It is 100 degrees. Fahrenheit. I still think in Fahrenheit. My daughters laugh at me. They are Celsius children. To them it is 38 degrees; and this I can’t compute other than trying to double the number and add 30. To me if it was 38 we would be a bit cold sitting here at poolside outside our apartment on Bat Lane. 38 is London weather. 38 is duvets on the sofa and thick socks. The girls say if it was 100 the pool water would be in a state of rolling boil. I realise that even science is relative. Religion, more so.
Lucifer is still my literary companion. His advice that Hell is sensory resonates. My heartbeat has slowed to the pace of the incandescent heat from the high Spanish sun.
Splotches of blue Mediterranean remonstrate through the almond trees and parched pines as if seeking consensus with the cooling waters of the swimming pool. It is a prod of Heaven; responding to the sensual Hell.
‘Don’t be gullible,’ I imagine the Devil whispers. ‘Those waves were Noah’s flood, the bones of a million sinners still lie 100 feet beneath the sea bed’s mud. The marine salt that rings your lips is their tears crying out to God for salvation. Salvation that wasn’t delivered.’
My mind wanders to 45 years ago. I am in Sunday School looking at a picture of Noah’s Ark. In the image there is a great storm and the great ship is not yet fully afloat. Those who have been deemed undeserving by God are on the few rocks still yet to be submerged. They plead with the bearded Noah to be let aboard. They are lost. They are drowning. A giraffe looks through an open hatch in horror. Noah looks lovingly at the storm clouds, ignoring the screams of those who repented too late. The picture has always frightened me and Lucifer knows it.
Locusts in the almond trees are a steady buzzer. They rub their wings in warning that Hell has opened up and the abyss is nigh. I am baked dry: sandwiched between the calefaction worming up through the red, cracked rock and El Sol.
It is my moment of temptation in the Judean desert. I will not make bread from the rock. I will not expect the angels to save me.
My book drops from my hand and falls face down next to a wasp. Its cautionary yellow and black bands flag the locusts’ prognostication. Flying in gentle circles above the stone it seeks a drink of water from the shallow puddles left by bathers departing the pool.
Redemption is always near. I fall weightless into the deep end of the pool. The flooding water surrounds my ears; its freight train rush drowns the locusts’ buzz. The coolness instantly vanquish any remaining notions of Hell. I open my eyes a meter below the surface to witness nothing but blue; heaven-like blue.
Mrs Head swims past me. She is not a strong swimmer and her jerking, frog-like strokes guide me even closer to my familiar, earthly existence. Turning in the blue-lit water she undertakes a more fluent back-stroke with wide sweeping arm motions. She now looks like an angel.
We stand in water up to her neck as we speculate on the stories behind the other sun worshippers at poolside; the occupants to the other apartments owned by Farmer Mortie. We pass judgements and make fun of them. I am Noah, now looking down from the ark, smug and righteous; dry and sanctified.
A Dutch woman lounges at poolside, naked. Her skin has turned to leather. She must be in her mid fifties and I offer that she has been sun bathing for more than half a century. Without interruption. She is accompanied by three pot-bellied men, all perhaps a decade older than her. Each man is bearded and with thick back hair that holds the water long after they have removed themselves from the pool. “A Dutch Ménage à trios plus one,” Mrs Head offers. I suggest there is some sort of rota and each one takes a daily shift.
A Spaniard from the mainland talks loudly into his mobile phone. His long hair is tied in a pony tail. He too has a rough, untrimmed beard. “An extra from the Planet of the Apes,” I offer.
The poolside males; the three Dutchmen and Cornelius the Ape stare down. Perhaps their English is better than I expect and they understand every word we say. My mind drifts again. I am now in the churches I have witnessed in adulthood: with stained-glass impressions of obscure Saints and more familiar Old Testament characters from Sunday School. They are stern looking but if memory serves, my childhood Sunday School teacher confirms they are men of God, and therefore not to be afraid.
Peeking through the trees I look for Noah’s ark on the rising waters.
My daughters have had enough of the sun for one day. Whether it is 100 or 38 degrees doesn’t matter; the heat is too much for them. They have been Londoners too long it seems. They return to the apartment to watch Spanish television in the cool of the room.
I realise that even science is relative. Religion, more so. Lucifer, on a level I agree with you; perhaps Hell is sensory. But Heaven is embedded in that part of us that feels beyond the 5 senses.
Keep the Faith,