four: Len tells Paul about his crime
‘I’d built a nice place for them,’ Len began. ‘I wanted them to be happy, really I did. But they fucked it up. They made me angry, they were always making me angry.’
‘Who? What did they do?’ Paul asked.
‘You know what they did. I told them not to, but they ate the apple!’ Len slung a mischievous look at Paul. He knew that his words were exasperating and seemed ridiculous, that they spiralled away from the crime report Paul wanted to hear. It was funny to make Paul’s skin prickle and his stomach turn with the fear of madness.
He shook his head and sucked air between his teeth, like a builder about to give a rip-off estimate for a job of work. ‘I told them not to do it, but they did it anyway.’
‘Oh right,’ said Paul. The anger had dropped out of his voice, which was now bleakly comic. He gave a short laugh and lowered his head. ‘That makes sense. Go on then, tell me about that instead.’
Len was warming to his storytelling now and put his plump hand on Paul’s arm as if to stop him walking away.
‘And that’s how it kept on and on with the whole lot of you afterwards. I kept giving you chances to make everything ok again and you kept screwing it up. I got so furious. I was sick of you. I just kept killing and tormenting. But it never changed anything. And then – at last! – I had a new idea. Forgiveness! Let them have a fresh start!’
Paul wanted to hear about forgiveness, even from a madman, and he relaxed a little in his chair. Len had a story to tell, and it didn’t matter if it was a true story, or a mad story, or just something to soothe Paul or pass the time. Len took his hand from Paul’s arm and leaned back in his chair.
‘Right from the start I had rammed into them how sinful they were. But then I decided to try a bit of positive parenting.’ Len grinned. ‘You know how the childcare books go on about it? “Ignore your child’s failures and praise his successes. Tell him you love him no matter what.” I decided to try something like that. People are always so stupidly determined to think well of me! They say that I offered up forgiveness as a kind of a free gift because I was so brimful of love. But it was just a tactical decision! To try to squeeze out a bit of goodness.
‘I had to have a way of telling them they were forgiven – and making them believe it. To start with that was the only reason for sending Jesus. He just had to tell them the good news. But there was another thing. The really difficult part. I had to actually stop punishing people, or nothing Jesus said would mean anything. And the way I felt then … I couldn’t bear the idea of letting them get away with it. I started to realise that the only way I could give up hurting these people, these ungrateful bastards, was by genuinely forgiving them. And how could I do that?
‘I made some special plans for Jesus. I decided to give myself the pleasure of punishing one more time. I decided to hurt him, really hurt him badly. That would let me be nice again.
‘I had to make him perfectly forgiving – the opposite of me! Because then he would be able to convince people that it didn’t matter what they had done. They would be able to see that he really, really meant it, he really loved them. Even while I was making him I could feel the forgiveness just pulsing through him. He saw and forgave, saw and forgave. He saw all you sinners and he just wanted to run up and wipe away the tears. But when he saw me! There was a moment when he could tell. He could see that what I really wanted was revenge, and that made him frightened, for a little while. That’s when he could have stopped me. If he had said anything it would have made me too ashamed to do it. Stupid man. He wouldn’t let himself believe that his precious dad could be so wicked.
‘Anyway, there he is. Down on earth. He grows up, he preaches, he gets arrested. The soldiers knock him about a bit. Then there was the crown of thorns. I liked that. Just a scratch and a niggle to begin with, but with all the effort of hauling the cross about it soon turned into a throbbing headache. The blood dribbled down his forehead and got mixed up with sweat. It went into his eyes so that he had to screw them up and he couldn’t see where he was going. When he bumped into people in the crowd they shoved him back and yelled at him. I told him: “Don’t expect too much from that lot! They’re sure to let you down.”
‘Then they hammered in the nails and the agony was – oh, it was fantastic, such a relief. It was everything that I had wanted.
‘But I was enjoying myself so much that he saw – finally! – what a good time I was having. He saw that he was my victim – we weren’t just partners. “My God! Why have you deserted me?” When he said that …! That was the best part. I got what I wanted.
‘But that’s what made it all come to an end – you know about that, don’t you? About that moment when you’ve done it – you’ve got the nasty little pleasure that you’d been planning, so you switch out of the fantasy and see how things are. That’s right, isn’t it, Paul? You see what you have done. I was devastated. I couldn’t believe I had done it. I still can’t believe it. I tortured my little boy to death.
Len leant forward , his forearms resting on his thighs. He stared blankly.
‘It worked, though,’ he said. ‘You were all forgiven. I don’t give a fuck about you anymore.’
Len looked at the clock. ‘Anyway, it’s nearly tea now,’ he said. ‘Do you feel better? Has it helped?’
Copyright C. A. Creffield