By Patrick Lickman
A bare stage. The lighting is pitch black but for a large spotlight in the centre encompassing them both. GRACE and SAMUEL lie next to each other on the floor, looking up. Grace’s eyes are closed. A heavy book is between them.
GRACE: Okay, okay, you go.
SAMUEL: [thinks briefly] Alright, I’ve got one.
GRACE: Okay, are you…male?
GRACE: Are you female?
SAMUEL: You’re wasting a question on that?
GRACE: Oh. Oh yeah, duh. So, a woman…are you American?
SAMUEL: Nope. Eighteen questions left.
GRACE: When does the ship get in?
SAMUEL: Midnight. Seventeen questions.
GRACE reaches over to punch him playfully. She doesn’t make contact, as he flinches slightly.
GRACE: Shut up, that wasn’t one! Are you in movies?
GRACE: Movies. The woman.
SAMUEL: Oh. No, I’m not. That’s seventeen.
GRACE: Can we put that book somewhere else?
SAMUEL: What’s wrong with the book?
GRACE: I don’t like it being between us. It’s… [trails off]
SAMUEL: Still there?
GRACE: Where would I have gone?
SAMUEL: I don’t know. I thought you might have got bored of the game.
GRACE: Nope. Still here. Just pondering my next move. Are you a politician of any kind?
SAMUEL: No, I’m not a politician.
GRACE: Not of any kind?
SAMUEL: Not of any kind. Sixteen.
GRACE: Are you still alive?
GRACE: Samuel. You’re not thinking of…
Pause as the sentence is left hanging.
SAMUEL: No! Oh god, no. No, it’s a famous person. Sorry, I didn’t think of that.
GRACE: That’s okay. It just occurred to me. I shouldn’t have brought it up.
SAMUEL: You want to talk about it?
GRACE: No. [more resolved] No, if I talk about it then it becomes real. Let’s just play the game. Were you a novelist?
GRACE: Now we’re getting somewhere! What’s that, fifteen?
GRACE: Were you notable for something else other than writing books?
SAMUEL: I was not, no.
GRACE: Did you die in the last fifty years?
GRACE: Last five years?
SAMUEL: Nope. Eleven questions left.
GRACE: Are you…
GRACE: Are you okay?
SAMUEL: Me? Yeah, I’m fine. Why?
GRACE: You just sounded strained then.
SAMUEL: I’m kind of tired. Been a long few days, you know?
GRACE: I know. Are you Stephanie Meyer?
GRACE: Damn! Okay, let me think…
How long til the ship comes in?
SAMUEL: Six minutes and twenty-two seconds.
GRACE: Is it always this punctual?
SAMUEL: Yeah, always. I can’t believe you’ve never been to see it, it’s amazing.
GRACE: I always meant to, you know? I know you always wanted to drag me here, but I just never found time. That’s the same with so many things; you just never find the time. Never will, now.
Sorry, yeah, not talking about it. Ten questions left, right? Okay, did you write books for adults?
SAMUEL: [unsure] Well…yes.
GRACE: What does that mean?
SAMUEL: It means yes.
GRACE: But you said it in a weird way, like there was something more to it.
SAMUEL: Well, there is. But you only get yes and no answers. Nine.
GRACE: Hm. You’re being obtuse on purpose, aren’t you?
SAMUEL: Hey, that’s the game! Come on, more questions.
GRACE: Were you famous for a particular book, or series of books, or whatever?
GRACE: This is so hard. Fifty years ago could’ve been anyone, loads of great books were written then.
SAMUEL: Pick some at random?
GRACE: Okay, sure. The Time-Traveller’s Wife?
SAMUEL: Who wrote that?
GRACE: Audrey….something. I don’t remember. I only read it once, at school.
SAMUEL: Long time ago, then.
GRACE: Shut up, you.
SAMUEL: In any case, it’s not her.
GRACE: Oh! What about that porn one, that really dumb thing that everyone got obsessed with for like six months and then realised was totally dumb? Fifty Dark Shades of Grey, or something?
SAMUEL: Oh man, I read that!
GRACE: You did? Not exactly your kinda book, is it?
SAMUEL: Someone gave me it as a bet. I thought most copies of it had been binned, but Graham – you know Graham? – found one in his mum’s attic.
GRACE: A little awkward.
SAMUEL: A little. Anyway, he gave me it, and made me read it. God, it was terrible. Anyway, it’s not her either.
GRACE: Alright. How many questions left?
SAMUEL: Well, counting those two guesses, I think you’re on six.
GRACE: Are you British?
SAMUEL: Yes – five left!
GRACE: Oh! Did they write books for kids as well as adults?
SAMUEL: Yeah, you got it!
GRACE: Oh, that’s what you were being all tricky about. I get it. Right, British kid’s authors…
Hmm. I’m not sure. Can I give up?
SAMUEL: Nah, that’s the easy way out.
GRACE: But I don’t know who it is. Come on, I’ll think of a new one.
SAMUEL: No, you’ve got to guess mine first!
GRACE: But I don’t know many authors, I didn’t read a lot.
Is the ship here yet?
SAMUEL: Not yet. Still a few minutes to go.
GRACE: But you can see it, right?
He stands up and looks out at the front of the stage. The lights fade to a deep blue flooding the stage.
SAMUEL: Yeah. Yeah, I’m looking at it right now.
GRACE: How does it look?
SAMUEL: Beautiful. Really beautiful. Majestic. As ever.
GRACE: This is just day-to-day stuff for you.
SAMUEL: Yes and no. I mean, yeah, I come here every night, and I get the shipment, but…
SAMUEL: But you’re not always part of it.
GRACE: Can you see me, on the ship?
SAMUEL: I can’t see anyone. There’s just boxes, rows of tall metal boxes on the deck.
SAMUEL: About twenty. Normal amount. You’ll be in one of them, I guess. I’ll find out which when they start loading them out.
He turns around to face her, she doesn’t look at him.
Do you remember your last words?
GRACE: We’re not talking about—
SAMUEL: We can’t avoid it, Grace.
GRACE: We can. Let’s get back to the game. Are you-
SAMUEL: Grace, the ship’s here. We can’t avoid it now. Come on, talk to me properly!
GRACE:[scared] I don’t want to. It’s not real until I talk about it.
SAMUEL: Grace, it is real! Stop it, stop ignoring it! Talking will help, I know it will.
GRACE: I can’t.
SAMUEL: You can. You can you can you can and YOU HAVE TO.
You have to, Grace, you have to talk to me, because you won’t be here forever now.
GRACE: I know, the projection only lasts so long, but still—
SAMUEL: I want to say goodbye properly, though, and playing games isn’t my idea of doing that.
GRACE:[verge of tears] It scares me.
SAMUEL: Oh, Grace, love.
He kneels beside her.
It scares me too. But we’re reaching the Critophone’s limit; you know it only allows three days. Three days of signing papers and going through your stuff, and as that time goes on, you getting weaker, the projection degrading, and you still won’t say goodbye. Two minutes to midnight, Grace, and then you’re gone for good. And then the boat will come in I’ll have to unload those boxes and see your face there and I’ll have to drive you to the funeral parlour with all the other bodies and I want to remember this moment, our last moment, and I want it to mean something.
GRACE: But I’m not real. I’m a projection. I’m a ghost. I can’t even stand up now!
SAMUEL: You’re real to me. You have Grace’s thoughts and memories and feelings, and I can’t let that go without saying goodbye, so just…try. For me.
GRACE: Okay, I’ll try. What do you want?
SAMUEL: Just…I don’t know. I just want to know that you’re ready to move on.
GRACE: Well, I’m not. I’m scared as hell.
GRACE: I can’t see you, I can’t see anything. It’s so dark.
SAMUEL: Open your eyes.
She does, and the lights change to a blinding white.
GRACE: [gasps] Stars. So many stars.
SAMUEL: [smiling] The sky’s always clear out here in the dock. That’s part of the reason I always wanted to show you them, I knew you’d love it.
GRACE: I’ve never seen this many. It’s beautiful.
SAMUEL: Yeah, it is. Bye, Grace.
Out of the darkness, a book is opened, and the scratching of a pen on paper is heard under:
Name- Grace Goldsboro. ID number- 02201. Date of death- 2nd of December 2147. Date of body pickup- 5th of December 2147 on the HMS Sunium. Critophone projection status- dissolved. Pickup officer- Samuel Goldsboro.
The book is closed.