GO ON WITHOUT ME

By John Thomas Tuft

It was a standard church building basement, austere and functional. Save the flash and dash for the sanctuary upstairs. The Special Committee for Upward Transfer, or SCUT, assembled one by one around the bare fiberboard topped table on the inevitably uncomfortable folding chairs. They talked quietly among themselves, wondering why this special meeting had been called, occasionally muttering about why had the fellowship committee not prepared coffee for this. They all stopped talking when they heard the voice outside in the hallway singing the Superman song: “I can’t stand to fly/I’m not that naive/I’m just out to find/The better part of me…It’s not easy to be me…”*

The door opened and in walked the StoryGuide, smiling, a big grocery bag in his arms. “Good evening, my fellow Scutables! Have you been out doing the scut kind of things I asked you to do?” One of them tapped his new Apple watch, making sure all could see his perfect heart rate, along with the time and the 10,000 steps he had taken that day. StoryGuide shrugged, “Sorry, I lost track of time helping some little boy with a special red wagon set up a feast for some struggling veterans under the bridge. Remember, we’re all scutables in this together.” He set the bag on the floor beside his chair and told them to all gather on one side of the table so someone could take a selfie for posterity…and if you downloaded the software it could even add a filter to make it look like a painting…of what would be their last meal together, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

When they were all settled back into their seats, he looked around the table. “Not bad for a boy from East McKeesport, am I right? Better than Braddock, that’s for sure! Man, we have been through it, haven’t we fellow scutables?” Rocky at the far end said, “Like the old joke goes,” and they all joined in, “Can anything good come out of East McKeesport?” When the laughter died down, one by one he went around the table. “Found you on an oil rig. You were a deck hand on a fishing boat in the North Sea. You sold State Farm. Lumberjack, coal miner, hipster barista in a coffee bar, you own a Jackson Hewitt franchise, you work in a beauty shop,” and on he went until he had gone all the way around. “It’s been a hell of a ride, thank you.”

The StoryGuide lifted the bag onto the table and took out the contents. First was a large vat of sour cream, some paper plates and napkins, then a huge bag of double-stuff Oreos. He opened the sour cream, tore open the bag of Oreos, selected a cookie,  screwed off the top, took a lick of the icing, put it back together. “Come on, everybody, take one,” he insisted. The passed the plates and napkins around, then the cookies and each took one. All eyes were on him, wondering what this was all about. Without a word, the StoryGuide put his phone on the table beside the sour cream and hit the play button for his playlist. The haunting tones of Disturbed’s version of the Sounds of Silence** filled the barren basement.

As the singer cried out, “The words of the prophet are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls, and whispered in the sound of silence…” the StoryGuide took his double stuff Oreo and scooped it into the sour cream until it was heaped with the white treat, then popped the whole thing into his mouth. Talking with a full mouth he said, “I saw it on TikTok. Go on, everybody, try it!” One by one, they followed his example. He saw one hesitating. “Don’t worry, Judas, you might like it. Try something new. No invisible escalator into the sky is going to save me, or any of us.” And they enjoyed this surprise feast.

As they were finishing, he addressed them. “My fellow scutables, it’s time for you to go on without me. But whenever you are having a good time, whenever you catch yourself enjoying life, think of me. I’ll be there. Have a double stuff Oreo smothered in sour cream. And remember, it’s good to laugh. Don’t look for me in the pulpit, nor the stained glass, nor in the highest rated televised ministry. That adjorns this meeting of SCUT.” And he stood up and walked out, singing the twenty-ninth verse of Baby Shark. They sought to stop him but when they reached the doors and threw them open, he was nowhere to be found. Leaving them to clean up the mess…as best they could.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.

*Superman(It’s Not Easy), John Ondrasak, 2000

**Sounds of Silence, Paul Simon, performed by Disturbed, 2015