by Martin McDonagh
(adapted from his play of the same title)
Once upon a time there was a man, who did not look like normal men. He was about nine feet tall and he was all made up of these fluffy pink pillows and his body was a pillow; his fingers were tiny little pillows, even his head was a pillow, a big round pillow. And on his head he had two button eyes and a big smiley mouth which was always smiling, so you could always see his teeth, which were also pillows. Little white pillows.
The Pillowman had to look like this, he had to look soft and safe, because of his job, because his job was a very sad and a very difficult one. Whenever a man or a lady was very very sad because they’d had a dreadful and hard life and they just wanted to end it all, they just wanted to take their own lives and take all the pain away, just as they were about to do it, by razor, or by bullet, or by gas, the Pillowman would go to them, and sit with them, and gently hold them, and he’d say, ‘Hold on a minute.’ And time would slow strangely, and as time slowed, the Pillowman would go back in time to when that man or that lady was just a little boy or a little girl, to when the life of horror they were to lead hadn’t quite yet begun. And the Pillowman’s job was very very sad, because the Pillowman’s job was to get that child to kill themselves, and so avoid the years of pain that would just end up in the same place for them anyway: facing an oven, facing a shotgun, facing a lake.
‘But I’ve never heard of a small child killing themselves,’ you might say. Well, the Pillowman would always suggest they to it in a way that would just look like a tragic accident: he’d show them the bottle of pills that looked just like sweeties; he’d show them the place on the river where the ice was too thin; he’d show them the parked cars that it was really dangerous to dart out between; he’d show them the plastic bag with no breathing holes, and exactly how to tighten it. Because mummies and daddies always find it easier to come to terms with a five-year-old lost in a tragic accident then they do with a five-year-old who has seen how shitty life is and taken action to avoid it.
Now, not all the children would go along with the Pillowman. There was one little girl, a happy little thing, who just wouldn’t believe the Pillowman when he told her that life could be awful and her life would be, and she sent him away, and he went away crying, crying big gloopy tears that made puddles this big, and the next night there was another knock on her bedroom door, and she said, ‘Go away, Pillowman. I’ve told you, I’m happy. I’ve always been happy and I’ll always be happy.’
But it wasn’t the Pillowman. It was another man. And her mummy wasn’t home, and this man would visit her every time her mummy wasn’t home, and she soon became very very sad, and as she sat in front of the oven when she was twenty-one she said to the Pillowman, ‘Why didn’t you try to convince me?’ And the Pillowman said, ‘I tried to convince you, but you were just too happy.’ And as she turned on the gas as high as it would go she said, ‘But I’ve never been happy. I’ve never been happy.’
See, when the Pillowman was successful in his work, a little child would die horrifically. And when the Pillowman was unsuccessful, a little child would have a horrific life, grow into an adult who’d also have a horrific life, and then die horrifically. The Pillowman, as big as he was and as fluffy as he was, he’d just go around crying all day long. His house’d be just puddles everywhere, so he decided to do just one final job and that’d be it. So he went to this place beside this pretty stream that he remembered from a time before. And he brought a little can of petrol with him, and there was this old weeping willow tree there, and he went under it and he sat and he waited there a while, and there were all these little toys under there.
There was a little caravan nearby, and the Pillowman heard the door open and little footsteps come out, and he heard a boy’s voice say, ‘I’m just going out to play, Mum,’ and the Mum said, ‘Well don’t be late for your tea, son.’ ‘I won’t be, Mum.’ A the Pillowman heard the little footsteps get closer and the branches of the willow tree parted and it wasn’t a little boy at all. It was a little Pillowboy. And the Pillowboy said, “Hello,’ to the Pillowman, and the Pillowman said, ‘Hello,’ to the Pillowboy, and they both played with the toys for a while. And the Pillowman told him all about his sad job and the dead kids and all of that type of stuff, and the little Pillowboy understood instantly ‘cos he was such a happy little fella and all he ever wanted to do was to be able to help people, and he poured the can of petrol all over himself and his smiley mouth was still smiling. And the Pillowman, through his gloopy tears, said, ‘Thank you,’ to the Pillowboy, And the Pillowboy said, ‘That’s alright. Will you tell my mummy I won’t be having my tea tonight,’ and the Pillowman said, ‘Yes, I will,’ lying. And the Pillowboy struck a match, and the Pillowman sat there watching him burn, and as the Pillowman started to fade away, the last thing he was was the Pillowboy’s happy smiley mouth as it slowly melted away, sinking into nothingness. That was the last thing he saw.
The last thing he heard was something he hadn’t even contemplated. The last thing he heard was the screams of the hundred thousand children he’d helped to commit suicide coming back to life and going on to lead the cold, wretched lives that were destined to them because he hadn’t been around to prevent them, right on up to the screams of their sad self-inflicted deaths, which this time, of course, would be conducted entirely alone.
McDonagh, Martin. The Pillowman. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2003.