Three New Ideas

Michael Jeffrey Lee


New Idea #1

A mother's son goes away to war, and when he comes back, he comes back very changed. She can't quite figure out what's going on with him but he's noticeably different. Maybe it's in the eyes or maybe it's in the smile or in the hands but at any rate something is going on with him, even though she can't figure out what it is right away. And she's trying hard, asking him all sorts of questions about how it was over there and what he ate, although the son's not giving her much to go on. He's really vague about everything, maybe even haughty, but he assures her over and over again that he was just following his orders and that he behaved like the kind of person she raised him to be. And the mother is satisfied, more or less, until one day she decides to go snooping around his room and she finds his wallet, and in the wallet there is a picture of this young boy she has never seen before—he is clearly foreign. Her son is taking a bath while all this is going on and has no idea that his mother is snooping through his wallet. But he gets out and dries off and he comes back to his bedroom and he sees that his mother has laid out the young boy's picture on his pillow, and he picks it up and stares at it and anger flashes across his face, but then he calmly returns it to his wallet and then gets dressed. Downstairs, he meets his mother, who is eating eggs, and she offers some to him, but he pours himself cold cereal instead, and while they're eating at the table she confronts him about the photo, and he tells her it's none of her business, will never be any of her business, but she says that because he's just come home and can't yet make it on his own and has to live under her roof that his business is automatically her business, and then the son pulls a knife on his mother, but then puts it away and says that he didn't mean it. The mother represses this and goes about her day, and for a few hours it seems that everything will be fine. But then around dinnertime something small happens and they get into it again, and again the knife is pulled, and it seems that he really will stab her this time, but just before he can, his father comes home from work and wrestles it from his son's hands. All three of them stand around facing each other, breathing heavily. Then we will move back in time: the young boy from the photo is seen, trapped in a burning room and crying out for help, and the son is seen trying to break down the door to save him. He is unable to, and the boy burns. Then we will come back to the present and see all three family members embracing.


New Idea #2

A brother is having a hard time convincing his younger brother to stop using drugs, and is ready to take drastic measures. He is simply at the end of his rope, and he's tried just about every trick in the book. But then an idea hits him, and he makes some arrangements, and then he flies to the place where the brother is living, drags him single-handedly out of his drug den, and drives him to a national forest, which is maybe an hour's drive from the city. They don't speak on the way to the forest, but partially because the older brother has carefully selected a soundtrack, which he plays for the younger brother while they drive. The songs are mostly sentimental songs that the brothers used to enjoy together, that they used to sing to one another when they were little, but then at the very end of the mix a song comes up, one that the younger, drug-addled brother doesn't recognize, and with a grin on his face the older brother admits that he wrote this song special for the occasion. The younger brother is impressed; he didn't really think his older brother was capable of such beauty and depth. But this song, and we experience it start to finish with the brothers, is really just a red herring. At the trailhead, the older brother tells his younger brother to get out of the car and walk, which the younger one does, although with a suspicious look on his face, and then the two brothers walk together along a winding path for a while, and not much is heard except for the older brother's humming, that song he wrote to commemorate the occasion. What the older brother can't see as he walks behind his younger brother is that the younger brother is continuing to ingest drugs as he walks—he is bringing them up from his jacket pocket and swallowing them without water. The younger brother is simply becoming more and more insane with every step. A little while later they reach a clearing, and the younger brother asks him what he has planned, and the older brother must admit that he really doesn't have a plan, he just wanted to go on a walk with his younger brother and spend time with him and see if he could convince him to stop abusing drugs, and then the younger brother pulls a knife on his older brother. A struggle ensues, and the older brother, who is sober and in good shape, disarms and kills his younger brother. We see blood on the leaves. He stands over the body and cries for a while and then calls his sister, who has been sober three years, and tells her what has happened. After that, we move forward in time a little bit, and we meet the older brother on a speaking tour. He isn't talking about drugs, but some other subject. He is hollow-looking and exhausted and in need of a friend. After one of his speeches, he meets a woman who he likes, and they have dinner later that night. At dinner the older brother spills his guts about what happened with his younger brother, and admits that he is probably incapable of being a good romantic partner. But the woman says she believes in second chances and non-traditional relationships and that's where we leave them, both at the dinner table, smiling at one another.


New Idea #3

A prisoner is awaiting execution and is trying to decide what his last meal will be. There are several people in his cell with him on this occasion—a priest, his mother, and his favorite teacher. Everyone is encouraging him to choose the rare steak, but the prisoner wants something more humble, the chicken with a slice of pie, something nice and basic to digest slowly in his last moments. But the priest is adamant that he pick the rare steak, and he communicates this to the prisoner with his eyes, by lifting his eyebrows, but he's not the only one—the prisoner's mother and also the teacher send a message with their eyes that they are in agreement that he should choose the rare steak. So the prisoner realizes that something is up and agrees to order the steak, and then the priest calls the deputy over, who has been patiently waiting down the hall, and he gives the meal request to the deputy, and the deputy writes it down on a notepad and nods his head and walks away, and we stay with the deputy and are privy to his thoughts while he walks the length of the labyrinthine prison, all the way to the kitchen. He thinks about his wife and children back home, and how much he's looking forward to seeing them after his long traumatizing shift is over. He says hello to the chef and puts in the prisoner's order, and then we watch the chef study the order and nod and then begin preparing the meal, and then we return to the prisoner and the priest and the mother and the teacher in the cell, and we hear them make small talk, but even these banal exchanges are interesting and freighted with deeper meaning because of what we know the priest and the others did with their brows. Although they are talking about the weather, it soon becomes clear that they are hatching an escape plan—the priest, having sat in on so many state murders, knows for a fact that they will serve the rare steak with a sharp knife—it's longstanding tradition—which the priest will pocket after the meal is complete. And when the deputy asks for it, the prisoner will say that he doesn't know what happened to it, and they will search the prisoner and the teacher and maybe the mother's every nook and cranny but more than likely not the priest's, because he is trusted. Just before the injection is administered, the priest will pretend to have something to say to the executioner, but instead of saying it he will actually let the knife fall from his sleeve into his hand and cut the executioner's throat, and when the deputy and the warden reach for their guns the mother and teacher will hold their arms fast behind them, and the priest will turn and cut their throats too. It will be like a dance he makes around the room, cutting throats, even the throats of the victims' families, he plans to spare no one. However, just as our chef is passing the steak dinner out of the kitchen, the warden appears, and on a whim, decides to inspect the dish. He notices the knife, how remarkably sharp it is, and, suddenly sensing what the priest has planned, slips it into his pocket. In the very next scene we see him in the cell, standing over the four conspirators—the condemned man, the priest, the mother, and the teacher—forcing them to eat the rare steak with their hands, while the deputy covers his eyes nearby.