Thursday, January 12, 2023

“Gilbey and God and the Devil”

How long had it been since Gilbey had seen God? Two years? Three? 

Time meant little to Gilbey. The days blended together, the days and the nights, but still he knew he had seen God that one time, lying in the dark in his little room at the Sunshine Hotel. It was like this big bright light. It stayed there for like a minute that seemed like forever, and it didn’t say nothing, but it didn’t have to. And then it went away. But it was God all right.

Then a year or so later Gilbey had seen the Devil, and again it was in the middle of the night, in his room, and this time it was like a blackness in the darkness, a hole through the night that opened up and went on forever and ever into darkness and blackness. It hadn’t said it was the Devil, but Gilbey knew.

So that was it, God the one time, and the Devil another time, and Gilbey stuck here in the world between the two, with the days and the nights blending together and falling away, all of them alike, all of them a little different.

They hadn’t had any work today down at the job center and so Gilbey walked around in the cold. This was one of the days when he didn’t have a dime in his pocket, not even a nickel for an automat coffee, but that was okay, that was what the soup kitchens were for, for days like this one, and at lunch time Gilbey went in to Brother Lou’s Friendly Mission and had some potato soup and bread and a cup of joe. Then he went out onto the Bowery again to walk around some more.


It was that guy Smiling Jack, with his leather satchel of books hanging from a strap across his chest.

“Oh, hiya, Smiling Jack.”

“Whatcha doing, Gilbey?”

“Just walking around, Smiling Jack.”

“No work today?”

“No, they wasn’t hiring. Or at least they wasn’t hiring me.”

“Maybe tomorrow.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“I haven’t seen you at the meetings, Gilbey.”

“I don’t like them meetings.”

“But they’re good for you, Gilbey.”

“I get antsy at them meetings. All them guys talking.”

“Talking helps, Gilbey.”

“It don’t help me.”

“Why don’t you come with me now? I was just heading down to Old St. Pat’s for a two o’clock meeting.”

“I don’t know, Smiling Jack.”

“You just gonna walk around all day in the cold? Come on over, warm up with some nice hot coffee.”

Gilbey hesitated.

“They got doughnuts?’

“There will be doughnuts, yes.”

It was cold, bitter cold, so Gilbey said okay.

In the church basement Gilbey drank the coffee from a Dixie cup and ate a doughnut, and a guy next to him gave him a cigarette.

After a while, Smiling Jack asked Gilbey if he would like to say something. Gilbey said he would and he went up to the podium.

“My name is Gilbey,” he said. “And I don’t want to talk about being an alcoholic. What I want to talk about is this one time I seen God and this other time I seen the Devil. What I don’t understand is everything. How come I seen God but that once and the Devil but that one other time? How come I am in this body and my name is Gilbey? How come I am here today and not somewheres else? How come everybody is where they is? How come the world is here? How many more days I’m gonna walk around before I’m dead, and then will I see God or the Devil? Or nobody? That’s what I want to know, but ain’t nobody telling me. Ain’t nobody telling me nothing.”

There was silence in the smoky room, two dozen men and women smoking cigarettes and holding Dixie cups.

“Is that all, Gilbey?” said Smiling Jack, while Gilbey still stood there.

“Yeah, I guess that’s all,” said Gilbey.

“Thank you, Gilbey,” said Smiling Jack.

“Can I sit down now?”

“Yes, of course, my friend.”

Gilbey went back to his folding chair and sat down.

The young guy next to him leaned close to him and said, “That was brilliant.”

“Thanks,” said Gilbey.

“You’re lucky,” said the young guy. “At least you saw God once.”

“Yeah,” said Gilbey. “But I seen the Devil too.”


“Yeah, thanks,” said Gilbey.

The guy had a pack of cigarettes that Gilbey hadn’t ever seen before, called Woodbines, and he shook out one for Gilbey, and gave him a light with a paper match.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

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