An Excerpt From Mike Riddells Jerusalem, Jerusalem That I Broke Down at the End Off

“You could hear my confession.”

“What, now? At four in the morning?”

“I’ll warrant that God’s still awake. And if not, we can leave a message.”

“Confound it, man. You’d test the patience of Francis himself. Alright then - let me switch the kettle off. I suppose it could take a while.”

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been…”

“We can do without the bollocks Jim. It’s just you and me sat at this old table.”

“You’re a good friend to me. But tonight I need you to be a priest.”

“Yes, yes - get on with it then. I’ve got office at six.”

“They’re not spectacular, my sins. Just a little burned patch in the wheat field of God. As routine as a man pulling himself in the shower.”

“Was that a confession or just a general comment?”

“Is masturbation a sin or not? I can never remember. I better own up to it anyway, just to be safe. If it was only my hand I’d been fucking, I’d have little to worry about. Excuse the language.”

“Take it as forgiven. So is it sins of impurity again?”

“I’m afraid it is, Father. With two women, neither of whom are my wife.”

“On how many occasions?”

“Not as many as I’d like, to be frank. But I’m getting old - I can’t perform like I used to.”

“We’ve been over this ground before. You can’t just keep ploughing the same furrow and expect to get away with it.”

“Are we up to seventy times seven already? I must have lost count. Anyway, my plough’s getting blunt and the furrows fewer, you’ll be pleased to know.”

“Carry on, carry on.”

“You sound exactly like my conscience. I’m full of pride, Father. Pride and arrogance.”

“How so?”

“I’ve wanted to succeed. I thought I could make a difference to this sad land. The devil whispers in my ear at night and tells me I could have been the best poet in the country. He unzips the fly of my ego, and I’m half inclined to let him have his way. Most of the time I tell him to fuck off and he goes. But it’s Jerusalem I can’t let go of. I thought it was something special. I believed that I had a role to play, something to give. And even now, when God has crushed my dream as casually as a snail on the path, I find myself sulking and resentful.”

“It’s natural to be disappointed.”

“It’s more than that. I’m angry.”

“Angry at God?”

“Angry at God, angry at myself, angry at the newspapers, angry at the police, angry at the government, angry at my wife, angry at my friends… You know what I did today? I was out walking and I came across a big hydrangea bush. I took my stick and I smashed it to pieces. And every one of those blooms bore the face of a friend.”

“A sin against creation, perhaps, but not a mortal one. What is it that you want, Jim?”

“I want the arms of Hine-nui-te-po, the mother of darkness and eater of men. I want an end to it all.”

“To wish for death is to question the goodness of life.”

“That’s why I’m here confessing it.”

“Do you really long for darkness?”

“More than anything I can think of. I’m not scared of darkness, Father. It’s my friend. The gap, the void, the warm embracing nothingness which is a womb as much as a grave. The dark belly of the whale which carries me to the shores of eternity.”

“The light shines in the darkness…”

“And darkness in the light. It was you who taught me that, Eugene. You and Merton, helping me to let go and fall endlessly into the black chasm of God. I never dreamt it could be so deep. I’ve had to ask him to be gentle with me, like a virgin bride. His pain and emptiness frighten me sometimes. But I have nowhere else to go.”

“‘If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.’ St John of the Cross.”

“My brother in ignorance. If I come to God at all, it will be by that road where there’s not even stars to light the way. Poverty is my path to peace, Eugene.”

A well-groomed man dressed in a suit and tie calls out from his seat in the audience.

“Give us a break!”

BAXTER and PRIEST ignore the interjection, though a little unsettled.

BAXTER “But now that I’m as empty as a corrugated iron tank, there’s demons drumming on the walls and raising a racket. I need your absolution to shut them up.”

“It’s God’s mercy rather than mine that you need, and I suspect he’s already granted it.”

FIRST PURITAN “You think?”

The PRIEST is obviously flustered and drawn into responding.

“Look, this is a play. If you don’t like it you can leave, but please don’t interrupt.”

“It’s a farce, that’s what it is. What are you supposed to be, a priest giving absolution to an old derro who’s only contribution to the world is illegitimate kids? Puleeeze!”

“Could we just get the ushers…?”

BAXTER “No, let him speak. I need cheering up.”

FIRST PURITAN “I mean what sort of message are we trying to give here? That it’s somehow morally superior to leave your wife and go and live in the middle of nowhere? You want us to think he’s some sort of saviour? This pathetic excuse for a wino? I mean fair, enough, he’s a poet, but let’s can the religious mumbo-jumbo.”