Nicols + co. Guns. Rifles. Accessories. Eddie always wanted the Christian bookshop he works in to have big metal letters jutting out of it, just like this, but the manager can’t afford it. The Nicols factory must date back to World War II.
Next door to the long since abandoned factory is a stretch of four terraced houses, also boarded up. Eddie fingers the splinters around a hole about three feet wide in one of the boards. He peers inside.
He can feel God in this place.
One of these houses has to be perfect for the wedding. Until now he wasn’t sure. Wanted to run away. The picking of churches for the ceremony was destroying him. Even five minutes ago. But now this, only a mile or two from their flat.
He crawls through. A sharp jut of wood catches his white shirt and rips a small hole. His work trousers get covered in dirt.
The darkness inside is comforting. The floorboards on this half of the living room are all missing. A sofa has fallen into the hole. Its paisley design is half-visible behind dust and boot prints. Eddie hops onto it, then up to the floorboards at the back of the room. On the other side of the room he looks back to the twilit street, framed by the splinters of the entrance hole. Outside an old lady waits for her bus. She checks her watch.
In the solitude of the living room he can feel the family that used it as their space. In the darkness Eddie feels the same privacy the room would have given them. In the light breeze he breathes them in, all their cells and their memories.
In the dim light the damp plaster peels, some remnants of wallpaper curled at the base of the walls, in amongst used needles and spoons. He recognises the little black and blue boxes that clinics give out. It’ll be easy to clear this stuff out before the big day.
Eddie can feel a draft from beyond the door to his left, which has been wedged open with a brick.
This is where God lives. Not in the fucking bookshop, not in the idyllic cathedral where Alison wants to get married. It’s cold there too, and dusty, but tidy and ordered, not how God wanted it.
Alison was raised by her parents in the all-singing, all-dancing Christian fashion, something Eddie was jealous of when they first met. Gospel churches, soup kitchens, vicars shouting positive vibes through microphones.
Eddie’s parents had brought him up In Norwich in a strict fundamentalist household, mass every Sunday, choir practice, saying grace before he was even allowed to tuck into popcorn at the cinema, and worst of all, confession – one visit for each time they caught him sharing a joint or a bottle of whiskey with his friends.
Nowadays he finds his parents’ dusty medieval Christian aesthetic more honest than Alison’s. More honest too than the idiots who fill the bookshop buying CDs and downloading daily prayers to their iPhones. More honest than singing ‘O Happy Day’ when the world is fucked.
After all the begging for forgiveness as a teenager, he knows that the Holy Ghost – whether he likes it or not – will always be there to filter his perception of the world. Eddie is just glad that when he does see God, it’s always in all the wrong places, the places his parents would have hated.
This is where God lives. In front of him there is a fireplace, on the mantel a picture frame with nothing in it. There is a needles box next to it. He touches the frame.
There’s a stairwell on the wall to the right, but most of the steps are broken and he doesn’t trust his luck to try. Instead he squeezes through the door to his left.
This looks like a study. A spinning black leather chair sits in the centre, its fabric torn. There is rubble everywhere, and in the corner is a mattress. Someone must have slept here, made it their home. In the corner of the room is a box of children’s toys. Star Wars. Transformers. An old He-man figure. Some random blocks of lego. All coated in dirt and dust. At the bottom of the box is a pool of stagnant water. Against one wall is a desk, blank paper scattered everywhere.
An ambulance siren wails out on the street. Life goes, becomes trees and wind and rubble, buildings crumble, kills more, people move on, on and on.
Eddie goes through another door to the kitchen, where the roof is blown off. He looks up to try and see stars in the cloudy evening sky. This room is where the chill had been coming from. The counters are all ripped out. A rat scurries across the back wall.
Eddie climbs onto an old boiler, and grabs hold of the top of the wall. He hoists himself up and sits there on the ledge, looking out at the scene behind the house. There’s a tiny patch of garden, and a fence that backs onto a man-made canal basin used for drainage. In the distance are city lights. Some blinking on a crane, some on a buzzing aeroplane sailing across water-filled clouds. The big clock near the cathedral is all lit up. So much is happening in no time at all, like an ancient supernova.
This is where him and Alison will get married. This house right here, in the ashes of another family, ready to make their own. Saying their vows, looking down at a box of toys from another child, a child that they both used to be and can grow away from together. He lights a cigarette.
“Ha!” He shouts. “Wooo!”, overcome with happiness.
He finishes smoking and jumps down off the wall, ready to get back home, ready to tell Alison what he has found. All their months of searching for a good place, and this is it. He squeezes through into the study.
On the floor two men are sat with their backs to him. One of them with his sleeve rolled up, the other carefully putting tobacco a cigarette paper. Eddie freezes, his chest palpitating. One of them is sedated and looks up at Eddie, smiling. The other scans Eddie’s dim form.
“I’d have tidied up if I knew the property investors were coming over,” the man says, studying the hole in Eddie’s shirt. He rearranges the tobacco in his Rizla. The man is handsome, with large curly hair and thick rimmed glasses. The sedated man is dressed in a grey tracksuit, and laughs at his friend’s joke.
“Sorry, I didn’t know there was anyone in here,” says Eddie through a dry throat.
“S’alright. Got a light? Mine’s running out.”
“I don’t smoke.”
“No worries boss…Want to take a seat? The couch is a bit dusty.” He finishes rolling his cigarette then points to the huge hole in the floor near the entrance, where the sofa is sunk in. The sedated man quietly laughs again.
“I better be going,” says Eddie.
“Suit yourself,” says the man, and takes some time to fire up his cigarette with a dying lighter. He shakes it and rolls the flint again and again, until finally just enough flame comes out.
Eddie tries to move his feet but cannot. God is in everyone, he thinks. Every single person is God.
He looks toward the entrance hole on the other side of the room, saying nothing, doing nothing, watching the tobacco smoke curl upwards and distort the streetlight coming in from outside.