The sky was supposed to be full of red and yellow and green hot air balloons like beach balls, and Delia was supposed to be in a basket beneath one of those balloons, and you were supposed to spot her and yell, “Hey, Delia!” And wave. And she would do something to the balloon, and it would come right down, and she’d jump out, and the two of you would be all over each other like it had been years instead of hours since you’d last been together in the motel back in Scottsdale, Arizona.
There are no balloons. The blue sky is crossed and double-crossed by the smudgy white lines of jet planes. Maybe you took a wrong turn. The desert can be confusing. Now the car has overheated and stopped, and the landing site is nowhere to be seen. No colorful tents. No white wine. You shouldn’t have chickened out. You could have gotten into the basket with Delia and closed your eyes and spent the whole flight whimpering like a little girl. At least you wouldn’t be stranded in the desert with nothing to look forward to but a fat tongue and death. What dies in Arizona stays in Arizona. Over there are the Superstition Mountains, and it looks like you’re going to meet the Lost Dutchman who will eat your liver and make piano keys out of your bones.
You step out into the sunlight which smacks you so hard you stagger blinking and have to grab onto the car door to keep from falling to your knees.
Oh, go ahead and fall to your knees.
The big saguaro cacti stand around with their hands up like this is some kind of goofy holdup. Relax, you guys! There is a relentless buzz you first mistake for something going haywire in your head but then realize is the sound of millions and millions of bugs.
Then a funny smell rolls in across the wasteland and sweeps over you. It cracks you up. It’s not like a fart, which is actually a funny sound, not a funny smell, if it’s funny at all, lots of people don’t think it’s funny, but no one could deny that this new smell is funny. It’s a riot, a barrel of monkeys, knee-slapping tears down your cheeks. Everything wet is leaving you—exit stage right, donkey laughing, doing the old soft shoe, cane tricks, top hats, Cheshire cats, knock knock, who’s there?
It’s me. You know? God?
So, you’ve died, and God has come across the desert as a funny smell to tell you secrets. Are you at a disadvantage if you die in Arizona and you don’t speak Spanish? Delia is all the time after you to learn Spanish, so you can talk to her grandmother who walked across this desert as a young girl. You do your best. You say to the old lady, “Low! See into, Smoocho.”
She looks totally mystified. Then it hits her what you’re trying to say, and giggles come bubbling up, slowly at first, but then faster and faster until she’s slapping her knees and tears are filling the wrinkles in her face, and you’d think she smelled God or something. Jeeze.
You haven’t died, God tells you with smell, and you know it’s true in the same way you know He’s God. Forget your Aquinas and your silly watchmaker routines, never mind Pascal. God’s olfactory argument is indisputable. Here sniff this. It’s so obvious.
Somewhere up there, Delia must be looking down at all of this unless she’s been swept away across the sea. She was as happy as a school girl over the idea of a balloon ride and while she called you a big baby she said it with a lot of affection knowing as she did that back in the eighties your chute hadn’t opened and you fell down and down and then through a bunch of trees and into a pond, and there was an ex-Marine fishing in the pond, and your big splash rocked his boat, and he jumped in and saved all your broken bones. Who would blame you for wanting to keep your feet on the ground? Not me, God tells you with His amusing odor.
So, God, you say, el Hefe, what are you trying to tell me with your funny smell?
The bugs do a drum roll.
The funny smell of God tells you that the one thing you must now do in order to perfect your faith is to not believe in God.
You heard me, He says. What part of “don’t believe” can you not smell?
But it’s absurd, you say. You’re right there. I can smell you. There cannot be the slightest question lingering about your existence.
Which is why it’s not easy, He says. This is your task, your purpose in life. Why do you think I caught you when your chute didn’t open?
You are speechless.
My mysterious ways?
You’re still stupid with amazement.
I’m just saying.
So, you close your eyes and give it a shot. If this is what you must do as your brains fry and the love of your life is swept out to sea in a balloon, this is what you will do.
It would be so much easier if He would only move downwind.
But that would be cheating, wouldn’t it?
The God smell engulfing you completely is an epiphany. You might have been a non-believer when you set off into this desert but it would be insane to disbelieve now.
Which is just what God is demanding you do—not believe in Him even though He is right there in front of you, behind you, above and below you, and on both sides.
It’s always something.
You take a deep breath and open your eyes, and the sky is full of balloons.