Part II - Defeat
After the Apocalypse
"Well, you've really made a mess of things this time, haven't you?"
"Shut up, woman."
"'Shut up, woman.' So that's how it is, is it?"
"You know my name."
"My first name."
Longer pause. "Gaia."
"Now that wasn't so hard, was it?"
"So what are you going to do about it?"
"Do about what?"
"’Do about what?'” she said sarcastically. “You have one son burning in eternal fire while the other one is prancing about on this purified earth of yours like he's god almighty."
Yahweh just looked at her.
"All right. All right,” she said. “I know he's supposed to be doing that. But what about all the others? When are you going to tell them that history hasn't ended? When are you going to tell them that the party's over?"
"You have to tell them some time. When is it going to be?"
Still more silence.
"Why is it so hard for you? It's not like you lied to them. You just couldn't tell them everything at once. They'll understand."
"Do you really think so? Do you really think they'll just say, 'Well, we're glad you told us and now we're ready to move on.' Do you think it will be that simple?"
"One can always hope."
Again, he just looked at her.
"Yahweh, they have to know sometime. The longer you wait, the harder it will be."
"They'll think I betrayed them."
"At first, perhaps, then they'll get over it."
"If only I could be so sure."
"But you can't be certain. You'll have to risk it."
"And if they turn away from me?"
"Oh, so that's it. You want their love. You want them to like you."
"Just don't let that blind you to your duty."
"You know, Gaia, I never thought it would come to this. Who would have believed it?"
"Oh, you knew all right. You just kept putting it off."
"I wanted everything to unfold the way I told them it would."
"Now it has and now it's time to move on."
"But I never told them that."
"No, you never did. And now it's time."
"You're repeating yourself."
"So what am I supposed to say? That Yahweh does not know it all? That Yahweh can't do it all? That Yahweh needs help from those he created?"
"That's it exactly."
"I can't do it."
"You can do it and you will."
"It's so . . . demeaning, so degrading."
"So honest. And that is one virtue you can still retain."
"I don't know what to say."
"Say you're tired. Say you're old. Say it's time for them to take over. They are your children after all."
“Since when did they become just my children?"
"Well, that's what you always say. You never mentioned me at all."
"Well, it made things easier, neater. It . . . simplified things."
"By leaving me out?"
"Well, that, too, must change."
"If you're so knowledgeable, how come you’re so stupid at times?"
"I don't know. Just luck I guess." He looked at her and smiled, then held out his arms to her. She came forward and sat beside him, an arm around his shoulder.
"So tell me," he asked. "What do you think of our children?"
"Which ones?" she asked. "The flying children? The winged children? The crawling children? The star children? The planet children? You have to be specific."
"Well, then, those two-legged ones on that planet around Sol, way out in the galactic arm, the ones who think they're all by themselves."
"They've got potential if they'll use it. But they need discipline. You always let them get away with too much."
"I think that 'God is love' thing may have been too lenient."
"Well, now they'll find out that God isn't quite what they were told." "They were just children. I did what I could for them. I explained it in simple, easy-to- understand terms, with only a few basic rules so they wouldn't get confused. Then as they grew up and needed a tutor, I sent my son there to be with them."
Gaia removed her arms from Yahweh and looked at him, directly in the eyes.
"And what about Satan? He's your son, too."
"He will stay where he is for now."
Gaia stood up in fury.
"It cannot last! The situation is intolerable! You are forcing our sons apart when they should be working together."
"In time, woman, in time."
Gaia folded her arms and continued staring at him.
"You're pathetic," she said.
Yahweh looked at her then looked away.
"You really are pathetic," she said, emphasizing each syllable in the last word.
"No," he said, "I'm divine."
"You're divinely pathetic," she said again. "And I hope they scorn you."
"Have no fear of that, my dear," he said wearily. "They will when they realize their god is a fraud, an old man who cannot die but is still limited, who is not all good, all knowing or all powerful. Yes, they will indeed scorn me. They will feel betrayed. Isn't that how children feel when they see their parents clearly for the first time?"
"Oh, don't be too hard on yourself," Gaia replied softly. "It might go better than you think."
He looked at her, wanting to believe, afraid to believe.
"But then what about our sons?" he asked. "How can they be recon- ciled? One always did what he was told. The other never did what he was told."
"But he loved you as much as the other did."
"No!" he cried, beating a fist into a palm, "He didn't! He envied me. Yes, he wanted my power. But he never loved me. He sought to destroy me."
"He sought to be like you. You just never understood him."
"Here we go again," said Yahweh sarcastically. "'I never understood my sons.'"
"No," replied Gaia, "You never did. You wanted obedient children, not creative ones. You always kept that for yourself and when Satan wanted to create as well, wanted to be just like Dad, a chip off the old block, did you gather him into the fold? Did you give him room to create? No, you did not. Yet you sit there and wonder why things fell apart."
"You make me sound so cruel."
"I remember Job."
"That was different. That was a test."
"Yes, and you failed."
Yahweh glared at her. "I don't know what you mean."
"Yes, you do. You just wish you didn't. You tested Job's love for you, his devotion, his faith in you. And our son tested you and you failed. I knew you would. By definition you have the biggest ego around. And you just had to prove it by grinding Job into the earth, by torturing this poor, innocent man until maggots ate his flesh, until you appeared as Leviathan in all your imperial spectacle to prove how great and vast you think you are. I felt sorry for him."
"I gave back everything, and more. His faith was strong."
"Your ethics were weak. You had no right to crush him."
"It was a test!"
"And so is this. I'm waiting to see how you'll do."
"And do you have no role except spectator?"
"I created this," and she swept her hand across the sky. He started to object. "With your help," she added, and he relaxed. "But both of us are old. Both of us are tired. The circle is turning round. Our time is nearly over. It's time to let go."
"I don't know what to do," he replied.
"Then it's best to do nothing for a while."
"You don't know for sure that Cain killed him."
Adam was silent.
"You don't know, do you?"
"I know what I saw. I saw Abel dead, blood pouring from his head."
"From the back of his head."
"So Cain hit him from the back. That makes it even worse."
"Maybe Cain pushed him away for some reason."
"It's still murder."
"Maybe it was an accident. You said Cain was holding him and cry- ing."
"They were tears of remorse and guilt. Cain envied Abel."
"He loved Abel."
"They fought all the time."
Adam looked at her impatiently. "Fighting doesn't always mean love, my dear. It can also mean malice."
"Our sons never felt that way toward each other and you know it."
"Even Yahweh knew Cain did it. He was right there with me, judging Cain, condemning him. I was his mouthpiece."
"Maybe even He was wrong. He certainly was when He condemned us, wasn't he?"
Adam looked away.
"Yes . . . No . . . I don't know."
"Well, I do. Testing one's children is not love. It's sadism."
"Yahweh is not sadistic."
"Then what is He? Surely you can't still believe He's all good, all knowing, all caring, can you? How can anyone so blind possibly see clearly?"
"You don't understand."
"No, I guess I don't," she admitted.
There was a long silence between them, and no movement. Finally Eve spoke.
"I loved both of them, you know."
Pause. "I know."
"Now one is dead and the other is exiled. We have no more family. It's just you and me once again. But this is not the Garden. Life is not easy here. It's hard. It's filthy. It stinks. It's painful and we're going to die. I guess I should have eaten from the other tree. At least we'd live forever. That was legal. That we could do. He never said we couldn't. Just think what it would have been like, to live forever in that garden paradise - no worries, no cares, no sorrow, no pain."
"Stop it, Eve."
"No, I won't stop it! He had no right to throw us out. What is wrong with knowledge anyway? Were we to remain children forever? Why couldn't we grow up and still be in the Garden? Answer me that, Yahweh! Come here and answer me that!"
"See?" she said to Adam. "Just like always. Punish, punish, punish. That's all He thinks about! Do this. Don't do this. Don't do that. He treats us just like children but worse, far worse than we ever treated our own. With Him, there's no forgiveness, no second chance. One shot, that's it. You flubbed? Sorry, you're outta here.
"And say we have more kids. What kind of life will we bring them into? Why should they want to live once they see this place? How can we tell where we came from? What we did to them? How could they ever forgive us? Oh, hold me, Adam, hold me tight."
Adam held her as she cried. Then she stopped and rested her head on Adam's shoulder, staring far away.
"Roses have thorns here. After the petals and smell are gone, the thorns remain. And I always seem to be pricking myself. It's not right, Adam, it's not fair and as much as you want to keep justifying Him, you can't. You really can't."
"So what happens now?" Adam asked.
"I don't know," she replied. "I really don't know."
The Countess Erdmuth is dying. Her son, Christian Renatus, is already dead and buried in the foreign land of England. She feels very little pain and, in fact, there is little physically that is wrong with her. Yet she steadily weakens. Her skin grows pale and translucent, clearly showing her veins.
A knock at the door. One of the Single Sisters waiting on the countess goes to open it, bows to whom she sees and swings the door open widely, stepping back herself, for Nicholas to enter.
Erdmuth sees all of this, sees her husband staring at her, sees her dying reflected in his face, and waits for him to draw near her bed.
He sits in the chair vacated by the sister, who leaves the room, shutting the door quietly behind her.
Erdmuth still stares at Nicholas. He looks away, then looks back at her and begins, haltingly, to speak.
"My . . . dear . . . "
She holds up her right hand, the index finger raised, and points it at him.
"You pathetic, weak creature," she says.
"Erdmuth . . ."
"No!" she snaps. "Say nothing. You disgust me. You killed our son and now I gladly join him, far from your grasp, your heart religion that has no heart, no center, but vacillates daily depending on how you feel. How - you - feel!" she stressed. "As though your feelings mattered. As though your feelings could affect the world. As though your hot and cold, your wet and dry, could ever stand up to its pressures. Well, we know the answer to that now, don't we?"
Nicholas said nothing at first, then, slowly, "I didn't know you hated me so much."
"I didn't at first," she admitted, "Not when we were young. I saw you as beautiful, beautiful and firm in the spirit. I saw the spirit using us to create a new religion, a religion for now, for our people, for all people. And we started it. WE started it! And then you collapsed. You gave in. Rumor frightened you. Scandal scared you. And worse, the threat of penury made you weaken. You had no faith. No faith!
"Our son did," she continued. "My son, my beautiful boy. Remember how proud we were of him?"
Nicholas said nothing.
"We wrapped him in silks and linens, with lace from the hands of the Single Sisters wrapped all about his head. And he never cried, never whimpered. He was a good boy. The Son of God lived through him. You said that. I knew it and he believed it. He acted on it. And we, our family, didn’t we represent the very Trinity itself, Father, Son, the Holy Spirit as Mother and Benigna as the wisdom of Sophia? Didn’t the very godhead live through us?”
"Hush, Erdmuth, blasphemy," said Nicholas, looking towards the door. "We were wrong, so very wrong."
"No, we were not wrong, my husband; we compromised!" she shouted. "Compromise the spirit and it leaves! Yes, you have nice, decent church towns all over the world, filled with nice, decent people who worship their carefully selected truths and beliefs but they . . . feel . . . nothing. Where is the passion? Where is the ecstasy? That is what you have destroyed. That is what you killed. You had it. You helped create it. And then you destroyed it. Nicholas, you are cursed!"
"The church had to survive," he said. "What good is truth if it cannot be sustained? The church lives."
"The church," she replied, "has no guts."
He stood up and walked to the window.
"I'm sorry you feel that way," he said. "Especially now. But changes had to be made. We had to mature, to refine our beliefs. We . . . went astray, somehow. But now we’re back on the right path and converts are increasing daily. The Word spreads and will continue to spread long after both of us are gone. What is wrong with that?"
"Christian was the future and now he’s dead so there is no future!"
"But if you only realized how much Christian spent on those festivals of his. The church was being bankrupted. We had no choice."
"There is always a way," she emphasized. "You should have found the money."
"I did," he replied. "I bled our missions dry to keep him and you going. I kept the creditors and scandalmongers away from you both for as long as I could. But even I couldn't deny what I saw in that room, the blasphemy, with his male harlots." Erdmuth slapped the mattress hard with her hand. It made a sharp crack. Nicholas looked at her in surprise.
“How was that different from our hymns which sing of the Bridegroom coming for his brides?"
"Erdmuth, be serious."
"I am serious!" she shouted, then fell back against her pillow with a gasp. The door opened and the sister looked in. Erdmuth saw her and shook her head slightly. The sister withdrew and shut the door.
The countess looked at Nicholas and smiled weakly, then held out her hand to him. He came back to the bedside, sat in the chair again and took her hand in his. It was cold to his warmth. He rubbed it gently between his hands. She looked at him kindly.
"Soon I will leave you," she said, "And you will manage the church as you wish, as you have always done. Early on, you sought my advice. We always worked together. We were a team in the first days of the world. But after a while, you turned your ear towards new advisors until you were surrounded solely by men and I was just a woman, after all. Then I only had Christian while you had the world. It was an even swap. I raised him and taught him the way he should go until he burned with the spirit inside him like fire.
"You say he was extravagant, that he was unrealistic. But you don't know how much he loved you. How much he needed your respect. How much he wanted to be with you and how much he wanted you to be proud of him. He was never the same after that night."
Nicholas has stopped rubbing her hand, dreading to think where her words were going.
"His spirit was broken. He wanted your approval so much that he was willing to deny all he believed, all he'd been taught and all he knew about who and what he was, in order for you just to love him. And like you, he was very weak, very fragile. I protected him as long as I could but I knew there was a time when you would take my son away from me, but I never, ever, thought you would destroy him."
"Please don't," said Nicholas. She took her hand, pressed it to his cheek and he started crying.
Erdmuth pulled her hand away and pointed towards the west, looking far beyond the walls of her room, far beyond German soil, beyond Europe, across the Atlantic to the New World and saw very clearly in her mind's eye what she was looking for.
"They say his spirit is not dead, you know. They say it lives in Pennsylvania, in the spring named for him, and that the brothers you cast out from Herrnhaag drink of that spring, which is his blood and also pure, clear water. They drink of his blood and he enters them and they become one and whole in the spirit.
"You killed him, Nicholas, but our son lives on. And even when all those men die, and the buildings themselves are leveled, I promise you the water of his blood will flow again and someone, some day, shall drink of it and know it for what it is and on that day I shall rejoice."
She looked at Nicholas, who had nothing to say. She gave him her hand. He drew it to his lips and kissed it.
"Now leave me," she said. "Leave me."