Volume 26, Number 2

The Gift

Mike Lary

It was the same guy he'd seen at Sunday mass from as far back as he could remember. The one hanging on a giant cross with a vine wrapped around his head. The one who loomed over everyone, silently shaming them for their sins. But this likeness was much smaller, just a little bigger than Lenny's head, and he was standing. He was better dressed, as well, wearing a conservative robe in lieu of the rag that barely covered his crotch.

He was wrapped within cellophane, his gaze unfocused, a tranquil expression on his face. He appeared to be quite complacent within the confines of his packaging, disinterested in his surroundings. Yet his hands were held up, palms open, as if to show that he wasn't packing heat.

Lenny stood, slack-jawed, unsure what to make of it. It was an unexpected deviation from Aunt Josephine's characteristically utilitarian gifts of underwear and socks. But as usual she had saved her mundane present for the end, a wet blanket that was sure to smother his anticipation of another toy, a signal that the magic of his annual celebration had come to an end.

The other kids were already racing outside, off to play in the sandbox or chase each other with toy guns, and the creaking hinge of the screen door was calling for Lenny to join them.

"Thank your aunt, Lenny!" his mother cried.

Aunt Josephine pinched his ribs and squeezed him so hard that he lost his breath.

"Thank you,” he wheezed into her meaty bosom, anxious to escape the pokes and prods and lectures of the grownups. The adult conversation would be full of religious affirmations and instruction. His aunt's gift had been perfectly timed to ensure that progression.

Lenny asked to be excused and rushed to join his friends. They played seek and destroy in the woods abutting the yard. For rifles they used sticks, and the offensive team rolled up their sleeves for easier identification. Once the enemy had been eliminated and prisoners had been taken the war was called to an end. The dead rose and congratulated their killers on their marksmanship. They compared wounds and argued over who would have suffered the most had the bullets been real.

Before the day was through the boys had scaled a row of sticky pines, climbing as high as they could through the twisted branches. It was impossible to determine who had reached the greatest height because of the density of the trees, so bragging rights belonged to those who had sustained the greatest number of scratches. Much to the chagrin of their parents the boys left the party anointed head to foot with blotches of tree sap.

Lenny spent the next week playing with his new toys. There were army men and construction sets, playing cards and a long-barreled squirt gun. The latter two required playmates, but those were in short supply, and he eventually became disenchanted with the others. It was only then that he remembered his aunt's gift.

He'd left it in his underwear drawer, perhaps out of habit, since that's where Josephine's gifts usually belonged. But it was also an easy thing to forget because it lacked any clear purpose.

Lenny decided he'd need to make up a new story for it because he didn't want to incorporate the Biblical narrative into his play routine. He imagined the plastic seal was a cryogenic capsule and that its occupant was a space traveler. The ship had landed on a strange planet light-years from Earth, and now it was time for Lenny to resuscitate the passenger. He tore open the package so his guest could explore this new and exciting terrain. But Jesus didn't look interested in playing along. He just stared off vacantly into the air.

If the figure had been unappealing at first glance it was even more so upon further inspection. Jesus lacked the range of movement granted to other men his size. The military men could raise and lower their arms and legs. It wasn't much but it allowed for goose-stepping, and that was really all that was required for infantry. Some could even hold weapons or tools, or squeeze an enemy's throat if need be. But the messiah wasn't marching anywhere, and his hands wouldn't be gripping the steering wheel of a remote controlled jeep any time soon. He was as stiff as a gargoyle and about as much fun. All he could do was stand in place, it seemed. It wasn't until he'd been given a place on Lenny's dresser that he revealed his unique ability.

It started slowly, just a drop now and then. Lenny knew right away that it was blood, but he had trouble identifying the source. None of his cuts were open, and a pinky examination of his nose revealed only the odd, crusty booger. It wasn't until he watched the puddle grow that he realized the blood was dripping from the hands of Jesus.

Lenny wasn't familiar with stigmata, but he knew that a bleeding statue, one that would not stop bleeding even when wrapped in Band-Aids and scotch tape, required a level of maintenance for which he was unprepared. Towels could absorb a good amount, but they would have to be rinsed and dried on a daily basis, and it was hard to keep the routine away from the eyes of his mother. He tried to tell her about his dilemma once, but she rebuked him for making up lies and threatened him with a beating. Don't blaspheme our Lord and savior, she'd said.

During the school day the statue stayed in a wastepaper basket. At night Lenny dumped the blood into the toilet and sent it off to meet all the other undesirable fluids in the sewers below. Then he'd lay the figure in the bathtub, and the blood of Christ would drip slowly down the drain while he was sleeping. The system worked well, and in time it became second nature.

When Lenny moved out of his parent's house he grudgingly took the statue along with him. He longed for autonomy from the object, but he also felt tremendous guilt. He'd hidden the secret for so long that he felt it was a burden that belonged to him. After all, he'd never heard of another ceramic Jesus that bled so much as a single drop. This one had chosen him for some unknown reason, so he felt obligated to take it with him.

Despite Lenny's ability to incorporate the needs of Christ into his daily routine, he was unable to keep the relationship from affecting his personal life. He had a live-in girlfriend once, but she demanded to know the contents of the lock box he only opened when she wasn't home. She didn't like secrets, but Lenny was sure the truth wasn't a good alternative. He pulled his hair in frustration, avoided her questions and eventually watched her pack her bags and leave.

Lenny lost his desire for love and sex, and he resigned himself to an empty life of solitude. He eventually lost the will to care for Jesus, as well. He put an ad in the newspaper offering the statue to anyone who would take it away. He was worried that no one would answer his plea, but early one morning an old man with a hooked nose and a curved spine rang his doorbell and asked to see the artifact. Lenny obliged, feeling an odd sense of loss and shame at the moment of his impending liberation. The old man cradled Jesus in his arms and cried as if he'd been reunited with a lost love. Then he turned and shuffled silently down the hall and out the door, a bloody trail marking his path as he disappeared into the golden glow of a rising sun.