THE LAST DAY FOREVER
Phil Trippe didn’t get to see what his lover had to go through, because when you die there is no spirit mingling around looking at survivors and spying on the living and that kind of crap. When you breathe your last breath you are instantly shipped away to Judgement Day, like an email clicked to the other side of the earth. You are zapped before the tribunal of angels in a territory as unknown as our planet is to whomever the hell lives out there in the Milky Way and beyond.
Iseult had had to put Phil’s clothes back on him. They had been upstairs in the attic, her husband at work and the kids away to school. She had to drag him down the old wooden stairs to her "office" where the computer was and the two chairs were where, a half an hour before, they had been working on the translation of Phil’s latest book. These days they never worked very long because they loved each other like rabid dogs. After ten or fifteen minutes huddled over the computer their groins got the best of them, they couldn’t keep their hands off each other, and the next thing they knew, they were upstairs in the attic on the old metal bed making love like butterflies, all their wings flapping and their bodies linking as if gravity had no bounds.
They had known each other for three months, but had only crossed the adulterous barrier a month prior. They had only been able to make love ten times, including the last time when Phil’s heart blew up and his mouth wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye. Iseult had kissed him, licked him, drooled on him, and screamed for help to all the deaf and dumb divinities in the universe. Of course no help came. Her lover was dead. To save her marriage she had to get him dressed and down to the floor beneath her computer. It took twenty cumbersome minutes. She was sweating like a racehorse when she finally called the ambulance.
Phil’s body had lived sixty years, but he had been in great shape. The ambulance guys wagged their heads slowly and said a fit body was no guarantee of anything in this world.
By the time Iseult’s family started to straggle home she had stopped crying. Nobody would ever know that she had had a lover. She had not even told her best friend.
There was a small obituary in Le Monde and Le Figaro. There were lots of American ex-pat writers in Paris. Phil Trippe had only had three novels translated into French. None had made a bestseller list. "The Last Day Forever" was to have been his fourth.
So now we’ll leave the earth and follow what happened to Phil? Ironically he had already written it all out. Here then is the original English version of "Le Dernier Jour Pour Toujours."The Last Day Forever
Before I knew what hit me (I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to Iseult or see her beautiful face and body again) I was standing in front of a judge and a jury. The judge was wearing a cowboy hat and a checkered shirt and looked to be slightly inebriated. I couldn’t see if he had on Levis or Wranglers or whatever brand of jeans, nor if he was wearing cowboy boots because he was sitting behind a big weighty mahogany desk. The jury, seated to his left in rather comfortable armchairs, was a very mixed bag. There were faces of various shades of beige, brown, pink, and yellow. One was covered with hair. There were men and women, young and old, and their apparel ranged from a toga to a see-through silk negligee, a bikini, peasant clothes, and a suit of full armor. The person with hair all over the face seemed to have hair all over the body and, like me, was as naked as a carrot. Evidently we all end up wearing whatever we die in…forever. The judge got everybody’s attention by ringing a little bell on his desk. To my amazement the bell echoed the first thirteen notes of the Beatles’ song "Close your eyes and I’ll kiss, tomorrow I’ll miss you…". In any case, it worked. Everybody either woke up or shut up.
"So who do we have here?" the judge said in a lazy Texas drawl. "Looks like you done got caught with your pants down…" I noticed that only the guy in the armor and the woman in the bikini laughed. The judge went on, "But you ain’t the first and you sure as hell won’t be the last….So tell us what the hell happened."
I had no idea what to say. I didn’t know if they were all omniscient and could see through me and knew exactly what had happened or if I could invent a decent sob story and they wouldn’t know the difference. My query came to a quick end when the judge said, "Now don’t be doin’ no bullshittin’ now, cause we got some pretty goddamn good ways of finding out things around here…. But first tell us your name and where you come from."
Naturally his use of the word "goddamn" surprised me a bit, but I answered calmly. "I’m Philippe Thomas Trippe and I was born in New York, but I moved to Europe after college to become a writer."
"A writer, hey. I tried to write a little myself once…. So how’d you die? That’s always our first question because sometimes you can tell a lot about the way a guy lived by the way he died…if you see what I mean."
I decided I’d be as straight as a flagpole. I had been pretty much that way anyway on earth which was one of the reasons Iseult adored me. Had adored me, I guess I should say. I used to say things that other people didn’t dare say like "Whoever said the planet earth was the right temperature in the first place. Maybe if we warm it up a few degrees things might end up better than they are now." She had heard me say this on the radio a few times before we met. Topics like: "America and global warming" or "Are you voting for Obama?" (To this question I answered, "I’ll vote for a presidential candidate when he says: a) I have a mistress, b) I don’t believe in God, and c) the interests of the world come before the interests of America). But before I could say anything the judge said, "You do know where you are don’t you?"
"Judgement Day, right? And you’re the judge."
"You’re not as dumb as you look." (The whole crew laughed this time.) "And this here’s your jury."
"So I figured judge."
"Call me San Antonio…"
"No sir crap either. Straight San Antonio."
"Okay San Antonio."
"That’s better….So how’d you kick the bucket?"
"I was making love to the woman I loved more than anybody on earth."
"Not your wife, eh?"
"No, not my wife."
"How about her. Did she have a husband?"
"Yeah. Good guy in fact. And three beautiful kids."
"Did you have a wife?"
"I had one, once, but we got divorced a long time ago. And if you want to know the truth San Antonio, it had been about thirty years since I had really and truly loved somebody…I mean loved somebody so much that I just wanted to kiss her all the time and just eat her all up and…"
"That’s okay. We - the lucky ones anyway - know the feeling. Doesn’t happen every often though, does it?"
"No sir, it doesn’t"
"Sorry…. Excuse me, but does it mean you’re a saint or something because your name’s San Antonio?" I couldn’t resist the question.
"Hell yes, I’m a goddamn saint. But so is everybody else around here. It’s no big deal. All it means is that you don’t have to pay rent, food and air are free, and you can pretty much get your rocks off whenever you want."
"Not a bad deal."
The left side of San Antonio’s mouth smiled. He had some Elvis about him. "Let’s get back to business…. So you were screwing your best friend’s wife?"
"He wasn’t my best friend. In fact I hardly knew him. But what I knew of him I liked. He seemed like a helluva nice guy."
"So why did you screw his wife in his attic?"
"Actually it was her house. She had inherited it. And San Antonio, I’d really like to make one thing clear if you don’t mind."
"Why would I mind? All we’re tryin’ to do is make things clear so we can send you off to the proper corner of eternity."
"Shit. Sounds scary."
"So what did you want to say?"
"I just don’t like the word ‘screw’. I think when you really and truly love somebody you never ‘screw’ the person. Even ‘make love’ is the wrong word. You just want to fuse your body with theirs. You want to melt your mind and flesh with theirs. And this kind of thing happened so rarely in my life that I just couldn’t not live it out…to the fullest." I noticed the woman dressed in the bikini was looking at me closely. A question popped into my head for the judge. "So judge, did you ever feel that way about a woman?"
"I felt that way about a few horses." Everybody laughed except the guy who looked like a caveman.
"But what about with a woman, that beautiful part of nature that can make babies, walk like an angel, kiss like a cherry tree, and make a man feel like he knows why he exists?"
"Hell, when you put it that way, I’m starting to get a little nostalgic for old Claudine Weatherspoon. I knew her in high school. That’s kind of the way I felt about her."
"So what happened?" I asked.
"When we graduated she went off to Florida and I stayed in Texas. She married some real estate tycoon. There had always been a problem with her parents because she was a Catholic and my family was Baptist and they thought if she married me she’d wouldn’t end up in heaven and all that kind of garbage."
"You mean she could have married you and still gone to heaven?"
"Hell yes. At least I think so. I doubt God’s dumb enough to be a Catholic? Hell, He probably laughs his ass off every time he sees one of those guys in purple robes throwing water on coffins and passing out crackers to people…"
"So who did you end up marrying?"
"A girl named Gracie Grundel."
"How was it?"
"So-so, like most marriages."
"So do you see what I mean about not wanting to waste the occasion when it finally shows up?"
"What was your woman’s name?"
"Iseult. She was French. From Paris."
"Damn. You were a lucky son of a bitch….Paris, hey? What were you doing in Paris?"
"Like I said, I was trying to be a writer."
"What do you mean, ‘trying to be’?"
"Well, you know, lots of Americans go to Paris like Hemingway did to write great books and see the Eiffel Tower and walk along the Seine and sip wine in cafés with interesting people. I wrote a few books, but none of them were best sellers or anything."
"Who gives a flying screw if they were best sellers. Even I’m not dumb enough to think that the fact that a book sells a lot makes it a good book. In fact, most stuff that sells a lot is horseshit."
I began to think I got sent to a good judge. This guy was about as genuine as people get. I wondered if everybody around was like that. So far the other members of the jury hadn’t opened their mouths except to laugh or yawn.
"So what did you write about? Tell me. Nobody’s in any hurry around here. It’s not like we’ve got anything better to do."
"Well, I’ll tell you the truth…."
"The truth is like a rainy day. If you go outside in it, you’ll get all wet and might end up with pneumonia…." Every laughed, even the caveman.
"But I thought you all wanted the truth…"
"Phil, everybody around here knows that the truth is the biggest pack of lies that was ever put in tin cans and sold in supermarkets."
I was surprised he remembered my name. I figured it was a good sign. "So what do you want me to tell you?"
"Just whatever bullshit wants to come out of your mouth. That’s all anybody does anyway. Most people have to die to figure that out."
"I kind of figured that out while I was alive, but I thought here things might be different."
"What makes you think that?"
"Well, you know…heaven, God, omniscience, angels checking every out, pure spirits…that kind of thing."
"Phil, my man, – my dead man – that was all part of the bullshit that comes out of people’s mouths. Not one word of it is true. This place is as crooked as any two-bit saloon in Texas…."
The caveman started beating his chest and spitting a little geyser up in the air.
"So, San Antonio, you’re telling me that heaven and hell and all that is not real."
"I didn’t say that. I just said it’s not what it’s cracked up to be."
"So where am I? Is there a name for this place?
"We could call it ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ if we wanted to. Names don’t mean shit. ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ were just names to scare people. There is no name for this place. If it’ll make you feel better we can call it ‘The Garden of San Antonio’ or ‘San Antonio’s Garage’. How’s that? I know all you dead ones like names for stuff."
I didn’t know what to say. I just nodded my head. There was silence. I scratched the back of my neck and looked at the jurors. Finally I said, "But where am I?
"Does it matter?" the judge said with that Elvis smile.
The JuryBefore going on I should clarify a couple of things, like matter and space. We weren’t sitting in any old courtroom. I said that San Antonio was sitting behind a heavy mahogany desk. Yes and no…. The desk looked - to me anyway - like a heavy mahogany piece of furniture, but when push comes to shove it was neither heavy nor mahogany. It was weightless and you could put your hand right through it. You can put your hand through everything around here. And you sure as hell can’t lift weights. No body builders in this country. Nothing weighs anything. Bullets, bombs, and arrows don’t mean anything around here because nothing splatters and everything pierces everything else. I quickly realized – as I started to understand the metaphysics of this place - that the problem with earthly human beings is that they just can’t really get out of their itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny little box brains; they can’t imagine that there might be other ways of looking at stuff and other kinds of brains that experience other kinds of things…or not things….
When I was alive one of the notions I used to laugh my creamy ass off about was "time". "What time is it?"…. "Uhhh, it’s a quarter to eight." "Okay thanks." Human beings think they are the center of temporal history, the center of time, that time starts and ends with them, that their time is really what time it is in the universe. They’ll say things like "the Neanderthal man appeared as early as 300,000 years ago" and think that was a long time ago. But 300,000 years is nothing but the duration of a lizard fart in the Mojave desert.
And space? Space here is fantastic because there are no walls. Like I said, you can put your hand right through anything. Everything you look at has a background that goes on for as far as you can see. It feels like you can see forever. Of course you can’t, but one senses that there are no limits. It’s like a great transparent ooze. It takes some getting used to, but I’m getting there….
But back to jury.
Suddenly judge San Antonio says, "Yo Phil! My main dead man! I think I ought to introduce your jury members to you. Juries around here come and go. One day there might be eight members, and the next day there’ll be six, then the day after there’ll be more than a dozen. Jurors get bored and want to do something else. We don’t force them to stay. Remember, they come from everywhere and from every piddling epoch of human existence. I say ‘piddling’ because when you’ve been here for a while and listen to the people tell their ‘life stories’, it all starts sounding kind of small-minded. But goddamn, it’s not their faults. They didn’t ask to be dumb. They just turned out that way…. Kind of like everything else…. So you’ve got a pretty interesting group here….Let’s start with the guy over there with the hair all over his face that you keep staring at all the time …. His name’s Neal….Wake up Neal! I’m talking about you!"
The Neanderthal man shook his shoulders and sat up in his chair.
"Neal claims he never had a name until he got here. He says where he comes from nobody could remember names and nobody talked much, mostly grunted. He said everybody got along fine too, other than sometimes bashing each other on the head with tree branches. He says that people spent all their time looking for something to eat. Either that or fucking to make some more fools who’d then have to spend all their time looking for something to eat…."
"It wasn’t that bad San Antonio." Neal’s voice resounded like distant thunder. "You exaggerate everything. What the hell did people do when you were wandering around the earth?….Go shopping…shopping to buy more shit they didn’t need. Talk politics…talk about the weather. Go to a baseball game…drink beer in bars…. Oh, and how about when those cell-phones showed up on the scene? People would spend half their miserable lives looking at a little screen that was the size of a baby’s hand and sending stupid messages to each other about shopping, politics, the weather, and baseball games… Was that a more noble existence than I had? At least we didn’t have game shows, multiple gods, fashion magazines, nine million sporting events every weekend on TV, and nine thousand ‘news channels" saying the same shit over and over and over that nobody cares about because it’s the same shit over and over…."
"Okay, okay, you win Neal," San Antonio said. "We’ve had this conversation a hundred times before…"
"You’re the one who started it."
"Why don’t you just tell the man I’m Neal and I come from a cute little corner of the earth in a place that you people used to call ‘Europe’ and that my ancestors go back not 300,000 years, but more like forever and ever and ever and ever, and the day you figure all that out will be a great day in the history of human stupidity…."
The other jurors applauded Neal happily. The woman in the bikini got up and started pretending she was a pom-pom girl. I noticed she had high heels on. She had nice legs.
"Gloria, sit down," San Antonio said with a rather tired voice.
"No, no!" the others shouted . "Let her do her thing! We haven’t seen Gloria dance since when…when was it? Neal’s one million nine hundred fifty-four thousand eight hundred and twenty-second birthday?"
"All right, all right. You dance Gloria while I introduce you to…to…"
He had forgotten my name.
"Phil. Phil Trippe," Neal said. "Hell, even I remember that."
"Yeah. Yeah. What’s forgetting a name? Nobody cares anyway? Like you said, Neal, you guys got along fine with no names…."
"What do you mean, ‘nobody cares’?" Gloria was short of breath, but spoke anyway. "We’re here to judge the life of this man (she winked at me) and send him on his way to some god forsaken place for the rest of all eternity…."
Gloria kept dancing. She was doing great leg kicks and hip twists. Neal got up and started his own routine next to her. San Antonio ignored them and began talking directly to me.
"So that there is Gloria Lundstrom . She was a candidate for Miss Sweden in 2006. Her boyfriend shot her with a laser pistol just as she was coming down the steps to be introduced for the swimsuit competition. Evidently he was the jealous type. He didn’t mean to kill her; he just wanted to make her fall down so she wouldn’t win the competition. But she flew head over heels and broke her neck. That was that. Dead Gloria. She’s really a charming soul. Other than dancing, she likes talking about a cat she used to have named "Bubbles". She says Bubbles would take baths with her. Nobody believes her, but that doesn’t matter, does it?"
"Does what?" Gloria shouted.
"The stuff about Bubbles taking baths with you. I said it doesn’t matter if nobody believes you."
"Neal believes me."
"Neal believes everything."
"No I don’t."
"Okay, what don’t you believe?"
"You once said that he rode a horse backward from El Paso to Fort Worth. That’s what I call some bullshit!!!"
The rest of the jurors applauded wildly.
"Calm down everybody," San Antonio pleaded. "You know I only said that to impress Gloria the first day she got here…."
The crowd hooted.
"All right! All right!" San Antonio threw up his arms pleading mea culpa and tried to bring a semblance of order back to the courtroom. In any case I gathered that nobody was in any kind of a hurry to do anything because in eternity there’s plenty of room to do things and no hurry to get anything done. Actually while they were hollering and bantering each other I started thinking about what "eternity" really meant and my mind started feeling like it was going to explode. I began to feel dizzy and that kind of thing. I mean, if things (but here there are no "things") are forever and ever and space is forever and ever (even if it isn’t, it looked ridiculously big from where I was sitting…) and everything is all intertwined and moving all the time…the moon, the stars, the earth, the planets, the galaxies, the black holes, the super novas, mice, cats, fleas, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Darbyists, oceans, clouds, Alaskans, trees, plants, fish, chickens, dinosaurs, used car salesmen, termites, and on and on and on and there is no stopping it and it really has no beginning and no end…. Help! I needed some fresh air…. Actually I longed to watch a basketball game or have a rendezvous with Iseult…something earthly… human…fleshy…bloody….
Finally San Antonio had everybody quiet. Gloria and Neal had stopped dancing and gone back to their chairs. A few of the jurors seemed to have disappeared. There were only four others besides Neal and Gloria. We went back to business.
"And this juror is Rachelle Rochefort." He pointed to a woman who looked like she was dressed in a gunny sack. "She lived in the Middle Ages in Belgium. She had seven children and died when she was thirty. Four of her children died before they were a year old. Rachelle claims she was never bitter about the course of her life, because as she put it, ‘That’s the way things were’."
Rachelle was thin, her face tanned and haggard, her hair probably hadn’t been washed since it started growing. It didn’t matter. There was no stench. "Rachelle and I go way back," San Antonio continued. "When I died she was the first person I met. She told me her story and I suddenly realized I had had it pretty good in Texas in the twentieth century. Even though I died of a heart attack at age fifty-seven, I sure had it better than she did. All she did was make babies, cook, wash clothes, take care of sick children, clean floors, and pray for a place in heaven for her and her kids."
"And?" I asked.
"And did she get her place in heaven? Is this heaven?"
"Junior, this is Judgement Day."
"I know," I said. For whatever reason I liked being called Junior. "But I presume that since she died a thousand years ago, she hasn’t spent all her time on a crazy jury out here in the middle of nowhere." I figured if San Antonio was getting familiar, I would to.
"Good point. But things aren’t quite so simple as the heaven and hell dichotomy."
"Where’d you learn the word ‘dichotomy’?" Neal shouted.
"Listen caveman, you’re not the only person who reads the dictionary around here," San Antonio responded coolly flashing his Elvis smile. I guessed Gloria probably had a crush on both of them. Otherwise she would have hit the road long ago…. But to where?
"So where do you send people?" I asked innocently.
"You’ll see, Junior. The cosmos is a big place. A whole lot bigger than those puny astronomers sitting behind telescopes down on earth think it is."
"I’ll bet it is" was all I could think to say.
San Antonio gestured to the man in the full suit of armor. "Let me finish introducing the jury…. That there is Jack-the-Englishman. Jack actually fought in the Battle of Hastings. 1066, England against France. Lots and lots of dead people. If he had been born in France he would have been fighting for…what was the guy’s name?…Willie…the guy from Normandy….the ‘Conquerer’ they called him…that’s it – Willie-the Conquerer. But Jack was from near London and King Harry II picked him up on the way to the big battle. Jack got an arrow right through the eye. Legend has it that Harry got the arrow in the eye. But it was Jack. Take off your helmet Jack. Show our new friend."
Jack laboriously took off his helmut. He had a few cute stalks of autumnal hair. San Antonio hadn’t been making things up. There was a hole the size of a golf ball right where the left eye should have been.
"Wow," I said trying to show maximum compassion. "Don’t you have doctors and plastic surgeons around here to fix things like that up?"
"There’s no need. Here the body isn’t what it was on earth. And besides, such things are a reminder of what shit used to be like. Just like Rachelle’s clothes. And Neal’s unshaven look. It all keeps things real, as they say…." ("They" of course was the world I had left behind a few hours - hours? - before when I kicked the bucket on Iseult’s bed up in the attic.)
"I guess so," I said softly feeling like an illegal immigrant at a police station.
"Jack was only nineteen. He told me that when King Harry asked him to join the army he didn’t hesitate for a second because he wanted to protect the motherland. Ask him if he’d do it today…go ahead, ask him."
So I said, "Jack, would you do the same thing today knowing what you now know?"
"Phil…by the way, nice to have you here, Phil." He was as pleasant as could be. "Phil, the only thing I can tell you is that there are two sides to every war. Both sides think they’re right. People forget that. Who’s right? Nobody of course. But winners write the history books so we always think the winners were right…. No, you couldn’t pay me a zillion dollars to go fight in a war again."
Neal and Gloria clapped. Rachelle was asleep, comfortably coiled in her chair. San Antonio said, "I love how you keep things simple, Jack-the-Englishman."
"They’re either very simple or very complicated. That’s the way it looks to me, anyway," Jack said. "And again Phil, welcome. Welcome."
I couldn’t help wondering if there were sexual urges and predilections here. Could Jack be seducing me? Why had Gloria danced? Why had Neal joined in? San Antonio did have that Elvis smile…. But I didn’t say anything. Yet.
The judge looked around the wall-less room. "So let me introduce you to the last two jurors, Phil. I won’t forget your name now…. In the last chair there in the white toga is Fluto. That’s what we call him anyway. He pretty much stopped talking centuries ago, but he likes to play the flute. He lived in Greece shortly before Plato and Aristotle and company. He said he’s pissed off because he spent fifteen years of his life breaking his back and getting calluses all over his hands building the damn Parthenon and nobody thanked him. Then he said Plato starts strolling around talking all kinds of nonsense and becomes world famous. He’s still got a chip on his shoulder. He claims that Plato screwed up the world more than anybody else in history with all his ideas about the intangible world being the real world and all that crap. He says he did all the work with his hands and Plato comes around babbling that things that you can touch and see aren’t real and that only spiritual shit is real. Fluto says that messed up the world forever….Right Fluto?"
Fluto wiggled in his chair and took out a wooden flute. He played a few notes of the Beatles song "Let It Be". Then he put his flute back in a deep toga pocket.
"That’s his way of saying he agrees with me."
"But what about all this?" I asked. "Where we are here? Is this spiritual or material, tangible or intangible?"
San Antonio seemed to like my questions. "Hey, man. You can call it whatever you want. It is what it is. There’s nothing else, that’s for sure. There’s no world behind it. No other otherworld. Fluto is kind of right. Plato screwed things up. He got people believing in all kinds of nonsense."
The judge pulled a bottle out a desk drawer and took a long swig. "Anybody thirsty?" Neal asked for a sip.
"All right," San Antonio went on, "the last juror…and I’d appreciate all of you sticking around until we get done here with our friend Phil here… the last juror is our old and dear friend Wun Dun Fuk." Wun Dun Fuk, I presumed, was the person in the chair next to Fluto. I honestly couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. He or she looked more like a tree or bush than a person. He or she was a brownish color and covered with leaves that seemed to be sewn together on a series of long strings. He or she was also sporting a hat made of leaves, big jungle-like leaves. He or she looked older than a sequoia. San Antonio quickly cleared up the mystery.
"Wun Dun Fuk lived in the area around Indonesia about a hundred billion years ago. There were people all over the world then. Civilizations were everywhere, but everything got destroyed when a huge meteor crashed into the earth. It took a few billion years for things to start up again, but they did. Slowly…but surely. We’re fortunate to have Wun Dun Fuk here with us to give us a little idea of what people were like back then. Wun Dun, can you tell Phil a little about yourself."
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"Thanks so much for those few words. It’s always good to hear your voice." San Antonio seemed truly touched. It was rather amazing how in just a short time he had gone from a rather gruff Texas cowboy to almost a man of letters. But that’s the way things are here, a bit less rigid than back on earth.
"Phil, just so you understand, Wun Dun Fuk is perfectly bi-lingual. However, he often resorts to his native language when he’s a little excited or stressed. But I assure you his English is fine."
"Thank you," I said.
It was time for my trial.
"Now, I call this court to order," San Antonio said. "I want all of you to give your wholehearted attention to the business at hand, to judging the life and works of Philippe Thomas Trippe…."
"I thought you said that when you said ‘life’ that ‘works’ were included so you didn’t have to say ‘life and works’ anymore, but just ‘life’…remember?" It was Jack-the-Englishman.
"Yeah!" Fluto shouted. "You said that you’d stop saying ‘life and works’. We told you we were sick of that word ‘works’ and that most so-called works was just shit people had done to make themselves feel good…."
"All right…all right. Calm down." San Antonio tapped his gavel gently with one hand and rubbed his forehead with the other. He knew they – we - were in for a long day (though here the word ‘day’ doesn’t mean a whole lot either). He reassured everybody that he’d never say ‘works’ again, but that they were nitpicking.
"Judge, I need to go to the toilet," Neal said.
"Well you just get up and go," San Antonio said.
"Remember the first time when Neal was afraid to ask and ended up darn near flooding the courtroom?" Gloria Lundstrom said. Everybody laughed, even San Antonio.
"Does anybody else need to go? If you need to go, go. Now."
Wun Dun Fuk and Rachelle Rochefort followed Neal and the three wandered away. San Antonio took the occasion to assure me that things would unfold properly. He also explained that where we were people needed to drink, but didn’t need to eat. He had no idea why, but that’s the way things were. Liquids weren’t exactly like liquids were back on earth, but we all needed to pour stuff down the gullet. Talking about it made me thirsty and I took a swig from San Antonio’s bottle. Whatever it was, it had absolutely no taste.
"No taste, uh Phil," San Antonio said. "No smell or taste around here. That’s the way things are. But you’ll adjust." I didn’t say anything. He changed the subject. "I know you’re probably thinking that this isn’t what you had in mind for Judgement Day. But don’t you worry for a second (or an ‘eternity’ I thought). These jurors are some very fine people who have been through a lot and are perfectly suited to decide your fate."
"No problem, San Antonio. I’m sure they’re better than most juries back where I come from. Where we all come from for that matter."
"Exactly," San Antonio said reminding me of Jay Leno. I had watched his show on the Sunday night before I died. It came on weekends on CNBC Europe. Leno’s favorite word was "exAAAActly."
"I always thought trials back in America - and Europe – were kind of weird because one of the top teachings in the Bible is the very clear "Judge not that ye be not judged". I think Jesus himself said it. It was one of my favorite lines anyway when I was a kid going to church with Mom and Dad. So here’s Jesus saying we shouldn’t judge - and we Americans were all supposed to believe wholeheartedly in Jesus - and yet everybody was judging everybody else and sticking people in jail and all the right-wingers were insisting on lethal injections and grilling people in electric chairs. What do you think about all that, San Antonio?" I guess I was trying to butter him up a little, but I was sort of serious.
"You know Phil, I’m from Texas, and in Texas more people are executed than in any other state in the whole YOUnited States of America…so, yes, I know exAActly what you’re talking about."
"Were you for the death penalty, San Antonio?"
"Back then, yes. Today, knowing what I know, no."
At least I thought the odds were that I wasn’t going to get my ass fried in hell. "Why’s that?" I asked like a kid with a teddy bear in his hand.
"Because of what you just said. The ‘Judge not that ye be not judged’ crap. Human beings spend half their sorry lives judging things and people of which and whom they have absolutely no understanding."
I actually preferred San Antonio in his man of letters mode. The cowboy crap was kind of old hat. He was changing from one sentence to the next. He went on, "The way I see it, Jesus was the nice guy and God was the hard ass. If there had been only Jesus I’m sure there would have been no death penalty. God was the one throwing lightening bolts."
"So what about here? Who’s calling the shots? Who put you at your desk in the first place and who put the jurors in the jury?" I asked as naturally as apples fall from trees.
San Antonio leaned sideways in his chair and rubbed the back of his neck. His answer was going to be brief because Neal, Wun Dun Fuk, and Rachelle were straggling back into the courtroom. "We’ll talk about that later," he said…. "All right, is everybody ready to work? Bladders empty? Neal, don’t drink so much all the time."
"I can’t help it if I’m sirsty."
"Thirsty. T-H-I-R-S-T-Y." San Antonio spelled it out. Maybe he was also responsible for educating his staff.
"Who gives a shit how he talks and how you spell ‘thirsty’! Fluto shouted, then took out his flute and played the "Let it be" refrain again.
San Antonio ignored him. "So Phil, give us a five minute resumé of your life. Hit on the highlights, the things that made you who you were…"
"But San Antonio, I have no idea what made me who I was….who I still am for that matter." The jurors liked this and most of them clapped.
"All right. Just summarize your life."
""Okay. I was born and raised in New York. My dad was an archaeology professor at NYU…"
"What’s ‘and why you’?" Neal asked.
"He didn’t say ‘and why you’ Neal. He said ‘N-Y-U’. That’s the name of a university. New York University."
"Ahh right…ahh right. I’m just trying to understand to be a good jury member."
There was a moment of silence and compassion for the caveman. I started back on my story. "So my dad spent all his time digging up old stuff, reading books about old stuff, teaching other people about old stuff."
"How old?" Wun Dun Fuk shouted.
"Oh, maybe a few thousand years old. Ancient Egypt. Mesopotamia. Some American Indian things…"
"Calm down Wun Dun…What does that mean?"
Wun Dun took a deep breath and sat up straight in his chair. "That means that I’m so sick and tired of people telling me that Cleopatra and the Babylonians and the Assyrians were a long time. They were fucking the day before yesterday. I lived 500,000,000,000,000 years ago and that wasn’t even a long time ago. There was all kinds of stuff going on before that. You recent earth people are so closed-minded it makes me want to throw up…"
"Don’t do that!" Rachelle Rochefort shouted. "Remember when Neal threw up and it looked like half of the Brussels zoo was on the ground…"
"I said I was sorry!" Neal said.
"You used to eat too much!" Rachelle said.
"That was before I came here. That other place had food everywhere. Rabbits, chickens, ducks, deer, pigs, cows, snakes, horses, sheep…." Neal was obviously excited. "Besides, I only threw up once!"
"Once too often!"
"Order! Order in the court!" San Antonio broke in. "Let’s get back to the business at hand…"
"Why don’t you say ‘business at foot’?" Wun Dun asked.
"Look, Wun Dun. We’re not going to get into philology today, but I think you have a good point about how humans these last few centuries have had a very bad sense of time and it warps their vision of everything. It also closes their minds and keeps them closed. The fact that Phil’s father was an archeologist should have made Phil more open-minded than most, but like you say, if even archeologists aren’t open-minded then who the hell is going to be open-minded?"
"Cavemen!!!" Neal shouted. "We had no idea about anything. And we admitted it. You idiots today think you know everything, but you don’t even know what time it is! You think the year 2010 means something. All it does is show how dumb you are. It’s really a lot closer to the year 500,000,000,000,000 – and what’s this A.D. and B.C. bullshit? – Jesus was a nice guy and all, but making him the center of time is like saying Mesopotamia was the center of civilization. Shit’s been going on all over the place for billions of years, but just because we can find any bones or old pots doesn’t mean nothing was happening." Everybody clapped except Gloria who seemed uninterested in the subject and locked in a daydream.
"Thank you Neal," San Antonio said. "If we are going to judge, we do need the greatest perspective possible…"
"Impossible!" Jack-the Englishman shouted. "Wun Dun Fuk and I have talked about this for centuries. Nobody can get a perspective on anything. It’s all too big, too complicated, too infinite. Nobody wants to admit this. Nobody. Just Wun Dun Fuk and I. Maybe me getting that arrow in my eye was what I needed to ‘open my eyes’…or ‘open my other eye’…to see that we just can’t break the universe down into understandable pieces. Wun Dun knows this because he’s been around for 500,000,000,000,000 years and he sees how deep the pool of time is."
"I love you Jack!!!" Gloria shouted. "My Cyclops-soldier!"
Fluto took out his flute and started playing "All you need is love".
Neal beat his chest.
Jack still had his helmut off and went over and kissed Gloria on the lips.
Rachelle crossed herself and started praying.
I watched it all.
San Antonio shook his head slowly, lifted his gavel, and tapped it timidly on his desk. He was not opposed to letting chaos reign for a few minutes. Suddenly he shouted, "Break time everybody! Ten minute break!" Slowly calm returned and some of the jurors wandered away. Rachelle stayed in her chair. For whatever reason I had a soft spot in my gut for her. Four children die. Life for a woman in the Middle Ages. I walked over to her and asked, "Rachelle, why did you just cross yourself and start praying?"
"Where I come from that’s what people did when they got nervous. I still do it. That’s what I did when my children were sick, when we needed food, when my husband died and I was left alone with three kids."
"I see. But why did you do it just now?"
"I don’t know…I guess I get nervous when there’s a lot of excitement around me. It’s a long lost deep reflex."
"Does it help?"
"It helps me I think. It settles me down. But it didn’t help keep my kids or my husband alive."
"So you were a Catholic. You believed in the Pope. Do you still?"
"I don’t know. I still haven’t seen God or Jesus or the Virgin Mary."
"You haven’t? And you’ve been here how long?"
"Over a thousand years. But you do understand that years around here don’t mean much…"
"I’m starting too."
Rachelle looked at me with her sad eyes. I smiled and said it had been nice talking to her.
Neal, Wun Dun, and Fluto came back. Neal had blood on his lips…at least what looked like blood. Was it a drink here? Probably not.
San Antonio called the court back to order.
"Neal, what have you been drinking?"
"It’s that new thick cranberry juice."
"Okay. But no blood, remember."
"No problem…no problem. I gave it up a long time ago."
"Can’t we change the subject?" Wun Dun Fuk shouted.
"Of course we can," San Antonio said. He put on reading glasses and looked down at some papers. "So Phil…Phil Thomas Trippe…born in New York City on the sixth of April 1953 to Alice June Collins Trippe…born in Kansas City on June thirteen 1929…and Arthur Felix Trippe…born in New York City on the nineteenth of December 1926. Alice June Collins Trippe was born to Mark Butterfield Collins, born in St. Joseph Missouri on the eighth of August 1895 and Suzanne Havenshield, born twenty-sixth of September 1900. Arthur Felix Trippe was himself born to Marshall James Trippe who was born February second 1889 in Boulder Colorado and Lucy Davis who was born in Greenville South Carolina on the fourteenth of October 1895…."
"San Antonio, this crap could go on forever!" Jack-the-Englishman shouted.
"Could it now?" he asked. "That is a very good question. I was just testing you to see how far you’d let me go back before boredom or disinterest set in. But I want us all to stop and think…how far back could it really go? It makes me dizzy to think about it. But most people don’t like to get dizzy so they stop after a few generations…or they invent some bullshit about Adam and Eve and then they feel nice and warm about where the hell they came from…."
"Bullshit! Cowshit! Mouseshit!" Neal shouted.
"Amen!" Gloria cried.
Rachelle crossed herself again. I caught her eye and smiled at her and ran my hand across my chest.
"So you agree with me Neal? You agree that we could go on and on and on? How could it possibly stop? How could there be a beginning? What makes more sense: a beginning or no beginning?"
Wun Dun Fuk said something in his old language, then he spoke English. "Where I come from, we have no Adam and Eve, we have no Darwin, we have no idea of beginning and end. We look at the stars and we laugh and we cry. We sing and we dance and we say goodbye. We eat and we shit and we love each other. We have no time to fight and kill our brother…"
The courtroom erupted. "Wun Dun Fuk! Wun Dun Fuk! Wun Fuk Dun!" Even Rachelle chanted.
"All right! All right!" San Antonio hollered tapping his gavel. "That’s enough genealogical metaphysics for today. Let’s talk some ethics now. Some good and evil. Some right and wrong…. Was Philippe Trippe a good person when he was on the earth, or a bad person?"
I watched Rachelle cross herself. I think she had a soft spot for me too.
Fluto grabbed his flute and played the beginning of "Yesterday". That calmed everybody down.
I decided to take a chance. I raised my hand and San Antonio gave me the floor. "I know I brought up the Biblical idea of ‘Judge not that ye be not judged’, but now I can’t help but think about the other concept Jesus came up with: ‘Let he who is without sin throw the first stone’, or something to that effect.
"He or SHE!" Gloria shouted.
"Of course," I said.
"And why do you keep talking about Jesus?" Neal asked.
"My tradition I guess," I said rather meekly.
"Okay," he said and gave his chest two hard beats.
I continued. "So my question is, before you judge somebody, do you first judge yourselves? What gives somebody the right to judge another? Is it the fact that you are pure and perfect? That you are without sin? And do you know absolutely everything about the way the world works, about the way causality works, about the why and wherefore of all human behavior? If you know all that, and you have never done anything wrong, are you then fit to judge me? I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass, but I can’t help wondering about these things."
"They’re legitimate queries." San Antonio said.
"And what about omniscience? Do you already know everything I have done? You do have some kind of omniscience up here, don’t you?"
"Why do you say ‘up here’? Up, down, over, under, in, out…it’s all the same here."
"Pas de problème."
"Cut the French crap…" Neal blurted.
I went on. "So what do you know about me?"
"Phil, I don’t want to disappoint you, but omniscience is a myth. The whole bag of baloney began with Fluto’s friend Plato who came up with the idea of pure spirit and pure spirits being able to see everything and all that stuff."
"And to think he got in all the history books!" Fluto shouted. "Biggest bullshitter who ever lived! And never did a day’s work in his life! Me, I break my back building the damn Parthenon and…"
"Fluto, we’ve heard your story. We recognize the legitimacy of your complaint. But we must get to the business at foot…is that better? At foot instead of at hand…I like that."
The mob responded in unison. I could feel myself getting attached to all of them.
San Antonio continued his explanation. "So there’s no pure spirit, there’s no omniscience, there are no special glasses where we can see backwards and forwards. All we know about you is that you were born in New York, you came to Paris to write, you died making love to a married woman, and you seem like a pretty nice well-educated guy."
"You mean you don’t know that I peed on my sister’s Easter dress when I was four? You don’t know that when I was six I threw all the tomatoes from my father’s tomato garden at the neighbor’s white wall? You don’t know that I used to shoot birds with my B-B gun? You don’t know that I went to a whorehouse when I was twenty-one? You don’t know that once in Paris when a waiter gave me the wrong change – in my favor – I didn’t give him back the extra money because he had been so rude? You don’t know that I used to take quaaludes in college and once made love to a friend’s girlfriend on the stairs in the basement of her dormitory?…."
San Antonio interrupted me. "All that’s fine. Now tell us what you did wrong."
"I said now we know what you did right, tell us what you did that was wrong?"
"What do you mean? I thought that stuff was wrong…."
"How could peeing on your sister when you’re four years old be wrong?"
"I don’t know. I just thought it was. I shouldn’t have done it."
"How the hell is a four-year-old supposed to know what he should and shouldn’t do?"
"Well what about when I threw all the tomatoes at the neighbor’s house?"
"How old were you?"
"Do think a six-year-old should go to hell for throwing tomatoes?
"Of course not," I said.
"Good for you," San Antonio said.
"Well, what about when I screwed my friend’s girlfriend in college?"
"Did you love her?"
"I’m not sure he loved her…"
"Back then I don’t think anybody really knew what love meant."
"Excellent answer!" Jack-the-Englishman shouted.
"Order in the court! I’m asking the questions now…"
"Sorry, San Antonio."
"No problem, Jack." He turned back to me. "Look, for now it looks like the worst thing you ever did was make love with this married woman in Paris in whose arms you died. Is that right?"
"San Antonio, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think it was the worst thing I ever did, I think it was the best thing I ever did. I never loved anybody so much in my life…I think not making love would have been a sin…"
"Go Phil!" Neal yelled.
"Phil for President!" Wun Dun Fuk barked.
Fluto started playing "All you need is love" again.
"All right, all right…everybody calm down. I agree with you all. Love is so difficult to find…it’s so rare that it’s pretty hard to tell somebody not to take advantage of it when it happens. What is the point of living, anyway? That’s my question…"
"Damn good question," Jack-the-Englishman said. "And I haven’t heard too many people answer it very satisfactorily."
"Is the point of living to follow the rules of the society you’re born into? Is the point of living to love? Is the point of living to invent your own rules and live your own life? Does it make any sense to tell another person how he or she should live?"
"Wow…" I said. "I never expected this kind of a Judgement Day judge and jury. You’re all fantastic…"
"It’s not that we’re so fantastic," Gloria said looking at Jack. "It’s just that down on earth people are so dumb that it’s easy to look good up here."
"There you go with that ‘up here’ stuff again!" San Antonio said in a huffy voice. "Will everybody please understand once and for all that there is no up or down in this universe. At least get that much into your marshmallow brains!"
The jury let out a chorus of boos even though they all knew San Antonio was joking about the marshmallow brains.
"Phil…" San Antonio looked at me and smiled. "Phil…if you have never hurt anybody, never killed anybody, never stolen from anybody, never tried to humiliate anybody, never tried to force anybody to do something for your benefit….then I’d say we can get this trial over quickly."
"Sounds good to me…. But can I just ask a question?"
"Doesn’t this trial have anything to do with …religion?"
"What do you mean by ‘religion’?"
"You know, all those high-powered religions on earth fighting with each other and each one saying ‘My church is true…yours is false…God in on my side, not on your side…thou shalt do this or thine ass shall fry in the depths of hell…. You know what I mean…."
"Phil, I’m a little surprised at you. I thought you’d be smarter than that…"
"Well, it’s just that with all the Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Darbyists, Seventh Day Adventists, Moslems, Hindus, Shintos, Jews, Gentiles…all these people all saying they have the truth and everybody else is wrong…after listening to this crap for sixty years on earth, a person kind of can’t help imagining that if there really is a judgement day, then one of these "religions" is going to be doing the judging…"
"Listen Phil," San Antonio said as if I was a beloved son, "if you think the creator of this universe is dumb enough to make existence be all about following some half-ass bullshit rules, then you’re in for a big surprise. From where we are, all these religions look like a big joke. One fool after another trying to get people to follow him and give him money. One frustrated fool after another trying to gain power and usually control the sexual urges of the poor guilt-ridden masses. One fool after another writing a table of so-called ‘sacred’ rules and trying to scare people into thinking that if they don’t follow those rules they’ll spend eternity in a dumpy hotel without a toilet and a shower…. No Phil, if there is a Mr. Top God, He sure as hell isn’t that simple-minded."
"Why do you say ‘if there is a God’?"
"Because I haven’t seen one."
"So who sent you all here?"
"Some guy who claimed he was God’s assistant…"
"And you believed him?"
"I didn’t have time to believe him or not believe him. Just like you, you died and the next thing you knew you were here. It happened so quickly for me too. I didn’t think I had a choice."
"Did you have a choice?"
"I don’t know. I haven’t figured that out yet."
I looked at the jury. "Did any of them have a choice?"
"I don’t know that either," San Antonio said.
"Well," I said, "Let’s ask them…. Esteemed members of the jury…did any of you have a choice in coming here?"
The jury members looked at each other and slowly began wagging their heads. Finally Wun Dun Fuk said, "A choice…. What’s that?"
"That’s the question," I said. "Don’t you think San Antonio? We’ve got to find out if there’s a God and if there’s a choice."
The jury all cheered.
Neal started spitting a mini-geyser.
Wun Dun Fuk began to sing in his old language.
Jack raised his fist.
Gloria looked at Jack and blew him a kiss.
Fluto started playing John Lennon’s song "Revolution".
Rachelle crossed herself.
San Antonio got up from his desk, walked over to me and shook my hand. He leaned forward and whispered into my left ear. "You’re one of us now Phil. You’re one of us."
Did I have a choice? Did we have a choice? Did or does anybody have a choice? About what? About life. Death. But what is life? Death? We have no idea where we are. We have no idea who we are. We have no idea what we are. We have know idea how anything works. On this we all seemed to agree. "We" being me and the seven dwarfs. Seven giants. Seven roommates. Seven cellmates. Seven playmates. Seven brothers and sisters. The only seven people that I knew at that point in time and space, plowing through eternity: San Antonio. Neal. Jack-the-Englishman. Gloria. Rachelle. Wun Fuk Dun. Fluto.
After the trial San Antonio, Jack, and I went out for a beer. The others said they were going to bed. We talked Kant, Nietzsche, Einstein, epistemology, Darwin, physics, metaphysics, the human head, its limits, time, space, theology, teleology, technology. All the heady shit. After four or five beers we were talking sports back on earth. The World Series. Super Bowl XXXIX, Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods. All the standard bull-y-shit.
It was just like being back home. "Home". At one point we each explained what "home" had been back on earth. Jack, in London a thousand years ago. San Antonio, in Texas fifty years ago. Me, in New York, then Paris. What makes home home? How do human beings get rooted in the world? Why are some roots fragile and others immutable? Are tree roots much different than human roots? Are the depth of roots a function of the soil? Or do they depend on the sensitivity…or the sentimentality of the tree? I loved these guys…
Then the subject strayed to beliefs and how much junk human heads have believed over the centuries: mythology, astrology, flat world, unegotistical acts, free will, kindergarten causality, Gods galore, Freudian psychology, earth as center of universe, monads, atoms, matter, stability, etc…. Maybe the beauty of human life is the vast panoply of beliefs that spread to all corners of the earth. Why not this?: the crazier the beliefs, the more amusing the circus! Maybe that’s how it should all be viewed: one big circus: "The Greatest Show on Earth"!
And maybe – if we look back at the show – was not the greatest error believing in the word "truth"?
We did agree on one thing: anybody who actually thinks – whatever the hell that means - spends half of his or her life unlearning all the garbage they learned in their youth. Good, evil, right, wrong, politics, nationalism, "truth", "reality", love, hate, family, friends, values, perspective…the whole bag of what humans care about. Jack only fought on King Harry’s side because he lived there. San Antonio only played the cowboy role because he was born there. I wanted to be the American writer in Paris because it was cool where I came from. Why didn’t I want to be a writer in Reykjavik?
On earth, some people are actually able to step back and get a little perspective on their lives. Some, but not many. Most people live out their home traditions, believe what they’re taught in church, school, and home. They live out Mommy and Daddy’s stuff. They carry the cultural cross to their graves.
But then why not? Let mice be mice. Let ducks be ducks. Let goats be goats. Let trees be trees. Let humans be humans…. Let’s just redefine what a human is….
And really, is anybody free?. Probably not. What, in fact, might free be? Does it matter? No human brain asks to be the brain it is. No nothing asked to be what it is. No thought comes when "I" want it to come. Thoughts just come…like everything else….No one knows what causes what in this world. The world is so complicated. A human being is so complicated. How many millions of cells in any person? In any dog or mouse? Physicists don’t even know if matter exists. If there is no matter there are no things…no things, no causality…. If everything is interconnected, how can one "thing" cause another "thing"? Isn’t our whole causal network is a joke? We’re light years from understanding…. What if there really is only one big flux? And what if that one big flux is infinite…infinite space, infinite time, infinite history? …
That’s the way it looked from where San Antonio and Jack and I were sitting. Beer or no beer… it all hinted at infinity.
And we had no idea where we were in time and space? We had no idea "how old" anything was…or "how big" it all was. We had no idea as to the why, when, what, where, how, or wherefore of anything. Absolutely nothing. We laughed, we talked, we sipped our beer. Suddenly Jack lifted his mug for a toast. "You know mates," he said, "it’s all one big bloody bastardly mystery." Our glasses clicked.
But we weren’t finished. None of us were tired. We wandered into Albert Camus territory: suffering and death. We looked at Jack’s one eye. We looked at Rachelle’s four dead babies. We looked at Neal’s world of eat or be eaten. We looked at war and famine and terror and murder. Who was to blame? Camus was right: the only thing that makes sense is a metaphysical revolt. Revolt against the gods…or the God. If anybody is to blame it’s the CREATOR. Only the Gods are guilty. We decided all judgement is ridiculous. This Judgement Day crap should all be trashed. Nobody knows how a mind or a body works. Nobody can judge. So…when we looked back at all the suffering and tragedy back on earth, there was only one place to throw the blame…at the originator of the whole mess….
…But was there an originator? A founder? A creator? That was the question. That’s what we had to find out. Did I believe in a creator? Not really. Did San Antonio or Jack? Not really. No one has ever seen one. No one has ever talked to one. Where did the idea of "a creator" or "creation" come from in the first place. Maybe that is the dumbest idea the human head has ever had? Could wanting a creator be dumber than wanting the truth?
But we decided we had to look. As long as we were where we were, we decided we would try to find whoever or whatever was responsible for it all. Like my father - the archaeologist - looked for wheels, skeletons, pots, ruins of civilizations, we would look for god, gods, creators, originators. We would dig through eternal time and space and hunt for whoever started it all. And if we found Him, Her, It, or Them, we would certainly have some very serious questions. But what if the Gods couldn’t talk? It didn’t matter. We had to look.
The next morning Jack, San Antonio and I met with Neal, Rachelle, Gloria, Wun Dun Fuk, and Fluto. They all unanimously agreed to help us in our search. The hunt would start that day. We knew our chances were slim, but we sensed it was now or never.
How do you find a missing person or missing persons? You split up and spread out.
Like Mormon missionaries, we decided to go with groups of two: Gloria and Jack (her crush was on the Cyclops was too touching to separate them); Rachelle and Neal (this was my idea…I thought when all was said and done, Neal was really the most sensitive person in the group and Rachelle needed someone to warm her heart); San Antonio and Wun Dun Fuk (they’d surely keep each other in and out of trouble); and finally Fluto and I (I appreciated his music and he appreciated the fact that I agreed with him on how Plato had messed a lot of things up).
Since we were not in two-dimensional space, it didn’t make sense to head out north, south, east and west. We had to each take a quadrant of eternal space. It wasn’t going to be easy.
We kissed, hugged, shook hands and said we’d eventually meet back where we were. Nobody ventured a specific time. I thanked everybody for my trial and told them how much I had enjoyed getting to know them all. When I kissed Gloria’s cheek she put a soft hand on my thigh. Rachelle was misty-eyed. San Antonio said he wished he had a horse. Neal seemed happy to be getting some fresh air. Jack was excited to be alone with Gloria. Wun Dun Fuk acted like it didn’t matter one way or the other.
The truth is I never saw any of them again. We communicated a little by mail and that kind of crap. But we never had a reunion.
Fluto and I cover about ninety million kilometres the first week. We went in and out and around and back asking anybody and everybody if they had ever seen God or a Creator or a jumbo Jehovah of some kind or other. A lot of people said that they knew people who "worked for" God or "helped" God. Some said they knew people who "had had divine inspiration". A few said they had had it themselves. But nobody could say they had actually met God.
The second week we started asking plants and animals, even large and small insects. We got nothing back but blank stares. Then we started talking to clouds and waterfalls and even rain puddles. Zilch. We climbed mountains and hiked through valleys. We walked across deserts. We trekked on moons and rode shooting stars. We saw many wonderful things, but nothing that looked like it might be called God. One old man we met told us that he had heard an enormous explosion in the year 6,999,863,809 B.D. and had wondered if it might not have been God awakening from a long sleep. I asked him what "B.D." meant. He said "Before DeGaulle". He was French and claimed he had fought in a horrible war.
Another time Fluto and I were sitting under a tree. It was very hot. He was playing his flute and there was no one around. Suddenly, a stunningly beautiful girl wearing a toga approached. The light was such that we could see the silhouette of her lovely body beneath the thin white cloth. Fluto stopped playing and took up conversation with her. She said her beauty was a blessing of god. When Fluto asked her why she was blessed and not another, she said she didn’t know and that god worked in strange ways. When Fluto asked her how she had died, she said "a large brain tumor". Had she ever seen or met god? "No," she said with a little snicker. "But if I see Him, I’ll say hello…." And she began wandering away. I quickly asked Fluto if he would like to follow her. He said he would. I suggested he do it and he did. I watched the girl, then Fluto, get smaller and smaller. I heard his flute. He was playing "The Long and Winding Road".
From then on I was alone. For how long I don’t know. I traversed a huge plain and met no one. I finally came to a city that was celebrating a holiday and having a parade. I asked a woman what they were celebrating and she said it was St. Patrick’s Day. I asked her who St. Patrick was and she said she wasn’t quite sure.
I walked for a few thousand more years before I came to another city. There they were celebrating Christmas. I asked a child what Christmas was and he said it was the day Jesus was born. I asked him why they celebrated Jesus’s birthday and not George Washington’s birthday. He said they did that, too. I asked him whose birthday was more important. He said Jesus’s because he was the son of god. I said, "Wasn’t George Washington the son of God, too? He said he wasn’t sure, but that he’d ask his mommy and daddy.
I continued my search for trillions of years and trillions of kilometres. I talked to zillions. Overall most were very polite and most said they believed in God but had never seen "Him". I often asked "Why ‘Him’ and not ‘Her’ or ‘It’?" They rarely had an answer.
Once a man told me he was god. I asked him to prove it. He held out his index finger and started bending it, as one might do after an injury and a splint to be sure it still worked. Then he put out his tongue. Then he lifted his leg and did a little dance. "I can do all that, too," I said. "How does that make you God?"
"How doesn’t it make me God?" he answered.
He had me there. I had no rebuttal.
I began to grow weary. One beautiful afternoon in spring I lay down on a soft patch of grass in a meadow and immediately fell into a deep slumber, deeper than any I can remember. I suppose I slept for centuries, but I had no way of knowing. I was finally awakened by a slightly-perfumed female presence next to me. Her nose was in my neck and she was rubbing my legs with hers. I rubbed my eyes. It was Iseult.
"What happened?" I asked.
"I’m not sure, but I think my husband shot me."
Her face looked as beautiful as ever. I put my hand on her stomach and explored. Yes, there was a hole about two centimetres wide just to the right of her naval.
"I think you’re right," I said.
Then I really did wake up. I heard her footsteps mounting the stairs to the attic. She came and sat on the side of the bed and ran her fingers through my hair. "You must have been really tired," she said.
"Yes, I was."
Iseult lay down snuggled up next to me under the covers. "Do you know what time it is?" she asked.
"No idea," I said.
"I do," she said sliding her hand between my legs.