Tag Archives: death

AT THE PEARLY GATES

3 Jul

See them gates out there, them pearly gates, them shiny pearly gates, that entrance to…. wherever.

That wherever over there. This place, call it what you will, call it Heaven, call it Hell, but it’s here that I’m waiting. See me waiting. See me in the shadows, see the urchins walking past, one and two and one and two, little kids drowned before their times, Mediterranean waters in their lungs as they fought for freedom from war and hatred, and lost. And others. See the old men past their times, pee-stained crotches, minds lost so long ago they’ll never find them again, eyes pale, like water can be pale… see them trooping through them pearly gates. See them go!

Through them shiny pearly gates.

And the lasses, breathing like lasses never did in life, breathing for death… pretty lasses, breasts held pert like breasts should be, legs long and skirts short… see them lasses, old crones, haggard, wrinkled, mindless, trooping ever on, through them pearly gates, all on a one-way walk to…

But not me. Short skirts and long legs notwithstanding, I’m here, waiting. Got to wait. Look and you’ll see me. No, not there but here, in these shadows, waiting for her…

Waiting for my Rosie to come to me.

We said we would, or I did. Whoever goes first, we said, whoever is the weakest and yields first and pegs it like all mortals must, then he or she’ll wait for the other however long it takes… and I went first.

It started with a cough. Not much of a cough to tell the truth, but all the time like coughs shouldn’t be. And sure enough it heralded my first step and these shadows. These bloody, unlit shadows in the shelter of them pearly gates. See them! See the way they shine!

Reflecting light, they are. Reflecting light from beyond the gates, the other side, but I ain’t going there, so sirree, not until my Rosie comes to me. That’s what we said. What we agreed. So the tide of folks go past.

See them go! People watching, that’s what I’m doing, people watching like I always did back when there was breath in my lungs and skin on my bones and bones on my soul… Sitting on a bench in the park and staring. Lasses with their short skirts. People watching like good folks do. Old men withered by years and stumbling on the turves.

And now here.

But so many people. Dead people.

Why do babies die? Who said they should? And who’s to carry them beyond the great pearly gates? There’s one there, too tiny to crawl, too tiny to know anything but death, and it just don’t seem fair somehow. Where’s the mite going, the tiny little scrap of … of what? Of meat that’s underdone, overcooked, boned? And there it goes, almost drifting, almost not moving, through the gates, those blasted pearly gates, and me waiting still for Rosie.

She can’t be long, can she? I went first, I said I always would, the cough carried me off, that bloody dreadful cough, the cough that wracked my body until it wracked the last puff of breath from my soul, and I came to these shadows to wait.

And watch.

The old woman, see her shuffle, fleshless, boneless, shuffling along on feet that haven’t seen a slipper since she died, and won’t ever again. See her nose dripping, her wretched dead nose drip, drip, dripping like noses do on little kids but not on ghosts…

And here I am in my shadows, watching and waiting.

Rosie was an angel all her life. I must have loved her, I damned well must have. I held her hand, didn’t I, when the night bogies scared her? She’d cry and I’d hush her, and maybe a bit fiercely but who can tell how hard he punches until he’s done it and the bruises swell? And who can sleep through the fear of bogies in the night, creatures who never were but still are? It’s a crying shame, but that’s the way things were. Who could help it? Rosie and her bogies, silly Rosie with her bruises…

I’ll wait for you… I hacked through my shattered lungs at her, and she smiled at me and said we’ll see…

I knew what she meant. That we’d see. What I wasn’t so sure of was what we’d see. Or when. I didn’t expect these pearly gates and the endless trooping of folks, endless, crowds, millions in a day…

If there are days, of course. Days are things we live through in life, but here in the shadow of the pearly gates there don’t seem to be days, nor nights, nor any portion of time that is measured. It’s just here. And folks, trooping by, into the place beyond the pearly gates, and I’m waiting for my Rosie to come and join me.

Then we’ll go through those gates together. I’ll hold her hand like in the teen days, I might even kiss her one last time, and then we’ll go through together like lovers should.

There’s light beyond, bright light, and I can’t wait to be bathed by it. With Rosie…

How long has it been?

That’s a question and a half, that is. How long has it been since I coughed my last with the pain racking my bones and body, and I said with my head if not with words my goodbyes to Rosie. I did, you know, I looked at her as the light faded, as the sounds drained out of creation, as I left her staring at me … she might have had contempt in those eyes, but I knew better. I knew we were meant to be together…

Whoever goes first must wait for the other, I said, and she nodded. Of course she nodded. I knew I’d be first but I stuck to my words anyway. I knew what it would be like. And, you’ll come and find me, won’t you? I insisted. I’m bound to go first, aren’t I? Paying the price for all the mischief of my life… I’ll be waiting…

Waiting in the shadows of the pearly gates.

Whatever you think… That’s the way she agreed, my Rosie, my angel, and to think we’ve walked through our lives together. Not always happy, but together. Like life ought to be. Like the preacher said when we stood before him … oh, half a century and more ago.

The troops of folk walked in, some slow, some faster, some barely moving, some almost running, old folks and young, yellow and brown and white, all manner of folks, all trooping through those pearly gates.

And Rosie!

Here she comes! Oh mighty me, here she comes!

Her face like it always was, her eyes, that hair…. I loved her hair always, burnished gold, it was, burnished gold like sunlight woven onto a precious head.

But…

That’s not my hand she’s holding… those aren’t my eyes she’s gazing into … that’s not me at her side…

Walking with her, through those pearly gates.

It isn’t me.

And through, not pausing, not glancing my way, not caring that I’m there like I promised, but through those gates with … who is she with? I don’t know him, but it is a him, and gone…

Wait till I catch her! I won’t half teach her a lesson, what with all this waiting!

Because I waited this eternity for her, here in the shadows, here in the painful dark, here where no light shines…

© Peter Rogerson 03.07.17

THE WINTER OF MY DISCONTENT

10 Jun

I was poking in the coal-hole looking for a lost tortoise that might have decided that it was time to hibernate when I stumbled on a crow-bar left as a gift by the burglar who tried to break in last September.

It was good finding it, but the tortoise was nowhere in sight and I began to feel guilty. It was a cold winter, and I was discontented.

So, I would imagine, was the tortoise.

But that crow-bar was going to come in handy.

The trap-door had been there for as long as I’d lived in the house. I remember pondering over what it might be when I’d been a lad of nine or ten looking for somewhere to shelter from the rain and sorely tempted to lift it and see what might be seen under the coal-house floor, but being a feeble squirt I lacked the strength to budge it as much as a millimetre with the only tool I had to hand, an old screwdriver, and I gave up trying when it came to be time for school.

Then there was the time when I was in my teens and as keen as mustard on the girl who lived next door and I got to fantasising that there might be a tunnel under that trap-door that led directly to her lily-white-sheeted bedroom where I might find myself in the middle of a teenage fantasy involving bodily fluids and heaving bosoms, but there was a great deal of coal-dust round the trap door and I realised how stupid I’d look if I appeared in her boudoir with a smudged face and spreading black dust everywhere, so I desisted before I started.

Now I’m getting on in my years and have crow-bar to hand.

Why would a coal-shed have a trap-door in its floor and what might it be hiding? What secret places might I find if I open the trap-door and where might the steps that I’d undoubtedly find lead me?

If my great-granddad was here he’d tell me not to be bothered, but they told me he died before I was born after many a swashbuckling adventure in dark places. It’s strange how easily the deceased can come to mind when you’re contemplating trap-doors.

Old trap doors can be the very devil, especially if they’ve been in place where they are for well over half a century. Years of debris, moistened no doubt by condensation every cold season, had formed a kind of concrete, black as Satan’s backside and just as disgusting. I had to use that crow-bar as a kind of blade to cut through it, and the taste of the dust in the air was like the taste of sin.

Have you ever tasted sin? I have….

So it was hard work easing that metal slab open with a crow-bar that was a gift from a burglar, but I moved it bit by bit. It creaked and at one stage I thought the metal was going to bend or snap, but it didn’t, and eventually I lifted it and gazed fully into the face of my aforementioned great-granddad, though I didn’t recognise him. Well, I wouldn’t, would I, never having met him in the flesh, and now he had no flesh for anyone to recognise anyway, just a grinning skull and a sign that said, in bold capitals, “WILLY DID IT”.

It’s hard knowing what to do with a skeleton that accidentally appears under a trap-door that really shouldn’t be there, so I did what every right-thinking person would do and notified the authorities.

The detective put, by a chief superintendent who didn’t like him, in charge of the case was the most objectionable man I’ve ever met. He asked me who I was and when I told him “Willy Arkwright” (which is my name) his first reaction was along the lines of me being the Willy on the sign being held aloft by my deceased relative, and when the pathologist said the body must have been put where it well nigh almost a century ago (or maybe twice my age ago) he pooh-poohed the facts and arrested me for murder.

Everything seemed to fit in with his theory, mostly because of that wretched sign. He even managed to find evidence that the trap door had been opened relatively recently (a cigarette stub that I dislodged along with tons of coal dust while I was hacking away with the crow-bar) and even when I complained that I’d never smoked, not ever, not once in my life, he managed to pooh-pooh that as well.

He put together quite a dossier. My great-grandfather (DNA evidence proved that’s who it was) had been born in 1898 and disappeared in 1929. And it seemed that the state of his bones suggested he might have been lowered into a hole under the coal-shed and a trap-door closed on him around that time.

“But I wasn’t anywhere near being born then!” I protested, and “neither was my dad,” I added.

Then there came a sparkling piece of brand new evidence, which most detectives would dismiss out-of-hand but he didn’t.

Willy was a family name. I had it, my dad, granddad and great-granddad all had it, and it went back through generations before that. Even William the Bastard had it, and he lived a long time ago, or so they say. But it didn’t make much of an impression on the Inspector who was determined to see me spend the rest of my natural behind bars.

He said that if I had someone known as a bastard in my family tree then it was evidence I was a wrong-un and it’s a pity they’d stopped hanging desperadoes like me because hanging’s just what I deserved.

In court, the jury agreed with him. They were all good honest Christians to a person, and consequently well used to looking the truth in the face, and calling it a lie.

Which is why this has been a particularly gruelling winter of discontent for me. It’s a good thing about the tortoise, though. He came and rescued me when it was clear I wasn’t coming home in time to feed him. Spring-time had come and I don’t know how he did it but he chewed through the bars of my cell with a will.

Never say that our pets aren’t useful, because I know full well that they are! Especially tortoises.

© Peter Rogerson 05.12.16

BLOOD AND A BLAST

7 Jun

The roar of the explosion sent a thumping ache through the man’s head as it reverberated in the summer air, and he crouched, shaking, under a table he thought might be there, but wasn’t.
“That was close,” gasped his friend.
“It bloody was, God help us,” he replied, and his own voice made the shaken ache in his head vibrate painfully.
“What have we done?” whispered his friend, not understanding.
“You mean, to bring this anger down on us?” he asked, ignoring the pain. “Who are our enemies? Who are those throwing bombs at us, blasting our homes to smithereens, killing our women and children so indiscriminately? Who are they?”
“I thought they were our brothers,” whispered his friend “Did not God make them like he made us? In the same image, in the same mould, out of the same clay?”
“They were our brothers once,” sighed the man. “I knew them and called them that.”
“Then why?” asked the other.
“No man knows,” was his mournful reply, and his words were punctuated by the sudden blast of another explosion, closer this time, shaking the ground where they knelt shivering, and shattering the few remaining pains of glass in the windows. Dust flew up, dust and a half brick, a half brick and a garden.
“That was close,” gasped the man.
“The smell…” gasped his friend, and he knew what he meant. The smell was vile, the scorching of fabrics mixed with the more sinister stench of burning flesh … was it his woman or his pet dog? Or both? Maybe both were burning in the other room, the one that probably wasn’t there any more. And there was gas. He could smell that, too, and half wished it would join the war and explode close enough to take him to his God before the sadness or the next bomb got him. But it didn’t. It drifted away through the vacant windows on a sultry summer breeze.
“All I wanted was a peaceful life,” he whispered, “all I wanted was to pray and sing and laugh and love … yes, love… and then the bombs started coming, and I don’t know why.”
“Nor me,” sighed his friend, “and, like you, I wanted a good life with harmony and a kindly woman to cuddle and kiss with, to love, to join with at God’s will, to spend my life like that, children at my feet, stories being told of the fine things on the world, ice cream under a summer sun. But…”
“…but the fine things are all gone,” he whispered. “And instead we are targets, you and me, something for our erstwhile brothers to aim at and destroy…”
Another explosion, further away this time but loud like the devil’s trumpet, split the air and both men shook. Maybe, they thought, maybe the next one would be for them. Maybe the next blast would grab them and tear their flesh and solve the problems of a painful life for them, by ending it.
“When I pray,” he whispered, “when I turn to my God and pray and tell Him he is good I expect to be able to smile in return, to feel his blessing on me, to kiss my lovely woman, to hold her by the hand, to take her walking where the sun shines and where the sounds of children playing are like a wonderful promise of tomorrow…”
“I know,” nodded his friend, and he scrabbled onto his knees and made for the door leading to the next room.
Which wasn’t there.
“My love!” his friend screamed, “My darling love!”
“What is it?” he called, and scrambled after him.
The room was gone. Practically all of it. The walls, the windows, the doors. Scraps of curtain and chair-cover clung to broken bricks and shattered glass, a family picture in a twisted picture frame. But that wasn’t what drew anguished tears from the two men.
Lying in their own blood and clinging together as if that was all they needed to do in order to be saved were two women. Their two women. Their loves. Their hopes for tomorrow. Their future. And one look told the two men they must be dead, to be twisted and smashed like that, to have their faces torn to shreds.
“Oh my God, why have you done this?” spluttered his friend,
“It wasn’t God,” grated the man, and he picked a fragment of torn steel from where the blast had forced it, and turned it over in his hands.
“This is part of the bomb,” he wept.
His friend wept also. “That killed my love,” his strangled voice managed to force out.
“That killed our loves,” he nodded, “and look,”
He held it up and pointed at some markings, still legible, on its scarred surface.
MADE IN ENGLAND, he read.
MADE IN ENGLAND…
“When the bombs stop falling,” he swore, “when all this death is over, I know where I’m going! And I’ll take death with me! For God! For my own sweet love! For everything their blasted weapons have stolen from me…”
“And I’ll be there by your side,” added his friend, grimly.

THE EULOGY

7 Oct

Susan Summers stood by the lectern in the church, trying to avoid eye-contact with the coffin that was so close to her she could have touched it by merely reaching out. It represented the best and the worst experiences of her tangled life, and she was here to lay both extremes to rest.

“I knew Bernard when I was young,” she said quietly to the congregation of half a dozen or so mourners. “We weren’t friends because for some reason I could never fathom his mother didn’t like me and he was scared of her. But that was not unusual back then. The young had very little say when it came to their own lives.”

She looked around. She only knew two of the tiny group, Bernard’s neighbour and the woman who spent a great deal of her time with him, in sin Bernard had said before Susan had moved in with him, and then sin miraculously had nothing to do with it and it became love.

It was that neighbour’s lady friend who had saved Bernard when he’d had that first heart attack, but there had been no way anyone was going to save him after the second one, and Susan should know because she’d been a medical doctor before she retired.

The others scattered in the nave were habitual mourners, all women and all consequently well known to the vicar, who for once was grateful that they had swollen his congregation of friends and acquaintances of the deceased. Further back, unobtrusive, were the undertaking officials, sombre in black and with impassive faces.

Susan drew in a deep breath, and continued.

“I have only one clear memory of those days and that was when I was sent to our local fish and chip shop, for lunch I think, it’s what often happened on a Saturday, and Bernard was going too. It wasn’t unusual for many families to have meals from the local chip shop and for the kids to fetch them in what seems a long lifetime ago. I was a teenager, proud of my looks and daring to wear skirts my parents thought were much too short, and he was the most handsome boy in the Universe.

“We got almost talking. I say almost, but not quite. He was bashful and troubled and I was perky, and It was me who started the conversation because I really liked him even though we hadn’t met properly, and nobody had introduced us to each other. People needed to get introduced to each other back then! But you know how it is ” a man and a woman or a boy and a girl … sometimes there’s a kind of attraction, like magnetism, which makes such formalities as introductions unnecessary, and I felt that way then. He was a nice lad with startling good looks, and I was a teenage girl…!”

“Let me tell you a bit about my life since then, because that fish and chips day was all we had together, and as you can tell it was the briefest moment of togetherness! He ran off when I spoke to him. I must have frightened him or something, though I hadn’t meant to. I found out when I got home that it was because his mother was a bit over-zealous, protecting a teenage lad from the temptations of the flesh, and his father wasn’t much better! I don’t know what they thought I’d do toy him! But it was their way and they’re both long gone and it’s not fair of me to cast a cloud on the characters or motives of two people I barely knew.

“When I left school I went to medical school and entered the nursing profession, and before too long enrolled in University in order to train as a doctor. It’s because of that training and the skills I picked up then and over a lifetime working in various hospitals that I knew that, when he collapsed, Bernard was beyond any help, though I did try. Oh, how I tried, needing to get a dead heart working, to spend one more hour, one more day, one more week, one more for-ever with him! But to no avail. My Bernard was dead. It struck me as one of the cruellest twists of fate.

“I like to think that he believed that the last few months of his life were the best of it. He told me that was the case often enough, when we lay in bed in the mornings and shared our memories, or went out together, maybe shopping, during the days. And then at night, when darkness had fallen and we were in bed together again and he would tell me of what he remembered from his first “death”, the few minutes between his heart stopping and the wonderful Amelia next door having the right skills and doing all the right things to bring him back. And it had worked, but it wasn’t the rescue of Bernard but the things he dreamed of when he was in that limbo between life and death that he concentrated on. You see, he really believed, weeks afterwards, that he met his Maker, and that he had really and truly visited Heaven and Hell.

“And he told me there was a giant mirror in which he saw his living self when he was dead. And in that mirror he actually saw me as a young girl, my eyes tempting him to goodness-knows what as he ran back home from our meeting on the way to the chip shop.

“You see, it was only after those dreams or nightmares or whatever they were that I met him again, and even though we were both seventy and ready for the knacker’s yard, as they say, that we fell in love, both of us, wildly, madly, passionately. Maybe it was that love that brought on his second heart attack ” who can tell? But he did tell me that I was his one and only lover in a celibate and friendless life and that he was going to make up for all that wasted time when he’d kept himself to himself. He said that he’d wasted his life and that would condemn him to an eternity is Hell with the devil and his servants when he died, rather than any sin of the flesh.

“It’s not up to me, in this place, to say whether I agreed with him or believed in his strange faith, but I must say that be believed that he would return to the wonderland that may have been dreams or may have really been part of the fabric of existence that none of us know anything about.

“As you know, we had less than a year together, but in those few months he packed in as much love, as much affection, as much real honesty as most people pack into a life-time. And I am proud to say that I knew Bernard. I am proud to say that I loved him. And I am proud to say that I was there at his ending, for without really knowing it he enriched my life for a little while.”

Then she sat down and stared at her own feet. A feeling, something she couldn’t recognise, was bubbling up inside her.

Who would have thought it? Who could possibly have predicted it? Two human beings had met after separate lives stripped of love and affection and had done their damnedest to make up for a hell of a lot of lost time.

She looked up and into the front of the church and its altar, and the vicar replaced her at the lectern, but although he spoke in a voice amplified beyond the need of so small a gathering she didn’t hear a single word that he said.

For it seemed to her that the moisture from her own eyes as she became aware of the depth of her grief had spread across her vision like a kind of mirror blotting out everything, and there, in the mirror, lost from life, she could almost make out the figure of Bernard staring back at her, and weeping with her, and beckoning.

Was it the heartache of grief that gripped her flesh and twisted it until she choked? Or was it something else?

She didn’t have time to wonder as she slumped in her ancient craggy pew, and Dr. Susan Summers knew no after a fragmentary moment wondering who the cowled figure approaching her might be, and why he was carrying a shiny scythe.…

THE END

© Peter Rogerson 07.10.16

CHAPTER SIXTEEN – THE BABY AND THE PRAM

3 Oct

There was an old woman with a pram at the bus stop.
Bernard didn’t think it looked to be the sort of pram that would contain a baby. For starters, it was old and tatty with a grey lacy sheet hanging loosely down one side. It looked, to him, as if it was the possessions of a bag lady, someone lost to the world, someone with no pride and no quality of life left to her and the need of a pram to trundle her world in.
And then the baby cried.
Bernard looked up at God who was already part way into becoming Satan. The deity was a distinctly odd amalgam of a holy master and an evil fiend, and he even had the long swishing tail that Satan dragged along behind him.
God/Satan paused and shook his head.
“Now what are you doing here, Martha?” he asked, “you know the bus is not for you.”
“I’m sorry, Master, but I can’t take it any more,” whimpered the old woman, “I just can’t! All them flowers and sweet songs are upsetting Baby. Can’t you hear him crying, the poor wee mite.”
“He wasn’t a poor wee mite once was he, Martha?” asked the Lord of the Afterlife in his intermediate guise.
“No Master, he wasn’t,” she snivelled.
“What was he, Martha?” asked the Lord, and as Bernard looked at him the satanic part of his appearance faded and he became bathed in light again, like he when he’d sat on his golden throne, and his eyes shone with intense wisdom.
“He was…” she stammered, and glanced at Bernard. “He was Baby Baby Bunting.”
“No, Martha, that isn’t it. You know what I’m asking. What was he?”
“Do I have to say, what with that fine gennelman watching and listening and all,” snivelled Martha.
“Of course you do, Martha.” This time there was authority and command in the regal voice of the Master of Heaven. This time there could be no suggestion of verbally slinking away, no hiding of whatever truth needed to be hidden.
“The gennelman will hear…” protested Martha. “He’ll know…”
“What will he know, Martha?”
“I can’t say…”
“But you know that you must, don’t you?” There was infinite patience in the suddenly majestic voice of the Lord, and there was also the strictness of command, a command that could never be ignored. Martha knew this, and Bernard watched her squirm.
“The baby, Martha, what was he?” asked God gently.
“Nobody told me about stuff,” moaned Martha, “I was a poor old woman in hard times, and nobody told me. The gennelman’ll know how hard it was for a poor old woman with wars raging and soldiers dying on battlefields. Oh, he’ll know all right! And that’s where my man went and died, to the battlefield in a foreign land. Right killed dead, he was, and now, forgive me, he’s here abouts and making daisy chains with the sweet ones and nowt to say to me as bore his child.”
“Martha!” The command was insistent and Bernard felt virtual sweat forming on his brow as the old woman fought against something deep inside her.
“Yes sir?” She was still avoiding the obvious pain of providing a reply.
“The baby, Martha, what was he?” commanded God in a voice that this time was a direct order, the sort that must, at all costs, be obeyed.
“He were dead,” whispered Martha.
“Say louder, Martha, so that all of Heaven can hear!” commanded God.
“He were dead, sir,” said Martha, a bit louder, “dead, dead, dead! Is that enough, sir, enough humiliation for an old woman who has been here for Eternity and has suffered humiliation day in and day out for all of that time.”
“Not Eternity, not yet, but never mind,” sighed God.
“He were dead,” repeated Martha, head hung low, straggly hair limp and penitent.
“Say how he died, Martha,” commanded the Maker.
“Now, sir?”
“Yes, now!”
“In front of the gennelman?”
“Just so.”
“I were … I were cold and hungry, Master, and the wars had swallowed all the young men. Mine were dead, thank you, Lord, and neither me nor Bunting here had a bite to eat or a coal for the hearth. Night were drawing on, cold, bitter night, with ice outside and not a spark to keep us warm, no flame and no food for our bellies.”
“We get the picture, Martha!”
Bernard looked up at the stern face of the Creator, and it could not be disobeyed. It held tremendous power and every breath it took seemed to be some kind of command.
“And I get to think as we’d both die, Baby Baby Bunting here and me. Yes! We was both going to die. There was not a morsel to keep us going, not a chunk of mouldy stale bread, not a drop of water that wasn’t frozen solid…”
“Say more, Martha. How did Bunting die?”
“It was all I could do,” whispered the old woman. I needed victuals to keep me alive and summat to burn on the fire, for warmth for my old bones. So I took the bread knife, the terrible rusty bread knife, and I carved Baby Bunting for meat and set his bones in the hearth for nice red flames to keep us warm and cook the meat on. But the fire wouldn’t burn. Not a flame went up that old chimbley and I weren’t going to eat my baby raw. I’m not a savage!”
“And when they found out, the men of the law, Martha…?”
“They came, they did. Some nosey parker had told them as they’d heard a baby howling, well he did, there’s no denying it. and they came and hauled me off. And I was put before a judge with his wig and great big hooked nose and he perched that black cloth on his head and said I was to be taken away and hanged! Me, as never did anything wrong in me life! Hanged until I was dead! But my baby needs me, I shouted, he can’t see after hisself, he needs his mother… but that mean old judge said as Bunting was dead and no longer needed anyone save a kindly Lord and a good place in Heaven.”
“Well, he’s got a good place in Heaven, in that pram of yours, and as he’s in no need of nourishment any more he couldn’t be better off,” commented God. “And your penalty, Martha, is to confess to your sins when asked, for you have sinned worse than most. And you must stay here, where you are now, at the bus stop, neither in Heaven, which is too good for you or Hell which is too bad for you, for you have been granted, by life and the law, with a grim and sorry life and it is not in me to cast blame at you, not now, not yesterday and not tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Master…” grovelled Martha, and slowly she pushed the tatty old pram away never going far from the bus stop, until she came to a shelter that was every bit like a cardboard box and in no way like anything else.
“The poor soul,” sighed Bernard, “though if I were starving and the cold bit like she said it did, what would I do?”
“You wouldn’t kill your child, Bernard, for that is not your sin, for you have no children to smother in love or starve with or freeze along side. And that, as you know, is your sin.”
Bernard nodded, and could have wept. But he didn’t. There are others in the world, he thought, more deserving of tears.
Like many a Martha.
©Peter Rogerson 03.10.16

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR

14 Sep

This is Part 9. The previous 8 parts have been posted here.

The air was suddenly more sulphurous as fumes belched from somewhere deep underground and filled the cathedral-like place where Bernard was standing, close to tears.
“What do you mean… it was her idea?” he asked. “She loved me. She always said she did. She wouldn’t want me to rot in Hell!”
“You’re not rotting, sunshine,” grinned the devil. “You’re being preserved by beautiful sulphurous gases! And I know it was her idea because she told me!”
“But she’s in Heaven and you’re here!” protested Bernard.
“Phooey! Wait until you’ve been here a bit longer and you’ll know more about how things work,” almost grinned the Devil. “I move about, of course I do, go from here to there and back again, side to side, however you want to look at it! When I’m here I choose to wear a trendy set of horns and a fetching tail and while I’m there I sit on a golden throne with nymphs and angels at my feet and plait daisy chains to the sound of sopranos singing Bob Dylan songs!”
“You mean you… you’re the Devil and God at the same time?”
“Of course I am, silly! Think of the crazy power struggle if there were two omniscient beings fighting over the souls of the dead! We share things quite equitably, thank you very much, and the whole scheme works like clockwork.”
“And Granny Frost mentioned me to you?”
“That she did, laddie! She told me how disappointed she was not to be a great-grandmother, how heart broken she was that you have brought her branch of the family tree to an end and how it all seems to have made her life into a waste of effort. She was most definite about where you should end up when your time came. In Hell, she said, in the deepest depths of Hell. So here you are.”
To say he was shocked would be to underestimate the way Bernard felt about the way events were apparently going against a lifetime of certainty and the constant battle against sin that had dominated it, and he was about to elaborate on his feeling when the gigantic looking-glass started to clear again, the rolling mists slowly taking shapes that he recognised.
“Now pay attention,” smirked the Devil gruffly.
And reflected in the satanic glass Bernard could see himself as a teenager, in the front room of his home and looking out of the window at a removal van outside the house next door. That house had been empty for several weeks and at last somebody was moving in … more than somebody, it seemed, but a family. And amongst that family was a girl of about his age, a pretty and well-dressed girl with beautiful long dark hair that teased passed her shoulders and cascaded half way down her back. For a brief moment she glanced towards the window behind which Bernard could probably have been seen, and seemed to smile at him.
“The slattern!” hissed his mother just behind him, also straining to look past him at the new arrivals as they moved into the house, delivery men hauling their luggage and calling to each other in loud and instructing voices.
“What, mum?” he asked.
“That creature with the long hair and short skirt!” she replied, still hissing, and Bernard couldn’t help wondering in what universe the girl’s skirt was actually particularly short. “She’s out to ensnare you, my boy, that’s plain to see,” continued his mother. “Ever since Eve picked the evil apple in the Garden of Eden the females of the species have been condemned as evil sinners, and you can see it in that trollop, just look at her sickly smile and the way she walks, the jaunty heave of her oversized chest, the way her very feet are beckoning at you, a mere boy ripe for the plucking, as she walks.”
“But you’re a female, mother…” he dared to say, and he ducked a moment too late as her hand smashed against the back of his head, leather gloved and painful.
“And don’t I know it, wretched child!” she shouted, loud enough for those emptying the removal van next door to hear. The girl, long hair, tidy skirt with swinging pleats, obviously heard as she glanced up a second time.
“Yet I kept myself from sin,” his mother continued, as she swiped him a second time. “Knowing that I had the devil’s spores inside me, that I was of the gender that caused the fall of mankind as he was slung by a justified Lord out of the Garden of Eden I have never had anything to do with a man! Their disgusting parts, filled with sin and stench, they can keep to themselves and away from me! Ask your father and he’ll tell you! I call him your father, but….”
“I know the facts of life, mother,” he said, and stepped to one side in order to forestall any more painful swipes to his head. “We do that at school, don’t you know? And I know what you and dad must have done for me to be born. It’s the same in all of nature, from the smallest creatures on God’s Earth to us humans!”
“How dared you!” shrieked his mother, “how dared you liken the noble God-crafted mankind with dogs and mice and rats! We are superior. It says so in the good book! It is for us to control the wild creatures of the world, not join them in an orgy of copulation! And when it comes to you, sonny-Bernard, have you never heard of virgin births? Have you? And if you have you know how you were conceived, away from all that is evil and sinful. And if you don’t believe me that’s something else you can ask your father!”
His teenage self turned away from the window.
“You’ve told me before and of course I believe you,” he said quietly, “there’s no need for you to hit me! I mean no harm.”
Then, in a sudden change of mood, she wrapped her arms around him and, with tears in her eyes, told him of course she had, he must know the truth, mustn’t he, because wasn’t he her very special son?
“And dearest boy,” she added, “that girl out there… have nothing to do with her, not now and not ever. I can tell by the look in her eyes that she means nothing but evil. Look at her legs! And the evil smile on her face! I can see that she wants to turn you, my darling Bernard, into a sinner. And that is what you must never be … you must never sin!”
“I know, mother,” he said, loving the way she wanted him whilst at the same time gently massaging his face with her bosom as she wept.
© Peter Rogerson 14.09.16

GRANNY FROST’S DEMISE

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