Thou stayedst for the first world, in Noah’s time, one hundred and twenty years; thou stayedst for a rebellious generation in the wilderness forty years, wilt thou stay no minute for me? Wilt thou make thy process and thy decree, thy citation and thy judgment, but one act?
— John Donne, Devotions
THE TRENCHES & THE BLISS, 2016 (WIP)
(Chapter 1 can be found here.)
Pity the fools born into cheerful homes believing that humanity is a halo with but a bit of tarnish they can affect, if not remove! This category of soul is generally confined to those newly discarding the leash of their parentage, who have neither the calloused feet of experience nor the brow lines of unspoken anger; for these, life is but a delightful tumble down the hole with Alice. I pay these no mind as they scratch across my dry bones: they simply have not yet hit the wall nor the bottom; but these indelicate blows come to all.
The numb have learned the reasonableness of silence and the epic futility of hope; they have learned that humanity is the incurable rust eating away at the cosmic halo — that annoying glimmer of good that persists in lining the upper-crust of our galaxy’s rippled bands, if only for the sake of denying mankind just cause for wallowing in complete darkness and suicidal tantrums.
“He suspended divinity to join this dismal lot,” my mother used to say. “Would you now condemn Him by this one scene in your plot?”
Her voice laced my every conscious thought. I did not possess her abundant grace.
Cherith stroked the cords of my memory as she used to stroke my hair: “There, there, Richy; let the Fates decide it. Why should humanity bear their burdens?”
My chest heaved in and out.
My head began to spin — “AAAAARRGGGHHHH!”, I cried, exhausting my core.
The voices were endless.
I looked around the empty room. There was nothing except the dirt floor belittled by beige, painted, cinder block walls. The creepiest things were vague: a stain, a silhouette, a feeling, something misplaced; a dread, a noise, a thought, my own mortality in sight. I had the creepy feeling that I was being watched — physically, mentally, and emotionally dissected through the unseen lens of someone else’s privilege.
“Calloused bastards!” I shouted at the walls.
The room was longer than it was wide with one very small window my fingertips could reach at one end if I balanced just right over the toilet hole in the ground, but I had lost my balance a few scenes back. The window had three stout bars. Today, a cheerful blue sky toyed with me between the lines — lines it used to measure bubbly notes, daring me to do the same. I refused to play with it.
Duty nor that cult of positivity had served me well; I was betrayed doing all I could and I was betrayed at the very height of my optimism.
“Nowhere to go but up” —
“It will be okay” —
“Keep your chin up” and “God won’t give you more than you can bear” —
“Keep the faith” —
“Speak to that mountain” —
“Be positive; things will change” —
“Trust God” —
“What doesn’t kill you” —
Yes, I heard them all.
What a lousy lot of friends I had back then. All good Christian men full of themselves and emboldened by blessings. Well, I suppose they didn’t have much to offer the suffering, like me. That’s life: Those who do well — thinking that they’ve accomplished this by their own merits — can’t understand those destined for the category of “and the Lord takes away”; the suffering are an anathema, a vague threat they cannot perceive, a virus they might catch. I was left on the side of the road for dead by my friends after life jumped me, beat me, and punched the soul right out of my chest with heavy, lingering, painful blows.
My abdomen still throbbed from surgery. I laid down on my right side and gave into the weight of my thoughts.
Two years ago, my dad slipped backwards on wet tile as he entered the back door leading to the kitchen of my childhood home. My mother had just mopped and he fell back onto the concrete stairs. The sharp blow to the back of his head killed him instantly.
That was the day my mother went crazy. She lost her mind. Everyone said it was her guilt about the floor, and I suppose it was. She loved him. She was faithful. They’d been married for 29 years. She tried to kill herself repeatedly after he died and was committed to an asylum a few weeks later.
This was the same month my six-month-old nephew was murdered, after my brother and his wife lost their home and were forced to live in a shelter. Little Rich was kidnapped by some loony at the shelter, murdered for no known reason. The baby was my namesake, though we had never met.
I had proposed to Cherith before my father’s death. She came to see me when I was stationed in Braggington. I’d never seen a lovelier person, heart and figure. She wore a striking white, tailored skirt and blouse that day. Her white heels made her legs three miles long.
I kissed her pink cheek when we met on the platform at the train station. She was like a glossy porcelain figurine I was afraid to tamper with lest someone scold me before I had paid my dues. She laughed when I said so. She often laughed at me.
We decided to board another train bound for Librath, a trendy little spot on the map with several popping jazz joints — her favorite. She insisted upon the window seat and chatted merrily about the wedding plans as we travelled. It was a short ride, about thirty minutes whole; nonetheless, by the fifteen minute mark my lap — indeed the whole compartment! — was stained with her blood.
Her eyes were still open when I looked down at her decapitated head soaking across my thighs. An impulse of excitement had compelled her to stick her head out of the window during our ride. It happened so fast, I couldn’t even say what did it; the authorities called it a ‘fluke’. Her white garments were entirely ruined.
I had not known ‘shell shock’ before this moment. (I swear it’s true, though people are sometimes surprised by this.) I do not know who removed me from the compartment that day. I have no other memories of that day. Someone, I’m told, discovered me sitting with her head in my lap, stroking her black hair, after the train reached Librath.
Even now, my emotions are hidden from me; they leak indirectly but never in focus. Still, I suppose my feelings here are nearest to what my mother felt after dad died: Guilt.
What a wicked curse of genetics!
So, will I condemn that Higher Being by one scene in my plot? — Ha! Oh — would that it were true! No. Not by one scene — I will condemn Him by these many scenes! — horror-filled scenes that none of us deserved!
I felt certain mom had done the same by now.
Where was God now?
And then this — The Quarantine for the Promotion of Universal Bliss (QPUB) — the hilarious misnomer Ol’ Bliss thought up for his torture and retraining camp. I had seen it before, though never as a prisoner. I’d be lucky to come out with my own head.
I’d been in the trenches for at least two years now; my feet weren’t the only numb soles about me.
I’ve decided to continue this story… though I know not where it leads. I wrote this one for therapeutic fun; and to romance my love for slightly off-color smart-alecks. Maybe. Something like that…
So, I should have a schedule, right? For the sake of consistency, I’ll post a new chapter every Thursday. (This is how you know I love you, dear reader; else, I am wholly whimsical at core.)
Too bad the QPUB wasn’t published before 2020 though; that would have been fun to reflect on… It’s (this story and the years) only getting weirder.
Principalities and powers of the air: It seems they leak information too from time to time.
Read along if you like. My enjoyment in writing fiction far exceeds any other writing I do. In fact, I nearly loathe writing non-fiction in contrast… ha. Maybe it will show.
I have far more often identified with Job than with his wife… but this story isn’t that story. No… there is no one righteous, not even one…
Well, if you know, you know… else, keep reading.