In the beginning, there was a boy and a grandmother and they were sitting together in a nearly empty room. Wooden chairs gobbled up little of the free space. Dusty curtains vacuumed out the sun.
The boy was wedged on a sofa. Patches of the cushion tickled his leg. Newspaper crinkled under his butt. Each time he moved, it sounded like a bang on the door. The grandmother shifted her head to see if anyone was coming in, but no one was and it was just the two of them sitting side by side, with their knees touching, their elbows shuffling together awkwardly, and the infinite blackness stretched between them.
“Open blinds,” the grandmother said.
The boy stood up, shook the newspaper off, and banged into one chair and then another until he reached the window.
“Not too much light is good,” the grandmother said.
The boy opened the curtains only slightly, enough to divide the light from the darkness. “That is good.” A line stripped down the floorboard. Day and night mated in the room.
The grandmother’s face was illuminated by the sun. Though she was still, the leather folds and liver spots shimmered as though in water. A particular freckle, worn and strained, floated above her mouth like a lily pad. Rippled wrinkles attempted to drown it in breathless gulps.
The boy noticed that the grandmother held the book. He moved back to the couch, banging and hammering his way there.
“Now, wat you say to Ma?”
He sat down. Newspaper greeted him with a crinkle. A shadow covered his face.
“It’s nothing, grandma.”
“You Mama said different.”
The boy shifted, the newspaper let out a suffocated yell, and the grandmother looked once again to the silent door. Nothing.
“Mama was just talking, you know.”
The grandmother continued to gaze towards the opening hallway. “And you just talking now.”
The boy moved again. A headline sung about a papercut in odd places and a plane crash that could be if only the newspaper was folded to glide across the room.
“What you say, boy?”
“See, you talking again.”
The boy stopped sifting around. He sunk into the sofa. Even with the blinds gaping, the day began to drain away from the room.
“Nothing to say now?”
The boy remained still. So did the newspaper.
“Grandma, I don’t want to get into it.”
“Look, boy. I old and I live long time and I know world. I almost as old” – a hard, ancient laugh roared. “I may die after it too.”
The boy looked at the grandmother while the echo of her chuckle searched each room for someone to hear the little happiness bottled up and sprayed. She was old. Too old. Old enough to become settled in one way or another and more than old enough to be left behind in an altogether different way. Her grip on the book tightened just as the sun peaked out from a cloud like a hiccup. Day flashed.
“So, speak. I listen. I help.”
She was magnanimous, the boy knew. He was invariably told about the stories of how self-sacrificing she was when she emigrated and how she had to leave everything and she remained so caring and didn’t she raise those kids by herself with nothing at all and look how everything turned out. Pretty good, considering the alternatives.
“I love no matter wat.”
There it was, or at least part of it – the family mantra of being rich in love. It was stated at any instant where a life lesson can be granted. The aphorism was considered axiomatic, as though the entire evolutionary history of humankind could be summed up in the simple statement. All that was learned, all that was known – it was all there in that phrase, an E=MC2 that mattered more.
“Be rich in love.” Finally, it came out. Not that it wouldn’t have; the grandma was the banker such beliefs.
“Grandma, I don’t believe in God anymore.”
The boy moved as he said it and the newspaper sang something something about something something else happening somewhere else and the grandma turned her head and saw nothing anywhere. Neither did the boy.
The sun was moving from her face. She looked pale without the light. Almost transparent.
“It just doesn’t make sense, you know?”
She was not looking at him. The unmoving door kept her attention.
“You mean you’ve never had thoughts of doubt or uncertainty or apprehension about your beliefs?”
“What is apereetension?” The book was being strangled now. Any tighter, and she’d sink her fingers into the pages to become one with the text.
“No, apprehension. It means unease. Like questioning, not understanding, just wondering what the hell this whole thing is about anyways.”
“No hell. Only heaven.”
“That’s not what I’m saying, Grandma. Do you ever think to yourself this world is some wonky stuff?”
“Why weird. This normal. All we know.” She gazed at the boy and spread her fingers into the room that was oozing sunlight like a wound that would not close.
“I mean everything that happens. The wars. The death. The famines.”
“Is bad, yes.” She looked down. Her fingers traveled across the gold embroidery.
“See. I agree. All the time. That’s all I’m thinking about, you know? Like why would there be a God if there’s so much pain in the world and if there is so much pain why would there be a God?”
The grandma loosened her hold. The day continued to bleed sunlight into the room. It splashed over her. “Is because –“
“Is it because he’s not strong enough to stop it? Then he’s no God. Not willing? Then why praise him?”
“No. That Epicurus.”
“Epicurus. A greek.”
“Grandma, why would we be talking about a greek God?”
The grandma stiffened. Her knees now budged into the boy’s. He didn’t seem to notice. “I know. Never mind.”
“See, that’s my problem. It’s not that easy to just never have it on my mind.”
She eyed the boy. His clothes were in disarray, his hair was ruffled and unkempt. He had her chin and her eyes. Green. They were deeper, much more full. They weren’t tired either. They were alive and waving around the room with a gentleness that she knew was still there, still around, for she had his eyes, and hers were still gentle too.
“No no. Misunderstand.”
“Misunderstand what? Here, listen: who created God?”
“But all things must be created.”
“And if that’s the case, who created the creator, and the creator after that, and so on.”
The grandma folded her hands on the book. They rested on top of the black. Against it, the pale flesh seemed to almost glow.
“Maybe God created God.”
The boy smiled, almost laughed. “But there’s only one God, so God can’t create himself or herself or whatever.”
“Because that doesn’t make sense.”
“Human not God. No understand.” Outside the sun was going to rest. Tomorrow there would be another day. How nice.
“But there are logic models to understand the world and these fit the reasoning we’ve collected and as far as we can tell, our reasoning is good enough to understand our world. It’s as good as we get.”
“I don’t understand.”
The boy would have to speak slower. “Grandma, we were created in the image of God. We should be able to understand some of the divine being. Look at free will.”
“Image only mirror. Mirror only glass. Glass only shatter.”
The boy moved, the newspaper grunted, the grandma looked to the door, and nothing happened.
“You’re right, but not this kind of glass. This is the glass God made. Which brings me to another point: Can’t God make glass that he cannot break?”
“Why he do that?”
“It’s a question. A hypothetical.”
“Oh.” Her fingers bit into the text.
“That’s not all. I was reading this text about the autological reasoning about God and it says that no God could ever be proven.”
“Autological, you know.” The boy’s knees banged into the grandmother’s. They hurt.
“You mean ontological.”
“You want say ontological.”
The boy raised his head and followed his eyes to the ceiling. It offered no answer. “Perhaps. Whatever. My point still stands. God could put the entire debate out of existence by showing up, but He doesn’t.”
The grandmother placed both hands on the book and ruffled her hands through it. “He here.” She smiled and touched her heart. The other hand remained bound to the book.
“No, Grandma, blood’s there. And muscle. And fat. And nerves. And so much more than a God because there, right there, is a human, not some divine being.” The boy’s limbs slumped at his sides. They were heavy.
“No he there and he busy.”
She thought. Her dentures clicked. Her skin sagged, She sighed. “Rich in love.”
He looked at her, blinked. What good would it do to bring a worn, runny phrase that oozed like snot into all family affairs? What good would it do to talk about love? None. Knowledge was important. Right? Knowledge was powerful. Right? It was there in that damn book. At the tree of knowledge, there is paradise.
“Does a disease love its host? Does a soldier love a bullet entering his skull? Does a man who is so hungry that he eats bits of the excess skin on his lip love his meal?”
“I no know. God’s plan mystery.”
The boy touched his grandmother’s hands. One on the book. One on her chest.
“And it’s working for some, not all. In fact for a majority of people it’s a crummy plan. For our family too.”
The grandma looked at him and his eyes were still hers and he was still the grandson but what was this, what was he saying. If only he’d slow down a bit because language is difficult sometimes and there are many of words that still are like first time, words that are foreign on tongue that knows soft sounds and cheap beer and yummy snacks. Maybe if yummy snacks were brought, things would be different.
“Why else did you have to raise a family alone, Grandma?”
Yes, all the yummy snacks. That would be nice. Blueberry pierogis. Charlotka. Apple pancakes. And meats – meats would be good too. Before or after? Before sweets. Yes. That’s the way it was. Savory, then sweet. Salty, then sugary. What a funny world.
“Because God and Grandpa left. Both weren’t rich in love.”
Shadows ate the room whole. Much of the furniture was covered. The grandma was completely consumed. Only a small corner remained lit. The boy gazed outside at the sun falling, slowly, agonizingly, and saw that it was a beautiful day outside.
His grandma’s tears brought him back
“You no know everything boy.”
“God know all.”
“Then does he know that I don’t believe in him?”
“Does he know this hurts you?”
“And he does nothing about it?”
“I don’t know.”
The boy moved but the newspaper didn’t make a sound. Nothing did.
“I do, Grandma. There is no God.”
“All I know.”
“But there’s so much more to know, so much of the world that can be understood without Him.”
“You said yourself that nonsense was just human logic trying to understand world of the divine. Nonsense is all we know, Grandma.”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense.”
The sun goodbye. No tear. All okay. All okay. Rich in love.
“Grandma, a God who loves you would not allow Grandpa to beat you.”
“He would not allow him to drink so much.”
“He would not enable him to kill your eldest.”
“Grandma, I didn’t mean…”
“Look: I love you Grandma.”
“That’s how I felt, but then you feel more powerful. Truth sets you free.”
“It starts that way. But think about the choice you have now. No one to describe your life. No thing to control, or even know, your thoughts.”
“I no think.”
“You’ll think, and new thoughts will come.”
“But you can be reborn.”
“Freedom is like God, in a way. Ontological, I think you called it.”
“You’ll notice freedom when it presents itself.”
“Because judgement will come.”
“What you mean?”
“You’ll have to make decisions without someone or something telling you otherwise.”
An author has giant fingers. They take up much of the screen. Here, nothing changes. Though a piece should speak for itself – or at least be given the chance to – I want to explain the form if only to remember it to myself one day, laugh at how ostentatious I am, and think about whether anything has changed. Then I’ll grumble and produce something like this: I wrote the following short story with the intention of recreating the Universe as it is described biblically. Genesis, and some lines directly from the King James version of it, are in the piece. So is Revelation (or a form of it) and Judgement Day (or night). There are two characters – an Adam and Eve in their own right – and they span the whole of humanity at one point; every age, every experience, every thought, they think, they feel, and they act.
As they do what they do, which is a way to say what we all do, the boy begins to disprove God. Naturally, I don’t think this possible. Nor is proof of the reverse. But this is fiction, and so I’m allowed a lie – or is it called an universal plot hole in this case?
At any rate, the boy uses many sources to discuss God’s extant. The grandma does the same, though she lacks the comprehensive language for it. She knows the terms but foreignness drowns them in a life lived. She’s more primordial, almost godlike herself. She expresses the same qualities: unconditional love, kindness, and care mixed with unbridled violence – both of which can be wrung from calloused knuckles.
But sometimes even a God will create something like a mountain or a grandson she cannot move. When she does, the third person omniscient narrator – another God of the fictional realm – begins to disappear too. The dialogue becomes choppy. Description becomes trite, ambiguous. Less is known about the thoughts of the character. And with the death of God for the grandmother comes the death of the narrator for the reader, until the piece is done without a trumpet or a door opening or very much of anything happening. The Universe ends without the furniture being cleaned or the sun coming up again, and that’s that after everything. No one knows it all happened, except perhaps the reader who looks on to the literary Apocalypse like a pantheist does the world. Which is to say, uselessly. Such nonfunctionality, though absolute necessity, of a reader is like growing an apple orchard in Eden. Fertile soil, few buyers, one obdurate landlord.