Sunday, November 10, 2013

An Ineluctable Modality: Chapter 10

An Ineluctable Modality is a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo's 2013 Challenge where the goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. This year, I wrote a novel-in-blog-posts: you can read the previous chapter, here.

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A weekend? I'm not sure what a weekend means to someone who's retired. Sunday of course is for church-going, time for the Our Fathers and giving the Lord his due, for those who indulge. I'm not sure I don't indulge in my own way – I'm just not one to believe in Organized Religion, the Great O. R. I've often thought agnostics ought to have a leader who can be their point man in arguments who can head up an advisory council that would keep the debate lively and suggest when, for instance, we ought to have days set aside for contemplation and discussion, not holy days but secular days – secudays, call them – the celebration of the world, putting the world in Worldly. We already have our two main holidays, established to conflict with the religious holidays the early Church established against the popular, pagan celebrations of winter and spring, but we still call them Christmas and Easter as if these names have not lost any of their meaning.

Good far-righteous Christians complain of the War on Christmas, swearing to shoot on sight anyone who says "Happy Holidays" instead of their "Merry Christmas" because it's not important what you believe – Freedom of Religion and all that, you know – as long as you believe what they believe. They decry the Middle East's return to sacred law as laid down in the Koran but declare our own laws should be based on the Holy Bible, God's Word, logos to logos and alpha to omega. If that ever happens, I hope I live long enough to see how they react, these masses, when they're called upon to view the first stoning of a woman who was married and discovered to be not a virgin, see how they like them apples.

It is the hypocracy of the Religious Leaders and the Leaders' religion that irritates me the most, good professing Christians who taketh away a woman's food stamps so she can't feed her family when her husband's lost his job, who taketh away the financial help of Social Security and medical assistance to the Elderly which doesn't so much affect the Elders because they have their own ways of ensuring their lifestyles, the Dives who ignore Old Lazarus beneath their tables, a beggarman waiting, good dogsbody, for a crumb of decency. Oh, to put the “Christ” back in Christian!

It is fire, it is brimstone, it is the wrath and vengeance They seek upon the Unbeliever whether of a different god or even the Same God but not in the Same Way – Old Testament Christians who forget there ever was a New Covenant no matter how many cheeks one has to turn. If Christ died for this, what, my I ask, was the point? That is the source of my agnosticism: not doubting the existence of God or even of Jesus, but what the Religious Man has done with either of Them.

Ah, men! Truly, truly, I say, Dico Vobese, it would be too much for Agnostics to get themselves organized for then, in the eyes of the True Church – whichever one that is because, in faith, isn't everyone's religion the True Church; do we not consider ourselves the Chosen Ones even if, like the Jews, it means God has Chosen us to suffer mightily? – in the eyes of the One True Church, it would be giving unto Them a Target on which to set Their cross-of-hairs, the dogsbodies of the Worldly gathered now into the Fish-barrel of Fate at which They can now sling Their arrows paid for by outrageous fortunes.

Does anyone belong to the Second Church of God? Yet, didn't all of Them come later, the religions we have today, those that grew and prospered and conquered out of later generations of the Apostles' Greed? How best to minister to the flock by extracting from Their believers tithes – God's Tax according to your mite – to solace the poor, the sick, the illiterate, these sinners who will find a better life in Heaven because They can't offer them now a better one here? By building great palaces and imposing edifices that impress the soul? With great art to offer them but a merest glimpse of what the Heavenly Life can be if only they Believe? Christ Almighty, where's the irony in that?

My parents – good parents they were, too – were not of the religious persuasion until they were facing the Angel of Death from their final foxholes. It was the religion of convenience, full of the belief that Sunday mornings were too precious a time to sacrifice on the altar of respectability by going to church, dressed to the gills in our fish-barrels, gathered under the sign of Ichthys. And sitting on the worst seats imaginable for a time interminable: couldn't one at least shave off a percentage of time in Purgatory, reducing ones sentence before being found Worthy of the Great Beyond or not? (All this, and still no guarantees, Lord: what are my odds, begging God as a Betting Man?)

The First Church of St. Mattress, being a prurient teenager, I thought meant the beginning of the begats for how else did I or my sister come into this world? (As sins go, how original is that?) If nothing else, it had a relaxed dress code and a much more comfortable place to worship. Besides, over the years, I discovered, vicariously and otherwise, the ecstatic cry "Oh, God!" often escaped the lips of the celebrants of St. Mattress.

Growing up, I often wondered what it might have been like if more people confessed such faith and did so publicly? We are told to protest our faith which is pleasing to the Ear of God and to do so not under a barrel but en masse. What if the Followers of St. Mattress did the same? After all, Adam and Eve were nudists until fig leaves became fashionable.

I mean, if we truly had Freedom of Religion in this country: Mattressians would still be proclaiming "Oh, God!" in Seeking Divine Deliverance. "Come," He said, "even so" – and we answered Him, "Oh, Lord, I'm coming!"

But history is written by the winners. So be it. What if the Gospel of Mattress had succeeded in kicking Bishop Irenaeus out of the communal bed in the 3rd Century? What happened in those two centuries following the Death and Rebirth of Christ with the establishment of a Central Faith? Spiritually speaking, aren't these years the equivalent of the dinosaurs who in their whole millennia of time walked the Earth only between the Fifth and the Sixth Day? That was why, I often thought, Fridays seemed interminable.

What would have happened if it had been the followers of Hedon rather than Calvin who had fled England to escape religious persecution? The May Pole would have become the new colonist's symbol to be erected in every town square's centrally located thatch of grass (where deep-throated flowers could be looked upon as vaginic symbols rather than phallic ones: it's all Freudian). For one thing, we'd probably know more about the Founding Mothers.

I would like to know more about the new librarian in the Village of Langley, our Ms. Joyce Diotimopoulos. It's not likely she would launch a thousand new members adding their names to the paying rolls of the Library Society, but she could be more than a handsome edition in an underacknowledged aspect of village life. I must thank Henry for pointing out her recent arrival to me: otherwise, it might have been months before I would have noticed. Why, I was telling myself just the other day, how I ought to be going into the library more often, see what they have that might interest me.

She was tall but not too tall, perhaps not any taller than I, though I'd only glimpsed her from numerous yards beyond the librarian's lair. Standing next to her might tell a different story. I could also tell how she might smell of perfume and, librarian-like, of freshly laundered clothes. She did not strike me as prim, in the Puritan sense, but she was no doubt a long way from being Pruritanical.

Like most of the books in her library – tawdry romance or thought-inducing mystery – she no doubt had a story behind her, told in exposition, climax and denouement (too soon, perhaps, for these latter). Was there a Mr. Diotimopoulos in her life? Or, it flickered momentarily in a deeper synapse of my brain, a Mrs. Diotimopoulos? Or did she live in a large house alone with lots of cats?

And where, to be more precise, did she live? Renting an apartment till she found a place of her own or was she giving the new job a test drive to see if she liked it well enough to stay? It would be nice to make her feel welcome in our fair community. Who better than a transplant of six years who, after six generations, is still waiting for the graft to take?

I might run into her at the grocery store – after all, even librarians need to eat – and who knew where she might shop: some place close to work or did she live nearby? What if she shopped at the same store I shopped at and I saw her there, among the fresh produce, debating between the apples from the Garden of Mr. MacIntosh or from Granny Smythe's Tree of Knowledge?

No expert in apples – would that be enough to recommend the Mac? – I would look among the Golden Delicious myself and hold one up to offer her a taste. She would take it and thank me and I would ask if she shopped here often.

"No," she'd say in that authoritative voice that implied a life of maintaining silence, "I've just moved here, in fact. Didn't I see you at the library the other day?"

"Yes – Alice McDermott's Someone," I answered. "I especially liked how it was structured – you know, a mix of nacheinander and nebeneinander."

And when I went to invite her back to my place so we could discuss this narrative structure over a bowl of fruit salad, the doorbell rang and I found myself, wondering who the hell would be visiting me on a Sunday morning, grabbing my clothes and pulling them on, nearly tripping down the stairs before I reached the door. I had made too much noise by now to pretend I was not at home: any friend would know I'd not be at church. And how could Ms. Diotimopoulos know where I lived: would she have bothered to check the sign-out stamp and find the address on my registration card?

Buttoning up my shirt and making one last check of the fly, I peered out the miniscule peep-hole that separates the stoop from the vestibule. It was Sybil Icarus – and not looking pleased to be here. That would make two of us.

She rushed in as I opened the door, making the chilled air chillier as she brushed past me. I shut the door behind her before anything chasing her could force its way inside.

"Oh, Protie," she cried as if having only recently overcome her sobbing, "it's been a week from hell." It had, I recalled, been six days since I last talked to her: time flies.

She'd been seeing this man, dating him off and on for several months, not regularly, but casually here and there, a dinner once in a while, a night spent at home, more likely a quick tryst on their lunch breaks back at her place.

"Then this morning as we're... you know," she smiled as if too embarrassed to tell me they'd been having sex, "he tells me there's another woman!"

That was when I made the mistake of putting my arm around her and leading her to the couch in the family room. I lit a fire and soon the place was warm and cozy.

"He's married," she wailed, as if after all these months this should be a surprise. “Can you even begin to understand how I felt?”

And then I found myself comforting her. "Yes," I said, "yes," her heart going like mad. "Yes I could, yes."

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * * be continued...

Dick Strawser

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