The Laws of Fate and Faith
— fiction by Hailey Foglio

I am seven years old.  I am in my room with mama.  She is dead.  
 I think.  
 I was outside in the garden, pink, violet, and orange petals rising up to meet my fingers, bending toward the life of me.  Aching.   
But now I am here. 
Mama is in my room, on my floor.  I think that maybe I should leave, but I have nowhere else to go.  I glance down and notice the flecks of dirt still clinging to the curves of my knees.  I want her to wash me up, like always.  With a soft, warm cloth, and laughter and jokes about how I ought to just live outside.  In a tree, maybe, or a little cave near the creek.  I think I’d like that, but only if mama came, too.  
She’s probably not dead, maybe just napping like she sometimes does in the afternoon.  I squat down to look at her.  The angles of her cheeks and chin are sharp and harsh, too sharp, I think, for mama’s face.  I reach out and dance my fingers across her skin.  It still feels like her, so she’s probably not dead.  Dead people are all dry and gray. I know because I saw some when she took me to that big museum. I’m sure she’s just sleeping. 
I skip down the hallway and into the bathroom, feeling silly that I could ever have thought my mama was dead.  I take my favorite rag from the linen closet, a blue square with fat little ducks, and run it under some water.  The water is too hot at first, and my hand snaps back.  I hold my fingers to my lips and gently blow on them to stop the burning.  It doesn’t work.  Mama will fix them. 
Back in my bedroom, I want to sit cross-legged on the wooden floor next to her, “Indian-style” she calls it, but I’m wearing a dress and I know that wouldn’t be very lady-like.  So I tuck my feet underneath my butt and smooth the fabric of my skirt across my lap.  Much better. 
I nudge mama a little bit.  She just lies there, sunlight thrown across her unmoving body.  She looks like Percy, I think, and laugh at my own joke.  Percy is the neighbor boy’s cat.  I sometimes find him I the yard doing exactly what mama’s doing, looking just the same.  She would laugh, too, if she was awake. 
I lift her curls away from her face and touch one of her cheeks. Mama always says we have matching curls, like tangerines growing right out of our heads. But she’s so pretty, prettier than me for sure.  Her skin is all pale and perfect, but a spackling of brown freckles makes mine look messy and wild. Dirty. I blame daddy for that. 
“Mama?”  I shake her shoulder real gently.  “It’s time to get up, mama.”  I rock her again, but she doesn’t wake up.  I shake her again, harder this time.  My cheeks are getting hot now and they hurt but I can’t make them stop burning.  I let the rag fall to the floor and use both my hands and all my might to shake her as hard as I can.  I am throwing my entire body into the back and forth motion.  I am squeezing her arm so hard that I think that maybe I’m hurting her but I don’t care.  She will forgive me later. 
Mama flops onto her back and I climb on top of her.  Her arms are sprawled out beside her, and her head just kind of bounces around with each effort I make to wake her.  My lungs ache, and my face is wet and slimy even though I don’t really feel like crying.  And I look at her just laying there like a stupid smelly ugly cat and I know she should wake up and I know she wants to but she can’t or she won’t and there’s something in my chest and it might be my heart pounding or my eggs coming back up but I don’t know so I just pull my arm back and slap my hand across her face as hard as I can. 
She doesn’t move. 
She doesn’t wake up. 
Someone is screaming now. It’s me. I’m screaming and I wish I wasn’t because my throat hurts and mama always says that good girls don’t throw tantrums.  But I can’t stop so I just keep at it, screaming louder and harder until finally he’s here.  Daddy runs in the room and stares at me for too long before he swoops down and collects me, the pieces of me, and takes me out to the backyard.  He drops me on the ground, hard, and I want to tell him how much it hurt my back when he dropped me like that, but I’m too busy screaming and so is daddy.  He’s yelling into the phone words that I don’t know and can’t really understand.  He is on his knees.  Knees.  Knees, knees, knees, knees…I look down at my knees.  Still dirty.  I glance over at the garden, then back to my knees, then at the garden again, then back at my knees.  I think about mama and blue rags with fat ducks and dirt and dirt and dirt and I run. 
I run back into the garden where all of mama’s tulips and lilies and roses stand ready and willing to meet me.  They put their thorns away and offer their leaves and stems and roots to me.  I take a breath.  It feels okay.  My throat stings a little, but it feels okay.  I lean down to sniff the lilacs and breathe deep again.  That feels even better.  I spend the rest of my night like that, leaning and sniffing and finally breathing.  The police come.  A doctor comes.  Neighbors and friends and family come.   Some of them tell me that mama is with God now, that she’s happier and safer and feels better, but I know my mama and I know she would have been happier here, with me.  She wouldn’t like me insulting those who have been kind to us, but I can’t stop thinking how stupid these people are.   
I don’t leave the garden for the rest of the night, not until the sun starts going away and daddy comes to get me. I try to convince him to let me sleep with the flowers, but he just shakes his head and picks me up, squeezing me tight against his chest, his arms shaking. I lay my head on his shoulder and fall asleep. 
I am thirteen years old.  It’s 8:30 in the morning, and I’m sitting in class with my best friend, Marcie May.  My history teacher, Mr. Bowler, expects us to be reading silently, but it’s impossible to concentrate because of the notes that Marcie keeps tossing onto my desk.  The latest one misses me entirely, and she starts laughing so I start laughing.  It’s a tough thing to master, the silent laugh, but once I got the hang of it, school became a lot more fun. 
I lean over the side of my desk and search the ground for the intricately-folded sheet of notebook paper.  And as luck would have it, the note had landed a mere two inches from the busted up sneaker of my neighbor, Justin Daniels.  Everyone calls him “J.D.” and Marcie’s misfire was mortifying in a number of ways.  Namely because the written conversation that she and I had been having went something like this: 
Caroline, have you met the new guy??? 
I didn’t know we had a new guy…? 
Well, DUH, where have you been?  His name is something weird like Franswa or something and he is seriously h.  o.  t.  He’s from some like, idk, third world country or something. 
We all know you’re in love with J.D., but can you at least TRY to be excited for me? 
Haha ok Marcie, I am just overflowing with joy at your potential future boyfriend [Symbol] 
You are such a liar.  Why don’t you just ask J.D. to go out with you?  He’s your freaking neighbor, Caroline. 
Because he would never, ever go out with me and I’d rather save myself the embarrassment. 
I wouldn’t be too sure about that… 
What do you mean?? 
And now that very note is in next to J.D.’s desk, and now he’s picking it up, and now he’s opening it, and now he’s reading it.  Marcie’s eyes lock onto mine and I realize that she did this on purpose.  I think I might hate her. 
I try to focus on the task at hand and pretend I had nothing to do with the note, that Marcie must have been talking to some other Caroline.  Except that there were no other Caroline’s in class.  But she could have just been tossing around an old note just for the pure, unadulterated enjoyment of tossing around notes, right?  It could happen… 
It’s hopeless.  I can’t concentrate.  I steal a glance at J.D. and find his eyes already there, staring at me, no expression to speak of.  He really is handsome and mama always liked him.  She’d set us up on play dates when we were kids and always went out of her way to invite he and his family over.  She was good like that, smart like that.  J.D.’s hair is curly like mine, but black and cropped just short of his ears.  I think his eyes can see right through me.  This is the only reason that I don’t look away from what could otherwise be deemed a completely awkward stare. 
A smile twitches at the corner of his lips and he turns back to the paper, the embarrassing note brought to him by way of friendly sabotage.  I cringe inside.  I turn back to my book, defeated, and try to understand what exactly I’m supposed to conclude about Paul Revere’s last ride.  I mean, I get the significance and everything, but do I care?  Not really. 
I force my eyes to stay glued to the page, only allowing myself brief peeks at the clock to see time ticking by unnaturally slow.  It can’t possibly be only 8:45, can it?  And then it hits me.  Literally.  The note that Marcie and I had been flicking back and forth collides with the side of my head and tumbles onto my desk.  I stare at it for what feels like hours, then look up at Marcie.  She’s nose deep in the Revolutionary War.  I look at J.D.  He’s smiling.  My heart throbs. 
My fingers make attempts at unraveling the words inside, but the tremors radiating from within my chest make the task difficult.  My thoughts are traveling faster than I can process them, hypothesizing what he could possibly have said, whether it’s good or bad, how best to respond.  I only get the first flap open before I hear it and it’s loud and I think it might be a gunshot. The note leaps from my hands and floats to the floor.  I want to pick it up but I’m paralyzed by my confusion.  The principal, Dr.  Morris, is standing in the doorway.  She had flung the door open so hard that it collided with the dry erase board behind it, damaging it in who knows what kinds of lasting ways.  She runs to Mr. Bowler and throws herself against him.  At first, I’m confused because I don’t immediately remember that they’re married. But even so, I’m pretty sure they’re not supposed to show that kind of affection in the school.  He keeps asking her what’s wrong, but she can’t speak.  She merely makes these grotesque little noises that sound kind of like hiccups, but kind of not. 
I watch her rip the remote control off his desk and aim it at the television hanging from the ceiling in the corner of the room.  I can’t tell if she’s furious or devastated. Has Mr. Bowler done something? Maybe she’s turning on an episode of that show Cheaters. He looks just as confused as the rest of us and I feel embarrassed for him. She starts flipping through the channels, but I can already see that they’re all playing the same thing.  She turns the volume up until our classroom is transformed into a concert hall. 
I don’t understand.  But there it is, clear as day. 
The United States is under attack. 
I don’t understand. 
The footage is horrifying.  Smoke is billowing from the top of some huge building in a city that is half a lifetime away from where I live in Georgia.  Everyone in class is staring.  Gawking, really.  I think it’s kind of disgusting.  I try not to watch, but something in my heart makes me.  I know that I don’t know these people.  I don’t know them, have never met them, probably never would have.  Is it wrong to miss them?   
I realize I’m not breathing.  I don’t know when I stopped.  I look at Dr. Morris, whose face is turned into Mr. Bowler’s shoulder.  He whispers something to her and she nods.  She mutes the television and stands before us, not a principal anymore, just another human being orbiting the same tragedy that we are. 
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions,” she starts, but no one is looking at her.  Everyone is staring at the screen.  Except me.  I try to listen, try to see Dr. Morris for what she is, what I am: terrified.  “But I am not the one who can answer them right now.”  I can see that she wants to say more, that she thinks she should say more.  She can’t. 
Mr. Bowler comes to stand beside her, his back straight and confident.  But from his self-assured façade comes a tiny voice.  “Go home.” 
 No one moves.  Everyone just watches the television in dumbfounded silence.  I peer up at the screen before me and the images I see are worse now than they were a few seconds ago.  Everywhere, people are dead.  Dying.  Screaming.  Crying.  Running. 
I am running. 
I leave my things at my desk and sprint all the way home, one thought pounding through my head: “How did this happen?  How did this happen?  How did this happen?” 
My father is home when I get there.  I don’t know why because he should be at work, but there he is, sitting on the living room floor, watching the news.  He’s clutching the remote in the in his fist.  He’s staring at the screen so intently that I wonder when he last blinked. He looks up at me. 
“Caroline,” is all he says before his features start to fold into themselves. I walk toward him, trying to slip my shoes off as I go. I trip, drop to my knees, and crawl the rest of the way. I climb into his lap and he grips me so hard I can’t move. I think it’s because he’s crying and doesn’t want me to turn and see. I allow him that privacy in this shared moment and even though it’s really uncool to hug your father when you’re thirteen, I curl into him as my own tears start to flow. 
“God has some explaining to do on this one,” he whispers. 
 “What do you mean?”  I ask. 
“What kind of God’s gonna let this happen, you know?”  No, I don’t know.  I’ve never been to church.  I’ve never picked up a Bible.  I’ve heard stories, sure, but stories are just stories.  Is he really the one to blame for all this?  Is anyone? I thought he was supposed to be a good guy, like he was supposed to protect us or something.   
I think I misunderstood. 
I lock myself in my house for the next few days.  I don’t even go to school so that note that seemed so important, well, I’ll never get to read it. Dad stays home with me so we spend most of those next few days silently watching reruns of old TV shows, the kind with questionable acting that are just entertaining enough to make us forget about whatever needs forgetting. My stomach won’t let me eat.  My nerves won’t let me sleep.  Sometimes I just cry.  I don’t really know who I’m crying for.  For the people who died?  For mama?  For me?  No, I think it’s all of us.  I’m crying for humankind.   
And for God.  I’ll cry for him, too. 
I am eighteen years old.  I was handed my diploma just moments ago at a ceremony where I was the valedictorian.  Marcie is screaming at the top of her lungs.  I can’t exactly make out the words, but it sounds like she’s telling everyone that I’m “one smart son of a bitch.”  I laugh because I am happy.  Because I have a friend who loves me.  And because in less than three months, I’ll be attending college in Washington state, far, far away from Georgia. 
Graduation finishes up fairly quickly and Marcie meets me out by her car, as planned.  We shimmy out of our gowns to reveal attire for a party that is long overdue.  Her outfit consists of a tiny red dress that barely covers her ass and leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination.  Marcie has always been beautiful and I never understood her need to downgrade her beauty with outfits like this, but who am I to judge?  I’m the virgin after all.  Never even been kissed.  My dress is purple and flowing, cut about mid-thigh. Marcie picked it so it must be somewhat stylish in comparison to the rest of my plaid and flannel attire. She spins me around and yanks on my hair for a good five minutes before declaring me “relatively appealing.” I laugh because I know she doesn’t mean it. 
“Ready?”  she asks, anticipation oozing through her words. 
The party is dangerously close to home, across the field at J.D.’s house.  The music is so loud that all I can make out is the thumping of the bass rattling the furniture. The food is stale but Marcie assures me that it’s the norm for “high school parties.”  I’ve never been a big drinker, but I grab a beer and make myself comfortable, chatting with the people I’ll be leaving behind.  At some point, J.D.’s cat, Percy, emerges from the laundry room and practically scales my dress trying to get into my arms.  I can’t help the wave of nostalgia that accompanies the scent of his fur. 
I take him in my arms and wander around for a while.  I try to strike up conversations here and there, but the more people drink, the less sense they make.  Eventually, I sit at the top of the stairs and pet Percy, waiting for Marcie to decide she’s ready to leave.  By all accounts, it’s a decent party.  Nothing spectacular, but no drama.  That’s all that can really be expected, I guess. 
I spot Marcie on the couch, getting all sloppy with some football player.  I know I should go get her, but if I go too soon, she’ll throw a fit.  I have to wait until just the right moment.  The moment seems to have come when Marcie has to stop her jock from putting his hand between her legs.  I stand to intervene when someone grabs my arm. 
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”  I turn and find myself nose to nose with none other than Justin Daniels.  I have to remind myself to breathe, remind my heart to beat. 
“Have you now?”  I ask. 
“Yes, ma’am, I have.” 
“Now why would you go and do a thing like that?” 
He laughs and it’s the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard.  “Come sit with me.”  He tugs my arm back toward a room that Percy is already prancing into.  His room.  The room I’d been in a thousand times as a kid, but haven’t seen since third or fourth grade.  I look over at Marcie and whatever threat there seemed to have been before, vanished.  She looks fine. 
So I follow him. 
The room is different, older and darker.  The walls are mostly plain except for a portrait of his mom from when she was younger.  She died a few months after mama.  Cancer, I think.  There is a weight set in the corner of the room, his bed against one wall, and his television against another.  He has a smallish dresser next to a smaller bookshelf containing no actual books.  Just some car magazines.  I feel the urge to hold his hand and before I can fully process whether or not to go for it, his fingers wrap around mine.  He smiles. 
“So, miss Caroline, you are this year’s valedictorian.  How’s it feel?”  I can’t really tell if he’s mocking me, so I go with it. 
“Wonderful,” I reply. 
He sits on the edge of his bed, and I don’t hesitate to join him.  If anything in this world makes sense, it’s that J.D. should be my first kiss.  Everything in my life has been leading up to this moment, hasn’t it?  Ever since I was little, ever since grade school, there’s been no one else to even cross my mind.  No one but him. 
“I’m proud of you, you know,” he says. “You’ve worked hard for this.” 
“Thanks,” I reply, heat rising from my heart to my cheeks. 
“I’ll miss you when you leave.” I become painfully aware of the distance between our hands, between our bodies. 
“Doubt it,” I say. “You’ve barely spoken to me since eighth grade.” 
He laughs now, runs a hand through his hair. “Yeah, because you blew me off.” 
“What are you talking about?” There has never been a time in my life when I would have blown off the only guy I’ve ever really liked. Maybe even loved. 
“The note. In eighth grade.” He looks at me and through me all at once. Like he always has. And I suddenly remember the note. I replay the moment in my head: the single open flap, the way it drifted to the floor, destined to be swept up by a janitor and abandoned in a recycling plant somewhere. 
“What did it say?” I ask, suddenly shy. 
He sits quietly for a moment and I think he might not tell me.  I think that maybe I made a mistake.  Maybe I shouldn’t have asked.  Is it too late to take it back?  “It said…” he starts and I feel like I’ll scream if he doesn’t finish.  “That you should call me. And that you are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.” 
And now we are kissing.  Kissing is kind of an odd thing.  You either like it or you don’t.  It either feels right or it doesn’t.  For reasons way beyond my understanding, I don’t like this.  And it felt wrong.  By all accounts, J.D. is perfect for me.  But this isn’t right.  His lips are moving too fast and his tongue is doing more to suffocate me than anything else.  His kiss is aggressive which is nothing compared to the rest of his body. 
He’s pressing against me, one arm tight around my back, the other clutching my hip.   Maybe this is what it’s supposed to be like to kiss someone for the first time.  Maybe it’s supposed to be intense and jarring and almost kind of scary. 
But maybe not. 
“Hold on,” I say.  But he doesn’t hold on.  “Wait.”  He doesn’t wait.  “Just fucking stop for a second.” He doesn’t stop.  
I try to shimmy backwards, slip my body out from underneath his, but he scrambles on top of me before I can get away.  He clasps one hand over my mouth and gets to work on his belt.   
“You’ll like this,” he says. “Just trust me.” In eighth grade, I definitely might have trusted him. But not now. 
I don’t even have time to cry.  I swing my knee up with every ounce of strength I have.  I miss.  He’s pissed. 
He gets his pants off in record time, maybe driven by fury, or maybe by fear that if he stops now, he’ll never get it done.  Now I have time to cry.  I am begging him, the boy I grew up with, the boy that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember, to stop.  He keeps mumbling things to me about how pretty I am and how good this will all feel. “Relax,” he says, but that makes my muscles tense harder, threatening to shatter the bones they support. 
I keep begging him to stop because what else can I honestly do? But somewhere between the shock and the pain and the fear, my pleas go quiet, existing only in my head. 
Please, please stop.   
Please, God, make this stop. 
He doesn’t stop.  God doesn’t stop him. 
It’s all pretty fast, faster than I expected.  And when he’s done, he leaves.  My body aches and my lungs hurt from failed attempts at communication.  I don’t want to stay here.  It hurts to walk.  But I absolutely have to go.  I wipe up my own blood with J.D.’s blanket.  He can clean it up later. 
Percy watches me leave and I realize how much I hate that fucking cat.  Marcie is passed out on the couch, and I fucking hate her, too.  Marcie with all her skanky clothes and come-hither attitude.  Marcie always pressuring me into shit I don’t want to do.  Marcie and all her boyfriends and all her sexual wisdom.  She should have prepared me for this.  She didn’t.  I leave her there. 
My dad is already in bed when I get home and I’m glad because I would be devastated if he were to see the stains, or my face, or my hair. I creep up the stairs to my room and I cry into my pillow for hours.  I don’t feel any better. 
I’ll never see J.D. again.  But in three and a half months, I’ll go to the doctor and she’ll give me the news. 
I’m having a girl. 
I am twenty-two years old.  My daughter, Eliza Jane, is four.  There are numerous horror stories about the hardships of getting pregnant so young and having a child too early.  But they’re wrong.  Eliza is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.  Her hair is dark like his, but she has my freckles.  She has my eyes, and she has my life.  Things are difficult, but not impossible.  We eat off-brand food and shop at Goodwill, which is more embarrassing than anything else.  But we have big plans, she and I. 
Last year I gave her a map of the United States and told her to pick a place, any place.  She thought on it for a long time.  She was only three at the time, but my girl has brains.  She’s smart, like me.  She finally woke me up early one morning, ecstatic to have decided on a state. 
“Mommy!”  she yelled, charging through my bedroom door.  She jumped on the bed until she managed to wake me up. 
“Eliza, what’s going on?”  I asked. 
“I picked a place!” 
“You did what?”  I replied, my brain taking a few minutes to wake with the rest of my body. 
“I picked a place!”  She opened the map and smoothed it across the bed.  “This one!”  I sat up to see where she was pointing: Maine.  “Let’s live here!” 
I snickered.  Eliza picked Maine, nice and far away from Georgia.  She is smart.  “Okay, Maine it is.” 
We determined that by the time she turns five, we’ll have a nice house up in Maine where she can go to school and make friends and see real snow that doesn’t come out of a can at Christmas time.  I’m not sure which one of us is more excited, but we revel in it together. 
I thank J.D. sometimes.  He’s a piece of shit.  But I thank him.  For giving me her.  For leaving town so he couldn’t stick around to ruin her.  None of it happened the way it should have, but I wouldn’t give her up for anything.  I don’t need a boyfriend, I don’t need a husband.  I don’t need anything anymore.  Eliza and I, we do just fine on our own.  I don’t always have the most money, but I do my best to make her happy and I think I’m doing pretty damn well. 
I work as a secretary down the street from the apartment that Eliza and I share.  It’s not the most glamorous job in the world, but the pay is pretty good and it’s close enough that I can walk instead of waste gas.   
I just picked her up from daycare.  It’s not cheap, but it’s not super ritzy either, which I’m okay with.  I trust the people watching her, and I can breathe a little easier knowing she’s in safe hands while I’m working to get us that house in Maine.  I had to work late today, which I feel so incredibly guilty for, but she doesn’t seem to mind.  She just smiles at me from her car seat in back and tells me all about her playground adventures.  I try to keep up with her high speed story-telling, but I only have moments to respond before she starts again.  I laugh and she giggles and there is nothing I’d rather do than be here with her. 
I stop at a red light and retrieve Eliza’s sippy cup from my bag.  I hand it to her and turn around just as the light turns green.  I ease my foot off the break in preference for the accelerator and the last horrible, shitty thing that will ever happen to me, happens. 
A pick-up truck.  A distracted driver.  And an accident.   
I can’t do this anymore. 
Eliza is alive.  She’s alive, she’s alive, she’s alive.  I can’t believe my baby is alive.  I have to see her.  The doctors and nurses are fighting me on this.  They keep talking but I stopped listening the second they said she was alive.  I try to push my way through them, pull myself through the mass of them, but they don’t budge. 
“She won’t make it through the night!”  he yells.  I stop. 
“Eliza is alive for now, but she will not make it through the night.  I’m so sorry, Ms. Addison, we did everything we could.”  He doesn’t look very sorry. 
“Could I have like…done something different maybe?  With her car seat or something?” I know this is my fault.  I can tell by the way he is looking at me that I did something wrong that it’s all my fault.  But no.  He shakes his head.  There is nothing I could have done.  I add doctors with shaking heads to the list of people I hate. 
I don’t have time to feel the loss.  My body goes numb.  My brain stops working.  My heart won’t beat.  I cease to exist.  They tell me I need to sign some forms for Eliza, suggest that I go see her, go talk to her, that I’ll feel better if I have some time with her, but I can’t.  I won’t.  I leave the hospital.  They try to stop me.  I ignore them.  I drive straight to my father’s.  I haven’t seen him in a few weeks, but he’ll let me do whatever I want, take whatever I want, do whatever I want.  He doesn’t have much of a choice. 
He’s not home, which is probably for the best.  I don’t take any time to revisit the house I grew up in.  I don’t go in my old bedroom, I don’t go into the kitchen where mama made me waffles and cleaned berries with me and taught me how to make peanut butter cookies.  I go straight to my father’s room and get his gun from his bedside table.  It feels awkward in my hand, too large for a girl my size, but I don’t think that will make a difference.   
I walk into the backyard.  “What the fuck is your problem?”  I scream at the sky.  I stare at the clouds, floating idly by .  That’s where he lives, right?  Supposedly?  “Do you think this is some kind of game?  Do you think you can just play with us like fucking chess pieces you worthless, selfish piece of shit?  Do you think you won’t have to answer for your sins?  Well, guess what!  You and me, we’re gonna fucking talk and you’re gonna tell me exactly why you did this!  All of this!  Everything!”  I point the gun at the sky.  “And then,” I say, my voice quiet now because I am just sick to death of screaming at people who don’t listen.  “You are going to fix this.” 
I know he heard me and he had better be waiting up there with some kind of written confession or explanation or something.  I put the gun to my head and I’m not numb anymore.  Not by a long shot.  My muscles stretch and burn and even the wind blowing makes my skin hurt.  I can feel the tip of the gun creating a bruise on the side of my head, but I keep it pressed there, knowing that if I take it down, I won’t go through with this. 
I drop to my knees.  They are covered in dirt and grass.  I look at the garden and know that I am not strong enough to overcome this.  I’ve never been strong enough to overcome any of this.  Not mama, not Eliza, none of it.   
I close my eyes and whisper the only thing I can think of.  “I am so sorry.” 
I pull the trigger. 
Heaven isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  It’s nothing, really.  Just space.  Empty, white space.  For a minute, I can’t see anything.  I try to walk around, but nothing changes, so I’m not even sure that I’m moving.   
There is a noise behind me.  Footsteps.  I turn and see him.  Capital-H Him.  The man upstairs, so to speak, though I don’t see a single step in this place.  I don’t see anything.  And to be honest, God’s not all that impressive either.  In fact, he’s about six years old. 
“So, you got my message?”  I question, suddenly unclear about how this whole thing is supposed to work.  He nods.  “Okay well—”  His small arm flies out in front of him, his palm directed at me.  I can’t speak.  My lips won’t move.  My tongue won’t function.   
I’ll tell you what you want to know.  I’m looking right at him and I know his mouth didn’t move. Is that how this works?  Pay attention, Caroline.  I stand there, silently, waiting.  For what, I have no idea.  But I wait anyway. 
God doesn’t speak.  Not really.  He just shows.  His child-size self is suddenly animated.  He drops to seated position, his limbs moving in a kind of stop-motion.  He plays with the multi-colored blocks before him, creating.  I watch as he creates the world, creates humankind, creates animals and flowers and life.  He has big plans for us.  He has hopes and dreams and ideas for the future, for the things that we will be able to accomplish.  He is excited.  I feel his enthusiasm radiating against me like rays of sun beating into my flesh.  I bask in this newfound gift that God has found, this trick he has mastered to make things real, to bring them to life.  I close my eyes. 
When I open them again, the boy is gone, replaced by a girl about sixteen years old.  I’m not sure how or when the shift occurred, but the luminescence has diminished.  God is standing amongst her favorite things.  Surrounded by people and children and trees and earth, she is at peace.  But everything starts to disappear.  People fade away and the ones that remain are crying or angry.  She reaches out to them, wants to grab hold of them, but can’t.  It’s all slipping through her fingers.  Everything she created, everything she wanted for us. It’s all getting lost.  And she is powerless. 
She stops, stares at me, and her body shudders.  She emerges older, harsher.  God is now about forty years old.  She is annoyed.  Her face is tense, taut around the mouth and eyes.  She meanders through the destruction of the world she created, pacing across a warzone.  She shakes her head.  She has been trying so hard for so long to make this work, to make us see, but we are insubordinate.  She tries to come up with other ways to mend her creations.  She is overworked.  Overtired.  She can’t think.  Can’t create.  She walks away. 
Another shudder and God is now the old man that everyone depicts him as.  Long, gray hair, wrinkled and broken.  People have started to look for him, have started to ask about him, have volunteered to do as he commands.  But they, too, are misguided.  They let their children die in the anticipation of his intervention, when that is simply not how it works.  They use him as an excuse for war and wrath, breaking the whole of him into tiny pieces in an attempt to understand the world he has created.  By doing so, they lose all meaning entirely.  He sighs, disheartened, and turns away.  For good. 
The boy is back.  The God-child.  He appears seated beside me.  “Do you get it?”  he asks, out loud. 
“Not really,” I reply. 
“Everyone is looking for me.  For the truth of me.  But it’s not me that they need.  It’s you.” 
“Yes, Caroline, it’s all of you.  I am just one small facet of life.  Human beings are the real issue here.  I don’t care if people believe in me or not.  I don’t care if people burn Bibles or refuse to attend church.  That’s not what this is about,” he explains. 
“Then what’s it about?” 
“People do terrible things.  They just do.  And I can’t control that.  But the only way for mankind to continue, the only way to avoid killing yourselves off, is by looking to each other.” 
“For what?”  I don’t get what he’s trying to say.  He’s cryptic and confusing and if he would just spell it out for me, I know I could understand. 
“For faith.  Embrace what it is to be uniquely human.  Embrace what it means to be alive.  Humans are the only things that other humans can depend on and if you start creating divisions along arbitrary lines, then what do you have?  A bunch of scatter-brained creatures running around with no rhyme or reason.  I created you to function as a whole.  Religious beliefs, race, sex, size, nationality, these things do not matter.” 
“And what about the man that killed my daughter?  How does he fit into this master plan?”  I am crying.  There’s really no shame in crying in front of God.  I don’t think so anyway. 
“You have to get everyone back together.  You need to use each other, truly take stock of each other, and things like that will stop happening, I promise,” he replies emphatically.  “This has never been about me.  This has always been about humans, and the world you create for each other.” 
“Tell that to the rest of the world.” 
“I’m telling it to you.”  He takes my hand and looks at me with eyes that reflect a thousand different colors.  “It is okay to have faith in something besides me.” 
I can hear Eliza laughing.  I could recognize that sound an entire world away.  The lights in Heaven fade away until there is nothing but darkness.  In my mind, I know I should feel scared.  But I don’t.  I squeeze my eyes closed and when I open them again, I’m at my apartment.  I’m sitting at my kitchen table and Eliza is coloring next to me, prattling on about Jasmine or Belle or one of the many princesses she has a fascination with.  I go to her side, pull her into my arms, and I am sobbing. 
“What’s wrong, mommy?”  she asks, hugging her tiny arms around my head. 
“Nothing, baby.  I just love you so much.” 
She giggles.  “I love you, too.  Want to see what I colored for you?”  She holds the book out toward me.  It’s Cinderella.  I laugh. 
God told me that I can have faith and even though it’s hard, even though I don’t want to, and even though it seems completely hopeless most of the time, I do. 
And so I have faith. 
In you.
Hailey Foglio hails from the nonexistent town of Salem, Wisconsin, where she spends an awful lot of time reading John Green novels. She is a pig enthusiast.