Notification of Death
I actually did some research for this one, in that I read a pamphlet on how to break the news that someone’s loved one has died. It’s a thing I sometimes think about – would I be able to do it? How would I feel receiving the news? We talk about each moment being previous but this is a tangible moment where you measure your life before it, and your life after it, where everything is different. Anyway, this play isn’t about that, really, but that’s where it started in my head.
Notification of Death
The ground floor of a house. The front door is visible SR and it goes straight into an open lounge area – there’s a flight of stairs going up centre stage and then the door to the kitchen SL. The flat is clean and relatively tidy with a few signs of personality; a pink lace cushion, a shelf with Forever Friend ceramic bears on it, etc.
SARAH is passed out on the couch. She is wearing smart business clothes.
The door bell rings. SARAH doesn’t move.
The door bell rings. SARAH suddenly grunts and sits up. She’s bewildered.
The door bell rings again. SARAH realises it’s the door and unsteadily walks towards it.
The door bell rings again. She fumbles the keys, which are on a hook by the door, and then finally manages to open it.
On the other side are AISHA, and TIM, police officers in full uniform.
SARAH is suddenly rigid and wide awake.
AISHA: Hello. Are you Sarah Bolam?
AISHA: Mrs Bolam, may we come in?
ADREA: No. . . What. . . Why?
TIM: Mrs Bolam. I’m Officer Timothy Kent, and this is Officer Aisha Kazi. We need to speak to you. May we come in please?
SARAH stares at TIM then nods and walks away from the door, leaving it open.
AISHA: Thank you Mrs Bolam.
They enter, Aisha shutting the door behind them. They both look around the room as they come into the centre.
SARAH stops and turns to look at them.
AISHA: May we sit?
SARAH nods. AISHA gestures to the sofa.
SARAH nods. They sit on the sofa; AISHA noticing the vodka bottle as she does so. SARAH stays standing.
AISHA: You should sit too, Mrs Bolam.
SARAH sits straight down on the armchair.
AISHA: I’m afraid we have bad news.
SARAH is unmoving.
TIM: I am very sorry to tell you that Steven Bolam died a little under two hours ago.
SARAH stares at him.
AISHA: Mrs Bolam – would you like me to call you Mrs Bolam or would you prefer me to call you Sarah?
SARAH stares at TIM, and continues to do so throughout:
AISHA: Mrs Bolam, we would like to tell you what we know at present about your husband’s death. We understand that this may upset or disturb you. Please stop me at any time and feel free to interrupt me if there is anything that we say which you do not understand, dislike, or need repeating. You may take notes if you wish. Would you like to do that?
SARAH stares at TIM
At 5pm your husband left work and was driving back here using the ring road. His car was described as driving at high speed, in a manner consistent with brake failure. We believe that, in attempt not to hit an on-coming lorry, he swerved, lost control of the vehicle and struck a tree to the side of the road. The lorry driver pulled over and phoned for an ambulance. Unfortunately, by the time the ambulance arrived Mr Bolam had already passed away; it appears he suffered a fatal head wound on impact, although that will need to be confirmed by the coroner.
His body has been taken to the York City morgue. Once you have hired undertakers they will be able to collect the body there, as the autopsy should be complete by tomorrow.
Mr Bolam’s car was irrevocably damaged and has been taken away for analysis to identify if a fault was responsible for the incident and then it will be destroyed. We have here the case number of the incident for you to use when contacting the insurance company, and here (she proffers a carrier bag) are the personal effects we removed from the vehicle.
SARAH continues to stare at TIM. AISHA slowly places the bag on the sofa next to her.
TIM: Mrs Bolam. It was an accident. A tragic accident. And no one was to blame for it. We are very sorry for your loss.
AISHA looks at him sharply then looks back at SARAH
AISHA: Do you have any questions, Mrs Bolam?
Beat. SARAH suddenly stands.
SARAH: You must be thirsty. I’ll make you tea.
AISHA: No really, Mrs Bolam there’s no. . .
SARAH turns and walks into the kitchen and closes the door behind her. AISHA immediately turns to TIM.
AISHA: Why did you say that?
AISHA: About no one being to blame?
TIM: Well, what? Nobody is to blame!
AISHA: That’s not up to us to decide – that’s up to the coroner.
TIM: Yeah, but it wasn’t anybody’s fault. Did you see the look on the poor lorry driver’s face? He’d have caved and told us if he’d been going too fast. The shakes on him.
AISHA: Not our call, Tim, stick to your training!
The sound of a kettle boiling off stage.
I do death notifications all the time. This is your first, right?
TIM: Yeah, and I appreciate you letting me come with.
AISHA: Don’t know why you were so keen.
TIM: Got to start using all that training sometime, right?
Pause. AISHA picks up the bottle of vodka.
AISHA: There’s something not right here.
SARAH suddenly comes back in.
AISHA: No, thank you.
TIM: No, no, thank you, Mrs Bolam.
SARAH abruptly turns and leaves.
Tim looks at the bottle.
TIM: So? She likes a drink?
AISHA: At 7:20 on a Tuesday evening?
TIM: Maybe she’s got a problem?
AISHA: That’s what’s weird. Does this look like the house of an alcoholic? Place is spotless.
TIM: Is that what they teach you when you become a family liaison officer? How to snoop into the public’s drinking habits?
SARAH comes back in with a tray which she puts on the coffee table. She is now wearing an apron with a large front pocket. She passes AISHA a tea, and then does the same for TIM. He nurses it. SARAH sits.
AISHA: Did you have any questions for us, Mrs Bolam?
SARAH (Pause. Not looking at Aisha:) Will I have to see the body?
AISHA: No. We were able to identify his body from the photo on his driving license so you won’t have to see Steven’s body until he’s been prepared by the undertakers. Or at all, if you’d prefer not to.
SARAH: I see. (Beat.) Do I need to sign anything?
AISHA: Not today, no. There will be paperwork at the morgue but the undertaker’s should be able to complete those on your behalf.
AISHA: I have this letter for you which details how to contact me if you have any further questions, and details when you can expect to hear from the coroner’s and about the inquest, which of course you are free to attend, but are not required to do so unless we inform you otherwise. I also have this leaflet about grief counselling services in the area.
AISHA offers the paperwork to SARAH who does not move, so she places them on the table. As she does so:
AISHA: Black tea.
AISHA: Your tea is black. Mine’s got milk in it.
TIM: Yeah, I like mine black – lactose intolerant, you know that.
AISHA: I know that. But how does she?
SARAH: } He said –
TIM: } She asked me –
TIM: Just now.
AISHA: No she didn’t.
AISHA: Mrs Bolam, do you usually drink vodka at this time?
AISHA: Where you at work today?
SARAH: Yes, you can phone the office if you like.
AISHA: Where is the office?
SARAH: Barretts and Johnson, Gillygate.
AISHA: What time did you finish work?
SARAH: Normal time. 5pm. I try and be strict.
AISHA: So you left work, came straight back here and drank most of this bottle of vodka?
SARAH: (Beat.) It had been a tough day.
TIM: Mrs Bolam, you don’t need to answer these questions, you’re not been accused of anything.
SARAH: (Looking at Tim.) Where did you go for lunch, today, Tim? We didn’t see you in the canteen. In fact, we didn’t see you between dropping off that shoplifter at Liddl and then you turned up at the car crash. You got there very quickly too. Almost like you knew it would happen. And the hour or so when I didn’t see you would be enough to go Mr Bolam’s place of work and cut his brake cables, wouldn’t they?
SARAH starts to reach for her radio. TIM reaches over and takes it off her.
TIM: Look Aisha, me and Sarah love each other. We’ve been together for years now but Steven wouldn’t give her a divorce, so –
AISHA: Timothy Kent, you are under arrest. You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.
SARAH takes out a large kitchen knife from her apron and lunges at AISHA’s back.