Malcolm Steadman will be homeless in 70 days.
There was someone at the door. There was someone at the door! The knocking sounded completely alien to Malcolm Steadman, almost like an unwanted perversion. His apartment was supposed to be his sanctuary, someplace he could hide and not be bothered by the outside world. He was supposed to be safe here. So sudden was this knocking, so unforgivable, that Malcolm barely knew what to do. For a solid ten seconds he earnestly did not know what came next after a knock. Then it happened… again.
Malcolm stood and walked cautiously to his door, self-conscious at just how ridiculous he was at treating this “emergency”. What was awaiting him on the other side though was possibly the only thing more meek and nervous than himself. What had threatened to lay siege to his privacy was a pair of sharply dressed young gentlemen. They were dressed in white collared shirts short in sleeve and paired with a pitch black skinny tie. Nature does well to mark her hazards. Venomous snakes have bold black bands and bright colors, tigers wear stripes, the things you should avoid always wore uniforms. This, was the uniform of a Mormon.
And there was two of them.
Mormons always travel in pairs.
It must be understood that Malcolm Steadman is a people pleaser. He is polite. The idea of breaking the social contract under any circumstances chills him to the bone. Malcolm would absolutely jump off a bridge if everyone else was doing it just to stay away from the unbearable unpleasantness of disagreeing. If reincarnation exists, Malcolm spent his previous four lives as the very concept of standing in a British queue. It is for these very reasons that the following happened nearly immediately: Malcolm greeted the young men with a smile, and they came inside.
The three men exchanged pleasantries as the two strangers entered Malcolm’s apartment. The level of politeness was such that If they each had their own business card it is very possible that each would hand off one to the other until their fingers were worn down to bone. Malcolm led the two young men to his kitchen, the only place in the apartment with enough chairs to accommodate all three of them when the first unpleasantness was exposed. Malcolm had forgotten to clean up the nearly rancid jigsaw puzzle splayed across his floor like a bloodstain. An uncomfortable silence fell with gravity over the kitchen. If it wasn’t clear to these two that I am crazy, Malcolm thought, it is now.
“I love jigsaw puzzles!” the taller Mormon said, because of course he did. Malcolm smiled in response, mentally exhaling.
Prompted by nobody, the three men sat in unison, an unpeeled grapefruit being the only divider on the table.
“Grapefruit!” exclaimed the shorter Mormon, “that is a tasty fruit”. They all agreed that grapefruit was a tasty fruit. The politeness and pleasantries had reached an event horizon. After a short lull in verbal communication, the taller one asked “have you heard about the good news?” …and so it began.
The taller one did all of the talking. Though Malcolm was tense, and the sales pitch incredibly uncomfortable to him, there was no reason for him to be. This was a perfectly nice young man who honestly wanted to help Malcolm and save his soul. There was no malice there. Yes, Malcolm didn’t want to be saved, but that was besides the point. If Malcolm didn’t want to have this conversation he could have left the two at the door. He had to deal with the consequences.
As he talked, the tall Mormon mistook Malcolm’s polite smiles and nodding as permission to keep talking and genuine interest in his religion. Jesus’ trip to the Americas and the unknown gospel that Joseph Smith had unearthed by order of an angel were pleasantly relayed. Genuine excitement filled the tall man’s voice with grace as he expressed that his church was not as old-fashioned as perceived by most and that there was a great sense of community there. The smaller one perked up at this, his demeanor open and happy. Community, and contributing to it was the best part for these two. What was wrong with that?
Malcolm sat frozen in his chair watching passively as his unpeeled grapefruit slowly dried out. It was probably not unpolite for him to eat it as he was in his own apartment, but he did not dare make any move that would volley the conversation his way. He dreaded for his turn to say something.
After briefly mentioning an afterlife, the tall Mormon paused with intent and asked “have you ever thought about death?”
Boy howdy did he ever.
Caught off guard by the question, Mr. Steadman answered with manic energy. Nervousness had built inside of him since the knock on the door like a pressure bomb, and it had just gone off.
“I-uh, I think about death all of the time! Once, while I was trying to make toast, my toaster didn’t work and I contemplated the act of entropy to the very heat death of the universe. Turned out it just wasn’t plugged in.”
The shorter one nervously laughed at that, but Malcolm continued without pause.
“The very idea of my limited time on this planet being used up and traded for with money frightened me to such an extent that I had a panic attack at my old job and I ran away from embarrassment. I lost my job and went on an alcoholic binge that lasted the better part of a week.”
Fear had washed over the shorter man’s face. The tall one shifted in his chair with unease.
“Oh no no no! I know you guys don’t drink and what not, but I did it responsibly!” Malcolm said defensively. “I paid my month’s rent ahead of time and- well, uh, actually that check bounced, and seeing as I don’t have a job I’m not sure when I can pay it now…” The Mormons stared, their silence the only response necessary. “They uh, they added a ninety dollar fee for being late.” Malcolm continued after no one asked him to. He decided then that it was probably a good idea to omit the part about the suicide hotline.
The short man spoke first.
“So… you don’t believe there is anything for us when we die?” he said.
“No.” Malcolm whispered, filled with fear to hear himself say it for the first time. “I don’t think there is meaning in life, and I don’t think there is an afterlife. If I am going to be perfectly honest, I don’t think there is a god either.” No one was making eye contact. “…and if there is a god, I’m not sure it has any idea we are here.”
The short man looked like he was about to speak, but there was too much momentum in Malcolm’s brain. He wasn’t saying this for their sake, he needed to hear himself say it out loud. He needed to admit to himself what he had been thinking about for the last three months.
“Life is a finite ocean of boring, unfulfilling Wednesdays that the universe is cold to.”
The palms of all three men were sweaty. Their eyes searching for something, anything but to meet the other’s glance. The taller man took a deep breath and smiled at Malcolm in pity, his hands reaching for something in his satchel. The hand returned from the pouch with a pamphlet, and the man’s eyes met Malcolm’s.
The tall man broke the silence.
“Does that make you happy?” he asked, his eyes sad.
This took Malcolm completely off guard. Did it make him happy? Of course it didn’t make him happy! Malcolm Steadman was a nervous wreck of his former self. These thoughts had ruined him. He was out of a job, late on rent, and the only person to be genuinely kind to him before today was a skinny junkie the knocked up a teenager! Yet, the question was not asked because the young Mormon was curious. It was asked because he had an alternative. That was what caught Malcolm off guard. It had never occurred to him to simply think differently, if that was in fact a simple thing to do.
“No.” Replied Malcolm.
The tall man pushed the pamphlet toward him. “We believe in an afterlife. In a just god that knows and cares about you. We believe in meaning. Wouldn’t it be better that way?”
Malcolm gently picked up the pamphlet. The short man smiled politely at him, then eyed the door.
Malcolm Steadman desperately wants to be another face in a vast conformity. He had never lied to himself about this: Malcolm was a follower. Though the tall man’s smile was condescending, his want to help Malcolm was genuine. Never mind if what he was prescribing to Malcolm was real or not. Never mind the theology or the politics. Whether or not this dope was the right prescription, it could work. If Malcolm believed.
“We have a community potluck at the end of the month” the short man offered. “You should come!”
“I’ll think about it” Malcolm replied… and he would.
The awkwardness now at the crest of an insecure wave, Malcolm considered bull shitting some appointment he had to make to end his unwanted visit. It wasn’t needed. The Mormons had sensed the slight unspoken hostility, and had decided that they wanted to leave as much as Malcolm wanted them gone. The tall man stood and shook Malcolm’s hand vigorously and thanked him for his time. The short man simply stood, looking quite shaken himself. After two rounds of thanking each other, the two young men in their white shirts and black ties left. Before the door shut, the taller one looked at Malcolm with the same pity filled smile and said “it gets better”.
The door shut.
Malcolm sat down and poked his drying grapefruit with his index finger.
Malcolm did not believe in a god, and it was unlikely that he would start now. But was it time for him to try? The two Mormons seemed genuinely happy. Their demeanor was content and they were honestly excited about their own community. Wasn’t the idea of a warm universe that had purpose and a god at its wheel a far better one than a cold uncaring one driven by meaningless chance and absurdity? Malcolm’s freshmen understanding of Nihilism had tortured him. Wasn’t its polar opposite worth his time? He could be happy.
Was it time for Malcolm to believe?
No. No it wasn’t.
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