The Atheist and God
by Jane Seaford
I am more feminine than masculine, God said.
So youre a woman? Nicola asked.
Thats not what I said. I am God, neither man nor woman, but I have more female characteristics. I prefer people to refer to me as she rather than he.
Nicola found this odd, since she and God had started talking to each other, she had assumed he or rather she was male. She wasnt sure what she felt about him or rather her not being a man. Shed thought of him as sitting on cloud, wearing white robes, with long hair, brown but speckled with grey and a long beard. Nicola knew this idea came from other peoples imaginations but nonetheless the image had provided a reassuring picture to hold in her head given she couldnt see the being talking to her.
Why havent you mentioned your gender before? Nicola asked.
I waited hoped for you to notice yourself. But Ive realised that was unlikely. God sighed.
You have a deep voice, so I assumed you were male, Nicola said.
Thats just the way you heard me. Listen again. Keep listening. Now, how do I sound?
Quite, God said.
I suppose as a feminist your femaleness should please me.
Quite, God said again, the word tinged with irony.
I embraced feminism years ago, Nicola said.
Nonetheless you let George make all the major decisions, didnt you?
Oh do shut up. God was becoming as irritating as Nicolas best friend, Erica, who had recently changed her name to Maud.
You know better than to speak to me so rudely, but I will shut up. God yawned. Time to end our conversation. I need a nap.
I didnt know you slept.
God yawned again and Nicola decided she, too, could do with a short lie down. Talking to a superbeing had exhausted her.
Her conversations with God had started a few months ago, two weeks after George had told her he no longer wanted to live with her. Told her, took twenty minutes to pack his clothes, a few CDs and books, his power tool and his laptop. He had loaded the bigger of the cars, saying hed arrange to come with a van for his other things. Nicola stood in the doorway. She had yelled at George as he went from room to room shoving things in bags while she followed him, alternating between demanding he stay and listing his faults. Now she opened her mouth to shout one last venomous insult as he drove away. Nothing came out. She was at a loss for words.
She also felt confused and distraught. For some time she moved around the house, touching things, looking out of the windows at the garden George had tended so lovingly, sobbing now and then, telling herself his departure hadnt really happened. After twenty years of marriage, George couldnt be deserting her. His leaving was the worst thing that had ever happened to her. And made even worse because he hadnt said why, even when shed screamed the question, over and over.
At six she poured a glass of wine and readied herself to talk to Erica. She winced as she looked at the phone, Erica neither liked nor approved of George and rather than sympathise she might tell Nicola it was a good thing. But as her best friend, Erica should be the first to know. In addition, she prided herself on her practical qualities and might have some good advice. Nicola winced again, not sure she wanted good advice. So she had another big cry and a second glass of wine.
Its me, Erica, Nicola said.
Ive already told you. Im called Maud now.
Oh Yes. Recently Erica had announced that as a feminist she no longer wanted to have a name that was an a added to a mans name. When Nicola asked why she had waited so long to change, Erica snorted, said some things took time and that Nicola was also a feminisation of a male name
You dont sound too perky, Erica said now.
No, Nicola said and the enormity of her husbands behaviour hit her again and the tears came.
Has something dreadful happened? Erica sounded concerned.
George has left me, Nicola sobbed. And waited for Erica to reply. And waited.
Say something, Nicola said eventually.
Im so sorry, Erica said. But (there would, of course, have to be a but) once you get over it
Ill never get over it.
Oh you will.
Erica had offered to keep her company for the evening, but Nicola had wanted to spend time alone with her sadness. Later, going to bed, she shouted at God.
How could you have let George leave me? No reply came, but Nicola hadnt expected one. She was, after all, an atheist.
Erica arrived the following evening with a cottage pie that she put in the oven. She frowned when Nicola filled her wine glass for the second time, but she listened and nodded while Nicola poured out her grief. When Erica gathered her things together, ready to leave, the two women hugged. She hadnt mentioned Nicola getting over George, nor had she made any of her usual comments about him getting his own way too often, or being pompous, or having a schoolboy sense of humour.
Nicola spoke to George from time to time. Telephone calls on practical matters, discussion about selling their house, which she ignored. And eventually, when she persisted, he told her why he had left.
I want I mean we were in a rut.
Were we? Nicola asked.
Oh yes, George said.
See, Erica said when Nicola relayed the conversation to her. Hes still treating you as if you didnt know your own mind.
What should I do? Tell him the rut was in his imagination and so he should come home?
Of course not Youll come to realise youre better off without him.
Nicola glared at her friend, realising that, after two weeks of difficult sympathy, Erica had reverted to her usual dismissal of George.
He was - is the love of my life, Nicola said, pondering the truth of her words. When they first met they had both burned with passion, she told herself. It had lasted for years. She sighed. Maybe she had become complacent, had not in spite of what Erica said listened to George and given him what he wanted.
Later, in bed Nicola felt the heaviness of grief, made worse because she wondered if shed behaved differently she could have kept George with her.
Oh God, what could I have done to keep him? she cried out.
Youre asking the wrong question, came a voice from the other side of the room.
Nicola sat up. Whos that? she asked.
Who do you think?
Its not God is it?
Who else could it be?
But Im an atheist.
Im the God of everyone, even non-believers.
Perhaps Im making you up, or going mad.
Youre not going mad. Youre having a tough time and Ive come to help you.
Why didnt you come when George first left?
I considered visiting you then, but you werent ready.
Am I ready now?
I think so. Now go to sleep. Well talk tomorrow.
Nicola woke late the next morning, refreshed. Although still unhappy she felt now she was strong enough to cope.
Are you there, God? she asked.
I am. Do you want to talk about George?
Fire away then.
I didnt know God used that sort of expression.
Youll find I speak much like you do.
Right. By the way although Im talking to you I still call myself an atheist.
Thats OK. Life is confusing, complex and contradictory, isnt it?
Yes. Like whats happening to me now. I dont understand how George who said so often that he loved me adored me could leave me. Mind you, its been a long time since he used those words, except when I asked him.
George is probably in two minds. Partly wanting a new life, partly wanting the comfort and familiarity of the old one.
But the new-life part won. Nicola said. She and God had a long conversation about George and Nicola had to admit, reluctantly, she found certain things he did and said irritating, moreover she enjoyed some aspects of living without him.
Breakfast time, Nicola said eventually.
Its a shame I cant appreciate eating, given I created food as pleasurable, God said and sighed.
You created sex, too, Nicola sad.
True and that, too, I cant indulge in.
Poor you, Nicola said. She felt better than she had done since George left.
She hadnt intended to tell Erica about her conversations with God but the topic came up one Sunday over a visit to a restaurant for lunch.
Youre recovering. Youve smiled three times and laughed twice, Erica said.
Yes. Thanks to God. Ive found him a great help.
But youre an atheist.
Yes. Just because I dont believe in God doesnt mean he doesnt exist. He and I talk to each other every day.
Dont be silly, its you imagining him to help you cope with losing George. Erica said and when Nicola laughed she added: Does he speak English?
Of course, Nicola said. Otherwise I couldnt understand him.
If he existed, which he doesnt, hed speak Hebrew. Given where he was invented.
I imagine he can speak every single language. Ill ask him next time we talk.
I see your friend wants to persuade you not to believe in me, God said a few days later.
Shes a bit irritating. She never liked George. And I cant get used to calling her Maud when her names Erica.
I can see why you feel like that. Nonetheless youre fond of her and you enjoy her company, even her bossiness . Reminds you of George Does it not?
Oh, Nicola said. Id not considered that. But its true. I think. Except I answer back to Erica and I rarely did to George.
So youre coming to terms with the end of your marriage?
No. If I could have George back tomorrow I would. Im learning to live without him but I miss him dreadfully and I wish you hadnt let him leave me.
Maybe it was for the best.
Youre beginning to sound like Erica. And by the way she says I shouldnt think of you as a he.
Right, God said and this was when he or rather she told Nicola she was more feminine than masculine.
Youre right, Erica. God does not exist.
Call me Maud. So, regarding God, youve come to your senses.
Possibly. Nicola felt defensive. When God said she was more feminine than masculine I saw a big problem. How could a God who identified as female let all the awful things that happen, happen? How could she have let George leave me? A female God wouldnt have let him go; shed have found a way of helping us sort out our issues. Also, she wouldnt have created our world with all its horrors: war, terrorism, pandemics, children dying, men in charge everywhere.
So because God told you she was more woman than man you stopped believing in her? Erica asked.
No need to raise your eyebrows. Nicola said. My logic is impeccable Isnt it? she added quietly to God.
Absolutely, God replied.
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