SMOKE… Act III/Scene 2

The scene is set. Although it moves forward in time, in many ways the narrative returns to the beginning, as we delve back in to Emma and Fred’s story.

The passing of time is once again a major theme, that I explore in a somewhat different way from previous scenes. Another is regret and the deep need for companionship and happiness, which Emma cannot or does not want to give up.

I hoped to explain without seeming to do so why the characters may have acted in particular ways. So here is what I hope to find out from you: Do you think that the past justifies at least in part Emma’s choices? What about Fred? And Daniel? Are there any questions that have remained unanswered? Feel free to add as many as you like.

Smoke… by Vic Briggs

SMOKE… Act I/Scene 1    SMOKE… Act I/Scene 2    SMOKE… Act I/Scene 3

SMOKE… Act II/Scene 1   SMOKE… Act II/Scene 2   SMOKE… Act II/Scene 3

SMOKE… Act III/Scene 1

woman smoking


The same small room, a door at the back, another to the side. The empty space towards the stage has a large window-frame hanging from the rafters. Emma (fifty-two) and Fred (forty-six) are alone in the room. Emma is standing in the furthest corner of the window frame. Fred is on a chair in the middle of the room, his head in his hands. shoulders shaking slightly.

Emma takes out a cigarette from her pocket, lights it up and looks out through the window as she smokes. After a while Fred looks up. He looks worn out and distraught. His eyes are red and for a while he looks around blindly, unable to focus on one point. At last his gaze rests on Emma.

Fred. We have to talk about this, Emma.

Emma. Staring ahead of her, does not reply.

Fred. You can’t… It is not right. Dan has his whole life ahead of him. Can’t you see that what you’re doing is…? (he looks around as if he might find the word about him)

Emma. Stubs out her cigarette. Fumbles through her pockets. Finds another and lights up again.

Fred. Emma?

Emma. How is Margaret?

Fred. Better I think. The doctor prescribed her some sleeping pills. She will be… (pause) Don’t try to change the subject, Em.

Emma. You’ve lost the right to call me that. Twenty years ago.

Fred. I’m sorry.

Emma. Are you?

Fred. Gets up from the chair. Shuffles his feet. Makes one step towards the window. Stops.

Fred. I was a kid, Emma. I was a kid. I wanted to be a couple not a…  What was I supposed to do?

Emma. Stubs out her cigarette. Looks at Fred, ablaze with anger.

Emma. I. (she moves one step towards him)  I. (another step)  I. (step) I. (step and now they are facing each other) Yes. It was all about you, Fred. You chasing after me when I was weeks away from getting married. (she sticks her index finger into his chest) You moving in before I had a chance to breathe, to even ask myself if I was ready for anything serious. (index finger into his chest again) You telling me that you don’t want children two years — a whole two years — after we got together. (she tries to get her finger into his chest again, but he catches her by the wrist and draws her hand away, keeping it clasped in his grip) I gave up everything for you. (she pulls her hand out of his and steps away) Wasted six years of my life trying to make you happy, thinking of what you wanted, what you needed. (her tone is both accusatory and plaintive) You were a kid when we got together, but you weren’t a kid when you left me. (nearing despair)

Fred. Steps towards Emma. Embraces her. She lets him hold her in his arms for a little while, but then pulls away, shaking her head.

Emma. What’s the use, Fred? I’ve wasted my life trying to do what others wanted. I’m done playing nice. I’m fifty-two. Dan is my last chance at happiness. I’m not going to let you or anyone else take that away from me.

Fred. He’s eighteen, Emma.

Emma. Nineteen.

Fred. Not until tomorrow.

Emma. You were nineteen when we met… Remember?

Fred. Searches his pockets. Emma pulls out her cigarettes out of the pocket of her dressing gown and extends it towards him. He nods in thanks and takes one for himself and another for Emma. She takes it from him and then lets him light it. He draws in the smoke deep into his lungs.

Fred. It was your birthday… Twenty-five. (melancholy) Where does the time go? (pause) Couldn’t take my eyes of you. That little blue dress of yours… How could I forget?

Emma. What happened to us Fred?

Fred. I was a coward. That’s what happened.

Emma. Did you and Margaret never consider having children then?

Fred. shakes his head in sign of no.

Fred. Dan was born soon after we were married. His mother left a few months later so Mags helped her father raise him… (pause.) I suppose that must’ve satisfied her mothering instincts if she had any.

Emma. And you? (pause) Were you never even remotely curious to find out how Emma and I were getting on?

Fred and Emma look at one another in silence.

Fred. (looking away) I couldn’t, Em.

Emma. Goes back to the window. Sits down on the frame looking out, smoking.

Fred. I promised Mags that I wouldn’t and… I didn’t think you’d want me to.

The clock strikes five times.

Emma. Go, Fred. Please.

Fred. Don’t do it, Em. I beg of you. Don’t take Dan with you.

Emma. Because it will break Maggie’s heart?

Fred. Yes.

Emma. (laughs) Good.

Fred. And Laura’s.

Emma. Fuck you, Fred. As if you give a damn about Laura’s heart. Or anything else about her.

Fred. Maybe I don’t. But you should.

Emma. Gets up from the window and in a few brisk strides she is at the back door, pulling at it and keeping it wide open.

Fred. Shakes his head. Walks to the door. Pauses at Emma’s side. Hesitates, then leans in a kisses her on the cheek. She pulls back. Angry. He walks out of the door and she pushes it shut behind him. She stands for a few minutes on the spot. Still. Breathing in and out. Searches for the cigarettes again. Gets one out. Lights it and then moves very slowly towards the window, deep in thought.

There’s a knock at the door. She turns on the spot.

The lights go out.


45 thoughts on “SMOKE… Act III/Scene 2

  1. It seems she does not hold the young mans chances to have children as dear as she held her own when younger, and her happiness now.

    • I’m very pleased that you remarked on that contradiction. The question is… if Dan wants to be with her, despite the fact that he knows full well she could not bare him children, is that not a choice that he consciously made?

      • I suppose you are right. Hormones are running high for a nineteen year old. But surely, we have to give him some degree of responsibility for his choices in this. He is stepping into adulthood after all.

      • Oh sure. I hold him responsible if he’s being irresponsible, haha.

        Choices and consequences.

        I just don’t know if he’s thought through everything, if he’s a somewhat typical 19 year old.

        Maybe he’s wise beyond his years. You tell me. It’s your story.

      • Well… I don’t know whether his choices are wise. He is only nineteen after all, but … He seems pretty sure of what it is he wants. At least for now.

      • Funny, isn’t it? There are six years between Emma and Fred. They met when he was nineteen and she, twenty-five. They got together a year later. By the time Emma figured out that she would never change his mind about having children, it was almost too late for her to start again, at thirty-two. Twenty years later, she gets together with someone more than half her age. In many ways it is an attempt to recapture those early days in her life when there was nothing to worry about and she had her whole life ahead of her. Just as Dan has his whole life ahead of him.

      • I guess she can pay for his University, then complain when he divorces her for a 19 year old ingenue.

      • If that were the case, then perhaps we could judge him. But not all oldies are infirm. I met this eighty-year-old lady who was speeding down a slope like a teen and was part of the ski racing team, the best in her age group lol

      • It’s your story, hehe.

        Maybe they truly love each other and it will be like in Highlander, where she ages and he does not.

        It’s up to you.

      • I am imagining her as a very sensuous fifty-two year young 😉 Someone who looks less than her years, and in many ways acts less than her years too. You know what they say… Fifty is the new forty.

      • When I was 30 and separated one year, but not divorced I saw a 19 year old.

        Who looked and had an id that said 24.

        My mind said way to young when I found out, haha.

        She was working in a position that typically requred a college degree that her dad had arranged for her…

        She seemed 24 at least, but it still didn’t work for me…

        Thank God she was 19…

        Fooled me.

      • At that age it is very difficult to tell. When I was fifteen I dated a twenty-two year old. He was not aware of my age. He thought I was nineteen, because when we met I was with a group of friends who were all university students and he assumed that we were colleagues. I suppose girls want to grow up sooner than they should…

      • I would have grounded you for certain. Haha.

        My daughter thinks I am quite strict.

        But I know boys, and how her mother was…. LoL…

      • LoL. Your ass would have been hauled home so fast.

        In other news my daughter got her acceptance to Fresno State in the mail.

      • Yep. Waiting to hear back from other schools. Options and all, haha.

        Fairly early acceptance from FSU though. So that’s good.

      • Thanks.

        She has informed me she will be living on campus.

        I said that’s fine… With you at 15 in mind. Thanks for that. 😉 Haha.

      • She does seem a bit opposite of her mother, whom I met at 18… Sure hope so at this point….

  2. There is blame everywhere, we will accuse and lay blame according to how we have lived our lives. All of these people have made a series of choices, I can’t quite forgive Fred, and I understand Emma but she goes too far, that’s entrapment, if she wants the child fine but not as a weapon.
    You’ve woven this nicely, to get people to feel for characters is a difficult thing.

    • Thank you, Scarlet. It is very important to me that a reader can empathise with these characters, even if they disagree with their actions, so I find your comment reassuring in this respect. I am doing my best to create characters that feel real, characters who have lived, made choices, made mistakes, take some responsibility for their actions, but also try to justify why they have acted in particular ways. None of them are either good or bad, they are just people. Thank you!

  3. There is nothing wrong with Emma having a relationship with Daniel gien their age differences. But is she having it because she found real love or to spite someone. Does she know that Daniel will want to “spread his wings” and “explore” given his age. Will she not go into a repeating pattern in her life? Is it worth when it compares her love for Laura.? Questions. And more questions !!! 🙂 You are making me think too much 😉

    • These are all very good questions, KG. Thank you so much for your comment. I love the fact that you picked up on the repetition of a pattern. I am sure I read somewhere that to do the same thing again and again, expecting different results is an indication of a disturbed mind. And yet, we all have a propensity to repeat our mistakes… Does Emma think that she has found love? I am not sure that she does, but she wants to believe that she has. She is one for contradictions, our Emma.
      Your questions have made me consider some other aspects of her character, so thank you, KG. 🙂

      • That sure she is i.e. contradictions. All I hope is that Laura doesnt become the scapegoat for everyone’s desires and confusions

      • Laura for me is the most difficult character to draw out, because – as you said yourself – she does appear to be in the middle of a confusion, not of her own making. She got into a “relationship” with Daniel, without realising that he was dating her mother, she had no idea that when she went to meet his “parents” she would in fact be meeting her father’s wife – Daniel’s half-sister – and his aging father. Everyone seems to have kept secrets from her and she acted in absence of a full knowledge of everyone’s circumstances. It is a tough one. I have a lot to think through there. Thank you, KG.

  4. A scene steeped in regret, although with acceptance rather than bitterness. Part of me does wonder whether Emma is punishing Youth (embodied by Daniel) because she feels that Youth (as a concept) has let her down.

    • That’s a very interesting thought, Chris. I certainly think that she is attempting to recapture her youth, which she deems wasted, at least in part. Whether she has considered that this may be punitive as well, when it comes to Daniel, I am not sure. This is something that I would like to explore further.
      Thank you.

      • For me, your play raises a lot of thinking/ talking points, and my comments refer specifically to each scene. Even so, I’m pleased that you find them thought provoking in the context of the play in its entirety.I have to say that the way that your script expects the reader, or, indeed, viewer to work does remind me a lot of Pinter.

      • Thank you, Chris. I do love Pinter’s work. He is one of my favourite playwrights and perhaps my own writing may have been influenced as a result.

      • And, yes. Your comments are always thought-provoking and I love the way they challenge me to think the themes as well as the execution of the play in alternative ways. It helps me add depth to the process. So thank you.

  5. Pingback: SMOKE… Act III/Scene 3 | vic briggs

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