The Last Days of Jack Sparks

The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp Read Free Book Online

Book: The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jason Arnopp
ill?’
    Di Stefano’s selective deafness kicks in. ‘A word of warning,’ he says. His voice may be slighter now, having lost its boom, but nevertheless I wonder if he’s about to threaten me. ‘You can laugh at the Church, no problem. We are laughed at every day. But when you laugh at . . .’
    His eyes flit across the church.
    ‘At the Devil?’ I ask, raising my voice for Maria’s benefit as much as anyone else’s, hoping she and Maddelena will understand. ‘There’s no such thing as the Devil!’
    Di Stefano makes a kind of horse’s whinny. I think it’s supposed to mean I’m treading on thin ice with The Man Downstairs.
    Across the church, Maddelena stands alone. She must have been keenly eavesdropping on our conversation, because only now does she realise that Maria is no longer beside her. The woman’s hair flails as she scans the church.
    I frown my most irritating frown at Di Stefano. ‘Why would the Devil care? Isn’t his greatest trick supposed to be convincing the world he doesn’t exist?’
    ‘Maria?’ calls Maddelena. With one swipe of a curtain, she reveals an empty confession box.
    Di Stefano opens his mouth so Beardless can insert pills, then gulps them down with water. He tells me, slowly and deliberately, as if instructing a child, ‘That was a
movie
.’
    The priest has underestimated me in assuming I was paraphrasing cinematic dialogue as opposed to the Charles Baudelaire quote, but I’m impressed that he’s seen
The Usual Suspects
. It makes him seem more human when I imagine him lounging around in his underwear, throwing a DVD on the box. I resist the urge to ask which other cool nineties films he’s seen, like
Reservoir Dogs
, or
Goodfellas
(‘My exorcism is funny, huh? I amuse you, I make you laugh?’)
    Maddelena’s voice is smaller and without echo, suggesting that she’s outside. ‘Maria? Maria?
Dove sei
,
la mia bambina?

    I nod over at the stained-glass window that Maria looked at so pointedly during the exorcism. Its coloured glass panels collectively depict a glum Jesus Christ sitting on some rocks.
    ‘What is the meaning of that?’ I ask.
    ‘No more, no more,’ says Beard, making the universal gesture for ‘No more’ with his hands. ‘Move away.’
    Di Stefano glances irritably at the window.
    ‘It is Christ during his forty days in the wilderness,’ he says, sagging with relief at the approaching wail of an ambulance siren.
    * * *
    You’d think the paramedics’ arrival would end the madness here, but no. There will be one more burst, for my pleasure.
    Mother and daughter have been reunited. Maria, it transpires, only wanted some fresh air. Besides attending to Di Stefano’s obvious needs, the paramedics check the girl over and swab samples of that worryingly rust-infused blood from the church floor.
    Basically, everyone’s going to hospital except me and Translator Tony. I have to catch a flight back to London, which means Tony is no longer required. It’s a shame the fun has to end: I might derive perverse pleasure from spending time in a crowded ambulance with a Catholic priest, a nail-spitting teen and two lunkheads. Great material for another episode of
Satan & I
.
    While Di Stefano is being strapped on to a stretcher, I pull out my phone and walk around, fishing for reception.
    My post about laughing during an exorcism has caused a furore. I honestly hadn’t imagined that, in this day and age, chuckling in the Devil’s face would be so controversial. Of course, plenty of people support me, but at least as many spiritually minded folk object to my ‘arrogance’, ‘disrespect’ and ‘rudeness’. These are people with whom my good friend Richard Dawkins spars on a daily basis. The kind of people who believe the Earth is only six thousand years old. I feel like I’m getting a taste of Rich’s online life. I’ve sampled it before while posting about atheism, but never to this extent.
    ‘An exorcism can be a very dangerous thing, both for

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