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Sarah Papineau as Carla, Rob Jones as Dad. Photo by Daniel Tarker.

Atheism Blues

produced at the 14/48 festival, 7/29/17. The randomly drawn theme for that night: "Level Up." My random actor draw: write a play for three actors.

A dinner table: CARLA, DAD and SARAH seated around it.

CARLA to audience: One year, I came home from college on Christmas break, with my girlfriend Sarah. Dad made us a big dinner and it was real homey at first. But he broke out some pretty good wine, and it seemed like Sarah got a little tipsy, because she started asking some very annoying questions.

SARAH: How come you donít have any Christmas decorations up?

DAD: We donít actually celebrate Christmas. Weíre atheists.

SARAH: Is that true, Carla, are you an atheist?

CARLA: I guess so.

SARAH: You guess so? That sounds more agnostic to me.

DAD: Well, she was raised atheist. Sheís always free to change her mind.

SARAH: I mean, you could put up secular Christmas decorations, that wouldnít break any atheist commandments, would it?

DAD: There arenít any atheist commandments.

SARAH: Iím just teasing.

CARLA: Donít tease my dad.

DAD: I can take a little teasing.

SARAH: Carla never talks about her mother. What happened to her?

CARLA: Sarah!

SARAH: What? Iím not teasing, Iím asking a legitimate question. You never talk about her.

CARLA: Because I donít want to.

SARAH: Well I wasnít asking you.

CARLA: Donít be weird, Sarah.

DAD: Carla, itís indeed a legitimate question. But if you donít want Sarah to know, Iíll respect your wishes.

A look passes between Sarah and Carla - a silent argument that Sarah wins. Carla nods to her dad.

DAD: Carlaís mother became very religious when Carla was young.

CARLA: She joined a cult.

DAD: She became religious, Carla.

SARAH: Who do they worship?

CARLA: They worship a guy named Roger, because itís a cult. Roger has a compound in Oregon somewhere. I get birthday cards from Mom and Roger every year. ďYouíre in our thoughts and our soul chambers,Ē which - what the fuck is a soul chamber, even?

SARAH: Whatís so special about Roger?

DAD: I never met the man myself. As far as I can reconstruct events, they must have crossed paths for the first time in a mini mart while we were on a road trip to Wall Drug. I guess I was in the rest room at the time. Something he said to her must have just - captured her imagination. She rode off on the back of his Harley and I didnít hear from her for a year after.

SARAH: Youíre making that up.

DAD: The point is -

CARLA: The point is, Dad wouldnít let Mom drag me off to Oregon to live on a compound with Roger, and Mom isnít allowed off the compound to see us, so here we are, celebrating atheist Christmas without her. Satisfied?

SARAH: Sorry. Iím sorry for bringing it up. Pause. But no - Iím not satisfied. What does Rogerís cult actually believe in?

DAD: Well, it almost doesnít matter what they believe in, because Rogerís such a charismatic leader. But he preaches a blend of modern Manichaeism and lunatic fringe UFO philosophy.

SARAH: ďLunatic fringeĒ?

DAD: Thatís how Iíd describe it, yes.

SARAH: So your ex-wifeís a lunatic?

DAD: Weíre still married.

CARLA: Dad wonít sign the divorce paperwork. Doesnít want Roger to wind up with half our stuff.

SARAH: Oh, yeah, half of all this, I meanÖ

DAD: Sarah, I get the feeling your pointed line of questioning isnít coming out of thin air, would that be accurate to say?

SARAH: Yeah. Rogerís my dad, actually.

CARLA: Knock it off, Sarah.

SARAH: Iím not joking. Rogerís my dad. I grew up on that compound. Poor as dirt really, even though he keeps bringing home women that can work for him.

CARLA: What are you even talking about?

SARAH: Look, Iíll make this very simple. Sign the divorce paperwork and let him have half your stuff. Your wife isnít living pretty right now and you could make things a lot easier for her, for all of us, if she had some real money to contribute.


DAD: Sarah, if what youíre saying is true-

SARAH: It is.

DAD: -then answer me this. Did you get close to my daughter just so you could deliver that message to me in person?

SARAH: Maybe.

CARLA: Sarah!

SARAH: Everyoneís gotta earn their place on the mothership somehow. You donít ascend to the next waveform without sacrifice.

DAD: Weíre atheists. We wonít be ascending to the next ďwaveformĒ because it doesnít exist. Iím going to tidy up in the kitchen for a few minutes and let you two chat. When I return, Iíll have dessert, and Iíll have no further discussion of this topic, am I clear?

He exits.

CARLA: Are you absolutely fucking shitting me? Let me guess, youíre the reason I keep losing credit cards.

SARAH: Maybe.

CARLA: Youíre not staying for dessert. Get the fuck out of here.

Sarah gets up to leave. Carla grabs her by the arm.

CARLA: I want my key back.

Sarah hands Carla an apartment key, then she exits. A beat later, Dad returns with a bottle of dessert wine and two glasses - expecting Sarah to be gone by now. He pours as he speaks.

DAD: I know exactly where Rogerís compound is, if you ever want to go see your mother.

CARLA: Actually fuck her.

DAD: Carla - itís easy - trivially easy - to hate someone whose beliefs you donít understand. Thatís the underlying engine of modern civilization really. Try compassion instead. I donít know what ďisnít living prettyĒ means, but sheís living that way by choice.

CARLA: Maybe she is.

DAD: I have to believe that she is.

CARLA: Youíre an atheist, you donít have to believe anything. To audience: I never saw Sarah again - she dropped out of school and vanished. I did eventually go visit Mom, just to scratch an itch, but it was sad and anticlimactic. Dad never remarried and we kept having atheist Christmas every year until he got cancer and died. Sometimes I wish I did believe in something more, but usually that just sounds like a giant pain in the ass.


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