I spent eight hours a day turning Jesus over on his face. Big Jesus, little Jesus, head up, head sunk, head leaning, crying, droplets of blood, scarred, unscarred, always a crown of thorns, and all had to be turned over so that the imperfections, rough little bumps, mostly, of the cross could be smoothed away by a rush of pressurized water. More people were let go two weeks ago. I wasn’t not worried, though. I was very important to the factory, because I knew what to do when crucifixes woke up.
Waking up was common with model SD4873. They passed my position at the first station after cooling in holy water. Mr. Deagle insisted on sitting with me during my first day two weeks ago. The last time we produced an order of model SD4873, Mr. Deagle was annoyed that he had to sit and wait for one to wake up, but I was excited and curious. Mr. Deagle gave me this job because I have a company mind, not an independent mind, his own words. I have the kind of mind that the company values. I felt childish even thinking it, but it was good to be valued and cared for. We don’t like to admit, at least I don’t, but we like to be noticed. We like to matter and have a purpose. Mine was turning over crucifixes.
Most mornings had been the same for fourteen years. I got up and put on my jeans, a white T-shirt from a six-month rotating pack of five, and then my tan button down which was replaced semi-yearly. Not much had changed except I was beginning to think my hairline is receding, maybe I should shave it off. My night cop procedural used cell phones now, and my mother call less, but that was to be expected after she’d died. I got out of bed mostly because that’s what I’d done the day before. So today was out of the ordinary, a more explicable or direct reason to get out of bed.
As each crucifix dropped, I hoped they’d twitch or jump off the cross, but instead I didn’t even notice it. The crucifix only blinked. Mr. Deagle saw it. I didn’t. I heard his voice, though. Jesus had a soft tone that carried, but only far enough so that the person he intended to speak to heard him–making me and Mr. Deagle the only people who heard it speak.
Mr. Deagle snatched it up before it could finish a word that began with an ‘h’ sound, then proceeded to show me how to handle the situation.
“It’s quite simple, Jack. This is why we supply you the wax and the lighter. You take the wax and hold it over Jesus’ mouth, flick the lighter, and wait.” Three red beads dripped into the figurine’s mouth. The light, floating voice froze mid-syllable. “Now, we can’t recycle this pewter; unfortunately, it’s completely possessed, or corrupted, or whatever. They’ll wake up – and that’s the proper term to use, so I expect it to be discussed using only that terminology – they’ll wake up from time to time. Of course, when they do, just do like I showed you and then bring them up to me. Alright?” I nodded. “Good, then we just put them in the box in my office,” Mr. Deagle stuffed this example into his pocket, “and they don’t go bothering no one.”
The whole thing was over in a few seconds. I tried to imagine a moving crucifix stuffed away into Mr. Deagle’s pocket, unable to move anything but its eyes. My imagination disappointed me, though.
“So, just melt the wax, and then bring them to you?” I said.
“Yep. The next one will be all yours. Oh, and of course, keep this between us. We don’t want to complicate things by letting people know our little crucifixes come to life from time to time.”
There wasn’t another one that day.
Today, I want to say two weeks later, but I don’t keep track of the days so well, the factory again produced model SD4873. I arrived before they’d started the lineup and stared into the tube they fell from. With a grating whir, the operation started up. What was it, the Holy water? Was there a spirit in the tube? Why did they come alive? It took thirty minutes before I heard the first one tumbling down the tube. It banged and smacked off the sides. I hoped Jesus wasn’t hurt. The crucifix hit the line, frozen. Another fell solid, another, another, another. No eyes moved. They were stuck in that tortured pose, eyes crushed down under thorns, heads lolling forward. Hours passed. Lunch went by and with it my anticipation. It became another day. During the final minutes, I let crucifixes slide on by, not all of them, just some. The rest I flipped instinctively, feeling blindly which side was face up and flipping as required. I laid a finger on the belt and let it grind away the thin layer of skin.
“Don’t forget to flip them over.” The tone was deep and penetrating, barely there. “Oh no, there goes another one. You should watch them more carefully, you know.”
I looked down. One of the pewter crucifixes was smiling. They’re not supposed to smile. I held my hand out to catch it when it came by.
“Oh, you’re picking me up. Why that’s fine. Could you set me right there? I suppose this will do.”
My arms reacted with reflexive obedience: reached out for the wax, flicked the lighter and poured the wax directly onto the figure’s face. The crucifix winced. Had Mr. Deagle’s winced? Jesus’ hands seemed to be straining themselves, trying to pry free of the spikes; his feet twisted to the right and his chest heaved. Soft metal rubbed between my fingers; was he trying to get away? The wax settled, hardened, lightened in color and the crucifix reopened his eyes; they were exhausted.
Why’d I do that? Did I hurt him? I waited the entire day for this and now, well now what? Now there was a little flickering stem of carved metal in hand. My mind drifted and drained. It was only Mr. Deagle’s heavy slumping walk that woke me. He lugged a coffee-stained, dilapidated cardboard box, which he released next to me. The dust spritzed into the air with a scent earthen pots and dried, rotten scraps of cloth.
“Well toss that one on in.” Mr. Deagle nodded toward the Jesus still blinking in my hand. I peered into the box. Mute statue eyes fluttered out some unspoken message from above their cracking, red, wax-stuffed mouths.
“There’s a lot in there. Normally, I just wait till the box fills up – this is an interesting case, though, because previously I used shoe boxes, but I didn’t have a shoe box, so I used this one – and then I tape it up, take the box home. We have a bonfire, and I use the left over lumps of metal as stepping stones, but I guess this is your job now, so just get rid of them.”
I peered into the box. There had to be over a hundred.
“How do I?”
“There’s no real policy on how to dispose of them, because that would acknowledge their existence, and we can’t acknowledge their existence, because then people will want to hear them, and then Jesus will be speaking heresy all over the place, because technically he’s adding to the word of God with his speech. At least that’s how it was explained to me. I just do what I’m told, and I’m told they don’t want to hear any more about it; they just want them gone, so make them gone.”
Mr. Deagle then gave a nod of dismissal and guided me to the door. Alright, so I would just destroy them, that’s what I would do. That was my job. Just melt down, crush, throw out, bury — did the method matter? I should take pride in this, right? This was my job. I was important; I knew what to do when the Jesuses woke up.
After work, I placed my Jesus on the mantel and the box from Mr. Deagle in the closet. I’d determine how to destroy it later. No danger in it sitting in the closet for a while. I ate spaghetti in front of the TV. Watched several shows, changing each time a commercial came up: a sitcom, the news, a cooking show, reality dating, dance competition, poker. I picked up a book, read the first page, and set it down. Checked my cell phone, no messages. Opened the fridge, I’d just eaten. Checked my phone again, maybe there would be a message, nothing. Squatting in front of my bookcase, I ran my hand over the top row; I’d read three of them: Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and The Old Man and the Sea, which was boring. A third time confirmed that no one had texted me, so I sat back down on the couch and beat out a little rhythm on my legs.
I looked up at Jesus and smiled.
Jesus’ eyes and head were drooping.
“So, this is basically what I do every night.”
Jesus snapped his head back up.
“Don’t know why I try to read, or cook something, because I’ve already ate, not a big reader, and I always end up back here, watching whatever. Kinda pathetic, I guess. You want to watch something with me?” I lifted Jesus up off the mantle. Placing Jesus next to me on the couch and lifted the remote. “It’s Tuesday, so The Voice and some new game show?”
Jesus looked back to the mantle.
“Oh, crap, I forgot; your mouth is full of wax.”
I found a pencil and shoved it into the wax bubble. The wax came off in a decent chunk, but there was still some residue left around the lips, so I began to scrape it off. “See, now, the pencil works well, ‘cause I can just sort of draw on you, but the colors match, so it’s no big deal. Open your mouth up if you could. I want to make sure I got it all.” The mouth opened slowly. It felt soft, malleable, like one could shift the lips and have them say whatever you wanted. “There, all clean. Now we can talk.”
Jesus flexed his jaw and stretched his mouth.
“Holy cow, you know, I just realized something weird. You have no teeth, or tongue, nothing. I never thought of that. But hey, we have no reason to put them in, huh?”
Jesus looked around the apartment.
“Do you approve? It’s not much. Just me, been just me for a while now.”
Jesus settled his eyes on my sparse, ceiling-high bookshelf.
“You going to talk? I haven’t talked with someone, besides my family, in years. That’s kinda embarrassing to admit. Since mom died, I talk with them even less. Just don’t have that much to discuss with them. They don’t seem to care that much about me, can’t say I blame them. Not much to care about. Sometimes I say ‘hey’ to people in the hall, at a store, that sort-a-thing. We might catch up, but I forget what we talked about later. Pretty sure they forget me too.”
Jesus looked back up at me.
“I could get you off the cross, maybe? I think I got a chisel somewhere?” I went to my bedroom and came back with a chisel after some digging around in an old toolbox. “Where to start? The head? Nod yes if up for it?”
I positioned the chisel into a seam where the cross just passed over Jesus’ head. “Used to have this friend Kerry, I think I got this chisel from him, haven’t seen him in years.”
Jesus peeled away from the cross.
“You know how it is. People get married, or just move away, or they start inviting new friends over to watch football, and one weekend you’re busy.”
Jesus twisted and flexed his freed left arm.
“I’d call up some old friends, but I feel like I’m imposing. I got my family. We get together on holidays and talk most weeks, more like months, some months.”
Jesus rubbed both his eyes, with both his palms.
“Sometimes I go see movies, but I don’t always buy popcorn.”
Jesus tipped forward with only his feet still attached.
“Everyone’s so young who goes to the movies. Ever notice that? Do you even know what a movie is?”
I finished and set the pencil down. Jesus’ back looked like chopped wood, and the legs were missing defined toes since I had to split them away from each other, but there Jesus stood in front of me.
“Feel better now, free from that weight on your back? Does this earn me talking privileges?”
Jesus prodded the pewter pieces that he had once been attached to.
“We can probably smooth out the edges on your back. Pewter’s real easy to shape and all, but your body seems to move fine.”
Jesus stumbled on his left foot, which was somewhat clubbed.
“The feet need some work, and they look weird without the toes on one.”
Jesus rolled the pencil back and forth with his feet.
“I can’t let you out or anything. I mean, not unless there’s some reason you need to leave; in which case, you’d need to tell me?”
Jesus yawned and rolled over onto his side.
“Oh yeah, you’re probably super tired. Sorry. I’ll let you sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
I picked up the remote but then set it back down, not wanting to wake Jesus. I went into the bathroom to look for something, but I was not sure what. I avoided the closet with the box of Jesuses. I’d have to destroy those; I said I would. Can’t say I felt guilt about not destroying them, I’d get around to it, and no one would care if I kept one. It was probably a perk. I bet Mr. Deagle kept one bumbling around his desk drawer. Then I remembered the shoebox beneath the sink cupboard. It was about the right size, so I cut out doors and windows. I made the lid into strips for a ramp, which became a ladder and was then scrapped for a set of pyramid-stacked-book-stairs. I went to sleep that Tuesday, setting out some chicken to cook for me and Jesus’ Wednesday night dinner, excited to hear what Jesus had to say about his new home.
Jesus said nothing. Wednesday night was spent speaking at a Jesus enthralled with a bowl of mixed nuts. Thursday night encompassed me drawing up things to impress Jesus, and then building something completely different. By Friday, my apartment was a dark example of the consequences of craft making. A floss and Popsicle stick ladder hung from my counter; the original had been made of toothpicks and did not hold Jesus’ weight. A little box hung from the ceiling, various hand-designed pieces of cardstock furniture inside. Suspending it from the ceiling felt grander.
The box could only be reached by a triangle rope bridge that was strung from the mantle to the open doorway. My evenings were now spent devising new structures for Jesus, like a slide that ran down the mantle: a PVC pipe cut in half, with a pillow at the bottom for a soft landing. It took me hours to work out a set of cardboard ramps that went from shelf to shelf on the bookcase; they had to be supported with pencils snapped and taped together, which took me a while to work out. I tried to create a pulley system for opening the doors, but this was too complicated, so I took the doors off the hinges.
I was convinced Jesus would speak to me. With each new contraption hope bubbled up, floated about the room, and popped in mute silence. Jesus tested the strength of the floss ladder with his foot but made no comment on how useful he found being able to reach the counter. The PVC pipe slide could not elicit a single whoop of joy; a smile gave me hope, but then, I’m not sure, maybe I imagined the smile. Jesus preferred the shoe box more than the suspended house but wouldn’t explain if his trepidation was due to the precarious nature of the triangle bridge. For the next project, I decided upon a gym.
The gym idea failed. I could never design anything past free weights. With lots of foam, sticks, dowels, and strings left I spent Saturday building a tiki hut. I got used to Jesus not talking. You don’t need to talk to be friends. Still, I felt Jesus was missing something. There were only so many things one could build Jesus.
“You seem lonely. Are you lonely, Jesus?”
Jesus wrapped a ball of twine around his hand.
“You won’t talk to me, which you know is okay, can’t force anything, and don’t want to, but you should talk with someone.”
Jesus unwrapped the ball of twine.
“Would you talk with other Jesuses? You don’t need to talk with me even; I could just listen. If there were more of you all this great stuff could get used.”
Jesus gnawed the twine.
I took a crucifix out of the box and scraped away the wax like I had done before. This Jesus didn’t struggle, barely flinched when I chiseled off the cross. I finished much faster this time, then set Jesus down. Jesus walked away with his arms behind his back, admiring the apartment. The second Jesus fought a little more, not unwilling, but it certainly evoked an intense response. On the third one, I tried carving some lines into the left foot for toes.
“Almost done, we’ll have you a new pair of toes in no time.”
“You know, this sort of comes natural to me, I think Jesus circled his neck to get the kinks out.
“I’m pretty familiar with the process, the creation process, you know. I pick up crucifixes every day,” I used the corner of the chisel to slice the feet apart. “So, I know how to take them apart.”
Jesus rubbed his eyes and yawned.
“Alright, you’re all set, most of the others, are…over there.”
I tossed the cross in a growing pile and began on the toes.
Jesus noticed a group meandering around an empty glass and went towards a phone book in the corner.
I lifted another from the box. “Anyways, I’ll build you each your own house. I promise.”
I built twelve large community houses, hung four, and placed the other eight along the wall. At first each house had its own design. I tried a Mexican themed abode with little sombreros that took forever. I surrounded one in blue foil, for an underwater themed house. There was a fifties ice cream parlor complete with Q-tips and button stools. The beach themed cabana got sand everywhere. By houses five through twelve, my creativity sapped; I only snipped and ripped out doors.
Obligation had set in. Laying on the couch, the crucifixes peered into my pockets. They didn’t play or talk with each other but loved to move around and shift things. A small basketball court was out of use in the corner, a little stack of balled up paper beside the hoop. All my books were on the floor, Jesuses flipping the pages and running their hands along the words. Three Jesuses hung over my sink, turning the handle and watching the water level rise. Jesus knocked on the lamp and then pressed his ear against it to listen.
It didn’t seem to matter what I did; nothing I could do would make the Jesuses notice me. I was spent and fell asleep on the couch to the indeterminate noises of my Jesuses.
I woke up to Jesus kicking my chin. I rolled over and Jesus tumbled off my bed. Then I noticed my silent alarm clock; Jesus fumbled with the buttons and the time kept changing. I grabbed my cell phone and checked the time: eleven a.m. I skipped breakfast and rushed off to work three hours late. This job was too important; I was too important to the factory; I kept the secrets and turned Jesus over. As soon as I arrived, I rushed into Mr. Deagle’s office and apologized. He was typing at his computer and didn’t look up when I came in.
“Sorry I was late this morning, Mr. Deagle.”
“Hmm…what? Oh hello, Jack. Awful busy today, we’re nearing the Easter rush, busy time, busy time, so make it quick.”
“I wanted to apologize for being late, Mr. Deagle.”
“Oh, you were late. Honestly, I hadn’t even noticed. Don’t make a habit of it, okay.” He returned to his computer and spoke without looking up. “Anything else?” I shook my head and let myself out.
I wandered over to my station. Passed by other workers and several other empty stations. Were they late too? Did people just come and go as they pleased? At a quality control check point three stools sat empty and crucifixes ran by unchecked, unaffected, unimproved, and undetected. This was a place of wonder and miracles, how could they ignore everything going on? We built people’s faith up, literally. Why weren’t they excited? All around me people crossed between large metal vats, pressed buttons, checked dials, rearranged crucifixes, packed slats, and checked invoices, but the line kept running. The Jesuses were made with or without them, without me. I found my way back to my station. There was a river of statues before me, but most were fine. I let a few go by and went to see the damage on the other side of the water pressure unit. As far as I could see, there was no difference; it didn’t matter. Had it ever mattered?
I stared at the lifeless Jesuses and was disgusted. They had potential; they could be just as amazing as my Jesuses but were just plain ordinary crucifixes; they could choose not to be pathetic pewter sculptures, but weren’t; they were weak and didn’t need; they were disgusting; they were boring and uninspiring; they were just idols. This place didn’t need me, this place didn’t need anyone. The whole factory was just metal shaping metal. After sitting for another twenty minutes, I left for home.
There were Jesuses everywhere in my apartment. Two Jesuses on the coffee table sorted out the M&Ms into piles by color. One shook the side of his box house to test its strength. Another had opened a tea bag and was sifting through the insides. Five observed one using the stub of pencil to draw squiggles and lines on a paper. Several watched television; they had figured out how to turn it on a few days ago. A couple went from one house to the next via the rope bridges; three Jesuses met each other coming opposite ways on the bridge and tried to work their way around. Who could leave a place like this? This was my calling.
I sat down among them. “What did you guys do today?”
Jesus tugged on my shoelace.
“Have you guys tried the basketball at all?”
Jesus slid down the pillow next to me.
“What about the gym? I see the weights everywhere, but I can’t say you ever use them.”
Jesus unraveled a loose thread from the couch.
“You know, I used to hate making crafts in church, used to hate church ‘cause my parents made me go. Now, though, I really like crafts. I can see how they serve a purpose.”
Jesus swung a pencil into the coffee table leg.
“Obviously, you need more beds.”
Jesus looked at himself in the TV screen.
“Yeah, you guys seem okay,” I lay down and stretched my legs out on the couch, trying not to push any of the Jesuses off. Jesuses ducked and scuttled under my legs, then began exploring and tracing the lines and stitching of my jeans. I lifted the pillow off the floor, stopping Jesus from prodding bulges in the stuffing. “What is it you guys want?”
Jesus ran his hands through a cobweb on the mantle.
“I haven’t been spending enough time with you have I. More time, that’s what it’ll take, more time.”
Jesus crawled beneath a magazine cover.
It took me two days to decide what to build them: a pool, a garden, an arcade, a store. I settled on a garden. The more they worked in it, the more I created. If they watered some plants, I’d build those bigger as if they were growing, but under my control. This way they would talk to me, without speech, but in some respect it counts. Two more days were spent planning and laying everything out. I bought more twine, brown construction paper, cotton balls, dowel rods, green and red paint, nets, plastic spoons, thimbles, and tan beads.
My bedroom was the only uncrafted place, so it became the garden. I laid the paper out in long thick rows layered on top of each other and ran twine between each row. The beads were placed in little holes like they were seeds. Dowel rods stood up in some holes, with cotton balls hot-glued, and painted red and green. Some I called tomatoes, others grapes. I imagined them dipping the thimbles into the bowls of water and pouring them over the seeds. They could drag the plastic spoons about and work the paper like it was earth. Or set up nets to protect the berry plants from birds. Then I’d reach down and place a green lettuce cotton ball, and they’d wonder who was this Jack who did these great things for them.
The garden was massive. It took me another two days to build it, two days without sleep, so when I finished, I collapsed on my bed and slept. I’m not sure how long I slept, but the sun was shining when I fell into my pillow and when I lifted my head from it. The garden surrounded my bed and stretched to every wall. From my bed I looked down and viewed the entire expanse spread over the room. Now, it was hardly anything, paper wadded together, but they would make it something spectacular. I sprung off my bed and landed in the open doorway. Stretching my arms out and catching myself in the door’s frame, I leaned forward and yelled:
Some of the Crucifixes looked up, others didn’t, and one tripped and fell off the couch.
“I have built all of you a garden, so you can communicate with me.”
Jesus stretched a rubber band.
“Come on, you have to see this.”
Jesus stuck a magnet to the fridge.
“I’ll have to take you there, won’t I? Won’t go on your own, huh? I have to show you.” I reached down and grabbed one that was prodding my shoe. My arms could not hold more than twenty Jesuses; some squirmed, others sat still. I placed them in the garden and made a second trip, and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, and some stayed in the garden, and some left, and some I never caught. They moved about the apartment, and there was no way to distinguish one from the other.
Maybe half were in the garden. They stumbled around the paper. Jesus pulled the paper up. One sucked on a tan bead. Two sat down and rolled a thimble back and forth. Another splashed in the water bowl. A few climbed a stray strand of twine up onto my bed. I placed a green cotton ball in front of Jesus and he walked around it, so I lifted him and placed him back in front of it, and he walked around it, so I lifted him up, and he walked around it.
“Speak to me,” I yelled, “All I ask is that you say, ‘I don’t want to play with your stupid cotton ball’.”
Jesus shook a dowel rod.
“Why couldn’t you just ignore me entirely? I know you can see me.”
Jesus launched a bead from a spoon like a catapult.
“Speak to him then,” I pointed one Jesus toward another.
Jesus placed a thimble upon the head of another Jesus.
More Jesuses came in and soon the room was teeming with Jesuses, which was what I had wanted, but I lay down on the bed. Every sound they made beneath me, I could hear. They tore up the paper, kicked the beads, spilled the water, knocked over the dowel rods, knocked shirts off hangers. They did as they pleased. I pulled the sheets up over myself. Jesuses began the walk across me. One lay down on me and curled up in a notch of my shoulder. Their cold hands and feet pressed into my skin. They prodded my side and yanked my hair. I stared at the ceiling, where none of them walked and felt them clamber across me. I imagined their hands casting out a message to me, but it couldn’t be translated. They were grey statues inhabited by motion.
Nathanael Griffis is a writer from Virginia. He studied culturally encouraged and accepted lying at WVU and Binghamton University. In his spare time he teaches to teenagers. The rest of his life is, relatively, boring.