There's a humid, faintly flowery scent in the stairwell, mixed with a hint of incense and some kind of sweet-and-sour barbeque saucewhich, along with little squirts of saliva building up at the back of her throat, reminds Giselle again that she still can't remember the last time she's had anything to eat. At the bottom of the steps, they come to a low, narrow, dungeon-like passageway. Giselle has to stoop some keep her hair from brushing the ceiling the way Marge Simpson must often have to stoop to keep her hair from brushing things. The light gets brighter, whiteror maybe it's just her eyes getting used to the relative gloom. When they get to a big metal door at the end of the tunnel, Becky pulls down on a chrome-plated handle and the door opens into a sort of anteroom with a dimly-lit, blue and white Italian tile swimming pool. Under the water the tile looks green. There's some kind soft, rose-colored, slip-proof stuff covering the wide walkways around the sides of the pool. Becky backs up into the door and it shuts behind her with a sturdy, muffled click. Web-like shadows ripple across the domed, rose-colored ceiling. The ceiling looks like it's covered with the same soft, pink, slip-proof stuff as the floors.
There are pistachio-green padded lawn chairs and a matching chaise lounge at either side of the calm, turquoise water. Wet footprints lead away from the far end of the pool to another metal door in the opposite wall. There are two other, similar doors, in the other walls, all with a pile of clothes beside them like the pile of clothes near the door they just came in. A few old-fashioned coat racks stand beside the door at the far end of the pool. The hooks on the racks are all empty except for the ones with two big cotton towels and a short cotton robe and a long cotton robe hanging from them. Becky's eyes light up. She claps her hands and squeals.
"What are we getting all giddy about?" Giselle frowns.
"It's food and raiment day!"
"Food and what day?"
"Raiment. Clothes. 'Having food and raiment let us be therewith content,'" Becky quotes, plopping down on the soft, pink cement floor.
"And that's a good thing?" Giselle cringes. The question sounds like something Martha Stewart might say, which brings to mind that corn quiche she baked for Abraham...and of washing the dishes afterwards...and of falling in love and of all the little girl dreams she'd had of getting married...bridal bouquets and tin cans tied to cars and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Have Becky and Isaac fallen in love? How could they? Neither one of them is old enough to know who the heck Elizabeth Barrett Browning even was let alone to be in love. It's all too absurd for words. Maybe it's an arranged marriage, some kind of experiment in eugenics that will lead to peace on earth and everlasting goodness among all men and women everywhere. Maybe Abraham's dad thinks Becky and Isaac's kids will be a combination of so many different races and sects and creeds and nationalities that it will be impossible for any of them to disagree with each other about anything. Fuck it. The one thing she's figured out for sure since Abraham showed up is that nothing's too absurd for words and she'll never know anything for sure. Wait. That's two things. Or is it?
"Yep," Becky says. "It's a great thing. It means I don't have to wear this dork dress." She slips off her shoes and socks, gets up again, pulls the pinafore over the top of her head, takes off her underwear, tosses everything into the pile of clothes that's already beside the door and dives stark naked into the pool.
Taking off one's clothing and diving into the pool looks like the thing to do so Giselle does it, too. The water's cool, refreshing, cleansing, like the water in that lagoon was when she dreamed she was pregnant and had to swim across it to meet Abraham's dadthe same lagoon she dreamed the black woman with jingle-bells on her ankles who looked like Oprah was swimming across when she got bit in two by that big blue fish the same night Isaac was conceived. Now she must be dreaming that she and their son's bride-to-be are swimming across more water and makes a mental note to ask Dr. Javid what the heck all that water might mean. Birth? Nah. He wasn't much of a Freudian. He'd probably go with some kind of John the Baptist bathing ritual bullshit but, on the other hand, the soft pink floor and domed ceiling did look a little womblike. Pfssh. She waves her hand under the water. Who knows what dreams mean? He'd tell her the damn water meant whatever she thought the damn water meant. Shrinks are idiots. It's a living, he'd say. She'd sing him the song:
"Who calls dat livin', when no gal'll give in,
To no man what's nine hundred years."
Becky slithers like a shiny brown slippery little otter up the side of the pool and over toward the towel racks with Giselle right behind her. Their wet footprints are all sloshed with fresh drips and dribbles like a Jackson Pollock painting. The rest of the footprints are mostly dry. The towels are light lavender, like lilacs, and the robes are daffodil-yellow, like Easter, like spring, all fresh and clean and sweet-smelling as if they've been hung on clotheslines to dry in warm sun and cool air.
The two of them towel themselves off, slip into the thick robes and drape the damp towels over their shoulders. Becky pounds her tiny fist against the metal. Locks unlock. The door moves slowly at first but all of a sudden it's wide open and Abraham's standing there, wearing one of the sweet-smelling yellow robes, himself. His face is radiant, beautiful, lovely, and his eyes are so full of such shy affection for her that something in her woebegone brain triggers neural pathways Giselle doesn't even know she has. Her knees forget how to support her legs. Her arms feel like they've fallen off. And her heart, holy Christ, her heart's so all aflutter she's gonna swoon, she's gonna faint dead away if he doesn't hurry up and do something.
"God, help me," she says as Abraham reaches his arm around the back of her hair and pulls her chin into his chest. Whether she says it out loud or not, she doesn't know and doesn't care. She steadies herself with her arm around his waist. It's hard to tell who's holding up who; it feels like him but he might think it's her. Over Abraham's shoulder, Giselle sees the top of Becky's wet mop of curly black hair scurry around them and over toward the rest of the people in yellow robes, Oprah, Abraham's dad, Dow, Rocco and Isaac. They're all sitting on pillows around a big round table raised a foot or two off the floor. The table turns like a Lazy Susan. There are plates and silverware and glasses and linen napkins in front of everyone, including the empty place settings that must be meant for her and Abraham and Becky when they get around to sitting down. It has to be that pot luck dinner Diane had been talking about, but that had been before Becky was even born so it couldn't be. Maybe they have pot luck dinners every day. It hasn't started yet, whatever it is. Everyone's just drinking steaming tea from Chinese teacupsprobably that same hallucinogenic tea Abraham's dad made her try to describe. When had that been? An hour ago? Five years? She doesn't know. Her brain's a bigger mess than it's ever been; it's like that ripped-up kaleidoscope Abraham's dad told her about the day she met himall the pretty little pieces of plastic and glass that were inside it are scattered among shiny sand and anthills.
The pillows are silk; red and green and yellow and purple and fuchsia silk. There are matching silk banners on the walls and a bright white enamel upright piano over in one cornerwith a big red ribbon tied around it. Beyond the people wearing robes, there's a bunch of other people, maybe fifty or so, sitting on the same kinds of pillows around round tables and drinking tea, too, but wearing regular clothes. Well, sort of regular clothes. Nothing's been very regular since she woke up with that vision of a bleeding heart lingering among jagged lightning bolts in her brain. Nobody else is wearing yellow robes, anyway. They must be just for immediate family. Immediate family, ha! Families don't get much more immediate than hers had. When the hell had Abraham showed up, anyway? Seriously. A million years ago? Yesterday?
One of the tables doesn't have any people sitting around it at all except for a lone, arresting-looking old guy in a short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt with yellow pineapples and green vines splashed against a shocking orange backgroundbut that's not what Giselle notices first about the guy. What she notices first is the gaping scar in the middle of his forehead. His face is tan, except for the scar. There's something weird about scar tissue. It doesn't tan right. The scar looks sunburned in places and mushy looking in other places, like part of his brain may have leaked out and dried there like urethane foam. She doesn't want to stare but can't help herself. His eyes are greenish and yellow, like a lizard's eyes, but that may just be reflections from the shirt. He's almost bald. What's left of his hair is long and grey and pulled back into a tight, painful-looking ponytail like it's trying to get as far away from the scar as it can get. When she sees he's staring back at her, Giselle looks over his head.
"I've missed you," she hears Abraham say.
"I must have needed a nap," she says and feels his hands pushing into the small of her back as her eyes continue to survey the room.
"Some nap," she hears him say.
"Who's that guy all by himself?" She moves slightly backwards.
"Peck," Abraham says. "He came out from San Francisco. He and his family are here for the wedding. They're the ones waiting on people." He nods toward the four women and two men circulating around the room, filling teacups from plain white Chinese teapots. "My dad's known him since they were kids."
"None of them look much like each other," Giselle says. The four women are all as different as can be. There's an Asian woman in a loose orange toga and a tall, Scandinavian blond in black silk pants and a sprightly little short-haired dyke-looking girl in a motorcycle jacket and a black girl with a nappy, blond Afro and tiny gold crosses dangling from her ears. The black girl's wearing tight, faded jeans and a white, man's shirt, knotted at the waist. None of them have shoes on. The soles of their feet are callused like they haven't worn shoes in years. The two men with them are wearing shoes, black, steel-toed boots. One's blond, the other has red hair and freckles; they both look like wrestlers or boxers or linebackers.
"They're not related, they just all live together like a family."
"How'd he get that scar?"
"Pointed a gun at his forehead and pulled the trigger with his thumb. He was in a coma for a long time but didn't die. My dad had people taking care of him. Let's get something to eat." Giselle feels Abraham's hand nudge her toward the table.
"How long?" she asks.
"Was he in a coma? I don't know, ten years or so."
"Then what, he just woke up one day?"
"Yep. It was the eighties," he says with a shrug.
Abraham and Giselle plop themselves down on the two empty pillows facing out toward the rest of the room. Except for this Peck guy sitting all by himself, there are seven tables with seven people at each one. When Peck's people get situated, there'll be seven of them, too. Becky's between Isaac and the old guy. Oprah's on Isaac's other side. Dow and Rocco look into each other's eyes as they take sips of tea.
"Isaac and Becky are seriously getting married?" Giselle whispers.
"After dinner, uh-huh," Abraham whispers back.
"What's the big rush?"
He shrugs, lifts an eyebrow and says, "It's what they want to do."
Giselle looks out over the seven tables and thinks of the seven hills of Rome, the seven continents, the seven seals, the seven wonders of the world, the seven deadly sins, seven brides for seven brothers, the seven sisters of the Pleiades...and it wouldn't surprise her to see seven dwarves drinking Cherry Kool-Aid under one of the tables. Wait. Weren't the seven sisters supposed to be big oil companies? Or was it all-girl Ivy League schools? How many different kinds of seven things are there? Way more than she can think of off the top of her head...but what does surprise her is that all of a sudden she sees Dennis at one of the tables, and what's even more surprising is that he and Diane are all snuzzled up right next to each other like a couple. She's got her hand on his knee! He's whispering in her ear. His nose is half-an-inch away from her sweet-smelling strawberry-blond hair! What could someone as cool as her possibly see in someone as lame as him? Well, Giselle had married the guy, after all, although she could not for the life of her remember why. Ray's at the table with them, too, her little ray of sunshine, slouchy and smart-ass looking as ever, but older. Everyone looks older. Who was it that said he went to a party and all his friends came dressed up as old people? Proust? Probably. He said everything. They've got that rat with them, too, the rat Becky had been talking to under the kitchen table. Ray and the rat are making faces at each other.
Across from Dennis and Diane, there's a man and a woman who look vaguely familiar, as well, but Giselle can't see their faces. The rat's ears perk up at the sound of a sharp pinging noise coming from Abraham's dad tapping a fork against the edge of a mostly-empty water glass. All the people in the room stop what they're doing and turn toward the sound. The man and woman whose faces she couldn't see turn out to be Mame and Father Gregoryholy Christ, there's a pair to draw to. Mame's wearing the purple dress from her funeral. Father Gregory looks like one of the magicians from The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. They're sort of snuzzling up to each other, too. People are snuzzling up to each other all over the whole roomeven Oprah and Abraham's dad aren't openly hostile to one another; there seems to be some subtle affection going on between them like a spark from the old days got itself rekindled, somehow. Having such a cute grandkid could have done the trick, or maybe that Chinese tea's some kind of weird aphrodisiac, too.
"First of all," the old guy says after he's stopped tapping the fork. He clears his throat, holds up his hands and looks out over the room, lingering at each of the tables until the last conversations quiet down. "First of all, I don't have a lot to say."
"Praise the Lord," Oprah says with a flirty twinkle in her scrumptious voice.
The old guy smiles and goes on, "I'm tired. My brain doesn't work right anymore. My heart stopped doing the things hearts are supposed to do. Months go by in minutes. I see the same things, year after year. Flowers poke their little noses out of the wet ground in the spring, bloom, wilt, die, go to seed, turn to dirt...the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout. The deer have fawns. Maggots eat their mothers and turn into pretty green bottle flies. I've done everything I ever wanted to do and more. Ten thousand generations have come and gone and there's still nothing new under the sun. We're a diseased, retarded, full-of-shit species, just another dying branch on the tree of life. Dodo birds and dinosaurs were around twenty million years longer than we'll ever be."
"Hey, speak for yourself, gloomy Gus," Becky says, glancing at Isaac. "It might be over for you but it's just getting started for me."
"It's always just getting started for someone. You and Isaac will pick up where we left off the way we picked up where the people who gave up before us left off and more power to you, too, but as for me, I quit. You guys are on your own. Do what you do like I did what I did, have kids, get old, come to your own conclusions."
"Gosh, thanks, Gramps!" Isaac claps his hands.
"Laugh all you want, Sonny Boy. I was as starry-eyed as anyone but now I know that the only hope for the continued existence of any kind of human life on the planet is the utter eradication of organized society in its entirety."
"Yeah, yeah, let's cut down the forest to save the trees," Oprah says.
"That's the only possible way there's gonna be any trees left. What we think of as a civil society based on laws and democracy and media and education and entertainment is nothing but an empty, ghoulish sham of lies, fraud, corruption, delusion, deception, cunning and greed to keep six billion people stupid slaves."
"So you've said about six billion times." Oprah laughs.
"Hey, if you want to fiddle while Rome burns, fine, but don't come crying to me when you wake up one fine day and find that the poor, besotted human race has disappeared without a trace."
"You've been watching too much History Channel," Oprah says.
"I'm taking you to the brink, man. I'm showing you over the edge. If you don't want to see what's in front of your face, don't look. Stay stupid. There's a slight chance that if the population is reduced to maybe ten million people or so, and they all live in tiny tribes with no knowledge of any of the other tiny tribes, the species might survive somehow, but big empires based on slavery and the accumulation of wealth don't work, period. If Jesus taught us anything, it was that, but Jesus didn't teach us anything. Plato, Buddha, Lao-Tsu, the Prophet Muhammad, the Dali Lama, nobody's ever taught us anything. We stumble along, generation after generation, sucking ourselves deeper and deeper into debt and sloth and sin and sickness and insanity, thinking we're slick 'cause we have enough money to pay for cable TV, thinking we're funny and smart and worthy 'cause rich guys pay media and entertainment goons to convince us we're funny and smart and worthy enough to own the junk they need to sell us to keep them rich and keep us slaves. People get paid money to keep us stupid and smug. We get paid money to be stupid and smug. Getting paid money has become all that matters to anyone anywhere. It's the fly in the ointment, the ghost in the machine, the flaw that's gonna kill off the poor paragon of animals." He stops, points to Oprah, closes his eyes, opens them again and says, "You and the guys you think don't own you say we're gonna thrive, that we're gonna come up with nuclear fusion or windmills and solar panels and all that other green glop rich guys want us to go deeper into debt to buy in order to give us endless energy, that we're gonna beat our swords into ploughshares, that we're gonna cure disease, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, educate the ignorant, that races and sects and religions are all just gonna get along, that some bunch of scientific miracles will sustain however many people end up inhabiting the planet, ten billion, twenty billion, forty billion, whatever, all with little nanobots running around in their blood to keep them young and smart and cute and sought-after...the best bots money can buy. You and the guys you think don't own you are as crazy as you think I am. Posterity will sort it out. Isaac and Becky and their kids and their kids' kids will decide for themselves which of us was crazy and which of us wasn't. I'm betting on me."
"Of course you are, 'cause you're a narcissistic loon." Oprah shakes her hair and smiles. "Take a vote. See how many people would rather be me than you, how many would rather be rich than poor, known than unknown, influential than ignored."
"You take a vote. How many people know they're brainwashed out of their stupid minds? The answer is none. If you know you're brainwashed you're not."
Isaac chuckles at the antics of his sainted grandparents and says, "Look, I hate to disillusion you guys but our kids' kids won't have the slightest clue who either of you were. Grandma Oprah might be remembered as something of a pop culture oddity like Oofty Goofty or Sarah Burnhardt but all they'll know of you will be the DNA that gives them sore toes when they get old."
"You're probably right." The old guy nods. "You and your kids and their kids will have troubles of their own, like what to do with all those billions of dead bodies lying around rotting after capitalism has run its course. When I was your age my grandfather took a streetcar to a factory in Detroit and listened to baseball on the radio. When his grandfather was your age he was a few years shy of being a drummer boy in the Civil War. He hadn't ever heard a radio, hadn't ever turned on a light or watched TV. Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman never went to the movies. I grew up on comic books and The Lone Ranger. Giselle grew up on Gilligan's Island. God only knows what you and Becky are gonna grow up onGoogle and Facebook and YouTube and iPhones and Twitter and a whole slew of other new, mind-numbing, thought-executing gadgets that haven't been invented yet. If things turn out my way, your kids and grandkids will be running around out in these same woods," he says, gesturing toward the ceiling. "They'll be growing their own green beans and strawberries and living on never-ending love. If things turn out Oprah's way, they'll be among the chosen few really rich guys still making money off the slaves they own or they'll be the slaves rich guys make money off. Those are the only choices the guys Oprah thinks don't own her even know about. You can be rich or you can be a slave."
"I've had my lawyers set them up with trust funds, don't worry," Oprah says.
"If they have any brains they'll tell your lawyers to stick your trust funds."
"You want them to be slaves to your imaginary cabal of really rich guys?"
"It's trust funds that make them slaves."
"Wait." Isaac holds up one finger and frowns. "You want billions of people dead so a few survivors can eat green beans they grow in the woods?"
"It's not what I want it's the way things are going to have to be. The species is engineering itself out of existence. Billions of people are going to have to be done away with in order for a few to inherit the earth. The guys Oprah thinks don't own her would like it to be them and their kids. That's the way they've set things up. It's like latter-day Darwinism, survival of the richest. I'd like it to be you and Becky and your kids and their kids."
"Living here?" Isaac looks up at the ceiling. "Eating green beans and strawberries and living on love?"
"Sure. Why not? Man don't live by bread alone. The last shall be first. Chances are pretty good that somebody will still be around. It would be next to impossible to kill off the whole species. I want it to be you and your kids more than the guys Oprah thinks don't own her want it to be them and their kids."
"Wouldn't all parents and grandparents say the same thing?" Becky asks. "Isn't that why the species doesn't kill itself off?"
"That might be why it hasn't killed itself off so far but pretty soon there's not going to be a choice. One way or another, billions of people are going to have to be done away with when slave-based empires go out of business. There'll be chaos, food riots, water wars, oil wars, land grabs and the destruction of everything we knew as civilized society. When the dust settles it'll be like Noah's Ark all over again. Poor dumb human beings will turn over another new leaf, get a fresh start, maybe do things right next time. Your grandma wants a society based on a consumer class of slaves kept marginally alive to make money for the few really rich guys who own them. That's the way things have been since people quit hunting pigs with sticks and learned to grow wheat and save it for a rainy day. If you had wheat, people worked for you in order to eat. That made slavery. It had to get out of hand. It has."
"So you want us to hunt pigs with sticks again?" Isaac's frown grows deeper.
"People were meant to tell the truth and make love, not lie and make money."
"Says who?" Isaac asks.
"Me." The old guy points to his chest.
"Love or money, God or mammon, good or evil, right or wrong, take your pick." Becky weighs each set of notions up and down in either hand.
"Hey, how about we pick both!" Isaac's eyes light up.
"They're mutually exclusive," the old guy says.
"You can't serve two masters, a house divided, where your treasure is, consider the lilies, render unto Caesar, blah, blah, blah."
"Yeah, yeah," Isaac says quickly. "Your buddy Jesus said all sorts of stuff but he also said, love God, love your neighbor, the rest is commentary. There's not a single thing, from the lowliest hydrogen atom to an infinite number of universes, that doesn't depend exclusively on being inclusive. It's all a great big balancing act. Name me one thing worth knowing that can be known. You can't. Jesus couldn't. Nobody can. What goes on inside an atom? Pick an atom, any atom. Nobody knows, but I bet it's some kind of heavy-duty equal and opposite stuff. How can gravity be exactly the right force to give rise to life? You want know how physicists explain that peculiar little quirk of nature? Chance, that's how, serendipity, dumb luck. They're such knee-jerk determinists that they brush aside the possibility of any kind of God and say instead that there's simply so many trillions of universes out there that one of 'em was bound to have gotten gravity right and that's the universe we happen to be living in. Just one universe is pretty bigall those galaxies and black holes and supernovas and dark matter and dark energy and quasars and gamma rays and dimensions we haven't discovered yet, oh, my. And that's just in the universe we think we've partly figured out. That big bang everybody brags about made the universe we live in fourteen billion years ago, but imagine untold trillions of universes, untold trillions of big bangs and all the rest of the stuff that goes on in the one piddly little universe we happen to be living in, imagine all that going on in untold trillions of other universes, all at different times and in different places and each with its own set of properties that are all distinct from one another, their own quirks and quarks and constants. Yikes. If you believe what physicists tell you, in order to get gravity right just once, you have to get it wrong untold trillions of times. How can it be harder to imagine what physicists want you to imagine than it is to imagine that God made the universe exactly the way a universe ought to have been made? And even if physicists are right, who's to say that God didn't make untold trillions of universes? Maybe it took that many to come up with the precious few that could give rise to life and out of those few universes, it's a good bet that only one gave rise to human life. How many different kinds of animals came along before we got to a human animal? How many more are gonna come along after the human animal has outlived itself? Any mere mortal, physicist or not, who thinks he or she can deign to talk knowledgeably about the nature of God is an absolute moron. Lao-Tsu said that. All the people who ever came up with a notion of God only came up with silly stuff that was going on in their heads, including Moses and Jesus and The Prophet Muhammad, and even what those guys called God got garbled by generations of priests and rabbis and scholars with their own idiotic ideas. What's been worshipped the world over as divine since the beginning of time is imaginative as all get out but none of it has anything to do with God except that the same innate intelligence that operates untold trillions of universes also operates the human brain. Why do you think they all say God created man in his own image? 'Cause they were all self-absorbed crazy people, that's why. Why do you think what they said had such sway?"
"'Cause they were preaching to the choir," Becky says.
"Well, to be fair to the definition in the dictionary," the old guy interrupts. "There can only be one universe. Uni means one."
"One verse?" Giselle asks.
"Yep." Abraham laughs. "The whole ball-of-wax is a big fat poem."
"Or maybe what we call the universe really is just one of untold trillions of the same sorts of things." The old guy ignores both of them. "But according to the dictionary, the universe includes everything there is, like, you know, by definitionno matter how many universes some physicist may tell you there has to be."
"Okay, fine, and maybe there are the same sorts of things as human beings somewhere, too, but you go with what you got and what we've got is us, and what each of us has is him or her, period. There are close to seven billion similar creatures running around out there and each one is a separate entity utterly unlike any other. When some Bedouin gets down on his knees and buries his face five times a day to say from the bottom of his heart that God is great, we don't know the half of it. When the guys in white wigs dedicated their lives and fortunes and sacred honor to the greater glory of God, they weren't just blowing smoke. You want to make a work of art, make a mosquito. The same physicists who want you to imagine untold trillions of universes in order to come up with exactly the right force for gravity to be still can't tell you what goes on inside a hydrogen atom. Your so-called knowledge doesn't rise to the level of foolishness. What's love? What's life? What's God? What's evil without good and the other way around? What's matter without anti-matter, dark without light? You know how many people have gone completely crazy trying to figure this bullshit out?"
"Seven," Giselle says.
"Close enough." Isaac shoots one of his radiant smiles first at her, then at Abraham and finally fixes his gaze at the old guy again. "There's innate intelligence among the untold trillions of universes that may or may not make up the one universe they talk about in your dictionary. The same intelligence built the lowliest of atoms and genes and protein molecules and a pig's eye and the instincts of bees. We know it without knowing it. We emulate it despite ourselves. Your physicists may not believe in God but God believes in them. There are laws beyond the laws they've concocted. Hydrogen atoms behave in accordance with those laws and so do we and so do black holes and so does anti-matter and black matter and dark energy and all the rest of the unknowable stuff going on in untold trillions of the things we may or may not call universes clear down to the unknowable stuff we call chromosomes and atoms and quarks and gluons. When we know anything we'll know God. The chances of that happening are zero, but that's not gonna stop us from getting intimations. It was those inklings of the underlying intelligence of the universe that the prophets of God were trying to understand and trying to tell us about. My darling mother and adoring father got all gaga over each other one enchanted evening and here I am," he says, poking his thumb into the base of his sternum. "I include them. What more proof do you need? There's nothing that doesn't include its opposite and that includes all of you." Isaac gestures with his arms out at his sides, forming a sort of bowl. "What's more different than a man and a woman? We're all miraculous opposites fused in an unimaginable caldron of divine love and everlasting life. A house divided against itself is the only house that has any kind of chance of standing at all. You," Isaac goes on, pointing to his grandfather, "You're all woe is me that after ten thousand generations there's nothing new under the sun. Ha! Ten thousand generations is the blink of an eye. You want to know what's new under the sun? People, that's what. We're God's gift. Maybe it'll take another ten thousand generations to appreciate that fact but some of us wee human beasties have been getting glimpses all along. What we make up in our brains has nothing to do with making anything worth making. Make a lilac, why don't you? When that little bundle of chromosomes from my dad got together with the bundle of chromosomes in my mother all holy hell broke loose in a universe of universes and another real thing was created, a person, me."
"Hey, maybe the universe is just a big brain thinking things," Becky says.
"I hope it's not thinking the things I think," Giselle says. "All I think is stupid stuff but Hindus think cool stuff like everything that happens is happening 'cause Lord Vishnu is dreaming it's happening. Well, according to my shrink, anyway...not really my shrink, my neurologist, Dr. Javid, whatever...and he says I have a giant aneurysm that's about to blow up in my head. What if Lord Vishnu has a giant aneurysm and it blows up in his head? Talk about Apocalypse Now, wow."
"That's where all that apocalypse crap came from in the first place," Isaac goes on, not missing a beat. "People start out all full of vim and vigor, fall in love, have kids and grandkids, then get old and die. How apocalyptic is that? That's who you remind me of." He points his left thumb casually toward his grandfather. "Poor old John of Patmos, sitting in his cave, eating mushrooms and dreaming up the end of the world. He wasn't going out with a whimper but in a blaze of horsemen and armies and whores battling over his own private, singular soul on the plains of Armageddon and calling it the souls of all mankind. Talk about narcissism, ha!"
"So we should what?" the old guy asks Isaac. "Shut up and let whatever happens just go ahead happen?"
"Isn't that what you just got done saying you were doing?" Isaac frowns. "You said you quit. You said you give up. I didn't hear anyone try to stop you. You said we're a diseased, retarded, full-of-shit species. Fine. Let's just leave it at that and count on the fullness of time to do what it does, but no, no, no, you want us to do something about the sorry-ass state of the species. Like what? Fix things? How? Come up with laws and rules and concepts like justice and peace? Ha! Justice means just us and peace means kill everyone who doesn't agree with our laws and rules and concepts. Things fix themselves. That's the wonder of it. How many of those big empires based on slavery and the accumulation of wealth you're always ragging on have already come and gone? Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair. Fortunes rise and fall. What a fortune even is changes all the time. It's been what money can buy for awhile now, sure, but who's to say that won't change? Some kid's gonna come out of the woodwork and tell the emperor he's not wearing any clothes. People are being perfected according to God's unknowable laws a little at a time all the time. The whole upstart species hasn't been around for much more than a few hundred thousand years. Rome wasn't built in a day. I threw some breadcrumbs to the blue jays out in the backyard this morning. The first one who came along called to his buddies and pretty soon there were all kinds of birds eating breadcrumbs. What good did it do that first blue jay to blab to his buddies? Why didn't he just shut up and have the breadcrumbs all to himself? There's a genetic quirk that makes it better to give than receive. Endorphins go off you your brain. You get hints that it's better to be inclusive than it is to be exclusive. When you start figuring out those laws, the innate intelligence operating a universe of universes, you'll have a better idea of what goes on inside a hydrogen atom and a better idea of everlasting life and everlasting love."
"Those same blue jays try to peck each other's eyes out when they both go for the same piece of bread," the old guy says.
"Well, a body's got to eat. Opposing forces fight things out. You can't engineer this stuff. It gets engineered all on its own. Blue jays used to be dinosaurs. It's hard to argue with that kind of logic. You can't take sides. Leave them alone and they will come home, wagging their tails behind them. Or not."
"I don't take sides." The old guy sounds offended.
"Sure you do. What was all that ranting and raving about rich guys being the new Nazis and Jews and guys who kiss up to Jews doing their propaganda for them? You don't like Nazis. You said so. That's taking sides."
"Oh, so you would have preferred that Hitler had won World War Two?"
"If that's what had happened that's what I would have wanted to happen but there's no such thing as if...if, schmiff, what's going on is what's going on. All the gods that man in his finite wisdom ever conjured up are the same God, the God of mercy and love and infinite joy, and they all hate each other's guts. Put that in your conundrum machine. You go on and on about how Israel won't be happy until it has dominion over the whole of the earth like the God of Abraham said it should have, I say leave poor Israel alone. It's got troubles of its own. Jews have troubles, Arabs have troubles, Giselle's got troubles, Grandma Oprah has troubles, all God's children endure endless trouble and everlasting gladness. Out of the mud grows the lotus. It's not something you can do anything about other than let it unfold in front of your face and thank God that you have the senses to see it and feel it and hear it and taste it and smell it and eventually maybe get it, get it?"
"I do," Tiger Woods says.