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June 6, 11:24 a.m.
The boy was writing again, but Richard just lay down next to him and watched the clouds pass overhead.
I didn’t expect death to bring clarity, he was thinking. But I expected him to bring the finality.
Throughout his long life, Richard had rejected religion as offering too easy an answer to the meaning of death. He wasn’t cynical enough to think that religion had no idea for the living. Especially as a Sanskrit scholar, he was well acquainted with the deep dives that religious thinkers had made into major philosophical questions. But for all the insight he found in the Vedas and Upanishads, he found most religious mythologies around the afterlife to be unsatisfying and raise more questions than they answered. Heaven, nirvana, and reincarnation all seemed like far too easy an answer to the great dark mystery of death.
Perhaps more than most, Richard had been tormented by fear of death and terror of what, if anything, lay on the other side of death’s door. But whatever was there, Richard had always expected death itself to answer that question. And even if that clarity came in the form of being muffled, even if the answer was that nothing came after death, at least that would finally put an end to the uncertainty.
Even if it wasn’t a satisfying answer, at least it would be a to respond.
So why are things more confusing and less meaningful on this side of death‘s door, than they never were in my lifetime?
Maybe the answer was just something much darker than he imagined. Perhaps it was suffering itself that was the ultimate meaning of life and death. His mind wanted to dismiss this as too cynical even for him, but what if this was really has been the core of the mystery?
If so, how pathetic it all was, after all.
No, it canit’s not that, he thought, still lying on the blanket next to the furiously doodling boy. What happens here candon’t just be normal and natural. Something strange brought me here. Something abnormal. Something… off balance.
He stared unblinkingly at the blue sky, with tiny white clouds moving by themselves like sailboats. He had to believe it was some kind of mistake, or a glitch. But that meant the mystery of life and death was far more complex and far stranger than he had ever imagined.
For years before his death, Richard had been plagued by a recurring feeling. It wasn’t constant, but it was persistent enough to be noticeable and disturbing. Sometimes he felt like a sleepwalker, going through the motions of his life, but not really living it. The feeling was strange and unnerving, and he compared it to being an actor in a play, reciting the lines he had learned and going through the required emotions – not because they were his, but because There was a great cosmic audience there waiting for him.
These feelings had become more and more frequent as he advanced into his fifties. He had tried not to let it bother him, convincing himself that it was just the natural state of older men. II’m just having my typical midlife crisis, he had thought. Perhaps feeling detached, disconnected and confused is just part of the modern condition.
When he looked back on his life, he knew there was great joy, beauty and love there. Yes, there were regrets, but who had lived half a century without some of those?
Why then, he wondered, had he so often felt that life had lost much of the magic it once had?
Even his love for Keith, as intense and joyous as it was, often felt like something he was watching unfold from afar – as if the sweetness, the touches and the laughs, and even the love itself , were just movie clips to classify. a way.
He knew his lover often felt his distance, and Keith had tried to talk to him about it. But not even having the words to express it to his own satisfaction, he had always told Keith that it was his imagination and that he was fine. Of course, Keith knew Richard better than anyone, and he never believed him. But he also knew when to let Richard simmer in his own juice about whatever existential crisis he might be going through at the time.
Now staring at the clouds, Richard ran his hand over the bright green grass and again felt the strange texture of steel wool on his fingers. It was a texture unique to this strange, liminal word in which it now existed.
His body was suddenly heavy and he wanted to sink into the earth. But the blanket and the grass under him would not accept his body as an offering. It wouldn’t let him through to redemption or grace.
He almost laughs at the thought. If death wasn’t oblivion, darkness and non-existence, then it certainly wasn’t redemption and grace either. For a moment, he wished he could dive back into that black river of the Void, just to finally know where his interrupted journey was trying to take him. But even the memory of this terrifying place was enough to make him close his eyes and feel his breath catch in his lungs.
Sitting on the blanket, he heard children playing on the swings and delicate bars at the foot of the hill. But instead of comforting him, the sound only exacerbated his confusion. Watching the children play, he felt like shouting out his frustration. Instead, he turned his head to the boy next to him on the blanket.
“I’ve lost everything that matters,” he said softly. “All I have left is confusion, uncertainty and despair. I have nothing of value left. And God – if there is a God – has not even left me the strength that I would need to endure all that I lost.
The boy was silent, his lips pursed in concentration.
“This may be hell. Eternal loss. Eternal suffering. Eternal disruption. And all the while being forced to witness all the things you’ve lost. No hope of redemption. No hope of liberation .
He pounded his fist against the unyielding grass until he was sure it was cut and bleeding. Pain shot through him as it would in life. But he looked at his hand, and it was intact. His flesh looked pink, clean and healthy.
“The pain then. The pain is what I have left, I guess. And he laughed. “It’s funny to think that pain is a gift, but when it’s all you have, you have to deal with it.”
He turned his face to the sky. The clouds were very high, and they were moving so slowly. And inexplicably, Richard suddenly felt an unexpected wave of peace wash over him. It was not joy. But it was peace, acceptance, and a deep, melancholy sadness that he clung to, because he felt it honored all he had lost.
The blue sky was a gift. The clouds were a gift. This handsome young boy next to him was a gift. Even the sound of children playing was a treat. All this was proof of life. Not his life, but life nonetheless. And as rare as life must have been in the universe, it was sacred.
Kissing the shoulder of the boy next to him once more, Richard suddenly stood up and walked over to the laughing children.
As he got closer, he could see that there were about two dozen children there, and about half that number of adults, watching them as they played on the swings and climbed the various playground structures. The city had turned on the water spouts, and some of the children ran screaming through the spray. Some of the younger children were playing in the sand with shovels and toy trucks.
A little girl caught his eye. She was sitting alone on the swings, not moving. She wore an old-fashioned dress that reminded Richard of the pioneer garb that many polygamists still wore. Richard’s TV repairman, as a child, had two wives and four little girls, and he remembered them dressing that way when he and his mother met them in the fabric department at ZCMI.
The vitality of the playing children contrasted so much with the death Richard felt inside. It’s youth versus age, he was thinking. No, it’s life versus death.
Sitting under a tree at the edge of the playground, he watched the children come and go in front of him. He tried to hold on to that feeling of peace he had felt earlier, but it was elusive, and he couldn’t help but go where his mind was going.
Every child in this playground will grow old. Everyone will die. The universe itself will grow old and die. Perhaps an asteroid will come and sterilize the planet, as it did with the dinosaurs, and man will become a distant memory. Eventually, even the sun will age, then burst into a supernova that will destroy the planet entirely. What will the man do thenshort reign on this dark planet mean? What will be left to prove to the universe that we ever existed?
He wanted to see these children as life, hope and meaning, but instead he saw each child as a tragedy, waiting to unfold; imminent loss. The course of life was the plunder of a miracle. The progress of life was one of continual decline into the terror of the Void.
He lost himself in these morbid thoughts, while the children laughed and played in front of him. All except the little girl in the pioneer dress. She seemed distant and alone.
Almost, thought Richard, as if she alone understood the true nature of existence.
The Last Fistful of Clubs is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you enjoy this story, consider supporting the author on Patreon.
For more information (including story world maps and a contact form), visit the author’s website.
To read the previous chapters of this book, go to the Table of Contents page.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.