Maple Jesus

Short fiction contest: third place winner

Every morning when I wake up from a dream, I write whatever comes to mind as fast as possible. Mostly unintelligible, but occasionally worth reading.

Sometimes they are humorous.

The way you look at an almost-empty roll of toilet paper.

Sometimes I am afraid to read them…

I reached over to feel her, but her shape was lost in the thick fabric. She had writhed herself into a blanket cocoon. I considered waking her and reclaiming the blanket, but she looked so serene. Without the blanket I knew there was no hope of going back to sleep. I would have to brave the morning cold — me and my 7:30 stiffness.

Walking into the kitchen I was struck by how clean the fridge was.

The weight of the morning started to shed.

I opened the fridge to see what I could make for breakfast. Nothing. No eggs. No bacon. No milk. A few rotting stems of green onion and half-empty orange juice cartons.

I checked the cupboard for bread.

“Well, thank god.” Butter, bread, plastic cheese.

“Grilled cheese for breakfast?” I heard Alice say groggily behind me. “It’s 8:00 in the morning.”

“There’s nothing to eat.”

“Well, did you notice that I cleaned the kitchen?” “What good is that if there is nothing to cook?” That felt like an asshole thing to say. “I’m sorry.”

I tried to read her baggy stare.

“I’m sorry I haven’t had time to shop, I’ve been busy preparing for Laura’s wedding, in case you hadn’t noticed.” “Right.” “Yeah.” The kitchen air grew thick with silence as I ate my breakfast.

“I’m going to the garage, need anything?”

She stirred sugar into her coffee, ignoring my question.

I carried the silence all the way to the front door.

An un-sanded desk; a three-legged stool; and a frame with no shelves: my laziness glaring from the workbench. I sighed and considered what to work on first.

“Fuck,” I yelled, remembering I was responsible for a wedding gift for Laura. I pulled off an oversized nylon tarp and found the dresser that Alice’s parents gave us when we moved in together. It was a piece of shit.

With a few minor repairs and a new finish and it would make a passable re-gift, I thought. I cleared a path to the dresser and heaved it out into the middle of the floor. “Give it that nice worn antique look,” I joked to myself.

I pulled out the drawers to see if they still worked — they were all stiff, and the railing had come loose on the bottom one.

I grabbed my interchangeable screwdriver from the wall and went to work on the bottom drawer. My sweaty hands slipped on the cheap plastic grip; the extra heads rattled every time I turned the screwdriver; and the loose head was stripping the screw.

Rattle. Slip.

Slip. Turn. Rattle.

Rattle. Slip. Fuck.

I whipped the screwdriver as hard as I could against the wall. It shattered into tiny pieces. The way you look at the remains of a piece of shit screwdriver, I thought, chuckling to myself.

I’ll never forget when I bought it.

I’d always suffered a lack of screwdrivers. I had everything else in my shop except a good variety of screwdrivers. One afternoon, after cutting myself trying to turn a flathead screw with a utility knife, I sped to Rona.

I didn’t walk 20 feet before I was greeted by a display fiercely advertising the multi-purpose screwdriver’s reliability. I was taken.

I used to think the world of that tool. It was everything you needed in one convenient package, and I didn’t even have to spend more than five minutes finding it. It was like a godsend. Now I just thought of how ugly the cheap red plastic looked scattered across the oil-stained floor.

Without the proper tools to fix the drawers, I sanded, sealed, and stained the drawers to a nice finish. It may have been a clumsy, broken piece of shit, but at least it was a beautiful, walnut-stained piece of shit. I left the garage almost satisfied.

“I got a gift for Laura,” I said.

“Where are you going?” “To take a nap.” “You don’t have time for a nap.” “Fuck that,” I said, giving myself over to the comfortable grooves that years of sleep shaped out of the pillow I’d had since college.

A knock on the door ripped me from my sleep. After a quick shower, I dug through the closet to find my one and only suit.

“Looks good. Here, let me fix your tie,” Alice said as I emerged.

“It doesn’t fit well. It’s too tight around the shoulders,” I complained.

She dismissed me with a biting shush.

“There you go, see,” she turned me to face the mirror.

I looked at us standing slightly apart in the mirror. I could hear all the voices of her parents and other distant relatives come flooding back. Oh, what a perfect couple, such a beautiful couple, you’re really so great together. I exhaled deeply. She looked at my hands.

“Come on,” she said. “Did you even try to get the dirt out?” I tried explaining to her that it’s part of my job to have dirty hands. Dirt gets ground into the calluses. It doesn’t come out easily.

“You know how it gets.” She left, visibly upset.

We rode in silence all the way to the church.

As soon as we arrived, Alice sped up the stairs and entered the church ahead of me. I was overwhelmed when I pulled open the heavy oaken door. The room was hot with voices — Alice’s relatives fellating each other over cheap pastries and cold sausage rolls.

I looked for my mom amongst the faces of half-strangers. I eventually found her by the coffee bar, groping the Styrofoam cups.

“Couldn’t have invested in something a little nicer?” I joked. “It is a wedding after all.” “Where’s Alice,” she replied coolly.

“I don’t know.” She put the instant coffee down and looked at me. There it was, the reproving mother look.

It was the same look she gave me six years ago when she scorned me with those haunting words: “Don’t settle.” Everyone began to move toward the pews.

“Looks like it’s starting soon. Let’s find our seats.”

After finding Alice with the rest of the bridesmaids, she led me to my seat in the front row. She was noticeably calmer, even a little excited. She quickly leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. I recoiled, almost imperceptibly, not expecting it.

The ceremony began. As the preacher mumbled his way into the depth of the wedding script, my eyes began to wander. I observed the faces of all the relatives in the audience. Some cried. Some wore smiles. Some looked bored. Some looked on the verge of death.

I heard the powerful autumn gusts hurling tree branches against the stained glass windows. It was then that I noticed the towering crucifix behind the altar. It featured a maple Jesus, carved in magnificent detail: his head tilted towards the window, his mouth sullen, his downtrodden eyes forever cast upon the wonderful, yellowing trees lashing against the glass, protesting the changing of the season. A familiar gaze.

The way you look at something beautiful about to end.

I returned my attention to the ceremony. I could feel Alice’s eyes on me. I turned my head towards her. My downtrodden eyes met hers. A wonderful smile crept across her face. She really was beautiful.

I had never felt closer to Jesus in all my life.


Contest, Fiction, Short

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