When I was a boy, the God used to come to our village. I know you've heard the story before, but there are few of us left to tell it. It's good for you hear the story again. Perhaps some day the God will return to Little Fork and you will remember.
I remember watching him striding down from the Shale Hills. He was tall and strong and handsome. As he came down from the hills, we could see him looking about, taking it in the sights of our village and small valley. It broke the routine of our everyday lives and we children loved it. We'd run from our tasks and follow him. Planting, weeding, harvesting would be forgotten and the sheep would be left in the meadow. The older, faster children would be in front with the younger ones hurrying to catch up. For a time, I was the fastest of them all.
The God would set us to playing games like Fox and Eggs or Beetle on the Anthill. The adults would shout at us to get back to work and sometimes they'd have to race after a sheep or chicken that had gotten away. We didn't care. We were playing. The God would stand aside and watch, smiling, until he had seen enough. Then he would wander off to watch something else. He loved to watch.
When he left the children, we would continue with our games. We would argue about which of us he had favored most with his gaze. As we played, the God would wander through the village. He would peek in our little homes and rummage through our meager belongings. He would move things so that they weren't found for days, following some line of thought known only to him. Once my mother lost her best cook pot for a full turn of the moon until it slid off the roof during a hard rain. Why the roof? We never knew.
I remember that when the women spun or cooked, he would stare over their shoulders silently judging their work. Sometimes he would stick a long finger into their work or would attempt to improve on what they were doing. Old Thora once tried to run him off with a broom after he added salt to her soup but the God never moved and she ended up breaking it. I laughed, so I had to cut her a new broom handle.
Knut, the blacksmith, used to complain that the God would bend or snap his work by testing it. He was a God and he was strong. One autumn he arrived when the men were repairing the roof of the chicken coop. The God climbed up to watch them and fell through breaking the roof and the nest boxes underneath. He was large and he was heavy.
We children laughed when the God would do something we found funny, but our parents complained bitterly. "He disrupts everything," they would say. "Nothing gets done when he is here. For days after he leaves, the chickens won't lay and the children are disobedient."
I remember my father complaining, "Why can't we have a God like they do in the cities? Those Gods do things. They help people who pray for help. They perform miracles. Why, I even heard that the God of White Harbor saved a crew of fishermen whose boat had been swamped. Our God does nothing."
For as long as anyone could remember, the God of Little Fork had behaved in this way. When he was in his cups, my father liked to tell a story about when he was a boy. Someone would mention the God and that would set him off. "I'll tell you why I don't like him," he would say to begin the story. "He ruined my father's life."
My grandfather had decided that the God didn't do more for them because he was not sufficiently worshipped and he convinced the village to honor the God. A feast was planned for his next arrival. An arm chair of a size to seat the God was commissioned at great expense. New clothing was made and adorned with expensive ribbons and lace. Even the children were dressed in the finest clothing that could be acquired for them. Food fit for a feast was brought in from the cities at additional expense. When the signs pointed to his arrival, prized lambs were slaughtered. There were several false signs before his arrival and many lambs that would have eventually produced much wool were lost.
When the God arrived, he enter the common hall and looked at the feast prepared for him. He looked at the people of the village all dressed in their finest clothes. He looked at the large chair built of polished ironwood to seat the God at the head of the table. And he turned away.
The feast was ruined. The chair ended up in the city where some other God sits in it once a year to great ceremony. The expensive clothing was rarely seen again. When the God returned a few months later, most of the children returned to playing with him but my father never did. He never forgave the God for spoiling what was to be his own father's moment in the sun. "I'll never forgive him," was how my father would always end his story.
My father, like his father before him, was a healer. And though my father had a gift for that art some things were beyond his skills. Accidents or disease or a birth gone wrong would send him into long periods of melancholy. That the God could just watch as he desperately tried to save a life sent him into a rage.
"Why didn't you do anything?" I remember him crying out after one visit. "You could have saved her!"
The God said nothing. The God did nothing. The God just stood and watched. When my father went to tell the parents that their little girl had died of the fever, the God followed along and watched that as well.
It was after that visit that the adults began to construct their plan. I was still mostly a child and I was not privy to all their conversations. But my father was one of the leaders and I heard enough to know the story.
"Nothing must happen," I remember hearing him say. "No children playing, no work, no feasts, no lovemaking." The God would watch the adults in their most intimate moments. A curtain or a closed door would not stop him. Those being married hated it when he would arrive during their wedding ceremony. It meant they would have no privacy that night.
"No one hurt, no one sick, no one giving birth," said the blacksmith for everyone knew how the God loved to watch my father at work. The God loved to witness a birth and hold the newborn baby as nervous parents watched.
"We must be very careful in the days before his next arrival," my father agreed. He had ways to induce or delay birth.
"Perhaps," the blacksmith said. "A new God will come and take his place."
"A helpful God," someone else said.
"A better God," several others added.
The God did not have a regular schedule but we often had some hint of his next arrival. A shooting star might appear in the sky, a dog might have a large litter. Once I found a cluster of the most delicious white mushrooms in the forest and the next morning the God appeared. I have never again had mushrooms that were so good.
The adults watched for signs and they took care that nothing would disrupt their plans. A stag appeared near the village just as we young men went out to hunt, and it was deemed a sign. We had killed the stag but the elders dictated that it would lay in the field. The meat, hide, bones would not be taken. The stag would rot.
A small group of adults took all the young children and made them walk away from the hills, past the King's Road, and into the Salt Marsh where they would wait. I was old enough that I could stay in the village although I and the other young people were warned that we must do nothing. Once the God arrived, we were to sit in the common hall and be both still and silent. "Watch and listen and learn," we were told. I think now that they wanted us to see their triumph.
The next day, the God appeared. He came down from the Shale Hills and he looked for the children. I was in the fields and wanted to run to him as I had always done before, but I remember the stern look of my father. I stopped myself. I saw the other young people do the same. We turned from the God and trudged to the common hall to sit in silence.
The adults behaved similarly. They turned from their tasks and went to their homes where they sat in silence. I later heard that the God had wandered through the village looking in each home, each workplace only to walk away when he found nothing to interest him. He went to the meadow and watched the sheep play and he went to the chicken coops where he gathered some eggs. He came into the common hall and set the eggs on one of the tables. He had large hands and could carry many eggs. When he looked at me, I saw sadness in his eyes.
It was the shortest visit of the God to our village anyone could remember since the feast organized by grandfather. He left the common hall and wandered away back into the Shale Hills and back wherever he came from. The adults were jubilant. The young children were brought back from the swamp. The stag had been chewed on by wolves so a lamb was slaughtered instead. Mead was poured and a feast was prepared. Someone smashed the eggs on the ground while others laughed. But as I looked around the smoky hall I saw that not all of us were joining in the merrymaking.
Life went on. Some of us watched for signs and hoped the God would return, but he never did. The children worked more and played less. The chickens laid their eggs, the sheep produced their wool, crops grew in the fields. But there seemed to be less of everything and what we had was produced with less joy.
Even the population of the village has declined. Now that I am old, there are far fewer of us than there used to be. We die sooner and give birth less. The buildings are in poor repair. The common hall needs a new roof. The apple trees are blighted. The ewes are often barren.
I hear tales of other villages and of Gods who still visit. Some of us have tried to move to those other villages or even to the big cities so far away, but we are not wanted. The residents of Little Fork are the ones who drove away the God and no one wants our company. But I remember the God and I think that if enough of us wish for his return that someday he will come back. Yesterday, I had a double yolked egg. Perhaps it was a sign.