[fiction] I found this note on my phone and don’t remember writing it.

Voicemail.

The stage is dim. A suitcase stands by the sofa. The voicemail machine light flashes red on the cabinet. The clock on the back wall indicates 10:35pm. Offstage a door is unlocked, opened then slammed. The upstage door opens. Enter DECLAN, limply holding a dangling rose bouquet. and dragging a suitcase. He throws the roses onto the sofa and flicks on the light. Lights on STAGE RIGHT go up. He sees the suitcase and savagely kicks it. He sits, leans forward, rubs his temples. He sits up, crosses to the cabinet, and pours himself a [DRINK]. He downs it, then notices the flashing voicemail machine. He presses the button to hear the message, pours another drink, crosses back to sit on the sofa.

RECORDING: You have one new message.

Enter JESS through door at stage left, holding a phone. Gradual light fades up on STAGE LEFT; a clock indicates 7:00pm. She paces anxiously, uncertain whether to dial. She takes a deep breath in and hurriedly dials.

Declan pulls out a ring box from his jacket pocket and fiddles with it, drinking.

RECORDING: Message received today at seven oh two pm.

JESS: Hi, it’s me.

(Declan reacts to hearing her voice. He is frustrated but anxious.)

JESS: I know it’s seven o’clock so you’ll be driving to the airport now. I guess by the time you get this, you’ll know I’m not coming. (Beat.) That’s a bit weird.

Look Declan, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m not coming, I’m sorry about the holiday. You’re going to hate me, but I know about the proposal. I’ve seen the ring, I found it last week… It’s gorgeous. I was going to accept, I was so excited. But I… I’ve… been thinking and I don’t… feel… right. We’ve both felt like everything’s been going great, really great, with us just recently, but I don’t feel like this, like we, are… forever. We want different things. (Beat. With certainty:) We’re very different people.

(Her tone is conciliatory, but slightly insincere.)

I mean, you know if we got married or whatever, me not eating meat would irritate the life out of you. Cooking would be so frustrating for us both and it would be a really awkward home dynamic. And at work my hours are only going to get longer. You already hate it when I’m late home, how I’m exhausted and moody. That’ll only get worse. These are things I think about and it seems they don’t even bother you. We’re really different.

(Declan grows increasingly agitated and frustrated, shaking his head as if to dismiss what she’s saying. He tears at the rose petals.)

I think our relationship has only worked for us so far because we’ve only got this far, because we’ve not taken any bigger steps, if that makes sense? I want things to stop while everything between us is still good. I don’t want for us to risk things getting sour, and all this resentment growing, and then breaking up, relieved or happy to see the last of each other. I want us to end whilst you still love me.

(Beat.)

And while I, y’know…

(Pause)

Oh god.

(Pause)

Oh god, I can’t say… I won’t … lie. This isn’t about work, or cooking or dogs or anything stupid like that. Declan, I know. I found out. This is about 2008.

(Pause. These words have hit Declan like a slap in the face. Jess steels herself.)

At work today I had to scan in loads of closed files, to streamline the system before we move to the new building. So I was working my way through all these pages when suddenly there was your name. The file was… long, and I thought it was odd because you’d never mentioned needing a lawyer. So I just stopped and read through it. So, I know. I know it all.

(Horrified, Declan’s anxiety propels him from the sofa. The shredded roses and drink both spill. He is disoriented, panicking. )

I was just… in shock. I went to the toilets and I felt… totally disconnected, from you, from work from… everything. I just didn’t understand. I was shaking. I couldn’t understand. In my head there was a loop going round and round: “how could he how could he”. I felt like I was reliving Josh’s accident. What I read changed you. You became cretinous, negligent, monstrous. You became one of them who’d killed my brother, who’d shattered my life, my parents. But it changed me too. I became complicit, just by loving you. You made me feel repulsed by myself. I wanted to scrape off every bit of me that you had ever touched, that you had ever looked at, to peel back the layers of skin, to be clean from the stains you left on me.

(Declan stumbles to pour himself another drink. He spills it down himself.)

DECLAN: Shit, shit, shit.

JESS (continues over Declan): I told Julie I had a migraine and was going home. This sounds weird, but I drove to Dorking. They still live there. I had to… see what you’d done. I had to know it was real. I said it was part of client care; they gave me tea.

(Beat. Declan backs away from the machine, kicks suitcase.)

I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I mean, what the fuck were you doing? What the fuck was so important to get to that you were doing sixty on a bend in a residential area? And how could you keep it from me? I get it’s not like first date material but, fuck itDeclan, you were going to propose, you were going to propose to me, knowing about Josh? We nearly had a fucking life together. We might have had kids, and maybe you’d have driven them down to Brighton or Marwell Zoo or Alton Towers. But it would’ve always been false, somehow you’d have been lying, because there’s this unspoken little girl in your past who can’t do any of that. A girl whose parents yearn for a normal teenage argument, a day trip, or a panic over homework. For them, all that mundane, boring, matter of life stuff is fantasy. I don’t think you understand what you’ve done.

(Declan turns to suitcase, drags to centre stage, opens and pulls out Jess’ clothes.)

And me, what about me? I’d have just blindly kept trusting you, trusting in… I don’t know. Some naive sense that the people I know, the people I love are kind, responsible, thoughtful. But you’re not, Declan. You’re… selfish. Reckless. You… deceived me. I know what it’s like to have someone taken from you because people, people like you, can’t be fucking bothered to think of anyone else. You’ve taken someone.

(Declan holds the clothes to his face, smelling them. He crosses to the cabinet and grabs a pair of scissors he returns to the suitcase and begins to cut up all Jess’ clothes.)

I guess that for you it’s all in the past, you know? Josh died when I was nine, you hit Molly years ago… But that’s not how it works. You get back in the car, you keep driving, you sit through the trial, do what the court orders. But for us, for my parents, for me, for Dawn and Fraser… There’s more than one way of dying, Declan. Dawn and Fraser and little Molly are still breathing, yes, but they’re not… Even though she biologically survived you can see Molly’s ghost in her parents’ eyes. The life she could’ve had haunts them; it hovers in the pictures of before the accident, in how they speak to her, how they ask her questions as if they’re still hoping her empty face will fill with life again. The hope, that’s killing them. There’s no closure for us, Declan.

(Declan is tearing randomly at the clothes with the scissors. He is gasping.)

My childhood was filled with this absence, like Dawn and Fraser have now. After the accident Josh was almost more there than when he’d been alive. We wanted him back so much that whenever we did anything, anything he’d have enjoyed… You’ve inflicted this on someone else. Of all the wrong in the world this is my… this is unforgivable.

(Longer pause. Her voice is little, her fury spent, she almost pleads.)

It hurts me too Declan. It’s like you’re dead too. I’ve suddenly found out that the man I loved never existed.

(Declan is overcome, surrounded by material. He notices his thumb is bleeding; he sucks his thumb. Jess is regretful, confused.)

I wasn’t going to tell you. I was going to… make it normal. Break up because we wanted different things. Something ordinary. I don’t know where this came from.

(Jess sits down heavily, at stage right of her zone. They almost touch. Jess is exhausted.)

I can’t forget this… I can’t be with you. I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to talk to you. I’m going to come and get my bags and stuff tomorrow. I don’t want you to be there. You mustn’t be there.

Fuck you.

(He flinches.)

(Awkwardly:) Bye.

(Beat)

RECORDING: End of new messages. Press two to repeat, three to delete, five-five to call back, six to go to main menu, seven to hear these options again.

Silence. Jess cries silently. Declan’s face is hidden. Gradual fade to blackout.

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