Welcome to the Call Me MAYbe Flash Fiction Challenge!!
All stories begin with "The phone rang" and are no more than 1,000 words. Deadline to submit is May 31. For full contest rules and prize list, visit this link: http://mystiparker.blogspot.com/2013/04/next-month-call-me-maybe-flash-fiction.html
#11: Jesus Saves
The phone rang.
I rifle through the piles of yellowing newspapers, following the loud bell. I finally find the source of the urgent clanging, a piece of 1960s technology with a dial, a tangled spiral cable, and on picking it up, a weight of stone.
‘Have you found Jesus?’ The voice is staticky and tinny, travelling through ancient copper wires buried deep underground.
I frown. I have come to clear out my neighbour’s home. I had been living beside her as long as I remember. My parents moved into this little clapperboard house in 1985, and my first memories of Ethel, our neighbour, was that she was ancient even then. She was an elderly lady who kept her grey hair in cinnamon roll buns, a bunch of artificial carnations in the window, and her opinions to herself. As a child my mom used to encourage me to go in and have a glass of lemonade with her. I found her accent frustrating, the thick consonants a parody of Europeans in war movies.
As a teenager my visits were a means to an end; by evidencing that I assisted the elderly in the neighbourhood, my admissions essay was robust and I got accepted into college with a full scholarship. As a college student, Ethel was the quiet recluse next door, only seen occasionally, refusing help from anyone. I tried to call on her when I was in the neighbourhood, sitting politely on the edges of newspaper filled seats, listening once again to her tales of the old country.
And now, as an adult with a husband overseas, two cats, and one final attempt for IVF ahead of me, I am sitting alone in her sitting room, the furnishings unchanged from my first observations as a five year old. Ethel may be dead; even if she did not leave her mark on this world, she certainly left it on this tiny plot on a 1930s street. She died intestate, but she did sign a document that lists me as her contact. The contents of her house are mine, the proceeds from the sale of the house to a local charity for the elderly. I sneeze on the dust that has been disturbed when looking for the phone. Executor is a fancy word for cleaner, if you ask me.
I finally answer, I am sure my voice is equally crackly through the heavy Bakelite handle. ‘Thank you for your call, but I’m not interested. I’m agnostic.’
‘You must have Jesus! Ethel was given the gift of Jesus in 1941!’
Wonderful. A God-botherer and an ancient one at that. Miss Ethel Greenberg would not be interested in Jesus.
I look around and can’t see anything remotely Saviour-related in the house. Jesus is the guy with the beard and white robes, isn’t he? ‘Caller, there is no Jesus in the house.’
‘You must find Jesus! Ethel needs you to find him!’
I hang up, and continue with my cleaning. Some of these papers go back years, there are clippings from seemingly nondescript dates, random snippets of news. Idly, I spread some of them out on the table, looking for some pattern within them. There’s nothing that I can see that links them together. I shrug. No Jesus here.
I happen to glance upon a tiny little figurine on the mantlepiece, unsteadily balanced on a pile of supermarket coupons. (Here’s one for three cents off a pound of ground chuck.) It looks like a small boy with a stylised square hat and a solid triangular cloak. I’ve seen one of these before when my husband took me to church. He called it a Child of Prague. It is a representation of Jesus, apparently. I wonder if this is what they are talking about? I go to hit caller redial, but on the ancient dial-face phone, that’s not an option. How was that analogue anachronism even making a connection in our digital world?
Picking it up gingerly, the statue’s once shiny surface has crazed, giving the youthful Christ Child an eerie feel of an old man. Distracted, I sit down at the dining table, and I spit lightly on my thumb to gently wipe away some of the grime from his face, now pink, with flushed cheeks and a dainty little mouth. It is odd to see an image of the Christian God, who, in all probability, didn’t look like this, in a old Jewish lady’s home.
I pause to look at the little statue, and scoot back. The house isn’t going to clean itself. My chair leg catches on a paper, causing it to concertina under my feet and as I grab the table to still the bunching
and scratching of the detrius beneath my feet, the table wobbles. In slow motion, I see the little statue topple over. I throw myself forward to try and catch him and we meet in a trifecta of pottery, flesh and table, crumbling into two thousand tiny pieces of earthenware and one medium sized cylinder of paper, wrapped up in crumbling, dusty sticky tape. I pick it up and it unrolls in my hand, like a clockwork spring
I peel back the paper, and held within were five shiny gold coins. I read the note, the faded English handwriting in a smooth looped script. ‘Ethel Dearest, I hope that holding this Catholic image gave you some security as you travelled over the seas. Use this small boon to buy your passage should you need it, The past is difficult but think about your future. The world works in mysterious ways, and I hope that this Jesus will save you‘.
Twelve months later I look at the glass-covered note, the past in a frame, and the future in my arms. The future gives a shrill gummy cry and I offer her my breast. Ethel nuzzles up close to me, pink, with rosy cheeks, her dainty mouth suckling, her five tiny fingers gripping one of mine. Sometimes, it might not be that bad to find Jesus.
Maria MacAuley is from Derry, Northern Ireland. She is married to the love of her life and they live in relative peace with two cats. Her favourite historical era is pre 12th Century, favourite tense is the subjunctive and favourite drink is Guinness.
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