I’m not sure I could ever really find the place again. It was on one of those days that I just had to drive.
Before I got off the interstate, I was ogling the billboards for adult superstores and Indian casinos when, to my surprise, up popped God. “He is watching,” the billboard read in overly religious, bold, gothic script above a figure in a white bathrobe wearing a Santa Claus beard.
When I had first set out on the drive, I had been looking for a sign and I figured this fit the bill, so I eased my car onto the off ramp, hung a right, and off I went, out into the county. Soon, silos replaced the billboards and the smell of silage wafted in through my open windows as I was lost in thought, wondering if God really was watching me and, if so, was he crying, laughing, or just looking down with those uncaringly still, billboard eyes.
After I reached a point just west of nowhere, I crested a hill and saw a sign made from old rusty blacksmith tools spelling out the word “antiques.”
Now, anyone who knew me knew that I wasn’t the type to frequent antique stores. Just thinking about the dust in one was enough to make me sneeze — and I certainly couldn’t imagine actually paying to take that dust home with me. But an old Royal Crown Cola machine squatted on the front porch and beckoned me to stop and have a drink.
I pulled off into the gravel, jumped out of the car, and hopped up on the porch only to find that I had nothing but a pair of twenties in my wallet. So, reluctantly, I wandered into the store.
“Let me know if you need any help,” a wiry old man with unkempt hair told me when I walked through the door, never looking up from his book.
“Thanks,” I said.
Now, I was the type who couldn’t walk into a gas station and ask to use the bathroom, or for directions, or for change without buying at least a pack of gum, so off I went, browsing around the store, wondering what the antique equivalent to a pack of gum looked like.
I saw those things you put wood on top of in the fireplace, one of those metal pinecones you hang from an old clock, an ancient, galvanized metal electric fan — all too big and too rusty. But then I saw a shelf off in a neglected corner of the store with a sign above it that read “All items $1.00. This shelf ONLY.”
Jackpot. The antique gum rack.
There was a button from the Mondale campaign, a wheat penny set into a Lucite keychain, a little wooden man, and a bottle opener. It was perfect, in fact, a Royal Crown Cola bottle opener. Only, when I reached for it, I bumped the little wooden man and knocked him to the floor with a sound like a miniature bowling pin crashing into the backstop.
I bent down to get him, reached under the shelf that he had rolled under, and plucked him out. He was covered in dust and wore scale mail armor with a pointed helmet, a red tunic, a band of blue as a belt, and black at the base. About four inches tall, he was smooth, with a lacquered finish over the paint to make him last forever.
“I saw that,” the old man manning the counter said from across the store. “I’m watching you.”
And I thought about that billboard and how some people think God is an old white man with a big beard and an assortment of Egyptian cotton sheets up over his unmentionable godly areas like a tunic. If He looked like that, I thought, He could’ve just as easily looked like the knight I was holding. A little, wooden man with a painted beard and painted armor. Like a King Arthur bowling pin. No arms. No legs. Just two eyes and a beard. But I didn’t think God looked like that. Quite honestly, I couldn’t imagine the look of God any more than I could imagine the appearance of eternity. Maybe God and eternity looked alike.
Vibrations, timelessness, understanding.
The little wooden man didn’t look like anyone of those things. Instead, he looked like what people try to make God look like — small and silly.
I forgot completely about the bottle opener and the RC Cola and purchased the little man. He made the long trip back with me, dust and all. Now, every time he makes me sneeze, he reminds me of how I found God.
Will Mayer is an adjunct English professor at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. His other activities include running a small business, combing yard sales, and attending to two small children. He is a former member of the editorial staff for SpacesLitMag.com, The Dos Passos Review, and the Liberty Champion. Will was also a reader for the 0-60 play writing competition and the Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry. Past publications have appeared in Spark: A Creative Anthology, Page & Spine, The Germ, The Stoneslide Corrective, 4’33”, Lamplight, The Cynic, and Central Virginia Bridal Guide.