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Small Gods

Small Gods

28 April 21
 | 22 MINS

Deirdre Sullivan is a writer and teacher from Galway. She has written seven acclaimed books for young adults, including Savage Her Reply (Little Island, 2020),Perfectly Preventable Deaths (Hot Key 2019) and Tangleweed and Brine (Little Island 2017). She was the recipient of the CBI award in 2018 and the An Post Irish Book Award for YA in 2020. Her short fiction has previously appeared in Banshee and The Dublin Review and her first collection of short fiction for adults, I Want To Know That I Will Be Okay (Banshee Press, 2021) was released in May 2021.

Small Gods

I woke, and fed my God. My God was small, and ginger and as yet had not shared his name with me. My husband and I were fortunate to have a gentle God, praise his golden fur, and bless his paws. We lived in a small house, and kept it well for Him, may his claws be sharp and his justice swift.

He, praise be unto him, was hungry and demanded a second breakfast from my husband when he awoke. This was a common occurrence with Gods, they were a hungry lot. Some families purchased songbirds or rodents to release into their homes for their pleasure, but our God had seemed largely uninterested in the parakeet we had gotten him. We were considering purchasing a small bowl of exotic fish, but we had to save up for it. Gods needed our sacrifices, as we needed their indulgence. We were hoping to have a child this year, and needed to ensure that things went smoothly.

I was leaving for work, when my God bounded past me on the stairs, and began sniffing at the places in the hallway that called to him. I politely excused myself and rang my boss to explain that I would be late. She was understanding. Gods were unpredictable. Hers was a larger God than mine, as befit her station in life. Her boss had an even larger God, and it had brought him much success, though it had eaten his second daughter. He had stood watching, helpless to intervene for fear of the misfortune that would surely befall his family in the years ahead. My husband was sometimes desirous of a larger God, whose power would be mighty, but I had a particular devotion to our own small God, may his tail remain un-bushy and his ears face forward, who had guided me through life quite gently, compared to many other Gods.

I kept his altar clean and beautiful and made several offerings to him. When he expressed his displeasure, by knocking something off a counter top, or making his waste in unusual places, I disposed of both waste and item swiftly, all the while praying unto him, that he would find happiness and comfort in this, or in the home of other, more deserving people. This was known to happen to some unfortunate families. Their God, or Gods would desert them, and find others who would treat them with due reverence. Who would offer the proper herbs to them, and construct elaborate wands from wood and fur and feathers for the Gods to dance towards, and thereby communicate possible futures. It was by jumping in the air twice that my little God had communicated to me that it would take several attempts before I found a suitable position. And, praise his tufts, so it had come to pass.

When he was finished in the hall, he bounded up the stairs, sitting on the seventh step and staring at me with his ancient golden eyes. My God was two, but he felt older. I had not come from a family of faith and it had caused my father a lot of trouble in the workplace. He had not been trusted or respected by his colleagues. He was a godless man, who sneezed and itched in response to all that was Holy. I had to leave home to know what it was to have a God. My mother, in fairness to her, tried,  keeping a small altar in the back garden, topped up with delicacies for the wandering Gods. It was insufficient. And everyone knew it.

I rode my bicycle to work without a helmet. I had one but I didn’t like to wear it, and felt certain my God would protect me. My husband told me I was being prideful, that our God, joy and fierceness thrumming through his veins, would simply find another home in which to be worshipped of something were to befall me on the road. He said as well that if I were to fall down dead in the apartment, and the God were, may it never happen, to be deprived of sustenance for an uncomfortable period of time, he would eat the soft meat of my eyeballs, would chew upon my skin until blood came forth and he would lap at that. Gods were here long before us, and they will be here when the sun eats the world and humans are but a memory my husband said. He was always worrying about the sun eating the world and how hot it would be and how long it would take. I had not had the same hardback set of children’s encyclopedias as a child and so I was more concerned with what warmth and comfort I could glean here and now. Like my little God, moving from windowsill to carpet to couch to chair, as he followed the warm slant of daylight around the small apartment, I thought.

Work was fine. I had several difficult phone calls to make, and a client shouted at me for rage at her own mistake. I smiled at her, and spoke quietly and with assurance. He was probably on the windowsill right now my God, grooming himself, nonchalantly and conscientiously. Sometimes he would wait for ages in one place for a bee or a spider to reappear, staring with vast pupils and twitching his tail. He loved to consume bees, and my husband and I had a terror of him hurting himself, for bees are arcane things, and can be vexatious to Gods.

I did not know anyone whose God had been killed by a bee but my boss had once told me the story of a client who was so incensed by our treatment of her that she had delivered flowers to the office. A woman who had only recently become Godly was working there at the time, and she took the flowers home in ignorance. Her God ate a lily and died, and she left this place and was never heard from again. Perhaps she took up with a different God. When I asked my boss what had happened to the client, all she would say to me was, grimly, Justice, while spooning a vegetarian burrito bowl into her mouth. I watched the falafel and refried beans move from bowl to spoon to air to between her flat yellow teeth. I watched her chew.

When my father died, my mother tried, to my great shame and hers, to lure one of the neighbour’s Gods to visit more often. She would spoon cream into saucers, and rub fish fillets with fresh golden butter, the kind she loved but could no longer eat. The neighbours responded by feeding their Gods more and more to keep them safe from her desperate prayers. I watched from the upstairs window of my bedroom and counted the long months until I would be in college, away from this need she had for more than she deserved.

When I returned home, there was a glistening whisker waiting for me in the middle of the couch. I put it in a jar, in case I would have need of it. I wondered if it was a sign of his pleasure with me, or of difficult times to come. I stroked the top of my gods’ small golden head and he raised his chin up and purred. I counted to twenty and then removed my hand. Experience had taught me that after twenty seconds my god would bite. I went to the room furthest away from him and began to hoover the house. There were things I had to do each day that hurt my god. That hurt my husband too. I wanted things that I could not stop wanting, to travel to countries you had to get visas for, to own a house one day, to know things about wine. I wanted to have clean carpets, and shining counters. Air that smelled like freshly baked bread around me, and music playing softly as a purr beneath our lives.

My God hated the hoover. He would be under the couch now, fearing it, and I hated myself for doing this to him. I would do penance later, in some small way, that would be made clear to me. It was hard to balance being devout and living the kind of live that people lived. Not every God feared hoovers. Some seemed to crave them, and I had heard tell of one who demanded that the nozzle be run over her opulent fluff, to better groom herself. Different people attracted different Gods, and mine did not enjoy loud machines that moved around the house, removing scent that he had spent the week establishing.

When I was finished, I gave him a small amount of cheese, and burned some Vervain and the whisker he had given me. I prayed for forgiveness, knowing I would sin again. Some people who were richer than we, hired cleaners who would go into the house and do all the tasks despised by their gods while they were away. These cleaners would take the inevitable sin into them, and bear it. They had secret practices that they passed from the one to the other, it was said, on ways to mitigate the weight of sin. And sin was easier, if you weren’t sinning against your own specific God. I had sometimes passed an errant deity on my way around, and I did not always stop my bicycle to hold out my pointer finger in order to respectfully make myself known to them it was true. Maybe I didn’t deserve to own a home. I was forever disappointing someone, usually myself.

I began to make dinner, and checked my phone for messages. There were none. The onions hurt my eyes. I arranged the ingredients into a casserole dish and then sat perfectly still on the sofa with my two feet on the ground. Willing my god to come and sit on me and show all was forgiven. He never did. My husband called to say he had been in a small accident, and was waiting in the accident and emergency department. He had swerved to avoid a God and instead hit a bin. His helmet strap had gotten caught in something sticking out of it, and his ear lobe had been cut. It looked worse than it was he said, but refused to send me a picture of what it looked like.

I searched online for severed ears, silent vaccum cleaners, and effective appeasement rituals for golden gods. Our God sat on the windowsill, and stuck his whole paw in his mouth and chewed it. I breathed in, and asked that I be free from suffering. I breathed out, and asked to be at peace. He saw a fly, caught on a cobweb, high up, in the very corner of the window frame, and stared at it fixedly with pupils the size of little coins. He reached for it and ate it, easily. It had been trapped already, and there was little sport in it, but still.

Tonight my husband would return and we would eat together and I would tell him that I had hoovered, and what it had wrought. Tomorrow morning, I would be woken early by four paws marching intently on my chest, and I would be sad sometimes and sometimes happy. I would try my best and I would fail. I would seek stories of disaster to reassure myself that I was fine and I would not be fine. There would be something in me, hungry, throbbing. An ache that I could not satisfy, no matter what prayers I spoke, what work I did. I could feed it with hard work or with devotion, with love or rage or any other thing, but it would always stand beside the food drawer, rubbing its’ cheeks along the corners, purring and in wait. Until the day the sun unhinged its’ jaws and set to eat the world with small, clean, teeth.


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