The Phoenix (A Ten Minute Play by Emma Harris)

THE PHOENIX

SETTING: OFFICE, Wednesday 2pm, Psychologist appointment in a prison

CHRISTOPHER: Intelligent, Analytical, Criminal, Mid-20s

DOCTOR: Book Smart, No-Nonsense, Stiff, Middle Age

CHRISTOPHER

Do you ever feel as though you can go back in time?

DOCTOR

How do you mean?

CHRISTOPHER

Have you ever thought that life doesn’t go in chronological order? Like you are living the part of the life that you want to live most in that moment? It just seems it goes that way.

DOCTOR

Well, I don’t know…

CHRISTOPHER

Time is really just this human illusion, you know. There’s only the present. I mean, it’s the only thing that actually exists. So, therefore the past does not exist and the future does not exist either.

DOCTOR

But the past existed, and the future will exist.

CHRISTOPHER

No, but they don’t exist you see?

DOCTOR

But we have facts, evidence, that things happened?

CHRISTOPHER

But we never know for sure do we? We look at things through the lens of the present. We see an old clay structure and we automatically think it’s a house. But we don’t know what that actually is. It could be a giant oven, a storage place, a place to bury the dead… something we haven’t even heard of. We know nothing about humans really. 99% of our existence on this planet was as hunter and gatherers. We hardly know anything about what went on during that time period. We only know a little about that 1%. I want to go back in time and see how they lived. Because I think that it how it was to really be human.

DOCTOR

Well you’re here now.

CHRISTOPHER

I guess so.

DOCTOR

So what is your point to all this?

CHRISTOPHER

Well, I want to re-write my history.

DOCTOR

You can’t rewrite history. Things happened. You can’t change that.

CHRISTOPHER

Well no. I don’t think so. All memories are really just someone’s perspective on what they thought had happened. Memories become diluted over time. You probably don’t remember what you ate for lunch last Wednesday.

DOCTOR

That may be true, but about important events in history. What about those documents, journals, or letters?

CHRISTOPHER

Those don’t matter either. The people who write the past color what had happened; it doesn’t mean it actually did.

DOCTOR

What about the Holocaust? We can’t just pretend that never happened.

CHRISTOPHER

Well yes, if everyone on this planet chose to forget the Holocaust and replace it with something else, another memory, then it wouldn’t be there anymore. But today I think it serves people a value, some sort of a purpose. It teaches us a lesson. It’s something that should be remembered. Shows us what evil people can be capable of.

DOCTOR

An interesting theory, but what is it that you are getting at?

CHRISTOPHER

Oh yes, going back in time. Well, I am going to reinvent myself. Completely reinvent myself. I am going to make myself a completely different person. Usually people just change the future and not the past. But I want to do both.

DOCTOR

That’s impossible. You can’t change the past.

CHRISTOPHER

I doubt that Mr. Delery.

DOCTOR

Doctor, please.

CHRISTOPHER

(ignoring him)

The future is filled with infinite possibilities, right? In physics, every law that works in one way, must work the other way around too, correct? So, I am going to back in time and change my past.  This isn’t science fiction. I will be changing my memories, so drastically, that I will begin to believe them.

DOCTOR

So you are lying to yourself essentially.

CHRISTOPHER

No, I am not.

Let me finish please.

DOCTOR

Then go on. Please, I’m interested.

CHRISTOPHER

Many people don’t have the ability to do this, because they need something to hold onto. They grasp onto their ego like it is their very life itself. But I think that we can rise above our old memories. They are not who we really are. They can cripple us. They make guys like me end up locked up in a place in this.

DOCTOR

Well who is it you wish to be? Or have been?

CHRISTOPHER

Well, Doctor, my name would be Jack Carrigan. I would have grown up in a small cottage in the Netherlands. I would have lived somewhere where no one speaks. No body ever said a word. My mother would hike all the way up the hill every morning to retrieve water from the well and my father would go out to hunt. My mother would have trouble sometimes, because the rocks would have a tendency to crumble at her feet, and sometimes the water to tumble down the hill and she would have to start over again, but she would grasp her hands tightly on the pine tree branches all the way down, and her hands would be sticky with sap and my hair would become ratty when she would run her hands through them and give me a kiss on the forehead. She would smile at me like she really loved me. By noon, my dad would have already have caught a fat load of squirrels. If he ever traded any of them, he would be sure to always keep the fattest ones hidden away so he could come home and put them on the table. And I would have darling little sister Elsa. And I would love her dearly. Her hair would be blonde and wispy and she would always pick the grass with her fingers and throw it everywhere. Her hands were always as dirty as her mothers. But she would become very ill and die at young age, about 3. It would be a happy death. There would be tears, but no grief. Because forever in our memories, would be a perfect little girl, untainted by an adult things like suffering or hardship and misery. And I would go out to the little village near town, and see a beautiful woman names Giselle. And we would look and one another at once we knew that we would be together. People fall in love instantly here. They can see their future in the others eyes. And they don’t get married. Because their love never dies, like it does marriage.  And we move to another cottage, not too far a way. On we built together, one log at a time. Less than a few hours travel from my parents. And there would be a brook running down the hill in the forest. The water would be so clean you drink right from it. Maybe we’d have a few kids as well.  Everyone loves everyone, but not in the way you expect.

DOCTOR

That sounds like a nice life Christopher, but you can’t escape your past.

CHRISTOPHER

I am not escaping my life. I am changing it.

This life I have now, but this isn’t who I am. Something went wrong.

DOCTOR

We all make mistakes in life Christopher. We just have to live with the choices that we make.

CHRISTOPHER

That’s where you are wrong. I can’t live with them. Maybe you can live with your mistakes. Here you are, making a decent living, talking to cold-hearted criminals like their human. Telling them what they could have done differently. But no. There is no turning back. Their lives are over. They go back in the world and everyone knows what they have done. The worst part is, they remember what they had done. Prison does more than put you behind bars. It makes you a prisoner of your own mind. And there’s no escaping that. I’m sick of it. I can’t handle it anymore. I’m done with living that way.

DOCTOR

Christopher, if you are going to attempt to take your own life again, I am going to have to let them know.

CHRISTOPHER

I don’t find interest in killing myself that anymore. I would rather know where exactly where I am going, rather than just delve into the unknown. To be honest, I don’t want to face this God guy everyone’s so hot and bothered about either. I don’t think he’d be too pleased with me.

DOCTOR

Everyone does bad things in their life Christopher.

CHRISTOPHER

No, but they live normal lives you see and they act as though everything is okay. But I knew everything wasn’t okay. I knew from the very start something was wrong. And I didn’t want to fake it like everyone else. I didn’t want to pretend I was okay, that my mother wasn’t a drunk, that my father didn’t have honeys on the side, that my brother wasn’t a good-for-nothing son of a bitch. But that my life, how I remember it.

DOCTOR

We can’t choose our circumstances Christopher. You were just unfortunate.

CHRISTOPHER

Was I? Was I really? Because I think every family is like this. There’s always something dark and fucked up going on underneath everyone’s nose.

DOCTOR

Christopher, your life wasn’t normal. You mother neglected you. She was ill. She couldn’t take care of herself. Your father should have been there for you and your family, but he wasn’t.

CHRISTOPHER

I don’t think more normal life would have solved anything, Doctor. My family was doomed from the start. And so was I.  I had to find a way of coping with things. I was just like everyone else in my family really. My mom on the bottle, my dad with the women, my brother with the dead-end deals and the money… My vice was fire.

DOCTOR

Well, it would make sense for a destructive boy to come from a destructive home.

CHRISTOPHER

I wasn’t a pyromaniac. I was a boy burning ants with a magnifying glass. I was pouring gasoline on cars at the age of 10. I was burning away everything I could be.

That’s why I liked burning down those family owned businesses. Those little mom and pop shops. Those folks living out the American dream. They had everything I never had. Everything I never was. See, I thought by destroying something I could get a hold on it. I thought you could control things. But they usually get started up again somehow. People would take sympathy. The town would raise money to open up that creamery, or shoe shop, or bowling alley or whatever. Maybe the car insurance company would give them break and fork them another car. It was always the same old car they had before. Maybe a brand new license plate number. Still the same fucking car. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. It’s all over now. You know, houses were the biggest challenge.

(pause)

I never wanted to kill anyone you see. I really just wanted their possessions to burn, but not them. I was giving them a chance they never would have had. A chance to start a new life. I never did kill anyone when I burned those houses down. Never with the houses…

(beat)

Say, what did you want to be when you got older?

DOCTOR

A train conductor.

CHRISTOPHER

See that’s a perfectly fine dream for a young boy. See I always liked the idea of being a fireman. Not the ones who pull cats out of trees and babies out of burning buildings, but the real ones, the ones in the forest. You see, they found that a forest needs fires to survive. To help it grow. They began to allowing natural forest fires to happen. Now they have firemen lighting fires periodically. If you suppress a forest fire, it will come back with greater fervor.

  I wanted to be like that… I wanted to be… the bird out of the flames…

DOCTOR

The Phoenix?

CHRISTOPHER

Yes, the phoenix! It wanted to make everything better. Help people arise as a new person.

DOCTOR

Well, yes. It still doesn’t justify what you did. It wasn’t your place.

CHRISTOPHER

I didn’t mean to. How could I have predicted something like that?

Yes, it was a school, but it was night. I thought everyone had left by then.

DOCTOR

I think you very well might have known what was going in that theatre, Christopher.

CHRISTOPHER

How was I supposed to know there was a fucking rehearsal going on? I didn’t hear anything.

DOCTOR

Those kids had their whole lives ahead of them. You took away their futures.

CHRISTOPHER

I was trying to help the kids. I was trying to free them from school, from being told what to think. From being just another piece in the puzzle. From the Big Man. From the ”Yes, sir.” From the “No, sir.” From the drinking every weekend and than on Sundays, dragging their families to church to go pray, to forgive their sins. I don’t care what the Big Man says. I don’t care what he thinks, because I can’t prove he’s real. All I know is that he judges us, and watches us from above. But he watches us like a drunk father with his eyes glued to the TV.  He sees everything happening. He doesn’t care. He’s passive. He just lets things happen.

DOCTOR

Those kids were innocent. Fifteeen young lives taken.

CHRISTOPHER

Those kids were not innocent. They see a lot more than you think. That town may seem perfect on the outside but you know there’s some serious shit going on behind the doors.

DOCTOR
Why did you choose theatre to light the fuse then? The only place in the entire building where people were? Don’t you think you would know?

CHRISTOPHER

I know what the jury said, I sat through those trails.

DOCTOR

When you kill someone, you take away their opportunity for a life. Just think, if your child was in there. If you did have children. You might not know or care what it would like to be a father. But I know that if my eleven year old was plucking the strings of a violin and wave of fire came upon her, I would pluck in her place. I would not think about it for a second.

CHRISTOPHER

I didn’t mean to kill anyone! I chose that spot because I knew flammable those curtains were! I could light the flame from behind the door back stage and I didn’t have to go inside. As much as I would have loved to see the curtains dance in the flames… I couldn’t risk getting caught another time. That door was so heavy, I couldn’t hear a thing behind it…

(beat)

You don’t think you think I understand that? You don’t think I ever regret what I did? You think I am just a heartless killer? It takes anyone to pull the trigger, but not anyone can live a life after they do it. I am one of those. I can’t live anymore. There was not way I could have. As soon as I lit the fuse, I knew it was all over. I was killing Christopher. He had no chance to live anymore. That’s why I turned myself in. I saw what was going on the TV. I saw the scared kids and the crying mothers and fathers and little siblings and I couldn’t bear it anymore. I knew it was over. I knew I needed to do what was right.

DOCTOR

That’s what set you over the edge?

CHRISTOPHER

I had to turn myself in after that. I am human after all. I am not the monster the media thinks I am. They still talk about me, you know … well, I am done with that life. You won’t see anymore Christopher after this.

DOCTOR

Christopher, I cannot have you try to kill yourself again. I am going to have to report this.

CHRISTOPHER

Report it then.

DOCTOR

You want to be locked up in the mental ward again Christopher? Strapped to a table with needles in your skin?

CHRISTOPHER

No, I don’t want that.

DOCTOR

Well, don’t kill yourself then.

CHRISTOPHER

I told you, I am not killing myself. I am starting over.

DOCTOR

Well, whatever you call it. I’m keeping an eye on you. This meeting is over, but I will have you put in solitary tonight. Just to keep you safe. It’s basic protocol… I’m sorry Christopher…

(DOCTOR gets up and follows CHRISTOPHER to the door)

CHRISTOPHER

It’s alright Doc. I’ll be fine.

DOCTOR

Good. Good. I’ll see you next Wednesday then.

(DOCTOR shuts the door behind him. Walks over to his chair and sits down and sighs. He looks at CHRISTOPHER’s file that has been sitting on his desk. He shuffles through the pages. They are all blank. He shuffles through them a second time, disillusioned. Dials a few numbers on the phone. )

DOCTOR

Hello? Yes, this is Doctor Delery. I feel as though I might have misplaced Christopher’s file.

(pause)

Christopher Bennett? His name is on it, but the pages are blank. It might have got mixed up with someone else’s. I could have sworn I looked it over just before our meeting.

(pause)

(voice raised)

What do you mean there’s no Christopher at this prison?

I’ve been seeing him every Wednesday at 2 for the past 3 and half years.

(pause)

If this is some sort of office prank, it’s really not funny, miss.

(pause)

 Well if you could please have someone check his cell for me please.

(pause)

Please. I don’t care. Just tell me if he’s in there.

(pause)

Cell 301.

(pause)

No, I’ve never heard of a Carlos.

(pause)

It’s fine, thank you, Miss. Goodbye.

(DOCTOR bangs the phone down. He flips through the pages of the file a last time. Something falls of out it. DOCTOR picks it up. It’s a postcard.)

CHRISTOPHER

(voiceover)

Doctor, I wanted to thank you. You are the one who lit the fuse. You ignited the fire within me that lied dormant for years. As of now I have arisen from those flames and I have flown far away. Keep in touch, Jack.

(DOCTOR flips the card over and looks at the other side)

DOCTOR

(laughing to himself)

It had to be the fucking Netherlands

.

(DOCTOR shakes his head and tucks the card in his coat pocket. Lights fade)

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