Questioning the Professor
I was never sure if I believed in you, and yet, here I am. It must seem poetic to you, that after a lifetime of silence one of your estranged creations is asking for something. Begging you for the obvious, with you being omnipotent and all that. A part of me thinks I’m an asshole, always feeling owed a certain kind of life from you, but another part of me thinks that if you do exist, you’re big enough to handle my plea.
The enormous glass-paned windows sprawl across the landscape, allowing the metamorphosis of the night to wash over the hospital. The purples and reds of the rising sun incinerating the remnants of the darkness, illuminating the dust floating amidst the room, like another world hidden within our own. The particles as dancing fairies, mildly interested in the redundancy of us all.
I shake at what I assume is an avalanche, and my eyes meet those of an old man lifting himself from his chair. He groans with the dissatisfaction of a life unrealized and bends to retrieve the magazines at his feet. The end table on which they rested bare and basking in the warmth of the coming dawn.
My wife, Sarah, stirs a bit before she nestles her head into my chest. She’s sprawled across three waiting room seats and has been for the better part of the last three hours. I assume hospitals and airports share common ethics though, in that any space void of people or luggage is up for inhabiting.
I run my fingers through her auburn hair, coaxing her back to rest. Her breath is warm on my chest, and with a long exhale she’s back in shallow slumber. Seems she’s perfected the art of sleeping in waiting rooms, or anywhere for that matter. We often joke that she was a cat in another life, though I’m unsure as to which kind.
Can’t say I don’t envy her, though. Can’t recall how long I’ve been awake. Stuck in this damned waiting room doing just that, waiting. Powerless and waiting for one of two outcomes from the surgeons and doctors down the hall.
I stretch my arm, the one free of Sarah, and groan as it cracks, sending the vibration through my chest. I feel like hell, and must look the part. The bags beneath my eyes akin to Regan MacNeil’s post-possession, or at least they looked that way a few hours ago. A man strung out on lack of sleep, and lack of booze for that matter. I left drinking behind me some years ago, but I could do with a glass of bourbon considering the year we’ve had.
I guess my question is, why her? My Sammie, barely five-years-old and too docile and full of joy to hurt anyone. Sammie who looks up at me from her white and pink bed after I’ve tucked her in every night, and says, “I love you, daddy.” My little Sammie, who calls her pockets, “secrets.” The tiny girl who has names for her five stuffed animals, and who can’t fathom going to sleep until she bids them each goodnight.
I yawn, looking over my shoulder. My eyes on the spreading red enveloping the horizon. A lone sedan pulls to a stop before departing the grounds and I imagine the three of us leaving this place for good. For good and together.
But you still haven’t answered my question, or am I a fool to expect a response? Why her? Why create her if she’s only meant to die like this? Hell, why create any of us if we’re only meant to die? A breath on the wind against the churning ocean that is time itself. Why, any of it? Why any of it at all?
A few rows away, the old man seems to have grown bored with his magazine and fumbles with the TV mounted to the wall. He prods and grunts at it a few times, stamping his foot on the gleaming floor. A few moments pass before the nurse moves from the front desk to his aid. A smile lines her face, though she’s not fooling anyone. We speak the same language; you’ve had a long night, too. As she leaves him, voices from the glowing screen leap to life. I let the images do the talking.
A man I didn’t vote for stands at a podium. Men in black suits to either side of him, as he stumbles to read the teleprompter, which must be a few feet further from him than usual. Draining his speech of what little authenticity may have perhaps otherwise existed. He pinches the air in wide sweeps and I imagine him dropping money into the crowd. Their accusations quieted as the coins lodge in their throats, smiling at the sweetness of the copper before they die.
The screen cuts to troops dressed head to toe in blackened body armor, off to fight some great, justified war overseas with an enemy bound on the world’s destruction. We follow them through the streets of some suburban neighborhood, somewhere far from here. Images of houses and vehicles set ablaze in the chaos. People running past the eye of the camera as it gorges itself. Beneath the image, white letters on a red banner read, “Rioting continues in Washington D.C.”
A church now. The multitudes screaming with one voice, their eyes toward the sky. The preacher pacing the stage like some professional wrestler announcing his finisher. Marinating in the admiration of the roaring crowd.
Growing up, every Sunday I was in your house. I thought that was what everyone did back then. Just something else to bring the family together. Which is fine, but why pray if it’s all laid out already? I’ve heard it said, “God has a plan,” and “Thy will be done.” Well, if this is your will, for my little girl to die, a child innocent to the shit storm all around us, then maybe it’s true what they say—you’re a sadist. You’re the boy and we’re the ants, incinerated from under your microscope. Or, perhaps you don’t exist, or worse, you don’t care.
I mean, you had to have known. You had to have had some inkling to the capacity for evil we all possess. How would an all-knowing god make everything, knowing it would spiral downwards? Knowing there was even a chance of it all doing so. Or, was it all about what you needed? I mean, why not bask in your own omnipotence, undisturbed for all theoretical time? Why create anything? Were you lonely? Did you make a mistake only to realize too late what you’d done? Perhaps, you and I aren’t so different after all.
As a child, I was taught your plan of salvation. To be with you for all eternity in a sparkly heaven with pearly gates and so on and so forth. But why should any of us buy in? Why should we want to be with a divine being who can’t be alone with himself?
The blonde nurse eyes me from the Keurig near the TV and lifts a cup with a half-smile. I nod, forcing a smile of my own, and then return my gaze to the redness of the sky outside.
I don’t mean to outright attack you, but just wished I understood. I know that the world is ultimately what we humans have made it, but why not intervene? When things got bad enough, why not step in to prevent tragedy?
If my only daughter dying of a cancer I wasn’t even aware of eleven months ago is in your plan for my life, then I want out. But if it’s a soul you crave, why not mine? I’m begging you to take mine, not hers.
What if she’s the one? What if she’s the one capable of doing some good in this hell-hole of a world we’ve made for ourselves? She deserves to live a full life, and if it’s mine for hers, then please, here it is, I’m asking for a trade.
A tap on my shoulder.
The nurse above me, a steaming cup of coffee in her hands.
“Any word?” I ask, unblinking. Wary of her answer.
“Not yet, Mr. Caplin, but you’ll be the first to know.”
Another half-smile and she’s off to the confines of her desk. The coffee left on the end table nearest me.
As she sits down, the heavy doors to her right pull apart, and a middle-aged man in sea-green scrubs enters the room. Shoulders drooped, he removes his gloves, and when he looks up at me his eyes struggle to meet my own. Sarah jerks, sitting up at his approach, and trembles. And as the doctor shakes his head, I hear the television say something about an earthquake in a place I’ve never been, killing three hundred people I’ve never met.
Scott Moses is an office manager by day and a writer by night. His work has appeared in Beautiful Losers. He currently resides in Baltimore, simultaneously loving and loathing humanity.