Varieties of Religious Experience

by Bill Waterman

The only warnings had been a sensation of grating in his lower back as if a dusting of sugar had worked its way in, then a thrum of nerve so intense he could smell it, like a bloom of iodine in his nose, and then suddenly, unbelievably, he was on his back with no sensation from the waist down, the base of his spine glued flat to his driveway, staring stupidly at the sky and croaking for someone to call nine-eleven in a voice that barely cleared his throat.

Only nobody was outside. A pretty day like this, he thought, and nobody was outside.

Meanwhile he tried to rest, waiting for someone to notice and come over. He’d rest and catch his breath, and then maybe roll and sit up. At least it wasn’t raining, and it comforted him to be philosophical about the situation. Somewhere there were birds, and above him the sky was a liquid blue with a fluff of billowy white clouds piling up between his shoes.

As lovers they were done but as parents they acknowledged a shared future, not to mention a mutual reluctance to support two households, so agreed to confine their quarrels to the bedroom once the kids were asleep, exchanging their bitter grievances in crushed and humid whispers, and soon were having sex again.

Months afterward, irregularly, he would appear to her, actually not so unlike his homecomings of the past, discovering him slouched at the foot of the bed, bowed with fatigue and then turning to her with a restraining hand to forestall her questions. ‘Later, maybe tomorrow,’ he would gesture, so that even in sleep it all seemed a bit mad. But on reflection it was only the words that confused her. Absence had a presence of its own, didn’t it? Vacancy, too, could take up space.

Our father’s pain was particularly hard to bear when he was still suffering lucid episodes and knew that his mind was going. At those visits we could never know how the confusion would take him when we would tell him who we were. His humiliation could be as violent as his grief, and soon we would need to call the attendant. Eventually though his behavior grew more consistent, and his delight at meeting us would remind us mercifully of someone we used to know.

Fresh from a session and burning with insight, he drove home enthralled, fairly holding his breath, determined this time to maintain his focus. He saw everything now, everything. All he needed was an accident of the heart, to stumble into love like Fleming into penicillin. To love was health, he had learned. To love was an affirmation. He would be all right then, he realized. He was ready for this. To be verified. To be certified. Come and get him.

Under various pen names, Bill Waterman’s plays, prose and short fiction have appeared in journals, such as 2 Bridges Review, Bayou, Confrontation, Iconoclast and The MacGuffin, as well as in anthologies including Western Michigan University’s Art of the One-Act. Among his recently completed projects is a story collection called “Are You Seeing Anyone?” about people struggling through difficult transitions.