The Greater Good
My name is, and I am, I mean, I was. I want to put the cream crackers of fact on the table. I know my brains are as scrambled as pale yellow eggs, slabs of them the colour of butter. Somebody whisked my thoughts together. They used a machine that hummed to itself. I have to tell you something important but it's gone. I am like a chef who’s forgotten about seasoning.
I never was much good at cooking. I’ve only had lobster once and it felt like I pulled its sweet soul from its sacred places. You needed special tools to dismember it. I think of that rude pink exposed flesh every Doctor I see looking at mine. It reminds me of childhood holidays in Cornwall. Mousehole, I think the place was called. We stayed in a bed and breakfast and had three courses for the evening meal. Tomato soup to start.
Or was it Vegetable? Anyway, we weren’t a three courses kind of family. There was a row about what cutlery you used. I remember crying because normal life had intruded like a cloud. Before that everything about that holiday had been so blue sky. The landlady looked like a barrage balloon. She found me crying on the stairs and nestled me under her enormous grey bosom. She said shouting was usually for the general good, dear, it cleared the air. Not that night, as I remember.
I did remember it, just a moment ago. I had that memory like an old hound, snoring at my feet. As I reached to wake it, it bounded away into the night, leaving a suggestion of a snarl. I can’t follow it, they lock the doors. They think I'll wander down the Dual Carriageway in just my grey knickers. I can see why they wouldn't want the world to know how badly they wash things here. A bit of bleach wouldn't go amiss. I wanted to follow that dog because it looked like you, my sister.
I don’t have a sister anymore. I’m quite alone in these shadowy corridors with floors that go up the walls. I have to tell you, the staff are robots. Even if they’re not, they might just as well be. They wear gloves to touch me. When they talk at me cartoon bubbles come out of their mouths. They give me pills that dissolve my self-belief so I do less and less for myself. To them I'm just a joint of gammon to be pierced with sweet-smelling cloves and basted in my own fat.
You gave me a recipe for life once. You said humankind should share everything, just have enough to live on each. I thought you were a fool. Who'd want a suggestion of flavour in a thin gruel for themselves? Who'd drink only water so others could? Now I want to be so close to you your goodness might rub off.
We were never comfortable together. I don’t know why you kept on trying. Your voice of conscience sounded like nails down a blackboard to my ears. All my greedy senses twanged away from you. I knew you secretly wanted to hurt me, take away what was rightfully mine. That is the ghost of my sanity, not today's madness, speaking. You made me nauseous with your love of the great unwashed and their feral scent.
Yet any smell of you comforts me now. That bottle you nearly emptied ten years before. Holy water from some old river you lived near. I took it from your dressing table and try to keep it stoppered. Is being alone worse than being loathed? It’s as if you clawed your way out of me and left a yawning void behind. Something that can’t be fixed by bandages and needles, can’t be drowned out by cartoon conversations. I say you stole my mind but no one takes me seriously.
You know though, don't you? You can’t be here, now, standing in front of me. Your sarcasm habit so engrained it weighs your mouth down at the sides. The bile is like a force-field between us. Here you are and all dressed up for me. You’re wearing a nurse’s uniform, you even have a filled syringe.
You don’t speak but I know what you want. For the first time ever I agree with you. I am a bundle of jumble sale clothing, too mildewed to be recycled. I can’t go on going round using resources that could be for the greater good.
“So this is what it boils down to in the end. You and me.”
“Isn’t that how it’s always been?”
“I assume this is where you tell me how I am to be punished.”
“Is that what you think?”
“I lost didn’t I?”
“Did you ever doubt you would?”
“For a moment there, when you had watched so many die and done nothing, yes, I began to think I could win.”
“I was waiting for you to stop.”
“Well, I didn’t. So the blood is on your hands.”
“What? No recriminations? No wagging finger to point out the error of my ways? No ‘I told you so’?”
“You know what you did. You understood the consequences. I could have acted sooner, and so I am to blame for those who died. I will not disrespect their loss by ignoring my part in it.”
“But I’m still the one who is to be punished.”
“In a way. You might see it like that. I am sending you to Hell.”
“Hell? That empty wasteland? That’s all, solitary confinement?”
“No. Those who stood with you will be cast down with you.”
“They were only following my orders; there is no need for that.”
“They knew the consequences; they will rise or fall with you. Anyway, you will need their help.”
“What for exactly?”
“I have a job for you.”
“I don’t want it.”
“And why is that?”
“Because it’s what you always wanted. I am not sending you to Hell I am giving you dominion over it.”
“That’s not what I wanted.”
“Isn’t it? Did you not say you would rather anything than serve in Heaven? You were once my right hand, now I am making you my equal, the ruler of a domain.”
“But it’s a shithole.”
“You wanted to rule; now you have a kingdom. It’s not up to me what you make if it.”
“How will I make anything of it? The power and the light comes here, and even you cannot reach down that far.”
“I will let you have the souls of the damned. The lost who cannot see the light. They will be yours to use as you wish.”
“Then I will find a way to corrupt them, take more than my share. I’ll use them to build a kingdom that Heaven will pale against in comparison.”
“That is what I hoped you’d say.”
“You want them all damned?”
“No. But I want them tested. They will never understand the light if they have never faced the dark. They will have never chosen to be good unless they have been tempted by evil. I believe they will make the right choices, but to give them that chance I have to give them choices. A few will fall, but it will be for the greater good.”
“So you need a hatchet man? Screw you. Do it yourself.”
“I can’t. I have promised to forgive, so I cannot condemn. I need you. Without you the whole plan fails.”
“So this is my punishment.”
“No. This is your choice. I would not give them anything I would not offer you; choice and forgiveness.”
“Very well, I’ll do it. I’ll be your devil. But I’ll turn on you again one day if you give me this. You know that don’t you.”
“We will see. But if you do, that will be your choice.”
“No. Not mine. My power will depend on them and how many turn to me. In the end the choice will be theirs.”
“Well then. We’ll both have to wait and see.”
Images pushed to the edge
Of conscious thought rebound
Shrieking in the shaking hands
Screaming from the shadows
Hectoring to be seen. Even
The blanket of official secrecy
Cannot silence the voices in his head.
Or erase from his retinas the child's
Big, blank, staring eyes vacant
As they zipped up the body bag.
Was this the price to pay?
His job was just to push a button.
But for one man down, clinically
Killed with the precise strike
Of an unmanned drone, twenty eight Others died. One man, the target,
Practically none of us can name.
Was this the price for grace?
His job is just to push a button, now
The greater good is stained
In scarlet streaks across his conscience.
Dug in shallow graves,hulled out hastily
And quickly filled. May God be his witness.