God on Tuesday

The first-place entry in Postscript’s Short Fiction Contest, by Jason Chalmers, ArtSci ’11

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The first time I spoke with God was on a Tuesday. I am certain of this because he initiated our conversation via the editorial section of the New York Times, which I subsequently clipped out and placed on my refrigerator for the kitchen to read. It states quite clearly, in Times New Roman, that the date of publication was ‘Tuesday, August 6. ‘

Every morning, after having consumed a cup of coffee, I hide my indecency and retire from my apartment, strolling two blocks downhill to the public library. Although it is routinely the case that I arrive precisely at eight o’clock—the time at which the library officially opens—there appears to be a minor discrepancy between my pristinely calibrated pocket watch and the library clocks, which are of the sort that one usually finds caged in wire above the basketball net in a high-school gymnasium. So, to my daily ire, I am forced to wait a full two minutes before entrance is permitted.

Don’t take me for one of those ragged old men who wait anxiously for the library to open so that they can check their email and discreetly search Wikipedia for porn under the pretence of conducting anatomical survey. While it is not in my routine to shave, and my morning attire is casual, I have no concern for email or pornography. I am there to read the newspaper. The Times is all I want.

I have never purchased a subscription to a newspaper, myself. It seems so utterly unnecessary. When the library opens there is never competition for real news, as every other morning patron is addicted to pornography. And if I show up later than noon, it’s already been scavenged by teenagers and serial-killers in need of pasted letters for their scrapbooks or death threats. So, I read the New York Times at the library, daily, at 8:02.

And such is the context of the Tuesday on which I first spoke with God: I waited in line two minutes—surrounded by pornographers and murderers—passed through the automatic doors, grabbed the New York Times, and arranged myself at a table.

It contained the same news that it had contained on the previous day, month, year and decade: so-and-so country had invaded such-and-such nation, to the dismay of its locals and UCLA students, who sought to remedy this egregious violation of human rights with poster-board and glitter-pens; the foreign minister-of-whatever had met with economic and environmental diplomats-of-wherever in an effort to reach an agreement-concerning-whichever, which many supported fully while others opposed vociferously; some celebrity-or-politician was found to be having an affair or a drug addiction or both, and was now seeking therapy in an effort to keep his-or-her marriage together, and not lose the faith of supporters. It truly was the most relevant and stimulating of all matters concerning the world of the day. All the news that’s fit to print.

Browsing the editorial section for meagre contributions of individuals barely able to string together a phrase, I was caught by one editorial. The font was the same, and the ink of the same tone. It was not ciphered, and its language was written in the same, grade-school style in which most people write. But what signified to me that this was an article worthy of my effort was that it addressed me by name. It said this:

Herbert Q. Spunker,

The end is nigh, and I have selected for you to be my guardian of the future eon.

Keep in touch,

God.

I sat, reposed, observing the page. I lifted my hand, scratched the top of my head with my index finger, lowered my hand, scratched my beard and read the editorial again. I lifted my hand again, but this time placed it to my mouth and coughed nonchalantly into my fist. No one noticed.

So I stood slowly, retrieving my jacket from the back of my chair, casually putting it on. I closed the newspaper, folded it in half and pressed it between my rib and elbow as though it were an umbrella. Again, I raised my hand to my mouth and let out a subtle cough, which went again unnoticed. I then proceeded to the exit.

“Sir? Excuse me, sir?” a voice projected cautiously from behind the front desk.

I ignored it, and again coughed nonchalantly into my first. But this time it didn’t seem to work, as the voice behind me persisted.

“Sir? Excuse me, but patrons are not permitted to remove materials from the library. Please come back here. That newspaper may not leave the building.”

Realizing that I’d been caught, I knew that to proceed further would end with me on the floor, in a stranglehold; the library is surprisingly endowed with security guards seeking to prove the necessary valour for recruitment to the metropolitan police force. I was trapped, so I turned.

“Yes, yes, what is it?” I asked, irritated, pulling my watch from my pocket and checking the time, then hurriedly glancing to the gymnasium clock on the wall.

“I’m sorry, but you’re not allowed to leave the library with library materials,” she stuttered shyly, “and I believe that newspaper belongs to the library.”

“What? This?” I asked, extracting the newspaper from my elbow and feigning some vision impairment by viewing the front of the paper at various distances. “Let me explain to you that this ... this newspaper is a misprint! Yes, this newspaper is a misprint,” I stated, holding the paper in front of me and repeatedly stabbing my index finger into the face of whichever politician graced the cover.

She stared at me with the mixed desire for an explanation and for the confrontation to be ended by my departure with the newspaper.

“Yes. A misprint. This newspaper is printed entirely in Cantonese! Fortuntely, I am fluent in eleven languages of the Orient, and it says right here,” I proclaimed, opening the newspaper to a random location and pressing my finger into the middle of the page, “‘ding now yoo, fyong di choy bing diyung miyoi’. Do you speak Cantonese, ma’am?”

With eyes wide, she shook her head as though she were being interrogated at gunpoint by a sasquatch.

“Well, then, permit me to translate for you. It says, ‘in the event of misprint, return this paper to the New York Times immediately,’ and I can guarantee you that any newspaper printed entirely in Cantonese is surely a misprint. So it is not only my duty—but my civic obligation!—to return this paper immediately to the distributor in order to save them any further embarrassment than that which they have already suffered. Have you ever incurred the wrath of the New York Times? No? Well, believe me: you do not want to. I inadvertently did once, in my days as a political activist at UCLA, and it was not a pretty sight. It was only after weeks of physical torture and water deprivation that I finally recanted, signed a non-disclosure agreement, and was given permission to leave. So believe me, it is in the best interest of both you and I that this newspaper be returned immediately to the New York Times. The wrath of mass media is a terrifying burden to bear. Do you understand?”

She made an ambiguous gesture with her head, giving no indication that my pursuit would continue. So I returned the newspaper to my armpit and left the building.

Short Fiction Contest Winners

The first-place winner is Jason Chalmers, ArtSci ’11.

The second-place winner is Devin Clancy, ArtSci ’13.

The third-place winner has been disqualified due to violating the rules of the contest.

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