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Archive 2
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James Skinner loses his faith

It all started one morning when I got out of bed, went to the bathroom and found that the toothpaste had run out. Where the hell did my wife keep the spare tube? She normally did all the shopping and usually hid the stuff anyway. I wasn’t going to ask her, as she was still asleep. Hang on! What was I doing getting up so early? I still had another hour’s sleep. Oh hell! It must be somewhere. I found it.

I squeezed some of the goo onto my toothbrush, opened the cold tap and let the water run. I wet the brush and proceeded to clean my teeth when it happened. My twenty-year-old tooth cap came lose and stuck to the brush. I looked into the mirror – horrified. A face with an open mouth showing a gaping hole half and inch wide between my upper dentures stared back at me. I looked down at my toothbrush. I cringed. Three ugly false teeth were protruding from the frothy brush. I was getting a message. I must be growing old. God! I haven’t got long to go before I die.

What else is going to go wrong? I’m not sleeping properly, my teeth are falling out, and I’m too reliant on my wife. I’m doomed. I went back to bed and snuggled up to her. I slowly placed my hand on her thigh. Suddenly she jumped up and shrieked! God! I’d forgotten! My hand must’ve been at least 15 degrees below zero. I needed help.

I went to the office as usual but somehow things seemed different. “Good morning, Mr. Semple”. Blondie’s noticed it. There’s that tone in her voice. “How come you made it in today? Have you forgotten your walking stick? Isn’t it time you invested in a nursing home?” Daft woman. What does she know about older men? That’s just it. She doesn’t. Oh my God! Maybe I should see my doctor.

“Well your heart is OK. Your blood tests are normal and show no signs of illness. I’ve tickled your prostate and no swelling. I know you don’t smoke and your drinking habits are moderate. So what’s eating you, Mr. Semple?” How can I explain it? No use trying to tell this guy how I feel. He’ll only shrug it off as: “We all go that way Mr. Semple. Just don’t worry about it”. I walked out of the surgery without leaving a tip.

I went out for lunch down to the pub. On my way I saw a little boy playing with a football. “Hello son. Do you like football?” I patted the snotty nosed nappyless five-year-old on the head. The mother came rushing over, snapped up the kid. “Don’t you dare!” Help me God! My grey hairs have labelled me a paedophile. Stupid woman. Can’t she see I have three kids of my own and love them dearly? Wait a sec! They're all married with their own kids. I’m a bloody grandfather for God’s sake.

At the pub I ordered my usual pint and a basket of chips. John, the publican came over. “Hello Jack, feeling under the weather?” Bloody hell! He also sees through me. What is it that’s giving me away? “No I’m fine, just a bit of flu”. I sat down in a corner and read my paper. Not the headlines, just the bit that says: ‘Government confirms increase in pensions’. Why didn’t I care about the bomb that Pakistan might drop on India? Oh no! I just care about pensions. That’s it. It’s the work of the devil, or God. Which is which? For the first time in my life, I felt numb.

No, not physically, just plain numb. My toothless face, the toothpaste, my wife, the blond, my doctor, John, they don’t mean anything anymore. For all my assets, faithful wife, drugless children, good job, friendly publican, balls intact; I might as well be pushing up the daisies if my mind keeps pointing at a tombstone. Euthanasia, heard about that. The clog dancers with scrumcaps have now legalised it. Maybe I should take a trip to Amsterdam. Talk to the inventors. Is it an invention or a figment of my imagination? Am I at the King’s Arms and am I holding half a glass full of Tetley’s? Am I reading the middle pages of the Times? Stop. Just stop right there, Jack!

God. He’s the one who can help me. Wait. Is God a he or a she? I'm a Roman Catholic by birth but can't tell the difference between belfries nowadays. What about faith? Is that it? Am I missing out on faith, what faith? Maybe its time I took it seriously. Maybe I should speak to a priest or something. These guys know about the inside of our minds. Enter Our Lady of the Good Council. It’s a church.

“Father, please help me. I have sinned.” I think, ‘How do I start this?’ “I’ve been married for thirty years, have never been unfaithful, I don’t drink. I have brought up, that is, my wife has brought up our children in the faith. I’ve worked hard all my life. I don’t know what to say”. The priest is invisible but is there. A moment of pause, a lifetime goes by. “What seems to really bother you, my child? Don’t be scared. Open your heart.”

Suddenly, the numbness has gone. Internal serenity has taken over. It came out like spring water. “Father. I’m growing old and my body aches. I’m scared of dying. I count the hours of the day and the days of each month. Why? Where has my life gone? Is this the end? Help me father, Please help me. Please!”

“How old are you?” asked Father Thomas. “I will be fifty-five next birthday.” Moments of eternal silence appeared to go by. “Father, are you there?” Seconds continued to crawl. Finally his melancholy voice breaks the silence. “My son: I am eighty-two and have been at this parish for sixty years. Among many things, I have learned that Jesus Christ blessed us with the love of life. I have only one thing to say to you.” “Yes, father?”

“Welcome back.”

© James Skinner

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