Don’t you know there ain’t no Devil, there’s just God when he’s drunk
The front door was slightly ajar when I arrived, I didn’t bother knocking as I walked in. I could hear Saul’s Mom’s voice in her bedroom over the TV, sounded like she was catching up on her soaps and talking to a friend on the phone.
I found Saul in the back yard, standing over a freshly dug pit, in spite of the bitter cold evening, he was dressed in only a pair of shorts, sandals, and a hoodie. He was coaxing some logs to catch as kindling burned around them in his makeshift fire pit.
“Hey buddy, take a chair, thought it would be a nice night for a fire!” He called, gesturing to a one of two lawn chairs he’d placed around the pit. I sat down wearily, leaning back and loosening my tie. I pulled my briarwood pipe and a pouch of tobacco out of the pocket of my wool field jacket and began thoughtfully packing the bowl.
“I’ll grab the tea.” He returned with a kettle and two mugs and poured us each a steaming cup. I handed him the pouch of tobacco and lit my pipe with a match, the top of the packed tobacco glowed bright crimson with each draw through the stem, and I puffed out silky ribbons of spicy smoke with hints of sweetness. We drank our tea and smoked our pipes as the logs crackled and smoked, sometimes the wind cutting through and whipping up a shower of sparks and embers.
We talked about the usual nonsense, and enjoyed comfortable silences. That is one thing I appreciate so much about these times with Saul, we are both completely at home with each other. Say anything, or nothing, and it never feels uncomfortable.
“Carmen and my Mom want me to date women my own age,” Saul sighed. “They keep telling me I need to start going after lasting relationships.”
“They just want you to play by the rules,” I chuckled, I was tempted again to tell Saul about my cheating, it was ironic in many ways that we were both recently involved with girls in their early twenties, but I refrained. I knew the motivation at this point was just locker room bravado, and I have enough vanity in my life; I figured I don’t need to add to it by puffing myself up.
“Older women want so much more and don’t put out as much.” He laughed. “Besides, most of them don’t think much of a guy who lives with his mom, I’ll stick with the youngins’ while I can.”
The logs burned down to glowing coals. I thought about how Saul and I were like two sides of the same coin. We’d squandered our lives. Saul in his extreme rebellion of his upbringing had developed no professional or life skills, and was for the most part destitute and unemployable. Thought of as little more than a drunk or a dead-beat stoner. He’d lived it up, parties, girls, drugs. But, he has a heart of gold, and had lived an honest life as far as I could see. Then there was me, so eager to meet and exceed everyones’ expectations, college, career, wife and family. But, here I am, a whited sepulcher, only beautiful on the outside, living a double life. We’d lived at two extremes, and now neither could make up for the lost time, it was past, our youth had slipped between our fingers like sand on the beach. Sure, we had some time left until middle age, but I was trapped in a marriage with a kid, and Saul seemed to have just as little hope of bettering himself and gaining the needed skills to get a career and support himself. Seemed like a foregone conclusion.
I finished my pipe, and began to clean out the bowl of spent tobacco with a silver pipe nail. We gazed into the flames. When I was a Christian, what always bothered me the most was the concept of hell as taught in the Bible. I used to be able to see such beauty in the world, in every person, if you look hard enough, you could see the flame of life on every imperfect face and the dreams and tears in every pair of eyes, or so I believed. We all had our broken lives, but deep down we were beautiful children of God. We just needed God to save us, to fill in our imperfections. But, if we don’t find Him in this life, he’ll damn us to eternal torment in the next? The moral injustice of it turned my stomach, but I kept my faith, left it in God’s hands to judge and do the right thing. Of course, now, I can’t decide which concept of hell I’d prefer, eternal damnation and torment, or to have my soul annihilated, snuffed out as if it had never existed. It seems more real since it looks like those are my two alternatives, unless reincarnation is a thing.
One of several novels I have written in my mind is a crime novel set in Hell. It has one of those trench-coat wearing, cigarette smoking, Bogartesque hardboiled detectives as the main protagonist. In the novel, Hell appears to be a shadowy paradise for hedonists, those who delight in fleshly pleasures. The dim star, Wormwood, shines a sickly green over the desolate world covered in empty deserts and dense forests of ruined, decaying skyscrapers in a sealed off pocket universe, it will never run down, or end, but continues in perpetuity due to the perverted physical laws of the infernal plane. You can die in Hell, but you just get reincarnated with full memory of your past lives and painful demise, all the torments, betrayals, failures, and regrets are yours to keep, to drive you mad for all eternity. Never able to leave, or wonder, or dream, or hope for anything more. It is shabby, overcrowded, violent, polluted, run by corrupt demonic politicians. So, basically Baltimore. I left the novel probably where it belongs, in the back of my mind, never to be written down, and probably all the better, because of its dark futility. The only way I could think of it being written is if I injected it with some hope, some possibility that evil, Satan himself could be overthrown and Hell made into some semblance of a decent place, or at least a corner of it clawed out for some good. But, how could I write something like that? Hope would seem to be little more than a deception is such a setting. But, that is what pushes us forward, clinging to some desperate hope, even a false one will do. Maybe, one day, it could make a half-decent story after all.