April 20th, 2016
The tavern was simply named and simply shit. A reliable garbage without complications or niceties. Seven barstools at a wooden bar stained in the nineties. Four large tables for family seating. Uneven floorboards, cigarette butts between. The smell of sweat and spilt booze. More sawdust in the air than Jesus would have found in Baltimore. It was a bar. Jesus’s shoulders fell a solid English inch. This was home, no matter what zip code.
“Stoli, double. And an ashtray.” He could smoke indoors, the height of luxury.
“Nice shirt.” The bartender laughed at his own joke, each “ha” like thunder. It resounded pleasantly in the wood framed room. The mirror behind our bartender hid behind dollar bills signed by locals over the years. One other man sat at the bear. He wore sunglasses in the dark room. His pointed goatee could use a little care. A woman’s touch.
“You’re new to town. You come to work?” The young man named Red rarely left Turnaround, TX and never went far. He was curious about everything outside of town. He was always about to move away. He’d been one week away from leaving for ten years.
“Fuck no.” Jesus took the vodka in one gulp. “Another, this one with ice.”
“That’s got to be your wreck outside of town,” the young man said. “Y’know, I put up that sign you smashed. You notice?”
“Notice the sign? Yeah my engine tried to fuck it last night.”
“Heh-heh-heh. Yeah I think my sign done fucked your engine. You notice?”
Jesus sipped his cold beverage. He felt like himself again. He didn’t even mind his costume anymore. “I give up, did I notice what?”
“That damn sign is still standing.” The young man slapped the bar with an open palm. “I build something it stays built.”
“So what, you’re a handyman or something?”
“Frederic, City Manager of Turnaround, TX.” Jesus noticed that no one ever just said the name of the town, they always felt a need to add what state they were in. “People here call me Red. What’s your name, fella?”
“Jesus H. Christ.”
“Huh. You don’t look Mexican.”
“White as the driven snow my friend. Gave them a scare in Jerusalem.” Jesus lit a Winston. “The wise men about had me crucified right out of the pussy. Joseph did some fast fucking talking to calm ‘em down.”
The bartender and Red the City Manager of Turnaround, TX stared blankly at the Son of God. Jesus went on.
“No one ever gave Joseph much credit. He was one smooth son of a bitch. Made a killing putting wood together when most of the houses were closer to adobe than anything else.” Jesus paused. “You two aren’t religious or anything are you?”
The bartender shook his head and made himself busy wiping down bottles and counters and generally making sure that he didn’t attract any notice. “I go to bible study Wednesdays,” Red said. “Not much of a Sunday church man.”
“Yeah, me neither. God’s a bit of a prick. Mostly doesn’t give two shits who shows up on the day. But if I started showing up? Fuck me, it’d be old testament shit all over again.”
“Do you mind if I ask you something, son?” Red said.
“Don’t call me that, but yeah, it’s a free fuckin’ country.”
“You’re dressed crazy, talking crazy so… You crazy?”
Jesus considered the possibility. That was the most common response to his announcement, but several decades ago he’d promised himself to look hard at the possibility each time he was asked. He’d gotten the idea when Alcoholics Anonymous was first founded. He thought it a responsible choice to take a fearless moral inventory. None of that higher power bullshit, though.
“My head’s a little baked from all this sun you’ve got out here, but no I’m still putting two and two together and getting four. How about you Mr. City Manager, you gone nuts yet living in this shit hole of a town?”
Red also considered. The bartender, with the psychic connection unique to the trade, poured a shot of sour mash and slid it into Red’s open hand. The City Manager held out his drink and Jesus clinked his glass.
“No, I’m not crazy I don’t think.”
The bartender laughed again. Many people laugh at everything out of a deep anxiety, and this bartender was one of them. He did it well, though. An old habit he picked up in middle school that now fit his character. His name was Brent. He wasn’t born in Turnaround, TX. He had moved there as a favor to a distant ailing relative and never left. He liked Turnaround, TX because as long as he locked up The Tavern at the end of the night and the money added up he could drink as much as he wanted. Which he did. He wished he could play music more often, or that he could find a woman. Neither were as important as being an alcoholic. He is a little important to this story, certainly more so than Samuel and Eugene.
“You’re too drunk to be crazy, Red.”
The City Manager nodded his head agreeably. “Well, Jesus, welcome to town. It’s good to have you.”
The doors slammed open. A small woman stood in the archway. She was old. Her hair was cut short and close to her head. Jesus could not tell whether it was a wig or not. She had fake rings on her fingers, bright gold encrusted with red glass. She moved slowly but smiled and waved to all in the bar.
“Hey there Barb!” Red enveloped her in his arms briefly and she patted the back of his head in a staccato rhythm that comes to us all with age. Well, all of us except the Son of God. “Here let me get you.” Red pulled out a bar stool and helped the lady up onto it.
“Budweiser, Barb?” Brent already had the top off and in the trash can.
“Yes dear, thank you. So you’re Jesus?”
Jesus drained his glass and pointed one finger to the heavens. Brent gave him a refill. “You people are all taking this whole thing really well. You realize most people don’t believe me right off the bat?”
Barb laughed a warm crotchety laugh. Out of courtesy and genuine affection the other men joined her. Jesus frowned and sipped his vodka. “This is Turnaround, TX darlin’. We aren’t picky.” She sipped her cold Budweiser slowly, holding the neck of the bottle between a knotted thumb and crooked forefinger. “People come here and stay here because you can be whoever you want. You don’t have to hold on to everything you were before. It’s a fresh start. Now,” she cackled, years of tar jostling in her lungs, “we don’t have the nicest things. It’s a simple sort of place. People stay for that, too. We could use a prophet around here, you know. I’m sure you’d find a job.”
The Son of God’s laughter filled the little tavern. “I walked away from the prophet business two thousand years ago and believe me, I’m not hearing from dad anymore.” He sipped his vodka.
“That because of Nietzsche?” Red said.
“Good question but no. Writing it down didn’t kill God, nice as that would be. No, we just,” Jesus sighed, “We just aren’t on speaking terms. Been a long, long fucking time.” He finished his glass and passed it back to Brent. “Better make this one a single.”
“Well people around here won’t mind that one bit,” Barb said. “You just better watch your potty mouth. Brent, darling, may I speak to you? City business.”
“Yes ma’am.” The potbellied bartender and the grand old dame retired to the kitchen area.
“She’s on the city council,” Red said. “Hell she is the City Council. She doesn’t get in on all the picky shit, like my salary, but when she says jump they all get in the air but quick. What’s your living?”
“Like a detective.”
“Yeah, something like that. I don’t need the money so much but it fills out the years.” Jesus did not mention that it was a compulsion. Ever since the incident (not that one) he’d been, to put it simply, solving cases. He’d thought about it a lot, tried to put a reason as to why. It didn’t seem like something God would make him do. The Son of God wasn’t sure his father could make him do much of fuck all. There was something else out there pushing the chess pieces around. Not God, certainly not Jesus’s old friend the Morningstar. Someone with a poor sense of humor. Whoever it was had left our hero with a need to decipher mysteries as they came across his desk. They had also conveniently provided such mysteries at inconvenient moments. “I’m not bad, not as good as I should be considering I’ve been at it for a couple millennia. Whatever. Fuck it. Why, the girlfriend cheating? Can’t find your car keys?”
“Heh-heh-heh. Can’t find my car most mornings.”
“Cheers to that.”
Barb and Brent stepped out and back to the bar. In quick time, Kay finished her Budweiser. She placed it in the center of a coaster. “Well I have a meeting. You boys have fun tonight. Jesus it was very nice to meet you. I look forward to seeing you around town.” She leaned in for a hug. The Son of God was not overly fond of physical contact. Still, one does not offend a queen without ample cause and this woman was as close to a queen as Turnaround, TX would ever have. He leaned in, not giving up his bar stool.
They embraced. Jesus felt a sand paper like tongue dart out and touch his neck. It was distinctly disturbing and gave him a start not unlike a static shock. She pulled back slowly, smiled, and exited the building.
Brent and Red shared a knowing glance.
“She do that tongue thing?” Red said.
“What in the fuck?”
“It’s nothing. Had a stroke a while back. Now she just does that. Not all the time, but she does. It’s weird but you get used to it.” Red held up two fingers. “Can I buy this young man a shot?”
Brent chuckled at the use of “young man.” He poured two shots of Tin Cup Sour Mash. It is an understood fact in Turnaround, TX that if someone buys a round it is the liquor of their choice and that drinking it is compulsory.
Jesus muttered to himself, “Give me a thousand years in this shit hole and I’d never get used to that.” They toasted and drank. “Been a while since I’ve had mash, that shit ain’t bad.”
“It’s all I shoot. Heh-heh-heh.” Red shook his head to clear the cobwebs. “Another?”