The Garden

By Jesse Miksic - E-mail me

My vision went first… the other two crucifixes and the ground became blurry and then disappeared. Shortly afterwards, the pain of the thorns subsided and my hunger and thirst went away. I really only took the vinegar so the soldiers would stop bothering me. For my last half hour I saw flashes of light every few minutes, probably spasms in my nerve endings. Now, everything is black and painless, and I can’t do anything but wait for the next stage of my journey. I wonder if He can see me where I am now.

In my last conversation with Him, He begged me to avoid the Roman soldiers and head for Bethany, where Simon the Leper would offer me refuge. It wasn’t the first opportunity He gave me to escape. He specifically told me to avoid Judas, and He said I should perform a miracle for Herod so the sentence would be delayed. He said I could live to be an old prophet and I could die painlessly, and that I would be sinless and I could join Him. He said it didn’t make sense for me to sacrifice myself for them… they generally deserved to burn.

Dad decided long ago that humanity had gone astray. He thought the flood would fix things, but it treated symptoms, not causes. Dad’s problem, really, is that He’s stuck in heaven, so He can only see humanity from a detached point of view, like a statistician. The numbers are always bleak.

It was different with me. Parents and children always disagree, and He never had blood in His veins. Poverty, slavery, and crime may be rampant, but I was there, and I saw people smiling at their burdens and thanking Him for them. Despite their flaws, they still cry for the dying and fall in love, and their lives and emotions are so delicate. It’s easy for Dad to misjudge.

Ever since He realized my intentions, He told me that they would continue killing each other, and they’d misinterpret my words, and they’d use Him as a scapegoat for all their catastrophes. He was right, of course, but there are bigger factors at work here.
Part of dad’s problem is that He’s so rule-oriented. Dad quantifies by the commandments… “You broke four, you’re okay. You broke six, you deserve to burn.” What He misses from up there is that even the killers and the robbers and the rapists are just trying to find themselves in His world.

Of course, Dad always picked the most upright, obedient, codependent people he could find to be his messengers. Look at Abraham… he was willing to kill his son and abandon his humanity to satiate Dad’s disembodied voice. At Dad’s whim, two of the apostles left happy lives as fishermen to follow me around. He probably sent them to look after me. My apostles weren’t the twelve. My apostles were the children. Innocence is a beautiful, fleeting thing… everyone (especially Dad) forgets what it’s like to look through the eyes of a child.

Finally, I can feel something. It’s rhythmic vibration, and I’m grasping something round and metal. Gradually, the air begins to smell like plastic and rust, and the vibrating becomes an audible shuffling of metal. There is a light up ahead, and I’m approaching it pretty quickly.

The light turns out to be the end of a tunnel, and when we emerge I can see that I’m at the front of a subway car. The walls are decorated with graffiti and advertisements; the nearest poster announces, “Times Square is waiting.” I’m standing next to the conductor’s cab, steadying myself on a metal bar. The other people in the car are gazing down silently. One is reading a newspaper. Another is asleep. Most are dressed in rags or soiled work uniforms.

I’m rather confused, and the other passengers don’t look very responsive. I tap on the door of the conductor’s booth.

“Lucifer?” I ask ignorantly.

“Nope,” comes the response. “This is Charon. Lucifer came out to meet you, though… he’s standing just to your left.”
I look to my left, and I have to divert my gaze downward. A boy, perhaps six or seven years old, offers me his hand. He has curly red hair and a radiant face, soft, comforting, and without the distraction of sexual attractiveness. I take the tiny outstretched fingers. “It’s a pleasure to have you, my Lord,” says the child.

“Lucifer… where are we going?” I ask.

“Hell, of course,” he says. “It probably won’t be what you expect. Storytellers exaggerate.”

“When do we arrive?” I ask. The train slows and stops, as if on cue.

“We’re here,” Lucifer responds. We are the first to step off the subway car. Still holding my hand gently, he leads me up a set of greasy steps. The hallway smells of urine. When we emerge, we are on a sidewalk facing a busy street. Towering skyscrapers and concrete surround us, and people jostle past aggressively. Just on the other side of the street is an iron archway cast with the words “Central Park.” Lucifer waits patiently for the street sign to flash “Walk,” and then he leads me past the waiting cars and into the park. Though I continue calmly, I am bewildered, and Lucifer can see it in my face.

After we follow the path a few feet into Central Park, Lucifer looks up at me and says, “Don’t you recognize the garden? It’s funny how big a difference one little apple can make.” He leads me to a park bench, and we sit.

Lucifer allows a pensive moment and then looks up at me. “I have to tell you how much I admire you,” Lucifer says with sincerity. “You managed to continue my work in the world.”

“How did I do that?” I ask with genuine curiosity. “I saved humanity; you condemned them. You’ll need to explain your analysis.”

Lucifer looks offended. “You clearly don’t understand the situation. We are the same, you and I… we both had faith in humanity, despite your father’s pessimism. God didn’t think humankind deserved freedom, so He kept them obedient and empty in a blissful fruit garden. I had to give Adam the apple when your totalitarian father wasn’t looking. Your bitter old dad took that as a cue to abandon humanity and banish me.”

He pauses, and then his monologue seems to recover some of its momentum. “So basically, I believed that humanity deserved freedom, and you felt they deserved to be saved. It’s funny that your dad can’t see that, despite the efforts of His first officer and son, who know humanity is worth the trouble.”

I venture another question. “But if you think so, why do you spend eternity punishing them?”

Lucifer cracks an amused smile. “That’s your dad’s decision, too. Clever bastard, isn’t He? My punishment for loving humanity too much is to be their warden…” He gestures across the landscape. “… and this is my kingdom and my cell.”

“So where are all the damned?” I ask.

Lucifer points to a dirty man in rags playing a banjo. He has an angular nose and a greasy beard, and an empty cup sits before him. Since we sat down, nobody has even looked at him in passing. “See him?” says the child. “That banjo used to be a lyre, and his name used to be Orpheus. This is damnation… to see humanity through jaded eyes, and to forget what it’s like to belong to it. Kinda like your dad sees things.”

He pauses, and his voice changes tones. “And you saved mankind from this. But more than that, you’ve saved them from me. And since my job was also a punishment, you’re my salvation as well. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.”

Lucifer seems to be through with the conversation, so he stands up. “I have to go. There’s a lot of park to watch over.” He presses a button on his watch, and it lights up so he can look at it. “It looks like you’re scheduled for thirty-six hours, my lord. Thanks again.” He turns from the bench and wanders aimlessly into the shadows.

A day takes a long time in hell, but time still plods along. I’ve been here through two sunsets already. In another day, I’ll get to walk out that gate and tell Dad I’m returning to my people.