God of Nothing

This morning I scrubbed a charred spatula. It wasn’t light out yet. I hadn’t been able to sleep through the night so I made myself get out of bed in the dark, made myself go downstairs and hit the kitchen’s humming switch. I took the spatula from a tabletop dotted by a cosmology of stale crumbs. In the mirror above the sink I stared at the black sacks under my eyes and the sun-scorched skin peeling off my forehead. Frannie wasn’t awake. The sun was fledging in the sky. My fragile face floated in the kitchen’s fluorescent pallor and my hands went wild against the spatula gunk, but it was caked on. Nothing I could do about it.

By the time Frannie left our bed and came downstairs I’d been sitting at the table for more than an hour, spacing. She turned on a burner and fetched her frying pan. “Well, today might be a good one,” she said. She said a meeting with Boss after three years can only mean promotion. I thought, Promotion to what? But she was already frying eggs and humming to herself, her ratty pink bathrobe dragging across the dirty kitchen floor.

I ate a little and then she kissed my bristly neck, nudged me out the door with her hip. I dropped into the Buick and tipped my head against the seat. The leather was already warm and soft in the sun. I’d left all the windows down the night before and one of the car’s front wheels was on the lawn’s brownish grass. I saw Frannie waving, a thin shape in the shadowed door frame. “Good luck,” she called. I turned the key four times, then the engine flooded. I walked to work along the empty desert road.

Now I’m poolside and Mrs. Hetzel is conked. I use the handle of my net to drift her to the edge. I extend a glass of ice water to her. She slumps around before lifting her head and looking at me over windshield sunglasses. She takes the ice water, says: “Sunday or Monday?”

“It’s Thursday, ma’am.”

She drinks the water fast, throat sliding.

“I suppose I missed the Sabbath,” she says.

“I don’t work church duty.”

She pushes her sunglasses over her eyes again and studies me through them. She frowns, shakes her head, thrusts the glass of ice water into my hands. Then she paddles away. I hear her say “Heathen” before she flops off the floatie. A cleansing dip, the chlorinated water bathing her. She breast strokes to the steps, rises from the pool. I watch her, this wealthy woman living in a halo all her own, fabricated, medicated. Real nonetheless. She towels herself and bends her hands to her feet, a stretch. When I see this I realize once again she is not caked in formaldehyde. Just a middle-aged psych patient on some drugs, in some sun.

All these L.A. women fall asleep while floating. I get paid to fish them out. A Valium and a burn and they’re straight to sleep, sprawled atop inflatables, rock-ringed fingers collapsed in cup holders. The sun turns their flesh to tanned hides. Their eyes glass over when they lie on poolside recliners. There are mental breakdowns in the shallow end.

Hetzel walks toward the rec room, a pack of cigarettes and a pack of cards clawed in one hand. I’m overcome by desire. I want to snatch a Valium from one of these fallen angels.

Normally I’m clean, though there have been weak moments. But there’s a meeting with Boss today, reason enough to keep straight.

One situation went as follows: it was a lovely mild evening just outside L.A., the sunset thick and slow. I was here at New Eden Mental Recuperation & Recovery Spa. I was putting away the fishing tools—the net, the pole, the stacks of cups, the tub of ice water. There was an evening social in the rec room. The music had already started. The patients were worked up sexually. I mean they were real hot. The women almost looked their actual ages—between forty and sixty—rather than the usual twenty years older. The men, they looked like they cared about life, and that was a change. So things were bound to happen. This occurred to me, but I just work the pool. The fisherman.

In any case, I was packing up. A lively resident named Ms. Entwistle twisted her way outside and gave me a wild smile. She giggled. She looked twenty-eight, youthful. And I’m sure she is, in reality, but she will usually blend into the pack of other women, joining their untimely decay. I do believe her fate-deciding mental breakdown was in a grocery aisle. I also believe the police were involved. There were charges and a court-ordered residency at New Eden.

Her skin that night was both soft and taut.

“Hello hello, Dearie, happy night to you.” Pause. “Shall we upstairs?”

“Hi, Ms. Entwistle, enjoying yourself I see.”

“Yes, but again, shall we upstairs?” Once her repetition was in the air, she opened her hand and showed me a small pile of pills. She snapped shut her fingers, which were bare.

Well, I hadn’t intended to sleep with her or any of the other women.

It wasn’t until Ms. Entwistle—call me Elaine, she’d insisted—was leading me up the residential staircase that I remembered I’d left my equipment at the pool’s edge. But by then an hour had passed and I’d taken two of the pills and Elaine had fondled my crotch for some heavy moments before mounting the stairs. So I allowed myself to levitate through the half-darkness toward the bedrooms, leaving behind my worldly worries . . . . I was rising in that self-crafted halo I’d spent hours by the pool imagining in order to eviscerate the lonely boredom of tedious sunshine. And all the hard edges of life went blurry-smooth and Elaine sprawled across her unmade bed and said, “I have been the Other Woman any number of times, Dearie.” There I was, floating.

Late that night I went home and sat at the kitchen table, the unscreened windows propped open by splintered two-by-fours, my shirt unbuttoned. Frannie made us eggs over-easy on English muffins. We ate quietly, my mind draining out the window into the night, everything about me tired, used up, daunted even by the prospect of eating the egg sandwich. Frannie asked how my day was. I breathed into my plate. I stood and collected the dishes, went to the sink and cleaned them with steel wool in tepid water. I rubbed my hands raw. In the mirror above the sink I saw Frannie go slowly into the den and turn on the television, tuning into Double Jeopardy but not watching the screen, the set muted. Our little cottage filled with the desperate gasp of the half-clogged drain fighting to suck water. I watched Frannie as she slouched in the television’s anemic illumination. She lifted the cross she wears around her neck and pressed it to her lips. She closed her eyes. Then she unrolled her spine, squared her body in the chair, slipped the cross into her robe again, willed herself out of passivity. When I left the sink my hands were pruned.

 

That was several weeks ago. I’ve been by the pool each day since, just like I am right now as I wait for word from Boss about our meeting. I have tried my luck. I have told Frannie that my life feels like a board game. Failed explanation. That’s not my life. I don’t feel like I’m living a board game because that implies agency, as in: I am playing. And I am not playing. I am the jail square on a Monopoly board.

And though I have eked a morsel of purpose out of this life, it’s no raison d’être. When I lived here—a resident myself—I used to sit on the edge of the pool with half my legs submerged in the water. What was happening inside my brain, I mean chemically, I don’t know; something of a ceaseless hissing. Three or maybe four times throughout the day I’d watch a half-drunk woman fall asleep on an inflatable, unconscious beneath the inexorable wrath of the sun. I’d call out to Boss—this is when he still did rounds—and he’d tell me to go ahead, fish her out. At that time I didn’t have any equipment so I’d have to wade in toward the essentially incognizant madam, and then the trick was to find a way to wake her gently. One time I got clocked in the nose and bled into the pool because the reptilian resident I’d awoken clutched the sides of her floatie, shrieked, and kneed me in the face. Boss said he would’ve charged me for contaminating the pool water if Father wasn’t a friend and donor. So I went and mail-ordered a chlorinetesting kit and proved to him that the levels were satisfactory, my blood had not truly tainted his sacred water. I didn’t want to be beholden to him and didn’t want to have to hear about Father, about the favors he performed, the lives he aimed to save.

By the time my stint at New Eden was over I was out of communication with Father, self-medicating, striving for an existential bare minimum. I didn’t have very much to turn to. I think Boss took pity—or was on order from Father—and offered me the fisherman post. I accepted the appointment and here I remain.

I haven’t seen Ms. Entwistle—Elaine—since the night we spent together. It is possible she relaxed after our bedroom engagement and was permitted to leave. This seems unlikely though.

“Godless,” I hear muttered behind me. I turn and sigh at a weathered resident, Mrs. Lamb. She’s drinking from a plastic cup. Her old body glistens with a sheen of oil. She is ancient in age and in body.

“Mrs. Lamb, I hope you aren’t dehydrating yourself.”

“I choose my own medication,” she says, sloshing the cup’s alcoholic slush. Then she cranks out, “Carla, you bitch, come here.” Carla—Mrs. Hetzel to me—is now outside the rec room and lighting one of her cigarettes. Seeing Mrs. Lamb, she bows her head and walks to us. She drops into the recliner beside Lamb.

“What’s your situation today?” Lamb asks her.

“Lithium.”

I turn my back.

“Face this way, God-hater.”

“God-hater?” I complain.

“He’s a Jew,” Hetzel states. She glances at Lamb and crosses her legs so that one slender toe grazes the ground. She blows smoke, proud of her keen religious sensibility.

“Like hell he is,” Lamb snorts. She looks at me. “Not a Jew, not a Christian. What are you?”

“Nothing,” I say.

“Lord,” Lamb says, shaking her head at the distant desert horizon. There’s a heavy silence between the three of us. Then Lamb turns back to Hetzel. “Trade you Valium for Lithium.”

“I had Valium yesterday, I’m enjoying variety,” Hetzel says.

“Ah,” Lamb nods. Then the two go quiet again, their minds rolling into the hot light of the day’s close sun, satisfied with their ability to achieve variety. And here I am standing in chino shorts, a polo, and a visor; here I am holding a long pole and net, wondering what it takes to feel the shift of life, the tilt of the ordinary. Hetzel hands Lamb her cigarette and the old woman smokes it like a wayward nun, her face severe and righteous. I imagine the scramble of her innards joyfully accepting the curls of smoke as the toxins fuse together the disparate parts of her hollow body. The thoughts I have sometimes, they sprawl or spin and somewhere along the way I drop off and watch them retreat into some blank distance.

The sun dips and the residents leave the pool for dinner. No word from Boss. I wait as the cement cools after the day’s heat. And I wait. Perhaps I will afford myself a luxury or two. I go to the fire pit behind the rec room and sit in a lawn chair. I sip some beer. After a stretch of time I return to the pool and wait some more.

*

If it exists, your soul feels flayed. The night’s wind seems an appropriate color to you. You have nobody’s name on your lips and you begin to feel tragedy in that. Your loneliness feels like a grand gesture no one is watching, the kind, servile look on your face as you hold open a door for a beautiful woman; she passes without noticing.

The grounds are quiet and the moon humble. Your toes curl around the edge of the pool. Women are upstairs in their bedrooms and one of them is Hetzel and one is Entwistle and one is Lamb. Now they are running together, these names, the people behind them. And at one time—hard to recall now, difficult to delineate the days—your half-wife once-psychotic lover Frannie stayed in one of these rooms and painted her nails and took Valium and invited you upstairs and the two of you made fast love up and under her bathrobe.

But right now Frannie is likely scratching her nails into the frayed fabric of your couch, her other hand bothering the crucifix around her neck. She’s thinking about you, hoping for the best. Promotion, that’s what she’s thinking. Let him be promoted. There’s also something else she’s probably thinking about, even without knowing it: Valium. Because if she had Valium right now, her body would go heavy and light at the same time. She wouldn’t need to worry about you. But no, she’s living life in earnest now, on her own terms. So instead of that wonderful feeling—which is hollow, she’ll remind you—she’s clawing her way through the armrest as her nerves knot together.

It pains you to think of her sitting alone like that, waiting for you as you wait for Boss. How incredibly futile, all this waiting! Why doesn’t she go to bed? There’s no use in just sitting there. Go to bed, Frannie.

What is it about your head right now? You’re not sure you’ve ever felt like this. Felt like what, though? Suspended. You’re standing still but some force within you—perhaps the soul—is spinning and spinning, looping back on itself, gyrating like a wobbly top, just barely escaping your control.

This unraveling sensation is perhaps why you have just now stripped off all your clothes. You had to do something. So now you’re standing naked at the pool’s edge. The sun is gone and the moon is here, but still Boss hasn’t called you to his office, hasn’t laid eyes on you. And the women have retreated to their rooms; perhaps they are looking out at you and your nakedness. So this is your grand gesture.

Well, of course you are drunk. You sat in a lawn chair behind the rec room throughout the dinner hour. While the ladies ate and gossiped and the men stared into their plates, you sat in a ratty lawn chair and reached into a cooler, drinking one Rolling Rock after the other, trying not to think about anything and then becoming depressed about thinking about nothing.

 

Yes, you are naked by the pool and it is after hours. Maybe Frannie is watching Double Jeopardy and muttering happily at the television rather than ripping through the couch and kissing her cross and waiting to hear your footsteps on the gravel path, the rusty moan of the kitchen door, the snap of your lighter as you fire up a cigarette and collapse for the day into the duct-taped beanbag chair beside the couch. Maybe everything is all right. If you went home right now, the two of you might make an ignorant little pair and things could be fine.

You’re drunk, so this might not all add up correctly. But the way you’ve put it together, Boss is—all of a sudden, out of nowhere, just like that—standing on the other side of the pool observing you. It’s either because you’re drunk or because you’re suddenly very nervous, but the stars and moon are sliding a bit across the dome of your vision. In another context—in which you weren’t facing your employer—this would be a beautiful scene: your naked body, the stars whirling overhead, somebody taking you in and noticing you, wondering.

Boss waves you toward him. Without picking up your clothes, you walk the perimeter of the pool. For an instant you entertain the idea of falling limp into the water, into the unnatural blue.

Who would fish you out?

You don’t fall. You walk to Boss and he turns around and you follow him on the curving path that is laid with large slabs of stone. He is taking long, fast strides. You hop after him on the pads of your toes because your naked feet are tender. Gingerly, you prance. You follow Boss along the winding path that loops the property and the moon and stars are wagging and bloomed forsythia bushes are ecstatic to see you, reaching out for embrace after embrace, exploding yellows. Then, hidden in the bushes, you see naked Entwistle—Elaine—and robed Frannie, waving at you, saying, “Shall we upstairs?” and “How was your day?” and then perhaps you see Lamb and she is hissing at you like a serpent, her cut tongue sliding out her parched scaly mouth and she is calling you Godless and now you’re weeping, nakedly weeping, cherubic and innocent in your defeat, sullied and real in the world.

As you weep, Boss pushes open a puke-green door and you enter a rod of blue neon light extending down a concrete hallway. You’ve never been here. It is dark except for the blue light. Central cooling chills the building. Your sobs are bubbling and gasping against the thunks of Boss’s combat boots on the floor. You’re mourning a feeling you wouldn’t be able to name, so you mourn all the more.

“Jesus, Anderson,” Boss mutters as he holds open another door for you. Now you are in his office and he is sitting down at a desk and motioning for you to have a seat on a hardwood stool. The stool is cold. Boss looks at you, his shiny mustache and huge glasses an affront to your nakedness. There’s a russet tint to his glasses and his eyes are thick slivers, dark and slow behind the dirty lenses.

You’re certain you’re getting canned. Boss lights a cigarette and pushes back in his gross leather chair. He fiddles the collar of his shirt, bothering the crease. He releases the top button and you see a gold chain, a lackluster crucifix. Like the hallway, his office is also lit with the neon blue. It is a method, a visual relaxant. This is what you think, at least. But you’re trashed and aren’t sure what you know. Sometime after slugging those beers you found six pills underneath a poolside recliner. You crushed them to a powder with the blunt end of your pool net. But you didn’t snort the powder. No, you symbolically spread it across the lightly lapping water. You thought that if the numb ladies were to drown in the water, they ought to fall into a familiar solution. Chlorine and Valium. There was powder left on your fingers and you licked it off and spread it with vigor into your gums. Now you’re not sure if you’ve got a high mixing with your drunk. Boss is dead-staring you and smoking his cigarette in that bluest of blue light, like a Picasso. Then you start thinking about Picasso and the Blue Period and how, really, your whole life has been a Blue Period. But then you think, no, not really, because your whole life has just been a period in general and it’s doubtful somebody could put any art in it, make it beautiful, worthwhile. Perhaps if you had a God, but you think you don’t.

You’re certain you’re getting canned.

“Listen,” Boss coughs, sitting up in the chair, leaning toward you, running a hand through his thin black hair. “Did you stick it to Entwistle?”

“Entwistle, sir?”

“Yes.”

“Stick it to her?”

“Right.”

“No, sir.”

“Too bad,” he laughs. “Too fucking bad.” He taps ash onto the floor. He twists into it with the heel of his combat boot. “That’d be a trip. Listen Anderson, you do an all right job around here, don’t you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Sure you do. Tell me how you do around here.”

“I don’t know, sir. How do I do?”

“Listen Anderson, speak up. Be a man for Chrissake.”

“Sorry.”

“Jesus. And this whole naked thing seems weird. Are you a pervert or what?”

“I don’t know.”

“Fuck.” He stubs his cigarette into the desk. “Are you always like this? Such a pussy? You’re like the male residents, dick in hand, staring at it, no idea what to do. You’re telling me you didn’t have a go at Entwistle? I know you did.”

“You do?”

“Well, now I fucking do.”

“Oh.”

It’s quiet. Boss spreads his hands on the desk. They’re huge. You think about stabbing both of them with knives or stakes, pinning them forever to his rickety desk in this eternally blue room. You’re surprised by the thought. What an active idea.Uncharacteristic—you’re normally pretty flat. For a moment you feel darkly artistic. Then you think of Boss as a martyr and, though you’ve never particularly hated him, you loathe—absolutely detest—the idea. The blue light looks as if it’s coming down in lines like stalactites in a long-forgotten cave and you think, As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end. Then you try to understand whether or not this thought—however it entered you—is some sort of premonition. Premonition of what?

You’re not up on Bible study. As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end. You are naked as the day you came into this world.

You’re certain you’re getting canned. Though now Boss is laughing into his hands. “Entwistle’s my wife,” he says, his face covered. In a shot that makes the blue light pulse harder, you notice the fantastic glimmer of Boss’s gold wedding ring. That’s a feeling. That’s a feeling you’ll never find again: fear churned with a quick nip of pride. Your skin goes tingly hot. Boss jolts to his feet, walks to the wall. He puts his forehead against it.

“Everybody knows,” he says. “The whole establishment, for Chrissake. We met in Utah. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Utah!” He pounds the wall with the fatty side of his fist.You see the flashing gold ring on his finger swish through the blue like a regal sword. This makes you stand up. You’re on your feet and you’ve never felt tall before this moment, this very instant when Boss looks quickly at you, startled, and you realize he’s looking up, above himself, beyond himself, at something more. You feel like God. You begin to think that maybe you are God, that your ineffable emptiness might be a manifestation of the fact that you are The Creator Himself. But no! Nothingness! Voids! Immutable boredom! That’s what you are.

You’re confused, is what you are. So confused you take a violent step toward Boss, see him rise up, his chest coming out from underneath his large-collared shirt, hairs a-curling. You step away. Back and forth in the blue.

“Stop it, Anderson,” Boss barks. “Stop doing that. What are you doing? Just sit down, for Chrissake.” You sit. He sits. There’s silence. The commotion got your drunk going again. You put your spinning head in your hands. “Listen, I know that’s your style. I heard about you and Frannie after her release. It’s fine, I don’t give a shit.” He twists his wedding ring incircles. You look up from your hands. “I don’t care about you sticking it to my wife, either. Elaine does all sorts of things.”

Boss taps out a line of powder on the desk and snorts it. He blinks.

“This place is going to hell,” he hacks. “You’re all right though. You do good work.” You think, Work, what work? This work? Of fishing? That’s not work. That’s standing still.

Then you start trying to tell yourself that standing still is work, too, that some people have to be still for others to move. You’re on to kinetics when Boss holds up his hand to stop you and you realize you’ve been reasoning aloud. Then you think, Well, there’s deep loneliness in that, in having to say things like that out loud, putting weak little consolations into the air. Boss’s face has big energetic eyes now but you watch his brow go a little sad and you realize that you said the bit about loneliness out loud, too. And so you decide not to think about anything, which you realize is perfect.

“Well, that’s perfect,” you say.

“Okay Anderson, take it easy. You want a line?”

“No.”

“You do good work, regardless of what you tell yourself. I went through three or four lifeguards before you came here.”

“Three?”

“Or four.”

“That many people couldn’t stand still, is what you’re saying. You’re saying I’m better than anybody at being nothing at all.”

“Jesus, Anderson. You’re a real asshole.”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, I’ll give you a raise, just get out of my hair, won’t you?” Boss snaps his head to the table again and sniffs up a line. He thrusts back in his greasy leather seat, shaking his head back and forth with fervor. “Get the fuck out of here,” he says.

Then you’re shuffling out of his office, down the long blue hall. You’ll never understand. You’re bubbling, a feeling rising in you and scattering, reaching out and touching these strange blue surroundings. You’re thinking of Frannie, of her eternal egg frying. Because, really, that’s most likely what she’s doing, frying an egg rather than sitting blankly in front of the television and worrying about you. You think of her probable words, which might go: “I told you, a promotion!” You think about her clapping her hands and losing hold of her spatula. You see it dropping to your unmopped kitchen floor.

You’re outside now and the night has cooled, desert air filling your nakedness and stimulating your heightened emotion. Pride? Is that this feeling? You’re not sure.You’re zipping through the forsythia bushes and hearing girl giggles but when you look there’s nothing but the yellow buds moving in the wind. So you run because there’s a feeling inside you and you’re not sure what it is. As you skip through the bushes, the sharp twigs rustle against you and lightly tear your flesh. You emerge and blast over the pool’s edge, landing and splashing in the water, blood from your forsythia-nicks dissipating, cloudy and curling. Seeing the spread of your blood in the water, you begin the attempt to ground yourself back in Rational Life, thinking, Look how my elements leave me and mingle, this is just chemistry, I am only human and this is simply water.

You hoist yourself from the pool and topple into the recliner in which Lamb lounged earlier, in which she drank alcohol and called you Godless. In this twisted place that isNew Eden there are religious visions alongside randy drug dreams. Lamb puts bad ideas into Entwistle’s head, surely whispering in her ear. And suddenly—though you wish to escape the idea—you begin to see yourself standing lamely at the foot of Lamb’s bed, her old body coming at you in all its worldliness, a revelation. You think of what she might do in order to bring you to God. Would she entice you, curl around you?

What is this feeling that you can’t extract from your core? Core, what core? You start thinking about this core, becoming entrenched in the belief that what you feel—at this very moment—is the airy limp of your soul, that beautiful invisibility. You feel a stirring in your loins, that’s what you feel. Lamb is perhaps watching you from her window, which is exciting. You can hardly stop to think about it. You wiggle away from the recliners and sprint, pounding your once tender feet against the rough world. If you bleed from your toes you will feel your life all the more. Perhaps you will feel that there is worth—value—in pain. Like a sacrifice. But the slap of your feet is just the flagellation of walking and running, an ordinary thing.

As you run, you go back through it all. The meeting in Boss’s blue office already feels like it happened years and years ago, like it passed through some other lifetime. “Good work,” Boss said, and his eyes were all glass and twinkles, out of touch, distant. Any pride you may have derived from the conversation with him has now sunken away like the lights of New Eden behind you. You are running into the black of the desert, following the pebbled roadside, unsure of your direction. You don’t recognize this stretch of road.

There are several hulking piles in the distance: a junkyard. That, at least, is something. The mangled metal, the scraps of shit. You’re feeling drunk as ever as you approach. Running in a snow globe, that’s how you feel. But there’s no snow, it’s a clear night, nothing is pretty.

Nothing is pretty.

But no, you’re not drunk, not really. A few Rolling Rocks? Please. You can hold your liquor. And the powder you grated into your gums? Just Valium, probably. That shouldn’t give you much of a start. You shouldn’t hallucinate or lose your ability to reason, nothing like that.

Stop giving yourself excuses.

Nonetheless, you feel smashed. In the junkyard you slow to a sloppy jog. You see movement at the base of a trash pile. There’s a banged-up car and you think it’s junk, but then you see its taillights, they’re on and the doors are open. There are deep thuds sounding from the cabin: music. You slow to a walk, keeping your distance. Near the car there is a frenzy of motion. A game, perhaps. There is a huddle of men moving frantically as if in a rugby scrum, their feet kicking and their arms jostling. They’re pushing something at their center. Suddenly, just like that, out of nowhere, the group breaks apart and something shoots from the middle.

Something? Hell no, that was a human. You think, What is this game?

It’s not a game. You begin to understand this when one of the group members bounds after the man who shot from the middle and then clocks the poor guy in the face, his fist popping forward and back almost faster than your little human brain can process. Now the music undulating from the car makes about as much sense as anything can in a situation like this.

You think, Oh.

You resolve to run away but this is not a firm decision and your feet, they plant. They’re bleeding into the dirt of the junkyard road. They bleed and bleed like this is a way to leave yourself somewhere, an imprint you can make on the world.

Blood: it drools out of the battered man’s mouth as he struggles to escape the hands of his three abusers. You hear the rustle of clothing and the occasional grunt as a blow connects. The idling car’s bass shakes the ground. The music rises into your bloodstream through the cuts between your toes. The beats pulse through you.

There is a new noise, the sound of the man calling out in pain, agony. This isn’t what you signed up for, this show. The sound snaps at your core—now you believe it exists because you can feel it smarting. It’s sore with pity. The breeze of this man’s delicate life drifts through you.

The group pulverizes him harder. There is blood everywhere. It’s sinking into the junkyard dirt. Above the pile of metal scraps you see Lamb—a serpent in full—levitating and hissing an ethereal laugh at your Godless ratiocinations. You listen to her hisses and to the wails of violence, thinking about God, thinking about wanting God, thinking about yourself, thinking about the bleeding man. Then you liken yourself to the bleeding man, for the ground is also soaked with the blood from your bare feet. Life has always been like this, bloody man.

Snap out of it. The man is screaming. Above the junk pile Lamb the Snake slithers in circles, reciting incantations, letting the word Godless fall from the ruins and into your ears. You also hear the echo of another word: nothing.

The largest man in the group breaks free from the fight and lumbers to the car. He opens the trunk. The bass blasts, earth-shattering, shaking more blood from between your toes. The man returns gripping a baseball bat.

Now the victim has spotted you. He’s crying out, his voice for you. He’s flat on his back and the men are going to work on him, disabling him. He has a free hand. He’s not using it to defend his face anymore, he’s using it to reach toward you, his arm extended, fingers splayed, vaguely hopeful, desperate. He wants you to make yourself known, to burst into the group and swing yourself around, to do anything. Anything at all. You are standing in his eyes and he is taking you in completely, your whole naked body rigid as a post, your blank face. He needs you. He watches you watching him. He wants you to take action. Take action! Do something!

Uproot your planted feet! Go to him!

You stare into his fogging eyes and do nothing at all. Mere mortal: the fisherman, the jail square, the patron saint of all that is average. You don’t even go home to Frannie, who has Double Jeopardy turned up all the way in order to drown her worries, her hands shaking madly because of her kinked nerves and because it takes all she’s got to resist swallowing a Valium at a time like this. As the slow fade comes down upon the beaten man, you watch and fill with helplessness, lost in this pandemonium.

And me? I hover above, higher even than Lamb the Snake, looking on and assessing your swirling feelings while you stare into the eyes of life lost. And I bless you with all the useless power given me, God of Nothing.

Bless you.

 

* * *

 

Taylor Lannamann lives in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Tin House’s “The Open Bar.” He is an editor of Poet’s Country and is currently at work on a novel. This is his first story publication.

 

“God of Nothing” appeared in TLR Uncle.