Just for Jesus by Caroline Reid
In November, Tim gave me a bible.
“Close your eyes,” he said. The book was small in my hands. “I know you like old things.”
It was a King James Bible, covered in faded black cloth, the spine brittle, the pages edged in pink. They might have been red once. There were eighteen candles on the cake in the hotel room. I blew them all out in one hectic breath then Tim unzipped me. I’d got my first bible when I was thirteen, when Mom decided public school wasn’t good enough for me, so she’d saved her pennies and packed me off to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. At first, I thought Jesus was like Elvis, pretty and famous, and that God had written all those hymns we sang in church just for Jesus.
“How cool to have a father who writes songs for you.”
“Don’t worry about all that mumbo jumbo stuff,” she’d said. “Just get on with your studies.”
In December, Tim took me out in his boat. The sky was vivid with silvery clouds; the green sea foamed and gurgled. We’d been drinking red wine the night before and I vomited pink over the side of the boat. Lying on the bed below deck, I looked up to see a double rainbow through the cabin window. Tim said I was a good luck charm. He wrapped a big snapper in newspaper for me. I didn’t know how I was going to explain the fish to Mom, so I threw it away. Tim and his wife went to New Zealand for Christmas.
In January, Tim caught me sniffing the crotch of his pants in the hotel room. He always wore proper pants, never jeans.
“My wife does my washing,” he said, snatching them out from under my nose.
I thought his pants smelled like they’d started their life before I had, but I didn’t mention it; he was already super upset because after I went down on him, I told him I’d found a gray pube.
In February, I started college and Tim took me out fishing again. He stood behind me and showed me how to steer the boat. I loved feeling his heat against my back. He told me he and his wife were breaking up, that she nagged him about everything, that she didn’t want him to have any fun. Even the boat, she had said, was a total waste of money.
“I think it’s a nice boat,” I said.
“Oh, Princess,” he said, holding my face in his hands. “You’re the one who understands me. I’ve booked us a holiday in Hawaii next month, just the two of us.”
I told Mom I was going to visit a friend.
In March, Tim said his wife had arranged—at the last minute—for the two of them to go away to Bermuda.
“I’m so sorry, Princess,” he said. “But don’t worry, we’re not cancelled, just postponed.”
“What happened to Hawaii?” Mom asked.
I told her my friend had died.
In April, our lease wasn’t renewed so Mom and I had to move again. Tim called me. They were going to Fiji—at the last minute. Mom said the whole apartment building could hear the way I was carrying on.
“Did he tell you his wife’s a bitch?” she said. “Did he tell you she doesn’t understand him? That he’s going to leave her?”
I threw my cell at her. It didn’t break but it gouged a massive hole in the wall. They took money out of our bond to fix it.
In May, on her way to the new apartment, Mom got hit by a car. She was in intensive care with a smashed hip, her head split open like a coconut, her face bruised the color of the bible. She didn’t speak. The doctor said it was shock, that she’d come around in her own good time. A week later, the swelling had gone down but she still hadn’t said anything. While I was packing up my room, I found the bible under my bed. I took it with me to the college church where I sat in the back pew feeling sad and cold, hoping time would fly or that I would absorb something holy or that Jesus would forgive me even though I knew that was as likely as Mom doing the same thing. I lit a candle for her, then one for me, and stared into its flickety flame while the stained glass windows darkened above me. I thought about how those windows are always so far away, way above the people.
Yesterday, Tim came to the new apartment. He paced the kitchen wearing jeans and the Hawaiian shirt his wife had bought him in Fiji. I told him I’d been singing hymns to Mom in hospital and the first words she’d said were, “Will you stop that mumbo jumbo. Don’t you know any Elvis?”
Tim didn’t laugh. He said Elvis was a mama’s boy with a serious eating disorder and a God complex. I sprayed him with Lysol. He offered me a week’s rent. I told him I’d already quit college and got a job. He looked into the empty coffee cup and asked if I’d be okay.
I said, “What about that holiday?”
He said, “Me and the wife have turned a corner.”
After he’d gone, I sat on the red linoleum with my second-hand bible. At the end of the Book of Revelations, someone had drawn a naked man with an oversized cock spurting pink ink across the page. I wrote Tim under the picture. Then I ripped the page out and ate it. It tasted dry and dirty, like an old man’s skin.
Caroline Reid’s plays have been performed and published in Australia, as have her stories and poems. She curates the popular story reading events, Spineless Wonders Presents, in Adelaide, Australia, where she lives. She blogs sporadically at carolinereidwrites.blogspot.com.au and is currently working on her first collection of short fiction, Satisfied.