TORN AND TATTERED AND THE GOOD, GOOD FIGHT
“When I grow old,” whispered Tommy Tuppence, “When I grow really old with grey whiskers and a dripping nose like granddad's I'll be scared.”
“What will you be scared of, dear?” asked his mother, smiling benevolently and proud that any son of hers could dream of seeing so far into the future.
“Of dying, silly,” he replied, awkwardly. “I like being alive and thinking and running and playing and looking up girls' skirts. I don't want to die.”
“But you're only young, Tommy,” she said quietly, smiling. “You've got a very long time to live before you'll die!”
And Tommy went away, to his room, and sat on the edge of his bed, and thought.
And what worried him more than anything was how quickly he could count to a hundred. He'd learned counting at school and he was good at it, At first it had been only a few numbers but he was a clever boy and rapidly learned to count almost for ever. A hundred was easy-peasy.
He went back down the stairs again.
Mummy was rolling some pastry in the kitchen, and she smiled at him as he walked in.
“Mummy, is a hundred ever so old?” he asked.
“Why, Tommy,” she laughed with a happy little trill in her voice, “of course it is! Anyone who gets to be a hundred receives a telegram from the Queen because they've done really well lasting that long!”
“So a hundred's ever so old?” he asked, frowning.
“It is! Ever so old!” she laughed. “Not even granddad's that old, and you sometimes say he's ever so old!”
“But a hundred's a lot, and it takes less than two minutes to count to a hundred!” he stated. “I can count to a hundred in nearly no time at all! And if my life goes by like that I'll be a hundred and dribbling and ever so old before I've had a chance to do anything!”
“You're talking about a hundred years, and a year is ages and ages,” she told him. “A year is between one birthday and the next. A year is between one Christmas and the next. It's the time between one works party at the factory next to the churchyard, and the next. A year is absolutely a very long time indeed. And a hundred years is a hundred times longer than that!”
Tommy Tuppence frowned, and went back to his bedroom.
It's not good enough, he thought, sadly. The way I look at it I'll be dead in no time at all. The way I look at it life just isn’t worth living. I won't even have enough space to get married and have kids of my own before I'm old enough to die! It'll be hello morning, goodbye evening and where's my gravestone gone, all weathered and worn?
And Tommy Tuppence lay on his bed, and closed his eyes and did what small boys sometimes do even in the daytime, he went to sleep.
And in that sleep he saw things. He saw lots of things. He saw explosions and clumps of earth being thrown into the air. He saw soldiers struggling, rifles in hand, across fields of mud, rain battering their faces, their hearts pounding with fear and terror, And he saw the air clouded with toxic smoke. And there was shouting and screaming and men being blown to smithereens.
He saw it all in a dream.
He stirred and settled back again as he slept, and the dream changed.
“You were shot,” said God. “Fighting for good and righteousness, you were shot, and now you're here ready to fight the good fight for me.”
“Where's here?” he asked. “And why was I shot?”
“On the battlefield where all good men learn to be strong,” said God. “A whole hail of bullets tore through you. So you came here, to me, to Heaven, and I'll get you measured for your new Uniform and you'll become one of my soldiers, going forth into the battle, fighting for all that is good and right. But first, look:”
God pointed down through the clouds that seemed to swirl all around this Heaven of his.
Down below, tiny because of the distance yet clear as clear, a small parade of weeping people were carrying a small coffin into a churchyard.
He recognised that churchyard. It was at the end of his street, next to the armaments factory where his dad worked, and the woman leading the tiny procession was his own weeping mother.
“What's that?” he asked.
“It's your funeral, Tommy,” smiled God, benevolently. “Everyone has to die and you've been a good boy, dying young. It saved a lot of expense, recruiting you with all the atheists around ready to call me a fraud and a liar! So I'll make you a sergeant to start with, and you can go out into the big battle and fight the good fight for me!”
“I don't want to fight any fight,” protested Tommy, tears prickling his eyes.
“But you must!” admonished God. “Fight the good fight, and then it'll be jelly for tea!”
“I don't like nasty jelly!” howled Tommy.
And suddenly God popped out of being and he woke up on his bed.
“What is it, Tommy?” asked his mother, holding a dish of jelly. “I thought you liked it!”
“I don't want to go to war, mummy, and die with bullets in me,” he sobbed. “I want to live to be a hundred!”
“But you will, darling,” she soothed him.
He looked at her, his big eyes open wide. “Promise, mummy?” he asked.
And she promised him.
It was true as anything when she whispered of course I do quietly into his ear, but not a decade or so later she was walking in a tiny procession to the graveyard at the end of their street, following a coffin that held that battered remnants of Tommy Tuppence, who had flown to a far off land, an insignificant place where madmen seemed to be in charge, and died in a hail of bullets made, ironically, in the factory next to this very churchyard, the one where his dad worked.
© Peter Rogerson 10.10.13