a mate. I've seen some of your other stuff - it's
very good - I'd pay you for your time of course, and
materials. I value your work - it's Significant.'
God blushed. A
commission he thought - recognition at last.
Fired with the enthusiasm born of praise, he set to work moulding,
cutting, shaping and forming creases and crevices. From time
to time he'd stand some distance from his project squinting
critically, because he knew, as all artists did, if the shape
held true in the half-light of self-imposed myopia - it
would be good.
Time passed and
he realised that soon he'd have to stop, yet he dreaded
the moment when every detail was defined and the only potential
left was for completely overdoing it. He shuddered as the image
of downy pink flamingo wings quivered unbidden in his mind.
What background should he use ? Presentation was vital in these
cases - did it need more green? Was there too much green?
A predilection for the verdant was his signature style, but
the critics could be vicious.
He added a fruit tree.
needn't have worried. Adam was overjoyed.
Does it work?'
- all moving parts and just for you, I added a voice.'
God was almost
moved to tears to see the look of innocent awe in Adam's
do I owe you?'
Oh I can't think about that at the moment.'
God, basking in
the smug warmth of artistic appreciation, could not bear to
dwell on such matters. Let's start her up and we'll
talk it over later.'
: : : : :
does it taste like?'
and a bit sour. Have you paid him yet?' she asked.
no, I was waiting for him to bring it up.' Adam shifted
uncomfortably: a gnarled burr was scratching his side as he
leant back against the tree. Eve stretched her legs out in front
of her and wriggled her toes in the thick moss.
be paying over the odds. You should have agreed a price before
he started the work. He'll land you with a huge bill when
you're least expecting it.'
not like that. Anyway I did it for you, sweetheart.'
Eve rolled on
her side and the half-eaten apple that had been lying in her
lap fell on the grass between them. She gave him one of the
long icy stares he had learnt to dread.
it in order to meet me.'
She picked up the apple, flopped onto her back and took another
bite while she gazed up at the sky through the branches.
realised a few things recently and I don't think he's
so uniquely talented. I reckon we could have a go at making
something like that ourselves.'
Like you, or maybe even me if we're lucky.'
As if, when was the last time you did anything artistic?'
Eve sat up, licked
some apple pulp off her fingertips, reached over and slowly
grazed her nail along his collarbone.
matter,' she paused and lowered her voice to almost a whisper
- and I know why he hasn't asked for any payment.'
Adam, not daring
to move for fear she stopped what she was doing, managed a hoarse
Why?' praying all the while it wouldn't disturb
the trajectory of that unexpectedly momentous digit.
I think he knows we'd be short-changed paying anything.
Buy the work of art and all you get to do is look at it.'
She leaned even closer.
The real fun's in the making of it.'
had reached the indentation at his sternum. He couldn't
take his eyes off it. Then she stopped, picked up the apple
and held it to his lips.
You hungry?' she asked, grinning at his obvious distress.
And so began the
large-scale production of people for a global market. The art
of the individual master craftsman became obsolete and God moved
God surveyed the table settings. He slumped forward and lowered
his forehead into a comforting cushion of lotus-shaped napkin.
I'm going to have to re-do that one. Do you know
how long they take?'
Gabriel's usual veneer of equanimity was wearing thin.
idea was this anyway?' God's sonorous tones were muffled
by a face full of table linen. He wanted to go to bed and stay
there for about a week. Instead he turned so his cheek rested
against the freshly laundered coolness and glared at Gabriel
who had the grace to look contrite.
been an age since we had them round,' Gabriel muttered,
I thought just a friendly informal gathering,' his
voice trailed off.
It's not turning out like that is it?' God snapped.
forgotten there were so many - you know how it is -
it's hard to keep track over the years and we can't
invite some and not others - there'd be talk.'
God sat up, Oh,
Heaven forbid there'd be talk - we can't have
that.' His voice softened as he caught sight of Gabriel's
misery. OK, OK- let's look at it again.'
He bent down to pick up the scrappy ball of paper that had rolled
under the table and smoothed it out. Gabriel opened his folder
and scanned his considerably more pristine list.
first,' Gabriel was all business again, Gregory,
The Venerable Bede and Mary Magdalene can't make it -
they're having their own party.'
Really, you'd think they could make the effort.'
You go ahead and feel put out if you want to but it is
their Saint's-Day. We were bound to clash with somebody.'
Gabriel seemed to be talking directly to his folder.
Besides we only have chairs for 12,743, so I for one am
whatever - what about music? No open mike, I don't
think I could stick another forty-minute solo in Welsh about
the evils of drink, from David and his sodding harp. You could
get your trumpet out after dinner - liven things up a bit
It was always nice to have his musical talent appreciated and
Cecelia and he had got together for a couple of sessions in
the past few weeks - just in case they were asked - on
the spur of the moment - best to be prepared.
So, do we put like with like or mix them up?'
We can't put Catherine with Sebastian - she'd
be bored senseless'.
God rolled his
eyes; Gabriel always did have a soft spot for the pretty ones,
but all he said was
Anyone would be bored senseless - all he does is
witter on about old military campaigns. Stick him with Michael
they have far more in common...and what about the tree-huggers
and animal lovers? I take it we just lump them down the bottom
end - they never want to talk to anyone else anyway.'
Can do -
What about him?'
Gabriel sighed, he'll need a double place setting
and he can't be put anywhere near Vincent'
Gabriel tried to smother a grin calls him dog-breath -
childish I know but what can you expect?'
Fine - whatever you think, as long as I don't
end up beside Patrick again. I'm not sitting through another
lecture about Isambard bloody Kingdom Brunel - bloody engineers,'
he glanced up at Gabriel. That's a thought.'
Won't you need extra table linen for the stigmatics
and martyrs?' He smirked as he watched Gabriel scurry away
tend to seep,' he shouted, unable to resist one last dig
as Gabriel disappeared into the distance.
So how's it going?'
I need more paper,' God grunted.
fingers tapped out trumpet chords on the wall behind him, a
sure sign he was feeling nervous. Who wouldn't be? There
had been portents of course - they all knew what was coming
and everyone felt edgy - which didn't help matters.
I said how's it going?'
God glanced up
from his desk, I need more paper,' he hissed. The
table was covered with paper.
Not a good omen
thought Gabriel and the look on God's face said it all
- manic-depressive nut riding the upswing. There'd
be hell to pay and he'd bear the brunt of it as usual.
God scribbled furiously with a half-inch stub of graphite, as
appropriate to the task as a twig. Gabriel hurried over to the
stationery cupboard and scanned the shelves.
a new pencil,' he said using the talking to the elderly'
voice that emerged unbidden whenever God was this focused. He
shoved a ream of paper out of the way to make room for the open
box of HB's and leaves of white A4 floated to the floor
joining the others.
Gabriel felt weary. Thank goodness he'd stocked up recently.
He shuddered remembering the last time they'd run out.
It hadn't slowed God down. He didn't care what he
used when the mood took him; walls, furniture, grass, stone
- it was all the same to him.
Do you need anything else?'
God ignored him.
I said do
you need anything else?'
will you - I can't think with you hovering about like
the door behind him listening intently for the almost inaudible
click as it shut. Out in the corridor he pounded up and down,
silently screaming his frustration until he felt his right knee
pop again. The only thing he could do was leave him to it -
until he was summoned. It wouldn't be Gabriel hovering
then - no - there'd be a constant presence; God
watching over his shoulder attuned to the critical implications
of the slightest involuntary sniffle. And the endless reassurance
- well at least he wouldn't be the only one blessed
with that task. The whole host of heaven would have to read
it before God was satisfied that there weren't too many
adjectives and clichés.
as he limped down the corridor. Finding somebody to take it
would be the next obstacle. He'd have to consult his database.
At least he could do that without constant interference - God
wasn't the most computer literate of beings - and it would
give him the chance to pre-select the likeliest candidates.
Good quality prophets were few and far between these days, it
was a buyers market; they could afford to be fussy.
deal well with rejection.
What in Heaven's name were you thinking?
God examined his fingers, wincing as he pulled at a rag-nail.
Gabriel was standing, arms crossed and glaring as God shifted
uneasily in his seat.
Strident and schoolmarmish, thought God.
Can't we go back to my office? he asked.
You want to go back to your office? Fine, fine.
up and down rubbing the palm of his hand across his face as
if he could erase his irritation.
Might be a bit crowded what with the crises-management
session in progress. His voice had taken on a shrill note,
What were you thinking?
He stopped and stared at the hunched figure before him. God
sucked the edge of his nail were it had started to bleed.
I just wanted a friendly chat that's all.
to stare. God couldn't tell whether he was truly speechless
or trying to heighten his already impressive aura of indignation.
He added drama-queen to his private list of Gabrielian
Who's going to deal with it? he asked to break
Gabriel snapped out of his reverie,
Michael will be the liaison, Uriel's doing back-up.
His voice softened as he continued: You promised to use
the system. That's what it's set up for.
He drifted over
to the chair beside God and the plastic creaked as he sat down,
leaned back and hands cupped behind his head stared up at the
I know, I am sorry, God paused...They told
you to keep me out of the way didn't they?
Yep, Gabriel seemed as fascinated by the cracks
in the ceiling as God was by those in the floor. And don't
go feeling sorry for yourself, you're not entitled.
I wanted to see how things were going that's all.
A bit of a catch-up
God's voice trailed off
as Gabriel leaned forward in lecture mode.
And you could have if you'd gone through the proper
channels. That's what we're here for.
I know, but it's not the same - too formal.
Abe's a mate.
God had started
chewing at the thumb of his left hand.
He might not be after this.
Gabriel faltered, realising he might have gone too far.
We will be in time won't we? God was sombre.
Of course - it's all in hand, Gabriel
sounded too reassuring even to himself.
They jumped as the door opened and Uriel popped his head round.
Everything OK? they asked.
Uriel nodded and disappeared, then reappeared almost immediately.
Anyone any idea where I could find a calf or a lamb or
Is that for
He stopped as Uriel nodded vigorously.
It's fine, I nipped down with the ram from the south
paddock before I
He glanced at God who had the grace to interrupt.
Before he began his babysitting duties here.
Gabriel rolled his eyes and Uriel smirked self-consciously.
I left it hidden in the thicket.
Great, Uriel's relief was audible, have
to rush, hope it hasn't run off before
They had to imagine
the end of the sentence as the door had already closed. They
lapsed into silence. Gabriel began pacing up and down again
and God had to sit on his hands vaguely appalled by the notion
he might have chewed his nails so much they wouldn't grow
It was Gabriel
who broke the silence,
What did you say to him anyway?
God suppressed a sigh,
I don't know, I can't remember exactly. I just
asked if he wanted to meet up for a chat and a bite to eat,
you know - the usual, oh and to bring the boy of course.
Of course, said Gabriel a tad icily, and what's
the usual exactly?
Well, said God, choosing to ignore the tone of the
conversation, we'd meet up - he'd bring
the meat for the barbie and we'd have a natter.
into his seat again, put his head in his hands and groaned.
Don't you see - they're all so bloody literal.
I mean did you say to bring lamb or beef or what?
God paused, just to bring the boy
he couldn't have thought I meant that...
I mean Abe
has such a great sense of humour we're on the same wavelength...he
You can't make those sort of assumptions anymore,
especially not post-Babel,
Gabriel glanced sideways. God was studiously examining his mutilated
Look, I know I buggered up again and yes after the flood
fiasco and then Babel, he coughed with embarrassment.
I promised I wouldn't start any more community projects
but this was just an informal get-together with his family.
He was interrupted,
mercifully he thought, by the door opening - Michael strode
All clear - no damage done, he announced. Gabriel
and God breathed out heavily.
No more - OK, Gabriel's tone surprised
God met Gabriel's eyes for the first time since the crises
No more, he said quietly. So, do I get my
When Gabriel nodded he made a hasty exit.
Michael was leaning casually against the wall.
Always so bloody calm, thought Gabriel.
Well, he's promised again.
Until the next time, added Michael as he followed
"We can't keep putting it off."
back in the new, leatherette, end-of-line director's chair and
God didn't look up from his paperwork.
we ready? It was you who asked for the last extension."
"I know. You needn't remind me." He flicked listlessly
through the papers on his knee.
He was glad he'd pushed for the increase in budget for the new
office furniture - but maybe God had a point: up the comfort
level and you up the snooze level. God had stuck with the tatty,
orange, plastic seat that had migrated from the canteen æons
ago. Probably a good idea in the circumstances.
no real reason why we can't go ahead. We've sorted out that
bit at the back of the South Pasture - nice and green and private."
God looked up. "He is long overdue."
"People might start to notice I suppose." Gabriel
tried to stifle a yawn.
"I'm told he has a great sense of humour."
Gabriel doodled idly around the name at the top of his sheet
- he turned the P into a daisy and drew little stars all around
it. God drummed his fingers on his desk.
"A few more years wouldn't hurt," he announced decisively.
"And who are we to upset the Process at this pivotal juncture."
Gabriel had brightened up considerably.
Despite his advancing
years Big Ian would just have to wait.
for Alternative Universal Version
He knew she could hear him but he was buggered if he was going
to traipse in to the scullery to get a response. "Betty"
he leaned back as he yelled, balancing on two legs of the chair
and peering over his shoulder in the hope of catching sight
of her actively ignoring him.
"You"ll ruin the furniture doing that."
"You"ll ruin me - don't do that - it's not good for
me at my age." He watched her broad back sway past him,
her arms over-laden with what ? Bed-linen maybe. He wondered,
not for the first time, why, now they had their very own private
piece of heaven, they needed so much stuff.
"Betty" he snapped as she disappeared round the corner.
Her face appeared
in the doorway. "For goodness sake what is it?"
again - look." He nodded towards the window and Betty followed
his gaze. Zach took a certain guilty pleasure in her uncharacteristic
loss of composure.
- Zach - look at the floor - I haven't swept...and the dust
- you could swim through it."
Zach was on his
feet taking the pile of bedclothes out of her arms. "Don't
worry love - you go back to the kitchen and put on the water.
I"ll sort out in here. He's still up on the ridge - he
said the last time he likes the walk down - he"ll take
He ushered Betty
back into the scullery and retrieved the feather duster from
its hook behind the door. He could hear the clatter of tins
and plates as he half-heartedly flicked the duster around. At
least he'd get a decent bit of cake today. "I don't know
why he picks on us" he muttered.
"Zach - don't start - he's family." Betty's hearing
had resumed its habitual sharpness.
family you mean. Your Mary's fault - getting above herself.
Nothing wrong with family - in its place - but there are limits.
It's not as if he hasn't got work to do. I mean how many times
in the past year?"
face popped round the door "Zach please, just think before
you speak. Count to ten or something. Remember the run-in with
Gabriel. We don't want a repeat of that."
has no sense of humour."
Betty's frown deepened.
disappeared again. "Anyway" her voice sounded muffled
as if she was talking from the back of a cupboard, "he
has a lot on his mind at the moment what with the boy and all."
another thing," Zach was sounding tetchy again.
"What makes him think we want to hear all about his son.
Do we not have enough on our plate with our John? I mean his
boy is wild and causing all sorts of mayhem but we went through
it too with our John's mad schemes and even if John is older
- his boy's a bad influence. Anyway, when he's had to put up
with the sanctimonious preaching and the weird clothes and the
foot fungus" - Zach's face twisted in distaste - "and
at our age as well - then - maybe then - I"ll listen."
from the scullery and stood in front of him. She untied her
apron, put her hands up to his face and gently cupped his wrinkled
"Did you never think," she said looking into his eyes,
"he comes here because he reckons we
have been through it all with our John and maybe he thinks you
might be able to offer him some advice - father to father ?"
Zach opened his
mouth as if he was about to speak and closed it again. Betty
smiled and Zach, unwilling to lose his reputation as a man rarely
at a loss for words, eventually said "Well perhaps he has
some sense then."
There was a knock
at the door. Betty opened it and there, wiping his feet on the
doormat, was God, holding out a spiky plant in a plastic pot.
"I brought you a euphorbia."
"Just a splash,
thanks Betty." God held his cup out for more coffee. "I
mean when he said he wanted to live with his mother - I didn't
stand in his way, but then he accuses me of being too remote."
God turned to Zach "Do you think I'm too remote ?"
Betty's eyes narrowed.
Zach, to his credit, had been on his best behaviour so far,
spending most of his time picking cake crumbs out of his sleeves,
but that was because he hadn't had a chance to interrupt. God
was in a right state. That boy was nothing but trouble - spoilt
- she'd said as much to Mary.
Zach straightened up in his chair. Betty glared at him over
her coffee cup. She knew the signs. He was about to launch into
one of his opinions.
"Because it's awkward, you know - with the situation."
a mouthful of coffee back into her cup, startled by her own
relief. God was in full flow - what he wanted was an audience.
"You alright love?" Zach was looking at her.
"I'm fine." She held the cup on her lap, "it
went down the wrong way that's all. You were saying?" she
nodded in God's direction.
just call in when I'm passing - there'd be a riot back at the
office. Have to follow protocols." Zach smirked at God's
passable imitation of Gabriel at his most officious. Betty glared
at both of them. God cleared his throat, "Anyway there's
Joe to think of. He might not take kindly to me
God's voice trailed off. All three of them sat, nodding in unison.
Zach broke the silence, "that's what the boy needs."
"Now Zach," Betty started.
"No Betty - I'm going to say what I think," Zach announced
as God sipped his coffee. "Others can learn from our mistakes
- I didn't put my foot down when I should have with our John.
Your boy needs to be told to come back and take responsibility.
The tantrums and the showing off - they have an impact on people's
lives. He needs to grow up and face the consequences."
Zach gathered his breath to continue.
over and gently squeezed his knee. "Maybe," she said
as Zach looked quizzically at her hand, "the tantrums and
so on, are about wanting a bit of attention - maybe it"d
be no bad thing to bring him back here for a while."
"What if he doesn't want to come?" God was staring
at the dregs in his cup. "What if he runs away? He has
so many friends down there now."
"Well," said Betty. "If he runs away, you go
and get him and bring him back. Get him involved, show him what
He's a bright lad; he"ll want to make his mark."