Hates A Smartass
by Jeff Barnosky
am sitting in my Eleventh Grade Religion class. Sister Anna is waddling around
the room looking for someone to pounce on, although all of us know that I am the
one she always torments. When she stands behind my desk I smell something earthy
and primordial, as if she just pulled herself from the depths Hell to teach us
As a student at the Holy Virgin Academy, I have become accustomed to strange occurrences, wildly unexplainable happenings and the occasional reason to believe that there is something larger than us out there, churning in nothingness waiting to be born. Once, in my freshman year, I saw Kelly O'Malley--large busted, green eyed, slim-waisted, every (I mean every) boy's dream--rise from her seat at a Pep Rally, walk down to the middle of the gymnasium floor--where our laconic football coach was mumbling a Knute Rockne speech--and slither out of her uniform. At that moment, I knew that there was both a God and a Devil; only a benevolent all-knowing being could create a body that perfect and only true evil could put that wild vacant look in her eyes. A young man at a Holy Virgin Academy can only dream of such an occurrence--every night for twenty years--but the whole thing was ruined because we knew she lost it. Poor Kelly had gone mad, truly. I heard years later that she walked out of a sanitarium and took a job at the strip club across the street from the crazy people.
Sister Anna stands above me, snarling. Her face possesses a gnarled bumpy nose. On those bumps are wild patches of hair. I look away. She is as short and round as a potbelly stove, but not as attractive.
"Mr. Ritzkowski," She booms.
"Yeah?" I say.
"Yeah? Yeah? Where did you learn to speak English?"
My friends and classmates turn around to watch the show. They are bored. Our act is a small, daily respite from the crush of Sister Anna's monotony. Across the room, Eileen O'Brien crosses her arms across her chest and gives me a pissed off look. I'm in love with her and she is sick of my antagonizing Sister Anna. Eileen teases me with the idea that she may one day join Anna in her blessed vocation, although we have done things together that simply cannot be called holy. Eileen is short and thin with thick eyebrows and a sharp nose. Posed pictures do absolutely no justice to the pulse-racing sexiness of her presence. She takes her arms away from her chest and puts her hand on her chin with bemused impatience.
"Answer me William. Where did you learn to speak English?"
"From you Sister. When you taught the first grade. Remember."
The class laughs at my joke, which goes further than I usually do. I hear a few gasps of shock. I'm brave. I am also stupid. Sister Anna slaps me on the back of the head.
"You think you're funny? Mr. Talent-Show comedian. Mr. Stand-Up. You think you're funny? You're not funny. You're not in the least bit funny, no matter what you're friends think. You're NEVER GOING TO BE FUNNY!"
"Are you positive?"
The class laughs. Sister Anna smacks me again, then she grabs my face and squeezes my cheeks.
"Jesus hates a smartass, Mr. Ritzkowski."
Suddenly a great light overwhelms the room, accompanied by smoke and ethereal music. Standing on the desk, shrouded in smoke and light, is Jesus Christ. He wears sandals, a robe and a T-shirt over the robe that reads MY FATHER IS GOD AND ALL I GOT WAS LOUSY SHIRT! He speaks.
"That's not necessarily true, Sister."
"Jesus Christ," Sister Anna mumbles.
"You got that one right," I say.
Jesus comes down from the desk and walks over to my desk. He gets down on one knee, taking my hand in his and speaking directly to me.
"Billy," Jesus says. "One day, if you ever escape the state of Indiana and the Holy Virgin Academy, you are going to make your living as a Comedian. Even though that is not necessarily how I would live my life, there is one thing I want you to promise me: You will never do a sitcom. No matter how they tempt you."
Sister Anna grabs his robe gently, tugging on it with an embarrassing girl-like timidity.
"I thought this would be different," says Sister Anna.
"I'm not here for you, Sister."
"A sitcom?" I ask.
"Moses, give me a little help on this one."
In flowing robes and brilliant light, Moses enters the classroom on a cloud carrying two stone tablets. We have come to expect as much. He puts them down and walks over to us.
"Sitcoms are lame, man," Moses says. "I mean there's going to be some wacky neighbor, that's a given. And probably triplet Korean orphans."
"That you're raising to pay off gambling debts," Jesus says.
"And a saucy housekeeper who calls you Mr. R."
"Oh, God!" Jesus said.
"What are you talking about. I'm never going to be a stand-up comedian. I'm never going to have a T.V. show, I'm never going to leave this little piece of hell."
"Hey, you ever live in a desert for forty years? You ever wander around a desert for forty years? I didn't think so!" Moses shouts.
"I'm not even going to get into what I've been through," Jesus says.
I can feel them ready to leave, their presence disintegrating with my power to imagine. I need to ask them. I need to ask them what everyone else needs to know.
"What's Heaven like?" I ask.
"If we told you, we'd have to kill you," Jesus says.
"What about hell?"
"A lot like Indiana, but there's more to do."
That's it. That's it. The bell rings and I leave the room. Life goes on. I have Algebra.
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