If my writing could be said to convene upon any single point it’s at the intersection of the fantastic and the mundane. It’s here–where these two disparate elements cross and sometimes combust–I find the most potential for drama, tension, poignancy, and absurdity. Sometimes in my stories the fantastical is entirely subjective in nature and arguably the very product of the mundanity of the protagonist’s existence. There is for me in such a scenario something rather poignant. In other stories the fantastic is objectively real in the otherwise everyday world and when it is–as it is in “Big Man in Sky”–I endeavor to extract the absurdity of such juxtaposition to its full extent. The challenge as a writer of such work is to then render this absurdity as somehow truthful rather than merely comical.
Stephen Langlois' work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Glimmer Train, The Portland Review, Monkeybicycle, Profane, Necessary Fiction, Phantom Drift, Burrow Press Review, Juked, Big Lucks, Storychord, and Gigantic Sequins, among other places. He is also the recipient of a 2015 NYC Emerging Writers Fellowship from The Center for Fiction. He grew up in Vermont and lives in Brooklyn. Visit him at www.stephenmlanglois.com or follow on Twitter @stphnlanglois.
Permalink: Big Man in Sky
Some notice him immediately. Others notice the empty cars barring the street in staggered abandonment, the crowd with heads raised, eyes squinting. They press the horns of their own cars, roll down windows in preparation for hollering. They have jobs to get to, kids to drop off at school. Then they see the man, high up in the hazy sky, enormous legs dangling over the ragged periphery of a gray cloud bank.
“What the hell?” many are heard to yelp. Doors are opened and drivers stumble forth, engines left idling. Camera phones are raised as though in offering to this empyrean personage. Selfies are taken more out of obligation than enthusiasm and indeed the expressions captured are befuddled, self-conscious. Binoculars are produced and passed around.
“God?” a voice shouts from amid the crowd. “Is that You?”
The man shows no sign of acknowledgment. Possibly he is too far away to hear. Can ears such as His really be expected to be attuned to voices as infinitesimal as theirs? In any case He is peering off into the distance, oblivious, which for many only confirms His sanctity. Life-long doubt is felt to dissipate. Eyes well with tears of helpless, idiotic relief.
For some, however, this abrupt appropriation of the celestial is somehow disappointing. Should God not be made more inscrutable than this, more profound? Should His manifestation really be so literal in nature? He almost looks like an inflatable mascot hovering above a used car lot. It’s ludicrous–though there are those who propose that all miracles are in a way ludicrous. Should the fact of God’s existence be any less absurd?
Others in the crowd wonder why religion should get to claim this being as their own. They think perhaps it is exactly as it seems: a big man in the sky. Why go and complicate the wonderful simplicity of such a thing?
Many of course don’t know what to think. Looking through the binoculars they can see the man’s bald head, the gray stubble, the white v-neck shirt, the sweatpants. On his gargantuan feet are what appear to be loafers, on his face a massive pair of bifocals. “God shouldn’t have to wear no goddamned glasses,” someone says, looking around as if for confirmation of his wit.
For the younger children the sight of this giant poised impossibly above the town causes them to huddle close to parents. Nightmares have begun in just such a manner as this. The older kids, however, are simply happy school has been forgotten and are more intrigued anyway by the appearance of the Channel 6 Action News van.
A local pastor is asked for his opinion. A rabbi waits off camera for his turn to speak. The pastor’s reply is difficult to hear amid the increasing din and the crew soon turns its attention to the crowd from which a great beseeching is underway.
Many are heard to ask the man for his guidance in everyday matters. Others implore him for wisdom of a more cosmic variety. Messages to dead friends and relatives are shouted with a sort of giddiness now that they might truly be received. A few have begun proclaiming their sins in hopes of personally receiving absolution. Prayer has become like that of a frenzied plea for a late-inning RBI.
Briefly, this attracts the man’s attention. His head slowly swivels, his eyes shift in their cavernous sockets. Cheering erupts from the crowd. From somewhere an air horn sounds. “I saw him blink!” a woman shouts. Another woman snatches the binoculars away. “He looked right at me!” the second woman claims. A struggle over the binoculars ensues. A band of teenagers overturns a trash can.
The Channel 6 Action News copter is dispatched. Those who live nearby dart through the crowd back home, turn on televisions. Above, the copter zips around the man. On screen there appears a bulbous nose, a mammoth liver spot, an ear with a great white hair curling forth from its darkened sanctum. A blurry close-up of a colossal pupil is seen–so fathomless in its opacity it can hardly be comprehended.
It is then the man raises his left hand and with a mighty palm swats at the copter. A collective gasp comes from the crowd. Booing is heard. The copter zips away. Many wonder if the man is here to punish them. Has he been sitting there formulating some convoluted plan of annihilation all along? Or will destruction be effected with the casual indifference of that swat?
The struggle over the binoculars continues. The teenagers are attempting now to overturn a pickup. For a moment longer the man watches, though whether with bemusement, contempt or something else entirely is difficult to discern from the ground.
By late afternoon the crowd has begun to disperse. Children are growing tired, cranky. The police are ticketing illegally parked cars. A number of homeless have appeared, begging for change. A van from the local classic rock station pulls up, speakers are unloaded, a DJ asks for requests. “God Gave Rock and Roll To You” is soon heard to blare across the street.
The head above swivels once more. The mouth is forged into the gulf of an astronomic yawning as if the man is stirring finally from stupor. That great ocular apparatus shifts downward again from behind the prodigious lenses and there is a long moment of scrutiny before that of recognition occurs. The man appears to truly perceive the terrestrial for the first time that day. A tremendous and laborious recalibration of limbs begins then as descent is made from the cloud bank. The last of the stragglers fail to notice. They’re making their way to the van where the DJ has begun doling out free t-shirts.
by Stephen Langlois