(LIGHTS UP on a cold, New England cemetery. It’s the middle of winter. A funeral is being held for Mercy Brown. Mourners are gathered around the tomb of the recently-buried Mercy, among them, her father George and her sickly brother Edwin. A Priest presides over the funeral. George remains silent throughout, lost in his own world, in his own memories.)
PRIEST: We beseech Thee, O Lord,
in Thy mercy,
to have pity on the soul of Thy handmaid;
do Thou, Who hast freed her
from the perils of this mortal life,
restore to her the portion of everlasting salvation.
Through Christ our Lord,
PRIEST: The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow –
PRIEST: The shadow of death, of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest –
(Edwin coughs again.)
PRIEST: Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy –
(Edwin has a coughing fit. Everyone is staring at him now. He tries to control it but cannot. The Priest is uncertain how to maintain order when a Woman turns to him in alarm.)
WOMAN: The very name of the deceased has done it.
PRIEST: Madam, please.
WOMAN: It’s a sign. Edwin is haunted. The whole family is cursed.
(The Mourners mumble in agreement.)
PRIEST: Cursed, madam? Really?
WOMAN: Three dead in a year. And now this one is…
EDWIN: Is what?
PRIEST: If I may.
(Edwin manages to quell his cough.)
PRIEST: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.
PRIEST: And now, we say a special prayer for the sudden death of our beloved girl: God of hope
we come to you in shock and grief and confusion of heart.
Help us to find peace in the knowledge
of your loving mercy –
(Edwin coughs again. The Woman gasps.)
WOMAN: It’s her name. God help us!
(The Woman crosses herself. The other Mourners mumble in agreement.)
PRIEST: Madam! If you please!(as quickly as he can) Of your loving mercy to all your children,
and give us light to guide us out of our darkness
into the assurance of your love,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
(The funeral party begins to break up. The Mourners and Woman remain uneasy, looking around as if expecting something as they start to exit.)
PRIEST: George, I’m so sorry.
(George does not respond. The Woman exits, going out of her way to avoid Edwin. )
(George and Edwin are the only ones who remain. Edwin goes to the grave and kneels before it.)
EDWIN: Goodbye, Mercy. The house won’t be the same without you. (he laughs) Scaring us out of our wits with all your awful stories. (beat) What I wouldn’t give for just one more.
(He leans forward to kiss the grave.)
(George does not respond.)
(Again, no response. Edwin coughs. He’s clearly in a lot of pain. But George is off in a world of his own.)
EDWIN: We need to go home, Father. Before we catch cold. (beat) I’m going. Are you coming with me?
(George is silent.)
EDWIN: We both lost them…
(Edwin exits, coughing. For a long while, George remains still, staring down at the grave of his daughter. Eventually, Thomas Everett enters, carrying a bundle of flowers. George looks up and the two of them see one another.)
THOMAS: Mister Brown…
(George glares at him. Thomas withers.)
THOMAS: I’ve only come to pay my respects.
THOMAS: I have a right to.
THOMAS: As much a right as you.
GEORGE: Get out.
GEORGE: Stay away from my daughter.
(Thomas lays the flowers on the grave.)
THOMAS: “She deserves a glowing crown of gold.” Remember that, Mercy? It’s what Haemon said to Creon about Antigone.
(George picks them up and hurls them offstage.)
THOMAS: Will this go on forever?
(George is silent.)
THOMAS: I loved Mercy. (beat) As much as you.
GEORGE: If you don’t leave this instant, I’ll call the police.
THOMAS: And say what? That I was visiting the grave of my fiancé? What a crime. A total scandal. The papers will be –
GEORGE: How dare you.
THOMAS: Mister Brown!
GEORGE: How dare you call her yours.
THOMAS: Mister Brown, I –
GEORGE: Get out of here.
THOMAS: You can’t just –
THOMAS: It’s not your fault, you know. I don’t blame you. It was beyond anyone’s control. Beyond yours and mine.
GEORGE: Thomas Everett, I swear to God that –
THOMAS: Please! Mister Brown. (beat) Not in a cemetery. Not over Mercy’s grave.
GEORGE: Just leave.
THOMAS: It’s too late for that. I’m already buried here.
(Thomas steps toward the grave, but George moves forward and Thomas stops, afraid.)
THOMAS: “She deserves a glowing crown of gold.”
(Thomas reluctantly exits and George watches him go. Mercy enters behind her father. After a moment, George senses her presence and turns around to discover her there.)
GEORGE: Mercy? But…
(George looks helplessly between the grave and Mercy. She moves to one side, looking off after Thomas.)
GEORGE: I don’t…how…
MERCY: What have you done?
MERCY: Poor Tommy.
GEORGE: Mercy, is that you? Are you really here?
MERCY: I am here.
GEORGE: My angel!
(George rushes to embrace her, but when Mercy turns to face him, he stops short. She shakes her head sadly.)
MERCY: You can’t hold onto me.
GEORGE: I’ve gone mad.
MERCY: No! Of course not.
GEORGE: I have. You’re standing there looking like you’re alive and well.
MERCY: I’ve never felt better.
GEORGE: As if I could reach out and touch you.
MERCY: Only in memories. Don’t try to hold onto more than that.
GEORGE: Let me hold you.
MERCY: You can’t. It’s against the rules.
MERCY: I’m sorry.
GEORGE: If I can’t hold you, I’ll go mad.
MERCY: Then hold onto what I loved.
GEORGE: What’s that?
MERCY: Let him come to visit the grave, Father. Please.
MERCY: Please. (beat) It’s so little to ask.
GEORGE: Don’t ask me that.
MERCY: But why? What harm can it possibly do?
GEORGE: I cannot.
MERCY: You do me a great injustice, Father.
MERCY: Even in death.
GEORGE: Even in madness?
MERCY: That would be a convenient excuse, wouldn’t it?
MERCY: But you’re not mad.
MERCY: Not at all. The opposite in fact.
GEORGE: What am I, then?
MERCY: Sane. Completely sane.
GEORGE: How? How the hell is this sanity?
MERCY: Because it’s sadness. When I was sad over Mother’s loss, I’d have eight conversations a day with her. And Olive too. Oh, losing her devastated me. You know that. (beat) And, in your position, who wouldn’t be sad?
GEORGE: In my position. (he laughs) And what a place to be. Mary. Olive. And now you. No one ever suffered so terrible a misfortune.
MERCY: What about Oedipus?
GEORGE: I knew you’d say that.
MERCY: Of course.
GEORGE: Oedipus was lucky.
GEORGE: He never saw the misfortunes that befell his children.
MERCY: He was blind, Father. He never saw much of anything.
GEORGE: I should have been so lucky.
MERCY: But just because he didn’t know of his misfortunes didn’t mean they weren’t his, in this life or the next.
GEORGE: I shudder to think of what awaits me in the next life. And yet…
GEORGE: And yet, at the same time, I long for it. Oh God, Mercy, I’ve little left to cling to. What kind of world, what kind of gods, allow such misfortune to befall a man like me? I’m not a king, not a great hero. I’m just an ordinary man. There are no prophecies about me, no ancient songs, no secret fortunes.
MERCY: Well, you can’t know that. If you did, they wouldn’t be secret.
GEORGE: Was I really so bad? Really so terrible?
MERCY: You were only human.
GEORGE: What a terrible failing. (beat) What are you?
MERCY: Something else.
GEORGE: I envy you.
(Doctor Metcalf enters, unnoticed by George.)
GEORGE: I ask you, what benefit is there to being human? It’s a terrible condition, really. We’re born screaming and bloody. And we usually die the same way.
MERCY: If I had to guess, I’d say love. (beat) No, not love. Anything can love. A dog can love. (she considers) Maybe passion.
GEORGE: That’s nothing but a derangement.