By Eliot Fintushel
Featured Art: West Wind by Duncan Grant
“He goes on wings of wind,” is what a psalm says, one of the psalms. Another one says, “Happy is he who shall grab your babies and hurl them against a rock.” When I try to explain these scriptures to Miriam and Cassie, they look at me like I’m stupid. Do you call that a friend? In the Jesus times, friends even kissed each other on the lips for hello—Miriam would be caught dead first. Cassie, okay, actually, even on the lips, which I am going to tell you about it, except for the fact that she is damned to Hell.
Like, I’m the one who is stupid! This is what the Bible says about sinners like Miriam and Cassie: “They have their reward.” Namely, shit.
Miriam wears this, like, Nazi dirndl, which she thinks is cool, with her curly once-upon-a-time blonde hair and with sunglasses with red rims, and she looks like melted cheese with a worm in it, but she walks like she thinks she is a beauty queen, you know, with, like, her one heel right in front of, like, the toe of her other foot, in a straight line, supposedly, except that it’s crooked!
Miriam gave me her baloney sandwich, is how I met her last year, because she didn’t like the mustard or something, but I did, and I gave her my PB&J, even steven, because she likes PB&J. She thinks she’s pretty. Cassie was sitting next to her, but Cassie doesn’t eat anything except a carrot and Miriam doesn’t like them. Cassie and Miriam are always petting each other’s hair and telling each other how pretty they are, but the Lord Jesus knows all things, and He knows the truth about that little business, too, namely, that that hag Miriam is uglier than sin pie, and even her hair is stupid and dry and it has split ends, and one time when Cassie tried to dye Miriam’s hair, it came out looking even dumber. Think: rainbow cotton candy on a paper cone—which the paper cone represents Miriam’s head. She is not hot. Cassie is maybe on-the-fence pretty sometimes, but as far as I’m concerned, that girl has fallen off into the mud, and she is as full of worm as Miriam. Why does she even hang out with her?
Jesus hates it when girls think they are hot who are actually hags with worms in it. In the End Times, He will come back and hurl their babies against a rock. I said to Miriam, “Miriam, why don’t you come to my prayer meeting on Wednesday night, and there are potato chips and pop?” and she was all, “Okay, sure,” but she didn’t show, and that’s when I should have known, but I am so trusting. Everybody says so. I am a trusting person. I even still trust Miriam, who is scum.
Cassie doesn’t trust Miriam, by the way, and she even told me. She was like, “Do you trust Miriam, because I don’t.” She asked me if I thought she was prettier than Miriam, and she was like, “Miriam thinks she is prettier than me, can you believe it?” And I was like, “I can’t believe it, Cassie. You are sooooo pretty.” Cassie was making herself up in her little compact mirror that she has in a plastic pearl case with a hinge and a wire stand that folds up, and when I said, “sooooo pretty,” she clapped it shut, and she smiled at me. I nearly wet my panties. You should see how long Cassie’s eyelashes are. I think they might be real ones.
Miriam’s sunglasses with the red rims are the shape of two naked fat girls lying sideways on a couch. People would not like those glasses at my prayer meeting. Everybody would make her take them off. They wouldn’t say anything, but they would make Miriam take them off just by the way they looked at her. That is the power that Christians have: it is the power of the Holy Spirit, like when Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior shriveled up that fig tree. Miriam would definitely end up taking off those sunglasses, and that is probably why she doesn’t want to go, because she knows it, and she doesn’t want anybody to see her actual eyes, which are as dull and watery as drain seepage under the sink—that’s Miriam’s eyes, because I have seen them when she had to wipe them once because she was crying because of something somebody said, and, no, it wasn’t Cassie who said it, and it wasn’t me. So mind your own business. (That’s in Ecclesiastes.)
Miriam has bad skin, too, so it’s a shame she won’t come to the prayer meeting, because Christians are especially good with skin, like, for example, leprosy, of course, but also eczema and even acne. Once I gave witness how some pimples that I used to have cleared up overnight because I had gone down on my knees in the name of the Lord. I didn’t even wash my face that night! Everybody said Amen and they told me how good I was looking, because that’s how Christian people are. We are not the ones who are going to have our babies hurled against rocks. It’s people like Miriam and Cassie, even though they may cry, “Lord! Lord!” and gnash their teeth all up. I’m ready to hurl babies whenever the Lord shall command. Jesus overturned somebody’s table, didn’t He?
You should see Miriam’s skin. You can even tell through all the powder. I pray for her, though.
It is a particular shame about Cassie’s soul, but she is going to Hell. God is a merciful God, but He is also a just God. Once in third period study hall in our high school where we go I was sitting next to Cassie and we were way in the back and Cassie put her head down on her arms on the desk. Being in high school can be very tiring—people don’t realize that. So I reached over a little bit and I touched her shoulder in her spaghetti-strap shirt that she was wearing, a light blue one with a kind of doily embroidery at the bottom, and I touched her shoulder on her smooth, you know, skin that’s there. In my prayer meeting, we call that comforting someone. So I was comforting Cassie on her smooth shoulder, and she didn’t stop me, so I comforted her some more on top of her head. I stroked her hair up there, and it was not the dead carcasses of hair that is all bleached out or dyed out or ironed out like Miriam’s is. Cassie’s hair is sooooo soft. I comforted Cassie with my hand in her hair, and it was very prayerful and deep. I was thinking all the time about how I would share this experience with everybody at prayer meeting, and it might be an inspiration to them.
Do you know that groove down the middle of your back where your spine is? Cassie’s is like the riverbed of the River Jordan, and milk and honey is on the other side. The little bumps of her spine are like pebbles on the river bottom where the Holy Water flows. When I comforted her there, I knew all at once what the song means, because I felt all chilly and cold, I mean, like chills of gooseflesh all over my body, but not my soul, which was as close to Jesus as I had ever been, like where the Bible says, “And He saw that it was good.”
This study hall has maybe fifty desks in it, and they were mostly full of kids sleeping or passing notes or looking out the windows at the snow or at the clouds, where God walks, and some were on their phones in their laps, which nobody is supposed to in study hall, and three or four were actually studying something in a book, and the teacher was out for a smoke or something, but she could come back in at any second, so nobody really did anything, if you know what I mean, but just killing time. That’s what was going on when I was comforting Cassie, and then she kind of sighed, and I felt so bad that she is going to Hell, my lower lip got all pouty and trembly. I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t stop it, and my eyes filled with tears, and I made a little sound in my throat—and everybody in the whole study hall turned around in their chairs and went all Garden of Gethsemane on my ass, which I totally froze, with—guess what?— my hand inside Cassie’s shirt.
Cassie picked up her head and looked up through her superlong lashes, which I still believe to be her very own, and she saw everybody snarking or dropping their little jaws or narrowing their heathen eyes, and she felt my hand on her River Jordan, and she was all, “Can’t anybody get a back massage around here without you jerks going all ape shit?” And she was like, “Me and her are going to the little girls’ room, if that’s okay with you.” And she got up and my hand slid down her back and out past the doily and along her little round bottom, which God appointed unto her, and she took my hand with her hand and tugged me up, and we left the study hall. I felt everybody looking at us when me and Cassie walked past the rows and rows of eyeballs to the front of the room where the door is. I could have been Jesus on a donkey. By this time, Mrs. Dody was standing in the doorway, half in and half out, and she smelled like an ashtray.
She was like, “Where are you two going?”
And Cassie was all, “Outside for a smoke,” and then Mrs. Dody said something, but I didn’t hear what, because Cassie was laughing and laughing and holding my hand tight. That laughing of hers echoed in the hallway all while we sashayed down the hall to the girls’ room.
Did you know that in the whole entire Bible, from Genesis to Apocalypse, there is not one single word against women making love to each other? It’s true. Not one word. Not from Abraham or Isaac or Jacob or Moses or Joshua or any of the prophets or from Matthew or Mark or Luke or John or Paul or even from Jesus Christ Himself, who was actually God and created the whole thing. Not that I am in favor. I am not in favor. I am just saying, in case someone should get ideas.
Because once we were in the girls’ room, which it was in the middle of a class period, so no other girls were there, Cassie took my hands in her hands and raised them up like two points of a five-pointed star, and our feet made two more points, and our heads were a point, and our middles were the middle, belly button to belly button (only I don’t exactly mean belly button) and she pressed my whole body against the white tile wall, all little white hexagons with black grout borders, and we breathed hot and we stared in each other’s eyes and then I could feel a kiss coming on, the way they come, like bubbles bubbling up, and you can’t help kissing when that kiss busts up, and Cassie kissed me.
We kissed for a long, long time, and we were rubbing all over, and our belly buttons were rubbing. I thought I was in heaven. It must have been just like how Ezekiel felt when he saw the chariots and the angels in the sky over the River Kebar in the land of the Chaldeans, and the hand of the Lord was upon him, like Cassie’s hand was on me, and there was a whirlwind and out of the whirlwind came ox faces and wheels and more wheels and lightning and voices, and that’s what it was like for me. So I was like, “Cassie, Cassie, you’ve got to come to prayer meeting with me!”
She stopped. She looked at me. She was all flushed red and out of breath, and her hair was everywhere in both of our eyes and everywhere else, and then she started to laugh. It was a different laugh from the laugh she laughed on the way to the girls’ room. She laughed so hard, her head fell against my chest, and she kept on laughing. It made me feel numb and cold, like my skin wasn’t a part of me any more, but it was just a coat I was wearing, somebody else’s cold, old coat that they threw on me like on a beggar. I am so stupid. I stepped away from Cassie, and she still kept laughing. She tried to talk, but she was laughing too hard. She was all, “No, no . . . ” and she was like, “It’s just that . . . it’s just that . . . ”
I said, “I know what it’s ‘just that,’ Cassie.”
I said it like a dead man would say it—out of the scraping and settling of the dead man’s bones and the rubbing and the flopping of the dead man’s bloodless guts. When we were the star, I didn’t hear anything in the world, but now I could hear the gray water rumble in the old pipes in the ceiling and in the floor and I could hear footsteps in the hall outside the lavatory.
I left Cassie giggling in there with her eyelashes and everything, and I snuck out the parking lot door and just sat on the freezing cold steps until the bell rang for the end of my study hall. Then I went to a different girls’ room, one that is in the basement, to wash all the smell of Cassie off me, which I wanted to smell for the rest of my life, but I had to do it, and I did it, and that’s that. I washed off the smell of her hair and the little smell of her sweat, and I washed off the tickle of her eyelashes and the taste of her mouth and the slide of her skin on my skin, which not one of all the thirty-three books of the Bible says anything against, remember, but if you ever mention this to anybody, I’ll kill you.
Miriam gives me looks, and Cassie gives me looks, and other people give me looks, but I figure, blessed am I when girls shall revile me and persecute me and say all manner of things against me falsely, for His sake. I told my prayer meeting all about it—I told them by the way I held their hands when we held hands in our circle, the way I always tell them everything, and they love me no matter what, because that’s how Christian people are. I don’t even have to say a word.
Eliot Fintushel has won the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Solo Performance Artists twice and has been a finalist for the Nebula Award for science fiction. He once performed a clown show under the anti-aircraft gun of a German troopship in New York Harbor for an audience of UN diplomats. He is the author of the novels Breakfast with the Ones You Love (Random House) and Zen City (John Hunt Books). He is father of the poet Ariel Fintushel.