AUSTIN— 26-year-old, heroin addict. He plays the organ at his local church and is a fry cook at a nearby diner called Ma’s.
DELIA—Austin’s 31-year-old, on-again-off-again girlfriend.
FATHER STANIEL— 47-year-old Priest at Austin’s church.
MARY— 33-year-old Manager at the restaurant Austin works for, Ma’s Diner.
Enter a room littered with dirty articles of clothing which span most of the floor space. There is a poster of Mozart hung above an organ, peeling from the wall. A man with matted brown hair is slumped on the organ—elbows, arms, and head are resting on the keys, and the organ drones on in discordant confusion. The man is passed out, and a greasy rocks glass sits next to him on the bench. Next to the glass is a syringe, used. A woman walks into the room with puffy cheeks and fresh tears streaming.
DELIA: Get up!
DELIA: Get up, you fucking junky degenerate!
AUSTIN: [rubs his crusty eyelids.] Hmmm…What?
DELIA: You sober yet? We have to talk.
AUSTIN: I…was just working…on…my piece. What’s going on baby?
DELIA: Well, I don’t know. You shoot up, drink yourself silly, and pass out before eight every night. What’s worse is that you conk out during your performances at church, and the deacons need to drag you to the back and throw holy water in your face. Oh, I’m sorry. Did you mean what’s going on right now? I’m throwing you out. Get the hell out of my house. Now.
AUSTIN: Delia, I’m…just collecting…myself here. Why are you doing this? I’m just…in a bad way. I can fix this. I’m just…sick, ya know. Please, I can get better. I can be better. Just…let me work on it.
DELIA: Oh man, this doesn’t sound familiar to you? You said this last month, and in January, December, November, and October. I don’t care what you do to yourself anymore, but you need to leave or I’m calling the cops. Get your stu—what am I saying, you don’t really have anything, except for your rags and junk. JUST GO! I’m not going to put the past on replay with you anymore. I want you the fuck out of my house. Now.
AUSTIN: [tears fall steadily from his eyes like blinding precipitation] Where will I go? What…I mean, please? Please don’t give up? Give me another…
[he attempts to go in for a hug, but she presses her palms against his bony shoulders and shoves him away.]
DELIA: If you aren’t out in ten minutes, I will be on the phone with the police. You need help Austin. Lots. Help I can’t offer, and won’t even try. I hope you find something, some way that can cure you. I don’t want you dead, but I don’t want you here, either. Go.
[He sits up now, grabs a few shirts, three pairs of underwear, and some socks from off the floor. He reaches for his syringe, checks his corduroy pockets to see if he has a bit of smack left, and exits the room with his left hand covering his eyes. When he leaves, Delia begins to tear up again.]
AUSTIN: [returns, standing with his hand gripping the right side of the door frame] I’m sorry I’ve been this way. It’s all I know.
DELIA: [wipes her eyes with her shirt sleeve, and points toward the door] Get out Austin
[He walks off and, all at once, she crashes to the floor, sobbing.]
Shift over to a municipal church balcony. Austin is seated at the organ—layers of sound hum soft and hang on the air like helium. His eyebrows form a tight v-shape; he is intensely focused, possessed even. He smiles as his forefinger lets the last key rise and settles into its original position.
AUSTIN: [reaches into his pocket for a baggy filled with brown powder] Well, I suppose I’ve earned this now.
[He breaks out a spoon, puts some of the powder substance on it, pours a few drops of water on the powder, lights under the spoon until the powder and water effervesce—it almost bubbles over. He sets the spoon down gently, ties a rubber hose around the bony crease of his arm and, reaching into his denim jacket, front pocket for his syringe, draws up the murky brown liquid sitting in the depression of the spoon, then sticks the needle into an aquamarine vein. He removes the hose and looks blissfully sedated. He walks down the steps and lies down on one of the front pews, needle still in hand.]
FATHER STANIEL: [looks at Austin pityingly. He grabs the calf of Austin’s left leg and shakes him awake. Quietly]
My son…My son. [a little louder.] Austin!
AUSTIN: [in a daze, rolls over and hits his forehead on the backing of the pew.] Hmmmnnnuhhhh, what?
FATHER STANIEL: You fell asleep my son. You’re in the church.
AUSTIN: Oh. What?
FATHER STANIEL: I heard you playing the organ earlier from below the balcony. It was lovely. I was captivated, as I’m sure the Lord was. Was that your piece for our Easter morning Mass?
[notices the needle loosely held in Austin’s right hand.]
AUSTIN: [rubs his eyes with dry knuckles] Part of it. I’ve been writing a lot the past few nights. That’s why I fell asleep, Father. I’m sincerely sorry for that.
FATHER STANIEL: I will take no apologies for that. However, I will say that it’s going to be awfully difficult for you to get through the Mass if your head is in a false Heaven the whole time.
AUSTIN: [his features tighten, and his face burns crimson] I’ll be fine. Don’t you worry about me. I’ve heard just about as much as I can take this morning about my “choices.”
FATHER STANIEL: I meant no offence, son. We—I mean the community—have been worried about you. I cannot fib about that. You have been…a bit absent lately.
AUSTIN: [laughs] Oh, that’s it, huh? I’m just a goddamn ghost haunting this town, a sleepy ghost with no direction to go. So I just wander until I get to the center of some fucking pile of trash? Fuck you, Father.
FATHER STANIEL: Now there is no need for that detestable language in God’s house, my son. It is my understanding that you and Delia have…had some trouble of late. Would you care to perhaps talk about that?
AUSTIN: No, actually. No, I wouldn’t like to talk about my failing relationship, thanks. You’re feeling awful nosey today, aren’t you Father?
FATHER STANIEL: Not nosey, just curious and genuinely concerned. It seems that you are letting a liquid snake through your veins because it eases your immediate troubles. This divides you from the one you truly love.
AUSTIN: You’re preaching up the wrong junk tree, preacher. Reed said it best: “Heroin, it’s my wife and it’s my life.”
FATHER STANIEL: I just fret you are spinning out of control, my son. You may wake up one day behind bars, and with no one to bail you out. You could even, Heaven forbid, wither away and dissolve into this mortal coil before your time. You need to truly consider what it is that you are doing to yourself.
AUSTIN: I’ll spin and shoot up whenever I damn well please, and screw the rest of you who think you can decide my future for me. I AM IN CHARGE OF ME!
[stands and walks briskly toward the vestibule.]
FATHER STANIEL: My son!
[AUSTIN disappears behind the stained glass window of the double doors.]
Austin is walking on the sidewalk in the center of town. It is a chilly day for spring, and he notices Delia across the street in front of the pharmacy. He can see her breath as she turns one way, then another, preparing to cross the road. He stops and waits for her to close the distance between them.
AUSTIN: Delia, hi! [ignores him, walking right on by] Delia. HI! [He follows up behind her.]
DELIA: [turns] Step away from me, now. I swear to God, I’ll pepper spray you!
AUSTIN: [his head shrinks into his shoulders] I just wan—I just wanted…to apologize, again. … for everything. I’ve put you through a special kind of hell, and I want to do anything I can to make things right, return to where we were.
DELIA: [laughs] Return? To what, you falling asleep in your bodily fluids, and nearly choking on your vomit? I think I’m good.
AUSTIN: I meant, before I got…sick.
DELIA: [she looks remorseful] Believe me Austin, I’d love to go back to those greener pastures with you—those days where we would just drive around with no destination in mind—but we’ve traveled far from those peaceful days.
AUSTIN: I’m…working on it [DELIA looks down at his left pocket; she notices the corner of a baggy sticking out of the pocket.]
DELIA: Yeah, I can see you’re working real hard. You pick up where you left off last night? Goodbye Austin. I hope you find a way out of this prison you’ve built around yourself. Oh, and don’t bother trying to sneak back into the house tonight—I called a locksmith to come and change the locks this afternoon
[she walks off, leaving AUSTIN by himself to stand near the inactive street. Austin turns in the opposite direction. He is not far from his workplace—Ma’s diner. As he nears the restaurant, a man in vaudevillian dress and pantomime makeup stands juggling pears in front of the doors of this greasy spoon. A woman with oily, black hair shoos him away with a comically oversized broom.]
AUSTIN: Hey, Mary.
MARY: Hey, you come to do some work for me for a change?
AUSTIN: You know I’m not scheduled for today. I just come to see if maybe I can get a meal on the house. I’ll pay my bill once next week’s check is in.
MARY: You already down to a zero balance with this week’s?
AUSTIN: I’ve had…financial commitments.
MARY: I’m sure you have. Come in, we’ll fix ya a plate. Country fried steak, is it?
AUSTIN: That’ll do just fine, thanks. I need to hit the head to a take care of a leak first, though.
MARY: I’ll meet you by the counter and then we can talk about things not relating to urination.
[AUSTIN checks the one person bathroom door and finds it’s unlocked. He turns the knob, squeezes in, and shuts it promptly. He locks it and immediately begins preparing himself another shot. After the heroin courses through his veins, he sits up against the blue, tiled wall. Some time passes, and Austin is awakened by the sound of fierce knocking on the door.]
AUSTIN: [he stands, drowsily.] Comin’!
MARY: What’s going on, man? It’s been near a half-hour. You performing a colonoscopy on yourself in here?
AUSTIN: [mumbling] I just…woah. Hahaha … that’s good. I feel fine. I feel…just fine. I’m ready to eat some of that grub now.
MARY: [looks him up and down, skeptical] You sure you’re all right?
AUSTIN: Yeah, yeah, took care of business in there. I’m good to go. MARY: [they move over to the counter, AUSTIN walks sluggishly behind her] You can sit wherever. Your food might be a bit cold. Take a bite and let me know if it needs to be warmed.
AUSTIN: [smiles like a Cro-Magnon might, drools a bit, and the saliva pools on the counter. He takes up his fork and cuts off a piece of chicken]
Mmmmm…mmmmm…mmmmmm! You’ve outdone yourself this time Maaaarrry!
MARY: Glad you like it [phone rings] Oh, I need to go take that. I shouldn’t be long.
[AUSTIN looks back, sees an elderly couple behind him and smiles at them. He turns around and looks on the brink of passing out. In fact, he begins dozing in his seat, then slowly his head dips lower and lower until his cheek rests in the gravy drenching the chicken.]
MARY: [reentering the room—she cannot see AUSTIN yet] That was Bill. What a dick, going on about our low sales again, as if we can compete with the chains around her—Austin, what the hell?!
[she sees his face submerged in the gravy now, and begins shaking his shoulder until he starts to come back to some semblance of life.]
AUSTIN: Huh? Where are—what?
MARY: You’ve gotta go, dude. You’re weirding out the clientele. Beat it, man.
AUSTIN: But…but I didn’t finish my food yet.
MARY: [hands him the plate, and a fresh napkin] Take it to-go. You’re all fucked up, kid. [AUSTIN takes the plate, confused] And Austin …
MARY: Don’t bother coming back here until you’ve cleaned up a bit. I can’t have that shit here in my place of business. I like you, so I don’t mind givin’ ya another chance, but for the love of God, get your act together, man.
[AUSTIN turns around, ashamed. He walks toward the door and a bell tinkles as he opens it to exit. Other people in the restaurant roll their eyes and return to their midday meals.]
AUSTIN is back at the church. No one is there as it is one-thirty in the morning, according to the analog clock hanging on the western wall. He has just left the bathroom where he was hiding, following the exodus of midnight Mass attendees. He’s moving around the aisles, wired. He reaches into his empty right pocket, realizing that he does not have any more heroin, then reaches into the other and finds no money in it. He starts up the steps toward the organ. He begins practising his piece aggressively—he is agitated by the junk sickness. He plays until daybreak; the piece actually reaches a level of cohesion, fluidity. As the light pours through the stained glass windows lining the side wall of the cathedral, AUSTIN smiles, although he looks green from illness, and perspiration is visible on his face. He stops playing. It is now just about 6 A.M. on Easter Sunday and people start shuffling into the church—it’s time for the early Mass.
FATHER STANIEL is reading over his sermon notes as he walks in. He notices AUSTIN above and smiles at him.
FATHER STANIEL: Hello, my son. I’m glad you could make it.
AUSTIN: I have…nothing…else [some tears crawl out from his downcast eyes.]
FATHER STANIEL: Are you prepared to play?
AUSTIN: [wipes away the moisture] Yes, and it’ll surprise you to hear that I’m in my right mind.
FATHER STANIEL: We all just want to see the best you up there.
AUSTIN: Well, it’s me up here, but I’m not feeling my best [he stands on tippy toes and spots DELIA taking a seat in the back by herself.]
FATHER STANIEL: Grace under pressure, I think some might say. I’ll go and get us started. [adjusts the microphone on the podium] A Happy Easter Morning to all who made it today. I am grateful for the chance to spend this glorious day of our Lord with each and every one of you. This is, of course, a special day of remembrance for the resurrection of Christ, but also a day where we get to hear an original piece of music from our organist, Austin. I know we’re starting Mass a little unconventionally, but he’s worked real hard on honing this thing into workable form, so if you’ll devote your full attention to his playing, we’d be greatly appreciative. Without further adieu, here it is.
[Austin is sweating a lake’s worth of body liquid but tries to remain composed. He sits up straight, closes his eyes, and breathes through his nostrils. He hits the first note and falls into a fantastic, sleepless dream as he plays. Each high hum from the organ’s keys rises up to the highest arch of the cathedral, then crashes down when the notes become lower in tonality. He spreads the varying pitches through the room like a fog that’s alive—you can tell his piece is communicating something, because Delia is crying, along with some other women in the church crowd. Smiles spread across the faces of other churchgoers as his hands rise from the keys for the last time. They stand in unison and applaud. AUSTIN stands and smiles and waves his hand in appreciation. Then he runs to the bathroom and shoves his head under the lid of the toilet to throw up. He returns to listen to the rest of FATHER STANIEL’S sermon. Mass ends and people approach AUSTIN to compliment him on his performance. He walks straight past them over to where DELIA stands in the corner.]
DELIA: That was really…great, Austin. Very moving.
AUSTIN: I’m glad you enjoyed it. You weren’t far from my thoughts when I was putting it together. You actually were…the driving force.
DELIA: [blushes a little] I’m touched. I’m also glad to see you sober. I can tell, because your skin is the color of skim milk. Hey, would you want to…maybe…come over for a cup of coffee? It’d be nice to talk things over—see what your plan is, going forward.
AUSTIN: [looks into her eyes, his eyes round, tired, and sad. He looks down at her right hand; it holds a shiny, silver key between the forefinger and thumb] No.
DELIA: Wait…what? Are you serious?
AUSTIN: Yes. Coffee and your company aren’t going to be enough for me. I have a problem, Delia. I need professional help, help you can’t offer me. I’m going to rehab.
DELIA: But I can keep you off it, you don’t need to go away.
AUSTIN: Yes I do. I can’t kick this thing cold turkey. I need to go to the Library and look up some places nearby that can take me in [leans in and kisses her lips. Her eyes are still open from the apparent suddenness of his decision.] Goodbye Delia, I hope you’ll still be around when I’m back. Heroin runs my life, but I want to run away from it because I love you too much. So much so, that I need to do this the right way. I need to blot this poison out of my vocab for good.
[AUSTIN passes through the vestibule and opens the door, revealing the blinding sunshine from outside. DELIA stands alone with voices buzzing all around her. She looks at the ground, stupefied. She looks around, frenzied, and walks over to the altar. She lights a candle and prays for some time. She walks over to the confession booth, once the church clears out.]
DELIA: [sitting inside the booth now, crying] Father, it has been seven years since my last confession. I’ve come to you today to talk about my relationship. I have…encouraged my boyfriend to improve his mental health, but I have not truly believed in him, myself. He is sick, Father. Very sick. I think he might die, but I’m not sure how I feel about that. Not sure I’ll…care if he does [her small mouth twists into a bitter frown. She looks straight through the screen directly at Father Staniel’s side profile, visibly fighting back more tears]
He is going to use again, isn’t he?
FATHER STANIEL: [sighs] We have to…we have to pray to God, he doesn’t
[he opens the viewing slot with a swish, and pats her right hand which still holds the key.]