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by Willie Smith
Convenience of Belief
Jesus needed a pack of smokes. But had walked out without his wallet. Figured, well, he'd enter a convenience. Distract attention with a miracle. Slip a carton under his robe; nobody the wiser.
He breezed through the automatic door, meditating what do: Turn Perrier into Night Train? cause the baloney to moo and gibber? resurrect a pack of Corn Dogs? materialize a harlot in the beer section?
Then he looked up. Spotted two Arabs standing at the counter. Each with a 9mm aimed at the quintagenarian clerk's potbelly. Who held hands high, eyes abulge, face persp drenched. They were taking the joint down!
Cautiously Jesus drew from his robe the .357 he was never caught without, smiled to himself; neat - a chance to off two heathens; save the day, be a hero; and in the confusion walk off with not only the carton, but maybe a liter of wine to boot.
Twin earshattering shots converted both Moslems to dust.
Neither felt pain. Drilled through the occiput. Tickets punched by the holy conductor himself.
Cordite stink flooded the shadowless convenience. The essence, the perfume, the attar of righteousness.
But, when the dust cleared, across the counter gasping, turning purple, lay the clerk - evident victim of a coronary. Well, if the guy couldn't work with a little gunplay, probably a sodomite anyway. With a merciful pill to the temple, Jesus finished the fatso. Careful to splatter the blood, brains and skull fragments away from the cigarette stand.
He contemplated in the fluorescent glare shards of the suspected sodomite's bald pate. Marlboros, Camels, Silva Thins? Oh, only the nicotine mattered. He reached out over the corpse. Snatched whatever. Headed back toward the wine, cradling a carton of Newports.
Down the popcorn, potato chip, bean dip aisle of the 3AM store - devoid now of all humanity - he wandered. Wondered what vintage he truly craved: red, white, pink?
Having reached the cooler carved into the back wall, he snapped open the glass door. Confronted rack upon rack of Gallo, Petri, Red Rocket, Inglenook, Boone's Farm, Wild Irish, Cribari.
So many choices, so little difference - down here outside the Kingdom. At random he selected a jug of spinada. Decided to camp out in a corner. Squatted on the floor. Listening to the refrigerator hum, the light tubes buzz, the corpses gurgle - as blood slumped into their inert hearts.
He closed his eyes. Gulped from the jug. Sighed.
When the cops showed, they'd make the ID, do the arrest with no need of a kiss, followed by the usual Punch and Judy. The judge washing his hands, the Jewish lawyers, the unjust sentence, the ghastly crucifixion.
How boring. Fulfilling prophecy. Going through the motions with total foreknowledge of predestined events. Sometimes he just felt like a 99 cent wind-up toy. But÷
his eyes sprang open...
this was America! Weren't there certain freedoms? The right to bear arms. Access to freeways. Free checking. The free market economy. Conveniences everywhere. What use freedom unused?
Take the parable of the holster: The rancher gave his two favorite cowhands each a finely-tooled Moroccan leather holster. The first cowherd so loved his holster he vowed never again to draw his pistol, the better to preserve the leather's cunning shape.
He grew popular among the ladies, for swollen and heavy his holster did stay.
But the second cowboy - a John Wayne devotee - drew his weapon more than ever. To use on the ugly, the bad and even - when they failed to show in church - the good.
Now, when it came time to die and go to heaven, the first poke's holster fell apart in the Lord's hands, so rotten and corroded was it with gun oil. But the second cowboy's - ever empty of its burden - had palpably retained in immaculate detail, down to the minutest knurl and boss, the intricate tooling of its original workmanship.
The first cowhand the Lord cast up crap creek without a paddle. But the second he did welcome into the bosom of his innermost arsenal. There to join in matutinal target practice - imagine an eternity of shooting, as the sun comes up, tin cans! For this poke had used the piece; and not out of daintiness, like unto a sodomite, parked on his hip the iron as a mere ornament.
Slowly Jesus stood, twisting the cap back on the jug. From his reflections it dawned: hey - why be a doormat? Especially when the Constitution guaranteed everyone a place in the sun.
He adjusted under his robe the load of .357, Newports, spinada. Drifted back up the aisle. Eased from the convenience into the sodium-vapor-lit parking lot. Surveyed the vacant stalls, the deserted street. Hesitated a moment as to direction.
Under what bridge flop tonight? The Fremont, the Montlake, Ballard, University, Aurora?
Suddenly into mind popped the wallet. The "wallet" he had left behind.
He grinned. Long ago, ever since getting the call, he had unto Caesar rendered it all. He no more owned a wallet than he payed for bullets; which he picked up at any one of numerous gun shops, late at night, coming down through the roof.
He chuckled at the tricks the mind plays on the mind. No wonder humanity needed him so much. Each thinking she or he understood how to think.
He sniffed the smog. Blinked up at the waning moon. Caught himself remembering his face, a moment ago, in the convex mirror above the register.
He scratched his beard. A flea jumped; found the floor, Oh÷ almost forgot. Tricks. Thank God for subliminal idiot cards!
He ducked back inside. Rummaged past Sugar Pops, Lucky Charms, Post Toasties, Special K, Cheerios. Below Cocoa Puffs located the Trix. Grabbed the kingsize. Wedged it between the wine and his armpit. Tomorrow's breakfast - straight from the box. Hopped back out.
Jesus drew himself up. Now he had the Trix, the butts, the vintage, his mission was complete. He opted, faute de mieux, for the Aurora. Then disappeared into the shadows of an alley, while far off in the distance a siren began to wail.
Jesus Get Your Gun
To himself, lips frozen, Jesus ticked off the reasons he was mad.
One: the medication.
Two: the earliest possible appointment scheduled - he was no more a morning person than the Devil sleeps at night.
Three: they had taken away his rod.
How dare they inject God's only begotten Son with a substance not on the market above five years! Out on the street it was a known fact this very drug had caused well over a hundred monkeys to masturbate themselves to death. He winced, overwhelmed with a vision of Old Scratch squirted through the eye of a needle into a vein of the Lord God Himself. Was that why he felt unclean? Had Beelzebub infiltrated the blood?
He scratched his left nipple. Still there were hives, rashes, dry mouth, itches, twitches. But at least the stuff was beginning to fade.
From between his ears, for the umpteenth time, he attempted to shake the cobwebs, as he grimly crossed the intersection of Rainier and Orcas against the light. A grease monkey on the way to work braked, honked. Leaned out his window, barked, "Outta the street, ya fuckin goof!"
Forgive him, 0 Lord, Jesus thought reflexively, continuing on to the curb, head high, unfocused eyes aimed unswervingly ahead, for he knoweth not what the fuck he doeth. The sinner in the battered Cherokee vanished into a packed, growling northbound lane.
A 7:15 AM appointment! Less than twelve hours ago he was released from Western. Dumped before the downtown emergency shelter. Doors locked. No point staying there anyway - bedbugs, fleas, crabs, sodomites; other incubi, succubi. So wandered all night the streets. Unarmed.
He felt a tickle at the pit of his stomach. But, oh, yes; that was the. The÷
He still couldn't believe they had taken possession of the .357. In all the untold years he had been witnessing in towns up and down the Coast, no one had ever removed from his person the Smith & Wesson. His jaw clenched. His teeth gnashed. 0, when he got the piece back!
Around a bend in the sidewalk, into sight hove the clinic. A brick storefront. Formerly a mom and pop. Nextdoor tottered a three-story clapboard quondam union hall. Now a quasi-legal dance club. Across the street the ragged pennants of a used car lot fluttered. Their flap and slap audible even above four lanes of morning rush.
They had no right to confiscate the weapon. Suppose last night he'd been jumped? In this Millennium, it doesn't pay to get Satan behind you; you need Him flat out dead at your feet with his head blown off.
The final intersection he crossed in peace, his pace coinciding with the green.
In his fist the squeaky knob rattled. Avoiding the central pane of cracked glass, he leaned on the splintery frame. The warped door gave. He pushed through into the clinic.
A large Native-American woman in her forties, dressed in an olive drab muumuu, hunched behind a brown metal desk that took up most of the tiny room. She looked up without expression. Glanced back down. Said to the paperwork he had interrupted, "Oh, it's you. Back with us again."
Silently Jesus glared over the top of her head of graying hair, braided down the back. Returning to her scribbling, she grumbled, "You're fifteen minutes late. But the second appointment's a no-show. Chuck'll see you. Go on back. You know the way."
Jesus shuffled in his torn sandals down the dingy hall. He smelled must, dust, rodent droppings; disinfectant from the toilet; body odor from an anonymous seated in some counselor's office across from the toilet. He felt the steam heat pour from an antique radiator the size of a baby camel. He suffered the roaches to come and go, inadvertently crushing a few. God would sort them out. The crunches of their bodies breaking seemed to say the name of his own counselor: Krantzler, Chuck Krantzler.
Something like clouds creating lightning, twin fancies at once took shape, intermingling: The nature of roach hell; Was Krantzler Jewish?
Afloat in a sump of Raid, bugs eternally trapped inside a bright-lit refrigerator crammed with wax fruit, Krantzler at least a sodomite, if not a certifiable Christkiller.
Much as he favored white people, he knew you could never trust one. For any of their number might prove secretly to be of the tribe who had defied the Light.
Not so folk like Melba, the receptionist, who was going to hell because of the dreamcatcher on her desk. She openly worshiped the Snake. But Krantzler, whether saved or damned or suspect, everything about Krantzler was ... suspect.
At the end of the narrow, partitioned hall, his feet guided him left. It had been a good three months - the wilderness, the ministry, the jail, the asylum; but yea, he yet did know the way.
Down another fifteen feet of linoleum, scuffed beyond recognition of its original pattern. Through an archway. Into the day room. The Today Show (volume off) flickered on a ten-inch set angled down from the top of the wall. Nobody there. Too early. Cushions scattered across the floor. Sagging overstuffed chairs. Wrinkled magazines. Here a half-empty can of pop, there a twisted cigarette butt.
He crossed the 500 square-foot back room to the only other door - a slatted swingdoor. He pushed into the cubicle that, in the mom & pop days, had doubtless lodged the meat locker.
Behind a desk slumped a tall, heavyset, ungainly male on the downhill side of thirty-five. White shirt, collar unbuttoned, no tie. A square moustache strove to offset baldness fringed with sandy hair, suggesting the tonsure of a monk. He reeked of Binaca, Sea Breeze and the rapidly-ironed shirt of a divorced man who has spent at the jazz club a long Thursday night lounging over a few drinks, some sour memories; sometimes a hint of feminine sympathy.
Before him stood, as the swingdoor finished flapping shut, a longhaired scrawny specimen wrapped in a tattered Army blanket. Ripe with drug sweat, road dust. Evaporated drool caked a full, scraggly beard. Large glassy brown eyes devoured the waterstained wall immediately behind the mental health professional.
Krantzler sniffed. Guessed at the brand causing the profuse persp: Stelazine? He gazed down at the report atop the papers cluttering his desk. Well... nope: that new one, relative of Ativan. Western nurse's handwriting illegible. Thing unpronounceable anyway.
"Good morning, Mr. Hernandez," he said down at the opened chart. "You're eighteen minutes late."
No response. Flipping casually through the chart, he continued, "No matter. What's eighteen minutes to old friends who haven't seen each other in over six months. Since you voluntarily aborted treatment. A right every consumer of the clinic retains in perpetuity. Pull up that orange plastic chair in the corner, will ya? Or stand, if you must."
The patient seemed to opt for the latter course.
"I'll begin with the usual reminder: A program of regular bathing and personal hygiene is often the first step out of the world of mental illness. Cleanliness is not so much next to Godliness as it is to sanity. OK?"
In silence Jesus suffered the taunt.
The counselor glanced up; back down. "Next item: According to our records, your first brush with the law recently occurred. Resulting ultimately in a holdover at Western State Hospital. Let's see..." he shuffled papers smartly:
"Five days ago you entered a chapel on the Seattle University campus at high noon. Interrupted the service babbling in a loud voice. Urinated in the, uh, ciborium. Ripped a crucifix off the wall. Dashed it to the floor. Then attempted to strip the, uh, sacred, I guess they mean, vestments from the priest presiding over the ceremony in progress.
"You were pulled off Father Benson. Police called. But officers failed to arrive till you had repeatedly broken free and trashed various other paraphernalia of the Mass.
"You were arrested. Booked into the King County Jail on criminal trespass, vandalism, destruction of property, assault, resisting arrest, blah blah blah. You persisted in bizarre and delusional behavior. Possible threat to yourself, threat to others in your cell. In-house M.H.P. summoned. Diagnosed acute decompensation. Non compos mentis. Charges dropped. Transported to Western. Seventy-two hour involuntary commitment. Stabilized with multiple injections of... there's that drag again... Jeez, is that a 't' or a 'p?'"
"Anyway... am I boring you? What we're doing here, Mr. Hernandez, is attempting to elicit some sort of response so as to initiate what we call reality grounding - the cornerstone of any effective treatment. Often in such cases reacquainting the consumer with details of the past few days produces the effect of..."
Jesus felt his jaw stir, lips tremble. Heard himself utter: "I want back my property." First employment of speech since ascent through vein of The Antagonist.
"There!" Krantzler sat back with a smile in his chair. "That's the idea. Now let's discuss expectations for next session. Since you were late, we've only got about five minutes."
Vividly Jesus recalled chasing the money changers from the temple. How they had recoiled - like snakes spitted on pitchforks staked out over the blaze! Not even the centurions had proved able to stop the Word. For he had continued preaching up till the - strapped to a table - needle. When Belial had punctured his concentration's innertube. Smooth-faced Belial with Jezebel bosom beneath a white smock.
But now the Lord again walked free. Save for... "My rod and my staff, they comfort me," he got out through gritted teeth. "Where is my Lord?"
He looked up from scribbling in the narrative section: complete sentences. Absence of incoherence. No trace of word salad. Clear enunciation. But intentionality orientated?
At first he'd scrawled: Consumer verbalizes desire to regain health, referenced as his property."
He frowned. Tapped the tip of his pen on the nail of his left thumb. Now wondered if the consumer were simply responding to internal stimuli. A nicety essential to distinguish at the outset. He paused, needed to devise how best to proceed in order at once to determine the extent of intentionality orientation. The initial rating would have bearing on next session's treatment plan. Concision here would save time later. It was already almost time to start thinking about Jack Bledsoe, the schizo-affective, his next appointment. He wished he'd been a tad more bold making eyes at the brunette last night...
With a superhuman effort, Jesus banished the aftereffects of the hellish shots. Cramped a tingly hand under his robe. Pulled out the wadded paper he had taped to his navel when it was shoved at him during the booking process. Flipped it awkwardly toward Krantzler.
The missile fell short - onto the thick folder of his chart; half-unfolded on its own, while Jesus said, "The receipt. For my rod. Confiscated at the jail. I want it back."
The rest of the way the therapist unwadded the smudged yellow carbon. Thought: Intentionality 100%. Good sign. Meant property up front with Melba. Dent last night by courrier. A guarantee the system had the consumer would show at the clinic after his escapade with the law, formal commitment for observation, enforced drug therapy, then release.
It was nice when the various bureaucracies so neatly meshed. The penal code, the mental health system, the private-run State-funded clinic. Even, he grinned at the irony, the Catholic Church.
"Dost thou mock the Lord thy God?"
He rolled eyes up at the labile consumer. Gave verbal assurance of clinical sincerity - just smiling at a random inner thought; apologized for lapse. Picked up phone. Punched in Melba. Who announced the name of the clinic, put him on hold before he could open his mouth.
Hanging onto the phone, for the moment Hernandez apparently under control, his mind again drifted... through smoky barlight her eyes glittered like tiny tureens of liquid obsidian. Slender fingers kept time to Stanley Turrentine pert nose, high cheekbones. Natalie Wood in profile. Skin white chocolate white. Thin scarlet lipsticked lips...
The spontaneous image diverted blood; ever-so-slightly budged the penis. Christ! a voice barked inside his skull. Professionalism, Krantzler, professionalism!
Nothing to hear on the other end, he concentrated on the matter at hand. Only then did he carefully read the property receipt:
1 handgun. Smith & Wesson .357 revolver. Nickel plated. Walnut grips. Poorly cleaned. Fully loaded.
He shot his eyes up into those of his patient. Squelched a confused halfgrin. Ended the connection with a thumb. Mumbled, "Been a mistake. Need to call another number first."
Pointerfinger got busy with seven keys on the pad. Tucked mouthpiece to lips. Said, "Booking? Get me Officer Hart, M.H.P. Liaison. This is Krantzler, down at Columbia City Mental Health."
Betrayal odor creeped into Our Lord's nose. The stink off Pilate's washbowl. Judas breath. Peter words.
"Did you last night send down an item removed from a Mr. Edmund J. Hernandez...?"
Sadly the Son of Man contemplated across the desk Judas in a Van Heusen. Peter denying all ties. The Roman phony who was no better than any other nitpicking Canaanite.
Over the mouth-piece the moustache wriggled like a gorging caterpillar, as the stoolie hoarsely whispered, "I don't care if it's legally registered. This man suffers chronic... of course I've read the Bill of Rights. And you've read the incident report... Well, no, frankly, I'm not Catholic either. But... sure - the Inquisition, the rape of South America÷"
To kill time, while his fate was decided (the fate Prophets had clearly announced), to keep consciousness in the ballgame (he had neither eaten nor slept in over twenty-four hours, on top of the psychochemical seesaw), Jesus idly counted with his tongue the remaining teeth in his own mouth. Six... seven.. eight! No, nine - back molar in reality two, not one. At thirty-two, he wasn't a pretty Jesus. But the times didn't call for a pretty one.
These were not times to order Peter to put up his sword. This Millennium you no more turned the other cheek than turned your back on a mad dog.
"Of course he didn't commit a crime! Right... like when a dog jaywalks. It's not his fault. He's mentally..." Krantzler looked up, cupped the mouthpiece, said to the consumer: "Mr. Hernandez, would you mind waiting in the day room a moment?"
And so the flagellation would occur outside the view of Pilate. He submitted. Straggled off, escorted by ethereal thugs. The whipping would imbue strength; strength to take charge. To charge the walls, to crash whatever barriers needed breaking in order the rod to reclaim.
He came to a halt directly under the television in a corner of the "courtyard." Dropped the robe to his waist. Curved his spine under expectation of the lash.
Watched by no one, the mute screen furiously sold Coke.
"I was raised Lutheran. Now I'm Unitarian, if it's any business of yours. We don't hafta get angry. We're interfacing here to keep the streets safe while at the same time safeguard the rights of the individual ... you want this nut armed? Can't you check a different box ... ? So lose the original... I'll ship the revolver back... Take it home yourself. Share it with your NRA buddies ... "
Through the swingdoor barged Melba. Onto the desk dumped a large padded envelope. "Edmund Hernandez is in the day room kneeling at prayer. You taking care of him, or still hiding in here with a hangover?"
"Excuse me a sec, Hart," Krantzler snapped a hand over the phone.
"Your extension lit up a minute ago," she continued in her husky voice. "I put you on hold. Busy referring a patient to suicide prevention. Figured you wanted this. Came in last night. Belongs to him."
"I'm discussing a case in private. I'll have to ask you to..."
"Sure." She turned like an old battleship still the best in any fight. "Just make sure you take care of Edmund Hernandez. Leave him alone too long he starts screaming. He disturbs others, we hafta call 911: I'll see you get written up. Again."
She cruised out of the overheated cubbyhole, jostling the framed MSW and Masters In Psychology tacked beside the door, growling without looking back, "Jack Bledsoe's up in reception. He's on time. Been waiting twelve minutes. Starting to pace around; mumble and curse to himself."
Krantzler uncovered the mouthpiece, "Look," he eyed - inches below his chin - the chickenscratched, formpacked chart, "I just got reminded this is a business, not a charity. I gotta go." The swingdoor fwapped; Melba's heavy steps faded across the creaky floor. "Yeah, that fatass Indian... that fatassed bi... that weight-challenged Native-American PMS victim... Sure, you and her get along fine. That's cause you're a crazy Jew bastard!" He crashed down the phone. Swung back in his chair. Threw his head up at the ceiling. Bawled, "Hernandez! Get in here, PLEASE!"
The Madonna, the mystery woman, the Mata Hari (not picked up) stabbed an alabaster finger through the pupil into the pit of his skull. Why had he said that? Now maybe Hart would write him up.
Fully wrapped again in his fetid Army blanket the filthy little man returned. Glared at some object of wrath a thousand yards through the wall behind Krantzler's head.
"Take your property off the desk. I also want you to take Haldol. Ten milligrams a day - usual prescription. Have them get phone approval from Dr. Greene's office, our regular psychiatric liaison. Use your medicaid coupon. Pharmacy'll bill the State."
This time Pilate had satisfied the Jews with the scourging merely. Judas had not taken the money. Peter had taken the Fifth. He skated a glance over the triple monster. Judas-Pilate-Peter. Three heads sprouted from the identical neck thrust from a crookedly-buttoned, ill-ironed white shirt. He snatched the envelope bulged with the familiar weight.
"On the way out the receptionist will hand you a starter dose. All Federal Government regulations allow us to dispense. This will complete the stabilization begun manditorily at the Institution. Expect to see you Tuesday, Mr. Hernandez. Have Melba set up an appointment. Hopefully then we can discuss issues of comportment in public places. Keep that thing in the envelope till you get out on the street, 'K?"
The idolatress had swiveled around. Kept her back to the hall; squatting over the clinic's computer, inputting data like a spider wrapping up freshcaught prey.
Noiselessly Jesus glided past the reception desk. A fly narrowly avoiding the web. And it came to pass some poor devil pushed open the door and Jesus slipped through, as Melba wheeled around to behold the next consumer; Jesus nowhere, disappeared behind the closing door out onto the street.
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GALLERY || LETTERS || POESY || REVIEWS || SERIALS || STAGE & SCREEN
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