“San Damiano corpus” by Paul Nixon.
Have a look at the short stories, both fiction and nonfiction, of our latest issue.
Etta Mae’s Jesus
It was mid-September when Jesus first moved in. Etta Mae remembers the day, if not the date, because the pippins were on their way to rotting, and she sent her oldest boy up the ladder with a bucket, while she held the wooden legs steady and battled back the nausea rising in her throat. It was a Friday night because she always made pie on Fridays, and it was 1960 because she was newly pregnant—for the fourth time.
They were eating dessert when Bull shot up from the table and loomed over her, yelling, “Woman, your pie ain’t fit for the chickens!” His face went purple as he glared, balling his free hand into a fist. Etta Mae stared at her aproned lap while Bull turned toward the sink, opened the cabinet under it and slammed his pie along with the plate into the trash. Then he spit and stomped out the door, screen banging hard behind him…READ MORE.
Today, Easter Sunday morning, 2010, I am going to see the woman who carried me in her stomach for seven and a half months, then delivered me—first, to the incubator, then to my foster mother, Mary Birdsong—and I will try to call her Mother.
The lot behind The Pines is full, and for just a moment I’m so relieved I shout, Praise Him!—but only in my head. I can backtrack to Trinity, wait till Sunday school is over and sneak into worship. But, as if it’s on autopilot, the Lincoln pulls into an open space on the street. Closing my eyes, I again see, clear as Trinity’s steeple, Jesus as he stood in the glow of the angel nightlight at the foot of my bed last Tuesday. My Lord of Hosts stood there, big as life, in his blue and maroon velvet robe—so soft!—reaching out his hand in the friendliest way.
“Your mother,” the Master said. “Go to her.”…READ MORE.
In the labor, delivery, and recovery room (LDR), twenty-five-year-old Steve cradles Tom’s tooshie with his left hand and the infant’s head with his right. Face to face for the first time, Steve sees a dimple in front of his son’s left ear and white bumps that look like little pimples on his forehead that have sprouted through fine, soft hair that also covers his scalp and cheeks. Nevertheless, what he enfolds in his arms is the essence of beauty. Stirred by an explosion of tenderness, a tightening bond of love, Steve blinks away a tear of happiness.
Steve’s right hand discovers and caresses a diamond-shaped, soft area at the top of Tom’s head. His hand lingers there, absorbing the pulsing of blood that corresponds to the baby’s heartbeat, the pitter patter of their first communication. His heart rate accelerates, synchronizing to the rapid rhythm of the boy’s, at 136 BPM he figures, and their hearts begin to beat as one.
Steve lifts Tom skyward. It’s effortless; a five-pound dumbbell weighs more. He holds his ear against Tom’s chest and listens. Lub dub, lub dub, lub dub, lub dub. So clear. Persistent. Beautiful. Music. The music of life. Lub dub, lub dub, lub dub, lub dub. He will always recollect and play this song. Tom’s song…READ MORE.
Dr. Susan Campbell is a professor of cultural studies at Duke. She spends her days trying to teach people about each other so that they might, hopefully, learn to live together civilly.
Last night, she watched war coverage until her eyes watered and turned red, and then she got drunk and screamed at God. Screamed at Him to make us all understand, to let everyone know all that He knew, if that’s what it would take to end the killing. And God said, I will give you my knowledge…READ MORE.
The Other Vincent
The members of our house church had left and Mishel and I were cleaning our apartment when my clone arrived.
I opened the door and my clone stumbled into my arms, dropping his glass bottle which clanked to the floor as he sobbed into my shoulder.
Not knowing what else to do, I hugged him back, saying, “It’s okay. Everything’s okay.” I helped him inside and sat him on the couch at the center of our modest living room. I mouthed to Mishel to close the door. We didn’t need the neighbors questioning the identical looking stranger. I held his head as he cried into my chest. He smelled like vomit and liquor…READ MORE.
The monster’s hairs weren’t really hairs at all, but its skin thinned and curved to a fine point, almost like quills. Up close, he could see the “hairs” gradually became translucent closer to the point, a feature that explained their disconcerting, ghost-like movements, edges blurry, floating in and out of reality. The skin quills were an admirable defense mechanism: they poked Jonas’ hand as he zip-tied its arms around a concrete pole in the garage. He sucked in and grimaced, pulling his hand back into his other palm and hugging both right under his sternum. The initial pain subsided, and he held his hand up and saw tiny dots of blood forming all over. “Yo. Throw me the gloves. And that towel.”…READ MORE.
I was his first
“I wish I could tell you my first impression of him. It’s lost, really. There was a song playing, or perhaps there was singing, or music at least, and I joined in. Couldn’t help it. Poured straight out of my soul. Well, it felt right, anyway.” I paused as I remembered what it must have felt like. It was too far in the past.
“Isn’t that something?” I said. “To feel it immediately? Goodness. I hadn’t thought about it in ages. Is that why you brought it up?”
“You brought it up. I asked of your earliest memories in general. So, what was your next impression of him?”
I had to dig deep for that one. I counted the petals on the flowers in the painting on the wall behind her desk. Cheap painting. Odd. You wouldn’t think I’d be here…READ MORE.
Alaric the Fox
Alaric was the kind of fox who reinvented himself every three months. So when things didn’t work out in the forest, he decided to try his luck with humans.
He stepped inside a little vegan cafe with a “help wanted” sign and took the stage (it was open mic night), and did a stirring spoken-word piece about dead crows. He was wearing patched-up jeans and a vintage polyester butterfly collar shirt open to the third button, and all the women fell in love with him.
The owner offered him a job baking vegan cookies.
He took the job, and every day after his shift he wrote poetry in his Moleskine notebook, while admirers sipped coffee and gazed at him. In particular, there was a beautiful woman named Rose who admired his poetry, his fox-ness, and everything he was and was not and all that he might become…READ MORE.
God in Spanish
“We need some good juju,” says the nurse whose name might be Lauren. She paces behind the counter at the workstation next to the mammoth copy machine, the tubes of blood collected in pink plastic bins, the boxes of thick-woven, paper face masks. Possibly-Lauren has pulled her hair back into a disciplined bun with a bright blue strip of elastic—it’s a repurposed tourniquet. “We need some good juju because all we’ve got is bad,” says Possibly-Lauren. “It’s been bad since Monday, and it’s not going to stop,” she says.
“I feel it,” I say.
“Pray for good juju,” says Possibly-Lauren. I squint at her name tag, but she undoes her ponytail and her hair cascades below her shoulders; I can’t read what the name tag says. Possibly-Lauren is a real person—we all are. We’re all where we’re supposed to be, doing what people like us do, which is thinking about death; four deaths so far today, four deaths in the first three hours of our shift…READ MORE.
It’s a Wednesday, homeless outreach day. Once a week, the missionaries at A Simple House pair off to go into the woods and see who we can meet. The goal is pretty simple: to bring love to neglected places and to help where we can. For the five of us who live and work here in Kansas City, this is our job—to love the poor and outcast as Christ did. Not much of a business model, but it’s a pretty good gig.
Gabe and I team up. I brew coffee. He packs snacks. We get in the car and pray: he for me, I for him, Amen. Gabe starts the car. He always drives—doesn’t trust my driving, which is probably fair. We go to West Bottoms where Ricky and Andrea live, somewhere in the woods, right beneath the cow statue. We haven’t seen them in weeks. A visit’s past due…READ MORE.
Skeptics on Patrick’s Stack
At the foot, although we could see only two hundred yards ahead, Laura said, “That’s not a mountain, just another big hill.” Our daughter, twelve years old and jaded already?
I smiled because, having seen “real” mountains on television and in movies, she’d said the same thing about mountains in West Virginia, driving through them last summer. It’d take a snow-capped County Mayo peak in July to drag an ooh or an aah from her.
“Hush,” said her mother Rosha. “Your Aunt Tess told me that from on top of the holy mountain we’d be able to see the village of Mulranny, and my mom’s old family home.”
“It looks too muddy to be a holy mountain,” Laura said. “It’s been raining for hours.”
Rosha glowered. “Are you trying to ruin our vacation?”…READ MORE.
Robert L. Jones III
Frances in the Fog
I never knew her, never spoke to her, but she was my neighbor. I laid eyes on her only once; as if through a fog, the impression of that fleeting encounter has remained with me for decades. I was a boy approaching adolescence, and by then, she was middle-aged but still striking in appearance.
Frances Farmer lived for awhile in a one-story brown house with a gabled roof at 5107 North Park Avenue in Indianapolis, Indiana. In the summer of 1961, I was eight when my family moved into a white two-story house at 5210 on the same street. She was a local celebrity, and I first became aware of her when her show, Frances Farmer Presents, came on the television at a friend’s house. My first impression of her was that she was a boring older woman. Her show, her guests, and their topics of discussion were outside my limited sphere of interests.
It wasn’t much later that this immature assumption changed. Our family was seated at the dinner table one night, and she somehow came up in conversation. My father and mother mentioned to my brothers and me that our neighbor had been a famous actress in Hollywood, that she struggled with alcoholism, and that she had once been a mental patient. When I heard those words, something fired in my young mind and echoed in my chest. With the kind of childish resolve that imagines noble and improbable things without taking action, I wanted to save Frances Farmer…READ MORE.