Chicky has risen early from the bed of his dear wife of many years, May Janney, whom most people call Ma. Ma Janney, born in Caribou, was a Mi'kmaq indian. Her cheekbones were high and her skin was brown as the ancient people. They were a well known couple in Chelsea.
Chicky has read the Sunday “Globe”. He reads the papers in detail each day because he is interested in the world. He reads books too, though keeping his distrust in them to himself. Now he has gone out into the morning sun to wander about in this land of numerous opportunities. He is neatly dressed in sport coat and slacks, and he walks with unhurried gravity. A tan Panama hat protects his balding head. Now he enters Polaski's Bar on Everett Avenue in Chelsea, Massachusetts. (This was before the great Chelsea fire roared through that neighborhood. The fire started in the waste paper plant on Sleeper Street, and the Polaski building was one of the first that it consumed.) Polaski, his friend of at least thirty years, has fallen asleep on the stool behind the bar. Polaski is a rugged, square-shouldered old man, broad like a barrel. He nods off with a serene expression on his face. His face is round like a button, and his little red nose sticks out dryly. Chicky walks around the bar and pours himself a glass of beer from “the udder”. Polaski wakes up slowly from the disturbance.
“What are you doing, ya nut?” Says Polaski. (Actually he used a Polish word whose meaning nobody is very sure of. But I think it means “nut” or “shithead”.)
And Chicky says, “Shithead yourself, you old bassud. I'm happy. It's Sunday, no work, no church, no God: nothing is everything.”
“Idiot!” Says Polaski, “You're going straight to hell the way you talk.”
“If it's on Sunday, I'll be happy. On Sunday no work in Hell. How can there be work in Hell on Sunday?”
This mysterious question bemuses old Polaski. Then he grumbles, “Work in Hell at all? No work? What is it to be happy? Retirement! I'm sick of the smell of liquor. I'm sick of the sudden appearance of bassuds like you, my friend of too many years.”
“The way things are going, Polaski, you old fool, you'll never be able to retire. They dare you to get sick, never mind retire.” Chicky snorts comically, and laps the foam off his glass of beer. Then he says, “Death is interesting though. I'd settle for death. It's certain, at least, while everything else is up in the air, and half the time no rhyme or reason to it. God, who doesn't exist, made a big mistake when he had us born young to go out into the world and get old and retire. Wouldn't it have been better if we were born old? Think of the eternal nightmare of kid flimflamming we would have avoided! Think of the sins that would come into our eyes in such a way that they could be avoided, as we advance backwards into the womb!”
“Go home to mother?” Polaski wondered. He raised his eyes and appeared to think. But maybe he wasn't amused either, because Polaski had seen too much to theorize about anything unnecessarily. It certainly was an odd notion, this of Chicky Dubrovski, butcher of vast numbers of chickens. What could it mean?
“Sure. Advance backwards into the womb, then backwards farther into the space of the great circle. Get taken up into the great circle. Go round in a big confusion, of course, and at the top of the great circle you come to heaven, in which is God's digs. Now, you will have to listen carefully and consider, if you have any consideration left. For a long time the souls...they have become souls after having gone backward into the womb and farther backward, as I say into the great circle; then they are taken up into the great circle, and the great circle takes them to heaven...so, as I say, first they go back to the womb, then they go to heaven. And that is the truth. All the souls go to heaven first. Makes sense to me. And do you know why they go to heaven first? Even Hitler went up there first, just like FDR. In fact Hitler, the old fart, was given the best treatment you could imagine. He was greeted by God just as God will greet you, you old bar dwelling custodian of lusty and drunken revelries. And do you know why God bestowed so much of his attention on the soul of Hitler? Because after a time, a few days, months, years or whatever, God says to him, which they've actually become pretty good friends during this time...”
“Of course, mister know it all.” Polaski got up from his stool. He was wide awake now. There were glasses to wash. Polaski grumbled, running water to wash the glasses in. He was as a wrestler before heaven, cunning and practical; no student of fantastical notions. “Hitler was...” Polaski did most of his cussing in Polish. In Polish he must have known quite a few cuss words. “Someday I will tell you how it was. I know a thing or two about this, mister.”
“I know, I know, but listen to me, listen to me carefully, I have something to say about this that will interest you. Now this soul, Hitler, for the souls retain their names, that's the only thing they retain, since he was evil, could not have been happy, for in this better world I have thought up he was forever living his life backwards. He was going backwards forever through his sins, backwards eternally into the cradle and backwards into the loving arms of an innocent young mother. Could you imagine the nightmare of guilt? As he was doomed to look upward into the innocent eyes of his loving mother after all the shit he had done? Think of it, companion of numerous infamies! The thought brings to one palpitations of the heart, just to think of it. I once stole a quarter. As I live my life backwards, the way it should be in my perfect world, I would have to look in my mother's dear eyes and confess to her, 'Mother, I once stole a quarter from a beggar.'”
“Would you mind going elsewhere to disturb some other person? All in all, I am a working man.”
“Polaski, listen and take me seriously. You and I have, well, how many days do you think we have left? Might be one, might be a thousand. Take Hitler, for example, got to get this bullshit straight before we kick off.”
“What do you know about Hitler, you sorry, suffering, wandering dust heap that was mistakenly put on two legs?”
“Could have been anyone, you hump-backed, over worked specimen of animal misinformation, not just Hitler, who is evil. But just take Hitler for an example. Polaski, what do you think happens when Hitler leaves God's side? God says, 'Ta, ta, old buddy.'?”
“You're asking a man who's washing dishes what he thinks happens around heaven?”
“Why the hell not! You work for a living. You've made your own way. Did you ever stab anybody in the back? And even if you did, so what? Remember, you're living your life backwards. Eventually you've got to face the womb. And the eyes of your mother will say, I guarantee you, 'Polaski, did you study about God and man?' Can you imagine the guilt you'll feel if you didn't? It will be horrible. So dishwasher man, you've got no choice.”
“But no man lives life backwards, as you say,” Polaski argued. “We go forward, always forward. We progress forward toward a dubious future.”
“Never mind that. That's another question. All this stuff about the future is an illusion. I have already told you why, but you did not listen. But now listen to this! God has said to this fellow we were talking about, this Hitler fellow, 'Ta ta, brother.' And he sends him off on the second leg of his adventure. Remember, he has left God's side, and everything they say about God is true, His majesty, His wisdom, His benevolence and gentleness. So off Hitler goes. My, it is a skid down the hill that the criminals are always talking about. All the way to the bottom where he begins to come to the burning swamps, the bleak black nightmare infested rain forests that are on the outskirts of Hell. Then we come to the image of Satan, and then nothing truly is as it seems, and so forth. Souls afire and eating each other. Need I say more? Too much energy has been wasted in description already. But that's not the point, old Polaski, my friend. The point is he has just come from God's presence. So first he has come back to the womb burdened heavy with his sins, and confessed to his mother's eyes, blinding her, I might add, then he has gone around in the great circle, then he has left God's presence for this. Think about it. Now that's punishment!”
“Well,” says Polaski, thoughtfully ceasing for the time being the washing of the glasses, “I imagine that would be worse than bad. No barrooms in hell? No consolation at all?”
“You've got it. That's exactly it! I tell you, not one in a million would see the world truly enough to ask such a question. Ask a brilliant professor of philosophy what he thinks about Hell? He'll ahem and carry on ridiculous without a clue, then he'll deny Hell, and do you know why? Because he has learned to hate. When you're living life backwards, what you see is what has already come to be. In other words the end comes to you before the beginning, when you were in your prime inventing all sorts of silly reasons to do anything. But that is my perfect world, not the real world. In the real world, all odds teach you to learn to hate. These so called great thinkers make hate feel like wisdom. That's their thing, how they get by in a world where anything goes. But in my more perfect world you have to proceed with it, take it with you straight into the womb. All that hatred, all that evil you have yourself made in this world. The horror of it. But not you Polasky, you saint among men. You ask me about barrooms in Hell, consolation! Why should you hate what has already come to be? What a futility! But if you don't care about anything, why should you care about Heaven and Hell? Just deny them both. But you, my friend, you're preparing yourself already, if worst comes to worst, to serve your comrades even in Hell.”
“I must admit, my last friend of half a dozen,” Polaski said, “you're ideas about what'cha'ma'call it, the great circle, make a kind of strange sense, sort of, and your man Hitler certainly does get his. But in my ignorance if I may ask you this one simple question?”
“What is your question, laughing friend of ten thousand in despair?”
“Where do the souls come from?”
“Minted. Newly minted in a factory several light years northwest of Paradise. And there is a certain number given over for recycling, too, with the owner's permission, of course. But that is another long story.
Yes, I am sure you will agree, Chicky was a man deeply concerned by the possibilities of sin. To wit, I have described his resolution. Though this theory of Chicky Dubrovski may seem confusing, in his life he pondered much on it and resolved many of the few confusions and loose ends. And this I present to you, ladies and gentlemen of the Committee, is an absolutely true story and I will swear to it on a stack of Bibles ten stories high. Although life is lived to the future and not the past, one day whether in heaven or hell, you will meet your dear mother, and you will have to answer to her eyes: “Child did you study about man and God beyond your self-interest?” This I promise you. The anguish if you did not will be worse than the anguish of a thousand hells.