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"Sky Neighbors," short story excerpt

Tuesday 8/16/22

“It is amazing what people will believe,” God said to Jesus.


“This again?” Jesus replied.


They were the same person but found it easier to separate into distinct entities so they could have better talks and get more done.


Already it was the early afternoon and the sun hadn’t shown itself. One of those days that if it stayed that way was perfect for laying in bed and reading mysteries or ghost stories without feeling guilty.


God stood at the periscope, scanning the world below.


“This blind faith thing will be the death of you if you’re not careful.”


Jesus, meanwhile, was at an age where he could still be pretty lippy—a young man but one who retained a degree of what it’s like to be a child.


“That’s rich.”


“I’m not talking about us. I just mean you have to ask questions or you’re not going very far. No skin off my nose.”


“Isn’t it?”


“Jesus Christ. Don’t start today. Been a long morning. The goddamn dishwasher isn’t working again, so we’re back to the paper plates before the guy can get here on Monday.”

“Nourishing food is nourishing food. It means nothing on which it is it placed or how it is transported. For such is true sustenance that—”


“I’m just saying I don’t like feeling like some college kid heating up shit in the microwave and eating off a paper towel.”


God saw to Jesus’s education, which was always to continue, no matter how much he knew, or if he knew everything, like God did. You still had to study. If you owned a stamp collection and you possessed every stamp there had ever been, you should nonetheless try and get back-up copies and compare them in quality with the originals so that you could have the best stamp collection possible. God was big on self-improvement and upgrading both stamps and souls.


“What do you have for me?” he asked Jesus.


The latter had a big garbage slung over his shoulder from his wanderings of the morning. The garbage bag was filled with leaves because God wanted his son to study all of the different kinds so that he could love the trees all the better and embrace nature.


God had said, “We are losing these people. The ones who dig us, I mean the ones who are really into us, are idiots. They’ll believe anything. And what is it with the guns? Is that some rule now? To be into us you have to be into shooting stuff? And when people are murdered, when innocents are mowed down, you have to say, ‘We need to make sure we don’t change anything!’ It’s fucking depressing.”


“They don’t do the abortions, those people,” his son said. “That’s something.”


“Your mother didn’t have a choice,” God snapped.


It was shaping into one of those mornings.


“I’m pissed,” God continued. “I want to be worshiped in an intelligent, vetted, thoughtful way. No. Make that respected. I wanted to be respected by smart people or at least people who try and be smarter than they were yesterday. I’m a mystery. I’m an enigma. I’m not some sky dad in this magical house in the clouds.”


“You kind of are.”


This was really irksome for God. Kids.


“Yes. Fine. That’s not the point. They don’t need to know that. There’s fact and there’s truth, and they’re not the same.”


“Truth takes more liberties.”


“Truth transcends fact.”


“If you say so.”


Jesus could work God’s last nerve sometimes it felt like, because he made strong arguments and had more direct experience with people after a fashion, though it’d been a long time ago.

“You know a lot of them,” Jesus began again, “say that they love you more than their kids. I’ve seen it. You can’t get away from it. They list it out. God is number one, kids/family number two, country number three. For the Americans. Huge part of the base, like it or not.”


“Fucked up,” God lamented. “Seriously—how do you feel if you read that and you’re the kid? For this thing that might not be real, and you’re in second place to that? How would you feel?”


“You killed me, dude.”


“That is fake news and you know it. And what did we find out later?”


“That I had stage four pancreatic cancer?”


“Exactly. Whatever was coming was coming in the next couple weeks anyway, so we got a little something called bang for your buck.”


“These people are wild about their guns. You’d almost think that soon they’ll be stamping our faces on the sides of the bullets.”


“Do not suggest anything like that. Seriously. Do not give them any signs along those lines. Don’t write jack shit on a piece of toast or a steamed up mirror. We both know how that’ll go. Anyway, let’s see what you got.”


Jesus took the Hefty garbage bag from his shoulder and dumped out his newly gathered leaves on the table where God had been sitting having his French pressed coffee, blacker than night.


“Most of these are just oak leaves,” God said, running his hand through the leaf pile with was filled with decaying specimens and worms. “Did you get these off the ground?”


“I wasn’t going to strip them straight from the trees.”


“The point was to gather one of each kind of leaf, because nature is what we’re focusing on here.”


God’s new plan was to imbed himself—which also meant Jesus, in a way—deeper than ever in nature, and be readily discovered therein, or with a trifle greater ease, instead of with the guns and the flags and the churches where a lot of old men jerked off young boys and tried to convince themselves it was okay because if it wasn’t the boy wouldn’t have had an erection and they were often rock hard. Nature was different. It was a haven of mystery and wonder ripe for God and discovering what was actually meant by the idea of God, and it’s not like you could jerk off a squirrel. They’re really fast.


Jesus was a lot less bothered than he used to be by the prospect of disappointing his father who was also himself. He was big on self-acceptance. Additionally, he smoked a lot of pot and regularly listened to a bootleg of the Grateful Dead in Cleveland in 1973 that has the longest ever version of “Dark Star” and the truth was all of the really important forms of mystery and wonder could be experienced in art and even Jesus could admit that. You could just listen to the right stuff and read the right stuff, and go out into the woods and take a book with you and some tunes—though it was still best to make sure to spend some time with birdsong—and you would know God and everything about him, even if you didn’t believe in God, and even if God didn’t exist. You’d find the higher power in you, where it was all along. But no one knew this. Or at least not many. Thoreau once did, and John Coltrane got pretty of close. Both God and Jesus rated A Love Supreme as a desert island disc.


“Anyway,” Jesus resumed—as his father watched a worm wind itself around his fingers, and this asp, too, which made him sentimental—“we’re needed.”


“Eh.”


“No, I mean down the block, not in the overarching cosmic sense. Farmer Jed flagged me down when I was gathering the leaves.”


“Who?”


“Farmer Jed. One of those guys who followed me. He got in after the first wave, so he wasn’t an official disciple, but you commissioned him to write that page in the Bible about me digging in the dirt with him during the drought and how we coaxed the crop to grow because of your light. Remember?”


“Dimly.”


“He’s the guy you see wearing the sort of woodsman’s vest even when it’s like ninety-seven degrees.”


“Oh, that guy. He never sweats.”


“No.”


“I envy people like that. Usually it’s just really attractive young women and Inuits.”


“Be that as it may, he has an emergency at the end of the cul-de-sac. A bunch of the neighbors are there trying to help. He says there’s this huge snapping turtle in the brook behind his house and it ate his dog and it will eat his daughters, of which he has twenty-four.”


“Eat all of them?”


“Well, he was in some haste to get back there and battle this thing with a hoe, but yeah, that was the implication. Eat all of his daughters. And his wife. Though, frankly, she’s a handful. She’s the one who always has some petition for you to sign and won’t shut her fat mouth on the town Facebook page. But he’s a good guy.”


It was a slow day, the kind of day that can make you depressed even if you’re doing something you think you love, so God rolled into action. It was pretty nice outside, light jacket weather, and they decided to walk to the end of the block. There was a crowd of men gathered at the stream behind Farmer Jed’s house, most with their hands in their pockets, like they’d been properly stumped and didn’t know what to do, and it was best to put your hands in your pockets if you wanted to think hard or check for holes so you wouldn’t lose your money later.


“This will be a piece of piss,” God whispered to his son, as they got closer. He figured one lightning bolt from him finger, the turtle would be zapped, the shell crack in two, and the men could finish off the beast with their hoes and rakes now that the soft underbelly was exposed, and no one or anything here was really dead or alive anyway, so no harm, no foul. Most things were for symbolic show.


“Good day, gentleman,” God began, ready to be the hero in the small but real way of a little neighborhood drama. “What seems to be the—“


“Holy fuck,” Jesus said, pointing at the brook. God turned for a look because usually his son was pretty calm on account of the pot and his wisdom.


And in the brook was the spectacle of spectacles, a tragedy waiting to happen that would seem later like it could have been prevented, but that was the whole point of what makes a tragedy a tragedy.


“Snapping turtle, huh?” God was displeased upon seeing that he’d been coaxed away from his French press and Wilkie Collins novel under false pretenses.


“We didn’t know if you’d come otherwise,” Farmer Jed tried to expostulate.


“That’s the minotaur,” God effectively summarized, “in the damn stream.”


“We figured he got out of the maze in the woods,” Farmer Jed explained.


“Well obviously, “ God snarled.


He’d seen this kind of thing before in the future that had yet to happen. The minotaur figured out the maze, which he himself ruled but with the paradoxical snag that he didn’t know how to get out, and then he splashed around for a while in the brook because it was fun to play and water was this new phenomenon to the minotaur, but once that was done, he’d destroy everything. Blindly. With rage. Just dumb, senseless rage, anger, hate, and self-hate. It often was really that simple and that human, which was something that didn’t even require humans for it to be a thing.


God had empathy for the minotaur. He was always telling his kid not to harbor hate in his heart. Same song and dance he served up as advice when Jesus was nailed to that cross.


“Take it like a man,” he said, “Take it for all men.”


God could make shit sound pretty gay sometimes, Jesus thought, but that was before Jesus had matured and stopped making lame cracks like that and became more accepting of the gays and gave up saying the word homos and attributing the cause of AIDs to some gay humping a green monkey and spreading plague which was this modern parable that Jesus tried to author but then let it go and it just became this tacky and offensive urban legend with staying power.


But at least the minotaur understood cause and effect and the power of choice. Nothing depressed God like the people who petitioned him with prayer, like Jim Morrison had said, and then told everyone they knew and anyone who would listen that everything happens for a reason. The insinuation was that a grand design was in place, and who was responsible for that? That’s right, God. And he always wanted to say, “Look, you stupid fucker, what is the reason why women get raped? You think that’s me? I might not even be real. What was the reason for those Jews being cooked in ovens? Why were those little kids shot in Uvalde?”


People say that there’s a thin line between love and hate, but God knew that wasn’t true, and Jesus was getting there. The bitch of it was to love who you hated, but to love them in a manner where you’d always try to help them by not standing in the way between who they kind of were and passed for being, and who they had it in them to be—you hoped—which was really who they most were—you also hoped—though they’d almost certainly never get there and they’d continue to suck.