to God I could. But, it’s all in how you perceive it. And at your age, you wouldn’t understand anyway. No. This is for the best.
(The comment introduces silence to the dialogue that hovers over the three like an unanswered question. The GIRL shifts in her spot to disrupt it.)
GIRL: I don’t appreciate being mocked. I know I’m young, but I also know you both have felt what I’m experiencing. (Indicates her seat) You’ve both been in this spot and know the tremendous excitement in the unknown. I hold onto that always.
WOMAN: You’re so foolish. (She looks straight ahead) I can’t stand to look at you.
GIRL: Why? Because I’m hopeful?
WOMAN: Because you mistake naiveté for happiness. You actually believe what the world’s been telling you: ‘You’re special; you’re meant for great things; there’s a plan for you.’ Well, I’m sorry, but they’re all lies. You have no idea what’s coming for you.
OLD WOMAN: Hush now.
(The OLD WOMAN puts her hand on the WOMAN’S shoulder. Both the WOMAN and GIRL visibly shudder at the introduction of contact.)
OLD WOMAN: You can’t say anything.
WOMAN: I wasn’t going to tell her. I know the rules.
GIRL: What? What is it? Does something awful happen? I must know!
OLD WOMAN: I’m sorry, dear, but you must stay where you are. There is an order we must abide by, and while we each enjoy our chats from time to time, there are some things we can never fully discuss.
GIRL: (She sinks back into her spot) So, what’s the point?
WOMAN: (Rubbing her forehead) There is no point.
GIRL: Then what brought us together?
(The GIRL looks to her neighbors. The OLD WOMAN counters the reaction and stares at the WOMAN.)
WOMAN: It was me, I suppose. Earlier today…I had the most awful thought, something I never would have considered in the past. (She glances at the GIRL) But what choice do I have? ‘Follow your heart,’ that’s what I’ve been told by those who have followed theirs and it all worked out fine. They’re the living examples the world uses for citation. So, I did. And now, I can barely stand on my own. Nothing leads anywhere. And here I sit, pondering how much longer I can last. (Beat.) Say I do it--that awful thought--there’s no shame, right? Others have done it and appear genuinely happy. (She ganders at the OLD WOMAN) You look content. Does it--right, that’s right. You can’t tell me.
OLD WOMAN: (Smiles) I remember that thought--that awful thought.
GIRL: (To the WOMAN) See, it must not turn out that bad.
OLD WOMAN: It may not ‘turn out’ at all.
WOMAN: But something would happen. Something would actually play out in my life. Sometimes I just want to take the same path as others before me.
OLD WOMAN: The path you hate?
WOMAN: At least it would be an actual direction. To feel dirt underneath my feet instead of air.
(The women fall silent for a moment before the GIRL fidgets.)
GIRL: Have I really ruined life for us?
(The OLD WOMAN crosses her legs and bites her lips in preparation.)
WOMAN: (A laughs irrupts) You don’t know the damage you’ve caused, and the funny part is you never will. That’s your gift. And what’s mine? To remain in a constant state of worry and uncertainty? Is that my gift?
GIRL: I’m sorry I--
WOMAN: I hate you! I hate the ideas you’ve put in my head! You’re responsible for all this!
(The WOMAN slaps the GIRL, who yells out. The three women hold their cheeks, each feeling the sting. The WOMAN leans over, arms on her legs, while the GIRL holds her cheek and cries. The OLD WOMAN leans over to where the WOMAN can hear her and takes the WOMAN’S hand in hers. Another shudder goes through all three.)
OLD WOMAN: (To the WOMAN) Don’t do this. Don’t push that girl away. She’s you. She’s me. Don’t kill the dreams inside her. Those ambitions are still in us. She’s the only thing keeping us going. Let her dream for us, or we disappear.
WOMAN: (Sits up) I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have--it’s not your fault we’re like this. I’ve…I’ve done this. (Looks to the GIRL) I’ve let you down, all your wants and dreams fell to me to achieve, and I’ve failed you. I’ve failed us.
OLD WOMAN: You think so, but you don’t really know. And who’s to say what’s waiting for you, for us. (She smiles) I am content. I can tell you that much. And that’s all you need to know.
(The OLD WOMAN sits up but leaves her hand in the WOMAN’S and looks to the ground. The GIRL takes hold of the WOMAN’S right hand. A jolt causes the three women to tremble, and then settle. The GIRL smiles, wipes her eyes, tilts her head upward, and closes her eyes. There is silence except for the sound of the river rushing. A shadow moves over the women. As it passes, it reveals the WOMAN sitting alone on the bench.
END OF PLAY
About the Author: Maureen McGuirk earned her bachelor's degree in writing for film and television from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her short story "Miss Fortunate" was published in "quiet Shorts", a Seattle-based arts journal. "A Private Conversation" earned an honorable mention in the New Works of Merit Playwriting Contest in 2016. She currently works for "Colaborator", a marketplace that connects companies to film and video professionals. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio. You can reach Maureen on twitter at @mcguirkstudios.