On April 13, 1996, going on 2:30 in the afternoon, in a sunny clearing by a marsh not half a mile from the small red house (with white corners) where he lived with, and took care of, his aging mother, Ezra Wildmark, precisely fifty-one years and fourteen days old that day, met God—and God, as it happened, turned out to be Eskimo.
That is, God was shortish, maybe an inch or two over five feet. He was slim, fit, and relaxed. His face was red leathery skin where dark eyes sat deeply among creases in the permanent sort of squint you get from smiling a lot or from bad eyesight (or from too much sun on snow). His hair was jet black, grown long and weaved into a braid that fell from the back across His right shoulder.
He had very white teeth. And he was, yes, very Eskimo.
And very smiling.
The way Ezra could tell that this, indeed, was God, and not some apparition or other—or just plain illusion slash delusion—was that He appeared out of thin air the very moment Ezra said, or shouted rather, while fisting the sky, “If you want me to believe in you, then you had better fucking show yourself.”
Which is what He then promptly did.
At first Ezra did not believe what he saw, of course, which led to a pregnant moment of mind racing in an effort to piece together the impossible. Logically.
But there was no tree or rock or brush or other hiding place from behind which He could have suddenly stepped, for the log He now sat down on and from where He now regarded Ezra with steady, thoughtful, if a little playful eyes, was a long fallen spruce, alone in the clearing and at quite a distance from anything hiding-behind-able. And there was no hole nearby from which He could have jumped. There was no overhanging branch from which He could have dropped. There was nowhere He could have hid and then suddenly un-hide from. There was nowhere He could have been first. He just appeared.
So, then, Logic went, he must be dreaming.
But concurrent with that comforting conclusion the mosquito on his left forearm—on unsteady legs by now, so full was he of Ezra blood—began to pull his sting back out, and this stung much worse than going in—unnoticed, as it happened—a moment ago, whiles Ezra was busy demanding God’s presence. So now—as with part smack, part squash, the mosquito exploded from blood already sucked and the weight of a crushing hand—this stinging sensation jumped about a million nerve endings to reach his brain in no time at all where it said (shouted, to be precise, and unequivocally at that): You are awake!
And then, when Ezra finally knew that he wasn’t dreaming, that it was in fact The Creator sitting there on the fallen spruce, just like the Cheshire cat, God began to fade. All of Him, degree by degree, except the smile.
Fainter and fainter the face and arms and legs evaporated into greater and greater transparency, leaving lips and white teeth to reflect sunlight. Nothing else: The Godly smile. And then with a sort of plopping sound, as if Basho’s frog just hit water, it, too, was gone.
That’s when Ezra did a number one in his pants.
Then he set out for home, walking very fast and hoping very much he wouldn’t meet anyone on the way.
“I had quite an experience today, Mom.”
Ezra held her by forearm and elbow as he led her across the floor to the kitchen table. He eased her into her chair, then sat down beside her and served her two filets of perch and three peeled potatoes. He mashed the potatoes for her with his fork, then put a generous dab of butter on them and watched it melt among the little risings of steam.
She found her own fork and began the long process of feeding herself.
“What did you say, dear?”
“I had quite an experience today,” he said. Quite a bit louder.
“I’m not deaf just yet.”
He waited while she brought the little load of potato to her mouth. Once it arrived and she began to chew, he said, “I saw God.”
In the silence that followed he served himself as well.
“That’s nice, Dear.”
“No, Mom. Really. I saw God.”
Without taking her eyes off her meal, “You saw God?”
That made her look up, “You crazy?”
“Nobody sees God.” With absolute certainty.
“You did, huh? Then I guess you could tell me what He looks like?”
Ezra thought for a chewy while, then decided to be all honest about this, “He looks like an Eskimo, Mom.”
“Well, that confirms it. You are crazy.”
“No, I’m not. I saw Him.”
“And He looks like an Eskimo, you say?”
“Yes, He does.”
“Be a Dear and pass me the salt, will you.”
The urgent voice escaped the old wooden, but well-cared-for tube radio and filled the room: “He sees you. He will always see you. He sees your heart and sees you dripping with sin, sees you choking on sin and He will not lift a finger to help unless you repent, unless you stand up now and repent, and say ‘Lord, forgive me, I am nothing but a filthy sinner and I don’t deserve your forgiveness but I am sorry, truly sorry, so truly sorry. Oh, Lord, please, please forgive me.’ Not unless you open your heart to the Lord Jesus, put by God on this earth to suffer for your sins and bleed for your salvation. But only if you repent, only if you invite our Lord and Savior into your heart, only then will the gates of Heaven swing open for you, only then will you know peace. Let us pray.”
Ezra turned the volume down a bit.
“Don’t turn it down.”
He turned it back up, but not as much.
“I can’t hear.”
“He’s praying, Mom.”
“Amen. You know the number. Five-Five-Six, Eight-Two-Two-Eight. All lines are open right now. Well, not anymore. Just a minute. Hello. Yes. Okay. We have Agnes on line one.”
“Can Jesus forgive everything?”
“Can? Can? Of course He can. There is nothing our Lord and Savior cannot do. But does He want to, that is the question.”
“What will make him want to, then? Or not want to?”
“He will forgive every heart that asks forgiveness. Every heart that is truly sorry, steeped in remorse. He will not only disregard those who are not, He will despise them.”
“I am truly sorry.”
“I wish with all my heart I had not done it.”
“Sorry enough to help keep this station on the air?”
“How much what?”
“How much can you send us? Twenty? A Hundred? A Thousand?”
“Ten maybe, I don’t have a lot of money.”
“That would not be very sorry, would it?”
“No, I need to pay the rent.”
“Is that how you thank Jesus, our Lord and Savior, for suffering death on the cross? Is your earthly abode more important that your immortal soul?”
“You have the money but refuse to keep this station on the air?”
“Yes, No. I don’t refuse.”
“If you send us fifty dollars I think Jesus will see it fit to forgive you.”
“Yes, not a penny less.”
“Okay, I will.”
“Bless you my child.”
“And we have Ezra on line two.”
“Have you ever seen God?”
“Have you seen Him? God.”
“Of course, my son. I see Him every day, in my heart.”
“No, I mean met Him. Seen Him. For real. In real life.”
“You mean walking down the street?”
“Yes. With your eyes.”
“Are you crazy or something? Shouldn’t you be taking your meds just about now?”
“No, I’m not crazy. I don’t need meds.”
“No one sees God, my son. Not that way.”
“So how do you know He’s there?”
“You know with your heart.”
“Not with your eyes?”
“We’ll see Him with our eyes when we enter Heaven.”
“Not before, then?”
“Well, I’ve seen Him.”
“You’ve seen God?”
“And what does God look like, if I may ask?”
“Well, you had better sit down.”
“I am sitting down.”
“He looks like an Eskimo.”
“Line three, hello, who do I have here? Richard. Not as crazy as our last caller, I hope.”
“Ezra, what are you doing on the phone?”
“Just wanted to check.”
“Hang up this minute.”
“I already have, Mom.”
“Ezra. You’re a little early.”
“Yes, I know. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, no problem. He’ll just be a minute. Take a seat.”
He looked around the little room that doubled as a waiting room on Wednesdays. Pictures of Pastor Johnson and his wife (who doubled as receptionist on Wednesdays, and who had just let him in) getting married, meeting the Governor, waiving to the camera with the ocean and many islands far in the fading background, they must be high up somewhere. She was pretty then. Not as pretty now. Not bad looking, mind you, just not as pretty. Another picture showed Pastor Johnson talking on the phone, his wife busy typing. Both looking official. All photos black and white.
Pastor Johnson waiving from a boat, arm around his wife’s shoulder. Mrs. Johnson playing tennis.
“Ezra,” Mrs. Johnson again.
“The Pastor is ready.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Johnson.”
“How are you, Ezra? It’s good to see you again. Sit, please.”
“And how is your mother?”
“She’s doing well, but slowing down. And I think her hearing is fading.”
“Well, she’s getting on.”
“That she is.”
“And how is Ezra doing?”
“He’s doing fine too.”
Pastor Johnson was getting on as well. Quite fat. Thick hands. Nice eyes though, through thick glasses. No hair to speak of. Smelled of cigar, as did his office, if not his whole house.
“And what can I do for you, Ezra?”
“You’re probably going to think I’m crazy.”
“Well, try me.”
“I don’t know how to say this.”
Pastor Johnson said nothing. As did Ezra.
The pastor studied his hands for a while, then looked back up at a silent and now fidgeting Ezra. Finally, “Just say it.”
“Okay.” Ezra took a deep breath. “As it happens, I met God.”
Pastor Johnson didn’t flinch. Perhaps he didn’t hear.
“I met God, Pastor. Saw Him, with my own eyes.”
The pastor’s thick hands crawled out onto the blotter and his fingers formed a little pyramid. Pastor Johnson studied them for a long time, index against index, long against long, ring against ring, then he dismantled the structure and looked up. Big eyes floating in those thick glasses.
“You saw God?”
“You wouldn’t be putting me on or anything, would you Ezra?”
“You actually believe you saw God?”
“No, Sir. It’s not a matter of belief, Pastor Johnson. I know. I saw Him.”
The big eyes looked at him then seemed to slip away, sort of swim on for other parts of the ocean, couldn’t quite maintain contact. Then back to Ezra.
“Here on this earth?”
“Yes, Sir. Up by the marsh, just at the end of it, where it turns meadow. Just before the main road. There’s a path there.”
“Yes, I know.” A long pause. “I know where that is. That’s where you saw God?”
“Yes, Sir. Sitting on a fallen tree. A spruce, I think.”
“So, all right.” He stopped for a deep breath of his own and an even longer sigh. “So, Ezra, what did… what did He, God, look like? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“Well, that’s just it, Pastor Johnson, that’s the confusing part. He looked like an Eskimo.”
“Pretty much, yes. That’s what He looked like.”
Pastor Johnson swiveled a quarter turn on his chair and looked out the window, up. Ezra looked too. Not much to see but clouds out there. It would rain soon.
He swiveled back and looked straight at Ezra. “How do you know it was God you saw? And not, say, an Eskimo.”
“It’s kinda hard to explain.”
“Really, I want to know.”
“Well,” Ezra began, then fell silent. He then tried again, “I was kinda yelling at Him, you see, there by the end of the marsh. Kinda telling Him to show His face or else.”
The pastor’s eyebrows shot up—two bushy, surprised caterpillars, “You were threatening Him?”
“No, not really. I wouldn’t call it a threat. I was just sort of telling Him that if He wanted to keep me as a believer He’d better make an appearance.”
“And He did?”
“Yes, Sir. That’s the thing. That very instant. Out of nowhere.”
“And He looked…”
“Like an Eskimo, yes.”
“Then what happened?”
“He faded away.”
“Did He say anything?”
“No. He just faded away. Except for His mouth and His teeth.”
“Yes. They stayed on for a while. Sort of a smile just hanging there.”
“They left, too. His lips and his teeth left, too.”
“And that was it?”
“Yes, Sir. That was it.”
“Are you on any sort of medication at all?”
Pastor Johnson stood up. He was larger up close than he was in church. Imposing. Then he reached down and cleverly flicked open the lid to his wooden cigar box. Ezra could see that it was half full of the brown little torpedoes. The pastor studied them for a while as if deciding on which one, precisely. Settling the issue, he retrieved his choice and put it in his mouth but did not light it.
Talking around the cigar he said (which he did expertly), “You must understand that this is very hard to believe.”
“Yes, Sir. That’s why I’ve come to see you.”
“Because I would believe you?”
“No one else does.”
“Well, it is a little unusual.”
“I know it doesn’t happen every day.”
“That would be an understatement.”
“But now I know that He exists.”
“As an Eskimo?”
“I can’t help that that’s what He looked like.”
“You don’t mind, do you?”
Ezra looked up to see what he meant.
“No. No. Not at all.”
Pastor Johnson clicked the lighter and brought the flame to the tip of the cigar in his mouth. He inhaled quickly two, three times and then billowed a formidable gray cloud out into the small office. It soon reached Ezra and it smelled very badly. The pastor blew on the smoldering tip of the cigar, then drew two more times on it, making sure it was properly lit.
Satisfied, he sat down again and leaned back. The chair (its freedom so soon interrupted) creaked a protest under the weight but complied. Another cloud moved Ezra’s way. The pastor was getting harder and harder to make out through the acrid fog, but his voice was clear; and firm:
“God is not an Eskimo, Ezra.”
“I’m sorry, Sir, but that’s what He looked like to me.”
“God is not a physical person, Ezra.”
“I saw Him.”
“I know you think you did.”
“No, Pastor Johnson, I don’t think I did. I did.”
“All right, you did. You’re convinced you did. But you couldn’t have, son.”
“Why is that?”
“Because no one sees God.”
“Because He does not have a corporeal presence.”
“What does that mean?”
“Yes, what does it mean.?
“Well, that’s not exactly true, then. He does.”
“You think He does.”
“No, Sir, I know He does.”
“He does not.”
“Yes, He does.”
“I don’t think we’re getting anywhere, Ezra.”
“I just want someone to believe me. That’s why I came to see you. I thought you might.”
“I’m sorry. I believe what you say. I believe that you’re honest. But I don’t believe that you saw Him.”
“I don’t understand why that should be so impossible. The whole world believes that God exists. Right? Most, anyway, believe in some version of Him. Right?”
“The pastor drew heavily on his cigar, but said nothing.
“Well, nearly half the world, anyway,” said Ezra. “But no one can see Him?”
“No one has, Ezra.”
“I know. I know.”
“Why can it not be possible?”
“I’m sure it’s possible.”
“Just not for me. Is that what you’re saying?”
“No one, ever, has ever seen Him. No one. Ever.”
By now Ezra could hardly make out the bulky priest through the smoke. But the last words came through crystal-clear. No one, ever, has seen Him. No one. Ever. Well then, how do they know? How can they possibly know?
“How can you be sure then?”
“That He does exist.”
He could actually hear Pastor Johnson smile.
“Look all around you.”
Not an easy task. Though Ezra did what he was told. “So?”
“It’s His creation.”
“How do you know?”
“I just know.”
“Yes, but how?”
“With my heart, Ezra. With my heart.”
“Could be anyone.”
“Anyone could have made this. Doesn’t have to be God.”
“Trust me. God created Heaven and Earth.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“The Bible says so.”
“I know the Bible says so.”
“And the Bible is right.”
“I know we think so.”
“No, we know so.”
“No, Pastor Johnson, that’s just my problem. We don’t know so. We think so. We trust so. We believe so. We hope so. But we don’t know so.”
“Ezra, my boy. Maybe you’re having a spiritual crisis. Maybe you’ve been thinking too much.”
“Seeing God in the flesh does that to you.”
“Maybe you should, perhaps, ah, see a doctor?”
“Pastor Johnson. I feel perfectly fine. I know what I saw. I thought you would believe me.”
Ezra pushed off for one last attempt. “How can it be that everyone believes in Him? Believes that He exists. How can it be that everyone believes He created everything, but that if you say you saw Him, you’re crazy?”
“Oh, Heavens!” This from behind him. Ezra turned around and looked for the voice. Then he made out two flailing arms batting the smoke this way and that. They belonged to Mrs. Johnson.
“Open the window for Heaven’s sake. You shouldn’t smoke so much without any air.”
Mrs. Johnson felt her way through to the window and threw it open. The smoke escaped. Rushed out on the draft, happy to escape. Ezra followed suit.
Ezra stood at the very same spot, but now the fallen tree (which was indeed a spruce) was Godless. Not a trace. Of course there wasn’t a trace. He knew there wouldn’t be. But there had been the hope. Now, it too, was gone.
He sat down where God had sat and looked around, listened around, smelled around. He liked this clearing at the end of the marsh. I smelled both musty and so very alive. And just far enough away from things. You only heard forest here, and the frogs. And He had made all this, but you can’t see Him for then you’re crazy.
And then, out of the same nowhere, there He was again. Five feet away. On the path. Standing now where Ezra had stood just a moment before, and looking at him. God did seem a little surprised to see him, but it was Him, all right. Short, lean, Eskimo. Dark eyes.
Ezra smiled then. And as He smiled He felt Himself vanish by degrees, all but his smile. Fainter and fainter His face and arms and legs evaporated into greater and greater transparency, leaving nothing in the end but the Godly smile. And then with a sort of plopping sound, as if Basho’s frog just hit water, it, too, was gone.
The Eskimo did a number one in his pants.
Then he walked home hoping very much he wouldn’t meet anyone.