Excerpt from Carnal Sacraments, A
Historical Novel of the Future.
[From Chapter Five: Jeffrey Cooper, a executive
design star living in Germany in the last quarter of the 21st Century,
has been attacked in the woods by gang of neo-Nazi kids. John van der
Meer, a stranger who drove him to the forest, re-appears after taking a
nocturnal run, and finds Jeffrey badly beaten up and shaken.]
Then everything stopped. Dead quiet. He
looked up into the eerie moonlight and saw John return, covered with
sweat, still naked except for his running shoes.
The ringleader and John exchanged wary glances, then
the ringleader shook his head and he and his boys vanished in a sooty
blur of curses and screams down the road and into the trees.
John, looking concerned, approached Jeffrey.
You got beat up. It’s really bad. That kid’s name is Pik, like Pete. He
and his boys and I have a truce, so they don’t screw with me—not much,
anyway.” John shook his head. “Your fucking luck, friend! They’re out
tonight. I was afraid this would happen to you, if you didn’t move fast
Jeffrey remained balled-up on the ground. His
clothes were ripped and he was in unholy pain, in an undiscovered
world: the corrupt underside of the forest he loved. He reached out,
clasping John’s bare white legs, touching his muscles, the warm veins,
his cool sweat.
John crouched, touching him softly on the forehead.
“Seems like you can use a friend. You’re my friend,
Jeffrey nodded. If he’d ever needed help, it was now.
“Let me help you up.”
He felt very unsteady. Everything hurt. “Please,” he
begged. “Give me a minute.”
“There may be more kids,” John warned. “They have
lots of friends, and I mean real nuts. Anything goes.”
John crouched lower, hugging him. He seemed made out
of moonlight itself. Nothing had ever appeared so beautiful to Jeffrey,
or possessed such tenderness and kindness. He put his head on John’s
wet chest, feeling John’s heartbeat and more peace than he’d had in his
“We must get up.”
John helped Jeffrey rise and they went to John’s
car. He unlocked it with a key from his shoe, and the two of them got
“You want to come to my place?” he asked. “I don’t
live far away. Not exactly fancy, but it’s yours for the night.”
“That would be good,” Jeffrey said.
John’s small stone house was only a short drive from
the forest, with a stream running behind it so that it looked as if it
were on a tiny island.
“In the old days it was a mill,” John explained as
he parked his car. They walked in—John still naked and Jeffrey in his
torn clothes—and John lit kerosene lamps and candles.
“I have no electricity but plenty of water, and I
can get wood from the forest, stuff that falls from the trees. Want
something to eat or drink? How ‘bout a beer?”
The beer was warm but good. There were pictures in
bright colors with extremely bold figures and designs in every room,
even painted on the bare walls. They flickered in the lantern and
candlelight, like old silent movies or medieval illuminations, with a
vitality of their own. John took off his shoes and put on a pair of
white briefs. Jeffrey felt ashamed of his shredded clothes, and John
could sense it. He handed him a loose white peasant’s shirt that fell
to Jeffrey’s knees, and Jeffrey stripped off everything but his
underwear and put that on. John invited Jeffrey to make himself
comfortable; then he pointed out some of the pictures.
“That’s Adam, making Eve. I think Adam wanted to
make Eve himself, so he would be complete. God showed him how to do it.
I think we all want to be complete. The problem is how to do it.”
Jeffrey gazed at the pictures in the soft glowing
light. What were they? He thought of Picasso, Blake, Giotto; Gauguin,
Matisse—all of them rolled into God’s own breath. The paintings seemed
not only self-taught but self-generated. As if in their brilliant,
free, yet startlingly lucid forms they had created themselves, like a
breath-taking piece of music that had always been there, only waiting
for the composer to jot it down.
But from where did all of this come?
“And that over there,” John went on, smiling
handsomely, “is Jacob. He’s dreaming of the angel, and then wrestling
with him. I like to wrestle, touching a man like that.”
Jeffrey looked at him.
“Yes. It’s a pure kind of touching. I like that.
See, I’m seeking something different. I call it the ‘pure’ image. An
image greater than itself—it’s ‘real’ self. If you look at things
directly, what do they mean? Nothing, really. But somewhere there is
the pure image, the image that is greater than the ‘real’ thing is. You
know it when you see it.”
Jeffrey drank in his words.
“So, if it’s pure, we’ll all recognize it?” Jeffrey
“Yes!” John shouted. “You understand me. I’m so
Jeffrey went on, puzzled by this strange, gifted man.
“Are you saying that because we really recognize it
inside, this image—this ‘pure’ image—that it’s available to us, already
a part of us—and simply only has various forms?”
John smiled greedily.
“Yes! I’m thrilled that you understand this.”
Jeffrey looked at him; John’s childlike glee at this
morsel of understanding Jeffrey offered was touching but close to
embarrassing. Jeffrey in his world rarely touched such innocence of
feelings, with all of its generosity and pent-up force. He looked away
from John, knowing he had to lay some of his grounded sense and
Taking a candle, he peered closer at the pictures.
Cascading ribbons of rainbows fell from flocks of vividly colored
birds, naked children sat with wolves, and groups of naive but
saintly-looking people were humbly worshipping simple field animals.
“You are a real artist,” Jeffrey announced. “I’ve
never seen anything like this.”
John smiled incandescently.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Why did you attack me?”
The question flew out of Jeffrey; there was nothing
to hold it back anymore. He had wanted some nicely stitched plan to
confront the man, and now he was the one who felt confronted, both by
John’s amazing innocence of feelings and his own feeling that his
normal carapace of control was having a hard time staying up against
any possibility of salvation. Because he felt truly beautiful, and
alive, simply being in John van der Meer’s presence. The golden lantern
light, flickering candles, and reflected colors from his paintings made
John glow like a Byzantine icon, passionate to his core and powerful.
Jeffrey felt there must be nothing false between them, and that he
would forgive John anything.
John’s eyes flashed for an instant, then they
appeared calm, even resigned.
“At the pubtran platform. Hauptwache, a few days ago.”
John sank onto a mattress covered by a sheet on the
floor. He looked up at Jeffrey.
“You’re sure it was you?”
Jeffrey nodded. “You hit me, then smiled at me. Then
hit me again.”
John looked down at his hands. His voice became
“I don’t know. I must have seen something in you
that upset me.”
“I don’t know!” he exclaimed. “Gott! Everything gets
knotted up in me. I’m crazy, see?” He tried to calm himself, but was
shaking. “I’m sorry.”
Jeffrey nodded. “I see.”
He couldn’t actually, but he wanted to. He turned to
the paintings again, so unflinching in their intensity. He felt truly
dismantled by their honesty and intense emotional nakedness.
“I was married,” John explained. “With the kind of
‘successful’ life somebody like you has.”
Jeffrey turned to him, their eyes meeting. It was
easy for people to think Jeffrey had a “successful” life; he was only
too aware of that.
“I fell apart,” John explained. “Everything was
taken away from me. Or maybe I just couldn’t hold on to it anymore.”
Only listening, Jeffrey nodded.
“I had a good job,” John went on. “In the city,
selling things to people I’d never see, in China. I was in step with
everything, but really never stepped on anybody. I just did like they
wanted me to, and hid any questions I had until they stopped being
Jeffrey smiled. He was beginning to understand.
“One day—on the pubtran—I’m not sure how it
happened, but inside I became a stranger to everything including
myself. It was this horrible al—”
“Alienation?” Jeffrey offered.
“Yes! I knew it that moment; I couldn’t hide it from
myself. I was the Dutchman who never comes home. He’s lost and knows
it. Something parted inside me and I knew it. It was like I had lost
the thing that allows you to go on with the lies and the forms, all the
appearances. The pain felt unbearable. I was on the edge of being
valuable, a huge ‘asset’ to the system; they were beginning to offer me
everything and I could not hold on to it anymore. My wife was English,
very pretty, nice. We were one of those bright couples you see in
newspapers. We didn’t have a ‘relationship,’ we had a romantic
advertisement for a relationship. One of those full-color pictures that
“‘Escape’?” Jeffrey suggested.
“Yes, that’s it! ‘Escape.’ But how do I escape this?
She couldn’t see me at all. I mean, I really smiled, kept smiling like
in those newspaper pictures; and we had two wonderful kids and I
thought that if I didn’t do something to get myself out of it, I’d kill
all of them, and then myself.”
He paused, looking guiltily at Jeffrey.
“Do you think I’m nuts?”
Jeffrey shook his head, then sat down with John on
the mattress. It was so warm that he took off the loose peasant’s
shirt. He felt somewhat cooler, yet could feel warmth streaming from
John’s pale flesh hardly more than a breath away from him. He’d never
felt so close to someone. He started shaking, with his sweat
evaporating in the body-heated air between them.
John drank more of the beer.
“I put myself in a hospital; they told me I was
schizophrenic, or some crap like that. They couldn’t figure it out.
Like one day I was a regular person and the next—they were going to
chemicalize my brain. Numb it, operate on it. A doctor came in and told
me how nice I was, how pleased he was to be ‘working’ with me. He gave
me a distant, sugary smile, then left. So I had to figure things out
for myself. What to do. How to preserve myself. How to fool the people
I had to fool.”
Jeffrey’s eyes widened.
“The truth was,” John went on, “I’d come to this
moment, this awakening, and for the first time I found myself to be
truly alive. It was wonderful, amazing. I saw that most other people
weren’t alive. They were trapped in their own deadness, no matter how
‘rewarding’ it was. They were on this constant . . .”
His forefinger, pointing up, described a continuous
circle, like a merry-go-round. Jeffrey watched, mesmerized. Their eyes
“It was like a religious awakening, but I couldn’t
find anyplace in it for God. I didn’t need God, not everybody else’s
God, the one that the system works with, one way or another. I needed
religion, but I had to figure out where God stood in it. Later I
painted these stories, made them mine, because I needed stories of my
own. We all do, I’m sure of that. But at that moment, God, big,
powerful, my own God, wasn’t in it. Just the truth that I was alive,
and they were going to kill that living part of me.
“So with some effort I tried to be normal again. I
fooled them and got out of the hospital with my brain intact, and went
back to my wife, Cynthia. Isn’t that a proper-enough English name,
Cynthia? But there was no way I could reach her. She had a good job and
nice friends in her world. She tried to bury me in all her English
busyness and drag me back with her into the system, so everyone would
forget that anything had happened. She’d say, ‘You’ll get better, John.
You will, darling!’ and smile just like that dreadful doctor in the
hospital. So I had to fool her too. I felt like shit. I couldn’t even
talk to my kids, they were brainwashed in their private school already.”
“What did you do?”
“I went back to work and Cynthia went back to
England for a while, to her wealthy parents. Then she came back to me.
What else could she do? I was the father of her kids and she was very
traditional. She made me feel that I had no choice. I mean, I wanted to
work it out; you have no idea. But I realized I did have a choice. I
could stay with her, inside a certain line tightly drawn around myself,
and not fall apart too much if I held on. But—”
He stopped himself.
“But what?” Jeffrey asked.
“I’d die. Simple as that: I’d never have a moment of
being alive. I’d just have everything that keeps you from being alive.
Games. Entertainment. Too many things that do that.”
Jeffrey’s eyes narrowed.
“So you attacked me instead?”
“No. It wasn’t that, I swear!”
John ran his hand through Jeffrey’s hair again, then
touched him on the shoulder and suddenly kissed him on the neck.
“I didn’t want to tell you,” he said crying. “I knew
who you were when I asked you into my car. I recognized you. The truth
is at the pubtran at Hauptwache, I wanted to warn you. I needed to.”
“Warn me about what?”
“You’re in danger. Something is going to get you.”
“You attacked me to tell me that?”
“There was no other way to do it. I couldn’t
approach you. Why would you listen to me? Do you know what I’m saying?”
“No, I don’t.”
“There was no other way to reach you. You were so
“I was trying to keep from going crazy in the crowd.
You just couldn’t see that.”
“I saw it. And I could see you were struggling to
reach someplace I’d—” he paused, then said—“already reached. But the
only way I could get you there was to hit you. I’m sorry. It was
Jeffrey smiled. The man was crazy, but at least
somehow he’d seen something Jeffrey was attempting to conceal even from
himself. It was something that could be fatal; he tried to explain it.
“I was trying to be calm. I have a hard time with
stress, John. Much harder that I let on. All those signs are right.
Stress is a killer.”
“Sure, you can die of stress; I almost did. The
stress of not being yourself, of hiding, of trying to fool too many
people. I could see all of that in you. Our meeting wasn’t accidental,
I swear to you. You were so handsome, beautifully dressed, trying to be
safe in a guarded way, alone in yourself. I hated watching it.”
“I’m not that,” Jeffrey argued. “I wish I were.”
John nodded knowingly.
“No. You haven’t found what’s inside you yet. That’s
why I hit you. I could have killed you, really. I needed to reach you;
I mean that. What the hell else could I do?”
“I don’t know,” Jeffrey answered softly. “But if you
did reach me, what else would you want to do?”
John licked his lips. His eyes seemed to Jeffrey as
golden as the light.
“God. I can’t believe you asked that.”
He put his hands firmly on Jeffrey’s bare shoulders,
letting his lips graze Jeffrey’s neck as he whispered:
“Wrestle with you.”
You can pre-order a copy of
Carnal Sacraments directly
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