(Single light fades in on clock, visible up center stage. Right center stage stands a couch with a coffee table in front, initially shadowed. Another light settles on the couch, illuminating a dead young man. Having just committed suicide, the body shows an odd mixture of peace and disruption. Pills, medicine bottles, and a flurry of paper litter the area around the body. After a moment, the entire stage illuminates, revealing a bookcase far up left. Two main entrances are a door up right and a door up left. MATTHEW, the "spirit" of the dead youth stands down left . Frozen initially, he begins without noticing the body.)

MATTHEW ("spirit")

(Appearing faint but largely normal) What time is it? (Looking at clock) Oh, shoot, I'm late. I better get going. Do I have everything? (Thinks) Yes, I just need... (Feels in pocket) Wait, where's the ring? I was sure it was in my pocket. Maybe I left it in my room.

(Begins walking stage right for a few steps. Sees the body and has a sudden rush that nearly takes him off his feet. He remembers what he has done and why.)

That means I'm—

(A middle-aged man with a bland, grey suit enters stage left, behind Matthew's back, carrying a clip-board. Offsetting Matthew's hysterics, his manners are dry to the point of comedy. Walks left of MATTHEW, finishing his phrase.)

MAN ("angel")

(Dryly) Dead.

MATTHEW

(Turning suddenly) Who are you? I was just going to go out and—

MAN

(Noticing MATTHEW's nervousness) Don't worry, there's nothing amiss. (Consults clipboard)

MATTHEW

So this is dead. But how am I still here? (Abruptly facing the MAN) You never answered my question: Who, or what, are you—some kind of gatekeeper?

MAN

(Gruffly) Never-mind that foolishness. We're doing this whole affair by the book which means silence until I say speak, understood?

MATTHEW

No, I really don't understand what's going on at all, I—

MAN

(Interrupting rudely) I did not say speak. A simple yes or no would have sufficed. I shall answer

MAN Con't

your questions eventually. Now, what is much more pressing is the question: who or what were you? (Consulting his clip board) It says here that your name was Matthew Smith. You had a duel major in literature and drama, but upon graduating you turned to accounting in order to pay your bills. Ah, it also states that you resided alone in this domicile and were recently fired for "flippancy." (Pauses, shuffling pages of notes) You know, perhaps, we shan't do this by the book. These notes go on for a dozen more pages, and frankly, I see no reason to say they're wrong. They haven't been wrong for the last thousand or so years since I've been doing this, so I see no reason why they should be wrong now. And, furthermore, I'm not having a very good day. I mean, I never have a good day, but today is an especially bad day. I doubt it shall improve, but I can always hope. Ah, well. (Abruptly facing MATT) In any case, what say you, Matt Smith?

MATTHEW

(Exasperated) About what? You start bombarding me with bureaucratic bullshit, asking worthless questions about me, already knowing all the answers—and talking about your bad day. I just killed myself! And, you didn't answer my question: who the hell are you?

MAN

I am an Angelical Negotiating Generic Entity Liaison.

MATTHEW

(Reading off the invisible words in front of him) Oh! 'Angel.' An acronym. Funny. And all this time I though you guys just flew around with wings.

MAN

Quite. And now that we are on the same page, Matt Smith, forward to phase two. It's merely a formality, but what compelled you to undertake your "self-immolation" by (surveying the scene) medication (Scribbles on his pad.) Think of this as a survey of sorts, but be wary of time.

MATTHEW

You mean you want me to say why I did.... it? (MAN nods) Alright.

(Gathering words, walks down center stage and speaks to invisible audience.)

We humans scramble about this hellish cesspit of sorrow, bombarded day to day with so much suffering, and instead of cultivating virtue or innocence, our world teaches us to be guilty just for being alive. It teaches that it's impractical and painful to empathize with anyone beyond a few close friends—not Africans who die daily just so diamonds can stay cheap for dirty hands, not sweatshop workers who soak our shirts for the sake of capitalism. And there's no escape. We are trapped in this prison to die, fending for ourselves while so many languish just so we can do what? Get a big house, a big family, and a nice car? How's that fair? It's all one horrible game that no one volunteered for, that no one wants, that no one wins.

(Crosses back over to body)

—Why were we born just to die! —Why? (Suddenly calming, looking into the face of the body)"Out! Out brief candle! Life is but a walking shadow."

MAN

(Long pause as he writes) Done?

MATTHEW

No...(Facing MAN) I want to say one more thing.

(Crossing back to down center)

We are taught to hope, and so when we ask "when will this torment end," we say tomorrow or eventually; but it never does. It never will.

(Crossing over to body.)

So we cling on to these petty hopes—things as subtle as a good breakfast, but now I know better. I learned today that everything—even love—is temporal, doomed, and false. Everything—especially love—will yield pain and disappointment. (breaking down) I...I ...

MAN

Would you elaborate please? But tersely.

MATTHEW

(Angered, approaching MAN) Love is life's most diabolical lie.

MAN

Love? Now let's see... Aha, her name is "Wren," correct? I have a small file on her here too. (Consulting pad) Now let's see... Lives nearby. Destitute. Associate degree in art.

MATTHEW

(Sorrowfully reflective) Pale as the winter moonlight. Elegant hands, delicate frame.

MAN

Funny. There's nothing here about that. It does say that she displays an aptitude for art and

running out of money. Sensitive and kind, but she appears happy. Hmm, that's strange.

MATTHEW

Beauty of anguish, beauty of laughter...

MAN

Yes, yes... Ah, here we are. Six years ago you said those faithful words, "I love you," to her at the park down the street, and you have been saying those words ever since. Until today.

(WREN enters from stage right with evidence of tears. She crosses up left, calling through the exit, but does not see the body. There is an air of grace about her, even now, despite her destitute appearance, and extreme stress. Both look at her; MATT freezes.)

I assume—

MATTHEW

(Begins walking to WREN, stalking her steps as she crosses.)

You tramp! You whore! You finally come—for what? It's too late, you deceitful, unfaithful, selfish— (Angered outburst.)

WREN

Matty, Matty! No, no, no. Matt?! (Comes closer) No, why won't you?

(Notices pills and gasps. Runs up to and holds body, hitting the face and checking for breath.)

C'mon Matt. C'mon! Wake up! No, no. I didn't want to. I didn't mean to. I...(Cries)

MATTHEW

(Having crossed up stage of couch, drowning out her cries with shouts)

Yes, do you see what you did, what you did to me, to yourself—how does it feel? Does it hurt?

MAN

And what exactly did she do?

MATTHEW

She betrayed me. (To WREN) Get your dirty hands off of me! Get out, so you can feel how much it hurts to be betrayed. Get out! Did you really think—

WREN

I didn't know...I didn't mean to, Matty.

MAN

Matt Smith, betrayal is too vague a term. Come now, more description if you please.

(Ring falls out of dead body's hand, and WREN picks it up. She becomes disconsolate.)

WREN

You were going to propose? (Seems overwhelmed, but ceases crying)

MATTHEW

(Sadly) Yes.

MAN

(Annoyed by interruptions) That's enough! See, this is what happens when you throw out the

MAN Con't

book: anarchy.

MATTHEW

(Facing MAN) You want anarchy, try living in a wold where your soon to be fiancé cheats on you—for what? I don't even know. Probably money. It's always money. Once a whore always a whore.

MAN

A whore?

MATTHEW

You mean your file doesn't say anything about that? (Begins to calm) I met Wren because she was cheap and desperate—or at least that's how it began. (Sorrowfully) I did love her. I don't really know how it happened—it's difficult to explain. I saw beyond the mascara and lipstick—I saw her. She and I became close. We helped each other, her friendship dispelling my depression, my care keeping her from carnal exploitation.

MAN

And after seven years of reformation, when you thought you were both ready for marriage, she—your one hope—cheated on you.

MATTHEW

(Crushed) Yes.

(Wren begins to dial phone. MATTHEW approaches with interest.)

(Mockingly) Who are you calling? Are you calling him? Are you?

WREN

Yes, operator, I need an ambulance... Yeah, my friend, he... overdosed... he looks dead... 24601 Court Street. Thank you. (Hangs up, looking at body.) I won't let you die, and even though you can't hear me, I want you to know that—

MATTHEW

Yes? What do you want me to know? The name of your last "job?" Your pitiful excuse? What!?

(WREN holds body and begins to cry again.)

Stop crying! What you do want to tell me?

WREN

I know it doesn't mean anything, but I'm sorry. I know you needed me and that I abandoned you,

but I...I didn't mean to. It's so hard to explain, but I needed the money. I was too afraid to ask

you because you got fired. And after my neighbor offered to pay me, I couldn't help it—it just

WREN Con't

came naturally. (MATT winces) No one but me and him would know. I didn't want to upset you...

MATTHEW

(Erratically) "Sorry?" You think you can erase all this by saying sorry? This isn't preschool anymore! This is life. After all we did, after all that work—?

(Turning away, back to down center, away from WREN)

No! I don't care! I can't listen to this! (Pauses and looks at MAN.) All right, let's

go. You're always talking about time—well, I'm ready.

MAN

In that case, I'll just finish filling out this last sheet, and we'll be on our merry way. Now then— (Cell phone rings). Oh, Sorry, but I really must take this. (Answering) Hello? Gabrielle!

(Crosses up left in conversation)

MATTHEW

(Watching WREN reluctantly) If you needed money, I would've helped. I would've understood. (WREN keeps crying.) If you'd just...

WREN

(Resuming with difficulty) Matt, I'm not worth this. I was never worth your love, and I'm sorry I stole it. I was a prostitute—what were we thinking? Matt, I know it's too late, but I'm going to stay until they come. I won't abandon you twice...

MATTHEW

(Sincerely sad) Maybe it was possible. It sounds so foolish, but I really did love you.

(Returning to her side)

I still—

(Breaks away back to down center)

No! It was all a lie. Shut up! I can't hear you: I'm dead, and I can finally say farewell to this world of crushed hopes and unfaithful lovers. Alleluia!

(MAN closes phone and returns down left, interrupting MATTHEW)

MAN

Well, I have to take you soon, (Expects reaction from MATT but gets none.) but according to Gabrielle, you have another option: resurrection.

MATTHEW

(Going towards MAN) What do you mean?

MAN

Wren has called the ambulance and they are on their way. Since she has "rescued you," you have a choice. You can be saved by them or come with me. This doesn't happen often, and most choose to leave, but—

MATTHEW

Is that it?

MAN

Essentially. You can choose to live in this "hellish cesspit of sorrow,"as you called it, or leave.

MATTHEW

(Looking at WREN) How much time is left?

MAN

(Bored) Well, (consults watch) about...30 or so seconds.

(Paramedics enter with equipment from stage right. WREN abandons body, standing down center, facing couch, gesticulating to the paramedics who surround body and take pulse. They lay the body along the table. MATT looks on with confusion, backing farther stage left.)

PARAMEDIC ONE

Get the defibrillator

(Paramedics ready the machine )

MAN

You need to choose; time is ticking.

(Paramedics have finished preparing to resuscitate the body.)

MATTHEW

I know! I know! (To himself) She betrayed me, but I don't want to hurt—

PARAMEDIC ONE

(Interrupting) 3..2..1 CLEAR!

(Body Jumps)

MATTHEW

It's just—I don't know! I—

PARAMEDIC ONE

3..2..1 CLEAR!

(Body Jumps.)

MAN

5..4...

PARAMEDIC ONE

3..2...1..CLEAR!

(Lights shut off instantly at "clear," except for single spot on body. MATTHEW exits stage during blackout.)

PARAMEDIC TWO

(Feeling pulse) We got something! It's almost nothing, but it's something.

(Paramedics move frantically to straighten body's back slightly. WREN rushes over, down stage of body.)

Come on! We need to make sure that we keep this guy!

(BODY struggles to move, and gives a painful cough. WREN rushes closer, kneeling by his face, still down stage. He throws up on her and the nearby paramedics. As all this happens the light grows out from MATTHEW's body, culminating later at the Sonnet )

Good, he threw it out. (Pointing at two paramedics) You two get something to clean this up. We still have a lot of work left.

(Body looks about and tries to speak)

PARAMEDIC ONE

(To body) No, not yet. You're still in a fragile state. Just yes or no: are you in any severe pain?

(BODY looks at WREN, who shares a look of profound relief and repentance with him. She secretly presses the ring into his palm. Paramedics take no notice.)

BODY (MATTHEW)

(Looking at PARAMEDIC ONE) No.

PARAMEDIC ONE

(Smiling) Good. Now stay calm. You're going to be all right.

(He backs away to consult remaining paramedics quietly upstage, leaving WREN and MATT. The MAN reenters light from shadowed left stage to down stage of scene, talking on phone. Scene freezes)

MAN

Yes, he did...(looks at MATT)...Yes...It is pleasing to have a happy ending from time to time...

(Crosses up stage of couch)

Do you think the Boss could maybe...I know, it's just an idea. Oh well, off to another case.

(Hangs up phone and looks at MATT with a changed manner) Well Matt, I hope I never see you again, and I mean that in the nicest way possible, but I must be off. Adieu.

(Light's resume on entire stage, but dimmed. Man crosses up left to bookcase and notices a book on the floor. He picks it up, takes out the bookmark, opening to the page where it rested, and reads aloud.)

"Sonnet 66 by William Shakespeare:

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,

As, to behold desert a beggar born,

And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,

And purest faith unhappily forsworn,

And guilded honour shamefully misplaced,

And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,

And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,

And strength by limping sway disabled,

And art made tongue-tied by authority,

And folly doctor-like controlling skill,

And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,

And captive good attending captain ill:

Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,

Save that, to die, I leave my love alone."

(MAN muses, shelves book, checks watch, and begins to hustle stage left. With a final smile he exits. Lights fade, except for small focus around ticking clock for a moment or so. This soon fades to black.)

END