I read to X from the Bible: ‘His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ That’s as clear as it gets, I tell him, there you have it. Even Christ said it. There’s no getting away from it, I say. We need to figure out once and for all what our real work is. You need to stop talking once and for all, says X.
So what have you accomplished today? X asks me when I get home from work. I don’t know, I say, slumping down opposite him. What’s our real work? I ask after a while. I don’t know, he says. Something’s overdue, I say, I can feel it, we’ve missed some crucial deadline and I can’t remember when it was or what I was supposed to do, I only know a judgement’s coming down on us, like in a nightmare. Only from this nightmare there’s no waking up, and it’s only going to get worse unless we… unless we what? I say. What’s our real work? I say. I don’t know, says X.
The harvest is now, I tell X, the world is ready, more than ready, it’s groaning under its readiness. Time too is ripe, over-ripe, time itself is rotting away. What’s left of the rotting wheat is being sorted from the rotting chaff. Do you want to be the wheat or the chaff? Do you want to help me or do you want to perish? Without your help I’ll perish too, I say. Are there words for this degree of hypocrisy? says X.
I’m going to work, I tell X. Fine, he says, I’m staying here. Don’t look at me like that, he says. If you think you’re better than me, you’re wrong. I’m going to work, I tell X. You think that’s work? he says. I’m going to work, I tell X. I’ll be here when you get back, he says. I’m going to work, I tell X. Don’t look at me like that, he says. You think it’s easy sitting in this chair all day? You do, don’t you? I’m going to work, I tell X. Suit yourself, he says. I’m going to work, I tell X. You want a medal? he says. I’m going to work, I tell X. Go then, he says. Which one of us is free? I ask him when I get home. Neither, he says. But I’m less unfree than you, he says. Sometimes, sitting here, I manage it, I don’t know how. Manage what? I ask. To be free, he says. How do you do it? I ask. I said I don’t know, he says. How do you think you do it? I ask. By being as unlike you as I can, he says.
We need to prepare ourselves for the Judgement, I tell X, can you help me with that at least? All the signs are there, it’s coming, it’s already here, it’s overtaken us. We’re like the virgins without the candles, or however the saying goes, I say. It’s time for you to step up and join me at the threshold, I say, the time is ripe. I know you, says X, you’d be the one without the candle, you’d be too frightened. You’d join the crowds when you could, you’d back away the minute the cock crowed.
A judgement is coming, I tell X. There can only be so much sin without a judgement. But even a judgement isn’t enough, perhaps it’s already here… What’s needed is an apocalypse, I say, a great fire of the spirit! A revolution too may be coming, may be in the air, but that too will only be a beginning, the merest of beginnings, waiting for us to begin… The true Judgement, accompanied by the true Revolution, will be the beginning of the end, I say, the real end at last, the end that shakes and burns and transfigures everything. Oh when will it come, that end! I say. But it’s got to be something completely different from us, says X, you do realise that, don’t you? That’s the only way we’ll be saved, that’s the only way it won’t end in tears. Revolution! What a joke, he says. But the Judgement is coming, you’re right about that much, he says, in fact it’s already here.
It takes more booze to feel right as the years go by, X tells me after another day in the pubs in our old beloved town. His eyes are a bit glassy but he seems okay, even cheerful for once. First I went back to the best of the lot, he says, the Trafalger Arms, you know the only one that doesn’t play music and serves that farm cider. It’s still the best drink in town, he says, trust me I know what I’m talking about for once. The proprietor told me it’s sponsored by NASA and offered to give me a taster like he did when we first went in there years ago, you remember? I said I’ve had it plenty of times don’t worry and he said of course he remembered me, how could he not, and had I been eating too much fish and chips. The same locals were at the bar and gave me the same suspicious nods before I went over to my usual corner, it was good to be back, he says. It’s gone up ten pence again, that farm cider, but it’s still cheaper than the other shite and it still gets you high as a country kite, he says. You have to be a bit careful after the third pint, you have to sink into yourself and ask yourself if you’ll be able to walk upright to the next pub. But now I feel right, he says, now I’m fixed, that place is still the best of the lot.
It’s like you want us to become two old drunks who don’t care about anything and have nothing to care about, like those guys on the seafront, I tell X. Isn’t that what we’ve always wanted, he says in his lifeless voice, isn’t that what we’ve always headed for? Of course not, I say, I want to be happy. Lie, he says, a lie you got from them, which only makes us more unhappy. Don’t believe them. When they come for us tell them we don’t believe them, tell them we don’t believe their lies about happiness. So we can end up on a bench by the sea? I say. You’re hopeless, he says, a hopeless hypocrite.
There’s nothing we can do for each other, X tells me, why don’t we stop this charade? We have to keep talking, I say, we have to keep striving. For what? he says. Happiness, I say. Happiness! That’s what they want you to think. Why then? I ask. Because we don’t know any better, he says, because we don’t know how to stop. Let’s carry on, then, I say. After you, he says. No, after you. This is hopeless, he says, there’s nothing we can do for each other, why don’t we stop this charade?
Where would I go, if I could go, who would I be, if I could be, what would I say, if I had a voice, who says this, saying it’s me? Answer simply, someone answer simply. It’s the same old stranger as ever, for whom alone accusative I exist, in the pit of my inexistence, of his, of ours, there’s a simple answer. It’s not with thinking he’ll find me, but what is he to do, living and bewildered, yes, living, say what he may. Forget me, know me not, yes, that would be the wisest, none better able than he.
– Becket, Texts for Nothing 4