Read 99 Stories of God Online

Authors: Joy Williams

99 Stories of God (2 page)

There was consensus that discovering intelligent life forms on other planets was probable and even essential to the human endeavor, but much of the conversation concerned whether any life form discovered would hold a candle to human intelligence and creativity.

The humanist, who was also a noted scholar, argued that nothing could be discovered that could write a symphony, as so many of our brilliant composers had done, or be capable of
appreciating
the symphony. The ability to
appreciate
the symphony seemed to him quite as important as the actual composition of it.

The humanist/scholar became quite emotional in conceiving of the world devoid of human beings, which was a possibility brought on by one disaster or another, due, it must be said, to our own actions. This would be the worst thing he could imagine—worlds devoid of human beings, even if these worlds were populated by other intelligent and enterprising life forms.

After the taping, the humanist/scholar, whose name was Charles Thaxter Ormand, the acronym of which, in the ever-evolving and vibrant field of text messaging, would be
check this out,
retired for lunch to one of the city’s many small fine restaurants. He ordered that day’s special. When it was brought to him, whole and
beautifully
prepared and presented, he took a moment to study it before consuming it.

To his discomfort, he detected from the plate the faint sound of the most beautiful music. It was exquisite, joyous yet heartbreaking, a delicate furling of gratitude and praise gradually diminishing, then gone.

Horrified, he continued to look at the speckled trout that, according to the waiter, had been taken mere hours before from its mountain stream. Then, with a cry, he rushed into the kitchen, where he attacked both the waiter and the chef with a variety of heavy utensils before he was subdued and taken away for
observation
at the nearest psychiatric facility. His ravings about the trout being no more
appreciated
than the ravings of any of the other lunatics there.

Aubade
 
4
 

Passing Clouds was the brand of cigarette favored by the great English contralto Kathleen Ferrier. According to one of her early teachers, her magnificent voice was attributed to “a wonderful cavity at the back of her throat.” This was the only explanation given for the purity and power of her voice.

Near the end of her brief life, Ferrier sang Mahler’s symphony “Song of the Earth.” We die, but life is fresh, eternally fresh, was Mahler’s ecstatic conviction. Nature renews herself year after year … for ever and ever.

Ferrier was in tears when she concluded “Song of the Earth,” so distraught that she omitted the final
ewig
,
the final
ever.

Cavity
 
5
 

At some point, Kafka became a vegetarian.

Afterwards, visiting an aquarium in Berlin, he spoke to the fish through the glass.

“Now at last I can look at you in peace, I don’t eat you anymore.”

Nevertheless
 
6
 

You know that dream of Tolstoy’s where he’s in some sort of bed contraption suspended between the abyss below and the abyss above? You know that one? Well, I gave it to him, the Lord said.

See That You Remember
 
7
 

Franz Kafka once called his writing a form of prayer.

He also reprimanded the long-suffering Felice Bauer in a letter: “I did not say that writing ought to make everything clearer, but instead makes everything worse; what I said was that writing makes everything clearer
and
worse.”

He frequently fretted that he was not a human being and that what he bore on his body was not a human head. Once he dreamt that as he lay in bed, he began to jump out the open window continuously at quarter-hour intervals.

“Then trains came and one after another they ran over my body, outstretched on the tracks, deepening and widening the two cuts in my neck and legs.”

I didn’t give him that one, the Lord said.

Not His Best
 
8
 

This is an appealing story.

One day, a hermit brother about to leave for town went to a brother who lived nearby and who had continual compunction. He said to his fervent neighbor, “Please do me the kindness, brother, of taking care of my garden until my return.” The other replied, “Believe me, brother, I will do my best not to neglect it.” After the brother’s departure, he said to himself, Now take care of this garden. And from evening until dawn he stood in psalmody, ceaselessly shedding tears. He prayed the same way for the entire day. Coming home late, the brother found that hedgehogs had ravaged his garden.

He said, “God forgive you, brother, for not taking care of my garden.”

The other answered, “God knows I did my best to keep it, and I hope through God’s mercy that the little garden will bear fruit.”

The brother said, “But it has been completely destroyed.”

The other replied, “I know, but I have confidence in God that it will flower again.”

But he was speaking of his continual tears, the weeping for one’s sins in the hope of salvation, and of the garden of his heart, watered by him and in full flower.

Hedgehog
 
9
 

A child in the south side of town was killed in a drive-by shooting. He was not the intended victim, he was only seven. There really was no
intended victim
. The gunman just wanted to spook some folks, the folks in this specific house. It wasn’t even little Luis’s house. But he was there, visiting a friend who had a pet iguana, and the iguana was sort of sickly, no one knew why, more yellow than green, maybe someone had fed it spinach by mistake. Hearing a ruckus, the boys ran outside and Luis was shot in the chest and died.

The family held a car wash to pay for the funeral expenses. This is not uncommon. It was announced in the newspaper and lots of people came, most of whom had nice waxed cars that didn’t need washing, and the family appreciated this.

Clean
 
10
 

The Lord was drinking some water out of a glass. There was nothing wrong with the glass, but the water tasted terrible.

This was in a white building on a vast wasteland. The engineers within wore white uniforms and booties on their shoes and gloves on their hands. The water had traveled many hundreds of miles through wide pipes to be here.

What have you done to my water? the Lord asked. My living water …

Oh, they said, we thought that was just a metaphor.

Wet
 
11
 

The defendant, a young housecleaner originally from El Salvador, was accused of murdering her three-year-old daughter. Whenever she was brought into the courtroom, she did nothing but weep.

Despite several grand jury proceedings, the woman, Dora Tejada, had not been indicted after several months of incarceration following her arrest.

The judge in the case scheduled a probable-cause hearing for September 13.

“This is a real date,” the judge said. “Unlike some cases where probable-cause dates are movable, this one isn’t.”

Court records indicate that police believe the woman used an object, possibly a rose, to suffocate her daughter.

Arrangement
 
12
 

The mother had forgotten the child’s rabbit-fur muff. It had been a long time since the child had died. It was of a staph infection when the child was four. The mother had two other children, whom she loved, and Iris remained in her heart as well, loved.

But she had forgotten the muff, which was discovered in the way such things often are, when the mother was cleaning up, cleaning out.

She went through the albums and boxes of photographs, but she could find no picture of Iris with the muff, though the little girl loved to dress up in hats and gowns and long gloves and beads.

The mother nevertheless remembered now that it had belonged to Iris, her little child.

She had heard that in this decimated world, people who enjoyed songbirds should hang mesh bags filled with twigs, hair, fur, and yarn for nesting material.

I saw an oriole’s nest once that was constructed with cigarette butts, the owner of the wild-bird store said. Sad.

The mother placed Iris’s white rabbit-fur muff on the branch of a tree in the hope that birds would find it. So many beautiful, safe nests will be made from this, she thought.

But it remained on its branch untouched and remarkably resilient to the elements through the mild winters and dry springs.

Eventually, the mother needed assistance with living and moved to one of those establishments that provided such assistance. The house on its little plot of land was put on the market and made available for sale, but not before a
gardener pruned the branch that held the rabbit-fur muff from the tree along with many others.

No
 
13
 

It was May and in the garden they were drinking mango margaritas. Martha and Constance were discussing throwing an Anti–Mother’s Day party.

Martha says that in the movie
A.I.,
there are seven words Monica uses to imprint the boy David. They are:
Cirrus
.
Socrates
.
Particle
.
Decibel
.
Hurricane
.
Dolphin.
Tulip
. She is now his mother, and he will love her unconditionally and forever.

But he was a cyborg, she adds.

Constance becomes anxious when conversation deteriorates to talk of movies. She brings out her mother’s replacement knees, which she requested upon her mother’s cremation, though her husband, Jim, maintains that he was the one who requested them.

Laughing, Martha says that this is the most macabre thing she has ever witnessed in her life.

The heavy knees are passed around.

Later, Martha tells the story of the tenant in her Palm Beach condominium (willed to Martha by her mother) who committed suicide there by shotgun. It cost two thousand dollars to get the blood out of the carpets.

The other tenants of the condominium are annoyed at Martha because she didn’t come up right away from Key West to deal with the situation.

Why didn’t you? I ask.

Because I didn’t
want
to, she says, smiling in that way she smiles.

Moms
 
14
 

A newborn baby abandoned in the Kenyan capital was saved by a stray dog that apparently carried her across a busy road and through a barbed wire fence to a shed, where the infant was discovered nestled with a litter of puppies, witnesses said.

The short-haired dog with light brown eyes has no name, residents said.

Cozy
 
15
 

His grandmother was reading to him a story by Hans Christian Andersen, the other gloomy Dane, she said. Her memory had become spotty. She really couldn’t remember the tales very well.

It was bedtime, his mother was off doing god knows what with her husband. It was only the grandmother who strove to maintain the standards of what had once been their station. The child understood there was what was called a Trust, which the grandmother described as “not being grand enough to corrupt you but sufficient to keep you from being entirely at the mercy of your worthless father’s salary.”

The grandmother didn’t read “The Bog King’s Daughter” or “The Ice Maiden,” for they were too long. She read “The Shirt Collar,” for it was short, then “The Jumping Competition,” for it was shorter. Still he wanted another, for at bedtime he never wanted to go to bed and his thirst for stories seemed unquenchable.

She commenced reading “The Storks,” which concerned how it came to pass that storks delivered babies to families.

“There is a pond,” Hans Christian Andersen wrote, “where all the little children lie until the stork comes and gets them for delivery to their parents. There they lie dreaming far more pleasantly than they ever will later in their lives. All parents love and desire such sweet little babes and all children want a little sister or brother. Now we will fly to that pond and bring all the good children who didn’t sing the ugly song a little brother or sister but the bad ones shan’t ever get any.”

Apparently, some awful child had sung some awful hurtful song about the young storks. The grandmother was so exhausted after all the reading, she scarcely remembered that part.

“But the one who started it all, that ugly horrible little boy,” screamed all the young storks, “what shall we do with him?” Hans Christian Andersen wrote.

“In the pond there is a dead child,” the mother stork said. “He has dreamed himself to death. We will bring that baby to the boy and he will cry because we have brought him a dead little brother.”

The boy and his grandmother looked at one another in horror. As fate would have it, the mother was with child by the father, but several months later the infant arrived stillborn. Of course, it was not the little boy’s fault. He had never sung a cruel and hurtful song to young storks.

His grandmother, his best and most faithful friend and advocate,
lost her mind
shortly thereafter, whereas he grew up to be a formidable jurist, quite ruthless and exact in his opinions, none of which in his long career was ever overturned.

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