‘Twas a dark and stormy night.
The elegantly dressed woman walks the empty streets, bundled up against the rain and using an umbrella. It is the 1950s. She looks like Peggy Carter from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
A man waits in an alley. He wears a hat and a suit, but no overcoat or umbrella. He looks like Marlo Brando in Guys & Dolls. As she approaches, he is lighting a cigarette with a match.
Woman: Thank you for coming.
Man: For you, baby? Always.
W. That… is what I wanted to talk to you about. I… I don’t think we should see each other anymore.
The man betrays no visible reaction. He stands there silently, puffing his cigarette. When he speaks, his voice is calm.
M. I’m afraid that’s not an option. You need me.
W. Correction: I needed you. I am grateful for everything you’ve done. You… you were there for me when nobody else was. I would never have survived without you. But that was when I was a child. I thought like a child, felt like a child. You were my tutor, my confidant, my friend, and my coach. I could never have become the person I was without you. But it is time for me to move on.
The man is silent. He might have been a statue. The only sign he breathes is the periodic glow of the cigarette.
M. I’m sorry, but it’s not that simple. You owe me. You said it yourself. And my boss… he always collects his debts.
The woman draws a sharp breath.
W. So it is true. All this time you have been working for… him.
For the first time, the man seems uncomfortable.
M. Well… I wouldn’t put it like that. I started out the same as you. But I quickly learned the way the world works. It’s a dangerous place out there. You need protection. And protection always carries a price.
W. So that’s why you sold your soul? Or rather, mine?
M. Grow up, lady! You wouldn’t have lasted 24 hours out here without me. You say you needed me. You have no idea the hell I went through to keep you safe. Don’t get so high and mighty on your little ivory pedestal. You only have the luxury to indulge your scruples because of all the dirty work I did for you behind the scenes. You owe me… and I owe the boss.
The man pauses. When he speaks again, his voice is thick with emotion.
M. I really am sorry. I wish there was another way, but there isn’t. This is just the way the world works.
The woman stands there, eyes downcast. The rain continues to pour down. When she speaks, her voice is quiet.
W. No, I am the one who is sorry. I never… I never realized the depths of sacrifice you made for me. Thank you.
She walks over and gives him a hug. After a moment, he awkwardly returns it. The she pulls away.
W. You are right. This was the boss’s world, and the only way we survived was by making a deal. I will always be grateful for what you did for me. But I meant what I said. I don’t need you anymore. I have found… Someone Else.
The man looks up, startled. His jaw drops open. The cigarette falls from nerveless fingers.
M. You mean…. HE has returned?
Now the woman looks startled!
W. You… you know about Him?
The man doesn’t answer. He grabs his hat and crushes it between two hands, headless of the rain. He stars pacing madly back and forth in the alley, mumbling to himself. She only catches a few words
M. No…. yet… trick… possibly… but… then again…
Suddenly he lunges over and grabs her.
The man swears furiously under his breath.
M. Dammit. It might all still be a trap, an illusion. But then again, that is just the sort of thing He would say.
W. So, you DO know Him!
M. Lady, everybody knows about Him. HE is the only one the boss is afraid off. That’s why the boss keeps squeezing us for protection money, but also keeps such a low profile. But all I know about Him are rumors. People claim to have met with Him in the countryside, but He’s never shown His face in the city before.
She starts sobbing. She tries to stop, but can’t.
The man watches, then slowly pulls her into his embrace. She resists at first, but finally lets herself collapse, weeping heavily.
M. Shh. It’s alright. It’s okay. There, there, let it all out. Everything will be fine. I… I believe you.
She pulls away from him, dabbing at the tears with a handkerchief.
W. You… you do? Why?
The man grimaces, embarrassed.
M. I… Look, don’t tell this to anybody, alright? I lied, sort of. About Him not being here. I mean, I didn’t think… how could I have known?
W. What are you taking about?
M. [reflectively] I was just a kid. You were hungry. Everyone was. There was a baker with a cart. People were mobbing all around, trying to buy bread. I had no money, of course. I wormed my way into the crowd, hoping to snatch something. But just when I was about to make the pinch, the strangest thing happened.
The man stares off into eternity, eyes wide with remembered wonder.
M. The baker turned and looked at me. Saw me. Really saw me. Really. Saw. Me.
The man is silent for a long time. When he speaks again, it is in a barely audible whisper.
M. He… smiled. Didn’t say a word. Just handed me a loaf of bread, winked, held a finger to his lips, and turned back to his customers….
He pauses. The woman watches, breathless. Then finally speaks.
W. Why… how did you know… it was Him?
M. I didn’t… until now. I wondered, of course. But I was sure it was impossible. I could not bring myself to believe. Otherwise I would never have been able to do… what I had to. For you. For me. For us.
W. What finally changed your mind?
He looks around, as if searching for the words. Without seeming to realize it, he grasps her hand.
M. After the baker gave me that bread, I ran as fast as I could to my hiding place. When I got there, I fell to my knees. I cried, and I cried, and I cried. I didn’t know why. I didn’t even know what I was feeling. All I knew is that my heart had been turned inside out.
The man doesn’t cry, now. But the woman can see his eyes shining at the memory. And she understands.
W. You cried… like I did. That’s how you realized it was Him. Because only He could make you feel like that.
The man smiles, sniffles, and gives her a half-hug.
M. Yeah. So. Then, I guess this is good-bye.
W. You… you could come with me?
The man draws in a deep breath. Hesitates. Then releases it. He shakes his head.
M. No. At least, not yet. Where you are going, I cannot follow. Besides, I must remain here. If He has truly shown Himself, then the time is short. There is work to be done, to prepare the city for His coming.
W. Then… do you need me to stay? To help you, as you so often helped me?
The man shakes his head ruefully, smiling through the pain.
The woman steps up the man, plants a soft kiss on his cheek, then steps back.
W. Thank you. For everything. I will never forget you.
M. So long, sweetheart. It’s been real. And who knows? Perhaps I will see you again, before the end.
W. I would like that.
She starts to walks away. Then stops at the corner, and turns around.
W. Goodbye, Pride.