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Thanks For Listening
Danielle: everyday girl on the surface; has lately spent her time contemplating the meaning of life
Riley: a bubbly, girly-girl character; old friend of Danielle’s
Mr. Northtart: school counselor with a reputation for simply telling students why they feel a certain way, not good at really sympathizing with them
Story opens in a high school cafeteria, one girl occupying a lunch table.
Curtain opens. DANIELLE sits by herself, a rectangular box of lunch including a cup of peas. RILEY walks in stage left, texting away, and bumps into DANIELLE’s table.
Riley: (surprised and ecstatic) Oh my God! Danielle, I haven’t seen you in so long!
Danielle: (brightens a little, stands to give her a hug) Hey, Riley, good to see you. I’ve just been –
Riley: Oh my God, look at this gif. (Shoves phone in her face)
Danielle: Um… What I’m a looking at?
Riley: Twerk, Zac Efron, twerk!
Danielle: Huh? Um, okay… You wanna sit?
Riley: So, like, where have you been? I heard you quit student council!
Danielle: I’ve had a lot on my mind, that’s all.
Riley: Do tell! (Leans forward)
Danielle: Well… I don’t know, do you ever think about how small we are? It’s not particularly a bad thing, it’s just interesting. Like, okay – I read that if you took every human being on the planet, and, well… Let’s say this (empties lunch box) is the Grand Canyon. And this (picks up cup of peas) is the human population. All we would do (sets it in box) is make a pile. We couldn’t fill the Grand Canyon. All 7.5 billion of us. Isn’t that crazy?
Riley: (Riley stares zombie-like at her phone). You know Jake Tollsbee? He cheated on Tami. It’s like, wow.
Danielle: It really puts humanity in perspective, don’t you think? Physically, we are just a bunch of tiny creatures on a big, life-sustaining rock. At the same time, each and every one of us is as complicated and beautiful as the veins of our cities you can see from space.
Riley: It’s like, dude, you’re doing it wrong. Get a job, get a girlfriend, and like…don’t cheat on said girlfriend.
Danielle: Just think about everything going on within us. While we’re worrying to death, almost literally, about the madness of life itself, there’s a vast network of operations happening inside of us – physically, mentally, emotionally – we don’t even think twice about.
Riley: (Mockingly, to her phone) “Oh, my, gosh. Look at, her, butt.” (Giggles) This song is so dumb!
Danielle: Biology is a really cool field, I think… There’re so many things to purse – so many amazing, beautiful things in science. Sometimes I just wish I could do it all, you know? But I’ve got a purpose. An actual one, that I will be passionate about every day I work at it. I just…wish I knew what that was.
Riley: (Extremely excited) Oh my God, oh my God – Jake Tollsbee just asked me out. Dani, Jake Tollsbee just asked me out. Dani!!!
Danielle: Freedom is so weird. When you’re deprived of it, you’ll fight with everything you have to get it. But when you have it, what are you supposed to do with it? Even if you have the most supportive parents in the world, you can’t be expected to know what you want.
Riley: This is just the best day! I’m so happy, I’ve liked him for so – (Something interesting pops up on her phone) Hang on…
Danielle: Ignorance is bliss, I guess. It’s better than tearing yourself apart with concerns that don’t even make a difference. What’s the point in pondering the meaning of life, anyway? The world is still going to keep on living it. Does any of this make sense?
Riley: Danielle, isn’t your dad Chief of Police? Or whatever?
Danielle: I – what? (Shakes herself from intense conversation with herself) Oh…yes. I mean, he’s the lead deputy, in the paper a lot…
Riley: (slightly panicked) Something just popped on my newsfeed –
Announcer: Danielle Harding, please come to the office.
Danielle: (Sighs before standing) Guess I gotta go. Thanks for listening. (Leaves)
RILEY almost calls out to DANIELLE, but when she’s gone, forces herself to look back on her phone.
Riley: (mutters) Her problem, not mine…her problem, not mine…
Scene opens in an office, a teacher sitting, going over paperwork. There’s a door stage left and a poster representing the five stages of grief on the wall.
Curtain opens. MR. NORTHTART is looking over papers intently, barely notices when someone knocks on the door.
Northtart: Come in.
Northtart: (Nonchalantly, glances up once before going back to papers) Ah, Miss Harding. Have a seat, we’ll talk.
Northtart: I assume your mother is on her way to pick you up, take you home?
Northtart: Of course. You shouldn’t be expected to get through the rest of the day after this kind of news. (Finally pushes papers aside, gives her his attention) I knew your father, you know.
Danielle: (More to herself than to him, looking down) Everyone knew my father.
Northtart: Oh, of course. He’s a legend in Knoxville, in Tennessee. A hero, really – you know this city used to have the most crime in the country? What I’m saying is I knew him when he went here. He was an exceptional young –
Danielle: (Still looking down) He flunked all of his classes, skipped school regularly, and super-glued a cowboy hat to your head as often as he could.
Northtart: (Pauses before chuckling with nostalgia) That used to be my signature look. He wanted to prove I couldn’t “pull it off”…
Danielle: You hated him when he went here, everyone did. Everyone thought he was a punk kid before he started saving their lives. (Snaps head up) Don’t pretend to care about him now.
Northtart: Was. (Cold silence) Sorry, but it’s better for you to accept that now, dear.
Danielle: (Mockingly) Oh, of course. Forgive me, Mr. Northtart, you’re doing nothing more than referencing that there poster. (Stands up, reads off of it) How could I forget – I’m supposed to deny my father being shot in the head on duty. Then I have to get pissed off – hey, look at that! I didn’t know we were this far already. Great job!
Northtart: That’s enough.
Danielle: Now, how am I supposed to “bargain”? Oh, it looks like I just have to ask God a bunch of if-only questions. If only he hadn’t wanted to be a cop! If only I was a better daughter! If only I said “hello” to him on the rare occasions he was home instead of hide in my room, contemplating life! Well, it makes sense how that’s supposed to lead into depression.
Northtart: I said that’s enough.
Danielle: And then, whaddaya know, everything works out. I’ve accepted my father died before I told him I love him, and I can start, how do they word it…? “Putting my life back together”. Thanks a million, doc! You’re a miracle worker! (Starts to waltz out)
Northtart: (Stands) Get back in here, young lady, we are not finished.
Danielle: (Slowly eases back into the room, takes a seat)
Northtart: You disrespect me, and you disrespect this school, mocking our regulations.
Danielle: (Stares menacingly for a few seconds)
Northtart: Really, are you asking for detention?
Danielle: Who made you counselor? All you know how to do is tell kids what’s wrong with them. I realize this school is so big you can’t be bothered to give a crap about your students, but why don’t you try paying attention, for once?
Northtart: (says nothing, thinks for a moment before leaning back in chair) Fine, Miss Harding. Talk, I’m listening.
Danielle: None of you knew my dad. This is one of the biggest cities in Tennessee; all you knew about him was how good of an officer he was. He was a celebrity, a freaking superhero – he brought down so many gangs and mass crimes in Knoxville.
(Pauses, speaks more softly) What you don’t know is how he makes the best French toast every morning, keeps it nice and warm in the pan for when I get up. What you don’t know is his unhealthy obsession with 80’s music, how he sings everything from Bon Jove to Madonna in the shower until our ears are bleeding. What you don’t know is how he hasn’t gotten home until midnight for the past month, how he still makes time to leave a note on my nightstand for when I wake up.
(Starts sobbing) What you don’t know, is…I throw them away. Been too busy in my own stupid little world to realize…to appreciate…
Northtart: (Awkwardly pats her back)
Danielle: I’ve been wasting all my time in this pit of selfish sadness, mulling over unanswerable, existential questions. Why am I here? What’s my purpose? Do I be an astronomer or biologist? Me, me, me…
Northtart: Oh…there, there…
Danielle: (Laughs bitterly) What’s the matter, Mr. Northtart? Afraid you’ll catch some feelings?
Northtart: You’ve always been such a respectful student…
Danielle: Huh. I wonder what happened.
Northtart: (Answers) Hello? Yes, right away. (Hangs up) Your mother is here.
Danielle: Good for me.
DANIELLE Stands, walks to the door, turns around just before opening it.
Danielle: Can I ask you something
Danielle: What do I do?
Northtart: Danielle… I don’t know why bad things happen. I don’t know why they like to happen to the best of us. I don’t…know what to tell you, I honestly don’t.
Danielle: (Nods sadly) Thanks for listening. (Leaves)