by Bob Zazlow
(CURTAIN RISES on a hospice room. FATHER appears dead, lying in a bed. NURSE and STEVEN walk in.)
STEVEN: But I just left the room. I wasn’t gone more than two minutes …
NURSE: He’s gone.
STEVEN: You’re crazy. I just left the room.
NURSE: I’m sorry.
STEVEN: How could he be sleeping peacefully one minute and the second I leave the room …
NURSE: I’ve seen it before. The loved one will wait until everyone’s left the room so no one will see him take his last breath.
STEVEN: You’ve seen that before?
NURSE: Many times.
STEVEN: But he was sleeping. He couldn’t have known I was even sitting by his side …
NURSE: He knew …
STEVEN: How can you say he knew? He was sound asleep. How can you say he knew?!
NURSE: I’ve seen it before, Mr. Gold. Some part of him knew and wanted to spare you the sadness.
STEVEN: Oh. (pause) Can I be alone with him please?
NURSE: Of course.
STEVEN: (looking down) Dad, I love you, you know that, right? I mean, I never said it in so many words, but you knew. I mean, I don’t tell anyone I love them. That’s partially your fault, though. All the times you …never mind. I’m sorry. The point is, you always knew I loved you, right? Thank you for being my father. A wonderful father. You were a wonderful father.
FATHER: You couldn’t tell me yesterday?
STEVEN: (looking up) Dad?
FATHER: You had to tell me today? Oh, Steven, your timing’s been bad since you came out of your dear mother feet first. She was cursing me, cursing the doctor, screaming for a Cesarean.
STEVEN: Oh my God, you’re alive! Oh thank God. Dad, they said you …
FATHER: …were dead. I know. I saw the whole thing from the ceiling.
STEVEN: From the ceiling?
FATHER: Stevela …I’m sorry to tell you, they were right. I’m gone.
FATHER: Deceased. No more. A shell of my former self. An ex-me. Like a dead parrot. I’m gonna miss John Cleese.
STEVEN: You’re dead? (he takes a step backward) How can this be? Oh God. I don’t understand what’s happening.
FATHER: You’re happening. Your sister’s happening. The world is happening. Listen to me …which, by the way, is something you rarely did after you turned seven.
STEVEN: No Dad, that’s not true. I always listened to you. I can’t believe I’m talking to a dead person.
FATHER: Thanks for taking the time. I’m honored.
STEVEN: I’m sorry. Is it OK to talk to you like this?
FATHER: No, talk in Swedish. Who’s gonna stop you? The Dead Police?
STEVEN: (pause) How does it feel?
FATHER: How does what feel?
FATHER: Everything changes. Other than that, it’s not bad. But I can’t see my hands. What are my hands doing, Steven?
STEVEN: Nothing. They’re still.
FATHER: And I smell lavender. I think it’s lavender.
STEVEN: I thought when you die you become all-knowing.
FATHER: Yeah, OK, it’s lavender. So answer my question. Why didn’t you tell me you loved me when I could …still see my hands?
STEVEN: I don’t know. It never came up.
STEVEN: But you knew.
STEVEN: Okay …I was …embarrassed.
FATHER: And how do you feel about that now?
STEVEN: Now I’m still embarrassed …no, I’m ashamed.
FATHER: That’s a good start.
STEVEN: It’s a little late for that.
FATHER: It’s a little late for what?
STEVEN: To start.
FATHER: Yes. You said it yourself. I heard you.
STEVEN: But I didn’t want you to agree with me so fast. I wanted you to say it’s never too late to start again.
FATHER: It’s never too late to start again. With someone else.
STEVEN: Oh. So now what?
FATHER: Now we wait. I wait.
STEVEN: For …
FATHER: For more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, boyala.
(STEVEN looks at his watch.)
FATHER: Are you in a hurry? You have some other place to be?
STEVEN: No. I can see the watch numbers clearly. So this can’t be a dream.
FATHER: No Steven, it’s a dream, alright. I know that now. But you — you’ve lived by your watch your whole life. When you do that, you’re not here. In fact, you’re not living. You’re not even dreaming. You’re just …I hate to say it …
STEVEN: Tell me.
FATHER: You’re just thinking.
STEVEN: You were always proud of my SAT scores.
FATHER: No Steven. What if an angel came down and told you, you only had a day to live. You’d know that every person you’d see that day you’d be seeing for the last time. How would you feel? Would you even bother to look at your watch?
STEVEN: My life would be really different.
FATHER: How much love would you give your wife? Your kids? Your sister?
STEVEN: OK, I get it. All that because I looked at my watch? I guess death made you see me for what I am.
FATHER: No, I told you that same thing a week after I gave you that water-resistant Timex for your eighth birthday.
STEVEN: I don’t remember.
FATHER: I’m shocked. Any other questions?
STEVEN: Why are you here?
FATHER: Why am I here? I beat out forty million other sperm cells to your grandmother’s egg and voila.
STEVEN: No, I mean, to tell me that stuff about living my life like it’s my last week? And who’s telling me anyway? You’re deceased.
FATHER: Maybe you’re going crazy. You ever think of that?
STEVEN: No. (pause) Am I going crazy, Dad?
FATHER: On the other hand, maybe you’re going sane, Steven.
STEVEN: How can this be happening?
FATHER: That’s the wrong question.
FATHER: So is that.
STEVEN: What’s the right question?
FATHER: Now that’s more like it.
STEVEN: What? I don’t know —
FATHER: “I don’t know”’s not bad but, “What?” That’s a question!
STEVEN: You’re giving me an Abbot and Costello shtick? What am I supposed to do with that?
FATHER: Exactly! What the hell are you doing with your life? What’s next? What’s the best way to live now? What.
STEVEN: (getting up to leave) I’ve gotta go. Did you just say hell?
FATHER: I’m not talking to you again if you leave.
STEVEN: Good. It was bad enough that we argued when you were alive.
FATHER: Suit yourself.
NURSE: (knocking and entering) Do you need more time, Mr. Gold?
STEVEN: No. Yes. Thank you. (to FATHER) She can’t hear you, can she?
NURSE: Take your time.(closes the door)
FATHER: One door closes and another one opens.
(A second door opens. A figure, HAMLET, stands in the shadows.)
STEVEN: Who’s that?
FATHER: You asked me if I was supposed to tell you something.
STEVEN: Are you?
FATHER: I think I’m supposed to tell you to live your life remembering, “One breath and you’re gone!” Too bad no one ever told me that. I would have enjoyed teaching English Lit to snot-nosed freshmen more.
STEVEN: Why are you getting down on yourself now?
FATHER: What’s the difference? I’m not here anymore. I can’t get down, up, or sideways. But you …you can use this as a beginning. All endings start something better. See? Not even death ends anything. Life progresses, it never regresses. Oooh …I like that.
STEVEN: How do I know that’s true?
FATHER: I’m still talking to you, aren’t I?
STEVEN: Maybe you’re just a figment of my imagination.
FATHER: A figment of your imagination? You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word, “figment,” used any other way. It’s like how a “Q” always needs a “U.”
STEVEN: You really are my father.
FATHER: Figment. Father. It’s all the same in the end.
STEVEN: So are you …like a ghost?
FATHER: Just like Hamlet’s dad.
STEVEN: Hamlet wasn’t real.
FATHER: No? What did Hamlet do with his father’s ghost?
STEVEN: Hamlet? He …listened to the ghost, but then he didn’t kill his uncle right away.
FATHER: How could Hamlet do that if he wasn’t real?
(HAMLET walks closer.)
HAMLET: Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew …Hello Mr. Gold.
FATHER & STEVEN: Hello.
STEVEN: Who’s this?
FATHER: It must be him.
STEVEN: But he’s a fictitious character.
FATHER: What’s the difference? We’re both just figments now.
HAMLET: When old age shall this generation waste, thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe …
STEVEN: I don’t remember Hamlet saying that.
HAMLET: Beauty is truth, truth, beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.
STEVEN: That was John Keats. I’m sure of it. (to FATHER) What kind of Hamlet is he?
HAMLET: Could beauty have greater commerce with anything than with truth? Know yourself and live your truth and you will have beauty. Even in the midst of death.
STEVEN: Even in the midst of death?
HAMLET: (to FATHER) Your boy plays back my words, but does he hear?
STEVEN: Live my truth, you say? You know how much I’d owe the IRS?
HAMLET: He wields his wit to hide a deeper dread.
STEVEN: And what do you mean, know myself? Who wants to know all about a giant loser son?
HAMLET: Nothing’s a failure, but failing to see all you do moves you further on your journey.
FATHER: You got a pencil, Steven? Maybe you should take some notes.
STEVEN: What journey? Where am I going?
HAMLET: (to Father) A tougher nut to crack than Yorick’s skull.
FATHER: His mother used to say something like that.
STEVEN: (shouting) Where am I going?
(NURSE enters, concerned.)
NURSE: Mr. Gold, can I help you?
STEVEN: I need to find out where I’m going.
NURSE: I can get you a street map …or, do you have GPS?
STEVEN: Yes. No. I don’t need GPS.
NURSE: Can we talk about the disposition of the body?
STEVEN: Disposition of the body?
FATHER: We know where I’m going.
NURSE: Will we still be sending him to the mortuary on his card?
STEVEN: No! It’s too soon …too soon …
NURSE: I’m sorry. I understand completely. How much more time do you need?
STEVEN: I don’t know. I don’t have all my answers yet.
NURSE: They say we’ll never have all our answers …until we pass on.
STEVEN: Would you excuse me please?
STEVEN: Hamlet, when you stopped yourself from killing your uncle the first time, did you know all the things you know now?
HAMLET: Had I known then what I know now, I would have dispatched mine uncle in the second act when he was praying.
STEVEN: Then there’d be no play. So sometimes good does come from thinking.
FATHER: Then think about this: At any moment you might breathe out and the breath may not come back in. It could happen anywhere. Are you going to wait until that last moment to let Death be your teacher?
STEVEN: I gotta think about this …
FATHER: Steven- don’t you see that last breath can come at any time? A car accident. At the dinner table. Don’t you think there was someone in Brooklyn who was eating a bagel with a schmear when he shuffled off this mortal coil?
HAMLET: Well said, sir. A hit. A palpable hit.
STEVEN: You’re ganging up on me.
HAMLET: Once the steed is out of the stable, it’s too late. You’re destined to move forward now. As am I.
FATHER: Say goodbye, Steven.
STEVEN: (taking his father’s hand) Where did Hamlet go?
FATHER: Exited stage left. Unlike your father.
STEVEN: What do you mean?
FATHER: (pulling the covers up to his chin) I’m exiting dead center.
STEVEN: (smiling) I love you.
FATHER: I love you. It’s funny. I’ve lived more this last week than any in my life. You were right about one thing. It’s never too late to start again. And that’s all ye need to know.(He closes his eyes.)
STEVEN: Excuse me. Would you come in please?
NURSE: Yes, Mr. Gold?
STEVEN: I was a jerk before. I’m sorry. Thank you for all your love. I know it made a difference.
NURSE: (she hugs him) You’re welcome.
(NURSE and STEVEN walk off stage leaving a spotlight on FATHER.)
HAMLET(OFF STAGE): To be or not to be. “What” is the question.
Bob Zaslow was an advertising copywriter in NYC as well as a documentary filmmaker and teacher. He won an American Film Festival Bronze award for a documentary film, a Clio and two Effies in advertising, and his play was published in Applause Books Best New Ten-Minute Plays, 2019 anthology. He also self-published Rap-Notes: Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits. You’ll find his children’s books on Amazon or at www.mrzstorytime.com.