Brain Dent sat on a stool in his usual spot at the bar in Pete’s Gargleblasters Bar and Grill. As usual Brain nursed his Jupiter Splash while he wallowed in his never-ending pool of self pity and doubt.
Brain was in his mid forties. Day in and day out he worked a meaningless job at the local Stop ‘N Go as he had for more than twenty years. Brain had never married. In fact, he rarely dated. The old cliche’, “Unlucky at cards, lucky at love,” did not apply to Brain. He never won a game of cards, or any game for that matter. He never won at love either. His life seemed to be an endless cascade of misfortune.
Brain was the sole great-great-great, or so, grandson of another Dent. That many-great grandparent Dent had traveled the universe and had dined with presidents at the most-distant restaurants. That many-great Dent’s claim to fame seemed to be his amazing luck. Without effort he seemed to avoid catastrophes on a galactic scale. Brain’s claim to fame, if indeed, he had any, was just the opposite. If there was luck in the universe, Brain was that point furthest from it.
So on this night, like countless nights before, Brain sat over a brightly colored, heavily liquored drink and begged the universe to explain why. Why he was so unfortunate? Why it was that he was always alone? Why, why, why anything? Why were we here at all?
With two-thirds of his fourth drink now in his blood and his fifth time through memories of how he managed to miss promotion to assistant manager last month, for the sixth time in seven years, Katy came by and asked if he wanted his glass topped off. Katy was the bar maid. She was not a bombshell, but not homely. You didn’t need alcohol to consider her worth a second look, but she was often passed over for some of the more tightly drawn bodies that walked in the door. Brain, years and years ago, had tried to win a date with her. He tried more than once, but eventually he gave up trying as he did with all women. It just never worked. He had dated a few times. One particular lady he had dated steadily for almost two years, but it ended as they all did, not with a bang. No fighting or anything dramatic to write about. They just sort of drifted apart. Fewer calls. Fewer dates. Then one day, after they hadn’t seen each other for a few weeks. Brain called to find she’d move to a new city. A job offer had come her way that she couldn’t pass up, and she had simply forgotten to tell him. That’s the way they all seemed to end.
So Katy offered to top off the glass, which Brain accepted gladly. He smiled and half winked, realizing it wasn’t really worth the effort. But still, he liked Katy and had, even to this day, held out a little hope. After a quick gulp his blood-alcohol level began to reach its nightly saturation level, so Brain began his last drink mental tirade. Why him? Why did a great grandpa have to get all the luck in all the world? Why wouldn’t anything go right? Could he, little ol’ Brain, get something out of the universe for once? A little promotion? One night, just one nice evening with Katy? Could the cosmos cough up something in Brain’s direction? Even one answer to just one question?
About this time a man sat down beside Brain. He wasn’t old. He wasn’t young. He wasn’t small, but he most certainly wasn’t big. He ordered a glass of water, smiled at Brain and took a sip.
“You look down, lad. What is it?” he directed toward Brain.
“What isn’t it?” Brain asked into his glass.
“Come on now. It can’t be that bad. What could I do to help you cheer up?” the gentleman asked.
“What could you do? What could you do? Nothing. Not unless you can set back time or deal up some luck or answer the riddles of the universe, you can’t do anything.” With that Brain realized himself and apologized. “I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to shoot off. I just get wound up about this time. I’ll just finish my drink and be out of your way.”
“You are not in my way,” the gentleman replied. “Humm. Set back time, eh. Deal out some luck you say? Answer the riddles of the universe. What if I told you I could do those things?” The gentleman posed this to Brain with all sincerity. He was softly spoken, yet firm in his query.
“Oh yea, right,” came back Brain. “Wouldn’t that be something? Old Brain Dent gets the answers to the universe while getting his nightly buzz on at Gargleblasters. Stop the presses.”
“I’m serious my friend. What if I could do those things for you. How would that make you feel?” The gentleman did not waver. It was clear that, at least to him, he wasn’t joking.
“Well what loony bin did you break out of?” was Brain’s reply. At first Brain had nothing against the guy. Brain was well aware of himself, and knew his demeanor dropped drastically as his evening shots rose. But this was a little too much for him. The world seemed to be against Brain as it was, he didn’t need to be the target of a crazy’s joke.
Just as Brain formed that last thought, the gentlemen placed his hand on Brain’s shoulder and leaned close to Brain and said in a soft voice, “I’m not joking.” The man was calm. He wasn’t an overbearing person, the kind you see coming in the bar before they reach the front door. Nor was he meek, like Brain, the kind of person that can walk around a bar for hours and no one even notices. But there was something about the gentleman, a serenity that one could almost see. His statement startled Brain. But he quickly shook it off, realizing the coincidence was probably more noticeable to him because of his blood alcohol level. Still, it made Brain look at the man, who smiled an acknowledging smile with a little affirmative nod of his head and an almost happy wink of an eye.
“What are you talking about? You’re just trying to make fun of an old drunk,” Brain said, half ready to forget the rest of his Jupiter Splash and leave. But the gentleman smiled, which calmed Brain, and then said, “You see, it’s your turn. I can’t give you all the things you ask for, but I can give you some of them.”
Brain went cold for a moment. “What do you mean, it’s my turn? This is a joke. I know it. And drunk or not, I’m not sitting around here to be teased. I’ve been coming to this bar. This very stool, for years. I haven’t ever bothered anyone. God knows I have every reason too. I live alone. Can’t get a good job. Can’t get a date. Heck, can’t even seem to keep a pet. Nothing has ever gone my way even once. Hell, last year, went to the local fair. For the first time in my life, first time mind you, I won one of those stupid little blow up toys at the ring toss. And guess what? It had a hole in it!” Brain slapped his hand firmly on the bar as he said this. “That’s right. It had a hole in it from the very beginning. But do I yell? No. Do I squirm or make trouble? No. There goes loser Dent. The universe spits in his face again and all I do is go home, go to work, and come to this little bar and drink my drinks. And now you come along to make fun of me, telling me it’s my turn as you offer me the cosmos. Come on guy. I don’t deserve this.”
The gentleman smiled calmly, which soothed Brain’s soul a bit. Then he said, “You’re right. You are absolutely right. You’ve never hurt anyone. Your luck sucks. I know. And that’s why I’m here. Believe me. It is your turn.”
Brain came back quickly. “You know? You know? How do you know? Who the heck do you think you are anyway? Look buddy, I don’t know how much more of this I can sit through. So how about let me down my last three gulps and I’ll be on my way home, okay?”
“I know,” replied the man. “I really do know.” With that, he leaned a little closer to Brain and said in a low voice that Brain could clearly hear, but seemed not to spread past the two of them, “What if I told you that I am the supreme being?” He let that sink in for a moment and then smiled at Brain an affirming, confident smile.
“Okay. That’s it.” Said Brain. “I’m out of here. The world craps on me often enough, I don’t need a stranger coming in here and making fun of me.” Brain began to stand to leave. The gentleman held up his hand, which had a calming affect on Brain, and then he said, “Give me a simple test, okay? A simple test. If I fail, not only will I leave you alone, I’ll buy you a week’s worth of your nightly drinks. How’s that?”
“Now I know you’re joking on me. There’s a scam in here somewhere, and you know I’m too drunk to see it.” Brain tried to stand again. But again the gentleman shot him a smile that would still a raging sea and Brain felt forced to listen.
“What on Earth do you have to lose? Ask me a question, any question. Ask me to do something. If I can’t answer it or do it, you get a week’s worth of drinks. What can you lose?”
Brain thought this through. If it was a scam, it was either a really stupid one or the most clever one ever dreamt up. But a week’s worth of drinks was a nice little bit of pocket change. It wasn’t a promotion or a new auto, but it was almost a third of his weekly take home pay. “So you say you’re the supreme being? You’re God? Okay. Make it rain.” And sure enough, the door opened and a couple shoots in, quickly dodging a down pour.
The gentleman smiled at Brain and said, “Okay? It’s your turn.” Brain was shocked. Amazed. But even his alcohol soaked brain wouldn’t accept it. “That was pure coincidence,” He said. “There’s no proof you did that.”
“Try me again,” was the gentleman’s reply. “No. No, wait. Let me try you,” the gentleman then quickly said.
Just at that moment Katy came up to Brain and gently tapped him on the arm as she often does when she wants to offer him another drink or get him to settle up on his tab. Brain looked up at Katy and smiled. Her face always made him feel a little better, no matter how far he had sunken in his self wallow. “Katy. Oh, yea. The bill. Just a moment,” and Brain began to reach in his pocket.
Katy smiled, “Oh, yeah. The bill. That’s fine. But, Brain, I was wondering. I have tickets to the Blue Surfers concert this Friday and I was wondering if you’d like to go with me?” Her voice shook a little. It was clear she didn’t often ask men out on dates. But her smile was bright and her eyes firm. It was clear even to Brain’s spinning mind that she was serious. “Uh, uh. Yeah. Love to,” was all Brain could think to say. “Great. Meet me here at seven?” Katy asked. “Seven? Yep,” was the best Brain could squeeze out of his shock. Katy winked and then began tending a patron at the other end of the bar.
Brain looked at the man and said, “Wow. I’d given up ever getting a date, much less a date with her. I use to try, years ago. But I just quit trying. It wasn’t worth the torture. And how about that? She just up and asked me out.”
The gentleman smiled. “I know. It’s your turn.”
That statement coupled with the cool smile of the man kicked Brain like a mule. “You mean? . . . You’re telling me? . . . No. No way.”
“I told you. I’m the supreme being. God if you want. You needed to test me so you would believe I was sincere. Well . . . And now I’m telling you. It’s your turn. The universe hasn’t been all that great to you. That just happens sometimes. Your great, great-grandfather sort of tipped the scales in your family wave, and you’re getting the shallow end. So I’m here to give you a shot. As I said, I can’t give you everything you want. But I can answer a question or two. The right ones might just change things for you if in no other way than to give you a new outlook at least.”
Brain’s head was swimming. He knew drunk. It was his normal state each night as he walked home. This wasn’t drunk. This was disbelief in confrontation with the unexplainable. “You’re telling me that you’re God, and I can ask you for anything?”
“Well, no. I am the supreme being. Some people call me God. And you can ASK me anything, not for anything. I might give you the answer. I might even give you a physical gift. It all depends. But it is your turn to ask. That’s what I’m saying.” The gentleman’s posture was firm yet comforting.
“I’m still not sure.” Brain said. “I mean that I could use a little more proof. I mean, God? Where’s the white beard, the robes and all that stuff? Better yet, how can I be sitting here talking to you? Aren’t you supposed to be some sort of spirit, you know, all that everywhere all the time stuff?”
The gentleman smiled. “Look. Do you think I would go to the trouble of making a universe I couldn’t walk around in? That’s not very smart, really, to be a supreme being and create a universe that I can’t experience myself. Oh sure, I can pop in and out all over the place, and yes, I can be everywhere at once. I am the supreme being after all. But I can also be right here, sitting on a stool beside you in a little out-of-the way place called Pete’s Gargleblasters Bar and Grill. But, if you want that sort of thing.” And in a flash Brain found himself facing the gentlemen as the two of them stood on what appeared to be a cloud. It was, in fact, a cloud. But it wasn’t supporting their weight. They were standing on a cliff at the entrance to a cave on a mountain somewhere in the Himalayas. “Is this more of what you expect?” asked the man. “A mystic hermit’s cave?”
Brain was stunned. “Well, no. I was thinking more of the cloud and heaven thing, but that was a pretty neat trick.”
“Well. It is your turn?” queried the gentleman.
“My turn? My turn to ask you, God, a question? Is that it?”
“Yes. That is it.”
Brain’s head spun. The thousands of things he could ask, but most of them, even to loser, drunken Brain, seemed meaningless and unimportant when confronted with the supreme being. But everyone knows the one question that we all want answered at some point. “What’s it all about? I mean, why are we here?”
“Are you sure you want to ask that one?” the gentleman asked, sort of pushing Brain to ask something else.
“Well, yeah. I mean, if I must go through a miserable life, it sure would be nice to know why.” It made sense to Brain. To be able to understand the meaning of life, the universe, and everything would surely be a wonderful thing, even if it didn’t improve his daily grind.
“Are you really sure? I don’t think you’ll like the answer,” the gentleman returned, seeming sheepish now, not the confident person he was moments ago.
“Yep. I’m sure,” came back Brain. “I’m sure. What’s it all about? Why are we here?”
“Cards,” was the gentleman’s reply, his head hung low.
“Cards? What does that mean, cards?” asked Brain, confused.
“What it all means. Why you’re here. Cards,” the man replied again. “You see, long, long ago, long before this universe, I had created a bunch of universes. Each time I would create one, hoping it would be the nice one. The one where everyone got along and all was pretty and sweet and peaceful. Well, Lucifer, you know, Beelzebub, um, Satin would always muck around in them and mess things up.
“You see, while I am the supreme being, there is a bunch of supreme beings. That’s why that whole father, son and holy ghost thing is so confusing. I really tried to explain it, but I’ve never found a good way to get it across. Anyway, Lucifer is sort of a prankster. He’s really not all that bad. We’re pretty good friends, though I don’t agree with a lot his way of thinking. So anyway, he’d muck up the universe, and I’d have to pop it out of existence. Then I’d try again, putting a new spin on it here or a different gate on it there, hoping I could find a mixture that would work. Something that even Lucifer would leave alone or get along with. It never happened. Try as I might, he’d just mess things up. So I quit trying. I just stopped trying.
“So, we all just went about our business, the other supreme beings and I, living in our, well I guess you’d think of it as an alternate dimension or something. Well, one day Satin and I were playing cards, and well, we made a bet, and . . .” The gentleman stopped there, his head hung low.
“And?” pressed Brain. “You were playing cards, and you made a bet, and . . .”
“Well, I lost, and I . . .” the man’s voice became very low. It was clear that he was embarrassed. “Okay, okay, I lost and I had to make a universe, okay? So, that’s what its all about. That’s why you’re here. Because of cards. I lost a damn bet at a game of cards, okay?” The man sat down, his head in his hands.
Brain was shocked. “That’s it? That’s what it’s all about? A game of cards and a stupid damn bet? My great granddaddy gets the world, the entire universe, laid at his feet, and I have to live a life barely above that of a worm all because of a bet on a card game? That must have been some mighty, god-like card game. High stakes, obviously. What was it? Some mystical, multidimensional form of cards that we wouldn’t even understand?”
Very sheepishly, and quietly, the mad replied, “Actually, it was old maid.”