I wrote this for Penzance’s Golowan Festival in 2011 and then had to read it out on stage in a nightclub.
The idea came from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey – a mythic structure that’s pretty much the blueprint for most forms of screenwriting. Its principles are essential but I got a bit fixated on the terminology; the ‘threshold guardian ‘and ‘the approach to the innermost cave’ and the ‘return with the elixir’.
My mind started wandering and this is the result.
Geoff grabbed one of the railings of the gate and hauled himself up as far as he could.
‘Oi! Get down from there!’
‘Sorry. I didn’t know if you were coming back.’
The bald little man glided over to the desk and pushed his half-moon spectacles further up his nose. ‘I was getting your records,’ he said, sitting down. He waved the file he was holding in the direction of the seat opposite. Geoff flopped into it casually.
He wasn’t worried. Geoff knew he’d led a good life. He’d done his bit for local charities and the elderly. He’d read the Bible and followed its instructions closely. He’d been to church every Sunday since he was ten and always gave generously when the collection plate came around. Yes, he was a good person – he had a good heart. Well, a pure heart anyway. If his heart had been better physically, he wouldn’t have ended up here so soon.
‘Now,’ said St Peter, tipping his halo back from his forehead as he flipped through Geoff’s file, ‘it seems we have a bit of a problem.’
‘Oh?’ said Geoff.
‘It’s the sins you see – the seven deadly ones.’
‘But I thought they were just general guidelines? I assumed the Ten Commandments would be the official assessment criteria.’
‘No, we tried those for a while and it proved too confusing. All those slightly different religions all reading them in a slightly different way – the admin was horrendous. Besides, they’re so old fashioned! You’ve got to move with the times, haven’t you?’
‘I suppose so,’ said Geoff.
‘I mean, for Here’s sake, who covets their neighbour’s ass in this day and age?’ St Peter gave a quick, high-pitched giggle that made his wings quiver. Geoff smiled back at him and tried hard not to think of Mrs Carnegie bending over in the garden next door.
‘We just stick to the seven deadlies now, it’s much easier. Everyone knows exactly where they are with the seven deadlies.’
‘That’s a shame. It seems I’ve been a little misguided.’
‘Yes, I can see that.’ St Peter frowned at him.
‘What do you mean?’ said Geoff.
‘Well, let’s start with sloth, shall we? In March 2001, do you recall your wife asking you to help at the church jumble sale? You told her you couldn’t because you had an upset stomach and then you spent the whole afternoon eating Maltesers and watching Grandstand.’
‘Oh, come on!’
‘Alright then: pride. Driving through Lowestoft town centre in your Mercedes with ‘Born To Run’ on the stereo at full blast. Buying the expensive suit from Savile Row for your daughter’s wedding then making snide remarks about Oxfam to all your son-in-law’s family. Laughing like you did when Barbara fell off that log.’
‘I didn’t know she’d broken her pelvis.’
‘How about greed? I see that in 1989 you had £25,000 in your bank account.’
‘It was a deposit for a house.’
‘Yes, your house. Did you really need that fourth bedroom?’
‘It was a guest room.’
‘So why did you fill it up with an exercise bike and back-copies of Amateur Photographer?’
‘And the garden. Why did it need to be so big?’
‘To commune with nature, to enjoy what the good Lord blessed us with,’ countered Geoff, thinking on his feet. ‘I thought He quite liked gardens – what about Eden?’
‘True, but Adam and Eve didn’t get fed up with weeding and cover the whole thing over with decking.’
‘Those bloody dandelions were a nightmare.’
‘Yes, we heard you complaining. We also heard your comments about your son-in-law’s parents when you found out that their garden had a pond full of Koi Carp. Those comments sounded rather envious to me, Geoff – a touch of the green-eyed monster perhaps?’
Geoff sighed. ‘What’s next?’ he said.
‘Gluttony.’ St Peter looked up from the file and peered at Geoff’s ample belly over the top of his glasses.
‘Fair enough,’ said Geoff with a shrug.
‘Then there’s lust. Remember Marina Heppenstall?’
‘Ahh, Marina Heppenstall…’ Geoff couldn’t resist smiling at the thought of all the wonderful things she’d done to him in the back of his father’s Cortina. ‘I don’t suppose she’s… you know, up here is she?’
‘You must be joking,’ said St Peter with a snort of derision. ‘After Marina there was Susan Brown, Margaret Kirk, Lucy –’
‘Ok, ok, you’ve made your point,’ said Geoff. ‘Let’s move on, shall we?’
‘That just leaves wrath – and here we have a problem. You’ve been angry many times but always managed to control yourself. You’ve forgiven and forgotten, never lashed out or smashed things up, never been violent or aggressive. It makes our decision whether to let you in a lot more difficult.’
‘Oh?’ said Geoff with some relief.
‘Yes, if you’d got a full house on the sins, it’d be nice and easy, we’d just send you southwards. But due to the absence of wrath and because of your good attendance record at church and what accounts tell me about your collection plate donations, we’re not sure what to do with you. Therefore, we’re going to send you somewhere to wait until your case comes up for review.’
‘You mean Purgatory?’ said Geoff with some alarm.
‘Yes – well, sort of. You might know it better as Hull.’
‘You’re sending me to Hull?’
‘That’s right. We use it as a kind of holding bay for souls we don’t know what to do with. You’ll be living in sin with a woman called Julie who’s been having rather a lot of difficulty with gluttony.’ St Peter suddenly looked terrified, ‘and lust,’ he said with a shudder.
‘No use appealing to Him, He signed off on your release,’ said St Peter, waggling a form under Geoff’s nose. The signature box was marked with a cross.
Geoff was devastated. He’d lived a righteous life, obeyed the Bible, shut himself off from many, many experiences and now, because of a few trifling misdemeanours, he was being sent to Hull for God didn’t know how long. All those things he’d denied himself, all that fun. Had he wasted his time on earth? The sinful bits seemed to be the parts he’d enjoyed the most. Breaking some of the commandments was starting to look quite appealing too – especially the one about Mrs Carnegie’s bottom.
‘There are beautiful women on the other side of those gates, aren’t there?’ he asked St Peter.
‘Certainly. The most beautiful women in history,’ St Peter replied.
‘But no lust. What about food and drink?’
‘The finest wines and the greatest dishes from across the globe.’
‘But no gluttony. Accommodation?’
‘Coastal apartments, mountain cabins, lakeside cottages – whatever you want.’
‘But you can’t be proud of your home. Nor can you show it off to make other people jealous or lounge about in lots of free space eating chocolate.’
‘No, you can’t.’
‘Sounds a bit dull to me,’ said Geoff. Then he punched St Peter full in the face sending his halo skidding across a cloud.
‘There’s wrath,’ he said. It felt fantastic.
The ground disappeared beneath Geoff’s feet. ‘I wonder if Marina Heppenstall will remember me?’ he thought as he plummeted.