The Jesus

What Jesus can’t fix tonight
the whiskey certainly might…

–Hawksley Workman

It’s pissing rain by the time she gets off work. She meets Jesus at the pub on the corner. She’s late, as usual. He’s sitting there already, his hands long and brown, His fingers gripping the glass. She can tell by his eyes he hasn’t slept, maybe in days. He looks a little bleary, blurred around the edges like His features have been scraped off and smeared back on, thin and elegant.

“Hey,” she says. “What’re you having?”

“Bloody Mary.” He says. “A double.” His eyes smile up at her as she drags out a chair.

“How’d they get it all in one glass?”

He shrugs, watching her arrange herself. She unravels her scarf, revealing a throat thin and slightly papery like the pages of a book going quietly to earth. She is getting old, she knows. He has never aged a day. His eyes, however, are older than anything she has ever seen, on Hastings Street and beyond.

She watches as he swallows, his throat contracting like a frantic bird, rising and plummeting.

“Isn’t that a sacrilege?” she asks. “Drinking something named after your mother?” She crosses herself, her fingers scurrying furtively.

He shakes his head. He’s amused, she can tell. “Bloody Mary, not Virgin Mary.” He says. “If there was no booze in it, maybe I would have to worry. And besides, your name is Mary, too. Maybe it’s named after someone like you.”

“I guess.” she says. “It still seems creepy, though.”

“What, me drinking in general, or me drinking this in particular?” He gestures at the glass, dingy and smeared with too many people’s fingerprints.

She shrugs. “I don’t know. But something is.”

He laughs, signalling to the bartender. “I don’t know what everyone’s problem is. You drink my blood every Sunday. You eat my flesh. I died for you, for fuck’s sake. It’s a little late to get squeamish now.” He laughs again, pushing a thick black curl behind His ear. She would kill for hair like that. Hers is so slack and stringy now. She would cut it, but the customers like it long. They like to have something to tug on, when there are no strings attached.

“Yeah, I know.” she says. She orders an apple martini, even though she knows he’ll laugh at her. She likes dainty drinks, even if she likes a lot of them. He orders a whiskey sour. He likes to make concessions. It’s part of his nature. It would have to be, she thinks, taking the first long, cool swallow. At the back of her throat is the taste of tin, or maybe it’s something else entirely. Jesus smiles at her. She reaches across the table to touch His hand.

II

On Fridays she meets Jesus in the Woodbine Hotel. He is always there, waiting for her like she is any woman. Like He is any man. She doesn’t make Him pay. He just wants to hold her.

“You always liked whores, huh?” she asks him, stroking his arm. She likes the places where his bones connect and disappear, like fish spawning in shallow water. He doesn’t mind her touching him like that.

He shrugs. “It’s not that. It’s more like I didn’t notice who was a whore and who wasn’t.” He pauses to light a cigarette on the wick of a candle he likes to keep by the bed. She hears him exhale a split second before she feels the warm breath drift over her skin. “The whores were the only ones who seemed to know they were sinners. They didn’t seem to notice how they were being sinned against. I liked that. It was so self-effacing. When it was written that the meek would inherit the earth, it was the whores I always thought of.”

“Is it still like that?” she asks. “I mean, don’t we know any better now?”

“I don’t know, Mary.” He says. “Do you?” He runs his hand down her back. He is splayed out on the bed, His arms around her. She is laying half beside Him, half on top, her hair spread out over His chest and belly. She washed it this morning, even though she knows He won’t notice the cheap cloying scent of her shampoo. She likes to be clean for Him. On Fridays, He is the only one.

“I don’t know.” she says. “I don’t think so.”

She lays her cheek against His stomach. He isn’t as skinny as in the pictures, but His ribs show through his t-shirts like xylophone keys. He smells like mothballs and incense, like the coat closet in the church where she was baptised. She breathes deeply, inhaling a hint of beeswax. It flutters in her nostrils and settles in her mouth. She can taste Him. He has never so much as kissed her.

“Is this a sin?” she asks, too quiet to hear, except he does.

“Does it feel like one?” Jesus says.

She considers. “No.” she says. “Never.”

“Then I wouldn’t worry.”

“My name isn’t really Mary.” she tells him after a minute, not for the first or the last time.

Jesus doesn’t answer. He just looks at her. She can feel his expression touch her face the way moth wings powder window glass. He tilts her chin up, the knuckle of his thumb pushing her face back so she is looking directly at Him. His eyes are almost black. In pictures, they always paint them blue. Against the cracking drywall he could be a fresco, a word she has never been taught the meaning of.

III

There is another woman, on an island. Well, not really an island. It’s more like a peninsula, but it feels like an island, the way a tooth feels completely disconnected, even when it’s holding on by a tendril to the gums. He likes to joke that when the ferry’s late, He has to walk. Most of the time, no one gets it.

The woman’s name isn’t Mary, but it starts with the same letter. He visits her at her house, a small A-frame near the beach. The house clings to a small patch of grass for dear life, as though it is scared of water and trapped in a dream of swimming over its head.

The woman is obsessed with earthquakes. Her hair is dark, a shroud about her shoulders. She wants to be ready.

“When the big one comes,” she says, “we’ll all be swept under. This whole island will sink.”

“It’s not an island,” he points out, not for the first time. “You could walk to the mainland if you wanted to.”

She gives Him a look that would wither if He were that kind of man. He lights two cigarettes in his mouth and passes one to her. The tide is coming in fast. The gulls make their final sweep over the horizon before settling like crumpled bits of paper into the waves.

“I only smoke when you’re here.” she says. “Jesus Christ, you are a bad influence.”

He laughs. “I’ve heard that before.”

“I’ll bet you have,” she says. She doesn’t smile.

“Were you taking my name in vain just then,” he asks, turning back towards the house, “or were you just saying it to me, you know, for emphasis?”

She considers, taking his hand. “It’s always a little bit of both, with you.” she says. Her last breath of smoke wafts over his face. They walk back to the house to wait out what comes.

McKinley M. Hellenes lives and works in the Lower East Side of Vancouver. Her stories have infiltrated the ranks of magazines such as Kiss Machine, anthologies such as The Journey Prize Stories, and books such as Red Light: Superheroes, Saints, and Sluts. Like anyone, she is procrastinating over a novel or three.

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