The Gunshot that Started Everything

When I was a young midshipman, 18 or 19 years old, I signed on to a cargo ship bound for the Med. One night on the 12-4 watch I was on the bridge chatting with the third mate. He was a middle-aged guy who came up through the hawsepipe, a genial fellow with a good layman's curiosity about science, especially meteorology and astronomy. That night he was holding forth on the Big Bang and whether it jibes with the creation story in Genesis.


At some point the Third excused himself to go to the head and I was left alone on that dark bridge with the AB (able bodied seaman) standing the quartermaster's watch at the ship's wheel. He was a large man with a full beard, not normally given to small talk, and he stood there very still and quiet and patient for long periods of time, seemingly uninterested in the chatter going on around him. He reminded me of an owl I once saw on a low limb of a sycamore tree at the edge of a swamp, peering inscrutably into the gloom.


So it kinda surprised me when he spoke. He said, "The Big Bang was the gunshot that killed God." He paused, I suppose to let the image sink in. "That background microwave radiation is just the echo. All this expanding universe, these stars and planets... they're just... the splatter of his brains and skull. All our consciousness, our religions and science and all... just his dying thoughts."


Then he lit a cigarette, and before he lifted his thumb from the lighter lever, he glanced at me. I couldn't tell if he was joking, or what. Then he doused the flame and it was dark again.


When the Third returned from the head, he took up the conversation where he left off, but my mind wasn't in it. I couldn't let go of the image the AB had conjured: God in a basement, maybe tied to a chair, and somebody in the shadows aiming a pistol at his head and pulling the trigger. The splatter. Our universe. Our hopes and dreams. Our everything.


After watch I passed him out on deck. He was leaning on the railing, gazing at the dark sea. I said, "So... who shot God?"


The AB flicked his cigarette butt over the side and shrugged. "What could it possibly matter?" he said. Then he disappeared into the house and back down to the crew quarters.


Funny how an image can get into your head on a few words, spoken by a stranger in passing, and, believe it or not, stay there for the rest of your life.

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