In the first lonesome years after college, the man used to fly fish with God. They’d met through a friend of a friend, a mutual interest sort of thing. God didn’t have a car, and the man did. God wasn’t a freeloader. He just didn’t have an interest in learning to drive. Sometimes the man wanted to ask if God was a New Yorker, but the accent didn’t fit.
On days they fished, the man awoke early, careful not to disturb his wife; her hair splayed across the pillow. She stayed awake late, staring into her phone, in the way of contemporary unhappily married couples. Sometimes she kept the lamp on late, read poems by a local author she’d met at the library. The man kissed her quietly and left.
God usually waited at the bus stop, smoking a cigarette and staring pensively into the middle distance, coins of light flickering on the underside of leaves, low slung clouds, pigeons bobbing about like buoys.
The rides were strangely silent. God wasn’t much of a morning person.
Let there be light, He said, But not so goddamn early.
The man turned up the radio.
Eventually, they climbed into the mountains and up an old road, which crossed, via a series of bridges, the raging torrent of the river, glittering blue green below. The sun arrived through the skinny trunks of lodgepole pines—diagonal strips of light, the sort of thing Vermeer would have really nailed. At road’s end, was a waterfall and a small pool, where they’d unload the cooler, sandwiches, beer, and gear.
In the few months that these trips took place, the man and his wife started to fight. At first, they’d been small fights, but now they were saying unforgivable things to one another. Lately, after the fights, she’d drive her car off into the night, and he’d stand outside, watching the fireflies seemingly flicker in and out of existence.
As they fished, he found himself wanting to ask God about heaven or what his wife thought of him. But God seemed exhausted, distant.
The mornings after fights, she’d always be there, breathing heavily in the clean linen sheets. The man loved her tenderly, as deeply as he’d thought possible.
Do you need anything, today?
She pretended to sleep.
He drank coffee in the kitchen, waited for her to wake. Squirrels dare-deviled through oaks in the yard. She was a locket, and he had lost the key. Sometimes he dreamed himself in search of the key, swimming through rivers, prying open the mouths of fish, looking for that glittering piece of metal that would free them both.
God frowned and cast again. The man felt lonely and sad, a child lost on the playground.
At least I brought the loaves, God said. I’ll make a million of them, and we can feed the ducks.
The man didn’t know whether to laugh. He was thinking of his wife, of how much she held him in disdain. The wind bent the leaves, ran through the grass. An hour passed.
Fuck all, God said, and walked across the water, feet dimpling the surface. He plunged His fist into the white rapids and pulled out a wriggling salmon. As they cooked the fish over the camp stove, neither of them mentioned the feat. God seemed embarrassed as though he’d made platypuses again.
When the man returned with fish and desperately tired, his wife would ask if the trips were worth it. He could hear the admonishment, time they weren’t spending. Sometimes he stayed awake, bleary eyed, to ask after her day. Once, he’d picked up the poems she read, mostly nonsense about old lovers reincarnated as dogs, geese, pebbles of light, train sounds in the distance. The poems were like koans whose answer was sadness.
In this dream-like state, he thought of his father, who had been incredibly loving, so smothering in his love that the man had been desperate to leave. Now he understood that he was searching for someone like his father, now dead, a soul to love him fiercely. He thought about telling his wife, but her brow was knit tightly, foreclosing questions.
Eventually, God told him He was no longer interested in fishing. He said He wanted to work on a low crossover dribble that flowed into a step-back jumper. Like James Harden, God said, but with a longer beard.
The man was home every Saturday now, mowing the lawn and watching college football. His wife stayed in the kitchen, reading poems, voraciously now. Sometimes, he swore he saw her slip scraps of paper into her mouth.
Late at night, when he thought she was sleeping, sometimes he’d catch her reciting the poems she’d surreptitiously eaten, scraps of lines floating in the air above them. He shook her awake.
What are you doing?
You were reciting poetry.
Don’t be silly, she answered, rolling over.
He looked at the crease where hip met thigh, longed for her. He stood at the window. The moon lay on the grass in the yard. He prayed.
* * * *
Months later, long after his wife had moved in with the writer across town, the man ran into God at the gas station. God tried hiding behind a row of candy bars. The man stood behind God in line, staring at Him intently. Finally, God turned and said, I couldn’t take all the damned silence.
The man nodded, understanding he’d missed the opportunity to ask questions about meaning, love, the shape of the universe, time’s flow, questions that would plague him for the rest of his life. The same kinds of questions, he understood now, his wife so desperately wanted him to ask.
At the register, a middle-aged man with a wrinkled brow rang him up and asked if he wanted anything else. The man looked up at the row of cigarettes behind the counter, the bits of amber colored whiskey. He wanted so many goddamn things he didn’t know how to ask for.
Andrew Bertaina received his MFA in creative writing from American University. His work has appeared in many publications including: The ThreePenny Review, Witness Magazine, Redivider, Orion, and The Best American Poetry 2018. More of his work is available on his website at www.andrewbertaina.com.