Help was on the way. All my truck needed was a boost, but it was negative fourteen outside. In the distance there was a building. In front of the building there was a sign.
I was able to read it as I approached the frost-covered lawn. “God loves Atheists too,” it read. It was not my lucky day.
The front hall of the church smelled like urine. I’m not sure why. Synagogues smell the same way. I have never been inside a mosque, but my guess is that it would smell like urine too. At least the hall was warm.
The priest came out from his office when he heard me enter. He was an old, fat, bald man, and he had crusty food particles hanging from his beard. His clerical collar was crooked, but he had a handsome face and deep blue eyes.
“My truck broke down,” I said. “Do you mind if I wait here until help arrives?”
The priest smiled. “Not at all, my child," he said.
He invited me into his office where there was an electric heater running. The heater looked like a fake miniature fireplace. It was a Canadian Tire deal, but it was comforting to look at. I sat down beside the heater to warm myself.
He was standing over me, and he was still smiling. It was unnerving. “Do you pray?” he asked.
“I’m not a Christian,” I told him. His expression did not change. He took a seat behind his desk on a rickety armchair. The chair squeaked and creaked with any fidget.
“That’s quite alright,” He told me. “God loves you the same.”
Don’t do it, I thought to myself. There is no point in saying anything. But then I thought about the sign…
“I’m an atheist,” I said.
He laughed, but not in mockery. It was a kindhearted laugh. I had a feeling that if this man were not a priest, we could be friends.
“Do you want to know something fascinating?” He asked me.
“Sure,” I said.
“I put up that sign not but two hours ago!” He slapped his meaty knee. “If that’s not a sign of divine providence, I don’t know what is,” he said, leaning back on his squeaky chair.
“It’s an offensive sign,” I told him.
“Why?” he asked.
“It’s a backhanded complement,” I told him. “I don’t believe in god. Saying god loves me means you are imposing your belief in god on me. If I were to build a building and set up a sign that said ‘There is no god’, I am sure that some religious nut would smash the windows of that building.”
The priest shifted in his rickety chair, and he frowned at me.
“I find it sad that such a young man like yourself would feel that way. Poor child. You have never felt god’s love. But why call the religious ‘nuts’ just because you don’t believe? Why call me a nut? Have I not offered you warmth?”
“I’m not calling you a nut. I’m grateful for the heat. I just don’t believe in god,” I said.
“You are most welcome, but I think you must be calling me a nut, because I’m religious.” He stared at me with those big blue eyes. It was infuriating.
“I said some religious nut. I didn’t say every religious person is a nut, and I didn’t say you were a nut. You’re the one who started this argument by putting up that ridiculous sign. Believe what you want to believe, but don’t force your beliefs on me.”
“I’m not,” said the priest. “If I remember correctly, you’re the one who came in from the cold, and I’m the one who offered you warmth.”
“Well,” I told him. 'Thank you for the warmth. I’m going to go now. Do me a favor. If I die of hypothermia out there, don’t bury me in the cemetery behind this church. If you do, I will put a curse on you. Do you know why?”
“Why?” asked the priest. He was laughing now. I started laughing too.
“Because I’m the devil,” I told him.
That made him real quiet.
“Get out” he said.
“I’m going," I said.
The sun was setting outside and the temperature had dropped to about negative twenty. By the time I reached the truck my hands and feet were numb.
When Jeff from dispatch finally arrived, I was turning a cool shade of blue, but it didn’t bother me.
When you work outside, you learn to adapt to it. If you can't, you get another job or go on welfare.
Jeff gave me a boost and the truck started up. Since the battery had died all of the radio pre-sets had been erased. A Christian radio station came on when the truck started, and was now blaring from the speakers. Another sign…
“Jesus loves you” was the name of the song. The melody was all right, but I changed the channel to alt rock. Cobain was a better preacher.
I was too tired to think of women or calculate or care about the number of overtime hours I had worked. I was too tired to think about how lonely, angry, grateful, or terrified I was.
Instead, I enjoyed sucking on my frozen coffee that was melting into a nice slush thanks to the slow rising heat of the cab.