…from the collection ‘ellipses…a compendium of peculiarly dark and droll vignettes’ by Christian David Anderson, a fragmentary fiction writing project for 2013 available exclusively here at the Fanboys And Soulmen blog.
my favourite blasphemy
I stood there, awkwardly, some sort of fluffiness at my feet. As I looked up at him, stiffly seated at a vast white marble bureau – a bureau whose corners could take your head off if you tripped while trying to pass around it – my first thought was ‘wait until Richard Dawkins sees this’.
He was busy at the bureau, head down and shuffling out a collection of folios from a bran-brown folder in front of him.
“Look, Mr Anderson,” he said without looking up, delivered in a tone typical of a bureaucrat: needing to fulfil this duty, understanding the gravity of the process, yet resigned to doing only what is necessary to complete it. He didn’t care if I lived or died, as long as the paperwork was correctly filled out, relatively accurate, and with as little fuss as possible. Perusing the fine print, he continued, “these details all seem in order. It looks like you’ve achieved a reasonably average record, statistically speaking. You have lived according to a good moral code; you have been kind to animals and small children, for the most part. Some of your more questionable actions do have mitigating circumstances…” he paused, looked up at me for the first time, and added, “…for the most part.”
He returned to the papers in front of him: “you didn’t cheat on your wife, at least not while you were married to her. You have given generously to those less fortunate than you, even when you yourself had very little, which all falls in line with our policies…(pause). I see there was an incident, shortly before you joined us, involving a car park attendant and remuneration for his services. Thankfully, it seems this altercation was merely verbal, and by the look of things, the gentleman in question was the antagonist and you showed great restraint in making the best of a bad situation.”
I wanted to add that I really did not have any change to offer the guy that day, but he stopped me before I could finish the sentence. “We will deal appropriately with him as and when he arrives. The important thing is that you showed, in this instance, good judgement, this will definitely work in your favour here.” We looked at each other closely for a moment, reading whether the topic would be discussed further. He had decided it would not.
“however…”, another pause, this one seemingly longer than time itself, as he read from the pages, quietly to himself, his lips moving slightly. The silence gave me a chance to assess my surroundings a little more than I had when I first arrived. Things had happened so quickly. One moment I was there, and then the next I was here, knee deep in these overly efficient cogs of peculiar officialdom. I still wore the Kurt Cobain t-shirt I put on this morning. Though I may be getting a little old for rock n roll t-shirts, I was glad I had something familiar with me. I wondered where Kurt was. Maybe here, perhaps, over there, beyond the marble bureau. I wondered what time he would be teeing off and if he needed someone to make up a four-ball. I imagine that without the weight of the world on his shoulders, he would make a good golfer. I’d always wanted to play, myself, maybe now might be a great time to start.
I looked out into the celestial snowstorm around me, and even though I knew it was all in my mind, I could hear perfectly the strains of Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes. A beautiful song, a song I was glad to hear one last time, thankful that I didn’t listen to commercial radio in my car anymore, or I would have had that new Britney Spears song – or worse, a Whackhead Simpson morning show phone prank – stuck in my head right now. That would be enough to top myself. Well, okay, but you know what I mean.
I thought of Gran. Gran? I realised and looked back up at the marble desk. He was still reading the pages, mechanically playing with his long, white beard. I almost asked about Gran, I really did, but he looked back at me suddenly. He was expecting me to say something, but then realised that if I did, it would probably waste time he would rather not waste. He disregarded and pre-empted me:
“Blasphemy, Mr Anderson…” his eyes bore into me now, like a Gandalf with a pile driver. My open mouth asked a dumb “eh?”, but he continued, “in order to process this as swiftly as possible, and find an appropriate placing for you with us here, we need to look at, in great detail mind you, this extensive list of blasphemies that is part of your permanent record.”
“It is after all the second commandment, and we take transgressions of the second commandment quite seriously, vetting each one in great detail so that we can fully evaluate your application.”
I had known it all along, really. I had always been so worried that my mild pornography addiction or the couple of times I recorded music off the radio in my youth, or that one time I stole a magazine from the bathroom at someone’s house party in 1996 – it had an article on Star Wars As Marxist Fantasy that I enjoyed reading half of and thought I may never find the magazine again – I always thought any one of these would one day come back to haunt me. But I somehow knew, every time I used a one, blasphemy would get me in the end. It is after all the second commandment. I’ve heard Catholic priests use them, and thought if they could do it, then…then again maybe Catholic priests aren’t exactly a glowing example to use in my defence. Lost in these thoughts for more than a reasonable amount of time, I soon realised he had begun calling off, out loud and unemotionally, each instance of my blasphemy uttered throughout my short life, adding the amount of times I had used it.
“Jesus Christ: two-hundred and ten thousand instances. Jesus, singular: 4 million and twenty. Oh my God: 53 million, seven-hundred thousand, four-hundred and fifty-three times. Good God: fifty-eight thousand, six…”
“Wait,” I interrupted louder than I had intended, he looked up from the page and down at me coolly.
“Good god? That isn’t so bad is it? I mean, it’s god, and he’s good. Good. God. No?”
“It counts,” he said dryly, and continued to read the list. “OMG: in print, five-thousand eighty-two. Spoken, six-hundred and twenty-two,” shaking his head disdainfully.
The listing continued, surprising me with more than a little shame. I felt a little unsettled by it all, thinking that this was what my life had been summed up as – a long list of verbal crimes against divinity. A life wasted, I thought.
I could name all original members of the Wu Tang Clan – RZA, GZA,Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Cappadonna.
…and can quote every line from the entire Godfather series, Part 3 included, yet apart from ‘Thou Shalt not Kill’ and ‘Thou Shalt not Covert Thou Neighbour’s Wife’s Ass’, could not fill in the rest of Moses’ Top 10.
I was able to program a video machine, change a light bulb and diligently follow local and international events by studiously reading every word in every newspaper I had ever bought. I could capably understand the intricacies of post-modern deconstructionism and the importance of good hygiene. I put discs back in their boxes; I helped my wife hang up the washing and gave lifts to old men who had missed their buses.
I played with my son every day, and kissed him and told him I loved him every night before he went to sleep. I tried my best to not judge the failings of others, and tried never to watch more than three episodes of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
I understood that people are merely human, and that sometimes you couldn’t always have what you wanted, but if you try sometimes, you may get what you need.
I tried, truly tried, to get into Radiohead, but just couldn’t, yet nonetheless, I was still able to appreciate their OK, Computer album as an important cultural work and cornerstone of modern musical evolution. I felt appropriately uncomfortable when I played Grand Theft Auto, and tried never to play it in the company of a lady. I actively discouraged young people from indoor deviant and anti-social behaviour and urged them with great seriousness, and despite derision, to play outdoors more regularly.
I kept my nose clean, changed my oil and held my head up high when others around me were losing theirs. I spoke out against injustices, and added productively and maturely to dynamic socio-political debate. I suffered fools for the good of humankind, and laughed enthusiastically at a thousand bad jokes, yet always distanced myself from the racist ones. I recycled, I regularly sharpened blunt pencils, I reignited strangers’ campfires, and I even tried, at least once, to save one person’s life.
Yet. Yet? Yet!?
“Christ fucker…”, he paused for a moment, and arched one snowy eyebrow away from the phrase on the piece of paper in front of him. I remembered that one. Reminded me of a heated, bloody, drunken battle of fists and egos, on a dark pavement, with a good friend, a million years ago. A good friend, an old friend, a friend from whom I now never had the chance to take back the punches and the words, the “Christ fucker”, and replace them with a ‘sorry’ and a ‘let’s go have a beer’. Even though I now cringed at the phrase and the history lesson, it still flooded back some great memories, memories that were not those mad moments of horrible hurtful, bitter violence and then years of nauseating regret. Buoyed by this, I was now hoping I might see him again, maybe here. Over there, beyond the marble bureau. Maybe the fourth in that Kurt Cobain four-ball was him. Wow, think of that, Grunty, me and you on the links with the voice and noise of our generation.
He stopped reading, and looked over at me again. The only thing he could possibly have seen was an embarrassed child. I looked away and began to fidget needlessly. The clouds around us suddenly felt incredibly noisy, as a huge cumulus pause passed between us.
“…and finally,” he started up again, an age later.
“…Christ on a bike: seven million, four-hundred and thirty thousand, five-hundred and eighty-one.”
“Christ on a bike?” he asked.
“Christ on a bike,” I countered pragmatically, as safely as I could. His lips thinned somewhere inside their hirsute house.
“…but that’s my favourite one,” I swallowed a giggle. It really was. Nothing clears the cobwebs of frustration, and gets the groove back into any situation than that one. Even ‘fuck’, with all its diverse variants and infinite combinations, could even come close to the majestic power and glorious exclamation of ‘Christ on a bike’.
“I really like it; it really is my favourite one,” I championed.
Maintaining a rigid scowl on me, he reaches across his huge marble bureau, and grasps an old, worn-out rubber stamp.