SUNSET GIRL A Holy Week Offering Terence is a self-made tycoon. Rags to riches. He is called by newspapers as ‘The Octopus’, head of a multi-billion conglomerate which has his tentacles on almost everything from utilities to telecommunications, computers to cars, shampoo to ice cream. You name it, he owns it. He is in his sixties, gray haired, quick-tempered, bossy, and vicious. He is called covertly in the office as ‘Hitler’. Everyone is scared of him.
His office is as big as half a basketball court, with a glass wall-window overlooking the west side of Midtown Manhattan. His desk is as large as a pool table, glass and chrome, only one folder and a telephone on top, nothing else. He starts his day at 7 a.m. As the sun turns red-orange across the Hudson River, he drops everything and begins to relax. There is a knock at the door.
Terence. Yes. Come in Lisa. I know its you.
Lisa. (Nervously). Sir, this is Therese, the new hire you requested.
Terence Hi Therese. Welcome. Sit down. That will be all Lisa. Thank you.
Lisa leaves. Therese sits without a word.
Terence I have a bad name of being vicious. Deep inside, I am really vicious. It’s my nature. Don’t be afraid.
Therese I am not afraid. That’s a beautiful sunset.
Terence You seem to be at home right away. I like that. Nobody is at home in this office when I am around. I am normally addressed as sir.
Therese Would you like a little exception?
Terence (A bit shocked). Whoow. That’s good for a starter. And for what reason?
Therese It may be a good change of air for you. I mean, don’t you get tired of people at your feet? It’s about time you meet an equal.
Terence Whoow. An equal. Wow. I could fire you right this minute for insolence.
Therese (Calmly and with a smile.) Go ahead. I can take it. You want me to go?
Terence Whoow. This is getting better and better. You are interesting. How old are you?
Therese Nineteen. Believe me, it’s good to talk to an equal for a change.
Terence And what is your position in this office?
Therese I was told I am the assistant to the third assistant secretary. It’s my first day. I was told you hired me because you wanted a ‘sunset girl’ to help you relax when the day is done. That’s an easy job. I like it. I have a talent in relaxing people. And I hate office work. That’s the reason I took this job.
Terence And you call us equals?
Therese Yes. The only difference between us is your rich and I am not. That’s to your advantage. But your are old and I am young. That’s to my advantage. Pretty even, wouldn’t you say? We will both die one day. I might even die before you.
Terence And what is your secret in relaxing people.
Therese (Shrugging her shoulders) Oh, I don’t know. My smile, the way I talk. I’m just me.
Terence (Leafing through her biodata). Hmmm. Summa cum lauda, Boston U. Top of the class. Marine biology. You’re actually way off the mark, do you know that?
Therese Not really. I minored in Banking and Finance. You could use me. Aside from sunset duty, I am a genius in finance. Wanna try me?
Terence I have a dozen seniors who can do finance while sleeping.
Therese Then let’s stick to the sunset.
Terence I hired you because, first you’re at the top of your class, second, your personality test shows you’re an intellectual rebel. Good combination. I want a young bright kid I can talk to at the end of the day.
Therese About what precisely?
Terence Oh I don’t know, anything. Corporate, business or even philosophy. I also need someone who is out of the box, a non-corporate person, a tabula rasa. You know what tabula rasa means?
Therese Terence, may I call you Terence?
Terence You already did.
Therese Terence, don’t insult me please. We just met. You said I was a summa, right? Why ask a stupid question. Tabula rasa. You want someone who is pure of heart, not tinted, not biased, no scars, right?
Terence Bulls eye.
Therese You want an intellectual rebel. You’re tired of half of your VPs being intellectually subservient. You are basically surrounded by yes people, bright ones and not-so-bright ones.
Terence There are a few brains here and there, but you’re right. Your first task is to tell me your first impression of me.
Therese I don’t think you are really vicious. You’re pretending most of the time. Maybe you’re just insecure deep inside, which no one seems to have discerned.
Terence Have you discerned it?
Therese I’m not sure. I feel your soft spot though. You try hard to hide it for fear it would be discovered. And that would make you feel naked. You did not mind my insolence. That’s the soft spot. And your soft spot is out of despair to talk to someone your equal. But then again maybe you are afraid of equals. It’s a complex mix. You are threatened by me when I said we are equals, and yet you welcome it.
Terence Wait, you’re putting me on the defensive.
Therese Then don’t be. I think you sort of wanted a ‘sunset woman’ with no scars for a good reason. You see, you know I’m not like your other secretaries and assistant secretaries because I don’t care. You have no hold on me. That’s a nice feeling for me, and for you also, isn’t it? You want me to defy you, I mean, for a change.
Terence Do you feel my despair?
Therese Obvious from the minute I entered the room. So let me be your sunset girl for a week. If you don’t like it, fire me. If I don’t like it I resign.
Therese stands up, goes to the wall, pushes a button, and a mini-bar appears. She puts brandy on two goblets and gets two glasses of iced water, puts them on a tray, and places it on Terence’s table. She turns to him.
Therese May I join you.
Terence Stupid question. You brought two glasses.
Therese I know. Brandy. Iced water on the side.
Terence Lisa told you?
Therese She is a good girl. Meticulous to your needs. Cheers.
Glasses clink. They both approach the window and look at lesser skyscrapers silhouetted against the now-deep-red horizon. Terence hands a pair of binoculars to Therese. Therese sees a seagull against the sunset.
xTerence Without showing you finance and market data, do you think I should buy Daily Globe? Let’s see what your tabula rasa summa cum laude brain will say.
Therese What for? You have everything. It’s just to satisfy your greed. Oops, I don’t mean to be rude. I mean your ego. Oops, I mean your …. your …. (Pause). What the heck. Let’s not call a spade a clover. Let’s not be polite. Let’s lay our cards on the table. It’s your ego and greed, Terence. I am sorry to say. I mean, what do you want a newspaper for, to project your image? Power? Fame? Your image is over-projected already. I mean you were on the cover of Time Magazine three months ago, and Fortune Magazine four months before that. You’ve been on the covers, what, six times in the last what, four years?
Terence Seven times. (Laughs uncontrollably) Now I feel good.
Therese You feel good being stripped bare by a teenager from nowhere? Bare naked truth?
Terence Yeah, feels good. I was right getting a sunset girl. So what do I do?
Therese Do you have to do anything? I mean can’t you stop. Stop acquiring. Stop merging. Stop this obsession for your empire. You’re busy but you’re bored. It has excited you all your life, but not anymore. You are addicted to it, like morphine to a cancer patient. You need to detoxify. You need to go cold turkey.
Terence If I drop everything, I will get bored.
Therese Not really, if you have some imagination.
Terence You know we have been talking for 30 minutes and for the first time, and you’re changing me, my life.
Therese Sunset girls do that.
Terence This has been bothering me for a long time.
Therese I know. I read so many articles about you as soon as I got accepted here. I can see through you. You are naked to me, Terence. All this velvet under your feet is nothing to you.
Terence I have seen three shrinks in the last two months.
Terence breaks down without shame, the Octopus, the Hitler sheds tears for the first time in a long long while. Therese gets the bottle of brandy and fills the two goblets to the brim.
Therese Yup, that’s the first step. Tears. Very medicinal.
Terence This is not the way to drink brandy, Therese.
Therese Sorry. I’m getting carried away.Okay okay.
Therese goes to the bar and pours tequila into two small glasses. They gulp it instantly.
Therese Shrinks can’t help you, Terence. You are opaque to these guys because they do not understand what makes you tick. They go through the motions of knowing you, but they don’t. They just want your money.
Terence And you know what makes me tick.
Therese Yeah, I do. I felt it in my bones the moment I came in. That is why you couldn’t scare me.
Terence So what do I do, Therese. C’mon sunset girl.
Therese You won’t like what I will tell you.
Terence For heaven’s sake.
Therese Okay. Can I put it straight.
Terence Wait. More tequila.
Therese Now you’re talking.
She takes the bottle of tequila and fills the glasses. They are emptied instantly. She pours again. But just as Terence is about to have a second gulp, Therese pulls the glass away.
Therese Wait wait wait. Here me out first.
Terence Okay. What?
Therese Get rid of your empire. Give it away. That’s the only way you get out of your rut.
Terence My empire a rut? You’re kidding.
Therese Yes, your empire a rut and you’re drowning in it.
There is silence. Terence yanks the glass from Therese and both down the tequila.
Therese I mean your sixty eight right? You’re in the pre-departure area. Tell me, have you ever thought you would die soon.
Terence That’s what I have been telling these shrinks. And they would argue against it and I would hate them for being hypocrites. They just wanted to be paid. This has been haunting me for the last four years, the thought of death.
Therese What good is your empire when you can’t take it with you. Sell half of it. Give it way to whoever. Do you believe in God.
Terence I do. I do.
Therese You should if you’re in the pre-departure area. You know there is this Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier, who said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but suffers the loss of his immortal soul.”
Terence I was thinking of that actually, burning my empire, but I would not dare. I’m no Nero. And what would I do after?
Therese Two key words, Terence – ‘profit’ and ‘immortal’. St. Francis puts it in corporate jargon, profit. And he compares your puny finite empire to the infinity of your soul, immortal.
Terence Coming from my sunset girl, I have just made a decision. Thank you, Therese. Maybe I can put up a foundation to rescue the homeless, give them back their mortgaged houses, how about that?
Therese pours more tequila. They down it in two seconds.
Therese Anything, as long as it’s not for you. It has to be for others. That’s the secret. Are you up to saying a prayer with me?
Without a word, Terence falls to his knees, facing the sunset.
Therese No, no. Don’t kneel. Slouch in your chair and swing it to the sunset. Relax. (Terence does so obediently.) Okay, now, I will pray for both of us. Just sit there and listen. (Pause) Lord, teach us, Terence and me, how to give to others. Especially Terence, Lord, since he has so much to give.
Terence Go on, go on.
Therese Finished. You don’t have to elaborate. He knows. I have to go. It’s late, and I feel whoozy.
Terence Can I take you home?
Therese No, no. I live three blocks away.
Terence But you feel whoozy.
Therese pours more tequila.
Therese I want to walk home after this nice talk with you. I enjoyed it terribly. For the road?
They empty the glasses.
Terence I will see you tomorrow at sunset?
Therese I don’t know. You don’t need me anymore. I gave you your sunset, right?
Terence But you have to help me plan to give my empire away.
Therese He will help you. He’s good at that. Just don’t forget to ask him. I am not good at that. Bye. (She heads for the door.)
Terence Wait, wait. Just in case you don’t come back, here take this.
Terence had a hard time writing the cheque. He had to tear the cheques the first two tries. Finally, he handed a crumpled cheque to Therese. Therese pocketed the cheque without looking.
Terence Read the cheque, damn it.
Therese (Stops at the door and reads it). You’re kidding. I can’t take this.
Terence You’re doing me a favor. Take the damn cheque.
Therese (Sobs and leaves). I won’t be back.
Terence Hell, drop in sometime?
With the money, Therese bought a modest beach house in Long Island and a second hand Benz. She bought a second house for her sister to take care of their sick mother in Cape Cod, where she grew up. Terence was envious and bought a nearby beach house in Long Island.
Therese Are you following me?
Terence Nope. I’m following Him.
Therese Oh. How nice. So we’re both headed His way.
Of course, their houses were facing west. They would watch the sunset often. Slowly, the corporate empire shrunk, and a new empire loomed at the horizon, bigger and more awesome than the first. Therese died at the age of 22, and Terence had to stay behind as there was a lot to give away. He died at the age of 89.