On the Architecture of the Divine

On the Architecture of the Divine

When he was still very young, he had read, in Jarman’s Skin a Flea for Hide and Tallow, of how the Blackfeet, when troubled by lice in their blankets, would lay the blankets over the great anthills made by the biting black and red ants on the prairie and the ants would issue forth in a storm and kill and consume every louse on the blanket within the hour. The Blackfeet would then take the blanket, shake out the furious ants, leaving them to their labyrinthine hills. There is, in an anthill, a logic, an architecture, beyond what humans can conceive of. The ants, without thought, build from the order in their souls placed into them by the divine.

Come and get me, Grandma said. I need to refill my pills. You need to take me to Walgreens.

He picked her up in his ’78 GMC. Rust, like prayer, holds it together without really holding it together, the life of a vehicle fading over time like any other plea.

If you need money, Grandma said, ask, but I’m going to take my hearing aids out, because I have none for you.

She took her hearing aids out, just like that.

Well, he said, I do need money. I owe Junior and Big Boy Roy. Remember how they come over a few weeks ago and beat my face up? Four in the morning. They know their business. Everyone can party until half-past three, and people who owe the kind of money I do to those fuckers have to be up by 5:30 AM to get to their work. True story: most addicts work. We are reliable employees. We have to be. Those people you see on the street? They were always on the street. But they ain’t us. So there in the small hours, Big Boy Roy and Junior come. They fucked me up. I didn’t fight back, not for fear of making it worse, but for fear of being cut off. I said I’d sell for ’em, and I did, but mostly I just took what they gave me and used it for my own self. So, I’m short. They’ll come back soon enough. I can’t work with a face like this, I told ‘em. I can’t pay you if I don’t work.

You can work with a face like that, Big Boy said, your arms and legs work.

Just kill me, I told ’em. Be done with it.

Ain’t no one doing time for you, boy, Junior said. Besides, if you are dead, you can’t pay us, and besides that too, dead people don’t feel pain no more.

So that’s how it stands, he said to Grandma, pleasantly deaf without her hearing aids. Get a second job, Junior told me, the clock is running. I figure I owe them about 3k.

Mhm, Grandma said. Mhm.  She put her hearing aids back in.

Well, she said. Whatever it is I can’t help. The only money anyone has coming is after I die. You and your mother and your brother and your brother’s kids. You all will get what’s left after the house is sold. Mind you, looking at you I might outlive you.

Thanks, Grandma, he said. You do enough. My problems aren’t your problems.

You need a good woman, she said. How come you can’t find a good woman. There are more good women than good men.

I don’t know, Grandma, he said.

You were a good boy, she said. You wouldn’t hurt nothin’. A friend to everything that ever walked or crawled. What happened?

Take your hearing aids back out, Grandma, he said, and I’ll tell you about the one good woman.

I will not, she said. I want to hear about this one.

She sat at an angle to him, looking toward and across the driver’s side of the truck from the passenger seat. An old truck like that, no one uses a seat belt, and there are no air bags. Grandma never noticed but her window doesn’t roll up anymore either. An old vehicle like that is more a debt than an asset.

Me and the boys had gone to the Club Cigar in Great Falls, Montana, he said, on a Saturday night and the place was hopping. All them guys from Malmstrom in there and a bunch of Canadians down for a ball tournament and it added up to one-hundred-and-fifty people in a place licensed for eighty on a July night and that little hole in the wall never had air-conditioning. I believe it was their plan, you know. The hotter you are, the more you’ll drink. I was buying beers two at a time because the lineup was five rows deep at the bar and then, on about my eighth trip, the barkeep, a skinny girl in jeans, ropers, and a Motörhead stringer, handed me two beers and pushed my money back to me. She said something but I couldn’t hear it, then she smiled at me and at the same time—and at this he turned to Grandma and made a motion with his mouth and pointed toward one of his incisors with his finger—and at the same time she took her tongue and pushed her tooth out and balanced on the end of her tongue and laughed and then she took her tongue and popped it back in. She had a fake tooth, and she could move it just like I showed you, in and out of its socket with her tongue, and she thought it was a proper good time and she laughed and I laughed, and then I took my two beers that she had given me and went back to the boys and somehow, in the flow of the tides of that night, in the music from the speakers, in the sixteen or eighteen or twenty beers, I never did go back and talk to her. I’d look her up, but who knows where she could be?

She doesn’t sound like she was the one, Grandma said.

I know, he said, but I think she was.

You make me regret putting my hearing aids back in, Grandma said.

He laughed.

You know he said, sometimes you get a moment, but you’re so busy in other moments you aren’t paying attention and then the moment meant for you is gone.

How does a good woman get her tooth knocked out, Grandma said. You don’t need that. Some women are born into houses of violence. It’s what they are used to. You are not violent. She will seek it in you and when it’s not there, she will try to conjure it up.

Maybe she just had a tooth taken out, he said, and she got a fake one to put in, to keep her pretty smile.

I don’t think so, Grandma said.

You know, she said, when you were a boy, I remember you stopping the other kids from kicking over anthills. Those are their homes you, would say. Those are their homes. You have a good heart. No one else would even care. They’d be out there with magnifying glasses, or cigarette lighters, or even just pails of water, taking away anything the ants ever had. But you, you were different.

Thanks Grandma, he said.

They had reached the Walgreens and he parked the truck. He got out and opened Grandma’s door and took her by the arm into the pharmacy and sat with her and waited while her prescriptions were refilled.

Big Boy Roy was in there, with an older woman too, his own grandmother. But they were in the aisles, and not the pharmacy, and neither he nor Roy gave any sign that they had seen each other let alone knew each other, and no one in there would have known that they did.

When they left, they came to a stoplight. Across the way was a semi-tractor, a new one, as a big as a house. For a moment, the sun reflected off of the chrome expanse of the semi’s grille and he saw an instant where he turned left in front of the truck, coming at speed, he in his ’78 Chevy pick-up with Grandma and her pills and no working seatbelts in the cab and in the in the concussion of the impact he would be crushed and if he died he owed no one and if Grandma died, flying through the windshield with her pills strewn across the floor, the house would be sold and he’d owe no one, and then the light changed and he drove Grandma to her place and walked her into her home.


That night, with the last of his stash, its slam bang, the needle in the mainline, slam bang, for the tickle running down the spine, cocaine and heroin and dilaudid, a two-gram eight-ball for the weekend, because why not? This is how God rested after he’d created the universe. It’s a weekend, and work comes Monday sure as the sun and the magic that lasts just long enough.

The next week, on pay-day, Big Boy Roy and Junior and a third man who they did not introduce stopped by at five in the A.M. and he gave them five-hundred dollars in cash in twenties and tens and fives but he refused to drive to an ATM with them. Do your worst boys, he said. I won’t give you anything else, you can wait until next pay-day and if you kill me so fucking what. They said we’re running a business here, not a charity, and they duct-taped him to a chair, put a motorcycle helmet on his head, and took turns hitting him in the head with an aluminum baseball bat until blood came out of his nose and ears and he passed out. They brought him back to – wildly, achingly awake – with a paper towel soaked in some ammonia they found under the kitchen sink that they held against his mouth and nostrils, then they beat him unconscious again and he could not think of the girl with the missing tooth he needed to turn around and talk to, to tell her he liked both of her smiles and to never knock over an anthill, that’s God’s work you disorder and the consequences will be severe, and they hit him a few more times, knocking him and the chair over so that they had to pull him up into position to hit him again and the sweat fell from their brows wet on the tiled floor of the kitchen before they tired and took their helmet and took their bat and took the five-hundred dollars in all those bills and drove off into the time that comes just before the day breaks and the conscientious go seek their labors.


About the Author

Steve Passey is from Southern Alberta. 


Photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash