When I hear the knock on the door, I know it’s Sunday. He only comes on Sundays and he’s the only one who ever comes around. Not that I’ve ever asked him to. I stay seated in my chair for a few minutes. Maybe he’ll give up and the knocking will stop. He never does and it doesn’t, so I abandon that hope.
I heave myself out of the chair. Its dusty old springs creak as the groove I’ve worn in it tentatively rises. I can sympathize. My knees feel like they’re falling apart when I move, and the shag carpeting doesn’t help anything. My socks sink into it and feel greasier with every step. The knocking continues, and I want to shout at him to beat it, get out of here, leave me alone, but I know from experience that that won’t do anything. He’ll just keep knocking and eventually I’ll answer the door. He’s got more patience than me, and we’ve been doing this a long time.
It takes only a dozen strides to get to the front door from my armchair in the living room, but it always feels longer. The carpet is thick and matted, a greasy shag of indeterminate color. I know that it must have had a recognizable shade at some point, but it’s the same murky off-beige as the rest of my apartment now. The walls are off-beige. The thick curtains are off-beige. The few appliances in the kitchenette have aged into an urine yellow that nearly matches, and the sinks are stained and brown.
The doorknob is cold to the touch and I let out a sigh before I twist. God is standing on the doormat, his fist up in the air, poised for another round of knocking. He looks surprised for a moment, then lowers his hand.
“Oh, hello. I was starting to wonder if you were still in there,” he says.
“You know I’m always here.”
“Can…may I come in?”
I know he could force his way in if he wants, so I just lumber my way back to the armchair and let him follow me. He always does.
I can tell the apartment disgusts God, but he’s too polite to say anything about it. He’s used to finer things than this. Puffy clouds and golden thrones and not black mold growing under everything. My apartment is pretty revolting, I admit. But when you’re in the same place every day, you tend to get used to things. I don’t even really see the place anymore. I don’t see the pale, flabby fungi on the curtains that I never touch. I don’t hear the perpetual dripping from the faucet in the kitchenette and the one in the bathroom. I definitely don’t notice the smell.
The armchair complains again when I slouch back into it. God looks around for a seat, like he always does, clearly unsure of what’s the least odious option. He chooses the far end of the sofa against the wall, the one where you can’t see the television screen at all. No surprises there.
I keep my eyes on the television, but can’t help covertly checking out God in the corner. This week, he’s chosen to manifest himself in the most stereotypical fashion possible: long white beard, muscular arms, flowing robes. There’s even a glow about his chiseled face that brightens up the living room, making it look even worse. He’s incarnated himself a scale larger than a normal person, so he fills up at least half the couch while trying to cross his legs. The robes don’t make it easy, I’m sure.
Obviously, he can manifest however he wants, and it does change from week to week. Sometimes his skin is blue and he has extra arms, sometimes he’s an elderly, vaguely ethnic woman. One time, he showed up in the form of a lion and had to scratch at the door until I let him in. I think he regretted that one, because it meant he had to lie on the carpet while he was here, which is even worse than the couch. None of it is even close to the truth, of course. It’s just a convenient way for him to make himself known. Though I’d always know it’s him. No one else has ever been inside the apartment.
He clears his throat.
“So, how have you been?” He says.
“Same as always. You know that.”
“Did you give any thought to what I mentioned last time?”
“No, not really.”
He picks at his beard absentmindedly and neither one of us says anything. I look at the television, and he looks everywhere else. His gaze is all-encompassing and he reads the titles of the books on the shelf in the corner. I read them all a long time ago, and can’t even remember what they’re about. They were probably pretty boring. After a while, he gets up and putters around. The telephone on the wall is a rotary model. The cabinets in the kitchenette are cheap particle board and plastic, but he opens them anyway. Cans of off-brand chicken broth and crackers are all that are ever in there. The crackers are always stale, even when I open a new package.
The bed in the bedroom is made, but that’s only because I’ve never used it.
He sits back down.
“Would you mind turning off that thing? I’d like to talk to you.”
“I’d prefer not to.”
“Turn it off? Or talk to me.”
“Either. You pick.”
“You know, I don’t have to come around here.”
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, you’re God. I don’t ask you to visit.”
“I know. I keep coming, though.”
“Yes, you do.”
He stays for a little while longer, sometimes starting to speak. I let him leave on his own, knowing that he’ll leave the door open a crack. He always does, and I have to get up out of my chair again to slam it shut.
Once God is gone, I can watch the television in peace. It’s the only thing that ever keeps my attention. I don’t like it much, but it’s better than silence. Not even silence. There’s always the drip of the faucets and the whisper of the air conditioning vents. There’s the creak of the floorboards underneath the carpet, which shift and flex even when nothing else moves. But it’s better than that.
The television is a monolith, a huge cube fronted by dusty glass. It has several knobs for tuning, but I haven’t touched them in ages. The dust is so thick that maybe I never have. It only gets one channel, so there’s no point anyway.
The channel is black and white, and breaks down into static frequently. Sometimes whole minutes will go by with nothing but monochrome snow. Then the twirling mess rights itself and forms hazy pictures, always of the same kinds of things. News reports from around the world, snippets of documentaries. Home movies and snuff films. Wars in the Middle East. Child abuse in Middle America. Rape. Murder. Dogs being shot to death in the streets, people being tortured to death in back rooms. It never seems to end, and there’s never any shortage of footage.
I can understand why God doesn’t like to look at it. Still, it’s better than nothing.
I get hungry sometimes. If there’s food in the cabinets, I eat it. If there’s not, I don’t.
I get sleepy sometimes. If I can sleep over the sound of the television, I do. If I can’t, I don’t.
It doesn’t make any difference. I never seem to lose any weight, even if I don’t eat for what feels like centuries. Sleep doesn’t matter much to me.
It gets easy to lose track of time, since all I ever do is watch the television and stuff stale crackers in my face. Time doesn’t matter much in the apartment. There’s no clocks, and the only way I can really tell the difference between one day and another is if he visits. All days are either another day or Sunday.
The air conditioning vents always run too hot or too cold, but it feels like they’re getting colder. If I put my hand in front of the vents on the floor, there’s not even a gust of air, but it definitely is getting colder. There’s no thermometer, but I can feel it.
The apartment is dusty, but the dust doesn’t get any thicker than a omnipresent grime. The plastic slipcover on the couch is cloudy, and only ever gets smudged when God sits there. By next week, his imprint will be gone, but the rest of the couch won’t be any dirtier.
The counters in the kitchen are as greasy as the rest of the apartment is dusty, which is strange, because I never cook. It’s almost like they exude their own oil, excreting a coat to keep themselves slick and disgusting. It’s no wonder I try to avoid everything in the apartment but my armchair and the television.
I don’t even want to think about the toilet.
One thing about God, he keeps a tight schedule. I’m watching a cat be vivisected on the television and suddenly feel a deep sense of unease. I try to ignore it and focus on the meows, then there’s the knocking on the door. Sigh. Sunday again.
I let him in with a minimum of fuss. By the time I get back to my chair, the screen has changed to news footage of an island being overrun by mercenaries and their own corrupt government. He ruins everything.
God looks like the Judeo-Christian image again, though he’s switched up the white robes for red, black and white ones like Charlton Heston wore in The Ten Commandments. I can’t imagine God being ironic, so I can only assume he’s never seen it.
After the usual uncomfortable silence, he speaks up. He’s unusually direct today.
“Do you want to leave here today?”
I don’t say anything.
“You could, you know. You could just get up out of the chair and come with me.”
I don’t say anything.
“There’s nothing keeping you here. Do you want to stay here forever? Here, with that, that… thing?” He points his perfect hand at the television. “That thing and that telephone and that chair.”
“Yes. That’s exactly what I want.” I say. We’ve had this argument over and over again, as far back as I can remember. I lost enthusiasm for it a long time ago. It’s just him arguing now.
“I made a world, you know,” he says, lowering his head. “I made a universe from nothing, for you. Not this apartment.”
“Well, I sure didn’t make this hole,” I reply.
He doesn’t reply, but just storms out stiff-legged. I slam the door shut behind him.
For a moment, I can see my breath hover in the air, cold and white.
The phone on the wall rings. It does that sometimes. I know from experience that it will keep ringing and ringing until I answer it, so I groan myself up and take the receiver off its cradle. It’s an old fashioned model, with a snarled cord and a dial with faded numbers. The phone is the color of a Model-T and might have been produced on the same assembly line.
There’s dead air on the other end for a moment, and then a faraway voice.
“Oh lord, we entreat thee. We praise thee. We beseech thee for thy infernal wisdom and power. Is that right? That doesn’t sound right.” It’s a man’s voice, but it seems to fade and crackle as he speaks. It’s a particularly bad connection this time, and I can barely understand what he’s saying when a heavily accented woman breaks in.
“Oh for God’s sake, no. Like this: we offer ourselves, master. We offer our servitude and devotion. We offer the blood of a virgin. We offer our souls.”
I don’t say anything. The woman goes on for a while, and I zone out. After a long while of promising things, she seems to be winding down.
“We ask only for power over our enemies, and to be by your side when all that is good falls into darkness.”
There’s a long moment of silence, then the man speaks up again.
“This is stupid-“
I hang up the phone.
I must be dreaming. The apartment is covered in ice and there’s snow falling from the ceiling. For a moment, I think I’ve fallen asleep in my chair and this will all disappear in a few gritty blinks, but it doesn’t happen. I pinch myself. Nothing. I do it harder. Nothing.
The television has a pointy cap of snow, like a jaunty party hat. The screen is showing a woman being chased by pickups on a dark road, but the glass is filmed over with a distorting layer of ice. As if the picture wasn’t already bad enough.
The rest of the apartment is the same, snow covering the cabinets, the shag carpeting, staining the tops of the books. The receiver is frozen to the phone, and I have to yank it hard to make sure there’s still a dial tone. I think about calling out for the first time, but who would I call? The fire department?
I’ll make the best of it. The groove in the armchair has filled up with snow, so I brush it out and sit back down. My hands are beginning to turn red from the cold, and snowflakes are settling in on my beard.
I get up long enough to pull the blankets from the bed and wrap myself in them, then it’s back to my chair.
By Sunday, the snow is deep enough that I leave a trail of footprints when I answer God’s knocking. He doesn’t look surprised at the snow, but pushes through it and sits down without a word. That’s unusual.
The blankets don’t help very much to keep the cold away, but it’s better than nothing. I tighten them around myself, and watch television. God is silent for so long that I actually forget that he’s there, and I jump when I realize he’s been staring fixedly at me this entire time.
“What?” I ask him.
“Will you leave this place? Will you do it now?”
“How many times have I told you, I’d prefer not to?” I slump back in the chair.
Now he begins to wax hot. He waxes so hot that the snow melts around him on the couch and the stench of scorched plastic fills the apartment. He stands bolt upright and points his finger at me.
“You…you…you know I could force you to leave?” I’ve almost never seen him this angry before. “You know I could stop making there be food here? I could make it so that, that thing doesn’t work anymore?”
“Are you going to do it, or just talk about it?” I say.
His nostrils flare, and a tiny storm whirls around him. The snow turns to a blizzard, winds rush out of the vents and blow an impenetrable wall of snow and ice around the apartment. My ears and nose are burning, and my teeth begin to chatter.
The storm dies down eventually. The snow settles and I scrape the television screen with the corner of my frozen blanket, until I can see the twelve car pile up it’s currently broadcasting. God is still standing there, looking dejected. He sighs deeply.
“I’ll see you next week,” he mutters as he leaves.
“If that’s what you want,” I call after him.
I close the front door and don’t bother with the lock. The room is still cold, and I’m sure it will get even colder.
Nathan is an editor with Asymmetry Fiction.