the kindness of strangers

(RICK is driving a car. MARY is in the passenger seat. it's extremely cold outside)

RICK: (too eager) You're going to love this place, trust me. Great food. Omelettes like a dream. If the Omelette God walked amongst us, this is where he'd be. (nervous laugh, which MARY does not share) Or she. If they were. Here. The, uh, Omelette God. (they sit in stony silence) So, uh, you hungry? Because I could eat a...(trails off as MARY gives him a hateful look. they sit in silence for a moment) Look, I'm really sorry about the movie. It looked like light-hearted fun! Believe me, if I had known that your parents were trampled by wild rampaging gorillas, I would have taken you to a different one. (more silence) So anyway, this restaurant. Great, into bread? Let me tell you...

(the car makes sputtering noises)

RICK: Whoa. That doesn't sound good. Um. Let me stop the car for a second to look at that. If you don't mind. (MARY says nothing) It'll only be a moment. (stops the car, tries to sound friendly) I hope I didn't make you too eager for this place. Don't want your appetite rampaging out of control! (MARY gives him a look of hateful disbelief) Uh, sorry. Your parents must have been lovely people. I'd be willing to put money on it. Love to have met them. I, uh, fixing this, now. See you soon.

(RICK pops the hood and gets out of the car. he lifts the hood, props it up, and stares blankly at the engine. he nods as though he's come to some decision, closes the hood, and gets back into the car)

RICK: Okay, that should take care of it. (tries to start the car, but the engine won't turn over) It probably just needs a second. (waits, tries again, fails) Hmm. They, uh, do this sometimes. It's their way of...(tries again, fails) being, uh, dead. You know, we don't have to go out to dinner. I've got some crackers in the glove compartment.

(MARY gets out of the car. RICK follows her)

RICK: It's warmer inside. (quickly) Fresh air, though. Great idea. (MARY waves for a car) Yeah, that's cool, if we could just get a jump from someone...(a car pulls up and MARY gets in) Right, go ahead and ask him if...(the car pulls away) If he could go into town and get some help while I wait here! Okay! See you in a minute!

(RICK is left alone, shivering)

RICK: (looking around) Ah, balls. (kicks at the snow, grows bored, shivers. several moments pass. he looks up) She's not being fair to the rest of the world's monkeys. What a judgemental ho-bag. (looks around some more. makes a snowball, realizes he has no one to throw it at, then drops it. makes a snowman) Snowman, I find you guilty of credit fraud. Prepare to be punished.

(RICK begins to peg the snowman with snowballs. he is still doing this as TED drives up)

TED: Hi there! Having some trouble?
RICK: (doesn't look at him) Oh, my aim isn't that bad.
TED: (friendly laugh) No, I meant your car. Are you having trouble with your car?
RICK: (stops throwing, surprised) Yeah, I am.
TED: Need a jump?
RICK: Yeah...yeah, that'd be great! Thanks!
TED: Well, pop your hood and let's get started!

(TED gets his jumper cables out while RICK re-opens his hood)

TED: If you could please keep the red and the black separated for me...(hands RICK the cables, opens his own hood, hooks them up on both cars) Okay, ready to give it a go?
RICK: Sure am!

(both get into their cars. TED starts his, and RICK tries to start his but fails. TED gets out and comes over)

RICK: Damn it. (sighs) I don't know what's wrong with it. Look, if you need to take off, I can just call a tow truck or something.
TED: I've got plenty of time. Let's get this car going.
RICK: (smiles) Thanks.
TED: The fuel may not be reaching the engine. We need a spark...(looks RICK up and down) Are you hungry?
RICK: (surprised) Kind of. I was about to go out to eat, actually.
TED: Do you like Spaghetti-O's?
RICK: Sure!
TED: (gets a grocery bag out of his car) Here. I just went shopping.
RICK: This whole bag?
TED: Yeah, it's yours.
RICK: I don't have any cash on me...
TED: Don't worry about it. You like Lucky Charms?
RICK: Sure, they're good.
TED: There's some of them in there. Also a steak, but wait until you get home to eat that.

(TED starts working on the engine. RICK looks around, somewhat confused about this sudden generosity. he isn't sure what to do)

TED: Try it. (no success) Again. (no success) Hmm.
RICK: Are you sure you don't want any of this food for yourself?
TED: Don't mention it. I probably won't be all that hungry for the next two weeks.
RICK: Are you...
TED: (intent) No, seriously. Don't mention it.
RICK: (taken aback for a moment, then relaxes) Hey, this is really cool of you. All this. I just wanted you to know that. Thanks.
TED: It's no problem.
RICK: My name's Rick, by the way.
TED: Ted. Nice to meet you.
RICK: I wish I knew more about cars than I do. I hate getting stuck in situations like this.
TED: I do too. I've learned a little from airplane engines and that's it. Small plane engines are pretty similar, actually. You'd be surprised. (puts his arm down in where the engine would be, back to the audience) Alright, try to start it.
RICK: Aren't you going to come out from under there?
TED: No. I'm going to try to create a spark that will start the engine combustion.
RICK: Is that safe?
TED: Don't worry about me, kid. We're getting you out of here.
RICK: Are you....
TED: Do it. Trust me.
RICK: (unsure) Okay...(tries, fails) No good!
TED: (turns around, his hand is now a bloody stump) There's got to be a way...
RICK: (sees the hand) Holy shit, your hand!
TED: Ah, it's nothing. I jammed it into the fan blades, but I guess that wasn't enough of a spark to get it going. Now...
RICK: I've got to get you to a hospital!
TED: It's no problem at all. I do this all the time.
RICK: But your hand!
TED: Look, kid, I'm not walking away from this, so erase that thought from your head.
RICK: You're going to bleed to death!
TED: I do this all the time, my friend. Now will you please relax?
RICK: No! You're...Jesus that's a lot of blood!
TED: (thinks) Okay, we have two choices. We could get it rolling and the momentum might be enough to start the car if you pop the clutch while it's going. Or I could just give you my truck.
RICK: How could we roll it? This is a totally flat area.
TED: Right. That won't work. Guess you're going to have to take my truck.
RICK: And go into town for some help?
TED: No. Take it. It's yours.
RICK: Your...
TED: Take it.
RICK: No way.
TED: (reaches in his pocket, gets a piece of paper) This is the title to the truck. I'm signing it over to you.
RICK: This is really too much...
TED: You don't like it?
RICK: No, it's a nice truck, but...
TED: Rick, what do I have to do here? Take my truck.
RICK: Ted, it's your truck...
TED: (takes a gun out of his jacket, shoots himself in the right leg, and fall to the ground) There. I couldn't even drive it if I wanted to.
RICK: You shot yourself!
TED: You're darn right I did. (stuffs title in RICK's pocket) Now get out of here, old bean.
RICK: No way. There's no way I can do this.
TED: There's no way you can't do this. You own that truck now. Might as well drive it.
RICK: Ted, you're fucking nuts.
TED: Don't be rude, Rick. Now get out of here before you catch hypothermia.
RICK: But you...
TED: I'll be fine. Did this twice already tonight alone.
RICK: You've lost a lot of blood. You're probably delirious. I should...
TED: Go on, get out of here.
RICK: Alright, but I'm coming back with an ambulance...
TED: Why bother? I'll have left. No problem. Really.
RICK: Ted, isn't there something I can do for you? I mean...why are you doing all this?
TED: (beatific) Just do something nice for someone you meet one day, Rick.
RICK: (goes into internal monologue) What an amazing guy. After all that, he doesn't expect anything in return. Wow. I mean, he doesn't even know me. He's not acting this way because of some good thing that I did. It's a completely random act of kindness and it's totally unconditional. He's like a force of nature. Or a saint. (pauses) So what does that make me? What have I done for people in my life? I've never done anything like this...and now I'll never be able to. You know why? Because what he did was totally random. How can you make up for something random? Now if I try to do something like this, it won't be pure. It'll be me attempting to return a favor that can't be returned. It'll be a hollow imitation. A sad attempt to prove I'm a good person too. I can never do anything nice without it being fake because of that. Who is he, anyway? He's a saint and I'm an ogre. Thanks to him, I'll never be anything but an ogre. That's his scam. He catches me off guard so I don't know what to say about this barrage of kindness and as a result I'm stuck forever being an ungrateful ogre. Well fuck that. I'm not going to walk around feeling all guilty like he wants me to. I'm not an ogre, damn it.

(RICK comes out of monologue, picks up a baseball bat and breaks TED's knees)

RICK: Jerk.

(RICK leaves)

the kindness of strangers by marc heiden january 1999