Degrees of Blasphemy
By sean mcnulty
Walter took charge of wheeling the trolley and Katrine and Stinson walked on either side of it with one hand each on the coffin to hold it steady. Masterson walked alongside them, rifting full and free and filling the cool air with an alky stench. The Danish had also booked into the Iversen Hotel as it happened to be the only hotel in Torshavn (Apart from another that nobody knew about – in the history of towns, there was always a hotel that nobody knew about, with perfectly reasonable rooms sitting empty as weary travellers humped along obliviously in the streets.)
Making their way up the road, Masterson turned to the coffin-bearers and asked, ‘You don’t think they’re going to let you bring that thing in, do you?’
‘That thing?’ Katrine crooked her head at him. ‘This is the normal vocabulary you priests use to talk of eternal rest, is it?’
‘I guarantee you it is not,’ said Stinson, moving to defend his flock. ‘This is just Masterson. And he does not speak for all of us.’
‘Yet he speaks for God?’ added Walter, getting quite salty for a spiritual dignitary. But then again salty spiritual dignitaries were not rare in that day of age.
Though there was no doubting the tartness of Masterson’s proclamations, there existed some validity in his question. Katrine and Walter had arrived at the hotel some hours before the priests and sure enough the owner had almost refused to take them in on account of the morbid valise they carried. But chance had a kind eye on them and the owner eventually gave them a room so long as the body stayed in the storeroom and if they promised to come back late in the evening when nobody could see and also if they came in through the back entrance. Through the kitchens. The Iversen didn’t get many guests during that time of year and business was business, thought the owner, dead body or not, though he might have reconsidered the decision had he known three holy men from Ireland would soon arrive carrying with them lots of attractive British pounds.
It was almost as if Masterson was intentionally trying to get a rise out of the party for he ploughed on with the graceless commentary. ‘This is the oddest funeral procession I’ve ever walked. Not that I haven’t been drunk on them before, mind you. It’s just these are queer streets and you’re all a queer sort of people.’
‘Speak for yourself,’ jabbed Katrine.
‘Oh, I do. And I speak for God too, would you believe?’
‘I don’t. Not in your God, nor your advocacy.’
Stinson, who was starting to huff and puff as they were now climbing a slight knoll in the road, looked across the casket at Katrine and asked, ‘Was your mother religious?’
She paused. Walter let an awkward cough out. Then Katrine said: ‘Not really.’
‘Why go to all this bloody trouble then?’ said Masterson. ‘If she wasn’t religious, why sail the seven seas to bury her? She probably wouldn’t mind if we just dug the hole right here in the road.’
‘No, she most certainly would mind that,’ said Walter. ‘There’s a letter. And in it she gave us instructions about what to do with the body when she died. Yes, we could dig a hole anywhere, as you say, and drop her in it, but in the letter, she dictated quite explicitly that her body should be returned to the island of her birth. That was the first and most important request she gave.’
‘I take your point but fathom it I cannot.’
Stinson’s panting got so loud that Walter asked if he wanted to stop for a bit. ‘No, no, it’s okay, we’re nearly there,’ he said. Why was he so exhausted? All he was doing was holding the coffin steady with one hand. He wasn’t wheeling the thing like Walter. Maybe it was the few sips of beer he’d had. Who could tell? He sure was delighted when he saw the distinct octagonal windows of the Iverson approaching over the hill.
When they got to the hotel, they shared a few farewells and promised to arrange a meeting in the morning with Captain Littlewood in the hope he would accept new passengers. But before they parted for the night, Masterson, in a peculiar moment of goodwill that didn’t suit his normal self, turned to Katrine, said ‘Great to meet you, see you tomorrow,’ and he threw his big arms around her, to her shock and surprise. He then did the same with Walter but didn’t linger half as long.
After Stinson and Masterson had left, Katrine and Walter wheeled their dead loved one around the back of the hotel and found the door of the kitchen where the owner had told them to knock and wait and someone would come to let them in. Some minutes they waited. Knocked again. And waited. Then a kitchen porter wearing a grubby apron and a spattered toque opened up. He looked the casket up and down and said: ‘Oh, yes, the body. Come on in.’
That night, a strange thought came into Stinson’s head once he laid it down on the pillow. In the thought, he watched Masterson leave their room in the middle of the night and meet Katrine somewhere dark and secret elsewhere in the hotel where they embraced romantically before undressing and aggressively molesting one another in a way Stinson found shocking but at the same time thrilling enough to keep in his head flickering like one of those illicit films he’d been programmed to condemn.
Unbeknown to Stinson, and to all others in the world, Father Masterson, in the bed beside him, had launched a precious dream of his involving a lady named Gypsy Rose and her famous striptease which in every instance of the dream grew and grew in degrees of blasphemy.