Bathroom Jesus

by Kelli Ford Read author interview September 29, 2010

I’m not a tortilla-making Catholic from Juarez, but I swear that’s Jesus on the gas heater in the bathroom wall. I first saw him early of a morning, before Joe got home from the club when the baby was sound asleep. I was sitting there on the commode, with Joe’s shirts hanging to dry all around me, about to do the ironing, like I do when I’m waiting up on him, not sleeping. I had my elbows on my knees and my head resting on my knuckles just so, and I was looking at the cuff of his sleeve, where a red stain hadn’t come out. That stain had just about put the devil in me. I’d looked so hard and long, thinking about where it could have come from—he don’t drink, you know, because of how his mama took him as a little boy and poured grain alcohol over a piece of raw bacon, saying, “See, this here boy? This is what liquor is doing to your Daddy’s insides.” Mama’s do what they can to save their sons. I know.

Of course my first thought was lipstick. Maybe rouge. But that would have come out in the wash, I’m certain. After the begging and pleading and packing up and moving that all amounted to nothing, I just wash those stains away, like sweeping a spider out the front door. But this one, I sprayed and I washed and I sprayed and I washed some more, and it ain’t going nowhere. It’s almost got to be wine, and I don’t know which I’d rather—that he’s taken up the bottle or that there’s a new woman around, one that don’t come out like the others, like a spider that creeps back in and settles down to sleep with you in your own bed. One that can’t be let outside the backdoor and asked not to come back.

I’m feeling ashamed because I’d almost just as soon he kill his insides like his Daddy, rather have the yelling and the fists than the quiet of rouge and the whispers of lipstick. I had sat there on that toilet thinking so long that my eyes had kind of unfocused, I guess you’d say, and my legs was getting kind of numb.

That’s when I saw Jesus. His eyes appeared first, black and looking right through me, like I always knew they would, seeing everything I ever did, wished for, said, or thought to say. He knew how I pilfer Joe’s pockets when he sleeps looking for what I don’t want to find. He knew about the gun Joe don’t know I know is tucked away in the closet.

His hair flowed down around the knob of the heater, curly and black like it was, and his sweet, sweet lips came out next to the flame, beckoning me closer. Well, I liked to have jumped right off the commode, and as soon as I looked at the heater direct, he disappeared and a burn mark in the painted white face of the heater took his place. I made such a commotion that I woke that baby and couldn’t get him back to sleep until Joe come home at dawn. They fell asleep cuddled up in each other’s arms, and I set about scrubbing that bathroom until it sparkled. I wouldn’t call it fit for a King, but I have ordered a gallon of Heavenly White for the walls and I bring in fresh flowers to lay about the heater every morning.

Sometimes at night, when I’m not sleeping, I sit just like I did that first night. And I run over all the open spaces in my mind, considering God’s grace and things near and far. I wonder about things back home, and I can’t help but think about what’s going on across town at the fancy cigar bars that pay for jazz, what I would do if I knew, and how Joe don’t come home with liquor on his breath. I know about forgiveness. God’s grace is wide and deep as the sea. I’ve found that if I sit here long enough, he comes back, warming up this little house with a light so fine it brings tears to your eyes just to see it. He always comes back, just so long as I don’t try too hard to see him.

About the Author:

Kelli Ford has lived in Austin, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., but now finds herself in Boise, Idaho, teaching at a community college. She completed an M.F.A. at George Mason University, where she won the Dan Rudy Fiction Prize, George Mason's Mary Roberts Rinehart Award for nonfiction, and was nominated for inclusion in the Best New American Voices series. Her final year at Mason, MFA faculty selected her to receive the Narrative Thesis Fellowship. In 2006 and 2007, she served as the fiction editor at Phoebe: A Journal of Literature and Art.

About the Artist:

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.