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Now Departing

by Charles C. Cole

(CAROL approaches a registration table and is met by event organizers, JIM and JOYCE.)

JIM: Welcome. Enter as a stranger and leave as a friend. I’m Jim Jones. No relation.

JOYCE: Joyce Whitliff, chief cook and bottle washer.

JIM: You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but Joyce is my right-hand man.

CAROL: I’m Carol. I have a reservation. (To JIM.) You look just like your picture.

JIM: Not that old “Follow me to Paradise” brochure? That was five years and twenty pounds ago. Let’s fill out a nametag and get you settled in.

JOYCE: Food’s on the table. The cookies were made from scratch. Everything’s free, but donations are appreciated.

CAROL: May I ask, where’s the “ascension juice?” I might as well get used to holding it.

JIM: No rush. We’ll all do it together, when everyone’s arrived, so we cross over as an orderly group, a special chartered tour, with me as your guide.

CAROL: It won’t hurt, will it?

JIM: It’s a very simple process, very natural, like going to sleep, without the bed-hair, morning-breath waking-up part.

CAROL: I just have butterflies, I guess. This is so permanent.

JIM: Like God’s love. Your concern is understandable. It’s a big step. In fact, Joyce, I need to check on preparations in the kitchen. Why don’t you show Carol around? If there’s anyone who can get you ready for the next life, it’s Joyce. (Exits.)

JOYCE: Shall we start over? I’m Joyce. Welcome to Last Supper Enterprises.

CAROL: Carol Stipke. Table for one.

JOYCE: I meant to tell you, I love your hair! Did you do that special for today?

CAROL: I thought I should, you know, dress up; it’s such a big day. I hope it’s not too much.

JOYCE: Not at all. Very respectful. (Handing her the nametag.)

JIM: (Enters with a drink.) Here you go. Always easier to mingle with a drink in your hand. Back in a few. (He exits.)

JOYCE: So, let me ask you a question, Carol, heart to heart, are you ready to accept a seat at the right-hand of your savior, for all time?

CAROL: I most certainly am. That’s why I’m here instead of happy hour at Red’s Bar and Grille, even though they make hot wings that are holier than thou.

JOYCE: Now, don’t worry. We take care of our own.

CAROL: You’re so calm. Are you coming, too, or are you just “driving the crazy bus?”

JOYCE: I’ll be right beside you, holding your hand if you want me to.

CAROL: Do you know anyone who’s gone before us, at previous events I mean? I get the feeling from Jim that you’re the voice of experience.

JOYCE: My husband, Leo, went last summer. He left in an awful hurry, stomach cancer. We figured: Why make him count down when each day was an even steeper uphill climb?

CAROL: I’m sorry for your loss.

JOYCE: My loss is Heaven’s gain. I’m sure he’s been busy getting reacquainted with old relatives. Remind me to introduce you. He’s a wonderful man. I’ve missed him every day, but I had to stay behind to see that the kids were provided for. Now that everything’s in order — our extended family’s really stepped up — I’m ready to catch up. I know Leo’s expecting me. “Whither thou goest, I goest.” Like in the Good Book.

CAROL: And what will happen to your kids, if you don’t mind my asking?

JOYCE: Sure. I mean, we can be honest now. There are no secrets here. This is the time to unburden, of material things, of regrets, of these silly fleshy costumes that imprison us. The children are with their uncle. Marie — the eldest — she’ll be sixteen this summer.

CAROL: Sweet sixteen and never been kissed, I bet.

JOYCE: I thought she was a little young for dating but her uncle, my brother, said we need to encourage her to make new friends now, with both her parents gone. Of course, after the six months’ waiting period, if she should decide to join us, her father and I would be happy to have her.

CAROL: That’s so lovely. And the others?

JOYCE: Bobby’s ten and Blair’s only eight.

CAROL: Young ones.

JOYCE: We believe that you need to experience the struggle and pain of life on earth for a good while first so that, when you’re ready to leave, you can appreciate the soulful pleasures of the hereafter.

CAROL: They’ll miss you.

JOYCE: Kids are resilient. Their aunt and uncle are quite a capable couple, childless too. Well, not anymore. I’ve made a video for each of them. I hope they won’t think I’m pressuring them into joining us, but I’m bound to sound a little biased.

CAROL: Who wouldn’t? I don’t think this is something you can be wishy-washy about.

JOYCE: Better a schmaltzy sales pitch from the heart than the false platitudes and half-truths of a non-believing hypocrite. That’s my life mission. Old-fashioned values from birth to death. I’m very “walk it like you talk it,” if you know what I mean.

CAROL: I do. Keeping the family together forever. What can be more perfect than that?

JOYCE: Amen, sister! (Remembering.) We have a Testimonial Studio if you want to record some thoughts, let those you’re leaving behind know, even though you’re gone, you’re still invested in their happiness.

CAROL: I don’t know what I’d say. I’m not as calm as you are. I don’t want to stammer like the town drunk.

JOYCE: Just speak from your heart.

CAROL: That’s what I’m afraid of. What if I start blubbering? A lovely offer, but I think I better skip it.

JOYCE: I want you to reconsider. Let me see if it’s free. I think it’ll be good for you and the people you’re leaving behind. I’ll be right back. (Exits.)

CAROL: (Alone, grabbing the brooch on her blouse and aiming it around the room like a spy camera.) I hope you’re getting all this. This is good stuff. I wish you’d let me wear an ear piece; I feel all alone. Honk if you love Jesus. (Car HONKS off-stage.) I get it. Who wouldn’t want to rejoin old loved ones, but something’s not right? (Suddenly.) God, I’m tired.

(JIM and JOYCE return, JOYCE pushing a wheeled cot, overhearing the last part.)

JOYCE: Did someone say they’re tired?

CAROL: (Punchy. Clearly drugged.) A portable bed with wheels! Why didn’t I think of it? Come to think of it, where are all the chairs? Don’t people ever sit down at your events?

JIM: (Helping her onto the cot.) That’s why they’re called lay people.

CAROL: Hey, what’s going on? I feel all woozy.

JOYCE: (Gently covering her up under a beautiful blanket and adjusting a pillow for her head.) It’s time, Carol.

CAROL: (Realizing.) You drugged me! You gave me something!

JIM: Isn’t that why you came here? So we could give you something?

CAROL: Are you high? No! I’m an investigative reporter. I’m here to take you down, you self-righteous prick! (To the microphone in her brooch.) You hear me? What are you waiting for? Kick the fucking door down and show these bastards who’s in charge.

JIM: Nobody’s coming, Carol.

CAROL: You didn’t hurt him, did you? I mean he is my asshole boss and a bastard of an ex-husband but... Myron! Myron, honk if you hear me.

JIM: It was Myron’s idea. He said you’ve never forgiven yourself since the accident, since the loss of little Rosemarie. He wanted to help you, to reunite you, so you could find peace at last.

JOYCE: What did Rosemarie look like? I’ll bet you carry a photo of her.

CAROL: She was beautiful and funny and smart. She deserved better. There isn’t anybody else, is there? This was a big scam. All for me. Why are you doing this?

JIM: There are some people you can’t fix. But you can always send them back to the manufacturer.

JOYCE: I know you’re a skeptic, Carol, but we really believe. It’ll all work out.

CAROL: What about freedom of choice? I thought that was rule number one. Why are you doing this?

JOYCE: We told you, dear. Your husband called us and—

CAROL: Ex-husband.

JIM: He came up with the investigation piece. In return, he’s donating a substantial amount to our movement. We’ll be able to really fix up the place, make it more inviting.

CAROL: Was that the juice or just something to take the edge off?

JIM: That’s the improvement we’ve made over my predecessor from Guyana: the two-step method. Since we can’t make the drink sweeter, we make our traveler more relaxed, more carefree.

CAROL: Where’s the drink?

JIM: In the kitchen. Glad you asked. I’ll be right back. (He exits.)

CAROL: Are you coming?

JOYCE: Jim needs my help. Soon. I wasn’t lying about that. Were you lying?

CAROL: Not about Myron being my asshole boss. You hear me, Myron? Jim’s getting the poisoned drink. You can kick the door in anytime now, honey. Joyce, I’m a cop. In a moment my captain is going to cut the power as he and some friends come storming in. You might want to lie down on the floor because they sometimes come in guns blazing.

JIM: (Enters, drink in hand.) Cocktails, anyone?

(The lights go out.)

Copyright © 2017 by Charles C. Cole

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