Playing Jesus

Pale shiny figure — slightly abstracted by distance — consumed my thoughts. It hung higher than the three framed portraits on the mantle — phantasms of my bloodline. I entertained the thought that this figure was also part of my lineage — else why was he up on the fireplace with the rest of the family members, whom I knew only by their shadows.

“Mom, can you show me what that is?” I asked in the most angelic voice I could conjure. She hesitated. “What do you want to see?” I pointed up toward the thing I could not name. She reached for a photograph of a man. “No, higher up”. Pointing was not the clearest signal, I had come to rely on the gesture when I was without a name to call things by. Mom turned and stared at me. “You want to look at the Crucifix?” I nodded.

Whatever that means. “His name is Crucifix? What’s he doing all the way up there?” She let out a soft laugh. “I’ll let you get a closer look, I don’t have time to tell the whole story right now.” People were always calling on her around this time of day.

Mom slowly lifted Crucifix from his nail in the chimney. She held it close enough for me to inspect with my eyes. “Can I hold it?” “No, too fragile.” “What’s he made of?” “Porcelain.”

Porcelain man had little black circles on his hands and feet. His head and long hair dangled toward the ground as if his neck could no longer support all that weight. The ridges of his ribs were visible through his skin, and a giant red gash on one side of his ribcage looked fresh. Atop his head were thorny brambles woven into a circle. The section of forehead that it encircled dripped red tears, as if someone had forced the mocking circlet onto his head. His crown was nothing like familiar opulent princess tiaras I was so used to seeing in Disney movies. It took me a second to register what a horrific state this fellow was in — from my perspective far and below he glimmered, but now, seeing him up close made me want to run from the room and never return. That initial desire to touch and hold him in my palms vanished.

The telephone rang.

Mom rushed over to answer the call, Crucifix in tow. Only while reaching for the phone did she realize she was still holding the delicate statue. She pondered it for a second, placing it on the counter.

“Hello… this is she.”

I lay on the floral Persian rug in the living room, pushing my back deeper into the scratchy wine red carpet. I gazed back up at the mantle. Crucifix was in the kitchen. His usual resting place was empty, and the three portraits that rested below him seemed a little lost without his presence anchoring them. Boredom took hold.

In the hour before the sun died, light exploded in through the window, setting the house ablaze. Shrapnel in the form of elongated shadows pierced the walls and floor.

Looked up at the mantle in this new light, and noticed something shiny poking over the edge. I sprang up off of the rug, racing over to get a closer look. Things that shone had this strong magnetic field, an attraction I could not pull myself away from. A silver grape leaf. I needed to get higher.

It was almost dinner time. Smells of lentil soup and garlic filled the air. Tempted by the pale green marble grapes, I began to climb the brick façade on the fireplace, finding footholds in the gaps. The ascent was daunting. My hands gripped the next row of bricks above me. Knife hit the wood cutting board, like a metronome.

Chop. Next row up. Chop. And up.

I could hear a watery crunch at each interval when knife severed the flesh of the lettuce. Mom was making a salad. She was repeating “Oh, I know” to whoever she was speaking to on the other side of the line. It was her way of listening. This was the perfect time to smuggle away the fruit.

Chop. Up. Chop. Almost there. Chop.

Grabbing at the object with the tips of my fingers, I felt the smooth cold surface of the grapes and nudged them toward me. Made shameful eye contact with the three watchful portraits. Their accusatory glares distracted me. I did not realize the grapes weighed so heavy nor did I notice that they were tipping over the mantle’s edge.

It was too late.

They fell before I could move to catch them. The grapes hit the blood red brick with a loud clang.

Screech. The pressure cooker reached its climax, sending a high-pitched whistle through the space. The sound of all of that built-up pressure, released. I lost my balance and in an instant I had fallen, thrown to the ground like Saul on the road to Damascus.

Sprawled out on the carpet, I lost my vision. I could hear Mom’s footsteps racing over from the kitchen. Before I knew it, she was kneeling next to me, breathless. “Noëlle! Noëlle!” shaking me out of my stupor.

When I opened my eyes, my vision was blurred. I already knew the look Mom was giving me. I was finally able to register things in focus. In that moment, her face was masked in an indelible expression of exasperation and reprimand. “Are you okay?” Stern. “Yes.” I could not meet her crystal blue eyes. “What were you thinking? You never ever climb up there, do you hear me? Never.” I stumbled over my reasoning. “I. I — wanted to see the grapes.” Too late. I had forgotten that they were now shattered, the milky green shards formed a pool of blood against the deep red bricks. She looked over at them, then back at me.

Disappointed. “So, you wait and ask me if you want to see something, and I’ll show you. Never go looking yourself. And if I say no, you obey.”

Cast out.

I watched her carefully pick up the pieces of my folly. Few of the grapes survived, leaving the mangled bunch looking like birds had pecked away at the fruit. Mom returned the pathetic remains to a spot farther back on the mantle. I observed her from my place of exile on the far side of the living room, hoping she would accept me back into her good graces.

I laid back down on the rug, waiting to be forgiven. I extended my arms outward, palms pressed into the rug fingering dust and dirt caught between wool fibers. Stretched my legs out, crossing them at my feet. Crucifix’s shadow reached my toes, silhouettes joined together, our symmetry laid bare. Squeezed my eyes shut and stuck my tongue out. Death, or what I thought it must look like. I was playing Crucifix. I wondered if I would ascend to the empty place where he once hung on the chimney. Time did not exist while in this state, eyes closed, acting dead on the carpet. I heard footsteps and familiar voices enter the adjacent rooms, doors opening and closing. I had never felt closer to the ground until now. Death didn’t last long.

Mom resurrected me, calling out “Noëlle,” and then, “supper.”

Risen, I opened my eyes. Family was waiting for me at the table, sitting on either side of a single empty chair.

I took my place.

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