The Next One: a new play by Enda Walsh
A woman waits alone in a concrete tower with a ticket to an unknown future
“I see them in the towers. Can see them sittin’ on their seats – hunched over and holdin’ their tickets”
A bare concrete room – the walls, floor and ceiling – all grey. A large rectangular window, without a curtain, is on the stage left wall. Facing this, against the stage right wall, is a row of three blue plastic chairs. High, and in the centre of the back wall, is a large LED number-display screen with the number 2986 showing. On the floor, in the corner, is a television showing a silent 10-second section of The Ray D’Arcy Show in which D’Arcy is introducing something. It’s stuck in a loop. But before all of that we’re in the darkness. A strong incessant music fades up. With it a flat light slowly shines through the window. A Young Woman, in her late 20s, sits in one of the chairs, holding a ticket and staring over at the television. After 30 seconds the music cuts. She talks to herself –
YOUNG WOMAN Of what I remember – and I might be wrong about this and probably am wrong – is that it was longer, this telly piece. [Slight pause] I’ve this idea that it was longer anyway – that I saw somethin’ else before what I can see now. [Slight pause] It’s probably wishful thinkin’ – it wouldn’t be the first time I fell into an optimism and found myself wishin’ for somethin’ that was never really there. Those sorta hopes can lead a person to . . . you can be tricked, is all I mean – it happens. Trickery. Messes with ya. Anyway. [Slight pause] I think I remember maybe that there was more to this man on the telly – more than this 10-second reiteration I see now – this talkin’ words that I can’t hear and standin’ up and gesturin’ to somethin’ or someone that never comes, bless him. There must have been somethin’ more before – or afterwards even – for you’d imagine that someone might have arrived and joined this man on his comfortable lookin’ seats – and they might have sat down and talked about . . . whatever there is that’s left to be talked about. Ourselves, I suppose – we’ll always have ourselves to chat about. But they would sit – let’s imagine it – and they would have a conversation about . . . [Slight pause] I’m strugglin’ to imagine what stories they might share? People – let’s say – have pasts, generally – and they could talk about all’a that – and they would hypothetically get some – “enjoyment” might be too strong a word – there’s nothin’ immediately entertaining in “what has gone before” we all know that much. Right at this moment I can’t reconcile why people would sit around on comfy seats and talk about what has happened in this life – but perhaps they did because they wanted to – or we’re made to. [Slight pause] Of course they might just be talkin’ about cheese. [Pause] When have I ever not wanted a companion to talk with? Never. I’ve always wanted someone else – and if not always to talk to – to at least share this room and wait for my number to be called – to sit silently even and share the same air with another person would be nice. I hope that’s not too mournful to say that – it has all the ingredients of soundin’ fuckin’ tragic but I hope not! A while back – I’ve given up saying “months” and “years” now – so let’s use the general phrase of – “some time ago” – so – some time ago and immediately after my trip away from that window when I was struck down with . . . impossible to put a word on what I felt when I saw what I saw outside and what I realised at that moment . . . but anyway . . . at that moment – the walkin’ away from the window moment – my back to it – I said – “never again must you feel such grief!” I said it as powerfully as that and out loud, actually – and in those words too – which in hindsight do sound incredibly ancient! Old words for one so young! “Never again must you feel such grief!” I may have clenched my fist and waved it at an imaginary me – like an overly aggressive emotional counsellor berating a young child. I did feel like a child back then – though I was not that young when I had looked out the window – I was weakened by the waitin’ probably – and needed – let me begin with the word “steel” and work backwards . . . I needed . . . “the facility to keep on goin’ ”. To implode was never an option, for someone like me – “imploding” lived in the same dream world as “friendship”. I needed a greater spirit so I could live with what I had seen outside that window and what I had realised at that very moment as I returned to this chair and sat back down – to continue this waitin’. I would need a new – “grit”. Good word.
She looks at her ticket in her hand for some time. Then –
YOUNG WOMAN To start thinkin’ about myself is to walk back through different rooms where images are made not true. To lie and see me in these different worlds – and ’cause imagined, they all slide into one another and tease me with colours and smells, of course. How better but cruel these memories when they’re not even mine. They shrink the room and harden these plastic seats and remind me that there was once “real living out there”. [Slight pause] It’s impossible not to lie and allow yourself to slide back and walk through a city that had a pulse – that was filled with people once.
The Young Woman covers her eyes – and during the below the walls fill with blurred images of a city she never knew.
YOUNG WOMAN So I lie, of course I do – and place myself in the crowds – knowing I was never there – I walk myself through a version of the city that was. [Slight pause] A house is left behind and walked away from it – the terrace in which the house stands, it folds into the ground – and a train takes me with other people to the city centre with its river. And there is purpose to my walkin’ and definition to the day – a day that starts with a mornin’ time. And we – ’cause I’m imagining “me” as a “we” or as an “us” – ’cause let’s say I make meself a friend in this city – we are discussin’ our lives in terms of things that need doin’ by us. We’re filed into offices – and in these places of work we’re pursuin’ – “goals” we’ll call them. And there’s discussion and desks, I think – and chairs behind these desks, obviously – and ideas are taken from the air and made whole these ideas – and sandwiches are eaten – cheese ones, let’s say – and upon this food “satisfaction” will fall – ’cause even more work is accomplished after lunch. [Slight pause] And then day – ’cause back then mornin’ time gave way to daytime – and when day is done – there’s journeys back home in the evenin’ – or maybe not home but journeys elsewhere where there’s noise and more food – where “we” meet and him – ’cause it is a “him” – him and me meet and stretch out an evenin’ with talk. [Slight pause] Into night-time. [Slight pause] That day spins in this way – without noise it spins about inside and built on lies to myself, of course it is . . . [Slight pause]. . . but to see from above the city and river as how they once were – as how people once lived. [Pause] How I hoped they still lived.
The Young Woman uncovers her eyes – and as she does the images on the walls disappear.
YOUNG WOMAN My real past slides back with real truth. [Slight pause] Four years old and no words remembered but tears only – and arms pulled from their sockets and the same shitty clothes walked and slept in – and our house taken and walked towards these towers being built for us – and upwards we climb inside – and pushed into this flat. Nights pass by and the door opens and takes my dad and sister. Gone. [Slight pause] Another sister – a brother next to leave. More tears. The food delivered as it always is, of course – the memory of my four years livin’ in the city fadin’. And I’m placed in front of their screens one day – and kept inside and plugged in. Days, weeks and years merge into the screens they give Ma and me. Muscles weaken and images pullin’ us into a fantasy behind these screens – our shells waning. And years with no good air – and only occasionally I walk to the window and glance down on it. I watch it for a few moments – and had I noticed back then that there were fewer bodies beneath and more towers being built? And at what age was I left alone here? – my ma taken – and maybe she’s with my family below and made part of somethin’ – “part of the better plan” – was what they called it. They mock me now those words but still have me holdin’ this ticket waitin’ to be called. [Slight pause] When was all the furniture replaced with these three plastic chairs and these numbers and that man on that telly with his 10-second routine? For this reason I lie and tease myself with a city that once was.
A long pause. Looking at the television.
YOUNG WOMAN Look at him stuck in his 10-second dance this funny little man. Going nowhere. Expecting someone but meeting no one. And he lived in a time before the towers were built and before “the better plan”, probably. Back in that old world. Speak to me. [Slight pause] Go on. Say other words, please, Mr Telly-Man.
YOUNG WOMAN He stands and turns. I’m waitin’ there and he walks and comes to me smiling – and taking my hand – and moving now away from my tower – a promise unfolds itself with a park and a bench. And all around us is true green and I lose myself in it and his lovely voice . . . Stop it. [Slight pause. Whispers] No more.
The Young Woman looks to the LED number display screen. From 2986 it begins to flick through many numbers. It stops on 1034. She places her ticket on the seat next to her. A long pause. The Young Woman stands and slowly walks over to the television. She looks at it for a few moments. She takes up the television’s power cable attached to the wall. She aggressively pulls the cable from the wall – the television goes off. She’s standing close to the window now but she protects her eyes from looking outside. She turns away from the window facing the three plastic chairs. She stands still. A pause for some moments. Then –
YOUNG WOMAN That day that I looked outside on the city – it was lit by the sun. And under a blue sky seagulls call to one another. Over the cathedral by the river, over the empty streets, back and forth to the sea, they flew. [Slight pause] And not a car, not a person – it’s all empty below. Those that were chosen are hidden in buildings gently turnin’ the city to a quiet hum. Only the gulls glidin’ over all of this – better life. Laughin’ at us them birds.
YOUNG WOMAN I see them in the towers. [Slight pause] Can see them sittin’ on their seats – hunched over and holdin’ their tickets. [Slight pause] Kept and boxed. [Slight pause] So many others. [Slight pause] Thousands of us. [Slight pause] Waitin’.
The Young Woman walks back to her seat and sits down. She picks up her ticket and holds it and waits. Through the window a bright white light shines. The Young Woman covers her eyes. The light growing in intensity until we can barely see her. Music and light suddenly cut. Black.
Dublin in the Coming Times: The project details
In his 1893 collection, The Rose, WB Yeats included the poem To Ireland in the Coming Times. Borrowing its title, Dublin in the Coming Times is a free, citywide programme of creative writing in which Dubliners, young and old, can create their own stories and poems as they look to the future of their city as it goes through another phase of evolution and renewal.
Roddy Doyle has invited writers and artists to contribute short stories reimagining the city. Their work will be published in The Irish Times over the coming months.
Free creative-writing workshops are running over the course of the year for adults in six Dublin public libraries, in Donaghmede, Fighting Words, Science Gallery, Little Museum of Dublin, Axis Ballymun and the Ark.
Operating in partnership with Dublin Unesco City of Literature, the project is intended to enable Dublin’s citizens to participate in illustrating a vision of the city as a place that, although it might change and adapt to new circumstance, will continue as a living, creative environment and a place for the storyteller and poet. We hope to publish selections from the stories that are created. Seán Love Executive director, Fighting Words dublincityofliterature.ie, dublincitypubliclibraries.ie, fightingwords.ie
Dublin in the Coming Times is one of six projects being promoted by Dublin’s Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development, a Dublin City University programme with the UN University; email firstname.lastname@example.org