Not the Real Jesus Christ

by Bob Thurber Read author interview December 15, 2004

In no time my father worked himself up to phone privileges. He’d been back in Butler’s Psychiatric Hospital less than a month.

“Well, I’m calling,” he said. “Guess that makes me a big fat liar.”

This was Sunday, during dinner, exactly two weeks since I’d seen him last. At that time he weighed less than one hundred pounds and had threatened to permanently punch my lights out the next time he laid eyes on me. I’d been keeping tabs on his status by checking in daily with the hospital’s switchboard.

I said, “Dad! You’re hardly fat.” And I carried the phone back to my liver and onions.

At the ringing phone, Joan hadn’t flinched. Now she glared at me from what had become her side of the dinette table, where our daughter’s high chair was set kitty-corner. Leslie was giving Joan a hard time about swallowing mushed peaches and pears.

“Just because I’m calling,” my father said, “don’t think I forgive you. Because I don’t. You had no business bringing me back here.”

“I’m glad you called,” I said.

“Find out what he wants,” Joan said.

“They took me off feedings,” my father said. “Don’t sound like much, but it’s a big step around here.”

“What am I supposed to do?” I hissed at Joan.

“You know my position,” Joan said.

“They’re still pumping me full of god knows what, but at least I keep my meals down, and I don’t shit my pants, so they let me roam around like I own the place.”

Joan stared at me, bug-eyed, slack-jawed.

“I still miss your mother, the old witch. I still talk to her, but only after lights out, before I drift off. And I don’t tell anyone she answers me, because when you’re honest with people around here they whistle like you’re the triangle in the percussion section.”

He’d been grieving nearly a year, in and out of Butler’s twice since my mother died. “You sound a lot better,” I said.

“Screw how I sound. My goddamn hands won’t stop shaking. And I’ve got a nasty rash where nobody wants one. They tell me it’s the medication, but I know it’s something else, some kind of nerve damage.”

“I’m sure it’s the pills, a side effect.”

“You think I’m nuts, don’t you?”

“No Dad, I don’t think that at all.”

“I might be,” he said. “I’m close. Don’t think I don’t know the fix I’ve put myself in.”

Joan scooped mush into Leslie’s open mouth. “I’m not going through this every time that man decides to come back to earth.”

“Is that Joanie, I hear? Tell her I said hello.”

“No, that’s the TV,” I said, and gave Joan a harsh look. “I’ll turn it down.”

“Make sure he knows he’s not welcome here when he gets out. Not again. We’ve made our contribution.”

“Anyway,” my father said, “I woke up this morning thinking that if you’re not too busy you might want to drive up and visit. Maybe bring the baby. It’s up to you.”

“What’s he saying?” Joan said. “Is he talking about me?”

I shook my head at her.

“I’m not in the same building,” my father said. “There’s a courtyard here. Bricked-in little garden. If you come up, we could all sit far from the others and the kid wouldn’t know the difference from being in a park someplace.”

“Sure, Dad. We’ll come up. How ’bout Sunday?”

“Don’t tell him Sunday,” Joan said.

“Sunday?” my father said. “What’s today?”

Joan wagged the spoon. “Tell him Sunday isn’t good.”

“Isn’t today Sunday?” my father said.

I said, “Hold on a second, Dad.” And cupped my hand over the phone. “What’s wrong with Sunday?” I said to Joan.

Leslie said, “Da!”

“Tell him you’ll call him back after we talk about it.”

“I’m not doing that.”

“Well you better tell him something, because we’re at my mother’s all day Sunday helping with her yard sale.”

“Shit,” I said.

Leslie said, “Da-da!”

I wiggled my fingers at her. “Hi pretty girl.”

Joan banged the spoon to get Leslie’s attention. “Go alone. It’s fine.”

“What?”

“Go see your father. It’s fine.”

“Joan.”

“We’ll help Grandma, and do all Daddy’s work, and have all our fun without him, won’t we sweetie?”

“Joan?”

“You’re going to do what you want. So do it.”

Into the phone I said, “Dad? You there?”

“Tell him whatever you want, I don’t care anymore,” Joan said.

“Yup. Still here. Just saying hello to Jesus,” my father said.

“Dad? We’ll ride up on Sunday.”

“Don’t say we. Say you,” Joan said.

“Not the real Jesus Christ, of course. That’s just how this fellow thinks of himself.”

I looked at my plate. “So we’ll see you on Sunday, then. The three of us.”

“No,” Joan said.

“We’ve got two here,” my father said. “They’re a pair. Each convinced the other Jesus is crazy. They bump in the hall and bless one another. I’ll introduce you. Two funny guys.”

Joan was still shaking her head very slowly.

“I need to go, Dad. I’ll see you Sunday.”

“Of course they’ll talk your ear off if you stand still long enough. They’ll each give you a sermon.”

Joan sat silent, gazing at me from a space flatter than any picture.

I looked at my liver and onions. “Dad?”

“Yeah, Son?”

“How’s today? How’s this evening?”

“Today?”

“Joan’s busy tonight, she’s helping her mom, so it’ll be just me and the baby.”

“Lie your head off, but you are not taking this baby into a nut house,” Joan said.

“Hey you, hey Jesus,” my father said. “Guess who’s coming to see us? My granddaughter.”

Joan hoisted Leslie from her high chair and slung her over her shoulder. The kid looked startled, on the verge of tears. I watched them leave the room. My father was still talking about Jesus, or talking to him, one of them. I looked down at my plate. I picked up my fork and moved the meat around. I remembered how in the days when I refused to eat liver my mother would lie and tell me it was sandwich steak. Just without the sandwich.

“Dad?” I said.

“Yeah, Son?”

Leslie began to wail in the other room. In a minute I’d go in and rescue her.

“When I come up,” I said, “maybe we can talk a little about Mom. About the kind of person she was.”

“Still my favorite topic,” my father said.

I told him I’d see him in a half-hour, then hung up the phone, suddenly missing my mother, grieving over the fact she’d never laid eyes on her granddaughter. I found Joan pacing with the baby. Leslie was red-faced and screaming.

I put my arms up and clapped my hands.

“Don’t even think about it,” Joan said.

But I was determined to break her arm if I had to.

About the Author:

Bob Thurber studied and practiced the craft of writing fiction for 25 years before submitting anything for publication. In the 5 years that he has been offering his work, he has accumulated over 200 publication credits, won a number of contests and awards, and been short-listed for others. His work has appeared in six anthologies. News and info can be viewed at http://www.bobthurber.net.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.