Life, Love, and Religion

By: Cameron A. Straughan

Copyright Oct. 24, 1993

Jesus is on the cliff-top, arms outstretched. The wind whips past. Crown of thorns and beads of sweat. Leeches on his feet. I clutch desperately at his feet, for fear of falling straight down the cliff face. The leeches crawl onto my hands. Yet, they do not draw blood. Jesus is laughing. Is he really Jesus? He turns and walks away. I am left hanging there. A man approaches in a dark trench coat and bowler hat. He sets down his briefcase.

“Are you alright?” he looks down at me.

He scratches himself. He has a lump of salt in his hand, which he smears in my face. I cry out, trying to grab onto his feet. I miss Jesus. The man tosses the salt away, stretches out his arms and leaps off the cliff. I am deeply moved by his gesture. The ocean spray surrounds him now, but he doesn’t fall! Floating next to me, removing his bowler hat, he is a man with red hair, then yellow hair, sometimes naked, sometimes not. He points towards the horizon. Understanding the significance of this, without a word being uttered, I await the sunset, barely hanging on. I close my eyes.

When I open my eyes, I am laying in a field, naked. The moon appears like a young boy’s face, complete with hat and guitar in hand. The stars move like a man tap dancing on a water splashed street. I roll around the field frantically. Can’t sleep. When will orgasm come? Insects all over me, quite suddenly. I get up and run past the road. Local farmers laugh at the sight of me. I run all the way to the cafe. Seated by the window, in the darkness, no none can see that I’m naked. Yes, the evening is tempting, but I need food, more than anything. I promptly order twenty-five cabbage rolls. But I don’t bother to eat them. Instead, I sit on them and drink my coffee. A man in a suit – with a fat, red face – laughs at my pursuits. He has just finished his cabbage rolls. Alarmed, I leap through a window. He chases me for quite some time, but eventually falls to the ground, crying like a pig. Suddenly, he soars into the sky and explodes.

My body is covered with cuts and filth. Cabbage roll sauce on my buttocks. A dog begins to lick me. Dirty, mangy thing! Where’d he come from?

“Get away!” I cry, swatting him.

A leap and a jump and I’m up in a tree. A carriage pulls up, driven by a bald man. A young girl gets out. She sticks a metal object into the dog’s head, killing it instantly. Feeling safe now, I float down from the tree. Before I can thank her, she ties a string to my ankle. I am carried around like a helium-filled balloon. She takes me to a local carnival. On top of the Ferris wheel, I nearly blow away. I fight to be free. She is beautiful, but cruel. It must be the pointed teeth that gives me that impression. Out of excitement, she begins to jump up and down, but this motion is her undoing. The string snaps and I am gone.

Skyward, the sun burns my naked body until I am well read. I rest atop a passing plane. The pilots have the plane in neutral, while enjoying their coffee break. The passengers begin to yawn. What a restless bunch! They are all dressed in brown hats and matching dresses – even the men. Out of a lack of anything better to do, I open a door and drift in, floating through the cabin. The children are delighted to see me, the parents are shocked, and the stewardess asks me how I got in.

“Where is your ticket?” she asks, hands on hips.

I show her my tattoo. She begins to cry. Sensing my interest, she exposes her legs to me. What beautiful legs they are! She says that I remind her of her mother. We embrace. Admittedly, I fall in love too easily and under the strangest circumstances. We dance. The marriage is quick, but it doesn’t last. Everyone got drunk – even the pilots. Following a brief, but rousing, game of soccer in the cockpit, one of the more careless pilots accidentally switches the plane out of neutral and into first gear. Do to further errors in calculation, we collide with the Sun. Only my faith in random events saves me. The wedding ring on my finger is like molten metal. I cannot get it off. It scorches my skin. Razor burn on my face, as if things couldn’t be worse. I fall towards the Earth. When I strike the ground, I have a full beard. I am mistaken for a Mennonite. They put me to work in a lumber mill.

Love is like a key hole, dark and impenetrable, if you don’t have the right key. Or like the inside geography of a finely tailored jacket, soft and dark. It’s difficult to get around in the suit if you’re the size of a flea. One size doesn’t fit all. So why am I wearing it? Asleep amongst the sawdust, I cough and cough.

“Who’s jacket is this?” I wonder aloud, but it is better than being completely naked.

Lumbricus terrestrius is my favourite earthworm. There are so many worms to choose from, yet it is my favourite one.

Let the lava flow, I think, as I walk along the roadside, well on my way. The lava lights up the sky. A divine sight, unlike any sunset, but somehow just the same. A school bus drives by. All eyes are on me. Surprised, startled looks on youthful faces. I suppose they’ve never seen a man walking along the roadside wearing nothing more than a dress jacket – someone else’s dress jacket at that! I do not care. Chin up, nose in the air. A scent of roses. Her caress. How did she find me? She dove off the bus, pleading with the driver to stop. But it is not me she loves; it is the jacket. It is hers. She strips me of it and races back into the bus. The bus speeds away, all windows occupied by laughing faces. I’m left behind in a cloud of dust and a scent of roses, as naked as ever.

Linda – a dull, boring name. So why think of it? There’s no face to put to it, only the canopy above. Time runs on like meat caught between a lion’s teeth. There is a ferocity to its persistence. Yes, you wouldn’t want to get too close to it. No one wants the end to draw near. Regardless, I ride bareback on the big hand, as it sweeps out the hour. The clockwise motion makes me dizzy. I hear the sea, smell the salt. Gasping for air, the cry of the harpies is upon me. Only the experienced sailor can avoid them. Tucked into their bunks, hands between their legs, a brief rubbing motion is all that is needed to fall asleep. The harpies flee such men. But why are they attracted to me, naked on the clock-face? The garden surrounds me. Never has the smell of roses been so strong.

Laryngitis struck me immediately. I cannot cry out. Only my clenched fist represents my anguish, as the harpies carry me over the sea. The sea air chills my naked body, numbing my senses. I can barely feel their claws sink further and further into my flesh. Has my time come at last? Will nature make a meal of me yet?

Like the woodsman who chops his wood while carrying his wife strapped to his back. Like the businessman who spends so much time reading the fine print that he misses the train … and the train after that … and the train after that. I am finally free. Falling downward, I recall my favourite dessert. Difficult to find in these parts, but any type of chocolate will do. I land on an ancient sailing ship. The crew is full of enthusiasm at my arrival. This worries me. They are lonely men, trapped out at sea for months on end, and I am a naked young man. They pick me up and parade me around. They tell me that Plato wore black boots which he used to stomp on potatoes for a truly delicious shepherd’s pie. They drop me to the deck. The captain is angry. There are leaves to be raked – tons of them. Where do they come from, so far out at sea? They come from the ocean depths. Trees grow up from the ocean floor. Currents bring the leaves to the surface, flinging them into the air. The sun dries them. They fall and collect on passing ships. But there is no sun out now. These must be yesterday’s leaves. Yes, a truly lazy crew indeed. They’ve allowed yesterday’s leaves to gather. They’re too easily distracted; maybe too many naked young men dropping in.

In the captain’s quarters, men are men, women are women, and the painting on the wall is a fake. I try to reach out and shake the captain’s hand. I suddenly realise that large nails are piercing both of my palms. How did this come about? I’ve always shunned carpentry. In the distance, you can hear the leeches singing. Someone floats overhead, high above the boat. His shadow is caught in the eyes of a passing tuna.

The captain offers me no help. He simply rubs his eyes. He is tired. He sleeps amongst the leaves. His hair smells like week-old milk. His boots are tall and black, full of coal. They rest, burning in the corner. My feet are shoeless. Yet, they appear to be wrapped in masking tape, so much so that I cannot move. Stuck here forever? Destined to rake leaves? Some sailors race into the captain’s quarters and pick me up. They tilt me upside down and stick me to the roof. There I hang, hands outstretched, unable to shake loose, nails protruding from my palms. The sailors pin an announcement to my palms. There will be a dance tonight! I would like to take part in it, but I lack formal attire. In fact, I lack attire – period. And I am hanging upside down from the roof. No need to complain. Too late now. The dance has already begun. Beautiful young ladies gather below me. If a sailor catches one of them standing below a naked young man with pierced palms, then it is a festive tradition that they must be kissed. There was a lot of kissing going on, needless to say.

Miraculously, I am finally noticed hanging from the ceiling. After she slapped me in the face, our eyes fell on each other immediately. I was taken by her tattoo. It was on her left cheek. It wasn’t really a tattoo. It looked more like a map of Indonesia. Amongst the minute lines, prominent dots, lakes, and rivers, was a man on a cart full of straw. He drank quickly, as if each gulp could be his last. Drunk with lust, he fell off the wagon, landing amongst the rice growing up from the backs of the giant ants. The giant ants marched to market, unknowingly taking the drunkard with them. Rice was popular; old drunkards even more so. He was skinned, gutted, and sold to a large Oriental man.

Her hands are upon me now, rubbing like coal in the fire, only to be put out by the breath of a dog that is larger than a house. Leaves twirl around us. The map of Indonesia holds no more attraction. I have travelled those roads; I know them all too well. Torn from the ceiling, I am carried outside. It is raining. They toss me onto the deck. A deck hand, doing his cleaning, mistakes me for a naked young man and throws me overboard. I float within a large brown bottle. The sun pierces through. I float for days. Somewhere, fish swim within light bulbs – quietly, so they do not wake up the house.

I come to shore on a desert island. Crabs gather around me and explode like popcorn in the sun. Someone is waving in the distance. Business suit, black tie, briefcase in hand, he approaches. He taps at the brown bottle imprisoning me. He laughs out loud. The glass is too thick for me to break out of. I become furious. A lion runs along a busy street, chewing on any pant leg that catches his fancy. He is given a parking ticket. Children pay money to ride on his back. He uses this money to pay his parking fine.

A sea of onlookers gathers around my bottle. Eyes bulging and lips pursed, they issue a strange whistling sound. Flapping their arms, they eat biscuits by the dozen. Someone is collecting the standard fee, stopping only to scratch his feet. When he bends over to scratch, people steal from his collection box. The man in white sounds the alarm; pulling on the young girl’s hair, it can be heard for miles. He falls from the sky and lands amongst roses and unfortunate onlookers. He claims I am a message! Pulling a small silver instrument from his pocket, he approaches my bottle. His face looks hideously distorted from within the bottle. Maybe he has a glass cutter! Yes, that must be what he took from his pocket! He will set me free! But no. He uses the tweezers to groom his eyebrows, peering into the bottle to see his reflection. He does everyone’s eyebrows. At three dollars a pop, he is soon the richest man in the kingdom.

“A fake!” the man in the business suit screams, “How will you invest all of these funds – money you took from honest people for eyebrow grooming services rendered?”

“We will have a celebration,” the man in white begins, “followed directly by fence painting and a church social.”

Everyone leaves me and my bottle. In the distance, I see them celebrating the man in white’s new-found wealth. Naked, lonely, cramped. If my hat was removed there’d be a large hole in the top of my head. The hole is an axis running straight down through me. Delicate hands and painted faces put the rod into me. Twirling skirts and hot tea, they spin me to find their direction in life, regardless of my soul. They use me to explore all four corners and point to the north. Now they have lead me astray. Now I’m trapped here. The map is no good without the compass and vice-versa. The sands of time combine with gear grease, coagulating into a substance which gives rise to roses. The scent of roses almost out competes the sound of grinding gears. Too bad I’m not wearing a hat; everything I’ve just said can be disregarded.

The whistling noise is too much now. They celebrate fiercely. I tingle all over. Arousal and denial combine. How can I feel so comfortable trapped here? They gather at the neck of my bottle. They take turns blowing down at me. The whistling sound has become too much now. I think of mother and her apron. She had a good high-wire act. Far up from the street, she juggled freshly baked buns. Birds were a problem though. They swooped down continually. Mother died a terrible, but predictable death.

My bottle is loaded onto the back of a truck. I bounce around inside it. Is the driver purposely trying to hit potholes? Horses race alongside me. Their nostrils flare. Some read magazines which are attached to their necks with metal rods. Not paying attention to where they’re going, they crash into trees and tumble down cliffs. The farmer sticks his head out the window and screams with anguish; his wife just removed a sliver from his left buttock.

I smell of beer and misspent youth. Running through a field of mud, I make love to what women I can find. But it is difficult when you’re trapped inside a bottle. A strange thought! I rub my chin. Sheer delight. How lovely it is to have a chin! Suddenly, the driver finds something in his shoe. It has been troubling him for quite some time now. He pulls the truck over and takes off his shoe; shaking it, a letter falls out, not yet posted. There is also a crucifix and his wife’s favourite dress. Shaking the shoe some more, he finds some freshly baked bread, which he refuses to eat. He opens the letter and reads it. He begins to cry. Approaching my bottle, he hollers down the neck.

“The road is closed up ahead,” he wipes away the tears, scanning the letter. “My wife was collecting gravel when it happened. She was flat on her belly. She was good at collecting gravel – like a vacuum cleaner, she was! But she was reckless. A truck full of watches backed over her head. She’s alright, but it just so happens, quite by coincidence, that the bridge up ahead has given out.”

The driver unloads me from the truck. I stand upright in my bottle, at the side of the road, for all passers-by to see. An elderly woman walks by and takes no notice of me. A school bus full of children stops to play ball around me, until their teacher notices me standing stark naked in my bottle. Then I am told to be at the principal’s office by three o’clock. I simply nod, knowing full well that I won’t be there at all. With all the children back in the bus, the teacher exposes her legs to me. She grinds up against my bottle. How I long for what I can’t have! I could really go for a hot turkey sandwich. But like all the others, she falls to the ground and rolls back into the bus. The driver gets out of the bus and begins to push it up the road, while the children sing about his strength.

Lessons are learnt under the strangest circumstances. For example, do not lay on your back and scratch your stomach on a busy road. If you must, keep your mouth closed, or a bird passing overhead might take advantage of the situation. This was the lesson I learnt: do not discuss intricate tractor parts with strange passers-by. And do not tell a young lady that, judging by the height of her socks, her toast is burning back home. Such comments caused me to be mistaken for a New Jersey chocolate salesman. And now I lay amongst broken glass. Yes, my bottle burst! Do I care? No, expose myself, let it be known! But under false pretences. It is all a misunderstanding, I try to explain, but they haul me away regardless. Chocolate salesmen from New Jersey are unpopular in these parts, needless to say.

“I take back what I said,” I plead. “If only you could find a new bottle for me and stuff me into it.”

“No such luck!” the three bearded men cry.

“But look at me,” I persist. “In this state, how can I be mistaken for anyone else?”

“All men are born naked,” one of the bearded men cries out.

“Not me!” another one thumps his chest. “I was born wearing a large leather hat with a feather plume. It became lost shortly after the doctor slapped me.”

A likely story, I thought.

The three bearded men walk me along for what seems like an eternity. When you’re naked, everything seems to take more time than necessary. Yet, at no time did I try to escape from the threesome. I easily could have, but an overwhelming desire to be amongst bearded men kept me in their ranks. The procession stops when one of them begins to cough. The other two slap his back. Something appears at his lips. They pull out a long handkerchief.

“A good idea!” they say.

They blindfold me with the handkerchief. Now I can see everything. There is something about their teeth that startles me. Maybe it is the fact that they keep their teeth in their pockets. They rattle them frequently, threatening to stop and eat at any moment now. And then the race begins. A slap on the back is all I receive. I hear their feet pounding the ground. Away they race. I run too. Trees whip past. Ah, to be young, naked, and blindfolded! The thrill of it! A scent of conifers. The gentle texture of freshly laid bricks concealing plaid ties soothes my feet. The heat, somehow bearable. From silver pipes atop trees, the forest ground is always kept cool. A tuba blares in the distance. I run to join. I cry out. I stumble. Where are my companions?

Leopold would be a good name for him, based on his hairstyle alone. He leans face-first against a tree. The tree sheds no leaves. When I ask him why he chose this position, he brings a piece of paper up to the bark and rubs a piece of coal on it until words appeared. The bark of the tree contains stories. Papers fly up like leaves. They collect all around. Each paper is a new story. The roots are deep and rotate at a frequency which causes housewives to conceal fresh bake goods. But the husbands are able to ignore it. The roots are the essence of the forest, drilling for its precious resource. Thoughts had been mined for years. Women dressed in black with matching baby carriages run by, collecting the papers. Men in white shirts squat leisurely, reading page after page, until their wrists begin to ring and they realise they have no watches.

Lumberjacks trim the trees into mental blocks. These are given to government authorities for display; they especially came in handy during election promises. Writer’s block causes young men to bash their heads against the trees, until nervous housewives finally give in and offer bake goods to all concerned. Their husbands don’t seem to care. Husbands are perpetually full of rotating granite eggs and the breath of a curious dog. They are fun to look at, from a distance. Up close, you can see their stomachs turning. They know nothing of the forest. Pregnant with boredom, and suffering from a lack of individuality, they sit atop wooden crates and reminisce about run-away trains and flying gravel. Buoyed down, anchored up, they await a strong wind to tear them from the harbour. Peering out from the forest, one can only hope to never join their ranks.

Legs are unusual in that they bring things back. The bearded men have returned, singing and snacking on sausages. They lay down on the ground and begin to row. Before long, we are out at sea. I ride on their backs. How do they do it? Sometimes, I ride on their stomachs, so they can take time to breath. These three bearded men make for a good boat. The adventure is high when there are beards to pull. Pull a beard and ring the bell. Announce your presence to passing boats. An young girl floats by on a Pope. There’s been a shipwreck, so she leaped onto the life-Pope. She is low on food and wishes my company. I invite her aboard and sink the Pope. She enjoys the gentle ride of the three bearded men. The Pope was stiff and dull. Waves crash over her, soaking her fine dress, making her more naked than myself.

Love strikes quickly, and usually below the belt. Exercising a lack of respect for the three men we’re floating on, we initiate a long series of compromising positions. The salt air and crashing waves make petals leap into the beaks of awaiting ravens. She is beautiful; all skin and dark eyes, complete with legs and arms. She entraps me, holding me until most of the petals have been snapped up by excited birds. The three bearded men, jealous and insulted, suddenly split up, each swimming away in separate directions. Nothing ever comes to fruition. The ravens travel to other flowers, easier to pluck. We are left in a light embrace, bobbing in the waves; but I can’t shake loose. I realise that she intends to drag me under. She has changed. Her head swelled up. She looks like a still-born goat. I can hardly stand to look at her. I allow myself to sink with her, playing dead, until she relaxes her grip and I escape to the surface.

My head bobs atop the waves. Bees gather in my ears to pollinate. New ideas arise. Thoughts, once just seeds, mature rapidly, assisted by the fresh sea air and the grateful activities of worker bees. Soon my brain is buzzing with activity. The finest honey oozes through my nostrils and ears. But not through my mouth. It isn’t for me to taste; it’s for others to enjoy. The honey does not collect on my wool sweater. The sweater appeared only now. It is waterproof. Fish envy it. So do the other young men who bob along beside me. Who are they? Where did they come from? Some are beekeepers. Some are seamen. Some just like honey. Another man’s honey often tastes better, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that hard work, perseverance, and deep thoughts create the best spread for fresh toast.

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