13 Sep

The gigantic looking-glass in Hades shimmered, and Bernard looked away from it. He was shaking like a fig-leaf even in death, for dead he most certainly was, and he was being given a conducted tour of episodes from his own life by the Devil himself, reflected in glorious emotional colour in the huge mirror.
“I don’t like it,” he whimpered, “I was in real trouble that day because I was a dirty, filthy little boy. And Mr Torrid told my mum all about it, and she punished me as well, when I got home. And she could be fierce, you know.”
“It was the way of things back then,” sighed Satan. “The number of times I’ve heard that story … punished at school for some minor misdemeanour and then the punishment repeated at home… but not everyone treated so harshly set about wasting their lives as a result. And you have. That’s why you’re here.”
“I don’t want to be here,” whimpered Bernard.
“Tough,” growled the Devil.
Bernard turned to go. He’d seen enough in that mirror and had enough of a memory of bad times not to want to see any more of them replayed in agonising accuracy.
“What about your sweet little grey-haired granny?” crooned Satan, pulling him back.
“Granny Frost?” asked Bernard.
“The very same.” The Devil allowed the closest thing to a smile cross his face since the creature called Death had brought Bernard to this sulphurous anti-paradise.
“What about her?” asked Bernard. He had been with her when she died and the image was still carved into his memory as if it was on an immoveable rock. He had been fond of her … what boy wasn’t fond of his granny? But she’d meant more than just a kindly old granny. She was the only person to ever show him any affection. Even as a boy he’d known that.
And the gigantic looking-glass shimmered again, like dense fog on a breezy day, and slowly cleared.
Then Granny Frost emerged from the swirling mists. She was lying on her bed, an ancient iron-framed affair piled high with blankets and a very old-fashioned quilt. She was sitting up with pillows arranged so that her head was supported and couldn’t fall backwards or sideways. Bernard remembered the scene so well and here, amidst the murky fumes of hell, it seemed so incongruous.
Then he saw himself,aged eleven, walk towards her bedside, white shirt, school tie, smart grey shorts properly creased. He’d just started at Grammar school and wasn’t entirely happy there. He needed to tell someone about it, the way sadistic teachers seemed to punish at random, all the cruelties of life imposed on so young a boy.
“I’m here, granny,” the boy Bernard said. “I need to talk to you.”
She looked up at him and almost smiled, then closed her eyes. Suddenly it crossed hs mind that she didn’t look too well.
Granny Frost had been the one person who he knew with a certainty loved him. His parents didn’t and as he stood by her bed, aged eleven, he found himself praying inside his silent head that she would be all right. That she wouldn’t die.
But, “I’m dying, Bernie,” she whispered, her voice a painful gasp accompanied by tiny blood-stained coughs as she confirmed his fears.
“Don’t, granny,” the boy by the bed demanded. “Don’t … I need you!”
“I’m off to Heaven,” she gasped. “I’m sorry, Bernie, but I’m very sick and near the end. I’ll be going to Heaven, and it’s in Heaven that I’ll wait for you. You will be a good boy, won’t you? You will stay free from sin? If your hands are idle you won’t listen to the devil and do his work, will you? For everyone knows the devil finds work for idle hands to do…”
“I’ll always be so good, granny,” he sobbed. And he meant it. He had then and he always had. He wasn’t going to wreck his entire time in Eternity by slipping needlessly into sin…
The spirit (or whatever it was) of Bernard caught his breath.
On the bed in the looking-glass the image of granny Frost suddenly lay still, became motionless, stopped breathing, the painful gasps became silenced. He remembered the first time when, as an eleven year-old, he had watched that precious old woman pass away, and he felt the same now. It was as if a cold hand had lowered an icy blanket into his head and numbed his mind.
The image in the mirror faded to mist and he looked beseechingly at Satan.
“What went wrong?” he asked. “She said the would meet me in Heaven. I remember it so well, like she said it only yesterday, and I’ve spent all my life doing the right thing, never falling into the trap set by Eve in the Garden, because I’ve always known that granny would be waiting for me.”
“You do know what went wrong,” growled the Devil. “Haven’t I made that much clear to you already? You, along with every mortal being, have one thing to do in life, if it’s possible, and that’s to pass what you can into the future. And besides learning and thoughts and hopes and dreams it includes your genes. Because it is the future that will determine your worth, not silly notions of morality and sin. You have committed the ultimate sin. You have failed every test. And when you died, an elderly man, your seed was still unspent – and it was good seed. It could have been one tiny brick in the wall of tomorrow, but you kept it to yourself because of some silly notion that spreading it is sin. And worse. You had a brain, an intellect, and evolved thoughts, and some of them should have been shared too. But no. Your life became a closed thing, afraid of sin and afraid of contact with others. There was nothing from your entire life that could benefit the future, yet you took what you could from the past.
“You, Bernard, have been the ultimate sinner and that’s why your granny isn’t waiting for you. She’s seen your life and knows how painfully useless you’ve been. She knows that you’re here, and why. After all, it was her idea!”
©Peter Rogerson 13.09.16


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