Night Swimming

Proof of the Divine

by Jeff Beardwood

Time entered The Coffeehouse of the Gods and scanned its large space as He headed toward His usual table. Time and History always got together on Thursday mornings to play a game of chess. They were old friends. Being about the same age, of course, they had been through a lot together…practically everything.

Time hurried across the crowded space to the table. Were Time ever to actually arrive late, History would never let Him live it down.

Today History recognized Time right away…greeted Him warmly. The chess board was all set up even. This was not always the case. In recent years, History had become quite senile, to the point where it had become common knowledge, even among mortals, that History repeats Itself.

“The place is just packed this morning,” Time noted as He took His seat.

“Bah, Aphrodite had another one of Her shindigs last night,” History spat, expressing Her disapproval in no uncertain terms.

Aphrodite’s All-Pantheon Parties were indeed famous in the right circles.

“More minor deities here than you could shake a stick at,” Time noted, absently scanning the crowd. “Your move first,” He added, briefly turning His attention back to the chessboard.

History studied the board intensely. This was an endless source of wonder to Time. Perhaps it was a particular function of Her senility, but no matter how often they played out this scenario, History always examined every possibility and recourse before making exactly the same, rather simple opening move.

Having grown accustomed to this quirk, Time bided Himself…taking the opportunity to see exactly who was here.

A host of Greek and Roman gods clustered around the coffee bar, most cupping their lattes unsteadily between both hands, occasionally sipping quietly. This crowd didn’t get out much anymore. It must have been a particularly raucous bash to draw them all here this morning. Misery loving company applies doubly so to the misery of a hangover.

A loud clap of thunder in a distant corner indicated Zeus was around somewhere, suffering for His over indulgence. The booming sound made every other patron in the place wince and glare in His general direction.

To His great surprise, Time noted there was even a centaur and a minotaur sipping hot chocolate at a darkened booth along the far wall, holding their heads between sips to brace them against the throbbing. “That half-human, half-animal thing went out with “Beauty and the Beast,” Time quipped. “A wonder they are here with the “in crowd” at all. I mean, they are only the supporting cast to minor deities at best!”

History ignored him. Back on the chessboard, She had at last made Her move—the same move She always opened with, of course. Time very quickly countered, then returned to His examination of the Coffeehouse.

“Hey, there’s Cupid,” Time noted aloud, half standing and waving at the tiny sprite of a god. Cupid, who if He noticed at all, ignored the greeting. His stare was fixed on the cup of cold, bitter tea in front of Him. Time had not been kind to Cupid in recent years. It was an undignified ending for a once noble deity; reduced to being the symbol for bad flowery rhymes and candied hearts. Even the new god, Hallmark, who had supplanted Cupid in modern days, had fared only marginally better.

Observing the bleary group before Him, Time began to have pity on the poor mortals. “Mortals always seem to take the brunt of things when the Gods get drinking,” He thought. He was certain that last night countless humans mysteriously found their car keys missing (a perennial favorite, if not terribly creative trick of tipsy Godly types). A great many others would receive exactly what they asked for under their breath—poor sods! And of course, a rare, select few wound up suffering horribly through all manner of wildly unlikely events perpetrated solely for the amusement and edification of some unruly God. Every mortal can point to one person of their acquaintance who has gone through a day such as that – like the auto mechanic who, suffering from a mind-wipe of epic proportions, pours a can of gasoline extracted from the latest carburetor job down the garage toilet, then ten minutes later sits down right there to have a peaceful crap, lights a welcome cigarette, throws the match into the toilet and…well, you guessed it.

“For all their fretting and speculation,” Time continued on, fascinated by his own inner dialogue, “if humans ever really want proof of the Divine, they need to stop looking in the wrong places. They needn’t look to miracles or dusty tomes. Forget tracing known physical patterns in the Universe. Forget their spiritual leaders and wise seers! If they want proof of The Great Beyond, they need to attend to the stumbling footsteps of the Gods crashing in on their lives; the smell of stale Baby Duck on the breath of the Immortals, the chilly bite of irony in the air. It is through the Gods getting wine-bebibbered and playing silly bugger with the human race that mortals can best detect the grander scheme of things!”

”Duh!”

“I know, it’s always the things right in front of our noses we miss. But really!” He continued, unchecked.

Again, History indicated She’d completed Her move. Time continued to unleash His usual attack, making His next move, closing in on poor History’s king.

Time, of course plays the greatest trick of all on humans. Those long interminable moments contrasted by the fleeting nature of a lifetime. The blur of time is more harsh that Aphrodite’s band dropping in one night and hiding your keys, surely.

“Ah, indeed, but whichever deity is the culprit at any given moment, it is by embracing Farce that the human race can move closer to their Gods,” He continued, puffed extravagantly with self-satisfaction.

Then He glanced back at the board and caught just a passing gleam in the ancient eyes of History as Her smile broadened. His first thought was that someone familiar must have come into the coffeehouse. Then, the other shoe dropped. Not a sneaker, or a slipper—a full blown, size ten, knee-high stilletto right there on the game table in front of Him, metaphorically speaking.

“Checkmate,” History said decisively, removing Her fingers from the game piece, Her smile unfurling into a soft rolling laughter.

Time stopped.

He examined the board. It was exactly as She had said. “But how?” He asked in wonder. Time had never, ever lost a game.

History just gave a playful wink and began to pack up, much as She had always done at the end of every other weekly game for many ages. Time would certainly pay more attention to the next game. Let the mortals take care of their own concerns; nurture their own appreciation for irony; find their
own darned car keys! He had more important matters to focus on from here on out.