Joshua sipped his drink, and tried to ignore Celine's accusing glare. She didn't stop glaring, and he found himself admitting, in the privacy of his own thoughts, that ignoring her wasn't working. Surely that was something the Lord of Creation shouldn't have to put up with? He decided not to think about that too hard, as he had a suspicion that the solution was to either move her somewhere away or somehow unmake her, neither of which he was all that keen on.
"Joshua!" He jumped, nearly spilling his drink. As the liquid sloshed over the rim of the glass it froze in the air though, and dropped neatly back inside when he stopped moving. "Joshua, you wanted me to be your PA, damn it; what is it you want me to do?"
"Uh, well, there were a lot of voices...," said Joshua, feeling uncertain of himself. Was this how the Lord of Creation was supposed to feel?
"You were a good lawyer, weren't you?" he asked, knowing the answer to the question immediately. She had been an excellent lawyer, and she didn't tolerate weakness, stupidity, or people not paying their bills on time. How on earth had his subconscious mind retrieved her as the best choice for a secretary? Did he have a secret death wish?
"Extremely. What about these voices? I'd quite like to get back to learning the harp. It was interesting; the strings don't answer back, cite foreign laws at you, or just plain make things up and insist it's 'legal'."
"There were quite a lot of them," said Joshua starting to feel a little useless. "They all wanted things."
"Supplicants? Oh, you were hearing people's prayers! Yes, well, you're God to all of them now, aren't you, so they talk to you. They tell you what they want. Why is that a problem to you? You've never listened to anyone else's desires or wishes before?"
Joshua tried to looked pained and gave up when he realised he didn't know what facial expression went with it. He sipped his drink again, noting yet again how good it was.
"I need someone to filter them out," he said. "Someone to tell me what's important and what's just selfish."
"They're all just selfish," said Celine. "Can I go now?"
"No! What do you mean, they're all just selfish. There was a little gir– child, of some kind, asking for her dog to be healed! How is that selfish?"
"She wanted the dog to be healed because she wants the dog's love," said Celine without even seeming to think. "The dog might be the only way she has of not being nibbled at by rats at night, in which case she wanted it healed so that it would continue working for her and earning it's keep. She definitely didn't want it healed just so she could feed it and let it live a life of luxury."
"Well...," said Joshua feeling a little foolish. "She did seem to love it. Her. She was called Daisy."
"I don't care," said Celine. "They're all selfish. No-one turns to God to ask for something for someone else's benefit unless they're testing to see if the prayer works. If it does, the next one will be for them, guaranteed."
"That's very cynical," said Joshua. He had realised he couldn't see any of the hotel staff around anywhere, and wondered if he'd frightened them off somehow.
"Fine." Celine sighed, and concentrated as though thinking about something. "OK, let's take this one then. A woman by the name of Angelisque, named because her mother saw the name attached to a lampshade in an IKEA catalogue and liked the sound of it. She's been pregnant four times by different men, and has never bothered to find out any of their names, nor has she kept any of the babies. She's got an abusive boyfriend she keeps returning to. She's praying for a little bit of help."
"Right!" said Joshua. "That's what I want, the kind of person who deserves a little help in life. Come on!" He stood up, missing Celine's roll of her eyes, and stepped forwards, leaving the hotel behind and appearing in a crowded, dirty supermarket aisle somewhere hot. A little way away people were talking in a language he didn't recognise, though he could understand what they were saying perfectly. There was the intermittent ring of a cash register and the swoosh of the cash drawer opening and closing, and a smell of stale bread and dead rat hanging in the air. A woman, Angelisque, was kneeling in the aisle and sobbing.
"What is this?" Joshua stared at Celine, who raised her eyes to the ceiling.
"This is your damson in distress," she said, noticing Joshua miss completely what she'd said. "By the way –" She was too late, Joshua had already leant over the woman to get her attention. The woman opened her eyes, saw him and started screaming. People started walking over to the aisle just fast enough to see what was happening, just fast enough to keep on walking if there were guns or knives involved.
"By the way," said Celine, invisible to the mob forming, "she worships you in your form of Saint Mathilde , a middle aged woman with swollen breasts and varicose veins who kept her sexual deviances so well hidden that everyone thought she must be holy.
"Now you tell me!" said Joshua, feeling a little angry. He gestured and the woman stopped screaming, though her mouth remained open and her eyes were wide with terror. "Tell me, Angelisque," he continued, "what can I do to make your life better?"
"Kill my boyfriend," came the words from her mouth, her eyes getting wider still. The words came from her soul, not from her conscious mind. "Kill him, and let me have the life insurance. There is another man with a bigger penis I wish to be with. I am sure he will not beat me if I have his baby, and I have been trying for three weeks now."
Joshua's mouth dropped open, and he looked over at Celine, who shrugged.
"You knew!" he said, pointing a finger.
"I can't," she said. "I can access the lists, and listen to the prayers, because that's the job you've given me. Knowing the innermost workings of the soul – that's your job, Mister."
"But... but this is horrible!"
"Which bit did you want me to repeat now?"
"People shouldn't be like this!"
"You can always try remaking them in your own image," said Celine. "I'm not sure that would help, but it might make you feel better."
"You can't touch them," said Celine. "Your touch would completely change them. So, and I should say that I'd like this to remain completely theoretical, you can mould them simply by getting close enough to them."
Joshua reached out, his finger moving to touch the woman's cheek. As he got closer her face began to deform, sinking inwards on itself like a pasta shell. He stretched out more fingers and her face started to warp like warm wax. When he pulled his hand back the middle of her face, with her nose, eyes and mouth, were sunk into a deep valley and blood trickled down her neck.
"Oh," he said, and turned, stepping back to the hotel, taking Celina with him. He sat down on his chair again.
"Oh my god," he said, ignoring Celine's quiet "That would be you, then, boss."
"What do I do about her?" he said, sounding faintly pathetic.
"Nothing," said Celine. "She'll die in a couple of days with her head completely ruined like that."
"I can fix it!"
"Don't bother, she's not to see the light and become a better person because of it. And anyway, you did it in front of lots of people."
"So it's a miracle. She'll be a saint herself after this, which is a bit of a kickstart to the afterlives. You've helped her, even though you don't know how."
"Yeah, her ruined face and head will be sculpted by poor artists and she'll become known as Our Lady of the Battered Wives. She'll be useful in that community at last."
"Oh," said Joshua, not knowing what else he could say.