Day: July 18, 2018

Jesus the Day After the Wedding

What happened the day after the wedding was Jesus woke with a hangover. Again. The sort of pain in the front of your forehead that has you pretty sure your brain has split open in the middle of the night, that you’ll find blood, gray matter, and spinal fluid on your pillow if you turn over. 

Jesus didn’t want to turn over. He didn’t want to sit up. But he did sit up and he was dizzy and groggy and a needle threaded itself through his skull. He didn’t remember taking his clothes off, but his torso was naked and his legs were bare, save for a white linen cloth around his ass and pelvis. He didn’t remember getting into bed. He didn’t remember coming home even. He turned and there was no one next to him on the bedroll.

Had one of the guys put him here? Had one of the guys taken his clothes off? Because, oh God, that would be embarrassing. All the things they’d had to do for him . . . but they’d never had to take his clothes off.

His throat and mouth were dry, but he tested his voice. “John?” he called. “Peter . . . John?”

His voice was an echo in the pulsing emptiness of the apartment. His voice was an echo in the pulsing emptiness of his skull.

He forced himself to stand. He rolled onto his side and pushed himself up. His arms were strong and his legs were strong, but the world wobbled around him. He wanted to vomit in a way, in an exhausted way, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to know what might come up. Had he had sex last night? Had he made a move toward one of the women from the party? Had he made a move toward that one woman? Toward one of the men in the band?

Judging by the height of the sun outside the window, it was near the tenth or eleventh hour of the day. Where were his friends?

He stumbled into the kitchen and found a clay jug of water on a shelf. When he touched the jug he for a moment thought he was experiencing a memory, but then he wasn’t. Either there had been a memory and it was gone or there hadn’t ever been one at all. He drank from the jug. He went to the toilet—a room with a covered hole in the floor—and used it for a long while. His eyelids were heavy. They hadn’t been heavy when he woke, but that was a deception.

He found another jug of water and washed his hair and face and beard. The water was cold. For a moment, it energized him.

He wandered back into the apartment’s common room. This apartment was the place where he and his friends had made arrangements to stay, right? Jesus didn’t himself know the people who owned the place, but one of the guys did. He couldn’t remember whom. Peter, probably. Or maybe John. But probably it was Peter—Peter knew a lot of people in a lot of places. The owners of this place were out of town, at a vacation house in Ithaca or somewhere, and their dwelling here in Cana was free and they had said, sure, use it. The key is under the mat. Help yourself to whatever is in the kitchen. Just tidy up before you leave.

Jesus pushed his way through the fog of his own brain and found a pomegranate on the kitchen table. The thought of the work involved in eating a pomegranate dismayed him. A cooking pot hovered above the remains of a fire, and inside the pot was a stiff glob of cold oats. A couple dirty wooden bowls were on the table: evidence that other people had been here this morning. Good. This was probably the right house then. He hadn’t broken into some stranger’s house last night (he’d done that once, drunkenly, before). He thought briefly about filling one of the bowls for himself. His stomach turned. He would fast today, flush the toxins with only water. He’d always been a fan of fasting. 

He went back through the common room, back to the bedroom, back to his bedroll. When he was prone again the headache welled to a sickening crescendo. But still he fell asleep seconds after his face met the reed-and-straw-filled sack that passed in his life for a pillow.

 

He woke some time later, supine now, feeling infinitely better but far from his best self. Then again, he hadn’t felt his best self in a long time; he could hardly remember who his best self was. The headache was only a soft pressure now; his stomach turned more from emptiness than serious nausea. His mouth was dry again. He heard voices nearby, laughter and conversation.

In the kitchen he found James, John, and Thaddaeus, drinking from mugs and munching on breads, fruits, and other things.

“Ho ho!” Thaddaeus said as Jesus entered in among them. “Look who the hell it is, mates.”

Jesus smiled weakly. “Hey, Thad. Morning, fellas.”

“We thought you were going to sleep all day,” said John. You looked like a corpse in there.”

“I woke up for a bit earlier. What time is it?”

“Sometime just past midday,” said Thaddaeus.

Jesus groaned. He sat in an unoccupied stool against the wall. “Give me some of that,” he said.

Thaddaeus fixed him a plate of a chunk of bread, honeycomb, and dried dates. He also spooned onto it some seeds from the pomegranate, which they’d evidently cracked open while Jesus slept.

“Would you like some tea?” Thad asked. “We made tea.”

“Water,” Jesus said, taking the plate. A piece of honeycomb was heaven on his tongue.

“Sorry we don’t have no cheese,” James said. “I wanted cheese, but Judas said we didn’t exactly have the funds for none.”

“It’s okay,” Jesus said.

“Yeah, but I wanted cheese,” James said.

“Anyway,” Jesus said, turning to John, “nice place your friends have here. Stone floors and rugs and everything.”

“Peter’s friends.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.” Jesus guzzled water, ate a chunk of bread. “Where is Peter?” he asked, his mouth full.

“Went home with one of the bridesmaids,” Thad said.

“Nice.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, it was a fun party, yeah? Did you gents have fun? I hope I didn’t do anything too embarrassing, eh? Haha.”

His friends exchanged glances. John pretended to be intensely interested in the husk of a dried date.

“Damn. I did, didn’t I?” Jesus always embarrassed himself at parties. He couldn’t be trusted at parties.

“Yeah,” Thad said. “You kind of did.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah.”

“You dranks all the wine,” James said. “And then you says it’s okay because you could just turn the water into wine.”

“I did?” Jesus said. “I said that?”

Thad and John nodded. “You did,” Thad said.

“Fuck.”

“You was a real jerk,” James said.

“He’s right,” offered John. “And then when your mom tried to calm you down, you were just kind of an asshole. Told her it wasn’t your problem where the wine went. Told her to bring you some water if she really wanted to do anything about it.”

Jesus stared at his plate. He’d done it again. Every time. 

“Fuck,” he said again.

“Yeah,” Thad said.

 

Jesus sensed a change in the mood of his friends, so he finished his food quickly. He splashed his face again and put on his robes and took leave of them.

He stepped outside into the street and hardly was the door closed behind him before he was wincing at the strength of the sun and awash in the frenetic business of a day in Cana. Here on the left were two men, friend or enemies or business partners, arguing about the reasonableness of pricing an orchard’s yield so high when it had been such a dry season. There on the right were two women in light-colored and lightweight clothing, carrying bushels of juniper in their arms, three bushels each. They passed him, these women; they did not see him. And on the other side of the street, over there, a pair of robust horses, drinking from a trough and plucking apples from a barrel. Jesus walked—he picked a direction and he walked—and as he walked it came to seem as if everyone in the city had at least one companion. Animals, children, women, men. Even a lawyer had two other lawyers with him, one of whom read aloud meeting notes from a scroll. No one was alone in Cana except for Jesus.

He didn’t know where he was going this morning. It wasn’t morning, though, he reminded himself—he’d slept through that. It was past noon and everyone in the city had started their day long ago, with purpose and direction and intention. It was Friday; the wedding the night before had been one of those rare weddings held on a Thursday evening, after sundown, in the moonlight. It had been the wedding of a distant relative, some cousin of his mother whom he’d met so he’d been told once in his youth at a similar celebration. It was an arranged marriage, like most, but the union gave all evidence that it was destined to be a happy one. Jesus remembered warm smiles on the couple’s faces all evening, at least until the point where he couldn’t remember anything at all. Maybe someday he would have a marriage like that—a happy one, not an arranged one. In truth he had little faith in the existence of romance at any point in his future. There were women, sure, and once or twice there had been men (although the men entered into the story only on nights not unlike last, intoxicated nights, nights hardly remembered) and during a visit to Judea last year he and Peter and James had even stumbled into and taken at least small part in a Bacchanalia—oh what an evening that had been, exciting and uncomfortable and orgasmic all at the same time. But there weren’t real women, none with whom he could see himself settling. There was Mary Magdalene. There was Martha. Really he just couldn’t see himself settling at all, not him.

What he both wanted to do and very much didn’t want to do right now was see his mother. He owed her. He owed her an apology. He owed her so much more.

He didn’t know where in town his parents were staying. They’d probably told him. Cana was not large.

He was hungry still. He entered a bakery at the far end of the street. The front room was devoid of people. On a counter sat baskets full of loaves and small racks with rolls and pastries. There was a ledger, sitting open, curling slightly at the ends, and a well of ink. A pen. The room smelled of yeast and barley.

“Just a moment!” called a voice from beyond the archway behind the counter.

Jesus hadn’t realized he’d made a sound someone in the back would have heard. Then he remembered vaguely the faint ring of a bell as he’d entered.

“I’ll be up front in a second,” the voice called again. The voice was strained, aged, but joyful.

Jesus stared at the breads and considered. He considered just taking a loaf and going. Or maybe just a roll. Just a roll wouldn’t be so bad. He could take it quickly and leave. He could pay for it later, return and leave shekels on the counter when again the owner was in the back room. When he had more coin to spare. A roll would hardly be missed, and no one on the street would know he hadn’t paid. A certain braided loaf called to him. No one would miss a braided loaf.

“Sorry about the wait,” said the man coming through the archway. He was older but not yet elderly, gray-haired with creases of wisdom and labor along his face and his flour-coated hands. He wiped his hands and arms on his apron, commanding a cloud of white dust into the air. “I was putting a fresh batch in in the oven. It’s been busy for a Friday, and I have a special order due this late afternoon. But what can I get for you this Sixth Day, my friend?”

What could the old baker get for him, a man who had nothing but his freedom? “I’ll take that sweet roll,” he said, pointing to the smallest pastry on the counter, which sat on a rack under a small wooden sign that said in Hebrew DAY OLDS.

“Good choice,” the old baker said, although it was clear he didn’t think so. It was clear he thought that particular sweet roll was the worst possible choice. It was clear he thought every choice Jesus had ever made was the worst possible choice. It was clear.

The man told Jesus the price and Jesus pulled a few shekels from the pocket of his robe. He put the coins on the counter and took the roll directly from the baker’s wooden tongs and did not wait for his change.

Back in the street he ate the roll. He ate quickly, hungrily. He ate it in two large bites. Scarfed it, was what he did. He expected it to taste like something. Like despair or like loneliness or like joy or like sorrow or like freedom. But it did not. It tasted like a stale, day-old sweet roll. Things do not taste like non-things. Food is not a metaphor for feelings, Jesus knew. Food is not a metaphor for the condition of one’s life.

“Je-he-sus!” said someone behind him, and he felt a hand, strong and heavy, clamp upon his trapezius.

“Peter,” he replied, recognizing the voice. He turned to see the favorite of his friends.

They embraced, the two friends, like brothers.

Jesus broke the hug. “I hear you got some pussy last night,” he said.

Peter grinned. “Indeed, my friend. Indeed. One of the fine young ladies in the bridal party caught mine whimsical eye early in the evening. And undeniably I caught hers as well. And well let us just say I spent well into the morning catching every other part of her.” Peter winked.

Jesus offered a laugh. “Good for you, Petey,” he said.

Peter stiffened.  “Then again, I suppose she might have been a cousin of yours or something. I hadn’t thought of that at the time. I’m—”

“It’s no matter,” Jesus said. “Besides, even if she was one of my mother’s relatives, I hardly know them. Doubtful they know me even.”

“Well now, surely everyone knows you, Jesus of Nazareth. He who can turn water into wine.”

“Right,” Jesus said, turning to leave.

“Oh, come now. It was a hoot. You were a source of much entertainment.”

“Much derision, no doubt.”

“Famous, infamous. Is it not more desirable to be the second than to be neither?”

“Yeah, I’m starting to wonder about that,” Jesus said. But to be the first. . . .

“In any case, I enjoyed the evening. And I think you did too. I haven’t had that much fun with you gentlemen since we went into the wilderness and found those mushrooms.”

“Right. That time,” Jesus said.

“‘But what are we to eat?’ they said. ‘Do not send us away!’ they said. And we were all like, ‘What do you mean what are you to eat? The fish, the bread, it multiplies.’” Peter laughed loudly.

Jesus forced from himself some laughter as well. “Haha,” he said. “I suppose those were good times.”

“The best,” Peter said. And then: “I’m headed back to the house now. I trust you gentlemen didn’t quite trash it?”

Jesus smiled. “Oh no,” he said. “It’s in good shape. Thad and James and John were there when I left, eating. I imagine they still should be.”

“Well then. I should go over there before they do trash the place. Drink later? I know a great tavern only a few blocks over.”

“Maybe,” Jesus said. “I’ll meet up with you later and we’ll see.”

“Sounds good. Stay safe, my swarthy friend,” And then Peter was on his way.

 

His life hadn’t always been like this. In fact, up until a few years ago, he’d had options. But he’d eschewed them, by choice, because he wanted to. Because what he didn’t want was to be a carpenter for the rest of his life, working in his father’s shop just a few dozen feet from the family home, never venturing further than the Nazareth market save for during the census or events like this, when he was required to make an appearance for the benefit of someone else. “How will it look if you don’t show up?” his mother had said a few months ago when he’d stopped in Nazareth for a visit and she’d told him about the wedding. “Your brothers will be there and your father and I will be there but not you?”

So he’d said he’d come, but he was bringing friends. And then it turned out Peter distantly knew the groom and had already been invited, had already made arrangements to spend a few days here in Cana, and of course John and Thad and James and Judas should come.

The truth was, maybe he did want to be a carpenter, but how could he know for sure if he’d never done anything else? He was almost thirty years old at the time and had never done anything else. Which was why he’d finished sanding that table for his father and then had packed a bag and said goodbye, for now, for a little while, and asked his cousin to baptize him, to wash away the Jesus he was before, the Jesus who was the conception of a rape (he knew the story—his parents never spoke of it to him, but he’d heard them talking about it once before—and he appreciated what it meant, what it meant for his mother and what it said about Joseph that he had been willing to stand with her through it all and raise as his own son a bastard child), the Jesus who was born in a fucking barn because the inns had no room for him. He’d been big on symbolism when he’d asked his cousin to baptize him; he wasn’t sure he was so keen on it now.

His mother had cried when he left. She’d said, “I don’t understand why you can’t stay here.”

And he’d said, “I’m not going far, mother. I just want to see the world more. To know the world more.”

And she’d said, “But where?”

“I don’t know. Maybe Rome, Greece. Maybe just more of Galilee than this one city.”

And she, her husband’s arm around her shoulders, had said, “You probably wish you had another mother, don’t you?”

 

It occurred to Jesus now that he wasn’t sure how much time had passed since he left the apartment, but he’d made it no farther than the end of the street. What was his goal here today? It was a question he asked often. Some days he woke and never left whatever dwelling they were staying in that week—he stayed inside, drank someone else’s tea and ate someone else’s food and read scripture and philosophy. Some days he wandered the city, visiting shops (buying nothing, usually) and temples and sitting on benches in public fora. Some mornings he ventured into the wilderness, telling no one where he was going, and stayed for days or weeks. Once he ate and drank nothing for some time and grew delusional and conversed with the Devil. The Devil offered him everything, and he wanted, for some reason, none of it.

He turned a corner, finally, onto the main boulevard. He kept walking, sticking close to the right side of the road, adhering almost to the buildings. He walked against traffic, but as out of the way as he could will himself to.

Truth be told his head still hurt a little.

Truth be told his mouth was dry; he needed more water.

Truth be told the day-old sweet roll was one of the best things he’d tasted in nearly three years.

Truth be told the bridesmaid Peter had gone home with had been unrelated to him and Jesus, too, had had his eye on her since the beginning of the party.

Truth be told, he probably could have turned that water into wine, if he really wanted to.

On his left a man in a white kufi cap led an ass. The ass carried blankets and baskets and two clay jugs. The ass kicked dust into the air as it trotted past.

Jesus stopped in front of a door. He knocked and a woman opened it and looked at him.

“Are Joseph and Mary of Nazareth staying here today?” he asked.

“I don’t know who that is,” she said.

Jesus thanked her and carried on down the road.