Have You Met My Friend, Bill W.? A Play in One Act

 

Cast of Characters:
Caine: A man in his middle 30’s.
Arlo: A man in his early 30’s.
Bartender: A man in his late 50’s.

Scene
Neighborhood bar located in Western North Carolina.

Time
Fall. Sunday Afternoon.

ACT I

Scene 1

SETTING: Local pub. Dark and well-worn. The late Sunday afternoon sun spills from the floor to ceiling windows, barely illuminating the room.

AT RISE: CAINE is sitting at the bar on a stool below on an old tv that hangs in the far corner above the bar. BARTENDER is standing behind the bar, further down, wiping down the bartop with an old rag. ARLO has just entered the bar, the door closing behind him as he approached CAINE.

CAINE
Hey there, bud. Whaddya say?

ARLO
(pulls out barstool adjacent to CAINE and sits)
Ah, you know—just the same old, same old. Who you got today?

CAINE
Dolphins to cover. Spread’s six and a half.

ARLO
(motioning to BARTENDER for a beer.)
Who they playing?

BARTENDER
(opening a bottle of beer and setting it in front of ARLO)
Here ya are, ‘Lo.

CAINE
Packers. Think I’m pretty safe.

ARLO
(groaning)
You’ve got to be kidding.
(looks at the TV and takes a sip)
Nope. No, you weren’t.

CAINE
But—I thought you were a Jags fan . . . what’s Dan the Man got to do with it?

ARLO
I am, but my old man was a Dolphins fan—well, not as much as a ‘Fins fan,’ but definitely a big time Dan Marino guy.

CAINE
Huh, never knew that, ‘Lo. Learn new things every day, don’t we? My old man was a Colts fan himself. I get it. I can have the bartender to change the channel if you’d like.
(raises hand to motion for BARTENDER)

ARLO
(reaches over and gently pulls CAINE’s arm down)
Nah, it’s okay. No need for all that. You know—the last time I saw these two teams play was back in ‘97. I was still living with the old man down at Fisher’s Creek.
(sighs)
Seems like it was only yesterday. Marino versus Favre.

CAINE
Oh yeah, I do vaguely recall you mentioning that you stayed with him for a short while—when was that? High School?

ARLO
Freshman or Sophomore year. Can’t really recall, to be honest.

CAINE
(CAINE finishes beer, motions for another)
How’d that end up?

ARLO
(laughing)
The day or the game?

CAINE
For the sake of a decent story: Both?

ARLO
Well, as you know, Dad had a bit of a problem with the bottle. He worked for the Postal Service for twelve years, without ever taking a sick day—for what it’s worth. His back had taken a pounding over the years—disc stuff, the same thing I got . . .

CAINE
(rolling eyes)
Yeah, I know.
(drinks from beer)
You ought to do something about that as well, ya know.

ARLO
Yeah, yeah. . .I’ll get around to it. I ain’t in a rush.
(takes a drink)
Anyways, Pops had accrued about six months paid leave by then, so he decided to take the time in order to get the surgery done and still have a couple months to recover. The Doc’s prescribed him Oxycontin to help with the pain and it wasn’t long before he figured out how well they mixed well with booze.

CAINE
Sounds about right. I’ve seen a lot of good people go down that road.

ARLO
Right? Damn shame. My mother and father already had their fair share of problems. Once you factor in his routine proclivity for the bottle and the surgery, well . . . I figure his chasing opiates with alcohol must have been the final straw ‘cause she moved out not long after. Took my little sister with her too.

CAINE:
Is that when your mom and sis came down the mountain to live in Sylva?

ARLO
Yup. Moved in right behind the old courthouse. Close to where you used to live.

CAINE
Oh, don’t you know it—think I might have actually spent more time in that courthouse than I did in my own damn house. Where’d you end up after all this shook loose?

ARLO
Same place I was when it all started. I stayed with my old man.

CAINE
Even with him fooling around with hard stuff? Why didn’t you go with your mom?

ARLO
Aw hell—who knows, my man. Maybe in some way I thought I could help him out. I didn’t have much sympathy for the man, but he was my still my father. Only got one, ya know?

CAINE
Funny how that works out for us sometimes, ain’t it?

ARLO
I guess so. Dad always tried to hide his drinking from me. I think he justified it as being “out of respect,” however unseemly that may be. Just to further prove how misguided his rationale was, I’ll tell you this: He would go as far as to stash beer in the kitchen cupboard or under the sink in the bathroom, and sneak off every once in awhile to pound one. All the while pretending like he just had to use the restroom or wanted a snack.

CAINE
Yeah, real inconspicuous like, eh? Was he pulling that trick on the day of the game?

ARLO
Oh yeah. Big time. Brother, I was so excited to watch that game with him—just like we had back before everything went south. I hadn’t quite figured out that he was mixing the pills and the booze by that point. Mom never told me. As a matter of fact, I came to find out much later that he actually stole his doc’s prescription pad and was writing his own ‘scrips for Oxy.

CAINE
Get out—no way. He stole a doctor’s prescription pad? Eh, you gotta hand it to him—at least he was resourceful.

ARLO
Oh god yeah—too resourceful.
(sips beer)
On this particular afternoon however, he was mixing the two and ended up getting real wasted. But, like, in that real dark, brooding type of drunk, ya know?

CAINE
Unfortunately, I do. Might have ended up at the bottom of that rabbit hole once or twice myself.

ARLO
It was about halftime when he disappeared. Which really wasn’t that out of the ordinary, but this was bit longer than his usual “breaks.” After awhile, I decided I’d go to check and see where he may have wandered off too. Eventually I found him pacing back and forth on the back patio. I watched him through the sliding glass door and saw that he was on the phone with someone. I couldn’t hear him, but I could see his hands gesturing real wild like. Then—just like that—
(snaps fingers)
he put the phone down, got up, walked through that stupid sliding glass door and just sat back down to watch the game like nothing had ever happened. But—almost as soon as he did, the phone was ringing again. I could see that he wasn’t making much effort to pick it up, so I did. It was my sister, and she was just wailing. She was hysterical. She couldn’t even get words out. It was like—like a coyote or something, man. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Mom took the phone from her and I’ll never forget what she said next. It’s clear as day: “‘Lo, you tell that father of yours to get it to-fucking-gether. What is he thinking talking to your sister like that?”

CAINE
Wait. What?
(shakes head in disbelief)
What exactly was he saying to her?

ARLO
Turns out he had called in the hopes of speaking with my mother, but when my sister answered, I guess he figured she was just as good as any to listen to what he had to say. He told her that he was going to off himself. Just wanted to say good bye, you see; like this is a normal thing to say to your daughter. He told her that he was going to finish the last bottle of Oxy and keep drinking until it was over. It would be better off that way, he told her. Easier on everyone, he said.

CAINE
Was it an empty threat or did he actually do it? He didn’t do it, did he? Please tell me he was just bluffing.

ARLO
Well, not exactly. My sister hung up on him and immediately called 911. Within minutes the EMT’s and a few Jackson County Sheriffs were parked in front of the house. In that little community, everyone knew each other, so you can only imagine how that looked. Suddenly my dad and I were the story of the neighborhood. We even knew one of the responding officers: he was the father of one of my classmates!

CAINE
Let me guess: That cop’s kid went back and told everyone that his dad was called to your house. Kids can just be outright cruel at times.

ARLO
(chuckles)
You know what? He didn’t. This wasn’t the first time that kid’s father had been called out to a classmates’ house. After the first couple times it just ain’t as interesting, I guess. Old news.

CAINE
You lucked out there, my man. I would have never heard the end of it had it been the neighborhood I grew up in. Those kids would’ve done just about anything to tear someone down.
(shakes head and swigs beer)
Did they try and haul your dad off to the hospital? That’s usually how those types of things tend to pan out.

ARLO
Ha. You never had the pleasure of meeting the old bastard—he’d never let that happen. He was standing out in the front yard—hootin’ and hollerin’—telling them they didn’t have any right to be on his property, and, if they weren’t there to arrest him they needed to turn around and leave. If they wanted, he said, they were more than welcome to return with a warrant. Until they got a judge’s approval, he wasn’t going anywhere. He was just letting them have it; reading them the riot act. All of that, you know?

CAINE
(nods head in agreement)

ARLO
Meanwhile, one of the paramedics pulled me aside and asked me if I knew what he had taken. I told him that I didn’t know, and judging by the look on his face, I knew that wasn’t going to cut it. The EMT bent over, put his hands on his knees, leaned in real close and said: “Son, why don’t you do me and your father a favor and go into the house and see if you can’t find any empty pill bottles laying around.” So, I ran inside and started tearing through the medicine cabinet, drawers, and cupboards, just like the paramedic asked, and eventually, I found an empty bottle of Advil at the bottom of the bathroom trashcan.

CAINE
Advil? What the hell?

ARLO
Yeah. Advil.

CAINE
So you’re telling me that your old man actually tried to OD on Advil?

ARLO
No—he didn’t. But you see, at the time, I was probably only about 15 years old or so. I didn’t know the difference. I didn’t know which pills were capable of what. I just found the first empty bottle I came across and assumed that was the one. When I took it out and showed it to the paramedic, he just sort of rolled their eyes, told me it’d be okay and to head back into the house. So I just went back inside to watch the rest of the game after calling my sister to let her know everything was okay. They kept my old man outside for a little longer, gave him a good dressing down about how he shouldn’t scare his family like that, and to never tie up Emergency Medical Services with false claims again or he’d most certainly be taking a ride with them.

CAINE
That’s it? All that for nothing?

ARLO
That’s not even the half of it, brother. With about five minutes left in the 3rd Quarter of the game, Jackson County’s finest finally took off and he comes back in laughing! I’ll never, in my entire life, forget how pissed off I was. I’m standing there in the living room, watching the game, and he walks over—still laughing—puts his hand on slaps me on the back and he says: “That’s my boy! Thanks for looking out for your old man—you’ll never even begin to know how much you just bailed me out back there.”

CAINE
(picking up beer)
He thought you did that purposely? Like you were covering for him?
(returns beer to bar without taking a drink)

ARLO
I’m not sure. In fact, I’m not sure if he even knew. He was half in the bag by then. But I knew. It hit me right then and there what had transpired. I had found the wrong bottle, and unwittingly provided him with the out he needed. And then he proceeded to start chugging beers, cracking them open one after another, right there in front of me.

CAINE
Right there in full view? Not even trying to shield his own son from it?

ARLO
Didn’t even seem to give the simplest of a shit. He attempted to deliver an eloquent suicide speech, but was completely incapable of formulating complete sentences, so he just turned away and walked to his bedroom—dragging his shoulder along the wall the entire way.

CAINE
I cannot even begin to fathom what must have been going on in your head at that point. That is just too much for a kid to see. You called the paramedics and asked them to return, right? You called them and told them about the mix up, didn’t you?

ARLO
I sure didn’t.

CAINE
Aw, c’mon ‘Lo!

ARLO
I didn’t know what to do, to tell you the truth. Wasn’t thinking all that straight. I went to his bedroom and tried to open the door, but somehow, in his stupor, he found the wherewithal to lock the door behind him. Then, it was the damndest thing, I just sat down—right there in the hall—with my ear against the door, listening for signs of life. He had been a pretty heavy smoker as long as I had known him, so it wasn’t that unusual to hear him hack and cough while he slept. I knew that as long as I could hear those coughs, that he was still breathing. But it was the moments between coughs where my mind would start racing. Was this my fault? Why did I continue to just pretend that everything would be okay? I was so embarrassed. For everything.
(looks down shaking head)
Then he would cough, or his breath would rattle and everything would be okay again. My mind would stop racing. You know, like when you’re driving through a rainstorm? I’m talking torrential downpour here.

CAINE
(nodding slowly)

ARLO
And there is just this—this deafening roar of the raindrops bouncing off the metal of the car but then you pass underneath a bridge and everything goes completely silent for a brief moment?

CAINE
(still nodding)

ARLO
That was what it was like, man. I was the car, and my brain was the roar of the rain and every time he made a sound, that was me passing under the bridge.
(looking down at the bar)
I found a sort of condolence lying within that silence.

CAINE
(places arm around ARLO’s shoulder)

ARLO
I ended up falling asleep like that, with my ear pressed against the door. I woke up the next morning when the door opened and my dad, standing above, looked down at me and said, “What the hell are you doing?” He was pissed and I don’t even think he was pissed at me. I think he was pissed that he woke up.

CAINE
(sighing)
That’s—that’s real rough, my man.

ARLO
Ya know, you don’t really know how to handle those sort of situations at that age. I just swallowed it all up, got ready for school, and that was that. Wasn’t quite sure how to even begin to tell that story until just now. I ended up moving back in with Mom and my sister shortly thereafter. The old man survived the ordeal, but I’m not sure if he ever really fully recovered. His spirit was beyond repair. He skipped town about 3-4 months later and, well, that was one of the last times I ever saw him before he passed away.

CAINE
I am so sorry, brother. I feel like this is a time where I should say something. But—but what is there left to say?

ARLO
(finishing beer)
It’s all good. All in the past.
(stands up and places now empty bottle on bar)

CAINE
Taking off? C’mon brother, stick around for a bit. I’ll buy your next one.

ARLO
(lightly slapping CAINE’s back)
Sort of defeats the purpose of the story, doesn’t it?
(turns to walk away)

CAINE
Wait a second. . .
(ARLO turns around)
Who ended up winning the game?

ARLO
Favre.

(BLACKOUT)

(END OF SCENE)