God was dead as a doornail. Let there be no doubt whatever about that. The register of His burial was signed by Hitchens, and Hitchens’ name was good upon anything he chose to put his hand to.
And Hitchens missed God. Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Hitchens and He were partners for I don’t know how many years.
Yes, God was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
Hitchens never painted out God’s name. There it stood, years after His death, above the door: Hitchens and God. The firm was known as Hitchens and God. And the partnership resulted in book deal after book deal for Hitchens, along with endlessly lucrative speaking engagements and a succession of ever so intriguing reality TV offers.
Oh! But he was a vicious antitheist, Hitchens! The certainty of a Godless universe froze his features, nipped his pointed nose, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and he spoke out shrewdly in his British public school voice.
Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Hitchens, God be with you. When will you come to church with me?” No beggars God-blessed him, no children asked him the correct words to a hymn, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to Heaven. Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, “No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!”
Once upon a time — of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve — old Hitchens sat busy in his office. The door of his office was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was probing for parcel bombs and reading Christian hate mail. Hitchens had a very small supply of toner, liquid paper, paper clips and pencils, but the clerk’s supply was so very much smaller that he recycled staples by taking them from discarded documents and straightened them back to their original configuration for replacement in his dilapidated stapler. But he couldn’t help it, for Hitchens kept the supplies in his own office; and so surely as the clerk came in to replenish his own supply, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk went back to straightening used staples and diluting his scant supply of liquid paper with trichloroethane. He tried to warm himself at his computer’s heat exhaust, in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.
Just then, two men came into the office.
They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Hitchens’ office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.
“Hitchens, I believe,” said one of the gentlemen.
“Yes, what about it?”
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Hitchens,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Do you vote,” asked Hitchens.
“Of course,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And are you politically active,” demanded Hitchens. “Are you pressuring your MP and the Prime Minister to institute change? Do you boycott and participate in protests against corporate greed and intransigent government?”
“Of course not,” returned the gentleman, “We are good men of business.”
“Then do you make a special point of hiring the poor and destitute,” said Hitchens.
“Not at all, sir. They smell, and demand ridiculous things like a living wage.”
“Then it seems you have some things to think about,” Hitchens said, returning to his work.
“Our goal is to furnish Christian cheer of mind and body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Not a bloody thing” Hitchens replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish you’d bugger off. Why should we depend on Christian charity to redistribute wealth,” said Hitchens. “Why don’t you go occupy Wall Street? If a mute, invisible and inept god is all we have to count on as a defence against unmitigated greed and injustice and the resulting poverty and suffering, then we’re all sunk.”
“Many can’t occupy Wall Street; many would rather go shopping at Walmart or view internet porn. You see, they’re depending on God to intervene, to relieve them of their misery. It’s not likely to happen, but there you are.”
“If they would rather shop at Walmart,” said Hitchens, “they had better do it, and support the very corporate criminality that defeats them daily.”
“Fine,” said the gentlemen. “We’ll just nip off to the pub, and curse your name behind your back. It is, after all, the Christian thing to do.”
At length, the hour of shutting up the office arrived. Hitchens dismounted from his stool, and tacitly admitted the fact to the expectant clerk in the Tank, who instantly turned off the buzzing florescent lights, and put on his hat.
“You’ll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?” said Hitchens.
“If quite convenient, sir.”
“It’s not convenient,” said Hitchens, “and it’s not fair of you to go off and celebrate the birth of some fraud of a saviour on my time. If I was to stop the equivalent of a day’s wage for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound? No doubt you’d get the union involved.”
The clerk smiled faintly.
“And yet,” said Hitchens, “you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”
The clerk observed that it was only once a year, and that he never put down for overtime, which according to legislated labour standards paid time and a half.
“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Hitchens, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning.”
The clerk promised that he would; and Hitchens walked out with a growl. The office was closed in a twinkling, and the clerk started for home.
For his part, Hitchens went directly home to his high street townhouse on the Westside – with its tall, ornate front door and faux brass knocker that he’d ordered specially from a glossy home decorating catalogue that resided next to his commode.
Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large and made in China out of recycled beer cans. It is also a fact, that Hitchens had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place. Let it also be borne in mind that Hitchens had not bestowed one serious thought on God since his last overtly provocative speaking engagement in the American south. So, let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Hitchens, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but God’s face.
God’s face on the knocker was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects on the street were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad Marks and Spencer lobster dinner in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but Godly, nonetheless. Its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.
“Hit-chens,” said God’s godly face on the knocker.
“Bloody hell,” said Hitchens. He stared back at God’s face on the knocker. “What a load of crap.”
He went into the townhouse, and sat down in a room the architect called the parlour, but that Hitchens had come to call the sodding broom closet. He picked up a copy of Harpers and leafed through looking for Audi ads.
“Hit-chens,” God’s godly voice came again, as though out of the A/C vents.
“Bugger off,” Hitchens said.
“Hit-chens,” said God once more.
“Look,” said Hitchens. “Whoever you are, you really have to call my agent….”
Suddenly, the townhouse was filled with the sound of piped in Christmas Muzak, and there came the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Then, with a resounding crash, the parlour door was flung open, and in stepped God Himself. He came dressed in a tattered pair of black 501s, black high-tops and a Lou Reed tee-shirt.
“What the hell do you want,” said Hitchens.
“Much!” said God. “But first, have you got any weed?”
“Who are you?”
“Some call me Yahweh. I have been called other names. But I’m starting to like the idea of being called Brad. You, however, may call me God.”
“Can you — can you sit down,” asked Hitchens.
“I can,” said God.
“Do it then.”
“You don’t believe in me,” said God.
“Of course I bloody don’t,” said Hitchens. “Where have you been, living under a damn rock?”
“And yet, you make a tidy living off of me.”
“It is nice, isn’t it?” said Hitchens surveying his lush surroundings.
“What evidence would you have of my reality, beyond that of your senses?”
“I don’t know,” said Hitchens.
“Why do you doubt your senses?”
“Well, I took a lot of acid when I was at university,” said Hitchens. “Sometimes I see shit that would make anybody question reality. There’s more of bad LSD than of Heaven about you, whatever you are! You see this toothpick,” said Hitchens.
“I do,” replied God.
“You’re not looking at the damn thing,” said Hitchens. “Do pay attention.”
“But I see it,” said God, “notwithstanding.”
“Yup,” returned Hitchens. “Definitely an acid flashback.”
At this God raised a frightful cry, and made a dismal and appalling noise.
Hitchens stood and pointed, and said, “Look mate, I’ve got neighbours, and they like it quiet. So, tone it down.”
“Man of the worldly mind!” replied God, “do you believe in me or not?”
“Nope,” said Hitchens. “Not a chance. I’ve got book deals in the works. Believing in you would void contracts from here to the sandy beaches of Belize. It could even bring down huge segments of the British economy.”
“Then what will convince you?”
“Can you bend spoons, like Uri Geller?”
“No. I mean I can, but I won’t. That’s way too 1970s Vegas.”
“Tell me what I’m thinking, then?”
“You’re thinking that I should have taken my shoes off before I came in.”
“Huh! That’s pretty close, actually.”
“Hear me!” cried God. “You will be haunted tonight by three spirits.”
“Oh, is it bloody Halloween?” said Hitchens. “I thought this was Christmas.”
“Without their visits,” said God, “you cannot hope to know me.”
“Will any of these spirits be able to bend spoons, like Uri Geller?”
“No. I mean they can, but they won’t.”
“Then I’d rather not meet these spirits,” said Hitchens. “I like a little cabaret with my haunting.”
“Tough noogies,” said God.
“Look for the first spirit when the clock chimes one,” said God. “Now look to see me no more.”
And with that, God, who’d lately been thinking he’d rather be called Brad, fizzled into the wainscoting. Or at least what the architect called the wainscoting, but what Hitchens called the sodding baseboards.