I was fast asleep, Maggie's skin warm and soft against mine, when I felt someone prod me, none too gently, in the liver.
"Psst, Biff," hissed a voice in my ear.
"G'way Josh," I sleep-murmured at my dream, "You're dead."
"I was risen, remember?"
"And then you died again. Let's move on to the next dream, kay?" Look, usually the dream after the 'Josh-is-back' dream was the one with the nubile wenches, so excuse me if I was a little harsh with my dream-Messiah.
"This isn't a dream Biff," I felt another prod, "Now get up."
I lay still for another minute.
"I was risen? What kind of Aramaic do you call that?"
I couldn't see him; I still had my eyes shut; but I knew Josh was grinning. Two thousand years after his death and that grin still annoyed me. I swung my legs over the bed and pried my eyelids open. The bedroom was dark, and except for Maggie beside me, empty.
"Psst, Biff," I heard again, "Over here."
I looked and saw that a thin crack of light was showing around the doorframe of the bathroom. Apparently the Messiah was hiding in the toilet. I suppose stranger things have happened.
I stumbled to the door, wrenched it open and stood blinking in the 60 watt light. I felt someone brush against me to shove the door closed. I blinked a few times and Josh came into focus. He stood by the vanity, smiling sheepishly, dressed in robes so white that Tide executives would have been scrambling to sign him as a spokesperson. He also looked…fuzzy. I blinked again in case my eyes were still adjusting to the light but when nothing changed I realized, Josh was glowing.
"Do you mind?" I said, "It's bright enough in here as it is."
"Oh, sorry." He concentrated for a moment and the glow dimmed. And then it hit me: Josh was here. Actually here. (Delayed reaction, I know, but I'd had dreams about him contacting me before. I'd never expected the real thing.) The next moment, I'd swept him up in a bear hug, pounding his back in a way that, from his surprised "oof," I can only imagine no one does in Heaven. Pity, because it's a good way to work out your rage at someone for dying and not bothering to get in touch for a full two millennia with some semblance of affection.
"Josh, this is fantastic! I should – I should go get Maggie," I made to open the door but Josh caught my arm.
"No," he said, pity (for me or Maggie I couldn't tell) in his voice.
"But why? She'll be so happy to see you, hear you. We miss you, Josh."
"I know, Biff, but Maggie can't see me. Let her sleep."
I frowned, "That's not good enough. Explain."
Josh sighed, "I shouldn't have to but you were always denser than a box of rocks" "-Hey-" "so I guess I'll have to try. Maggie prays to me, you know."
"So do I!" I interrupted again.
"Biff, any prayers we receive from you go directly into the Abuse and Threats pile. You still haven't gotten over my death. Maggie prays. She talks with me. You always did have problems understanding that I was and am always around, that I'm part of you and everyone else. Maggie understands though and so she doesn't feel like she's lost me completely."
I glared at him, "Abuse and Threats Josh? Abuse and Threats?"
He overrode my objections, "Also Maggie got used to me not being there," a shadow of old guilt passed over his face like a cloud over the face of the sun. "I was away for 17 years and she learned to live without me. You didn't."
I kept glaring, "You say it like I'm some sort of child while Maggie's achieved
some higher plane of understanding."
"No, Biff, I say it because you're my best friend and you need me more than Maggie does."
That bastard. The way he said it, looking at me with his stupid 'love-for-all-mankind-even-the-dumbfucks' radiating from eyes, I had to turn around so he couldn't see the tears leaking from mine.
I felt his hand on my shoulder, "It's okay, Biff."
I turned back to him and asked, "So how's Mary? Does she reminisce about me?"
Josh knew this meant I was okay but pretended to give the question serious thought. "You know, Biff, she does. Hardly a century goes by that she doesn't say, 'Joshua whatever happened to that kid you used to run around with? The one that wasn't very bright?' And I tell her," Josh started laughing, "And I tell her, he's doing well for himself, Mother, he's found a village that will take him as their idiot."
I tell you, at that moment I had a good mind to walk out and slam the bathroom door in his face. Instead I leaned casually against the sink and said, "This village may not be much but at least I don't have Raziel popping in every ten minutes."
Josh grimaced. Inwardly I gloated; I knew Josh had little patience for the seraphically dim. Trying to keep it light, I said, "So you been in touch with anyone else lately?"
"As a matter of fact, yes."
I gaped. I couldn't think of anyone else alive in the twentieth century that Josh would want to keep in touch with. "Who?"
Josh gave a distinctly un-Saviour-like cackle. "Well, it's not so much like keeping in touch as like prank phone calls. You remember back in Nazareth when my face appeared on the matzo and you covered up by saying it was young Moses?"
I nodded. "I've been doing that, popping up on pieces of toast or in bowls of breakfast cereal, frying pans, tortillas, shrimp…all sorts of food. Those are the best ones. If I get really bored or am feeling traditional I go for trees, rocks, brick, that sort of thing.
It's hilarious how people react."
I thought about the news reports I'd seen with people hysterically promoting the face of God that had suddenly shown up in their shower.
"Those are real?" I asked, incredulous. Josh nodded solemnly.
We looked at each other for a moment; I was still thinking about it. Then we started to laugh. We laughed until we ran out of breath, choking and wheezing (well I was. Josh, of course, just kept laughing as I turned red.)
That broke the last bit of ice left between us and we talked until morning. I told Josh about our jobs as missionaries. It was really Maggie who did all the work to spread the Word. I mostly kept us safe and did some impromptu kung-fu lessons when I could. I'd discovered what the Buddhist monks who'd taught us must have known: wiping the cocky smirks off adolescent boys' faces brings great pleasure to the kung-fu master. Josh told me about the angels' endless re-enactments of their great victory over Satan, only none of them would ever play Satan or any of the rebel angels so the re-enactments consisted mainly of fanfares, banners and the more war-like songs in the heavenly choir's repertoire.
Finally, as the sun's first rays crept over the horizon, Josh stood up (he had sat
down on the edge of the bathtub.)
"It is time," he said. I didn't even have the heart to tell him how stupid that sounded. Instead I poked him, "Untouchable."
He smiled and embraced me. I felt all of the tiredness wash out of my body, leaving me feeling like I'd had a full night's sleep.
"No problem. I figured it's the least I can do after keeping you up all night."
"When are you coming back?" I had to ask.
"I can't tell you."
"You don't know or you can't tell me?"
Josh looked at me with annoyance, "I'll come back when I come back."
"Well, see you around then."
And, as I watched, Josh faded out until there was nothing left but a bit of his glow left and even that might have been the sun. I turned out the light and walked back into the bedroom. As I lay down, Maggie rolled over to face me, her breath light on my face. I put my arm around her and rested my forehead against hers. Then I slept.