Authors: Thomas L. Peters
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary
An Imperfect Miracle
By Tom Peters
Copyright 2011 by Thomas L. Peters
Cover Copyright 2011 by Dara England and Untreed Reads Publishing
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.
An Imperfect Miracle
By Tom Peters
One morning not too long ago my dog, Chewy, got away from me and tore into an old abandoned lot right between Joe's novelty shop and the karate place. Mom used to go to the karate place for lessons after Dad said he couldn't take it anymore and ditched us. Mom said she needed to know how to defend herself, what with her and me living all alone in a grubby little town like ours. I didn't really see how she could have gotten any good at it since she never seemed to practice much, but I figured that was her problem.
There was no point calling after Chewy, because she loved sniffing around all the sewer drains down in that side of town, especially after it rained real hard like it did the night before, since they usually backed up a little. Plus, Chewy being invisible now and all, I didn't like talking to her out in public, since people might get the wrong idea, like Mom, for instance, and think I was crazy.
Because I was pretty sure Chewy could find her way to school easy enough without me, I was about to turn around when I saw this shriveled up little guy with raggedy gray whiskers and a muddy raincoat rise up on a dingy concrete slab sitting right in the middle of the lot. There were five concrete steps leading up to it, as if the slab used to be a porch or something, and the steps were all full of deep zigzag cracks with bushy plumes of crabgrass and dandelions growing out of them. All around the slab were shiny silver hamburger wrappers and dinged-up beer cans and rusted-out license plates and other garbage tangled up in the weeds that people must have dumped there, like the place had been turned into a trash heap almost.
The little guy was pretty wobbly, and it looked to me as if he'd just been sleeping it off, like Dad used to do out on our front yard sometimes. After coughing and spitting some, which was kind of gross if you asked me, he let out a deep squealing groan and started swaying back and forth, like he was the sail on some ship that a brutal wind was whipping all around. I was wondering if I should go over and try to steady him, when all of a sudden he tumbled right down the steps and cracked his head wide open.
It wasn't clear to me if he'd tried to kill himself or whether he was so drunk and groggy that he just toppled over. One thing was for sure, I'd never seen so much blood in one place before. I remember thinking how much redder and brighter and thicker it looked than my blood whenever I banged myself up at school getting in fights or whatever and Mom had to patch me up, which she was pretty slick at, her being a nurse and all. What really shook me though was how the blood was sort of ponding up among the weeds beside his head before sinking into the wet ground. I expected him to die in a minute or two, if he wasn't dead already.
I thought about running for help, but the truth was that I was so scared I could hardly breathe. Then all of a sudden the guy stood up and rubbed his pasty forehead a little, before sort of hitching his way past me toward the street like nothing much had happened to him other than banging up his knees a little. He'd stopped bleeding too, just like that, it seemed, and his cut was all closed up and there wasn't a mark on him, except for some brown veiny splotches on his cheeks, which seemed like they'd been there a while.
I ran up to within a few feet of him to make sure I wasn't seeing things. I was even about to ask him what he'd done to stop the bleeding, but he started cussing me out so loud and nasty that I decided I better let him go. Mom was always saying how you could never trust those drunks down along Main Street, especially early in the morning when they were still feeling under the weather, and being married to Dad for so long it seemed like she ought to know.
I was still wondering what was going on when I looked back and saw Chewy sitting up on the top step gawking at something. Even though Chewy was invisible now to everybody else I could still see her in my mind and hear her talking to me sometimes too, but I'll get to that soon enough. I ran toward the steps and found what Chewy was looking at. The woman's face was right there on the concrete wall between the top step and the porch. It was the only part that wasn't all cracked and weedy, and at first I thought she was just a big yellow and brown blotch. After all, you don't see somebody as famous as her showing up every day, especially on some grimy old block of concrete in a nothing little town like ours. But when I climbed up next to Chewy, I could see the woman staring at me as clear as if she was standing there talking to me. She had the kind of eyes that seemed to find you no matter where you were standing, like you see in advertisements sometimes.
Because I wasn't Catholic, you might be wondering how I knew it was her. Well, to begin with I was pretty smart, just like that doctor said who Mom had dragged me to after my English teacher, Mr. Grimes, caught me talking to Chewy out in the hall one day. I guess they thought I was seeing things. Of course, Dad had dumped us by then and my last few report cards hadn't been so hot either, which might have had something to do with how worked up Mom got. But the doctor told me that I just had a good, strong imagination for a kid my age, and that they were going to stick me in some special reading class at school to get my grades up. The only thing I didn't really like about that doctor was how he kept asking me if I had any friends, even though I'd already told him that I had plenty of friends. And even if I didn't have all that many friends, I didn't see where it was any of his business.
The other reason I knew it was Mary's face on the concrete was because I walked past her statue every day on the way to school. She was standing there guarding the playground right outside St. Sebastian's, with her head pointed down a little and holding the baby Jesus in her plump, creamy arms. And she had this little yellow plastic halo set up over her head at the end of a skinny tin cord that was stuck to her back somewhere. Sometimes the halo would blow off and Father Tom had to climb up on an old rickety ladder and hook it back on. I even heard him grumble once that if it happened again he might just leave it off her for good because everybody knew that Mary didn't need some fake halo to be holy. But it had blown off a few times since then, and he'd always ended up fastening it back on.
There was no halo on the concrete, but I still knew it was Mary, and not just because of her eyes either, which were big and round and looked kind of sad, just like on the statue. It was more the way her head was tilted down a little, and how her cheeks curled in toward her chin real smooth and soft, and the way her lips kind of melted together straight across, so that she wasn't smiling exactly but she wasn't frowning either. And her brown hair hugged her head real close all the way around just like on the statue so that you couldn't see her ears. I figured that she was probably looking down at the baby Jesus, even though Jesus wasn't on the concrete. There really wasn't enough room because her head took up almost the whole space from top to bottom.
I was admiring how pretty and sweet she was when all of a sudden I felt somebody standing right next to me, and it wasn't Chewy either. I could tell by the sticky, hovering sort of smell that it was some girl, and I turned my head and there was Marcie with that round mushroomy face of hers grinning at me out of her braces. She sometimes followed me around at recess and in the hallways too. It was kind of gross actually, but I wasn't sure how to get her to quit because Mom would have grounded me for the rest of my life if I ever got caught punching out a girl.
I was just about to tell Marcie to beat it. But then I started staring at Mary again and wondering why Mom couldn't always look so nice and peaceful too, when all of a sudden it hit me what must have happened. Mary had saved the little drunk's life by using her holy powers somehow to close up the bloody gash on his head and it was probably a miracle, like the preachers at my church were always talking about Jesus doing in the Bible. I'd never heard them preach about Mary doing any miracles, but I figured that being Jesus's mom she probably knew how to go about it.
Just then Marcie decided to bend over for a closer look too.
“What are you gawking at now?” she snorted, a fountain of spit spraying out of her glossy red mouth. “It's just a bunch of dirt after all.”
A few drops sprinkled onto Mary's nose, and I was quick to rub it off with my fingers. The concrete felt so grainy and cold that it jolted me a little, and I pulled my hand back right away.
“That's Jesus's mom,” I snorted back, because I didn't feel like taking any lip from Marcie. “And she just patched up some drunk who'd busted his head on the steps, and she didn't use any stitches on him or anything. The guy didn't even thank her for it either.”
Marcie scrunched up her mouth as sour looking as she could get it and then rammed her pale bony hands onto her hips, like she was some tough old lady getting ready to set me straight for the last time.
“You aren't seeing things again, are you, Nate? Kids will start making fun of you if you do.”
I felt like belting her for being so stupid and ornery, but I remembered how hard Mom would come down on me. So instead I pointed at Mary's sad brown eyes, and her soft straight-across mouth, and that heavy ring of brown hair framing it all.
“What are you, blind or something? I bet she's listening to every word we say. She probably knows what we're thinking too. I bet she even knows everything about us already. Doesn't that scare you a little?”
Marcie squinted at Mary again. Then she leaned back, lifted her hand to her knobby little chin and crinkled up her shiny pug nose. And she made a big fuss about it all too, like she was showing me what a great genius she was. But I wasn't buying any of it, since I was pretty sure I could think as deep as Marcie once I got rolling.
“I still don't see what the big deal is. Somebody probably just painted her face on. My dad says that the vagrants down here are always vandalizing people's property, and that the town ought to put a stop to it before the whole street gets condemned.”
It didn't look like paint splattered up on that concrete to me, although I had to admit that I wasn't very good in art class and maybe I didn't know for sure. But I didn't want Marcie to think that she was getting the best of me, because then I'd never be able to shut her up. I got an idea and waved my hand at all the dirty words scribbled in wavy red and orange crayon up on the side of Joe's novelty shop.
“People put stuff like that up high where everybody can see it, not on some busted up concrete stuck behind all these weeds.”
Marcie's face didn't move, like she hadn't heard a word I said, like she was a statue almost.
“Maybe somebody from St. Sebastian's painted it on to get some publicity. My dad says that nobody but old people go to St. Sebastian's anymore. He says that if Father Tom doesn't do something about it soon, they'll have to shut the whole church down for good. He says that wouldn't be such a bad thing, though, because he says religion is ruining the country.”
Marcie was just like my mom, always coming up with stupid arguments that I didn't have an answer for. She must have read in my eyes that I was wavering a little, so she hit me with another one.
“And if she's so high and mighty like you say, why would she bother to help out one miserable little drunk, especially when there are so many of them down here?” Then she turned and pointed at the little bars all lined up across the street like scuffed up Lego blocks. “My dad says that if there's really a God, He'd do nice things for everybody instead of picking out just a few here and there.”
This time it seemed like Marcie had gotten a little too cocky for her own good. I jumped at the chance to show her that I was just as quick as she was.
“How would some dumb girl like you know what Mary's up to? She just might be getting ready to do tons of miracles. Why does everything have to happen all at once anyway?” I gave her a tough, stony glare to back her off a little, but Marcie was so pigheaded and mean that I didn't even fluster her.
“She probably singled out that little drunk for quick action because she didn't want him bleeding all over her steps,” I said. “He stunk pretty bad too, and I bet he'd have stunk even worse if he'd died on her. How would you like some dead guy lying on your front porch?”
Marcie bent down and started rubbing her fingers hard over Mary's cheeks, as though she was trying to scrape her face right off the concrete. I was about to touch Mary's hair to see if it felt as cold and grainy as her nose, when Marcie reached over real quick and tried to hold my hand. But I yanked it away just in time. Then Marcie stood up straight and started scrunching up her mouth again and looking kind of snooty, like she was pretending that she really hadn't tried to hold my hand and that it was all just my imagination.
“That drunk probably just stopped bleeding all on his own, like we learned in health class, how the blood coagulates or something. That assumes of course that you're not just making up the whole story, like with that phantom dog of yours.”
I glanced over to see how Chewy was taking to being called a phantom, but Chewy must have gotten bored looking at Mary and was lying on her side taking a little nap. I noticed the blood still dripping bright red from the tender stems of a few lonely dandelions and pointed at it.
“See. He was bleeding way too hard for it to stop so quick all on its own.”
I must have stumped her this time, because she opened her eyes real wide and fiery, jammed her little fists onto her hips again, leaned her one shoulder toward me so that she looked a little cockeyed, and then gave me a long snarly look.
“You just live in your own little world, Nathan Gray. That's the problem with you.”
Before I had a chance to answer, she snorted real loud, whipped herself around and skipped off toward school. That woke Chewy up and she started pacing a little, like she was worried we'd be late for homeroom again. So I said goodbye to Mary and hurried up the street. But even with Chewy egging me on, when I got to Mary's statue up by St. Sebastian's, I felt like I had to stop and take one more look at her. I just needed to make sure it was really her face back on the concrete too. I wanted to have my story straight before I told anybody else about her showing up in town right out of nowhere like that.