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Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Reaching Through Time by Tara Hempstead

OBJECT: Robot Hand

BODY OF WATER: Great Kills State Park

 

EXT. ATLANTIC OCEAN-SUNSET

A large passenger liner slices through the waves of the Atlantic.  New York’s skyline as it appeared in the 1920’s disappears into the horizon.  

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INT. SHIP’S DINING ROOM- NIGHT

ORCHESTRA MEMBERS TUNE and REHEARSE amongst themselves at the end of the dining room as a CROWD in eveningwear enters.

A FLUTE MELODY rises above the beautiful, disjointed sounds of the orchestra and soars across the dining room. PATRONS gradually separate from the CROWD to their dining tables, where WAITERS greet them with teacarts.  The sounds of PATRONS CHATTING and the CLINK of chinaware grow louder as PATRONS settle into the space.

The PRINCIPAL CELLIST and CONCERTMASTER nod to each other and stop playing.  Following suit, the ORCHESTRA falls silent and straightens their spines.

PATRON 1, who has a cup of tea pressed to his lips, becomes self-conscious and gingerly sets the tea on its saucer and onto the table.

PATRON 2 and 3, a couple, inch their bodies closer to each other in anticipation.

The ORCHESTRA stands as the CONDUCTOR appears on the stage. PATRONS watch as the CONDUCTOR steps onto the podium center stage and turns to face them.

He bows.  AUDIENCE, roused from their reverent silence, bursts into APPLAUSE.

The CONDUCTOR scans the ORCHESTRA through his wide glasses as they take their seats.  His lip turns upward to suggest a smile.  The room is at his mercy as he waits for an intangible sign to begin.

EVERYONE inhales as the CONDUCTOR raises his arms. There, holding the baton, his hand glitters, reflecting the light overhead.  The hand is not made of skin, but of metal and bolts.  

PATRONS breathe out as the CONDUCTOR dips his bionic hand and the MUSIC begins.  The MUSIC emanates such sweetness that PATRONS can’t help but sway, buoyed by each tender moment.

A VIOLINIST sitting near the middle of the ensemble fastens his gaze onto the CONDUCTOR, moving through each note as if it came from his soul.

The CONDUCTOR seems to look past the VIOLINIST every time.  The VIOLINIST’S fingers maintain a certain delicacy, but his gaze turns into a piercing glare.

The CONDUCTOR’S hands begin to tremble, and the ORCHESTRA slowly grows louder. VIOLINIST grunts as CONDUCTOR raises his arms higher. The TRUMPET PLAYERS lift their bells as the ORCHESTRA reaches the pique of the crescendo.

The CONDUCTOR beams as the ORCHESTRA triumphs at the climax of piece.  VIOLINIST closes his eyes in rage and buries himself in the music.

The ORCHESTRA strikes its final chord and the CONDUCTOR claws the air, as if to catch the piece in his hand.  He is frozen with his robotic hand clenching the baton above his head as the chord vibrates through the hall.

His hands fall to his sides, and the AUDIENCE rises to its feet, adorning the performance with thunderous praise.

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INT. CONDUCTOR’S STATEROOM- EVENING

The CONDUCTOR trudges into his stateroom brimming with uneven stacks of music scores. His footsteps can barely be heard in the thick carpet, and his ears RING in the silence.

He removes his robot hand with a grunt and sets it on a piece of folded cloth on his desk.

He melts into the chair at his desk and rubs his temple. He blinks at the portal window, watching the noiseless waves.

There is a KNOCK at his door.

The room slips back into silence.

There is another KNOCK, this time, louder.

CONDUCTOR rises and crosses the room.  When he opens the door, VIOLINIST storms into his room.

VIOLINIST squares off with the CONDUCTOR, who’s still clutching the door open.  VIOLINIST’S eyes travel from the CONDUCTOR’S surprised face to his handless arm. He squints.

VIOLINIST
(Nods)
Maestro.

CONDUCTOR twists the lock into the doorframe.  The door hits the interfering lock with a CLUNK.

CONDUCTOR
(stepping toward Violinist)
Good evening.  Is there any trouble?

VIOLINIST frowns.

VIOLINIST
I’ve played under your baton for years. (Twisted smile) Surely you’ve at least noticed that?

CONDUCTOR
Yes. I remember your first rehearsal.

 

VIOLINIST
(giggling)
Yes, I bet.  In many ways, it’s like I’m still there.

CONDUCTOR
How so?

VIOLINIST
You see, I’m still in the same seat I started in.  Haven’t moved, haven’t gotten any better. But all of my peers have passed me by.

CONDUCTOR looks away from VIOLINIST and steps away from the doorframe. 

CONDUCTOR
I see.  

VIOLINIST
(suddenly stern)
Surely there’s a reason I’ve been overlooked all these years.

VIOLINIST starts circling the CONDUCTOR toward the desk with his hands in his suit pockets.

VIOLINIST
I work harder than any player here.  I would say that’s plain to see, but- well- that’s our predicament, isn’t it? I want to move forward- yes- be recognized. Finally. (Stopping at corner of desk) But, you’ve heard this all before, I’m sure.  And you don’t have an investment in a seemingly replaceable player like me.

VIOLINIST SIGHS, dropping his chin.  He sees the robotic hand on the desk.  He perks up.

VIOLINIST
Or maybe you do?

CONDUCTOR opens his mouth to say something and takes a step forward.

VIOLINIST gingerly plucks the robot hand from its resting place. Amused, he points a finger on robot hand and wags it at the CONDUCTOR.

VIOLINIST
Nuh-uh.

CONDUCTOR halts.

VIOLINIST LAUGHS and lunges.  The CONDUCTOR steps back in alarm.  VIOLINIST shoves the hand into his pocket and runs.

INT. HALLWAY- SECONDS LATER

CONDUCTOR stumbles into the hall as the VIOLINIST disappears around the corner.  

EXT. SHIP DECK- NIGHT

CONDUCTOR crosses the threshold into the night.  VIOLINIST stands near the rail at the edge of the ship, perfectly still as he battles with himself, searching CONDUCTOR’S face for an answer. VIOLINIST clutches robot hand to his chest.

CONDUCTOR stops, powerless for the first time.

CONDUCTOR
Please—

VIOLINIST
You won’t get any better.

VIOLINIST winds his arm back and throws the hand into the ocean.

CONDUCTOR runs to the railing and looks overboard. VIOLINIST grimaces and walks away. THE CONDUCTOR is met with a pool of darkness.

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EXT. STATEN ISLAND NEIGHBORHOOD- PRESENT DAY

Dawn breaks over a row of antiquated single-family homes in Great Kills.

INT. BEDROOM-SUNRISE

A flashlight illuminates a desk with homemade musical instruments- an inventor’s workspace. A GIRL’S shadow is projected onto the chipping floral wallpaper of the old home.

GIRL, about ten years old, hunches into the flashlight’s glow.  Her hair is messy and her eyes are as wide as the bags under her eyes.  There’s an empty box of animal crackers nearby.  It looks like she has not moved all night.

She plucks a string on the instrument inches from her face and it RESONATES.  She grins.

Footsteps ECHO in the hall.  

There’s a KNOCK at GIRL’S bedroom door, which she has no time to answer before her MOTHER enters.

GIRL turns around and looks at her MOTHER in shock.  MOTHER takes one glance at her daughter framed by her inventions in the flashlight’s dome.  

MOTHER
(unsurprised)
Were you up all night again?

GIRL pretends to notice her workspace for the first time.

MOTHER
(laughs)
Right.

She crosses the room and throws the shutter shade back.

GIRL squints.  When her eyes have adjusted, she leans toward the window and looks down the block.

MOTHER
It’s Saturday.  Were you gonna go back to the park?

GIRL turns to her mother with a reassuring smile.

MOTHER
See, I know you!  I need to do some work today, so you’ll have to go by yourself this time.  Is that okay?

GIRL confidently climbs off chair and adjusts her bathrobe.


GIRL
Yeah! I got it!

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EXT. NEIGHBORHOOD- LATER THAT MORNING

GIRL rushes out of the house and down the street

EXT. STRIP- MORNING

GIRL passes a row of storefronts, skidding to a halt in front of the music store to look at the violin in the window display.

After a few seconds, she adjusts the bag on her shoulder with resolve and continues running along the path.

EXT. GREAT KILLS PARK BEACH- DAY

GIRL kicks off her shoes at the edge of the sand and scoops them up.  The breeze HOWLS in her ears as she looks over the beach.  She steps forward, crossing into a peaceful place.

EXT. GREAT KILLS PARK BEACH- LATER

GIRL sits near a patch of green with her eyes closed, hearing COMPOSITIONS in her mind.  

She hears BEACHGOER’S VOICES as they pass, as well as the OSPREY CALLS and whisper of the rolling waves.  Each seems like a soloist as they move through her piece.

She opens her eyes, entranced by the BEACHGOERS. In the distance, CHILDREN SQUEAL and SPLASH in the water.  

TEENAGE GIRL passes with BOYFRIEND, carrying a bucket of shells.  The shells CLINK as she rummages through them.

After they pass, GIRL notices she is alone.  She reclines.

A metal object pokes out of the sand next to her head.  Noticing this out of the corner of her eye, she SCREAMS and shoots back up, sand flying.

The object doesn’t move.  She leans forward and the object reflects a ray of sunlight onto her face.

She brushes the sand away to reveal the CONDUCTOR’S robotic hand. Now, it is mostly dull and missing some fingers, but it is the most fantastic thing GIRL has ever seen.

She brings the hand close to her face.  Her eyes grow wide.

She slowly looks down at her other arm.  For the first time, we see she does not have a right hand.  She measures the hand against the end of her right arm.

GIRL GASPS.  She hops to her feet and runs off the beach.

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EXT. STRIP- DAY

Running in the opposite direction as before, she passes the music store, grinning as she catches a glimpse of all the instruments in the window.

INT. BEDROOM- EVENING

GIRL, wearing the robotic hand, brings her arm up to her face and bites the excess banding on the mechanism she constructed to secure the robotic hand to her arm. 

As the banding drops to the floor, she extends her right arm in front of her and turns it to marvel at the hand from all angles.  She added extremities made from household materials to where they had been missing earlier, and the failed prototypes sit scattered across her desk. 

She uses her other hand to bend the robotic hand’s fingers around a pencil, which she pulled from the failed finger pile.

Satisfied, she glances at one of her music inventions standing nearby.

She reaches over and plucks the string on it. The string VIBRATES, and she glances upward as if she can see the sound rise.

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INT. MUSIC STORE- THE NEXT MORNING

The bell above the door JINGLES as GIRL crosses the threshold.  Her new right hand is stuffed deep in her coat pocket.

She wanders the showroom, glancing up at the towering shelves of instruments.  A LUTHIER glances up from a violin he is repairing at his tall desk.

LUTHIER
(from desk)
What can I help you with?

GIRL jumps.

GIRL
I would like to try some violins.

LUTHIER
What kind of sound ar’ya lookin’ for?

GIRL
I dunno… I’ve never played before.  
(Confidently) But I want to learn!

LUTHIER
Well, I’m no teacher, but this is always a good place to start.

INT. SHOWROOM- LATER

LUTHIER supports the violin on GIRL’S shoulder as she presses the side of her face into the chin rest.

LUTHIER
Okay, hold it right there.

GIRL blinks at him as he steps back.  He examines the GIRL with the violin awkwardly protruding from her shoulder, standing stiffly because she’s too nervous to move.

LUTHIER nods, with a slight smile.

GIRL beams and rocks on her heels.  LUTHIER picks a bow from the collection he’s laid out on the table.

LUTHIER
Now, the bow is just as important as the violin.

GIRL watches with wonder as the delicate bow comes into focus before her. He kneels at her side to position the bow, and she lifts her arm enough for her sleeve to pull back. He stops when he sees her robot hand.

LUTHIER
Fascinating.

GIRL
(flexing hand)
I found it.

LUTHIER whistles.

GIRL
Do you think I can play with it?

LUTHIER, still kneeling with bow in his hand, looks up at her with warmth.  

LUTHIER
You wouldn’t be the first.

INT. BEDROOM- A FEW YEARS LATER

MUSIC fills the room as GIRL PLAYS the violin masterfully.  She abruptly sets her instrument down and picks up a pencil.

She leans into her music stand and scribbles music notes onto staff paper.  She HUMS the passage to herself then picks her violin up again and PLAYS the piece in its entirety.

It sounds similar to her beach compositions from years before, only more expansive in its emotion and the control she exhibits over her instrument.

She flings her bow off the string at the piece’s end.

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INT. CARNEGIE HALL- YEARS LATER

LARGE ORCHESTRA REHEARSES as AUDIENCE shuffles to their seats.


CUT to GIRL sitting slightly off center from where VIOLINIST sat earlier, warming up and watching AUDIENCE settle into their seats in high spirits.

The lights dim and the AUDIENCE turns quiet.  CONDUCTOR takes the stage and the ORCHESTRA stands as the hall surges with APPLAUSE.  GIRL looks excited as he steps onto the podium.

As before, he bows to the AUDIENCE, but this time motions for FOUR SOLOISTS to join him. They file onto the stage, each holding one of the GIRL’S inventions.  She grins as they bow.

The FOUR SOLOISTS nod to CONDUCTOR that they are ready.

CONDUCTOR turns to ORCHESTRA and lifts his arms, baton pinched in a chrome hand. ORCHESTRA raises their instruments as one in response.  GIRL puts her violin on her shoulder and sets the bow on the string at the frog, robot hand framing her face.

CONDUCTOR and GIRL make eye contact.  She nods slightly.  He grins and thrusts his arms up higher still.  When he drops them for the downbeat, they start the piece.

End.


Tara Hempstead is a writer, violinist, and multimedia artist based in Brooklyn.  Her writing often builds on her background in music, which began fourteen years ago when she signed up for orchestra to get out of class.

She studied TV and film production in her native Florida, where a number of her comedy and drama scripts were produced.  Find more about her writing, music, and art at tarahempstead.com and follow her on Instagram (@popt_art.)