Seneca, his mother Marguerite, and Bucky
Seneca Decides to Take Nell Off the Respirator
(March 1976)

(Seneca is alone in Nell's hospital room listening to the sounds of the machines. At one point he goes over to look at the respirator and seems to contemplate unplugging it then and there. He doesn't though, and drifts off into what I guess is a flashback of Nell, only she is standing against a stark black backdrop.)

NELL: All the way out on the plane I kept trying to remember something from tennis: how dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rust unburnished, not to shine in use, as though to breathe were life.

(He comes to and is startled, just as Marguerite enters the room and puts her hand on his shoulder.)

SENECA: Mother!

MARGUERITE: Stay where you are, darling. Each time I come into this room I have to put aside the feeling that she's still here, that she's just resting, and she'll wake up soon and be ready to come home.

SENECA: I know.

(Seneca daydreams that Nell's bandages are gone, all her hair is in tact, and she wakes up energetically.)

NELL: Oh, I'm ready for anything! I can't wait to get out of here!

(Marguerite goes over to hug her.)

MARGUERITE: (joyed) Oh Nell!

NELL: Oh, it's so good to see you, darling. Thank you for coming.

MARGUERITE: Well, of course!

NELL: Listen, do you think that you could do something about him? (points to Seneca) I keep telling him that I'm ready to leave and he won't let me go!

SENECA: I can't, Nell.

NELL: What do you mean, you can't? You do anything you want, whenever you want to do it, and we all know that, so don't you dare say, "I can't," to me! (laughs) You don't want me to stay in here forever, do you?

(Back to reality, Marguerite is still at Nell's bedside, but Nell is not awake.)

SENECA: Where is she now? Where is Nell?

MARGUERITE: I've been wondering too, but I don't know.

SENECA: You know, when she was working her way through everything that was happening to her, we spent some time talking about life after death. Finally, I think she accepted the idea. She told me about her grandmother, who believed that the people she loved most in this life - her husband and her mother, I think - were waiting for her to help her through her own death.

VOICEOVER OF NELL: I'll wait for you.

MARGUERITE: That's very interesting, because when I was a child, my mother took me to visit the reservation. There was a chief who was a handsome, gentle old man. He was near death. I heard the grown-ups talking. They said that he'd had a dream, that his ancestors were waiting for him with feast fires and dancing and all the ancient ceremonies, and he'd asked to put on his robe and his headdress and to have his face painted, so that he could meet them with dignity (nods) in a way they would expect. They did this for him, of course, and I was told that he died joyfully.

SENECA: I want to let her go.

MARGUERITE: Yes, I know. (nods)

SENECA: She's trapped, somewhere between life here and whatever it is that's waiting for her. I feel...I feel that she's nowhere. I can accept Nell's death but I can't accept this - especially since I'm the one who did it to her.

MARGUERITE: (nods) May I ask you a question, Seneca?

SENECA: Of course.

MARGUERITE: If you were to release Nell - to take away the machine and let her die - what would happen to you?

SENECA: (turning away) I don't know, it all depends...

MARGUERITE: Don't evade.

SENECA: Well, there'd be an investigation, possibly an indictment, conceivably a conviction.

MARGUERITE: And you would go to prison?

SENECA: That's a possibility.

MARGUERITE: (nods) And you would never be allowed to practice medicine again? (He does not answer.) I think you should ask yourself if Nell would want that for you.

(Before he can answer, a nurse comes in to tell him Nick Szabo is looking for him. After he leaves, Marguerite goes over to Nell's bedside and watches her. In the next scene, Bucky and Marguerite and Seneca are in Seneca and Nell's apartment.)

MARGUERITE: (hugging Bucky) Oh, Bucky!

BUCKY: Marguerite, you look exactly the same. (shrugs) Well, maybe younger.

MARGUERITE: And you're just as charming as when you were a boy. It can't be ten years?

BUCKY: (nods, motions to Seneca) Their wedding.

MARGUERITE: Oh, I've thought about you so often. Nell always wrote about you in her letters. She was very proud of you.

BUCKY: (sadly) Well, it was mutual.

MARGUERITE: (holding his hand) I'm so sorry. She's here, but she's gone, and I don't see how anyone can accept that.

SENECA: You don't accept it, you do something about it.

MARGUERITE: Before you decide what to do, I hope you will think deeply about the consequences.

SENECA: Mother, I can't go off to the woods and think for a month. Nell is in that hospital room, at least her body is. Every day I see her, every day it's as if she's asking, "Why won't you help me?"

BUCKY: Seneca, how can you help her, by destroying yourself? I mean, do you really believe that you can unplug that respirator and nothing's going to happen, nobody's going to call in the police?

SENECA: Please, just don't talk to me about that. Jill Coleridge filled me in on the legal problems in glowing details.

MARGUERITE: And they are just as serious as we thought?

SENECA: Well, the staff would certainly realize what happened. There'd be an investigation, an indictment maybe, a trial. But I'd tell my side and hopefully they'd understand. If not, Nell would still be at peace.

BUCKY: Oh yeah, and you'd be in prison! You'd lose your license to practice medicine, your whole career.

SENECA: Bucky, I would still have my thoughts, my perceptions, my feelings, and that's a lot more than Nell has!

BUCKY: What do you want, some kind of trade-off - your future for Nell's death? Come on, Seneca, please! You've lost enough! You don't have to throw everything else away.

SENECA: Bucky, just trust me, please?

MARGUERITE: (getting up) You need to release Nell - in another place, in the past perhaps, even in the future. You could do this one last service for her, but it would be between a husband and his wife: simple, private. Here, now, it would be a matter for the whole world to judge, and I'm afraid the judgment will be harsh.

SENECA: Mother, she has a right to die. I love her, I want to keep her with me, but she's not alive. If Nell's brain is gone, then Nell is gone. She asked me not to let this happen. Mother, I promised.

(She puts her hands on his head and kisses him. Then she goes into the other room and we hear her begin to sing - not in English.)

BUCKY: (turning to Seneca) What is that, and Indian song? (Seneca, as if in a trance, doesn't answer.) What?

SENECA: It's the Seneca death chant.

(Bucky holds his head down. Seneca turns to leave.)

BUCKY: Where are you going?

SENECA: Back to the hospital.

(When he gets to the door, he stops a moment, listens to Marguerite's song, and then leaves. He then goes to the hospital and proceeds to unplug Nell's life support.)

More Scene Transcripts

Back to Ryan's Bar Online