Jesus Hanging on the Bathroom Wall
In the pouring rain, across a highway divider in an unknown town, I sit at a red light, listening to the rain thump the car. Gone are the jokes about the cheap hotel room that cut the tension while we toured the tiny downtown where trees squared the block and the rotunda stood tall. I fell in love with the sidewalks so straight, but then we left the white concrete and landed on the streaming highway with the rain sloshing the four corners of our truncated world.
Something rustles inside my husband’s head and, turning toward me he suggests we eat at the 5/4 Steakhouse across the median. A big red sign flashes in the standing water: “Welcome to the Quarter.”
Once upon a time when we traveled for fun, we’d ride to the real French Quarter in New Orleans where we ventured into the coolness of the antique stores and wandered until the wooden floors gave way to dirt three rooms back. One such trip, I bought the Jesus icon with the silver cover that slipped on and off. I carried it under my arm, out of the overpowering smell of the merchandise rotting on the shelves and across the parking lot to gaze at the boats docked on the river, so mechanical, black and greasy and full of metal. Churning and smoking and heaving through the water. Then we drove home, and I hung Jesus on the bathroom wall.
We exit the car, struggling through the rain, and land dripping in the entranceway. A stop clock graces the maitre d’s table with a sign below it: “Served in a Quarter of an hour or your meal free!” The place is big on signs.
We order steak and potatoes, and while we wait for the arrival of the food, Paul throws his hands in the air. “I can’t believe I haven’t told you. I have to tell you this.”
It’s a long story about two drunken women at a roulette table in Vegas, a mother and daughter, I think. Paul travels to Vegas on business. He’s in the entertainment business. He says he needs to travel on the weekends, that’s when business is done. Today is Thursday and only Alabama, so he’s brought me with him.
I read the little stick that came protruding from my potato. “I’ve been rubbed and scrubbed and you can eat my skin.” Shaped like a small smiling spud, the potato stick winks at me. I slip it in my pocket.
“I told him to hell with that.” Paul is cutting into a steak so rare it could get up and walk away from the table. “‘My damn plane is leaving,’ I said, and I hung up on the son of a bitch.”
Somewhere I think the story has changed, like channels surfed in the night when you’re not paying good enough attention. The waiter comes up for more service, but Paul waves him away, dismissive the way he is.
He’s talking to me.
“Well, what do you think?”
I finger my plastic potato prize. “Sorry. I kind of lost the plot.”
“That’s not very nice.” He wags his head, jaw to the side. “I tell you what, I bring you on a trip and a spool of barbed wire, and I’m fixed.”
No, I tell you what. When I get home, I’m going to take the Jesus with its silver cover from the wall and I’m gonna take the gold-embroidered bath towels and the silver candlesticks from the dining room table and the writing paper from inside the writing desk—and maybe the writing desk, too—and I’m going to stuff it in a suitcase with my new potato prize and then when it’s time to go, I’ll be ready.
And you can take that truth and hang it on the wall.
(an old short story I came across when cleaning out papers; as it was thoroughly written, I thought I’d share)