“. . .. when we look at our own lives and consider what God is doing there, we tend to forget that God is an artist.” from a pamphlet
Beth Hausman heard the grinding crunch as pain shot up her thigh and knew that her knee was going again. The steroid shots weren’t working any more. The next step was a knee replacement and there was no way that she could afford that. Not with no real job and no insurance. She wondered if selling the house would pay for it. She had already sold the car. She supposed she could get a loan against the house, but the neighborhood was going downhill. Now might be the time to get out.
Oh, well. There was no use fretting over it. She could put up with things the way they were for at least another half a year. Tutoring was bringing in enough to cover utilities and the garden was doing very well. The business license let her sell at the weekly flea market. And Bill had left her a little. Her relatives might not believe it, but he had. She wasn’t going to think about that either.
She would do one last weeding while it was still light. She’d check the compost pile. Most of the neighbors didn’t trust her, but they brought over their grass clippings and other trimmings. It saved them having to bag it and leave it at the curb for weeks, while the city pickup came alternately earlier and much later than scheduled. It saved her having to buy fertilizer. Between their grass and her bunnies, she had the best compost she had ever seen, and that was saying something. Beth had been composting before it was trendy.
Beth came around the corner of her shed and stopped dead. Usually the bunnies had their heads out, waiting for her. They could be in their shelters. The bunny hutches were a row of wood and chicken wire cages, built on stilts, so that she could tend them without stooping and so that the manure could drop down and make a little layer right in the compost bins. It was possible that they were in the wooden parts of the hutches, but Beth was immediately afraid that they weren’t.
Beth’s cane shook as she hobbled carefully along. She turned the wooden latch on each hutch and opened the side door. There were no rabbits. None. There was no sign of blood, which was both a relief and a worry. But no rabbits. Beth sighed. It was sad. She wondered who had taken them. Was it a neighbor? Someone visiting a neighbor? She was getting to be more and more vulnerable. She’d have to seriously think about moving. It was just her, now, after all.
Beth hobbled to a garden bench and sat down. She was 48, which wasn’t terribly old, and she was almost 180 pounds, which wasn’t terribly fat. It was a pity that the knees had gone. She had only ever been able to loose weight with a regular jolt of exercise to curb her appetite. But the knees had let her down. It was a good thing that she couldn’t afford junk food. She didn’t want to imagine what she’d look like then.
Beth pulled a bandana out of her overall pocket and dabbed at her eyes and nose. She sat back and let herself be sad. No one watching her would have noticed that she was sad. Her face just wasn’t used to making that expression. She looked tired, just tired, as she sat there in her sensible shoes and sensible short hair cut and no makeup.
Out of habit, she looked toward the impending sunset. When they had first moved there, she and Bill could sit and watch the sunset until the sun was behind the hills. But as the neighborhood became more distrustful, the fences had gotten higher and thicker. Now, she couldn’t see the hills from her back yard. She could still see the clouds, though, and the ones overhead were pinking.
Watching sunsets was the closest that Beth came to praying any more. Bill had believed in God, but hadn’t believed in churches. Not that he had ever asked her to stop going, he had supported her, in fact, fixing breakfasts for her either before or after, depending on which session she attended. It was her relatives and friends that had driven her away. They kept picking and prodding. She had though that they would adjust, eventually, but as time went on they had gotten more and more fervid.
Beth had never really thought about God, before Bill had explained his faith and asked her about hers. Bill was a good man, and a pious one in his own way. Beth had begun to explore what she did believe about God. She had even tried discussing it with her family. She was shocked at their reaction. Their complaints had begun to sound more and more foolish and more and more, well, mean.
Finally, sitting in her car in the church parking lot one Sunday, Beth had had an epiphany. Her family didn’t care about God directly, and they sure didn’t give a rat’s ass about truth. Her family cared about the church. They cared the way that a dog cared that the dogs around it smelled familiar. If they’d had better noses, they wouldn’t have needed the stories and the singing. They wouldn’t have needed to congregate to say the same things together and say amen at the expected pauses.
That wasn’t the last that she had thought about the subject. She knew that her epiphany had only been part of the truth. But it was a truth that her relatives would never admit to nor listen to with civility. So she had never spoken of it to them. She had driven home and talked to Bill.
Over the next year, her relatives had had fits. Over the next year, she and Bill had developed a habit of sipping tea and reading to each other on Sunday mornings, thinking about the world and the way people fit into it. At first, Beth was worried that the arguments with her family would go on forever. But eventually, her mornings with Bill had produced enough serenity between them to confuse her relations. They fretted for awhile and then they pulled out their big gun. They asked Pastor Jameson to visit the wayward couple.
He had come one Sunday. The three of them had had a nice long talk. He had been interested in the little library that they were slowly collecting. He had borrowed a book on comets. He had shaken their hands when they left and told them that he would re-assure her relatives that they were a good, Christian couple, adding only that the presence of other good people could sometimes be a comfort, and that they were welcome to visit the church at any time, with no recriminations.
Her relatives had never spoken to her again. They had switched churches as well.
Beth watched the portion of the sunset that she could see overhead. Slowly, the light shifted to gold, as if the air itself had thickened with it. It was a miracle that happened almost every day and most people went through their lives without ever catching and noticing that moment. The trick is to look away from the sunset at the right time.
God must be an artist, Beth believed. Or, maybe, doing art was the closest we could come to understanding God. She and Bill had had their portraits done in pastels once. They had watched a line of artists working on other portraits before choosing one. The beginning of a sketch was a mess. The artist put this color here and that color there and smudged it around. It didn’t look like there was more than a vague plan and it certainly didn’t look like they were being careful to put the right color in the right place.
It was only near the end that everything suddenly began to look right. For layer after layer, you just had to trust that the artist knew what they were doing, because it looked like a muddle. Beth believed that lives were like that. Neighborhoods were probably like that as well. You had to know when to stop, too. Working a piece past the point at which it was finished could ruin it, no matter how carefully the chalk was placed.
Beth had had a good life. She had a good life, still. It was a pity about the rabbits. The sunset deepened, the gold left the air as the clouds exploded in reds and pinks and oranges and purples. It was a pity she hadn’t weeded the garden, but it would be all right. It had been more important to sit and regain her equilibrium. She’d have to do her homework, before she decided whether to stay or relocate. For a wonder, her knees weren’t hurting. Beth had learned to notice and savor the moments when that happened. It usually didn’t last long.
The thing with osteoarthritis was that it was a mistake to hold still for too long, even if your knees were feeling fine. If you gave in to the temptation to hold still, the joint would swell and lock and hurt a lot when you finally had to move it. The trick was to shift them regularly, even if it hurt a little. Little hurts would settle down.
Beth though briefly about the cox2 inhibitor that she had tried. Her dentist had given her the pill samples. It had worked really well, but cost $86 for a two weeks supply. That was a pity. The moon began to show as the clouds darkened. It was a good sunset. Beth tried to shift her feet and couldn’t.
Oh, well. Sometimes the joints locked up. A mist was coming up, that probably wasn’t helping. She reached for her cane, to give her leverage, but paused to look back up. The moon wasn’t completely full and it was high enough that it wasn’t golden, either. But Beth liked silver moons, even partial ones. The belly of the moon was on the right, which meant that it was waxing, getting fuller. It would be even prettier tomorrow night.
Beth couldn’t feel her feet. That didn’t happen very often. It would be an added difficulty. She’d have to move her legs by hand until they woke back up. At least it wasn’t cold. The radio had led her to believe that it would be cold by now. But she was sitting in the mist and feeling fine.
It was nearly dark when she looked down and noticed the mushrooms. They canted up and opened around her feet, dozens at a time. It was mesmerizing. The mist and the dark kept her from immediately noticing that she was covered with a thickening mat of white threads. It wasn’t until she tried to move her arm and couldn’t pull her elbows away from her body that she really looked. By then, the threads were moving fast.
She was shocked and frightened, but it was hard to be really afraid of something so inexplicable. It just didn’t seem real. And it didn’t hurt. In fact, she felt better than she normally did. As her face was covered and she felt herself begin to slide into the ground, she thought, “Poor rabbits. If this was what got them, they must have been very frightened. I’m glad I watched the sunset instead of weeding the garden.”
Rabbits are small animals. I told you about animals. They’re living things that don’t talk, like the seagulls. Only rabbits are rounder and furry and have teeth instead of beaks.
No, they don’t fly and they don’t run like most four-footed animals do. They’re made to rear up, so they’re hind feet are longer, to support it. They hop instead of running.
No, it’s smoother than that. I’ll show you the next time I sleep.
No, I don’t know why she was thinking about the rabbits at the end. Except that she feels responsible for them, because she was tending them. I understand feeling responsible. I’m responsible for you.
Yes, it’s because you’re wonderful. And because you’re useful. And because you’re going to get more wonderful as we go along. I like you much more than I like the others.
Yes, she’d be a good second. I think she’s a helpful person. Some people just are. Some people are hard to deal with, but helpful people always try to figure a way to make dealing with them easier for you. I think she likes to puzzle things out, too. That will make things easier, maybe.
How many of the listed items matched, for her? You’re not sure about the chemistry? Oh, no college, but you felt books. I’m not sure how much chemistry she could have picked up on her own. It isn’t that sort of a subject. Maybe she knows enough to talk to, though. Are you sure you saw her reading plans?
That’s a very good match. You did very well. And I couldn’t explain about personalities, but I think you found one with a good personality for us. I think I might like her.
Yes, you did very well. Are you rested enough? This one should go quicker.