sally mccarthy bathes her daughter in a shallow tub on the kitchen table. the baby fusses but stops short of crying.
as she sponges her tiny hands, sally marvels at the soft palms, just starting to prune. and her uncle carter’s voice speaks up in her memory.
“i don’t see what all the fuss is about. if i was jesus, i would have begged to be crucified.”
she bends down and kisses little kelly on the forehead, distracting her from her discomfort.
the cries start as pointed squawks. testing the water. ready to dive in.
“i mean, i’m the son of god, and i’m stuck down here with these jackasses who don’t understand a thing i say. how the hell am i gonna get back to paradise where i belong?”
there’s a cross on the bedroom wall. a well worn bible in her desk. she’s always looked forward to church. a world where things make sense. a world she understands. a world where she fits in.
“i mean, if some regular guy caused a fuss and had a bunch of followers and got nailed up, i mean that guy would be giving something away. he’s never going to see his wife and kids again. he’s in agony, knowing that his story ends here. nothing more to come.
“now that’s commitment. it’s inspiring.”
she shampoos her daughter’s hair. her head really. not much to help build a lather. but the feel of her soft flesh, the smooth skull, it reminds her of motherhood: soft on top of hard. or is it hard on top of soft?
she pulls her child from the tub and into her arms, dousing her sunday dress in soapy water.
“but if you’re the son of god, getting murdered is your get-out-of-jail-free card. a few hours of beatings, and you go home to sit next to your dad. they’re doing you a favor. it’s a one way ticket to paradise.
“i’m sorry, but i’m not seeing the sacrifice.”
since lee left, things have been more and more of an effort. she works hard to keep everything the same. she’s pretty sure kelly hasn’t noticed. lee never paid much attention anyway.
sudden tears rush down her cheeks, her certainty escaping, dripping onto her daughter’s wet skin.
she whispers that everything is going to be fine. don’t worry. i won’t let anything happen to you.
“if you wanted real suffering, he should have been forced to stay down here on earth. down here with all the rest of us suckers. forever. now that would have been a sacrifice. stuck on earth. never allowed to go home. that’s the ultimate jail sentence. no heaven for you.”
she wraps her baby in a towel and lays her on the bed. she sees the crucifix hanging above the pillow. she carefully lifts it off its nail.
a man and a cross.
she’d never really looked at it before. the man hanging there. she’d always imagined he was still alive in that pose. anguish turned to acceptance.
but what if he is already dead?
she shudders. “no heaven for you.”
a few moments later she’s closing the drawer of her night table and climbing into bed with her child.
somewhere outside, a bell rings. low and lonesome.
she tickles and squeezes and rubs and caresses and cuddles and before day starts tilting toward night, she is fast asleep with her daughter clamped to her breast. drinking like they’re not serving refills. worshipping at the alter of her one true god, who snores softly beside her.