An improvised series of tweets about a minor deities conference in Luxembourg.
Ghal, the Sumerian god of irrigation, leaned back in seat 15E and sighed. That is, he adjusted his uprightness minutely. And sighed.
‘Hey, do you mind?’
The passenger immediately to Ghal’s rear, a large, pink man in a perplexing shirt, seemed irate.
‘I beg your pardon.’
‘You’re jiggling my iPad, man.’
‘I have no idea what you are saying,’ Ghal replied.
‘Hello, Sumerian. How do you do?’
Ghal was distracted by an insurgence of pain beneath his tray table. The small child to his right was decanting noodle soup over his lap.
‘This vehicle contains only suffering,’ Ghal observed. ‘I knew this was a mistake.’
He attempted to slump in his seat. His spine squeaked.
A tanned and immensely tall man leaned across the aisle.
‘Hey, buddy. MD13, right?’
‘Are you talking to me?’
‘MD13? The minor deities conference? You’re a delegate, right?’
‘Oh, yes. How did you–?’
‘You got quite a nimbus going on there, man.’
‘The nimbus. Of course.’
The man extended a thickly muscled hand slightly smaller than a cereal box.
‘Hveldar. Norse god of friction.’
Ghal introduced himself. ‘Friction?’
‘You’d be amazed at the stuff that needs friction to work.’
‘Like carpet burns?’
‘Not the example I would have picked. But for instance, yeah.’
‘You don’t,’ Ghal ventured, ‘sound very Norse. If you don’t mind my saying so.’
‘Nah, man. My family moved to Venice Beach when I was two.’
‘I see. And what does a young god of friction do in Venice Beach?’
‘Oh, you know. A little lifeguard work. I was a paralegal for a while.’
‘But no outlet for your talents?’
‘Not a whole bunch. People in Venice Beach moisturise a lot.’
‘Ah,’ said Ghal. ‘Rather limiting.’
‘How about you? How’s the irrigation thing working out?’
‘I help out at a hydrotherapy centre three days a week.’
‘Gotta keep busy, man.’
‘So, do you know any of the other delegates?’ Ghal asked.
‘Well. There’s Qzlotl, he’s the Aztec god of utensils.’
‘They had utensils?’
‘And Officinus, the Roman god of casual trading, he’s a keynote speaker again. Dude had, like, 102 slides last year.’
‘How very dull.’
‘Oh, and Anyssa, the Egyptian goddess of storage solutions, she–’
‘I know who she is.’
‘Ooh. A little history, huh?’
They touched down at Luxembourg Findel, where they were greeted by glum outbuildings and a noncommittal drizzle. Hveldar was excited.
‘Luxembourg, huh? I’ve never been to this part of France.’
Ghal regarded him carefully, but said nothing. Hveldar unfolded himself hugely.
‘They’ve got us in a Novotel. Is that good?’
‘No. There will be pictures of muffins at breakfast. And a pianist with a criminal record.’
‘Hotels are awesome,’ Hveldar enthused. ‘Do they have beef here?’
‘I imagine so.’
‘I’m gonna get like eight steaks and a pedicure.’
An elderly lady tapped Hveldar’s hip.
‘I’m afraid I can’t reach my bag. You’re a fine, strapping young man. Would you mind awfully?’
‘Of course, ma’am.’
With calm gallantry, Hveldar picked the old woman up and slid her carefully into the overhead bin.
‘You reach it now?’
‘In the taxi, Ghal turned to Hveldar. ‘You like to ‘use your powers for good’, don’t you?’
‘Sure, I do what I can. You don’t practise?’
Ghal stared out at the traffic, and at the quietly baleful suburbs of Luxembourg.
‘There was a time,’ he said, ‘when I tried. I tried.’
‘But you’re the Sumerian god of irrigation, man. There’s gotta be tons of folks you could help.’
‘You’d think so, wouldn’t you?’
‘What, you couldn’t end a drought or two?’
‘You know what happens, Hveldar? When you irrigate a place that couldn’t grow crops before?’
‘They get to eat?’
‘They get invaded. A war starts. Oh, yes. Maybe not immediately, but give it a year. Roving bands. Raging hordes.’
‘Because they have some corn trees?’
‘Something like that. They never had food, so they didn’t have weapons. Now they’re a fucking buffet.’
‘Sounds harsh, man.’
‘It is, Hveldar. Everything is.’
‘Dude, what the fuck? There’s a shop that sells pain?’
‘That’s a bakery.’
The sign, in the foyer of the hotel, had been carefully composed.
INT. SOC. OF MINOR DITTIES
A goddess with eight arms and a clipboard accosted them.
‘Gentlemen,’ she scanned them briefly. ‘Good trip? I’m Ajita, events management.’
‘Totally,’ Hveldar said. ‘We had pretzels on the plane. There were like four in each pack, it was insane. We’re jazzed, right, Ghal?’
‘There are mistakes on the sign.’
‘I’m sorry?’ Ajita said.
‘The welcome sign,’ Ghal pointed. ‘Minor ditties’? And that apostrophe?’
‘Ditties?’ said Hveldar. ‘Is that a word?’
‘Yes, but it’s the wrong one. Unless we’re double booked with the tiny songs people.’
‘Tiny songs people? You mean like pixies?’
‘I should remind you gentlemen that this is a drug-free event.’
‘I’m just going to check in.’
In the hotel bar, he ordered a dry martini. The irony, even now. Outside, there was Luxembourg, scoured of glamour by efficiency and rain.
The pianist, pockmarked and glossy-suited, leered at Ghal in greeting before plunging into a rashly-ornamented Billy Joel medley.
‘You know any Bach?’ Ghal interrupted him.
‘He is no working tonight, sir.’
‘I see. Tell him I said hello.’
Hveldar ambled massively into the bar and equipped himself with a jug of margarita.
‘Dude,’ he said, taking a seat. ‘You won’t believe it.’
‘So, I go for a walk around, right?’
‘Where did you go?’
‘Strasbourg, Brussels, around town.’
‘You walked to Brussels?’
‘I was stretching my legs. Never mind that.’
Hveldar glanced around, then hunched over the table. ‘I saw things.’
‘Nah, man. It goes deeper than that. They’ve got this whole secret government thing here.’
‘Secret government? Hveldar, I think you–’
‘Seriously, man. I passed this, like, ‘parliament’ building?’ Hveldar’s air quotes could have torn down a stadium. ‘And a ‘secretariat’?’
‘Hveldar, those aren’t hidden. The buildings are enormous. It’s the EU.’
‘Eeyoo? Like a secret owl thing?’
‘What? No, the European Union.’
‘The European Union? Right. So, who’s in this ‘union’?’
‘France, Germany, Finland–’
‘Wait up, there are mermaids in this thing?’
‘Maybe we should talk about something else. Did you do any shopping?’
‘A little. And I got a tattoo.’
‘I meant the other where.’
‘Oh, right!’ Hveldar laughed colossally and drained the margarita jug. ‘It’s on my left pec. Wanna see?’
‘I suppose so. What’s it of?’
‘You got a tattoo of an accordion in Maastricht?’
‘I was trying to fit in. Check it out.’
Hveldar tugged up his pink Lacoste polo shirt, exposing a tectonic chest and a sub-prison tattoo.
‘Pretty outrageous, right?’
‘Hveldar, that’s an anaconda.’
‘Right. What did I say?’
‘Europe, man. I should have got a Rough Guide or something.’
They ordered more drinks. Hveldar picked up the fresh jug of margarita. ‘So what about you, man? What did you do?’
Ghal sipped his martini.
‘I thought of home, Hveldar. Of Uruk and Kish, heaving and rainless. The rust-bright bricks. The wailing.
‘I thought of the times when I was called for. A widow and an unweaned child, far from kin and comfort. The small things I could do.
‘We mattered then, Hveldar. We were mighty. We were regent over every delta, every locust.’
‘Far out.’ Hveldar crunched the ice cubes from the margarita jug. ‘Did you get the wi-fi password?’