Several years ago I wrote a series of stories of a conversaton between two unlikely participants. They're really quite absurd, but I really enjoyed writing them. Here is the first.
AUGUSTUS AND WINSTON
By Jim Kittelberger
A Surreal conversation takes place between two unlikely participants.
The man, Augustus Robert Clary has grown old, and tired. The world outside this room no longer matters to him. His strength has been failing, so just turning on his side unassisted is an accomplishment of which he feels considerable pride. He peers through rheumy, nearsighted eyes at the stack of books sitting on his bedside table, and manages a smile as if again seeing old friends. They remind him of a time when he wasn’t riddled with sickness, one damn thing after another. Life is wonderful, he thought, and his had been, but the end sometimes can be hard when your strength has gone and turning from side to side becomes almost impossible. Your once vibrant body diminished to the degree that death is welcomed with open arms. He thought of death often now, in just that way. But like everything in life, death will happen when it happens, and who knows, he thinks, maybe he’ll cheat the collector of souls once again. He closes his eyes to rest a moment from the effort expended turning his worthless body in this direction. Oh how wonderful, and agile, and strong his body once was, he thought with a sad smile. But not being a bitter man and knowing he had gotten all a person could expect from a body designed to house a soul for seventy-four years, he felt fortunate that it had given him that, and ten more for good measure. And his brain, that wonderful organ that houses your ability to reason, and stores knowledge and memories, those wonderful memories, had continued to function well. That is until just recently, it seems, when a strange and wonderful thing occurred.
On a night several weeks ago, the house was silent and still, except for the occasional unidentifiable sounds that old houses make when the world outside is silent and a listening ear is alert enough to catch it. Unidentifiable it was, but not in a frightening way. The old man had heard these sounds for many years and they were always comforting to him, as they were now. Getting very old is much like being very young in sleep patterns. He dozed more now than he slept, and he tossed and turned, as he was doing this night. As he turned once again to his right side facing the omnipresent stack of books on the nightstand, he was aware of what seemed like two rays of light atop the stack. His eyesight, which had never been good uncorrected, and now with the aging process taking it’s toll, images were not always bright and clear to him. He blinked his eyes a time or two and looked again. The rays of light were still there and he was able to recognize them as eyes, glowing eyes. Now why he was not scared out of his wits, he never knew, but he suspected that since he was not always lucid now, and he knew it, that perhaps this was one of those times and he was imagining things or events that were not real. Whatever the case, he stared back at the two glowing eyes, and whispered “Hello there”, in the direction of the eyes. The bravado or stupidity of the act never occurred to him as he spoke the words, so he was not overly surprised when the glowing eyes answered back, “Hello to you too, my friend.” The old man gave a start, but then relaxed and stared until his eyesight seemed to clear and he was treated to the sight of two big ears, a pointed snout, long whiskers and a long tail. It was a mouse, he thought, not a regular mouse, but a mouse wearing horn-rimmed glasses. A sight to make an old man smile, and he did. There he sat, atop the stack of books as calm as could be. Not scared or skittish, but calm and collected, waiting politely, it seemed, for the old man to speak.
“I suppose I’m off on some drug induced trip, but it’s good to see you, Mr. Whatever your name is,” the old man said, as he looked askance at the mouse standing on the pile of books.
“Well, quite the contrary”, answered the mouse, “in fact your eyes are quite clear, and I believe all your mental faculties are functioning well for a man of your age”.
The old man was astounded by the mouse’s vocabulary and mentioned that to him. The mouse acknowledged that his vocabulary was superior to most mice, but he had spent many years acquiring his knowledge from well-known colleges in the mouse world and by constant reading.
“My name, by the way, is Winston James Cartier. You may call me Winston.”
The old man was impressed with the name, and it fitted him nicely. He seemed, to the old man, to be a mentally superior mouse indeed, to say the least.
“Thanks Winston, I shall. By the way my name is Augustus Robert Clary. You can call me Gus, if you prefer.” He said as a way of contrasting Winston’s option of correctness in his name preference. But if Winston took it as a reproach, the old man never knew as he smiled and nodded.
“Well Gus”, Winston said, “seems you’re a little depressed these days. Of course, I’m sure you feel that life has pitched you a hard inside fast ball, but you are of an advanced human age as you know.”
“No, to the contrary Winston, I don’t feel as if I’ve taken a cruel blow, I know I’m dying”, he paused for a brief second or two, “it’s just that dying is such a lonely road to go down.” Winston thought he was through speaking, but the old man started up again as if awakening from a deep thought. “We humans”, he began, “have many, many books available on the subject of dying, so we should be prepared, and we are, to a point, I believe, but it’s a road you must go down alone. It’s not fair to try and take loved ones too close to the path with you. They’ll have their time and once is enough.”
Winston mused that over for a while, then decided not to comment and asked instead, “Tell me about the women in your life Gus”.
Gus was surprised at such a request. “Wait a minute Winston, what the heck are you asking?”
‘No really,” Winston repeated, “I want to know more about you. Come on, you can clean up any parts you’d like,” he said with a smile.
Gus looked at Winston for a moment, “There was really only one woman in my life. I met her young, and kept her for sixty years. She gave me children, with a little help from me, of course, and we had fun in the creation process. I was never lonely when she was around, not for one minute. We talked and talked for sixty years. I wonder how any two people could have that much to say to each other. Oh, I really miss her,” he said and sighed, “but those were good years with a few being better than others”. He stopped and just gazed at Winston.
“I’ve never married,” Winston said, “but I would imagine that you gave each other purpose and direction in this life, is that not true?”
“Well, sure that’s true.” Gus answered.
“And now you feel that you have no purpose, no reason for carrying on, isn’t that right?” Winston responded.
“Good try my little mouse friend, but you don’t win a silver dollar for that one. Yes, I miss her terribly, every day, and I have no doubt I’ll see her again when I leave this life. But time is relative as you certainly know, and I’m certainly not trying to end this life any sooner than is necessary. I’ll wait. If it’s tomorrow, that’s good, if it’s a year from now, that’ll be okay too.” Gus relaxed, and paused a few seconds, then said in a questioning tone, “No, I’m anxious and ready for the gathering above, but what I’m not too sure of is how forgiving St. Peter at the gates will be. I have not lived a saintly life, and at times I have been too human, with all the foibles that entails. I’m not Catholic, so I don’t believe in purgatory, but even so, I don’t think I’m in for a free pass through the gates.”
Winston gazed at Gus with a condescending look over the tops of his glasses, “I have it on good authority that many theologians of different faiths believe that God is an all forgiving God, thus your admittance is assured.”
“I wish with all my heart that I could believe that in its entirety, but being human for all these many years, I know that we must take responsibility for our actions, and sooner or later we must pay the piper. Sorry for the metaphor. I suppose in the scheme of things, my sins might be a little less than some others, but who’s to know. Among our contemporaries the same sin today is probably less a sin than it was when I was young, but my brain cannot make that ninety or one hundred eighty degree turn on the judgment scale.”
Winston, in a consolatory tone of voice answered, “Agustus, my belief is that it is a matter of intent. When you sinned did you intend to sin?”
“Well no, it was not my intention to sin, but I knew the difference. I knew I was crossing over from right to wrong. I knew my sin would be hurtful to the other person, but I went right ahead anyway. But as in the old children’s story Pinocchio, I was blessed or cursed with a conscience as hard on me as Jiminy Cricket was on poor Pinocchio. I have felt contrition for my sins all my long life. But is that really enough to minimize the damage caused by me? I’m not sure of the extent of any damage I may have caused, or even if there was any, but regardless, whatever damage there was or is rests with me. Is there a statute of limitations on sin? I don’t think so.”
“Mister Augustus Robert Clary, I must say I am much impressed with you. I could regale you with a hundred platitudes and a hundred psychological theories, but I think you have it about figured out. Your theory of walking this earth and enjoying the fruits of your labors, but also bearing responsibility for your deeds and misdeeds are indeed commendable. I salute you and believe you are a good man. I could say what I believe will happen to you in the next world, but I think you know better than all of us. I have to go now Augustus, it’s getting toward dawn and if your caretaker were to see me, she would more than likely treat me rudely, so I will take my leave now and wish you well.”
Winston turned to go, then turned back again, “I believe, Mr. Clary, that the chances of you still being on this earth tonight are approximately seven to three according to all indicators I have studied in the medical books I have access to.”
He smiled then and turning away for the last time, looked over his shoulder. “If you are here tonight as I believe you will be, I would like to chat with you some more. Perhaps I can learn something I don’t know, however I doubt it.” Winston gave a quick smile, did a beautiful about face and walked jauntily away.
To be continued.
© Jim Kittelberger 2002. All Rights Reserved.