02: End Times
I wish I could remember what I did that caused my Nana to smerk and pronounce, “You’ll be the cause of the End Times, child.” What ever it was, she enjoyed it. Perhaps this is why I have never feared the End Times. Maybe it is why I am determined to laugh through them. Anything to make Nana smile. Nana was not the only person to predict my dark destiny. I was told so often that my actions would bring about the apocalypse it became inevitable. You know when you say a word over and over until it loses all meaning? You wear out the concept of it in your mind. I took the stretched out, shapeless concept and wrapped it around me like a comfortable hug from my Nana.
There was a man in Flagstaff who told me I was redeemed by Jesus. (Pronounced Gee-zz-US! Emphasis on “G” and “Us”.) His pronouncement came after he placed a pile of loose coins covered in OPIM (Other Potentially Infectious Material) directly into my outstretched hand. His blessing was a confusion to me as the day before he condemned me for asking him to leave his cross outside the store. Maybe it had been earlier that same day? It happened during the week we re-opened and I don’t remember much. I didn’t sleep much that season. Jesus was only part of the reason.
We were surprised to see him with the cross in December. He usually only carried it in the spring. The return of our store was a special occasion, a blessing from the Almighty. He brought the cross, the symbol of resurrection and redemption, to celebrate the miracle. I let him know a lot of people were celebrating, too many for his 6 foot cross to come inside. He disagreed and implied that by barring his progress into the building I would suffer the eternal flames. (He more than implied, he shouted it.) The temperature was well below freezing. I was standing in a snow drift trying to see if the new doors were frozen open or if the sensors were malfunctioning. I was ready to use his cross as kindling.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Jezebel, you will burn in the flames of hell for all eternity!” Jesus condemned me as I investigated our malfunctioning pearly gates.
“Listen, friend. You’re welcome to shop, but the fencing stays outside. If you call me a whore again we’re gonna find out if it fits up your ass.” What? I said it with a smile. He wasn’t really Christ. Unless maybe he was. That’s the trouble with two thousand year old oral history, the message is a bit lost in translation.
“Of course. You are a sinner. The burden I carry is also yours.” He was trying to stand the cross in the planter. All we needed was for it to fall on a kid or bust a senior citizen’s head open. For the savior, this guy was providing a lot of hazards.
“You know it can’t go there.”
“Joann’s said I could.”
“Was this before or after you blocked their doors and called everyone a whore as they entered? Since when do you recognize the authority of Joann’s?” We made a strange tableau. A clearly exhausted woman on her knees in the doorway staring up at a man dressed as Jesus holding a cross. Snow swirling around us, arguing about the authority of whores and Joann’s. Just another day at the bookshop.
“They have enjoined the Pharisees against me. I render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” They must have called the cops. Several people dropped coins in the snow in front of him. My knees hurt. My head hurt. I could hear them paging me. A regular customer helped me to my feet and hugged me hello. We couldn’t stop them at this point. “Help me, O sinner! Show mercy and kindness to those who ask, in My name.” Humble and blasphemous. “You may wash my feet with your hair or stand a pillar as Lot’s wife!” I would have put even money on getting at least two full feet of that cross in him. You should always double down on rage.
Thankfully, a coworker rushed past. “Hey, Big Wigs can’t manage the line they designed. Kat says the POS probably won’t be online until noon. They can’t find the ER Kits. I think someone is trapped in the new cash office.” They helped irrational Jesus get the cross against the wall.
“REPENT JEZEBEL! The flames await you! REPENT! You are the doom of humanity, bringer of END TIMES!” Jesus condemned me a second time (and spit a little) as he entered my kingdom.
“Tough break, D. You look like shit.”
“Hey, that guy just promised me an eternity with no snow, this day is looking up. You look like you’re feeling better.”
“It’s amazing what a full six hours away from this place will do for you.”
“Six hours!? Must be nice.” We were both hugged and shoulder touched by several customers. “Are you sure Angi hasn’t just locked herself in the cash office? Where’s Andy?”
“Where is he ever?” The line was wrapping around the counter already. It was impossible to hear. To think we had wished for this only three weeks ago. Trapped in a warehouse for nine months. Grass is always greener or some other nonsense.
The door to the cash office was ajar. I checked anyway. Safe was locked, no one was trapped. No one was hiding. The back door was propped open by a ladder. Several contractors wandered in and out with clipboards. I think they were conducting a safety inspection. Ironic. They were paging me overhead. I detoured to the bathroom before heading to the counter. There was a line here too. I washed my hands and decided I could wait to pee. I’d have a break, probably. I really did look like shit. Something mad was happening with my hair. I was pretty sure it was frozen in sections. I could feel trickles, little rivers of cold, branching out and down from my bun. When did those dark circles arrive? When did I sleep last? I was pretty sure it was Thursday. Two days till Christmas or was it three? I think I had Monday off. My name echoed off the tile, part robot, part desperation. A prayer from above. No rest for the wicked?
The ER kits for the POS were located in the cabinet labeled “ER KITS FOR POS” directly behind the employee who had been paging me. “We looked all over!” (With your eyes open?) I opened the cabinet and handed them to the cashiers. I pulled the two extra ones and assigned some bodies to them. It was well past noon (or several days later) when Jesus approached my station. He had a bible. He launched into his spiel about how this was his word and it was free to all who would listen. This was his favorite sermon.
“Well, Caesar needs $3.50 Trade or $3.81 in cash for you to take it with you today.” Jesus had thawed during his time in the store. His hair and robes were dripping, as was his nose.
“The word is free to those who would listen!” There was some grumbling from the crowd behind him. The wait to make a purchase was over two hours. He misread his audience. Two damp, crumpled dollar bills skittered across the counter towards me. He pulled a handful of assorted coins from somewhere. I extended my hand, mostly out of habit. He bent his head over his palm counting out what we both knew would be an inadequate amount. His thaw continued.
Time slowed. A large, opaque ribbon of snot flowed from his nostrils onto the silver and copper disks. It splashed over them. A not-so-flash flood oozed over and around the currency. Then time resumed normalcy as Jesus, son of God, flipped the whole slimy palmful, snot-side down into my waiting hand.
“The BLESSING OF CHRIST BE UPON YOU! You are redeemed in the eyes of the Lord. Praise JESUS!” (Pronounced GEE-zz-US!) Jesus pressed his palms together around mine. Jesus fucking Christ.
I’ve done some terrible things in my life. I wonder which one made necessary this moment of redemption. Someone handed me a bleach wipe. I placed coins laced with redeemer boogers onto it and headed to the bathroom. A man wearing a “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” pin stopped me to complain about the line to check out and let me know he was disappointed that I left my station. He was buying several hundred dollars of product. He should be my sole concern. He was not aware that I was trying my best to bring about the second coming but those pesky horsemen were going to be delayed because I’d just been redeemed. The sinner in me really wanted to share my blessing with him, the newly redeemed part of me knew the truth of his pin. Jesus was the reason for the flu season. We only got three paid sick days a year so he would have to wait. (Survivor, not savior.)
In the bathroom, two toddlers were playing in the toilet while their mother took selfies with the door. (People who are shocked that a highly preventable infectious disease took out America clearly never worked retail.) They were playing in the toilet, not the stall. Just splashing around in it. (I wish I could say that’s the worst thing I’ve seen in a bookstore bathroom. It’s not. It’s not even the worst parenting I’ve seen in a bookstore bathroom.) After several minutes of scrubbing the top few layers off my skin. I asked the woman to free up the stall so customers who needed to pee could do so.
“They’re fine.” She was talking about her children.
“I disagree. There’s a long line to use that and it wasn’t designed for having paper towels or toy cars flushed down it.” The car was now in a womb goblin’s mouth. “Well, at least we won’t have to send you a bill for the plumbing repair.” I said it with my I-was-just-blessed-by-Jesus-snot-so-I’ve-got-a-clean-slate-please-give-me-a-reason smile. (Looks a lot like my Nana’s smerk.)
She pulled her spawn from the stall. She did not make them wash their hands nor did she wash her own. They were too upset because the mean lady ruined Christmas. Ruined! At least I was back in familiar territory. It’s not really Christmas if I haven’t ruined it. I am the bringer of the end times after all.