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
ACT III/ SCENE 2
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.
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.
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?
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.