Some Small Mercy
(Holgate, Ohio, USA)
It's not entirely surprising that Hell has jazz clubs and waitresses in sequined cocktail dresses. It's these little moments of normalcy, of something almost approaching contentment, that make the pain and despair as sweetly agonizing as possible. Ceaseless torment would dull and fade over time without relief and whoever is running the show down here knows that the anticipation of suffering and the simple human cruelty that comes naturally to the sort of people who end up here are more effective punishment than whips, hot pokers or any of the other clichéd trappings of Hell that those above imagine.
The only real surprise is the lack of structure. It seems cosmically right to picture Hell as some sort of bureaucracy, as overrun by lawyers and politicians and high school principals as the jokes say it is, but the only sign that something or someone has a hand in your suffering is when you're swept away. Away from whatever creature comforts you were able to hoard, away from the stability of the routine you'd devised, away from the clumsy mockery of love or friendship you were able to piece together from the splintered remains of two broken people. Away from your lifeline, the one thing that would have kept you going if you still had the luxury of choice, of being able to end it all.
When you land, everything is different and familiar. The neighbors are new, but with all the same old vices. There's always another jazz club, filled with cigar smoke that burns your throat and other petty annoyances. There's always someone at the end of the bar waiting to twirl you around the dance floor until you're dizzy and clinging to them like they're the only stable thing in your world. Sometimes - rarely, but sometimes - there is beauty. Even more rarely, you're the one in possession of it and you're able to revel in your vanity for a while before it's ripped from you as brutally as human pettiness can manage. New neighbors, old vices. So it goes.
Then when life, when death, has made you vulnerable, by some small mercy you find your dance partner again. By some small mercy people are still, on occasion, capable of kindness even in Hell. And so, against your better judgment, against the wisdom of experience, you fall in love. You know how this ends. By some small mercy people are still, on occasion, capable of hope even in Hell. In Hell, hope is useless.
New neighbors, old vices. So it goes.