Guilt - A One Act Play

By postroman

GUILT is a story of a young man and his inability to deal with the reality of death. Paul believes himself to be alone, even within his own family. But in a chance encounter with a distant uncle, Paul learns that he is not the only one in pain.

(The lights come up on a room in a funeral home which is set for a wake. The room is empty but the casket is open and surrounded by flowers on the floor. There are larger arrangements of flowers positioned on wooden tripods along the wall. On the far side of the casket is a poster board covered in pictures. There is a kneeler in front of the casket large enough for only one person. There are five rows of chairs facing the casket that occupy the space in the center of the room. There is a closed door along the back wall and a tall table standing next to it. On top of the table is an open binder and a bowl full of prayer cards. Next to the table is an empty coat rack.
PAUL, an eighteen year old boy, enters the room through the door on the back wall. He is dressed in an appropriately fitted black suit with a white shirt and a black tie. As he walks through the doorway he turns his body so that his back is toward the casket. He closes the door in front of him and pauses for a moment before he turns around. From the door, he looks across the room and sees his dead grandfather for the first time. He loosens the tie around his neck as he walks to the last row of chairs and takes a seat. His hands are folded in his lap and his left leg is restless as he stares at the floor.
After a moment he gets up from his seat and walks to the front of the room between the casket and the first row of chairs. He stands there for a few seconds and begins to slowly raise his right arm. At first his arm moves toward the casket but then to his mouth as he takes a step toward the chairs behind him. PAUL then continues forward until he reaches the coffin. Standing in front of the kneeler, he peers over the casket and extends his left hand to touch the edge of the coffin. He moves his right hand from his mouth toward the casket hovering over his grandfather’s chest. The door along the back wall begins to open but PAUL doesn’t notice. He moves his hand into the casket to touch his grandfather’s chest as a voice is heard from behind the door.)

MAN’S VOICE (ERIC)
Hello?

(PAUL is startled at the sound of the voice and yank’s his hand away from his grandfather. He takes a few steps away from the coffin as ERIC, a cousin of PAUL’S mother, opens the door and enters the room. He is a tall, thin, clean shaven man in his late thirties. He is dressed plainly in a dark colored suit without a tie.)

ERIC
Oh Paul, good. I thought I had the wrong room.
(PAUL does not acknowledge the comment. As ERIC walks further into the room he looks confused when he notices that PAUL is alone.)

Where is everyone?

PAUL
(PAUL is slow to respond.)
Home.

(ERIC looks at the watch on his wrist.)

ERIC
(Sarcastically)
Wonderful, I forgot to switch my watch back. I just got in, I’m still jet lagged from the trip, I didn’t even think about the time change. Well, you wanna head back home? I got my car.

PAUL
You can.

ERIC
(Confused)
You alright?

PAUL
(Nodding his head before he responds.)
Fine.

ERIC
You wanna talk?

PAUL
(Confused)
About?

ERIC
(Sarcastically)
Oh, I don’t know, maybe why you’re here.

PAUL
I’m allowed to be here.

ERIC
But you’re hours early and alone.

PAUL
I was alone.

ERIC
You shouldn’t be here now, wakes are meant for the friends and family to get together.

PAUL
Family?

(ERIC moves toward the direction of the door.)

ERIC
Yeah, why don’t we get out of here? We’ll come back with everyone a little later.

PAUL
I’m not leaving.

ERIC
We’ll grab some lunch—

PAUL
(Excitedly)
I’m not leaving.

(ERIC is taken aback by PAUL’S resistance to leave. After a moment ERIC takes off his jacket and places it on the coat rack and takes a seat in the center of the room.)

ERIC
Well maybe I’ll stay too.

PAUL
Maybe I don’t want you here; maybe I want to be alone.

ERIC
Maybe you’ll tell me why you’re here.

PAUL
They can tell you at home. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you.

ERIC
I’d rather hear it from you.

PAUL
I’m here, isn’t that enough? Isn’t this what you want?

ERIC
I want to know why, why now.

PAUL
I get chewed out for not going before; I get questioned for being here now—

ERIC
Before?

PAUL
They really didn’t tell you?

ERIC
Tell me what? I was away when your mom called with the news of your grandfather; I haven’t talked to anyone since.

PAUL
I didn’t visit him in the hospital. I’m not proud of it or anything, I know it was a mistake but I don’t think it calls for a crucifixion. It’s like they’re ready to get rid of me, they just don’t understand.

ERIC
Can you blame them?

PAUL
Why are you taking their side?

ERIC
I’m not, I’m just asking. The closest of all the grandchildren and the only one not to visit, I’d question it.

PAUL
Why is everyone in this family so quick to judge?

ERIC
How do you know it was easy for them?

PAUL
I didn’t say it was . . . Look I know I made a mistake but I just don’t need them reminding me every second of the day.

ERIC
So that’s why you’re here? That’s it?

PAUL
What do you mean that’s it? He was alive a few days ago but I was too much of a coward to go see him and tell him I love him.

ERIC
You really don’t think he already knew that?

PAUL
It’s not that, I just have this image of him in that bed, you know, watching all these people coming in and out. Mom said he couldn’t talk much at the end, but he’d open and close his eyes, like he knew what was going on. I just picture him in that bed wondering where I am but not being able to ask.

ERIC
Why didn’t you just go?

PAUL
I wanted to, I did, but my mom just painted this miserable picture of what I should expect . . . tubes and machines and all this shit keeping him alive, I just couldn’t do it.

ERIC
I don’t blame you for not going.

PAUL
(Surprised)
You don’t?

ERIC
No one likes watching someone decay. I don’t know why you’d be any different.


PAUL
I feel horrible though. Maybe if I went, if he just knew I was there maybe things would have been different.

ERIC
That’s not how cancer works.

PAUL
I know . . . it’s how guilt works . . . Look, I appreciate you not blaming me like everyone else but I don’t expect you to understand.

ERIC
I know what guilt feels like.

PAUL
Not like this.

ERIC
You’re right, I wouldn’t understand . . . but I wouldn’t expect you to remember either.

(ERIC gets up from his seat in the center of the room and slowly paces the floor in front of the casket.)

PAUL
Remember what?

ERIC
My father . . . I was there, I went to the hospital and I watched my father die. I remember the last thing he said to me, he said, “Eric my boy, my only boy, do me a favor won’t you? Your first son, will you give him my name?” I was standing over his bed holding his hand and I looked him in the eye and told him, (Softly) yeah. I nodded my head and told him yeah . . . (Convincingly) because I’m a fucking coward. I didn’t have the balls to tell him I was gay, not then, not in high school, never. In fact it was years before I told anyone. I was too ashamed; I tried to pretend it wasn’t true. I tried to keep that promise. You wanna know about guilt? Guilt is when you call your mother while you’re away at school and before she hangs up she says, “Just so you know, you don’t have to keep doing this.” Guilt is when I’m alone with Steve and I can’t enjoy the moment because I can feel my father in another room, rocking in that chair, smoking on his pipe, talking about the name of his first grandson like it’s on the way.

PAUL
How do you get past that?

ERIC
You don’t, you learn to live with it.

PAUL
That’s it?

ERIC
Some days are worse than others but there’s not much you can do—

PAUL
Look, I had to do something. I thought that coming here; maybe just seeing him would make this easier.

ERIC
If you want to make this easier just go back to church. Listen carefully as they talk about heaven, if that doesn’t make it easier nothing will.

PAUL
I just wanted some closure.

ERIC
That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?

PAUL
Because I need to be, because I wanted—

ERIC
Proof . . . Until now this was all a game, just a sick joke that got out of hand; at least you couldn’t be certain it wasn’t. That’s why you’re here, that’s why you were touching your grandfather when I walked in. Feeling for a pulse, just to make sure the rumors were true. Well . . . were they?

PAUL
Why are you doing this?

(PAUL moves toward the casket, his back is to ERIC. The lights begin to fade as he talks to his grandfather with great conviction as if he was alone in the room. PAUL is standing on top of the kneeler and peering over into the casket. ERIC is behind him standing in the front of the first row of chairs. ERIC takes the voice of PAUL’S grandfather.)

PAUL
(With conviction)
Why are you doing this?

ERIC
It wasn’t up to me.

PAUL
(With more conviction)
Why isn’t your chest moving?

ERIC
Make it move.

PAUL
(Looking around the room)
Where’s the machine, the one that makes you real? I want to plug you back in.

ERIC
(Feeling his chest)
The holes are gone.

PAUL
I’ll make new ones.

ERIC
It’s too late.

PAUL
I’ll fix it.

ERIC
(Slowly)
Paul, I know.

PAUL
Just let me—

(The lights in the room begin to get brighter and PAUL steps off the kneeler. The room is quiet for a moment as he continues to stand in front of the casket. PAUL still has his back toward ERIC, who assumes his real role.)

PAUL
He’s not supposed to look like this.

(PAUL moves over to the poster board on the far side of the casket by the wall. He points to a picture in the middle of the poster board.)

You know how old he is here?

ERIC
About your age right?

PAUL
(Nodding his head)
Yeah . . . eighteen years old, taken just a few days before he was shipped overseas. God, he looks so young here but . . . he doesn’t look scared. I remember the first time I saw this I wondered what I’d look like when I was eighteen. I guarantee you if someone told me I had to go to Iraq I wouldn’t look quite like this, I’d look more like the coward I am now.

(ERIC pulls out a small camera from his pocket. He points the camera in the direction of PAUL and calls his name.)

ERIC
Paul.

(PAUL immediately turns around and ERIC takes a picture, the flash is bright.)

PAUL
What the—

ERIC
You said you wanted to know; now we do.

PAUL
And?

(ERIC looks down at the camera and then up at PAUL.)

ERIC
Well . . . you don’t look scared.

(Lights fade to black.)

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Guilt - A One Act Play

Created: Jan 20, 2010

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GUILT - A One Act Play
GUILT - A One Act Play By postroman