“[throat clearing]…Excuse me?”
“Ahhh…yes?” I asked. The voice was loud—very loud. And yet: personal.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“I…We, I mean. We, I should say—that’s me, and, uh, Chevron. Me and Chevron—Chevron and I, we’re digging our way out of here. Along with…” I nudged the lady with the scythe. “Sorry, madam, I didn’t get your name?”
She said nothing. She just kept scything up into the ruddy ceiling of the place.
I continued: “We’re trying to get our bloody selves out of this predicament.”
“I see,” the voice said.
“And what, may I ask, do you think you are doing?” I demanded. It might be the voice of God—surely it sounded resonant and important, but what would God be doing in a predicament like this? If it was God, I’m sure there was a good reason. And if it wasn’t, we might as well get ourselves acquainted.
“Oh,” the voice responded. “I am trying to understand what went wrong, here. You see, the plan is as it’s always been. I say: the plan was as it always was. Take some souls across the river, introduce them to the underworld and then go about the rest of the day. Yours were the souls, but now I see you up at the roof of the underworld—digging your way back up to the Earth. And I’m here trying to make heads or tails of the thing. So you understand the frustration—I do hope you’ll excuse the bruskness.”
“Yes, of course—sounds like a rotten day,” I admitted. “Believe me—I follow your line of feeling about it all—right down to the digging part. Never was one for digging or, in truth, any kind of yardwork. Gardens are tasty things, but is the taste worth the labor? One must ponder the question seriously, and the seriousness with which some enthuse over the whole muddy matter of vegetables.”
“Indeed,” the voice affirmed. “But still, I see—you persist in it.”
“Ah—this digging is more for life than taste,” I noted. “Somewhat different calculation for me. Though talk to Chevron here and you might get another equation altogether. He’s a taste-tester, I mean. So flavor, to him, is worth all those calories burned in the garden.”
I looked to Chevron. He dug and dug and dug some more. His energy seemed to halve with each successive scoop—and yet, still he scooped. Unflagging in his mettle, if not his muscle.
Finally, I asked the voice: “Well?! What do you make of it?”
“Oh, I haven’t the faintest,” the voice said. “Truly, I don’t.”
“Sooo….” I coaxed. “Are you going to do anything about it?”
“Me?” The voice asked, surprised.
“Yes, you—whatever or whoever you are?”
“No, no—I couldn’t. It would be unfair.”
“Unfair, how?” I asked. “Look—If you’re going to tear us back down to the underworld, you might as well tear now, while we’re all perforated with exhaustion. You’ll make a clean break of it. But if you’re not going to tear us down—then might I request you give us a boost and boost us out of here? Or even so much as a step stool to step out of this mess?”
“[sighing] I do apologize, sincerely I do. But there’s nothing I can do.”
“You can apologize.”
“I’m sorry. I am.”
“I mean—you said you can’t ‘do’ anything but you just ‘did’ with your apology. So why can’t you ‘do’ with something or other about this situation?” My desperation was showing. And—worse—my brow was beginning to perspire!
The voice replied: “Look—I can’t throw down a rope ladder (and anyway, I was never one for getting knots right), but what I can do is give you the best thing you could ever ask for—”
“A plate of mozzarella sticks?”
“No,” the voice said. “Better. My words of encouragement!”