God and St Peter had been in The Little Chef on the Oxford bypass for quite some time, in the hope that their journey might be a little less frustrating once the Friday afternoon traffic had abated. Besides, they’d both developed a bit of a taste for coffee; it was one of the things they’d most enjoyed last time they’d visited Earth for a reccie. Rome, very nice, although, as Pete observed, the Italians would rather drink their own piss than the filth served up in The Little Chef. But anyway. It passed the time and the extended stay had enabled them to sample an all day breakfast, which filled a gap.
‘I can’t quite believe that’s an egg,’ said God.
‘Tell me about it.’ said Pete, pushing his plate away. ‘Shall we make a move?’
‘I’m just going to pop to the er, you know,’ murmured God.
‘Powder your nose?’ quipped Pete.
‘That’s the one.’
As God wove between plastic seating and marauding, displaced ketchupped kids with slappy mums and pot-bellied Dads – absent or otherwise still in God’s sights, St Peter gathered possessions together (God, chaotic as ever was for ever mislaying their one and only mobile phone) and gawped at the bill, quite appalled. It must have been Brexit, all that trouble, but inflation had shot through the roof since 2006. Ten years. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose and all that.
God, paused to assist a former transvestite, now trangendered woman, who’d got her sleeve caught on the decorative soap dish, beneath the Dyson dryer.
‘Ooo, thanks love’ said Transgendered. ‘What would I have done if you hadn’t come along. I don’t know. I just couldn’t manage it with only two hands. If you ask me we should have been born with four arms, not just two. Perhaps we’ll evolve.’
‘Evolve?’ said God. ‘Four arms? Good idea’ and she made a note to herself just in case she were ever tempted to start the whole damn thing all over again.
‘Have a nice day, sweetheart’ said Transgendered.
‘You too. We’ll meet again.’ said God.
‘Well you never know love. I’ve met some of my best friends in the loo.’
‘Mind the step,’ said God, moving on, checking each of the three cubicles for paper, before sitting down. She’d been here long enough not to assume other users had care for the next, sad as it was. And the floor. There was no way she was going to let her one piece touch a tile of it if she had any power left at all. She levitated over the seat.
‘Ready to hit the road oh divine one? Murray mint? Take the taste away?’ offered Pete, gesturing towards the Silver Corsa they’d hired for their tour. God popped a Murray mint between her lips, careful not to smudge the blush-rose lippy that had come with her Elle magazine.
“Onwards and upwards, Saint Peter. Let’s hit the road. Will you drive?’
‘You’re the boss.’
‘To my shame’ said God and for once she’d been right. The traffic had eased and they found the remaining few miles between Oxford and Reading passed in no time at all.
Parking was a bit of a bugger but the Butts Centre was easy to find, the Holiday Inn just next door, so there was just time for a bit of a freshen up before pre-dinner drinks and the decade’s review. It was chilly in the bar, for June. St Peter sent God back up for a cardie while he checked round the lobby for Nick. There he was.
“How you doing, ok?’ Old Nick surveyed Peter. He wasn’t about to be nice.
‘Jesus Christ on a Crucifix, mate. You’re starting to look your age. Buggered in fact. She takes the piss, does God. No union, holiday pay – well, no bloody holiday at all. I wasn’t stupid enough to stick around for millenia just to lose my looks. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. Still, I can’t say I don’t feel quite smug. And the offer’s still there mate. Soon as you’re ready, the job’s yours. Like I said to Gabriel, poor sod. Last visit. Last decade I said, ‘Gabes, mate; if you’re sick of it, I’m your man. You’ll wake up and smell the coffee sooner or later’ – not that instant stuff you’re rewarded with for serving at her right hand, day, night and bleeding Christmas. No, no no. Pure Arabica; none of your rubbish, that’s what we have down below. Anyway. How is old Gabriel? You needed tell, but honestly – well you know honesty’s not really my thing but, you know, tbh as they say on the old book of the face – my idea – not hers – social media’s got my name all over it don’t you know? Yeah, to be honest can’t say I don’t miss the old crew. Still got the hots – the fire – the passion indeed for Gabriel. He was a go-er and some, before, you know. The fall. The rise. Call it what you will’
Nick had always been chatty; persuasive; charismatic some said but St Peter wasn’t bothered this time. He no longer had the energy to argue. It had been a long day and God’s dreadful neurosis, anxiety, and I suppose if we’re calling a spade what it is, God’s depression really was starting to wear Peter down. He wondered if he ought to have a word with The Holy Ghost about it. Apparently Ghostie’d decided to resurrect his practice in Deistic Psychotherapy and the conversations in the traffic jam that afternoon had, if we’re going to tell the truth and Pete still had a hunch that he should, well – it had been on the tip of his tongue to tell her she really ought to go and have a word with someone about it. Guilt you know. It can debilitating and regrets were no good for anybody. This was what it was. Yes, it was a mess but in the end, well, it was what it was, wasn’t it? It didn’t work. Peace was a pipe dream and really although we all know she’d meant to create something beautiful, it had all gone tits up and that was that. On and on and on and on. All the way from Norfolk and beyond. ‘If only this, if only that. My mother this, my mother that. The crushing shame of it all.’ It was time God got a grip.
Realising she’d left her cardie in the Corsa, once she’d ransacked the hotel room, muddling shoes, stockings, cables for the lap top, this that and the rest of it, (for which she was sure to get the silent treatment from Pete – the cold-shoulder routine), God navigated a newly digitised lift and went up and down seven times before finally escaping on the top floor and risking a rope-free abseil from the roof to the car park below, giving St Peter and Old Nick time to get through their first pint of Stella (or ‘The Wife’, as Nick called it, to produce a poh faced PC grimace on St Peter’s smarmy lips) since it was rumoured it was Pete and not God who had come up with the notion of equality way, way, way back in the day and that he’d been thoroughly pissed off with the Celestial Referendum when female emancipation had been withdrawn from Browndavia or whatever the fuck it was called before all that rebranding following the… boring, let’s get on. They gossiped. Nick wet himself with glee. Pete explained:
‘She, God that is, yeah.’ The Stella was taking its toll. ‘It’s the guilt. She’s right though. Easy enough, isn’t it, bolting the door once the horse had bolted. Her Mum, she’d said, quite clearly: ‘seven days is not enough. You’ll need 8, maybe 9′. But she knew what God was like. We all did. Always rushing. No eye for detail. And now look. Well, I’m glad it’s not all on my shoulders. What a fucking mess, No wonder she can’t sleep at night’ said St Peter as God drifted silently to settle beside them at the bar, bedecked in a fluffy pink cardigan that was a complete mismatch with the wrap-around green silk number. And the Channel No. 5. It stuck in the back of your throat.
‘Nick. Peter. Sorry.’ shaking hands, ‘Lost my woolly. Long day. I need a drink.’
Cherry Coombe. June 2016.