ONE PLUS ONE IS FOUR
SETTING: Barnes and Noble “Self-Help” book aisle.
TIME: The end of the world. Modern day.
JILL: Female, mid-twenties. Quirky and personal. Can’t hear MAN or WOMAN.
WOMAN: JILL’s subconscious. Honest and sarcastic. Can hear JILL, MAN, and ELI.
ELI: Male, mid-twenties. Uses humor as a defense mechanism. More honest/open than JILL. Can’t hear MAN or WOMAN.
MAN: ELI’s subconscious. Can hear JILL, WOMAN, and ELI.
(In a blackout, we hear the loud tone of the Emergency Broadcast System. The tone ends.)
RADIO: Attention. This is not a test. Meteor 573 Alpha maintains its collision course with earth. The estimated time of impact: two hours and fourteen minutes.
(Lights up on JILL in a Barnes and Noble the “Self-Help” book aisle. MAN and WOMAN are perched atop one of the shelves, overlooking the scene, but facing away from each other. JILL has a sleep machine that is playing rain forest noises. JILL is sitting cross-legged with her eyes closed in a state of meditation. ELI enters, unsure of what to do, and clears his throat. JILL is jolted out of her meditation and looks up at ELI. Once eye contact between JILL and ELI is established, MAN and WOMAN turn to face each other.)
JILL: Jesus Christ!
ELI: I, uh, sorry. I didn’t know you were here.
JILL: I came here to be alone.
ELI: Oh, well. I can just sit here quietly.
JILL: I’d really rather just have this space to myself.
ELI: It’ll be like I’m not even here.
JILL: But I know you are here.
ELI: Not if I’m quiet and your eyes are closed. (He sits.)
JILL: Why don’t you go over there by the magazines, or something? They’ll be better company.
(ELI walks over and sits with the magazines. A beat.)
WOMAN: I didn’t think anyone else would be here.
MAN: I was kind of hoping someone would be here.
ELI: My name’s Eli.
(JILL doesn’t respond.)
ELI: What’s your name?
ELI: My mom’s name is Jill.
JILL: A dog named Eli once bit off the top of my pinky toenail.
MAN: I hate my mom.
WOMAN: I hate that dog.
JILL: Why are you here?
ELI: I wanted to make myself a venti caramel macchiato with six shots of vanilla and a ton of whipped cream with a blueberry scone on the side.
JILL: Couldn’t you have gone somewhere else?
ELI: I knew this place would be empty. No one ever remembers that Barnes and Noble nightlights as a Starbucks.
JILL: There’s another coffee place down the street.
ELI: I want Starbucks.
JILL: It all tastes the same.
ELI: No it doesn’t.
JILL: If you go make one, does that mean you’ll leave me alone?
ELI: I guess.
JILL: Fine. Go.
ELI: Do you want anything?
JILL: No. (Beat.) No thanks.
(ELI exits offstage or goes behind the shelf– just so the audience can’t see him. We hear a lot of clanking around, and after a little while, a coffee machine turns on and makes loud noises. The whole time, JILL is trying to re-establish her “space,” clearly annoyed with ELI.)
JILL: Hey. (ELI doesn’t hear her.) Hey! (ELI doesn’t hear her.) HEY!
(ELI stops the machine.)
JILL: Can you shut that off?
ELI: But I’m not done making my venti caramel macchiato with six shots of vanilla yet.
JILL: You’re being really loud. I asked you to be quiet.
ELI: I’ll try to be quieter.
(Beat. ELI starts the machine again, stopping and starting every few seconds, clearly trying not to make noise but failing. After a little bit, the machine makes a steady noise again.)
JILL: COME ON!
ELI: I’m sorry!
JILL: Why aren’t you with your family or something?
ELI: I’m divorced and this was my wife’s weekend with our kid.
MAN: They didn’t want me there. They told me they didn’t want me there.
WOMAN: Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. Just… be quieter. Please.
(Beat. JILL moves away.)
ELI: Is something wrong?
JILL: No, nothing. It’s fine.
ELI: Are you nervous?
JILL: About what?
ELI: The end of the world.
JILL: No, I’m okay. I’m calm. I know there’s nothing I can do about it.
WOMAN: I’m terrified.
ELI: What are you leaving behind?
JILL: You mean when I die?
ELI: You could put it that way.
JILL: Well, everything, I guess. Friends, family. My job.
ELI: What’d you do?
JILL: I’m a pre-school administrator. I work with my sister, she’s a teacher there.
WOMAN: My sister’s a prostitute.
WOMAN: Just trying to make small talk.
MAN: I’d say that’s more of a medium to large talk.
WOMAN: During the day she’s a pre-school teacher and at night she sweet talks government officials.
ELI: Oh, that’s respectable.
MAN: Where is she now?
WOMAN: Are you one of those?
MAN: One of what?
WOMAN: One of those “mindless sex for money sounds like a smart decision.”
MAN: I didn’t know that was a type.
WOMAN: Well, then why are you asking?
MAN: I thought maybe I could get some insight into your relationship with her. Or maybe some insight into you.
WOMAN: I don’t talk to her unless I have to. There’s your insight.
JILL: How about you?
ELI: Just a regular office worker. I worked for an investment corporation.
JILL: I never really liked working in a cubicle.
WOMAN: I never actually have, but I cried at the end of “Office Space” because it just seemed so miserable.
MAN: Oh god, I hate small spaces. One day in a fit of claustrophobia I punched the wall of my cubicle, which I forgot was temporarily made of cardboard because of office renovations, and my hand went through the cardboard and into the woman who works next to me. She filed a complaint with Human Resources and now I’m known as that crazy douche bag that likes to punch pregnant women in the face.
ELI: It was fine. I didn’t really mind it. (Beat.) Wanna raid the Starbucks downstairs for some cookies?
JILL: No thanks. I’m allergic to sugar.
JILL: (Sternly.) No. Allergic to sugar.
WOMAN: I was that kid in high school who didn’t have friends because of my weight.
MAN: I was that kid in high school who didn’t have friends because he made fun of kids with weight problems.
WOMAN: I would’ve hated you in high school.
MAN: I would’ve thrown things at you in high school.
(Beat. JILL gets up and begins reading book titles to herself off the shelf and pulling them off.)
ELI: What are you doing?
JILL: I’m looking for something.
ELI: What are you looking for?
JILL: Just something to read. (JILL continues to search.)
ELI: I thought you just wanted quiet.
JILL: Yeah, I want quiet so I can read.
ELI: Well, what do you want to read?
JILL: (Stops and turns to him, kind of annoyed.) Jane Eyre. Okay?
MAN: (Pretends to be a metal detector type thing, and beeps more as he gets closer to WOMAN.) My feminist detector is going off.
WOMAN: Shut up. I’m not a feminist. (Beat.) Although I was Margaret Sanger one year for Halloween.
MAN: And you kind of look like Hillary Clinton.
WOMAN: The perfume I’m wearing is called “Independence.”
MAN: Maybe you’re a closeted feminist.
WOMAN: No. Jane Eyre is the ultimate romance novel. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
MAN: So you want your last act on earth to be one in which you live vicariously through Charlotte Brontë’s writing?
WOMAN: Well, when you say it like that.
ELI: Don’t you want help looking?
JILL: No. I want you to sit over there and be quiet.
ELI: You’re no fun.
JILL: I never said we’d have fun. (She continues to search. After a moment, ELI moves away from her. He starts looking through books on his shelf, making a lot of noise. Still in the Self-help section.)
ELI: Ha! Look what I just found! “How to Differentiate Between a Staples Employee and Some Asshole Wearing a Red Shirt… and 101 Other Useful Things.” (JILL ignores him. ELI looks at his bag placed near him.) Would it be bad if I just took this book? I’ve never stolen anything before. But what better time for looting than the apocalypse?
JILL: Stealing is petty.
ELI: She speaks!
JILL: You’re not even stealing if you put that in your bag. No one has any possessions anymore. The meteor is taking everything away from us.
ELI: Hey, we still have a few hours.
MAN: I bet I could become America’s Most Wanted in the allotted time.
WOMAN: I bet you couldn’t.
MAN: Is that a challenge?
JILL: Just leave the book.
ELI: (He opens the book and begins to read.) “If you’re reading this book, you have very trivial day-to-day problems that have become so overwhelming that you are now seeking for solutions–”
JILL: (Reaches over and knocks the book out of his hand.) Stop.
JILL: It’s annoying. (ELI reaches for his bag.) What’s in your bag, anyway? It’s huge.
MAN: Is that a euphemism?
WOMAN: Don’t flatter yourself.
ELI: I brought some snacks. You want some?
JILL: Um, I dunno. What is it?
(ELI reaches into his bag and hands her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.)
JILL: Oh, I don’t really like peanut butter. Do you have anything else?
WOMAN: I have this nightmare where I jump into a swimming pool and then the water turns into super chunky peanut butter and I drown because I can’t get out.
MAN: The chances of that happening are very slim.
WOMAN: Yeah, well, so is the apocalypse, but that’s happening.
JILL: That entire bag is filled with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?
ELI: Yup. I really like them so I brought a bunch.
WOMAN: The peanut butter isn’t even spread! It’s just scooped onto the bread.
MAN: I can’t spread peanut butter well on sandwiches so I just put spoonfuls on the bread and kind of hope for the best.
WOMAN: What do you mean you can’t spread peanut butter well?
MAN: I hate knives. I’m afraid that while I’m using one I’ll realize how much I hate who I am and then I’ll just stab myself.
WOMAN: (Laughing.) That’s hysterical.
MAN: (Upset.) Hey.
WOMAN: (Sobering up.) Also sad.
(ELI begins to unwrap a sandwich. It’s loud.)
JILL: If you want to do something productive, help me look for Jane Eyre.
ELI: You think even if we find it, you’ll be able to finish it in the next two hours?
JILL: I’m going to try.
RADIO: This just in— Meteor 573 Alpha is expected to collide with earth within the next five to ten minutes.
MAN: I’m not ready for this.
ELI: You think you can read that quickly?
JILL: Just shut up. (Nervous.) C’mon, let’s just talk while we look. Uh, what’d you do today?
ELI: Nothing. I woke up early and got here. Keep getting these books off the shelf.
JILL: I bet it’s beautiful.
ELI: Beautiful? You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s a flaming rock that’s going to kill you and me and everyone.
JILL: Sure, but, objectively speaking, I bet it’s beautiful.
ELI: I don’t think it’s going to be.
JILL: I honestly don’t see any reason to be angry at a meteor. It’s not like it went through a bad break-up and decided to take out its angst by crushing us to bits and pieces; this is just nature running its course.
ELI: I guess I see where you’re coming from. I just wish nature had run its course after I died a natural death in sixty years.
WOMAN: Oh, I get it. You’re dying with regrets tonight.
MAN: Thanks for the heads up.
WOMAN: No, I really get it. You wanted to backpack Europe or hitch hike through the Midwest on the back of an obese American and write a documentary about it, or grow the balls to produce that album of sultry country love ballads you’ve been recording for the past five years in your parents’ basement. I get it.
MAN: Shut up.
JILL: I’m not dying with regrets tonight. I said my good-byes to my family and friends and I can’t think of anything that I wish I could have done differently.
ELI: (Not angry, just genuinely shocked/in awe.) That’s impossible. We’re so young! And you’ve already done everything you’ve ever wanted to do?
JILL: I mean, I’ve just accepted that this is it. Given the circumstances, I’ve lived a great life.
ELI: No. I’m not satisfied. I still haven’t had my goddamn macchiato.
JILL: Didn’t you make it already?
ELI: Yeah, but I don’t have anything to drink it out of.
ELI: What about your book? Don’t you regret not finishing it?
JILL: I’m going to finish it.
ELI: No, you’re not. Why do you even want to finish it anyway? It’s a stupid book. You should’ve been out living what you want from the book.
JILL: You don’t know me.
ELI: I know it’s not healthy to live in fantasy worlds.
JILL: Shut up! (Pause.) Can’t you just… can’t you just help me look? I need more time. (ELI doesn’t budge.)
ELI: Why were you meditating before instead of reading?
JILL: I couldn’t bring myself to read it. It made all of this feel so real. But I have to now, okay? Please. (He complies and begins to look.) Thank you.
ELI: (Picks a book from the shelf: Where the Wild Things Are.) Fuck.
ELI: No– it’s just. This book.
JILL: What about it?
ELI: Where the Wild Things Are. I read it every night to my kid when she was younger. (He laughs, nostalgic.) She was really into monsters. Instead of being scared of them, she used to crawl under her bed every night before she went to sleep and threaten them.
JILL: She sounds great.
ELI: Yeah. (He snaps out of it, but MAN is still dazed.)
ELI: I’m gonna go look for cup.
WOMAN: I’m not gonna find this book. I need to find this book. I need to know what it’s like to love!
MAN: And the most vague yet poignant statement of the night goes to you.
WOMAN: I’m serious.
MAN: Solid. (Pause.) You didn’t even have, like, a first grade boyfriend?
WOMAN: I went to Catholic School. If I so much as looked at a guy, Sister Mary would claim I was possessed and beat my wrist with a ruler until my libido left my body.
RADIO: Two minutes to impact. (ELI and JILL both begin to look frantically, more noise.)
ELI: Sorry if I’m being loud.
ELI: I can’t find a goddamn cup.
JILL: I can’t find my book.
ELI: Maybe we need to stop worrying so much. How about, instead of being here, we’re on some island somewhere with champagne and the ocean, just relaxing? (Beat.) Are you imagining it?
JILL: If by it you mean a fiery death, then yes.
ELI: C’mon, Jill. Think about something else.
WOMAN: I’m having a nervous breakdown. I’m having a nervous breakdown. I’m freaking out. We’re going to die. This is real.
JILL: I’m fine.
MAN: Do you always narrate your nervous breakdowns?
WOMAN: I’m hyperventilating. I can’t breathe. I’m hyperventilating.
MAN: Thank you for providing unique insight into your respiratory system during times of uncertainty.
WOMAN: Why are you being such an asshole?
MAN: Defense mechanism. I’m telling you, think of other things.
WOMAN: Like what?
MAN: I dunno. Ponies.
WOMAN: I’m not ready to die. I lied to myself completely.
MAN: I told you.
JILL: (Pulls out Jane Eyre from the shelf.) I found it!
ELI: The book?
ELI: Good luck reading it in two minutes.
JILL: I can skim it.
ELI: No you can’t. Here. (He takes it from her and flips to the last page. She protests throughout but to no avail.) “No fear of death will darken St. John’s last hour: his mind will be unclouded, his heart will be undaunted, his hope will be sure, his faith steadfast. His own words are a pledge of this—‘My Master,’ he says, ‘has forewarned me. Daily He announces more distinctly,—‘Surely I come quickly!’ and hourly I more eagerly respond,—‘Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!’” The end.
JILL: I can’t believe you just did that.
ELI: What? You technically finished the book.
JILL: That’s not the point! You just ruined it. You took the book away from me. That was supposed to be my thing.
ELI: I did it for you. I was just trying to help. You wouldn’t have even thought to do that.
JILL: Leave me alone.
ELI: I had good intentions!
JILL: I said leave me alone. (ELI retreats. He turns around, goes back to JILL, only to grab Where the Wild Things Are, and then moves away from her.)
RADIO: One minute.
ELI: I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.
JILL: Yeah, well. (After a few moments looking after ELI, who is skimming through his book, clearly sad, JILL reaches into her bag and pulls out a party hat. She tosses it to ELI.) Here.
ELI: (Picks it up.) What is this?
JILL: A makeshift cup. Go drink your cappuccino or whatever.
ELI: What else is in there?
JILL: Knife in case of a zombie attack. Yarn in case of death by cats. It’d give me enough time to get away. (ELI looks confused.) What? No one was really clear about how the world was going to end so I figure I’d be prepared for all possible situations.
JILL: (Gesturing to the party hat.) Go. (ELI rushes off. We hear him pouring his drink. JILL picks up Jane Eyre and throws it on the ground.)
RADIO: Forty-five seconds.
(JILL reaches into her bag and pulls out the knife.)
MAN: There are no zombies around. What are you doing?
WOMAN: I’m ending the world for myself.
MAN: What? Put it away.
WOMAN: There’s no point. This is it. I’ve made up my mind. I want to die my own hand.
MAN: Think rationally.
WOMAN: We’re in the least of all rational situations. We’re going to die in a few seconds and that means I’m going to die having done nothing that I wanted to do. My whole life, everything has been out of my control. This is my last act. I’m in control now.
MAN: Let’s just talk this out.
WOMAN: No. I’m going to kill myself before anything else does.
WOMAN: I’m doing it. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.
MAN: I want to spend the last seconds of the world with you.
WOMAN: This isn’t some Indie movie shit. I’m not going to drop this knife and fall into your arms and cry until the world ends. What does it even matter to you? You have a family. You have a wife. You have kids. You have people that love you. I’m not leaving anything behind. I’m leaving an empty apartment and some really fucking expensive clothes from Lord & Taylor. That doesn’t mean shit at the end of the world. Don’t say you want to spend the end of the world with me. Don’t say stuff you don’t mean.
MAN: I mean it.
WOMAN: Stop fucking around!
RADIO: 25 seconds.
MAN: I’m not fucking around. I don’t know how to prove it to you, okay? I don’t want you to kill yourself. I think any decent human being would agree that suicide is the wrong answer.
WOMAN: What the hell do you know about decent human beings? You’re just sitting on your ass making wisecracks about nothing and eating peanut butter sandwiches and making really feminine drinks, waiting for your pathetic little life to end. You don’t know shit about decency.
MAN: Fine. You wanna kill yourself? Do it. I won’t look. But why don’t you want to die with the rest of humanity, huh? What makes you so special?
WOMAN: Special? You don’t know shit.
MAN: I know you’re a coward.
WOMAN: Shut up.
MAN: I know you’re afraid and you’re probably not even going to kill yourself.
WOMAN: Stop talking.
MAN: Put the knife down.
WOMAN: It’s my last chance. My last chance for me to do something in my life that I really want to do, without other people telling me to do it or not. This is it.
MAN: What if it doesn’t even hit? What if the meteor totally misses and everyone just ends up with really high levels of adrenaline for a while?
WOMAN: That’s not a risk worth taking.
MAN: Come on, let’s do this together.
RADIO: 5 seconds.
ELI: (ELI enters with his macchiato in the party hat.) Look, it’s kind of messy, but I did it! (He sees JILL with the knife.) Shit, Jill, what the fuck are you doing?
JILL: Sit with me. (ELI sits and spills the macchiato. It doesn’t matter now. JILL and ELI look down at the knife in her hands. Blackout. Spotlights up only on MAN and WOMAN. It is the split second before the end of the world.)
WOMAN: I liked this one boy, once. I was sixteen. He was my first kiss. We spent one night together. Mostly talking. I gave him a hand job, he pretended my breasts were talking puppets and subsequently giggled a lot. He was a weird kid, but I liked him. I couldn’t love him, though. Or the next guy. Or the next guy. Things just never really work out. Maybe his nose is too big or I’m making all the effort in the relationship and my self-esteem is deflating. So I’ve never loved anyone. And no one’s ever really loved me, I guess. Because it’s never been a two-way street. I’ve always thought that if someone loved me, I’d be happy. (She sighs.) Shit. If I spent any more time looking out the window and sighing, I think I would actually become a Victorian-era widow.
MAN: My kid hates me. I don’t even know what I did wrong– I guess I worked too much. I mean, she was pretty much raised by her mom. And her mom was always out to get me. She always wanted full custody and my daughter always thought I was that asshole dad who she could have fun with on the weekends and then forget about for the next two weeks. But, damn it, I tried. I just felt disconnected all the time. I missed out on the jokes and the amusement parks and packing lunches in the morning. I was a father and a husband by title. They didn’t even want me there today. No one wanted to spend the end of the world with me. Do you know how much that sucks?
WOMAN: I just wish people would preface relationships with, “Hi, these are all the weird things about me, I hope you like me in spite of them but if not I will understand.” I’ll be the example. Here are all the weird things about me. All of the walls in my apartment are finger painted because at the time I didn’t have money to hire painters or buy paint rollers. I thought Wingdings was a language and put an ad on Craigslist looking for a tutor and subsequently lost $500 dollars on three sessions with some guy who was making shit up as we went along.
MAN: I hate cats because I believe in reincarnation and I’m afraid that my mean grandma will come back into my life as a cat. The only thing that helps me relieve stress is playing the bongos with my eyes closed. And I only have digital clocks in my house because the ticking of analog clocks makes me nervous.
WOMAN: And then I’d look at the guy and be like, can you still love me? I buy microwavable popcorn and Us Weekly magazines because on Friday nights I sit home alone and make fun of what celebrities wear. I buy non-salted popcorn because I salt it with my tears. (Beat.) I don’t salt popcorn with my tears. I buy salted popcorn. But everything else is true.
WOMAN/MAN: I’m alone.
WOMAN: I kinda wish every day were the end of the world. Then everyone would just do everything without petty insecurities or wondering if they’re saying the right thing and all that meaningless stuff.
MAN: If every day were the end of the world, no one would die with regrets. I regret that I didn’t incorporate the color orange into my wardrobe more.
WOMAN: I regret that I spent most of my life fully clothed.
MAN: I regret that none of the furniture in my house was mahogany.
WOMAN: I regret designing my grandmother’s ceramics room. I’ve gotten a clay mortar and pestle for the past eight Christmases.
MAN: I regret that I’m spending the last second of the world coming up with punch lines.
WOMAN: Me too.
(MAN pauses and reaches over the bookshelf to grab a book out of the shelf. He picks out a large book.)
MAN: War and Peace.
(MAN flips through the book, looking for the first chapter.)
WOMAN: Skip the foreward. No reads that anyway.
MAN: Yeah. (MAN finds the first chapter.) “Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.”
(Lights up on JILL and ELI, both of their hands on the knife. They lower it together. MAN and WOMAN are still sitting with each other, reading. Lights blind the audience and we hear a boom, signifying the meteor. Blackout.)
Rachel Kaly, Age 17, Grade 12, Hunter College High School, Gold Key