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3. The first two were boring but the third Top Bible Fact that Micah listed off while we waited for our moms to pick us up from Bible Camp, the day after the thing that happened in the lake, was that there are 55 lions in the Holy Bible and not a single house cat. Me, I think that’s because house cats are terrible and it’s been a big mistake for people to start bringing them into their houses in the first place. When the zoo lady came to camp and showed us a chinchilla, the whole cabin got a turn to pet it and everybody said how soft it was, and then all the other boys got it in their heads that they all wanted chinchillas as pets — but they must have just been talking right through the part of the zoo lady’s speech where she’d said specifically that chinchillas are really soft but you definitely don’t want one of them as a pet. They stay up all night running around in their cages, for one, and then sleep all day when you want to play with them — and for two, chinchillas don’t really want you around to begin with. Me, I think a pet should be somebody that likes having you around and doesn’t mind you holding it, otherwise why bother because then you’re just trapping it like some kind of captive, and I think if you ask someone if they’d rather be a captor or a captive and they say captor, you really shouldn’t trust them. Captives in books are the good guys — they’re the ones you root for, the ones who run away to freedom if pirates or slave owners or Babylonians don’t tie their wrist-rope knots tight enough. I guess that makes the boys in my cabin the pirates. I don’t know what that makes me, but can you name a chinchilla who wouldn’t run away if it got the chance? Me, I think a pet is something that maybe loves you, like one of those kind of moms that you see, with the short pants and the sunglasses, or like some people’s dogs, how they stick around even if they don’t have a leash on, making them stay. They just stay. Micah said there are 14 dogs in the Bible and I’m not going to go through the whole damn Bible finding them, but maybe if somebody made a list, I’d be sort of interested to look those up. I like dogs.
4. Micah kept going and said the first bird mentioned in the Bible isn’t Noah’s dove, like everybody thinks, and could I guess what it actually is? I said hawk not because I thought that’s what it was, but because I think sometimes people like Micah make you guess at things on purpose when they know and they think you don’t, because then they get to be the smart one. I think the best thing is to answer something sort of weird instead. That way you might be playing a trick on them but might not be, which makes them have to wonder if maybe you’rethe smart one. Micah said no, not a hawk but a hawk was sort of on the right track and did I know why? He leaned forward and raised his eyebrows like as if he was my teacher. I said because they fly south for winter, right? and Micah punched me in the center of my leg.
2. I said wait a second, what was the second one again? Micah flipped back a page and read it: The Bible was written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. I said God wrote this? And Micah said no, moron, what were you doing all week. God told people what to write and they wrote it down, and I said if the actual people God talked to couldn’t agree on what language it should be in, how were we supposed to believe it had specifically said for us to wear deodorant to Scripture Study? Micah said that was just something they said for me, that I was stinking up the place after soccer so the cabin counselors had drawn straws and made Eli make an announcement as if it was for everybody and straight from the Bible.
5. He huffed and flipped back forward to his page again and asked if I knew the Bible’s two world records. I said world records? He said yeah, like, “The Bible is the world’s most . . . ” and looked at me like for me to fill in the ending. I said most requested song? He glared and said World’s Best-Selling Book and also World’s Most . . . did I know? Eyebrows again. I said World’s Most . . . Shoplifted Book? and his eyes opened wide. He said that was right and did I know that because that’s how my family, you know. I pretended I understood but didn’t feel comfortable saying. After everything that had happened, it felt good to get under Micah’s skin a little bit, let him know he hadn’t figured me out. I think some people only try to figure you out enough to rule you, and I wasn’t interested in that anymore. Micah was explaining how his mom kept Bibles all over their house so a person could even read it even when they were on the toilet, and sometimes he wished people like shoplifters would just ask someone for one of their extra bathroom Bibles instead of stealing something like a Bible, although when he really thought about it, maybe those people just didn’t know any better because they didn’t have a Bible yet. He looked stumped. I said you’d think God would have had some printed up Himself and made them free right from the Beginning if He’d have known about all the trouble the shoplifting would cause.
6. I think he wasn’t listening because he said, Okay here’s an easy one. Even you might know this. Which book of the Bible is the only one that doesn’t mention the word “God”? That one was easy: Esther. I thought about saying Ruby just to get a rise out of him but I could tell he was starting to get bored of giving me quizzes from our Holy Bible Workbook and I definitely didn’t want to have to come up with other stuff to distract him with, so I just went ahead and said Esther. He lit up and said very good, and maybe I had been paying attention to something this week. It was really easy to picture Micah being a teacher. It made me realize that most of my school teachers probably were Micah when they were our age and that made me understand them a little bit better but like them a lot less. But I knew what kept them on your side. I turned toward Micah and clasped my hands over my knees and looked up at him like something behind him was glowing. He really got into that and leaned in, saying, okay, but did I know why Esther didn’t mention God? I said I thought she was pretty busy being queen and saving the Jews and making hamantashen, and had Micah ever had some of those? The chocolate ones were best but he should also try the prune ones even though I knew that sounded gross. Micah’s face fell. Esther was an orphan, he said seriously. A spiritual orphan.Eyebrows. By choice. I said orphan by choice? That doesn’t make sense unless she killed her parents, and Micah put a hand to his chest. Esther had left God out of her life, he said, and that meant she didn’t get to have His presence and blessing and that’s why He refused to be in her stupid book. Micah said he hoped I would let God into my life someday because he worried about me sometimes and felt like Esther really should have been more embarrassed by being in this quiz question to begin with, and people like me had to be careful not to end up like that.
7. I slid the book off of Micah’s lap without even asking him whether I could be the asker this time instead of the answerer, and I flipped to the next page and read: Which verse falls at the exact middle of the Bible and why? I crossed my arms and raised my eyebrows at him like a joke — like imitating him — but he didn’t even notice, because kids like Micah love Bible Math. I should have known he’d be really into this one. His face had started to light all up before I’d even finished reading the question, and maybe if I were a different kind of person I’d have wanted to punch it. He shouted out, It is better to trust in the Lord than to put your faith in man! Psalm 118! Duh!, and snatched his workbook back. Then he explained to me the thing about how the words “the Lord” are actually the two exact middle words of the exact middle chapter of the entire Holy Bible, and didn’t I think that was amazing? I’d actually heard this one before but I didn’t let on. I’d also heard that the math on it wasn’t quite right, but I sure wasn’t gonna check it — and Micah looked so calm and happy, besides, that I guess I didn’t want to ruin that. Besides, time was passing and the truth is that most of the time I’d rather lose a trivia fight than win one, anyway — for lots of reasons, including that you get nut-punched in the canteen line way less that way, but also that at least your face doesn’t ever look as smug as Micah’s always seemed to. He was still talking, though — teaching me: this time it was about how the shortest chapter of the Bible was Psalm 117 and the longest chapter of the Bible was Psalm 119 and how I probably didn’t know this but God had wrapped those other two right around 118 just like that on purpose, to bring attention to how important it was. The middle of things was always sort of magical, according to Micah, and if a person got lost, all he had to do was go back to the very, exact middle of the Word of God, and the Lord would be right there to remind them to trust in Him instead of in themselves. Micah was tapping his finger on his workbook cover and getting sort of worked up, looking me right in the eye and trying to pry into me a little bit, I could tell — but maybe he wasn’t really sure what he was hoping to find in there because he also seemed just a little bit nervous. Me, I hadn’t really had the experience of the Lord being there waiting for me in the exact middle of things to help me out, if I’m honest. He hadn’t shown up there in the middle of the circle of boys whipping towels at my bare chest after required showers, for one, and I definitely hadn’t seen him there in the middle of the lake with me either, when the boys dumped me out of my canoe and then wouldn’t let me climb back in. The exact middle of things could go to Hell as far as I was concerned, but Micah just kept on glowing and poking his finger at his book and trying to look inside my head, so for a while I just went ahead and let him try.
1.Eventually, I flicked my eyes up the camp driveway and tried to use my mind to make one car or another come around that corner. That must’ve made Micah mad, though — either because I wasn’t getting all worked up about his Bible Math the way he wanted me to, or just because I’d stopped paying attention to him. Either way, when I looked back at him, his face looked mean and stormy the way it had that day in the canoe just before he shoved me out. I hurried up and said, What’s the one about how many Bibles are sold every day, or something, is that true? Would you read that one again? It’s amazing, don’t you think?, and his face kind of cooled off again and he started flipping back to the first one on the list. He put his finger on a page. About 50 Bibles are sold every minute, he read. Inside, I couldn’t help wondering how many brand new babies were arriving every single minute that we needed all those new Bibles to keep up with them. Where were all the old Bibles going? If nothing else, it seemed like it would be a real storage problem by now, and anyone who would bother shoplifting a Bible really wasn’t seeing the big picture. But I didn’t say any of these things to Micah. To Micah I said, So I guess there’s a sucker — AND fifty Bibles — born every minute, which wasn’t even a joke, just something my grandfather used to say so I figured it would be okay, although once I’d said it I sort of wished I hadn’t, in case Micah took it wrong. I added a ha ha just in case, but who could beat someone up for a thing that granddads grumble over the tops of their newspapers? I mean besides God. Seemed like God could pretty much do whatever He wanted and no one was allowed to say boo about it. When I was in the middle of that lake that day, in the middle of the circle of canoes, I’d thought about Noah and the flood, of course — what kind of dope wouldn’t, trapped and floating in the water like that, looking up into a smug face like Micah’s, alone in our two-person canoe. There were all those pairs, after all: pairs of boys, and pairs of paddles, pushing me away, and pairs of hands, prying my fingers from the sides of their boats. Was I a sinner? Was this my big moment for repentance and salvation? I knew the exact middle of the Word — of course I did. Every Bible Camp kid knows that. So I took a chance, and I admit — I begged. I did. I took my trust in myself and my fellow man and placed it in the merciful hand of God. Just like I’d been told. I took a breath and looked at the sky and — for a minute, I stopped swimming. I really did! In faith! I floated there for a few seconds but then I started to sink, and I remembered some other Bible things I knew, including that it had been that same Hand I was begging — that same merciful Hand, in all its infinite strength, that had spent months pushing warm human heads underwater, one after another, until the last air bubbles had left them and the sea bobbed thick with their bodies. Sinner by sinner by sinner, God Himself had committed that act, and I guess never even doubted Himself because there’s nothing anywhere that ever said he turned back or thought twice about it. And when He was done, that’s when Noah sent that raven. A raven’s a scavenger, not like a dove, so the dove was sent to check for land but the raven was sent to check for bodies. And that bird found so many bodies that he just never even came back. Just perched right on them floating, and ate and ate and ate. No wonder people draw the dove with his olive branch in coloring books instead, but I figure both birds did what they were asked to do. And meanwhile, Noah, looking out over the water with that look on his face, feeling so good about himself, already guessing he’d get his own chapter. And meanwhile, me in the water. And it was only just dawning on me right then, in that minute, that if God were to lay a hand on me, it would be to cup the top of my head, and push down. And that was my salvation. The water on my skin turned warmer than the air and I stopped splashing and gasping and begging to be let aboard. That wasn’t what I wanted anymore. No more raven. No more dove. I wouldn’t be carrion or Noah. The fish had survived the merciful Hand. Like a fish I would learn to breathe water. The fish. The fish. There were so, so many of us.