I Put Aside My Plan To See God

by Charles R. Vermilyea Jr.

     “I thought I might see God.”
     “So, you’re leading this comfortable life, now. All bourgeois and such, with nothing else  to do but prepare yourself for the hereafter? Is that about it?”
     “I wouldn’t know about that exactly. When I hit 70, well, I never liked church or religion much, but I started thinking. You know, what comes next? The idea of God and Heaven seemed appealing. I began to tune up for this by listening to my old Gospel records. You know, such as Mahalia Jackson ‘In the Upper Room’ with Jesus and Roy Acuff. ‘Waiting for My Call To Glory.’ "
     I make the mistake of saying this with a slight smile, which pisses her off. And, considering that she’s holding a gun, it’s a bit unnerving.
     “Well, I want to tell you, I had no such comfortable moments! No such peace! And, it’s all your fault!” At this, she starts waving the gun, a revolver too big for her hand, and I think I will, indeed, see God -- sooner than expected. My little dog and I squirm on the coach.
     “I know I didn’t come through for you. But, that was decades ago at the paper. I don’t understand. … And, how about cooling it with that fucking gun!” 

     She’s sitting in an easy chair, and sets the gun down on her right thigh, which, I can see, is indicative of the lushness of the body I remember.
     “Did you start to have doubts about me when I said it wasn’t such a bad idea for a college girl to take up prostitution, to make a few bucks? Was that it?”
     “Yes, considering that the girl in the news story to which I referred was arrested at your previous college. I should have pursued it. Asked if you had done that, too.”
     “And, I would have been honest, and told you that the reason I left college was that the police were hot on my trail for hooking. I say it’s my body, and I still don’t think I did anything wrong!”
     “That wasn’t the only thing. I knew you were campaigning to marry me, but I can’t say what went wrong. I made the wrong choice. I had a lousy marriage with you know who.”
     “You deserved it! I couldn’t understand why you married Skinny, even if you suspected I had been a hooker.”
     “I don’t understand, either. My mind wanders. I do stupid things.”
     “After you dumped me, I fucked my way into a job I couldn’t do with the human resources guy, but lost it after his wife got onto us and made him leave the paper. I should have stayed as a Features reporter. After that I sunk to McDonald’s. The Hispanic boys wanted to enter me in an ass contest, in the large category.”
     She emits a bitter laugh to this, and I started to laugh, too, but caught myself.
     “I heard about that McDonald’s thing.  I’m sorry.”
     “Sorry ain’t worth spit!”
     “You’re right. … I know it must have ...”
     “Don’t hand me that sappy crap! Next you’ll be trying to get me to feel sorry for you.”
     “You’re right there, too.”
     “Did you hear that I became a lesbian?”
     “Yes! I heard that your partner was tall and beautiful and had a resemblance to Mick Jagger.”
     “Mick Jagger with tits! We started a dog grooming business.  Tessie and me. Did OK, until Tessie died of AIDS.”
     “You got it, too?”
     “No, thank God! As soon as symptoms started, she let me know. She had been cheating on me! Fuck! Shit!. I can’t catch a break! And I loved her! Now, she’s gone, like you, and I’m all alone with nobody to love me. But, maybe God will! And, if I see him, I’ll tell him to look you up, so you can see God, too!”
     At that, she puts the gun to her head and pulls the trigger.
     My little dog wets the couch. I wet my pants.

     As one might imagine, the next several days were filled with consternation, but finally wound down to visiting hours and a funeral. At the funeral home, I was out in a hallway signing the register when I was approached by a woman with a family resemblance to the deceased, Colleen Shaleen.
     “Hi,” says she. “I know who you are. Nice of you to come.”
     “I felt I had to, but do you think I can skip speaking to her sisters?”
     “No problem there. … I’m Siobhan. The youngest of the five sisters.”
     “I knew there were several.”
     Colleen and I were the youngest: Maureen Shaleen, Kathleen Shaleen, Ireen Shaleen, Colleen Shaleen and Siobhan Shaleen.” She laughs at this, then begins to cry.
     “Please, I’m sorry for your loss.”
     “Oh, no matter,” she recovers. “We used to sing that as girls.” This with a deep frown.
     “You had a pleasant young life? The five of you girls?”
     “My mother and father had a good living. They ran an insurance/real estate agency. But, it seemed to me and Colleen that the oldest three got all the love and attention, and very little was left over for us. We both craved attention. You must have seen that in her?”
     “Yeah. Afraid so. I’m …”
     “Don’t beat yourself up over this. But, the fact is, she saw you as her last chance at a normal life. She said that to me. She had a thing for you.”
     “Yeah, that got through to me. More or less.”
     “Look here, I don’t want to dump all of this on you. We knew what we were doing. I drank and smoked pot, and my drunken boyfriend raped me.Feature this: He married Ireen. They have three kids. ... And, Colleen, with that lush body, was the high school slut. Got a running start to college hooking. Tobacco Road, eh?”
     “Well, no. Not that... But when she, uh, visited me, she said lesbianism was good for her …”
     “Tessie’s death,” Siobhan cuts in, “and Tessie’s cheating, is what finally cracked her brain. I think I would have blown my brains out, too, after that! She finally had the love, but it slipped away. Just like you slipped away.”
     Siobhan, with a little laugh: “Isn’t that a song?”
     “I think it is. Or, should be.” With a smile.
     “This brings me to you and me. A chance that might slip away, and the question of why I’m telling you all this.”
     “You and me?”
     “Exactly you and me! What do I have to do, paint you a picture?”
     “You mean you and me?”
     “What the fuck did I just say. Colleen said you’re Italian. Are you people kind of slow on the uptake?”
     She hands me a piece of paper with her name and a phone number on it. 
     “I’m like Colleen! Like her,” says she, riveting her gaze deep into my eyes. 
     “I need love and attention. The love and attention you seem guilty of denying Colleen.  So, here’s your chance to, how do they say, assuage your guilt.”
     “I think you set me up. You planned to use guilt to … to … ensnare me.”
     “You bet your ass I’m trying to ‘ensnare’ you! What a sissy word. Use it again, and I’ll change my mind...Listen up! Give me a call, and maybe you can give me what you failed to give Colleen. It’s that simple.”
     I put aside the Mahalia Jackson and Roy Acuff. And my plan to see God. At least for awhile.

Charles R. Vermilyea Jr. is a retired Hartford Courant news copy editor. B.A. English/history, University of Connecticut (1967). Army veteran, 2/10 Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers (Korea, 1962/63). Son Jon, a West Coast artist. Daughter Elizabeth, an East Coast actress.