Miss Ginger nudges me. Says walk halfway across the baptistery, he’ll meet you. Pastor Jim, but I guess also Jesus because they always mean also Jesus. He’s in everything. He’s in me and Twigs and Katie M. and the others who were sitting there in the movie theater, knees knocking while Pastor Jim talked about hell. His mouth had a big pink worm tongue that came out to lick his lips. He could have ate us all.
He said are you gonna let Jesus into your heart, or are you gonna turn from him when he’s reaching out for you? I said who’s saving who but not out loud.
Twigs held onto my hand, pulling me toward the front. I said I’d go if she went and she said she’d go if I went so we both went. Then Jesus was in us and to thank Him all we had to do was die.
We didn’t look at each other. We didn’t look back at Pastor Jim and ask how Jesus could be in all us kids at once. How He’s in everything, all us kids and my Nan’s Christmas cactus in the pink foil wrapper and the Milky Way. All that. Maybe He’s so big, so everything, everybody can pinch off a little piece and there’s still all of him left. I wonder how he feels about that. Little bits of him coming off, less everything for himself. It don’t make sense, but I’m already on the steps.
The movie theater our church is in is called the Bijou. We pay to use it on account of the new Megaplex at the mall ran it out of business and before we came along it was just sitting empty not living out its destiny. One day we’ll have a big see-through church like the Crystal Cathedral and be on the Praise Network and operators will be standing by to receive prayer requests, but right now we’re in the Bijou. Pastor Jim says there’s nothing wrong with that because church is in a person’s heart.
The theater is one of those old-school deals with a stage and a ratty velvet curtain hiding the screen. The marquis out front is missing an A and says “Pr ise the Lord.” After services, one of the deacons will crank up the projector for whoever wants to hang around. Last week we saw Lawrence of Arabia. The week before that it was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. When people complained about Star Trek being shown at church, Pastor Jim said it’s an allegory about good triumphing over evil, just like in the Bible. Captain Kirk blew Khan Noonian Singh straight to hell the way God blew the devil. Neil Peed, the college kid who runs the youth program, raised his hand and said, no, it’s an allegory about humanity’s technological arrogance. Neil Peed wears Spock t-shirts and all we do at his things is trust falls off the snack counter. We didn’t watch any more Star Trek after that.
After he said all that stuff about Captain Kirk sending Khan to hell, Pastor Jim said they nailed Jesus to the cross because my heart is black as coal. He said it a bunch of times, so I didn’t hear wrong.
There isn’t a picture of a black heart in the encyclopedia. Not under heart, not under black. Look it up. There isn’t nothing about that or Jesus or when me and Twigs stole them hoop earrings from Claire’s. Mine were silver, Twigs’ were gold. Afterwards we sang that song we learned in Brownies. Make new friends, but keep the old. I already had Twigs and now I got Jesus.
Watching up there above the baptistery is Jesus himself. Watching the movie of us. Touching his red stained glass heart to show what a heart is supposed to look like. Pastor Jim brought Him from the other church he ran that went under. They hauled Him up over the stage with ropes and pulleys. The stained glass Jesus is an important part of our church. Without him, we’d look like a bunch of people waiting around for a movie to start.
For somebody who came back from the dead, Jesus looks real sad. I guess because the baptistery is basically a Jacuzzi tub like the one at Katie M.’s house. Katie’s mom says the swirly stuff on the outside of theirs is called fo-marble. Fo-marble comes out in this high richlady voice straight from Mrs. M.’s nose, like her whole life came from the Sears catalog. She just pointed to what she wanted and everything was brand new. Fo-marble looks like the stuff they make bowling balls out of, which I don’t think is anything to brag about.
The blue-green water is pretty, at least. Moving in blue-green circles around Pastor Jim, who’s waiting to catch me and push me under.
“If it don’t take the first time, I’ll dunk you again,” he says.
Not a funny joke, not funny ha ha. He must be saying it to everybody, to Twigs, who he drowned and who already came back to life. She’s going down the steps on the other side in a wet robe, her soul flashing orange in her chest like a traffic light. She turns around and waves at me all wet. She’s a ghost. We’ll all be ghosts when this is over.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Pastor Jim says. Nothing but black sinner hearts. He has this funny way of smiling with his teeth, like grownups do when they’re fibbing. “But praise the Lord, our own Fleur Evette is now a citizen of Heaven like you and me. She walked up that aisle just last weekend and put her hand in mine and said hey now listen Reverend, I want to sit beside the throne of Jesus one day. I ain’t going to deny him for one more minute.”
He must not have liked what I really said, which was I don’t want to live in no firey pit.
People clap at the good news, my soul traded for one that will keep its hands to itself. First Twigs, now me. Bet you a hundred million dollars they’re thinking about when we went to McDonald’s and spray painted a pecker on Ronald. The manager Mr. Dickson had to go out in front of the whole town and paint over it. My mom said how degrading for that poor man. She said he doesn’t make a lot of money as the manager of a McDonald’s, so for him to have to go out and do that…
Was it also degrading because his name is Mr. Dickson? Maybe. That’s why we did it anyway. Mr. Dickson is sitting there in the second row, his arms crossed over his chest. Not believing in my flashy orange soul, not one bit.
The water blorps in my ears, blorping and popping like the time we went to the Orange Blossom County state fair and I got sick on the ferris wheel. I blorped off the top. I’d blorp in the water but Pastor Jim has his hand over my mouth.
“It’ll be over soon,” the stained glass Jesus says. Just hold up another couple of seconds, sister. He knows, He’s been through this. The longest I have ever held my breath is a minute and forty-nine seconds going across the Silver Lake bridge. I’ll be under longer than that because Pastor Jim has to choke the life out of me.
My body falls apart like sand poured in the water. I slip through his fingers just to have him gather me up again. The stained glass Jesus says, “See?” There I am, my body floating in the Jordan River, which everybody says this is even though how can a river be in two places at once? I guess the same way Jesus can be in me and Twigs and Katie M. I think if a Jacuzzi tub can be a river, anything can be true.
There I am, blue lips the color of the water and Pastor Jim’s mouth open. The pink worm slides out to wet his bottom lip. By His suffering, we are all set free. I think about my great-great-aunt Rosie, who got pushed down a flight of stairs. All the people that must have went free after. When people talk about her, they always say Lord, how that woman suffered. Two days dying. I look up at the stained glass Jesus who doesn’t know either. He shakes his head. Peace, child. Twigs is silver and He is gold.
When you come back from the dead you can see all sorts of new things. Ghosts. People’s underwear through their clothes. On the other end of the baptistery, the colored lights from over the stage cut through the stained glass Jesus and break into a rainbow across the stage. Pretty sure only I can see it. Maybe Twigs can, she just walked through it. Maybe the stained glass Jesus can because he came back to life twice and the light comes from Him. My mother says sometimes people can’t see the light inside them, they can’t see all they have to offer, so maybe it’s just us two.
“All right all right,” Twigs yells over the organ swell of “Amazing Grace.” She’s waiting for me in the wings, getting down and praising. It’s what’s up, Regina. The way we get down to Aerosmith, like we’re going up to heaven right now in our wet gowns and wet souls and those earrings we stole. Love in an elevator, livin’ it up when I’m goin’ down. How you’d dance if you could see a special kind of light.
“And a bag of chips, Evelyn,” I say when I’m down the steps.
“For real, Kimmy?” she says, then we’re both going at it. We’re the twist at the end, the starlets people thought they saw drive over the cliff.
When Miss Ginger sees our praising, she tries to shut it down. We do not gesture like that in the presence of the Lord, Mary Ellen Butterbaum. We do not gesture like that at all. She can’t stand joy, doesn’t know rejoicing when she sees it. Talks about pelvises. It’s so funny, Miss Ginger trying to put Twigs’ light under a bushel basket, Twigs just keeping at it, not hiding her light for nothing, not for Miss Ginger or Pastor Jim or anything, I forget for a second I just came back from the dead.
“You’re a bright new penny,” my mom says. “You’re all clean and shiny.” Rubs me with the beach towel with the smiling sun wearing sunglasses to check all the sin’s washed out.
I ask why you need to drown a kid to get them clean. I think if a Jacuzzi tub can be a river or a movie theater can be a church, that must be true, but I don’t know. I think if a movie theater can be a church then a church can be a movie theater, and how do you know which one you’re in? How do you know anything? I say all that and my mother’s mouth forms a round O like when I drop an F bomb and she looks to Jesus for help, but for her he’s already turned back into just glass.