"That one annoys me," my father-in-law said, quietly nodding toward a woman at a nearby table. "Whenever we sit together at dinner she repeats herself constantly, telling the same story she told me the last time we saw each other."
He picked at the little mounds of ham salad, cottage cheese, and cole slaw on his plate, and put his fork down in disgust. "I've lost my appetite entirely," he said, for maybe the hundredth time.
"It's good he doesn't know he does it," I thought, "and I'm not going to tell him either." J. and I have gotten so used to the weekly litany about the food and the body parts that don't work and the cast of characters at the retirement home that we just nod and encourage him to tell us whatever he wants. With him, I think it is boredom and lack of stimulation more than anything, because once we get him off the predictable subjects he starts telling stories he's never told us before, like a mouse stuck in a loop who finally finds a doorway out, toward the cheese. In my father-in-law's case, the cheese is almost always located in the Middle East.
Yesterday he began talking about Africa, and his theory that that continent's problems have to do with the stars. "I've always had a theory," he began. "I was starting to write it down when everything began going bad on me! Oh well! You see, we know that energy comes from the sun. But I think maybe there are other kinds of energy, that we can't see but which have an influence all the same, that come from the distant stars. Africa, for some reason, doesn't receive many of these emissions. But the Middle East does. Every now and then, there is an extra concentration of energy from the stars and someone in the Middle East receives an epiphany - that's what I call them - that's how all the religions were founded that started there."
He looked at me, and I nodded, raising my eyebrows to signal him to go on. I didn't dare look at J.
"Remember when Moses went up on the mountaintop and came down with all the Laws? Or when Jesus went up on the mountain and - who was it they saw with him? Moses and someone else..."
"That was it! Elijah. You see --" he waved his finger triumphantly. "Neither Moses nor Elijah died in the normal way."
"They were assumed into heaven."
"Yes! That's why they could come back. But anyway, those times were occasions when people had an epiphany, because they had received one of these special emissions of energy from the stars."
"It works better up on the mountains?"
"Yes, the air is thinner there." I suddenly knew from the barely perceptible sideways look in his eye that this was half B.S.; he was spinning a yarn and I'd never be able to tell how much of it he believed and how much he was simply putting on to see how far he could get. He expanded on some other examples of his theory and then said, "We all used to go up on the roofs in the summer and sleep there. Who knows what insights we were receiving?" He smiled mischievously: "You should go to the Middle East and go up on a mountain and get naked. You might receive an epiphany!"
I laughed then and shook my head. He sat back in his chair, looking pleased with himself. "It's all logic," he said. "Logic and philosophy. You just start with logic and it's amazing where it can take you."