Katie Duggan is a writer of fiction, plays, and musicals from New Jersey. She is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Cambridge, and has had her theatrical works performed in the United States and the United Kingdom.

White Noise

Katie Duggan

CHARACTERS

DRIVER – 20s, any gender.

PASSENGER – 20s, any gender. Partner of driver.

 

SETTING

A car driving down a dark highway on a cold, rainy night.

DRIVER and PASSENGER are driving down a dark highway. They’re both terrified of something, but neither of them wishes to acknowledge what it is. They try to dance around whatever the fear is between them, but despite their attempt, something still hangs in the air.

PASSENGER

Are your lights on?

DRIVER

If they weren’t on, we wouldn’t be able to see the road at all.

PASSENGER

Oh. Okay. Just wanted to make sure.

Beat.

PASSENGER

What about the defogger?

DRIVER

(gesturing at windshield) Do you see any fog on this windshield?

PASSENGER

No. But… that doesn’t answer my question. See, maybe I don’t see any fog because there is no fog, or maybe I don’t see any fog because you have the defogger on, and I just want to get it straight—

DRIVER

No fog. No defogger. Just rain. That’s why the windshield wipers are on. You can see that they’re on, can’t you? Or do you need to ask me?

PASSENGER

(wounded) Okay, sorry. I just… wanted to check.

Beat.

DRIVER

Listen, I just don’t need you policing me as I drive.

PASSENGER

I’m not.

DRIVER

Let’s just… stay calm, okay? Everything will be alright.

Twenty seconds or so of silence.

PASSENGER

Do you mind if I turn the radio on?

Before waiting for an answer, PASSENGER turns on the radio. Some AM news station. PASSENGER flips to another station—sports. Keeps flipping, pausing on each station to listen for a second or two.

DRIVER

Hey, will you stop fiddling with all the buttons? Jeez.

PASSENGER instantly stops changing the station, and leaves it on a static channel. Ten seconds of static. PASSENGER starts to move to turn it off.

DRIVER

No, no, leave it. I kind of like it. Some white noise. You know, I’ve been meaning to try out one of those white noise machines for a while. They’re supposed to help you sleep better. (quickly turns to PASSENGER) Not that I’m going to fall asleep right now, before you say anything. Relax.

(Beat.)

Hah. Now I feel like I’m in Poltergeist or something. Did you ever hear those theories about how the movie was cursed? All these people involved met these tragic ends? I don’t think I believe it, though. I don’t believe in curses or superstitions.

A long pause. The static grows louder.

PASSENGER

I never saw it.

DRIVER

What?

PASSENGER

I never saw it. I never saw that movie… Poltergeist. 

DRIVER

Huh. Didn’t we… didn’t we go see it when we first started dating?

PASSENGER

Did we?

DRIVER

Yeah, I’m sure we did. It was a special Halloween screening. I remember the guy in front of us got so scared he left halfway through. Oh, and remember you spilled the huge tub of popcorn when we sat down? And then you made me go back and get another one.

PASSENGER

Huh. I don’t remember any of that. Maybe you were with someone else.

DRIVER

No, I don’t think so.

A few seconds of silence.

PASSENGER

Hey, what’s your favorite movie?

DRIVER

What—

PASSENGER

Just answer quickly. All-time favorite movie.

DRIVER

Oh, I don’t know.

PASSENGER

Come on, what is it?

DRIVER

You know what kind of movies I like.

PASSENGER

But I don’t know your favorite.

DRIVER

Huh.

PASSENGER

I’ll tell you mine. Do you know mine?

DRIVER

No.

PASSENGER pauses a moment before answering.

PASSENGER

It’s Citizen Kane.

DRIVER

Huh. Weird.

PASSENGER

Yeah. Citizen Kane. A classic.

Beat of awkward silence.

 

So…? What’s yours?

DRIVER

Well, now I’m embarrassed.

PASSENGER

Why?

DRIVER

Well, yours is this old black-and-white movie, and mine’s something stupid—

PASSENGER turns the station on the radio. Country rock. Driver snaps it off.

PASSENGER

I hate it when someone you’ve met a bunch of times before pretends like they don’t know you. When they ask “What’s your name” or say “Nice to meet you” after you interact, when you both know that you’ve met before. Sometimes I give people a break—sometimes people genuinely don’t remember. They’re not the ones I'm angry about, though. The ones that make me mad is when someone says “What’s your name?” when we both know we’re friends on Facebook or fucking LinkedIn or whatever. It’s like we don’t want to admit that we remember someone, that we recognize them, as if remembering their name is admitting that we think about them, that we care about them maybe too much, and lord knows we can’t admit that. No—the worst is when someone averts their eyes when walking past you to pretend like they didn’t see you. You lock eyes with the person for a split second. You both see each other. You both know that the other person knows you’ve seen each other. But then you both pretend otherwise.

DRIVER coughs loudly, dry hacking cough.

DRIVER

My favorite movie’s Titanic, for the record.

Beat.

DRIVER (cont’d)

I’ve always wondered how it felt for the people making that movie. Like, the ones who played all those people dying. Was it weird for the actor to pretend to die?

PASSENGER

I don’t know.

DRIVER

And is it any weirder than actually dying?

PASSENGER is visibly uncomfortable.

PASSENGER

What’s wrong with you, saying this kind of stuff to me now—

DRIVER

And it’s pretty fucked up, when you think about it. Hollywood is so quick to monetize any tragedy—

PASSENGER

The movie came out, like, a hundred years after the ship sank.

DRIVER

Exactly.

More silence.

DRIVER

Well, don’t all movies monetize your feelings? Take Citizen Kane, for instance. They take this horrible newspaper guy, but then they make you feel all bad for him just because he had an unhappy childhood and all he wanted to do was ride on his sled—

PASSENGER

I don’t know. It’s a good movie.

DRIVER

Sure.

A few seconds of silence.

DRIVER

You remember when we went to Medieval Times?

PASSENGER

Yeah.

DRIVER

Now, that’s weird. I wonder what it’s like for those actors, to be pretending to be knights—

DRIVER and PASSENGER suddenly turn to notice something on the side of the road.

PASSENGER

What was that?

DRIVER

Accident.

PASSENGER

A boy?

DRIVER

Yeah.

Beat.

 

DRIVER

I love it when you share a knowing glance with a stranger. I love it when something weird happens that nobody else seems to notice, and you have this brief moment of connection with the one other person who does, like you’re the only two people seeing what’s in front of you. Like when I’m walking down the street, and an insanely tall man walks by, or old man whizzes past on a unicycle. And nobody else turns their head to look, nobody else seems to notice, except for me and one other lady who’s stopped dead in her tracks. And then the two of us lock eyes for just a second, and our smiles spread. We both have a little secret laugh, and then continue on our way. I love it when you’re the only one to get a joke. Nobody else gets it, and nobody else needs to.

PASSENGER does not acknowledge the monologue. Beat.

PASSENGER

This traffic is ridiculous. Where did all these cars come from? Did they just appear out of nowhere? God, I feel like I’m in a dream.

PASSENGER is visibly antsy.

DRIVER

Nothing we can do about it.

PASSENGER

Maybe we should take a different exit. Get off this road.

DRIVER

I don’t know.

PASSENGER

Well, it’s already 11 o’clock. We can’t really afford to get held up here—

DRIVER

(suddenly annoyed) Don’t you think I already fucking know that? Don’t you think I’m already trying to get there as fast as I can?

PASSENGER

You were barely cracking 55 before—

DRIVER

Because I didn’t want to get pulled over! That’s the last thing we need right now.

Beat of awkward silence.

PASSENGER

(quietly) Do you think we’ll make it in time?

DRIVER

What kind of question is that? How am I supposed to fucking answer? What do you want me to say? No? No, we won’t make it. We’ll be too late. Too fucking bad for us.

PASSENGER

Hey, I’m sorry—

DRIVER

And you don’t think I’ve already thought about all this? What if we are too late? What if it’s really as bad as they all said and it’s over before we get there? What the fuck are we supposed to do then? Just turn right back around and go home as if nothing happened?

PASSENGER

(very softly) Stop it, please. It’s not going to be like that—

DRIVER

You don’t know, you don’t have any power in the universe. You can’t control it. You can’t control any of it. Stop pretending like you can—

They suddenly notice another accident on the side of the road.

PASSENGER

Wow. Another one.

DRIVER

Yeah.

PASSENGER looks out the window at the rain.

PASSENGER

Really coming down.

DRIVER coughs loudly.

PASSENGER

Bad cough.

DRIVER turns on the radio. Instrumental music. Pause.

PASSENGER

People focus on their phone, fix their hair, stare off into space; they’ll do anything to avoid looking at you, making eye contact. You do the same, but as you approach, you keep looking back at them, hoping they’ll wave or give some signs of recognition, but then you both just end up walking past one another. And then the next time it happens, you don’t even fucking bother to look at them, to hope they might recognize you or, god forbid, say hi. Because nobody wants to do that, because we all want to seem so aloof and so unconcerned with the other people around us, wanting them to all recognize us but not wanting to recognize them, because admitting that is somehow admitting we care about other people, as if that’s the worst thing in the world.

DRIVER

I don’t know what we’re going to do.

PASSENGER

I… I don’t know where I am anymore. If any of this is real.

DRIVER

(not listening) You know what your parents should do? They should sue that family for all they’re worth. Honestly, it was just reckless to leave something that has the power to end a human life right there on the coffee table. Who the hell leaves a gun out where kids can get it, what kind of fucking hillbilly trash owns a fucking gun in the first place—

PASSENGER

Calm down…

DRIVER

And of course, it’s not like their kid was hurt. No, those idiots just let their inbred son roam freely around, letting him pick up a gun and shoot kids all willy-nilly. I mean, what year is it? Does stuff like that still even happen—

PASSENGER

I told you before to stop this—

DRIVER

My question though—why was your sister hanging around with those kinds of kids in the first place? I mean, Sasha seems like a pretty smart girl, but stuff like this makes you wonder. When she gets out you’re really going to have to talk to her about the people she associates herself with. I know she’s young, but she’s got to have standards

PASSENGER

Jesus Christ, stop!

 

Long pause. Painfully long.

PASSENGER

Our exit’s the next one.

DRIVER

I know. We’ll be there soon.

PASSENGER

I know.

Another long pause.

DRIVER

I’m sorry.

No response. Silence.

God, it’s so dark. Kind of makes me feel like I’m dead.

 

Eventually, DRIVER switches the radio back on, with the volume low. It’s a bass-heavy dance song. The song gets progressively fuzzier.

PASSENGER

We’re losing the signal.

DRIVER

Should I change it?

PASSENGER

No, leave it. The other stations are probably all like this anyway.

DRIVER

Okay.

Ten seconds or so of silence. The song becomes entirely static. 

PASSENGER motions to turn it off, but then reconsiders, and turns the volume up slightly.

DRIVER turns, as if to say something, unable to find the words, and instead just looks at PASSENGER for a long time, before returning their eyes to the road.

PASSENGER glances at DRIVER, then turns away.

Both stare ahead.

The static becomes unbearably loud.

Lights fade to black.

End of play.