• Brian Burmeister

What is that like? Ten minute play


The lights rise, bringing into focus a solitary woman, Jennifer, late 20’s, sitting on a park bench. A moment passes and from stage right a couple walks across the stage, passing directly in front of Jennifer. They make no recognition of her existence and continue directly off stage left. A second couple follows their path. As they reach center stage, yet another pair walks from stage left to stage right. Following each of these is yet another set, then another and another. Jennifer watches them, pulls fiercely on her lips. Soon Jack, mid-30’s, appears stage left, standing in between the lines of people. Just within the bounds of the stage, he stops and stands and stares at Jennifer, who has yet to notice him.

JACK: Jen.

At the announcement of his presence, all remaining couples disappear from the stage. Jennifer looks up, sees him, conjures a smile. He timidly waves as he advances towards her.

JACK: Sorry I’m late. I was going to be early—I got a call just as I was leaving.

He takes a seat beside her. A foot or so of space exits between them.

JENNIFER: Don’t worry, it’s fine. Completely fine. Don’t worry about it.

Silence. He stares at her. She keeps her eyes anywhere but on him.

JACK: You all right?

JENNIFER: I’m fine.

JACK: You don’t—

JENNIFER: I’m sure. It’s been a long day is all. Too long. It’s nothing. I’m fine. Really. Don’t worry.

He nods. An unhealthy pause follows.

JENNIFER: So?

JACK: So. (Smiling somewhat.) What’s this big news you have to tell me?

She turns her gaze away.

JACK: Jen?

JENNIFER: (nervously exhaling) God, I—I don’t know how to say it.

JACK: That good, huh?

JENNIFER: Yeah. . . I’m sorry. I’m moving . . .

A cadaverous moment for Jack; “the moon is falling” would have produced the same result.

JENNIFER: . . . just outside of Chicago.

JACK: (quietly) When?

JENNIFER The end of the month.

Jack nods repeatedly for some time before speaking.

JACK: And, um. . . Wow. . . I don’t. . . When did this all come about?

JENNIFER: It doesn’t matter.

JACK: That’s great, just fantastic.

JENNIFER: I’m sorry you—

JACK: No, no, don’t worry about it. I’m sorry. It’s not like it matters.

JENNIFER: Don’t think I kept this from you to hurt you. That’s not what I was doing, not what I did.

JACK: Of course not.

JENNIFER: There’s just so many things, too many things going on and—

JACK: So you what, you were sitting around one day and you thought to yourself things aren’t so good right now, things are screwed up, and well, I’m not sure what to do, so I guess I’ll move. That just kind of happened?

JENNIFER: That’s not how it was. Don’t be like that.

JACK: Then tell me how it was. I know you, this—everything—it seems out of nowhere. This is no good.

JENNIFER: My firm—they’re opening another office in Highland Park. Do you know, do you have any idea how good, how rare an opportunity like this is for someone my age? Do you get this at all? It just doesn’t happen.

JACK: People don’t just leave like this!

JENNIFER: Please. People move for better jobs all the time. You have to take the opportunities you’re given.

Jack aggressively rubs his face.

JENNIFER: (quietly): Do not make a scene.

JACK: Are you kidding me? Is that why we’re here? You brought me here so that I couldn’t react.

JENNIFER: Look, I’ve been offered the chance to head things up. Me. In charge for once in my life. I don’t know what kind of choice you think is involved.

JACK: Do you even know where you’ll stay?

JENNIFER: With Karen. Until I find my own place. She’s got this huge apartment and—

JACK: God!

JENNIFER: I’m not stupid enough to pass this up. This may be the best opportunity I ever get. The money is better and—

JACK:(frantically waving his arms) Stop. Just stop. If this is about money, forget it.

JENNIFER What?

JACK Forget it. Forget about the job. Don’t move. Forget about everything.

JENNIFER Jack....

JACK:Please. Just don’t. I’ll take care of you. I will. You know I’ve got more than enough.

She runs her hands through her hair, doesn’t speak, tugs hard when her hand reaches the back of her head.​

JACK: I’m sorry if I—

JENNIFER: I don’t need your money—and I don’t need your charity.

JACK: This isn’t charity.

JENNIFER: Then what do you call it?

JACK: You know what I feel.

She erupts in laughter.

JENNIFER: And what is that like?

JACK: Is this what you want? Seriously?

JENNIFER: Yes.

JACK: Taking this job will make you happy?

JENNIFER: It’s what I want.

JACK: (quietly, to himself) This is crazy. (slowly growing louder) I can’t believe this. I really can’t. This is just stupid. He won’t even look at her now.

JENNIFER: This is probably the first smart thing I’ve done in a long time. (A long silence) And after I’m gone you’ve still got someone.

JACK: Sarah? Are you kidding me?

JENNIFER: She hasn’t asked you for a divorce yet, has she? And she’s not going to. She just needs time.

JACK: Time heals shit. You move away—I don’t care for how long—you’re still going to hurt.

JENNIFER: Jesus Christ, Jack. You’re not in love with me. You’ve still got a wife.

He leans towards her. She puts her hands up, out, keeping him away. He pulls back.

JENNIFER: Just don’t.

JACK :All I have is you.

JENNIFER: Just don’t.

Just as Jennifer stands and exits, Sarah enters. She quickly moves in the direction of and then off stage-right. She does not look back. Jack remains where he’s at, watching her disappear. Quickly tiring of this, he looks away, loses himself in thought. A moment later he claps his hands together in anger. Seconds later a couple walks out from stage left, another from stage right, both crossing the stage and exiting. Following each is another. Then another and another. Each successive couple entering the stage in quickening intervals until, eventually, both lines form a steady stream of persons. The density of these lines becomes so thick they form a moving wall. Jack disappears behind it.

Brian Burmeister teaches communication at Iowa State University. His writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He is a regular contributor at Cleaver Magazine, and he can be followed on Twitter: @bdburmeister.


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