God was dancing on the balcony, spinning in swift little circles. He rose his knees up to his chin with wild arrhythmic movements. He shook his head from side to side with vibrant rage. The thick fibers of his brown mustache flared in the winter winds. He let out a hearty roaring laugh. I felt its soothing waves radiate within me. We are all indeed equal, after all.
Mama was in the kitchen cooking turnips. I loved to sit on the backless highchair and watch the columns of steam stream upwards from the pot. I liked to follow the irregular motions of her hand, pushing into the boiling purple skin in search of softness in erratic calculated pokes. The water jumped up, splashing several scalding drops on her arm, but she ignored it. Only the thin wrinkled skin around her eyes squirmed as she stirred the water. I would then get off my chair, walk down the corridor, and sit patiently, waiting in the corner. The entire household gathered up for lunch. A dozen thin hands timidly slithered towards the bread crumbs on the table.
God ran into the room and jumped on the table. He did a somersault over the water jugs and landed square down on his feet to great cheer. He grabbed our few boiled potatoes and began juggling them. We laughed with him and stood up from our seats. God landed in a flip onto the floor, standing with his arms outstretched like an Olympic athlete. We embraced each other and sang an old song. God sang with us. Together we marveled.
The women were cleaning off plates at the back as the men were talking. Thin cigarettes among bearded lips. “Were we not just in a war, gentlemen? I beg of you, please reconsider your disgraceful assumptions. We live in the one true land. We are being carried and we float wholeheartedly. Let the rest of that swine succumb to cold greed. We are the just and we will command.” The women shared cabbage recipes. The secret is to soak it in vinegar and salts. They sang an old folk song in melancholic, dry tones while wiping frozen water off the plates.
God kicked the door open and ran inside with a large grin. He shook everyone's hand, even the children, and took a seat at the throne under his portrait. He told us stories about a great nation where people like us prevail. A nation built on struggle, built on effort. We were born as mere men, but grew up to be lions. We overcame plagues and became fertile earth. We dreamed of the nation, stood up, and obtained it. A nation of yeast, a nation of battle. God extended his hands and in them were stars. He put one of them in the hem of each of our shirts. They glowed under lamplight. Outside it was dark. God left. He became the sun.
We ran down the streets rolling tires with old sticks. They left a perfect, dense impression as they passed within the thin light snow. We ran with holes in our wet boots. We ran without gloves and in moth-eaten coats. We ran screaming with childish laughter. We ran with empty stomachs and bulging dreams. We ran frantically, climbing up the pale white hills and sledding on the back of the old school chair all the way down. We ran supreme, scattered. We ran because we had to. We ran past the fur-clad pedestrians, we ran past their puffy minx hats. We ran to the ice skating pond but it was full of people holding hands. We ran together. We ran eternally.
God ran with us, constantly transporting himself to the front when he could not keep up. God kept tugging at our shirt collars and whispering comforts into our relaxed ears. God became the policeman who stopped the light midday traffic for us to cross the gray road. God reached out his hands and rubbed our heads with scaly fingers. He bought us dreams of chocolate and took us to peer through foggy shop windows. His majestic mustache scuffled as he told us old war stories, sitting on a long park bench. We sat equally divided on his sides, listening with open pointing ears.
At night I laid in bed and thought of him. I thought of how true and right his mere existence was. I would dig into the burgundy egg yolk of my blanket and hide within the soft crevasses of the bedsheets. I imagined him as a powerful summer storm, obscuring the evil of this world with his shroud. It amazed me that others, many others, did not believe in him; in his essence. It elated me that many did. I felt a solidarity with them. They were my people, my only people. Lying in bed, I was ready to die for the factory worker, the farmer, and the soldier.
God sat at my bedside and talked me to sleep. He told me a tale of a man who would go to the market and haggle with the old vendors over the vegetable prices every day. The price was two coins, and even though everyone else paid two coins, the man would stubbornly only pay one. All the vendors but one, tired of the constant beckoning, gave in. Only an old, thin woman with thick, long wrinkles and round spectacles remained. The woman would not budge. The man argued and argued. “I refuse to leave this premise unless you sell me some cabbage!” the man exclaimed. “Everyone else pays the price, my child. Learn to be a part of the whole,” the woman slowly replied. “I refuse, sister, in the name of the nation —share your wealth for due price!” God noticed I was falling asleep and hastened his story. It ended with God intervening on behalf of the old woman. He sent the man to snowy, distant lands with one swoop of his bright finger. I wanted to ask God “why?” but instead he sang me to sleep.
One day Papa grew sick. He came back from work in the factory and collapsed at the dinner table. Someone ran out to fetch the doctor. The rest of us sat next to him as he was regaining consciousness, putting cool wet rags on his forehead. We laid him in bed and put a half-dozen quilts over him. Mama said he still needed to be warm even though he was sweating. She prepared a glass of tea while we gathered around him. I held onto his outstretched hanging arm and began crying. Papa's slow panting made the bed sheets rise rhythmically over his torso.
God flew in through the window and landed with a loud thud. He saluted Mama with a low bow and picked up the crying kids on his shoulders. He began playing music, chased down the cat, picked it up by the paws, and pretended to dance with it. Mama tried to slightly shove him away from the bed, but God mistook her gesture for an advance and began dancing with her. He waltzed Mama around the room as she kept on glancing back in worry at her invalid on the bed. God followed her eyesight, let her go, went towards the bed, and pulled Papa's body against his chest. Papa's arms hung lifelessly over God's broad shoulders as the two danced. God picked Papa up and lifted him above his head. He let out a playful laugh and began spinning poor Papa. Finally, he dropped Papa on the floor, giving him a friendly pat on the shoulder. He began to sing an old battle song and we joined in out of habit. God held Papa's feeble head under his shoulder and moved Papa's jaw up and down to the song.
The day Papa died we were all dressed in black. They had us line up in the snow outside the funeral cart by height. We marched slowly down the street, a black slithering snake against shades of snow. At the cemetery we laid down flowers and said a prayer under our breaths. At home relatives stopped by, gifting us with weak hugs and sticky kisses on both cheeks. Mama made a big pot of potatoes for the occasion. The guests lined up into a swift mechanically organized line. They were grateful for not having to line up outdoors in the thick, falling gray city snow.
God led a parade outside. Bright red mixed with reflections of striking olive. Smiling faces, thin legs, banners and flags. Tanks, rifles, boots, the rhythmic sound of the eternal march. Old patriotic songs sung from the open balcony windows. Children, hundreds of children, lined up on the sides of the street. Children standing tall, children wearing uniforms, ties, and caps. God wanted me there, but Papa died. God purposely ignored me for the rest of the day, making me feel blistering knots of guilt in my stomach. He made sure the music was extra loud when he passed our window. He made sure the people cheered extra hard.
We stood in the lines for hours, Mama and I. We stood and waited, feeling the weight of our snow-soaked coats on our shoulders. We jealously ogled the people at the front of the line, stretching almost a block away. We loathed the slow, methodical hand movements of the cook. The patient staggering motion of his hand as he scooped just the right amount of soup into the tin bowl. The way the soup lazily slid off the outstretched spoon. The hope, the drowning desperate hope, to see a piece of stew meat slide down that spoon. Just one tiny piece. Papa always said that he would give up all of his potatoes for the meat. Whenever he did find meat, he would split it equally among all of us, keeping none for himself. We would each accept the pieces and ceremoniously cut off a small piece of the bulk, handing it back to Papa. He would accept the pieces with a cheerfully embarrassed silence. We laughed at him afterward as he lowered the brim of his hat onto his eyes and sank his head down with a sheepish honest smile.
We saw God pushing his way through the line from the distance. He grabbed bowls and flung them in the air. “Food, food for all!” loudspeakers blared in the distance. “Freedom, freedom for all!” God took the bowls out of the hands of children and flung them happily in the air. The children began crying but then God brought out his red flag and began waving it. The flag soothed the children as the adults cheered. They no longer needed food. All their bowls were equally empty, after all. God made his way towards us, picking me up and straddling me on his shoulders. He carried me around the square and read me poetry. Mama was left standing in seclusion, shivering in the cold.
There was never any crime, as there was nothing to steal. We left the doors open and welcomed neighbors in like brothers. At night, the adults would sit at the table. They drank tough water and talked about politics. They talked in hushed, thick voices. The women listened in, standing half-hidden at the doorways. We hid behind the women, tugged deep behind their monotone cotton skirts. The men, stroking their beards and twisting their mustaches, talked of the other land. The land where food is plenty, the land of opportunity, the land without sorrow.
God staggered through the window and ordered silence. He possessed a quiet friendly neighbor and spoke with frantic, bugging eyes. “How dare you, gentlemen, how dare you? Do you not understand! I shall report you all to the authorities at once, at once! This is our land we are talking about! Where else are you more free? Where else are you any less inhibited and emancipated of the divine?” God departed the neighbor's body to complete silence. A fly buzzed lazily by the crystal storing cupboards. The men sat in silence, looking at their previously possessed brother with tense eyebrows and penetrating eyes. God broke the silence with a shout. He lit all the lights and embraced the masses. The men stood up from the table and began to dance. The room was too small for all of them and they kept on bumping into each other. God urged them on, pleading with them to dance for victory. For him. They danced frantically, energetically, forgetting all about the talk of the evening. They bruised each other with wild elbow hits and incidental punches. God kept them dancing. They all embraced under God and became long lost brothers.
The bombs kept on falling. Long spacious arrows flying down from the enemy lines. The broken bomb casings felt cold on cratered city streets. We hid in the corner under the stove. There was no alarm to warn us, but only the swishing sound of cut air and the upcoming boom. Mama would take me out every dawn and we would go to the basements to wait in line for food. The thick bricked walls shook with every explosion above us. Dust pollinated the air. Most people merely coughed, a few cried. I did not understand who the bombs were meant for. They were falling so capriciously. I saw a group of men dressed in army coats as we went back out onto the street. The men were wearing long army coats and fur hats. Every other man grasped an old rifle tightly between blue fingers.
God was among them, giddily shouting instructions. He shoved each man out the city gates with a laugh and a strong pat on the small of the back. When all the men were gone he began to pick out random pedestrians. He summoned an old man and turned him into a soldier. The coat hung loosely over his skeletal body. The soldier's cap rested uneasily over the rim of his spectacles. God pushed him out the gates with a loud cheer. I looked up and God appeared next to me. He grabbed my hand playfully and lead me towards the armory. His grip was strong and a tad too friendly. I felt secure and elated. He would not let go of my hand as the uniform landed over my body. I was handed a rifle and a rag to clean it. I felt its wooden butt between my fingers. God was laughing next to me, retelling the punchline of an old, overused joke.
Outside the gates there was chaos. I saw a sea of men running at each other in the freezing bullet rain. The snow was carefully pomaded with splattered blood. In the middle of it all a sheet of ice covered the soaked ground. I found cover behind a tree stump and began to fire. I had never fired a rifle before. I had only fired Papa's revolver, and that was with Papa holding onto my hand for support. I shot a faceless man and he fell down squirming on his back. I shot again and snow spattered under a man's boot. A bullet hit the tree stump and I jumped back in panic. I could not turn back, this was where I was wanted. This was where it was my duty to be.
God was ice skating over the lake, doing graceful leaping pirouettes. Bullets flew past him, but he would simply banish them with a quick fling of his mucus-stained pocket handkerchief in the air. Some bullets seemed to go straight through him and exit on the other side, hitting their target. The enemy shot blindly, hitting God and making him slightly stumble half-annoyingly on his skates. Our side was careful not to shoot at him; we shot around. God would make the shooting hard as he kept on getting in the way, or stopping by our side to tell a story or sing a short song. Every once in a while one of our men, feeling overpowered by the enemy, tried to run back to the city. God would calmly appear in front of him, turning the man around with one quick fling of his metallic index finger.
The hospital was overcrowded and I was left bleeding on a stretcher next to benches full of dying men. Our moans conjugated into one eternal screeching yawn. I felt the blood leaving my body, dripping out in persistent drops. I was running empty, drained, like a leaking faucet with clogged pipes. The hospital floor was colored with dozens of scattered red footprints. My eyes begged to be closed, but I fought on, straining to keep the cool eyelashes separated. They put a blanket over me and for the first time I felt warm. I stared at the unpainted ceiling as my eyes grew weary.
I was getting ready to finally shut my tired eyes as I saw God running through the hallway. He was carrying a loaf of bread, erratically crashing it against the walls. We all watched the crumbs fall to the red ground, soaking in thick splattered liquid. God waved the bread over his head and shouted for victory. He praised our efforts and pinned badges to our exposed chests. God mistook our cries for those of victory. He began shouting with us in a loud energetic voice. We grew quieter and he began to sing a victory song. We joined him, in weary shrinking voices. Slowly, one voice after the other halted. Finally, only God and I remained. He rose his hand up and saluted me. I closed my eyes and saw red stars.
I did not go to heaven, but after all, no heaven was ever promised. I merely floated in space, in the mass military grave, face sinking down in the dirt. If I was alive I would have thought of Mama, and Papa. Instead my head sank under heavy solid dirt. My limbs were positioned over my head in crooked awkwardness. The sun's rays were erased off my face in small patches. Eventually all grew dark. My brothers and I merely slept a deep, hollow sleep.
God was nowhere to be found. My corpse must have seemed nude without him.
Pavel Rubin was born on a snowy January night in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Russia. Over the course of his life Pavel found himself living in Israel, Honduras, and finally settling down in the United States. Pavel graduated with a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Central Arkansas. He currently resides in beautiful Fayetteville, AR where he spends most of his time getting woken up by his girlfriends' cat at 6 in the morning and reading books on the toilet.