SOUND CUE: SILENT NIGHT sung by Johnny Cash
SOUND CUE: BELL
(SEAN BAKER sits in a solitary 24-hour diner with his back to the door, sipping from a plain white mug. It is Christmas Eve; everyone is with family and friends, asleep or partying. He was not invited. He contemplates his utter lack of companionship as a WAITRESS enters with a fresh pot of coffee.)
WAITRESS: Can I top ya off, hun?
SEAN: (As he offers his mug to her) You’re not gonna kick me out? Don’t you have someplace to go to?
WAITRESS: Why do you think I work this shift every year? There’s always at least one lonely mug to talk to.
SEAN: That would be me, would it?
WAITRESS: That’s the plan.
SEAN: Buzz off, will ya?
WAITRESS: I’ll come back when you’re in a more peace-and-brotherhood mood. (She exits.)
(SEAN sips at his coffee, pulls a face, then takes a deeper draw as HELEN BAKER walks in from behind him. She stands over him for a second, then lays a hand on his shoulder. He doesn’t notice, but after a moment, he shows signs of being uncomfortable. She moves to sit across from him, placing her coat on her chair before she sits down.)
HELEN: Hello, Sean. How have you been?
SEAN: Helen! Jesus, hi! It’s been, what? Five, six years?
HELEN: Six and a half, actually.
SEAN: Wow, that long? Shit… Anyway, I’ve been (hesitates) great, I guess. And you?
HELEN: Oh, ups and downs.
SEAN: Well, an up is an up, right? That’s gotta mean you’re getting somewhere.
HELEN: Slowly. The downs are incredibly draining, and the ups are so… brief.
SEAN: (Suddenly bitter, but trying to mask it with false cheer) It could be worse. Look at me. I mean, it’s Christmas, and what have I got to show for it?
HELEN: (kindly) I’m here.
SEAN: Right, I’m sorry. Look, did you have something you wanted to say?
HELEN: I’m on one of my downs at the moment.
SEAN: Do I look like I can be lending out cash to whoever comes up dry? We’re family and all but I’ve gotta have a place to stay at the end of the day, and that means being careful about who I do business with. I’ve been working my ass off to get in with a legit group of people, and you better believe it wasn’t easy. I could really be going places. Who knows, in a few months I could have a few people reporting to me, before anyone else. Things are looking up in a big way, and I--
HELEN: Damn it Sean I didn’t come here to talk about your business politics or to ask for your money.
SEAN: Oh. Well, spit it out.
HELEN: There’s something else I need your help with. It’s a little complicated, but your part is simple.
SEAN: Alright, give me the short version.
HELEN: You have someplace else to be? (Pause.) Just drink your crappy cup of coffee and hear me out.
(SEAN indicates that she continue, but leaves the mug untouched.)
HELEN: All you need to do… You need to call Mom.
HELEN: Come on-
SEAN: She sent you, didn’t she?
HELEN: It’s not like that—
SEAN: You can’t play me that easy--
HELEN: She’s dying, Sean!
HELEN: You don’t mean that.
SEAN: Everyone dies, Helen.
HELEN: You’re telling me that? We haven’t talked in years, and you never bothered to check up to see how I was or any of it. Not once. What kind of brother are you? For all you know I could have died.
SEAN: Well that obviously didn’t happen. (Pause.) Anyway, what did she ever do for me, huh? I left for a reason.
HELEN: They miss you!
SEAN: And that’s supposed to make a difference, how?
HELEN: You won’t even pay your last respects?
SEAN: I lost my respect for them a long time ago.
HELEN: What have they done to you?
SEAN: It’s what they didn’t do that—
HELEN: Not Mom and Dad, Sean. Them. That new crowd you run with.
SEAN: They made me wise.
HELEN: You’re a fool. You’ve forgotten who your family is.
SEAN: I don’t need them.
HELEN: Look at yourself! Do you consider this healthy living? Are you happy? Answer me that, Sean: are you happy?
SEAN: (Sputtering) Wha—how am I—who are you to ask me if I’m happy?! Miss “I’m in one of my downs, Sean, help me Sean, I need you, Sean.”
HELEN: I don’t need your help, you do! If you’d only help yourself, you wouldn’t need me to remind you of how miserable you are.
SEAN: Well don’t get all self-righteous for my sake.
HELEN: Someone has to. (Pause) Look, I didn’t come here to fight, even though I knew that’s what I would be in for. Mom and Dad didn’t send me, but someone else did.
SEAN: Who? Father Curtis? That old—
HELEN: You honestly believe I would take anything that hypocrite says seriously? He almost destroyed the faith that ended up saving me. Well, that’s the reason I’m here.
SEAN: To restore my faith?
HELEN: To restore my faith in you. Don’t you dare roll your eyes! I had a tough enough time convincing them you were worth their time to throw it all away just because you have an attitude problem.
SEAN: They? What exactly do you do?
HELEN: I’m what you could call a liaison between certain dimensions.
HELEN: I told you it was complicated. Um, oh jeez, how can I put this? No, it would take too long.
SEAN: Bullshit. I want to know what I’m getting myself into.
HELEN: That’s just it: you don’t have to know. You’re not supposed to know.
SEAN: What, I’m not good enough to be in on it?
HELEN: Yes, actually, that’s it exactly.
SEAN: So you’re using me?
HELEN: Would you shut up and listen?
SEAN: I’ve been listening.
HELEN: You’re so wrapped up in your own little world you can’t see past a few foggy months into the future. You say you have plans, but where will they get you? You’ll just end up where you started, just pennies away from living on the street. I take it you’re still a total cokehead?
SEAN: Not so loud!
HELEN: Who’s going to hear? The waitress? I’m still vaguely surprised at our having this conversation. I figured you wouldn’t be able to understand.
SEAN: Why wouldn’t I be able to—oh to Hell with it. (HELEN flinches; SEAN does not appear to notice.) You haven’t given me a straight answer all night, why start now?
HELEN: So are you going to call her?
SEAN: Who? (HELEN starts to speak.) I know I know. And no, I’m not.
HELEN: Why, for heaven’s sake?
SEAN: Give me one good reason why I should. (She hesitates.) Well?
HELEN: (resigning) Give me your hand.
SEAN: (Suspicious) Why?
HELEN: You want a reason, don’t you?
(SEAN gives her his hand across the table. HELEN takes it and studies it, as would a palm-reader. She traces a few lines out, then presses her finger down on a chosen point. His face makes a quick transition from exasperated to horrified. His arm is trapped in its sprawled position on the table, but the rest of him tenses and convulses, his eyes alternatively screwed shut or popping, his teeth bared and clenched tight. When she feels he has had enough, she lets go. He jumps back as soon as he is free, clutching his arm and panting.)
SEAN: What the fuck did you just do?!
HELEN: I just gave you a touch of Hell. That is what lies at the end of the path you have been traveling down for so long, and you don’t even know it. Life is so short, Sean, but there has been plenty of time for second chances. This is your last. If you won’t think of others, think of yourself. For a minute consider the alternative to a pain that never fades, never relents, and never shows mercy.
SEAN: (Obviously very unnerved, but still not willing to give up without a fight) Okay, say I call. What’s in it for you?
HELEN: I get to go home. (Standing to leave) Without you, I can’t. Simple as that.
SEAN: What’s stopping you?
HELEN: There are always souls that need saving. Goodbye Sean. (Exits)
(SEAN sits at table, dumbfounded. He then notices that she left her jacket. He calls after her as WAITRESS enters with coffee pot.)
SEAN: Helen! Your j—damn it.
WAITRESS: What are you hollering about?
SEAN: My sister forgot her jacket. She’s going to be cold out there.
WAITRESS: (refilling his mug) Who?
SEAN: My sister was just here.
WAITRESS: You and I have been the only one’s here for hours.
SEAN: You just didn’t see her.
WAITRESS: I’ve been behind that counter since you walked in. That door has a bell on it; I would have heard it ring. Or can this sister of yours walk through walls?
SEAN: But… (He looks at the jacket in his hands) I swear she was sitting right there.
WAITRESS: You okay, sugar?
SEAN: Yeah… No… I think I’m going to go. (Gets out his wallet and leaves a few bills on the table.)
WAITRESS: You gonna finish that?
SEAN: It’s a little late for caffeine.
WAITRESS: Well my shift doesn’t end until 4. (She downs the rest of the coffee and refills it as SEAN heads for the door.) You take care of yourself, okay hun?
SEAN: Yeah, you too. (Looks at the jacket, continues to walk toward the door, pulling out his cell phone, then looks back.) And Merry Christmas. (Exits)
SOUND CUE: BELL
WAITRESS: (looking after him, slightly surprised) Merry Christmas to you too.