Jim couldn’t take it anymore. He looked away. The angel laughed, grabbed the telescope, and looked for himself.
“This is nothing,” the angel said. “You should have seen Carthage. Or Nanking. Or Rwanda. Hell, I’ve seen prison-rapes that were more entertaining.”
“Entertaining,” Jim repeated. He just couldn’t wrap his head around it. “So this – this is all happening right now?”
“More or less.”
The images burned. Jim had always known that people did awful things to one another, but he’d never really seen it. He certainly hadn’t seen it through an angel’s telescope before.
“So you just watch this like it’s TV? Do you ever watch the good stuff?”
“This is the good stuff.”
“I mean, like weddings, things like that. Celebrations. People building things. You know, art and science. Babies.”
The angel pulled himself away from the scope. “Did you ever watch those things?”
Come to think of it, he hadn’t. Jim hated shit like that. He shook his head.
“Think of Earth as a bad dream,” the angel said. “It’s awful while you’re in it, but when you wake up it’s pretty gnarly.”
“But why is it so awful?” Jim said. “Why do people suffer like that?”
The angel had his mouth open with a response, but a faerie burst in through the window. Another crashed through the ceiling. A third walked in through the door. Jim had always pictured faeries as Tinkerbelles, but these were bespectacled bald men, two feet tall, and all business.
The door faerie didn’t see Jim, and he puzzled at the angel.
“Angels don’t ask why,” he said.
The angel pointed at Jim, and Jim was soon surrounded.
“You’ve been served,” the faeries said together.
One of them handed Jim a manila envelope, and he opened it. Inside was a single sheet of paper. It read,
Jim v Logic
You are hereby commanded to appear in Paradise Court to defend yourself in the above-titled case and to answer to the following charge(s).
Charge(s): Asking a loaded question.
Jean Paul Sartre Courthouse
When Jim finished reading, the faeries were gone. He looked at the angel.
“I think I’ve just been summonsed,” he said.
Jim had defended himself in court before, but that was for a traffic violation. Defending a loaded question at the Jean Paul Sartre Courthouse sounded like it was above his pay grade. An ad in the Yellow Pages (William and William: Defense Attorneys for the Anguish’d Heart) had pointed him to a small office near the courthouse, and the receptionist told him to go right in.
It was a cluttered office, littered with books and parchments, and William Shakespeare sat behind the desk. His nose was buried in a tome.
“What’s the charge?” he said without looking up.
“I, uh, I asked a loaded question,” Jim said.
“Why is there suffering. In the world. Why do people suffer.”
“Well,” closing the book, “you’ve come to the right place. Have a seat.”
Jim sat down. “I thought you hated lawyers,” he said.
“A man cannot always choose how he employs his talents,” Shakespeare said. “But he is only lost if he doesn’t employ them at all.” He searched for an empty sheet of paper, and not finding any turned one over. “It bodes well to begin with a name.”
“Jim,” Jim said, and Shakespeare wrote it. Jim stared.
“You – I mean, Shakespeare – just wrote my name.”
“Ha! Well, at least there’s someone left in Paradise who appreciates a red-blooded jot.”
“What do you mean?”
“When that French lunatic shot his monkeys into space, my lays lost all appeals. What authorship remains is culled from a squall of apes.”
Jim nodded his head. He decided it was a metaphor and didn’t want Shakespeare to think he was stupid. “Yeah, man. The shit they come out with now. Bunch of apes.” He coughed into his hand.
Shakespeare snapped his fingers. “The summons,” he said. Jim handed it to him and he sighed. “These relativisms are wearisome. What were the circumstances?”
“Well,” Jim said, “I was looking through this angel’s telescope, I think it was Russia or Ukraine or somewhere, and some really nasty stuff was going on. We were talking, and I just asked him about the suffering.”
“What did you say exactly?”
“Umm, I said, Why do people do awful things to each other? Why do people suffer?”
Shakespeare made some more red-blooded jots. He looked over what he had written, scratched some out and made some more. He finished with a flourish of the pen, folded the paper and put it in his pocket.
“Well, Jim,” he said, “take comfort in this. It is not merely your heart, but the human heart, that is on trial. These existentialists reach too far.”
“Great,” Jim said. It sounded like good news. He stuck out his hand and Shakespeare took it. “So, you think we’ll win? I mean, you’re Shakespeare, right?”
“I’ve yet to win a case,” Shakespeare said, patting him on the shoulder. “But all morrows begin without sorrow, and tomorrow these hearts will beat against the narrows. Of logic. Beat against the narrow . . . straits that constrict the mind. Hmmm.” He looked at a wall, perked up and snapped his fingers. “Embattled hearts are empty in their quivers, but beating shake the world that minds but scratch.”
Jim was stuck on the first sentence. “Am I fucked?” he said.
The courtroom was a courtroom. There was a judge, a bailiff, a reporter, lawyers mulling about. Prosecuting on behalf of Logic was Immanuel Kant. As Jim waited for his case to be called, Kant made short work of a young girl whose slippery slope “regarding the origins question” was an “assault against reason.” As punishment, she was given a signed copy of Kant’s book about metaphysics.
Jim leaned over to Shakespeare. “Well, that doesn’t seem so bad,” he said.
“You’ve never read Kant,” Shakespeare said.
“Now appearing before Judge Russell, case twenty-three, Jim v Logic.”
Jim followed Shakespeare to the defendant’s table. They stood.
“The defendant is accused of discharging a loaded question into the face of human suffering.”
“Plead,” Judge Russell said.
“Guiltless,” Shakespeare said.
“Prosecution, go ahead.”
Kant took the floor. He was small and arrogant.
“The defendant,” Kant said, “hereafter referred to as Jim, asked of an angel, Why is there suffering? This is not an innocent question. It is has been sufficiently established that this line of inquiry leads nowhere, and that it debases logic and fugues the mind. As it is the purpose of this court to disabuse Paradise of bad thinking, it is the court’s imperative to hold Jim accountable for these words. The question was loaded, and he fired it like grapeshot over Prussia.”
“Prussia?” Jim said.
“Objection!” Shakespeare wagged his pen. “There is no Prussia!”
Kant continued. He paced the open court with his hands clasped behind him.
“Why is there suffering? The underlying assumption is clear: The suffering has a purpose. Embedded in the question is the bold assertion that the tragic nature of mortality is somehow transcendent, that it is tragic because. The question asserts that pain and misery have defensible, perhaps even noble, functions. It is a claim whose magnitude embroils the most practiced minds, and Jim offered no evidence to support it. He blithely assumed it, and he buried the assumption in six retarded syllables.
“The prosecution will happily drop all charges if Jim can defend the assumed position. If Jim can make the case for meaningful suffering, and raise a foundation to support his assumption, he is free to go. If not, the prosecution is bound by Reason and Logic to seek the maximum reprisals.
“And if I may append an editorial, the presence of an angel compounds the depravity of offense. It is disheartening that not even the wards of heaven are safe from these stupidities.”
Kant gave Jim a glare before sitting down.
Judge Russell stifled a yawned. “Can the defendant provide evidence that humankind suffers meaningfully?”
“That’s what I was asking in the first place,” Jim said. “That’s my question. You’re asking the same question.”
“No,” said Judge Russell. “Your question was unlettered, and it arbitrarily presupposed an ontological argument. Do you have such an argument prepared, or don’t you?”
Shakespeare put a hand on Jim’s shoulder.
“If it pleases the court,” said Shakespeare, “I’ll set these quibbles to rights.”
Judge Russell sighed. “Get on with it then.”
Shakespeare had a swagger on the floor. He belonged there. Jim had only ever dreaded Shakespeare in high school reading courses, but seeing the man perform struck Jim with awe.
“What soul in Paradise would shine so dull
As one by Reason painted nub to skull?”
“Yes! Sustained. Guilty. Bailiff, remove the poet.”
Jim watched helplessly as Shakespeare was removed from the court. Judge Russell waited for the doors to close behind him, then spoke.
“The defendant, Jim, shown here to be guilty of discharging a loaded question in the presence of an angel — “
“And over Prussia!”
“Yes, over Prussia.” Judge Russell removed a tiny cannon from a pocket in his robes. “As Jim loads his questions with superfluities, the superfluities of his person shall be loaded into this tiny cannon, and fired in no particular direction.”
Kant approached the bench and handed the judge three books. The two of them whispered.
“Furthermore,” Judge Russell said, “Jim shall be required to read and comprehend the ontologies of Sartre, Heidegger, and Spinoza before coming aground.”
Jim felt hands on him. The bailiff had returned. He was ushered across the court and towards the tiny cannon. The books were thrust into his arms.
“Now wait just a damn minute,” Jim said. “Dammit, just hold up. I might not be smart the way you guys are smart, but I know a stack of shit when I see it. You all just stack it a mile high. I’ll shit my own mountain before I climb up yours.” He threw the books to the floor. “And sonofabitch I wanted to hear what Shakespeare had to say!”
Judge Russell yawned. “Moot,” he said.
The bailiff stuffed him into the tiny cannon. The books followed, thumping him on the head. Jim heard a flick, a hiss, and a boom, and he crashed through a window and soared over Downtown Paradise.
The ontoligies flapped about him like pigeons. He grabbed one and began to read.
“Modern thought has realized considerable progress by reducing the existent to the series of appearances which manifest it.”