Copyright 2016 by Wolfstuff
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“How I shall admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs, and fancied gods, groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer fires than they ever kindled against the Christians.” Tertullian, 160-225 AD
“Here there is no hope, and consequently no duty, no work, nothing to be gained by praying, nothing to be lost by doing what you like. Hell, in short, is a place where you have nothing to do but amuse yourself.” Bernard Shaw 1856-1950
“I dreamed I was awakening from another dream—an uproar of chaos and cataclysms—into an unrecognizable room. Day was dawning: light suffused the room, outlining the foot of the wrought-iron bed, the upright chair, the closed door and windows, the bare desk. I thought fearfully, ‘Where am I?’ and I realized I didn’t know. I thought, ‘Who am I?’ and I couldn’t recognize myself. My fear grew. I thought: This desolate awakening is in Hell; this eternal vigil will be my destiny. Then I woke up, trembling.” Jorge Luis Borges, 1899-1986
Tertullian, damp with fear, awoke from yet another nightmare. Then—by small, stirring degrees—relief slowly entered his blood and from there his heart as he realized that he had, yet again, managed to escape.
Day was dawning: light suffused the room, outlining the foot of his bed, a high-backed chair, a writing desk, a water carafe, empty now, a roll of papyrus which, he knew, held his unfinished exposition of Hell. But for all these things, the room was unrecognizable. He looked around again, tardy sleep lingering, making the room shift slightly each time he blinked, and he thought fearfully, “Where am I?” He realized that he didn’t know. He thought, “Who am I?” He realized that he did not know, that he did not recognize himself. He looked down at his hands: they were not his hands. He looked at his feet: they were not his feet. His fear grew. He thought: This desolate awakening is in Hell, true Hell, I have descended into in my own creation. I have built myself this cage. This eternal vigil will be my destiny.
I am here to stay.
With that thought, the world grew air-less and he could inhale nothing but panic. And with that breath escaped the last vestige of relief.
Then he awoke. Trembling and clammy he threw his eyes wide open to the dawning day, light suffusing the room, outlining: as he looked down, the foot of his bed; as he looked to his right, his high-backed chair, his writing desk, and upon it the water carafe, not quite empty. Also upon the desk: the roll of papyrus he knew held his as yet incomplete exposition of Hell.
Then he remembered: Hell. Unfinished Hell. Sleep crept into his room unbidden, had embraced him and then wrestled him out of his chair and onto his bed, demanding a moment, just a moment, just a moment.
He heaved himself up onto his right elbow, looked around the room and for a heartbeat wondered whether he was to wake up from this dream as well. Then he sat up all the way. He touched his face and recognized the jutting chin. His fingers. His chin. The now stubbly, harrowed cheeks were his too. And so were his hands: his hands. His feet: his feet. Even so, he rolled the rough hem of the blanket between his fingers to feel the coarse fiber almost like sand against his skin: yes, this was his blanket, and these were his fingers, yes, and this was his skin.
He rubbed the blanket against his cheek, then across his forehead, and again to make sure he was truly awake. He was.
He took in the walls, bare and not clean, to make sure this was his room. It was his room. He shifted a little to hear the blanket rustle and the bed creak in protest, to be sure he was in his bed. He was. He shifted again to make sure he had woken up into life, this life, and that this life was indeed his. He had and it was. And only then could he let go of the dream, only then did he feel safe to accept his surroundings as real, as life.
The morning air was cold and he hugged the blanket around him against the chill. A little warmer now, he shifted again, this time to lean back against the stone wall, where he closed his eyes—just another small moment, just one, and began to drift, dreams calling; but righteous duty forced his eyes open and he took in the window and the still dark blue sky beyond. The morning was cloudless and young.
He turned his head away from this and saw again the upright chair, the desk, the water carafe, the papyrus that held his pronouncement on Hell: God’s triumph over mortal vanity.
He straightened: there was work to do.
He eased himself forward and placed his feet on the cold stone floor, then rose with difficulty, stiffly. He let go of the blanket and it slipped to the floor with a rustle, like sand upon stone as it fell. He was very tired after one, at most two hours of rest. He shivered, still starved for sleep, but he had no choice. He had to finish his task for Hell was incomplete, it was detail-poor, not yet painful enough, not yet sufficiently deterring. He took two steps and sat down at the desk, shivered again in only his nightgown, then stood to retrieve the blanket from the floor. Wearing it now like a mantle, he sat down again and with sandy eyes read what he had last written:
“How I shall admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs, and fancied gods, groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer fires than they ever kindled against the Christians.”
Reading this, his vision of the eternal abyss stirred, rekindled, re-flamed. Yes. Yes. He summoned some saliva (with difficulty) and moistened the tip of his quill on his tongue (leaving a dark patch and a bitter taste). He dipped the point of the quill in the ink saucer, and began his day’s labor.
Thus: “So many sage philosophers blushing,” he wrote, “in red-hot flames with their deluded scholars; so many celebrated poets trembling before the tribunal, not of Minos, but of Christ,” his words already tumbling, easily, one after the other, down from a righteous height, “so many tragedians, more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers…”
Here he halted, the quill poised for the next word but unable to move, as if it refused getting its feet inky.
So many dancers…
And, perhaps he was still dreaming, he saw them again, those veiled and alluring dancers as they sprung to life before him with long, beautiful legs, and hair cascading upon bare shoulders to a fresh stirring in his loins. All these many dancers.
And again he knew the Devil, that darkest of Angels who lived not only imprisoned forever in True Hell, the three hundred and sixty-fifth descending from earth (itself in a perfect equilibrium at three hundred and sixty-five descendings from True Heaven—he liked the symmetry), but now also, again, lived in his loins.
These many dancers.
He could not proceed. Not now, not re-infested. Not touched again by Him, the Dark One, sprouting so many dancers in his loins.
With a trembling hand, he slowly returned the quill to the desk and closed his eyes. To dispel the Devil, he forced himself to think of other things: of his cold feet, of his empty belly, of his parched throat, and of his (so much the worse lately) painful back, of the coarse blanket, rough and warm upon his shoulders.
Then his thoughts turned to Montanus, his mentor; they turned to the pure, if dangerously outspoken Montanus for guidance. But his thoughts never made it all the way to a lesson or an advice, instead they faltered and veered and stumbled onto long and lonely Asia Minor roads, and upon them they saw Montanus and his two young female companions, Prisca and Maximilla. Montanus’ dancers. For they both had been dancers, had they not? before Montanus found and rescued them from who knows what fate.
Long and lonely Asia Minor roads, and upon them only Montanus and his two dancers throughout the long hot days, throughout the long cold nights. How had he managed not to sin? With two young and (he assumed) willing dancers so near at hand, so available. How had Montanus managed to foil the Devil?
But Tertullian knew how. This is what Montanus had done—or so he had heard, though Montanus would not corroborate: to foil the Devil and to avert temptation, Montanus had convinced a backward farmer to castrate him. Just like you do the bulls, my good man. Yes, tongs. And paid the farmer well for it.
Perhaps, yes perhaps that was the way he had done it.
Others say Montanus did no such thing, that he would have been stupid to, what with those two girls about (snickering as they say so), but they lie. He did such a thing, he must have done such a thing, he must have done. How else could he have survived the long hot days and the long cold nights spent with his two young dancers always within reach? He must have crushed the Devil out of his loins, or his journey would have been one of sin, and Montanus himself would have been a candidate for True Hell—still spreading unfinished before him on his writing desk.
That must have been how.
And then he thought, and not for the first time: Perhaps, yes perhaps this is what he should do himself to once and for all drive the Devil from his loins and firmly back into True Hell where he belonged. He fingered the quill where it lay, but did not pick it up. He fingered his testicles instead, applied modest pressure and was re-amazed, as always, at the intensity of the pain. Perhaps not.
He eased the pressure. Castration would be unbearable, unthinkably so.
Another thought, and this is a strange one: Hell as forever castration? “No,” he said aloud, with a flicker of a stubbly smile: no, that would be unrefined, would not be of him, not juridical. There should be nothing lewd about his Hell, this True Hell. He must include nothing to stain the clarity and precision of its torment. The pain must be real, undiluted—pure hurt.
He looked up at the voice of the bird, then turned to his right and saw it flitter across the open window. The blue of the morning sky was lighter now, dawn not far away.
Another bird started up. A horse whinnied, a mule answered, coarsely and out of key. He was hungry, so hungry he felt weak now that he thought of food. He tried to but could not remember his last meal. Again he registered the blue sky, heard another bird. Food would have to wait.
Still, he stood up, stretched his back, wrapped his blanket closer around him, and shuffled over to the window. His eyes took in the trees below and the sky above, followed the flight of other birds, their dance a sheer tribute to life, and he finally—as he took in the wonder of morning with his senses—he finally managed to leave those so many dancers as just so much ink, now dried, upon papyrus behind him.
Borges met Tertullian in a dream. It was over a glass of wine in a small café only five minutes from Tucuman Street where he had been born so many decades earlier.
Borges knew the place well. He knew the owner, and the owner’s mother. He came here often. This was his table, even in dreams.
Tertullian, sporting an uncharacteristic three-piece suit and a bow tie, did most of the talking, and Borges, happy to listen, only interjected now and then, as he did now.
“Friend, it is not the fire, nor the lava that frightens. It is not the tongs, nor the pulled nails, nor the disemboweling,” he said. “It’s the duration.”
“Forever,” confirmed Tertullian with clean and well-pronounced finality.
“Yes,” said Borges, “it’s the forever that frightens. We can always endure what we know will end, eventually. It is the eternal that horrifies.”
“As well it should,” said Tertullian. “Forever is very long.”
“No,” said Borges, “Forever is not very long, forever is forever. There is no end to forever.”
“Endless forever, yes. And that is well deserved by sinners,” replied Tertullian, and so right away that Borges’ “r” had barely arrived in Tertullian’s ear before Tertullian’s “e” was making its way to Borges’.
“No sinner is that sinful,” said Borges.
“Sinners are sinful,” answered Tertullian.
“No sinner is that sinful,” repeated Borges.
“Most sinners are that sinful,” said Tertullian.
“Origen,” said Borges after a brief pause, “begs to differ.”
“Origen, as I know you know, is a declared heretic. Not to be trusted.”
“Look who’s calling the kettle black,” answered Borges. “I believe you lot were out on your ears soon enough. Heretics all of you, burned most of you.”
“A regrettable misunderstanding,” Tertullian answered, then reached for and slowly sipped his red wine. Not quite a mouthful. He replaced his glass with the same care, just so. Then said, “And, as I’m sure you also know, since rectified.”
Borges shrugged, regarding his own glass. “Nonetheless, Origen makes a good point.”
“Origen has no idea what he’s talking about. He really is a heretic. Trust me, Hell is forever, and richly deserved by all who are consigned to it.”
“No,” Borges insisted, finding Tertullian’s eyes, “Origen does know what he is talking about. He makes a very good point.” Borges held up his hand as Tertullian drew breath to reply. “No, hear me out. Please.”
Tertullian nodded and let his breath escape wordlessly.
“Please answer me this,” said Borges. “What could possibly be divine about a justice that equally punishes, say, the occasionally masturbating priest, the needy thief—take one of these street boys here,” Borges gestured out the window, “who may not have eaten a thing for three days—and the murderer of millions, say Hitler? Or better yet, Stalin. Or even one better, Chairman Mao. Should little thief’s and Stalin’s Hell be equally painful and just as eternal? I for one believe Origen to be right, the punishment should fit the crime. It must fit the crime for justice to be called divine.” Then added, before Tertullian could reply, “For justice to even be called justice.”
Tertullian leaned back in his chair, then sat up and adjusted his bowtie, it had to be just so, especially when an important point was to be made: “Sin,” he said, “is sin. Sin is absolute. Sin does not come in degrees. It is sin, or it is not sin. And if it is sin, it warrants Hell. Kierkegaard, not Origen, was right, it is: either, or.”
“I don’t think that is what Kierkegaard meant,” said Borges.
“I know that’s what he meant.”
Borges didn’t answer. Instead he smiled. In his dream he had perfect vision, could see all things clearly, his approaching blindness barely a whisper here. He took Tertullian in. He was a fine man, sculptured in very white skin with a tasteful moustache. A fine, sharp chin, hollowed cheeks, though not gaunt. Polished would be the word, as if the whole man were manicured. A clean, precise man. It was hard to picture him as the father of Hell—the Creator of True Hell. Long fingers, nails indeed manicured, which now again reached for his wine glass and brought it to his lips.
“Either, or,” said Borges, imitating Tertullian’s inflection, with a twist of cynicism. Just a trace, mind you.
“Either, or,” confirmed Tertullian, apparently deaf to the challenge.
“One thing, though, about forever,” said Borges. “About the eternal. And this has been bothering me: how can eternity have a beginning?”
“What do you mean?” Tertullian returned his glass to its coaster. Again, just so. Precisely, dead center.
“If it has a beginning,” elaborated Borges, “then, by definition, it cannot be eternal. The eternal is that which, by definition, is forever, and forever has no beginning and no end. It is forever in all directions.”
Again Tertullian drew breath to protest, but again Borges waived his hand in Tertullian’s direction, and again successfully, for no protest emerged.
“And not only by definition,” continued Borges. “Should the eternal have a beginning, it cannot be eternal if for no other reason than it would then be short all the time that has already passed. Eternal, which I know you know, means all time, forever, and that forever should run both in both directions, should it not? Above and beyond both past and future. No beginning, no end. That’s what forever means. Take any decent dictionary, add a good helping of common sense, and I’m sure you’ll agree.”
Again, as Tertullian moved to object, Borges spoke before he had a chance to, “Tag a beginning onto the eternal and it comes up a little short, wouldn’t you say? One foot in the temporal, so to speak.”
When it finally came to Tertullian to answer, no answer came. Instead, his eyes took a dark turn as they looked at Borges, then down at his own long fingers. Apparently examining them for imperfections.
“And another thing,” said Borges, the floor still his then, apparently. “How come Satan, who, as you yourself have made well-known, is being punished forever in the deepest of Hells, imprisoned as it were in True Hell, has the freedom to roam the Earth at will, making any loins he chooses his home? Shouldn’t he stay put? For eternity?”
“Now you are being impertinent,” Tertullian finally retrieving his tongue from whatever cat had it.
“No,” answered Borges. “I am being curious.”
“It is a well-established fact that Satan, that darkest star in the Heavens, is not bound to material form, is not spatial, and so can be many places.”
“At the same time?”
Borges smiled and shrugged lightly. He touched his own glass but didn’t lift it to drink. Even though Tertullian’s argument did not hold logical water, he found it aesthetically pleasing and therefore conceded the point, beauty meaning more to Borges than reason.
“You mock me,” said Tertullian.
“No,” said Borges, “I do not. Scout’s honor.”
Satan, meanwhile: Yes, He of the highest of the ten orders of Angels, He was having spatial trouble again, along with stubborn temporal difficulties.
He always had trouble with dreams, could never quite pin them down as to the exact when and where. Elusive and slippery things, dreams. Bottom line then: He never did arrive at the small café only five minutes from Tucuman Street in Buenos Aires where Borges and Tertullian were sharing a bottle of wine, to—as he had intended—add his five cents. By the time He of Tertullian’s True Hell finally got his bearings straight, Borges had awoken and was now almost done with his breakfast of orange slices and green tea. Tertullian was back in the third century, bent over his papyrus, fingers inky.
During his breakfast Borges, too, was writing. Leaning almost into his diary he recorded a question he had pondered recently: “Drowning is the best form of dying, they say. Who knows this? Perhaps he who apparently saw True Hell up close and reported back, in such detail.” That thought brought a name along with it: “Tertullian?”
The name, still lingering not far behind the curtain of recent sleep, recalled his dream, the wine, the fine fingers. Tertullian, yes. However had he come to appear in his dream? Had Gibbon mentioned him? He had read Gibbon just the other day. That must have been it.
Curious now, Borges patted his mouth with his napkin and rose from his breakfast table to locate his almost ancient volume of Tertullian’s De spectaculis. This was not an easy thing to do, his blindness making impressive inroads of late. In the end he found it more by feel than sight, and then he found the passage he was looking for, well-marked, the leather spine creased and compliant. He went to the window, the good light, and holding it close to his eyes, he read:
How I shall admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs, and fancied gods, groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer fires than they ever kindled against the Christians. So many sage philosophers blushing in red hot flames with their deluded scholars; so many celebrated poets trembling before the tribunal, not of Minos, but of Christ; so many tragedians, more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers…
Halted here by a gentle but curious stirring in his loins, a faint rush, as of blood venturing down distant and seldom frequented corridors, an echo of faraway youth. What could have? He read the last line again. Yes, “so many dancers,” apparently. The line tingled. Surprised by the sensation, he closed the book and held it to his chest. Oh, it certainly had been a while, that tingle. But closing his eyes he could see them, young and shapely. Prisca and Maximilla. Surely, these two belonged to Tertullian, or was it Montanus, and here they were, quite alive, stirring away, exposing wares to highest bidders and daring every man in sight. What exactly were they doing here, these two young sirens, in this Hellish exposition of his? Did Tertullian intend this? One can say things for no good reason, and many do, but one rarely writes things for no good reason, and surely not with ink upon papyrus. So, what were they doing here? To stir loins, was that it?
Borges opened his eyes and turned them skyward to still the stirring and as he looked, it stilled, and as it stilled, he perceived the stilling.
Then again: once removed, he perceived his perceiving the stilling and again, twice removed now, he perceived his perceiving his perceiving the stilling as if adroitly stepping back through layers of wispy selves.
This was a recently acquired (or discovered) skill, this slipping back through layers, providing fresh and disentangling views on even the smallest things. It was—and he had thought this more than once—it was as if a just God had given him this perception as a peace offering in exchange for the loss of his sight, keeping a balance of things as it were—Origen certainly the more correct of the two. Wonder what Tertullian would have said to that?
And the layers themselves—those he so adroitly and effortlessly stepped back through—he could see them clearly with nearly blind eyes: gossamer thin, all these little motes flitting about in patterns, aesthetic patterns, angry patterns, happy patterns, sad patterns, hungry patterns, erotic patterns, each letting through much of these dancers to here again stir, to here again tingle. Again he stilled it, sweeping backwards even farther. Satan’s very special pattern this, or so Tertullian would have it.
He opened the book and put his nose to the page again and re-read Tertullian’s impressive description of Hell all the way to the end. This, he thought, and not for the first time, is a vengeful God. Not at all the more equitable God that now was trading his milky eyes for this strange and detailed second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh sight, which was not a bad bargain, really, all things considered.
Vengeful, and irresponsible, this God of Tertullian’s.
For how can He possibly condemn his own creation to eternal pain for the sins He leaves his Children no option but to commit? Which of course is just another way of saying: sins that He commits. Is He then nothing but a closet masochist?
Borges smiled to the window. Wonder what Tertullian would have said to that? Then he lifted his sightless smile up into the sky he knew lay beyond the gray-blue sheen his eyes made of it.
Returning now to his unfinished orange and the diary by its side, he bent over it again as he wrote: “A closet masochist?” Interesting thought. Then he finished the last segment of orange and his by now lukewarm tea. He held his pocket watch up to his eyes. Ten thirty-five it said.
He had a half-written article on Dante to complete, and deliver, before lunch, and so he decided he had better leave Tertullian to his own little Hell and to his long-legged dancers. Also, he remembered, he had promised to visit his mother on his way to the editor.
Shaw arrived a little late at his club, but he still found Walkley waiting for him at the bar with a smile and a half-finished lime-water and no comment at all about tardiness and such. Shaw smiled back.
Arthur Bingham Walkley, his now and then publisher, whom he had known for many years (since grammar school actually), and whom he simply called Walkley, was Shaw’s senior by only a month and the odd day, but he always acted—or, rather, Shaw always saw him as—the much older and wiser man, to whom he often, as now, turned for advice.
Bosworth, waiter, butler, wraith, materialized inexactly (meaning, it was hard to put your finger on where he had materialized from, or where he would dematerialize to, he simply and vaguely appeared then disappeared) by their side and then, equally vaguely, ushered them to an out-of-the-way table where he seated them with his usual discretion and flair, then dematerialized leaving not a trace.
Food soon arrived, unordered—one is a member of a club because it knows what one wants, and when one wants it.
Bingham Walkley obviously relished his mutton while Shaw, by now a confirmed vegetarian, picked at his cucumber salad.
Advice asked for and given, Walkley changed the subject. “You know,” he said, then paused to shift another slice of mutton mouthward. He chewed carefully for some time, before continuing, through as yet un-swallowed sheep, “you should revisit Don Juan. Update the thing. It’s a good story. It would make a brilliant play, it would. You’d do wonders with it. Take my word.” Then back to the mutton.
We now fast forward fifteen or so years: Satan sneaks into Bernard Shaw’s head. Yes, He got time and place right this time, the spatial/temporal coordinates thing so much easier to manage when the destination is awake.
Once arrived, he whispers.
But His whisper has an unintended effect. Satan meant it, well, more as a joke, but Shaw, working on Man and Superman—what he thought of as his Don Juan play—heard something different, something not at all a joke.
There is of course, as Satan well knows—being quite homeless—no Hell, True or otherwise, but this fact is something Shaw had yet to determine to his own satisfaction, one way or another.
Angles, on the other hand, do exist—even though this was something Shaw had made up his mind about (they did not exist) and openly disputed, at least until one of them would prove to him otherwise by appearing—and Angels, of course (well-known fact), have no location in space nor in time, and are quite free to flip and slip about, in and out of here and then. And Satan, cousin to Gabriel (a not well-known fact), was an Angel who moved around a lot.
So, of a sudden then, Bernard Shaw, poised over his typewriter, in the middle of Act Three and at a loss for how to open the Statue’s consolatory dialogue, has this strange inspiration (originating, he sensed, in his lower spine and working its way up to and then out through arms, wrists and hands, almost like a whisper) and watches, not a little astonished, his fingers type:
Here there is no hope, and consequently no duty, no work, nothing to be gained by praying, nothing to be lost by doing what you like. Hell, in short, is a place where you have nothing to do but amuse yourself.
Which was precisely the problem with London.
Stunned now, he looked at what he had written for the better part of five minutes, slowly pulling his long, white beard.
This was no accident. This was meant. As if dictated by some strange presence, by some very strange presence.
Satan, nearly discovered (for Shaw was nothing if not perceptive, especially when looking hard, and at this point he was looking very hard), too hasty in retreat, left a curious vacuum upon scrambled exit and Shaw felt the vanishing breath of someone in a hurry—drapes still shifting slightly, disturbed by wind or Angels.
“I’ll be damned,” he thought. “Angels exist?”
Satan, clear of the uncomfortably perspicacious Shaw, enters Borges’ head some eight years later—again arriving when and where intended, and pleased that he did—who, describing the mood of his Argentine brothers for a late edition story on city entertainment, hears someone whisper and writes it down:
The other trait I shall attempt to demonstrate is the unrestrainable delight in failure. In the movie houses of this city, crushed hopes are applauded in the merry balconies as if they were comic. The same occurs when there is a fight scene: the loser’s humiliation is far more interesting than the winner’s happiness.
He put down his pen and read this over again, astonished. This, he realized—while physically looking around for whom could have whispered such a thing, seeing no one of course—was a true description of Hell, finally. This delight in failure. This Hellish delight in failure.
Then he wishes he were back in the small café of his dream to tell Tertullian about this.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Shaw said aloud, and then re-read the Statue’s words once more. And then he knew where they had come from, the vacuum still fresh and still rippling the curtain behind the fleeing voice charging across the lawn beyond.
Which is when Borges placed a phone call.
“Are you familiar with Tertullian?” he asked. Shaw, due to the always bad South American connection, didn’t hear, didn’t understand, and said so.
“Tertullian,” repeated Borges.
“Yes,” said Borges. “You know, the Father of True Hell.”
“Oh, is he now?” said Shaw. “I was beginning to think perhaps I was. At least I believe I have found it.”
“So have I.”
Then they exchanged notes over this very bad telephone line; shouting at times to make themselves heard and understood.
The following day Shaw had the finished manuscript delivered to Walkley, covered by a long letter.
“My dear Walkley,” it began. “You once asked me to revisit Don Juan and write an updated play based on it. The levity with which you assumed this frightful responsibility has probably by this time enabled you to forget it; but the day of reckoning has arrived: here is your play!”
Much later, Borges, in pondering the various Hells, would finally settle on Shaw’s as the most perceptive and the most honest. He would describe it as one which attempts to distract its inhabitants from eternity with the artifices of luxury, art, eroticism, and fame. Not at all unlike London, actually. Or Buenos Aires.
Tertullian awoke with a start, wide-eyed, then called Borges.
“I see what you mean.”
“What?” wondered Borges. It was three o’clock in the morning in Buenos Aires.
“What about eternal?”
“The eternal cannot have a beginning. That would make it un-eternal.”
“I know, I told you so.”
“I know you did, but never mind that.” Then silence. The line crackled and hissed. “Do you think they will notice?”
“Who will notice what?”
“You know, the Christians. Eternal Hell, not quite eternal.”
“No,” said Borges after a moment’s consideration. “I don’t think they will notice.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” he lied. “I’m quite sure.”
“That’s a relief.”
“Can I go back to sleep now?” said Borges.
About the Author
Raised in Northern Sweden (by trolls), Ulf Wolf now makes California’s Pacific North his home.
To date he has written five novels, six novellas, as well as a host of stories, poems, and songs. More is always underway.
For more about this particular wolf, please visit .
Also, you can contact him at .
Other stories by Ulf Wolf (and also available on Shakespir):
Harriet and I — a novel
Miss Buddha — a novel
Perilous Memories — a novel
Turbulence — a novel
Yama’s Upanishad — a novel
Final Path — a novella
Lander — a novella
Slash-And-Burn — a novella
To Catch a Man Child — a novella
Ursa Lupus — a novella
Written on Oak — a novella
Many of his short stories are also available on Shakespir.
“How I shall admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs, and fancied gods, groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer fires than they ever kindled against the Christians.” Tertullian, 160-225 AD “Here there is no hope, and consequently no duty, no work, nothing to be gained by praying, nothing to be lost by doing what you like. Hell, in short, is a place where you have nothing to do but amuse yourself.” Bernard Shaw 1856-1950 “I dreamed I was awakening from another dream—an uproar of chaos and cataclysms—into an unrecognizable room. Day was dawning: light suffused the room, outlining the foot of the wrought-iron bed, the upright chair, the closed door and windows, the bare desk. I thought fearfully, ‘Where am I?’ and I realized I didn’t know. I thought, ‘Who am I?’ and I couldn’t recognize myself. My fear grew. I thought: This desolate awakening is in Hell; this eternal vigil will be my destiny. Then I woke up, trembling.” Jorge Luis Borges, 1899-1986 Tertullian, damp with fear, awoke from yet another nightmare. Then—by small, stirring degrees—relief slowly entered his blood and from there his heart as he realized that he had, yet again, managed to escape. Day was dawning: light suffused the room, outlining the foot of his bed, a high-backed chair, a writing desk, a water carafe, empty now, a roll of papyrus which, he knew, held his unfinished exposition of Hell. But for all these things, the room was unrecognizable. He looked around again, tardy sleep lingering, making the room shift slightly each time he blinked, and he thought fearfully, “Where am I?” He realized that he didn’t know. He thought, “Who am I?” He realized that he did not know, that he did not recognize himself. He looked down at his hands: they were not his hands. He looked at his feet: they were not his feet. His fear grew. He thought: This desolate awakening is in Hell, true Hell, I have descended into in my own creation. I have built myself this cage. This eternal vigil will be my destiny. I am here to stay. With that thought, the world grew air-less and he could inhale nothing but panic. And with that breath escaped the last vestige of relief. Then he awoke. Trembling and clammy he threw his eyes wide open to the dawning day, light suffusing the room, outlining: as he looked down, the foot of his bed; as he looked to his right, his high-backed chair, his writing desk, and upon it the water carafe, not quite empty. Also upon the desk: the roll of papyrus he knew held his as yet incomplete exposition of Hell. Then he remembered: Hell. Unfinished Hell. Sleep crept into his room unbidden, had embraced him and then wrestled him out of his chair and onto his bed, demanding a moment, just a moment, just a moment. He heaved himself up onto his right elbow, looked around the room and for a heartbeat wondered whether he was to wake up from this dream as well. Then he sat up all the way. He touched his face and recognized the jutting chin. His fingers. His chin. The now stubbly, harrowed cheeks were his too. And so were his hands: his hands. His feet: his feet. Even so, he rolled the rough hem of the blanket between his fingers to feel the coarse fiber almost like sand against his skin: yes, this was his blanket, and these were his fingers, yes, and this was his skin. He rubbed the blanket against his cheek, then across his forehead, and again to make sure he was truly awake. He was.