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[A solitary figure is sitting in a chair in the middle of the stage. S/he is reading a book. S/he suddenly slams the book shut.]
FIGURE: So help me, oh mighty God.
[The figure notices the audience staring at him.]
FIGURE: I feel as if I may die. [pauses] "May" is one of the worst words in our language. There is so much uncertainty in it. For instance I may die from a fit of paroxysms--
[The figure suddenly drops down the floor and dies, twitching. He stays still long enough for the audience to wonder what has happened to him. He then jumps up.]
FIGURE: But it is not so in this case. For I have control. For I have that elusive thing called autonomy. I will know when I die. I think I’ll control everything from here on out. [to audience] Don’t you think about death?
[Sister Piety enters the stage, looking pious and grim.]
SISTER PIETY: Now, enough of this nonsense about controlling death.
FIGURE: [in surprise] Sister! Goddamn it, where is that butler of mine? I don’t believe I recall him announcing your entry. Did
he meet you at the door?
SISTER PIETY: How deluded you are, although God offers you so much light. My dear soul, you have not had a butler in five
years. You fired him after proclaiming that a statistical inference showed that he was remarkably likely to murder you in your sleep.
FIGURE: You speak too frankly for a nun.
SISTER PIETY: I do. I MUST keep myself in check. Now, how much progress have we made from our last session? Do you
still feel suicidal urges?
FIGURE: How many times must I explain--these are not suicidal
SISTER PIETY: But they are irresistible compulsions to end your own life, which is against the will of God, as you rightly
FIGURE: No. I am merely working towards a certain date, a
certain date on which I will most certainly be finished.
SISTER PIETY: If you take your own life, we can’t give you a discount on your grave at the churchyard.
FIGURE: [sarcastically] What a pity, Sister Piety.
SISTER PIETY: You must end this nonsense at once.
FIGURE: But this is not suicide; this is a cool acknowledgement
of Science! Of the belief we proudly call Scientism!
SISTER PIETY: Us lambs must serve at the altar of God, and pray to him--all other "isms," I’m afraid, are invalid.
FIGURE: Death is universal, Sister. White people die. Black
people die. Actually, gray people die, complexions ashen from the rigors and glories of dying. Whole civilizations die, and at some point, the stars in the heavens that inspire ideas to be borne--[pauses]--die.
SISTER PIETY: And God, forever genial, welcomes them.
FIGURE: I crave knowledge, Sister.
SISTER PIETY: Too much knowledge is a sin.
FIGURE: What has bothered me these many years--oh, these YEARS of TORMENT!--is that we do not know when we die. It is
this knowledge I crave.
SISTER PIETY: Only God knows when we are to come to him.
FIGURE: This monopolization of knowledge--it weakens us. When it is time for us to die, we spend a great deal of time thinking,
crying, preparing. Our last days as walking talking beings are consumed by such nail-biting tedium. It takes too much time and effort before we can actually get on with dying. [pauses] So I have decided to eradicate the uncertainty. I have decided to enlighten myself. I have weighed the costs against the benefits, and the benefits against the costs. And the conclusion is nigh; I must die here, tonight.
SISTER PIETY: You heretic! Going to God is not something we undertake on a scientific whim--it is an event defined by His
will and His will only. Wait and see! I will bring the Church down upon you for this.
[Sister Piety storms out. There is another knock at the door.]
FIGURE: Now who could that be?
DOCTOR: The doctor on his weekly visit.
FIGURE: I don’t believe it. It’s already been a week?
DOCTOR: Time flies when you’re terminal.
FIGURE: You do see! You do know! Finally, someone who
understands! I am fated to die soon--I do have autonomy! I will die on the designated date. I have control. Finally, someone understands! A man of Science!
DOCTOR: The lunacy has reached its peak--yes, yes. I do believe
it might be tonight.
FIGURE: What do you mean, the lunacy? I am as cool-headed as
ever. I have performed calculations--how many times must I tell you? I have concluded I will die tonight according to my scientific and accurate analyses.
DOCTOR: Oh no. We must extend your life at any cost. Medical
science will always find a way.
FIGURE: But what of the control I’ve gained?
DOCTOR: It is but an illusion. Death is impending, and we must
FIGURE: But I wish to end my life on my own terms.
DOCTOR: Death cannot be the purpose. Death is defeat. The
hospital has a new treatment. Highly experimental, of course, but it’s better than giving up. If you don’t do this, you will die.
FIGURE: I tell you--I scream, and I yell--I do not want these
treatments any more. They are not cures. They are new
forms of torture.
DOCTOR: But medical science imparts upon it hope. Hope that you may return to normal life someday--
FIGURE: What are the odds? I will die. I cannot bear the pain
of not knowing any longer. I will take my life tonight
and you cannot stop me.
FIGURE: The irony is not lost on me, Doctor. You may still be
deluded, but in trying to save me, you kill me. You kill the little freedom I have left.
DOCTOR: [in clipped tones] I’ll be back with hospital personnel.
[A church bell rings.]
FIGURE: My time has come. When I die, will you summon Sister
Piety for me? She will see to it that I’m buried properly--although she’s told me countless times suicide is a sin, she is still a kindred spirit--she’s a nun, for God’s sake.
[The FIGURE puts a gun to his head. A pause as he hesitates whether or not to pull the trigger. Then he starts coughing and hacking. He crumbles to the floor, motionless. The gun clatters to the ground, ultimately unfired.]