8 Apr

IT’S A LONG WAY TO HEAVEN

old man in chair photo: Old man in chair IMG_0077.jpg

“I’ve decided,” thought Mervyn, “it’s a long way to Heaven. I know it is. I’ve stared through that telescope I bought for my nephews when they were growing up and can’t see hide nor hair of the place! Yet he says, the man as ought to know, the man of God in his church, that it’s like a gigantic mansion with many rooms. He says, does the vicar, that all the good folks who die go there, dressed in their best wedding suits if that’s the best they have, and they meet their loved ones, the Pammy’s and Marias in their lives, and everything’s sweetness and light, like it never is down here on Earth…”

He cracked an egg into his frying pan, and sighed as the white albumen bubbled up and the yolk heaved a little.

“So what I wonder,” thought Mervyn, “is how I’m going to get there! I mean, I reckon I’ve been good all my life. I’ve done all the right things, I was a boy, years and years ago, and hurt nobody and never cheeked an adult or cheated at maths. Then, in my teens, I courted a girl, young Pammy it was, and never touched her like other boys did even when all the ladsm told tall tales of how they did rude things to their girls! Instead, I courted her proper, I took her to the pictures and once or twice copped a feel of her chest if she’d let me because that’s not a sin, but never if she stopped me! And we’d go through the countryside on walks with Rover her pooch, throwing sticks for him to chase and kissing when he wasn’t looking. I mean. You can’t have dogs watching you when your kissing, can you?”

He flipped the egg. He didn’t like the white to be runny. Instead he liked it to be all crispy at the edges, well done as his ma, who’d been dead this past half century, would have said.

“Pammy was nice, real nice,” he thought, “and she said she liked me too and we did do stuff together. Good stuff, though, not the sort of stuff a lot of other kids said they did, kids who were bound to be going to hell-fire because of it! But somehow or other we split and went our separate ways like folks sometimes do. I reckon it must have been her ma, thought I wasn’t good enough for her, though with all the effort I’d made to be good she must have got me all wrong! But my dad worked down the pit and her dad was a teacher at the local grammar, famous with his cane, Thrasher they called him, and so I suppose I wasn’t anywhere near good enough. But I took it in my stride. I had to because whatever else happened I didn’t want to be turned away by Saint Peter when it came my turn to ring the bell at his Pearly Gates…”

He turned the egg out and carefully placed it between two slices of bread he’d already buttered. Then he went into the front room and sat slowly in his favourite chair. He had to do everything slowly these days. His knees were shot and one of his hips creaked every time he bent it.

“Then I left school with a near-perfect record and into my first job,” he thought, “and it wasn’t following my dad down the pit. No sir, it wasn’t! I got my papers as a plumber and worked like stink to earn more than a crust. But I had to work hard because hard work was the way to life everlasting, that’s what the vicars said, and I believed them. Of course I did! Men of God, they were, and men of God don’t lie, do they? And it was while I was working on a bit of pipe in an old lady’s bathroom that I met her granddaughter, Maria. She was so beautiful I knew straight away I had to have her, and I told her so, out of the blue and bold, sorry. And she looked at me with teasing eyes and I’ll never forget what she did, not if I live to be a thousand, which I won’t. She pulled her sweater up over her head and unclasped her bra and pointed her … chest … all of her chest … at me. Then she said ‘do you like these, big boy?’ in a deep brown voice, and I did! I loved them, both of them, and told her so. And she could tell by the state of my trousers that I meant every syllable of it! Darn it, I’ve forgot my cuppa!”

Slowly, like you have to when you reach a certain age, he made his way back into his kitchen and switched the kettle on. It takes an age for a kettle to boil. That’s what he told himself.

“I took her out,” he mused, “I took her to the pictures like I’d taken Pammy, and I was good. I know how achingly hard it is being good when you’re full of passion and lust! But I had my eyes on the life everlasting and didn’t want to jeopardise that. So me and Maria sort of didn’t last so long because she wanted me to do stuff that I couldn’t on account of my faith. And that faith was getting stronger: it was overpowering and every day I told myself that whatever I did in my life I mustn’t go against it. And I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was controlled by my belief, and that belief made me good!”

He stirred his cup after pouring boiling water onto a teabag and topping it up with milk that was on the turn. Then it was a slow and deliberate return to his chair in the living room, and a slow and steady sit down.

“I would have liked to have married Maria, but she said as we should know if we’re compatible before we got wed, and if I wasn’t prepared to do it to her then we’d never know, and getting married could be one big mistake. And I ached to do it, but I knew what was right and what was wrong, and didn’t. Not once. Not with any lass, and the years passed. But if a thing’s right it’s right, and if another thing’s wrong then it’s wrong and I had to grit my teeth and bear that in mind. Lasses came and went, and I stuck to my guns. Sometimes, in the early years and to my shame I found my bed wet and sticky in the mornings after a good night’s sleep, and I punished myself for my weakness with leather, and prayed for hour after hour that I’d not lost my place in Heaven.”

He put his empty cup carefully on the coffee table, and closed his eyes.

“It’s been a lonely old life,” he thought, “and a bit sad. Things -people – sort of passed me by, me in the good lane with my eyes on Heaven and them, well, who knows what lane they were in. I don’t. But look at me, at this age, and I can honestly say I’ve lived a good life. Not that it feels that good looking back…”

He sighed, and wiped his brow, and frowned. There was a sudden pain in his chest and he didn’t like it.

“Blooming indigestion,” he thought.

But it wasn’t. It was his heart, his virgin heart, and his last thought was that he knew it was a long way to heaven, but he didn’t know the way …

© Peter Rogerson 08.04.15

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