Pastor says, “No worries, you will get it. Let’s try again.” His gentle voice is the velveteen cover for his tenacity, his ferocious hatred of sin of which we were yet unaware. His favorite iniquities are written with flourish and swagger in his leather book which he leaves open to prying eyes.
“Is it Belial?” I hesitate. A smile comes over his face as sweet as a cherub, which makes all my efforts worth the work. “And?” he coaxes.
“Belial is without worth,”I respond.
“Yes! But let’s not forget that Belial is also exceedingly deceptive and beautiful, although scripture does not reveal male or female, so beware of each.” I promise to look out for both.
“And who tests us with philosophy, logic, and ethics? A trick question I will warn,” he asks.
“This is Buer, pastor, and he can twist any mind. But it could also be Forcas. If we resist one, the other can sneak up behind,” I proclaim with confidence.
Pastor smiles again and his broad, calloused hand pats my shoulder. When he walks away my friend Butchie whispers, “I’d like to sneak up behind Melodi Morotti, you know what I mean?” That’s when I know that Naamah, the fallen angel who pleases men, or Pharzuph, the fallen angel of lust was nearby, but I’m certain that Pastor already knows this.
On the walk home I practice: Shax, the thief; Penemuel, who corrupts through writing; Lalash, who interferes with God’s plan; Baraquijal, who teaches astrology, Asmodeus, an arch demon, the most evil of all fallen angels. I know them through S, and hope to memorize them all by next Sunday.
When I see my grandfather he is working on his boat in the yard, as he has been as long as I’ve been alive. I brag about my knowledge and repeat Pastor’s encouragements and approvals. He is unmoved and continues sanding what will become the gunwales. When he stops he sees that I am disappointed and shrugs. “Evil’s all around us boy, no need for special titles.”
I don’t know the name of the fallen angel who leads men astray with hubris, but I’m sick of seeing that boat floating three feet above the ground, and gramps thinking it’s his faith that’s keeping it up.
When Butchie and Melodi go below deck, I sleep in the noonday heat and try to ignore the shuffling and murmuring beneath me. So I miss their dives into the cool, unforgiving water. Twelve minutes. The time he is underneath the lake’s surface. The small crowd around him on the shore stands firm in the sand and will not let me in, as though they are in possession of a treasure. Long gone grandpa always said boats and beer don’t mix. Pastor preached drunkenness and debauchery are brothers, but said nothing about drink and deep water.
The doctor says, “It took three days for Christ to rise, so let’s at least give him that.” On the forth day he says, “There is no secret potion, no surgical trick, it’s all up to him now, we’ll just have to see,” which everyone interprets as time is nigh.
Butchie’s mother accuses the Neurologist of being a liar, an impostor, an atheist. She’s not slept in four days so I sit in his room while the family takes her home to rest. I ask him how far he got with Melodi when they were below deck, thinking this recollection will wake him up. I hope they reached a satisfactory destination, but now he won’t even have the memory, which reminds me God is a cruel fuck.
On day six his eyes open and track, happiness and miracles. His mother hugs all the doctors she threatened to sue the day before. But that’s as far as he gets and in the days, months, and years ahead his parents shrink to the size of grasshoppers while he gets bigger and bigger until he fills the entire house and crushes everyone inside.
There is no telling, dearest, whether you are awake or asleep. Your breaths rhythmic and deep like the ocean and your body smells of that same sea. I would give you a new name and pretend to begin again; Ariadne master of mazes, Aura the wind, or Eris of the chaos, but you say Melodi the chanter is enough. Except you never sing, or meditate, or expect beauty in any of its forms. We carry on and hold hands walking through puddles that vibrate, smoking ponds, free-floating rivers, always ending up at the lake which we walk across like Jesus on the sea of Galilee. On the far side you are always disappointed we did not sink. I read the epic poems, recite Song of Solomon, and play Romeo, Casanova, and Don Juan to comic effect, with only a wan smile as reward. Finally you walk west, all the way to the Mojave to be as far away from water as possible and, like the desert mother Amma Syncletica, are blown to paradise on a gospel wind. I refuse to follow, first out of perverse pride, then blasphemous anger, but really, please forgive me, it’s merely a ruinous lack of faith.