Another oldie (and I’m working on something new I hope to post soon)…
Working for God is never easy. That’s what I told the shrink when he sat down in his leather chair and asked, “Why are you here?” The expensive brown leather sighed as his weight settled in and the cushioning molded to his skinny ass.
“And why is that?”
I could see it in his head. I was another whacko who believed God was talking to him. Should he prescribe the little blue pill? Or maybe the green one? Was I a schizophrenic? Or a paranoid schizophrenic? I had no doubt that when Dr. Wellinsky asked me his question, he was already wondering what the voices were telling me. He was probably half way to a diagnosis.
The problem with any diagnosis Dr. Wellinsky may have come up with was that it would have been wrong. I wasn’t psycho. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t even borderline. I was most certainly 100% certifiably sane. And I worked for God.
“It’s the death. It’s everywhere.”
I wanted to jump and shake Dr. Wellinsky out of his patronizing response. But I stayed on the couch with the matching leather molded to my own skinny ass.
“I know what you think. Working for God’s gotta be easy. But it isn’t. It’s not all angels and harps. We don’t get to float around on clouds and eat grapes while nymphs dance about us. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually seen an angel playing a harp. And, I most certainly have yet to encounter a nymph. I think I would have remembered that.
“The truth of the matter is that God’s business is death. A lot of it. Oh sure, people want to think about how God will save them and of all the miracles that occur to prove God’s existence. People want to think that God is in every tree and flower. That the birth of a child is God’s greatest miracle.
“The cold hard reality is that God is all about death. What do you think has to happen for somebody to reach salvation? That’s right. They have to die. For every miracle that saves a life, there are many others that never happen. Because God needs death. Without death, why would we need him? Who would believe in God if they didn’t have to fear what happens after they die?”
I balled my hands into fists and squeezed to ease the tension that continued to build. Were all shrinks such pricks? Was there a special class they took to learn how to respond without really responding at all?
“Yeah, Dr. Wellinsky, particularly if you’re a Watcher.”
“A Watcher? And, what exactly is it that a Watcher does?” The good doctor now leaned forward.
I decided to play Dr. Wellinsky’s game. “We watch,” I sighed in my own condescending way.
“What? What do you watch?” Dr. Wellinsky scribbled something on his notepad and looked up at me, waiting for my answer. He was probably already writing the case study of my condition that he would publish in whatever journal patronizing shrinks write for. He could present a paper at some conference in a hotel ballroom while half of the attendees were in their rooms doing the things that stay in Vegas.
I unclenched my fists and crossed my hands on my stomach. In the past twenty-four hours, I had pondered how to explain to a stranger what it was I did for God. Now that it was time to do so, I realized I hadn’t quite figured it out.
“Well . . . a Watcher . . . Let me put it this way. God insists that every time somebody dies, a Watcher is there to witness it.”
“It’s not that difficult to understand, Dr. Wellinsky. I am a witness for God. A witness to death.”
“I see . . .” There it was, that patronizing phrase again. “And how exactly does that work?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, how do you know where to go to do this? To witness death?”
My hands returned to my sides as the tension began to build again. Squeezing my hands back into fists, I told him. “God has a lot of people working for him. We’re not all Watchers. There are Listeners. They have to sit and listen to God. Laughers. They laugh at all of God’s jokes whether they’re funny or not. That’s actually pretty difficult to do when you think about it. If they don’t sound like they really believe a joke is funny, if their laugh isn’t authentic, they lose their jobs and become God’s Experiments. Speaking of which, if a Listener falls asleep while God is talking? Same thing. No more job and it’s experimentation time. You don’t want to know what happens to God’s Experiments.
“And there are Messengers. Nothing is ever written down. I don’t get my instructions by email or anything like that. God doesn’t want to leave any trace of what we do. Every day, a Messenger comes to me and tells me who I’ll be watching that day. The time and the location.”
“Very interesting.” The old man was scribbling furiously now. I’m sure he was envisioning the riches my case would bring to him.
“No, Doc, it’s not interesting. It’s horrible. I have to witness soldiers home from Iraq suck in the fumes in a garage sealed tight. I watch old people die alone. Last week, I watched little Annalisa Compton die after suffering from leukemia for months. The week before, it was Jordan Alvarez, a triathlete riding his $7,000 bicycle on the side of a road, plowed into by a drunk driver.
“All of these people dying. And I have to watch them. Or I’ll become one of God’s Experiments, too.”
“Why does God need a witness?”
“I don’t know. Guess what? With all of the different jobs there are, of all the things we do for God, there is no Questioner. Nobody actually gets to ask him questions. So, I’ve never asked him and I don’t know anybody else who has. I’ve just about had it, too. I want to quit.”
“What would happen if you quit?”
“I . . . I don’t know. Nobody ever has before. At least as far as I know,” I sighed. “I guess there’s always a first time.”
The scratching of Dr. Wellinsky’s pen on his note pad was the only sound that broke the silence that followed. I found myself relaxing and I needed to fill that silence as the dam broke. “Yesterday,” I blubbered, “I had to watch a woman beat her grandson to death just because he wouldn’t do his homework. I’ve never seen anything worse. I can take almost anything – soldiers dying, random car accidents, even sick kids every once in awhile – but that woman tortured her own flesh and blood. She made him scream for mercy. He died in his sleep from his injuries. I had to watch the whole thing because the Messenger who came to me earlier in the day wasn’t sure of the exact time the little boy would pass.”
I sniffled and wiped my nose with the back of my hand. “I watched that little boy die, Dr. Wellinsky. He went to sleep in his bed, curled in a ball, whimpering from his injuries. He never woke up again.”
It was the first time I had ever done it. Told somebody what I did for a living. When I was in training to be a Watcher, I was told to never reveal what I did. For seven years, I had followed that rule. But, little Johnny Horton’s death had broken something in me. I had to, absolutely had to, get it off my chest.
I was just about to tell Dr. Wellinsky how it felt to witness such a brutal thing, when he cut me off. “I’m afraid that’s it. Your time is up. How about we do this again next week? Same day, same time?”
“No, actually Dr. Wellinsky, I’m afraid your time is up.”
I rose from the sofa and did my job. I watched.
I saw the good doctor dying at the end coming.. what I didn’t see was the little boy beaten to death, and I have to say that was very hard to read, but extremely effective.
This is really good, Mark. You take a surreal situation and make it seem commonplace, as though this could happen. As though it is. I liked both characters and their interactions, but I think I liked God the best- with all those people helping him/her out, laughing at his/her jokes – you made him sound like a conceited twit. If this story were to continue, would love to see God interact with your protagonist, potentially a little miffed that he’s telling people about what he does for a living. And I’m very curious about these experiments. But mostly intrigued that people who do God’s bidding – witnessing death, for example – might betray their boss. Wonder what would happen if that occurred?
In short, I wish I’d had this idea… it’s quirky, odd, tense, and well-executed, and you made it seem very real.
And you’ve just given me an idea for continuing this story. What happens if the narrator fails at one of his assignments and becomes an experiment. That could be very interesting. I’ll have to ponder.
Thank you for that and for the positive words about the story.
No problem. Looking forward to your other new piece that you mentioned, too. By the way, for this piece, I would consider possibly giving the protagonist a name – would ground him even more. I can see the shrink calling him Mr. so-and-so.
You’re right and if I were try to expand on this a name would be necessary. It’s interesting, with these short stories, told in first person, giving the narrator a name is something I frequently don’t do. Need to reconsider that.
I do that too – leave the ‘I’ without a name, but mostly when I want to make it seem like the protagonist is me. I think you could do some interesting playing with the name here.
A Hispanic man named Jesus? 😉
That would provide some pretty awesome bits of humour to this.