When you picture the world endin’ it usually don’t have the soundtrack of Johnny Logan playin’. I got nothin’ against the man myself. If a body’s got talent, plough on I says. So long as it’s still giving some enjoyment to other folk.
But you should know when to call it quits. I’m not talkin’ the exact day or the minute. The way I see it, it probably looks somethin’ like this: some innocent throwaway comment – sweetie wrapped ’round a poisonous dart. The look on someone’s face. A wee nervous smile and shyin’ of the eyes.
Then the moment of realisation when it dawns. You just ain’t got it anymore. Time to cash in the ol’ chips. See out the rest of your days in quiet comfort.
Least you got a choice.
Sometimes quittin’ time is forced on us.
Me? I was sitting in me chair, sippin’ on a cold one, watchin’ the Late Late. The pad of my swollen thumb was circlin’ the hollow under the beer bottle. Some foreign import with a name that used the junk letters of our own alphabet. Polish I’d bet. Maggie bought dem. Reward for fixing up the fence in the back. A splinter for my efforts. Made sure to let her know that too once the job was done.
I held my thumb up to my face, swipin’ off the cold bottle sweat. I had sucked it out I was sure, but there was still a dot of blood there. Like a stubborn blackhead. Could it get infected? I was just about to shout to herself for a toothpick but thought better of it. Pushin’ my luck.
I could hear her in the kitchen next door. As usual, the radio was tuned to some station playin’ soppy love songs. The sort we’d have slow danced to back in the day. I smiled at the memory. Young ones nowadays would never know fear like it.
She was humming along to the Temptations. I could hear them singing about My Girl above the clink of the dinner dishes and splashing of water. I patted my belly with silent approval.
And that’s when it happened. Clear as a bell.
A voice. Followed by the sound of a plate smashing on the kitchen floor. I looked over and saw her, back turned to me, through the open door.
“Children,” the voice had said. “This…is God.”
Maggie’s standin’ in the doorway, now turned my way. Broken plate pieces are ‘round her feet. Starin’ right at me like she’s losin’ her mind. She wasn’t the only one.
“Did you hear-” she said.
I nod and pull off my seat. The beer spills as I park it on the floor.
“Quigley,” I said through gritted teeth, eyes scanning the walls for God knows what.
I wasn’t ready to explore that option yet. A rage was beginning to grow in me thinkin’ that he installed some sorta bug or device in our house. Surveillance. I could see our next-door neighbour watching on from the comfort of his own gaff, seeing me pacin’ ‘round like a madman, overturning tables and chairs to find his latest invention.
“His idea of a joke,” I said, pulling cushions out from the settee.
“But they’re in Malaga for the week,” Maggie said.
Now the picture I have is of the bastard on a beach in Malaga watching from his laptop. Giggling with his buck-toothed wife as they sip on their sugary cocktails. The plates of my jaw grind at the image. He’s not gonna win this time.
“What?” I snapped and stared at Maggie.
She gave a constipated shrug of the shoulders. “What if it’s not him?”
The idea pierces through the veil of anger and got me half thinking it’s one of those candid camera shows. Boy am I gonna look the eejit when it’s played back in the studio and I’m surrounded by friends and family. No. Can’t be, I thought. That voice was seriously close though. Almost like it whispered right in me ear.
I headed to the front door. Looked out onto the street. One of the Morrison’s litter had stopped riding her bike. She saw me and pointed to her head. Other people had stepped out of their houses. Each exchanging confused looks with their neighbours and then looking to the skies for an answer.
“I am speaking,” the low monotone voice continued, “to every single one of you – to share something of monumental importance.”
That’s when Damian and Ryan ran down the stairs. I turned from the doorway and watched Maggie hug them tight. Both pale as sheets. The look on their faces telling that whatever the madness was, it was catchin’ quick. They started bombin’ us with questions but I hold up a hand when it – whatever it is – starts speakin’ again.
“The gates of Heaven are closing. After countless millennia, I regretfully wish to share that there is no more occupiable space. Except,” the voice pauses for effect, “for a chosen few.”
The images on the TV had frozen mid-frame. Tubridy’s starin’ back at me. A God awful cheesy smile scrawled on his face. No music from the kitchen either. The only sound was the voice.
“Tomorrow I will be setting a trial to test your worthiness and whether you shall covet a place in the Kingdom of God.”
“Enough of this,” I said and reached into my pocket to pull out me mobile.
I scrolled through the contact list, when it suddenly piped up again.
“Automatic disqualification will be administered to those who engage others in dialogue outside of your street. No correspondence of any kind will be permissible.” The speaker’s voice took on more emotion, rising in urgency. “Guilty parties and their families will be relegated to the fiery bowels of the Earth where they will suffer for all eternity.”
My phone couldn’t get quick enough into my jean pocket. I looked up nervously, see the apple of my eye and my seeds as they looked at me helplessly. Best I could do was offer a smile.
The voice, when it spoke again is gentler.
“I already know what is in your heart. Trust in yourself to do the right thing. Prove your worth and you shall be rewarded with eternal paradise. Bless you.”
Suddenly, there was a sound like my ear popping. Same as when cabin pressure drops in a flight. The TV and radio started up again. People on the screen didn’t seem too affected. Business as usual. Look, sure there’s Johnny Logan back with another hit.