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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"What Comes Around" Part 1 - French Toast Jesus

Adam James had taken the call that informed him of the death of his wife and daughter at work.  He had gently replaced the telephone in its cradle.  He folded his laptop closed, powering it down, and slid it into his bag. He slung the bag over his shoulder in a daze and grabbed for his keys with shaking hands, knocking them clumsily from his desk. He bent to retrieve them, and the messenger bag slid around in front of him, unbalancing him slightly so that he stumbled before straightening, keys in hand, sliding the bag back around his waist and striding from his office. He moved mechanically, woodenly, his face a mask of repressed anguish. And somehow, though he couldn’t remember the particulars, he found himself in his car at home in the garage, the engine idling with no clear memory of having gotten in nor of driving it home.
The funeral arrangements passed in a blur. He had help, of course, and if he allowed himself to be taken along for the funereal ride (not terribly unlike the departed themselves), he can perhaps be excused just this once. Having no one left in his life to be strong for, Adam allowed himself the luxury of weakness. When the funeral ended, and the cars (magnetic “Funeral Procession” flags efficiently removed by stealthy funeral home staff) cleared slowly from the cemetery, Adam allowed himself to be helped to his feet and chauffeured home. There he sat on his loveseat in an attitude not unlike that which he’d exhibited graveside, hunched forward, forearms resting on his thighs, hands crossed slightly, staring blankly ahead. He fell asleep in that position.
While he slept he dreamt of Helen and Abby. They were at the pool together. Helen, his wife, and Abby, his 5 year old daughter, were wearing their swimsuits. He was wearing the suit he’d worn to the funeral. He was frustrated by his failure to pack his swimsuit when they’d left for the pool and tried to convince them to wait for him while he found something suitable to wear. In the dream he left the pool to find his swimsuit. And he woke up in the morning of a new day on the loveseat, his suit crumpled and damp with sweat. He allowed himself, at last, to weep. The disappointment of waking to find them still dead overmatched him.
What happened the next two days was. . . nothing. The phone rang and went to voice mail. A knock at the door went unanswered. He neither showered nor ate. He moved from the loveseat only to use the bathroom or get a drink. He left the lights off. He wore his crumpled suit. He stunk of sweat. Adam had checked out.
The phone rang on the morning of the third day, rousing him from his slumber on the loveseat. Voicemail announced his absence, then beeped.
“Adam, it’s Mom. Honey, I know you’re hurting. We’ve left messages. We’re coming over tonight to check on you. We love you, baby. Hang in there.” The receiver clicked and the phone beeped once.
He glanced up at the answering machine and saw the red L.E.D. “12” switch to “13” then strobe insistently. He ran his fingers through his hair.
“Just my luck.” His voice rasped hoarsely. He coughed into his fist and cleared his throat, then lifted himself up from the loveseat tugging at the knot in his tie to loosen it. He walked to the foot of the stairs, slowly pushing himself up the carpeted steps. At the top of the stairs he turned and went directly into his room, not allowing himself to look down the hall to Abby’s bedroom. Not allowing himself even to think of the existence of such a room. Not allowing himself to remember the joyful music of her girlish giggle.
He pulled the tie from his collar, unthreading it from around his neck, the silk hissing against the cotton collar, and began to unbutton his shirt, kicking the toe of his right shoe into the heel of his left, and levering it off, before doing the same with his right. His jacket and shirt he tossed across the bed. He pulled his belt through the loops of his pants and tossed it on the bed too, allowing his pants to bunch at his ankles before stepping out of them to remove his socks. He sighed heavily and walked to the bathroom naked, turning the water in the shower to "Hot" and examining himself in the mirror. Medium height, brown hair, matted and messy, light brown eyes set in whites so networked and bewebbed with blood vessels they looked pink, two days' growth of patchy beard on his chin. In all other ways, forgettable. He lost himself in his reflection and the steam from the hot water began to haze the mirror. He pulled the lever and the shower sputtered to life. He stepped into it, letting the scalding water baptize him painfully before he surrendered and turned the temperature to something more comfortable. He shampooed and washed and shaved, then stood facing the water, letting it run down his face like tears, and for a long time he didn’t move.
When he’d finished the shower, he shut off the water, and stepped, naked and dripping from the tub. He toweled himself off and walked out of the bathroom, pulling a clean black t-shirt from the drawer, a pair of boxer briefs, and jeans. He dressed, then walked back downstairs barefoot and went to the kitchen.
Pulling open the refrigerator door he scanned the shelves, selecting the carton of eggs, a milk jug, and some butter before closing it again with his hip, his hands full. These ingredients were joined by a loaf of bread, some vanilla extract, and maple syrup retrieved from the pantry. He turned the burner of the stove on, and heated a greased pan while he beat eggs and milk together with vanilla extract. He dipped bread into this and slapped it wet into the pan where it sizzled and spit. He repeated this for three other pieces and pulled a spatula from a drawer. He stood over the pan, pushing against the sides of the bread, loosening them and testing them, until he judged them sufficiently cooked, then he slid the spatula underneath each and expertly flipped them.
He made coffee. It steamed in his cup and he cooled it with cream and sweetened it with a little sugar. He turned off the stove and put two pieces of the French toast on his plate. He carried the plate, his coffee, the butter, and a knife and fork over to the kitchen table and sat down heavily.
And that’s when he saw it. Or Him. Jesus Christ himself enthroned in browned and crisped beaten egg in toasted bas-relief there upon his plate. Upon his brow a crown of thorns, his hands were joined as if in prayer. His eyes were cast heavenward.
A sign. Clearly a sign. Adam was no fool, he knew it was a sign just as he knew every sign can be interpreted more than one way. Acceptance or rejection. Blessing or condemnation. Good or ill. And Adam gazed into the Lamb of God’s eyes and spoke aloud, “You’re too fucking late.” And he cut French toast Jesus asunder and ate him, unblessed and without ritual, “this is my body, take this and eat it in remembrance of me.” He finished his unholy eucharist with a belch. A fist to his heart as he stifled another burp, standing with his plate a mass of maple syrup godsblood smeared across it. He walked it to the kitchen sink and threw it in heedlessly. The plate broke on impact. Adam watched it angrily.
“Fuck you,” he said, and walked, still barefoot, out to his car. He drove out of the garage, down the driveway, and never returned.
What Adam didn’t know was that the face on the piece of toast was NOT in fact that of his rejected lord and savior Jesus Christ, Lamb of God. . . but a dead ringer for 1936 Greek Olympic Fencing Champion, Leonidas Pyrgos, who had the Christ-like beard, of course, but the more European, less Hebrew features. Adam, saw the blue eyed Nordic Jesus of Adolph Hyla’s famous painting, never knowing it wasn’t Jesus at all. Never had been. The crown of thorns was merely the victor's laurel wreath.
Why Leonidas Pyrgos should appear on French toast is perhaps no more baffling than why Jesus of Nazareth would choose to do so, and perhaps less so, since Mr. Pyrgos’ gold medal in the 1936 Games would come against a French opponent. All of which is irrelevant because the true explanation is, if the same infinite number of monkeys on their infinite number of keyboards would take an infinite break from their duties rewriting all the great works of literature, doubtless they could etch the random visages of every man woman and child whoever lived in egg based paint upon a canvas of toasted bread. Which is to say that it was neither the visage of Mr. Pyrgos, nor the Prince of Peace, but an inkblot interpreted by a tortured mind as the sums of all his experiences has best prepared him to interpret it. Regardless, an objective viewer would still give the nod to Pyrgos.
And so pushed by a perceived sign from God, Adam made a choice, just as Job had once made a choice when faced with similar circumstances (French toast notwithstanding). Adam’s choice, however, differed from Job’s entirely. He rejected God utterly. Having lost his wife he instead made a bride of murder and consummated his wedding in the blood of innocents. After a series of slayings that stretched seemingly at random from Pennsylvania to Louisiana (but actually just provided bloody punctuation marks on a map that told the story of his path South), Adam found himself homeless in the streets of New Orleans, accepting money from the mob to end people's lives.
One day, a man with clean black shoes and a tidy suit pressed a thick envelope into Adam’s filthy outstretched hand. He opened it and riffled the bills inside perfunctorily then stuffed it inside his jacket. He reached out, still without lifting his eyes from the clean black shoes and snapped his fingers impatiently. A folded slip of paper was placed in his hand. He unfolded the slip of paper, "the black spot" as he had come to think of it and read his mark’s name. It said simply, “Eddie”. No last name, no address. He glanced up questioningly, but the man with the clean black shoes and the tidy suit was gone.

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