from Living Up

The world was ending and—remember when invitations came through the mail in little envelopes sealed with a sticker and sometimes even had hand-drawn inscriptions of your name with confetti inside if the kid who scribbled his address in the corner happened to think good times included hot glue guns and fuzzy piping animal shapes. Do you remember then? The invitation is for a party. You of course go to the party. You cannot not go. That is not an option. The whole of your fourth grade is going to this party. Balloons. Pizza. One of those inflatable bouncy rooms. Rumors of double-stuffed ice cream cake. No way you’re missing it. You get there, and then immediately have to sit. Something real fun and exciting is happening here, you can sniff it, point to it even, all the streamers and random sparkly flickers of bouncy balls being kicked and thrown everywhere all at once. We’re talking giggle storms circling the room, and gum, lots of gum, gum everywhere on everything, and next to the clinking air-hockey machine there’s a piñata you get to bash open and it’s filled inside with, guess what, not Halloween-in-the-high-rise miniature and mislabeled “Fun Bag” candy, but the big, real, straight from the suburban checkout line candy bars, candy bars you hold with both hands, which fall from the tickered belly like sugar fireworks in embolic release. You could go on, but the point is, regardless of specifics, you know that this party is the party, the possibly most fun ever, for you and for all, forever and ever, oh yes. You almost don’t know how to act anymore. You sit back down, try to take it all in. Suddenly, there’s too much light in the room, something you’ve never seen before. You almost can’t do anything really except squint in the happiness. But then, here struts the flop. Some wild eyed redhead trips over his amazement and a speaker cord. Before a well hidden parent can swoop up the injured and cart them to a nominal first aid kit, the kid is up and running and you’re there, too, back in it. Junk food smells coat your hands and then your pants because this is a safe place, you can wipe Cheetos smears into your pants because, guess what again, no one cares about your pants. Some kids are barely wearing pants. No one cares. Everyone cares only about you. I mean, that’s how it seems. Your personal transition to bliss. And not to get perfect, I mean, it can’t be perfect, nothing’s perfect in life—you’re old enough to know—especially not when that kid who tied your shoelaces together that one time while you were turned around in history class talking to Sally P. about a mangy dog who followed you eight blocks until you finally faced your fear and was first to bark, arf get away you dumb dog arf arf, that kid is here at the party in a corner surrounded by his dumb friends, some of whom are your friends, sort of, or at least you know them well enough to ask them to save you a spot at lunch every now and again, those kids aren’t totally dumb, but this kid is and he’s here at the party over by the stick-on-tattoo dispenser, a reality which could 180 the whole thing. But you know what, this party transcends petty nastiness. Doesn’t matter how. Conflict is far from everyone’s mind. By some force of the heavens it ends up that you and the kid slap skin after the surprise second ice cream cake is brought out. Sore palms make the loudest of sounds. That’s what type of party this is. One that has two ice- cream cakes. Sore palms make the loudest of sounds. One that feels like you’re about to jump off the high dive after you’ve perfected the backflip. A party that lines up everyone on a single plane of greatness. You and the kid you used to hate with the lowest curve of your guts, you two are now gorging off the same plate and the cakes keep coming (who said two of anything good was enough?)—

That’s what type of party this is.

Now, hold onto that feeling. Hold onto it like you’re back on the high dive, confident of a bellyflop-free flip. Like you can feel an exciting familiar lightness rooting through your veins until your heels are outstretched, over the board, kissing the breeze and your former equilibrium goodbye, toes at the ready to send you up, over, and around a familiar axis, all the old pre-summer fear drained out. Take that wonderful, precious, freeing feeling now and cut it. Crack it. Dig at it. Put your weight on top of a shovelhead and let that blunt steel tooth eat it. Do everything you can to rip out the thick, developed roots, snapping them into small enough pieces so they can fit in those huge heavy-duty brown yard waste bags you always happen to rip when you pull at their edges because goddamnit, you’ve guessed it, this is worse. And it’s only fair you should be prepared.

Your parents have arrived. It’s time to go.

At first they’re just silhouettes and for a second you think thank you: They’re not real. Stand-alone cardboard movie preview type of not real. Holograms on display. Your parents would never wear such clothes. Look at those sandals! No. No way you think. You hope.

But then they move.

Of course they move. They get closer. Your wishes don’t matter.

Unnatural light breaks over their crowns, silencing the room of its laughter, the holy child laughter of your friends and your friends’ friends and even that kid who you used to dream of his death but now consider, if not a friend, then at least someone you’d split some Skittles with granted it was a big enough bag. Wall-to-wall laughter gone now and replaced with this silent boom emanating from your parents, your caregivers, your guides and your inverse responsibility, their steps hyper-Dopplered always coming closer to a theater near you. You’re not jumping off no high dive, young man. It’s time to go, Junior. Get your ass in gear and climb back down ring by ring while everyone watches and laughs. We’re not waiting for you any longer. We’ve come to collect.

Remember that feeling? Remember that feeling of the world ending?

This story starts directly after that feeling.

So, the world was already ending and then—

“And then God proclaimed the number of the world’s house to be less one room.”

This is god speaking. The god. About himself speaking. Don’t worry, he usually talks like this, i.e. in the third person. You get used to it. You have to. Otherwise nothing ever makes sense.

More on god’s use of speech: when in form, he talks in the third-person past. Which is strange. Yet still makes sense. Since the present is already past by the time you say whatever it is that you’re saying. Or say you ask someone to do something like mow the lawn or pick up her toys, by putting the verb in the historical tense, it presumes completion. For those that need a little hey-ho in their coffee, the past tense can afford a false already done-ness. But to Junior it’s stupid. Like most things that don’t illicit an immediate reaction within him, eh, meh, uh, it’s stupid.

This world is about one thing: making dollars and sense. Perhaps that’s two things for some. Either way you just have to accept this one thing or two things, like you would the base number of a geometric series or when your commute café runs out of sesame bagels. You’ll get a lot further in life if you do, just accept the dollars and sense and bagels and third-person stuff—trust me. Only when god’s real pissed or “worked up” does he slip back into normal talk with the familiar words and tenses and perspective most of us are comfortable hearing . He’s speaking to his son, Junior (as he, Junior, is known to himself and will be known to us henceforth), about what’s currently what. But, like you’ve noticed, in the past tense. Really, the way god talks almost feels good after you get used to it. Soothing even, like the unmooring sensation as your skin acclimates to a spring ocean’s deep anchor chill.

“It is known that beget from the seed is the flower.”

What do flowers have to do with a son returning to live again with his parents?, you might ask. god is moving his right hand in circles pivoting from the wrist. For a moving day, the weather is surprisingly amicable. No massive heat or viscous falling, at least not this early. The sky is a scrubbed clean transparent container that can’t help but invite looking for the visual catch. And if the forward motion of cars wasn’t naturally accompanied by the growls of motors, you would bet heavy money on birds vocally frolicking in Nature’s post-toothpaste morning breath. god gets lost in his circles. “But. But from. There was this. A flower and before the flower there was a flower before the flower and—” god is floundering here, but that won’t stop him. he is a plunger. As in on-er. One who plunges. Who plunges on. Get it? Oh, nevermind…

“And the seed’s flower’s flower—”

You know god’s in real trouble when he starts diverting his attention upward. (his eyes are drifting up, the Holy Spirit notices from her side of the car.) As if answers can be found in the distance.

“Well sometimes,” the Holy Spirit swoops in, first looking to god (who is still neck-locked looking up) for the affirmative go ahead. She knows enough by the crease under god’s beard that she can proceed and that the wait for a vocal yes will be an eternal one. god will never admit his thought finished. The Holy Spirit’s right hand is over her eyes, perpetually when the sun is out. She sounds real clear and intelligent and maybe even prescient, but the message is lost in the shrill just as god’s eyes are lost in the transparent above. Yes, she has a shrill. Her voice is the vocal equivalent of the first kid who stole his dad’s laser pointer and brought it to class specifically on a day that was whiteboard intensive. Here be unknown levels of annoyance. “Sometimes the seed is planted right below that original flower and grows up in the shade and protection and love of the older flower. The flower being us, you being the seed, Junior. And the flowers are one small field of happiness, each one moving appropriately so the other gets more sun when necessary. Everyone helping out. A calm sway. Just your standard happy place full of flower smiles and grace. But, sometimes, as is wont of nature, the seed is picked up by a bird—”

“And shit out,” Junior says.

“And deposited,” the Holy Spirit continues unphased by her son but faced back at him now. “The seed goes far, far away. Deposited far from the original flower. The wind too could do this, I guess. Could have picked up the seed and swept him along the breath of air only to drop him—” Her voice is like that kid with the red pointer thing you’ve never seen before except in those war movies usually involving at least one government room full of uniformed male tension spun around geopolitically apocalyptic times, and this kid in your first fucking period has a real cyclopean penchant for eye shots and your eyes are already red hot from the contacts you forgot to take out, all the while you’re just trying to make your way down four fucking bullet points on what the scientific method is and then this kid. Unseen-because-they-only-existed-in-myths levels of annoyance, but maybe only a tool in the hands of a tool.

“Dropped God’s one and only son in a desolate and hostile and unforgiven land where they bury the ground under split rock,” god says, looking at Junior in the rearview mirror. “No. No. No. Wait for God to finish—”

The Holy Spirit reaches back with her left hand for either of Junior’s.

“Watch out,” Junior says almost in a monotone. He is the only one who could be said to be looking horizontally through the front windshield here.

“Why?” says god, assuming insolence, a son’s usurpation, the angle of his eyes scratching at the moving van’s sagging felted ceiling.

“Jesus!” the Holy Spirit yells after facing forward to where Junior looks out. Her shrill volume is vastly disproportional to the threat since there’s no way she even knows the extent of the threat. Sorry to go off on an anticlimactic tangent, but we’re talking percentage difference versus numerical difference when you don’t even know if you’re going from 0 to 1 or 0 to 100, so the Holy Spirit has no idea the extent of wrong, only the corner of a possibility of a threat as of yet.

But the Holy Spirit does not discriminate—she considers all threats equal.

god tilts his eyes back down and sees he has two options for an incoming phalanx of stopped traffic that’s paused their escape over the Williamsburg Bridge: he can either slam on the breaks of this uninsured rental van conforming to various rules of speed, warranty, and safety; or he can not. god opts not and swings the wheel violently counterclockwise until his knobby elbows kiss.

The moving van skins the bridge’s left wall and curves in then out.

Cars not even in the left-hand lane honk in retribution for god’s ugly sew. god does not like turning. he likes to go straight. All his vectors straight and fast. In most other motor cases, drivers see god grow in their mirrors and plan ahead, i.e. get the hell out this disproportionate speeding vehicle’s way. But what can they do here? There’s no choice, nowhere to pull over in this bifurcated portion of the bridge. They can’t change lanes since they’ve already made the rookie mistake of going left at the split when they needed to go right, what with the exit less than half a mile after the point of re-confluence. There’s no room here. Tires lose rubber as they screech.

god is not one to stop either, a true “perfect” body of motion in a void. And for the most part, on the presupposition that he is watching the road, straight is not deviated from in noticeable traces. It looks like there’s no way they will not miss their exit.

The interior of the van is silent now the way your mind is silent after a bird shits right next to you and you know no one saw it because it’s nighttime. But you see it. Not before or after, since who wants to look at shit after its fallen and you weren’t looking for shit to fall before, but just as it crosses your stare into the beauty of another quiet evening. Shit. Then splat. Then quiet.

“I was just saying Brooklyn has concrete too,” Junior says.

god turns around. The van is still moving.

“Next time I’m about to demolish a veritable Lapine family reunion of cars, would someone please inform Me with enough mental space to figure out the best possible exit strategy?” god’s hair has become untucked from behind his ears. he does not cut his hair, nor does he go in for ponytails. Two greasy gray spindles of split bangs flop from side to side. god doesn’t really care that he almost rammed a Civic going 45 mph. he doesn’t even really care that he broke the god-speak. he is made most angry with the amount of time it will take him now to get his hair right, an almost impossible task, ultra vires while driving obviously. he doesn’t know how he’ll be able to fix the locks. Hair in the eyes of anyone is a pet peeve of god’s. The repositioning procedure takes two free hands, standing upright and, if you can believe it, eyes that stay perfectly closed.

“Your loosely apocalyptic vision was an allusion to Manhattan and its clichéd wastelandishness, no?” says Junior. “And I told you with plenty of time. you didn’t hit anything. And anyway, unless Olmstead was recently reincarnated, Brooklyn has the same if not more blackened tundra of ‘spelt rock.’”

The Holy Spirit looks back at her son. She is the quickest to calm. To be calm, and to calm. She wishes her son would take her outstretched hand. “Your Father’s right.” god doesn’t need agreement so he refrains from nodding his head in such a way one could assume that’s exactly what he’s acknowledging with his head. “You’ve been away for so long.” god now is shaking his head no. he minds not disagreement. “We want to know about our son, hear about your life, you know.” Junior is looking at his hands, cuticles out. “We know you’re busy, but is information too much to ask for your family? I mean, the only reason we found out about graduation was because Jordan’s mom told me he was going.”

“That’s not what the Holy Spirit meant, JCJR,” god says. god, we would rightfully assume, does not like Jordan. he is focused and stressed because he one handedly can’t quite get the left bang splice to stay, even though he knows it was a fruitless endeavor to take on. But he’s almost there, making it that much more alluring and annoying. god’s ears are perfectly malformed, more nodal than of the type that flaps in the wind, more overcooked than cinnamon rolls left to harden on the kitchen table after all the packaged frosting has been spent. Various corrugated shades of brown we’re describing. The biological result being a less than great sense of hearing. You can bet it’s affected his hearing tremendously. Back in the day when family dinners were mandatory, and although the Holy Spirit would often become uncomfortable if the joke was played out too long, Junior and she sometimes (sorry, she’s sorry, not Junior), used to sometimes, back when Junior still lived with the family sometimes, sometimes they, the Holy Spirit and Junior in cohorts, would pretend to whisper to each other across the dinner table, never going so far as to hold their hands in front of their mouths and lean over their elbows like kids in class, but obvious whispers of nonsense planted right in front of god, a big joke since they weren’t really saying anything at all. god does not talk on the phone to Junior thusly, on account of all the dinner table whispers and food jokes. Phone calls are left to the Holy Spirit. Her role is of the messenger and commissary between the two males. An attempt to rejoin the team, to intake then distribute at her discretion. She tries to contact her son everyday regardless of whether or not anything notable has happened. Too often she hears gibberish back through her phone’s speakers (when Junior has the “time” to talk), and she can’t help but feel like she had some part in setting a precedent no longer fun.

“Wait,” god fake winces after not getting the left bang to stick once again. “God then needed to proclaim something.” he looks at the Holy Spirit. “From whence the love of all things Holy falls from, can you please not yell anymore. Like, ever again. God could not take this. Nothing was going to happen. God was fine. The Holy Spirit was fine. Everyone was fine. When you yell—the pitch.” God winces again as if he can hear it. But who are we to judge, maybe he can hear it and only it. “The pitch was like God was about to hit a landmine strapped to a blue haired cane holder walking to her AARP cookie exchange.” god looks away from the windshield to where a rear view mirror would be necessary if the van wasn’t blind through the back. god waits without much thought of the bridge or of traffic or of the exit he needs to take or of personal safety (it should be said) in toto necessitating visual motor skills. god’s just visually waiting here, head cocked, van slowly gaining speed, until Junior notices, finally, the frieze outline of what would be his dad looking at a reflection of him, Junior, had there been the mirror previously mentioned.

god is smiling. he has small teeth and big gaps. he sees not just the imaginary mirror, but also his son in the mirror, if not smiling outright, then smirking.

Junior feels god’s sight even though this is reflectively impossible. god does not feel the Holy Spirit looking at him smile, and even if he did, he probably wouldn’t look at her. Junior also does not look at her.

“JCJR have you heard this,” god says. “Just the other day, God was taking the Holy Spirit to Key Foods when a piece of fur attached to bones scuttled in front of the wheels. The Holy Spirit sounded like a marching band of goats amplified within an echo chamber on stereophonic steroids. And whenever the Holy Spirit screamed, the Holy Spirit screamed the Son of God’s name, so of course, God was led astray and swerved from what he had been forewarned was His Nominal Boy. Every time, the same thing. Jizzzzuussss. It sounded like God was about to murder the first JC. When the Holy Spirit regained her breath and God was safely parked up on the curb with a new light-pole hood ornament, the Holy Spirit pointed out the now safe purr factory then filling out with its safe and sound but still mangy mane one of the eyes of a chain link fence. God struck himself silent for the rest of the journey out of courtesy and caution for even He did not know His vengeful extent if the Holy Spirit were to call on him for forgiveness or to roll down a window. Could JCJR believe that?” god looks out his window in a swift jerking motion like he’s already gotten Junior to laugh. Junior does not laugh. Nor does he want to acknowledge in any corroborative manner his father, even though he knows exactly what god is talking about with the whole mom magnifying any dramatic situation thing.

The Holy Spirit starts to blush which means she grows pink which means her skin becomes almost more translucent than it already is. She is certified albino. It’s on her Driver’s License and everything, right next to eye color and height. She has the look and shine of honeydew melon if honeydew melon had a pink pulp instead of green and was visible through a transparent but still honeydew rind-tinged rind. Honeydew describes both color and shape. Women’s Plus, Plus Size.

The more people honk at god, the more god tunes out. he is drifting towards the exit, cars in side view multiply.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t really chalk herself up as an albino.Though if you casually bring up the word, even if say like just to mention the new albino zebra in the Bronx Zoo, she’ll start to beam rosé, then squeamishly wedge a new subject into the conversation. The Williamsburg Bridge is the color of dried blood on khakis. With summer light past the “Sunny 16” rule, locals and tourists who have already photobombed the Brooklyn Bridge or who simply don’t like crowds have become arms over the edge above the less iconic of the two structures. No one in the car cares about those above, those small arms waving in the wind. There are no gulls out the Holy Spirit’s window even though her side is the side closest the ocean, the salt. It’s the other side that has the Sugar Factory.

Junior bends his neck at a new angle more apposite the moving van’s ceiling. He doesn’t want to deal with the embarrassment of dangerous driving. Junior is taller and darker and skinnier than both his parents by multiple units in all directions and hues. Although no one would call god fat or short, Junior is so rib-pronounced and beanstalk and floor challenged that, when standing next to his dad, he makes god look like a stomped beer can. Part of the reason why god walks three yards in front of Junior always is so a person on an incoming trajectory anymore than four yards away will see, the stranger pedestrian we’re talking about doing the seeing, god with a very strange looking coat kind of just floating around his, god’s now, shoulders giving god extra height and slimming his girth the way certain clothing seems to change body perception.

“But you made it. To graduation. That’s the important part.” The Holy Spirit is still looking out her window with her hand shielding her eyes. god acts like he can’t hear at all, then honks a constant sonic blanket.

“I mean, I was going to tell you.” Junior tries to take off his shoe with his other foot. This will probably not help the pain of close quarters. “But those last six months, and particularly the weeks leading into the ceremony, were grade A toil. Writing my thesis was, I swear, like giving birth.”

“Excuse me?” says the Holy Spirit. She turns around.

“For what? Writing my thesis felt like giving birth.”

Let it forever stand on public record: Junior cannot biologically give birth due to his lack of egg-producing ovaries. He has no idea what he is talking about. god sees this and watches from his corner excitedly. It is a rare thing to see the Holy Spirit anything lower than polite.

“You DO NOT know what it feels like to give birth.”

“I can imagine.”

“No, actually you can not.”

“I can try.”

“You can’t even do that, Jay R. Do you know how big a baby is?”

“Have you ever been hit in the balls?”

“A baby is on average the size of a Thanksgiving Day squash. Imagine a squash breaching through your—”

“Mom, stop.”

“See? You can’t even handle the idea of it. Please be more aware of what you say.” The Holy Spirit feels like she went too far and wants to reach back, but doesn’t. Not this time.

Junior lifts his hands above his head. Pushes his back down along the door. Twists his legs over the other. The Holy Spirit pulls her chair up another notch to the most minimal chair-to-glove compartment distance to give Junior’s feet room even though it’s only Junior’s feet and they can find room anywhere. Now the Holy Spirit has her knees almost tangent to her chin, a sacrifice lost on Junior.

god tracks how close Brooklyn is by the rise in elevation. he is not fond of Manhattan. Some would say he hates Manhattan.

“It probably won’t kill you if you stay away from using that metaphor, is all I’m saying. Is that too much to ask? Just say beget. Beget is fine. Say beget next time, please. For me.” The Holy Spirit here trying.

“Yeah sure, whatever,” Junior says, then ratchets up after thinking a bit. “But, but my authorial ability. I mean, the presumed death of speech. I can say whatever the fuck I want.”

“BREAKER god yelled to those who could hear Him,” god says. “Let not a curse fly from the lips of those that speak through air.”

Junior brings his left cheek up to his left eye along with the left side of his lip in a pose that says more than he could. No one is looking at him though. No one is going to say anything either in response to god.

“I don’t want to talk about school anyway,” Junior concedes, breaking the aural pond. “It was a waste of time, and I’m done, and I never want to do it again.”

“God wished his Son had heard the one about friends jumping off a bridge. Or about how four years of time had the opposite meaning of cheap. Or, how about waste not want not.”

Somewhere in one of the boxes clogging the back of the van is Junior’s diploma. It has words on it and what looks like a sticker of achievement peeled from a sticker starter set. He switched majors enough times to break his parents’ interest scale on their loans. The Holy Spirit argued that it was good for him, let him find whatever he wants to find, whereas god gave up on the fact that Junior could have (potentially) (initially) made somewhat of a return on the development money fiscal years ago. But it became evident that it was in their favor to let Junior wander uninhibited, both in terms of their sanity and Junior’s “growth”. The within of the van is filled with all of Junior’s hads for the past four years: a laptop and its required accoutrements; two full seasons worth of Vice, most cut or ripped; various sizes and colors of papers of which the diploma is included within, uncategorized, unfiled; and then, clothes. The rest of the boxes are clothes. god had to rent the mid-sized van to fit all of these clothes. We’ll talk about the clothes later. What’s funny is that later presumes a lot later, like a chapter later, but really everything after later is later, you kin? But you know this already. Regardless, when Junior finally came down to let god and the Holy Spirit into his Alphabet City walk up, a small colony of eccentric double-decades carried down an approaching endless line of Evan Williams and Tanqueray and Popov moving boxes. If god only knew that cotton fabrics stuffed the majority of the boxes, he would have never agreed to pay for the van and the gas. And most likely indirectly the clothes. god is of the New York old guard that puts stock in one good coat. Winter is god’s season because he never learned fashion above the high 30’s-low 40’s weather. The Holy Spirit was once the same one-coat, one-season mannequin. Lately though, lately her wardrobe has grown.

“Can we not talk about this? Let’s not talk about this,” says the Holy Spirit. “Let’s talk about your room.”

“I thought there was one more small room or something. Did you add a wall?”

“God spoke clearly,” god says. All of a sudden it seems like they’ve miraculously made the exit. Junior doesn’t have the time nor the energy to wonder how.

“Technically your room is not your room anymore,” says the Holy Spirit. “Not your old one. You’re going to be staying downstairs. On the first floor.”

“With what’s his name, er—Jonah,” God says.

“Her name is Joan.”

“Who’s Jonah?” Junior says. He’s looking out the window for some graffiti that says DEAD GOD or FUCK THE MAN. He is not finding said death though, sometimes to look for death is to elude it.

“Her name is Joan, and she’s our tenant and your new roommate. And I’ve told you about her oh probably sixty times.” The Holy Spirit looks out the window but doesn’t see anything. She is wholly inside a mental landscape where a decision has been made. Almost been made. Is about to be made. Well, the decision is in progress, circumnavigated by time, in her mind. The landscape: a table, which she walks around, without chairs where three bowls sit. One of the bowls holds a tangerine. For some time, she doesn’t touch the tangerine, content to just watch and circle. Then, very slowly, she picks it up and knows: payment will come, and only she can pay it. Don’t worry. We’ll be there even if no one else will.

Everyone thinks differently.

god is looking out the windshield, finally, but what he sees is a great big brick wall made of white brick and white mortar upon which a projection of the past plays from somewhere behind his head. If we take a second to speculate not on the projector’s viability as a reality, but what watching a metaphysical anomaly means while god is driving, we quickly see why most drivers feel some paranormal need to stay out of god’s forward motion. There is a glint in the hood of whatever vehicle god is driving that expresses, I’m paying attention to something no one else can see and which does not directly correspond to the road, so.

Abstractly, the white wall always shows some direct past. Specifically here, it plays the time after god and the Holy Spirit had paid for the rental van by a shady tinfoil shack under the BQE, but before they searched no less than half an hour for parking near Junior’s 7th Street address. Probably a grand total of about thirty seconds of focused scene surrounded by blurs and strange time warps and gurgles: this being what’s playing on the screen. While god was waiting for a green off of Houston, a man sauntered off the corner and waited directly in front of the van. Both he and god were tracking the perpendicular traffic light’s progress. Time is a small yet precious thing on this Man with a Hat island, formed from two rivers, all business, hurriedly bumping into each other. The man must have forgotten he was in the street when he saw the middle yellow blink off and go to red. god, a true hater of the idea of polis and of all those that inhabit such, pinched the gas around the sides with both feet and cut wildly towards the man he did not see. Remember, the moving van is one of those without a back window (and therefore also sans a working rear view mirror, although that matters not here), and because of this, the van is equipped with those extra wide side mirrors that pretend to let you reflect images behind the distended van. It was the right side one of these that almost smacked the man off the corner back to the sidewalk. 28 seconds this took. Luckily, the man was wearing a very large hat, so it was only this that was struck. During this whole ordeal, the Holy Spirit looked on with frightening acuity, but for different reasons. She did not immediately scream. The man in question illuminated currently on god’s white wall of replay was actually a woman. god has a gender problem. Not just with pronouns and proper names, but physically as well. Sometimes, it’s almost as if he doesn’t even see women or he must change them over to men unwittingly. So the Holy Spirit, while god was aiming for ultimate smackage, shrieked her shrill shriek, finally, confusing god enough to warble in his smack track and narrowly miss the body, whacking only what turned out to be a very unstylish sun hat. Before even straightening out the curve, god went into a rant about how the damn 100% of Manhattan drew their walking lines at like at a third-grade level, how no one seemed to be able to walk within the already there lines so blatant and visible and safe, right there at each straight street corner. The Holy Spirit watched as the woman, quickly becoming eaten by the rest of the walking surge, straightened herself and continued walking as if nothing happened. Maybe she didn’t even notice. The Holy Spirit had wished for Junior’s presence, at least to give some opposite judgment a voice. Although, if Junior had been there, he would have seen something completely different from what god or the Holy Spirit saw. He would have gone off on how the woman was obviously a tourist from some pasty complexion flatland who wore Birkenstocks with bright white socks like bleached worms crawling up her mushy legs. The sun hat was probably worth $7, even though she had probably just bought it in Chinatown for upwards of $20. She had bangles and a scrunchie, subway map tight in hand like a life preserver. If Junior had been there, the splinter in his eye would have been pointing thus: Tourism is a parasite that symbiotically sustains and devalues walking down Houston St. A street minus one sun hat wearing woman who most definitely did not even know how to correctly pronounce Houston, the Holy Spirit deep down knows Junior would think, would have been a marginal loss. god replays the turn over and over on his white wall, a banner above that sprawls “Manhattan vs God” while below chalk marks of various wins and losses are tallied. Remember this is all in god’s head and vision.

“The seed must take root before the flower is realized.” The Holy Spirit sighs.

Junior is looking in the same direction as his mom across the candy and chip littered interior of the van, but he sees some cirrus, some rooftops, the river, the beginning of his end.

The end is coming. Brooklyn is the end.

god is somehow now on line to exit, and Junior feels properly stuck. The Holy Spirit tries one more time for her son’s hand. Junior does not want to move back to Brooklyn. In fact, he would rather move to Philo, Indiana than move to Brooklyn. god feels about the same way for his son. The Holy Spirit is not so secretly the only one excited about the situation.

“Oh!” the Holy Spirit yells, her hands slapping the front console of the van for emphasis.

“Where?” god says cranking the wheel. A red Corolla whines by along the area reserved for flat tires and garbage. Both god and Junior have backs strung up with a wired harp’s tightness. Pain. By now the van is filling pot holes under the J-M-Z along Broadway. The street is in bad shape. Small movements or sudden clenches in the lower lumbar can have actual drastic aural repercussions one can’t help finding similar to the sound of ice hitting water for the first time. You can tell god clipped a pinion from his lack of lateral movement. Lucky for Junior, he has long ago rubbed away any reactionary mom-is-screaming synapses. The Holy Spirit moves on as if nothing had happened.

“Joan is making us dinner tonight. You don’t have plans already do you, Jay R?”

“I told you not to call me Jay R.”

“What did God proclaim about yelling while He is driving?”

“I think she’s making roasted birria tacos.”

“I said I’ve got plans.”

“We’re supposed to bring cilantro. Did you pick up the cilantro, Gee?”

(We may have failed to mention the Holy Spirit’s pet name for Junior is Jay R and for god, Gee.)

god is watching an overhead train paint light on the buildings. Distance is never not real.

“We might have to get some cilantro. And wine. Jay R, can you run to the store when we get home and pick up some cilantro, red wine, and matches. Joan loves candles.”

“Mom, I’m going back to the city for dinner with my friends.”

“But you just got here.”

“One can wait for their dinner to be over, and then have another dinner if they are so lucky,” god says.

“No, I can’t. Today is my vegetarian day. No way I’m going to eat tacos.”

In all honesty, one of the single draws (nothing’s perfect, of course) of moving back home is the food. Junior knows this, and is already presuming a stocked cabinetry. Meals cooked on a flame you have control over. I mean potentially. Junior is ready to be off his strict bodega diet; being on a first-name basis with the guy behind the cash register hardly counts as intimacy. At some point in Junior’s mind he got the idea that his diet could aid in personality development. He had the money, or at least the monetary support, to buy groceries. But he liked to think that his life was all the more interesting if for lunch (Rule 1: always skip breakfast unless you count coffee and cigarettes as a meal) he had a bag of Salt and Vinegar Utz and some M&M’s, and for dinner a toasted bagel with butter and onions and then whatever he could scavenge at gallery openings in Chelsea. It just so happens that most of this food was classified as “non-meat”. Now though, the oven (THE fucking OVEN) will warm and emit spit inducing smells, even if it’s just Bagel Bites in there. A taco does sound good. He might have to, in his foreseeable future, revert back to a meat-filled diet. But tonight Junior has plans.

god hits the breaks a little too hard, whipping everyone’s heads forward again. Everyone else in the van doesn’t really care what Junior had just said. “What did Jesus say?” Somehow, this helps Junior’s back.

“There’ll be a vegetarian option, Jay R. Or maybe we can pick up some beans too just in case.”

“You’re not listening to me. I’ll be at my—nope, not mine anymore. I own no ownership. My friends’ apartment. Having dinner.”

“When did the Son of God stop eating of the flesh of beasts?” god says.

“Tuesdays through Thursday, abstain from meat. It’s a slow transition diet.”

“What about Fridays?” god asks.

“Fridays are my meat only days.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Joan went to graduate school in Mexico City,” the Holy Spirit intervenes. “She’s preparing this dish special from a recipe her host madre gave her. You have to come, at least to meet Joan. You don’t have to eat. After dinner you can have your own escape.”

“Wait, you’re telling me you’re going back to where we picked you up from?” god says.

“That’s the idea.”

“Bunko. Infallible bunko this kid speaks.”

“We’ll be done by eight, and Joan really wants to meet you. Since you’ll be living with her, it would be smart for you two to get to know each other.”

“I didn’t want to live with her.”

“And she didn’t want to live with some vegetarian punk graduate,” god says. They are close to home.

“Yes, I know the whole world is practically keeling over in shameful and guilt-inducing subjugation,” Junior says. “Does she have a TV at least?”

“Yes. So big it could act as a mirror for an Orca..”

Junior picks at something gum-like on the van’s seat. The van is one of those beasts with a middle thorax supposedly able to hold five, but the section Jesus occupies is about the size of a railroad apartment’s entryway closet. Littered on the ground are Doritos wrappers and empty Gatorade bottles from past moves. This is not a U-Haul. It looks like whoever owns the car is a big believer in As You Found It cleaning, which also translates to See No Evil.

“Disgusting,” Junior says, the bait having been taken. “I hate television. It rots your brain. I won’t leave my room, I swear.”

The Holy Spirit turns around and sticks out her hand once again for Junior to take. He ignores her hand, obviously making a point to look in the exact complementary angle away from it. But the Holy Spirit is coolly obstinate. She remains. Junior, after a full minute of making his point, pretends he just now noticed her hand and grabs it limply, barely extending his arm whereas the Holy Spirit is in full twist here. Still though, Junior averts her eyes.

“Don’t worry. Joan usually works at night so you won’t even see much of each other.”

This part of Brooklyn does not look pretty in plain light. god is happy as a kid in an open fire hydrant’s spray. Shops are bordered up with graffiti crusted gates. Men limp and women smoke. Trash-humps line the outer edges of the sidewalks like old barnacled sea mammals creating sporadic barriers between feet and wheels. Trash. Ain’t going to pick itself up. It over-fills trash cans. And each can has its own fallen halo of wrappers and diapers and crinkly liners.

In Brooklyn, like Manhattan, people do, yes, walk outside of the crosswalks. But that’s because there aren’t any crosswalks. Not like the ones in Manhattan at least, in god’s eyes. In Brooklyn, people walk with right leg in time with left arm confidence. Business attire can mean Sean Jean sweat pants and a Yankees cap. Restaurants are hidden off main streets because main streets are brightly lit, and most restaurants want their front door to be dark. Oh Brooklyn. Where parades are marched by West Indians, and flags are draped alongside Nikes on the phone lines. Where there’s a corner store on every other corner. Where there is more color coordination (shoes, socks, jean pocket’s stitching, a strip of underwear, T-shirts, button-up, hoodie, vest, hat, not to mention jewelry and phone casings) than Fashion Week’s top stuff. Welcome home. god pulls over.

“Wasn’t God’s Son done yet?’” god says from the street-side window of the third story of god’s house. No one has done anything yet except for god. god is on god’s floor, the top floor, a pine box without inner walls, hardwood layered and untouched other than some folding chairs for when a meeting of one alone was to be had. It is where god used to do his work, but he no longer “likes the light,” he’s been quoted as saying. A soft glop of sun comes through unadulterated (except by the bars) most of an afternoon. If you look out the window god’s stuck his hands through, you can see the street down below. A pretty street for the neighborhood. Oaks every few yards. Old ones too. The trash that escapes the plastic bags do not ramble in freedom for long. Lately, god has been going only god knows where to hash out business. god is also the only one who knows god’s business, so no one notices really. If god had anything resembling regular hours, then eyebrows might be raised. But that’s not how god works. “And then there should have been toast. Who will have made God’s toast?” Down below Junior and the Holy Spirit look up. Though small in diaphragm size, god’s voice usually can carve sonic valleys through the oceanic sludge-tumble of any aboveground trains, local or express. But even god is having trouble projecting over the sound of the mobile incense storefront’s blasting of “No Woman No Cry” two blocks away under the street-hanging station. The incense storefront is adding to the summer atmosphere a mixture to taste like vanilla poured forth from glass with fat spires smoking in the distance. If Junior could smell, that would be what he smelled. If Junior also sweated, he’d also be afraid of the pheromone combination created by pit hair and sugar. But luckily, Junior doesn’t smell. Which comes in handy more than you’d think—if you’ve never lived in Brooklyn.

god flattens his arms out the window through the bars in an effort to enunciate. He shrugs and shakes his head, silent, and then walks away from the window, swatting the curtains as he goes. The swoosh of the curtains is as much a wave as Junior has ever received from The Oldest Man. Something like fifteen pigeons land on the roof.

The middle of summer must be the worst time to move. Light changes mediums to heat color. Worse than the rain, since the rain at least keeps you moving, a fat summer heat lugs away behind your knees. Your lungs struggle to expand against the humidity. Every step whispers of go down, find some shade, relax and ultimately, quit. The less vertical the better.

Junior curls his tongue in frustration after once again giving in without a thought to old, kid habits. Who forces his kid to call him “The Oldest Man”?

“He better be careful,” Junior says. “Aneurysms are clinically proven to be brought on by being an asshole. That and transgendered affairs.”

The Holy Spirit looks up immediately, a look of an animal next to a wildfire round her eyes. It washes away before Junior cares. She’s covering her eyes with her hands, so it’s not like he could see much. The Holy Spirit returns a placid map to her face. “You know He’s just excited,” she says. “That’s His way of showing it. And what’s with the transgendered negativity?” Junior’s a cat with his arched back to her. “We’re both excited to have you back. He’s probably trying to get you to come inside and speak alone. For some reason, He can’t handle talking to both of us at the same time.” The Holy Spirit looks at Junior like she just pulled back a big rock with a secret behind it she placed there especially for him. Here. It’s for you. Look.

Contributor

Matt Nelson

Matt Nelson started Mellow Pages Library with his friend, Jacob Perkins. He’s there on the weekends.

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