11.22.2004

chapter five: jesus mommy
excerpt from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick


“Do you think we should do our fronts or our backs first?” Linda says as she walks down the lawn carrying a tray with iced tea and sandwiches.

“I don’t know,” Amandine says.

“Well, let me think. If I do your back then I guess it might get messy if you did mine then, so maybe we could switch off. I could do your back and then I could do my front.”

“That seems fine,” Amandine says. Her voice drifts off. As the slow, distant buzz of a jet engine weaves down through the thick air, she remembers suddenly to look for Jesus—she had forgotten up to this point. Her eyes scan the edge of the yard slowly. But when Linda starts to talk again, Amandine’s eyes fall on her wide rose-brown cheeks, the brow-bone that pushes out in a delicate, horizontal stretch waving S-shape. You can hear the insects flitting by now and then, you can hear the creek’s purr down the low hill, so it isn’t silent, though it seems that way.

“Well, Amandine, you better stop chattering so much or I’m gonna have to send you home!” Linda says. Forgetting her coating, she smoothes her fingers at the corners of her mouth, then has to pat the white stuff back into place.

“What? Oh. Yes, well, I’m sorry, I guess I’m just sort of a quiet person,” Amandine says.

Amandine looks down at her arm and brushes something imaginary off it with a swoop of her fingers, cringes back into herself out of habit, though in reality she feels happy to be so noticed. A smile cracks in her, but she only lets it cross her face for a second. She rolls over onto her stomach.

Linda dips a wide, wooden spatula into the mixture and smears it across Amandine’s back, avoiding the rust-colored bathing suit strap. Amandine shifts a little when she feels the surprise of the coolness. The mixture is a bit sticky, but the yogurt in it smoothes it out.

“Linda,” Amandine says.

“Yes, hon?”

“Do you ever—see—Jesus?”

“Well, sure, I see Him in my mind when I talk to Him, or you know, go out for a stroll and feel like He’s there,” Linda says.

“Oh.”

Linda drips the mixture onto the backs of Amandine’s thighs, just a few cold spots, inching in from the sides.

“Ow!” Amandine says, and gives a little nervous laugh. The sensation of the stuff dripping inwards makes her want to cry out again. She can feel a runny puddle of it forming where her legs are clenched together.

“Oh now I know it doesn’t hurt!” Linda says. Her voice is light and fluttery.

Linda refills her palms and lets larger splotches of yogurt and honey trickle on the white skin just below the edge of Amandine’s bikini.

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep it clean,” Linda says. Her fingers spread out over Amandine’s skin, following the mixture as it drips down the curves, scooping it up again, rubbing it in. Amandine spreads out, takes up more space on the chair.

“But you don’t see him with your eyes.”

“Well, no,” Linda says, “No I don’t, but I know some people have been fortunate enough to have a sort of vision like that.”

Linda looks up to the sky, at the white puffs speeding by on a wind the women can’t feel down where they are. She pulls her wide, coated hands up, spreads the fingers out as if to dry them. She leans her head a little and tries to get the explanation just right:

“The way it works is you just feel Him—He just is there with you and sometimes at the beginning it’s hard to open yourself to Him but with time, things you thought were just ‘happy’ or ‘peace’ or ‘joy’ or ‘comfort’ you now have a name for and that name is J-E-S-U-S,” Linda says.

The breeze blows across Amandine’s legs and she feels she might weep from the sudden lack of another person’s skin.
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