Tuesday, August 19, 2008

To Be Continued

[A hospital room. A long, white, metal bed, with long white sheets and long metal machinery around it. RANDY, in his early 30s, with a few days’ growth of facial hair, lies in the bed, his face pale, shrouded in hospital garments.

As the lights come up, he wakes up from a nap, presses the palms of his hands against his eyelids, and sighs loudly. He opens his eyes, then shuts them.

A knock on the door.]

RANDY: Come in!

[ERIC enters, in his early 20s, dressed conservatively in a white shirt, black suit,
and striped tie. He shuts the door quietly behind him. Randy sighs again and closes his eyes.]

ERIC: Hi.
RANDY: Hi.
ERIC: Brother Jeppeson couldn’t make it today. His wife is sick.
RANDY: No worries.
ERIC: And I was going to bring you some of Nancy’s cookies, the pumpkin chocolate chip kind. But she didn’t get them in the oven in time. She’ll drop them by when she picks me up.
RANDY: It’s fine. Last Sunday of the month, I understand.

[Silence.]

You’re my home teacher, aren’t you supposed to ask how I’m doing?
ERIC: How are you doing?
RANDY: Ha! [Beat.] I’ve got maybe three weeks.

[Silence.]

Not to make things awkward or anything.
ERIC: Is there anything I can do?
RANDY: Cure cancer.
ERIC: OK.
RANDY: Thanks. So, yeah, how are things with you? How’s Nancy?
ERIC: Things are good. Nancy’s good. The baby’s good. Yeah, things are good.
RANDY: Glad to hear it. And the office? How’s that?
ERIC: We’re trying to get along without you. They just hired Dr. Stevens full-time. He’s moving into your old place.
RANDY: Right.

[Pause.]

And the quorum? How’s that?
ERIC: It’s good. They finally released you in church today.
RANDY: Eight months horizontal, I thought they’d never get around to it.
ERIC: Yeah. Jim Halliwell is the new elder’s quorum president.
RANDY: Yeah? Good for him.

[With some effort, Randy turns over on his side in bed.]

I hate being a medical doctor and dying. I wish Death would come a little closer when he’s laughing at me so I could punch him in the face. At least you can use me as an object lesson for your seminary class. Don’t drink when you’re a teenager or you’ll get liver cancer and die.
ERIC: Right.

[Neither of them talks.]

Sorry I’m not more talkative.
RANDY: No, I understand, that makes two of us. I’ve not got a lot to talk about. They haven’t fixed the remote yet, so mostly I just lay here, I sleep, most of my meals are pumped into me. Not really that exciting. It’s sort of like being a three-toed sloth who gets the Home and Garden Network.
ERIC: How is that?
RANDY: The Home and Garden Network? It’s not bad. You’d be surprised how exciting “This Old House” is when your only alternative is staring at white plaster and thinking about your impending death.

[Silence.]

Does that make you uncomfortable?
ERIC: No. No, not at all. [Beat.] I mean, yeah, it does a little, but—
RANDY: It makes you uncomfortable. That’s OK. It makes me uncomfortable too. [Beat.] So did you bring your Ensign or some scriptures or anything?
ERIC: Yeah. You want me to read you something?
RANDY: That’s kind of the routine, isn’t it?
ERIC: Sure.

[He opens his Ensign and flips aimlessly through the pages.]

Look, do you want to talk about anything, or—
RANDY: No.
ERIC: OK. [Beat. He looks at the article.] Well, this month’s article is about the evils of pornography.
RANDY: Great. Just what I need in my situation! Thank you, God!
ERIC: So you want me to read it?
RANDY: Don’t do it.

[Silence.]

Do you believe in the afterlife?
ERIC: Yeah. Yeah, I do.
RANDY: Sure you do. Well, I’ll tell you. Eternity looks a lot different from up close.
ERIC: Yeah. [Beat.] This one time, when I was young, I almost drowned, my brother and I were at the ocean, my parents weren’t watching us, the tide came in and I was about three or so, and so I ran out, it was so exciting, my first time on the beach, and then suddenly it just grabbed me and my knees buckled and suddenly, I mean, I was only like six, but I suddenly knew I was going to die and I saw what that would be like, it was weird, it was more terror and more peace than I’ve ever felt before, both at the same time, and I was really disappointed it was happening, that I was dying before I’d really even had a life, but I knew everything would be all right. I knew—
RANDY: You didn’t die.
ERIC: No.
RANDY: That’s the difference, man. I’m going to die. You said you knew you were going to die, but you didn’t know that, because it didn’t happen, you can’t know something that’s not true. I know I’m going to die. It’s just a question of whether it’s in two weeks or three. Tuesday or Wednesday. It’s going to happen. I won’t be here to vote in the next election. Or give kids candy this Halloween. Or wake up early for work, ever again. It’s different.
ERIC: I’m sorry.
RANDY: You don’t need to be sorry, I’m just saying it’s different.
ERIC: Right.
RANDY: Sorry, man, I’m a little pissed, maybe it’s the radiation.
ERIC: No, it’s OK, don’t be sorry.
RANDY: Too late.

[Silence.]

Faith is easy. You can believe in what you want. There’s hope. You can make stuff up, it’s all hypothetical, it’s not here-and-now. Knowing is hard.
ERIC: But you believe in God, right?
RANDY: No.

[Silence. Randy casually leans up on his elbows, reaches for a glass of water from the end table, exerting all of his energy and avoiding eye contact.]

Will you hand me that?
ERIC: Sure.

[He stands up, goes to the table, and hands Randy the glass.]

RANDY: Thanks.

[He drinks.]

Man, this stuff is good.
ERIC: Do you, um… do you want to talk about that?
RANDY: About what?
ERIC: You know… not believing in God.
RANDY: Oh, that. Well, I think it’s been going on for awhile now. A long time. I mean, I didn’t know it or anything, but it was there. Once it occurs to you how ridiculous the whole thing is, God, how much it makes absolutely no logical sense, none of it—well, a lot of people choose to keep on believing to avoid worrying about death. That’s what I did. But once it’s here, death, you can’t ignore it anymore. The big black elephant in the room just gets bigger. And blacker. And you just have to face it, you can’t pretend anymore. You can’t play games, you can’t play Pretend There’s No Elephant! [Beat.] You don’t believe in God, do you?
ERIC: Yeah, I do.
RANDY: Yeah, I know, but not really, right?
ERIC: Yeah, I really do.
RANDY: OK, whatever you say.

[Neither of them speaks. Neither of them moves. Randy breathes loudly, his eyes still closed.

Finally, Eric clears his throat.]

ERIC: “As we encounter that evil carrier, the pornography beetle, let our battle standard and that of our communities—”

[Randy groans loudly. Eric looks at him.]

What?
RANDY: I don’t have a computer, the only channel I get is the Home and Garden Network, I’m not looking at porn.
ERIC: I’m sorry.
RANDY: Don’t be sorry, just stop reading that.
ERIC: I’m sorry.
RANDY: I’ve got three weeks left to exist, you want to waste them?
ERIC: I’m sorry.

[Silence.]

So, you want to watch “This Old House” instead?

[Randy looks at him.]

RANDY: You want to know what I’m going to do with my last three weeks of life?
ERIC: OK.
RANDY: I’m going to call everyone I know. Everyone. Family, friends. Enemies. Apathetic acquaintances. Tell them they don’t need to have a funeral for me, they don’t need to do anything, they don’t need to make me cookies or bring me anything while I’m still here. Just take all that money, take all of my money too, and go to the store or get on eBay and buy some telescopes. They don’t need to be expensive, but as many as they can afford, the nicest. Call up everyone they know, ask them if they have any telescopes, if they know anyone who does. Send out chain e-mails. Tell everyone. And they’ll amass this huge collection of telescopes in my honor, hundreds, thousands, and then they’ll take them all to NASA or wherever, some supertelescope, the biggest one in the world, the one that sees the farthest, and they’ll line them all up, eyepiece to eyepiece, and look through. And hopefully it’ll be enough, hopefully they’ll have enough and they’ll be able to see far enough, that they’ll be able to see the end of everything. The blackness. The non-blackness, the anti-blackness, whatever it is. The end of the universe, of creation. And then they’ll know. They’ll know what I know. They’ll see the elephant and they won’t be able to pretend they didn’t.

[Silence.]

ERIC: Let’s watch “This Old House.”
RANDY: Did you hear what I just said? I’m talking about nothingness! I’m talking about the meaning of everything, I’m talking about the meaninglessness of everything and you want to watch “This Old House”!
ERIC: Hey, it’s better than the alternative—white plaster, impending death.
RANDY: Are you listening to me? You come here with your scriptures and your talk about God but are you really listening to what I’m saying? Do you really care about me and what I’m going through or am I just an obligation, a statistic? “Well I’m sure glad that cancer guy is gone, one less person to visit next month! Check that off my list!”
ERIC: Of course I care about you. I just don’t know what to say.
RANDY: Say you’re sorry.
ERIC: I said I was sorry, you told me not to.
RANDY: I take it back. Say you’re sorry. Say you’re sorry I’m dying and you’re not. Tell me it isn’t fair. Tell me nothing is fair.
ERIC: I’m sorry you’re dying…
RANDY: Tell me nothing’s fair. Tell me there’s no forgiveness. God doesn’t forgive. I gave up drinking a decade ago and today I’m dying.
ERIC: I’m sorry … I know God loves you—
RANDY: No you don’t.
ERIC: (taken aback) I do.
RANDY: No you don’t. You can’t. You can’t know that, because God doesn’t exist.
ERIC: I know that God exists—
RANDY: I know that He doesn’t. There. What now, Mormon boy?

[Neither of them speaks for a long time. Then, a knock at the door.]

Come in.

[NANCY, early 20s, dressed in a black skirt and a turquoise blouse and still showing from her recent pregnancy, enters with a plate of cookies.]

NANCY: Hey guys… um, everything OK? I brought cookies. Pumpkin chocolate chip?
ERIC: Thanks, sweetie, you can just…
RANDY: You can just set them down on the table here.

[She does, then stays, strokes Randy’s face once with her hand, kisses Eric on the cheek, returns to her post by the door, and stands there waiting, not sure what to do.]

ERIC: You can wait for me in the car if you like, I’ll be down in a minute.
NANCY: OK. See you, Randy. We’ll stop by again on Tuesday.
RANDY: See you, Nancy. Thanks for the cookies.
NANCY: You’re welcome.

[She leaves. Eric and Randy sit. Eric stares at the floor. Randy stares at Eric. Then—slowly, deliberately, without taking his eyes off Eric and without blinking—he reaches over, takes a cookie, bites it, chews it, and swallows it.]

RANDY: Sorry.
ERIC: For what?
RANDY: For destroying your faith.
ERIC: No. You didn’t really do that.
RANDY: Well I should have. I tried.
ERIC: You didn’t.

[They’re quiet.]

I should go.

[He stands and walks to the door. Randy is startled.]

RANDY: Wait.

[Eric turns around without moving back towards him.]

ERIC: What?

[He waits a long time to respond.]

RANDY: You’re leaving?
ERIC: Yeah.
RANDY: You’re my home teacher, you can’t just leave. You didn’t even read the whole porn article.
ERIC: Do you want me to?
RANDY: No.
ERIC: OK.

[Pause.]

RANDY: Hey.
ERIC: What?
RANDY: Are you…
ERIC: What?
RANDY: I… could you give me a blessing?

[Eric looks at him, long. Randy avoids his gaze.

Finally, Eric pulls a cell phone out of his pocket and dials a number. He holds the phone to his ear.]

ERIC: Let me call Nancy and tell her I’ll be a few minutes.

[Lights fade out.]