Sunday, March 22, 2020
As We Know It - Chapters 14, 15 and 16
After a brief rest beneath the tree to rub aching feet and acclimatise to their new company, Sarah and Hamish had been convinced they wouldn’t be able to sleep and that the best thing to do would be to get Jesus back to the village as soon as they could. Thinking about things was taking twice as long as it should because every time Sarah had a thought like ‘I hope Jesus isn’t cold.’ she had to rethink it several times over to get over the inclusion of the name.
Jesus was really not coping well with the weather. He kept stopping to look up at the sky and shake his head. It was further slowing up the progress of getting them home.
“I’m going to report this.” he shouted over the gale.
“What?” said Sarah, she was thinking she liked Jesus so far - he smelt like chocolate biscuits and had a strong handshake. When you grow up with two Dads and one works as a carpenter, the other as God then you get dished out a pretty mighty forearm as standard.
“This glitch in the system” replied Jesus, “I’m sure it’s not supposed to leak like this - the sky, I mean, I thought we’d worked out seasons and stuff for you.”
“You have,” came Sarah’s response through the night air “It’s just that this is England, and the West of England, and... um, sometimes the planning becomes a bit unstuck over here.”
“Not to mention global warming.” Chimed in Hamish.
“Global warming?!” Jesus looked like his head might explode. “This is warmer than usual? How did you cope before? My teats could sever twine as it is now - they’d snap right off if it got any colder.”
“No, global warming doesn’t mean everywhere gets hotter. It means overall the temperature is getting hotter but it’s really just changing weather patterns and making everything a bit more temperamental and prone to extremes.”
“Oh, right. Well, why’s that happening?”
Sarah and Hamish looked a little sheepish.
“Haven’t you heard?” Asked Hamish, he felt like he ought to be wearing a blazer and tie and have a detention hanging over his head.
“I’m not very interested in the weather, truth be told. I’m usually a little preoccupied with souls and how you treat one another rather than the temperature.”
“Yes, I suppose that makes sense.” Grumbled Hamish rather ashamedly, “I just assumed you’d have heard of something this big.”
“Well, perhaps I’ll have a think about it and... Wait, don’t change the subject. I want to know what you’ve done to heat the world up and make it so wet?” Jesus was a phenomenal sight when he was angry, if anything he seemed to get more peaceful. Well, not him exactly - the world around him seemed to get more peaceful. Softer. More cosy. It made you want to tell him the truth and give him a cuddle. Sarah thought this might be a trick worth mastering for any future discussions with Hamish regarding her family.
“Well, it’s the technology we’ve developed. It’s... it’s sort of dirty. It gives off fumes and stuff that go up into the sky and play about with the lining which has burned a hole and let more heat in.” Hamish didn’t know why he was explaining it to Jesus like a child but he didn’t seem able to stop.
“Why don’t you stop using the technology then?”
“Well, because people need it. To live, to make money, to keep the world going.”
Jesus looked puzzled.
“Sounds like a slippery slope. What’s going to be the point of having money and everything if the world is all soggy everywhere because you fired lasers at the thermostat?”
“Well, yes. That’s a very relevant point... Um, things are being done... but, it’s just slow I suppose.”
“Hmmmm, well, I’ll write a memo about it when I get home.” Jesus bent down and undid his sandals, he slipped his feet out of them and continued to walk with his long toes sinking into the muddy ground.
“Jesus?” Asked Hamish, who hadn’t started to follow him again yet.
“Yes?” Called Jesus over his shoulder.
“Surely global warming isn’t going to matter if the world’s over anyway? Isn’t this it? Isn’t this the big finale?”
“That depends.” Jesus’ reply came without a break in his stride. Water flicked up the backs of his legs, his head barely visible against the dark sky and looming hills.
“On what? Called Hamish. “On what?”
“Us.” Said Sarah quietly. She patted Hamish's back and followed Jesus in the direction of the village. She didn’t know why she knew it, any more than she knew how Jesus knew where he was going, but she knew.
Jesus smiled to himself. Things were going to work out alright. So long as the Sat Nav he had hidden beneath his cloak didn’t die before they reached Norton Fitzwarren.
It was light by the time they got back. They hesitated near their road and wondered what to do first.
"Would you like a cup of tea, Jesus?" asked Sarah, trying to let the name Jesus trip off her tongue as though she called everyone that. Half her mind wanted to ask him if they were pronouncing it right - it seemed unlikely that the English pronunciation would be correct. Sarah had once spent an entire holiday in Barcelona shuddering every time the reception clerk had to correct her father's pronunciation of his name from "Jorky" back to "Horhay". In the end, they had found a happy medium and settled on George.
Sarah contemplated throwing in a casual “Hay-Zeus” somewhere along the line to see if it would prompt a nod or a correction. Wouldn’t he just have corrected her earlier if she’d been getting it wrong all this time? There’d certainly been a lot of emphasis in church and school about getting things learned properly and memorising the correct addresses. Maybe the English love of a hard ‘J’ had just struck lucky for them this time.
Jesus thought he undoubtedly would want a cup of tea. He'd not had one before and it seemed like an excellent way to acclimatise to the English way of life. He'd been specifically drilled on remembering to ask for milk rather than lemon in this situation. Something about the bloody French. He was about to respond in the affirmative and subtly hint that he wouldn't even require sugar in his, when a voice from behind a hedge caught everyone's attention.
"Who goes there?"
The small party froze.
"Er, it's us!" Called out Hamish, "Who goes, um, where you are?"
"It's me." Came a voice that seemed to belong to Mrs Shoe now that they listened.
"Mrs Shoe? Where are you?"
Jesus looked in the direction of the voice just in time to see an elderly lady in a wax jacket with a hessian sack draped over her head, appear from behind the hedge. She was holding a garden fork and looked a little damp.
"Sarah, Hamish... glad to have you back. We weren't expecting you so soon."
"What are you doing with that sack on your head?" Asked Hamish with a wry smile. Mrs Shoe raised a hand, slowly pulled the sack down from her head and held it sheepishly.
"It's camouflage," she said slowly, "I thought it might be prudent to start a bit of a Night Watch to make sure the borders are safe. I just, well, without a man in the house since Duncan left, security has had to step up a little.”
"Well, the offer still stands to come and stay with us if you should want the company..." said Sarah.
"Oh I wouldn't want to intrude," Mrs Shoe's eyes flicked to Jesus and back to Sarah, "Especially not if you have a guest... You found another survivor did you?" She stepped round from behind the hedge and addressed Jesus, "Did they tell you we're an entire village of survivors? Not a scratch on us! I don't recognise you... you're not from Staplegrove are you?”
Hamish coughed. Jesus looked at them, unsure how to proceed. Usually people just sort of 'knew' who he was fairly inexplicably - it was a long time since he'd required a name badge.
"Er, Mrs Shoe, this is... Mrs Shoe we found... Well, we met... um, Jesus." There was a long pause, until Hamish continued, "Mrs Shoe, Jesus. Jesus, Mrs Shoe."
*Author’s Note* Trust me when I say it is difficult to narrate accurately the length of silence left by the three people standing in the dawn light, near the narrow lane on that unsuspecting post-apocalyptic morning. I have tried a number of sentences:
There was another long pause…
The silence was deafening… (it wasn’t, it rarely is when there are birds around)
There was a loooong pause…
They waited for what seemed like an eternity for someone to speak… (I’m not sure they were waiting for anyone to speak, they just all seemed to be thinking for a while)
Put the book down, go and make yourself a cup of tea (milk, not lemon unless you’re reading this en francais) and then come back, when you pick the book up again the characters might have started talking…
… But none of these sentences seemed to quite capture the way the pause felt. For Sarah and Hamish it was definitely a moment that they felt they shouldn’t break. Bringing Jesus squarely into Mrs Shoe’s life felt like a privilege and a responsibility. They both felt like this was a moment in which Mrs Shoe should be left alone with no prompting to respond other than as she saw fit. The weight of the moment pressed in on their temples and cuticles, bands of air pressure squeezed and swam through their field of vision as they watched Mrs Shoe taking in what she saw and knowing instinctively that it was real.
Seventy four years of belief were made concrete in this one, simple introduction. Like meeting a pen pal after a summer of crass second-language letters being posted off into the distance. Mrs Shoe felt sick and elated and weepy all at once. Standing before her was a man who knew her better than anything or anyone that had ever existed. Seeing him broke her senses, he felt so personally hers and yet this physicality made him distant and ‘otherly’. She desperately sought for moisture in her mouth. Seventy four years old and feeling like she had when she’d first met Colin. Colin. What was it about Jesus that was making her think of Colin? She looked him up and down. Jesus smiled gently and let her do her looking, he let her do all the looking she needed to do. You only met Jesus for the first time once.
His hands. That was it. He had Colin’s hands. How was that possible? How could he have Colin’s hands?
The name slipped from her parched tongue before she could stop it. It hit the air like magnesium on water and the reaction flared across her cheeks in flaming crimson. An immediate hit of humiliation seared through her veins, aging her a decade and making her feel like the Iris in her dreams; decrepit and ridiculous. Pitied.
Sarah’s eyes immediately filled with tears. It was beautiful and all too strong for viewing. She wanted to hug Mrs Shoe but at the same time she felt like she’d just watched her have sex. The back of her throat hurt from the desire to laugh or cry or both and she clung to Hamish’s arm- not noticing the sweat that dripped from her clasped palms.
Hamish felt icy cold beneath the layer of perspiration across his back and face. He couldn’t feel his legs, he felt like he were floating. He stared at Jesus, trying to discern what the man was doing to the atmosphere to produce this effect on the four of them. Jesus looked calm, like he was waiting, telepathically conducting the scene.
Jesus… Jesus was panicking. Why on earth wasn’t anyone saying anything? Who introduces someone to their friend and then shuts up for all eternity? Obviously, he knew they were expecting great things but didn’t they also know that he hadn’t done this for a long time and so he might be a bit rusty? He looked at the elderly lady standing opposite him and tried to focus all his energy on what she needed from him. He breathed deeply and let his eyes find their own focus on Iris… not on her body, but on Iris Shoe as she is and was. On Iris. Calm washed over him and he shifted his weight, pulled all his confidence together and looked her in the eye. She looked tired and scared, he badly wanted to make her feel happier, wholesome, confident in herself. ‘Start talking’ he thought to himself, ‘the words will come.’
That was when she said Colin. Now, this put Jesus in a difficult position. The truth was that spiritual mediums had rather made it difficult for anybody who genuinely did know dead people. What Jesus wanted to say, was “No, I’m not Colin. But Colin sends his love. He misses you.” but that sounded crass, over familiar and vague. Equally, he knew he couldn’t go into detail and say
“But he really hates what you’ve done with the carpeting.”
And that was everything that was encompassed in the silence. Very difficult to sum it up in a single line about how long the pause was. That’s why Pinter never had narrators.
“Iris. It is such a pleasure to meet you, in person.” Jesus smiled and offered his hand to Iris.
“Sorry, I knew it was you, obviously,” she replied, “You just, you have very similar hands to my husband. My late husband. His name is Colin. That’s why I said Colin.”
“Yes, I understand.”
Iris took his hand tentatively and shook it. It was warm and soft. It felt familiar. She was glad Jesus wasn’t imposing - it really did feel like meeting an old friend. Really, she supposed, the man before her was a walking diary of every secret she had ever had. From pre wedding night gratitude; to rock bottom, silent, hospital bed prayers to take away every memory and shred of affection she had for her dying husband. He knew it all. It was the most momentous moment imaginable.
“Have you been offered tea?” asked Mrs Shoe, sternly.
*Author's Note* God did not sit. Before we start this chapter it is worth me taking the time to explain that none of the characters here are currently in a physical form. So God could not have sat as he had nothing to sit with or on. Also, nothing actually got said as there was no mouth to say it and no ears with which to hear it; when I say something was 'said' I have to mean 'the idea came into being'. It's like a thought but on a celestial level. In some respects too, there were not exactly the separate characters I have sketched out to make things simpler; it was more a wrestling of concepts and energy going back and forth and pulling time and space towards different moral outcomes. You can see how to try and narrate a chapter like this as it actually happened would be lengthy and confusing, so I will try where possible to put it into a "humans having a chat" context. This will help you understand, and also help me convince some other people to make it into a film and make me lots of money. Rest assured though that neither then, here, nor in the film did, does or will God resemble Alanis Morissette.
So, God “sat” and waited patiently for the inevitable company to arrive. Company bustled into the room as though this meeting were just ticking off No 4 in a 25 point To-Do List for the day. God knew this couldn't be true because they had decided not to bring the concept of days to this place; it seemed to help with not boxing in thought processes if there was never a time anything needed doing, even if it did cost them the joy of ever getting that Friday feeling. God also knew it couldn't be true because Itself was the creator of all things and therefore almost always the most important thing on anyones To-Do list.
*Author's Note* This is trickier than I thought. You may have noticed an 'Itself' creep into the text back there when referring to God. This is because, try as I might to fit this into a 'humans having a chat for simplicity and Hollywood dollar signs' format, I just cannot bring myself to give them a gender. They had no bodies and therefore no “anatomy” (wink wink) and couldn’t be labelled as any species let alone a gender. As I find the notion of gender consigning you to be anything more specific than simply in possession of a certain set of reproductive organs, I cannot even begin to speculate what gender these existences could be given. I will use 'It' for the purposes of non specificity and still narrating for you, and when we come to the casting discussions I'll bring the following 3 ideas for the casting of God to the table:
1. A series of ever changing famous cameos (exc. Alanis Morissette) to boost the celebrity of the film.
2. One of those androgynous actors that often do weird stuff like Johnny Depp or Cate Blanchett.
3. The Eurythmics
Company bustled in with sweaty confidence; cross about the circumstances but always pleased to have an argument.
“I thought I would have heard from you...” It let the partial question hang in the air; being intentionally blunt to try and catch God off guard.
God eyed The Devil with care. Theirs was a tempestuous relationship. They gave each other purpose; a deity without a purpose is prone to wild eccentricity. If you have any desire to see it in microcosm take a moment to research Lord Bath of Wiltshire.
*Author's Note* While I am enjoying watching these two bash it out as people-like characters, I am worried I've dumbed it down to an extent where you won't believe what an accurate narrative this really is. I would hate to miss out on any credit due my way, so it might be worth scraping below the surface to see what's going on. Just in case anyone from a Literary Prize judging panel is reading.
To understand God and The Devil is to understand everything, so if the next few paragraphs makes sense to you then treat yourself to a cup of tea, a pat on the back, and go ahead and ignore the next piece of criticism your mother throws your way.
To believe that God created everything is to believe that God must have created The Devil, which is difficult as God is the hero and The Devil is an out and out bad guy best imagined with a level of disdain only Alan Rickman can properly wield. Why would God create The Devil? That's like being a fly and inventing the swatter. The tricky bit is understanding that God did not intend to create The Devil; that The Devil came into being as a bi-product of the sheer magnitude of the power of God.
Remember that God and The Devil are not things or people; they are every concept and every physical and philosophical eventuality. The existence of God as a constant production and collection of intentions and ideas allows The Devil to exist in opposition. In scientific terms; for every action there is a reaction. It's the same with God and The Devil, here is an example:
God thinking It could create the Earth as an eternal paradise gave life to the following related concepts:
The Earth could end. There could be something better than the Earth.
Each time God's thoughts create a new concept, It must decide if It is in favour of the thought and going to make use of it. The thoughts God does not want to continue with are pushed away, but they cannot be destroyed. God does not keep them to become part of Itself and over time they bound together and caught momentum, like an enormous tumble weed, and became a formation fundamentally antithetical to God; The Devil.
So, what with God keeping all the thoughts relating to Its project Earth prospering, and pushing away those that might harm it, it is easy to see how in human terms The Devil is evil because The Devil does contain an awful lot of negative aspirations for the human race. But it is wrong to say The Devil is evil incarnate; It is only opposite to God. As an example, The Devil also holds within It the concept that there could be a paradise better than Earth, and so should It ever succeed in tumbling Earth then there might be something truly remarkable to behold. Not evil, just opposite to God, but certainly bad news for the human race.
To summarise, God did, and did not, create The Devil; God and The Devil are one and the same thing. Brothers from another mother, if you will.
"I don't have to keep you updated on my affairs." God replied smoothly.
"You usually like to rub my nose in it when things are going well. I realised I hadn't heard from you in a while and decided you must have really loused things up to have gone that quiet."
"I haven't 'loused' anything up, and really I don't know why you need tar lice with the negativity brush - they're perfectly wonderful creatures." God complained mildly.
"You'd say that about anything. Your obsession with seeing the good in everything is rather funny." The Devil sniggered.
"I just think everything deserves a chance..." God began before The Devil cut It off,
"You just think everything you've ever made is perfect! Bloody narcissist."
God inspected Its immaculate fingernails and smiled to Itself. "Well, I have been rather successful. It will no doubt pain you to realise you've just quoted one of my own characters at me assuming it could be insulting. Narcissus was a wonderful chap.”
The Devil was losing patience with God, something that happened frequently. "So if everything is going so well down there with your little play thing, why are you intervening again?”
"I'm not. Jesus is.”
"Don't give me that," snapped The Devil, rising to God's level toned bait. "You, Jesus, Angels, Spirits... same thing whatever flesh box hologram outfit you squash it into."
God considered this and wondered whether to correct The Devil. In the beginning, to coin a phrase, it had been exactly like that; Jesus was a likeable figurehead for humans to comprehend but was essentially an offshoot of God's entity. It hadn’t remained that way since It had put Jesus on Earth. The after effect of having been physical had altered the part of God that became Jesus - had forced a degree of separation that couldn't quite be smoothed over. Jesus had become something Other than God. Its creation; but not part of Its flock.
The Devil smiled; in recent centuries Jesus had really become God's weakness. It was becoming clearer and clearer that Jesus took responsibility for Earth and that God was very keen to see Jesus succeed. They say pride comes before a fall, and for God there was a long way to fall should Its pride in Jesus come to an end.
"Forgive me, I didn't mean to be rude." The Devil tried again. God tried to ignore the uncomfortable feeling It got in the face of such blatant untruth. "So, why is Jesus intervening?”
"Just smoothing over a few kinks." God said vaguely.
"Oh...?" The Devil fished. God did not respond. The Devil continued, "What 'kinks' might these be?”
They both felt something.
*Author's Note* That last sentence was underwhelming at best, I'm aware of that. However, it was nigh on impossible to try and describe what they felt under my genius guise of 'two good looking people trying not to be stereotypical portrayals of a human God and Devil in the latest Odeon blockbuster’.
Whilst I have explained, and you have presumably understood, above that God and The Devil are very much a Yin and Yang arrangement, it must be addressed that over their millennia of existence, independence has taken root in each of them. The Devil is no longer solely "What God Isn't”. By Its own opposition to God It has evolved the ability to behave of Its own accord. In accordance with the circumstances of Its creation, The Devil's behaviours still as a rule develop as an antagonism to God, but they are not necessarily always the reflex to God's move. In addition, no longer does The Devil notice absolutely every thought being sucked into the vortex of Its being upon rejection by God. Some of it settles without interrupting The Devil going about Its daily business (minus the days of course).
This arrangement works for them, it means they can co exist no longer feeling like two babies sharing one shouty brain. Nowadays they are more like neighbours in a poorly built maisonette; you have your own place but you are infinitesimally aware of almost every footstep, cough and bowel movement nearby.
Every now and again though, something happens that tugs deeply on the strings of what they are and brings the reality of their connection into Retina Display Resolution clarity. When God said 'Nothing major' It tried to lie. The lie broke one of the fundamentals of what God is and the truth God discarded for the lie bounded into The Devil’s elements and scrambled it like delicious breakfast eggs. The effect was as if they had both swallowed an atom bomb and it had exploded just behind each of their respective navals. The philosophical umbilical cord that connected them pulled tight like an elastic band with an electric boom that broke all past and future possibilities for volume records. Thankfully, God and The Devil are well developed concepts and the lie was not enough to fully shatter any root elements of their make up; their celestial fontanelles are sufficiently sealed enough to prevent minor slips like this causing long lasting damage. But, they most certainly both felt something.
The Devil reeled and, when It caught Its breath, realised It had the upper hand.
“Tut, tut, tut.” It said slowly and provocatively, holding God’s eyes with a slight smile tinkering around Its lids. “Little slip up there?”
God said nothing.
“So, trouble on Earth, eh? Oh dear. Sounds serious…”
“Careful!” Warned The Devil, “Don’t want another little white tummy ache, do we? Just you watch what you say so we’re not both holed up with cramps. So, the Earth is in trouble…”
“I think it will be fine.” God eased the words out like footsteps across a rope bridge. They both waited and felt the words were true.
“So you do.” The Devil said carelessly. “So you evidently do. The question is, though, how strongly do you believe it will be fine?” The atmosphere was a vacuum; tension sucking away the air leaving it tighter packed than a cyclist’s shorts. God hesitated; displeased and frustrated with the storm The Devil was stirring. The Devil continued stirring, Its pace lazy while the pitch of Its voice rolled and peaked in a provocative rhumba. “Well? How strongly do you believe it will be fine?”
“Very.” God managed, feeling the telltale rumble of uncertainty pulling at the bungee cord tendons of who It was. The Devil felt it too and grinned broadly.
“Strongly enough to make a bet?” It barked.
God said nothing.
“Strongly enough to make a bet with me? A bet, let’s say, lasting forty earth days… for old time’s sakes? A bet where your little project has to be all back to rights within those forty days or you give it all up and stop playing with your toys? Strongly enough to make that bet with me? That bet where at the end of the forty days the earth will be plunged back into darkness and the human race will be nothing more than a memory of how you and your “son” have failed? Will you make that bet, God?” Its voice was fast and crisp, excellent diction backed by malice and a snarling, stooping superiority. It hung over the proposition like a canine vulture, salivating over visions of spoils to come and pawing at the kill to watch it twitch.
“Yes.” A chill settlled. “Yes, I’ll make that bet. Forty days. In forty days Jesus will be back and all will be resolved in the tester village he is visiting. At the end of the forty days the Earth and the human race will continue to exist for all eternity. At the end of those forty days you will concede you have lost and you will remove your own project from my earthly creation leaving it a better place for humans to exist. Deal?”
“My project?” The Devil feigned innocence.