Pascal’s wager—that saw of Christian apologetics—is conventionally understood to demonstrate that human beings deny the Christian God’s existence at the risk of perdition. The seventeenth-century French polymath Blaise Pascal weighed the infinite torment awaiting unbelievers under God’s Providence against the finite pleasures of living as an atheist in a godless universe. He concluded, regardless of the deity’s actual existence, that the only rational choice is to adopt cautious belief.
On the first day of her stigmata, Xiao Chun’s palms bled so much that the school sent her home early. Xiao Xue sighed at this turn of events and gathered her things to follow her sister. Xiao Chun was already prettier, smarter, and more obedient—she just had to be holier too.
Wong Daifu, the village doctor, made a house call when he heard about the strange condition. He squinted at the puncture wounds, which were not round and smooth but thin ovals with fringes of red, protruding skin. “And you’re sure she didn’t hurt herself accidentally?” he asked.
Mrs. Anwen Bevan, retired administrative assistant to a vice president in the Utica Mutual Insurance Co., devoted a portion of each day to strategizing about her yard. It was rectangular, fifty feet wide and eighty feet long, hemmed in by the yards of three neighbors. To the left and right, chain-link fences ran the length of her property. Between these at the far end was a ramshackle low stone wall, remnant of an early era of wall- and fence-making in this neighborhood. Mrs. Bevan did not want her yard to be overrun with trees, flowers, and vegetables, or serve as a haven for birds, insects, bees, or squirrels, as was the case with the Cavallo family on her left.
This is how it is with my mind, heading out over the ocean, tipping one way so I see only water, shades of blue and green and cloud-shadow slate; tipping the other, all sky and complication of cloud. Ruckus of glinting refracted light. Some days, just empty gray, in both directions.
Like other children, I was fascinated by old Lucifer, by his horns and tail, which simultaneously made him sinister and gave him an animal’s grace, by his fire-engine hide, his flame that no fire engine can put out, and above all by his barbed fork, which strikes a boy as so much more interesting than a shepherd’s crook or a prophet’s staff.