And God said to Jonah: “Art thou greatly angry for the Kikayon?” And he said: “I am greatly angry, even unto death.”
Jonah was a prophet. This he knew.
An old truck crept past, but Jonah did not look up. No one came down his alley anymore, not for months. No one knew his secret, the length of pipe tucked behind a fuse box, a pipe that still dripped after all this time, dripped into a rusty pail.
No one knows about it, it’s mine, granted to me by the grace of God, who smiles on His chosen. Life-giving water, sign of Your covenant, give to me the strength to outlast the famine with which You punish the wicked…
There had been no new food in months. When he wandered, invisible to other starving eyes, he heard cries of blight and famine. There was even less water. Fewer and fewer people walked the streets, it seemed, which made his scavenging much simpler, but it was his pipe and pail that sustained him. Each day, God provided for his needs, he alone out of all the people in this city. This wretched city. He was God’s witness to its destruction. This he knew.
Noise from the square as he crawled out of the alleyway. Another riot? Let them fight. It is better they destroy themselves and bring themselves to judgment. The men in dark clothing would drive the crowds away, away from the bridges and the storehouses. They would shout. They would fire their weapons. Blood would fill the gutter. No, there would be no riot today — there weren’t enough people.
He walked down the grey street, toward a neighborhood that, he hoped, hadn’t already been picked clean. His eyes closed, for a moment. An odd feeling took hold of him. His muscles tensed, his breath caught in his throat. When his eyes opened again and air filled his lungs, the world burst to life. The street, full of people, their clothes vibrant in a hundred hues. On his own body, black cloth, a white collar, out of place in the saturated crowd. A chorus of sounds, not the shouts of the square but music, real music, and laughter.
Someone held his hand. A woman, whose name he could not remember, whose eyes were full of love, who knelt down to tie the shoe of a young boy. My son…
The crowd disappeared. The same street, grim and dark now, lay before him, ending in a pier. A gull wheeled overhead. It cried, and dove into the sea that was slick with a sheen like wax. A man stood on the end of the pier, holding in his right hand a ewer of water, in his left a ewer of oil. His back turned to Jonah, he poured them into the sea, mixing them together as they fell in a stream. The rays of the gloaming set it alight, and Jonah walked out to the edge, watching the sea burn away. The flames leapt high, dancing tongues of fire, speaking to him of Eden and the Promised Land, of the serpent and God’s gift scorned, speaking to him of God’s creation befouled. Vines writhed in the flames, dried up, blew away. Looking down from the pier, he saw that black tar flowed in place of water, swallowing the bones of fish, overflowing its banks. The man turned and ran down the street in terror. Jonah stood his ground, and was consumed.
His sight returned, a burned-out street lamp coming into focus above him. Cold sweat streamed off his face, his arms, his chest. He rushed back to his alleyway. The streets were empty; no one would see him enter. Drinking greedily from the pail, he marveled once again at his good fortune. Your will is clear to me, O Lord, revealed to me. These people were Your chosen, and You tested them. And they abandoned You, You who were their deliverance, their shield from want and harm. They misused Your gift, and for this they are punished. They destroyed Your earth, ravaged Your fields and destroyed Your holy places. Even as they recognized their misdeeds, they stayed their course, away from Your path. Your covenant with them is over; You have withdrawn their gift in retribution. It no longer flows down from the heights, no longer falls from heaven; You have taken it away. Only I remain, ever faithful.
Jonah sank back onto a pile of newspapers. This vision had been like the others, and they were getting more frequent. God’s plan will soon bear fruit. The water, the water of all the world, had been fouled or taken away; this he knew, from the blaring of television sets now long silent, from the men gasping in the streets, from the newspapers on which he now sat.
No water had meant no food. There was not enough for everyone, they had said. Your flood, O Lord, cleansed the Earth and made it anew for Your people. Surely Yours is the guiding hand in these dark days. He had tried to warn them; he was a prophet, after all. But they had spurned him. Families fled from his tortured face; the men in dark clothing beat him with the ends of their rifles. They have realized too late their sins against You, and now there is no repentance.
Vaguely, he remembered the busy streets of old, and the violence that had consumed them in the early days of chaos. They blamed the factories, blamed the rich, blamed anyone but themselves, and they paid the price. Many had died in those days, but the true end came with the end of the water. Streets busy with dehydrated corpses. No more music, not even the strength for shouting. Sunken eyes they had, heavy with the knowledge of their sins. Even if they had come to him for help, he would not have lifted a finger; instead, he lay by his pipe and pail, waiting. They had their chance, and it had passed unremarked. Now they reaped what they had sown. The earth will be cleansed of them.
- • •
Forty days later, Jonah was nearly knocked off his feet by a thunderous roar that filled the street. He panicked, cowering behind a stoop. Do not be afraid! He was terrified, the sound filling his head, threatening to burst his skull, making him realize just how long it had been since he had heard anything other than the dripping of his pipe. In his terror, his lips formed wordless curses and a prayer.
Scrabbling on the pavement with calloused fingers, he grasped something, a piece of paper, maybe. It was only then that he realized the dreadful noise had stopped. As he straightened up, movement on the horizon caught his eye: a low-flying plane just now escaping from view. In its wake were hundreds of leaflets, floating lazily down to earth, each identical to the one he held in his hand.
Still reeling from the awful sound of the plane’s passing, he stumbled. I have not seen another soul in weeks, Lord. Is this Your sign? Is Your work complete? Palms pressed against the pavement, he gave in to the waves that passed over his eyes. The visions returned.
The same street, the same brightly colored crowd, now pressed together in front of windows, hearing their doom: no water. The woman was there. Next to him, the young boy too. A shout rose up, a shot rang out; the crowd moved toward them in a wave. He grabbed their hands and ran, not knowing from what he ran or to where. He lost hold of her. In his panic, he stopped, and before his eyes, his son was swept underneath the mob as well.
Fighting his way against the current, stumbling to find the boy. Finding him broken and bloodied, taking him in his arms, his last breaths already escaping, last frightened whispers lost to the torrent of screams and shouts that surrounded them. My son, my son, would that I had died and you had lived! He looked around in terror, the press of people on all sides, swallowing him. The crowd around him grew, until he crouched over his nameless son in a forest of thundering feet. The edges of his vision blurred; the bright colors of the peoples’ clothing swam before him, forming half-patterns and faces, eyes gruesome and glittering, admonishing him with acid tongues for his failure, failure to save, failure to preach, until before him stood God, and the mouth of God opened, and blood and water flowed out…
Flashes of his life sped by. Crawling through the streets, his clothing in tatters, his mind flayed, ducking into an alleyway when a door burst open. Hiding there for weeks, as the world around him collapsed. Fighting for what remained, a shard of glass in a young man’s throat, the price paid for his daily bread. Rejoicing to find that the old rusted pipe kept dripping. Convinced it was a sign, a sign from God. Chosen to survive. Chosen, free from sin, blessed.
He awoke on the street again, eyes turned upwards to the clouds’ perpetual haze. This vision had been different, he felt. Banish the doubt in your mind! He rose uncomfortably, pulling himself up to his knees.
He still held the leaflet tightly in his fist. Unfolding it to find it splashed with color, he read. Dates, times, places, offering hope, calling all to join in a new land, one with water and life, brilliant greens and blues that Jonah had not seen since, since…
Impossible! The leaflet held nothing but lies. This he knew. None could have survived without Your blessing. You are testing me, Lord, and I will not fail you!
Staring at the paper in his hand, the paper that refused to crumble into dust, to reveal itself as heaven-sent, now only mottled with tears, stubborn in its corporeality.
Why have you forsaken me? I who am Your chosen, I alone who give You praise? You have wiped them from the earth, lives taken for sins against Your creation. I have not been blind to Your signs. Bring me into the world You will make anew!
Stumbling down the street, desperate now. Collapsed at the mouth of the alley. Doubt swimming in his mind, the leaflet mashed between his fists. Tearing it apart, crying to the Lord.
I have Your blessing, Your water, Your sign! Wipe out this blasphemy, Lord, these lies! You would not allow them to flourish, to defy You in this way, their punishment was well-deserved. They knew their actions would lead them down this path, they knew and did nothing! You cannot have redeemed them in this way…
There was something missing. His alleyway was silent. No breeze stirred the dry air. The shouting from the square… no, that had stopped long ago. No trucks lumbered by, no men in dark clothing gave orders, no miserable cough escaped a scavenger’s parched lips. There was something different about this silence. Oh Lord, is it now the time? Your Rapture? Have I passed Your test? I have served You, as these people did not; raise me from perdition, seat me at Your table and grant me food and drink…
No trumpets sounded, no light appeared. Leaflets continued to flow down the street. Jonah turned away, his eyes glancing over his pipe and pail.
The water had stopped.