Josh and Nicky
By Andrew Paul Grell
“We aren’t exactly opposites, you know.”
“Yes, of course I know that. When exact opposites come into contact, or even close proximity, they tend to destroy each other. Yet here we are. On the same bench. And you know, eventually, it is me who will destroy you.”
“And you seem so sure of that. I love observing the unwavering certainty of the young.”
“I believe that I am, in fact, older than you are.”
“That’s a matter of opinion; a difference of one iota, the actual Greek letter iota, not a figure of speech, to be exact. You say Homoousius, I say Homoiousious, let’s call the whole thing off. But have it your way. I still get a chuckle from the way you chickened out of jumping off that cliff. You know, Richard Bach actually took me up on that. Flew around for about ten minutes with his seagulls, then landed and turned on his typewriter.”
“And now he’s going to be consigned to—what? Are you still running that ‘hot’ tub down there? — for eternity?”
“Josh, brother, Bach is out of my clutches for the time being. He asked his agent, Sol Liphschitz, to handle the transaction. I was offering a career bigger than Philip Roth’s. Bach was straight up. He really did only want a moment, or maybe ten minutes, of perfect contemplation. Sol wanted a sample, I asked for a deposit. Bach got to fly and everyone liked him, but he never got anything more prestigious than the Nene awards, and never will. And he still owes me a favor. Which I may call in not so long from now.”
They both tired of small talk at the same time, and simultaneously came out with “So, what are you doing here? Following me?”
It happens every once in a while. Nick catches fish, Josh keeps fish from getting caught. Sometimes it’s the same fish. I’m Sophia, by the way. Wisdom. Hagia Sophia. You may have heard of me if you ever read the Book of Proverbs. God’s girlfriend. When it says “God created the world with wisdom” it means me. Who else but Wisdom could write proverbs? We were a cozy bunch. His Nibs provided the energy, I did the design work, and Stan was in charge of quality control. Some quality control guy. He didn’t even catch it when some near-sighted scribe added an extra letter to his name. But he did get mean. To Stan, quality control means hitting something with a big rock to see what happens. Or telling innocents how much fun it is to play with fire. You must have heard that story. But people changed, and one of us decided there should be a new crew. Josh. And Nick. God save us.
Nicky, always the boaster, showed his first.
“Girl on the swing? Sister needs a kidney. She’s not healthy enough to donate one of her own. No tricks here, Brother. Girl called me cold. How could I refuse?”
“Nick, that is so bush league. And she’s only eleven. That’s against the rules. Himself will be furious.”
“Josh, you know, you’re always going off with your bow string half drawn. Party running out of food or hooch? Just waggle your fingers and blink. But what about the caterer at the other end of the road who had to support a family? Listen, she’s got two hairs. And for some reason of her own, she showed them to two boys in her class. Two hairs, two witnesses. She’s in play.”
“Oh yeah? Watch this.”
Josh threw his face into Serene and strolled over to the swing set.
“Hi, little girl. You’re Dina, aren’t you?” Getting a chance to play like a little kid made it impossible for her to not be happy.
“Yes I am, how did you know?”
“It’s my job to know everyone. Even the birds and the animals.”
“And the fish?”
“Yes, and the fish as well” That got a big smile. “Including your Goldie in her little bowl.” Even bigger smile. Josh was pushing his luck.
“You’re worried about Amy, aren’t you? You really want her to get a kidney, huh?”
“I would give her one of mine, but they won’t let me…” Her smile started fading until all that was left was a scared and sad little girl. Josh went into serious mode to match.
“I heard you tried to get help from someone. Where did you get the idea for that?”
“I heard my daddy say he’d sell his soul to get a kidney for Amy. I would do it too.”
“You don’t have to do that. There are plenty of spare kidneys around. Even yours.”
“But they say I can’t!”
“We’ll see about that.” Josh held his first two fingers together, upraised, and gently touched her cheek. “Tell your Mom and Dad to take you to Dr. Briah. Tell them it’s important.”
There’s one in every playground. This park’s Playground Dad was watching Nick and Josh, without children in evidence, two men together, after all, and did what he considered his duty when Josh touched Dina’s cheek.
“Hey! Hey You! Step away from the little girl!” The guy needed a shave and some clothes that hadn’t been slept in, and maybe a meeting or two. He was clearly not thrilled to be the stay-at-home dad. I could see that Josh knew the guy had problems.
“She needed to talk about her sister’s kidney. They’ll both be alright now. Josh.” He extended his hand to the Dad, who shook it reflexively. “And so will you.”
Nick was quietly and discretely applauding when Josh got back to the bench.
“That is just too precious. Wormwood and Asmodeus are going to piss themselves laughing when I tell this story around the fire. You come down to Earth, you do three miracles, and you get fingered for a child molester! You should let me visit you upstairs for a few minutes, so I can tell this to Lenny Bruce. But Brother. How am I supposed to control quality with you just snapping your fingers and fixing people up? Why would someone stop jerking off and get out of bed and make a better organ donation system, or an artificial kidney, or a cure, or whatever if you just go around doing it for them? At some point it’s supposed to be self-sustaining, Brother, isn’t it?”
Josh hated it when Nick was right about anything. He had these expressive eyes, and the thing they could most express was suffering. And oh, the hangdog posture. I could tell he was having trouble coming up with a comeback line.
“A man had two sons. One day, he got a bonus from his job, so he bought his children bicycles. They would ride to the park, take turns running the dog from the bikes, go places too far to walk. Eventually their riding diverged. Trey would cruise the neighborhood, observing. If an old person was having trouble carrying something, he would put it on his rack and take to the person’s house. If there was a tree limb lying in the street, he would move it off the road. If he found a wallet or keys, he would try to find the owner. Devin, the other brother, concentrated on stunt riding, wheelies, skid-outs, jumps. While practicing a very tricky maneuver in the driveway next to the front yard, he managed to destroy the rosebushes. His father made him plant them again, and do it over if it wasn’t perfect, year after year. Devin, after a brief stint on ESPN3, grew up to own a national chain of florist shops and nurseries. Trey eventually became a bicycle pizza delivery guy. He wasn’t paid much, but he was very well tipped, and his family never lacked for food.”
“You call that a parable?”
“Brother. There is not one of them, right now, that cannot obtain the Kingdom. Even with you running around throwing them off track.”
“Oh, Brother. What do you think the Patristics would have done with that story, hmmm? Come, let’s take a walk”
Trouble. They were heading for the petting zoo. There was a special goat today, just joined up. I may yet get an answer to a question I’ve often pondered. Josh recognized the Scapegoat from Leviticus a split second before Nick. But Nick was quicker on the draw. He pulled a bag of chaffhaye from a pocket, odd thing to carry around, isn’t it, along with some ivy, and offered it to the speckled, cock-eyed pygmy goat.
“Taich-El. Long time, no bleat. What brings you to New York?”
You would hear nothing but bleats, but of course, Nick and Josh understood the language.
“I decided to retire. To a petting zoo. I was told that the Central Park petting zoo was the most popular in the world. I’ve had a pretty good gambol. Who do you think showed Fleming that bread mold was safe to eat?” Taich stomped on the ordinarily irresistible treat and crunched a discarded soda can in his teeth, turning to the other brother.
“Keeping busy, Josh? You really have your work cut out for you with this guy in tow. But what brings the two of you to the Big Apple, and arm-in-arm to boot?”
Nick ignored the insult to the snack.
“Just walking to and fro in the world when Brother here showed up.”
“I’m here to take care of my Father’s business.”
Why be clear when it’s so much more fun to be trite and vapid? Goats are not prone to wastefulness, and eventually he had a bite of chaffhaye and decided to give Josh a little well-deserved ribbing.
“So, tell me, Josh, who do you think does the better job, you or us?”
“I have to admit, you had great visuals, getting dragged bleating into the wilderness. People really got the concept that expiation could be a free gift. I owe you for that. But I’m the one in charge of getting between people and my brother here.” I got my answer. Forced to carry sins around for years, decades, centuries, the Scapegoats looked down on Josh with his mere one day of torture. Soon, smoke started to pour out of Nick’s ears.
“You’re just not getting it, brother mine. Why do you think Dad put in all that stuff about refiner’s fire, wheat and chaff, dross and gold?” It was Josh’s turn to get steamed.
“He’s not your father.”
“Is too! Is too! What do you think there was to create me out of, if not Himself? We’ve had this argument before. Get over yourself, Josh. Let me do my job. What do you think these creatures will appreciate more? A world they perfected themselves, or singing ‘Hallelujah, C’mon Get Happy’ for eternity?”
I’ve been watching them bicker for over two thousand years. It never gets old for me. When Josh is on the Plane, he doesn’t have access to what he knows upstairs. Nick never had access. They just argue blind, really. It’s hysterical. The trajectory of the planet is in the hands of a couple of children who live to pester each other. They headed south past the cat statue- a bronze cat poised to leap from a granite outcropping—and then the dog statue, Balto, the Husky that saved Alaska, rampant atop a bronze plaque with the whole story graven into it. Taxonomically close relatives but a world of attitude apart. There’s a lesson in there somewhere. They passed the Dairy, where the chess players hung out. Nick took a quick peek inside to see if there were any challengers but he didn’t see any of his customers. And then they were on 59th Street, or for the toney set, Central Park South. Of course, the two of them got into another fight; which was the greater loss, Rumplemeyer’s or Trader Vic’s. Josh eventually wandered back into the relative merits, or lack thereof, of how each of them operated.
“You know, Nick, you complain about my Mission, but how different is what you do from what I do? Who would rise from his Onanistic abominations and invent a clean energy source, say, if he could just sell his soul for one?” Beatific smile. Josh thought he scored a point. Mistake.
“That is simply not at all what I do. A human would have to already have a cleaner energy source, but not be able to get it to market because the oil companies were sitting on it, or bribing congressmen to ban it as a threat to America or whatever. What I do in a case like that is make straight the twisty road between here and there.”
“In exchange for a priceless eternal jewel.”
“Yes, in exchange for a soul. It occurs to me, dear Brother, you’ve never visited since that first time. I remember you screaming like a baby who pooped his swaddling. We all had to put up with that for three days. You have no idea what goes on in my domain, do you?”
“That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Your domain is forever separated from Dad’s.”
They went on like that, still walking downtown, now on Broadway approaching Seventh Avenue. Corporeal Josh probably had a lot of relatives in what was left of New York’s famed Garment Center. And then I saw them. I could tell because each of Nick’s contractees had a thread tied to what would have been Nicky’s liver, had Nicky had any actual organs. A fashion designer and six runway models, three shleppers and a stage manager headed for a private fashion show with GiganTex. Their big break. What they sweated blood for, year after year.
“See them, Josh? Those people are going to make the world happy and comfortable with their designs.”
“In exchange for their souls.”
“Yes, Brother, that’s how it works.”
Suddenly everyone on the street began screaming, running, and taking cover. Madly flapping wings and annoyingly squawking, the largest colony of seagulls Manhattan had ever seen was flying north from Macy’s. And with the accuracy of a Norden bomb site, they let loose their loads. Right on top of the would-be fashionistas. They did not get their big break, needless to say.
“Nicky. Brother. Apparently, you are not the only one to whom Richard Bach owes a favor. What say we score this one nil-nil?” Nick was incensed, and for him, that’s saying a lot. When Josh screwed a pooch, no one would know, it was just life. But when Nick blew one, it was very bad press. Nick couldn’t stand not winning.
“Nil-nil it is. Yet. You didn’t destroy me. That’s a bit of a win for me, if you factor in my handicap. We sort of cancelled each other out.”
“No, Nicky. No one got destroyed. Today.”