On October 3, God sat in his white chair with a book suspended in front of him, a pen twirling between his fingers. Of both hands, because he’s ambidextrous. It’s Yom Kippur, a day scheduled for his Jewish constituents and he’s listening to the prayers filtering up through the clouds, up to his chair, and he’s trying to listen, but it’s hard, there are so many.
Adonai tsifitai tiftah. God open my lips and hear my words. Please forgive me for everything wrong I have done in the past year. Let it be written and let it be sealed in the Book of Life. It’s the end of the last year and a week into this year, and they have to know if they’re going to make it to the next one. He can’t decide whether he did a better job in encouraging Christians to confess each week, or by organizing the Jews to throw everything into this one day. The fasting was just extra to see if they would do it, check the devotion. Or maybe it was better to have the Muslims pray five times a day and extra through Ramadan. He’s not sure which is the most successful, he just knows that he’s busier this day than normal and his hands are tired. They’re cramping up and he puts the pens down to stretch them out. He gets up and takes a walk to the end of the room and then back. He thought this would get easier, the number of Jews was decreasing, but it’s still so fucking loud and there are so many promises and he knows such a small percentage of them will be kept.
Okay, he thinks, listen, focus. One at a time. He sits back down in the chair, adjusts his robe, the rabbis are wearing similar ones this day, and looks at his book. He picks up the pen and looks at Sophie’s record, scribbled on pale greenish graph paper. Between the blue hatchings he has written:
These are things she tried:
To eat well.
To look presentable, usually.
To say witty things.
To be more dependent (this was one of the hardest ones.)
To attract the attention of men without trying and without looking obvious (this one was also difficult, she needed a tutorial.) Why do they always focus on men? It’s not like she’s ever going to go home with a stranger.
To understand why she couldn’t get together with her roommate (this was one of those things that she knew innately, with everything in her, but there was always the “but why?” She knew it enough to make sure their legs weren’t touching when they sat on the couch, and she tried not to compliment him too often.) Smart move, Sophie.
She wanted to understand why she was so resistant to paying for transportation. Was it because she was obsessed with knowing she could always find her way? Was it money? Was it exercise? Sometimes when she walked or ran, she pictured the movement of a horse or the mid gait still of a skeleton, how all muscles and tendons pulled the bones to allow for locomotion. It was a photographic study of motion, frame by frame.
She tried not to burn the back of her legs on very hot car seats.
She tried not to sit too often or for too long, a quality that drove the more sedentary of her companions crazy. That would drive me crazy too.
She tried to remember always what the peripheral spray of a sprinkler felt like and also the cool quality of the air near a fountain. She thought of fountains in plazas in Rome that she had never seen, but crowded them next to old marble, the crumbling pictures of the Coliseum, and shots of espresso in minute cups. She sometimes forgot, usually when she was thirsty and this angered her. The thirstiest she had ever been was when she ran four miles in Belize without having drank any water all that day at all. She ran parched down the vein of sun-baked dirt road that snaked through orange orchards and tall grass. Where the river should have been, there were instead dry stones, with wet sand between them.
She passed the spikiest pineapple plants until she got to the cool dampness of the rainforest where she coughed the dust off her tongue, stripped off her clothes and sneakers and plunged into five blues late. She thought maybe the water would pass through her sunburned skin by osmosis. He remembered watching her on this day, speeding up and slowing down, fingering the pineapple plants, she had glanced at the farm house on stilts to see if anyone was watching her until one of the spikes went into her index finger, she stupidly took it as a sign (they were always taking stupid things as “signs”) and she kept running, she looked good without her clothes on, though.
She wondered if people could see her underwear when she forgot to sit with her legs closed and she tried not to fall or lurch when the subway stopped or started abruptly and she was standing. She also tried not to read newspapers and books over the shoulders of the people standing around her. She looked down or up or at the back lit signs advertising English classes in Spanish.
She wondered why some people thought she was half Asian. Some thought she was French, one person thought she was most definitely a quarter Puerto-Rican, and told other people so. She tried to understand why art was so transitory, so fluid, sometimes viscous, sometimes not. When would they realize that the only reason people look different is because of how they evolved to adapt to their environment, that’s all dark skin and slanted eyes and short or tall or anything ever meant, I didn’t mean for people to kill each other over that. That was something they needed to learn soon. No question.
Here was where I listened to her muse about the nature of art. Self-indulgent, mildly intelligent, maybe a good way of looking at the whole are thing, that was something I wanted them to figure out for themselves anyway and I think she did a good job. Maybe a B plus. What people write and paint and sing, compose are all fairly the same, the intent is largely the same and could be entirely the same if given the same inspiration, she thought. Take love, for example. If many artists are inspired by love, the words she writes are the same as the ones he paints or the same she sings the same she shapes out of clay or with buttons and feathers. The breeze described in a dance, choreographed to blow, has the same meaning as the phrases of poetry that are so hard to nail down. The feeling produced at the end of a film is the same one as when he takes her in his arms and they kiss passionately. The museum is the same as the bookstore, which is the same as the theatre, yet writers say they are not artistic because they cannot sketch accurately and sculptors freeze when they are told to write.
She has these thoughts about art often, but does not naively think they are hers alone. Good self-awareness. Presented on the page, they seem an epiphany, and make her appear hubristic. She knows these are not new ideas in the slightest, that she did not think of them. She knows she is not first, they just always seem new to her because she cannot tease out an answer. She is not entirely aware of the questions. She knows she likes to see it all together, the dance that goes with the book that was based on a painting that began with sketches of a sculpture that was incorporated into a building dreamed up by an architect who drew up blue prints listening to specific music trying to capture the feeling of sun on your face and the fragrance of peonies.
She felt self-indulgent as she wrote these thoughts on the pages, because she was writing a letter. It seemed far from fair to make someone else read her innermost musings, but she needed to write them down so they didn’t evaporate. To self-indulgence she tossed her head and thought that he could skip over whichever part he wanted to.
She laughed a lot, and smiled more, and smiled and looked down when she thought she saw someone she knew, but wasn’t sure. She was generous with her time. On September 1 she had talked to her friend for three hours about what they were going to do with their lives next year, and never once mentioned herself and her own ideals of working for the Peace Corps. Impressive, because I know she was thinking it.
She tried to read the paper everyday. The smart papers. Often they just piled up on her desk and the floor next to big flowered chair in her room not unlike his white one. She forgot to recycle them and sometimes just threw them in the trash. She did understand the principles of not leaving a trace in the woods, though. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footsteps. Devoted.
She had once written a check to a friend on St. Valentine’s Day even though she was Jewish. She’s one of those, celebrating Halloween too. She made the check out to Valentine’s Day, instead of the person she was giving it to. I forgot to pay attention to whether it was meant to be a joke or it was simply a careless error mixed up with good intentions. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, it was cute. The person she gave it to never called to say thank you and when she mentioned it to him he had responded, what would I say thank you for, it was useless. You made it out to Valentine’s Day. Ungrateful bastard.
She was the product of being loved by her parents and her confidence made this quite clear. She had always been loved, no matter what, through every mistake and mishap. I like watching her Dad sing the Beatles “Love, Love Me Do” every night while he gave her a bath. She would splash around in the tub and he would try to pour cups of water over her head to wash out the soap without getting it in her eyes. He brought her tea in the morning when he went in to wake her up. He never lifted the shades to let the sunlight in and hurt her eyes the way her mother did. He would just shake her shoulder a little bit and unbury her from the covers and put the mug of tea in her hand. I know this is something she will do for her children. I like watching her eat cookie dough out of the bowl and cake batter off the beaters. Something she’ll do into adulthood.
She tried to balance between doing the right thing and the wrong thing. Not in the moral way, why not in the moral way, that’s the only way, the highest way, but by balancing out her own wants with the wants of others. She wanted them to be proud of her. Which them, she wasn’t sure, but she knew there was a them and so she wanted to please, she wanted the titles to match up with the job descriptions, or in some cases not, so her job could sound prestigious, but ultimately she would be doing something she loved.
She understood the importance of traveling, of putting herself in other cultures, just to seek what they were like. She knew that cultural immersion, ooohh, good word, immersion had nothing to do with sitting on the beach, fancy hotels, or giving money to charities that were too hierarchical. She told herself she wasn’t materialistic, but she kind of was, she had a lot of stuff, nice things, good quality, but it was okay, sort of. I know she’s going to get rid of it sometime soon; the question is how and to whom. I have my doubts that she can carry this out the right way.
She sat in rooms that were too cold because she liked the air to come in through the windows and rooms that were too hot because she didn’t like the sound of fans and air conditioners. She liked Bob Dylan for being Bob Dylan and didn’t like putting words like computer and email in her stories because she knew that one day that would make them sound dated and dumb. She was aware of longevity and knew that she would have pictures that would document her as living in an antiquated time, even if it was only a few years ago. They insist on always changing, their clothes, their hairstyles, and ways of talking. I guess it’s boredom?
She tried always to have fresh flowers in her room, because they make things brighter cutting and buying my babies and more beautiful. They always died though and she took too long to throw them out, so they stand, wilted and brown on her desk for four or five days too long, until they start to smell and the water turns an oxidized green.
God liked rereading the entries that he had written, although it always took too much time. He especially liked his own jotted notes in the margins. They were the things that helped him remember everything. His handwriting always changed, slant, color, language. The dialects amused him and he wished that sometimes he had included a few more puns and a few less straightforward observations, he was cleverer than that.
“Please fasten your seatbelts and prepare for take off. Refer to the safety card in the pocket in front of you as I direct your attention to the exits at the rear and sides of the plane.” The stewardess pointed to the rear and side of the plane. She had already buckled and unbuckled the fake seatbelt suspended at the front of the aisle. Sophie fastened her seatbelt and continued reading her magazine. “In the event of an emergency, we would like you to remain seated until you receive further instructions. There is a life preserver located under your seat and your seat cushion can be used as a floatation device.” The stewardess put a plastic yellow life preserver over her head and pretended to pull on the inflation cord. “If the vest does not inflate automatically, you can do so by blowing into the red tubes near your shoulders.” She mimed blowing into them. “They will light up automatically. If the plane must land in water, slides will extend from the aircraft and become rafts once everyone has exited the plane. Should the cabin pressure change, air masks will fall from above your seat. Please fix your own mask before assisting children.” The stewardess put the yellow cup over her mouth and the elastic around her head and mimicked breathing normally.
Sophie continued to read her magazine. It was a good issue of the New Yorker and she actually laughed out loud some of the cartoons. The fiction piece was another mediocre story by a famous author rather than a great piece by someone unknown. She adjusted the volume of her Walkman and turned the page. The stewardess was saying something about if you need anything during the flight don’t hesitate to press the stewardess call button and please stay seated with your seatbelt fastened while the fasten seatbelt sign is illuminated. She didn’t really care.
She had been to temple that morning and said her obligatory s’lach lanus forgive me for my sins and had fasted. She was hungry from fasting and thought that airplane food would never taste this good, no matter what it was.
God mused over her section in his book longer. He wrote her name in the other book, to his right, the Book of Life, and was ready to move on to her brother. He needed another break though, a cup of water, maybe some caffeine. He glanced through the clouds and saw a plane swerving downward. There was nothing but blue sky and ocean below. The plane dipped down and listed to the left and then started nose-diving straight for the blueness of the Atlantic.
The newspaper the next day reported that flight 760 from New York to London crashed because of a malfunctioning engine and that they were still investigating. So far they had not found any survivors, and many of the remains were too burned to be identified. Sophie sank to the bottom of the ocean. It didn’t matter that her name meant wisdom and knowledge.