Paper Jesus and the Devil Visit the Youth Home

He and the Devil walk into the small, silver kitchen of the facility’s cafeteria. One of the blind orphans they’re there to visit is at a stove stirring something in a red enamel pot with a big wooden spoon.

“I’m making tacos, Pastor!” he happily says to the upper cabinets.  

“HE THINKS HE'S MAKING TACOS!” the blind kid’s blind twin brother says too loudly. He sits with his fists on top of a long chrome table. “HE'S JUST THROWING WHATEVER-THE-SHIT INTO IT! I'D ADVISE AGAINST PARTAKING, YO!”

“Chili,” the first one says to the cabinets, “I mean to say I’m making chili.”

The one blind twin is trying for Eagle Scout. Amen. He’s been in the news. Amen. Paper Jesus feels the familiar shiver that comes when he’s around the disabled who are uninhibited. The Devil is uneasy, too. He takes a dinger of dip from a pouch he keeps in his coat pocket.

Yeah amen, man. Yeah.

The Devil is a line cook at Bob Evans. Paper Jesus lets him do the talking. That morning Jesus had an uneasy dream about being married to Emily Dickinson, and it’s made him quiet. She’d had gray in her hair like his real wife does now, a few white strands in the bristles of a brown hairbrush. There’d been a hunting dog in a parlor, lying on a floor, its lank tail moving, its skin slack as Bernini bedsheets. His wife was riding an exercise bike in her robe, leaning forward on it like her children had forgotten their lunch and she had to pedal after them.    

Angie Dickinson?” the Devil had asked.

At 58, Paper Jesus’ status is day to day. He’s out of shape. He gets winded when he bends over to pull at crabgrass. He’s bored with teaching, tired of students. He’s of two minds about pastoring: (i) stay faithful, (ii) you’re a fraud.

He misses his children when they were children. He can’t shake it. He wonders how he’ll ever trust the next life when he can hardly bear the heartache of separation in this one.

“You have a great life,” his wife cheers him. “What about the beautiful family God gave you?”

Paper Jesus agrees.

What he really thinks: God nothing. I did that.

Bird Report

Blue jays. Early evening. Flying into the top of the same hackberry. Quietly. One and then another. And then another. None of their usual raucousness. The losing team ducking into their bus.