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Part Twelve

(Part One), (Part Two), (Part Three), (Part Four),

(Part Five), (Part Six), (Part Seven), (Part Eight), (Part Nine),

(Part Ten), (Part Eleven)

Ginny Good, A Mostly True Story:

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Chapter Forty-five

"What do you know about auditory hallucinations?" Giselle asked.

"Auditory hallucinations are nothing to be sneezed at." The doctor's earnest, dark-circled Iranian eyes crinkled at their corners like he was hoping she would think what he'd said was clever or amusing or cute.

"Sneezed at?" Giselle gave him a suspicious look.

"I've been learning to express myself in a more natural and relaxed way."

"From who?"

"A continuing education class put on by The Mayo Clinic."

"You went to some dickweed seminar to learn how to talk more American? Is that where all that okey-dokey, buying-the-farm bullshit came from?"

"I had hoped that my doctor-patient communication might be improved."

"I liked you fine the way you were. What makes the Mayo Clinic think it knows how you should talk?"

"It was my own idea. Lots of things don't sound quite right to me yet, either, but they say practice, practice, practice."

"Practice on your other nutjobs, I've got some weird-ass shit going on."

"I do not doubt it. You were asking about auditory hallucinations."

"Yeah," she said, "I was. I had one." Dr. Javid's thick eyebrows moved slightly upwards. "Some," she said, "kind of a lot, maybe." He encouraged her with a half-smile but still didn't say anything. "I kept hearing this guy's voice on the phone—starting Friday in math class, then again after I got home and a few more times the whole next morning. The phone rang. I answered it. There was this voice, a man's voice. The only words he ever said were, 'I'm the Mayonnaise Man.'"

"The what man?" the doctor asked, leaning forward.

"Mayonnaise," she said almost inaudibly, feeling a blush of embarrassment. "Hey, I didn't get it either, okay? I still don't. What a stupid thing to call yourself, right? I agree. But the words weren't what mattered, it was the way he said them."

"How did he say them?" Dr. Javid's forehead wrinkled as he looked down and wrote something in the folder balanced on his knee.

"In all kinds of different ways, that's how. Just his inflections were a whole new language I'd never heard before. Every time he said the same stupid words there was a different feeling going on, a different emotion, emotions I felt somehow, like, in spite of the words. He talked the way animals must talk, the way kids talk before they can talk." Giselle stopped. Isaac had talked before he could talk. Ketchum was a dog. He could talk, too. He felt good. He said so. "I feel good," he said.

"Did this voice speak to you only while you were on the phone?"

"Yeah, but he was there when I called other people, too. I'd hear the phone pickup and there'd be this guy saying he was the fucking Mayonnaise Man."

"The phone against your ear could have increased the intracranial pressure."

"So you're telling me that everything else that happened was because of that little bulge in a blood vessel?" She waved vaguely toward the angiogram.

"It isn't a little bulge, it's a big bulge. What all else happened?"

"Pfssh." She blew into her hair. "More than I know. The guy showed up in person, on the sofa in my parlor. He was real. He was a regular guy, a cute guy, around my age, with the exact same voice as the guy's voice on the phone."

"He just appeared out of thin air?" The doctor moved his hands like an amateur magician trying to get a dove to fly out of a hat.

"No. Well, sort of. I kept thinking he was just a figment of my fucked-up imagination. The stuff on the phone was real, though. You can ask Andy Redkin."

"I believe you, Giselle."

"You do?"

"Absolutely. I've never seen an aneurysm half the size of the one we found. The radiologist kept saying, 'Holy crap.'"

"Yeah?" She felt flattered, like maybe they were going to get together and write her case up in The New England Journal of Medicine.

"A man showing up on your sofa is no longer just an auditory hallucination."

"Yeah, no shit. That's what I thought. I didn't know what the hell kind of hallucination he was. I asked him what the hell kind of hallucination he was."

"What did he say?"

"He didn't answer. He was pretty terse at first."

"What happened immediately before he showed up?"

"I told you. I saw that bleeding heart thing in my head and a lightning bolt broke my brain into a billion pieces and I passed out—that's when that little black spot must have happened." She pointed. "When I woke up, the guy was sitting on my sofa. The dogs didn't bark at him was the only odd thing."

"The same person who had been saying that he was made out of mayonnaise?"

"A guy with the same voice, yeah. Who else could it have been?"

"When did Abraham Lincoln arrive?" The doctor looked puzzled.

"They were the same guy. He only called himself Abraham Lincoln 'cause I acted like I wanted him to have a name. He said he could just as easily have been George Washington or Washington Irving or Irving Berlin but all everyone else ever called him was 'The Mayonnaise Man.' That was his real name."

"Like Real Mayonnaise?"

"Hey, I asked him that! Oh, I didn't have a headache anymore, either. That was the big thing. My head was emancipated from pain for the first time in twenty years." Giselle stopped. "Maybe Abraham Lincoln was the name I gave the stupid figment of my stupid imagination and I really did make the whole thing all up."

Neither of them said anything else for awhile, then Dr. Javid asked, "The heart you saw, was it yours?"

"I don't think so. Well, maybe, partly. It was more like Jesus's heart or Mary's heart at first—bleeding with divine love for all life everywhere like you see in the sappy sacred heart pictures poor people put on their walls—but later on it turned into my heart, too, like my wee little no-account heart was just as sacred as anyone's. It could bleed with love for all life everywhere, too—like anything with any kind of heart at all can bleed with love for all life everywhere. Abraham understood what I was talking about right away. He understood everything about me. 'Love like you can't know on earth,' he said, 'Love that aches and waits and longs and bleeds.'"

"Abraham was also the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam."

"Yeah, but that all changed when Jesus came along, healed the sick, raised the dead, chased the shysters out of the temple and said, 'Before Abraham was, I AM.'"

"It is quite a mystical concept."

"Mystical, schmistical, all that biblical bullshit already crossed my mind. I asked him right away if we had a kid, would we have to name him 'Isaac?' What a ditzy thing to say. I barely knew the guy." She shook her head, cringed and bit her lower lip; then regained her composure and said, "Or it could just be that 'Land of Lincoln' is plastered all over every license plate I pass on the highway."

"You said, 'everyone else' called him this mayonnaise person?"

"His dad started it, yeah. Don't ask me why. I never got a straight answer."

"You met his father?"

"Way later, yeah, but just in this same long-ass dream I kept having. I knew my brain was whacked. I kept saying my brain was whacked."

"What was his father's name?"

"He never said. I don't think he was a big believer in names. He liked the way things sounded when you said them, what they meant didn't seem to matter."

"In the same way that you responded to the sound of the man's voice on the phone rather than the words he said?"

"Yeah, I guess so, sure, but I have no idea what that means."

"And you interacted with the man who called himself Abraham Lincoln?"

"Boy-Howdy, did I ever! Ate with him, slept with him, did all sorts of things, starting Saturday night 'til around midnight on Sunday—the same Sunday night you say isn't even here yet. This time that Sunday we were at a Waldenbooks in the Woodfield Mall. I was freezing my ass off in the parking lot, waiting for Abraham to bring Oprah out the back door, although naturally I didn't know what the hell I was waiting for at the time. He had me dress up like a slut. Oprah was at some kind of book signing. There was a big crowd. It had all been arranged ahead of time. She and Abraham had been talking on the phone all that morning but I didn't know who he was talking to. They both knew what was going on, that he was her son, blah, blah, blah—they bitched at each other like mothers and sons do—but Wolf Blitzer and everyone on the news thought we'd kidnapped her."

"I didn't know Oprah had a son."

"Yeah, well, she did. She was only fourteen or so. She doesn't talk about it much and gets huffy when other people talk about it, but it's in biographies about her. They say she got raped and the kid died, but that's bullshit. After Abraham was born his father took him to live in some kind of commune on a mountaintop in Tennessee. That was where I met him. I had to swim across this big lagoon. The houses are all made out of rocks from the river and the kids run around naked if they want to."

"Do the adults wear clothes?"

"Oh, sure, it's not any kind of weirdo place. The people are prim and proper and normal as pie, the kids just don't wear clothes unless it's cold. The time I was pregnant all I had on was a bra and panties, for some reason—probably so Abraham's dad could see how knocked-up I was. The next time it must have been fall. We could see our breath. I had on a Boise State sweatshirt, Ole Miss pants and a pair of pink Nike's. I'd been there other times, too, but none that I remember very clearly."

"Did you believe that the man on your sofa was Abraham Lincoln?"

"Not right off the bat, no, but I came to believe him. I cooked us a fancy dinner. We talked. I did dishes. He spent the night. We fell in love. I went to sleep with my head on his shoulder and dreamed that dream about Arabs chasing me."

"The dream Jesus showed up in?"

"A guy who looked like Jesus, yeah, but he had blond hair and blue eyes. That was the beginning of the same huge dream I kept having and having and having."

"A pregnant woman who looked like Oprah was also in the dream?"

"That must have been some kind of weird premonition." Giselle shrugged. "I didn't know Oprah was even Abraham's mother until the next day. They looked a little alike when I saw them together, but that first night I just liked the guy whether he had a mother or not. He told me we were going to have a baby the next day, too."

"How did he know that?"

"You got me. The Tennessee people know things other people don't know."

"What else do you remember?"

"We drove to Schamburg, picked up Oprah, sang Bob Dylan songs in the car and talked about going on her show." Giselle didn't feel stupid talking to Dr. Javid. That was as strange as anything else. "The two of them were going to tell everyone about how Abraham was her kid. His father was going to get in on it. She was going to fess up, to tell the truth, finally. Then the three of them were going to try to get other people to quit lying, to quit ripping each other off." Giselle's eyes narrowed.

"Do you want to stop for a minute?"

"No. I'm fine." She shook her hair. "We met up with Dow and Rocco, some of Abraham and his dad's Tennessee buddies, and Rocco and some kid whose name I can't remember smuggled Oprah into the Byron nuclear plant. Rocco worked there."

"I thought he lived in Tennessee?"

"Sometimes he did, yeah. I never got to the bottom of it all. Locking Oprah up in the nuke plant was just a publicity stunt to get everybody to watch the big reunion show the three of them were going to do. They were gonna get me in on it. We were gonna do all kinds of mushy stuff—make the world a better place. Then everything got totally fucked." She lifted her arms and let them fall back to her sides.

"How?" The doctor seemed truly interested.

"Oh, God, I don't know. Some FBI guys killed Oprah, for one thing. That wasn't part of the plan at all. Cops had my house surrounded. Bill O'Reilly was there. They threw tear gas through my window and murdered my dog and shot me in the head and I keeled over and dreamed another part of the same dream again, only this time I was gigantically knocked-up." Giselle smiled. "Abraham's father and I were on the front porch of his house, talking about naming the kid after Hieronymus Bosh. Then I woke up. I still don't know how Isaac got his name and I have absolutely no idea how he knew he was going to marry Becky Thatcher."

"Isaac married Rebecca in the Bible," Dr. Javid said.

"Did he know he was going to marry her before he could talk?"

"They don't say. Who was Becky Thatcher?"

"Dow and Rocco's daughter who apparently wasn't even born yet, if you go by what Isaac says. It made as much sense as anything else."

"She was Tom Sawyer's girlfriend, too, wasn't she?"

"Yeah, yeah, it was a dream, okay? I get it."

"Do you?"

"No. I don't. And what I especially don't get is how that whole god damn twenty-four hour day could have gone on in less than an hour—or that whole nine months if you count talking to Abraham's dad when I was pregnant, or that whole two years if you count when Oprah came down and Isaac started talking, or that whole six years if you throw in what I remember of waking up in that Crockett House place."

"How did you determine that the span of time was less than an hour?"

"I put on this Van Morrison CD. Astral Weeks. It was playing when I conked out and was still playing when I woke up. The whole album's not even an hour long."

"None of these things would be inconsistent with the location of the aneurysm, Giselle. I can cite you case study after case study of anomalies in the temporal lobe. No two are the same. The Prophet Muhammad may have suffered from a temporal lobe disturbance. There are time distortions in The Qur'an like you cannot imagine."

"I can imagine most anything," Giselle said. "Apparently," she added and felt herself start to get weepy again. "Christ."

"Can you imagine being taken by the angel Gabriel into the presence of God and traveling from Mecca to Jerusalem, taking journeys that lasted five-hundred years apiece through each of the seven heavens, meeting Adam and Noah and Jesus, and arriving back at Mecca again, all in the space of a single night?"

"Sure," she said. "The main thing Muhammad ever said is 'God is great.' He wasn't just whistling Dixie, either. Me and Abraham talked ourselves silly about all kinds of religious crap and finally decided it's bigger than the both of us."

"My fiancé and I had similar discussions and reached the same conclusion."

"We were like a couple of frat boys on methamphetamine, coming up with all sorts of grand pronouncements we knew were stupid the minute we said them."

"Like what, for example?" Dr. Javid asked.

"Like, 'God is everything you don't know—the more you know the more you know you don't know and God gets greater all the time.' Pretty cool, huh? All any religion worth its salt ever brags about is the greatness of God compared to what worthless gobs of pus we are. Isn't that what Vishnu's dream was saying? Or Christ's immaculate conception and resurrection? Or Muhammad's thirty-five hundred year journey through all those dazzling heavens in one measly little night? Isn't it what that burning bush said to Moses on Mount Sinai or the utter incomprehensibility of Lao-Tzu's Tao and Buddha's Nirvana? With God all things are possible, without God nothing is—stupid Zen sounding stuff like that, meaningless crap—but what we always kept coming back to was the notion that God is love."

"'He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love,'" the doctor quoted.

"Yep," Giselle heard herself say, "And the other way around. We figured everything all out together. It was so fun. The big bang was God sneezing several billion years ago and all the snot he sneezed became diamonds and rubies and gas and oil and gold, but Jesus Christ was God's kid, his love child. You can spend your life looking for God's ten billion-year-old boogers or getting to know his only begotten son. Take your pick. God is love, money's snot. Shut the fuck up."

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God," the doctor quoted again.

"That was what we decided it all boils down to—God or money, take your pick, you can't have both." Giselle was tired.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand," Dr. Javid said.

"Hey, Abraham Lincoln said that!"

The doctor smiled, looked down at the folder and asked, "You mentioned people at the mall were dressed like chickens and that that came from a joke?"

"The chicken joke, yeah. It's a Gary Larson cartoon. The chicken husband looks up from his bowl of chicken soup and asks the chicken wife, 'Anyone we know?' I used to tell my ex-husband the same joke, only it was about lampshades."

"Dennis. He's the lawyer, right?" Dr. Javid looked up.

"The Jewish lawyer, yeah. That was what made the joke funny. We'd be at a party at his parents' house or his Rabbi's house and I'd nudge him and nod over at a lampshade and whisper in his ear, 'Hey, Den, anyone we know?'"

"And he wasn't offended by that?"

"Nah, he was so madly in love with me it made his toenails curl...besides, it was funny. He was a sucker for anything funny. Gary Larson turned my lampshade joke into a joke about chickens eating chicken soup. Abraham had already seen the cartoon and didn't think it was all that funny the first time, but I kept telling him the joke that first night, anyway, just to piss him off—the more funny he didn't think it was, the more I told it to him and the more I told it to him the funnier it got."

"Witzelsucht," the doctor said under his breath as he wrote another note.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It's a German word having to do with the telling of jokes."

"What's it got to do with my fucked-up brain?"

"I'm not sure, probably nothing. I just write things down. That's my job."

"Okay. Well. All I'm saying is the chicken joke must somehow have made its way into the whole fantasy I was having—if it even was a fantasy."

"Can you think now of how other elements may have come into being? You mentioned the nuclear plant at Byron."

"From all that terrorist bullshit, maybe, I have no idea. Or it could have come from watching too much Simpsons. Homer's always running around with plutonium in his pants. I said something to Abraham about it. He gave me a funny look. The whole thing could have come from anywhere. I watch Oprah on TV. I've been to the Woodfield Mall. I read books. Who knows where fantasies come from? But it was so real. I was happy, loved, known, inside and out...and my head didn't hurt."

"You've never had a child?"

"Not really, no," she said. "I don't think."

"That's not something you would be likely to forget, is it?"

"So you think it's just all that biological clock crap making stuff up out of the stupid aneurysm in my head?"

"There's so much nobody will ever know, Giselle—hormones, instincts, genetic predilections—it's impossible to underestimate what the mind can imagine."

"My poor, dead grandmother kept showing up in the same dream, too—at the mall, picking blackberries in Tennessee." Giselle felt a sudden antagonistic edge creep into her voice. "Terrorists, no kids, getting old, living alone, people you love god damn dying on you, plutonium everywhere..."

"Giant aneurysm," the doctor added, as if Giselle had left it off the list.

"Yeah, no shit. It's a wonder everyone's not crazy."

"Crazy means different things to different people."

"So Abraham and his dad and Oprah and Isaac and all the rest of it was just some kind of wish fulfillment? Like the ghost of Jacob Marley was a bit of undigested beef? The man of my dreams who loved me like nobody's loved me? He even sang that stupid song to me ten minutes after he showed up. Jesus. I totally fell for it—hook, line, sinker, bobber, boat. I would have done anything for him. I knew there was something weird going on, but I..." She stopped. "I didn't care." She felt her voice getting shrill. "I believed it. It was the truest thing I'd ever known, truer than true, impossibly true, perfect. If that's crazy, fine, I want to be crazy."

"My fiancé said that same thing to me once a long, long time ago."

"Dr. Noc?"

"Yes." The doctor was quiet for a second, then, apropos of nothing Giselle could figure out, he went on to say, "Dostoyevsky once wrote that he didn't know whether his seizures lasted for seconds or hours or months, but he wouldn't exchange a single instant of the bliss he got from them for all the joys life can give. That's a quote from a paper Dr. Noc wrote. She was infatuated with Dostoyevsky. Tennyson said similar things. Here's another quote from one of her papers: 'Individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being—this is not a confused state, but the clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest, the weirdest of the weirdest, utterly beyond words.' She had something of a crush on Tennyson, too."

"Sounds like you were jealous."

"Of a couple dead nutjobs?" The doctor laughed. "Not at all, I admired her in all respects. I just mentioned them to show you what good company you're in."

"Are you making fun of me?" Giselle frowned.

"No." Dr. Javid shook his head and his eyes twinkled and he reached over and put his hand on the blanket covering her right shin and gave her leg a little squeeze. "I think you're a darling, sweet girl with a serious problem that needs looking after."

Maybe Abraham had come partly from Dr. Javid, Giselle thought. He had the same sort of twinkle in his eyes. Yikes. She thought of talking to Dr. Javid like he was a regular guy, calling him, "Bo." No. Well, maybe. His hands were so hairy, though. He must have been hairy all over. Abraham's skin was smooth; nut brown, buttery, beautiful. Mame used to say a sort of Nursery Rhyme to her:

"Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear.
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't very fuzzy, was he?"

Giselle's heart ached so badly it made her have to smile out loud.

"What is it that's making you smile?" the doctor asked.

"Oh, me, my brain, my grandmother, Abraham, you, Oprah, Homer Simpson, the thing you say I have in my head."

"The aneurysm is quite real, Giselle."

"So, if you get rid of it, though, what do you think that might do? Like, you know, to my imagination or whatever?"

"It's not a question of if. The problem is very serious."

"The problem I'm having right now is I'm not sure you know what the fuck you're talking about. I'm not entirely sure you're even real. I'm very serious. I got married and went to live in Tennessee and had a kid and he grew up enough to talk. All that was as real as anything I've ever known. I was there. I saw. I fucking participated. Oprah Winfrey was my son's grandmother. They argued with each other. Then I woke up in a nursing home called Crockett House, which even you say is a real long-term care facility and it was two-oh-oh-eight, six years from when you say it is now, and nobody there ever heard of you and Peter Jennings was dead."

"Hey, can I ask you something?" The doctor looked carefully into her eyes as if what he was going to say was the most important thing he'd had to say all day.


"Why did Peter Jennings fall out of a tree?"

"Because he was dead! Ha!" Giselle laughed. The laugh turned into a cough, however—a cough that didn't seem to want to stop. She couldn't catch her breath, couldn't inhale; all she could do was exhale, all she could do was cough. She felt her eyes get wider and wider as she pushed the thumb and forefinger of her right hand into the base of each of her clavicles but no air would go into her lungs. She gasped, at last, but that just made her cough harder, exhale all the more. She was going to pass out. Again. Motherfuck. "God, help me," she said as her whole life came crashing into her consciousness, the parts of her life that mattered, anyway. "Reciprocity is all," Abraham had said. But he wasn't Abraham, he wasn't anyone, he was nobody, he was nothing, he was her, he was a figment of her own whacked imagination, she'd fallen madly in love with her own fucked up self. They'd all been her imagination—Dow, Rocco, the people at Woodfield, the little girl who'd lost her balloon, the guy in the guard station who'd tried to look up her skirt at the nuke plant, everyone. Even Oprah and Woo and the rest of the people she already sort of knew were figments of her own whacked imagination. How that could be was way too much for Giselle to understand—what the fuck was truth supposed to be, anyway? What was reality? She didn't know. She didn't think anyone else did, either, certainly not some sad-eyed Iranian shrink who had to go to seminars to learn how to talk right—all he knew was that she had an aneurysm she needed to think about getting rid of. Her cough had subsided some by then.

"The jokes were your jokes, Giselle. You've told me some of them. You told me the chicken joke a long time ago. You've asked me why the monkey fell out of a tree. You tell your jokes to other people. You tell them in your dreams. You crack yourself up. That's healthy, normal, okay, nothing out of the ordinary—but everything else you think may have happened, Abraham Lincoln, Tennessee, Oprah, having a son, all that was an elaborate fantasy brought on by the biggest aneurysm I've ever seen."

"Hey, talking to you might be a fantasy for all I know."

"Talking to me is not a fantasy, Giselle." His voice was impatient.

"That's what Abraham said. Talking to him was as real as this, more real. That's the problem. If I get this stupid bulge fixed, what's that gonna do to the rest of my brain? I could end up a vegetable with no memory of anything."

"If you don't get it fixed it you'll die. You're going to have to trust me."

"Abraham said that, too. 'Trust me,' he said. "Give it a chance,' he said." She felt a hitch in her throat, a lump, a gob of mucous that made her start to cough again. This time she couldn't stop. She coughed and coughed. Her head felt like it was going to split open and still she couldn't stop coughing. She saw the doctor stand up. A frantic look came into his eyes. He tossed the folder he'd been writing in over onto the table below the light box and took off out of the room in a big hurry. He was almost running. She'd never seen Dr. Javid run before. He ran like a girl. Abraham didn't run like a girl. He ran like a gazelle...leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills...rise up my love, my fair one, and come away...

Chapter Forty-six

It's dark, quiet, cool. Giselle's hair is partly in her mouth and partly stuck to her cheek with dried sweat and drool like she might be Homer Simpson waking up from a long winter's nap. She's still all scrunched down into the big green beanbag pillow beside Oprah's maroon chair but Abraham's arm is no longer around her shoulders and all that's left of the fire in the fireplace is a few faint embers. There's a light on in the kitchen. That rings a bell. Something had been wrong with Isaac's foot. He was getting too big for his britches. Giselle hadn't been able to help; she'd wanted to but she couldn't move. She'd been trying to explain Dennis's theories about Hitler and The Holocaust. Abraham got snippy and took Isaac in to see Diane. She'd know what to do. That had pissed Giselle off. He'd left one of the kitchen doors open. Now it's closed.

She rolls over onto her hands and knees, pulls herself to her feet by the arm of Oprah's chair, pushes her hair away from her face, tiptoes across the hooked rug onto the bare floor and nudges the right side of the door open a crack. The scrumptious smells of all the different things Diane had been cooking still fill the room, along with a whiff of the toasty-brown, buttery crust and the bubbling apples and cinnamon and sugar from Ray's pie. When the last time she had something to eat was she does not know—well, not counting that drug-laced green tea the old coot made her drink. Was it the shrimp and ribs from Woo's? How long ago had that been? Years? Decades? Hours? Minutes? Her mind might still be on the fritz from that darn aneurysm.

The oven and the burners on the stove are off. The dishes are washed. The pots and pans have been put away. There's a door in the middle of the floor. It's made out of linoleum-covered planks and propped open with a worn stick like it might be the entrance to a storm cellar. Except for a pretty good-sized rat staring at someone or something under the table, everyone else is gone—down through the cellar door and on their way to that big potluck dinner Diane had been talking about, no doubt. They must have decided she needed a nap. Isaac must have stayed behind to show her the way. Aw. What a sweetie. She can't see him, but who else could it be? All she can clearly see is the rat sitting on its haunches under one of the chairs with its paws poised by the sides of its snout. It's not a cute little white rat that might be someone's pet, but a big, full-grown brown rat with quivering whiskers, a long slithery rat tail and crooked yellow rat teeth.

"Tell Isaac if he wants me he can come get me himself," a little girl's voice says. "I can't believe he sent a rat." Hm. Apparently it's not Isaac under the table. The voice is petulant; a raspy, whispery, high-pitched, melodic whine, the way a little girl rodent would talk if little girl rodents could talk.

"Isaac didn't send me, your mom and your dad did." The rat wrinkles its nose.

"Only 'cause Isaac told 'em to. They do whatever he says."

"Everybody sent me, okay? They all got in a big circle and held hands and begged me to come get you, 'Please, please,' they said. 'Tell her we can't do anything without her. Tell her we love her and miss her and want her and need her.'"

"Go back and tell 'em I fell out of a tree," the little girl's voice says.

"Hey, come or don't come, be coy all you want."

"Why would they send you?" She sounds offended.

"It's the Year of the Rat. They've got me doing everything."

Giselle gently pushes one of the swinging doors open, frowns, cocks her head and says, to no one in particular, "I thought it was the Year of the Horse."

"Where've you been?" The little girl is still out of sight but her voice switches smoothly from whispery rodent to childlike English. The question stops Giselle in her tracks. She feels like that centipede Alan Watts or some other beatnik talked about:

"The centipede was happy, quite,
Until a toad, in fun, said:
'Pray, which leg goes after which?'
That worked his mind to such a pitch
He lay distracted in a ditch,
Considering how to run."

Where has she been? Dr. Javid told her it was 2002 but Diane and that Felicity person at that creepy Crockett House place said it was 2008! Who's she supposed to believe? What's she supposed to believe? Where had the whole last six years gone? And why had Diane acted like she didn't know who the heck she even was?

"How did it get to be the Year of the Rat?" Giselle asks the rat. "What the hell year is the Year of the Rat, anyway?"

"Oh-eight and oh-nine," the rat says.

"Oh, great, that's fine, that's just what I needed to hear." Giselle has a sinking feeling having to do with Charlie Gibson and the condition of her hair, but ignores it, points and asks, "I suppose that's supposed to be Becky Thatcher under there?"

"Yep," the little girl's voice says. There's a commotion. One of the chairs moves as if by magic and pretty soon the most darling child Giselle has ever seen is on her hands and knees, looking up at her with such sparkly dark Asian-looking eyes and such a wop mop of thick, curly black hair she has to be Dow and Rocco's daughter. Wow. More than just her memory's on the fritz. Dr. Javid didn't know the half of it. The little girl's got on a long, modest, homespun, yellow-and-white-speckled, puffy-sleeved pinafore, a matching yellow bonnet, a pair of black, round-toed, patent-leather shoes and white ankle socks like she might really be Becky Thatcher.

"You talk some sense into her," the rat says. "I have to report my findings." He scrabbles across the floor and disappears down the entrance to the cellar.

"I've only been waiting for you." Becky stands up. "I'm not going down into that throng without at least one sane person on my side."

"Sane, ha! I'm barely on my own side. I'm just along for the ride."

"No you're not. Without you none of this would mean a thing."


"Weewee." Becky blinks solemnly.

"Hey, do you know why Eskimos wash their clothes in Tide?"

"'Cause it's too cold out tide," the little girl answers quickly.

"Who told you that?"

"Abraham. He's always telling your jokes."

"Does he say they're my jokes?"

"Oh, yeah. He starts laughing before he gets halfway to the punch line, too—like, you know, if there ever even is a punch line. He's been missing you."

"He has?" Giselle's face gets hot. Her heart beats faster.

"Yep," Becky says. Her shiny black curls bob up and down beside her pretty pink cheeks as she sings a little song, complete with hand motions and dance steps and facial expressions, like she might be on-stage at a Little Miss Beauty Pageant:

"Somebody loves you and wants you to know,
Longs to be with you where ever you go?

Somebody loves you each hour of the day,
When you're around dear or when you're away?"

"Last I heard, you weren't even born yet." Giselle changes the subject.

"Who did you hear that from?" Becky frowns.

"Isaac. He was stoked about how you and him were gonna get married."

"We are."

"He called you a little hottie."

"He would."

"How old are you supposed to be?"


"Isaac was two when he told us about you. How old is he supposed to be?"

"Way older than me." She stretches her arms out. "Five, I think, or six."

"Where have I been?"

"Everyone seems to know you just come and go." She shrugs her clavicles.

"Tell me about it."

"People bring you up all the time, though."

"That's comforting."

"What else did he say about me before I was born?" Becky squints and cocks her head so far to one side her black curls almost touch her shoulder.

"That you were the love of his life."

"I am."

"He just started talking one day—out of the blue. He said he knew things nobody knew."

"That's him, this is me." Becky indicates the entrance to the storm cellar with her thumb and points a finger at the front of her dress. "He can do all kinds of things nobody can do, but so what? Does that mean we have to do everything his way?"

"Everything like what?"

"Like me and Isaac's wedding that smarty-pants rat's so antsy about, that's what. Now is a good time, sure, okay, it's, like, all astrological or whatever." She makes a face. "I'm not arguing with any of that, but this dress? I don't think so."

"Aren't you both a little, um, on the young side to be getting married?"

"Nah, it's all set. That's what we're on our way to go to but I wanted you to see this froufrou dress grandma Oprah got Isaac to say he wants me to wear first."

"Why does she want you to wear that froufrou dress?" Giselle laughs.

"She wants me to look like a big dork, that's why."

"Why do you want me to see it?"

"So you'll say wear something else. She's just his grandma, you're his mom."

"What do you want to wear?"

"Not this cornball dress. I want to wing it. Come as I am."

"You should've seen the god-awful purple dress my mother made the undertaker put on my poor aunt at her funeral. It was hideous."

"So you'll talk to Oprah?"

"I don't have to talk to Oprah, just don't wear the thing. Is she still around?"

"Oprah? Sure. She's been coming and going on and off for as long as I can remember but everyone's here now. She wouldn't miss me and Isaac getting married for anything in the world. She was gonna bring Barack and his wife and kids down again but they don't get around much anymore."

"Who's Barack?"

"Barack Obama. The new president."

"Oh, man. Obama was one of the names I heard Charlie Gibson talking about on that fritzy TV they had me looking at."

"Oprah's all gaga over the guy but Isaac's grandpa says he's just the next puppet rich guys hired to keep us entertained by politics. He says Oprah's a puppet, too, but she keeps us entertained by schmaltz. What fritzy TV?"

Giselle feels like that darn centipede again. "It's complicated." She shakes her hair—possibly to see if it's still there. "He talked about a war in Iraq, too."

"Who did?"

"Charlie Gibson. I hadn't ever even heard about a war in Iraq except for that one a long time ago when Sadam Hussein lit all the oil wells on fire. Dr. Javid never heard about any other war in Iraq, either."

"Who's he?"

"Dr. Javid?" Giselle waves her hands like that poor centipede again. "That's more complicated than the fritzy TV. Just tell me. Is there a war in Iraq or not?"

"Yes. It's been going on since before Isaac was born. Obama's gonna get us out of it, though. That's why Oprah got him elected. Plus, he's black. She's super stoked about that. They let Hillary be Secretary of State 'cause she's a girl."

"Oprah got a black president elected?"

"According to her she did, yeah, but Isaac's grandpa says it was the guys who own him and Oprah both that got him elected. They keep him in line with the political division of the same management monopoly that keeps Oprah in line with its entertainment division. It's got a bunch of divisions besides entertainment and politics—media, sports, law, education, blah, blah, blah—it's huge."

"What is?"

"Oh, that whole gigantic Jewish management monopoly of agents and lawyers and publicists Isaac's grandpa says has absolute sway over all the hearts and minds of everyone in America and most of the rest of the world." Becky throws up her arms.

"That same old rich guys hiring Jews to keep people stupid shtick he's been on since forever?"

"Yep," Becky nods her head. "He says it like it's all one word, 'Jews and guy who kiss up to Jews in the propaganda and public enlightenment cabal.' According to him, they've surrounded Obama with guys like Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod and Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke and Bob Rubin and Larry Summers and all their buddies from Goldman Sachs so he doesn't do stuff his owners don't want him to do."

"I imagine Isaac's grandpa and Oprah still agree to disagree about all that."

"Oh, yeah, they argue all the time. It's funny. They think each other's nuts."

"Why does she still even come here?"

"She totally dotes on Isaac, that's why. She can't get enough of him. He used to talk to her little dogs and tell her what they said. She loved that." Becky's eyes get extra wide and she laughs the sweetest little peal of laughter.

"What about my little dogs?"

"Oh, they're fine," Becky says.

"Does he talk to them, too?"

"We all do. Ketchum gives me piggyback rides sometimes."

"Oprah seems to like Abraham okay, too," Giselle says.

"Yeah." Becky tight little curls bob up and down. "Him and Isaac are the only real family she has. That's why she brought the Obamas down, so they could all get to know each other. Barack and Abraham are about as old as each other. Oprah acts like they're like both her kids."

"How did that go?"

"Abraham and Barack mostly just played basketball. His wife hung out in the kitchen with Diane and some of the other mothers. Me and Isaac took the kids down to the river, showed them the caves we go to. Your little dogs followed us."

"Are they gonna have anything to eat at this wedding?"

"Oh, yeah. Lots." Becky makes her arms into a mountain of food.

"Well, how about we just go there, then. I'm starving."

The rectangle of linoleum-covered planks in the floor leads to a stairwell that's lit by dim, reddish light. The stairs are steep. There are walls on either side, but no railings, like stone stairs leading to a dungeon. Becky leads the way.

"Close the door behind you," she says.

Chapter Forty-seven

There's a humid, faintly flowery scent in the stairwell, mixed with a hint of incense and some kind of sweet-and-sour barbeque sauce—which, 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, whiter—or 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 dad—the 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 teacups—probably 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 him—all 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 corner—with 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 background—but 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 Gregory—holy 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 room—even 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 on—Google 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 big—all 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 definition—no 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.

Previous, Part Eleven


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