I spend a lot of time thinking up improvements on God. When Frank thinks I’m busy typing letters, I’m actually preparing my list. Frank is my boss, the pastor of a large church. He is rotund, and endlessly talkative. A week ago he came and stood in front of my desk and told me how when he was fifteen he had heard God’s voice call his name while he was running in a forest and he had answered and the ensuing conversation had brought him to the very spot where he stood. Actually, I had wondered why he was standing there in front of me, and although the story did not adequately answer my question, it was all very intriguing. Then Frank went back to the inner office and I continued my list.
My list is varied. It does not include thinking up clever new animals, which has never been a strength of mine. Although other people have done it quite well by simply transferring already designed parts like arms and legs from one species to another, God does not seem to need any help with evolution. That’s one of His strengths.
Frank has a peculiar laugh which is all his own. I can hear it in the distance when he talks on the telephone and nearby when he comes to stand stolidly in front of my desk. He takes it with him when he goes down and gets in his new car which is parked in a special spot marked with his name, next to the garbage bins which are next to the alley where the drunks sleep. One day from the window I was watching him get in his car. I don’t remember why I was watching him or the man sleeping on the ground next to Frank’s spot with his head resting on a large bag of rags. The man almost looked as if he were dead. Frank backed his Mercedes out and the car curtained the man for a moment and when it drove away the man was gone, like magic.
I will have to ask Frank about disappearing people. Perhaps he can shed some light on the subject. Frank thinks he can shed light on any subject.
There is something else I want to ask Frank about. Appearing people. For three days now I have been hearing a squeaky voice from nowhere talk about death. The first time this strange voice spoke to me, I answered, but now it babbles on, not caring if I am answering or not. And I can’t shut it up even when I yell shut up at it. Sometimes I even yell at it out loud. Then Frank comes out to see what is wrong. It’s nothing, I say. It’s not my own death it talks about, but that of someone very close to me. Do you want this, or are you just worried, I ask the voice, but it is too busy talking to answer. What I really want to know is, will this happen?
Frank might know. If I tell him I’m obsessed, perhaps he will describe the devil to me. After all, if he is familiar with the one voice perhaps he is familiar with the other.
Frank is an easygoing man and well-dressed. Today he was wearing an autumny brown suit and a shirt with little blue squares on it. He always appears free of any questions of good and evil. He hums a tune as he walks in and calls himself “Poor Frank” because he says he is perfectly content. I have never seen him be anyone else but Poor Frank or fail to laugh at this irony he has concocted.
The first and major improvement on God on my list would most certainly be to have life mean something. And the second would be that He would periodically make appearances to remind us that it does. Frank argues that such visitations are made, that he is a living example. But Frank does not seem to understand that I want God to make one to me. It does not seem fair sometimes when I watch Frank roly-poly his way down to his car that he can hear a voice that I can’t.
Just last week I was walking along the beach. It was a perfect night to hear the right voice. The moon was up and it was quiet but for the waves rolling in, incandescently blue. When I stopped to look at a crab running into a hole in the sand I came up with improvement number three, a way to eliminate killing anything for food. Of course it can be argued that murder takes place on every level of the food chain and that such murders are necessary for its endless spiralling. The squeaky little voice asked about overpopulation, but I know, I answered, that with a little further thought that problem, too, can be solved. And besides, shut up, I told it, it is not you I want to hear from.
The day before yesterday I got on the elevator to go to our office on the sixth floor. Frank stepped in at the same time. Between the third and fourth floors he suddenly reached over and pulled the lever to make the elevator stop. It halted with a thud. What’s wrong? I asked him, and before I knew it a surprisingly strong arm was around my shoulders and his thick torso pushed up against mine. I’ve caught you, was all he said, and I won’t let you off. Frank, I said, I’ve thought up a way to eliminate sex as we know it. My plan will not require heavy breathing or any of the other discomfitures of the body. It will be a vast improvement on God.
His lips stopped in mid-projectory. He looked at me for a moment, not saying or doing anything more, and reached for the lever to start the elevator. We got off on the sixth floor and he disappeared into the inner office and I went to write it down, number four on my list.
Improvement number five may take more research. It will be easy to ask Frank because since our meeting on the elevator he spends less time in his inner office and more in front of my desk. What I want to know is whether the incessant desire for happiness is the real enemy. Perhaps watching him more closely can help explain this problem of human disynchronization. Already I am charting the dwindling of his laughter. I notice that when he comes out of his inner office his eyes slide to the side to watch me closely, too, and he suddenly wants to know everything I am thinking.
“I must talk further to you . . . in private,” he whispers in a sweat, and begs me to please go for a ride with him in his Mercedes. He describes how big it is and, with its plush seats, how comfortable I will be. “And while we ride along,” he adds, “we can discuss your strange notions of sex.” I suppose that if I do go with him, if I can’t shed some light on his growing problem, he will try to shed some on what he hopes is mine.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
My friends say it’s a classic case of the princess and the toad. They can’t understand what I see in that man.
Oh, I have tried to explain my feelings. Particularly, I have tried to explain my feelings to him, who I would like most to understand them, but when I have, he says that feelings are OK, but should not grow like weeds that one has no dominion over.
Today I am considering the question of dominion. It is a word that I rarely hear. But he uses it all the time. In fact, almost everything for him is a question of dominion.
We disagree on what having dominion over one’s emotions means. To me, optimally speaking, one should be able to treat an emotion like one would an acquaintance passing on the sidewalk. If it’s an unpleasant acquaintance, you nod and keep walking. If it’s a pleasant acquaintance, you chat for a moment. Dominion to him means that if it’s an unpleasant acquaintance, you deny its right to existence, and if it’s a pleasant acquaintance, you deny yourself the pleasure of a moment’s company. “ He is, I must confess, more consistent in his approach than I am. I tend, he argues, to do more than chat with every acquaintance I meet. And what I want him to do is more than chat with the pleasant ones.
With what seems such an essential difference, my friends don’t understand how we get along at all. I can’t explain to them how it feels just to lie next to that man. I say “just to lie next to him” because that’s all I do. I rest my head on the vast moon of his belly. I stroke his black hair and feel his hand in mine. To touch him elsewhere would mean, he says, that I would gain dominion over him.
I can’t explain why we are together. And to ask my brain for assistance is no help at all. It agrees with my friends. Here is what it says:
What’s a perfectly good, sensual and, I might add, intelligent woman like you doing with Mr. Lump? He claims religious convictions, but more likely he was born that way. If you look at his twin brother you will notice that he is a Lump, too. And I have it on perfectly good authority, his brother’s wife, that both men have no libido. It’s in his genes. So there’s nothing you can change and, anyway, you should know by now that changing someone else is out of the question. The alternatives are to accept the differences and live with or around them, or to leave. I don’t see you doing either. Now, his brother’s wife adapted, that’s what she did. She told me that at first she cried a lot, felt rejected, and tried all the things you have tried. (Let me remind you that begging, moping, sulking, yelling, withdrawal, trial separations, trying to make him jealous and trying to get him drunk demeaned you. And, more to the point, none of them worked.) She came to the conclusion that her relationship was so important to her that she would adapt. And adapt she did. Now she’s not a perfectly good, sensual woman anymore. She may or may not be intelligent, I’ll reserve judgement on that. But one thing I can say for her, she is even-tempered. She exudes patience. And she and her husband do get along. Talk to her, it can’t hurt.
Getting along is all you really want, isn’t it? I’ve heard you say that a lot. But you must be precise. What exactly is getting along? If you could clarify what you want then you might know where to find it. Then you might know whether or not you are wasting your time with that man.
I know there are good things about him. I have your list stored up here on which there are ten perfectly amorphous qualities that you purport to enjoy. But everyone has good qualities. You could say about almost anyone that “I like this” or “I like that,” but a conglomeration of parts does not make a whole. You are looking for a whole, aren’t you? A person could have good legs, good arms, a good heart, but have a bad liver, and the whole would not function. Maybe that is not a good analogy in that it implies disease. Let’s try again. One could have a number of perfectly good organs and limbs and unless they are connected by muscle and sinew they are like puzzle pieces that are pretty splashes of color by themselves but don’t form a picture unless they mesh. Understand?
You shouldn’t mind me talking this way. You need to consider all the facts. I’m simply a second opinion, like his brother’s wife. But while she argues for adaptation, I argue for leaving. It is my opinion that you can’t change anyone. Listen to your mother. She agrees with me. In fact, she feels it is questionable whether we can change even ourselves. We don’t agree with her there, but let’s not get sidetracked.
You imagine that he’ll just come around somehow, poof, like magic, for you, because you are so sensual and intelligent, because you are special. How old is he now? Certainly in his middle-aged life he’s had opportunities to indulge himself. Or perhaps, you hope, he has only chosen dumb lumps before and will find your body a pleasurable new acquaintance. We don’t know who else he’s chosen, and we don’t know whether he was born that way. What we do know, though, is that he’s been trying to have dominion over himself for years now. This is no fluke, no fly-by-night thing with him. And for that reason alone our conversation here is essentially useless. He wants to be a saint. Those were his very words. Listen to what he says. And then listen to me. Be wise and forget him. Think about it.
What to answer this brain that talks too much and listens too closely to others, except:
I wanted to get along and now I do. There’s wisdom in compromise: not always to demand what I want, to control excessive desires. Not to touch him elsewhere unless he asks. But as for emotions, sometimes when I am still, lying quietly beside him, they flower gorgeously, brilliantly, like certain weeds. All over me. And he tries very hard not to notice.