Once Charon the boatman decided to turn the money down. He would ferry the dead to oblivion in the underworld free of charge if it was worth the effort. For some time, though, it hadn’t seemed worth even the cheek-stretching mouthful of coins the majority of expectant passengers now showed up with to pay their way across the murky water—more off-putting in its presumptuousness than the single coin the dead had arrived with on their tongues in the past, no matter how covered in slobber it might have been. What was he supposed to do with all this slimy lucre? The waiting crowds must know you couldn’t buy anything worth having in the underworld. Or maybe this lot just didn’t get it. Were they still incapable of seeing that the glitter of the lives they’d thought made them the envy of the world was revealed down here as the dross they should always have recognized it to be? And the soul-soiling behavior they’d engaged in for such rewards, as if confident none of it would ever stick, now caked them hard from head to foot. Phew, what foulness! What stench! Up and down the river’s edge surged armies of dime-store mountebanks, all insisting as loudly as they could through their mouthful of dough that Charon grant them the inflated regard they’d commanded for so long. Were they utterly blind to the moral bankruptcy of their so-called triumphs? Did the fact they could get away with it for years convince them the fraud would work one last time? Cheek by sticky jowl, they made their confident pitch: dot-Ponzi grifters and scammers, loan sharks in pinstripes and heartless foreclosers, “self-regulating” energy exploiters exercising their full allotment of loopholes, guileful bankers with bloated off-shore tax cheats in tow, financial soothsayers who knew nothing more than La-La Land astrologers, credit-card vampires sucking late fees from those with no more blood to give, bonus-encrusted corporate bunglers, no-bid do-nothing government contractors building mirages out of greenback bricks, white-coated drug pushers for pharmaceutical cartels and hospital administrators with the ethics of serial billers, “it’s your life or our bottom line” health insurers acting less like compassionate professionals than drooling raptors, revolving-door influence-peddlers, oily lobbyists buttering legislators up one side today and down the other tomorrow, has-been political hacks paid five-digit speaking fees and seven-digit book advances or given cushy positions as “visiting scholars” at universities that apparently valued their “intellect,” gilded-throne televangelists washing their hands in the collection plate, plus, most demoralizing of all, a self-snookered public who should have had the sense to put a stop to all this chicanery but never did out of a delusional hope they too might get the chance, someday, to join the “filthy rich” themselves. Phew, what foulness! What a stench! Who could blame Charon for looking grim or sullen with revulsion at this worthless lot elbowing one another to get into his boat and counting on hoodwinking him into abetting their escape from the consequences of human trust so disastrously misspent? But the grizzled boatman was having none of their brazen attempt to elude censure for their deeds. Let these charlatan shades spend an eternity blown about this place of withered longing, Charon grumbled, short of the deliverance they thought they’d finagled. To believe they could hoodwink him into being an accessory to their flight from the cries for justice that followed them all the way to the banks of Acheron was insulting. Did he look like just another patsy? A befuddled old rube who wouldn’t recognize that the coins they pressed him to accept were a bribe to secure their safe passage beyond people’s outrage at shady behavior rewarded much too long? No, they should have to wait here without hope of the public amnesia they’d counted on. Phew, what foulness! What a stench!
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans