My Friend Jesus
by Kamala Puligandla
My friend Jesus says he usually goes by Chuey or Chuchi or Leon, which is his last name, but considering that we’ve just officially met, and we’re at school—“a very official place,” he says—he’ll have me call him Jesus.
“Thanks,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says offhandedly and then stares at some spot far away. He silently offers me a cigarette and I take it. I figure, why not.
“I climbed that over there.” Jesus gestures before us with his lit cigarette.
I examine the yellowed brick of the gym below us. “Really?” I ask. “To the top?”
He nods gravely.
Jesus jumps a little. He’s startled by this question, shocked, even. “For clarity,” he says, like it’s obvious.
“What’d you see up there?”
He smiles and breathes in deeply through his nose. “You can see everything from up there. The lines where the past and future meet, the direction of the wind. It’s breathtaking.”
I wasn’t expecting this level of depth. In the film class from which we’ve just emerged, Jesus slouched in the back with his arms crossed and rolled his neck back and forth. “You saw all of that from the top of the gym?” I ask. I’m not trying to be rude, it’s just important to get things straight when you’re getting to know someone.
Suddenly, Jesus scrunches his face up. “Wait, what?” He’s laughing now. “Ah, man.” He stamps his foot and tugs on his shirtsleeve. “No, I climbed to the top of the hills over there. Not the gym.”
I look beyond the gym and see the craggy hills, topped with a light spray of green. I start laughing too. “Well that makes more sense,” I say, though I’m still a little weirded out by his deep nose breath and I’m not sure if what he saw is being presented as figurative or literal. “I can’t really imagine a guy like you scurrying to the top of that crumbly piece of crap.” I point to the gym.
He emits a horse-whinny laugh, and I think he must be a good guy. “What’s your name again?” he asks me.
“Bearclaw,” I say, to see how he responds.
He looks only mildly surprised and nods. “Good name.”
“No it’s not. It’s Polly.”
“No it’s not,” he says.
“It is,” I say. “Unfortunately, it is.”
It’s another regular night back at my house. Whitney Houston is blasting on the stereo and Zola cradles a bottle of white wine on the couch. All the lamps are turned low, so the room is like a glowing cave.
“How was the day?” I ask.
“The worst ever,” Zola says and sits up sharply. “I got into another pointless fight with my dad over who should pay my cell phone bill, even though I already pay it, he just didn’t even know. And Adam doesn’t understand why I’m trying to break up with him, but I can’t seem to quit him and I can’t handle this because I have a deadline and a publication to edit and my advisor is up my ass. It’s like research crazy-town on top of man blow-ups. Why is it like this?” She pushes her laptop at me. “Look at the cats dancing.”
“Wow,” I say. “Some cats.”
Ricky comes over a little while later and unpacks his box of Tecate into the bottom of the fridge.
“You have a bad day too?” I ask.
“What? No.” Ricky tosses me a beer. “Tecate is good for all kinds of days.”
“It makes me gassy,” I say. “I’m only having one and then I’m switching.”
“Any other important announcements?” Ricky asks.
“Yes,” says Zola, “I’m quitting school and becoming a dancer.” Her solemn face breaks into a smile and she collapses over her laptop, laughing. Her hair sticks to the condensation on the wine bottle.
Ricky and I share a look of trepidation. “Zola, you know you’re better than this. Come on. You don’t need Adam.”
“He’s right,” I say. “You’re smart and funny and weird in a good way. Don’t let other people make you feel like all you can do is attach to a wine bottle and watch cats dance.”
Zola is sitting upright again. She’s smiling, but I’m sure she’s about to cry. “Don’t you ever get tired of being alone, don’t you just feel so alone?” Her voice wavers and then the tears hit. She tosses her computer on the couch and runs to the bathroom. “I’m sorry,” she calls out to us. “But don’t you ever just feel like there will never be anybody to love you enough, anybody to understand you? Like you’ll just be so, so alone forever?” She blows her nose in some toilet paper. It echoes off the bathroom walls.
Ricky kicks at the floor and then feels in his pants pocket for his cigarettes. “I’m sorry, but this is too depressing,” he says to me and steps out in the front yard to smoke. The screen door creaks shut behind him.
Now I have to listen to Zola’s echoing nose-blows by myself. Alone. Which is par for the course of thoughtful, self-aware, analytical human beings, you stupid idiot, I want to say to Zola. But that’s not helpful to anybody.
Instead, I get up and walk over to the bathroom to give her a hug. I’m short and she’s a few inches shorter than I am, plus she’s bird-like in stature. I feel like a couch when we hug, and it’s not such a terrible feeling. “It’s shitty, Zola, so very shitty. But you’ll find a way to make it work, you’re a strong, amazing woman.”
“Thanks, Polly.” Zola hangs her head for a moment then claps her hands once and snaps back to manic-normal. She goes to get dressed for a committee meeting or dance class or a lab social and sashays out the door, pausing briefly to hug Ricky on the way to her car.
“Give me one of those. I’m depressed now too,” I say to Ricky.
He taps out a cigarette and hands it to me. “Because you’re afraid you’ll be so, so alone forever?” he asks and chuckles.
“If Zola is the alternative, I think I’ve made the right choice.”
“Sad but true. Let’s go be alone together at the karaoke bar,” he says. “We can sing our blue, blue hearts out.”
I agree, and Ricky opens the door of his truck for me to climb in.
It turns out that Jesus and I really enjoy eating. “Double-fried chicken wings,” he says under his breath in our film class.
“Spicy coconut curry,” I offer.
Our instructor, a young woman named Ana, is moving frame by frame though a film to demonstrate mise en scène. “And look carefully at how these bright colors, especially the reds and greens, reoccur. Even the gazpacho matches.”
“Gazpacho,” Jesus and I mutter, nodding to one another.
We make a habit of bursting out of our film class and off to lunch. There are other things we could do, other things we should do, and we both ought to be saving some money. We don’t. Today we go to Rubio’s and stand in the doorway, staring up at the menu board.
“Somebody’s looking fancy today,” the girl at the register says. We both look around then realize she means Jesus.
“Hey,” he says, elbowing me in the shoulder—because that’s how tall he is and how short I am. “Lemme show you something. What’re you getting?”
I tell him I want the shrimp burrito. It has a non-gross creamy sauce that I like.
He nods and smiles as he approaches the register. “I like to put on something nice when I go out,” Jesus tells the girl. He pulls at his wool pants and his green checkered shirt. “Even if it’s the same nice thing every day.”
I have to admit that I think he looks more stupid than fancy. The temperature is hovering around 100 degrees and here is this guy trotting around in wool pants, boots and a long sleeved shirt. But I glance around and Jesus looks a hell of a lot better than the middle-aged men in bulgy suits and the skinny boys in pool clothes, clutching their skateboards.
“What about the drinks? A gift?” I hear him propose.
Minutes later he sits down with me and places two drink cups on the table. “Compliments of Rubio’s.” He smiles and crosses his arms. “How did you like that?”
I’m not sure what exactly I’m supposed to like. Certainly the free fountain drinks or maybe the suave moves he employed to procure them? But then he starts to explain and I realize the “something” he wanted to show me is not that he is attractive to straight women—which is a revelation—but something bigger.
“You put that energy out in the universe and it will come back to you,” he is saying. “I can feel it captured, in here,” he motions to his torso, “and I can direct it out.”
I watch his face for a flicker of a smile, for a sign that he’s toying with me, but his eyes look relaxed. He does the deep nose breath again.
“Do you know what I mean?”
I think about it. I haven’t considered the idea of energy in the universe—outside of a physics class—in a serious way, ever. But I am of the mindset that everything is real to somebody and that there is more to the universe than my own experience of it. Most of the time it’s just about agreeing on a language to talk about it.
“Sure,” I say. “Like humanity has some current running between us, a kind of collectivity.”
“Yes, but it’s more than that,” he says. “It’s the whole universe. Don’t you sometimes feel that you are inside of someone’s mind? That you are them? Or have been?”
I’m not sure what to say next. Couldn’t it be that this high school girl at the register just thought he was cute? I’m considering how I should pose this question when the food arrives.
Suddenly Jesus snaps out of his circular hand gestures and attacks his burrito. “Mmm,” he says and pats his belly.
I eat my burrito and give him my chips. We start talking shit on the idiots in our film class and for the rest of lunch it’s like I’m friends with a totally regular guy named Jesus, with regular breathing patterns.
I’m at the bar one afternoon with Ricky and I mention Jesus to him. “He’s got some spiritual jabber that comes out occasionally. I’m not quite sure what he means by it. It’s strange, I like it.”
“Is he tall?” Ricky asks. “Wears a beanie? Looks serious?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“I know that guy. I ask him to come have a drink all the time and then he finds some way out of it or says he’s busy or doesn’t show up. I get the feeling he sits inside all day by himself and he likes that.”
“I’m gonna invite him right now,” I say, digging in my pocket for my phone.
Ricky laughs. “Good luck. He won’t come.”
“Bullshit,” I say, “we have lunch together all the time. Outside. In public.”
“Well us too,” Ricky says, sticking his head out at me. “He still doesn’t come to the bar though. It’s a different level.”
We’re on our second pitcher of beer when I see the tall silhouette of Jesus de Leon appear in the doorway of the bar. He is, again, overdressed for the weather in a tweed blazer and leather boots, but he does look sharp and I tell him so as he sits down.
“Thank you, thank you,” he says, patting his blazer.
Ricky, ever the impeccable host, is already pouring him a glass of beer.
Jesus puts his hand out before it’s full. “That’s plenty.”
Ricky looks alarmed and I shrug.
Jesus takes a slow sip of his beer and goes, “Aaaaahhh,” like a commercial. To my great surprise, he makes no mention of the metaphysical. He puts his legs up and shares a video on his laptop of the cover band he played with in high school. They’re doing a No Doubt song, and the singer, in a skimpy tube top, undulates all over the camera frame. In the video behind her, high school Jesus, with long, dark hair, wobbles around in a little dance. He stares intently into his guitar and plays it viciously, hands flying. I can tell he’s shy. He never looks up from the guitar, not once. They move into a Rage Against the Machine song and the video ends abruptly.
“That girl,” says Ricky, a smile on his face. “She’s got some hoochie going on.”
Jesus grins and mimes breasts bobbing all over the place. It actually looks like the heft of breasts, and I’m sort of impressed by this crass move. “She was the only reason people came to our shows. Guess it was good to have her. She’d always complain though. ‘These songs don’t have enough words!’ ” he cries, his voice a nasal nag.
“I loved that music when I was a kid,” I say. “I don’t even know what I had to feel particularly dark about, I was eleven or something. But it was so right.”
Jesus nods. “It feels so human. You can really feel it vibrating through you, in here.” He points to his chest. “Where I’m also feeling this.” He points to his beer.
“Another pitcher?” Ricky asks and I look at his face for signs of over-slackness. Ricky always wants another pitcher. He’s not the type to stop when it peaks, when you find yourself looking gleefully around and thinking how there’s so much life to be lived. Ricky generally takes it to the top, and then up and over for good measure, until he’s blathering nonsense on my front lawn, begging me to smoke just one more cigarette with him and saying over and over again, “I want to tell you something,” which he never gets around to telling me. That’s not where I want to end up right now.
“Why don’t we retire to my place for some other refreshments,” Jesus offers, and I am relieved.
I can’t say exactly what I expected Jesus’ domicile to look like, but it doesn’t cross my mind that it would be located in a strip mall. Sandwiching his building are the flashing lights of a dingy boba shop and the haze of Hookah House. They give the place an overexposed, trashy vibe. It’s not bad, in fact it makes the apartment feel alive, like a hidden secret. We walk up a few flights of stairs and Jesus unlocks a door on the far end of the breezeway. He steps inside and then puts his arm out before Ricky and I cross the threshold. “One moment.” He holds out a finger and shuts the door.
“What do you think he’s doing in there?” I ask Ricky.
“Probably has some underwear on the floor. Maybe he needs to take a dump before we come in.”
“Maybe he has a mail-order bride to hide in the closet,” I say and we both crack up.
“What are you two laughing about?” Jesus appears in the doorway, one arm gesturing toward the apartment.
“Would you ever marry someone so they could get a green card?” I ask Jesus.
“Maybe, depends. Have a seat.”
I look around for a seat, but the place doesn’t boast any furniture. In a corner by the door is a pile of books and by the far wall is a twin mattress on the floor. A small TV and a record player sit on top of a cardboard box. I sit in the middle of the carpeted floor with my legs crossed and admire the open space. All the blinds are closed against the afternoon sun and I feel an immense calm opening inside of me.
“It’s a minimalist lifestyle,” Jesus says. His face is serious as ever, but I laugh anyway. “Okay,” he says smiling, “it’s also because I don’t own anything to furnish with.”
Ricky has cracked open a beer and it dribbles down his hand as he chuckles. “I’m familiar with the minimalist lifestyle. More often than not, it’s cultivated from low funds and in reaction to Catholic hoarder mothers.”
“Exactly, exactly,” Jesus says. “Right on the nose.” He hands me a little glass jar. “Bearclaw,” he addresses me and whirls his finger in circles, which I take as a signal to open it. “My resources are better spent on the maintenance of this.” He taps at his temple.
Inside the jar are some dank nuggets of weed. “There are different kinds of luxury,” I note and start to roll us a joint.
Jesus stands up and puts on an old a Flamenco record. It scratches a little and then bursts open into clusters of guitar riffs. In the darkened room, among the rising smoke, I feel that I have traversed another time and place. I arrive in an Andalucian cave and Jesus is wearing a vest and stomping his leather boots and handing me a tambourine so I can bang along too. This, I’m thinking, is the benefit of an empty place: the easy transformation. Or is it, maybe, something about these Jesus energies that make the room feel so fluid, so at ease?
I look over at Ricky, who has finished his beer and now lies on his side. He wiggles his eyebrows at me and pats the floor along with the music.
I’m on my back, finding shapes in the stucco ceiling when Jesus clears his throat loudly. He’s across the room with his hands behind his head.
“I have something to tell you two,” Jesus says. “I feel comfortable enough to tell you about my… my powers.” He says this with dramatic flare. “I know you’re not the easiest people to tell. You won’t be quick to believe me. I’m not even sure what to do with this information myself yet. But it’s real.”
“Powers?” I ask.
“I can feel things coming. I can see time—the past, present, and future—as one. I just have an extra sense about these things. I believe I can access several people from several places and times.”
“Okay,” I say.
“Do you have an example?” Ricky asks. “Just so I can understand what you mean?”
Jesus squints his eyes. He taps on his wrist. “Sorry guys, it’s time for me to go on my walk. But let’s do this again.” Suddenly Jesus is up. He steps into the bathroom and manages to emerge moments later in a blue polyester tracksuit.
Ricky and I wobble to our feet and walk out onto the fluorescent street. “What just happened?” I ask Ricky.
“I’m not sure,” he says. “Keep drinking?” His face has turned into a hamburger. It goes soft when he’s over the top. “The Boxcar? Sultan’s? I have beer at my house.”
“Naw,” I say, punching him lightly on the shoulder. “But I’ll give you a ride home.”
“Well, I was hoping, Polly, I don’t really wanna walk all the way and I got no money for the bus.”
I drop Ricky off to be meowed at by the stray cats outside his building and watch him drunk walk to the door. It’s an off-kilter strut, with long strides and a pushedout chest, his top half rolling right and left, right and left. “Watch out when my man walk kicks in,” he’s said to me before. But it’s not frightening. I still don’t entirely believe that he’s ever beaten anybody’s face in, that he’s angrily kicked down doors or purposely crashed his cars into anything. But that’s the man he claims is lying in wait, just beneath the polished veneer.
Jesus walks in late again to our film class and slouches next to me in his seat. Ana doesn’t really seem to care. I figure at this point she’s either written him off as a slacker beyond saving or an apathetic genius. I, myself, am still not sure which he is, though it’s most likely both.
Today we’re getting our first project assignment and, as Ana explains the concept, a movement from the real into the surreal, I picture myself back in the cave of Jesus’ apartment.
“Please familiarize yourself with the project requirements and then get to brainstorming. You can work in groups or pairs if you like, in fact, that’s what I suggest,”
“Cht, cht,” I hear from above my left shoulder. I nod my head in agreement.
After class, Jesus and I stand in the breezeway where we first met, smoking cigarettes and staring at his mountain. “This assignment is right up my alley,” he says.
“Mine too,” I say.
“Let’s brainstorm at my place,” he suggests.
An hour later we are both lying on his carpet, the air curling with pot smoke and nag champa. The shades are, once again, drawn against the sun.
“We need a portal,” Jesus says.
I take a hit from the joint and, as I exhale, some tails of smoke catch behind my glasses. For a moment, my vision is filled by a soft, milky cloud. The scratchy Flamenco record hollers and I feel the scene envelope me: the roar of crowds, the grit of sand, the whip of a cape, the gleam of sweat on the back of his neck as he pivots.
“I got it,” I say, half coughing.
Jesus just smiles. “Did you? I’m directing it to you.”
“What?” I ask.
“The matador,” we say at the same time. Mine is a question, his, a statement.
I look over at Jesus to see what is going on, but there isn’t anything to see. I do have a giddy glee that tickles my guts. It’s like this one cloudy day when I was seven, and while I shot hoops in the backyard, my babysitter dropped coins on me from a window and convinced me it was raining pennies. The infinite possibilities in the universe. They suddenly feel real.
“Foggy glasses,” I say, getting excited. “Our portal.”
Jesus nods. “Great. Fog in and out to reality.”
“The matador doesn’t fight bulls,” I say. “Something more tricky.”
“Streams of water.”
“There is a woman,” we agree.
“Only in the surreality.”
“The reality is simple.”
“And extremely mundane, lonely.”
“A bit comical.”
“The woman has curly hair and a tight bun. She wears feathers.”
“And a flower,” he adds. “She’s been waiting for the matador.”
“He’s late, as usual.”
“She forgives him each time.”
“Because she knows he means well,” I agree.
We lie in silence for a while. The record has ended and is making crackling spittle sounds as it goes around the figure eight in the center of the disc. I put my hand out across the carpet for a high five.
“Best brainstorming session ever,” I say. “Let’s storyboard this week and plan to shoot next weekend.”
Jesus crisply slaps my hand and I step out of the cave back into the bustling world. “The bright and beautiful world,” a voice from a toothpaste ad announces in my head. I know it’s insane and I want to credit the weed, but it feels better than that. I don’t think Jesus can make objects move or create something from thin air, but our minds have just met up in the same place, to occupy the same intangible other world. I have no words for it. “Incredible, that’ll do!” I say to myself. I buy a bright green melon boba to celebrate.
On Saturday afternoon, Ricky and I get drunk together underneath the grapefruit tree in my backyard. It smells floral and sweet and Ricky bounces his head to the beat of the tinny cumbia playing from his cell phone. We lean our heads back and try to name the shade of the sky.
“Coldslap electric,” I say.
“Crystal splash,” he says.
Ricky raises an eyebrow and flicks his cigarette. “Nerd.”
“Nerd blue, as in the color of your bruises after being shoved in a locker,” I say. “I like it, but nerd blues aren’t bright like this.”
“That’s more around 8 pm,” Ricky says and laughs.
I nod my head. “So I think there might some truth to these powers Jesus talks about.”
Ricky looks skeptical. “Please tell me you were stoned.”
“Yeah, but we had the exact same idea for this movie. It was like I could see exactly what he was thinking, we had the exact same vision. Collaboration is usually so hard for me.”
Ricky laughs hard into his beer bottle. “You just said ‘vision.’ I wish you could hear yourself.”
“I do hear myself,” I say. “I know it sounds ridiculous. On the other hand, what harm is there in me and Jesus thinking that he has some magic powers?”
“Well there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just delusional,” Ricky says. He makes wild eyes at me and then jumps up and bites a flower off the tree. “I’m a honey bee!” he shrieks.
“First of all, it’s not like that,” I say. “Second, delusion is the allure of film anyway. To see things and believe things that aren’t real. So why not go along with it? It’s just an extension of the movie.”
He looks at the sky for a moment. “You always insist on rationality. You can believe what you want. That’s fine for you. Don’t get me wrong, I like him, but I still think he’s cuckoo.”
“Fine,” I say, but I’m hoping that I’ll get the chance to prove him wrong. “So you want to play a role in this thing? Maybe even the matador himself?”
“No way,” Ricky says. “I’m a terrible actor. You’ll have to give me fake compliments just to get through a scene.” He shakes his head. “I’d be like Tobias as Mrs. Featherbottom.”
I laugh heartily, but his face remains pinched and I feel like I’ve somehow ruined this light and fruity afternoon. “You’re just a bored guy and then a hero, it’s not that bad.”
“You just asked me to be a hero,” he says flatly. “In your movie about a loser guy who has no life and then becomes delusional in order to get one.”
“That is only one interpretation.” I hold up a finger in front of his face. “A very negative interpretation.” Then I hold my bottle up to the light to see if there’s any left.
Ricky rolls his eyes, snatches my bottle and stalks inside to get us new ones. I figure we’re at least three beers away from hamburger face and that I should probably leave Ricky alone. I don’t know what his demons are, concretely, but they tend to come out of discussions like this—his dark past as an angry man and how to love women as a man and other such man matters on which I can only speculate. When we end up blathering nonsense on my front lawn, the hopelessness of love and life is our general territory. It often begins benignly by describing our dream women—since neither of us wants to use the term girl, which might connote a trivialization of the feminine experience—and by the end, I always feel so thankful to be a woman. And I feel thankful to have a friend like Ricky to make me feel that way. But I highly doubt Ricky feels any better.
And then I think to myself, Guess who is not a woman? Guess who might be a thoughtful man and, when hamburger face happens, just might be able to do something wonderful? That’s right, Jesus.
In what feels like no time, Jesus saunters into my yard in a red version of his fancy Rubio’s outfit. “Do you ever wear summer clothes?” I ask.
“What are you talking about?” he says dismissively and sits down under the tree. “It smells so heavenly,” he says. He does a few deep nose breaths, wafting the citrus smell toward his face.
“What’re you guys doing? I want to join too!” I hear from over my shoulder. The curly-haired mass of Zola’s head pops out of her bedroom window.
“Come out,” I say. She is awesome in conversation, everyone feels more excited in Zola’s presence. But it’s also impossible to explain to Zola the way all of my friends either dial up or down in response to her exuberance.
Zola just smiles her large, toothy grin and bounces out of sight.
“Meet Zola, my friend and housemate,” I say to Jesus. “She’s a caffeine pill made from allnatural ingredients.” I’m about to say that I think he’ll like her, but his face has gone stiff and I can tell that I don’t exist to him.
I look to my right and Zola has very cutely arranged herself cross-legged in a lawn chair across from Jesus. A small twitch happens in his eyebrow. I don’t entirely recognize the low voice that rolls from his mouth. “You smell of jasmine. That’s what’s in your hair?” He motions to the flower tucked into her bun.
“Yeah, is it dumb? What do you think? I thought it was kind of appropriate for right now because I just read all of these studies about how fragrances, like incense and essential oils, can have a positive affect on your performance in things like work or other stressful situations, and so I thought if I was working with jasmine in my hair, it might change—”
“Your energy,” Jesus says and crosses his arms. “I know what you speak of.”
Zola seems to find the interruption strange, but not disagreeable. “Yeah, something like that. Anyway.”
We fall into a somewhat awkward silence for a moment. Jesus is still staring intently at Zola and I wonder what he’s trying to direct at her. Our conversation resumes when Ricky amiably brings up the grapefruit scent again and for a while, I sit back and admire the balance of our energies: me and Zola and Ricky and Jesus. I allow myself to think the word “energies” and not cringe. I’m feeling a little less than my usual 100% Critical Judgment Parade. The problem is that I can’t help but notice that Jesus’ powers seem primarily to do with getting girls. I also feel pretty certain that our brainstorm was the result of me and Jesus having watched some film that we don’t remember seeing and unconsciously recreating it. Or it’s our own Don Quixote. And I don’t know why I think that he will somehow have a better remedy for Ricky’s drunken melancholy than I do. But I want to believe it, all of it.
“Psst, Bearclaw,” Jesus says, jabbing me in the shoulder with his elbow. “You never mentioned her.”
I look up and Zola is frolicking back toward the kitchen for a coconut water. “Zola?” I ask. “What would I say?”
“The flower in her hair.” He looks at me, his eyes wide, waiting for me to catch on. “We saw her the other day in our vision. Do you see how it’s all connecting?” His eyes are bright and excited.
Ricky is now frowning at the two of us.
“In our brainstorm?” I ask.
“Brainstorm, vision, same thing,” Jesus says. “You and I have connected. Now her and me. I predict something,” he waves his hands, palms down like he’s miming a lake, “to emerge soon.”
“But when will you and I connect?” Ricky asks, draining his beer. “I’m missing out on visions left and right.”
“Zola sort of has a boyfriend,” I say to Jesus and shoot an admonishing look at Ricky.
Jesus smiles and cocks his head to the side. “Boyfriends are temporary,” he says. Which is an attitude that I’ve employed in my own life and so I say nothing. “As for you and I,” Jesus says and turns to Ricky. “We are already united by our demons. They chase after us, both of us, together. Know that and have the courage to be bold.”
I expect Ricky to shoot some snide remark at Jesus, to wheeze the way he does when he’s stifling a laugh. But instead he looks touched. He smiles and pats Jesus’ knee. “Sing a ranchera with me, come on, you know you want to.”
At the end of the night, Zola, Ricky and I are slumped on the living room couch. My laser light machine whirls and tilts around the room and Jesus blares away on his electric guitar. It occurs to me then, as I watch the tiny explosions of red lasers all over Jesus’ body, that he has an effect. Zola, who is continually in nervous motion, is staring very intently at his fingers in a quiet peace. And Ricky, though his face has gone soft and his mutterings make no sense, also seems content. His stubby hands are laced over his broad chest and a smile hangs to the left side of his face. “This man is good,” he says and closes his eyes.
And myself? I ask myself. Am I willing to make the leap from the real to the surreal? Can I become Bearclaw? Will I believe in Jesus? I pick up the Barbie keyboard that Zola and I keep under the couch and, as if we’ve done this a million times before, I play along with Jesus, my tinkling candy notes sprinkled over the top of his brewing storm. For a little while there, we fall into a magical, musical sync, and it does seem like we’ve entered a different kind of world—one in which we share a common understanding and none of us is destined to be so, so alone forever. Even when it’s over, and our notes clash uncleanly, and Ricky and Zola are starting to get antsy, I can still feel that tingle in the tips of my fingers—that lingering sensation of hope.
Kamala Puligandla lives in Oakland, CA, and received her MFA from the University of California, Riverside. Her work has been published in Curve Magazine, Connotation Press and with the You’re U.S. Project. She is currently enmeshed in a heavily autobiographical novel about the pains of growing into adulthood, called Zigzags. Selected by Erin Sroka
Read the Editorial Note for Issue 1