First Published in Westerly, volume 52, 2007.
This story was based on an anecdote from my friend Simon about his former employer, a fruiterer of some note.
I was crying when I opened the door. Even with the glimpse I got through the peephole I could never have guessed what a sweetie she was. I couldn’t help myself, I was crying like a baby, and she was looking all doe-eyed and gracious, holding a bunch of magazines and wearing a skirt. I knew the moment I saw her she’d come to talk about God, knew it even when I heard the knock. But what did I care? The mere sight of her knees was enough to wind me right up. It doesn’t take a lot at my age.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said – sir! such respect – “I’ve come at a bad time.”
“No, no,” I assured her, before she could back away, “the timing couldn’t be better.” I sniffled and smeared the tears across my cheeks. “I’m sorry, it’s just that everything’s been a bit much lately. I’m right down in the dumps. Perhaps you can help me, yes, yes, come in.”
“I don’t want to upset you.”
“Oh, please, please,” I said – how could such a lovely creature upset anyone? – “I’m already upset, it’s just… Everything.”
I was hunching and breathing in sniffles, huffing up a good old sorrow. I was misery personified, the very mask of Greek tragedy.
“I was hoping to talk to you about Jesus,” she said, finding refuge in her mission.
“I know, I know,” I said, pathetically. “I know.”
“But if it’s not a good…”
“Go on,” I said, weeping like a willow, “sit down, make yourself at home.”
I walked through into the lounge room, waving her on. She trailed behind with that peering-round-the-corner look people sport when they aren’t too sure of things.
“Are you sure this is a good time? I could come back another day.”
“Oh no,” I said, “this is perfect timing. I could use a good talk right now. Especially about Jesus. Something to cheer me up.” I pulled out my handkerchief and blew my nose loudly, trying to avoid too much burbling. I was crying out tears as quick as I could wipe them away.
“Please, please,” I said, “I’ll put the kettle on.”
We were in the lounge with the kitchen adjoining. My round, old, wrinkled belly was tight with the drama. I bowed and scraped and showed her to the couch. She stood looking at it for a moment, clutching her colourful brochures, then sat down, knees tight together with her back as straight as a rod. There won’t be any flies on her!
“Tea?” I asked.
“Err, yes please. Thank you.”
I shuffled into the kitchen, still having a good old blubber. It really was a first rate bawl fest I had going on; top notch stuff. Safe in the kitchen I cracked a hidden smile and washed my face under the tap. I dried myself vigorously with a tea towel. For a little treat like this I didn’t want to look too bleary. I’d already unfurled the black flag of pity.
I stuck my head around the corner. “Milk, sugar?” My eyes were dry now, with just a faint sheen and a sting of red veins.
“Umm, white, one sugar,” she said. “Look, are you sure…”
“Of course, of course. I want to hear all about Jesus. This is a godsend, I’m sure of it.”
She stayed put and the kettle clicked home. Having just had a cuppa, there wasn’t much of a wait. I’d prefer to be pouring half a bottle of scotch down her throat, but it just wasn’t going to happen. I made the tea in a flash, wanting to hurry through before she did too much thinking. If everyone turns them away, then don’t they wonder about the people who let them in? I shuddered to think what she thought of me; if I was anything like the others.
I poured the tea and brought the steaming cups on through, eyes kept low and mouth in an arch; hung with the fishhooks of gloom. I sat down next to her, close but not too close. There was still plenty of time while the tea was hot.
“Well, here we are,” I said, throwing in a gratuitous extra sniffle.
“Okay, thank you.”
She really was a darling; lovely long dark hair, tall and slightly awkward, small, pert breasts – what a lucky old bloke that Jehovah was! There were quite a few things I wouldn’t have minded witnessing, let me tell you.
“Everything alright?” I asked.
“Yes. Are you alright?”
I took my time, just to keep her thrown. I could see she’d normally be damn confident, smiling and charming, telling it how it was, turning the pages of the magazine, letting me in on the good news, until someone broke all the rhythms. It might have been she who came knocking, but it was me who was calling the shots.
“Are you alright?” she asked again, all sincerity. It was a long while since such a beauty took so genuine an interest.
“Yes, and no.” I said. “I’ve been up and down like the lid on a boiling kettle. Maybe you can help!” I said, too excitedly, banking on her putting my exaggerated sincerity down to being hysterically sad.
“But you were crying so much,” she said. “Have you had some bad news?”
“Always bad news,” I said. “Always.” I shifted a little closer. “Thank Christ for small mercies!”
She straightened up even further, stomach flat as a tack, small but haughty breasts, nice firm tittie handfuls.
“We have this free magazine,” she said. “It’s called The Watchtower. It’s about living a better life.”
“A better life!” I said. “That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
I shifted across another inch as she held the magazine tight in her taut little lap. On the cover was a lovely, peaceful scene; a huge, lush garden, with people of all different races and colours, neatly dressed just like her, lolling about on the grass with a whole zoo full of animals; tigers, deer, squirrels, hippos, dogs, monkeys. There were fruit trees in bloom and flowers sprouting all about. It was a vision of paradise, and the sun was belting on down; I don’t suppose it ever gets nippy in paradise.
“My name’s Jennifer,” she said, ready to get on with things. “I’m from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. We believe the Bible is the word of God and we look to live according to His words.”
“As it is written.” I said with theatrical awe.
“Yes, that’s right.” She shuffled the magazine in her hand. “Exactly as it is written. Not as other people have said it is written, but as it is actually written.”
“I see,” I said, shifting towards her another inch.
“The important thing is to ask whether or not things stand up to the test of scripture.”
She was back on track and down to business. I liked that immensely, right back on target she was.
“Well, anything really. Especially about how to live according to God’s will, in harmony with the laws of the Hebrew and Greek testaments.”
“Like the ten commandments?”
“Yes, that’s one example.”
I leaned over for a closer look at The Watchtower. I took a sip of my tea and wiped my eyes again, pinching them into my nose.
“The Watchtower tells you most of what you need to know about what we do.”
“I’ll bet it does,” I said, remembering to throw in a sniffle. “And so what do you have to do to be a Jehovah’s Witness?” I inched closer still.
She reached forward carefully and picked up her cup of tea. She was looking straight ahead. Not looking at me. She took a sip and put the cup down again.
“We talk about the meaning of the scripture and how it governs our lives. How we believe we ought to live by it.”
“Well that all sounds pretty useful to me.”
There was a time when I didn’t have to put on a big old act just to get a young lady on the lounge. Back in the good old days they were queuing up for yours truly, and even once past my prime my form held good. This was one of the longest shots of my long career, but you never can be sure with these godly types. They’re either ripe and ready for a bit of exploitation, or they’re tight as a rusted wingnut. Truth is, it’s just plain tough when you’re over sixty. You have to hope they really love their daddies.
“I find it very useful in helping me to live a good life,” she said.
I rested my arm across the back of the couch, just behind her shoulders. I could almost feel the bone beneath her young flesh.
“I wish I knew how to live,” I replied.
“Perhaps,” she began, but she got no further, for I was tired off all the dithering. Bursting into a new and more outrageous wail of sorrow, I plunged my head down straight into her lap and wrapped my arm around her shoulder. At last I could feel the scents I smelled; the fabric softener, the conditioner, the hint of an iron’s metallic steam. She gasped and writhed, stiffened and shifted. I could feel her bones and softness jumping about beneath my weeping face. I pressed myself right into her crotch. I couldn’t get my nose through the fabric, but being there was enough, right in the crucible of the world.
“Get off me!” she cried. “Get off!”
She tried to leap up, but the sheer weight of me made it impossible. The Watchtower slid off the couch and spilled across the floor. I reached up and managed to get my hands on her breasts. It was more than I could hope for; they were there right enough, and none of those wooden bras you sometimes run into; I could feel the nipples in the palms of my hands like stigmata.
“Get off me!” she cried, forcing herself upright with all her strength. “Get off!”
Ah yes, this was a champion score! Even better than the time I faked a heart attack in the fruit shop and fell down right under the skirts of two young twins. I saw everything that time, let me tell you, absolutely everything you can hope for without paying. Then there was the time I fainted on that towering beauty at the opera house. I just don’t get near women like that most days, but there in the foyer, falling in a falsified fit, as my hands ran along her perfect thighs it was like gliding down a curtain of sex; sliding down from heaven on a silken fire pole.
“Get off me!” cried my little Jehovah’s Witness, lunging into the air. “Help me, someone help!” I could see she was going to cause trouble if I didn’t let her fly, so I took in one last great whiff, treated myself to a final squeeze of her titties, then slackened my grip and rolled off.
I fell into the gap between the table and the couch, arms and legs flailing in the air like a beetle. I’d come a right cropper and she was on the move, making straight for the door. I had no intention of pursuing her, except maybe to give her magazines back. I’d had my fun and gotten as good as I was ever going to get.
I started to laugh aloud, great big belly laughs that rocked me back and forth as she skidded through the hallway and clattered down the steps.
I laughed and laughed until I could stand it no more. Then a wind sprang up and the door slammed shut. I looked to the crumpled Watchtower beside me with a rending surge of pity. My heart heaved a sigh, my throat locked up and this time I really started crying.