“If God were alive today, he’d be an atheist.”
Cheer licked his lips as he said it. “Believe it. Imagine what it would be like if God were still around. We’d have floods, plagues, and a race of people apparently better than anyone else. What I’m saying is that it would be no different from how it is nowadays, kiddies.”
By definition, he was talking to himself. No one was around him. He wasn’t alone though. People were busying themselves near to where he was standing. It was just that he could have been on Venus and it wouldn’t have made any difference to anyone anywhere.
“If God’s still kicking, he must either be incompetent or just doesn’t care. I’d bet he’s both.”
Cheers felt this way for two reasons. The first was because he was named after the breakfast cereal Cheerios. The second was because people like his parents had the authority to make such obvious mistakes as procreating.
It didn’t make him angry, though. He wasn’t vindictive either. He just wasn’t God-fearing. And he’d ensure that if God was around, then God would be the first to hear about it. He shook his fist as he spoke, as if trying to box the ceiling and anything beyond it.
His opinion about the celestial beings started a long time ago – ancient history to some – when he was captured in World War II by the German Panzer 49f Division. At the time of his capture, he was dressed like a overgrown circus. His jacket didn’t fit. His shoes were too big. None of his clothes matched. And he had a mane like a lion but was no more dangerous than a new-born kitty cat.
When he was drafted, he wasn’t gung-ho. He knew nothing of war and wished to keep it that way. He failed every class, hoping to be sent back. Instead, they graduated him and sent him overseas with a body bag for a weapon.
The Corporal told him that any boy with a gun would become a man. He didn’t need balls. He needed metal. It was an extension of his penis, he said. The Corporal spit while he spoke. Cheers used the black linen body bag he had been sent with to wipe off the spit drizzling itself on his face
Soon he entered his first battle, a battle which would become his first and last form of training. He was handed a gun that could blow off a tusk from an elephant. Everyone told him that he looked like a fierce killer. Cheers could barely carry it. He was scared shitless.
“If we are God’s divine breath, we must be his farts.”
When Cheers was captured he repeated the only German he was ever taught. Ich würde lieber sterben, als Sie Deutsch scum bekennen. Roughly, the sentence translated to, “I’d rather die than confess to you German scum.” The Corporal who taught Cheers the phrase suggested that it would save his life.
It did. The Germans who were no more monstrous than he was laughed when he said it. They were boys like him. Kiddies really. Kiddies stuck in a big, bad world they had no say in at all. The world wasn’t in their hands. A gun was. And with it, they planned to end Cheers’ world.
The kept saying Die, Die, Die. Cheers thought they were heralding his doom. They were, in fact, saying the, the, the. They stuttered like children because they were afraid. Because they were children. Children with hand cannons for toys.
Cheers shot his hands out at the empty place where his audience should’ve been. He spoke in German. Nowadays, he was fluent. In a way, he was afraid of being captured again. In another, it made people listen to him. They wouldn’t understand his grunts and gnarls and gags, and people listen to that which they don’t comprehend.
Cheers did, at least. The soldiers told him their life stories, though Cheers couldn’t understand it. They told him that they didn’t want to kill him but they had to. They didn’t want to fight either, but here they had to do that as well. They asked what his favourite soccer player was and if New York really as big as they said it was. Cheers just smiled all the way through.
“[In German] The first words I said in German were meant to kill me.” His voice matched the shuffling of feet in the mall. “I’m still alive, I think. I had to climb over top of babies burning alive to do that.
“We are all babies. We are all whisked away before we can pull up our pants and understand what the fuck is going on.”
He stopped to look at the ceiling of the mall. Wenn es einen Gott gibt, er starb an diesem Tag. He repeated it in English, “If there was a God, he died that day.”
Cheers was brought to a watershed. It hadn’t been used since World War I. Way back when, it housed a team of half-dead, gangrene-riddled Russian snipers who could not be bothered with hygiene or much else besides shooting people from afar. A few skeletons greeted Cheers as he was ushered into the little shack that was meant to be his final resting place.
Knien Sie da drüben! one guard said to Cheers.
Sie nickte, aber du bist nicht bewegen. Another said between a fit of laughter.
Cheers laughed with them.
Sie verstehen uns? the third inquired.
Again, Cheers nodded.
The Germans looked at each other in apparent confusion. They couldn’t guess heads or tails if Cheers really spoke German. Besides, he was their first prisoner. They were as lost as Cheers was as to how to do this whole execution shebang. They hadn’t killed anyone in their lives. Everyone made it seem that it was so easy to kill and be killed. And those books they read; they were so wrong. Death was much more than black ink. It was blood and silence thickened by calamity. As they would find out, the most powerful statement in any language was, “He died.”
The solider who laughed saw the state of this now botched execution. He quickly fired off some order to the second solider. While he spoke, a festering wound on his shoulder dripped some indistinguishable yellow fluff of the consistency of mash potatoes. Cheers guessed he would die in three days or so. He was no more than sixteen. Besides the wound, he was the most beautiful person Cheers ever saw, and understood why the other soldiers listened to him just by stint of his looks.
Solider number two took Cheers to one of the corners where a skeleton was sitting. The skeleton had his legs crossed. To Cheers, he looked like he died comfortably. Cheers imagined that he was reading a good story before he croaked peacefully. This wasn’t how it was, but he liked to think as much.
The solider flapped his arms, signaling Cheers to move the skeleton. Cheers was too scared to even move. So was the solider. So was the skeleton, before he died so long ago. To Cheers and the soldiers, the skeleton was just a mirror.
The solider, whose first plan failed, screeched another. Cheers was brought to his knees away from the now distant skeleton. The skeletons legs remained cross as a gun was clicked and clacked and spoke a lifetime to Cheers’ left ear.
Irgendwelche letzten Worte? It was a sentence that would be comprehensive to anyone. Any last words? The phrase is always said somberly, no matter the language. If Cheers heard right, the German was crying.
Cheers spoke. He thought he might stand up to say his final sentence, hoping it would be important enough. But in absence of the opportunity for upstanding dignity, he knelt instead. It looked like a prayer from above.
Ich würde lieber sterben, als Sie Deutsch scum bekennen.
Some people looked Cheers’ way as he continued to sputter off German. It was Saturday at the busiest mall in the country. Hordes of people bought everything from tissue paper to fire arms to Shang Dynasty oracle bones. No one bought Cheers’ speech though. He guessed it was because it was too good to be true. It was free.
After blathering on and on to people who didn’t care in a crowded mall where he was alone, a Paleozoic dinosaur no more the age of Cheers sat down a few feet away. Cheers was excited: it was an audience for his generation, a generation which destroyed the world, which managed to construct armies never before seen, and which learned not to be apologetic about it all. They would die before they saw how little was left for everyone else. The dried out sack of skin sitting in front of Cheers was a product of that god-forsaken ideal. He was every vice and good intention Cheers could identify with. And for that, Cheers liked him.
“Hey you, you humbled son of a bitch.” Cheers was exuberant. The man turned his one good ear. “You agree with me, don’t you?” The man mumbled a few words. As he did, Cheers began to think that the man looked familiar somehow. Maybe that’s why Cheers was so excited. He wasn’t sure from where, though. There was a large scar at the bottom of the man’s chin, but if anything, the man must’ve been a skeleton of his old self. The younger version of him must’ve grown up and died.
The man said something again, and Cheers realized he met him a lifetime ago.
“Keine werden hoffnungsloser als jene, die fälschlicherweise glauben, sie sind frei versklavt.”
Keine werden hoffnungsloser als jene, die fälschlicherweise glauben, sie sind frei versklavt. The man withdrew his pistol. The other two soldiers bounced around excitedly like yo-yos. Only later did Cheers learn why everyone was so exuberant. It was because of what was said: a Goethe poem that was meant to liberate Cheers’ death. “None who are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
Cheers was going to die in this hopeless nightmare. The other three soldiers were the only people who realized it. Cheers shit himself. He was a baby again, dependent on three strangers whose world he now belonged in.
The presumed leader, whose gun was being cradled like a baby, didn’t notice. Instead, he shook his pistol in Cheers’ face. He closed his eyes the first time he shot. He missed.
Cheers checked if he had been hit after the eternity passed for the bullet’s echo to die down. To the two German soldiers, it looked like he was patting his body down as if he couldn’t remember this body part or that one. The soldier who was beyond beautiful was incredulous. He couldn’t believe he missed the first shot he ever fired. What about beginner’s luck? Doesn’t that apply in War, he thought. So, he tried to make sure his gun was working. While smoke seeped through the antique blunderbuss, he attempted to see if anything clogged the barrel. As accident were to have it, he blew his head off instead. Every beautiful little piece of his once beautiful little face was now beautifully scattered little by little on the floor. It was going to have an unwashable stain now, Cheers first thought.
The other two Germans looked at each other in disbelief. They then looked at Cheers who continued to fondle his precious body. In a way, though they couldn’t reason with the mystery of it all, they blamed him for the death of their fellow solider. In haste, they reached for their pistols and shot. Like before, they were worse than Cupid’s often misfired arrows. They didn’t hit a thing.
Cheers looked at them. He laughed. He was immortal. There was no other conclusion. He stood, and the boys before him cowered. He lifted his hands, and they ran. As far as he could tell, he was God, spinning miracles out of his fingertips. He could smite them down if only wanted to.
That’s when the Cheers was punished for his hubris. Bombs dropped from the Heavens, and that’s when Cheers realized how human he really was.
“But, I thought …” Cheers sighed deeply, “I thought you died.” He spoke entirely in German now. No other language would be able to contain such a happenstance born from a random Universe that made things like Capitalism, hurricanes, and deep-fried Mars Bars.
“I did. I was just born again.”
The man coughed as he spoke. Each little hiccup of breath was a clock clicking down, down, down. He smiled, only occasionally looking down to tell the time.
People continued to walk to and fro between the two mirrors of death. The various shoppers busied themselves with an uncritical life that sought simplicity in face of complexity. The world was big and they were small, and why should they bother with big things if they saw so many little things instead.
Cheers wished to change these people. He wanted to make them feel big, to feel like they belong. He was alone alright, but he never felt more together than when he came to speak in public. That’s why he came back every day. That’s why he stood there preaching in a mall with posters of girls with pearl earrings and lingerie and things that excited an otherwise dull lifestyle.
Yet after the ghost had spoke, Cheers was speechless. He had changed, not them. They kept moving, kept talking, kept buying. Only Cheers was silent.
The man continued. “I clawed out of my own blood rather than my mother’s. I climbed into the light from the darkness all around me. I couldn’t do anything but cry about it. Only my eyes could communicate; I couldn’t speak. I was born without a jaw.” He pointed to the largely unhealed scar underneath his chin. White fault lines of human fragility quaked as he spoke, almost as if the shambles he called skin would burst if only he stretched far enough.
“What happened to you?” He asked politely, almost falsely so.
Cheers tried to remember.
Cheers doesn’t remember much but he somehow lived through the aerial bombing initiated by Allies in order to weaken the German front lines. He was told later that he was supposed to get captured. Take the pawn, and the King’s exposed. Checkmate.
Cheers didn’t know much about chess. The only thing he could recall was climbing the bodies of the other two soldiers who were charred from the initial explosion. Cheers wondered if they missed their own flesh. He also wondered if they would be cold when the flames that lapped their body were extinguished.
Somewhere in between, he was picked up by a rogue group of Russian soldiers. Cheers, in a state of delirium, told them about the Russian snipers they forgot to save back in World War I. There was one Russian who told him they found him in a ditch of water with no one around. Cheers apparently said, “Where are my friends? Did they go home already?”
He was given the Purple Heart as a validation for his bravery. On the plane ride back, he was wearing the same pants he shit himself in during his first and only battle. The army hadn’t given him another pair. They were reserved for people still fighting. Cheers later offered the suggestion that soldiers be given diapers too, just in case.
Back home, Cheers lived whatever was left of his life. People tried to understand what went on during the war. He had a wife who always asked about it. He never spoke about the years between 43’ to 45’, though. His wife left because she said he wasn’t being communicative. She joined an antiwar movement instead. That was something she could understand.
As she left, he threw his Purple Heart down the toilet. He didn’t feel anything after that point, but for some reason or another, he was still considered alive.
For some ten years after, he found his life through the glasses beer pitchers could offer. He was an intellectual of first drafts and peanuts and bar music. He said that he was trying to die, but even a war couldn’t kill him. Every day, he drowned to liver in enough alcohol to kill a small zebra.
It took another war to change him. He was sitting with his bar family when he heard John Lennon’s Imagine. He tried to, and thought back to when he was younger and thought he knew everything in the world. He then remembered three German faces. He remembered that they knew everything too. In fact, one of them showed his brains for all to see.
He then tried to remember their names, but was left with the song and a few grunts to settle on. It wasn’t much, but he made entire life stories for them. The first soldier, the inquiring one, was a boy whose father was a distinguished lawyer and only fought in order to try to be more masculine than his father. The second soldier, the one who laughed, was a comedian. His friends called him the class clown. He was a little fart. The third, the beautiful one, was evidence that God didn’t exist because a man so beautiful had to die. His smile could end any war if he only tried, and Cheers was sure that any mythical being would try to make themselves in the third soldier’s image. But even then, they’d fail. Gods, thought Cheers, are too prone to mistakes to obtain perfection.
Cheers went up to try to find the names of these three individuals. He tried to do this for most of his life. Nothing was provided. So after thirty years of looking, he came to this mall to preach to his flock about God never existing because three babies died so long ago, and he was the only one who knew it.
He answered the man. “I lived. I survived. And I didn’t feel any better about that fact.”
“You’re lucky. I’m lucky.”
“You tired to kill me.”
“And I was lousy at that. I became a doctor after the war.”
“I didn’t find much when I came back.”
“What were you looking for?”
“Something that could change everything.”
“I was looking for something like that too.”
“Did you find it?”
“Yes. I was looking for you.”
“So was I, I think. I invented a whole lifetime for you, if that’s alright. I never learned your name, or who your father was, or what you did, or why you combed your hair like that. It looked so nice. It still does, even if we are old farts.”
The man laughed. “Cheers to that.”
Cheers laughed at well, barely recognizing his name was said.
The man spoke again in between fits of laughter, “My name is Yugen Schultz, and here is my story.”