“13 Minutes”

CHARACTERS

BETHANY                              Owner of Refresh, Inc.
SAM                                           Potential customer for Refresh, Inc.

PLACE

A medical office

At Rise:                    SAM stands outside the door of Refresh, Inc. and holds a newspaper open. He reads outloud.

SAM

Craving oblivion? Keep your options open. See if oblivion is really what you’re after, or just a good rest. Our gun uses a clinically-tested ray instead of a bullet, so you decide how many hours of safe, monitored “death” you need. Wake up refreshed, ready to face the world again. Reasonable rates. Completely confidential. Hygienic.

                    (He considers for a moment, drops the paper and walks into Refresh, Inc. A woman in nurse’s scrubs stands behind a counter staring at a computer screen. Behind her are a number of closed doors, some with red lights, others green. The man walks in. The woman looks up and smiles.)

BETHANY

Hi there. What can I do for you today?

SAM

I read your ad in the paper and I was wondering. What happens … what happens if you don’t set a time to undo the rays’ effects?

BETHANY

No worries. A default wake-up revives the customer in 24 hours, so there’s no chance of an accident.

SAM

Can you override that?

BETHANY

I could, but I won’t. You could die.

SAM

I know.

BETHANY

I’m not sure you understand what we do here. Refresh, Inc.’s mission is to prevent intentional deaths, not cause them. It’s an epidemic. Did you know that someone kills themselves in America every twelve minutes.

SAM

I’m surprised it’s not more often. Have you any idea what it’s like out there?

BETHANY

I know. It’s bad. But we can survive it, in the same way you can survive how you’re feeling right now.

SAM

Please. I’ll pay you double. Cash.

BETHANY

No. Experience a safe suicide here, then return to your life. Tell me your name.

SAM

Sam.

BETHANY

Sam, I’m Bethany. Tell me. Do you have family? Children?

SAM

I suppose. Two teenage girls.

BETHANY

You’ll devastate those kids if you commit suicide. If you can’t think of yourself, think of them.

SAM

I am thinking of them. I’ll be one less carbon footprint on the planet. You’d be doing a great service to everyone if you just turned off the safety mechanism and let me drift away.

BETHANY

No. That would be murder. Think of me if you can’t think of anyone else. Think of my franchise.

SAM

I’ll sign anything you want. I’ll get it notarized.

BETHANY

Go to a state that allows it. Find a doctor.

SAM

I am a doctor.

BETHANY

Then what are you waiting for? Just write yourself a prescription and be done with it.

SAM

I can’t. I’m afraid of throwing up. I need your help.

BETHANY

I’ll help by giving you this number to call for depression.

SAM

I don’t have depression. I have a diagnosis. A bad one. I’m just waiting to die, and I hate waiting.

BETHANY

I’m so sorry. Many terminally ill come here thinking they’d like to end it, but leave with a renewed purpose for the time they have left. May I ask? Cancer?

SAM

No. Human mortality.

BETHANY

Sam, we’re all human. We’re all dying. Go home and enjoy the journey.

SAM

I want an exit ramp and I want it now. (He pulls out a gun and aims it at her) Override the refresh button.

BETHANY

You’re kidding? You have a gun? You don’t need me. Just use it on yourself.

SAM

I can’t. I’m a coward.

BETHANY

But brave enough to shoot me? What then? You’ll go to jail. They’ll take your shoelaces so you can’t even hang yourself. If you really think there’s no hope, then go find a tall building and jump. Just leave.

SAM

I can’t. I’m afraid of heights. And the pain. I don’t want any pain.

BETHANY

A razor blade?

SAM

I faint at the sight of blood.

BETHANY

What kind of a doctor are you?

SAM

A psychiatrist.

BETHANY

Of course you are. Put that gun down Sam, or I’ll call the police.

SAM

I wonder if I can get them to shoot me.

BETHANY

No. You’re much too white.

SAM

                    (Sam starts sobbing. Bethany comes around the counter, takes the gun from him, and puts it next to the computer. Then she gently guides him to a door with a green light.)

BETHANY

Sam, you don’t want to die, you just want to stop hurting. Lie right down here. I’ll give you the maximum. 24 hours. This one is on me, because I like you and want you to live.

SAM

But you don’t love me. No one loves me. Not even I love me.

BETHANY

What’s important is that you have the ability to love. I think you have this giant heart and that’s why you’re in so much pain.

SAM

It’s true. I love my girls.

BETHANY

Good. What else?

SAM

I used to love my ex-wife. And I’ve always loved carrots. I love when a flock of sparrows sit on a wire all facing one direction. How do they do that? How do they communicate with one another to say this way, not that way?

BETHANY

It’s amazing, isn’t it? You see, Sam, it’s not all misery out there. There’s also beauty and poetry. Now I want you to take this ray gun, hold it to your temple, then press the trigger. You’ll hear a soothing gunshot sound, then you’ll be out.

SAM

Can you do it for me? I’m afraid.

BETHANY

No, you have to do it yourself. Those are the rules. You have to want it bad enough.

SAM

It’s bad enough. It’s worse than enough.

                    (Lying on the gurney, staring at the ceiling, he holds the ray gun to his head and shoots. There is a sharp noise and the gun falls to the floor. Bethany picks it up and puts it back on the charger. She looks at her watch.)

BETHANY

Thirteen minutes from door to snore. Score one for the team.
                    (Bethany returns to the counter and picks up the real gun and stares at it. She puts it to her temple, closes her eyes, sighs and smiles.)

END


JoeAnn Hart is the author of the novels Float (Ashland Creek Press) and Addled (Little, Brown). Her short fiction, essays, and articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Orion magazine, The Hopper, and the anthology Black Lives Have Always Mattered. She recently presented Float, a dark comedy about plastics in the ocean.

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