To John Coltrane’s ‘Naima’
God said, “Eddie”.
Eddie was asleep but he woke up as soon as heard his name being spoken. He always woke up when God spoke.
“What now?” asked Eddie groggily because it’d been like this all night, one thing after another, sleep and then talk and then sleep and then talk.
“Do you think he’s dead, Eddie,” God said, “I mean I keep thinking he might not be.”
“Don’t you know that?” asked Eddie, “can’t you check or something?”
Eddie closed his eyes. The grass was damp against his face and now he was awake he could feel the pain in his back that came with too many nights spent sleeping with grass for a bed. Sometimes God was like this. Sometimes God was like a child, God was unsure, God was nervous. Mostly God would never have worried so much about what had happened at the cliffs with the stranger but this time God wouldn’t shut up and that meant Eddie had to listen.
“I don’t know, Eddie,” God said, “couldn’t we just check?”
Eddie groaned and gave in to sleep being over. He stood up, arched his back until he felt his muscles stretch and release.
“Come on then,” said Eddie.
“I just couldn’t picture him,” said God as Eddie walked back up to where it had all happened. It was that morning when he’d met the stranger. It took him a while but eventually he realised the man wasn’t a stranger, he knew him but that was from long ago and the man didn’t recognise him at first. The man was a mess. The man’s face was heavy, dead looking with its greyness and he was babbling.
“Don’t I know you?” Eddie had said but the man shook his head.
“You do know him,” God had said to Eddie but the man didn’t hear that, “you met him at the farm, remember, say his name.”
Eddie had said the stranger’s name but the stranger only looked at him like the name was familiar, like it might be his name and kept on babbling.
Eddie gave the stranger some water and when the stranger started to talk again it was still a mess of words like his face was a mess of exhaustion. When the stranger finally calmed down he kept begging Eddie to help him.
“Promise me you’ll do it,” the stranger had said, “promise me.”
The stranger had grabbed Eddie’s hands and held them tight, pulled them to his face and kissed them.
“Please,” the stranger had said, “please promise me.”
“You should do it,” God had said, “it’s what we need to do.”
Eddie had pulled his hands away from the stranger’s kisses. He said the stranger’s name and told him he’d do it for Christ sake, he’d do it if it shut him up.
Eddie was back at the exact spot where it had happened. The grass was still flattened down from where Eddie had struggled with the stranger and there was blood on the grass. Eddie went to the edge and looked over. Far below the water was throwing itself at rocks. A reverse, thought Eddie, of what had happened. The strange had gone over the edge to the rocks, to the water, and now the water was throwing itself back. But there was nothing else down there apart from water.
“He’s gone,” said Eddie, “I told you.”
God started whistling one of his favourite songs.
“Why don’t you give it a rest,” said Eddie. He rubbed his face but you couldn’t just rub tiredness away like that, he knew that. He’d been tired for years. It was all the talking and the music. There was one precious lull once in all that when he was at the farm. He remembered being at the farm and sitting in this bath that was far too small for him really and the water was so hot and the room was full of steam. He’d sat in that bath for a whole day and God didn’t bother him.
“That’s good,” said God, “you know what we should do next.”
“We have something to do already,” said Eddie as he walked away from the edge, away from the sound of waves breaking themselves against rocks.
“Forget that, I was wrong about that. This is what we need to do” said God, “the water of the flood needs to go away, Eddie. Do you hear me, Eddie? I keep telling you this but I’m not even sure you listen anymore…”
God kept talking. The sound of waves faded and God’s words drilled deep inside his head. They were the same words he’d heard over and over but once God started off with them they sort of merged with other sounds that swam into Eddie’s head; the music his dad would play when he was hungover, the voice of the woman who came in with fresh bath water and told him to relax, someone humming, a dog barking for a stick to be thrown, the first boy’s questions, the second boy’s cough.
“Are you listening, Eddie?” asked God and because he was angry there was thunder off to the north, way to the north.
“Do you have to do that?” asked Eddie and there was a flash of lightning.
“It’s not all me,” said God, “I just want you to listen to me for a minute.”
When God had said what needed to be said and Eddie had agreed that God was right, that it was a good idea, that it was necessary, Eddie walked back to where he’d hidden his boat. He sat in the boat watching the lightning dance over the north, suddenly lighting up mountains.
“Right there,” said God and Eddie looked to where the mountains fell down to the water. He counted as God counted and then there was a flash that lit up the world. There was so much water.
“That’s it, Eddie,” said God, “there’s too much water and someone needs to do something about it.”
To Thelonius Monk’s ‘Blue Monk’
The farm and the bath were so long ago. Eddie had stood in front of the man and intended to kill him. There was a woman there too and he would kill her. He would kill everyone in the world just to shut God up.
How long ago was this? He couldn’t measure time any more. The only thing he could measure was the silence of God not talking and that was only because there was so little of that silence.
The man had put out a hand as if Eddie would just give him the rifle.
“It’s okay,” the man had said.
That was it. There was nothing else the man needed to say, it was that simple. God’s whistling stopped. It was like someone had knocked the needle aside, snatched the record and thrown it against the wall so all the music it ever held smashed into tiny vinyl pieces.
Eddie had fallen down then, dropped the rifle, and just fell to the ground. The man and woman had lifted him up together and took him inside their house.
“When did you last eat?” the woman asked.
She had given him a whole pie. He had no idea what was in the pie, some kind of root vegetable and eggs, but it was the most delicious pie he had ever eaten.
“I don’t really need food,” Eddie had said.
“That’s why you’re ill,” she had said softly.
The man and woman’s son sat at the table looking at Eddie.
“What’s your name?” Eddie had asked him.
The boy had shaken his head.
“He thinks you’re eating all his pie,” the woman had said and she ruffled the boy’s hair, “don’t be rude, Milesy.”
Milesy scowled at Eddie and then scowled at the pie. The pie had betrayed the boy. Milesy got up and ran out to where his brother was throwing a stick for a little terrier.
Later that day the man shaved Eddie and cut his hair very short. The man had sat while Eddie was naked in the bath and patiently cut the thickest, twisted strands of beard away before slowly shaving him. Eddie had sat there not saying a word while the man talked.
“We could do with some more help here,” the man had said, “things are getting bad again. There are stories; you’ve heard them probably, about these Wavers. They don’t sound much good to me. They sound like trouble and I don’t want trouble here. You’ve seen my family, you’ve seen it’s only me and the big lad who could even try to defend this place. Oh, we have neighbours but it’s not like what it was is it, you can’t just ring them up and ask them to drive right over. I’d have to light a bloody beacon or something to get anyone’s attention. Maybe that’s it; maybe if you didn’t want to hang around you could just help me out building a beacon or something, like for warning the neighbours. What do you reckon, do you fancy staying around for a bit? My wife makes good pies, they’re about the best thing we have these days, her pies. I’m, not selling this am I…”
In a way the man and God were the same. They both wouldn’t stop talking. But as Eddie had sat in the bath and let the man clean him he realised that the man’s voice was the only sound. There was no other voice competing for attention. There was a hole in his head again and when the man left him alone Eddie slid as low down into the bath as he could and felt water fill his nostrils, held his breath for as long as he could and when he came up for air it was silent air.
“Are you gone?” he had asked the air. The bathroom didn’t answer. No one had answered.
The next day a man came over from one of the neighbouring islands and the three men sat in the kitchen drinking whisky that the neighbour had brought. They were drunk. They were three men who were just drinking and laughing.
“Do you ever miss her?” Eddie had asked the neighbour. The neighbour had been telling them about when he first met his wife. It was at a party in university and she was a friend of a girl he was hoping to sleep with. When the girl he was hoping to sleep with slept with someone else the neighbour had got pissed off and sat next to the other girl, his future wife, and told her she had strange ears. Things can start like that, Eddie had thought, not everything has to be perfect.
“Every day,” the neighbour had said and he poured them all another shot, “sometimes I wish I could just find her, you know, just fucking find her and have things how they were. God, I was a shit husband sometimes.”
Eddie had listened for God then. He listened in case the man had somehow called God back but God didn’t come.
“I don’t think you’d find her,” Eddie had said and the neighbour sighed and downed his whisky.
“I know that,” the neighbour had said, “but I don’t always have to remember that do I.”
Eddie had agreed with the man. You didn’t always have to remember how things had ended up. Occasionally it was fine to fantasise that everything was another way.
It was a whole week before God spoke.
Eddie had told the man and woman he would stay with them if they let him sleep in the barn like where the big lad slept. It was when he woke up in the barn that God came back. Eddie had come out of the barn and watched the man and woman’s sons playing football. They were kicking the ball at a wall and when one of them missed the wall they would add a letter. The loser would spell DONKEY. The older boy was at DON and the younger was at DONKE. And then Eddie saw the neighbour’s son. He was standing by the boats close to the water.
“The water of the flood needs to go,” said God as the boy walked towards Eddie, “someone needs to make it go.”
To Billie Holiday’s ‘All of Me’
God was crying as Billie Holiday sang. Billie Holiday’s voice filled the air and swept past Eddie to the water where it settled and lessened until there was only God’s sad whistling. Eddie had walked for miles with God whistling along to Billie Holiday and as they walked God had told him all about the boy. He told him the boy’s name, where the boy would be, who the boy would be with, what would happen before the boy reached the cliffs.
“Do you know Billie Holiday died because of drink? Why do you all drink?” God asked.
“Why do you make us drink?” asked Eddie and God laughed.
“Why do you think I make you drink? Why do you all blame me for everything? I’ve told you Eddie, that’s why we need to do this. Mankind, you specifically, need to take responsibility for all of this. If you want things to change you need to step up. Sometimes Eddie, I don’t think mankind can step up; sometimes I think mankind likes things how they are. Should I go, Eddie? Should I leave you all to it?”
“No, I can do it,” said Eddie and he sat against the upturned boat and drank some water.
“But you’re unsure,” said God and Eddie nodded.
“I’m always unsure,” said Eddie, “it’s just I don’t understand something.”
God sighed. It was a sigh of disappointment and the grass swayed with it like it was dancing to Billie Holiday’s All of Me.
“Come on then,” said God, “tell me all about your doubts.”
Eddie knew God didn’t want to hear it but it needed to be said. If this was going to happen again then he needed to know it was right.
“I just don’t get why we keep having to do the same thing,” said Eddie, “you say that we have to do it because of the water of the flood but you said that last time didn’t you.”
“I did,” said God and his voice reminded Eddie of when his dad was in a mood. If Eddie would disturb his dad when he was listening to his music then that was the voice that his dad would use, flat and impatient, ready to snap.
“So what makes this time different?” asked Eddie, “I mean, will this really work. Tell me why I should do this if I’m just going to have to do it all over again tomorrow.”
God whistled. God, Eddie thought, must understand he wasn’t just being awkward, he must see that they couldn’t just go on doing the same thing time and again without anything changing.
“Listen, child,” said God and his voice had changed, infinite patience replacing impatience, “this time the water of the flood will go away. I know this. I know this like you could never know it. I know this like I know you, Eddie. The water of the flood will be gone soon because of your actions. Do you not see that Eddie, the water will go because you have made it go? Not just this single action but every step we have taken together has brought us to this point. We are here because of the water of the flood, we are doing this because of the water of the flood and tomorrow there will be no water. There will be the world as it was and Eddie, you must know this because it can’t be any other way; no one will know that it was your actions that made the water go. I’ll know, Eddie. I’ll know just like I know everything you’ve had to do, how hard what I’ve made you do has been but I know it all had to be done, Eddie. This is what all of your actions have been leading to, Eddie. Listen, can you hear them thrashing about the water. Load your gun now, Eddie, load it and stand up and do my work.”
“Will you play something?” asked Eddie.
“Of course,” said God.
` Eddie heard God lift the needle, place a new record down. There was a click then a stuttering of sound and Art Tatum’s Willow Weep For Me started floating down from heaven or wherever God’s music began.