The Dying Gladiator.
Jonothan clipped shut the lock on the double doors of his workshop…he then paused with one hand still clasping the large padlock..he was looking at that lock…but in truth, not really looking at it, but rather in deep contemplation..if asked of what, he could not say..it was just a momentary fixated stare at everything and nothing…he woke from the trance, shook his head and made his way to the parked Ford sedan and drove home to his flat on the ground floor of a three storey block of units in the suburb of South Brighton.
The usual habit of Jonothan when arriving home from work was to go to the fridge, extract a can of beer, sit in his big lounge chair strategically placed at comfortable distance from the television, and with remote in hand search through a familiar mental list of channels until he found something satisfactory to contemplate while he tossed down two cans of beer before a sketchy meal of supermarket purchased pre-cooked was heated up in the microwave oven.
This night was little different from a legion of others that fell one after the other in a repetition that would be considered a futile, boring existence except that it was a lifestyle totally fitted to one such as Jonothan Andrew Potter as his social life circulated out from his workshop where he met customers, salespeople and varied people who made their way to the big double doors of “Centerline Tooling” a one man show for precision manufactured tooling instrument repair and service.
Since the early morning, Jonothan had been feeling “off colour”…and it was with a heavy head that he fell into his chair that evening, his ill feeling sedated by several aspirin along with a third beer to settle the dull ache in his head..it was in this state and with a half consumed lasagne in its packaged container while he being serenaded by a streamed repeat episode of Midsomer Murders that Jonothan dozed off into a deep sleep….a sleep vividly coloured by strange dreams.
This sleep was to be Jonathan’s last sleep as he would pass away this evening.
If we look to the small coffee-table to the right of Jonothan’s hand, we will see two things that were instrumental in the ending of this night. The first of interest is a wad of final notices held in a bulldog clip…these final notices were from..in descending order of dates..the landlords of a) the leased workshop space informing him that if due rent was not paid by the end of that month, he would be void of the workshop and a padlock put on the big double doors..b) the landlord of his flat there on the ground floor where he now sits was arrears in rent and if such were not met in sixty days (dated one month previous) he would be evicted according to regulation…etc, etc…the other final notices were of lesser importance to having a roof over his head, but still would be disconcerting to his well-being, coming from the household energy provider, telephone and internet provider and gas supply…in short, Jonothan was snookered..
For several months there had been no work save the odd small cash job that didn’t really even cover food and petrol bills..the world of disposable technology had caught up to him. So when Jonothan came home from the workshop that evening, he took several cans of beer from the refrigerator, settled himself in front of the television and with a decided, set look on his face proceeded to settle the question of his situation.
Which brings us to the second thing of interest on that coffee-table, a white plastic tablet bottle labelled with a particular type of sleeping draught that he had persuaded his GP. That he badly needed as work was so busy, he needed to sleep solidly so as to be able to meet all his contracts…Regardless of the GP’s reticence, Jonothan had obtained those tablets in the white plastic container that now lay on its side devoid of contents…the last of the cans of beer sat half full next to the white, empty pill container…it would soon go flat.
But for the while as sleep took temporary command of Jonothan’s mind, he started to dream..
He dreamt he was sitting on a short column of sandstone somewhat at the edge of what appeared to be training arena for a young man riding a bay horse..the boy was quite young and being given instructions by an man dressed in a long toga, who gesticulated with each instruction of heel and toe necessity of where to touch the horse’s flank…Jonothan lifted his eyes to see on a plateau in the distance, above a white city bathed in brilliant sunshine, a temple that he could easily identify by its famous name..The Acropolis..except in this dream it was complete and shining brilliantly on the plateau above of what he was now certain was Athens..He showed not the least wonder as to why and what he was doing in this place..all was as it should be.
Jonothan stood as the young boy on the horse rode over toward him ever so slowly…they faced each other and the boy turned in the saddle, pointed to a small temple at the edge of the training arena that Jonothan hadn’t noticed before and said..
“You have to go there..” and that was all he said.
Jonothan was surprised at this instruction as he had never met either the boy, the man or had been to this place before but somehow it all seemed normal and natural that he should obey the boy’s instruction..as he got closer to the small temple..really not much larger than a wealthy family’s mausoleum..the man too pointed to the door of the temple and said..
”you’re late..they’re waiting inside”..
Jonothan opened the solid door of the temple and entered..and the room had changed already to a square with beige coloured flat, plain walls and ceiling but with four doors of normal size in the centre of each wall….the big entrance door had disappeared..and when Jonothan turned around, there were four people standing, one at each of the doors..yet he had not heard nor seen any of them enter..All four wore the long togas of ancient Grecian personages…all this seem so normal and not at all out of place. Jonothan looked to each in turn and then asked.
“Why are you here?” for he thought they all looked familiar..
“Because you’re here”….one answered..and Jonothan was surprised to see a young woman of around sixteen years old..then he recognised her as the young woman he admired way back when he was an apprentice and would catch the morning train to work and she would be there three stops before he would get off..and for one whole winter and into the spring, they stared at each other across the baggage-car compartment, filled along with all the other workmen standing there in dead-pan silence…but they only had eyes for each other. Unfortunately, their mutual shyness stopped them even saying hello and after that summer she never came on the train anymore..Jonothan was heartbroken.
But now here she was..in full life..in exactly the same dress as back then..white stockings, red shoes, short , white woollen skirt, a red jacket over a pale top with her long-strap small red handbag slung over her shoulder and an extremely cute red beany over her blonde hair…Jonothan was enthralled to see her again.. he made move to go to her but another voice spoke to him..
“Jon?”….Jonothan turned to look behind him and there stood a woman in her thirties..of short stature, very curvaceous with a bob of thick, red hair..
“Diedre!?” Jonothan answered. “ I thought you were gone a long time ago…I was twenty five years old.”
“And I was thirty five..but that didn’t matter…at least not to me.” And Deidre gave him an exaggerated wink. “but then you ended it by going away from me.”
“You were married…to a policeman…he could’ve killed me if he found out.”
“I wanted a child!” Diedre protested..”..and now here we are…it’s still not too late, Jon’…you can stay with me now”…Indeed, she looked as inviting as the first time he had met her all those years ago..
But then another voice called his name..
“Jonothan Potter!” the voice of the nun was stern and chiding..” Jonothan Potter!..you know you are forbidden to play in that drain!…come here!…this instant..stop dawdling and come here!” Jonothan could see the cane in her hand..he had felt that cane before……and since..in another place..with another woman..Maria Rosa was suddenly there in place of Sister Mary Joseph..and instead of the flowing robes of the nun’s habit, was the tight, black leather-lacework of a corset that allowed little to the imagination but so much to the excitement of the moment..
“You know what you must do, Jon..let’s have no more whining and complaining..you have done wrong..”
“Hold your hand out!” Sister Mary Joseph scolded…Jon held his hand out and swiftly felt the cut of the cane across his naked buttocks…it was very painful..but in a soft, sweet sort of way..in that he knew he was paying the debt of his sins..so he kept his hand there while Sister Mary Joseph again brought the cane down and then suddenly there was Maria Rosa with nothing on bar that lace corset..an intense yet sympathetic, almost pitying expression on her face looking down at Jonothan as she brought the cane down in strategic, measured strokes..each with a “whip” sound as it cut through the air..Jonothan writhed in ecstatic pain under the professional domination of the dark-haired beauty of Maria Rosa..and as he knelt there in contrition on his knees, Sister Mary Joseph was whispering sweet words into his ear..and there were the Stations of the Cross on the walls all around the room
“‘Look!” she said, “look how they laugh and mock our Lord Jesus……..” Jonothan’s eyes all wide and staring at the horror of the gore and blood on the crown of thorns and the leering faces of the torturers. His hands clasping and wringing in fear and horror…He clung to the habit of the squatting sister as she related the means of cruelty inflicted on the body of the Son of God as “He suffered for our sins here on Earth…He suffered for us..” her eyes alight also with the self-inflicted emotional pain of the scenes she described. The young nun then proceeded to instruct Jonothan in the ritual of the journey through The Stations of the Cross..she would say the Leaders chant :
“We adore thee O Christ, and bless thee.”
Then she would ask Jonothan to repeat after her..:
“By your holy cross Thou has redeemed the world”.
Then Sister Mary Joseph softly told him a little maxim of life ; “As a child, we sometimes feel alone..sometimes others do not stand up for me when I am picked on and afraid..so help me Jesus to be strong and protect me in thy light”.
On the habit of Sister Joseph, he touched to feel the heavy-starched white cloth parts of her cowl as she cooed , as with a lover’s breath, the corrupting words of indoctrination into his ear, wondering why it was so sharp…he knelt by her side and felt the heavy wooden beads of the Rosary belt that wrapped around her waist then dangled down the side of her habit-skirt..He was mesmerized at the large, pendulating black cross that swung against her breast as she leant down to him, now voluminously exposed under the loose cloth to his enthralled vision.
Jonothan looked up as the caning had stopped and he was met by a woman in a long gown who informed him that there was a person here who claimed to be his mother…
“who are you?” he asked…
“I am your Aphrodite”…the woman answered and gave a little smile.
Jonothan looked to a dark side of the room that had now become circular with a row of Doric columns around the perimeter…an aged woman in soft knitted clothes approached him and he was now dressed again. His mother reached for his hand and frowned at the welts left there by the cane… completely ignoring those other more salacious welts on his backside…no mother would ever consider her child would indulge in such behaviour.
“Oh dear..this is no good..no good at all”..she cooed..then reached into the pocket of her skirt and produced a round tin, golden in colour with close-knit writing on the cover, but with one familiar identifying brand word emblazoned …
“Rawleigh’s”..then the words “antiseptic salve” under it..
Jonothan’s mother praised the lid off the tin and that familiar smell of the ointment once again wafted to his nostrils..how could he ever forget that comforting scent..for hadn’t it been the mainstay of home remedy for cuts and scratches all his childhood..
“Here we go…” his mother again cooed “let’s put some ointment on these scratches..” and she applied a generous amount of the balm on the welts..then, taking up an old bed-sheet, she proceeded to tear a narrow strip off it until she held a length of the cloth of about one and a half feet in length and about two inches in breadth…she held the strip and then ripped it down lengthways for several inches to make two tails..this bandage she wrapped around Jonothan’s hand and with the tails, ran them in opposite ways around the hand and tied them in a nice precise bow at the back of his hand..She inspected her work and then looked lovingly into Jonothan’s eyes..
“You’ll always be my brave little man..always..” and she stood, looked down at him then turned and walked away..
‘Wait!..wait!” Jonothan called after her..he made to follow, but the woman in the gown stopped him..
“You can’t go there yet..” she spoke..
“But I am here..I am here now…” Jonothan pleaded as he saw the other women turn to walk from the room back through the four doors.
“Not quite…you still have one hand in your other world..you could yet return there”
Jonothan was aghast at the prospect of confronting yet again that abhorrent world of anguish and pain..endless, endless work and worry, while here was everything that ever mattered in his life..condensed into this one room..these few people..He flung his arm out in frustration and cried ;
“NO!…NO..I will not return to that horror!”
And if one was present at the chair-side of the dying Jonothan Andrew Potter, you would see his left arm suddenly shoot away in spasmatic jerk to knock the ashtray from the arm of the sofa with the still glowing remnant of his last cigarette onto some screwed up bills due from several of the aforementioned complainants..these in turn after some short time caught fire and the accompanying smoke gave warning to a passing tenant of the floor above who saw the danger of a fire in the very flat under his own and so called both the fire brigade and the police in quick succession…in consequence of the discovery of the current occupant of the flat in question unconscious under suspicious circumstances, the ambulance attended post haste to Jonathan Andrew Potter’s inert body..
After initial conclusion that sleeping draughts had been consumed, the medical officers immediately applied CPR to revitalise his breathing…in this they were successful..but only for a moment as the body of Jonothan again went into arrest and once again the ambulance officers revitalised him to once again see him fall back into relapse..they continued this until a doctor appeared on the scene..
“Damn if I can make it out, doctor”..the ambulance officer complained..”We no sooner get him breathing again when he goes back into a death spiral..”
The doctor applied all his skills to bring life back to the body of Jonothan Andrew Potter, but it seemed as if the Gods themselves were working against them..and he for the last time slipped away into a final deep exhale of breath and sank into the stretcher..the medical officers and the doctor looked in despair at the corpse..then one spoke for all.
“It’s almost as if he didn’t want to even try to come back”. Another said.
“Look at his face..you’d think that was a smile on his lips.”
Jonothan rested with his arms around the woman in the long gown..he was weeping in joy, for surrounding him in the big room were the women he treasured in his past world..now to be together with him forever..
“Thank you.” He murmured into her ear. “Thank you.”
“It’s alright…it’s alright..you’re here now”. The woman replied.