Jesus in His Twenties (II)

Long-time readers will remember “Jesus in His Twenties,” a cryptic, surreal little bildungsroman about a millennial Jesus Christ growing up alongside a handful of philosophical, metaphysical housemates. I added a few extra chapters onto the story in early 2016, hopefully arriving at a semi-conclusion, but never got around to posting it here. It is, without a doubt, a bit rough around the edges (my God, I sure was a devotee of the semi-colon), but I hope you enjoy.

THE DEATH OF THE UNIVERSE

“Want a pop?” the Death of the Universe asks, rising from the armchair. “I’m gonna go to the kitchen real quick.”

Jesus looks up from the lease, signed moments ago, and nods gratefully. It is the hottest summer on record. Even in his new landlady’s cool, umbral flat the inside of his collared shirt is beaded with sweat.

“Oh my gosh. Yeah.” He exclaims, realizing too late, how childlike he sounds. He runs a hand through his hair, embarrassed. “That’d be great. Thanks, Dee.”

She smiles and leaves the room. Almost instantly, the exact moment she is gone, the laws of physics change. The sofa cushions dissolve underneath him, and he drops, stunned, flat onto the floorboards. Parts of his body fall off him—one leg, from heel to knee, an arm, fingertips trembling—and then reattach, like magnets. The television set begins to ascend with all the self-assurance of a cloud moving through muggy air. Jesus gets up, panicked, and busts his lip on the coffee table. His mouth rapidly fills with blood.

He is submerged in the disorienting but familiar sensation of being attached to an emotional state, but now it is a million times more physical, dragging him down as though he were tethered to it. The world shifts underneath him, precariously, fatalistically. Objects in the room disappear one by one. The potted ferns, the glass-paneled doors leading to the small balcony, the shadow produced by his own body. He looks to the heavens to find the ceiling, roof, and walls gone. Distance thins to nothing. Next door, the neighbor, sleeves rolled up, is hanging up her laundry. Three hundred miles away, rain is beginning to fall over the center of the Atlantic Ocean. He’s dizzy, but impossibly lucid too, as though understanding the size of the universe for the first time.

Dee returns, a can of Coca-Cola under each of her arms, and closes the door with the inside of her foot. She laughs out loud at Jesus, the bewildered expression on his face as he lies on the floor, clutching the leg of the table, and, in that instant, all is right again.

“Sometimes the world isn’t quite real when I’m not around,” she says, a bit apologetically. She gets down on her haunches so that she is level with him and hands him the can. “Life only makes sense when death exists.”

However shaken he is he has to smile at a statement like that, the contrasts embedded in it; how it is so hard to take but so casually said.

Dee pops the tab on the Coke and takes a swig. He lifts himself up so that he’s leaning against the sofa, where she now sits, elbows on her knees. She looks at him with her dark eyes so like those of his childhood angels and reaches over to pat his head with an unpracticed but unfeigned gentleness. The image of the Archangel Gabriel suddenly comes to him: how God’s main angel would pick him up from school in beat-up sneakers and a jacket of ochre leather, and ruffle his hair with the same sort of hesitant tenderness. Like Gabo, little about Dee explicitly suggests the supernatural, but despite her human form there’s something illusory, dark, in her shape, like she is a landscape in a woman’s body, a pyramid in the desert, buried, hidden in plain sight.

SOUL

He explores the neighborhood around the house. The eggshell-colored camellias, the yellow clouds at sunset, the warning bell of the freight train, coming from somewhere in the opaque distance — these sights, sounds, enter and exit his consciousness and invite a breed of emotion, halfway between tenderness and discomposure, into his heart. It’s the kind of feeling he wouldn’t know how to describe but it is never far from his mind, and he revisits it constantly, as though it were a memory of love, or a memory of fear.

Soul, who lives in the room across from his own, accompanies him, sometimes, on evening walks. The first few times he notices her following him, not at a distance but at his side, as normally as if they were close friends, he thinks perhaps she is an angel, which he sees so often in the glowing, red-toned midsummer. But then he spots her in the communal kitchen, scrolling on a smartphone and eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and he realizes his mistake. It is an easy one to have made: Though Soul looks like a young woman, the same age as he, perhaps, she is a touch too transparent to be human. In the right light, and at the right angle, she disappears from view entirely, an illusion in visual continuity. But this doesn’t bother Jesus. From birth he has believed nothing can stay forever, and he finds comfort in impermanence that confirms distrust in the immaterialness of his world.

Soul likes to carry around a small, outdated digital camera; her taste in photography is what she self-deprecatingly calls “sepia-tone Instagram tacky,” meaning dimly-lit, impersonal images of the flowers, the bicycles chained to lampposts, and Jesus’ dark ponytail, which she sometimes tugs on to get his attention. Her expression, when he turns to face her, is immobile but her touch is gentle, and unassuming, and it conjures up in him a powerful remembrance he can’t quite name.

Once, he shyly suggests they get a passerby to take their picture together. Immediately, Soul shakes her head. She doesn’t tell him, but she was told once that photographs steal souls and she’s never been able to shake that fear. Usually the directness, the finality, of this refusal would disconcert him — Jesus has always been more sensitive than he would like to admit — but around Soul the possibility of being hurt, of feeling painfully, somehow seems to have been removed, wholesale, from the pressures of emotion. Life is simpler, more mechanistic, with her, and easier to bear. Is this what a relationship between nonhumans looks like? Is this, he wonders, how the Earth and moon think of each other?

DAWN AND DUSK

Ox returns one rainy night. She drops her suitcases down and immediately gets to work repairing everything that is broken in the apartment block. Sleeves rolled up to elbows, she fixes the A/C on the third floor, and then moves onto the washing machine, the flickering light bulb over the entrance, and the kitchen sink, clogged with grease for three weeks. Jesus wakes to the sound of her off-key singing and he lays awake in the cool violet light of very early morning, listening to her. He feels renewed, like his heart is traveling, and he forgets his exhaustion.

Her brother, Pike, returns that morning. Unlike Ox, he brings nothing with him but the clothes he wears: a navy cable-knit sweater, gray slacks, and rubber flip-flops embossed with the name of a seaside hotel on the Mexican coast. He finds Ox immediately, sitting on the kitchen floor. She winks at him, and then reaches up to briefly, but meaningfully, squeeze his hand, before her attention returns to the plumbing. This is the first time she has seen him in eight months.

Jesus meets them at breakfast. Neither of them are particularly impressed by his introduction of himself as the son of God.

“So what?” says Pike, not maliciously, but not kindly either. He sits on the counter, ankles crossed, a toolbox in his lap, as Ox combs through the pipes under the sink. His eyes, dispassionate, and yellow as sand dunes, survey Jesus, from top to bottom, in one long look.

Despite himself, Jesus bristles. He’s ashamed by what he wants to say but he says it anyway. “Well, who are you then?”

Before Pike can respond Ox takes the handle of a screwdriver out of her mouth and smiles big. “Does it matter?”
(Dee tells him later that they are the dusk and the dawn, second-gen twins descended from a long line of famous meteorological phenomena.)

After dinner that night, the five of them around Dee’s coffee table, Ox tells them about their maternal grandfather, El Niño, shooting through oceans with languid regularity, and his romance with the Atlantic hurricane. Ox stands up, gesticulates, walking around while she talks, resurrecting scenes from her prodigal memory with her physicality, her presence that fills the room like smoke into a vessel. She can make Dee laugh out loud (a true rarity). Even Soul pays rapt attention.

But it is Pike that Jesus finds himself looking at most often: his aromatic limbs and hands, his almond-eyed presence that is honey and amber, the clarity, permeability of his expressions, which are unambiguous and unconcealed, and tempered by his silence like iron submerged in saltwater. For Jesus, who has always thought himself incapable of romantic love, this new, sudden interest is a revelation, as well as a source of terror.

Pike is aware of the attention, and bothered, in a vague way, by it. He doesn’t like Jesus, he’s decided, or how his hands twist in his lap, when he’s sighing and fidgeting and has his head tipped back, looking at him, at Pike, his brow furrowed like he’s undoing the Gordian knot. When he can’t take the self-consciousness anymore, he leans over Soul, seated between them on the couch, and meets Jesus’ stare.

“Keep your eyes to yourself, son of God,” he whispers, heatedly, but quietly enough that it’s a private exchange. Jesus is so surprised he forgets to be embarrassed and smiles foolishly, brightly. In front of them, Ox is pacing, hands held in front of her, palms upturned, saying: “He loved her so much, the year she left there was no wind over the ocean.”
Pike turns away quickly; outside, the setting sun flickers imperceptibly.

JUDAS ISCARIOT

“The Internet, actually.” Jesus says, when Soul asks how he found Dee’s place. The rent listing for her apartment building had been on Craigslist, of all places. SINGLE ROOM AVAILABLE IN SHARED BLOCK. 554 ZENITH II. Even through the cellphone screen he had immediately perceived the rare mood of the place, its misty, mossy aura like a forested afternoon. He remembers clicking through the added images, imagining himself there: in the communal kitchen, with its linoleum surfaces made to resemble marble, in the living room, watering the potted ferns.

“The Internet,” Soul repeats in a thoughtful voice.

“Soul here loves the Internet. She’s a recent social media cult convert,” Ox says. “Don’t you have something like two hundred followers on Twitter?”

“Four thousand,” Soul says. “You should follow me,” she tells Jesus solemnly.

“You really should,” Pike says from the couch, where he’s flipping through pages of a newspaper called The Celestial Weekly (Its thin silver and lilac pages flicker like holograms.) “It’s good.”

Soul makes a small face that Jesus now recognizes as her version of an expression of genuine contentment: one slow blink and pursed, slightly upturned lips, the apples of her cheeks reddening briefly.

“That’s high praise from you,” Ox says. “I thought you swore off social media entirely?”

“Well. I was in need of something to read.” He pauses. “While I was traveling.”

Jesus stares at Pike, who continues to look idly through the newspaper as though no significant disclosure has just been made. He’s never heard Pike mention his travels (or, as Soul tactfully put it when Jesus asked, “Pike’s half-year mental breakdown”) before.

If Ox is as surprised as he, she does not show it. But her the line of her shoulders stiffens just a fraction, and in the Indian Ocean, the first few seafoam-crowned threads of a tropical depression knot together, disfiguring the surface of the water.

“Where did you go?” Jesus asks, trying, desperately, but unsuccessfully, to keep the interest from his voice. “When you were traveling, I mean.”

“Top-secret.” Pike says glibly. A more perceptive man than Jesus would notice the unnaturally low, measured tone and drop the subject. But judiciousness doesn’t come naturally to him, not yet. In a previous life this was a lesson learnt only through crucifixion.

“Oh, come on.” Jesus says. “What do you have to hide?”

“None of your business, son of God,” Pike says, a little too quickly, and the mask of coolness slips. The rough edge to his voice is obvious now, something haughty and pained that refuses to cave.

Jesus is immediately contrite. “I’m sorry,” he says plaintively. “I didn’t mean to pry.”

Pike says nothing in reply, and turns his eyes away from him, but Jesus doesn’t feel like he’s been forgiven at all. He is caught in the thorns of Pike’s neutral, but slightly unbalanced expression, which commands instant attention, and total deference, like the first snow, or a tiger moving through abyssal, verdigris blossoms. The nudity, the captivity, of an emotion scarring the skin, eyes, lips, from brow to throat. He wishes he could apologize again, or, better yet, make him laugh; but Pike’s indifference feels as inalterable as the weather. How can it be that a face, Jesus thinks anxiously, can be both close enough to touch and as distant as Eden?

Ox takes The Celestial Weekly from Pike’s unmoving hands, rolls it up and raps him gently on the head with it.
“Earth to Pike,” she says playfully, and her brother blinks and looks up at her with a fondness so open it makes Jesus ache. It’s an ache older than original sin, and it reminds him that he might go his whole life without anyone looking at him like that. Jesus looks away, as fear breaks into bloom.

ARE YOU MY ANGEL

The Death of the Universe helps Jesus with his groceries on Saturday afternoons. He doesn’t own a car or know how to drive one, so she takes him in her aquamarine Ford Fiesta to the grocery store, where he loads up on celery sticks and microwaveable macaroni and cheese. He always gets M&Ms too, the extra-chocolate kind which he knows are Dee’s favorite, and which he shares with her on the way home.

From the Death of the Universe he has learned a whole host of lifestyle tips, in subject matters that range from the quotidian to the arcane. Jesus writes these down diligently in his journal, which originally contained recollections of dreams but now is the vessel of comments such as “Dee says to rein in unnecessary spending by keeping a record of purchases” or “Dee says the area immediately adjacent to the Cascadia fault will be the site of a magnitude 8 earthquake on a full moon night.” He has also picked up the words to “A Supermarket in California” which Dee recites, impeccably and with rare gusto, as she pushes the cart along the white-tiled aisles.

“What peaches and what penumbras!” she says, as they wait in the “12 items or less” queue, unconcerned by the way shoppers in front of them turn and stare.

Jesus tries to remember what is next but comes up empty, so instead he exclaims “Who killed the pork chops?” and they both laugh.

On the drive back, Dee takes the coastal road. Soft skeins of rain envelop the car. Jesus rolls down the window an inch, just enough for the fragrant seaside air to enter. The smell of salt permeates the farthest reaches of his body.

There’s always a hypnotic, prayer-like quality to Dee’s steady driving, but it is magnified in the rain, knotted into sensual, audiovisual elements: the perpetual, rhythmic oscillations of the windshield wipers, the voices on the radio, muzzled by static, the faint outlines of the objects outside the car, nearly invisible in the weather. An instance of quasi-unreal isolation from ordinary life, Jesus thinks, that exists, perhaps, in the marginal area between Earth and Heaven.

Through it all there is a single constant, anchoring him firmly to the present: Dee’s hand on the steering wheel hovering in the periphery of Jesus’s vision. Her physical presence gives his world an additional dimension that is unknown but not unrecognizable, a little like the concept of death itself. But despite what she represents, he never feels safer than with her. Jesus is reminded, once again, of her similarity to the Archangel Gabriel, and tells her so.

“Ah,” she says gently, smiling. “A good guy.”

“You know him?”

“I’m friends with all angels.” She chuckles. “Better to have them on your side than otherwise, you know?”

She continues: “Don’t tell the rest of them, but Gabo’s always been my favorite.”

“Really? Why?”

She ponders this for a few moments, her fingers on the dashboard tapping along to a moody, layered R&B ballad.

“When you’re in my line of business, you’re mostly concerned with things like entropy, and matter, and the expansion of space. Light-absorbing particles in black holes. The end of time. The meaning of time. That kind of thing. So mankind, which amounts to you know, a collection of inelegantly packaged carbon and nitrogen molecules, is just, the most absolutely minimal blip on the radar.”

Jesus pretends he isn’t the tiniest bit hurt by this.

“But Gabo…he’s been enamored of humanity for as long as I’ve known him. It makes him interesting. He’s always electing to be reborn into human lives.”

“Like you, then?”

She looks at him, confused by the question.

“No, I’ve never been reborn, of course. I’ve always been around. Ever since the very beginning.”

“The beginning?” Jesus thinks of the honeyed jungles of Paradise.

“The singularity. Sometime before atoms began to form, thirteen or so billion years ago. If there was anything before that, I have no recollection of it.”

Jesus shifts in the diamond-patterned velour front seat, head lolling against his shoulder. “I don’t remember anything from before my current life either. At least, nothing concrete. Gabo used to tell me things, and I thought that maybe they were familiar, but they’re not really.”

He looks down at his hands, then lifts them up so they are gilded in the passing headlights. He tries to imagine, not for the first time, the nail, that pain, but there’s nothing marking him.

“None of those memories are mine.”

The bitterness in his voice is not lost on Dee. She shakes her head. “Christ already had his moment in the sun. Gabo means well, but you’re not him. You don’t have to be him.”

Jesus bites his lip. He can’t be sure if she knows, but in a single motion she’s located the most ancient, and tender, of his insecurities. He trains his gaze on the movements of the scenery outside the Plexiglass window: the surface of the sea trembles underneath the continued rain.

OUR LADY OF SORROWS

Ox and Pike don’t fight often but when they do it produces a shift in local air pressure so profound that for eight hours a tropical rainstorm thunders around the apartment block. The first few times it happens Jesus returns from an afternoon of job hunting to find his boxers and novelty t-shirts soaking wet; he is forced to spend the remainder of his evening in his only suit, drying his clothes with a hair dryer. Eventually he learns Soul is more prescient than he is in this and other matters, and wakes up early when she does, before the gray midnight flowers into dawn, to take down the laundry drying on the balcony.

As autumn progresses, it only gets worse: The effect of the short days transforms Ox’s blunt, vigorous personality into an invasive one, incompatible with Pike’s high-strung evasiveness. They love one another, Jesus knows, but compassion has its limits. On one particularly terrible occasion Ox’s exasperation reaches its emotional apex and she yells “You’re better than this, aren’t you?”—Jesus can’t imagine what she means by this—and Pike kicks her out of his room.

Jesus waits until the worst of the rain has passed before delicately making his way through the exterior hallway that connects the apartments, towards Pike’s door. He knocks two times, holding tightly onto the doorframe against the wind, and, upon hearing nothing, tries the knob. It’s open.

It takes a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the dim light. The room is messier than Pike’s ultra-controlled demeanor would suggest; Jesus thinks, with a not insignificant degree of awe, that is might be nearly as messy as his own bedroom. It’s like the garden of a long-dead emperor: lovingly curated, once, but now overrun. The curtains are drawn, limned in occasional flashes of lightning. Pike is sitting on the floor, legs folded underneath him. Overlapping sheets of wet watercolor paper are assembled in a ring like petals around him, and he sits in the center as though residing in a blossom, or as if his whole body had a halo.

“Sorry,” Jesus says, his hand on the door. He thinks he must look like a madman: encircled in the residual marine blue glow of the storm, the streetlamps shuddering behind him, his hair escaped from its ponytail and framing his face and nape in darkness.  “I really didn’t mean to intrude. I can go, if you want.”

“It’s fine,” Pike says wearily. “Come in.”

Jesus closes the door, muffling the sound of the rain. He sits on the outside perimeter of the circle, hands clasped neatly in his lap like a child. He wants so badly to ask what Pike’s doing but he contains himself. His mind returns to the mood of Dee’s car: the soft silence imbued with the sacred.

Pike moves his fingertips over the saturated surface, and the water begins to change color, from transparent, blue-tinged to brilliantly opaque: oily reds, and oranges, royal, milky purple. Pike’s brow furrows; forms and layers take soft shape, tangling together into a blend of clouded satin.

“Woah,” Jesus breathes. “It’s a sunset. How are you doing that?”

“It’s the same basic principle as the water particles in the dusk sky,” Pike says. After a moment’s pause he beckons to Jesus. “Here.”

Pike takes Jesus’s hand, four fingers against the palm and the thumb over his knuckles—Jesus trembles visibly, at the contact—and swipes it over the paper.  “Breathe in, son of God,” Pike whispers.

Does time stop? Does the world come into an end? Jesus can’t say for sure: every one of his senses is submerged in the sensation of Pike’s hand on his, channeling a breed of warmth so strong it approaches bodily pain. It slices cleanly through his flesh, a wound with no blood, and pours onto the floor in a blur of rose and slate.

“Dee’s not the only one who can manipulate reality,” Pike continues. His voice sounds a little calmer now. “Of course, this is nothing compared to what she can do. It’s just a small thing.”

“I think you should talk to your sister,” Jesus says, abruptly. He’s been practicing the line since he was at the door but he’s surprised at himself, at how emboldened their closeness has made him feel. “She says stuff she shouldn’t, maybe. But she really cares about you.”

“I know. I know that.”

“She’s like a mom.” Jesus says.

Pike rolls his eyes but doesn’t contest the assessment.

“I didn’t really have a mom, growing up.” Jesus doesn’t know why he’s suddenly talking about himself, but it feels right, somehow. “I moved in and out of foster homes, mainly. Gabo–I mean, the Archangel Gabriel–took care of me. Most of the time. But I still think about it all the time.”

“Think about what?”

“Talking to my mom. Wherever she is. If she’s even still like, alive. I don’t know. It’s stupid. I have a lot of pretend conversations with her.”

Pike sighs. “Why are you here? Why are you telling me this?”

It’s a gentle question. He’s still holding onto Jesus’s hand, though he doesn’t seem fully aware of it.

A fragile negotiation: deciding how much, or how little, to disclose. The weakest, and most courageous, thing two people can do. Safety exchanged for trust. Vulnerability exchanged for intimacy. Jesus hesitates; he could shrug, and Pike would accept that, and let it go, maybe forever.

“I don’t think you should ever be unhappy.” Jesus says finally. “Not if you can fix it. Not if the only thing between you and happiness is just a choice that you can make.”

It’s not quite what he wanted to say—it’s a cliché, banal, he thinks, punishing himself already—but it feels close enough. Pike lets go of Jesus’s hand and gets up. At the door, he pauses and looks back at him fiercely. He looks like he might say something. He doesn’t.

The imprint of Pike’s thumb remains on Jesus’s hand for days afterwards: a reddish fingerprint like blood.

MOVIE NIGHT

This week it is Ox’s turn to pick the movie. They are crowded around the monitor of Dee’s IBM desktop, waiting as the machine boots up. Soul, the Messiah, and the sunshine twins are arranged atop Dee’s chevron-patterned duvet. The Death of the Universe sits on a wicker chair dragged in from the dining room, her cheek resting against her knuckles, humming a melody Jesus is certain he recalls but cannot name. The windows blinds filter in the encroaching nighttime, bracketing their bodies in symmetrical, gold-violet bars of light.

Jesus can hear Pike, at his side, laughing into his hand as Ox tells a joke. Jesus fidgets; he crosses his arms over his chest, and then uncrosses them, eyes darting. He’s been trying to muster the courage to start a conversation for the better part of the past five minutes but piercing the environment now strikes him as unimaginable.

They’re not like him, these major and minor idols; he is mismatched here, beside their equipoise, their shared, heavy-lidded looks, their broad and weighty futures. He balls his hands into fists in his lap and is suddenly overrun with the guileless need to feel worthy. The desire lies like a foot of water over the surface of his mind.

Pike’s fingertips dust over his elbow, lifting his from the reverie. He tilts his head slightly and flashes him a questioning thumbs-up, to which Jesus offers a hesitant answering nod. It’s a small gesture, but it feels like the blood rushing back into Jesus’s body: to be noticed, he realizes, is another way to return to the present, and to close the distance between the heart and the soul.

Ox inserts a thumb drive into the booted IBM with her selection pre-downloaded onto it. The DVD menu pops up: Rodger and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. Jesus half-expects a derisive noise from Pike, who judging from previous weeks prefers science fiction, but he is surprisingly agreeable.

“A classic,” he says. “Nice.”

“I’ve never seen it,” Jesus admits.

“Really?” The twins say in unison.

Ox sings along, in her unabashed contralto, to every song.

“Jesus reminds me of Maria,” Pike says, at one point, to no one in particular.

Jesus smiles politely, but he is privately thrilled. He memorizes all of Maria’s lines and hums them under his breath during his walks with Soul. She is not amused and tries to make that clear to Jesus by pointedly narrowing her eyes at him, to no effect. (Testily, she posts on her Twitter feed, eve_1050: Musicals will be mankind’s downfall.)

DUAL NATURE OF LIGHT

Like the original Jesus, but unlike the current Jesus, Ox is skilled in home repair, specifically carpentry, and makes her living as the local handywoman. In the early hours of the morning, Jesus opens his window and watches her ascend a ladder, with the solid dignity of an ascetic, propped up against the apartment block’s outer wall. She likes to work on the red-orange tiled roofs as the sun rises, she’s told him, and often remains there throughout the day; sometimes, on walks with Soul, Jesus will tilt his head back and spot, from the street level, Ox’s figure high above, surrounded by crows.

The birds perched on the rows of tiles don’t seem disturbed by Ox’s presence; in fact, they are oddly deferential to her, pecking obediently at the bits of sandwich that she offers them. Jesus is always a little disappointed by the way they take to the air as soon as he calls out Ox’s name.

“How’d you sleep, son of God?” Ox yells out, her voice carrying, somehow, into the room as clearly as if she were by his side. She sounds like something universal, whole, historic, like the voice he might imagine a mountain having.

“Okay,” Jesus says, chewing on a nail.

“Just okay?” she asks. Ox is the type to follow up on remarks; she never lets anxiety linger in the air uncontested.

“I had a dream,” he says, voice dropping lower and lower, “that someone—I couldn’t tell who—was performing surgery on me. Cutting my brain into pieces so it looked like a flower.”

“Hm,” Ox murmurs. “Unsettling.”

“Do you ever have dreams like that?”

“Not really. I don’t really dream. When I do, it’s more like—prophetic announcements than abstract scenes, I guess.”

“What do you mean, ‘prophetic announcements’?”

“Pike and I see the future in dreams,” she says, nonplussed. “Not much. Nothing like Cassandra—she used to live in your room, a few years ago, totally the weirdest girl ever—we just get them every so often. Comes with the trade.”
Jesus leans back onto his bed, the mattress dipping underneath his body. He feels a familiar weight collapse onto him. Dee is 13.82 billion years old, Soul has the hidden grace and spirituality of a young god, and the twins can see into space and time. Meanwhile Jesus is unemployed, scraping together savings each month. He’s been looking for entry-level work diligently but if he is honest the efforts have been disinterested and mechanical. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be doing. The star of Nazareth: What good has it done him?

“Jesus?” Ox calls out, after a minute has passed.

“Yeah?” he says, not entirely able to hide the sadness from his voice.

She climbs halfway down the ladder, peeks into his window and unceremoniously climbs into his room. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he mutters, his face spilling with warmth from temple to collar. He pulls his knees to his chest, and buries his head in the cradle of his arms. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” He doesn’t know to whom he’s speaking, when he says this—is it directed at her or him?

“Jesus, buddy, you can tell me.”

He hiccups. “I guess, I don’t know—I just feel like a loser.”

Ox is quiet for a moment. Then, she says: “You know, I didn’t get a chance to thank you.”

“Thank me for what?”

“Pike told me what you said. That he shouldn’t be unhappy. It seemed so uncharacteristic of him, and I asked him where he’d heard something like that and he looked all abashed and said, ‘Jesus told me, and I believe him.’”
She smiles. “I think that’s a kind of power that you have. You say things, and people believe you.”

“Why?” Jesus asks.

“I don’t know,” she says honestly. “But it’s true.”

She reaches over to ruffle his hair with one calloused hand; her touch, Jesus thinks, smiling, feels like tropical weather.

EPHEMERA FROM THE CELESTIAL WEEKLY

This week’s best Twitter updates from our favorite online persona

eve_1050: Saw Cthulhu in the McDonald’s on Main
eve_1050: For those interested, he ordered the 20-pc chicken nugget
eve_1050: Does anyone know a decent exorcist?? Asking 4 a friend
eve_1050: Will suffering ever end lol

An advice column by The Death of the Universe

            Dear Death of the Universe,
I’ve been in a relationship for a while, and I thought it was going well, at first. But now I’m not so sure. I don’t recognize who I am when I’m with this person. Was I just in the honeymoon period before? Are we fundamentally incompatible? Did I throw myself into the arms of the first person who came my way? I like the security of being committed to someone else, and I have good memories, but this doesn’t make me happy anymore. What do I do? Should I stay, even if I’m not happy, even if leaving would be a risk?
Sincerely, Haunted by Possibility

            Dear Haunted,
Around four billion years ago, I witnessed the first rains on Earth. You’re probably not familiar with the planet—few are—but it’s located in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way, which is itself contained within the Virgo Supercluster. Those are H. sapiens terms, though, which are admittedly obtuse. (The species has a bit to go before they understand their place in the universe.) I normally point individuals in Earth’s general direction by telling them to take a left at the Cosmic Supervoid and head straight until the quasar grouping, then to just keep going for another ten billion light years until they hit this oddly squashed, mostly aquatic, fairly unattractive cosmological lump. That’s Earth.

But I digress. Back to the story I was telling. Four billion years ago I had just arrived to Earth. There was no water, no life, and the atmosphere was a blend of methane and ammonia so thick it looked like smog. Unfiltered sunlight striking the dark air. Volcanic explosions every which way. The First Law of Thermodynamics and I were there—just wasting time.

Then Thermo made this surprised noise—a sharp intake of breath—and pointed upwards. (The only permutations I feel or induce relate directly to the aging and eventual death of spacetime but Thermo’s a joy to travel with because she can discern shifts in energy as they occur.) As soon as she looked up, these pockets of water vapor in the air suddenly condensed enough to form droplets, and it slowly began to rain liquid water from the atmosphere. It didn’t stop raining for the next fifty million years.

I found it to be charmingly frivolous at the time, but now that I remember it, it was like being in a dream. The two of us in the warm, milky water, and the planet filling its oceans, and everything knew a kind of magical, gentle, total peace.

I don’t know that I would recommend visiting Earth now. It might not be great for your heart, if you’re a sensitive soul. I myself will probably have to relocate in a few hundred thousand years. It still rains here, and it distracts me, sometimes, from everything else that’s going on—but it’s not enough.

Maybe I’ve gotten sentimental with age. Who knows. I do love it here, and I love how much this world has changed, and how it is peopled, now, with creatures that confound me in pleasantly surprising ways. But there’s a level of destructiveness, and self-sabotage here that began with the volcanoes of billions of years ago and has reincarnated into the humans themselves. I think this will undo me, if I stay.

Haunted—If you want to leave, that is your decision to make. Sometimes, if you want to save yourself, you have to do the dishonorable thing. Sometimes love is not the important thing. Sometimes love is not close to being enough.

Sincerely,

The Death of the Universe

BODHISATTVA

Pike’s shift at the Godzilla, the small bar he works weeknights, starts at eight in the evening and ends four hours before sunrise. Occasionally Jesus is invited to tag along, and he spends the evening chatting with the regulars and watching the 24-hour news on the mounted television. The world is an ugly place, Jesus thinks, as the anchorwoman signals to an on-screen videotaping of a desert bombing. But he turns and catches Pike watching him, the expression on his face nebulous and impenetrable, and the thought fades into nothingness.

When work is over they walk through empty streets, as close as they can be to one another without touching. Snowbanks are stacked onto the sides of the road. Pike has his hands in his pockets, and his eyes are on the translucent clouds, visible as texture in the plummy nighttime air. Jesus finds that that semi-darkness disguises the agitation of his heart, and it is easier to be truthful, or at least uninhibited.

“It’s like,” he says, “I don’t know what I’m good at? Or if I’m even good at anything?”

“You’re certainly good at being self-deprecating,” Pike remarks dryly.

“But you know what I mean.” Jesus insists. “Right?”

Pike’s eyes move from the dark clouds to Jesus’s face. “I do,” he admits, with a low, purposeful intensity that rings as clear as the fragrance in saltwater, in blood.

Jesus is intensely conscious, as always, of the movements, positioning, and conditions of Pike’s body: Pike’s shirtsleeves, the fabric swaying at his side like breezeless ocean waves, the ribbed rosiness on his jawline where he nicked himself with the shaving razor. The olive green-veined depressions of his throat, undulating with the rise and fall of his breath. His voice softening as his energy ebbs.

But this inventory of observations is not braced by the sting of unrequited attachment anymore; Jesus’s love has matured into something that is companionable, comfortable, and that asks for nothing. This, he thinks, is the difference between being chained to an emotion and being anchored to it.

“I’ve been thinking,” Jesus starts.

“A dangerous activity, for you.”

Jesus snorts and pushes Pike’s shoulder in playful retaliation. Pike’s answering smile is surprisingly shy and Jesus’s pulse quickens.

“I wonder what I could have done differently? I wonder if I could have avoided living this kind of life?”

“What do you mean, ‘this kind of life’?” Pike asks.

“ I mean—a life where I feel like maybe I made a mistake somewhere, and now I’m stuck on this path that’s not right for me.”

He kicks at the snow. This fear has been heavy on him since the spring, a layer of thickened dust on his soul. He looks at Pike through his eyelashes, his heart rising into his throat; Pike is looking at him attentively, waiting for him to continue.

“I used to think that I could do anything? My dreams used to be so big. But now they are getting smaller and smaller.”

Pike shrugs. Jesus looks at him, surprised, and then doubles over, suddenly, hands on his knees, laughing out loud.

Pike frowns, brow furrowed in concern. “What? What is it?”

Jesus rights himself and wipes his eyes. “I don’t know. I guess I thought you’d try to console me? Tell me that I’m being silly, and that I can actually do anything I want?”

“Why would I do that?” Pike says, frowning. “I don’t think you can do anything.”

Jesus nods. “I know.”

Pike pauses. When Jesus thinks back on this moment, he’ll envision a tide rising in the split-seconds before impact against the coast. “But, you know, I used to be—I used to be really scared about, you know, moving forward and doing this whole dusk charade for the rest of my life. And instead of not, like, marinating in my self-hatred and medicating my insecurity with aloofness and facing shit like an adult—”

The early morning crows lift their heads and cry into the crowning sun.

“—I ditched my sister who is like, the only person to love my sorry ass, and peaced out to Mexico and spent eight months working in a hotel bar. And, man, what a loser move that was, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything the whole time, and where am I going with this? I don’t know where I’m going with this.”

Pike laughs nervously. Jesus’s heart is beating so fast he thinks he might collapse into a column of smoke.

“I don’t know what to say,” Jesus says. “I wish I did. This is so stupid, but I—I wish I could say something that would make all your fears and insecurities go away.”

His voice takes on a layer, now, that is hyperreal but somehow familiar, and that seems like it comes from faraway. “If I had my way, you’d never feel any pain.”

Pike smiles; he takes Jesus’s hand and squeezes it briefly. “I said I don’t think you can do anything,” he tells him. “But I think, maybe, everything that’s important, you can do.”

QUANTUM ENTANGLEMENT/JESUS OF NAZARETH

They are playing a Super Smash Brothers on a Nintendo64. Dee and Soul are a formidable team; Soul’s style of play is unenthused but precise, targeted, and deadly, and Dee has set world records for nearly every game you can play on a console. Pike, the sorest loser in the house, frequently complains that playing against them is an exercise in futility. This is certainly true now, as he and Jesus, their opponents, are getting thoroughly trounced; their animated avatars react theatrically in response to Soul’s devastating critical attacks followed by a booming “KO” that eclipses the screen. But Jesus finds he isn’t bothered at all; he laughs easily at Pike’s pouting, and Dee winks at him.

“What can I say,” Dee responds obliquely, “I’ve had a lot of time to practice my gaming.”

“Roughly 13.8 billion years of practice,” Soul says, smiling.

“I can’t imagine there were Nintendo games during the fusion of helium and hydrogen in the early cosmos.” Pike says.

“No,” Dee concedes, “Not as such. Though I got some reflexes avoiding debris in the asteroid belts.”

The doorbell rings and Dee looks up expectantly. “That’ll be the post,” she says. “I gotta get this, here, Ox, you play.”
She tosses the controller at Ox and leaves the room. Immediately, Jesus starts to feel the world shift, walls trembling like almond blossoms, and he takes a deep breath, eyes closed, and steels himself. But a few natural, average moments pass, and he opens his eyes. Everyone is staring at him with perplexed expressions.

“Alright there, Jesus? You good to go?” Ox asks, signaling towards the game with her free hand.

Jesus looks around to confirm the reality of his surroundings: Dawn, Dusk, Soul, the haziness of the light from the coming spring waiting by the balcony. He nods, first hesitantly, then firmly. The world is unchanged. Or perhaps, more accurately: the world has returned from its state of change, and he is still here.