Charles Joseph Albert
lemon and ginger tea
“Guess who’s going to this party!” Candace called over from the bathroom. She was at the mirror, working the blow dryer. I stood at the bedroom closet, trying to envision which pair of Aldo Kohlrabi loafers would scream out, “I’m more connected than you!” It’s tough being on the leading edge of anything—so easy to fall off. Or be sliced in half.
“Everybody,” I thought. I was saving my vocal cords—MayHim was going to be the DJ and we all knew how loud that would be.
“Go on—guess! It’s someone amazing!”
“Kim Jong Un?”
She rolled her eyes from across the apartment. Our Manhattan pied-à-terre was just a tiny Soho efficiency, so she didn’t have far to roll.
“Ok, fine. I give up,” I called back, “Who?”
“God!” she yelled.
Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. But whatever—God was probably the name of some girl band from Brooklyn or something. Or maybe she had said “Gaud.” Like the designer.
When we got to the party we almost weren’t let in, which is always a good sign. Finally A-Rod pulled me through, explaining to the bouncer that I was the top publicist on the Coast. Seriously, I’m sure he was kissing me up because he’s another celebrity who has suddenly discovered fatherhood, and he wants to do his own children’s book—they all want to do that schtick now. Proves how sensitive they are, without having to change a diaper.
“Jonathan! How you doing, man? Love the TED talk!” Mariah effused as I kissed my way into the room. She, I think, was genuine—anyway, she already had a contract with Murray, so I know she wasn’t just kissing up.
Inside, the music was deafening—MayHim at the panel, in his signature yellow-leather humpsuit. The crowd was wall-to-wall, everyone wearing the latest names. Candace pulled my arm. “There he is!” She pointed across the foyer to a small old man bathed in a heavenly light, the crowd magically opening around him like the Red Sea around Moses.
“What’s he wearing, a high-voltage pea coat?” I shouted.
I don’t think Candace heard me because she nodded enthusiastically as she took my hand and led me toward him.
“Wait a minute,” I shouted as we got closer. “That’s—that’s Woody Allen!”
“Yup! Same guy!” Candace shouted.
This was some kind of New York thing, I decided. I turned toward the bar. But Candace’s grip was tight—supernaturally tight, really. The crowd was elbow-to-elbow, and yet somehow we were moving toward him almost as though the floor were a rolling sidewalk. Within a moment, we were face to face.
“Hello, Jonathan,” Woody Allen said with his shy smile. He looked just like he did in the movies when he’s meeting some beautiful girl who’s out of his league.
“But I’m God,” he said, interrupting my thoughts. “So there really isn’t anyone out of my league, now, is there?”
“How did you know what I was thinking?” I shouted, startled. Then I realized I didn’t have to shout. The music was barely audible. “And what happened to the music?” Candace had disappeared, too.
“Come on, Jonathan,” Woody said, a wry smile on his face. “Reading minds and turning down sound? Not all that hard. You ought to give me that, at least!”
So, he wanted to play. Okay, I could do that. “All right, Mister God—” I started.
“Please,” he interrupted. “Just God.”
“Right,” I nodded. I was used to the eccentricities of celebrities, but somehow this guy really had me off balance. “Fine, God,” I said. “but tell me this: I saw this really old Youtube video of you doing stand-up from, like, 1960. You were just a kid. Shouldn’t God be, like, seven thousand years old, or something?”
“Yeah, but—” he stuttered.
“Oh, and, can I just say? Wow! What an act. Huge fan. HUUUGE fan. You were like, BORN hilarious, weren’t you?”
He furrowed his brows and shook his head. “Jonathan, you—I’m sorry to say this, but you’re a bit dimmer than I expected.”
“What?” That seemed uncalled for. “Well," I glared, "then I guess you're not omniscient, are you?”
He objected with that funny halting way of his. Somehow, this awkward little gesture actually did serve to disarm me.
“Yes, I suppose the cat’s out of the bag there. No, I’m not omniscient.”
“So, you aren’t immortal and you aren’t omniscient either. But other than that, you’re God. With a capitol G. In the beginning was the word, and all that. That God, right?”
“Yeah.” He looked down at his feet. “Some of that stuff—that was mostly PR.”
He was committed to the role, I’ll say that for Woody. This would make a great story for later, but it wasn’t so funny right now. I looked longingly at the crowd around the bar. Why was I always cornered where there was a perfectly good open bar—
And then, suddenly, I was holding a Cranberry Surprise.
“What the…?” I dropped the drink—it really was a surprise—and watched in dismay as it fell to the floor. The expensive crystal lowball glass smashed into a million pieces. Woody and I stared at it for a moment. Then, to my astonishment, the glass came back up slowly off the ground, reassembled itself, and refilled itself with my drink before flying back up into my hand.
I stared at Him and squirmed. “So… it… it really is you!”
He shrugged depreciatively. “Just a little push to get us past the awkward 'prove it' part of the conver—”
“Ew! Gross!” I interrupted, noticing a cigarette butt in my drink. Did that come up off the floor with the drink? But in the blink of an eye, it disappeared.
“S-sorry,” he mumbled. “Undoing entropy is… is harder than it looks.”
I took a sip: heavy on the lime, just the way I like it. Though it still tasted of cigarette. I eyed Him dubiously.
“So, you’re serious that you…” I said slowly, “…that you aren’t really—”
“Omnipotent? All-powerful?” He shook his head ruefully. “Well, I sort of am. I mean… well, no. Not really." He looked a little sad, as though He hadn't wanted to let me down. "But to be fair, I never said I was. That was just more PR.”
I eyed my drink. Did He leave anything else from the floor in there? But maybe it was better not to offend Him. I took a hesitant sip, and said, “But then—wait a minute. Should you even be here? If you are really the Big Guy Upstairs, why are you here at a party in Manhattan when there’s wars in your name going on around the—”
“OK, first of all,” He interrupted, “I’m not responsible for the wars.” He paused and sighed. “Five thousand years of continuous warring. You realize that? The last time there wasn’t a war in my name was before the Sumerian empire. You've been running amok ever since I plucked Eve out of a tree and put a brain in her. Little murder monkeys, that’s what you turned out to be. Always going at each other’s throats! And half the time you’re screaming that you’re doing it in my name!”
It took me a second to follow. “Wait—who? Eve? The Eve? And monkeys…?”
“This is actually why I called you,” He said, looking up at me with the shy, pleading eyes. “Can I ask you something?”
“You called me?” I repeated, still off-balance. “I don’t remember that.”
“Right,” He affirmed, nodding. “I brought you over to me. It’s kind of the way I operate. You know. The mysterious way.”
I looked at His Woody Allen face. It did nothing to inspire confidence. I had a sudden sinking feeling about ‘Intelligent’ Design.
“OK, now that—that’s low, Jonathan.” I forgot He could read my mind. He shrugged His shoulders pathetically. “But let’s pass over it. You're the best agent in the world right now. But even better, you can keep a secret. I was wondering if I could get your help with something—discretely, of course.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “You’re, like, God and all, and you want my help? What the hell—“”
“Careful!” He chided.
“—what kind of God are you? You’re not responsible for war? You forget cigarette butts in people’s drinks? You went and got OLD, for Christ’s sake!”
His eyes flashed dangerously, and my voice stopped working. My jaw flapped for moment before I realized He had shut me up.
“Leave Christ out of it,” He commanded, His voice deafening.
My own voice came back in a squeak. “S-sorry,” I managed.
But the impressive Old Testament side vanished, and He was back to His modern, bumbling self. “No, I’m sorry,” He said, and patted my shoulder. “I still get pissed off when I think about that whole fiasco.”
“D-do you?” I said.
“What, you think I wanted him nailed to a cross? I mean, that was just nasty.”
“But I thought—don't the gentiles believe that was all part of the plan?”
“Those were still the early days of PR,” He said wearily, “It was the first time I went global. And… well… sometimes you monkeys get in over your heads.” That didn't bode well for this request he was asking. But He noticed the look on my face, and quickly added, “Not any more! I mean, look at Mohammed. Or Buddha. They died in their beds, after a long and happy life. So really, you have nothing to fear.” He paused, and we both took a drink. “No,” He added ruefully, “I learned my lesson on the Christ thing.”
“So,” I said. "You want my help." I gulped down the rest of my drink.
“Why is that such a surprise? Whenever I ask for help? You should have seen the look on Noah’s face when I talked to him. You would think he’d be happy. I mean, he was the one I wasn't going to drown! Oh, the PR guys fixed it up all right, but let me tell you, in real life, he was a pain in the..."
He let that linger, and then shrugged. “Those were darker days. Biblical times…”
I nodded, and looked down at my empty glass. A new drink appeared, and this time I was careful to hang onto it. What He was telling me was starting to make sense. Certainly with all the crap going on in the world, you couldn’t really believe that some all-knowing, all-powerful being was in charge. No, this explained a lot of things. Hitler. Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mosquitos…
“All right, Woody—I mean, God,” I said. “You’ve got my interest.” At least it didn’t sound like He was asking for any martyrdom stuff.
“No, no, nothing like that,” He answered my thought reassuringly. “Don’t worry. I keep a low profile these days. I learned my lesson.”
For one nanosecond I tried my hardest not to wonder if Lucifer had it any more together than this bumbling… “Okay,” I said. “So, how is this going to work, anyway? Do you intend to hire my PR firm? What kind of budget are we talking about?”
“Well, actually, there isn’t a budget.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on a minute!" I took a calculated sip and eyed him shrewdly. "You know, the God brand has got a PR nightmare going on right now: Wars around the globe, kids starving in Appalachia, global warming, televangelists… and you--you've got no budget?”
He just looked at me with His big sad eyes and nodded.
Just then a cloud of sulfurous smoke billowed up, and Kanye West appeared. With horns. He wore an incredible red silk Bharat Plaza, and looked like a million.
God began sneezing uncontrollably. “God damn it, Lucifer!” He said. “My allergies!”
Lucifer turned to me with a wicked smile. “Sorry about the smell. But I gotta do it; it gets him every time!” He laughed, showing off his diamond-studded grill. Then he turned serious. “Listen, Jonat'an,” he said. “Whatever He’s offering you, I double it. Don’t go wid dis loser!”
“He didn’t offer me anything,” I said, charmed by Lucifer in spite of myself. “So, twice nothing is still nothing.”
“I know," Lucifer laughed. "Dat my little joke!” He shook my hand warmly. I was afraid I’d do anything he asked me to—he had that kind of raw magnetism. “He don’t work wid money. But I do. How does a retainer of one mill a week sound to you?”
I swayed at the sparkle of his dancing black eyes, and the thought of that budget pulled at me. I shrugged.
“Come on, piece of cake," he pressed. "I have my lawyers draw sumpin' up. Plus we pay in cash--keep it hush-hush. You won’t even have to do anyt'ing—dat’s just da retainer.”
I turned to God. Could I get him into a bidding war with the Devil? “Maybe your lawyers could rethink the zero dollar rule?” I suggested.
Lucifer burst out laughing. “He don't got no lawyers!” he guffawed. “I got 'em ALL!”
After an impressively evil laugh, he clapped me and God on the back. “Listen, I’d love to stay, but I’ve got a TON of people to meet tonight. No rest for da... well, you know.”
He handed a card to me. “Seriously,” he breathed into my ear, “Give us a call. We make it wort' your while.” Then, as though God were hard of hearing, he patted me on the back again, saying loudly, “Keep da Old Man company. He get so lonely up dere!”
He vanished in more laughter and another puff of sulfur, leaving God sneezing and coughing again.
I looked at Lucifer’s card for a long moment, thinking about God not working with money—that was definitely a buzz killer.
Then I looked up, smiled at God, and tore up Lucifer’s card. It fell in little flaming pieces to the ground.
God grinned gratefully at me, said something hokey about picking the right side, and got us another round of drinks. I was trying with all my might not to think my sudden insight in any conscious way, for fear God might pick up on it.
Not until I was safely back home did I explain to Candace why I picked the side offering zero, over the one offering one bar a week. PT Barnum said it best: if you have to choose between two offers, you always pick the guy with no lawyers.
About the author
Charles Joseph Albert is a metallurgist in San Jose, California, where he lives with his wife and three boys. His poems and fiction have appeared recently in First Lit Review, Dual Coast, The Wifiles, Asissi, The Ibis Head Review, Chicago Literati, The Magnolia Review, the Lowestoft Chronicle, Here COmes Everyone, and The Literary Nest.
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