THE STEPS

(Whaligo Steps, Caithness, Scotland. EMMA, an 18-year-old, stands by the bay, staring up at the cliff, while RICHARD, a 20-year-old, sits on the bottom steps, carving marks into the rock with a stone while calculating something in his head. It is drizzly and foggy.)

RICHARD. How long?

EMMA. I don't know.

RICHARD. Think about it.

EMMA. You think about it.

RICHARD. I am thinking about it.

EMMA. And?

RICHARD. I don't know.

EMMA. So neither do I. (Pause.) What use is keeping track going to do?

RICHARD. Dunno.

EMMA. Well then.

RICHARD. Nothing else to do.

EMMA. We could talk.

RICHARD. (Stops carving.) About what?

EMMA. Y'know. Stuff.

RICHARD. Alright then.

(Pause. RICHARD goes back to carving.)

EMMA. Talk then.

RICHARD. (Repeating himself.) How long?

EMMA. (Annoyed.) I told you already – I don't know.

RICHARD. I'm just talking. Y'know, like you wanted.

EMMA. Not about that.

RICHARD. About what then?

EMMA. Stuff that's happened.

RICHARD. (Stops carving.) Why? (Pause.) The past is in the past; what's done is done, all that shite.

EMMA. (Going to the steps.) I think the steps want us to talk about the past.

RICHARD. I think the steps know fuck all.

EMMA. Well I think you know fuck all.

RICHARD. Really?

EMMA. Yeah.

RICHARD. Right, well...

EMMA. Well what?

RICHARD. You stand over there in your know-it-all-ness, and I'll stay here, with the steps, in our know-fuck-all-ness.

EMMA. Fine.

RICHARD. Good.

EMMA. Glad we could reach a compromise.

(Pause.)

RICHARD. Sorry.

EMMA. Why don't you want to talk?

RICHARD. I just -

EMMA. I mean, it's not like we have anything else to do, and I know you were never one for talking anyway, but -

RICHARD. Never one for talking?

EMMA. What?

RICHARD. I was never one for talking?

EMMA. Well, you weren't.

RICHARD. Aye, well. You were never one for shutting up.

EMMA. Stop being difficult.

RICHARD. Difficult?

EMMA. Difficult.

RICHARD. You're the one being difficult.

EMMA. How?

RICHARD. You can't just let things drop, can you? You always did have to drag things back up from ages ago.

EMMA. I wouldn't of had to drag them up so much if you had just talked to me.

RICHARD. Fine then, let's talk.

EMMA. Right. About the past.

RICHARD. Even though the past is -

EMMA. Past, yeah, I know, but if you let me finish my fucking sentence first, then maybe -

RICHARD. Finish your fucking sentence then.

EMMA. I'd finish my fucking sentence if you'd give me a fucking -

RICHARD. Chance?

EMMA. Aw fuck off.

RICHARD. Believe me, I would if I could.

EMMA. Stop avoiding it.

RICHARD. What?

EMMA. Talking.

RICHARD. We are talking.

EMMA. Not about the stuff I want to talk about.

RICHARD. So talk about the stuff you want to talk about.

EMMA. Right then. (Goes to talk, then decides to finish off the last talk.) I would've if you let me, you know.

RICHARD. Let you what?

EMMA. Talk.

RICHARD. But I let you talk.

EMMA. But you didn't let me talk about what I wanted.

RICHARD. But we were talking about something else.

EMMA. I know, but I wanted to talk about what I wanted to talk about.

RICHARD. So talk about it then!

EMMA. I would've talked about it if you'd given me a -

RICHARD. (Smiling at the repetition.) Chance?

EMMA. Fuck off!

(EMMA kicks his arse. He flails around, moaning and cursing. EMMA stands with satisfaction.)

Now can we talk?

RICHARD. Fuck you.

(Beat.)

EMMA. So. Tell me how it happened again.

RICHARD. How what happened?

EMMA. The fall.

RICHARD. But you already know how it happened.

EMMA. Tell me again.

RICHARD. What's the point?

EMMA. I just want to make sure that everything adds up.

RICHARD. What, you don't trust me?

EMMA. I never said that.

RICHARD. You don't though.

EMMA. I do so.

RICHARD. Do not!

EMMA. Do so! (Beat.) Just tell me how it happened.

RICHARD. (Gesturing.) That really hurt, you know.

EMMA. Good.

RICHARD. I'm not in the mood for this, Emma.

EMMA. Tell me how it happened.

RICHARD. I don't want to talk about this again.

EMMA. Tell me.

RICHARD. No.

EMMA. Tell me!

RICHARD. No!

EMMA. Tell me or I'll kick you in the balls this time!

(She goes to do so.)

RICHARD. Alright, alright!

EMMA. Start with the time of day.

RICHARD. It was sunset.

EMMA. So it was bright?

RICHARD. It was foggy.

EMMA. How do you know it was sunset then?

RICHARD. What?

EMMA. How could you know it was sunset if it was foggy?

RICHARD. I had a watch, it was round about sunset time.

EMMA. But sunset isn't at the exact same time every day.

RICHARD. What does it matter?

EMMA. I just want to get every last detail right.

RICHARD. Whether it was sunset or not doesn't matter.

EMMA. Fine. (Beat.) Go on.

RICHARD. On what?

EMMA. Talking.

RICHARD. What, about the length of the grass?

EMMA. Richard, I swear I'll knee you up the fucking -

RICHARD. We drove together in my car, and we were both in the front. You said you wanted to talk.

EMMA. Why didn't we talk in the car?

RICHARD. I dunno.

EMMA. I find it weird that we wouldn't just talk in the car.

RICHARD. You said you wanted to come to Whaligo, I don't know why. Something about one of our visits there.

EMMA. What about one of our visits?

RICHARD. I don't know Emma.

EMMA. Well start remembering then you idiot!

RICHARD. Emma!

EMMA. What? It isn't fair. None of this is fair! I don't think it's fair that you get to remember how you died and I don't. I don't think it's fair that you never talk to me when we really have to. And I don't think it's fair that I have to spend all my time stuck here with you.

RICHARD. Oh really?

EMMA. Yeah, really.

RICHARD. Well do you know what I don't think's fair?

EMMA. What?

RICHARD. I don't think it's fair that I have to put up with your bullshit all the time. I don't think it's fair that you seem to think you're better than me and see me as some sort of stupid, slevering caveman. And I don't think it's fair that even though I like you – and yes, as shocking as that is to hear, I do – that whatever I put into our... friendship, relationship, whatever we had, it was never ever good enough for you. How do you think that is for me, Emma? The girl I like doesn't want to be stuck here with me. Really fucking made my day.

(Pause. RICHARD goes to the bay to skim rocks. EMMA remains still.)

EMMA. Richard...

RICHARD. So we got out of the car to talk. I didn't really think we needed to talk about us again, but never mind.

EMMA. No Richard, I don't care about that anymore.

RICHARD. Then the wind picked up, and... I don't know, you just lost your balance and fell off the cliff. I ran down the steps to see if, just maybe, you had survived, but I tripped on the last few, and... next thing I knew, I was here. With you.

EMMA. Richard, it doesn't matter.

RICHARD. It does matter.

EMMA. Look at me. (He does so.) Say it again.

RICHARD. What?

EMMA. That you like me.

(Beat.)

RICHARD. Em...

EMMA. Say it again. Look me in the eye and say it again.

RICHARD. Emma, let's not go down this road again.

EMMA. Just say it.

(Pause.)

RICHARD. Fine. I like you.

(Pause.)

EMMA. What was so hard about that?

RICHARD. I don't know.

EMMA. What was so hard that you couldn't just say it when we were alive?

RICHARD. Emma, we're just running 'round in circles.

(Pause.)

EMMA. Sit with me?

(She sits and gestures to the spot next to her. RICHARD does so.)

You weren't that bad, you know.

RICHARD. Thanks.

EMMA. And I know I gave you a hard time sometimes... sorry.

(Pause.)

RICHARD. It's okay.

EMMA. And I know we argue... like, we argue a lot... but people say that's a good thing.

RICHARD. Do they?

EMMA. Well, they do in the films. (Pause.) We could still have something. If you want.

RICHARD. We're dead, Emma.

EMMA. Yeah, and we're stuck here. Wouldn't you rather have someone than be stuck here alone?

(Pause. They shuffle in closer to each other. The distorted cries of seagulls echo in the distance.)

Thanks for talking.

RICHARD. Thanks for listening.

EMMA. You know, all I ever needed was for you to say it. That you liked me. Admit it. (Pause.) So what do we do now?

RICHARD. Dunno.

EMMA. I think the steps wanted us to... patch things up, you know? Maybe that's why they kept us here. Maybe they just wanted us to finally be... okay. I know we're not totally okay, but... well, it's as okay as we'll ever be, I guess. Maybe the steps just want to know that.

(Pause. Seagulls shriek again, louder this time, as they both go in for a kiss. RICHARD pulls away as the shrieks cease.)

Emma, I have to tell you something.

(Pause.)

EMMA. Okay.

RICHARD. And I want you to remember that I like you, and that I've seen things differently now. Now that we've been here.

(Pause.)

EMMA. Go on then. Talk.

(Pause as RICHARD takes an intake of breath.)

RICHARD. Okay... me and you, you and I, when we were alive... I was happy. I was, and I mean that. We had good things – really good – like when we had that pic-nic at Old Wick castle, and we were hugging on the cliffs. And it was sunset. Do you remember that sunset? It was a gorgeous sunset. (Pause.) Or when we would go to the beach, and even though everyone else was with us, we still managed to sneak sly little looks at each other, and it was nice because... because it was a secret. It was those secrets that I loved, and when we were in them, I just felt like everything was perfect. But... but I couldn't help the way I felt afterwards. I still can't. I can't help the aftershock, or the hangover, or whatever it is afterwards. When I was with you I'd feel so drunk and happy and dizzy, but afterwards... I just wanted to close myself up so that I don't have to think about things for a while. I feel like I'm suffocated, even though I'm not, but I can't help it. I really can't. And I'm sorry. I hate myself for it. Like, I hate myself, and I wish I could change it, but I can't. And you don't deserve that. You don't deserve all this confusing bullshit, which is why... oh, fuck. Which is why... I wish I didn't have to say it, but I have to. I have to because you need to know, and the steps want you to know, and you need to move on, and where that'll leave me, well... fuck knows. But... but... (Pause. Intake of breath.) Okay. You din't... you didn't fall. I pushed you. I pushed you off the cliff.

(Pause. EMMA sits, motionless. She slowly gets up. Very slowly she goes to the bay, picks up a rock, then skims it. Then picks up another rock. Pause.)

You were just... you were just doing my nut in so much. But I wish I could take it back. I wish we could go back to life and back to the beach and back to pic-nics at Old Wick Castle, because I've seen how good we can be. And I like you. I like you so much. So, so much. And I know we're dead and everything, but now -

EMMA. Why do you skim rocks?

RICHARD. What?

EMMA. You do it all the time. You used to do it all the time. Always when I was around. Why do you skim them?

RICHARD. I don't know.

EMMA. You don't know? (Pause.) Do you know what I think? (Pause.) Richard, do you know what I think?

RICHARD. What do you think?

EMMA. I think you skim them... because you need something to remind you of what you're doing. You need the ripples in the water to remind you that you're here, right now, and that you need to remember what you're doing. You also used to do it because you needed them to remind you of me, in the background. You needed to do it so badly because you had such a hard time remembering who I was.

RICHARD. What? Emma, no -

EMMA. Yes. Don't lie to me. Don't fucking lie to me again.

(She launches the rocks at RICHARD's head.)

Do you remember me now? Maybe if I skim your head hard enough you'll remember who the fuck I am!

RICHARD. Emma, stop! Listen to me!

EMMA. No!

RICHARD. Emma!

(She stops skimming. The distorted shrieks of the seagulls turn into yells.)

SEAGULLS. He killed you.

EMMA. Can you hear them?

RICHARD. What?

EMMA. The scorries, can you hear them?

(RICHARD listens.)

RICHARD. They're just shrieking.

SEAGULLS. He can't hear us. Only you can hear us now.

RICHARD. What are they saying? Emma, what are they saying?

SEAGULLS. You can leave now.

EMMA. I can leave now.

SEAGULLS. Go up the steps.

RICHARD. Where are you going?

SEAGULLS. He stays with us.

EMMA. Somewhere you won't find me.

RICHARD. Emma, please don't go. I didn't mean to, I mean... you heard what I said, yeah? I like you. Don't leave me. Don't leave me here. I'm sorry!

SEAGULLS. Murderer!

EMMA. At least you won't have to skim rocks anymore. You won't need to remember me.

RICHARD. I don't want to forget.

EMMA. Well I do.

(EMMA walks up the steps, exiting. RICHARD is left alone. The seagulls return to shrieking. He contemplates, almost on the verge of tears, but rubs them away. He goes to the steps and begins carving into them. Eerie pause.)

RICHARD. How long? (Pause.) Emma? Emma, how long?

(Pause. He puts his head down, and starts to cry. Seagulls shriek in the distance.)

END