This is chapter one of my upcoming novel, And God Said…An Absurd Tale of Love, Power, and Paperwork. While I’m still editing, this should be close to final form.
Chapter one: Getting your bearings
The sign outside read, “Giovanni’s Italian Bistro: Serving the Nectar of the Gods 24 Hours a Day.” Naturally, the sign didn’t say that in most cases, the nectar of the gods was a good old Budweiser. Eli grabbed a towel and wiped down the dark mahogany bar. He looked out over the bright, airy dining room and out the glass doors to the boardwalk patio. The bar was busier than an average bar on Sunday nights. Eli’s clientele didn’t have jobs to go to, for the most part. The beginning of the work week hadn’t meant anything to them when they were working gods and it meant even less now that they were retired. Owning the only Italian Bistro in Jamaica had turned out even better than he had expected. Having God on your side helped and having all the gods in history on your side was even better.
The Sunday tone was on the sedate side since the heavy partiers like Dionysus and Aegir were missing. More than likely they were still recovering from the previous night’s festivities. The Sunday regulars tended to be the social drinkers, equally interested in drinking and talking. The conversation rarely turned confrontational, due to Eli’s long-standing policy against discussing religion – including the secular version known as politics. Of course that left the most popular topic in play.
Eli drew a beer from the tap and handed it to the woman at the end of the bar. She attracted the attention of every male organism in the bar and rightly so. Venus was the most beautiful woman in history and a goddess to boot. Her rose-colored hair fell to her waist. Her cobalt blue dress exhibited her ample curves and milky white skin.
Venus tipped Eli five dollars and turned her attention to the man seated next to her at the bar: A knight, complete in full armored regalia, sipping on a glass of what appeared to be a stout beer, but was, in fact, sarsaparilla.
“Hello,” she said as she edged slightly closer to the knight. “I’m Venus.”
She looked him up and down, her eyes flowing over his shining suit of armor, pausing for an extra second, perhaps, at the codpiece. A wily creature, Venus knew where a bit of extra attention would be appreciated.
Eli shook his head. That was the fifth different guy this week. Venus was such a tramp.
“I’m John,” said the knight.
“Really, a knight,” she said. “What do you do for fun?”
“I am on a great quest,” said the knight, who was suddenly all too aware of his codpiece and trying desperately to keep his eyes at her neck or higher. Mostly he was failing.
“Really?” said Venus. “Tell me all about it.”
John regarded her cautiously, but definitely not without interest. He didn’t usually have extraordinarily beautiful women approaching him like this. He didn’t want to be distracted from his quest, but a momentary dalliance might be quite enjoyable. For a moment.
“I am searching for the infamous Sampo,” said the knight. “A treasure beyond treasure, a jewel beyond jewels.” He struggled to find the appropriate superlative. “A crème brulee beyond crème brulees.”
Venus leaned forward in interest, accentuating her already profound chest, and put her hand on his knee briefly, expertly, before retreating.
“Sounds interesting. Where do you expect to find this Sampo of yours?”
“I know not where the Sampo may be found, but rest assured, I will find it. I will let nothing stand in my way,” John paused dramatically, hoping Venus might express a bit more interest, lean a bit more his way, and maybe even reach out to touch him again. No luck. “I’m pretty sure, though, that it is around here somewhere. It’s close, I can feel it. Practically taste it. The taste of victory.”
“Ooh, sounds wonderful.” Venus quivered temptingly in her chair.
“It is,” said John, as he appreciated the quiet undulations before him.
“So you think it’s right here in Vatican City?”
“Vatican City? I thought this was Kingston, Jamaica.”
“It is,” said Venus. “But the Vatican is right across the street.”
She gestured out the window, where the Vatican stood in all its majesty, towering over the bar. St. Peter’s Basilica, the Papal Palace, and St. Peter’s square: It was all there. The Vatican, unmistakable, undeniable. Undeniably, unmistakably in Jamaica. John frowned at the Vatican, then turned back to Venus.
“That’s a bit strange,” said John. “I’m fairly certain the Vatican is supposed to be in Italy.”
John stood up and walked over to the window, allowing the Vatican to fill his field of vision. He stood entranced.
“So why is it here?”
Venus shrugged, her interest fading as the knight’s interest in her was displaced by a fascination with the Vatican, just meters away. John straightened, remembering his quest, and his eyes grew larger. Without a word, he left the bar. Behind him, Venus sighed and looked around the bar for her next conquest.
Her eyes rested on her next prospect, a nut she had tried to crack before, without success. He wasn’t much to look at anymore. The years had caused his blonde hair to begin to turn prematurely gray and added stress lines around his blue eyes. He was still fairly fit, with just a hint of a potbelly beginning to emerge and still his arms and spine looked strong. His eyes were a bit tired, but his mouth remained ever young, mirthful. She hadn’t seen him in years, but knew him immediately, despite the change in him. She slid into the empty seat at his table.
“God, I hope this seat isn’t taken.”
“Not at all. Nice to see you again, Venus.”
“How long are you in town? We should catch up.”
“I’d like to,” he said. “But tonight’s my last night. Vacation is over. I’ve got to go back home tomorrow.”
“Well then,” she said. “We’ll just have to make tonight count, now won’t we?”
Venus smiled and the man turned away and sighed. She picked up his drink and took a small sip. It was a Manhattan. Some things never change. She set the glass back down and slipped her hand onto his.
“Venus, I thought I had made myself clear the last time. I’m not interested.”
“God, what’s your problem? Don’t you like me?”
“I like you fine,” said God. “Just not interested in being another one of your conquests. Odin is right over there, though. He never seems to mind.”
Venus took her hand away and leaned back in her chair. God gulped down the last of his drink and stood up. He bowed slightly and turned to leave. Venus sighed again, then looked over to where God had pointed. Sure enough, there sat Odin. She thought he was winking at her. Since he had only one eye, she couldn’t be sure. Either way, Odin was a sure thing and after two misses in a row, Venus needed a sure thing. She ambled over to his table and sat down. Odin smiled.
Outside God hailed a cab to head back to his hotel. He sighed as he settled into the backseat. He tended to become melancholy at the end of a vacation. He only took one week a year, usually in the spring, and always to Jamaica. He loved the Jamaicans. They always treated him very well and he loved their laid-back approach to life. He had a lot of followers in Jamaica, but they weren’t too formal about it. God could go there and still cut loose a little bit, without it becoming a big thing. That just wouldn’t work in, for example, Alabama. Not that anyone would ever vacation in Alabama anyway.
God’s thoughts turned back to Venus. He did not regret brushing her off, but her advances, however unwelcome, did remind him of the gap in his life. While he enjoyed being god, it did have its downside. He didn’t have any other active gods to turn to for support, encouragement, or even just simple empathy. Certainly there were no women to provide the comfort only a woman can. Nor could the Jamaicans. God felt supported by them, but it was not the same.
The joy God always felt when he arrived in Jamaica was always counterbalanced by the gloom that descended upon his return to New Jersey. He looked over Kingston from his hotel window as he got ready for bed and again sighed heavily. He smiled and gave the city a sad, silent goodbye. Reluctantly he shut the curtains, got into bed, and went to sleep. New Jersey awaited him in the morning.