Tom Meets God
by Rose Keating
Tom met God once. She seemed nice.
It was in a café by Tesco. There was no thunder, and there was no lightening. No bright flashes of light or skies heavy, grey, brooding or pregnant with revelation. It had rained an hour previously, and the air smelled of moisture and diluted sunlight. Air clear. Cleansed. The way the earth smells when it drinks up the sky.
No churches, no holy soil. A greasy, sticky café. It could have been worse, Tom supposed.
He was sitting at the table, clutching weak, muddy coffee in his hands. He didn’t really like coffee, but enjoyed the feeling of something hot and steaming in his hand. Solid. The way your palms burn, mildly painful in a pleasant sort of way.
Someone sits down across from him. He looks up. A woman. Brown hair. Bobbed. Could have been anywhere between 30 years old to 50. Hard to place. Incredibly average but not necessarily plain; you know the type.
“Hello.” A smile. He returns the greeting.
She asks him how he’s doing. His name. The soft back and forths of small talk. She is polite. Eloquent. He returned the questions.
“I’m God,” she replied when he asked her name. Tom was surprised, but decided to let it go. It was early and he could not pretend to care right now. He’d grown up in the city. He’d heard stranger things.
“Fair enough,” he said. He vaguely wished she’d end it there, but she did not.
She told him her story. He listened. If only to be polite.
“All Gods demand sacrifice”, she told Tom.
“You know this. Even if you weren’t aware that you know this, you do. You knew it from the moment we first allowed air to trickle down into the hollow of your lungs. In between the oxygen particles. We hid it in those places.
It’s a covenant. You’ve heard that word thrown around. A promise. Those words that taste like papyrus and locked doors. Lost and grand. A promise of worship. That is why you are here.
I remember the first. The first of those breaths. The first of the breaths in the hollow of lungs. Before the now.
I remember. I remember the in the beginning. The Before. I want to tell you about it. What it was like. The feeling. It always comes back to that.
In the Before, there were no words. I didn’t have them then. I have them now.
I can feel them under my tongue. Ready in that dripping ripe way. The power of them. Heavy, dragging back and forth beneath the agitated muscle. If I opened my mouth wide enough, I would feel worlds come spewing out. Holding back infinities bursting behind the tip of my tongue.
Words are important. That whole pen is mightier than the sword thing wasn’t just a pretty phrase. Words can cut. They can slice you open and tear you apart. They can warm you up and melt you down. Leave you open and leaking out. I believe in the power of words. There’s words that are special. I made them that way. You can feel them pulse and wriggle when you let them hop from your tongue. Words like beautiful. Words like love and God and dirt and fuck. Ah, fuck.” Tom blushed gently, glancing around in a flustered manner. God winked roguishly, “One of my favourites. Never underestimate the power of obscenities. The feeling of your brain cells exploding when you scream out the word ‘fuck’ in the middle of a field in the dark. You are destroying galaxies and birthing worlds in that scream. Power words. They thrum.
The Before. Remember the hollow inside your lung? It’s there. The kind of black that isn’t dark. It glows. You can hear it splashing inside your blood when the world is quiet enough.
I sat in the Before. It was much too empty. No words there. So, I spoke. Filled it with letters and things and sounds and nouns like Light and Earth and Stars and Sky. And suddenly, it was out there. You can’t take words back. They scar the air.
I should probably tell you what it was like. I’m thinking in metaphors. In similes. In x+y=z, comparisons and mathematics. One thing can equal another thing. I don’t know how to do that with this. In the Before, it wasn’t that simple. The Before is not so easy to equate. I could tell you about the ways stars feel when you carve them from your teeth. Somewhere between sherbet and lava and frost. But that wouldn’t be exactly right. Close. But not perfect.
And then there was you. All of you. I breathed out your skin and gristle and meat. Slap bang, spilling all over our stretch of world with all your mess; you brought me the gift of disorder. It was the jitter shatter chaos of falling in love. Remember meeting Her? Or Him? You know, the big one. That feeling of irreversibility; the world could never be the same once you knew the way the cracks of their lips felt on yours. That’s what it was like. You brought all your noise and screams and touches and stained every surface of my being. Irreversible.”
“Should I tell you about what happened next?” Tom wasn’t sure if this was rhetorical, but gave an uncertain nod of encouragement, “It all comes back to the same idea. Worship.
It sounds selfish. Maybe it is. I need to be loved. I loved you so reverently and I needed every ounce of your being to worship me in return. The act of reciprocity and all its implications. I needed you to need me.” God met Tom’s eyes. Tom tried his best to look away without being rude, stirring his coffee.
“I remember the first attempts. Clumsy, but desperate in a sweet sort of way. Like trying to unhook a bra for the first time. All agitation and frenzy.
The forest in August. All honey syrup trickling through leaves. A wash of green light on limbs. The bark. The mud. Dandelions and nettles. Pollen in nose; sharp and raw and vivid. Air hazy with heat; daisy dream delirium. Them, clutching hands around the bonfire. Tanned arms. Flames stretching to lick their wrists. They could feel it here. Their burning God. Immense. Hot shudder. The ripple of something deep and dark and old. They were trying to become more. To make me see. Fever and flame and scorching dirt under foot, drum thump arms legs pound writhe bodies contorting limbs naked slick sweat the taste of sacrifice in a way more than life. More than living, more than death. The moment. Give up the moment for your burning God. Strawberry dynamite leaking through your pores. Burnt sugar chilli scarlet burn behind your eyes. The bursting smell of world overripe.
The creatures. They were scarcely more than that. Looking into the flames. Crowned in flowers and oils. First time they had seen the light. Locked up in dark rooms, fed on plums and berries; all in preparation for this. Plumped up and full hipped. Tender. They looked into the air and I knew they could see me. They looked at me as the knife was pressed against their throat. It ripped and they smiled. I smiled. Hot cherry wine firework juice spraying into my hollows. Simultaneous release. Together. We were Love.
Not the most subtle form of worship, I’ll give you that. An example of sacrifice in a manner that was perhaps a tad obvious. But it was earnest. It was blunt and clumsy and they gave it with every ounce of their being; truthfully and without doubt. They gave it the way you give yourself when you fall in love for the first time; not so much a fall as a leap. Abandonment. Open and eager and scrabbling. Falling all over themselves to get a taste. No reservations and no looking back. Ah, early primal religion. Nothing quite like it.
That kind of concentrated energy; it’s hard to let go. Undiluted. Rather addictive. Sadly, it got boring fast. Just not enough. So, like every other junkie in the world, I went looking for bigger and bigger hits.
I don’t know if this is an explanation. But it’s all I have. It’s just what happened.
Things kind of exploded from there. A lot more big and a lot more bad and a lot more sad. And about a billion times more fun. You probably think in terms of churches. Westernised mind that you are. Ah, Tom. The stone and the paint. Plaster. Tasting like petal water and vanilla dust. Catholicism was a memorable one, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate. All masochistic beatitudes. That dusty guilt. Original sin tasting of metal and vinegar and apple cream. Rosary bead blood incense dripping from overly solemn lips. So many pretty words. Like spells. A practice of poetry and wine and flesh. Lambs. For a faith so bent on repressing bodily urges, there sure were some hedonistic undertones. I’ve inhabited priests and Popes. I’m right there inside. I know the pump pump chocolate lava throb of power coursing in the veins of wrists and neck. I’ve worn the crown and swallowed gold and turned a blind eye —”
A waitress arrived at the table, carrying a cheese toastie for Tom. Tom took it, throwing an apologetic grimace towards God.
“It’s fine. I should probably speak in a more analytical tone. Talk about the widow burnings. The days of fasting. The martyrs and crusades. Holy wars and less than holy wars. All me. Right in the back of your mind. Because I can feel it all. All of it burning away inside of me. Electric and sweet. Cinnamon acid pumping around in my joints. Or should I let you talk now? Rave about the abuse. The cruelty and selfishness. The pointlessness —”
“It’s alright, really,” Tom assured her, feeling a tad awkward. God looked Tom in the eye then, smiling.
“Alright then. I’ll talk in a more personal sense. About you, Tom. You, staring at vomit stains in your carpet. You, taking some girl home at four am and looking for me in each groan that she made. You, listening to Jeff Buckley in the dark and feeling each note pierce your brain tissue like ice and bleach. Purifying. Just a little self-indulgent but hey, we all have our moments. I know, though. I know that you were thinking of me. Looking for me. Even if you don’t know it. You were just trying to find me.”
“I know you hate me,” Tom opened his mouth to protest, but God continued, “Not just you. All of you. Hate me for letting it all happen. But how are you meant to stop it when it all just feels so good?
I just wanted you to love me. It sounds simple. Sounded. Love comes in many, many ugly forms. It breeds and twists and becomes something Other. Love is beautiful and horrifying and dangerous and disgusting and I don’t know how to stop it anymore. I’m sorry.”
She stops. Tom hadn’t wanted to listen, and he vaguely wish he hadn’t heard. But he had.
Tom isn’t very good with words. Not good with saying them. Not good with understanding them. Finds them heavy and sticky and fumbles to wrap them around in the correct order. What Tom is good at is following their rhythm. Feeling the deeper beat. It’s like listening to opera. Even if one doesn’t understand Italian, tears are still shed when the soprano bleeds out that crescendo. That is how Tom felt right then. He didn’t quite understand the words, but he felt the beat.
Tom looked the woman called God in the eye and gave her a smile. It was honest and open and earnest.
“Would you like me to buy you a cup of tea?” Tom asked.
The woman called God smiled.
“That would be nice, thanks,” she said.
Because sometimes it is that simple.