The exorcist hunkered down in the alley, between two dumpsters. He was a rumpled man in a shabby dark suit and grubby clerical collar. There was a crucifix on a chain round his neck. A windstorm had put the power out. The city was dark. He’d have lit a candle if he could.
“Is this you?” he said, looking up at the Man standing over him. “The windstorm, I mean.”
“I don’t deal in windstorms,” said the Man. “I deal in souls.”
“Yes, I see. That’s very clever.”
The Man was dressed in a glossy teal sharkskin suit and alligator shoes.
“Are you prepared for the girl?” He said.
The girl? The exorcist turned some pages in his head, and there she was. Innocent, very young. Said to be crawling across the ceiling. Possessed. He had an appointment with her and her mother in an hour.
“I’m ready,” he said, lighting a cigarette. He took a flask from his jacket pocket and drained the liquor from it in two gulps.
“And try to make it look like something this time,” said the Man. “Throw in a little of that old Catholic witchcraft. The last one was a little too in-and-out.”
“Fine. Witchcraft. I’ll make a note.”
“You resent me instructing you, don’t you. Still, after all of this time.”
Resent, thought the exorcist. Yes. The Man was God, after all. Resentment, even disappointment, were inevitable. Besides, exorcism was for youngsters. The exorcist was ready for retirement.
“You don’t need me,” he said. “You could handle all of this just fine on your own. From a distance, too. You’d never even have to leave your living room, and I could settle down, maybe read a little.”
“But I like a good show,” said God.
“You’re a sadist.”
The exorcist opened his bag and rummaged. Everything was there, at least enough to get him through the next gig.
“Remember that thing you did for me in ’74,” God said, “in Genoa?”
“Yeah, that was rather good,” the exorcist snorted. “Satan wasn’t expecting me to put the old broad into a tub of holy water, and use the host as bath salts. The tabloids loved it.”
“They still do that bathtub thing, you know.”
“I know.” The exorcist smiled and drew hard on his cigarette. There was at least some joy in all of this. Even if it came out of events that happened so long ago.
“We’re good together,” said God, “you and me.”
“But I’m sixty-nine years old now. I need some rest.”
“Yes,” God said, “I know all things.” He lit a cigarette of His own.
“Then you know that this’ll be my last exorcism,” the exorcist said. “Then it’s quits-Ville.”
“You’ll hate retirement. There’s no glory in it, no honour.”
Honour and glory. The exorcist shook his head.
“You know,” he said, “you’ve coerced me into doing this, and I have nothing to show for it, no friends, no property, no family. And I’m still a virgin. All I have is a headful of fragmented memories, distorted by tragedy and time, and absolutely meaningless. My devotion has run out, and you’re to blame.”
“You took your vows,” God said.
“Yeah? Well fuck the vows. What could they possibly mean to you, anyway? You’re not Catholic. Hell, you’re not even Christian. You have no religion. You’re God.”
“Try to keep that part to yourself, please. It’s bad for business.”
“I’ve met a woman, by the way,” the exorcist said. “She’s very beautiful. She reads beautiful books, and she goes to beautiful movies. She says that she loves my smile, when I smile, which is rare I know. Her name is Rose. We’ve become close, and she brought up the whole vow thing the other day. She’s worried that I might be making too great a sacrifice in loving her.”
God looked down upon His alligator shoes, dropped His cigarette and snuffed it out. Then He sighed and said, “Religion is just politics, you know. Just a matter of opinions and tribalism.”
“I don’t give a damn what two people do together, or that one of them is a priest, as long as no one gets hurt, outside of the usual hurt that comes with love.”
“She likes caramel corn,” said the exorcist. “There’s a place downtown that makes it from scratch. It’s her favourite.”
“Yes,” said God. “I know all things.”