The day ended with a gang of childrenless mothers, running arm-in-arm up a hill after the small man everyone swore was Jesus.
Poor fellow was only a couple feet tall, with leathering skin and yellowing eyeballs, rank with the smell of old whiskey and pickles. His hands were big for his body, clumsily so, but still just barely bigger than a baby’s. He ran and ran, white dandelion seeds catching in his stained shirt and salt-and-pepper beard, and wheezing breath catching in his old throat. The women were red-faced, and sure that this little man could open their wombs, heal their loneliness.
The manager of the old Burger King down on Eleanor Avenue had been the first to see him, insisting the small man was none other than the Christ Child Risen:
“Saw him come out of a cave and everything,” he said, gesturing towards an open basement window across the street. “Scuttled right out of there with his sleeping bag and half a loaf of bread. Jesus had bread—made his skin out of it so he could live forever. Also saw a couple high-schoolers pin him down and steal his shoes. Like Jesus.”
And with that the town was in a tizzy, running through the streets and alleys with flashlights, even though it was early afternoon, carrying nets and lassos made from laundry line, and some of them dusted off old bear traps they kept specifically for this type of hunt.
“If I catch Jesus I’m going to name him Gizmo,” yelled one little boy excitedly.
Other, slower residents simply waited for him to be caught and dragged into town, and in the meantime got their wish-lists ready:
“Could use a new belt sander, and the gutter’s been aching for repairs,” said the old man who’d once run for mayor, before adding sheepishly, “and I always wondered what my wife’s titties would look like without nipples. Thought maybe he could give me just a peek, maybe just for one night. Of course, you’ve got to be careful about that sort of wish turning bad like something from the Twilight Zone, and then again it might be best to wish for more wishes, in case you need an escape plan,” he rambled, to know one in particular, and brushed a fly from his sugarless Red Bull. “But then again, most of this list isn’t wishes so much as things I’d like him to do around the house for me. Chores and maintenance and whatnot. Which is what Jesus is good for, I suppose.”
“If I win I’m going to make him finish the song he started for me last time,” giggled a teenage girl to her friends. “And then he’s doing pixie cuts for all of us.”
But the most fervent searchers were the childrenless mothers. A group that had somehow found each other and without having to say anything knew why they were all in this together. They threw on their Lululemon yoga pants and windbreakers and laced their New Balances tight. Some of them set their iPods to Taylor Swift, or to “pump up jogging mix” for motivation while they combed the streets. And when they saw him they were upon him like a pack of animals. He fled, stayed one step ahead all the way to the top of the old hill, before they had him pinned.
He screamed apologies and begged forgiveness, thinking that’s what they wanted, for squatting in the abandoned building. But it did no good against their fervid quest. They screamed prayers, whispered confessions, and rubbed him like a genie’s lamp until he was red and raw. Some of them cranked his little legs like a slot machine until he was white-faced with pain. And as the sun went down they finally stood up, one by one, to walk slowly home, solemn but hopeful, wondering if in the coming weeks they might sense some imperceptible change in their bodies. And the little Jesus lay prone, eyes fixed coldly on the red horizon, waiting to be buried behind the Church’s.
With their hopes and their Jesuses.