|Art by Rob Clayton|
God put a gun to the writer’s head.
I’m making a rule, said God. You can’t write another word or I’ll shoot you. Agreed? God had an East Coast accent, tough like a mobster, but his lined face was frail and ethereal.
The writer agreed. He had a wife and family. He was sad because he loved words as much as he loved people, because words were the way he could say what he wanted about people, but this was God and God was the real deal, and he didn’t want to spend too much time dwelling on it. So he packed up his typewriter and paper and placed them carefully in the hall closet, and within two days, to comfort his loss, went to the art-supply store and bought oil paints and a big canvas and a palette and set up in the garage amongst the old clothes and broken appliances. He’d always liked painting. He thought he had a good sense of color. He painted every morning for four hours, until he started to paint something real.
He was working on his eighteenth canvas, all blues and reds in sharp rows blurring in the middle, to make a confrontation with purple, when God came back into his ã studio, this time holding a dagger.
Cut the painting too, said God. No words, no images. Or — he made a slicing motion near his stringy throat.
Why? asked the painter, already missing the sharp smell of the oils, the way the colors mixed to become brand-new again, an exotic blush of yellow, a bluish green to convey silence, a new way to show trees, with white!; he missed the slow time he took washing his hands with turpentine, the way his wife liked the new rugged scent of him.
God lifted the dagger to the light bulb of the garage and it glinted, unpolished silver, speckled with brown. Do not question God, said God.
So the painter packed away his paints, inside the hall closet, right next to the typewriter and reams of white paper. He felt sad again but within a week, signed up for a drama class, held in a church where the ceilings were high, the air cool, and every scene took on particular gravity with those stained-glass windows acting as set. He played a few roles, and he wasn’t very good at first but he was enjoying it anyway, shy man that he was, liking the way he would feel his feeling and then use it and look around at the other people in the class, faces split into red and yellow triangles from the windows, and see they were feeling that same feeling with him, how contagious it all was. He needed a lot of reassurance as an actor but he was starting to understand its ultimate camaraderie ã and loneliness, the connection which is tight as laces then broken quick as the curtain’s fall.
So of course one afternoon, walking out of the church, spanking a new script against his knee, he found God in his car, in the back seat, this time gripping a bayonet.
No more, God said. In my house no less, said God.
The actor started to cry. I love acting, he said. I’m just learning to do it right. My wife thinks I’m getting out of my shell.
God shook his head.
Mime? asked the actor.
God poked the actor’s side with the sweet triangular tip of the bayonet.
The actor sat in the car, gripping the steering wheel, already missing the audience’s applause, the sight of the woman in the front row with tears in her eyes that were from the same pool of tears he’d visited to do the scene, everyone in the room linked, the entire town fetching water from the same well.
God exited the car. He waited at the crosswalk. He didn’t cross on the flashing hand but waited for the green walking man.
The actor was depressed for a while which his wife didn’t like much, but he finally slogged himself out of it and took up cooking. He studied the basics in the cookbook and he told himself that his patience was a virtue and would be put to good use here. Sure enough, in three months, he’d made his first soup from scratch — potato leek nutmeg — and it was very good. His wife loved it. You’re so amazing, she told him in bed, his hands smelling of chicken guts, I married the most amazingly artistic man, she said.
He kissed her. He’d made a dessert too and brought it into bed — a chocolate torte with peanut-butter frosting. After two bites they forgot all about it.
God was apparently busy, he took longer this time, but he showed up after a big dinner party where the chef served leg of lamb with rosemary on a bed of wild rice with lemongrass chutney. It was a huge hit, and everyone left, drunk, gorgeous with flush, blessed. The chef’s wife went to the bathroom and God sauntered in through the screen door swinging a noose.