by Stewart Sternberg

Sam Ludley and I met God when we were both eight years old. We were at the small park at the corner of Poole and Elm, when he came through the gate and tentatively approached us.

Head cocked to one side, hands thrust deep into the pockets of his shorts, he looked our age, or maybe a year younger. Smiling the playful smile one gives when you know a secret someone else doesn’t, or the smile you make when you’ve done something and you don’t want to tell, he stood there, shifting weight from one foot to the other. We instantly knew this was God, the awareness hitting both Sam and me at the same time, and we accepted the reality of his presence without question or amazement.

“You want to go play on the monkey bars?” he asked.

The monkey bars were the best. Sam and I responded instantly, charging them, running side-by-side with God.

Sam leapt, hands gripping metal warmed by the sun, swinging up so that his feet hooked the top rungs. A natural athlete, even with God present, Sam commanded the center of attention. Moving from one part of the frame to the next, his body defying gravity and bending in impossible ways, his movements expressed the best of youth. He was the child adored by adults and sought by others his age for his energy. His was the aura of success and invulnerability. Watching God watch him made me swell with pride.

“You’re staring at me,” said God, not looking in my direction.

I shrugged. “I never thought of you as a kid.”

God shrugged.

“Are you a kid?” I asked.

God ignored me, his silence making me resentful.

Sam accepted God without reservation. God had shown up to play with us, and that was all Sam needed. I wasn’t that easy to satisfy. All the while we played, I kept trying to wrap my head around his presence.

God jumped, arms reaching for the rungs of the monkey bar, and missed. He tried again and managed to find a purchase. With some grunting, he maneuvered so that he was hanging upside down. Sam scrambled from his perch to dangle likewise.

I pulled myself through the bars and put my face close to God’s.

“Can I ask you something?” I said.

God smiled that smile again, this time laughing. His eyes reminded me of blue glass marbles. Not real. Unreadable.

“Why are you here?” I asked. It came out more forceful than intended. Sam hushed me, but I asked the question again.

“Because it’s fun,” God answered.

“That’s it?”

“What else?”

“In church …”

“I don’t know about church,” he said.

“I do,” said Sam, rolling his eyes. “Church is boring. It’s the worst thing in the world.”

God laughed. “You think?”

“I know.”

“How do we really know you’re God?” I asked.

“I better be,” he said.


“Because if I’m not, then I’m something else.”

God left the monkey bars to run to the slides. Sam followed. I came along eventually.

Sam and God threw themselves into activity, their laughter high-pitched and musical. I joined them and we played hard for the next two hours. We didn’t talk. We didn’t need to. It was enough to run and jump. I remember Sam laughing a lot. God laughed, too, and the sound felt good. But it wasn’t enough.

As they passed me to head for the slide, I stood in God’s way, stunned at my boldness. He stopped, a frown on his beautiful summer face.

I shoved God, sending him down hard on his rump.

“What are you doing?” asked Sam.

I couldn’t answer. God started to stand, but I shoved him again. Sam jumped forward, ramming me with his elbow.

“Leave him be. He didn’t do anything to you,” shouted Sam.

God’s expression hadn’t changed from the first moment he appeared to us; he looked totally content.

“Let’s go to the slide again,” said God.

Sam helped him to his feet, brushing him off while glaring at me. I wanted to shove God down again. I didn’t know why, but the shame gave my stomach an empty feeling. I followed them, the afternoon shadows long before me.

“I have to go home,” said Sam, as the feel of dinnertime weighed on us. I still felt sullen, wanting to say something to test their feelings toward me, to see if I had been forgiven.

“Don’t go,” said God. “Let’s go to the swings again.”

“I have to go home. My mom will get burned if I don’t.”

“Tell your mom you spent the afternoon playing with God,” I said, my voice sharp with sarcasm. Sam shot a reproachful glance in my direction.

“I gotta go,” he said. God nodded acceptance, leaning back against the slide. Sam grinned, punched him playfully in the arm, and threw a leg over the sissy bar of his bike. He waved goodbye, pedaling off.

The driver never had time to respond as Sam emerged from between two parked cars. Sam rose in the air as though it was the most natural thing, but his eyes were wide, and his mouth formed an O of surprise. His body twisted in the air, but he couldn’t keep from landing hard on the pavement. Another car, unable to stop in time, ran over Sam, crushing him beyond repair.

God watched the chaos for a moment, then turned to me.

“Let’s go back on the slide,” he said and went off to play.

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