By Veronica Ordway
Jacqueline could feel the eyes of the other people in the waiting room boring into her. She bowed her head and focused instead on the celebrities splashed across the gossip magazines that were spread before her on the coffee table. She placed her finger on the corner of Us Weekly and carefully slid it off the edge of the table and into her lap. The faces of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt smiled up at her, a bold cartoon zigzag emblazoned between them. How sad, Jacqueline thought. She had no idea they had split up. Highly aware of the loud crinkling sound that echoed from its glossy pages, Jacqueline thumbed through the magazine hoping to distract herself.
She had spent the whole week thinking about this meeting, carefully planning what she wanted to say, how she wanted to sit, to smile, what she was going to wear. Jacqueline had been eating lunch in her cubicle when she got the call, ripped from a daydream about the handsome barista who worked at the coffee shop across the street. The man she spoke with couldn’t give her very much information; all she knew was that she was needed for something serious, something that she would most definitely be fired for screwing up. What was making her the most nervous was going into this meeting with so little preparation; if only they’d been able to give her any idea of what she was needed for, maybe she could’ve done some research, Jacquline thought. Then she wouldn’t feel so flustered, and she could maintain the reputation of a highly successful business professional, a reputation that she’d worked almost twenty years to maintain. She’d been lucky to even get this position in the first place, and she didn’t know what she would do if she lost it. So much time spent slaving over paperwork and hours with her neck craned down in a book or with blue light from a computer screen burning into her eyes. She’d studied, she’d researched, she’d shadowed every superior in the building to make sure she would get the job. And then, out of hundreds of applicants, she’d actually done it. She remembered the warmth that filled her belly when she got the phone call offering her the position. But now that warmth was replaced with a cold, heavy dread, like a stone was sitting on the bottom of her stomach, pulling her down towards the floor.
She closed the magazine and hastily slid it back onto the table. She tried to unstick her thighs from the leather cushion and noticed that sweat was starting to seep into the back of her skirt. Jacqueline closed her eyes and focused on the song trickling through the radio; it was Bob Dylan’s
“Like a Rolling Stone.” Jacqueline allowed herself a small smile and tilted her chin towards the ceiling, letting the sound of soft guitar plucks float down like snowflakes onto her cheeks. She wasn’t in the waiting room anymore, she thought. She was back home in Augusta, dancing with her father around the kitchen table, and her mom was making pancakes and laughing and–
She blinked open her eyes and was met by the cold stare of the receptionist, a burly woman with two pencils stuck through her bun and a mole like a housefly resting on her upper lip. Jacqueline couldn’t help but think of Mrs. Trunchbull as she struggled to tear her eyes away from the mole. She raised her hand.
“That’s me,” she said.
“This way, please.” The receptionist spun on her heel and marched off down the hall, and Jacqueline rushed to gather herself as she trotted off behind her. As they walked, Jacqueline smoothed the wrinkles out of her skirt and blotted at the sweat on her hairline with the sleeve of her sweater.
“I’m warning you, he’s not in a good mood this week,” the receptionist said. “He got some weird call on Monday and he’s been acting grumpy ever since.”
“How…unfortunate,” Jacqueline replied. She figured she knew why Mr. Moore was angry. That was why she was here, after all.
“You know, right after he got that upsetting call he told me to phone you,” the receptionist continued. “I hope you’re here to deliver some good news or else me and the whole office are about to go through a beast of a day.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll do my best,” Jacqueline sighed.
The receptionist stopped in front of the last door in the hall, a dark wooden thing with a golden plaque that read “Timothy Moore: Lead Consultant to God.”
“Good luck, honey,” the receptionist said as she turned and started away. “You’re really going to need it.”
Mr. Moore barely gave Jacqueline time to settle into her seat before he started drilling her with questions, his face already flushed when she opened the door.
“Do you know why I called you here today, Ms. Lee?” Mr. Moore asked, bits of spittle spraying from his mouth and landing on the many envelopes and file folders that were scattered across his desk.
“Um, you can call me Jacqueline, sir, if you’d like.” Mr. Moore simply glared at her. Jacqueline took a deep breath. “Yes, I think I know why you called me here. But this is all still kind of unclear to me,” she ventured. “A brief explanation would be helpful, if you don’t mind. Sir.”
“You know what? Fine,” Mr. Moore retorted. He stood up and began to pace back and forth across the small floorspace of the office. “Seeing as this is such a sensitive matter, you deserve to have at least some idea of what you’re getting into.” Jacqueline let her shoulders relax a bit. At least someone was finally going to be clear with her.
“You know Jesus Christ, yes?” Mr. Moore asked.
“I do know of him,” Jacqueline responded.
“And you remember what happened to him? The whole nailed to the cross incident?”
“I-uh-yes, I remember,” she said hesitantly.
“Well, that wasn’t really what was supposed to happen. It wasn’t ideal, I might say. It’s only been a few dozen years since we even discovered that God was real and started talking to him, and this has been an awkward point of contention right from the beginning.”
Jacqueline did remember finding God. She was young, but it was probably the biggest news, well, ever. His coming was broadcast on every television, and she thought back to the way he looked as he descended slowly from the sky on that long, beautiful staircase, surrounded by crooning angels and pearly white doves. All that, plus the fact that he decided to land right in the middle of Times Square. God really knew how to make an entrance, Jacqueline thought. She was too young to be angry or confused by it; she remembered leaning in towards the TV, fascinated, as God spread his arms and declared himself returned. Sure, people fought over it for a little while, but most everyone learned to accept God pretty quickly. After all, what other choice did they have? He was right there, surrounded by microphones and cameras, delivering a sermon to reporters and befuddled tourists.
“I figured that someone would have, uh, maybe made a formal apology to God by now?” Jacqueline proposed. “Oh, is that what you want me to do?”
“Not exactly,” Mr. Moore objected. “We just recently found out that God provided a Jesus Christ-like figure to every planet with life.” He sighed, and ran his fingers through his thin hair. He looked tired. “Turns out we were the only ones who murdered him! Can you believe that? Billions of other living species and humans are the only ones who kill their Jesus.”
Jacqueline was not aware of this. It seemed bad. It seemed really bad, actually. “So, um, what do you need me to do, exactly?” she asked, already afraid of the answer.
Mr. Moore turned to face her. His breath smelled like stale coffee.
“We need you to go explain to God what happened. You need to tell him why we killed Jesus. And you need to convince him that we’re not bad, we just made a mistake.”
Jacqueline rocked back in her seat. She took a deep breath.
“That…seems like a lot to ask,” she stated pointedly. “Is this really something you think I should be doing?”
“Look, I didn’t want to put this on you. You know my title, I’m supposed to be Head Consultant, but I’m not up for a task like this. Conversing with God is extremely stressful and my heart is already going bad. I talked to one of the higher-ups about it and he recommended you because you’re in human resources or what have you. They thought you would be persuasive. People have a hard time empathizing with me, I get it. I’m a big guy with a loud mouth and this is a job for someone more…relatable.”
Mr. Moore stared at Jacqueline and she could see that his pupils had shrunk to pinpricks, and puddles of perspiration were starting to gather in the folds of his neck.
“So all you needed was someone relatable?” she asked. “That seems pretty broad. I know a lot of my coworkers are very charismatic, so pardon me for asking, but why exactly do you want me for this job?”
Mr. Moore hastily broke away from Jacqueline’s gaze. He tugged awkwardly at the collar of his shirt, and Jacqueline could tell she had stepped into uncomfortable territory. But she really was curious about why he thought she was so special.
“Well, you see,” Mr. Moore started. “A lot of the other people in your department are…older. They have husbands and wives and kids. You, you’re single, you’re young, you’re fairly attractive…” Mr. Moore swallowed audibly. “We’re just trying to pull out all the stops for God. You never know what’s going to convince him, and, if I’m being honest, we want to minimize the damage if something bad were to happen.”
Realization dawned on Jacqueline. She wasn’t sure if she should feel flattered or offended. “So you want me because if God isn’t happy, and he decides to, say, kill me, it’ll be less damage to clean up?”
“That is the unfortunate truth,” Mr. Moore replied. “I wish I could deliver it in a more sensitive way, but frankly we’re running out of time. It’s now or never, and if we bungle this job who knows what kind of chaos might ensue. I mean, you know what he did with the plagues! Frogs! Locusts! Disaster! It simply cannot happen again.”
Jacqueline paused for a second to let the idea sink in. Sure it seemed like a pretty insurmountable issue, but she was a hard worker, and she was good at her job. Plus, if she could nail down this whole Jesus thing it would look amazing on her resume. Maybe “nail down” isn’t the best way to put it, she thought.
“I can do it,” Jacqueline said, the confidence returning to her voice. “If you give me just, say, a week I can go through all the paperwork we have on God, I can study his interviews, I’ll figure out exactly what to say.”
Mr. Moore’s eyes shifted away from hers. He wrung his hands nervously.
“I’m afraid that’s not going to be possible,” he said. “God requested this meeting immediately. I’ve already taken longer than I should have. You’re going to have to see him today. Right now, actually.”
“Wait, what?” Jacqueline sputtered. “There’s absolutely no way I’m going now. I mean, I really need some time to think about it beforehand, I, uh, I just really need some time, sir.” She scrambled for her jacket and began to tug it on.
While she was distracted, Mr. Moore had walked calmly over to the phone and dialed. He cradled the phone next to his ear and spoke in a slow, soft voice.
“This is Tim, yes, I have her here. She’s ready when you are, my Lord.”
Jacqueline jumped out of her seat and pointed menacingly at Mr. Moore, her hand shaking. “I am not ready!” she bellowed. “You can’t just throw me in front of God! I don’t have anything prepared! What am I supposed to say?”
Mr. Moore set the phone down and stepped back, away from Jacqueline. He looked determined, but Jacqueline could see the fear budding in his eyes.
“I don’t know what you’re supposed to say, dear. But you’d better figure it out.”
The room suddenly filled with light, white and all-consuming. Jacqueline felt it wrap around her like a cloak, and with a flash, she was gone.
When she opened her eyes, Jacqueline found herself lying on her back. The air smelled like flowers and fresh dirt and clean air, and the sun felt like a kiss on her cheek. She flexed her hands and felt the sharp blades of grass pass under her fingers. She sat up and blinked in the light, taking in the lush green expanse that was laid out before her. Rolling hills of meadows and patches of wildflowers stretched on for miles, all sprouting in full bloom amidst the thickest, richest, most perfect green grass she’d ever seen. She put her hand over her eyes and peered around, looking for some sign of which direction she had to go or what she was supposed to do next.
A short ways away, a man with long shining black hair and chestnut brown skin was lounging in a lawn chair. He was tilted as far back as the chair would allow, and he was wearing sunglasses, as if he was sitting by the pool. In loose beige shorts and sandals, he looked like he should be surfing or traversing the desert. Yet he seemed very comfortable here, wherever here was.
Jacqueline stood up and brushed the bits of grass from her skirt. Thinking that it would be hard to walk through a meadow in high heels, she kicked them off. Then she took her jacket off too. She didn’t need it; the temperature was absolutely perfect.
She strode towards the man in the lawn chair, hoping that she wasn’t going to disturb whatever he was up to. She waved cheerfully as she approached him.
“Hello!” she said when she got close enough for him to hear. Rather than sitting up, the man stuck one hand in the air and beckoned her forwards. It all seemed so casual that Jacqueline felt out of place in her nice skirt and blazer. She sidled up next to the lawn chair and cleared her throat.
“I’m Jacqueline,” she said. “I’m supposed to be meeting God here.”
“Speaking,” replied the man.
“Oh!” Jacqueline blurted. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize it was you from far away.”
She really hadn’t any clue what God was going to look like. She knew a little bit about him from the papers, and from what she’d seen on TV when she was a kid, but he rarely made public appearances anymore. She certainly didn’t expect to see him shirtless on a lawn chair. It felt indecent.
“Tim sent you,” said God. “That’s good. I was hoping you could tell me what happened with my son, Jesus? I sent him down there a little while ago and it seems to have…caused quite a stir.”
Jacqueline paused, thinking of how best to answer. She didn’t want to offend God, of all people, but she knew she had to tell him the truth. She was positive he had ways of spotting liars.
“Well, I’m sure he was a great guy,” Jacqueline started. Not a very strong opening, she thought to herself. “But he did some controversial stuff, if I remember correctly. And a lot of people liked it! Some people were so into it.” She wrung her hands nervously. “But some people weren’t as happy about it, and they, uh, they killed him, I guess.”
Jacqueline cringed. That wasn’t how she wanted the story to come out. It was true, but it wasn’t eloquent at all. Not the kind of presentation you’d want to give to God, that’s for sure. She waited for God to respond, but he just lay there. She couldn’t even tell if he was looking at her because of the sunglasses. What if he fell asleep?
God slowly turned his head to face her. “You said…some people weren’t happy about it,” he muttered. “If you ask me, Jesus didn’t do anything wrong, per se. Controversial isn’t wrong. But you humans. You decided to kill him! That’s pretty messed up, don’t you think?”
Jacqueline just stared at him. “I guess it is, yeah.”
“You know,” God continued, “I’ve given humans a lot of chances. Sure, you guys have done some good stuff. Like the wheel, that was really good. And the printing press! Both good inventions. I thought it was great when you cured polio. Also the Mona Lisa, have you seen it? Very impressive. Was really pleased with that one.”
Jacqueline didn’t know what to say. God sat up before going on.
“You know what always gets me?” he chuckled. “When humans can say words while they’re burping! That’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot of stuff, trust me.”
“I’m, uh, really glad to know you liked our stuff, God,” Jacqueline said. Then she noticed that God had started to scowl. He cracked his knuckles.
“You know what, though? You guys have done a lot of bad stuff too. You keep making these crazy mistakes over and over again. You fight an entire world war, you call it “the war to end all wars,” and then you go ahead and have another one twenty years later! You kill the planet, you kill each other, you invent stupid things like forkchops and thumb wrestling. I’ve given humans so many chances to be better and it seems like all they ever care about is themselves and their money. You all run around with your little heads in the sand like nothing else is important besides what’s right in front of your own feet. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, and I don’t know you very well, but all humans seem to act the same to me. Tim said they would send someone from human resources, probably because if Tim came down here he’d just putter around and drool all over himself. Look, you seem nice and all, but you haven’t done a great job convincing me to trust you. You think a blazer and some sensible heels give you the credibility to come into my meadow and ask me for something?”
Suddenly embarrassed, Jacqueline cringed and looked away. God was right. How could she have assumed she could just stroll in here and ask God to forgive humans for murdering his only son? She should never have even considered taking this job, she thought. Jacqueline glanced over at God, who pursed his lips.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “I’m pissed about what you did to Jesus. I really am. Because he was my son, and I don’t think he deserved what you guys put him through. And keep in mind that nobody else did that. I give everyone a Jesus and you’re the only ones that killed him. Classic humans. I should have known better.”
Jacqueline looked at the ground. She felt bad about what humans had done to Jesus. She just didn’t want God to take it out on her, as if she even asked to be here.
“All I can do is apologize, on behalf of all humans,” she said, struggling to keep her voice steady. “You’re right, we do do a lot of bad stuff. I think about that all the time. I wish there was a way I could stop bad stuff from happening, especially to innocent guys like Jesus. But I’m just not sure it’s possible.”
Jacqueline looked at God, but he seemed to be deep in thought. She tried to appear as sympathetic as possible, but God’s words were really having an effect on her. God has every reason to be mad at us, she thought.
“I’m not sure it’s possible either, Jacqueline,” said God. “I think I screwed something up when I was making humans in the first place.” God sighed. “You might not like this idea, but what if we just start over? I can trash the whole thing and we can make them better the second time around. How about it?”
Jacqueline closed her eyes and thought for a long time. She thought about all the good things she’d seen humans do, and all the bad things too. She thought about times people had loved her and times people had been mean and rude to her. She imagined her parents, their beautiful little cabin overlooking the lake, the way her mother smiled, her dog, the sound of birds in the morning. She remembered the kids in high school who pushed her and teased her, the men on the street who grabbed at her, the bombs and the famine and the sickness and war and–hold on a minute, she thought to herself. You’re literally talking to God right now. Just do what he wants to do. It’s God. He’s got this.
“Who cares, let’s do it,” Jacqueline said. “Whatever you say.”
God smiled at her. He shifted over and offered her one side of the lawn chair. Jacqueline climbed on and stretched out next to God, their arms touching ever so slightly. God pointed to a tiny dot in the sky.
“That’s Earth, he said. “Keep your eyes right there. Now watch this.”
God snapped his fingers, and the dot exploded.
Jacqueline and God lay above the grass, watching as one world ended.
God turned to face Jacqueline and lifted his sunglasses, revealing beautiful green eyes speckled with bits of blue and gold. He smiled.
“So,” said God. “What should we make next?”
About the Author:
Veronica Ordway is a student at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She is a Writing, Literature, and Publishing major with a concentration in Fiction Writing and a minor in Comedic Arts. Veronica lives and works in the greater Boston area alongside her parents Barbara and Kevin, her brother Jack, and her cat Walter.