“You’re just a super supercentenarian!” she says.
I suppose it’s a grace, this age: you remember what others never knew; you know heaven is near and THIS is evaporating.
But she lies: I’m a scandal in this world and long ago expected a nighttime injection, a pillow on my face, my wheelchair tumbling down stairs. Life’s cheap, we said once.
If we’d only known.
Half the people who come to marvel at the old man I am think I painted the Lascaux caves. (Do I recall . . . did the Horde destroy that ancient artwork? That’s what they do, isn’t it?)
But, of course, nobody here knows what or where Lascaux is.
I may as well be Neolithic. Our womanpriest (no sursum corda from her; she lifts our “spirits” – a kind of passing of gas) tells me with glistening insincerity that my soya cake in the mainmess will have 127 candles. An impalpable nod by me. (I stopped speaking twenty years ago.) Why chat it up when there’s nobody to talk to? They think I sleep a lot. Like Old Deuteronomy.
When I dream, it’s of sweet liberty, the Land of the Free. I don’t know what they call the place now. Like some banana republic, we’ve changed names twice in half a century. Waves of amber enthusiasm – for this or against that – make old names grievous to one or another wounded soul. Credo curried by credulity. Windblown grain; chaff on the threshing floor.
I remember the Church, now hidden. And so come the tears I mustn’t let them see. They abhor discontent. There are no unhappy people, even here. I remember the day they seized the Holy Father (I thought ten thousand swords must have leapt from their scabbards . . .), but I can’t remember the pope’s name. No more news, please. I wonder if, for all their feverish pleading, the Europeans convinced the Horde to preserve the Vatican’s treasures. There was no saving the faith. What a whimper in the end. I wonder if St. Peter’s still stands? The dome on the rock.
Was it the homosexuals who shuttered the Church in America? That can’t be right. There was a “gay” Prefect appointed – this was after the Constitutional Convention nullified the Constitution – and he (or was it a she?) gave the edict ordering church closings when and wherever clerics refused to officiate queer marriages. The womanpriest would harangue or hang me for saying that word (another reason for silence). One almost wishes the Horde had an armada.
All for Freedom, Equality, and Diversity (FED, our secular saviors of the Commune sloganeered), as it is to this day, which is why all are frozen, each alike in misery. They said – they ruled – that the Roman Church was incompatible with FED’s New Order (the novus ordo, if you appreciate irony!), and so . . . many priests and bishops, and on up the line, began walking away from churches (in dissent or dread). And so “spirit directors” were appointed – male, female, sociologists, blind guides – and a Special Committee amended the liturgy, with chainsaws. Ordained priests were detained, re-educated, and everything changed overnight, although I suppose it took a decade or three. I’ve lived in thirteen decades. Sursum spiritus. C’mon, get happy!
I have trouble recalling sequences. Events are jumbled: never happened; happening; happened. Revelation comes before Mark, Genesis at the end. I keenly remember the last Mass I attended. Surely it came after the weddings and baptisms; before everyone I ever loved was gone. Some may already have been gone, but I won’t swear to it.
About growing old, older, oldest: Death’s a friend. I see him, in the person of Fred Astaire, leaning back against the dresser, cigarette between his lips, sometimes glancing at his silver pocket watch. He wears spats. Does another living man even know the word spats? To the others Fred might be Edwin Booth or Richard Burbage or Thespis. Nobody knows anything. Nobody imagines anything, and they don’t see my Fred. Fred of Lascaux. Death, not the Devil.
As feeling is in the mind, I feel the same as ever. The body fails, but I float over it like Chagall’s fiddler. When I remember what I remember, remembrance is as clear as if I conjured Thursday. But why? Nothing happens Thursdays, and there are only Thursdays.
But are the “gays” to blame? God knows some blamed them, saying that when they began marrying it was the end of holiness. Marriage vanished. Sex – pleasurable, yes – became joyless. All because boys married boys and girls girls.
But that wasn’t it.
Civilization was jetsam fifty years before I gasped into life. We aped belief but were faithless, and everything that happened happened because of that; not because politicians pandered to pansies and the press. La révolution chrétienne a échoué.
I dream of awakening in a young man’s strong body, a polished sword in hand, but when I turned ninety I saw heaven and wasn’t angry at anybody anymore. Maybe that’s why I saw heaven. I’ve lived just one moment, filling my infant lungs to scream but exhaling with joy to die. The lovers leading this loveless world – every last one of them – know their paradise is lost. Swine tumbling over a cliff. On earth as it is in hell. The End is near. It is for me, and I’m ready. Sweet Jesus, embrace me.