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Hyatt, Annelie, Behind the Counter

HYATT, ANNELIE

Annelie Hyatt
Age: 17, Grade: 12

School Name: Beacon School, New York, NY
Educators: Amy Dupcak Remland, Dan Kitrosser

Category: Dramatic Script

Behind the Counter

A dimly lit convenience store, the counter arranged diagonally so as to expose a view of behind-the-counter and before-the-counter. Behind the counter is a mattress and a collection of heavy books. MARC is pacing around the bodega, waiting for someone’s arrival. JULIE knocks. Marc stops and lets her in. 
 MARC
Here you are. 
 Julie looks at the place in wonder, her face an amalgam of amazement, confusion, and revulsion. 
 JULIE
I didn’t know you worked in a convenience store.

MARC
Bodega.beat. 
 I’m sorry I didn’t tell you over the phone. Since I finished my dissertation, it’s become my full-time place of employment. But also — 
Marc takes her to behind-the-counter, motioning to the bare mattress and books. 
 MARC
— my place of residence.

JULIE 
You’re okay….you said it was an emergency! I had to cancel two meetings because I assumed you were in danger.You live here?
beat.
Marc, are you okay?

MARC
I am. It didn’t make sense to rent an apartment if I spent twelve hours here each day. A person often deludes himself into assuming he needs as much space as possible to stock full of consumer goods,  monuments to his avarice. The living room is a 
space created for the American consumer to gratify his id, to buy ornate lamps, paintings, and — the epitome of ridicule—  a coffee table, which ostensibly is meant to ‘tie the room together’ or what nonsense people convince themselves of at the furniture store. What people fail to realize  is all you need is a place to put your head. All else is superfluous.

JULIE
Do you like living here?

MARC
I love it. The best place I’ve ever owned. I’m awoken by the sound of rush-hour traffic in the morning and urged to slumber by the voices of the city drunkards returning home. It’s an awesome life — and you know I don’t use the term  ‘awesome’ trivially. 

JULIE
I know.

MARC
Enough about me — How have you been, Julie? I’m such a terrible host. Here — I have some Arizona and Canada Dry on the shelf, do you want some? If it’s water you want, I have bottles of Evian  — and I don’t mean to brag, but they source their water from mineral water basins near Evian-les-Bains — or if you’re the unadventurous type, the classic Poland Spring, from a natural spring in —

JULIE
Poland Spring is fine Marc, thanks. Do you want to step outside for a snack? I’m a bit famished from my ride here. 

MARC
No need to spend extraneous money! There’s enough food on these shelves to survive the apocalypse. 

JULIE
I know you were always worried about it happening in our lifetime. 

MARC
I have tic-tacs, Orbit gum, seven types of Lays chips, Doritos, Salt-and-Vinegar if you’re searching for a more masochistic sensory experience. If you want more sugary options, I have Three Musketeers, Amos cookies, toffee — 

JULIE
Stop! — Please, stop.

MARC
Julie, what’s wrong? 
Julie and Marc sink to press their backs against the counter. Julie has her head in her knees. Marc places a tentative hand on her shoulder.
MARC
Do you need some aspirin? I have some behind the counter.

JULIE
No, Marc. I don’t want your commodities.

MARC
They’re not commodities. They’re necessities.

JULIE
I don’t care what you call it, or what you call living in your convenience store — 

MARC
— Bodega.

JULIE
— bodega. It isn’t you. 

MARC
What isn’t me? 

JULIE
I — 
MARC

No, continue. Which part of my life confuses you? Is it my perfectly color-coded shelves, which I’ve separated into sweet, sour, and salty? Is it my new plaid shirts instead of the polos and khakis I used to wear? Is it my endeavors at dismantling capitalism? 

JULIE
I don’t know, Marc. All of it. You’ve changed. 

MARC
I know. I made sure of it.  I was so blind before.

JULIE
Before what?

MARC
Before my vision. 

JULIE
What vision?

MARC
I wish I could tell you, Julie, but it’s not the right time. You’re not ready yet.
Julie rolls her eyes, burying her head in her knees again.MARC

But what about you, Julie? What have you been up to?

JULIE
I don’t know how to tell you, Marc — but I work in real estate. 
Marc blinks in confusion before an irritated look slips onto his face. He holds back his anger behind a poor mask of indifference.
 MARC
Oh.

JULIE
It wasn’t my choice. My dad owned the business, but he retired a few years after we graduated, and I was the only one —

MARC (sarcastic)
You didn’t have a choice.

JULIE
No, I didn’t.

MARC
The choice is always yours. 

JULIE
You wouldn’t know. I’ve been interning at his company since middle school, and the pay was too good to decline. I live in an apartment in SoHo now, Marc. I can walk to Chinatown from my apartment and eat dim sum on Sundays, or I could go shopping and be the first person in line for flash sales. I could even go to Little Italy and buy a cannoli. It’s the center of everything. Don’t tell me you’ve never wanted that for yourself, Marc.

MARC
Maybe at one time, but those days are past me. I can see clearly now. And, right now, I can see you, too. Julie, when we were dating back in college, you wanted to be an artist. You would paint the walls of our dorms from ceiling to floor. 

JULIE
I was young back then. I didn’t believe it would ever be a career possibility for me. 

MARC
I believed it, Julie. You were incredible. When I saw your paintings, it was as if I was transported into your brain, able to peer through your eyes. You always perceived the world as some beautiful being. It was what I loved about you. 

JULIE
But I knew what had to be done. I knew painting couldn’t sustain me financially. Unlike you, I have needs — 

MARC (tenderly)
An apartment with floor length windows. A balcony for you to grow gardenias and roses. A large kitchen for you to make pasta and fruit pies. A room for you to store your Camus and Tolstoy. I remember. 
Julie reels back, a little touched. She looks at him, before looking away and continuing hesitantly. 
 JULIE
Right. And I want a family. I want a place for my children to run around.  I want a full sized bed I can spread out on. I want a place I can call my own.

MARC
Maybe that’s where we differ.

JULIE
Maybe it’s why we broke up. 

MARC
Do you have a special someone? I didn’t notice an engagement ring on your finger when you walked in.

JULIE
No. I was dating someone up until last February, but it didn’t work out. 

MARC
Maybe it’s because you own a business whose entire purpose is to exploit the income of fellow New Yorkers, many of whom are surviving on minimum wage, and increase the homeless population because of your desire to enrich yourself. Or maybe —
 
JULIE 
It was because of a lot of things, Marc. And none of those were the reason. The fact that I’m the president of a large real estate agency has old friends calling me excessively and college peers asking me for loans to fund their new startup. I’m a commodity in myself. I’m an object of utility. 

MARC
I never thought of you that way.

JULIE 
Sure you didn’t. 

MARC
All I’m saying is, I would never date you because of how powerful you are. You’re not a means to an end. No one is.

JULIE
Immanuel Kant. You used to rifle through him at 3 am, when you thought I was sleeping. But I was wide awake. I would look as your eyes shone, illuminated by the light of your Kindle. It was what I loved about you. 

MARC (softer, but gets louder)
For how many more years are you going to use yourself as a means to an end? Imagine, those long days at work in the Flatiron District. All day, you’re a machine who works to give yourself some sense of financial elevation over your peers. You’re not a person! You refuse to be one! You’re artificial intelligence! 
Julie is a bit more timid now.
 JULIE 
At least my residence isn’t the behind-counter space of a convenience store —

MARC
Bodega. 

JULIE
Whatever. 
 Marc stands up and gets some gummy worms. He pours them into an unusually nice William & Sonoma glass bowl. He offers it to Julie, but she refuses. Slightly offended, he sits behind the counter on the mattress. 
 JULIE
Marc, what happened to you? 

MARC
What do you mean?

JULIE
First, you were an award-winning history major at Yale who was writing a dissertation about New York and how the emergence of high rise buildings accelerated the city-wide secularization movement as it brought people closer to God. You used to live in the penthouse of a modern apartment complex in the Upper East Side, but now you sleep in the bodega you own, a building so far from the sky it may as well be underground. 

MARC
I moved because I recognized my hubris. Julie, I don’t need a  luxurious penthouse or a walk in closet. I don’t need to be close to God. I don’t need to become him.  Everything I need, everything the world has ever required— it’s right here. In this bodega. This is the center of the world, not SoHo. Not the Model UN. It’s here. The crux of  civilization and humanity. This is where the world can be reborn. It’s what we’ve been searching for all this time. 
Marc hesitates, before placing down the bowl. 
 MARC
It’s time I told you about my vision.
beat.
I was walking to the 1 train to head to Columbia. Up until two years ago, I was a Professor of New York History. I was walking to the train station when I realized I forgot my breath spray. I quickly stepped into the nearest store I could find.

JULIE
A bodega.

MARC
This exact one. When I looked around me, it was as if a veil was lifted from my eyes. I could see clearly for the first time. I realized who I was and why I came to New York. It wasn’t for the bright lights of Times Square or the ceaseless bustle of the people. It’s because I recognized what features about a person make it human, and realized I had lost those qualities in myself. I wanted to become a human being.
beat. 
And — when I stepped into the bodega, I knew it instantly. This is the place where everything comes from. This is man’s pure skeleton, it’s quintessential form. It was a place of bare necessities, devoid of avarice, hubris, voracity. This is where man rediscovers what it means to be human.
beat.It’s why I brought you here.

JULIE
What do you mean?

MARC
Our existences are chained to desire, and it’s killing us. ‘I want a new car’. ‘I want my mom to love me’. ‘I want a new pair of earrings, ice cream, a flat-screen TV’. It’s all extraneous. Sitting here in my bodega, I only have one desire left. 
Marc turns to face the counter, not leaning on it anymore.
 MARC
I want you, Julie.beat. JULIE
You don’t mean that. 

MARC
I do. You’re a bare necessity of my life, and in your absence, I am incomplete, hollow. I’m deprived of air. Isn’t love only desire intensified by compulsion? What do you say, Julie? What do you want?
Pause again, before Julie’s voice breaks.JULIE
I want to be a human being.
Marc’s expression morphs from anticipation, surprise, to joy. He jumps up, the two standing up as he takes her hands. 
 MARC
Excellent! You can move in tomorrow. The bed is big enough for two. We can go to SoHo and sign your resignation forms. Bring your paint brushes, because in the next few months you can paint the walls of the Bodega any color you want!

JULIE
Marc —  

MARC
I knew you would come around. It can be as it was in old times when I held you after a party and we stared, dazed, at the ceiling fan for hours. 

JULIE
Hey — 

MARC
We can make it, Julie. We’re so close, the two of us, to transcendence. 

JULIE
Marc, listen to me. I want to be a human being, but not how you want to be one. 
Marc stops, turning bitter. MARC
It’s because of the bodega. 

JULIE
No, Marc — 

MARC
You always do this. When  I opened a Go Fund Me to prepare enough rations for the apocalypse, you forced me to close it. When I tried to start the proletariat revolution in our senior year, you reported me to the police. 

JULIE
Marc — 

MARC
When I started walking out naked on campus to boycott the concept of putting on masks to hide our true selves, you broke up with me. When I – 

JULIE
Marc, listen to me. It’s not because of the bodega. You just — beat.
 — you make me feel bad about myself. You’re always speaking so fast and so much, and I can’t keep up. You speak down to me. You go on about your grand philosophies about life, but you never talk to me. It’s not the bodega. It’s not your strange schemes. It’s you.  
beat. I want to be a human being, but I would never, in my entire life, want to be you. 
Marc lets go of her hands, turning away as he rubs the back of his head in embarrassment. 
 MARC
Oh. That’s different. 
Julie looks around the bodega, eager to improve his mood. She picks one of the chips and places it on the counter. 
 JULIE
I’ll buy this, though.

MARC
You’re my guest. You can have it for free.

JULIE
No, I insist. I’ll pay. 
Marc takes a look at her and steps behind the counter, putting his apron on. He takes the bag of chips, scans it, and hands it back to her. 
MARC
That’ll be four dollars. 
 Julie fishes it from her wallet, handing him six dollars. He places it in the cash register, getting the change.
 JULIE
Keep the change. 
 Marc stuffs the change back in the cash register reluctantly. Julie turns to the door as she prepares to leave. Marc turns from her, facing the back. She almost exits, before staring at him for a while. He doesn’t move, but seems to be falling apart.  She looks at his figure, and turns away. Julie exits. A few seconds pass. Lights down.