Julia Prays to Forget Evan

I suppose I should want to talk about the President’s bold new plan for Iraq, but it’s all too depressing, isn’t it? So I figured it’s time for another godstory. The character of God owes a lot to a certain kind of sentimental movie version of the miraculous done so well in the 40’s by guys like Frank Capra. My adolescent religion was watching those things on tv every afternoon. Those stories owe a debt to Dickens, whose A Christmas Carol is a touchstone of sentimental magic. So here’s my Capraesque-Dickensish godstory:

Julia Prays to Forget Evan

Julia loads the dishwasher, wipes all the counters and splashboards clean and everything on them, scours the stovetop and the sink, vacuums and mops the floor, and watches it dry. She kneels to get a stubborn spot in front of the stove when, all of a sudden, she feels the overwhelming need to pray. It’s that or sob again. She hates that.

The tile floor under her knees is hard and cold. She’s eye-level with the digital clock on the stove, which hasn’t been reset since the thunderstorm three nights before. It blinks hypnotically: 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 12:00 . . .

She doesn’t know what to say. She’s not even sure you say anything. God knows your thoughts, right? Even when she was a kid, the last time she was moved to prayer, she never felt like she was doing it right. But here it is, out of nowhere, the need to pray, in her perfectly clean kitchen. She knows why she needs to pray, of course. She’s a solid block of grief and rage, has been for weeks:

Evan has left her for another woman. After twenty years together. Tabitha, the other woman, was two when Julia and Evan met, both skating through Comparative Religion, about to graduate. Tabby was five when Julia and Evan got married. He calls her Tabby. She could’ve been a flower girl at their wedding, strewing flowers after their car, until a Mack truck came out of nowhere and smashed her skinny ass like a sack of chicken bones.

This blissful image fades to gleaming Linoleum. This kitchen-cleaning binge has been her latest pathetic attempt to get a grip. And now here she is, on her knees, her hands clasped desperately around a bottle of Glass Plus and a Scrubbie, comforting herself with fantasies of hit-and-run, composing a fucking prayer?

Fine.

The final humiliation.

And that’s what she prays for—finality.

“Dear God,â€� she says, in a loud, clear voice, “Make me stop loving him…” She totters on the brink of tears. Enough tears. God doesn’t want her tears. Nobody does.

“Make me forget him,â€� she says. “Completely.”

It’s as if it comes out of someone else, someone strong and sure who knows what she wants. She can’t believe she’s said such a thing, but hearing the words, she’s convinced of their rightness, and a faint, private smile comes to her making her feel for a moment that maybe, somehow, her prayer will someday be answered. You take what you can get.

“Amen,â€� she adds, making it official, and the clock’s numerals stop blinking. “Weird,â€� she says aloud. She’s gotten in the habit of talking to herself since Evan left. She stares at the steady, unflickering numerals.

12:01, they glow.

And then, a minute later, 12:02.

Weird. She looks down at herself. Almost as weird as kneeling in front of the stove in the middle of the afternoon making prayerful with household cleaning products. She rises to her feet, and there’s a knock at the kitchen door behind her.

Only friends come to that door. Friends who’ve come by, no doubt, on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, to console her—and to find out whether Evan’s girlfriend is really only twenty-two. No, Tabby died when she was five, actually, a horrible accident involving a large truck and rose petals.

There’s nothing for it now. She’s standing in plain sight in the middle of the kitchen. Whoever it is can see her through the glass. She hopes they didn’t see her down on her knees and get the wrong idea. She turns to find a complete stranger smiling and waving at her through the glass. He’s a pleasant-looking old man, a dead ringer for Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street. The kind, crinkly eyes, the soft white hair and beard, the dimples when he smiles. It’s uncanny.

Cautiously, she opens the door a crack. He probably wants the house next door. “Yes, may I help you?� she asks.

“I believe you just asked for my help,� he says. “I’m God.�

He’s wearing a heavy wool overcoat with a cashmere collar, in mid-August. Not a good sign. Close the door and lock it, hit 911 on the speed dial, Now! she’s screaming in her head, but she just stares back at him. “God?â€� she asks.

He nods and smiles pleasantly. “The One and Only.�

She looks back at the oven clock. 12:03, it says. She rubs her eyes, takes a deep, cleansing breath, looks back at the old man, and he’s still there, still smiling at her. “My-my prayer?”

He bobs his head up and down, still beaming. “That’s right.”

A short, nervous laugh, more like a yelp than a laugh, pops out of her. “But you look like Santa Claus,� she says.

The Old Man chuckles. “It works for most people. With some, of course, I wouldn’t dream of showing up as Santa—they’d throw me out on my ear—you know, philosophy majors and the like. But you, Julia, I’d rather thought you’d like Kris Kringle.� He takes a cautious step toward the threshold. “Aren’t you going to invite me in? So we can discuss your prayer?�

“Invite you in?� says Julia. She blinks at him like the clock blinked at her, as if her circuits, too, have been frazzled by a bolt of lightning. She can still hear her voice screaming inside of her: Close the door and lock it, hit 911 on the speed dial, Now! Now! Now! How interesting, she thinks.

“Sure, sure,â€� she says and steps back, opening the door. “Come in.” She’s glad everything’s so clean. She’d hate for anyone to see the mess it was a few hours ago, least of all God.

God steps into her kitchen and smiles on everything. “Very nice,â€� he says. “Most people would’ve missed the spot under the toaster oven. Why don’t we have some coffee and that big bag of Oreos you bought this morning?â€�

“Oreos,� Julia whispers. So God knows about those. Probably knows about the Gummy Bears in her desk at work.

“And coffee,� says God.

“Regular or decaf?� Julia asks.

“Regular,� says God.

Julia can’t remember making the coffee, but there they are, the two of them, sitting at her kitchen table with cups of coffee and a platter of Oreos—her and God. Maybe the prayer thing wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe she should’ve filled the prescription for Prozac instead. Hell, gobbled up the Oreos like she planned.

God pries an Oreo apart and smiles upon it. “So, you want to stop loving Evan. Why is that?�

Julia watches God eat Oreos, wondering whether He likes crunchy or smooth peanut butter, red or white wine. She imagines them on one of those stupid morning TV shows she watches when she’s too depressed to go in to work: Today on Julia’s Kitchen, Julia chats with God.

“If you’re God,� she says—“you already know why.� God is beginning to annoy her just a little bit.

“I suppose you mean that business with Tabitha,� God says, his mouth full of Oreo.

The mere sound of the name fills her with venom. “Of course, I mean ‘that business with Tabitha.’ The young and beautiful Tabitha. My husband’s lover, Tabitha!� And then, as it always does, her venom turns to tears.

“He promised to love me,� she says, banging her fists on her chest. “Me, not her.� She buries her head in her arms. “He promised to love me forever.�

God hands her his handkerchief. “I remember that. And you made a similar promise, as I recall.�

Julia can scarcely believe God is such a simpleton. She dries her eyes and blows her nose. The handkerchief is soft and billowy and smells like her grandfather—the nice one. “So what? He broke his promise.�

God shrugs. “Perhaps. Who cares about him, right? Let’s not get bogged down in the ethics of the whole thing. Enough talk. I’m a busy God. I’ve got a lot on my plate. What would you like me to do to him? Misery? Wasting disease? Death?â€� God pops a whole Oreo in his mouth, dispenses with it in a few loud, crunching chomps, chasing it down with a big swig of steaming hot coffee. “Dismemberment?â€�

“God no!� Julia shrieks.

“But I thought you didn’t want to love him anymore, that you wanted to forget him altogether.�

“I—I do. But I don’t want anything bad to happen to him—or at least not horrible.�

God drinks off his coffee and pours himself another cup. “And why’s that?�

“Because I’m still in love with him,â€� Julia explains to this incredibly dense deity, adding to herself, You fucking idiot! Then realizes—The Fucking Idiot can read her thoughts. But she doesn’t care, Goddamnit. She feels worse now than when she fell on her knees to pray, and she thought she was hitting bottom then. She remembers why she quit praying when she was thirteen.

“How about I make you stop loving him first—then I can do whatever I want to him.�

“No! You’re impossible!�

God laughs. It’s big and infectious. “I’ve often been told so, yes.â€�

Then she sees the twinkle. Probably been there all along. She hasn’t really been looking for it. Too pissed off, she supposes. But it’s there. God’s been pulling her leg. It’s kind of sweet when she thinks about it. Teased by God. This sweet old man wouldn’t hurt a fly. She smiles bravely at him.

“Drink some of your coffee,� God says. “It’s quite delicious.�

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” she apologizes. “I shouldn’t have poured myself any. If I drink this, I’ll be up all night. I only drink decaf after noon.â€�

“Of course,� He says. He points a finger at her cup, and gives it a little wiggle. “You can drink it now.�

Her eyes widen, and she stares into the steaming black fluid, imagining millions of evil caffeine molecules dissolving into nothing or turning into virtuous anti-oxidants. She wonders if He can turn the Cokes Evan left in the fridge to diet while He’s here. Cautiously, as if it might now turn her into a toad or a princess, she brings the cup to her lips and takes a drink. It’s delicious—the best coffee she’s ever tasted—and it seems to wash away a good deal of her venom and grief. Maybe God isn’t so bad after all.

He gives her a reassuring nod, and she has another gulp, cradles the warm, comforting cup in her hands.

“So, back to your prayer,” God says—”You want me to make you stop loving Evan—then what?â€�

Julia sets down her cup, picks up an Oreo and pries it apart, considering the possibilities. She feels grounded now, centered. “I just want to stop loving him. That’s all. His life should be whatever it was going to be anyway—whether I was stupid enough to love him or not.�

“But you want me to change something important. Once you change one thing, it changes everything else.�

“My love important? Ha! Ask Evan how important it is. Besides, he already changed everything when he fell for that little bimbo.� God pours her another coffee, and she drinks some more. “This is really good coffee,� she says.

“The best,� God says. “And you said you only drink decaf.�

She stares at the coffee in her cup. “This is regular?�

“High octane, actually.�

“But I thought you—you—� She wiggles her finger at it. “Transformed it or something.� She points her wiggling finger at Him. “You lied to me.�

God rolls his eyes. “No. I most definitely did not. I said you could drink it, an obvious truth, and you acted on it. I tricked you into living a little. I figured you’d survive. Besides, you’re going to be up quite late.�

Julia doesn’t like the sound of that. “Doing what?â€�

“We’re going out. Discussion doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. I thought a field trip might help. Have you ever read A Christmas Carol or seen one of the movies?�

She wrinkles up her nose. “Of course. Only about a million times. You like that?�

“I love it. I love Christmas.�

“You’re kidding. It’s so crass and materialistic.�

“I assure you, my dear, I get quite enough grand and heavenly. But as I was saying, we’ll go out—just like in Dickens. I’ll return at midnight and take you to the present, the past, and the future. What do you think?�

Julia thinks He’s nuts. She’s met God, face-to-face, and He’s totally nuts. It makes sense. It explains a lot of things. “Wh-why . . . why would you want to do that?â€�

“So you can decide what you want to do about this prayer of yours.�

Julia holds up her hands in surrender. “Just forget it, okay? Just forget the whole prayer thing.�

“Sorry, no can do. Omniscience, you know.� He taps his white temples with his fingertips. “I can’t forget anything.�

Julia eyes him suspiciously. “You could if you wanted to. What about omnipotence?�

“What is this—philosophy 101? Can I make a stone so big I can’t move it? Omnipotence is for suckers. So what do you say? I usually leave this sort of thing to the angels, but why should they have all the fun? They’ve certainly been getting all the good press lately.â€�

“Do I have a choice?�

“Of course. I’m a stickler on free will.� He pries open another Oreo and licks off the filling—all of it—in a single slurp. Truly amazing. “If you don’t want to deal with it, I’ll just answer your prayer as I see fit.�

An image of Evan being fried by a huge bolt of lightning flashes through her mind. “Okay. I’ll go. But do we have to wait till midnight? What am I supposed to do, sit here all day? I’ll go nuts.�

“Good point,� God says, and the clock on the stove blinks 12:00.

“Where would you like to go first?� God asks.

Julia looks out the kitchen door where she first saw God come calling, and it’s dark. Midnight, she’s guessing.

Julia decides on the present. The future’s out of the question—she doesn’t even like to have her tarot cards read. And the past—well—she was already crying buckets—what does she want to do—slash her wrists? No, the past is a minefield of morbid sentimentality. Better to stick with the present—the rotten present—where she’s good and pissed off, and that gets her through the day. That and Oreos. And now—she tries not to think about it—God.

He takes her outside, under starry midnight skies. He holds out his big right hand. The air is crisp and dry as if it were Christmas eve. Who would’ve thought God was such a hambone.

“You don’t mean fly, fly—like through the air with no plane or anything.�

“Exactly.�

“No, please. I’m terrified of heights.�

“We’ll fly low.�

“No! You said I have free will!”

“Okay, okay. We’ll forget flying. We’ll just appear.â€�

God’s fingers are poised for a divine snap, when Julia thinks to ask. “Appear where, exactly? Not anywhere within a hundred miles of Tabitha, I hope.�

“Well, yes, actually.�

“So I could see her at some cornball vulnerable moment, right? So I’d understand what life is like inside her perfect body and feel all sympathetic toward her like a big sister or something.�

“You don’t like it?�

“It sucks. No Tabitha.�

“All right. Past or future?�

The future could be anything, as recently demonstrated by the dreadful present she currently inhabits. It had once been the future too. The deceitful, false, treacherous future that promises one thing and delivers another. “Okay, the past.�

“The past it is.� God gets a look in his eyes like he’s paging through her life looking for just the right bit. It’s like someone rummaging through your trash. Only he doesn’t have to rummage. He was there at every crumpled, discarded moment.

“Wait a minute. You’re not going to take me to the past and show me how I dumped Charlie fifteen years ago, so I’m supposed to forgive Evan now, are you?�

God rubs his eyes wearily. “Well, yes, I was actually.�

“I don’t like it,� Julia says. “Too predictable and easy. Besides I was a kid then.�

“The same age as Tabitha.�

“No. She was eight.�

“You know what I mean.�

“Sure I do. I just don’t buy it. I didn’t get involved with a happily married man. I just divorced my miserable husband before he divorced me.�

“Because you were in love with Evan.�

“But he wasn’t married.�

God smiles. “Yes, now I understand. I don’t know why I didn’t see your moral superiority before.�

“Screw you.�

God chuckles. “So what shall it be then, the future?�

Why is it God’s always pushing the future? Is it because only he can see it? And maybe Stephen Hawking. Julia’s had enough. As much as she’s enjoying the crisp, cool night air in August, she’s had it with the time games. She crosses her arms and stands up straight. “No. I want to change my prayer.�

“Change your prayer?�

“That’s right. New prayer. We start over. I prayed for the wrong thing, and now I’m correcting my mistake. Free will, right?�

“Right. And what is your new prayer?�

“I want to forgive Evan.�

“Forgive him?�

“That’s right. You know, ‘forgive my trespasses’ and all that? It’s what you want me to do, right?�

“I told you. I’m a stickler about free will.�

“Fine, fine. My own free will: I pray to forgive Evan.�

“What about Tabitha?�

“God, you drive a hard bargain. Okay. Why the hell not? Her too. Charlie. My mom. My eighth grade English teacher. Hell. Even you.�

“What about Julia?�

A little sob catches in her throat as she whispers, “Her too,� and God kisses her lightly on the forehead, and she can feel it evaporating off her forehead like a mist rising from the river at sunrise.

She opens her eyes, and he’s gone, and she’s kneeling in her kitchen with a fresh cup of coffee and a platter of Oreos on the counter, though God has already eaten most of them. Just as well. She can do without the calories. The kitchen looks great, and she has the whole afternoon ahead of her.

4 thoughts on “Julia Prays to Forget Evan

  1. Cute story! I don’t have time now to explore further godstories or any more of your website, but I will without a doubt.
    My father (aged 79) found your book The Watch in the library. He said it just called him from the shelf. Then he recommended it to me, and I have since recommended it to my son (aged 25), having enjoyed it thoroughly along the way. My library, unfortunately, only has one other of your novels, but I will search out others somehow.

  2. Thanks for your kind words. I’m delighted to hear The Watch is still getting around. I believe my other books are still available through Amazon and other online sellers. If all else fails, I have some around here somewhere…

  3. I read the whole thing, the way God ate an Oreo. Because I am creeping into the 21st century, as my friend Wood Williams noted, it is uncertain if my prior comment made it to you or not, so here goes a rewind:

    “Ah, the real “f” word. Loved it!”

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