-1The Dead Letter Office: A One Act Play
By Alex Dawson
Max: 30 years old, tall, and thin. He is a very introspective and deeply troubled soul. His sensitivity often manifests itself in unexpected fits of rage.
Sydney: 28 years old, pretty.. But not overly. She is also very sensitive, but has a much better hold on her emotions then Max
George: Max's co worker and friend. He is very amicable, with a fun loving and warm spirit. He is not very intelligent.
James: A 17 year old boy. He is very insecure, and would be classified as "emo" by modern standards.
Wo1: 33 years old. Very passionate and quirky. To look and talk to her, one would claim that she rightfully belongs in the 60's.
Wo2: 67 years old. Very frail and weak. However, she is still filled with passion when reciting the contents of her letter.
Act 1: Scene 1: woman and man are in what looks to be a dining room, but is sparsely furnished with a table, chairs, and a couple of pictures only. Both the man and woman are about 30 years old, and both are frozen in tableau until the lights come all the way up, and then, they are in action. The woman is Sydney, the man is Max.
Ma: Is that it then? Is that all you have to say? Are you done now?
Sy: I could never be done Max. I could beat down this track forever, I really could.
Ma: Well.. Don't. You've made up your mind.. You're leaving. So, leave. Just leave.
Sy: See, there you go… as controlling as ever! You think you have the power to decide everybody's fate, don't you?? You think that you're god!
Ma: Did you hear me? I said.. Just leave! You said it.. You don't love me anymore, I ruined you, I blackened your soul… I destroyed every fibre of your being.. That's what you said isn't it? (Silence.) Isn't it??
Sy: That is what I said… and that is what I meant. You and your rage.. You and your screaming and swearing about me, always about me… something wrong with me… I can't take it anymore! I can't take it! I don't care about the baby... When I found out.. I stayed.. I stayed for it's sake.. But now there's no use.. There's just no use.. I'm beginning to think that it growing up without a father is a better alternative to growing up with a father whose rage will kill it slowly.
Ma: Then leave.. Now!! If everything in this goddamn marriage is my fault.. Then go, right now! I'll have your stuff sent to you.. And we can just head in our separate ways.. Forget about the baby.. It's no longer mine! I disown it! A child is supposed to be the product of two people's love for each other.. But you don't love me. You don't fucking love me.. So it's just yours.. It's just yours…
(Sydney starts to cry, looks back at Max and leaves. Max is angry.. He paces around the room, once, twice, then, sudden realization of what has really happened dawns on him, and he sinks into one of the chairs with a look of absolute horror… he puts his head in his hands and begins to sob. Lighting changes.. it develops a reddish hue.)
Ma: No. Don't go. No. No. No. Please. Stay. Don't leave me here alone.. Please… I'm here all alone… please no. No. You're all that I- you're all that I have. The heat.. No please… don't go…. The heat- it's so strong- the heat… I can't breath- and it's killing you…. I'm killing you… the heat…. No…. (freezes in tableau. Lights go out.)
Act 1: Scene 2: a "dead letter office" a.k.a. "mail recovery center". This is where Max works. He sorts through letters, and determines if they are worth keeping or disposing of, based on certain criteria. He takes them to a big oven in another room, and burns them, if they are not worth keeping. Scene opens with Max frozen in tableau at desk which has a pile of letters on it stage left… it is lit by a spotlight, and George, his co worker is standing up beside the desk.
Ge: I'm going on lunch break now buddy. But I was just wondering.. What's wrong? Not in as bright spirits as usual…
Ma: Syd left me yesterday.
Ge: Oh shit, buddy. Well, I'm sorry for your loss. That Sydney.. She sure was a looker.
Ma: That she was.
Ge: Well, Marlene and her are friends.. So if I hear something from her.. I'll be sure to let you know. Chicken salad sandwich awaits, must be off. I'll be back in half an hour.. Then you can go. Happy burning!
(George exists. Max begins sorting through the letters. He opens one and begins to mouth what it says aloud. Suddenly, stage left lights up and there is a scruffy looking teenage boy sitting on a stool there. He speaks, as Max continues to mouth the words of the letter.)
Bo: Dear Cary, I've been thinking about writing you this letter for a long time now.. But before I was too nervous. Today, I'm brave enough. The reason why I'm writing this to you in a letter is because I like how formal it is. Some girls only deserve emails.. But you, you deserve a letter… hand delivered to you.. And written with care. I hear that that's how they did things in the past.. And since you love history so much… I figured I'd do things that way too. So, here it goes… Cary.. We've been friends for a long time now… a really long time. How long has it been.. 3 years? Yeah. I thought about telling you this in person.. But I knew that I'd choke up and never be able to say it.. So I'm doing it this way.. Ok, I guess that I better cut to the chase.. Shouldn't I? I love you Cary. That's right, I said it. I've loved you for a year and a half now.. And it's been eating away at my insides. I waited through your whole relationship with Brett to tell you, because I knew that if he found this.. He'd kill me.. He'd actually kill me. But now you're single… so I was hoping… fingers crossed, that maybe.. There might.. Possibly.. Be a chance… for us. I don't know.. Maybe that's just stupidity on my part. I just can't deal with the pent up emotions anymore. I guess you probably want me to tell you why I love you. So… ok, here it goes.. Sorry if this is sap overload. I love you because you're beautiful.. And your smile always lights my darkness. I love you because you're the only person who knows me, the actual me.. Who I don't have to pretend to be somebody else with. I love you because you're the kindest and most caring person that I know.. And you would do anything for anyone who needed help. I love you because you make me laugh.. But more importantly because you make me realize that laughter is even a possibility for me. And…I love you because you understand. I'm sorry if this takes you by storm.. And you don't know what to do. If you don't feel the same way, I completely understand.. I'm used to it when it comes to girls. If you don't feel the same way, I don't want this to ruin our friendship. So, just please don't respond, because it might be too much for me to handle. Don't respond, and never mention this letter, we can just go on as friends, and I will forget that I ever wrote it. But if, by any chance, you think that you could feel the same way, please reply. For my sake. For the sake of our good times. Love always,
(The light on James goes out.)
Ma: Poor bastard… wish I didn't have to burn the damn thing.. I know exactly what that was like for him. Oh man. Next. (Opens up next letter and begins mouthing it.)
(The light on stage left comes on again. Now, there is a middle aged woman sitting next to James. She's saying what she wrote in her letter.)
Wo: Hi there. Here's my submission to the "change the world" rant contest, I hope it's not too late. It said on the submission website that you wanted a quick explanation of why we chose the subject that we did… I have never been a writer, I have been an environmentalist all of my life. However, I feel now more then ever, there is a great demand for environmentalists to speak out for the rights of our planet. I cannot guarantee that this is written with absolute coherency and skill, but I can assure you that it is written with absolute determination… and passion unlike no other. I am perfectly overflowing with passion on this subject, and that is why I sent this to you… because, if you decide to feature it in your issue, then other people will pick up on this passion and hopefully be inspired to take action… like I have been all of my life. Here it is:
Many children refer to our environment as "mother earth", a name I feel to be most suitable for something that existed long before ourselves. While we are only patches in a huge quilt, the earth is the bigger picture, the constant. Like a mother, it provides us with clean air to breathe, food to eat, and shows us beauty (which seems a rarity in our corrupted world of today). Yet, like an ungrateful teenager, we, the human population, scorn the mother that provides for us. We poison her, litter her with our man- made garbage, and pollute her air with our waste. So, the game of vengeance begins. In response to our bad behaviour, we are rewarded with a quick hurricane, or a near pandemic. Yet, in our ignorance, many of us still refuse to realize the blatant message that mother earth is trying to deliver, "Enough is enough, if you're going to treat me this way... then, two can tango baby!"
Despite this message, we continue polluting the air, increasing global temperatures, spraying our gardens, and shaping our global community into one giant toxic wasteland. We forget that, it was our mother who gave us our lives, and just like God, she has the power to take them away. We assume that we are invincible. We get arrogant, yes, just a bit. Big business honchos, heads of mighty man- eating corporations stress, "efficiency, competition, profit, profit, profit!!!" But when do they stress an insured global future? When they are told that they must take our environmental issues into consideration, they make a small change, for the sake of reputation (seemingly), not out of any genuine care for our environment.
Well, I say that in that case, it's time for the ungrateful teenager (mankind) to pull out his priority list, and stick a big fat number one beside "environment preservation and protection". Kyoto Protocol is amazing, as are other movements, but I think that we need to go farther than that. Our world requires a priority revolution. Let's bump down "make a load of money" to number two, shall we? Because let's face it, at the rate that we're going, profit- seeking individuals may not even get to see the day when their big bucks transform into yachts and shiny cars... and if they do, they'll see those yachts sailing in grimy green water... and those cars driving under forever grey skies.
Unless, of course, (and what an OUTRAGEOUS idea!) we start showing that mother of ours the respect that she has most definitely earned.
Thank you for your consideration,
(Lights go out stage left.)
Ma: What a shame. There's no point in sending this.. The competition was over 3 months ago. Poor woman. She really had something there…
(Max opens third letter, and begins to mouth read it. Light again goes on, stage left, and there is an older woman sitting beside Elise and holding her hand with one hand, and facing the audience. She looks very frail and sickly and is wearing a hospital gown.)
O.W.: Dear Marie, I hope that you get this letter. I really, really do. I know that if you do get it… you probably won't even reply… you're probably still angry with me, which you have every right to be. I just wanted to say… that I'm sorry.. I'm sorry. It's taken me 19 years to come to terms with the fact that everything was my fault.. And that you got the blunt end of the stick. Even after beginning a whole new life with someone else, the whole situation haunted me, until I realized that it was me. It was never you. I ruined you and Frank. I ruined you… and all that time I thought that I had the right to do it, because I'd loved him for so much longer then you. But I didn't have the right to do it. He loved you, it was his choice.. And he picked you. As much as I felt wronged by that, I had absolutely no right to swoop in like I did. He was vulnerable, and I took advantage, which I shouldn't have. So, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I guess I'm sending you this.. Because I miss you. You were the best friend that I've ever had.. And I always used to figure that you always would be. Also…there's another, more serious reason why I've decided to send this now, of all times. I'm dying. I have AIDS... The HIV was dormant for quite awhile. I guess the promiscuity of my youth has finally caught up with me, eh? I promised it to myself that I'd get done with any unfinished business before I passed. I know it's a shot in the dark.. Assuming that you still live at this address. But I had to send this anyways.. In case there was a chance. If you do still live there.. Do you think you might consider writing me back? Just so my guilty conscious can rest at ease? Yours in friendship (hopefully),
(Jane reaches out and holds onto Jame's hand. Lights go out.)
Ma: Poor woman… I guess they didn't live at that address anymore anyways. She must be dead by now.. That was written.. 6 months ago. Poor, poor woman. That's the end of the pile. Time to burn…oh god.. Time to burn…
(Light goes out.)
Act 1, scene 3: an oven room. The lighting consists of reddish hues once again. There is an "oven" in the middle of the room, and "fire" can be seen in it. Max enters, and is taken aback by the intense heat of the place. He looks scared, as if this place terrifies him. He takes a deep breath and walks towards the oven.
Ma: Just get the job done Max. Just get the job done.
(Tosses some of the letters at the bottom of the pile into the fire. Hears Sydney's voice over the crackling.)
Syd: You think you have the power to decide everybody's fate, don't you?? You think that you're god!
Ma: No. I'm not deciding this fate for them. I'm just doing the dirty work. These letters decide their own fate!
(Max continues feeding the letters to the fire… until comes to last 3.. The ones that he read out loud. He looks at them. Then drops the first in the fire. A scream is heard.. The light goes on stage left, and James can be seen on his stool still, he falls off, and starts writhing like he's being burnt, eventually stops.. The other two actors stay in tableau and the lights stay on. Max puts his hands over his ears.)
(Drops the second letter in the fire. The second woman screams, and starts writhing just as James did. Max tries to ignore it even more, but looks petrified. Finally, he takes a deep breath and drops the third letter in the fire. The third woman lets out the longest scream of them all and begins reacting as if burnt… suddenly her screams transform into the sound of sirens.. And many people's voices.. Above the sirens can be heard the voice of a small boy crying "Mama! Papa!". Max is frozen, petrified. The noise continues. Max begins to thrash around in a nervous fit, his eyes are the only things that do not move. They are frozen on the oven.)
Ma: Oh god. No. Not the heat. The heat.. Not again. Oh no. Oh no. Don't leave me. Don't leave me. No.. it wasn't my fault.. It wasn't my fault.. I swear it wasn't. It wasn't my fault. I'm not a killer.. I'm not a killer… it was just the way things happened.. It was- no- the heat. I hate it. I hate it. Oh no…
(Suddenly he snaps out of it, and leans over out of fatigue and shock. He straightens up, and begins to take slow steps towards the oven. Max takes his hands off his ears and blinks, then, barely being able to walk… Totters out of the room.)
Act 1, scene 4: back in the office, George has returned from his lunch break.. When Max totters in, totally exhausted and dishevelled looking.
Ge: Jeez man.. What? Did the oven attack you or something?
Ma: No. It… no… is there? I need water.
(George jumps up and gets him some water from the side of the room. He walks back and hands the water to Max.)
Ge: Here you go buddy. What's going on?
Ma: Water… (Downs the whole thing.)
Ge: You ok?
Ma: Yeah.. I'm ok. I'm ok. I just need quiet. Thanks. Thanks.
(Max sits down and tries to get back to the job, he's sorting through letters but he can't focus. Sydney's voice keeps playing over and over again, as if in his head: "You think you have the power to decide everybody's fate, don't you?? You think that you're god!" Suddenly Max gets up and begins throwing things in the office.. every which way.. He is possessed by absolute rage.. George steps back and just watches him, totally petrified and unable to move. Max throws things around for a good minute.. Until he suddenly falls to the floor and sits there, totally quietly and calmly.)
Ge: Um.. Why in the hell did you do that?
Ma: Because I hate it here.
Ge: Yeah.. Well.. I hate my mother, but that doesn't mean that I'm gonna tear her to pieces. I hate it here too buddy, but you can't just go ripping apart a place like this.. You don't own it after all…
Ma: I did it for them.
Ge: Who's them?
Ma: (Smiling in a strange sort of way.) The dead letters.
Act 1: scene 5. Lights go out. Two weeks later. Lights go up. George is on the phone with his wife.
Ge: The nutter should be back from lunch break at any time now. I don't know how he hasn't been fired yet….. No I swear to you, he's actually clinically insane. I'm sure of it. He talks to the letters…. I'm not joking with you Marlene.. He actually talks to them. I don't know why… well.. It must be because of Syd. She ended it with him about 3 weeks ago now, right?.. Yeah. I think it was offset by that…. Who knows.. Maybe some form of schizophr- oh, here he comes. Better go!… Yeah, yeah.. I'll give him the letter from her- but he'll probably start talking to that too.
(George hangs up. Max enters looking incredibly bizarre. His clothing does not match, it doesn't look like he's showered in days. His hair is totally grease ridden, and his gait is altered)
Ge: H- Hi there Max.
(Max nods to George.)
Ge: Listen- er... Max- I've got a letter here.
Ma: A letter! How absurd! Why would you have a letter? It's not like we work with them every second of the day or anything! (Laughs hysterically.)
Ge: It's- umm- it's from Syd. For you. Marlene said she wanted me to give it to you.
Ma: Oh. Oh. Ok. Well.. Give that to me then. That's pretty important. These other letters can wait. Give that to me now.
(George gives him the letter. Max opens it in a hurry. The lights go on stage left, and there is Sydney sitting on the stool, looking very pregnant. Max begins to read the letter.)
Sy: Hi Max. I'm still angry with you. Don't think I'm not.. But I thought it only fair that you know what's going on in terms of the baby, because he's yours too. I had a false alarm last night.. And that's why I'm writing you this letter… because it made me realize that I don't want to do this on my own. I can't do this on my own.. I'm just not ready for it. And- I still love you Max… I do. I've had a lot of time to think over the last 3 weeks- and I've realized that I was really hard on you. I understand your anger. If I had gone through such a traumatizing thing as you at nine years old, I would be angry too. Maybe you can take anger management courses or something and work this thing out of your system? I don't know. All I do know is that- I want to try and make this work- because I still love you- and our baby- our baby deserves two parents- not one. So, when you get this message, and if you still want things to work out between us too… then please call me. Please. I'm at my parents house.. 905 632 7569. Talk to you soon hopefully,
(Lights go out on Sydney, stage left. Max stares at letter intently for a minute, and then puts it back away, in its envelope.)
Ge: What's it say buddy?
(Max is too busy replying to George to realize that he puts this letter in the pile that's going out to be burned.)
Ma: She wants me to call her.. At her parent's house… to sort things out. I need some time to think about things… I'll- I'll call her when I get home..
Ge: Well, still buddy! That's great news! Good for you!
Ma: (Looking at George.) I don't want to burn the letters today- can you?
Ge: What is this? Why don't you want to?
Ma: I- I'm scared.
Ge: (Chuckles.) A big guy like you- scared of some little letters. How silly is that buddy? You have to burn them.. You've got to overcome this irrational fear. I'm not burning them- I'm too stiff from a good little romp last night to do it myself- and if nobody else does- they'll just pile up.
Ma: Yeah.. I s'ppose. I have to… it's an irrational fear- yes, yes, it's that… I'll do it… I will - I have to go to the burning room now.. I'll be back in five.
(George hands him some letters.)
Ge: Be a pal.. Do those for me too.
(Adds them to the pile which Syd's letter had just previously been at the top of. Max grabs pile and leaves room. The second that he leaves, George picks up the phone again and calls his wife.)
Ge: Hey Marl! Yup… Yup…. He read the letter. He's gonna call her when he gets home…. Yes, now, don't you worry your pretty little head over it my darling. Things are going to work out just fine… well, he seemed…. Unsure. But I know he'll make the right choice. He might be sort of unhinged right now… but- but he's still the same Max deep down….. Yes…. Oh… I understand…. I agree, she shouldn't be left in suspense, it is unfair to keep her waiting… I'll tell him to call her the second that he gets back…. I love you too, my little gummy bear. What's for dinner tonight?…. Sounds good….. Ok… see you soon.
(Hangs up. Max comes back into room. George turns to Max.)
Ge: Do you know what buddy? I'm really happy for you. I really am. Looks like things are going to work out just fine after all. I think you should call her now buddy. I don't think that she should be left in suspense. Ithink that's unfair to keep her waiting.
(Max stares at George.. Then sits down.)
Ma: No. You're right. I should- I should call her now- I was just thinking that in the burning room. (Looking around on desk.) Now, where did I put that? Where did I-
Ge: Not there? Maybe you burnt it with the rest of the letters by accident? (Max begins to sink into his chair.. Looking perfectly horrified.) That's the problem with working with letters.. You bring your own in to look at, and you end up burning them along with the rest. (Sees Max looking horrified.) There's no need to worry about it! We can just look her parents' number up in the phone directory.
Ma: No. I killed her.
Ma: I killed them. And now I killed her. I killed her. My love.. My only love. The fire.. It always kills.. And now, I did do it… I'm sure this time… it's the fire.. It's in me.. It killed her- and my baby, my beautiful baby boy. Gone. I did it. The fire drove her away- and now it ate her. I have to go- I have to-
(Max grabs coat and starts to leave.)
Ge: Where are you going??
Ma: To get rid of the fire.
(George looks confused. Max leaves. The sound of a clock ticking can be heard over George's working, the clock is ticking really quickly. George's moving very quickly as if time is being fast forwarded.. He keeps looking at his watch. The time all of a sudden goes back to normal.)
Ge: 2 and a half hours. Where in the hell could he-?
(The phone rings.)
Ge: Hello. Yes this is the Mail Recovery Office. What can I do for you?…. Yes, a Max Hanson does work here….. He went out… I haven't seen him for the last 2 hours…. The police? Oh no, what did he do? I'm sorry officer, he's been really out of sorts lately…… What? No…… no….. no, you must be wrong. No, Max wouldn't do that… he has a baby on the way, he would never…. No……(Begins to sob.) no….. where did you find him?…. In the lake….. I see…. I see….(Lights go out.)