Editor’s note: Welcome to The Root’s new Sunday series highlighting the best in black fiction writers: It’s Lit! Each week we’ll feature a new story across all genres—from Afrofuturism to those stories that will bring a tear to your eye. Want to submit your short story? We’re looking for well-crafted works of fiction of no more than 10,000 words. Simply fill out this Google document and we’ll contact you if your story is chosen. And yes, if it is picked, you’ll receive a payment for it!
I’m not going to kill myself. I yelled it out early this morning when my mother woke me up.
“I AM NOT GOING TO FUCKING KILL MYSELF!” is exactly how I said it when she came busting into my room demanding that I get my clothes on to go to meet Jesus.
Two days ago she found me passed out, bleeding, in my closet, and ever since then she is convinced that I’m trying to kill myself. She thinks that she’s going to walk in and find me hanging from the ceiling, my neck stuffed into one of her good bedsheets, so she has taken me to the man she believes can bring me away from the darkness, off the devil music and back to the boy I never was, but the one she wants me to be.
“Arthur, either you are outside in the next 10 minutes or I’m sending you to stay with your father.”
My father is a zombie who lives in a small apartment in S.E. that isn’t close to anything but drugs and a gas station that sells everything he needs to do drugs. I went to see him when he first got the apartment, right after the divorce, and I stayed up all night looking out the bedroom window onto MLK Ave. That night I watched a woman give a man a blow job behind a school and saw two kids, no older than me, beat an African taxicab driver to his knees for no reason. Once my mother realized that my dad, who had lost his job, only had his apartment because he let the drug dealers sell their drugs out of it—which meant that they paid his rent and he got free drugs—she stopped sending me there. From then on he became a drugged-out Aesop’s fable, a stoned John Henry (if the hammer was a crack pipe) or all starving African children.
Didn’t do your homework! Your father didn’t do his homework and look at him. Rules are there for a reason. Look how your father ended up living without rules. Didn’t clean the dishes! You can go live with your father where that nigga doesn’t even have plates!
Normally I treat her stories like stories, just words without meaning unless I put them there, but this morning, something in her voice tells me she is tired. Maybe it’s the absence of yelling that usually accompanies her threats, or maybe it’s that she said my full name, which always carried trouble and consequence. Either way we both know that whether I was or wasn’t trying to kill myself, sending me to live with the person who isn’t living means that I stop living, too.
I walk to the car, groggy-eyed, open the door soft, fall into the chilly leather seat and slam the door hard. My mother slaps the back of my head, but I already felt it coming, so it didn’t sting. She makes a left onto North Capitol, a right on Bryant, crosses First, and parks.
“We could have walked here,” I say.
My mother scrunches her face, and I notice that she is in full war paint: Eyes, lips and cheeks are all colored. Her light-brown hair is curled tight to her head. I also know that the reason we didn’t walk the three-and-a-half blocks is that I embarrass my mother. My hair is pink. My girlfriend—well, ex-girlfriend—Dolphin dyed it pink right before we broke up.
It also doesn’t help that I’m a foot taller than my mother and thin as a whisper. My T-shirt barely comes to my waist; my jeans look painted on, they’re so tight, but I haven’t broken them in yet, which is the only reason I wore them outside; they taper down to my platform black-and-white check Tuks. They’re hard to find, but I got them at an old thrift shop in upper NW. I’d like to think they were Ian MacKaye’s old shoes, ones that he wrecked and ravaged playing night after night in some seedy basement that I was now lucky enough to wear. Of course the soles are coming apart and the once nubby black suede has turned into a washed-out gray, the laces look chewed, and these say that I have been somewhere and seen more than my age.
My belt is leather, thick, and has stick figure fish skeletons across it in white. My skin is my mother’s—brown like cooked chicken just set on the napkin to rest—but my eyes are wild and my thick, nappy hair says that I am Zombie’s son. I look down at my wrinkled white shirt and feel the shame that being me brings. I get out and shut the door softly.
The man who is to save me is short, broad and wearing a navy blue suit with thick pinstripes that look like they were drawn with chalk. The shoulders of said suit stick out wider than his shoulders and make his jacket look draped on and too big for his body. His skin and shoes are shiny brown, and his black-and-gray hair is cut tight to his head like a cigarette-ash skullcap.
“Hey, Jesus,” I say.
“Oh, I am not Jesus, son,” he says. He smiles at my mother and turns back to me. “I’m not a pastor, either. I’m a man of God, though, and your mother’s worried. Consider me like a brother. Lot of folks ’round here call me Brother Krall.”
He holds out his hand for me to shake it and smiles harder this time so my mother can see his teeth. For the most part, the tops of his choppers are whitelike, but his bottoms are dirty snow. He has one top tooth on the right side way near the back of his mouth that is framed in gold. Not a gold tooth—he literally has a thin string of gold lining one of his back teeth. I smack the palm of his hand.
“Nice tooth, Jesus.”
“It’s a start. I consider it a spirit house.”
Where was God when Porch beat the piss out of me until I yelled that I was a faggot? Where was God when Blue took a piss on Mongoose with the mag spokes? Until we clear this up, God and I aren’t really on speaking terms, but I see now why my mother has brought me to this place, and it isn’t so much for my salvation as it is to feed her loneliness. My mother likes Jesus, and I’m her excuse and her explanation. I don’t even have to say anything, as my looks are enough to explain why she needs saving.
Her Barney-purple knit sweater is too tight and cut too low for the room, which is nothing but old people in the basement of K.C. Lewis Elementary. There are chairs that don’t match. Some are blue, some are red and some look like urine. Jesus is talking to my mom, who keeps laughing and leaning forward, and every time she does, a little more of her hidden skin, skin that is only meant for the bathroom mirror, shows, and Jesus just keeps smiling and there is that tooth, that one way in the back that’s lined in gold that is telling me that his first joke is to get her to laugh and then bend a bit, while the real trick is to peek down the front of her sweater. And my mother, the woman who less than an hour ago was calling me all kinds of ungodly names, keeps touching Jesus’ hand and bending forward, and at this point, her V-neck sweater might as well be a U-neck.
These two old people flirting makes me want to rinse my eyeballs in bleach, so I stop watching my mother and Jesus and look around the room and see a laminated children’s food pyramid with a cartoon white girl standing holding a half-eaten apple. Old food and juice stain the cement walls that aren’t covered with tiles. There can’t be more than 15 people here, who stand in the back eating doughnuts off a tilted conference table whose tablecloth is about as tight as my mother’s sweater.
“Ma, you want a doughnut?”
“Art, don’t interrupt me when I’m talking.”
“Jesus knows about patience. Don’t you, Jesus?”
“What’s that?” he says.
I ignore Jesus and walk over to the table and see that all the old people have totally killed the doughnuts. The face of the skinny guy crowding the doughnuts is plain, brown. His skin is smooth and he smells like wet wood. His tan leather jacket was probably cooler when Malcolm X was alive, since the collar is fat like butterfly wings.
“No more glazed, huh?”
“You kidding? That’s all I come here for.”
He knows that I know there aren’t any more glaze because I can see he’s holding three stacked doughnuts in a golden glaze tower on a napkin that is wet with sugar. He is eating one, which means, by my count, he has had at least four.
I look at his stack and then up at him, and he shoves the last bit of brown honey goodness into his mouth and starts on his next one. He looks back at me, scrunches his face, and I know that trying to get a doughnut from this old man would be like trying to get my mom to get off my back.
I look over to the table: six plain doughnuts. I grab one, lick it and rub the licked side in the box that once held the glazed.
“Everyone, if you want to find a chair, we can go head and get started.”
My mother waves me off the table, and before I leave, I double-dip back in the glaze and shove the rest in my mouth. I can barely taste anything but thick cake dough. My mother is up front at attention, with her back straight and her chest out, and I wish I didn’t have to be here to see this, her and Jesus all coy and stupid. The old people move like fat cows looking for new grass.
I sit way in the back and stretch my legs out straight when my mother looks at me and coughs once, strong, which is to tell me to “get up here.” I act like I don’t understand. I point to my throat. Then I mime drinking a cup of water and lay my palm flat as if it is holding a tray, and then mime the drinking-water part again. She curls her top lip and snarls “Get up here” in a language that is an inch above a bark.
Jesus is waiting for me. He literally has his hands clasped tight in front of him like a prayer, and I can see he has a pinkie ring with a red stone in it. When I stand, I see that there isn’t a seat for me near my mother, so I snatch a urine-colored seat on my way up and drag the legs against the cold fake-marble floor, and the noise, the steady claw of the metal legs against the ground, is upsetting everyone.
“If you don’t pick that chair up,” my mother says, and I do.
When I get to the front, my mother grabs my arm and squeezes, and I can feel her nails digging into my skin. I don’t even care at this point.
“I’m sorry, Brother Krall,” she says to Jesus.
He moves the pinkie-ring hand towards my mother like he’s shooing her apology away.
Then Jesus speaks again.
“For those of y’all that I don’t know, I’m Brother Krall and I’d like to welcome y’all to the Bryant Street Spirit House.”
“Or a fucking lunchroom,” I mumble. My mother squeezes my arm again.
“Come on up here, Diane, as this works better with a partner.”
My mother lets my arm go. I look down and see that her nails have left little marks in my skin. I rub where her nails once were and I can feel the divots. It doesn’t hurt, but I rub it like it does. My mother ignores me as she stands up smiling like that fat white guy just called her out of the audience to play The Price Is Right. I want to vomit. She turns and puts her purse in her seat and pushes the sleeves up on her titty sweater.
She is ready for Jesus.
“Now, you stand right there,” he says to her, and places her so that she has her back to him. She stands there giggling and peeking over her shoulder and looking back at the old folks as if she is really worried.
Then Jesus says: “Now, I don’t make cars or know how to fix them, but let’s say that Diane is a car. What kind of car are you, Diane?”
“I’m a fast car,” my mother answers and then laughs and puts her face in her hands like she is embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I don’t really know cars.”
“That’s fine,” he says, all cool and stupid. “A fast car works.”
She is flirting with Jesus, and I can feel little bits of dry dough in the middle of my throat starting to work themselves back up.
“Well, today, Diane, your fast car is stuck. The way the Spirit House works is, I’m like a tow truck for God, and if you’re stuck … ”
He walks towards my mother’s backside, and he puts his hands around my mother’s waist. “I can pull you out,” he says, and drags the word “pull” long and slow like an endless chain while he slowly brings my mother into him. My mother makes this “Why I never,” old-antebellum-mint-julep face while Jesus stands there with my mother’s butt pressed up against his dick. My mother leans her head back.
“Do you want to get unstuck?!” he yells out from his stomach.
And the old people all hopped up on glazed sugar start screaming back.
“Move me, Lord!”
Jesus smiles hard, and I can see that one tooth that is way in the back that is lined in gold, and the old people all hopped up on glazed doughnuts start laughing and yelling, and that thinly lined gold tooth almost winks at me. It almost says I don’t know God; it almost says I’m going to be in your house at ungodly hours in a wifebeater, boxers and dress socks; it almost says Go head and kill yourself.
“Who’s embarrassing who now?” I say when my mother gets back to her seat.
“A boy with pink hair can’t tell me nothing about embarrassing anyone,” she says.
I wish I had worn the T-shirt I wanted to wear. It said, “Fishbone: Still Stuck in Your Throat,” which highlighted the group’s seminal classic “Let Dem Hoes Fight,” but my mother told me to take it off. So I switched it to a plain white Hanes undershirt in protest of my mother’s ignorance about the best black punk band ever. I tried to explain to my mother that her insistence on sending me out of Stronghold and way off to St. Albans private school is what made me like this. I was never going to like the boys in Stronghold, loud and gangsta, and once I got to St. Albans, I knew I would never wear polo shirts and Sperrys. I was rebellious and confusing, a black kid who found refuge in punks. In hard core, in double bass drums, in power chords; in loud, sweaty concerts where blood and bruises were a badge of honor; in the glory of piercings and tattoos—a visible fuck-you to anyone who didn’t understand; in everything everyone else found disgust in.
Maybe it was the dual shame I was attracted to, to be black and punk—to be hated and denigrated in either world, to know that those who did understand were the only people for me. I tried to explain to her that punk culture was close to the radical ’60s and all the shit that she glorified, wearing Afros and Panther buttons. What she wanted was an educated, conscious son who didn’t end his sentences with prepositions; what she got was something way left for her, and at this point I think she would just rather me be gay. At least we could gossip.
My breakup with Dolphin led me here, to this lunchroom on this day with my mother, and I am wondering how any of this is supposed to make me better. I had already gone through the three phases of black crisis intervention: The first proved fruitless, since I am almost a foot taller than my mother and have her by at least 80 pounds, so when she threatened to beat the shit out of me, it did nothing.
The second phase didn’t do anything, since I stopped caring what the family thought of me around the time I got my first pair of Docs and started listening to German punk. To her, shame was still an effective way of crisis management. So when she called everyone and told them that I was losing my grip since the breakup, I was already laying in the bed blasting Fishbone into my headphones and reading Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition out loud. And even with all the noise going, I could still hear my mother—who was walking back and forth in front of my room—saying to a person I believed was my Aunt Beatrice, “That boy is into that white stuff, and now he’s all cut up over some white girl.”
I kept yelling:
The Slavs and the Irish were among Europe’s first niggers!
The Slavs and the Irish were among Europe’s first niggers!
The Slavs and the Irish were among Europe’s first niggers!
Part of her story was true: My breakup with Dolphin was tragic. It came after we’d gone down to the Library of Congress to see a Baldwin retrospective, and I casually mentioned how I thought that being gay and dealing with his sexuality first allowed someone like Baldwin to really free himself into his work. She claimed that somehow I was being insensitive to the plight of the gays. I told her that wasn’t the case. More was said. Mostly her talk-shouting about how could I be such an insensitive asshole. I didn’t get it. She told me we were over. I really didn’t get it. Days later, after hours of research on homosexuality and the Harlem Renaissance to help make my point, she stopped me before I started.
“Artie. This is so constricted. The whole fallacy of hetero relations and the conformity of the male-female domination is just … I don’t know ... lame. Like your paying for the movie.”
“You didn’t have any fucking money!”
“This is what I’m saying, Artie; your temper, the structure.”
“Thomasine. You. can’t. do. this. To. Me. To. Us.”
“I told you, it’s Dolphin.”
I threw the phone into the kitchen wall and it shattered into pieces.
I got into my dark Levi’s and my Fishbone Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe T-shirt because I felt like if I was going to be the part, I might as well dress the part. I opened a bottle of Jack that I had under my bed and played Fishbone’s “Servitude” on repeat.
I got drunk faster than I thought I would, and by the fifth time the song came around, Angelo Moore kept yelling at me in his South Central falsetto:
God’s not with you … holy roller … your heart dwells in hell.
I raged. I launched myself into the walls of my room like I was in a mosh pit. I cut my shoulder on the door and the blood soaked through my shirt slow. I don’t remember the cuts on my face or hands, as I was numb. I remember bleeding. I remember bending over to catch my breath, and then I remember the room shifting sideways.
I threw myself around my room and shattered into pieces. My mother found me unconscious in the room with blood all over the carpet.
This is where the legend of my killing myself began.
She told me she was going to beat the shit out of me if I couldn’t pull it together.
“Let some white girl run you down like that.”
My mother was embarrassed when I started dating Dolphin. She thought it was a physical manifestation of my hate for her. None of that was true, but that’s the way she would phrase it to her sisters, or the hen house, as Zombie called them when they got to squawking.
“I don’t hate you, Mom; I just love Dolphin.”
“‘Dolphin.’ You hear that, Bea? The bitch named after a fish.”
She was naming herself after a freedom that she thought only came to animals left in the wild. She was trying to reclaim a part of her that felt confined by societal standards. She didn’t like her birth name or even the idea of birth names, as she believed that naming someone was akin to ownership, and I explained all of this to my mom and told her that Thomasine calling herself Dolphin was no different then when blacks started changing to Muslim names.
“Please stop comparing that little white girl to what we went through … ”
It didn’t help the day my mother pulled up in her tiny gray Nissan Sentra and I was on the porch with Dolphin, who’d just started letting her hair dread. We had already had sex in the house, but we knew to move it to the porch, as my mother didn’t like it when we were home without her supervision, which meant me and Dolphin sitting in the living room while my mother watched TV in the kitchen. So by moving to the porch, we let her believe that we were sexless. My mother, who had just gotten off work, was saying something about getting something out of the back seat of the car when she saw Dolphin’s thick blond dread in the front of her face.
“What is that?” she asked Dolphin.
And Dolphin didn’t get it. She didn’t see that my mom was burning a hole through the top of her thick, dirty-blond hair. She didn’t see that my mom was working over all of the black things stolen by whites. She didn’t see that my mother was seething with a kind of hatred that only comes from realizing that you have been betrayed, because to Dolphin, she hadn’t done anything to my mother. She hadn’t stolen anything, beaten anything, taken anything from her. She sat there looking for something on her Chocolate Genius GodMusic T-shirt that said I was just in your house, in your son’s room, in positions that only gymnast or acrobats should perform.
“You need me to get something out of the car?” I said, shuffling down the walkway towards Adams.
My mother, carrying her empty green mesh lunch bag from work in one hand and an elbow full of ungraded school papers, just looked down on Dolphin the way a slave owner looked down a slave deciding whether or not he should sell him. I could feel Dolphin looking out at me for safety, some kind of line that would bring her back to shore. But I had nothing for her, no net, no rope and no words to throw overboard.
I looked at my mother in her blue school dress and red belt that came across her waist like the equator and then at Dolphin, so thin and pale in dusty cutoff Dickies and dirty red Chucks with no laces. The two women who would be the closest to my core, both oceans away. I looked down at the top of my red Dr. Martens that weren’t scuffed enough to look believable, my boots that showed no signs of revolution, still carried the out-of-box shininess that showed my face to look just like what I was: sheltered. It was then that I realized that the truth didn’t really live with Dolphin and me.
Looking back on it, this was probably the first root that broke through the pavement because no matter how much I loved pulling and kissing and tugging Dolphin’s flesh, I just couldn’t cross my mother. So Dolphin broke first. She looked away from me and down at her hands and then at her feet and then into the ground and off into a distance where my mother hadn’t come home. And my mother let her off the hook and took her papers, her lunch bag and the last remnants of her Afro, the tiny hairs that she couldn’t curl that rested on the bottom part of her neck, way lower than the de-revolutionized permed and pressed-out part that covered it, and pulled the screen door and walked into the kitchen. I stuck my hands in the front of my jeans and frowned my face the way that only wordlessness can leave jaws tight, and walked back from the car and sat next to Dolphin, who started crying.
“Why does your mother hate me?”
… sujeta en mis brazos como un pez infinitamente pegado a mi alma rápido y lento en la energia subceleste.
That is what I should’ve said. I should have pulled on the only quote that I memorized from the Spanish version of Neruda poems that she gave me and that I struggled through that night with her on the phone and she giggled and said “I love you” for the first time.
But what I said in that moment when she needed me most, in that moment when my mother just walked in and crushed us back to babies, in that moment when I realized just how small we both were—in that moment, all I could muster was, “My mother doesn’t hate you; she just loves me.”
“Hallelujah!” A fat black woman yells who is too big to praise dance, so she just wiggles and holds her hand above her head, waving Jesus away.
He is in full bloom, Jesus. He has a blue washcloth in his hand like dead roses, and every now and again he pats his forehead with it. He lost the jacket about six amens in, and his white shirt is now loose and wrinkled around his waist. When the sun comes in through the square-cut window in the lunchroom door and hits that back tooth that I feel like only I can see, it make his face shine. The slight glow off the thin lining that rounds that tooth like old piecrust is whispering in a language that only I can hear. I feel like it’s asking, “Why do pastors and pimps dress alike?” I feel like I hear, “I can help you get closer to God.” I turn to my mother to see if she is there with me when I hear, “These people aren’t your friends.”
My mother grabs my hand and holds it up to the air, and I snatch it down and ask her what she is doing. I never like when my mother forces my body to do stuff, as I have never been a fan of being pushed around.
“You better put your hand back up in the air,” she says.
I can tell by the way the ends of her eyebrows are pointing down and inward towards her nose that I need to get it back up, so I do. Turns out, Jesus asked all the people who love God to put a hand in the air. And then he walks over to the doughnut table and snatches one of the empty doughnut baskets off the table so fast that the napkins and powder both fly from the basket and land perfectly on the floor.
“I told you we’re small,” he says as he hands the basket to a woman in the back of the cafeteria. “Just remember when we are way out in one of those big ole churches out in Bowie and all of y’all are elders, we can laugh about how we had to use the doughnut basket for the bread basket! Can I get an amen!”
The doughnut basket makes it past me, and Mom puts in $5 for the both of us. I hear women in the back say that it was a lovely service as they gather their purses.
“I almost forgot,” Jesus says. “Next Sunday is couples counseling, so come back here with your boyfriend and girlfriends and I can show you how to get that train back on track.”
The old men and women laugh, mostly at the idea that any of them have girlfriends or boyfriends, and it dawns on me that in my newfound singledom, I, too, am a part of this joke. My mother looks over at Jesus, giving him the nod, and then tells me that she will be in the car while I talk to him. He stands by the door shaking the hands of the old women leaving, who have a little bit of the gospel in their step now. When the last woman leaves, he shuts the cafeteria door and the sun stops leaking into the small window.
“Come on and let’s talk back here,” he says as he snatches his blazer and the doughnut basket off one of the seats. The room that he takes me to is right off the church, and I can tell from the red kick balls, movable balance beams, jump ropes and tennis rackets that this is gym storage. A desk sits near the back, and Jesus walks over and plops himself down in a wooden chair that doesn’t flinch at his weight, and I grab a chair and put it across from him.
“So what is it?” he says. “Pussy or money?”
I am thrown off by the word “pussy”—not that I don’t use it, but it feels strange coming out of Jesus’ mouth, even with the tooth. I tilt my head like a dog that can’t figure out if what his owner is holding is really a bone.
“Come on, man, you heard me; pussy or money?”
The choice hangs between us, steaming like fresh-cooked pot roast with no knife.
Jesus speaks. “The way I see it, there’re only two reasons a man would kill himself: pussy or not having no money. You too young to know what being broke really feels like, so it must be pussy. Am I right?”
He’s right, although I haven’t been far-enough removed from Dolphin to reduce her to just a lone body part.
He leans and pulls the money basket off the table and sticks his fat fingers into the top.
“Almost forgot,” he says, and then reaches into his blazer pocket and pulls out two gold rings that have diamonds the size of baby teeth.
“Bad luck to count bread without these,” and he holds them up so I can see. The one he slides on his middle finger looks like a class ring, and the other he forces down his index finger looks like something a rapper wouldn’t wear.
“Nice rings,” I say.
“Yeah, I got these off a sucker out Seat Pleasant.”
I don’t know if he means that he beat someone up and took their jewelry or he haggled a fool down on the price; either way I don’t ask him to clear it up. Jesus licks his ringless thumb and counts each one of the dollars given him by the old folks.
“Pussy can mess your head up,” he says.
“Totally,” I say, but I don’t know what he means.
“Trust me when I tell you, you wouldn’t be the first nigga to kill himself over a dame.”
The word “dame” feels like 1950s cop talk, and I try to straighten my face because I am sure that it says that I am lost.
“I knew when you walked in that you were strung out,” Jesus says.
I have him here.
“I don’t do drugs,” I say, and sit up straight, since this a common misconception that I am forced to take on as a black punk. Everyone thinks I shoot heroin because I am so thin, so I am always proud to boast that I am not Zombie.
I am not my father.
“I ain’t talking about drugs, man, although some people might call it that,” and Jesus laughs hard at both his joke and my ignorance.
“How’d you know?” I say, slouching back in my seat. Slightly defeated.
“Because no man would dye his hair pink unless some nice pair of legs told him it would look cute. Am I right?”
Jesus dumps the coins out of the basket and starts counting. He isn’t looking at me because he knows he’s right. The day we went to get the dye, I wanted something less radical, maybe blond or a soft green, but Dolphin picked out the box of pink with purpose and told me that this was it, and like a heroin addict I was all in.
“$11.34!” Jesus says. “That barely covers the cost of the doughnuts. I should play that number.” He reaches over and grabs a small slip of paper and a pen, and I assume he writes down 1-1-3-4.
“You gamble?” I say, which even catches me off guard, considering that he has been talking to me about pussy.
“Every day,” He says. “Life is a gamble and if someone has to win, why not Brother Krall?! You got to walk before you Krall.” And Jesus laughs, and I don’t get any of it.
“Look at it this way,” he says. “How do you think those old folks that came to see me today, how you think they feel now?”
This felt like a trick. Some kind of question that he already asked me in a previous life where I had never met Dolphin or dyed my hair.
“Better,” I say, knowing that this is the response he wants and the one that feels easiest to give.
“You damn right. Each one of them paid a dollar to feel better, and you think they got their money’s worth?”
“You damn right they did.”
He grabs the doughnut basket. “See, this here is short money; the real money is down the road when times get tough. I’m with them now so that when everyone else leaves them, they know they still have me.”
“And that’s when you stick it to them?”
“What’s that?” Jesus says, patting the pocket of his blazer.
“You smoke?” he says, holding a pack of Newport 100s towards me.
He pulls out a long cigarette, lights it and puts his shoes on the desk.
“So I know how to save them,” Jesus says. “They’re easy. They’re ready to be saved; in fact, they’re begging for it.”
He takes a drag. “The real question is, how do I save you?”
“That’s funny, since I didn’t know I was lost.”
Jesus blows out smoke.
“We all are. The question is always, how do we get found? Maybe you find it in your music or whatever, but don’t think for a second that you aren’t looking. That’s why pussy is so important. You never knew you needed it until you started getting it, and then when she takes it back … ”
“I’m strung out,” I say.
He shakes his head and smiles.
And there is that tooth saying that Jesus is right again. Until I found Fishbone or Fishbone found me, I was lost. When I first heard Truth and Soul, I knew I was home. And before Dolphin and I had sex, I just thought she was cool; after that night in her car, I thought she was amazing.
“So what do I do?”
“You don’t do anything but come back next week.”
“And what happens next week?”
“You come in and set up the chairs and get the doughnuts straight, and in turn I teach you about faith … the great unexplainable.”
“So I’m a choirboy?”
“I don’t care what you call yourself; I just need somebody to get the chairs set up. We got a deal?”
“I guess.” And Jesus takes his cigarette and puts it in the corner of his mouth and leans his ringed hand across the desk and we shake.
“Now get out of here before you start crying.”
I laugh and walk out of the office, into the cafeteria and out the door to my mother’s car.
“So how did it go?” she says.
I don’t feel right talking to her about what me and Jesus discussed—it was personal—but I know she won’t move the car unless I say something. I think about telling her that he isn’t who she thinks he is, but instead I look down at my phone to see if Dolphin called and she hasn’t, and for a second I don’t feel as lonely as I did before. I put the phone in my back pocket and look out onto the empty road of First Street and tell my mother plainly, “I’m a choirboy now.”