2 Oct

This is another insertion into the original text of “The Sinner” and it fits between “The Gentle Friend” and “The Day Trip” as I feel I need to emphasise the personal cost to Bernard of his indoctrinated attitudes.

“So that was Philip,” whispered Bernard. “I’ve hardly thought of him this past half a century, yet I suppose that in his own way he was a lovely man. He had the kind of strength I lacked, the strength to be himself in a world that didn’t totally understand him and his ways.”

“Would you like to see what happened to him next?” asked the Devil, with a strange look in his eyes. “Would you like to see a little bit beyond your own life and a small part of the reason why I consider you the greatest sinner of them all?”

“But I’m not!” protested Bernard, “I know I’m not … I’ve tried, all my life, to do what mummy wanted me to do…”

“Without a single thought about it? Without any positive input of your own? Without wondering whether it was right or wrong or even decent to be the man you were?” asked Satan, shaking his hoary head.

“Why should I question things when I already knew, with a huge certainty, that I was right?” babbled Bernard. “I might start wondering now that you’ve shown me parts of my life, but back then? I had no doubts: no doubts at all, and no reason to have any!”

“Even when you broke the hearts of those who thought they loved you?” muttered the Devil. “When you put up an invincible wall of isolation and self-loathing?”

“Mummy loved me and I never broke her heart!” almost snapped Bernard, beginning to feel irritable despite his dreadful situation and the choking fumes that seemed to grow more intense the anger he felt. “And what was that about self-loathing? I never loathed myself!”

“But you did, Bernard. “Inside your deepest thoughts you harboured desires you denied existed. Why did you take so many aspirins?”

The dead can’t blush, but Bernard almost did. “You know!” he spat out.

“Erections. Like any healthy man you experienced erections. Stiffies. Hard-ons. Call them what you like. And you swallowed headache tablets in the hope they’d go away.”

“They did, so it worked,” muttered Bernard

“Wrong on both counts!” sighed Satan. “But let’s see what happened to Philip. He loved you deeply even though he barely knew you, you know, and you rejected that love when you could have tried to understand and made it easier for him to accept rejection. But you were so dogmatic about the way he intended to engulf you in what you saw as possibly the most dreadful of sins that he his whole life changed its course as a consequence. Do you know what became of him?”

Bernard shook his head.

“Then look,” suggested the Devil, indicating the looking-glass.

The foggy surface cleared and Philip was there, misery written on his face as he packed his small suitcase.

“We didn’t have much luggage back then,” murmured Bernard, irrelevantly.

“You can’t watch it without trivialising the moment, can you? What did it matter that you lived in an earlier age and people had fewer possessions?” barked Satan.

“I suppose it didn’t,” nodded Bernard. “I just thought, that’s all…”

Then he watched as Philip picked up his suitcase and went to the door of the tiny freezing room.

“I’m sorry for you, Bernie,” he said, “so bound up in a false understanding of life and sin and Heaven and Hell that you can’t see the lives your obsessions are ruining. I know it isn’t normal. I know the good book calls it evil. But it’s in me, so deep I can’t rub it out, and I love you… yes, there, I’ve put it into words! I love you. But you won’t understand because your mind is so warped by false beliefs that you can’t see what’s holy and good in front of you. One day people will come to understand. One day all love will earn its proper name.”

“You’re queer!” snarled the image of Bernard. “That’s you: queer!”

“Did I say that to him?” asked the dead Bernard.

“Everything you see is exactly as it happened. I may be the incarnation of all that’s evil but I won’t lie to you,” murmured the Devil.

Then Bernard watched as the image of Philip took the two steps that lay between them and planted, fair and square, a farewell kiss on his lips, soft and warm.

It was a lifetime, or most of a lifetime, later, but standing there amidst the fumes and smokes of Hell he could taste that kiss again like he had in the days of his youth, but somehow it had changed.

“It’s the same, but different,” he spluttered, wiping lips that hadn’t been kissed since then on the back of his hand.

And it was the same and it was different.

“Ah,” grinned the Great Serpent in fiendish form, “you perceive that, do you? Back in the shallow hollowness of your youth the only flavour in the kiss poor Philip bade you farewell with was the taste of sin, and how you hated it! Now, though, you’re beginning to see things as they truly are, and can begin to see in that kiss was love, and you can taste it. It’s just a matter of perspective and now you’re beginning to see things differently.”

“But it was sin!” protested Bernard. “Everyone knows that a man kissing another man is sinful! There can be no doubt about it. And a woman kissing another woman. That’s evil too. It’s in the Bible and every single person knows it!”

“Do they?” asked the other.

“Of course they do!”

“I was around when the stories they call your bible were first composed,” sighed Satan, “and I knew the men who wrote them. Yes: men! Women never learned to write because in those days they were of no importance, mere breeding stock and slaves about the home. What, I wonder, would your mother have made of that?

“Anyway, the Good Book you’re so fond of quoting is filled with the prejudices in the minds of the writers and prevalent at the time they were writing. They believed witches were real, you know, which is a joke seeing as they’re meant to be my servants and I never knew a single witch! And they believed that men lying with men and women lying with women were the worst evils. It was because they didn’t see the whole picture, they didn’t understand the realities of life and living. Why, they didn’t even knew there were such delightful little entities as sperms! I’ve collected a fair few men who loved other men, but they’ve only come to my dark realm because they passed nothing on into the future. No genes, no learning, no opinions, a lot like you. It had very little to do with the people they preferred to sleep with!”

“Oh.” Bernard shook his head, trying to dislodge a lump of prejudice. But such mental rocks are hard move, and he was struggling.

“What happened to Philip?” he asked, changing the conversation back to his old college room-mate.

“Poor Philip,” sighed Satan. “I could have loved him myself, you know, he was such an innocent on the Earth! And despite his orientation he was truly devout. But that wasn’t enough, not without the love that he craved, In the end he went to one of the silly wars you humans think makes your world better (they don’t, you know) as a soldier with a rifle and a belt full of grenades. And he got hit by a stray bullet, one fired by someone at random and just for the fun of it, and lost his genitals. To start with he survived in dreadful pain, but died hours later. His journey to Heaven was, thankfully, without incident. But then such journeys usually are!”

“So he’s dead,” sighed Bernard.

“As are you,” said Satan.

“I mean, I would like to have told him … like to have made it easier for him … I didn’t love him, I doubt I ever could, but I would like to have been his friend,” said Bernard, shaking his ghostly head.

“He would have liked that,” confirmed the Devil.

© Peter Rogerson 02.10.16


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