I never found my audience | Stanley Elkin

Bodies rose to the surface of the seas and began swimming. They were released from faded, colorless flags, stove ships, hidden pilings where they had snagged for years. They came up out of shoals and split sandbars. The drowned and murdered floated up from the bottoms of lakes, their faces and bodies in the same dishabille in which they had died. They seeped out of riverbanks, they surfaced in wells. A rising tide of the dead.

In woods and rain forests they quickened, corpses lost years. They came to in deserts, they waked up on mountains, a treasury of jigsaw death. One could not have suspected their numbers, that so many random had fallen. These were merely the discards, the old boot dead, stochastic as beer can, deposit bottle.

They woke up in battlefields. They gathered themselves where they had exploded. They got up in hospitals, their deaths not yet discovered. They still wore identification bracelets, IVs dangled from their wrists like slack banderillas. They woke up in archeology, cities done in by earthquake, fire, and time.

They climbed out of eaves, out of canyons, geology.

Up out of mine shafts they came, comrades in cave-ins.

They worked their way through holes they had melted in glaciers.

All earth gave up its dead.

They strained against coffin lids, against sealers. Stymied as escape artists they banged encumbrance.

They swarmed, they popped through, the hatched, frantic chicks of death.

A man named Ladlehaus climbed out of his grave like someone backing out a window.

Like elopers they left their burials. They touched their tombs and niches as if they were the old rooms of childhood, brushing them lightly, as if they were dusting. They scrutinized their plots and read their markers like people hunting addresses. They loitered in their graveyards as if they were keeping appointments. Already they missed their deaths. There were complaints. They were cold in just sunlight after the heat of Hell. Those who had donated organs had lost them forever. They could feel the cavities and hollows, the terrible gouged and amputate absentness A woman who had given her eyes away stirred her fingers in her weeping holes.

“So grotesque,” she moaned, “death grotesque as life. All, all grotesque.”

They came down from churchyards on hillsides and in from cemeteries on the outskirts of town. They bestirred themselves in the celebrated tombs and sepulchers of the big-shot dead.

Their bodies shone with gore like wet paint, They sooted the world as if it were carpet. The living and dead were thrown together, and the dead looked away first.

Tribes covered the earth now, families did, clans, races. Mary, squeamish in the press of population, could not bear the stench. It’s morning sickness, she told herself. Joseph couldn’t get over how much things had changed, and Christ flinched when he saw soldiers. Quiz, looking for sanctuary, pulled Flanoy into a Y.M.C.A.

Into the Valley of jehoshaphat they came and along all the coasts of Palestine. They covered the ranges of Samaria and Judea, of Abilene and Gilead, and stood in the Plains of jezreel and Sharon and spread out by Kinnereth’s Sea and the salted waters between Idumea and Moab. And were a million deep all about the tough shores of the ruined Mediterranean circle.

They seemed a kind of vegetation, their burnt skin a smear of sullen growth. Pressed together, Coney Island’d, Woodstock’d, Tivoli Garden’d, jonestownd, they seemed spectators at some game less stadium, vast as the world.

They waited. They did not know what was going to happen. They consulted the religious among them but they didn’t know either.

Then God was there and, strangely, all could see Him. There was not a bad seat in the house. It was short and sweet.

“Because I never found My audience,” God said.

“Because I never found My audience.” He looked at the assembled dead, at the living billions anxious at ground zero.

“You gave me, some of you, your ooh’s and aah’s, the Jew’s hooray and Catholic’s Latin deference-all theology’s pious wow. But I never found My audience.” He looked at Mary, who had feared Him, victim to His blue ribbon force, distrustful still, savoring the ordinary who had been taken out of all that.

“I never found My audience. What had you,” He asked His audience, “to complain of? You had the respect of peers. You had peers.” He looked at Jesus.

“You were no audience. You had all the advantages. You were only God’s clone.” And at Joseph.

“You were a carpenter,” He said.

“You did things with your hands. Why didn’t you admire Me more?” At the damned.

“I gave you pain. Do you appreciate the miracle? To make it up out of thin air, deep, free-fall space, the gifted, driven atoms of remonstrance? Trickier than orange juice or the taste of Brie. Because I never found My audience,” said God and annihilated, Mother Mary and Christ and Lesefario and Flanoy and Quiz in their Y.M.C.A. sea front room in Piraeus and all Hell’s troubled sighed, everything.

From Stanley Elkin’s novel The Living End.

God gave a gala | Stanley Elkin

God gave a gala, a levee at the Lord’s.

All Heaven turned out.

“Gimme,” He said, that old time religion.” His audience beamed. They cheered, they ate it up. They nudged each other in Paradise.

“What did I tell you?” He demanded over their enthusiasm.

“It’s terrific, isn’t it? I told you it would be terrific. All you ever had to do was play nice. Are you disappointed? Is this Heaven? Is this God’s country? In your wildest dreams-let Me hear it. Good-in your wildest dreams, did you dream such a Treasury, this museum Paradise? Did you dream My thrones and dominions, My angels in fly-over? My seraphim disporting like dolphins, tumbling God’s sky in high Heaven’s high acrobacy? Did you imagine the miracles casual as card tricks, or ever suspect free lunch could taste so good? They should see you now, eh? They should see you now, trembling in rapture like neurological rut. Delicious, correct? Piety a la mode! That’s it, that’s right. Sing hallelujah! Sing Hizzoner’s hosannas, Jehovah’s gee whiz! Well,” God said, .1 that’s enough, that will do.” He looked toward the Holy Family, studying them for a moment.

“Not like the creche, eh?” He said.

“Well is it? Is it?” He demanded of Jesus.

“No,” Christ said softly.

“No,” God said, “not like the creche. just look
at this place- the dancing waters and indirect lighting. I could put gambling in here, off-track betting. Oh, oh, My costume jewelry ways, My game show vision.

Well, it’s the public. You’ve got to give it what it wants. Yes, Jesus?”

“Yes,” Jesus said.

“It just doesn’t look lived in, is that what you think

“Call on someone else,” Christ said.

“Sure,” God said.

“I’m Hero of Heaven. I call on Myself.”

That was when He began His explanations. He revealed the secrets of books, of pictures and music, telling them all manner of things-why marches were more selfish than anthems, lieder less stirring than scat, why landscapes were to be preferred over portraits, how statues of women were superior to statues of men but less impressive than engravings on postage. He explained why dentistry was a purer science than astronomy, biography a higher form than dance. He told them how to choose wines and why solos were more acceptable to Him than duets. He told them the secret causes of inflation-“It’s the markup,” He said-and which was the best color and how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. He explained why English was the first language at Miss Universe pageants and recited highlights from the eighteen-minute gap.

Mary, wondering if she showed yet, was glad Joseph was seated next to her. Determined to look proud, she deliberately took her husband’s hand. So rough, she thought, such stubby fingers. He explained why children suffered and showed them how to do the latest disco steps. He showed them how to square the circle, cautioning afterwards that it would be wrong.

He revealed the name of Kennedy’s assassin and told how to shop for used cars.

From Stanley Elkin’s novel The Living End.