Yes—a short story by E

Yes—a short story by E

Anna stamped the snow from her boots, then pushed through the inner doors of Divinity Hall into the dingy interior. She passed Waldo Emerson’s old room on her way to Ben’s, the first one around the corner on the right. Thoreau had lived here once, too, before Walden Pond.

She pulled off one wet glove and rapped on the enamel white door. “Ben,” she called.

“Anna!” he cried. She pushed the door open, and when she stepped in, he was already halfway to her. She tossed her green canvas book bag on the bed as he seized her, and they kissed—deliciously long and lovely.

Ben pushed her back and surveyed her. “You’ve been gone forever!” he said.

“Only since lunch,” she observed.

Much too long!” he insisted. He pulled her close and whispered, “For you ravish my heart, my dove, and your lips, my promised one, distill wild honey!” He kissed her again.

“Ben,” she cried, “Why must June be so far away!”

“I know,” he said, kissing her hand, then suddenly turned away. He grabbed his coat from the corner of his desk chair, pulled it on, hoisted her book bag, and smiled. “But June will come, and our wedding will come, and in the meantime. . .we’d better go!”

“Ben,” she said, stopping him at the door. “This is one reason I love you so much.”

He smiled and touched her nose gently. “Me too.”

They went out without kissing again.

“How would you like to see Sylvia Reymon?” he asked abruptly when they reached the outside entrance.

Anna halted halfway through the door, staring at him. “You mean she’s coming here?”

He pushed her out the rest of the way. “Sunday night, Temple Baptist, downtown.”

“No kidding!”

They tramped towards her room on Sacra­mento, passing through the Harvard campus mish-mash of architecture and into the closely-packed, narrow houses of Anna’s Cambridge neighborhood. The snow fell straight and heavy through the street lights’ glow. They’d cook dinner on a hot plate in her rented room and afterwards would wash the dishes in the bathroom she shared with Mr. Karlovsky, the Russian emigrant who lived in the room next to hers.

“We’ll have to go really early if we want to get seats,” she said.

“Oh, that’s OK. We could always neck for an hour or two to pass the time.”

“You know,” she said speculatively, “it’s not a bad idea. Kissing in public, I mean. Sounds safe to me. Maybe we should practice.”

“OK!” he said.

“I always did admire Solomon’s poetry,” she said in a moment, pulling her scarf back over her hair. “I think it’s very useful to do practical research on the meaning of great literat­ure.”

Ben nodded. “Absolutely!”

They walked for a moment in silence, Anna’s arm linked through Ben’s. “So . . .d’you think anyone would want to go with us—to see Sylvia Reymon, I mean?”

He snorted. “Are you kidding? I can’t imagine anyone else at the Divinity School would be remotely interested in going to a healing service run by a ‘faith healer’ with a reputation for wackiness like Miss Reymon has.” He stopped and slapped his chest with an exaggerated flourish. “After all, we’re Hahvad students!”

She laughed, and they resumed walking.

Ben wasn’t very reverent, not about sacred cows, anyway. That’s one reason she loved him. But there were lots of other things, too.

“Let my Beloved come into his garden,” she thought. “Let him taste its rarest fruits.”

*                                   *                                             *                                            *

They had found seats in the top balcony. The crowd was excited, and Anna, though she was trying to remain objective, found she was infected with their mood.

She and Ben had, as she’d predicted, come by themselves. People from church thought the whole thing was a hoax, and their friends at the Divinity School assumed it was nothing but uneducated emotional­ism.

“Why is it,” she said to Ben, “that people think that just because most ‘healers’ are fake, they all are?”

“I don’t know that most people think that,” said Ben. “I suspect that if, instead of being a hopelessly corny female preacher, Miss Reymon were a well-educated Episco­pal priest, and this meeting were in a cathedral, and the music were being provided by the choir of King’s College, Cam­bridge, and the congregation were all upper-class and well dressed, most folks would be perfectly happy with it. It’s the trappings that get to people—at least, to people like us.”

“You’re right, of course,” Anna sighed. “Still, it’s irritating.”

I’m not irritated,” Ben said. “I’m quite content.” He kissed Anna’s hand.

She pulled his arm under hers. “Maybe we should neck for an hour or two,” she whispered.

“Why not? Give ’em all something to talk about when they get home.”

“As if they won’t have plenty,” Anna laughed.

She pressed his hand and surveyed the second balcony. Most of the people she saw seemed pretty ordinary—men and women of every age, even some children, most very middle class, or lower. She wondered if any of them had come for healing. She saw no crutches up here, no protruding goiters or hearing aids. But she knew that meant nothing. She wondered how it was that she could be so healthy, so deeply happy—while in many of these apparently normal people around her, she knew that disease ate at bone and gut, souls withered with resent­ment, spirits were crushed by burdens of debt or incompre­hensible children or marriages that no longer worked? It was a thing she did not pretend to under­stand.

And then the piano began: arpeggios churned up and down the keyboard, trills bubbled over the congregation.

Ben looked at her. “Baptist,” he whispered. “Southern Baptist.”

“Don’t be a snob,” she retorted. “I bet God likes it just fine.”

The choir jumped in. “He touched me,” they sang, full voiced, swelling with emotion, “and, oh, the joy that filled my soul.” It was very Baptist. But Anna understood being made whole by the touch of God. It had happened to her more than once.

Suddenly Miss Reymon swept in, chartreuse chiffon wings trailing from her gown. She looked just as ridiculous as Anna had heard she would, with her curly orange hair, bright red lips, and Holly­wood clothes designed to hide the years that had wizened her down. She sounded even sillier. Her voice swept up, swooped down, drew itself out in comic extrava­gance. (“Well how are you? I’m so happy you came to worship here today!”) Yet the words themselves were not comic at all. “There is no healing power in Sylvia Reymon, people,” she said earnestly. “Only in God. Listen to Him, not to me. He is here. He wants to touch you. Whether in your body or in your spirit, He wants to touch you.”

The trappings might be absurd—Miss Reymon soaring around the stage like a lunatic lacewi­ng, enunciating like the heroine in a bad melodrama—but the message was true enough.

At last—it must have been after an hour or more of prayer, of singing, of preaching, Miss Reymon held out her arms and closed her eyes. “The Holy Spirit is here,” she whispered into her mike. “I believe God is beginning to heal.”

Anna could almost hear her absent divinity school friends guffawing.

Then, louder: “There is a hip—it has been painful for some time, but God has healed it—in the center, here, on the main floor. And there, in the first balcony—that section, there—a man with a hearing aid. Take it off, sir. You can still hear me. Check that out, ushers, please.”

Miss Reymon might be “hopelessly corny” as Ben had said. But the people who soon came up to testify were anything but. “Come on up here, God love you,” Miss Reymon gestured to the man at the head of the queue. He came, running almost, waving a crutch.

“What is this? What is it?”

“My hip!” the man cried.

“Looks like a crutch to me.” Miss Reymon sounded amused, still the actress playing to her audience.

“No, no—my hip! It’s healed! I had an accident—three years ago—hipbone crushed, legbone driven up into it—never healed right—big callus, they said—it’s gone! No pain!”

She laughed. “You mean you couldn’t walk without that crutch you got there? That what you’re trying to tell me?”

He nodded, thrust it at her.

“Can you walk now? Let’s see you!”

He walked a few yards across the stage then ran back to her.

“Stomp it! Stomp your foot! Does it hurt any more?”

He stamped one foot, then the other, laughing. “No pain!” he cried again. “It doesn’t hurt!”

“Now you take this crutch, and you go home and check with your doctor. You have some X-rays, and you make sure every­thing’s really OK before you throw this thing away. You hear?”

He nodded.

“God love you,” she laughed again. “Isn’t God good?” She swept her arms over the congregation. “Isn’t he good folks?” she cried. “Isn’t he good?”

The response was a roar of applause. Miss Reymon held her arms up with a delighted grin.

When a man who claimed to have been blind for ten years blurted into the mike that he could see, a woman in the lower balcony screamed in her excitement.

“None of that!” Miss Reymon cried, swiveling to the offender. “There will be no fanaticism here, if you please. If you would like to shout, one of the ushers will be happy to show you out. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman.” There were no more outbursts, only the applause and laughter solicited by Miss Reymon herself.

“She controls it all like an orchestra conductor, doesn’t she?” Anna whispered to Ben.

It was a strange experience, that service. Everything was so much the opposite of Anna’s taste—yet the excitement of those who testified was so real, Anna could not deny it. Even Miss Reymon’s bizarre behavior had its own charm, if one didn’t take it too seriously.

Too soon it was over, and they stood up with the hundreds of others in the balcony, and shuffled and stopped and shuffled and stopped some more, inching toward the stairs like so many crayons in a box being shaken around, babbling to each other in happy excitement. Anna turned and smiled at Ben. He smiled, too, and put his hands on her shoul­ders and kissed her on the back of the head when she faced forward again.

They got to the lower aisle of the balcony, and Anna looked over the rail.

Perhaps it would have been better had she not done that. For she saw, suddenly, the ones she had forgotten about during the service. Then she had thought only of those who were healed. Now she saw the ones who were not.

They had risen, or staggered, or been hauled from their seats and had rushed forward to mob Miss Reymon, who had de­scended from the stage. In the crush, she was visible only because she was the still point of a maelstrom of desperation, the center toward which misery sucked those who suffered. They strained toward a mercy they had not received, frantic, like the victims of God’s wrath in those Renaissance pictures of the last judgement Anna had always hated—crowds of the damned, horrifying in their agony, profoundly pitiable.

“Anna? Are you OK?” Ben must have felt her stiffen.

She looked around at him, but found she could not speak. She felt faint. Ben pulled her back against him. “It’s OK,” he mur­mured, and kissed her hair.

He must not have noticed them. He must not have known.

Anna closed her eyes and tried to think of God. But all she felt was revulsion. What was the matter with her? She’d known not everyone would be healed. Couldn’t she be happy for those who were?

She looked down again, and her eyes fell, not on that monolithic crowd, but on two women within it—a mother and her daughter, she guessed. The older one struggled, like all the others, to move forward through the impossibly packed crowd, pushing her daughter before her. The girl was spastic. Anna thought she was crying.

All at once, Anna could see no one else, feel no one else but these two. Some evil imp had hurtled up into the second balcony and snatched her soul, dragged her down, over the crowd, into the grievous bedlam.

In the second balcony, the crowd pushed Anna forward. She didn’t resist. They stopped. She didn’t notice.

Nausea rose in her. She was in the girl’s head, in her eyes. She wanted to scream. She wanted the girl to hide, to be safe, but the girl was caged in the crowd, held by their obsession to reach the place where they might touch the power. Relentlessly her mother pushed her, and she wailed grotesque­ly. The woman fought to reach the magician who hadn’t healed. The girl flailed and drooled, beating the air with arms that would not behave, that insisted on sticking into other people’s faces, people who pushed those bony sticks away, and cursed her and cursed those who’d been healed, leaving them, like her, sick and deformed and desperate.

All Anna’s insides began to shudder, and suddenly, she remembered.

            She was in the eighth grade. She was reading Time magazine. “The guerillas,” it said, “had cut off the soldier’s head and genitals. They left his body hanging upside down for his compatri­ots to find.”

             She gasped. It was hard to breathe.

            A movie. They had used it at the Nuremberg trials. Bodies. Thin, pretzel-thin limbs. Piles of them. Attached to meatless torsos with skull-gaunt heads, all much too large. A bulldozer was pushing them, pushing them like piles of dirt, pushing them, hundreds of them, into big, deep pits. They were dead Jews. The Nazis had made lampshades out of their skin. Anna could not believe it. She had stared as the bodies fell, bouncing, rolling over one another like so many shriveled sausages, down, down into the pit.

She came to herself, began to breathe again. She stared now at the bodies below. Unhealed, tricked, every one of them, rolling over one another like the dead bodies. Falling, down. Into the pit.

She was with them, falling.

Down, down into her an emptiness arrowed, and when it reached the bull’s eye, it plunged into her very center, and there blossomed out from it a frozen silence. Another still point—only this, of desolation.

She had been right, back then, when she had first begun to understand the horror of evil, before she had known the goodness of God. That second discovery, it had been a hoax.

How could God be good? How, when she thought of evil, could she ever have thought so? If God lived at all, he was the Trick­ster, the Nazi, the Guerilla in the sky. At once, more than anything else, she wanted God to be dead.

She burst into tears.

“Anna! What’s the matter?” Ben squeezed her elbow, put a hand on her cheek.

She shook her head and cried harder. She fumbled in her purse for Kleenex and blew her nose and wiped her eyes, and still the tears gushed out. She felt them rushing through her, a tidal wave of grief. She could not speak. She could not do anything but cry.

The people around them began to look at her, and some of them pulled away.

She tried to contain herself, but she couldn’t help it: she went on crying.

As soon as there was room, Ben put his arm around her. “We’ll talk,” he said. “There’s a chapel by the main door. Let’s go there.”

She nodded, and kept on crying.

How was she to live? God had been so close—beginn­ing with a burst of grace when she was 14. Suddenly she’d known God loved her, and all her experience since had been immersed in him. Yet in this moment she had seen him for what he was, and knew just as surely and just as suddenly that he could not love her, because he could not love anybody, or if he did, he could not be real, only something people dreamed up to help them feel better. She had been betrayed.

She was still crying when they got to the chapel. Ben propelled her in and she stumbled to the front. Flung herself onto the kneeling bench at the altar rail. Buried her face in her arms and abandoned herself to deep, groaning sobs.

Her mother had died. Her mother, her father, her sister, her brother, her lover. Her center.

“Anna!” Ben’s voice was anguished.

“I don’t believe in God!” she managed to gasp at last, and went on crying.

“You don’t?” He sounded blank, mystified.

She didn’t respond, and he put his arms around her. He held her, and did not ask anything more. Cradled against him, she began to get hold of herself.

There was a rustling sound, and Anna looked back. The world looked like it was underwater. Two old ladies wavered, framed between her wet lashes, just inside the chapel door. One was in black, the other in royal blue, with a pillbox hat. A big rhinestone pin sparkled on the front of it. They settled in the back pew, purses in their laps, hands on their purses, smiles on their faces, and stared.

Anna turned away. She wanted to pray, but there was no one there to hear her.

They knelt there, she and Ben, her sobbing more quiet now, Ben with his arm around her, and she felt the stares of the old ladies crawling over them.

“Let’s go,” she whispered, and rose stiffly, and walked out past the old women, trying not to be angry.

Ben followed her outside. Everything was the same. The sharpness of the early winter air in Boston, the surprising orangy lightness of everything under the street lamps, the clear darkness draping itself over their heads and into every corner that the lights could not reach. It amazed her that the world had not exploded or melted or simply disappeared. Yet here it was, just the same. Except that it felt empty.

The crowd from the healing service had left, but there were still plenty of people about, strangers all. Most walked quickly in the chill, intent on their Sunday evening business. No one looked at her.

She could still walk. One foot, other foot, still the same. She recognized everything.

Ben took her hand, and they, like the others, walked fast, heading for Park Street Station.

The subway station, the train car, all the people on it—they all had that strange sameness, and the emptiness she’d never felt before. She wondered about it with a kind of bleak curiosi­ty. They stood in the car, hanging on to the straps, saying nothing. She, with her wet eyes and the odd cold vacuum inside her and outside her, Ben holding her hand, looking at her with sideways, worried glances. She could still feel the spying eyes of the old women in the chapel.

They got off at Harvard Square, and she was surprised at the absence of the Hare Krishna dancers. They were always here, gently bobbing in their saffron robes to the tinkle of tiny cymbals, dancing to lure the Krishna consciousness into the world. Perhaps they, too, had discovered that God is dead. But the radicals hawked their papers and their causes as usual, students jostled each other on the sidewalks and congre­gated—in the kiosk and around the Coop, and Brigham’s—and most of all they talked, and the cars and pedestri­ans battled in the streets. The noise and chatter was bright and full of life. But Anna knew it meant nothing, and she and Ben walked, silent, toward his room.

She dropped onto his bed, and he settled in his desk chair and looked at her. No intrusion in his look, only waiting.

She was waiting, too. For some return of feeling, some words to say.

At last he said, “What happened?”

“There was a woman,” she said, “a woman and her daughter—at least I guess it was her daughter. . .” Her face tightened, but then the urge to cry passed. She was too dazed to feel much any more. She told him, her heart and voice flat.

He didn’t say anything.

“What are you thinking?” she asked at last.

“I don’t know,” he said slowly. “I don’t know what I think.”

“Do you still want to marry me?” she asked. And then, feeling slightly hysterical, “Do I still want to marry you?”

“I don’t know,” he said again. “I love you.” He took her hand, but he did not kiss her. As if he were afraid of imposing on her, whoever she had suddenly become.

“I don’t know either,” she said. How could she, now? How could she do anything? “Do you think I should drop out of school?” She felt stupid, saying such inane things. But she was afraid to say anything else.

“It’s too soon to think about things like that,” Ben said.

She sat, silent, unable to speak. Abruptly he pulled her up from the bed and held her, pressing her to him, as if he were trying to draw her back from wherever she had gone.

But she could not respond to him, and he let her go.

“I think what you need now is sleep,” he said, brushing her forehead gently with his lips. “I’ll walk you home.”

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

Surprisingly, she did sleep. Surprisingly, she woke the next morning and found that life went on as usual. She stood at her window a while. Two stories below, quite clear through the barren branches, students rushed or sauntered, depending on whether they were late to class or just heading for the library. A girl dragged a shopping cart of dirty clothes toward the laundromat. An old man with a hat like her grandfather used to wear—a fedora, maybe?—emerged from Shan­sky’s Corner Grocery, one small sack hugged against his overcoat.

Could she do it? she wondered. Live without God, that is. Most of those people down there probably did. She watched a while longer, and saw no one committing suicide, or running down the street naked. They all seemed to get along all right. Maybe she could do it, too.

She’d missed her first class, but didn’t much care. She made her bed and dressed. Mr. Karlovsky, the Russian émigré in the room next door (his sole English being, as far as she knew, “allo, how are you?”), must have already gone to work, because she didn’t have to wait for the bathroom.

She read Tillich until lunch, then went to Ben’s. They ate cottage cheese and toast in the basement of Divinity Hall.

“You OK today?” he asked.

She nodded. “The same. But OK, I guess.”

They didn’t talk much. She couldn’t, and Ben didn’t. He held her hand, touched her cheek. Comforted her with small gestures of respectful affection like you do the bereaved.

They walked to the Div School together, and separated, he for Hebrew, she for History of New Testament Times. She took notes on a lecture about Hellenistic mystery religions. Later, in the library, reading an article on the idea of con­science in the first century, she stopped to wonder what she was doing. She did not know why she sat there taking notes. She did not know why she did anything.

When she thought about it, it seemed funny to her that this hadn’t happened long before. She remembered so many conversa­tions about the problem that had finally done her in. Standing in the cafeteria line when she was an undergraduate, arguing with Joyce. They argued with them­selves, they argued with each other. “But why, if God is good, is there evil? If he’s really all-powerful, why doesn’t he do something?”

She, who had not often been touched directly by evil—she found it hard to deal with its existence. How many argu­ments, how many cafeteria lines, how many salads consumed in the effort to stay skinny while trying to hash it out?

“I read this book,” Joyce said one day. “Answer to Job. I think I believe it.”

“So, what’s it say?”

“The basic idea is that in the book of Job, the only answer God gives Job about his suffering is, ‘Sit down and shut up; I’m bigger than you.’ But in the death of Jesus, he at least addresses the problem by saying ‘I wish I could explain this to you, but I can’t—at least know that I suffer with you, and someday, you’ll catch on.'”

It sounded good. She bought it. And finished college and went to divinity school, and all of a sudden saw this woman and her daughter, and that was it. Unbelievable. How could she have gone on thinking she understood for so long?

She sat, her mind blank, for a long time. Then she started taking notes again. She didn’t know what else to do.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

Tuesday was the day Anna decided she could live with it. She’d had a good upbringing, after all. She was well adjusted and basically optimistic. She had good values and intelligence. There was no reason she should not have a perfectly useful and happy life. She’d be one of the Courageous Unbelievers like Sartre. She’d defy the meaninglessness of the universe and live as if there were meaning anyway. She’d have good relationships, contribute to society, enjoy music and literature and art, and that would be enough. She would have a perfectly respectable and reasonable life.

There was, in fact, no reason she couldn’t stay in divinity school and teach religion. She understood now that if you didn’t believe, nothing mattered that much anyway. Religious Studies was as intel­lectually respectable as anything else. You could teach it as well as you could teach English or history whether you believed in God or not.

And the question of Ben? Well, she’d think about that later.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

Anna awoke on Wednesday to one of those early winter mornings when the sun is trying to convince the world that Persephone’s already been let out. Light poured through the window, brighten­ing everything to gold. She lay there and held her breath.

The room was filled with expectation. She took a deep breath: The air seemed vibrant with an inexplicable hilarity. This gladness did not touch her, but she felt its presence.


She sat up, swung her feet to the floor, thrust them into the pool of warm sunlight that shone there.

She sat very still, and gradually became aware of something inside her—deep, deep inside, buried in the darkness. It struggled like one of those tiny plants in sped-up nature films, an embryo white and tender, convuls­ing, frantic to rise from the dark earth.

What was it?

With a sudden shock, she recognized it.

She stiffened, tried to push it down. The plant, that tender shoot, was a monster inchoate. It would grow to a rooted carnivore. It panted for her integri­ty, would have her believe in spite of what she had seen, what she knew.

It could not be! How could she believe? She, who had felt Evil for one awful instant.

And yet. . .

And yet still in that place of desolation inside her, belief stirred in spite of everything. It demanded “Yes!” to her “No!” It rose from the deepest part of her and cried, “Look at me! You believe!”

Did she?

She groaned. “How can I?” she cried.

“How can you not?” it answered. “Choose.”


Choose between what and what?

She thought suddenly of her grandfather. He had had cancer. Watermelon was the only thing he could keep down at the last. Wasted, his flesh soft, the color of putty, melting into death.

Her friend, Helene, waking in the night to a knife against her ribs and a strange man fumbling, one handed, with his zipper.

Mrs. Knusher, their neighbor, breaking down after running over a boy on his motorcycle in the rain. She died, too, of grief and guilt.

And then Anna remembered family dinners of fried bass and fresh lemon juice around her grandparents’ table, three genera­tions under the glow of Grandmother’s dining room lamp, feasting together on the fish Granddaddy had caught. And the gathering on the front lawn of Helene’s girlhood home in the rolling Massachu­setts hills, where they all sat in folding chairs on the grass. She had felt united with this group of mostly strang­ers as they witnessed the wedding vows of Helene and Joseph, with the green hills all around, and the house, red shuttered and hospit­able, on one side, and the dappled pond on the other. And she remembered loiter­ing on the church steps on a Sunday, Mrs. Knusher and her boys there, too. In the spring sun the adults talked, low-murmur­ing and smiling, while teenagers split into their own groups to trade adolescent intensi­ties, and the children ran shrieking across the church yard; all of it the long warm-up for Sunday dinners, those weekly rituals of affec­tion and rest.

On the one hand, cancer, violation, death. On the other affec­tion, beauty, joy.

Evil and Good.

Two such strong words, made real in the moments of living. Each too strong to be content with equality.

She could not live between them. She must choose; for her not to choose would be to ignore her own life, to live in a world dulled with deliberate blindness.

Which would it be?

Choose Evil as the maker of meaning, as she had the last three days, and live in stubborn defiance of that meaning, pitting herself against ugly Reality?

Or choose Good, and surrender to the mystery of good in spite of evil, of the power of good in the face of its own weakness?

And suddenly she was seized with conviction. Evil, whatever it was, was not the key to the meaning (or lack of it) of every­thing. Goodness was. In the end, goodness would win. Deeper than mind or flesh, deeper than present or past, she believed that. She could not help it. Reject it, and she must reject herself.

Images came to her. Evil, like a sneering samurai, wrestl­ing bright-robed joy to the floor. The black bat of Darkness smother­ing the candle of Light with loathsome wings. Death, that confident god, swallow­ing life like a man swallows an olive. The tomb de­vouring God Himself, the grave feasting on the body of the dead Messiah.

She leapt to her feet, and threw out her arms. No! She would not accept that!

She stood for a moment, exulting, but then the question came again, and she dropped her arms.

How could it be?


How could Good be good in the face of Evil?

She sat down.

A phrase dropped into her mind: “. . .the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world. . .”

It hung there.

“From the foundation of the world,” she whispered, and closed her eyes.

In her mind, visions rose. They began slowly, then gathered speed, coming at her from all sides, dropping down on her in crowds like the cards at the end of Alice in Wonderland, like a thousand movie reels running in her head all at once. Some of these pictures she could articu­late, some not. Herself, her feet warming in the sun, her mother frying bacon on a Coleman stove in New Mexico. The girl at the Reymon meeting. And then other people, other families, other times flashed past her, back in a kaleidoscope of history, some of it good, much of it dreadful. Back and back to the time before life. Back to the birth of worlds. And over it all the patience and the power of God, and the Lamb of God, slain, dying, bearing already in himself the future, already tasting death and madness.

“If you do it to the least of these,” he said. He, Creator and Lord, strangling on the malice of generations, shredded by the entropy of time.

She saw Him, then, saw God himself.

He hung, dead, upside down. A red mess where his genitals had been, headless.

“My God!” she gasped, and fell back onto the bed.

And then she saw the bodies again, rolling down into the pit. Only now she saw in each a separate history of agony—and every one of them she saw, was God. She saw Him—a woman, scream­ing. Her baby, thrown high, shriek­ing, impaled into silence on a bayonet.

Anna began to cry.

She saw Him again, a man gagging on water that soldiers forced down his throat, water laced with the ashes of his wife, murdered and burnt as he watched.

“How can You stand it?” she cried.

This was the Passion, this the cross.

She had not known.

She saw Him again, the girl at the meeting, her grandfather, Helene, Mrs. Knusher, crying and crying, every one of them inconsolable.

She had wept for them, prayed for them, railed at God for them. Had, when she could, listened, talked, brought watermelon or whatever other comfort she could. She had thought she loved them. Yet, could she have become spastic for the nameless girl, suffered cancer for Granddaddy, been raped for Helene, felt herself a murderer for Mrs. Knusher, would she have done it? For one of them? For all of them? For the dead Jews, the mutilated soldier, the screaming mother and her murdered baby? For even one of these? For a day? For an hour?

Yet, God! Willingly he climbs on the dissection table, to be flayed alive, Prometheus bound by love. “Father, forgive them!” he cries as they raise the knife.

“Stop!” she screamed.

Darkness fell.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

“What eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived. . .”

She could neither see nor hear. She could not conceive. She had touched only the barest edge of reality, and had sunk beneath the weight of it.

She lay in the silence and dark for a long time. How long she did not know. And then came distant voices, singing a single note, a plane of high, crystalline sound. And then another, and another. With them came light. She floated, surroun­ded by the voices, by the light, healing.

Abruptly the voices changed. Resplen­dent, they built and leapt finally into an almost unbeara­ble intensity. Then she saw, far away, crowds, hoards, millions, dancing. Closer and closer they came, leaping, laughing, radiant. All the people she had seen in agony—and more—her grandfather, too, and Helene, and Mrs. Knusher, now in joy. And leading them all, the Lion-Lamb, the Wounded One who lived, who by his suffering had freed them all.

And borne on His shoulders was the girl who had begun everything. The girl who had not been able to move even one little finger where she had wanted it to go. And then he put her down and took her hand and pulled Anna up to them, and the three of them, the girl, and Anna, and the Lamb who was the King, whirled in circles of crazy joy, while all about them the multitudes laughed, and every tear was dried, and everything and everyone rose up and up and up into fiery sparkles of joy. . .

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

The phone rang. It rang for a long time. At last Anna answ­ered it.

“Anna? Are you all right?” It was Ben. “I’ve been waiting for you: It’s lunchtime.” He sounded anxious.

“Yes!” she cried. “I know: I’m fine! I’ll be there!” She slammed down the phone, grabbed her clothes, and ran to the bathroom to wash away her tears.

She could not wait to see Ben.