Wednesday
Mar132013

Everyone Says That at the End of the World

By Owen Egerton


Soft Skull Press
April 2013
978-1593765187


 

Hayden Brock had two major obstacles preventing him from becoming a saint:

1. He enjoyed doing naughty things.

2. He didn't believe in God.

He didn't see these problems as insurmountable. Merely challenges. After all, he had learned to tap-dance in three days for his first major role as Chimp-O the plucky orphan on the television drama White Slavery.

First things first. Choose a faith.

In Blythe, California, Hayden walked out of the dry midday heat and into a two-story, air-conditioned Barnes & Noble. He purchased a double vanilla latte and sought out the spirituality section. He was surprised at the quantity of options: Christianity for Dummies, Buddhism for Beginners, Understanding Mormonism.

Christianity was of course the most familiar. Saint Rick lived out a vaguely Christian/Judeo ethical system, or so he had been told. He'd also celebrated both Christmas and Easter. Christianity might work, but it felt too easy. Hayden remembered a fraternity brother back in college telling him the heart of Christianity was accepting Jesus. What's not to accept? Jesus is great.

Islam looked more exotic, but Hayden had seen the news. Too violent. And too much spicy food.

Buddhism wasn't bad. One of the writers for Saint Rick was a Buddhist. Nice guy. But dull. Never got angry. Or even really happy. No, Buddhism was like a sweater Hayden could admire but couldn't imagine actually wearing.

Throughout the afternoon Hayden sought and thought, book back cover by book back cover. On his third vanilla latte of the day, Hayden discovered A Guide to the Saints. There in crisp detail and alphabetical order was a description of hundreds of saints. A few he had heard of: Francis, Peter, Nicholas. Most were new to him. But what amazed him was that each and every one of them was Catholic.

Catholic. Like Christian, but different.

Hadn't there been a Catholic family on his block when he was a kid? Yes. The Flynns. Serious family. Well dressed. Clean. Never dragging along neighbors on Sunday mornings like the Baptists two doors down. Come to think of it, they mainly went to church on Saturday night. That makes more sense than Sunday. Hayden hardly ever got into trouble on Sunday mornings. What else about the Flynns? They weren't the screamers and shakers? No, that was the poor family who went to the small white church twenty miles away. No. The Flynns did things with style. With tradition. But what was it they did? Hayden did not know.

"Be careful of Papists," his father had once said, jerking a thumb at the Flynn house. "If America ever goes to war with Rome, they'll be tossing grenades in our lawn."

"Are we going to war with Rome?" Hayden asked.

"Nah. I'm just saying."

The Flynns had a boy his age. A thin boy with wide eyes. He was quiet. Not shy, just quiet. He was calm. His entire family was calm. The Flynns were different. Members of a secret society. Mysterious and ...what was it? Sure. That's it. They were sure.

Hayden tossed his empty cup, gathered the book on saints plus a Catholic Bible (they have their own Bible!) and A Guide to the Catholic Calendar.

He piled his books by the nearest open register and placed his credit card on top.

"Are you a member?" the girl behind the counter asked.

"Not yet," Hayden asked. "Are you?"

"All employees get free membership."

"Get out!" Hayden examined the store with new eyes. Barnes & Noble: a quiet Catholic haven, granting young people membership into their holy society. "I hope someday I can be a member as well."

The girl shrugged and picked up his credit card.

"Wait. Are you ...?"

"I am."

"I love ..."

"Thanks."

 

Hayden Brock leaned back against a pile of Hilton suite pillows and studied his new collection of Catholic literature. Page by page, dogma dictum by dogma dictum, a picture of his chosen faith took shape. Faith, Hayden concluded, was the act of believing in unbelievable things. The more unbelievable, the more profound the faith.

Wine becoming blood. Pretty unbelievable. Good.

Bread becoming the flesh of a man. Even better.

The man whose flesh becomes bread actually being God disguised as a human. Excellent.

Hayden now understood why Catholics were so sure of their prayers. Once you bought the bread turning into the flesh of God stuff, believing God hears your prayers was easy.

Hayden ordered some rolls and a bottle of wine from room service.

"Fine, sir," said the voice on the phone. "And what kind of wine would you like?"

"Red. Most definitely red."

"Any particular red?"

Hayden thought for a moment. "What's the most blood-looking?"

There was a pause on the other end of the line. "That would be our malbec, sir. We have a '92..."

"That'll do fine."

When he opened the door a few minutes later, a young woman holding a tray gasped. She had fair skin, dark eyes, and a chin like a scoop of ice cream. Hayden flashed his finest TV-star smile, took the tray, and, without having to be asked, signed a napkin as a tip. The girl blushed and made her way down the hall, glancing back every few steps. As he closed the door, Hayden noticed that the girl walked with a limp. Sad, he thought as the door clicked closed.

Hayden sat on the floor with the tray. Then he readjusted himself to a kneeling position. He laid the rolls out on the tray in front of him and picked up the bottle of wine. A '92 malbec. Not a great year, he thought. Of course it doesn't matter. Soon it will be 33 AD. That's a good year.

He popped the cork and whispered a prayer. "God, make this into Christ, please."

He was quiet for a long moment. Finally he reached for a roll and took a bite. It was buttered. That seemed wrong. It's one thing to eat the body of Jesus. It's another thing to first cover that body with butter.

He poured half a glass of wine and sipped. Nothing tasted different. It was bread and it was wine. It was nice how the bread soaked in the wine. It was pleasant how still the moment was. But nothing supernatural was happening. He closed his eyes and remained still. The room's air-conditioning hummed, and stories below, there was a gentle buzzing of traffic. Hayden listened to the soft noise. He let all his thoughts float past and felt his heart slow. He knew he was experiencing something very near to peace. A quiet sort of feeling, like waking up in the middle of the night and not minding that the lights are out and you're alone.

Hayden remained on his knees for six minutes. Then a knock on the door punctured the stillness. He opened the door to find the pretty girl with the limp.

"I just got off work and thought you might like some company," she said. In her hand was a half-full bottle of Jack Daniel's. For a moment Hayden hesitated. He was trying to be a Catholic saint. As far he could recall, Mr. Daniel had never inspired a saintly act. But the girl smiled, a sort of crooked smile. That was enough. Hayden smiled back and ushered her in. He liked how she limped. It had a certain sexiness to it. It also reminded him of episode 35 in which Saint Rick convinces a recently disabled Olympic gymnast to begin a career in pottery.

The girl stood by the bed. "Mind if I get a little comfy?"

"Be my guest."

She giggled and removed the small, blue Hilton vest and sat on the bed. She shook out her hair and stretched out her arms. With her eyes fixed on Hayden, she unscrewed the Jack Daniel's cap with her teeth and spit the cap across the room. It bounced against the air-conditioner. She passed the bottle to Hayden who suavely swiped it from her hand and took a swig. She then rolled up her left pant leg. Something about the color and shape of her leg seemed out of place. Hayden leaned in closer and took another sip.

 "This thing has been rubbing on me all day," she sighed. With two fast snaps she disconnected her leg at the midthigh.

Hayden squealed.

"Did you just squeal?" she asked.

"I did."

"You have a problem with prosthetics?" she asked.

"No, no. Not at all," Hayden said, staring at the plastic leg lying on the floor. "I just love whiskey!"

He pushed the bottle back to her. She smiled. "Go fetch a glass or two, will ya?"

Hayden grinned. He swaggered into the bathroom. I can do this, he told himself in the mirror. It's kind of kinky. I like kinky. 

He reemerged with two water glasses and a warm pair of bedroom eyes. He was pretty sure he knew what would be happening next. Hayden Brock had made love to three hundred and eight women. Possibly one goat. He believed himself to be a master of seduction. He took great pleasure in how his eyes and witty remarks wooed the women he desired. The truth that he only suspected in his darkest moments was that it was his fame and not his sexual allure that won women over. The same people who long to rub elbows with the rich and famous are even happier to rub other body parts. In his heart of hearts, Hayden knew, Chris Elliot probably got laid just as much as he did.

But sitting on the bed with Melinda, that was the girl's name, Hayden shoved all doubts from his mind and enjoyed the erotic-ego-adrenaline rush of being wanted by a stranger.

The two were quickly and pleasantly drunk on whiskey and pheromones. A shoe, a leg, and the remains of Hayden Brock's first communion lay scattered on the floor. Melinda downed the last swig of the whiskey and tossed the empty bottle against the wall. It clanked and fell to the floor unbroken.

"So, Saint Rick," she said, pushing him onto his back. "Shall we lay hands on each other?"

"Ohhh," Hayden said with a giggle.

"Or"—she delicately straddled him, her leg nub rubbing on his outer thigh—"do you want to speak in tongues?"

She lowered her face to his, a tongue darting out to wet her lips.

"Wait!" someone said. To his surprise, it was Hayden. "Wait, wait." He pushed Melinda off of him and stood beside the bed. "We can't. I mean, I can't do this."

"Can't?"

"I'm sorry. I'm trying to be a saint. A real one. A Catholic one."

"I'm a Catholic," Melinda said, reaching for his thigh.

"But I'm different. I don't believe in God."

"Neither do I."

Hayden stared into her wide eyes, tree-moss green. "Honest?" he asked.

"Honest to God." She flashed her crooked smile.

The two embraced.