The Ascension by Allison Pinkerton
Associate fiction editor Krys Malcolm Belc on today's bonus short-short: A teenage heartthrob/savior. A collective pack-of-fans narrator bent on winning his adoration, young women who communicate through glances and social media. Two miracles. A heart-wrenching farewell at the beach. Allison Pinkerton’s punchy contemporary take on religious fervor moves me each read with its mix of humor and compassion for its subjects.
Cole told us he was Jesus Christ at the last dinner we had together. Not as a joke. We got goosebumps, and reached for our phones to scroll through Pinterest because we didn’t want to look at each other.
He said he would disappear. We figured he would vanish like the boys we’d dated—without a text, a tweet, a snap, a word, a look. But, no. He wanted us to watch him go.
“Why?” We asked. What would watching you leave would do? We were already sad, confused, and angry. Later after dinner, Ashby would shut herself in her room. Martina and Enid would stop speaking. Bridget would post the funny sneezing panda video three times to cheer herself up.
“I’ll come back,” he said when Bridget started crying at the table. We mind-punished her, for being upset, for outing us in our grief. We wanted to cry, too.
“When?” Martina asked. Martina was in love with Cole, really in love with him, though we all posted his picture for #mancrushmonday. Martina would sacrifice for him, forgive stuff that shouldn’t be forgiven.
“Three days,” Cole said.
Their love was chaste, we knew, we exalted over. We sang alleluias to their chastity, which was new for Martina. We used to judge Martina for playing that game where girls wore colored bracelets, where a guy would snap the bracelet corresponding to a sexual activity, (pink for kissing, red for kissing with tongue, blue for blow job) and the girl would have to go do that with him. Cole had never snapped anyone’s bracelet.
“He wants it that way,” she’d told us earlier, after we’d learned that she’d spent the night in his bed in her clothes. We loved him more, and understood him less. We began to keep his secrets. His chastity seemed to need protecting, like by protecting him we could protect our younger selves, maybe make different choices, so that, by now, we’d be less bitter. A guy who hung out with Martina got a reputation, because Martina had a reputation, and we didn’t want that for him. If we told people they were doing it, they would leave them alone, look the other way, explain the miracles they saw as a result of too little sleep and too much Red Bull.
* * *
In those three days, Cole did two miracles, because he said one miracle was easy to explain away. We were at a party, and out of wine, and he created some by brushing his hands over a pack of Zephyrhills in the fridge. Later at that party, he raised someone from the dead.
Some druggie had OD’d and we were scared and embarrassed, and confused about who let the druggies knew we were having a party. Somehow, they’d found coke, and began to do lines on the coffee table. This guy might have had a heart attack—he dropped to the floor, white powder on his lips and nose. People started freaking out. The guy’s girlfriend started sobbing; someone else yelled that he didn’t know the address of the house to tell the ambulance where to go.
And then Cole stepped in, calm. He reached the guy lying in the middle of the living room and we held our breath. We’d just seen the wine appear, and we weren’t sure if he was playing us, if we should be angry. We looked to Martina for assurance, for answers, but she just watched Cole like he was magic.
Cole reached the guy passed out on the carpet, and knelt to feel the guy’s pulse in his neck. For five seconds, no one moved. The guy who’d called the ambulance held his phone in the air without ending the call, and we could hear a faint, “Sir? Sir?” from the dispatcher on the other end of the line.
The guy on the carpet started breathing again, and so did we. Groupies, we circled Cole like we wanted to throw our bras at him. He stepped out onto the porch and we watched from the foyer as he sat with Martina, his head in his hands. She rubbed his back and he ran his fingers through his hair. She put her head on his shoulder and he didn’t respond. This made some of us happy, but petty-happy, and we turned from the window.
The ambulance came and they took the guy to the ER. No one said anything. One guy tweeted, “@colethemole Cool party!” and he got no retweets.
* * *
The morning he left, Cole told us to meet at the beach before the tourists came. He made us promise not to post anything about it. We agreed, even though it was a proven fact that our palms sweat when they were empty. So, we held hands, though we were normally only sincere about our love for each other on Snapchat, through filters. Dry-eyed and silent, we stood in a circle. He made eye contact with each of us. Then, we dropped hands and watched the gray, choppy water for a while. Seaweed floated near the shore, and, further out, an industrial fishing boat bobbed. Under our shoes, plastic bottle caps and a sandcastle someone had kicked in. It was not a beautiful day.
He took a deep breath and pulled Martina to him. He whispered something to her we couldn’t hear.
“Don’t be scared,” he told us. We look sideways at each other because we were scared—for him, for what would happen to him, and even of him, a little.
“Love each other,” he said. He broke from the circle and walked away. We tried to talk through eye-contact telepathy. Should we chase him down the beach? Like a seagull?
We needed more time. We had more questions. We would chase him, we decided. We ran in the direction Cole had gone until it hurt to breathe, until we had sand in our ballet flats. We couldn’t find him.
Allison Pinkerton is the 2017 Kathy Fish Fellow at SmokeLong Quarterly. Her work is forthcoming from Image, and has been published online at The Pinch, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere.