What did Jesus do?
Ian came in from the gym earlier than usual. ‘Guess what I saw or heard? Jesus has landed.’
I was sitting in my comfy chair reading The Snow Leopard. My back to the french doors, which led to the back garden. That meant I didn’t need the lamp on. My mind blinked, lost in vast plateaus and frozen planes, and I frowned up at him. But I pushed a smile onto the corners of my lips. ‘What, honey?’
He was training for something I could never remember what—marathon, duathlon, decathlon, Iron Man—something like that. He’d a glorious mane of hair to dye for and a figure to die for too. He didn’t realise he was not so young. He did all that stuff online too, putting pics of himself, glossy fashion. Up close you can see the wrinkles around the eyes. And he can’t get it up—well, maybe that was just with me. I shouldn’t be telling you that. But he shared everything online. It pissed me off, but I recognised it as a form of insecurity. I’d worked as a primary-school teacher for many years and children in one form or another were always doing something to attract your attention. It was a trait I’d once found charming.
I’m older, easy pickings for a gym gypsy. Ian had a helpless sort of expression on his face. He taught me how to work out. A cliché, I know. I wasn’t a poof. I mean I was married to Linda, and had two children, a boy and a girl. I’ve still got pictures of my kids in my wallet, smiling, all teeth and unselfconscious. They’re in their twenties now, have pretty much nothing to do with me, or us, I should say.
‘Jesus who?’ I asked, trying to keep the irritation out of my voice.
‘Jesus Christ,’ he dropped his rucksack by the door and flung himself onto the couch, picking up the remote and pointing it at the telly. He flashed me a smile.
I gathered my stuff together, my book, my mug of lukewarm tea perched on the radiator cover, my pad and searched for my biro. I was always searching for pens that rolled away from me and lodged themselves between cushions or fell onto the floor or hid in the space between my thick round knees and the warmth leather of the seat. When Ian was in the living-room, I trekked into the kitchen. When he came into the kitchen, I made the reverse journey. He didn’t seem to notice. He liked the telly on full volume. Background noise followed him about like a shrieking dog that wouldn’t lie down.
I looked at the pictures on the telly. Joe Biden holding a hand aloft for the vast crowd below before he entered Aircraft One. The message below it said he was leaving for Scotland.
I put down my cup at my feet and leaned forward. ‘Whit’s Joe Biden coming to Scotland for?’
‘I’ve already told you,’ Ian checked his phone.
‘Don’t be rude.’
‘You mean about the phone?’… ‘We’ve already been through that…’ He held the screen of his phone up for me to see. ‘Look, it’s Jesus Christ, he’s landed in Clydebank. He’s in Vanguard Street.’
‘He’s not a spaceship,’ I corrected him as he passed me his phone and propped my reading glasses on my forehead as I squinted at the screen.
Ian watched me scrolling back and watching the loop and pictures again and again. ‘My mum’s got all his books,’ he said.
‘You mean the Bible.’
‘Nah, not that one,’ he looked flustered for a second, but quickly covered it up. ‘The other one they made into a movie, starring thingmy…The Exorcist. ’
‘You’re kidding me, right?’
‘Let’s not make a big thing of it.’
The newscaster was showing pictures of tens of thousands of people streaming towards Clydebank. Cars stuck in traffic jams being abandoned on Great Western Road. Families hand in hand walking. Above us I heard the sound of helicopters hovering.
‘Jesus,’ I said.
‘Exactly,’ he reached out a hand and grasped mine. A biro rolled on the floor. ‘That’s what I was trying to tell you.’
I squeezed in beside him on the couch, his phone between us, and we watched and re-watched Jesus, live.
‘He doesn’t look like I thought.’ Ian corrected himself. ‘I mean, he looks really old.’
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you. It’s probably a hoax, anyway. Nobody really knows what Jesus looks like, but I guess you could say he’d be older than time. Anywhere between 2000, or more, or a couple of hundred-trillion-trillion years old, squared, squared. So, I guess, he looks not too bad for his age.’
We sat like that for a few moments. It was the closest we’d been for months. If he’d put his hand on my knee, I’d have let him.
Ian asked,‘Who’s that with Jesus?’
He did something with his phone and slowed the loop down. A woman’s face emerged from behind Jesus’s shoulder.
‘Fucking hell,’ Ian said. ‘She’s fucking hot.’
‘That’s the Virgin Mary,’ I whispered.
‘Sweetie,’ Ian straightened up for the first time and took a deep breath. ‘How did you know that?’ He rubbed the back of my neck and shoulder, and I flinched, but he didn’t seem to notice. Gave one of his hollow laughs. ‘Have you been holding out on me?’
‘No,’ I wet my lips.
‘Then how do you know her name.’
I’d been thinking the same thing. ‘I don’t know.’
He went on staring at the side of my face and then laughed again. The living room filled with his hollowness.
I remembered all the prayers my mum used to direct to the Blessed Mary Ever Virgin. She was on her knees. The soothing incantations of her voice like the echo in a Spanish guitar, whispering to me. ‘We should go and see her,’ I said.
He looked at the living room window and snorted. ‘Hallo, it’s raining out there. And if it’s not raining now, it will be later…Besides, Vanguard Street is like, full of ugly looking tramps.’
‘But it’s not far, just along the canal.’
‘Go if you want.’ He picked up the remote and flicked through Netflix. ‘I’ve got better things to dae with my time.’
The electricity went off and outside the street lighting went dead.
‘What’s happened?’ a note of panic in his voice The shortness in his breath settling when its light came on. He could scroll down the screen and it lit up his face. ‘Thank God, for that.’
The words came out of my mouth, unsettling me, but I couldn’t stop them. ‘Thou shall not take thy Lord thy God’s name in vain.’
He gave me a hurt look. ‘Whit did you say?’
‘I don’t know,’ I admitted. ‘But we need to go to Vanguard Street. And we need to go now. Before it’s too late.’
‘Too late for whit?’
‘I don’t know that either. But we need to go, quickly.’
‘But I need to get a bath,’ he sniffed his oxters. ‘And get some clean clothing.’