MYSELF AM HELL?
John the vicar waits for me to answer, raising a thick curly eyebrow, a soft smile spreading thin across his mottled face. I look down into my lap. I’ve no idea why I came here. I’ve no idea why I even knocked on his door, why I felt the need to come and tell him these things. All I know is that something black and heavy sits in my belly, making everything black, so black and so heavy that I can’t carry it anymore. What do you mean? I mumble, the effort of speech feeling like lifting a large rock above my head. It’s from Milton, he smiles, And it seems to me Billy, that what you’re experiencing here, is guilt, which is a Hell that you make for yourself, a Hell that seems inescapable until you address the root of it, the cause of it, if you will… I don’t have a fucking clue who Milton is. But the words seem to make some kind of sense. I’ve felt like this before. I know I have. But this one won’t go away. People at work are avoiding me. Curtis has been spreading shit. I know he has. I hate people. I want to be left alone, but I hate myself. Myself am Hell… Have you been drinking today? John says... Yeh… Do you drink every day, Billy?... Sometimes… Hmm, he says, raising a thick curly eyebrow. And do you find that your, erm, messing things up, as you put it, coincides with your drinking?... After a moment or two, I nod, because there’s no getting away from it. Even so, and I can’t explain it, but the sense that it’s not just the drink is, and always has been, a dog chewing at my gut. I look up from my lap and at the man who married me and Grace all that time ago. He’s waiting for me to say something… I’ve been with other women, I mumble, feeling the rock’s weight again, And I feel bad about it… I see, he says, rubbing his chin. He waits for more, and for some reason I give it… I got into a situation with a neighbour, and it went wrong. And then I got into something with a friend’s friend. That went wrong too. And there’s been others… Something jags in my throat. I feel like a little boy. I feel pathetic and I hate myself. John reaches over to his desk. I look up and he has a Bible in his lap. He frowns, licks his thumb, then flicks the pages over until he finds what he’s looking for. He looks up from the page… Can I read you something? he says. I shrug. John looks to the Bible… For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. Thus he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God… John looks up from the page and at me. His bushy eyebrows raise again… To set the mind on flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit, is life, and peace. Do you see, Billy?... I look to my lap again, to my hands as my fingers join like church, like steeple. I say nothing… Listen, he says softly, Human beings have an innate rebelliousness, in that we fight against the spiritual, the Godly. Saint Aquinas once said there can be sin in the will of every creature, considering the condition of its nature. Does that make sense, Billy?... I shrug again. I have no answer. John continues… The poet Shelley called The Devil, Nature, and for me, this is the crux of the matter, that we all have this constant tension within us to do the wrong thing, to act on this Nature, this compulsion, which some would say is the very Devil himself speaking to us, tempting us… John pauses, as though waiting for me to say something. I don’t know what to say… Can I ask you, Billy, do you accept God at all?... He says this leaning forward and putting his prayer-ready hands between my face and lap… No, I say, not even having to think about it. I reach to my side where half a cup of cold tea sits on a three-legged table with a crucifix carved on it. I drink. I want a drink that isn’t this drink. I want to get out of here. Soon… You know, says John, If you accept God into your life, you’d be surprised how much of your burden he’d lift…. But I don’t believe in God, I tell him, And I don’t believe in Heaven, or... Billy, he says, holding flat palms towards me, If you let yourself enter the Community of Faith, if you accepted the word of God, I can promise you that very quickly you would receive forgiveness through Jesus, who died then rose again, proving death is not the end, proving that whatever you’ve done, whatever bad deeds you’ve committed, God will forgive you, and lift your burden, because in the same way as Jesus showed us that death is not the end, God can show you that the Hell you’re in right now is not the end for you, that you can rise again, in a new life, happy and peaceful, and all you have to do is to accept God. Do you see that, Billy?... John puts his hand on my knee. I twitch and he moves it. I ask John what Jesus did wrong, and he blinks… What do you mean? he says, his bushy eyebrows moving towards each other… You said something about sin, and how God gave his son to show us about sin, or something… John looks up to the ceiling. A grandfather clock in the corner ticks. Outside the window, sparrows flicker about on a bird table. A bus rattles by and the sparrows fly off… Jesus died, says John, still looking at the ceiling, So God could show us that we were born into sin, and that through his redemption, we could be born again into Heaven, which is why he sent his only son to die for us… John closes his eyes a moment. When he opens them again he’s looking at me… So Jesus didn’t do anything bad then? I say… John sighs, frowns, then smiles. His smile is less soft than before. He picks at the seam of his trouser leg with one hand, his other rolling a soft drum-roll on the fat arm of his chair… No, he says. It’s a symbol of redemption. Of how we are born within the grip of the Original Sin, of how Adam and Eve... I stop listening for a moment. I see the picture on Curtis’s staircase. The tree. The apple. The snake watching Eve… So when Jesus died and then rose again, God was showing us how to escape this sinful grip. Do you see, Billy?... Why didn’t God want Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree Of Knowledge?... John coughs, then looks up to the ceiling again. Because if they did, which they did do, they’d have the knowledge of God, of the everything, but more importantly, they’d have knowledge of all the evil man is capable of, which then gave them an awareness of sin… I think about this a moment… Why didn’t God want them to know? I ask. John shuffles in his chair. He looks a little annoyed… You have children don’t you, Billy? John says, smiling tightly. I nod. Well, as a parent you keep certain things from your children, don’t you? Because they’re simply not ready to know everything that you know, are they? It’s like that with Adam and Eve. They just weren’t ready to know, and they needed to put their trust in God. And they didn’t, which is why we’re all born into sin. Do you understand that, Billy?... I look out the window. Everything tumbles at me at once. We’re fucked from the start. We arrive guilty without having done anything wrong. And according to John, we then have to live the dullest life imaginable. Just keep praying and keep clean. Keep dull dull fucking dull in the thin hope that some unseen God lets us off with the bad things we haven’t even done so he can open his sparkly fucking gates for us. I don’t buy it. At all. There is no God, just some fuckarsed rulebook invented by lying self-righteous bastards that wait around every street corner sharpening their tiny daggers of spite, itching to stab you in the face in some fuckarsed idea of truth, a truth that’s so because a thousand and three backhand whispers down a thousand and three council estate jennels made it so: he did this, he did that, he did the fucking other. Fuck it. Life… is a fucking… cesspit. Full of two-faced cowardly bastards who’ll suck you off behind closed doors then run down the street screaming rape because they can’t deal with the truth that every single fucking one of them is just as dirty a bastard as every fucker else. I shake John’s hand, leaving with little else said other than I’ll think about joining his community of faith, which I won’t, because now I know, know that I have to do something, and it has nothing to do with some stupid fuckarsed God. No. What I have to do is for my kids, because they need me, need me to protect them from a world full of lying cunts… Outside John’s gate, a stray mongrel pads up the street growling. I go to kick it in the face but it runs off. I’m beginning to understand. I need to get straight. Get sober. Get sharp.