of the Mansion
George A. Blair
Copyright © 1994
George A. Blair
Note:I wish here to acknowledge my debt to C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. The basic idea of his book is the same as this one: that those in hell find heaven even less attractive than hell, and so would rather be in hell than heaven. I am just providing other examples of this, as well as a couple of other ways I think one can manage to sneak into heaven.
ContentsI: The Dirty Man
The Dirty Man
THE MAN LOOKED TANNED, BUT NOT from the sun. On closer inspection it was clear that the dirt had worked its way into his very skin and become a part of him. The owner of the mansion, however, opened at his knock and let him into the foyer, gleaming with green-veined marble.
"Jes--! Oh, sorry." The brown cheeks turned terra-cotta. "Look at that!" He gazed in admiration at the staircase that opened like a fan in front of him, leading up to a sunny landing draped in velvets and brocade. "Just like I've always dreamed of! What I wouldn't give to live in a place like this!"
"Well, some say it takes a bit of getting used to," replied the owner; "but those who stay seem to like it."
"If you could've seen the things I've had to get used to!" said the dirty man. "This'd be heaven!"
"Do you really think you'd enjoy living here?" asked the owner.
"I suppose it costs. Just my luck."
"Well, yes, it does, unfortunately."
"I knew there was a hitch. Do I look as if I had any money?"
"Oh, it doesn't cost money. But it costs."
"You mean I actually could live here if I wanted to?"
"I've had the sign out for years now," said the owner. "You must have seen it."
"You mean the thing out front. Well, actually, I never paid much attention to it. I never really believed it, in fact; I just knocked for the hell of it. You mean it's really true?"
"Oh yes, it's true."
"Then you just try me!" he exclaimed, and looked as if he were about to run up the staircase, when, as he lifted his foot, he paused. "Is this floor hot?" he asked.
"No, actually," replied the owner, "but your feet, you know, are dirty, and the floor interacts with the dirt to clean them off. Look at your shoes." They were glistening. "The effect has begun to work its way inside."
"It's uncomfortable as hell!" exclaimed the dirty man. "Don't you have carpets?"
"Of course, but they're the same. Dirty people--excuse me for saying it--but dirty people can't live here. I told you it takes some getting used to."
"Why can't they? That's just prejudice. Discrimination."
"I don't mean they can't come in and start living here. It's just that the house is made in such a way that they can't live here and stay dirty; there isn't any dirt here."
"Why not? Dirt's natural. Everybody's dirty."
"That may be, temporarily at least," answered the owner. "But you see, the dirt covers a person so that you can't see what he really is--and it blocks his pores so he can't really feel and clogs his ears and eyes so that he can't hear and see clearly, and so on. A dirty person isn't really himself; and so we think it's dishonest for a person to stay dirty."
"Oh yeah? Well, where I come from, they say a man's not honest unless he's a little dirty. Man was made from dirt, after all."
"That's true; and I know what they say," said the owner with a touch of irony.
"The muddy man, standing now on one foot, now on the other, looked round and said, "Where would I stay, anyway, if I decided to live here? I mean, would I have a room of my own?"
"Oh yes," was the reply. "This house, you know is actually my father's house; but I happen to know its layout very well, and I can assure you that there are very many rooms in it, and in fact, there's one already assigned to you, to see if you find it satisfactory."
The dirty man looked up with the look of those who have been taken advantage of before and don't want it to happen again. "Suppose I don't. Don't I get to pick my own?"
"Oh, I wouldn't be concerned about that," answered his host. "The selection is actually up to you. What I meant about having the room assigned is that you've already chosen it, before you came into this territory. We built it to the specifications you laid down."
"No! Really? How did you do that?"
"Oh, we have our ways. Didn't you hear about it? You must have."
"You mean that story that there was always some spy watching everything I did, like Santa Claus or something? I stopped believing in that when I found out there wasn't a Santa Claus."
"Well, whatever you believe or don't believe, we do have a room," returned the owner. "And I venture to predict that you'll find it familiar when you see it; and after a while, if you choose to stay, you'll be quite comfortable in it. That's the whole purpose of this mansion.
"Can I show it to you?" he went on. "It's at the head of the stairs."
As the muddy man, led by the host, started up the magnificent staircase, his hand touched the golden bannister. "Ow!" he cried. The palm of his hand was gleaming white. "I thought I'd burned my goddam hand off!"
"No, it's just clean now."
"Oh I get it now!" exclaimed the man. "I get it now! You can't take a man for what he is! You've got to change him around to your idea of what he ought to be before you'll let him live here. And when you get through, his own mother wouldn't recognize him!"
"I told you it costs to stay here," replied the owner calmly. "That's what it costs."
"So you're saying I've got to become somebody else just to live here. I've got to give up what I am."
"That's what it amounts to, I'm afraid," said the host. "Let me say, however, that I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. You'll recognize yourself when it's all over--and it doesn't take so very long, as you can see. Look at your legs already." They were absolutely pristine up to the knees by this time.
"Oh, no! Oh, no!" said the man. You sound just like everybody else! What do you people have against somebody just being his natural self?"
"Nothing at all," was the answer. "It's just that it's not possible to live in this house and be your natural self. The house wasn't built that way."
"Well, it's a stupid way to build a house, if you ask me," he said, "if nobody can live in it but artificial freaks."
"Well, I wouldn't call them artificial, exactly," answered the owner, "just made over. We think of it as an improvement on what was there before, not a replacement. In fact, the people themselves seem to feel the same way, once they become accustomed to it. That was what I meant when I said that you'd recognize yourself.
"Well sure they feel comfortable, once their brains are washed the way you're trying to wash my hands and feet. The poor fools don't have minds of their own any more."
"They don't just have minds of their own, that's true. But that's the price of living here."
"It sounds to me like too high a price to pay. Anybody'd be a fool to pay it."
"One man's foolishness is another man's wisdom."
"And one man's proverbs are another man's crap!" retorted the dirty man. "At least I know who I am, and I'm damned if I'll give that up!"
"It's your choice, of course," said the owner. No one is going to try to force you.
The dirty man went back down the few steps he ascended and looked around the foyer at the statuary and the plants in the oriel windows. "What a shame!" he said. "It'd be the kind of thing you dream about in other circumstances."
"Don't let this conversation mislead you. You're still perfectly welcome to stay if you want."
"Oh, I'm not blaming you. You can live in whatever kind of house you want. He reached out his clean hand and shook the hand of his host. "No hard feelings, but even the gutter's a better place than this. At least there you can be yourself--but I suppose you wouldn't understand that; and it's not my place to try to convince you. Live and let live."
"We try to."
"Well, it's been real," said the man as he opened the door to go out.
"It has indeed," said the owner.Next