Mother is sitting in the kitchen with the Bible and a fresh stack of paper. A cigarette smokes in the ashtray and the sink is full of dishes. “It’s not what you think,” I whisper to the boy I have brought home. Later I will suck his thoughts dry.
She gives me the half smile that suggests I have homework and that I should probably be moving along. She is, after all, working.
The half smile is better than words, and I am grateful as I prod the boy forward. Sometimes my mother talks to Abraham, calls him a pimp. Sometimes she talks to herself; she can be reassuring and encouraging to herself and so sometimes I listen. Sometimes she simply says, “Jesus Christ.” But mostly she talks to God, advising him over and over that he is too late.
Four years ago she’d been knee-deep in a bottle of brandy and the Bible when she’d jumped up. “That’s IT!” She said. She’d squeezed my shoulders and looked into my eyes, and for a moment I thought she found God in there, but instead she said, “IT’S TOO FUCKING LONG!” She’d pressed the sides of her head like the thought might get out and said, “There is so much repeating! If all that was gone, it would be this small.” And then she’d looked at me through her shaking pinched fingers and said, “I’m going to rewrite it.” She’d taken a gulp of the brandy and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. “It’s going to be much better this time,” she’d said. “Fixed.”
Now the papers are piled up around her fatter than ten Bibles and the boy I’ve brought home looks hungry. They are always so hungry.
Sometimes I see God: in zippers, in the clinging dredges of cough syrup bottles, in the nick of sharp tiny blades. He is most clear when the blood of nations drips slowly toward the palm of my hand. I want to explain this to my mother but she won’t hear me and sometimes I’m not sure I can talk.
When the boy is no longer hungry and is gone, I wash the dishes. I scrape the hard bits with a fork because there is sound. I check her pills for too many or too few. Today they are just right which is why she is quietly working. I take a pill and wash it down.
She is up to Jesus. In my mother’s version, Mary, the mother of the son, is a whore and a liar. “Nobody’s perfect,” my mother says. She likes Mary, who is often kneading and baking bread. My mother values this highly and Mary’s bread is soft like flesh. Jesus’s father is gone, like most fathers, and Mary worries that Jesus isn’t eating enough. This is also important to my mother, the son eating.
Some day, when she is finished with the book, she will bake bread and we will eat it together. We will smell God being pulled from the oven and see him in the crisp crust. We will feel him hot on our fingers as we pull him apart, soft as flesh.