An impossible audience with the Almighty ...

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God hears me arrive - God hears everything - and looks up from his embroidery. "John!" he exclaims, and I stop myself from covering my ears. He keeps forgetting how loud he is. "Haven't seen you in ages."

I watch the clouds and angels drift by, ignoring the piped harp music: "It's been a while."

God lays down his sampler. It says: Always Give Them A Good Show. "Your absence has been noted." He adjusts his bathrobe. It's the seventh day. He's resting. "Any reason?"

I ponder. "Nope. Just didn't dream myself here." God sighs."Dreams, dreams. What makes you so sure this isn't a vision, a portent, a sign?"

"Oh, don't turn all Old Testament on me."

"Ooh, high and almighty," God teases.

"New spectacles, I see."

God preens. "That little galaxy I threw together last week? It was nothing."

"I meant your glasses."

God hesitates, then roars."Silly me. The glasses." He gazes over gold rims. His eyes shine. "Well, to what do I own the honour?"

I don't even have the strength to shrug. God sighs: "Okay, okay. I know Gregory's HIV positive."

I nod. "And you're going to tell me what you told me the last time, that Aids just is, that it doesn't mean anything."

God demurs. "I don't expect my every statement to go unchallenged."

I snort: "And there was me thinking you were infallible." God purses his lips and spells out the word letter by letter: "P-O-P-E. You're confusing me with the P-O-P-E."

"Whatever. It's just... He'd only started to paint, and he's good, he could be great..."

God stares so strangely that I stop. "John," God says, "The virus might kill the artist but it won't kill the art." "Pardon?"

"Derek Jarman died but he left behind, Blue, his best work, didn't he? And you've seen Mapplethorpe's final photographs? And haven't you borne witness to how Aids has galvanised gay culture, given it, how will I put this...." I can barely control myself. "Yes, how will you put this?"

"I'll put it so," God says. "Given it new life." I swallow hard: "Right - it's the best thing that ever happened to us."

God raises a bushy eyebrow. "Stop and consider. Hasn't Aids provided not merely a rallying point but a unifying factor? Homosexuality isn't a religion. It's not like Judaeism. It doesn't help establish a collective identity. Yes?" "Go on."

"And it's not like a skin colour, like being black, a permanent badge of not only of your difference but also your belonging: see, I am black. We are black. Yes?" "Go on."

"Might not Aids, the inescapable possibility of it, this dark beacon, be the thing to bind your diverse tribes?"

"God, it may have escaped you, but being Jewish and being black doesn't kill you."

"Debatable. The Holocaust, lynch mobs...."

"What I mean is that they aren't diseases."

"No. And that's not my point."

"Your point being?"

God clasps his hands, as if in prayer: "That a disease is always more than a disease."

"I know that." God is quizzical: "You do?"

"I also know that far from unifying, various gay Aids groups are forever at each other's throats. The cause of, the treatment of...."

God smiles tightly: "They're all quarelling about the same thing, aren't they?" "Ha, ha."

God says: "And they are seen to quarrel, aren't they?" I pause: "Where are we heading?"

"Toward visibility. It's like the debate about gays in the military. I'm against, by the way."

"Hoorah."

"But at least its out there, discussed in the open ... well, not entirely. If you bump into David and Jonathan, you are forbidden to repeat that. Those boys are too touchy ... where was I?"

"You're not for gays in the military."

"Indeed. But I am for gays in the mainstream. And isn't it odd that Aids and mainstream popularity and acceptance have paralleled one another, hmm?"

My laugh is bitter: "The sympathy vote."

God shakes his head. "What's wrong with sympathy if it's genuine? It's better than bigotry or indifference." I think of Gregory and his face as he broke the news. "And we have Aids to thank for this advance? Thanks."

"No. But perhaps, just perhaps, John, you have the way the tribes have faced Aids to thank for it. The dignity, the courage and strength gay men have shown. A truth to refute stereotype." God leans foward. "It's not that Aids is meant to teach gay men a moral lesson any more than it's meant to teach heterosexuals. But I'd venture that it has made possible discovery of new depths of caring and commitment. Wouldn't you say?"

"I would say I'd give it all up to have one friend back. Just one." God understands: "Of course. You're human. I made you that way."

I stand up to leave. I can't resist one last shot: "So what you're implying, basically, is that every cloud has a silver lining?" God's hands abandon prayer, shoot up so fast they blur, catch a passing cumulus and turn it inside out. The brilliance of the revealed interior is blinding. "You gotta have a gimmick," I joke, impressed in spite of myself.

God lets go the cloud, watches it bob free: "Or a vision, a portent or sign."

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