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THE GATEKEEPER'S TRUE RELIGION
Lazy Bee Scripts are now the publisher for The Gatekeeper's True Religion.
Stuart Ardern of Lazy Bee reported that his reviewer was very enthusiastic about all aspects of the play, and remarked "One of the most outstanding things about this play is the sly humour that keeps cropping up. I was expecting gloom, something along the lines of “Uncle Vanya”, and instead I was laughing out loud."
The action takes place in 1990 in the house of an ordinary worker in the countryside close to the town of Chernobyl in The Ukraine shortly after the accident at the nuclear power station there.
The setting should represent the main living area of the house which is run down and shabby, perhaps resembling the house of a poor British family in the 1960's although this piece is set in 1990. Another part of the acting area should represent a gate or part of the fencing which surrounds the wrecked Chernobyl nuclear power station.
VASILY VASSILOVITCH BONDARENKO is a senior gatekeeper involved with the maintenance of the security fence around the deserted town of Chernobyl. He is suffering from radiation poisoning.
PAVEL PALVOVITCH DENTSCHEV is a young keen priest of the newly restored Orthodox Church.
PETLOVA is a young prostitute.
THE HOUSE OF VASILY
Petlova is on stage alone. She is preparing to leave, checking her make-up and the contents of a holdall. Off stage we can hear Vasily's hacking cough.
PETLOVA: You alright love?. You do sound bad, I hope I didn't bring it on.
VASILY: (Enters the room coughing) Of course it's your fault woman. It's the excitement. It sets me off.
PETLOVA: I'll take that as a compliment then, shall I?
VASILY: (his cough is easing.) Have you noticed I never cough while we're... you know, when we're at it. That perfume - aaargh - it hangs in the air when you're gone. It's torture. Look at you, making yourself beautiful for another man. I hate him. I hate them all.
PETLOVA: I do exactly the same for you Vasily; it's all part of the service. You wouldn't want me to arrive for work without my face on would you?
VASILY: How many customers have you got?
PETLOVA: Not enough. Hey, keep your hands to yourself. I don't mind you fondling my arse but strictly speaking I should charge you for it. (Playfully) Get off! Save it for my next visit, it'll give you something to look forward to. And if you want to enjoy my charms in future, wash your sheets. I won't go near that bed unless you do. In fact, this whole place could do with a spring clean.
VASILY: It's winter.
PETLOVA: I'm serious Vasily, especially about your sheets.
VASILY: I like it when you're strict.
PETLOVA: You won't be the first.
VASILY: You're a hard woman.
PETLOVA: I am a business woman. Time is money.
VASILY: Petlova, marry me and you can forget business and we'll have all the time we need.
PETLOVA: You know the answer to that. To start with you are nothing but an untidy slob.
VASILY: It's only a bit of surface dust. I am spotless in my person. These clothes may be old and a little worn but they are clean.
PETLOVA: I know you too well Vasily. You only bathe for my visits and you only do that because I threatened never to come again unless you cleaned yourself up.
VASILY: You see how good you are for me. You put me on the straight and narrow. Finish the job you started - marry me.
PETLOVA: Second, this place is cold enough to give a girl goose pimples - and I can't afford that in my line of work. If you were rich enough to marry me you would be able to afford a refrigerator. Instead, you keep your food fresh by lowering the temperature of the whole house.
VASILY: If you were here all the time things would be different.
PETLOVA: Nobody would live with you all the time - look at it.
VASILY: That's what you think. There's somebody on his way here right now. Due any minute.
PETLOVA: One of your smelly gatekeeper chums I expect. They don't count as proper people.
VASILY: You'll see. This could be the start of a new life for me. If you don't get a move on and except my proposal you could lose me for ever.
PETLOVA: There is a third reason why I won't marry you - you are married already.
VASILY: A technicality, a formality, a marriage in name only.
PETLOVA: Remember to get out the picture of your wife and children when I've gone. Au revoir my love. And try to be sober next time, it'll helps your performance.
VASILY: (Calling after her) Nothing can improve my performance. (Now to himself.) It's too late for that. (He opens a draw in a sideboard and takes out a framed photograph of his wife and two children) I'm sorry my love, but you can come out now and assume your rightful place. Hello little Sasha and sweet Tanya. Here is a kiss for you both. Be good for your mother and take care of her for me. And you my wife, I hope you can forgive the time I spend with Petlova. She understands me. Not that you don't, of course not. But Petlova is here and you...? You are not.
Vasily takes a drink of vodka with a sigh of satisfaction which turns into a cough. There is a knock on the door. In his haste to receive the visitor, Vasily carelessly places the framed picture face down on the sideboard.
VASILY: Come in, it's always open.
Pavel comes in carrying a suitcase.
PAVEL: Hello, I'm father Pavel Palvovitch Dentschev.
VASILY: Welcome father. Vasily Vassilovitch Bondarenko, Senior gatekeeper of the Southern Section. Let me take your bag. Leave your coat on - my little stove struggles to beat the cold. It is good of you to come all this way - we really are the arse end of Mother Russia.
PAVEL: If the people cannot come to the church, the church has a duty to come to the people.
VASILY: May I welcome you with a little drink father?
PAVEL: Just a small one for the cold. Do you have any whisky?
PAVEL: Just a drop.
VASILY: Isn't that a Scottish drink? Here in The Ukraine we drink the peoples' drink. Here you are Father.
PAVEL: Thank you. I'm getting quite used to vodka. (He sips.)
VASILY: Excuse me...er...father but it's best to knock it back in one, like a proper Ukrainian!
PAVEL: Of course, I know. Like this? (The vodka takes his breath away.)
VASILY: (Patting Pavel On the back.) You'll soon get the hang of it. That's an interesting accent; is it American?
PAVEL: English, London in fact - but it was a Russian part of London; very Russian indeed.
VASILY: Now you're here and very welcome. I did tidy up a little but you know what it's like - a man on his own. I hope it's not too basic for you. There are some lovely hotels in the centre of Chernobyl but since the accident, the only guests are the rats - and they're radio active so you don't want to spend your nights cuddled up with them do you.
PAVEL: This suits me perfectly. I have come here to be with you brave men. Live the way you live and see life through your eyes. I feel honoured.
VASILY: That's very kind, very kind. (He coughs loudly through the following.) I'm sorry but I can't do anything about this cough. Like bad luck- it's always with me.
(Pavel looks alarmed.) Don't worry, you won't catch anything. from me. Out there it's a different story - you need to take care. That's better, it always helps to have a good cough. Tomorrow, I will take you to your church and later you can meet my fellow gatekeepers. You can tell us what you want from us.
PAVEL: I want nothing. I am here to serve you; to guide you along the bumpy road that leads to the doors of our church. And when you arrive in the vestibule of God's house, I want to make sure you are prepared to knock on that door with confidence. If you allow it, my job is to position you within the framework of a loving and supportive church to help you face...the future.
VASILY: It sounds like you're going to be a very busy priest. As well as all that positioning of people in frameworks, you'll need to sort out that church of yours. It's in a bit of a mess.
PAVEL: I can roll my shirtsleeves up like the next man. Give me a mop and a bucket and I'll soon get things back to normal.
VASILY: I can believe that but tomorrow will be soon enough. Let me show you your room - you're going to be as snug as a bedbug in there.p
Exit Pavel and Vasily
AT VASILY'S GATE
Pavel and Vasily enter walking along the pathway leading to the gate that Vasily keeps. Vasily is finding the exertion difficult. They arrive at the gate.
VASILY: Have a drop of this, keep the cold out.
PAVEL: No thank you, it clouds my judgement.
VASILY: Please yourself. (He drinks and coughs.) I like cloudy. This is it, my gate. My personal piece of Mother Russia.
Vasily produces some keys.
PAVEL: I'm a little confused: where exactly is my church?
VASILY: You can see the spires from here, through the trees. It's only a couple of kilometres.
PAVEL: Beyond the gate - inside the security fence?
VASILY: They were very cautious when they put the fence up. When we had the accident most of the radio active shit got sucked up into the clouds and landed all over the Finns and the Norwegians. They got it in Scotland as well - where your whisky comes from.
PAVEL: (Worried but trying to be casual.) I'm sure you're right but at the same time, we have to accept that the appropriate authorities evaluated the situation and took appropriate measures.
VASILY: (Snorts in disgust.) The authorities couldn't evaluate the weather on a wet day.
PAVEL: Absolutely right. The authorities - dreadful people. WE can manage without them. I am concerned though - about the distance. It's a long way. I feel very strongly that I should slot neatly into your lives - not drag you good people all over the countryside. And to be honest, I had not been aware of the full effects of the cold. And the worst of winter is yet to come. It will be doubly cold inside the church - freezing probably. And you're not a well man. No, Christ's Church is its people, not the buildings.
VASILY: Okay, if that's what you want. (He puts the keys away.) I wasn't looking forward to scrubbing the church anyway. So where will you do the confessing and blessing?
PAVEL: God hears us wherever we are. I could do it in your house- the home of an honest, hardworking man like yourself is most appropriate. We can draw inspiration from the view of the spires. Yes we can worship in your home, in the warm. God doesn't mind us being warm you know. And it's unreasonable to ask you to go beyond the gates and take unnecessary risks - in view of the inconvenience...and the levels of radiation.
VASILY: It is too late for us. We keep these gates locked and patrol the fences for the benefit of others.
PAVEL: But it must be better to limit your exposure to contamination?
VASILY: All us gatekeepers were here at the time of the accident. We were a lost cause from the first day. Take me, I was a maintenance worker at the plant - nothing grand, I just did the donkey work. I was there, that night. They said it was under control and not to worry but you could tell they were lying. It was in their eyes - fear. Like frightened rabbits, chasing all over, pressing this and that, turning switches - but none of it did any good. They were shit scared. The worst had happened you see. And they couldn't stop it. We got out quick of course but it was too late. We all got a big dose of radiation so this job's perfect for us. Guess how many tumours I've had taken out- go, guess.
PAVEL: I couldn't...it's...I can't.
VASILY: Five. Five tumours. Hard to believe isn't it when you look at me - a big lad like me. The pay is crap but I get what they call a posthumous medal and my wife gets a bit of a pension when I'm...you know, when it's all over. I've done a damn sight better than those poor kids the army sent to clear up the mess in the reactor. Told them they were safe in there for two minutes. Rubbish that was. I reckon most of those poor bastards are dead already.
The two exit on the walk back to Vasily's house.
Pavel and Vasily enter after the walk from the gate.
PAVEL: It's so nice to be out of the cold. You mentioned your wife back there at the gate. I never realised you were married.
VASILY: Yes, two kids as well. They all had to leave after the accident, specially the kids.
PAVEL: Are they able to visit?
VASILY: At the beginning, but it is a very expensive journey. The wife's been on her own a few times but this place makes her very nervous; worries about getting contaminated. But she does make the effort. On her last visit she wore one of those basques to try and spice things up. She looked fabulous except for the face mask and plastic gloves....
PAVEL: All this simply adds to the respect I have for you. Such bravery when many men would find it all too much.
VASILY: I'm not brave, all I did was accept my fate. Easy really. You're the brave one; you didn't have to come here and expose yourself to God knows what. But you did. That's bravery.
PAVEL: (Overdoing the modesty.) I cannot claim to be brave, far from it. (Then, after a brief reflection.) Is there much risk do you think?
VASILY: More vodka father?
PAVEL: Not just now thank you.
VASILY: I will. You don't mind do you?
PAVEL: Of course not. It's not my business to comment on that part of your life, although...
VASILY: That hit the spot. (He begins coughing which carries over the following, getting worse.)
PAVEL: (Smug) You talk about bravery. I wouldn't aspire to that particular description, not at all. This is simply what priests do, you could say it is part of our job description. (Vasily's coughing becomes more violent) Can I help?
VASILY: Get me a drink, quickly!
PAVEL: Of course, yes, of course I will.
VASILY: Not water man, a drink, vodka.
PAVEL: I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Here you are.
VASILY: (Through his coughing) This is the only stuff that helps. (He drinks but his cough gets worse.)
PAVEL: Careful man, you're coughing on me. Turn your head away.
VASILY: (He has begun to cough blood and some of this lands on Pavel. Through the rasping noise he pleads:) I can't help it. It has to come up. There's no other route.
PAVEL: Oh God. Get it off me. Get it off.
VASILY: (Heads for the kitchen, still coughing) I'm sorry father. I'll use the sink in here. (The hacking cough continues off stage.)
PAVEL: (Trying to clean himself.) This is disgusting what does the man think he's doing? For God's sake! (He pauses, struck by his own words) What am I doing. What have I said. The man is suffering and I'm making a fuss about a few...spots of...blood. (The coughing dies down to silence.) Oh God, forgive me this moment of weakness. My heart knows what should be done, but it's not very nice is it? (Vasily enters and listens, reacting to what he hears but without being noticed by Pavel) But I will face the task you have set and carry it out as you would wish. Dear Vasily - this poor, sad man - he needs me and I will not let him down. I will stand by him through his trials and share them as if they were my own. I will be his brother in life and death.
VASILY: That's the nicest thing anybody has ever said about me.
PAVEL: It's what He would wish.
VASILY: Like a brother, right to the end. Life and death. You and me every step of the way. That's really...nice. Comforting. I mean that. Now let's get you up, you'll be no use to anybody on your knees. Brother.
PAVEL: I failed you just then but it will not happen again.
VASILY: It's not much fun having blood coughed all over you. Especially my blood - not a pretty sight.
PAVEL: (Very emotional.) There is no excuse; I am here to help you and when you needed me... I came here to make it possible for God to ease your suffering. But at the first hurdle, I've fallen.
VASILY: You'll be alright, I'm sure you will. Don't get so upset. We're brothers now.
PAVEL: I know how to deal with death in the ordinary sense - I have been trained for that. But this is different. This invisible scourge eating your body away.
VASILY: Not much fun but that's Life, or death in my case. Another drink father?
PAVEL: Where do you find the strength to make jokes when you are facing such a horrible death?
VASILY: Thanks for reminding me.
PAVEL: If I am going to be any use to you I must find some of your strength and I think I have it. I think God has shown me a way.
VASILY: Very good. Excellent. You'll be alright now?
PAVEL: Vasily, will you cough on me please?
VASILY: Cough on you?
PAVEL: To show I understand. To show I can deal with your plight and help you through.
VASILY: I've just done that.
PAVEL: Yes, but this time I will not flinch or push you away.
VASILY: Okay, if you say so. (He makes a polite cough.)
PAVEL: No, properly. With blood if you can manage it.
VASILY: It hurts me to cough you know. Why do you want it?
PAVEL: It is a symbolic act. A statement. In my own feeble way I am matching our Lord's bravery when he walked amongst the lepers.
VASILY: I'm no leper.
PAVEL: It is a symbol of the way I will share your suffering to the end; that I am willing to give my all.
VASILY: And this will happen if I cough on you?
PAVEL: I am certain.
VASILY: Okay, it's your funeral. (He coughs on Pavel vigorously ending with phlegm.) Sorry about the phlegm at the end but I couldn't help it.
PAVEL: No, No. That was fine. It was what I needed. Now we have an understanding.
VASILY: I didn't know what to expect when I heard you were coming but this is, this is... you sacrificing yourself for me.
PAVEL: It must be very emotional to find yourself near to God after such a long separation.
VASILY: It was a long time coming. No offence intended but you didn't exactly rush did you? They do say that when the Berlin wall came down the first people across were McDonalds and Cocoa Cola.
PAVEL: (Indignant.) We have been preparing in exile for many years. I grew up in exile, never knowing what it was like to set foot on my native soil. My family left at the time of the revolution - 1915.
VASILY: Seventeen. The Peoples' revolution was in nineteen-seventeen.
PAVEL: I know that of course but my family was persecuted very early so they were amongst the first to leave. Chased out at the point of a gun.
VASILY: By who?
PAVEL: By the Bolsheviks of course, my Great Grandfather was an Archbishop. Must have been one of the first targets.
VASILY: It was early days though; The Czar still in power and the revolution two years away.
PAVEL: As I said, my family were amongst the first to suffer and consequently the first to leave- at the point of a gun of course. Being in exile wasn't easy you know. Can you image being alone in London knowing nobody?
VASILY: I understand loneliness.
PAVEL: My family discovered some distant relatives in London who took them in.
VASILY: What a stroke of luck. What trade were they in?
PAVEL: Banking, they were bankers.
VASILY: That must have been tough.
PAVEL: Oh yes, we suffered in exile but we carried on the fight; fighting to keep the faith alive, handing it down from father to son. From father to son until now. We knew one day the evil empire would crumble and the call would come for us to return. It's been a long time. I must admit, I had to ask some serious questions of my faith. It's been very difficult.
VASILY: We had a bit to put up with ourselves.
PAVEL: I know, I know. And between us we brought the red beast to heel.
VASILY: Yes, I suppose we did.
PAVEL: But now I'm here and ready to answer all your questions about the Church and how God can be welcomed into your life. And this book will give you much comfort on the journey you are about to make.
VASILY: Is this the manual, the Good God Guide? My wife told me the basics last time she came to visit. It all sounds pretty good, especially the stuff about life after death. Could you show me that bit?
PAVEL: Considering what you have been suffering for your fellow men I am sure you will be welcomed into the kingdom of God.
VASILY: So I'm okay in that department. I get life after death whatever happens?
PAVEL: Oh no, well yes. But of course you must be accepted into the church. That's my job, I'll be your spiritual guide.
VASILY: What about wrongdoings?
PAVEL: You mean sins?
VASILY: There's quite a few. My wife said I could apologise and get forgiven - if I truly mean it. Could you show me that part?
PAVEL: It is difficult to look things up out of context.
VASILY: Is there an index?
PAVEL: The bible isn't like that. I'm here to be your spiritual guide. It is my job to remove the dark veil from the mysteries of our church and bring you to a fuller understanding.
VASILY: Could you give me a few pointers now though, particularly about the sins.
PAVEL: I'll do all I can.
VASILY: I've made a little list.
PAVEL: Thank you, let me see. (reacts whilst reading.) Oh. This one's unusual. I am sure that when the church welcomes you, and you truly repent, all of this will be forgiven. Let me see...
VASILY: This will be a secret between us?
PAVEL: This drawing is very detailed.
VASILY: I had to draw it, I didn't know what to call it.
Pavel exits looking at the list leaving Vasily alone.
GO TO HALF BLACKOUT
LIGHTS TO FULL
Vasily has a shopping bag and is trying to prepare a shopping list. He keeps mumbling to himself, adding things then crossing them out.
VASILY: I'm going into the village to do a bit of shopping. Just some fresh stuff - we're okay for cans, plenty of that.
PAVEL: Please let me help with the cost, I've contributed nothing so far.
VASILY: There's no problem in that department, not a bit. You're my guest.
PAVEL: Is there much to buy?
VASILY: No, not much. Well, just bread really. (Indicates his shopping list) I was just trying to go through it like my wife used to.
PAVEL: I think you miss her an awful lot.
VASILY: Maybe you'll meet her before you leave- fingers crossed eh? In the meantime, I'll have to do the shopping.
PAVEL: I don't suppose the baker does white bread by any chance?
VASILY: Never seen it. Make yourself at home father, I won't be long.
Exit Vasily leaving Pavel alone.
PAVEL: I think, Lord, we are getting somewhere with Vasily. He is a simple man but his heart seems to be open and waiting for you to enter, as long as I can stand the cold and this terrible black bread I'm sure we can reel him in.
Petlova enters without any warning.
PETLOVA: Coo-ee, Vasily. It's me, are you... Whoops, I'm sorry if I startled you. I've come to see Vasily.
PAVEL: He's gone shopping.
PETLOVA: Don't look like that, I'm not a robber. Vasily is expecting me, he must have forgotten. Look, I know where everything is, best china down there, broom cupboard here - not that it gets out much. You're lonely aren't you little broom, nobody ever takes your little handle and waltzes you round the room. Broom.
PAVEL: You must be...
PETLOVA: ...Petlova. The one and only. I'm surprised the old sod went out he usually looks forward to me coming. And you are?
VASILY: Father Pavel Palvovitch Dentschev.
PETLOVA: From the look of you, and your accent, I thought you were an English vicar.
PAVEL: I am Russian, born in exile. I am here to help re-establish the Orthodox Church in the land of my fathers.
PETLOVA: Good, excellent, that's just what we need I'm sure. And you've obviously worked hard to learn our language, I wish you every success. How long will Vasily be?
PAVEL: He's gone to the bakers, I don't know how long that takes.
PETLOVA: I'm not waiting all day.
PAVEL: Oh please, I know he loves to see you, how much he misses you. Please stay, he's told me a lot about you.
PETLOVA: Has he? I bet you enjoyed that. I bet that made a very stimulating bedtime story. What the hell, things must be pretty quiet in that department for a priest, so if old Vasily wants to share his moments of joy with you, who am I to complain.
PAVEL: We've not discussed...intimate things - he just told me about you and it was obvious how much your visits mean to him.
PETLOVA: That's sweet.
PAVEL: You're younger than I imagined: not that there is anything wrong with that- I don't have a problem with it - it was just a little surprising. It helps me understand part of the reason why...why things are the way they are.
PETLOVA: No, I was wrong about your Russian, it needs a lot more work. I didn't understand any of that.
PAVEL: I'm sorry, I'm speaking out of turn. If you don't want to talk about you and Vasily I won't mention it again.
PETLOVA: Which bit of ‘me and Vasily’ do you want to discuss?
PAVEL: Vasily tells me that you come to see him very rarely and I wonder if you would like to discuss that situation with me - in my capacity as an unbiased observer.
PETLOVA: It's not your accent, no, that's quite good. Each word is clear in itself but my problem begins when I put all the words together and try to make sense of them. What are you talking about?
PAVEL: Denial. I understand. It must have been a hard decision for you to make - separating a man from his children.
PETLOVA: That's hardly my fault.
PAVEL: Denial - classic case. You are obviously denying the full implications of your estrangement from Vasily.
PETLOVA: (Looks confused.) Shall we try French, I did that at school.
PAVEL: I think you understand.
PETLOVA: Try speaking more slowly.
PAVEL: What are the things that make you stay away from poor vasily.
PETLOVA: Well, let me see. There's his dirty sheets and his dirty underwear.
PAVEL: Sheets and underwear - these are the trivia of life.
PETLOVA: Not my life.
PAVEL: Tell me, where does Vasily fit into your life?
PETLOVA: That's a good question.
PAVEL: Vasily is a brave man, a man who not only faces death but faces it bravely. But he is alone. Should he, Petlova, should such a man be alone?
PETLOVA: No, that's why I am here - so that Vasily will not be alone.
PAVEL: May I ask a very direct question?
PETLOVA: As long as I can understand you.
PAVEL: Your visits, why are they not more frequent?
PETLOVA: Vasily is not a rich man. He sends as much money home as possible which does not leave much for his own pleasures.
PAVEL: So you and he are kept apart simply by a lack of money?
PETLOVA: In a free market everything has a price.
PAVEL: Money is no longer a problem. Money can be provided.
PETLOVA: You're going to pay for my visits to Vasily?
PAVEL: Not me personally. I have access to certain church funds that can be used in cases of hardship like this.
PETLOVA: You do realise what we do when we are together?
PAVEL: If you are referring to the normal relations between man and woman...
PETLOVA: It's not always what you might call normal.
PAVEL: The modern church is very broad minded and I'm sure that side of things does not occupy you all the time.
PETLOVA: Would you give me the money direct or will Vasily have to claim it back after each visit.
PAVEL: Just give Vasily the tickets and I will claim the money from the fund.
PAVEL: The train tickets.
PETLOVA: Train tickets? I'm having trouble with your Russian again. I thought you said train tickets.
PAVEL: Train tickets, I don't know any other way to say it in Russian. The tickets of the train.
PETLOVA: Why do you think I would give train tickets? I'm a prostitute, not a station master.
PAVEL: (Laughing) I thought you said you were a prostitute. That's very funny, my Russian must be rusty after all.
PETLOVA: Sit down Mr English vicar, listen to this: I am Petlova and I am a prostitute.
PAVEL: No, no. You're Vasily's wife.
PETLOVA: I am Vasily's whore and you just offered to pick up the tab.
PAVEL: I didn't...you're not...I thought you were...
PETLOVA: (Holds up the framed picture of Vasily's family.) Do I look like Vasily's wife. She's ancient. (Pavel grabs the picture and examines it.) This is priceless. You wait 'till I tell the girls: a priest offered to buy a whore for poor Vasily. I could have made a fortune. Don't ever try to get a job as a pimp, you're not qualified.
PAVEL: It was a simple misunderstanding, you never said who you were.
PETLOVA: You assumed.
PAVEL: I simply mistook you for poor Vasily's wife. An easy mistake to make.
PETLOVA: I expect a lot of people mistake you for a priest.
PAVEL: How long has this been going on?
PETLOVA: It's none of your business but we've had what you would call a professional relationship since he came back to Chernobyl.
PAVEL: Did you know him before?
PETLOVA: I'd seen him around, but I wasn't a prostitute then.
PAVEL: What did you do?
PETLOVA: I worked at the power station, a technician in one of the labs. A good job, although not as rewarding as what I do now. Yes, before you ask, I was contaminated like everyone else, I've got my little crop of tumours. I thought I was one of the elite, a science worker, someone who controlled events, not someone who could become a victim. I thought I had it there, in the palm of my hand - under control.
PAVEL: I've come to help Vasily and the other gatekeepers - but I'm sure I can offer you support as well.
PETLOVA: Are you a specialist cancer doctor? No, of course not, you're a priest. There are only two ways you can help me, priest; one is to be qualified to cut me open and rip this lousy, fucking, dirty, shity, fucking filth from my body... The other way is to fuck me for money so I can save enough cash to go to America and find someone who will make me well. Since you don't have a scalpel tucked inside your bible, you had better get your money out, if you really want to help. I prefer dollars.
PAVEL: I can't...
PETLOVA: Then you are no use to me.
PAVEL: But there are things I can do to ease your unhappiness.
PETLOVA: I've told you what I need.
PAVEL: But if there is anything - spiritual - I can do in the future please do not hesitate...
PETLOVA: Fuck off.
PAVEL: ...but if you should change your mind.
PETLOVA: I said fuck off. I meant it. Every breath you take is wasted - do everybody a favour and hold your breath for as long as it takes - Okay.
PAVEL: (Patronising.) I understand.
PETLOVA: (Irate.) Huh! I'm sure you understand where the door is. Off you go. Shoo, I've got business with Vasily - so leave, unless you want to watch. I charge for it though.
PAVEL: I'm living here at the moment, a guest of Vasily; his spiritual advisor.
PETLOVA: Just go for a walk, we won't be long.
PAVEL: I wonder if you realise how difficult things are for Vasily and his wife? Do you think that what you are doing is helping or hindering their relationship?
PETLOVA: I make Vasily happy, in small doses. That's it.
PAVEL: Perhaps we can chat about it while we wait.
PETLOVA: No thanks.
PAVEL: You see, it may appear to the outsider that Vasily's wife is letting him down in some way...
PETLOVA: I said, no thanks.
PAVEL: Of course, but it would help me to discuss it. You're a woman and...
PETLOVA: I'm not listening. Okay.
PAVEL: ...and seeing his situation through a woman's eyes can only be valuable to me.
PETLOVA: I'm putting my fingers in my ears now.
PAVEL: There are the children of course and while men understand...
PETLOVA: (She begins to hum a single continuous note throughout the following, taking noisy breaths when necessary.)
PAVEL: ... the importance of children, I do not believe that we can ever appreciate what they mean to a woman - especially her own children, the fruits of her womb so to speak. I believe that in any situation involving children, a woman is under unique and specific pressures...
VASILY: (He speaks over the other two.) Ah. You two, you've met.
PAVEL: ...that go a long way to explain what could be regarded as unusual behaviour.
Petlova's monotonous note continues for a few beats and then diminishes falteringly as she becomes aware of Vasily.
A short silence.
VASILY: I've got the bread. And I bought a nice cake. Cherry. Go down a treat with a glass of tea.
PETLOVA: Vasily you naughty boy, you've kept me waiting. If you weren't one of my regulars I'd charge you extra.
VASILY: This is father Pavel, he's a priest. He's come to stay with me. He's the one I told you about. He's showing all the gatekeepers about religion, put us straight on it.
PETLOVA: We've met.
VASILY: This is Petlova.
PAVEL: I know.
VASILY: Petlova does...cleaning for me.
PETLOVA: I should be used to this treatment but somehow it always hurts. On top of that, does it look like this place has ever been cleaned.
PAVEL: She's just starting today. I thought I ought to make the effort with a priest in the house - father.
PAVEL: We've had a long chat and been very frank with each other. We know where we stand.
PETLOVA: That's right, it took me some time to get him to admit he was a priest but we got there in the end.
PAVEL: Vasily, I don't mind. This...your relations with Petlova are of the real world and I understand.
PETLOVA: He was in denial at one stage but I got him through it.
VASILY: Don't take the piss Petlova, he's a priest, he's going to help me.
PETLOVA: And I don't? Come on Vasily, you always enjoy our time together. He said he'd wait outside. You can take help from both of us. That's okay vicar, isn't it? He can confess his sins when I've finished with him, and you can get on with the bible classes.
PAVEL: I'm not going to compete with you over Vasily. He must decide which road he wants to follow, what path he thinks will lead to the Kingdom of Heaven.
PETLOVA: That's low, that's sneaky vicar.
VASILY: Don't argue like this, it's stupid - and complicated. I don't know what to do for best. Father Pavel has promised to be like a brother to me- in life and in death. I don't know, I need time. I'll make some tea for us. It's very cold and we'd all like a warm, I bet. I won't be long.
Exit Vasily's to the kitchen. The other two speak in lowered tones.
PAVEL: (Simultaneously) You should leave him alone...
PETLOVA: The poor man doesn't know if he's coming or going.
PAVEL: Do you really need his business that much?
PETLOVA: It's not that, it's not just the money. He talks to me, you know that? He confides in me. I'll tell you a secret, we hardly ever have sex - less and less as his illness gets worse. Oh he makes all the macho noises but it rarely comes to anything. Mostly, we talk. You asked me if I knew about his wife - well I do. I know it inside out and upside down. That man has cried in my arms like a baby about his family. That's what I do for him and that's what he needs me for.
PAVEL: But I...
PETLOVA: Could you? Could you really? Could you imagine yourself with Vasily lying in your arms crying so much your shirt is drenched with his tears and snot? Did you cover that at the seminary?
PAVEL: I cannot deny what you have done. I couldn't offer to do it better. But I believe that Vasily needs to find God. Can you offer that?
PETLOVA: He's not mentioned that to me.
PAVEL: No, exactly. His time is coming and I believe he wants to make peace with his maker. What you have done has been important for Vasily up to this point in his life. Now he will be asking more than you can give. Adultery, in all its forms, is a sin. If you want to help Vasily as he nears the close of his life leave now. If the love you have for him is real, just go - it will cause him less pain in the long run.
PETLOVA: I would not stand between Vasily and something he wants, even if it is the church - much good my it do him. But don't think you've seen me off, I'm going because it may be what Vasily wants. But just remember, I'm watching you and if I think...
PAVEL: Go now, if you're going.
Exit Petlova reluctantly.
Enter Vasily with tea for three.
VASILY: Here we are- tea. Loads of sugar and lemon. Where is Petlova?
PAVEL: She wouldn't wait.
PAVEL: It will help you to concentrate.
VASILY: Couldn't I concentrate after...
PAVEL: Let's make a start now shall we Vasily. Get you thinking on the right track as soon as possible.
Half blackout with fifteen seconds of a Russian church choir singing.
This extract finishes on page 26 of a total of 35 pages. Please contact me if you want to see how the play progresses.