Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


The Interpenetrating Power of the Holy Ghost

{This is an initial draft more or less so there are plenty of places I will make revisions and maybe even substantially rewrite.}

The Interpenetrating Power of the Holy Ghost

Those who aim at ascending with the body to Heaven indeed need violence and constant suffering, especially in the early stages of their renunciation, until our pleasure-loving dispositions and unfeeling hearts attain to love of God and chastity by manifest sorrow.

St. John of the Ladder

The window was cracked open wide enough for the thick wafting presence of the paper mill on Douglas Street five blocks over to mingle with the musty dampness of the room and the sweat and odor of two bodies oozing through the week’s worth of used clothing piled up in a corner. July heavy night weighed on everything in the Dubois Street Apartment room; the inescapable push and smother. Disembodied mechanical voices, crickets rose and fell with the passing minutes in defiance of the heavy air; in the distance through the paper mill scented evening fog the graveyard shift switcher in the yard announced its weariness with the world long and unmechanical lonely. The girl laughed raucously and pulled on Bobby’s bare arm towards the unmade bed catching the also weary yellowed moon light through the opened window.

There was a thudding on the door and a muffled voice seeped through. Bobby’s roommate had forgotten his keys, or dropped them on the way home, or on the way to the bar- he might remember in the morning; he usually did or someone would find them and then find him. He was lucky like that.

“Damn it, open the door. I hear you two in there- you can’t fool me no way. You get that whore out of here and- and let me in. I’ll break this thing down smash both of you up and you know I’ll do it you know it man. Damn you both. You open up now; get her- get out.” Bobby groaned and stood up to open the door. The girl giggled under her raspy breath, certain that this was only a minor and amusing interruption because why would the roommate mind all that much sure he was drunk but why should that matter? Only ten minutes had passed since she got there, the evening having been spent up till then at a movie and then a bar; nothing had happened worth mentioning so it couldn’t be over yet. The door opened. A nervous old lamp was flicked on illuminating a desk surrounded by papers and yellowed notebooks and old free newspapers full of unanswered want ads and a half eaten hamburger in one corner. The now frowning girl was pulling a faded Ole Miss print shirt over her artificial tanned thin lined shoulders. Bobby had sat back down on the bed staring at the flickering light. He didn’t turn to look at the drunken roommate, who now spoke again, his words crawling out and mingling with the sweat and heat of the room.

“This is my place, my place and I’m going to- sleep. I want to- to sleep. Now. Not with her in here. Clear- clear- out. You hear man?”
“Look Lee Ann I’m sorry,” Bobby muttered to the now fully dressed girl standing looking bored by the bed. “You’d best leave before happy here gets all in a wad. He gets like this- I should have, we should have gone somewhere else. He ain’t no account when he gets like this, and he ain’t gonna leave and I can’t make him right now. You’d best go for now. It’s late anyhow. I’ll see you tomorrow maybe,” but he already sounded tired and noncommittal.

She grunted angrily and stomped out her auburn hair flaring angrily except where it was matted to her forehead in beads of perspiration that also glared. Her words were short.

“You ain’t no fun Bobby damn you. I knew you didn’t have it. Leave me alone if you ain’t got it- I ain’t wasting my time no more with you.” The roommate didn’t seem to notice her any more, and instead stared stupidly into space for a few seconds, stumbled further into the room, shut the door, and sat on the floor against the bed and grunted with satisfaction.

All his momentum, physical and otherwise, lost, Bobby sat down on his bed and brooded for several minutes before flipping off the lamp and lying back on his sullen bed wet with the dampness of the July night, his blood slowly coursing as the internal heat receded painfully and he found himself tired and not knowing. We didn’t do nothing and it’s all his fault but maybe it’s also some of mine and really I don’t know if only we’d started earlier. He felt a strange sort of relief and guilt mingled with the anger that her delicate raspy form was a long ways off from his. The switcher gave a final moan through the paper mill fog and shuffled off for the night to sleep away its world-weariness for a while. The crickets continued their defiant mechanical rise and fall and the yellow world-weary moon flooded everything.

Bobby had never found much sense in the mystical rites that took place behind the plywood doors, but he persisted in coming, every Sunday evening, every week of the year. He even came in one time with a bad hangover; he sat in the very back and swayed discordantly with the music and the clapping and the manifestations of the Holy Ghost that lilted through the sanctuary filling everything; he even sang along loudly and gratingly to the songs (which he had memorized by heart though he had never so much as said the words before). Usually though he stayed in the same position, and never moved to the music or anything else, never responding to anything. Certainly not the maniacs who would occasionally fall out in the aisle or in front of the wooden altar below the pulpit. He thought, or so he liked to think he thought, that it was all a clever crock to make old people happy, and make the younger ones feel better about themselves after a week of not so religious sentiments. Probably the old people too- he knew some of them and not all of them were so devout beyond the plywood door sacred precinct.

As he sat in one of the very rear pews clutching the one in front of him, his fingers tightening and relaxing rhythmically the only part of him on the outside moving, all through the service, he reminded himself that it was all a crock. He didn’t sing, didn’t stand, didn’t close his eyes when the preacher gave his long rambling prayers. He kept coming. Some nights he absolutely hated it, hated the church, hated the pale green carpet that led down to the hateful altar and the even more hateful preacher and song man, and all the idiots who followed all the garbled nonsense that flowed out from that pulpit, from the idiots who occupied it. But he kept coming, even though he was never sure why he did. He would tell himself it was for the show and that was the only reason he came but he never felt entertained. So he kept coming, and every Sunday he would recite that excuse to himself, an excuse that he did not even believe and which he knew he did not believe but that he kept telling himself.

He always believed in God, believed in Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, but wasn’t sure about the rest of it, and positively despised most of it, usually including the parts he believed. He did not actually like the idea of Jesus; yet no matter how hard he tried to dislike and disbelieve he couldn’t, not for long. That night, that night she and he came so close and not metaphorically, it was pounding in his head, and he couldn’t get it out no matter how hard he tried. Two days before. He hadn’t heard from her since, she didn’t answer when he called, didn’t come to the door of her trailer she shared with her step-mother and two younger sisters (half or otherwise Bobby had never asked). The paper mill smell- it came in through the two big plywood sheath doors of Gospel Truth Tabernacle that were left cracked open and through the open windows- reminded him. She smelled like that in his memory, and she would smell like that forever.

A large woman sitting in front of him, perhaps forty and dressed in a floral print dress that smelled of mothballs, suddenly lurched up and began half screaming half singing something in a strange manic voice, speaking in an unknown tongue. Bobby shuddered but stared up at the back of her head as it bobbed up and down with the pulse of the message, and he kept tightening and relaxing his fingers on the pew. He hated the tongues most off all, yet he found a strange thrill of terror, disgust, mystery, all whirled together, when it happened, like it was something terribly significant though he did not know what it signified, or at least he was not certain. He was rarely certain of anything and thought it better to be that way. The preacher stopped preaching and instead called upon the congregation to listen, and for an interpreter to come forward.

A scrawny man in greasy overalls, his thinning hair scruffily gesturing frantically in several directions meekly stood and walked over into the aisle next to the woman, who briefly paused. “Preacher I done received a Sign. It’s a Sign, preacher, a genuine Sign, goes right along with Miss Sally’s receiving of her own Sign. If you don’t mind preacher,” and he paused as if to catch his breath and lay still more emphasis upon his revelation, “I have this Sign from the Holy Ghost, sure as I’m standing here.” Bobby’s fingers stretched out all the way from the pew into the space beyond then folded back and clutched the pew harder, let go, clutched again.

The woman had resumed, her head lifted up her face sweating aglow in holy rapture. She gave a final cry, breaching for the uttermost guttural, and sat back down. The scrawny man in overalls tilted back his head and closed his eyes and began to speak in a thin monotone that yet trembled with an interior energy like hummingbird wings pounding, even his frantic hair reaching out into the realm of holy signification. “The Blood of the Lamb is the breaking of the whole world and everything will burn up in the Fire at the End and what’s not worth keeping will burn up. What’s to keep has got to be cut off from the rest or it will burn up in the Fire. This is a true Sign of God, and it’s all Gospel Truth, and it’s all in the Holy Bible. The Power of the Blood of the Lamb will burn the cinders twice over and cut off the unclean from the assembly of the washed. This is a Sign of God, and you who’s got ears to hear, hear this Sign. Cut off whatever’s holding on. You know right who you are, who’s picked out to hear this sign, this very night! Today is the day of salvation! Him with eyes to see let him see.”

Bobby was trembling all over suddenly, which frightened him more with its suddenness and un-summoned nature than the message the man was delivering.
I didn’t do nothing, I ain’t got nothing on my hands, and I won’t be burnt up because I don’t go along with a bunch of half-witted fools. I am not afraid of the Fire! I don’t need nothing cut off from me. I am whole. I am whole damn it all. And anyway we didn’t do nothing because we were interrupted.

The man suddenly turned around and faced Bobby- looked at him full in the eyes for a brief moment- then lifted his face, glistening with fervor, up at the moldy ceiling blazing with sacred energy and catching the burning tongues. The congregation murmured- surely the message was concluded but it wasn’t and this was the climax for the messenger’s eyes and ears and lips were blazing brighter than before. “The filthy, the fornicators, all the unclean- they ain’t whole! They’re going to be cut off unless they burn now, get cut off now! The fire is burning, burning, burning! The Sword of the Lord flashes down and it’s burning hotter than the sun and even all the fires of Hell. Everybody going to be cut off who don’t cut themselves off from uncleanness now; you got ears to hear, hear. Amen.”

Bobby was sweating strongly now. The man sat down, not even looking at Bobby. It didn’t matter. The preacher stood back up and began preaching about the wonders of the Signs from the Lord and reiterated the point about listening and following, and soon the song man had a hymn struck up, and there were loud halleluiahs and shouts and groans from people being slain in the Holy Ghost out in the pale green carpeted aisles that led up into the mystery of mysteries. Bobby couldn’t take it any longer. It wasn’t just the Sign that was spoken right into him; it was everything everywhere coming into him and he couldn’t stop its coming so long as he was in this place. He thought at once that was all a crock and that it was all true, so true he could feel it pulsing in him filling his being, and it filling hurt and was uncertain in its full strength and significance and he still hated it. He slid out of the pew and crept back to the plywood sheath doors and slipped into the paper mill night smelling of her and guilt and the Fire and the interpenetrating power of the Holy Ghost.

She came back. He knew she would- she was young and he was young, had some money and was fairly good looking anyway or so he thought. And he had it in him, whatever she had said. He had kicked his roommate out finally- sure, both of them had a little too much to drink now and then but the roommate was too regular for Bobby’s taste. She came back to his door and pulled on his arm again and he let her back in to stay. She was happy, and even though she smelled of the paper mill night and now of the Fire and the Holy Ghost they were together for two months and Bobby thought that he too was happy except for the few times the smell of the Holy Ghost and the Fire was too strong, but those times were rare. Then she left one morning and didn’t come back. Bobby got back to the little apartment on the other side of the Kansas City Southern yard one evening after the IGA supermarket on East Main had closed. She wasn’t there anymore and had taken all her things and left a note saying she was going to Mobile, and wouldn’t be coming back and please don’t follow me and probably we’ll never see each other again. Ever.

He was angry and sad for an hour or so, and walked over to the railroad yard across the street, its edges swathed in the verdant kudzu green of summer that threatened to consume the yard, rails and cars and perhaps the entire world in all its pieces. There was nothing moving on the line tonight, so the killdeers rejoiced in their free reign over the gravel and weeds and the liminal space beside the kudzu. He thought for a long time listening to the killdeers furtive cries, squatting in the liminal escalating precinct between vine and ballast mound. Then he reached a decision.

El Paso lay a long ways across the stretched out interstate, further than going to Jackson or Meridian or visiting his kin-folks outside of Pelahatchie. He had been to El Paso once before and had an uncle there who had offered him a job back in February. He had called him up after making his decision to go- to go anywhere he had decided- and asked if it was still available. Yes his uncle said and you’re welcome to it so long as you don’t screw up real bad. It probably wasn’t a very good job- Bobby wasn’t even sure of the particulars other than it involved his uncle’s shipping operation about which he didn’t really know anything and hoped it was more or less legal- but it was somewhere else far away and that was what mattered. Everything here was in confused fragments that had ceased to work together though he was unsure why and how.

He got started late, so he spent the night outside of Shreveport because he was tired of driving (though certain of his decision to go-to go anywhere). The motel was as cheap as they get before the health inspector finds the bribes insufficient to keep it open. Bobby threw his things in the cigarette-smelling room then drove down the strip towards a liquor store he had passed on the way in. He was tired and dry and anyway he had a lot on his mind. It was Sunday, but he had finally broken his habit, a week after she had come back. She didn’t like it, so he stopped. But now he felt a strange urge to go to church, anywhere, it didn’t matter. The Gospel Truth Tabernacle was a long ways off.

There was a Catholic church a couple of blocks from the liquor store. St. Lawrence’s Roman Catholic Church Sunday Mass at Eleven Perpetual Adoration Sunday thru. Monday the sign read. Bobby was intrigued. He had heard once that Catholics ate Jesus, which had fascinated him when he heard about it, though he doubted whether such a thing was possible, and whether if it was if he would want to. He did not know what Perpetual Adoration was but he imagined it had something to do with eating Jesus because both concepts were Catholic and intrinsically mysterious. He stopped. There were two cars in the parking lot under several looming loblollies and a scraggly redbud bending under the existential weight of the taller trees.

He cautiously, reticently parked his battered Ford pickup and swung out onto the still hot pavement. His legs trembled. The door was only a short distance away but his legs nearly refused to carry him and he did not know why really except that it was the reticence of broaching an untouched before mystery. There was a light coming from under the door, but all was silent. He hoped the door would be locked and he could go to the liquor store but he knew the door would be open. It was. Into the pulsing receptacle of mystery he walked, past the holy water fount and down a thinning blue carpet (not green but still leading into a holy of holies caught in mystery), down towards the side chapel where three elderly parishioners were kneeling in front of a small monstrance upon the altar. All was silent except for one stooped over lady in a green dress (barely smelling of mothballs) fingering her rosary and whispering her prayers. The other two parishioners- one her husband and the other another elderly lady- were praying silently before the enshrined Sacrament. All was quiet and dim with two low burning bulbs and several votive candles flickering. Bobby walked down to the rail in front of the altar and stood there, sweating and trembling interiorly.

“Is it true what they say about you people? Dear God is it true?” He had turned half way around, so that the Sacrament was in one corner of his vision and the parishioners in the other. “Is it true? Do you believe it?”

The lady with the rosary looked up, having only registered the intruder’s presence when he spoke. “They say a lot of things. You got something in particular in mind son?”

“Is it true that you eat Jesus here? And if you do where- where do you find Him and when and do you keep Him around?”

“You drunk son?”

“No ma’am I’m as sober as the day I was born maybe more. I’m as serious as- as serious as I ever been, maybe more.”

She turned and whispered something to her husband, who had by now looked up and was watching the interchange. “Well son I suppose it’s true though I can’t say that I’ve ever tried to put it that way. We receive the Blessed Sacrament at Mass and it’s the Body and Blood of Jesus you know. Yes, we eat Him, so to speak, though I reckon I don’t usually talk about that way you know.”

“But where does He come from? Where does He go? Dear Lord.”

“I don’t guess I really know. Father O’Brian likes to say it’s all a mystery and what not, which works for me. I guess- well I guess you might say He comes into you, and stays there. But you really should talk to Father O’Brian. He’s good at- at speaking about such things, you know. Afraid I’m not. Jim here ain’t no better, and he don’t like talking much anyway, except about the weather and those durn engines of his.”

“What’s that up there- you got Jesus in here?” He pointed to the brightly gilded monstrance, its circle of rays an orb from which emanated the pulsing energy that shook Bobby’s heart and screamed some sort of sign but he could not find its referent yet.

“This is the place for Perpetual Adoration. The Sacrament is kept in there…”

“In there. Jesus.”

“You normal talk like this in church son?” the husband threw in, slightly irritated.

But Bobby didn’t hear anyone anymore. He sat down on the floor in front of the rail and stared transfixed at the Sacrament and his insides were trembling even more while his face went blanker. One small piece, one fragment but within it was the whole thing just like the Holy Ghost shaking that other tabernacle filled everything and brought everything together: he knew it and all rushed in on him just like it had before but he did not know how to control it or its full signification. But this time he did not leave. He couldn’t. He cursed himself inwardly for even associating with such foolishness but he immediately retracted his curse and went silent, still trembling. Fear and loathing mingled through his mind but didn’t cancel each other out. They only mingled in some uncomfortable union.

The others had stopped praying and were fidgeting in their pews, wondering what the seemingly half-crazed man sitting on the floor before the Sacrament was going to do. After several minutes it became clear he wasn’t going to do anything. He sat there, his neck bent back to stare up at the shimmering monstrance. The parishioners went back to their prayers, though with an occasional eye on the strange man filled with fear and loathing and thirst. He however was silent.

He didn’t remember how many minutes or hours he sat on the floor before the shimmering receptacle of the Sacrament. He eventually turned around and the parishioners were no longer there, though he didn’t remember seeing them leave. Pulling out his watch he looked at the time: nine o’clock, the liquor store would still be open. He walked back to his truck and drove down the few blocks to the store passing under traffic lights shimmering long through their lenses like gaudy monstrances dangling over the highway in some sort of strange shrine, until they finally turned and the nervous uncertain flow of time on the blacktop was released again and he finally arrived and quenched his thirst. Only he was still thirsty and he knew why even though he didn’t think he knew anything anymore but only some things he could not properly say. Only a gathering of words and the attendant pieces of things that seemed to be their meanings- there was Jesus for certain and there was a whole host of images and words clustered around His image filled with the ever-gathering power of the Holy Ghost.

The hotel room was smoky tasting and smelling and the sheets smelled like cigarettes and cheap sex and mold and the losing of what someone never had to begin with. Walls off-white, the carpet green tinted, and the bathroom cramped and dingy, all recalling internal migrant wanderers looking for the place between unmitigated unending possession and their unmitigated loss where they would remain, if they could ever arrive at such a point. Bobby started to turn on the television- Free Cable HBO TV Guide Provided- but stopped. He saw the monstrance and the Blessed Sacrament flickering in his eyes reflected upon the TV screen on the tilted rotating stand, the room filled with loss and detachment and then that same interpenetrating ceaseless power of the Holy Ghost. And maybe it was through the shimmering gloaming of the world and all things sacrament-receptacle that the Holy Ghost flowed out and filled the room and his eyes and the world. Drawing his eyes down from the television screen, screening out briefly the flickering remembrance of the Jesus that was eaten and all things were there and were known but unknown in mystery, he opened the door next to the bed and looked inside.

A blue-covered Gideon Bible and a TV Guide lay within. He picked up the Bible and opened it to Nehemiah and began reading. The Bible was surely permeated with the interpenetrating power for it was all over and within the places of mystery and their internal imagery. He read for hours in a strange journey full of further mystery and signs he could not even begin to place in any sort of grid except for one in which all the things were precisely those unknown signs and mysteries. He eventually decided that the difficult words and mystical names of the Old Testament section were something too mystical for his brain at the hour, so he moved onto the New Testament, starting at The Gospel According to St. Matthew. But after a few verses he fell asleep breathing the cigarette residue and the cheap liquor on his own breath under the power of the Holy Ghost issuing from the Fragment holding the whole wrapped in arcane blue-bound mysteries of unknown signifieds.

When he awoke, he was fully clothed lying on the hotel bed clutching the Gideon Bible in his left hand. For a moment he lay there under the mildewed ceiling and everything was blurry again. But then he recalled the night before and the sudden culmination of being that had surmounted him and driven him to the Jesus-who-could-be-eaten and then to the receptacle of mystery bound in blue and stamped with a golden lamp. He felt as if he should do something now, but he did not know what. So he got up, checked the time (it was ten o’clock in the morning) and prepared to trudge out to pay his bill and get back on the road. Rising from the bed he found the Gideon Bible in his left hand still. Almost he set it down but removed his hand from the drawer the Bible still in it. Out of some suddenly developed sense of connection to this particular Bible he decided to take it with him.

He considered briefly that stealing- or borrowing if it helped to salve the conscience- a Gideon Bible from a hotel room might be morally problematic. It was a Bible after all and while Bobby had never been a very moral person as far as all that went, Bibles were certainly endowed with the awful mystery that emanated from Jesus and the places His mystery and power centered in. Also it was rather like being around ministers: one felt a certain aura of, perhaps not holiness, but at least morality and obligation around them. It wasn’t appropriate to use certain words or phrases around a minister. For also in ministers was some sense or trace of the mystery though Bobby as a rule did not like ministers. But then he did not like the mystery or the power or any of it at all, all the more as it entangled him.

It ended- the brief internal debate that was still conducted within the dual currents of fear and loathing in the face of the mystery- with Bobby carrying the Gideon Bible out into his car where he placed it on the dash, though he left the moral question temporarily unresolved- call it borrowing he decided and he would work that out later maybe. The bill was paid and he bought a Coke to tamp down on his ongoing thirst. And then he returned to the road.

But on the road his mind began to work and turn over all of the pieces of things that had developed and all the images and words that had accrued to those pieces. And he began to imagine a single flow, of a single unwrapping event of events within other events, all bound together by that undulating ceaseless motion of the Holy Ghost he had first tasted and smelled in the Gospel Truth Tabernacle. The Sign from the Lord stood out and its significance mysterious and fiery spread up through the flow. But against this story arose the rest of his narrative and all the arising images that would not fit. The single stream from the Tabernacle onward came into contradiction with the rest and he grew angry at the stream of the Holy Ghost and told himself that it wasn’t anything at all, that he knew nothing anyway and that was all there was. The crazy people at the Tabernacle and the crazy people muttering their prayers and staring at that golden orb, eating Jesus- it was all craziness and the power wasn’t but was craziness seeping out of the paper-mill night and filling people’s heads like bad air from the swamp.

East Texas rolled by and thunderheads rolled down from the shimmering Great Plains filling the sky and quickening the pace of motorists on I-20. Bobby was on of those motorists pounding through East Texas apprehensive in the back of the throat at the thunderheads and the distant sheen of rain sheets. He had stopped thinking for a while. Outside of Shreveport, near the state line, lunch and a dark gritty strong coffee cup to offset the lingering cheap liquor and unsettled sleep had met him. The caffeine coursed through and sloshed off the liquor and sleep but the ever unfolding road lulled his mind back to the empty isolation of the interstate. But now the rain was coming and in the approach of the rain thought returned, for his senses were re-engaged in earnest and the inward sensation, vague and controlled, of danger entered as the first rain curtain fell on the blacktop stage. Slightly tensed and alert Bobby sat up and began to drive and think in greater earnestness.

The crazy people in the Tabernacle were off their rockers hollering and being slain in the Holy Ghost Who isn’t really there but is really the bad air swamp gas filtering up in the paper mill through the night air cry of the girl who pulled on his arm and led him into iniquity no the bed of pleasure and that is where life is not in the smothering power that isn’t but is filling up everything. Except the smothering power can’t be escaped and anyway do I really even want to escape it? The rain is coming down hard.

And now the rain is pounding and my head is pounding to keep up but it’s only that coffee that was too strong but kept me awake is keeping me awake and those people in the other place they were crazy too lit up on the swamp gas night air paper mill old people nothing better don’t know anything not even eating Jesus which they think they do but they can’t.

And now the hail is shattering the thick air and the lightning cuts a course and splits the world and the air and everything even the rain that keeps falling in the power of the Holy Ghost that’s penetrating even it and is maybe making the courses for the lightning and maybe for everything else.

But everything that doesn’t open up to that power and the Blood of the Lamb that burns like fire and is in the golden orb and everywhere everything will be cut off and cast into fire but I am whole even my arms and legs and she is gone but she was here for a while and I enjoyed her but now she’s gone and the swamp gas night air is still here and it is the power of the Holy Ghost and the fire the fire burning up what’s to be cut off and cast into the fire it burns and the rain is still coming but the lightning is past.

The rain kept up for several more minutes though now it was passing and his thoughts began to slow as the accelerator pumped. An exit appeared a few miles ahead under the misting after-shower and Bobby almost instinctively pulled off onto it though the blue interstate signs Food Gas Lodging were blank as blue as pool water. He pulled off to the right of the exit ramp, up a rough blacktop that quickly faded into dirt. Bobby found himself stopping, no place in particular but the place now made by his stopping and the thing that would shortly happen, where all the event and the contradiction would converge and the contradiction collapse into the flare of far-off nearby fire and certainty with the full realignment of being and direction cutting into everything. The dirt road here was edged by kudzu verdant screaming fecundity and it climbed up to and mingled with heaven, marking the liminal space and bounding off its symbols. He knelt beside the clambering vines into the red blood dirt and all unfolded:

He opened the Gideon Bible that had lain beside him since Shreveport. The Gospel According to St. Matthew again appeared and he traced down as close as he could to the place he had left off the night before and began to read. But he only read through one verse and it stopped him and became a place like the road had ended for him and become a place of convergence and resolution:

And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

That was it. It was like the insane Sign of the Lord that the man in the overalls in the Gospel Truth Tabernacle had spoken into him; that was the source, the inception in the hot paper mill smelling night where the Holy Ghost had gripped him and a distant image of the Jesus he didn’t believe he knew or want to know had invaded him. And now the process of event had led up to this point, to a point of action. It was in the Sign he thought- something must be cut off and the Fire avoided, or perhaps felt and in the feeling and the cutting off now the Fire would not consume. The bed of fornication and of pleasure was the point of convergence for the other event and he thought of it now with fear and loathing and still with pleasure though she was gone and smelled only of paper mill night now mixed in with everything else. And that was a contradiction ready to collapse, if something was not cut off and things resolved.

He read the passage again. It would not leave him alone now. Cut if off and cast if from thee. Cut it off. That was it, the convergence point where the mystery and the contradiction could now meet and something be resolved. The same fear and loathing was still swimming around inside but they were slowly being resolved and his certainty was gathering. But it would wane. And still he did not think he knew. And that is what brought him to do what he now knew he must do, and he proceeded barely thinking, as the realization of the act seized him and would not let him go. The power of the Holy Ghost still followed him and that event remained but this was something beside it, something that he would grip and lead into the two events and resolve the contradiction. He got back in his car and drove back onto the interstate and all the way to El Paso, as East Texas passed into Central and then West and everything else had receded into the empty isolation of the moving car. Only now it was joined to the determination of the act that would resolve the contradiction and clear up certainty. From time to time crossing the vast innerscape of Texas he would turn his eyes to his right arm and begin to develop a calm fixed determination and think Soon it will be cut off and I will be certain anyway everything must be cut off if some is not here and now. The innerscape rolled by and his determination mounted until it was a shimmering internal force that was mingled with his growing sense and now acceptance (still stalked by loathing and unholy fear) of the power of the Holy Ghost, which yet he was still uncertain of. But soon all would be resolved and the Sign of the Lord, the heavy-weighted all-things embracing Fragment of the Jesus Who dogged him everywhere would be made clear, or at least, clearer. He did not know what would follow after the act was completed and the contradiction resolved; perhaps there were other contradictions, and he suspected the mystery was deeper than he now imagined it.

The room was brightly lit the windows closed to the hovering heavy dry night outside. Bobby sat down in a folding chair- it would help to be slightly comfortable he had decided though not detracting from the virtue (in all the senses of the word) of the act and its completion- and opened his long bladed pocketknife. A pawnshop purchase (taken from the place of cast-offs where former items pawned in perhaps debauchery despair dying were reinvented remade) he had found it and a whetstone, which he had used the day before to sharpen the knife until it would cut the skin with barely a touch. All was ready. An open bottle of vodka stood on the table, but it was only for after, after the arm was gone and lying on the floor and the stub was properly bandaged and the bleeding under control. Then he would take a few sips to control the pain, until he could pass out onto the bed and sleep off the pain that was sure to come, and awaken in the cheap rented room on the edge of El Paso and he would go to his uncle and say nothing and answer nothing to the questions to come.

All was planned out. He had some gauze and bandages ready, and some antiseptic which he doused upon the blade. He stared intently at his arm for several moments, as if to imprint an image of it before the climatic act, then focused, and determined where exactly to start cutting. He took the blade and marked a spot above his elbow. The blood oozed out and he winced slightly. Then he wrapped a tourniquet around above the mark, and pulled it tight. The circulation began to slow, then cease, in the soon to be detached limb.

He started cutting it hurt he muffled a scream and his fingers gripped the handle of the knife so hard he thought he might burst the pieces apart- he pushed in hard through the skin down into the muscle and the veins. Blood squirted out into his shirt and into his face. He didn’t pause now; he cut and cut down, down, the pain shooting through his arm and all through his body. But he didn’t stop; there was the bone. It was tough, but the blade was still sharp. He circled around the bone, just cutting into it. He paused, his head throbbing and spinning in pain. He almost went for the vodka. He wished he had some morphine or something but no there was no going back and he would carry through the full thrust of pain. Back to it, he sawed the blade back and forth through the blood and bone creaking and sloshing and the room receded in the midst of the violence unleashed the contradictions coming apart. Halfway through, going, he thrust the tip of the knife down through the center of the bone into the marrow and it was through. Sawing, sawing, cut, almost through- he pushed through, the bone was cut and his now almost lifeless arm hung by a thin sliver of skin and muscle. With a final exertion he clipped the strand (the pinnacle of the act the crossing into the sacred precinct the kudzu crowded in urging on the act, movement, under the ceiling flooding with unknown tongues) and the arm fell to the ground in an evanescent pool of his blood. He began to scream, looking down then began to pant and shake all over and her grip on his lifeless arm came to life and passed away as quickly in the paper-mill smelling night that wasn’t around him anymore but was dry and sterile yet the power of the Holy Ghost hovered nearby over the brooding world and he saw a circlet of light upon the stucco wall.

But he didn’t lose his head, no, not yet. He took the bandage and gauze and began to treat the gaping wound as best he knew how. It didn’t take as long as he had expected, and soon the blood was stopping, though the bandaging was soaked through and he was feeling weak. He wondered faintly if he was going to die, and then what they would put in the obituary and who would read and what people would think. Suicide? Mania? Maybe both. No one would really know: his motives and his sudden knowledge would pass with him from the world. Yet now he knew and it was in this profound and inscrutable act of knowing that he found a surge of certainty that boiled up as an inscrutable comfort that cut and stung but held as he stretched out on the neatly made bed and fell into unconsciousness, his consciousness having reached the longed for edge and passed through the act into knowing.

And the pulsing power of the Holy Spirit through plywood doors paper mill night roiling filling flowing from the Fragment to make all things whole: the hazy image of Jesus Who could be eaten and Who was in the midst of the flowing mighty inscrutable stream: converging as he saw and in the seeing was knowing but he knew also that much needed cutting and it was not his arm, not really. But then he knew that it was not his arm the instrument the appendage reaching out into the paper mill night yet never truly grasping only being grasped (for his fingers could not feel to grip and his eyes were always closed) that he had cut off, that he had been summoned to sever chop cut, but it was something else and yet violence must perhaps be recurring and perhaps even stronger.

He did know what yet but he promised himself as he passed from awareness that in the morning- for morning was near and the sky would soon turn purple and fire and gold as God woke everything into shimmering sudden metaphor of resurrection and wholeness- he would find what it was he had cut off. For he felt that wholeness was not far away, though he was not whole (he had screamed that to himself inside while passing through the outer innerscape of Texas) but that somehow, as things were cut away and the image of Jesus hazy and burning came closer and filled his eyes he would be whole and the Fire would come but it would now be the cleansing Fire of the Holy Ghost speaking and he would listen, and he would know. But for now he slept and the bleeding had stopped though his blood was moving now.


Anonymous Seraphim said...

A wonderful story, Jonathan. With your consent I'd like to post in the orthodox writers section at my blog. Drop me a note if that would be OK.

9:32 PM  

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