The Hitch in Readying to Meet…
In a play on a well-known phrase, I’m calling the piece that follows a slice of the afterlife. In this fantastical short fiction, two famous historical figures meet up in the Afterlife to help usher in a famous turn of the 21st-century fellow literary man, about to enter on his next great Experience. Roughly separated in time by a century each, Sir James Boswell and Mr. GK Chesterton meet up in his hospital room, along with their various religious and cultural differences—some of which are expressed here verbatim in works of the public domain. I hope to continue on with this afterlife story as a novel, taking the reader through various times and places in Western history. This may yield revealing glimpses of the past, showing us the basis of our culture and its departure from its initial Christian foundation.
“Sir,” said James Boswell. “Perhaps he but reviews the book—or, indeed, is it you that he reviews? Or perhaps he is endeavoring to convert you, do you think, before he dies?” But, looking on at the notes and scribbling pen of a baldheaded man beside the window in the florescent lamplight, Mr. Chesterton made no immediate answer.
These two disembodied persons from other eras sometimes hover here and there about the room; sometimes taking part in its curious furnishings. These furnishings include a round analogue clock upon the wall with hands pointing 11 p.m.; also reams of tubing (channeling liquids in and out the patient’s body), shining machines, metallic bed-frame, and movable apparatus such as tray-table or IV stand. At times these two (seemingly immaterial) persons are almost absent altogether, taking part in fantastic night views out plateglass windows which the writer by the window largely ignores. Mr. Chesterton and Sir James become part the massive glowing neon sign above a gleaming ledge of lighted buildings—sheer cliffs of mostly medical shop-works and habitation. (So these two people, initially embodied in different eras, might have put it). High in the sky above, invisible objects jet to and fro faintly showing but trails of crystal vapors in which they also delight themselves.
This astonishing view, and their material part in it, took Sir James briefly off his subject. “Oh, I have watched such lithic building for—as they may say—two hundred years and more. These arrangements constantly, fantastically emerge from rocks and soils they work up with foundry and forge. It is immense good fun to watch such structures flashing upwards in an instant, then back down, then up again. You might think they would have more fun working with these substances, but apparently it is very laborious, a slow job for them. Oh, I daresay it is work. I am reminded of an exquisite extended metaphor of the great Dr. Samuel Johnson in distinguishing the beauties of Paradise Lost. In which he compares its genius of construction to that of building.
“He advised taking a view of the poem’s fabric gradually rising, from small beginnings, till its foundation rests in the centre and its turrets sparkle in the skies. Then trace back the structuring through all its varieties, from simplicity of its first plan; to find what was projected, whence the scheme was taken, how it was improved, by what assistance it was executed, and from what stores the materials were collected. Or whether its founder dug them from the quarries of Nature, or demolished other buildings to embellish his own. And, now look at how this dying essayist himself is there with such hero effort working by the pane of glass, hardly looking about at all—though he does keep dropping off.”
They were back now with the diseased, bald, and dying essayist working at the window. Boswell continued, “Quite a dose they put one on when one is dying. He is to be commended pushing himself as did the great Samuel Johnson, whose gloom, with its accompanying sloth, had to be overcome, time and yet again. Yes, commend him here in this strait for driving his yet greatly coherent thoughts across the page. He has forsaken the screen (as they so name it) because the pen is easier. How odd the verbal connection in their use of key and board, as though one needed a key to unlock the larder for the table. But if one thinks of it ’tis a perfect match, as one goes about his philosophic associations.”
The other, a rather rotund mass of subatomic particles (if the oxymoron “mass” might be used without critique in this context): a rotund and mustachioed Mr. Chesterton might be imagined eyeing his interlocutor with gleaming wire-rimmed gaze, and a smile.
“And how shall I put my responses among so many close observations? From your Life of Samuel Johnson I might have imagined such a talker.”
“Oh dear. Well then, how would you begin? I will not, of course, be taking down my many observations of your paradoxical rumination as I did with Dr. Johnson’s conversation. But I see you are here in hospital, for this dying essayist’s interest—at the moment—in yourself?”
Chesterton now responded. “I purpose, first and unavoidably, to note that you have not given up your practice of being present at the scaffold. And that this is your own perfectly apt reason for being here?”
“Yes, and your grounds for the same are that he reviews with outlandish effort the last biography of your life that he has bound himself to read, or write of. You want in on the merriment, I suppose? “
“Just so, as Mr. Kipling might put it. But, in fact, I wonder why I am here. Though it is rather gleeful. But note what he has just written with such astonishing effort, acuteness and verve: ‘Chesterton’s over-the-top reputation as regards paradox grew from his hope to save conservatism from dereliction. Maintenance is much needed, because in leaving things alone one leaves them to decrepitude.’ “
“Yet he does praise your poetry ‘awfully,’ as they put it in your day—meaning, I suppose, something grand by it?
“Awfully,” said Mr. Chesterton. “But perhaps, he would mean just awful.” There was no sound in the hospital room at this, but the orthodox Catholic rhetorician was, in fact, laughing with delight at this unexpected meeting of minds, one of which was unfamiliar to him and from a time not Mr. Chesterton’s own. For those in the Afterword* are always taking delight in how we may use them in our own time. “Just read to.… Here, where he says, ‘But Chesterton goes on too long in making his point—a master, also, of the long-wind, I should say.’ Perhaps he would like to convert me to a greater brevity. But, you may be correct about the other sort of conversion, if you include also his readers. Let us watch, then see if he succeeds. But first let us speculate upon his condition. It may be that he is involved in an experiment designed to help The Maker refine the miracle of immunity?”
“What on Earth do you mean? That is already, if I understand.”
“Suppose we leave aside questions of Time, evolution and the Absolute—for the moment only.” Here there was a smiling look behind imaginary wire rims. “We reference the world’s foundation. What do we find?”
Boswell hesitated. “You mean the scaffold.”
“But then there is also the reshaping end of the enterprise. Or sub-creation as Coleridge has put it. That is almost as painful.”
“Oh, I say, supposing immunity wants a bit of polishing?”
Both were now first gazing over the baldheaded writer’s shoulder, then situating themselves atop the desperate scrawling pen. Next they become its point and ink, just to try for a taste of it…. Becoming its taste, as it were. Not to influence.
Presently Sir James Boswell said, “That is then the paradox? —Dying one helps inform the making of bodily immunity…. And, in suffering these flaws, immunity may be perfected?”
“Or something may. Taking part in the reshaping, we go to the gallows. Our creator did not spare himself. He apparently also likes remaking, sub-creating.… I may have reshaped somewhat on this point since the gallows. Our reshaping is for the resurrection.”
Sir James might have performed a bow. He said, “Ah, but Sir, taste here where he writes, ‘Here’s a paradox—if one likes: In claiming most to know, GKC is convicted of claiming to know what cannot be known.’ And this writer calls his own an age of ‘uncertainty.’ “
Mr. Chesterton also bowed, then smiling said, “Awfully.”
CANCER INSTITUTE, reads the glowing colorful letters on the campus building opposite. The formerly meticulously, but now somewhat desperately, moving pen of the famous great Christopher Hitchens continues its crawl, his florescent-lit reflection above almost blotting out the night.
Shortly would ensue a lengthy journey through history, which, for the disembodied happened in a flash. By the round analogue clock upon the wall, with its hands pointing 11 p.m., these three, including Christopher Hitchens, would commence pursuing their historic travelogue together, with others joining thereafter. However flashing and fantastic, there is little time and place to tell it here between now and midnight.
*Afterword is not a typo.
By S. Dorman