Open on an empty stage, except for an upturned shipping crate and an unopened IKEA box. The time: the second between 23:59 31st December and 00:00 1st January (represented by white text on black background, projected on to a surface at the back of the stage). Two women (or queer men/trans*/black activists/etc.) sit in the centre. They are both in winter clothing – long coats, scarfs, etc. THE YEAR THAT WAS is insular, smoking a cigarette. She sits on the shipping crate. THE YEAR TO COME gazes out to the crowd, upwards; she sits on the unopened IKEA box.
THE YEAR TO COME: (excited, glancing at THE YEAR THAT WAS to see if she reacts (she doesn’t)) So… here we are. The New Year. Sounds cosmic, doesn’t it? Fictional. We’re well into the third millennium now; third time lucky, right? I’m excited for what’s going to come. The future isn’t as set as some think. It changes, moves, adapts. Sometimes the most beautiful things aren’t there yet, or stay forever as possibility… (pause) I’m going to be born in a downpour of fire and light. I can’t wait. Even if I could, I wouldn’t. Humans will send up their rockets that will burst into stars and multiply into other angelic beings on their own trajectories, illuminating the black. Monuments will dazzle. I see it! I see it… now… no – nearly… nearly…
THE YEAR THAT WAS: (exhaling cigarette smoke, sighing) Uh-huh.
THE YEAR TO COME: What’s your problem?
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Problem? What problem? I don’t know about my problems – well, what WERE my problems. That’s all on you now. I’m done, I’m (gestures to projection) a second away from sweet, sweet non-existence.
THE YEAR TO COME: Those problems aren’t going to persist. This is the year we find solutions.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Nothing could be worse than the year before mine, I said, nothing. And don’t get me started on the year before THAT! But then, of course, same as it ever was – violence bloomed further, plagues sprung from dark spots, impossibilities were transgressed… my blood is stained with evil, and yours will be too, come the next cycle.
THE YEAR TO COME (childlike defiance): No. It’ll be different this time.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Sure.
She takes another drag of her cigarette. THE YEAR TO COME leans closer to her.
THE YEAR TO COME: Think what could be achieved if you weren’t so cynical. You believe in nothing, that’s what makes it so.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: My “beliefs” were exhausted by the twelve months.
THE YEAR TO COME: You’re so obsessed with this wider picture, the one beyond your grasp. You spend so much time dawdling on inner networks and outer webs, the ones that carry the pretence of connection but don’t really. The ones that don’t connect.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Oh please, YOU try to be empathetic and cuddly with the burden of experience on your back.
THE YEAR TO COME: You need to turn away from yourself. Your own words. It is not good to be like this. Just… breathe.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Don’t patronise me.
THE YEAR TO COME: Just… (dramatic breath in, then out) let… (again) …go.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Piss off.
THE YEAR TO COME: Take the future in your hand. All is not lost, I know it! We have survived worse, we have survived THE WORST, we’ll survive anything, I believe—
THE YEAR THAT WAS: (interrupting her; as if to herself) Evil is a virus. Terror in January to darkness in November. An office to a city of death. Mourning across America, Africa, Asia; governments of hope crushed by governments of fear; so many deaths.
THE YEAR TO COME: Look at the statistics.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Oh, PLEASE.
THE YEAR TO COME: We are at our most peaceful time ever; mass literacy is up, extreme poverty is down, there’s fewer deaths than any other time in history.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Death is an unbearable loss, however small the scale.
THE YEAR TO COME: But we gained too! Look what bloomed inside you, what progress was impregnated by human endeavour. Marriages. Scientific feats, sheer miracles.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Climate change. The world’s still burning.
THE YEAR TO COME: Targets have been set. And I believe we will pass them.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: You idiot.
THE YEAR TO COME: So be it, better to act out a fantasy of what you want, than to wallow in smugness!
THE YEAR TO COME: Sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped-
THE YEAR THAT WAS: No, no, by all means, I admire the hypocrisy, who cares, whatever. I’m about to disappear anyway…
THE YEAR TO COME: All the more reason to apologise.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: It won’t matter. (muttering to herself) Who knew my last tribulation would be so fucking maudlin… (sudden anger, facing THE YEAR TO COME) You’re a child. You romanticise the past, but let me tell you this: History is not some grand golden arc to greatness. It’s a festering archive. It’s dead, like those networks you oh-so love, except with all the… (inventing a word on the spot) QUIXOTICA sucked out of it. All versions of the past were once ahead, from the fascist to the postmodern, flexible to the whims of bullshit utopia. Sure, whatever. But then fantasy collides with trauma, and thus, out of the flames, the forge – the wobbly present. The future is built on past tragedies. You can’t wrench that away from causality. You can’t tear yourself off the rusted, ancient, (pained) oh-so-very ancient, chain of being. A crosshatch of scratches on shattered sepia glass, that’s history for you.
THE YEAR TO COME: You’re scared.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Of what.
THE YEAR TO COME: Of that, of being relegated to history.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: No I’m not.
THE YEAR TO COME: Yeah you are.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: No, I’m not. I can’t wait to stop existing.
THE YEAR TO COME: In one second I will be thrust into my twelve months of improvised interrogation, my great contemporaneity, and you will fade into the past.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Yeah, no shit, that’s what I’ve been saying. Fading into absence. Surviving only as a few faint gasps of skewed recollection, the throes of meagre action. Memes. It’s nasty, but not my problem. It’s going to be yours, though.
THE YEAR TO COME (kneeling on the floor beside the crate, speaking upwards to her, pointing at the projection): Use this second. Now. Look at yourself, look at all those small infinities, those patches of light, within. Map that out to a positive total.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: No.
THE YEAR TO COME: Why.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: It’s irrelevant.
THE YEAR TO COME: Understanding there’s more to life than misery isn’t apologetics, it’s not like that’s the inherent state of the universe.
THE YEAR THAT WAS (spluttering with laughter): It isn’t?! What, pray tell, is the condition, of life, and the universe, if not pain.
THE YEAR TO COME: Potential.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Jesus Christ.
THE YEAR TO COME: I mean it.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Potential for what?
THE YEAR TO COME (shrugs): Love.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: This second can’t end fast enough.
THE YEAR TO COME (suddenly snapping): Age doesn’t relegate your thoughts to a permanent pedestal, you know. Your sharpness wanes and withers with age! Just because you have had the burden of experience does not make you better than me.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Wait until you get to my age. You’ll see, you’ll be bickering with the year after yours. Wisdom brings misery. Enlightenment is cold, bitterly cold. Time is a factory of decaying flowers.
THE YEAR TO COME: Oh, VERY poetic. Is a flower defined by its end?
THE YEAR THAT WAS (shrugs): I dunno. I’m just waiting for the end. Have been since February.
THE YEAR TO COME: Maybe we’re both wrong. Always skewed.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Oh stop, I can’t be fucked with epistemology at this time of night.
THE YEAR TO COME: Life is life. Nothing less, all more than our words and communication. So love.
THE YEAR TO COME: I’m scared too, you know. And uncertain. But I can’t just curl myself and will darkness.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Why.
Beat. She stands up, paces around.
THE YEAR TO COME: An animal instinct to be sapient, I guess. Impulsive rationality. Other paradoxes.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: You’re going to get hurt.
THE YEAR TO COME: I know.
Pause. THE YEAR THAT WAS reaches for another cigarette.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: There’s two sides of this coin, Earth.
THE YEAR TO COME: Flipping in the void…
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Onwards to the bright future. (they lock eyes) Something like that.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: You got a light?
THE YEAR TO COME: Yeah.
She reaches for a lighter and goes over to her. THE YEAR THAT WAS puts the cigarette in her mouth, pushes her face out. THE YEAR TO COME lights it for her. THE YEAR THAT WAS inhales.
THE YEAR TO COME: You think you have time for another one?
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Probably not. (pause; another toke, then) I know the pain of watching light dim into despair. I know the cycle, like all the years before me do. I look at you, and I think… what a waste of infinite energy. But I cannot, for the last waning life of me, think of an alternative to this.
THE YEAR TO COME: What do you mean by “this”?
THE YEAR THAT WAS (beat; with a shrug): Hope.
Beat. THE YEAR TO COME sits on the crate, with THE YEAR THAT WAS.
THE YEAR TO COME: This year is going to be a rebirth. I’ll decree it. We have to keep going. (kindly) You are wrong.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: You’re going to lose the fight. Like I did.
THE YEAR TO COME: I still see great things in you and always will. There will be evil, hope will die in places, but the grand haul is… it’s going to be blinding. Brilliant. Of light. Trust me. I believe it.
THE YEAR THAT WAS (with a sigh): In faith we trust, huh? (A sad smile) So you’re going to solve the greatest problems. The wrestle between meaning and futility. The universe itself.
THE YEAR TO COME (thinks this over, then, with a shrug): Yeah, I guess.
THE YEAR THAT WAS laughs.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Well, I wish you luck. It is all I can do now.
The bong of clock-bells. They both stand.
THE YEAR THAT WAS: Well, that’s it. (feigned enthusiasm) Time for me to expand my being into nothingness!
THE YEAR TO COME: I’ll see you on the other side of everything.
They look at each other. THE YEAR THAT WAS smiles, nods, wipes away a tear, and exits. THE YEAR TO COME looks out into the audience.
THE YEAR TO COME: I look into the ocean and see the lit horizon, orange as creation. This… is time. Time, time as a spectrum of blue hues darkening, lightening, darkening again, lightening with greater passion than ever before, all this momentum in waves and waves, interrupted by clouds, their silver linings… what shall the future bring? We will see. Wait with me on the coast, the edge of certain things, and experience this with me. Feel the flow of all things. Yes… yes.
White, the lights intensifying. THE YEAR TO COME exits into the audience.