“It’s a mystery of faith.”
“How many heretics burned as your church enforced belief in this mystery. God didn’t care enough to save them. I’d rather He apologize for designing such a screwed up world.”
“Don’t be sacrilegious. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I know He loves you. Pray to Him and let Him heal your pain.”
Ed thought of the parables of the Good Shepherd and the Prodigal Son, yearning for the loving God he’d been raised to trust. He slammed the confessional door behind him and passed a woman with sunken eyes as he rushed to the nearest exit.
Ed left the building, doubting the God of Abraham even existed. He wondered what made homo sapiens vain enough to expect resurrection or unique, beloved status in such a large hostile universe. He thought back to his conversation with the crystal-blue eyed woman. His mom had called this a “near-death experience.” He considered the memory a crutch, and struggled to reject false hope.
Two years later, Ed woke up to the smell of bacon and sound of popping grease as a male voice said: “Rise and shine, moocher.”
Ed discovered his legs hanging over the edge of a short black, leather love seat. He sat up to see his host, Kenny Green, clanking pots and spoons in the kitchen.
A hard, bright light filled the living room, and Ed shielded his eyes with the flimsy, wine-stained pillow Kenny had supplied two months ago. Ed sat up, recalling the punches he and Kenny exchanged hours ago. “What?”
Kenny entered the room and started reading from Ed’s private journal in a loud, shrill voice. His long nose angled down from his eyeglasses as he set his expensive dress shoe on the coffee table: “I will strive to live by these guidelines for a healthy flourishing life. Doing so will help me reach my full potential. Prudence: Determine whether an action is good or bad. After reaching the conclusion, act decisively.”
“Stop reading. Put it down.” Ed imagined himself jumping up and beating Kenny’s face to bloody pool of mush. He feared he might not restrain himself and realized how far he’d fallen since he’d written this passage in his journal.
“Faith: Avoid excessive credulity and skepticism. Accept God’s existence and intervention in human lives.”
“Shut up.” Ed glared at his landlord. He recalled writing this passage before April’s death when he was still an observant Roman Catholic.
Kenny rolled his eyes. “So much anguish about abstract ideas: Evil, God, immortality. Lighten up. Tell a joke.”
“I don’t know any.”
Kenny leaned over Ed. “Who would hire someone so morose?”
Ed spoke with a quiet voice. “I haven’t a clue. Probably no one.” He tried to find comfort in the thought that a founding father, Ben Franklin, also failed to record his own progress toward virtue. Then, he figured the long-dead inventor had never sounded so ridiculous.
Ed regretted not burning these pages long ago. He hated the impossible game: Believing in sin and trying to avoid it – managing to escape gluttony, lust or sloth, only to take pride in his false piety. Why punish himself with shame, guilt and endless resolutions? Why call for help when no one seemed to be listening? He hoped to make his own rules and define his own meaning, but everything seemed to turn ugly and worthless.
Kenny lowered the journal to comment: “The Ed Keller I know didn’t write this. He’s a free loader who drinks all my liquor, eats all my food, makes nasty comments about me to my girlfriend behind my back and refuses to look for a job. First, I saved your life. When you became homeless, I took you in and helped you look for work. You’ve never even said thank you.” Kenny stormed into the next room.
“Fine. Thanks. Now lay off.“ Ed looked down at the filthy ashtray and cringed as he remembered the so-called job interview Kenny had “gone out of his way” to set up for him with a local temporary employment agency. Some Romanian guy had ridiculed him for lacking a college degree for the entire hour without offering him any work.
Standing in the kitchen, Kenny continued to read aloud as Amy Patterson, his anorexic girlfriend, entered the room and sat near Ed. She avoided eye contact, still half dressed for her receptionist job in Kenny’s office. She wasn’t wearing any make up yet, so Ed could still see the dark circles under her eyes, where her tender face seemed eroded by tears. As Kenny reentered the room, her expression pleaded with the little Napoleon to stop, but the he refused to let it rest: “Ed talks about how he's hoping to break into the music business, but he can’t sing, and he's never taken a guitar lesson in his life.”
Ed savored the memory of putting Kenny in a chokehold last night and forcing him to apologize for hitting Amy. The fight had gone beyond words when Kenny called him a “hapless harelip.” Ed couldn’t remember anyone who’d been stupid enough to tease him about his cleft lip since middle school.
Kenny walked closer and slammed the journal on the floor, causing loose pages to scatter. “Amy and I want you to get all your stuff and move out before we leave for work.”
Ed took a deep breath as he stood up and walked into the kitchen to grab his favorite beer-bottle opener. He looked at the freezer door, where Kenny had hung a short quote: “Revenge is best served cold.” The compulsive liar often told guests that he’d discovered the phrase while reading Machiavelli’s The Prince. Ed knew it came from the French novel Dangerous Liaisons, but he’d never corrected Kenny in person. Counting Kenny’s lies had become a secret little game between Ed and Amy. Now he suspected that these inside jokes with Amy were no longer secret, either.
He picked up his journal, black guitar case and back pack then stomped into the bathroom for his toothbrush and razor. He walked outside, and Kenny shouted after him: “There he goes ladies and gentlemen, Ed Keller: ‘Born to make the history books,’ as he loves to repeat when he’s loaded. He’s still the same prick who nudged a kid into suicide during middle school.”
Ed felt paranoid and confused. He almost stopped to reply, but he didn’t know what to say. He recalled the image of Anthony’s dying body with blood spilling on the gravel of a middle-school parking lot. It surfaced often, paining him more than April’s death. He worried how many deaths his selfish behavior would trigger.
Hearing the slam of the door behind him, he imagined the building crumbling into the ground like the House of Usher. He told himself it was good to be free of Kenny’s negativity, despite the fact that he was now more or less homeless. He thought of all the hours he wasted trying to convince Amy to dump this girlfriend beater and move out. Why did she volunteer to remain a victim? She could do so much better. Despite Kenny’s salary and job title, he would always be a physical coward who lived to push other people’s buttons. She was so out of his league.
Ed imagined Amy, running down the street after him, declaring her love and suggesting they move into a place of their own. Of course, it would never happen. He was alone, a pariah, and he agreed he deserved it.
Traffic crammed the streets, and a cacophony of car horns battered Ed’s ears as the cold wind swirled the hairs on his beard. His entire body ached, and he became nauseous as he considered how much deeper he might plummet before “hitting bottom,” a term he recalled from the dozens of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings he attended after April’s death. He feared he would end as a heroin addict, found dead in a damp alley of rubble and jagged rusty metal.
He knew he could call his parents collect; they might wire him money, but he didn’t want to hear another lecture, especially from that hypocrite Stephen. He wished an angel of mercy would swoop down to save him from himself. If angels didn’t exist, he hoped April might be watching from somewhere in the afterlife. He reminded himself April was nothing more than flaking bones in some box in the ground. What’s more, could anyone protect him from himself? Growing more anxious, he feared he would always be a slave to his appetites.