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SONG LYRICS AND POETRY
"Varieties of Religious Experience"
“Oh, my God! Don’t say it! Just be normal!”
“I can’t be normal. This isn’t normal.”
“Can’t you get up to a higher floor and wait on the roof?”
“I think people have tried it and there’s too much smoke in the stairways. It’s getting hard to see. Can you tell the kids how much I love them?”
“Ye-ess.” Breathlessly. She wasn’t arguing. It wasn’t like her; she was cowering. He didn’t like this whipped-dog voice of hers.
He tried to think practically. “All the stuff you need should be in the filing cabinet beside my desk, the middle drawer. Lenny Palotta can help you; he has the mutual-fund stuff, and the insurance policies.”
“God, don’t, darling. Don’t think that way. Just get out, can’t you?”
“Sure, probably.” People were moving toward the windows_it was the coolest place, the place to breathe, a hundred stories in the air, the height of an airplane tucking its wheels back with that little concussion and snap. “But, just in case, you do whatever you want.”
“What do you mean, Jim, do whatever I want?”
“I mean, you know, live your life. Do what looks best for yourself and the kids. Don’t let anything cramp your style. Tell Annie in case I miss it that I wanted to be there tonight.” Of all things, this makes him want to cry, the image of his plump little daughter in soccer shorts, scared and pink in the face.
“Cramp my style?”
“My blessing, for Chrissake, Marcy. I’m putting a blessing on anything you decide to do. It’s all right. Feel free.”
“Oh, Jim, no. How can this be happening?”
He couldn’t talk more; the smoke, the heat, the stink, were chasing him to the windows, where silhouettes were climbing up between the vertical ribs. He replaced the phone on his belt deftly; he instinctively grabbed his suit coat and sprinted, crouching, across the hot floor to his co-workers clustered at the windows. They were his family now; they had been his daytime family for years; they were problem solvers and would show him what to do. Like an airplane seizing altitude in its wings, he left gravity behind: connections were breaking, obligations falling away. He felt for those seconds as light as a newborn.
"Varieties of Religious Experience" will be published in the November issue of The Atlantic Monthly. © Copyright 2002 John Updike.